July 31, 2005

Good morning

I did the Sunday NYT last night and the other weekend puzzles yesterday, leaving only two puzzles on my to-do list this morning. Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge has some great 15s bundled together, but fell relatively quickly (4:15), as do most CS puzzles. I also did the Sunday LAT by Arlan and Linda Bushman, "The X-Files." I didn't time myself, but instead filled in entries only if they crossed another filled-in entry, moving around the grid smoothly (meaning it was an easy puzzle). Some of the theme entries made me laugh: "Well-guarded bagel topper?" BURGLARPROOFLOX! "Cereal taken off the menu?" CANCELEDCHEX! "Veto in Albany?" NEWYORKNIX!


July 30, 2005

Saturday summary

All those wisecracks about Sherry O. Blackard and her initials, and whips and chains—they're making a little more sense to me today. It was a delight to have to fight so hard in each section of the puzzle, and the puzzle was so elegant. Those beefy 6x6 squares. Those interlocking long entries (four 10s crossing both of the horizontal 11s). The SQUADCAR/ARREST combo. The logical but new-to-me "interdigitation" (cluing MESHING). I don't even know what EDA ("Dept. of Commerce div.") stands for—ah, Google tells me it's the Economic Development Administration; I'll file that away in the synapses. I liked PRIZEMONEY, too. (Is it because I like prize money?) And how many of you knew that a cowboy in a sombrero could be a CHARRO? I also liked CASTIRON as "not subject to change." Fabulous puzzle!

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke made today's LAT puzzle, with stacked pairs of 15s. Nice to see JOHNWOO and BODACIOUS make an appearance. I hadn't known VESICLE was a geologic term ("volcanic rock cavity")—I only knew it as a medical term (blisters and seminal vesicles). Anyone familiar with CSTORE as slang for a convenience store? It doesn't seem to be used in Chicagoland.

I liked Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, of course. For those of you doing it in Across Lite, be aware of the typo in the solution (where 15D meets 22A, the wrong vowel shows up).

I won't be home for the Sunday NYT in a couple hours, but hear rumors of left-right symmetry. Must be something special if Will Shortz is bending the rules—I look forward to seeing whose puzzle it is and what they've wrought.

NYT 10:50 (yow!)
LAT 5:25
CS 3:49
Creators Synd. 6:08 (with Googling to check the director George PAL and the CEP mushroom)
WaPo 7:42
LAW 9:05


Old business

Before I move on to Saturday's puzzles, I have a nit from Friday's NYS Weekend Warrior by Alan Olschwang. The answer for 17A, "Vacationing naturist, perhaps," is ECOTOURIST. Even for a Friday, that seems a bit of a stretch. I doubt all that many ecotourism programs are set up with nudists in mind, so the clue could just as well be "Vacationing bridge players, perhaps." Although the naturist/nudist crowd seems to have set up many vacation possibilities (including "bareboating"!), it's not clear to me that they have a special interest in ecology. I'd think the clue was a Friday misdirect except for the links between nature and eco-. What say you?


July 29, 2005

Tonight is the Chicago Cru dinner! I will do my best to stay awake for the duration of the meal, and I need to print out copies of a crossword I made (I plan to ask Popeye to post it to the NYT forum afterwards as a Cru special).

Kyle Mahowald's NYT felt harder than my time indicated. Favorite entries included INDYCAR, STJOHNS, the "pumpkin" PETNAME, HEAVEHO, GODIVA, MUSTSEETV, and BARHOPS. "House shower" led to an "aha" moment when CSPAN revealed itself. It was an educational puzzle, too: I hadn't known MOCHA was a Yemeni port. And ever since seeing The Incredibles, I've been in love with the word HOBO. As supersuit designer Edna Mode says (and I can totally do her voice) "I will fix your hobo suit." (Unfortunately, the two Pixar characters whose voices I can mimic best—Edna Mode and Roz from Monsters Inc.—are both voiced by men.)

Anyone know who calls a HITMAN a torpedo, or vice versa? I'm not sure if Kyle (or Will) was getting at a slang term for a torpedo or a slangy clue for a hitman.

It's amazing how many constructors can concoct business-oriented themes for the Wall Street Journal puzzle. While they're good puzzles (if a bit on the easy side), business themes aren't really up my alley. Today's Patrick Berry outing with a magazine theme was much more fun because I'm a magazine junkie (but too soon completed—7:21).

This weekend's posted Merl Reagle puzzle, "Invasion of the Tree People," was a typically fun outing. Why is it that The FAERIE Queene doesn't pop up more in crosswords? So many vowels! And an R!

LAT 4:48
CS 3:25
NYS 7:03
total 15:16 (ouch)


July 28, 2005


One of the downsides of the common cold is that it makes bloggers lackadaisical. But I did want to talk a bit about Eric Berlin's Thursday NYT. First off, it tends to throw me a little when there isn't some rebus or gimmick involved in a Thursday NYT. I don't object in the slightest—I just end up spending some time looking for a doohickey.

It's a pangram, and I always like to see a pangram. I'm always a little disappointed when I see an X, Q, and Z, but there's no J or whatever.

The theme didn't thrill me overly, but at least it wasn't the kind that allows you to fill in all the long answers right away. So let me retract the unthrill and instead express appreciation for a theme that takes time to reveal itself. The much-ballyhooed icing clue (27D) didn't point me toward cake, but I'm so unfamiliar with hockey that I first considered HOCKEYPUCK and HOCKEYRINK for HOCKEYGAME. (Note to self: icing happens in hockey, and a feint is a deke.)

