September 30, 2005


Joe DiPietro's NYT, by the numbers:

words: 66
black squares: 25
3-letter words: a mere 6
entries I was completely guessing on: 2 (LA PUENTE and LA NOTTE)
pro wrestling entries: 1 (and it was my first gimme—oh, the shame!)
non-PETA-approved entries: 1 (VEAL STEW, on the heels of yesterday's controversial MILKFED veal)
entries and clues I liked: countless (but especially "hooked up and left" for TOWED, "what an A is not" for NLER, "seasonal recurrence" for MONSOON, MISS KANSAS and POPE LEO XI, and "upset" for MAL DE MER)

Updated Sat. morning:

Lynn Lempel's LA Times puzzle is a lot more tractable than the NYT. Good stuff like MR CLEAN and NEW MOON, plus a great-looking grid.

Looking ahead to the Sunday puzzles, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle has a knotty NOSTRADAMUS anagram theme. I didn't feel like I had my anagramming MOJO working this morning—it felt like hard work.

In the Washington Post, Deb Amlen provides a thoroughly enjoyable puzzle with a letter-switch theme. So many of the clues were fresh and fun, there are too many to list here. Near the top, there's "Tweed twitter" for NAST, and at the bottom we have "It's well-produced" for OIL; in between, the puzzle's just jam-packed with goodies. Thanks, Deb (and Fred Piscop)—excellent work!

NYT 8:23
Stumper 5:44
LAT 4:46
CS 3:16

LAW 11:02
WaPo 8:09


This week's Tausig puzzle

I'd been wondering where Ben Tausig's Village Voice puzzle was—turns out it was hiding in my spam folder for a couple days. Anyway, I found it and the giggles were worth the wait: "Mansierre, alternately" for BRO (harking back to a classic "Seinfeld," of course), and "Course of action"? for SEX ED. Now, the S in SEX ED crosses NTS (short for nights), and NTS could have been improved somewhat by becoming NTH crossing HEXED instead—but who wants to sacrifice "Course of action?" Not I.



September 29, 2005


Nancy Kavanaugh's NYT has got a lot of tricky stuff. "Head-turner" for PSST, "small gull" for MEW (huh?), C'EST BIEN (my French eluded me for a bit), "lack of starch" for INFORMALITY, and that damn WHEREAS that eluded me for a minute and a half (Repeat after Ellen: Read the across and down clues! There is nobody named EDNT Best). I liked RUBRICS, MATILDA, JUNKET, and (just because it sounds funny) PISMO BEACH. I wasn't crazy about STREAM OF AIR, but I do appreciate pangrams.

Michael Shteyman and Kyle Mahowald's NYS puzzle went quickly, with the title, "Quadruple Doubles," pointing straight at the double-letter rebus. The constructors give a nod to academia with CRAMMER and TEST SCORE, get into drugs with STREET NAME, XTC, and PLAN B, and toss in a flower (PHLOX) to get a third X into the grid. Seeing XENA raises the question: Will the day come when "Xena: Warrior Princess" is too obscure to pass muster for mainstream crosswords, or is it as eternal as those ancient TV Westerns that were before my time? I vote for an eternal Xena.


In Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, the theme is supplemented by an unusual number of uses of a single high-Scrabble-value letter in most of the NW corners of the puzzle's sections. Check it out for yourself. (And if there's an official term describing that sort of crossing location, please enlighten me.)

Moving on to weekend-sized puzzles, I enjoyed Harvey Estes' WSJ outing, "Interest Earned." My favorite theme entries (involving phrases swallowing INT) were MAN INTO WAR ("Hawk?") and TINTED KENNEDY ("Rose Rose?"). The best clue is "Slaughter with a bat" for ENOS; according to the Cruciverb database, Harvey's used that clue a couple other times, Hex used it once, and Mel Rosen used "Slaughter with a club."

NYT 6:29
NYS 5:04
LAT 4:41
CS 2:44

WSJ 10:40
Reagle 7:35


Kid book recommendations?

My five-year-old son, Ben, did his first word search puzzle at kindergarten yesterday. And you know what word searches are, don't you? That's right: the gateway drug to crosswords.

He'll be getting Helene Hovanec's My First Puzzles: Easy First Puzzles for Christmas. In the meantime, can you recommend any great puzzle books for young kids? Keep in mind that Ben can't exactly read yet, but I've let him slide for long enough. It's time he joined the world of word games.

(And if it's a book you created or edited, please don't be shy about recommending it if it's appropriate for kindergartners.)


September 28, 2005


The marquee puzzle of the day is Brendan Emmett Quigley's juicy Themeless Thursday in the Sun. JETSKIS and QUIZNOS! VH-ONE and LANDSAT! JANE DOE and EXOTICA! SHIATSU and AVENUE Q! TRIX and LIMN! "Da and ja" cluing YESES. I will forgive the knot where INNESS crossed IER and KNAPP because the rest of the puzzle is just so tasty. I'm curious to know what Brendan built the puzzle around—nothing stands out to me as an obvious seed because so many entries stand out as possibilities. Your guesses?

Over in the NYT, we've got a Yogi Berra quip from Sam Bellotto Jr. (It's a somewhat amusing quip, but is it so great that it's worth sacrificing standard crossword symmetry for left-right symmetry?) I liked seeing GRANDPA with a "Munsters" clue (even more retro than BEQ's SIT ON IT from "Happy Days"), IT MAY BE, and Puzo's THE DON; struggled a little to come up with ALL AFLAME. How did a simple quip puzzle take me a smidgen longer than a BEQ themeless? I'm gonna have to go with my affinity for themeless puzzles, the construction of which eludes me completely.


David Ainslie Macleod's LAT puzzle features a synonym theme, which I liked, and some clues that grabbed me: "Fife player" for KNOTTS, "Second opening?" for NANO, "Rubble creator" for TNT, and "Jobs for towers" for REPOS.

NYT 5:37
NYS 5:36
LAT 4:01
CS 3:23


September 27, 2005


Patrick Jordan's NYS, "High-Caliber Profession," has a great-looking grid and some nice fill that hasn't been used this year (according to the Cruciverb database), such as SYNONYM and SIROCCO. I loved the clue for EDIT: "Mad workers do this"—a nice switch from the usual Time and Money clues. I wonder if that was Patrick or Peter Gordon's clue...

Randall Hartman's NYT moves "at ease" from the fill to the clues, where it serves as the opposite of TENHUT; meanwhile, Jack McInturff goes sensational, inspirational, and celebrational in the LAT. Updated: And in Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, his theme is the opposite of his NYT one—in the CS, he extracts AGE, while in the NYT, he adds a couple C's.

NYS 3:52
NYT 3:49
CS 3:42
LAT 3:04


Not helpful for constructors, but fun anyway

Adam Jacot de Boinod scoured foreign dictionaries for words that lack a precise equivalent in the English language—such as the German Gemütlichkeit—and gathered the best ones into a book, The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World. Here in the US, Amazon says the book will not be available until next March.

