June 30, 2009

Wednesday, 7/1

BEQ 5:11
Onion 4:57
NYT 3:48
LAT 2:50
CS 6:19 (J―paper)

David Kahn's New York Times crossword

David Kahn is the King of Tribute Crosswords, and today he pays tribute to the late MICHAEL / JACKSON. This ["Farewell"]/BYE puzzle is being published online just five days after Jackson's death, whereas it took a few days more for the NYT to publish Vic Fleming's POPE BENEDICT XVI puzzle. Here's the content of the tribute theme:

  • 10D, 25D. [This puzzle's honoree] is MICHAEL / JACKSON.
  • 3D. [Classic part of a 10-/25-Down stage act] is MOONWALKING.
  • 15A. [1982 blockbuster by 10-/25-Down] is the album and song THRILLER, and yes, I remember watching the video on MTV. That was appointment TV at its best.
  • 32A. DANGEROUS is the [1991 hit album by 10-/25-Down]. The only song I know from that is "Black or White," the video for which featured faces morphing back when CGI didn't appear in laundry detergent commercials.
  • 47A. The KING OF POP is the [Nickname for 10-/25-Down].
  • 67A. FALSETTO was the [Vocal style of 10-/25-Down, at times]. "Hoooo!"
  • 27D. "GONE TOO SOON" is a [Song on 32-Across], Dangerous. I don't know it, but it's suitably elegiac for the occasion.
  • 68A. MOTOWN was the [First record label of 10-/25-Down].
  • 14A. LIONEL [Richie who wrote "We Are the World" with 10-/25-Down] doesn't belong in this puzzle.
  • 11A. SHE is the [First word of 10-/25-Down's "Billie Jean"]. Really? Not sure if the opposite answer at 69A, BYE/["Farewell"] is strictly thematic.
  • 42A. [First song on 32-Across], Dangerous, is JAM. I don't know it. I really don't know the lyrics to that song, but 40A is ["Don't you ___ for no favors" (42-Down lyric on 32-Across)], or ASK ME. That seems out of place here as it's neither mournful or from one of Jackson's more memorable songs.
  • 44D. [With 10-Down, 1975 album by 10-/25-Down] is FOREVER Michael. Elegiac, yes, but incomplete as a title.

What, no "ABC"? No "Rock with You"? With 13 solo #1 hits, it feels weird to have "JAM" (which peaked at #26) and ASK ME" in the puzzle.

Nonthematic highlights in this crossword: It's horrible to singularize a plural trade name, but I can't resist even a single SNO-CAP, or [Moviegoer's chocolate bite]; hell, I buy a box at Walgreens and eat Sno-Caps at home. [Zero] pulls double duty as AUGHT and NULL. If you posit that Romeo speaks Italian, [Romeo's love?] is AMORE. [Juan's uncle?] is how our hypothetical Juan cries "uncle": NO MAS, or "no more." [Greek leader?] is the letter ALPHA. There are a slew of these tricky clues—also the noun [Flies over Africa?] for TSETSES, [Jean Valjean, e.g.] for a NOM (French for "name"), and [Rose family member] for PETE Rose.

In the "No, no" department: No, NACHO is not a [Kind of cheese]. It's a kind of chip. And then there's an [Old fast-food chain], the Wednesday-unfriendly NEDICKS. If you're not a New Yorker (or a resident of certain other East Coast cities several decades ago), you are not likely to have heard of the Nedick's chain. On the plus side, they had an orange and green color scheme, much like this blog. 1-Across was a dead end for me, as [City SW of Syracuse] required plenty of crossings before ELMIRA emerged. If you're like me, your brain shuts down with a clue like [Middle of the second century]; first I ignore the clue and work on the crossings, trying to make sense out of the clue only if absolutely needed. With NEDICK'S, oh yeah, I had to work for CLI, or 151.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Quiet, Please"―Janie's review

If silence is golden, Paula is a very wealthy woman. Today she's given us a puzzle with four lovely and lively "quiet" phrases:
  • 20A. SILENT MOVIE [Talkie's predecessor]. This is also the title of a high-concept, very wonderful Mel Brooks COMEDY. (And isn't it nice how SILENT MOVIE and COMEDY cross.)
  • 11D. DUMBWAITER [Food-service elevator]. For a time, I lived in a six-story NYC apartment building that had been constructed in 1913. Although it was no longer operative when I moved in, a kitchen closet had been outfitted with a dumbwaiter that used to go down to the basement. The floor had long since been boarded over, but some of the pulley hardware was still in place.
  • 29A. MUTE BUTTON [It may be pressed during a conference call]. First of all, this looks to be the major-puzzle debut for this fill. Second of all, I flat out love this one. Much of my day at work is spent on the phone, and believe me―the handy mute button AIN'T just fer conference calls! It is a godsend for the call that feels like it won't end but must be endured anyway. Put the caller on mute, listen to/for the salient points, comment on the call to my colleagues, mimic shooting myself, release mute button, respond politely (having just blown off some steam...). The mute button: marvel of modern technology!
  • 59A. STILL WATERS [They may run deep]. That's what The Four Tops say―and who am I to argue with them or this CS debut?
Simply put, I had a good time solving this one. Some standout clues: [Electrically flexible] for AC-DC, [Lamb or Rice] for AUTHOR (i.e., essayist Charles or novelist Anne); [Young scientist of old teen fiction] for TOM SWIFT; and the best: [Letters from one who's shy?] for the oft-seen IOU―so that's "shy" as in "short of money" as opposed to "faint of heart."

And there's little that's BLAH about the non-theme fill. We get the fizzy COLA and CLUB SODA pair, the latter well-clued as [Splash at a bar]; or you could sip some CHAI [Spiced tea beverage]; an Independence Day reminder with RAMPARTS [Fortifications in "The Star-Spangled Banner"]; and a shout out to the CONGA [Follow-the-leader dance]. Do take a look at this clip of Rosalind Russell as Ruth Sherwood, aspiring reporter in Wonderful Town, in her comical (losing battle) to interview members of the Brazilian navy who would rather Conga! than answer her questions. Oh―and best of all: ARMY BRAT [Child on a base]―and not the kind MLB's DIMAG [Joltin' Joe] was famous for rounding.

Happily, this puzzle doesn't have lots of abbreviations. Yes, that was MLB as in Major League Baseball; and among a few others, there was also PACS, or political action committees; and OTOH―[...chatroom shorthand] for on the other hand. I do like the way OTOH sits above SOHO.

Finally, while no one has given me a SHOVE or theatened to have me SENT AWAY, I am going to take this opportunity to ["Make like a tree and leave!"]. Cheers, all!

Jack McInturff's Los Angeles Times crossword

My kid's staying home from camp today (cough, cough, sniffle, sneeze) so allow me to copy, paste, and edit material from my other blog. Today's theme is five phrases begin with words that can follow GLASS:
  • 17A. [Paintings and such] are WORKS OF ART. Glassworks are factories where glass or glass things are made. I have a small collection of glass paperweights, so I do like the output of certain glassworks.
  • 26A. If something's [Causing heads to turn], it's EYE-CATCHING. Glass eye! Let's get some Sammy Davis Jr. in here:
  • 38A. BLOWING OFF STEAM means [Releasing stress, in a way]. There may well be a lot of glassblowing going on at the glassworks.
  • 52A. JAR JAR BINKS was a [Gungan general of "Star Wars" films]? Apparently he did get promoted in Episode 1. I had a college boyfriend named Binks. Oh—glass jars are handy for storing spaghetti sauce.
  • 61A. Yes, a JAWBREAKER is a [Very hard candy]. A boxer with a weak, easily broken jaw who is particularly susceptible to being whomped by an opponent's blows is said to have a glass jaw.
  • 72A. [Dinnerware item that can precede the start of 17-, 26-, 38-, 52- or 61-Across] is GLASS.

For a rundown of a few of my favorite things in this puzzle, see L.A. Crossword Confidential.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Animal Collective"

As the title suggests, the theme has to do with collective terms for animals. Alas, most of the terms are not so familiar, and the phrases that result from combining two collective terms are merely familiar phrases without much zing. So this one left me cold. The theme:
  • 3D. [Some crickets and some snakes] are an ORCHESTRA PIT. "Orchestra of crickets," "pit of snakes."
  • 9. [Some racehorses and some gorillas] are a STRING BAND. "String of racehorses"? "Band of gorillas." What the heck is a STRING BAND?
  • 15D. [Some ferrets and some sharks] make up BUSINESS SCHOOL. "Business of ferrets," "school of sharks."
  • 24D. [Some ducks and some hares] are DROPPING DOWN. "Dropping of ducks" sounds like one of those trumped-up collective words that nobody actually uses. "Down of hares" must relate to Watership Down, but I don't see that as a definition of "down" in the American Heritage Dictionary.
  • 34D. [Some moles and some jays] make up a LABOR PARTY. "Labor of moles" and "party of jays"? If you say so.

