The Sunday New York Times crossword by John Farmer not only has a smattering of circled squares in the theme entries, it's also got shaded letters that ring the grid in a big circle with left/right symmetry. The shaded letters aren't visible in Across Lite or on the applet, but they're not needed for solving so it's not so traumatic. The Across Lite Notepad gives the following locations for the squares that are shaded in the Times Magazine:
When the puzzle is done, the letters in the following squares spell a bonus phrase: 7A - 3rd letter, 31A - 5th, 65A - 4th, 104A - 6th, 136A - 3rd, 151A - 1st, 149A - 4th, 133A - 4th, 100A - 1st, 62A - 1st, 29A - 6th
The puzzle's title is "Spaced Out," and the eight theme entries (15 to 18 letters apiece) contain the names of all eight planets, spaced out in the circled squares. This puzzle exists in an expanding universe, too—the grid is a plus-sized 23x23 instead of the usual 21x21 Sunday size. The shaded letters in the big circle around the grid spell out SOLAR SYSTEM. The SUN shows up at 9-Down, clued as [Center of many revolutions], and poor demoted PLUTO is at 131-Down, [2006 neologism meaning "to demote"]. With a good telescope at (MOTHER) NIGHT ([Nick Nolte movie based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel]) and too much AMONTILLADO in you (the [Spanish sherry] I remember so fondly from Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" story), you might even be able to spot all these planets. (Okay, those aren't really part of the theme.) Other than those two answers, though, the rest of the fill contains fairly short words. Given the requirement to have eight long entries that contained the planets in order, plus the SOLAR SYSTEM squares in fixed positions, I'm not surprised. Though the fill lacks long phrases, it does have color—R. KELLY, VIJAY Singh, YASMINE Bleeth, ERIE PA, Mark ROTHKO, POSTDOCS, and a few more names that seemed lively to me (...because I knew them, unlike the names peppering Saturday's Newsday puzzle).
There were a few semi-obscure things lurking about, and tricky clues, and clues I enjoyed. Here they are, in a jumble:
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite for this weekend is called "Surprise Endings." The 10 theme entries are movie titles reworked with "surprise endings" in that their last letters have been changed. The plot twists at the end of each clue: [Study of a rich...philosopher?] is CITIZEN KANT, ditching the last letter of Kane. [Story of a secret macho...board game?] is FIGHT CLUE (Club). "The first rule of Fight Clue is 'Do not talk about Fight Clue.'" [Drama in which De Niro...blathers?] is TAXI DRIVEL. These are kinda fun, right? But not too difficult to figure out, since the clue guides you to the original movie title rather than cluing the fake movies as something drastically different. Favorite fill: the LITERATI, a BANSHEE and a HOBBIT, TEA LEONI's full name. Favorite clue: [Wrap artist?] for CHRISTO, who has wrapped things on a large scale for public art installations. ZIA is a [New Mexico tribe]—why don't I recognize this word? Here's a trivial factoid courtesy of Wikipedia: The Zia sun symbol appears on New Mexico's flag; the rays point off in four directions and the Zia were quite keen on various foursomes (compass points, seasons, times of the day, stages of life). FOEHN is a [Dry Alpine wind], TARN is a [Lake District lake], and SERAC is an [Icy pinnacle]; all three of these, which appear close together in the grid, are words I learned in crosswords way back in the day. Just to their left is STOATS, [Ermines in summer]—another one of that class of words. Hello, old friends. Because I've been doing crosswords for an eon, these are quaint gimmes for me. Those of you who have been into crosswords for a year or less, tell me: How do you feel about such words?
Some crosswords open in Across Lite with the timer off, and others start timing automatically. Usually they just start running, but for Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "If I Wrote the Dictionary," the timer didn't start and I didn't start it, either. (Oh, well. Let's call it mediumish-easy compared to the NYT and Globe puzzles, shall we?) What really stood out for me in this crossword was the plethora of fill-in-the-blank partial entries—about a dozen FITBs that were two words, a few of them longer than 5 letters (the standard suggested cutoff for partial lengths in many crossword venues). For example, [Going ___ (fighting)] is completed by AT IT, and ["___ to you, buddy!"] points to SAME TO. I dunno, these don't usually bug me, but today, it seemed like too much. Oddest clue/answer: [Makeup artist Westmore] for PERC. That C could've been a V, crossing VULTURE, but who wants a PERV in the puzzle? Those of you who have done this year's Merl offering from the ACPT know the idea behind the theme—the answer is clued with the definition Merl might assign it if he wrote the dictionary. Thus, [adj. afraid of being injected] is HYPOALLERGENIC. Craziest answer: [Circe's all-vowel island] is AEAEA. Several of these islands are to report immediately to the Czech Republic, where there are many consonants in desperate need of vowels. Brno, anyone?
Updated Sunday morning:
Aww, I miss having Fred Piscop's Washington Post puzzle around.
Alex Boisvert's syndicated LA Times crossword is called "Get It?" The eight theme entries are clued with a single all-caps word, which the solver must introduce with "get" to interpret. [THROUGH] is MAKE ONESELF UNDERSTOOD, as in "Am I getting through to you?" [DOWN] is DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY, as in "Get down!" Tougher words skulking about include JACAMAR ([Puffbird relative]), [2000-01 Hart Memorial Trophy winner Joe] SAKIC, and [SportsCenter anchor Linda et al.] for COHNS (I don't watch SportsCenter, so I actually had to guesstimate the Roman numeral math for the C). Favorite entries: the movie MALL RATS; AKRON, OH ([It come sbefore 44301 on an envelope]); FLOOR IT; NEAL Conan (who doesn't like seeing someone they've met in a crossword?); and SLUGGO from the "Nancy" comics. Favorite clue: [Reaction to Wile E. Coyote] for the Road Runner's BEEP.
The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" by Mel Rosen has plenty of lesser-known words in it, but with enough easy clues crossing those words that the whole thing fell like a house of cards in an earthquake. The [Indonesian gongs] or TAMTAMS, [Ardent longing] or DESIDERIUM, [Feature of some tires and bridal veils] or BEADED EDGE, [Stretching quality] or TENSITY, and [Low-ranking clergy officials] or SUBDEACONS were all answers that didn't come readily to mind, but the crossings pointed the way. I did like ["___ chance!"], which looks like a clue for a two-word partial like NOT A, but here it skews French with BONNE—a nice thwarting of a Crossword Fiend's expecations. Whenever I see Emil ZATOPEK's last name in a crossword, I wish that ZAPOTEC would join it.
April 19, 2008