April 20, 2009

Tuesday, 4/21

Jonesin' 3:52
NYT 3:35 (paper)
CS 3:18
LAT 2:40

Wired magazine's modern-day etiquette columnist, Brendan Koerner, asked me what the rule is concerning finishing someone else's crossword puzzle. Is it OK? Not OK? Read my answer here.

What's not included are the details of my research into this thorny crossword etiquette question. When I ran it by them, both Tyler Hinman and Brendan Quigley went straight to intimations of violence. Ladies and gentlemen, if you should happen upon a puzzle that one of these fellows has not yet finished, I beseech you to keep your hands and pencil at bay. It's for your own protection. The other people I asked all had the same reply to the question, "Is it OK to finish someone else's puzzle?" They said "Without asking? No." Simple as that.

This issue (May 2009) also has a bunch of puzzles (not crosswords) by such luminaries as Will Shortz and Martin Gardner, and there's a "Mystery" theme to the magazine. Puzzles, cryptography, magic, and more, in an issue guest-edited by J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost. Check it out.

Ronald and Nancy Byron's New York Times crossword

You remember the old Tinker to Evers to Chance baseball play, when those Cubs pulled off a double play on the New York Giants? That's the theme here:

  • 17A: [1908 Cubs player and position] is TINKER SHORTSTOP.
  • 25A: [1908 Cubs player and position] is EVERS SECOND BASE.
  • 43A: [1908 Cubs player and position] is CHANCE FIRST BASE.
  • 57A: [What 17-, 25- and 43-Across were, famously] is a DOUBLE PLAY COMBO.
I've got a lot of reservations about this puzzle. First of all, baseball? Meh. Second, the name/position theme entries strike me as contrived. One of you baseball nuts will correct me if that's actually a standard way to refer to a player, but for now, it feels like there's a missing preposition in the middle of each. And then the unifying answer also sounds contrived to me. Why not DOUBLE PLAY GROUP? Is "double play combo" the lingo inside baseball?

What I liked best in this puzzle is BRAINIAC, clued as [2006 Ken Jennings book...or the author himself]. I enjoyed that book. This puzzle's a little brassy, too—there's SMART and PUSHY ([Rudely assertive]) and NERVE ([Chutzpah]) and DARE (clued another way, as [Virginia ___ (noted 1587 birth]). [Black-clad and white-clad Mad adversaries] are the SPIES in "Spy Vs. Spy." The plant VETCH, a [Climbing plant with pealike flowers], sounds like it should mean a combination of vex and itch, doesn't it? It sounds nettlesome. I do like crossword botany.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Look Under the Cushions"

Matt puts some sofas and related furniture in the circled squares in the theme answers and supplements them with a few oddball answers that are things one might find when digging under the sofa cushions for lost treasures.
  • 21A: [Quad City that's home to the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival] is DAVENPORT, IOWA. A davenport, the dictionary tells me, is a big sofa, particularly one that can be converted into a bed.
  • 31A: [Poultry dish with broccoli and cheese] is CHICKEN DIVAN. A divan is a long, low sofa that's backless and armless and is placed against a wall. A padded bench, basically? The word also means a legislative body in the Ottoman Empire (see 56A).
  • 42A: [Ongoing NYC tribute project where musicians cover the works of other musicians] is the LOSER'S LOUNGE. I know nothing of this place, but I know how to lounge on a lounge chair.
  • 56A: [Rule that ended when Turkey became a republic] is the OTTOMAN EMPIRE. Wouldn't that be a great name for a furniture store? An ottoman is a low padded seat or footrest. I'm not sure anyone digs in the cushions of an ottoman.
Joining the thematic party is some long-lost detritus. ["I found a ___, which blended into the beige. No way am I going to eat it."] clues a TAN M AND M. ["So that's where the ___ to this old pen went!"] is a pen CAP. ["I'm rich! No, just kidding. It's only a ___."] DIME. ["Ew...all I found were the stale remnants of a ___."] PRINGLE (chip).

There's some weird fill in here. There's a LEAD NAIL, or [Item used to fasten planks, in old shipbuilding]. And APHEX [___ Twin (alias of electronic musician Richard D. James)]. GAMIC is a [Suffix for anatomical reproductive organs]. [Lance Bass headline, on a 2006 cover of People] is "I'M GAY"; this one was a gimme. ACAI, the [Palm whose berries are now used in fruit juices]—acai stuff is all over the grocery store now. Does it taste good? Favorite clues: [It'll never get off the ground] for an EMU, and [Tends to priority number one?] for PEES.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Gail Grabowski's Los Angeles Times crossword

Three theme answers end with nouns that double as a trio of synonymous verbs:
  • 20A: [Nearby, on a country road] is just AROUND THE BEND. Bend down and tie my shoe, will you?
  • 39A: [Is completely uninformed] clues DOESN'T KNOW SQUAT. Could you please squat down? You're blocking my view.
  • 60A: A [Row house porch] is typically a CONCRETE STOOP. Stoop down and pick up that quarter, please.
A concrete stoop is drab, but AROUND THE BEND and DOESN'T KNOW SQUAT are beautifully colloquial phrases. Gail Grabowski is one of those constructors who specialize in easy puzzles that don't bore solvers. If it's Monday or Tuesday (or maybe Wednesday in Newsday) and you see her byline, you've probably got a decent puzzle in store.

Here's a smattering of two-word answers, which are straightforward enough for longtime NYT or LAT solvers but take some rejiggering of mental expectations for longtime TMS solvers who have switched to the LAT:
  • 1D: MAD AT, or [Angry with].
  • 3D: RAN ON, or [Talked a blue streak]. I wanted SWORE, but swearing a blue streak involves much more swearing than merely talking a blue streak.
  • 8D: NO HELP, or [Useless]. As in "This is ___."
  • 11D: COLD VIRUS is a [Cause of coughs and sniffles]. I've got one of these bugs myself.
  • 35D: PERRY COMO is the ["Catch a Falling Star" singer].
  • 41D: N.Y. YANKEE is [One of the Bx. Bombers].
  • 52D: To DO TIME is to [Serve a sentence] in jail.
  • 23A: TEN P.M. is [When prime time ends in Middle Amer.]. Hooray for Central time zone TV hours getting some love! I don't know how people in the other time zones stay up for 11:00 news and late shows thereafter. 10:00 news is much more civil.
  • 47A: MERCY ME is clued as ["Heavens!"]. Clue and answer capture the same quaintness and religiosity.
  • 67A: IN RE is a [Memo phrase]. Not to be confused with INRI, the cross abbreviation referring to Jesus.
Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Flavor to Taste"

Spicy theme today—
  • 57A: CHILI PEPPER is clued with [Its strength can be described by the first word of 17-, 26-, or 45-Across].
  • 17A: We start out with a MILD pepper. MILD WEATHER is a [Balmy spring day, for example]. It's 42° and rainy in Chicago, but the MILD WEATHER will arrive in a couple days. 80° by Friday!
  • 26A: [Neither tall nor short] is MEDIUM HEIGHT. The phrase feels a little arbitrary to me.
  • 45A: HOT COMMODITY is a [Highly sought-after item]. With the TY in place, I tried to make HOT PROPERTY fit. It refused.