July 17, 2009

Saturday, 7/18

Newsday 14:14
NYT 7:23
LAT 4:04
CS 9:52 (J—paper)

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword

This crossword's pretty much three puzzles for the price of one: The two small puzzles in the upper left and lower right corners, and the bigger one connecting the other two corners. If you don't get a couple answers quickly in those almost-cut-off quadrants, the task of filling them becomes much more of a challenge. Indeed, those partitions are where I spent the most time.

This is smooth fill as 58-worders go—there's not much leeway for including really showy phrases with uncommon letters and there's no room at all for answers over 8 letters in length. But the 20 8-letter answers are the sorts of entries that, owing to their length, are not common in crosswords, so the puzzle rates high on the Freshness Factor numerical scale.

The spots that gave me the most trouble:

  • 6A. [Jurist who wrote "A Matter of Interpretation," 1997] is Antonin SCALIA. I saw the 6 letters and plugged in THOMAS. Whoops.
  • 12A. [Like theater seating] clues IN ROWS. I'm not sure that's really quite kosher as far as meeting the criteria for crosswordability. What do you think?
  • 23A. I guess I'm not up on my tennis nicknames because I thought [The Bucharest Buffoon of the court] was hinting at a member of Romania's royal court. It's Ilie NASTASE, whose first name gets way more play in crosswords than his surname.
  • 24A. [Partition] is a verb here, not a noun: to SEVER.
  • 41A. I was looking for a sprinter's name for [Breaker of the 400-meter freestyle world record at the 2000 Olympics]. That's Aussie Ian THORPE. What sort of track event would the 400-meter freestyle be? I like to think some athletes would skip and others would hop. Or maybe they could roll over—like an ENGINE, of which they say [It turns over before it runs] (49A).
  • 45A. I don't think I recalled [Baseballer Fernando Valenzuela's nickname], but figured EL something, and TORO seemed like a good 4-letter nickname for a stocky Mexican jock.
  • 51A. For [They branch off], I started with TWIGS. At least the S was right—but the T let me put in EVENS OUT for 29D [Levels] instead of the correct ECHELONS, and that took some time to unravel. The branching things are SECTS here.
  • 1D. With several crossings in place, I decided that if you [Get into] a situation, you DISRUPT it. Whoops—if you get into a topic, you DISCUSS it.
  • 4D. For [Like a foundling], I had BEREAVED, which shares 3 letters with the correct FORSAKEN.
  • 7D. I like the two-word phrase CUSS AT for [Verbally run down]. Too bad I started out having HARASS and HASSLE here when I thought the jurist was THOMAS. Again, lengthy unraveling required.
  • 10D. I thought of cantilevers rather than chanting, so I wasn't getting INTONE for [Cantillate] until I had about 4 letters filled in.
  • 31D. I really wasn't sure what direction [Consonant] was going. Turns out it's HARMONIC. Consonant can mean "in harmony or agreement," and my dictionary informs me it's also a musical term.
  • 36D. [Serape sporters] can be SENORES, sure. They could also be SENORAS, which is what I had for a while. That mucked up 49A, the ENGINE, which wanted to end in an A.
  • 37A. [Charlie of swing] clues BARNET. Guess he's the most famous BARNET out there. Not as familiar as Woody HERMAN, who was the 43A [Bandleader with the #1 hit "Blues in the Night"]. According to Wikipedia, there have been many popular recordings of this Arlen & Mercer tune. Would you believe five different versions by different artists charted in a single 4-month period in 1941-42? And that a few weeks before that period, Charlie BARNET released his version? True story. I read it on Wikipedia.

Things I liked:
  • 28A. I just learned this name in a clue in some other puzzle! AYESHA is the name of [Muhammad's favorite wife]. If you didn't know this one, oy, it must've made it just that much harder to make headway in that quadrant.
  • I like the Gaul/GALL combo (etymologically unrelated). 33A [Boldness to a fault] is GALL, while it was CAESAR who was the [Writer of "Commentarii de Bello Gallico"].
  • 44A. [Indications that things have changed?] in your handwritten crossword answers are ERASURES.
  • 15D. PRENATAL gets a cute clue, [Before coming out?].
  • 27D. [Star treks?] are EGO TRIPS.
  • There are zero 3-letter entries, just two 4-letter answers, and six 5-letter entries. Everything else lands in the 6- to 8-letter range.
Updated Saturday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Shot Selection"—Janie's review

