July 15, 2006


NYT 8:41 (in Across Lite)
LAT 8:31
WaPo 8:29
LA Weekly 8:02
CS 4:03

I lost my mojo while doing Ashish Vengsarkar's Sunday NYT puzzle when the timed applet froze up on me (if only I knew which key it was that I bumped—this has happened before, where I hit some non-letter key and whoomp, it's all over. So I opened the puzzle in Across Lite, scrupulously avoided reading any clues while copying over the answers I'd already put in, and came up with an honest bipartite solving time. I loved the theme, which was an ambitious one (if not as frightfully clever and prone to stump people as his last effort, the queue-you-O-tea-E "quote" puzzle that I adored, or as hard to clue as his "Begone" B-less puzzle).

Ashish included seven long theme entries (one a full 21 letters long), all famous people whose names can be aptly anagrammed into the clues. My favorite was NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, clued as "TO APPEAR ON ELBA, NON?" In the category of "proof that remembering the relative obscurities you encounter in crosswords will help you in the future," I didn't mind seeing decades-past baseball player Johnny SAIN this time around; similarly, AQI (air quality index) stumped me a few weeks ago, but hey, I was ready for it when it showed up in a Saturday puzzle. Today's items that I might remember in the future include early Chinese philosopher Mo TZE (a.k.a. Mocius, Mo Zi, Mo Tzu, Mo Tse; into universal love); the Pulitzer-winning NYT critic MARGO Jefferson (who reportedly once said, "No society ever rights a wrong without finding a new one to put in its place."); LOUR as a variant of LOWER (as in a sullen look). Is 117 theme squares a lot? It felt like a lot, which—together with some chipper fill and clues ("Some nerve" = OPTIC!) makes up for the spelling variants RACOON and JNR. I'm looking forward to Ashish's next puzzle, and wonder if he's been cooking up some daily-size themes for us.

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Bank On It," redefines the banking industry. My favorite clue here was "Swiss capitalists?" for BERNESE.

Fred Jarmuz made his crossword-construction debut this week in a joint effort with Bonnie Gentry, the Sunday LA Times dance-themed puzzle. Fred follows up "Shall We Dance?" with his second go-round will be a Thursday LAT later this month. In a cute fillip (intended?), the central vertical entry is TUXES—and while a tuxedo isn't required for the POLKA, a wedding party in formalwear might well do the POLKA, the SWIM, or the TWIST, no? Congratulations on your debut, Fred!

Good batch of theme entries in Jim Page's Washington Post puzzle, "Big Job." The theme entertained me, though I've never used the phrase, THROW THE BULL ("shoot the bull," yes—same thing).

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" was easier (for me, anyway) than the Friday and Saturday NYTs. If you're one of those solvers who's trying to stretch your skills to reach the Friday/Saturday NYT level, you can tackle each Sunday's CrosSynergy themeless puzzle and work your way up to the harder clues in the NYT themelesses.