September 18, 2008

Friday, 9/19

NYS 5:57
LAT 4:09
CHE 4:09
NYT 3:57
CS 3:34

WSJ 7:03

(updated at 9:30 Friday morning)

Hooray! The Cubs beat Milwaukee this afternoon in a dramatic 12 innings. There were some pessimists who gave up and went home when the Cubbies were down 6-2 in the ninth, and they missed a good time.

Alex Boisvert's New York Times crossword includes a timely mini-theme, and how often is a Friday NYT puzzle specifically timely? Hardly ever. The two 15's that cross in the center are TALK LIKE A PIRATE Day (September 19) and SHIVER ME TIMBERS, or ["Well, I'll be!," as it might be said on September 19]. I do not understand the appeal of Talk Like a Pirate Day, but I know certain people work themselves into a lather over it each year. Aargh? Whatever.

This puzzle is easy-peasy, as far as themelesses go, but still loaded with great fill. For example:

  • PANDORA'S BOX is a [Source of troubles].
  • The colloquial "I'M OUT OF HERE!" is clued with ["Later!"]. I like the entry, though "I'm outta here" sounds more fluid. The same clue pulls double duty with "SAYONARA." "OK BY ME" rounds out the long spoken answers (clued ["That's fine"]).
  • Kooky trivia: [What the 1939 50,000-word novel "Gadsby" completely lacks] is AN E, as in the letter E. An uninspiring piece of fill, but the clue rescues it.
  • [Bank offerings] are CREDIT LINES. Hmm, those are probably a lot harder to come by these days.
  • More trivia: Butch O'HARE is the [W.W. II air ace who lent his name to an airport].
  • LAKE ONTARIO is [One end of the Welland Canal]. The crossings had to do all the work for me, because I don't know this canal. The canal's other end is Lake Erie, and the canal's purpose is to give ships a Great Lakes passage that bypasses Niagara Falls.
  • OVER A BARREL means [At someone's mercy]. Here's the World Wide Words write-up of the phrase.
  • [Shell locations] are GAS STATIONS, not the beaches.
  • Sartre's NO EXIT is the [Play with the line "Hell is other people"].
  • Geography! [Like soldiers known as Gurkhas] means NEPALESE. My college boyfriend wore Gurkha shorts.

The crossings gave me what I needed for [Meyerbeer output], which is good because OPERAS was far from the tip of my tongue. And the [Hindu drink of the gods], AMRITA—that one also came from the crossings.

Tom Heilman's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" is not too fearsome as WW crosswords go, but a good bit harder than the NYT...especially with entries like COTOPAXI, the [Volcano of Ecuador]. And FONTAL clued question-markedly with [Springy?], as in springs of water being fonts. Favorite entries:
  • The LAST WORD is a [Definitive statement].
  • FLOTILLA, or [Naval formation], doesn't rhyme with tortilla. but shouldn't it?
  • Can you see XANADU, the [1980 remake of "Down to Earth"], without hearing the Olivia Newton-John/ELO song? I can't. My god, it looks atrocious. I know the song from the radio but never saw the movie.
  • GEICO is clued as a [Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary]. No caveman, no gecko. Warren Buffett, the king of Berkshire Hathaway, appears in the documentary I.O.U.S.A., now playing in 10 large cities. See it if you can!
  • [Sub spot] clues both the BENCH (where a substitute on a sports team sits) and a DELI (where submarine sandwiches are born).
  • TAP is clued as a [Sign of impatience]. If you're Roger Ebert and you have no voice, your tapping is not a sign of impatience, just a request. Too bad New York Post film critic assumed the worst and whapped Ebert with his binder when Ebert tapped his shoulder to ask him to scooch over so he could see better.
  • If you're going to have NANTES in the grid, why not park EDICTS on top of it? Maybe it will spur people to review the Edict of Nantes.
  • Sports trivia—Ernie ELS is the [Name engraved on the Claret Jug in 2002]. My husband says that's the British Open trophy.
  • [Senators hear it before facing off] threw me for a loop. It's the Ottawa Senators of the NHL, and they hear their national anthem, O CANADA.
  • IRIS OUT is a [Common cartoon ending], that thingie wherein the picture becomes circumscribed by a shrinking circle, leaving a black screen when it shrinks to a dot.
  • Juvenile humor corner: EDIBLE is [Like some underwear], and PRICK is clued in eyebrow-raising fashion with [Make erect, with "up"].

