Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke play with baby animals in their New York Times puzzle. I like the lively assortment of phrases starting with the wee beasties: CALF MUSCLES and CHICK FLICKS, JOEY LAWRENCE and a COLT REVOLVER. The fill shines with HUMBLE PIE ([It's embarrassing to eat]) and a LOQUAT (the [Plumlike Chinese fruit]), CATNIP and KNEEBONE, NERVOUSLY and WHISTLES. It's also got an "ick" subtheme, with ICKY, CHICK FLICKS, and [Clinton advisor Harold] ICKES (whose father, Harold L. Ickes, was in FDR's cabinet). What the heck is a Z BAR ([Letter-shaped beam])? It's this. Old-school crossword answers make up the peanut butter binding together all the multigrain bread goodness in the fill and theme: you've got your LEAS, Mortimer SNERD, OMOO, LIEF (one of my favorite words that date back to Old English), YMA Sumac, polluter ALCOA, a Turkish BEY, ILIA ([Pelvic bones]), [Mother-of-pearl] NACRE, and the most prominent composer in crosswords, Thomas ARNE. I learned most of those words and names from crosswords. They're not as E-heavy as the worst of the crossword regulars—words like EKE, ERE, ERIE, EERIE, EEN, EER, and ENE—and I'm feeling fond of them today.
The toughest clue, for me, was geographic in nature: [Land on the end of a peninsula] sounded like it should be a generic term, but it turned out to be OMAN at the tip of the giant Arabian Peninsula. If you grumbled at SAAB being clued with [Fashion designer Elie] rather than the car, remember that it was the Lebanese designer Elie Saab who made the fabulous gown Halle Berry wore when she won the Oscar:
For the New York Sun, Alan Arbesfeld crafted "New York Minute." A minute is a unit of time, so this puzzle puts TIMES SQUARE in the center and fills the four corners with...time squares. Each corner square contains another unit of time: [WEEK], [DAY], [HOUR], and [YEAR] each serve as the beginning or end of the two answers intersecting at the corners. I had to look up COMMON [YEAR]—that's a year that is not a leap year and thus has 365 days (did you know that a common year is one day longer than 52 weeks?). Favorite clues: [First place?] for the ONES place; [Part of a chorus line?] for TRA (la la); [Crowd control?] for MOB RULE (also called ochlocracy—shouldn't being ruled by the clock be called oclockracy?); ["War cannot for a single minute be separated from politics" speaker] for MAO; [Nice compliment] for TRES BIEN (Nice, France—not merely nice)' and [Dog "house"] for hot dog BUN. Fill I liked best: POP TOP and QUARTETS. Obscurish river of the day: the WESER in northern Germany.
Nancy Salomon collects six phrases (occupying 66 squares in all) that mean "Cool it!" in her CrosSynergy puzzle. A few quick reactions while solving: First, rare isn't a noun, so how can [Steak orders] be RARES? (Granted, fill options are constrained for a space between two theme entries, but still.) UTERI is clued as [Egg holders], but the uterus doesn't hold eggs, the ovaries do. In humans, it is only after fertilization that a fertilized egg travels to the uterus, implants in the uterine wall, and develops into an embryo and then a fetus. (And in birds, the fertilized egg spends up to 20 hours in the uterus before the bird lays the egg and incubates it for weeks.) Do you think of Fido as a name for a female dog, or is it a male name? [Fix Fido] clues SPAY, and spaying is strictly for females.
Fred Jackson III's LA Times puzzle contains four phrases that end with words that fit the "SMART ___" model. The [Simple homemade radio], CRYSTAL SET, didn't resonate with me, and I've never called paper money FOLDING MONEY. I did like GREETING CARD—I was just looking at a display of Hallmark cards with sound. Omigod! Those cards are fun! Horrifying in their aural assault, but fun. I was sorely tempted to buy a handful of $4.99 cards just to be able to mail the Village People's "YMCA" or Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to someone. Or the super-schmaltzy Rex Smith song, "You Take My Breath Away," which I loved in my early adolescence. The music cards were so wonderfully lowbrow, I wanted them all. The last theme entry was CHERRY BOMB, which is a great phrase but is a terrible thing to throw through the air into a crowd (I have a scar to prove it).
September 18, 2007