Whizzing through Liz Gorski's New York Times puzzle, I didn't piece together the theme, but once I finished, my eyes scanned the grid and nodded their approval. (What, your eyeballs don't nod?) (And before you think, "Pfft! Speed-solving is for the birds! She didn't even see how the theme hung together until after she finished the puzzle," let me say that I don't think it much matters when that "aha" moment hits—it's good during, and it's good after.) 62-Across tells you there's a WORD ladder involved, and the seven starred clues, 4 letters apiece, compose a word ladder in which one letter is changed in each step: SOUP to COUP to COOP to COOS to COTS to CUTS to NUTS. And what does the phrase from soup to nuts mean? 38-Across, THE WHOLE SHEBANG. The other longish entries are just there to hold the grid together (they're not thematic)—there's a STRING TRIO containing a [Violin, viola, and cello] (Liz plays the viola, I believe) and OPERA ROLES (shorter music: ALTOS and excerpts from three songs); CORN SALAD (this recipe for zucchini, corn, and tomato salad looks tasty) might be prepped with a POWER SAW; and the DESK CLERK surely is not qualified to operate a BETATRON ([Particle accelerator]). I like the JESSES [James and Jackson]; PISCES; the Joe Jackson song, "IS SHE Really Going Out With Him?"; [Sprites in bottles?] for SODAS; [Chicago's Dan ___ Expressway] for RYAN (out-of-staters call it 90/94; we call it the Ryan); "OH, HI" (["I didn't think you'd be here..."]); and [They might be high in Manhattan] for RENTS. I had no idea that [Charles Laughton's role in "The Sign of the Cross"] was NERO, nor that there was ever such a movie, nor what Charles Laughton looks like. Nor that the [highest point in the Pennine Alps] is Monte ROSA.
The New York Sun crossword by Robert Wolfe is called "End to End," and I'm not sure why. Z is at one end of the alphabet, but what's the other end in the title? The five theme entries in this 15x16 grid change a final S to a Z, where the Z word is entirely different. Undershorts means one thing, but UNDER SHORTZ is altogether different; same with bar bets/BAR BETZ, spot ads/SPOT ADZ, counterplots/COUNTER PLOTZ, and contact lens/CONTACT LENZ. (The people in three of theme entries are enigmatologist Will Shortz, former tennis star Pauline Betz, and actress Kay Lenz; guess whose Wikipedia entry is the longest.) I'm fond of the letter Z, so this puzzle's got plenty of zingy fill crossing the theme entries: J.C. CHASEZ of 'N Sync, the Polish ZLOTY, postal MR. ZIP, SNOOZED, and BOOZED. Favorite clues: [What you might do when looking at the bright side?] for SQUINT; ["Father of the Italian language"] for DANTE; ["Fight Club" character Durden] for TYLER; and [Fashion designer Marc who bought Barry Bonds's 756th home run ball and let the public vote to brand it with an asterisk] for ECKO.
Russell Brown's LA Times puzzle returns us to early childhood with its evocation of KNICK-KNACK PADDY-WHACK, GIVE A DOG A BONE. The KNICK, KNACK, PADDY, and WHACK begin other phrases—the KNICKERBOCKER of the NBA, meaty KNACKWURST, the [Rice field frequenter better known as the Java sparrow] also called the PADDY BIRD (it's...small but edible), and WHACK-A-MOLE (clued in an unfamiliar computery way—[Computer term, based on an arcade game, regarding the annoyance of fending off recurring spammers]). Great theme! Fill highlights: the [2001 Spacey film] K-PAX, FT DIX, RANKLES, CHRONICLE, and VENERABLE. DRIVE-IN is clued as [Popular '50s-'60s date spot] (someone was just asking me if drive-in movie theaters still existed—any near you?), and I remember [Former U.S. soccer team captain Claudio] REYNA—though his last name could really use three more letters. By the way, the [Medicinal herb] SENNA? It's a laxative.
The theme in Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword, "Cerealization," is Rice Krispies sounds: SNAP, CRACKLE, and POP begin the theme entries. Question about the clue for SEGA: Does [Nintendo alternative] sound like it means "rival in the video game market," or "rival to the Nintendo game consoles"? Sega hasn't sold game consoles for seven years, but "alternative" rather than "rival" makes it sound like one could comparison-shop for a Sega or Nintendo.
February 12, 2008