August 31, 2006

A most delicious Friday the 1st

NYS 15:17
NYT 6:51
LAT 5:51
CS 3:49

WSJ 8:51
Reagle [untimed]

Ooh, this is going to be a long post. Between Byron Walden's killer Sun Weekend Warrior—which took me as long as two fairly hard Saturday NYT crosswords—and David Quarfoot's terrifically entertaining Friday NYT, whoo! If only the puzzles could all be like these two. Bee-yoo-tiful. They don't have fun tricks like Pat Merrell's puzzle yesterday, but each of them knocked my socks off in different ways. (Oh please, oh please, I hope this Saturday's NYT is also a toothsome delight.)

Okay, how many easy gimmes did you have in Byron's WW? I had a frightfully small number. Maybe TSR, PIZARRO, RNA, WOOD, CLE, and PERVEZ MUSHARRAF; I should've known ENFANTS but blanked on it. The rest of the clues were more elliptical and required more pondering. Such as "Ear-piercing device?" for AIRHORN, "Decline, perhaps" for RSVP, "Traditional side on Chinese menus" for COLUMN A. It seems like the short answers in many crosswords are easier to come by, but that's not the case here—"Power button on many calculators" was one of the hardest clues for me (EXP, for exponent), and it crossed "Duck, in Durango" (who knew PATO was Spanish for "duck"? not I). The clue for KAOS was also tricky: "Smart predators." Then there's the category of Things I Just Didn't Know, like "John Winthrop's ship," ARBELLA, that SAAB has a "born from jets" slogan, and that fill-in-the-blank clue for DARKEST. When the puzzle's all done, there's so much to admire, like THE QUI VIVE and SCAREDY CAT, and the stacked –AZMATSUI– entries, KAZ MATSUI and HAZMAT SUIT. Crikey! To bundle those two entries together and cross them with a couple 15-letter entries? In a grid splashed with a Q and X, three Z's, and a couple J's? That takes constructorial cojones. Add to that still more clever clues like "Roman cube" for VIII, "With glimmers of brilliance" for STARLIT, "Put out" for SORE, and "It's in the groove" for SLOTCAR. I love it when a crossword that's completely fair (no dirty tricks) takes me an extra-long time because the clues are just so good. (However, I'd rather not encounter quite so hard a puzzle during the crossword tournament!)

The DQ puzzle is stuffed to the gills with entries I loved: 'FRAID NOT, OH ME OH MY (which, were it not a total spoiler, would be the title of this post), Rocky's YO ADRIAN, NEED CASH?, THE HEAT IS ON, VODKA GIMLET, ON THE DL, the trio of MARRY ME and I HOPE SO and WELL YES (is there a proposal in here? if so, I hope the answer isn't 'FRAID NOT or NO SIREE), MR FIX-IT, SATCHMO, TEEBALL, and ROY G BIV, to name just a few handfuls of my favorite entries. They're lively, they're fun, and this puzzle is paved with them. And the clues have their own highlights: "Person of color?" for ROY G BIV, "Under the table" for SMASHED, "One taking inventory?" for THIEF, "Try to stab, e.g." for SYNONYM (though I'd say synonym for rather than to), "Calling up trouble?" for AMNESIA, "Words with a nice ring to them?" for MARRY ME, "Sent free of charge" for EMAILED, and "Reason to move forward annually?: Abbr." for DST. I must cavil about "Sleep clinic study" as a clue for APNEA (I think I saw the same clue quite recently in another puzzle)—with the usual senses of the word study, it doesn't parse right for me. The sleep clinic study would be polysomnography, used to diagnose apnea. And I wouldn't really call apnea an area of study at the clinic, either, but including "area of" in the clue would sit better with me. Despite that one note, I thought this was a fabulous crossword.

In sum, thanks to Byron (and Peter Gordon) and David Q. (and Will Shortz) for the grand cruciverbal adventures.


Merl Reagle's punfest, "Dog Breeds I'd Like to See," is fun. The way the puns work varies, with some dog breeds changing spelling and/or pronunciation (e.g., SCHNOOZER), others tacking other words on (ARNOLD POMERANIAN), and one altered by insertion (WISENHEIMERANER).

In his LA Times puzzle, Patrick Blindauer flagrantly tosses out the rule about not repeating entries in the grid, and brings black-square action into the theme. (Do you count those 15 key black squares when totaling the number of theme squares?) I'll bet most solvers stopped cold when they got to the second repeated entry, suspected that either first or second one had to be wrong, and were perplexed when the crossings confirmed that both were correct. "What a blatant flaw!" they'd exclaim...until they continued through the grid and discovered it was all part of Patrick's plan.

