November 19, 2009

Friday, 11/20/09

BEQ 4:54
LAT 4:36
NYT 4:35
CHE 4:05
CS untimed
WSJ 7:02

You're probably here because you like the harder crosswords that are published later in the week. If so, Peter Gordon's Fireball Crosswords will be right up your alley. For just $10, you can get one puzzle a week, mostly hard themeless crosswords by Peter himself, for pretty much all of 2010. For more money, Peter will work the answer of your choice into a puzzle. See the Fireball subscription page for details. Tell your friends! (The smart ones.)

Alan Olschwang's New York Times crossword

This is a weird puzzle for me. Part of it feels super-fresh and part of it feels like a retread or homage with old answers. What do I mean by the latter? It goes beyond ZOLAESQUE, which was the dramatic linchpin answer in the 2005 ACPT and the documentary Wordplay. There, in Byron Walden's tournament finals puzzle, it was clued as [Stark and richly detailed, as writing]. Here, it's [A la the founder of literary naturalism]. Then there was Bob Klahn's Saturday NYT monster, 12/27/07, in which [Mob rule] clued OCHLOCRACY. Here, [Ochlocracy] clues MOB RULE. Yesterday's Hinmorwitz puzzle had three answers including UP, and so does this one: To REUP is to [Extend one's service life] in the military, [Indicates that one is in] clues ANTES UP, and to [Squirrel] away your nuts is to STORE UP. Last, there's JAZZERCISE at 1A, clued as a [Tae Bo alternative], and the clue weirdly echoes 61D, TAE, or [Inits. of a noted "Wizard"] of Menlo Park, Thomas A. Edison.

What I liked:

• The high-octane Scrabbliness of the fill. Three Zs, three Qs, a pair of Ks, and an X? Me like. Speaking of Scrabble, in a Lexulous game (that's the loose facsimile of Scrabble on Facebook) tonight, I bingoed by playing DOODIES, and twigged the S off CRAP so that CRAPS and DOODIES cross. Isn't that lovely? I thought so, too. Speaking of potty words, PEE is clued as 44D: [Top finisher?] because P is the last letter of "top." Heh.
• 15A. ONE OVER PAR is clued with [It's not bad for a duffer].
• 22A. Trivia! Lech WALESA is the [Only private non-American to address a joint session of Congress (1989)].
• 26A. [Season opener, say] is an EPISODE of a TV show. Were you thinking of sports? Bzzz!
• 28A. [Lions might score one]—are you thinking of sports, the Detroit Lions? Bzzz! The Lions are terrible at scoring. But out on the savanna, a lion might bring down a GNU. Nice to see a fresh (if gruesome) GNU clue.
• 29A. [Foul territory?] is a STY. Were you thinking of baseball? Bzzz! Gotta love having three consecutive clues that aren't about sports but might fool sports nuts.
• 45A. An OTO may be a [Chiwere speaker]. As with the GNU clue, I like the new twist on an old 3-letter answer.
• 58A. [Ones who might get service calls?] are military RESERVISTS. It would be lovely if the RESERVISTS had no war to attend.
• 64A. EAT ONE'S HAT is a great phrase, balancing out ONE OVER PAR in the grid. [Be forced to backpedal] is the clue.
• 66A. Three Ss in a row! DRESS SHOES are a [Pair for a suit]. Not playing cards, but haberdashery.
• 3D. I needed crossings for ZEB, ["The Waltons" grandpa]. ZEB! I never knew Grandpa Walton had a name.
• 6D. [Proofs] clues REREADS. Hey, that's my line of work there.
• 10D. [1990s White House chief of staff Bowles] has an even cooler first name than Grandpa Walton: ERSKINE. There's also author Erskine Caldwell.
• 11D. Ornithology! The [Umbrella bird's "umbrella"] is a CREST atop its head.
• 24D. Never heard of [Irish statesman Cosgrove], but LIAM is a guessable Irish name (and the lovely name of my cousin's baby boy).
• 32D. Like 58A, this sounds like it's about appliance repair, but it's not: ORS, or operating rooms, are [Where some parts are repaired, briefly].
• 33D. PETRI DISH is clue by way of [Germs grow in it]. See also 29A.
• 42D. In some places, NO TURNS is a [Rush hour restriction]. In my neighborhood, that restriction is reserved for the arteries within a half mile of Wrigley Field around game time.
• 45D. Didn't we have a clue like this not so long ago? The OZARKS are your [Buffalo National River locale], but Buffalo smacks of the Great Plains and the state of New York.

Overall, there's much to appreciate in the puzzle, even with that handful of blast-from-the-past answers. Lots of good clues today.

Updated Friday morning

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

Well, here's a nice thematic change of pace. The first two words of each of today's theme phrases (their "beginnings") are also pairs of opposites. The first example uses words that are adjectives; the other two, prepositions. These two not only make for lively fill, but they stretch the conceit as they aren't opposites contextually. They certainly add a measure of fun, however. We've got:

20A. LITTLE BIG MAN [1970 Dustin Hoffman film]. You don't need me to point out the opposites...
36A. OFF ON A TANGENT [Straying from the subject].
56A. OUT IN THE OPEN [Transparent].

If this idea isn't a serious ENIGMA [Something hard to grasp], it is fresh—and fresh is greatly to be desired. The last thing anyone wants from their solving experience is a SNOOZER [Real bore], one that would cause the puzzler to SNORE [Saw logs]. Oh—and nice cluing there, too, with [Saw logs], where saw is the present tense verb related to the activity (of sawing...) and not the past tense of "see."

