Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wednesday Wordplay, on Thursday

On Wednesday, the New York Times accidentally printed an old crossword puzzle. On Thursday (today), it printed the new Wednesday puzzle alongside the new Thursday. That's right. One paper, two puzzles. It's a crossword nerd paradise.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I shall live blog my solving of the side-by-side puzzles.

It's a special Thursday edition of Wednesday Wordplay. Stop reading now if you haven't done the puzzles yet and plan to.

Ok. I'm going for pure stream of consciousness here, so bear with me. Or don't, I don't care. Hey, be happy I'm blogging something again the way the summer's been going.

I start with the Wednesday puzzle, which has a pattern of circles throughout that kind of looks like a staircase. I start at 9-across (Frank in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). That's ZAPPA, and then 9 down (Cubic ______) is ZIRCONIA. Both of those words start with Z and end with A. Both words are in circles. I thought 1 across (Coors Product) might be Beer, but it's also circled, so I'll go with ZIMA. Don't hear much about Zima anymore. 4-down (Ingrediente en paella) starts with A, and ends with Z - ARROZ. Gracias, Senora Collella.

Let's try to get all the circles. 23 across (Keebler cracker brand) I'll come back to, but it must end in A. 24 down (Flagstaff's place) is ARIZONA. 39 across (This puzzles theme) crosses Arizona at the Z, and starts with A and ends with Z, so it's "A-TO-Z-TO-A". That works. 39 down (The Rock) ALCATRAZ. Thank you Sean Connery. 68 across (Ball's Comic partner) "arnaz."

70 across (Animated film hit of 1998) ANTZ. Never saw that one.

Off to a good start. Let's get rolling.

A recital player is a SOLOIST. 1 down (Goes this way before going that) is zigs or zags. But it means 17 across (lovers of fine fare)starts with G. I don't know yet.
Rough up - MAUL. NYC Theater area - Bway. What's more - AND. Sammy Davis, Jr's "___ Can" starting with Y, must be YES I.

All the way to 41 across now (One of eight Eng. kings) is EDS. Because Eng. is abbreviated in the clue, the answer is abbreviated too. There were eight Edwards, or Eds here. Let's get the crossers - 31 down (Cubs, but not Bears for short) think Chicago, think baseball vs. football and you get NLERS, short for national leaguers, a crossword puzzle favorite. 32 down (When said 3 times, "et cetera") that's YADDA, as in "yadda yadda yadda." And 33 down (Ol' Blue Eyes classic). MY WAY, but only if 41 across is EDW. One of eight. So it is EDW.

60 down Let's leave IT AT that. 54 down lady of Spain is a DAMA. 49 down Of course, senor! SI SI senor. Boy Spanish class is coming in handy. Begins slowly - EASES IN.

Yes! Lovers of fine fare - GOURMANDS. That will open things up. So that's MIES van der Rohe, a military official is a BRASS HAT, and 6 down (deteriorated) is WENT TO POT. Incidentally, the Keebler cracker is a ZESTA. 44 across (Famous Amos) TORI. She has nothing to do with cookies.

40 down (Getty or Rockefeller) is OIL BARON. Madison Ave trade is ADBIZ. That's the last of the theme clues. Harsh quality - STRIDENCE. Sacramento Arena - ARCO. Secluded area - GLEN. Mother of England's Charles II and James II - Henrietta. English history classes paying off as well.

Back up to the top right corner. This puzzle is harder than I thought it would be at the beginning. 12 across (producers' fears) is pans, so it's producers as in movies and pans as in bad reviews. Apple instant messaging program is ICHAT. River flowing in and out of Lake geneva is the RHONE, Madden and How - INCENSE. Nothing to do with John. 22 down (Three R's org) is NRA. Nothing to do with guns, that's the National Recovery Administration, one of FDR's programs. FDR's successor was Truman, who's last secretary of state (10 Down) was ACHESON.
Still with me? I'm almost done with the first puzzle...1 Down must be zigs, because you zig before you zag and the clue is goes this way before that. So Zigs, I'm going with it. So ITAR Tass news agency, not ATAR. I think that's right. Top is done.

