July 19, 2009

Monday, 7/20

BEQ 4:13
LAT 2:43
NYT 2:29
CS 7:22 (J―paper)

Two extra puzzly bits from the New York Times:

(1) Will Shortz will be answering reader questions through July 24. Send your questions to askthetimes@nytimes.com. I wonder how one's odds of getting accepted to Harvard or Yale compare to one's chance of getting a crossword published in the Times. Given that each top high-schooler can't take more than one admission spot and a good number of crosswords are created by repeat offenders, I'll bet the yield is lower for a crossword newbie than an Ivy wannabe.

(2) The Puzzability team (Robert Leighton, Amy Goldstein, and Mike Shenk) has crafted another thematic suite of puzzles for the NYT's op-ed section. This one commemorates the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. The individual puzzles range from easy to extra easy, and I completely skipped the one logic puzzle and had no trouble getting to the final answer. (Hey, Times tech people: You should consider posting a link to a 7-page PDF rather than a bunch of 1-page PDFs so that printing the puzzles out is easier for those of us who support the paper via online page clicks.)

Pancho Harrison's New York Times crossword

Ha! I can't believe Pancho put PANCHO in his puzzle (48A: [Mexican revolutionary ___ Villa]). I recall some grumbling when Frank Longo once put a LONG O sound into one of his crosswords, but I don't quite see the point of the complaint. I'm waiting for a famous-enough REYNALDO to get my last name in the puzzle, and in the meantime say thanks to 13D: ["The Joy Luck Club" writer Tan] for giving AMY continuing literary cred.

A request to our crossword constructors and editors: Can we limit 15x15 puzzles to a maximum of two baseball references? This one's got 32D: [Hall-of-Famer Mel] OTT, 31A: [Ninth-inning pitcher] for CLOSER, and 9D: [Seventh-inning ritual] for STRETCH. Why, that's 50% more baseball content than I want!

Today's theme is tied together by 57A: PLANT MANAGERS, or [Factory supervisors...or a hint to the starts of 20-, 36- and 42-Across]. I'm confused, because those other three answers begin with parts of plants, but I don't get what the MANAGERS part has to do with it. The plant parts begin these phrases:

  • 20A. [What the love of money is, they say] clues ROOT OF ALL EVIL. I'd kinda like this better with THE at the beginning, but it's still a lively phrase.
  • 36A. To [Stop a prevailing trend] is to STEM THE TIDE.
  • 42A. To LEAF THROUGH something is to [Quickly turn the pages of] it.

  • 11D. EXPLOSIVE! That's a material like [Nitroglycerin or dynamite].
  • 35D. To TRANSPOSE letters is to have them switch places, as demonstrated in [Make lemons into melons, e.g.]. Oranges transpose into onagers, but you probably don't want to eat the latter.
  • 54A. From the Department of Outdated Slang comes the goofball pairing of MY EYE and ["Oh, bushwa!"].
  • 45D. [One who mounts and dismounts a horse] is a GYMNAST. A while back, I posted a YouTube video to L.A. Crossword Confidential—a clip from Gymkata of a fight scene between a gymnast with a pommel horse and a horde of angry peasants. Go watch it and mock the ludicrous moviemaking.

Monday Crosswordese Roundup: Now, if you're new to crosswords, this puzzle's got some crosswordese you'll want to learn if it was unfamiliar to you. 17A: [Sicilian spewer] is Mount ETNA—pretty much any mention of a volcano in Europe or spewing in Italy takes us straight to ETNA. 24A: [RR depot] is STA. here, but occasionally it's going to be STN. instead; the abbreviated "RR" for "railroad" is your hint that the answer is an abbreviation for "station." 71A is ESSO, the old ["Put a tiger in your tank" brand] of gasoline; the answer to most gasoline-related clues is ESSO (while NEON accounts for most gaseous references). There's a musical term in the fill-in-the-blank clue 6D: [___ breve (2/2 time in music)] is missing its ALLA. 7D is RIAL, clued as [Iranian money]; Middle Eastern currency clues typically call for RIAL, RIYAL, or DINAR. 22D is a [Low-lying area], or VALE; the word's related to "valley" and starts with the same first three letters but sometimes the answer you need is GLEN.

Updated Monday morning:

William I. Johnston's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Extinguishing Features"—Janie's review

When I saw the title of today's puzzle, I felt for sure this would be one in which letters were dropped from one well-known phrase to create a new one. But no. This is really about the measures you should take to protect yourself in the event of fire: Stop, Drop and Roll, the last of which actually appeared yesterday (in this context) in the Venzke/Daily "Sunday Challenge." Now don't SNIFF if this doesn't sound like the merriest idea for a theme. Will has woven the warning into three active phrases and pulled everything together in the final one. In this way we're instructed to:
  • 17A. STOP ON A DIME [Brake quickly];
  • 28A. DROP ME A LINE ["Don't forget to write!"]; and
  • 48A. ROLL THE DICE [Take one's chances, metaphorically]. (This one and 28A, btw, look to making their CS debuts.)
The person who pulls it all together and who doesn't want you to take your chances—metaphorically or otherwise—is the:
  • 63A. FIRE-FIGHTER [Professional whose safety message is found in the beginnings of 17-, 28-, and 48-Across].
Will appears to have given us two theme-related words in ARSON [Torch job] and CHAR [Burn]. Hey—when yer hot, yer hot, right?

