February 23, 2008

Sunday, 2/24

NYT 9:45
BG 8:44
LAT 8:30
WaPo 7:34
PI 7:24
CS 4:15
NYT diagramless untimed

I only have a few minutes before I go out for the evening, and may or may not write more about Nancy Joline's New York Times crossword later on. I'm verrrry tired today after being on the radio 'til 1 a.m. The "Winners' Circle" theme (and I assume there was an apostrophe there—it showed up as a box character on the applet for me) salutes past Oscar winners by having eight winners (movies, actresses, actors, director, song) in the long entries embracing eight more winners whose names (last name only) are included within the long names in circled squares. Thus, MARLEE MATLIN enclasps David LEAN. Yes, this is essentially another movie trivia theme, as some of you have grown weary of such themes this week. I think it's a great theme, personally, though the clues—e.g., [Actress (1986), director (1962)] for Marlee and David—usually gave me only minimal help in guessing the answers. The crossing clues/fill seemed pretty gettable, by and large, so the puzzle took a little longer than usual but not dramatically so. And I didn't mind that 1-Across, THE OSCAR, was thematic but not paired with a related entry in the opposite corner.

(An aside: This is Will Shortz's "asymmetry is OK!" weekend, with Patrick Blindauer's beautiful diagramless crossword having a soupçon of asymmetry amid its visual punch. More on that puzzle later tonight or on Sunday.)

Back to the Sunday crossword: There's an unfamiliar clue for TSE, [Philosopher Kung Fu-___]. I liked [Password, e.g.] for ENTREE. Possibly knotty crossing between Prime Suspect's Jane TENNISON (Helen Mirren, I believe) crossing the [Fish in fish and chips], PLAICE. Hmm, COD just won't fit there. [Villa in Mexico] took me a while to understand—PANCHO Villa, the name, not a villa = el pancho.

If you're wondering who the circled people are in the theme entries, we have Charlize THERON, Gregory PECK, David NIVEN, Nicolas CAGE (for Leaving Las Vegas, I presume), David LEAN, Michael CAINE, Dianne WIEST, and CHER (in...was it Mask or Silkwood?).

Gotta mosey!

Updated Sunday morning:

I went to dinner and Targét last night, came home, and was rendered unconscious by the sofa in short order. Am much refreshed this morning!

Patrick Blindauer's diagramless crossword could be entitled "Here's Looking at You": The completed grid depicts a big eye staring out of the page at the solver. (After Tyler Hinman expressed his disappointment that I was routinely using the starting square hint, I quit using the hint. Hey, that doesn't take much longer at all! Just an extra piece of paper, that's all.) The symmetry would be top/bottom and left/right were it not for one less black square in the pupil zone of the eye. I'm glad that Patrick and Will were willing to experiment with a little asymmetry, because this puzzle was a delight. The four longest Across answers contain EYE in a non-eye context, and the middle Down entry at the bottom is EYE, [Observer that's found in 8-, 31-, 48- and 66-Across]. Here, for anyone looking to check their answers, are all the Across answers, whited out (to view them, click your mouse and drag it over the white space):

1A VISTA (centered in the middle of the top row), 6A PENCILS, 8A BREYERSICECREAM, 16A PROVERB, 17A CHARMER, 19A LACES, 20A ASH, 23A GOTTI, 24A INKS, 25A POSSUMS, 29A ORTS, 30A EDY 31A HACKNEYED, 33A ALE, 34A RIVIERA, 36A STREAKER (the first letter occupies what would be a black square if the grid were symmetrical), 38A FAQS, 39A RAVI, 40A HABITUE, 43A EPITOME, 47A IRA, 48A HEYERDAHL, 52A BAR, 53A LANE, 55A TSHIRTS, 56A LTYR (light-year), 57A TBIRD, 59A SPY, 60A NEATO, 61A SISTERS, 64A TRIVIAL, 66A CHEYENNEWYOMING, 70A LANYARD, and 71A GEENA.

And now, the other crosswords:

I really don't recall a barrage of Oscar-themed puzzles in previous years. What, does it take a writer's strike and a threat that the telecast will be canceled to flush all the Oscar crosswords into the open? The syndicated LA Times crossword by Rich Norris (a.k.a. "Gia Christian"), "Screen Gems," revealed pretty quickly that the theme phrases included an Oscar winner's name, repurposed as a non-name word. But then I realized that each one included two Oscar winners! That was a lovely "aha" moment. The SWANK CAGE features Hilary Swank and Nicolas Cage, for example. I'm not sure who each winner is—PAGE and YOUNG?—but I knew enough of them for it to be fun. The clue for 78- and 79-Down explains that the nine theme entries contain 18 BEST ACTOR / OR ACTRESS winners. My favorite theme entry was [Promote hair growth?], FOSTER HANKS.

Kelsey Blakley's Washington Post crossword, "Frankenwords," presents a set of portmanteau words, such as EDUTAINMENT, LABRADOODLE, and MOCKUMENTARY. All eight of the theme words were clued straightforwardly and I've seen them before, so it seemed easy. My favorite misstep was [Shute's "A Town Like ___"]. I had the C and promptly filled in NANCY. I don't know why! It's ALICE.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Four Little Words, The Sequel," makes use of the candidate theme answers he didn't use in another recent puzzle. Each phrase takes the form X, two little words, rhymes-with-X: for example, SHOP TILL YOU DROP and CRUISIN' FOR A BRUISIN'. Perle Mesta gets an indirect reference in HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST. The theme entry at the top of the puzzle is NERVOUS FROM THE SERVICE, [Shell-shocked, in WWII slang]. I was familiar with that one only because Merl was asking about it on the Cruciverb-L mailing list not long ago. I believe he was surprised to learn that it had been completely unknown to a number of people.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "No End in Sight," deviously tried to hide its theme from me for too long. Dastardly theme! Once I paid enough attention to see what the theme entries were doing, I loved the theme. Each entry's a phrase minus its last letter. So bargain basement becomes [Low-salaried infielders?], or BARGAIN BASEMEN. There's also AGENT ORANG, the FBI ape, a SEVENTH HEAVE (not clued as what follows the sixth round of retching, fortunately!), SISSY SPACE, and more. Great theme! I'll bet there are plenty of other candidates for this type of theme and I wouldn't at all mind seeing another version.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's CrosSynergy themeless puzzle has four completely natural 15-letter phrases forming a frame across all four sides: I DEMAND A RECOUNT and the all-too-rare-at-O'Hare ON-TIME DEPARTURE, and the PICK OF THE LITTER who probably aren't stuck being SECOND-STRINGERS. Fairly easy for a themeless crossword, with no deadly clues or fill.