July 09, 2009

Friday, 7/10

BEQ 8:08
NYT 5:10
LAT 4:04
CHE 3:04
CS 6:05 (J—paper)
WSJ 7:40

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword

Well, lookee here. The town where my best friend lived before she moved back to Chicagoland is featured in the Friday puzzle: CREVE / COEUR, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. 7/9A are clued as [Missouri city whose name means "broken heart"], and the grid's pattern is that of a broken heart. For those who are curious, I believe the locals pronounce it more like "creeve core" than the French would.

Outside of that answer combo and the diagramless-puzzle-style picture, it's largely a themeless crossword, isn't it? With 64 words (rather low word count), but a standard 38 black squares. My general rule of thumb is this: If it's a 64-worder or less and it's not by Patrick Berry, it probably has a lot of fill that underwhelms me. The rule stands. (See below.)

I was smoking this puzzle (well, not DanFeyeresquely or TylerHinmannishly) and clicked the "Done!" button with 3:57 on the clock...and then spent the remainder of my time trying to root out one errant square. Eventually I found it: I had HAIL in place of HEIL for 19A [Greeting with a salute]. Crikey, we're evoking the famous Hitler salute now, are we? And with no hint that the answer is German? That's weird. If I'd scanned the Down answers first, I'd have spotted SURGA PROTECTORS, but no, I started with the Acrosses. (Should be SURGE PROTECTORS, 6D [They may avert computer damage]). To go along with the unpleasantness of HEIL, we have CRUEL AND UNUSUAL clued as 1D [Torturous, perhaps], connected to TRUE CONFESSIONS, 44A [Story-filled magazine since 1922]. 44A would be utterly fantastic in a puzzle that wasn't seemingly linking torture and confessions. Waterboarding, anyone?

The 64-Word Rule is borne out by an awkward chunk in the upper right and a profusion of prefix action. The chunk is the abbreviation MOLS clued as 4D [Compound fractions: Abbr.]—trying to trick us into thinking about numbers like 4 1/2 when the answer is a chemistry abbreviation is mean. The M crossing, MRS, is clued as a 4A [Form check box option], which is a rather vague clue for a 3-letter abbreviation crossing two other abbreviations. 5D [Old bus maker] is REO, of Speed Wagon, Ransom Eli Olds fame.

I actually used the 64-Word Rule as a solving aid. 10D [Fix, as a shower stall]...hmm, RETILE, crossing another RE-word, REHIRE, or 24A [Bring back on board]. Towards the middle, PREVENTS and PREMARITAL party with RELATE and RELIEF. (Psst: RELATE is beneath PREMARITAL, which is clued with a form of that word, [Like some relations].) EMANANT is one of those words you might never hear uttered; it means 47A [Flowing forth]. Then there's the two-part answer ONE/-A-CAT, 45/41D, a [quaint sandlot game]. If you've done a ton of crosswords, you probably see this rendered as one-o-cat more than one-a-cat. Crosswordese crashes into same where ESSE, a 43D [Forum infinitive], meets ESTOP, or 43D [Bar].

48A would have been a gimme with a pop-culture clue like [Actress Dawson of "Rent"], but with [Argentine port on the Parana]. ROSARIO is Argentina's third largest city. When looking for my wrong square, I gave the stink eye to every answer crossing this unfamiliar city name.

Now, I do have to give props to Joe K. for the four swaths of open space in the grid, the interconnection of the three 15s, and these clues and answers:

• 11A. LAURELS are the [Composition of some crowns]. Thought of royalty and/or dentistry, didn't you?
• 17A. [The Monkeemobile, e.g.] was a GTO. Had no idea, but late-'60s 3-letter car clue usually means GTO.
• 50A. [Housekeeper player on "Benson"] is Inga SWENSON. With that crosswordesey first name, her last name is usually banished to the clues. I like the switcheroo.
• 2D. FERRET OUT is a great phrase. It means [Dig up].
• 3D. When I was a kid, a [Rubber] was an OVERSHOE. "When it rains, Daddy always wears rubbers." The Totes-brand rubbers seemed to fall out of fashion by the time I learned that rubber = condom, too.
• 19D. Geo-trivia: [It has departments named Nord, Sud and Ouest] clues HAITI. I didn't know that, and there are probably some 5-letter African countries with French colonial history, but the crossings led me to the right answer.

