The Tuesday New York Times crossword is sort of an insane hybrid between a Tuesday puzzle (based on about...eight straightforward clues for easy words) and a Friday puzzle (lots of high-end vocabulary and a theme that's subtle while you're working the puzzle). The theme is "A to Z," with five entries that begin with A and end with Z. As someone who grew up with the initials A.Z., I'm partial to this. There's the [Semiautobiographical Bob Fosse movie] ALL THAT JAZZ ("It's showtime, folks!" *cue jazzhands*), ALEX RODRIGUEZ, the [1970s joint U.S./Soviet space project] APOLLO SOYUZ, ALCATRAZ (clued as [The Rock]—my first impulse was to squeeze Dwayne Johnson in there), and [Namesake of a branch of Judaism], ASHKENAZ. Now, I know that "Ashkenazi Jews" is a well-established phrase, but I'd never ever heard of a Biblical personage named Ashkenaz.
ASHKENAZ is of a piece with much of the fill, which is far afield from what one expects to see on a Tuesday. 1-Across is a SKI BUM, [No stranger to the slopes], crossing a SHASTA daisy and MOAB, [Ancient land along the Dead Sea]. Not shouting "easy-peasy Tuesday," really. Alongside ASHKENAZ is JACOBITE, [Supporter of the House of Stuart], and they cross NEW LINE, the ["Lord of the Rings" studio] that is being assimilated by Time-Warner. The SEINE is the [River along the Quai d'Orsay]; there are surely more Tuesday-friendly ways to clue that. Have you heard of MCGUIRE, [New Jersey's ___ Air Force Base]? Speaking of the military, how many correct answers could there be for [Certain NCO]? Here, it's SFC, sergeant first class; apparently American NCOs are mainly sergeants and corporals, but that still embraces SGT, SFC, SSGT, and CPL as possibilities. Did you know that RUPAUL is a [Drag performer with a wax likeness in New York's Madame Tussauds]? Hell, I didn't know New York had a Tussauds. (But I do like RuPaul.) Did you know that the [Arizona birthplace of Cesar Chavez] is YUMA? I want to know if he ever took a 3:10 train there. [It's a piece of work] is somewhat askew for TASK; usually that sort of clue points slyly at a crosswordy ERG. There's also a PYX, or [Eucharist vessel], which came to my mind quickly only because I read a blog comment thread today in which people were punning on transept, nave, apse, and pyx. (No lie!) The most insane swath of this crossword, of course, is the alignment of SYZYGY, or [Alignment of the sun, earth, and moon], and FERULE, or [Punishing rod]. I think I last heard about syzygy when we had that lunar eclipse one bitterly cold evening this past winter. FERULE is defined as a cane or stick used to punish children. Isn't that lovely! It's especially for kids. It's not to be confused with a ferrule, a word with an entirely different etymology; a familiar example of the two-R ferrule is the metal tip that secures a pencil eraser (that link goes to a review of the pencil I buy for my son—he destroys non–Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, but these ones hold up.
The New York Sun puzzle is a joint effort from Kevin George and Bonnie Gentry. The "To the Nth Degree" theme involves adding an N to the end of existing phrases. Thus, we get WONDER BRAN, [Awe-inspiring source of dietary fiber?], for instance, and a KLONDIKE BARN, [Item raised on a Yukon farm?]. (Wait, is a barn properly called an "item"?)
Favorite clues: [Gillian Anderson TV series, with "The"] for X-FILES (new X-Files movie coming this summer!); [Pea jackets?] for PODS; [Tailless feline] for MANX CAT; [Rather formally?] for DANIEL; and [Nutcracker suite?] for NEST (that's a nutcracker in the bird photo).
Those of you who have already made generous donations for the fundraising walk I'm participating in this weekend, many thanks! Those of you who haven't seen the post before this one, please take a look. It's not just a plea for donations—there's also information about ovarian cancer that could help save a life.
New in the world of blogs is Pete Mitchell's site devoted to the New York Sun crossword. It's not even a week old, this nascent blog, but if you've been hankering for more focus on the Sun, here's your place.
The LA Times crossword by Michael Blake and Andrea Carla Michaels is a peachy gender-bending delight. Three old movies with Man, Mr., and Sir in the title get their male leads feminized in the clues and their titles reworked in the answers. [1970 Dustina Hoffman saga?] is LITTLE BIG WOMAN; [1939 Roberta Donat film?] is GOODBYE, MRS. CHIPS; and [1967 Cindy Poitier film?] is TO MA'AM WITH LOVE. (I would've gone with Sydney in the clue; it's a very girly name these days, Mr. Greenstreet be damned.) Favorite clues: [Cold explosion?] for ACHOO; ["The Genteel Style in Writing" essayist] for ELIA (in all these years, I don't recall seeing another ELIA clue that gave any details about his essays); and ["Cut it out"] with and without an exclamation point for "DON'T" and "STOP THAT!" The partial I CAME looks odd in the grid; y'know, it could've been clued as a non-partial phrase in the Onion.
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Comparable Critters," harks back to another recent puzzle in which one of the first answers in the grid was an exemplar of happiness; I think larks seem happier than clams, because what on earth has a clam got to feel happy about? They sit in the muck filtering dirty water, and sometimes someone breaks their shell open and eats them; not to mention, nobody wants to be described as "clammy." Where is the joy for the clam? Anyway, this crossword has HAPPY AS A CLAM and three other similes that use animals. There's also a LARK, but it's clued as [Carefree escapade]. I know it wouldn't fit the "Comparable Critters" theme, but all this focus on similes reminds me of the line used often on Happy Days in the '70s: "funny as a crutch" (meaning not funny). Is there a word for an ironic/backwards simile like that?
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Straight A's," spells the long-A sound in a non-English way: EI without a trailing GH. The United Way turns into the verb phrase UNITED WEI, or [Brought an ancient Chinese dynasty together?]. [Device for having an I.M. conversation?] is the most devious clue in the entire puzzle—that's I.M. Pei and not instant messaging, so it's a PEI PHONE (pay phone). "Lousy lay" turns into a LOUSY LEI, or [Flower wreath with rotten petals, say?]. And ["A half dozen eggs, per favore"?] branches out to Italian for SEI PLEASE (say please). I didn't know LEHI was [Where Samson slew the Philistines], but the crossings helped me out. THE POPE is [Noted Iraq War critic who recently visited the White House]. OUI is the old porn [Magazine in which Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed having an orgy with other bodybuilders]. And KAL PENN is [John Cho's co-star in "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay"]; I liked the first movie and hear this one's funny, too. [Consumes conspicuously?] is SLURPS. BOXY is [Like some modern concept cars]. Overall, a fresh theme that had four good payoffs, fun fill, and interesting clues.
Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword features five phrases that are IN THE NUDE in that the word NUDE brackets other letters in the phrases. For example, NURSE'S AIDE and NO WAY, DUDE. Just one entry completely mystified me here—ASL isn't clued as American Sign Language but rather, [Chat room inquiry abbreviation]; I have no idea what it's short for. Favorite clues: [Eat like an animal?] for RUMINATE, and its neighbor, [Actor seen in credits stuffing his hand down his pants] for ED O'NEILL (from Married With Children).
April 28, 2008