Karen Tracey's New York Times crossword is perhaps a little less showy and a little less fun than her usual themeless work, but then, she's set the bar mighty high because this remains a very good crossword. The longest entries are 9 letters, so there's no pair of headliners really set apart from the rest. Plenty of letters you'd want to make use of in Scrabulous (or Scrabble), to be sure—a Q, Z, and X along with a bunch of Js and Ks. There were two names I just didn't know, and they intersected—the last name of ["Turandot" composer Ferruccio] is BUSONI (not to be confused with Puccini's more famous Turandot), and the actress TANIA [Raymonde, player of Alex Rousseau on "Lost"] is unknown to me, except that I knew Alex to be a female character so I was looking for a woman's name. I don't cry foul on the crossing, because it was likely to be TANIA or TANYA, and BUSONY doesn't look remotely Italian with that Y ending.
I savored a number of the clues. In the Across direction, I especially liked [Cash cache, often] for COOKIE JAR; [Wanton type] for SATYR; [Shout across the Seine?] for the French word CRI; [They don't stay hot for very long] for FADS; [General equivalent] for ADMIRAL; ["New York City Rhythm" singer] for MANILOW (I prefer to forget that he recorded songs other than "Copacabana"); [Weasley family's owl, in Harry Potter books] for a non-Flynn ERROL (I also like documentarian Errol Morris); [Breaking sticks] for pool CUES; [Cold weather] for TEENS (and lemme tell you, that didn't feel good with the wind today); and [Blues guitarist Vaughan] for STEVIE RAY (a great entry—he's instantly recognizable sans last name).
Going Down, there's [They're seedy] for apple CORES (didn't you want to fill in DIVES?); [Hip-hop producer Gotti] for IRV (and no, Gotti's not his real last name); [Peer group setting?] for the JURY BOX; the two-syllable [Peaked] for ANEMIC; [Potential canine saver] for ROOT CANAL (technically, the root canal is merely a canal within the root of a tooth and not the name of any endodontic procedure, but everyone calls it a root canal anyway); the verb [Direct] can mean REFER; [The Yasawa Islands are part of it] refers to FIJI (who knew?); [Review unfairly, maybe] for UNDERRATE; the misleadingly non-plural adjective [Tops] for NUMBER ONE; and the misleadingly canine-sounding [Dalmatian or Pomeranian] for SLAV.
The TREPAN is clued as a [Mine shaft tool]. Heh. It's also handy for boring a hole in the skull.
Who is 14-Down's [Playwright/painter Wyspianski]? His first name is STANISLAW, and I like the paintings displayed on his Wikipedia page; check 'em out. I'd never heard of him before, but ask me for a Polish man's name, and Stanisław (I believe the crossed L is pronounced like our W) comes readily to mind; it was my grandma's dad's name. Also in the category of European writers, we have JEAN GENET (["The Thief's Journal" author]) opposite STANISLAW, so maybe there is a wee mini-theme of sorts. And a pair of wines, RIOJA and MOSELLE, for the writers to sip.
It's inadvisable to start a tough crossword in the wee hours, because the brain gets a mite creaky then. I had to put the southwest corner of Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" aside until after sleep and breakfast. Well, now it's doable, but a lot of the clues in that corner were on the oblique side, there more than in the rest of the puzzle if you ask me. [Iron, e.g.] for golf CLUB seems obvious now, as does the BOSTON fern, but [Have in mind] and TARGET don't seem quite equivalent to me; URGERS is a yucky answer for [Force's sources]; [Staying power] and LENGTH don't feel synonymous to me (LEGS, yes); and I just plain blanked on the concept of a stone CAIRN that might be a [Mountain-summit marker]. I like to think the climber's carried a cairn up the mountain side for just that purpose, rather than finding a rock atop the mountain. Did you know MARIA was the plural for [Lunar seas]? I had the MAR part right. I liked the crossing SWORD SWALLOWING and BRAND SPANKIN' NEW, ONE OR TWO, and [It may keep you up at night] for PAGE-TURNER. With the "turner" part in place, I was lured into thinking of tossing and turning, which was absolutely the wrong sort of turning for this answer.
Robert E. Lee Morris's LA Times crossword has a bit of a Los Angeles vibe to it, with movie titles, UCLA in the clue for ALMA MATER ([UCLA's "Hail to the Hills of Westwood," e.g.]), and the occasional actress name. [His name can be typed using three contiguous keys] has got to be harder for the legions of solvers who aren't working the puzzle on their computer (it's ERTE). I like TAP DANCE clued as [Be evasive], PET NAME crossing HONEY, UNCLE SAM, SAVALAS clued as [Co-owner of the racehorse Telly's Pop], and [Leatherback] for SEA TURTLE. (Why was I thinking of the Marine Corps for that last clue?) Other good clues: [Hot air] for JIVE; [Ring leader?] for boxing CHAMP; [When the U.S. Open ends] for SEPT (tennis, not golf; I think it begins in late August); and [English logician John] VENN (don't know who he is at all, but with the V in place, "Venn diagram" came to mind).
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Food Groups," tortures a few musical groups with food puns: the GRAPEFUL DEAD, ROLLING SCONES, and OAT RIDGE BOYS. There's nothing particularly grapey, sconeish, or oaten about these groups, is there? Good to have a Monday-easy puzzle this morning, though, since I've got to run!
January 25, 2008