January 15, 2009

Friday, 1/16

Sun 5:50
LAT 4:50
NYT 4:27
CHE 3:50
BEQ one day (diagramless, with Acrosses and Down clues up to 26-D)
WSJ 7:38

Mike Nothnagel is one of those themeless constructors whose bylines I'm invariably pleased to see. Why? Because of stuff like this in the Friday New York Times crossword:

Lively fill that tells a story (in my head, anyway): YOU KNOW WHO is an [Unnamed individual], but forget this anonymity, let's call him MR. UNIVERSE ([Arnold Schwarzenegger, four times]). I bet he met a lot of women at a SINGLES BAR (a [Match point?]) in his heyday. You have a question for the bartender there? "OK, SHOOT" is her [Response to "I have a question for you"]. "Do you sell Pimm's?" "YES, WE DO" is the [Reply to "Have you got that in stock"]. "Forget about the Pimm's. I'll have a Scotch. It's an IMPULSE BUY. Make it a double," you say. (PEAT is a [Scotch flavorer, you know.) "LESS IS MORE" (["Keep it simple"]), the bartender cautions, "IN THAT you've had enough. Let me pour you a HOT MILK instead." (That's a [Bechamel sauce ingredient].)

Proper nouns: Some folks hate finding names in their puzzles because they fall in the category of "either you know it or you don't," and when it comes to, say, contemporary pop culture or non-major geography, they can be hopelessly mired in a seemingly insoluble square. Me, I like the names. I didn't know that YING was the name of [Soprano ___ Huang], but pieced it together from the crossings. ETHAN HAWKE is our [Oscar nominee for "Training Day," 2001]; he did a good job looking skeered and conflicted. Gay TALESE is ["A Writer's Life" writer, 2006]. Fictional KATO [fought Robin on an episode of "Batman"]; isn't there another Kato in superhero land? David HUME is ["An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals" philosopher], and he sits atop Verne TROYER, a.k.a. [Verne of Austin Powers films]; he's an actor of short stature who later appeared on reality TV too drunk not to pee on the floor. There's ANKE [Huber of women's tennis]; no other famous Ankes come to mind, so her position in crosswords is a lock. [Israel's Weizman] is named EZER. And there's poet Alexander POPE, [who wrote "Hope springs eternal in the human breast"].

Places in the grid include Michigan's ALMA College, WASHOE County in Nevada, HENLEY-on-Thames ([Regatta setting]), the [Aleutian island] ATKA (I know a lot of you had ATTU there, as I did). There was a a SWEDE ([Uppland inhabitant]) keeping company with a KURD ([Many a Kirkuk native]). Speaking of people in other countries, there are some foreign-language answers here, too. [Cul-___] DE SAC came from the French but is solidly English now. NOTRE is [Our counterpart in France?], or more exactly, "our" counterpart. [Is in Spain?] is "is" in Spain: ESTA. SANS [___ fil (wireless, in Paris)] explains itself.

Other answers/clues I was fond of (or feel slightly ranty about): There's an HOURLY RATE, clued with the hint [A raise may raise it]. [Tinseltown is a part of] SHOW BIZ. I love the word (but not the feeling) ANGST, [Not just jitters].

A couple clues are not PETA-friendly: OPEN SEASON for hunters is [When many shots are taken], and LASSO is clued as [Ringer of some necks]. The ERNS, [Birds with "meat cleaver" bills], do what they can to defend themselves. Those flying geese are on their own, though. PETA probably wouldn't object to ALL OK ([Perfectly good]), but it doesn't feel like it makes the grade as crossword fill.

Barry Silk's Sun "Weekend Warrior" felt easier to me. I tackled this one right before the NYT, and much preferred Barry/Peter's clue for OPEN SEASON: [Animated film of 2006]. I see a lot of the cartoon movies because I have a kid, but this one...I can't remember if it was the one with a bear and a snack machine or the one with the suburban incursions. Wait, it was the bear. The other one was Over the Hedge. Two 2006 cartoons about forest animals starting with O*E* words? Crikey. Getting back to the crossword: My favorite clue was one of the last ones I figured out. [Leaving while the iron is hot?] sure sounds like it has to do with the idiom "strike while the iron is hot," but it's a FIRE HAZARD, leaving the house with an iron still plugged in. Two people merit the full-name treatment here: TALIA SHIRE and LEANN RIMES. I first opted for HOOVED for [Like pigs' feet]; I imagine our porcine friends are less than pleased about BRINED feet. I'm not a POTSTICKER fan, but it sure looks cool in a crossword. I noted to myself that all the GPS clues, like [GPS display], seem to have displaced AAA clues for RTE. Whoops, the GPS display is a MAP this time...and RTES are [AAA suggestions] up above.

The title of Robert Doll's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Two-Letter Entries," makes it sound as if the puzzle will violate the standard interdiction against crossword answers with just 2 letters. The first three theme entries each have two words occupying 11 or 12 letters, though—but in the NATO ALPHABET (that international phonetic alphabet), those two words stand in for single letters. The elegance comes in the choice of letter-words: FOXTROT TANGO stands for FT, and both words are names of dances. [Two male nicknames], MIKE CHARLIE, fill in for MC. And Shakespeare's ROMEO JULIET make up RJ. O gets transmitted as "Oscar," who doesn't partner up with another letter in this puzzle—but there's an OH-OH and the movie OH, GOD, combining in my head into Oh, Oh, Oh, God, which would be a considerably more alarming movie. Oh, and look who's here—the NYT had Verne TROYER and here's VERNE, only he's not clued with reference to Mr. Troyer but rather, [Captain Nemo's creator] Jules.

