Julie Ann Bowling's New York Times crossword hinges on a different reading of the first word in each of four two-word phrases. Change the pronunciation of that first word in LEAD PENCIL to rhyme with "heed" and you get the [Number one #2?]. A [Fish-shaped musical instrument?] is a BASS (rhymes with "ass") GUITAR. Shift the stress in "minute" so that a MINUTE MAID is a [Little woman?]. And the one that made me laugh was POLISH (rhyme with "abolish") JOKE, [What a comedian might do before going onstage?]. I have a vague memory of seeing a similar theme once, something playing with Polish/polish, but remember no specifics. (Anyone else?) Favorite bits of fill: FJORD, OUSE (because I just did a British cryptic including this [Northamptonshire river]'s name), VACUOUS, SCARES UP, and IRONSTONE. I had no idea that double rolls in dice were called DOUBLETS. Wikipedia just illuminated me about etymological doublets such as frail and fragile—if you get a kick out of etymology, go read that article. The only doublet I knew of was the men's jacket. We were spared another appearance of SILAS from the Da Vinci Code—SILOS is here, but could easily have been SILAS crossing SAVE instead of SILOS/SORE. I'll give the edge to SILOS over Dan Brown characters any day. (Also: If this is a constructing debut for Ms. Bowling, congratulations! I like the puzzle and look forward to more.)
Lee Glickstein has crafted an amusing New York Sun crossword, "Movies Free of Charge." Each movie title has lost an ION, or a charged particle, altering the gist. The Birth of a Nation turns into THE BIRTH OF A NAT, a D.C. baseball player. [Movie about a Hail Mary?] is PASS OF THE CHRIST, referring to a Hail Mary pass in football. Tom Cruise's franchise becomes a [Movie about a young diva?], MISS IMPOSSIBLE. Good theme, eh? I did this puzzle right after the NYT, so 1-Across, clued exactly the same in both puzzles, was an instant gimme ([Intense pain] = AGONY). Favorite entries: AARGH, MR TOAD (referencing Wind in the Willows, not the psychedelic Disney ride), "YES, BUT," and FISHY. I also liked E-FILE—one of a very few e-prefixed words that I use outside of the crossword arena. (E-mail is my other e-mainstay.)
Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Anatomy Lesson," groups four phrases that end with FLESH and BLOOD as well as SKIN and BONES. Good long entries—DISC GOLF, The WEST WING, WATERGATE, EARTH TONE. Good to see AFL-CIO in its entirety, instead of just a 3-letter half showing up in the grid. Three pre-euro currencies appear, too—LIRA, FRANC, and D-MARK. It might have been wise to retitle the puzzle or rework the fill in the bottom center—ANAT. is an answer that's been given in the puzzle's title.
The first three theme entries in Aymi Scott's LA Times crossword have a CHOCOLATE CENTER in that the middle of three words is a chocolate type. There's a MALTED MILK SHAKE, LITTLE WHITE LIE, and THE DARK CRYSTAL. Ideally, that first one wouldn't be using MILK in the same context—it's the same dairy product in the shake and in milk chocolate—but I can surely make allowances if the constructor is hard at work reminding me about chocolate. (Mmm, chocolate...) Good long fill: DEBACLE (seeing that spurred me to look up its etymology), OOH LA LA, and HOT RODS.
Fortunately, Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle explains the first five theme entries in the sixth entry. I won't give it away, because when the light dawned on me, it was such a good "aha" moment. If you're not familiar with the much-blogged and much-YouTubed event mentioned in 23-Across, watch this mashup of the video with an MC Hammer music video. I'll bet you a dollar that this entry was the seed entry for the theme. Or, if not the seed, at least the one that pushed a theme idea over the edge to a must-make puzzle. There was one knotty crossing of an album title from Radiohead and an ultimately gettable bit of drug slang. Good crossword, lots of theme squares, and a rare appearance of ENEMA in the fill (complete with fun clue).
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Tied Games," is also a fine construction. The theme entries are made up of (mostly) familiar board games combined into clueable phrases. As someone whose kid has hit the age group at which board games are no longer too complex for his wee brain, I found the theme fun and yet not as easy as I would've thought. I liked the 8-letter entries sandwiching the central theme entry, and the 6x6 corners. Both this puzzle and Matt G's Onion puzzle had plenty of Scrabbly letters wielded well, which I also liked.
November 26, 2007