I liked the theme in Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle: "I Married Jane."

Elizabeth Gorksi plays up puns on names in her Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Working on Second Careers."


August 30, 2006

Thursday the 31st

NYS 6:17
LAT 4:34
NYT 4:04
CS 3:49

Well, at first I thought we remained on Sock Knocking-Off Alert, Code Red, when the Thursday Sun and NYT puzzles frayed my socks, but did not remove them. This made me happy, because it held the promise of an astonishing Friday, Saturday, or Sunday NYT, in addition to the Friday Sun that will desock (or destroy) you. But then I noticed something in Patrick Merrell's NYT that knocked at least one of my socks off. (A puzzle generally has to be mighty tough to cause both of my socks to drop.)

My socks were a little frayed by Patrick Blindauer's challenging Sun puzzle. In "Redivide and Conquer," Patrick relocates the S from the beginning of the second word in a phrase to the end of the first one: i.e., "bomb squads" becomes BOMBS QUADS, clued as "Nukes campuses?" I don't know why, exactly, this puzzle took me so long to solve. Perhaps my mind was trying to persuade me that "People's Sexiest Man Alive of 1990" was someone other than TOM CRUISE? There was certainly ample obliqueness in the clues (hooray!), and plenty of clue/entry combos that were a hair outside my ken—Betty BOOP was the "Cartoon cutie in 'Dizzy Dishes'"; Frankie VALLI, I reckon, is the "Subject of Broadway's 'Jersey Boys'"; "80 minims: Abbr." is TSP; and I just plain forgot about DDE being on silver dollar coins back in the day, even though my dad's Uncle Roman used to hand them out every time we visited. The "Penultimate ex of Xavier" Cugat turns out to be ABBE Lane; the next Mrs. Cugat was Charo. Anyway, kudos to Patrick B. on an excellent puzzle.

I have to call Pat Merrell's NYT "the pee-pee puzzle." There's a huge number of P—P— theme squares: two 15's, two 10's, two 8's, and two 6's, all of them phrases or compound words in which two parts start with a P (e.g., PUFF PASTRY), plus a cohesive pair of single-P 5's (PENNY/PINCH) and another pair of single-P 3's (PEA/POD). By my count, there are 83 theme squares. And if you didn't notice this, I hope you're holding onto your socks: every single clue starts with the letter P. That's one of those constructor/editor tricks that make you wonder: Does the average solver even notice? I hope they do. Anyway, Pat being Pat, he also eked out some fill like MIKADO, SEASNAKES, and LIGHT UP ("Pay no heed to smoking rules"). If it had been hard for a Thursday, I think the other sock would've dropped; still, one sock flung clear across the room is no mean feat.


The puzzles I solve

What crosswords do I like to do, and where do I find them? Most of the puzzles I solve regularly are from newspapers, and they're available online. The main sources are Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page and Kevin McCann's

• The New York Times puzzles (edited by Will Shortz) are released online the evening before publication to the avid subscribers (if you don't get the dead-tree NYT and haven't signed up for Premium Puzzles, go here). There are four basic ways to solve the NYT crossword: In the actual newspaper, in the Premium Puzzles timed applet ("play against the clock"), on your computer screen via the Across Lite application, or printed out on paper from Across Lite. (Millions of people see the NYT crossword in syndication in their local papers—daily puzzles are printed on a six-week delay while Sundays are one week behind, as I understand it.) The difficulty level ramps up from Monday to Saturday, and then the Sunday puzzle is bigger (21x21) and clued at a mid- to late-week level.

• The CrosSynergy Syndicate's puzzles run in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle, among other papers, and are available via Puzzle Pointers. These puzzles are subjected to peer review among the group of people who construct them. Monday through Saturday are typically pretty easy, like Tuesday or Wednesday NYTs; the Sunday Challenge is a themeless puzzle that's usually a few notches easier than a Saturday NYT.

• The Los Angeles Times crossword is edited by Rich Norris. It's available in an online form I don't like using, but registered members of can access the LAT puzzle in Across Lite. Generally a little easier than the NYT, but following a similar path of increasing difficulty throughout the week.

Newsday puzzles, edited by Stan Newman, aren't released in an Across Lite format; you can solve online or download printable PDFs through Stan's website. The weekday puzzles tend to be quite a bit easier than the NYT, which makes them handy if you want to show off your speed. The Saturday Stumper is a themeless puzzle, with difficulty ranging from "easier than you'd think" to "toughest puzzle of the week."

