(updated at 10:40 a.m. Saturday)
You know what's more fun than a triple-stack of 15-letter crossword entries? (Well, besides the obvious: climbing a tree, sipping margaritas, road-tripping, going to the movies, etc.) A quadruple-stack of 10-letter entries. Raymond Young's Saturday New York Times crossword has two quartets. As with stacks of 15s, the letters tend to be fairly common ones, but there are some zippy clues in the stacks: STEPFATHER is clued as [Faux pa?] and the [Helpful figures?] are the phone number NINE ONE ONE. (However! Let me say that some stepparents are 100 times the parent the kid's biological parent ever was, and those folks might be deeply hurt by the "faux" designation.) Elsewhere, I liked these clues: [Italian for "sleeves"] for MANICOTTI (hey, I learned something new!); [1920 Summer Olympics site] for ANTWERP (mainly because I like that city name, with its hidden twerp); [Chaos] for ENTROPY (I like both words). AMORIST ([Love lover]) and EROTICIST ([Purveyor of hot stuff]) lend some spice. Why is [Abalone] sometimes called SEA EAR? Because its shell looks a bit ear-like, apparently. The [15th-century prince of Wallachia] shares his name with my husband's colleague, VLAD.
A 64-word crossword like this has more constraints on it than a 68- to 72-word themeless, which means more compromises: French (A MOI, GROS, HONORE), partials (RIO DE, SEAL-A), abbreviations, semi-obscure fill (Dallas suburb De SOTO), and beaucoup non-Scrabbly letters (hence ENTENTE, ATTENDANTS, ORIENTATED, SIESTAS, etc.). The really low-word-count puzzles, those with fewer than 60 entries, are harder to construct but generally less fun to solve. It's like weightlifting: Do you admire the hardcore bodybuilder who can bench an insane amount of weight but looks freakish, or the nicely muscled guy with a little more balance to his workout? I like a nicely muscled themeless puzzle. Oh, and he has to have a sense of humor. I like crosswords that entertain me.
Paula Gamache's themed CrosSynergy puzzle is super-easy. The five theme entries (three 15s and a pair of 13s) all contain TALC embedded within.
Karen Tracey's LA Times crossword was pretty hard—both because of some obscure entries (the island of PEMBA; the NEOSHO River; Portuguese mathematician Pedro NUNES, whose contributions to navigation facilitated Portugal's exploration; the word DOGDOM, as in the cocker spaniel [Tramp's category?]) and because of difficult clues. Oh, and because I opted for the PITS instead of PITY, which kept me from getting the middle Across answer. My favorite clues, for cleverness or challenge: [Like some nightmares?] for LOGISTICAL; [Make sure not to see] for SHUN; [Harum-scarum] for AMOK; [Kind of ills] for SOCIETAL; and [Pleasure seekers?] for Freudian IDS. Top-notch entries: HOME STRETCH and the interlocking Scrabbly central entries, SIT BACK AND RELAX and MASQUERADE PARTY.
Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper was easier than the day's other two themeless offerings. I do like those MANDARIN ORANGES, and NANCY DREW sitting in a GREASY SPOON. Tennis player ALICE Marble was before my time—hell, she was before my mom's time. I don't know if any of the ALOUs ever pitched, but this puzzle has both STARTING PITCHERS and the pitcher plant's home, a PEAT BOG.
July 20, 2007