I enjoyed many entries: the STARR Report, CRISPUS Attucks, ORTS (because I used the word in a high school paper about medieval dining customs, and my teacher, clearly not a crossword solver, circled the word and jotted a question mark in the margin—hello, do you own a dictionary, Mr. Claudon? Do you think it wise to doubt me??), HIYA, AUJUS, WHOSNEXT, VIXEN, ZING, and nearby suburb SKOKIE. From the clues, I learned that the ALOUs of the 1960s–1970s cruciverbal league predate recent ex-Cub Moises Alou. Is he their son and nephew? And wasn't there another current-day Alou playing ball?

LAT 5:19 (typing one-handed with a kid on my lap who needed a blanket wrapped around him—the opposite of a wind-assisted time)
CS 3:20
NYS 5:12
total 13:51 (beyond the 13:00 goal, but hey, kid on lap is a hindrance)


July 27, 2005

Super-short post

LAT 3:24
CS 3:30
NYS 4:12
total 11:06 (shooting for 11:00)


July 26, 2005

Shteyman classes up the joint on a Wednesday

Yeah, I more or less got my butt kicked by the last Michael Shteyman puzzle. I was a little leery when his byline popped up on Wednesday's NYT, but I think I found the right wavelength this time. Proving he is no gink, Michael used so many great entries, particularly the multi-word ones, such as CAVEINS, OLDSAWS, LOWPOINT, TRYME, CATSEYE, and GETTO.

There were some autobiographical answers. Rachmaninoff is Misha's fellow EMIGRE. And maybe OXY, ELUTE, and AMPULE came up in his science labs. And one could imagine the puzzle's quip coming up in his English classes after he arrived in the US. Then there are the mini-themes throughout, like ISR plus SEDERS. Not to mention SEETHRU plus BOOB. (Boys will be boys...)


Man, it's only Tuesday

Today's crossword conspiracy is the inclusion of PARLORGAME(S) in both the NYT by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon and the LAT by Sonja Turner, with both clues referencing charades. The NYT grid was notable for GETSMART, NACHOS, TAPINS, CARPOOLING, STMARY, TADPOLE, and RAGPAPER, along with a relatively sophisticated theme and plenty of good clues.

I enjoyed the rhyming theme entries in Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy. CAPNCRUNCH, BRADYBUNCH, and NAKEDLUNCH would all be fun entries on their own, even without membership in a theme club. I hope those of you who keep word lists have included of these delicious 10's.

Very nice NYS puzzle, "In a Stew," from Adam Cohen. I always appreciate a shout-out to Soap (thanks to Adam and Peter Gordon for not alluding to Richard Mulligan's other series, Empty Nest, instead). Plenty of good entries, such as OBGYN, NSYNC, WEBTV, YESNO, the triple-vowel INDIAARIE, and WKRP. Not to mention 1D, "hallucinogenic letters"—LSD is a gimme, but the answer's PCP. Other clues allude to Outkast, NPR, and the astronaut's drink TANG. (That one's especially timely with this morning's shuttle launch—but are the astronauts still drinking that crap? Don't get me wrong—I loved it as a kid—but I imagine there are better ways of addressing the shuttle crew's need for hydration and vitamin C.)

An easy bunch of puzzles today—

LAT 3:27
CS 2:47
NYS 3:07
total 9:21, way ahead of the 10:30 I predicted


July 25, 2005

After a weekend of privation

I spent the weekend offline at a water park in Milwaukee's outer suburbs, and had hoped to buy the NYT to do the Saturday and Sunday puzzles. Sadly, the hotel sold only the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (which runs, I think, a wee 13x13 puzzle daily) and the Waukesha Freeman (whose crossword selection I did not investigate). Fortunately, all the weekend puzzles I'd missed were waiting for me to download them Sunday night. And during the weekend, I kept my brain on life support with Peter Gordon's 2005 book of Killer Thursday Crosswords. Constructors who joined me at the water park included Louis Hildebrand (with possibly the toughest puzzle in the book), Peter Gordon as Ogden Porter, Byron Walden, Patrick Berry, Peter Abide, Harvey Estes, Manny Nosowsky, Myles Callum, Craig Kasper, Bob Peoples, Randolph Ross, Robert Ward, Jerry Rosman, Paula Gamache, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Jim Page, and Bill Weber (with a toughie—who is this guy?). If you like hard puzzles and haven't already done the Thursday NYS puzzles from April 2002 to September 2003, you can't go wrong with this book.

When I returned home for an online crossword saturnalia, Joe DiPietro's Sat. NYT seemed a little on the hard side (7:21), and so did Frank Longo's Sun. NYT (12:29). Just three more months until Longo's next book of cranium crushers is out!

Moving along to Monday, we find new fave Lynn Lempel at the NYT, packing the NW corner of the grid with JUSTSO, ISWEAR, and BEETLE stacked up across the first theme entry. Excellent Monday puzzle! Lila Cherry's LAT has a heated theme perfect for the sweltering Midwest. Harvey Estes tossed out a tougher-than-Monday CrosSynergy with a clever theme (favorite clue: "long story writer" for NOVELIST). Over in the NYS, we have Gary Steinmehl's "Feathered Friends," with excellent entries like SAMSA, BOPPER, THECLUB, SWAHILI, and AMPUTATE, and the au courant clue for ANKA, "singer Paul with the 2005 album 'Rock Swings.'" I saw a review of the album just a couple weeks ago and looked forward to its use as a fresh clue for ANKA. (Anka sings Bon Jovi and REM on what Entertainment Weekly calls "a novelty album worthy of begrudging respect.")

