The New York Times puzzle for the day comes from Alan Arbesfeld's mind. It's got four theme entries explained by a fifth long entry, FINISH STRONG: the other four start with "strong___" words. The vague "is it a verb or a noun or an adjective?" [Smash] clues BOX OFFICE HIT (strongbox). [Athlete seated at a table] amuses me, because does anyone really classify an ARM-WRESTLER as a jock? [Advice to a Harley passenger] is HOLD ON TIGHT (vs. the 38 Special song, "Hold On Loosely")—did I mention the motorcycle passenger we saw in Florida who was reading a book rather than holding on tight? Kee-razy. Speaking of kee-razy in all its Scrabbly glory, this puzzle has plenty of XZJK action. That even tricked me into moving KERRY into Northern Ireland, when the [County near Tyrone] is DERRY (or Londonderry, if you're U.K.-allied), home of the famous Walls of Derry, but fortunately, A Fish Called WANDA rescued me (a fish called WANKA? er, no).
Gary Steinmehl's New York Sun puzzle is called "Twist Endings" because the five theme entries running vertically in this 15x16 grid all have their final word "twisted," or reversed. Paint pots get flipped to be PAINT STOP, which'd be equivalent to the verb phrase, [Work on an octagonal sign?]. The best of the theme entries is the long one in the middle: GREASY SNOOPS. Nobody likes a greasy snoop! Speaking of greasy, the fill includes a CHILI DOG, along with other goodies like PUP TENT, BAND-AID (clued as [Temporary solution], which I like but which the corporate trademark defenders would bristle at), SELA WARD getting the first/last name treatment, CARTOONY, and D-CUP ([Big supporter], ha!). I hit a deadly crossing where the [Flash memory forerunner] met the [Alternative name for hopscotch] (it's EP-ROM and POTSY). Other favorite clues: [Foreign tender?] for an AU PAIR tending children; [Clink preceder] for TOAST; the so-old-fashioned-I've-never-heard-of-it [Accroaches] for USURPS; [Street walker, briefly] for PED; [Color similar to cranberry] for GARNET (at last! A Peter Gordon color clue that didn't mess me up!); and [Short and not sweet] for CURT. Anyone know why [E&M unit] is AMP? And can we quit cluing ECRU as [Hosiery hue]? The closest match I could find was sock liners. Ecru is still a fashion color, but not so much in the pantyhose arena.
The first two theme entries in Nancy Kavanaugh's LA Times crossword began with BEAN and FLEA, so I surmised that the theme was "jumping ___." There's no jumping air or jumping sand that I'm aware of, though, and the helper entry in smack-dab in the center of the grid is BAG (bean bag, etc.). A-ha! I enjoyed many of the clues. [Reasons for madness, in a now-cult 1936 film] is REEFERS...which could also be the answer to [College bud] (ROOMIE), now that I think about it. GONDOLAS are [Ski slope sights] and the clue's not particularly remarkable, but three years ago, our summer vacation involved plenty of gondola rides up the mountain at Vail (I'm not a skier, so I thought August was the perfect time to visit my sister-in-law in Vail—and then there were wild strawberries in a field of wildflowers atop the mountain). Other clues I liked: [It may be hard to swallow] for TALE (I had _ALE for the longest time); [Sci-fi craft] for UFOS (the other day, a couple commenters at Rex's blog questioned the plural answer for a "craft" clue—of course, disguised plurals are one of the tricks constructors like to pull); [Coming-out places?] for CLOSETS; and [Vault cracker] for YEGG (I like this word for safecracker—its etymology isn't clear, but it appears to be about 100 years old); yegg sounds like an old word to me, but then, safes aren't even 200 years old). Some of the Scrabbly fill I appreciated: IBIZA, CINQ, KWAI, EX-WIFE. Is HERALDRY a [Coat-of-arms science]? I wouldn't use "science" to describe a nonscientific area of study like this, but I believe the dictionary supports the usage.
Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Go On at Lengths," tips off the theme in the title: the theme entries end with plurals of units of length. I like TWO LEFT FEET and CAMDEN YARDS—more zing than SYLVIA MILES (somewhat before my time) and a LIGHT METER. Anyone who has enjoyed SpongeBob SquarePants has a fondness for the BARNACLE, particularly in the plural expletive form, "Barnacles!" If you're trying to quit cursing, see if "Barnacles!" makes a suitable substitute.
September 11, 2007