July 06, 2009

Tuesday, 7/7

Jonesin' 4:05
NYT 3:13
LAT 2:54
CS 7:03 (J―paper)/3:04 (A—Across Lite)

Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword

Shouldn't this be a Wednesday puzzle rather than a Tuesday one? It seemed tougher than expected for a Tuesday. But/and I loved it! The theme took me a while to figure out, but it was so dang fresh it was worth the wait. Each person in the theme has a chronological/calendrical last name, and they're "late-arriving" so the last name is bumped back a notch:

⚀ 17A. The [Late-arriving TV detective?] is the fictional Joe Friday–cum–JOE SATURDAY.
⚁ 28A. Fredric March as the [Late-arriving actor of old?] is FREDRIC APRIL. I wonder how many people were thrown off by wanting another E and maybe a K in his first name.
⚂ 44A. [Late-arriving singer/actress of old?] is DORIS EVENING, formerly Day.
⚃ 59A. Whoo, disco! [Late-arriving disco singer?] is DONNA AUTUMN, once Summer.

Interesting use of the phrase "of old" in two of those clues. I wonder if this signals increasing attention to younger solvers or if it's just a Tuesday-level sop to help all solvers narrow their focus better. And why no "of old" for JOE SATURDAY? I guess the not-so-successful Dragnet revivals of 1987 and 2003 make Sgt. Joe Friday a more current name than Day and March.

I like the variety pack Lempel uses—day, month, time of day, season. Ideally the smallest unit, Day-to-EVENING, would have appeared first in the series, but that would muck up the symmetry of the theme entry lengths. I also like the balance of two men, two women.

Highlights in the fill include 10A BRYLCREEM, the ["A little dab'll do ya" brand] of old; 25D GRENDEL, the [Monster defeated by Beowulf]; and 42D P'S AND Q'S, or [Manners]. And 56A ETRURIA, the [Region of pre-Roman Italy] where the Etruscans hailed from—what's that doing here on a Tuesday? Clues I liked: 14D LABORS are [Feats for Hercules]; 31D [The hots] means LUST; and 54D [Sea lettuce, e.g.] for ALGA (feh, I'll pass on the sea salad, thanks).

I'm tired of seeing N.L. EAST ([Atlanta Braves' div.]) and A.L. EAST in crosswords. C'mon, constructors—get the N.L. CENTRAL in there when you need a 9-letter answer. Or NFC NORTH (8). Stretch a little. ALEAST and NLEAST are becoming as predictable as ALER and NLER these days.

I used to say Lynn Lempel was among my favorite Monday constructors. Let me amend that to "favorite Monday to Wednesdayish."

Updated Tuesday morning:

Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Give 'Em an Inch..."―Janie's review

Where yesterday's puzzle had "a broken word bracketing the rest of a phrase," today's has a phrase broken (and transformed) by the addition of the word "inch." If not wildly innovative as a theme, with one exception, it does yield some pretty interesting results. In this way:

  • 17A. Get well soon becomes GET WINCHELL SOON [Directive from one wishing to hire columnist Walter?]. For them as doesn't know of 'im, Walter Winchell was a journalist/gossip columnist whose way with a word was near-legendary, but who (in backing Joe McCarthy in the '50s) brought himself down. For those who know the book, film or musical Sweet Smell of Success, antagonist J.J. Hunsecker was based on Winchell.
  • 27A. Ping-pong becomes PINCHING PONG [Making off with an old video game?]. This is the one that made the theme completely clear to me, that let me see the double-phrase fill each theme entry provides. While I have played ping-pong, I've never played Pong. Okay, or any video game... But it doesn't take an experienced player to see how very basic―almost quaint―this early contender is. Still sometimes basic is best.
  • 48A. Vitamin C becomes VITAMIN CINCH [Easy way to get nutrients?] Raise your hand if you've ever heard of "Cinch" bars or the Cinch line of weight loss products. They're not available in stores, but can be purchased on line or through direct sales (kinda like Avon products that way). These are manufactured by Shaklee and don't appear to be an ideal way to get nutrients, but the folks at Shaklee would probably say otherwise. So, here's this questionably familiar product incorporated into today's theme fill. Strike one. Strike two? The entire product line appears to be very low in providing vitamins, so the idea of a "Vitamin Cinch" feels wholly fabricated and not likely, since the product comes in flavors―like chocolate and peanut butter. "Vitamin" is not a flavor... Strike three: unlike the other three theme entries, this time the word "inch" appears at the end of the phrase and not within it. If there'd been a great reason to include this entry, perhaps I'd find the variation less problematic. But for the reasons I've stated, it simply feels weak.
  • 63A. Spring fling becomes SPRING FLINCHING [Reaction from someone who's afraid of Slinkys]. A stretch, perhaps, but the base phrase is good and it does summon up a strong visual.
Am I making too much of a HOOHA over the lack of parallel construction and less-than-perfect theme fill? Mebbe. But, hey, that's why I get the big bucks here―to speak about a puzzle's weaknesses (as I see 'em) as well as its strengths.