Collective terms for groups of animals are like phobias—you can find massive lists of crazy words, but there might not be a strong case that anyone actually uses those words in that way. Not a satisfying basis for a crossword theme, in my opinion.

AMIDOL is a [Photo-developing compound] I've never heard of. It links VAMOOSE (a non–Michael Jackson ["Beat it!"]) and a PB AND J, but...feh. Yesterday on Cruciverb-L, Merl Reagle spoke out against the inclusion of a crappy word between two cool words in the corner of a crossword:
sometimes they're absolutely unavoidable, as in wide-open puzzles, or when theme answers get thick and close and you've already restarted the puzzle five times -- but i've been seeing these words way too much in corners and sections that have a ton of other options, and each time it looks like the reason is just to get in a word like WIFI or XBOX. a turd between two slices of homemade tuscany bread is still a turd sandwich. we can do better than this.

The corners of Brendan's puzzle are fairly wide-open, but now I'm thinking about dreadful sandwiches instead of tasty PB AND Js. "Turd sandwich": new crossword jargon!

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword

U.N. INTERVENTIONS are the [Global efforts to which this puzzle's theme is dedicated], and the other five theme entries have UN added to negate a word, changing its meaning:
  • 17A. ["Justice can't be found anywhere!"] clues THE WORLD'S UNFAIR, which builds on the World's Fair.
  • 22A. The dance called the Twist turns into DO THE UNTWIST, or [Open a cheap bottle of beer?]. Now, the dance clearly relates to the verb, whereas the other theme pairs use unrelated words.
  • 31A. Actor William Hurt spins off WILLIAM UNHURT, a [Relieved U.K. headline after a royal family accident?].
  • 42A. The noun "wishing well" transforms into a verb phrase with the addition of UN. WISHING UNWELL is clued with [Usign a voodoo doll?].
  • 49A. County Cork in Ireland becomes COUNTY UNCORK, a [Champagne-loving municipal division?].

Five favorites:
  • [Plagues] are POXES. A pox on bad themes! I'm not saying Matt's theme is bad. It's quite good, actually, with a built-in "aha" moment for each theme answer. I'm just saying I want to use the word "pox" more.
  • ["___ dat" ("agreed")] clues TRU. Tru dat! I always make sure to fix people's spelling when they write "true that."
  • [Sue, notably] is a T. REX—in particular, the T. rex skeleton from South Dakota that's on display at Chicago's Field Museum.
  • [Sample stuff?] is URINE. You haven't lived 'til you've handed over a 24-hour urine sample in a plastic jug.
  • BONE is clued with this factoid: [It's softer than tooth, believe it or not]. I was going to say that I didn't know that, but then, didn't we all learn in grade school that tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body?



kaidoku about 10 minutes

i'm not sure how to blog matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest this week. it was a kaidoku, and i did crack it, but ... once you've done these things, there's not that much to say, is there? and the meta wasn't hard at all. he gave us the letters corresponding to the answer, and the point is merely to anagram them once you figure out what letters they are. the letters were represented by 5, 7, 8, 15, 22, 23 and 24, which corresponded to O, E, K, R, W, Y, and D. the answer? KEYWORD, appropriately enough.

the solution grid is above. you can safely ignore the numbers in it; i took a screenshot of across lite. there's no actual across lite file for the puzzle, but i just created a blank grid with black squares in the appropriate places and used it to noodle around. the key for me was noticing the overlap of MILLIPEDE and CEDE, and guessing that 7 = E due to its placement at the end of so many words. once i put that in, there are very few words that fit the MILLIPEDE pattern... in fact, MILLIPEDE and CIRRIPEDE are the only ones in my dictionary. (what's a CIRRIPEDE? no clue.) then _EDE pretty much had to be CEDE, L_L_ had to be LULU, and there were so many Cs (and a few helpful Us) all over the grid that the whole thing fell in short order from there.

i thought this one was a lot easier than the previous kaidoku, in which there was a nasty trap: PIZZAZZ in a place where it seemed to be much more likely to be POSSESS (and many other Zs in the grid to perpetuate the deception). did this one have a trap that i didn't fall into? how did you all tackle it? let's hear about it in the comment box.


June 29, 2009

Tuesday, 6/30

LAT 3:02
NYT 2:50
CS 7:35 (J―paper)
Jonesin' tba

Steve Dobis's New York Times crossword

So I Googled the term "ELOCUTION PHRASE" and got a minuscule 85 hits, including pages where those words were separated by a comma. Is this a familiar phrase to you? It's an [Exercise in pronunciation...like the first words of the answers to the starred clues]. Those first words make the phrase "How now, brown cow?" Now, the latter phrase was a theme entry in Nancy Salomon and Harvey Estes' 9/14/04 NYT puzzle, also a Tuesday, and the clue was [Traditional elocution exercise]. "Elocution phrase" feels much more clueish than answerish.

The other four theme answers are:

  • 17A. [Informal greeting] is the lively "HOW GOES IT?"
  • 30A. [At times] clues NOW AND AGAIN, which is just as idiomatic as 17A.
  • 47A. BROWN-BAGGER is [One not using the company cafeteria, maybe].
  • 64A. [Bay Area concert venue] is COW PALACE.
Favorite fill and clues:
  • 5A. FIJI is the [Island neighbor of Tonga and Tuvalu]. Okay, that gives you 3 of the 14 answers in the Oceania Sporcle quiz.
  • 23A. [It may be stacked or cut] refers to a DECK of cards and not anything else you might've been thinking of.
  • 1D. [Ottoman Empire V.I.P.] is the AGHA. I always like an AGHA, AGA, PASHA, or BEY. Not so much an EMIR.
  • 3D. The [Elevator direction half the time] is DOWN.
  • 9D. Who doesn't appreciate a BIRDBATH, or [Small pool site in a yard]? I mean, other than the person who has to clean it out and refill it.
  • 27D. ACERB means [Sharp-tongued].
  • 55D. Actress JERI [Ryan of "Boston Public"]—what has she been up to lately? This former National Merit Scholar will be appearing on Leverage on TNT starting in a couple weeks, according to the news of June 26.
  • 63D. [1978 Diana Ross musical, with "The"] is The WIZ. The clue relates to the movie adaptation, not the Broadway show. The late Michael Jackson played the Scarecrow in the movie.
What else is RUNNY besides undercooked eggs? Because that clue has eggs in it and EGGED is also in the grid, clued as [Prodded, with "on"]. Did you know that egg-the-verb comes from a Middle English word stemming from Old Norse, meaning "incite," whereas egg-the-noun follows the same language path but has a different root word? Wow. I never knew "egged on" had nothing to do etymologically with eggs.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Have a C.O.W., Man!"―Janie's review

With this directive in mind, Randy has given us four three-word phrases; the first letter of each word in the phrase being C, O and then W. In this way, our bovine bounty includes:
  • 17A. CASUALTIES OF WAR [1989 Sean Penn film]. Also Michael J. Fox, John Leguizamo and John C. Reilly among many others. This title did not come easily. Especially since I was trying to make Casual Ties Oscar make sense... Today is the first time this title/phrase has appeared in a major puzzle.
  • 25A. CORD OF WOOD [Winter purchase]. Coat of wool, anyone? Where this CS debut is concerned, was so glad I was so wrong here.
  • 44A. CAN OF WORMS [Pandora's box]. Only difference being that there was hope to be found at the bottom of Pandora's box. At the the bottom of a can of worms? More worms―or to continue the analogy, more ills... I know this clue has been used before for this fill, but I'm not sure that's a strong enough argument for continuing to use it.
  • 57A. CHOICE OF WEAPONS [Decision in a duel]. And here we have another major puzzle first-timer.

This theme, if solid, is also somewhat stolid. The theme-fill is all perfectly fine by way of fulfulling the assignment, but to my eye/ear doesn't sparkle, and is beleaguered with negative connotations: weapons, war, casualties, worms. The cluing is very straight-forward and there's something less than fully satisfying about the concept. Perhaps if there were an actual tie-in―in the puzzle―to cows (and not simply the phrases that can be abbreviated "C. O. W.") it would have been more fun. Bottom line: enjoyment of a theme is a terrifically subjective experience.

This doesn't mean the puzzle isn't without its TREATS. SHALLOT, TWO PAIR and JACK WEBB are all appearing for the first time in a CS puzzle. And I also enjoyed seeing MASTODON in there. ACT NOW! DO IT! I like these two "up-and-at-'em" phrases, side-by-side in the grid, both clued as ["What are you waiting for?"].

We have a few real leaders in the mix, too: ALLAH, OBAMA, OBIWAN... ROB ROY, too, if you change the clue.

"PIMP [___ My Ride"] is a phrase I'd heard, but until I looked it up, had no idea of its origin. Ditto ECHO in the context of [Project Genesis model]. The former is an MTV auto makeover show; the latter an actual automobile. And here I was thinking "runway model" for some show called Project Genesis...

