April 03, 2008

Friday, 4/4

NYS 8:26
NYT 6:57
LAT 5:05
CHE 4:32
Jonesin' 3:08
CS 2:59

WSJ 8:50

Will be limping to my kid's school to volunteer this morning, helping 180 or so second-graders work on their two-week integrated arts project about the Olympics. My son signed up for the dancing group, I think doing an opening ceremonies sort of routine. His guy friends all signed up for dance, too. How awesome is that?

So the many lovely Friday crosswords I wait all week for will have to wait 'til the afternoon.

I am fond of the letter Z, having grown up with that as my last initial. Do you think David Quarfoot might have a special liking for Q? Let's see if his New York Times crossword reveals anything. Well, there are those six Qs along the diagonal. (Two of the Q words also contain a Z and cross PIZAZZ, which makes my Z-centric self happy.) Please do marvel at this construction, but save some room in your marveling lobe for this 1996 Manny Nosowsky puzzle with an unearthly 12 Qs lined up diagonally. (Kee-rikey!) Even with "only" six Qs lined up here, Quarfoot's puzzle is stil mighty showy.

There are two music answers that Jim H's "Music theory for crossword lovers" didn't teach me about—D NATURAL ([Accidental in the key of B or E]) and F MAJOR ([Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony is in it]). Seth G. had reported that ADAR is the go-to Hebrew month in crosswords; here, it's clued as [When the Feast of Lots is observed]. (Feast of Lots is equivalent to Purim.)

Toughest clues: [Abstainer's order] for ADAM'S ALE (i.e., water); [Olympic event since 1988] for SUPER G skiing; [Producer/director ___ MacNaughton of Monty Python] for IAN (never heard of him); [Peck parts: Abbr.] for QTS (1 peck = 8 quarts); [Burger replacement] for Chief Justice REHNQUIST (love this clue!); [Stands in line at an airport?] for the stands known as KIOSKS; [Title woman of a film that won the 1985 Camera d'Or] for ORIANA; [Dodger's dread?] for IRS AUDIT (love this clue, too!); [Places to make tracks] for recording STUDIOS; [It often gets down] for a down-filled QUILT; [RĂ©union reunion attendee] for FRERE (French brother, family reunion); [Poetic conjunction] for ALTHO (that's poetic?); [Pair from a deck, maybe] for MASTS (boat deck, not card deck); [Literally, "women's boat] for the UMIAK; [Board] for MEALS, as in "room and board"; the verb [Silence] for QUELL, not QUIET; [Pecking order?] for "KISS ME"; and the sort of strained [Feeding tubes?] for ZITI pasta.

I had no idea that SAM SPADE was a [Sleuth who "looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan"], nor that there was ever a character called THE SIREN, a [Spellbinding "Batman" villainess played by Joan Collins]. Speaking of fictional characters, we also have the [2002 Denzel Washington drama] JOHN Q. Other Q highlights: QUETZAL, [Guatemala's national bird]; QUIZNOS, ["Mmmm...Toasty!" sloganeer]; QUEEN MUM, [Noted centenarian of 2000, familiarly]; and QUIET GAME, [Parent's ruse to hush noisy kids] ("Let's see which of us can be the quietest...I bet I can go the longest without talking!). The VIP PASS [might get you backstage].

Other entries and clues I admired: the LIME TREE, or [Linden] (gimme pop culture, geography, geology, and trees in my crossword!); [Like some cubs] for URSINE (lion cubs would be leonine or feline, not ursine); the hockey [Ranger rival] for a New Jersey DEVIL; and MOSEL, the [German wine region] (they make a lotta Riesling there).

Trip Payne's annual circa–April Fools' Day "Wacky Weekend Warrior" in the New York Sun was exactly as expected, meaning that only about 10 clues were at all what you expect in a crossword. The rest of the entries in this 52-word grid of expansive white space? Totally insane. A [Maseru-phobe's cry] is "OH, NO—LESOTHO!" I.M. Pei's followers are termed PEIITES. [Denial of draft-animal ownership] is IT ISN'T MY OX. [Strip, to a snake] is UNDRESSSS. And the [naive big-game hunter's cry] is, of course, "Here, HIPPO, HIPPO, HIPPO." I like the occasional derangement of crossword sanity, and this was a fun Wacky WW.

