October 31, 2009

Sunday, 11/1/09

NYT 9:46
BG 9:37
Reagle 7:53
LAT 7:50
CS 4:09

Big thanks to Crosscan for stepping in to review the Wall Street Journal puzzle on Friday, in addition to his weekly Gaffney/Daily Beast gig. (I haven't had time to look at either puzzle yet. Moving on!) And big thanks to Joon, too, for writing about the Friday BEQ, in addition to his weekly MGWCC post.

I'll be out trick-or-treating with Jango Fett and his friends when the New York Times puzzle comes out, so that part of my post will be hours late and sugar-fueled. In the meantime, there are other puzzles available earlier on Saturday, including this one:

Merl Reagle's syndicated crossword, "Puzzle of the Month"

Given the title, it didn't take much work to notice that there's a NOV (November) hidden in that first theme entry, CONVECTION OVEN. "Oh, yay," I said to myself. "A boring trigram hidden in the theme answers." But then the further I got into the puzzle, the more and more of these theme entries I uncovered, and the theme grew on me. Look at all the NOVs in there! I circled 16 of 'em, and 12 of them appear as adjoining pairs. To fit in a whopping 16 themers (even if they're not terribly long) without marring the fill is an accomplishment. The whole puzzle has Merl's light touch, too. The only real "Huh?" answer I encountered was 30A: TANI, [Japanese actress Yoko or U.S. astronaut Daniel], but all its crossings were solid.

My list of favorites among the regular clues:

• 84D. [Words after home, not hone] clues IN ON. Yes! The phrase is "home in on."
• 62A. [Part of a closing act?] is a SUTURE.
• 2D. [Hi, in HI] is ALOHA.
• 69D. [Misers, in Milan] are AVARI. I absolutely did not know this Italian word, but I'm guessing it's closely related to avarice.

And now, the theme entries, clued straight except for the last two Across ones:

• 20A. TERRA NOVA is [Capt. Scott's ice ship that means "Newfoundland" in Latin]. Didn't know this one at all aside from putting together the Latin.
• 23A. [It really cooks] clues a CONVECTION OVEN. This one runs under the preceding answer.
• 42A. PORTO NOVO is [Benin's capital]. Geography!
• 53A. [Real-life don Vito] is mobster Vito GENOVESE. The end hooks up with the beginning of...
• 60A. CASANOVA, [Lover-boy], who is stacked together with...
• 63A. BORIS BADENOV, the cartoon [Spy from Pottsylvania].
• 75A. [Singer whose "I Just Wanna Stop" was a Top Ten hit in 1978] is GINO VANELLI. He's partnered with...
• 83A. KIM NOVAK, who was, among other things, a ["Picnic" co-star]. Her AK is atop the RE of...
• 88A. RENOVATE, or [Give a new face]. This answer, TERRA NOVA, and PORTO NOVO all use the NOV in the service of a word root meaning "new." This sort of duplication would normally not be kosher.
• 96A. DIME NOVEL is an [Early paperback]. If you're a buff of vintage paperbacks, you'll enjoy Rex Parker's "Pop Sensation" blog, spotlighting the lurid covers.

Moving along to the Downs before ending with Merl's grand finale pair:

• 16D. RHINOVIRUS is the common [Cold culprit]. Multiple Facebook/blog friends have reported that their kids are sick with H1N1 flu right now. It hasn't hit my son's school—yet. It's coming, isn't it? I'm waiting for vaccination to not entail standing in line for three hours. Hmm.
• 17D. Right beside RHINOVIRUS is NO VISITORS, a [Quarantine order]. Speaking of the flu...
• 72D. [Father Guido Sarducci of "SNL" reruns] is DON NOVELLO. He stands beside...
• 73D. JUDY CANOVA, a [1940s actress known for her yodeling hillbilly roles]. What a claim to fame. This takes us back to the bottom for the closing...
• 120A. [How I hope you don't feel right about now] is IN OVER YOUR HEAD. Hooray for YOUR instead of the standoffish ONE'S. I declare this to be the SethG Tribute Answer.
• 125A. [What I hope you don't need right about now] is NOVOCAINE.

No local anesthetic needed here! Fun puzzle with the discovery of an inordinately large number of theme answers. The theme also helped point me in the right direction a few times, since knowing there would be a NOV somewhere narrowed things down.

Updated Saturday night:

Matt Ginsberg and Pete Muller's New York Times crossword, "Compound Fractures"

All right, guys, now you're just showing off. Intricately wrought theme in which each pair of words overlap by 5 letters to form a fake portmanteau word and you came up with 12 of them and you have the two Down ones somehow intersecting with three Acrosses each? Good one.

I'm not sure if the slowness of the solve relates to theme difficulty or if the rest of the puzzle is also unusually hard. What say you? I had wine and candy for dinner while trick-or-treating, so I can't say.

Here's how the theme plays out:

• 22A. [Eyewear providing hindsight?] are RETROSPECTACLES. The overlapping letters are in bold. I do not need a pair of retrospectacles, as my hindsight is better than 20/20.
• 29A. This clue kept me pondering for a while. [Peanut-loving ghost?] clues an ELEPHANTOM. The pink ones are most common.
• 32A. [Intermittent revolutionary?] is a SPORADICAL. This word applies to plenty of people during their college years.
• 43A. [Rare mushroom?] might be a PSYCHEDELICACY. I was looking for the first component to be a mushroomy noun, but the clue's nouniness is embodied by the second component.
• 56A. [Give up smuggled goods?] clues CONTRABANDON.
• 71A. I bought myself all sorts of trouble by spelling 61D: [Mad man?] as Alfred E. NEWMAN rather than the correct NEUMAN. That impeded my ability to see that [High-school athletic star at a casino?] is ROULETTERMAN.
• 81A. The late, great Les Paul appears as [Noble Les Paul?], a GUITARISTOCRAT. If anyone's a guitaristocrat, this is.
• 99A. This one's almost poetic. PERHAPSODY is ["Maybe" music?].
• 101A. {Dreams that don't die?] are the lovely FOREVERIES.
• 108A. [Bug that never takes a ride?] is a CENTIPEDESTRIAN. This one feels a hair off because the only way to get 5 letters of overlap is to have the plural critters that vanish in the final combo clue.
• 21D. [Like online medical advice for kids?] is WIKIPEDIATRIC.
• 44D. [Vegetable that gives you an emotional release?] is the surreal CATHARTICHOKE.

There's only time and energy for five from the fill:

• 69A. [1989 Madonna hit] is "OH, FATHER" and I have never heard of it.
• 26A. [Game in which a player may be schneidered] clues SKAT, a card game which is now played primarily within crosswords. I know "schneidered" from sheepshead, a card game popular in Wisconsin (birthplace of Les Paul!).
• 16D. [Mettle or metal] clues STEEL, figuratively and literally.
• 90A. [Man's name meaning "young man"] is SVEN.
• 63D. [Opposite of plus] is PETITE in terms of women's apparel sizing. I would have been flummoxed by the clue but I've seen similar ones once or twice recently in other puzzles I've done. (Same with 36A: [Hearing aids, briefly] for PAS, meaning public address systems.)

Nice to see Martin YAN make an appearance. Did you watch 34A: ["___ Can Cook" (onetime PBS show)]? I'd think we'd see him in the puzzle more often, but no. YIN/YEN/YON hog the glory.

Updated Sunday morning:

Robert Harris's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "That Hurts!"

The theme here involves inserting an OW to change the meaning of various words or phrases. For instance, [Rollerblading partner of movie camera pioneer Bell?] is HOWELL ON WHEELS, "hell on wheels" with an extra OW. (Is Bell & Howell really the go-to HOWELL? Not Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island?) [Borders for oval paintings?] clues BOWED FRAMES but lacks any real humor. The base phrase, "bed frame," is flat and so is the concept of a curved picture frame. There were no horrible crossings or anything like that, but nothing in this puzzle really captivated me, and a couple entries (e.g., SEEMER, or [Pretender]) were off-putting. I know for a fact that I'm not in a good mood so it might be more me than the puzzle.

The biggest surprise was at 1A: [Illinois-based brewery], 5 letters? What on earth could that be? Turns out to be PABST. The Wikipedia article about Pabst Brewing Company tells me that it's a holding company that has bought up a bunch of defunct brands and kept them going—Stroh, Schaefer, Schlitz, Lone Star, Old Style, and more. I had no idea.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy/Washington Post "Sunday Challenge"

I solved this one upside down, not knowing what the three 15s at the top were from their clues. I tackled the middle and bottom and eventually remembered that I'd get the top 15s much more quickly if I used the crossing clues. Duh! Favorite 15s:

• 17A. JONATHAN WINTERS is great. He's 83 now so no, we don't see too much of him anymore. The clue, ["Viva Max!" actor], refers to a 1969 movie I'd never heard of.
• 36A. The Britney [Spears album of 2000], OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN, is a somewhat dated reference but it's such a goofy title that I think it will remain in the lexicon.