And on that subject, there are several non-theme highlights I have IN MIND. GAS LOGS, for one, which seems to be making its first puzzle appearance. While they may be [Fireplace fakes], it seems to me you could still CHAR marshmallows over 'em in pinch. Then there's PIKEMAN [Old infantry soldier armed with a spear]. This term was totally new to me, but between the clue and pix in the Wiki article, it all made perfect sense. If you had difficulty filling this one in, take heart. It appears that the only other time pikeman was in a puzzle was as part of a New York Times Friday...

And I loved the shout out to I. M. PEI as [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame architect]. John Mellencamp (yesterday's puzzle) is an inductee; I thought perhaps KAREN [One of the Carpenters] might have made it. But no. The ORIOLES, however, did win a place in the "Early Influences" category, lest we forget they're not just that (fave o' mine) [Camden Yards baseball team]!

Gail Grabowski's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme here hinges on 54D HEAT, a [Summer phenomenon, and word that can precede the first words of 17-, 28-, 44- and 58-Across]. It's timely, what with it being July. Although Lake Michigan is keeping Chicago cool today, and yesterday someone mentioned it was cold in Seattle. (Not that I'm trying to taunt those of you who are baking in a heat wave.) The HEAT answers are as follows:

17A. Heat index—INDEX FINGER, or [Pointing finger].
28A. Heat rash—RASH DECISION, or [Choice made without thinking. I started with RUSH DECISION here, which was but one of several wrong turns. I also had the [Fish holder] being a TACO rather than a TANK and chose PICK SIDES instead of TAKE SIDES for [Eschew neutrality].
44A. Heat lightning—LIGHTNING BUG, or [Firefly]. Ah, summertime and lightning bugs. I haven't seen any yet, but I haven't been outside much after dark lately. I'm delighted to see LIGHTNING BUG in the grid, though.
58A. Heat wave—WAVE GOODBYE, or [Signal to from the pier, perhaps].

Highlights: 34D [D and F] are BAD GRADES indeed. 5D [Exec's perk at a ballgame] is a BOX SEAT. I've been in the box seats at Wrigley Field and they're lovely. Mind you, it was only during a tour when the Cubs were out of town, so it's not as if I've seen a game from there. 15A HAIRY is clued as [Like a wolfman]. That reminds me—my son's going to the beach today with his day camp group. Will there be any HAIRY men there, or will the sub-70° temp keep the wolfmen at bay?

More on today's LAT from PuzzleGirl, who tells you everything you need to know about jai ALAI in the crossword arena.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "I'm Getting Dizzy"

Matt innovates by using an asymmetrical grid that spirals around. (I think Merl Reagle once had a 21x21 puzzle with a hurricane theme and a swirly hurricane pattern in the grid.) The theme entries are all things that can cause dizziness, and they start with a 6-letter answer in the eye and are linked together as they spiral outward:

• 26A. ANEMIA is a [Blood cell deficiency that may cause dizziness]. It crosses...
• 20D. VERTIGO, a [Hitchcock movie that may make you dizzy]. That takes us to...
• 35A. PAINT FUMES—[They make you dizzy while redecorating a room]. Right beneath that is a HIGH RISE ([Tall apartment building]) and I don't know about you, but looking up at a HIGH RISE or out from high up in one can make me dizzy. (Have you heard about the new glass boxes extending out from the 103rd floor of the Sears Tower? You can look straight down 1,300-some feet through the glass bottom.) The PAINT FUMES cross...
• 10D. CHAMPAGNE, a [Drink that makes you dizzy]. And causes headache, if you're me. You can sip CHAMPAGNE...
• 14A. ...while SAILING THE SEAS, which is [Traveling that may make you dizzy]. Head to solid ground for...
• 12D. CARNIVAL RIDES, [Attractions that may cause dizziness]. Or save yourself the money and just try...
• 57A. SPINNING AROUND, a [Kids' activity that causes dizziness]. You know why that's not an adults' activity? Because we spin a couple times and begin to reel. The repeated spinning is inconceivable.

Sure, this grid has 49 or so black squares, but it also has something like 67 theme squares with some really long non-theme answers. Overall, I give it 1.5 thumbs up. The other half thumb is pointed down, way down, for the clunky 3-letter entries that cross those delicious swaths of long answers. There's IDG, [Original publisher of the "For Dummies" book series]. PTO, a [Bottom-of-page abbr.] I don't understand at all (PTO can also mean "parent-teacher organization). UMH is a [Surgery site located on a Florida campus, for short]—what is this, University of Miami Hospital or something? Ouch. IDC was the [Arkansas real estate group under scrutiny in the Whitewater investigations]. And ANR is apparently [Antwerp International Airport's code on luggage tags].