January 14, 2008

Tuesday, 1/15

Onion 5:35—Great puzzle! If you don't already get the Onion puzzle via e-mail, you can sign up here
Tausig 4:00
CS 3:58
NYT 3:17
NYS 3:15
LAT 3:15

Last week, the Monday New York Times puzzle was by Lynn Lempel, who'd had the Sunday puzzle. This week, the Tuesday constructors are the same ones who made the latest Sunday puzzle: Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke. The theme is a familiar one, SOAPS. I've seen a couple other brand-name soap crossword themes in the last couple years, but you know what? I kinda like brand-name themes in general. Here, there's ZEST FOR LIFE and TONE OF VOICE, both following the soap/preposition/noun form, and COAST GUARD and IVORY TOWER using soap/noun phrases. Highlights in the fill: Scrabbly EXODUS, ZIP CODE, and GAZEBO along with that ZEST soap; ALFALFA clued with Our Gang; LEAD FOOT; the phrase TO DIE FOR; and over-frequent crossword denizen NEON expanded to fresher NEON GAS. (Which might sound clunky to chemists, I don't know. It sounds fine to me.) Less-satisfying fill: EZIO Pinza, one of those almost-only-in-crosswords names; [Lombardy province or its capital], VARESE, a not-so-well-known Italian place name; ITAR[-Tass news agency], another of those things relatively few non-crossword fans are likely to know. Extra bonus points for including AZT, which the Cruciverb.com database tells me has appeared in five NYT crosswords but only once in the other papers' crosswords. As far as three-letter abbreviations go, this one's got human importance as the [First drug approved to treat AIDS]. Beats the OPA any day!

Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle, "Opening Moves," has one of those themes I didn't notice while solving. What was it? Let's see. I gather that it's the scrambling of the first three letters of each theme entry, including all six permutations. IN A QUANDARY and IAN FLEMING, AIN'T SHE SWEET and ANIMAL HOUSE, NAIL-BITERS and NIAGARA FALLS. Excellent sextet of answers, those. Not only are there these 66 squares of theme action, but the surrounding fill manages to give us five Z's along with the Q in the topmost theme entry. Favorite clues: [Girl from uncle?] for COUSIN; [Huitzilopochtli worshiper] for AZTEC (yeah, I had to look at the screen a lot while copying that clue); [Southwest, e.g.: Abbr.] for DIR (not airline!); [Trouble bubble contents] for DIE, referring to the board game's Pop-o-matic dome; [Electronic memory game with four colored lights] for SIMON (ah, the '80s!); [Short cut] for a BUZZ haircut; and the Run Lola Run clue for LOLA (now, that's a tense and adrenalin-crazed movie).


The LA Times crossword by Verna Suit doubles up the opening syllables of four phrases to create theme entries with a skewed sense: tumbling becomes TUM-TUM BLING (]Flashy navel jewelry?]), codependent turns into fashionably COCO-DEPENDENT, there's a CAN-CAN OF WORMS ([High-kicking dance of limbless critters]—figure out for yourself what exactly the worms are high-kicking), and there are some GO-GO GETTERS. Favorite clue: [Food box word with a cable car in its "o"] for RONI. Cute little factoid for an otherwise lifeless entry. Given the preponderance of tramless O's that showed up in a Google image search, I wonder if that's a new thing.

In Mel Rosen's "STOP Fooling Around" puzzle for the CrosSynergy team, five anagrams of STOP are listed in the clues for the theme answers, which are all words or phrases that might be crossword clues for those 4-letter words. What's a SPOT? It's a LITTLE MARK—not the sort of phrase that can stand on its own as a crossword entry, but in this reverse-clue sort of theme, it'll work.

Updated again:

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword is a thing of beauty with one small wart on it. Packed with 7- and 8-letter fill, it's got a word count suitable for a handsome themeless puzzle, but with three theme entries. Those theme entries take a palindromic 3-letter word at the beginning, middle, or end of a phrase and extend it into a 5-letter palindrome, still making a clueable phrase. Santa Ana winds become SANTA XANAX WINDS, and EVE and EKE become LEVEL and DEKED. Too many favorite entries to list 'em all—they include THE MINI, Monopoly's ST. JAMES Place, EXIT VISA, WAVE HI, RIYADH, AAARGH, Shatner's TEK WAR, C-CUPS, and FINITO. The wart was the nasty little trouble spot where a Glen Campbell song hits a semi-literate, semi-enunciated thing. Glen sang, "You've got TO PAVE your way into tomorrow," but boy, did I go through a lot of the alphabet there. The P crossed ["Whatevs..."], or PSH. But I still love this puzzle for its themeless-level fill crossed with Onion-sensibility cluing (South Park's "The Passion of the JEW", a smoker's STASH, a texted THX). Matt is in the running for the year's best improvement of a crosswordese word, with ANA and EKE promoted to key roles in a theme that works well.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "The Hidden Coin Trick," buries a dime, penny, nickel, and quarter among the theme entries, spread out in the circled squares. Next-wave crossword fill includes ANAL, COMMODE, CLEAVAGE, and PUHLEASE, not to mention SMELT clued as ["He who ___ it..."], as in "He who smelt it dealt it." Many clever and interesting clues: [Act the fifth columnist] for SUBVERT; [Go too far with the fast] for STARVE; [Misogynist comedian Cook] for DANE; [Creator of the annual Overlooked Film Festival] for EBERT; and the knowingness of [Cruciverbally useful Indonesian buffalo] for ANOA.