January 27, 2009

Wednesday, 1/28

Onion 5:39
BEQ 4:54
Tausig 4:38
Sun 3:25
LAT 3:15
NYT 2:51

The theme in Michael Langwald's New York Times puzzle feels a decade out of date. Four theme entries begin with the words MAID INN TIE JUAN, which sounds like "made in Taiwan," which this crossword tells us is a phrase borne by a CHILD'S TOYS. Nope, those almost all say "made in China" these days. You have to look long and hard to find a toy that's not from China. The answers whose beginnings sound of "made in Taiwan" are:

  • MAID MARIAN, or [Robin Hood's love].
  • INNKEEPER, or [One at the front desk, perhaps].
  • TIE GAME, or [Nail-biter, perhaps].
  • JUAN PERON, or [Leader deposed in 1955].
This crossword boasts 10 long answers (7 to 9 letters) in the fill.

Gary Steinmehl's 15x16 Sun crossword, "On With Its Head," puts a head on top of four vertical theme entries
  • HANGER MANAGEMENT is a [System for keeping closets organized?]
  • EMOTION PICTURE is ["The Scream," e.g.?].
  • ASCENT OF A WOMAN is clued as [Amelia Earhart flight starter, for example?]. A-hoo-ah!
  • DREADING RAILROAD is [Apprehensive about a train trip?]
See the H-E-A-D that modifies the four original phrases? I've circled those letters in my grid. [Three-time Gold Glove winner Minnie] MINOSO walked past my cousin's dining room window, walking his dog, while we were having Thanksgiving dinner in November. His car has MINOSO vanity plates, and he looks good for 83.


Sometimes ACRE gets clued as [Part of a plot], and presumably some solvers first interpret the clue as being about a scheming plot rather than a plot of land. Robert Morris's LA Times crossword plays with that by making ACRE the [Secret plot found in 17-, 26-, 44- and 55-Across]. Those four answers include words ending with A before words beginning with CRE, embedding an ACRE in each:
  • BANANA CREAM PIES are [Rich desserts].
  • SEA CREATURE is clued as a [Squid, e.g.].
  • EXTRA CREDIT is a [Grade booster].
  • VIRGINIA CREEPER is a [Boston ivy relative].
This theme might seem a little "so what?" or lackluster if not for the "secret plot" twist that imparts a little oomph.

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword has SPEED DATE clued as [Encounter shared by the four celebrity couples in this puzzle]. Each of these "speed dates" uses a celeb's name as part of a pun on a specific sort of race:
  • HALF MAYERATHON is [Jennifer Aniston's weekend in bed with her pop-star boyfriend John, cut short?]. This plays on a half-marathon.
  • AMERICA'S SCHTUP is [Ryan Piers Williams's romp on a waterbed with "Ugly Betty" star Ferrera?]. Never heard of the guy. The waterbed is in the clue because the America's Cup is a yachting race. Anyone else get misled by the —CHT in the clue and try to fit a YACHT in there?
  • ZACH RACE plays on a sack race and is clued as [Drew Barrymore's quickie with "Scrubs" star Braff?]. I didn't know those two were an item.
  • I DID A-ROD invokes the Iditarod dogsled race. It's clued as [Madonna's announcement after her workout with the 3-time American League MVP?].
Highlights: (1) SPEED DATE intersects two of the theme entries. (2) Word count's low enough to be a themeless, so there are lots of long answers here. (3) My favorite letter, Z, makes three appearances. (4) Zingy clues and fill. Why, look: here's DILDOES, clued as [Junk kept in drawers by the bed?]. Slangy HATED ON, clued as [Disparaged, slangily], is of a piece with NO YOU completing ["Oh ___ di'n't!"]. "SIC 'EM, BOY!" means ["Attack, Rex!"]. [Black-and-tan, say] doesn't mean the Guinness-and-Harp drink this time—it's DUOTONE for the two colors mentioned.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "The Last Shall Be First," has a terrific theme with a whopping eight theme answers. In each of them, the first and last letters swap places:
  • [Anti-war activist's shiver?] is a DOVE CHILL. This one inverts LOVE CHILD.
  • [Trend toward looking like Jenna Jameson?] is PORN CHIC. I love corn chips, but not in the singular. They are too tasty to have just one.
  • [Wall built to hold back caustic chemicals?] is a LYE LEVEE (eye level).
  • [Battle of exasperated sounds?] clues SIGH CLASH (high class).
  • [Opportunities to announce that one pities the fool?] are MR. T FORA (art form).
  • Right beside that is [What bleacher bums might get?], or GAME TAN (nametag).
  • [Murkiness on the medical film?] is X-RAY FOG (gray fox). I like how this one and MR. T FORA split the X and the T off from the rest of a word.
  • Next to that is [Most effective infield cover?], or TOP TARP (Pop-tart!).
What elevates this theme—besides the fact that there are eight of 'em and two pairs have answers stacked alongside one another—is the freshness and flavor of the original and modified phrases and their clues. A love child, Fritos, Mr. T, bleacher bums, and Pop-tarts? You won't find more than one of those in most crosswords (Mr. T, I'm looking at you).

Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle today is called "Connecting Flights," and he combines pairs of airlines into made-up phrases. My favorite of the three theme entries is AMERICAN VIRGIN, clued as [Yankee who's never been to third base]. An [Estuary in Phoenix] or SOUTHWEST DELTA is mighty implausible, and the CONTINENTAL US is indeed [Everything but Alaska and Hawaii]. Favorite fill: JOAN MIRO, ["The Tilled Field" painter]; MR. BILL, [Old "S.N.L." character currently in MasterCard's "Priceless" ads}; THE MAMBO, a [Dance invented by Cachao], whoever that may be; and exactly THAT GOOD, or [As great as everyone says].