February 25, 2008

Tuesday, 2/26

Tausig 4:31
Onion 4:25
NYS 3:29
CS 3:12
LAT 2:58
NYT 2:41

It is hard to pay attention to crosswords and blogging when Little Children is so engrossing. Now it's 11:20 and the movie's just ended, so I can get down to brass tacks here.

Sarah Keller's New York Times crossword has a delightful academia-pun theme. Four phrases get converted to something new by means of a sound-alike or sound-similar university name replacing the first word. Colonel Sanders of KFC becomes [Polishing machines at an Ithaca campus?], or CORNELL SANDERS. We go to Georgia for EMORY BOARD (emery), Louisiana for TULANE ROAD (two-lane), and Wisconsin for MARQUETTE SHARE (market). Cute theme plus easy clues = fun Tuesday puzzle. The fill features two Scrabbly hats (TOQUES and KEPIS, but no fez), utilitarian items (PULLTAB, NAMETAG, NOTEPAPER), FRO clued as [Old Michael Jackson 'do], and a MEAL (complete with TOFU, AGAR, ARGO cornstarch, and PECAN pie).

Speaking of meals, Kevin George's New York Sun crossword is called "Repast Tense." (Is this a constructorial debut? If so, it's a promising one.) Four phrases that end with -ATE are moved to the present-tense EAT, such that a running mate becomes prey, RUNNING MEAT. Favorite clues and answers: [Blow a ___] GASKET; a LAPTOP beside the OZARKS (inscrutably, [Range that includes the Boston Mountains]); "HECK, NO"; [According to legend, he spent decades in his mother's womb and emerged with a gray beard] for LAO-TSE; and [South side?] for OKRA. I'd never heard of ABE "Kid Twist" Reles, a mob hitman 'til 1940, nor the tenoroon, also known as the tenor bassoon, whose [little cousin] is the OBOE. The answer for [Some 12-steppers], WINOS, seems inappropriate and uncompassionate to me.


Ben Tausig pulls double duty this week, with the Onion A.V. Club puzzle along with his regular weekly offering. The theme evokes one of my favorite jumbo Sunday puzzles, Eric Berlin and Craig Kasper's 23x23 from 12/4/05, the one that split Park Avenue into PARKA and VENUE, Super Bowl into SUPERB and OWL, and rabbit ears into RABBI and TEARS. Ben's puzzle includes those RABBI TEARS, along with PRISON STRIKE/PRISON'S TRIKE, STAND-IN GROOM/STANDING ROOM, and BLOODSPORT/BLOODS' PORT. In the fill, "WHAT GIVES?" aptly sits opposite IDIOMATIC; other fresh entries are DR SEUSS, ASKS OUT ([Uses a line on, perhaps]), and the "SEE ALSO" tag from reference books (which strikes me as a stand-alone concept in the language rather than a partial crossword entry or bit of awkwardness). I like [Standup Bernie] MAC—just saw his high school picture in a Tribune/RedEye feature. Now, the [God in an Egyptian origin story], PTAH, was a horribly obscure entry when I first encountered it in a Random House puzzle book a couple years ago. But when I encounter horrible obscurities, I circle the clues, jot the answer down beside the clue, and skim through those out-there words when I've finished the puzzle book. Some of them I've never encountered again, but some others do pop up in other crosswords—and then the fit of pique at the obscure word cluttering a grid turns to gratitude that I had a chance to learn that word so it can't stump me a second time. Egyptian god, starts with P? PTAH has become a gimme there. And so it is that my brain is clogged with nearly useless knowledge—useful only when a constructor uses those bits to rescue a corner of his or her grid.

Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Borrowed Time," celebrates LEAP DAY (which is this Friday) with an unusual sort of theme in which the leap sound is sandwiched inside each of five theme entries. For example, DOLLY PARTON and CHILI POWDER. Things I didn't know here: that [String Cheese Incident, e.g.] is a JAM BAND; that ORAL-B makes a [Triumph FlossAction Power Toothbrush] (I think the name overpromises); that LEE PERRY is a [Pioneering dub reggae producer nicknames "Scratch"]; and that EEE ain't just a wide shoe designation any more, it's also an [ASUS laptop with a 7-inch screen] (apparently not so named because of its narrow dimensions). Favorite clues: [Release for free, e.g.: Abbr.] for SYN (synonym!); [One with blocks in his chest] for TOT (why did I think TUT made sense??).

Gail Grabowski's LA Times crossword puzzle cracks five EGGs by assembling phrases that begin with words that can fill in the blank in "egg ___"—SALAD DAYS from egg salad (blech), the maybe-not-quite-in-the-language PLANT A TREE, egg roll, egg noodle, and egg white. No gripes about the puzzle, and no specific plaudits either. It must be Tuesday!

Only one fourth of the theme in Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "For the Birds," really works for me. RAVEN LUNATIC as a [Crazy bird?], sure. Easy enough pun, very direct. I suspect EAGLE HOLIDAY relates to legal holiday, which isn't my phrase of choice. (I tend to specify federal, state, city, or county holidays—Pulaski Day, anyone? No school March 3!—or trading holidays, because of where my husband works.) DISCOUNT STORK..oh, is that a play on discount store? And HUMPBACK QUAIL...I see no reason for Quasimodo flying to be a quail. He'd be more of a humble humpback pigeon, I think. Does Paris have many quail outside of restaurant kitchens?