Split Decisions 4:15
A masterful Sunday New York Times crossword from Patrick Berry! As the title, "World Pay," suggests, the theme wordplay involves moving the letter L from one word to another. With the resulting clues nudging the solver towards phrases that don't exist, the theme was a relatively difficult one to piece together. And then, there are 11 of these move-the-L answers to figure out. [Alexander the Great's ambition?] is TO SLAY THE EAST, relocating the L in "to say the least." In the middle, "study hall" becomes [Shakespearean prince who's handsome and muscular?], STUDLY HAL. Off to the side, [Macho beer drinker's outerwear?] is a COAT OF MANLY COORS ("many colors"). The magician might HALVE THE GAL ("have the gall")—that one's among my favorites. "Vinyl siding" yields VINY SLIDING for Tarzan, "flop over" becomes FOP LOVER (and who doesn't love a fop?), "cold cuts" are COD CULTS ([Fish-worshiping groups?], another funny one). "Place your bets" is PACE YOUR BELTS, good advice for drinkers. PLOTTED PANTS grow from "potted plants." [Oil spill?] is, unfortunately, a timely clue given the recent fuel oil spill in the Bay Area; "sleeping sickness" yields SEEPING SLICKNESS, a smooth entry. I don't really know what "fee splitters" are, but I will always FLEE SPITTERS, too. It's amazing that Patrick managed to squeeze in 11 theme entries, and with plenty of unusual fill around them.
What I liked: HECTOR below his last name, BERLIOZ; [Novelist Jamaica] KINCAID; [Flat remover] for TIRE IRON; [Like Kashmir rugs] for ORIENTAL; [Much of Anais Nin's work] for EROTICA (e.g., Delta of Venus and Little Birds); [One of the five stages of grief] for ANGER (I could only think of denial, bargaining, and acceptance); IMPASTO ([Technique involving thickly applied paint]); [Early collaborator with Eastwood] for Sergio LEONE (not Sondra Locke!); [You might hear it going up and down] for MUZAK, a.k.a. elevator music; [Performance that takes a second] for DUET; YODA is the [Little green man]; and [Party to many a civil union] for GAY.
What I didn't like or just plain didn't know: STAYS is clued as [Good news for some prisoners]. Is it really necessary to evoke the topic of execution in a crossword? No, it is not. Ick. I'd never heard of the IRENE who's [One of the Forsytes in "The Forsyte Saga"]. We need more Irenes to get famous now—it's been a while since Irene Cara came onto the scene. SAND-BLIND means [Unable to see much]. Interestingly, it's got nothing to do with sand. The etymology is "[Middle English, from Old English sāmblind : sām-, half + blind, blind." (Does this put you in the mood for a samwich?) OGALLALA is the [Nebraska town, named after an Indian tribe, featured in "Lonesome Dove"]. And MOMUS is the [Greek god of ridicule]—"the god of satire, mockery, censure, writers, poets, a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism." Hey! Momus lives on the internet.
Updated Saturday evening:
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Come On Down!", has nine 21-letter entries running down in the grid (four of them forming two pairs of entries that abut), crossed by one 21-letter Across answer through the middle. That's a lot of thematic density! I believe Merl pioneered this sort of theme, where the long answers contain a string of members of a category (one was a traffic jam puzzle with intersecting highways of auto makes). Here, IT'S RAINING CATS AND DOGS, and the nine vertical long entries contain mainly breeds of cats and dogs (though a CHESHIRE and SCAREDY cat are also included). It's up to the solver to figure out where the breaks between words are located, but fun to suss out letter patterns that point toward a type of dog or cat. Only two of the Across answers don't cross two or more of the theme entries—wee little ELF and TLC cross only one theme entry apiece, and nothing's untouched by theme entries.
Henry Hook's Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle, "Grand Openings," tacks a grand, a thousand, a G onto the start of each theme entry. "Echo chambers" become GECKO CHAMBERS, for example, and "eye droppers," GUY DROPPERS. My favorite was "oddly enough," GODLY ENOUGH ([Suitably pious?]). I was surprised to find an [1840 Poe short story] I didn't know; you can read "MORELLA" online, but you might wish you had those 10 minutes back).
Updated Sunday morning:
This weekend's Washington Post by Patrick Jordan is terrific. In "Fare Game," there are only five theme entries placed into a grid with left/right symmetry, but I didn't notice the shortage of theme answers because the overall cluing and fill were so good, and because the explanation of the four food-related answers up above offers a satisfying "aha" at the bottom: The (EARL OF) SANDWICH, Justice (WARREN) BURGER, (GET INTO A) STEW, and (PRIMORDIAL} SOUP are all USES FOR LEFTOVER TURKEY. My favorite fill clue: [How a sponge may live] for RENT-FREE. [Mr. peanut?] duped me into guessing Jimmy CARTER, who has five letters in common with George Washington CARVER, the intended answer.
Robert Doll's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Fun Food," relies on puns on food. I got off to a dyspeptic start with the banker's LIEN GROUND BEEF; I don't eat red meat, so ground beef isn't remotely appealing. The sailor's NAVAL ORANGE? Much better. And who doesn't like cake? The batter (as in baseball player, not cake batter) likes BUNT CAKE. Also from the bakery: WRY BREAD.
Today's themeless "Sunday Challenge" is from CrosSynergy's Bob Klahn. It's smooth as silk, but a little knotted up in spots. You know how a silk sweater or shirt may have a tag that says the slubs are a natural part of the silk? That's what this is like. If you've done this puzzle and questioned what the PIN was doing in one of the long entries, see here. (I learned it with "penny," and have taught my son the penny version.)
Updated Sunday afternoon:
The second Sunday puzzle in the New York Times is another Split Decisions puzzle. (Can anyone with the print Magazine tell me if this one, like previous Split Decisions offerings, has a George Bredehorn byline?) It seemed awfully easy to me, but there's no way to know if the two spots that were spoiled by NYT forum posts would have vexed me or not. So my solving time may be wind-assisted by those spoilers—but still, I don't think I usually finish a Split Decisions puzzle that quickly.
November 17, 2007