May 07, 2009

Friday, 5/8

BEQ 4:55
CHE 4:51
NYT 4:43
LAT 4:16
CS 6:18 (J—paper)
WSJ 8:54

John Farmer's New York Times crossword

Not many NYT crosswords begin with a blacked-out square in the upper left, much less with a chunk of six black squares there. John's puzzle has a cute grid with four black corners bracketing a ring of 9-, 11-, and 13-letter answers. Those long ones are as follows:

  • 1A: BOOT CAMPS are [Military trials?]. Perfect clue.
  • 10A: ["From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee" speaker] is CAPTAIN AHAB from Moby-Dick.
  • 12A: QUIET ON THE SET is the spoken [Order given before shooting starts] on a film set.
  • 44A: The PERIODIC TABLE is a [Science class decoration].
  • 49A: Seattle's SPACE NEEDLE is the [Landmark in Elvis Presley's "It Happened at the World's Fair"].
  • 50A: ISINGLASS is a name for [Common mica]. Esthetically, I think that's a beautiful word, even if I probably did learn it via old crossword clues for MICA. Too bad its etymology is gross.
  • 14D: [Visionary] is an adjective, not just a noun: PRESCIENT.
  • 12D: An [Abrupt change] is a QUANTUM LEAP. Fantastic answer, but a goofy TV series.
  • 10D: CUT YOUR LOSSES is [Advice in a bear market, maybe]. Hey! It's YOUR! Not ONE'S! So much more in-the-language that way.
  • 11D: The BEAUFORT SCALE is the scale for categorizing winds as fresh breezes, gales, etc. [The higher this goes, the more it blows].
  • 13D: THE FUGITIVE was a movie and a [TV drama featuring Dr. Richard Kimble] vs. the One-Armed Man.
  • 17D: [Magnolia or pecan] is a STATE TREE. Illlinois's is the white oak. Remember that state flower theme last Sunday? Maybe you should brush up on your state trees.
Overall, this lovely puzzle has mighty smooth fill, even with all those 3's and 4's that had the potential to feel like compromises. It's a pangram, so there's an interesting assortment of Scrabbly words. And none of the clues or answers jumped out at me as being iffy. Keep 'em coming, Farmer John! Put on your constructin' overalls, park the tractor, and get to work.

Selected clues from the rest of the puzzle:
  • In golf, a [Six-footer, maybe] is a PUTT that's six feet from the cup.
  • RAY is clued as [Glimmer], as in a ray of light or hope.
  • Okay, so I could do without SUET, the [Steamed pudding ingredient]. Remind me never to order anything called "steamed pudding."
  • Brian ENO is the [Creator of the "Microsoft sound" played when Windows 95 starts]. Raise your hand if you're still using Windows 95. Anyone?
  • JAFFA has been a [Mediterranean port since ancient times].
  • To MAX OUT is to [Go to the limit]. I never MAX OUT my credit card, but you know what happened this morning? I updated my credit card info with NYT Digital so they can automatically renew my Premium Crosswords subscription this winter. And in order to make sure my card was valid, they charged me $1.35. I spent 24 minutes on the phone with the NYT trying to get that uncharged, and all I got was an "I'll give this information to my boss" run-around. One might presume the charge would be reversed at some point, but nobody at the NYT seemed to think there was any reason to do that. Hmph!
  • FABERGE is a famous decorative [Egg maker]. Wouldn't that be a great name for a hen?
  • [Used butter on, maybe] clues COAXED. Is this literal or figurative butter? Is this about "buttering up"?
  • BRRR is a [Comment from the chattering class?] with teeth chattering from the cold. The three-R spelling feels a tad iffy to me.
  • CINCHES is clued [They're duck soup]. So "it's duck soup" means "it's easy"? I don't know that I've ever heard that.
  • [Pollen bearer in a flower] is the ANTHER. Raise your hand if you went straight for STAMEN first.
  • The airline SAS is a [Lander at Arlanda]. No, I don't know what Arlanda is, either. The Internet tells me it's the name of Stockholm's airport.
  • [Drew a cross response?] clued JABBED—as in boxing blows.
  • Who knew BORDEN was a [Cremora brand]? Borden used to be a big name.
  • [Some spreads] are ADS, as in a two-page spread in a magazine.

