July 30, 2008

Thursday, 7/31

NYS 4:17
LAT 4:14
NYT 4:10
CS 2:37

(post updated at noonish Thursday)

Allan Parrish's New York Times crossword meets one of the criteria for a themeless puzzle—the word count is just 72, which is pretty low for a themed puzzle. There are just 35 theme squares, so there's plenty of room for all those answers that are 7+ letters long. The theme journeys with Dante from heaven down to hell, passing through earth on the way: TOO MUCH HEAVEN was a [1979 Bee Gees chart-topper], from their post-Saturday Night Fever album; here's the video. RARE EARTH was the [Band with the 1970 hit "Get Ready"]; I don't remember them, or that song, at all. The third Dantean musical title is HIGHWAY TO HELL, the [1979 AC/DC seven-time platinum album]. Not just an album, but also a song.

Favorite clues and fill:

  • [Civvies] or civilian attire can be called MUFTI. Civvies rhymes with skivvies, and that's a word I like.
  • FIFE goes non-musical, non-Barney with a geographical clue: [County of St. Andrews, Scotland]. Did anyone actually know this one? Do British Open viewers hear of it?
  • [Professor Lupin in Harry Potter books, e.g.] turned into a WEREWOLF. J.K. Rowling gave etymologically inclined readers a huge hint that he was the werewolf, as lupine can mean "wolf-like."
  • Jane AUSTEN was the [Creator of the Bennet family] in Pride and Prejudice.
  • ST. MARK is clued as [One of the four evangelists, briefly]. My first thoughts were of Falwell and his ilk.
  • [Many Latin compositions] are EPITAPHS rather than some sort of old Catholic hymns.
  • To [Tear out] of a place is to SCOOT, to get going in a hurry.
  • More people! Suffragist Elizabeth Cady STANTON, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael LEAVITT, Chairman MAO, hockey great Bobby ORR, football Hall-of-Famer Gale SAYERS of the Chicago Bears, actor Patrick MAGEE, ["Walkin' After Midnight" hitmaker, 1957] Patsy CLINE, tennis star HANA Mandlikova, golfer Ernie ELS, and unknown-to-me [Violin virtuoso Hilary] HAHN. Sports, music, stage, history, and government all get their due.
  • [Architectural pier] is ANTA. This one doesn't show up too often in crosswords anymore, but you may see it again. A similar word (not in this puzzle) is ANSA, an archeological handle.
  • [One that's "perky" in the morning] is a COFFEE POT.
  • UTE crosses OTO, but the UTE's a truck and the OTO's a tribe. It could've gone the other way, with the Ute tribe and an ear prefix. Either one can be clued as a Western tribe, but the Oto/Otoe are more often clued with reference to the Great Plains, Oklahoma, or Nebraska.
  • PHALANX is a great word, clued here as [Military wing].

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" got me to laugh. [Game show host with the catchphrase "Let's do crosswords"]? TY TREADWAY! As I have mentioned before in this space, he has dreamy eyes in person. This puzzle's packed with fresh and flavorful answers and clues. To wit:
  • The LBJ RANCH, [HIstoric site on the Pedernales River in Texas Hil Country].
  • LOYOLA is a [University of Chicago]. Not the University of Chicago, but a university here.
  • Your [Hobbyhorse] is your PET PROJECT.
  • ERRANDS are [Run things?] in that errands are things that are run.
  • BUFFOONERY! The clue is the fancy [Harlequinade].
  • IBOOKS! They're Apple's [ThinkPad alternatives], along with MacBooks and PowerBooks.
  • Imogene COCA was [Caesar's partner]. Anyone else think of a Caesar salad with coca leaves instead of Romaine lettuce?
  • The smartphone called the BLACKBERRY is the [Standout success from Research in Motion]. 
  • The JOSHUA TREE is the name of a [1987 U2 album]. Good stuff.
  • To KERN text is to [Decrease the space between, as typeset letters]. When you misread rn as an m, those letters may be kerned too much. Here's a typography joke about "keming."
  • ROACHES are [Clipped joints], as in marijuana cigarettes.
  • A.J. SIMON is [One of a pair of brother sleuths on '80sTV]. I never watched Simon & Simon, so I have no idea of the other brother's name.
  • INDIAN CORN, NAPOLEON II, and laundry SPIN CYCLES run alongside one another beautifully.
  • BIFF was the ["Back to the Future" bully]. Nobody likes a bully.

And of course, Karen dispenses a few geography lessons:
  • IONA is an [Island about a mile off the coast of Mull]. Martin Mull? No.
  • MINSK [once had a large Yiddish-speaking population].
  • [Fuerteventura, Tenerife, Lanzarote, and others] are the CANARIES. I've heard of Tenerife...
  • SKOKIE is an [Evanston neighbor]. It's about a half hour from here.


The theme entries in Donna Levin's Los Angeles Times crossword all have the same clue: [Clutch]. In addition to its verb meaning, it has at least four noun senses: a GEARSHIFT PEDAL, BROOD OF CHICKS, HANDHELD PURSE, and CRITICAL MOMENT. Somehow I found myself wandering through this crossword distracted, not instantly getting too many clues (other than the Bee Gees' "STAYIN' Alive," a [1978 #1 hit]). ["National Velvet" horse, with "The"] is PIE? That is not a pie I would like to eat. PELHAM was a [Confederate officer under Stuart]? I know only The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. A [Manmade inlet subject to ebbs and flows] started with TID, that much I knew, but TIDAL BASIN was not on the tip of my tongue. [Small ones?] are FRY, but the Y crosses [Kind of devil?], and I went with SHE rather than SLY, which mucked up the FRY zone. The [Fictional braggart] is the HARE in Aesop's fable.

I figured I was in for a repeat of yesterday and that Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "See 38-Across," would take the same amount of time as the day's other three puzzles. But no! This one seemed Monday-easy. 38-Across is [First rock from the sun], or MERCURY, the planet closest to the sun. The other four 11- and 12-letter theme entries are all [A (or another) definition for 38-Across]:
  • QUICKSILVER is the liquid metallic element.
  • The MESSENGER GOD has wings on his shoes.
  • NASA's Mercury program included U.S. SPACE CRAFT orbiting the earth. When I was a kid, we had a manual pencil sharpener (the blue one) modeled after the Mercury capsule. Man, I wish I still had that.
  • Mercury is also a type of FORD VEHICLE.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [Falsify, as figures] for FUDGE. That's a lot of F's. Plus: chocolate.
  • LACTOSE, the [Milk sugar], is in here. It occurs to me that RenĂ© Lacoste's last name is an anagram of lactose, and I wonder whether this pairing has been used in a cryptic crossword.
  • SKIING's double-I doesn't get much play in crosswords.
  • ETCH-A-Sketch! The Etch-a-Sketch probably cohabited with that Mercury sharpener for five or 10 years at our house.
  • Semi-unusual letter combos are found in Swedish cinematographer SVEN Nykvist, the Q-less FAQS, and the [Village People hit] YMCA.