Other clues:

• 34D. [Millionths of a meter] clues MICRA. I thought the plural of micron was microns, but the dictionary accepts both. Scientists use micrometer, abbreviated µm, rather than micron.
• 28A. [Like Mitch Miller, e.g.] is GOATEED. Mitch is 98 years old now, and I'm surprised to learn that he's still alive. His heyday was before I was born, but the Grammy folks gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. I needed a lot of crossings to get GOATEED.
• 58A. [Private meeting] clues ONE-ON-ONE SESSION. If that were a legitimate Scrabble entry, it would get you a mere 15 points.
• 44D. [Heads overseas?] aren't toilets, they're TETES, "heads" in France.
• 54D. [Spain's Victoria Eugenia, familiarly] was called ENA. This is often clued as Bambi's aunt.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "Travel On"

Like the L.A. Times puzzle, this crossword has an add-2-letters theme—GO this time. Like Merl's puzzle, this one has some stacked pairs of theme entries. And like the other puzzles this morning, nothing grabbed me. Could be me and not the puzzle.

Favorite theme entry: SINGAPORE GOSLINGS, or [Not exactly Peking ducks?].

Less savory answers: OTARU, OSCAN, TWO-D, ABOHMS, U CANT, Heidi BOHAY.

Vocabulary word for the day: EDACITY is [Voraciousness].

Mystery question mark: The clue for MONTANE is [Range-dwelling?]. Because it's mountain ranges as opposed to wide-open ranges? Okay.


October 30, 2009

Saturday, 10/31/09

Newsday 8:13 with one blank (bookmark this link for free puzzle access)
NYT 7:18*
LAT 3:05
CS untimed

*Yes, the applet says 7:30. I'm not including the 12 seconds it took to communicate with the server.

My kid's school field trip was to see a Polish movie, "The Magic Tree," at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. The movie's director, Andrzej Maleszka, was there for a long Q&A with the kids. No, I did not ask him if Eugene Maleska was any relation.

Robert Wolfe's New York Times crossword

This puzzle has run afoul of...something. I enjoyed one answer: 28A: [Johnny Depp title role] clues ED WOOD, and that movie was a hoot. (Okay, two answers: Also TRAVOLTA, 4D: [He played a governor in "Primary Colors"].) But there's a big danger in making 58-word crosswords, and that danger is that the fill's quality will be sorely compromised in order to get the challenging interlock to work. Structurally, this grid is bound to give some solvers fits—if you don't get solid footholds in the NW and SE quadrants, only 26A and 28A are going to feed you any help from the rest of the puzzle.

I have groused before about what I call "roll your own" words: words with tacked-on endings or prefixes providing handy (for the constructor) letters to fill in space. Here, 15 answers have an S added to the end. One of 'em includes an -ER, too: SNEERERS, or 48A: [Disdainful bunch]. It's gettable, sure, but hardly anyone is using this particular form of sneer. There are also a couple -EDs and an -EST, and don't get me started on the -ERs. SERENER is bland but OK, FISHIER is decent, but MARRER? 38D: [Graffitist, e.g.] is a MARRER? The MARRER and his friends the SNEERERS have marred this grid. Then there's TERRENE, or 50A: [Earthly], which my dictionary labels archaic, and the wow-I-can't-believe-it's-in-the-dictionary-as-an-"also"-spelling INDORSED (7D: [Supported: Var.])—this one the dictionary calls dated. Throw in your ESTERS and ORRIS OIL, your DENATURE and AIR MOTOR, and you've got an abundance of fill that doesn't do anything to engage me.

All right, let's roll through some clues and answers:

• 15A. GANTRIES are [Spanning frameworks]. Not a word in my daily vocab.
• 17A. [Upstate New York town where I.B.M. was founded] is ENDICOTT. Does everyone know this tidbit? Am I the only one who didn't?
• 18A. HEAVEN is a [Good resting place?]. I don't care for clues presenting religious tenets, even with the question mark.
• 23A. HUSSARS were [Brilliantly dressed cavalrymen]. Camo is probably a little more practical on the battlefield, no? Dictionary says hussars were 15th-century Hungarian "light horsemen," so the term predates Prussia, which I always pair it with in my head in the category of "old European things with USS in them."
• 41A. [Axial skeleton parts] are STERNA, plural of sternum, your breastbone. "Axial" because it's in the middle of your body? I was first thinking of SPINES with an S plural rather than a word with a Latin plural.
• 46A. An AIR MOTOR is a [Pneumatic power producer]. There are things called air motors?
• 50A. KALES are [Mustard family members]. My family has a long-standing feud with the Mustard family. The feud dates back generations, to when Colonel Mustard shot my great-great-granduncle in the back...in the conservatory.
• 5D. [Like the 2 in "x squared"] seems like a long way to go for SUPERIOR. Do mathy types call it SUPERIOR, what I call superscript?
• 12D. It really is time to retire the fleet of SSTS from the crossword puzzle. [They had adjustable noses] is as good a clue as you're going to get for this answer, but it still doesn't fix the fact that the answer is here. It's in too many puzzles.
• 14D. SENTA is clued as [Wagnerian hero]. Austrian actress Senta Berger needs a better agent so she can get all the SENTA clues. I just Googled her, and she looks great for 68 but was a stunner in her younger days. (I kinda thought she was in the same category as Pola Negri and Perle Mesta, long-dead crosswordese people. But no! Not so old at all.)
• 15D. Ooh, I don't think I like the GEISHA clue. [Companion abroad]? I also have deep reservations about the geisha tradition. Women spending hours to look a certain way and devoting their working hours to entertaining men? Eesh.
• 25D. This one's weird. SHOE STORE is clued as an [Establishment with many horns]. My son and I went to a good indie shoe store with a large staff of experienced salespeople, but there can't have been that many shoehorns in the entire place. (The guy did use one on my son, though.) Most shoe stores these days pretty much leave the work to the customer, and I don't think they make a point of stocking shoehorns for our use.
• 29A. WATER OAK is a [Tree of Southeastern swamplands]. I don't spend much time in Southeastern swamps.
• 37D. I wanted the [Unrequited lover of legend] to be DAPHNE, since the ****NE fit. It's ELAINE. Which legend is this? Whom was she pining for?
• 39D. [It may be under enamel] clues a coat of PRIMER under enamel paint, not the dentin under your tooth enamel.

So often, a low-word-count puzzle just makes me wish the constructor had instead strived for the liveliest, most colorful and interesting fill. I'm sure the 58-worders have their fans, but I'm not one of them. (Exception: Well, Patrick Berry can pull off the holy grail: low word count with lively fill.)

Updated Saturday morning:

Tony Orbach's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Witchcraft"—Janie's review

What a happy Halloween Tony has made this. (Wicked) "Witchcraft" is filled with a variety of wordplay in the four theme entries (this would be the "trick" part), plus bonus fill and non-theme fill that is loaded with high-scorin' Scrabble letters (all of which makes for a very nice "treat"). First, the tricks, which take all-things-ordinary and transform them into all-things-occult:

• 16A. Add a letter. [Like cookies at a witch's fundraiser?] which would be not oven-baked, but COVEN-BAKED, a coven being an "assembly of witches." Some definitions specify 13 witches. Think there's any significance in that?...
• 26A. Change a letter. [People who can sniff out a witch's concoction?] are the olfactorily-gifted POTION DETECTORS. Sensors that can register a witch's activity would be motion detectors.
• 43A. "Sounds like." [Announcement at a witch's market?] is "SPELL IN AISLE TWO!" Announcement in your market (in the aftermath of the marinara display's descent to the floor, say...): "Spill in Aisle Two!" (I was also thinking that spell might have been the way the word special sounded over a muffled p.a. system...)
• 59A. Add a letter. Ooh, good—another one, and this time [Witch's mobile sound systems?] yields up BROOM BOXES. No mere boom boxes for our gal!

In addition to the theme-fill itself, the "treats" also include bonus theme-fill: BREW, clued as [Cauldron contents, perhaps] and which harkens back to potion, that "witch's concoction" in the clue at 26A; SKELETON for [Halloween costume]; and how perfect is this?, "BOO!" [Interjection heard on Halloween] as the very last of the Down fill. Nice.

Then there're all those lively words with the scrabbly letters, like:

• JOKE [One-liner], which shares that "J" with, and whose meaning relates to, JAPED [Made fun of]; JEDI ["Star Wars" knight], too;
• ZILCH [Zip], which is synonymous with [Zero] NONE and which shares a "Z" with ZONK [Nod off, with "out"];
• KUMAR (who went to the White Castle with Harold), PECK [Little kiss] sharing its "K" with CLINK [Lockup], and LOCKET [Keepsake holder];
• AVERSION [Strong dislike]; and
• IN-BOX [E-mail receptacle] (though I confess I was surprised to see this word in the same puzzle with broom boxes...).

