January 18, 2007

Friday, 1/19

NYT 6:20
NYT 6:20
1/5 CHE 6:12
NYS 4:44
LAT 4:33
CS 2:55

Reagle 9:27
WSJ 7:57

(post updated at 9:20 a.m. Friday)

Well, the first two Friday newspaper puzzles offer something for everyone: a themeless crossword by Karen Tracey, and another themeless crossword by Karen Tracey. (I think they’re both 70-worders, too.) Okay, I suppose it’s possible that not everybody is keen on (a) themeless puzzles or (b) Karen’s particular style, but I’m pleased by the double-dipping.

Usually a Sun Weekend Warrior is tougher than a Friday NYT, but this week, it’s Karen’s NYT puzzle that has more bite. Maybe that’s because the Sun offering has four 15’s anchored by a vertical 13, whereas the NYT is heavy on 8-letter entries. Or maybe it’s just me. In the NYT, there are lots of K's and J's (as in the terrific entry J ALFRED PRUFROCK), plus a well-deployed X in ST FRANCIS XAVIER. The upper right quadrant juxtaposes two lively idioms, IN CLOVER and CAKE WALK, and over to the left, there's RIDES OUT, and lower down, CRACKS UP. Clues I especially liked: [Saint born in Newark, N.J.] for EVA MARIE, [Rack holder] for OVEN (not BRA!), the simple [Pan] for KNOCK (I tried CROCK first), [Joint assemblies] for non-S plural PLENA, and [Word of emphasis] for ITSELF (as in "The window itself was talking to me," perhaps?). DE KLERK makes an appearance here; he was the [1993 Peace co-Nobelist] (with Mandela) for ending apartheid. (I was thinking he was "The Old Crocodile," unlamentedly deceased a few months back, but that was P.W. Botha.)

Now, the range of applet times suggests that Karen's NYT crossword was particularly tough. What challenged you the most?

Karen's Sun Weekend Warrior was even more Scrabblicious, with a full house of Z's and X's, plus a K/Q pair. I liked how JEFF FOXWORTHY (what other triple-F phrases are out there?) crossed all four of the 15-letter entries. Highlights: [Fain] for LIEF (excellent old-skool words, both), ARRIVIDERCI ROMA, the small trio of TEENIEST, JUST A TAD, and ITSY, [Some bands take them] for REQUESTS, and South TARAWA (gotta have a little-known or hard-to-spell capital city if it's a Sun puzzle by Karen, you know). And look who's here! [Politician nicknamed "The Old Crocodile"], bad ol' BOTHA. Tune in next month, when Karen doubles up with Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki! (Or not. But wouldn't THABOMBEKI be an awesome entry? It even starts with "tha bomb.")


Gary Steinmehl's January 5 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword is a toughie (hooray!). The theme clues made no sense to me until I looked at the puzzle's title ("Where the Dickens Are...") and realized the answers were titles of Dickens books...and even then, there were one or two titles that rang no bells at all (and none of the characters listed in the clues helped me, either). Favorite clues: [Black-and-white broadcast?] for APB, [Leaves for dinner] for LETTUCE.

The first theme entry in Myles Callum's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Silicon Alley," was JESSICA SIMPSON, giving me a brief moment of dread that the theme involved silicone implants (though she may not have any); AREOLAR sitting right on top of that entry didn't help matters. Turned out the theme was actually phrases with two SI's (the chemical symbol for silicon is Si). I learned a new word in here, too. I knew SALAT was German for "salad", but it's also a word meaning the [Five-times-a-day Islamic prayer].

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Unkind Donuts," purportedly moves the first letter of one word to the end of that word (à la Dunkin Donuts -> Unkind Donuts). My favorite theme entries were ARRIVERDERCI OMAR and UNIVERSAL EMOTER. It took me a long time to understand how EAT LEAVES worked (aha! tea leaves).