You know what? I'm finding Merv Griffin's Crosswords to be a lot more fun to watch now that I know how it all comes together in the studio. The stride down the Plexiglas ramp, what you can't see behind and above and in front of the set, how soft the podium padding is, how much time the fivesome of contestants have spent together before taping, what shade of green the green room's walls are, what the contestants can see if they're looking in a particular direction—all that stuff. And I learned things that more observant viewers have already figured out, such as that the Crossword Extra clues come when there are about two minutes left in a round.
The New York Times crossword is by Joe Krozel, and it had me coming and going. The theme entries are palindromes: MUST SAVE VAST SUM and AERATE PIPET AREA fit into 15-letter swaths, whereas the middle entry spans two swaths, PAGE GAWKS AT / TASK WAGE GAP. I like that last one the best. I found it a little disappointing, though, that the palindrome aspect was given away in the clues. It would have been a much harder puzzle (and for me, tougher = good!) without that hint, and the "aha" moment when the solver starts piecing things together and sees the reversed letter pattern would've been a great payoff. With the hint, any letters that were filled in in the theme entries could automatically be copied over to the other end of the answer. There were a number of answers nobody's excited to see (ALETA, ESSE, ERNE, TET), but there were also terrific entries like SIDE BETS ([Extra winning opportunity]), LOSE A TURN ([Unlucky board game square]), HAS-BEEN ([Star no more]), FROM A TO Z ([Completely]), IS THAT SO crossing I GUESS, the BIG TEN ([Michigan is in it]—though I would have liked it to be BIG BEN crossing BRIO instead), and other phrases including STARE AT, IN SESSION, STOP IN, WEAR ON, and LET BE. And BESOT! I love BESOT. It means [Intoxicate], and besotted and smitten are both such cool words.
Francis Heaney's New York Sun puzzle, "A Study in Scarlet," took me a supra-Thursdayish amount of time to finish, in terms of filling in the squares. Then I spent a few more minutes following the instruction given in 18-Down: COLORED IN is [What each instance of 36-Across should be]. Little 36-Across is RED, and the clues for the longest entries reference 36-Across and all have something to do with RED. If you scan the grid word-search style, you'll find eight RED instances, which are to be COLORED IN. Those colored-in squares form, roughly, a big letter A that's 10 rows tall and nine rows wide. That big scarlet A has left-right symmetry, even though the grid's pattern of black squares has 180° rotational symmetry. And for an extra fillip, HESTER / PRYNNE occupies opposite corners of the puzzle, tying it all together as a play on Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Toss in answers like PRINGLES, a KOOSH ball, and a BAD COP and clues like [Cheesecake pieces?] for GAMS and [Italian word that becomes English after deleting its third, fourth, and fifth letters] for SIGNOR (which becomes SIR without those three letters)—and I'm a happy camper. I like that the gimmick was completely unnecessary to discover in the course of solving, so the extra level of the puzzle remained to be enjoyed after the main solving was over.
Patrick Jordan goes green in his CrosSynergy puzzle, "Growing Places." The theme entries start with places to grow plants—NURSERY (SCHOOL), GARDEN (CITY), baseball's FARM (SYSTEM), and GREENHOUSE (GAS). GARDEN CITY doesn't resonate with me at all—let's Google it up. Ah, it's in the dictionary as an established term that dates back more than a century. (Learned something new.) Favorite clue: [Modern subculture that's fascinated by morbidity] for GOTHS. I gotta tell you, that's not remotely my cup of tea.
Timothy Meaker's LA Times puzzle gave up its theme with the first theme entry I filled in. CHEATING PAD certainly looked like C + heating pad, and it was, so the other four were fairly easy to puzzle out. The one that made me smile: [Rowboat that's put on weight?] for CHUNKY DORY. My favorite clue: [Bar worker] for LAWYER, because I expended mental energy thinking about bartenders and waitresses and not attorneys.
November 14, 2007