• Editor Peter Gordon's puzzles for the New York Sun were among my favorites—especially the themeless crosswords and the super-tough themed ones—but the newspaper ceased to be in fall 2008. If enough people express interest in subscribing to the Sun Crossword, Peter will bring the puzzle back to life and distribute it independently. Visit to sign up.

Several other outlets publish crosswords once or thrice a week. In the daily size (15x15), there are:

  • Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle and the Onion's A.V. Club puzzle he edits. New puzzles are released at Ben's Google Groups page; become a member of the group and the puzzles will be e-mailed (in Across Lite and printable forms) each week, usually on Tuesday.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education crossword that Patrick Berry edits. Also available via Puzzle Pointers each Friday, except those weeks the CHE doesn't publish an issue.
  • Matt Jones' Jonesin' crossword. Available via the Jonesin' Google Group in Across Lite and printable JPEG formats. Join the Google Group and receive each week's puzzle via e-mail, usually on Mondays.
  • Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. Visit Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest for his Google Group link. There's a new puzzle each Friday, with instructions for the post-solve contest given on Matt's blog.
  • Constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley's crosswords. Via his blog, BEQ provides new puzzles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in Across Lite, in printable form, and for online solving.
In the Sunday size (21x21), all available in Across Lite from Puzzle Pointers, we have:
  • Merl Reagle's self-syndicated Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday crossword. 
  • The Friday Wall Street Journal puzzle that Mike Shenk edits.
  • The Boston Globe puzzle, constructed in alternate weeks by Henry Hook and the duo of Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon (Elizabeth Gorski joined as a substitute constructor in fall 2008). I think these puzzles are still provided in Across Lite after a several-week delay.
There are other newspaper puzzle syndicates out there, but I don't seek out those crosswords. Either the puzzles are too easy, the quality isn't on a par with the aforementioned puzzles, or the crosswords are offered only in an online interface that I feel is more bother than it's worth. (A creature of habit, it throws me off to navigate through the grid in a way that differs markedly from Across Lite.)

I've subscribed to two puzzle magazines for years: Games and Games World of Puzzles. The latter contains far more puzzles. Both may include crosswords (standard grids of varying sizes, diagramless, variety grids), cryptics (standard and variety), acrostics, logic puzzles, Split Decisions, the Quint-Essential word search (in which you have to generate the word list and sort it into categories yourself—much more fun than it sounds), cryptograms, and more. In recent years, the publisher has taken to recycling material from their past contributors and from other publications, which is lame, but they still offer a grand assortment of puzzles.

When my favorite puzzle constructors and editors release books, I can't help myself and end up buying still more puzzles.

(Post updated on October 29, 2009.)


Message for those of you who are way behind

If you're always behind on some of your crossword solving and you appreciate the new hiding-spoilers-behind-the-cut feature, please don't fall more than a month behind. The spoilers will reemerge when the posts are about a month old, because if somebody Googles, Google returns a link to an entire month of archived posts rather than to a single post, and with the cuts, a text search won't lead the Googler to the post in question.

If you happen to be a Blogger whiz and know exactly what I'd need to do to the template to get individual posts archived, don't be shy. I could figure out the answer if I spend enough time on it, but...pfft. I'd rather just have someone give me the fix.


August 29, 2006

Wednesday the 30th

NYS 5:09
NYT 3:51
CS 3:17
LAT 3:15

The other day, Will Shortz popped up at the NYT Today's Puzzle forum and mentioned that one of this week's puzzles will knock our socks off. That sounds like a twisty Thursday puzzle, or maybe a twisty-tough Friday puzzle (ooh, how I love those non-themeless Friday puzzles with a wicked kick to them!), or maybe a brutal Saturday (I can hope, can't I?).

The Wednesday NYT by Kyle Mahowald has plenty to commend it, but it's incredibly rare for a pre-Thursday puzzle to be knock-your-socks-off fancy. This crossword had a couple Z's and X's, good fill and clues, and a funny quip. Actually, that's probably a good benchmark for overall quality in the fill and clues: If a quip puzzle doesn't irk me, and if in fact I enjoy it, then the crossword must be pretty damned good. What I liked best here were GO-KARTS, MATZO ("Kind of ball"), PAID A VISIT, MR HYDE (he's getting around these days...), "More than puff" for INHALE, and "Her looks could kill" for MEDUSA. Plus there are the sub rosa dwarves, SNEEZY and HAPPY; I wonder if they originally had Snow White–related clues.

