April 25, 2009

Sunday, 4/26

NYT 11:04
LAT 7:30
PI (untimed)
BG (untimed)
CS 4:28

Trip Payne's New York Times crossword, "Roughly Speaking"

I've been using the NYT's online applet for five years, and all this time I've simply entered the first letter of a rebus entry. But the last time around, I finally paid attention to what people said about how you make the applet accept multiple letters (type + and then the letters), and after I solved that rebus puzzle I used that + trick to make a comprehensible answer grid for this blog. But taking the time to enter multiple letters in a square while the clock is running? Never—until today. I am so glad I did because it turned out that there are both UM and ER rebus squares, and it would have been an unholy mess trying to make sense out of a grid littered with misleading U's and E's.

So! If you're looking for a theme that provides a joke or maybe wordplay of some sort, you are out of luck today. But if you're keen on Sunday-size puzzles with a themeless vibe and a rebus gimmick, then you have hit the jackpot today. Guess what? I'm in the latter group. I don't feel cheated that there's no group of theme entries that have more in common than some letter pairs, I don't get vexed by rebuses, and I do love a good themeless. I was surprised to see how many words and phrases there are that contain both an UM and an ER:

  • 23A: [Op-ed piece, e.g.] is a NEWSPAPER COLUMN.
  • 25A: [Worries for ransom recipients] are the SERIAL NUMBERS on the currency they receive.
  • 37A: STERNUMS are [Parts of some cages]—rib cages, that is.
  • 59A: SERUM is a [Blood bank supply].
  • 68A: [Actress Amanda] PLUMMER has a lot of hesitation in her surname.
  • 70A: [Salon product for flat hair] is VOLUMIZER.
  • 73A: [Possible item in a window box] is a GERANIUM.
  • 85A: A [Lousy tip] is a BUM STEER.
  • 98A: BUMPER-TO-BUMPER is [Crowded, in a way], as in traffic.
  • 102A: CONSUMER INTEREST is clued with [Individual debtors pay it].
  • 3D: COGITO ERGO SUM ("I think, therefore I am") is René Descartes' [Statement of philosophy].
  • 12D: [Extras] in an opera production or a mouthful of teeth are SUPERNUMERARIES.
  • 39D: A MUMBLER is a [Poor orator, perhaps].
  • 56D: MODERN HUMORIST is a [Comedy webzine founded in 2000]. Crossword constructor Francis Heaney contributes there.
  • 62D: DUMB AND DUMBERER is the [2003 sequel to a popular 1994 comedy].
  • 90D: The [Historic South Carolina fort] is SUMTER.
There were also plenty of answers with two ERs or a single UM or ER. All told, I count 35 rebus squares, which seems like a lot for one puzzle.

My favorite clues and fill were these:
  • [Country singer Harris] has the lovely name EMMYLOU.
  • A [Resident of Asmara] is an ERITREAN. My kid has a bunch of Eritrean schoolmates.
  • [It may go around the office] clues a MEMO. (Not GOSSIP.)
  • My boy loves Star Wars stuff, but I'd have know that PODRACER fit [Anakin Skywalker flew one in "Star Wars Episode I"] anyway.
  • [Greeting you shouldn't say at an airport] is "HI, JACK."
  • One [Reason to get all gussied up] is a HOT DATE.
  • An AVIATOR is a [Professional who may wear goggles].
  • [Be routed] uses the past tense of rout, not route—the answer is LOSE BIG.
  • [Pitched quarters] isn't about the drinking game—it refers to TENTS.
  • [Guitarist Cooder and others] clues RYS. How many other people named Ry are there, anyway? Lame crossword answer, but I love-love-loved Cooder's plaintive soundtrack to Paris, Texas.
  • [III, today] is TRE. Roman numerals in ancient Rome, Italian names for numbers in modern-day Rome.
Some less familiar stuff follows:
  • RALLYES are [Driving events that use checkpoints]. No, I don't know why they spell it that way.
  • CUE BID is a [Bridge tactic].
  • [Seventh-brightest star in a constellation] is ETA. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, and zeta are the six letters ahead of ETA in the Greek alphabet.
  • [Feather, to Fernando] is a PLUMA. The cognate with plume is obvious enough, but I'd never had cause to learn the Spanish word for "feather."
  • [State trisected by a river of the same name: Abbr.] is TENN. I did not know that about Tennessee. 
  • ESDRAS is [Either of two books in the Apocrypha]. I know this only from crosswords.
  • [19th-century geologist Charles] LYELL is faintly familiar to me...probably from crosswords.
  • I didn't know [Groucho Marx foil Margaret] DUMONT from crosswords—or from anything else, for that matter.
  • [Largest known dwarf planet], 3 letters? Help! Oh, wait. It's ERIS with a rebus square. I knew that.
Updated late Saturday night:

