December 13, 2008

Sunday, 12/14

NYT 9:55
LAT 8:59
PI 7:47
CS 3:52

Trip Payne's New York Times crossword has a 23x23 grid, a good bit bigger than the usual 21x21. So if you felt like the puzzle took longer than usual (this caveat does not apply to Dan Feyer), that's why. The "Name That Phrase" theme includes a famous person's last name in the clue, and the answer is a phrase that relates to the rest of the clue and has initials that spell out the person's first name. Not content to make a puzzle with eight theme entries, Trip expanded the grid size to accommodate 12 theme answers:

  • [Like Rudner's audiences, after a good joke?] is ROLLING IN THE AISLES. The first letter of each name spells out RITA, comedian Rudner's first name.
  • [Treat for Damone?] is VANILLA ICE CREAM for Vic.
  • Guitar legend Les Paul is referenced in [Where Paul stays when performing in New York?], or LOWER EAST SIDE.
  • When I read the clue [Comes in dramatically, like West?], I thought only of Adam West, TV's Batman. It's Mae West and MAKES AN ENTRANCE.
  • THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton is shoe store guy Thom [McAn's favorite novel?].
  • [Odds of Alda winning an Oscar?] are AS LIKELY AS NOT. His first Oscar nomination was for The Aviator recently. (Alan.)
  • [Putting in a row, like Sampras's rackets?] is PUTTING END TO END. (Pete.)
  • [Court case where Ripken is one of many plaintiffs?] is CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT. (Cal.)
  • THE EVIL DEAD is a [Horror film enjoyed by Turner?]—Ted, not Tina or Ike or Lana.
  • [Musical that inspired Redding?] clues OF THEE I SING. (That's Otis.)
  • [Flower typically given to Neeson?] is LOVE IN A MIST. Say what? I have never heard of these flowers. They're dainty. Daintier than Liam Neeson, anyway.
  • [How Goldin in and her rivals finish in photography competitions?] is NECK AND NECK. (Nan Goldin.)
Now, Otis Redding's a singer and his theme answer is OF THEE I SING, which he probably never sang but it's close enough. When Rita Rudner is on, she'll leave her audience ROLLING IN THE AISLES. The rest of the theme entries don't seem to have any semantic connection to the person in the clue.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [Where opposite sides meet] is at a DEBATE.
  • DREAM ON is a [Skeptical response]. Remember the HBO comedy series by that name?
  • Duane and Gregg Allman stand down as [Supremely macho] clues ALL MAN.
  • [Northern star?] is SANTA Claus.
  • [Like fries, typically] is SALTED. I'll take mine plain, please—unless it's the sea salt flakes on those sweet potato fries at Rocks in Lakeview. Yum.
  • SALERNO is not just a cookie brand, it's also a [Tyrrhenian Sea port]. More geography: the CHINA SEA is [Taiwan's setting], and ENG. (English) is the [Official lang. of Mauritius].
  • ELOI wanders away from the H.G. Wells race and gets a [Patron saint of goldsmiths] clue. Weird.
  • A [Knave] is a VARLET. Archaic! It's a fun word. Go ahead—call someone a varlet when they've pissed you off.
  • DINS are [Tinnitus causes]. Have you ever experienced ringing in your ears after a concert? That's this.
  • [Fish with toxic blood] is an EEL. Toxic blood? Really? Does everyone know this? It's new to me.
  • SWISS is [Cheese with eyes]. I don't eat food that is looking at me.
  • [Take turns?] is GYRATE. I had ROTATE first.
  • [The Gang's leader] is KOOL, as in Kool and the Gang. You know it's been too long since you listened to "Celebration." Go watch the video now.
  • [Georgia or Virginia, e.g.] clues PRENAME, which is another word for forename, meaning a first name. I know prenom in French, but not PRENAME in English.
  • PATSIES are [Dupes].
  • TODD Palin hits the big time, clued as [Sarah Palin's husband]. Betcha a dollar that this clue will be obscure in future NYT crossword book collections.

