October 13, 2009

Wednesday, 10/14/09

BEQ 6:48
Onion 3:46
NYT 3:20
CS untimed (J)/2:58 (A)
LAT 2:58

Richard Silvestri's New York Times crossword

My, that's an unusual theme. The central entry, 36A: PUBLIC EDUCATION, is [What this puzzle's four missing clues spell, in order]. The phrase splits up as follows:

• LICE are 25A: COOTIES.

Three quarters of those are the sorts of not exactly "in the language" terms you'd expect to see in a clue, not the grid. That sort of theme tends to get on my nerves. Did you like the surprise of having the theme come together at the end, or was the payoff not quite worth it?

Hey, look! Here's DIDO again, this time in the singular: 33D: [Founder and first queen of Carthage]. In the category of "fill that doesn't make the highlights reel," we have these:

• 9A. MESTA is clued as [Perle who inspired "Call Me Madam"]. Old-school crosswordese, Proper Nouns Department.
• 15A. A curvy ESS is a [Slalom section]. Any skiers call it that in the three-letter version?
• 61A. ENROL, or [Sign up], is the nonstandard British spelling for "enroll." Some dictionary somewhere must include this as a kosher American spelling, or there'd be a geographical tag in the clue.
• 2D. ALAR the [Banned apple spray] may have vanished from the headlines years ago, but I guess this is deemed a better clue than the old crosswordese [Wing-shaped].
• 22D. Sure, computers are crucial in the modern world. But [Univac's predecessor] ENIAC—how many non-crossworders know that one?
• 29D. [Italian diminutive ending] clues INI. I'd rather have a pasta-suffix clue because INA is also an Italian diminutive ending.
• 32D. Ah, the ADZ(e), our favorite [Wood-smoothing tool].
• 46D. An ONAGER is a [Wild ass]. Bonus point for being an anagram of Orange.
• 51D. APACE means fast or [On the double]. I actually use this word in speech because I am that much of a crossword geek.

The process of filling in the theme answers was heavily reliant on the crossings, which, luckily, had nothing particularly tough, provided that you've been doing crosswords enough to know most of those answers. Also, hooray for PUBLIC EDUCATION! My son just asked me today why people have to pay taxes. Free public education was one of the things I mentioned.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Special K"—Janie's review

This is a very "special K" indeed. This is the "K" that is added to the last word of a familiar phrase, following its final "R" sound. As a f'rinstance, if the last word were poor—or even pour or pore—the new word would be pork. Patrick gets a lot of (s)mileage out of his choices, and I sure do love the way:

The Fab Four, as the Beatles were long-ago dubbed, becomes THE FAB FORK at 16A [A marvy utensil?].
Grocery store turns into GROCERY STORK at 27A [Bird that brings baby broccoli?]. This is truly inspired silliness and I can't say enough good about it. I mean, think about it!
The Way We Were cunningly morphs into THE WAY WE WORK at 46A [Name of a news special on labor policy?]. This one is especially cagey because of the way that first "e" in were changes to an "o" while the sound stays the same. This one is only an eye-rhyme with its theme-mates. The other three are true rhymes.
Garage door ends up as GARAGE DORK at 62A [Body shop loser]. I mean this as a compliment when I say that the concept here is yet another LULU [Wowser]. (Oh, and look—the dork's cousins get representation today, too: the OAFS [Chowderheads].)

Happily, there's lots of fine fill and cluing throughout the puzzle as well. The high spots for me include:

• A [Show interrupter] is a TV AD. Another word for ad is spot. So it's most fitting that the very next clue is [Spot announcement]. Only this time Spot names a dog, so the correct fill is "ARF!"
• The pair of "O"s in [Designer Chanel] COCO at the West is nicely balanced by those in SOLO [Millennium Falcon pilot in "Star Wars"] in the East. I also like the way LULU, down in the SW is balanced in the SE by GIGI [Best Picture of 1958].
• In the pre-Tony Awards year of 1938, Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN [Play narrated by a stage manager] won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2008, Tracy Letts's ["August] OSAGE [County"...] was honored also with the Pulitzer—as well as many Tony Awards, including the one for Best Play. Among other themes, both pieces dramatize family dynamics. You'd have to go pretty far to find two more disparate pictures, the former being a model of temperance and (hang-on-to-your-hankies) harmony, the latter one of discord and (hang-on-to-your-hats) dysfunction. [Old enough], btw, is OF AGE, and not OFAGE.
• CRIES WOLF [Gives a false alarm] livens up the grid, though while it packs a cerebral punch, does not elicit an "OUCH!" [Punch response].
• Finally, I like the way [Bollywood film outfit] refers not to the group of people making a movie, but to an article of clothing from the costume department—a SARI.