LAT 3:04
CS 4:13
NYS 3:25
total 10:42 (shooting at 10:00)


July 22, 2005

Heading out for the weekend

Tough NYT by Elizabeth Gorski. I don't recall seeing SCHMOOZEFEST, GOOIER, IMAMAZED, NEWSHOLE, LARGEEGG, or COCOONED in puzzles before. Excellent puzzle and a worthy challenge. It's nice to see HALFMOON referring to the actual moon rather than having the same clue I've seen twice recently (something along the lines of "Henry Hudson's ship"). Instead of filling in a recently developed gimme, I actually had to think for this one. I look forward to more late-week Gorski themelesses.

Merl Reagle's weekly PI puzzle was tougher than usual for me—often hard to guess where Merl's mind was going with his theme entries. They all made sense once they were filled in, but I had to fight for most of them through the crossings.

Mike Shenk's WSJ was also good. But when, oh when will Shenk grace us with some late-week themelesses? The ones I've done in the past weren't that hard, but they sure were fun. Update: It's actually a puzzle by Jim Page, edited by Shenk. My plea for more puzzles by Shenk stands.

I'm off for a three-day offline weekend (when the temperature might reach 100 degrees, what could be finer than letting children run rampant at an indoor water park?). I'm hoping the hotel sells the NYT.

LAT 4:18
CS 3:17
NYS 5:11
total 12:46, way ahead of my 14:30 target


July 21, 2005

It's Thursday, and things are definitely picking up

Today's NYT by Patrick Blindauer is kind of an oddball puzzle, with the embedded SHIFTALETTER SIMPLECIPHER in the middle. That particular aspect didn't thrill me, but I'm glad Will Shortz likes to push the crossword format in new directions to keep it interesting. Aside from the secret coded message, there's much to appreciate in this puzzle. MUSTANG, ASTHMATIC, BUCKAROO (rather than "ending for buck?" AROO), CATCALL. While this Patrick absolutely has talent, it's only going to confuse us if we have another Patrick to keep track of (the Patricks Merrell, Berry, and Jordan already provide so many great puzzles). At least there aren't too many Stellas, Byrons, Harveys, and Vics out there...

I'd heard that Brendan Emmett Quigley's Themeless Thursday in the NYS was a beaut, and indeed it is. So educational: the clues include lesser-known quotes from a real person and a character. Sports trivia (who is this TRABERT who swept his sets in the U.S. Open tennis tournament twice?) and geographic trivia. Colloquialisms. Mention of crunk. Two people squeezed into the grid with their first and last names. And it's a pangram!

NYS 5:15
CS 3:21
LAT 4:25
total 13:01 (a mere one second over the time limit I gave myself)


July 20, 2005

Wednesday ennui

I'm not feeling too inspired this Wednesday morning. I hear the NYS Themeless Thursday is a good one—can I wait until tomorrow? (Since I'm working my way through the recent book compilation of Thursday Suns—about half of them themeless—probably yes.)

The Wednesday NYT by Roy Leban contained a lot of stuff we seldom, if ever, see in crossword grids. IEIGHTYONE, with that implausible-looking beginning. BOSTONIVY (I'm partial to the local stuff that grows at Wrigley Field). 1940s tennis star Pauline BETZ, whose name is new to me. TAILBACK, AMARANTH, CASTANETS, SILHOUETTE, and MARZIPAN.

I was in the dark about the theme of Doug Peterson's NYS puzzle ("Where Ami?") until the final theme entry explained it all. WOMANIZER doesn't crop up often, either, does it?

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy theme, "Courageous Venture," was kinda cute, and COQAUVIN made an appearance. Frances Burton's LAT featured four movie titles, two of which are utterly unfamiliar and one of which is somewhat unfamiliar. (Grr.) Nice shout-out to my livelihood, though, with EDITS crossing DELE.

NYS 4:05
CS 3:34
LAT 3:43
total 11:22, way over my goal of 10:30 (is it the humidity?)


July 19, 2005

Verna Suit's NYS, "A Tasty Jam," is a good puzzle (and the day's slowest, at 4:02) that includes two words that have intimately related Latin roots. First, there's PLUMB [Middle English, lead, a plumb, from Old French plomb, from Latin plumbum, lead.]—pertaining to the lead weight hanging from a string used to check whether something's perfectly vertical. Then there's APLOMB [French, from Old French a plomb, perpendicularly : a, according to (from Latin ad-) + plomb, lead weight (from Latin plumbum, lead).]—meaning self-confident assurance or poise. Who can tell us why that meaning developed for APLOMB? Were people as poised as a lead weight hanging silently (and confidently!) from a string? Was it a characteristic associated with lead itself? Lead poisoning?

Jack McInturff's LAT (a quick 2:42) has something like the fifth crossword reference to Susan Lucci in the past couple weeks. Really, there's no other soap star/character who is widely recognized enough to make it into so many crosswords, is there?

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy (3:17) was good for a Tuesday. (When, oh when will Friday be here? What's that? In three days? Okay, thanks.)

Trip Payne's NYT surprised me in how easy it was. I think it's atypical for a Tuesday NYT to have at least four (legitimate) solvers clock in at less than 3 minutes on the timed applet—and that's not even counting Tyler Hinman. It turns out the theme is identical to one used a few years ago in the NYT (Thursday, July 6, 2000, Patrick Berry)—right down to the order in which the theme entries appear. Talk about your coincidences! The presumably inadvertent recycling of the theme didn't make it an easy puzzle, though—it's just an easy theme to complete once you've got the first entry, and the rest of the fill and clues were fairly straightforward. (WIth a few exceptions, such as the tricky "Othello, e.g." for GAME.)


July 18, 2005

Vote for your favorites!

Building on the theme in Randall Hartman's Friday CrosSynergy puzzle, our contest participants concocted the following clues leading to an answer in which one letter I has been switched to a U. (Example from Randall's puzzle: something along the lines of "Magazine article about Hef? HUGH PROFILE.) Put them all together and they make a nice word game, don't they?

