Matt Ginsberg's New York Times puzzle is loaded with the sorts of things I like to see in themeless Friday crosswords—a boatload of 7-letter answers that are fresh and breezy, a pop-culture theme, a few more hits off the pop-culture pipe in the fill, and a bit of a gimmick. The gimmick is that the four two-word theme answers, all movie titles, are split into eight entries spanning four rows in the grid, with the first word clued straightforwardly and the second word unclued. 6-Down tells us to fill in the BLANK, and 55-Down tells us each completed pair is a FILM. The movies are TEQUILA SUNRISE, TREASURE ISLAND, ANIMAL CRACKERS, and BLAZING SADDLES—extra credit for the Q, Z, and K included in the titles.
One of my correspondents has asked why there are other intact movie titles in the fill (THE BLOB, REPO MAN) when the theme is divided movie titles. Were these a distraction or detraction to you? Me, I loved 'em. And the top row suggests (in reverse) THE BLOB ABSORBS, which is sort of what the Blob did, isn't it? I liked that resonance, and [Director Ivan] REITMAN, whose name differs from REPO MAN by just two letters. Along with these, other lively fill includes BOOZE ([Sauce]), SCOURGE ([Plague]), TSURIS (Yiddish for "trouble," or ["Oy vey!" cause]), and the [Risque beachwear] called THONGS. (It's spring break!)
Favorite clues: [Taylor, Wilson, or Harding] for ANN (the store Ann Taylor is not named after anyone); [Saint of dancers] for VITUS (which I know only because Huntington's disease or Huntington's chorea used to be called St. Vitus' dance); [1/64th of a checkerboard, maybe: Abbr.] for SQ. IN. (I taught my son to play checkers this week!); [Ocean liner?] for SAND; and [Ornery sort] for CUSS. The main "Huh?" bit for me: REI is clued as [Defendants, legally], rather than the outdoorsy retailer. I know Latin legalese primarily from crosswords, and this one rarely comes up.
Ethan Cooper's New York Sun crossword, "Times Two, Brute," makes us ply our Roman-numeral arithmetic skills—the last letter in each theme entry is changed to the letter(s) that represents the original letter doubled, if that letter were a Roman numeral. So "COME ON, BE A PAC" doubles the L (50) in PAL to C (100), "MARVELOUS, MARX" doubles the V (5) in MARV to X (10), "CAN I HAVE A WORM" doubles the D (500) in WORD to M (1,000), and MILWAUKEE WII doubles the I (1) in WI (Wisconsin) to II (2). Extra points for including the popular Nintendo Wii game system in a theme entry. Great theme, and a terrific conversion of Roman-numeral hell (e.g., [7th-century date] for DCVI) into Roman-numeral cleverness.
Favorite clues: [___ music (brushback pitch)] for CHIN (hey! a baseball clue I could answer!); [Film title character whose mother dies three minutes into the the film] for Pixar's NEMO; ["High" terror alert level] for ORANGE (hey! I resent that); [Then, in Italian] for POI (a nice switch from [Taro paste], though horribly obscure for us non-Italophones—but the crossings gave me all I needed); [1992 film directed by Stephen Frears] for HERO (since subs aren't called heroes in Chicagoland, I appreciate a break from sandwich clues for HERO); [Arab food containers] for NOSEBAGS (Arab = Arabian horse here); [Chambers romancer] for MALONE (as in Diane Chambers and Sam Malone of Cheers); [Dixie diphthongization] for DRAWL; and [One who might try to sell you a bridge?: Abbr.] for DDS.
The CrosSynergy puzzle is by Bob Klahn today. If you want to defang Klahn (or if you just enjoy his cluing style, as I do), visit the NYT crossword archives for the Klahn puzzles listed here (scroll down), and buy Challenging 30-Minute Crosswords. Today's puzzle is called "Dank Like a Fish," and the theme entries are phrases that start with D and have lost the R that originally followed the D.
David Kahn's LA Times puzzle pays tribute to the late Evel KNIEVEL by embedding EVEL within eight theme answers (two 15s, two 9s, two 7s in the middle, and two 6s—hey, that's a heckuva lot of theme squares!). The theme entries themselves are not especially zippy—they were chosen because they contain the EVEL letter string—but I'm sure Knievel's family won't mind. My favorite clue was for one of the themers: [Indian home] was, I thought, some sort of structure inhabited by Native Americans or by people in India—but no, it's where the Indians play Major League Baseball, CLEVELAND.
January 16, 2008