(updated at 10:30 Tuesday morning)
Dan Kantor and Jay Kaskel's New York Times crossword noshes on some MIXED NUTS for a theme. About a year ago, there was another NYT puzzle with mixed nuts, featuring anagrammed nut names. This time around, NUTS is anagrammed into assorted letter sequences that appear inside longer phrases, in the circled squares:
The theme concept doesn't excite me, but the execution is terrific anyway. "Four phrases with some permutation of the letters NUTS in them" sounds like a lifeless concept, but these four phrases pack a lot of SALSA ([Tortilla chip dip]) in them and make it all work. Assorted other entries:
I know a lot of you like to get the jump on the Sun crossword. You may notice a couple blank spots on the Sun calendar page of puzzle downloads. The 1/15 puzzle is available only in PDF form, via the calendar on the right side of the page at Cruciverb. The 1/23 puzzle will be made available that day after the Oscar nominations are out. Returning to the present, the 1/13 puzzle is by editor Peter Gordon (a.k.a. Ogden Porter), and the "Oys of Yiddish" are the groans you may let out when you encounter the puns in the theme. No groans here, though—the "turn S-words into Yiddish SCH-words" theme was fun, and Peter saved the best one for the end. First, you've got your BATTING SCHLUMPS, clued as [Slovenly hitters?]. Sounds like a baseball fan's had too many beers, no? Then there's SCHMEAR CAMPAIGN, a [Set of ads for cream cheese?]. And the all-star, SCHLEPPED AROUND, plays on "slept around" and gets clued as [Carried?].
I'm surprised to learn that there was ever an OREO Fun Barbie doll. Top-notch fill all the way around in this Sun puzzle, from AM RADIO and the SUN BELT to CRAYOLA, "I'M GOOD," and HARLEM.
Gail Grabowski's LA Times crossword has a "beautiful" theme—each of the long Across answers begins with a synonym for that word.
An ATTRACTIVE DEAL is a [Temptation for a business exec].
[Getting on in years] is BECOMING OLD.
A good [Chunk of change] is a PRETTY PENNY.
FETCHING STICKS is [Fun for Fido], but British vets say it's dangerous.
I don't think all the theme entries quite make it as stand-alone phrases. For example, playing fetch works better, but in this theme, the beautiful words come at the beginning. EMOTE is clued as a [Director's cry to an underactor?]. I recently read a couple articles that used the word. In one case, emoting was a good thing for a singer to do. In the other, when he felt the actors were going too far, a director cried "Emote! Emote!" to mock them into reeling it in a bit. There are several numbers hanging out in this grid: one [Till compartment] is TENS, which at first I thought would be ONES, but ONE is a few words away, clued as [Ace's value, at times]. There's also a TRIO, or [Small jazz combo], and an [Egg purchase] of a DOZEN. Yesterday, I bought my first half-dozen eggs, which I should've started long ago because I seldom finish a dozen before they're long expired. The nautical content doesn't goad me by skewing obscure, for which I'm grateful; there's just a CHART, or [Marine map], and STERN, or [Back on the ocean?]. The cruise ship I sailed on last month labeled the ends "forward" and "aft"—no bow or STERN in sight.
Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "A New Beginning," rings in 2009 by finding the year (in Roman numerals) strewn throughout four phrases. The letters in MMIX (68-Across) appear in order (but not consecutively) in these answers:
I took a guess that [Boxer Ingemar Johansson's nickname] was the inferrable INGO because that's the only way I was getting that G. The crossing is ARGUIDOS, the [Portuguese term meaning "suspects," brought up in the 2007 Madeleine McCann disappearance case] that I don't recall seeing before even though I was reading the papers in England for two weeks when that story was fresh. I can easily forgive ARGUIDOS from making me use all eight crossings because of what it's sandwiched between: MAN-BOOBS ([Features of some fat guys, at a pool]) is off to a good start in the contest for my favorite crossword answer of the year, and the colloquial GOT NEXT ([Placed dibs on, as in a street basketball game]) is good, too. Both are unlikely to populate a daily newspaper's crossword, and I appreciate the sassy freshness that the indie puzzles can offer. (Does it ruin it, calling it "sassy freshness"?) Other fill I liked: AM-SCRAY, Gustav KLIMT, the SEX WAX surfwax brand name, and pop-culture names like KUMAR and PEREZ Hilton. Oh, and DITKA clued as ["Bill Swerski's Superfans" idol, on "SNL"]. Here's a video clip of that for you. The psyche of a Chicago sports fan, the Chicago accents, the sausage and heart attacks—it's all rendered in accurate splendor.
January 12, 2009