June 08, 2009

Tuesday, 6/9

Jonesin' 4:31
LAT 3:31
NYT 2:59
CS Forever... (J—paper)/4:30 (A—Across Lite)

Word nerd alert! Lexicographers Erin McKean and Grant Barrett, who've attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, are part of the team that's just launched Wordnik.com, which is sort of the next generation in dictionaries. It's online and feeds you up-to-the-minute information about a word—not just a dictionary definition but examples of how the word's being used now, Flickr photos that illustrate it, recent Twitter posts including the word, a chart showing how the word's frequency has changed, and so on.

I looked up Will Shortz's favorite word, ucalegon. There's no definition given, but the Twitter post made me laugh: nnelson415: A "Ucalegon" is a neighbor whose house is on fire. It took me an hour to remember this and call 911.

Steve Dobis's New York Times crossword

Those "word that can precede the starts of the theme answers" themes tend to be a little prosaic. One enhancement is to have both parts of the theme entries pair up with the unifying word. Another approach is to beef up the theme by sheer numbers, as Dobis does with this nine-piece theme:

  • 39A. SHORT is the [Word that can precede the starts of the answers to the eight starred clues].
  • 17A. HAIRSPRAY is a John Waters movie starring Divine that was remade into a [Movie starring a cross-dressing John Travolta]. My son does not have short hair, but that's not quite a phrase in and of itself. A shorthair, however, is a cat with short hair.
  • 21A. [Big writing assignment] is a TERM PAPER. Short-term is a term...that's sort of short.
  • 58A. CAKEWALKS are [Very easy tasks]. Shortcake is all right with fresh berries, but poundcake is better.
  • 64A. The [Electric Slide, for one] is a LINE DANCE. The Short Line is one of the railroads in Monopoly.
  • 4D. [Nonbinding vote] is a STRAW POLL. I'm not sure that "short straw" is a phrase when separated from the verb "draw/drew."
  • 9D. STOPGAP means [Like a band-aid solution]. Shortstop is a position in baseball.
  • 37D. [Heels-over-head feat] is a HANDSTAND. Shorthand is both a specific method of fast writing and a general term for referring to something simply.
  • 44D. [Defeats mentally] clues OUTWITS. To short out is to short-circuit, electrically speaking.

I find myself wishing to take short walks, maybe have a short dance, do my best with my short wits.

Tougher words in the fill:
  • TUTEE is one of those words that purists may bristle at. (I once had to leave "mentee" in situ when editing. It pained me.) It's [One getting one-on-one help].
  • [Carillon sounds] are the peals of church bells. Are those DONGS? My husband can think of a better clue for that word, he says.
  • [Is on deck] clues GOES NEXT. "Is up next" sounds better to me, but the answer won't duplicate the "is" in the clue.
  • [Temperance supporters] back in the day were called DRYS, as in the plural of "dry." DRIES is also an accepted plural, but that's more likely to get clued as a verb.
  • A clue like [Lone Star State sch.] as often as not is UTEP, the University of Texas at El Paso.
  • [Dis and dis] are DESE ("this" and "these" in Brooklynese).
  • [Rack purchases, briefly] are MAGS, as in magazines on the magazine rack.
  • Do you know where [Close watchers] are EYERS? Pretty much only in crosswords. I can't think of a plausible sentence in which EYERS is used. "The factory hired a team of eyers to handle quality inspection"? No.
Updated Tuesday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Talking Heads"—Janie's review

For those solvers who like their themed puzzles to be served up with a heavy helping of wordplay, I think you'll find that this to be one of the GEMS of the genre. The titled "talking heads" are... titled heads. Of state. So our four theme entries conclude with a SHAH, a RAJAH, a KING and a CZAR. But those four exalted ones anchor longer puns as well, clued (and I know you'll be shocked to hear this...) alliteratively. Let's take a look:
  • 17A. [Supportive sovereign?] BOOSTER SHAH—a play-on-words of booster shot. Have you had yours?
  • 27A. [Cheerful chief?] JOLLY RAJAH—kind of a "Boston Accent" approach to Jolly Roger. (Do I hear a "yo-ho" anywhere?)
  • 42A. [Bang-up boss?] PEACHY KING—as opposed to peachy keen. We get a cheeky little cluster of "-y" words here, too: PEACHY..., ROCKY, INKY, GUSHY and JETTY.
  • 55A. [Resplendent ruler] SHINING CZAR—and not shining star.
My major complaint about the puzzle is that it took me too durned long to get goin' (and finish...)—and the critical cross of KEEP and KIGALI eluded me altogether. I knew neither the capital of Rwanda I'm embarrassed to say, nor had I ever heard of the KISS principle (which, as you may have guessed, has nothing to do with these guys). Aaaarrrggghhh. Well, now I know (and hope I won't quickly forget). That said, I got nuthin' but good to say of it.

The grid gives us triple columns of 6s and 8s at either side, pairs of 6s stacked at center and accommodates four 7s as well. Better yet is the fill, which is fresh 'n' lively 'n' well-balanced. REPRISES and PAPERJAM are making first-time major-puzzle appearances; and DIRECTV and LESS THAN, CS debuts. BANZAI, UTOPIA, ADAM'S ALE [Water, wittily], BLACK BOX (resonating sadly indeed with the recent Air France disaster), ROSETTA—all terrific stuff. We also get a spicy mini-theme with EROTIC, SEX and OOLALA; and a pair of names with decidely G-rated "riddle" clues: ROB [Good name for a thief?] and OTTO [Good name for a mechanic?] (as in "Otto, the auto mechanic").