For a sneak preview, the review from The Independent offers a selection of these words. Some are essential (fucha is a Portuguese verb meaning "to use company time and resources for one's own purposes"), some are odd (buz-baz is ancient Persian for "a showman who makes a goat and monkey dance together"—hey, my dream job!), some are evocative (mamihlapinatapei is from the Fuengian language in Chile, meaning "a shared look of longing between parties who are both interested yet neither is willing to make the first move"), and some are just plain mystifying (tingo, from Easter Island's Pascuense language, means "borrowing things from a friend's house, one by one, until he has nothing left").


September 26, 2005


Kevan Choset pays homage to the theory of relativity in Tuesday's NYT, with E, =, M, C, and squared all clued and answered inventively, and tied together by EINSTEIN FORMULA crossing them all vertically (78 theme squares—that's a heckuva lot, isn't it?). In addition to the ably executed theme, we've got entries like ST OLAF (crosstown rival of my alma mater), OH BOTHER (very Winnie the Pooh), and LIVE BAIT.

Okay, Jangler, I give up trying to figure out what sort of themes you like. Probably don't much care for the NYS puzzle by that Jeffrey Harris fellow, eh? I liked the altered pronunciation/meaning theme, personally, and a number of clues/entries, such as "London and Berlin, e.g." clue for SURNAMES, INNER EAR, LARAINE Newman (ah, nostalgia), and "Mastermind pieces" for PEGS.

Updated: I don't know. I think 7 a.m. is a little on the early side for Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Mixology 101." It's too easy to misread the drink recipe embedded within and think that you have to mix in some ARMY ANTS and then SCREAM AT the glass.

NYS 5:14
NYT 4:24
CS 3:22
LAT 2:52


I'm getting itchy

Where are those Sun puzzles? The day's half over, and I haven't been able to gorge on a week's worth of puzzles all at once.

I know, I know. We're lucky to have access to them at all, and Peter Gordon spoils us by letting us pounce on Themeless Thursdays and Weekend Warriors when easy Monday and Tuesday puzzles leave us craving a challenge. In a world designed for my convenience, though, those puzzles would be ready by 8 or 9 a.m. I'm just sayin'.


September 25, 2005


As often happens with a Monday puzzle, I missed out on a lot of clues and entries because after I filled in a section with one direction of clues, I moved on. Looking back over the puzzle, I see some perky stuff I'd missed, like, oh, the Rock, Paper, Scissors theme, and "It may have screwdrivers on it" for BAR TAB. I also appreciated the OUR/TOWN and CAPE/COD pairs, "grapevine contents" for GOSSIP, and "'Potpourri' for a thousand, ALEX."


Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle has the kind of theme that keeps you guessing until you reach the explanatory 6-letter entry (which is mentioned in the title, but I often don't read the title before I start solving) that ties them together. The theme entries include two 8s, two 9s, and a 13, and the clues don't hint at the theme. Jangler, why don't you do this one (accessible via Puzzle Pointers) and tell us what you think? I've read your objections to overused themes, and perhaps you'll agree with me that Rich's theme has an elegance to it.

CS 3:42
NYS 3:35
NYT 2:55
LAT 2:51


September 24, 2005


Okay, tipsy crossword blogging is a new thing for me. Bear with me and the white sangria, and if there are typos, pretend you don't see them.

I pretty much finished the Sunday NYT, Matt Skoczen's "All In," in the neighborhood of 1 Across. "Station number" for OCTANE was slow to dawn on me, and even though I never amble, I started out thinking 1 Down was AMBLE rather than MOSEY. And I always forget '60s chess champ Mikhail TAL; if it were clued "valley, in German" or "last name of your best friend in eighth grade," I would have gotten it immediately. As a lifelong procrastinator (seriously—a few years ago, I saw a report card from second grade where the teacher had noted, "doesn't always complete her homework"—they should have intervened then and fixed the procrastination thing), I appreciated the theme entry, I'M DALLYING TO SEE YOU ("Procrastinator's pick-up line?"). As a Cubs fan, I liked the inclusion of DAY GAME (though in Wrigleyville, day games aren't typically part of double-headers; they account for most home games and muck up traffic in the neighborhood). Also, ART FILM ≠ RED DAWN. It's surprising to see CARTMAN clued as "teamster" rather than, say, "foul-mouthed "South Park' kid"; I'll bet you a dollar the constructor originally had a "South Park" clue. Other entries I liked included ONE INCH, TICTACS, NO PROB, and ALLOW ME; I can't say I've ever heard the term GYM CLUB, though.


Harvey Estes cooked up a great-looking spiral grid for the CS Sunday Challenge. The best clue was "One's follower" for AREA CODE; second place goes to "Saint in a cast" for EVA MARIE; in third place is "They croak when they get older" for TADPOLES. Did you know that EEYORE + S + S = EYESORES? Those two words cross at the Y in this puzzle. "Like a squid" clues TEN-ARMED, which reminds me—on "SpongeBob SquarePants," SpongeBob's neighbor Squidward is not a squid. He's an octopus, with four lower and four upper limbs. You may need to know this someday, so make a note of it.

NYT 9:02 (compare this to Tyler's 6:04—ouch!)
LAT 9:02
CS 4:03


September 23, 2005


Ah, so the NYS Weekend Warrior was really just practice to ease everyone into the process of wrestling with Byron Walden's Saturday NYT, which took me about 65% longer than the NYS puzzle. Byron seems to relish including obscure scientific names and terms in his Saturday puzzles; SELENIC certainly fits in that category. Plenty of curveballs, like tacking on the state's abbreviation after the college town's name in 4D, or getting you to think of male models' names rather than GQ TYPE. I think more of the challenge rested in deciphering really fairly straightforward clues for oddball entries (e.g., BAD PASTS), rather than in making sense out of really wicked clues. Although I concede that there certainly were plenty of clues that tended to lead solvers down the wrong path—like "blow up" for GET ANGRY (no enlargements here) or "didn't shuffle" for STRODE (didja start out by filling in -ED at the end of that one?). Not to mention clever clues like "Nice cop" for GENDARME, and "Looking for big bucks?" for IN HEAT. Of the 62 entries, only eight of them had 3 letters. Great job, Byron and Will!


Joe DiPietro's LAT has a few entries that have got to be brand-new—AT THE MET, LAST MAY, and I CANT GO NOW. Others that don't appear in the Cruciverb database are IRON CITY, GET A LOAD OF, and CAR KEYS. The clues shoot for the same exalted level as the fill: "Sugary and spicy, maybe" for GIRLISH, "Brown is one" for IVY, "Initial representation?" for MIDDLE NAME, "Putting letters in boxes?" for SOLVING (ha!), and "Tough-sounding yarn?" for CREWEL (groan).

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Purrfection," offers up a cat-related quip from Garrison Keillor. THESPIS ("Father of Greek tragedy"), PATCO, HOOHA, HOPS TO IT are among the interesting answers. My favorite clues include "Moo goo gai pan pain" for WOK, "Bow almost to the floor?" for SHOELACE, and "Mezza dozzina" for SEI. Best clue/entry combo: "His career 'tanked' in 1988" for MIKE DUKAKIS (extra bonus for three K's not even needed for crossing theme entries).

