(post updated at 3 p.m. Tuesday)
First up, Oprah alert! This Thursday, February 1, Will Shortz and Merl Reagle will appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The episode features assorted "how'd they do that?" segments, including one on crosswords with Will and Merl. So set your TiVo, off-brand DVR, VCR, or viewing schedule (and keep an eye out for Tyler Hinman in the audience).
The main thing I want to say about Nancy Salomon's Tuesday NYT is that I have been lobbying for years for wider use of the word HUZZAH—and here Nancy includes HUZZAH, HUZZAH in a large-circulation newspaper crossword. Huzzah! I'm also fond of the letter Z, having grown up with it as one of my initials, and this puzzzzzzle has 18 of 'em. All those zeds make for spicy fill, including ABOVE ZERO (dammit, I want it to be ABOVE FREEZING—ABOVE ZERO is still too cold), KIBITZ, GRIZZLIES (are there any sports teams that are specific kinds of bears? We have the Chicago Bears and Cubs, but are there some Grizzlies in the NBA? Where are the Kodiaks? And how come there are teams called Colts and Broncos and Mustangs, but I can't think of any Horses or Ponies?). MUDVILLE is great non-Z fill, too. Anyone else lose a little time by filling in PTUI instead of PFUI?
Jeffrey Harris constructed the Sun puzzle, "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes," which does not, alas, have a David Bowie theme. (Speaking of music popular in the '80s, among other decades, I heard the Wang Chung song "Dance Hall Days" on the radio today. Omigod, is that song awful. It pained me. Especially because I didn't hate it in the '80s.) So. The crossword. The theme entries change a word with a final K sound that's not spelled with a -CH into a homophone that is spelled with a -CH—"cross-check" becomes CROSS-CZECH; "mock turtle" is MACH TURTLE (clued as [Animal that's unusually fast for its species?]); "conks" is repurposed as [Shellfish repurposed as hats?], or the vivid image of CONCHS ON THE HEAD (which causes one to wonder if molluscoid slime would make a good hair pomade).
Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle "shapes up" pretty nicely.
Matt Jones' Onion A.V. Club crossword, "Rap Sheet," echoes today's NYT puzzle in its Scrabbliness—the JAY-Z theme spotlights other names or phrases that contain both a J and a Z, with 15 J's and Z's in the grid. I love entries like JEEZ LOUISE, CAJOLE, and SAVEUR magazine, plus the other J-Z names. Where else but an alt-weekly would the answer to [Safe choice?] be TROJANS?
Highlights of Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "Painless Solutions," in which the OW is removed from the theme entries: [Publish or perish, e.g.] for VERB, ["Much ___ About Nothing" ("Simpsons" episode)] for APU, [Keep one's pants on?] for ABSTAIN, [Seinfeldian shorthand for control in a relationship] for HAND, [Song, once] for AIRLINE, and [Good thing to hit] for G-SPOT.
January 29, 2007