October 16, 2009

Saturday, 10/17/09

Newsday 6:41
NYT 6:32
LAT 2:51
CS untimed

Chuck Deodene's New York Times crossword

Is it just me, or does this crossword have more than the usual allotment of multi-word answers? Among the more noteworthy (i.e., not often seen in the grid) phrases are these:

• 1A. THANKS TO is equivalent to [Through the efforts of]. 15A: AS THOUGH ([Like]) has a similar vibe.
• 14A. The SOVIET ERA was the [Sputnik launch time].
• 17A. If you TOOK NOTES, you [Didn't just rely on memory].
• 58A. I'm not sure how savory or un- RENT A ROOM ([Get some quick lodging]) is as a crossword entry. The exclamation "GET A ROOM!" feels more familiar to me.
• 63A. I wonder if there's anyone named Tatt, Leon. TATTLE ON means [Rat out].
• 11D. And what about GAVE HOPE? Is it a solid phrase or merely verb + noun? It's clued with [Offered a way out].
• 13D. A key word in the clue was in the L.A. Times puzzle the other day. RED ALERT is a [Klaxon-sounding occasion]. "What's the occasion?" "Oh, you know. We're on RED ALERT."
• 32D. DEAR SIRS is clued as a [Fusty greeting]. Clue = awesomeness.
• 36D. I like TAX DODGE, or [Bit of trickery on the schedule].

Favorite clues and answers:

• 40A. [It may have clawed feet] clues an old (or new and expensive) BATHTUB. My first post-college apartment had an old claw-foot tub. Man, was that tub deep.
• The snowdrift mislead misled me for a bit: 29A is ROVE, or [Drift], but 61A is a SNOW FENCE, or [Guard against drifting].
• 1D. T-STORM is a [Brief weather phenomenon?] in that it's a brief name for a weather occurrence.
• 2D. I like HOODIE, but I'm not sure it's most accurately described as a [Hip-hop top]. Fashion mavens and hip-hop aficionados, what say you?
• 31D. Edward ALBEE is clued by way of a quote: [He said "If Attila the Hun were alive today, he'd be a drama critic"]. Isn't that a tad dramatic?
• 34D. I don't know the first thing about PINOCHLE, but the [Double-decker?] clue had me thinking of buses, sandwiches, and punches but not card games.
• 41D. TRIDENT is a [Fishing weapon], and also the pencil attachment of choice for Crossword Fiends everywhere.
• 47D. YEOMEN are clued as [Tower of London figures]. The Tower of London was one of the highlights of my family vacation in 2007.

And now, how about a tough clue roundup?

• 9A. SUGAR is [Crystals used for dishes]. I ate a small spoonful of sugar today to get rid of my hiccups. It was yummy. And yet I still needed a lot of crossings to tease out this answer.
• 21A. Amtrak's ACELA train is a [Track speedster beginning in 2000]. Yes, I thought it referred to sprinters at first.
• 23A, 25A. With the ENT in place, I confidently filled in VENTRAL for [Of the seafloor]. I don't know why. The answer is BENTHIC, which ought to be an adjective for things relating to philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Speaking of things down yonder, HEL is a Norse [Underworld goddess]. And speaking of the sea, 34A: [Unlike seawater] clues POTABLE.
• 44A. [Minute] can mean "small," but BITSY without an "itsy" is not a word I'd ever use.
• 56A, 56D. If you don't know the Czech city BRNO ([Moravian capital]) or the [Belgian balladeer] Jacques BREL, you could be excused for thinking that B should be a vowel. "Moravian" doesn't shout "place with a dearth of vowels," does it? AREL, ARNO? EREL, ERNO? IREL, IRNO? OREL, ORNO? UREL, URNO? Er, no.
• 12D. [What pupils are separated by] is their AGE LEVEL, to a degree.
• 29D. I don't recall seeing this etymology before. RABBI means [Literally, "my master"]. I wasn't thinking Hebrew at all, and for a while my GUN BELT was a GUN ROOM, so I was wondering about, say, BARBI. Then I pondered Barbie dolls and RAMBO.
• 38D. [Lumps] are NUBS. "Nub" is not a word I use much.

