(post updated at 5:22 p.m. Friday)
My Friday-morning blogging time will be cut short by a date with a Tribune photographer. Features writer Patrick Reardon interviewed me Thursday for an article to run sometime next week—he had an odd assortment of questions about crosswords, not the standard sorts of questions I've been asked before. Here's hoping that he can extract some semi-coherent quotes from my ramblings. The Vegas bookmakers are now taking bets on whether the headline or first paragraph will include the clichéd "What's a seven-letter word for..." bit.
Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword is classic Gamache: a bunch of 10- and 11-letter answers stacked together, smooth fill featuring plenty of interesting words and phrases, and a Saturday-puzzle vibe. Ahhh. Who doesn't love a Gamache?Here's the stuff that delighted me:
Now, it's not all fun and games. This puzzle also has a bunch of gnarly answers whose clues don't make things easy:
Jeremy Horwitz constructed Oscar Week's final Sun crossword, "Oscar-Winning Roles." The theme is a tough one: the names of the fictional Oscar winners who have populated various movies. I've only seen one of the four movies in question, so I was working the hell out of the crossings here. The Bodyguard's fictional Oscar winner was named RACHEL / MARRON. Is that Whitney Houston's character? The internet says yes. I had no clue. I mean, there was a long clue for it, but it meant nothing to me because I never saw the movie. TUGG SPEEDMAN is from Tropic Thunder. Is that Robert Downey Jr.'s character? No, it's Ben Stiller. True story from commenter "chefwen" over at the Rex Parker blog the other day: Her dog ran away and the family that picked him up was Ben Stiller's. Her dog spent a night in the bed belonging to Stiller and spouse Christine Taylor. VICKI LESTER was a character in A Star Is Born, the new stage name of Judy Garland's character Esther Blodgett; never saw the movie, but Wikipedia filled me in. I liked In & Out but couldn't remember the name of Matt Dillon's actor-character without a bunch of crossings; it's CAMERON DRAKE.
My favorite clues and answers:
Janet Bender's Wall Street Journal crossword is yet another in the series of WSJ puzzles that are a good bit easier than a typical Sunday NYT. The "C Plus" theme is better than average (har!), with a C getting added to various phrases to give them new meanings. My favorite theme answers are the ones that took the C at the beginning of the first word. Does that mean those entries were more successful than the ones with a C added to a subsequent word, or just that those are the ones that grabbed me? Here they are:
In the non-theme fill, we get a couple two-part names that seldom show up in the grid in their entirety: Actress TYNE DALY is a [Winner of six Emmys and a Tony], and the ENOLA GAY was a [Famous B-29]. Or maybe that should be [Infamous B-29]. There's a shiny new clue for ERIC: [Attorney General Holder]. I like that he's stirring things up already, and not because there's a topless statue in the building. We can only hope that he, too, will eventually write and perform songs.
Samuel Donaldson's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Seeing Stars," has a theme that is of little help when solving. Four of the longest answers contain CONSTELLATIONS in their midst. The [Psychological term for a stepmother's sexual attraction to her stepson] is the PHAEDRA COMPLEX, with Draco hiding inside it. The professional's HOURLY RATE splits Lyra between its two words. Leo is prowling inside LITTLE ONE, or [Toddler]. And there's some constellation within NATIVE LAND. I started Googling my way to the stars—Tivel constellation, no. Tivela constellation, no, but Google asks if I meant Vela, so that's it. Physics and astronomy fans, this puzzle's for you. Law-school grads, this clue's for you: [Order of the ___ (honor society for law-school grads)] is COIF. People who've taken a stats class, this one's for you: [Way to determine if a sample is indicative of the norm] is the T TEST. College admissions staff, this one's for you: [___ code (identifier on a SAT score report)] is CEEB.
The theme in Robert Doll's LA Times puzzle confused me for the longest time. The theme answers all run in the Down direction, and their clues all include the word "literally." Eventually I saw that the answers were fractured and sometimes reordered phrases with missing prepositions—those prepositions have been replaced by moving words around. We had a similar theme in a Merl Reagle Sunday puzzle last year, and I can't help thinking that a title for the puzzle might help reveal the theme. Without further ado, here's how Doll's theme works:
Plenty of tough clues make it that much harder to piece together the theme entries if you haven't figured out how they work. Among the tougher ones are these:
Today's Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword is a pun puzzle called "Heathens." The theme entries are SQUARE PAGAN, / A ROUND HOLE (punning on "square peg in a round hole"), NO REST FOR / THE WICCAN ("no rest for the wicked"), and WITCH WAY IS UP ("Which way is up?"). I give this theme a solid "meh" today because I've been a garden-variety heathen my whole life, with no affinity for the pagan/wicca/druid bent. I know the dictionary definition for "heathen" includes polytheistic pagans as well as folks who belong to no religion, but still. Favorite answers: ONSTAR, the [Safety device for GM vehicles]; THE WIRE, that [TV series whose theme was "Way Down in the Hole"], a show that everyone still raves about but that I've never seen; REYNARD the [Fox of fables], because Reynard is so close to Reynaldo; and a TOWNIE who is a [Nonuniversity type]. Tougher nails: QIN is the [Dynasty during which much of the Great Wall of China was built]; [Actress Tilly of "The Good Earth"] clues LOSCH; COZ is a [Family relation, for short], meaning "cousin"; and beneath COZ is KAZ, or [Middle fielder Matsui], a name I know only from a Byron Walden crossword (in which KAZMATSUI was stacked on or under its near twin, HAZMATSUIT).
February 19, 2009