September 30, 2009

Thursday, 10/1/09

NYT 5:02 (paper)—The Thursday puzzle doesn't quite display properly in the applet or Across Lite; here's a PDF showing how it's meant to appear
LAT 3:17
CS untimed (J)/3:33 (A)—another Blindauer!
Tausig untimed

Patrick Blindauer and Rebecca Young's New York Times crossword

For Rebecca Young's debut crossword, she brought her boyfriend Patrick along for the ride. In the PDF/print version of the puzzle, the center square is blank so you can draw the world's teeniest compass rose; in the other versions of the puzzle, there's a black plus sign in the middle and you'll need Wite-Out to draw your compass. The theme entries travel in the cardinal directions indicated by their first word:

  • 27A. [Its motto is "Duty, Honor, Country"] clues WEST POINT, which heads west as TNIOPTSEW.
  • 6D. [Toymaking center?] is Santa's NORTH POLE, or ELOPHTRON heading north.
  • 45A. An EASTENDER is clued as [Cockney, e.g.]. East is the way Across answers normally travel.
  • 33D. SOUTH PARK is a [Long-running TV series set in Colorado], running Down/South as normal. Wow, not mentioning the animation aspect leads us in all sorts of directions. The only other Colorado shows I can think of are Mork and Mindy and, I only recently learned from a quiz, Dynasty.
  • 18A, 55A. [With 55-Across, direction indicator] is a COMPASS, and 55-Across is the nutty second part of 54A, MELROSE—a compass rose is the doodad labeled with N/S/E/W.
I have a soft spot for crossword answers that travel in unexpected ways, and the interlocking of the this-way-and-that theme entries is cool. Other good stuff: DIAPER is clued as [Something needed for a change]. [Women who get high?] are STONERS. No, wait. That's too short. They're SOPRANOS. [Been abed] clues LAIN, but the clue just looks goofy. "Have you ever been abed? Is abing what you like to do?" Oh, ["The ___ Report"] stars Stephen COLBERT. Love him.

If you hate crossword puzzles in which answers appear backwards or upwards, I don't think we can be friends anymore.

Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Look Both Ways"—Janie's review

Let's face it. In this puzzle, Patrick's got us comin' and goin'. And why? Because the theme-fill, as 63A (the final theme-entry) explains, is made up of PALINDROMES [Phrases that read the same forward and backward...]. Through various dictionary pages, I find that this word combines not the Alaskan surname for "wannabe," but the ancient Greek word pálin meaning "again"/"back again once more," with (the Greek-derived) combining form -drome, meaning "running"—just in case you wanted to know! Giving us one classic and two modern classics of the genre, those phrases that "run back again once more" (with feeling...) are:
  • 17A. MADAM, I'M ADAM [Original introduction?]. What a gentleman he was, even in those pre-fig leaf (pre-original sin) days.
  • 24A. DO GEESE SEE GOD? [Theological question about fliers in formation?] I'd not heard of it, but this is also the title of a movie directed David Slade. Not SNL's David Slade, but Brit film director David Slade, who's now filming The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (for those of you what follow these things...). This palindrome also puts me in mind of a play that had a little off-Broadway run not too long ago called Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, which imagines characters who strongly resemble Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters as adolescents. Some irreverence ensues...
  • 53A. LIVE NOT ON EVIL [Advice for bad guys?]. And apparently, also the name of a goth band... I know you'll be shocked to know I'd never heard of 'em. Here they are performing Scary Polka. Lawrence Welk is rolling over in his grave. For any number of reasons.
If you're ever in BAJA [ ___ California], the sun is very strong there, so don't forget the SPF 30 and/or try to fine some SHADED areas to enjoy your respite. Perhaps the veranda of your INN would offer some relief.

A [Major leaguer or golf instructor] is a PRO. So, too, is actress Dame JUDI DENCH. Ditto queen-of-the-noir Claire TREVOR and that consummate COUPLE of the American stage, Jessica and Hume [Tandy and Cronyn, e.g.]. Yes, the term also applies to star of the small screen and Broadway stage, SOPRANO Kristin Chenoweth (and [Country singer Tim] MCGRAW). I confess, however, that when I saw the clue [Kristin Chenoweth's voice type] and the seven spaces waiting to be filled, I was tempted to enter GRATING. Kidding!! (Mostly...)

Oh, and couple is also a way to describe [The Dynamic ___] DUO. But tell us, Patrick, is that Batman and Robin you're referring to or Oprah's (also kinda scary [see above...]) Acai berry and colon cleanse regimen?

[League of legal eagles (abbr.)] is a superb clue for fill we see all the time: ABA. But look—it's alliterative, assonant and it has a rhyme in it. That's just lovely. And what a great "set up" it is for the next clue, [Commit a court infraction?]. PERJURE? Nupe. Too many letters for one, and wrong "court" for the other. This time it's the basketball court, where your team'll be penalized if you TRAVEL.

If one [Fed one's face], one ATE. If one ate only an OAT, a [Granola grain] or had but a small bowl of ROTINI [Twisty pasta], one might want A BIT [Slightly] more to satisfy oneself.

A few more clue/fill faves and then I'm history. In no particular order of preference:
  • [Lose one's shadow, say]/SHAVE. Think "Richard Nixon"—or even of that terrific character actor, Dan Hedaya, who played Nixon in Dick;
  • [Alka-Seltzer-landing-in-water sound]/PLOP, as in this immortal jingle from Speedy; and
  • [Gelatinous light sources]/LAVA LAMPS. Never thought of 'em that way, but that's how they appear. In fact their "lava" innards (while practically a state secret) are basically a combination of water and oil. Which, as we probably all learned pretty early on, do not mix.
Jonathan Seff's Los Angeles Times crossword

This is a solid puzzle, but the theme variety is one I'm not a fan of: Each of the four 15-letter theme entries is clued with a word that sounds like "doe."
  • 17A. [Doe] is an ANONYMOUS PERSON, Jane or John Doe.
  • 27A. [Do] is a KEY NOTE IN A SCALE, as in "do, re, mi...."
  • 49A. [Dough] is a BREAD-BAKING NEED.
  • [D'oh] is the famous HOMER SIMPSON CRY.
Now, what I don't like about this sort of clue/answer flip-flop theme is that it spotlights phrases that would not otherwise pass muster as crossword fill. Has anyone ever used the phrase "bread-baking need" or "key note in a scale"? I rest my case.

I like the CON MAN (4D: [Hustler]), and YMCA, or [Pantomimed disco song title]. Hey! Did you know the original Village People "YMCA" video did not feature the pantomime? They sort of did a "Y" that led into clapping their hands over their heads, but that's it. Also—tie-in with yesterday's LAT puzzle—the leather man has a prodigious horseshoe mustache.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword

My feet did not like this theme because it did not include Merrell or Naot, my feet's preferred footwear brands. Here's the theme:
  • 56A. TIE YOUR SHOES is [Generally good advice, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. Each theme entry contains two SHOE brands, TIEd together, and clued by way of the words' usual meanings.
  • 20A. [RV that runs on inexpensive fuel?] is a DIESEL CAMPER. I don't know what Camper shoes look like, but I know of Diesek,
  • 23A. Stacked under that entry is KEEN PUMA, or [Animal likely to catch plenty of elk?]. My husband and son love their Keen sandals, and Puma makes sneakers.
  • 35A. SIMPLE COACH is clued as [Team leader who calls the same play every time?]. Simple shoes are just that, and are sometimes made with renewable or organic resources, I think. Coach is mainly a handbag/briefcase/accessory company. They make shoes? Apparently yes, even canvas sneakers with the "C" logo.
  • 54A. PONY VANS might be [Vehicles for moving racers from track to track?]. Pony sneakers, Vans skate sneakers.
Assorted other clues and answers: HOVA is [Jay-Z, self-appointedly]. As in Jehovah? See also JAH, or [Reggae god]. SPERMS are [Origins of all people, partially]; both SPERM and SPERMS are valid plurals. [Thing flashed at Woodstock] is a V-SIGN, among other things. MARC ECKO is the [Clothing impresario who bought Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run ball].


September 29, 2009

Wednesday, 9/30/09

BEQ 4:17
Onion 4:05
NYT 3:52
LAT 2:43
CS untimed

Kevin Der's New York Times crossword

My in-house technical maven is busy troubleshooting a new backup drive on my desktop Mac, and my excuse for a slower-than-usual Wednesday time is that I'm not as accustomed to the smaller laptop keyboard.

