November 20, 2008

Friday, 11/21

Sun 5:52
LAT 4:51
NYT 4:47
CHE 3:37
CS 3:20
WSJ 8:01

I thought of Merl Reagle when I read this list of "worse than Quantum of Solace" titles, from Chicago Tribune writer Steve Johnson. My favorite was "Cardamom of Venice."

We're having patrickberry pie with patrickberry ice cream—both the NYT and Sun crosswords are by the same constructor.

Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword shows again that he is the primary exception to the rule that I don't much care for 62-word themelesses because they're racked with compromises in the fill. This 62-worder has an oddball grid, with most of its open space in the middle rather than the corners. The fill is Berryesque, which is to say that it's smooth and unforced and rather light on tacked-on word endings and prefixes. To wit:

  • QUEEN REGENT, or [Title assumed by Margaret Tudor in 1513], crosses QUE PASA, or [Greeting in Granada]. That there is a Q starting two phrases seldom, if ever, spotted in crosswords.
  • A somewhat less Scrabbly K links a SKYE TERRIER, or [Scottish dog breed], with NAGASAKI, clued innocuously as ["Madame Butterfly" setting].
  • Colloquial language pops up in a few places besides QUE PASA. "I'M LISTENING" escapes the Frasier Crane catchphrase with a ["Go ahead with your proposal"] clue. "OOPS" is one 4-letter [Word of dismay]. "D'OH!" equates to ["Am I an idiot!"] (continuing this week's streak of short Simpsonian words in the NYT puzzle). Two curtailed words abut one another—a PHENOM, or [Prodigy], sits beside REVERB, or [Label on an amplifier knob].
  • Berry's verb phrases aren't at all tortured. COMES TO PASS means [Transpires]. What you LIVE ON is what you [Pay the bills with]. SPRING OPEN is exactly [What jack-in-the-boxes do].
The cluing is also top-notch, presumably a mash-up of good ideas from the Berry and Shortz ateliers. Some of the items in this listing are not exemplars of great cluing, but rather, facts people may be Googling. I'll bet you can tell the difference.
  • [Garden pests in Harry Potter books] are GNOMES. I didn't know this, but millions of crossword solvers have probably read the entire series and did know it.
  • Trivia! The [1950 #1 hit for the Ames Brothers] is "RAG MOP." If you don't know how to spell that, have a listen. These Ames Brothers seem to disagree with the spelling in the song's title. Also from the musical sphere, there's the [Singer/songwriter Gilmore] named THEA. Who? She's 28 and Anglo-Irish.
  • [Possible response to name-calling?] is "HERE." Cute clue.
  • [They affect one's constitution] clues AMENDMENTS. Cute clue, but don't get me started on the deep, deep wrongness of Prop 8.
  • More trivia!! IBM is the [Co. whose employees have won four Nobel Prizes]. Yeah, but how many Pulitzers have IBMers won? I bet the NYT has more Pulitzers. The [State capital with just 42,000 people] is OLYMPIA, Washington. And HERNDON is the answer to [William ___, law partner of Abraham Lincoln].
  • [They're held by stocks] clues GUNS.
  • [Bedlamites] are LUNATICS. Similar quaintness to both terms.
  • I didn't know there was such a thing as a LIBERTY POLE. (Thanks for the link, Janie.) This [Symbol of dissent against British rule] tried to fake me out with LIBERTY TREE.
  • EPSILON is an [Electromotive force symbol]. Did you know that epsilon means "plain E" and upsilon means "plain U"?
  • [Civics, e.g.] clues the Hondas available as SEDANS.
In its very own category in this crossword, we have a PANTY GIRDLE, or [Unmentionable]. I guess there are still things called panty girdles on the market, but back in 1965, doctors recognized their danger.

Berry's Sun "Weekend Warrior" was a little harder than the NYT. This one's a 66-worder with about 15 people's names in the grid. My favorite clues:
  • [Blood group?] clues the RED CROSS.
  • [Literary periods?] are...the ELLIPSIS.
  • [Person who puts out?] is a FIREMAN. Do you like firefighter calendars? Here are two NYC ones.
  • [Takes a bow?] clues WARPS. If a wooden board is bowed, it's warped.
And my favorite answers:
  • MOSEYS ALONG means [Dawdles].
  • BITE THE DUST is clued [Cash in one's chips].
  • BUSINESS END is the [Part that matters]. Good answer! Good answer!
  • BY YOUR LEAVE is a [Request for permission].
  • MAKE IT SO is the [Last line of "Star Trek: First Contact"].
Those four longest ones frame the black square in the middle of the grid, and they make a beautiful quartet of crossword answers.

