April 10, 2009

Saturday, 4/11

Newsday 6:52
NYT 5:10
LAT 4:10

Hello! I got home from New Orleans this evening and hadn't been online all week—and wasn't even buying the NYT to keep up with this week's crosswords. I give rousing acclaim and appreciation to Joon and PuzzleGirl, who filled in ably and kept you entertained this week.

Karen Tracey's New York Times crossword

I do enjoy Karen's themeless confections so it's a nice welcome-home gift, having this puzzle to blog my first night back. It's filled with those trademark Tracey touches, the Scrabbly fill that sings to me. Without further ado, here's some of what's in it.

First, there's the fill with rare letters:

  • SACAJAWEA is clued numismatically: [Her face began to circulate in 2000]. It's also spelled Sacagawea, but J sounds are best spelled with a J, aren't they?
  • JAZZES UP means [Adds spice to], in a way. Our Loews Hotel New Orleans room came with a jazz CD, and my kid danced to Buckwheat Zydeco every day.
  • DONIZETTI is that ["Lucrezia Borgia" composer].
  • Desi ARNAZ was the ["Holiday in Havana" star, 1949]. He was Cuban, you know.
  • "YAKETY SAX," best known as the Benny Hill music, is clued as the [Musical accompaniment to many a comedic chase scene].
  • [A Buddhist might be found in one] clues a ZEN STATE.
  • SWITZER is the last name of [Child actor Carl who played Alfalfa]. I don't know anyone named Alfalfa, but I do know a Darla.
  • TELEXES are [Outdated communications]. Back in my 1989 editorial assistant days, I knew where the telex machine was. It was near that fancy new fax machine. Neither machine communicated with the Wang, of course.
My favorite other answers and clues are these:
  • PAN OUT means to [Bear fruit] in a nonbotanical sense.
  • TUBORG is a [Danish beer brand]. We mostly drank Abita beer down in the Big Easy.
  • [Old bolt shooter] told me nothing, really, but CROSSBOW sits there looking so innocuous once its crossings reveal it.
  • To [Go downhill fast] is to AVALANCHE, if you're a wall of snow.
  • DIGESTION is one sort of [Gut reaction?].
  • Geography + etymology = win. BATOR, as in Ulan Bator, is [Mongolian for "hero"]. Scary clue except that if you know any Mongolian words at all, they're probably Ulan, Bator, and yurt. Only one of those is 5 letters long.
  • U. CONN is a [Big East b-ball powerhouse]. My NCAA bracket picks placed me in the top third at the NYT. Not too shabby considering that my selection method was about as informed as a monkey throwing darts.
  • A [Related thing] might be a TALE you tell.
  • Do you like William Shatner commercials? He touts PRICELINE, an [Alternative to Travelocity or Orbitz].
  • CALICO CAT is a [Litter member that's almost always female].
  • IN A GROOVE! Very nice answer. It's clued as [On one's game]. Is Tiger Woods on his game in Augusta? I haven't been following the Masters yet.
  • SOPHOCLES [wrote "Time eases all things"]. Newsweek probably is not a big Sophocles fan.
  • EELGRASS is a [Plant with long ribbonlike leaves]. I saw a variety of hideous moray eels at the aquarium in New Orleans.
  • RUBADUB is cute, but the [Drumbeat] clue seems off to me.
  • [Tugboat fees] are TOWAGES? Okay, sure, if you say so. We saw umpteen barges being pushed down (up?) the Mississippi River by tugboats this week. Why are they called tugboats if they push rather than pull?
  • [Jersey, e.g.] is both a SHIRT and a BOVINE. Cool pairing.
  • The grid lacks a Q, but it's there in the clue [Bit of harlequinade]—ANTIC.
And last, a few gnarly bits:
  • An [Undercroft] is a CRYPT. Not a word I know, this "undercroft." Croft and crypt are etymologically related.
  • ATONALITY is a [Feature of the 1925 opera "Wozzeck"].
  • [1920s-'60 Tennessee congressman B. Carroll ___] REECE is surely less familiar to 96% of us than volleyball player Gabrielle Reece. Welcome to Saturday puzzles, eh?
  • Gomer PYLE, stand down. It is time for ["The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" author Howard] PYLE.
  • DELANO ain't just FDR's middle name. It's also a [California city near Bakersfield].
  • [Historical decorum disdainer] is an accurate but maybe not immediately gettable clue for a FLAPPER from the 1920s. Did B. Carroll Reece do the jitterbug with flappers?
  • I'm not sure what a ROSE APPLE is, other than that it is a [Fragrant fruit used for jellies and confections]. Dictionary says it's the fruit of a tropical evergreen. I know what rose hips are, and these aren't those.
  • The TYNE in England is a [River near Hadrian's Wall]. Yo, Hadrian.
Updated on Saturday morning:

