March 10, 2009

Wednesday, 3/11

BEQ 4:56
Onion 3:59
NYT 3:37
LAT 3:21
CS 2:53
Tausig not timed

I didn't glance at the byline of the Wednesday New York Times crossword until I'd completed it—turns out the puzzle's by 16-year-old Caleb Madison, who was at my table at the ACPT Sunday lunch. Nice kid—and one with plenty of cultural literacy, because the theme is liquor and surely that's something he's only heard about. 58-Down, a BAR, is clued with [Judging by their names, where the answers to the four starred clues might be found]. Seeing the middle two theme entries first made the theme more obvious than it would've been if I'd filled in the first and fourth ones earlier:

  • DONALD RUMSFELD is a [Bush cabinet member who resigned in 2006]. He liked to stand at a tall desk, and now some schools are offering students the same setup.
  • AMY WINEHOUSE is clued [Her "Rehab" won a Grammy for Song of the Year]. Here's the video.
  • WALLACE BEERY was the [Best Actor winner for "The Champ," 1931]. Beery is a solid adjective in its own right.
  • NATALIE PORTMAN is the ["Star Wars" actress who's a Harvard grad]. My husband doesn't agree with my objection that she wasn't in the movie that originally bore the title Star Wars, as all the movies in the...sexology? What do you call a trilogy times two?...series now have Star Wars as part of their title.
Now, there are some answers in the fill that make you say "Oh, yeah, you can tell this is a young constructor," and others that suggest his parents or grandma had a hand in it.
  • MORK was the [Sitcom father of Mearth]. Wow, I watched Mork and Mindy and I don't remember that at all. Mork from Ork and Mearth from Earth? Mouch.
  • [Actress Naldi of the silents] is NITA. This one's from Nana, right?
  • [Friend from way, way back] clues OLD DEAR. I'm not sure who uses that phrase.
  • OASTS are [Places for hops]. What, more beer?
  • U NU was the [First P.M. of Burma]. This is one of those names I learned decades ago from crosswords.
  • YLEM is one of those words that I can't say I really learned from crosswords. [Proto-matter from which the universe was made]. The dictionary tells me the word has classical roots but was coined in the 1940s, and it applies to the big bang theory in astronomy. I'm not convinced the crossings are easy enough for this to pass Wednesday muster.
  • [2005 #1 album for Coldplay] is X AND Y. Hey! I just learned this one a week or two ago in one of the indie crosswords. Ah, the puzzles, they keep me young.
  • "BLUE MONDAY" is a [1957 Fats Domino hit]. I think Nana helped with this one, too. (Nana isn't 95, after all.)
  • KID'S MEAL is a [Restaurant offering that might come with a toy]. Methinks Caleb is not so far removed from his Happy Meal-ordering days. Likewise the AGE LIMIT that's [What some amusement park rides have].
  • DORM ROOM is clued as [Stereotypically messy digs].
There's a literary bent to the puzzle, with three poets skulking about. W.B. YEATS is a kickass crossword entry; he's ["The Second Coming" poet]. ELIOT is in the grid without his initials, as the [Poet who wrote "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper"]. Edgar Allan POE is ["The Bells" writer]. Possibly the least poetic word for [Kiss] is OSCULATE. ["No doubt!"] means ABSOLUTELY. (That's not a starred entry, despite the presence of a vodka brand in its midst.) Did anyone know the [Ohio town called the Bicycle Capital of the Midwest] without the crossings? I didn't. It's XENIA.

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword repeats itself a lot:
  • [Doll from Nairobi who solves Japanese math puzzles?] is KENKEN KEN KENYAN. This one falls flat for me because while Kenyan can be both an adjective and a noun, a Ken doll is pretty solidly a noun. KENYAN KENKEN KEN parses better, but interrupts the flow of KENs.
  • [Conduct a smear campaign against a bull's-eye covered in fish sauce?] clues TAR TARTAR TARGET. But...tartar sauce is tartar sauce, and not merely "tartar."
  • [Fire a holy singer who specializes in French dancing?] is CAN CANCAN CANTOR. Well played, Gaffney. It gives a good visual, too.
  • [Tiny beetle that thrives in toilets?] is a WEE WEE-WEE WEEVIL. Icky, but a solidly structured theme entry.
Did you know the [1992 champs at the Cricket World Cup] were PAKISTAN? Luckily, not all that many countries play cricket, so it wasn't hard to narrow it down with just the PA in place. Favorite clues: On the internet, a MEME is a [Viral phenomenon]. All the Facebook folks writing their "25 Random Things About Me"? They're hopping on a meme. The OVEN is a [Gestation place, euphemistically], and what's being gestated, of course, is a bun. Two 6-letter answers differ by just one letter: ["Ghost World" cartoonist Daniel] CLOWES and CLOWNS, or [Fools]. CANCER rarely makes it into the NYT crossword, even clued astrologically, but it's kosher for the Onion—the clue is [One of the three water signs, in astrology].


The theme in David Cromer's LA Times crossword is in the homophone clues:
  • [Queue] is a LINE AT A THEATRE.
  • [Cue] is a POOL SHARK'S STICK. It's also the stick used by lousy pool players.
  • [Q] is James BOND'S GADGET GUY.
The theme answers are essentially clues for the answers contained in the clues, one of which (Q) is too short to be an actual crossword answer.

