May 18, 2008

Monday, 5/19

NYS 3:25
CS 2:46
NYT 2:44
LAT 2:41

Mike Nothnagel applies his Nothnagelian grid-filling skills to a straightforward Monday theme in the New York Times crossword. The theme entries begin with a big nothing: a VACANT APARTMENT, EMPTY PROMISES, a HOLLOW VICTORY, and BLANK CARTRIDGES. The longest Down answers, JOE PISCOPO ([Portrayer of Frank Sinatra on "Saturday Night Live"]) and PATCH ADAMS ([1998 Robin Williams title role]), are also rather VACANT if you ask me. Qualitatively speaking—but they're terrific crossword entries. There's no shortage of lively fill:

  • IN KNOTS = [Feeling tied up, as a stomach]
  • GROUPIE = [Rock band follower]
  • GIDDY = [Euphoric]
  • SIDECAR = [Brandy cocktail]
  • GEN X = [Baby boomers' kids, informally]
  • SYNONYM = [Roget's listing]
  • PHASER = ["Star Trek" weapon]
  • LOWDOWN = [Scuttlebutt]
  • VORTEX = [Whirlpool or tornado]

Good gravy, what are these all doing in a Monday puzzle?! Mind you, it's not 100% chocolatey goodness. The crosswords of 25 years ago were more likely to have fill like RIN [___Tin Tin], the [Food thickener] AGAR, and everyone's most beloved [Anatomical passage], ITER. I'm particularly fond of 1-Down, [Rikki-Tikki-___] TAVI. That was a favorite animated special in my childhood, and would you believe I can't Netflix it for my son? Anyway, a most enjoyable Monday crossword.


Andrea Carla Michaels' LA Times crossword has a lot of breezy quasi-abbreviated fill in addition to a theme of wide open spaces. The theme entries are actors whose first or last names are grassy expanses: TIM MEADOWS was the [Portrayer of the "SNL" Ladies' Man]; HEATH LEDGER was nominated for an Oscar as a ["Brokeback Mountain" star]; SALLY FIELD was the ["Norma Rae" Oscar winner]; and LEA THOMPSON repurposes the common crossword answer LEA as the ["Caroline in the City" star]. In the fill, these answers are all abbreviations of a sort without being three-letter abbreviations, or TLAs:
  • DONUT: [Dunked snack], shortened from doughnut
  • E-MAIL: [Online letter], originally "electronic mail"
  • U-BOAT: [WWII German boat], from the German Unterseeboot
  • T. REX: ["Jurassic Park predator, briefly], short for Tyrannosaurus rex
  • SLO-MO: [TD replay speed, often], short for slow motion
  • UTES: [Sport ___: versatile cars], short for utility vehicles
  • OLEO: [Substitute spread], from oleomargarine
  • CALC: [Math course with derivatives and integrals], or calculus
  • STRO: [Houston player, to fans], short for Astro
  • TEMPS: [Weather stats], or temperatures
  • TECH: [PC support person], short for technical support

I rather like the casualness these answers lend Andrea's crossword.

Andrea also constructed the 15x16 New York Sun crossword, "Fun, Fun, Fun in the Sun," with another outdoorsy theme. This time, it's THE BEACH BOYS and five people with beachy last names. There's football's ART SHELL, lowbrow comedy's PAULY SHORE, pop music's BILLY OCEAN, ice skater TODD SAND, and dancer VERNON CASTLE. Rather than tracking down a Beach Boys video, I've opted for the Stray Cats' "STRAY Cat Strut," a 1983 rockabilly hit. Playwright Eve ENSLER makes her second appearance in a Sun crossword, while the other newspapers seem to shy away from a Vagina Monologues clue.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Conservation," the theme entries are phrases beginning with KEEPS, SAVES, and HOLDS. The first one doesn't sound like a phrase people really use idiomatically: KEEPS ONE'S TEMPER is clued as [Stays cool]. You might not be prone to losing your temper, but does anyone say you keep it? I wasn't sure how the adverb ASTRALLY ([In a starlike manner]) could be used, so I Googled and quickly found this Q&A about "the dangers of astral projection." Highlights: "Q. Can a demon possess you while you’re astral? A. This was certainly my biggest fear when I began." and "Demons vibrate at a level of consciousness that contains a lot of lust." (Indeed!) Favorite entry: CUE STICK, which looked like it wanted a Q before the UEST part.