Kevin's theme shot me straight back to that American lit class in my freshman year of college. We plowed through portions of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, including those Transcendentalists and the other authors writing from CONCORD, MA. That's the place spelled out by the circled letters in this puzzle, and the authors' names are split up hither and yon (but symmetrically):

  • 1A, 6A, 22A. RALPH WALDO EMERSON is one [noted 19th-century writer]. He wrote essays the content of which I have not retained.
  • 24A, 53A. The dark romantic writer NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE wrote memorable short stories including "Rappaccini's Daughter" as well as The Scarlet Letter. Some of his other book titles I am mainly familiar with from the Authors card game I loved as a kid. The new version Amazon sells includes traditional card suits and numbers in addition to the 13 authors and their four books apiece. I'm ordering it anyway.
  • 39A. The 15-letter LOUISA MAY ALCOTT fits in one long entry. Little Women is her best known novel.
  • 70A, 71A, 55A. HENRY DAVID THOREAU has the same letter counts for his three names as RWE, so he appears in the grid with THOREAU above the HENRY and DAVID. On Walden Pond, Transcendentalism...I think I read an excerpt and retained nothing.
So, the theme occupies 67 squares with the author names, plus a few more CONCORD, MA squares that don't coincide with the author answers. The other fill, sandwiched as it must be around nine theme entries, is a bit more prosaic. Nothing beyond the pale, but not much sparkle, either. I'm content with the blast-from-the-American-lit-past and the elegance of the Concord unifying element. I have never been to Concord, but I have eaten of the grapes and the grape jelly.

What's your favorite part of this crossword?

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Cake Toppers"—Janie's review

If you're thinkin' the theme-fill will be along the lines of CHOCOLATE ICING, COCONUT or CANDLES, you have another think comin'. While they're all of the decidedly non-edible variety, the theme-fill today is instead made up of two-word phrases whose first word also names a kind of cake. This give us some very tasty results, and here's the sampling of what Patrick has given us to [Snack on] EAT:
  • Pound cake by way of 17A. POUND SIGN [Symbol on a cell phone];
  • Sponge cake courtesy of 28A. SPONGE RUBBER [Latex-based padding material]. Never heard of sponge rubber, but the dictionary tells me that it's an "expanded rubber having a cellular structure; usually has interconnecting cells; used as resilient padding and as thermal insulation";
  • Marble cake from 47A. MARBLE STATUE [Michaelangelo's "David," e.g.]. (Hmm. Seems to me many folks do find him good enough to eat...); and
  • Coffee cake via 63A. COFFEE MUG [Vessel in a break room]. Always nice to have a mug o' coffee with one's coffee cake.
A DEB, as we all know, is a [Coming-out party honoree], and a coming-out party is a BIG DO [Significant event]. Lots of dancing at these dos, where, I suspect, the young men are still the ones who LEAD [Guide one's dance partner]. But I've never been to one, so I couldn't say for sure. I'm also thinking that a lot of [Titled ladies] DAMES may have had their "introduction to society" as debutantes. And that a lot of untitled ladies are pretty swell dames themselves!

The real icing on the cake, of course, is that Patrick has created yet another pangram. The ingredients of a pangram? All 26 letters of the alphabet. You can check. By virtue of such fill as JUNE BUG [Large brown beetle], the elegantly clued FLICKERS [Shimmers like a lit candle], EQUAL [Identical in value], OXIDE [Nitrous ___ (laughing gas)] (shades of Little Shop of Horrors), SLYNESS [Foxy quality] and LIZA [Judy's eldest daughter], they're all in there.

EGAD. I nearly forgot to mention that I enjoyed seeing GAME SHOW in the grid, and in the "who knew?" department, liked learning that U-HAUL has been a [Rental business since 1945]. Who knew?!

Chuck Deodene's Los Angeles Times crossword

Facial hair is the name of the game, and five types of mustaches appear in the grid, clued as the nouns the styles are named after. For photos, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.
  • 64A: [Each answer to a starred clue is a type of this] clues the Grand Unifying MUSTACHE.
  • 17A: [Evil Asian doctor in Sax Rohmer novels] is FU MANCHU. The Fu Manchu 'stache differs from the horseshoe in that the trailing ends extend beyond the chin.
  • 11D: [Scooter feature] is a HANDLEBAR. You don't see many of these today. Ballplayer Rollie Fingers is a notable handlebar sporter of recent years. The handlebar mustache is patently ridiculous, is it not?
  • 22D: [Tusked mammal] is a WALRUS).. Popularly recognized as the Wilford Brimley 'stache, this one was also observed on former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. It seems like such an odd match for a serious person, the walrus mustache. Does anybody want to kiss a man whose mustache covers his upper lip?
  • 35D: [Trotter's footwear item] is a HORSESHOE. "Trotter" also means an edible pig's foot. (Feh.) The horseshoe mustache is among my least favorite varieties of facial hair, right up there with muttonchops and a mustache-free full beard. The horseshoe seems to be au courant among the country/Southern fellas.
  • 36D: [Eyebrow cosmetic applicator] is one sort of PENCIL. This is a rather creepy-looking little mustache. John Waters has been sporting a pencil for decades. Wouldn't you think he'd grow tired of it at some point?
Today's Crosswordese 101 lesson (a daily feature at L.A. Crossword Confidential) focused on TRA, which also popped up in the NYT puzzle. It's part of the longer "tra-la" or "tra-la-la." TRA clues are generally along the lines of "musical syllable," "song syllable," "refrain syllable," "___ la la," or "la preceder." That's one of the things that makes TRA such lame crossword fill: Not only is it not something we say, not only is it a dangling fragment, but it's also something that does not lend itself to interesting clueing options. And yet we see it again and again.

Ben Tausig's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Even when I read the clue for the unifying answer, INK—59D: [Body art, colloquially, and this puzzle's theme]—I was still confused for a bit before the "aha" moment arrived. The five theme answers begin with tattoo types:
  • 17A. [Comprehensive spa treatment] is a FULL BODY MASSAGE, and a full body tattoo way to go.
  • 22A. [Material inside a jewel case] clues a CD's SLEEVE NOTES. Is that what liner notes are called these days? A sleeve tattoo covers the arm.
  • 35A. TEMPORARY WORKER is a [Distressingly common staff member]. Temporary tattoos! I am not at all afraid of getting those.
  • 51A. PRISON BREAK is a [Fox drama], and a prison tattoo is the sort that's applied with whatever materials are at hand. Prison tattoos identify which prison gang the wearer belongs to.
  • 57A. MILITARY HISTORY is the [Study of conflict]. "Military tattoo" has entirely un-INK-related meaning, but plenty of people in the armed forces get tattoos to reflect their experience. My grandpa got tattoos when he was in the Navy around 1919, but they were of a dragon and a lady. Those don't count, do they?
Is MOOTER a word? It's clued as 44D: [More debatable], but I feel its legitimacy is debatable.

Favorite clue: 53D: [Ben and Jen do it with each other] for RHYME.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Fireplaces"

Sometimes a fireplace is a HOT CORNER in the room, and a HOT CORNER is also the [Third baseman's domain, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. The corners of the grid hold a {HOT} rebus, which appears as the word HOT in one direction and just the three letters HOT in the other. No, wait, {HOT}HOUSE and {HOT} POTATO both relate to heat. Then there's a cinnamon RED {HOT} candy crossing a {HOT}EL ROOM, "MAKE IT {HOT}" crossing a LONG S{HOT}, and MR. BIG S{HOT} crossing {HOT} POT. Highlights in the fill: BRUCE LEE, "IT'S A GIRL," HEXAGON, BRNO (what can I say? I'm a sucker for Czech place names that are vowel-deprived), EX-LAX (the [Dump assistant?]!), and many of the theme entries. No so fond of ENURING, the dangling NOT ONLY, and much of the 3- and 4-letter fill.

