April 17, 2009

Saturday, 4/18

Newsday 15:52
NYT 6:28
LAT 4:06
CS 2:49

Byron Walden's New York Times crossword

The Saturday Times puzzle is noteworthy for three reasons: (1) 15-letter wildlife, (2) heavy preposition action, and (3) fun clues. For the first category, [Marmots and prairie dogs] are GROUND SQUIRRELS and SCARLET TANAGERS are now thought to be close [Cardinal relatives]. These animals with big names are joined by a CAMEL, the surprising [Source of Caravane cheese]—a cheese I've never heard of (shades of PIAVE, Byron's ACPT puzzle #5 cheese from a couple years ago), but then, the name looks like "caravan," which camels travel in, so the clue offered more of a hint than it seemed to at first.

The preposition explosion appears in a bunch of the multi-word answers:

  • IN TOO DEEP means [Unable to get out of a bad situation].
  • [Gets acquainted with something good] clues TURNS ON TO. I can't quite summon up a sentence without an object between "turns" and "on to," but a phrasal verb in a crossword doesn't have to have an object.
  • If you [Squared] your account, you SETTLED UP your debts.
  • A [Mechanical trade] is swapping TIT FOR TAT. (And right above that entry, BREST, or [French naval base in heavy W.W. II fighting].) Were you duped into thinking of mechanical tradespeople?
  • [Corrupt, in a way] clues ON THE TAKE. We Chicagoans don't know nothin' about that sort of thing, nope.
  • [Shows contempt for] is SPITS AT.
  • To [Herald] the new year, why don't you USHER IN the thing?
  • PULLS AT can mean [Tries to loosen]. I'm picturing Rodney Dangerfield yanking at his necktie here.
  • AT TWO o'clock is [When four bells ring on the middle watch].
Here are my favorite clues:
  • [They lack private parts] refers to FISHBOWLS. Celebrities living in metaphorical fishbowls, for example, have little privacy. I wasn't thinking of privacy at first, but rather, of the military. At least I was not tricked into thinking of reproductive organs.
  • [Part of a capital's name meaning "flower"] clues ABABA, part of Ethiopia's Addis Ababa. Much more interesting (and fair) than the recent [Capital starter] clue for ADDIS in a Newsday puzzle.
  • [The 1965 William Shatner film "Incubus" is in it] clues the language ESPERANTO. Hilarious! Has anyone seen this movie? Was it subtitled? Does Esperanto sound anything like Klingon?
  • The great early physician GALEN was an [Early advocate of bloodletting]. Anyone know any modern advocates?
  • [Its symbol is a globe composed of jigsaw puzzles pieces]...hey, wait, I know this. WIKIPEDIA! In which an ARTICLE is a [57-Across offering].
  • [World War I period] is the decade called the TEENS. Especially in a ONE-PARENT family, the teen years likely resemble wartime, too.
  • [Ant-Man, Iron Man, Wasp or Thor, in Marvel Comics] clues an AVENGER. I don't see Byron or Will Shortz as big comic fans, so I wonder whose clue this is.
  • I wanted [San ___] to clue FRAN, but it's San JUAN. FRAN popped up later, though, as the [Memorable 1996 hurricane along the Eastern Seaboard].
  • [It may give you a buzz] clues PAGER. Does anyone outside of health care still carry a pager?
There are other difficult clues lurking about here, too. Here are eight of 'em: (1) [Spot announcement?] is a dog's GRR growl. Spot is not among the top 50 dog names, according to a Sporcle.com quiz. (2) Have you heard of EDA LeShan? Sure, if you do a lot of crosswords. How about [Coloratura Christiane ___-Pierre] for EDA? Is that ringing any bells? My bells were unrung. (3) SARIS are in the puzzle a lot, but not as [They may be thrown over the shoulder]. (4) [Jesus cursed one in Matthew 21] clues a FIG TREE. I don't know the background, so I'm guessing he stubbed his toe on the tree. Whether he took his own name in vain, I can't say. Maybe he said "HELLS bells?" HELLS is [Oregon and Idaho's ___ Canyon]. (5) [Where M.S.T. and P.S.T. can be found] is the unusual entry WESTERN U.S. They're the Mountain and Pacific time zones. (6) [Home of la Sorbonne] isn't simply PARIS or FRANCE, it's LE QUARTIER LATIN. I needed a lot of crossings to see where that was heading. (7) [Country singer Collin ___] RAYE is less well-known to me than Martha Raye. He had some success as a country singer in the '90s. (8) [Little ___, island in the Bering Strait] clues DIOMEDE. Again, lots of crossings needed to find this answer.

