July 07, 2009

Wednesday, 7/8

Onion 4:28
BEQ 4:08
LAT 3:40
NYT 3:30
CS 8:40 (J―paper)

Tim Wescott's New York Times crossword

So, Rex Parker, PuzzleGirl, and I were corresponding tonight, trying to piece together the "unusual feature that appears nine times" in this crossword. Eventually I gave up and consulted Wordplay, where I learned there are nine word squares and that the constructor probably won't be surprised to see my grumbles: "I also realize that the puzzles that are a challenge to construct are not necessarily the same as the puzzles that a lot of people like to solve, as I’ve seen some complaints about these kinds of puzzles elsewhere on the Web." Yeah, I saw a lot of word segments that intersected with their clones, but in 3 1/2 minutes, I did not notice the word squares. So that wasn't an aid in solving. And so many repeated chunks of letters didn't enhance the solving experience for me.

Those word squares are as follows:




The 5x5 is pretty fancy, but if you don't appreciate it in the midst of doing the puzzle...well...this is a gimmick for the leisurely solver to be blown away by. And I'm sure there are speed solvers in awe of the construction, too. I'm predicting about a 60/40 split between the "Wow!" and "meh" contingents, in favor of the "Wow!" side.

A few clues and answers:

• 3D. BEER GARDEN is as [Place for a pilsner].
• 38A. CAB-OVER is a [Style of truck with a vertical front].
• 31D. WEST MONROE is a [Louisiana city named for the fifth U.S. president].
• 32D. EVAN-PICONE is a [Big name in women's apparel since 1949]. Hooray for the clue not suggesting that there's ever been a person in fashion named Evan Picone.
• 55A. RUM PUNCH is a [Bacardi concoction, perhaps]. Crossword constructors use the term unch as shorthand for "unchecked letter." No idea what a RUMP UNCH might be.
• 22A. EMMETS are [Ants, archaically]. If you know a guy named Emmet, please call him Ant.
• 20A. To IRRIGATE is to [Make arable, perhaps].

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "They'll Take a Mile"―Janie's review

Today we have the titular companion piece (and thematic cousin) to yesterday's Doug Peterson, "Give 'Em an Inch..." And what a lively companion piece it is. The abbreviation for mile is mi.; the four theme phrases take that abbreviation and affix it to the beginning to create a new phrase. Each is also the beneficiary of some mighty crafty cluing.

  • 17A. mi + stingray = MISTING RAY [Culinary Rachel using an atomizer?]
  • 27A. mi + stress test = MISTRESS TEST [Check one's husband's collar for lipstick, e.g.?]. Of course, as Connie Francis reminds us, girlfriends may employ this technique, too...
  • 49A. mi + me and my gal = MIME AND MY GAL [Story about a fellow's gesturing lady love?] This is really very funny. Yes, it's the only one of the theme entries in which the mi doesn't precede a phrase that starts with the letter s―and as you may have already guessed, I don't love that. But boy is this a great clue/fill combo. So to spare you all, I'll EASE UP this time and just enjoy it for all it's worth.
  • 66A. mi + sled dogs = MISLED DOGS [Took a canine team off-roading?]. Another goodie, and one that suggests another kind of theme―the kind in which there's a repeated syllable. The fill that comes to mind is misled sled dogs. Okay, just three to go...
Today's mystery product was SO BE, the [Drink company with a lizard logo] as opposed to Geico, the insurance company with a gecko logo, I suppose. Boutique beverages aren't much my thing, but clearly there's a market for 'em. But really―only in America does the South Beach Beverage Company become established in Norwalk CT on an inlet of the Long Island Sound and then get purchased up by PepsiCo. Talk about yer sweet deals...

There's a lot of strong cluing today. I like the alliteration of [Lamp-lugging lad of literature] for ALADDIN, and the ambiguity of [Bars] for SALOONS and [Drops from the sky] for RAIN. In neither case is the clue to be understood as a verb―yet that's what I thought of first. Neither are [Clogs and pumps] to be understood in relation to plumbing issues. They're SHOES.

And how about the [pedal] pair: [Put the pedal to the medal] for FLOORED IT (in what looks to be a CS debut) and [Instrument for pedal pushers?] for ORGAN. Or the matched set of terms of endearment: ["Cutie pie" or "sweetie"] for PET NAME and [Darlin'] for HON.

Among the non-theme fill, gotta give a shout-out to CS-debut OXYMORONS, those figures of speech that pair opposites to ironic effect, as the clue [Deafening silence and bittersweet] demonstrates. You probably have your favorites, but here's a snippet of George Carlin going through a few of his.

A fave cross: ASEA and SEE; and a seriously smile-worthy pair: [iPod...] NANO and NANU (-nanu) [Either half of a classic sitcom sign-off]. Finally, given the tie-in this puzzle had with yesterday's, had a moment of GLEE seeing SKEW once again. (I know, yesterday it was SKEWS, but it's close enuf for jazz in my book!)

Don Gagliardo's Los Angeles Times crossword

I did this puzzle shortly before doing the NYT puzzle last night, and it made me cranky in similar ways. Tour de force construction? Check. (81 theme squares is huge.) Uninteresting fill and clues? Check. There are many who greatly admire a tour de force and focus on the constructor's achievement in building such a puzzle, but I tend to be solidly in the "I want it to be fun and interesting" camp.