All righty, I've got to get some work done before my lunch date today. Later!



crossword 8:50 (paper, with one ??)
puzzle n/a

matt's got something a little different for us this week: a themeless with no meta. did you guys come up with any good suggestions for a more positive name for a crossword with no theme? i didn't. my best attempt was "fillfull." i figure: zippy fill is what's great about a themeless, so the name should specify what the puzzle has rather than what it doesn't. plus, it's fun to connect two forms of the same word in the name.

anyway, about matt's crossword: i liked it, but ultimately couldn't finish it. my downfall: [Italian pop artist Enrico] BA_ crossing ["As Good As It Gets" director ___ Brooks] _AMESL. now, _AMESL makes no sense to me, and the last letter of the italian artist could be anything except J, right? (no way matt would do that to us again...) what i didn't realize, but should have based on the weird ending, is that i was looking for a six-letter partial, JAMES L. brooks. as soon as brendan pointed it out to me, i slapped myself on the forehead. i know james l. brooks! he's a producer of the simpsons. and i even knew, buried somewhere in the long-unused recesses of my brain, that he directed that movie (which i've seen, and even almost liked). sigh. and yes, the pop artist is enrico BAJ. is that a made-up name or what? it certainly doesn't look like a plausible italian name, although ... we've been over this ground before, haven't we? apparently i'm not qualified to guess these things.

other entries of note:

  • the grid's got five interlocking 15s, of which the craziest has got to be the [Maritime monopoly] of the 13th-17th centuries, the HANSEATIC LEAGUE. did you all know this? i picked it up with a couple of crossings, but wow, that's knowledge i haven't used since my quizbowl days.
  • the other 15s have some tie-in with maritime something-or-other, as we've got the maritime ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, the maritime NAVAL AIR STATION, the [Pocket pooch] MINIATURE BEAGLE... okay, maybe not, although the hms beagle is the famous ship that carried darwin to the galapagos. as for EXECUTIVE BRANCH, clued cutely as [All the President's men (and women)], there's nothing maritime about it, although the military is a part of that branch.
  • but what about the president's girls? MALIA OBAMA is clued as [Sasha's sister]. she's got that funky IAO vowel cluster in the middle.
  • RUG is clued as [Poor headwear], and sam DONALDSON is clued as [Newsman with an obvious 18-down]. i'm sure our sam donaldson has a full head of hair, even though i've never met him.
  • cursory knowledge of ancient history would serve you in good stead where DARIUS I of persia crosses the SABINES of ancient italy.
  • long clue for a short answer: [Gabriel Garcia Marquez classic "El amor en ___ tiempos del colera"] for LOS. but i liked it, because i've read love in the time of cholera (in english), and it was an excellent book. it's too bad GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ is so long; i've always wanted to put his name in a crossword.
  • speaking of living authors whose names are in crosswords, umberto ECO is clued snarkily as ["The thinking man's Dan Brown"]. whose quip is that, matt himself or somebody else?
  • favorite misleading clue: [Laws change over them] at 1-across. nothing to do with precedent-breaking cases; the answer is just STATE LINES.

overall, the grid had perhaps a few too many entries of the sorts that i try to eschew for my liking: obscurity BAJ crossing six-letter partial JAMES L.; roman numeral MMII; alphabetic run MNOP; unusual foreign word AAL (german for eel?); weird partial AN M (clued as ["Gimme ___!" (cheer start in Ann Arbor, maybe)]); many abbreviations (SDI, UTEP, IDS, HRS, APO, RTES, INC, MR. D, TUE); inexplicable [Word in some ship names] that i still don't understand MARU ... oh god, is this a reference to star trek? because "kobayashi maru" is ringing a bell, though i've never seen the original series. on the whole, the negatives outweighed the positives of the nice long fill, making this not one of my favorite recent themelesses, though it certainly had its moments. how did it sit with you?


September 28, 2009

Tuesday, 9/29/09

NYT 3:02
LAT 2:52
Jonesin' 4:15
CS untimed

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

Would you look at that? I learned something from a Tuesday crossword's theme. All five starred theme entries are phrases that have traveled far beyond their nautical roots.

  • 71A. AT SEA is clued as [Clueless...or where the answers to this puzzle's starred clues were all first used].
  • 17A. A [Dangerously unpredictable sort] is a LOOSE CANNON. The story behind the phrase is here.
  • 39A. To DEEP-SIX something is to [Junk] it.
  • 61A. HARD AND FAST means [Inviolable, as rules]. The term originally meant firmly beached on shore.
  • 11D. I like the phrase IN THE OFFING, which is clued as [Likely to happen]. The origin is explained thus: "It is quite simple to understand once you know that 'the offing' is the part of the sea that can be seen from land, excluding those parts that are near the shore. Early texts also refer to it as 'offen' or 'offin.' Someone who was watching out for a ship to arrive would first see it approaching when it was 'in the offing' and expected to dock before the next tide."
  • 25D. If the road's [Jammed] with traffic, it's CHOCK-A-BLOCK with cars. Here's the term's background.
The British site Phrase Finder lists other nautical phrases. Among the most charming or useful: batten down the hatches, broad in the beam, give a wide berth, high and dry, know the ropes, shake a leg, three sheets to the wind, and the cut of your jib. Now, that's the sort of nautical language I like to see in a crossword. The nouns for random sailing gear? Not so much.

10D: "NO, NO, NO" is a rather goofy answer, but I kinda like it. Its clue is ["That is completely the wrong way!"].

Also good: 4D: AD-SPEAK, or [Marketers' "language"]. Ooh! Don't miss the documentary, Consuming Kids, about the insidious ways marketers have targeted children since the 1980s. You can watch it here, in a series of YouTube segments; it's about an hour long.

Most-likely-to-be-Googled clue: 8D: [War aid program passed by Congress in 1941] for LEND-LEASE. Under the program, the U.S. gave war material to its allies, who repaid the U.S. in various ways. The U.K. made its last installment payment in 2006.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

Dan Naddor brings the food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a night at the game in four 15-letter "___ and ___" phrases:
  • 16A. COFFEE AND DONUTS are a [Breakfast pair]. My husband's been going to the Unkind Donuts a block away for our weekend coffee and donuts, but now he says he doesn't like their coffee anymore. He makes the supreme sacrifice of drinking it anyway so I can have my chocolate-frosted cake donut.
  • 24A. [Lunch pair] is SOUP AND SANDWICH. I like the half-sandwich option, personally.
  • 41A. MEAT AND POTATOES are a [Dinner pair]. Eh, you can have mine.
  • 54A. BEER AND PRETZELS are an [Evening ball game snack pair]. Horribly worded clue, and I am left wondering why we're not having CAKE AND ICE CREAM at the end of our food&food day. I have a SOFT SPOT ([Sentimental place in the heart]) for sweets.
Lots of people in the puzzle today. NEIL Armstrong and ALAN Greenspan, RAUL Julia and Dan MARINO, Ho Chi MINH and Wernher von BRAUN, two IANS and that horrible Bob SAGET, CYD Charisse and DEION Sanders, and the fictional Mr. MOTO and ETHAN Frome. Lucky for me, names in a crossword don't make me SKITTISH ([Apt to shy, as a horse]).

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Chance Collisions" (themeless)

A few times a year, Matt's Jonesin' puzzle is themeless, but the difficulty level is usually not far off from what it is for his themed puzzles. Coolest answers:
  • 1A. X-RAY VISION is a [Super power all about transparency]. My husband's watching the season premiere of Heroes, and that is not among the powers the characters possess. If I could choose a superpower, I'd like to be able to fly. My son is more pragmatic and would choose teleportation, which is my second choice.
  • 40A. Sure, VALLEY GIRLS is a rather dated term, but I'm a dated individual so I like it. [They'd say "like, gag me" in the 1980s].
  • 52A. [Rarest of the main blood types in the U.S.] is AB NEGATIVE. My AB- friend is wooed regularly by the blood drive people. They like her.
  • 1D. XYLITOL is a [Sugar alcohol in some chewing gums]. XYLITOL can reduce the risk of tooth decay. I'm partial to fruit-flavored Spry gum with xylitol.
  • 11D. "Who's that for?" 'It's for Twayne." FORT WAYNE is [Indiana's second largest city]. The nation's 73rd largest city, too, with a quarter million people.
Less familiar terms: TAIL SKIDS are [Supports at the end of planes]. [Like a lot of European cathedral architecture in the 16th century] clues LATE GOTHIC. PETTICOATED is indeed an adjective (who knew?) meaning [Wearing an underskirt]. CLINOMETER is a [Tool in forestry to measure slope, vertical angles and tree heights]; it's not related to words like incline and recline, which have Latin roots as opposed to CLINOMETER's Greek root.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Odd Fellows"—Janie's review

