Lee Glickstein's New York Sun crossword, "Stress Test," exploits the goofy English-language phenomenon of heteronyms—words that are spelled exactly the same but have different pronunciations. Each theme entry alters the meaning of a phrase by changing a word's pronunciation. [Eminent president during WWI?] is AUGUST WILSON, playing on the adjective auGUST and Woodrow Wilson appropriating playwright AUgust Wilson's name. The other theme entries are CONTENT ANALYSIS (the noun CONtent becoming the adjective conTENT) and ENTRANCE HALL (the noun ENtrance becoming the verb enTRANCE). Extra bonus points for the [Spellbind TV host Arsenio?] clue—Arsenio Hall doesn't seem to be working much in showbiz these days, but you gotta love a name that's only one letter off from arsenic. (Arsenio and Old Lace, anyone? Or Arsenio poisoning?) Great fill to go with a fun theme—SCHIZO, NANOOK, KNISH, HO-HUM and...ANACONDAS. (Raise your hand if you saw the Anaconda movie with Jon Voight. By which I do not mean "if you and Jon Voight went to the movie together.")
Speaking of names I love: Gail Grabowski. Alliteration plus a straight-up Polish name (I'm a quarter Polish) that starts with an English word. Gail Grabowski constructed a New York Times crossword with a whiny-adolescent theme: The kid whinges because Mom or Dad said no, and says "BUT THAT'S NOT FAIR!" "EVERYONE IS GOING!" "I CAN'T DO ANYTHING." (Sorry, kid, you're 14 and I'm not sending you to the Fifty Cent concert.) Speaking of music, I had zero recollection of the [1973 #1 hit "___ an American Band"]. The answer is WE'RE, and here is an old, old video of Grand Funk Railroad performing that song, water-skiing, and polishing motorcycles, all with giant hair.
The banking theme of Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword tried to hide from me until the very end, and the final theme entry being a brand of athletic shoe didn't help matters. The current-events flavor of TROOP WITHDRAWAL also had me sort of hoping for a topical theme. By the time I did figure out the theme, though, I saw that it was laid out elegantly. The first thing that goes in your bank account is the (ORE) DEPOSIT. There may be (TROOP) WITHDRAWAL of some funds. Then the bank will add some (GENERAL) INTEREST and subtract some (CONTINGENCY) FEES. By the end of the month, the statement will show your NEW BALANCE. There are 65 theme squares, and a couple Down entries (ELBOW GREASE, OPINION POLL) bind together all three 15-letter entries. Nice!
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "All in Flavor," throws together some puns from the spice rack. While FENNEL CAKE is a plausible (and yucky) twist on funnel cake and THYME OF ONE'S LIFE works for me, the other two seem clunkier. Nobody would ever say "DILL WE MEET AGAIN" in farewell, and changing carry a tune into CURRY A TUNE makes no sense at all—you can't very well add curry (yum!) to a song.
Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, "Soup to Nuts," runs the gamut from A to Z with a quartet of A.Z.-initial theme entries. Hey! Those used to be my initials. They are awesome initials, to be sure. We've got a Simpsons ancillary character, ARTIE ZIFF; ABSOLUTE ZERO; an AFRICAN ZEBRA; and a college team, the AKRON ZIPS. Favorite clues and entries: [Claudius, notably] for POISONER (one letter off from PRISONER—but Hamlet's uncle/stepfather did not do time for his poisoning crime); [Made an allowance?] for BUDGETED; [Wonder Woman topper] for TIARA; [Certain natives of TIbet] for PANDAS; [Staff notes?] for EGBDF; and GARBLED, WHATZIT, LET 'ER RIP, and seminal mathematician LEIBNIZ.
Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword has a meaty chunk of white space in the middle of the grid, which is framed by the theme entries. The MIDDLEMEN found in the other three answers appear here in bold: LAMB ROAST, HATCH A PLOT, and OXYGEN TANK. Favorite clues/answers: [Key in Seattle, for one] for ARENA (there's a Key Arena, I gather?); DWEEBISH; Hermione GRANGER; [Bono's wife, once] for CHER (Sonny Bono); [Like some yak herders] for TIBETAN; DRAGNETS.
December 10, 2007