Ooh, Peter Gordon has deprived me of a themeless New York Sun crossword this week, and I don't even care. You'd think I'd be outraged, but Jeffrey Harris's Friday puzzle is an excellent and twisty follow-up to Patrick Blindauer's colorful theme yesterday. The "Missing Links" gimmick involves 24 answers that are one letter too short for the space allotted, requiring one square to be left blank. For example, [Tartan] is PLAID, with a blank square between the A and I, and in the crossing the blank square precedes LAW ([Corn or lemon follower]—tough clue for those of us unfamiliar with corn law). Wherever there's a blank square, there's one obvious letter that could be inserted to make the two incomplete words into two slightly longer words—in that particular pairing, it's a C, forming PLACID and CLAW. Those added letters (circled in my solution grid) spell out a certain phrase when read from top to bottom: CHAIN LETTERS. I'm tossing this one in my "year's best gimmick puzzles" folder. (P.S. I solved the puzzle without benefit of the Across Lite Notepad message.)
The clues are Friday Sun level, to be sure. DELLA is [Part of some Italian names]. [Director of "Wings," the first Best Picture winner] is WELLMAN (Who? This guy). [Lanolin of "U.S. Acres," e.g.] is a EWE; that was a comic strip from the "Garfield" creator, and the great Bill Watterson called it "an abomination." The first DH in baseball was RO_N Blomberg. [Figure on a certain island] is OCTANE on a gas pump in the little island at the gas station. [Pol Nol] is L_ON Nol of Cambodia. [Fall back?] is ELS_, as in more than one of the letter el. LATTE can be a [Tall order?] at a coffee shop with the ridiculous sizing system. [Chemisette makup] is LACE; I presume a chemisette is related to a chemise. [New York City's Carnegie ___] always gets me—it's DELI and not HALL. ENGEL is clued with [___ v. Vitale (landmark Supreme Court case of 1962]; this was the ruling against school prayer and not anything to do with Georgia Engel and Dick Vitale. [Contents of some chests] is _ICE. [By] is P_ER, which rather wanted to be take up all four squares as NEAR. [Italian filmmaker Petri] is ELIO, not to be confused with his fellow Italians with 4-letter E names, Ezio Pinza and Enzo Ferrari. ["Runny Babbit" author's first name] was a gimme for me—it's SHEL Silverstein, and the book features kid-friendly spoonerism-based poetry.
Meanwhile, over in the New York Times, Barry Silk's themeless crossword is in the same vein as most of his NYTs—kinda Scrabbly, with some surprising letter combos. The uncommon letter action features:
In the surprising letter combos category, the aforementioned LBJ RANCH features prominently, along with the following initials/abbreviation+word pile-ups:
Other items of note in this puzzle: ANNIE and EVITA are both clued as the Broadway musicals—[Tony winner between "A Chorus Line" and "Ain't Misbehavin'"] for the former, [Whence the song "The Lady's Got Potential"] for the latter. My wrongest turn: guessing BLOGS for the plural noun [Reads online] instead of the correct EMAGS (meh). Favorite clues: [Ones left holding the bag?] for TEAPOTS; [Stay-at-home worker?] for UMP; [It has a sticking point] for DAGGER; [Shadow] for VESTIGE; and [When German pigs fly?] for NIE (German for "never"). There are plenty of proper names in the grid: [Early Japanese P.M. Hirobumi] ITO; [Gifford's replacement as Philbin's co-host], Kelly RIPA; ARCADIA, or [Peaceful place]; a [Microwave option], the AMANA brand; MARAT [Safin who won the 2005 Australian Open]; EARLE [Wheeler, 1964-70 chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]; ["Mecanique Celeste" astronomer], or LAPLACE; Patsy CLINE, the [Singer profiled in "Sweet Dreams," 1985]; and BOER, or [Great Trek figure]. How much do I like having a lot of names in a crossword? I would have to rate the [Heat meas.] of this puzzle pretty high, with a large KCAL or BTU amount.
It's short shrift time again, since there are so many Friday puzzles and so little time.
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Who's Who?", plays around with homophones of names, converting four famous names into two-word phrases. The [Weasel's jolly cousin?] is a MERRY MARTEN (actress Mary Martin, who played Peter Pan way back in the day—isn't she Larry Hagman's mom?). My worst misstep was here, where I went with comedian/mammal STEVE MARTEN before I figured out how the theme operated. [Lockers?] are GYM NEIGHBORS (actor Jim Nabors, of "Golly!" fame). [Shanghai strokes?] are CHINA FILLIPS, and I love the word fillip so much (singer Chynna Phillips of Wilson Phillips, offspring of two members of The Mamas & the Papas. [A day off for the stevedores?] is a DOCK HOLIDAY (the Earps' friend Doc Holliday); I'm not sure how to clue HOLIDAY without using the word day, but I wish the constructor had found a way to do so. The fill's highlights include Hamlet's SOLILOQUY and ROCK-SOLID.
Larry Shearer's LA Times crossword uses the phrase ACT / OUT as its core. The theme entries are four phrases from which ACT has been removed. CHOIR PRICE, or [What the musical group is asking?], is modified from choir practice. [E's place?] is BEFORE THE F (fact). [Portrait of a former spouse?] is an EX LIKENESS (exact). And EVASIVE ION (action) is a [Hard-to-pin-down particle?]. I mistyped that last one as EVASISE ION, and boy, did that muck up the crossing. [Chin Ho's group] meant nothing to me, so *ISEO was mystifying (and I couldn't guess the first letter because I had no idea that [E equivalent] is F FLAT, just that it had to be A, B, C, D, F, or G FLAT. Eventually I pulled FIVE-O together, and then I grumbled because what the heck kind of pop culture clue is that? I'm astonished to learn that Hawaii Five-O ran until 1980, because I thought it was older than that. Never watched it!
Pancho Harrison constructed this week's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "The Wild Bunches." The theme entries toy with collective nouns, terms for "bunches" of animals. A [Bunch of angry geese?] is a CROSS BRACE. A murder of crows figures into BLUE MURDER, a [Bunch of depressed crows]. I had to Google that phrase—Blue Murder is the name of two bands, two plays, and three non-U.S. television programs. Those all seem too obscure to be the basis for a theme entry—anyone have a better lead? Pseudopod means the "false foot" extended by an amoeba, for example; PSEUDO POD is clued as [Bunch of phony dolphins?]. FOOLISH PRIDE is a [Bunch of dumb lions?]; this one's my favorite. And a [Bunch of ancient fish?] are an OLD SCHOOL. Outside of the theme, there's plenty of interesting and erudite fill and clues.
I kinda whizzed through this week's Wall Street Journal crossword by Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach, "One Mo. Time."—it seemed a good bit easier than the typical WSJ puzzle. The theme entries include 3-letter abbreviations for the months of the year, and are presented in chronological order:
I enjoyed the puzzle—it's fun to feel particularly adept when zipping through a crossword faster than expected—but part of me wishes the clues had been tougher so I could have spent more time with it.
July 10, 2008