November 22, 2009

Monday, 11/23/09

NYT 3:41
BEQ 3:34
LAT 2:50
Payne's Squeezeboxes #1, harder version untimed (easier option with enumerations also available)
CS untimed

If you use the NYT's applet, as I do, you rarely have difficulty loading the puzzle at the promised time. Somewhat more frequently, however, the NYT's link to the Across Lite version gets shanghaied at puzzle time. When the puzzle's not where you expect it to be, visit Jim Horne's Across Lite Links to Recent NYT Puzzles page. At the bottom of the page, there's a perpetual link to the latest second Sunday puzzle in PDF (not Across Lite) form—as those links go haywire sometimes too.

Ben Pall's New York Times crossword

Today's constructor is 14 years old, I hear. What sort of crosswords could you make when you were 14? If your name isn't, say, Will Shortz, Henry Hook, or Merl Reagle, probably the answer's "Well, nothing like this one." The BEATLES are celebrated via the four lads' first names being circled in non-Beatles-related phrases and assorted Beatles-related short fill scattered throughout the grid.

The four lads are here:

• In 18A, PAUL McCartney is in the circled letters in POLE VAULTER, or [Athlete trying to pass the bar?].
• GEORGE Harrison dwells in 59A, AGENT ORANGE, the [Toxic herbicide]. Yay, Orange! Boo, toxic herbicide! Sorry you're in there, George.
• To JOIN THE NAVY is to [Head out to sea, say], and 3D is where JOHN Lennon is hiding.
• RINGO Starr is found in 26D, READING ROOM, or [Library area].

It would be cool if the phrases the Beatles were embedded within had something to do with the band, but alas, they do not. The stray Beatles bits include the following:

• At 9A/46A, ABBEY / ROAD is infelicitously clued thus: [With 46-Down, 1969 album by the 38-Across].
• 14A: [Yoko ___] ONO.
• 16A. ["We're more popular than Jesus now," famously] is a QUOTE.
• 30A. MAN completes ["Nowhere ___" (1966 hit)].
• 47A. RAVI, [Sitarist Shankar], father of Norah Jones, is the Indian musician who turned George Harrison on to the sitar.
• 48A. TRY fills in the blank in ["Gonna ___ with a little help from my friends"].
• 13D. YER ["___ Blues" (song on the White Album)].

From the non-Beatles fill, five clues:

• 55A. An EARPLUG is a [Silencer?]. Generally, earplugs will knock off about 30 decibels, which is not quite silencing.
• 10D. [Like eyes seemingly about to pop out] clues BULGING. I will not link to the video of that woman who can pop her eyeballs out of the sockets at will. (You're welcome.)
• 24D. [Commoner, for short] is PLEB, short for plebeian. Is this Monday-grade fill?
• 68A. A SNORT is a [Sound akin to "Harrumph!"].
• 67A. Looks like LORES in the grid, but it's LO-RES, short for low-resolution. [Like a fuzzy computer image, informally].

Nice debut, Ben. Can you do me a favor, Ben, and try to get some girls your age interested in constructing crosswords? We keep having bright young men entering the field of crossword construction, and it would be great to get some young women involved, too. Mentors are standing by!

Trip Payne's Squeezeboxes #1

If you haven't poked around Triple Play Puzzles yet, go have a look. If you have Thanksgiving travel or down-time ahead and you'd like some puzzles to occupy you, you'll find a trove of goodies at Trip's site. All the puzzles are Trip's own work, and they include regular crosswords (including jumbo themelesses, my favorite), cryptics, variety crosswords, variety cryptics, and more.

If you've seen Frank Longo's "One, Two, Three" puzzles in the Games publications, you get the basic concept of a Squeezeboxes puzzle—except instead of putting 1, 2, or 3 letters in each box, Trip has squeezed in 2 to 6 letters. Most of this crossword tumbled for me, except the zone around 25D (an [Actress on Silver Spoons]? Help! Uncle!), 15D, 24A, and 29A. I finally caved and Googled 25D, and the others fell into place soon after. 29A vexed me because the first part was not either of the two words that came to my mind, and I was blanking on what else could go there. The 24A clue, [Green coin?], completely stymied me for so long.

Trip, what was the construction process like for this puzzle? Just a lot of trial and error, noodling around in the grid? Where does one start to build a puzzle like this?

