March 31, 2009

Wednesday, 4/1

Onion 4:12
BEQ/Rex 4:11
NYT 3:46
CS 3:14
LAT 3:08

Over in the comments on Monday's L.A. Crossword Confidential post, Joon crunched the numbers on the odds that two crosswords will share an answer. The upshot, which pretty well debunks the whole crossword fill conspiracy theory, is that "the two puzzles will have a word in common about half the time, and 2+ words in common about once a week." So now we know. When we see the same word in more than one of a day's puzzles, it's not eerie—it's just something that's statistically likely to happen a lot of the time.

The discussion there turned to the likelihood of two people in a group sharing a birthday. Facebook tells me that two of my crossword friends have April 1 birthdays—regular commenter PhillySolver and constructor Francis Heaney. Happy Birthday to the fellas, and Happy April Fools Day to all.

Reminder: Wednesday's Jeopardy! will have a category drawn from Brendan Quigley's Thursday NYT puzzle. Don't miss either one—and choose the order wisely. Would you rather spoil the crossword or the Jeopardy! category?

Ed Stein and Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

It's an April 1 crossword, so what does that mean? Mischief! The clues for the theme entries appear to give the answers away, but it turns out they're all trick questions:

  • 18A: [Where was the Battle of Bunker Hill fought?] Nearby BREED'S HILL, that's where.
  • 29A: [What animal does a bulldogger throw?] It's a STEER. The rodeo event known as bulldogging is also called steer wrestling.
  • 37A: [In what country are Panama hats made?] Why, that's ECUADOR, of course.
  • 41A: [What is George Eliot's given name?] It's not George, it's MARY ANN. Mary Anne/Mary Ann/Marian Evans was the novelist's name at birth.
  • 47A: [From what animals do we get catgut?] That material used in to string some musical instruments comes from SHEEP or horse intestines.
  • 59A: [In what country are Chinese gooseberries produced?] They're also called kiwi fruit, and they're from NEW ZEALAND.
  • 3D: [What color is the black box in a commercial jet?] It's ORANGE. For real? Wow. I had no idea. That's going to figure into my new fake story for why I call myself Orange in the blogosphere.
  • 7D: [What is actor Stewart Granger's family name?] It ain't Granger. It's STEWART. His real name was James Stewart, but there was another actor using that name so he changed it.
  • 31D: [The California gull is the state bird of which state?] That one's UTAH. The Utahns liked the California gulls because they came and ate up all the locusts that were plaguing the land.
  • 34D: [For what animals are the Canary Islands named?] That'd be DOGS, a.k.a. canines. The birds called canaries get their name from the islands, not vice versa.
  • 43D: [What kind of fruit is an alligator pear?] It is an AVOCADO.
  • 49D: [How many colleges are in the Big Ten?] This athletic conference has ELEVEN teams. The graphic designer who came up with the Big Ten logo is a genius—see the "11" in the background color framing the letter T?
Let us examine the numbers here. A whopping 12 theme entries and 72 theme squares? Yowzah! Between the ambitiousness of the theme and the sheer fun of it, I'm nominating this puzzle for the year-end Oryx awards.

Elsewhere in the puzzle, we learn that the Washoe Indians can also be spelled WASHO. The [California Indian tribe: Var.] clue and my memory suggest that Washoe is the usual spelling, but Wikipedia mostly goes with Washo. I love [Drop ___ (moon)] as the clue for TROU; hey, how else are you gonna clue TROU? EDIT is clued [Get copy right]; yes, indeed, that is what editors strive to do. Clever clue for TILDE: [Part of São Paulo] means part of that spelling, not part of the city. Speaking of diacritical marks, [Not différent] clues EGAL, the French word for "same." The clue for MSEC, or millisecond, is a little tricky: [Fraction of a tick: Abbr.]. I got snared by the HI-DE-HI clue, instead entering HI-DE-HO. Both can be called a [Cab Calloway phrase]. "Hi-de-hi" is in the lyrics to "The Hi De Ho Miracle Man." The [Site for a site] clue doubles up, giving both the WEB and the NET.

The lowly ARIL, or [Seed cover], is perhaps the oldest bit of crosswordese in the grid. Or maybe that distinction belongs to HODS, which are [Brick carriers]. Also in the debit column for today's puzzle is ALL SIZES, clued as [Nobody too big or too small, on a sign]. The clue seems to point more towards something like "one size fits most." Of course, the three things in the debit column are more than offset by the 12 theme answers, 72 theme squares, and assorted other clever clues and interesting fill. Excellent work, Ed and Paula. (And Will Shortz, of course.)

Updated Wednesday morning:

Pancho Harrison's Los Angeles Times crossword

Pancho's puzzle celebrates April Fools Day without any trickery, just theme entries that are movie titles ending with those words:
  • [2003 Katie Holmes film] is PIECES OF APRIL.
  • [1965 film based on a Katherine Anne Porter novel] is SHIP OF FOOLS.
  • [1962 WWII film] is THE LONGEST DAY.
Overall, this crossword was a straightforward affair, without much twist to the clues. (This puzzle may be an example of eased-up cluing on behalf of former TMS solvers just getting accustomed to the L.A. Times style.) An ANALYSIS ([In-depth examination]) of the fill reveals some ARID ([Bone-dry]) TEDIUM ([Monotony]) leading to INANE ([Vacuous]) ENNUI ([Listless feeling]). But still, Pancho manages to SEX ([Census datum]) it up with an UPBEAT ([Cheery]) pair of Biblical names, ESAU ([Genesis twin]) and ENOS ([Grandson of Adam]), and the PGA TOUR ([Links org. sponsoring the FedEx Cup]). Regardless of one's feelings about golf, PGA TOUR does make for a terrific crossword answer. The Biblical names, eh, not so much.

