Happy Half Birthday to me! To celebrate, themeless crosswords from Patrick Berry and Byron Walden—o frabjous day!
Omigod, guess who's on public television right this minute? It's Etta James! Of crossword fame! Now I know what she looks like.
All righty, Byron Walden's latest New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" is in the running for the year's toughest puzzle. The year's young, so surely there could be sterner challenges ahead, but this is the one to top now. It could be that I did it late in the evening the other day, or it could be a wicked crossword. This 70-worder is anchored by a brace of 15-letter entries: "WHAT'D YOU SAY TO ME?" (clued as [Slight reaction?]) and ALGEBRA PROBLEMS ([XYZ affairs?] toying with French/U.S. history).
There's much to like here, starting at 1-Across. Usually [Play starter] is ACTI, but here, it's a football SNAP for a change. I don't know why a [Shoe insert] is a DECK; anyone? (Edited to add: It's a casino thing.) I like the slanginess of BAG IT ([Abandon one's efforts, slangily]), NO CHANCE (["When hell freezes over!"]), WHALED ON ([Beat badly]), and quaint NEATO (['50s "Radical!"]). I always like it when a crosswordese-named person gets promoted to first-and-last-name status—here, it's POLA NEGRI. DRACO is [Thuban's constellation], and I'll assume that Thuban is a star. Credit goes to http://www.ket.org/cgi-bin/tvschedules/episode.pl?nola=MSTR++001625&cd=1&&framed=1&layout=popup for teaching me that Troglodytes is a small bird's genus, so I could guess WREN for [Creature with the scientific name Troglodytes Troglodytes]. Science also gives us [Thermophilic habitats] like GEYSERS. [Money pitch?] is a STORY IDEA given to one's editor at Money magazine. There are two people with an unusual AO in their names: the [Red giant] MAO ZE DONG and the [New York Times film critic who succeeded Janet Maslin], A.O. SCOTT. [Trick parts?] are KNEES.
Looking at the Downs, now—I have a kid, but had no idea such an entity as KIDS WB. Apparently the [Home to "Tom and Jerry Tales"] is a Saturday morning lineup only, and not one my kid watches. (Though he does have a fine appreciation of "Tom and Jerry.") BDAY doesn't show up much in crosswords or, I presume, dictionaries—but people say it all the time, and here it is, as a [Card type, for short]. I like the clue for nod: [Bean dip?]. [Some SAT takers] is spot-on for JRS—hey, I took the SAT my junior year. [Mae West's swan song] apparently was SEXTETTE (it was a 1978 movie). Oh! The most horrifying clue of all! [Thrust in one's briefs?] I'll let you muse on that for a while, and think of everything that could possibly be. It's nothing more than a lawyer's ARGUMENT, the thrust of his case. [Günter Grass's birthplace, today] is GDANSK, Poland (formerly Danzig, Germany). The noun phrase [Display innovation?] is PLASMA, as in the TV that I love so.
I thought Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle was a damn sight easier than the Sun. How did the two comparefor you, difficulty-wise? This 64-worder has two stacked pairs of 15s: ARTURO TOSCANINI ([He conducted the premiere performances of "Pagliacci" and "La Boheme"]) with CLERICAL COLLARS (clued cleverly as [Bands of holy men]) on top, and IN THE NEAR FUTURE atop a ROCK AND ROLL STAR at the bottom.
Favorite Across clues: [Maker of Coolpix cameras] for NIKON (because I have one); ["Field of Dreams" actress Amy] for MADIGAN (because she's a Chicagoan); [1979 #1 hit for Robert John] for "SAD EYES" (because I loved that song in junior high); [Yielding ground] for MUD (I had the right idea, but first thought of BOG); and [Compliant] for TRACTABLE (seems like intractable is far more common). The Down clues I like best: [Jelly seen on buffet tables] for STERNO (don't eat it!); [Boxy Toyota product] for SCION (though technically, only the Scion XB—which would be a great crossword entry—is boxy); [First African-born Literature Nobelist] for Albert CAMUS; [Titular mouse in a classic Daniel Keyes novel] for ALGERNON; [1600 to 1800, on a boat] for DOGWATCH; [Big hit] for SOCKEROO (wait a minute...has anyone ever actually used that word? Its Google presence is mighty slim, but it's such a tempting word to use in blogging, and it sounds like it should mean "even better than socko"); and [Roughly a third of the earth's surface] for DESERT. UTA HAGEN, like POLA NEGRI in the other puzzle, gets the full-name treatment. (Has her name been clued cryptically with UTAHN + AGE or UTAHAN + GE?). Never heard of HANNO, [Carthaginian statesman who opposed war with Rome].