Other clues that made me pay attention: the punny [Slop talk] for OINK, the folksy [Give what for] for SCOLD, the 19th century-sounding [Dastard] for FIEND (which we love, of course!), and [Labor party] for MOM. All I have to say about that last one is "ZOUNDS!" [Gadzooks!"]. I also liked the nod given to the humble writing irons: [Pencil end] for ERASER and [Pen end] for NIB.

And in a mini-thematic way, Randy goes in for a bit of globe-trotting today. From Turkey there's the [Ottoman muck-a-muck] or SULTAN (and another colorful clue, no?); [Turkmenistan neighbor] IRAN; a SIBERIAN [Novosibirsk native] (Russia's third-largest city after Moscow and St. Petersburg. I'd no idea.); the NORTH SEA, that [Body of water between England and Norway]; ASTI, an [Italian wine region]; and BALI [Island near Java]. There's even (bear with me...) AMERIKA [Kafka novel], IOWAN [Waterloo resident] and a tip o' the Stetson to the American West, with ALL IN [Texas Hold 'Em bet], SSW [Dallas-to-Austin dir.] and RODEO [Cheyenne Frontier Days, notably], an annual event since 1897.

Michael Blake's Los Angeles Times crossword

Wow, is it just me, or is this the first Friday LAT in ages that's been ever bit as hard as the Friday NYT? The first theme entry I figured out was the fourth one, which led me astray because LEGO CRAZY, or [Nuts about Danish toys?], looked like the Prince song, "Let's Go Crazy," minus the TS. Then I moved back to the top of the grid and got LENO LIMIT, or [Maximum tolerance for a stand-up comic's jokes?]. Wait, where's the missing TS? Oh, I see: It's +LE, not –TS. (Edited to add: Oh, yes. There's also the explanatory entry ADDLE, to be parsed as ADD "LE.")

The other theme entries are LEON TELEVISION, or ["All Trotsky, all the time" channel?]—that's so goofy, I love it—and LEASH WEDNESDAY, or [When dogs can't run loose?].

Favorite clues/answers:

• SNARF is a slangy word meaning [Wolf (down)].
• LOLA is a [1970 hit by the Kinks]. I like this LOLA much better than a Damn Yankees or Falana reference. I don't suppose we'll ever get [Filipino grandma]?
• [You can count on a lot of bucks from] one...hmm, 6 letters? THE ATM? No, a buckin' BRONCO.
• BERN, Switzerland, is the [Capital northwest of Rome]. Why couldn't I remember this city? I had Berlin on the mind.
• ["___ behold!"] clues the partial LO AND. I don't usually enjoy a partial, but my mom's always been a big "lo and behold" sayer.

Jayne and Alex Boisvert's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Mark My Words"

Cute theme. The central entry, ACCENTS, explains what's going on: [They're missing from the clues for 17, 23, 50, and 58 Across]. Those four answers have one-word clues, which need acute accents in order to correspond to their answers. Without the ACCENTS, the clue words are entirely different words:

• Pliés are BALLET MOVEMENTS, but [Plies] is a verb or the plural of ply.
• The clue is the verb [Resume], but it's a résumé that is a JOB-HUNTER'S NEED.
• Gold lamé is a METALLIC FABRIC, while [Lame] is an adjective and verb.
• [Attaches] is a verb, but attachés are people who are DIPLOMATIC AIDES.

Favorite clues:

• [Cylindrical opening?] is the word's first letter, a SOFT C.
• J. CREW is often clued as an L.L. Bean competitor, just because of the initials thing. But it's more accurate to call it a [Gap competitor].
• I learned a new word in the clue [Like many dactylology experts]. Dactyl- means "finger," so it's DEAF people who use sign language.

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Faculty Meeting"

Randy Ross's puzzle is a nice counterpart to the Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, thanks to the light faux-faculty theme. Most of the theme entries are non-academic jobs clued as if they're very specific types of faculty. For example, a military DRILL INSTRUCTOR might also be what you call a [Faculty member at a dental school?]. A couple are academic positions, but clued with a different sort of angle—ENGLISH TEACHER is a generic [Faculty member at Eton?] in England rather than a teacher of the English language, and RHODES SCHOLAR becomes a [Faculty member with expertise on a Greek island?]. I like that last one best. Second favorite is STAGECOACH clued as [Member of the drama faculty?]. Least familiar: PAST MASTER is clued as [Faculty member in the history department?].

I like the way the 11 theme answers are distributed throughout the grid, with Across trios and Down pairs running in alternate rows. Favorite fill: [Giant star] sounds like it's astronomy, but it's crosswordese baseball legend MEL OTT making a rare full-name appearance. Also "THAT'S WHY," or ["Here's the reason"]. I think I probably say those words to my son a lot.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "To Your Corners"

Remember playing FOUR SQUARE on the playground with a classic red rubber ball? In each corner of the grid, Brendan adds a FOUR-square layout spelling out FOUR clockwise from the corner. That gives a third level of checked letters to the answers in the corner, which came in handy with KRONUR, the [Icelandic coins] plural. The gimmick is implemented well here.

Favorite clue: [Meadow in New Jersey] is Meadow SOPRANO, Tony's daughter, and has nothing to do with the Meadowlands. Great mislead.

Last square filled in: The X in SIX/[Volleyball side] and XED/[Ticked off]. I was running through the alphabet and made it to P before the X possibility occurred to me.

Most potty-mouthed answer: PEE is [Whiz]. I was thinking of ACE or PRO and wasn't sure what the last letter of RATLIN* ([Ship's ladder step]) was until PEE finally trickled out.

Worst and best neighbors: Strained APISHLY beside juicy, tart KUMQUAT.