February 20, 2008

Thursday, 2/21

NYT 5:35
NYS 4:57
LAT 3:58
CS 2:43

It's 11°F (that's –12°C) outside. Perhaps I should've put on a coat when I went outside to look at the lunar eclipse a few minutes ago. It was in totality, the moon tinged russet by refracted sunlight bent by the earth's atmosphere. There aren't too many astronomical events that are easily visible from the heart of a big, bright city—and far too many times when the night sky is masked by clouds—so I appreciated the opportunity to cast my jaundiced urban eye on a lunar marvel.

However! I may have over-chilled my brain in the process, because I had a dickens of a time navigating through Peter Collins' New York Times crossword. There were plenty of gimmes, but I kept not seeing those clues for too long. ARIANNA Huffington, you could've helped me out if I only had seen you sooner! I figured out the MIXED NUTS theme quickly, with the scrambled pecan (yum!) in SAUCEPANS. The filbert in FILTER BASKET revealed itself soon after...but FILTER BASKET? That's not right on the tip of my tongue. And while I was on the lookout for a cashew (yum!), CHEWS AT was hiding. (Google chews at me and you may get 8 hits; chewing at me garners over 5,000.) It's legit, but doesn't sound natural. And I tried to smash Charles Kuralt to extract a cashew before SAM DONALDSON offered me an almond. Overall, I didn't find this puzzle nearly as satisfying as a handful of pecans, but was it my mood or the puzzle? The clue for ETC is [It may precede an ellipsis]; say what? Who's doing that? That strikes me as terrible writing. "Mixed nuts include pecans, cashews, etc. ..."? There's no point to having an ellipsis after et cetera. I also paused at NWT, [Yukon neighbor: Abbr.]. Canada's Northwest Territories are 60% smaller than they used to be, Nunavut having recently split off; I had it in my head that the entire territory had been renamed, but no. I figured [Yen or yuan] was Asian money, but ASIAN MONEY didn't sound like crossword answer. Maybe it was the crossword and not me—the applet times look to be on the slow side for a Thursday.

My head felt defter when I moved on to the New York Sun puzzle (another extended 15x16) by Gary Steinmehl. Oscar week continues with "Honor Roles," featuring four Oscar-winning roles for KATHARINE HEPBURN (one role hogging up two entries: ELEANOR OF / AQUITAINE from The Lion in Winter). And rather than the inimitable Miss Hepburn merely having her name in the grid to tie the rest together, she's in there as yet another Oscar-winning role, Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Hepburn in The Aviator. Well! That's a lovely conceit for a crossword theme, even if I'd never encountered two of the characters, EVA LOVELACE and CHRISTINA DRAYTON. The non-Hepburnesque phrase IRISH BULL wasn't familiar to me—an example of this sort of [Incongruous statement] is "Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?" (Heh.) That corner of the grid also had the [1942 Preakness winner] ALSAB, which I often forget because it's a dumb and unmemorable name. (His owner: Albert Sabath. Too uncreative!) And the first name of Sheriff Lobo is ELROY. Really? We're expected to know B.J. and the Bear characters? I was the right age for the show but sure as heck wasn't watching it. (My Elroy of choice is George Jetson's boy.) I was amused to see REDTOP in the grid—this [Grass also known as fiorin] is the grass Merl Reagle had put in his Wordplay-featured crossword, but later jettisoned in favor of PILEUP. [Chilly reaction] is BRRR, but that's not what I said when the 11° night air got to me.


Check this out: The obscure people partying together in the NYT grid, Perle Mesta and Brian Aherne, both appear on this page, Hedda Hopper's filmography. Aherne was in 1935's I Live My Life. In 1957, Playhouse 90: The Hostess With the Mostess dramatized Perle Mesta's life. And the 1937 fashion musical (?) Vogues of 1938 featured Mischa Auer of recent NYT crossword fame. Not so much a violinist! I'll bet 85-year-old crossword solvers are familiar with all of these names.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword, "Idle Talk," has a quip theme, which usually means working through the Downs to fill in the quip segments. This one's an old chestnut, though, so a handful of crossings per line pointed the way to the full joke. Boss: "CAN YOU TELL ME WHY / I KEEP CATCHING / YOU GOOFING OFF?" Peon: "YOU WEAR SNEAKERS."

Don Gagliardo's puzzle in the LA Times is a bit showier. The theme is K-RATIONS, and that's clued as [Military allotment: this puzzle's is 30 "units"]. I counted—yup, there are 30 K's in the grid! Compare this to the record number of Ks in an NYT crossword, 18. And that 18er was sort of a cheat—PatricK Merrell had 10 K's in a row in one entry. Gagliardo's puzzle has no gimmicK, just a slew of K-rich words. The long theme entries contain 3 to 5 K's apiece, and more K's are pacKed into shorter answers throught the grid. It's KooKy! I do want to taKe a moment to Kvetch about the clue for ARK: [Early survival aid] has an anthropologically factual ring to it that is not borne out by the answer.