Vic Fleming's New York Times crossword has THE LAST theme I'd expect on a Wednesday. Rather, the theme is 36-Across, THE LAST: four entities from which the opening words THE LAST have been lopped off, forcing new descriptions in the clues. We've got MAN STANDING, clued as [Guy ready to sing the national anthem?]. The DAYS OF POMPEII were ended by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. OF THE MOHICANS means [Belonging to a Hudson Valley tribe?]. And a [Museum exhibit?] is a PICTURE SHOW. I like this twist on the "words that can be preceded by blah-blah" sort of theme. In the fill, the lowlights were old-time actresses ILONA Massey and POLA Negri, along with comedian TOTIE Fields—one grande dame of crosswords per puzzle, please. (That Wikipedia link says that Totie played at the Copacabana in New York, by the way, but I'm not linking to that YouTube video I love so much.) GLEEM would feel like a lousy crossword answer if my parents hadn't sometimes bought that brand of toothpaste when I was a kid; nostalgia points trump the iffiness factor. NOT SO HOT isn't not so hot, which is to say, it's a good entry. As are TONE-DEAF, ANN clued as Ann Richards, and BOGIES clued as [Unidentified planes]. I am no fan of military and war terminology, so I learned that last one from the kids' movie, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
Dominick Talvacchio's New York Sun puzzle, "Letter Openers," has five Across answers and one Down answer in the theme. Each one is a term that starts with a stand-alone letter, but that letter is spelled out here, thereby changing the term's meaning, which is then clued. For extra trickiness, the short vertical one includes two numerals. T-squares become TEA SQUARES; iTunes, EYE TUNES (["Jeepers Creepers" and others?]); Q-Tips, QUEUE TIPS; U-bolts, EWE BOLTS; C-section, SEA SECTION; and B-52, BEE 52. That last one vexed me and twisted me brain around, obscuring the familiar Bee brand of playing cards and the fact that there are 52 cards in a deck, which coincidentally team up with a B-52 plane. Oy! And the clue for one of the crossings, [II]—I was thinking AND or END rather than 2ND. Excellent theme, but dagnabbit, it got the best of me with that BEE 52. Groovy corner bricks of 7-letter entries didn't make this puzzle any easier, either. Favorite clues: [Mark due to violence?] for R RATING (...not ARE RATING, so maybe a slight distraction from the theme); [Dog coat?] for CATSUP; ["OMG," long before IMs] for EGAD; [Third person?] for UMP; [Finger food?] for the verb KNEAD; [Put a stake in, maybe] for SLAY (go, Buffy!); and ["Like what?!"] for NAME ONE.
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Icebreakers," has theme entries that have ICE split among two words. Each time, it breaks down __IC E__, with the first word an -ic adjective. Too bad PEPSI CENTER didn't make it in there to mix things up a bit.
Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword sets a formal PLACE SETTING with CHINA (CLIPPER), CRYSTAL (CLEAR), and SILVER (BULLET). That first one is the [PanAm plane that made the first trans-Pacific mail flight] and I hadn't heard of it before. Nor did I know 1-Across, MITZI [Kapture of "Silk Stalkings"]. Costar Rob Estes gets much more play in crosswords, and she's done little of note outside of that cable series. I think her parents must've been fans of the more famous Mitzi, as her birth name is Mitzi Gaynor Donahue. Omigod, does this mean there may be children named Britney Spears Kowalski, or Paris Hilton McElligott?
December 18, 2007