October 24, 2009

Sunday, 10/25/09

NYT 7:56 or 12:48, depending on your mood
LAT 6:33
BG 6:14
Reagle untimed
CS 4:10

Brendan Quigley's New York Times crossword, "Wishful Thinking"

I ran afoul of the Ripstein Rule, as I did not check every crossing. At 30A, I had YEOMAN [___ of the Guard] instead of YEOMEN (edited to swap the YEOMAN and YEOMEN, which I had transposed to utterly muddle my point), and didn't read the 32D clue, ["L'heure d'___" (2008 Juliette Binoche film)]. ETÉ! Not ATE. (Which appears elsewhere, 11D: ["I already ___"], so if I'd bothered looking at those crossings... Anyway, it took me about five minutes to root out that problem square. But overall, the puzzle fell remarkably fast considering that I had not heard the quote that made up the theme. Kudos to Brendan and the NYT puzzle team for keeping the crossings fair.

The quote is a [wish by 112-Across on 9/21/09], just a month ago. 112A is PETER KING. Who? Apparently he's an [NBC football analyst/reporter and longtime writer]. Never heard of him. Wikipedia tells me this about King: "Since 2006, he has been a part of Football Night in America, NBC's Sunday night NFL studio show"—which I'm guessing Brendan likes to watch. Apparently SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is the 94A: [Magazine for which 112-Across writes]. His wish is this: MY GOAL IN LIFE IS / TO BE A CLUE / IN THE NEW YORK TIMES / CROSSWORD PUZZLE. /I'VE / NEVER TOLD ANYONE / THAT, BUT IT'S TRUE. Well! All he had to do is voice that wish on TV (or in writing? no idea what the context was) and voilà, his wish is granted.

I just started reading Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. The average person voicing a wish is not going to see it magically come to fruition with no effort on their part. Hmph!

Crossword? Yes! Back to the puzzle. Toughest pieces:

• In one section, I was knotted up for a while. 67A: [Garage container] is TOOLBOX. 74A: [Hell's Angels, e.g.] is an OXYMORON (great clue!). 64D: [Battery, e.g.] is a TORT, legally speaking. 68D: [It has ray flowers] clues OXEYE, not my first guess of ASTER. And 69D: ["Sheesh!"] clues "OY VEY!"
• 73A. ISIDORE is [___ the Laborer, patron saint of farmers].
• 13A. [___ Errol, main character in "Little Lord Fauntleroy"], is named CEDRIC. I prefer Cedric the Entertainer.
• 95D. PUNKERS are [Some Warped Tour attendees]. Is being an "attendee" punk? I say no.
• 125A. [Magical symbol] clues SIGIL.
• 61D. [Piazza dei Miracoli town] is PISA. We see PISA plenty in the crossword, but not with this clue.
• 81D. ["___ all!" ("Fini!")] clues DAT'S. Now, what in tarnation is "Fini!" doing in that clue? Something along the lines of "Dere ain't no mo'" would evoke the same mood.
• 113D. The ugliest [Run of letters] is GHIJ, four consecutive letters in the alphabet. GHI is beautiful, though, because of Ghirardelli chocolate.

Here's some bits I liked:

• 45D. YEOH is the last name of [Michelle of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"]. Nice cross-cultural echo with YEOMAN.
• [Parliament output?] is ASH, Parliament being a brand of cigarettes.
• Full-name expanded crosswordese! 1A: ["My People" writer] is ABBA EBAN.
• 37A. [Working hours] for a machine are its UPTIME, the opposite of the more common downtime.
• 102A. [What can one do?] is a SOLO, of course.
• 109A. I thought [Minotaur feet] would be something Greek, but it's merely HOOVES.
• 3D. [Windbags] are BIG MOUTHS.
• 10D. DEFINER is one of those awkward odd-job answers, salvaged by its lexicographicality: [Noah Webster, for one] is an example of an erstwhile DEFINER. A few days ago a modern-day DEFINER, Jesse Sheidlower, tweeted this: "giggling quietly at a terrible definition in another dictionary."
• 38D. Pop culture! Yes, the Spice Girls are no more. But the [Nickname of the Spice Girls' Sporty Spice] is MEL C., and the last initial is easy if you know what comes before _ROSSWORD in the crossing. The other Melanie was Mel B., I think. Baby Spice, I want to say. Victoria Beckham, who's married to soccer star David Beckham, was Posh Spice. What ever happened to Scary Spice? Maybe she is now Old Spice.
• 75D. Nobody likes ALER and NLER as crossword fill, right? We've established that? Yes. But I'll put [Member of the Brew Crew, e.g.]/NLER in the plus column because my husband grew up in Milwaukee, home of the Brewers.
• 85D. GET OVER IT is a horrible thing to tell someone sometimes, but a great crossword entry. ["Stop your moping!"], already.
• 94D. [More hairy] clues SCARIER. And no, not as in "unshaved legs."
• 100D. [It's got mayo], 3 letters, gotta be BLT, right? Wrong. AÑO, Spanish for "year," mayo being Spanish for the month of May.
• 108D. APU completes ["Much ___ About Nothing" ("The Simpsons" episode)]. If you wanted ADO here, note that we used that up at 4D for [Whirl].

I'm fond of the six chunks of grid that wouldn't look out of place in a themeless puzzle. They are all four corners and the two side pieces with OXYMORON and EPITOMES in them. Like many of you, quote themes generally underwhelm me, especially if they're hackneyed, sappy, or dull. This quote's got the advantage of being super fresh (less than five weeks old), crossword-related, and funny. What were the odds that PETER KING's statement would break down, with his name and magazine, into symmetrical chunks? Brendan must've nearly had a stroke when he got it to work out so nicely.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword, "This and That Thing"

Easy puzzle this week. The theme entries follow the "this and that thing" structure: "X and Y noun." They're mostly familiar enough that having just a few letters in place—or maybe no letters—is all you need to plug in the answer after reading the no-nonsense clue. My personal favorite's the LEAN AND HUNGRY LOOK ([What Cassius wore, per Caesar])—my dad was a skinny young man and my mom's friend quoted this line in reference to my dad way back in their making-eyes-at-each-other phase.

I didn't know that SANSOM was the 54D: [Author of the Shardlake thrillers], but the crossings were easy enough to get. There are two 10-letter full names in the grid: 15D: PETER LORRE, [Actor in "M"], and 75D: NIA PEEPLES, ["Fame" actress].

True confession: I just looked up tautonym in the dictionary. In scientific nomenclature, a tautonymic name uses the same word for the genus and species (e.g., Rattus rattus). In linguistics, a tautonym is a word that designates different things in different dialects (e.g., corn means wheat in England and oats in Scotland, while of course meaning corn or maize in the U.S.). 35D: [Tautonymic ammo] clues DUM-DUM bullet.

Merl Reagle's syndicated crossword, "Halloween for Dogs"

I do often enjoy Merl's puns, but this batch went too far afield for me. He takes various famous people or fictional characters, changes the last names (more or less) to dog breeds, and posits that these are the Halloween costumes for various famous dogs:

• 23A. [Lassie is going as ___] ANGELA BASSET. Angela Bassett minus a T, basset hound. Could a collie convincingly pass for a basset hound? I doubt it.
• 31A. [Pluto is going as ___] WINNIE THE POODLE. That's Winnie the Pooh with a whole new syllable tacked on. What kind of horrible trans-species mutant is this? A French poodle crossed with a honey-loving stuffed bear?
• 51A. [Benji is going as ___] CHERI O'TERRIER. Cheri Oteri, who used to be on Saturday Night Live, terrier.
• 68A. [Rin-Tin-Tin is going as ___] DOOGIE SCHNAUZER, M.D. Doogie Howser, M.D. In another theme, I would adore this answer. It's got great comic potential, but I feel like the other theme entries are pulling it down.
• 87A. [Marmaduke is going as BAT MASTIFFSON. Bat Masterson is one of those names I know, but know nothing about. Private eye? Ranch hand? No idea. I don't even quite get the concept in most of these theme entries. What sort of costume would BAT MASTIFFSON be? The whole thing is surreal. It's Dadaism in the form of a crossword, isn't it?
• 100A. I don't know if Emmylou Harris is of lasting fame or if the young 'uns have no idea who she is. EMMYLOU HAIRLESS is who [Asta is going as].
• 117A. [What does like best about Halloween?] clues straight-up TRICK OR TREAT. Because dogs do tricks and they like to get treats?