No, not the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the fraternal organization that's been around since the 18th century in the U.S. (and the 17th in England), but four well-known phrases ending in a word that can also be a man's name. With the first word now describing a person rather than a thing, Sarah introduces us to another side of a wide variety of celebrity-types, namely:
  • 20A. OVERDUE BILL [Tardy comedian Cosby?]. Notice how this fill sits above IRS [Form 1040 org.]. Is Sarah sending a warning?
  • 34A. MOVING VAN [Poignant pianist Cliburn?]. I think this rendition of the second movement of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto should make the point. You will not hear Van VAMP [Improvise musically] with this piece...
  • 42A. MODERN ART [Up-to-date actor Carney?]. This would be my fave. I know I'm skewing the meaning here, but I can't help seeing the Norton version of the Kramden apartment and seeing those dingy walls hung with, oh, a Rothko here, a Pollack there. Ah, the beauty of juxtaposition!
  • 56A. KOSHER FRANK [Proper singer Sinatra?]. Ol' blue eyes was never really known for following the letter of the law, so this one is amusing on more than one level. While perhaps not part of any [Ponzi schemes, e.g.] per se, he certainly was known to socialize with a number of people prominent in any number of RACKETS. All in all, I'd say stick with Art and Van...
Other fill (and clues) that caught my fancy today includes:
  • OLIVE OYL [Popeye's main squeeze]. Here's a picture of the AMOROUS [Lovey-dovey] pair. Notice how the sailor man has decided to WOO his sweetheart [Go a-courting] with flowers in hand. Or in spinach can, to be more accurate. I also got to wondering whether Ms. Oyl uses OLAY [Oil of ___] as part of her beauty regimen...
  • A SLAB is a [Piece of concrete], and a piece of concrete can sometimes feel as SOLID [ ___ as a rock]. And somehow this line of discussion conjures up Ashford and Simpson.
  • I love the way double L- LLAMA crosses LH-starting LHASA. I generally find it disconcerting (and also enjoyable) to see improbable consonant combos at the beginning of words. But sure enough, they can work. And do.
  • Another fortunate pairing in the grid is the placement of [Apple's apple, e.g.] LOGO beside IPOD [Apple product]; ditto the opposites AGREE [Feel the same] and TORN, which is to feel [Conflicted].
  • TREACLE is [Sweet, gooey stuff]. See also Olive Oyl above...
  • Neither the literal STATISTIC (too long) nor AVERAGE (too short) is the [Ballpark figure] in question. The figurative ESTIMATE, however, is.
  • LIME is the [Key pie fruit?]. The clue does double duty, referencing both the distinguishing (key) ingredient in Key lime pie and the fact that this lime comes from Florida's Key isles.
  • [Related] is another double-edged clue. My first fill was the adjective AKIN. But no-o-o-o. The correct fill is the past tense verb TOLD. Glad I got that straightened out!


September 27, 2009

Monday, 9/28/09

BEQ 6:53
LAT 2:43
NYT 2:24
CS untimed

Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword

What a lovely Monday puzzle. It's filled with fantastic answers that are there just because, and the theme entries are the sort of lively terms I like to see in a themeless crossword. Now, the puzzle hits the easy/Monday bullseye, so it's eminently possible to complete the puzzle (as I did) without taking note of the theme. The theme is a big stinkin' failure, which is to say it successfully includes five phrases that end with synonyms for "failure":

  • 17A. An [Abrupt way to quit] is to go COLD TURKEY. If you're trying to quit drinking, do not go cold duck.
  • 40A. One [Chocolaty morsel munched at the movies] is a MILK DUD. I used to love Milk Duds. Do you suppose that has anything to do with my history of tooth decay?
  • 63A. [Round, red firecracker] clues CHERRY BOMB. I have a scar on my leg from something like that. It came from above and I never saw it before it blew up. Illegal firecrackers and fireworks are prohibited for a reason, folks.
  • 11D. [Narcs' raid] is a DRUG BUST.
  • 39D. FLIP-FLOP is one of a [Beach footwear pair].
The Scrabbliest highlight in the non-theme fill is ZAMBEZI, [Africa's fourth-longest river and site of Victoria Falls]. There are two more Zs in the grid. One's in GEEZER, or [Old, crotchety guy], and the other's in AZALEA, or [Relative of a rhododendron]. Other bright spots: JOSHES means [Teases playfully]. BATS IN is [Brings home for a score] (and no, that's not about dating). RAMADAN is a [Month-long Islamic observance], which ended with the Eid holiday last week (belated "Eid Mubarak" greetings to those of you who celebrated). A [Close-fitting sleeveless shirt] is a TANK TOP. FLIES is an ordinary word, but the clue's fun: [Gets around like Superman]. And look, we've got [One of the Redgrave sisters], LYNN. That's probably as close as Ms. Lempel will get to including her name in the grid. Hah! I just noticed a word I had filled in via the crossings and never looked at—CRAP is a [Losing roll in a casino].

Thanks, LYNN, for a fresh and entertaining Monday puzzle.

Updated Monday morning:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "C & W"—Janie's review

A shout-out to a musical genre (Country & Western)? A shout-out to a puzzle genre (crossword)? I think Vic Fleming took care of both at the 2005 ACPT with "If You Don't Come Across (I'm Gonna be Down")—but leave it to Paula to find a third way to apply those letters. Today she presents four two-word phrases (two 15s, two 11s) whose first word begins with C and whose second begins with W. And the guilty parties are:
  • 17A. CARBONATED WATER [Perrier or Pelligrino]. Now that's what I call bubbly theme-fill...
  • 24A. CALL WAITING [Phone service option]. And a feature that's made itself a necessary evil. Of sorts. While my phone service provides it (and I have it), I also have "call answer." If I choose not to interrupt the call I'm on, the new caller can leave voice mail and I can call back. When the "new caller" is a telemarketer, this is an especially handy feature.
  • 46A. CARNAUBA WAX [Durable coating from a palm tree]. While this palm product is available in any store that sells automotive products, I have an image in my head of a sign outside of one of those automated car wash places offering, as a finishing touch, to treat the freshly cleaned exterior to a coating of "hot carnauba wax." Now I've heard of Mother's Oats, but I had no idea she was into carnauba wax, too. Busy mom...
  • 61A. CONCEALED WEAPON [Bulge under a hit man's jacket, maybe]. Wonder how the NRA, the perfectly clued [Piece-keeping group?] feels about that...
There's a lot of strong non-theme fill here, too. I'll start by pointing out the symmetrically placed phrases "WHO'S NEXT?" with its vivid, story-telling clue [Reigning champion's question to challengers] and SWINGS IT, clued not in conjunction with Benny Goodman's musical style, but as [Manages to succeed]. I also liked the GAS PEDAL/[You can step on it] combo, and the adjacent proximity of [Rampaging]/ARIOT to MANOLETE [Noted matador]. One of the greatest bullfighters of the mid 20th century, Manolete met his death at age 30, gouged by a bull running ariot.

[Joe with no jolt] is DECAF, "joe" being slang for "coffee" (and which you might have as a TALL [Starbuck's size]). Remember, though when Joltin' Joe DiMaggio was the spokesman for Mr. Coffee?

DAME [British title] is poised atop EDAM [Red-rinded cheese]. Dame is also an anagram of Edam. Or wait—is it the other way around?

And hello, HUGH [Jackman of film]. Let's not forget he won a [Tony...] AWARD for his portrayal of Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz and is currently starring on Broadway with Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain. The gents fairly embody the word "boffo": they are the essence of box office certainty!

Fred Jackson's Los Angeles Times crossword

Wow, this puzzle was scarcely any easier than the last Saturday LAT crossword! Which is to say that the whole week of L.A. Times crosswords are hitting the Monday/Tuesday difficulty level, thereby removing intriguing clues to talk about. If your local paper runs this puzzle (syndicated by Tribune Media Services), please send a letter/e-mail decrying the loss of the graduated difficulty curve and the more challenging Friday and Saturday puzzles.

The theme entries begin with related words:
  • IMAGINARY FRIEND is [Hobbes, to Calvin]. Not the philosopher and theologian—the stuffed tiger with a sassy personality and the comic-strip boy.
  • DREAM VACATION is an [Ideal getaway]. Where's yours?
  • FANTASY FOOTBALL is many an [Armchair quarterback's hobby].

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

Hooray! Themeless Monday! A puzzle that takes longer than the usual Monday puzzle! This one was labeled as "medium" difficulty but I dunno, I thought it was on the hard side.

There are a few highlights, but this 70-worder had more fill that underwhelmed me. The good stuff: CULT STATUS, the CN TOWER, AFRO PICK, SHEBANG. My son's 4th-grade teacher is a man, which occasioned my sister to tell him that her 4th-grade teacher had been not only a man, but a man who sported a pick in his Afro in the classroom. Ah, 1970s! How we loved you. Favorite clues: [Holy figure?] for a holy TERROR, and the noun phrase [Play uncle] for Chekhov's Uncle VANYA.

