April 03, 2009

Saturday, 4/4

Newsday 13:31 (two Googles)
NYT 5:26
LAT 3:16
CS 2:49

Matt Ginsberg's New York Times crossword

It doesn't often happen that a crossword's theme eludes me completely. I've finished Matt's themed (!) Saturday puzzle, and I see that 10 answers in symmetrical spots are the opposites of their clues. The middle answer, 33A: LAST LETTERS, is clued [Explanatory information about this puzzle is revealed by reading these in the clues]. I tried all sorts of permutations of the last letters—in each clue, in each theme clue, in each word—and none of it was panning out. Now, what I should have done is considered that this answer might be the opposite of what its clue asks for because that is in fact the gimmick here—read the first letters of the clues and you get a full explanation. "Any clue for a word of eight or more letters is the opposite of the word to be entered." So there you have it—the middle answer and the other eight long answers are all opposites. (Thanks to Michael S. for the rescue.)

Sometimes the puzzles in which the words in the clues are necessarily restricted by a gimmick feel so nutty that you kind of know something is up. Usually Will Shortz and his constructors manage to smooth things out well enough that one can be duped without suspecting a thing—at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And now for the theme action, the answers that are at least 8 letters long and opposite in meaning to their clues:

  • 18A. [Friendly side in a debate] is not the OPPOSITION.
  • 23A. [Asymmetry, as in a relationship] is not EVENNESS.
  • 49A. [Make more important] is not RELEGATE.
  • 54A. [Energize] is not INACTIVATE.
  • 3D. [Tripping over one's feet] is hardly GRACEFUL.
  • 4D. [Hardly necessary] isn't ESSENTIAL.
  • 9D. [Overtly] certainly doesn't mean IN SECRET. (So "a word of eight or more letters" in the first-letters spiel means "an answer" and not a single word.)
  • 32D. [Well-proportioned] doesn't mean IRREGULAR.
  • 35D. [Remaining leery of] is the furthest thing from TRUSTING. This puzzle is giving me trust issues.
  • 36D. [Draw together] is anything but SEPARATE.
The bizarro-world theme answers weren't so hard to figure out, thanks to the crossings being more gettable than they are in typical Saturday NYTs. My favorites among the non-theme clues (which had perhaps less leeway for playfulness than normal because the clues had to start with specific letters) and answers:
  • [Officer's request, at times] is a LICENSE, and who's getting this request from the cop? Often a SPEEDER, cleverly clued as a [Ticket taker?].
  • [Rival of Roach in early film comedy] is Mack SENNETT. I'm not sure if I've ever seen Sennett's work, but I hear good things and I like the name Mack Sennett.
  • Rodin's ["The Thinker," for one] is a NUDE. Who doesn't do some of their best thinking when nude, such as when they're in the shower?
  • I now see that the best way to clue ATEN is as a two-word partial entry, A TEN. Mythological Egyptian solar disks and unfamiliar athletic conferences, you may get in line behind [Two fives for ___] now.
  • An [Expert dealmaker] is a CLOSER. "Coffee is for closers" is the classic Glengarry Glen Ross line, and it can be adapted to any situation. "You want a cookie, honey? Sorry. Cookies are for closers."
  • [Option for dressing down] isn't about dressing someone down, chastising them. It's a T-SHIRT you wear when you don't feel like dressing up.
How can you clue LAVA with a clue beginning with L? Why, with [Leucite source]. I'll be amazed if any non-geologist gets the answer based on that clue rather than the crossings. That crossword stalwart AMO is clued as [Domitian's "I love"]. I've never heard of Domitian, but I'm guessing that famous Latin speakers from ancient Rome whose names start with D are hard to come by.

There's a little more duplication than usual. The first letters of some clues spell out OPPOSITE when OPPOSITION is in the grid, and there's an IN HERE ([One possible answer to "Where are you?"]) across the way from HERE'S TO ([Opening of a toast]). And GET EVEN ([Take vengeance]) glances over at EVENNESS, one of the theme entries.

Updated Saturday morning:

Robert Doll's Los Angeles Times crossword

My full write-up of this puzzle is posted at L.A. Crossword Confidential. The short version: This is one of the easiest themeless puzzles I've ever done. Rich Norris's temporary easing-up of clues (to reduce the chance that readers of the Chicago Tribune and other papers that ran the old TMS puzzle would barrage the papers' editors with angry letters about the "new" puzzle being too hard) is in full force today. I miss the harder Saturday LAT puzzle, and look forward to its return in a few weeks.

