The Sunday New York Times puzzle by Kelsey Blakley, "Five-String," had one of those themes I didn't pick up on until I hit on the giveaway answer at 17-Down—which just so happened to be in the very last corner I solved. Yes, I just tipped my son off the other day to the AEIOU sequence, but that doesn't mean I'm going to notice them splayed out in a phrase like GAME MISCONDUCT or (an especially nice one) GATHERING CLOUDS ([Sign of coming danger]). I wish I'd filled in that AEIOU sooner, because it would've added an extra fillip of mental action to working out each theme entry. Favorite clues and fill: [Frog's place] for THROAT; NEPHEWS linked to NIECE, in turn linked to AUNTIE Mame; [They may be high before a competition] for HOPES (not COACHES, not PITCHERS, not LINEMEN...); a non–H.G. Wells/Time Machine clue for ELOI, [Patron saint of metalworkers] (Eloi is French for Eligius); [Not skip a beat?] for PATROL, as in a cop or security guard's beat; [Go-go-go] for ENERGETIC; [Key holder?: Abbr.] for FLA (the Florida Keys); [What "dele" means] for theme entry TAKE IT OUT; [Does just all right] for GETS BY; [City of New Orleans operator] for AMTRAK; [Future residents] for medical INTERNS; [Some cliff dwellers] for the no-S plural, HOPI; [Development sites] for UTERI; [Word with bar or color] for CODE; [One-to-one, e.g.] for TIED; and [Repeated cry at a beer blast] for CHUG.
There were some tough words lurking in the midst. [Religious recluse] is an ANCHORITE. A [Derisive gesture] is a SNOOK. I've never heard that one—have you? The last name of [Dan ___, former N.B.A. star and coach] is ISSEL, and dang, that name sounds like an obscure Belgian river. [Biotite and phlogopite] are MICAS. Mica is familiar enough, but phlogopite? Phlogopite is an olive-green mica.
Speaking of minerals, last weekend I bought a polished chunk of labradorite from Madagascar. I love the blue/green iridescence, and this rock would've been a childhood favorite (c'mon, everyone has a childhood favorite semiprecious stone, don't they?) if I'd seen it then. The same rock store sold break-your-own geodes for $6.50 a pound. We bought two and my husband and son took 'em out back to break them open. The hammer and chisel didn't work so well, but tying a geode inside a sock and dropping it from the second-floor balcony provided a satisfying shattering.
My circadian desire for sleep hit while I was solving Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Did I Hear You Right?" Merl plays with sound-sorta-alike phrases, like the Lone Ranger AND HIS TRUSTY PSYCHIC (sidekick) or [Responds to an insult from a circus performer?] for GOES FOR THE JUGGLER (jugular). Over in the fill, there's one completely unfamiliar answer: Most dictionaries don't list AJEE, but this one says it's an adverb, British dialect, see agee. Agee means "to one side; awry." Iffy entry, sure, but what else fits into a _J_E space? AFRO is clued here as [1970s hairdo]—as I said a few days ago, it's also a current hairstyle. One of the fros I saw on Wednesday was in the suburbs, even.
Today's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge was constructed by Harvey Estes. One of the other CrosSynergy team members told me this is Harvey's last puzzle for that syndicate, that he's moving on after nearly 400 crosswords for CrosSynergy. Aw, darn! I'll miss his waggish style. What's so playful about Harvey's puzzles? Well, here's some of today's fill: GOES GAGA, SAYONARA, RHUBARB (clued colloquially as [Spat]), CANDY STORE, INSIDE DOPE, and HEY THERE. The more impish clues include [It's got you covered] for DERMIS; ["Kat" prefix, in celeb gossip] for TOM; [Where to end the word "taxi"?] for ON THE DOT; [Mind and then some] for RESENT; [Later alternative] for SAYONARA and also TATA; [It has curved arms] for LYRE (See?); [One who cuts up what others have shot] for FILM EDITOR; [Scoop of dirt, perhaps] for INSIDE DOPE; and [Lab retriever] for IGOR. My husband filched Harvey's book, Crosswords for a Rainy Day, from me last year—I'll have to reclaim it and get my Estes action from the puzzles he left undone.
If you liked Friday's Wall Street Journal puzzle with its NASA missions theme, you will also enjoy Patrick Jordan's Washington Post crossword, "Fifty Years of Space Flight." There are "only" five theme entries, really, but there's a standard number of theme squares—four answers are 21-letter milestones that span the entire grid, and one is 23 letters and stair-steps across the center of the grid. Extra elegance: They're in chronological order from top to bottom. There's also plenty of lively fill, and I liked the cluing style.
Merle Baker's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Big House," presents a confining assortment of eight phrases that end with slang words for "prison." They're a colorful group of words—is it my imagination, or do criminals concoct some of the liveliest slang? There's even a non-theme clue that sounds larcenous but isn't: [Picked locks?] means AFROS. There's a smattering of Scrabbly fill, too—SEXPOT, KNIEVEL, TOQUE, ZANE.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Getting Dissed," adds a DIS- prefix to a word in each theme entry, My favorite examples here were the TV show [after the fall?], WILL AND DISGRACE, and the [Ritual for expelling a lawyer?], DISBAR MITZVAH.
September 29, 2007