It's time for Thursday puzzles, and this week that means a New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" gem from Karen Tracey. None of the clues particularly tickled me, but look at that fill—JEAN-JACQUES Rousseau's triply Scrabbly name down the middle crosses two 15s (the doubly Scrabbly BOTOX INJECTIONS and conversational "DON'T BE A STRANGER"), which in turn cross the Scrabbly CLIQUIEST and GAZA STRIP. CHEAP DATES, clued as [Walks in the park, perhaps], is an enchanting entry. The [Irish cudgel] called a SHILLELAGH can be counted on to provide a spelling quiz. Ratatouille gets extra attention—IAN Holm voiced a character in the movie, and SQUASH is an ingredient.
In the New York Times, Thursday gets bendy with E. J. Platt. The gimmick in this FALLING STARS puzzle is that that phrase and five stars' names fall at the end, making a turn downward to finish their run in the crossing entry. The theme begins with [People's 2006 Sexiest Man Alive] GEORGE CLOO continuing down in PHONEY (who knew phoney/phony was derived from an Irish word?). MEG R hooks into BRYAN; REX HARRIS turns to a MASON; BEN STILLE is completed by BEER; and BRAN smacks into INDY. Toughest answers: [Cage for hawks] for MEW; [French dream] for REVE (if you don't know French—presumably etymologically related to reverie); [Like many cared-for lawns] for LIMED. Favorite clues: [Any one of a trio of Hollywood sisters] for GABOR (Zsa Zsa, Eva, and oft-overlooked Magda); [Big exporter of coconut cream and coconut oil] for SAMOA (did you know that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's grandfather was a Samoan wrestler?); [City with una torre pendente] for PISA; [Robes, tiara, etc.] for REGALIA; [South side?] for GRAY; and [Most are 3, 4 or 5] for PARS.
Barry Silk's LA Times puzzle hides the clue for four long theme answers in the 4-letter word at 72-Across—all four are different meanings of the word CELL. What I liked about the fill: That little section up top that contained three Zs, plus AZIMUTH elsewhere with another Z, and an X on the other side of the grid. Favorite clue: [Clinton opponent] for OBAMA—a time-limited clue, as it's valid only through primary season in a few months, but I like its timeliness.
Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle skews super-literal. The theme entries in "On the Strip" are phrases that start with words that can follow strip, and in all four cases, the "strip ___" phrase does not change the sense of the added word. STRIP STEAK is meat, and STEAK TARTARE is meat. A POKER FACE relates to the game of poker, one variety of which is STRIP POKER. (Hey, how come Cinemax doesn't televise strip poker tournaments?)
October 10, 2007