Sci-fi sidekick, maybe - BOT? NYC Country Club? - THE UN. That's cute. "What a kidder!" - OH YOU. Free Pass, of sorts - BYE.

54 across (redlines) is DEMOTES. 9 empty squares to go. Stiller's comedy partner is Anne MEARA. 6 to go. Richard Strauss must have been born in MUNICH because that's what fits. Down to 3. 62 Across (Be _____ and...) 5 letters A_ _ _ R

A Dear! It's done! But wait, flip the page over...and there's a whole other puzzle for me to do...on the Subway home. I'll let you know how it goes.

One more time though - the A to Z to A theme: ZIMARROZESTARIZONADBIZEENAntZ and ARNAZARTACLATOZTOAINOCRIZAPPA (Alcatraz and Zirconia are the backwards ones) .

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Story of the Week - June 30-July 4

A day early, cause of that holiday thing.

A couple of my favorite July 4 facts:
  1. George M. Cohan, the man who wrote the song "Born on the Fourth of July", was born on July 3, 1878.
  2. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, political rivals and the country's 2nd and 3rd presidents, both died on the same day - July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
  3. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution declaring "these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States." But it says July 4th on the Declaration, so we go with that.
On to story of the week, which I call:

FARC: Funniest name of an extremist left-wing insurgent terrorist group ever!

FARC , the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is widely recognized as a terrorist cell, or a group of gangster thugs perhaps, have had a stranglehold on the legitimate Colombian government for decades and control most of the region's lucrative and criminal cocaine production. FARC is the reason the U.S. sends billions of dollars in aid to Colombia in the name of drug prevention.

FARC has hundreds of people held hostage deep in the Colombian jungle. And this week, they have 15 fewer, thanks to a stunningly awesome rescue by the Colombian army and US forces there.

Two things strike me about the hostage rescue: 1. the way it happened is a deliciously good story. and 2. the fact that there have been American hostages in Colombia for years, and we hardly ever hear about them.

So first, the rescue. Here's how it happened. Government agents spent months working their way into FARC ranks. They gained the trust of the rebels, got themselves promoted to levels where they could learn the inner workings of the organization, and put themselves in positions of power.

Then the agents proposed a plan to move 15 hostages from three different locations deep in the jungle to one rendezvous point 90 miles away, telling their FARC friends that an international mission was coming to visit the hostages.

More government agents posing as FARC rebels met the 60 or so real FARC rebels and the 15 hostages at the rendezvous point via helicopter. The helicopter crew handcuffed the hostages and took them aboard, along with two of the 60 guards. The helicopter took off. When it was safely off the ground, the government agents knocked out the 2 FARC guards, cuffed them, then uncuffed the hostages and told them they were free.

It was a beautifully simple, perfectly executed bait-and-switch that could be a James Bond plot if it hasn't been already. As a result, FARC was humiliated and significantly weakened by the Colombian Government, which has been battling the terrorist group seemingly forever. Also, 3 of the hostages were American, and had spend nearly 5 years in FARC prison camps.

That's right, five years. I bet you hadn't heard about that.

It's my understanding that during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-81, when over 50 Americans were held hostage at the embassy in Tehran, ABC created a nightly news cast devoted to all developments in the effort to bring them home. Today, it's called Nightline.
Every night, Ted Koppel gave Americans a daily reminder that there were Americans in captivity abroad. That crisis lasted 444 days.

These guys in Colombia were there for 5 years! How has there been no outrage? Or at least, some news on the situation, some effort to get them back? It doesn't make sense. And worst of all, there are more of them, still being held deep in the Colombian jungle, by a group of terrorists.

I don't know if we can expect more daring rescues any time soon, but we should be working on it, especially if we're supposed to be fighting a "global war on terror." Not all terrorists speak Arabic. Some of them speak Spanish and grow cocaine.

And have a silly acronym. FARC!