February 09, 2009

Tuesday, 2/10

Onion 4:00
Sun 3:48
NYT 3:12
LAT 2:48
Tausig (not timed—Thurs/Fri NYT difficulty)

John Underwood's New York Times crossword doesn't have the usual sort of theme layout—instead, there are 12 short theme entries (3 to 8 letters each), each with a fill-in-the-blank clue in which the blank follows a nationality
adjective. There's a Turkish BATH (not rugs), Dutch TREAT (not uncle), Russian ROULETTE (not dressing), Swiss CHEESE (not banker), Australian CRAWL (not opals), American ELM (not Pie), Italian ICE (not Job), Canadian BACON (not geese...which are Canada geese anyway), Danish PASTRY (not...hey, I just call it a Danish, no "pastry" needed), Portuguese MAN OF WAR (not man o' wars), French TOAST (not braid), and Spanish RICE (not moss). I made those wrong turns only for the Turkish and Portuguese clues, but I'll bet plenty of solvers had their own assortment of missteps.

[Brandon Lee's last movie], THE CROW, was the coolest entry in this puzzle. SLEEP SOFA is here, clued as [Convertible]; it was just in another crossword about a week ago, and I found it jarring then, too. Sleeper sofa or sofa bed are the terms I hear bandied about. VILIFIER is a weird-looking noun; it's clued as [Slanderer]. Least well-known answer: NINON, or [Sturdy chiffon]. ATC, short for air traffic control(lers), is clued as [Takeoff and landing overseers: Abbr.]. [Bush not seen much nowadays] is an AFRO and not a former president. The Romance languages assert themselves here with POEMA, or [Spanish verse]; VERISMO, or [Operatic movement circa 1900]; ERO, or [Leandro's partner in a Mancinelli opera]; CAFÉ, or [Place to order a sandwich or espresso] (though café is now a thoroughly English word too); RIO, or [Grande opening?]; VAMOS, or ["Let's go, amigo!"]; and ALDO, or [Fashion designer Gucci].

The Tuesday Sun crossword is Patrick Blindauer's "Coming of Age." AGE comes into a familiar phrase to form each theme answer. Let's do the math:

  • Hot pants + AGE = HOT PAGEANTS, or [Beauty contests on the equator?].
  • Sly Stone + AGE = SAGELY STONE, or [Pelt with rocks in a wise manner?]. I suspect that's impossible to pull off.
  • Pop-up ads + AGE = POP-UP ADAGES, or [Saws about infield flies?]. Baseball, meh.
  • Pit stops + AGE = PIAGET STOPS, or [Psychologist Jean calls it quits?].
I've never heard of one-N ANAPOLIS, a [City near Brasilia]. HAIKU is here, clued as a [Japanese verse form]—which reminds me, if you've always wanted to write some doggerel about a crosswordese person, now's your chance.


David Cromer's LA Times crossword has one of those themes I didn't understand at all until after I finished the puzzle and reread the theme answers a few times. The theme entries are all plural noun phrases in which the noun at the end doubles as a verb in other settings, and those verbs are synonyms:
  • STUDDED TIRES are [Winter traction aids], and tires is a verb as in "shoveling snow tires people out."
  • INCOME TAXES are [Annual payments], and filling out IR forms taxes people.
  • STORM DRAINS are [Downpour destinations], and lousy weather drains your energy sometimes.
  • ARMY FATIGUES are an army [Surplus store outfit], and a long military march in boot camp definitely fatigues the recruits.
The liveliest non-theme fill includes HOT AIR, or [Bombast]; NEST EGG, or [Retirement fund]; MISREAD, or [Get the wrong signals from]; and the CAVEMAN, a [Sourpuss in Geico ads]. We all prefer the gecko, don't we?

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club crossword pokes at the standard crossword rules in a couple ways. First, the puzzle's 16 squares wide rather than the usual 15x15. Second, there's one 5-letter answer that appears in the grid in two different places—but those two identical words are part of a longer phrase that would be incomplete without the repeated word. The theme answers are recording artists whose names start with repetition:
  • [Repetitive band with the 2003 hit "Bandages"] is HOT HOT HEAT. This name doesn't ring a bell for me.
  • [Repetitive band fronted by Karen O with the single "Maps"] is the YEAH YEAH YEAHS. I've heard of them.
  • [Repetitive "Mama Said Knock You Out" rapper] is L.L. COOL J. He kept his shirt on in this recent performance so I don't know if the 41-year-old still has those killer abs. Oh, wait—here they are. Whew.
  • [With 41- and 46-Across, repetitive "Love Missile F1-11" band] is SIGUE / SIGUE /SPUTNIK. Know the name, not the music.
  • GANG GANG DANCE are the [Repetitive Brooklyn rockers with the 2008 album "Saint Dymphna"]. Who?
  • Hey, it's the '80s! This one I know: TOM TOM CLUB is the [Repetitive new-wave duo with "Genius of Love"]. Fun song.
You know what? Seventy squares of theme answers are a helluva lot to pack into a daily-sized crossword. Other stuff in this crossword: NCAAS probably isn't in any dictionary in the plural, but it makes perfect sense as [March tourney, casually]. Brendan goes topical with a PLANE that [has a prominent nose, the Hudson RIVER, and the National Transportation Safety Board or NTSB, the [Agcy. that investigated a recent crash in the 17-Across], Hudson.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Clique Clique," hides a series of high-school clique labels in the long theme answers. Well, they're not too well-hidden since the squares that contain those embedded words are highlighted—without the circles, this test solver couldn't find the theme at all. Here's the foursome:
  • [Contractless communication option], or PREPAID WIRELESS, has an embedded PREP. I still have the 1980 book The Preppy Handbook on my shelf.
  • DESIGNER DRUGS are [Controlled substance substitutes], and they hide a NERD. I'm not sure whether I qualified as a nerd in high school. Honor student with zero sports affinity but also zero D&D affinity—where does that place me?
  • COOKIE MONSTER is the [Puppet who - (gasp!) - went on a diet in 2005]. He hides EMO, and the emo phenomenon did not exist when I was a teenager. Many emos probably have parents my age.
  • ["I know you didn't just say what I think you said"] clues DON'T EVEN GO THERE, with a goth inside. My school didn't have any discrete goths back then.
There are plenty of highlights in this puzzle. PAISANOS are [Italian pals]. [Feature for Norm Peterson or Homer Simpson] is a BEER GUT. Norm Peterson was George Wendt's Cheers character, but I was picturing Norm Abram from PBS's New Yankee Workshop and worried about the safety of combining power saws with beer. SLEEPS ON IT means [Takes some time to decide]. FOOD COMA! That's a great term and it's clued as a [Thanksgiving feeling]. NOWHERE gets a depressingly metaphysical clue, [Desolate place, so to speak]. I don't recall seeing DHED in a crossword before. It's clued as [Just batted] and is short for the past tense of an awkward verb formation. "Designated hittered"? "Designatedly hit"? "Served as a designated hitter in an American League baseball game"? "DHed" will do just fine, thanks. TEH isn't a word but I like it in the crossword—it's a [Notoriously common typo].