John Lampkin's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Work, Work, Work"

The title relates to the six trilogies in the theme. There's Tolkien's LORD OF / THE RINGS and Dos Passos's USA trilogy—the only two of the trilogies here that I could name straight off. Willa Cather's trilogy, 7 letters starting with a P? Hmm, PRAIRIE? Yes. Paul Auster has his NEW YORK trilogy, which sounds faintly familiar to me. I didn't know that Robertson Davies had a DEPTFORD trilogy, nor that Cormac McCarthy's books make up the BORDER trilogy.

There is a plethora of out-there tough clues and answers. To wit:
  • PAPAGO is an [Uto-Aztecan tribe].
  • [Newspaper-editor Charles Anderson ___] DANA is arguably less well known than Dana Scully, the X-Files character.
  • OIL PALM is a [Tropical tree important to soap making]. I am guessing this is the tree that gives us palm oil.
  • Good gravy, two erstwhile Oldsmobile models, the CIERA and ALERO? To accompany them, we have the [Paleontological spans], ERAS and EONS. In each case, one is plenty.
  • POROUS is clued as [Like intestinal walls]. Or, say, a sponge. Also from anatomy: the LIMBUS is an [Anatomical border].
  • [Muse of heroic poetry] is CALLIOPE. ERATO, of course, is much more familiar to crossworders.
  • [Heavy] is the noun meaning "bad guy," or BADDY. Or baddie.
  • ADAM is, among other things, [Orlando's servant in "As You Like It"].
  • The BREN is a [Gas-powered submachine gun]. STEN is the more familiar 4-letter crosswordese gun ending in -EN.

Updated Friday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Cheese Heads"—Janie's review

This Friday puzzle can be described with three words: easy, breezy and cheesy. And when I say "cheesy," I'm speaking literally here. The first word in each of the four two-word theme phrases (the "head" of the phrase) names a type of cheese. Actually that's not entirely accurate, but I'll get to that a little later.

  • 17A: [Home-based business] COTTAGE INDUSTRY (which gives us cottage cheese)
  • 36A: [Cocoa brand] SWISS MISS (and Swiss cheese)
  • 46A: [Dr. Brown's drink] CREAM SODA (yes, cream cheese; and a confession: for reasons I'm not quite sure of, I didn't look at the title of the puzzle until the end, so I was never sure of what the theme was while I was solving. I saw "Dr. Brown's," the "C" was in place, and so my first response to this was to enter CELERY but I couldn't come up with enough letters to make it work. Not to mention that where the name of this drink is concerned, its CEL-RAY... oops.)
  • 65A: [David Mamet play] AMERICAN BUFFALO (American cheese, right? But wait: this is the "not entirely accurate" thing I was referring to. Even though it's not the "head" of the phrase, buffalo cheese is yet another variety. Or perhaps just a bonus entry!)
One of the reasons many of us solve puzzles is for the entertainment value, and this one is loaded with references (directly or in-) to the entertainment we enjoy on stage and screen. There's AGNES Moorehead of Citizen Kane fame (perhaps best known to boomers and Nick at Niters as Endora in Bewitched); ELSA Lanchester (whose name nicely crosses ELSE); LIZA Minnelli (whose name nicely crosses ZIMA at the "I"); Klinger portrayer Jamie FARR; the movie ORCA (which does appear to be a "must miss"); De Niro film A BRONX TALE (written by and now being performed as a one-man play by Chazz Palminteri); Broadway musical MAN OF La Mancha (also a [not-very-good] movie); the thematic AMERICAN BUFFALO (which put expletive-loving playwright David Mamet on the map); and finally, Joe Green's AIDA (I know, I know: Giuseppe Verdi!).

Fill I love: COOT for [Geezer], QUACK for [Snake oil salesman], SNAFU for [Major miscue]. (Where that last one is concerned, am also fond of its corollary, FUBAR...) Nice to see the two Xs, two Zs and that Q, too.

What I learned: the COBRA is an [Army helicopter].

