When I finished Paula Gamache's New York Times themeless, I swear the timer said 9:51—and then nothing happened when I clicked "done," so eventually I clicked it again, and that time it worked. But still: Holy hell! That's about twice as long as a typical Friday puzzle, so either Will has flip-flopped the Friday and Saturday puzzles, or we're just getting an extra dose of challenge today. But Wednesday was an easy Thursdayish puzzle, Thursday was quite Fridayish, so why shouldn't Friday be Saturdayish?
So what took so long? Plenty of wicked-hard clues, clever and twisty clues, clues that mislead you astray. For example: [Shock source, sometimes] is PRICE TAG, as in sticker shock. [Exchange for something you really want?] is a noun, not verb: your RIGHT ARM. An OPENER is a [Handle, e.g.], presumably because a door handle opens things? [Catholic] is the non-religious sense, ECLECTIC interests. [They might just squeak by in a basketball game] are GYM SHOES, rubber treads squeaking on the wood floor. Good ol' ATRA gets a fresh clue, [Grooming brand introduced in 1977]. AUTOS are [Runners with hoods] because cars run and have hoods. I like Poe, but ["Berenice" author, briefly] for E.A. POE is awfully eely; haven't read that one! I had five of the six letters in [Club's cover] and still it took forever to get CHARGE, as in a cover charge at a nightclub. MADAME SPEAKER is the [Parliamentary address?], and I can't believe how long it took me to get beyond the MADAM part. [This, in Thüringen] is from German 101: DIESE. The [Striking figures] are PICKETERS on strike. ["Deal with it!"] for TOUGH isn't so tough, but it is entertainingly colloquial. [Catchers of some ring leaders] looked like it was supposed to be tricky, but it's T-MEN enforcing the Treasury laws. [Hard up] = DIRT POOR. [Void] means the verb, not the noun or adjective: ABROGATE. [Second chance] isn't RE-anything but rather, the colloquial DO-OVER. The [Cardinals' gathering place] refers to neither birds nor baseball: ST. PETER'S Cathedral.
Whew, those were just the tricky or interesting Across clues. Moving along to the dastardly Downs: [Pantheon heads?] for the Latin CAPITA, "heads." THE CRUSADES are [Fights with knights]; no tilting or jousting here. [Cool, in a way] is the verb FAN; how many people had FA and said, "Hmm, must be FAB"? [Hockey player Tverdovsky] is OLEG; I was relieved it wasn't some crazy unfamiliar name or variant spelling. RICHTER is the [Scale developer]. [Skin pics?] and [Skin pic?] are CHEESECAKE and TAT (tattoo). [It has pickup lines] means automaker GMC, which sells pickup trucks. The next clue, [It has many functions], is MATH; you'll note that pickup lines and math have no known association. SPOT REMOVER is the [Cleaning product that might be useful after a party]. A HOSE is a [Spray source] and HESS is an [Amoco alternative]; is Hess defunct like the Amoco name is? I have never ever heard of a HUG-ME-TIGHT jacket, a [Short, close-fitting jacket]. I also slowed myself down by renaming the [Desert Storm reporter] Peter ARNETT (hrm, ARNESS just doesn't help here). [Eyebrow makeup] is a great clue for HAIR, because hair is what eyebrows are made of. Every hair has a ROOT, which is also a [Lexicographic concern]. The noun [Dumps] means PIGPENS, a nice change from crossword regular STY. Did you know there's a RED ELM tree? It's a [Tree with double-toothed leaves and durable wood]. [See, say] is a tough clue for BET—as in "I'll see your blahblah and raise you blehbleh." RIP gets the tough-clue treatment too: [Turbulent water stretch].
Pop culture madness: Wrestler RIC Flair, the Pierce Brosnan volcano movie "DANTE'S Peak" (I saw the Tommy Lee Jones volcano movie, Volcano, instead), young RORY Culkin (older brothers in show biz: Macauley and Kieran), agent ARI Gold from HBO's Entourage (haven't watched it, but I do read my Entertainment Weekly). Speaking of madness, this puzzle groups together SPUTTER, SNARLY, and STORMY; I wonder how many stymied solvers have found themselves sputtering and snarling their way through this delightful (to me) set of hard clues.