JASON of Friday the 13th fame is the [First name in slashers]―so this would not be Mr. Priestley, who factored into yesterday's puzzle. Thanks to (poster) Jangler for reminding me and constructor Patrick Blindauer of the "e" that belongs in the last name of 90210's Jason. Thank you, Patrick, for taking responsibility for the goof and for graciously apologizing twice. That was above and beyond. I didn't catch it either. Things happen. This does not signal the end of life as we know it and happily, in this scenario, no one dies!

Timothy Meaker's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme is four B's:
  • 20A. BE MY VALENTINE is a [February greeting card request]. Anyone else try HONOR PAST PRESIDENTS here? No?
  • 30A. [Utah's nickname] is the BEEHIVE STATE. I suspect this relates to hairstyling, because the only Utah bug that's really famous is the Mormon cricket, a plague of which was eaten by seagulls.
  • 39A. One ["Petticoat Junction" star] is BEA BENADERET. I learned this name from some crossword several years back. The name wasn't remotely familiar to me then, and I suspect Ms. Benaderet lacks Tuesday-level household nameness.
  • 51A. B IS FOR BURGLAR is [Sue Grafton's second Kinsey Millhone novel]. Is "Millhone" a real surname?

PuzzleGirl and Rex and I had an e-mail roundtable last night about 25A. ["Mamma Mia!" trio?] clues EMS, the letters, but there are four M's in "Mamma Mia." Too bad the clue didn't say "quartet," because ABBA has 4 letters and seeing the 3-letter space would have been vexing for many a solver. But ABBA's elsewhere in the grid, 23D [Palindromic pop group].

I gotta run my son to day camp, so check out PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential post for more nitty-gritty in this puzzle.


June 28, 2009

Monday, 6/29

BEQ 5:32
LAT 3:11
NYT 2:51
CS 6:49 (J―paper)/2:45 (A—Across Lite)

I tried waiting out the migraine, but it's not going anywhere. So let's blog this puzzle, people.

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

The theme is as simple as can be, and yet I had a little trouble finding it. The three 15-letter terms begin with GOOD, BETTER, and BEST:

  • 17A. GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP is [Seven or eight hours, typically].
  • 35A. To build a BETTER MOUSETRAP is an [Inventor's goal].
  • 52A. BEST-KEPT SECRETS [rarely see the light of day].

That's fairly basic as themes go, but did you get a load of the fill? Look at everything that makes Paula's puzzle really shine. SOUSE is a great old word (Middle English, in fact) meaning [Drunkard]. The dictionary tells me that sot dates back to Old English, which makes me love that word a little more. (TIPSY is just [A little drunk], and the word's only been around since the 1600s.) ON THE SLY is an absolutely terrific crossword entry, and it means [Furtively].

An [Early delivery in the delivery room] is a PREEMIE; my son was 8 1/2 weeks early. ["Hey, way to go!"] clued "NOT BAD." In the "nothing doing" category are LOLL, or [Do nothing and like it], and SAT HOME, or [Did nothing] and probably didn't like it so much. GENIUSES make up a [Brainy bunch]—"Here's the story / Of a lovely lady / Who was heading up three very lovely labs..."

MOOT, or [Not worth debating, as a point], resembles MOTT, clued as [Rock's ___ the Hoople]. Moot the Hopple, anyone? OLD HABITS are those [Things that die hard]. [Prepares to streak] clues STRIPS. "NO BUTS" is a colloquial phrase conveying ["Forget the excuses!"]. My grandmother's version was "But me no buts." STAR TURNS are [Bravura performances]; this puzzle is Paula Gamache's star turn as a top-notch Monday constructor. LOW-KEY joins all those other phrases in the category of "great fill"; it's clued as [Hardly ostentatious].

I can't say I remembered that E-TYPES were [Classic Jaguars]. I did, however, remember that an ETUI is a [Decorative needle case]. The latter is today's Hardcore Crosswordese Word New Solvers Need To Learn.

Updated Monday morning:

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Yadda Yadda Yadda"―Janie's review

Before this phrase became popularized by its use in a segment of Seinfeld (then in its eighth season), it had been uttered (decades before) by the likes of the equally well-known (but decidedly less "popular") Lenny Bruce. It's used in place of details―on the assumption that the listener knows how to fill in the blanks. It's the 20th century version of "et cetera," or ETC [List abbr. (and what's hidden in the answers to this puzzle's four starred clues)]. And what is hidden therein? Let's take a look:
  • 16A. [*Part of a homemade harmonica] POCKET COMB, making its major-puzzle debut.
  • 27A. [*Fiscal crisis] BUDGET CRUNCH. I could stand not being reminded that we're still in the throes of one here... Will the members of the New York State Legislature please go back to work and do what they were elected to do?
  • 44A. [*"If They Could See Me Now" musical"] SWEET CHARITY. Before this was a Shirley MacLaine movie, it was a big ol' Broadway hit. Another big ol' Broadway hit? ["Mamma ___!"] MIA. And even the alluded-to The King and I, in which the King learns from Anna Leonowens ("I")―and uses, sometimes to comic effect―the phrase "et cetera," as in "When I sit, you sit. When I kneel, you kneel. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!"
  • 55A. [*CQN ZDRLT KAXFW OXG SDVYB XENA CQN UJIH MXP, e.g.] SECRET CODE. Anybody figure it out?! The fill, btw, is a CS-first. And I'm bettin' the clue is, too.
The remainder of the fill is loaded with pop-culture references, which keeps things breezin' along quite nicely. From the silver screen (large and small) we get: SETHS [Actors Green and Rogen]; PRIESTLY [Jason on "Beverly Hills, 90210"], a CS debut and the first time priestly has been clued as a name and not as an adverb; WALSTON [Ray of "My Favorite Martian" and "Picket Fences"]; RAES [...and performer Charlotte]; ERIC [Idle...]; WENDT [George of "Cheers"], who has been seen on Broadway as well in Art and as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray; and shows Kate and ALLIE and even (if indirectly)―since it's the equivalent to the clue for EARTH―3rd Rock from the Sun.

From the world of baseball there are two kinds of heros: one ya love to love, STAN [Musial of the Cards] a/k/a "Stan the Man"; and one ya love to hate, [Dominican slugger Sammy] SOSA.

From the music world, there's: ["A Whole New World" singer Bryson] PEABO; [Hall's singing partner] OATES; and [...Clapton], the other ERIC, whose Unplugged album I was listening to just yesterday.

Other fill that felt fresh and that caught my fancy: RUSTIC, TREACLE, GEISHA, BOBBIN, CARLOADS. Also love the pairing in the grid of GEAR and ENVY, though I suspect it was unintentional. Gear envy: what men (and probably not a few women) who are jealous of their friends' cell phone/stereo/computer/home improvement equipment suffer.

Samantha Wine's Los Angeles Times crossword

I never found my Monday groove in this puzzle. It felt more like a Wednesday crossword. It felt a little old-fashioned, too, like an '80s crossword. I mean, answers like DIY and IN N.Y.C. and IAMS pet food probably wouldn't have shown up in an older puzzle (and IMHO definitely wouldn't have), but somehow there was an old-puzzle vibe for me.

The theme is "___ in the [dirt]":
  • 21A. [Overtaken and easily surpassed] clued LEFT IN THE DUST.
  • 38A. GIANTS IN THE EARTH is the [Classic 1924 novel by Ole Rolvaag].
  • 56A. An [Old fogy] is a STICK-IN-THE-MUD.

I like "DON'T RUSH ME" (["I'll finish it when I finish it!"], ["Play It As It Lays" author Joan] DIDION, and THE FBI ([J. Edgar Hoover's org.]). And check out the dueling James Earl Jones evocations—there's DARTH, the [Evil Vader] voiced by Jones, and Othello the MOOR, whom Jones has portrayed on stage. Sure, MOOR is clued as a [Heath-covered wasteland], but don't let that throw you.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

Via Twitter and Facebook, Brendan asked people to send him the words and phrases they'd love to see in a themeless. One of my suggestions, SONY PLAYSTATION, crisscrosses the other 15, AS THE SAYING GOES. (The clues are [Genesis challenger] and ["You know what it means"], respectively). The TWITTERATI shine at 1-Across, clued with [They've got many followers]. PETA gets the timely clue, [Org. that wasn't too pleased with Obama's fly-swatting skills]. HOODWINKED is a great word, meaning [Duped]. FLESH is a [Skinemax showing]. And ELBA gets a fresh clue: [Island whose population triples in the summer due to tourism]. The same factoid probably holds true for hundreds and hundreds of islands, but when's the last time you learned anything new about ELBA? People like to vacation there, but I hadn't known that/

Neither a lifetime of crosswords nor an adult career as a medical editor has taught me about ORA [___ serrata (retina part)]. Boo, hiss. Suffixes are bad enough in the singular, but reach a new level of irksomeness in the plural—ENES are [Organic suffixes]. At least the [Glandular prefix] ADRENO is (a) more familiar and (b) not plural.

