April 16, 2009

Friday, 4/17

BEQ 4:41
NYT 4:29
LAT 4:04
CS 3:41
CHE 3:10
WSJ 6:30

Chicago-area crossworders, I hope you'll come to this Saturday's Marbles Amateur Crossword Tournament at Marbles: The Brain Store. I'll be there as a tournament judge and signer of How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. The contest puzzles are the NYT crosswords from next Monday through Thursday. Marbles is on Grand Avenue just behind/below the 500 N. Michigan building—enter the North Bridge shopping center lobby, take the stairs or elevator down, and walk a few doors west on Grand and you'll find it. The store sells cool games, puzzles, toys, and books—I need to get a set of the ginormous pipe cleaners for my kid.

Corey Rubin's New York Times crossword

Rubin's themeless 68-word puzzle crackles with newness, with a slew of answers that rarely, if ever, find their way into crosswords. Among my favorite material:

  • The Italian SCUSE means [Apologies, in Apulia], or "excuse me."
  • TEXAS BBQ is [Slow-smoked Southern grub]. I'm not much of a meat-eater, but I adored Calvin Trillin's New Yorker article about the best barbecue joints in Texas. The man is so entertaining when he writes about food.
  • To MIRANDIZE is to [Read rights to, as a perp]—the Miranda rights.
  • FLEUR-DE-LYS (also spelled fleur-de-lis) is a [French kings' emblem]. That symbol is all over New Orleans.
  • What's the FOUR-ONE-ONE? [Information, slangily]—the term comes from dialing 411 for directory information.
  • [Our neighbor's nickname, with "the"] starts with RED. I briefly racked my brains (yes, all three of them) trying to think of monikers for Canada and Mexico before Mars, the RED PLANET, sprang to mind.
  • [Fast results?] are hunger PANGS.
  • Is there anyone here who does not love the humble UVULAE? They are [Anatomical hangers], and you'll need more than one person to find these in the plural. An individual afflicted with BUNIONS ([Podiatrists' concerns]), however, may well have two bunions. (Bunions! Shout-out to Nancy, who's recovered from her bunionectomy.)
  • The X GAMES have been included in the crossword before, but I didn't know they were an [Event held each summer and winter]. Makes sense—snowboarding and skateboarding don't require the same climate conditions.
  • BOZEMAN sounds like it'd be Bozo the Clown's fraternity nickname, doesn't it? "The Bozeman's tapping the keg." It's the [Montana State University setting].
  • Scrabbly QUESTS ([Story lines of Indiana Jones films]) and BLITZED ([Overwhelmed and destroyed]) do their part to achieve a pangram.
  • ["Lost" character Jin-Soo ___] asks for a not-uncommon Korean surname, KWON. Daniel Dae Kim plays Jin, and he is hot.
  • POWERADE is a [Coca-Cola product]. Gatorade is owned by Pepsi.
  • MR. RIGHT is [The perfect match, for some]. I like the gender nonspecificity of the clue—some folks are looking for Mr. Right and some for Ms. Right.
  • [Park since 1912] isn't looking for a place to stroll—it's FENWAY Park, where the Boston Red Sox play.
DAY-PEEP is an insane little term, isn't it? I wasn't familiar with this word meaning [Crack of dawn, old-style]. I've got some reservations or hesitations about a few things, too. I'm not sure how I feel about I'VE GOT YOU clued as ["No, no, this one's on me"]—do you say "I've got you"? I don't, not unless I an physically holding the "you."[Considering, with "of"] clues IN LIGHT, which is technically a 7-letter partial entry; works for me anyway. TV IDOLS is clued as [Stars of "90210," e.g.]—the old Beverly Hills 90210 cast were TV IDOLS, but I don't know if the current incarnation's stars have achieved IDOL status yet. (I may be too post-adolescent to know.)

Corey Rubin hasn't published very many crosswords yet, but based on this beaut, I'd like to encourage him to keep cranking out themeless puzzles.

Updated Friday morning:

Daniel Finan's L.A. Times crossword

My full write-up of this puzzle is over at L.A. Crossword Confidential. Cute theme—U is swapped out and ME swapped in, inspired by the breakup line IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME. I'll simply relate the other four theme entries here, and refer you to the other blog for more (including a rundown of the coolest fill and clues). It's Friday and I still have four puzzles to do and blog!
  • 16A: Step in a pizza recipe? (MOMENT OF OLIVES). Mount of Olives is a biblical place and a place in Jerusalem. The concept of a MOMENT OF OLIVES is a goofy one. Goofy is good in crosswords, but you know what? I do not like olives. Too bitter, too salty.
  • 20A: Simpson dad with a dozen donuts? (HAPPY HOMER). Who doesn't appreciate happy hour?
  • 35A: Hook's mate in his formative years? (A BOY NAMED SMEE). This plays on the Johnny Cash song by poet Shel Silverstein "A Boy Named Sue." Smee is the name of Captain Hook's first mate.
  • 49A: Headline about carpentry work for a new financial institution? (BANK FRAMED). Bank fraud...nope, nothing of topical interest there.
Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Iggy Noramus Prepares His Taxes"

Chronicle puzzle editor Patrick Berry published his own work this week, a crossword taking a punny look at tax day, April 15. The theme answers are bits of IRS terminology, while the clues reveal an ignoramus's misinterpretation of said terms. For example, ["I found $10 in a Dumpster last year—that must be my ___"] GROSS INCOME. With six such jokes for the theme, it's a fun crossword.

