The worst thing I can say about Fred Piscop's New York Times crossword is that PANATELA, or [Slender cigar], is rather fancy for a Monday puzzle, though all eight of its crossings are fair. The best thing I can say about it is that the theme is interesting and feels fresh, there's a smattering of longer fill answers, and some clues skew in a new way. (Okay, that's at least three things.) The foursome of theme entries split -ATION words into two parts to create fake phrases. The process of carbonation is boring (but has such delightfully fizzy results if you like pop), but break that open into a CARBO NATION, or a [Pasta- and potato-loving country]. I can't believe that hasn't been used as the title of a screed against carbs (which I love). a GENE RATION's an [Allotment of heredity units?]. 1-Across and 1-Down are for smokers and drinkers, with LIT UP crossing LAGER. Now, I don't consider a LAGER a [Hearty brew] compared with, say, a brown ale or a dark beer, but I suppose even a crappy Bud Light is heartier than a brewed cup of tea. I like [Milk for all it's worth] as a clue for USE; SEAHORSE, TAN LINES, MAJORED IN, and STONE AGE; [Furrowed part of the head] for BROW (am envisioning a furrowed skull instead, and it's not a good look!); and [Stewed to the gills] for BLOTTO. I had trouble parsing the clue for LIVES A LIE; [Is false to the world] doesn't really use familiar phrasing, but I suppose the Times crossword isn't ready to venture into talking about, say, closeted gay men with wives who cruise public bathrooms for anonymous sex. Speaking of sex, [Rooters] is a funny clue for FANS if you've heard what "root" is Australian slang for.
Pete Mitchell's New York Sun crossword, "Five of Clubs," fills the golf cart with five clubs: a TAXI DRIVER, FLYING WEDGE, KERRY WOOD, CURLING IRON, and SHOT PUTTER. Throw in an octet of 7-letter fill and a pair of 10s, and it's mighty fancy Monday fill. Favorite entries: The old TV show THE FBI; ED ASNER; ROXANNE clued with a line from the Police song; and architect Frank GEHRY. GATO's clue, [Chihuahua cat], put me in mind of the cartoon chihuahua Ren and his pudgy kitty pal, Stimpy—so it pleased me no end to find REN, the [Toon pal of Stimpy], further down in the grid. [Rev.'s rev.] for FWD looks weird. It looks just as weird on my DVD remote, where the rewind key is labeled REV and the fast-forward key is FWD. What happened to REW and FF? Are those, like, so 20th century?
I usually don't care so much for themes that feature phrases that begin and end with halves of the same word, but Paula Gamache spruces up the idea in her CrosSynergy crossword, "Supernova," by tying them together with a purpose. Phrases that begin with ST and end with AR? (E.g., STEEL GUITAR, STOP THE CAR,) By themselves, boring. Highlight the EXPLODING STAR in each, though, and the puzzle gains a reason for being. Favorite fill entries: THE BRONX, WEBSTER, ORVILLE Redenbacher, and NON-PC ([Like a sexist joke, briefly]).
Nancy Salomon's LA Times crossword is light on theme density (41 squares), but rich in fill. The theme, while small, is a tight one: "NO PAIN, NO GAIN," "NO GUTS, NO GLORY," and "NO HARM, NO FOUL" are tied together by NO-NOS crossing the center. Fill highlights: a STANDING O, SILAS MARNER, HOI POLLOI, IN GOOD SHAPE, and Damien: OMEN II.
October 28, 2007