While I'm usually delighted by repeated clues, something doesn't sit quite right with the twin [Pigs] at 26D and 28D surrounding 27D's [Koran religion]. And in the grid, ISLAM and SWINE run side by side. Perhaps I'm being overly PC/humorless, but given Islam's dietary laws, this pairing doesn't feel, well, particularly "kosher." So to speak. I guess I'm wondering if this was something that went under the radar of the CS team or whether it was included to test the waters. Puzzle construction being the complex task that it is I suspect there's no easy answer.

That said, I had a fine time solving this, and was happier still (once I'd read the title and fully appreciated the theme) that this celebrated "cheese heads" and not "head cheese"!!

Dan Naddor's L.A. Times crossword

Now Dan's just showing off. A 70-worder that somehow found room for five theme entries? Impressive. He takes five phrases that end with -KEY and lops off the EY:
  • 18A: [One shivering atop Mount Ararat?] is a COLD TURK. Here, Mustafa and Büşra—put on your jackets.
  • 19A: [Tool in a Belfast bakery?] is an IRISH WHISK.
  • 33A: A FIELD HOCK might be a [Desperate farmer's transaction?] at the pawn shop.
  • 49A: [Abbey resident in a rock-'n'-roll musical?] is a GREASE MONK. I'd like to see both Grease and West Side Story performed by friars.
  • 53A: [Serious Frisbee thrower?] is a DISC JOCK. Oh, hi, Seth! SethG's team were the national champions in the masters level last year.
The grid looks like a themeless one, with those four open corners and the parade of 7's (and a 9) stairstepping through the middle. A lot of these answers would score low in Scrabble (well, unless the player managed to lay down all 7 letters in one play). Consider EERIEST, IRON ORES, TRUSTEE, USELESS, E STREET, ARLENES, EELER, and ASIANS. SEXINESS, or [Allure], gets a boost from its X but is otherwise exactly the sort of answer you're likely to see holding up the bottom of the grid. Mind you, even if these answers mostly lack crazy letters, they still make for fresher fill than a slew of 3- to 5-letter repeaters would. Even the dullest 7 is going to be less stale than a puzzle filled with ERIEs and UTAs.

Least familiar clue: It's a two-way tie! [Glazunov wrote a 1934 concerto for one] refers to the ALTO SAX. [Pou ___: vantage point] clues STO. I have never heard of Glazunov—music is not my bag—but at least ALTO SAX was gettable as a musical instrument. Pou sto is a Greek phrase I've never encountered before. I do know that STO means one hundred in many Slavic languages.

Clue with the strongest parade associations: [Red fez wearer] is a SHRINER. Weirdest-looking answer: ALE KEG, or [Pub container].

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Think Thick"

Can you imagine how awesome this grid would be without those single black squares to the left of 26A and 43A? I wonder if Frank Longo, Patrick Berry, or anyone else could fill that grid.

Like some of Brendan's test solvers, I had an error where 3D meets 28A. The [Small toucan with a yellow breast] is the ARACARI, not the ARACARA. And [You usually find them up against the wall] clues light SWITCHES, not paint SWATCHES. I wonder if people who don't know Brendan just bought a condo made the same mistake—the bird is not a well-known one, but is it natural to jump to SWATCHES in the absence of suspecting autobiographical content?

[Interruption of thought indicator] is the EM DASH. I love me a good em dash (see the preceding paragraph).

I have inexplicably and quite suddenly fallen out of the mood to write about crosswords, so I'll just say that if Brendan were to decide to make three themelesses a week, that would be fine by me. They're always enjoyable.

Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Life Is a Merry-Go-Round"

Sometimes folks grumble when a chunk of letters in a rebus square are used to mean the literal word that comprises those letters. In this case, all six HORSE rebus squares use the HORSE as a horse, of course, as the HORSEs are arrayed in a CAROUSEL-style circle. The merry-go-round rebus (which, by the way, is perfectly symmetrical—when has Liz ever made a visual puzzle that doesn't layer on still more symmetry?) is a tribute to RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN, who partnered up on many MUSICALS including CAROUSEL.

Favorite clues/answers: [Boxer, for one] for SENATOR Barbara Boxer, and the [Elizabethan pronoun?] ROYAL WE. I hereby bestow the title of Queen Elizabeth on Liz Gorski and encourage her to begin using the royal "we" at every opportunity.