(Post updated at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday)
The New York Times crossword by Leonard Williams features a Tuesdayish collection of phrases that all hark back nostalgically to the olden days. ONCE UPON A TIME is, of course, many a [Fairy tale's start]. [Grandpa's start] to an anecdote about walking to and from school uphill both ways might be WHEN I WAS A BOY. BACK IN THE DAY is clued as [Mom's start], though I associate the phrase most clearly with my editorial assistant, well, back in the day. Rona used to say that a lot—and yes, part of why I hired her was because her first name was so crossword-familiar. (That other assistant named Khristine? Doomed.) IN YEARS GONE BY could be a [Legend's start]. Oddball entries elsewhere in the grid: GARCIA is [Ice cream flavor Cherry ___], and my son says it's delicious. ESA is [That, to Tomas], not your typical crossword Español. The [Thor Heyerdahl craft] is RAI, or RA I, but there are 38 times more Google hits for his name and "Ra II" than for his name and "Ra I," which Heyerdahl probably just called "Ra." A [Bacterium that doesn't need oxygen] is an ANAEROBE. Male SIKHS are turbaned [Followers of Guru Nanak].
Barry Silk's New York Sun crossword, "In the Middle," puts an IN in the middle of a two-word phrase and welds it to the beginning of the second word. A [Bill from an orator?] might be a SPEAKING INVOICE. [Saudi oil revenue?] is KINGDOM INCOME. A RUNAWAY INJURY could be the [Cause of a fugitive's pain?]. And, aptly, a [Praying mantis] is a RELIGIOUS INSECT. Sixteen of the fill entries are 6 letters or longer, which I always like. We get a side of BASMATI rice ([Long-grain rice]), MANHOLES ([Sewer entries]), TASTEBUD ([Tongue sensor]), and PLAY DEAD ([Lie motionless]) along with two names utterly unfamiliar to me—[Hall of Fame hockey coach Roger] NEILSON and [Two-time N.L. batting champ Richie] ASHBURN. The crossings for both were uniformly gettable, fortunately.
Rich Norris, working under his "Lila Cherry" pseudonym, crafted today's LA Times crossword. The theme is COMICS (43-Down), and each of the four theme entries ends with the name of a comic strip. WORK FOR PEANUTS ([Earn starvation wages]) refers to the Charles Schulz classic strip, "Peanuts." "Opus" is Berkeley Breathed's follow-up to "Bloom County," which was my favorite strip in the '80s; it's in MAGNUM OPUS ([Writer's greatest work]). "Shoe" appears in TENNIS SHOE, or [Court footwear]; that clue's followed by [Court coup] for ACE, another tennis clue that I thought might refer to the jurisprudence system. [Rutherford B. Hayes's successor] was JAMES A. GARFIELD, and we will not speak of the comic strip included there. Hooray for majoring in English! I halfway knew that PELEG was the ["Moby Dick" ship co-owner].
Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword, "Field Theory," has a quip theme that's not half bad—it reinterprets the phrase "ballpark figure." TOO MANY SNACKS AT / THE STADIUM / CAN GIVE YOU / A BALLPARK FIGURE. Bring on the nachos! It's a nice touch to have SHEA ([Its last World Series was in 2000]) crossing THE STADIUM. I know Patrick likes to make pangrams (puzzles that include all 26 letters), but this one's short a Q. It may well be that Patrick has the highest percentage of pangram crosswords—does anyone know?
Both the Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword and the Onion A.V. Club puzzle are by Ben Tausig this week. The Onion theme is AND/OR, [Alternative words used as alternatives for each other in this puzzle's theme answers], with AND and OR swapped in selected phrases. Morel mushrooms become Howie MANDEL MUSHROOMS, [Gourmet "Deal or No Deal" prizes?]. A [Tool for nailing mail?] is an ARMOR HAMMER (Arm and Hammer baking soda). Error-prone turns into ERRAND-PRONE, or [Apt to stop at the grocery store?]; I like this one a lot. I am not errand-prone, in case you wondered. [Sign above a closet?] is STORING ROOM ONLY (standing room only). Two entries in the fill have come out of that closet—[Pejorative term co-opted and redefined by some] is used to clue both HOMO and DYKE. For example, there's the "Dykes To Watch Out For" comic strip. Favorite clues: [Give 110%, say] for OVERTIP, and [Demoted, neologistically] for PLUTOED.
Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Initial Action," really startled me. There I was, meandering through the grid...working on the theme entry at 60-Across...let's see, what's that first crossing, 55-Down? [Diary of a Crossword Fiend, e.g.]. Oh! Hello! This here is a BLOG. It absolutely made my day to see that clue, and come Thursday or Friday, I'll definitely be grabbing a few extra copies of the Reader. Thanks for the cruciverbal shout-out, Ben! The theme entries reverse a 3-letter abbreviation to change the meaning of a phrase. (Thanks to Jan for noticing the abbrevs were reversed, not merely scrambled.) PTA bake sales become professional tennis's ATP BAKE SALES—[Fundraisers where Federer and Nadal sell Rice Krispie Treats and upside-down cake?]. ABM (antiballistic missile) Treaty becomes MBA TREATY, or an [Accord among future CEOS?]. Your AIM Buddy List for instant messaging turns into an MIA BUDDY LIST, or [Catalog of disappeared comrades?]. (Aww, sad.) High-speed DSL modems are transformed into LSD MODEMS, or [Drug connections?]. I didn't know that a stand-up [Certain promotional item for a film] was called a STANDEE. '80s pop culture fans get ABACAB, the [Double-platinum Genesis album of 1981]. If you're not familiar with the clothing store called French Connection UK, you still might've seen people wearing FCUK t-shirts like this. The clue, [Clothier that exploits its initials to controversial effect], is pretty straightforward. I have no idea who ESTELLE is, other than having just read the clue, ["American Boy" (ft. Kanye West) singer]; all I know is that "ft." or "feat." is short for "featuring." ISLAM is clued as [Religion to which 10% of American voters believe Barack Obama belongs], and it's almost a shame that there's no requirement for voters to pass a critical thinking test before receiving a ballot.
July 14, 2008