Tausig (not timed, but it's a toughie)
I'm a little off-kilter on the days of the week here, and I felt like it was time for a Wednesday puzzle. When you're expecting Wednesday difficulty and you walk into a Thursday puzzle with a quote theme, you're going to feel a tad battered afterwards. In Edward Safran's New York Times crossword, the theme entries lay out the [Start of a poem by Emily Dickinson that continues "But God be with the Clown, / Who ponders this tremendous scene"]. I may have been an English major, but I never got into Dickinson. The poem excerpted here reads A LITTLE MADNESS / IN THE SPRING / IS WHOLESOME / EVEN FOR THE KING. Given my unfamiliarity with Dickinson's oeuvre, this was a slog through the Down answers. Bonus points for timeliness—this is the first Thursday after the vernal equinox—but extra demerits for having a quote theme in the first place. I can abide a quip theme with a good punchline, but this one isn't moving me.
All right, what else is in the puzzle? Plenty of tough clues:
Places! There's no Erie or Ojai today, but two other 4-letter cities get their due. ORAN, Algeria, is the [North African city captured by the Allies in 1942]. NOME, Alaska, was an [1899 gold rush locale].
What I liked best in this puzzle were these entries:
Bonnie Gentry's L.A. Times crossword is pretty gutsy, isn't it? The theme entries all begin with synonyms of "gutsy":
Perfect theme, if you ask me. Used in other settings, the words are all completely unrelated, so there's a good "aha" moment when the unifying meaning clicks.
A few noteworthy words in the rest of the puzzle:
Don't turn to today's New York Times or Washington Post to solve Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Newspaper Columnists"—the columnists in question were all published in the past. ART BUCHWALD, the [Writer of the column "Paris After Dark"], died in 2007. He spent about a year in hospice care rather than receiving dialysis, and it sounds like he had a pretty decent final year, all things considered.
DAMON RUNYON was before my time, but everyone should recognize his name still. He was the [Writer of the column "The Brighter Side"]. Did you see the recent New Yorker article about his writing style? Good read.
The other two theme entries are newspaper columnists of yore—way yore. EUGENE FIELD, [Writer of the column "Sharps and Flats"], died in 1895. I don't recognize the name. And DREW PEARSON, [Writer of the column "Washington Merry-Go-Round"], died when I was 3. Apparently his column sent four Congressmen to jail, and Pearson spoke out against Joseph McCarthy's demagoguery. Good guy, eh?
So the theme clues didn't point me towards any answers (I didn't recognize the title of Buchwald's column), and when the puzzle was done, I had two unfamiliar names in it. Does that sound like an unsatisfying solve? It wasn't. I'm glad for the opportunity to read up on these journalists.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Bad Strokes," spotlights some bad keystrokes. In this puzzle, the theme is TYPOS (49A: [Things of which there are ten in the Across clues, and ten in the Downs]. How are those TYPOS made? [How the constructor's finger moved, on a keyboard, to create this puzzle's 49-Across] was ONE TO THE RIGHT. Ah, adjacent-key typos! Here, at last, is your moment in the sun!
When I test-solved this puzzle, it took me forever to track down the 20 clues with typos. Some were obvious while solving because the clue made no sense, and some were harder to identify immediately. 35A [Nebraska city famous for steals] is about OMAHA Steaks. The DEN is a [Place to lick back] (eww!), or really, a place to kick back. Here are the TYPOS:
I like crosswords that bend the usual paradigm and give me another way to challenge my brain. Imagine how hard this puzzle would've been without the TYPOS and ONE TO THE RIGHT answers explaining how the theme works! We might've all thought we were losing our minds for a while.
One hundred bonus points to Ben for including the [Catchphrase spawned by Christopher Walken in "SNL"], MORE COWBELL. Have any of you heard of PHANTOM SHIP as a [Bela Lugosi maritime murder mystery]? I sure hadn't.
March 25, 2009