September 04, 2007

Wednesday, 9/5

LAT 4:17
NYS 4:06
NYT 3:38
CS 3:30

Hey, can anyone recommend a good online thesaurus? I have this old book, The Synonym Finder, and love it—but it's old. (It's got all these kooky, great words marked as slang or informal. For example, under "terrific," we get words like splendid and smashing along with the Australian bonzer, the unusual superexcellent, and the slang marvy.) I also own Random House Webster's Word Menu, but it's categorized rather than alphabetical, and there's nothing like the alphabet for homing in quickly on the word you need. I have been underwhelmed by any online offerings of synonyms I've seen, but there must be something out there on the internet that's nearly as good as Rodale's Synonym Finder.

The New York Sun puzzle by Patrick Berry is, well, superexcellent. Not every single word in the grid is wonderful, but the "Reinitializing the Program" theme entries are spot on. If you scrupulously avoid watching TV, you might not enjoy the theme, but the rest of us will. Each theme entry's a TV show whose title includes a 2- or 3-letter abbreviation, in which the final letter of the abbreviation has been changed to drastically alter the show's concept. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker had their show, The PTL Club; here, THE PTA CLUB is a [Program hosted by a televangelist who's raising money for a school play?]. Tom Selleck's P.I. becomes a gym teacher in MAGNUM PE. That forensics show set in South Florida picks up Civil War reenactors and becomes CSA MIAMI. Don Rickles' Navy guy gives financial advice on CPA SHARKEY. There are two more theme entries running vertically: DATELINE NBA with [investigative journalists who can dunk?] and MAYBERRY RFK going all civil-rightsy. Six theme entries, six solid "aha" moments, six rewards for appreciating pop culture. Based on the theme, this puppy's going into my "great puzzles" folder.

Outside of the theme, I also got a charge out of the fill and clues. PIA ZADORA and LORI PETTY, usually consigned to [___ Zadora] or [___ Petty] clues, get the full name treatment. There were other long entries, too, such as the lovely EPHEMERAL and a BETE NOIRE. My favorite clues: [It beats rock] for PAPER (Rock, Paper, Scissors); [Gray area?] for DIXIE and [Enemies of the men in blue?] for REBS (gray = South, blue = North, and both tie to CSA MIAMI); [Sharp-set] for EAGER; the unknown-to-me [Chaudfroid glaze] for ASPIC (here's a gross-sounding recipe); and [Case worker?] for GUMSHOE (evoking Magnum P.I.). I even like having good ol' SOU in the puzzle, clued as [Paltry sum]; anyone else tempted to work "not worth a sou" into conversation?

You know that list of "humorous" observations that your relatives over the age of 55 like to forward via e-mail? (And always with a zillion >>>>>>>forwarding marks, and an embedded "Read these they are funny!" from several forwardings ago?) The theme in Richard Silvestri's New York Times puzzle is a quip from that list: IF VEGETARIANS EAT / VEGETABLES, WHAT DO / HUMANITARIANS EAT? Please, constructors: Do not scroll through the list counting the number of letters in all the other observations. On Sunday, I did another Silvestri puzzle, this one from the American Airlines in-flight magazine. The "Actual Labels" theme was ridiculous warnings from actual product labels, and that theme was (1) hilarious and (2) not included in the forwarded e-mails my aunts and uncles like to send along. My husband and son enjoyed the "Actual Labels" theme entries, too. My husband even worked his own copy of the puzzle, though he normally doesn't do crosswords much. He tried to finish before landing; I always strive to finish before takeoff.


Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke pay homage to the late HEAD COACH of the NINERS, BILL WALSH, in their CrosSynergy puzzle. In the fill, AUSTERE was clued as [Like Spartan living]—I can't help but envision a magazine called Spartan Living. Printed on newsprint in black and white. Going far beyond Real Simple in its focus on the simple life. Cover stories: "Build Your New Hut in a Single Day." "Indoor Plumbing: Necessity or Wasteful Extravagance?"

Joy Frank's LA Times crossword includes four phrases that start with WHEEL types: SPINNING CLASS, spinning wheel; PADDLE TENNIS, paddlewheel; POTTER'S FIELD, potter's wheel; and FERRIS BUELLER, [1986 movie truant], Ferris wheel. At first I thought Ferris Bueller and Harry Potter were involved here, but no. 6-Down was [Licorice-flavored liqueur], so I filledin PASTIS. Alas, I needed PERNOD. But look! The libation called Pernod is a brand of pastis. I will never, ever knowingly eat or drink anything that's licorice-flavored, so I need to keep up with the drinks on my no-fly list.