When the puzzle has a Klahn by-line, you can be sure there will be nothing ERRATIC [Spotty] in the construction or TAME [Dull] in the fill or the cluing. The title of today's puzzle refers not to an athletic endeavor like basketball or racquetball or golf, where "shot selection" is part of the game-playing strategy, but to a variety of words to which "shot" may be attached as a suffix—here, the first word in each of the four bright theme-phrases.
  • Hotshot derives from 19A's HOT BUTTON [Passion elicitor]. This is "an impressively successful or skillful and often vain person." The name Donald Trump springs to mind.
  • Sling shot (weapon-of-choice for "little David" who played on his HARP) comes from SLINGBLADE [Billy Bob Thornton's 1997 Oscar vehicle]. I missed this in first run and found that (when it showed up on some free Showtime offer) the story was too disturbing for me. Not that I'm such a delicate thang. I just had a lot of trouble with the victimization component and didn't make it through to the end to see if/how anything would change. (And I hadn't paid to see it...)
  • Grapeshot, ammuntion associated mostly with 18th and 19th century weaponry, comes to us by way of GRAPE JUICE and its terrifically twisty clue [Crushing outcome, perhaps]. If you still don't quite get, think of Lucille Ball in her wine-making efforts.
  • Buckshot is yet another type of ammunition brought to us this time by CS-debut BUCK-NAKED [Completely exposed]. I was a tad let down that there were two kinds of ammo in theme results and not a different sort of shot altogether, but that was before I learned of the rapper named Buckshot. Surely that's where Bob was going with this one...
So we have these very strong theme phrases and then, just look at the fill in the corners. The SW and NE have triple stacks of lively eights: FILING IN, ANACONDA (obliquely clued as [One could put the squeeze on you]) and REVENUER; and SCORSESE, ALLELUIA and BAD GIRLS, respectively. And the triple stacks of sixes in the NW and SE ain't too shabby neither: MASCOT (clued as [Yale's Handsome Dan, e.g.]), fave word ARCANA, and campfire fave SMORES; and FAMINE, OTITIS and RED ANT or [Bolshevik bug?], respectively.

Alliteration abounds in the cluing: [Podded plant for Paul Prudhomme] for OKRA (referring to the New Orleans chef of note), [Kin of culottes] for SKORT, [Saucy and sassy] for PERT, to cite a few. But perhaps just as clever are some of those clues that make you question your instincts and force you to think, like: [It may be squirreled away] for ACORN, which plays on the word "squirrel"; [Kind of pie?] for SWEETIE (sweet!); [Cover of knight?] for ARMOR; and [Wizard of ___? (masseur)] for AAHS.

All in all, a fine Saturday concoction by the "Wizard of 'aha's"!

Orange again. Aw, I missed a Klahn and saw Janie's writeup with all the spoilers before I knew it was his puzzle. I always like a chance to unravel his clues and put that puzzle in its place (which is "solved without too much trouble but with some brain work").

Doug Peterson's Los Angeles Times crossword

My full writeup of this puzzle is over at L.A. Crossword Confidential. Here's an excerpt:

My goodness, does the upper left corner of this puzzle ever stink. I'm surprised some pungent garlic or garbage dump phrases didn't find their way in, amid HOG HEAVEN (1A: [Blissful state, slangily]) and an ONION DOME (15A: [Russian Orthodox church feature]). Pee-yoo! Nothing else made me hold my nose, though. And much of it had a pleasant aroma—figuratively speaking.

Favorite answers and clues: We've got 14 long answers of 8 to 15 letters apiece, and many of them rock. So do some of the short answers.
  • 18A: [Bullock's "Miss Congeniality" costar] is Benjamin BRATT. He was hot in Law & Order, though his character's main purpose was not to be eye candy for me. No, he was there to be the foil for Lennie Briscoe's wry one-liners. Lennie, the guy in the YouTube freeze frame below, is my all-time favorite L&O character (and he was played by Jerry Orbach, the father of my 7/5 NYT crossword co-constructor, Tony Orbach).
  • 35A: [Control tower concerns] (TRAFFIC PATTERNS). A solid 15.
  • 46A: [Coconut's place] (GROVE). Isn't that a Van Halen cover song?
  • 60A: [Surfing equipment?] (DSL MODEMS). I guessed this one off the S at the end of 8-Down.
  • 2D: [Handling the task] (ON IT). This looks like a horrible little two-word answer, but I like it. "Who's blogging the puzzle today?" "I'm ON IT."
  • 8D: [Antarctic denizens] (EMPEROR PENGUINS). Who doesn't love penguins? Except for the evil penguin in the Wallace and Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers. Jeeze, that penguin creeps me out.
  • 10D: [First "America's Funniest Home Videos" host] (BOB SAGET). I don't know any family with kids that doesn't love this show—but with Tom Bergeron as host. Bob Saget stinks worse than hogs and onions.
  • 12D: [Critical 1942-43 battle site] (STALINGRAD). Wow, that takes nerve, doesn't it? Josef Stalin ascended to power in the Soviet Union in 1922, and within three years he had renamed Tsaritsyn after himself. "Orangeburg." "Reynaldo City." "Amystadt."
  • 25D: [Jotting medium] (SCRAP PAPER). You know what else fits this clue and the first three letters? SCRATCH PAD. Anyone else start out with that wrong answer? No? Just me?
  • 26D: [Dean Martin classic] (THAT'S AMORE). "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore...

