March 23, 2008

Monday, 3/24

NYS 3:22
NYT 3:10
CS 2:58
LAT 2:20

David Kahn's New York Times crossword pays tribute to the anniversary of the day ELVIS was inducted into the Army 50 years ago. This is one of those tribute themes I have so little interest in...but you know what was even less interesting? When I flew to the crossword tournament a few weeks ago, the airline magazine crossword took as its theme "things that happened in 1958." I forget who constructed it, but the theme clues were simply dates; as one not yet alive and reading the headlines in 1958, it was as flat and "aha"-free as a quote puzzle. I reckon [3/24/58] was one of the clues, as Elvis's induction was one of the theme entries. Here, ELVIS takes center stage. He was stationed in WEST GERMANY, where he met COLIN POWELL. He got a HAIRCUT and made G.I. BLUES. He was in KING CREOLE just before the Army, and his fans may have been "ALL SHOOK UP" (an Elvis song) by his enlistment. He began as a PRIVATE and left as a SGT, and recorded for RCA. So that's an impressive count of 10 theme entries...none of which I care about. Elvis didn't come to my attention until he was garishly clad Fat Elvis, so... At least this puzzle's pale, bloated belly contains lots of white space, plenty of 6- to 10-letter entries. (Cruciverbally speaking, a pale, bloated belly is a good thing. So are pale, bloated corners, but I can't think of a good anatomical reference for those.)

Huh. This is the second time in a week that the Ogden Porter (i.e., Peter Gordon) byline has appeared atop the New York Sun puzzle. For the past few years, that's been a rare occurrence—there's the annual Oscar-nominated movie puzzle, and maybe an occasional filler in the schedule here or there. Peter used to construct a lot in his NYT days (his many NYT puzzles are collected in book form), but he seems to have been focusing his efforts on editing crosswords rather than making them from scratch. Here's hoping the two recent Porter puzzles presage a construction resurgence. Anyway: The Monday puzzle is called "Instrumentalists," and the theme entries are famous people whose last names are also musical instruments. BRIAN PICCOLO waited years for enough other people to join his party, and here are baseball's STEVE SAX and FRANK VIOLA, 19th century politician JOHN BELL (a wealthy slaveholder who lost his race for the presidency to Abraham Lincoln), and now architect RENZO PIANO (who designed the New York Times' new building and has gotten a lot of prominent gigs in the U.S. of late). Aptly, ABE Lincoln and the CSA (the Confederacy) also appear in the puzzle to supplement JOHN BELL. Hottest fill: ANN B. DAVIS (Alice of The Brady Bunch); JARJAR Binks atop OLE OLE; CORN-FED opposite PTOLEMY; and a BALD PATE.


Zipped through the LA Times puzzle by Mike Peluso, thanks to the easy-peasy theme. Once it became apparent that the second theme entry would follow the same structure as the first, ASHES TO ASHES, zoom-zoom, the rest were easy to fill in. Are there other 5-letter words that would qualify for this theme? We've got ASHES, COVER, COAST, and HEART phrases. Ooh! CHEEK TO CHEEK would also fit the theme.

I didn't see what the theme was in Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy crossword while solving the puzzle. Isn't there something great about a meaty Sunday puzzle or a themed late-week NY Sun puzzle in which you can't quite finish unless you understand what the theme is? "Exit Poles" was easy enough that grasping the theme was optional. Each theme phrase ends with a "___ pole" word—GREEN BEAN gives us a beanpole; TRUE NORTH, the North Pole. I like that three are literal poles, tall straight thingies (with pole derived from the Latin palus, meaning "stake"), while the North Pole goes for a different word altogether (derived from the Greek polos, meaning "axis, sky"). Yes, I know I've said elsewhere that themes that include three of one thing and one outlier less elegant, but this one sent me into the land of etymology, and I'm always glad for that.