It took me a while to grasp the theme in Donna S. Levin's Sun puzzle, "All in the Family"—add a member of the family (MA, PA, SIS, BRO) to the beginning of a phrase and get the entry that's clued. Putting UNDIES in for "Her Majesty's unmentionables?" rather than PANTIES (in PALACE PANTIES) slowed me down some. (Women don't generally refer to them as "panties"—unless, of course, it fits a crossword theme.)

I have a Barnes and Noble order pending: Byron Walden's brand-new Sit & Solve Commuter Hard Crosswords (ooh, I've been waiting for this one to publish for months), three easier Sit & Solve books (two by Frank Longo, one by Patrick Berry) for my husband, and—because I needed to spend more to earn free shipping—Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Mensa Cryptic Crosswords, which seems like an awful lot of cryptics to me (I generally have a limited appetite for them), but I had it on my Amazon wish list and nobody bought it for my birthday, and Hex are reliably proficient at making kick-ass, flawless cryptics, so there you have it. I'll let you know how I like the books I do myself.


A pair of easy embedded-word theme crosswords from the LA Times (Robert E. Lee Morris) and CrosSynergy (Harvey Estes). The LA Times one includes a helper entry in the middle, without which I might've missed the cool theme.


August 28, 2006

Tuesday the 29th

Tausig 4:36
NYT 3:42
NYS 3:23
CS 2:54
LAT 2:51

The NYT applet seems to be down this evening, so it's an Across Lite night. Either the Tuesday NYT puzzle by David Pringle put up a little more fight than the typical Tuesday puzzle, or my cruciverbal synapses are a little gummed up at the moment. (More on the puzzle after the cut.)

I loved the theme in Patrick Berry's Sun puzzle, "Nature of Government"—a menagerie containing FAT CATS, LAME DUCKS, SACRED COWS, and DARK HORSES, gathered under the umbrella POLITICAL/ANIMALS. (I also like seeing a puzzle with some 7-letter theme entries, because I have a theme idea with some 7's on the list. Maybe I should get cracking on that...)

The NYT was totally bi, with four spellings of that sound: BILINGUAL, BUY IN BULK, BYE FOR NOW, and BY ONESELF. I was thrown a bit by "funeral homage," ELOGE. Of the OneLook dictionary results for the word, two sources say the word's not listed (!), one gives the definition from a 1913 Webster's dictionary, and one or two show it with a French accent mark. A French Google search gets a lot more hits; the second one looks intriguing (if you're lucky, you'll see the naked man (or woman) in a "Prep H" ad on that page).

Anyway, ahem, where was I? Crosswords! Yes, crosswords. Enjoy them.


Two easy, breezy puzzles today from CrosSynergy (Patrick Jordan) and the LA Times (Gail Grabowski).

Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle this week is called "I Do Declare," and it features college majors (ECON, CHEM, ANTHRO) hidden within the theme entries. It's most educational—I learned that the Virginia waterleaf (which I don't know) is also called SHAWNY, and the leaves are edible. The rapper called M.I.A. is a Sri Lankan–English woman. DR BOB cofounded AA. Favorite clue: "It makes pot potent," 3 letters. ENT? Nope, THC.


August 27, 2006

Monday the 28th

NYT 3:33
CS 3:23
NYS 3:18
LAT 2:43

Constructor Stanley Newman (Hi, Stan!) makes a rare appearance outside the Newsday puzzle he edits, serving up a straightforward Monday NYT with a smattering of crisp 8- and 9-letter terms in the fill. Now, my solving time (compared to my times for most Monday NYTs) makes it look as if this puzzle's tougher than usual, but it reflects repeated bouts of carelessness. I wanted to beat the 3-minute mark, but still had an empty square when I clicked "Done"; I filled in that square and then learned I had a typo, and of course it was in the bottom right corner of the grid and I started double-checking in the upper left. (Sigh.)

Jack McInturff's Sun puzzle, "Three Y's Men," has a theme that doesn't do much for me, but I got a kick out of the fill. For example, who didn't enjoy seeing BARFY, the dog in the "Family Circus" comic strip? I forgot all about him. Then there's BLOOPERS, SKYCAP, LUCKY YOU (with two more Y's, neither of them included in a theme entry), and the CREPE/LATKE combo plate. And I owe thanks to the New Yorker because this week's gossipy article about mathematicians (link will probably expire shortly) reminded me that topologists do MATH.