It's past 10 a.m. and I have two more puzzles to blog before getting to work on a puzzle consulting gig, so allow me to copy and paste from the theme writeup from my L.A. Crossword Confidential post:

• 41A: Secret get-together, or what occurs literally in each of this puzzle's circled squares (HUSH-HUSH MEETING). The circled letters are hush-hush meetings of two words.
• 5A, 8D: Clever move (COUP)/Prefix with science (PSEUDO-). Silent P from French and Greek.
• 9A, 9D: Bad-mouth (KNOCK)/Hillock (KNOLL). Two words from Old English with now-silent Ks.
• 4D, 28A: Newspaper feature (COLUMN)/Organ numbers (HYMNS). Classical roots for both of these M+silent N words.
• 48A, 48D: Like Letterman lines (WRY)/Eerie apparition (WRAITH). Silent W before an R; one Old English root, one Scots/unknown.
• 40D, 54A: Oppose (REPUGN)/Omen (SIGN). Silent G in a GN combo. Both words are from Middle English by way of Old French taken from Latin. Begging your pardon: REPUGN? I know an awful lot of words, but I haven't run across this one before. Repugnant, sure. Impugn, of course. But not this word.
• 57D, 64A: Prefix with stat (RHEO-)/Like a question that isn't a question (RHETORICAL). Silent H after an R, presumably a Greek rho being transliterated as RH rather than R. It's a bit of a cheat to throw in a prefix here, but RHYME is too long for this spot and havign 81 theme squares gives little flexibility.
• 63D, 73A: Blockbuster, e.g. (BOMB)/Oversimplify, with "down" (DUMB). BOMB has a promiscuous etymology—English from French via Italian, probably from Latin, before that from Greek, "of imitative origin." In other words, everyone agrees it bomb/bombe/bomba/bombus/bombos sounds like "boom." DUMB's a good Old English word of Germanic origin.

I had more fun looking these words up in the dictionary than doing the crossword, honestly. The fill squeezed in around the massive dose of theme was mostly uninspired, hitting a nadir with ILLER (technically legit but nothing I'd say) and a not-a-real-word singular KUDO (which would be OK if the clue acknowledged the joke by playing with "praise" sounding like a plural or something). Does ILLER have hip hop usage? Is it in Nas's Illmatic lyrics anywhere?

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword

We are overdue for some more Byron themelesses, aren't we? That was one of the biggest losses when the New York Sun folded—one top-notch themeless puzzle every week, from talents like Byron, Karen Tracey, and Patrick Berry. Seriously, what is wrong with the masses of people who have not signed up to subscribe if the Sun Crossword relaunches? The incredibly innovative tough Friday themes are just as missed as the sparkling themelesses. So if you fancy yourself a lover of the finest crosswords and you rather wish there were more tough puzzles available, sign up!

Now, where were we? Oh, yes. The Onion puzzle. Blogger is in a mood and won't let me upload the grid image, so I'll just tell you about the theme and lay out some clues. The first theme entry began TURNOFFPH- and I couldn't get a "turn off phones" instruction out of my mind, which got in the way of understanding the theme. It's "___ of ___" phrases in which the "of" becomes "off":

★ 20A. TURN-OFF PHRASE is a [Pickup line that backfires badly?].
★ 26A. The jack of clubs becomes JACK-OFF CLUBS, or [Bars for total assholes?]. Don't go there. You won't like the crowd.
★ 40A. I love the "walk of shame" as the basis for a theme entry. WALK-OFF SHAME is a baseball-pitchin' [Reliever's feeling after giving up a game-ending homerun?].
★ 48A. PLAYOFF COLORS are [Jersey options for the postseason?].

Fill highlights include EMILY POST, NBA OWNERS ([The Mavs' Mark Cuban and the Nets' Jay-Z, e.g.]), FANFIC ([Writing genre for creative devotees, briefly]), and aren't-you-glad-you-read-the-NYT [New York Times science reporter Gina] KOLATA.

Favorite clues: Crossword-friendly country OMAN gets the fun-to-say [Country whose sultan is Qaboos bin Said al Said]. The DELETE KEY [can make mean men, but can't make men mean]. NOLTE is clued as [Nick who was People's Sexiest Man Alive in 1992]; his subsequent drunken mug shot made a mockery of that. (What? The Sexiest Man Alive designation is not mockable except in extenuating circumstances like Nolte's.) James T. KIRK is a [Captain based in part on Horatio Hornblower]. KEEP LEFT is a [Progressive's favorite road sign?].

Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Support System"

The theme is STAND BY ME, and the four long answers that include the letter sequence STAND are abutted by something with a ME above or below the STAND. For example, TWIST AND SHOUT has a ME in MENLO PARK above it. Now, it's a little muddled here because the ME of STAND BY ME is underneath TWIST AND SHOUT's STAND, so it appears that the puzzle's ME has a split personality. STAND BY ME's STAND has a ME below it, too.

Juvenile highlights: [Stooge's laugh syllable] is NYUK and [Gas] is FART.

I need to get to work here. Am all crossworded out for the day! Too bad the work that's waiting is...crosswords.