April 18, 2009

Sunday, 4/19

NYT 9:18
LAT 7:17
PI (untimed)
CS (untimed)
NYT diagramless (untimed)
BG (skipping this one—I'm not doing a Christmas theme in April)

The first Marbles Amateur Crossword Tournament was a ton of fun! It wasn't a big event—just 20 competitors, plus some spectators (!)—but everyone had a good time and I loved having a puzzle event right here in Chicago for a change. Bob Petitto and I were the judges. The results: On puzzle #1, the Monday NYT puzzle, the first finisher, '08 and '09 ACPT speed demon Anne Erdmann, had a careless error (oh! how well I know the "careless error on an easy puzzle" grief), so Ben Bass, the first correct finisher, earned a spot in the finals. Anne then zipped through puzzle #2 to make the finals. On puzzle #3, Anne was again the first finisher (no surprise there), but the first not-already-a-finalist finisher was Jonathon Brown, who became the third finalist (and is a regular commenter here).

The three finalists raced the clock and one another on next Thursday's NYT crossword. Anne took first place, finishing in 4:15. Ben, whom I met at his first ACPT this year, swooped into second with a clean puzzle despite finishing third on the clock. Third place went to Jonathon, who finished second timewise but had three incorrect squares, proving the value of the Ellen Ripstein Axiom: Check all the crossing clues. The other eight contestants who completed puzzle #3 (next Wednesday's NYT puzzle) correctly within the time limit also got to choose a smaller prize from the prize table, as did Best Handwriting winner Wailin Wang. The latter had already been advised by friends in the know to shoot for the Best Handwriting prize at the ACPT, and I tell you, her puzzle looked like she had printed it out after solving online.

Special thanks to Bob Petitto for judging—with almost 20 years of ACPT experience, he knew what to do and kept everything running efficiently. And an honorable mention to Kent Brody, who would have been in the finals if not for Anne's puzzle #1 error—and sitting in the finals audience, he finished the puzzle fast enough for 2nd place.

I did my best Will Shortz imitation at the start of the finals, intoning "Begin." You can hear it, can't you?

Nothing specific about the crosswords themselves here, as you'll see them this Monday through Thursday.

I am so crossworded out after this afternoon that I am having trouble summoning the will to blog about the Sunday puzzles. But blog I must:

Will Nediger's New York Times crossword, "Extra! Extra!"

In sports, "Extra!" time is called overtime, or OT for short. Each theme entry has an extra OT changing the meaning of a phrase:

