April 30, 2009

Friday, 5/1

NYT 6:39
BEQ 4:34
CHE 4:08
LAT 3:45
CS 2:40
WSJ 7:29

Hot puzzle opportunity! Given the straits the newspaper business finds itself in, there are fewer top-quality crosswords available now than a year ago. Crossword constructors are keen to find a way to connect with solvers—and get paid for their puzzles—without relying on print media for distribution. Eric Berlin wants to make another suite of puzzles, along the lines of the groovy Brooklyn-themed puzzle extravaganza he made for the 2008 ACPT (available for free at the following link), and you can pledge a few bucks to get a copy. If Eric gets $1,500 of Kickstarter.com pledges within two months, his supporters will get a set of nine crosswords. A $5 pledge gets you the suite and puts you in the running for a contest prize. $40 adds signed copies of Eric's two mystery novels for kids.

I was the second person to sign up, and I want these puzzles to be made! So go sign up. Now. Please! You won't regret it. Crosswords are cheap entertainment even in these recessionary times.

If this approach works well for Eric, perhaps other constructors will follow suit. Can you imagine? Let's say that no newspaper or magazine will pay Hook or Heaney/Blindauer for a ridiculously difficult and intricate crossword (like their insane Friday Sun crosswords), but the constructor can self-publish via Kickstarter.com and reach a self-selected audience. The payments are handled via Amazon, so it's not as if we'd even need to write out a check. Win-win!

Joon Pahk's New York Times crossword

What day is it? Is it Saturday yet? No? Because it kinda felt like Saturday when I was doing Joon's puzzle. There are a few tough words but the challenge lies mainly in the clues. These ones were the most difficult, if you ask me:

  • 1A: [Take the wheels out from under?] clues CARJACK.
  • 8A: MUSKETS are [Arms on shoulders].
  • 15A: AROUSAL, in a way, is the [Opposite of depression]. In terms of certain physiologic functions, perhaps?
  • 23A: [They may create a buzz] clues ALES. Not BEES, no, sir.
  • 27A: A [Stumper?] on the campaign trail is a POL.
  • 28A: [They're not exactly user-friendly] refers to NARCS, the "users" being drug users and not technology users.
  • 40A: [Polar bears, e.g.] are SEALERS in that they hunt seals, not because they seal things up.
  • 41A: ELECTRA is the [Subject of plays by Sophocles, Sartre and O'Neill]. The latter wrote Mourning Becomes Electra. Sophocles = Greek. Sartre had an Electra play too?
  • 44A: You need a little French for [Poule's partner], le COQ. Bawk, bawk!
  • 46A: And a little anatomy, too—CECUM is the answer to [The appendix extends from it].
  • 50A: I know the SEA. But [Hydrospace] is not a word I've encountered before.
  • 60A: [Guy making passes] is a MATADOR. Bullfighters make passes? Is that the lingo?
  • 2D: An AREOLA is also a [Small hollow in a surface, in biology]. Nope, the NYT crossword may never toss a nipple into the clue for AREOLA.
  • 7D: KLEPTOCRACY is a [Government marked by rampant greed and corruption]. Great word!
  • 12D: EQUIPAGE is clued as [Army outfit]. Dictionary says it's archaic/historical.
  • 29D: The noun [Stick in the fire] clues the noun SPIT.
  • 31D: WELTER is clued as [Tumble and toss about]. Why don't I know this word?
  • 35D: Use your Latin for [Imperator's law], or LEX.
  • 37D: BESSEMER is a [Big name in steelmaking].
  • 39D: The noun [Meets near the shore?] clues REGATTAS.
  • 49A: MESSRS. is a [Quaint letter opener: Abbr.].
  • 53D: [Bad thing to get from your boss] is THE AX.
When I can single out nearly a third of the clues as tough ones, you know it's a knotty puzzle. A welcome challenge! And now the waiting begins: Will the Saturday puzzle be even tougher, or is this one of those weekends when it seems the Friday and Saturday puzzles have been flip-flopped?

Updated Friday morning:

Happy May Day! Workers of the world, TGIF.

Gareth Bain's L.A. Times crossword

Crossword Fiend regular Gareth Bain has his second crossword in today's L.A. Times. (The first was three months ago.) The theme is NIXON/NIX "ON," [Follower of Johnson, and a two-word hint to this crossword's theme]. Each theme entry is made by lopping ON off the end of a familiar phrase:
  • 18A: [Communist watering hole?] is THE RED BAR.
  • 59A: [Place for a paw?] is LEG OF MUTT. "Leg of mutton" doesn't sound as American as "leg of lamb."
  • 3D: [Plead with one' frontier buddy?] is BEG YOUR PARD.
  • 26D: [Adorable, bottomwise?] is CUTE AS A BUTT. A baby's butt, sure.
Tougher stuff:
  • [Nuts' opposite?] is SOUP, as in "soup to nuts."
  • If you are [Fishing for marlin, e.g.] you have got to be AT SEA.
  • [Long-tongued congo critter] is OKAPI, crossing the IBEX, or [Goat with recurved horns]. "I'll take Animals Best Known by Crossworders for $600, Alex."
  • [Some National Music Museum treasures] is a fresh clue for AMATIS.
  • I like the -OR words like SOPOR, or [Deep sleep]. Torpor, stupor, horror, turgor, rigor. When did humor travel so far away from humid?
  • RASTAFARI is [Haile Selassie worshipers' movement].
  • [Department bordering Savoie] is ISERE. French geography is not my strong suit. A little easier: A [Native of central Spain], Madrid in particular, is a MADRILEÑO.
Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Take That, Matt"