There's a surprising amount of lackluster fill given that this is a 70-worder. MISTAKABLE without an un-? The [Short cloak] called a MANTELET? AREOLE, ENLISTEE, and SETS OUT? Then there are the little words: STS, ASTA, INRE, ENOS, LER, OLEO, CLE.

ESURIENT isn't too familiar; it means [Very hungry]. The dictionary tells me it's an archaic word (boo) that means "hungry or greedy."


September 26, 2009

Sunday, 9/27/09

NYT 41:31 (paper)
Seattle Times 23:35 (paper)
LAT 16:12 (paper)
CS 11:10 (paper)
BG 25:29 (paper)

Happy Sunday, everyone. Sam Donaldson here, spelling Orange and spilling on the Sunday crosswords. I am honored that Orange gave me another shot at guest blogging--I feel like a young stand-up who gets called over to the guest chair by Johnny Carson after a set! "Just don't screw this up...."

It's just now "back to school" time at my place of employment (the University of Washington in Seattle). We use a trimester system with three ten-week terms, meaning fall classes finally start this week. Even though everyone else has been in school for a month or so already, I need to get back into the groove. Accordingly, I'm going to assign grades to today's puzzles. As in real life, final grades will be completely arbitrary and capricious.

Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword, "That is Two Say" (Final Grade = A)

Apologies off the top for the crappy picture of the completed grid. My version of Across Lite (downloaded circa 1620) does not support multiple letters in one box. Not a problem for me since my custom is to print the puzzle and solve by pencil anyway. But since you don't want to decipher my handwriting, I planned to type my solution into the empty grid and snap that picture. Works just fine if there's no rebus. Oops. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just download the updated version of Across Lite and I'll be off to the races." Naturally, for some reason, my computer won't let me download the newer version. So I went MacGyver on y'all and snapped a pdf version of the completed grid. You'll see my chicken-scratch in the rebus squares, but I keyed in all the other letters.

Last month I finally got around to purchasing "Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies," Patrick's guide to crossword construction. Oh, how I wish I would have followed the advice of others and purchased this sooner. Patrick explains the ins and outs of construction so lucidly, I admire his prose almost as much as his puzzles (high praise indeed). If I remember correctly, Patrick endured the frustration of many solvers on the crossword blogs for his last NYT Sunday-sized puzzle, the fraternity rebus. In my view, today's rebus should garner more compliments than scorn. It was a toughie (for me), but a goodie.

The gimmick here was to squeeze two letters into 13 assorted boxes. Read in one direction, the two letters were simply two letters--no big deal. In the other direction, however, they were to be read aloud. It's now been fifteen minutes since I first typed that lame explanation and I still can't do better. Let's look at the entries using the rebus squares so it all makes sense:

  • Insert the letters "CU" to form CUDGEL, the short, heavy [Club], reading across; read them aloud for the down entry and you get C U (see you) LATER, a [Casual farewell]. Hmm, I thought listing the entries would make it all so clear.
  • You need to cram "DK" into a single box so as to get BEDKNOBS, the [Post decorations on four-posters], reading down. Reading across, you have TOOTH D K (decay), a [Dental problem].
  • Better put "SA" at the start of 37-Across, since SALIENT is [Very noticeable]. On the down side, you get the [Life magazine staple], the PHOTO S A (essay).
  • Put "DM" into a single square to make ADMIRABLE, something [Praiseworthy]. That'll give you CARPE D M (diem), a [Latin catchphrase sometimes seen on sundials]. Like most everyone in my generation, I first seized "carpe diem" from "Dead Poets Society."
  • [Chianti and Beaujolais] are REDS, but you'll need to cram the "ED" in one square to make it work. Turns out the [Singer who played herself in "Ocean's Eleven"] is E D (Eydie) GORME.
  • Here's the one that broke it open for me: I knew the ["Married ... With Children" actress] had to be K T (Katey) SAGAL, since the swoon-inducing Christina Applegate was just not going to fit. And sure enough, I had two or three K-TEL records as a kid. It was the [Music compilation maker].
  • KARATS are [Units of fineness], as in the more karats you cram into the jewelry give to your sweetie, the finer you look. The "AT" in KARATS then serves up the "equatorial" AROUND THE WORLD IN A T (eighty) DAYS, the [1873 adventure novel that begins and ends in London].
  • To make the ["Fer-de-Lance" mystery novelist], REX STOUT, work you need "XS" in one box. Reading down, you find that TO X S (excess) is [How drunks drink].
  • I like the clue [Chisel face] for BEZEL. Sounds like a good insult--"Oh, can it, chisel face!" Borrow the middle letters and you will REST E Z (easy), or [Stop worrying].
  • My father would be proud to know that I knew CRANK CASE, the [Dipstick housing], right off the bat. Use the "KC" to make K C JONES, the [Driver of the Cannonball Special], a drag racer shaped like a locomotive. Here's a fun diversion: type "dipstick" in Google's search field right now and watch how it suggests "dipstick housing" as the first suggested search phrase. I wonder if that was the case a few hours ago? The phrase turns up a lot of hits, but I have a hunch today's puzzle might have affected its status on Google.
  • Loved this one: cram "QP" into one square to form JOHN Q. PUBLIC, the [American everyman] reading across and a Q P (kewpie) DOLL reading down. Did you know "kewpie" is German for "creepy?" It's not, but it should be.
  • Act like an R.N. and shove an "IV" into a square so that you send SHIVERS, a [Flu symptom], reading down. It's OK, though, because you're treating POISON I V (ivy), clued as [It's not to be touched].
  • Shove Nevada ("NV") into southeast section of the grid to make CANVAS, the [Sneaker material]. Doing so will make others GREEN WITH N V (envy) when they read across.
The grid offered plenty of toeholds, with easy fill-ins like Jai ALAI, Sierra LEONE, RUBIK'S Cube, SINO-Japanese War, and From A TO Z. Of the 12(!) clues formatted as fill-ins, only one gave me pause, the Abbott and Costello film, "Here Come the CO-EDS." But the extra hint in the clue (that it was set at a girl's school) and the crossings made it easily gettable. Despite the many fair starting points, however, the rebus had me a little on edge and I found it hard to get traction. This being Patrick Berry, I suspected the two letter combinations in the rebus squares would form a secret message when read in some order. So, ever on the lookout for the meta-theme, I lost some time. Please tell me there isn't a secret message in the grid. How embarrassing would that be!

In discussing how to fill grids with familiar terms in his book, Patrick says he knows a lot about movies but little about television, politics, and opera. Save for television, I'm right there with him. But even I can get AIDA, the [Opera set in Egypt]. I like seeing LIAM NEESON, the [Ethan Frome portrayer, 1993], in the grid, and for some reason I like that TART abuts TROLLOPE, even though the latter has an "E" on the end so it refers to the [Author of the Barsetshire novels].

Here are some confessions from solving this puzzle (abridged since this has to be posted before Tuesday): (1) still don't know how [Leopard's home?] clues IMAC; (2) needed lots of crossings to tease out COSTA BRAVA, the [Resort region near Barcelona]; (3) never knew GRAHAM as a [Car make of the 1930s]; (4) am blushing a little that I could throw TATIANA Romanova, the ["From Russia With Love" Bond girl], into the grid with only one letter crossing; (5) never heard of a TULIP TREE, the [Yellow poplar]; (6) thought I was better in science than I really am, for both MARKER GENE (a [Key sequence in a chromosome]) and MIDRIB (the [Leaf vein]) were new to me; and (7) while I normally have an allergic reaction to variant spellings in crosswords, somehow I was fine with two of them in this grid (PATINES for [Surface films] and IKON for a [Venerated image]). Oddly, I'm significantly more freaked out about Jacob RIIS, the ["How the Other Half Lives"] writer.

So this proved to be a workout for me, but I enjoyed it. I feel smarter for having solved this puzzle (and dumber for confessing all of my ignorance here). So it gets an "A." As does "Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies." And, for that matter, so does "Puzzle Masterpieces."