In blogging the puzzle for the other site, I noticed just how much foreign stuff there is this time—over a dozen answers from Romance languages (including Latin). None of it was anything I'd never seen before, but I imagine this didn't sit too well with some folks. The crossing between SCENA ([Extended operatic solo]) and CORNU ([Latin horn]) might've been the trickiest square to fill. CORNU may look strange in the grid, but cornucopia—"horn of plenty"—is certainly a familiar word. Too bad the adjectival form of that isn't cornucopious (it's cornucopian).

The middle 37-Across answer, BOOK 'EM DANNO, is clued as a ["Hawaii Five-O" order]. A couple years ago, there was discussion on Cruciverb-L as to whether it's spelled Danno or Dano. If I recall correctly, there was compelling evidence for both versions.

Favorite clue: [Wear and tear, e.g.] for RHYMES.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Roller Coasters"

The theme isn't about thrill rides, it's about phrases that end with "roller":
  • HIGH SCHOOL is a [Secondary education building], and high rollers are rolling the dice on large sums of money.
  • ["Wow!"] can be conveyed many ways, including HOLY MACKEREL. Holy Rollers are "members of an evangelical Christian group that expresses religious fervor by frenzied excitement or trances," says my dictionary; it also labels the phrase informal and derogatory.
  • [Hangover relief, so they say] is a little HAIR OF THE DOG that bit you. Hair rollers curl the hair.
  • PAINT HORSE is a [Spotted pony]. Paint rollers are an alternative to paintbrushes.
I mixed up my snakes and dances when it came to answering [Mambos' relatives]. I was thinking of the black mamba and waited for the crossings to tell me what 6-letter snake might be pluralized here. Oh! Mambos, relatives of CHA-CHAS.

Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" crossword

Well! This one's in the running for toughest puzzle of the year—and, if we gave prizes for that, most unpleasant solving experience of the year. I got utterly mired in the rightmost third of the puzzle and just wanted to end things, so I Googled two things and still ended up with some problematic squares. (Full solution here.)

I liked 15A, HAS A SHOT AT or [Just might get]. Four-word entries are fun to mis-parse—HA! SASHO TAT! I liked the trivia in 2D [Language whose name means "normal"], or MAORI. I liked the three-word AT IT AGAIN, 12D [Back to one's old tricks]. I liked [Group of Xers?] as the clue for PEDS, or pedestrians (think PED XING signs). And that's about it for the plus column.

Now, I should've remembered this from another recent puzzle, that UTNE is the [Independent Press Awards bestower]—but with a likely initial U in place, I couldn't help thinking it would be the U.S._._. even though there was no abbreviation signal in the clue. I Googled that one, and I also Googled [Kay Kyser band vocalist]. Ginny SIMMS? Are you kidding me? Google tells me that she didn't record albums or appear on screen after 1960, and I honestly don't think she's one of those "enduring fame" people. This clue seems custom-made for those who were music fans in the 1940s, which would be solvers in their 70s on up.

I ought to have Googled a couple more things that were left mangled in the grid. ["Gone With the Wind" composer] is STEINER, but I had a bad D at the end of that because [Hit back?] sounded way more like the verb REAR-ENDED than the noun REAR-ENDER. In English, we don't customarily append adjectives after a noun, do we? STEINER's I crossed [Chief Justice after Chase], or WAITE. There was another piece of trivia I didn't know, but its crossings were more pliable for me—SHATNER [swears in Judy Garland in "Judgment at Nuremberg"].

I also frowned on 42A, [Disapproves of] leading to FROWNS AT. "Frowns on" is utterly in the language in a way that "frowns at" isn't quite. And then I frowned at [Capital starter] for ADDIS. Is that a clever way to clue part of Addis Ababa, or an annoying one? It annoyed me. I had A**IS for a while, as DEI being a [Word on a shilling] wasn't so obvious and TINKER'S DAM for [Trifle] just didn't want to come together. "Tinker's dam" is a bowdlerization of "tinker's damn."

[Narrow margin] was tough because NOSE fit so nicely, as in "win by a nose." So the N gave me...NUH-UH for ["I don't like that at all!"]? Turns out it's a HAIR crossing HUMPH.

These two answers belong together: DANDIFY, or [Turn into a dude], and SOTTISH, or [Bibulous].