May 31, 2007

Friday, 6/1

NYS 5:49
NYT 5:18
LAT 5:09
5/18 CHE 4:17
Jonesin' 3:50
CS 3:12

WSJ 9:45
Reagle 8:12

"Westward Ho!" (write-up below)

(updated at 7:15 and 9:05 a.m. Friday)

June already?!? Times flies.

June 1 is the official publication date for Henry Hook's new book, Terribly Twisted Crosswords. If it's like its predecessor (which I savored every page of), it's packed with variety crosswords that go beyond the mere across and down business. I just ordered my copy from Amazon, but it usually seems like Amazon doesn't ship Sterling books until days past the pub date. (Barnes and Noble's website would probably get it to me faster, but my heart belongs to Amazon.) I will be patient.

The day's only themeless crossword is David Quarfoot and Katy Swalwell's NYT puzzle. Plenty of colorful entries in this one, none more colorful than Mr. Blue himself, PAPA SMURF. I'm a smidgen too old to be well-versed in the fashions of Smurfs, but loved the mislead of the clue, [White-bearded, red-capped patriarch]. Sounded like an Eastern Orthodox prelate to me. PAPA intersects with a PIRATE ([Marine menace] hinted at sharp-toothed fish, but no) and a FRAT BOY. Many other exceptionally fresh entries: MARCH MADNESS (joined by BAMA, FSU, and RUPP ARENA) and ELVIS PRESLEY anchoring the center; BY GEORGE, I GOOFED; EASY TO SEE is unrelated to [Eye site], which is CYCLONE; [Show a thing or two] sounds vengeful but merely means EDUCATE; you've got your YIN-YANG at TEN PAST; the not-so-treelike desert tree called OCOTILLO; and much, much more! Favorite wrong turn: [Subject of some sightings], 12 letters, second letter L? Must be FLYING SAUCER, right? Nope, ELVIS. I usually adore Quarfoot puzzles, but I think his collaborator might actually be improving his work—so much terrific fill, so many twisty clues!

Alan Olschwang's Sun puzzle, "Snorefest," is anything but. The four interlocking theme entries each boast two sets of double-Zs, and I'm a big fan of the letter Z. (Who isn't?) For added oomph, the lower left corner has NOZZLES in the fill, allowing a 2x2 square of Zs to pop up. The 1965 Beatles song, DIZZY MISS LIZZIE, isn't one I've heard of. Other assorted Z answers include the ZEBU (Wikipedia says "sometimes known as 'humped cattle,'"), the sporty NISSAN Z, and one-time boxer EZZARD Charles. Other perky fill and clues: PEEWEE clued as a noun rather than baseball great Reese; ANDREA clued as NBA player Andrea Bargnani rather than a woman; DEAD BALL clued with baseball because what alternative is there; the FISHEYE lens; and OLDS and REO both clued automotively but without reference to one another (REO being named after Randolph Eli Olds). Honorable mention to ["The end of the Civil War was near" was the start of its theme song] for F-TROOP; faced with something military in nature starting with FT, I assumed it was Fort something-or-other. "Fort Roop?" I asked myself.

I enjoyed Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle for this week, "Dissed List." It has a fun Yiddish-inflected theme and tons of long fill—besides the theme trio, there are six 8-letter answers and over a dozen 6- or 7-letter entries. No explicit spoilers in case you haven't gotten to the puzzle but wanted to. Tell me this: Are you folks solving the Jonesin' puzzle? If so, are you pouncing on it Thursday (though it seems to come out rather late in the day) or waiting until later? I think I'll slot it with the Friday puzzles henceforth.


Very nice fact-based puzzle from Annemarie Brethauer in the 5/18 Chronicle of Higher Education (in case you're wondering why I'm two weeks behind on the CHE puzzle, it's because I do the one that's linked on Friday at Cruciverb), featuring JAMESTOWN on its 400th anniversary. The only reason the ship at 22-Across was in my head was because Byron Walden included it in a recent themeless—and the colonists traveled in a couple other ships, the names of which escape me. Ah, Godspeed and Discovery.

The seven theme entries in Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle make no sense until you REVERSE THEM (27-Down)—or rather, reverse the order of each answer's halves. Unusual approach, and interesting in that it points out how many compound words or two-word phrases have meaningful flip versions. A [Car buff], for example, is a gearhead, so the answer here is the unrelated headgear.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Diversified Divas," groups three singers with occupational last names. Plenty of fresh entries in this easy crossword: BBQ SAUCE, MOSH PITS, Captain Ahab's PEQUOD.

Updated again:

Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach's debut in the Wall Street Journal is "Westward Ho!" I had to consult a map of the United States to fully grasp how the theme worked. The ALTERED STATES entries take a phrase and change two letters that are also a postal abbreviation for a state, inserting instead the two-letter abbreviation for a state just to the west. Thus, mind the gap becomes MIND THE ALP, Alabama being west of Georgia. From top to bottom in the puzzle, the states travel a westward course from Georgia on the Atlantic coast to Oregon on the Pacific. Impressive! After AL joins that first theme entry, it gets dropped from "deal" in the next one, which moves west to MS (Mississippi) and CLINCHED THE DEMS. Then MS is left behind in "gemstones" and replaced with Arkansas in GEAR TONES. The route continues from Arkansas to Oklahoma to Colorado to Utah to Idaho to Oregon. How ingenious is that? Kudos to Messrs. Orbach and Blindauer for the superb execution of a clever idea. Plenty of great non-theme fill, too, and good clues. (Have saved a copy of this crossword to my Great Puzzles folder!)

Merl Reagle's Sunday puzzle, "Twain Set," has a slew of 7- to 12-letter theme entries (19 of them, plus the shorter STOMP at 61-Down) that contain the letter strings HUCK or TOM (or, in the case of CHUCK A TOMATO, both). It wasn't until I was done with the puzzle that I noticed TOM in the non-HUCK answers, though! Uxorial clues popped out at me. MIA is clued as [Frank married her], and I know it's one of those traps (Is it AVA or MIA? Either fits.), but still—Mia Farrow's been in 54 movies and has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador speaking out on Darfur. NORA is clued as [Nick's wife] rather than as a fictional sleuth. Crossword clue shorthand, we've seen 'em time and time again, but that doesn't mean I have to like 'em.