Charles Barasch's Los Angeles Times crossword

(Post adapted from my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.) The theme can be described as "76 Trombones – 73 Trombones = 3 Trombones"—Three phrases that have nothing to do with musical instruments are clued as if they do. It's a little arbitrary to make the clues all about trombones rather than other instruments, but that provides some thematic unity—plus, my husband was a trombonist in high school.

Theme answers:

• 20A: [Big Southwestern trombones?] a could be TEXAS LONGHORNS. The Longhorns are both a Texas college sports team and a breed of cattle (and beetles!). I was going to include a photo of the Asian long-horned beetles that pose a threat to American trees, but they were too creepy-looking and gave me the willies.
• 37A: [Refined trombones?] are POLISHED BRASS. Horns are brass instruments, which, like anything brass, likes a good polishing. I'm thinking this answer isn't quite an in-the-language phrase like the crisp TEXAS LONGHORNS is.
• 54A: [Continuously-playing trombones?] are SUSTAINED WINDS. You could argue that this isn't an in-the-language term either, but you would be shouted down by Weather Channel junkies who like to watch hurricane coverage. Hurricane season's almost over—hooray for fewer bad storms than in recent years. But the Weather Channel's been more boring this summer.

So, just three theme entries today. Luckily, the constructor capitalized on that by including some fun words, 20 answers in the 6- to 8-letter range, and only a couple clunkers. I'll put the 7-letter partial phrase ON EARTH (22D: Lord's Prayer words following "Thy will be done") in the latter category, along with the seldom seen partial 4D: EEK A "__ mouse!". Oh, and SHES, clued as 33D: Women. Any of you ever use the plural SHES? No? I thought not.

And now for the good stuff:

• 41A: [Imitation] is synonymous with ERSATZ). It's got a Z and it's fun to say.
• 45A: [Musical beat] is RHYTHM. It took me years to learn how to spell this right. Gotta love a word with a Y and five consonants.
• 3D: [Loud auto honker of yore] is a KLAXON. Ai-OOO-gah! This "electric horn or a similar loud warning device" takes its name from the company that manufactured it in the early 20th century. Cool word.
• 36D: LAZY IS [Slow-moving, as a river]. That's a lovely clue for LAZY.
• 44D: QUARTZ is a [Crystalline mineral]. I like this because (1) I like me a little geology, (2) it comes in pretty colors, and (3) a Q! and a Z! And now I'm thinking about quarts of milk, which took me to that Simpsons episode where mosbter Fat Tony has been selling rat milk to the schools and Mayor Quimby declares, "You promised me dog or better." That line? It never gets old.

Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Standard newspaper crosswords shy away from cluing STD in its "sexually transmitted disease" sense. They also don't go with the Doctor of Sacred Theology degree or "subscriber trunk dialing" (a British term), since the innocuous "std." is the abbreviation for "standard." The alt-weekly puzzles do go with the VD type of STD, except not in this puzzle. Here, STD ties together the entire theme (phrases with S.T.D. initials), but its clue is 1: [What each of the starred clues has, in a way]. Across the middle of this grid with left/right symmetry, we have "SHAKE THIS DISEASE," a [Hit Depeche Mode single of 1985] that does not ring a bell at all for me. The other three theme entries intersect this one. 21D is STACK THE DECK, 26D is SAVE THE DATE, and 23D is SCARE TO DEATH—all very much in the language.

I'm not particularly fond of the theme, except for its including of those three solid, familiar phrases. Better are the 18 fill answers ranging from 6 to 11 letters in length. Among my favorites is [Kmart founder S.S.] KRESGE because shopping at Kresge's and having a grilled cheese at the lunch counter was part of my childhood. B-DAYS are [Times to blow out candles, slangily]. ETHIOPIA is a [Horn of Africa nation]. GRAHAM FLOUR is a fairly dry answer, but we've been having s'mores every day at my house; yum! MISSED gets a solid and contemporary clue: [Like some calls that go to voicemail].

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Wednesday"

My three favorite answers are the ones Brendan says were the seed entries: MOM JEANS, BIG BOX STORE, and CAPTCHA. I use CAPTCHA to leave comments at Brendan's blog and elsewhere, and I shop at some BIG BOX STOREs, but I do not wear MOM JEANS. No, ma'am. No high waists here.

I got MAJOR ARCANA pretty easily, but was otherwise completely stymied in the lower left corner. Finally I gave up and Googled Odin's second son [...who was killed with a piece of mistletoe] to get the first two letters of BALDUR, and then everything else fell. Not a fan of SEA-GIRT, NOL {[___-pros (legal discontinuation)]}, and ACTS SAD. My god, Montreal is an island?!? Did not know that. And who is designer TRINA Turk? She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. She designs some jumpsuits, which are the #1 fugly fashion sign of the apocalypse.

Overall, the good stuff far outweighed the bad, so I gave this a rating of 4 stars (out of 5) on Brendan's leaderboard.