January 09, 2009

Saturday, 1/10

NYT 7:58
LAT 6:36
Newsday 6:35
CS 3:21
Going Too Far 5:51
yesterday's WSJ 7:46

(updated at 2:30 p.m. Saturday)

New flash! If you didn't get a chance to see Wordplay filmmaker Patrick Creadon's follow-up project, I.O.U.S.A., you can catch it on CNN this weekend:

The two-hour program will feature an exclusive televised version of the nonpartisan film I.O.U.S.A., which examines the U.S. government’'s fiscal landscape and the consequences for the national economy. This exclusive televised event will air on CNN/U.S. on Saturday, January 10 at 2:00 p.m. EST and on Sunday, January 11 at 3:00 p.m. EST.

I saw the movie last summer and found it quite well-done—reminiscent of Wordplay in its graphics, which were sorely needed to illustrate the fiscal policy and national deficit data—and funny at times, but also more than a little terrifying. The landscape has changed since the movie debuted at Sundance a year ago—now President-elect Obama cautions that the deficit will have to balloon in order to stimulate the economy. CNN will incorporate a panel discussion to relate the film's issues to more current events.

(Thanks to Andrea Michaels for the heads-up.)

Here in the Fiend's cozy living room, we just finished watching The Dark Knight and the special features. So cool to see how the insane stunts were done, right here in Chicago in 2007. Commissioner Gordon's house is in my neighborhood, and the SWAT truck passed my husband's office building as it descended to Lower Wacker Drive. The Joker was absolutely magnetic in every one of his scenes; Heath Ledger, rest in peace.

Now, watching a movie like that is perfect mental preparation for a Bob Klahn Saturday New York Times crossword, isn't it? Some trucks are gonna need to be flipped inside your head, and you could really use Batman's utility belt to grapple with the challenge. The utility belt, alas, did not cause me to type PATRRA for [Nero's homeland], nor was it responsible for my failing to notice that bad R when trying to figure out the crossing.

I will come back and list the sorts of answers and clues that make people shake their fists and say "Kla-a-ahn!" but right now, there is a boy who needs to be tucked in. Go ahead and peek at that answer grid if the mood strikes. It's okay. I won't be watching.
OK, I'm back, and in the interim I received some correspondence relating to the unholy union of TANKA, the [Poem of 31 syllables in five lines], and MARACAIBO, the [Oil-rich South American basin]. I didn't know TANKA, so I dug up some examples. I recognize the name MARACAIBO and remembered the spelling, but I couldn't have told you it was an "oil-rich basin." It's also a Venezuela's second largest city, located on the channel that links the Gulf of Venezuela (they have one?) with Lake Maracaibo. The lake is in the middle of the sedimentary basin.

