The Tuesday New York Times puzzle by Christina Houlihan Kelly had one of those elusive themes that entirely escaped my detection during the solve. And then there were six Across answers of 9 or more letters, so at first I thought all six were theme answers. It's just the outermost four: SAND WEDGE golf club, the butcher's MEAT GRINDER (anyone else think of the "butcher's ass" line from Tommy Boy whenever they hear the word butcher?), an AMERICAN SUB from the Navy, and a SUPERHERO like Spider-Man—and these four end with words that mean "submarine sandwich." Wikipedia clarifies that wedge is a regional term used in Yonkers and environs, which explains why I've never heard of that one. They're mostly subs in Chicagoland, but I know they're grinders and heroes elsewhere, along with hoagies and po'boys, but there aren't any crossword-friendly phrases that end with HOAGIE or POBOY. The fill includes a couple Xs and Zs and a smattering of Ks occupying words like TUXEDO, SHIRK, and DEBUNK. YADDA is here with my preferred two-D spelling. MAVEN is a lovely word (maybe someday it'll be clued [Dab hand]). I also like GLOMS on to and EMINEM clued with his full name, Marshall Mathers. Favorite clues: [Union member] for STATE; [Name after Dan or San] for MARINO; and [Swedish version of Lawrence] for LARS (I always think of Phyllis's little- or never-seen husband Lars on the Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff, Phyllis). I don't think I've heard of [Big Band saxophonist Al] COHN; me, I'd have gone with Roy Cohn or Mindy Cohn of The Facts of Life. With the wealth of clues possible for WOMAN, it's a little disappointing to have a fill-in-the-blank evoking prostitution. Have any of you ever been to a séance? Crosswords have been insisting for years that one hears raps there (...maybe at a seance aimed at contacting Tupac), and this one offers up a KNOCK and a MOAN. Am I missing out on all the séance action out there?
Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword, "TV Audio Problems," reconfigures six TV show titles with sound-alike words. The best of these is SOLE TRAIN, with a [Conga line of flatfish?]. (Perhaps Don Codnelius hosts.) The best or most entertaining clues: [1980 #1 hit for Kenny Rogers] for LADY (because it made me laugh to be reminded of that song); [Possible reply to "Would you like more haggis?] for NAE (what on earth was I thinking, opting first for AYE?); and [Mark Twain, e.g.] for PEN NAME (I'm related to Twain via my Clements ancestors). Nice to see IXNAY in the grid as well.
And now, a little tutorial on hair removal products. NAIR is clued in this Sun puzzle as [Bikini waxer's purchase], and that seems a little off base to me. Yes, Nair sells bikini waxing strips, but I think the company is fairly new to waxing products. They're primarily known for their hair-removal lotions that chemically dissolve the hair, but can't penetrate all the way into the follicle. (Waxing yoinks the hairs all the way out.) Neet used to be about as well known as Nair, but I haven't seen it on store shelves in years. Apparently a French company owns Neet and still has Neet products on the market, but they're certainly not distributed as widely as Nair. (Director Mira Nair is also on tap for NAIR cluing needs.)
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle has an anagram theme: each theme entry ends with an anagram of TARPS (which is not in the puzzle, because it's awfully flat.) One of the theme entries is CHIN STRAP, [Part of a football helmet]; I feel better after the Sunday NYT expected me to think of EAR HOLES instead. Favorite clues/entries: [It may get rattled] for CAGE; SOCK HOP; [Where zippers can get caught?] for SPEED TRAPS (as in those who are zipping down the highway); [President who fathered 15 children] for John TYLER (his first wife was disabled by a stroke at 39 and died at 51 during his presidency; he remarried during that same term, to a woman five years younger than his oldest daughter—it's so Jerry Springer!); and [Statement from a ticked-off person] for both I'M SO MAD and THAT'S IT.
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword jeers through the theme, with cartoon blackbirds HECKLE AND JECKLE heckling, ALGER HISS hissing, BOO RADLEY booing (I have a nephew named Atticus, and I like to ride his parents for not naming him Boo), and ALONG FOR THE RIDE including "ride" but not being a person or character (Sally Ride's name is too short to balance the terrific Heckle and Jeckle inclusion). No clues jumped out at me, but the fill had tons of gleam: ZEALOT, XENA the Warrior Princess, PICKS AT food, MOJO crossing the quaint BIJOU, GEOMETRY, and a PIANO above its KEYS.
Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle has a theme that starts out, "Speed Dating went really well last night, but I can't make up my mind," and continues with seven adjectives and two nouns that might be used to jokingly describe people in certain occupations. Fun puzzle! Each of the nine theme entries has its own "aha" moment. The dog catcher was FETCHING and the firefighter was a HOTTIE, but wait, the siren was TEMPTING? Sirens are tempting, but how many sirens are going to Speed Dating? [Potato chips, to Brits] are CRISPS, yes, but there are brands sold as potato chips there. (The best damn salt-free potato chip I ever had was from a chip-maker in England who hand-stirred kettle chips and used "potato chips" on the label, and it's a small company that isn't exporting its chips to the U.S., alas.) Great grid, with those corners of 6x6 words and the stacked 8-letter entries. Favorite clues: [Some generalists, initially] for PCPS (primary care practictioners); ["We've already gone over this"] for YES YES; and [Belt holder] for CHAMP. There's no reason to use "comedienne" rather than "comedian" in [Comedienne Margaret] CHO, though; it's not as if there's another comedian who's a man named Margaret and the puzzle needs to keep the clues easier. I've never heard of CLERC watches; these people must not advertise in Esquire. [Depilatory brand] is NEET; see above. Near-fatal crossing: [Sebadoh's Barlow], _OU, and [___ Soundsystem], _CD. Figured it had to be LOU, and it is. I don't like CITEE, but I like all the entries it crosses.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle ("Where Are They Now?") makes sport of college team names that appear at the end of established phrases. My favorites: [Syracuse graduate in phlebotomy] for BLOOD ORANGE; [Brown graduate in downsizing?] for BAD NEWS BEAR (despite the non-plural answer); and [Oregon graduates in vulcanization] for RUBBER DUCKS. One question: What makes a SHARK a [Spineless predator]? I think it does have a spine, one made of cartilage rather than bone but a spine nonetheless. VAX is clued with reference to some vacuum cleaner brand; anyone else remember using the Vax system to send primitive e-mail in the mid-'80s? Favorite clues: [Hamburger's home?] for HAUS; [NECCO wafer relative] for SMARTIE (I love Smarties—the American version—and demand to know why they're not sold in 3 oz. boxes for movie snacking); [Subject of a sleep study, perhaps] for APNEA (as a sleep medicine editor, I find this clue works beautifully—normally clues for APNEA sound woefully tinny to me); and [Garden of literature] for EDEN (yes!). Out-of-left-field answers: [Dutch astrologer Eisinga] for EISE and [Soap opera veteran Laurence] LAU. Except I just Googled the latter, and wait, I remember him. He was an '80s heartthrob on All My Children and then he took over the Sam part on One Life to Live in the present decade and was so much more handsome than his predecessor.
September 10, 2007