October 28, 2009

Thursday, 10/29/09

NYT 4:36
LAT 3:01
Tausig untimed
CS untimed

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword

The theme is either "four ways of spelling the 'air' sound, including 'air' and some longer words" or "four ways of spelling the 'aero' sound, only with two long O sounds and two schwas." Here are the theme entries:

• 18A. ARROWSMITH is the [Sinclair Lewis novel].
• 26A. A [Series of sorties] is an AIR OFFENSIVE. If the theme is words/phrases that start with the "aero" sound, this one doesn't work because OFFENSIVE begins with a schwa.
• 46A. EERO SAARINEN is the St. Louis [Gateway Arch designer]. Crosswordese EERO elevated to both full name and theme entry status.
• 57A. One meaning of [Bomb] is AEROSOL CAN, which also uses a schwa for the first O.

The grid reminds me of Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club puzzle (blogged yesterday), with a lot of long answers in the fill. The word count here is 70, which is low enough to hit themeless requirements. Alas, 54A has the feel of a 9-letter partial: [Has been around since, with "to"] clues DATES BACK. It wouldn't feel that way if the clue omitted the "with 'to'" bit—and if a thing DATES BACK many years, the verb/adverb feels like more of a unit. I do not care for the plural GASOLINES (2D: [Refinery products]). And I don't know what the point is in clueing TALENTS as 43D: [Biblical money units]; you could skew clever/tricky with something like [They might be hidden] instead of going with a blechy old Biblical term. Speaking of blechy, the CORONERS clue is rather gross: 6D: [Ones examining bodies of evidence?].

Best clue: 10D: [They're out standing in their field] for the HOME TEAM. Runner-up: 21D: [Coin "swallower"] for SOFA. Honorable mention: the [Big do]/[Big ados] pair (AFRO, STIRS).

Best fill: The LOVE SCENE is 32D: [What's barely done in movies]. My favorite LOVE SCENE is less "barely done" than "intercut with smart repartee"—George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. I kinda like the homely little utilitarian SOUP SPOON, a 20A: table [Setting piece].

Worst answer: 4D: [Like some traffic] is STOP/GO. Who among you call it that? 'Round these parts, it is strictly "stop-and-go traffic."

Ten toughest clues:

• 5A. [Punts, e.g.] are flat-bottomed boats, and so are SCOWS.
• 23A. [Venetian feature] is a LAGOON. Not canals, boats, insane flooding, doges, or the slats of venetian blinds.
• 30A. [Tricolor pooch] clues BEAGLE. White and brown with black splotches, yes?
• 39A. [Set on the court] is an ASSIST in volleyball.
• 49A. [Made a switch in a game] clues CASTLED. Is this about chess?
• 62A. ["Doctor Who" villainess, with "the"] is RANI. No apparent connection to the rani that's a Hindu queen. Doctor Who fans can't account for even 5% of crossword solvers, can they?
• 12D. [Not natural, in a way, after "in"] clues VITRO. Too many "in"s in the clue. Why not use its Latin meaning, "glass"?
• 26D. [Goddess of breezes] is one way to clue AURA. Don't recall learning about this goddess before.
• 31D. [Kind of party] is one of those clues that's not really looking for a noun—it's just skirting the fill-in-the-blank formation. GOING-AWAY fits [___ party], but a GOING-AWAY is not a "kind of party" at all.
• 47D. [It doesn't end in 00] clues an ODD LOT, a stock purchase of something other than the usual round number of shares.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "World Series"—Janie's review

Yep. It's that time of the year again. But, nope. This is not a baseball puzzle. Instead of a trip around the diamond, Randy has provided a trip around the solar system, with stops at various orbiting bodies. Most of these are still considered to be planets; one has been demoted. And that's just one of problems I have with the theme/theme fill... The non-theme fill? Some of the very best—so this was a very schizzy solve for me. Let's look at the theme fill:

• 20A. VENUS-MERCURY [Stuff in tennis star Williams's thermometer]. This has to be a hypenate, because VENUS'S MERCURY is too long and VENUS' MERCURY isn't the way the possessive is made for a name ending in "s" (and there's Williams's right there in the clue as a model). Regardless, the phrase feels forced to my ear.
•37A. PLUTO MARS SATURN [Disney dog scratches a Vue?]. There's our dwarf-planet designate. It can't be easy being knocked down a peg from full-planet status. Still, this phrase is kinda cute and works better for me than its preceding theme-mate.
•52A. JUPITER EARTH [Swampland in Florida]. Omma don' know... JUPITER is definitely a town in Florida, but isn't swampland marshy and oozy, and isn't earth considerably more solid? That's how I've always understood the difference. So I find the phrase confusing this time—as well as forced. Ideally (unless there's something very cryptic and witty going on), it shouldn't be a challenge to justify or explain the theme fill. But that's how it feels today. To this solver anyway. What's your take on it?

I was also puzzled by the conspicuous absence of Neptune and Uranus. Seems to me that while it's a clever idea to use the names of the planets as adjectives and verbs and nouns, it's best served as an all-or-nuthin' proposition.

