July 12, 2009

Monday, 7/13

BEQ 6:54
NYT 3:02 (click here for Jim Horne's link to unlocked Across Lite version)
LAT 2:26
CS 5:16 (J—paper)/2:27(A—Across Lite)

C.W. Stewart's New York Times crossword

I felt a little meandery when doing the NYT puzzle on the applet. Unfocused, distracted. Not really trying to move my fastest. Not really paying much attention to the puzzle. So let me focus my eyeballs here and see what we've got.

Ms. Stewart's theme is Monday-simple, sure, but ambitious—four noun phrases that illustrate 59A ALL TUCKED IN in that ALL is "tucked" inside each phrase, joining two words:

  • 17A. MANUAL LABOR is clued as [Ditch digging, e.g.]. Nice touch having a HARD LIFE cross this, clued as [What a serf led].
  • 24A. [Money borrowed from a friend, e.g.] is a PERSONAL LOAN.
  • 37A. [The Dalai Lama, e.g.] is a SPIRITUAL LEADER. Hey! This was just in another NYT puzzle...
  • 47a. [Slash symbol, e.g.] is a DIAGONAL LINE. This was probably the toughest one to clue, no?

Let's count the ways this 61-square theme is "tight," or consistent: (1) There are four noun phrases beginning with adjectives, (2) they split AL/L each time, and (3) the theme clues end with "e.g." It's not super-duper tight, because certainly there are other ___AL L__ phrases out there that might also have been used—sacrificial lamb, medical license, etc. But for a Monday, a smooth and uncomplicated theme that's both meaty and consistent is a good thing.

Other pluses:
  • 11D, 12D. For [Clog-busting brand], I was thinking of clot-busting drugs. The answer was DRANO—plumbing, not cardiology. And then the very next clue was the AORTA, or [Main artery]. There's my cardiology.
  • 24D, 40D. Two of Henry VIII's mostly ill-fated wives are included. PARR is the [Last name of Henry VIII's last], Catherine (one of three Catherines). ANNE is the [First name of Henry VIII's second], Anne Boleyn, and the fourth, Anne of Cleves. Henry VIII was rumored to have gout, and I'm a brand-new gouter myself. Foot pain's been distracting me from the puzzles for 10 days now.
  • 43A, 26D. NITA! You could say that [Silent screen star Naldi] doesn't belong in a Monday puzzle, but she's gonna be back, so we might as well plunk her in a Monday puzzle with easy crossings to introduce her to the crossword newbies. Likewise, APSE. This [Cathedral recess] is a word to learn. To this day, I'm never quite sure if the cathedral part I'm looking for is APSE or NAVE.
  • 8D. The ROBIN is a [Harbinger of spring]. Except the occasional robin decides to winter over in a cold climate. I saw a robin on my block this winter while there was snow.
  • 45D. ZINC is the [Next-to-last element, alphabetically], before zirconium.
Updated Monday morning:

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Starting Ends"—Janie's review

Gee, I had fun solving this. It wasn't very difficult (so my time was pretty speedy—for me...), but more to the point, it's loaded with lively fill of both the thematic and non-thematic variety. Taking a look at the former, the title refers to words that can precede the word end; and these are the starting words of the four theme-phrases:
  • 17A. DEAD CENTER [Smack dab in the middle]. The result yields something like this. My one complaint is that this appears to be the fourth time this same clue/fill combo been used in a CS puzzle. A little variety couldn't hurt...
  • 28A. SPLIT SCREEN [Two images on one television]. Hmmm. Since some TVs give viewers the option of picture-in-picture, wouldn't it be more accurate to clue this as [Two images side-by-side on one television]? Regardless... Looking a great deal like a magnified image of an insect leg, here's the visual to demonstrate the result of the wordplay. Please: don't forget to use conditioner!!
  • 43A. FRONT LOADER [Certain washing machine type]. While I suspect the intention was to summon up the front end of an automobile, there also a tractor that's a front end loader—so it looks like this (apparent major-puzzle first) fill also gives us a 2-for-1 proposition.
  • 58A. DEEP FREEZE [Suspended animation]. How can this CS-debut clue/fill not summon up Walt Disney, the man who refined the art of cinematic animation—and all those stories of how he's being maintained cryogenically in a state of suspended animation? Clicking on the link should answer a lotta questions—though it does give a whole new meaning to Disney on Ice. Off the Deep End is Weird Al Yankovic's seventh album—in case Walt wasn't weird enough...
This is terrific stuff, and there's nothing CARELESS about the way Sarah has filled out the rest of the puzzle either. We get a load of names from a cross-section of worlds: from world politics, there's [Mrs.] RAISA [Gorbachev]; from baseball, aphorism (and malaprop) master, Yogi BERRA (I wonder what words of wisdom he'd have for the unhappy METS FAN); pop music's ABBA; broadway and opera's EZIO Pinza; Grimms' and opera's HANSEL, nicely clued as [Crumb dropper of note]; filmdom's Robert de NIRO; and a CLASSY DAME or three from the silver-screen as well—Patricia NEAL, ILONA Massey and GREER Garson (I also love how CLASSY crosses DAME in the grid); ARTIST Jose Maria SERT [Rockefeller Center muralist]. (This last link, btw, includes a fabulous "underlay" of the first-commissioned Diego Rivera work beneath Sert's.)

