May 10, 2008

Saturday, 5/10

Newsday 7:11
LAT 6:35
NYT 4:41
CS 3:48

Advance notice (not late notice, but redundant advance notice): On Saturday, I'll be out when the Sunday NYT crossword is released and won't be back 'til late. Concert! The Police! Then Sunday morning and afternoon will be booked with Mother's Day activities. So the blogging this weekend may be...tardy and lackadaisical. Guest bloggers would be another way to go, but I suspect my usual cadre of scintillating guest writers also have busy weekends ahead.

The Saturday New York Times crossword by Karen Tracey struck me as markedly easier than the Friday puzzle. Was that your experience as well? It seems like an odd-looking grid for Karen, with shorter entries ringing the grid and hemming in the swaths of white space. The middle of the grid, with two 7-letter answers bracketed by 4s, isn't typical. But the fill and clues? Ten kinds of fun. I kept encountering entries that made me smile, nice surprises.

In the southwest quadrant, [It's just north of Nauru] sounded like a clue for a wickedly out-there geography answer (one of Karen's trademarks), but the answer was just the EQUATOR. Not a crazy-sounding place name, no, but it does have a Q, so it fits right in. The Q is shared by SEAQUAKE, a [Source of some big waves].

In the center, the EXIT ROW that's [Preferred seating, for many] surprised me by being plane seating and not in a theater or stadium (note the appearance of an X). It crossed YAHTZEE, a [Classic game with 13 categories]—with a Z. EXIT ROW's X was also the end of JOHN KNOX, [16th-century founder of Scottish Presbyterianism]; he adds a J and K to the Scrabbly accounting of this puzzle. (Also from Scotland: NAES, or [Caledonian contradictions].) EXIT ROW's E also began another X entry, EXULTANT, or [More than happy]. (ECSTATIC would also fit there, but would have reduced the X factor by 1.)

In the upper left section, there's another Z in OZONE HOLE, an [Antarctic environmental concern], crossing COZEN, or [Gull].

In the opposite corner, I saw the clue [Indie rock band whose name is Spanish for "I have it"] and said to myself, "So that's what YO LA TENGO means!" Then I proceeded to put that 57-Across answer in the space for 60-Across beneath it. You can imagine what that did to the crossings—gah. Soon enough, I figured out what I'd done and put back the intersectiing answers I'd wiped out. YO LA TENGO is a terrific entry—fresh, poppy, and good at teaching introductory Spanish.

Here are the other parts I liked a lot:

  • [Suspensions] for MORATORIA: gotta love a plural ending with A.
  • [Family in 1980s news] greatly understates the REAGANS, and the clue's vague enough that you're not likely to be sure of the answer without a crossing or two.
  • [It's hit with a pinky] clues ENTER KEY, but I tend to use my ring finger.
  • Two swigs of wine: [Like some vino] for SECO and [Oenological category] for REDS.
  • Two refreshing swigs of Nixon: [Nixon adviser Nofziger] for LYN and [Nixon creation of 1970: Abbr.] for OSHA.
  • ["The Cosby Show" actress Alexander] is ERIKA. She joined that show late, but was the zingiest character on a later sitcom, Living Single. That show was basically the black Friends, only with a better theme song (sung by costar Queen Latifah) and precious little attention from the mainstream media.
  • If you have to include ARA, you can't do better than to clue it as [Rudy's coach in the 1993 football film "Rudy"]—that being Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian (and Rudy being an engaging, if formulaic, movie).
  • [Kept charging shots, say] is an intentionally off-kilter clue for RAN A TAB; did you veer off in a wrong direction because of the clue?
  • [Dalmatian e,g.] means a CROAT here, and not a spotted dog. I think that trick's been used in other crosswords.
  • SET SCREW, a [Bit of securing hardware], has that solid chunk of consonants in the middle.
  • [1980s TV show or 2006 film] is MIAMI VICE. Crockett and Tubbs!
  • [In the raw] is BARE NAKED, of course. One likes a hint of judicious nudity in a crossword.
  • [Work on it began in Rome in 1817] refers to the ERIE CANAL. Rome, New York, I presume? Good 'n' tricky.
  • CANAANITE tosses in an uncommon double A; the clue is [Hebrew or Phoenician]. I still want to know why I never hear people from Phoenix, Arizona, called "Phoenicians."
  • [Really warped] clues SICK. Example: Emily Cureton's crossword-related dinosaur porn drawing. SICK, but in a good way.
  • [Stock] was so vague, and it clues plain ol' ORDINARY. You have to wade through a lot of noun and verb definitions before you hit the adjectival meanings of STOCK.
  • [Meat grinder] is a MOLAR; my kid had a good checkup at the dentist yesterday.
  • Karen's obligatory techie answer is TANDY, the old computer brand and [Commodore competitor]. Ah, I remember getting to play around on a TRS-80 back in about 1979. It was cutting-edge.
  • [Hard to find in Latin?] is RARA—an old crosswordese standby that used to always be clued as [___ avis] (rare bird). That Karen Tracey is a rara avis.
  • The first name of [Painter Fouquet] is JEAN. I didn't know the artist, but he was a 15th-century French painter. His Virgin and Child with Angels looks ready for Maxim. My goodness. The breasts are not supposed to be so far apart from each other.
  • I didn't see the clue ["Israfel" writer's monogram] while I was solving, which is fine because it's not one of the EAP (Edgar Allan Poe) works I've read. Gimme a good "Cask of Amontillado" or "Tell-Tale Heart" any day, man. Eerie short stories always win out over Poetry.


