(Updated at 1:15 Sunday afternoon)
Set your TiVo, DVR, VCR, or calendar for next Sunday, Nov. 16, for The Simpsons, at 8 p.m. (7 Central). This episode marks the cartoon-character debut of Will Shortz and Merl Reagle, and the storyline involves Lisa competing in a crossword tournament. Be sure to set your machine to record for more than a half hour—the football game that precedes The Simpsons might run long.
Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword, "Sounds Like It's Cold in Here," makes me want to say "bra humbug," except that sounds negative and I have only positive feelings towards Paula's puzzle. The theme entries take various words that start with B and turns them into BR words, drastically altering the sense of each phrase. Alas, it took me a while to cotton on to how the theme worked.
There's a duplication between the fill and a theme entry, with an EYE that's the [Symbol on the back of a dollar bill] as well as the middle of the 21-letter answer. I did like the crossing between the English EYE and French OEIL, though, so I forgive the duplication. My favorite clue is [Lice and mice, e.g.] for PLURALS. I also like [Butt abutters] for SEATS; when we sit down, our butts abut the seats. TPS doesn't look like much in the grid, but the clue is [Festoons with Charmin, informally].
Mystery answers: I'm not familiar with cribbage, so PEG OUT was a mystery for [Score the winning point in cribbage]. SHENZI is ["The Lion King" character voiced by Whoopi Goldberg]; I believe she's a hyena, but I had no idea what the character was named. THRACE is the [Homeland of Orpheus]—another answer pieced together thanks to the crossings. NICAEA was the [Site of two ecumenical councils]; this is where we got the Nicene creed. LANIER completes [Georgia's Lake ___, behind the Buford Dam].
Other stuff: The [18th-century Venetian fresco painter] TIEPOLO has probably seen his name in a few cryptic crosswords (tie + polo). It took me a while to extract S'POSE from the clue, [What if, informally]. Let me know if you learned anywhere other than crosswords that [Fancy shooting marbles] are called TAWS; for me, it's strictly cruciverbal knowledge. The three-word BY THE BY is a great answer; the clue is [Incidentally]. [Hero of New Orleans] is the POORBOY sandwich; make mine catfish. [Play with machines] means a play with machines, robots in particular—Karel Capek's R.U.R. [Periods between Winter and Summer Olympics] are BIENNIA. A [Stand for things] is an ETAGERE. The Volkswagen BEETLE is the [Automotive comeback of 1998].
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Government Issue," embodies the separation of church and state by making state names avoid touching the word CHURCH. Each CHURCH in the grid has a blank square in it, which is also a blank square interrupting seven states. (To get the Across Lite happy pencil, enter a B for "blank" in each blank square.) Here are the theme entries:
Interesting visual representation of a concept, isn't it? There are some unfamiliar words in this grid. EPHAH is a [Dry measure in the Bible], and its A crosses a not-so-specifically clued abbreviation—[Flight watcher: abbr.] is ATC, short for air traffic controller. DARNEL is a [Weedy rye grass]. For BATU, Merl falls back on his practice of including an anagram in the clue for a particularly obscure answer: [Genghis Khan's grandson (anagram of TUBA)]. The word ICHOR, or [Blood of the gods], is included in the word petrichor, the word for that aroma you smell when it starts raining after a dry spell.
Updated Saturday evening:
Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite, "To the Letter," reworks nine phrases that begin with stand-alone letters by converting those letters into sound-alike words and writing clues to define the resulting phrases. The middle of the grid contains a staggered stack of three shorter theme entries.
Trouble spots: The Latin word for [Keel] is CARINA. ["Giants in the Earth" author Ole]'s last name is ROLVAAG. BLARNEYER, or [Smooth-talking type], crosses both of those answers, and it refused to become obvious until I had nearly all the letters. And KIMPO, the [Seoul airport], was a skosh peskier than I'd like, with the K crossing a small [Arizona city], KINGMAN. (I love Wikipedia for its serendipitous connections—Kingman is where cowboy sidekick Andy Devine, known to me only via crosswords, grew up.)
Updated Sunday morning:
The syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword by Pancho Harrison gives an example of the theme in its title, "Plastered Cast." Each theme entry takes a familiar phrase, tacks an -ED or -D onto the first word, and winds up with that first word being a synonym for "drunk" or "plastered":
It's a pretty smooth Sunday puzzle, not too difficult.
Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is a couple notches easier than yesterday's themeless crosswords. Excellent fill abounds in the fill:
November 08, 2008