As a solving aid, the answers will be in alphabetical order. (You can also reveal the answers by highlighting the space after each clue with your mouse.) After solving, please leave a comment and vote for your favorite entry.

If you can't stand the suspense and want to know who wrote each clue, you can read the original entries among the comments on the post from Friday, July 15.

Author of "Hot Time in the Cloisters"? (8) ANAIS NUN

"Thelma and Louise"? (16)A TALE OF TWO CUTIES

Embarrassment at a family reunion? (14) AUNT MISBEHAVIN

Offer to an aardvark restaurateur? (10) BUG FAT DEAL

Person who amasses lies? (13) BULL COLLECTOR

Posada's pet? (12) CATCHERS MUTT

Greenish-gray vegetable? (10) DULL PICKLE

Just another step on the ladder of life? (14) ENGAGEMENT RUNG

Delivering sports equipment? (16) HAULING GOLF BALLS

Drunken fascist? (10) LOADED DUCE

Littering beauty queen? (11) MUSS AMERICA

What to do to a toupee? (6) OIL RUG

Peaceful booze? (10) PACIFIC RUM

Be Mack on stage? (10) PLAY A TRUCK

NY ballplayer with delicate sensibilities? (17) PRUDE OF THE YANKEES

Cat in the salad dressing? (13) PUSS IN VINEGAR

Human in salt water? (13) SHARKS FUN SOUP

Tropical tornado's damages? (14) SMASH HUT RECORD

Say bad things about Bugs? (11) SULLY WABBIT

Death by a thousand rays? (13) THE WAGES OF SUN

Singer who went Rolling on the River? (10) TUNA TURNER

Quarter's worth of excuses? (7) TWO BUTS

Missionary position? (10) VENTRAL FUN


Monday morning

My favorite of the Monday puzzles is Karen Tracey's NYS. Easy, yes (you know it's easy when there are some entries you complete without looking at the clues), but packed wall to wall with 5- to 8-letter entries that we don't see that often. Everything a Monday puzzle should be: fresh, breezy, fun, interesting. If you don't mind a puzzle that doesn't fight you, check it out.

I also enjoyed Randy Sowell's NYT, which fell faster than the three puzzles I did this morning. I'm always delighted if I can squeeze in under the 3-minute mark, but then there's Tyler Hinman, who typically finishes Monday's puzzle in less than 2 minutes (1:49 this week). The only thing that gives me (and everyone else) hope for Stamford is that Tyler needed a couple more minutes than Al Sanders to complete the A finals puzzle (technically, Al didn't complete it, but we all know he could have filled in those squares in a matter of seconds). It would be hard to nudge Tyler away from the top of the points ranking, but you never know how things'll shake out in the finals. There's half a chance Tyler will not sweep the entire decade...


July 16, 2005

Catching up on the weekend puzzles

I'm finally almost caught up with the weekend's crosswords, after spending the afternoon offline at the ER (when your kid is the healthiest and most intact one there, you tend to wait a lo-o-o-ong time). Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle had an embedded word puzzle in the theme, and I always like Henry's work. (Hell, I can do his puzzles twice if I'm not careful.) I'm sure you all can come up with plenty of other possibilities for Henry's "X Marks the Spot" theme. Let's see... "NOVEMBER X" could be AFTERTHEFALL. "OBJ X ECTS" could be INTHEMIDDLEOFTHINGS. But there's a reason those examples didn't make it into the grid; they're not good.

My next favorite Sunday puzzle is tomorrow's NYT by David Kahn, who has become another constructor whose byline I always welcome. David's commemoration of Disneyland's 50th birthday edges the one by Randolph Ross in the WaPo magazine, since David stacked some theme entries together, did one of those circled-letters thingies, and packed sterner challenges into the grid. Is it just me, or has Will Shortz been making us all work harder on recent Sunday puzzles? They haven't felt like oversized Wednesday puzzles for a few weeks.

The gifted Merl Reagle's "Sounds from the Past (Tense)" is classic Merl. You say "tryptophan," Merl hears TRIPPED A FAN lurking beneath the surface. "I decline," Merl hears EYED A KLEIN. How does he get through the day without getting so distracted by everything he hears and can wrangle a fun crossword out of? He's gotta be carrying a notebook or a voice recorder. Whatever his method is, he'd better keep at it, because I look forward to doing Merl's puzzles every weekend. (Vielen Dank and merci beaucoup to Lloyd Mazer for releasing them to us in Across Lite.)

Looking back to this morning, I zipped through Harvey Estes' Saturday CrosSynergy puzzle, "Star-crossed." In addition to the interlocking 15-letter celebs, a bunch of shorter star names were strewn throughout the grid. (And by star names, I mean people, not obscure celestial objects.) I'm never one to object to a preponderance of you-know-them-or-you-don't names in a crossword.

Bob Peoples' Saturday LAT was very well-done. Plenty of relative obscurities that were easy enough to get through the crossings. Lots of fresh phrases like CUBFANS, BEERNUTS, AVONLADY, HUMBLEPIE, BLUEFLU, and DONTMOVE. My only wish is that the clues had been tougher so I could have spent twice as long working this puzzle!

Hmm, I see I haven't mentioned Michael Shteyman's Saturday NYT here yet. It kicked my ass, but I lived to tell the tale. I really liked OKOK and INQUEUE, and I'd never heard of a GINK before. The American Heritage Dictionary (online) tells me that GINK is slang for "A man, especially one regarded as foolish or contemptible." You better believe I'm going to start working that one into daily conversation from now on. Join me! We'll make it popular! C'mon, don't be a gink.

