October 18, 2009

Monday, 10/19/09

BEQ 4:38
LAT 2:40
NYT 2:32
CS untimed

Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword

Like the theme in Merl Reagle's syndicated Sunday puzzle, this theme is sort of an oddball. Not a variant on the usual sorts of themes, but something fresh: Lynn takes those little crosswordese interjections OOH and AAH, combines them into the far-superior OOH AND AAH, and gathers up a bunch of wildly disparate words that have an OOH sound in the first syllable and an AAH sound in the second:

• 16A. [Backwoods locale] is the BOONDOCKS. The etymology traces back to the Tagalog word bundok, meaning mountains. My mother-in-law grew up in the bundok boonies.
• 27A. A NEUTRON is [Particle with no electric charge[.
• 49A. GOULASH is a [Stew made with paprika]. Yep, we shot right past the middle of the grid without having a theme entry there. The shortish theme entries are split between Acrosses and Downs, with the 8- and 9-letter ones intersecting and the 6s and 7s hanging out in separate areas.
• 3D. The MOON SHOT is clued as [Apollo 11, 12 or 13, e.g.].
• 10D. HOOPLA's a [Commotion]. Fun to say—even more fun than GOULASH. BOONDOCKS is right up there, too.
• 39D. A [Teased hairdo] is a BOUFFANT.
• 48D. [Home of the University of Arizona] is TUCSON.

Pretty much the only answer that raises a "This is a Monday puzzle?" eyebrow is ORFEO, or [Monteverdi opera hero who descends into Hades]. I'm not sure all the information in that clue provides much help to the average solver, aside from giving them more key words to Google if they wish.

Lynn once again demonstrates why she's on so many people's lists of favorite Monday constructors.

Updated Monday morning:

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Baby Talk"—Janie's review

Oh, baby, did I enjoy this puzzle. This was one smooth solve, from its well-developed and -executed theme (which draws on those adorable babbling sounds that infants make—some of which constitute "first words"— to the lively non-theme elements. There are 62 squares of theme-fill in eight theme-entries—two 10s, two 13s and (in the corners, thank-you-very-much) four 4s. The four longest all incorporate creative people whose names or nicknames identify family members. There's:

•17A. MAMA AFRICA [Soubriquet for Johannesburg-born singer Miriam Makeba]. This clip is from 1966 and only begins to tell the tale of this singer and civil rights activist (married to Hugh Masekela) who died last November at 76.
•23A. PAPA HEMINGWAY [Nickname for Pulitzer-winning author Ernest]. Everyone knows him, right?
•45. NANA MOUSKOURI [Prolific female recording artist born in Crete]. Ms. Mouskouri turned 75 just last week; she has sung and recorded in 15 languages. Here she is in 1972 (very Euro-poppy) singing "Soleil, Soleil." In French...
•56A. DADA ARTISTS [Jean Arp or Max Ernst]. Was this movement the Euro-trash of its day? That's not meant as a put-down. These artists and their colleagues lived to shock, to awaken people from their complacency. It's probably no coincidence that while the iconoclastic dadaist aesthetic rears its head still, its peak years were those surrounding World War I.

And the four corners are anchored with those "nonsense" sounds:

• 1A. GA-GA [Totally smitten].
• 10A. "TA-TA!" ["Cheerio!"]. (I also like the way ATTA [Lead-in for boy or girl] is an anagram of ta-ta...)
• 61A. [In] LA-LA [land (spaced out)].
• 63A. ["Divine Secrets of the] YA-YA [Sisterhood"].

All of which—when said aloud—makes me laugh (ha-ha!). Really, all that's missing is Zsa Zsa (Gabor) and Baba Wawa...

