(updated at 11:15 a.m. Sunday)
My son and I are going to a third-grader's birthday party in a while. The birthday boy's in the gifted class and on the chess team, his mom didn't want him getting more toys or videogame cartridges, and they're broke but the kid's got some nice reference books. So I figured a bookstore gift card was in order. I was hoping the local Walgreens drugstore would have one on the rack of gift cards so I could avoid the book-buying temptation, but dammit, they didn't. So I ws forced to go to Barnes & Noble, where I also picked up a volume of Wall Street Journal Crossword Puzzles and The Enlightened Bracketologist, which gives the NCAA bracket treatment to everything from crosswordese (Tyler Hinman) and punctuation (Jesse Sheidlower) to political hot-button issues (Mo Rocca) and marital arguments (two people I've never heard of).
The Sunday Times crossword is Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Rube Goldberg Device," and it's essentially a quip puzzle. Ordinarily I deplore such themes with vigor (and vinegar), but I liked BEQ's last quote puzzle in the Onion and I like this one. The theme follows a Rube Goldberg mousetrap through all the steps: [First you...] PLACE CHEESE ONTO SEESAW is followed eventually by FLOODS MOUSE HOLE and the advice to [Next time...] BUILD A BETTER MOUSETRAP. The theme entries happen to include the letters Z, Q, J, and K, and take up a lot of real estate. That's 146 theme squares, long things stretching through the entire grid. You might think the layout would force a lot of compromises in fill, but I don't think it did (although, looking back at the grid, there are plenty of short blah answers, but nearly everything is dictated by the theme density, no?). One might argue that it's not ideal to have the [Antitheft device] THE CLUB crossing two other phrases with THE in them, but who doesn't love the Club? Great crossword entry, along with GENETIC CODE, BREEZE BY, MAITRE D'S, KNEE SOCK, ART LOVER, LUDEN'S cough drops (oh, how I love those), and IN LIEU OF. I never heard of Handel's "CHANDOS Anthems," but there's a great story behind the work. I am pleased to see the reemergence of JAROD, [Lead character on TV's "The Pretender"]; oh, how that name gave people fits when Karen Tracey used it earlier this year. My favorite clues: [House or senate] for BODY (crossing [Senate staff]/AIDES), [Glaswegian : Glasgow :: Loiner : ___] for LEEDS (new one for me), [It comes with strings attached] for BONNET (er, not BIKINI, then?), [Asking too much of someone?] for USURY, and [Subject of a makeup exam?] for GENETIC CODE. A few nifty combos, too: ETNA and LAVA; BIRTH and DEATH; THE WEB, EDU, and URL; LUSTFUL and TRYST; Senators ORRIN and THAD.
The highlight of Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle is SHIH-TZUS (which, as when someone lost one in my neighborhood last year and posted signs, can be misspelled as SHIT-ZU), which happens to have the same number of letters as SHAR-PEIS. (That is a terrible sentence. Moving on!) Moderately Scrabbly and pop-cultural (MRS C, NIMOY, and DEMORNAY, which becomes DEMON RAY with one transposition).
A smooth LA Times syndicated puzzle today, Frances Burton's "Major Excitement."
I presume that Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "April Fuel," originally ran in the paper on April Fool's Day. There were several knotty spots, such as the crossing of [Re element 56] with [Sandarac tree] and ["___, Pagliaccio..."] (BARIC crossing ARAR and RIDI) and the intersection of [Literary pastiches] with [Subject of Weird Al Yankovic's "The White Stuff"] (CENTOS crossing OREO).
The theme in Seth Abel's Washington Post puzzle, "Let the Show Begin!," (am I allowed to use a comma there?) highlights the TV show titles (from the '70s to the present) at the beginning of longer phrases, such as LOST IN THE SHUFFLE and THE VIEW FROM ABOVE. Yay, TV!
April 14, 2007