Updated Friday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Mail Order"—Janie's review

"Wait, oh yeah, wait a minute, Mr. Postman! Wa-ai-ai-ait, Mr. Postman!. I'd think you'd really enjoy this easy, breezy made-to-order puzzle that celebrates those cancelled items you carry in your delivery bag!"

We don't get lots of theme fill today—only three phrases— but what we do get is "cherce," as is the non-theme fill with its many seven-, eight- and nine-letter words.

But first a look at the theme entries, the last word of which is mail-related:

  • 20A. [Aleph, for one] HEBREW LETTER. If you want to communicate with your AMIE, sometimes it's awfully nice to actually write one of these. Here's a link to The Aleph-Bet Song, should you want to learn some more Hebrew letters.
  • 37A. [Be innovative] PUSH THE ENVELOPE. Now take that letter and put it in one of these. The origin of the phrase in question, btw, is from the field of aviation but once popularized by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff, it has become the darling of innovators and would-be innovators of all stripes. Read all about it.
  • 51A. ["The Limey" star] TERENCE STAMP. Put one of these on the envelope with the letter inside and mail it. Snail-mail is something to be treasured! Mr. S., I learned, has been wheat-and-dairy intolerant for most of his adult life. In response to that, he's developed a line of products called "The Stamp Collection," and if you are similarly affected, he's also got a cookbook that might be just what the doctor ordered!
And while it hasn't been clued directly in conjunction with the theme, ENCL [Pkg. insert, e.g.] sure feels like bonus fill to me.

Now, about those "many seven-, eight- and nine-letter words"—let's take a look at 'em. To [Fill with confidence] is to INSPIRE, and when one ATTAINS more self-confidence, one's STATURE [Eminence] may be bolstered as well. (This, of course, is the lesson of Jim, the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie.) The final seven, REPOSED [Slept], seems to be a CS first. Ditto both of the eights: HIGH-TECH [Advanced, in a way] (so we're lookin' for an adjective here and not a verb) and LAMPPOST [Part of a street light]. The four nines are HIROSHIMA [Enola Gay target of 1945] (it's not always that we get all of that information at once in the puzzles), the homier PIE CRUSTS [They should be flaky], and two more CS debuts: KNOW-IT-ALL with its sassy [Wisenheimer] clue, and LIP-READER with its original-to-Nancy Salomon-and-so-encore-worthy clue [One who can see what you're saying]. This is all really good fill. Imoo...

Other fill and/or clues that caught my fancy:
  • [Biblical pronoun] THOU in combination with another word I associate with the Bible, SMITE, here clued as [Clobber, old-style]. Yeah. The Bible's pretty old.
  • [Casting requirement?] for ROD. As in ROD-and-reel, and fishing. This use of "casting" has nothing to do with the audition process for plays or films...
  • ["It's c-c-cold!"] for BRR in combo with [Sweltering] for HOT.
  • [Blood lines] for VEINS followed directly by [Flynn of "Captain Blood'] for ERROL.
  • I know that TO RIO is the correct way to parse those letters, but couldn't help seeing TORIO, TORUS, TOMEI as some kind of nonsense conjugation or boast to counter Caesar's "VENI [___, vidi, vici!"]...
I hope you'll take a look at/listen to the those marvelous Marvelettes of "Please, Mr. Postman" fame. The quality of the sound on this clip is pretty poor, but the basketball-dribble hand "choreography" is definitely worth the price of admission. So to speak... I'm off to Baltimore for the weekend, so ADIEU for now. Have a great weekend and see ya Monday!

Ken Bessette's Los Angeles Times crossword

In discussing this week's CrosSynergy added-units-of-measure themes, constructor Patrick Blindauer said it's easier for solvers to pick up on add-letter themes than subtraction themes. Today's L.A. Times crossword made its subtraction fairly obvious, I thought, as RANGE BEDFELLOWS is clearly "strange bedfellows" minus the ST. "Bedfellows" gets little use in English without being paired with "strange."