In a freaky coincidence, both the Sun and NYT crosswords contain LATE PASS as an answer—the Sun clue is [Gym entrance requirement, sometimes] while the Times has [Student excuser].


Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword forced me to bide my time and wait for the light to go on. I thought I had 1- through 4-Down right, but that made the beginning of the first theme entry start with SDDO. Say what? Turns out four of the theme entries went AGAINST THE GRAIN—[Rebelliously, perhaps (and a hint to this puzzle's four theme answers)]. Backwards!
  • [Take wild chances] is SDDOEHTKCUB, or buck the odds.
  • [Fight the current] is MAERTSPUELDDAP, or paddle upstream.
  • [Experiment, maybe] is NOITNEVNOCYFED, or defy convention.
  • [Dissent] is KCIREVAMAEB, or be a maverick.
All four theme entries mean "against the grain," and they all travel against the grain too. I like the backwards crossword action a lot. Now, some of the crossings for these backwards answers might not be totally obvious to a solver who hasn't sussed out the backwards aspect, which could make it tough to finish. MACAU, or [Former Portuguese colony in China, to the Portuguese], crosses two theme entries. So does AUDRA [McDonald of "Private Practice"]. [Truth or consequences] clues the word NOUN. [Lucy's "Ally McBeal" role] is LING. [1964 Civil Rights Act creation] is the EEOC. A [Slip cover?] is a DRESS, although hardly any younger women wear slips these days.

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy crossword is called "Lint Trap" because each theme entry contains the word LINT split across two or more words. [Solve a crossword, e.g.] is FILL IN THE BLANKS. CRIMINAL INTENT is the [Subtitle of the second "Law & Order" spin-off]. [Ironically, it's the larger of the two] refers to the SMALL INTESTINE, which is skinnier but much longer than the large. Something that has [Broad appeal] is of GENERAL INTEREST. The fill includes a METEORIC rise beside ESCHEWS; the Italian "thank you," or GRAZIE; and the [Archie Bunker expletive] "AW, GEEZ."

John Lampkin's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Writers' Courses," plays with writers' names and food and drink. [What the writer of "Charlotte's Web" chose for an aperitif?] is WHITE WINE (E.B. White). Francis Bacon joins the game with [What the writer of "The New Atlantis" chose for an entree?]—a BACON BURGER. LAMB CHOPS are [What the writer of "Essays of Elia" chose for the main course?]; Charles Lamb wrote under the name Elia (common crossword fill). Jack LONDON BROIL is [What the writer of "White Fang" chose for a meat course?]. And for dessert, [What the writer of "Cantos" chose for dessert?] is Ezra POUND CAKE. My goodness, that meal is a heart attack in the making. No veggies, no salad, no sides? Just three kinds of meat, wine, and cake? Ambitious fill, with more than 20 6- and 7-letter answers, including my favorite, HANGDOG ([Shamefaced]). There are plenty of high-end answers, such as ESDRAS, [Name shared by two Apocrypha books].

Yet another Wall Street Journal crossword that's easier than they used to be—Mike Shenk, if you're reading, can you let us know if it's merely chance that the last few WSJ puzzles have been fairly easy, or if it's a purposeful easing up? Dan Fisher's "Front-Runners" theme places a POL at the front of seven phrases to change their meaning completely. My favorite was POLYESTER YEAR, clued as [1976, when leisure suits were most popular?]. The other theme entries are:
  • POLLED ZEPPELIN, an [Airship that participates in a survey?].
  • POLO CANADA, a [Toronto-based Ralph Lauren subsidiary?].
  • POLICE BREAKER, or [Trainer of horses for the Mounties?]. Why the Mounties? How else to clue this without using the word "police"? Maybe with "cops."
  • POLAND JUSTICE FOR ALL is [Warsaw's court system made universal?].
  • POLK RATION (playing on K-ration) is a [Fixed helping of a 19th-century president?].
  • POLLUTE STRINGS is to [Fill the kite-flying air with smog, say?]. This one falls flat for me. The clue concept feels a bit tortured, and "lute strings" aren't as zippy as the other base phrases. Led Zeppelin, "O Canada," "and justice for all," and icebreaker are great, though.