May 22, 2009

Saturday, 5/23

Newsday 6:29
NYT 6:11
LAT 3:56
CS 6:36 (J—paper)

Dave Tuller's New York Times crossword

Whoa. When I clicked "done" on the NYT applet, I had one typo and one non-typo wrong square, but managed to figure out what was needed in short order. And what was needed was the [Language spoken in Assam, India], KHASI (32A)—which I've never heard of. The K crossed [Game played with a sack called a goose], and when I had *HASO (GESTATOON: cartoon about pregnancy?), LHASO crossing LENO seemed workable. Yes, KENO is a game I know only from crosswords, and I sure don't recall seeing clues about sacks and geese before. It would have been kinder to have a stale and more gettable clue for KENO, no?

My favorite fill:

  • 1A. SPONGEBOB! He is, of course, [Squidward's neighbor on Nickelodeon].
  • 16A. ABE VIGODA! Not dead yet, to many people's surprise. I thought he was about 75 when he was on TV in the '70s, but it turns out he was only in his 50s then. He was also [Sal Tessio's portrayer in "The Godfather"].
  • 37A. The IGUANODON was a [Dinosaur with large thumb spikes].
  • 56A. SAMOA TIME is rather insane as crossword answers go. It's clued as [Setting in Pago Pago], and it kinda sounds like "some more time." Or the rallying cry of fans of the coconut/caramel Girl Scout cookies. It's Samoa time!
  • 3D. "ONE MOMENT, PLEASE" is an [Old company telephone line] that might be spoken by an operator or receptionist.
  • 9D. BLACK BEAUTY is the [Classic novel with a chapter titled "My Breaking In"].
  • 22D. Isn't AT AN IMPASSE the perfect answer to include in a Saturday puzzle? When you're [Stuck], that's where you are.

And the clues I liked best:
  • 17A. [Is concupiscent] means LUSTS. Vocabulary word!
  • 22A. An ANKLE is a [Thing you don't want to twist]. Ain't that the truth. I once sprained an ankle so badly, both the E.R. doc and my orthopedist couldn't believe there was no sign of fracture on the x-rays.
  • 39A. [Trey trio] are the three PIPS with Gladys Knight. No, wait, they're the three PIPS on a playing card.
  • 51A. DIARY is clued [It's often kept under lock and key].
  • 58A. [Things that turn people off?] the highway are EXIT LANES.
  • 5D. To [Use one's zygomatic muscles] is to GRIN.
  • 7D. BOO is a [Starting word] as in "Boo!" "Oh! You gave me such a start."
  • 13D. [An elephant has a long one] doesn't clue a part of its anatomy—it's that long GESTATION. Two years, is it? Something like that.
  • 26D. [MacGyver's first name on "MacGyver"] is ANGUS. I had no idea. MacGyver's inherent goofiness makes it welcome in my crossword any time.
  • 31D. The Archie [Bunker mentality?] is RACIALISM.
And the toughest stuff:
  • 24A. IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet, is a [Pronunciation guide std.].
  • 25A. Sure, I know MANITOBA, the Canadian province north of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Never heard of the park in the clue, [Home of Riding Mountain National Park].
  • 30A. [Furnish with battlements, as a castle] is CRENELATE. That word can also be spelled crenellate, so if you were looking to double a letter, that's why.
  • 36A. [Recurring metrical beat] is ICTUS. I know the word in its medical connotation, where it means seizure or fit.
  • 46A. [Wife of Pylades] is ELECTRA. Her, I know. But Pylades?
  • 48A. One [Antarctic dweller] is the PETREL, a bird. I was looking for some kind of penguin here.
  • 57A. [Its motto in Eng. is "It grows as it goes"] clues N. MEX. The motto's other language isn't Spanish, it's Latin: "Crescit eundo."
  • 10D. [Holy Ark's location] is SHUL.
  • 11D. [1961 #1 hit for Bobby Lewis] is TOSSIN' AND TURNIN'. It probably helps to be of a certain age in order to find that one a gimme.
  • 15D. [Astringent fruit], 4 letters? No, not the LIME. It's the plum-like SLOE of sloe gin fame.

Overall impressions: KHASI is wildly unfamiliar and there's no shortage of tough clues. (It is indeed Saturday.) But so much of the longer fill sparkles—SPONGEBOB and ABE VIGODA meet BLACK BEAUTY, and the IGUANODON crosses both ANTIPASTO and AT AN IMPASSE. Dave Tuller, please get cracking on some more themelesses, will you?