Music clues stymied me throughout. Who calls the [Tuba] a BASS HORN? Not I. KID A is a Radiohead album that has been in other alt-crosswords, so at least I'd seen that one before. Never heard of EDAN, the "alternative hip hop artist" clued as ["Beauty and the Beat" rapper]. I know MGMT as the abbreviation for "management," sure, but not as the [Band with the 2008 single "Time to Pretend"]. A [Quick chord] is a STAB? I'll take your word for it, BEQ.


June 27, 2009

Sunday, 6/28

NYT 7:38
PI 7:29
BG 7:19
LAT 6:46
CS 3:34

Barry Silk's New York Times crossword, "Secret Ingredients"

I'm heading out for the evening, so I've only got a couple minutes to talk about the puzzle. The theme is hidden (in circled squares) herbs and spices within non-food phrases. Since when is JASMINE a food ingredient?? That mystified me.

2-Down is also a mystery: the last name of [Cesar ___, five-time Gold Glove winner, 1972-76] is CEDENO. He is not famous among non-baseball fans, nor among crossword solvers in general. I also had no idea about one of the theme entries: 124-Across, [Tiny friend of Dumbo], is TIMOTHY Q. MOUSE. And I blanked on the JASMINE guy's middle initial—JAMES A. MICHENER? (["The World Is My Home" memoirist, 1991].) All righty then.

There's plenty of lively fill PEPPERed with a couple clunkers like DRAWEE—which makes me want MANATEE to be part of a family of words like manater, manating, etc.

Back for more on Saturday night:

Let's run down some clues in Barry's NYT puzzle, shall we?

  • 1A. [Blade for blades] is a sharp SCYTHE that cuts blades of tall grass.
  • 7A. BEDLAM! I love that word. It can mean [Pandemonium].
  • 13A. LORD JIM is an interesting and unusual crossword answer. This [1965 title role for Peter O'Toole] was written by Joseph Conrad, who was born in Poland, like 96A's [1983 Peace Nobelist], Lech WALESA.
  • 25A. [Last king of a united Israel, in the Bible] is SOLOMON. Thanks to the OVO, or [Egg: Prefix], that I wanted to be OVI, DROWN, or [Be covered with, with "in"], that I wanted to be DRAPE, and I WON, or [Cry of glee], which looked to be I WIN, I started out with the very wrong SILAMIN here.
  • 38A. Theme entry COARSE-GRAINED WOOD is clued as [Oak or ash] and it contains a hidden OREGANO. "Coarse-grained wood" isn't such a familiar phrase in my household.
  • 64A. [It was flown by James Bond in "Dr. No"] clues the airline PAN AM.
  • 80A. There's a WENDY who's a [Title girl of a 1964 Beach Boys song]? Never heard the song. Am grumbling that the clue says "girl" rather than "woman." The lyrics don't seem to call her a "girl."
  • 83A. PAY THE PIPER is a great phrase to have as a crossword entry. It means [Suffer for acting unwisely], and it's hiding some PEPPER.
  • 101A. There's a PRINCETON SEMINARY that's a [New Jersey ecumenical institution]? Did not know that.
  • 12D. A restaurant MENU? [It may be written on a blackboard].
  • 34D. I like the Dutch double-A HAARLEM, a [Tulip-exporting city].
  • 59D. GAZELLE is as pleasing to me as BEDLAM. It's a [Swift runner] of the antelope variety.
  • 72D. PAISANO or paisan means [Buddy], particularly among Italians and Spaniards.
  • 76D. [It has 1,366 seats: Abbr.] clues the NYSE, my husband's company. Yes, we live in Chicago.
  • 116D. [Location for Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte] is WIEN, or Vienna in German. Mmm, cake.

Updated Sunday morning:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "But That's a Whole Other Animal"

I would've included an N in this puzzle's title—I like "a whole 'nother." I also like this theme, even though on the surface it sounds rather flat: animals whose names suggest they're entirely different creatures. I hadn't realized the list of such animals was so long:
  • 23A. [It's actually a rodent]: PRAIRIE DOG.
  • 25A. [It's actually a lizard]: HORNED TOAD.
  • 40A. [It's actually an insect]: GLOWWORM. It's a beetle, specifically.
  • 42A. [It's actually a marsupial]: KOALA BEAR.
  • 58A. [It's actually a rodent]: GUINEA PIG.
  • 62A. [It's actually a seal]: SEA LION.
  • 23A. [It's actually a shark]: PORBEAGLE. The word is from Cornish dialect, possibly meaning port + shepherd.
  • 86A. [It's actually a clam]: GEODUCK. The "geo" part is pronounced "gooey." It's from the Salish language of the Pacific Northwest.
  • 91A. [It's actually a rodent]: GROUNDHOG. This is the third inaptly named rodent—a dog, a pig, and a hog?
  • 105A. [It's actually a bat]: FLYING FOX.
  • 107A. [It's actually a bird]: TITMOUSE.
  • 123A. [It's actually a lizard]: GLASS SNAKE. Why do I find these creepier than snakes?
  • 127A. [It's actually an insect]: SILVERFISH. Wikipedia informs me "they have no direct effect on human health beyond psychological distress to those who are frightened or disgusted by their appearance."
  • 55D. [It's actually a weasel]: POLECAT. Also called a skunk.

This was a fun theme to puzzle out, despite the discomfiture of glass snakes and silverfish. Here are a few clues and answers that jumped out at me: 79A [Emulates a famous Christian] is MUTINIES, the famous Christian being Fletcher Christian of the Bounty. 15D GEORGE III was the [British king in 1776]. 21A THANX is clued as [Postcard gratitude]. And 97D [Slangy denial] clues 'TAIN'T SO.

David Cromer's syndicated Los Angeles Times Daily Crossword, "End of the Road"

This puzzle seemed a good bit easier than the standard Sunday puzzle, though probably harder than Sylvia Bursztyn's L.A. Times Calendar puzzles. The theme is phrases that begin with words that can follow the "road" in the puzzle's title. For example, you get a road atlas out of ATLAS SHRUGGED, or [1957 novel with the working title "The Strike"]. A HOUSE OF CARDS is a [Plan likely to fail], and a road house is a bar or a Patrick Swayze movie. TRIP THE LIGHT FANTASTIC is a fantastic phrase; it's clued as [Dance, facetiously].

For more on today's LAT puzzle, check out PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "Don't Try To Stop Me"

This puzzle's theme is phrases that start with "forever" words, except for one of the 21's in which INFINITE's in the middle: A FELLOW OF INFINITE JEST is how [Yorick] was described. If you've been thinking of reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, you can join the Infinite Summer folks who are reading it this summer.

The other theme entries begin with the words PERMANENT, CONSTANT, ENDLESS, EVERLASTING, PERPETUAL, and ETERNALLY. Highlights: (1) The top and bottom pairs of entries are stacked together. (2) Two of the answers run all the way across the grid, 21 letters, and EVERLASTING GOBSTOPPER is a ridiculously cool entry. (3) CONSTANT CRAVING is a [k.d. lang hit]. I'm partial to her All You Can Eat album, but there's almost nothing from that in the first few pages of YouTube lang videos. (4) In the fill are lively answers like SPLIT HAIRS, TRENTON NJ, KATHY BATES, and (one I know only because I've visited Prague) JAN HUS, or [Czech martyr executed in 1415]. (5) [Ladies and gentlemen] is a great clue for BIPEDS.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

The main originator of triple stacks is back with top and bottom triple-stacked 15's in a 66-word puzzle. What's in the crossword? This:
  • 1A. You never know if [Fancy spreads] is leaning the canapé way or the grand estate way. This time it's the former, PATÉS DE FOIE GRAS.
  • 11D, 44A. [Tolkien creature], 3 letters, could be ENT or ORC. This time, they're both here.
  • 47A, 1D. [Rain, e.g.] is a WEATHER FORECAST and a [March event?] is a PARADE. Luckily, today's parade in Chicago gets a forecast of sunny skies, a breeze, and low humidity.
  • 7D. Is EPHEDRINE really a [Common decongestant ingredient]? Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, sure.
  • 23D. T.S. ELIOT is the ["Murder in the Cathedral" author].
  • 42D. [Ship's guidance system] is LORAN. The word comes from lo(ng)-ra(nge) n(avigation) and the system involves radio signals.


Fourth Bloggiversary Contest: Chock-full of badness

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the Crossword Fiend Fourth Bloggiversary contest! I had a blast reading all your submissions. Some were actually good, many were bad, and a select few were really quite terrible indeed.

Before we announce the winner of a signed copy of Dean Olsher's From Square One, let's lay out the case for (or against) each of our three finalists, Jangler, Joon, and SethG:

Jangler's contribution is, he reports, one that has been rejected by multiple editors:

"Counting Carbs"

Stanislavski's innovation (1)--METHODACTING
"There's No Business Like Show Business" singer (2)--ETHELMERMAN
They're usually capitalized (3)--PROPERNOUNS
Candy flavor (4)--BUTTERSCOTCH
Suffix that can follow the starts of x-, y-, z-, and w-across--ANE.

