June 07, 2008

Sunday, 6/8

NYT 10:02
LAT 9:58
PI 8:12
BG 8:00
CS 4:32

Yeesh. I have once again run afoul of the practice of not following the Ellen Ripstein Rule: "Check the crossings." In Will Nediger's New York Times crossword, "Q & A Session," I put WAILS as the answer to [Cries shrilly]. That works, right? Yeah, except that it makes [Fever causes] into FLIS instead of FLUS, and I didn't even see that clue. WAULS is a far less familiar word than wails, seldom seen outside its feline version, caterwauls. I blew more than two minutes looking for that errant letter. And no, I paid no mind to the fact that WAIL is nearby as [Play a sax solo, maybe]. Anyway...the theme is two-word phrases with Q and A initials:

  • QUAKING ASPENS—[They tremble in the slightest breeze]
  • QUEBEC ACT—[Parliamentary measure of 1774]
  • QUATERNARY AGE—[Period in which we live]. According to this chart, the quaternary age is part of the holocene epoch, which is part of the neogene period, which is part of the cenozoic era. Got it? Me neither.
  • QUAILING AT—[Recoiling from]
  • QUEST AFTER—[Pursue]
  • QANTAS AIRWAYS—["The Spirit of Australia" sloganeer]
  • QUEEN ANNE—[Daughter of James II]
  • QUIET AMERICAN—[Graham Greene novel set in Saigon, with "The"]

There's nothing intrinsically fun about this theme. It's essentially a trivia word game: "Guess the phrase with Q.A. initials." Best fill: DEAD CALM, or [Cause of a full stop for sailing ships]; VERBATIM, or [Without paraphrasing] (Verbatim is also a magazine about language for the layperson); UNQUOTE, or [Two wiggling fingers, maybe]; SQUIB, or [In Harry Potter books, nonmagical offspring of wizard parents], or one of those little fillers in a magazine, or a nonexploding firecracker; and FAST CAR, or [1988 Tracy Chapman hit] (here's a video). Favorite clues: ["___ House," 1983 Madness hit] for OUR (here's the video); and [Is a second-story man] for BURGLES.

Henry Hook's Across Lite rerun of a Boston Globe puzzle, "Telltale Clues," offers a quip with a decent punchline: I've just written / my autobiography. / The book consists / of 500 blank pages. / It's called "My Life: / The Untold Story." That 500 part demands numerals in Across Lite (or the first letters of five, zero, and zero, or FZZ), with the 5 pulling double duty with a 5-AND [__-10] crossing but the zeroes serving as the letter O in those two crossings. Moving along to the rest of the fill: Did you know HOTSY-TOTSY meant [Great]? Have you ever used the phrase? I'm gonna start...maybe tomorrow. LES MIZ, or [Musical-ized Hugo, for short], is cool. The [Gentry's subordinates] are the YEOMANRY; gotta love any word with an Old English–looking EO combo in it. There is one answer I was completely unfamiliar with—OMEI. It's a [Sacred Buddhist mountain], and there aren't a ton of options for an O**I space connecting two theme entries and running through an 8-letter entry stacked under a theme entry.

Merl Reagle also plies the quip trade in his Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Harangue Man," with some lines from DENNIS MILLER (24- and 91-Down), the titular [Harangue man]. Miller is known for starting his trademark rants by saying, Now, I don't want to get / off on a rant here, but... and ending them with Of course, that's / just my opinion. / I could be wrong. Another Dennis is evoked in the fill—[Sobriquet for young Mitchell] is Dennis THE MENACE. Interesting words pepper the grid. There are the botanical HEPATICA, or [Buttercup plant], and CATCLAWS, or [Shrubs that can scratch you]. I could swear I have never seen, not in my years of medical editing and crossword solving, the word EPIZOA, or [Parasites]. Geography gets some play with BERLINER, or [Certain German]; ERITREAN, or [African on the Red Sea]; and ESTONIAN, or [Tallinn-born]. Favorite clue: [Where a candlestick parks?] for SCONCE.


John Lampkin's syndicated LA Times crossword may represent another constructorial debut. Given that the theme, "Composer Codas," combines music and humor/puns and that there's a John Lampkin who's a composer with a sense of humor, I'll wager that the constructor and composer are one and the same. The "Codas" part of the title reflects the inclusion of just the last syllable of seven composers' names in the thematic puns:
  • [Baroque composer's double?] is PACHELBEL RINGER, evoking someone who rings a bell.
  • [Hungarian composer's holiday serving?] is BARTOK TURKEY (talk turkey).
  • [Italian composer's reflex?] is PAGANINI JERK (knee-jerk).
  • [German composer's ardent fan?] is a MENDELSSOHN WORSHIPPER (sun worshipper).
  • [Help from a French composer?] is SATIE SERVICE (tea service).
  • [American composer's transport?] is a GERSHWIN BIKE (Schwinn bike).
  • [Ride from a Russian composer?] is a TCHAIKOVSKY LIFT (ski lift).

I had some trouble wrangling this theme—music's not my strong point, and it took me forever to figure out how PAGANINI meshed with JERK. The fill features tons of longish phrases and compound words: the NEAR EAST and a FAR CRY; MAI TAI in its entirety instead of a fill-in-the-blank half-drink; STUN GUN and "SO SUE ME"; NO-HITTERS and NO-DOZ; and BOHEMIANS in COVERALLS. Favorite clue: [They're secretive] for GLANDS. I hope to see more crosswords from Mr. Lampkin.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" looks themeless, with its 66-word grid and broad expanses of white space at the top and bottom, but it's actually got a short quote theme. It's the classic Yogi Berra quip, WHEN YOU COME TO / A FORK IN / THE ROAD, TAKE IT. What's a quote theme doing in my "Sunday Challenge"? Hmph! I wasn't sure about LEAVES WELL ALONE, clued as [Avoids making any changes]. I'm accustomed to hearing "leave well enough alone." Is the enough-free version perhaps more a British phrase?