Now, as for that contest down there in the previous post—don't forget to plug your favorites! As we say in Chicago, vote early and vote often. Okay, really, just pick your one favorite entry. Hopefully a quasi-consensus will emerge and the victor will win the fabulous prize of bragging rights.


July 15, 2005

Friday's other puzzles—AND A CONTEST!

I almost made my 14:30 cutoff for today's three-fer—I went over by a mere 6 seconds.

6:05 for Joe DiPietro's NYS Weekend Warrior. A thing of beauty, that. FUZZYDICE crossing DIZZYDEAN at the Y, not a Z?? That takes mad skillz, yo. Cruciverbal cojones. Great fill, fantastic clues. It rivals the BEQ NYT for the title of Friday's Hardest Crossword. Or should I say Cakiest? The Artist Formerly Known as Cakey has clued CAKED as "Got hard"—seems appropriate!

Vic Fleming's latest LAT took me 4:18. An easy-to-complete theme, but probably a typical difficulty level for a Friday LAT. The good judge has a few signature nods to his profession: TRY, [hold] INCONTEMPT, and MISSUSA. (What? Pageants have judges.) Tell me I'm not the only one who thought SLEDGE for the 6-letter singer of "When a Man Loves a Woman." No offense to any Michael Bolton fans out there...

Tack on another 4:13 for Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy, "If I Were You..." Cute theme—changing an I to a U in a phrase, making "high profile" into HUGHPROFILE, for one. I can't think of any other good examples (unless you like "Evil cat"? for WICKEDPUSS).

Today's modest contest: Come up with a great Hartmanesque I-to-U change and give it a funny clue. (He already used BOWLINGPUN, BULLYTHEKID, and BATHTUBGUN.) You can contribute two entries if you just can't stop at one. And everyone's welcome to rave about the entries they think are best. Enjoy!


July 14, 2005

Friday BEQ (s-p-o-i-l-e-r-s a-h-e-a-d)

Another meaty challenge from Brendan Emmett Quigley for the Friday NYT. I don't know how a constructor manages to create three triple-stacked sets of 15-letter entries, I just don't. But I'm glad BEQ did. Some of the 15s were gimmes (or nearly so): NOTSOLDINSTORES, LANDOCALRISSIAN. If 17A had been clued as a punk song rather than rock, I probably would have gotten it with IW; instead, I had to wait until the crossings pushed me toward IWANNAB...

A special Baltic shout-out for 21A being BALT rather than LETT (which I'm sure a lot of people quickly jotted in those squares). I'm one eighth Lithuanian and not at all Latvian, so I always like the more general Baltic entries. (Has LITHUANIA or VILNIUS ever made a showing?)

I commend the OOOU run in 58A, ITSAZOOOUTTHERE. Yooou don't see that every day! THEUN for "country club?" took too long for me to make sense of (I couldn't get the rodeo out of my head). It's nice to see the UN make it into the grid, rather than being part of the clue for DAG or something.

Anyone else sit there trying to remember what the root beer brand was? "Let's see...A&E? No. A&S? A&F? A&H? A&M?" The crossing with CREW (clued as "hands") was really not helpful to me, as I didn't know skater ORSER—I think CREW was one of the last words I filled in.

"Mug with a mug" for TOBY was easier (though by no means easy) because TOBY was in another puzzle recently and came up for discussion at the NYT forum. Trivial knowledge reinforced by repetition—boring and pointless to many, I'm sure, but a boon to anyone trying to move up the ranks at the next ACPT. (Not that I read all the lengthier discussions of golf, wine, scotch, bridge, poetry, Hebrew, the classics, or music. Gimme some etymology or hash out punctuation and English usage, though, and I'm all yours.)


I decided to challenge myself with a 12:45 time limit for today's three-fer. I got my butt handed to me on a platter (14:50). In each puzzle, I miskeyed a single letter and used the "check all letters" function to figure out where I went wrong. Even with that cheatin' help, I was still slow. Arrgh!

Tough NYS by Gary Steinmehl (6:32). Great theme (be sure to do the puzzle if you haven't already—the theme is delicious), but not one whose entries came to me at all quickly. Having a star name (ALIOTH) lurking in the NW corner sure didn't help. Will you shoot me if I ever create a puzzle with DENEB or another star in the fill? (Possible exception: ALGOL, which was the name of my college yearbook.)

Easy CrosSynergy by Sarah Keller (3:48). I liked the girliness of LOWHEELEDSHOE for "flat" (plus I hate high heels). And how delightful to have a puzzle called "Key of C Minor" that doesn't require familiarity with musical arcana!

Barbara Olson's LAT took 4:30.

Oh! Way to bury the lead in the article. I really enjoyed Kevan Choset's Thursday NYT last night but a late supper got in the way of blogging about it right away. The Bastille Day theme was un peu slow to dawn on me. The inclusion of NEURALGIA and RENAL seemed Mannyesque, didn't it? (Let's have more medical terminology in puzzles! Those are gimmes for me.) On the Erica Kane watch, here's yet another recent puzzle with a Susan Lucci inclusion. (If any solvers don't remember that name yet, it's possible they are learning-impaired.) I suspect I wasn't the only one to try thick-SKINNED before switching to thick-SKULLED. (Does that make me thick-skulled?) I appreciated the pop-culture clue for LEO ("Seinfeld" uncle), just two rows over from another erstwhile NBC Thursday must-see TV name, MATTLEBLANC. As much as I deplore OLEO (butter tastes so much better), I must commend Kevan and Will for the awesome hall-of-fame clue, "Pat on the buns?" (I wonder which of them wrote that one.)

