Trip Payne's New York Times crossword has a 23x23 grid, a good bit bigger than the usual 21x21. So if you felt like the puzzle took longer than usual (this caveat does not apply to Dan Feyer), that's why. The "Name That Phrase" theme includes a famous person's last name in the clue, and the answer is a phrase that relates to the rest of the clue and has initials that spell out the person's first name. Not content to make a puzzle with eight theme entries, Trip expanded the grid size to accommodate 12 theme answers:
Now, Otis Redding's a singer and his theme answer is OF THEE I SING, which he probably never sang but it's close enough. When Rita Rudner is on, she'll leave her audience ROLLING IN THE AISLES. The rest of the theme entries don't seem to have any semantic connection to the person in the clue.
Favorite clues and answers:
I had fun with Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Dreaming of Hawaii." The theme entries are classic Reagle-style puns building on Hawaiian words:
1-Across threw me for a loop. [Surety provider] wanted to be BONDSMAN, but the answer turns out to be BAILSMAN. The fill included a lot of names, it felt like—works for me, but I know it gives some people fits. [Great balls of fire] are SUNS, of course—this is one of my favorite clues here. SHEBAT would've been tough if clued as [Hebrew month], but with [Hebrew month (not Dracula's mother)] instead? Much easier, and fun. That's the sort of clue beginning constructors love to write, but if their puzzle's published by one of the mainline crossword editors, that clue is going bye-bye. Merl is his own boss, so he can get away with this.
Another unknown for me was [Quantrill's forte], or RAID. I got this one through the crossings and then checked a dictionary to see what a quantrill is. It's not a "what," it's a "who"—William Quantrill, a pro-Confederacy punk who leg a group of guerrilla raiders against the Union during the Civil War. The surviving Raiders went on to be plain ol' outlaws and...I'm not surprised.
The syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword (available via Cruciverb.com, as always) has an ambitious and smart theme called "Career Paths." (The byline credits "Verge," and I don't know who that means.) Each of the six long answers is part of a string of unrelated jobs that sound like they should be related. To wit:
Nothing in the non-theme fill was particularly exciting, but nothing struck me as iffy or clunky, either. The theme is definitely the meat of this puzzle, and I enjoyed the flexible thinking about alternate meanings it required. With 124 theme squares, this theme takes up more real estate than a lot of themes with eight or 10 entries.
Randolph Ross's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" puts its showiest answer right up top at 1-Across. It's a psychological thing—when 1-Across is a blah word that you can't even guess at the first time you read the clue (e.g., ANTRE in that recent NYT puzzle), the solver's starting off irked rather than pleased. Here, JOE SIXPACK, the [Average guy, to some politicians], sits at 1-Across to kick things off with some zest. Other favorite clues/answers in this puzzle:
December 13, 2008