6/8 CHE 3:59
(updated at 11:30 a.m. Friday—and if you don't usually solve the Wall Street Journal puzzle, do this delicious one before you read the spoilers)
Mike Nothnagel's themeless 70-worder for the New York Times was a hoot and a half, with zippy fill and clever cluing. I'm gonna go ahead and plunk this one in my "great puzzles" folder because I thought it was awfully fun. Some themeless puzzles are dry and not so hard, or really challenging but not so entertaining; my favorite ones are chockablock with a certain comic sensibility. Take MR TOAD'S WILD RIDE, for example; my husband and I rode it about 10 years ago and it was ridiculous (not so wild, but there was retro fluorescent paint), and the name alone evokes a grin. The [Collector of bizarre facts] is RIPLEY, and I read those goofy Ripley's Believe It or Not books when I was a kid. [Yes-men] as LAP DOGS, a chess knight as a HORSE, the colloquialism of SLOW NEWS DAY, the green bottles of Rolling Rock beer (formerly brewed in LATROBE, Pennsylvania)—all these have such a playful vibe. My favorite clues and entries: [Slacker] (as in more slack) for LOOSER (not LOAFER); EZ PASS; ROTH IRAS; [One concerned with school activities?] for MARINE BIOLOGIST (nicely crossing the SAN DIEGO ZOO and its pandas); [Approve] for BLESS a few rows above a SNEEZE ([Cold evidence]); [Worn rocks] for JEWELRY; [Sweethearts] for STEADIES (better than cluing it as a verb); [Books with many cross references?] for BIBLES; [The orange variety is black] for PEKOE TEA; and SINEWS and TENSED beside each other.
Karen Tracey's Sun Weekend Warrior is a little less amusing and a little more of a Scrabbly spelling test (which I also love!). The trickiest to spell was KOSCIUSZKO, a bridge in New York named after Tadeusz Kosciuszko. I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article about him—he was a key figure in the American Revolution as well as in Polish and Lithuanian history (and hey! I'm part Polish and Lithuanian). What's more, when he was rewarded with a tidy sum of money for his service in the Continental Army, he used some of the money to buy freedom for slaves, and when he returned to Poland, he freed some serfs. Good guy, and worth the orthographic challenge. Another tricky spot in the grid was where [Forest swingers] meets [Forecasting tool]; APES just wasn't working, but AXES meshes with EXIT POLL. BAZOOKAS is a fun word because of Bazooka bubble gum, not the weaponry aspect. [Powerful pieces in ajedrez] is looking for "queens" in Spanish, ajedrez being Spanish for "chess"—REINAS. [Takes stock?] is RUSTLES, as in steals cattle. Lively entries include HIDE-A-BED, CUTTLEFISH, FEVERFEW, the Florida EVERGLADES, the character ADDISON from Grey's Anatomy, and SQUEAKER. Other favorite clues: [New Mexican?] for BEBE (Spanish for "baby"); the comic strip ZITS; [Significant one?] for OTHER; and [Present-day tennis] for the OPEN ERA. If you've never heard of the early '70s TV Western HEC Ramsey, make a mental note of it; HEC not infrequently rides to the rescue of a constructor trying to fill a tough section of the grid.
Ha! Another really fun puzzle, this time with the humor coming from the theme. In Patrick Berry's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Vowel Play" (which is also going in my folder of appreciation), two vowels swap places in each of the 10 theme entries, and I couldn't help smiling at the results. Among my favorites: BAGGERS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS, ROMANCING THE STENO, the A-OK TREE, and NO SPRING CHECK-IN. Outside of the FANTASTIC theme, this crossword's notable for the two corners with stacked fresh 9-letter entries crossing a theme entry (because he's Patrick Berry and he can construct that way) and for the terrific clues (how many are from the constructor and how many from editor Mike Shenk? I don't know, but they're good). [This answer contains more than nine letters] clues MAIL TRUCK, which has 9 letters but may transport sacks and sacks of letters; [The wages of sin] are DAMNATION, straight up; [They might take you down] means STAIRS; [Bridge answer] is the nautical AYE; [Got in line, say] means CONGAED; [Put right?] is the right-slanted ITALICIZE; and [Chocoholic's bane] is CAROB. Other sparkly bits of fill include "YEA BIG" and the movie IT'S PAT ("What's that?") with Julia Sweeney.
Jeffrey Harris and Todd McClary's June 8 Chronicle of Higher Ed crossword, "On the Money," features the people depicted on the larger denominations of U.S. currency (the ones no longer available, as far as I know). In the fill is 19th-century detective ALLAN Pinkerton, whose grave I saw last week in Graceland Cemetery, just a few blocks away. (Many notable Chicago names are also buried in Graceland—architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Daniel Burnham, and Louis Sullivan, retailer Marshall Field, early mayors, George Pullman of Pullman car fame.) Where was I? Crossword! Good to wedge a one-vowel word like SCHMALTZ into the grid, fortunately clued as [Sentimentality] rather than chicken fat. And IRKUTSK, a moderately Scrabbly geographic name.
Matt Jones's "Hi, Steaks" has three mashups of two kinds of steak, e.g., STRIP SKIRT, clued as if the mashups were actual phrases. Pluses: THE MATRIX, ROCK STAR, FOR KEEPS, and the ACTING BUG in the fill. Minuses: A GAP or two in my knowledge, particularly the [1990s MTV show that played electronica], AMP, and [Russian-born swimsuit model Sheik], IRINA. (No link!) And RRR for [Watchdog's warning] rather than GRR. How many people still have a [Colorful desktop] Mac, the IMAC, and how many people have long since traded up to a newer and more powerful non-colorful iMac or other computer by now?
Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy puzzle has the same sort of theme Mark Feldman had in his Monday Sun puzzle, with items of apparel doubling as verbs, Question: If you were inclined to violence, would you sock someone on the nose, as in one of the theme entries, or in the nose? I go for in, personally. Maybe it's a regional thing.
Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle tacks a W onto the beginning of each theme entry.
June 21, 2007