  • 22A: [Spoiling one's vote?] clues WRECKING BALLOT. This clue/answer combo also evokes the familiar phrase "spoiled ballot," so one bonus point to Will N. for that. The answer is wrecking ball + OT, which made me guess that the OT would appear at the end of each theme entry. It does not.
  • 32A: [Computer monitor at the center of attention?] is a SPOTLIT SCREEN, built from "split screen."
  • 47A: [Child's toy in the shape of a Shakespeare character?] gave me the most trouble because I automatically filled in an R after OTHE. But it's not OTHER-anything, it's OTHELLO DOLLY. Isn't that briliant? Hello Dolly with an OT in front of it gets you a jealous Moor suitable for toting about in a toy stroller. And why not have that R in OTHER? The crossing was [The Aare flows into it], and who has ever heard of LAKE BIEL? I mean, aside from super-duper prize-winning geography whiz kid Will Nediger. He probably knew it long before he put it in this puzzle.
  • 64A: [Headline about an economics conference?] is JOHN MAYNARD KEYNOTES. This one doesn't work as well for me, because who is "John Maynard"? Not a famous economist, I'll tell you that.
  • 84A: [Booster for a king?] is a ROYAL FLU SHOT, playing on a royal flush in poker. This one's my second favorite, behind OTHELLO DOLLY.
  • 97A: [Dark ottoman?] is a BLACK FOOTREST. You know, I figured it was a play on the Black Forest, but then I wanted 100D [Cell mate?] to be a DRONE in a cell of a beehive (correct answer in CLONE, whose cells are identical, I guess), and thought 92D THE BOX is [Where a V.I.P. may sit] rather than the correct SKYBOX. And I had THE BOX because I thought [Unloaded on] was TOLD TO, but it turned out to be SOLD TO. (Evil trap!) So I mucked that corner up pretty good for a while.
  • 109A: [Put five musicians on display?] clues TROT OUT QUINTET. I only recently heard of the Trout Quintet, which is...classical music. Of some sort. I'm too tired to Google it, but half of you can probably hum it and need no Googling.
Highlights among the fill and clues:
  • "MARIA, MARIA" is a [2002 Santana hit]. Never heard of it, but it looks good stacked atop a theme entry.
  • [Stadium cry], 3 letters...hmm, is it RAH? If not, it must be OLE. Unless the cry is against the opposing team or some bad officiating, in which case it is a resounding BOO.
  • When I saw [The Rock], I tried to figure out how to fit the charming DWAYNE JOHNSON into just 8 squares. Oh, that Rock—ALCATRAZ.
  • [One not missing a beat?] is a beat COP on patrol.
  • Great clue for erstwhile steel baron Andrew CARNEGIE—[Man of steel?].
  • To [Ordain] something is to PREDESTINE it. Did you know that's an anagram of presidente?
  • An ORGY is a [Liberal party?] in Canada.
  • ALTER EGOS are clued [Superheroes often have them].
  • What's a LEMMING? Metaphorically, [Not an independent thinker].
  • The suffix -EST is unimpressive filler, but I love the clue: [Facetious suffix with most].
Tough nuggets:
  • SALISH is a Pacific [Northwest Indian].
  • SEGNO is a [Musical repetition mark]. I believe I have seen this one before, but that didn't stop me from forgetting it completely.
  • [Squiffed] clues STONED. Apparently squiffed and squiffy mean "slightly drunk" in old slang.
  • [Bit of cuneiform] is a WEDGE. Anyone else learn about Babylonian cuneiform by having to read They Wrote on Clay in high school?
  • [52 settimane] is 52 weeks in Italian, or uno ANNO.
  • [City on the Swan River] is PERTH, Australia. I just learned this in another puzzle recently.
  • [Epic that includes the Teichoscopia] is the ILIAD. The only parts of that clue that gave me any idea what the answer was were the word "epic" and something Greek-sounding.
  • KENDO is a [Sport with a bamboo sword] about which I know only that there's a bamboo sword involved.
  • UNIONIST gets an interesting clue: [Lincoln, for one], as in Abraham Lincoln preserving the union. I also pondered the Lincoln Town Car and Lincoln, Nebraska.
What I didn't like: SPREE is clued as a [Word with shooting or shopping]. There have been too many tragic shooting sprees in the U.S. lately for this clue to pass the breakfast test.

Updated Sunday afternoon:

Sorry to leave you hanging on the other crosswords—m. henry had the hotcakes with whipped chocolate cream and warm sour cherries topped with chocolate ganache only for weekend brunch, and then there was long division homework to oversee. I did some crosswords on paper, untimed, during Divisionpalooza, and that erasable pen died on me after the diagramless so I did Merl's puzzle and the themeless CrosSynergy in regular pen. Hmm, Merl's puzzle must be pretty easy because I didn't scribble over any squares. And Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle has six over-written squares, so maybe it was less easy. It certainly had enough clues I drew a blank on.

