Liz Gorski's New York Times crossword combines a word ladder with a standard crossword. Now, it would have been considerably more challenging had the word-ladder rungs not been clued, but I'm running behind schedule here so I'll take the clues. The [Classic Broadway show tune, or a hint to the word ladder revealed by the eight starred clues] is "SUNRISE, SUNSET." The word ladder progresses from DAWN to DUSK, appropriately enough, making stops at DARN, BARN, BURN, TURN, TURK, and TUSK on the way. (Click to enlarge the grid image if you solved online and would like to see how pretty the ladder layout is.)
Stepping back from the theme, I'm impressed to see that there are only a handful of 3-letter entries, 3x8 and 4x6 corners, and assorted other 7- and 8-letter entries. This puzzle's got a low enough word count (72) to be themeless, and yet Liz plunked 45 theme squares in there. Nobody's excited by [Year of Pope Sabinian's death] (DCVI, or 606 A.D.—and there was a pope named Sabinian??), but I did appreciate these entries and clues: MAC USER, or [Apple picker?]; the WACO/TEXAS U. crossing, located a little further east than is geographically accurate; WINONA Ryder, [Angelina's "Girl, Interrupted" co-star]; DODI, [Film producer Al-Fayed] and the late Princess Diana's late beau; "WANNA BET?" or [Follow-up to "Oh, yeah?"]; UNCOUPLE, or [Separate]; NEUTRALS, though I would have clued it with reference to clothing and accessory colors rather than the Swiss; [Throws out] for SUGGESTS (as in "Let me just throw this out there..."); RAGTAG, or [Not homogeneous]
I'm not sure that Lee Glickstein's New York Sun puzzle, "Six Degrees of Separation," is as hard as my comparative solving times suggest. I started it after 11 p.m., which is not my peak alertness time. Each of the six theme entries' base phrases gets separated by an academic degree. Mod Squad + B.A. = MOB AD SQUAD. Harmful + M.A. = HAM ARMFUL. Cohost + M.B.A. = COMB A HOST. Monday + M.F.A. = MOM FAN DAY. Mutates + M.S. = MUM STATES. And curtains + B.S. = CURB STAINS. Favorite clues and answers: ["Yo, Ho!"] for ALOHA; "CHANCES ARE," the [Johnny Mathis hit]; Noam CHOMSKY; HACEK, the [Mark whose name means "little hook" in Czech] (in that hockey player's name, I believe the hacek over the R adds a Z sound after the R, and the hacek over the S gives the letter an SH sound); CHEECH Marin and EEYORE the morose donkey, together again; [Alissa Rosenbaum's assumed first name] for AYN (Rand, I presume); and [Thing that might be contracted by unions?: Abbr.] for STD (unions as in acts of sexual congress, STD as in sexually transmitted disease). I couldn't grasp [Puff pieces?] for the longest time—EFS, or the plural of the letter F.
Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy crossword, "Band on the Pun," is just what it sounds like—a crossword with band puns. The middle two theme entries end with instruments while the outer pair start with them. [Dessert enjoyed by the string section?] is CELLO PUDDING. [Guitar played in the flyboy band?] is AIR FORCE BASS—the combination of "__boy band," BASS, and the existence of Lance Bass rendered it difficult for me to grasp the pun here (yet another way that boy bands contribute to the coarsening of human existence). A STATUS CYMBAL is an [Instrument that makes a drummer feel important?]. And [Lessons for a certain band member?] is SAX EDUCATION.
Joy Frank's LA Times crossword plays a "before and after" game in which the before part begins with OFF. Off-center + centerfold = OFF-CENTER FOLD, or [Origami mistake?]. [Figurehead making casual remarks?] is an OFFHAND PUPPET (hand puppet). A Broadway [Angel without Web access?] is an OFF-LINE BACKER (linebacker). And a [Salty watchman?] is an OFF-COLOR GUARD (color guard). Favorite clue: [Whistleblower's moment?] for NOONTIME.
May 14, 2008