Other trademark tough Klahn fill includes these:
  • PETERMEN are [Safecrackers, slangily]. Have you ever seen this term before? Yegg I know, but not a peterman. My dictionary says the derivation is peter, slang for "safe," plus man. That ain't the only thing peter is slang for.
  • Shoe trees? I know those. The [Foot-long stretchers] that are BOOT TREES? I have none.
  • [Cotton Club standout of the '30s] is Wordplay blogger Jim HORNE. No, actually, it's Lena HORNE, and this is the first time I recall her last name showing up in the grid instead of her first name.
  • PIU ["___ che penso" (Handel aria)] is Italian for "P.U.! I Think (Somebody Farted)," perhaps. Or perhaps not. 
  • [Rigel, for one] is a something-STAR—pick a letter. This one is B-STAR and I think very few non-astronomer/non-physicist types know which stars are which types.
  • [Area between forest and prairie, e.g.] is ECOTONE, a transitional zone between two ecosystems.
  • BARONIAL isn't a crazily obscure word, but its clue is [Style of envelope for greeting cards]. Is there a stationer in the house?
  • The PEEDEE River has more than four letters, so it doesn't get much crossword love. The clue is [River with an alphabetical-sounding name].
    [Early South Carolina senator Thomas] SUMTER—I reckon the fort is named after him, but I don't know of [him.
The challenge with a Klahn themeless doesn't arise solely from the answers. No, there are also the twisty clues to contend with:
  • [Main engagement?] is a SEA WAR, since the bounding main is the sea.
  • [Best in one's position] is ALL-PRO used as an adjective. I was reading the "best" part as pointing toward a noun.
  • AMBROSIA is a [Food carried by doves]? I had no idea. I never see doves carrying anything. The local ones must be lazy.
  • [Irreparably cracked] clues INSANE, not something like "shattered."
  • I've seen that ADAM'S ALE/[Water] equivalency before in crosswords, but have never heard someone actually refer to water that way.
  • [Piece of pie, often] is an OCTANT.
  • STEGOSAUR means [Literally, "roof lizard"]? I did not know that.
  • An ARM is a [Magazine article] in that an arm, or gun, is an article into which you can insert a magazine of ammo.
  • [Member of the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion] is an ARMENIAN. Trivia! Also on the trivia front, [Hank Williams or Nat King Cole] is an ALABAMAN.
  • [Asian language with 14+ million speakers] could be a lot of things, couldn't it? There must be more than 50 Asian languages to choose from. This one's NEPALI.
  • [Morgiana's storied master] is ALI BABA. I wouldn't mind if crossword clues and answers never bothered me with the names of horses.
  • If it's ON SALE, it's [Ready to move].
  • A [Land rover] of a sort is a NOMAD.
  • How about [It's under a top]? That's a BRA, of course. Add an M sound and you get BROM [__ Bones of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"].
What else has this puzzle got that I wanted to mention? Plenty. There's a PECTORAL [Kind of fin on a fish] up above the MAHI MAHI, or [Brilliantly colored food fish that changes hues when removed from the water]. Shouldn't that be the DORSAL fin if it's on top? I love the word MIASMA, clued as a [Corrupting influence]. The [Dyslexic TV host with a college degree in speech therapy] is Jay LENO; good to know he's got a steady career he can fall back on. TUNS are [252-gallon measures], typically of beer or wine. TERA- means 10 to the 12th power or the [Computer prefix meaning 2 to the 40th power]; I'm afraid I don't want to know anything about this clue. Can you HACK IT? If so, you can [Manage]. I like WISE UP TO, clued with [See through at last]. [Studs] usually seem to relate to earrings in crosswords, but not this time—they're STALLIONS. [No-names] aren't just people; they're also GENERICS if they're medications or grocery products. PERSIA was [One side in the Battle of Marathon].


So, that Klahn puzzle was kinda fun, wasn't it? He's one of those constructors I sometimes have a mind-meld with, such that I read the clues and know what he's asking for, but there's a contrast with many other solvers who hit a wall with those same clues. I tend to hit that wall with the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" and its more oblique cluing—it's hard to be a mind-reader with a one-word clue that has multiple meanings. I haven't yet heard of anyone claiming a mind-meld with the Stan Newman/Stumper style of clues—if you fall into an easy groove with the Stumpers, I'd love to hear about it.

Frederick Healy's LA Times crossword tricked me into a frightening confusion of Hollywood history. Who was the [2004 Best Actor Oscar winner], 9 letters? I couldn't remember. I put IDLES for [Runs slowly] and figured the X had to be wrong in XKES, [Classic Jaguars], so I changed that to SLES. (I think I made that up.) With the M in MINOS the [Labyrinth-building king], that made me enter TOM CRUISE, which is just wrong. His last lead nomination was in 1997. 2004's star was JAMIE FOXX, and IDLES became OOZES—and Foxx co-starred with Cruise in Collateralin 2004 and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2005. Double-win!

The two-X actor is balanced by XEROX COPY, clued as [Redundant office term], in the opposite corner. I was thinking of redundant as in "no longer needed" and considered retro technologies like telexes; nope. Speaking of that sort of redundancy, [Combo unit] is a TV/VCR, but it's getting to be time to mention the outdatedness of the device—VHS tapes are losing distribution and you can pick up a VCR at the pawn shop for $9.99.

In phraseland, we see UP IN SMOKE clued without reference to the estimable Cheech and Chong: [How some plans go]. That duo needs a new agent handling their crossword appearances. [Court insults] aren't in the courtroom, they're on the basketball court (or volleyball, I'm sure]: TRASH TALK. I wouldn't have thought of calling VICE VERSA a [Transposition indicator], but that works.

