June 02, 2009

Wednesday, 6/3

BEQ 4:44
Onion 4:37
LAT 3:40
NYT 3:03
CS 5:38 (J—paper)/2:26 (A—Across Lite)

Samuel Donaldson's New York Times crossword

You ever finish a crossword without quite grasping what the theme is, and then when you study the puzzle to see what it is, you find yourself saying "Wow!" out loud? That happened to me just now with Donaldson's NYT puzzle. 36A reads TWENTY-SIX STATES, and those are [What this puzzle's perimeter contains abbreviations for]. The 4-, 6-, and 8-letter entries around the edge all consist of batches of 2-letter postal abbreviations for states. Traveling clockwise from 1-Across:

  • 1A. [Like some fevers] clues MALARIAL: Massachusetts, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Alabama.
  • 9A. GANDHI is an '80s [Title role for Ben Kingsley]. Georgia, North Dakota, Hawaii.
  • 14D. IAMS, which is Iowa and Mississippi, is a [Pet food brand].
  • 32D. [Like items in a junk drawer: Abbr.] is MISC. Michigan, South Carolina.
  • 54D. [Showed up] means CAME. California, Maine.
  • 63A. The CONCORDE is a [Retired Mach 1 breaker]. How nice to see the frequent repeater SST replaced with the more elegant CONCORDE. Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Delaware.
  • 62A. NECTAR is [Drink of the gods]. Nebraska, Connecticut, Arkansas.
  • 47D. [Self-absorbed] clues VAIN. Virginia, Indiana.
  • 33D. [Gas, e.g.: Abbr.] is a UTIL. This is the second state-abbrevs answer that's an abbreviation. Utah, Illinois (Land of Lincoln! The Prairie State!).
  • 1D. MONY is clued with [When repeated, a Billy Idol hit]. Missouri, New York. Originally a Tommy James and the Shondells hit, "Mony Mony" was inspired by the MONY sign atop the Mutual of New York Building.

None of the 26 states is repeated, which can't have been so easy to ensure. It helps that there are 50 states to choose from, but not too many words contain NH, TX, or MT—and something like INHALE wouldn't work for NH because the letter pair's not in the right place. This is a cool theme, and not the same old, same old.

The corners look good with their stacked 6's and 8's. I rather like NONSTOPS as a plural noun ([Some long flights]). The seasonal treats in the lower right are tasty—HOT COCOA's a [Winter warmer] and right below it is ICE CREAM, a [Summer cooler]. In the center, [Discount apparel chain] TJ MAXX is half Scrabbly letters. To the left are adjacent quarterbacks, [Former QB John] ELWAY and [Formr QB Rodney] PEETE.

Not everything is so glorious, but perhaps the perimeter of theme entries forced some compromises. IRANIS made me laugh after Friday's L.A. Crossword Confidential comment thread about IRANI. Rex reports that Merl Reagle slammed the word in Coral Amende's book, The Crossword Obsession—Irani is not an accepted demonym for the people of Iran, but it keeps showing up in crosswords anyway. This time the clue is [Farsi speaker]. Another answer that made me laugh was the plural suffix ETTES, which I was just complaining about in Saturday's L.A.C.C. post! Here, it's clued as [Diminutive endings]. Other fill on my "do not want" list includes [Mideast bigwig: Var.] EMEER; AGE TEN, which is indeed [What many fifth graders have reached] but arbitrary as phrases go; STAC. as an abbreviation for staccato, the [Opposite of legato, in mus.]; and CCC, a set of [New Deal inits.] that I got strictly through its crossings. These answers didn't get in the way of my enjoying the puzzle, though.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Child's Play"—Janie's review

So there's that gimmick again, in which the last word of the familiar phrase belongs to the category suggested by the title. And once again we're reminded that it's all in how it's done. Today's title refers to items likely to be found in a child's toy chest, and boy, does Doug ever fill this puzzle with lively lexicon to deliver the goods. First the theme fill:
  • 17A. ROAD BLOCKS [Police barricades]. Building BLOCKS are basic to most western children's arsenal of early childhood toys. My brother and I had ones like those wooden ones pictured in the link—and also these (kinda creepy, no?) Bill Ding "blocks." The only other time ROAD BLOCKS has shown up in a major puzzle, btw, was in another CS.
  • GUYS AND DOLLS [1951 Tony winner for Best Musical]. That perfect perennial (now back on Broadway) is making its first appearance in a CS opus, and as it relates to the theme, sent me looking for this other classic—which was one of my prized possessions (though mine wore the much-saucier strappy high-heels!). There's a construction perk in the way ARMOR ([Defensive covering] worn by knights) emerges from "AND" and is then crossed by HE-MEN ([Studly GUYS]—speakin' of which, there's [Hunk] ADONIS, too...).
  • 43A. ELGIN MARBLES [British Museum sculptures]. Lotso controversy about where those MARBLES belong. These pix, though, answer the question of whether or not the game of marbles is still played. Nice to see it's still around. Also nice to report that this fill and the next are making their major puzzle debuts.
  • 57A. PHONE JACKS [Some modem plug-ins]. Another childhood pasttime—with a long history—that hasn't yet become totally passé. Whew!

All of this noteworthy theme-fill has a great complement in the non-theme entries. Look at some of the goodies we get:
  • CEREAL BOX (in a major puzzle debut)
  • KING CRABS (ditto)
  • MISHMASH (Oooh I love this. So perfect in a puzzle devoted to childhood games, because this is a word that children use. And the [Hodgepodge] clue couldn't be more apt. A CS debut, too.)
  • MASTODON (ALAS, no pair of these on the adjacent ARK, I fear.)
  • HOKUM (and its equally colorful clue [Balderdash])
  • HOMESPUN (Glorious. And what with JACKS and MARBLES, another word that conjures up less complicated times.)