As I mentioned at the top, the non-theme fill delivers in lively ways as well. There's a whole musical sub-theme that builds on the presence of Ms's Makeba and Mouskouri. Is this serendipity or is it all part of Sarah's GAME PLAN [Carefully thought out strategy]? EXHIBIT A [First piece of evidence...], is of the avian variety, with TANAGER [Brightly colored songbird] (beautiful pix, btw!). Examples of the human sort then appear by way of Mel TORME [Singer known as "The Velvet Fog"] and ALMA [Soprano Gluck], who recorded prolifically in her day (in the first quarter of the 20th century, at a time when the recording industry was very new). For three years she really did sing in several [Met productions] OPERAS. And she was the mother of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., too. That's just one FACTOID [Bit of trivia] I picked up today!

A trio of canine clues/fill show up with [Command to Fido]/"SIC 'EM!," [Food for Fido]/ALPO and [Word after dog or tin]/EAR. (Hmm. That last one also hearkens back to the music theme, too.) And a pair of crossing media mavins also contribute to this puzzle's overall coherence: LIANE [NPR host Hansen] and OPRAH, here clued in connection with her being a [Book club name]. Ditto the two contasting bursting combos: SALVO/[Artillery burst] and FOAMS/[Bursts into bubbles]. Not to mention the PAELLA [Saffron-flavored Spanish dish] that's certainly prepared in GRANADA.

ENAMEL, GONDOLA, ACT TWO—all of these add to strength of the fill today. Am going out on a limb here with ON BAIL [Having posted bond]. This little clip is kinda un-pc but, um... if you're ever arrested/locked up in Baltimore, who ya gonna call?! Oh, baby, indeed!

Mark Bickham's Los Angeles Times crossword

I think this might be Mark Bickham's debut as a crossword constructor for the mainline newspaper venues. His puzzle is Monday-easy, and the rest of you probably found the theme to be ridiculously obvious but I swear I didn't catch onto the theme until I reached 65D: [Computer feature that ends each of the five longest across answers], a KEY. But of course! Seems utterly obvious in retrospect. The theme entries are DO NOT ENTER, a ["Keep out" sign]; PICK UP THE TAB, or [Pay for everyone's dinner]; NO MEANS OF ESCAPE, or an ["All exits are blocked" situation]; CROWD CONTROL, or [Throng management]; and STICK SHIFT, clued as [Four-on-the-floor, e.g.], a clue that meant nothing to me. I've always been an automatic shift type. If this were a Mac-centric theme, we would've needed a STOCK OPTION and either CHAIN OF COMMAND or TAFFY APPLE to cover the other keys on the left side of the keyboard. Seven theme entries is too much for a Monday puzzle, though.

TWIXT, or [Between, quaintly], reminded me of this game I liked as a kid. It hasn't been made in years, has it?

The fill includes two 10-letter answers going Down, intersecting two theme entries apiece. CARNY is a cool word, too; it's clued as a [Traveling show worker]. Anyone watch Heroes, with the new batch of carnies with superpowers? Overall, the fill is quite Monday-friendly, with the exception of a few "better learn them now because you'll be seeing them again" words: STEN is a [WWII submachine gun] used by the British; the ODER is a [German river], one of many 4-letter European rivers in crosswords; and the proofreading term STET is clued as [Printer's "let it stand"].

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

List time! My favorite answers and clues:

• 35A. DRINK THE KOOL-AID. Awesome. It's to [Become a firm believer], generally in something others mock.
• 12D. "I AM SO DEAD" is a [Nervous sentiment after wrecking the parents' car].
• 31D. [Politician who launched "Citizens for McCain"] is Joe LIEBERMAN? Heh. Remember when fancied himself a Democrat? McCain ≠ MCLAIN, a John Wayne character intersecting with LIEBERMAN. McCain and Lieberman are senators, but not the hockey-playing kind in the HOME ICE clue, [Senators' advantage in Ottawa].
• 37A. CAESURAE are [Pauses in poetry]. Pretty word, isn't it?
• 30D. [Cause to diminsh] clues CRANK DOWN, as in "Can ya crank down the sound? My ears are bleeding."
• 19A. Defense secretary ROBERT GATES gets his full name in the grid. A few months back, Merl Reagle clued GATES as [DOS boss], and I thought it was an adjacent-key typo for [DOD boss], but Merl had Bill G. in mind, not Robert.