I don't know about you, but I found the fill and clues in Barry Silk's Wednesday New York Times crossword to be distinctly Thursdayish in difficulty. If you = Howard Barkin, then no, it's more like a Tuesday, no trouble here at all. But if you're like me, you may have found yourself piecing together unfamiliar phrases for three quarters of the theme entries. Mind you, I'm not complaining—I like harder crosswords. I just don't care for it when another solver insists that there was no particular challenge at all. Not that Howard would insist in such a fashion—he's far too polite for that.
As for the specifics, the theme is a bit of a conundrum. There's MYSTERY, ALASKA, which the clue tells us is a [1999 Russell Crowe movie]. I recall that it was a quirky hockey movie, but not that Crowe was in it. There's a PROBLEM CHILD—hey! I got that one right off the bat with a few crossings. There's the PUZZLE PALACE, which is both [Nickname for the National Security Agency] and the nickname for the spacious condo that some puzzle folks shared at Sundance in 2006. Last, there's the [W.W. II encryption device] called ENIGMA MACHINE. Cool for a crossword puzzle to have puzzles as its theme.
Highlights in the fill: DORM ROOM; the fairly arbitrary fraternity name ZETA PSI; the rather arbitrary-sounding [Last king of the united Sweden and Norway], OSCAR II; the LAST EXIT; VEXED; the [Fielder's cry], "I GOT IT!"; and the so-retro-it's ["Groovy!"] FAR OUT. Favorite and/or most vexatious clues: [A lot of pizzazz?] for ZEES (dang it, I was trying to make ZEAL or ZEST fit there); [Scorecard listing] for ROSTER (no big sports fan, I was looking for a 6-letter stat); [Deplaned, e.g.] for ALIT (this one I like because of its sheer ludicrousness—when's the last time you heard anyone mention "alighting" from anything, plane or otherwise? Okay, when's the last time it was a non-crossworder?); and ["Die Frau ___ Schatten" (Strauss opera)] for OHNE (it means "The Woman Without a Shadow," and while I don't know the title at all, I do remember my German prepositions). Hey! Go Google without. You'll get an interesting assortment of sites if you do.
Tony Orbach's New York Sun puzzle, "Shot to the Body," adds some BB shot to five phrases to generate long theme entries. The top and bottom pairs of theme entries are stacked together (staggered by a few squares), and the middle theme entry's bracketed by 7-letter answers above and below, so there's a spacious feel to the grid. My favorite theme entry transformed pre-Ahnuld California governor Gray Davis into Geena GRABBY DAVIS—certainly an unexpected place to invoke a governor's name. Favorite fill: VEX! Yes, I always love vex in all its forms. And SLACKER. Favorite clues: [Shoppers at a white sale?] for WINOS (who, it is well known, have a decided preference for chenin blanc); [Saint with a Minnesota college named after him] for OLAF (Ahem! I have a decided preference for St. Olaf's crosstown rival, my alma mater); [Solution to a Diophantine equation, e.g.] for INTEGER (wow, that clue works hard to addle the non-mathematician solvers! I'm not Googling this one—let's see who is the first mathematician to explain what a Diophantine equation is in the comments); [Long Island ice tea ingredient] for COLA (I drank plenty of those in college, but no longer remember all the other ingredients); [Numbers can be found in it] for BIBLE; [Deutsche marque?] for the brand name AUDI, unrelated to [Quattro foursome], or BLADES on a Schick Quattro razor; [Land of Lincoln: Abbr.] for NEBR (city of Lincoln, not home of Abe); [Fudge alternative] for DRAT; and [It might have a long run on Broadway] for a TAXICAB. You know, that COBBLE PORTER theme entry keeps making me think of Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. Batman's nemesis, the Penguin.
Bonnie Gentry's LA Times crossword has four theme entries that begin with the words KNOCK, DOWN, DRAG, and OUT—as in a "knock-down, drag-out" BOUT (57-Down). Too bad KNOCK DOWN DRAG OUT is 16 letters long—it'd make a great anchor entry for a crossword.
Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Sound Bites," featured animal sounds: FROG CROAKING, SHEEP BLEATING, etc. Tons of names in this one—23 proper nouns, mostly people but also a few places. Names generally make a puzzle easy for me.
January 15, 2008