August 28, 2008

Friday, 8/29

NYS 5:46
NYT 4:47
LAT 4:38
CS 4:19

WSJ 6:44

(updated just past 9 Friday morning)

Mike Nothnagel's themeless New York Times crossword is simply a delight. There were so many entries I loved:

  • The [S.E. Hinton classic] THE OUTSIDERS was one of those books I read and reread in adolescence. "Stay gold, Ponyboy."
  • That takes us right to ONE-TRICK PONY, [Person who's talented but not versatile].
  • My recently gave my son one of those SKELETON KEYS, which delighted him, though our old doors that lock have no keyhole and the doors with skeleton key holes do not lock. The KEYS are clued as [Providers of many openings?].
  • BEACH BALLS are [blown up and thrown up]. Fortunately I had enough crossings already not to think of vomit.
  • PUT A SOCK IN IT! That means ["That's enough out of you!"] or "Stifle!"
  • The [locale of lots of locks] isn't a wig shop, but the ERIE CANAL, occupying 30- and 35-Down.
  • When I was a kid, we had a PETE SEEGER record of traditional folk songs for kids. My sister and I had no idea he was a [Protest music pioneer] back then.
  • IRKSOME means [Trying] means vexatious. Is it bad that I use these words a lot in life?
  • [Image on Oregon's state quarter] is CRATER LAKE. Here is what the quarter looks like.
  • The BATMOBILE! It's a [Way around in comic books].
  • That [Annual college event since 1935] is the ORANGE BOWL. I have no commercial connection with the Orange Bowl.
  • I'm taking my first cruise this Christmas. I hope I don't get SEASICK, or [Looking forward to being docked?].
  • An [Exceedinly rare infant, perhaps] is an OCTUPLET. On The Simpsons, Apu was slipping his wife fertility drugs, unaware that she was already taking them, so the Nahasapeemapetilons became the parents of eight.
Other stuff in Mike's deftly constructed puzzle:
  • [Like Ibsen, to his countrymen] is NORSK. I don't recall seeing this word in a crossword before. Norwegian words sure get short shrift in American puzzles.
  • [Ancient dweller in present-day Kurdistan] and Iraq is a MEDE. (Edited to say: According to Steve Manion, the Medes are more often associated with Iran. It looks like Turkey and Iraq account for more of Kurdistan, though.)
  • I wanted the [Component of morning dress] to be TAILS, but it's an ASCOT.
  • [Contents of some arms] are BABES. I don't like this clue. Same with [Where many heads are put together] for the STOCKYARDS.
  • "I'M ON" means ["That's my cue!"] Has this been heard many times this week in Denver?
  • If something is [More than spicy], it's not packed with habañero peppers, it's LEWD.
  • [Rice product] is a NOVEL. Anne Rice, I presume?
  • [Go for a few rounds?] at the tavern is to TOPE.

It's late and I haven't even peeked at Obama's speech yet, so maybe I'll be quick about this. The New York Sun puzzle by Peter Collins, "Four Corners," plunks two N's, an A, and an O in the corners of the grid. Reading them clockwise, they yield a word no matter where you start, and those four rotating words serve as the clues for the theme answers, which are essentially clues for those short corner words:
  • ONAN is LEAH'S GRANDSON in the bible. Spilling of seed? He's your guy.
Inventive theme, with the corner letters constraining the overall fill while providing more oomph than the puzzle would have if those 4-letter words were handed to us in the clues. Not just oomph, but also more challenge, and when it comes to themed Friday Sun crosswords, challenge is the order of the day.

Favorite answers and clues:
  • [Great depression] is a BASIN, geologically speaking. If you have a touch of the science/geology geek in you and you haven't read John McPhee's Basin and Range, check it out.
  • [Champ] the verb means GNASH.
  • [Deuce, for instance] is an OATH, as in an old-fashioned swear word.
  • [Bald pitcher?] is MR. CLEAN. Back in the '70s, he was the only man with an earring I knew of.
  • Capitol was a record label, so [Capitol output] is RECORDS.
  • [Clinton, once] is RODHAM.
  • [Supersize house?] is a MCMANSION.


Myles Callum's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Double Dealing," is—like last week's—considerably easier than a Sunday NYT. I hope it's just coincidence and not an intentional dilution of the difficulty level. The theme entries follow the title's model: seven two-word phrases in which both words start with D. I'd never heard of the DIME DEFENSE, or [Pass-stopping strategy], and don't know which sport it applies to. The other theme entries are:
  • DOLLAR DIPLOMACY, the [Taft doctrine].
  • DISHING DIRT, a [Yenta's activity].
  • DEAR DIARY, the [Start of a personal note].
  • DRAFT DODGER, or [One avoiding the service entrance?]. Cute clue.
  • DEMOLITION DERBY, always [Smashing good fun].
  • DANNY DEVITO, ["The War of the Roses" director].

Overall, the fill and cluing struck a good balance between smart and fun. Favorite entries included DUDE RANCH, ALITALIA (plus GIANNI Versace and Lake GARDA, also from Italy), JAFAR the ["Aladdin" villain] from Disney, and the women's zone about 40% of the way down the grid (LINDAS, SARA, ADA, MADAME, MARGE).

Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword inserts an "ancient equivalent" of TEN to craft the theme entries, each of which adds an X to the first of two words in a phrase. The results are entertaining:
  • [Aggressive campaign targeting cell phones?] is a TEXT OFFENSIVE (Tet Offensive). This would have felt like a bit of a clunker to me two months ago, but now that the Obama campaign is communicating with supporters via text messaging, I wonder if "text offensive" will enter the political parlance.
  • Willa Cather's O Pioneers! takes an X to become OX PIONEERS, [First farmers to use yoked teams?]. Following Cather, I want to use an exclamation point to add oomph to "OX PIONEERS!"
  • [Clunky-looking car that really performs?] is a BOXY WONDER. Boy wonder is a terrific base phrase, and a friend of mine does love the performance of her ur-boxy Scion xB.
  • LATEX BLOOMERS are [Rubber underwear?]. It paints a pretty picture, doesn't it? Latex fetish underwear meets 19th century bloomers. Perfect for the late bloomer.

Doug has plenty of juicy fill in this puzzle—a delicious SKOR bar, Colonel KLINK, BETELGEUSE, HAN SOLO, a MOOCOW. PLEXIGLASS is clued as [Aquarium material, generically]. I believe the trade name is Plexiglas, but plexiglass has a slight edge in Google hits. I think the namer who came up with Plexiglas should have used two S's, unless they were targeting the German market. (Similarly, the X-Acto knife people should've just called it the Exacto knife. At least the Kleenex and Xerox people chose spellings that people don't routinely alter.)

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Po'Pourri," adds PO (the red Teletubby?) to four phrases and clues the resulting theme entries:
  • [Jabbing fiddler?] is a POKING CRAB (king crab).
  • [Why former Secretary of State Colin was never caught off guard?] is POWELL PREPARED (well prepared). Hey, where's the is or was?
  • [Stamp machine?] is a POSTAGE MANAGER (stage manager).
  • [Warden's budget?] is POKEY MONEY (key money). "Key money"? Not a phrase I know, so I read up on it.
UNCURL is clued as [Straighten, as hair], and it sounded off to me. It is indeed a proper word, though. Favorite entry: DIVE-BOMB, or [Attack from overhead]. I'm not quite sure why this puzzle took me a bit longer than most CrosSynergy crosswords—is it just me?