May 10, 2009

Monday, 5/11

BEQ 4:35
LAT 2:35
NYT 2:19
CS 5:53 (J—paper)

Fred Piscop's New York Times crossword

Whoa. Is this pretty much the easiest NYT crossword you've ever seen? I'll bet a lot of people are enjoying setting a new personal land-speed record.

The theme is simple but lively: "somebody's something" songs covering a number of "somebody" pronouns. SHE'S A LADY is a [1971 Tom Jones hit]. The [1972 Carly Simon hit] is YOU'RE SO VAIN. I'M A BELIEVER is the [1966 Monkees hit]. And HE'S A REBEL is a [1962 Crystals hit]. All are familiar song titles—and the two I haven't necessarily ever heard are familiar from crosswords (SHESA and HESA clues).

Not every word in this puzzle is a straight-up gimme, but the ones that are less well-known have manageable Monday-grade crossings. Here are the closest things to difficult clues:

  • [Finishing 11th out of 11, e.g.] is LAST. I could see the "11" specificity throwing someone off the trail.
  • [Parish leader] is a RECTOR. PRIEST is also 6 letters.
  • [Martian or Venusian] clues an ALIEN. Hey, wait a minute. There are no aliens on Mars or Venus. Where's the hedging "perhaps" or "in science fiction" for this clue?
  • KEENE is a [New Hampshire college town]. I tend to go with KEANE first, but wouldn't go with any particular spelling if I hadn't seen this in crosswords before. Same with ESSEN, the [Krupp Works city] in Germany.
  • The [Mescaline-yielding cactus] is PEYOTE.
  • If you're new to crosswords, an answer like [C.S.A. general] R.E. LEE (Robert E. Lee) just looks like the meaningless RELEE.

Updated Monday morning:

Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy puzzle, "It's Not Unusual"—Janie's review

This reasonably straightforward theme gives us three phrases whose final word is synonymous with "not unusual." And the beauty part? Two of the three phrases are making their puzzle debuts. So we're in "fresh fill" territory and that's a very nice place to be! This non-shout out to Tom Jones gives us:

  • 20A: [Baseball card statistic] BATTING AVERAGE (debut phrase number one)
  • 38A: [What polar opposites have] NOTHING IN COMMON
  • 56A: [Inconsistently applied criterion] DOUBLE STANDARD (debut phrase number two)
I think one of my least favorite words (and one I don't especially love meeting in crosswords) is CRUD, but there it was at 1A. Happily, it was all up from there. Though it's clued here as a [Volley of gunfire], a SALVO is also a burst of cheers or applause. A LILT is a [Jaunty rhythm]; an ADAGIO passage is one that's played [Slowly, in music]. When something [Runs smoothly], it PURRS. I always love seeing ENIAC and am amazed by how smoothly it ran. Hadn't realized that while it was initially developed in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, it was then moved to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland (my home state), where it was in residence (and use) between 1947 and 1955.

Looking for an enchanted getaway? How about a visit to DELPHI [Greek oracle site]? Prefer something a little more local? Get thee to a DAY SPA—with an emphasis on the "aaah."

The rangy cultural references in Doug's opus cover the way above-AVERAGE to the COMMON to the decidedly sub-STANDARD. I leave it to you to decide where on your personal scale you'd place: MOBY DICK, BELA Bartok, Marlene DIETRICH, ENID Bagnold, TONI Tennille or Braxton, YOKO Ono, ISHTAR...

Fave cross: SQUID/SQUASH. "SQUID SQUASH I was takin' a wash/Long about a Saturday night..." ;-)

Fave clues: 33D [Propel a gondola] for POLE; the segue of 28A into 32 A, [1987 Warren Beatty flop] [Of monumental proportions], and the connection of the last word of 44A [Page with columns] to 45A [Greek oracle site].

All of these examples and more work to vitalize and UNITE this smoothly solved puzzle.

Lila Cherry's L.A. Times crossword

Hey, Rich Norris picked the wrong pen name for today's puzzle—that Cherry in the byline is practically a spoiler for 51A: CHERRY GARCIA in the grid. That's theme entry #3, the [Ice cream flavor honoring a Grateful Dead icon]. (Two of my friends just saw the Dead in concert last week. Yes, they're still touring.) 59D: RED ties the theme together: [The starts of this puzzle's three longest answers are shades of it]. The first RED is 20A: CARDINAL SINS, or [Lust, gluttony, greed, etc.]. Now, this is the second puzzle in about a week in which "cardinal" is used to mean the color red. Isn't that weird? It's in the dictionary definition, sure, but I don't know the last time I've heard anyone using "cardinal" (or "cardinal red") to describe a color. Maybe in terms of sports fans, but "Cubbie blue" isn't a broader color name. Our final red is 34A: CRIMSON TIDE, or [Alabama team nickname]. That C is also the last letter in WISC., and the University of Wisconsin's color is red too.

I liked the shoulder-to-shoulder appearance of the [Trident-shaped Greek letter] PSI and a PITCHFORK, or [Tool in a haystack]. We get two full names in the grid. E.B. WHITE is the ["Charlotte's Web" author] and ED MCMAHON used to be [Johnny Carson's sidekick]. With 20 non-theme answers in the 6- to 8-letter range, this puzzle has standard Rich Norris freshosity and smoothitude.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "David Bowie Playlist"

Brendan's a huge Bowie fan, so he made a 15x16 puzzle with eight David Bowie songs combined into four phrases. From left to right, they are:
  • 3D: [Cheongsam dress with lotus flowers on it?] clues CHINA GIRL FASHION. This is one of the 16's that mandated the taller-than-usual grid.
  • 5D: ["Once everybody knows you, life will never be the same"?] is FAME CHANGES.
  • 29D: D.J. LET'S DANCE is clued [Wax spinner opens up the floor?]. Shouldn't that be a request to the wax spinner to open up the floor? I missed hearing "D.J." back in 1979. When I went to Wikipedia to find out when the song was released, I learned how Bowie's eye changed and that his birth name was David Hayward-Jones. How did I never know either of these things?
  • 11D: MODERN LOVE HEROES gets a good clue: [Dan Savage and Carrie Bradshaw, e.g.?]. Dan Savage is the Modern Love sex advice columnist in the alt-weekly press, and the Sex and the City character also wrote about modern love.
I can't tell you how pleased I am to have 27A, [Actor David of "Rhoda"]. David GROH! He played Rhoda's man Joe, who went from boyfriend to roommate to husband to ex within five seasons. I have a particular fondness for pop culture from my salad days (if age 8 to 12 can be considered one's salad days). So that one was a gimme for me, but may be obscure to many others. Least familiar to me: CANEA, the [Port of Crete that was once its capital]. [Folk singer Phil] clues OCHS; in the online version of yesterday's L.A. Times Calendar crossword (if not the print version), [Folk singer Ochs] clued OCHS. O(u)chs.

I have been campaigning tirelessly against HEHE as a [Sardonic laugh]. That's one of my leading online-writing pet peeves. Are people hearing this in their heads as "hee hee" (which, duh, should be spelled "hee hee") or as "heh, heh"? Mind you, printed dictionaries haven't bothered to document any of this, but to me "he he" is akin to "you you."