CHE 4:33 (download here—I loved this puzzle)
Yeesh. Talk about your mixed feelings. Dave Sullivan's New York Sun puzzle, "Endnotes," is one of those tough Friday Sun puzzles packed with unusual fill and clues that offer a good mental workout. Those are good things. Alas, the theme is one of those musical themes custom-made to vex me because I don't know jack about notes and whatnot. I know what Tortilla Flat is, and the crossing entries morphed that into TORTILLGSHARP, so I presume that A flat and G sharp are equivalent. The central theme entry is THFFLAT, with a clue that says, [Film with a bat named Wonderboy]. After finishing the puzzle, I Googled "the sharp" wonderboy because I haven't a clue what F flat is also called. (Robert Redford, The Natural. Oh.) The third theme entry killed me because I had no idea who was the [Singer of the 1962 hit "Mashed Potato Time"]—I even broke down and Googled while solving, which I only resort to about once a year. I have only the vaguest sense that a natural means something musically, so it still took a while to flesh out DEEDEFN into DEEDEFNATURAL. Gah!
That lower right corner fought me tooth and nail, too. Didn't know the last letter of the [Spanish digraph] ELL* (ELLE, it turns out), or the rest of AC***, the [Old "Precision crafted performance" sloganeer] (ACURA), and couldn't guess the 7-letter VW without a starting letter (EUROVAN), and the Perry Como title (PAPA), nada, and the Irish county (there are seven of them with 5-letter names—here, it's CLARE), and the [Patient of Dr. Zook] (HAGAR—from the comic strip?), nada, and the vague Down clues of [Big] (POPULAR) and [Fair] (AVERAGE), nada. I mean, eventually it all came together, but ouch. The journey left me bruised.
Favorite clues: [Aquarium favorite] for SEA LIONS (not for your household aquarium); [Rank] for NASTY; [Flower bud?] for BAMBI (Bambi's skunk friend was named Flower); [Start of an annual request] for DEAR SANTA; [Start of a few choice words?] for EENY; [Alexandra, once] for CZARINA (with crosswords usually defaulting to the less common spelling TSAR just because those four letters are all common ones, I'm always pleased to see czar action); [Subject of some searches] for TALENT; [Operating expenses] for NUT (Who says that??); [Powers, e.g.] for SPY, as in Austin Powers, I presume; [Bush succeeded him] for MONDALE; ["Ghosts Can't Do It" actress] for BO DEREK (terrific crossword entry, but what on earth is that movie? Sounds awful!); [Like the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat] for PAN-ARAB; and [Pair that might elicit a "Nice rack!"] for ANTLERS (forehead smack!).
On the bright side, a smackdown like that (and if you know your musical terminology, perhaps you thought Dave's Sun puzzle was a breeze rather than a smackdown) makes Mike Nothnagel's Friday New York Times seem much more pliable. One particularly fresh-as-a-daisy entry is SCOUT'S HONOR ([Swear words?]). The many I spots hang together—ICICLE ([Totally unemotional]), ICARUS ([He died soon after escaping from Crete]), IRS AUDIT ([Tax burden?]), I BEFORE E ([Rule broken in leisure?]), and the butterfly's EYESPOT. Other faves: ["Not possible"] for CAN'T BE and the [Informal demurral] NOPE; [It might go off during a 30-Across], or STORM, for CAR ALARM; the horribly misleading [2000 Olympics host] COSTAS (Bob Costas the TV host, not a host city); X words like PIXIES and X COORDINATE; [Further out of the woods?] for SAFER; the TREE FORT; CRIMES SCENES as the place [Where many prints may be found] (anyone else thinking of art galleries?); OFTTIMES with that implausible FTT string; the cross-referenced NCAA with ACC, and RC COLA (["Great taste since 1905" sloganeer]) with SODAPOP; and [Flying predators of cold sease] for SKUAS (there was a penguin-menacing skua in the cartoon Happy Feet. An enjoyable crossword...and one that did not rob me of my sense of crossword mastery!
I loved Ed Sessa's 9/28 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Haven't You Heard?" The theme entries are examples of ONOMATOPOEIA, and if you think that's tricky to spell, you should try Jonathan Swift's race of horses from Gulliver's Travels. Another of the onomatopoeic entries is a bird whose name imitates the sound it makes—my kid has a book with recordings of bird songs, including this one's. Some of my favorite clues/answers: [Grown-up doodlebug] for ANTLION; [King of O] for GAYLE (Oprah's friend Gayle King); lowbrow PAT from Saturday Night Live crossing canonical Anna KARENINA; and the delightfully little-known MOREEN, an [Upholstery fabric] (you can see it used to restore an antique chair here).
The LA Times puzzle by Dan Naddor is also a hoot. The theme entries are presented in such a way that a word is deleted and instead represented, picture-puzzle style, by the placement of the entries. Wow, that explanation isn't clear at all, is it? An example will help: 20-Across says [With 18-Across, be unsportsmanlike, literally]. The answer is "hit below the belt," so 18-Across is THE BELT and 20-Across, parked right below, is HIT. The foursome includes representations of above, below, over, and under, and the words in the grid appear in symmetrical spots. Fun gimmick/game!
Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle this week is an unthemed crossword. Yay! I love a surprise themeless attack. Lots of fresh language, like SONICS FANS and a [Short distance in the city], HALF A BLOCK (that is how far I live from Lake Shore Drive, so it definitely is an "in the language" unit of measure for me!). Funniest clue: [Make the carpet match the drapes, say] for COORDINATE.
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Jailhouse Bloc," presents a trio of theme entries ending with words that can also mean "jail." Very easy crossword. Seeing the Joan Collins character ALEXIS in the grid reminds me—yesterday I volunteered in Ben's second-grade classroom, helping the kids with their writing projects. One girl's name is Alexxsys, and I hope she someday becomes famous because I would love to see that name in a crossword!
Moving to the Sunday-sized Wall Street Journal crossword, "A Chorus Line," Liz Gorski ponies up 21 rebus squares in a row, straight across the center row. (She's done this before, with ANTs marching across a crossword in a Simon & Schuster book.) Not satisfied by having 21 crossing answers containing the 2-letter rebus, Liz also includes four thematic answers near the top and bottom of the grid (two 8s, two 12s). Well done!
October 11, 2007