Merl Reagle’s Seattle Times crossword, "O Punnish Me” (Final Grade = B+)

Once again I'm re-branding Merl's syndicated crossword--you know it on this blog as the "Philadelphia Inquirer" crossword. And to celebrate the re-branding, it looks like Merl's trying something entirely new for him: puns. I thought about listing the theme entries in order of "groaniness," but check it out: the puns actually get groanier from top to bottom!
  • [Western-style wieners?] are PRAIRIE DOGS. I sort of shrugged at this one. Cute (because c'mon, what's cuter than a prairie dog?) but not a groaner.
  • Fittingly, it takes two long entries to contain the [tubby executive's last resort if he doesn't get his way?]: SITTING ON THE / BOARD OF DIRECTORS. I smiled when I caught on to this one--but no groan.
  • THAT WAS CLOSE would be how one could say ["Glenn just went by," in other words?]. That is, if one wanted to refer to the actress Glenn Close without using both her first and last names. An audible "Mmm" here (think Marge Simpson when she's mildly exasperated)--close to a groan but no cigar.
  • [What your dog keeps doing that prevents you from filing on time? (suuure)] is LYING ON YOUR TAX RETURNS. As one who teaches tax law, I like almost all references to taxes in my crosswords. This one elicited a light chuckle.
  • [The door prize at a zombie party?] is a DEAD GIVEAWAY. Ding ding ding! We have our first groan.
  • HAPPY ON THE INSIDE is a [Sad result of "The Seven Dwarfs Meet Godzilla"?]. Maybe others thought this was gross, but I loved the creativity of the clue. It reminds me of the classic "Bambi Meets Godzilla" short film.
  • And the [result of trying to sew on a zipper with the lights off?] is a FLY BY THE SEAT / OF YOUR PANTS. I groaned! I laughed! I loved!
Do you agree that the puns get better (or worse, if you're a pun-hater) as you progress down the grid? I know Merl likes to save his best "punch line" for the bottom, and in my view he chose wisely here. The order of the theme entries here is just perfect, even if serendipitous.

Sure, there are only seven puns in the grid, but two of them are long enough to span two lines, so I feel there is plenty of theme here to enjoy. We're treated to a couple of Qs and Xs in the grid, and some clever clues to boot: [It's witnessed by seconds] for DUEL and [Sushi candidates] for EELS.

I liked that the clues for two consecutive down entries were related: John Henry EATON was the [Secretary of War, 1829] and William Howard TAFT was the [Secretary of War, 1904]. At last, the payoff for memorizing the list of former War Secretaries back in fifth grade!

I breezed through the solve until I came to a screeching halt in the far east. I was befuddled by Hosni MUBARAK, the [Cairo VIP], since I kept thinking I was supposed to come up with a term like "pharaoh." I had ROW A for the [Good seat site], but alas it was ROW I (I take it the I is for "one" and not the letter "I"). Kept wanting ADAM'S as the [Rib adjective] when it was PRIME, and that precluded me from getting EPH, the [Galatians follower: abbr.] (short for Ephesians), for a long time. Didn't help that SASHA being a [Nickname for "Alexandra"] was new to me. Getting stuck on this many entries in such close proximity created the perfect storm, so my relatively slow time comes as no surprise.

So why just a B+ and not a higher mark? Well, there were a few sour notes. Case in point: NARR, short for "narration," or [Voice-over]. Odd to see WSW and SSE (both clued as a [Compass pt.]) in the same grid. Also odd to see QE-II, the [Noted liner, briefly] together with the aforementioned ROW I. But I guess two odds make it even, so all is well. I'm sure more than a handful of solvers got stumped with the [Gary Cooper film, "They Came to ___"] CORDURA. Cordura's a nylon fabric originally made by DuPont so sayeth the Holder of All Truth). So they came to Cordura ... after trying burlap? Because cotton was bad and wool was even "worsted?" OK, we need to move on....

Alan Arbesfeld’s Los Angeles Times crossword, "Put the Finger On” (Final Grade = CREDIT)

We interrupt this blog for some late-breaking news:

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Publishers of the Los Angeles Times announced today that the newspaper will be renamed the Los Angeles Plus. "Multiplication proved too difficult for our readers," said one editor who wished to remain anonymous. "We felt that having the 'Times' in our name dissuaded potential readers. The 'Plus' tells readers they won't have to do anything harder than addition."

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Well, in light of this news, the increasing ease of the LA Times puzzles makes sense! If you haven't noticed, this and other crossword blogs (there are other crossword blogs?) have bemoaned the easy puzzles of late. Word on the street is that papers still relatively new in carrying the syndicated puzzle have put pressure on the editors to ease up on the puzzles. So instead of a Monday-to-Friday progression of difficulty, we get a Monday-to-soft-Tuesday progression. I can join the chorus in disliking the effect this has on the puzzles, but I can't take it out on the editors or the constructors. When a student in class submits a late paper because of extenuating circumstances, I usually grade the paper on a pass-fail basis instead of assigning a letter grade. I think it's right to do the same thing here, too. If the clues had been a little more challenging, this would have been a really enjoyable solve. As it was, it was a pleasant (albeit brief), breezy stroll. We have established that I'm not a competitive speed solver, but when I finish a 21x grid in under 17 minutes, it's easy.

Oh, the theme? Pretty conventional, but it had a fun feel to it. Alan takes eight phrases and adds an "ID" to end of one of the words, then gives the resulting wacky phrase a suitable clue:
  • Add an "ID" to a rap singer and you get a RAPID SINGER, clued as [Ella while scatting?].
  • A [Bow-wielding Southern god?] would be Charlie Daniels. But here it's a DIXIE CUPID.
  • LIPID SERVICE is a fun name for a [Cholesterol check?].
  • My favorite clue-answer pair is the [Possible reply to a dentist's "Where does it hurt?"]--ON THE CUSPID.
  • A [Twisty hair style for active people?] is a SPORTS BRAID.
  • ASIATIC FLUID is the answer for [Japanese sake, e.g.?]. As a base term, Asiatic flu felt forced to me, but a quick Google search convinces me it's legit.
  • Liked KID RATIONS, clued as [Candy, cookies, and soda?], as a fun play off of K-rations.
  • [What Depp did, over and over, to acquire the auction item he so badly wanted?] clues JOHNNY REBID. Maybe not my choice for the final, "punch line" entry, but it's solid.
Six of the eight theme entries were in the top six and bottom six rows, so those sections are relatively dense with theme. The middle nine rows have only two theme entries, and neither is impressively long for a 21x grid. Consequently, the midsection feels a little thin to me. Still, I liked a lot of the long downs, including BAR AND GRILL, QUIT COLD, ACT NOW, and SUPERPOWER. The rest of the fill may not have blinded me with sparkle, but I felt it was solid. Yes, I muttered a little when I saw STR, the [Orch. section], and SER, the [Rev.'s talk]. In fact, I'll go on record that SER may be my least favorite abbreviation in crosswords. If I ever have to use that entry, I'm cluing it as the Spanish verb (and then watching the editor change it to the abbreviation, probably). Of course, if I have to use that entry in the first place, editors will likely pass on the puzzle anyway. But the point is that the puzzle was quite solid overall. Just think how much better it could have been if the constructor and editors were free to make it a normal Sunday puzzle. Sigh.

William I. Johnston's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" (Final Grade = B)

Accountants will like this 70-word themeless puzzle because its assets evenly match its liabilities. Consider first the assets: the best entry in the grid, NUDIST CAMP, gets matched with the puzzle's best clue, [Place where nothing is going on?]. The grid features four 15-letter entries, and two of them are lively: LOVE ME, LOVE MY DOG, clued as ["Fido is part of the package"], and SNAKE IN THE GRASS, a [Backstabber]. The clue [Like Vera Wang and Anna Sui] rescues the third 15-letter entry, CHINESE-AMERICAN, from mediocrity. Sure enough, I took the bait, trying to see where "DESIGNER" would fit in the answer. ARMENIAN may be a ho-hum entry, but it's jazzed up through a celebrity reference in the clue, [Cher's heritage, in part]. In the northwest, MINT TEAS looks nice atop I'VE HAD IT.

But there are also some liabilities. The ugliest is TCHR, the [N.E.A. member]. I might have to rethink the hatred for SER. Then the [Glamorous Gardner], AVA, crosses the [Old greeting], AVE, right in the center of the grid. AIR PASSAGE feels clunky, and the clue, [Ventilation duct], does little to make it dance. I know RAPID TRANSIT MAP isn't forced, and yet it still looks and feels that way to me. It cried for some zip, but the clue, [Guide for commuters], offered no help. The proper number of European rivers to appear in any one grid is 0.6; this one has two, the NEVA and the ARNO. There were some missed cluing opportunities, as ABSTRACT ART seemed to deserve better than [Nonfigurative creation], and BRAIN TEASER appeared underserved by [Poser]. I get that "poser" can serve as misdirection, but what about something like ["How many times can you take away 2 from 21?," e.g.]? Finally, consider the following four consecutive down entries in the southeast: ARNO, MAIS, ESAI, SSNS. Show that corner to your non-solver partner or friends and watch them shake their heads. They'd have a point--it's probably too much concentrated crosswordese.

