Surprise, surprise! A themed puzzle from a mostly themeless constructor, Byron Walden. The New York Times crossword is a tribute to CHARLTON HESTON ([With 18-Across, "In the Arena" autobiographer]), who died on April 5. Now, many of the NYT's tribute crosswords are penned by David Kahn, and coincidentally both Byron and David have been known as vexing ACPT puzzle #5 constructors, so now they've got something else in common. Funny enough, back on April 6, Byron and I had an e-mail exchange about the letter lengths of various Heston movies, and I bemoaned the lack of suitable word-length partners for Soylent Green and Airport '75 (and I would've loved to see that one in a grid, with the numbers worked into the grid like Kahn had done with 1994WORLDSERIES in 2005). So anyway, I did not learn the years that Heston's movies were released, so I was relying on crossings to point the way to the movie titles in the grid, clued with their years. At least I knew that a 15-letter title tagged [with "The"] was TEN COMMANDMENTS. The other movies are PLANET OF THE APES, BEN-HUR, The OMEGA MAN, and EL CID.
Going beyond the 63-square tribute theme with a full name and five movies, there are plenty of goodies. [Run-of-the-mill computer, in tech slang] is BEIGE BOX. [Copy over?] is TRACE—remember tracing paper? Remember those coloring books with tracing paper pages? Ah, the 1970s. Which is the same decade I was watching ENDORA in reruns, as [Tabitha's grandmother on "Bewitched"]. YARDS are [Home fronts?]. [First person in ancient Rome] is the Latin pronoun EGO. I like TOO NEW, or [Jarringly unfamiliar]. [Second] is the verb, ECHO. Why is the ["English Suites" composer] BACH and not someone, I dunno, English? One's BOTTOM is a [Bench warmer?]. I've read, I think, two Dickens novels, and had no idea that [Like Sydney Carton at the end of "A Tale of Two Cities"] could be BEHEADED. [Are made up] wasn't pointing me towards CONSIST at all, not until I had five of the letters and ruled out other possible words. [Rights grp.] does double duty for both the ACLU and the NAACP. Also in the category of all-capital-letters answers is ABCDF, [Grading gamut]. Never, ever heard that HELENA, Montana, was a [State capital originally called Crabtown]; why they changed that mellifluous name, I'll never know. [Georges] must be ONES the same way that Benjamins are $100 bills. Last, I am in the mood for something sweet and had trouble not being literal about [Bit of cheesecake]; it's a GAM, or leg, and not something packed with sugar and fat.
Billie Truitt's New York Sun puzzle, "Past Imperfect," recasts some past-tense words as their sound-alike partners. Fresh-brewed turns into [Newly hatched chicks?], or FRESH BROOD; no holds barred becomes the lousy poet/wrestler, NO-HOLDS BARD; X-RAID pops up in the middle; and there are two other longer theme entries. My favorite fill in this one sprawls across the grid: EXIT LINES, MONSOONS, "WELL, THEN," and HERB TEAS, along with the shorter "'SCUSE me while I kiss the sky" from Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze.
Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword is hereby nominated for Best Thematic Repurposing of Crosswordese. As you can see in the grid:
the eight 3-letter compass points (COMPASS PT) that we must contend with as flavorless crossword filler are found in their correct locations within intersecting longish answers. For example, ANN WILSON of Heart has an NNW, and SSW sits in the middle of a CUSSWORD. The theme entries are all rock solid, though RYE SEEDS is a tad blah. Highlights of the non-theme fill and clues include AL BUNDY, BASS ALE, [Cups opening?] for HIC (hiccups!), and [Dropped anchor?] for DAN RATHER. AT HEART does duplicate the band Heart from the ANN WILSON clue, but that's a nice corner with the 7-letter entries. EAT as [Corrode] and ATE UP are two forms of the same verb, and while I noticed it while solving, I'm not one to refuse to write an answer because it duplicates something that way. So no harm done. Hey, can anyone tell me why [Ticket number, maybe] is NINETY?
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Protective Coverings," offers some hardcore protection—a SUIT OF ARMOR, BULLET-PROOF VEST, and CRASH HELMET. Easy puzzle on a Thursday! It makes the head spin, sometimes, to do a Mondayish puzzle late in the week. It's my sense that CrosSynergy puzzles are mostly Wednesdayish six days a week, but really it's more a Monday-to-Thursday spread but not in any particular order. So you never know quite what to expect, whereas you can expect nearly all Monday NYTs to be quite easy and nearly all Thursday NYTs to be considerably meatier than that.
April 16, 2008