WaPo 10:12
LAW/BG 9:41
NYT 8:59
LAT 6:08
Stumper 4:34
CS 3:38


September 22, 2005

I love Fridays

Levi Denham's Friday NYT is wonderfully colloquial. FAKE IDS? Sorry, kid—AINT GONNA HAPPEN. I MEAN IT. Those DARK GLASSES will MAKE CERTAIN that you can SECRETE yourself. PERSIAN CATS link to Catwoman, the ANTIHEROINE. Then there's HIS HOLINESS, the IRISH POTATO. Got a METEORITE CRATER? Just put an AREA RUG over it. Fantastic themeless puzzle! And if you squint at the grid, its eddying design may even make you a little dizzy.

Added: Looking at the puzzle again, I notice an awful lot of 3-letter entries, most of them not English words. Granted, it's difficult to stack up 11-letter entries without generating a lot of 3-letter entries, and I'd hate to sacrifice any of these 11's just because the crossing 3's were iffy—but entries like OIE, NES, RGS, INA, CRS, FIS, and SWE don't enhance the solving experience.

Meanwhile, over in the Sun, we've got Byron Walden's Weekend Warrior, featuring the BA***ZIT* mini-theme with BAKED ZITI and BARRY ZITO. Some wicked/clever clues, such as "They were bound to land" for SERFS, "Pulls out of school?" for REELS IN, "Opt out of the local union?" for ELOPE, "Cuban employee" for MAV, and "Deuce or trey, so to speak," for BASKET. KENT had a Simpsons clue (and got me started in the grid), but HOMER didn't. My favorite entries included A LA MAISON, ONE POTATO, LL COOL J, book LEARNIN', and VOODOO (which forced four crossing entries to end in an O. The Swiss actress IRENE JACOB may be a little on the obscure side (she was in Kieslowski's Red, White, Blue trilogy as well as "The Double Life of Veronique"), but if you do a Google image search, you'll see that she's quite pretty and frequently naked. I believe my solving time was my fastest ever for one of Byron's themelesses—have I finally cracked the code to his puzzles, or did it seem easy to you, too?


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy, "Break the Bank," has 63 theme squares. That seems like a lot; is it? Kudos for working in OATBRAN instead of merely OAT or BRAN, and for a new (I think) OREO clue: "bicolor bite."

In this weekend's puzzle, "Get a Grip," Merl Reagle tries to put the squeeze on solvers, but it's not too hard to elude his grasp. This one's a classic, pun-riddled Reagle creation. BRAIN TWEEZERS? THE VISE SQUAD? Goofy but good. The puzzle is further enhanced by fill like SCENE TWO, STUTZ and KLUTZ, SEE YOU and ITS ME. I could've done without the second Roman-numeral division problem, though; isn't one of these enough in a single puzzle?

WSJ 9:18
Reagle 7:52
LAT 5:44
NYS 5:34
NYT 5:06
CS 4:01


Last weekend's acrostic

I never do the NYT acrostics, but last week's quote is from one of the Language Log bloggers, Geoff Nunberg. "...Having one's work rendered in a NYTimes double-crostic would be the ultimate literary accolade." That would be pretty awesome, wouldn't it?


September 21, 2005


Both Patrick Merrell's NYT and Lynn Lempel's NYS are peppered symmetrically with rebus squares.

Patrick's opted for a little S&M with his ampersand theme. It had a bit of a Friday vibe to it around the perimeter. Those bricks of 9-letter words, the tough clues? HAD AN AIR? HIGHBRED? UNNATURAL clued as "studied"? They seemed Fridayish to me. The rebus portion, though? Thursday all the way. I do have one question: if HUMID is "one of the three H's" and hot is another, what's the third H?

In Lynn Lempel's puzzle, the monthly rebus entries were supplemented with a bonus title in the grid's center. I do want to know whether it was Lynn or Peter Gordon who came up with the "smelly toilet water" clue for EAU(DEC)OLOGNE...

NYT 5:45
NYS 4:44
CS 3:44
LAT 3:42


September 20, 2005


Great NYT by Anne Garellick, and my goodness, it sure fell fast. I doubt I've ever cracked the 3-minute mark on a Wednesday before. (I'd like to thank my agent, my managers, Martin Herbach for his IKEBANA obsession, the neighbors who had a couple PACHINKO machines in their basement when I was a kid, and Chad Lowe.) Wonderful theme, much enhanced by the use of JAPANESE IMPORTS as a clever central explanatory entry. As if the juicy theme entries weren't enough, we're also treated to EXHIBIT A and CARDAMOM. And I hear good things about that movie in 31D, OSAMA, not the least of which is: "Awesome! It has three vowels and because it won an award, the name is now suitable fodder for crosswords."

Ben Tausig's Village Voice puzzle arrived this evening via e-mail with a spoiler that helped me fill in the central theme answer at 38A (and I won't share the spoiler here). Every single theme entry was zippy, as such words are rather zippy by their very nature. Ideally, I suppose, there would have been two more theme entries in the NE corner for symmetry, but the lack of theme symmetry didn't bother me in the slightest. I appreciated the triple-XXX clue package: "XXX," "XXX divided by X," and "XXX center." And I don't recall seeing EUR clued as "It.'s there" before, so I liked that, too.

The theme in Jack McInturff's Sun puzzle, "Conjunction Disjunction," was a little trickier than I expected for a Wednesday. In addition to the NO BUTS ABOUT IT theme, there was the Toyota mini-theme of SOLARA and TERCEL. Extra Scrabble points for CLOROX, INXS, and KUDZU (yes, I know two of those aren't street-legal for Scrabble). But what's up with 27D, "Leaders of Boston's subway system?" = THEADS? Do Bostonians call the subway the T? (Alternate clue: "Reason a non–sports fan watches the Super Bowl.")

Donna S. Levin's LAT has a cute Star Trek theme. Bonus for anti-Trekkies: Knowledge of the characters is helpful but not required.

NYS 4:55
Tausig 4:03
CS 3:02
LAT 2:59
NYT 2:52


Dream team

Any Stamford veteran probably has a short list of names they'd like to see in the ACPT puzzle constructor bylines. Here's my line-up:

Puzzle 1, the easiest 15x15: Let's go young and fresh with someone like Ben Tausig or Michael Shteyman.

Puzzle 2, a tougher 17x17: How about Harvey Estes? I like his tougher puzzles best.

Puzzle 3, a not-so-fearsome 19x19: Patrick Merrell's always good, always smooth.

Puzzle 4, a more challenging 15x15: I vote for Frank Longo, if he can be lured out of competing. Frank has proved his constructing talents at every difficulty level, so really, he could make any of the tournament puzzles.

Puzzle 5, the deadly 17x17: I like the way Byron Walden does deadly. Can you hear the outburst of aggrieved groans if his name were announced as Puzzle 5's constructor?

Puzzle 6, a 19x19 allowing recovery from Puzzle 5: Tradition dictates Maura Jacobson in this slot, doesn't it? Works for me.

Puzzle 7, a 21x21 for all the marbles, separating the wheat from the chaff: How about an editor/constructor like Mike Shenk,
Peter Gordon, or Rich Norris?

The Finals Puzzle: Since I seriously doubt I'll make the A finals next March, let's work the finalists over with a wicked contribution from Sherry O. Blackard or Bob Peoples.

Who's on your dream team?



