January 03, 2008

Friday, 1/4

NYT 5:27
LAT 4:44
CHE 4:28
Jonesin' 3:39
CS 3:37

WSJ 8:19

For the crazy New York Sun puzzle, see here.

And tune in Friday afternoon for the first annual American Crossword Critics Association (membership: two) honors, singling out Rex's and my favorite puzzles from 2007. Wow, is it hard to narrow that list down! I had saved about 40 themeless puzzles alone in my "great puzzles" folder, not to mention themed daily puzzles, oddball gimmick puzzles, and Sunday-sized puzzles.

The Friday New York Times puzzle's by Raymond Young has a stellar 54-word grid, a pinwheel spinning around a black square in the middle. While solving, I didn't even notice that this crossword had such a low word count, since it had plenty of showy entries and relatively few clunky obscurities. First, the groovy answers and clues: the late Molly IVINS; MOVIEFONE, a [Service for filmgoers] (this one evokes a classic Seinfeld episode); "WHERE'S THE FIRE?" as in ["In a hurry, are we?"] (though I cannot imagine a cop saying the latter); PERPETRATE, or [Cause]; E-MAIL LIST, or [Modern marketing aid], atop another EM- word, EMBROIDER, or [Decorate]; VAPORIFIC ([Producing some clouds]), just because it reminds me of "toasterrific" from Ren and Stimpy; IN THE PINK ([Fit]); "SEE HERE!" (["Now listen!"]); SETS THE TABLE (mostly common letters and a commonplace task, but fresh as crossword fill); the colorful WHARF RATS ([Pilferers from ships and port warehouses]); To Kill a Mockingbird's HARPER LEE, [Alabaman who wrote the Best Novel of the Century, according to a 1999 Library Journal poll]; the semi-arbitrary yet Scrabbly SCENE XII, [Part of Act IV where Marc Antony resolves to kill Cleopatra]; SPIKE TV (["The first network for men" sloganeer, once]); and [Overplayed] for HAMMED it up.

Now, for the gnarly bits—and having just waded through the entire grid for the previous paragraph, I see plenty of things that I got strictly via the crossings. Such as LICEY, clued as [Tigres del ___, Dominican team that has won the Caribbean World Series nine times]. LICEY is right next to LOSCH, the last name of [Claudia ___, 1984 Olympic gold medalist in shot put]. I go those only because DESCENTS and TELESCOPY came together and because I had a lucky guess that the bottom entry was SHYEST and not the American Heritage Dictionary's preferred spelling, SHIEST. Two obscure sports names crossing a could-go-either-way spelling? Okay, people will complain about that. Also from the world of sports, a racehorse I'd never heard of at 2-Down, CAPOT ([Horse of the Year that won the 1949 Preakness and Belmont])—hey, Steve M., was this one on your list of horses to know for crosswords? Doing a 180 from sports to opera, there's [Soprano Albanese] two columns over from CAPOT. Livia? Lidia? No: LICIA Albanese. (Still alive! But not well-known to non–opera fans.) I've seen the word reforest, but never REAFFOREST ([Plant on after a wildfire, say]). And HEMINS, the [Forensic indicators of the presence of blood]—I have not picked this word up from CSI. EPIC TALES seems straightforward enough, but with a twisty clue ([Relations of Homer?]) and the horse/opera crossings, that was the very last answer I completed. The [London locale of Prada, Dior, Gucci, and Giorgio Armani] is SLOANE STREET—ah, so that must be where the term Sloane Rangers comes from.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle pays tribute to "The Worst of 2007"—all manner of terrible things that've been anointed as the worst (song, car, movie sequel, TV show, fashion mistake) of last year. Ah, this was fun! Never heard of the song (I pay the least attention to the music section in Entertainment Weekly), but the crossings were reasonable enough to complete the title. What I liked, besides the theme: two retro pols, HHH (Humphrey) and ADLAI (one alone is lame, but two makes it fun); "IT'S ON!" and SMOOSH; [It comes from your butt?] for ASH (speaking of which: Illinois's public places are now smoke-free! No more smoky bars!); looks-like-crosswordese-but-it's-not ELAH, from the title of that Tommy Lee Jones movie that got good reviews; and Judge WAPNER from People's Court.


Patrick Berry's 12/21 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Trace Elements," is a thing of beauty. The six theme entries reinterpret two-letter words as two-letter atomic symbols. Thus, [Aluminum that doesn't seem like aluminum] is WEIRD AL (Al = aluminum), and [Arsenic in a murder-mystery show?] is AS SEEN ON TV (As = arsenic). Terrific theme with a fresh little "aha" moment for each of the six theme answers, amid glass-smooth fill (which includes two more elements, TIN and NEON, in non-gimmick form). Favorite clues: [Marco Polo venue] for swimming POOL; [They're made using one's hands] for FISTS; [Get off the ground] for HOP; and [Dairy suppliers] for UDDERS.

"Standing Out" is the name of Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle today. The theme's a quip: IS IT REDUNDANT TO / BUY A VANITY PLATE / FOR A LAMBORGHINI? I'm no fan of quip puzzles, but this one does break into 15s at logical places.

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon's LA Times crossword has a title within the grid: EATS OUT. The EATs are removed from the base phrases in the theme entries, so dancing all night to Benny Goodman is SWING PROFUSELY (sweating), and a baseball player may be SCARED TO DH (death). OFF THE BEN TRACK (beaten) sounded off to me—"off the beaten path" is the phrase I'm more familiar with, and while it outranks "off the beaten track" on Google, the "track" phrase is the one with solid reference support. (Live and learn.)

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal puzzle is an "International Foodfest," with foods adopting place names in modestly punful fashion. I'm a fan of geography themes, and this one offers 11 different entries. My favorites: the TUNIS SANDWICH, DELHI PICKLE, and MALTA MILK BALLS. The very last square I filled in was a borderline unfair crossing: [Yesterday, in the Yucatan] (not a Spanish word that's so commonly known among non-Spanish speakers, I think) meets [Farm product cooperative]. I have never, ever heard of AGWAY cooperative stores. (The store locator tells me my closest stores are over 200 miles away in Indiana.) Spanish "yesterday" is AYER. AGWAY?? Ow. But other than that one crossing, a most enjoyable puzzle.