My god! It's a theme built around not just a terrible little suffix that is a minor blight upon each puzzle it appears in—but also around the chemical compounds methane, ethane, propane, and butane. Those of us who've not studied much chemistry are unlikely to take enjoyment in a theme that spotlights these things.

Joon amplified the badness of Roman numerals as fill by making long Roman numerals into the theme:

DCCLXXXII (9) Year in the papacy of Adrian I
DCCCLXXIV (9) Year in the papacy of John VIII
MDCCCLXXXVIII (13) Year in the papacy of Leo XIII
MCCLXXXVI (9) Year in the papacy of Honorius IV
MCCCXXVII (9) Year in the papacy of John XXII

"Year of the pope" clues are useless to most solvers who aren't scholars of Catholic history, and it's difficult to deduce which numerals appear where. Sure, the MDCLXVI set narrows down the choices from 26 letters to 7, but that's not so helpful.

SethG's submission plays the "embedded word" game with a set of unfamiliar embeds parked in a disparate group of phrases:

Mustachioed Hawaiian? (15): FU MANCHU UKULELE
Show albino eyelash tattoos? (14): EX
Throws lizards at alien believers? (14): GEC
Paris's "strong" preference? (15): MIGHT
With "The", what part of Micronesia can be found in the answers to w, x, y, and z across? (15): FEDERATED STATES

Not only are Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, and Yap likely to be unrecognizable to most non-Micronesian people, but the theme clangs with discordance thanks to one actual phrase (title of a Woody Allen movie) following three completely contrived phrases.

So, which one is the very worst? Read on...

After much deliberation, I've selected SethG's theme as the very worst one. HNPE is real, but probably even less familiar than the lesser-known of the Federated States. He's verbed a noun (GECKOS). He's anthropomorphized a musical instrument. As much as I love geography themes, this one is pretty awful. Congratulations, Seth! It can't have been easy to pull this theme together. It's one thing to create a lame theme out of laziness, but this? This smacks of hard work for a suboptimal outcome.

Congratulations, Seth! I'll put you and Dean in touch with each other so you can let him know who to inscribe the book to. ("My 12-year-old niece is a huge fan...")

Several of the contest entries were themes I'd like to see. They're mostly not daily newspaper crossword material, but I loved them. Take Donna Levin's menstrual euphemisms theme, "Varsity Rag":

VISITOR PARKING (14) = Space for patrons
THE RING CYCLE (12) = Wagnerian epic
CURSE THE GODS (12) = Rail against one's fate
JURASSIC PERIOD (14) = Time of the dinosaurs

The theme entries' key words alternate between the beginning and end: monthly VISITOR, your CYCLE, the CURSE, and a PERIOD. Too bad Deb Amlen is the exclusive crossword creator for Bust magazine, because this could be right at home there.

Janie's "None for Me, Thanks" is horrifying in the clues, but entertaining in the answers:

CHITTERLINGS (12) -- Pig's large intestine often seen on the dining table
SWEETBREADS (11) -- Pancreas or thymus, often broiled
HEAD CHEESE (10) -- Meat and tissue from pig's skull cooked, chilled and set in gelatin
THAT SOUNDS OFFAL (15) -- Alternate title for this puzzle
CRIADILLAS (10) -- Bull testicles and Spanish delicacy
LAMPREDOTTO (11) -- Fourth stomach of the cow, boiled in broth and seasoned with parsley sauce and chili; Italian favorite
LIVER SAUSAGE (12) -- Sheep stomach stuffed with ground lamb's liver, rolled oats and bits of cut up sheep

I would be laughing my way through a puzzle with a theme like this. Probably would be able to skip a meal afterwards, too!

KarmaSartre's grouping of "Famous SNL Quotes" has dreadful (and funny) clues, but the payoff is remembering the assorted SNL skits that presented these phrases:

CHEESEBURGER (12) -- Instructions from photographer to one-time Chief Justice after "Say"
MORECOWBELL (11) -- Alexander Graham's obviously boviner brother
CHOPPINBROCCOLI (15) -- Extremely creative person's sick euphemism for pleasuring oneself
NOCOKEPEPSI (11) -- First line of the twelfth verse of "How Dry I Am"
PEOPLELIKEME (12) -- What people secretly think when asked whom they would like for friends

It's a little bit of a cheat to have both CHEESEBURGER and NOCOKEPEPSI, as they're both from the same series of Belushi skits. But those skits are classics!

"Anonymous coward" (really someone who'd already submitted two themes) went with a smooth, more modestly sized theme that is unsuitable for the newspaper owing to the F-bomb that ties everything together:

UP WITH PEOPLE (12) Worldwide motivational organization
OFF THE CUFF (10) Impromptu
IT TAKES TWO (10) 1995 movie starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
YOU NEVER KNOW (12) "There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is ___" (Famous quote by former pitcher Joaquin Andujar)
F*** (4) Word that can precede the starts of ___, ___, ___, or ___-across

It's potty-mouthed, sure, but solid as themes go.

This was an educational contest, wasn't it? It's good to delve into the development of bad themes to elucidate what makes a good theme. Thanks again for playing, everyone!


June 26, 2009

Saturday, 6/27

NYT 6:06
Newsday 5:09
LAT 5:05
CS 9:05 (J―paper)

I'm not quite sure where the day went, but it's now dark out and I didn't even start the Fourth Bloggiversary bad theme contest wrap-up. Saturday? Maybe.

Trip Payne's New York Times crossword

Have you ever noticed that SEMICONSCIOUS and SELF-CONSCIOUS differ by only two letters? I did, when I let the crossings guide me to the former to answer 31A, [Uncomfortable, in a way]. Why, that would make no sense at all! Eventually I unraveled that. Later, at 52A, [Uncomfortable] clues ILL AT EASE, which I think was in one of last Saturday's puzzles.

Looking at the finished grid just now, for a moment I wondered, who is TOM BRAIDER? That one, of course, is TOMB RAIDER, an [Influential 1996 video game] (43A). Has anyone worked Lara Croft plaiting a turkey or cat's hair into a cryptic clue yet? (Yes, I realize turkeys lack hair.)

Let's run down my favorite answers and clues in this puzzle. There's a lot of cool stuff:

  • 58A. [Contents of a certain household box] aren't fuses or circuit breakers or tools, but CAT LITTER.
  • 10A. GNASH means [Rub together], but not in a nice way. If you and your sweetie are gnashing, you're doing it wrong.
  • 46A. POST-ITS are clued as [Yellow squares, often]. The clue is completely accurate and yet I still needed plenty of crossings to see where this was going.
  • 48A. [Receiver of some contributions] is a ROTH IRA. Am I the only one who sees ROTHIRA and thinks of Vampira?
  • 60A. SPRITZERS, made with white wine, are [Cocktails lacking hard liquor], but not lacking the softer liquor. Is that the other end of the spectrum, soft liquor? Or easy?
  • 11D. [Spring's opposite] is the NEAP tide. Somebody at L.A. Crossword Confidential, I think, or maybe at the Rex Parker blog, was just saying you gotta know your tides for crosswords.
  • 12D. Maya ANGELOU is the ["Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie" poet]. I don't know the poem.

One of the Friday puzzles had a very similar clue and also sat wrong with me. DO-RAGS are clued here (1D) as [Rappers' wrappers]. Yes, it would be gauche to clue them as [Some black folks' head coverings], but the vast majority of people sporting do-rags aren't rappers.

I have to take a break now and put my kid to bed. Back with more later, provided I don't conk out.

—I'm back after a Frank Longo Vowelless Crosswords nap. I recommend the book, but I can't say I advise touching it when sleepy.

Returning to the list of highlights:
  • That Maya Angelou title belongs to an early (1971) collection of her poems. Anyone know if there's a poem by that name within the book?
  • 13D. [They're often playing at home] is a great clue for STEREOS.
  • 21D. [It begins with an E (in two ways)] refers to an EYE CHART, with forwards and backwards E's.
  • 23D. [Throws up] isn't about puking, nope. It's LOFTS, as in tossing something up in the air.
  • 24D, 26D. [They have connections] looks like a clue for INS, but it's actually talking about KIN. You know—like an ANCESTOR, who's a [Genealogical discovery].
  • 29D. Sleet is [Some pellets] of ice. Ouch. Those smart.
  • 32D, 54D. [Is in Athens?] opts not to use an apostrophe in a plural. This usage resource says "Apostrophes are used to form plurals of letters that appear in lowercase. There is no need for apostrophes indicating a plural on capitalized letters, numbers, and symbols (though keep in mind that some editors, teachers, and professors still prefer them)." Here, the Is or I's are the Greek letters called IOTAS. Then you hit [Delta, for one: Abbr.]—and that's another Greek LTR., or letter. Were you fooled? I sure was. Airline, mouth of a river...wasn't thinking of the letter.
  • 35D. [French bread] isn't trying to trick you. It's not really about French currency. It's yummy BRIOCHE.
  • 1A. Hey, I forgot to mention the first clue: [Rock samples] are DEMO TAPES, samples of a rock band's work.

