Chuck Deodene's New York Times puzzle livens up the "three phrases that mean the same thing" theme by choosing three phrases that sound natural and casual when spoken: NO NEED TO THANK ME, GLAD TO BE OF / ASSISTANCE, and IT WAS MY PLEASURE. Better still is the quality of the fill. Every time a clue refers to something like [Small jobs for a body shop], I write D*N*S, hoping it'll be DINGS and typically disappointed that it's DENTS, when DINGS is a much more fun word. And this time, it was DINGS—hooray! Plenty of big-ticket letters, too: ZONED crossing NIKE and ZSA ZSA, who crosses COZIEST, GALAXY crossing the lovely EXPATS, the great SQUAB/CLIQUE meeting, JABS and JOHNS. The clues and answers I liked best: [Inane] for DUMB (nice to get inane out of the grid for a change); the vague [Beam] for SMILE; [Jazz dance] for STOMP; [Vice squad arrestees, perhaps] for JOHNS; the lovely [Perturbation] for ALARM; [Philosophy of bare existence?] for NUDISM; [Spode ensembles] for TEA SETS; [St. Andrew's Day observer] for SCOT; B-TEAM (in lieu of the more common—and more skilled—A-TEAM); SATCHMO; [It's repellent] for insect repellent DEET; the EXPATS in PARIS cross-reference; STELLA Artois beer; SAYS YES; [¢] for CENT (the poor cents symbol, exiled from the computer keyboard in favor of ^ above the 6); and [Fierce type, astrologically] for LEO (yeah, that's right: the Fiend is fierce). I hear from Harris Ruben that [Clipper's sheet] is a technically inaccurate clue for SAIL (a "sheet" is a rope to aficionados), but I can't imagine anyone who's not into sailing or clipper ships would object. Why the hell would anyone call a rope a "sheet"? Why, that makes no sense at all!
The New York Sun puzzle by Trip Payne (whose Wordplay line about the letter Q appears in Pat Merrell's cartoon) is called "How's That Again?" and it toys with typography. [OTTAWA] is an UPPERCASE CAPITAL, or a capital city in capital letters. [G r o g g y] is SPACED-OUT DAZED, again bundling two synonyms. [Intrepid] is BOLD COURAGEOUS. It's an inventive theme, but it didn't quite click for me. 1-Across made me laugh because mere seconds before reading the clue [Hairball sufferer], I had coughed—and it was not unlike the hairball sound, frankly. Favorite clues that do not pertain to my health: [Apply concealer, for example] for DAB (a spot-on makeup clue for a change); [Architect born in Canton] for I.M. PEI (Canton, China, is now called Guangzhou—though at first I was surprised to find Pei was a native Ohioan); [Liberal foil of Archie] for MAUDE; ["Conjunction Junction" conjunction] for NOR (watch the Schoolhouse Rock video here); [Contest at the bar?] for LIMBO; [They ring rings] for the ROPES of a boxing ring; and [Category in the game Careers] for FAME. Careers! I loved that board game (1979 edition). Other fill centerpieces I admired included HE'S A REBEL, EYE COLOR, and BABY TOOTH.
Updated Monday night:
It's Matt Jones's turn in the Onion A.V. Club, and his crossword theme requires me to call on the Urban Dictionary for support. [Redundant term for money, to 50 Cent?] is CHEDDAR CHEESE? Wha? Let's see: cheddar means money and cheese also means money. The other slang-dependent theme entries were more accessible to me: [Chick magnet vehicle, to Richard Pryor?] is MACK TRUCK. Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton's referenced for HOOD ORNAMENTS. [Soreness from a smoker's cough, to Dr. Dre?] is CHRONIC PAIN—chronic = marijuana, and Dre's first album was called The Chronic. Crib = home (as in the MTV series featuring celebrity abodes), so CRIB NOTES are Ludacris's musical notes written at home. Hey! There's another UMA, ["Fox News Live" host Pemmaraju]
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Sayin' Policy," muddles up spellings by changing words in the theme entries to words that sound about the same, all including a long A sound. I dunno, I don't pronounce BAYER and BEAR the same way. Best entries: IRS AUDIT, DON'T STOP, DR. EVIL, HEARSAY evidence. Favorite clue: [Like some legal systems] for ISLAMIC. Single most mystifying, need-every-crossing answer: the shoot-'em-up arcade game ZAXXON. Never heard of it! Though the screen shot included in the Wikipedia article looks awfully familiar, so maybe I did play that on my friend's ColecoVision.
Patrick Jordan groups three "High Points" in his CrosSynergy puzzle: CREST TOOTHPASTE, SUMMIT MEETING, and PEAK PERFORMANCE. With 21 6- to 8-letter entries in the fill, this puzzle's a crisp cruciverbal snack.
Last but not least, a Tuesday puzzle that's actually keyed to Tuesday-level difficulty. (The NYT felt like a Wednesday today.) Timothy Meaker's LA Times crossword is easy, but the overall easiness didn't impede my enjoyment of the puzzle. (That sounds backwards, doesn't it? What can I say? I like 'em gnarly.) The theme entries are noun phrases that start with a famous last name, so [Where Billy debuted?] is a CRYSTAL BALL, and [Sean's radiofrequency?] is PENN STATION. Tim ALLEN WRENCH and Tori SPELLING BEE co-star. Nice fill, a light touch with the clues—fun crossword. I learned one new name, thanks to easy crossings: TAMMI [Terrell who sang with Marvin Gaye]. Oh, how sad! She died at age 24 of a brain tumor when I was 3, which may explain my unfamiliarity with her name.
September 17, 2007