August 16, 2009

Monday, 8/17

BEQ 5:10
LAT 2:51
NYT 2:37
CS untimed (J)

Bravo and thanks to Sam Donaldson for filling in yesterday! I enjoyed your entertaining take on the puzzles, Sam, and for your testimonial on how a constructor uses crossword blogs. Let's give him a round of applause, shall we?

Mike Buckley's New York Times crossword

Newcomer Buckley goes cinematic with a BATMAN / JOKERS theme. "JOKERS, plural? Wha?" you say. Yes, there have been three incarnations of the Joker—plus, JOKERS needs the S so that its 6 letters balance out BATMAN in the grid (though I would not say that "Batman Jokers" is the way anyone would refer to these three actors—maybe "actors who've played the Joker"). Have there been only these three, no more? I haven't been paying attention. Our first Joker was played by CESAR ROMERO on '60s TV. Continuing the timeline is JACK NICHOLSON from one of the '90s Batman movies (I can't even remember who played Batman to Jack's Joker). And the theme's culmination is the transcendent HEATH LEDGER, whose Joker was worlds more interesting than Christian Bale's Dark Knight Batman last year.

Other goodies in this crossword: A bunch of 6-letter answers in the fill, plus a few longer ones, give Monday solvers a little extra kick. I'm partial to CLEVER ([Witty]), HEYDAY ([Period of one's prime]), OUT OF GAS ([On empty]—I started with LOW ON GAS), AKIN TO ([Like]), and the EN DASH (a punctuation [Mark slightly longer than a hyphen]).

I do often like it when clues or their key words pull double duty. Here, both the SCENE and an ARENA are [Where the action is], and a [Double curve] tries to teach solvers two essential pieces of crosswordese: the OGEE, an S-shaped molding or line in architecture, and the letter ESS or a thing shaped like an S.

Gotta love HAZE being clued as [Jimi Hendrix's "Purple ___"] to mark the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.

I'm also fond of the consonant-followed-by-J answers. HADJ is a [Muslim's pilgrimage], while FJORDS are [Norwegian coastal features].

Updated Monday morning:

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Success Stories"—Janie's review

Do you enjoy a colorful turn of phrase? I sure do. Wordies seem to take special pleasure in 'em, so it stands to reason that today's puzzle, with its six theme entries, will make us word-nerds happy. For those who take a greater interest in the construction angle, there's something for you, too. The theme-fill occupies 66 squares (more than 25% of the fill), and in two instances, vertical theme-fill crosses horizontal theme-fill. That's pretty terrific. (I just hope you agree that the entries BEAR OUT [Validate] my claims!)

Randy's given us six figurative phrases that suggest a literal association with an occupation. In real life, the connection may be tenuous; in the crossword world, they sparkle. In the context of the theme (and with some variations), each phrase says, "You did it—you really did ___":

  • 3D. WIN IN A WALTZ [Succeed like a ballroom dancer]. Never heard this phrase before and am so glad to make its acquaintance. A little googling shows me it's used to describe easy routs—in sports, in political contests, etc. Notice how it crosses

  • 40A. FILL THE BILL [Succeed like a pelican]. I like this one immensely. Is it the visual it conjures up? Probably. The pelican's bill is one remarkable gift of nature.

  • 18A. TAKE THE CAKE [Succeed like a baker]. This one's sometimes used in a way that gives the phrase a negative/sarcastic connotation. Your nemesis gets recognition for an idea you gave him. Now, doesn't that just take the cake?...

  • 26D. GO GREAT GUNS [Succeed like an artilleryman]. This feels particularly lively. Or maybe it's that I'm getting an "aural" with it: this phrase comes with its own "report." And it crosses

  • 35A. COOK WITH GAS [Succeed like a chef]. Shades of Dinner: Impossible.

  • 57A. COME UP ROSES [Succeed like a florist]. Far more promising than to PUSH UP DAISIES...
Also well worth mentioning are:
  • POW clued as [Sound of a sock]. Rather a noisy thing, that "sock"—clearly not the kind you PUT ON. In my solve-(mostly)-by-the-Across-column approach today, my first entry here was OOF. Oops.

  • [What retiring people might hit] for THE SACK. The other kind of "retiring people" are the ones who are said to be [Socially challenged], or SHY. (And, yes—it's shy one letter, but retiring people also hit THE HAY.)

  • A [Spun story] is a YARN. Loved how this one made me think about the connections between spinning yarn (from wool) and spinning yarns (stories). This, in turn, reminded me of Norse mythology's Norns, who were said to spin out people's destinies.

  • If you're into mountain-climbing challenges, you can assay a [Rugged range] in California, the SIERRA, or les ALPES, a [French range].

  • I've always had a thing for the "girl groups" of the '50s and '60s—like the RonETTES and the MarvelETTES. Off-Broadway has its own homage playing now called The Marvelous WonderETTES.

  • That [Setting for a Marx Brothers movie] is OPERA, as in A Night at the Opera. Of course, there was also A Day at the RACES and the too-long-by-one At the CIRCUS.

  • OVA as [Breakfast for Brutus] surprised me. Certainly the ancient Romans ate eggs—but I just can't feature Brutus sitting down to breakfast and asking his wife (or more likely his servant) to prepare "two eggs, over easy" (or "two ova, ova easy"...). Just something incongruous about this clue/fill combo.

  • Finally: The Bonus Clue/Fill. "Success stories" occur when our hero or heroine ultimately [Avoids failure] and PASSES!!

Alex Boisvert's Los Angeles Times crossword

Alex's theme is rather ooky, isn't it? Each theme entry contains two OOKs:
  • 20A. TOOK A SECOND LOOK means [Gave additional consideration].
  • 36A. [Falsifying accounting records] clues COOKING THE BOOKS. I wish Alex had gone with the 13-letter COOKS THE BOOKS for the rhyme, to be more consistent with the other two theme entries.
  • 49A. An idiom meaning [In any way possible] is BY HOOK OR BY CROOK.

I always appreciate a good MILKSHAKE ([Ice cream treat]). Did you notice the not-OOK-but-OK vibe throughout the puzzle? There's NOT OK, or [Prohibited], and a couple yes-OK Oklahoma entries: An OKIE is a [Dust Bowl migrant] from Oklahoma and a SOONER is an [Oklahoma athlete]. The state is home to the COYOTE ([Toon Wile E., e.g.]. The milk in the MILKSHAKE is the state beverage, and fried OKRA ([Gumbo veggie] is part of the "state meal."

There's another take on the puzzle from Rex at L.A. Crossword Confidential.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

In Brendan's accompanying blog post, he boasts of having no 3-letter answers at all in this puzzle. As a solver, I hadn't even noticed that. What I did notice is that a bunch of 7-letter answers tend to feel much less adventurous than the 9- to 11-letter stacks I love to see in a themeless. PETTISH and ALIEN TO? SCARIER and LACONIA? EVADERS and ETRURIA? ACCUSER and BLEATED? Three different answers that contain the word UP?

While 'ROID RAGE, LADY GAGA, ARANTXA Sanchez Vicario, and Spinal Tap's "SEX FARM" are all terrific, I'd rather take the 3s and ditch a bunch of the flat 7s.

Striving to minimize or eliminate 3s and 4s makes for an impressive constructorial feat, but does it make for a more entertaining puzzle? I say no.