Brendan was looking to do penance—I'm not clear on the reason—and asked his readers whose crosswording style he should mimic as punishment. When Matt Jones's themeless Jonesin' puzzle came out this week with a 16x16 grid featuring an amazing 8x6 swath of white space in the middle, Brendan's challenge was clear. He didn't manage to replicate that fearsome midsection, but he eliminated Matt's corner cheater/helper squares and overall had smoother fill. (No skin off Matt's back for his clunkers—though I encourage other constructors to try to do better than Matt did with that middle.)

What's the best stuff in this puzzle? I liked these ones:
  • [Card catalog?] clues HAND, as in your hand in a poker game.
  • [He or I, e.g.] clues ELEM. Helium and iodine are elements.
  • BAR TAB is clued with [It might have some B-52s on it].
  • UNDERPAID is [Like grunt work].
  • [Portlanders, e.g.] in Oregon are WESTERNERS. I contemplated EASTERNERS from Portland, Maine, first. Shout-out to Matt Jones! He lives in Portland, Oregon.
  • AND SO TO BED is a [Noted closing from Samuel Pepys].
  • [Clear things up] clues DEMYSTIFY, which is a lovely-looking word.
Trip Payne's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Modern Canterbury Tales"

This is Trip's second literary-themed CHE puzzle in a few weeks. Keep 'em coming, Trip! I'm enjoying these crosswords a lot.

In this 15x16 grid, the theme entries are famous people whose last names are also occupations/titles of Canterbury Tales characters. From left to right, they are:
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim helps found America)] clues BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. A franklin was a medieval landowner of free birth but not of the nobility. And yes, I had to look that up.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim marries Marilyn Monroe)] clues ARTHUR MILLER. A miller mills grain.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim plays jazz piano)] clues THELONIOUS MONK. A monk's a man in a monastery.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim wins seven Grammys)] clues GLADYS KNIGHT. You know what knights are.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim portrays a superhero)] clues CHRISTOPHER REEVE. A reeve was a town's chief magistrate in Anglo-Saxon days.
JEHU, or [Biblical king who slew Joram], is one of those obscure answers that I try to pay attention to so they won't stump me the next time they appear. Do enough crosswords, and nearly everything will crop up a second time.

Favorite clues:
  • [Court proceedings?] clues TENNIS. I'd like to see that clue for HOOPS some day.
  • [Communication via pen?] is a pig's OINK.
  • TWEET is clued as [Bird's word]. What, does Larry Bird have a Twitter account?
  • ["Duck," in poker slang] is a TWO. This one's new to me.
  • [Moose miss] clues DOE. That's Ms. Moose to you, buddy.
Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy crossword, "Up for Debate"

Super-smooth, easy puzzle from Doug today. It's not necessary to understand the theme in order to finish this Mondayish/Tuesdayish crossword—each phrase ends with something we might debate. An [Initial public offering, e.g.] is a STOCK ISSUE. The DECIMAL POINT [separates dollars and cents]. If you're seeing a Pixar movie, you'll get a SHORT SUBJECT as a [Feature film preceder]. GRAY MATTER is [Intellect, informally].

Plenty of highlights in the fill: SPEEDOS, PICKED ON, PINOT NOIR, JEKYLL, PRONTO, "YOU SAID IT" and "C'MON," EXTINCT, MCJOB—with a Z, X, J, and a few K's.

Fred Piscop's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Bad Day in the Market"

You know how business-page headlines and articles try to get creative with synonyms for "went down" or "declined"? Nine such verbs appear at the end of the theme entries here, doubling as part of familiar phrases. For example, [Bad-day-in-the-market headline for a sushi restaurant?] clues FISH TANKS, and [Bad-day-in-the-market headline for a used car lot?] is LEMON DROPS. There are five more Across theme answers and two Downs.

This puzzle seemed harder while I was solving it than my time suggests. There's TOURO [___ Synagogue, the oldest in the U.S.]. [Explorer of Canada's coast] is CABOT. [Verdi title bandit] is ERNANI, and as I do half the time when that's the answer, I started with ERNANO and backed out of it later. [Peninsula in the Adriatic] is ISTRIA, and I first tried a mangled ILYRIA there. I still have no idea why [Flat answers?] clues SPARES. Can anyone explain that one to me?