Well, when you see the joint byline of Patrick Blindauer and Francis Heaney atop a crossword, you know you're in for some sort of smart twist. Their Friday New York Sun crossword, "Squares Away," jumped out at me because the grid wasn't symmetrical. Then it proved to be a rebus puzzle, but trickier than most because the entries with rebus action weren't symmetrical. But guess what? Those sneaky bastards placed a [BLACK] rebus square in five different squares...that could be colored in black to make the pattern of black squares perfectly symmetrical! This is the sort of push-the-envelope. play-with-convention gimmick that I like. (I just created an organized set of virtual folders and am putting this puzzle in the one for the year's favorite gimmick puzzles.) The posted solving time is sort of a lie—the middle left was mucked up, and I had Across Lite tell me which squares were wrong, after which I pieced it all together myself and wondered why I didn't get those anwers the first time through.
Favorite entries: THE FBI; RARE EARTH; LOGJAM; FROM HELL; VAN GOGH; JENGA; and many of the [BLACK] rebus entries, such as LITTLE BLACK BOOK, "BLACK DOG," BLACK FLAG, JACK BLACK, and BLACK COMEDY. Favorite clues: [Romeo's reference] for LITTLE BLACK BOOK (not Shakespeare's Romeo); [One who must, by Chinese law, seek permission to reincarnate] for LAMA; [Not very reflective?] for JET BLACK; [Backup] for LOGJAM; [Pork place?] for PIGSTY (drat, I thought it was SENATE); [Their noses tilted down] for SSTS; [Private] for CLOSET; and [Stoppers] for REDS, as in red traffic lights.
Least-known-to-me answers: Colorado's motto "NIL sine numine"; rock band Letters to CLEO; POLARIS with its 90° declination (not to mention the "wha?" astronomy clue for BLACK HOLE); SILAS on Weeds (thankfully not the Silas from Da Vinci Code); why RAJA is a [Chaturanga piece] (ah, it's a chess precursor); AVI the Newbery-winning author; and DONG as a [Monetary unit of Vietnam].
The New York Times puzzle is in the classic Mike Nothnagel vein—answers that zing with colloquialisms, uncommon letters, and pop culture. This crossword has got plenty to say. "AW, GEE," it empathizes with a struggling solver. "WHEW!"—you're done! "OH, WOW!" Totally "AWESOME!" Wait, you had a square wrong? "THAT'S LIFE."
The pop culture comes from LISA KUDROW, the [Ditsy waitress player on "Mad About You"] (waitress Ursula was the twin sister of Phoebe from Friends); ASOK the [Co-worker of Dilbert] in the office-based comic strip; [Late rocker Barrett], SYD Barrett of Pink Floyd fame; and DIDO, the ["White Flag" singer, 2003].
Scrabbly fill abounds here, with ZINC OXIDE crossing ZERO HOUR somewhere other than the Z, and SINE QUA NON (clued vaguely as [Requirement]). The showy long answers are a PARADIGM SHIFT ([Transition to a heliocentric model of the universe, e.g.]) and the MORAL HIGH GROUND, [What you take when you do the right thing]. Other admirable fill: THUMBS DOWN ([Negative sign]); a MALE MODEL ([GQ figure]); TELEPATHY ([Exchange of thoughts?]) crossing SYNAPSES ([They act on impulses]); and the straightforward phrases TIRED OF, RELATED TO, and ON THE LOOSE. Favorite clues: the vague [Key] for the adjective OPERATIVE; [One guarded in a soccer game] for SHIN; [Historic capital of Scotland] for SCONE (really! starting about 900 years ago, Scone was an important place in Scotland and not just a baked good); [Moon unit?] for REAR (as in dropping one's drawers and mooning someone); [Drive nuts] for BUG; and [Practices zymurgy] for BREWS (why didn't I know the meaning of zymurgy?)
The more scintillating answers were made possible by the following lifeless short entries: SERE ([Dried out]); ADAR (Hebrew month; [It follows Shevat]); REA (["Guilty," in a Latin legal phrase]—namely mens rea); the collars called ETONS; the game ONE-O cat; toiletry brand ATRA; and another sort of [Moon unit], an LEM or lunar excursion module. Throw me WHEW, some ZITI, and a pedestrian XING, and I can certainly forgive the less exciting bits.
No Jonesin' puzzle today—the link from the paper that'd been the Cruciverb/Puzzle Pointers source for this puzzle isn't working. Jonesin' editor Matt Gaffney's working on an alternate link, but some of the other papers that run the puzzle are a week or two behind. I'll let you know when there's a good working link and resume blogging about the puzzle thereafter.
No Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle posted for 12/28—I presume the publication was on winter break with all its readers. I'll resume CHE solving and blogging when there's a new puzzle posted (on two-week delay) at Cruciverb.com.
Why did it take me longer to rassle Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy puzzle to the ground than to finish Nothnagel's themeless? I don't know. Part of it is the new keyboard, which I eschewed last night in the interest of NYT applet competitiveness but used this morning. (That, and my endless love for themeless puzzles with Friday/Saturday cluing.) The "Spelling B's" theme entails putting a pair of B's into phrases to radically change them. My favorite was GRABBY WHALE (gray whale), just because the image of a grabby cetacean amuses me terribly. How does the whale grab? What's it grabbing? What does it do if you fight for possession of the desired item?
Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword adds a Y to the end of the first word of two-word phrases to alter the sense completely. Fair-minded becomes FAIRY-MINDED, [Like a child with a loose tooth]—my son Ben has a ridiculously loose tooth that tenaciously hangs by a thread, keeping the tooth fairy at bay day after day. I can't imagine the tooth will last the day, but that's what I said yesterday. My favorite theme entries: a TESTY PILOT and a BELLY CURVE, or [Spare tire characteristic]. AMIE is clued as [René's girlfriend], and I must quibble: first of all, that's not how I spell my name, and second, René and I have been married for 16 years now.
Brendan Emmett Quigley's Wall Street Journal crossword, "This for That," uses "A for B" phrases to rejigger assorted other phrases. For example, "jump for joy" is a well-known phrase. Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is also famous. Brendan includes ODE TO JUMP, clued as [Stanzas about an axel?], and elsewhere JOY is clued [Word substituted FOR the last word of 108-Across]. The hidden phrases that govern the substitutions in the other theme entries are "lust for life," "money for nothing," "stalls for time," "go for broke," "food for thought," "cry for help," and "jockey for power"—eight theme entries in all, plus the eight swapped words lurking elsewhere in the grid.
January 10, 2008