May 26, 2009

Wednesday, 5/27

Onion 5:07
BEQ 4:26
NYT 4:01
LAT 2:49
CS 8:20 (J—paper)

Crikey, my kid still had a fever today, for the sixth straight day. Apparently there's a non-flu virus superimposed on the strep infection, producing a sloooowly resolving fever and cough. You can't go back to school until you've been afebrile for 24 hours, so he'll be home again on Wednesday. Day 7!

Corey Rubin's New York Times crossword

Did this feel a little more like a Thursday degree of difficulty to you? It definitely felt Thurednesdayish to me. The theme is super-clever: familiar American phrases with limey equivalents swapped in for key words. Here are your theme entries:

  • 20A. [Words of encouragement to a Brit?] might be KEEP ON LORRYIN'. Mind you, truck = lorry as a noun, not a verb, so it's truck and not truckin' that's changed.
  • 29A. [Group of dancing Brits?] is a CONGA QUEUE rather than a conga line.
  • 46A. [British smart alecks?] could be WISE BLOKES instead of wise guys.
  • 56A. [Sleep like a Brit?] clues CATCH SOME ZEDS (zees). I love this answer.

One thing that made this feel a little tougher than the standard mid-week puzzle is the inclusion of a few oddball words. [Extract with a solvent] clues ELUTE; very science labby. [Stands at wakes] are BIERS, which is a not-too-common word; its similarity to PYRE makes me think BIERS are set on fire, but no, they're just stands used before burial or cremation. (Cheerful!) A [Playground retort] has plenty of options, and the first crossing is a fill-in-the-blank partial I didn't know—[Bernstein/Sondheim's "___ Like That"] is missing A BOY and the retort is AM TOO. (Other retorts: IS TOO, I AM SO, DO TOO, I DO SO, etc.) TENABLE is not all that common a word, is it? It's clued [Like a solid argument].

Highlights: [Cattle-herding breed] is CORGI, and I liked this because it snagged me into a misread (I went with ANGUS, which don't usually herd themselves, do they?). An OPT-OUT clause is split into two intersecting cross-referenced entries, [With 30-Down, kind of clause]. The Scrabbly JACK UP is clued with [Hike, as a price]. A GO-ROUND is a [Bout]; how many go-rounds did you need with this puzzle? I like IN DRAG, but the clue, [Clad like some Halloween paraders], seems faintly prudish in its avoidance of year-round drag queens. Ooh, here's MIX IT UP, or [Have a tussle]—terrific crossword answer. [It may have a spinning ballerina] clues a MUSIC BOX; remember that insane instrumental song that was a hit in the late '70s? Go ahead and
get your "Music Box Dancer" groove on. (It's more mind-numbing than you remember.)

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Final Strategy"—Janie's review

The concept for this theme is quite straightforward: the end ("final" part) of each phrase of theme fill is another way of looking at the word "strategy." The execution is also straightforward, as most of the theme fill represents actual strategies. But what fresh and specific theme fill we get! The two 11s are CS firsts, while the two 13s are making their major-puzzle debuts. There's also a seven in the middle, bringing the total number of theme squares to a healthy 55. And what are these five "strategies"? We have a:
  • 17A: PENSION PLAN [Retirement revenue arrangement]; a
  • 24A: GUNPOWDER PLOT [1605 conspiracy led by Guy Fawkes]; a far less incendiary
  • 38A: ROADMAP [Aid for the directionally-challenged]; a
  • 52A: COSTUME DESIGN [Category for which Edith Head won eight Oscars]; and the still painfully current
  • 62A: PONZI SCHEME [Certain investment swindle].

There is also a lot of non-theme fill that adds to the overall quality of the solve. I loved that the puzzle began with GAMUT—and that it's clued as [A to Z], since more often it's the other way around... Off of GAMUT we get MONOGRAMS (in a major-puzzle debut), clued as [Fashionable initials]. Before I saw how many letters were required to solve the clue, I was certain I was going to enter YSL. I disabused myself of that notion pretty quickly—though it took longer than I'd have liked to see what the clue was aiming at. This is a plus.

Another plus? The way MONOGRAMS' opposite number in the grid is the CS first-timer, ADORNMENT. Nice, too, that MONOGRAMS are traditionally used as ADORNMENT—on towels, on shirts, on any number of garments. Right next to that is the lively MEGAHIT with its peppy [Blockbuster] clue. Crossing the two of them towards the bottom, PINCE[-nez] (that's French for "pinch-nose"—which those specs do); and towards the top, sans specs, [Encyclopedist and leading figure of the French Enlightenment] DIDEROT. Took me a long time to get that right. Et pourquoi?

Well, I really didn't have a grip of the theme as I was solving (because there's something mildly inconsistent about the theme fill). So there I was at 38A, where the clue is [Aid for the directionally-challenged] and I think "easy" and confidently enter COMPASS... 41D is [Prefix for cure], there's the final S, so of course the fill must be SINE... Yes, it was that kind of solve for me. Before I had PONZI..., I tried to use PYRAMID... Needless to say, with this UNSOUND fill, I was [Likely to fail]. Happily, I finally did come out ON TOP.

