February 05, 2009

Friday, 2/6

Sun 8:30—cool puzzle—don't miss it
NYT 5:53
BEQ 5:45
LAT 4:16
CHE 3:08
WSJ 6:58

(post last updated at 8:40 p.m. Friday with the Wall Street Journal puzzle)

Do you wish I talked more about me, me, me? If so, you're in luck! Jim Horne's interview is up at the Wordplay blog tonight.

Frederick Healy's New York Times crossword was moving along swiftly for me until I hit the skids in the lower right-hand corner. The answer to [Rally speaker's emphatic response to his own rhetorical question] seems a tad trumped up as crossword answers go: I SAY NO. Having [Modern home of ancient Ebla] crossing a [Site in ancient Thebes] in the same general area didn't help—those are SYRIA and KARNAK, respectively. KARNAK crosses ["Home Improvement" actor Richard] KARN, who went on to host Family Feud. See those K's? They have plenty of company, as there are eight K's in this kooky puzzle. What else did I notice about the clues and answers?

  • Poor JANE FONDA, her acting career overlooked in favor of being called a [Big name in exercise]. According to Wikipedia, she's "credited with popularizing the phrase 'go for the burn.'"
  • [Dessert skipper's declaration] is I'M ON A DIET. This one seems more natural than the aforementioned ISAYNO.
  • [Sofia, por ejemplo] is (was?) a REINA, or queen in Spanish. [18-Across's partner] is a king, or REY.
  • "I AM A ROCK" is a great Simon & Garfunkel song, a [1966 hit from the album "Sounds of Silence"].
  • [Like pigs] could mean porcine or GREEDY.
  • I had no idea the [Sci-fi hero whose home planet is Corellia] is HAN SOLO. Really, only the first couple of words of that clue helped me out.
  • Kentucky [Derby attire] is SILKS, worn by the jockeys. [Kentucky Derby time] is MAY.
  • [They might be in stitches] clues GASHES.
  • A [Yakut, e.g.] is a SIBERIAN. Geography! Also in Russia: OREL, a [City founded by Ivan IV].
  • YOUR HONOR is a [Term of address used during an argument] in court. Best wishes to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who just had cancer surgery.
  • OKEY-DOKEY! That means ["Sure"], and I like it.
  • EWER tries to dress itself up with a riddle clue: [It has a lip and a mouth but never speaks].
  • The [Epoch when the landmasses of North and South America joined] was the PLIOCENE. Geology!
  • [A call used to go out for this] refers to the TEN CENTS a pay-phone call cost. My clear memory goes back to calls costing a quarter and then jacking up to 35¢.
  • [Star viewed at night] is Jay LENO. Letterman is better. Did you catch his show with Blagojevich the other night?
  • [Where Manhattan is: Abbr.] is KANS., as in the town of Manhattan, Kansas.
  • SCHNOOK is clued as [Blockhead].
  • [Cross] clues SNARLY. I should use that word more often—such as when it describes my mood.
  • [Armagnac article] is UNE. Am I the only one who always waits to see if it's going to go the direct or indirect route? LES vs. UNE?
I accidentally did Joon Pahk's Sun crossword, "Transmutation," at the beginning of the week. Whoo, was this ever hard for a Monday! That explains why it's a Friday Sun puzzle. Joon's got five rebus squares distributed in the four longest Across answers, and each one demonstrates a little ALCHEMY by turning lead (Pb) into gold (Au). For example, [Raising support?] clues a PUSH-UP BRA, and the PB changes to AU in the crossing answer, TUSSAUDS ([Place to find lifeless celebs]) modeled in wax). Blow RASPBERRIES crosses an AUGEAN task. TOP BANANA intersects with a CO-AUTHOR, [Someone with whom you might share a spine] without being conjoined twins. The double-rebus answer is the [#1 hit of February 2003], "BUMP, BUMP, BUMP" (video here), which I have never even heard of. If it wasn't a song aimed at toddlers, I wasn't encountering it in 2003. The song title crosses JUNEAU and HAULS.

I loved the alchemical rebus transmutation, and also relished its challenge and the overall toughness of the puzzle's clues and fill. Plus PECAN is followed by KARO, which is followed by JIMS. My dad JIM'S recipe for PECAN pie is modified from the one on the KARO corn syrup bottle—just use two or three times as many pecans as the recipe calls for so that it's pecans all the way down to the crust.