A commenter at L.A. Crossword Confidential the other day mentioned that the L.A. Times puzzle seems to have less Biblical fill than the NYT. Does anyone know if that is indeed the case? (P.S. Rex Parker has the L.A.C.C. write-up of today's puzzle.)

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Loaded Guns"

We take a break from the prank-filled holiday for a standard, no-tricks crossword. The theme entries are "loaded guns" in that they start with G and end with UN or start with GU and end with N:
  • [What a drop is made of, in "Do-Re-Mi"] is GOLDEN SUN. Not a great stand-alone phrase for a crossword answer.
  • The GULF OF TONKIN is a [South China Sea arm].
  • GOOD, CLEAN FUN is [Wholesome amusement]. This describes most crosswords, but not all of them. (See the assorted alt-weekly puzzles for touches of good, dirty fun.)
  • A [1972 Bread hit] I've never heard of is called "GUITAR MAN."
I did get duped by the clue for DESKTOP—[Location for many an icon] somehow put me in mind of religious icons and pop icons. The [Tree on Connecticut's state quarter] doesn't look that much like an OAK in its tiny numismatic form, but it's the Charter Oak. The Connecticut colony hid its charter in the tree so the English couldn't revoke it back in 1687. The tree was felled by a storm in the mid 1800s.

Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Why so many colors in the heading here? I did that to stall for time while I figure out what the theme is. Give me a couple minutes here...okay, I think I'm onto something. 69A PREYS is clued [Hear 51-Across], which is VIRGINS, clued as [They're chaste]. "Hear" that clue another way, as "they're chased," and you get PREYS. (Is that plural noun kosher? I think perhaps not.)

So let's look at the other theme clues. 1A is [Type A people], who are DOERS. Pronounce it as "Taipei people" to get 17A TAIWANESE.

9A is [One who gets a lot of booze], a DRUNK. The 28A clue [See 9-Across] is simply a standard cross-reference clue, and the answer is the synonym LUSH. 26A [Hear 9-Across] commands you to hear it as "one who gets a lot of boos," or a VILLAIN.

39A [Horse sound] is NEIGH. To 41A [Hear 39-Across's answer] is to pick up its homophone, NEE. Then there's 42A [Hear 39-Across], "hoarse sound"—a COUGH.

23A [Artificial] clues PLASTIC. 55A [Hear 23-Across] expects you parse 23A's clue as "art official," a CURATOR.

62A is [Not allowed], or FORBIDDEN. For 71A [Hear 62-Across], the clue becomes "not aloud," or TACIT.

So there are 12 answers involved in the April Fools Day sound-alike theme (plus two cross-referenced answers involving theme answers). That density of thematic material accounts for some fill that Francis probably wasn't thrilled to include (two-word partials AS PIE, NEED I, SEE TV, and OR TEA; letter run CDE; plural IAGOS; prefixed REWASH; dangling KAI, OLA, CHA, and SHA). But there's also some kickass fill. THE I CHING is an [Ancient divination tool]. DOOR LATCH seems flat, but the clue, [Fortunate public bathroom feature], salvages it. WHININESS is a [Bitching condition]. The DELACORTE is the [Shakespeare in the Park theater, in Central Park]. And I liked the gimme clue for GREG Brady, [One of Cindy, Jan, and Marsha's stepbrothers]—only that last character's name is spelled Marcia.

If you enjoyed the pronunciation play in this puzzle but you haven't tried your hand at cryptic crosswords, check out the new cryptics section in sidebar to the right. Biddlecombe's Guide will give you a good primer on how cryptic clues work. 101 Cryptic Crosswords: From the New Yorker is a great book for cryptic newbies—the puzzles are small and easy and, most importantly, not British. I love British cryptics, but can rarely finish one without peeking at the answers and have to Google things at in order to understand some stuff. But the American cryptics are much more pliable for an American solver.

Oh, crap. I forgot the BEQ puzzle today. Will this blogging never end? Crikey, I need to get out of the house already. Updating yet again!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "It's All About Me," is by Michael ("Rex Parker") Sharp today

Michael's puzzle tucks a hidden REX inside each theme answer.
  • [The Nerd Herd on "Chuck," ostensibly] are COMPUTER EXPERTS.
  • [Gymnastics component] is FLOOR EXERCISE.
  • [Quintessential] is on a par with PAR EXCELLENCE.
  • [Not so much] means TO A LESSER EXTENT.
The Scrabbliness of the four thematic X's is beefed up by a Z and Michael's beloved K (only one!) and Y (three of 'em). Favorite clues/answers:
  • AC/DC is clued as [Bisexual, slangily].
  • ASA was the [Longtime "One Life to Live" patriarch Buchanan]. If you watched that soap opera any time between 1980 and 2008, you know cantankerous ASA.
  • GARY SINISE is the {Detective Mac Taylor portrayer on "CSI:NY"].
  • GLEEM toothpaste was an [Ipana competitor]. I don't remember ever seeing Ipana, but my family used Gleem in the '70s when we were on a Crest break.