July 18, 2009

Sunday, 7/19

NYT 9:38
PI untimed
BG 6:54
LAT 6:36
CS 4:23

Many of you commented a couple weeks ago that the July 5 New York Times puzzle that Tony Orbach and I cooked up was on the easy side, as Sunday NYTs go. Well, folks, my husband gave up on it with a few answers jotted in. I think my mom is still working on it. And my aunt is still doing the puzzle, too. So those of you who found it easy, give yourself a pat on the back for your excellent solving skills!

Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword, "You Are There"

Brief summary of what's in this puzzle:

1. Nine theme entries, some of 'em long, most of 'em crossing other theme entries. Wow!

2. Smart "insert U R there" theme that seemed to take forever to reveal itself, but had some excellent "aha" payoffs.

3. Smooth fill with challenging spots but nothing unfair or overly clunky.

4. Plenty of interesting clues to work the brain a bit.

5. A tougher-than-usual difficulty level, so don't fret if it slowed you down more than you were expecting. Tough is welcome—but it helps salve the ego if you're not disappointed by having more of an uphill climb than usual.

Can you tell I really relished this puzzle? Because I did. More Sunday puzzles, please, Lynn Lempel!

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty—which is not to say I've got nits to pick here, because I don't. First up, the cool theme:

  • 24A. [Corrupt financier's command?] is BURY ALL ACCOUNTS, playing on the familiar phrase "by all accounts." Mr. Madoff, you made the puzzle! Congrats.
  • 30A. [Mama Bear at the stove?] is a FURRY COOK. SpongeBob SquarePants is the world's most famous fry cook, real or fictional.
  • 54A. I found this one tricky to piece together. [Alpo or Purina One?] could be CUR RATIONS, which is UR inserted into military C-rations.
  • 72A. [Greeting from Smokey the Bear] is an URSINE WAVE. Hey, humorlesstwit, here's the sine wave you were looking for, only it's in a straight line.
  • 92A. Ah, this one is my favorite, and it's where I finally understood what was happening in the theme entries. Yes, I worked my way to 1-Across's opposite corner before I figured that out. "OH, MY GOURD!" is a [Pumpkin grower's cry of surprise?].
  • 101A. HOURLY MATRIMONY could be a [Scheduled activity at a Vegas chapel?]. Cute. Probably not accurate—I'll bet the ceremonies are shorter than that. Anyone know from experience?
  • 3D. I'm used to "Canary in a Coalmine," the Police song, so the coal-less, the-having version of the phrase threw me a bit. CANARY IN THE MURINE, or [Songbird at an eye drops factory?], really should prevent the FDA from clearing the product for sale.
  • 34D. [Sodom or Gomorrah?] might be a TOWN WITHOUT PURITY, which plays on "Town Without Pity," which is...I forget what. Old movie? Play?
  • 40D. This one's my other favorite theme entry, with a cute clue: CURRIED WOLF is a [Triumphant spicy meal for the Three Little Pigs?]. Yum, curry.

Alrighty, what else did I like? What else was challenging? Let's have a look:
  • The cross-references were tricky because two of 'em crossed. 25D is [Part of 85-Down] and 32A is [Part of 5-Across: Abbr.]? Yeowch. 85D turns out to be CCNY, so its part is CITY, and 5A is the USDA, linking to DEPT.
  • 20A. STEM CELLS! Good ol' [Versatile body builders], they are.
  • 38A. Hockey's Bobby Orr has the day off, as does The Cars' Ben Orr. Today, ORR is clued as the ["Catch-22" bomber pilot]. Can't complain about classic American lit, can you?
  • 47A. I halfway wanted droopy BASSETS for the [Pets with dewlaps]. I just don't know anyone with pet IGUANAS.
  • 50A. MENTORS are [Coaches]. Hey, if you're a young woman in high school or college (or grad school) and you're interested in learning to construct crosswords, get in touch with me! I know MENTORS who would love to coach you.
  • 53A. ESTRUS is [Heat], as in when a female animal is in heat.
  • 58A. A simple POT is a [Percussion instrument in Off Broadway's "Stomp"]. Terrific clue, branching out beyond the kitchen and drugs.
  • Check out the LIMP/LIMPID crossing. One is [Droopy] and the other means [Clear], and the words are completely unrelated from an etymological standpoint.
  • 74A, 17D. [Happy shouts]/[Happy shout] = WAHOOS/YES. I'll give you a dollar if you can honestly report saying "Wahoo!" when you finished this puzzle.
  • 81A. PRINE is [Singer John with the album "Bruised Orange"]. Ouch.
  • 97A. BOOZE is [Something made in the still of the night?], or in a still during the daytime.
  • 109A. An AMBULANCE is [What drives you to get better?] at the E.R.
  • 113A. Yay! An up-to-date clue for NEET: [Bygone depilatory]. Nair won the battle in the marketplace.
  • 14D. As a modifier, SOUTH SEA means [From Polynesia and environs].
  • 35D. The TREE BOA is a [Snake with "lightning bolts" on its back]. Gah! I am creeped out by snakes in trees and snakes in the water. I'd like them to stay at ground level where I can see them, thank you very much.
  • 61D. The word VICEROY is cool. A ruler, a butterfly, an old cigarette brand (which apparently still exists). [Christopher Columbus, in the Indies] was VICEROY.
  • 75. OVERRATED is clued as [Not as good as claimed]. I claim this puzzle is excellent, and I hope you don't think it's overrated. Over-hard, sure, but not overrated.

