January 04, 2008

Saturday, 1/5

NYT 5:45
Newsday 5:28
LAT 5:03
CS 3:20

Paula Gamache rocks, and so do 70-word themeless crosswords. The Saturday New York Times puzzle doesn't bedazzle anyone because the grid was fearsomely difficult to fill—it bedazzles because it introduces a best-selling book about the vegan diet, SKINNY BITCH, to crosswordland. (It's a [Saucily titled best-selling diet book].) I didn't know about the book until this week's NYT article about the follow-up book. That entry is stacked atop IL TROVATORE and TEACHER'S PET, which I'd like to think is not so often the [Target of a school bully]. Moving clockwise around the grid, other highlights include CREWCUTS (great clue: [Private dos?]); HETEROS ([They're straight]); EL CAPITAN ([Yosemite Valley peak]; FLUORIDE ([Enamel strengthener]); [John of Lancaster] for LOO; NASTY HABITS (great clue: [They really ought to be kicked]); ACUTE ACCENT (great clue: [Sign of stress?]); SAVES THE DAY; Lake TITICACA of Trivial Pursuit fame ([Body found high in the Andes]—and not a cousin of Ötzi, found frozen in the Alps); [Like 1, but not I] for ARABIC (and also in the number family, [It's next to nothing?] for ONE); [No Yankee fan] for REB, going Civil War rather than Major League; another body of water, LAKE TAHOE, [Where Fredo Corleone gets shot]; OXYMORONS ([Passive-aggressive and the like]); and SILICA GEL (the [Common desiccant] found in those little packets in shoeboxes).

Things that gave me pause: [Peggy of "The Dukes of Hazzard"] is Peggy REA, who played "man-chasing Lulu Hogg." Who? What? The lesser Rea of acting, I shall call her. There's a [Ben Jonson poem] called TO CELIA. I don't recognize the title (me! an English major!), but the first line's familiar: "Drink to me only with thine eyes." There is ITALO disco European dance music? All righty. And YVETTE is a [1884 short story by Guy de Maupassant]? I'll take your word for it. The [N.F.L. salary limit] is called a HARD CAP? Okay. And the [___-de-four (hemisphere-shaped vault]) is CUL-de-four; I guessed COL at first. Now, when I say these gave me pause, I really mean they made me pause in solving because I didn't know them and needed the crossings. This pause is not a pause of doubt or distaste. This crossword was a lot of fun, and eminently fair.


The Newsday Saturday Stumper by Stanley Newman (a.k.a. "Anna Stiga") is also a 70-worder, this one featuring eight 9s as the longest answers. Best fill: USE-BY DATE, ON HOLIDAY, DIATRIBE, "YES, INDEED" ([Amen alternative]), "NICE DOG," and BOLO TIE. Favorite clues: [Tiger Woods PGA Tour participant] for GAMER (it's a video game!); [Hole-in-the-wall fixture] for ATM; [Inexperienced one] for COLT (I move that Will Shortz rename the ACPT Rookie category the Colt division); [Bugs] for GERMS; [Watering holes] for LOUNGES; [Opposite of "free"] for ENSLAVE; [Get on] for both RIDE and ENTRAIN; [Sort of stole] for BOA; and [Fair pair] for a pair of TENS in poker.

Ed Early's LA Times puzzle has three triple-stacks of 15-letter entries, many not so difficult to tease out. The tastiest: CHOCOLATE-COATED, of course. Favorite clues: [Future event that sounds as if it already happened] for PRIOR ENGAGEMENT; [Political party term signifying diversity] for BIG TENT; and the super-cheesy "Make IT SO" Star Trek: The Next Generation reference.

Nancy Salomon's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Jaws 3," features two phrases that include the name of a large reptile (ALLIGATOR PEARS, CROCODILE TEARS) and one phrase that is the name of a large reptile (CAIMAN LIZARDS. [Fit to serve] clues ONE-A, and Douglas Bass recently shared with me his disgruntlement about ONE-A and other draft classification references in crosswords, pointing out that the draft ended 35 years ago. The majority of ONEA clues in the Cruciverb database refer to the draft classification, but the answer's also been clued as [___-Day Vitamins], which probably resonates better for those solvers under the age of 45.