John Farmer's New York Times crossword is unlike most of his publications in that it's themeless rather than boasting a twisty innovation. That's not a complaint, mind you—themelesses are my favorite kind of crossword, and I liked this one. It took me a good two minutes and change to unwind my mistakes, but that's certainly not John's fault. Michael and I were just talking about EGAN, so I put it in my head that the [1950s British P.M.] was EGAN. It wasn't, of course—it was Anthony EDEN (click that link to see his piercing eyes). That gave me the semi-plausible USA TAX (that is semi-plausible, isn't it? Isn't it??) and the mysterious SIGEBOY for the crossings. No! The [Excise on some out-of-state purchases] is a USE TAX, and the [Seaman in a ceremonial honor guard] is a SIDEBOY. U.S. Navy regulations apparently dictate the number of sideboys to be present based on the importance of a visiting dignitary; the number of drum ruffles and bugle flourishes is also prescribed, and a brigadier general rates an 11-gun salute, not a 21-gun one.
Enough of military customs! It's crosswords I like. Favorite clues and answers: JENNIFER LOPEZ strides pregnantly across the grid (clued with a song I don't know), treading all over LANDO CALRISSIAN, the [Sci-fi character whose name is an anagram of CAROLINA ISLANDS]. The other long answers are MEMBERS OF THE BAR ([Some licensed practitioners]) and the QUICK BROWN FOX that jumped over the lazy dog in the classic pangrammatic typing exercise ([Exercise animal?]. Between J-Lo and the fox, we've got a Z, Q, X, and J—nice! The [Algonquian Indian tribe] the MIAMI crosses IND., home of many Miami. Borderline unfair to cross two cross-referenced words, but really, what else could MIAMI be? (There's also a [Northwest tribe] here, the SPOKANE.) The OPERA is a [Place to find a C-note?]. [Climber's support] is a TENDRIL, but look how nicely TRELLIS fits that spot and mucks things up if you write it in. [Indian pastries] called SAMOSAS are spicy-hot but oh-so-good. Mmm, potatoes! I love PEGASUS as an answer, though the [Constellation between Cygnus and Pisces] clue meant nothing to me. Right between that Cygnus the Swan clue and a [Bird: Prefix] sits [They're plucked]—fortunately, it's LUTES and not ill-fated chickens. (And [Pluck] is VALOR a few squares over.) I always like Ambrose Bierce, so I liked the clue for PIANO, a Bierce quote: "A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor." ERRANDS are clued as [They'll give you the run-around]. South Beach is the name of a FAD DIET. FROGS is clued as the [2004 Sondheim musical, with "The"]—it was his musical adaptation of the Aristophanes play, starring Nathan Lane; Sondheim used to create cryptic crosswords for New York magazine. SAILS BY ([Passes effortlessly]) is nicely idiomatic verb phrase, as are its neighbors, STEAM UP ([Make hot]) and PINE FOR ([Miss badly]).
Toughest stuff: Besides that SIDEBOY section, there's POTSY, or [Hopscotch]; a LEK, [100 qintars] in Albanian currency; [Chalon-sur-___, France], or SAONE; ["The Da Vinci Code" priory], SION; ["___ of Six" (Joseph Conrad story collection)] for A SET; [Fuchsite and alurgite] for MICAS; and [Place, e.g.] means LOSE (as in take second place in a race).
Kelsey Blakley's New York Sun puzzle, "Once Upon a Word," is possibly the easiest Friday Sun puzzle I've ever done. Usually they're killers, but this one proved much more pliable than expected. The theme is certainly an unusual one—an ISOGRAM is a [Word or phrase that has no repeated letters (every answer in this puzzle is an example of one)]. Wikipedia includes a list of single-word isograms of 10 letters or more, and good gravy, those are some boring words. I'm glad Kelsey (and I'm faking the first-name basis here, since I don't know her—but I like the name Kelsey) opted for mostly phrases in the 9- and 14-letter categories. PINKY TUSCADERO and GEISHA BOY! YOU BETCHA and RHAPSODY IN BLUE! It can't have been easy to fill this grid without double letters, without the use of more than one E in a word, etc. The fill is fun and hip, too—there's also Y'KNOW; S AND M ([Folsom Street Fair theme] in San Francisco); the Amazing RANDI, [debunker of pseudoscience]; Frankie MUNIZ; and thrash metal band Anthrax's "Caught in a MOSH." Not to mention artsy DIPTYCHS and naked NUDISTS ([Adamites]). What are Adamites? It appears that they were an early Christian sect that "professed to have regained Adam's primeval innocence" and stripped nekkid. All right, that's a tough clue—but the crossings were so reasonable. Question: Would you say this puzzle contains a record 189 theme squares?
The title of Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "For the Bards," hints obliquely at the theme. The phrase for the birds has one letter changed to create the title; the theme entries change one letter in each notable person's name to turn their surname into a bird's name. Part of the clue describes the person and the end suggests what bird will result after the letter change. There's JIMMY FALCON (Fallon), COURTNEY DOVE (Love), CHRISTOPHER DODO (Dodd), SUSAN OSTRICH (Estrich), and ROBERT ROBIN (Rubin). The rest of the puzzle's pretty straightforward, with Thursday- or Friday-level cluing. The upper left corner did snag me for a bit—1- and 2-Down were unfamiliar names and they crossed a [Plastic suffix]. I guessed that HAJI filled the blank in [1980s NFL kicker Ali ___-Sheikh] and that the plastic is -INE, which made the [Former Starbucks CEO Smith]'s name ORIN.
Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Grime Syndicate," uses the same idea as Byron Walden's 11/9/06 NYT puzzle, except he had SANDY DENNIS where this puzzle has SANDY DUNCAN, and he threw in a PEOPLE OF THE EARTH unifying entry. The DUSTY, MUDDY, and DIRTY names are fun entries regardless of whether they've appeared together before, though. I also liked the entries PRIVY TO and STONE AGO, and the geographic names—BAVARIAN, RWANDAN, IBO (I know someone who's Ibo!, TAOS, ARAGON, the Lithuanian ex-SSR, and IRANI.
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword celebrates a B-DAY (65-Across) by adding a B before both words in a phrase or compound word. I laughed when BLAND BLUBBER emerged, and I like the pronunciation change from read lips to BREAD BLIPS. Best entries: TV DINNERS and the TIME SLOT for your TV show, SOTHEBY'S, SPECTRAL.
Frank Virzi's 12/14 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "The Front Lines," features opening lines from five 19th and 20th century novels. No spoilers, because lit fans will want to do this one without hints. As with all CHE crosswords (adroitly edited by Patrick Berry), excellent fill and clues throughout.
Liz Gorski's made a funny Wall Street Journal crossword for us this week. In "Out Is In," OUT is added to seven phrases to warp their meaning. My favorite theme entries were the [Place where the going is tough?], a BLEAK OUTHOUSE (building on Dickens' Bleak House), and [Khrushchev's favorite steakhouse?], OUTBACK IN THE USSR (playing on the Beatles song). (By the way, Men's Health magazine named Outback Steakhouse's Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing the single worst food in America: "2,900 calories, 182 g fat. Even if you split this 'starter' with three friends, you'll have downed a dinner's worth of calories before your entree arrives.") Cute section at the top of the grid, where EIEIO crosses IEOH (I.M. Pei's first name), YEO (abbr. for yeoman), and Lucy LIU. Ee-yow!
December 27, 2007