There's a remarkable 64-word themeless puzzle from Patrick Berry in the New York Times. Too often, a low-word-count has so many tradeoffs in the fill that I'm wondering why the constructor didn't make it easier on himself or herself and just make a more interesting puzzle with a higher word count. But here, it plays like a 72-worder. To wit: The only answers with an -er suffix are SAMPLER (an established noun meaning a box of chocolates) and CATERERS (the plural out-Googles the singular, and people do say "I called the caterers" commonly enough). Now, is a PRALINE really an [Item in a SAMPLER]? Perhaps down yonder, where people eat RED BEANS AND RICE ([Traditional Monday meal in Creole cuisine]). My favorite answers are DAN ROWAN ([TV host who told viewers "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls!"]) and DULLARDS. When I was a kid, I liked Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, particularly Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, and Arte Johnson's "Verrry interesting." And DULLARDS, [Intellectuals' opposites]—well, that's just a funny word. (Edited to add: This puzzle also has no 3-letter words in the grid. Now, that is tough to pull off.)
Favorite clues: [1992 New Hampshire primary winner] was TSONGAS; I voted for him in my state's primary, but he'd been knocked out of the running by then. [Jimi Hendrix's style] was an AFRO—his hair, not his musical style. There are two movie references—ELLE is [Reese's "Legally Blonde" role] and MALDEN is [Brando's "On the Waterfront" co-star]. There's a CHARLES DE GAULLE quote in his clue: [He said "How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 kinds of cheese?"]. AL DENTE means [Offering just the right amount of resistance] to the pasta eater's teeth, but throwing the word resistance in there spurs misguided thoughts of physics and electricity. [They hold at least two cups each] has naught to do with bras—the answer is TEA SETS. The [Montana county seat named for a nonnative creature] is ANACONDA. [Had a one-sided conversation with] is TALKED AT, while [Cocktail party exchanges] are IDLE CHAT. Why don't I remember the [1976 Hall & Oates hit], SHE'S GONE? (Here's the video, complete with '76 video technology, a Quaaludes affect for both guys, black socks with sandals on Hall, and a sleeveless tuxedo shirt with platform shoes for Oates.) I did not know the etymological tidbit that BASSET is a [Dog breed whose name literally means "rather low"]. Speaking of dogs, if you read through the Down answers to the right of the BASSET, you learn that ASTA ABUSES FELINE. Nick and Nora should really put a leash on that dog, I tell ya. Can anyone entomologically inclined tell me if the HORNETS clue is wrong? [Underground nesters] would, according to this site, refer to yellow jackets but not to hornets, who nest in trees or shrubs.
Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" is mighty Scrabbly, with two Zs, a Q and X, five Ks, a J, and four Vs. Favorite fill and clues: TETRAZZINI is the last name of [Opera singer Luisa whose name can be found on some menus]. BARKEEPS and PUB-CRAWLED ([Painted the town red] in more contemporary vernacular) tie in with TEQUILA, which also goes with another sub-theme—Karen serves up a Mexican feast with Tijuana-related clues for BAJA and ENSENADA, accompanied by [It's named after a Jalisco town] for TEQUILA. [Jam "music"?] means HONKS, or sounds in traffic. [Like-minded group] pulls double duty for both CAMP and BLOC. [Scirocco producer] for VOLKSWAGEN is trying to trick you into thinking of the wind called a scirocco. [___ for Pyros (Woodstock '94 band)] is the most palatable clue for PORNO; rock and pop music also get guitarist SLASH ([Guitarist whose real name is Saul Hudson]), the 1970 Supremes hit STONED LOVE, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Phil SPECTOR, who may or may not be a murderer but definitely has had some bad hair days. Plenty of one-word clues, like [Lambkin] for TYKE, [Odd] for QUEER, and [Rusk] for ZWIEBACK. [Goes downhill fast] is a great clue for AVALANCHES. Karen's non-Mexican geography references include LAKE NASSER and the [Second-largest Greek island], EUBOEA. D-DAY gets the pop culture treatment with the clue, [Frat brother of Bluto in "Animal House"]—D-Day was the one with an impressive mustache and, if I recall correctly, an affinity for explosives. I didn't know the names of violinist ADELA Peña or composer LEROY Anderson.
Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Don't T's Me, Bro," turns each double into a single T and reclues the phrases accordingly. [Degraded one's breeding partners?] is MADE MATERS WORSE, for example, and [Holy people who procrastinate?] are LATER DAY SAINTS. Answers and clues you won't see any time soon in the daily newspaper crosswords: ROID rage, FARK for [Website noted for Photoshop contests], BARF, [Sidewalk sippers] for WINOS, [Standard time to lose one's virginity] for PROM, ["South Park" kid in a poofball hat] for STAN, and my personal favorite, [Incredulous Internet interjection] for WTF.
I've only got time for quick takes on the day's other crosswords.
Michael Ashley's 11/23 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "The Greats"—The theme entries are noted men who were called "the Great ___." Only one of them came readily to mind, but overall the cluing was fairly easy. One lovely word in the fill: SOUGH, "to make a soft, low sighing or rustling sound, like the wind." The word's roots go back to Old English. Can you envision being in England a millennium or so ago and needing to coin a word with this meaning?
Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword, "Breaking With Tradition: An Anagram Puzzle"—This puzzle would've been a lot more challenging without that subtitle in the title bar. "With tradition" is scrambled into the four patently-ridiculous-yet-clueable theme phrases. It did take me a while to parse ADROITHINTWIT. I kept seeing a THIN TWIT rather than a HINT WIT ([Writer of clever crossword clues?]).
Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle—The theme entries all have puns relating to Italy, and these puns, they did not pain me. I've been down on pun themes lately, but this one worked for me. Favorite entry: [Low-budget Italian travel guide?] is TURIN ON A DIME—yes, that's be pretty low-budget, all right. FIVE EASY PIZZAS plays on Five Easy Pieces. Alien life form transmogrifies into the ALIEN LIFE FORUM where the interplanetary beings assemble. And the indictment contains ROMAN CHARGES, playing on cell-phone roaming charges.
Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Wrap Stars"—The theme is basically a movie star trivia quiz, with the clues identifying a movie that the answer starred in. In addition, there's a wordplay bonus: each clue hints at what shorter word is hidden within the star's name, linking first and last names. For example, UMA THURMAN has MATH and GRETA GARBO has TAG. The best is saved for last: CANDICE BERGEN has the longest hidden word, and I'm betting she was the seed entry for this puzzle.
December 06, 2007