March 28, 2009

Sunday, 3/29

NYT 8:14
BG 8:09
LAT 7:46
PI 6:20
CS 4:10

Elizabeth Gorski's New York Times crossword, "Architectural Drawing"

Every now and then, Elizabeth Gorski gets the urge to craft a crossword that combines a rebus gimmick with a spatial or architectural aspect. She's had one with the Empire State Building, one with James Bond's martini glass, and another with Spider-Man's web. This time, she turns her talents towards the EIFFEL TOWER at 118-Across—a [Landmark inaugurated 3/31/1889 whose shape is suggested by nine squares in this puzzle's completed grid]. Which nine squares? Why, the rebus squares, of course, laid out (like the rest of the grid) with left/right symmetry. What's in the rebus squares? Eiffel Tower's initials, ET, which is also the French word et, or "and." What does et do, grammatically speaking? It's a conjunction—THE FRENCH CONNECTION, if you will (67A: [1971 Oscar-winning film whose title is hinted at nine times in this grid]).

There are more French connections in the puzzle's theme. 26-Across is AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is the [1951 Oscar-winning film whose title suggests a visitor to the 118-Across]. That American vacationing in Paris may want beverages or snacks. [Wine enjoyed by 26-Across, maybe] is a CHATEAU LAFITE (45A). [Morning refreshment for 26-Across?] is CAFE AU LAIT (52A); I'm not sure why there's a question mark in that clue. The baked good called a [Napoleon's place, frequented by 26-Across?] is a bakery, or PATISSERIE.

The theme marches on with the ET rebus squares:

  • The Eiffel Tower's spire peaks at 21A: [1986 self-titled album whose cover was Andy Warhol's last work] is ARETHA. (Trivia! I didn't know. See the record cover here.) The ET crossing falls in 10D: AETNA, or [Insurance giant].
  • 37D: Sidney LUMET is the ["Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" director, 2007]. This crosses 59A: DETS, short for detectives, or [Police dept. employees].
  • 74A: E-TICKET has two [ET] rebus squares and is clued [Modern traveler's purchase]. The crossings are 64A: ICE-T, ["Rhyme Pays" rapper] and 65D: A NET, [Work without ___].
  • 93A: [Chopin's "Butterfly" or "Winter Wind"] is an ETUDE. 93D: ETHEREAL means [Light].
  • 94A: RESET is to [Adjust, as a clock]. 95D: ETAGERES are [Snow globe holders].
  • 99A: SEETHE is [Bubble over], and not in a good, happy way. 101D: ETHEL is [Jazzy Waters].
  • 116A: ONSET is the [Beginning], and 117D: ETRE is [To be abroad]—or more clearly, "to be," abroad in France.
  • 121A: ETONS are [Some collars and jackets]. 121D: ETUI is classic crosswordese, [Pins and needles' place].
Beautiful crossword, isn't it? Liz has a gift for the visual and the constructing chops to get rebus squares to fit where they need to in order to draw a picture. And then there's a solid theme-entry count of six. There's probably a reason that very few constructors publish 21x21 rebus puzzles with theme entries layered on top—I can't imagine pulling this off.

Mind you, Liz also had a little help from some clunky little filler words. There's one I don't remember encountering in crosswords before—UNCI (125A) are apparently [Hook-shaped parts of brains]. I may be a medical editor, but I don't know this word. It's the plural of uncus, and my mother, the medical transcriptionist, doesn't know the word either. So it's not just you, if you were stumped by that one.