And just because I enjoyed them in the puzzle, let me also point out "SPLAT!" as the [Sound of dropped ice cream] and [Former U.K. airline] BOAC, British Overseas Airways Corporation (sometimes a/k/a "Better on a Camel"...), which will always be associated in my mind with the opening lyric of the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."

Nothin' remotely BLAH [Boring] about a puzzle with this kinda fill. This one has a real [Zing]/KICK to it!

Orange/Amy back on the clock. I've seen the Harold & Kumar movies and yet my first impulse was to have Harold & MAUDE Go to White Castle. Who among us wouldn't want to see that movie?

Sam Donaldson's Los Angeles Times crossword

This easy themeless sat in stark contrast to the NYT today. As I was saying at L.A. Crossword Confidential, I'm partial to grids with four quadrants of stacked, longish answers. This one's got just two such quadrants, but they have quad-stacked 9s rather than the standard triple-stacked fill. The puzzle combines lively and fresh words and phrases with a lot of ordinary fill, which stands in contrast to the Saturday NYT crossword, which had lots of uncommon but not exciting fill. Sure, TESTS and EMOTE are pretty boring words, but I'll take them over this MARRER business. Ideally, of course, a themeless/freestyle puzzle will be packed with juicy stuff, low on the MARRERs, and full of tricky clues for the ordinary words. The L.A. Times puzzle has been laboring under a push for easier clues, so we haven't got the tricky clues today. But soon, maybe!


• 1A: War and more (CARD GAMES). I didn't see that one coming. Even with GAMES in place, I was still thinking of actual war.
• 15A: Strain (OVEREXERT). I like the X, but wish it had been put to better use—the crossing is the partial AXE TO.
• 17A: Place with trays (CAFETERIA). Super-easy clue, no?
• 32A: Cosmetic surgeries (NOSE JOBS). Again, easy clue—but crispy crossword entry.
• 40A: Sherry, often (APERITIF). OK, this is my cue to look up this word, and probably not for the first time. Turning to the dictionary...aperient, "(chiefly of a drug) used to prevent constipation"...wait, just, a little further...here it is. Apéritif is from a French word which draws on the Latin aperire, "to open." You drink it before you eat to whet your appetite. You eat an appetizer for the same reason, purportedly, but the two ap— words are unrelated. Appetite stems from Latin words meaning "desire for/seek after." Not that anyone asked, but I think sherry is gross.
• Here's the nutty Star Wars zone. 47A: Film that's out of order? is a PREQUEL, while 13D: End of a pentamerous serial is PART V. If you're lucky, that is, PART V is the end of the series. Crazy George Lucas went for VI.
• 53A: Seeking advancement at any cost (ON THE MAKE). I almost went with ON THE TAKE, but TAKE has another home in this puzzle.
• 60A: Eastern Canadian province grouping, with "the" (MARITIMES). I'll bet the people near Canada's Pacific coast wish they could be called the Maritimes, too. The Maritime Provinces are Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. How many of you have been to any of those? I've hit Ontario and British Columbia and that's it.
• 62A: Smithsonian collection (AMERICANA). Hey! I went to the National Museum of American History for my first time this summer. A C-3P0 costume is Americana, you know. Don't believe that Tattooine hype. There is no museum of Tattooineana.
• 4D: Cologne crowd? (DREI). "Two's company, but three's a crowd."
• 9D: Child actor's chauffeur? (STAGE MOM). Alternatively, a virtual mother who's going to the party alone is a STAG E-MOM.
• 11D: Tolerates teasing gracefully (TAKES A JOKE). See? This could also have been MAKES A JOKE, though that would be a fairly flat answer, and ON THE MAKE could've been ON THE TAKE. I find that the most of the time when someone says "Can't you take a joke?"—really, that person was being a jerk and the jokee should not be expected to "take a joke."
• 27D: Unwavering (FOUR-SQUARE). Not a term I use. Isn't "four square" also a playground game using a ball?
• 38D: One with immunity (DIPLOMAT). I blew my son's mind when I told him that people with diplomatic plates on their cars can probably get away with parking illegally.

Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Anna Stiga, a.k.a. Stan Newman

(PDF solution here.)

Don't freak out when Newsday.com invites you to pay for access when you look for this puzzle—just bookmark Stan's site and get the puzzle there. Stan's page loads faster than Newsday's busy site did, too. Win-win.

I had no idea which vowel belonged in the 54A/50D crossing. [Personal-finance guru Dolan] turns out to be DARIA, but for all I knew it was a less common DORIA or something. SAO is clued as [Neptune moon discovered in '02] and I, for one, do not follow the news about small moons orbiting distant planets. There are certainly less esoteric ways of clueing SAO.


• The TEMPURA/TEMPERA crossing. Don't care for TEMPURA's clue, [Seafood serving], being reused for BISQUE. TEMPERA's a [Type of paint].
• A LA MODE is clued as [Apple-pie order] but involves actual apple pie and not the idiom "in apple-pie order," meaning "tidy."
• MR. SLATE is [Fred Flintstone's boss]. Took a zillion crossings for me to remember his name. What better to draw a blank on than SLATE?
• TWADDLE, or [Horsefeathers], is a great word.
• ["...the Flying Trapeze" guy] is LEOTARD.
• Who's the best athlete? PELE is [IOC's Athlete of the Century], while Muhammad ALI is [SI's Athlete of the Century]. Did you see the Flip Wilson–as–Geraldine clip with Muhammad Ali that Rex posted at L.A. Crossword Confidential the other day? Funny stuff, and Ali was such a cutie in his younger days.


• EATEN AT is clued as [Annoyed]. "This puzzle has eaten at me"?
• I like SPATULA, but the clue, [Kitchen blender], feels off to me.

Neutral zone of clues I needed lots of crossings to get:

• [Toon teen in an '89 film] is ARIEL, the Little Mermaid. Never saw it.
• [Five-petal flower] is SEDUM. There are others with five petals, I'm sure.
• [Quarters with buttons] are PUP TENTS. They have buttons? Google tells me the old military pup tents buttoned together...up to World War II. We need to know 1930s tent technology now?
• [Huckleberry's father] is his PAP. Don't be dissing him, now. We don't want any pap smears here.


Daily Beast, 10/30/09

Time – 9:57
Happy Halloween, everybody.

Matt Gaffney is celebrating by hiding CLASSIC COSTUMES (66A) in six theme answers.
Let’s try and find them.
23A: [Tactic in a tank, e.g.]: COMBAT MANEUVER, hiding Comb.
36A: [It's required to enter some countries]: TRAVEL VISA, hiding Visa.
44A: [Why not to stare at an eclipse, they say]: YOU’LL GO BLIND, hiding Blind.
89A: [Sent up the river]: THROWN IN JAIL, hiding Jail.
94A: [Part of the subway system in Chicago, Boston, or D.C.]: ORANGE LINE, hiding Orange.
114A: [Preparing to make demands, say]: TAKING HOSTAGES, hiding King.
Disclaimer: Crossword Fiend Industries does not endorse the preceding (except for Orange), and considers the correct hidden costumes to be BATMAN, ELVIS, GOBLIN, NINJA, ANGEL and GHOST, respectively.
What's with all the says? Say, Say, Say.
I will be going to 61A: [Magic place?]: ORLANDO in December, where I will no doubt see 27A: [Jack Sparrow’s portrayer]: DEPP.
43A: [Irish chanteuse]: ENYA. Shall we sail away?
59A: [“Scott BAIO is 45...And Single” (VH1 show)]. Shall we remember Joanie Loves Chachi?
65A: [Win every game, as in the World Series]: SWEEP. Not this year.
73A: [Debbie Downer]: SAD SACK. Hint – don’t go to a party with these two and Mopey Marvin, Low Louie and Crying Carl.
86A: [Gateway rival]: DELL - choice of your finest Canadian crossword bloggers.
4D: [Diet soda]: TAB. What’s with TAB and Fresca? Are they still around or not? I’m never sure.
19D: [A face that could STOP A clock]. One of those expressions that makes no sense if you really think about it.
32D: [Obama “birther” lawyer ORLY Taitz]. Nothing about this clue or answer makes any sense to me. Please explain so I can say 70A: [Now I understand]: AH OK.
65D: [Clever piece of candy]: SMARTIE. It seems that Canadian smarties are nothing like American smarties.
75D: [The Golden State, for short]: CALI. California leads all states in number of abbreviations.
78D: [Sex, about half the time]: FEMALE. (Any comment I add here will result in another disclaimer, so let’s move on).
88D: [Use all of, as blankets]: HOG. Why do I always wake up at 2:00 am shivering with no blankets? I could seal those things with duct tape and my wife would find a way to take them.
100D: [novelist Mario Vargas LLOSA.] His most famous book is “Llamas on the Llano”.
122A: [Col. Klink portrayer Klemperer]: WERNER. My Dad was a WWII veteran and loved to watch Hogan's Heroes. He would go around saying "I Know Nothing!" ala Sgt. Schultz.

