I've been slacking off on my ACPT training in the last few days—I've been trying to do at least 10 extra puzzles a day. Given the forecast of subzero overnight lows and subzero wind chills all weekend, I suspect I'll find plenty of time to sit inside and do crosswords.
I could be wrong, but I think David Kahn's shtick for themeless New York Times crosswords is to include a minitheme of two long entries that intersect at the middle. He had that one insane baseball puzzle with two entries relating to that walkout or lockout (I don't keep up on baseball labor issues) some years back, and one of the minitheme entries included a year, in numerals. Here, there's nothing so diabolical, but HERCULE POIROT ([Noted 36-Across passenger]) was wont to ride the ORIENT EXPRESS ([See 15-Down]). I read a lot of Agatha Christie in my teen years, so this pair came together with not too many crossings. Besides the X in that entry, there are two other X's and a pair of Z's peppering the grid.
Favorite fill: HAVE A COW, or [Freak out]; ARABIST, or [Mideast expert, maybe]; THE BOXER, or [Simon & Garfunkel hit after "Mrs. Robinson"]; METRO NORTH, or [New York City transportation option]; and SLEIGH RIDE, or [Christmas song favorite since 1949].
Tastiest clues: [Embassy issue?] is an EXIT VISA. [Platters platters players] are HIFIS. [Indisposed] means LOATH, a word I love. [Superlatively derogatory] sounds so much better (or worse, I suppose) than SNIDEST, doesn't it? [___ letters] clues CALL, as in radio call letters; why did it take me so long to see that? [Rabbit food?] is TRIX cereal, of course ("Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"). [Father-and-son comedic actors] are the STILLERS; how nice for Anne Meara to have her husband and son mentioned in the crossword! (MEARA gets a lot more play in crosswords.) [What a game plan leads to?] is a SAFARI; I don't get exactly how this clue reads, but I like it all right anyway. (A question-marked clue does tend to turn my head, as long as it's not a superfluous question mark.) Little bitty LAY gets clued as [Romantic narrative]; so courtly! ENOS the space-travelin' chimp gets an unusually specific clue: [Mercury-Atlas 5 rider].
Toughest nuts to crack: [1993 rap hit with the repeated lyric "Bow wow wow yippy yo yippy yay"] is DRE DAY; hmm, it appears the full title may be "Fuck Wit Dre Day". [Concordat] is not a word I've seen before, but it looks an awful lot like a concord, so PACT made sense. Crossing that at the P was STEEP, clued as [Acclivitous], a word I didn't recognize and yet somehow grasped the meaning of. [Gridiron stats: Abbr.] is usually YDS or TDS, but here it's FGS (field goals). The southwest corner meshed together four two-word phrases, none of them coming quickly to mind—AIRED OUT, READ INTO, ON FIRE, and GONE IN. That corner was gnarly. PAVED is clued as [Hard-top], but didn't we all first think of hard-top cars? [___ Lyman & His California Orchestra, popular 1920s-'40s band] is another ABE, less famous than Lincoln, Simpson, or Vigoda.
All right, there were a couple spots in Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper that irked me. Is it really fair to cross a middle initial with the letter that precedes the word STAR, when the person whose middle initial is needed is signaled only as [Literary monogram]? There's a reason that all the other clues for EBW (E.B. White) in the Cruciverb database are more specific—they reference Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, children's lit, or New Yorker essays rather than just asking for an unknown author's initials. Are crossword solvers really expected to know how various stars are classified? If so, here's a primer: O stars are the hottest. B stars are next, and supergiant Rigel is a B STAR. Next is the A star, like Sirius. Then there's the F star, followed by G stars like our sun, K stars like Aldebaran, and cool M stars like Betelgeuse. Here's a mnemonic I found at Wikipedia to help us remember which letters are the main star types: "Only Boys Advocating Feminism Get Kissed Meaningfully." This crossword also had the word PRINKING, which I'd never encountered before; it means [Fussing over finery] and yes, PRIMPING and PREENING were both obvious first choices there, but didn't work with the crossings. What I liked: OLEO clued as a [Prefix meaning oil]; good gravy, I've never been so glad to see a prefix clue! Although prefixes are generally suboptimal in crosswords, I find this an improvement over the "toast spread" that nobody in this country actually calls oleo. (If only Leo DiCaprio would date a singer who would record an "O, Leo!" song.) I also like seeing PATRICIAN, AFTERSHOCK, CATTY-CORNER, and BLUE MEANIE in the grid; GERITOL's ["Quiz Show" sponsor] clue; and the TRIPEDAL (three-legged), [Like "War of the Worlds" aliens].
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Elmer Fudd's Favorite Movies," changes "R" movies into "W" movies—The Rookie becomes THE WOOKIEE, Real Genius becomes WHEEL GENIUS Merv Griffin, etc. I don't know the original movie behind WOMB SERVICE, though—IMDb lists about 10 Room Services, including a 1938 Marx Brothers movie. There is certainly VIDEO on many DVDs, but another [DVD part] is the word versatile (though apparently it can't be said definitively that DVD = digital versatile disk.
Gotta run—my son has acting class in 22 minutes, and it's –2° F. LA Times puzzle Saturday afternoon.
Mark Diehl's LA Times crossword is roughly as difficult as the day's other themeless puzzles. My biggest highlight: LITHUANIA! I'm an eighth Lithuanian. I'm sure [Many iPod toters] are indeed TEENS, but I'll bet far more iPod owners are adults. Combine adults' sheer demographic advantage with the high price of the best iPods, and I think the teens lose out. I don't recall seeing HAMON clued as anything other than HAM ON rye, but here's it's ["La Comedie humaine" artist] Jean-Louis HAMON. ROSS MARTIN (né Martin Rosenblatt) was a ["Wild Wild West" costar] in the '60s TV version, not the Will Smith/Kevin Kline movie. Never heard of him...
January 18, 2008