October 31, 2009

Sunday, 11/1/09

NYT 9:46
BG 9:37
Reagle 7:53
LAT 7:50
CS 4:09

Big thanks to Crosscan for stepping in to review the Wall Street Journal puzzle on Friday, in addition to his weekly Gaffney/Daily Beast gig. (I haven't had time to look at either puzzle yet. Moving on!) And big thanks to Joon, too, for writing about the Friday BEQ, in addition to his weekly MGWCC post.

I'll be out trick-or-treating with Jango Fett and his friends when the New York Times puzzle comes out, so that part of my post will be hours late and sugar-fueled. In the meantime, there are other puzzles available earlier on Saturday, including this one:

Merl Reagle's syndicated crossword, "Puzzle of the Month"

Given the title, it didn't take much work to notice that there's a NOV (November) hidden in that first theme entry, CONVECTION OVEN. "Oh, yay," I said to myself. "A boring trigram hidden in the theme answers." But then the further I got into the puzzle, the more and more of these theme entries I uncovered, and the theme grew on me. Look at all the NOVs in there! I circled 16 of 'em, and 12 of them appear as adjoining pairs. To fit in a whopping 16 themers (even if they're not terribly long) without marring the fill is an accomplishment. The whole puzzle has Merl's light touch, too. The only real "Huh?" answer I encountered was 30A: TANI, [Japanese actress Yoko or U.S. astronaut Daniel], but all its crossings were solid.

My list of favorites among the regular clues:

• 84D. [Words after home, not hone] clues IN ON. Yes! The phrase is "home in on."
• 62A. [Part of a closing act?] is a SUTURE.
• 2D. [Hi, in HI] is ALOHA.
• 69D. [Misers, in Milan] are AVARI. I absolutely did not know this Italian word, but I'm guessing it's closely related to avarice.

And now, the theme entries, clued straight except for the last two Across ones:

• 20A. TERRA NOVA is [Capt. Scott's ice ship that means "Newfoundland" in Latin]. Didn't know this one at all aside from putting together the Latin.
• 23A. [It really cooks] clues a CONVECTION OVEN. This one runs under the preceding answer.
• 42A. PORTO NOVO is [Benin's capital]. Geography!
• 53A. [Real-life don Vito] is mobster Vito GENOVESE. The end hooks up with the beginning of...
• 60A. CASANOVA, [Lover-boy], who is stacked together with...
• 63A. BORIS BADENOV, the cartoon [Spy from Pottsylvania].
• 75A. [Singer whose "I Just Wanna Stop" was a Top Ten hit in 1978] is GINO VANELLI. He's partnered with...
• 83A. KIM NOVAK, who was, among other things, a ["Picnic" co-star]. Her AK is atop the RE of...
• 88A. RENOVATE, or [Give a new face]. This answer, TERRA NOVA, and PORTO NOVO all use the NOV in the service of a word root meaning "new." This sort of duplication would normally not be kosher.
• 96A. DIME NOVEL is an [Early paperback]. If you're a buff of vintage paperbacks, you'll enjoy Rex Parker's "Pop Sensation" blog, spotlighting the lurid covers.

Moving along to the Downs before ending with Merl's grand finale pair:

• 16D. RHINOVIRUS is the common [Cold culprit]. Multiple Facebook/blog friends have reported that their kids are sick with H1N1 flu right now. It hasn't hit my son's school—yet. It's coming, isn't it? I'm waiting for vaccination to not entail standing in line for three hours. Hmm.
• 17D. Right beside RHINOVIRUS is NO VISITORS, a [Quarantine order]. Speaking of the flu...
• 72D. [Father Guido Sarducci of "SNL" reruns] is DON NOVELLO. He stands beside...
• 73D. JUDY CANOVA, a [1940s actress known for her yodeling hillbilly roles]. What a claim to fame. This takes us back to the bottom for the closing...
• 120A. [How I hope you don't feel right about now] is IN OVER YOUR HEAD. Hooray for YOUR instead of the standoffish ONE'S. I declare this to be the SethG Tribute Answer.
• 125A. [What I hope you don't need right about now] is NOVOCAINE.

No local anesthetic needed here! Fun puzzle with the discovery of an inordinately large number of theme answers. The theme also helped point me in the right direction a few times, since knowing there would be a NOV somewhere narrowed things down.

Updated Saturday night:

Matt Ginsberg and Pete Muller's New York Times crossword, "Compound Fractures"

All right, guys, now you're just showing off. Intricately wrought theme in which each pair of words overlap by 5 letters to form a fake portmanteau word and you came up with 12 of them and you have the two Down ones somehow intersecting with three Acrosses each? Good one.

I'm not sure if the slowness of the solve relates to theme difficulty or if the rest of the puzzle is also unusually hard. What say you? I had wine and candy for dinner while trick-or-treating, so I can't say.

