The Sunday New York Times puzzle was crafted by the team of Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke. In "Baby Talk," the theme entries have been translated into baby talk in that the L's in the various phrases have been changed to baby-talk W's. [Rouse a beloved English queen?] is WAKE VICTORIA (from Lake Victoria), and the gross [Stick one's foot in Chardonnay?] is TOE THE WINE. I also like [Married in error?], or WED ASTRAY. There are 11 theme entries, two of them vertical ones that cross multiple Across theme answers. Zippy fill includes SEE A SHOW and TAKE A CAB (outings in NYC!), LIVEN UP and UP TO NOW, the ARROW KEY and ALSO-RANS. Favorite clues: [Bean town?] for LIMA; [___ d'amore] for OBOE (What?! This oboe of love is unknown to me); [Donkey Kong, for one] for APE; [Goll-lee!"] for DANG; [Word before and after "a"] for MANO; [Viscera] for OFFAL (organs!); [Illustrator for Charles Dickens] for PHIZ (Who?! Born Hablot Knight Browne, he signed his illustrations as Phiz); [Bird whose name sounds like its call] for NENE (who'da thunk a crossword would teach me a new tidbit about the old NENE?); [Tricks] for KNAVERY (great word!); [Metal that may ignite if scratched] for CERIUM (raise your hand if you tried CESIUM or another 6-letter element here); [Tribal chief] for KHAN (as in "Khaaaaan!!"); [They're not good for QB's] for INTS (Packers QB Brett Favre, as is his wont, didn't throw any interceptions in today's playoff game against Seattle, despite the ludicrously heavy snow that fell throughout the game; and [Big mouth] for MAW (just because I like the word MAW).
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Spaced-Out People," has a great theme. Each of the 16 short (7- or 8-letter) theme entries is a first name that will fill in a blank if you split it into two or more words. ["Why does Ma let ___ her like that?"] clues PATRICK (as in "Pa trick"), and ["I can sing this ___ major but it won't sound too good"] clues CAROLINE (carol in E). Not to mention "I like only the MILD RED peppers" and "I love to detail pickup trucks but I will DO NO VAN without a down payment." Hey, this puzzle was fun!
Robert Doll's Washington Post crossword, "Solve Dis!", serves up eight phrases that end with words that can also mean dis, as in "criticize." The cosmetician's insult might be a LIPSTICK SMEAR, for example, and the mechanic might issue an ENGINE KNOCK. I kinda like GANGSTA RAP repurposing "rap" with the sense of the word that doesn't get much play (and which I think I learned from crosswords).
Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite, "Cross Words," has cranky puns on an assortment of 10 phrases, changing one word into a word that embodies crossness. Some of the puns involve spelling changes (PIQUE-ABOO), some involve vowel-sound changes (CHRISTMAS WRATH), some have consonant-sound changes (ANGERS AWEIGH), and some add a consonant or entire syllable (DANDERLIONS, INCENSE ORGANS). It is this sort of pun theme that moves me the least—and the new phrases didn't strike me as funny. The fill highlights make a nice menagerie: SCHNAUZER, MUSK OXEN, BONZO the cinematic chimp, and WILE E. Coyote.
Dan Naddor's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Two by Fours," not only has plenty of zippy fill (HOME ICE, D.C. AREA, CAMEO ROLE, CUTS INTO), it's also got a fun theme involving adjacent foursomes of 2-letter chunks. DI is repeated in DID IDI DIVIDE UGANDANS, a CONDO DODO DOZES has four DOs in a row, and the IS question is, IS ISIS ISLAMIC? I enjoyed piecing these together once the letter pair suggested itself from crossing entries. Let me take this opportunity to commend Rich Norris and Joyce Nichols Lewis, who edit this Sunday puzzle so that it offers a consistent level of quality and fun. This puzzle, which the LA Times syndicates to other papers but does not print in its own paper, is consistently one of my favorites each weekend. I have no idea who Joyce Nichols Lewis is and how she and Rich divide the workload, but I sure like the output.
Randolph Ross's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is of mid-range difficulty, not easy but not so tough either. The most surprising answer is USED POT, clued as [Was a joint owner?]. Drugs! At the Sunday-morning breakfast table! This doesn't perturb me in the least, but I was surprised to see it in a newspaper crossword that doesn't skew young or racy too often. Favorite entries: First, there's ROTISSERIE league sports; the name is credited to Daniel Okrent (who said "because I'm an obsessive creep" in Wordplay), who used to meet some friends for fantasy sports action at a restaurant called La Rotisserie Francaise. Also from sports, there's BIG PAPI. Also a nice phrase, YOU AND I, that happens to be (ick) a Celine Dion song. BOND GIRL is classic pop culture. And I like the word APOTHEOSIS for whatever reason.
January 12, 2008