SURGE is clued [Kind of protector], and usually I brush off the "kind of" clues without a thought, but this one sticks in the craw. There is such a thing as a surge protector, yes, but a surge is no kind of protector at all. The surge is what's being protected against.
So, Etta James on TV last night? She was cool. I will look on the inevitable [Singer James] clues more fondly now.
This week's Jonesin' puzzle by Matt Jones is a themeless. Yay! Another themeless puzzle today! I think Matt puts out a themeless once every few months. This one's called "12:11" because it has a dozen 11-letter entries. Favorite entries: HOT AND HEAVY, TRICERATOPS, SYNESTHESIA ([The ability to hear colors, say]), "I WANT TO LIVE!", and "OF COURSE NOT." I didn't know that BENTLEY was a [British automaker now owned by Volkswagen]. The Bentley Continental GT is one of the most gorgeous cars out there, and I see one around the neighborhood from time to time. I like the consonant pack in Youssou N'DOUR's name, and of course I'm delighted with the partial entry I CAN (["___ Has Cheezburger?"], because LOLcats amuse me:
moar humorous pics
(Speaking of themeless puzzles, the Ornery Crossword in the new issue of Games magazine is by Harvey Estes, and it contains no 3-letter entries—everything is 4+. A 25x25 grid, a set of hard clues, and all themeless? That's always a treat for me. The constructorial feat of eschewing 3-letter words is just icing on the cake.)
The LA Times puzzle by Jack McInturff sort of felt like a Chronicle of Higher Education crossword—the theme involved puns on authors' names. Now, this Midwesterner definitely does not pronounce BIDDING WAUGH and bidding war the same. I liked SOCCER MAUGHAM (mom) and UNDER A CHEEVER (achiever) best. A pair of terrific long fill answers: WILD GUESS and PROM QUEEN.
The actual Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Daniel C. Bryant ("Four of Hearts") has a huge "aha" moment that just hit me. The central entry, ROBERT INDIANA, is clued [Pop artist who created a famous verbal image in 1964 (reproduced four times in this grid]. That's LO above VE spelling out LOVE. In each corner of the grid, there's a down answer containing LV next to one with OE, spelling out LO/VE in a 2x2 square. (And those 2x2s are in exactly symmetrical spots.) Cool! But that gimmick isn't the extent of the theme—there's also VALENTINE'S DAY, CARA MIA, JE T'AIME, ROMANTIC, and GO STEADY. All righty, I'm nominating this puzzle for best gimmick of the year. The only down side is that someone who doesn't read the whole clue for ROBERT INDIANA might miss the gimmick altogether.
I like everything about Randolph Ross's easy CrosSynergy puzzle, "SAT Exam," except for COEDS not being clued as the retro crap it is. In case you need a reminder, Googling "coeds" these days will get you a ton of porn and nothing that pertains to the average woman's college experience. Just [Sorority sisters]? No. When the majority of college students are female, it makes no sense to have a noun that sets them apart as not-the-norm—heck, let's clue it as [Fraternity brothers]. I'd welcome the word if the clue referenced the 1950s—are there any old books or movies featuring "coeds"? The theme entries could be initialized as S.A.T.—there's SURF AND TURF and SICK AND TIRED, for example. 100% solid theme phrases, and nice fill like MACADAMIA, IDYLLIC, DOUGHNUT, a ROADIE, and L.L. BEAN.
Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Lincoln Center," embeds ABE Lincoln within nine theme entries (including two shorter ones, EDNA BEST and "WANNA BET?"). Favorite entries: WE DELIVER, HIT THE CEILING, MARISKA Hargitay, and WALLEYE. Favorite clues: [It's full of leaves] for TEABALL; [Chance to catch bugs] for BETA TEST; and [Banking device] for the avionic AILERON.
February 14, 2008