According to Jim Horne, the previous record for the most rebus squares in an NYT crossword was 28, so Trip blew that record out of the water with his 35.

Norm Guggenbiller's syndicated "Daily" Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle, "Overheard at the Pub"

The theme entries here purport to be what certain phrases sound like when drunkenly slurred—a word that ends with SS turns into one ending with SH:
  • 24A: [Nearly matching outfit's problem?] (A TOUCH OF CLASH).
  • 47A: [Wild zebra party?] (STRIPED BASH).
  • 71A: [Basket weaving operation?] (MESHY BUSINESS). I'm docking this answer one point for having an unchanged SS at the end of BUSINESS. What, the pub denizen sobered up mid-sentence?
  • 94A: [Ski house that rustles in the wind?] (SWISH CHALET). This could also have been clued with reference to the SWISH of a basketball dropping into the net.
  • 118A: [Washington nonsense?] (POLITICAL BOSH).
  • 3D: [Frenzy over a 1970s-'80s sitcom?] (M*A*S*H HYSTERIA). I like this one.
  • 67D: [Assertive simians?] (BRASH MONKEYS). I had no idea that the phrase "brass monkeys" related to cold weather, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Wikipedia tells us that "The term brass monkey would refer to the support arms for the Kelvin spheres which were constructed of brass or other non-magnetic material, monkey being an archaic mechanical term to describe an adjustable support or arm," but in England they like their brass simians too.
For more on this puzzle, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle from maybe six weeks ago, "Treevia"

I was going to skip this crossword, but the "Treevia" title lured me in with its promise of botanical content. Alas, the octet of theme entries were just an assortment of names and phrases that begin (n=3) or end (n=5) with a word that's also a tree. Sort of. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY starts with the HOLLY shrub. The ELDER (STATESMAN) can be either a tree or a shrub. The (STAN) LAUREL is a shrub or another name for the bay tree. There's the (MARTIN) BALSAM fir, (MODEL) PLANE tree (a.k.a. the sycamore tree), two fruit trees—(EXPIRATION) DATE and (DOESN'T CARE A) FIG—and ASH (WEDNESDAY).

As many of you probably know, folks at the Rex Parker blog dub deadly crossings "Naticks," after the crossing of NATICK, Massachusetts, and painter N.C. WYETH stumped many. Well, this puzzle has a pretty good Natick too. 73D is [Composer Grofe], or FERD*. It crosses 97A: [Armpit], or OXT*R. I figured an E for FERDE sounded more plausible than the other vowel options, but...OXTER? That's a new one for me. It's from the Old English and they use it in Scotland and thereabouts. Here's the Scottish Wikipedia entry on it: "The oxter is the pairt o the human body richt unner the jynt whaur the airm jynes the shouder." There's a beefcake biceps photo accompanying that definition. As for Grofé, you can bone up on him here.