Now, I was thinking the theme's purpose was booting the saints out of the grid, but 64A is STOUT, a [Heavy brew, and a clue to this puzzle's theme]. Take the ST OUT, and there's your theme description. Now, there's an interesting question from "imsdave" over at Rex's L.A. Crossword Confidential writeup today—"As a (very) novice constructor, and only for my own edification, is it OK to have STET/STENO/STOWS/STEWARDS/ATLAST in a puzzle with this theme?" Ideally, yes, there wouldn't be other STs left in the grid. I don't think it's a fatal error to include them, as the theme entries are considerably longer than everything else and their clues are all question-marked. But it's perhaps not as elegant as if the fill had meticulously avoided any STs aside from the STOUT entry.

Interesting incidental pairings popped out at me. First, there's Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, a 9D [1963 thriller set in Bodega Bay], and a CROAK isn't just for frogs and raspy voices, it's also 14A [Raven's sound]. Crows, ravens, and blackbirds creep me out. LANAI, clued as 19D [It's part of Maui County], evokes both the Hawaiian LUAU (59A [Outdoor feast]) and the 60% matchy SINAI (61A [Peninsula bordering Israel]). 31A is WAWA, or [Baba ___: Gilda Radner persona], and BAA BAA is a 22A [Sheepish response?]. And then there's the double hit of old-school crosswordese: the ETUI is a 50D [Sewing case] and an ADIT is 55D [Ore seeker's entrance] to a mine.

Michael Ashley's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Old-Time Religion"

I had one of my fastest-ever CHE solves on this one, which is odd because really, a puzzle commemorating the quincentennial birthday of John Calvin isn't remotely in my wheelhouse. There must be a lot of easier clues and straightforward crossings here. CALVINISM anchors the grid and it's clued as the [Religious doctrine whose founder was born July 10, 1509. The HUGUENOTS practiced Calvinism. The BAPTISTS practice a modified version. PRESBYTERIANS (anagram of Britney Spears!) ply an elder-led version. And the PURITANS had their ascetic version. You can learn more about the Puritans in a lighter vein from Sarah Vowell's book, The Wordy Shipmates.

Brendan Quigley and Francis Heaney's Wall Street Journal crossword, "On the Waterfront>"

I spaced out on noticing the tightness of the theme while I was solving. I was moseying along, enjoying the homophone theme just fine without realizing that every homophone in the nine theme entries is "On the Waterfront" (PIER, QUAY, DAM) or a body of water itself (BAYOU, SEA, LOCH, STRAIT, river DELTA, BROOK). For example. COMBINATION LOCH (lock) is a [Scottish body of water that connects to another?]. SEA SECTION, playing on C-section, is clued as [The Bermuda Triangle, e.g.?]. And HOW'S BAYOU goes with the clue ["Where should we catch crawfish"? reply, perhaps?], playing on the intensely colloquial "How's by you?"

My favorites bits of fill include PECCADILLO, GOLDARN, BIG BANDS clued as [Groups of swingers?], the SIERRA CLUB, IRISH PUB ([Place to get stout]), ROMULANS, and the NEWARK/LATIFAH combo—100A NEWARK is [Aaron Burr's birthplace], while 80D is LATIFAH, [Queen born in 100-Across]. [Blue blood vessels?] is a cool clue for YACHTS, too.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Friday"

I can't assess this puzzle on its merits because the solving environment was making me cranky. The workers next door were dismantling some scaffolding and dropping big metal pipe structures into a truck bed. And the streetsweeper rolled by with its nonstop truck-in-reverse beeping. And my foot is throbbing. And I knew how fast other solvers on the leaderboard were, so I wanted to fly through it—but the distractions were totally getting in the way of that. As were the clues. Oy! I slowed myself down with Lucy's brother LINUS (whoops, needed RERUN) and Namath the NFLER (whoops, N.Y. JET). Someone on the internet was just talking about parsing PASYSTEM as "passy stem," and boy, I just couldn't grasp the P.A. SYSTEM clued as a [Rally rental]. I was looking for some sort of truck, and the PASY start killed me.

I liked LIVE ON clued as [Eat exclusively]. I could dispute that [Like someone who had a near-death experience] properly describes LUCKY. If you were lucky, wouldn't you avoid having the near-death experience in the first place? Speaking of death, I know that Jay-Z has a newish "Death of AUTO-TUNE" cut because I read The Assimilated Negro's blog, but I haven't actually clicked any of the links to have a listen. Is that bad? That I can answer [Oft-used computer plug-in used in modern music] without the slightest understanding of what Auto-Tune does?