I had fun with Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Dreaming of Hawaii." The theme entries are classic Reagle-style puns building on Hawaiian words:
  • THE KONA DRUGSTORE is a [Good name for a Hawaiian coffee shop?]. "Corner drugstore," Kona coffee.
  • [Tourist's first impression of Hawaii?] is EVERYWHERE A MUUMUU. This one plays on "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," with the lyrics "here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo-moo."
  • YIPPEE OAHU is a [Hawaiian tourist's exclamation?]. This plays on..."yippee, yahoo"? Or "yippee-aye-o"?
  • [Hawaiian souvenir made from corn chips?] is a FRITO LEI. Yum, Fritos! (Made by Frito-Lay.)
  • POI SCOUT, building on "boy scout," is [One in search of Hawaiian food?].
  • [Hot coal at a Hawaiian cookout? (with apologies to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)] is LUAU CINDER. Lew Alcindor! I love it. It's just crazy enough to be brilliant(ly goofy).
  • SHIFTS INTO ALOHA GEAR ("shifts into a lower gear") is clued as [Puts on grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts?].
  • [Title of an expose about Hawaiian dancers?] is HOT LIPS, HULA HANDS. Loretta Swit's character on M*A*S*H was Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan.
1-Across threw me for a loop. [Surety provider] wanted to be BONDSMAN, but the answer turns out to be BAILSMAN. The fill included a lot of names, it felt like—works for me, but I know it gives some people fits. [Great balls of fire] are SUNS, of course—this is one of my favorite clues here. SHEBAT would've been tough if clued as [Hebrew month], but with [Hebrew month (not Dracula's mother)] instead? Much easier, and fun. That's the sort of clue beginning constructors love to write, but if their puzzle's published by one of the mainline crossword editors, that clue is going bye-bye. Merl is his own boss, so he can get away with this.

Another unknown for me was [Quantrill's forte], or RAID. I got this one through the crossings and then checked a dictionary to see what a quantrill is. It's not a "what," it's a "who"—William Quantrill, a pro-Confederacy punk who leg a group of guerrilla raiders against the Union during the Civil War. The surviving Raiders went on to be plain ol' outlaws and...I'm not surprised.


The syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword (available via, as always) has an ambitious and smart theme called "Career Paths." (The byline credits "Verge," and I don't know who that means.) Each of the six long answers is part of a string of unrelated jobs that sound like they should be related. To wit:
  • The two missing jobs in the sequence [Cattle rancher, ___, ___, locksmith] are HEADMASTER, HAIRDRESSER. A cattle rancher is the master of many head of cattle. A hairdresser is the master of the client's head. And a locksmith might serve as a smith of locks of hair.
  • [Pastor, ___, ___, disk jockey] clues HISTORIAN, RECORD KEEPER. Historians study the past and keep records. DJs also keep records (of music).
  • [Oil rig worker, ___, ___, auto body repairman] clues DRILL SERGEANT, DENTIST. The links here are oil drills, dental drills, fixing dents.
  • [Circuit judge, ___, ___, lion tamer] clues ELECTRICIAN, SWITCHMAN. Circuits can be electrical, there are electrical switches, and a lion tamer might use a switch (small whip).
  • [Child care worker, ___, ___, cashier] clues PLAYWRIGHT, QUARTERBACK. Play with children, quarterbacks call the plays, here's your 25¢ change back.
  • [Busboy, ___, ___, pollster] clues TRANSIT WORKER, SURVEYOR. Busboy to bus driver to...I don't understand the connection between TRANSIT WORKER and surveying/polling.
Nothing in the non-theme fill was particularly exciting, but nothing struck me as iffy or clunky, either. The theme is definitely the meat of this puzzle, and I enjoyed the flexible thinking about alternate meanings it required. With 124 theme squares, this theme takes up more real estate than a lot of themes with eight or 10 entries.

Randolph Ross's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" puts its showiest answer right up top at 1-Across. It's a psychological thing—when 1-Across is a blah word that you can't even guess at the first time you read the clue (e.g., ANTRE in that recent NYT puzzle), the solver's starting off irked rather than pleased. Here, JOE SIXPACK, the [Average guy, to some politicians], sits at 1-Across to kick things off with some zest. Other favorite clues/answers in this puzzle:
  • [NBA long shot?] is a THREE(-point shot).
  • The SLURPEE is a [Big Gulp alternative] if you're thirsty and at 7-Eleven.
  • TORIC means shaped [Like Lifesavers]. Remember tangerine Lifesavers? I miss those.
  • JUDAH is the [Hero of the Hanukkah story]. 'Tis the season!
  • Sports action: [How Monday morning quarterbacks see things] is IN RETROSPECT, and the [Happy Valley coach] is Penn State's Joe PATERNO. Did you know JoePa is also a Penn State philanthropist?
  • ERIK SATIE, [Collaborator with Claude Debussy], and Arturo TOSCANINI, [Principal conductor at La Scala in 1898], pal around in the northeast corner of the grid.