March 22, 2006


Just a few days after Michael Shteyman's fantastic Sunday NYT, his friend Ethan Cooper circles the square with the Thursday NYT. I must say, I'm delighted with my 5:52 finish, slow for me for a Thursday, since the current #1 finisher on the applet has posted a 5:21. Not bad for a solver with two glasses of Riesling in her! And I'm a lightweight, to boot. Anyway—the theme made my addled brain work a little too hard, but I liked things like UZBEK crossing AZTEC (plus INCA! Where are the Mayans?), XMEN, and SWEET THING, plus tough clues like "mess of pottage buyer" for ESAU (is this biblical? I'm at a total loss) and "perfectly alike" for EYE TO EYE. As a mom and a former dental editor, I'm not sure I like "appeared, as baby teeth" for GREW IN; maybe something pertaining to hair roots? No, that'd be GREW OUT. Maybe something post-Rogaine?

"Ogden Porter"/Peter Gordon's “Decision Makers” puzzle in the Sun knocked my figurative socks off with (I think) 12 Supreme Court theme entries in symmetrical locations comprising a whopping 86 theme squares; a very few symmetrical puzzles have exceeded 86 in recent years. Thursday, I hope to bring you Peter's story of the puzzle's genesis, because I enjoyed hearing it myself.

Here's Peter Gordon's tale:

"I've found a few other puzzles that had 86 or more theme squares. (Rebus puzzles, which traditionally count the full lengths of both words crossing the rebus square often have more than 86, but I'm not counting those.) One is similar to the Supremes theme (the 4/3/03 zodiac puzzle by me, with 92 theme squares), but it's not symmetric, so you can't really compare. The others all have slightly more, but (except for the Sun 3/20/03 by Byron Walden, with 90 theme squares) the authors had some flexibilty in what went in the grid. For example, in Charles Barasch's 3/2/04 NYT puzzle (88 theme squares), OOBLECK could have been replaced by ONCELER (a character in "The Lorax") or any number of other things. The Supremes were a fixed set, except for the extras CHIEF and JUSTICES, though I don't think anything else could have replaced them. I noticed that THESUPREMECOURT was 15 letters over a decade ago, and I've been waiting until the lengths balanced enough to do this puzzle. The key was having ROBERTS cross THESUPREMECOURT. So I like him for that. I was rooting against ALITO and was hoping he'd be replaced by an eight-letter name. Then I would have dropped CHIEF and JUSTICES and put the new name where JUSTICES was. When he was confirmed, I was home writing the Oscar nomination puzzle, and that was done by noon, so I spent the rest of the day writing this one. It was unbelievably hard to get them all in. The corners are very cut off from the rest of the grid, but I couldn't do any better."

NYS 5:53
NYT 5:52
LAT 4:11
CS 3:33
Newsday 3:09 (on paper)