June 18, 2009

Friday, 6/19

NYT 8:51
BEQ 7:07
LAT 3:56
CS 5:35 (J—paper)
WSJ tba

It would be hard for me to be any crankier than I am right now. The freelance assignments are piling up around my head, time is short, and every so many minutes, a malfunctioning car alarm right across the street goes off. Mind you, it's the first day in a couple weeks that the lakeside temperature topped 70°, so I'd love to have the window open but the car alarm just might drive me mad.

David Levinson Wilk's New York Times crossword

So that's the mood I was in when I started this puzzle and I was still in that mood when I finished. If you adored David's puzzle, you are probably quite right. I have no reason to think my negativity is a reflection of the puzzle's quality. Did it beat you up like a Saturday puzzle, or was that just me? Here are the bits that didn't sit with me:

  • 15A. ["Babette's Feast" author, 1950] is ISAK DINESEN. Why, that's a great answer. Full name, not clued with the too-easy usual suspect book title. I had French writers on the mind and so struggled here.
  • 52A. Can [Direct deposits, e.g.] really be considered E-CASH? Let's check the dictionary. Horrible word, sure, but there it is in my dictionary, defined as "electronic financial transactions conducted in cyberspace via computer networks." The "cyberspace" tells me that definition was written some years back, but it seems to mean the clue is spot on.
  • 55A. Hey, I know all sorts of things about the NIH. Alas, the clue, [Fed. agency with an annual almanac], was meaningless to me. The National Institutes of Health issue a great many publications, but I've never run into this almanac. Is it a different NIH?
  • 57A. Like 15A, this is a terrific entry, this ALL ABOUT EVE. But the musical-theater clue was as meaningless as the NIH almanac to me. [1950 movie on which the musical "Applause" is based] is probably a warmly received clue among those of you who dig musicals and '50s showbiz.
  • 61A. NEI? Nay. Do not want. It completes [Verdi's "___ giardin del bello"] and is not one of the Italian words I can bandy about comfortably.
  • 64A. This clue is just plain wrong from a Chicago expressway perspective. An EXPRESS LANE is not [Something to pass in] here. You pass in the left lane (or whichever lane is open and gets you around a slowpoke), but the express lanes are set apart from the main highway. Granted, the NYT crossword is not designed around a Chicago driver's frame of reference.
  • 1D. An [Engaging sort] sounds like a lovely person, but a HIRER is just one of those -ER words you rarely hear anyone use. I can be ill-tempered about this one, can't I?
  • 3D. Aargh. I wanted the [South Carolina river to the Atlantic] to be PEEDEE, because that would have pleased my friend P.D. Then I figured it had to be the SWANEE, but no. It's the SANTEE, and it doesn't get a ton of play in crosswords. Or in my life.
  • 12D. Then I was mad at myself for blanking on the [Jewish parchment scrolls put out on doorposts]. Wasn't there a recent legal ruling saying that a condo building couldn't refuse to let residents post MEZUZAHS? I think it was a Chicago case. The word only dawned on me when I got ZOO for [Where the wild things are?].
  • 13D. [She has a personal trainer] should be REYNALDO, but no, it's the generic PROTEGEE.
  • 22D. I thought I was outwitting [Contents of a cylindrical case]. "Ooh, it's some kind of olf computer DISK, isn't it?" I asked myself. That S and D did me no favors. Turns out to be LIPSTICK, which is a great answer for a tricky but accurate clue.
  • 35D. OLD JEANS are clued with [They may be patched]. Does OLD JEANS pass muster as an in-the-language entity?
  • 59D. [Provider of PC support] made zero sense to me until right this moment. It's a LAP if the PC in question is a laptop. Don't people usually reserve "PC" for desktop computers, and of the Windows ilk?
  • 60D. Holy moly, here's some Spanish I do not know at all. ["Que ___?" (Jose's "How's it going?"] clues TAL. "Qué tal"? Huh. "Qué pasa," sure. Tal, German for "valley," sure. Gap in knowledge, meet crossword. Crossword, meet gap.
  • I'd be fonder of [Out, in a way] as the ON LOAN clue and [Stuck (out)] for JUTTED if OUTSET ([Origin]) weren't so near in the grid. Out, out!

