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.