Here's how the theme plays out:

• 22A. [Eyewear providing hindsight?] are RETROSPECTACLES. The overlapping letters are in bold. I do not need a pair of retrospectacles, as my hindsight is better than 20/20.
• 29A. This clue kept me pondering for a while. [Peanut-loving ghost?] clues an ELEPHANTOM. The pink ones are most common.
• 32A. [Intermittent revolutionary?] is a SPORADICAL. This word applies to plenty of people during their college years.
• 43A. [Rare mushroom?] might be a PSYCHEDELICACY. I was looking for the first component to be a mushroomy noun, but the clue's nouniness is embodied by the second component.
• 56A. [Give up smuggled goods?] clues CONTRABANDON.
• 71A. I bought myself all sorts of trouble by spelling 61D: [Mad man?] as Alfred E. NEWMAN rather than the correct NEUMAN. That impeded my ability to see that [High-school athletic star at a casino?] is ROULETTERMAN.
• 81A. The late, great Les Paul appears as [Noble Les Paul?], a GUITARISTOCRAT. If anyone's a guitaristocrat, this is.
• 99A. This one's almost poetic. PERHAPSODY is ["Maybe" music?].
• 101A. {Dreams that don't die?] are the lovely FOREVERIES.
• 108A. [Bug that never takes a ride?] is a CENTIPEDESTRIAN. This one feels a hair off because the only way to get 5 letters of overlap is to have the plural critters that vanish in the final combo clue.
• 21D. [Like online medical advice for kids?] is WIKIPEDIATRIC.
• 44D. [Vegetable that gives you an emotional release?] is the surreal CATHARTICHOKE.

There's only time and energy for five from the fill:

• 69A. [1989 Madonna hit] is "OH, FATHER" and I have never heard of it.
• 26A. [Game in which a player may be schneidered] clues SKAT, a card game which is now played primarily within crosswords. I know "schneidered" from sheepshead, a card game popular in Wisconsin (birthplace of Les Paul!).
• 16D. [Mettle or metal] clues STEEL, figuratively and literally.
• 90A. [Man's name meaning "young man"] is SVEN.
• 63D. [Opposite of plus] is PETITE in terms of women's apparel sizing. I would have been flummoxed by the clue but I've seen similar ones once or twice recently in other puzzles I've done. (Same with 36A: [Hearing aids, briefly] for PAS, meaning public address systems.)

Nice to see Martin YAN make an appearance. Did you watch 34A: ["___ Can Cook" (onetime PBS show)]? I'd think we'd see him in the puzzle more often, but no. YIN/YEN/YON hog the glory.

Updated Sunday morning:

Robert Harris's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "That Hurts!"

The theme here involves inserting an OW to change the meaning of various words or phrases. For instance, [Rollerblading partner of movie camera pioneer Bell?] is HOWELL ON WHEELS, "hell on wheels" with an extra OW. (Is Bell & Howell really the go-to HOWELL? Not Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island?) [Borders for oval paintings?] clues BOWED FRAMES but lacks any real humor. The base phrase, "bed frame," is flat and so is the concept of a curved picture frame. There were no horrible crossings or anything like that, but nothing in this puzzle really captivated me, and a couple entries (e.g., SEEMER, or [Pretender]) were off-putting. I know for a fact that I'm not in a good mood so it might be more me than the puzzle.

The biggest surprise was at 1A: [Illinois-based brewery], 5 letters? What on earth could that be? Turns out to be PABST. The Wikipedia article about Pabst Brewing Company tells me that it's a holding company that has bought up a bunch of defunct brands and kept them going—Stroh, Schaefer, Schlitz, Lone Star, Old Style, and more. I had no idea.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy/Washington Post "Sunday Challenge"

I solved this one upside down, not knowing what the three 15s at the top were from their clues. I tackled the middle and bottom and eventually remembered that I'd get the top 15s much more quickly if I used the crossing clues. Duh! Favorite 15s:

• 17A. JONATHAN WINTERS is great. He's 83 now so no, we don't see too much of him anymore. The clue, ["Viva Max!" actor], refers to a 1969 movie I'd never heard of.
• 36A. The Britney [Spears album of 2000], OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN, is a somewhat dated reference but it's such a goofy title that I think it will remain in the lexicon.

Other clues:

• 34D. [Millionths of a meter] clues MICRA. I thought the plural of micron was microns, but the dictionary accepts both. Scientists use micrometer, abbreviated µm, rather than micron.
• 28A. [Like Mitch Miller, e.g.] is GOATEED. Mitch is 98 years old now, and I'm surprised to learn that he's still alive. His heyday was before I was born, but the Grammy folks gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. I needed a lot of crossings to get GOATEED.
• 58A. [Private meeting] clues ONE-ON-ONE SESSION. If that were a legitimate Scrabble entry, it would get you a mere 15 points.
• 44D. [Heads overseas?] aren't toilets, they're TETES, "heads" in France.
• 54D. [Spain's Victoria Eugenia, familiarly] was called ENA. This is often clued as Bambi's aunt.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "Travel On"

Like the L.A. Times puzzle, this crossword has an add-2-letters theme—GO this time. Like Merl's puzzle, this one has some stacked pairs of theme entries. And like the other puzzles this morning, nothing grabbed me. Could be me and not the puzzle.

Favorite theme entry: SINGAPORE GOSLINGS, or [Not exactly Peking ducks?].

Less savory answers: OTARU, OSCAN, TWO-D, ABOHMS, U CANT, Heidi BOHAY.

Vocabulary word for the day: EDACITY is [Voraciousness].

Mystery question mark: The clue for MONTANE is [Range-dwelling?]. Because it's mountain ranges as opposed to wide-open ranges? Okay.