Ah, I like Thursdays. Tuesday is good, because that's when the Onion A.V. Club and Ben Tausig puzzles come out and offer a safe haven from easy puzzles. Wednesday feels rather like another Monday. And Thursday is when the thinking cap comes off the hat rack. (I don't really have a hat rack, but if I did, I would definitely hang my thinking cap there.)
First up, Liz Gorski's New York Times crossword, a classic rebus puzzle. Only not so classic, because the rebus squares are plunked in the corners of the grid, and the explanatory entry isn't in the middle or at the very bottom. But then again, classic, because it's classic Gorski. In 2000 (10/28), she had a Saturday NYT [CORNER] rebus puzzle with AMEN [CORNER] being one entry. And today, she's got an [AMEN] rebus puzzle with [AMEN] CORNERS. Even though it's Thursday and I should have been rebusically suspicious, I wasn't, and all four corners were the last to fall. I even figured that TUTANKHA crossing MILITIA made perfect sense. Eventually, the [AMEN] corners asserted themselves. The rebus pairs are [AMEN] TO THAT/[AMEN] CORNERS, CAMER[AMEN]/[AMEN]DS, TUTANKH[AMEN]/MILITI[AMEN], and ST[AMEN]/[AMEN]ITIES. 55-Across, a PRAYER, ends with the [AMEN] found four times in the puzzle, wrapping the theme up with a bow.
Clues and entries I relished the most: [Put up] for HOUSED; OUT THERE; [Loads] meaning ONUSES and not "a lot"; [Follower of Max or Paul?] for INE; [Quick change artist?] for a bank TELLER; [Thumb locale: Abbr.] for MICH (non-U.P. Michigan looks like a mitten); ["Be brave!"] for Dan Rather's nightly COURAGE; the MUUMUU and TENT, both clued as [Roomy dress], but with only the former evoking a favorite Simpsons episode; MIMETIC, meaning [Imitative]; and two [Trattoria order]s, SCAMPI washed down with CAMPARI. I'm always vexed by a clue like ["Midnight Cowboy" role]—R***O, yes, but is it RATSO or are we being treated to the double Z of RIZZO? Always seems to be RATSO, but always I am hopeful and leave the three middle letters blank, looking for Zs in the crossers, and always I am disappointed. (Memo to constructors: Spot us a RIZZO, will ya?)
The Themeless Thursday puzzle in the New York Sun comes from the computer-assisted atelier of Frank Longo. (If you're interested in reading about the rationales for hand crafting vs. computer-aided constructing, read Matt Gaffney's book, Gridlock.) Frank's got a crazy-ass database of potential fill that apparently includes XOLOITZCUINTLI, the [Mexican hairless dog]. Wow. Never saw that word before, and I can't be sure that spelling will stick with me. Besides that mystery answer, there were plenty of tough clues, leading to a tough-Friday-"Weekend Warrior" experience rather than the loping amble I was expecting on a Thursday.
To wit: one [Source of fatty acids] is FISH OIL. [The A of BASE jumping] is ANTENNA (the others are building, span, and earth—all high-up things one can leap off with a parachute). [Four-wheeled carriages with hooded rear seats] are BERLINS; never heard of 'em. [Some franc spenders] are GABONESE, bien sur. [It can be sucked out] means SAP. [Put away in a hurry] is INHALED, as in a plate of cheese fries. [Canine component] is the CUSP of a tooth; PULP almost fit. [They fell after being circled 13 times] refers to the WALLS OF JERICHO, about which I know almost nil. [Having just been razed], a building's IN A PILE. [Like some sciences] means INEXACT; I like this one a lot. An INNIE is [Part of many a tummy]. The LAST SUPPER is the [Passion preceder], and that really stumped me. GAS is [Lemon juice?] in that a lemon's a lousy car. [Trees of the bignonia family] meant nothing to me, but I know that CATALPAS have broad, heart-shaped, pale green foliage and long seedpods. [Concord, e.g.] is a RED WINE; viz. Manischewitz. [Search engine returns] are WEB HITS while [Amazon, eBay, or Yahoo!] is a SUPERSITE. I think I've seen [Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny] TOLER's name in a crossword one other time (move over, Sidney Toler). RINNA is the last name of the [Lisa who cohosted "Soap Talk" with Ty Treadway], and he has lovely eyes in person (he hosts the crossword game show).
I really enjoyed Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword. The theme is terrific—a four-rung word ladder that achieves the ALCHEMIST'S DREAM of turning lead into gold. The LEAD BALLOON leads to LOAD THE BASES, then to GOAD TO ACTION, then to GOLDBRICKER. The puzzle's further enhanced by the fill, which includes plenty of answers we don't often see: SEMIPRO, DADAISM, PYREX, DOLLOP (which is also the name of a cozy indie coffeeshop around the corner from me—alas, my husband would like to patronize them, but he likes the coffee from behemoth Starbucks better), ENCROACHED, and SHELTIE. I don't recall seeing OREO clued lately as [Snack with multiple eating options], and I like the nonspecificity of the clue that led me to think of chips rather than cookies.
Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "X Marks the Spot," uses X in lieu of SPOT in the theme entries. Unlike a rebus puzzle, though, X is just the letter X in the crossing Down answers. Gotta like a theme that delivers five Xs, eh? At 1-Across, LST is clued as [WWII boat featured in "Saving Private Ryan"]. There was a small foofaraw a week or two ago when a similar clue was used for LST in an NYT puzzle. Apparently the craft that disgorged all the soldiers onto the beaches were not LSTs at all, as LSTs are huge things that disgorge tanks from the front and personnel from stairs on the side. If LSTs show up in the movie, they may be in the background and not the "featured" craft we all associate with the long Omaha Beach sequence.
November 28, 2007