Now, it's not that I don't take the warning seriously, but I do have to share two images I found for the same message. One is an album cover for the (wild 'n' crazy lookin') Foxboro Hot Tubs...; and the other a poster, to all intents and purposes the kind a teacher might place in the classroom—but for one tiny change in the wording: "Stop, Drop and Roll... Will Not Work in HELL"! (And on the subject of Hell... do check out Ian Frazier's amusing piece in last week's New Yorker, "The Temperature of Hell: A Colloquium", featuring Al Gore, Satan and others on the subject of climate-change...)

Both TAILGATES [Joins the pregame party] and GUERRILLA [Tag for low-budget marketing techniques] also appear to be CS firsts. I particularly like that clue for the latter. Ordinarily I think of the word in connection with CHE [Comrade of Fidel], so I find it refreshing to see it as it's clued today—in a way that forces me to think about the range of its meaning/usage.

Looking at some clue/fill combos, I also liked the avian references—one in the clue [Pigeon, to a con artist] for the snappy EASY MARK, the other in the fill CAPON, punnily clued as [Fixed chicken]. (Poor rooster!) Got myself IN A JAM by trying to make IN A RUT work for [Stuck], and was amused to see DRESS emerge in response to [Slip cover?]. And as for that [City with the world's tallest man-made structure], have you seen pix of DUBAI lately??

Haven't seen the remake of ["Taking of] PELHAM [1 2 3..."], but did watch the original a few weeks ago. It has a taut, edgy screenplay by the late Peter Stone and a great jazzy score by David Shire to match. A genre flick, to be sure, but it sure delivers. And if the tension is all too much, you can always chill out with the Four Preps, who immortalized in song Santa CATALINA [Island off California]. It really doesn't get much mellower than that!

Robert Harris's Los Angeles Times crossword

Wouldn't you have expected a splashy Sunday crossword yesterday paying homage to today's 40th anniversary of NASA's moon landing? Instead, we get the celebration in a perfectly timely Monday puzzle. When the first theme clue was [57-Across, 12-Down or 24-Down], it seemed like a mean way to kick off a Monday theme—but it quickly became apparent what the theme was and after the weekend's mentions of the anniversary, it all came together in short order. That first theme answer, 16A, is ASTRONAUT. The rest of the theme plays out like this:
  • 35A. TRANQUILITY BASE is the [Landing site of 7/20/1969.
  • 57A, 12D, 24D. The three ASTRONAUTs are Neil ARMSTRONG, Buzz ALDRIN, and Michael COLLINS.
  • 42A. Balancing out ALDRIN is APOLLO, clued [___ 11, mission celebrated in this puzzle].
  • 9D. Outside of thematic symmetry is the MOON, floating high in the grid. [35-Across is on it].

Sometimes the eye and mind play tricks on the solver. For 10D: ABACUS, I misread the clue as [Bearded calculator]. Beaded! Not bearded.

Does anyone here have a SETTEE as [Part of a living room set]? No? It's just one of those words that live mainly in crosswords that you have to learn if you want to do crosswords regularly.

Updated midday Monday:

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

Brendan billed this one as a hard puzzle but I thought it was easy for a themeless. Because I blew the morning at a retaurant (called Orange!) that neglected to cook our food for an inordinately long amount of time (and the food, when it finally came 45 minutes into our visit, was delicious, but I could really have done without the defensive waitress who didn't do a damned thing to stick up for her hungry customers), I'll move right along to the highlights list:
  • 63A. [Dominant feature of the 56-Down skyline], 56D being the [Midwest city that is host to the annual Pitchfork Music Festival: Abbr.], or CHI, is the super-tall WILLIS TOWER. Some British company, in insurance, maybe, bought the naming rights to the Sears Tower, which shall henceforth be known to all Chicagoans as "I'm still calling it the Sears Tower. &%$# those limey bastards changing the name!" The only reason I had a clue about Pitchfork is that I have a Facebook friend who works for the Trib and linked to Greg Kot's reviews. Facebook: A handy tool for learning.
  • 1A. This word isn't as new as WILLIS TOWER, but it was newer to me, i.e., I'd never seen it before. FUNEMPLOYED is clued as [Now having the opportunity to bike across the country, say]. That probably only works for the unemployed who aren't facing foreclosure, eviction, loss of family health insurance, etc., eh? Related entry: The JOBLESS RATE, a [Number that has gone up since Obama took office] and a great crossword entry, though a bummer.
  • 17A. I love the word BALLETOMANE, meaning a ["Swan Lake" lover, e.g.]. Are there other -mane words? I'm gonna start using egomane, pyromane, nymphomane.
  • 52A. [English bowl] clues LOO. Simple, yet oblique. I like it.
  • 61A. Griots are cool. [Griot's specialty] is ORAL HISTORY.
  • 40D. To EAT CROW is to [Admit failure].