September 23, 2008

Wednesday, 9/24

NYS 5:23
Onion 4:45
Tausig 4:12
LAT 3:25
NYT 3:08
CS 3:03

(updated at 10 a.m. Wednesday)

I like Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword for a few reasons. It's got a quote theme, true, but the quote occupies just 30 squares, with the subject and speaker taking up another 22. That subject is the HUMMINGBIRD, [One of the "dumbest dumb animals," according to 60-Across]. (Hey! On Friday, I saw two emerald hummingbirds visiting a friend's roof-deck petunias.) According to GEORGE BURNS, "IT'S REALLY TIME HE / LEARNED THE WORDS." My favorite clues here are: [Trip provider?] for LSD; [Ends an engagement] for WEDS; [Where many cultures thrive] for LABS; and [Something to drool over?] for BIB. There's also a lovely batch of non-theme answers:

  • BUMMERS are [Lousy breaks].
  • HOLY TERROR is an [Imp plus]. Fill doesn't get much better than this.
  • Better behaved is SIR GALAHAD, ["Le Morte d'Arthur" figure].
  • [Definitely] means FOR SURE.
  • Just a [Tad] is a WEE BIT.

The title of Lee Glickstein's New York Sun puzzle—"Oh, Yes!"—should've given away the theme, but I was thinking literally, in terms of adding letters, rather than sonically, in terms of adding an "oh" sound that can be spelled various ways. Further complicating the theme, the "word + oh" sometimes results in a new word that changes the spelling of what precedes the "oh" sound. Crystal-clear, that explanation? This'll be clearer:
  • "You are here" + "oh" = YOU ARE HERO, or [What Leander said to his lover?].
  • "Rent to own" + "oh" = RENT TO ONO, or [Provide Yoko with quarters?], as in a dwelling. 
  • "Cowbell" + "oh" = COW BELLOW, or [Intimidate author Saul?].
  • "Hip boot" + "oh" = HIP BHUTTO, or [Cool former prime minister of Pakistan?].
  • "Bookmark" + "oh" = BOOK MARCO, or [Schedule Polo for a performance?].
  • "Wounded Knee" + "oh" = WOUNDED NEO, or [Injured "Matrix" character?].

I like the diversity of root phrases here, and the consistency of the with-an-"oh" words all being real or fictional people's names. And while the theme answers are on the short side, there are six of 'em! And the pairs at the top and bottom of the grid are partly stacked together. One completely unfamiliar (or thoroughly forgotten, if I ever knew it) name: [1997 N.L. Rookie of the Year Scott] ROLEN. I would've gone with ROLEO crossing ION myself. I surely must've known JAPP, the [Inspector in Agatha Christie stories], at one point, but had forgotten him.


If you're looking for an extra crossword to do today, head to the Fiend Forums for PhillySolver's debut puzzle. His inspiration was the talk in the comments here a week or two ago when the NYT theme was phrases with male animal terms. (Click on "Fixed3.puz" there to download the puzzle.) I love the title!

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Conspicuous Consumption," has six theme entries that are foodstuffs consumed competitively, with the clue alluding to the record set. [Eating record #1 (four 32-ounce bowls in eight minutes)] is MAYONNAISE. 1-Across is a suitable reaction: BARF. TURDUCKEN and MATZO BALLS are among the other theme entries, and don't those make awesome crossword answers outside of any theme? Ben may have been hungry when he constructed this puzzle, because a FRITO, FRIED RICE, TUNA, Popeye's YAM, a PEA, and SOYS are also in the fill. Moving past the food, here's my favorite content:
  • [Seattle area code, archaically represented] is CCVI, or 206 in Roman numerals. Can you imagine how long it would take to dial calls if you had to dial each digit in Roman numerals? (III I II) VII IV VIII-IX II V VIII would be hard to keep straight.
  • Richard PRYOR gets a quote clue: [He said "They call [cocaine] an epidemic now. That means white folks are doing it."].
  • [Liz Phair's alma mater] is OBERLIN. I didn't know that—just that she went to New Trier High School.
  • LITE FM is a [Station type that may play a lot of John Mayer].
  • A.V. CLUB is a shout-out to th Onion's A.V. Club section, clued thus: [Extracurricular group that likely includes few jocks].
  • I am quite fond of the word AKIMBO, or [With hands on hips].