Canadian Content:
101A: [Mike’s “Shrek” co-star]: EDDIE. (Mike, not Eddie.)
111A: [Actress Cuthbert]: ELISHA
84D: [Ducks, Devils, Flames, et al.]: NHL. (the Flames)
103D: [“Me, Myself & IRENE”] starring Jim Carrey.

Enough 117D: [Bother]: ADO for this week.

(P.S. As I mentioned last week, the torch headed to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver passed a block from my house on Friday. Here's a tip for taking good pictures: Make sure the batteries in your camera aren't dead. Here's a shot from 10 minutes past my place (near a planned stop, which is why the runner isn't running).


Wall Street Journal, 10/30/09

(Note: Technical difficulties required me to place this in its own post. Unless a magic elf fixed it.)
Time - 12:45
Hi. It’s Jeffrey here, the Mariano Rivera of crossword blogging, coming in for another save by blogging about the Wall Street Journal at the last minute for the second time. Today’s puzzle, titled “Once Upon A Recession”, is by Norman Wizer.

The economy has hit the fairy tale world, and cutbacks have hit six characters.
Theme Answers:
39A: [Little Miss Muffet...] SOLD ALL OF HER SPYDERS.
82A: [Little Jack Horner...] DECIDED TO CUT CORNERS.
99A: [Goldilocks was...] JUST BEARLY GETTING BY.
119A: [The Three Little Pigs found...] THE WOLF WAS AT THEIR DOOR.
I’m not getting the Snow White one. Somebody please comment so I can go D’uh!
The fill is pretty clean.
19A: [Leonard Marx’s stage name]: CHICO. Clip time!
28A: [Plays chuck-a-luck]: DICES. Never heard of this. Chuck-a-luck, also known as birdcage, is a game of chance played with three dice.
33A: [King or Senator] : NHLER. Everyone’s favourite kind of answer. Los Angeles and Ottawa.
47A: [C-3PO, for one]: DROID. Star Wars!
50A: [Meerschaum part}: STEM. Meerschaum is a kind of pipe. My Dad smoked pipes. He died at 64. I don’t smoke anything.
88A: [Jacob of “Au Revoir, Les Enfants”]: IRENE. That’s IRÈNE Jacob, not Jacob Irene as I first thought.
24D: [Model Evangelista]: LINDA. Canadian content!
25D: [Diner dish]: HASH. Has anyone actually said “Gimme the hash”?
49D: [Donny or Marie]: OSMOND. Not to mention Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay and Jimmy. Clip time!
69D: [“Chocolat” director Hallström]: LASSE. My version of the puzzle actually reads “Hallstr366m”. Oh, those wacky foreign letters.
73D: “Yabba dabba DOO!” - Clip time!
84D: [Turned 100 into 1,000,000]: CUBED. How do I do this to my bank account?
101D: [How can people BE SO heartless? (“Hair” lyric)]: Clip time!

Au Revoir, Les Enfants!


October 29, 2009

Friday, 10/30/09

NYT 5:15
CHE 3:50
LAT 3:19
CS untimed
BEQ 5:38 (joon—paper)
WSJ see next post

Good news! Although the Newsday website has erected a pay wall ($5 per week), the Newsday crossword's still available for free via Stan Newman's site. As with Newsday's site, each day's puzzle comes in online and PDF options (no Across Lite, alas), and you can access the last two weeks' puzzles via pull-down menu. Thanks, Stan.

I'll be handing out Halloween candy and chaperoning a fourth-grade field trip tomorrow, so the BEQ and WSJ blogging will have to wait until late in the day...unless one of the charming and delightful Crossword Fiend team members is in the mood to fill in. If one of them is, please be sure to butter them up with fulsome praise.

David Levinson Wilk's New York Times crossword

Insane grid—six 15-letter entries going across and six 15s going down, divided by rows and columns of 3s and framed with corners of 5s. Getting each 15 to intersect six other 15s—all of them solid answers—does mean that those 3s are a hot mess. But let's focus mainly on the big guns:

• 17A. [Whitney Houston hit recorded for the 1988 Summer Olympics] is ONE MOMENT IN TIME. One wonders: Can a moment be in anything other than time?
• 24A. I do not know this "DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO," a [1974 Rolling Stones hit]. Apparently it is subtitled "(Heartbreaker)."
• 31A. THE SAHARA DESERT is [Home for an addax and dorcas gazelle].
• 41A. The PL and X pointed me towards DUPLEX APARTMENT, but I didn't know precisely what [Maisonette] meant.
• 48A. Don't know the novel or the Bible quote. STRAIT IS THE GATE is an [Andre Gide novel whose title comes from Matthew 7:14].
• 58A. The SWIMSUIT EDITION is a [Big newsstand seller for some magazines]. I never miss The Economist's swimsuit issue. Hot!
• 3D. [Bailiwick] is a cool word that means AREA OF EXPERTISE.
• 5D. CHOCOLATE KISSES are [Sweet little things with points to them]. Chocolate! 'Tis the season. I have Kit-Kats, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Snickers Almond bars in the house. None of them will go to trick-or-treaters because we don't get any.
• 6D. Our unfamiliar technical term for the day is FIELD CAPACITIES, or [Soil water saturation limits]. Chicago had a ton of rain about a week ago (2" to 4") and another 1" to 2" is expected in the current rainstorm. I suspect the FIELD CAPACITIES are nigh unto bursting.
• 8D. NATIONAL ANTHEMS are [Country music], in a sense.
• 9D. If you've [Taken things a bit too far], you've GONE OVER THE LINE.
• 11D. [Like grandchildren] clues THIRD-GENERATION. Immigrants are first-generation, their kids are considered second-generation Americans, and the grandkids are third.

There is no shortage of ugly fill in between these sparkling 15s, but there are some beauts like the clue for 1A: [It no longer circulates around the Seine] clues the FRANC, an ex-unit of currency. Here are 10 toughies:

• 23A. RPS is [Turning meas.]. Revolutions per second?
• 28A. FIL is [Thread: Fr.]. Filament is a related word.
• 38A. TEP completes [Im-ho-___, Boris Karloff's role in "The Mummy"].
• 39A. LER is [Celtic sea god]. Not to be confused with a Roman household god, LAR.
• 62A. ANSAE are [Looped handles]. Old-school crosswordese.
• 63A. EDM is clued as [Teacher's deg.]. Sometimes it's M.Ed., sometimes it's Ed.M., and sometimes it goes all the way to MAEd. or MSEd.
• 67A. Always remember that kites can be birds of prey. [Kite relatives] are ERNES here, without any mention of "sea" or "eagle."
• 10D. The baseball [Diamond figure on a 2006 postage stamp] is Mel OTT.
• 18D. MAO quote: [He said "Learn from the masses, and then teach them"].
• 26D. [Canto contraction] clues O'ER. Why "canto"? Specific way to clue the generic concept of "words used in old poetry"?
• 43D. [Hearing aids, briefly] are big PAS, or public address systems, and not little hearing aids worn in the ear.
• 52D. [Odds' end?] is TO ONE, as in "the odds are a hundred TO ONE." Eh, it might've been kind to just go with a fill-in-the-blank clue instead of using trickery to obscure the partial.

TDS, or touchdowns, are clued by way of [Bears make them, in brief]. My son has a brand-new Chicago Bears jersey, which brings grief to his cheesehead father. I like HAL's clue: [Anthropomorphic film villain]. The suffix -INE stinks as fill, but it's salvaged by the clue, [Salt additive?] (saltine crackers). I also like the [Bookie's charge, for short], the VIG (short for vigorish).

It's weird to have three German words in one puzzle. TOD is [Death, in Deutschland]; Mann's Death in Venice is translated from Tod in Venedig. DER is clued as an [Austrian article]—speaking of Austria, did you hear about Gov. Schwarzenegger's obscene acrostic lurking in a note to a Democratic S.F. assemblyman? Wordplay! EINES is a [German indefinite article].

Trip Payne's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Poetic Couplets"

This is, I believe, the third in Trip's series of literary-themed CHE puzzles. Each theme entry is a made-up phrase consisting of two poets' names that are also common English words. Can you believe there are at least 10 such poets? And that their names can be combined in this fashion? The theme didn't strike me as particularly entertaining, but that could just be my mood. Much more appealing are the nonthematic fill and clues. We'll save that for dessert. Here's the meat/tofu of the puzzle:

• 17A. [Get the bartender's attention during Oktoberfest?] is POUND STEIN. Ezra P., Gertrude S. Nice visual/aural entry.
• 25A. SWIFT BROOKS (Jonathan S., Gwendolyn B.) is clued as [They're hard to ford?]
• 37A. [Dismal winter weather?] is GRAY FROST. Thomas G., Robert F.
• 52A. A [Valet?] is a GUEST PARKER. Dorothy P. was a wit and a poet. Who is Guest? Wikipedia suggests Barbara Guest and Edgar Guest, both American poets, and Harry Guest, a British poet. Is one of them markedly more famous than the others? Here is Barbara G.'s "Finnish Opera."
• 61A. STRAND POPE is clued [Leave Benedict XVI in the lurch?]. Alexander P., of course. Google points me towards Mark Strand, who was awarded the '99 Pulitzer for his poetry.

