September 14, 2008

Monday, 9/15

NYS 3:18
CS 2:48
NYT 2:43 (...would have been faster but for a typo)
LAT 2:23
Jonesin' tba

Sharon Petersen's New York Times crossword was constructed by a woman, but the theme's packed with animal machismo. BUCK-NAKED means [Completely nude] and begins with a word for a male deer (or rabbit, ferret, kangaroo, or rat). We should have more BUCK-NAKED in the crossword—it's a colorful phrase. STAG PARTY is an [All-male gathering], like this theme. A stag is a male deer (but not those other animals). Is there an implication here of a buck-naked stag party? No? A [Bygone Dodge S.U.V.] is the RAM CHARGER. No, wait, Ramcharger is one word. Anyway, a ram is defined as an "uncastrated male sheep." (This site tells you a castrated one is a wether or a hogget.) BULL MARKET is ["Buy buy buy" time on Wall Street]. My, this is a virile theme, as bulls are also uncastrated (it's the steer who has gotten a bum steer).

My favorite fill: VALJEAN, the ["Les Miserables" fugitive]; SACHET clued with [It makes good scents] (make mine lavender, please); slangy ALL WET, or [Completely wrong]; and POP STAR, clued with the clashing [Elton John or Britney Spears]. There are plenty of common crossword answers here that beginning solvers would do well to remember:

  • A TAD means [Slightly]. Two words, half vowels, common letters? You'll see this one a lot.
  • [TV opera "___ and the Night Visitors"] is completed by AMAHL. The clue usually has either that partial title or a mention of composer Gian Carlo Menotti.
  • APU, ["The Simpsons" shopkeeper], is a regular in crosswords now. MOE'S tavern also comes up a lot.
  • A [Rocky peak], 3 letters, is a TOR. Commit the word to memory. Most of us learned this one from crosswords.
  • [90 degree pipe joints] are ELLS. Anything that sounds L-shaped might be an ELL, along with a building addition. 
  • ANA is also a crossword-heavy word when used to mean [Literary olio] or collection. (Remember olio, too.)
  • LEAS are [Meadows] in crosswords. 
  • [Jai ___] is jai ALAI, the sport. More popular in crosswords than in life, unless you're in certain parts of Florida.
  • [Maiden name preceder] NEE is née, French for the female form of "born." 
  • ["The Thin Man" pooch] is ASTA, the fictional Nick and Nora Charles's dog.
  • [Kazakhstan's ___ Sea] is the ARAL Sea. The sea is shrinking, but its frequency in crosswords seems to be holding strong.

Are these Monday write-ups with the lowdown for new solvers useful for anyone? I hope so.

Peter Gordon, a.k.a. Ogden Porter, crafted a New York Sun crossword with a simple theme. In "Totally Slick, It," there are just three theme entries, each with a three-syllable word ending with an E sound, only the first syllable stressed, followed by a word that rhymes with "picket." A foggy description, but here are the answers, which sound good together:
  • JIMINY CRICKET is a [Character in "Pinocchio"].
  • LOTTERY TICKET is an [Unlikely source of wealth].
  • LEMONY SNICKET is the [Pseudonymous author of "A Series of Unfortunate Events"].

The size of the theme leaves plenty of space for sparkling fill. We get the Bee Gees' "JIVE TALKIN'," "The Pirates of PENZANCE," BACARDI rum, and an ACT OF MERCY. This is the second puzzle in recent days in which a musical key was clued, so I filled in *MINOR because what are the odds there'll be a J there? Yeah, both times it was *MAJOR, E MAJOR here. The O part was easy, as were "Thelma & LOUISE" and KERMIT the Frog—so I never saw OSI or its clue, [Giants defensive end Umenyiora]. As usual, the Monday Sun crossword hits at a Tuesday or Wednesday NYT difficulty level.


The Jonesin' puzzle won't be sent out until late today, so I might end up blogging about that one Tuesday instead.

Mike Peluso's LA Times puzzle was nearly Monday-Newsday easy. (The Monday Newsday crossword is the exemplar of an easy puzzle—that's the one Al Sanders almost broke two minutes on in Wordplay, and subsequently has solved in less than two minutes. And Tyler Hinman has done a Monday Newsday online in 70 seconds, I believe.) I liked the anagram theme—65-Across, CARES, is anagrammed into four other words that appear in assorted phrases. GREEN ACRES was the [Park Avenue-to-Hooterville sitcom]. SACRE BLEU is clued as [Poirot's epithet], although an epithet is a name you call someone, either disdainful or merely descriptive, and not just any swear word. A [Cornfield "guard"] is a SCARECROW. And HORSE RACES are what make up the [Triple Crown trio]. Highlights in the fill: RUN D.M.C., the ["Walk This Way" rap trio], crossing RODNEY Dangerfield and RICE CHEX cereal.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle takes a thematic approach I'd like to discuss. Some themes are "tighter"—more specific and more complete—than others. The LA Times theme omitted the anagram SERAC, which is (a) fairly obscure and (b) not found in any common phrases. So it's fairly complete, but it's not super-tight because phrases like SACK RACES and and SCARE TACTIC are out there. Martin's "Definite Maybe" theme groups three oxymorons, all noun phrases, together. They're not related by subject area, and it's nowhere near an exhaustive list of oxymorons. By not squeezing in more oxymorons and by having the latitude to swap out one phrase for an alternate if the fill wasn't working out, there's room in the grid for some interesting longer fill. For example, the upper right and lower left corners have pairs of 9-letter entries stacked atop or below theme entries, and each pair of 9's is crossed by a vertical 9 that binds the middle theme entry to the top and bottom ones. There's a CROCODILE, a LILAC TREE (I never knew lilacs also had a tree form), PRAGMATIC, and "WHERE AM I?" (I'm not wild about ALL HANDS, which feels to me like strictly an 8-letter partial entry missing its "on deck.")

The three theme entries in the CrosSynergy crossword are LIVE RECORDING, or [Concert taping, e.g.]; WORKING VACATION, or [Busman's holiday]; and RESIDENT ALIEN, or [Landed immigrant, e.g.].