May 17, 2008

Sunday, 5/18

NYT 9:51
LAT 7:48
PI 7:20
BG 6:27
CS 4:16
NYT second Sunday diagramless 12:05

Brendan Emmett Quigley is better versed in pinball terminology than I am. The theme in his New York Times crossword, "Pinball Wizard," is phrases that begin with words that pertain to pinball. I think there are nine theme entries, and that the longish entries in the 8- to 10-letter range are just fill. The theme entries, with the pinballish parts in bold, are as follows:

  • TILT AT WINDMILLS: [Fight imaginary foes]
  • FLIPPER ANDERSON: [Former L.A. Ram who holds the N.F.L. record for most receiving yards in a game (336)]—the clue might just as well read [Football player I've never heard of]
  • SPECIAL RELATIVITY: [Einstein subject]—I don't know what "special" means in pinball argot
  • BONUS QUESTIONS: [Test extras]
  • BUMPER CROPS: [Good farming results]
  • DRAIN BOARDS: [Sloping surfaces next to sinks]—man, helplessly watching a pinball ball drain when your flipper reflexes have missed the boat is sad
  • RAMP UP SALES: [Push for more business orders]—not sure this phrase can really stand alone as an in-the-language entity
  • JACKPOT JUSTICE: [Awarding of huge settlements to plaintiffs, in modern lingo]—not a phrase I know
  • ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN: [Opening track of "The Beatles' Second Album"]—I think "roll over" means something in pinball, but I'm not sure what

The funniest part of this puzzle for me lay in the answer that was the most obscure to me a month ago—AZAN. That was just in the Tribune Media Services Saturday puzzle the other weekend and was singled out as lousy fill, the worst sort of obscurity, the kind of answer that the most respectable crosswords would never deign to include. Turns out AZAN appeared in the NYT three times in the fall of 1997...and today. It's a [Mideast call to prayer], and I surely wouldn't have known it if I hadn't encountered that TMS puzzle with clunky fill. "This word is horrible. It's so obscure! This will never come up again. It shouldn't have been used at all. Such lazy constructing or editing, to include such a word. Oh. Wait. Here it is again. Huh, I guess it's good that I learned it from that other puzzle." You know why Tyler Hinman has won the ACPT four straight years? Because he does the crosswords he doesn't like, and gleans those dreadful little words that you think you don't need...but you never know when they might show up again.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "The Secret Forest," has an arboreal theme—within each otherwise unrelated theme entry lurks a part of a tree. LET'S TALK has a stalk, RUSH LIMBAUGH has a limb, STRUNK AND WHITE has a trunk, PLEA FOR HELP has a leaf, FUSSBUDGET has a bud, MULTI-BRAN CHEX has a branch, FROOT LOOPS has a root, ELLEN BARKIN has bark, "I SEE DEAD PEOPLE" has a seed, ALL SYSTEMS GO has a stem, and WEREWOLF has a flower, backwards. It's good to see 11 theme entries and to see The Sixth Sense's "I see dead people" line make it into a crossword, but the theme didn't captivate me as much as one with hidden tree or flower names would.

The second Sunday puzzle in the New York Times Magazine is a diagramless crossword by Jon Weems. It took me longer than the typical full-size Sunday puzzle, but it felt really fast for a diagramless. I did get the words in the grid one row further to the right than I should have, but it wasn't a terrible mistake. The completed grid is asymmetrical: a cresting, rolling wave. The fill includes WAVE HELLO, GREEN WAVE, THIRD WAVE, LOW WATER, and WATERLINE; I'm not sure if WAVER is intended to be thematic also. The most obscure word in the grid is HOSTLER, or [Stable worker]; this is more commonly spelled without the H in crosswords, but I can't say which spelling is more typical outside of the cruciverbal realm.


Annemarie Brethauer's syndicated LA Times Sunday puzzle is a tribute to JAMES STEWART, whose 100th birthday is this Tuesday. The other theme entries are the titles of six Stewart movies, some of which (THE NAKED SPUR, a 1953 Western, and BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, a 1958 comedy) were unfamiliar to me; I recognized VERTIGO, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, and ANATOMY OF A MURDER even though I've only seen two of them. The puzzle's title is "Flying Star" and the Notepad explains, "Today's honoree was a decorated pilot in WWII as well as an accomplished Hollywood star. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve."

The Across Lite edition of the Boston Globe puzzle this week is "Collectibles," by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. The theme entries are things some people collect, clued with the often-obscure words that describe those people. A [Brandophilist's collection] is CIGAR BANDS, for example, while a sucrologist collects SUGAR PACKETS, a digitabulist collects THIMBLES, and a tyrosemiophile likes, inexplicably, CAMEMBERT CHEESE LABELS. (If there is a word for collectors of glass paperweights, I don't want to know it.) I'd never heard of most of the theme clues, and yet the puzzle was quite easy. No idea why FRANCO is/was [Spanish caudillo]; does that mean "leader"?

The highlights of Mel Rosen's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" puzzle are the longest entries, CHEESEHEAD—[Wisconsin sports fan, hatwise], a nutty but dead-on clue—and SMATTERING, a [Little bit]. I did not know that ACHATES was the [Faithful companion of Aeneas, in "Aeneid"], nor that there is such a thing as a BACK JUDGE who is a [Gridiron official]. If I knew that ICELAND was a [Onetime Danish province], I forgot it.