Either 30% or 40% of the theme's poets are women—nice to have a theme with less of a gender imbalance than we often have.

Time for dessert, some cruciverbal creme brulée:

• 33A. [Lab fuel, perhaps?] is ALPO. Dog food for Labrador retrievers.
• 51A. [Be with someone else?] clues ARE. "I" or "you" or "she" am, are, or is, but when any of us pair up into a "we," plural "you," or "they," then "be" conjugates to ARE.
• 3D. STUCK-UP is [Snobbish]. Great fill.
• 11D. [Where a peripheral may connect] is your computer's USB PORT. Raise your hand if you always try to jam things into the USB PORT upside down.
• 28D. I was briefly stumped by [Musical nickname of the 1960s] with ***FOU* in place. FAB FOUR! Of course.
• 45D. Did you contemplate any wrong answers for [Body part that may be "free" or "attached"]? Eventually I remembered the EARLOBE. (Mine's attached. A clear mark of superiority.)
• 53D. [Ctrl-V, in Windows] is ⌘-v on a Mac: PASTE the text or image in the virtual clipboard.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

Here's a theme that did amuse me. Phrases that begin with a Q lose the Q's K sound but retain the W:

• 17A. [Drones losing their pep?] are WILTING BEES (quilting bees).
• 23A. [Train former senator Dole to do without?] is WEAN ELIZABETH (Queen Elizabeth).
• 33A. WAKING IN MY BOOTS (quaking...) is [The first indication that I had one too many last night?]. This one's my favorite.
• 48A. [Earp in a stage show?] is WYATT ON THE SET (quiet...). I like the surprise of the radical spelling change here.
• 56A. [Skater Katarina enjoying a Camel?] is WITT SMOKING (quit smoking). There's an ice-skating move called the camel, isn't there? The Hamill camel? Nice double-action for the camel/Camel.

When I was a kid I loved the [Tubular chocolate snack] (really more of a roll than a tube), the Hostess HO-HO. And now? Blurgh. Maybe they're more palatable when used in recipes. Favorite fill/clues:

• 45A. You know the phrase "rich as CROESUS"? He's the [Lydian king known for his wealth].
• 63A. [Sentence units: Abbr.] are YRS., or years in a prison sentence. Not words in a written sentence.
• 3D. Super fresh! HELL WEEK is a [College hazing period]. Anyone see the sorority hazing on Heroes? Hazing is even worse when the hazer is invisible.
• 22D. "I BEFORE E" is the [Start of a rule that keeps you from spelling weirdly?]. The expanded rule, "I before E except after C, except when said 'ay' as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh,'" still doesn't cover all the exceptions, such as "weird." In the clue, "weirdly" is a word you'd misspell when following the rule rather than an adverb modifying "spelling."
• 42D. TWIGGY is an [Aptly named mod model].
• 43D. An OYSTER is a [Pearl harborer]. Cute clue.

Updated Friday morning:

Donna S. Levin's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Picnic Invasion"—Janie's review

Really, there's nothing like the appearance of those pesky insects at the left to spoil a perfectly lovely picnic. But the good news is that when they colonize in well-known phrases—as is the case in today's puzzle—they make themselves more than welcome and become the source of more than one real or [Cyberchuckle] (LOL). How does Donna do this? It's a familiar formula: well-known phrase + ANT = new and whimsical phrase. Two of the critters invade at the middle, two at the end for a most successful attack. Hold the Raid and regard:

•20A. "Adam-12" (the late '60s-mid '70s tv show about LAPD patrol officers) + ANT = ADAMANT TWELVE [Strong-willed jury?]. Or perhaps the gender-neutral version of Twelve Angry Men... Nice that the very next clue references another judicial body with [Mo. the Supreme Court convenes], which is OCT.
•32A. Page break + ANT = PAGEANT BREAK [Commercial during the Miss America telecast?] "We interrupt the Talent Competition to bring you these words from..."
•41A. Green peas + ANT = GREEN PEASANT [Ecofriendly field laborer]. Oh, good. Glad this wasn't clued as [Field laborer with upset stomach] or [Field worker from Mars]...
•55A. Perfect ten + ANT = PERFECT TENANT [Landlord's desire?]. This is terrific.

Terrific, too, are such combos as: [Beat] for TIRED (where the correct fill is an adjective and not a verb), [Great gobs] (as in "Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts...") for OODLES, [Giddyap's opposite] for WHOA, and [Corner] for TREE (verb, not noun).

There are also two mini-themes running through the non-theme fill today—one for the scholars, one for the athletes. For the scholars: there're the Hamlet double-bill of "TO BE..." [Start of a famous soliloquy] and RUB [Difficulty]—as in "...ay, there's the rub," which occurs in the eighth line of that same soliloquy. There's also a nod to Arthur Miller's third Tony-winning Best Play with SALEM ["The Crucible" setting]; and to another giant in the history of American dramatic literature with ELECTRA [Mourning becomes her, per Eugene O'Neill].

For the athletes: that [Hockey infraction] is ICING (sorry, food-lovers!); NCAA is the [March Madness org.] (go there—you can sign up now!); NLE (National League East) is the [Marlin's and Mets' div.] (ALE, ALW, NLE, NLW, etc., etc.—you knew all those additional franchises and league subdivisions had to be good for somethin'...); and for those times when you're not sitting on the couch, there's the GYM [Place to pump iron]. I'm also going to include SARATOGA here, for while it's certainly the [Site of a pivotal 1777 battle], the Saratoga Race Track, which opened in August of 1863, is the "oldest organized sporting venue of any kind in the United States."

Finally, for everyone else... Donna has included or referenced two very colorful characters amidst the fill: CHARO, kitschy [Celebrity known for her "cuchi-cuchi"] and with TRIX, the [Cereal with a spokesrabbit].

Brendan Emmett Quigley's blog puzzle—joon's review

joon here, filling in. i'd have been here earlier, but i just got around to today's puzzles. anyway, this is my favorite themeless BEQ in weeks, maybe months. maybe ever! it was that good. this is definitely not a newspaper crossword, what with OH SHIT and BITCH-SLAP enlivening the grid. my favorite entries, in no particular order (other than those two): KNAPSACKS; ADUMBRATE, an unusual word that means [Foreshadow]; ESOTERIC; EGOSURFER, one who googles his own name; EATS CROW; evil HR director CATBERT; and the janis joplin classic ME AND BOBBY MCGEE. other fresh answers included ARIANNA huffington of the huffington post; PODCASTS; rapper LIL KIM; brendan's favorite show THE WIRE; and FACE PALM, an [Act of exasperation, in modern-day slang]. i did not know that last one at all. other less familiar answers:

  • ORATORIES are [Small private chapels]. for once it's not APSE or NAVE, or even NARTHEX (NARTHEX!).
  • [Excessively devout] is RELIGIOSE. i like this word too. both it and ORATORIES were semi-familiar enough that i was able to sneak them into the grid with only a few crossings.
  • completing the religious trifecta, [Confirmations, e.g.] are RITES.
  • YEANS has a great clue, [Has a little lamb]. but it's a weird archaic word meaning to give birth to a lamb or kid. i wanted the answer to be EATS or something, but not only would it not fit, EATS CROW was right next to it.
  • if you didn't learn botanist ASA GRAY from the last time he was in BEQ's puzzle (earlier this week, wasn't it?), this was your second chance. it's just bizarre that his full name showed up twice in a week, but he's a good one to keep in mind for late-week ASA clues.


October 28, 2009

Thursday, 10/29/09

NYT 4:36
LAT 3:01
Tausig untimed
CS untimed

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword

The theme is either "four ways of spelling the 'air' sound, including 'air' and some longer words" or "four ways of spelling the 'aero' sound, only with two long O sounds and two schwas." Here are the theme entries:

• 18A. ARROWSMITH is the [Sinclair Lewis novel].
• 26A. A [Series of sorties] is an AIR OFFENSIVE. If the theme is words/phrases that start with the "aero" sound, this one doesn't work because OFFENSIVE begins with a schwa.
• 46A. EERO SAARINEN is the St. Louis [Gateway Arch designer]. Crosswordese EERO elevated to both full name and theme entry status.
• 57A. One meaning of [Bomb] is AEROSOL CAN, which also uses a schwa for the first O.