Weirdest answer: SEABAG is a [Duffel with a drawstring]. I never knew sailors had a special name for their duffels.


I won't have time for all four of the other Friday puzzles this morning because I came across a link to the Visual Thesaurus spelling bee, and I am powerless to resist its siren song. (I'm the Amy R. on the leaderboard. You add the aura of competition to something nerdy, and I get sucked right in.)

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword has a slew of tricky spots, and the theme didn't come readily to mind, either. 63-Across, the [Sound created by the four identical letters missing from] the other four theme entries, is AIR LEAKAGE, so each missing letter is an S (as in a hissing SSSS). It took forever to figure out where COMIC BEING, or [Batman or Robin?], originally had an S. I daresay "cosmic being" is not so familiar a phrase. [Used up the subs?] is RAN OUT OF TEAM (steam). [Biennial rash?] is THE EVEN-YEAR ITCH (seven)—hey, I like this one. [Supplier of deep-fried fare?] is a FAT FOOD CHAIN (fast).

Clues that made me work for the answers:
  • [1954 physics co-Nobelist Walther] is BOTHE.
  • [Man for all Seasons?] is Frankie VALLI.
  • [Holy Communion box] is the cute-sounding PYX.
  • [FSU player] is NOLE, short for Seminole.
  • [One making eye contact?] is a DROP, as in eyedrop. This one's pushing it.
  • [Airer of the sitcom "'Allo! 'Allo!"] sure sounds English, and it is indeed on the BBC, but I've never heard of the show.
  • [Styling stuff] is HAIR TONIC. Does anyone below the age of 70 use hair tonic?
  • NAHA is [Okinawa's capital].
  • DUEL is clued [It often has two seconds].
  • The devastatingly handsome Harry BELAFONTE (just watch the DVD for Free To Be...You and Me and you will see) was the ["Matilda, Matilda" singer, 1953].
  • [Rosso o bianco], or "red or white," is VINO.
  • [Keep from flying, in a way] is FOG IN.

Updated midday Friday:

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Class Act," has a quote theme. The quote itself is fine (Aristotle: TEACHING IS THE / HIGHEST FORM OF/ UNDERSTANDING), but didn't at all enhance my solving experience. But I enjoyed the puzzle in spite of the quote theme. Those meaty corners with 7's crossing 6's helped, as did sparkling longer fill—the IROQUOIS include [Mohawks, e.g.], GOOD TIMES was the classic '70s [Esther Rolle sitcom], and WATERLOO goes beyond Abba and metaphor to be [Battle of ___ (1815 conflict)]. I liked the overall vibe of the puzzle, what with clues like these for wee little 3-letter answers: WHY is [Philosopher's question]. [Backseat driver] is one type of NAG. SUE is a [Boy in a Johnny Cash song]. ME A is clued ["Peel ___ grape"]. You'd think a quote puzzle with 34 3-letter words would just be horribly arid, and it didn't feel that way at all.

John Lampkin's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Failure to Launch," plays around with terms from astronomy that can be misunderstood by those not in the know. The would-be ASTRONOMER thought a RED DWARF might be Snow White's compadre, Bashful, and that MICHAEL JORDAN must be a shooting star. Given all the wrong answers on the short-answer test, the prof labeled the student a SPACE CADET. All right, that's cute. This puzzle seemed lighter on the erudition scale than most CHE puzzles (this is not a complaint, just an observation). The only clue that held me up was [It holds a yard] for MAST—the nautical terms just aren't at the forefront of my brain.

"Colin Gale," a.k.a. Mike Shenk, has crafted an impressive Wall Street Journal crossword. In "Make Me an Offer," there's a TAKEOVER BID in seven places in the grid—that is, the letters TAKE appear over the letters BID seven times (see circles in solution grid). I had no idea what was going on in this puzzle until I reached the explanatory clue, but I had noticed a lot of TAKEs floating around. I'm guessing it was quite difficult to find a workable way to place the lists of "words and phrases containing TAKE or BID" into the grid, with solid crossings. Try it yourself! Mind you, Mike made it a little easier on himself by not insisting on symmetrical locations for the theme pairs. But still—an impressive construction.