January 05, 2008

Sunday, 1/6

NYT 9:55
WaPo 8:06
LAT 8:06
PI 6:05
CS 4:59

I need to wash and slice 10 pounds of fresh fruit tonight or first thing in the morning, as it's due at my aunt's house at 11:00 Sunday morning, ready to eat. It's for my mom's relatives' annual Christmas Day brunch, which now lands about two weeks late. Whatever puzzles I don't solve and blog tonight will languish until afternoon or evening. Okay, so really, they won't languish if thousands of other people are solving them during the day, but you know what I mean. Also, there's no Boston Globe offering in Across Lite this weekend.

Oh! January 6 would have been my crossword-loving grandma's 96th birthday. Without her example, I wonder if I would have found my way to crossword puzzles as early as I did. Thanks, Grandma!

Lynn Lempel, one of my favorite easy-puzzle constructors, tossed out more of a challenge in her Sunday New York Times crossword, "The Inside Dope." The theme was of zero help in solving this puppy—in fact, it took me a minute to see what the theme was after I finished the puzzle. I was looking for two other kinds of dope—info and marijuana—rather than the idiots who are hidden within the 10 theme entries. There's a DODO in PLACIDO DOMINGO, a DINGBAT in the READING BATTERY, and a CHUMP in the PACIFIC HUMPBACK whale, for example. I like that there's a hidden non-donkey ASS the day after the B-word debuted in the Gray Lady's crossword. (Will Will Shortz get cranky letters about this?) Oh! There's also some SPERM in the grid, cross-clued with OVA; am I the only one so well-trained by crosswords that I expected labor union abbreviations in both spots? I am disappointed to learn that Teri is not the only famous GARR; [Ralph ___, 1974 N.L. batting champ] gives me no warm fuzzies. And what's with ERNE not playing the part of a sea eagle? Here, it's an [Island-dotted lake of Northern Ireland]. Favorite clues: [Some tubes] for MACARONI; [Lover boy?] for EROS; [It's sour] for a FLAT NOTE in close proximity to Placido; [Title with a tilde] for SENOR (or Señor); [Seminole's archrival] for a GATOR of Florida collegiate sports; and [Not fair] for WET, as in weather. Overall, the non-theme fill didn't do much for me; I might have preferred a puzzle with eight theme entries and more breathing room for longer, zippier fill.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle tumbled like a house of cards—easy! Each of the 10 theme entries is "Four Little Words," and each beginning rhymes with its end. The direct rhymes, like LOOSE AS A GOOSE and BLAST FROM THE PAST, were the easiest to suss out. ME AND BOBBY MCGEE and CHEAPER TO KEEP HER took more crossings and more thinking to fill in. The entries are so lively in and of themselves: PEDAL TO THE METAL, SOAP ON A ROPE, and the others already mentioned simply sparkle. Favorite clue: [Singer whose name has only two A's] for BARBRA. I started out with ARETHA there, but the "only two" says "doofus, think of a name that might customarily have more than two A's."

In this weekend's Washington Post puzzle, "Two-Piece Suits," Harvey Estes nudges 16 kinds of "suits" into concocted phrases in eight theme entries. For example, a [Simian's time to be alone?] might be some much-needed MONKEY SPACE, and "monkey suit" (tuxedo) and "spacesuit" (astronaut's attire) are both known entities. In this one, its not the theme entries that captivate me so much as the fill. Springsteen's "I'M ON FIRE" abuts tennis great ROD LAVER. The LOVE BOAT is sandwiched between GRIMACES and "IT'S NO USE." LAGER crosses ALE in a heady spot. Not to mention AL JOLSON, FALL FLAT, and RAUCOUS—lively language. Favorite clues: [Bee's city] for FRESNO; [Subject of "worship"] for SUN; [Site visits] for website HITS; [Wayne, aka Batman] for BRUCE Wayne; [Like some trigger fingers] for ITCHY; and [Dipped treat] for BONBON (not OREO!). Honorable mention to one lousy little piece of fill I am inordinately fond of: I GO (["My turn"]).


Alan Arbesfeld's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Name Dropping," dumps some famous people's first names from assorted phrases. "Waltzing Matilda" gets the treatment—[Pan a Dahl novel without Disney?] knocks out WALT and leaves ZING MATILDA. "Mexican standoff" loses STAN Laurel and gets a [Polite Chihuahua gesture as Laurel departs?], a MEXICAN DOFF of the hat.

Good times—the CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has a Rich Norris byline, and the man has a knack for constructing good themeless puzzles. Each corner has some colorful 8-letter answers crossing 6-letter entries. Highlights in the fill: J.C. PENNEY, old-school TAPE DECK, I LOVE YOU referencing ROMANCE, a POP-TOP, YUK IT UP, EMOTICON and VITAMIN C crossing a PAYPHONE, some HAS-BEENS AT RANDOM, and PEROXIDE bleaching out a SNAKEPIT. (At 72 words, this one has the maximum word count for a themeless, but it doesn't come across as "unambitious constructor" so much as "constructor who wants to pack the grid with as many lively answers as possible." Favorite clues: [Chain store that began as The Golden Rule in 1902] for J.C. PENNEY; [Relative of bananas?] for NUTS; [Name on a Trump card] for DONALD (his credit cards, business card, and photo IDs presumably bear his full name—wait, does he need a business card?); [Cone-shaped] for PINEAL (cone as in pine cone, which the pineal gland is vaguely shaped like, only it's so wee); and [Green] for COLD CASH.