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

Wow. This puzzle worked me over. (PDF solution here.) Tough—very tough—but fair. You can't ask for more than that, right? You could also ask for some amazingly fresh fill, and Doug's got that. Most of the short and mid-length fill is fairly ordinary—smooth, workable, but not so splashy. But look at thes five of the six longest answers:
  • 17A. [Raspberry products?] are WHOOPEE CUSHIONS, which are products that produce "raspberry" sounds. WHOOPEE CUSHIONS! A great 15, with a wickedly hard clue.
  • 35A. [Fall falls, perhaps] are COLD SNAPS. When temperatures fall in the autumn, you get COLD SNAPS. Took me forever to understand the clue.
  • 59A. "KATIE, BAR THE DOOR" means ["Here comes trouble!"] I forget the origin of the phrase, but it's familiar enough and a mighty lively 15.
  • 7D. Our [Fictional rodent] is not, as you might first suspect, a mouse or a rat. It's ROCKET J. SQUIRREL, the more formal way to refer to Rocky of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame.
  • 31D. The MCMANSION is an [Out-of-place place]. Anyone else let a few crossings take them to out of COMMISSION? I went there.

These are all fantastic.

Lots of other clues to talk about—for example, the two carpeting answers that hid from me for the longest time. 1A: [Down] is PILE, somehow. I'm not sure why. Is this about carpeting? And 58D: [Long nap] isn't about sleep, it's about SHAG rugs. My living room rug has SHAG whose PILE has 3" yarns. Cushy! And also:
  • 16A. [Seneca, for one] is a STOIC. I tried ODIST and considered something to do with upstate New York.
  • 21A. For [Emulate a monarch], I started to put down RULE and quickly changed to FLIT like a butterfly. I'm onto you, Peterson and Newman!
  • 24A. [___ bean]...hmm...could be a NAVY bean but I'm thinking it ends with an A, LIMA or SOYA. I was close—turned out to be FAVA. At least the A gave me ECSTASY for 13D; [Delight].
  • 30A. [Flute feature] is a STEM, a champagne flute being a kind of stemware.
  • 46A, 36D. I began typing random letters at this crossing, which was the last square for me. [Mosaic items] aren't "items on a mosaic," they're "items related to Moses, because Mosaic is an adjective for things relating to Moses." TORAHS! That hidden-capital-letter-at-the-beginning-of-a-clue is a classic Saturday trick. 36D: [City in Kyrgyzstan] was no help. OSH? If you say so.
  • 58A. SCALIA is the [Reagan choice of '86]. Damn, SCALIA foisting himself on two different puzzles in one day? Talk about your judicial activism. Too much SCALIA!
  • 66A. [Enjoy London] means "enjoy Jack London," or READ.
  • 4D, 10D. This cross-reference pair really slowed me down. ETONS, or Eton collars, are [Part of some school uniforms], and STIFFNESS is a [Characteristic of 4 Down]. Anyone else go with SCUFFLESS SHOES?
  • 5D. [Was appealing] clues PLED, as in making an appeal = pleading.
  • 11D. KOOL-AID is a [Mixed drink] but not a cocktail. Well, not unless you replace some of the water with vodka, like the college kids do. Or maybe gin, with lime KOOL-AID.
  • 18D. [Frankfurter topping] is SALZ, which is "salt" in Frankfurt, Germany. Super-tough clue, no?
  • 43D. One [Sushi-bar selection] is ABALONE. Hey, I just learned about abalone farming on Dirty Jobs. The stuff's expensive because the workers spend tons of time harvesting kelp, which...they feed to the abalone? Which they have to clear out of the water so the abalone have space? I wasn't really paying attention. All I know is those water plants grow something like a foot a day, which is nuts.
  • 44D. I love the demonym CARIOCA, meaning a [Rio de Janeiro native]. It sounds like an ice cream flavor to me. "I'll have a double scoop of carioca, please." It's like almond Roca, caramel, mocha, and karaoke.
  • 60D. [African athlete], 3 letters? What on earth could that be?? Oh, yes: Ernie ELS, the golfer. I'll bet South African solver Gareth got that one right away.

I've got a question for Doug, who of course may plead the 5th and decline to answer. Doug, you're a rarity in that we see your themelesses in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, CrosSynergy/Washington Post, and Newsday. There may be others who've had themelesses in all four, but perhaps not with your frequency. What I'm wondering is this: How do you decide what to submit to which venue? (Is it "send everything to the NYT and shoot for the biggest paycheck and divvy up Will's rejects among the other venues"? Or "Ah, this one's definitely a Stumper" or "This feels like a good one for CrosSynergy"?) What do you see as the substantive differences in prevailing themeless styles for the four papers, from a constructor's standpoint?