Patrick Blindauer's second Sunday NYT puzzle, a diagramless crossword

I'm guessing this one was easier than most diagramlesses because I filled it all in without writing any numbers in the squares, and I'd never done that before. I was operating under a minor spoiler, since someone mentioned that the likeness was clearer in Across Lite's show-diagram function than on a printout in which the blank squares hadn't been blacked in. So I knew it wasn't going to have standard crossword symmetry. Getting 8D: [Birthplace of 71-Across] as LOG CABIN made me suspect ABE Lincoln was the subject, and THE CIVIL WAR, ILLINOIS, and the GETTYSBURG ADDRESS confirmed that. I killed the Pilot Frixion erasable gel pen, which a pen addict's blog commenters confirm doesn't contain enough ink to last long, but it is a more pleasing pen than the gunky Erasermate. Anyway—I grabbed a fresh pen and blackened in the black squares in the middle of the grid, and my son correctly identified it as a picture of Abraham Lincoln. Cool work, Patrick! And it's not hitting around February 12, when we all had Lincoln crossword fatigue, so the not-timely publication works for me. Highlights in the fill: REMBRANDT, the game MOTHER MAY I, and a PINA COLADA.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

Martin's the king of the triple stack, and this one's got a triple stack of 15-letter answers across the middle. [They're not strictly accurate] clues INEXACT SCIENCES, but I'm feeling iffy about the plural here. ENEMY AT THE GATES is a [WWII action film of 2001]; has anyone seen it? VANESSA REDGRAVE is the ["Isadora" star], but I haven't seen that one either. And then elsewhere in the puzzle, there's ["Dark Passage" star], which turns out to be BACALL but I know nothing about that movie. Hmm, I'm sensing a theme here in this themeless puzzle: Movies Amy hasn't seen.

Did you notice the midsection of this puzzle? The triple stack intersects two 9's and three 7's, which is not an easy feat to pull off. What else did I want to mention? This:
  • [Needlepoint?] is an inventive clue for ESE. As in one of the points that a compass needle points to, east-southeast. Terrible filler answer, sure, but salvaged by a fresh clue.
  • [Facetious fivesome?] is the vowels AEIOU, which appear in that order within "facetious."
  • [Throat soothers] are TROCHES. I get my TROCHES (lozenges) mixed up with my CLOCHES (bell-shaped, tight-fitting women's hats).
  • [Divines, in a way] clues CASTS LOTS. Boy, that whole southwest corner was empty for too long. This phrase isn't familiar enough to come to my mind quickly. It didn't help that I persisted in reading the 50A clue, [Bob, for one] as if it applied to 40A, which is clued [P.D.Q.]. I had **AP and nothing bob-like was coming to mind there, for good reason. 40A was ASAP and the bob HAIRDO was two rows down.
  • SITARS are [Instruments with sympathetic strings]? I don't know what that means, I tell you. It sounds emotionally sympathetic or "sympathetic strings" has a meaning within music?
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "TV Shows I'd Like to See"

This is another of Merl's classic pun themes, with puns on the titles of various TV shows. One of them is [TV comedy about a guy who keeps losing his patients?], DENTIST THE MENACE. Whoa, retro flashback! The live-action version of the "Dennis the Menace" comic strip ran from 1959 to '63. The next oldest show in the theme is Mork and Mindy, turned into MORTGAGE AND MINDY, or [TV comedy about being in foreclosure?]. The Law & Order expands into SLAW AND ORDERS, a [TV drama set in a deli?]. SpongeBob SquarePants is now a 10-year-old show, and I do love it so. That inspires Merl's SLUMDOG SQUAREPANTS, or [TV cartoon about a guy who's poor and not much of a dresser?]. Then there's Desperate Hosuewives spinning off DESPERATE, HOUSE-WISE, a [TV reality show about owners willing to do anything to sell their domiciles]. My favorite theme entry wins for its sheer silliness, converting Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? into ARE YOU SMARTER THAN / A CHEESE GRATER?—this is a [TV game show that requires no knowledge whatsoever?].

Merl syndicates his crosswords himself, so he doesn't submit his puzzles to an editor who enforces the standard rules of crossword construction. 80D: [In ___ (spiraling downward)] clues the 9-letter partial entry, A TAILSPIN. But you know what? TAILSPIN is a welcome inclusion in the puzzle, even with the indefinite article that makes it violate a standard rule.

Dan Naddor's syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword, "Put a Lid on It!"

See my L.A. Crossword Confidential post for solution and discussion.