October 10, 2009

Sunday, 10/11/09

Reagle 8:56
NYT 8:17
LAT 8:01
BG 6:09
CS 4:55

Hello! Have you seen the post below this one, above the Saturday post? Jeffrey Krasnick, a.k.a. Crosscan, is the newest addition to the Crossword Fiend team. He'll be writing about Matt Gaffney's 21x21 crosswords at the Daily Beast website. The puzzles come out on Fridays, so sometime after that each week, Jeffrey will blog 'em. These Sunday-sized puzzles are a bit easier than the Sunday NYT.

Randolph Ross's New York Times crossword, "Author! Author!"

I feel like I've seen that puzzle title before. The theme doesn't feel familiar, but the title does. Hmm.

The theme includes 24 authors paired up in 12 theme entries. Each author's last name doubles as a word of some kind, and the two names together, when read aloud, sound like a phrase of variable familiarity. Sometimes the word and name are spelled the same and sometimes they're not, so the theme feels like a bit more of a hodgepodge than usual. Here are your writers:

  • 22A. [Bret and Robert's treatise on acid reflux?] could be HARTE BURNS (heartburns). I can't say I've ever seen that word pluralized thus.
  • 24A. Nathanael and Jack's travel guide about Heathrow's environs?] clues WEST LONDON. Straightforward, no spelling change, the two words stay separate (vs. heartburns merging).
  • 37A. [Jonathan and Alice's account of a pedestrian in a hurry?] is SWIFT WALKER. While heartburn and West London are actual things, SWIFT WALKER is a made-up phrase composed of two names.
  • 47A. I like the initialization of this clue. [C.P. and E.B.'s essay on purity?] is SNOW WHITE. Classic character, plus a dictionary entry. Rock solid.
  • 59A. [Caleb and Robert B.'s novel about valet service?] is CARR PARKER. One spelling change to get "car parker."
  • 70A. [Richard and Thomas's book about a robot?] is STEELE MANN ("steel man"). Danielle Steel lacks the final E, and Steele and Addison are canonical.
  • 83A. [Rex and Stephen's biography of Henry VIII?] might be called STOUT KING. No spelling change, but a contrivance like SWIFT WALKER.
  • 90A. WILDE SINGER is [Oscar and Isaac's profile of Little Richard?]. Isaac Singer invented the sewing machine. It's Isaac Bashevis Singer who's the writer, so "grrr" on that clue. Also: Little Richard is your "wild singer"? How about Wendy O. Williams or Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat on stage?
  • 109A. [Dan and Virginia's story of a dark-colored predator?] clues BROWN WOOLF. I'm a kickass speller, but I forget which letter to double. It's Tobias Wolff with two Fs, Tom Wolfe with an E, and Virginia with two Os. Wikipedia has articles on the gray, red, and black wolf, but no brown wolf. Didn't you kinda want it to be a BLACK WOOLF to keep Dan Brown out of the puzzle? (Hi, Gary!)
  • 111A. Paula POUNDSTONE is referenced as [Ezra and Irving's memoir of a stand-up comic?]. This is the only answer in which two author names combine into a single word/name.
  • 36D. [Horton and John's podiatry journal article?] clues FOOTE BUNYAN. Hello! That's not remotely "in the language." "Foot bunion"? What the hell other sort of bunion would there be in a podiatry journal? Besides, a bunion exists only in the feet. It's like talking about your "head brain" or your "mouth teeth."
  • 40D. [Richard and Reynolds's bargain hunting manual?] clues WRIGHT PRICE ("right price"). This clue could benefit from a hyphen because a "bargain hunting manual" sounds like a low-priced how-to book for hunters.
The lack of consistency in this theme drove me bonkers. You know there are a dozen constructors sitting there grumbling, "My puzzle got rejected for a minor inconsistency and this one passed muster?"

On the plus side, I didn't run into any troublesome crossings. Again on the down side, some of the fill wasn't working for me either. For example, UNTACKS (12D: [Removes from a bulletin board]), "I STINK" (53A: [Admission of ineptitude]) OLD SOUL clued as 86D: [King Cole, e.g.] (I'd like it if clued with relation to the first definition here, but it feels like a 7-letter partial applied to Old King Cole), TAP-TAP (51D: [Typist's sound]), and AKU (56D: [When repeated, a Thor Heyerdahl title]). AKU? Ah, no.

But 65A tried to make amends with me: [Drop ___ (start to strip)] clues TROU. I think we could have dispensed with the parenthetical, don't you?