The dependable Gary Steinmehl has provided another good Sun puzzle. From my perspective, the best sort of Biblical theme is one that requires familiarity with video game systems and pop singers rather than the Bible itself. I found a lot of the fill colorful—BILGE, BOSOM and BOSOX and THE A'S, DMITRI and GREEN TEAS. "Eye opener" was a great clue for IRIS, and "makeup of packed powder" put me in mind of ESTEE's compact rather than SNOW.

Do you suppose FLOP SWEAT was also on Gail Grabowski's list of potential DUD theme entries in the LAT? Given my themeless bias, I'd have preferred to see LEMON DROP and BOMB SQUAD show up as lively non-theme fill, but I'll take them here. Then there's "cream-filled cookie" for OREO. We see OREO all the time, we've seen umpteen variations of clues describing it, and we've even seen clues detailing its history—but who can explain the origin of the cookie's name? Anyone?

I do have to agree with Harriet Clifton's NYT: HERE'S THE REMOTE are three of the sweetest words in the English language.

NYS 4:00
CS 3:27
NYT 3:08
LAT 3:06


September 18, 2005


Ooh, I enjoyed Timothy Powell's NYT puzzle! Not only the fun sounds of MOO GOO GAI PAN, VOODOO ECONOMICS, and YOO HOO I'M HOME, but good times with MAYHEM, HOOPLA, and MORPHINE to boot, in a fresh and easy Monday outing. I'll bet you clever people can cook up plenty of other options. If repeating the initial sound is kosher, there's CHOO CHOO TRAIN and BOO BOO BEAR; if that's tref, then what other potential entries are there?


Yes, the CroSynergy puzzles are (too) easy. Today's "Provocative Vocations" by Harvey Estes is no exception, but it does look different from the typical Monday puzzle—those chunky blocks of 6- and 8-letter entries make it more elegant than the usual explosion of 3- to 5-letter words. Actually, now that I'm comparing the NYT and CS puzzles, I'm less pleased with the NYT. Many of the short entries in the NYT are semi-crosswordese (RANI, OBIS) or abbreviations/partials/misc. (ATTN, AT A, EROO, NCR, NEGS). They sound a little clunky when juxtaposed with Harvey's opening block of CREAMS, HICCUP, OBTUSE, and US OPEN.

And updated again:

Deb Amlen's "Bowling for Dollars" in the NYS has pairs of 9- and 11-letter entries intersecting the three theme entries. I actually like those verticals (including URBAN SPRAWL, KEVIN ARNOLD, and APRIL FOOL) better than the theme entries!

NYS 3:28
LAT 2:52
NYT 2:48
CS 2:41


Other Sunday crosswords

Patrick Jordan shows how to make an easy themeless puzzle interesting, and also doesn't sacrifice high-quality fill in the pursuit of a pangram. (Patrick, did you set out trying for a pangram, or did it develop organically?) The clues were good but, this being a CrosSynergy puzzle, not so hard. The fill features CURLING UP, KRAZY GLUE, "NO SEX Please, We're British" (maybe NO SEX isn't stellar fill, but when the clue and answer amuse me, I can forgive it), POMADED, TREMOLO, and PARABLE.

Lynn Lempel's Washington Post puzzle features swapped homophone pairs, such as STRIP STAKES and SWEEP STEAKS, while "Gia Christian" (a Rich Norris pseudonym) contrives phrases with AU AU in the middle, such as MATTHAU AUDACITY, in the LA Times.

LAT 9:35
WaPo 8:39
CS 3:52


September 17, 2005

Sunday NYT: "Cry Me a River"

Call me a geography nerd, but I really enjoyed the way Joe DiPietro's theme flowed. Sure, the puns could be pretty awful (LETS GO YANGTZES? THAT OISE SO GROSS? Ouch!), but that's the nature of punning. And you've got to give DiPietro credit for packing that many theme squares (I counted something like 127—that's a lot, isn't it?) into a solid grid filled with other crisp stuff (HEH HEH and TEHEE, BAZOOKA, GARGLE, A GOGO, WEEZER, RICOTTA, INKJET, DIECAST, NOSTRIL). So many fantastic clues, too—my favorite was "One may be overhead or underfoot" for RUG.

I wasn't home right when the puzzle was released, so when I saw the slower-than-usual times already posted on the leaderboard, I feared I was in for a fight. The puzzle fell a little faster than most Sundays, though. Were there technical problems earlier, was I just tuned to the right wavelength, or am I more of a geography nerd than I thought?

NYT 8:35


Fly me

Anyone know if the United Airlines magazine Hemispheres is distributed on United's Ted flights? I've got a trip coming up in November.

My mother and her sisters just flew on United and discovered that John Samson's September crossword, entitled "Ships," was missing the Down clues (the magazine staff plunked the wrong set of Down clues into the layout). Can you imagine the air rage that could result from that?

I found the puzzle here, complete with all the correct clues, and printed it out. If you're interested in doing the puzzle, I'd advise trying the applet—the grid was so blurry, the printed numbers were practically obliterated. Anyway, I'm always vexed by Samson's United puzzles. On one flight, I cursed the inclusion of ski area OKEMO, which I'd never heard of before. Wouldn't you know it? Eventually it showed up in another puzzle. A few months ago, Samson's theme was notable lighthouses, which I cursed as too obscure. So far, the lighthouse names haven't appeared elsewhere.

In "Ships," though, there were five entries that might have nudged me toward air rage. One pair of obscurities actually crossed each other, which I think makes for an unfair puzzle. How many of these words do you know?

"Napping" = ADOZE (found in very few dictionaries)
"One of the Spice Islands" = ARU (Mr. Maleska? Is that you??)
"Delicacies" = CATES (it's labeled as archaic in the few dictionaries that include it, but the clue didn't signal obs. or arch.; I think Phoebe Cates is just a tad better known than this word)
"Slippery as an eel" = ELUSORY (this gets a whopping 856 Google hits—make that 857 after this post goes up! Compare elusive's 19.1 million hits.)
"Flock of mallards" = SUTE (according to lists of collective nouns, the also-obscure SORD would work here too)

CATES and ARU were stacked together, and the U in SUTE crossed ELUSORY.

What do you think? Am I just whining, or was this puzzle beyond the boundaries of a fair challenge?


September 16, 2005


Ever since I did a couple Rich Norris puzzles months ago in a Saturday NYT compilation, I've been hankering for more of the kind. Ask and ye shall receive—and then ye shall get your rump kicked. It's mostly ordinary words and phrases, but with clues that obstruct one's progress. Thank goodness for EGO SURFING (which is a term I think I first encountered about a week ago), MYCOLOGY, Aristophanes' FROGS, and the fertility/infertility combo of OVULATES and STERILE. I appreciated the clues for ORDER OUT ("Get to go...or make go"), HOUSESAT ("Watched things"), SHOD ("Booted, say"), and GRR ("Bite preceder"), even though the answers were slow to dawn on me. Great puzzle, Rich and Will! Please join forces again soon for more rump-kicking.

There's some good* fill in Karen M. Tracey's LAT puzzle, such as SOFT WATER, EX-GI, JETSONS, and GO FOR A RUN. The puzzle features interlocking 15s on all four sides.

Alan Olschwang's 8/12 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle is available now. How fortuitous for the team names of the Ivy League to match up in symmetrically paired word lengths!

