(updated at 12:24 p.m. Saturday)
The Peter Wentz who constructed the Saturday New York Times crossword is probably not the same person as rocker Pete Wentz who married Ashlee Simpson and named a baby Bronx Mowgli—but I'm looking forward to the first crossword to include BRONXMOWGLI in the fill. (It wouldn't have been out of place in this puzzle, actually.) At this writing, the top solver on the NYT online applet is Byron Walden, and this makes perfect sense because he used 3-Down, the [1993 hit for the R&B duo Zhane], in a 2006 Sun crossword—it's HEY MR. D.J. I still don't know what the song sounds like, as I know it only from crosswords. Overall, I liked Wentz's puzzle a lot—it's chock-full of interesting answers and clues that made me think.
My favorite fill:
And now, the clues that caught my eye:
[With 41-Down, cheap fast food offerings] make up the VALUE / MENU.
Things I didn't know:
Either Stanley Newman's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" clues were significantly more oblique than usual, or I'm a little off this morning. (Solution here.) Not only did it take me twice as long as the toughest NYT Saturday puzzles, but I also Googled one clue and had one incorrect square. The clue I Googled was [The story of Astorre Viola], which turns out to be Mario Puzo's 2000 novel OMERTA. I call foul, because I'm skeptical that this character is familiar enough to point the majority of us who've never read the book anywhere near the right answer; it's hardly got the degree of traction in the broader culture that, say, Harry Potter characters have. I figured the answer was likely to be an opera.
My wrong letter was a P in lieu of the C in CLEAT, or [Gangway securer]. Raise your hand if you didn't know that gangways and cleats had any interaction. I checked two dictionaries and see no support for this. Who likes a clue that requires you to pick up the unabridged dictionary (the third one I checked!) to find an uncommon usage for a common word? Boo! Hiss! Takes the fun out of a tough crossword. PUT IN isn't too far off for [Interrupt], though I guess CUT IN is a notch better.
There was plenty of good stuff in the puzzle, so it didn't all spur resentment. The [Only Welsh-born Batman] portrayer is Christian BALE; why did it take me so long to remember the most recent Dark Knight? I was all set to like the gender neutrality of [Repairperson], but then the answer was the very male HANDY ANDY. [Sports retiree of 2008] is Monica SELES—and here we all thought she'd retired years ago. Whatever comeback she might have had apparently didn't make much of a splash. GAINS ON is clued as [Tries to catch]. NEE is clued as a [Form of "naître"]; I like the French lesson. "OH, PLEASE" is an [Impatient plaint]. I kept thinking of domesticated animals for [It was domesticated in the Andes about 4,000 years ago]—the answer is the LIMA BEAN. [Do as the Romans do] is GO NATIVE. I'm fond of nutty little bits of trivia, like MACON being where the kazoo was invented.
I had a number of wrong turns that kept me mired in this puzzle. [Battery, for example] is a TORT, but I stuck with Battery PARK for too long. [Seven-Oscar nominee in the '80s] is ALIENS, but I put STREEP there. [Quacks] were POSERS instead of FAKERS. I kept those ones written into the grid even when not a single solid crossing emerged from them—whoops. I just plain didn't know this: [Most of it became a unit of Cal State] clues FT. ORD. Some of Fort Ord's space is now the home of California State University, Monterey Bay. The campus gets foggy.
I don't like STATINS for [Doctor's prescriptions] because it's too damned arbitrary; statins are merely one class of medication, and the clue lacks any specificity. ANAT., or anatomy, is the study of all the body's parts—[Organ study: Abbr.], yes, but also the skeleton, muscles, vascular system, nerves, etc. This clue's too specific.
Overall, Michael Wiesenberg's LA Times crossword was much more yielding than those other two themeless puzzles, but I still don't know why [Brewer of lore] is CRONE. I trust one of you readers can explain this to me? It took me a long time to figure out why [Crane part?] was HOGAN—construction cranes? birds?—but I finally remembered actor Bob Crane of Hogan's Heroes. A good "aha" moment after the fact! What else is in this puzzle? Lots of things:
Patrick Blindauer pays a little tribute to Harry Houdini and the tools of his trade in his CrosSynergy crossword, "Houdini's Favorite..." Five things Houdini would supposedly prefer make up the theme:
The fill includes a dozen 7-letter answers, giving the puzzle a smidgen of an easy themeless vibe. I filled in the southwest corner with the Down clues, so I didn't spot ORANGE in there right away. The clue for my screen name: [Its peel makes a good slug repellent]. Good to know!
January 02, 2009