And what parts of this puzzle could make me forget about stray car alarms? This stuff:
  • 1A. HASTA MAÑANA is a [South-of-the-border sign-off] meaning, I think, "until tomorrow." I didn't take Spanish. (Did you figure that out already?)
  • 17A. [Carry on] clues RANT AND RAVE. Hello! *waving from the ranting-and-raving box*
  • 48A. JAMES DEAN was the [Actor who said "Only the gentle are ever really strong"].
  • 62A. PEARLY GATES is a fun answer. The clue, [Setting of many New Yorker cartoons], could be so many things. Executive office with old white man behind desk. Living room. Cocktail party.
  • 4D. [Conductor's request: Abbr.] had me thinking of the person with the baton leading the orchestra, but it's the train conductor who wants your TKT.
  • 8D. NEREUS is a [Mythical Aegean Sea dweller]. I sure didn't get this without a bunch of crossings, but one likes a hint of classical mythology every now and then.
  • 9D. ASA is clued as [Civil-rights leader ___ Philip Randolph]. Here, go read up on Mr. Randolph. He founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which secured better terms for the Pullman Company's workers. His civil rights activism helped prod Truman to desegregate the armed forces, and he continued to fight for civil rights through the '60s. Did I know this ASA before today? Nope. But I liked learning about him.
  • 24D. [What "you can't hide" per a 1975 Eagles hit] is your LYIN' EYES.
  • 40D. OLÉ is clued as a [Shout to someone in danger of getting stuck] in a bullfight. I do suspect, though, that "Olé!" is shouted far more often in fútbol these days than at a bullfight.
Oh, that car alarm? It went off at 10:02, 10:09, 10:14, and 10:18. It's been quiet for 9 minutes now. I grow worried when it doesn't check in regularly.

Updated Friday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Middle Ears"—Janie's review

You remember your rudimentary introduction to the miraculous workings of the middle ear, don't you? The hammer, the anvil, the stirrup? Well, this puzzle has nothing to do with that. This puzzle has to do with the placement of the letters E, A and R in the middle of three 15-letter phrases—but literally, right smack-dab in the middle, occupying blocks 7, 8 and 9 of the entertaining fill. Take a look:
  • 17A. IF I WERE A RICH MAN ["Fiddler on the Roof" song]. This is the strongest of the three phrases for two reasons. First, it's making its major-puzzle debut; and second, it's the only one in which the word EAR is not contained exclusively in one word. It spans the phrase and it lies directly at center. Nice.
  • 36A. DISAPPEARING ACT [Magician's feat]. A vivid phrase that conjures up conjurers along the lines of David Copperfield and the late Doug Henning.
  • 54A. IN THE NEAR FUTURE [Very soon]. Here we have a graceful, four-word adverbial phrase that's a CS debut to boot.
The clues for the theme fill are very direct—as is most of the cluing in this puzzle. This makes for a fairly easy kind of solve. Still, the grid throughout is embroidered with fine fill. At center is a column of 7s: TIBETAN (CS debut), AREA RUG and CORRODE; then we get two 8s, each of which is appearing in a CS puzzle for the first time: ATTACHÉS and another adverbial phrase, IN HIDING; and two CS-debut 10s: SCIENTISTS and the fabulous ROAD TO RUIN. In this case, the Triple A will probably not be able to provide you with a TripTik for the best RTE to follow. This is strictly a "make your own adventure" venture!

There's some eclectic music-related fill with two portions of the Requiem Mass: the Dies IRAE and the Agnus DEI; ["Lulu" composer], modernist Alban BERG; pop's Paul ANKA and the Beatles' "I ME [Mine"]. We also get weaponry fill: STEN and SABER (and a summoning of the NRA, cleverly clued as [Gp. that sticks to their guns]); and a trio of words that take us inside the boxing ring: champs Mohammed ALI, Leon SPINKS and the [Pugilist's weapon], his/her FIST.

The architectural term FASCIA board was new to me, but easily attainable through the crosses. (Pronounced with a long "a.") More familiar to me is anatomical connective-tissue fascia. (Pronounced with a short "a.") Many years ago I suffered a fascia tear in my calf. Major "ow" and definitely not recommended.

Other fill I fancied: HADJI, GNOME, JETTY, BRASS, AVENGE, LAUDE and SET IN clued almost poetically as [Arrive, as darkness]. Did I [Really enjoy] this puzzle? Yep, like a tasty ENTREE, this was one to EAT UP.

Orange here again—am pressed for time, so the blogging will be cursory. The Wall Street Journal puzzle wasn't posted yet, so I'll check back later.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme is a quote I've seen before: I NEVER HATED A MAN / ENOUGH TO GIVE HIM / HIS DIAMONDS BACK, uttered by ZSA ZSA Gabor, [Speaker of the quote, familiarly]. In the fill, SPACE AGE ([Period that started with Sputnik]) crosses PHASER (["Star Trek" weapon]). I'll bet at least a few girls got their first period coincident with Sputnik's launch, and I like to think one of them's doing this puzzle and filled in THE CURSE for 10D.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Friday"

There's time only for mentions of a few favorite bits:
  • 22A. GROMMETS! Those are metal [Eyelets] and I love the word. Why? I just do.
  • 48A. GODWIN'S LAW gets evoked plenty in the blogosphere, not just in Usenet discussions. In my circles, one generally is deemed to have blown one's argument completely once one uses a Nazi analogy. It's usually lazy rhetoric, no? See the xkcd cartoon below for a riff on Godwin's law.
  • 53A. [Summer month to some] is so vague! Which "some"? I figured it'd be JUIN or AOUT but it turned out to be the Jewish month ELUL.
  • 7D. RIOT GRRL is a [Young woman into the punk rock lifestyle]. I am a crossword grrl.
  • 8D. DOTARDS! Those are [Some old folks], the senile ones. I like that old word almost as much as GROMMETS.