And that's the puzzle for tonight. Good stuff! As I said, Lynn, keep 'em coming!

Updated beginning late Sunday morning because I slept 'til 9:30 and have had a lazy morning:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "The Big Bailout"

I started this one last night on paper and left a couple trailing pen marks across the clue list when nodding off. Back in the day, I used to draw much longer sleepy lines, and right across the grid. So this is an improvement—but still a sign to put down the puzzle.

The clues in the upper left didn't feel too pliable, so I browsed the clue list (in a way I seldom do when solving in Across Lite or on the clock). Would you believe my first answer was 102A: ["Cross Creek" author's monogram]? Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, is that her name? MJK. I worked my way outward and upward from there and finished the puzzle this morning. The theme tells the story of Sid the Skydiver who becomes Sid the Stockbroker, using skydiving-related phrases to convey a rags-to-riches-to-prison business tale. I don't want to talk about that, though—instead, let's look at some unusual clues and answers:
  • 115A. [Boston's loc.] clues E. MASS. Short for Eastern Massachusetts? Is "E. Mass." a term people use in that region? I've never heard of it, and it feels like a horribly ungainly crossword answer.
  • 18D. [Internet industry catchphrase] clues GET WIRED. Whose catchphrase is this? It doesn't ring a bell at all.
  • 31D. [Long-time National Enquirer chief Calder] is named IAIN. That second I was the very last square I filled in, because (a) I've never heard of this guy and (b) the 41A crossing is the [Vaquero's rope] of crosswordese fame, which can alternately be spelled as RIATA or REATA. Ouch on that crossing.
  • 47D. Merl goes playful and nonstandard with [VeGAS?] to clue NEON, as in the inert gas in Vegas signage.
  • 52D. Ditto for this clue. Merl clues ONUS/ON US as both one and two words with [Obligation (or where it might fall?)]. Nobody publishes clues like this, really, not even Merl most of the time. Kinda fun surprise.
  • 64A. Ditto for this one, taking the crosswordese ONER that we always groan at and turning it into a partial, ["Previously ___..." (TV show intro)], "ON E.R." It took me way too long to figure out what 2-letter TV show starting with E could possibly fit there.
  • 108A. IVA is clued by way of [Tokyo Rose, ___ Toguri]. I didn't remember the name and needed all three crossings. I would've guessed that tennis player IVA Majoli had a bigger Google presence than IVA Toguri, but that's a wrong guess.

Alan Arbesfeld's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday "Daily Crossword," "Den of Thieves"

In the interest of time—since it's now afternoon here—let me point you to PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential post for more coverage of this puzzle. She said figuring out the theme right away helped in her solve—but it took me far too much of the puzzle to see what the theme was and it still fell quickly. Easy puzzle, as these things go.

My favorite of the "add-a-CON" theme entries is the CONDESCENDING COLON at 34A, [Patronizing part of the digestive tract?]. Sure, the clue could have repurposed the COLON as a punctuation mark (...somehow), but no, we still get intestines. It's always a little surprising to find poop-related organs in the crosswords—and as PuzzleGirl pointed out, that clued for 5D: DEAD, [Pooped out], gives another little echo of that.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle (in Across Lite), "Writer's Block"

Well, there's not much to say about a quote theme, is there? The surrounding fill and clues were pretty easy, so piecing together the quote wasn't as onerous as it could have been. The [Quip's author] is ROBERT FROST and his quote is THE BRAIN IS A / WONDERFUL / ORGAN. IT STARTS TO / WORK THE MOMENT YOU GET UP / IN THE / MORNING AND DOES NOT STOP / UNTIL YOU GET INTO / THE OFFICE. I did hit the skids at 51A: [Many a microbrew]. The answer is ALES. ALES are many a microbrew? The plural felt off to me. Am I wrong? I'm not sure.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

Yeesh, I didn't enjoy this puzzle. Two of the four 15s feel too contrived, too much of a stretch as crossword entries. [What the magician might pull] is A RABBIT FROM A HAT? Ouch. I thought magicians pulled rabbits out of a hat. And below it is [I] cluing ROMAN NUMERAL ONE, which doesn't feel like a stand-alone phrase to me. There are some odd-jobbers—CHEWERS, a SMIRKER, and STARERS. The CLEANER could be a cool job rather than [Pine-Sol, for one]—I'm thinking here of Harvey Keitel's Pulp Fiction character's job. Also in the Department of Clunky: the "dated" (according to my dictionary) noun TENSITY, RESTUDY clued as [Cram anew], and "I SEE NOW" clued as ["At last it's clear!"].

The brightest spot: SLIDERS, meaning mini-burgers, are clued as [Snacks at the bar]. That's pretty much the only lively way to clue this, and it's nice that it wasn't, say, [Base runners, at times] or [Kids at a playground, at times].