Adam Perl's Santa-themed New York Times crossword, "Yule Outsourcing," has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it, with the four-line verse ending EVERY TOY IS MADE IN CHINA (the reason Santa has been lounging in his recliner). Yes, complete with lead paint or toxic plastic compounds. (FYI, here's a Vermont alternative to made-in-China toys. They even make a Soma cube, which is hard to come by. Wish I'd have found that early enough to order it as a Christmas present...for myself.) The explicit theme takes up just four 21-square rows, but there's Yuletide cluing strewn throughout the puzzle in the form of about 15 short answers. My favorite clues: [Way overdue to take off?] for OBESE; ["What to do? What to do?" feeling] for PANIC; [Theodemocratic state] for IRAN; [Of fast times?] for LENTEN; [Discriminating sort, in a way] for AGEIST; and [Out-elbowed?] for AKIMBO. Speaking of elbows, there's also [Elbows] for POKES, [Joint part] for TENON, and [Joint] for REEFER—so not all the joint-related action here is anatomical. Did you notice that BIOTA was followed by IOTAS? The former crosses GUITEAU, [Garfield's assassin] and nobody I've heard of.
Henry Hook's Across Lite edition of the Boston Globe puzzle, "Family Affair," relates not to the old TV series of that name but rather, to The Simpsons. The theme clues are the members of the family, with the parents listed first and the three kids in order from eldest to youngest. [HOMER] is a FOUR-BAGGER / IN BASEBALL, or home run. [MARGE] is SYNONYM FOR OLEO. (Is this a common spoken abbreviation for margarine? I prefer butt to marge, personally.) [BART] refers to the SAN FRANCISCO RAIL LINES. [LISA] is simply an ANAGRAM FOR SAIL. And baby [MAGGIE] is the utterly tortured (but I like it) M PLUS TEXAS A&M ATHLETE, or M + AGGIE. That sly little ampersand also belongs to P&L, or profit-and-loss statement. This crossword's enhanced by the Scrabbly letters in fill like UP NEXT, EXTERIOR, STAX, and MIXED (implicating four separate X's), JAY LENO, ZULU, and the juicy little KUMQUAT. Highlights in the non-Scrabbly, non-theme fill: MARISA TOMEI and ROY ACUFF's full names, FEMBOT, GALILEO, and the TASMANIAN devil.
Frank Longo's Washington Post crossword, "Birthday Greetings," serves up cake to eight famous people who were BORN ON CHRISTMAS. Easy (but still good) cluing, and terrific fill. Favorite bits: JEROBOAM; AGE RANGE; DULLARD; REORG; ["Washington," in poetry] for DACTYL (a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables—and Wikipedia points out that a 2006 NYT crossword pointed out that poetry is itself a dactyl); [Semi fluid] for GAS (did your mind's eye add -nal to that first word?); ["Bejabbers!"] for EGAD; [___ freak] for CONTROL; [They may have umbrellas] for MAI TAIS; [Press unit] for REP (as in bench press, chest press, leg press); KEY GRIP; LIKE MAD; [Significant one?] for OTHER; and ["No, No, No" singer] for ONO.
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Carol of the Bells," isn't as Christmassy as the title suggests. Instead, each theme entry contains the letter string DING or DONG within it. Ho-hum, you say? Well, there are 13 of these entries, and the one in the middle is awesome: BAKED-ON GREASE. I'll bet that puppy's never appeared in a crossword grid before, and it amuses me terribly in a crossword. In the kitchen, much less so. (Soaking does wonders, though.) As a little extra fillip, Merl clues PEALES as [Norman Vincent's family (and an apt answer in this puzzle)].
Kathleen O'Brien's syndicated LA Times crossword also trods the Christmas-theme path in "Not a Good Sign," with a quote from SHIRLEY TEMPLE. I think I've read the quote before, but the punchline's still a good one.
It's Christmas a couple days early if you're a fan of Bob Klahn's cluing style—he constructed today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle. The clues that were right up my alley (meaning I liked them, not necessarily that I understood what the answer was right away): [Ten-cent pic] means FDR, whose portrait is on the dime. [Third degree] is a DOCTORATE, literally and not idiomatically. [King of the old South] is more metaphoric—COTTON.
[Put your head down, try this, and you'll breathe easy] clues SNORKEL. The first and last time I went snorkeling was on my honeymoon, on Christmas day in 1991. I slathered on Bullfrog waterproof sunscreen and was fine, but my "I tan, I don't burn" husband got fried. His wedding band also slid off and sank down to a coral reef, so he did a little diving, too.
[Small fry] and [Future fry] are TAD and ROE, respectively. I do like the paired clues Klahn often concocts. [Wacky] appears twice, but not in adjacent spots, to clue INANE and LOCO, and [Wacky one] is a KOOK. [A, for one] clues SYNONYM, as "a clue" is synonymous with "one clue." Sort of a lateral-thinking clue. [Loose things not found in rings] is also sort of aslant—they're ENDS, as a ring has no ends.
I'm not crazy about bible clues, but [Two-person starter home?] is as good as a biblical EDEN clue gets.
I don't get why [Balance opener] is TRIAL. Oh—apparently trial balance is a bookkeeping term.
[Muse] is not Erato or one of her sisters here, but the verb: REMINISCE.
December 22, 2007