Whew! Busy busy busy. Wednesday morning, I'm heading to Minnesota, and I'll be mostly off-line through Sunday. The charming and delightful PuzzleGirl (who may or may not tell you folks her real name) will work her fingers to the bone leading the puzzle discussion here while I'm away, and Dave Sullivan (also charming and delightful) will peek in and make sure those new solving-time standings doohickeys (he tells me they're "bricklets") are working all right. (Wait, "bricklets"? That sounds like gum that'll shatter your teeth.)
I had to peruse Steven Ginzburg's New York Times crossword for a bit to understand how the theme worked. DINNER TABLE, DOUBLE AGENT, and PLAYSTATION all relate to DATE AND TIME in the same way—we have dinner dates and dinner time, double dates and double time, playdates and play time. I don't care for [Bride's title] as a clue for MRS—yes, it's accurate some of the time so it's valid as a crossword clue, but there are plenty of women who remain Ms. after exchanging wedding vows. I like the slanginess of SHIV ([Weapon in a gang fight] or the sort of knife that sounds at home on Law and Order) and KITSCH ([Show of lowbrow taste]). That Kinkade picture can be classified as kitsch (and makes me want to shout, "Omigod, call the fire department! The interior is a blazing inferno!"). There are a few great multi-word entries, too—NOSE-DIVED and CLOUD OVER are solid 9s, and the DNA TEST can be a GODSEND to guests on the Maury Povich show. Favorite clue: [African heavyweight, for short] for RHINO. Was your first thought of boxing?
Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword, "Gross Out," takes out the gross (ICK, 61-Down) and thus morphs six phrases into different creatures. To get a bit more space for six Across theme entries, the grid's expanded to 15x16. Julie Chen of CBS's Early Show (and Big Brother) is featured in SPRING CHEN (spring chicken). Pickup trucks become PUP TRUCKS, the wicked witch becomes WED WITCH, a PET FENCE emerges from picket fence, a ticket office celebrates a New Year as a TET OFFICE, and sticky fingers turn into STY FINGERS, a truly icky [Source of pigs' knuckles?]. The 10 longest answers in the fill have some gems, too.
Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Never a Good Sign," changes one letter in standard road sign verbiage to alter the message. Bike lane becomes NIKE LANE, COW-AWAY ZONE [restricts Holstein parking] (tow-away zone), a red stop sign says ATOP instead, and PRONG WAY points the way to antlers (not wrong way). My favorite themer is DUNAWAY VEHICLES / ONLY, [sign indicating that the movies "Network" and "Mommie Dearest" are coming up, but no others?]. The Rocky Balboa sign turned out to be YO, RIGHT TURN, but I took a wrong turn on that by guessing NO FIGHT TURN. (Whoops.)
Michael Langwald's LA Times crossword is out of season. Snow? In June? I mean, sure, there was snow out west just last week, but I'm not generally looking for wintry themes in the summer. The theme answers—BOARD ROOM, BANK BRANCH, BALL BOY, BIRD DOG, and BELT BUCKLE—are all SNOW-BOUND in that there are such things as a snowboard, snowbank, snowball, snowbird, and snowbelt. For an added touch, all the theme phrases start with a B.
Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Accentuate the Positive," incorporates an UP in four phrases. [Two minutes in the penalty box?] might be a FOUL UPSHOT—add UP to a foul shot, and the upshot of a foul in hockey is two minutes in the penalty box. [Spassky's loss to Fischer?] was a CHESS UPSET—chess set + UP. Solid theme, and plenty of solid longish crossing entries in the fill (e.g., PETER PAN, the ARABIAN SEA, and a DAIRY COW). GENE is clued with [One might make you fat]—is that a medical/genetic fact?
Whoops, I forgot that Ben Tausig's Google Group would be sending out two puzzles today. Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Shady Business," breaks out some fancy Crayola shades. Technically, I don't know that these are Crayola colors, but the theme works like this: A phrase is preceded by a color name, and the first part of the phrase also forms a discrete entity when welded to the color (a la Wheel of Fortune "Before and After" answers). [Peaceful financial institution?] is an OLIVE BRANCH BANK, with olive branch and branch bank being legitimate stand-alone phrases. [Buffalo cloverleaf?] refers to Buffalo, New York: RUST BELT LOOP. The TAN LINE JUDGE is [One who evaluates bodies back from the beach?]. And a [Trainer in a herpetarium?] might be a COPPERHEAD COACH. Favorite fill: PEA and LENTIL with [Samosa legume] clues (although I've never seen lentils in a samosa—mostly potatoes, peas, and spices); KABUKI; IXNAY; and JOCKS.
Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword stretches out to a 16x15 grid. There are five theme answers spanning six entries, all of them inventions that killed their inventors. Certainly an oddball trivia amalgamation, isn't it? Such a shame that the ROPE AND PULLEY / SYSTEM ended up strangling the clever engineer who devised it. Fill highlights include those dozen answers that are 7 to 9 letters long. LOIS LANE is clued ["It's better than your drawings of naked ___" (Retort by Elaine to Jerry)], and I don't remember that line of dialogue. [Not worth doing?] clues BAD IN BED. The Terminator's "I'LL BE BACK" catchphrase is a latter-day classic, of course. I've never heard of ["The Young and the Restless" star Don] DIAMONT; I was always an ABC soaps watcher. I could swear I grew up seeing ONAN clued as a Biblical seed-spiller in crosswords before the convention became cluing it as a two-word partial, ON AN. Byron's clue for it is [Biblical character whose act of coitus interruptus led to his death]; when looking back at the Across Lite window to see if that was the end of the clue, my eyes took in "(as seen on YouTube)" from another clue and I was taken aback. ONAN's crossing an ENEMA, or [Process of elimination?], rounding out the transgressive corner of the crossword. Actually, BRAN is [Regular input?], too.
June 16, 2008