Today's themed CrosSynergy puzzle comes from the atelier of Bob Klahn. The "Ear Drops" theme features four phrases that have dropped an EAR. [Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms?] are THE THREE B'S (The Three Bears), but I could swear we called them "the three B's" back in my school days. [Dark red cherries?] are BING FRUIT (bearing); really, aren't bing cherries one of the highlights of summer? [Truman's regal digs?] manipulates Hearst Castle into HST Castle (Harry S Truman); a little bit of a twist on the theme, to change a word into initials. [Upon sitting down to eat?] is JUST AS I FED (feared). Favorite clues: [Homespun home] for spider WEB; [Age follower?] for BEAUTY; [All wound up] for both TENSE and ON EDGE; and ["Crikey!"] for EGADS.

The other Bob of crosswords, Bob Peoples, constructed the LA Times puzzle. I have a headache, so I'm not in a very bloggy mood. Herewith, a list of some noteworthy clues/answers:
  • [Theory espoused by Plato] is ELITISM. New and improved: now cling-free and with 50% less imputed bitterness!
  • [Platters classic] song is "ONLY YOU"; don't think I know it, actually.
  • Probing action: [Probe] means DIG INTO and [Probes in surgery] are STYLETS.
  • [Calmed down] is GENTLED, not SETTLED; that bogged me down for too long.
  • HOLY MOLY is another way of saying ["Yikes!"].
  • A [Controversial teen treatment] is TOUGH LOVE.
  • [Lacking support] is BRALESS, like the Sue Ellen Mischke character on Seinfeld. Mighty ballsy to drop TITS ([Wee warblers]) into the same grid, ain't it? Yes, they're birds too, but still.
  • [Chisel, e.g.] is an EDGE TOOL. Totally wasn't getting that without the crossings, and GENTLED vs. SETTLED obscured it.
  • IN LIMBO is [Not being addressed at the moment]. Nobody much likes being in limbo, do they?
  • A newish famous YVES is [2005 chemistry co-Nobelist Chauvin].
  • [Darwin greeting] is G'DAY MATE because of the Australian/Tasmanian city, not because of the famed naturalist.

My favorite answer in Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" happens to be the first one I started to fill in—KALAHARI, the [Bushmen's habitat]. That's the sort of entry a constructor doesn't just back into—versus, say, ASSESSED in the opposite corner, which has those S's that make it easy to find fill that works with it. By and large, the fill is ordinary words, with many short clues that obscure the answers—the Newsday Saturday style. For example, [Floors] for AMAZES, [Tenor] for DRIFT, [Means] for AGENT, and [Sets] for TVS. Those are essentially impossible to Google—you can dig through every dictionary definition of the clue and maybe hit on the right answer, but for the most part you're on your own. I rather liked the two longer trivia clues for common short answers: ["Oxford in the Vacation" byline] tells you, I'm guessing, the name of an essay by ELIA, and [Joliet discovery of 1669] is Lake ERIE. Another trivia factoid: Clint EASTWOOD was the [Thalberg Award recipient of '95] at the Oscars. Favorite clues, with a mislead: [Self starter] for HIM; [Diamond rarity] for NO-HITTER; [One on the house] for a ROOFER; and [Mayo is found here] for EIRE, home of the County Mayo.