Patrick Berry's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday," by the numbers:
Elizabeth Long's New York Times crossword was easier for me than yesterday's. How about you? The theme is described by 42-Down, SHAPES UP, clued as [Quits misbehaving...or a literal hint to 4-, 9-, 13-, 49- and 57-Down]. Those six answers are all shapes, written up rather than down in the grid. The [Percussion instrument in an orchestra] is the triangle, or ELGNIART. [Coterie] is circle, or ELCRIC. [Headliner] is star, or RATS. An [Unhip person] is a square, or ERAUQS. And a [Racetrack] is typically an oval, or LAVO. Cute gimmick, and one with a justification—the phrase SHAPES UP. Just a bunch of shapes spelled backwards would seem a bit arbitrary, but that phrase elevates the theme.
The longest fill is just that—fill, not thematic. WHIRLIGIG is clued as a [Colorful lawn or garden fixture], and an ARTICHOKE is [Something you might want to get to the heart of?]. Trickier clues: [Hebrews, for example] for EPISTLE; [They cross here] for the WORDS in this crossword; ["___ This Last" (series of John Ruskin essays] for UNTO; [One of TV's Rugrats] is LIL (if you're like me, you've been burned by that other Rugrat, DIL, in crosswords before and were proud of yourself for quickly entering that at 7-Down here...but it's wrong); [Small hill] for both KNOLL and RISE; [Mobile home?: Abbr.] for ALA (as in Mobile, Alabama); [Bird with speckled eggs] is a WREN; and [Avant-garde filmmaker Brakhage] for STAN.
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword can be summed up by the last theme entry, TIRE ROTATION ([Mechanic's job, literally illustrated in this puzzle]). In the other theme entries, the letters in the word TIRE are rotated in stepwise fashion. Move the E to the beginning and get ETIR, embedded in GET IRRITATED ([Start to steam]). Cycle the R to the beginning of that to get RETI, which is in ONE MORE TIME. Now slide the I over for IRET, within WIRETAPPING ([Surveillance technique]). That leaves T to complete the rotation back to the front for TIRE in TIRE ROTATION. As with the NYT gimmick, it's the common phrase that provides the justification for the gimmick—a random 4-letter word going through the rotation could feel kinda arbitrary. The long Down entries are unrelated to the theme, but isn't it nice to see CHICHEN ITZA, the [Mayan tourist site], in the grid?
The CrosSynergy puzzle called "Null and Void" is by Paula Gamache. The five theme entries are phrases that end with words that have a "null and void" sense: HOBBIT HOLE is ["The Fellowship of the Ring" residence]. GIMME A BREAK means ["Do you think I'm that stupid?"]. To DRAW A BLANK is to [Get lucky at Scrabble, maybe]. GENERATION GAP and DOUBLE-SPACE round out the theme. [Nit-picker's nit] in literal terms is the egg of a COOTIE, or louse. Coincidentally, there's a Language Log post today about "cooties" and other schoolyard lingo.
July 16, 2008