March 19, 2008

Thursday, 3/20

LAT 4:58
NYS 4:44
NYT 4:40
CS 3:32

The comeuppance lurks in the offing—as I sit here half wishing the air conditioning were on, I see that there's a winter storm watch in effect for Chicago, with a chance of a 6" snowfall by Friday night. I won't be wearing my sandals home from Florida on Saturday, that's for sure. (But before you gloat, let me mention that I spent an hour in the pool outside this evening, after dark.)

The New York Times crossword by Stephen Edward Anderson skews all crazy for a Thursday—instead of there being some sort of gimmick, there are four theme entries. I like the X-ness of the theme, with four X's. It's not the tightest theme in the world because I'm sure there are other candidates for the theme—though I don't know how many others there are that don't duplicate any of the place names that feed into this set of entries. MEXICALI, MEXICO takes its name from California and Mexico (as does Calexico). KANORADO, KANSAS is presumably at the border with Colorado; haven't heard of this one before. DELMAR, DELAWARE is beside Maryland, I suspect (I knew there was a Delmarva region, but not a border town named DELMAR). And TEXARKANA, TEXAS is a part-Arkansas portmanteau place name. Good fill—Donkey KONG crossing PEACENIK, baseball legend Buck O'NEIL (whom I mentally adopted as an extra grandpa when I saw him in Ken Burns' baseball documentary), a DORM ROOM and a TV DINNER.

Pancho Harrison turns to a classic song for inspiration for his New York Sun puzzle, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." The theme entries, set apart by highlighted clues, are all words pronounced two ways in the old song: OYSTERS (ersters), BANANA (banahna), EITHER (eye-ther), HAVANA (Havahna), PAJAMAS (pa-jommas), TOMATO and POTATO (...ah-to), LAUGHTER (larfter), and NEITHER (nigh-ther). The theme departs from symmetry twice—EITHER and NEITHER lack partners opposite them in this 15x16 grid.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Where There's a Wheel, There's a Way," has four phrases in which the first word can also precede "wheel." (May I just say that I am so, so tired of this type of theme? It seems like the CrosSynergy and LA Times puzzles rely on the "first or last word can precede or follow X" theme fairly heavily. I wonder if Crasswords has a dirty-words version of this theme variety, such as ___ JOBs?) I love that FERRIS BUELLER is one of the theme entries, though, as Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a memorable and quotable movie. And ERIC IDLE and COP A PLEA look great in the grid, too.

The LA Times puzzle by Ernie Lampert has five theme entries clued as [HAND], one of those reverse themes where the theme entries look like clues for the same 4-letter answer. LON CHANEY and ORANGEMAN ([William III follower]) each lash together three theme entries, an ambitious construction (with 69 theme squares). The thematic density required certain tradeoffs, such as LUNIK ([Soviet moon mission series]), which I've never heard of, and EBOLI crossing OBAD and RIELS. Why did this puzzle take me so long to solve? Was I just wandering around lost in search of the constructor's wavelength, or were the clues and fill tough?