Other bits and pieces that were more straightforward, but not necessarily any easier:
  • 50A. The [Year that Acre fell in the First Crusade] was MCIV, or 1104.
  • 5D. [Hero of "Boys N the Hood"] clues TRE. Never did see that movie. I should Netflix it.
  • 36D. [Milky] is LACTEAL. And no, I've never used that word in a sentence, with the possible exception of crossword blog posts.
  • 39D. Did you know it was the FBI who would be the [RICO Act enforcer]? I didn't pay close enough attention to The Sopranos.
  • 42D. CHRIST is the [Word that first appears in Matthew 1:1].
  • 50D. METZ, France, was the [Birthplace of the poet Paul Verlaine]. He was a French symbolist poet.
  • 56D. [Black-throated ___ (Asian bird)] is a TIT.

Updated Saturday morning:

Stella Daily & Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy/Washington Post Puzzle, "Four Steps to a Perfect Wedding" ―Janie's review

If you're romantically predisposed to love the idea of a June wedding, by all means, fire up the Lohengrin. With only three days left to "enjoy" that particular rite, Stella and Bruce give us a humorous glimpse of the other side of the coin. In four 15-letter theme answers (that's a very healthy 60 letters of theme fill), they take us through the (reality-based?) stages of planning a wedding:
  • 17A. [...step 1] PROPOSE MARRIAGE. "...A very good place to start."
  • 27A. [...step 2] CHOOSE GUEST LIST. Sure. Though this might directly fuel:
  • 46A. [...step 3] ARGUE WITH FAMILY. Which (when love conquers all) undoubtedly fuels:
  • 60A. [...step 4] ELOPE TO LAS VEGAS. Does Bride's Magazine publish this list annually?! (Hmmm. Somehow I don't imagine their AD-MEN [or -women] would take kindly to that...)
I love that we get a bonus clue/fill right from the get-go with [Come together, as in matrimony] for UNITE, off-setting any MISERY generated by that pre-nup planning. I also smiled to see RENO in the puzzle and wondered if at some time it had been clued as the the country's one-time capital of the quickie divorce (rather than the neutral [It's near Carson City]).

While I didn't complete this one with the greatest of EASE, neither did it entirely WHUP me. In puzzles such as this, where the four major answers are minimally and similarly clued, it's almost a necessity to solve the puzzle using the "down" clues, if you want to get any real traction. I did throw myself off, though, entering IAMBS instead of IAMBI, and right next to it, hastily (unthinkingly...) scrawling STEET instead of STEEL. Looking at the whole of 46A [...step 3], what word ends with the letters MSTY?! (I didn't really need the Cruciverb database to tell me, "Sorry, no results for *msty.") I somewhere, somehow knew the phrase Damascus steel, but reading this gave me a better idea of what it actually is.

Had never heard of [Lefty Grove, for one]―a SOUTHPAW, though that "lefty" part shoulda tipped me off. I like, though, how this fill is right below [Elvis's birthplace] TUPELO, a Mississippi town that lies in the South. (And this may be amusing to me alone, but I just remembered that one of the King's movies was Viva Las Vegas...)

And since that brings us back to the Southwest, hello to CS-debut WHITTLED, as in [Created a kachina]. Authentic kachina "dolls" are actually religious icons and they are made only by Hopi artists. And in an attempt to pull everything together, here's a link to a (kinda scary) picture of a kachina doll-head wedding cake. Really!!

Orange clocking in again—with wedding congratulations for Stella Daily, who's celebrating her birthday today by marrying her sweetheart, Dave. (Not in Vegas.) It is ridiculously cute that Stella and Bruce's wedding-themed puzzle is running today.

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

Usually I write my Saturday L.A. Crossword Confidential post on Friday night, but I wasn't feeling too hot last night so I went to bed post-NYT instead and blogged this morning. I'm feeling all blogged out about this puzzle now. But I liked it, and I was glad it felt 25% tougher than the last two Saturday LATs did. Mind you, I can't be sure it really was harder because I came it with a couple glasses of wine in me. (Not to worry! I did the crossword last night, not this morning.)

Am I the only one who sees EDAMES in the grid—["My Cup Runneth Over" singer]—and thinks of edamame? Here's a bad cryptic clue: ["My Cup Runneth Over" singer abandons South, hugs mother for a soybean snack] (7).

27D is SHARK, clued as [Whiz]. As I hinted at the other blog, I'd love to be known as a crossword shark. Go ahead and promulgate that, will you? Thanks. Now, I might just be a tiger shark and not a great white shark, but don't underestimate tiger sharks. We're voracious and deadly, too.

Check out L.A. Crossword Confidential for the rest of my thoughts on this puzzle.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

The Stumper takes another week off from being a real killer. (PDF solution here.) Let's break it down. First up, favorites:
  • 17A. LET 'ER RIP is clued with ["Go for it!"]. Good stuff, that. Looks French in the grid, though: le terrip means nothing in French, I imagine.
  • 42A. A day PLANNER is clued by way of [It's days are numbered].
  • 3D. [Ford feature, often] isn't about cars at all. John Ford directed many an OATER.
  • 4D. THE LION IN WINTER is a Katherine Hepburn/Peter O'Toole movie as well as [Rosemary Harris' Tony play].
  • 21D. [Colon follower: Abbr.] is MIN., as in minutes, as in 6:30.
  • 45D. A movie SCENE is a [Trailer segment].

Next, tough stuff:
  • 19A. ["Green Mansions" hero] is ABEL. 1904 book + 1959 movie = old pop culture unknown to most people my age. I just read the plot summary and it sounds horrible. On rare occasions, the character RIMA shows up in a crossword, even though terza rima (Dante's rhyme scheme in The Divine Comedy) has got to be more broadly familiar.
  • 13D. [Skimmer relative] is a TERN. Who knew a skimmer was a bird? I bought something called skimmers, essentially long, lean shorts or short capri pants.

And finally, random musings:
  • 1A. [Sole treatment] is a FOOT BATH. Now, that sounds relaxing, but it still looks off-putting in the marquee position in the puzzle. I'm glad I finished that corner last, not first.
  • 28A. ["Sputnik" booster], 4 letters? Hmm, is that USSR or CCCP? Neither: it's an ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • 39A. PEENS are [Workshop heads], as in heads of hammers. Could we not use "head" in a clue for PEEN? It's bringing out my inner snickering 14-year-old.
  • 7D. TRICOLOR, [Like some pasta], duplicates part of the clue for 48D TINCT, or [Coloring].
  • 30D. [Salome portrayer of 1918] is Theda BARA. Yet another member of the class of actresses famous 90 years ago who remain popular primarily in crosswords.


June 25, 2009

Friday, 6/26

BEQ 6:53
NYT 5:44
LAT 4:24
CHE 4:04
CS >6 (J―paper)
WSJ 7:07

I haven't forgotten the Crossword Fiend Fourth Bloggiversary contest seeking the worst crossword themes. I've winnowed the submissions down to my favorite exemplars of badness—just a few contenders. You know what? Some of these supposedly bad themes strike me as being quite solid and entertaining—not suitable for the daily newspaper's crossword, perhaps, but not bad at all. I'll try to post the contest wrap-up during the day on Friday.

Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword

I love the answer GEEK SQUAD: I see those logo-bedecked VW Beetles around town. The GEEK SQUAD is made up of [Techies affiliated with a major electronics chain]. Far less familiar is [Libya's second-largest city, BENGHAZI. Wow. What's that one doing in the puzzle? About 2,500 years ago, the Greeks founded a town there.

What I liked most:

  • 14A. LIVED A LIE means [Was perpetually dishonest]. Paging Governor Sanford.
  • 19A. An idiomatic way of saying [To the extreme] is IN SPADES.
  • 22A. [Made a claim]...past tense verb...ends with ED. Right? Wrong. It's SAID SO.
  • 24A. Fancy word! COLLOQUY is a [Formal discussion]. Isn't it odd that COLLOQUY connotes formality while colloquial is more informal?
  • 32A. [Like drag shows] clues CAMPY. There will be a few moving drag shows in this Sunday's Pride Parade in Chicago. It's my neighborhood's biggest event of the year.
  • 34A. [Recalling org.] is the FDA. That reminds me—I need to throw out that brand-new, unopened tub of Toll House cookie dough thanks to the potential E. coli contamination. Thanks for the heads-up, FDA!'
  • 46A. Usually in crosswords, a [Cry of reproof] is a little three-letter dealio like TUT or TSK or FIE. This time it's FOR SHAME. (See 14-Across.) Looking at the next two clues, now I'm laughing. There's a LAPSE, clued as a [Concentration problem], and MARRIAGES, [Occasions that begin with misses?]. Gotta love an accidentally topical puzzle!
  • 50A. GREEN ZONE is just about as terrific an answer as GEEK SQUAD, though markedly less fun. It's that {Walled-off enclave in Iraq] for Americans.
  • 20D and 24D. A [Guy who needs no 24-Down] is a BALDY. And what are 24-Down? [Dopp kit items]. Say what? Never heard of Dopp kits, which are basically toiletry cases for the fellas (big etuis), in which a travelin' man might carry COMBS. Hang on a sec—who's taking more than one comb on a trip? Anyone?

