BG 8:33 (links for 2009 puzzles here)
(updated at 6:45 Sunday night)
Wow! I hardly ever crack the magical 7-minute mark on a Sunday puzzle. It's seldom enough that I break 8 minutes. So I'm pleased with my experience doing Daniel Finan's New York Times crossword, "When In Rome." (This just means, of course, that speedier solvers are sure to come along and trounce me completely. But that's fine. I have a full life anyway.) The theme is Roman numerals, and each theme entry replaces a spelled-out number with a Roman numeral in assorted lively phrases, in numerical order from the top of the grid to the bottom:
I like the mixed bag of theme entries—a couple idiomatic phrases, a movie, a song, a novel, a car race, and a comestible. From my standpoint, all of the fill answers and cluing were easy and smooth—the proper names were gimmes for me, but I suspect not everyone recalls [Emmy-winning actor Powers ___] BOOTHE or GISELE, [Supermodel Bundchen]. My favorite clues:
After being flogged by the Newsday puzzle earlier today, it was a treat to feel a sense of mastery over this puzzle. And isn't that what keeps us going? Each new crossword presents a new intellectual challenge, a new opportunity to triumph over the empty grid or to learn something even when we're stymied.
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Speaking of Cold Season...," felt a good bit tougher than the usual Merl puzzle. Is the theme objectively tough or is it just me? I think it's the theme. M sounds are changed to B's, as if the speaker's nose is all stuffed up, but there are other spelling changes in many of the words. Here are the theme entries:
It felt like the overall fill and clues were putting up arbitrary fights with me throughout, too, whereas usually the whole Merl puzzle is a fun ride. Maybe I shouldn't start on the crosswords before the caffeine reaches my brain, I dunno. On the plus side, Merl has once again managed to stack theme entries in adjacent rows at the the top and bottom of the grid—not too many people try this, but Merl pulls it off regularly.
Maybe I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, because I wasn't crazy about Liz Gorski's Boston Globe crossword, either. I had to wend my way to the bottom of the puzzle to find out why the theme was called "Color Commentary": BACK TO BLACK is an [Amy Winehouse song linked to starred clues' answers?] and the starred clues begin with words that follow "black" in common phrases. For example, PEPPER SPRAY is a [Canned defense], and black pepper is found in many of our kitchens. One thing that threw me off is that the long central answer, a [Bach aria], is SHEEP MAY SAFELY GRAZE—and it's just not a title that has dwelled in my head, ever. With crossings like SAR., FELICE the ['70s tropical storm], PAYNE the ["Band of Gold" singer], and LYS the [River in France] needed to fill this in, apparently the title was supposed to be more familiar to me. But it wasn't. Having stacked 9-letter fill would be awesome if there weren't 8- and 9-letter theme answers lurking about, and this was a tad jarring. There were some other flat spots with more arcane fill—MALACCA is a [Cane variety], and I wouldn't have gotten that if I didn't know how to spell boxer Hector CAMACHO's name. SACRAL wanted to be SACRED here, as sacral also means "relating to the sacrum," a bone. I think anatomy before I think sacred symbols. PEAN as a [Hymn of praise (var.)] also gave me pause. Because I'm a little weird, I did appreciate the pile-up of moony astronomical terms in one section, with ALBEDO ([Reflective power]) two rows above UMBRA ([Shadow]). I may have learned both of these words from crosswords. Cluing ONE ACROSS as [First clue] is quite meta, isn't it?
That's all I've got time for now—the holiday festivities aren't quite over, and I've got three pints of strawberries to wash and trim for a brunch chocolate fountain at my aunt's house.
Updated again Sunday evening:
Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times syndicated Sunday crossword, "T Formation," is an absolutely solid puzzle. The 11 (!) theme entries take phrases that include an -ed past tense verb and spells them as sound-alike words that have a T instead. (If you're British, you might not think the words are pronounced the same, but in the States, most people will hear no difference.) Since it's late, I'll just mention a few theme entries:
This weekend's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is by Bob Klahn, which means it's time for Adventures in Cluing. Which clues did I like best? These ones:
Besides the individual clues, there's the overall Klahn vibe, too—if you read through the clue list, 25- and 26-A are both [Station launched in (a year)]. 35- and 36-A both include the word "people." The next two Across clues rhyme; the pair after that end with "poker" (as does the 32-D clue); right after that, two clues end with "key." Klahn likes to have pairs of clues bounce off each other, especially when the same word will point you in different directions.
January 03, 2009