"ZOUNDS!" ["Gadzooks!"], let me get on to this puzzle's real strength—and that would be its colorful and scrabbly non-theme material. That great interjection sits beside [United States Postal Service cartoon character] MR. ZIP. It's not often that you encounter an M-R-Z pattern in the grid, so that was surprising. Not only that, the Zs of both words are side-by-side, and are incorporated in the crossing word EMBEZZLE, with its superbly understated clue [Misappropriate].

It looks like there's an automotive mini-theme, too. [Drag race participant]? Well, that'd be HOT ROD. With all the money that goes into customizing some of these cars (which their owners generally don't wish to become REPOS [Seized vehicles]), one can only hope that it's outfitted with a working TAIL LIGHT [Something on the back of a Bronco?]. Or two... And that whether it's for a drag race or for more leisurely, less aggressive driving, the owner remembers to GAS UP [Get ready for a road trip]. Because nuthin' [Puts the brakes on]/CURBS one's ability to get up and go like an empty gas tank.

Other peppy fill/clues (almost all noteworthy for the attitude they convey):

• BIG CHEESE [Top dog];
• HEADCASE [Piece of work] (I have a special fondness for this combo...);
• HOOEY [Mumbo jumbo] and INANE [Goofy]—which are side-by-side in the grid;
• CAJUN [Zydeco player] and PROXY [Shareholder's substitute], for their contributions to the high-scorin' Scrabble letters; and
• "OH, MAN!" ["Give me a break!"]. This is but one way to clue it and is a good reminder of the power of inflection. Most of us have probably uttered the phrase or heard someone else use it to convey a reaction meaning anything from "I'm so sorry" to "That is fantastic—wow" or the exasperation in today's example. All of which supports the theory that it's not what ya say, but how ya say it!

Don Gagliardo's Los Angeles Times crossword

One downside of solving in Across Lite is that when there's a really long clue, you have to resize the window in order to read the whole clue. (That "mouse over it and the clue pops up" feature is Windows-only.) So while I did this puzzle last night, I hadn't grasped the full SHOEBOX oomph—not only are the four long answers phrases that end with categories of shoe, but the letters in SHOE are spelled out counterclockwise in four different rings/boxes in the corners of the grid, each time with the E in the very corner. This is a big SHOEBOX indeed, having room for pairs of CLOGS, HEELS, PUMPS, and FLATS:

• SINK CLOGS are [Kitchen backups]. Not wild about the phrase SINK CLOGS, as it's the sink's drain that is clogged.
• The [North Carolina team] are the TARHEELS.
• [Octane rating sites] are GAS PUMPS.
• The SALT FLATS are the [Bonneville Speedway feature].

So, it's the SHOE boxes that account for the "meh" fill in the grid. Both EONS and EOS, ESSO and ESSE, OTHO and SHO, OTOE and ESTES—those wouldn't be there if they weren't facilitating the four-square corners.

There's good fill in here, too. My favorites are CORN CHEX (which I should add to my shopping list!), a [General Mills cereal], and the UTNE READER, an [Eclectic bimonthly reader]. Nice to see the magazine in its entirety rather than just a bland clue for UTNE alone.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Starting Something"

If you want to be starting something, you're spoiling for a fight. The theme entries are four famous people whose names begin with synonyms for "fight":

• There's a ROW in ROWAN ATKINSON, the ["Mr. Bean" portrayer].
• WARREN BEATTY, who [won an Oscar for playing Bugsy Siegel] but could not pull off playing Mr. Bean, begins with WAR.
• She was billed as Tiffani-Amber Thiessen when she was on Saved by the Bell but dropped the Amber by the time she was on Beverly Hills, 90210. So she's TIFFANI THIESSEN, and that starts with a TIFF.
• BOUTROS-GHALI is the last name of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, so this theme entry is not structurally consistent with the other theme entries. But both his first and last names begin with BOUT. (He's the [U.N. Secretary General succeeded by Annan].)
• FIGHTING WORDS at 54A ties everything together, and "fighting words" is a colorful phrase so it's an asset to the theme to be in the grid rather than the title field.

Selected clues:

• ["For reals!"] clues "NO LIE!"
• [Bratislavan currency] is nothing more exotic than the EURO.
• [Take care of one's canines?] clues FLOSS. This is about human teeth, not dogs and their teeth.
• [Moe who recorded Woody Guthrie and others] is Moe ASCH. Usually the crossword ASCH is novelist Sholem Asch.
• [Popular subway time-killers] are PSPS, or PlayStation Portable handheld game players.
• RSVP is clued as [Let people know if you're coming to their wedding], and [Plays at a wedding] clues the verb DJS. Can you guess that Ben Tausig's wedding is coming up soon? Did you RSVP already? What's that? You didn't get an invitation either? Well, let's all show up and surprise him.
• A bank [Balance problem?] is an OVERDRAFT.
• [Emulate Angelina Jolie and Madonna] clues ADOPT.
• [Put up a minor obstacle?] means "put up an obstacle to minors" here—the bouncer or bartender who iDED the kid kept her out of the bar.