Here are a few highlights in the non-theme fill:
  • 20A: To [Lose one's shirt] is to GO BROKE. So timely! See also 76A.
  • 51A: BOTCHES means [Messes up].
  • 54A: One sort of [Fruity bowlful] is a COMPOTE. I just like to say "fruity bowlful."
  • 76A: [Doomed] and ACCURSED...sigh.
  • 88A: It's really called a peppermint patty, but still—it's candy. MINT PATTY is clued as a [York product].
  • 4D: PRINCE is clued as the ["Raspberry Beret" singer]. Oh, why that song? "Little Red Corvette," "Let's Go Crazy," the timeless "1999"? All infinitely better songs.
  • 14D: [Arms runners?] are the ULNAE running down your arms.
  • 15D: NED ROREM looks mighty fine with his first/last name combo. ["Bertha" composer] sure didn't ring any bells for me, though.
  • 33D: [Square meal component?] is MATZOH.
  • 41-42D: [It may be bewitching] clues both VOODOO and its neighbor, POTION.
  • 85D: The [Macarena, for one] is a LINE DANCE.
I have a half-nit to pick with 70D: [Soyuz letters] for CCCP. Yes, the old USSR's Cyrillic abbreviation CCCP appeared on old Soviet-era spacecraft. But the Russian space program is still using the Soyuz name—just this week, they launched a Soyuz craft that was heading to the International Space Station upon the departure of the space shuttle Discovery. (The Discovery landed in Florida Saturday afternoon.) The clue's accurate but anachronistic—which means Will Shortz has all the cover he needs to use it. Just a heads-up that Soyuz is still out there.

No late-week NYT crossword would be complete without a little crosswordese, some semi-obscurities, or both. (We call these learning experiences, no?)
  • 87A: [Gunwale pin] is a THOLE. Crosswordese!
  • 97A: [Venomous] clues ASPISH.
  • 105A: TATTED is [Like a lace collar, maybe]. Tatting is something you do when making lace.
  • 5D: TOVARICH is the answer to [Soviet comrade]. I have no idea how I knew that was right.
  • 6D: OKEMO [__ Mountain (Vermont ski resort)] made me mad on a flight once when it was in the in-flight magazine crossword. 'What?!? Nobody's ever heard of that! This puzzle is terrible," I said. I have seen it numerous times since, and it turns out that people have indeed heard of it.
  • 46D: [Long flights] are HEGIRAS. A hegira is an exodus or migration, not an airplane trip or long stairwell.
  • 58D: ARN is the [Royal son of the comics], the "Prince Valiant" comic strip in particular.
  • 83D: The LYS is a [River of France and Belgium]. Man, I got enough problems keeping track of all the 4-letter European rivers!
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Wedding No-Shows"

This week's Merl Reagle puzzle reframes the phrase "wedding no-shows" and creates a theme of wedding-related phrases in which one letter (specified at the end of the clue) is a no-show. The resulting phrase gets clued with respect to various nuptial scenarios. For example, 67A is [What a priest might accidentally call the bride? (L)], or YOUR AWFUL WEDDED WIFE (lawful). Ha! I'll bet that was the seed entry for this puzzle.

22A: [Not-so-good news for a groom? (I)] clues THE BRIDE'S MAD (the bridesmaid). That definite article would pair better with the maid of honor or the best man, as there's usually just one of those. But there are typically two or more bridesmaids and ushers. 24A: [What Eskimos do at weddings? (R)] is THROW ICE (throw rice). The other theme answers are BOTHER-IN-LAW (brother), LOWER ARRANGEMENT (flower), HERE COMES THE BRIE (bride), EXCHANGE VW'S (vows), and A LOVELY COUPE (couple).

Merl presents a new ENZO, [Singer Stuarti]. Not really new, as the fellow passed away in 2005, but new in that he's not the usual ENZO in crosswords. According to Wikipedia, "During the 1960's and into the early 70's, Enzo Stuarti appeared in a series of commercials for Ragu Spaghetti Sauce, where his catchphrase was 'That's A'Nice!'" Another person I've never heard of is LUANA, or [Actress Anders], who started out in Roger Corman's B-movies. And who is [Actress Felicia] FARR? Jamie Farr says he's much better known among Americans.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's delayed Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite, "Presidential Pet"

There's not too much to say about this puzzle, which is good because I am running out of time tonight. The theme is a "presidential factoid" presented in four 21-letter answers that span the grid and an 11 in the middle: THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE / GAVE TO JOHN QUINCY ADAMS / AN ALLIGATOR, / WHICH THE PRESIDENT KEPT / IN A WHITE HOUSE BATHROOM. I just told my son this factoid, and he was underwhelmed. Aw, I thought he'd get more of a kick out of it.

Was President's Day about six weeks ago? Yes, it was—so this was a timely holiday puzzle when it appeared in the Globe. Granted, it was still a quote/quip sort of theme, and I generally can't get too exercised about such themes.

