Adam Perl's New York Times puzzle dusts off the Superman story, gathering together three key staff members from the DAILY PLANET: star reporters Lois LANE CHANGES ([They require signals]) and Clark KENT STATE, and their editor, Perry WHITE LIES. (Is this a commentary on journalistic ethics?) In the version of the story floating in my head, ELIZABETH I and ADAM AND EVE all work in the advertising department, Eve's getting a promotion to a marketing job, and Steve the intern will take over as Adam's partner. Aaaanyway...it's an inventive theme, and I liked a lot of the fill—a HOT DOG and CREPES, TULANE and a HORNET, The WIZ and SCHLEP. Favorite clues: [Number of operas composed by Beethoven] for ONE (Fidelio); [Liechtenstein's language] for GERMAN; [Peach pit] for STONE (because The Peach Pit was the name of the diner on Beverly Hills, 90210, and the proprietor was played by an actor with the implausible name of Joe E. Tata); [After the buzzer] for LATE; and ["Oh, goody!"] for HOT DOG.
James Sajdak's New York Sun crossword is called "What the H?" but it's not about hell or heck. Instead, the theme entries sound like my son a year ago, when he had trouble pronouncing the th sounds, which tended to come out as t or d sounds. In this puzzle, phrases starting with TH are changed to the T sound, with the spelling changing as needed to make a real word. For example, the Suzanne Somers Thighmaster turns into a TIE MASTER ([Haberdasher?]), theme music becomes TEAM MUSIC, and thrill and three become TRILL and TREE. (Speaking of the Thighmaster, I never remember what that muscle is called, the one you'd use to close the Thighmaster, so I just call it my Suzanne Somers.) I sure don't recall seeing the Russian city SMOLENSK before, and it's wedged in besides MINEOLA, New York (which I have heard of, fortunately). Favorite fill: ON DVD, OEUF, and DR. JOHN packed in together; SULLIED; YUMMY— Dr. John sullied the yummy oeuf: See it on DVD!
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Running Jokes," has sort of tortured electoral puns for a theme. The Caucasus Mountains become CAUCUS MOUNTAINS ([Piles of ballots?], prime number (I think) becomes a PRIMARY NUMBER, Champagne toast turns into CAMPAIGN TOAST, and bait and tackle becomes DEBATE AND TACKLE. The theme? Meh. Not for me. Favorite clues: [Lacking baggage, say] for DATEABLE; [B, be, and bee, e.g.] for HOMONYMS. Most satisfying crossing: THWACK meets KRUMP.
Ben's e-mail accompanying that puzzle and his Onion A.V. Club crossword warn "don't solve this week's AV Club with your dear old Aunt Ethel." I'll get to why in a moment. (DO NOT GOOGLE ALL OF THE THEME ENTRIES.) First, the theme is the TV WRITERS' STRIKE (though they're also movie writers, not just TV) and the things people do for entertainment while their TV shows are out of commission. One options is LOLCATS, which I love; I Can Has Cheezburger? is one of the main centers of LOLcats fun. I hadn't heard of FANTASY CONGRESS, the political version of fantasy football leagues. Looks cool. Alas, the theme also gives plenty of space to WATCHING PEOPLE / REACT TO / TWO GIRLS ONE CUP. If you haven't heard of that (and I hope you haven't), I recently learned that it's an online porn video involving two women and plenty of coprophagia-related action. Is the current generation of young people picking up the message that this sort of degradation of women is entertaining, or completely suitable for joking about? What does it say about our society that this is a viral video that millions of people have seen this, and that (Wikipedia tells me) there are plenty of videos of people reacting to the video? (Note: None of these links go to videos.)
Stepping off my soapbox, I turn to the CrosSynergy puzzle, Paula Gamache's "Secret Service." The theme is rather shy—an ACE, or a tennis serve (service), is embedded within each theme entry. Plenty of long fill to admire in this one. There's a POLITICO and LEONARDO da Vinci, a SOMERSAULT and the ROSETTA Stone, and some FIBEROPTIC cable.
Mike Peluso's LA Times crossword plays chess with five sort-of-famous people. I know IRENE CASTLE only from crosswords, and ELVIN BISHOP's name, hmm, I probably picked that up from Alan Arbesfeld's 1/12/05 NYT crossword. (The Arbesfeld puzzle had four of the same people. but swapped in Stephen for LARRY KING.) The five people's last names are chess pieces, and until there are famous people named Pawn, this is about how such a theme will go. Favorite entries: SAO TOME getting both of its words in the grid (instead of one for a fill-in-the-blank clue); OIL-RICH nations; TROT OUT; and an employee's ID BADGE, a much zippier entry than the IDTAG that's been popping up fairly often.
January 21, 2008