The fill's for a good vibe to it, too—an entertaining balm for the taxpayer. RAMBO is a [Sly character?], as in Sylvester ("Sly") Stallone. (I always want to turn Sly Stallone into "Sly and the Family Stallone.") We get to DREAM (a [Night vision]) and FANTASIZE ([Build castles in the air]). I love ["A Modest Proposal" author] Jonathan SWIFT because that particular breed of satire is so much fun to engage in. The puzzle plays cards (HOLD 'EM is the [Poker variant played in 2006's "Casino Royale"] and pool (MASSE is a [Curving billiards shot]). [Like some consultants] clues PAID—I am working on lining up a PAID "puzzle consultant" gig. SWOOP DOWN, with all of its O's and W's, looks cool in the grid; it means [Descend to attack].

Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Block Party"

Brendan's test solvers thought this puzzle was insanely hard, so he threw in a few "gimme" clues. The end result is a themeless of medium difficulty, I think, if not on the easy side of medium. Mind you, there were a few answers that were complete mysteries to me. [Tactical position that literally means "bridgehead"] is TETE DE PONT, French for "head of the bridge," but the answer is nothing I've heard of. And the [Mexican cathartic]! It's JALAP, but that's new to me too. I did a number on myself by reading the 28D clue, [___ Bridge in St. Louis], when I was filling in 29D. Then I made it over to 28D and wondered why Brendan was breaking the rules by having EADS in there twice, pondering a possible connection with TETE DE PONT and a secret bridge-related message in the grid-spanning AM I LOSING MY MIND. (Answer: Perhaps I am.)

My favorite clues are often the ones that misled or befuddled me the most. Here, that'd be [Road mender?] for AMBULANCE—in a pothole-riddled city, it's hard to think of road menders merely traveling on the roads rather than halfassedly patching said roads. Right next to that is LIBRARIES, clued as [Studies], which I was interpreting as "areas of study" or the verb rather than rooms.

Brendan wants to know how hard you found this puzzle, so leave him a comment or post your solving time at his blog.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Running Mates"

Aw, what's the matter, Bob? Not feeling well? This puzzle's scarcely any harder than the other CrosSynergy folks' puzzles. I plowed through it without any regard for the theme, since the theme entries' clues were pretty straightforward. I see now that the five longest answers are all made of words that are "running" mates—i.e., the word "running" can precede each part.
  • [Philander] is PLAY AROUND. Running play...that sounds like sports. Running around, doing errands.
  • [Rat race respite] is FREE TIME. Running free, a movie's running time.
  • [Clue, for one] is a BOARD GAME. The rooms in Brendan's puzzle had just put me in a Clue frame of mind, so the clue yielded. Running board on a truck, a running game in football (or basketball? something).
  • The BACK ROOM is a [Place for political planning]. They are no longer smoke-filled back rooms thanks to no-smoking laws. A running back in football, and...I don't know what "running room" means.
  • [Speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno's specialty] is SHORT TRACK. Running short on patience or funds, running track and competing in the 100 m dash.
I like the four corners with three-stacked 7-letter answers—just wish the clues had been tougher.

Randy Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Moonlighting"

Super-smooth Sunday-sized puzzle here. Nothing too obscure, nothing clued too obliquely, theme entertaining but not too challenging. The eight "moonlighters" are jobs with one straight description and one jokey description. The CASE WORKER is a [Family counselor/beer distributor], for example. A PROOFREADER is an [Editor/geometry teacher]. My favorite is RELIEF PITCHER, double-clued as a baseball game's [Closer/aspirin salesman]. (Can I take a moment to holler at the people who first coined all the gendered words like "salesman"? If only they'd gone with "seller" as the strongest word, we wouldn't have this problem. The clue ought to have used "seller," if you ask me.)

Highlights in the fill include Albee's TINY ALICE, a [1964 title role for Irene Worth]; the TAPIOCA balls that are a [Bubble tea ingredient]; WILD ABOUT, or [So into]; Dr. Seuss's SAM I AM; a PAWN SHOP; and PAUL KLEE, ["The Golden Fish" painter]. I suppose words like REPASTE and APISHLY fall out of the "super-smooth category," but at least they're not truly obscure (in crosswords) words or uncommon names.