February 02, 2008

Sunday, 2/3

LAT 9:32
NYT 9:10
WaPo 8:13
PI 7:58
BG 7:10
CS 5:27

This Matt Ginsberg hasn't been publishing crosswords for so long, but he's making a name for himself, isn't he? His Sunday New York Times crossword is called "Just Follow Directions," which sounded like a promise that this crossword would have some sort of cockeyed hidden directions we'd have to follow in order to make sense out of the theme. It turned out that the theme entries didn't contain the directions to be followed afterwards—we have to follow the directions inherent within phrases to figure out how to enter the answers in the first place.

Words like up, left, down, and right are zapped out of the theme entries and replaced with a bend in the entry. [Accelerated] means PICKED UP SPEED, which is entered as PICKEDS at 29-Across and DEEPS (which is SPEED if you read upwards) at 5-Down. The upshot is that both parts of these bent entries look nutty, because the first part contains only the first letter of the last part, and the last part is running upwards or to the left about half the time. Because they can be confusing, let's run through the other theme entries. [Pineapple desserts] (11-Across) are UPSIDE (down) CAKES, appearing as UPSIDEC crossing a downward CAKES. 35-Down is ALL (right) ALREADY, with ALLA crossing ALREADY. 34-Down is TWO (left) feet, which looks like TWOF crossing TEEF. 54-Down is OUT IN (left) FIELD, OUTINF crossing DLEIF. 41-Down is EXTREME (right) WING, EXTREMEW and WING. 83-Across is The Wiz's "EASE ON (Down) THE ROAD," appearing as EASEONT and THEROAD. 113-Across is STAND (up) COMIC, STANDC and CIMOC. And 109-Across is SETTING (up) SHOP, SETTINGS and POHS. These entries aren't in symmetrical spots, but the absent clues for the second part make it obvious when something is subject to the theme's warping.

I commend Matt Ginsberg for the bendy twist on the standard crossword format. Other answers and clues I liked include the [Autobiographical short story by Edgar Allan Poe], ELEONORA, which I haven't read. There's a [Mathematical sequence of unknown length], N-TUPLE. Giving something a HARD LOOK is to give it [Careful consideration]. [Threw off the scent] is one way to have MISLED. [Imp] means GREMLIN, and I like both words. KING LEAR was a [Repeated John Gielgud role]. [What a man and a woman become in marriage] is ONE FLESH; of course, one could say the same for two women or two men who get married). [Execrate] means DESPISE, and somehow I was blanking on what execrate meant. [Bone formation] is called OSTOSIS—yay, anatomy and physiology! There's a crazy-ass chemical formula, [NA2CO3], for SODA ASH. The [Flower also called a naked lady] is the AMARYLLIS; Wikipedia tells me it's called that because it blooms when the stem is "naked" and has no leaves, not because it bears any resemblance to a naked woman—though there is a Georgia O'Keeffe "Red Amaryllis." [Unblemished] can mean STERLING, as in "sterling character." [Slams] means the plural noun, criticism or FLAK. I always love to see PASHAS, the [Turkish pooh-bahs]. [Imagine, informally] is S'POSE. And that [Great ball of fire] is the SUN.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Cliché Combos 2," is (the Across Lite notepad explains) a follow-up to a December 2006 crossword in which Merl mused on other clichés in the English language. There are words that get paired together, and synonyms just don't fly. For example, sometimes I have UNMITIGATED GALL, but not just "pure gall" or "incredible gall." I am not, however, MORALLY BANKRUPT—maybe occasionally morally overdrawn, but far from bankrupt—but "morally exhausted" just isn't a phrase we hear. More of a thoughtful puzzle than a funny one, but it's a welcome thoughtfulness. I did have a moment of amusement, when I saw that the S-word in [Not just a total S-------, but a ____ ____] was 8 letters long. "What's a more idiomatic phrase than 'total shithead'?" I asked myself. (It was PERFECT STRANGER.)

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe crossword, "Double Zero," actually doubles the letter O, not the number 0, and reclues the altered phrases. My two favorite theme entries were DOOM PERIGNON, the [Bubbly to be avoided?], and FLAT BROOKE, [Cardboard cutout of Shields?]. The BEAUTY SALOON is spot-on, too, and has the look of a seed entry that started the whole theme, which was entertaining and not too tough.

Jim Page's Washington Post crossword, "Never Quit," concocts two-word phrases in which both words end with -TRY (e.g., WINTRY COUNTRY, CIRCUITRY INDUSTRY), all tied together with the central answer, TRY, TRY AGAIN. Fill highlights: multi-word answers including AM RADIO, MEL BLANC, TV CREW, a PLUS ONE golf handicap, LET'S EAT, and TAKE ME.


Rich Norris's alter ego, Nora Pearlstone, constructed the syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Special Ops." Paying attention to the title might've helped me glom onto the theme sooner, and as for the non-theme parts, well, either the clues are on the tough side or my brain's burner is only set to simmer. The special OPs are added to base phrases to generate the theme entries, like a dinosaur MESOZOIC OPERA, and the GREAT WALLOP OF CHINA. It was [Daffy under Elmer's rule?], or OPPRESSED DUCK, that tipped me off to the theme finally. Fun theme! VALLEY OF THE DOLLOPS of whipped cream? Yes, I would vacation there. The [Smartly dressed military unit?] called FOP-TROOP? (Note extra OP that was in the original.) I would watch that reality show on TV. Favorite clues: [One in a zillion?] for the letter ZEE; [Rank one?] for AMATEUR; [Didn't give up] for HOPED; [Nationals, before 2005] for EXPOS (Montreal Expos moved to D.C. and became the Nats? I forgot that); and [Small clearings?] for AHEMS. I got mired in the lower right corner, with a FALSE arrest crossing free throws (FTS), a PART that's played, and the end of a theme entry that I didn't know had the OP at the end. Did you know BITUMEN was [Asphalt]? Is this tied in with coal, or is bituminous coal particularly asphalty?

Mel Rosen's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is of medium difficulty for a themeless. I'd never heard of the Isetta or BUBBLE CAR, but the SmartCar sure looks a lot like that. The fill includes both ends of the alphabet—ABC and WXYZ. The first name of [Italian philosopher ___ Bruno, whose name was given to a lunar crater] is GIORDANO; the stuffed pizza by that name is pretty tasty too.