January 04, 2009

Monday, 1/5

BEQ 5:20
Jonesin' 4:02
Sun 3:01
CS 2:58
LAT 2:56
NYT 2:15

(updated at 11:45 Monday morning)

Yay! Monday is back-to-school day! I am definitely looking forward to getting my son back into the daily routine. Those of you with school-aged kids know what I'm talking about.

The Monday New York Times crossword by Andrea Carla Michaels is an easy one. The theme is a basic one. Three phrases begin with homophones:

  • MEET THE PARENTS is a [2000 De Niro/Stiller comedy]. Teri POLO played Ben Stiller's fiancée, but her last name is clued as [Explorer Marco] here even though POLO crosses the movie title.
  • MEAT AND POTATOES is an idiom that means [Basic, as issues].
  • METE OUT JUSTICE is [What judges do in court].
As in nearly every Monday crossword, there are some answers that show up in crosswords more than they do in the other parts of the newspaper. If you're new to the world of crosswords, here are some of those words—you will be seeing them again in future puzzles:
  • STET is an [Editing mark] that means "let it stand," or really, "cancel that correction."
  • ASTA is clued as ["The Thin Man" dog]. The Thin Man's main characters were sleuths Nick and Nora Charles and their dog Asta. See what STET and ASTA have in common? They're short words with super-common consonants like S and T (you'll also see plenty of short words with R, N, or L) and the A-team vowels. A vowel like U doesn't appear in nearly as many words, so it's less useful in crosswords. Just 4 U's in this grid, vs. 22 E's, for example.
  • CVI is [106, to Trajan]. You need to know your Roman numerals to conquer the crosswords. If you need a primer, see yesterday's post.
  • Do you know any [German steel city] names? In the Germany of crosswords, it's gonna be ESSEN most of the time. (Other Teutonic content in this puzzle—BONN, which was [West Germany's capital], and ADOLF, a [First name in W.W. II infamy]. Did you hear about that family in the news recently when one store refused to put their kid Adolf Hitler's name on a birthday cake, but Wal-Mart filled the order?)
  • TERNS are [Shorebirds] related to gulls. Other birds that fly in crosswords: the ERN or ERNE is a sea eagle, the AUK is a diving seabird, and the NENE is a Hawaiian goose.
  • REO [___ Speed Wagon (old vehicle)] is what the '80s band REO Speedwagon was named after. REO is also the initials of early carmaker Ransom Eli Olds.
  • AMI is a [French friend]. You'll also see the feminine form, AMIE, in many crosswords. It's crossing another French word, AMOUR, or [Parisian love]. Usually a crossword won't have intersecting foreign words, but really, how many of us don't know that amour means love?
This puzzle's got a lot of proper nouns in it, which typically means that I'll whip through it and find it fun but some people will be slowed down by pop-culture trivia they just don't know. It's cool that Andrea included a couple 9-letter answers in the fill. DIXIECRAT is a [Strom Thurmond follower of 1948] (boo, hiss) and HOPSCOTCH is a [Sidewalk game with chalk].


Ogden Porter, better known as Peter Gordon, must've been short on easy Sun crosswords suitable for Monday, because his byline's been popping up early in the week more than it used to. Luckily, Peter's skills have always allowed him to whip out smooth puzzles on the easy end of the spectrum. Today's theme is "They Died With Their Birthday Hats On"—famous people who died on their birthday. Yesterday was the anniversary of my grandmother's death and tomorrow is her birthday, and a neighbor recently died two days before his birthday—so clearly, not everyone can pull off this dying-on-their-birthday thing. Trivia crossword themes can be fun—if you asked "What do LEVI P. MORTON, GABBY HARTNETT, MACHINE GUN KELLY, INGRID BERGMAN, and MIKE DOUGLAS have in common?" most people wouldn't know the answer, but could find it by poking around in Wikipedia. The fill tends toward the boyish/sports-nutty, with ESPN, TIP / INS, poker player STU / UNGAR crossing himself, RED Sox, OPEN tournaments, NIL as a soccer score, MLB commissioner Bud SELIG, COMISKEY Park, and thematic baseball player GABBY HARTNETT. I filled the bottom middle of the grid with the Acrosses, so it was only now that I saw [Word before "on a Grecian" in a Keats poem title] and [Word after "on a Grecian" in a Keats poem title] for ODE and URN. Hey, I like that.

Kenneth Berniker's LA Times crossword has a theme that's not particularly inventive—phrases that end with -IPPER—but the theme entries are so damned lively, the theme escapes being a yawner.
Berniker makes room for two X's and two Z's in the fill and peps things up with PAUPER ([Destitute type]) PEPPERONI ([Pizza sausage]). OK, so PAUPER is actually a depressingly timely word, but sandwiching a BODICE-RIPPER with PAUPER and PEPPERONI makes it pop. Having ETTA or KETT alone would be "meh," but here they're clued together as a [comic that started out teaching social graces]; Etta Kett sounds like etiquette. I didn't know this trivia factoid.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's latest CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Not G-Rated," and each theme entry has lost the G that used to begin a phrase:
  • [Police that target corrupt emcees?] are HOST BUSTERS. Who you gonna call?
  • [Harems?] are LASS HOUSES. People who live in lass houses shouldn't throw stones because they're liable to thwack some woman in the noggin.
  • RAIN ALCOHOL is clued [Pour vodka and scotch?].
  • OLD DIGGERS are [Miners who are close to retirement?].
I like that the central entry is OSTRICH, with the more common giant crossword bird the emu consigned to the clue this time—[Emu's cousin]. Go, OSTRICH! LIANA is here, too—it's the [Tropical vine] that used to show up in crossword puzzles a lot more often than it does now. If you've never heard the word, make a mental note of it—it'll be back in future crosswords.