Every asset in the puzzle is offset by a liability. Perfect balance for the accountant, but hard to grade for me. In the end, I chose a "B" on the strength of the NUDIST CAMP.

I broke into the grid with STOLI, the [Vodka brand], not because I really know the brand but because I noticed that 1-Across was a plural. That meant the answer to 8-Down likely started with an "S," and Stoli's the only vodka brand I know starting with "S." Then came Mauna LOA, good ol' Max VON Sydow, and from there LOVE ME, LOVE MY DOG came immediately. TAMABLE, something [Subject to breaking?], took me way too long because I kept seeing "tam," as in the hat. Sometimes Scottish ancestry works against you (it also works against you when you try to get a tan). The northeast came next, then down to the southeast and then the southwest. I kept wanting BINDI for BONDI, the [Popular beach near Sydney]. I know Bindi is the name of the late Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin's daughter (she wasn't the one who, as an infant, was held perilously close to a gator by her dad in a ballyhooed incident--that was her brother). I figured maybe she was named for the beach, but PIS was not working as a [Terminal abbr.].

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe Crossword, "Doubleheaders" (Final Grade = B-)

THE THEME entries here consist of wacky two-word phrases where the first word is repeated at the start of the second word (just like the first two words in this sentence):
  • A [Little underling?] is a MINI MINION. One entering an adit would be a MINI MINION MINING.
  • GALA GALAXIES are [Where stars are festive?]. One suspects some stars would be GALAVANTING at such events.
  • [Kitty borchures?] are CAT CATALOGS. They feature the latest trends in the cat's pajamas.
  • [What makes me puzzling?] is MY MYSTERY. Two years into therapy and it's still not solved.
  • A [Queen's party for Solomon?] is a SHEBA SHEBANG. Easily the liveliest theme entry and the highlight of the puzzle. Shebang! Shebang! (Good grief, I just referenced a Ricky Martin song.)
  • A COMMA COMMAND is a [Grammarian's rule?].
  • [Where only men act?] is a STAG STAGE. For some reason I think I would have liked [Chippendale's platform?] better for a clue, but maybe that's what happens when a Ricky Martin earworm takes hold.
  • APE APERITIF is a [Banana daiquiri?]. Most apes I know prefer hard alcohol to other intoxicants. Offer them barrels of wine and they'll just kidnap your friend and throw the barrels at you so fast you have to keep jumping over them.
  • MISS MISSOURI is a [Midwestern beauty queen?] Tweet! Foul! Inconsistent theme entry! Five yard penalty! See below.
  • [Where hunks pose?] is a STUD STUDIO. Geez, this and a STAG STAGE in the same grid? Where's the MAN MANSION?
Look, I was absolutely 100% sure-fire confident that MISS MISSOURI had to be MISS MISSOULA. For one thing, I love Missoula, Montana. It's home to the University of Montana (Go Griz!), breathtaking scenery (especially now as it stretches into fall), and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. But more importantly, all of the other theme entries are contrived phrases (unless "stag stage" is in the language and I'm just too sheltered). There may be "cat catalogs" peddling trinkets or pet-care supplies to felinophiles, but I don't think the phrase could be considered common or real. Miss Missouri, on the other hand, is real--a real title held by a real person (currently Tara Osseck, an absolute sweetheart, based on her blog). We're not supposed to see a real phrase mixed in with nine other wacky ones. (Peter Gordon taught me that lesson when I submitted a theme query to the New York Sun in my very early days of constructing.) Even if we can let the inconsistency slip, the clue should not have signaled wackiness with the "?" at the end. The puzzle was fun overall, but this bugged me enough to affect the final grade. Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm missing something here, but that often happens in grading exams too.

My refusal to let go of MISSOULA really slowed me down. But there were other little bits of knotty fill. I had no idea that CHORINE, clued as [Rockette, for one], was an informal name for a woman in a chorus line. And I was lucky to get ARDEN, [The Bard's wood], through crossings. Apparently, it's prominent in "As You Like It," but I haven't read (the Cliff's Notes for) that one yet.

I was surprised to see TEA at 108-Down when ALICE is clued at 110-Across as "Girl at a tea party." Ditto with MENS, a [Clothing store line], given that "men" appears in the clue to STAG STAGE. I feel that I should have finished this puzzle about 4 or 5 minutes faster than I did, as most of the fill and the clues were sufficiently straight-forward.

Oh, and the [Canadian skating great], Brian ORSER, makes yet another appearance in our crosswords this week. Orser's been a trendy entry of late. I'm pretty sure Crosscan is to blame for this, but I'm not sure how.


September 25, 2009

Saturday, 9/26/09

NYT 9:16
LAT 2:53 (!)
Newsday untimed
CS untimed

Heads-up! Constructor (not newsperson) Sam Donaldson will be subbing for me on the Sunday crossword blogging.

Matt Gaffney (of Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest fame) reports that Trip Payne's beautiful 21x21 themeless puzzle was constructed by hand, without the aid of a database to fill in the grid more quickly. If you haven't done Trip's marvel (which has ridiculously smooth and interesting fill), go get puzzle 44 here. And then tend to this week's Gaffney crossword contest. I think you don't even need to solve Matt's themeless, as the challenge this week is to come up with a more affirmative descriptor than "themeless" for such puzzles.

Saturday or Sunday, my family's heading to the Lakeview East Festival of the Arts to scope out David Mayhew's photography. My son's an extreme weather buff and Mayhew captures dramatic cloud formations, lightning, and tornadoes. I'm hoping we'll find a nice framed print that is more attractive than the sportscar posters currently adorning my kid's bedroom walls.

Joon Pahk's New York Times crossword

Boy, I know Joon well enough that I could recognize a lot of the fill (sports! New England! Catholicism! science!) as the sorts of things he knows all about but that are not even within earshot of my wheelhouse. (So to speak.) It's rather erudite as Saturday puzzles go, with a little pop culture outnumbered by more scholarly fill.

I had one wrong answer for a while, wrong in two places, and I can't help but think that I won't be the only one who took the same wrong turn. 37D: [Worker's ideal] could be a GREAT JOB, right? Fits most of the crossings. But it's DREAM JOB (an infinitely cooler entry) crossing RAND, the unit of currency that is the [Capital of East London] (RANG made no sense but East London wasn't shouting "South Africa" to me), and 55A: EGOTISM, the [Nathaniel Hawthorne story subtitled "The Bosom-Serpent"], which, it is true, makes more sense than an EGOTIST that's not preceded by "The."

Hawthorne was based in Salem, MA, while Joon's in the Boston area, home to the RED SOX (25A: [Team known as the Americans until 1907]). Baseball takes us to Gil HODGES, 22D: [His #14 was retired by the Mets]. Boston takes us to 24D: [Location of the Boston Mountains and Buffalo River], which, surprisingly, is the OZARKS. KENNEDY also shouts Massachusetts, though the clue is 46D: [Successor to Powell on the Supreme Court].

Scientific content includes the KAON, 54A: [Particle named for a letter of the alphabet]. one of the lesser-known particles to non-physicists. It is "a meson having a mass several times that of a pion," the dictionary tells me. Well, that clears everything up now, doesn't it? The BASAL BODY is a 67A: [Cell organelle with microtubules]. My kid's been learning about the parts of cells, but this particular organelle is not part of the fourth-grade curriculum. And 10D: [Base of a number system] is a RADIX.

Moving along to the sacred, we have VATICAN II, the 39A: [Domain of Paul Bunyan]. No, wait, that answer is FOLKLORE. VATICAN II was a 1A: [Momentous 1960s convention]. Anyone able to get the '68 Democratic Convention out of their head? I wasn't. The language LATIN was a 60A: [1-Across topic]. And back in the day, LEO X was the 48A: [Pope who excommunicated Martin Luther]. (Random aside: Add an I to each of those names and you get two new words, martini and luthier.)

