Last updated at 1:20 p.m. Monday
It felt like I was moving easily through Ed Early's New York Times crossword, and yet I found myself mired in the theme. Mired! Yes, I am easily amused. If you lop off the ends of the four theme entries, you're left with assorted words meaning "morass." The two Across theme entries are Bostonian—FENWAY PARK, the [Red Sox stadium], and SWAMPSCOTT, a [Seaside community NE of Boston] that would have been woefully obscure to me if I hadn't become friends with someone who lives there. Did SWAMPSCOTT give anyone fits? In the fill, there's also the [Massachusetts vacation spot, with "the"], CAPE. The Down theme entries are from '70s Hollywood—MARSHA MASON, the ["Goodbye Girl" actress], and BOGDANOVICH, [Peter who directed "The Last Picture Show"]. Actress GENA Rowlands is in the fill—and she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in the '70s. Not long ago, the word carillon was in another crossword, and I recall that a number of solvers weren't familiar with the word. Now it's in the clue [Carillon site], leading to BELL TOWER. I do like it when two puzzles in close proximity include the same word when it's a little troublesome the first time—it's good not to have a chance to forget the new word before you need to retrieve it.
The New York Sun puzzle by Mark Feldman is plus-sized—a 15x16 grid. The "Anatomy of Poker" theme isn't up my alley because the vocabulary of poker isn't something that's second nature to me. The theme entries end with poker terms and begin with body parts, but the complete phrases have non-poker meanings. A [Basketball no-no] is HAND-CHECK, and apparently my knowledge of basketball's lingo is as thorough as my poker ken, because I needed all the crossings for this one. [Keep one's ___ (be on the alert)] clues EYES OPEN, and I believe this one counts as an 8-letter partial phrase. A LEG RAISE is a [Yoga exercise], a SKIN FOLD might be a [Cosmetic surgery target, often] (ick), and that [1997 Jamie Foxx film], BOOTY CALL, predates his Oscar by several years. I'm reading a book about the origins of New Orleans, so CASTILE, the [Kingdom that comprised most of Spain], was fresh in my mind. ADOBOS, the [Marinated Philippine dishes], are flavored with garlic and vinegar. In a crossword, BAR NONE looks just like BARN ONE—what would that be? The president's barn? A rural credit card issuer? CHICKEN gets a lively clue—[Game for daredevils]. So does TUBE TOP—[Sleeveless garment]. You know, the tube top is back in style these days, and I don't understand it. We did that in 1982. We're done now.
Derek Bowman's LA Times crossword has a vowel progression theme, and I correctly pegged it as such when I filled in BOLL WEEVIL, the [Cotton field pest] and checked the clue for the theme entry above it—BILL CLINTON, the [Sax-playing president]. The theme rounds out with a BALL BEARING ([Rolling anti-friction machine part]), BELL PEPPER ([Veggie that's commonly red, yellow or green], and BULL SESSION ([Informal discussion]). Overall, the fill and clues are quite easy, but there are a few things I've learned from doing umpty-thousand crosswords over the years that beginners might not know. For example, a [Spartan serf] is HELOT, [Einstein's birthplace] is ULM, and [Flying African threat] is TSETSE (it breeds most efficiently in the bottom row of crosswords). Favorite clue: [Words with a nice ring?] for a marriage PROPOSAL.
The theme in Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Easy as ABC," is phrases that contain a hidden ABC. [Topless Swedish import] sounds racy, but it's a SAAB CONVERTIBLE. CAB CALLOWAY was a [Cotton Club headliner]. [Maryland seafood specialty] is CRAB CAKE. [Cover-ups for chemists] are LAB COATS. And [Many an oil exporter] is an ARAB COUNTRY—I checked, and about half of OPEC's members are also part of the Arab League, though most Arab countries aren't in OPEC. In the fill, PIA MATER, or [Brain membrane], seemed a little tough for a Monday.
The theme in this week's Jonesin' crossword by Matt Jones is "Bye, George: items from the late George Carlin's 'Things to Watch Out For.'" I'm not at all familiar with the routine from which these items are drawn—here's a written list. The theme entries culled from that list are BROKEN GLASS, AIRLINE FOOD, CATTLE STAMPEDES, ACID RAIN, ENTROPY, LOCUSTS, and GRIDLOCK. So, 67 theme squares is quite a lot, but it's not so impressive when the list of candidates has about 130 items and when the comedy bit doesn't happen to resonate at all with the solver. Me, I preferred last week's themeless Jonesin'.
July 13, 2008