I tell ya, I kept trying to write the word BONE at the end of a phrase in David Levinson Wilk's New York Times crossword, and the first two times it was wrong. Third time's the charm! In this magnificent puzzle, there are 10 15-letter answers criss-crossing all over the place. Most of them cluster in the two triple-stacks in the middle of the grid—and that, my friends, is a difficult feat to pull off. Mr. Levinson Wilk doesn't stop there, though—oh, no. He further frames the puzzle with another 15 near each edge, which intersect the triple-stacks. These 10 long phrases are all marvels, too—not a dry noun with a boring clue in the lot:
The rest of the puzzle consists of the 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words that cement the 15's into place. Here are the more unusual ones and the ones with the tough clues.
And how about the look of the empty grid? You know how a comic strip character looks alarmed? With short lines radiating outward from their head? The two-square dashes at the outer edges make the grid look surprised—as well they should, because it is a surprising grid to behold. It also looks a little like that wooden labyrinth game, only without a hole in the middle for the marble to drop into. Well done, Mr. Levinson Wilk. More soon, please.
This week's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword by Joon Pahk plays a game with famous paintings. In "Talking Pictures," the theme answers are made-up phrases that sound like the names of paintings, but are spelled differently:
Joon's filled out the grid with an assortment of 7-, 8-, and 9-letter answers. [Horrifically unpleasant] clues BEASTLY, but GHASTLY fits most of the crossings too. CARACALLA was a [Nefarious 3rd-century Roman emperor]. I need to work on honing my nefariousness. My favorite spot is where a WORMHOLE, or [Hypothetical space-time shortcut], butts up against the HOOSEGOW, or [Slammer]. Favorite clue: [Proceed on foot?] with a question mark means to HOP on one foot; without the question mark, you're merely walking on two feet.
I'm reading the galley proof of Dean Olsher's upcoming book, From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords. (Available for preorder.) In one digression, Dean delves into the differences between Will Shortz and Peter Gordon's editing choices, as demonstrated in two versions of a puzzle by Anthony Salvia that were inadvertently accepted for publication by more than one paper. The NYT version came second and appeared online briefly before it was replaced by a different puzzle—but the mix-up allows for an interesting dissection of the two editors' styles. (Which you'll have to buy the book to read—my blog only touched on it briefly.)
I mention this because Anthony Salvia's name popped up in the byline of today's colorful LA Times crossword. The two Across theme entries at the top and bottom are clued in parallel with each other, one red and one blue, as are the two loner Down theme entries at the sides. The middle theme entry combines [Red and blue states?] into PURPLES. The unmingled color clues are as follows:
Red states and blue states, of course, more commonly refer to states that vote Republican and Democratic, respectively. I often find myself seeing red a little bit when it comes to the Friday LAT puzzle—I have trouble parsing the clues but not in an enjoyable way (vs. usually liking the toughest clues in a Saturday NYT). But not today—the puzzle took about as long as most Friday LATs, but the clues were more my style. For example:
There's also a bit of crosswordese here, too. OSIER is a [Basket maker's supply]. It took me many years to remember that the basketry willow is OSIER while the ORIEL is a projecting bay window. I used to plug in the three vowels and wait for the crossings to point me towards the correct word.
Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword, "Mail Call," is really easy. I solved this one in Across Lite by filling in Down entries in sequence. I skipped over theme entry 10D, [Sitting Bull was on his show], and wasn't sure what to do with 48D, ["Speak up!"], but everything else was filled in quickly, with glances at some of the Across clues along the way. BUFFALO BILL required two Across clues for the B and U before I figured out what the answer would be. And SAY IT demanded a look at all five crossings. The theme is things that come in the mail, which are found at the end of the four longest answers. There's the bill to pay in BUFFALO BILL, along with these three:
Brendan Quigley's puzzle is called "Look Again: Nope, keep looking" because looking—or seeing—is at the heart of the theme. The three longest answers are clued with nothing but cross-references to other shorter answers, but in order to make sense out of this, you need to mentally insert see before the shorter answer. The resulting "see ___" phrase serves as a proper clue for the long answer. To wit:
The theme answers don't meet the usual criteria for crossword fill, as they're not smoothly worded stand-alone phrases. But they're examples of a clue/answer reversal theme, where the theme answers could pass for clues for the shorter phrases lurking in the clues—only in this case, the shorter phrase has been split in two and plunked into the grid without the SEE part. Does that make sense as I've explained it? I hope so.
Highlights: The JOB JAR is a [Democratic way of assigning chores]. To BELLYACHE means to [Whine]. One sort of [Development area] is a PHOTO LAB. Brendan makes use of a new clue alternative for JAI: ["___ Ho" (2009 Best Original Song)] refers to the Oscar-winning song from Slumdog Millionaire. There's still no zippy clue for ALAI, but at least JAI has a workable option besides [___ alai] now. Interesting quote: ART ["___ is never finished, only abandoned": Leonardo da Vinci]. DOTS is clued as the [Classic pencil-and-paper game]—I gotta remember to teach this one to my son.
Lowlights: The junky little words that glue the better stuff into place include AGAR, RELET, the E.T.O., SOO clued as ["And your point being...?"] (rather than Jack Soo or the Soo Canals, which are mighty boring). Also CRUSHER clued as the [Final blow]—nobody says that in my circle, but there are junkyard crushers and crusher hats.
Harvey Estes constructed this week's Wall Street Journal crossword, "English Muffing." In this entertaining theme, various English phrases are muffed by the addition of a G to the end:
This puzzle has four cool sections of stacked 7-letter answers. In one such segment, the Filipino [Language that gave us "boondocks"], TAGALOG, crosses TAG ALONG, or [Come too]. Back before I knew anyone who spoke Tagalog, I was fond of the language simply because I thought of it whenever I snacked on those Girl Scout cookies called Tagalongs. (Crunchy cookie, peanut butter creme, and chocolate coating? I want some now!)
[High-level conflict] is a DOGFIGHT fought high in the air among planes.
[They have high crowns] clues TOP HATS.
An ANECDOTE is a [Short story].
[Breathless?] is DEAD, and the very next clue is [Leave breathless], or AWE.
SNOW is a [Wet blanket].
[Relief pitcher's goal] is to get the SAVE. Right below it in the grid is SALE, clued as a [Pitcher's goal].
[They show what they've got] clues FLASHERS. Flashers are icky and should be procecuted to the fullest.
HERCULES is a [Labor leader?].
[It's a wrap] clues a DIAPER.
The decennial CENSUS is indeed a [Big count].
March 19, 2009