Ten, no, sixteen other clue/answer pairs of note:

  • Did Joon study French? SANS SOUCI means 17A: [Carefree], AMOUR is 6D: [Dijon darling], and RUE is 57A: [Part of an Avignon address].
  • The catnip zone: OREGANO is a 40D: [Cousin of catnip], while AROUSED is clued by way of 45D: [Like a cat playing in catnip].
  • 44D: DIABOLO is a [Game involving spinning a top on a string]. I can't help wondering if Joon is a diabolo champion.
  • 21A: [They may come with socks] uses "socks" to mean "punches"—SHINERS are black eyes.
  • I saw right through 28A: [Axiom producer] and knew I needed the make of that car. HONDA! Right? Wrong. It's ISUZU. That booboo cost me some time.
  • My favorite clue in this puzzle is 30A: [Enjoyed London or France] for READ. Jack London and Anatole France, not the European cities.
  • 50A: [1971-97 nation name] is ZAIRE. Colonized as Belgian Congo before then, Democratic Republic of Congo after. Just read an interesting blog post about the impact and legacy of colonization in Africa.
  • My second favorite clue is 59A: [Do without much daring?] for a prim BUN hairdo.
  • 2D: ["In the Mood," e.g.] is an ANAPEST, a metrical foot consisting of two unstressed or short syllables followed by a stressed or long one. 41D: [Figure of speech like "no mean feat"] is LITOTES.
  • 5D: Cab or bus [Fare, e.g.] is the COST. I was thinking of nutritional fare and slowed things down with DIET.
  • And my third favorite clue is 7D: [Like it] for NEUTER. I kept reading that as the verb "like."
  • 26D: [Miss throwing a ball] clues DEB, or debutante. This put me in mind of a baseball player my son just read about in his 4th-grade reading book: Jackie Mitchell. Have you heard of her? In an exhibition game against the Yankees at age 17, she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession. Alas, the commissioner tore up her contract and declared baseball to be too strenuous for women. Hogwash! He just had some mouthy male ballplayers who felt threatened by a girl pitcher who could whup them.
This crossword kinda whupped me, but I liked the challenge and declare the puzzle to be tough but fair. Trouble spots for you?

Updated Saturday morning:

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Six Shooters"—Janie's review

In the world of firearms a six shooter (or a six gun shooter) is a revolver—one capable of holding... six bullets. Think of every Western you've ever seen. If those guys weren't firing rifles at each other they were equipped with their handy six guns. Taking its lead from there, this puzzle happily draws on Randy's gift for cruciverbal marksmanship. He's given us an arsenal of in-the-language phrases—six, in fact—whose first word can be paired with shooter, to give us, well, six shooters. Btw, two pairs of those theme entries over lap each other in the grid (the first two and the last two), which makes this a pretty cool construction. Got it? Good! The combination of:
  • 18A. PEA-BRAINED [Not too bright] and shooterpea shooter. Do kids still play with these, or as low-tech "weapons" go, are they too "quaint" and uncool?
  • 20A. JUMP SUIT [Parachutist's outfit] and shooterjump shooter. One of the beauty parts of not being overly literate in the world of sports is that I have to look things up to (semi-...) know what I'm talkin' about. And in investigating this phrase—which I'd always associated with basketball (someone who makes jump shots...), I learned that it's also a billiards term. Check out Rocky Lane, the fastest jump shooter in billiards. Who knew?
  • 36A. TROUBLE SPOT and shootertrouble shooter. In other words, a problem solver.
  • 42A. SHARP COOKIE [Someone with smarts] and shootersharp shooter. This'd be your marksman-type. Such as [O.K. Corral name] (Wyatt) EARP. Or markswoman-type... Think Annie Oakley.
  • 58A. TRAP DOOR [Way our for a magician] and shootertrap shooter. This is a sport for sharp shooters who aim their shotguns at clay pigeons and fire away. As a recreational sport, it dates back to the late 18th century when real pigeons were used...
  • 63A. STRAIGHT ON [As the crow flies] and shooterstraight shooter. The Mamas and the Papas anyone? Straight On Till Morning is Mary S. Lovell's biography of the intrepid and unconventional Beryl Markham, and takes its title from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan:
'How do you get to Neverland?" Wendy asked.
'Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.'
Elsewhere in the puzzle, there are several nice sevens: the refreshing PERRIER, POPULAR, INFANTS and EARLAPS (or earflaps) because, while they're genuinely practical, are also kinda goofy lookin'. Isn't it the kid in the hat with earlaps who's the target for the kid with the pea shooter?...

There are also three entries that I enjoy because of the way they look in the grid and because they require careful parsing. The first, LEEJ, is in fact LEE J. [Cobb who played Willy Loman]. That would have been for the Pulitzer- and multiple-Tony-award winning (including one for Lee J.) original production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

The second is what may look like LEADORE as in Leadore, ID, and which (in my mind) would pretty much rhyme with the three-syllabled "Theodore," but is actually the two-syllabled LEAD ORE, as in [Galena].

Finally, TOOOLD is not a drawn out spelling (for effect) of told, as in the playground retort-y, "She to-o-old!" Rather, these are the two words that tell you you are [Ineligible for children's prices]: TOO OLD!

Barry Silk, Part 1: His Los Angeles Times crossword

Lemme double-dip and draw on my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Yet another easy-peasy Saturday puzzle, the second-easiest L.A. Times crossword I've done this week. It's all topsy-turvy—the Friday and Saturday puzzles were easier than the Monday through Thursday puzzles. Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and sigh.

Barry's previous puzzles have paid homage to his beloved Philadelphia in various ways. This time, it's the 18A: Phillies pitcher who received the 2008 World Series MVP Award, some guy I never heard of named COLE HAMELS. The only other answer that felt completely unfamiliar to me was 22A: Easier version, in music scores (OSSIA). Do the musically inclined among you know this term, or is it pretty far down the list of Musical Vocabulary I Ought to Know?

Favorite answers:
  • 21A: [Instants of revelation, as for puzzle solvers] (AHA MOMENTS). Oprah has 'em, too. In fact, she thinks she owns the phrase, but she most certainly does not.
  • 25A: [Sports intermission] (HALF-TIME). My kid has finally taken an interest in football thanks to the Madden NFL '08 Wii game, but he is not yet drawn to televised games, much less to half-time hooey (see also 16A: [NFL commentator Long], or HOWIE).
  • 39A: [Photographer known for his black-and-white American West scenes] (ANSEL ADAMS). Always good to have a first name/last name combo of a famous person (famouser than COLE HAMELS, even!), but good gravy, does the clue hit you over the head with a lot of identifying information or what?
  • 8D: [Wind-speed measurer] (ANEMOMETER). Almost as fun to say aloud as "sphygmomanometer." In case you were wondering, the word shares a root with crossworddom's favorite seven-letter flower, the anemone (which means "daughter of the wind").
  • You can get these crosswords FOR A SONG (26D: [Dirt-cheap]).
  • Shhhh, IT'S A SECRET so 29D: ["Don't tell anyone"]. It's probably suboptimal to have this answer crossing SECRETES (42A: [Emits, as pheromones]), given the shared roots of the S-words. Plus, the word SECRETES is kinda gross. Like seeping.
  • 43D: [Mork's partner] (MINDY). I had one of those aspirational crushes on Mindy—I wanted to be her. This does not explain why I wore the Mork rainbow suspenders in 7th grade.

Barry Silk, Part 2: Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

(PDF solution here.)

I cruised through this puzzle (on paper, off the clock) with scarcely a hiccup. I'll label it harder than the LAT and easier than the NYT (which, today, is a pretty broad range). Ten clues:
  • 1A. ["Siriusly Sinatra" airer] is XM RADIO. XM satellite radio bought or merged with Sirius a while back.
  • 15A. A [Hodgepodge] is a GOULASH. Answers that wouldn't fit here: salmagundi, gallimaufry, mishmash. Answers that would: mélange, farrago, grab bag.
  • 19A. ["O" or "Z"] is a MAG(azine). No idea what "Z" is.
  • 22A. [Letters on Bush 41's resume] clues the CIA, which he headed.
  • 31A. [First-year Kennedy Center honoree] is ASTAIRE.
  • 34A. A GOLD MINER is [One who works with pans].
  • 38A. YTTRIUM is an [Element used in CRTs and LEDs]. It's also used in the Nd:YAG laser (neodymium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet) that has medical applications.
  • 50A. LESS FAT can be a [Health-food phrase]. It can also be seen on junk food in which a portion of the fat has been replaced with other fillers. Snackwells cookies with high-fructose corn syrup aren't health food even if they're fat-free.
  • 7D. Favorite entry: "OH, MY WORD" means ["Goodness gracious!"].
  • 12D. GET CUTE is clued [Be a smart aleck]. I first thought GET WISE and was going to age Bush 41 to having served in WWI.