March 17, 2007

Sunday, 3/18

LAT 9:46
NYT 9:18
WaPo 9:11
BG 7:47
CS 3:46

(updated at 11 a.m. Sunday)

Color me amazed at what Craig Kasper pulled off in his Sunday NYT puzzle. If you were underwhelmed by the theme, look again or read on.

In the applet, you can key in an ampersand, but does The Machine accept it as correct? I don't know, so I used an A (for "and") and went back after I finished and switched the appropriate A's to &'s. In so doing, I discovered that Craig placed eight ampersands in symmetrical pairs, plus one more smack-dab in the center of the grid. And! And the short crossings look like abbreviations for each long theme entry; thus, MIX & MATCH crosses M & M, ADAM & EVE cross A & E, etc. It took me 45 minutes to notice that the short "&" entries correspond to the long "&" entries' initials. None of the short or long theme entries are remotely stretching plausibility; all are "in the language." Now, that is mind-bogglingly elegant, in both concept and execution.

There were a few creaky spots for me. TROAS is a place in Asia Minor where the apostle Paul was said to have a vision. Old actress BETSY Blair was unknown to me. CORNET can be pastry, a lesser-known meaning of the word. I seldom remember Theodore BIKEL's name. Is ABANDONEES a real word? Indeed it is. Is ENARM a real word? Not according to, but it's gettable anyway. Didn't know the French term idée REÇUE, either. Solve and learn, eh?

Overall, some terrific fill: the colloquial NO NO NO, ANY MINUTE, EASY AS PIE, ON THE CHIN ([One way to take it?]), AT ALL COSTS, and EPISODE I. I like the word SHIVAREE ([Noisy celebration]), which I might have learned from crosswords. And I love iTUNES, both as crossword fill and as a service. Favorite clues: [Major player in the movie biz?] for VCR (modestly dated, but a clever clue approach), and the nostalgia-inducing [Old "Romper Room" character with bouncing antennae], Mr. DO BEE.

Congratulations to Craig (and Will Shortz) on a most impressive crossword puzzle.


Speaking of WIll Shortz, my mom just called after listening to Will on the radio. Apparently he reported that there are 700 registered entrants for the crossword tournament, including Phil Donahue. So presumably there will be 200+ rookies competing next week. How many of them are avid speed-solvers with a shot at making the finals? I wouldn't be surprised to see several new names in the top 20. (I just hope they don't beat me.)

I enjoyed Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "On a First-Name Basis." In it, 10 compound words or two-word phrases have the second word swapped out for the first name of a famous person whose last name is the second part of the base phrase/word. For example, kilowatts are KILO NAOMI, scarecrow becomes SCARESHERYL, and fallen idol becomes FALLEN BILLY. Hook uses mainly people famous in the '80s and beyond, which I appreciate. Having an old crosswordese-type name (say, SAND IRENE for Irene Castle) would have dried out the puzzle, and I like my pop culture to be contemporary (i.e., not before my time). One bonus point for including PTOMAINE in the fill; has anyone ever come up with a clever theme involving words with a silent P?

Robert H. Wolfe's Washington Post puzzle, "Film Splicing," combines two one-word movie titles (clued by their stars' names), such as [Grant/Del Toro film about a Christmas headache?] for HOLIDAY TRAFFIC. I hadn't heard of all the movies, but it was a fun challenge! Good cluing, too.

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge has a sweet CREAMSICLE and NECTARINE. The clue for THOMAS NAST, [Tweed unraveller?], spurred me to read up today. A month or two ago, hordes of solvers Googled an NYT clue, [Tweed twitter Thomas], and found the answer at my blog or Rex's—I knew the basics of the Tweed/Nast story, but not the details. Nast was the political cartoonist who targeted Boss Tweed, the APOTHEOSIS of a corrupt politician. Tweed funneled New York government money to himself and his cronies via contractor overbilling (hmm, shades of Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois politics...). In reference to Nast's Harper's Weekly cartoons, Tweed was said to have exclaimed, "Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can't read, but, damn it, they can see pictures!"

The LA Times syndicated Sunday puzzle, "The Shoe Must Go On," is credited to Cathy Carulli, which unscrambles to "actually Rich" Norris. The theme involves shoe puns, such as LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOAFER, [Shoe banned in Britain?]. Favorite clue: [Capital asset?] for SHIFT KEY.