("I can't wait for the Friday puzzles," she added parenthetically.)


July 13, 2005

I hate it when people call Wednesday "hump day"

...but I like Wednesdays for being the last easy day before the puzzles start to ratchet up in difficulty. If the first three days of the week are like the straightaways on the Tour de France, Thursday's a level 1 climb, Friday's between level 1 and 2, and Saturday's a level 2 climb. (Sunday is the easy ride into the heart of Paris on the last day of the Tour.) Best of all are the occasional puzzles that represent a level 3 climb, but they sure are hard to come by.

Manny's NYT was cute, and his fill seemed more fun to pronounce than most: viz. POPSQUEAK, POTATO, SWAP, SWATH, SMACK, QUITO, KAPUT, TOPEKA. I read somewhere that comedians know certain letter sounds are inherently more funny than others—wonder if Manny was consciously aiming for that effect.

I did my daily three-fer this morning and jotted down my finishing time for each puzzle along the way. I gave myself a limit of 10:30 for all three, and beat it with 10:02. The NYS was the toughest (4:57).

I enjoyed Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy (3:47) entitled "Looking Sharp." Mel had a baker's dozen of entries starting with O, which is odd and outre. ODOR and RUMP were stacked to scatological comic effect. JUJU made a welcome appearance. I was disappointed to see the clue "bread spread," but delighted to find that in a puzzle filled with O words, the spread in question was JAM rather than the dreaded OLEO. JUJU, JAM, and YAMS were all squeezed into a fun little corner.

Dave Mackey's LAT was easy (3:18), what with the Susan Lucciesque film directors providing ample help with the crossings. This is the same Dave Mackey who responded to yesterday's post (in which I said I might have trouble with a centipede/millipede theme) by sending me a 17x17 centipede/millipede crossword complete with the theme entry SCAREDAMYREYNALDO. I had thought I shouldn't tackle the puzzle without first having a beer, but did it without benefit of anesthesia. This was a mistake. While the puzzle was hard and it might have been tough to finish under the influence, instead the creepy crawlies crept directly into my subconscious, like an earwig into the ear canal. I awoke this morning in thrall to a dream featuring a hot tub filled with a giant stick bug, violent catfish, and an oversized mancing fish that turned out to be a fake one concocted by my sister to scare me. I'll be screwed if Will Shortz goes with an entomology-themed puzzle at the next ACPT. (Um, thanks, Dave, I guess. That was really thoughtful of you...or is it thoughtless?)


July 12, 2005

Anyone want a free half a book?

That Henry Hook book I'm halfway through turns out to be identical to the one I've already finished. Oddly enough, I didn't recognize the fill and clues, even though I was so impressed by them a few months ago. First person to ask for the book (in which the second half is in mint condition!) gets it for free.

Speaking of free books, yes, Dan and Susan, prior contest winners, I do plan to send your prizes. I finally bought big envelopes today, so now it's just a matter of not procrastinating.


Three-fer Tuesday

The Sun puzzles weren't available yet Monday morning, so I didn't get to do my daily three-fer yesterday. I hoped to finish today's offerings in 10:30, and eked out a victory in 10:03. (I love to eke.)

Today's LAT is a joint venture from Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke, featuring hackneyed postcard phrases like WISHYOUWEREHERE. (Who knew so many postcard lines were 15 letters long?) Notable entries include ICECOLD, KLEPTO, CUPCAKE, and FATCAT.

The CrosSynergy was by Martin Ashwood-Smith, featuring phrases with synonyms for "wonderful." I'm not sure exactly why the puzzle's title is "S Wonderful"—wherefore the S? We have FANTASTICVOYAGE, SUPERCONDUCTORS, AND MARVELOUSMARVIN. I liked the inclusion of EARWIG as well, even though earwigs creep me out. A puzzle with a millipede/centipede theme might be impossible to finish, since those critters are even creepier than earwigs and I cannot abide them.

Lynn Lempel provided today's NYS, another nicely done Lempel puzzle. I have a modest nit to pick with 9D, CTSCAN for "X-ray follow-up." While some conditions are first screened for with a standard x-ray but need a CT scan to confirm a diagnosis, there are surely many other circumstances in which CT is a first step; x-rays are cheap, but there's no need to expose a patient to extra radiation if only CT or MRI will actually show what the doctor suspects is there. Okay, I'm stepping down off the medical editor high-horse soapbox now. (Why is the horse on a soapbox, anyway?)

Nancy Salomon's NYT was plenty of fun, too—classic NYT style, 15 multi-word phrases (including the theme entries), a fresh vibe with PEPSI and THEWHO, DUFFEL and MOMMY, and the breezy "I'm game" theme. It's also the second puzzle I've seen in the past week mentioning Susan Lucci/Erica, right after Ellen Ripstein's blog linked to an article listing her as one of the past Susan Luccis of the world (many years of ACPT runner-up status before she finally won).


July 11, 2005

Mouth agape

Checking into the applet before the new puzzle is posted, I see that Tyler Hinman solved the Monday NYT in 1:26. Still waiting for the Ultimate XXXTreme Crossword Challenge between Tyler and Stan Newman—neither of whom has expressed any interest (or disinterest) in the concept. 1:26!