Less elegant bits:
  • 9A. [Bygone magistrates] were DOGES in Venice or Genoa. I know of DOGES and LOGES only from crosswords.
  • 13D. The STEN is an [Antique gun] and a morsel of crosswordese.
  • 51A. PEENS are [Tool parts for bending and shaping]. What has a peen other than a ball-peen hammer?
  • 2D. LIANA is a vine that's a [Tropical climber]. Ah, familiar crosswordese gimme—how helpful you are to the long-time crossword buff.
  • 45A. FUMIER is clued as [More vaporous]. Have you ever used this in a sentence? "In cold weather, a hot tub looks much fumier." "That Windex with real ammonia in it is definitely fumier than the other stuff."

BENGHAZI! "Don't forget to pack your Dopp kit for your trip to Benghazi."

Updated Friday morning:

Gail Grabowski's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Stuff It"―Janie's review

So I clicked the "start" button of my stop-watch puzzle, focused on the solving―which went pretty smoothly―didn't look up ’til I'd finished and that's when I learned that in fact the stopwatch hadn't been running at all. Durn... I'm gonna guess that my time was in the low 6-minute vicinity. But I guess we'll never know. Life as we know it will go on however!

And we'll all be well-fed, if Gail has her way. Today she's served up an array of phrases whose first word is also the name of a food that can be prepared by being stuffed. Or, to put it another way, the word "stuffed" can precede the first word of the theme fill to name a culinary treat. On the menu today:
  • 20A. PEPPER GRINDER [Salt shaker kin]―which gives us school-cafeteria staple, the hearty stuffed pepper. I like that this fill actually gives us a two-for-one option. A grinder is also a sandwich not unlike the submarine or the hoagie―depending on your region. And a little research led me to a recipe for a "Mozzarella, Olives and Red Pepper Grinder." Sounds pretty tasty.
  • 32A. CHICKEN WIRE [Light-gauge fencing material]―for stuffed chicken. This, I imagine, can be the the whole bird with, say, a cornbread stuffing, or something like chicken cordon bleu. Had to check this clue carefully as I first thought it was referring to the foils used in the sport of fencing...
  • 40A. SOLE CUSTODY [Legal guardianship decree] yields stuffed sole. With spinach. Or crab meat. Either way is fine by me! And
  • 53A. MUSHROOM CLOUD [Nuclear explosion aftermath] gives us the stuffed mushroom, which is often a preparation of mushroom caps stuffed with finely chopped-and-seasoned mushroom stems and breadcrumbs. Or cheese, or bacon, or ham. Lotso possibilities here.
All of the theme fill (except for the last) is appearing for the first time in a major puzzle, so the "freshness factor" is good here. Still, something about SOLE CUSTODY and MUSHROOM CLOUD feels very sobering, nor do I have lots of positive associations for either of them. And that's just how it is sometimes!

I do love the "snap" of SNAP BRIM [Fedora feature]. It's making a CS debut, and shares that distinction today with TADPOLE [Future frog]. TONE DOWN [Moderate, as sound] is making its first major-puzzle appearance and presents us a tiny (and welcome) solving dilemma. Is moderate to be understood as a verb or an adjective? And it was nice to see NO SALE [key on an old cash register], appearing today like the Ghost of Simpler-Business-Machines Past.

I didn't understand why JEANS was clued as [Casual wear] sans "?" and ROBE as [Lounge wear?] avec... Anyone care to hazard a guess? Is it that lounge might be understood to be a bar as OPPOSED to another word for casual? I'm gonna go with "yes"―but there's no serious misdirection here, so I'm still not convinced the "?" was genuinely required.

There's a good bit of familiar fill today, too: APSE, ELON, ALDA, ERRS, ILSA, IONE... Those last two always force me to slow down a bit. Is the correct fill ILSA or ELSA or even ILSE? IONE or IONA or even IOLA? The crosses ultimately confirmed my choices―otherwise this solving-thing could turn into an ALL-DAY affair!

Updated late Friday morning, because I had to go to IHOP for breakfast and it took three tries before the pancakes weren't gooey inside:

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

All right, I'm gonna take the expedient way out here and send you to Rex's L.A. Crossword Confidential post with just a few words from me first. Took me too long to latch onto the theme—five phrases in which an L is inserted before a D sound in a word, and the spelling's changed to make the LD word into a real word. Favorite theme entry: PIE A LA MOLD, or [Dessert that's been left out for too long?]. Hah! Also liked the eight-pack of 8-letter answers in the fill—it can't have been easy to include those in a puzzle with five theme entries. WORSE OFF is a great phrase for a crossword, EYEBALLS is so much better as a verb (as here) than a noun, TRANQUIL is a lovely word, and FROM A TO Z promotes the junky little partial A TO or A TO Z into a real phrase.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Box Seats"

What an absolutely perfect title for this puzzle! Your "seat" is your ASS, and ASS rebuses fit into crossword boxes here.

Tough puzzle with some tough fill, tough clues, and tough-to-find rebus squares. Favorite five:
  • The cheek-to-cheek double-rebus [ASS][ASS]INS, or ["The Ballad of Czolgosz" musical].
  • The clue [Red serge wearers], starting with MO, had me thinking of MOroccans (no relation to Mo Rocca) with red fezzes rather than Canadian MOUNTIES. There's a joke here about mounting and the rebus, but I'm not going to make it.
  • One 3-letter [Starchy foodstuff], like OCA, is lame. Why not go for broke and throw in another? POI is a starchy [Maui menu item]. ACPT legend Al Sanders was just in Maui, where he saw no nenes—I want to know if he ate POI.
  • SIROCCOS are [Mediterranean winds]. You know where they get SIROCCOS? In Benghazi, Libya. No lie! I just read that last night.
  • My final fave is...all the Down answers with the [ASS]es in them. I kept finding myself a little surprised by them, and it's a good feeling when a "Huh?" turns into an "Aha!"

Robert Fisher's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Weaponyms"

Is it just me or is this the most male-oriented crossword in ages? The theme is weapons named after people, and so much of the fill and the clues just said "man, man, man" to me. MA'AM is clued as [Repairman-to-housewife address]? Ouch. What, a female repairperson wouldn't use the same word? What, a woman staying home to let a contractor in is a "housewife" and not, say, just taking the day off for the plumber's visit? Or retired? Or someone who works nights or as a freelancer? That clue rubbed me wrong in every way possible. And no, having MOM and OVA in the bottom corner doesn't offset that. Hunting! War! Ships! Boot camp! Beer drinking! HERCULES! The NFL!

I never knew that shrapnel was named after a person. The SHRAPNEL SHELL is a [Fragmenting weapon named for a British Army officer]. First, I never encounter anyone with that last name. And second, "shrapnel" sounds like "shred" and "shard" and "scrap," so I would've suspected the word's etymology harked back to another Old or Middle English word like those.

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Electronic Commerce"

The title's a little off because while "e-commerce" is a familiar phrase, the eight theme entries are commerce-related phrases that include electrical terms. Not electronic ones. There's a difference.

Among the theme answers are a FACTORY OUTLET, or [Bargain hunter's destination]; BAIT AND SWITCH, or [Seller's scam]; and SALES RESISTANCE, or [Buyer's balkiness]. The clues and answers themselves are utterly straightforward—it's the words' double meaning as electricity-related terms that embodies the theme. More fun is the presence of a couple dozen-plus 7- or 8-letter answers in the fill. Before I started the puzzle, I paused to admire the empty grid, with those corner and belly sections of white space.


June 24, 2009

Thursday, 6/25

LAT 4:14
NYT 3:57
CS 8:54 (J―paper)
Tausig untimed

I dipped into Frank Longo's Vowelless Crosswords again tonight. Puzzle #11 took easily twice as long as those that preceded it. Anyone else tracking how long these puzzles are taking them? I had a dickens of a time figuring out a bunch of answers. And I was sleepy, which surely wasn't helping matters.

Bill Zais's New York Times crossword

Wow, this is a cool theme—unlike any I've seen before. The five theme vertical entries are actually much longer than what shows up in the grid, as the clue number would be the beginning of the answer:

  • 3D. [<--- Plastered] clues three SHEETS TO THE WIND.
  • 5D. [<--- Gambling game] is five CARD STUD.
  • 7D. [<--- Sherlock Holmes novel, with "The"] clues The Seven PERCENT SOLUTION.
  • 20D. [<--- One starting a career, perhaps] is a twenty-SOMETHING.
  • 40D. [<--- Work period] is the forty-HOUR WEEK.