I sure do like tough themeless crosswords! They're so crunchy and nutty and chewy and sweet...wow, I want a candy bar right now. A puzzle like this, why, it's almost chocolate-coated. (Mind you, if other applet solvers come along and zip through the puzzle and leave me choking on their dust, then it retrospectively becomes a little less fun. What's that? Why, yes, I am a bit competitive.)
The New York Sun crossword's another joint production of Francis Heaney and Patrick Blindauer. The "Two Against One" title reflects the two different letters that fit into two otherwise identical words in selected phrases. That famous [Boston public works project] at 1-Across, the BIG DIG, is condensed into [B/D]IG, with the crossing answer being actor B.D. WONG. 9-Across, [J/S]ET (jet set) crossing J.S. BACH, also came quickly to mind. The other theme pairs were tougher, though. H.P. LOVECRAFT with [H/P]OCUS (hocus pocus), [P/O]UT (with put out clued as [retire] rather than, say, [douse]) with P.O. BOXES, BREA[K/D] (break bread) with K.D. LANG, [H[I/O]P (hip hop) with I/O ERROR, and [P/M]OWER (power mower) with TEN P.M. Cool twist on the rebus puzzle format! Favorite clues: [Etc., etc.] for ABBRS; [Ruthless] for DOG-EAT-DOG; [Stole], the noun, for SCARF; [Exercise done on a bench] for the piano exercise, ETUDE; [President of the Brooklyn Dodgers a century ago] for EBBETS, presumably the eponym of the Dodgers' old field; [Clicking sounds?] for AHAS; [Knight costar on '70s TV] for Georgia ENGEL; [Five of a kind] for AEIOU; and  for TEN P.M.
Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword features a quote from Zsa Zsa Gabor: I NEVER HATED A MAN / ENOUGH TO GIVE HIM / HIS DIAMONDS BACK. Highlight: HARRUMPH!
Larry Shearer's 8/17 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle features historical college trivia—[First American college to win 100 NCAA titles], for example (that one's UCLA). Sheer unknown: [Aztec-___ (American Indian language family)] is TANOAN. Fave clues: [Go from first to second] is SHIFT, as in car gears; it was hard to dislodge thoughts of baseball here.
Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Bowling for Dollars," has a financial/bowling theme. While one must give props for the double-sided theme, oy, I've had quite enough of bowling themes to last a lifetime. There were some clues I wanted to single out, but I left the laptop to slather the kid in sunscreen, and I've lost my train of thought. There were some good clues, though, including the week's second instance of [Close up on the movie screen] for GLENN. Great minds think alike, apparently.
The Wall Street Journal crossword, "What a Piece of Work," is credited to Marie Kelly, an anagram of "really Mike," a.k.a. Mike Shenk. Each of the theme entries contains a STINT. This puzzle I solved poolside, untimed because I'm interacting with my kid and also, the humidity. And the heat. Good crossword, but the distractions render me unable to discuss the puzzle with any semblance of sentience. So I'll sunscreen up and hop in the pool myself...
Ah, the pool was refreshing. Last night's storms cooled down the water to a perfect temperature. But then a new round of storms rolled in, so pool time came to an end. And then the storms took a break, but came back again. I'm guessing the water's now a smidgen cooler than I want it, but that will be survivable. It won't actually be cold, in any case.
The LA Times crossword by Jack McInturff pops a PER into the base phrases to create each theme entry. I'll bet the ZIPPER CODE would make for better reading than The Da Vinci Code, and I like the idea of an educational PEPPER TALK. I can't imagine the cops would be able to pull off a BEEPER STING these days—how many people are still carrying pagers in this era of the ubiquitous mobile phone and PDA? A PLUMPER TOMATO sounds tempting, doesn't it? Mmm, tomatoes... An illegal chop shop gets converted into a CHOPPER SHOP—where else would you take your helicopter when it needs a tune-up? I like these theme entries. The P sound is inherently fun anyway, isn't it? Favorite fill entry: ZOMBIE. Fave clue: [Clippers home] for TOOLSHED rather than wherever the Los Angeles Clippers play—this one may have duped many of the local LA Times readers. Not quite sure why MAST is clued as [Spar] when SPAR sits just a few columns to the right.
August 30, 2007