Lots of out-there tough stuff in this grid. Are you reading this because you Googled a clue? Welcome! We're glad to have you here.

• 81D, 111A. [Iranian island] crosses [Da Nang's region]. They're ABADAN and ANNAM, respectively. Yow. I predict a lot of folks running through the alphabet to see if anything rings a bell and finding that no, none of the resulting words sound familiar.
• 48D. DAVID ROSE is ["The Stripper" composer]. I have no idea who he is or what that work of music is.
• 110D, 121A. [Varnish resin] is ELEMI, old-time crosswordese. It crosses [The dying alien planet in "This Island Earth"], METALUNA, at the M. Tough crossing.
• 20A. SERTOMA, the [Volunteer civic organization], takes its name from SERvice TO MAnkind. I learned this via crosswords.
• 21A. Of all the ways to clue ALAN ALDA, [Writer-director of "A New Life"] is not one of the first five I'd pick. M*A*S*H, West Wing, and Nova on TV, Same Time Next Year or Crimes and Misdemeanors ("Tragedy plus time equals comedy") on the big screen.
• 45D. [Baby stat] clues BIRTH RATE. But that's more of a population stat. Baby stats are how much the baby weighed, how long she is, when he was born, and Apgar scores.

Updated Sunday afternoon, in brief:

John Lampkin's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword

Did you give up and read PuzzleGirl's take on this at L.A. Crossword Confidential? I didn't get around to blogging Sunday morning and then I was out all day and the Monday NYT comes out in 40 minutes. I give up!

The theme is Charles SCHULZ's PEANUTS story about THE GREAT PUMPKIN, the mythical being poor LINUS VAN PELT (friend of CHARLIE BROWN) waited for each HALLOWEEN. "OH, GOOD GRIEF!" Charlie Brown would exclaim. Cute grid, eh? Crazy number of black squares to accommodate the jack-o'-lantern picture in the puzzle.

Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy/Washington Post "Sunday Challenge"

Plenty of excellent fill today. Highlights:

• JAY GATSBY, a [Jazz Age title hero].
• Two Q phrases. AQUA VITAE is a [Strong liquor] that, frankly, frightens me, and the RIOT SQUAD is clued cleverly as a [Protest group?].
• Two three-word phrases. MADE A MOVE is smooth; it's clued as [Took opportune action]. LIVE TO EAT is a [Foodie's mantra].
• GRAND SLAM home run is clued as a [Good way to get people home].
• Call me weird, but the MILT/SMELT combo made me laugh. MILT is clued as [Economics Nobelist Friedman, familiarly], but it's also a lowercase word for fish semen. SMELT is a [Salmonlike fish]. Once Byron Walden and I cracked ourselves up with the concept of ordering a "tuna milt," and when he Googled it he found an NYT food article about...tuna milt. Think of this the next time you order a tuna melt, will you?
• I was surrounded by trick-or-treaters this afternoon, as the local retail district welcomed kids six days early. Beautiful weather but...Halloween is on a weekend this year, so why bother with the previous-weekend festivities? Anyway, this crossword has a couple holiday references, but for Christmas, and my mind was absolutely not in a yule frame. [Christmas preceder] clues the word MERRY (...not Thanksgiving, or advent), and MISTLETOE is a [Kiss elicitor].