Updated Sunday morning:

Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

How often do you find yourself filling in 1-Across as the last answer in a crossword? That happened to me with this puzzle. [Cheap trinkets] are tchotchkes or tsatskes or, apparently, CHACHKES. The tchotchke spelling is the one I'm familiar with, but Yiddish words seem to have a variety of spellings in English. I can't help thinking that when Joanie and Chachi got married, they received a few CHACHKES as wedding gifts.

Favorite fill and clues:
  • WOULD-BE means [Aspiring]. My dictionary labels the term "often derogatory." (Wannabe gets labeled "informal derogatory.")
  • CAPE COD is the [Eastern terminus of 3,205-mile-long U.S. Route 6]. Route 6 goes from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to eastern California.
  • [Shrunken head?] is a LAV, which is a "shrunken" form of lavatory. Head is also slang for the room with the toilet.
  • [Virgin Mary, e.g.] is a MOCKTAIL—an alcohol-free version of the Bloody Mary cocktail.
  • [Protesting testing] clues ANTI-NUKE.
  • [They may be subject to slo-mo reviews] clues HOMERS in baseball.
  • RED STATE is a [Republican stronghold].
  • [Analog watch, for one] is a RETRONYM. Retronyms are new names for things that didn't need elaboration before. Before the advent of digital watches, a watch was just a watch. Other retronyms include acoustic guitars and land-line phones.
  • [One in Düsseldorf?] clues that single UMLAUT over the U. I'd like to see UMLAUTS, plural, clued as a [Pair in Mötley Crüe].
Kathleen Fay O'Brien's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, "Los Angeles Clippers"

For my full write-up on this puzzle, see L.A. Crossword Confidential.

The theme entails clipping an LA from nine phrases to create the theme answers:
  • 23A: Toy guns? (FALSE ARMS). This one plays on false alarms.
  • 24A: Education for lab rats? (MAZE CLASSES). This is Lamaze classes minus the LA. I was thinking about childbirth in the previous theme entry, where FALSE ___ losing an LA might've involved "false labor." It didn't, but then labor and birth were evoked in the very next answer.
  • 39A: Thug down in the dumps? (BLUE GOON). Blue Lagoon was a racy 1980 movie starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, who was like Willie Aames only blonder.
  • 43A: Where the South American school gp. meets? (RIO DE LA P.T.A.). Rio de la Plata is a South American river.
  • 65A: Dana Carvey doing The Police's lead singer? (STING IMPRESSION). That might give a lasting impression. Did you see Sting at the Golden Globes, looking all...woolly? Robin Williams could do a solid impression of Sting now.
  • 92A: Cop who brings back the genie when he goes AWOL? (ALADDIN'S M.P.). Aladdin's lamp is the base phrase here.
  • 94A: Dubbed-in sounds of disgust? (UGH TRACK). A laugh track turns into an UGH TRACK? That's perfect. Only the cleverest theme entries actually make solvers laugh, and this one got me. American Idol has an ugh track, thanks to Simon Cowell.
  • 113A: Appropriate style of dress for exams? (TEST FASHION). The latest fashion.
  • 115A: ATM accesses that nobody can guess? (GREAT PINS). Most of the theme answers lop the LA off the beginning of a word. Here, it's extracted from the middle of the Great Plains.
Tribute to Dave Sullivan, Our Tireless Webmaster

A lot of you have no interest in paying attention to how long it takes to finish a crossword, I know. But some of us do like that aspect. And look how cool the revamped leaderboard is! Thanks to Dave and his programming mojo, we can now see how we stack up against the friendly competition on both the NYT and LAT crosswords, in one handy-dandy box.

Dave also made one of these standings boxes for Brendan Quigley's site. It is a bit disheartening to be trounced by others, I know. (Ellen, so fast on the LAT today! A slew of people, faster than me on the BEQs!) But it's all in fun, and I encourage the relative slowpokes (who are, of course, still faster than the majority of solvers out there in America) to post their times too. The minutes field goes up to 90 minutes, so don't be shy if you go over the hour mark.

Please join me in a round of virtual applause and whooping for Dave.