August 26, 2006


WaPo 9:32
LAT 8:40
BG 8:00
NYT 7:39
CS 3:49

I was gratified to see that I wasn't the only person who found Henry Hook's Saturday puzzle to be a challenge, and chastened by the number of people who chimed in that they found the puzzle much easier than usual. And then gratified again, finding the Sunday puzzle (by Seth Abel) easier than expected. (Next round of comeuppance scheduled for Monday's puzzle.) Either the clues were pretty easy, or I just found myself on the same wavelength as the constructor. The theme didn't dawn on me until after I finished the puzzle, looked at the title ("Backwash"), mentally combined the theme entries with the word back, looked for words spelled backwards, and eventually cleaned out my synapses with all the bars of soap I found at the back of the theme entries—I don't think I've ever used LAVA or ZEST, but I've washed with the other six soap brands. (I can't believe the constructor didn't find a way to work Jergen's Mild in there.) I'm not wild about fill like NOT DO or SMALL AD, but on balance, with SNAKEPIT, UPGRADES, LEXICON, and EPONYM in there, and approachable cluing, I give this crossword a thumbs up.


Liz Gorski fans won't want to miss today's Washington Post crossword, "Combo Companies. • Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Rainstorm," is the current one that's available online, about six(ish) weeks after its original publication in the Globe. Those theme entries fought like cats and dogs... • James Sajdak's LA Times Syndicate puzzle, "Currency Exchange," substitutes foreign currency for words that sound similar. I like RUPEE TUESDAY the best. • Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge was easy. CrosSynergy members, if you're reading this: Come on, throw us a bone. Harder themelesses on Sunday, and more wordplay in the daily clues. When y'all publish puzzles in other outlets, they tend to have more tang.


August 25, 2006


NYT 8:02
Newsday [untimed, but it seemed fast]
LAT 4:11
CS 3:56

Just got back from the They Might Be Giants concert at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I don't believe they played "Can You Find It," the song about the hidden H that's used in the Wordplay soundtrack. We lucked out in that the thunderstorms that threatened never materialized, but it was a mighty muggy evening—can you say a dewpoint of 72°? Tyler Hinman can back me up on that—he was somewhere in the crowd as well.

So, my story is that my brain was too sodden by (a) the humidity, (b) a long day, and (c) Sam Adams to find Henry Hook's wavelength on the Saturday NYT. I made so many wrong turns in this puzzle, it was hard to dig my way out of the mess. Specifically, who knew that "Japan's largest lake" was BIWA? (Wikipedia says it's also the world's third oldest lake, after Baikal and Tanganyika.) HOTEL MAN felt odd, but check out what hotels offered before the "Hotel Man of the Half Century" revolutionized things. There were a few traps that solvers could fall into: "Long-running TV show featuring match-makers" is CONCENTRATION, but The Dating Game has just as many letters. And "Going around and around" is SWIRLY, but SPIRAL shares three letters. I'm so sleepy that it took me a while to figure out how MOUSSE is "Lock holder?" (Mousse holds a hairstyle.) You know what was kinda neat? STRESS TESTS is one of those entries that has shown up too much in the bottom row of crosswords, since its letters are all commonly found at the end of English words. In this puzzle, Henry plunked the entry right at 1-Across, and saved the bottom row for TEXAS HOLD'EM and its less common ending letters. (Grr for the poker clue that eluded me—"Activity during which the blinds are never lowered.") Okay, I'm falling asleep here—


August 24, 2006

Friday, smooth as butter

NYS 5:56
LAT 5:05
NYT 4:51
8/11 CHE 4:02
CS 4:00

WSJ 10:09
Reagle [untimed]

Huzzah! David Levinson Wilk's themeless NYT puzzle is as smooth as silk, butter, or [insert term of your choosing here]. With a horizontal triple stack of 15's crossed by six more 15's, this baby really flows.

Trip Payne's Sun puzzle has a 15x16 grid and one of those themes that tries to obscure itself but eventually peeks out and yields a satisfying "aha" moment.

Back to the NYT puzzle by Levinson Wilk: With this many 15-letter entries spanning the grid, it behooved me to see if I could ascertain any of the long answers. The sixth one was a gimme for me, the Jacqueline Susann novel ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH. Working from the clues that intersect with it, I got enough letters to nudge me toward SATELLITE DISHES right next to it, and the two together suggested ...OPERATORS as a partial answer to "They help make some calls." That one turned out to be A.T. AND T. OPERATORS, an odd-looking sequence of letters in a crossword. And so it unraveled in a most pleasing fashion. Favorite clues: "Chow line?" for LEASH, "One that performs best when tired?" for CAR (the clue seems familiar, but I could just be having déjà vu), "Point of contention" for ARENA, "Bun component" for TRESS, and "Calm's opposite" for ANGST.