Hex's LA Weekly/Boston Globe puzzle features an interesting* theme of famous last words: given the words, guess the speaker. As you'd expect, the non-theme portion is packed with top-notch stuff like HOBNOBBED and "Fabulous guy?" for AESOP. There is an error in the litzing, though; the clue for 46D should say "with 38 Down," not "with 39 across." (Unless you like to slather aloe Johnson on your skin, that is.)

* Help! I need synonyms for words like "good" and "interesting" that express a favorable opinion without being excessive in the enthusiasm department.

Updated Saturday:

The Saturday CrosSynergy is also by Rich Norris, but just about no CS puzzle can hold a candle to a Saturday NYT.

The Newsday Saturday Stumper is by Merle Baker, not Stan Newman, so I figured it would be fairly breezy. But it killed me! None of the five 15's came to mind without filling in a lot of crossings first. I wasn't terribly excited about the fill (REHABILITATABLE is as stilted as REALIZABLE), but the clues were good and hard. As someone who grew up in the Shortzian era, though, I do feel the absence of the wordplay twists that are a hallmark of the NYT and NYS puzzles.

Stumper 9:03
LAW 8:15
NYT 7:20
LAT 5:07
CHE 3:56
CS 2:57


Crosswords for readers

If you prefer literary clues to sports ones, consider acquiring a copy of Literary Crosswords: 50 All-New Puzzles from Austen to Zola (Sterling; $5.95). Matt Gaffney capably edited the volume, which features a smattering of 13x13 and 17x17 grids in addition to 15x15's. You'll be pleased with how much you know about literature, learn something new, or both. The roster of constructors includes Gaffney as well as Harvey Estes, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Matt Jones, Trip Payne, Patrick Jordan, Rich Norris, Cathy Millhauser, Elizabeth Gorski, Mike Selinker, Thomas Schier, Raymond Hamel, Sam Bellotto, and Fred Piscop.

My favorites were Estes' "Poe Folks" (I love Poe, plus "Brooklyn poetry?" for VOICES is priceless/dreadful), Selinker's "Devilish" (featuring definitions from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary), and Jones's "Out of Africa" (writers from Africa). The most vexing was Gaffney's "Follow the Heard," which had a fun homonym theme but slaughtered me by crossing the J and M in JAMAR with JUJU and MEZE. Dude...ouch.


September 15, 2005


This can't be right. The NYT took me less time than the LAT? Apparently I was channeling Craig Kasper and Will Shortz's brain waves tonight. It was promising from the start because Craig opted for my favorite style of grid—triple-stacked 9- to 11-letter entries (10 letters, in this instance). He managed to pack plenty of interesting longer entries into the grid: DIANTHUS, PRETTY PENNY, MENTAL NOTE, SPRING ROLL, THAT DOES IT, WILDEBEEST, and LADIES FIRST were all great to see. The puzzle was further enhanced by tricky and non-obvious clues for the short words. "Supporter of a proposal" = KNEE (appearing near PADS in the grid), "colon composition" = DOTS, "seat cover?" = PANTS, "take for a ride" = DUPE, "be hesitant" = HALT. Congrats on a wonderful puzzle, Craig!

The theme in David Kahn's "Bee Sharp" didn't dawn on me until I filled in EUONYM, which was probably the first of the winning spelling bee words in this puzzle to achieve wider renown thanks to ESPN2. In addition to the 10 hard-to-spell words in the theme (okay, so the early years of the Bee didn't pose much challenge), Kahn treated us to THINGUMMY, FOCSLE, "Muddy waters fan" for HIPPO, and the pair of SAM and I AM, clued once with Dr. Seuss in mind and once with the Sean Penn movie. It's also fun, in a spelling-oriented puzzle, to clue "CSI" actress MARG Helgenberger with her costar, the also oddly spelled Jorja Fox.


Another puzzle from Frank Longo today, "Inside Capitalism" in the WSJ. Great theme involving state capitals hidden within the theme entries (e.g., ISOTOPE KAPUT clued with deuterium and Kansas, hiding TOPEKA). Great fill, great clues. What's not to like? (Amazon will send me Frank's new book as soon as it's published. I'm so looking forward to it, I'm actually paying shipping costs for a change—and I'm the queen of super-saver shipping.)

Merl Reagle's "Faux Flowers" was fun. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go to a nursery and ask the staff where you can find the HOMUNCULUS (long a favorite word of mine), CONCUBINES, and MORNING BREATH. C'mon, I dare you.

Reagle 10:08
WSJ 7:54
NYS 6:47
LAT 4:57 (typo—grr!)
NYT 4:38
CS 4:15


September 14, 2005


Frank Longo's NYT was harder than the typical Thursday puzzle, but so much less fearsome than a themeless Longo. Hard fill, interesting fill, great clues. And the Stooges' NYUK is in there! I loved the puzzle, but I've got to run now. You may discuss amongst yourselves.

Okay, I'm back. I glommed onto the turning-UP gimmick with the first theme entry, which made two of the other three theme entries easy (my botanical knowledge had not included the JOHNNY JUMP-UP violet). The section that gave Ellen trouble also slowed me down—ANTAWN Jamison, the violet, and the tricky "Opt not to charge, perhaps" for PAY CASH (I was thinking of a D.A. letting someone off—d'oh). What makes this a classic Longo puzzle (despite the presence of a theme) are those 9-letter nuggets that help tie things together: OZONE HOLE, TAHITIANS, ANY LONGER, and SCULPTING. I'm not saying no other constructor has ever used those words in the fill, but given that none of the four appears in the Cruciverb database, it's safe to say that they've certainly never appeared in combination before. (After Frank's new book arrives in a few weeks, we'll have to start a pool on how long it will take me to devour all 72 puzzles. I can't wait!)

Joe DiPietro's Themeless Thursday in the NYS fell pretty quickly, but was delicious all the same. My decades of watching sitcoms pay off sometimes—in this case, with REGAL, MILA, GRADY, and MUDDER (thanks to the "Seinfeld" episode where Kramer went to the racetrack, having overheard tips like "His fadder was a mudder. His mudder was a mudder. This baby loves the slop!"). I counted about 25 multi-word entries, including BODY BAR, IS IT A GO, ONE OVER, FT BRAGG, and BASS ALE—is that a record? My favorite clues were "Iron man" for ROBOT, "Theorbo's cousin" for LUTE (I learned a new word), "Blew by" for RAN PAST, "Spread out on the counter, maybe" for the dreaded OLEO, and "Name of a famous well-connected man" for ENG. But what the heck does "Squash court telltale" for TIN refer to?


Today's CrosSynergy puzzle is Will Johnston's "It's All Latin to Me," featuring six Latin phrases. The fill includes assorted pairs that Will may not have joined mentally: OUT OF IT vs. IN THE LOOP, both DOPEY and CECIL Adams of "The Straight Dope," The Who's TOMMY as well as MAGNUM OPUS, ESPN and CSPAN, and both ADAPTED and RIPPED OFF. And then TYPO, "something wrong in a proof," signals Will's day job. (I just wish that CrosSynergy puzzles followed the same difficulty progression throughout the week so that Will could have used tougher clues.)

NYT 5:46
NYS 4:40
LAT 3:24
CS 3:16



Boy, wouldn't you think the NYT forum being down would encourage a little commenting action over here? C'mon, entertain each other!


