(updated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday)
Hey! What's this Friday puzzle doing in the Saturday New York Times? Usually Sherry O. Blackard's one of the toughest themeless constructors I encounter, but this crossword seemed quite pliable. 1-Across yielded immediately, and 1-Down followed—and that's not how most Saturday NYTs kick off. [Dessert preference] shouted A LA MODE at me, and while I'm no expert on poetic feet, I do know that ANAPESTIC starts with an A. From a construction standpoint, I reckon it's tremendously difficult to fill a grid like this one (just 60 words and 24 black squares) without making use of a number of common letters at the end of the entries. People and things with an -ER ending here include PAMPERER, NONUSERS, REGRETTERS and SIGHERS (aptly abutting), SILENCER, SENDERS, ANIMATERS, and a RECTIFIER—all of which make it easy to fill in a couple squares as toeholds. My favorite tidbits: [Proof provider] for ACID TEST; [So-so series] for OCTAVE; [Benjamin's love in "The Graduate"] for ELAINE (not because it's a tough clue, but because I like being reminded of that movie); the words CASTIGATES, STRAIGHT-EDGES, and MUDPIES; EGOMANIA (I would dearly love it if someone would write a limerick rhyming egomania with Romania); [Novel price, way back when] for TEN CENTS; [Places to put some bags] for TEAPOTS; [Not gauche] for ADROIT; [Nejd natives] for ARABS (I was guessing it was Slavic until the crossings helped me out); and [Single component] for SIDE A. Also, note that this grid has just two 3-letter entries and four 4-letter entries. That's impressive, Sherry! (But Will, you should have run this one on a Friday even though the empty grid looks fearsome.)
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Mixed Martial Arts," has a theme of 11-letter anagrams. Fun!
Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper was fairly straightforward, though one entry was a complete mystery: the answer to [Vic's wife] was SADE. I Googled up the Wikipedia article on the old radio show, "Vic and Sade"—it began in 1932 and eventually found its way to television for seven weeks in 1957...before my time. If I could choose one kind of pop culture to eradicate from crosswords, it'd be old-time radio shows.
Vic Fleming and Bruce Venzke's LA Times themeless contains TIRAMISU, and who doesn't like that? (Well, I don't. Coffee, ick.) [Near failure] had me trying to think of a noun for far too long, when the answer was D-MINUS. And [Red crawlers]—not ANTS, but EFTS! Here's a red eft. Here's some info about the red-spotted newt—after the egg and larva stages, this newt has a "terrestrial eft" stage that lasts for 2 to 7 years before the eft metamorphoses into an aquatic adult. And the eft—so small! Today's long-overdue lesson (I really should have looked this stuff up years ago) about the top amphibian in crosswords is brought to you by no-longer-an-Eft Gingrich.
Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle ("Zip! Nada!"), which I couldn't access during yesterday's solving/blogging session, has Seinfeld's IT'S ABOUT NOTHING plus 24 theme entries (unless I miscounted) with fill-in-the-blank clues that include the word nothing, zip, or zero. These theme entries, which range from 4 to 15 letters apiece, are not all symmetrically placed (though the long ones are), but the theme clues are CAPITALIZED so they're easy to spot.
April 13, 2007