Updated Saturday morning:

Scott Atkinson's Los Angeles Times crossword

I'm short on time this morning because I'm heading downtown soon(ish) for the Marbles Amateur Crossword Tournament, so I'll reroute you to my L.A. Crossword Confidential write-up. Today's "Crosswordese 101" lesson isn't about a repeater answer in this crossword—though SSGT, or [U.S. Marine Corps E-6] is practically begging to be dissected with the other military abbreviations that we see in crosswords. Nope, this time it's the solving tips I prepared for the Marbles crowd. So check that out.

Sandy Fein's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

This puzzle (solution here) was wickedly hard, but not in a fun way. There were a few spots that entertained me, but mostly it was a not-pleasant solving experience. Here are some of the things that irked me:
  • [Diamond] standing in for an adjective before "anniversary" signals SIXTIETH. Is it really legit to use "diamond" as an adjective this way, and not to mean "diamond-shaped"?
  • [Richardson Highway terminus] is VALDEZ, Alaska. I really doubt that Alaskan highways are well-known enough in the lower 48 to be anything we should reasonably be expected to know, and Valdez has a population of 4,020. Obscure clue + obscure answer + zero humor = Maleska!
  • [Mayor's concern] is TRANSIT. Well, sometimes. Does the mayor of Valdez concern him- or herself with transit?
  • Nonspecificity can be annoying, too. NEPALI is indeed an [Asian language], but it'd be nice to make the clue more interesting and specific. How about [Language from which we get "panda"]? It's still a tough clue, but it you learn something cool and surprising.
  • [Prepare to drive, perhaps] is usually TEE UP (a golf ball) or GAS UP (a car). This time it's DEICE. You know what? I have scraped ice off the car windows and I have defrosted the inside of the windows, but I have never once referred to this as "deicing." Planes get deiced, but one doesn't really "drive" a plane.
  • [Crime scene] clues VENUE. Who calls a crime scene a VENUE? I've never picked that up from NYPD Blue or Law & Order.
And now, some clues that were tough but fair:
  • Surprisingly, a DREDGER does not involve dredging chicken through flour. The DREDGER (a [Fried-chicken device]) is a shaker for shaking flour onto the chicken. Dull answer, dull clue.
  • QATAR is a [Country with no income tax]—I'll bet many Middle Eastern, oil-rich countries also fit that description and they don't all have 5 letters, which narrows the search down a bit. The crossings did the rest of the work of identifying which one fits here.
  • [Small character in "Scheherezade"] clues the letter ZEE, which appears in lowercase in that title.
  • [Author of a 65+-million-selling novel] is SALINGER. It took me a while to guess this, even after suspecting it had to be a book that's assigned in high-school English classes.
  • [It's in the air] clues NEON, which is one of those gases that's in the mix of the air we breathe. Apparently.
  • [Lent effort] sounds like a verb, but it's a noun—ATONING is an effort one might make during Lent.
  • Did you know HELMSMAN was a [Mao epithet]? I didn't.
Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Say What?"

Hey, speak of the devil! I was just saying in the comments that I have taken to dreading the Stumpers unless they have Doug's byline (not dreading because I fear I'm not equal to the task—dreading because I'm not going to enjoy myself), and here he is again, with an easy themed crossword. The theme entries begin with words that can also mean "say," and they're clued as if they do mean "say" in those phrases:
  • [Say "bomb"] is UTTER FAILURE, as in "utter the word 'failure.'"
  • [Say "bureau"] clues STATE DEPARTMENT.
  • [Say "coach"] is EXPRESS TRAIN.
Some of the fill is the standard stuff that excites no one (NNE, AS OF, ATILT, COTES), but so much more of it lends a fun vibe to the crossword. MIFF crosses MOP UP. The QUEEN MUM ([King George VI's widow, familiarly]), is aptly mirrored by TASTEFUL across the grid. There's a NECTARINE, hopefully not an UNRIPE FRUIT. OLD SALT is an answer rather than a clue for a stale TAR. Take an AISLE SEAT when you fly to the RIVIERA. OSCAR the Grouch ACTS OUT. See? Lively stuff.