Natan Last may be a teenager, but his themeless New York Times crossword struck me as indistinguishable from those made by some of my favorite grown-up constructors. The fill was reminiscent of the Nothnagel/Quarfoot flavor of themeless:
Favorite clues: [Nooks for books, maybe] for TYPO (the N and B keys are adjacent); [It holds the line] for a REEL; [Winston Churchill's Rufus, for one] for POODLE; [They know the drill] for DENTISTS; [One with fire power?] for BOSS; [Foot of the Appian Way?] for PES, Latin for "foot" the verb [Keen] for MOURN; and [Pattern sometimes called "Persian pickles"] for PAISLEY. These clues taught me two little bits of trivia.
Mark Feldman's New York Sun puzzle wasn't as tough as many Friday Suns. The theme in "How Offensive!" is "phrases that start with offensive positions in football:
This wasn't the sort of theme where I could anticipate upcoming theme entries, on accounta I do not keep a mental list of all the football positions. But the theme occupies an impressive amount of space, and it's executed well enough for me to forgive fill like UPOLU, or the [Samoan island where Robert Louis Stevenson died]. That entry may, in fact, have saved the puzzle, because how many other answers fit the pattern **O*U? Opposite that crazy entry is the COACH of the team. Favorite clue: [Ego maniac?] for FREUD.
Three cheers for Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle! His "Standardized Test" is going straight into my folder of the best gimmick puzzles of the year. The grid has five sets of standardized test answers, ABCDE, already in place. The Across Lite Notepad contains the multiple-choice questions that correspond to them, and the solver is to fill in the circle for the correct answer. Doing so blacks out that letter—which is appropriate because that letter doesn't belong in the Down answer that crosses it. (The other four multiple-choice answers serve as plain ol' letters in their crossings.) I'm not up on my standardized test trivia, but the letter to black out was clear from the crossings. And then! And then, when you reach the end of the quiz in the Notepad, it says BONUS QUESTION: What group has benefited most from standardized testing? (To find the answer, read the Down entries that intersect the correct answers to the five questions above.) Peter SE( )LLERS includes the noun SELLERS, and with the other words that include the blacked-out answer letters we see the following phrase: SELLERS OF NUMBER TWO PENCILS. As crossword "aha" moments go, that one was delightful. The way the various elements of the theme come together is both surprising and elegant. I like it enough to forgive TOILFUL, or [Like drudge work], which is a word almost never used in native English. From "Peanuts," Sally's pet name for Linus, "Sweet BABOO," is cute. "Peanuts" is so well-known, you'd think BABOO would get a little more play in crosswords. I'm fine with PAU, the [Winter resort in France], because Pau was one of the study-abroad programs available at my college.
Bilie Truitt's LA Times crossword is very forthright and refuses to hem and haw by saying "er": Each theme entry is a phrase that's had the -ER lopped off at the end.
I note a new clue for NGO, not referencing a Vietnamese leader of eld, Ngo Dinh Diem, or the abbreviation for nongovernmental organizations: [IHOP '___: takeout food program], "IHOP 'n Go." [City across the river from Buffalo, N.Y.] is abbreviated FT. ERIE. [Sound heard at the end of day?] stymied me for too long—it's the LONG A vowel sound. [Bay window] is old-school crosswordese: ORIEL. (Not to be confused with the crosswordese basketry willow, OSIER.) The [Long-distance initials] WATS were in use when I was in college in the '80s, but I haven't encountered a WATS line since then.
Maybe there was a file naming/dating slip-up over at CrosSynergy—today's CrosSynergy puzzle via the link at Cruciverb.com is a themeless "Sunday Challenge," but today is Friday. Far be it from me to cast aside an unexpected themeless when one presents itself! This one, by Mel Rosen, seemed strikingly easy for a themeless. When 1-Across (MA AND PA, [The Kettles]) and its crosses practically fill themselves in, it's not the experience I expect to have. Favorite entries:
Other Scrabbly entries include BEJEWELED, QUIZ KID, ZINC WHITE ([Pigment used in cosmetic dentistry]—I never learned this in my tenure at a cosmetic dentistry journal), and KLEPTO. The big mystery word for me was LAAGERS, or [Protected encampments]. Here's the definition, and this page says the Old West "circle the wagons" approach is much the same as a laager.
The Wall Street Journal crossword, "Reel Sex Changes," marks the first time (Whoops, make that the second time—but it's Andrea's first venture into Sunday-sized constructing and I love what she does with that much room for the theme!) Andrea Carla Michaels and Patrick Blindauer have shared a byline. I cottoned to the theme quickly, since [Movie about two good ol' gals foiling Boss Hogg?] evoked The Dukes of Hazzard, and the gals and titular "Sex Changes" pointed the way toward THE DUCHESSES OF HAZZARD COUNTY. In the altered movie titles in the other theme entries, Sir becomes MADAM, Mommie becomes DADDY, Daughter becomes SON, Boys become GIRLS, Brothers become SISTERS, and Men become WOMEN. Surely there are far more male movie title characters than female ones, but this theme gives us a peek at what could be. It's an easy Sunday-sized puzzle, to be sure, but with interesting fill, such as Edgar Allen Poe's ORANGUTAN, Robin Hood's LITTLE JOHN, Pope BENEDICT, MAFIOSI, YWCAS, and FASCISM of the order INSECTA.
September 11, 2008