May 14, 2007


Today's puzzles are by a NYT debut constructor and an old hand. John Halverson's NYT debut felt more like an easy themeless puzzle than a themed one while I was solving it. Once done, I looked it over and spotted the theme.Alan Arbesfeld may be known to many of you from his Stamford performances of Crossword songs, but he is a talented and prolific constructor with more than 75 puzzles in the NYT or NYS.

John Halverson's NYT has four symmetrically placed theme entries featuring human body elements skin, bone, muscle and fat.
Thus, 20A is SKINFLINTS clued plainly and simply as "Tightwads.
56A clues BONEHEADED as "Really really dumb."
10D "New Orleans Bash" is FATTUESDAY. (I thought Fat Tuesday was the occasion for a bash rather than the bash itself).
27D is MUSCLECARS clued as "G.T.O.s etc".

17A NOBRAINER clued as "Super easy decision" does not quite fit the theme since BRAIN is in the middle, not at the start and is symmetrical to 61A SCRAPIRON, which is clearly not a theme entry.

Skin and bone, muscle and fat, have a symetricality of meaning as well, from which Brain detracts.

This theme would have appealed to me more with playful clues.

The rest of the cluing was uninspired but mostly unobjectionable.

I had OCTO instead of OCTA for 35D"Eight: prefix". Which gave me SCOLAR instead of SCALAR for 44A "Having an uninterrupted series of steps."

No cute crossword animals, just a rel beast, 22a TREX "dino whose body was more than 30 feet across." No interesting pop culture names, just the usual LEE, LEONA, LENA, and MATA. PETE, STAN, and DORA are less common, but no more interesting.

Those who objected to HITLER and NAZI may be troubled by "Unabomber's writing, e.g." for MANIFESTO (6D).

Alan Arbesfeld's "Eye Catching" is a variation on a common theme--adding letters to phrases to create very different phrases. In this case, two "I"s are added to each of four familiar phrases to create the theme entries.

Thus "Tax Bases" becomes TAXIBIASES (Clued as "Prejudices from a yellow fleet?"

"Water Meter" becomes WAITERMETIER (Clued as "Serving Profession?")

"Stan the Man" becomes STAINTHEMAIN (clued as "Laquer a big pipe?") an unfortunate degradation of the great Cardinal's stately nickname.

In contrast "Trans Fat" becomes TRAINSFIAT (clued as "Order concerning Amtrak vehicles?"), a definite improvement.

One side effect of this construction is a namber of down answers with two "I"s that are not theme entries:

SITSTIGHT (11D) looks like a theme entry, but STSTGHT is just gibberish.

I wish MAITAI could become MATA. I am sick of MaiTais which only exist in crosswords. Here it is clued as "Margarita Alternative". Where? At Trader Vic's?

I swore I would never fall for the nice/Nice French twist, but Peter got me with "Nice work" (58A) for OUEVRE.