August 03, 2009

Tuesday, 8/4

NYT 2:30 (JC)
LAT 2:30 (JC)
CS 8:45 (J—paper)
Jnz 14:00 (DN—approx.)

Hi all, Jordan Chodorow here, delighted to be one of Amy's subs today. Can we recreate the three-host magic that was the 1987 Oscarcast with Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and...Paul Hogan?

Alan Arbesfeld's New York Times puzzle

Alan Arbesfeld's puzzle features four strings in which the name OBAMA can be found backward:

[Envision in one's sleep] = DREAM ABOUT
[Sleepwear component] = PAJAMA BOTTOMS
[The Chattahoochee River forms part of it] = ALABAMA BORDER
[Arrive on the Enterprise via transporter] = BEAM ABOARD

Not sure how wild I am about the theme (oops - there's another entry), but the entries feel very in the language, except perhaps ALABAMA BORDER. Not a phrase I've heard much, and besides -- border with what?

Other fill I enjoyed: [Actress Christine of "Chicago Hope"] = LAHTI, who gave one of 1987's best performances in Bill Forsyth's "Housekeeping," which also featured my favorite ending in modern movie history. [Its license plates say "Birthplace of Aviation"] = OHIO; there seems to be a license plate war with "First in Flight" North Carolina. [Bad thing to have on one's face] = EGG. [Dishful near a restaurant door] = MINTS. Andes chocolate-covered mints? Good. Mint-flavored jelly beans? Bad.

[Clothing retailer starting in 1969] = THE GAP. [Sometime in the future] = LATER ON. [Squeeze (into)] = SHOEHORN. [Collection of plates] = ATLAS -- hmm... [Sees red] = GETS MAD. [Fill to capacity and then some] = JAMPACK. [Tailed] = SHADOWED. [Fabric for theater curtains] = SCRIM. [Bug chaser] = ABOO. Cute.

Kristian House's Los Angeles Times puzzle

Kristian House's Los Angeles Times puzzle features four baseball phrases:
[Completely unexpected] = OUT OF LEFT FIELD
[Fail to get a job done] = DROP THE BALL
[Be super-successful] = HIT A HOME RUN
[From day one] = RIGHT OFF THE BAT

All four are right in the language, but predictably ho-hum for a Tuesday.

Fill I enjoyed: [Pull up stakes] = a cool way of saying MOVE. [___ vivace: quite lively on scores] = MOLTO, and can anyone say it without lapsing into an Italian accent? [Leafy green that's high in vitamin K] = KALE, which reminds me of a classic "Cheers" episode in which Woody delivers one line in a television commercial for "Veggie Boy," a concoction of broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Frasier takes one sip, his face falls, and he says quietly, "The kale was not a good idea." [Halloween witches' blemishes] = WARTS. I didn't know they were seasonal. [Yesterday, to Juan] = the useful-to-know AYER. (I'd have preferred a reference to the song "In the Ayer": "Y'all don't understand / make me throw my hands / in the ayer / ay ayer / ayer ay ayer.")

[Powerful shark] = MAKO. Reminds me of the powerful documentary I saw this weekend, "The Cove," about the dirty little secret of the Japanese whaling town of Taiji. ["West Side Story" Oscar winner Rita] = MORENO. All trivia geeks know she was the first person to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony. She was also the biggest money winner on a game show called "Celebrity Bullseye," hosted by Jim ("The Dating Game") Lange. [Puts up get-out-of-jail money] = MAKES BAIL, a nice phrase. [South African grassland] = VELD, while [Strip of mowed grass] = SWATH. [Car for which a law is named] = the generic LEMON. [Sources of romantic conflict] = TRIANGLES. [When the curtain rises] = SHOWTIME; I'd have preferred a reference to my hometown Lakers of the '80s.

Thanks again to Amy for letting me help to fill in. Hope to see you all again sometime!

Updated Tuesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Two-Way Street"—Janie's review

Omma don' know about this one. I fear it may be too clever for its own good. What are your thoughts?