July 10, 2005

A slow weekend

It's been a slow weekend—the Saturday and Sunday NYT puzzles seemed longer, harder, and more sloggy than they are most weekends. Sunday seemed to take everyone a little longer, but plenty of people found Saturday to be easier than usual. First, I started the puzzle at ten past the hour, and geek that I am, I'd really wanted to start the moment the puzzle was released. So I was already under the gun when a motorcyclist paused outside my window and gunned his engine for an unholy amount of time (why, it had to be over 30 seconds!). Eventually I had but one square left to fill: the P intersection between the Latin abbreviation SPQR and the lyricist YIP Harburg. I'd never heard of either term, not once. I began trying random letters, clicking "Done," and finding out I was wrong; lather, rinse, and repeat. During the wild-ass guess process, my husband and son came home sans house keys; their pounding on the door (and the fact that I actually had to get up and let them in) was every bit as distracting as the motorcycle. Allow me to express my gratitude that in his infinite wisdom, ACPT founder WIll Shortz has not made motorcycle sounds a part of the tournament solving experience. That, and the flying of paper airplanes over one's head—also very distracting, I assure you.

The hubbub about the ATONALITY clue at the NYT forum is beyond me. I'm not even quite sure what "key" and "tone" really mean, so I'm with the masses who said "ATONALITY fits and has something to do with music."

Con Pederson's Sunday puzzle took about 30% longer than average, thanks to those AR-to-RA theme entries and the overall challenge of the fill. The only advantage to solving a puzzle an hour late in the applet is that you can see the usual suspects' finishing times—when the fastest (real) time was Byron Walden's 11:15, I knew I could expect to spend a few extra minutes on the puzzle without feeling dense.

This morning I tackled Lynn Lempel's LAT puzzle—I can't really say what her style is exactly, but I do seem to enjoy all of her puzzles. I'm glad she publishes as often as she does. I also did Rich Norris's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge, salivating at the prospect of a knotty themeless from Rich. Alas, I needed only 4:14 to complete it. I haven't cracked open Rich's A-to-Z Crosswords book yet, but I sure hope it's packed with his most devious work.

This week, I've been supplementing the daily puzzles by plowing through Henry Hook's Hard To Solve Word Puzzles, published in 2000. (Sterling Publishing, where are the hyphens in that title? Tsk.) These are the same types of puzzles Henry had in Twisted Crosswords (2003), but I think Twisted is harder. Either Henry upped the challenge for the second book, or I've just gotten smarter in the last couple months. Which is it?

OKAY, I'M BORED. LET'S HAVE ANOTHER CONTEST! I don't have any prizes to offer other than bragging rights. And I don't have any great contest ideas. What sounds like fun to you?


July 07, 2005

Eric Berlin's Friday NYT

Poor Eric, away from home when his fabulous Friday NYT is published. Lucky Eric, away at the National Puzzlers League convention, where he can bask in the glory of being surrounded by people who can appreciate his work.

Ever since Byron Walden published a puzzle with stacked 15's that inadvertently made up a sentence (OUT ON THE OPEN SEA/FRANCIS X BUSHMAN/FELT A LITTLE LOST), I've been reading the crosswords I solve to see if adjacent entries form a cohesive story. Well, Eric's got some long entries that are stacked (but of varying lengths) and read GET A LOAD OF THIS/ADULTERATED/HAUTE CUISINE. The subplot, made up of some shorter entries that follow one another, is JEANNIE/HASSLES/OTTO I. Do you think she fed him a fancy poisoned meal? I don't recall exactly how the show "I Dream of Jeannie" worked, but I wouldn't put it past her to time-travel to the Holy Roman Empire and vex someone other than her astronaut.


Thursday, Thursday

Last Thursday I got skunked in my daily challenge. Today I set the same time limit (13:30) for the three puzzles (LAT, CrosSynergy, NYS—and I do them in that order, saving the best for last). I breezed through the first two puzzles and struggled with David Kahn's Themeless Thursday, but finished in 12:52 thanks to the first two.

Today's CrosSynergy is by Harvey Estes—a tribute to the late Anne Bancroft. I always enjoy Harvey's puzzles—one of those wavelength things where I seldom misinterpret any of the tricky clues. (I swear I'm reading Harvey's mind. I can't read David Kahn's mind, though...)

Harvey's clue for 24A quotes a line from T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Which reminds me of (crossword constructor/blogger/author/proofreader) Francis Heaney's great cartoon, "Lines from the first draft of 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'"; my favorite panel is the "In the room the women come and go, talking about you probably." Francis is on vacation now, heading to the NPLCon, so it's a perfect time to go read his "Six things" cartoon archives.

David Kahn's themeless was on the tough side. "Turkey wing?" is ASIAMINOR, and the retro CATSPAJAMAS crosses the modern PALMPILOT. He totally tricked me into putting ETO for "WWII battleground" (I had the O) but then "area commanded by DDE" stole that entry and the first ETO had to be changed to IWO. ABOLISHER (clued as "Abraham Lincoln, notably") sounds new—has it appeared in a puzzle before?

I enjoyed David Quarfoot's NYT, too. It felt a lot tougher than my solving time would indicate—it took me way too long to figure out the rebus. At least an airline-magazine crossword had previously introduced me to the Vermont ski resort OKEMO so I didn't try to force STOWE in there. Great fill: WASABI and PESTO, ECZEMA, ESCAPADE, LOISLANE. And a good Thursday theme.


July 06, 2005

The course of time has been reversed!

I just did the Wednesday trio of NYS, CrosSynergy, and LAT puzzles. Given last week's Wednesday time of just under 12:00, I granted myself 12:00 to tackle the threesome. They turned out to be easy—10:13. I look forward to a sub-Monday level of breeziness by Friday! (Actually, I would dread that.)

One of the advantages gained by doing tons of puzzles from a variety of sources is that what you learn in one crossword can often be applied to another puzzle within days. This reinforcement of an unfamiliar word, name, or definition cements it in the mind for future use. For example, Chicago isn't a big sports mascot town. We've got Benny the Bull, but I think that's it. If our baseball teams have mascots, they sure don't trot them out much. So MRMET was something I got mainly through the crossings a few days ago. 64A in today's NYS was "his head is a large baseball"—MRMET strikes again!