Other not-so-familiar answers lurked here and there, but with crossings I found more gettable. TESSA is clued as [British actress-author Dahl]. PITOT is the [Physicist with an eponymous tube]. [Wing-footed, zoologically] clues ALIPED. Last, we have ["Embraced by the Light" author Betty] EADIE.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Oscar Stew"

This puzzle has an accompanying note: "Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood, so maybe the best way to win next year's Oscar for Best Picture is to recycle ideas from previous Best Pictures. Forthwith, a few samples." The theme entries commingle parts of the titles of two Best Pictures and clue them with descriptions of the resulting make-believe movies:
  • 23A: [Film about a famous sitcom "doofus"?] is WEST SIDE KRAMER. West Side Story meets Kramer vs. Kramer.
  • 30A: [Film about a new kid in town?] is THE APARTMENT HUNTER. The Apartment meets...hmm...maybe The Deer Hunter.
  • 48A: [Film about the first successful dealership?] merges Chariots of Fire with Ben-Hur to make CHARIOTS OF BEN-HUR.
  • 65A: MARTY OF ARABIA joins Marty and Lawrence of Arabia as a [Film about a transplanted New Yorker? (really transplanted)].
  • 84A: [Film about traveling around Florida?] is DRIVING IN THE HEAT. Driving Miss Daisy and...In the Heat of the Night?
  • 96A: DANCES WITH TOM JONES melds Dances with Wolves and Tom Jones as a [Film about a music fan's Vegas fantasy?].
  • 110A: All About Eve and No Country for Old Men birth ALL ABOUT OLD MEN, or [Film featuring people whose ears are hairier than their heads?].
I didn't have any of those entertaining "aha" moments. Maybe because I was sleepy? I dunno. There was one mystery answer I got only thanks to the crossings: [Kim of "True Grit"] clues DARBY.

Updated again Sunday morning:

Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

Earlier this week on Facebook and Twitter, I asked who people's favorite overlooked constructors were—on various individuals' lists of the best/favorite constructors, a few of the same names seem to pop up over and over. But there are so many more talents who don't live on those "top five" lists. Anyway, a couple people cited Rich Norris. If you like themeless puzzles and you have an NYT Premium Crosswords subscription, do yourself a favor. Use Jim Horne's database listing of Rich's puzzles, jot down the dates of a slew of his Friday and Saturday puzzles, and head to the NYT puzzle archives to download those crosswords. About 130 of Rich's NYT crosswords are Friday and Saturday puzzles, so that's a book or two's worth right there. There's also Rich's A-to-Z Crosswords book, which I enjoyed. (I believe this is a USA Today-branded reprint of the earlier Sterling book, so these aren't USA Today crosswords.)

The last square I filled in was the B in the southwest corner. [Attend to one of one's preflight chores, maybe] is CALL A CAB (I don't call cabs—I just walk down to the corner and wait for one to come by), and the [2001 self-titled pop album] is BETTE. Midler? Yes, but I was trying to think of a much younger pop singer fitting *ETTE.

1-Across is extra-Scrabbly—[Speaker], as in a loudspeaker, is a SQUAWK BOX. Colorful answer, eh? Assorted other clues and answers:
  • STUD HORSE is a [Former Derby winner, often]. SIRE is not clued in relation to this—instead, it's a [Regal address].
  • The PUNCHLINE is clued by way of [It's just for laughs].
  • [Space travel phenomenon] is ZERO G, or zero gravity.
  • One [Pacific Northwest native language] is SALISH. This was just in another crossword quite recently.
  • To [Take a side?] dish is to EAT.
  • [Guadalupe Mountains tourist spot] is CARLSBAD CAVERNS. I've heard of the caverns, but not the mountains.
  • [Ban's predecessor] is tough. It's Kofi ANNAN, predecessor of Ban Ki-Moon at the U.N.
  • [Bazooka output] sounds violent, but it's just BUBBLEGUM.
  • TERI GARR was a ["Tootsie" Oscar nominee]. Jessica Lange won Best Supporting Actress for the same movie.
  • The URALS are a mountain [Range that's also a border].
  • ARBOURS are [Sources of Sheffield shade]. Sheffield's your cue to go British for the spelling.
  • The star [Arcturus, for one] is a RED GIANT.