November 30, 2009

Tuesday, 12/1/09

Jonesin' 3:33
NYT 2:54
LAT 2:34
CS untimed

Apparently one of Matt Gaffney's recent weekly contest crosswords duplicated a theme previously used, unbeknownst to Matt, in another puzzle by Mike Shenk. Matt demystifies the process of building a crossword to explain how such accidental mimicry can and does occur at Slate.

December? Whoa.

Jonah Kagan and Vic Fleming's New York Times crossword

BREAKFAST gets parsed as "break FAST" and the other four theme entries begin with FA and end with ST:

• 18A. FAIRY DUST is a [Magical powder].
• 22A. FALCON CREST was a [1980s soap opera set at a winery]. I am reminded of those '80s prime-time soaps every time I see the principal at my kid's school.
• 35A. FATHER KNOWS BEST was a [1950s-'60s sitccom that ran on all three networks]. One at a time, I presume? Not during the same season?
• 49A. [Occasion for pumpkin picking] is the FALL HARVEST.

What else is in this puzzle? There's ILO-ILO, the [Repetitively named Philippine province]. Speaking of repetition, [Mine treasure] is both ORE and a LODE. One [Wine container] is a CARAFE, while other [Wine containers] are CASKS. The [Turkish headgear] called the FEZ joins the ILIAD, CAIRO, and EGYPT for today's Mediterranean fill, and the REED that's a [Papyrus plant, e.g.] might grow in EGYPT too.

The fill's not pangrammatic (no J), but there are Scrabbly letters in BOUTIQUE, ZEROES, and ALEX, [The"A" in A-Rod]. You know you've been doing too many crosswords when you try to complete that last one as ALER.

Updated Tuesday morning:

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

The title tells us from the get-go that somehow we're going to see the word dam in each of the theme phrases and that the word'll be broken up—but exactly how Randy would do that remained to be seen. Would the letters bookend the phrase or would they fall between two words? As is turns out, it's the latter. Now, while I find the gimmick and the theme fill a tad on the dusty side, I really liked seeing that in each case, the "D" falls in the same spot in its respective row, so that all three of the DAMs are aligned in the grid. That's a nice touch. And here are they are:

• 20A. ROALD AMUNDSEN [First person to reach the North and South Poles].
• 40A. SECOND AMENDMENT [Constitutional protection for gun owners].
• 55A. BLIND AMBITION [1976 tell-all book by John Dean].

There are other nice touches throughout, both in the fill and in the cluing. I liked starting out with the rhyming RAGS/[Scandal sheet] and WAGS/[Witty ones]. And there was something pleasing in seeing "NEAT IDEA!"/["Great thought!"] and GOOD DEED [Samaritan's act] running vertically down the grid. Ditto WOODWIND and BLEAK HOUSE. GO TO PIECES/[Lose it] at first made me think of Patsy Cline, but she fell to pieces. Peter and Gordon ("British Explosion" [light-] rockers), on the other hand, did "Go to Pieces."

Speaking of Brits, ADELE [2009 Grammy winner for Best New Artist] was a complete unknown to me. Go ahead. Tell me I'm living under a rock. Here she is singing "Right as Rain"—not to be confused with Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's "Right as the Rain." (Harburg also wrote the lyrics to the song ["If I Only] HAD [a Brain"].) Other women with an artistic bent to get a shout-out today include NORA/[Director Ephron], REESE [Witherspoon of "Walk the Line"] and LIZA [Entertainer Minnelli], who first came on the scene in a little Kander and Ebb show called Flora, the Red Menace, but that Flora was not today's FLORA, which was clued as [Lady's-slipper and baby's breath]. And notice the lovely way IRIS/[Spring bloomer] crosses flora. Quite a little nosegay in that SW corner.

Props, too, to [Mail for King Arthur] for ARMOR, [Moon shot?] for TUSH and [Punk rock?] for PEBBLE. Took me a while to experience the "aha" for that last one. But it was worth the wait.

Not that this is a heinous offense, but even though it's clear they mean different things, I wish Randy had avoided including both A LOT / [Gazillion] and LOT [Auction unit] in the same puzzle. This repetition could have been avoided in any number of ways. Lot shares a final "T" with BEAT, so that letter could have been a D, M, N or U; and it falls from the final "L" in DUAL, so there was also the option of changing that shared letter to a D. Whether or not this gets changed for some other incarnation of this puzzle, life as we know it will go on. Just sayin'.

Dave Hanson's Los Angeles Times crossword

I don't recognize the name in today's byline. A debut for Dave Hanson? If so, congratulations!

The theme is really icky, or should I say "ICKy." Each theme entry contains two ICKs but in four different ways:

• 20A. [Dickens hero with "papers," as he is formally known] is MR. PICKWICK, with a "MR." in addition to the two *ICK syllables.
• 51A. [Unflattering Nixon epithet] is TRICKY DICK, with the adjectival -Y sneaking in there.
• 10D. [Surprise football plays] are QUICK KICKS, with a plural not seen in the other theme entries. Is this a familiar term to football fans? I don't know it.
• 29D. [Girls-night-out film] is an unadorned CHICK FLICK.

There were some random ICK sounds lurking in the grid, presumably by chance. John Milton's EPIC, ODIC [Like many Keats poems], mind-reading PSYCHICS, and the CHICLE that's in gum. I haven't had Tiny Size Chiclets in years, but the word chicle always makes me want some. And then I start thinking about those sacks of gold nugget gum. If they would make sugarless versions of both, I tell you, I'd always have one or the other on hand.

RARA isn't in as many crosswords as it used to be, but when it is, it's often clued with [___ avis], Latin for "rare bird." Today the clue is 15A: [Not often seen, to Caesar]. Least familiar answer: OUT YEAR, or [Annual period beyond the current one]. There's actually a lot of fill here that seems tough for a Tuesday, but the crossings are generally easy. This puzzle might require a little more back-and-forth eyeballing of crossings to piece everything together.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Bank Job"

I like the title of this puzzle better than the theme entries—73A: SNOW is a [Word that can precede either word in] the theme entries, but unlike "Bank Job," the four theme answers are made-up phrases:

• 17A. [Macho way to say "dandruff"?] clues MAN FLAKES. Okay, that's funny.
• 66A. PEAS DRIFT is [What somehow happens to the vegetables in your TV dinner?].
• 11D. TIRE BLOWER is clued as [That sharp nail in the road you just ran over?].
• 30D. [Tool used to clean out the pits in kiddie playlands?] clues a BALL SHOVEL. Actually, I think massive quantities of disinfectant would be better than a shovel.

Favorite clues/fill:

• SHAFT is clued with the lyrics ["He's a complicated man / but no one understands him/ but his woman"]. True story: My good friend Amy danced with Richard Roundtree, the actor who starred in Shaft, when she was about 5. She told the tale on public radio a couple years ago.
• ["Liquid sunshine"] is a lie. That ain't what RAIN is. Dang, I thought the answer was going to be something like TEQUILA.
• O'HARE is clued as a [Frequent site for fligth layovers]. Do you know I have never once had a flight layover in Chicago? True story. And living in a centrally located hub means I can get a direct flight almost anywhere I want to go.