February 11, 2009

Thursday, 2/12

Sun 6:28 (and I took advantage of the Across Lite solution)
LAT 4:07 (saw spoiler for one answer)
NYT 3:41 (...sort of)

It pays to heed the clock. Here I sat, looking to kill some time before the next day's New York Times crossword would be released online, so I navigated over to Jim Horne's blog. Of course, the moment the puzzle is released, Jim's blog post on it is published, and it took a surprisingly long time for it to dawn on me that the puzzle I was reading about was the one I was about to do. (Sigh.) It's not as if Gary and Stephen Kennedy's theme would have stumped me anyway, given that earlier this evening I'd read a different blog post about CHARLES R. DARWIN and ABRAHAM LINCOLN's shared February 12 birthdate (each guy is a [Notable born 2/12/1809]). I do want to call a foul on the inclusion of Darwin's middle initial—in contrast to Samuel L. Jackson and Harry S Truman, we don't commonly refer to him with a middle initial in place. (Jackson and Truman, of course, always called him Charles R.)

The theme also includes Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES and Lincoln's REPUBLICAN PARTY. The central entry, SNACKS like [Cheese and crackers, maybe], ties everything together because Darwin and Lincoln were both inveterate noshers. Yes, I just made that up out of thin air. Other non-thematic material:

  • ["Slumdog Millionaire" locale] is AGRA. I knew much of the movie was filmed in Mumbai, but not that Agra was also in the movie.
  • CHOKE is clued as an [Old auto control], and I haven't got a clue what that's all about.
  • LENIN, the [Bygone leader with a goatee], is just one of many proper nouns in this grid. Peter LORRE played NERO in The Story of Mankind. [R&B singer Hilson] is named KERI, while [Bluesman Rush] is named OTIS and ALAN is [Singer Jackson with more than 20 #1 country hits]. Jerome KERN was the ["Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" composer]. [St. ___, Switzerland] is completed by MORITZ; hey, I once stayed at the St. Moritz across from Central Park. [Old-time gossip queen Maxwell] was named ELSA. RIO fills in the blank in ["A Rainy Night in ___" (1946 hit)].
  • [Where to see 20th Century Fox studios] is IN L.A. I'm not crazy about this "IN ___" combo, because what's to stop an expansion to, say, INOHIO?
  • [What almost always goes for a buck?] is a rodeo BRONC, and this answer was a gimme because I saw it in Jim's blog. (Oy.)
  • [Tinware art] is TOLE.
  • [Kitchen appliance] clues a WAFFLE IRON.
  • [Absinthe flavor] clues ANISE. Blech.
  • The crossword-friendly AARE River is clued as [Lake Thun's river].
  • THE ABCS is a terrific crossword answer, isn't it? It's clued as [Kindergarten learning].
  • One common [Great Lakes fish] is SMELT. If you see folks fishing at Lake Michigan's edge after midnight, they're after smelt.
Sun crossword editor Peter Gordon moonlights as Sun constructor Ogden Porter. The "Happy Birthday!" puzzle's theme will be no surprise to anyone who's already solved the NYT puzzle for February 12. Peter has just three theme entries—14-letter ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 13-letter CHARLES DARWIN sans middle initial, and their birthdate of 12 FEBRUARY 1809. Having just three theme answers didn't mean taking the easy way out, though—Peter used the numerals as numerals in their crossings, so there's no "sometimes I, sometimes 1, or sometimes letter O, sometimes zero" muddling. I really needed the clue for 59-Down to be drop-dead obvious, though. [Bond] is, after all, a common-enough verb and noun as well as being the surname of fictional spy James Bond, Agent 007. What killed me here was the intersecting aviation answers: [Pioneering Boeing planes] are S07'S, the puzzle tells me, and an [Air Force stealth jet] is F11S. Wait, that S must be short for 6 or 7. Oh! Okay. Boeing 707'S and an F-117, which...meh. I refuse to memorize military jet model numbers. I don't know how I ended up with that S there, as 55-Down wasn't a plural.

Admirable bits:
  • UP TO SNUFF means [Satisfactory].
  • [Bear rival] is ARA because both Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian were college football coaches.
  • A [Person with a muscular body] is a MESOMORPH.
  • [Letters in a magnetic fish] are WWJD, referring to the Jesus fish and "what would Jesus do." Not to be confused with the Darwin fish also seen on the back of cars, the one that's sprouted legs.
  • [Prin. counterpart] is INT. I was about to ask y'all what that meant, but it finally hit me—principal and interest on a loan.
  • The '90S are [When Clinton was prez]. The other numerical answers are 1 A.M., 2ND, 800, and 1,000 right between 1809 and 707'S. That's just an insane pile-up of numbers for a crossword—beats ken-ken puzzles, doesn't it?

Dagnabbit, I read a comment giving away an answer in Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword before I'd done the puzzle. Commenters, please refrain from listing answers for puzzles that have not been blogged about yet. "What's up with 28-Down?" is safer than a "What's up with JOOK?" remark, for example. On the plus side, seeing that answer before I did the puzzle allowed me to not fester in that spot of the puzzle, doubting that JOOK could possibly be correct, which I surely would have done sans spoiler. [Joint for merriment, slangily] is a JOOK? I've not seen the word before. This dictionary defines it thus as a spelling variant of juke:
juke (jūk, jʊk) Southeastern U.S.
also jook n.
A roadside or rural establishment offering liquor, dancing, and often gambling and prostitution. Also called juke house, juke joint.
intr.v., juked also jooked, juk·ing jook·ing, jukes jooks.
To play dance music, especially in a juke.
To dance, especially in a juke or to the music of a jukebox.
[Probably from Gullah juke, joog, disorderly, wicked, of West African origin; akin to Wolof dzug, to live wickedly, and Bambara dzugu, wicked.]
Learn something new every day, eh? The theme in this crossword is a numismatic one, all about the LINCOLN HEAD CENT, a.k.a. the penny. The other four theme answers end with words that double as things that appeared on the original Lincoln penny:
  • [Last Martin/Lewis film] is HOLLYWOOD OR BUST.
  • [Serious social engagement] is a HEAVY DATE. I can't say I know anyone who uses this phrase. In the Back to the Future movies, which I just watched with my son, Michael J. Fox's character uses the word "heavy" in its retro slang way, which was anachronistic for movies about an '80s teenager.
  • [What a Manhattan landmark's inscription is mistakenly assumed to be] is the POST OFFICE MOTTO.
  • BUCKWHEAT is a [Pancake flour], and I still get a kick out of finding a wheat penny in a handful of change.

This puzzle grid has three circled letters in it, VDB. The note accompanying the puzzle says "Victor David Brenner designed the Lincoln Head Cent. His initials (circled in the grid) appeared on the 1909 coin at first, were removed as a result of controversy, and then restored in 1918."