February 07, 2008

Friday, 2/8

NYS 8:24
LAT 5:33
Jonesin' 5:32
NYT 4:31
CS 3:04
CHE 2:54

WSJ 8:49

This afternoon, a Jumble link caught my eye on the Tribune home page. I was supposed to be helping Ben with his homework, but he found it more engaging to watch Mom zip through the Jumble. My fastest time was ridiculously wee, which amused me. Ben wanted to try the Jumble for Kids—and who am I to pull a kid away from playing with anagrams to finish homework? Priorities!

Here's a language-usage link for you—linguist Ben Zimmer's Oxford University Press blog post divulging the solid historical justification for using none with a plural verb (as in "None of the candidates have won yet"). I've noted that the NYT uses it, and had wondered why they didn't hew to the standard modern "rule" that none = not one = singular. Guess what? The Old English equivalent could be inflected as singular or plural. It's totally kosher to use a plural verb! Zimmer also debunks the flimsy tradition that dictates a decided difference between less and fewer. I always find it most refreshing when a Language Logger knocks grammar pedants down a peg and explains how a common usage that's often held to be wrong actually has a rich history dating back centuries.

Francis Heaney embraces the breakfast-table test for suitable crossword material, featuring a double-rebus BOWL OF / LUCKY / CHARMS in his Friday New York Sun crossword. (The title is the misleading "Spoonerisms," for a puzzle with no spoonerisms but with cereal you'd eat with a spoon.) Wikipedia suggests that the current lineup of "marshmallows" differs significantly from Francis's assortment, which appears to reflect Lucky Charms reality circa 1984. The six marshmallows are placed in symmetrical points in the grid, with Across answers including the color and the Down including the shape: yellow moon (YELLOW CAB, MOON-UNIT), pink heart (PINK FLOYD, TAKE HEART), purple horseshoe (PURPLE PROSE, HORSESHOE CRAB), orange star (AGENT ORANGE, LONE STAR beer), blue diamond (JETBLUE, NEIL DIAMOND), and green clover (SALAD GREEN, CLOVERLEAF).

This breakfast is enriched with essential vitamins and minerals, including RICE MILK, AXEL F, and Hamid KARZAI. Favorite non-theme material: [Strong, in a way] for SMELLY; [John of "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"] for CHO; [It's used for cleavage] for AXE (which can cleave a log like nobody's business); ["___ Plain" (Nirvana song)] for ON A; and [2005 Supreme Court nominee] for Harriet MIERS. I can't stand those nasty little "marshmallows" in Lucky Charms, but liked the challenge of the two-way rebus action.

I wouldn't have minded tougher clues for Mike Nothnagel's New York Times crossword. Why? Because the fill was so great, I wish I'd had to work harder for the reward of filling in the answers. The three longest answers—STEPFORD WIVES ([Ultra-obedient companions]), ONE-NIGHT STAND ([Short-term relationship]), and GET ON THE STICK (["Start doing your job!"])—are as crisp as a fresh tortilla chip. Other multi-word answers included OZONE HOLE, CAPE VERDE ([Africa's westernmost point]), IN LEAGUE (IN CAHOOTS was one letter too long), EGO BOOSTS, PATENT LAW, SENDS AWAY, BIG APE ([Lug]), FIRE UP, STOOD IN (past-tense [Pinch-hit]), the NEW ME (Person after a lifestyle change, self-descriptively]), STOP IT (["No more!"]), and PLANS TO. Oh, and ONE PIN—in bowling, a [Spare part?]—a little clunky, whereas the other phrases were all smooth as butter. The answer I liked best was MAD-LIBS, [Laugh-producing game popular since 1958]—my son enjoys Mad-Libs, as I did in my youth.

Favorite clues: [Ways to get inside hip joints?] for MRIS (hip's a noun, not an adjective here!); [Is not misused?] for AIN'T; [Modern vent outlet?] for BLOG (oh, yeah!); [You may want to pass on these: Abbr.] for RDS (roads); [Where a tongue can be found] for (eww!) a DELI; [Ryan of "Boston Public"] for JERI (whose ex-husband's proclivity for sex clubs is one reason Barack Obama is a U.S. senator); [See stars?] for GAZE; [Big ___] for BEN (I started with the Big TEN and thus had EGO TOOSTS); [Sect governed by the Universal House of Justice] for BAHAI; and [Jersey workers] for KNITTERS. Nobody's crazy about the [Fragrant resin] ELEMI in a crossword, but everything else is so nice, I can accept it. (Don't confuse ELEMI with the [Kind of resin], EPOXY.)

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle is entitled "Did I Stutter?" The five theme entries take a phrase, stutter a consonant sound, and change the spelling. Rocker Tommy Lee becomes a [Martial artist who practices on straw matting?], TATAMI LEE, for example. (This one took me the longest to understand.) And "holy cow" becomes [Sacred beans used to make chocolate?], HOLY CACAO. There are also POPPY SECEDE (poppy seed), NANETTE WORTH (net worth), and PENNY LALANNE (Penny Lane). Favorite clues: [Oscar category?] for MUPPET (Oscar the Grouch); [___ off (gets lost)] for EFFS; and [You get one when you come home] for a RUN in baseball.


Annemarie Brethauer's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword for today, "Animal Tales," meanders away from academia to kid lit, making for an easier-than-usual solve. The theme is classic novels featuring multiple animal characters, and the non-theme fill is less abstruse than that of the typical CHE crossword. Favorite fill: the uncouth YAHOOS from Gulliver's Travels.

Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle has six theme entries that double an O and plenty of long fill to boot. [Animated feature about Humpty Dumpty?], for example, is an EGG CARTOON (carton). Odd that this answer crosses CARTON, clued as a Dickens character, while the other theme entries' base words aren't included—but I'll give the constructor the benefit of the doubt about fill options for that section, what with the two stacked theme entries running through it! Yet another crossword venue demonstrates that the word SPERM is A-OK, at least when clued as [Kind of whale]. Overall, good fill, good clues.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "On the Beach," relates the theme to On the Beach—the book, the movie based on it, and a rock album. Plenty of good fill, lots of names from pop culture—fun puzzle.

"Alice Long" (Mike Shenk) crafted this week's Wall Street Journal crossword with a "Writers' Strike" theme in which PEN is deleted from the base phrases to generate the theme entries. Favorite theme entry: "ELOPE, ANN MILLER" (Penelope Ann Miller).

Gotta run!