The grid reminds me of Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club puzzle (blogged yesterday), with a lot of long answers in the fill. The word count here is 70, which is low enough to hit themeless requirements. Alas, 54A has the feel of a 9-letter partial: [Has been around since, with "to"] clues DATES BACK. It wouldn't feel that way if the clue omitted the "with 'to'" bit—and if a thing DATES BACK many years, the verb/adverb feels like more of a unit. I do not care for the plural GASOLINES (2D: [Refinery products]). And I don't know what the point is in clueing TALENTS as 43D: [Biblical money units]; you could skew clever/tricky with something like [They might be hidden] instead of going with a blechy old Biblical term. Speaking of blechy, the CORONERS clue is rather gross: 6D: [Ones examining bodies of evidence?].

Best clue: 10D: [They're out standing in their field] for the HOME TEAM. Runner-up: 21D: [Coin "swallower"] for SOFA. Honorable mention: the [Big do]/[Big ados] pair (AFRO, STIRS).

Best fill: The LOVE SCENE is 32D: [What's barely done in movies]. My favorite LOVE SCENE is less "barely done" than "intercut with smart repartee"—George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. I kinda like the homely little utilitarian SOUP SPOON, a 20A: table [Setting piece].

Worst answer: 4D: [Like some traffic] is STOP/GO. Who among you call it that? 'Round these parts, it is strictly "stop-and-go traffic."

Ten toughest clues:

• 5A. [Punts, e.g.] are flat-bottomed boats, and so are SCOWS.
• 23A. [Venetian feature] is a LAGOON. Not canals, boats, insane flooding, doges, or the slats of venetian blinds.
• 30A. [Tricolor pooch] clues BEAGLE. White and brown with black splotches, yes?
• 39A. [Set on the court] is an ASSIST in volleyball.
• 49A. [Made a switch in a game] clues CASTLED. Is this about chess?
• 62A. ["Doctor Who" villainess, with "the"] is RANI. No apparent connection to the rani that's a Hindu queen. Doctor Who fans can't account for even 5% of crossword solvers, can they?
• 12D. [Not natural, in a way, after "in"] clues VITRO. Too many "in"s in the clue. Why not use its Latin meaning, "glass"?
• 26D. [Goddess of breezes] is one way to clue AURA. Don't recall learning about this goddess before.
• 31D. [Kind of party] is one of those clues that's not really looking for a noun—it's just skirting the fill-in-the-blank formation. GOING-AWAY fits [___ party], but a GOING-AWAY is not a "kind of party" at all.
• 47D. [It doesn't end in 00] clues an ODD LOT, a stock purchase of something other than the usual round number of shares.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "World Series"—Janie's review

Yep. It's that time of the year again. But, nope. This is not a baseball puzzle. Instead of a trip around the diamond, Randy has provided a trip around the solar system, with stops at various orbiting bodies. Most of these are still considered to be planets; one has been demoted. And that's just one of problems I have with the theme/theme fill... The non-theme fill? Some of the very best—so this was a very schizzy solve for me. Let's look at the theme fill:

• 20A. VENUS-MERCURY [Stuff in tennis star Williams's thermometer]. This has to be a hypenate, because VENUS'S MERCURY is too long and VENUS' MERCURY isn't the way the possessive is made for a name ending in "s" (and there's Williams's right there in the clue as a model). Regardless, the phrase feels forced to my ear.
•37A. PLUTO MARS SATURN [Disney dog scratches a Vue?]. There's our dwarf-planet designate. It can't be easy being knocked down a peg from full-planet status. Still, this phrase is kinda cute and works better for me than its preceding theme-mate.
•52A. JUPITER EARTH [Swampland in Florida]. Omma don' know... JUPITER is definitely a town in Florida, but isn't swampland marshy and oozy, and isn't earth considerably more solid? That's how I've always understood the difference. So I find the phrase confusing this time—as well as forced. Ideally (unless there's something very cryptic and witty going on), it shouldn't be a challenge to justify or explain the theme fill. But that's how it feels today. To this solver anyway. What's your take on it?

I was also puzzled by the conspicuous absence of Neptune and Uranus. Seems to me that while it's a clever idea to use the names of the planets as adjectives and verbs and nouns, it's best served as an all-or-nuthin' proposition.

"ZOUNDS!" ["Gadzooks!"], let me get on to this puzzle's real strength—and that would be its colorful and scrabbly non-theme material. That great interjection sits beside [United States Postal Service cartoon character] MR. ZIP. It's not often that you encounter an M-R-Z pattern in the grid, so that was surprising. Not only that, the Zs of both words are side-by-side, and are incorporated in the crossing word EMBEZZLE, with its superbly understated clue [Misappropriate].

It looks like there's an automotive mini-theme, too. [Drag race participant]? Well, that'd be HOT ROD. With all the money that goes into customizing some of these cars (which their owners generally don't wish to become REPOS [Seized vehicles]), one can only hope that it's outfitted with a working TAIL LIGHT [Something on the back of a Bronco?]. Or two... And that whether it's for a drag race or for more leisurely, less aggressive driving, the owner remembers to GAS UP [Get ready for a road trip]. Because nuthin' [Puts the brakes on]/CURBS one's ability to get up and go like an empty gas tank.

Other peppy fill/clues (almost all noteworthy for the attitude they convey):

• BIG CHEESE [Top dog];
• HEADCASE [Piece of work] (I have a special fondness for this combo...);
• HOOEY [Mumbo jumbo] and INANE [Goofy]—which are side-by-side in the grid;
• CAJUN [Zydeco player] and PROXY [Shareholder's substitute], for their contributions to the high-scorin' Scrabble letters; and
• "OH, MAN!" ["Give me a break!"]. This is but one way to clue it and is a good reminder of the power of inflection. Most of us have probably uttered the phrase or heard someone else use it to convey a reaction meaning anything from "I'm so sorry" to "That is fantastic—wow" or the exasperation in today's example. All of which supports the theory that it's not what ya say, but how ya say it!

Don Gagliardo's Los Angeles Times crossword

One downside of solving in Across Lite is that when there's a really long clue, you have to resize the window in order to read the whole clue. (That "mouse over it and the clue pops up" feature is Windows-only.) So while I did this puzzle last night, I hadn't grasped the full SHOEBOX oomph—not only are the four long answers phrases that end with categories of shoe, but the letters in SHOE are spelled out counterclockwise in four different rings/boxes in the corners of the grid, each time with the E in the very corner. This is a big SHOEBOX indeed, having room for pairs of CLOGS, HEELS, PUMPS, and FLATS:

• SINK CLOGS are [Kitchen backups]. Not wild about the phrase SINK CLOGS, as it's the sink's drain that is clogged.
• The [North Carolina team] are the TARHEELS.
• [Octane rating sites] are GAS PUMPS.
• The SALT FLATS are the [Bonneville Speedway feature].

So, it's the SHOE boxes that account for the "meh" fill in the grid. Both EONS and EOS, ESSO and ESSE, OTHO and SHO, OTOE and ESTES—those wouldn't be there if they weren't facilitating the four-square corners.

There's good fill in here, too. My favorites are CORN CHEX (which I should add to my shopping list!), a [General Mills cereal], and the UTNE READER, an [Eclectic bimonthly reader]. Nice to see the magazine in its entirety rather than just a bland clue for UTNE alone.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Starting Something"

If you want to be starting something, you're spoiling for a fight. The theme entries are four famous people whose names begin with synonyms for "fight":

• There's a ROW in ROWAN ATKINSON, the ["Mr. Bean" portrayer].
• WARREN BEATTY, who [won an Oscar for playing Bugsy Siegel] but could not pull off playing Mr. Bean, begins with WAR.
• She was billed as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen when she was on Saved by the Bell but dropped the Amber by the time she was on Beverly Hills, 90210. So she's TIFFANI THIESSEN, and that starts with a TIFF.
• BOUTROS-GHALI is the last name of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, so this theme entry is not structurally consistent with the other theme entries. But both his first and last names begin with BOUT. (He's the [U.N. Secretary General succeeded by Annan].)
• FIGHTING WORDS at 54A ties everything together, and "fighting words" is a colorful phrase so it's an asset to the theme to be in the grid rather than the title field.

Selected clues:

• ["For reals!"] clues "NO LIE!"
• [Bratislavan currency] is nothing more exotic than the EURO.
• [Take care of one's canines?] clues FLOSS. This is about human teeth, not dogs and their teeth.
• [Moe who recorded Woody Guthrie and others] is Moe ASCH. Usually the crossword ASCH is novelist Sholem Asch.
• [Popular subway time-killers] are PSPS, or PlayStation Portable handheld game players.
• RSVP is clued as [Let people know if you're coming to their wedding], and [Plays at a wedding] clues the verb DJS. Can you guess that Ben Tausig's wedding is coming up soon? Did you RSVP already? What's that? You didn't get an invitation either? Well, let's all show up and surprise him.
• A bank [Balance problem?] is an OVERDRAFT.
• [Emulate Angelina Jolie and Madonna] clues ADOPT.
• [Put up a minor obstacle?] means "put up an obstacle to minors" here—the bouncer or bartender who iDED the kid kept her out of the bar.


