The "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the New York Sun comes from Peter Collins, and I think this is his first published themeless puzzle. Well! It appears he has a knack for the form, and I hope he's been working on other themeless grids. I took a gamble that ["Later"], starting with A, was ADIOS AMIGO, and I was pleased as punch when the crossings bore that out. Other top-notch entries include SALT SHAKER, "PORE JUD" from Oklahoma!, a SQUARE PEG, TREE-HUGGER, the SEX PISTOLS, HUGH LAURIE, GO DEEP, and my personal favorite, ALL AQUIVER. (As in, "Are you all aquiver that not only is the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament just over a month away, but you can now register online and pay via PayPal, which makes it easier to register from outside the U.S.?") Mind you, the clue is [Showing trepidation], but I think the phrase is used more often for excitement than for fear.
Favorite clues: [Creator of Major Major] for Joseph HELLER, author of Catch-22; [Ipanema hello] for OLA (must be the Portuguese equivalent of hola—learned something new); [Long, for short] for ANTONYM; [Vera Wang creation] for DRESS (I wore a Wang in England last year—bridesmaid dress); [Hole in the wall] for OUTLET; [Green] for TREE-HUGGER; [Rotten band] for SEX PISTOLS; [Rapper Biggie] for SMALLS (much better than a [T-shirt sizes, perhaps] clue); [Pepper and others] for DRS and [Pepper, e.g.] for SGT (paired clues like these greatly improve a couple of abbreviations); and [Fitting toy for a child?] for LEGO. I'd never heard of "SO RARE," the [Jimmy Dorsey hit of 1957], nor Houston Astros president TAL Smith. I temporarily blanked on the TINE TESTS for tuberculosis; my medical editing client calls it the purified protein derivative (PPD) test.
As for the New York Times puzzle, gah. Sloppy typing throughout, though I caught all but one of the mistakes before moving on. That last one didn't help. Anyway, the puzzle. It was constructed by Matt Ginsberg, and it's got a ton of theme entries (75 theme squares in all). Each of eight theme entries (three 13s, two 8s, a 6, and two 5s) omits HIT THE (63-Across) from the start. There's a [1961 chart-topper for Ray Charles], "HIT THE / ROAD JACK"; phrases like HIT THE/ GROUND RUNNING, HIT THE / CAMPAIGN TRAIL, HIT THE / SKIDS, and HIT THE / NAIL ON THE HEAD; hitting both the BULL'S EYE and a PINATA; and hitting the FLOOR to dodge bullets. Great theme here, eh? Covers a variety of phrases, and has a satisfying "aha" moment as you figure out that the phrases are missing hit the. Least familiar answers, for me: the [Fictional C.I.A. unit on "Alias"] for APO and [Walter who wrote "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money"] for TEVIS. I liked the unfamiliarity-yet-gettability of [Zooid] as the clue for ANIMAL; the '70s pop-culture hit of OJAI with the clue, [California hometown of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman]; ["Mother of all rivers"] for the MEKONG, a bit of geo trivia I didn't know; the misleadingly inquisitive [What's up?] for the SKY; [Entertaining] for OPEN TO considering something; and the baseball [Unsafe?] for OUT.
Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Consequences," delivers the following quip: IF YOU FAIL TO / PAY YOUR EXORCIST / YOU'LL PROBABLY BE / REPOSSESSED. There wasn't much in the fill to offset the fact that this is a dreaded quip puzzle. TAPPETS? I've heard of that only from public radio's Car Talk, hosted by "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers." My mechanic's never mentioned my car's tappets. Canasta MELDS, ELOI, ESTE, and ECU are old-school crossword fill, and the not-old-school E-CASH is one of those e-bad e-words I never e-use. The quip's punchline seems like an obvious wordplay, and yet, I don't recall seeing this one before. Sorta droll, this joke.
Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword links the last syllable in each of four Across theme entries with a suffix that's also in the grid, POSE, so that DISPOSE, COMPOSE, and other words are floating out there. There are four Scrabbly Z's and a pair of Js in the northwest corner of the grid, but I wonder if the attachment to those unnecessarily constrained the rest of the fill. One of the long non-theme answers is ZOMBIE WALK. Huh? Apparently that's a flash mob sort of thing, but I've never heard of it. Have they had zombie walks in your city? The other is LED TO PANIC, but that doesn't feel quite in-the-language to me. Is it substantively different from led to disappointment as a standalone phrase? Maybe it is. There are two words in the fill that I don't recall ever seeing in crosswords, and I daresay they weren't common crosswordese-type fill in the '80s (when I really started doing crosswords), or I'd know them as easily as AGIO (the [Currency exchange fee])—these are GAND, the [1814 treaty site, to the French] (French for Ghent, apparently), and SOCLE, [Architectural column base]. FOCSLE I know; SOCLE, no. I don't expect to encounter more than one completely unfamiliar word in a Thursday puzzle, not after all the thousands of crosswords I've done. Saturdays can push me, but Thursdays aren't supposed to. *grumble mumble*
January 23, 2008