Updated Sunday morning, after whiling away a couple hours watching the Chicago Marathon from the warm environs of the living room because of below-freezing temps:

Merl Reagle's syndicated crossword, "The Full Name Game"

This theme is just weird. It's not at all intuitive for me. A hodgepodge of famous names (All men? Meh) that sort of sound like all or part of one to three words in various phrases get swapped in in lieu of the usual words, and the clue has no allusion to the specific celebrity in the answer. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to including these particular phrases or names, though. The theme plays out like this:
  • 23A. [Navy vessel?] clues A TOM MIX SUBMARINE (atomic submarine). I had the mystifying ATOMMICSUBMARINE for a while, as the C works as a Roman numeral in 11D: [Year Martin Luther posted his 95 theses]. That year is MDXVII, or 1517, but I rarely consider what actual year is likely for a Roman numeral clue. Could this have been 1607 (MDCVII)? Sure, if you don't know your ecclesiastical history or hate spending any time futzing over Roman numeral clues.
  • 36A, 88A. [With 88 Across, arresting words?] turns "You have the right to remain silent" into HUGH HEFNER RIGHT / TO REMAIN SILENT. Now, if this were clued as a headline about the advisability of a famous playboy staying quiet, I might like it better. As it is, it's a weird, nongrammatical stretch of a pun.
  • 50A, 69A. [WIth 69 Across, a comedy observation from the Bard?] clues WHAT FOOLS THESE / MORT SAHLS BE ("...mortals..."). Just how many Mort Sahls might there be? But wait, why am I expecting a surface sense in this answer after the Hefner one?
  • 99A. [Crossword quitter's cry?] is I DON HO THE ANSWER ("I don't know the answer"). I'm now contemplating ways to use "Don Ho" as a verb. "Oh, yeah? Don Ho this, buddy!"
  • 117A. [Talk-show host's line?] is WILBUR WRIGHT BACK, which is a fairly close sound match for "we'll be right back," closer than the other theme entries.
Among the tougher clues and/or iffier fill, we have these:
  • 103D. HE-MALE is [Old slang for a man's man]. This one wasn't at all obvious to me.
  • 97D. [Singing voice: abbr.] is BARIT., short for baritone. Not sure I've seen that abbreviation before.
  • 53D. [Beat the Heat?] has a stealth past tense: it's OUTSHOT. I was thinking of present tense verbs like OUTLAST, and I knew the clue was about the Miami Heat NBA team, but I still needed a zillion crossings. Maybe that's just me.
  • 64A. [To fly, in a song] clues VOLARE. That's what that means? I never knew. And I drove a Plymouth Volare in high school. It did not fly.
So I've done two Sunday puzzles and enjoyed zero themes so far. Maybe I'll like the next one better. Stay tuned!

Dan Naddor's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "Why, Yes!"

The theme relies on sound changes: take a word with an "oo" or "oor" sound (to a Midwesterner, they're not quite the same) and incorporate a "Y" sound to change the word into one with a "yoo/yoor" sound. Like so:
  • 24A. [Designer Christian doing a pirouette?] clues REVOLVING DIOR (revolving door). Is DIOR one syllable or two? I say two.
  • 33A. [Unadulterated moonshine?] would be PURE SPIRITS (poor spirits).
  • 52A. HUGH'S NEXT could be the answer to the question, "Who's next?" The clue's ["Actor Laurie goes after you"?].
  • 69A. [Pool tool in the army rec room?] is a MILITARY CUE stick (military coup).
  • 87A. A [Sign at a broken gas pump?] might read NO FUELING (no fooling).
  • 104A. [Ongoing dispute about chemical use in farming?] clues ORGANIC FEUD (organic food).
  • 115A. [Former Vietnamese president's dining reservation?] could be a TABLE FOR THIEU (table for two). So that's how that's pronounced? I've never heard it said.
  • 3D. [Gorgeous newborns?] are BABY BEAUTIES (baby booties). Our PS3 is connected to our wireless network, so we viewed hundreds of family photos on the plasma TV last night—including baby pictures of my son, his parents, and one of his grandparents. We don't have prints of the vast majority of the photos we've taken in the last decade.
  • 5D. [Speechless moments?] are MUTE POINTS (moot points). This is the one that tipped me off to the theme.
  • 65D. [Coastal Norse horse?] is a FJORD MUSTANG (Ford Mustang). My kid loves Mustangs, but if he drives a real car the way he drives in video games, I'm never buying him a car.
  • 77D. BJORN AGAIN might well have been a [Late '70s Wimbledon headline?] (born again).
Okay, this theme is all right. It wasn't all intuitive for me and it wasn't really funny, but I give the theme points for consistency. The variety of ways the "yoo" sound is spelled is cool, too: IO, U x2, UGH, UE x2, EU, IEU, EAU, and JO. Minus 10 points for including both the ORANT clue (39A: [Praying figure]) and PRAYERS (98D: [Mass communications?]), but plus 5 points for the 98D clue. Highlights in the fill include "I'M BEAT," DEAR ABBY, LIL KIM, LA BAMBA, and MUD PIES.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword (in Across Lite), "Great Rivals"

