November 05, 2007

Tuesday, 11/6

Tausig 5:03
NYS 4:21
Onion 4:05
CS 3:19
LAT 2:41
NYT 2:24

David Kahn's New York Sun crossword, "Startling Reduction," drops a letter from the word startling to make a new word, placed at the beginning of the first theme entry, STARTING ON. Then another one bites the dust, and STARING CONTEST follows. Then STRING, STING, SING, SIN, IN, and I phrases follow. All told, this theme occupies 84 squares, which would be impressive even if the theme didn't consist of a dandy word game in and of itself. Then there's the fact that six of the eight theme entries run (in part) alongside another theme entry, and that plenty of Down answers intersect with three of the theme entries—these factors constrain the fill, and while the non-theme fill isn't amazingly fresh, it's also not clunky. No crazily obscure abbreviations or names with impossible crossings.

Whoo! Breezed through John Underwood's New York Times crossword. Is it just me, or was this one easier than most Monday puzzles? I mean, it certainly helped that all six theme entries started (the top three) or ended (the bottom three) with the same word, FIVE. Shouldn't GIMME FIVE and TAKES FIVE mean opposite things? (Yes, I know one refers to fingers and the other to minutes.) The black squares for a big S in the middle—no, wait, that's a 5. That pattern means that the left and right sides of the grid would be completely separate if not for the 15-letter theme answers that provide two access points.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Youth Group," gathers a trio of phrases that begin with KIDS, BABES, and CHILDREN. I like the shout-out to KIDS IN THE HALL (remember "I'm crushing heads!" and "I'm pinching faces!"?) CHILDREN OF MEN is clued as [P.D. James novel of 1992]—I think the movie loosely based on the book is in my Netflix queue.

Frances Burton's LA Times crossword has a dull theme. No, really! Four geographical names have the first word punnily changed into a word that means "dull." The Grand Canyon is the BLAND CANYON, the Erie Canal is the DREARY CANAL, the Bering Sea is the BORING SEA, and Rapid City is VAPID CITY. The use of two initial consonant sound changes, one initial consonant sound addition, and one vowel change keep the theme entries from cohering as strongly as I'd like.

Noch einmal (that's "once more"):

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "ER Doctors," repurposes -er words as if the -er ending were the "one who does X" suffix. [One hauling tusks?] is an IVORY TOWER, towing ivory. I had a misstep where the clue [Balls] was paired with a 6-letter answer starting with H. HUEVOS, right? No—HUBRIS. So close! I also reassigned the space shuttle Columbia to the 8-letter answer for [Catastrophic exploder of 1991], when I needed Mt. PINATUBO in the Philippines. Two familiar answers met up on the left side of the grid but stymied me with unfamiliar clues: MEADE is a [Big name in telescopes] in addition to some Civil War name, and REN is [N.W.A. member MC ___], not just Stimpy's wheezy chihuahua pal or Kevin Bacon's Footloose character.

When Ben e-mailed out this week's Ink Well and Onion A.V. Club crosswords, he credited Onion constructor Deb Amlen as Muffy Amlen, suggesting that last week's 10-penis-euphemism puzzle by Byron Walden would be answered with a vajayjay puzzle. Now, vajayjay is too new to reside in non-gynecologically oriented phrases, and the C-word may be too strong for the Onion's pages, but PUSSYWILLOW would have worked if an 11-letter answer were needed. What we've got are the BUSH WHITE HOUSE, BEAVER CLEAVER, and BOX OFFICE SLUMP. Lest you think this puzzle is all about SEX ([Consummation]), there are also some WISE WOMEN in the grid. Never saw the QOTD abbreviation before—quote of the day, or [365 selected homilies, briefly].