Updated Saturday morning:

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Cattle Crossings"—Janie's review

Here we have three grid-spanning phrases, the last word of which may be preceded by the the word "cattle." Two of the three yield familiar phrases; the third is an odd variation on the theme. As I read it anyway. You be the judge:
  • 17A:[1995 John Schlessinger film] COLD COMFORT FARM—which gives us "cattle FARM." So far so good. CCF is making its CS debut, and if you want a good (British-/Goth-style) laugh (either a HAR or a TEHEE), do take a look at this very twisted, terrific movie. Or better still, read the "comic classic of rural life" by Stella Gibbons. And imagine Rufus Sewell and Eileen Atkins as cousin Seth and Aunt Judith Starkadder. To give you an additional hint about the tone, the names of the dairy cows are Graceless, Pointless, Aimless and Feckless...
  • 36A: [House with half-stories] SPLIT-LEVEL RANCH, which gives us "cattle RANCH." And we're two for two. But then we get...
  • 56A: [It may cause pants to be too tight] MIDDLE-AGE SPREAD. Now the fill itself is wonderful (and another CS first), but "cattle SPREAD" is new to me. I know that SPREAD is another word for "a RANCH, a FARM or an estate," and we do talk about cattle-ranchers or cattle-farmers, but cattle-spreaders? Does SPREAD really get used in conjunction with "cattle"? Well, as it turns out (thank you, Internet...), it does. (As I understand it...) in the same way that sportscasters or odds-makers will talk about the "spread" between teams in any given match-up (particularly in championship games), financial analysts who specialize in livestock and agriculture apparently generate reports that, yep, discuss the "cattle SPREAD." Who knew? But really—this feels like a mighty long way to go to get a third theme answer...

While I may have some doubts about the overall success of the theme, I sure don't for the overall success of the cluing and non-theme fill. Feeling INTL? For starters, there's a [Russian ruler...] TSAR and a [Turkish bigwig] PASHA. We also get ARAB, the Czech river ELBE, the ISLES of Skye and Man. More locally, there's the Bay AREA, and the crossing of those lovely 9s TEXARKANA and (CS debut) KALAMAZOO.

There are two kinds of containers here (which also cross): for your baseball cards, SHOEBOXES (making its first major-puzzle appearance) and for your grains (to feed those cattle—or possibly your BISON), BINS.

[King of the Empire State Building?] KONG, of course. [Thief who stole the Queen of Hearts' tarts]? KNAVE. And just look how the USPS has immortalized the good Queen. As the song says, "All ya need is love"! Enjoyed seeing TANG clued as, ahem, [Tart spiciness] and see a complement in [Add punch to, as punch] for LACE.

(More) random ramblings: It occurs to me that that MIDDLE-AGE SPREAD may be the result of too much TIVO. Let's hope it's not also due to viewing too much of the adjacent [Blue stuff] or SMUT. And we even get two (crossing) references to yesterday's puzzle: SMUSH (uh, once again clued as [Compress]) and [Tito Puente's genre] MAMBO.

Finally, one more example of the way familiar fill can be dressed up to delight. These sorta sound-alikes run next to each other in the grid: OATS and ODES—and their clues? [Feedbag fill] and [Keats feats] respectively. Nice!

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

I did this puzzle early (full write-up at L.A. Crossword Confidential), so I had the surprising gimme in the NYT, not here. I had to work the crossings to see that [Sch. in Athens] was OHIO U., not a familiar bit of fill—and then the same answer showed up in the NYT! If only every unknown answer would be repeated in another puzzle soon after—the repetition would be an excellent learning tool.

What I liked in this puzzle were the RATSO RIZZO/NOZZLE crossing double-Z's, the mostly-'70s pop culture names that I knew, and the colloquial language—"What is this, a MASH NOTE?" "HUMOR ME, DARLIN'?" "I DOUBT IT." I'd have loved to have harder clues, sure—my ideal Saturday LAT solving time is 6:00 to 6:30, and they haven't been that hard since the Tribune dropped its own puzzle and promoted the LAT crossword in its place.

Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

(Solution here.)

Unusual grid, with four 15-letter answers forming a frame of sorts—and some of those entries have the feel of a rough mini-theme. If you PUT THE SQUEEZE ON ([Press]) someone, they might GET INTO HOT WATER ([Need an out]), and what's a better out than an EJECTION CAPSULE ([Emergency device])? But really, I think a mini-theme is NOT IN THE PICTURE here ([Excluded]).

The difficulty level is commensurate with the Stumpers of 2008, not the Stumpers of early 2009, but it's still a good bit tougher than the L.A. Times puzzles have been lately. Among the more elusive clues:

  • 14A. [Thing with a hood] is an OVEN. Not all ovens have hoods with exhaust fans.
  • 20A. [Eastern states] clues EMIRATES, which are rather Near on the Eastern front.
  • 23A. {Stravinsky's Wind ___] is completed by the word OCTET. I don't recall seeing OCTET clued this way before.
  • 26A and 29A. Benjamin [Franklin, for one] was an APHORIST ("Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise"], and a Benjamin is a $100 bill, or C-NOTE. Who calls the $100 a Franklin?
  • 37A. I read my husband the clue [Ivan Lendl coach] and he immediately replied "Tony ROCHE." I sure didn't know this one, though.
  • 7D. FAQS are [Edification information], but the clue gives no hint that the answer is primarily Internet-based.
  • 10D. ["Aladdin" character] is a VIZIER, or a high official under Ottoman rule.
  • 13D. [Eastern education system] isn't from the Near East or the Far East—this time, it's the East Coast and the colleges of SUNY.
  • 36D. [Plum kin] is the color MAGENTA, not fruit as I first thought.
  • 44D. [It's short for Dolores] clues LOLA. I know this thanks to Lolita.
  • 47D. [Unenviable hand] on the ranch is a PEON. An unenviable hand in cards is a pair, which is also a 4-letter word beginning with P.