There are some other strong riddle-like clues that bear mentioning: [Punchless punch] is ADE; [Queens diamond that wasn't forever], SHEA (stadium...); [Perfect place that's "not a place"], UTOPIA; [London home of Constables and Sargents, with "the"], TATE (Gallery—and not YARD [as in "Scotland"]); [Shocking color], PINK; [Ant. ant.], SYN (i.e., "antonym"'s antonym [opposite], or "synonym"...just to be very literal...).

And take a look at these clue pairs, as they too, with their repeated words, are wordplay-packed:
  • 25 and 26A. [Bottom-of-the-barrel] and [Bottom] for WORST (not DREGS) and SEAT;
  • 35 and 36A. [Salt Lake City cager] and [Salt (away)] for UTE and PUT;
  • 18 and 22D. [Kicker's prop] and [Kicker's target] for TEE and GOAL; and the best—
  • 53 and 55D. [Sound of a break] and [Sound barrier breaker] for SNAP and SST.
Other strong clue/fill combos include:
  • [Foursome followed by Acts] for GOSPELS. This clue immediately put me in mind of Virgil Thompson and Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts.
  • [Modern dish purveyor] for DIRECTV—as in "tv-reception dish" and not some contemporary kitchen accoutrement (or "kitchen porn" as a colleague calls such items as ice-cream makers and multiple-multiple-speed blenders).
  • [Once-worshipped white wader] for IBIS—and a great tongue-twister, too!
  • [Wail wildly] for SOB and [Squeaky shriek] for EEK.
If I haven't mentioned your fave(s), do tell. In the meantime, that's all she WROTE!

Joan Buell's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme here is people of some note whose last names are European capital cities:
  • 17A. HAROLD ROME is the ["Fanny" composer and lyricist]. Who? Given that much of my musical theater knowledge comes from crosswords and given that there are much more accessible ways to clue ROME than by citing this guy, I've enver heard of him.
  • 26A. JEREMY LONDON is a ["Mallrats" costar]. Looking at his IMDb filmography, it's possible I've seen him on a couple TV shows but don't remember. His Wikipedia bio reports that he was stoned while making Mallrats and couldn't memorize his lines, and thus has never appeared in another Kevin Smith movie.
  • 43A. IRVING BERLIN! He's honest-to-goodness famous! He's the ["God Bless America" writer], among other accomplishments.
  • 58A. JERRY PARIS apparently was a [Frequent "Happy Days" director], but I gotta say, if directing '70s TV episodes is your most salient claim to fame, maybe you're not quite a big enough deal to be a theme entry in a crossword. Messrs. London and Rome, meet Mr. Paris.

MR. GOODBAR, the [Hershey's product], may not be a top-selling candy bar (kept alive, no doubt, solely by its inclusion in the bags of Hershey milk chocolate bars, Special Dark, Krackel, and Mr. Goodbar), but it's a great crossword answer. Bonus points for echoes of Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I also like the MINIMART, clued as [Many a gas station store].

I had trouble tuning into Buell's wavelength on the clues. How about you? Did it take you as long as the typical Wednesday/Thursday LAT?

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Enjoy the Silence"

Matt made the theme entries by adding a "SH" to familiar phrases:
  • 17A. [Where the siblings from "Beverly Hills, 90210" shop?] is WALSH-MART. That's Brenda and...crap, what's his name? The one played by Jason Priestley? Brenda and Brandon Walsh, who would have been more likely to visit Wal-Mart before leaving Minnesota for 90210.
  • 23A. The Inca empire turns into IN-CASH EMPIRE, a [Kingdom that doesn't accept credit cards?].
  • 36A. [Barn-raising and butter-churning all out of whack?] clues AMISH GOING CRAZY.
  • 44A. [Part of being red in the face?] is a FLUSH SYMPTOM. I guess "flush symptoms" might include the burning sensation that goes with the flush.
  • 56A. POLISH SCI is a [Class with a shoe-shining lab?]. Talk about your vocational education.

It's a solid theme, with a terrific batch of phrases gathered together before the SH's were inserted.

I had no idea that GABE was the name of [Tycho's friend, in the webcomic "Penny Arcade"], nor that the comic had a Tycho in it. GABE Kaplan remains my go-to reference in the famous Gabes category. These are a few of my favorite things in this puzzle:
  • [Three-way, e.g.] clues a light BULB. Was your mind in the gutter? Come clean.
  • [Hidden meat?] is SALAMI, as in "play hide-the-salami." If your mind is not in the gutter, you'll need to crass yourself up big time.
  • [Sound necessary to get "high"?] is the LONG I sound in the word "high."
  • DAMNED is the [Status if you do or don't?].
  • [Ready to do it] returns to the gutter for HORNY.
  • [Vampire-like female] is the LAMIA. Read up on her here. Eating children! Seducing young men! And playing a role in the new Sam Raimi horror movie, Drag Me to Hell, that I've heard such raves about.

Matt's kids are just wee toddlers, and yet he already knows that STEVE was the [First "Blue's Clues" host]. I cannot accept Joe as the host. I also have issues with the cartoon Barnyard, a spinoff of a movie. The UDDER is indeed a [Feature mistakenly added to some male cartoon bovines]. Yes, the boy cows in Barnyard all have udders. It wouldn't be so terrible if they were just for show, but they use them. Can anything be more horrifying than the sight of a cartoon bull firing gushes of white liquid from his nether regions? Seriously. And this show is for children!

Speaking of kids, my son is 9 but we haven't played Go Fish yet. (THREES are a [Go Fish request, perhaps].) Must remedy that! The answer to [Montana handle] is HANNAH, as in the Disney TV character Hannah Montana. I'm so proud of myself that I didn't get that without all six crossings. I was thinking of Joe Montana and the state, but Hannah Montana has not found a way into my head.