September 13, 2005

Ben Tausig's "Hidden Weakness" puzzle from the Village Voice and other weeklies has a hall-of-fame clue in "Doll with a gun" for GI JOE. Other clues I especially liked were "Bird that gets you down" for EIDER and "Change furniture?" for SOFA. The theme was fairly ordinary, but the puzzle was spiffed up by the ROTI/GHEE combo and the CAESAR/TSAR pairing.

Anthony Salvia's Español puzzle in the NYS (edited by Pedro Gordon!) has N's with tildes required for both the across and down answers in four crossing pairs, answering the frequent carping at puzzles that ignore foreign diacriticals for the crossing. Of course, I have no idea how to enter a tilde in Across Lite, so Mr. Happy Pencil (which always sounds salacious) never showed up.

David Elfman's NYT theme dawned on me slowly, what with the first one starting with NOUN and leading me to think he was coining the word "nounify." Once the rest of the anti-theme filled itself in, though, it proved to be a good theme. JUST RANDOM WORDS? Hey, I love themeless puzzles!


In her CrosSynergy puzzle, "Kate's Confused," Paula Gamache extracts six anagrams of KATES. There's a lot of nice fill and combos, such as NO NUKES, TO DIE FOR, WALMART and SAKS, AGITA and AGONY, and "child's plea" CAN I aptly crossing PARENT.

Tausig 4:01
NYS 3:58
NYT 3:41
LAT 3:08
CS 2:57


September 12, 2005

Tuesday brings two puzzles from Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke—the digestive theme in the NYT and the skeptical-remark theme in the LAT. Oddly, both puzzles include YALE with similar clues: "Where Bill met Hillary" in the LAT, "Where the Clintons met" in the NYT. It's a great clue, but I think Stella and Bruce will have to swear off that particular concept now.

I wasn't crazy about the long non-theme entries in the NYT—REALIZABLE and NONETHICAL don't lend a ton of zip—but did enjoy the theme: BITES, CHEWS, SWALLOWS, and DIGESTS. If the Times weren't a family newspaper, perhaps there would have been a fifth theme entry? (GARBAGE DUMPS?) I liked ART DECO clued as "Erte forte." And Stella, who loves all things purple, must have liked having LILAC clued as "Purplish."

In another two-for-Tuesday deal, Both the NYS and CrosSynergy puzzles are by Sarah Keller today.

NYS 3:55
LAT 3:25
NYT 3:21
CS 3:07


September 11, 2005

Forgive the five-hour delay in getting to the Monday NYT. I was summoned to sit with my grandma for a few hours. Cleverly, I bored her to sleep so I could read half of Marc Romano's Crossworld. (Note to self: Next time, swing by the bar at Stamford.)

Cute puzzle by Michael Shteyman, who presumably has many friends who became greatly concerned with JOB APPLICATIONS a few months ago. I enjoyed the puzzle's chatty vibe—"That hurts!" for YOW, "Stop yelling AT ME," "Seriously, don't bother" for NO NEED—as well as the seldom-seen SPARE KEY, the full ENTR'ACTE entry, UN-PC, and REVS UP.

Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle had a couple iffy words in the center (OSA and CTN), but I can forgive them because they enable the crossing COCCYX. It's clued, as in its two previous appearances in the Cruciverb database, simply as "tailbone"—I guess there's not much room for inventive cluing, but I still like the word.

Updated 1:10 p.m. Mon.:

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle may be Monday-level easy, but it swings with non-theme fill like BOY WONDER, THE PEOPLE, and LAZYBONES.

Gary Steinmehl's NYS puzzle, "Wheels of Fortune," posed a nice challenge for a Monday morning. Well, afternoon, actually. Are the theme entries limited to the three long verticals containing BARS, SEVENS, and CHERRIES? I'm not a gambler, so I wasn't sure if EGGROLLS and ODDITIES, which seem to have dice-related terms embedded within, might also tie into the theme. And what about SNEAKY PETE and INS AND OUTS—just fantastic fill, or part of the theme?

NYS 3:56
CS 3:18
NYT 2:58
LAT 2:55


September 10, 2005

other Sunday puzzles

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Why Sci-Fi," makes good use of the Star Wars movies by reworking their titles into a fun crossword theme. (Finally, a reason for the most recent three episodes to exist!) Overall, a great puzzle. My favorite entries are THIRTY-FIRST, OFF THE BOOKS, ATWITTER, AFTER YOU, and, believe ir or not, WOLFRAMITE and WOMBAT. Classic Hook clues permeate the puzzle, of course. (Note: There's an error in the solution file that insists the T where 89D NOTH and 98A GMT cross is wrong. Don't be fooled. While NOAH and GMA would be valid with other clues, the clues provided do lead to NOTH and GMT.)

The Washington Post Magazine puzzle is Gordon Seaberg's "People, Places and Things," with an overlap theme (e.g., SEAN PENN STATE FAIR) of those three noun varieties. I thought the clues, while certainly not of a piece with the recent David Kahn and Bob Peoples Saturday NYTs, were on the tough side: we had "Dinosaur" for RELIC, "Black hole" for ABYSS, "Show ender, maybe" for RECAP, "Denali denizen" for MOOSE, "Union station" for ALTAR. Not an especially showy puzzle, but a solid and challenging one that I enjoyed.

Matt Skoczen's LA Times puzzle, "Running Mates," features a V.P. theme with entries like VOX POPULI and VALET PARKING. Overall, a good puzzle, featuring POPTOP, HEINIE, and BUSH BABY, along with a bunch of phrases like SIT ON IT, GO BACK ON, SET APART, PUT AWAY, and GET A TIP. Nostalgia bonus: Besides the theme entry VILLAGE PEOPLE, there's another '70s shout-out with GONG referring to "The Gong Show."

WaPo 11:22
LAW 9:17
LAT 7:34
CS 6:40


Catching up with the Chronicle

The Chronicle of Higher Education puzzles (edited by Sunday NYT slayer Patrick Berry) seem to run on a 5-week delay before the puzzles are released to the nonsubscriber masses, rather than the 3-week delay I thought was in play. Anyway, I just did the July 29 puzzle by Deb Amlen and the August 5 puzzle by Gary Steinmehl. Both are available on Will Johnston's handy-dandy Puzzle Pointers page.

Deb's "Guest Lecturers" theme was fun. "Grammar class taught by Jesse Ventura?" was BODY ENGLISH, for example; Hitchcock's theater class was PSYCHODRAMA. Three more entries round out the theme. This particular puzzle seemed less academically oriented than most CHE puzzles, which was (true confession time) actually a bit of a relief. Extra credit to Deb for having "Clio winners" be ADS and not the gender-specific AD MEN we see elsewhere. Lots of good fill and clues, such as MILKSHAKE; "Charybdis, for one" for WHIRLPOOL (there's some learned content for you); POSEUR and ODDITY; "Juju musician King Sunny __" ADE rather than the dull "summer fruit drink"; the apposed ZIG and ZAG; and "Good heavens!" OH MY.

