March 20, 2009

Saturday, 3/21

NYT 6:18
Newsday (not timed, but on the easy side)
LAT 3:29
CS 3:24

I'm getting to the New York Times crossword late because I was at one of those indoor family amusement park/arcade joints. Frankly, I'm astonished my brain still worked at all after five hours of unceasing kid noise. The Saturday puzzle is by Robert Wolfe. It mostly didn't grab me, but then, I'm tired. The things I liked most were these:

  • The colloquial trio: ["Whatever"] clues I DON'T CARE, and ["Don't even bother!"] translates to both FORGET IT and IT'S NO USE. Apathy and despair: a winning combination.
  • Puppeteer SHARI LEWIS of Lambchop fame is the [Kids' entertainer who won 12 Emmys]. First and last name combos are always cool in a crossword.
  • [What things might be written in] is STONE. Yeah, I tried PROSE first. STONE makes the clue so much better.
  • [The Brady boys or girls] form a TRIO, three brothers or three sisters.
  • Who are ESTHETES? [They appreciate 59-Down]. What is 59-Down? ART.
  • Occasionally I reap the reward of reading articles in Entertainment Weekly about TV shows I don't watch. [Two-time "Dancing With the Stars" co-winner Julianne]'s last name is HOUGH. I remembered the *OU*H part right off the bat. Pretty good for her being famous only for a show I've never seen, eh?
Among the least familiar answers and clues were these ones:
  • [The Minotaur was fed seven of these annually] clues MAIDENS. If I ever knew that piece of mythology, I forgot it.
  • Also from ancient Greek stories: [She gave Odysseus a magic veil] refers to INO.
  • A [Glider-towing plane] is an AIR TRAIN. Nope, I've never heard of such a thing, even though my dad took glider lessons when I was a kid.
  • ["A Footnote to History" author's inits.] are RLS. Robert Louis Stevenson, I presume, but I don't know the written work.
  • [State in Elysium] is not a place, but a state of BLISS.
  • INK ERASER is an [Adjunct to some pens]. Did you know that old-fashioned ink erasers could be deadly weapons? There are also things called gum erasers, which I thought of when I encountered DEGUM, clued as [Free of sticky stuff]. Is that an actual word? Why, yes, it is: "Most commercial silk yarns are sold fully degummed, but some dyers still prefer to degum it again to make sure before dyeing." 
  • Joining INK ERASER in the handy-gadget category: [Blood flow measurers] are RHEOMETERS, and ASHBINS are [Garbage collectors].
  • LYS is a [City in Arthur C. Clarke's "The City and the Stars"].
  • I didn't know that hurrah came in a verb form, but here's HURRAHED, or [Cheered].
  • I know the name RENÉ well, but I needed all the crossings in order to fill that in for [Francois-___ de Chateaubriand].
  • [Last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty, informally] is CLEO, as in Cleopatra.
  • [Buddhist monastery] clues WAT, as in Angkor Wat.