A year ago, this theme would have been most vexing for me. But last month, I spell-checked the name of every player in Brendan Quigley's upcoming Red Sox and Yankees word search books, so filling in a theme of MVPs from the archrival Yankees and Red Sox MVPs was child's play. DUSTIN PEDROIA, JIMMIE FOXX, and FRED LYNN were not names I'd have gotten before, though crosswords and popular culture (Ken Burns!) taught me TED WILLIAMS, BABE RUTH, MICKEY MANTLE, JOE DIMAGGIO, ROGER MARIS, ROGER CLEMENS, and ALEX RODRIGUEZ. Don't ask me which ones played for which team. Until I looked up Pedroia this morning, I thought the entire theme was Yankee MVPs and that seemed gutsy for a Boston crossword. Consulting with my husband, I see that the left side of the grid has the Red Sox players and the right has the Yankees. Isn't that a nice touch? There's a hearty smattering of other baseball fill throughout the grid—I count about 25 outside the theme.

If you're a baseball fan, particularly on the East Coast but not rooting for the Mets, this puzzle ought to delight you. If anyone wants to load up a puzzle with Orioles and Cardinals players, I'm ready for those too, thanks to Brendan recruiting me to proof those sports puzzle books. Hurry—do it now, before I forget. I think I've already forgotten the football players from this summer's batch of proofreading.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post "Sunday Challenge"

As you'd expect from a themeless Klahn puzzle, a great many of the clues play with language and prod you to open your mind to multiple (and unexpected) meanings of words. Top 20 clues for trickiness and wordplay:

1. 17A. AUTOMOBILE TIRES are clued with [They might be biased]. The first impulse is to think of people who might be biased.

2. 21A. [You can take his word for it] clues ROGET of thesaurus fame, not an honest person whoses word is trustworthy.

3. 33A. [Stopper that should work with almost any plug] isn't about plumbing. If you look down the list of definitions for plug, eventually you reach "informal: a tired or old horse." "WHOA" is the command that even an old horse should be able to follow.

4. 36A. [Electrician's mantra?] clues OHM, a unit of electrical resistance that sounds like the classic mantra, "om."

5. 44A. [Inks, or clinks] clues PENS in two ways: (a) If you ink your signature, you pen it (write it). (b) The clink and the pen are slang for "prison."

6, 7. 18A, 49A. [It's a steal] clues the crime of THEFT, while if you're [Caught stealing] in baseball, you're OUT.

8. 64A. [Union requirement?] isn't about labor unions—it's a MARRIAGE LICENSE.

9, 10. 1D, 5D. The [Ailurophobe's cry] is "SCAT, cat!" but this has nothing to do with [Beat it!]—the latter clues a TOM-TOM that you might beat.

11, 12. 8D, 9D. To [Rain hard] is to PELT and [Hard rain] falls as ICE. These are actually easier than the usual paired clues that rely on different senses of the same words.

13. 26D. This was the last thing I figured out. [Fashion plates?] are fine CHINA plates.

14. 27D. [Roast, perhaps] clues HONOR. If you roast a celebrity, you're honoring their career (but often humiliating them through humor at the same time]. With the HON** in place, I had honey-roasted turkey on my mind.

15. 31D. The rhyming pair [Sandal, or scandal?] clues THONG. Thongs are flip-flops as well as the buttcheek-baring bikini bottoms we are sure to see on TV during coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Thongs aren't scandalous there, are they?

16, 17. 51D, 52D. One [Belt item] is a TOOL, while multiple [Belt items] constitute AMMO.

18. 59D. [Shrink rap?] plays on shrink-wrap but clues "I SEE," the conversational "rap" your therapist might say.

Okay, that's 18 out of the 20. Let's find two more.

19. 37A. [Noisy rooters?] are OINKERS because...pigs root around with their snouts and they oink when they're noisy? I'm not sure why there's a question mark in this clue. I'd understand the question mark's purpose if another clue in this puzzle used "rooter" to mean "one who cheers for a team."

20. 15A. [It may have several chips in it] sounds electronic, doesn't it? It clues CHOCOLATE COOKIE. If you ask me, a chocolate chip cookie is not a "chocolate cookie," and a "chocolate cookie" contains chocolate chips only if it's a "chocolate chocolate chip cookie." Your cookie-related argot may vary.