ESSO update:

Joon's comment reminded me that I wanted to mention the ESSO clues. In the NYT, it's a [Brand named after the pronunciation of its parent company's initials], S.O. or Standard Oil. (If you didn't know that, it makes for a nice little "aha!" moment when it clicks.) The Sun clue is [Sinclair alternative], but it's the NYT clue that has that "long clue providing a piece of trivia" vibe we associate with Peter Gordon and the Sun.

Updated Friday morning:

Tracey Snyder's LA Times crossword adds an -EL to a familiar (or semi-familiar) phrase to create each theme answer:

  • Nanny-cam + EL = NANNY CAMEL, or [Au pair's desert transport?].
  • Peter Pan + EL = PETER PANEL, or [Reality show judges Falk, Graves and O'Toole?].
  • Sacred vow + EL = SACRED VOWEL, or [The "o" in "holy"?]. Sacred cow is a more familiar phrase than sacred vow, which slowed me down here.
  • Spicy hot + EL = SPICY HOTEL, or [Risque place to stay?].
  • Mixed bag + EL = MIXED BAGEL, or [Everything, e.g.?]. An "everything" bagel generally has onions, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, salt, and pepper, or various combinations thereof.
A number of clues threw me for a loop in this puzzle. I immediately thought of hens for [Sound heard after a lot of brooding?], and CLUCK. Uh, no. Oh! Chicks. They CHEEP. No, guess again. CHIRP, from any bird whose mama did that sitting-on-eggs thing. ["The Conspiracy Against Childhood" author] clue upends convention—usually LESHAN is included with the book title in a clue for the writer's crossword-friendly first name, EDA, and "Eda" was omitted from this clue. For [Corona alternative], I thought of other Mexican beers, but Corona is also a cigar, as is the answer, PANATELA. For [Spew out], I started with ERUPT instead of EGEST. [Flour sometimes used in naan], an Indian bread, is ATTA, and though I've had naan I didn't know the flour's name. Two bits of older crosswordese came to me much faster (a true sign of having done an excessive amount of crosswords): ARETE is a [Rugged ridge] and OGIVE is a [Pointed arch]—the latter answer not to be confused with an OGEE, or S-shaped molding (though centuries ago, the two words were synonymous).

Randy Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Cabinet Meeting," calls a meeting of various phrases that include the names of eight of the U.S. cabinet departments. My favorites are GO INTO LABOR, clued as [Visit a cabinet department building?] but evoking childbirth, and BRINGS TO JUSTICE, clued as [Delivers to a cabinet department?]. I liked the Asian geography sprinkled throughout the puzzle—THAI crosses MALAYA (this [Former Asian nation] makes up part of modern-day Malaysia, but Singapore was spun off to be its own country), and BURMA was a [Japanese conquest of 1942] that has since been renamed Myanmar. And there's crowd favorite Jerry ORBACH, [Briscoe portrayer on "Law & Order"]. [Give a hand?] clues SLAP, which is too question-marky for me, too much of a stretch. I went with CLAP, which wouldn't merit a question mark in that clue, which made it hard to see what [Encase] was—SHEATHE, not CH- anything.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's crossword for Friday is called "Corner Stones" and it's a themeless. On Wednesday and Thursday, Brendan parceled out the clues one at a time in his Twitter feed so solvers could go the diagramless route if they wanted to. Knowing that it'd be available as a regular crossword come Friday, I figured it would have standard crossword symmetry and not look like those kooky diagramless puzzles, and it turns out that this makes it easier to solve without a diagram. Hell, I finished the puzzle before BEQ had posted the Down clues from 28-Down to the end. I didn't know this could be done, but there you have it. (Am patting self on back now; definitely have earned a cookie.) In Brendan's accompanying blog post, he says another constructor nudged him to load a puzzle with the sort of entries he wanted to see in a crossword. So this puzzle includes these answers:

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals
  • LOLCATS is clued misleadingly as [Pictures of pussies on the Internet]. A lot of folks think those LOLcats pictures are moronic. I love 'em.
  • [Mini covering] clues an IPOD SKIN.
  • [Tweet source] is TWITTER.
  • If you go [All out], you're going WHOLE HOG.
  • I'LL TELL is a [Playroom threat]. This one took me forever to figure out. Mentally inserting that apostrophe was the key. If your playmate tells on you, you might throw a HISSY [___ fit].
  • I needed the Down clues to figure out 1/8-Across, VAMPIRE WEEKEND, ["A Punk" rock band]—I'm guessing that combo was another of those things Brendan wanted to work into a puzzle.
Not everything in this crossword is hot new fill. ELEMIS are [Fragrant resins], and ASTA is ["The Thin Man" canine]—both well-established crosswordese. LRG is clued as [Big: Abbr.], but "lge." or "lg." is much more standard. [Just ___ on the map] clues A DOT. These things are merely the glue that holds the good stuff together.