Some names of non-Oscar winners: Jacob RIIS was the [Teddy Roosevelt biographer]. I've never heard of [British mystery novelist Peter] TURNBULL, as I haven't read a British mystery since the '80s.

In the category "things I know from crosswords": SEPOY is a [Onetime Indian soldier]. The [Rich-textured rug] called a RYA is Scandinavian. Does Ikea sell these? KNARS are tree [Trunk bulges] seen occasionally in crosswords, and also in nature. Here's a photo of one.

Trade names used to be verboten in crosswords, didn't they? Here, we have SALADA TEA as a [Company that offers bon mots on its label back]. Are these better than the Starbucks cup quotes? And MOUSETRAP! We didn't have this game when I was a kid, but coveted it. It's a [Board game with cheese-shaped tokens]. Were you trying to figure out how to fit TRIVIALPURSUIT into nine squares?

With the invasion of three new don't-miss Brendan Quigley puzzles each week, it's getting tough to make time to blog all these crosswords. I'm thinking of putting the CrosSynergy puzzle on Newsday standing—just writing about the themeless puzzle each weekend. I was about to instate this today when I saw that Thomas Schier's puzzle, "Family Ties," was another one in which each 15-letter theme entry was three words listed in a row, but I quickly realized it was famous people's names this time, and I'm a sucker for names in my crossword. Here are the theme entries:
  • [Three Lees] are SPIKE, ANG, MICHELE. Lee is one of my favorite American last names because any Mr. or Ms. Lee might be Asian or Asian-American, African-American, or Anglo-Saxon. If I ever write a screenplay, I know what I want my lead character's last name to be.
  • [Three Moores] are DUDLEY, ROGER, DEMI. Did they ever attend the same Hollywood parties?
  • [Three Joneses] are SHIRLEY, GRACE, TOM. I can't keep up with these people.
  • [Three Davises] are OSSIE, GEENA, MILES.
All 12 of these people are from the worlds of movies and music, so that's a healthy chunk of pop culture for you.

Hey! Look at that—the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Dan Stark is the day's easiest themeless for me. (Answers here.) Two clues made me grumbly even though I got them with the crossings. EDNA is clued as [Name meaning "delight"] rather than with reference to a famous person with that name. And OMNI could be the prefix, the hotel, the old magazine—I'm not sure that anyone who's not Mormon appreciates a [Book of Mormon book] clue. I was all set to be bored by [Most people] cluing ASIANS yet again, but delighted when that answer turned out to be wrong—it's ADULTS this time. The crossings were leading me to answer [Talking beast in a 1917 novel] with TORO, and I envisioned Hemingway writing dialogue for a Spanish bull. Er, no. It's TOTO from The Wizard of Oz. [One of a number of things taken to the cellar] is a STEP in the staircase—lovely clue.

This weekend's second Sunday puzzle is "Going Too Far" by Eric Berlin. The twist here is that the black squares are gray, and there's no space between answers—every gray square will be filled with a letter from an adjacent answer that is Going Too Far. That's a cool gimmick in and of itself, but the letters in the gray squares also spell out a quote.

The top row of answers here contains MAGES at 1-Across, INSIDE pitch at 6-Across starting in the gray square to the left, and FOGS at 11-Across, also starting to the left. The gray squares at the inner end of those "legs" of gray squares extending in from the edge are the trickiest because they've got three neighboring answers that are all candidates for the overflow square. Today's Tom Robbins quote is a good one: "If little else, the brain is an educational toy." It's true: kids always enjoy playing with brains.

Friday's Wall Street Journal crossword was Dan Fisher's "Welcoming '09." Each theme entry's a phrase whose meaning has been altered by the addition of IX, the Roman numeral equivalent of '09. I liked this theme a lot. Favorite theme answers:
  • BOLLIX WEEVILS is clued [Throw plant pests into disorder?].
  • [Sprite who's mischievous yet meek?] is a HUMBLE PIXIE.
  • [Your usual standard romantic idealist?] is STOCK QUIXOTE. Extra Scrabbly!