Updated with quick takes:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "When in Rome," was easy once I saw the fun gimmick—words or abbreviations that contain only letters that are also Roman numerals are converted into spelled-out numbers. The [Roman martial arts star?] is Jet Li, or JET FIFTY-ONE. An IV drip becomes FOUR DRIP, V for Vendetta turns into FIVE FOR VENDETTA, and a mix tape is ONE THOUSAND / NINE TAPE. No room for a 10-letter theme entry, so no MALCOLM TEN here—which is good, because I've heard the "Malcolm the Tenth" joke a few too many times. Fun fill, too, to go with the fun theme—OMAROSA from The Apprentice and Heidi KLUM from Project Runway (reality TV, in the house!), a WHAMMY from the game show Press Your Luck, Maria's husband LUIS from Sesame Street, PEZ candy dispenser, and the ZAPF Dingbats pictogram font. I just Googled Zapf and you know what? It's a guy. Hermann Zapf, born in 1918, noted type designer, responsible for my go-to font (Palatino—and thanks to Mac genius Joe Cabrera for helping me reclaim Palatino when an OS upgrade ate it) as well as Dingbats (snowflakes! scissors!) and a zillion other typefaces.

Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Full Speed Ahead," includes four phrases that begin with words that are synonymous: QUICK(SILVER), FLEET (ADMIRAL), HASTY (PUDDING), and FAST (FRIENDS). It's too bad there wasn't room for ZIPPY THE PINHEAD, but good that there was room enough for the FLEET ADMIRAL so we were spared the Fleet enema.

Plenty of tough clues in Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword—or maybe I'm just not on the right wavelength for his puzzles. I think I had the same trouble with his last puzzle, unless I'm misremembering. The theme is AI words morphed into IA words. I'm always pleased when a morsel of crosswordese is put to better use than mere filler—and here, the Middle Eastern unit of currency known as the rial gets promoted (rail becomes rial in RIAL SPLITTERS. Mind you, in the upper corner, the ol' REATA perches atop the ol' ALTAI Mountains, so there's still some of that fill. Favorite theme entry: DIARY QUEEN ([Honored chronicler?] or, if you prefer, [Crossword blogger Orange]). The central theme entry, FIAT ACCOMPLI, is 12 letters long. Do you know what that means, kids? That means the grid has to be one row wider or narrower than the usual 15—in this case, it's a 15x16 grid wider than it is tall (the occasional 15x16 NY Sun crossword is taller).

The Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Myth-a-morphosis," was constructed by Annemarie Brethauer. The theme entries are (and correct me if I'm wrong, please) characters from Greek mythology who were transformed from a person or nymph of some sort into other entities—a flower, tree, stone, monster, spider, stag, and panpipe. (I'd say SYRINX, who became a panpipe, got the worst of it.) Tough fill if you don't know all the mythical names—the flower GLOXINIA, a SPANDREL ([Wall spce between adjacent arches]), KINO from Steinbeck's The Pearl.

I began to nod off before finishing Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "The Start of Something Big." It's not the puzzle—it's me. Four hours wielding scissors and double-stick tape (plus some crayons)? I'm rusty. Tackling a Sunday-sized puzzle immediately after doing four other crosswords, during the late-afternoon Doldrums of Sleepiness? A recipe for a mid-solve catnap if I ever saw one. The theme entries are sort of like Jeopardy! "Before and After" clues, though in this case the beginning is always a word that's synonymous with big. [Big word] + X and X + Y are both establishes phrases, but [big word] + X + Y is something nutty. For example, a [Big security device?] is a MAXI PADLOCK, and a maxipad is a "feminine hygiene product." (Welcome to crosswords, MAXIPAD!) I Googled maxipad and found this funny video, "The Secret Life of the Maxi Pad." (Guy dressed as pad—with wings!—goes about his day. Grocery shopping—for cherries, hot sauce, tomatoes, strawberries, etc. Yoga class.)