Todd McClary's LA Times crossword has some genius moments that entertained me. The four OUT OF AMMUNITION theme entries are out of ammo because they've lost the BB that was in the original phrase:
  • [Purple dinosaur's reign?] is BARNEY RULE, based on Fred Flintstone's buddy Barney RuBBle. Perfect combination of pop-culture touchstones here.
  • [Soccer star's resort?] is PELE BEACH, changed from golf course Pebble Beach.
  • [Gem for Natalie?] is a COLE STONE (cobblestone).
  • [Seat at a Juan Atkins barn concert?] presupposes some familiarity with Juan Atkins, and I have none. The answer is technobabble – BB, or TECHNO BALE. OK, Juan Atkins is the originator of techno music.
Here are my favorite parts of this crossword:
  • [Org. with Lynx and Mercury] made me think of the Mercury Lynx car, but the answer is the WNBA.
  • [Colorful butterfly, e.g.] is an ICON, in this case for MSN.
  • [Police captain?] vexed me for the longest time, even after the crossings gave me STING. Oh! That Sting, né Gordon Sumner, whose 2007–08 Police reunion concert I saw twice. Gotcha. I loved the clue once it made sense.
  • [Its two halves usually aren't the same length] refers to a baseball INNING. Well, then we shouldn't call them "halves," should we? Bottom and top it is.
  • AARGH is a [Frustrated cry]. How many people doing this puzzle will have said that before they're through with it?
  • [Had a date?] clues ATE, a date being that small, dry fruit.
Brendan Emmett Quigley's crossword today is a themeless one called "Power Grid." In his accompanying post, he talks about crossword entries that some label "contrived":
Superstar constructors like Byron Walden and Joe DiPietro pull this trick off all the time. Typically their work is so open or so filled with good stuff, they'll inevitably be forced to have to stretch the rules just enough to use completely plausible entires that are very colloquial, yet aren't in any dictionaries, and just barely in everyday speech. I think some solvers are on the fence about them; the case against is they're a little too contrived. Generally, I love those entries the best because, at the very least, they're completely original. And freshness is always going to win out over seeing the same old tired repeaters.
Brendan's got a few such answers in this puzzle, but he also has some incredibly zippy and fresh answers that aren't at all contrived—[Pocket game, perhaps] clues IPHONE APP. iPhone users love to load their phones with fun applications, but IPHONEAPP probably wasn't in any constructor's word database 'til now. Same with SEXTING, clued as [Modern-day booty call]. Who uses this term? I don't know. I don't. But I'm sure it's out there and I'm equally sure it's never appeared in the NYT crossword. MADMEN used to be just a word, but now it's gained currency as Mad Men, the award-winning TV series, so it looks hipper in the grid. CAF is here clued as [Half-___ (order to a barista)]. There might not be any other decent way to clue CAF, but it works perfectly and it's au courant.

I'm less fond of REDIGS and REMOLDS, and the set of "answers that may be considered contrived" includes WE MET, AMUSE ME, and I'M ALONE. Making their inclusion more tolerable is the presence of other lively answers like GAY ICON ([Cher or Madonna, e.g.]), SHEBANG ([Whole amount?]), ONCOMING traffic, the CERUMEN/OUTER EAR combo, and Mickey SPILLANE. ["Sex and the City" siren] really needed to be SAMANTHA, but only MIRANDA would fit the space.

Michael Ashley's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Reading Lits," features four novels whose titles have been changed by transposing an ST into a TS. The resulting title is clued, with the author's name there to lead the way to the answer:
  • [David Foster Wallace novel about the Air Force's wish list?] is INFINITE JETS. Wallace's book is Infinite Jest.
  • [John Steinbeck novel about forbidden fruit?] is EATS OF EDEN (East of Eden).
  • [Proust novel that waxes nostalgic about Mr. Boone's belongings?] is REMEMBRANCE OF / THINGS PAT'S (...Past).
  • [Toni Morrison novel about a flower's center?] is THE BLUET'S EYE (...Bluest...). Bluets are wildflowers. 
No sign of the Across Lite version of the Wall Street Journal crossword yet—Lloyd Mazer, who voluntarily does the work to get the puzzle converted into Across Lite and hosts the files on his server, has a brand new granddaughter (yay!), so perhaps he has been too busy cooing at a baby to post this puzzle. I can wait. Babies are cute.

Updated Friday evening:

Indeed, Lloyd Mazer was too busy with that grandbaby to post the Wall Street Journal crossword earlier. "Divine Inspiration" is the name of the game, and its author is Pancho Harrison. I was rather pleased with myself for figuring out the tie-in between title and theme well before reaching the explanatory answer at 132-Across, [Part of Bette Midler's nickname (and what the starred answers do)]—MISS M. Each of the nine theme answers has lost its initial M and the resulting new phrase is what's clued:
  • [Borough bailout?] is AID IN MANHATTAN. Maid in Manhattan was that J-Lo/Ra-Fi movie.
  • [Trimming back fall flowers?] is ASTER CONTROL. I'm not sure what "master control" means, exactly.
  • To ARM A DUKE is to [Prepare for nobel dueling?]. Marmaduke is a comic strip about a Great Dane.
  • [One with a Bass bias?] is an ALE CHAUVINIST.
  • [Any of the pairs traveling with Noah?] is an ARK TWAIN.
  • [Commercials for donkeys?] are ASS MARKETING. In an Onion or blog-published crossword setting, this clue might have had nothing to do with equines.
  • [Contract for a speaking engagement?] is an ORAL OBLIGATION. In an Onion or blog-published crossword setting, this clue might have had nothing to do with speaking.
  • [Record company in financial difficulty?] would be an AILING LABEL.
  • ARCHING BAND is [Any color in a rainbow?].
Drop-a-letter themes can easily fall flat, but I quite enjoyed this crossword. The theme entries had some fun little surprises, like Mark Twain minus the M and the aforementioned ASS MARKETING. I swear the WSJ puzzle has gotten easier lately. Do you think the editorial powers-that-be have instructed editor Mike Shenk to go easy on their readership in these recessionary times?