May 03, 2007

Friday, 5/4

NYS 9:07
NYT 5:38
4/20 CHE 4:04
LAT 3:28
CS 2:59

Reagle 9:01
WSJ 7:10

(updated 9 a.m. Fri.)

Francis Heaney's Sun puzzle, "Letterbox Version," is a show-stopper of a rebus crossword. (Swish into the favorites folder.) Across the middle row are multi-letter squares containing ABC, DEF, GHI, JK, LM, NO, PQ, RS, TUV, WX, and YZ. Sure, there are a few more black squares than we usually see in a 15x15 grid, but they're more than offset by the 15 extra letters squeezed into the center row. Take a moment to look at the completed puzzle and think of other answers that would work...such as 8 letters ending with GHI (SAYING HI), or 9 letters starting with JK (JK ROWLING), or 4 letters with PQ in the middle (SPQR). And not only is the rebus alphabet row there, but the first and last Across entries also spell out FROM / A TO Z. Really a wonderfully masterful construction.

Favorite details: ZOROASTER; comics writer ALAN MOORE, whose name was faintly familiar thanks to Entertainment Weekly (which gives me no kickbacks but certainly ought to); [Basic leftover] for ASH; Wayne and Garth's PARTY ON (from Wayne's World); Francis's obligatory music entry, DON WAS (plus Dave GAHAN of Depeche Mode...the only Gahan I know is cartoonist Gahan WIlson); [World capital due west of St. Petersburg] for OSLO (we're talking Russia, not Florida); CHI RHO, which my brain keeps seeing as CHIR HO and interpreting as having something to do with cicadas; [Black's partner] for TAN (here's Guinness's take on the black and tan); [Tauromachian interjection] for OLE; [Green piece?: Abbr.] for DOL(lar); [Toy with a wrinkly face] for the PUG dog; [Places for kickers] for REH[AB C]LINICS; Potty ELMO; [Endangered ox of Sulawesi] for A[NO]A (Sulawesi = Celebes, old-school crosswordese deployed well); and [Having lost one's shadow] for SHAVEN.

The Friday NYT is by Manny Nosowsky, and it's not my favorite of his puzzles. I liked the long entries that interlock so smoothly through the middle, both because all six are terrific entries (LET ME JUST SAY and TOUGH COOKIES the best in my book) and because, crikey, how difficult must it be to get those stacked answers to mesh together? I liked the slyness of 1-Across, [You can always identify a Republican by one] for CAPITAL R (as in R-TX). Sister SOULJAH turns out to be less a hip-hopper and more a nonprofit exec and a writer. With all the mentions the other Baltic nations get (LETT, RIGA, and back in the day, ESTH), it's good to see LITHuania get a little crossword attention (I freely admit to a pro-Lithuania bias). There were some areas in this grid that made me cranky, however. IT IS AN / ODD THING is, well, an odd thing. Three words ending in -NESS was overkillness. One of the -NESSes crossed two "huh?" answers—EASINESS (clued a bit mystifyingly as [Indifference]) met up with Ralph BRANCA, who was unknown to me (1951 baseball? Oy), and with ALI, the ["Marouf" baritone] (the opera's composer, Henri Rabaud, is described in that link as a "nearly forgotten composer"—the opera's based on Arabian Nights). The other two -NESSes cross Mesopotamian EDESSA, which is semi-familiar but crosses the nearly forgotten (by me) [Seine feeder], the AUBE. I predict a lot of crankiness over these crossings, which rely on four "you know it or you don't" names that this solver had to fight her way through. I was going to fuss about the not-well-known END AS a Man, a [Calder Willingham novel and play] with little Google presence, but then I came across this rare book listing that mentioned the homoeroticism of the poster for the movie. The poster says "The most fascinating louse you ever met!" There's a little more gay chic with TIMS clued as [Curry and Rice], which (a) sound delicious together and are what I had for dinner a couple nights ago, and (b) evoke Curry's Rocky Horror Picture Show character. So the gay vibe provided a couple OOMPHS (18-Across) to offset the baseball, opera, and geographic knots. And let me also praise [Where no one has any business going?] as the clue for RESIDENTIAL AREA. (Freelancers have businesses going in residential areas, 'tis true, but that doesn't detract from the clue's cleverness.)

Edited to add SCHLEGEL: Manny's puzzle included August Wilhelm von SCHLEGEL, who turns out to be a [leader of German Romanticism] in the early 19th century. His brother Friedrich perhaps even more influential in Romanticism. My sister and I, we haven't germinated any grand ideas together. We should get moving on that!

Wow, I don't generally get allergies, but my eyes are burning. I suspect pollen from the profusion of blossoms in the trees and shrubs outside...even with the windows shut tight. Antihistamines!


Michael Ashley's April 20 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "The Old Ways," groups four historic routes in America. One goes through southern Illinois, but I'd never heard of it. Lots of longish clues—I like those—and interesting words (e.g., SIRRAH, GROK and ANDROIDS; SLURPS; HOUDINI; NYMPHET).

Patrick Jordan's easy CrosSynergy puzzle has four noted Messrs. in the grid—Mr. RIGHT, COOL, BIG, and CLEAN (I like his Magic Eraser).

Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle is comittedly neutral in its puns, which are Swiss-based. Favorite entry: PIN NUMBER, clued as [Everyday redundancy].

In Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "International Food Center," the theme entries have a nationality in the middle to join a "___ [nationality]" phrase to a "[nationality] ___" food, as in PARDON MY FRENCH TOAST (clued as [Breakfast apology?]). Good longish fill, too—EN DASHES (do you know how to use them?), SMOOTHIE, HAILS FROM (the clue, [Calls home], took me forever to read correctly), UP AND AT 'EM, LOAN SHARK.

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Three-Character Play," bundles together a bunch of things with CPB initials, starting with THE CORPORATION FOR / PUBLIC BROADCASTING (the folks who bring us PBS programming, when governmental meddling doesn't shoo Bill Moyers away—and by the way, you know he's got a new PBS show now, on Fridays?), stacked together with reasonable crossings all the way through. The center features, aptly enough, CROSSWORD PUZZLE BOOK.