Gary Steinmehl's "Abridged Novels" theme lops the last letter off a title; "Novel about a parent who's not apparent?" is INVISIBLE MA, for example. It's also got some good fill, such as NOSTRUM, NEW MOON, IRON-ONS, and SOURPUSS. Like Deb's puzzle, this one's a little more accessible and nonacademic than some other recent CHE puzzles. Just as I like non-businessy Wall Street Journal puzzles, it would seem that I like the less scholarly CHE outings...

7/29 CHE 4:16
8/5 CHE 4:36


Patrick Berry managed to vex from the start, with "much-used engine" cluing GOOGLE at 1A. As an EDITOR myself, of course I appreciated the clue, "correctional worker?" Those are just two of a slew of creative clues. And then there was plenty of fill that doesn't show up often (VITAMIN A, EARLDOM, AFRIKAANS, HOOTENANNY, MAE WEST). It's certainly unusual to have 21-letter entries that aren't part of the theme, and then the theme itself is unusually asymmetrical. (I really should look at the title on Sundays while I'm solving—that would have speeded things up a little).

The spot that gave me the most trouble was the southern NW section, where I keyed in BUSTER (the shoe dog) instead of NIPPER (the RCA dog, was he?) and LUBES for LARDS.

Does Will do this every year? Wait until it's September and back-to-school time, and throw all these tough assignments at everyone?

Nit note: Vic Fleming has reminded me that 75A—"Drank some coffee, say, with 'up'" for SOBERED—presents a common but dangerously inaccurate misconception. Drinking caffeine, getting some fresh air, or taking a shower do nothing to help the liver metabolize alcohol. The only way to sober up is to wait enough hours for one's body to eliminate the alcohol. Vic, a judge who hears a lot of DUI cases, points out that what coffee does is help keep the drunk awake to drive drunk longer.

NYT 13:57


September 09, 2005

The Wrath of Kahn

Well, what fun! I returned home after dinner to find a roster of alarmingly slow applet times for the Saturday NYT. Psychologically, it's got to be better to approach a hard puzzle knowing that it's hard, rather than wondering if one has somehow grown stupid.

I'm too sleepy to do the research, but I'm guessing that David Kahn has a handful (or two) of brand-new entries, such as INK SLINGER, WHITE ROSES, MOTT ST, and MOOSE CALLS. I really like the duplicitous clues he and Will concocted: "tip reducer" for EMERY, "one working with a crook" for BO PEEP, "struck" for TOLLED, "wolf" for both RAKE and ROUE, "a pearly white" for CAN(ine), "16" for F[our] SQUARED, "put away" for ICE, "creature with many sharp teeth" for EEL (anyone else consider EMU, ELK, and ERN first?), "butterfly, e.g." for STROKE, "specifically" for BY NAME, "18 through 20, in a run" for RST, "Melba, e.g." for DAME, "those who prefer suspense?" for POSTPONERS, "passed quickly" for SHOT BY, "like Mars nowadays" for MAPPED, the old riddle for ALASKA, "sharp" for SHREWD, "shellac finish" for CEE (as opposed to HARD C), "big shot" for BELT, and "carry on" for ACT UP. The last section I filled in was BELT crossing ICE, EEL, and SET; then I figured out that 1994 needed to be entered rebus-style as O(ne)N(ine)N(ine)F(our), and voila.

Although the puzzle certainly took longer than the average puzzle that gives me the wavelength vibe, I still felt the vibe for some of the puzzle. Things like BO PEEP and TOLLED and DAME seemed fairly obvious, while I had to fight for plenty of other entries (CEE, POSTPONERS, what the trouble with BASEBALL was—not STRIKE, not LOCKOUT...).

What was your worst killer spot?

Times added below:

NYT 11:27
LAT 4:56
Newsday "Stumper" 4:04
CS 3:31


September 08, 2005


...That's more like it. Fabulous NYT puzzle from Kyle Mahowald. Not to be all spoilery, but to pack all that yummy fill into a single puzzle? Delicious! You've got your KRZYZEWSKI and ANTICHRIST, DO AS I DO and TELL ME MORE, TSK TSK and ZSA ZSA, JAZZ AGE and ICE CREAM SODA, ARCTIC CIRCLE and FROM A TO Z. Not to mention the clues! My favorites were "Picked teams, perhaps" = GAMBLED, "Product in mint condition?" = CERTS, "Special creator?" = CHEF, and "Boat trailer?" = WAKE. The puzzle started off slowly—I began with EARS and ERIS on opposite sides. That final I led me to Coach K, though, and then the rest moved smoothly.

Patrick Berry's Weekend Warrior in the NYS was a tad easier for me, but no less fun. Retro chic with two song titles from the '70s; botanical trivia I didn't know but should have (the BOX ELDER); the GREAT MEN subtheme of ED NORTON, MAGRITTE, and VAN DAMME (I just can't include BENIGNI here); the MAXI SKIRT/TAXI STAND combo; LIQUOR STORE and TATTERSALLS; IMMORAL plus IMPURER; DECEITS plus ROBBERY (awesome clue: "Taking things badly?"). Who knew Q-TIPS used to be called Baby Gays? THIRTIES and BIG TOE were good fill, too.


Manny Nosowsky's WSJ puzzle is another good one. The theme entries fought me a little, since I'd never before realized that New Deal sounds like "nude eel" and Beefeater sounds like "bee feeder." I haven't got time right now to single out the best clues, but I assure you, there are plenty of fresh and interesting ones.

WSJ 10:23
PI 7:10
NYT 6:46
NYS 6:00
LAT 4:47
CS 3:36


September 07, 2005

Congrats to Ben Tausig on his NYT debut! Highlights include REALITY TV, THIRD RATE, and "follower of cow, pig or horse" = EIEIO. The answering-machine message theme didn't thrill me, though, and I prefer the snarky vibe of the puzzles Ben publishes each week in independent weeklies.

Speaking of puzzles that appear in independent weeklies, Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword is also out there in assorted towns (but not mine). The one I just did through the website, "Spare Parts," had PEE clued as "Number one concern?" (Ha!) I also did one dated September 2 that had some great fill, such as LUMMOXES, KLUTZ, KATMANDU, and CARROT JUICE, not to mention "NPR Puzzlemaster Will" = SHORTZ.

I like birds, but baseball? Not so much. Randolph Ross's "Baseball for the Birds" in the NYS had some good clues, such as "Person who would not be a good sumo wrestler" for BEANPOLE, "Place to swim or take classes" for THE Y, "Four-fifths of diez" for OCHO, "Country records?" for ATLAS, and "Trunk line" for AORTA.

NYS 5:24
NYT 4:37
LAT 4:14
CS 3:10 updated


September 06, 2005

Okay, I've done three of the Wednesday puzzles in the last 15 minutes and...I've got nothing to say about any of them.

Open forum time: Feel free to throw out any random cavils or kudos about anything relating to crosswords. Surely somebody's got something to say?


Ben Tausig's puzzle for this week, "School's In," has a theme of people with colleges for last names. "Character in shorts" = DAISY DUKE, of course. RON HOWARD and JERRY RICE are there, as is RALPH REED. Ben gets double bonus points for bundling a granola liberal arts college with the clue, "conservative politician who wrote 'Gandhi: Ninny of the 20th Century.'" The non-theme fill has plenty of goodies: SPRAY CAN ("tagger's tool"), OLD BAG ("insult to grandma"—ouch), EYESORE, RED SCARE, E COLI, LESTAT, ARTEST, and a QUEER/OUT pairing. I rather liked "penguin scourge" as a clue for ORCA, as well.

