July 16, 2008

Thursday, 7/17

NYS 5:14
NYT 4:07
LAT 3:53
CS 3:15

Patrick Berry's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday," by the numbers:

  • Degrees of symmetry: 360. You can spin it around like a pinwheel and the black squares' pattern remains the same no matter which side is up. So pleasing to the eye!
  • 10- and 11-letter answers: Ten of 'em, intricately enlaced in the center of the grid. Sure, they're staggered, but you still have quintuple-stacked long answers crossing another quintuple stack. If you've seen a more impressive swath of white space in a crossword, please refresh my memory so I can be impressed with yet another seminal achievement of construction.
  • 3-letter answers: Just 8 of those.
  • Total word count: Just 62. The fill is low on the Scrabble-o-Meter, with a single Z and two K's, but the Crapola Quotient is quite low. Very few "roll-your-own" words—FERTILENESS looks like one, but is a legit inflected form; fertility far outstrips it in usage. There are a few plurals and one crossing pair of -ED words. I.e., this puppy is smooooth.
  • People's names in the grid: 7. ERIC Karros was only vaguely familiar to me. 49ers quarterback John BRODIE was a total unknown (to me). I knew LORENZ Hart, Anais NIN, Peter CETERA (the "spent years in Chicago" clue references his time in the band named Chicago), DION, and the COEN brothers.
  • Place names in the grid: 6. CAPE ANN, the COMOROS, CONWAY, N.H., Nunavut is a TERR., and PAKISTANIS. Not to mention the fictional (...or is it?) ATLANTIS.

Favorite clues:
  • [Cod pieces?] for FISHSTICKS. 50 points for this one! (Minus one point for the word duplication in the SEA clue, [It's very fishy].)
  • [Dead giveaway?] for an ESTATE. +25
  • [Greyhound boarding spot] for a dog KENNEL, not a bus station. +25
  • [Alcohol needed for driving?] for ANTIFREEZE. +20
  • [Body with many arms: Abbr.] for the NRA. +15
  • [Stick of gum?] for an artgum ERASER. +5
  • [Save, as one's sole] for COBBLE. +5
  • [Famous last gasp] for ET TU. +5
  • [Sharp] for PENETRATING. Nice and vague.
  • [Swale's sire] meant nothing to me, but the crossings pointed towards SEATTLE SLEW. That's an anagram of "settle Swale," so I am picturing a daddy horse cuddling his foal and laying him down to sleep.
  • [Virusoid's makeup] for RNA—I'm glad I had crossings. I like having medicalese in the puzzle, even just in the clues.

Elizabeth Long's New York Times crossword was easier for me than yesterday's. How about you? The theme is described by 42-Down, SHAPES UP, clued as [Quits misbehaving...or a literal hint to 4-, 9-, 13-, 49- and 57-Down]. Those six answers are all shapes, written up rather than down in the grid. The [Percussion instrument in an orchestra] is the triangle, or ELGNIART. [Coterie] is circle, or ELCRIC. [Headliner] is star, or RATS. An [Unhip person] is a square, or ERAUQS. And a [Racetrack] is typically an oval, or LAVO. Cute gimmick, and one with a justification—the phrase SHAPES UP. Just a bunch of shapes spelled backwards would seem a bit arbitrary, but that phrase elevates the theme.

The longest fill is just that—fill, not thematic. WHIRLIGIG is clued as a [Colorful lawn or garden fixture], and an ARTICHOKE is [Something you might want to get to the heart of?]. Trickier clues: [Hebrews, for example] for EPISTLE; [They cross here] for the WORDS in this crossword; ["___ This Last" (series of John Ruskin essays] for UNTO; [One of TV's Rugrats] is LIL (if you're like me, you've been burned by that other Rugrat, DIL, in crosswords before and were proud of yourself for quickly entering that at 7-Down here...but it's wrong); [Small hill] for both KNOLL and RISE; [Mobile home?: Abbr.] for ALA (as in Mobile, Alabama); [Bird with speckled eggs] is a WREN; and [Avant-garde filmmaker Brakhage] for STAN.


Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword can be summed up by the last theme entry, TIRE ROTATION ([Mechanic's job, literally illustrated in this puzzle]). In the other theme entries, the letters in the word TIRE are rotated in stepwise fashion. Move the E to the beginning and get ETIR, embedded in GET IRRITATED ([Start to steam]). Cycle the R to the beginning of that to get RETI, which is in ONE MORE TIME. Now slide the I over for IRET, within WIRETAPPING ([Surveillance technique]). That leaves T to complete the rotation back to the front for TIRE in TIRE ROTATION. As with the NYT gimmick, it's the common phrase that provides the justification for the gimmick—a random 4-letter word going through the rotation could feel kinda arbitrary. The long Down entries are unrelated to the theme, but isn't it nice to see CHICHEN ITZA, the [Mayan tourist site], in the grid?

Favorite clues:
  • [In a glass by itself] for NEAT (with no ice). Kudos to Doug and Rich Norris for leaving the clue un-question-marked.
  • [Hershey's toffee bar] for SKOR, merely because I love toffee. Matt Ginsburg can attest to that—I almost mugged him for his wife's homemade almond roca at the ACPT. It was delicious.
  • [Ric of the Cars] for OCASEK, because I just learned this week that his surname was shortened from Otcasek, just as bandmate Benjamin Orr's last name used to be Orzechowski. My husband and I are sad that the Cars weren't instead called The Otcasek/Orzechowski Project.
  • [Tiger's turf] for the golf LINKS.
  • [South side?] for GRITS.
  • [Many a European decimal point] for COMMA.
  • [Lawn gnomes, e.g.] for KITSCH.

The CrosSynergy puzzle called "Null and Void" is by Paula Gamache. The five theme entries are phrases that end with words that have a "null and void" sense: HOBBIT HOLE is ["The Fellowship of the Ring" residence]. GIMME A BREAK means ["Do you think I'm that stupid?"]. To DRAW A BLANK is to [Get lucky at Scrabble, maybe]. GENERATION GAP and DOUBLE-SPACE round out the theme. [Nit-picker's nit] in literal terms is the egg of a COOTIE, or louse. Coincidentally, there's a Language Log post today about "cooties" and other schoolyard lingo.