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.