So: Cranky, but not because of Trip Payne's New York Times crossword. In the "Two Out of Three" theme, the theme entries are sentences or phrases made of 3-letter words with the same first two letters. We get ROB ROY ROT, MAD MAX MAN MAY MAR MAT, BIG BIC BIZ BIO, FOE FOR FOX, HAG HAS HAY HAT, SAD SAM SAW SAL SAY SAX, PUG PUP PUN, DIP DID DIG DIN, and ADD ADZ ADS ADO. Did you find this fun? I kinda didn't. I filled in the repeated letters by rote, and didn't spend much time puzzling out the theme answers based on the clues. If there is an extra layer that I've missed, please fill me in. Shiniest fill: BUTTON-FLY jeans and the U.S.S. ALASKA. Favorite clues: Uh, I don't know. All I have is a screen capture of the finished puzzle, and I'm in no mood to re-solve the puzzle to see the clues in context.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle, "National Anthems," puns on song titles by warping part of the title into a country name. The results are mixed. Rick James' "Superfreak" is always ripe fodder for crosswords, but SUPERGREEK diverges from the other theme entries by including an adjective rather than the name of a country, as in the rest of the entries. The gimmick works better with the country names, if you ask me: "Who'll Stop the Rain" becomes WHO'LL STOP BAHRAIN; "Clementine," YEMENTINE; "Danny Boy," SUDANNY BOY; "Blowin' in the Wind," BLOWIN' INDIA WIND; "Daydream Believer," DAYDREAM BOLIVIA; "It's Too Late" (which I'd never heard of, but when I Googled up the video, my husband came over, asked to see the video, and pronounced the song a '70s classic), IT'S KUWAIT; "The Thrill Is Gone," THE THRILL IS GHANA. It must've been challenging to find song titles that lent themselves to fake national anthemizing—I particularly like the rah-rah nature of the Bahrain and Ghana titles. Two total "huh?" answers in here—THULE is a [Remote land, to Pliny], not just a brand of rooftop bike racks, and Virginia is home to the LURAY Caverns.
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Redefining the Game," is packed with football terms clued in unrelated contexts. Hey! Whaddaya know? This puzzle was pretty easy, even though several of the football terms are only vaguely in my ken. The funniest one: [Get rid of unwanted hair, cat-style?] for COUGH UP THE BALL. Ah, hairball humor! That never goes out of style.
Robert Doll's Washington Post puzzle, "Group Think," reclues phrases that end with words that double as collective nouns. This one felt rather dry to me—DEVELOPED LOT isn't a partcicularly zippy phrase in and of itself, and cluing it as [Mature group?] doesn't ramp up the humor level. Similarly, DRY BATTERY and [Sober group?] don't sing.
Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle has triple-stacked 15-letter entries at the top and bottom of the grid. The cluing was fairly straightforward and not so tough—except for that phrase I've never heard of at 59-Across, OF THE FIRST WATER. That last R crossed ERGS, which would be easy with a clue referring to the unit of energy. But [Sahara Desert areas]? Yes, dune fields are ERGS, too. [Eccentric] could plausibly be FUNKY rather than FLAKY, and the [Medical suffix] is a toss-up between ITIS and OSIS. Gnarly little corner there...
Gail Grabowski's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Bar Exam," has a clean theme that's been done before: phrases ending with soap brand names. I don't mind the thematic rehash in the least—there are so many soap brands and so many phrases to choose from that you get a fresh batch of suds. My favorite theme answers were ORANGE ZEST (I am all about the Orange zestiness!), MOLTEN LAVA (my kid digs volcanoes, and who doesn't enjoy geology? I read John McPhee's Basin and Range years before I took Intro to Geology and loved it), and DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL. TVs and phones don't typically have round dials any more, but I think the "dial" references will continue until today's 40-year-olds have become extinct. Aside from the theme, good fill, good clues, good times.
November 24, 2007