August 13, 2008

Thursday, 8/14

NYS 4:38 (oops, I claimed 10 seconds less in the sidebar)
NYT 4:29
LAT 3:18
CS 3:01

Just so you know, the countdown to my annual Ides of August birthday is drawing to a close. Constructors interested in spoiling me with ad hoc crosswords, it's okay if you're a little late. Procrastination is the order of the day here, so I can expect no better from anyone else...

The "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the New York Sun is a real treat for anyone who likes the work of Mike Nothnagel and that ilk of constructors, which includes, among others, Karen Tracey and Byron Walden. The hallmarks are lively phrases that don't ordinarily show up in crosswords, plenty of high-Scrabble-value letters, and some pop culture fun. (If you haven't observed this already, you should know that Sun crossword editor Peter Gordon seems fonder of the Scrabbly business than NYT editor Will Shortz. You may well see more puzzles like this one in the Sun than the Times.) There are 10 squares filled with the ZQXJK group (no Q this time). Here are the answers that jumped out at me:

  • BRA SIZES! Yes, [They can be denoted by a number and a letter]. They may also be denoted by a number and more than one letter.
  • ELIOT NESS gets the full-name treatment. He was a [Noted member of the Bureau of Prohibition].
  • Do your [Utmost], do your DAMNEDEST! Anyone else start with the sanitized DARNEDEST like I did?
  • ORTHODOX JUDAISM is the [Practice of some Ashkenazim].
  • HORRORS! That's a [Cry of dismay].
  • I like GO ON A DATE because (a) it's a four-word phrase and (b) in the grid, it looks like GOON A DATE. Or maybe GOO NAD ATE.
  • The [Fundamental unit of DNA] is a BASE PAIR.
  • A DEUX is the French phrase meaning [For just two people].
  • CRAZY HORSE is the [Longtime backup band for Neil Young]. I rather like Neil Young's songs, but I could do without the sideburns.
  • HALOGEN LAMP, yup. A [Common dorm room fixture].
  • The GRIM REAPER is a [Haunted house figure]. For my money, the most memorable grim reaper is the one in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. He challenges the dudes to beat him at board games and when he's losing the best of three, he suggests "Best three out of five?"
  • T.J. HOOKER! A [1980s title role for William Shatner].
Clues of note:
  • [What people who need to get high might use?] are STEPLADDERS, not LSD, which is the [Psychedelic derived from ergot].
  • [Rain-___ (bubble gum brand)] is completed by BLO. Ready for trick-or-treating in October?
  • [Word with sheet or music] is RAP. I like this sort of clue, which makes the mind take a wrong turn and think about sheet music.
  • Those wacky mathematicians and their math! ONE is clued with [It's at the top of Pascal's triangle]. Would I have learned about this in high school? I don't remember it.

Damon Gulczynski's New York Times crossword has a gimmick that I love, but until I figured out the gimmick, I wasn't so fond of the puzzle. The judges say it's a split decision. First off, the gimmick—the five circled squares, unscrambled, spell out EMPTY. The clues for the answer pairs that cross in the circles can be answered correctly in two ways, one with the circled square in place and one with that square empty. That is, [Nickname for a namesake of Mary's husband] is both JOEY and JOE. That Y starts YOUR, which is one option for [Not their]; minus the Y, OUR is also correct. With the optional E, [Resettle] is both EMIGRATE and MIGRATE, and [Fix] is EMEND and MEND. The M comes and goes in SOMBER/SOBER ([Serious]) and MIKE/IKE ([One of a candy box duo]). (The latter pair pertains to Mike and Ike candies.) The discretionary T comes and goes in ROTUND/ROUND ([Roly-poly]) and THORN/HORN ([Protective protrusion]). GOOP and GOO are [Sticky stuff] and both SPOILING and SOILING mean [Defiling], rounding out the theme gimmick with the P.

What I didn't care for was the inclusion of OCREA in the grid. That's a botanical term meaning [Papery sheath on a plant stem], and I've never encountered it before, not in a crossword and not anywhere else. That's my pick for most Googled clue of the week. Second least common crossword answer (with three database appearances, vs. 0 for OCREA) is LEAL, clued as [Faithful, to a Scot]. Here it is in a poem. Other clues:
  • MEN'S CLUB is clued as [Strip joint, euphemistically].
  • The [Vernacular that came into prominence in 1996] is said to be EBONICS. The clue is bogus—yeah, the term Ebonics became well known in 1996, but African-American Vernacular English arose centuries ago.
  • Among the geographical terms I learned from crosswords, there's ESKERS, or [Glacial ridges]. ARETE, SCREE, TOR, and SERAC are also in that category (but not in this puzzle).
  • [The Tigers of the Ohio Valley Conference] play for TSU. Where? Tennessee State University, apparently. It's a historically black university, and Oprah Winfrey went there. The [Sch. in Tulsa, Okla.] is ORU, or Oral Roberts University. Nuff said.
  • [Adjusts, as a currency rate] is REPEGS.
  • [It holds water] refers to a LEVEE.
  • [Little brother's cry, perhaps] is "ME TOO!"
  • JACKALS are [Crooks' lackeys]. I didn't know this one. A jackal's also an animal, and the word is from Sanskrit.

P.S. Usually when the Across Lite version of the puzzle has a hint in the Notepad and the printed puzzle contains the same notation, the title field in the applet has an abbreviated hint jammed in. Not so this time—applet solvers didn't see the hint, "When this puzzle is done, unscramble the five circled letters to find out how the circles could have been left with the puzzle's solution still being correct."


Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "What's My ___?" because the word that fills in that blank, LINE (45-Across), is central to the theme. According to that clue, LINE can follow both the first and second words in each of five theme entries:
  • [Tennis server's miscue] is a DOUBLE FAULT. Faultlines in earthquakes, and...double line? I don't know what the latter phrase means.
  • [Noisy, riotous fight] is a BATTLE ROYAL. Battle lines, royal lines of descent.
  • [Evening entertainment] is NIGHT LIFE. Nightline, lifeline.
  • [Broadcasting] means ON AIR. On-line, airline.
  • [End completely, as a task] is FINISH OFF. The finish line, off-line.

I like to see KAFKA, the ["Amerika" author], sitting in the grid.

John Underwood's LA Times crossword uses the same sort of theme that the NYT had a couple days ago—all the theme entries have the same one-word clue. Here it's [Bill], and none of the theme answers is something like COMEDIAN COSBY. Nope, they're all non-people nouns: OUTSTANDING DEBT, a baseball CAP VISOR (not a pretty phrase in the grid), a RESTAURANT CHECK (my favorite—I love eating out), a paper BANK NOTE, and a PROPOSED STATUTE in the legislature. Favorite entries: HENRY V, [Role for Olivier or Branagh]; ISUZU, [Ascender maker]; and IZAAK, ["The Compleat Angler" author Walton]. Now, how come HORSE gets clued as [Champion, for one]—50-year-old pop culture, but still an animal—while SHREW gets clued not as the wee creature but as a [Nag]? It seems insulting to drop that gendered clue right next to [Suffragist Carrie] CATT. I daresay Ms. Catt would not approve! Let's keep our nag references to broken-down horses or the verb, shall we?