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.