Brad Wilber's New York Times puzzle is an old-school toughie with very few gimmes. For me, the only real gimmes were GEENA [Davis of "Cutthroat Island"] (the pirate movie that nearly killed her career), [Documentarian Morris] for ERROL (love him! Rent The Fog of War if you missed it), [Chick playing a piano] for jazz musician Chick COREA, ARON for [Elvis follower], [Novelist Potok] for CHAIM Potok, and DR T ([Richard Gere title role of 2000]). Huh, what do you know? All names! Mainly from pop culture! That really is a good crossword category for me.
My worst categories? A lot of the stuff in this puzzle. The obscurish words were particularly vexing today: NOSEBANDS are [Bridle parts], a BAILEE is a [Temporary property holder], a TOLL BAR goes with [It's raised after a payment is collected, and [Slipping frequencies] are ERROR RATES? These simultaneously stumped and underwhelmed me. What I liked better: a word I didn't know but am glad to have learned, RECLAME, which comes from the French and means [Notoriety]; and the colorful phrase GIMLET EYE ([Piercing glance]), which I'd forgotten (gimlet is both a cocktail and a corkscrew-like boring tool).
Favorite parts: [Interest for Miss Marple] for CLEW (British spelling of "clue"; raise your hand if you wrote CASE); [Contortionist's inspiration?] for PRETZEL; [Aquavit flavorer] for CARAWAY (remind me never to drink this stuff); [Seed's exterior] for TESTA (old crosswordese I remembered!); DEAD WRONG; [Where some addresses come from] for PODIA; [One yawning] for CHASM; [Do groundbreaking work?] for the verb MINE; [Shakespearean character who introduced the phrase "salad days"] for CLEOPATRA (did not know this!); and [Symbol of industry] for ANT.
Took far too long to figure out: [Paris fashion house since 1956- for CHLOE; [Setting of Camus's "The Fall"] for AMSTERDAM (Really? Did not know that. The Plague takes place in Oran, of course.);[Marina accommodations] for our old friend, the BOATEL; [Hansom cab accessory] for LAP ROBE (my mind breaks LAPROBE into LA PROBE and wonders if that beer from Latrobe is involved somehow); [Factor in a home's market value] for CURB APPEAL; [Carried by currents, in a way] for OCEANBORNE (couldn't get electrical current out of my head); [Serenity] for HEART'S EASE; ["Pink Shoe Laces" singer Stevens] for DODIE; ["Be more..." sloganeer] for PBS; and [Honourary title: Abbr.] for MBE. Speaking of MBE, I just looked up those Order of the British Empire honours: MBE = Member (the lowest-ranking), OBE = Officer (the abbreviation most often seen in American crosswords), CBE = Commander, and those named to the two highest ranks, Knight or Dame Commander (KBE, DBE) and Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE), are entitled to use Sir or Dame before their names (e.g., Dame Judi Dench, Sir Paul McCartney).
One quasi-nit to pick: LASH is clued as [Liner's locale]. Have you ever tried applying eyeliner to eyelashes? I'm thinking it wouldn't work. The lash line, a.k.a. the edge of the eyelid, sure, but the LASH itself? I say not. Opinions?
I'm short on time this morning, so I'll be brief. (Honest!)
Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle has a short quote by SAMUEL GOLDWYN: COFFEE ISN'T / MY CUP OF TEA. Agreed!
James Sajdak's LA Times puzzle has some terrific words in it. They're not laden with uncommon letters, but I'm fond of the quaint-sounding ALMONERS ([Charity distributors]) and FLACON ([Perfume bottle]); WALLEYE ([Minnesota's state fish]); the play and poem A RAISIN IN THE SUN; the [Mythical monthly predator], a WOLFMAN; PLASMA TV; "STEP ON IT!" ([Fare order]); the colloquial AS LONG AS ([Seeing that]); John CLEESE; the [Swamp gas] MIASMA (love this word! it's much better than smegma); and a RECLINER chair (clued well: [Super Bowl seat for many]). Other clues of note: [Game invented by Native North Americans] for LACROSSE (a gimme); [Battle of Britain locale] for MIDAIR; [Kitchen drawers?] for AROMAS; [Artemis's companions] for OREADS (don't know the mythology behind this, but I'm always pleased to see oreads, naiads, and maenads in the crossword); [Musical nonsense syllable] for DOO (well...that's one way to clue that!); and [Goody-two shoes' feature?] for HALO.
Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper has a glorious grid—every answer is between 5 and 9 letters in length (no 3- or 4-letter answers!) and the total word count is quite low: just 58 answers. My favorite entry is a word I couldn't readily define: DESCANT. Clued as [Comment at length], this could be a a very good word for me to know! (Here's the American Heritage definition.) There are perhaps a few more prefixed and suffixed words than in most themeless puzzles, owing to the difficulty in filling a 58-word grid, but it didn't strike me as off-putting in the slightest. No jokey clues here—it's all straight-up "just the facts, ma'am" puzzling with eminently fair clues. I've only given away one answer, so if you usually skip the Stumper, try this one. Though there are no short words like ARIA or ERA to help you along, it's quite doable—especially compared to today's tough NYT puzzle.
September 14, 2007