I'm guessing that the most important trait shared by speed-solvers is the ability to retain those new bits of information and retrieve them when needed. Other characteristics are quick recognition of letter patterns—I sometimes find myself filling words in before reading the clue because only one likely entry fits the pattern represented by the letters that are already filled in. I get the idea that other people are more tuned in to individual constructors' cluing styles. I have a handful of favorites whose clues I instinctively "get," but there are plenty of other constructors whose styles I can't predict just by seeing their byline. Is that something I need to pay more attention to? Do the Tyler Hinmans, Trip Paynes, and Al Sanderses of the world use much brain space to store up info about the constructors they do battle with?


July 05, 2005

Tuesday housekeeping

I got back late last night and did the Tuesday NYT a couple hours after the nightly race to the finish. Nicely done puzzle by Beth Hinshaw—though I don't recall seeing BRADPITTSPITS in the movie, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Put me in the camp of those who rather liked the inclusion of AEIOU and MTWTF in the fill; there was some rapidly rebutted criticism of those entries over in the Today's Puzzle forum.

This morning I finally got back to my daily challenge of seeing how long it takes me to do the LAT, CS, and NYS trio. Given the holiday, I half thought it was Monday and gave myself 9:30 to do the three puzzles, but of course it's Tuesday and it took me 11:42 (ouch). Either today's puzzles are a little harder than last Tuesday's, or my Across Lite entry skills waned over the weekend.

Moving on to Raymond Hamel's Wed. NYT: I loved the crossing of BBGUN with OBGYN, adjacent to the crossing of ULYSSES with its dyslexic near-twin USELESS. I am willing to forgive the inclusion of one theme entry I've never heard of (PRESSGANG) since two others (CAPNCRUNCH and CHEESECURLS) are so tasty. I suspect I'm not the only one who immediately thought of the iPod for the 4-letter "modern music holder"; turns out to be DISC, which is so totally, like, '80s!


July 02, 2005

Saturday puzzles

Presumably the hordes will be expressing specific praise of Sherry O. Blackard's Sat. NYT over at the NYT forum starting right about now. Fun puzzle! SVENGALI filled itself in at 1A, and the rest of the puzzle followed from there (with a little hopping around necessary); POTATOES was the last to fall.

There's no NYS puzzle on weekends, of course, so I set myself a time limit of 10 minutes for both the LAT and CrosSynergy puzzles. They were both far easier than the SOB NYT—my time was 7:57.

On Saturdays, I've taken to doing the Saturday Stumper (Creators Syndicate). Today's was by Stan Newman himself, and I'd heard it was fearsome. I set an ambitious goal of 10:00, but didn't finish until 10:51 had elapsed. (How many seconds can I subtract from that finishing time to reflect the time spent arguing with my kid?) If you're looking to kill more time than usual this weekend on crosswords, print out Stan's puzzle and bring an eraser. I do have one major nit, though, with 38A. If you haven't done the Stumper but intend to, stop reading now!

The clue for 38A is "Splenda alternative." Splenda, of course, is a trade name for the artificial sweetener sucralose. Five letters? I confidently filled in EQUAL. But no. It turns out what Stan's got there is OLEAN. The fat substitute. Now, if I were to sweeten some iced tea (which I generally wouldn't—the Southern concept of "sweet tea" horrifies me) and felt like avoiding sugar but the restaurant was out of Splenda, I might go with Equal or Sweet'N Low (swear to god that's how the Sweet'N Low folks handle the typography), but I really doubt I'd reach for butter, oleo, or Olean. There was that time I tried the hot buttered tea at the Tibet Café, but that's not an experience I'll be repeating. Splenda and Olean are both in the Frankensteinian non-foodstuff category, but they could scarcely be considered alternatives to one another.

Aside from that one nit, the rest of the puzzle was packed with fairly clued and fresh entries. So go enjoy the pain if you haven't tackled the Stumper already!


July 01, 2005

Friday's puzzles

First things first. Brendan Emmett Quigley's NYT puzzle: Fabulous! Loved it. Just a wild guess, but I doubt WMARKFELT has ever appeared in a crossword before. Congratulations to Mr. Felt on his distinguished debut. Maybe someday someone will opt to make such a revelation through a crossword puzzle. Oh, wouldn't the journalists be pissed if they got scooped by Will Shortz?

My only quibble is LGTH, which is certainly legitimate but strikes me as not quite as wonderful as the rest of the puzzle. There's really not a false step anywhere in the grid. Only four 3-letter entries squeezed in among all the long entries, which are almost uniformly interesting. SETTLERS is less exciting, but who cares when you've got GALACTIC crossing STARGAZER, plus TEXARKANA and a TEABASKET, PODCASTING and LISAMARIE? I liked the clue "clobbered" for SMOKED.

BEQ is one of those constructors whose style is inimitable. Have any of you tackled the book of his puzzles? I'd be interested in knowing if the puzzles are all easier than this one, or if the challengeometer is occasionally set to Severe.

I gave myself 15:00 to finish today's LAT, CrosSynergy, and NYS, but did them in 12:38—more than a minute faster than Thursday's puzzles, oddly enough. Martin Ashwood-Smith's CS fell quickly, what with the gimme of HEARTOFDARKNESS and the ease of figuring out the other theme entries. (X-tra credit to Mr. Ashwood-Smith for the three X's in the grid.) Good NYS by Karen Tracey, too. I had finished the puzzle without figuring out the theme before I read the title: "Weekend Warrior." Okay, good, no theme. My favorite entry was TBTEST; I don't recall seeing that in a grid before.