July 16, 2007

Tuesday, 7/17

Tausig 5:14—my favorite puzzle in weeks, I think
Onion 4:46
NYS 3:55
NYT 3:09
CS 2:55
LAT 2:37

(updated at 8:04 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Tuesday)

Idea for my next book: The Crossword Whisperer. There are whisperers for dogs, horses, and birds, so why not crosswords? The crosswords want to be solved, but sometimes their human companions have a hard time understanding what the crosswords need. Let me teach you the secret language of crossword puzzles so you can learn how to get even the wildest one to coexist with you peacefully and happily.

I think the New York Times has another debut constructor, Natan Last. [Edited to add: Will Shortz reports that this is Natan's debut, and he's a 16-year-old high school student!] His theme is AT BOTH ENDS, which is how pairs of letters repeat in the theme entries, which include CASABLANCA, ART OF WAR, and seven other phrases or words. Nifty! I questioned whether the clue for TAE BO, [Popular aerobic program], was still accurate—the Wikipedia article says yes, and provides a recap of a Celebrity Deathmatch claymation battle in which Billy Blanks, tae bo's developer, tae'd Richard Simmons into a bo.

A fun pop-culture hit from Ken Stern in the Sun, with "Space-Age Greetings" from The Jetsons. The '60s cartoon's theme song introduced the main characters: MEET / GEORGE JETSON/ HIS BOY ELROY / JANE, HIS WIFE / DAUGHTER JUDY, and, of course, their dog Astro and the robot maid, Rosie. Good fill, spotlighted by the late, great FLO-JO, TEDIUM, and the MAESTRO, plus plenty of Js (three of which are included in the theme entries).


Jim Holland's LA Times puzzle makes a meal out of famous food-named people. Yum!

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Walk This Way," has phrases that start with words that are also ways of walking. I like the combination of the band LIMP BIZKIT with MARCH MADNESS. NIA LONG gets promoted from quasi-crosswordese grid-friendly first name to her full name. Plenty of crisp clues and Scrabbly bits of fill (this could be a pangram [Edited to add: It is], but I haven't got time to check right now).

Updated anew:

Ooh, Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "It's All in the Past," amused and entertained and edified and intrigued me. What more could I ask for? (Only for the clues to be harder.) Why did I like this one so much? First off, the theme entries made me do some thinking in order to parse each one. By turning one word in a phrase into its past tense, the word's meaning changed completely. For example, must-see TV becomes MUST SAW TV, as in the tool that cuts wood. Paid leave becomes PAID LEFT, meaning the political left. On the rise gives us the flowering ROSE bush, speak of the devil yields a bike-wheel SPOKE, and an idiot light becomes IDIOT LITerature. The non-theme clues are snappy, too. YESMAN is clued with the Simpsons character [Smithers, e.g.]. I never knew that the late Phil Hartman was a rock 'n' roll graphic artist who designed the album cover for Steely Dan's AJA. Other favorite clues: [Biology classes?] for TAXA, ["Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice" org.] for the ABA; [Colon alternative] for EM DASH; and [Afikomen cracker] (new word for me) for MATZO. A diverse batch of names, too (not a one of them having been famous in the 1950s or earlier): ["The Namesake" author] Jhumpa LAHIRI, Paul GIAMATTI, Rocky BALBOA, YO-YO MA, and erstwhile teen idol JTT (Jonathan Taylor Thomas). Not to mention fill like DIME BAGS, ZAFTIG, and TOYS R US. Well done, Ben! This one goes into my "great puzzles" folder.

Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword draws its inspiration from the summer blockbuster, TRANSFORMERS, and anagrams four phrases into lunacy. For example, ["I wanted a SUBMARINE, but that lab experiment left me with ___! (Now I think like a flightless bird)"] yields EMU BRAINS. Twenty fill answers of 6 to 8 letters apiece spice things up a bit. I'd never heard of the DOG ROSE, but I always enjoy learning about the plants that sprout up in crosswords.