I hear some people felt yesterday's Karen Tracey puzzle was Saturday-hard. Is this one harder? I thought both crosswords landed squarely in the desired difficulty zones for their respective days.

Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Good Old What's-His-Name"—Janie's review

Believe me, I'm not raising an objection when I say that this puzzle has a decidedly masculine bias to it. Charmingly so, I might add (and just did...). For starters, the first name of each of the well-known men (all deceased...) in the four theme-phrases is also a slangy word for the male of the species. The colorful quartet includes:

•17A. GUY LOMBARDO [Bandleader associated with New Year's Eve]. Any of you younger solvers ever heard of him? He was a legend (and a veritable institution) in his day, but died in 1977. What a guy!
•27A. BUDDY HACKETT [Comedian who got his start in the borscht belt]. The name Leonard Hacker just wasn't gonna, um, hack it—now was it, ol' buddy, ol'pal?
•43A. BUSTER KEATON [Actor nicknamed the "Great Stone Face"]. If a deeply troubled man, a brilliant comic as well—but decidedly of the deadpan variety. Wanna make somethin' of it, buster?
•57A. JOE DIMAGGIO ["The Yankee Clipper"]. Did you know that Joltin' Joe was from San Francisco? I didn't. I'd always assumed he was New York born and bred. But no. In so many ways this extraordinary athlete was, at heart, always a "regular Joe."

Taking off from that sports-related place (and going back to my "masculine bias" statement), look how much more sports fill Randy gives us:
•END [Tom Brady target]. Brady is a quarterback and it seems that in that position he gets to know the opposing team's tight end all too well. Ditto the wide receiver—who used to be called the split end.
•[Causes of overtimes] TIES.
•[Cowboys or Indians] TEAMS.
•["Kill the ump!"] "BOO!"
•LEFT JAB [Right hook set up].
•And yes, they're both co-ed these days, but I'm going to include (the side-by-side in the grid) PRINCETON [Ivy League School] and OHIO STATE [Big Ten School] in this grouping because they both have serious athletic programs and tend to be very "rah-rah."

Other fill in the "Mars" column would include HERO/[Medal of Honor recipient], Zubin MEHTA, Franz Joseph HAYDN, EDD Byrnes, DAN Brown, Daniel BOONE, Captain AHAB, Fibber MCGEE—and even SHAFT/[Blaxploitation film of 1971].

With the exception of ALTOS [Choir voices], there's even a male bent to the many musical references:

• MEHTA [Conductor Zubin].
• HAYDN [Composer call the "Father of the Symphony"].
• BACH ["Brandenburg Concertos" composer].
• [Bruce Hornsby's instrument] PIANO.

"Venus" entries include TERI [Hatcher of "Desperate Housewives"], ["Gidget" actress Sandra] DEE, Yoko ONO ["Double Fantasy" performer] (how's that for a trio?!) and, what's this? [Something burned in the '60s]: BRA!

In fact, I like that last combo quite a bit. The clue is strong. So is [Makeup artist?] for LIAR. Hmmm. That one could go in either column. These days, so could RABBI [Yeshiva graduate, often].

I wouldn't say I literally [Revere] this puzzle, but I sure do ADMIRE it highly. With (even more) solid fill the likes of TRASH CANS (wonderfully clued as [They're full of garbage]), LET US PRAY, AMOROUS, GOES APE (though we saw this on Tuesday in Paula's puzzle...), and even STOMACH (clued as [Gut]—and now I'm thinkin' of all those out of shape athletes...)—I ask you, what's not to like?!

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

Good news! In a few more weeks, the late-week LAT puzzles will stop being so ridiculously easy. The powers that be have finally acknowledged that maybe it's OK for a Friday or Saturday puzzle to reach beyond Tuesday difficulty. I'm not sure how far up the scale it'll go, but we'll see in November. In the meantime, this puppy clocked in as a Tuesday for me.

