Hah! There's another sleepy-time theme in the New York Times crossword, just one day after one ran in the New York Sun. So often when two versions of a theme appear in close proximity, one of the two suffers by comparison. I don't think that's the case this time—Dave Mackey's NYT puzzle was a delight (and the Sun was cool, too). Now, if you don't share my fondness for pop culture, maybe you didn't enjoy this puzzle, but I sure did. The theme entries in this one follow a progression—first it's BEDTIME (FOR BONZO), then you get into your PAJAMA (GAME) (and yes, the singular is kosher), put your head on your PILLOW (TALK), and next thing you know, it's (I) DREAM (OF JEANNIE) time. Three of the four theme entries are movie titles and the last was a TV series. Yesterday's 1-Across in the NYT asked for dictator AMIN; today's 1-Across asks for Mr. Kotter himself, GABE Kaplan. Other pop-culture answers from the worlds of TV, film, and pop music are JABBA the Hutt; actors Greg EVIGAN, Annabella SCIORRA, and LIZA Minnelli; director Sam RAIMI; the French film AMELIE ([2001 title role for Audrey Tautou]); old film studio RKO; the song "Ode to BILLY JOE" and the lyric "TIE A yellow ribbon..."; and EWE clued as [Stand-in for "you" in "Concentration"], the old rebus game show. Of course, pop-culture haters get the more highbrow ZOLA ([Emile who wrote "Truth is on the march"]); ["Rule, Britannia" composer] Thomas ARNE; a SAGA and a NOVEL; New Yorker cartoonist REA Irvin (he did a ton of New Yorker covers, including the iconic Eustace Tilley cover, and designed the classic New Yorker typeface); the ["Venerable" monk] Adam BEDE; and MME. Bovary.
Other favorite clues and fill: [Bonkers] for both DAFT and LOCO; UTOPIA clued as [A world without 71-Across], have-NOTS; ZOOLOGIC; ["It's on me!"] for "I'LL TREAT" (a happier option that cluing it as ill-treat); [Informal greeting at a breakfast shop] for MORNIN (what exactly is a "breakfast shop"? does IHOP qualify?); and even [Coastal raptors] for ERNS, because Emily Cureton draws a mean ERN. (I see that Dave solved his puzzle in the NYT applet—behind several other fast solvers. Hee! It gives me the giggles when I can beat a constructor on his or her own puzzle.
Peter Collins' New York Sun puzzle, "Split Seconds," takes five phrases that follow the "second ___" format, puts the second word into the midst of a theme entry, and has each theme phrase split the second ___ word across word breaks. For example, the bolded letters in GEORGE A. ROMERO and HIPPOCRATIC OATH can follow "second" in common phrases. Another theme entry is TUBE STEAK, which I just saw earlier in the day while consulting an online list of slang terms for "penis" (a Crasswords puzzle had a slang term I'd never seen before). Here, it's clued as [Frank]. I...had no idea anyone called hot dogs that. The fill juxtaposes USAGE and (a few inches away) PEDANTRY; who doesn't appreciate that connection? (My mom caught Hillary Rodham Clinton with an errant "Bill and I" that should have been "Bill and me." *sigh*) How is it that I've never seen ARBORETA as the plural of arboretum?
The LA Times crossword might mark a debut—I don't recall seeing the name Thomas Takaro before. There are six theme entries (filling rows 3, 6, 10, and 13) in which the two parts of each answer are identical save for an I-to-A switch. FIDDLE-FADDLE, KIT-KAT, FLIM-FLAM—these and the others are all lively-sounding terms with mostly happy connotations. PELL-MELL almost joins the party, but with a consonant change instead (and no thematic partner across the grid). There are 17 longish (6 to 8 letters) answers in the fill, too, with PELL-MELL sandwiched between Dr. FAUSTUS and AFFABLE. I like the juxtaposition for whatever reason.
Nancy Salomon's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Inner Tube," places an IV (as in "IV tube") in each theme entry's base phrase. Pry open yields a "PRIVY OPEN" sign, dingbat hides a DIVING BAT swooping out of the dark (eek!), a trial date (when the trial is scheduled) turns into a TRIVIAL DATE (clued as [Unremarkable get-together?] rather than [Good social option for nerds]), and led the way goes actively Zen with LIVED THE WAY. Nice fill, though it's been a while since TOTIE Fields showed up in the crossword—she's one of those people I learned about strictly from crosswords, like Toots Shor.
Updated Tuesday evening:
Well, I've had dinner and am only now getting around to the puzzles e-mailed out earlier today by Ben Tausig. Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword has a "Confucius say" theme. For example, [Confucius say "Man who fart in church ___"] is completed by the double-meaning SIT IN OWN PEW. [Confucius say "Passionate kiss like spider's web; leads to ___"] UNDOING OF FLY (the entomological fly and the trouser fly can both be "undone" in different ways). I'm not wild about the inherent cartoony stereotyping vibe of the theme, and two of the five theme answers don't have the same stilted-English vibe that the other three share (though the clues are stilted in that way). Good fill—where else could you combine a MARMOSET and ABS OF STEEL?
Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "Missing the Signs," has five signs that are missing one letter and thus convey a different message. A tow-away zone sign gets hospital use without its T: OW-AWAY ZONE. A loose gravel sign goes morbid with LOOSE GRAVE. Nice pop-culture combo with the long vertical fill: Altman's GOSFORD PARK (which I haven't seen) and Carly Simon's classic, "YOU'RE SO VAIN" (who was that song about, anyway?).
April 07, 2008