Unknown to me was AGENA [Rocket stage], so I was very glad to fill it in from the more accessible crosses.

There's a trio fit for the dining table: LASAGNES, STEW and its synonym, OLIO, clued today as the not-food-specific [Mélange]. And back in the 1960's Clairol did all it could to make women believe that they should answer the question "Is it true BLONDES have more fun?" Now, I DON'T KNOW about you, but this brunette was busy enough enjoying herself to ever feel the need to conduct personal research to find out.

Especially charming to me was the trio from the nursery: "IT'S A girl!" followed by (CS-debut) DIAPER, aptly clued as [It's changed on the bottom], followed by TUCK IN [Put to bed, as a child]. And in one of those cases of crossword synchronicity, today's NYT offers up ALL TUCKED IN, clued as [Comfily ready to sleep]. Cool.

James Sajdak's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme nearly eluded me. What unifies:
  • 17A. SOCIAL BUTTERFLY, or [One who goes from party to party],
  • 37A. SECURITY BLANKET, or [Comforting carry-along for kids], and
  • 58A. NUMBER TWO PENCIL, or [Test taker's writing implement, often]?
It's the first words: Social Security number. Kind of an oddball theme, but the three 15-letter answers are fresh and lively terms. I know what you're thinking: Pencils are inherently unfresh and unlively. But NUMBER TWO PENCIL is an eminently familiar phrase, especially to crossworders, and I don't know that I've ever seen it in a puzzle.

Other perky bits: 9D is CITY HALL, clued by way of [You can't fight it, in a saying]. 26A is LABOR DAY, an [Early September observance]—we're already about half way from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Summer, slow down! 51A is SHOELESS, which would feel zingier clued with reference to Shoeless Joe Jackson; instead, it's [In one's bare feet]. For more on the puzzle, see Rex's L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

Hah! Brendan takes Joe Krozel's asymmetrical broken-heart NYT grid from last Friday and makes it harder to fill by removing a bunch of black squares (from 38 down to 31) and lowering the word count from 64 to 62. The fill must be terrible, right? Actually, it isn't. There's no quasi-thematic fill, which Krozel's puzzle had but which hadn't done much for me.

  • 1D. [Highest-paid TV actress of all time] is JENNIFER ANISTON. I needed a lot of crossings for this one. Oy.
  • 9D, 10D. for 9D [Ashura observers], I tried MOONIES. It didn't work with zip-A-DEE. And then I read the next clue, [Unification Church member, slangily]. Oh, hello, MOONIE! There you go.
  • 7D. A [Show stopper?] is a STANDING OVATION.
  • 32,33D, 47,49A. This corner's got four verb phrases interlocking, RIDE OUT, YEARN TO, ASKS OUT, and WAS ONTO. I like how the ones that ought to end with -S and -ED end with prepositions instead.
  • 25D. My god, what a lovely pile-up of consonants TIM MCGRAW has in his name. He's the [Country and Western singer whose backup band is the Dancehall Doctors].
  • 19A. Computer [Program option] is UNINSTALL. Looks like a horrible "roll your own" crappy prefixing, but it's a solidly in-the-vernacular bit of lingo we all use these days.
  • 48A. [Squares in a sudoku, e.g.] clues ENNEADS. Yep, those are indeed in groups of nine. Excellent clue.

Usually a low-word-count themeless feels unpleasantly clunky to me. When I was doing this puzzle, I didn't notice that it was similar to Krozel's grid and I didn't notice the word count. I gave it a rating of 4 stars (out of 5)—and then read the blog comments that pointed out the similarity to the broken-heart grid. So now I'm more impressed with the caliber of fill Brendan was able to achieve. No, SADIES and AFTA and BROMATE ([Salt of element #35]—I tried BROMIDE first) aren't good fill. But the clunker quotient was low, so in recognition of the 62-word count, let me amend my rating (in Brendan's sidebar leaderboard) to 4.5 starts.