Here's an edited portion of my L.A. Crossword Confidential post:

First up is a term I don't know at all, but that is probably familiar to geologists: QUAKE LAKE, or 15A: [Basin that can result from a seismic landslide]. It's related to the broader category of landslide dams, apparently, and there's a Quake Lake in Montana and a quake lake in Sichuan, China, that formed after the 2008 earthquake. Did you folks know this term?

Favorite answers? Right here:

• 1A: Spears on the table (ASPARAGUS). My first thought was BRITNEY. I don't care for asparagus, so I certainly do not have any recipes for it. I do, however, enjoy the science of asparagus.
• It's a Woodstock criss-cross party! JANIS and JIMI are 10A: [Joplin at Woodstock] and 10D: [Hendrix at Woodstock].
• Nobody gets excited by PETER I or OTTO I in the fill. But LOUIS XIV looks awesome there, doesn't he? (20A: European ruler for 72 years). Speaking of Louis, have you seen this clip of comedian Louis CK on Conan O'Brien's show? It's hilarious. Writer Dean Olsher posted that clip to his Facebook page—from a plane with wireless internet access.
• 39A: It creates an adjustable loop (SLIP KNOT). Yeah, you don't often see a PKN smack dab in the middle of an answer.
• When I was a teenage existentialist, I was 11D: Blown away (AWESTRUCK) by 12D: 1944 Sartre play (NO EXIT).
• 21D: Ship in 1898 news (U.S.S. MAINE), I like multi-word entries and those with unexpected letter combos. SSM looks wrong but it's right.
• 23D: Lunchbox alternative (PAPER BAG). I don't like this answer so much as the way it evokes the idiom "can't punch his way out of a paper bag." Though I never use "punch"—how about "She can't solve her way out of a paper bag"?

I'm never a fan of the "smush together two items in a series and call it a crossword entry" thing. 48A: [Notes after fa] clues SO LA. Boo! It's not even holding together a particularly cool section of the grid. I'd feel warmer to it if it facilitated amazing entries in its neighborhood, but TOILSOME and ENDORSED don't do much for me.

Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

(PDF solution here.)

Let's start with the big "Huh?" clues:

• 24A. [A and B, in C] clues LATI. Is this LA, TI, as in "do re mi fa sol la ti do"? If you must have one of these icky two-notes-smushed-together entries (see a few paragraphs above), you really want to use a straightforward clue. Save the more mysterious clues for more solid entries so solvers don't feel ripped off or just plain mystified.
• 46A. DIMITY is a [Cotton fabric]. More specifically, "a hard-wearing, sheer cotton fabric woven with raised stripes or checks." I have never encountered this word. They don't tend to sprinkle "dimity" in clothing catalogs, do they?
• 12D. Did you know there's such a thing as a TREE TOAD? I'd have thought the [Foam-nest builder] would be some sort of wasp or beetle.
• 37D. VERONA is the [Home of Valentine and Proteus]. These are the Two Gentlemen of Verona. I never knew the characters' names.

Good stuff:

• 13D. HEX SIGNS are [Pennsylvania folk art].
• 22A. BEANIE BABIES are a [Yard-sale staple], all right.
• 5A. SACKCLOTH is a [Symbol of remorse]. Cool CKCL pile-up in the middle.

Iffy stuff:

• 33A. MISADDS is [Gets the wrong number, maybe]. Raise your hand if you've ever used this word. Anyone? Anyone?
• Weird plurals—38D: [Balm ingredients] are ALOES. Just how many ALOES are included in the typical balm? 35D: [Peculiar talk] clues LINGOES.
• 38A. EPT is clued as [Able, nonstandardly].

Answers I'd like to swap:

• 26A and 28A, [Multi-Grammy rap star] and [Patron saint of girls], are NELLY and AGNES.