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.