(updated at 8:30 a.m.)
I was late to the crossword applet because we watched Happy Feet on DVD this evening. Have we got any ornithologists out there? Can anyone explain why the penguin named "Norma Jean" has cleavage and an hourglass figure? Or why the female penguins not only have those human secondary sexual characteristics, but also have arched backs and outwardly thrust bums—as if they were wearing high-heeled shoes?
If you like the idea of brainstorming pop-culture crossword theme ideas but could do without all those constraints like letter counts, symmetry, and having more than two theme entries, I know where you could go waste some time: Michael Bérubé's post at Pandagon, "Arbitrary but Fun Sunday Night." The game is to think of two (or more) bands or performers and "Concerts That Should’ve Happened," such as Meat Loaf and Bread, Poison and the Cure, or the polar-opposite orchestra rock bands, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Electric Light Orchestra. A lot of the groups listed in the comments are ones I haven't heard of, but there are some hilariously apt combos.
Swish! That's the sound of yet another crossword scoring a three-pointer: Allan Parrish's Monday NYT is just what I like to see in an easy Monday puzzle. Actually, make it a two-point shot—I have to deduct one for OGEE. The theme is five 9- or 10-letter phrases that end with B*ND, with the *'ed vowels in alphabetical order. Fairly basic theme, but the fill includes four beefy corners of 7-letter answers, words that don't seem to show up all that often in crosswords, and plenty of pop-culture references: MOMA; the Three Stooges' YUK; YMCA clued with the Village People lyric, "You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal"; SWEEP clued as [Win the first four games in a World Series, e.g.]; Greg KINNEAR (but I think he was much more memorable in Little Miss Sunshine and As Good As It Gets than in You've Got Mail) crossing KINK in a three-K corner; SHUL and SOWETO; a tricky Chicago suburb (Oak Park is better known than OAK LAWN, though Oak Lawn was just in the news for marking the 40th anniversary of a devastating F4 tornado); PANSY and PAJAMAS; and [Bart or Lisa] SIMPSON. Many easy early-week puzzles leave me cold, but I enjoyed this one.
Kelsey Blakley's Sun puzzle, "Half Anagrams," has six theme entries in which the first and last halves are anagrams of one another; e.g., TEAMMATE, LEGAL AGE. Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day was one of my favorite picture books when I was a kid, and there's no finer way to clue EZRA than in reference to this 1963 Caldecott Medal winner. 58-Across is ONE-DOWN, clued with [It starts in the upper-left corner of a crossword]—have we seen this answer in a crossword before?
Rich Norris's CrosSynergy crossword, "Grade Improvement," changes each initial C in the theme entries into a B. Later in the week, I'd like to see a puzzle where the grades improve, but all the starting grades are different. E.g., BONE MARROW -> A-ONE MARROW, FRY to DRY, DREAM to CREAM, etc. And to make it harder, the final grades wouldn't be A, B, C, D order.
April 29, 2007