Because I amuse easily, the combo of [Traveler down a fallopian tube] and OVUM keeps conjuring up something like Fantastic Voyage. I'm imagining this little egg with its little ROADMAP and tiny valise making its way to its destination. Or getting lost... I enjoyed seeing COPSE in proximity to STAND—because a COPSE can be defined as a "STAND of trees"; and CLAIM just above insurance-giant AETNA. As for clues that amuse: [It's next to nothing] for ONE; [Body of some art] for TORSO; and [Word repeated in prayer] for MANTRA. All three are so right and all three made me have to stop and think.

That, dear reader, is the mark of a top-notch puzzle (imoo...)—and this one's a GEM!

Brendan Quigley's Onion A.V. Club crossword

A reader has already posted a complaint about tastelessness in the Onion puzzles this morning. (Thanks, "fed up," for not including any spoilers.) This week's theme is T-to-D puns on band names, and the first of them is indeed tasteless: Playing on Boyz II Men, [NAMBLA's favorite R&B group?] is BOYS DO MEN. I'm going to have to agree with "fed up" that this is horrible—does anyone need to give the slightest affirmation to pedophile fantasies? Ick.

The second theme entry is ADD THE DRIVE-IN, or [Band that can retrofit your theater to accommodate automobiles?]. I suppose there's a band called At the Drive-in, but I couldn't tell you a single thing about them. Talking Heads gets a pun that changes both a consonant and a vowel sound (aw to ah) to become DOCKING HEADS, [Band with lots of songs about the French Revolution?]. Is there a Heartbreakers apart from "Tom Petty and"? HARD BREAKERS is an awkward-sounding phrase, clued as [With "the," backing band beloved by surfers?]. Is "hard breakers" a surfing term? I don't know surfing lingo, and I'm not crazy about promoting a backing band to theme entry status. (Sorry, guys.) [Band that treats phobias by hunting?] is DEERS FOR FEARS. The plural of deer is deer—is this the contraction, DEER'S FOR FEARS? Meh. Conor Oberst is Bright Eyes, and BRIDE EYES is clued as a [Band seen through a white veil?].

Kudos for packing in six theme answers, Brendan, but overall I GOTTA ([Must, slangily]) give you a C on this one for the theme and the inclusion of "meh" fill like OSTE, variant TEENIE, RESOW, TWO-A, and a bunch of abbreviations.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Predictive Text Movies"

This theme wasn't a natural one for me to grasp, even with the note above the puzzle on Brendan's blog tipping me off that "The theme entries are titles of movies typed out in the predictive text mode setting on a cell phone. Obviously the phone guessed the movies wrong." I didn't begin texting until I bought an LG enV with a full QWERTY keyboard, so I've never done this predictive text bidness. The theme clues are nonsense phrases that contain some correct letters from movie titles and some wrong letters, the wrong letters being other letters found on the same numeric phone button. (E.g., the 4 has GHI, so if you're typing 4 for any of those letters, the phone might assume you wanted a different letter. But I'm thinking the technology favors the most common words, so I wonder if anyone intending to type "the" actually gets "tie" instead.)

Hang on. 24-Across looks off-kilter. The USUAL SUSPECTS would come off as VID TRUCK PUP SEATS? Why would US come out as VIDTR? If predictive text adds letters in unpredictable ways, I would want to stomp on my phone.

Things I liked in the fill include MR. BIG STUFF (song I'd never heard of, sure, but so lively), FULCRA (plural of fulcrum, and who doesn't love Latin plurals?), UNINTENDED puns (and consequences), and J-LO clued as the [Richest person of Latin American descent in Hollywood, according to Forbes]. I didn't quite know where [Bellybutton lint] was going until SCUZZ emerged from the bellybuttoncrossings. It looks like an arbitrary spelling, but the Mac's Oxford American Dictionary gives that spelling a definition of "something regarded as disgusting, sordid, or disreputable." Indeed!

Toughest clue for me: [Air thrust backward by a plane] is JETWASH.

Doug Peterson's Los Angeles Times crossword

This Wednesday puzzle was Monday/Tuesday easy, unless you add in the time it took me to understand the theme—in which case it was Thursday hard. After reading the theme answers aloud to my husband several times, the synonymity of the first words in the theme entries finally dawned: BEAT, SLEEPY, WHIPPED, and DEAD are all slangy equivalents of "tired." But within the confines of the theme entries, they don't have that connotation:
  • 20A. [Journalists with specialties] are BEAT REPORTERS.
  • 33A. [Washington Irving title setting] is SLEEPY HOLLOW. That's the story with Ichabod Crane, the Headless Horseman, and Ichabod's rival Brom Bones.
  • 41A. [Dessert topping] is WHIPPED CREAM.
  • 57A. DEAD MAN'S CURVE is the [Title place you "won't come back from," in a 1964 Jan & Dean hit].

I had more to say at L.A. Crossword Confidential, and I'm feeling all blogged out this morning so I'll end here. Cheers!