(updated at 10:30 a.m. Sunday)
Bostonians who usually skip the online Boston Globe puzzle because it's a repeat of a recent crossword from your local paper, feel free to do this weekend's offering—the online source skipped a week, so Nancy Shack instead litzed a Globe puzzle by Henry Hook from a 1998 book collection. I haven't done it yet, so I don't know how it compares to Hook's Sunday NYT for this weekend.
Hook's NYT theme in "Circle of Friends" is mighty circular, but elegantly so. The first two people, MARK SPITZ and JUNE POINTER, have dog last names. June is also linked to DONNY OSMOND because both sang with their siblings. Donny and KEN JENNINGS are both Mormons, and Ken is linked to Jeopardy! with MERV GRIFFIN, who has a fanciful-beast last name like ETHEL MERMAN, who goes with FRED ASTAIRE because they both starred in musicals and make up another Fred and Ethel pairing like Lucy's neighbors on I Love Lucy. Astaire and track star CARL LEWIS [are known for their fancy footwork] (though that link is stretching it a tad—I mean, sure, Carl Lewis has a music video, but the only dancing he does, oddly, is while seated on an exercise machine; and yes, his track and field exploits involved his feet, but "fancy footwork" smacks of dancing and boxing...although the long jump certainly requires meticulous footwork, and this parenthetical remark is much too long now), and Carl Lewis brings us full circle to his fellow Olympic gold medalist, Mark Spitz. I'm guessing it was ridiculously cumbersome to generate a list of eight interconnected people whose names could occupy symmetrically placed spots with the same number of letters—and still, the fill has an awful lot of smoothitude to it, and plenty of Js and Ks. And did I mention how great the theme is?
Non-theme clues and entries I especially liked: [Compound number?] for ETHER; [Poet with a seemingly self-contradictory name] for NOYES; VASELINE; [No Westminster contender] for CUR; JACKO the King of Pop; [He reached his peak in 1806] for PIKE; [Faith in music] for PERCY (Percy Faith, vs. a woman named Faith); a non-Dallas-related clue for BIG D; two consecutive look-like-nouns-but-they're-not clues, 4- and 5-Down's [Cons] and [Access] (TAKES IN and TAP INTO, respectively); DOZING OFF; [Rogaine alternative] for the non-pharmaceutical TOUPEE (Look! It's BabyToupee.com!); [Strands in the winter?] for TINSEL (so much better than dull-as-road-salt ICES IN); [Make a name for oneself?] for FORGE; AMFAR for good works; [Grant money?] for FIFTY (great clue! probably my favorite here); [Cicada sound] for CHIRR—because the 17-year cicadas are due to emerge in northern Illinois in a few weeks; and [Think way back?] for the archaic/obsolete but lovely word TROW; and [It may be served in a bed] for RICE (just be sure to brush the grains off the sheets when you're finished eating, eh?). I didn't know the name KAREN Akers—this singer/actress has been on Broadway far more than in TV and film. I saw The Tempest on Broadway once. There was no singing. Broadway performers tend to be one of those trivia blind spots for me. (Like NASCAR and the bible, much of what I know about Broadway I learned from crosswords.)
Rex Parker mentioned that this NYT puzzle was one of his favorite Sunday crosswords this year—I second that emotion, and had added Hook's puzzle to my "great puzzles" folder yesterday.
The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is by Bob Klahn this time. It hasn't got many Scrabbly letters, and the fill is mostly words and phrases that you know—but with fantastic clues! Some of my favorite clues were the ones for short words, such as [Clothing for the masses?] for ALB, [They go down the tubes] for OVA, and [Play date] for GIG. If you usually skip this puzzle but appreciate top-notch themeless crosswords, then do this one. It doesn't have a low word count (a 70-worder) or a bunch of unusual answers, but the clues elevate this puzzle to my folder of favorites.
The recycled old Globe puzzle by Henry Hook is "Elementary," which features puns that work in the names of chemical elements. Three theme entries are stacked together (staggered) in the center of the grid. This impressive structural feat is behind the inclusion of a word I didn't know: HOKE up, meaning "falsify. Elsewhere, SCONCER was clued as [Malingerer, old style], and [Marquand's late Bostonian] is APLEY.
The theme entries in Gail Grabowski's syndicated LA Times puzzle have "Split Ends"—the word END is split between two words in each theme phrase.
Michael Ashley's Washington Post puzzle, "The Specialists," swaps in homophones to redefine a job as something else. A hairstylist, for example, becomes a [Leveret groomer], or HARE STYLIST (a leveret is a young rabbit). Cute.
April 28, 2007