(updated at 8:40 a.m. Saturday)
We're watching the presidential debate on DVR delay, so even though it has concluded, it's not over in our house yet. But the kid's bedtime allows for a brief blogging break. So—
Karen Tracey's Saturday New York Times crossword fits into the "Karen Tracey Scrabbly themeless" mold quite nicely. The centerpiece is DON QUIXOTE, clued with [Whence the expression "mum's the word"]. Hmm, I don't know about that. Yes, it's right there in Wikiquote, but Don Quixote was written in Spanish, and I don't think "mum" is a Spanish word. Perhaps Zulema or another reader familiar with the original Spanish work can tell us what Cervantes' wording was. Though the clue feels off to me, I do like the Q/X action in the answer itself. Other items of note in the Across direction:
Moving along to the Downs now:
When the Friday and Saturday puzzles seem to have been switched—Friday's was harder than this one for me—I always wonder how that comes to pass. Did the test-solvers find this puzzle harder than yesterday's? How much of a difference is there in the difficulty level Will Shortz is targeting for Friday vs. Saturday clues? Do some puzzles just look like they belong on Friday or on Saturday? I'm genuinely curious.
Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" is a 72-worder, but despite the flexibility granted by not chasing a low word count, the fill is rather dry and overly reliant on common word endings. Perhaps the inclusion of 36 7-letter words (vs. 18 7+ words in Karen's puzzle) is a huge restraint? (Themeless constructors, please weigh in.) The -ED past tenses include AROUSED, STORMED, COVETED (clued as an adjective, [In demand]), SPEEDED, CHINNED, ENSURED, and STEAMED. The plurals and -S verbs roll call features CREASES, PESTERS, ENROLLS, GIRDERS, STAMENS, TRIOS, CELTICS (with a Larry Bird clue that could be misinterpreted as being about birds), AURAS, ISMS, PLATS, HELMETS, GENDERS, SOARS, and EDIBLES. Despite the usual Stumper short clues, this puzzle was easier than many Stumpers, perhaps because all the -ED and -S endings provided many toeholds.
Maybe it is Stark's grid that compels the sort of fill associated with low-word-count puzzles. Frederick Healy's LA Times crossword has 14 7+ answers, and jazzier fill. For example, JAZZ IT UP, or [Add oomph to something]. That crosses JACKAL, but not at the J, so that section's got two neighboring J's. And EMBEZZLE, or [Take wrong?], adds another double Z. LARRY Bird makes an appearance in a second puzzle today, clued as [Bird good at shooting?]. The last square I filled in was the P where PILES, or [Foundation parts], meets PIKER, or [Closefisted type]. Anyone else try to get MISER to work there? Regrettably, I must issue a nerd alert. I think the clue for ENTS is wrong. [Literary tree dwellers]? No. Tolkien's ents are "tree-like creatures" and not creatures who live in actual trees.
Favorite answers and clues:
Randall Hartman's easy CrosSynergy crossword is called "Ham Sandwich" because each theme entry contains the letter string HAM sandwiched inside a longer phrase, such as the FOURTH AMENDMENT or an ALPHA MALE. I think this is the first puzzle I've done since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in which PALIN was an answer—and it's clued [Monty Python member Michael]. Perhaps the puzzle was put to bed a month ago when Sarah was a far more obscure PALIN. Slangiest crossing: Where "HEY, MAN" (clued as ["Yo, dude!"] meets RATFINK ([Stool pigeon]). Weirdest-looking answer: theme entry MOCHA MINT, or [Starbucks order]. Maybe that should be mint mocha, hold the HAM.
September 26, 2008