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's Los Angeles Times crossword

This week's themeless Saturday L.A. Times puzzle is inching back towards the customary difficulty level, but is still on the easier side. The grid features eight (!) 15-letter entries, with triple-stacks at the top and bottom and two more 15's in the middle third. The shortish Down crossings tend towards the blah side, but the 15's have some color to them:
  • "I WISH I'D SAID THAT" is a plausible [Jealous reaction to a witty remark].
  • The NATIONAL AVERAGE is a [Broad-based statistical standard].
  • Who doesn't love CAUTIONARY TALES? The clue is ["The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches" and others]. I don't know that story, but it sure doesn't sound fun.
  • [Headed for home] on a baseball or softball diamond means ROUNDED THE BASES.
  • [Tried to escape] clues MADE A BREAK FOR IT.
[FDR's Fala, e.g.] is an old-school crosswordese dog name. I don't recall learning the dog's breed, though: ABERDEEN TERRIER. WIkipedia tells me that's just another name for the Scottish terrier, or Scottie. Okay, so I did know Fala's breed—just not that anyone called it an Aberdeen terrier.

The classic OREO cookie gets a clue freshening: [Its parts may be eaten separately]. I also like the IVY clue: [Brown, but not white?] is an Ivy League university.

Over at L.A. Crossword Confidential, PuzzleGirl provides a more in-depth look at this puzzle. Today's Crosswordese 101 topic is 3-letter abbreviations of government agencies. I'm not sure if it was PuzzleGirl or Rex Parker who came up with the idea of having a Crosswordese 101 riff over there every day, but I love it. Seasoned solvers can enjoy the refresher courses, while newer solvers are getting handy lessons on the fill they'll be seeing a lot of.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" puzzle

Once again, Doug Peterson demonstrates why he's become my favorite Stumper maker, with a puzzle that's fun and fresh and challenging without being annoying. Here are my favorite answers and clues:
  • LA BOHEME is clued with [Toscanini conducted its premiere].
  • MOZAMBIQUE was a [Civil War setting, 1977-92]. I didn't know the trivia offhand, but you gotta love a country name that contains both a Z and a Q.
  • DROP SHOTS are [Tricky strokes] in tennis.
  • I have never used the word HEARTSORE, but it's more evocative than heartsick. It's [Beyond blue], but not on the color spectrum.
  • D'ARTAGNAN looks terrific in the grid. ["Twenty Years After" character] gave me no help, though.
  • SPORTS BAR is a [Big-game hunter's haunt?]. Cute.
  • JANE AUSTEN is, among many other things, an [Anne Hathaway role] in a recent movie.
  • The adjective [Direct] means HANDS-ON.
  • It's sauce time! RAGU pasta sauce is apparently a [Unilever brand] (that clue does nothing for me), and a [Sauce holder] is a LIQUOR CABINET.
  • The PRISON YARD is an [Exercise area]. This is not where I get my exercise, mind you.
  • TREACLE is a great word, if you ask me. It can mean [Mush] as in cloying sentimentality.
  • [Introductory course] is SOUP. Wouldn't it be great if college freshmen took classes in soup and salad and appetizers in the fall of their first year?
(Complete solution here.)

There are also plenty of entries with clues that didn't point me in the right direction. [Nickname for "The King"] is ARNIE. Arnold Palmer? Do they call him "The King"? I have no idea. Dickens' Uriah HEEP is an [Exemplar of insincerity]. [Honest Abe's dad at al.] are ABNERS. [European union prename] is LECH—oh, wait, I just figured out that clue. Lech Walesa's Solidarity was a union in Europe, and the clue has nothing to do with the European Union. ["Rhapsody in Blue" introducer] isn't a person, it's an instrument—the CLARINET.