Randy's puzzle has a high-concept theme. After solving a couple of the theme answers, I saw that the title referred to the fill's incorporating "ST," the abbreviation for "street," twice in each theme-phrase. Additionally—and honestly, I didn't see this until much later—by eliminating the "ST," you will find two words that are often paired together. But the words don't always flow together naturally, and unfortunately, there's a forced feeling to the "new phrases" as well. Here's what we have:

  • 17A. [Farmer's market?] STRAW STORE. And see—there's raw ore within. That works. But straw store? Iffy. Very iffy.
  • 10D. [Tax mystery writer Rex?] STRAIN STOUT. As I look at it now, I think this clue would be easier to parse if there were a hyphen between "mystery" and "writer." That's one thing. The other is that rain out feels like a clumsy phrase. I know it's legit, but it's used most often in a sentence like, "The game wasn't played because it got rained out." Wiki supports it, too: "Rainout, washout, rain delay, and rain stopped play are terms regarding an event, generally a sporting event, delayed or cancelled due to rain, or the threat of rain," so I'll accept that my position is probably in the minority...
  • 24D. [Phase of marking a highway?] STRIPE STAGE. Sorry, but neither of these makes my heart sing. The theme portion is completely contrived (which is not always a bad thing—but I think the result has to feel less labored, more smile-worthy than this one...) and while ripe age, too, is legit (and gets some 336,000 Google hits), ripe old age—the way we usually hear the phrase—does come up with 544,000. And that's strictly in the for-what-it's-worth column.
  • 55A. [Play for time by actress Sharon?] STONE STALL. Deeply forced, I fear. I guess one all can be understood as a score (maybe at that ballgame, before the rain out...), but the way these words are more naturally paired is with the conjunction and connecting them, as in, "I'd like to thank one and all..."
Among other fill, what I did like was the presence of SERENITY (a beautiful word, no?) which is sometimes achieved with a MANTRA; the shout out to Jackie ROBINSON by way of [Baseball barrier breaker of 1947]; DAWDLED, not DALLIED for [Shilly-shallied]; PEEK-A-BOO; and JONESES, aptly clued as [They're hard to keep up with].

And there were several clues that helped me feel the love, too: [Heavenly strings] for another visit with yesterday's HARP; [Wet bar?] for SOAP (cute!); and saving the best for last, [Pitt boss?] for JOLIE. Works fer me!

Updated Tuesday afternoon:

Good morning, everyone. Dan Naddor here again, this time to give you a constructor's view of a Jonesin' themed puzzle that I really liked. I'm not a very good solver, so this one took me about 14 enjoyable minutes.

Let's start with the grid. A bit ungainly in the middle, but plenty of open spacing to attract the eye. 40 blocks, 76 words (of which 18 are 6-letters or longer), 4 theme entries plus a helper clue at the end. What impressed me most were lots of color (how could a _____ wurst theme lack color?) and the virtual absence of crosswordese in the fill. Sure, there were several entries I wasn't familiar with (MEOLA, DAX, BRAK), and TNA is pretty lame -- just like RNR is a no-go. It's T and A. But let's look at all the good stuff:

First, the theme itself:
  • High-vitamin oil source: COD LIVER;
  • Is talented in, with "for": HAS A KNACK (slight meh)
  • Michelob beer variety: AMBER BOCK (awesome!)
  • Kid who's lived in many states, perhaps ARMY BRAT (awesome again!)
Who would've thought there are four different _____wursts, where each of the _____'s can be phrased away from the "food" meanings (ok, COD LIVER is foodish, but it doesn't remind me of the LIVER in LIVERWORST). It's a bit of a construction coup that Matt was able to put WURST across in the very bottom right corner, the most elegant spot for a helper word.

There's also some really terrific fill: CARSICK (it may not pass the breakfast test, but it's awfully colorful), ROB REINER (full names are great, aren't they?), UNDER OATH, and KEROUAC of the Beat Generation.

I wasn't that impressed with the cluing, though. "Exudations from eruptions" for LAVA? "Antithesis of kids' cereal with cartoon mascots" for BRAN? I personally don't care for elaborate clues for short, simple words. And I would've liked to have seen more cute, punny clues like "He was a real Meathead on TV" for ROB REINER. Overall the clues seemed a bit bland, I guess.