Let's walk through some clues and answers, shall we? 13A [Some arts and crafts] clues POTTERY, but I had trouble finding that thanks to trying ONE A.M. instead of TWO A.M. for the [Wee hour]. ["Follow me"] clues "DO AS I DO," which I can't help noticing is do-si-do with an A inserted into it. Our [Apple pie companion] is not ice cream, but MOM. (C'est très américain.) DIPTYCH, or [Hinged pair of pictures], rhymes nicely with dipstick. [Start of a Chinese game] is the dangling fragment MAH, as in mah-jongg. HAWAII is [Where "wikiwiki" means "to hurry"]. [Philemon, e.g.] is an EPISTLE in the Bible; any connection to the Philemon of Greek mythology? Or make that GRECIAN—[Like the Trojan horse]. For [Race before a race], I could only think of prelims in track and field—whoops, that's a PRIMARY election we want here.

Crosswordese classics! An [Archaeological find] is a STELE. An ARETE is a [Craggy crest]. That [Crumb] of food is my personal favorite, an ORT.

The constructor had little wiggle room for moving the theme entries around—he needed a symmetrical batch of theme entries that began with specific numbers. The upshot is that the innovative theme is swimming in clunky little answers. There are abbreviations (ASSOC, SRTA, STE, NNE, ORD, STA, SYSTS, OED, OTB, OTS, CPI), prefixes and suffixes (ETTES, ULE, TRI), and fragments (MAH, HOO, HEE) up the wazoo.

How did the balance work for you? A vexing slog, an enticing challenge? A "wow" or a "meh"? I'm clocking in at 75% wow, 25% meh, so I liked it.

Updated Thursday morning:

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Two-Car Garage―Janie's review

Thank goodness for television and print ads extolling the virtues of various makes of automobiles. Otherwise I'd probably have spent twice as much time solving this puzzle which felt at times like a [Knock-down...] DRAG-OUT. But a fair and fun one? Oh, yes, saith the non-car-owning city-dweller. And how does this puzzle work? Each theme-phrase is comprised of the names of two car-models. The joy is that each sounds like it could be an in-the-language phrase.
  • 17A. NAVIGATOR LEGACY [Inheritance from one on a ship's bridge?]. This is a Lincoln-Subaru combo.
  • 24A. RABBIT ACCORD [Treaty with Bugs?]. The pair, VW-Honda; the fill―funny!
  • 42A. MUSTANG QUEST [Search for a horse?]. Here we have a Ford-Nissan duo.
  • 55A. SUBURBAN ECLIPSE [Astronomical phenomenon seen outside the city?]. And thank you, Chevrolet-Mitsubishi.
D'ya suppose Detroit will venture into some of these pairings? D'ya think it'd help?... (Btw, if today's theme seemed familiar, Rich published a similar CS puzzle on 2/25/03.)

Making its bow today in a major puzzle is SLUGGISH [Lacking energy]. This word would also describe my time (okay, my times...). What took me so long? Model-names aside, one reason I didn't speed right through was because there was some fill I simply didn't know. ASGARD? [Where Valhalla is, in myth]. D'oh. And I recently spent some 17 hours at the Met soaking in The Ring Cycle...

CS-debut MOP-UPS for [Post-invasion military procedures]? Got me again. The crossing didn't help either, because I balked with that [Skewered meal]: KABOB (yes) or kabab (no)? Something I wouldn't care for on either, thank-you-very-much, is EMU, clued in a way that left me clueless―[Low-fat meat choice]. Well, now we know.

[Lose on purpose] took me quite a while to sort out. It's THROW―as in the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 and "Say it ain't so, Joe." I had the same parsing/sense problem with [Put the tiara on] for CROWN. This kind of cluing makes for a more challenging puzzle and I enjoy that. I REPEAT, this is a good thing.

So, those are some of low-lights in my solving process. Highlights? We got those, too. There's the presence of VOICE BOX and ELLA [First name in scat] Fitzgerald―who had one of the great ones, whether performing a jazz standard or BE-BOP, a [Style that evolved from swing]. There's Italy's scenic TUSCANY clued as [Chianti's region]; if you choose to order some north of the Alps in Paris, you'll have to summon the GARÇON. There's POISE [Grace under fire]; FANATIC, the [Wild-eyed type] who lacks it; and RAJA, humorously clued as [Big Indian].

Speaking of humor, I was seriously amused by the [Swine swill] [Antacid dose...] sequence. Nothin' better than a BROMO after too much SLOP, right?

We're also lookin' at a pangram today, so here's a special thank you to JINX and KISSY (with its [___-face...] clue) and EQUAL and AVION and ZEST.

Finally, we get a lot in the way of bonus fill. Should any one of the theme-fill vehicles break down, the garage also holds ATVS, a LORRY, a MIATA and, hey―even a [Rolls's partner] ROYCE. Not too shabby. I'll also confess, I thought there might be yet another theme-realted answer in [Got ready to drive], but no. That's our golf pal: TEED.

John Lampkin's Los Angeles Times crossword

This seven-piece theme takes up a good bit of real estate in the grid. Given that it launches at 1-Across with a clue you can't get without first knowing some of the long answers, and given that the second long theme answer is not easy, and given the inclusion of two pairs of cross-referenced clues in the fill, this puzzle wasn't easy. There were also some unfamiliar answers lurking to further turn the puzzle into a veritable TAR PIT ([La Brea attraction]). Alrighty, here's the theme:
  • 1A. [With 71-Across, extracurricular group concerned with the starts of the answers to starred clues] clues the two-part SWIM / TEAM.
  • 18A. The SIDEWINDER is a [Dangerous snake of the Southwest]. You can swim sidestroke, and the beginning of each theme answer is also a swimming stroke.
  • 24A. [Fortification about four feet high] clues the word BREASTWORK, which is not in my daily vernacular. Poultry BREAST MEAT would have been easier.
  • 39A. The BUTTERFLY EFFECT is a [Chaos theory principle]. I was just talking about this the other day. If Sammy Sosa had not used performance-enhancing drugs in '03, maybe the Cubs wouldn't have made the playoffs and the game in which Steve Bartman caught that ball would never have taken place, so Bartman's life would not have taken a detour. When a steroid-pumped butterfly flaps its ridiculously bulked-up wings...
  • 53A. The [Road less traveled] is not just an M. Scott Peck book, it's also a BACKSTREET. Who uses that term? I know "back roads," but never realized the Backstreet Boys used a dictionary word in their name.
  • 61A. [Area where electricians can't stand to work?] is a CRAWL SPACE. Ceiling's too low to stand there. My sister keeps some space clear in her crawl space as a tornado shelter. I've been living near Chicago's lakefront for 19 years, and I've yet to hear a tornado siren here.

Raise your hand if you've never heard of ["Riverdance" fiddler Eileen] IVERS. Keep your hand up. Now raise your hand if you weren't aware that [Altair, for one] is an A-STAR. If you have any hands down, raise one if you didn't know ['80s-'90s Toronto pitcher Dave] STIEB. And raise another hand if your [Fairy tale meany] instinct was OGRE rather than WOLF. I have four hands raised now, and it's making it hard to type this post. I wonder if the constructor was shooting for a pangram (which he achieved) and it was getting those JQKXZ answers in place that led to the pesky abbreviations (ETO crossing REO, DBA beside JUN) and whatnot, the gnarly little bits.

Did you notice the "split" clues? To [Split up] is to END IT. To [Split (up)] is to DIVVY up. And further down in the puzzle, [Split] clues FLEE. Nice! I don't love building an entire theme around "things that mean ___," but having such a trio dropped into the puzzle as a bonus is sweet.

Updated Thursday evening:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword. "Status Symbols"

Whoa, where did the day go? Without further ado, let's explain the theme. In the IM world, one sets one's status. I'm not a big user of instant messaging, so the theme entries came to me thanks to their straight clues, not based on any keen familiarity with IM status designations.
  • [Imaginative child's companion, perhaps] is an INVISIBLE FRIEND. I prefer "imaginary friend," but if you set your IM status to "imaginary," I'm not sure anyone could contact you.
  • In sports, an AWAY GAME is an [Occasion for facing a hostile crowd].
  • The [Devil's tools, it's said] are IDLE HANDS.
  • [Reshining the pencils, e.g.] would indeed be BUSYWORK, which is defined as "work that keeps a person busy but has little value in itself." Hmm, shining pencils again does indeed have little value.
  • AVAILABLE CREDIT is the [Amount left on a card].

Nice corners in this grid—look at all those 6's, 7's, and 8's. Two popular websites are in the puzzle: FLICKR is the photo site, a [Picasa alternative], and TWITTER is the [Site with the tagline "What are you doing?"]. I'm OrangeXW on Twitter. Very rarely do my tweets actually say what I'm doing at that moment. I think people like Maureen Dowd who disdain Twitter tend to think that's all it is—that people are giving pointless and dull rundowns of their daily routine. But no. There's sharing of links and information, wiseacre observations, interesting musings and epiphanies. It's not at all an "I had oatmeal this morning" thing.