June 21, 2009

Monday, 6/22

BEQ 3:54
LAT 2:40
NYT 2:20
CS 7:23 (J—paper)

Wow, is it relaxing to have a blogless weekend! Vielen Dank to PuzzleGirl for holding down the fort with her inimitable 4-letter words (brio and élan).

Fred Piscop's New York Times crossword

In Fred's easy Monday puzzle, I only knew 3 and 5/11ths theme entries, but the theme (phrases beginning with "cee" sound-alikes) gave me another 1/11th:

  • 17A. "SI, SI, SEÑOR" is an [Emphatic south-of-the-border assent]. That one was easy enough, as it's basic Spanish and a mainstay in crosswords. Hey, how come these entries never get stretched out by one more letter? Does no one ever say "si, si, señora"?
  • 26A. The [Beginning piano student's exercise] is the C MAJOR SCALE. I knew SCALE, C fit the theme, and I guessed wrong on MINOR vs. MAJOR. Can you tell I've never been a beginning piano student?
  • 45A. "SEE YOU LATER!" are common [Parting words]. Perfectly smooth phrase for a lively Monday outing.
  • 62A. That cocktail with cranberry juice and vodka is also a [Wind that cools a beach], or SEA BREEZE.

Your DEBIT CARD is indeed a [Quick, cashless way to pay for things]. Don't take it to RENO, the [Nevada gambling mecca], if you are prone to gambling away all your money. In a few more decades, I suspect a concept like [Leisure suit fabric] will vanish from our POLYESTER associations. The top two clues I liked: ARAMIS is a [Fragrance named for a Musketeer] and FALSE is a [Test answer you have a 50/50 chance of guessing right].

Here are some crosswordy things that may be unfamiliar to newer solvers. If you didn't know these ones, commit them to memory. Really, what else are you doing with all that memory? Go ahead and fill it up with common crossword answers.
  • ESSEN is a [Ruhr Valley city] in Germany.
  • The first name of [Outfielder Slaughter in the Baseball Hall of Fame] is ENOS. It's also a biblical name.
  • The first name of [Nobelist Wiesel] is ELIE. There are also a couple fashion designers named ELIE, Messrs. Saab and Tahari.
  • The OBIE is an off-Broadway (Obie sounds like "O.B.") award given by a New York alt-weekly—a [Village Voice award]. Broadway shows get Tony awards.
  • ALIT means "landed" or [Touched down].

Updated Monday morning:Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Inside Job"—Janie's review

Embezzlement? A bank heist? Embedding the letters J, O and B in phrases like HOJO BURGER? Nupe. None of the above. Instead, a pert 4-part quip (doled out in 2 15s and 2 10s) about people in radiology. The words of wisdom being:
  • 17A. NEVER LIE TO [Start of some bogus medical advice]. Love the clue-as-disclaimer. Do you suppose some folks think what follows is anything other than wordplay? I guess the answer is yes and the CrosSynergy folks don't want any suits filed against 'em for providing misleading information...
  • 27A. X-RAY TECHNICIANS [Advice, part 2]
  • 44A. THEY CAN SEE RIGHT [Advice, part 3]
  • 59A. THROUGH YOU [End of the advice]
Kinda makes me wanna cue up this Beatles tune from Rubber Soul.

I enjoyed the quip and don't have lots to say about it or the non-theme fill. Still, the inclusion of the oft-seen FTD did make me question exactly what those letters stand for. I knew it had to do with Flower Deliveries, but in this day and age, I wasn't sure about that "T." It's an acronym with some 44 definitions, but the answer in the context of [Blooming bus.?] is Florists' Transworld Delivery, a service that has been delivering flowers—and saving the butts of procrastinating gift-givers—for nearly a century now.

I do like that clue, too—as well as [Ring toss item?] for HAT (as in,"I've decided to toss my HAT into the ring and run for office"); and [Shed item] for TOOL. This one had me stymied for a while. I kept thinking of the way a snake sheds its SKIN, but that wasn't working and I couldn't come up with anything else along those lines. Got me! Perhaps if I'd paid more attention to those AWLS [Hole-punching tools], I'd not have gone so far down the path of misdirection.

Good morning from Amy! Good gravy, where did this summertime come from? Chicago had three months of April and then suddenly—boom!—it's warm and too muggy.

Donna Levin's Los Angeles Times crossword

Donna's tennis theme felt familiar—three phrases ending in GAME, SET, and MATCH, held together by a timely mention of WIMBLEDON—and a search of the Cruciverb database finds that "game, set, match" has been fertile ground for crossword constructors. This isn't remotely intended as criticism of today's puzzle—Monday themes often tread familiar ground, and the English language has a lot of phrases that end with those three words. What Donna adds is WIMBLEDON, which doesn't appear in the Cruciverb database at all. Here's today's theme:
  • 18A. [Grand Theft Auto, e.g.] is a VIDEO GAME.
  • 27A. [Sterling afternoon serving pieces] make up a SILVER TEA SET.
  • 44A. One's [Ideal mate] is a PERFECT MATCH.
  • 55A. WIMBLEDON is the [Annual English sports event that begins today, and this puzzle's theme]. Rafael Nadal is missing the tournament because of tendinitis, so the most gripping competition may be in the women's tournament.

It's interesting to take a look at the other ways constructors have riffed on the same core idea:
  1. Wed. 5/26/99 CrosSynergy, Dave Tuller: Three phrases ending with GAME, SET, and MATCH.
  2. Wed. 7/18/01 NYT, Liz Gorski: Three phrases ending with GAME, SET, and MATCH.
  3. Tues. 5/3/05 NYT, Gary Steinmehl: Four phrases ending with POINT, GAME, SET, and MATCH, plus TENNIS / ANYONE.
  4. Wed. 8/17/05 NYT, Kyle Mahowald: Three phrases ending with GAME, SET, and MATCH, plus TENNIS / ANYONE.
I fully expect to see a September puzzle one of these years with GAME, SET, MATCH, and THE U.S. OPEN.

For more on today's LAT and a giggly Carol Burnett Show clip, see PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Second Life"

Brendan's still polishing his first cryptic, so we have a quote theme today instead of the cryptic he promised. "A quote theme? Ugh," you may find yourself groaning. Brendan's had a couple quote themes that I've actually liked, though. I think his success rate in making quote puzzles I like is in the 80% to 100% range, whereas the other constructors in the field average about 10%. What sets Brendan's quote themes apart from the rest? As I just commented at Brendan's blog, if he gave a class on the proper construction of quote themes, I think the main lessons would be:

(1) Find a quote with some edge to it. Today's quote is egotistical. Previous BEQ quote themes have had funny lines from current comedians like David Cross and Patton Oswalt.

(2) My god, don't use an old quote. Sure, Mae West and Yogi Berra got off some good lines, but by 2009 they're likely to feel stale.

(3) Shoot for a shorter quote to avoid a large volume of "gotta work the crossings" stuff. Today's quote is 27 letters long, with the theme supplemented by the speaker and the team he owns.

(4) Elevate the fill with more interesting stuff and a lower word count. This one's a 74-worder in which 27 of the fill answers are 6 to 8 letters long.

The quote is "WHEN I DIE, / I WANT TO COME / BACK AS ME." Spoken by MARK CUBAN, owner of the Dallas MAVERICKS.

Brendan rated this one as "easy." I like it that Brendan's easy puzzles settle in at Wednesday-plus level. I don't think Brendan likes making Monday-caliber puzzles much. Hey, that's fine by me!