October 27, 2009

Wednesday, 10/28/09

Onion 4:12
BEQ 3:52
NYT 3:50
LAT 3:05
CS 2:50 (A), untimed (J)

Mike Torch's New York Times crossword

I don't know about you, but it felt like it took me forever to find the theme while solving this puppy. I had the KNIGHT at the end of 38A (LADY OF THE KNIGHT, or [Guinevere, to Lancelot]), and Lancelot being a knight, I suspected no wordplay at that end. And in the upper left corner, I wasn't thinking that [What a king may win] is a TRICK (in what card game? war? bridge?), so I was missing the essential K in KNEW TESTAMENT, or 21A: [Was well-versed in a will?]. Oy! The rest of the theme plays out like this:

• 15A. [Retired Big Apple basketball player?] is an OLD KNICK. NYC-centric answer, NYC newspaper. Playing on Old Nick, which is the Devil's nickname but sounds like Santa's. I wasn't expecting any 8-letter theme entries.
• 48A. KNOT FOR PROFIT is a [Macrame company's goal?]. If you're over the age of 40, the odds are pretty good that you tried your hand at macramé in the '70s. Gotta love wall hangings.
• 64A. To [Select a sweater?] is to KNIT-PICK. Make mine cashmere, please.

There are some suboptimal answers in the fill, like ILLER, GOR on a Wednesday ([Brit's oath]), plural ROTCS, and assorted TLAs (three-letter abbreviations). But I'll give props to CTA, the [Windy City transportation org.], as infinitely superior to NYC's MTA. Not because of service—just because I'm a Chicagoan with a CTA card in my wallet. Other answers/clues I liked:

• PITCHY is [Slightly sharp or flat, as a voice]. Most Americans associate this word with Randy Jackson of American Idol. "I wasn't feelin' it, dawg. It was pitchy."
• 7A is CICADAS clued as [Insects in swarms]. Oh god! No swarms! Please. A single cicada is plenty loud. A swarm sounds deadly in its volume.
• [Theme song from "American Gigolo"] is Blondie's "CALL ME." I know you want to hear that song now: here's the video.
• 1D is PISA, and dang, yet another clue that keeps me wondering. I need to start suspecting PISA for any Italian 4-letter place name. [Torre Pendente city]...torre = tower, and pendente = ...leaning? Pendants don't lean. Is the Leaning Tower's Italian name "Hanging Tower"?
• [List preceder] is a COLON in that you can use a colon like this: for explanations, for lists, for whatever.
• I do like "NO, WAIT!"—"Uh, hold on! That's wrong!"
• SEPT, French for "seven," is the [Number of dwarfs with Blanche Neige], or Snow White.

Constructors, please do not make a puzzle in which a theme entry is OSMIC JOKE, cosmic joke with a C lopped off. That would be no good. OSMIC means [Of element #76], or relating to osmium.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

From my L.A. Crossword Confidential post—I didn't grasp the theme after I had the first two theme entries, but once GRANNY reared her head, I knew the puzzle had a knack for knots.

Theme answers:

• 17A: [Life insurance clause] (DOUBLE INDEMNITY). Is a double knot an official sailing/scouting/knot-tying sort of knot? Wait, it's the shoelace double bow I'm thinking of. Yes! There is probably a double knot. As for Double Indemnity, I've never seen the movie.
• 25A: [Hoedown activity] (SQUARE DANCE). The square knot is, the dictionary tells me, a particular kind of double knot. But "double knot" is not an entry in that dictionary. You know what you might find at a hoedown or SQUARE DANCE? Bales of hay for decoration. PuzzleGirl knows a woman from her school committee who knows where to go to find hay bales, but she's not gonna do it. There was a memo to that effect. As Joan Crawford is to wire hangers, that committee member is to hay bales.
• 43A: [Apple variety] (GRANNY SMITH). I used to love those apples but then I remembered that sweet is better than sour. A granny knot is a square knot that's gone awry so the rope may slip.
• 54A: [Inadvertent remark] (SLIP OF THE TONGUE). The slip knot can be undone by pulling on it. Don't use this to tie up your horse or your boat or your child, or you may lose them.
• 62D: [17-, 25-, 43- and 54-Across begin with a kind of one] (KNOT). Exactly where we like to find the Grand Unifying Answer, in the slot for the very last Across answer.

Making this puzzle a pangram are assorted Scrabbly words: XENO brings the X, and then there's QUARK, RITZY, and ST. JOE rounding up the Q, X, J, and K.

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Byron pays tribute to the late WILLIAM SAFIRE, the [Former "On Language" New York Times columnist who died on 9/27/09], with a quote theme. The [summary by 42-Across of the thrust of an anti-nudity law in a Supreme Court case] is "IT AIN'T THE TEAT, / IT'S THE TUMIDITY."Excellent T-for-H swap pun, no? With only three theme entries in a svelte 14x15 grid, there's room for tons of interesting fill, and Byron's always been one of my favorite cluers. So let's peek at my top 10:

• 30A. [Wax location] isn't a waxing salon, car wash, or record store, but your EAR CANAL.
• 37A. If you MOON OVER someone, you [Regard (them) with goofy affection]
• 1D. AYDS was the [Weight-loss candy of the '70s and '80s that couldn't overcome its unfortunate homophone].
• 5D. I think Byron might've used this clue before, or borrowed it from someone. [They'll bring out the kid in you] clues OB-GYNS.
• Really? 8D: "DO NO HARM" is an [Exhortation that, in fact, is not in the Hippocratic Oath].
• 23D. It took a while to parse the clue right. THE TEAM is [Whom one is taken for?]. As in "take one for the team."
• 32D. [Contra position?] is NICARAGUA. Remember the '80s, Contras vs. Sandinistas, Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal?
• 33D. [As prompted, on voicemail] is AT THE BEEP. I think this phrase is fully "in the language" now, no?
• 45D. Apparently this show's run has ended, and I never watched it. But I like the unusual "Wait, what starts with an LW? That can't be right" L-WORD. [With "The," TV series whose relationships were mapped by "The Chart"].
• The last item on my list is TEA URNS. No, it isn't. Always like to see a full name in the grid. EVE ARDEN is the 36D: [Principal McGee portrayer in "Grease"]. That doesn't ring a bell for me.

So, just how many longish answers does this 65-word, 30-block puzzle have? Four 6s, two 7s, four 8s, and a half dozen 9s. My, that is a lot. Nice job capitalizing on the possibilities presented by a small theme, Byron.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, "He's No Gentleman"

Paula's theme is tied together by the heartless CAD at 57D. C.A.D. are the initials of each theme answer:

• 18A. CUT AND DRIED means [According to formula].
• 29A. CLOAK AND DAGGER is clued as [Like undercover operations].
• 46A. "CEASE AND DESIST" is a [Judge's order to halt]. The judges and lawyers doing this puzzle probably considered 4D: [Confiscate, legally] to be a gimme, but ESCHEAT is not in my daily parlance.
• 57A. CHIPS AND DIP are [Informal party fare]. No-salt Jays potato chips, French onion dip—they're in my kitchen right now.

I wanted the 44D: [Pitiful person] to be a CRYBABY, thanks to the B in the fourth slot, but it's a NEBBISH. That's one of 24 6- and 7-letter answers in the fill today. Another is REINS IN, or 41D: [Restrains]. This one activated the cryptic crossword corner of my brain—see the backwards ARTS inside REINS in [Restrains]?

Thank you, Orange, and please excuse Jane's lateness, one and all, as (later, still, Wednesday morning) she finally posts:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "He's No Gentleman"—Janie's review

57A. tells the tale. It asks for the three-letter word that describes the [Non-gentleman formed by the initial letters of each word within 18-, 29-, 46-, and 57-Across]. That word is CAD and all I can say is I wanna know what's goin' on over there in CS-land. Ten days ago in Nancy Salomon's "Missing the Point," we encountered cad laughter and unrepentant sirs. Today, Paula seems to build on the concept, using four peppy phrases that spell out (initially):

• 18A. CUT AND DRIED [According to formula].
• 29A. CLOAK AND DAGGER [Like undercover operations].
• 46A. CEASE AND DESIST [Judge's order to halt].
• 57A. CHIPS AND DIP [Informal party fare].

And not only that, but she's given us some bonus fill as well, with BAGMEN [Mob collectors] (probably not the nicest guys in the world...) and SLAP [Stinging response to an insult] (that may have been delivered by a cad...). Paula (and Nancy): Helen Reddy sang it and this one's for you!

There's colorful fill indeed today as represented by BLUE SKY [Impractical, as ideas] (this phrase was entirely new to me and I like it a lot), RED MEAT [Carnivore's fodder], and even TARTANS [Highland plaids]. See what I mean? Oh, yes—and [Fourth rock from the sun] MARS, too, since it's also known as "the red planet"...