Doug Peterson's themeless L.A. Times crossword has an abundance of interesting answers and clues, and yet the whole shebang tumbled like a house of cards. It's a fun puzzle, but I wish it had made me work harder for the payoff of finishing it. Highlights in the fill:
  • J.M. BARRIE was the [Creator of the Lost Boys] affiliated with Peter Pan. Johnny DEPP [received a Best Actor nomination for playing 1-Across in 2004].
  • CRUSADED AGAINST is clued as [Fought vigorously to abolish].
  • BIT PARTS are called [Cameos].
  • MRS. O'LEARY! She was a [Noted 19th century scapegoat].
  • So, people say ["Here's mud in your eye!"] before taking a drink? This clues "BOTTOMS UP!"
  • ELIA KAZAN doesn't usually get his full name in the grid. He's clued as ["A Face in the Crowd" director], and no, I haven't heard of that movie.
  • BISCOTTI are [Italian bakery items].
  • C STUDENTS? [They're about average].
My favorite clues:
  • [Cowboys and Indians] are PRO TEAMS if you're talking about Dallas football and Cleveland baseball. See also a Detroit PISTON, or [Engine component].
  • In idiom, a DOORMAT is a [Milquetoast].
  • [Record, nowadays] is the verb TIVO.
  • [Some toys] means [Some toy dogs], as the answer is POODLES.
  • [Checker's determination] is FACT. Did you read that recent New Yorker article about fact checking at the magazine? I did, and I still thought this clue was about a supermarket cashier or the game of checkers.
Other bits:
  • ["The Bridges at Toko-Ri" setting] is KOREA.
  • [Ancient Anahuac residents] were AZTECS.
  • [Chaucerian estate manager] is a REEVE. If you're in the mood to read some Chaucer, here are The Reeve's Prologue and The Reeve's Tale.
  • [Like a dogfight missile] is AIR-TO-AIR.
I didn't time myself on Raymond Hamel's Newsday "Saturday Stumper", but it felt almost as easy as Doug's L.A. Times puzzle. (PDF solution here.) Here are some of the clues in the realm of pop culture (more than the usual Newsday Saturday allotment of it):
  • An animated [Sitcom spouse] is WILMA FLINTSTONE. It bears noting that Fred Flintstone is also a sitcom spouse.
  • A Michael J. [Fox film of '89] is CASUALTIES OF WAR.
  • SELA WARD is an [Emmy winner of 1994 and 2000].
  • [It's seen on the monkey in "Aladdin"] clues a FEZ.
  • One ["Tommy" tune] is "I'M FREE."
  • On the big screen, Cary ELWES was a [Robin Hood portrayer in '93].
  • "M.T.A." is the ["No he never returned" tune of '48].
There's a two-clue evocation of pop culture here, too. Corey Haim was in Lost Boys—the vampire movie, not J.M. Barrie's Lost Boys. HAIM is a [Hebrew name that means "life"], and STARE is clued as [Emulate vampires].

This puzzle has a little geography:
  • PAU is a [Pyrenees city] in France. In my day, Carleton College had a Pau program. It's pronounced "po."
  • [Ringling Boulevard locale] is SARASOTA, Florida, "Home of the American Circus."
  • The EDER is a [German river]. How do you like the vagueness of that clue? Heck, that's about as specific as the 4-letter European river clues need to be. Narrow it down to a country, skip taunting us with mentions of cities on the banks of those rivers. Those often are of no help unless the solver's interested in Googling for the answer.
Tougher clues:
  • ["Enveloppe" letters] clues both MME and MLLE.
  • [They're held in a Dutch kiss] clues the EARS. Really? There's a good reason that French kissing is more popular than Dutch kissing.
  • [WWII weapons] clues BRENS. The more common crosswordese WWII weapons are STENS.
  • [Dan-dan noodles ingredient] is TAHINI, a sesame paste.
  • The [Densest natural element] is OSMIUM.
  • [America's film capital c. 1910] is FT. LEE. Not Kodak-type film—Fort Lee, N.J., was this country's motion picture capital before Hollywood took over. I don't know what Bollywood would be called if Fort Lee had held onto its dominant position in moviedom.
  • URSULA was a [British saint]. That's a rather vague clue too, isn't it? Reminds me of the EDER clue.
Today's themed crossword is Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle, "RE-Verse." In each theme answer, a word that starts with RE- sees those letters reversed in order and location such that the word instead ends with -ER:
  • Report cards turn into PORTER CARDS, or [Hallmark greetings for a baggage handler?].
  • Reform school mutates into FORMER SCHOOL, a [Previous place of learning?].
  • A return ticket becomes TURNER TICKET, or [Proof of purchase to see Tina perform?].
  • A recent event turns into CENTER EVENT, such as [Hiking the football?].
I'm not crazy about the theme entries themselves—they're not goofy or outrageous or zany—but I love the concept of flipping the RE in two ways. Patrick, have you tried doing this theme in the opposite way, changing an -ER ending into a RE- start? I wonder if that would amp up the crazy; I'm having a hard time thinking of -ER words that would lend themselves to such a theme without creating a bunch of dreadful RE- verbs that nobody wants to see in a crossword.