Updated later Sunday night:

Joan Buell's Los Angeles Times crossword

Easy puzzle, as expected on a Monday. Now, you probably think the NYT crossword was just as easy as this one, and you're probably right. I have no idea where all that extra time went when I was doing the NYT. Even though I had an errant body part in the LAT puzzle, I still got out in less than 3 minutes, so...

The theme is wearable items whose names begin with various lower-extremity terms. ANKLE BOOTS are clued as [Beatles footwear]—that went in the grid early and made me wonder if today is some significant date in Beatles history, for two puzzles to be devoted to them in a single day. But no, the other theme entries included HIP-HUGGERS, or [Pants with a low waistline] (mind you, in recent years, low-rise pants are everywhere but no longer called hip-huggers as far as I know); LEGWARMERS, or [Stockinglike workout wear], which seems off as a description of legwarmers but I'm not sure how else I'd clue 'em; and SHIN GUARDS, or a [Goalie's protective pair]. My misfire was putting KNEE GUARDS there. Hmm? Yes, I know. It's crazy. SHIN GUARDS are utterly Monday-obvious here, and yet I was expecting something KNEE and went with it.

Favorite entries:

• HANGMAN is a [Word game involving a stick figure]. You know who would be a tough Hangman opponent? A lexicographer, that's who.
• The [Spanish wine punch] is SANGRIA. Who doesn't welcome teeny diced-up fruit bits in their booze?
• DIII is [503, in old Rome]. My kid has been grooving on Scholastic 2010 Almanac For Kids this week (the Scholastic book fair was on Wednesday), and he was quizzing me on the Roman numerals over dinner. Also quizzing his parents on state capitals. Mind you, we were at a restaurant. He read from the book during the walk there, too.

Updated Monday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Art House"—Janie's review

20A. PABLO PICASSO ["Three Musicians" artist]. From Wikipedia: "Picasso was exceptionally prolific throughout his long lifetime. The total number of artworks he produced has been estimated at 50,000, comprising 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs."

So it's no exaggeration when the two-part quip Martin builds his puzzle on has the master himself boasting:


(A slacker he wasn't.)

Corollary: Give a constructor a grid and s/he'll fill it! Martin's done so in a lively way, too, with colloquial phrases like ACES IT for [Gets 100% on an exam] and "NOT ON A BET!" for ["Forget it!"]. There's also the Jack Benny-conjuring ["Now cut that out!"] for "STOP IT!" (If you use the link to this clip of Jack with Johnny Carson from 1955, you can hear him say it.)

He also gives us a couple of mini-themes. First there's the nautical one, as the puzzle begins at 1A. with [Captain of the Pequod] AHAB, followed shortly by "AHOY!" [Sailor's cry]—and "sailorman" [Popeye's favorite food] SPINACH. (GARP may have been the [Robin Williams title role of 1982] but Popeye was his title role of 1980.) [Dinghy or dory] clues BOAT, and finally there's RINGO STARR in response to ["Yellow Submarine" singer].

Then, there's the apparent tale of an AMOUR [Love affair] that's gone south, complete with a JILTER ["Dear John" letter writer], the ADIEUS [Parting words] and THE EX [Former spouse, informally] because there's more than one marriage that's also been a serious "love affair." Where affairs of the heart are concerned, do read up on Picasso.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "All Caps"

The [Buffoon in modern-day slang], ASSHAT, is hidden in five places covering 10 Across answers—the ASS part is in the five longest Across answers and the HAT appears right below ASS. Now, if you're wearing your ass as a hat because your head's so far up it, shouldn't it be a HEAD that the ASS is on rather than HAT? Just a thought.

The OBI is clued as a [Martial arts sash]. Good gravy, if obis are worn in martial arts (e.g., the black belt), why is this the first time (or close to it) that I've seen martial arts mentioned in an OBI clue? I vote that OBI should get a martial arts clue more often.

GRAPHS are clued as [Calculus homework]. Is that why I got a C in calculus? Because I don't remember there being any graphs? Maybe graphs would have gotten me an A.

OAT is a [Bagel ingredient]? Not usually, I don't think.

Excellent clue for PHAT: ["Cool," to those who think they're cool using rap slang].

No idea what ISOS might be short for. Anyone up on their [Instant replay cameras, for short]?