I'm not sure how to describe the theme in Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword. Three phrases (spread among four theme-entry spaces) with assorted sounds (schwa, T, CH) added to the beginning of a word to make the phrase about adulterous romance—that's about it. [A mysterious red hair on a shirt collar, perhaps?] is an AFFAIR WARNING (schwa + "fair warning"). [Job for a private eye hired by a suspicious spouse?] is a TRYST WATCH (T + "wristwatch"). [With 57-Across, "Too bad there's no time for me to linger in our love nest!"] clues SORRY I HAVE / TO CHEAT AND RUN (CH + "eat and run"). Fun theme, combined with a slew of long fill—10 fill entries are 7 to 9 letters long, and 9-letter fill is unusual in themed crosswords. There's a CITYSCAPE, SEAWORLD, SEMISWEET chocolate chips, the BRONZE AGE, a FIRETRAP, and more. I'd never heard of [Washington Nationals manager Manny] ACTA, or I did but I forgot. [Gorillaz bandleader Damon] ALBARN's name was only semi-familiar from my Entertainment Weekly reading. If you're a fan of 30 Rock, don't forget that it returns to TV tomorrow night'll...have to download it from one of several sources. Wow, TV addiction is much easier now with all that enabling technology. Anyway, if you're a fan, then you know [Frank's colleague on "30 Rock"], Toofer, hired because he was two-for-one, a Harvard grad and a black guy. This crossword spells it TWOFER, which is a word in its own right but not the way the show spells the character's name.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword theme is simple yet fun. Who doesn't love colorful words that are synonymous? In the "ado" category we have words like kerfuffle and foofaraw. And in the "twaddle" category, we have the current puzzle's theme: [Gibberish] clues MUMBO-JUMBO, [Hokum] clues PSYCHOBABBLE, [Nonsense] is ROT, [Doubletalk] is GOBBLEDYGOOK, [Bunk] clues FLAPDOODLE, and [Twaddle] is HOOEY. Other words in my thesaurus that could also have been used here include claptrap, hogwash, piffle, poppycock, balderdash, malarkey, and codswallop. I love 'em all! Crossing two of the theme entries is another colorful phrase, PLUMB CRAZY. There were some trickier or more crosswordese-inflected bits:
  • [Mass vestments] are ALBS. If you don't know the word, make a mental note of it because it'll be back.
  • [Neighbors of heel bones] are TALI, or ankle bones.
  • [Brazil's ___ Francisco River] is completed by SAO. Three letters, Brazilian? It's usually SAO.
  • [Sci-fi author and former Omni editor Ben] BOVA. I read some sci-fi in junior high and high school, but missed seeing any of his books.
  • [Loos, here] clues LAVS. I don't know anyone in America who calls a toilet a "lav," and a "lavatory" is on a plane or in England with the loos.
  • [Contrasting ornaments] are SET-OFFS. I don't know the context in which this term is used. 
  • I feel very young indeed when facing such clues as [Singing brother of Joe, Gene and Vic]. The answer is ED AMES, who's in crosswords a good bit, but who are these brothers of his? I don't know them at all.

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Chronicles," spotlights authors who've written books or book series with "Chronicle" or "Chronicles" in the title. For a moment, I paid no mind to the title and clues and thought the theme was "authors whose last names begin with a first name," with LLOYD ALEXANDER containing an "Alex," JOHN CHEEVER containing a "Che," and RAY BRADBURY containing "Brad." DOROTHY DUNNETT, the [Author of "The Lymond Chronicles"], ruined that idea. (That's a series of historical novels I'm not familiar with.) During my sci-fi adolescence (see preceding paragraph), I also read Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain and hope my kid gets into the series in a few years. I may have read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, a short story collection. I never read Cheever's novel, The Wapshot Chronicle.