As exemplified by NEBBISH, even the opposite of colorful is colorful. By definition a nebbish is a [Pitiful person] (also an insignificant one; a nonentity). In the '50s, "The Nebbishes" was a cartoon craze/fad created by artist-turned-playwright (A Thousand Clowns) Herb Gardner. This article/obit is also a superb backgrounder on the man who made the words "next week we'll just have to get organized" a household phrase for a while.

In the "things-aren't-always-what-they-seem" department: the [Opposite of WSW], of course, is ENE. NSW, however, does not stand for North-South-West, but for New South Wales [Sydney's state (abbr.)]. In Australia. ASHY is defined nicely with [Like a fireplace grate]; but a [Burning sensation?] refers to IRE, not fire... That [Grumpy colleague?] isn't CRANKY, but the only one of Snow White's dwarfs with a one-syllable, three-letter name: DOC. The crossing at 1D and 1A of JONAH and JOB is not a biblical pairing. The former (with a long "O") does refer to [One with a whale tale?], but the latter (with a short "O") is the [Object of a graduate's quest].

50¢ word of the day: ESCHEAT [Confiscate legally]. I'm willing to bet I'll never remember this...

And with Halloween right around the corner, let's hear it for the DEMONS [Little devils] and the cluing of CROSSES as [Vampire repellents]!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Cheat Sheet"

I like the theme but much of the fill left me cold. The theme takes words that start with CH and changes 'em to SH-sound words:

• Chief of staff becomes SHEAF OF STAFF, or [Employee's wheat bundle?]. That's just a weird phrase. Do you ever have "meeting of staff"?
• Beach chair turns into BEACH SHARE, a [Co-owned house on sand?].
• [Bit of magic from Dolly?] the cloned sheep (not Dolly the Parton) is a SHEEP TRICK (cheap trick).
• The best of the bunch is RIGHT TO SHOES, playing on the right to choose. It's a [Privilege wanted by all fashionistas?].

While I do like YOUTUBE, Larry CSONKA's crazy spelling, JOSTLE, and "...THE HELL?", I was distracted by RANEE, SAME AS (6-letter partial?), ETNAS and an OAST, and EEE. Favorite clue: [Brendan Emmitt Quigley, e.g.] is the football-inflected TYPO Peter King had in his Sports Illustrated column.



crossword untimed, maybe 15 minutes?
puzzle 2 days

okay, this puzzle was a killer. very tough crossword, and a vague meta that had me scratching my head and fruitlessly investigating blind alleys for days. yup, it's hell month in matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, all right.

the grid had no evident theme answers, but the central answer was SIX BARS, clued as [Average itinerary for a Halloween night pub crawl, maybe]. this caught my attention meta-wise for three reasons:

  1. it's such a bloody weird answer. i mean, SIX BARS doesn't really pass muster as fill, so it's probably theme.
  2. it's in the middle. if i were matt, and planning to hide lots of specific entries in the grid, with only one hint as to what to look for, i'd stick the hint in the middle.
  3. it contains SIX, and the instructions tell us that This week's contest answer is six letters long (this is not a trick!). so 6 has something to do with the answer.

here is a non-exhaustive list of all the false leads i tried (you should see my marked-up paper):

  • MAUMAU/MAUS/AMU. what's up with that? (answer: nothing.)
  • the bars of black squares in the grid. there are six of them, four across and two down, including two crossing pairs. but ... nothing.
  • 6-down, STU (sneakily clued as [RV hookup], as in the letters that connect R to V).
  • the actual bars in the grid (i.e. the lines between adjacent white squares). right, nothing doing here either.
  • synonyms for BAR. i found STICKers, saBATini, SKIs (i guess), ... nothing.
  • BAR... BORges... BERts... arBORs... nothing.
  • "bars" of consecutive repeated letters. across and down, we've got aCCeSSed, coLLeTTe, aLLege, airineSS, droSS... nothing.
  • diagonal "bars" of consecutive letters. there's three Is in a row at the bottom, some Rs over in the lower right, and some Ns in the upper left... nothing.
  • TALIA and aliTALIA. what's up with that? nothing.
  • elaSTICs crossing STICkers. what's up with that? nothing.

finally it occurred to me that if i'm looking for a six-letter answer, it probably comes down to finding six different answers and taking one letter from each one. so i started looking for candy BARS (it is halloween this week)... aha! i noticed CLARA right away. i don't even remember why, but some time last week i was looking through old MGWCCs and revisited the one whose answer was CLARK, matt's middle name. one of the hints was that the three answers across the top of the grid were KENT, BAR, and GABLE. so CLARK bars were on my mind, and CLARA [Bow in front of the cameras] is one letter off. and what do you know? i found five more:

  • mars bar -> MAUS, the graphic novel-ish [Autobiography subtitled "A Survivor's Tale]
  • snickers bar -> STICKERS, [Campaign paraphernalia]
  • twix bar -> TWIN, [One may be evil]. this put me in the mind of mike nothnagel's great EVIL TWINS clue, [They may look the same, but they're not as good], from lollapuzzoola 2
  • payday bar -> GAYDAY, the [Fabulous annual event at many amusement parks]. i was a little uncertain about this one, because MAY DAY seemed plausible, too, but the crossing was BAG, slangily equivalent to [Cancel]... BAM, not so much.
  • mounds bar -> ZOUNDS, the great old-timey oath clued as ["Great Merlin's beard!"]. definitely sounds like something horace slughorn would say.

as usual, i tried anagramming the letters that were replaced, but KRNXPM isn't very promising. the new letters, though—that seemed better, but AUTNGZ didn't go anywhere either. i wasn't sure exactly what i was looking for, but there are no anagrams of AUTNGZ in my word list, so i thought i might be looking for a proper name or multi-word phrase somehow related to "Outrageous Death," the puzzle's title. (it didn't occur to me until i started this writeup that both of those words also fit the theme, what with nutrageous and heath bars.) but no.

that had me worried that i had identified the wrong BARS in the grid, so i checked out this wikipedia page of candy bars, looking for other names one letter off from grid answers. i didn't find one, but look what was hiding at the bottom of the list: the ZAGNUT bars, of which i had never heard. i knew immediately that it must be the answer.

whew! i was fairly certain i was going to fail this one as late as last night during sunday night football, and i was preparing to admit meta defeat for the first time as MGWCC blogger (and only the second time overall). but luckily things worked out, and persistence paid off.

after all that, i don't have that much to say about the crossword, which was freaking tough. i had to post-solve google a bunch of answers i didn't know:

  • AROINT thee! if i've heard this archaic "get thee gone" equivalent, i've long since forgotten it. but what a cool word! i'm going to use it this week no matter how many blank stares it nets me.
  • COLLETTE is apparently the ["About a Boy" actress, 2002]. i read that book, but i didn't realize it was a movie. i didn't love the book. is this ... toni collette? (is that even a person?) that name looks terribly misspelled, although not as terribly as andy pettitte.
  • [Huge gingerbread man in "Shrek 2"] is MONGO. never seen it. or shrek 1, for that matter. i think the huge dumb guy in blazing saddles! is also named MONGO, but i'm never sure it's not MONDO. except now i think i am, because in my other blogging gig almost exactly a year ago, i claimed that he was MONDO and janie corrected me. it's memorable because the puzzle contained both MONDO and HONDO.
  • [Hard rock] = SILEX? i think i know this word only as part of a company name.
  • it's the revenge of DUARTE! this [Central American leader of the 1980s] stymied me when he showed up in barry c. silk's friday NYT last week, but i was all over him this time.
  • [Positive in Peru] = SEGURO. did not know this one. i guess it's a cognate of "secure"; what manner of "positive" does it mean?
  • MAUMAU is apparently a verb meaning intimidate, or [Cow]. i know the mau mau rebellion, but i didn't know this. cool, though.
  • [TV psychopath, for short] is DEX. i looked this up the other day and have already forgotten what show it's from. something old.
  • [___ Latin] is EMI? if you say so. there were certainly a lot of latin american clues, what with DUARTE and SEGURO crossing ORTEGA (okay, not latin, but a brand of salsa) and ISLA clued as [Word on Puerto Rico's state quarter]. hey, shouldn't that be a territory quarter?
  • [Museum voor Schone Kunsten's city] is GHENT, belgium. i've actually been there, though i certainly never went to any museums, preferring to play bridge non-stop for two weeks instead. (in my defense, i was young and foolish then. the next two times i went to europe to play bridge, i made sure to see the sights in paris and istanbul.) the only non-bridge memories i have from my GHENT trip all involve eating incredibly delicious kebabs from a turkish food stand a block from our dorm-like accommodations. mmm... kebab.
  • fave clue: [Dr. without an advanced degree] for rap's dr. DRE.

okay, that's all from me this week. given how tough this sucker was, i don't even want to think about next week...