There are lots and lots of names today of the classic, historic, present day and fictional varieties, among them: MARS; HENRY VI, ADAM Smith, Buffalo Bill CODY; SARAH Silverman, Salman RUSHDIE, Milo O'SHEA; MORK, "DORA the Explorer," NERO Wolfe, and [Sylvester's nemesis] TWEETY!

For your globe-trotting pleasure, there's ERIN, ASIA or BRUNEI; a chance to mingle with the CARIBS; the opportunity to stay in a DACHA; or forgo it all and remain stateside in DES Moines or San ANGELO.

Finally, I do love that this puzzle gives us not only [Vincent van] GOGH, but look what else—those [Showy spring flowers], IRISES. One wonderful Wednesday, Doug!

Orange returning to the soapbox. Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy is a pitch-perfect Monday puzzle. (CrosSynergy puzzles pretty much bounce around in the Monday-to-Wednesday range six days a week.) Crisp and playful theme (and did you notice that all four playthings have entirely different connotations in the theme entries?), terrific fill, accessible cluing. You know, I learned of the ELGIN MARBLES via crosswords, that Elgin being deemed more crossword-worthy than Elgin, Illinois. It wasn't until adulthood that I learned that these are marble statues and not tiny stone balls from antiquity.

Peter Collins' Los Angeles Times crossword

I found myself wishing this crossword had a Blindauer/Heaney/Berry/Hook/etc.-esque puzzle-within-a-puzzle gimmick to it. I wanted the circled letters to be a code that needed to be broken, a cryptogram or something. Rich Norris doesn't publish much in the way of gimmick puzzles, unfortunately, and this one has no meta level to it. The theme type is #4 in Brendan Quigley's list of 10 underwhelming themes, and I agree that the concept doesn't do much for me.

Here are the theme entries:
  • 17A. One sort of [Colonial fair artisan] is a GLASSBLOWER. "Code of laws" in the plural seems to be the more common phrase. My favorite sort of glassblowers are the ones who make glass paperweights, which I collect. Is there a word meaning "one who collects glass paperweights"?
    24A. [Reasons for an R rating] include SEX AND VIOLENCE. Fight Club had a code of silence.
    38A. To [Keep an eye on things] is to HOLD DOWN THE FORT. Competitors at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament are nice people and operate under a code of honor.
    49A. LIKE THE DICKENS is just as quaintly slangy as [Lickety-split].
    60A. [Cryptographers' successes (and what can be found in the circles in this puzzle's long answers)] are BROKEN CODES.

More on this puzzle in my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Inflation"

The theme makes an arbitrary switch but carries it through—familiar phrases that begin with ONE, FIVE, TEN, and TWENTY experience inflation and go up to the next bill in American currency. But instead of the number, the inflated price phrase carries the name of the person on that bill, which makes things weird and sub-comprehensible:
  • 18A. [That drink you shouldn't have had, after inflation] is LINCOLN TOO MANY instead of "one too many."
  • 30A. The Five Nations turn into HAMILTON NATIONS, or [American Indian confederation, after inflation?].
  • 36A. [Item you wouldn't touch things with, after inflation?] is a JACKSON-FOOT POLE. Now, this is just nuts because you've got that unit of measure, "foot," preceded by something that's not a number. It's trending towards surrealism. I think surrealism works better in pun themes, personally.
  • 50A. Too bad the other theme entries' clue numbers didn't match up with their answers like this one does. Grant is on the $50 bill, and GRANT QUESTIONS is clued as [Parlor game, after inflation?].

I had no idea ORAL LAW ([Some unwritten rules]) was an actual phrase. It rates low on the broad-familiarity scale, no? I like [Character actor Steve] BUSCEMI—in doing some quiz to determine my Star Wars name and planet of origin, my husband asked me who my favorite actor was. BUSCEMI was the only name I could think of. He's far from my favorite, but jeeze, I don't know who is. There's nobody whose movies I never miss. Favorite clue: [Number for a bowler] is HAT SIZE and not, I dunno, whatever numbers people who are into bowling might have.

Paul Krugman doesn't think inflation is just around the corner, for what it's worth. I merely skimmed that column so I can't tell you any more on the topic—but if you were thinking the theme concept was super timely, not all economists would agree.

Ben Tausig's Onion A.V. Club crossword

The first and last Across answers are a possible title for this puzzle: WHY NOT? Each of the five theme entries has NOT got its original Y, which changes the meaning of those phrases:
  • 18A. [Night before an otological transplant?] is NEW EAR'S EVE (New Year's Eve). Remember, no food or drink after midnight before surgery, so have that celebratory champagne early.
  • 26A. LIL WANE, playing on rapper Lil Wayne, is clued as a [Minimal ebb in the tide]. This is the first of three 7-letter theme entries.
  • 37A. ["Mosh ye here"?] clues 'TIS A PIT ('tis a pity).
  • 48A. [Person with terrible riot etiquette?] is a real MOB DICK (Moby-Dick). Shoving people unnecessarily, smashing windows of soup kitchens, overturning a car containing a little old lady out for a Sunday drive—you just don't do these things when rioting.
  • 61A. [Alcoholics unanonymous?] is a DRUNKEN ORG (orgy).

Highlights in the nonthematic fill: To SQUAWK is to [Blabber]. "They call me MR. TIBBS" is a line from the Sidney [Poitier detective role]. IONE SKYE's first name keeps her ["Say Anything" actress] fame alive despite a quiet career, but Ben's included her full name here.

Things I didn't know in the clues: The YUAN is a [Currency that shares its name with a dynasty]. "MEECES" are [Objects of Mr. Jinx's ire, on "Huckleberry Hound"].