Assorted other clues and answers: ASSAM is [One of India's Seven Sister States]. Those are the small states in India's northeast extension, nearly cut off from the rest of India by the impingement of Bangladesh and Nepal. The Johnny [Mathis classic] is "MISTY." The [UAW H.Q.] is Detroit, abbreviated as DET. [Like fine cuisine] clues the word SAPID, which doesn't get much use because it's an ugly-sounding word rather than a delicious-sounding one. [Bronx third baseman, to fans] is the Yankees' A-ROD, who is having hip surgery soon. He has used steroids and—I didn't know this—is from the Dominican Republic.

The Wednesday Brendan Quigley crossword takes CHARLES DARWIN as its inspiration, with [55-Down's successor], MAN, paired with [54-Down's ancestor], APE. Each of the theme entries has MAN succeeding APE:
  • [Send back prize money?] clues REMAND A REWARD, changed from reaped a reward.
  • [Favorite tailless cat?] is MANX OF THE HEART. I don't know what apex of the heart means. Wikipedia to the rescue: It's anatomy!
  • [Those sending counterfeiters on assignments?] are T-MAN DISPENSERS. Actually, I think the Treasury agents would be counterfeiter catchers. When I got laid off back in '97 and the Chicago office was being shuttered for good but I was going to freelance for the company, I figured there was no reason not to take the tape dispenser and ancient weird stapler (hey, you can still buy a curvy Ace Liner 502, and it's better than a boxy Swingline) from my desk. I tell ya, having a professional-grade tape dispenser is indispensable when it comes to wrapping presents.
My, I did get off on a tangent there, didn't I? There were some tough clues today. [Hawaiian honeycreeper] is MAMO, crossing those cross-referenced MAN and APE. [Ancient warrior from Amphipolis] is XENA the Warrior Princess. [License giver: Abbr.] is the FCC, which gives out broadcasting licenses, no? O'HARE Airport is [just south of Des Plaines]. That one wasn't hard for me, but I'm from Chicago. What's a [Mandrel]? It's not Barbara Mandrell or the blue-butted baboon called a mandrill, it's an AXLE of sorts. I accidentally typed PLAN P instead of PLAN B for [Backup], which made it hard to see BREWFEST as the [Drinker's party]; it looked like PRE-something, which led exactly nowhere. [Orange throwaway] is the RIND. (It's true. I do throw out the rind.) The [Birthplace of hip hop] is THE BRONX, with a well-wielded definite article.

Patrick Blindauer tries to rescue the SST (60-Down) from crossword ignominy by elevating it to the core of a theme in his CrosSynergy crossword, "Jet Set." (Sure, the Concordes were taken out of service, but the SST lives on in crosswords.) Each theme entry has SST spanning two words:
  • GAS STATION is a [Pumping place].
  • MASS TRANSIT is an [Urban travel option].
  • A CHRISTMAS STORY is the memorable [Holiday movvie with the repeated line "You'll shoot your eye out!"]. I just gave my husband RENE ([Painter Magritte]) a set of Guinness pint glasses for his birthday and cautioned him that the package was "fra-gee-lay" and from Italy.
  • The MOBIUS STRIP is a [Surface with only one side]. Back in the '70s, my dad brought home a few rolls of skinny paper from the computer room at work, so I could make as many Mobius strips as I wanted (= at least one).
  • The STRESS TEST is [Part of a cardiovascular exam].
I kept misreading [Bygone hangout] as a [Bygone handout], so the MALT SHOP was elusive. So were the CRABS that are [Shore sidlers]. I love CORN BREAD, a [Southern starch], and now I want to bake some now. [Spade player] has nothing to do with card games—Humphrey BOGART played Sam Spade.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword for this week is called "F Bombs." The theme answers have a PH replacing an F, changing the meaning of the frase:
  • [Huge fan of leaflets?] is a CIRCULAR-PHILE. The "circular file" is what you call a round wastebasket when you're filing papers in the trash.
  • SCHOOL OF PHISH is an [Academy for learning noodly guitar jams].
  • [Remark from a fan not fooled by Liz's stand-in?] is "THAT'S NOT PHAIR!"
The inclusion of just three theme entries leaves room for more 6- to 9-letter answers than usual. [747 in California, e.g.] is an AREA CODE. The DAILY SHOW is a [Satirical program originally hosted by Craig Kilborn]. Two spoken phrases intersect: "I'M AMAZED" means ["Wow!"] and "AM I RIGHT?" equates to ["Eh?"].

There's a Spanish word I didn't know: NIETA is [Guatemala grandchild]. Ben's original clue didn't specify what sort of relative it was, and I would've guessed that NIETA meant "niece." I like it when a crossword teaches me something new. [Largest island in the Bahamas] is ANDROS. I had the ABACOS in there first. [Leaves before dinner?] is a noun, not a verb phrase: SALAD. Great clue.

There's a slew of names, mostly from contemporary pop culture, in this puzzle: The Sopranos actor Robert ILER, Solaris director ANDREI Tarkovsky, Poe's Arthur Gordon PYM, Disco STU from The Simpsons, D-lister LOU Diamond Phillips, C-lister Gary SINISE, Dawson's friend PACEY from Dawson's Creek, skier Phil MAHRE, Seinfeld's fictional ex ELAINE, the kid's show NED'S Declassified School Survival Guide (which is no more), HAL the [Computer of cinema[, and SPYRO the [PlayStation dragon].