Tausig 4:12
NYS 4:02
CS 3:37
NYT 3:33
LAT 3:27


Just a quick and late post for Tuesday—kindergarten orientation mucked up my schedule today.

I enjoyed Barry Silk's NYT because I'm a sucker for a pangram. And what a nice touch to throw the word PANGRAM in the fill, too. Of the zillions of people who will have tackled this puzzle in their newspaper, though, how many will notice that it's not just the clue for 38A that's a pangram?

I also liked Jack McInturff's "Letter Drops" theme in the NYS, moving from MENTAL to METAL, MEAL, MEL, ME, and M. We don't see a lot of that sort of theme. Is that because editors or constructors find them boring or because it's hard to build a puzzle around a letter-drop series?

Many days, the CrosSynergy puzzle is the easiest one I do. Today's CS by Bob Klahn vexed me a little, though. I don't think the theme was that hard—the clues and fill (such as MASTIC and AT STUD) were just trickier than most CS puzzles.

Expectations do matter when approaching a puzzle. A CS on any day is usually going to be a breeze, and I always hope for a Saturday NYT that will put up a real fight. The constructor's byline, of course, also influences expectations. I think I actually enjoy a crossword a little less if it throws me off balance by being harder or easier than I'd expected. Is that completely neurotic?

CS 4:36
NYS 3:29
NYT 3:14
LAT 3:07


September 04, 2005

Moving along to Monday

What a perfectly lovely Monday NYT by Lynn Lempel! Cute theme, some fresh fill (PREPPY and GOMORRAH!), and almost a pangram (missing only the letter V).

Is it just me, or does a good performance in the applet competition enhance your enjoyment of a puzzle? An easy puzzle in Across Lite? Rather disappointing; leaves me wishing it had posed more of a challenge. An easy NYT puzzle in the applet and I make a good showing? Couldn't be more fun.

CS 3:33
LAT 3:04
NYT 2:51


September 03, 2005

Sunday NYT

I loved loved loved Richard Silvestri's "Speaking Canadian"! It doesn't hurt that I kicked some major applet butt, but it was just so much fun to solve. The theme entries cracked me up (I deplore "LOL," but I did in fact laugh out loud several times)—particularly YOUVE GOT MELEE and DOCTOR FILLET. I do kinda wish that oleo had made an appearance in HYDE PARKAY, but didn't mind settling for HYDE PARQUET.

After the Friday and Saturday NYT puzzles put up such a fight, it was nice to have a more tractable outing tonight. Thanks, Rich and Will!


Kelsey Blakley's Washington Post puzzle, "Miner Details," had a theme that didn't grab me, but there was plenty of nifty fill, like SPANGLISH, POPUP AD, CHILLIN, VIRTUAL PET, and ARMY MULE. John Belushi as the KILLER BEE and my old Schwinn BANANA SEAT took me right back to the mid-'70s; ah, childhood nostalgia!

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge demonstrated yet again that triple-stacked 15s can be pretty darned easy. In an example of how the week's events have colored my perspective, though, the inclusion of both INCOME TAX RELIEF and SPARED NO EXPENSE brought to mind the horrendous federal bungling in New Orleans. Which reminds me: please consider donating to the Red Cross right now.

WaPo 9:22
LAT 9:14
NYT 7:43
CS 3:52


September 02, 2005

The Saturday NYT by Bob Peoples—what can I say? I felt like a beginner trying to decipher the language and methods of crossword puzzles for the first time. My mystery entries were OTOMIS and EXIM. And TUBBS. And my mystery clues? Oh, so many. I'm just glad I read PAULA Danziger's youth fiction when I was a kid; that and ALDOUS were practically my only gimmes. After 30 minutes, only six people have posted times on the applet; but look, there's Byron Walden making everyone else look bad by finishing in a ridiculous 7:08.

To salvage your ego, you could coast through the LA Weekly puzzle by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, "Self-Denial." The hard part for me was identifying the theme. Between the title and the theme entries, YOURS and TRULY = "what this puzzle's grid is missing," I eventually noticed what I had failed to detect while I did the puzzle, namely that a word I have used four times in this sentence doesn't show up anywhere in the grid. A feat of construction, to be sure—but is the coolness of that feat lessened or heightened by the fact that the puzzle could be completed without noticing it?

For another breather, head over to the Saturday LAT themeless by Vic Fleming. The cluing is much more accessible than what Bob Peoples and Will Shortz hurled at us tonight. Thank you for causing no pain, Vic!

Updated with two more:

This morning, I warmed up with Harvey Estes' light CrosSynergy puzzle, then moved on to the Newsday Saturday Stumper by Stan Newman. The Stumper was one of the toughest in recent memory—most weeks, it might have qualified as the week's hardest puzzle—but it was still more pliable than the Peoples NYT. (Victory to the Peoples!)

NYT 13:43
Newsday 10:55
LAW 7:27
LAT 4:28
CS 3:02


September 01, 2005


Okay, I usually don't see what all the fuss is when there's a puzzle by Sherry Blackard. "Why all this talk of stilettos and whips? Her puzzles are not so fearsome," I thought. I'm singing a different tune tonight. I finished with a tough-Saturday time, but it's only a Friday puzzle! And it was so resistant to solving—pretty much every section of the grid posed a stiff challenge. My palms began to sweat; my shoulders tensed up. Eventually I beat the damn thing, but it was a bloody fight. And I thought I'd seen all the clues for my husband's name by now—"French royal called 'Le Bon,' and others" was new to me. That was just one of many examples of nearly intractable SOB clues. I've never been more grateful for wee gimmes like AYN and AKIM and ALAI. (I will let the SW combination of 45A and 52A pass without comment.)

Amazingly, Eric Berlin's NYS puzzle, "Going Too Far," took a lot longer than SOB's beast. A satisfying solving experience once you manage to wrestle the odd format and figure out the tricky clues. I'm glad not only that Eric knows how to create these puzzles, but that Peter Gordon has the sense to publish them (and presumably polish them, as is his wont). I'm also glad Eric mentioned the puzzle a couple days ago on his blog, reminding us to print the beast out and solve it on paper.

More to come Friday when I've done the day's other puzzles.


Brendan Emmett Quigley gives us a WSJ puzzle to sink our teeth into, with a combination of creative clues that make you work and some unusual fill (such as ODED ON and BORE ON). I don't have a good grasp on how BEQ's mind works, so I have to fight my way through his clues more than with most other constructors (the same is true of SOB). BEQ or SOB showing up in the byline for puzzle #5 at Stamford would probably knock a lot of people down.

Merl Reagle is up to his usual tricks, with a fun puzzle that yielded its theme quickly. My favorite theme entries were COME TO PAGO PAGO and BONGO VIVANTS. And "It was sure to go" as a clue for THE LAMB? Goofy, yes, but I liked it. This weekend's crossword conspiracy is the word ORGIES showing up in the same spot in Merl's puzzle and in the SOB NYT.

NYS 14:32
WSJ 11:32
NYT 9:25
PI 8:26
LAT 4:32
CS 3:02