(post updated at 10:20 a.m. Wednesday)
The theme in the New York Times crossword is an unusual one. Newcomer Henry Quillen stair-steps 11 words that start with A/end with Z or start with Z/end with A along both diagonals in the grid, with A TO Z TO A filling a space in the middle: ZIMA, a [Coors product], meets ARROZ, [Ingrediente en paella], which hooks up with the [Keebler cracker brand] ZESTA, which intersects ARIZONA, [Flagstaff's place], and that state meets up with the AD BIZ, the traditional [Madison Ave. trade], linked to [Ethan Frome's wife] ZEENA, who has nothing to do with ANTZ, the [Animated film hit of 1998]. Running across the other diagonal are Lucille [Ball's comic partner] Desi ARNAZ, [The Rock] called ALCATRAZ, the aforementioned A TO Z TO A, a cubic ZIRCONIA gem, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Frank ZAPPA. The theme includes seven Z's, which could mean lots of compromises in the rest of the fill but doesn't at all. Clues and answers of note:
Pancho Harrison's New York Sun puzzle, "Well, Um...", is a treat too. A quartet of theme entries are modified by the addition of ER (a speech disfluency filler like "um"), which changes the preceding short vowel to a long one. [Burglary under cover of darkness?] is a NIGHT CAPER (nightcap). [Captain of the Yankees after gaining a lot of weight?] is JUMBO JETER (jumbo jet). [Drunk flamingo?] is a TIGHT WADER (tightwad). And to [Cheat a sot?] is to SCREW TOPER (screw-top). The last one is a mite jarring, as the other three are all nouns rather than verb phrases. The Across theme entries are stacked with 9-letter answers and those short stacks cross 8's: Curly the TRAIL BOSS from City Slickers (this is Jack Palance's character) crosses a NO-HITTER, and SYMBOLISM meets ODORLESS (which in turn crosses MEL TORME's full name). Consonant pileups are found in the MCRIB sandwich, NSYNC, MRS C. from Happy Days, the HGTV cable channel, and the Village People song "YMCA." INGA is clued with [Congo River's ___ Falls] rather than a woman of Scandinavian descent—I'm making a mental note for future crossword reference.
Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword contains four 16-letter theme entries (the puzzle's one column wider than usual—thanks for the correction, Bob!), each beginning with a verb that doubles as something that grows from an animal's skin. Reptile scales, turtle shells, bird feathers, and rhinoceros horns are all made of keratin, as fingernails and hair are. The theme entries are:
I'm not familiar with [Lat strengtheners] being called CHINS—chin-ups, yes. Chins, no. The [Willows used in basketry], OSIERS, are solid crosswordese—if you didn't know this word, make a mental note of it. You're likely to see it again in other crosswords.
I don't know why I had such trouble making sense out of the clues in Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword, "Clueless Crooner." Was this puzzle harder than today's other offerings for you too, or is it just me? The theme is a riddle, meaning that the theme entries didn't offer much help with maneuvering through the rest of the puzzle. WHY DID THE BAD / SINGER BREAK / INTO / SONG? HE WAS UNABLE / TO FIND THE KEY. A bunch of the the fill answers were two-word phrases, which I think made those 7's a bit tougher. The FAR WEST is the [Great Plains-to-Pacific Ocean area]. ALOHA OE is clued with ["Farewell to Thee" is its translated title]. A TIDY SUM is [Hardly chicken feed]. To [Set lofty goals] is to AIM HIGH. The COAL BIN is a [Fuel storage area]. [0-0] is NO SCORE. And AWAKE TO is [Become conscious of].
July 22, 2008