May 19, 2009

Wednesday, 5/20

Onion 4:16
BEQ 3:56
NYT 3:45
LAT 3:02
CS 10:41 (J—paper)

I'll be later than usual with the morning updates for the other crosswords. The director of the indie kids' movie Labou will be making puppets with my son's class, and I have been conscripted to help out. I shall return after my Hollywood adventure.

Ashish Vengsarkar's New York Times crossword

Ashish's theme entries and fill sprawl all over the place—it takes a 16x15 grid to accommodate a 15/13/14/13/15 theme (that's a whopping 70 squares there), and while you're at it, why not let fly with a couple 12's in the fill? The theme entries are phrases that begin with academic years, joined together by COLLEGE STATION, a [Texas city...and a hint to the starts of] the other four theme answers:

  • 21A. [Barack Obama, 2005-08, e.g.] was then a FRESHMAN SENATOR.
  • 27A. SOPHOMORE JINX is a [Rookie's superstition]. Love the Scrabbliness of JINX.
  • 45A. A [Subsidiary member of a firm] is a JUNIOR PARTNER.
  • 56A. [Some restaurant and pharmacy lures] include SENIOR DISCOUNTS.

Favorite clues and fill:
  • Robert [Frost lines] are VERSE. We've had this clue before, no?
  • An APTITUDE TEST is an [Entrance requirement, maybe].
  • [Actress ___ Ling of "The Crow"] is named BAI. She dresses funny.
  • [Company with the stock symbol CAR] turns out to be AVIS. Interesting trivia, clever company.
  • Four 9-letter Down answers juice up the fill. They include PALOMINOS, or [Gold-colored horses]; FOUR-IN-ONE, or [Multipurpose, somehow]; the [Half-salute] SCOUT SIGN; and another ONE in NO ONE ELSE, or [Only you].
  • OWL is a [Pooh pal]. Owl may be a twit, but that Rabbit is flat-out an ass, isn't he? It's nice to see a Milne character besides ROO get some crossword play.
It's only Wednesday, but there's some tough stuff:
  • [Meter-candle] clues LUX. A lux equals one lumen per square meter, in case you wondered.
  • [French Academy's 40 members] are THE IMMORTALS. I haven't a clue what this is about. I'll bet one of you astute readers will tell us (and without Googling or turning to Wikipedia).
  • [Bring back to domestication] clues RETAME. If you're looking to retame a predator hellcat or, say, a giant ice worm, this calculator can help.
  • TAJ is [Persian for "crown"] and you'd think I might have encountered that at some point, but it's not ringing a bell.
  • Only in crosswords would you be likely to encounter [Make a clanger]. It means ERR.
  • [Ones who drive people home?] in baseball apparently can be called RBI MEN. "He's a fine RBI man, batting in those runs batted in." Who uses this? Is it common lingo?
  • NICOLA completes [San ___, Christmas figure in Italy]. Good old St. Nick.
  • [Ennemi's opposite] is AMI. French for "enemy," I presume, and of course "friend."

Updated Wednesday morning:

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle, "P & L Statement"—Janie's review

You may have known right off the bat that the statement in the title is a document of "Profit & Loss," but that was one of the first things I had to look up after I'd solved this one. It should come as no surprise that Rich does not mean to be literal in his title, merely to hint at today's gimmick. And it's another good one. Four familiar phrases whose second word begins with "L" are amusingly adjusted, as those "L" words profit from the up-front addition of the letter "P." In the process, we get a healthy 56 blocks of theme-fill, in two 15s and two 13s:
  • 17A: Instead of "seasoned lumber," we get SEASONED PLUMBER [Pipe fixer who's seen it all]. Cute. Especially nice that the pronunciation of the new word doesn't rhyme with the base word. This puts a whole new spin on the phrase.
  • 25A: Not "runnng late," but RUNNING PLATE [Spoon's nursery rhyme cohort, essentially?]. Why "essentially"? Because as we all know, "the dish ran away with the spoon." But any way ya look at it, "plate" is another word for "dish," so even if it's a stretch, it does work.
  • 48A: Here we eschew "passing lane" for PASSING PLANE [Jet that's gone out of style?] Not the strongest entry, but it'll fly...
  • 64A: This is where "down on one's luck" cedes to DOWN ON ONE'S PLUCK [Feeling less resolute lately?] A fine way to tie things up—and ties into [Moxie] (for GUTS), too.

There are two excellent 10-letter words in the grid: EGOCENTRIC and (making its CS debut) the piquant ORANGE ZEST. BLUE LAW adds to the puzzle's overall vividness as well.