Brendan Emmett Quigley has transformed himself into the hardest-working man in the crossword construction business, self-publishing three new puzzles each week at his new website (Monday, Wednesday. Friday). Sure, he's not getting paid for it, but he does have a PayPal tip jar for voluntary donations. (Side note: Amazon recently yoinked the "honor box" that many of us bloggers liked as an easy way of channeling blog donations. I am still mad at them.) Today's offering is "Baby It's Cold Outside," and the five theme entries, baby, all have a synonym for cold on their outside, enclosing the rest of the phrase's letters:
  • [Raw material sent to some textile plants] is COTTON WOOL, with the CO...OL squares circled.
  • IDIOCRACY is the [2006 Mike Judge dystopian dark comedy].
  • I'm a Mac user, so I needed plenty of crossings to get WINDOWS REGISTRY. A blah technical phrase looks so much nicer when it's embraced by a pretty word like WINTRY, doesn't it? (The clue's [Directory for some PC operating system files].)
  • BRAKE DISK is a [Plate used in stopping].
  • [Smooth plaster coating] clues HARD FINISH. Is this a commonly known phrase? I'm not a do-it-yourselfer, so I wouldn't know.
My favorite clue is ["No shit, Sherlock!"] as a snarky equivalent for GEE. Freshest fill: a ZITCOM is a [TV comedy aimed at teenagers]. Does this include the shows tweens like, such as iCarly? We see the three-word RANDR in plenty of crosswords, but this is the first time I recall seeing RNR for [Time off, initially]. Does anyone ever take "R and R," pronouncing "and" clearly? I think we take "R 'n R."

I took a few wrong turns along the way. [Faker] tried to be a POSER, but ended up as a PSEUD. [Laughed out loud] is HOWLED, but HOOTED almost worked. And then I had N'DJAMENI for [Chad's capital], when of course it's N'DJAMENA. D'oh!

And the continual updating continues:

I had been blogging about the Jonesin' puzzles on Tuesdays, and the Ben Tausig and Onion A.V. Club puzzles on Wednesdays, but now I think I'm moving them back to Mondays and Tuesdays, respectively. Adding in M/W/F BEQs crowds my blogging schedule, but the regular Monday puzzles are so quick, Monday can accommodate BEQ and Jonesin'. My Tuesday mornings had been otherwise booked last year, but will be free for a couple months now. I might skoosh the Tausig puzzle to Thursdays when my Tuesdays fill up again—poor Thursday has but four puzzles on the roster.

So, Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle for this week has a fun theme: "The Worst of 2008" (subtitled "hey, at least I avoided talking about the economy"). If you like the Razzies for crappy movies and Go Fug Yourself for the worst in celebrity fashion choices, you'll like this theme. The MOMENT OF TRUTH was [Entertainment Weekly's pick for worst TV show of 2008]. SELMA BLAIR was tagged as a terrible TV casting choice by the Television Without Pity folks. iVillage.com identified HEIDI AND SPENCER from The Hills as "The Worst Couple of 2008." Never saw the show, but Go Fug Yourself has taught me that HEIDI AND SPENCER are a mockable couple. Business Week noticed that GUNS N ROSES have the 'Worst Music Marketing." Nearly 20 years in the making, and the Chinese Democracy album still didn't live up to the advance hopes? DISASTER MOVIE is the [2008 spoof flick that got a rare 0% rating from the website Rotten Tomatoes]; I love Rotten Tomatoes, which rarely steers me wrong. As newspapers shed film critics, the Tomatometer tells critics their opinions still matter.

Hey, look at how Matt stacked those theme entries at the top and bottom of the puzzle. Every single one of the resulting crossings is A-OK. I think Matt might be second to Merl Reagle in fondness for stacked theme entries and ability to pull 'em off smoothly.

Fun stuff in the grid:
  • The [Medium oath] DAMMIT and [milder oath] OH GOSH at 1- and 2-Down are a perfect pair, and then JIMMIE ("Dy-no-mite!") Walker joins them in that corner.
  • Director Penelope SPHEERIS, crossing three theme entries. There are five other 8-letter answers that cross three theme entries apiece—that's ballsy constructing right there.
  • HYGIENE is clued as [Junior high health class topic]. I've always wondered how much the hygiene instruction matters. If a kid's not inclined to shower, brush the teeth, and change clothes regularly, does the health teacher have a shot in hell at inspiring better attention to hygiene? It seems unlikely.