Elsewhere in the fill, we get a trio of actors: TAYE Diggs (who not only appeared in both the stage and screen versions of Rent and helped Stella "get her groove back," but has also appeared in three episodes of GREY'S); UMA Thurman; and JOANN Pflug, who played Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider in MASH (1970). Oh—there's the "dish"!

Fill that takes us globe-trotting: RIGA, LIDO; IRANI; RIEL [Cambodian cash]; ÉTAT, MERCI. A word about the indirect way RIGA was clued, [Capital where Lettish is spoken]. I had to break this one down in order to solve it: Who speaks Lettish? Latvians. What's the capital of Latvia? RIGA. And I also had to think about [South Dakota, to Pierre]. Pierre's the capital of South Dakota, right? But Pierre is also a man's name in French, and in French, South Dakota (a state) is an ÉTAT. Oh, he's tricky, that Rich!

We also get an automotive trio in the fill: the NISSAN Z, a [Japanese sports car], which cleverly crosses [Rodeo producer] ISUZU (Japanese as well, but a mid-size SUV); and ENZO [Automaker Ferrari]. Italian! I think I'm more automotively challenged than any other area of everyday knowledge. Thank goodness for the crosses!

Some clues that caught my attention:
  • [Tears for fears, maybe?] Not these guys, but a dandy clue for TYPO. We've seen this before and we'll see it again. Trust me on this.
  • [League or degree] for UNIT. Yet again I was grateful for the crosses. I think this is a tough clue.
  • [Big brass] for TUBA, the misdirection of which just makes me smile. No GENERAL or ADMIRAL (too long by three letters anyway...), but the orchestra's oft-neglected TUBA, most certainly a big brass instrument.

Though every part of this puzzle is a GEM, my favorite area of the grid is at south-center, where ENZO, ZOOM, ENNE and SEEN (going down) are crossed by ...NONE..., ZONE and OMEN.

Rumor has it that Mr. Norris may be curtailing his CS activities. If that's so, it looks like the L.A Times will profit even more by CS's loss... Still better a curtailed Norris than no Norris at all!

Bonnie Gentry's L.A. Times crossword

I liked this puzzle a lot. The theme consists of three phrases that contain the hidden word UP, broken in half across words, unified by a fourth BREAKING UP theme entry. As I said over at L.A. Crossword Confidential—and it's not plagiarism if you wrote the words you copied and identified their source—There've been plenty of crossword themes involving hidden words split among the words in a phrase, but how many of them mandate phrases that include words ending in U? Not so many. And how often is the first square in the puzzle filled with a V? Not much of the time, so crossing VALID (1A: Still in force) with VAMP (1D: Seductress) felt fresh. The theme contains just two 10's and two 13's, leaving wiggle room for Bonnie to include a cool dozen 7- and 8-letter answers in the fill.

Updated Wednesday afternoon:

Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Eff This"

You know that TV commercial where the guy says "Dude" to his roommate with many different intonations, thereby communicating awe, disappointment, anger, etc.? (Is it a successful advertisement if I love it but don't know what product is being marketed? I suspect it's one of the mass-produced domestic beers I tend not to drink.) The clues for all five of Brendan's theme entries include the F-bomb, and the exact wording and punctuation suggest the meaning. For instance, ["The fuck?"] can convey ARE YOU KIDDING ME, and ["Fuuuuuuck"] is the hopeless WE'RE ALL SCREWED. There are those who think use of the F-word reflects laziness and inelegance in communication but really, it can be an eloquent word.

Crikey, 30 3-letter words in this grid? They're not terrible as 3's go, but there sure are a lot of 'em. The three X's and a Q offset that a bit. Also in the fill: The PINE TAR GAME is the [Infamous 1983 Royals/Yankees contest where a George Brett home run was nullified]. Never heard of it. Sam RAIMI apparently was also ["Drag Me to Hell" director]—never heard of the movie.

Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club Crossword

Each theme entry's got an added SCH at the start, radically changing the meaning of the phrase. My favorites were the ones that you'd never see in the NYT crossword. Long Beach is a place in California, but SCHLONG BEACH is an [All-male nude seaside resort?]. Muckraking is one thing, but SCHMUCK RAKING is an [Asshat doing an autumn chore?]. The theme's rounded out with two other answers, including a SCHLOCK OF HAIR, or [Cheesiness experienced at a revived James Rado musical?]—boy, it would have been helpful if I recognized that name. Is this the "Age of Aquarius" musical? That would have pointed me towards Hair. The fourth theme entry is SCHTICK BITES, or [Headline about a comedian's awful routine?]. Very few newspapers are likely to use that form of "bites" in a headline.

Never heard of KLF, or ["What Time Is Love?" band, with "the"], or the FIERY [___ Furnaces, "I'm Going Away" band]. Alas, DON HO was a gimme.