Trip's puzzle left me with a disconnect between the theme clues and answers until after I'd finished solving and studied them for a bit. Eventually it dawned on me: Swap out the state name for its two-letter postal abbreviation, and get a much shorter entry that's clued straightforwardly. There's even a shooing theme-within-a-theme, with SC RAM and VA MOOSE both clued "Away with you!" Trip, the man who joneses for the letter Q, also squeezed A QUARTER TO into the puzzle.


Patrick Berry's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "X Marks the Spot," is brilliantly constructed. If you don't ordinarily solve the Friday WSJ puzzle, you'll want to do this one. Really. I'm not even going to spoil it here, because I want you to do this puzzle. Go. Now.

Fun offering from Merl Reagle in this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Sorry, Wrong Letter!" • Cute theme and some great long fill entries in Jeffrey Harris's 8/11 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Put-on Airs." • Not sure if the central theme entry in Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle really goes with both halves of the theme. Any comics fans who've done this puzzle care to weigh in? • In Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Rasing Kane" (shouldn't that be "Razing Kane" to avoid an archaic or British word?), I was thrown off a bit by RIGHTING PENN. I don't care if Google lends support to the base phrase—I call it a pen, not a writing pen.


August 23, 2006


NYS 5:54
NYT 4:32
CS 3:43
LAT 3:26

Patrick Berry's Themeless Thursday in the Sun is an excellent puzzle, though certainly not wickedly hard, and Gary Steinmehl's NYT puzzle also has much to commend it. In particular, the NYT puzzle's got plenty of Thursday-level clues to keep the basic SPLIT PEAS theme (with theme entries of the PE....AS variety) from being too easy. I was just thinking the other day that PHISH needed to show up in a puzzle, clued in reference to online scams rather than the jam band, and here 'tis. The fill also includes SHEMP (read that link if you don't know why the Stooge is called Shemp), the obscure BOYAR (which came a little more easily after seeing the word in one of Patrick Berry's Starbucks contest puzzles a few months back), MUSS UP, and my favorite crosswordese morsel, ORTS. The "Chef Auguste Escoffier creations" clue stymied me for a bit; he's the dude who invented peach melba, which Google suggests is seldom pluralized despite this puzzle's PEACH MELBAS.

The Berry themeless bundles together some great phrases: MADE A PASS AT, HUNKERS DOWN, STAVE OFF, MEN'S ROOM, SHIVER ME TIMBERS, and OVER THERE. Jangler has been critical of phrases that end with a preposition, but those first three verbs are probably heard far more with the prepositions than without them, so they're solid entries. There's almost a mini-theme in here, with the verb FUDGES and Count CHOCULA (Boo Berry was the monster cereal of choice in our household).


August 22, 2006

Happy Wednesday

NYT 4:23
LAT 3:43
NYS 3:17
CS 3:01

Kudos to Alan Olschwang, maker of the Sun puzzle, "Lost Islands," and Kevan Choset, who constructed the NYT puzzle. I really enjoyed both crosswords, which set themselves apart from the ordinary offerings in different ways. In Olschwang's puzzle, the names of five islands (BALI, LEYTE, CRETE, IONA, and ELBA) are hidden within the theme entries. It's also notable for including the Motorola RAZR phone, the character PACEY from Dawson's Creek, and the disturbing term pro-ANA.

Choset's NYT puzzle also had five theme entries, four people (one of them fictional) with birds for last names tied together by LARRY BIRD. It's also notable for the large number of long entries in the fill (22 fills of 6 to 9 letters), offset (as they kinda have to be if it's not a low-word-count puzzle) by 31 3-letter entries. I'm not generally a fan of having so many short entries, and there's some clunky fill, but I enjoyed the puzzle and liked having so many long entries. (I can't help wondering if I'm the only one whose brain keeps seeing another S in ASCREAM...)


August 21, 2006


NYS 5:23
CS 4:18
NYT 3:42
LAT 3:39

I'm feeling a little bit slower than usual on the crossword front this evening. I attribute this to mild PTSD arising from a home invasion wrought by a squirrel with a hankering for whole-wheat bread.

The Sun puzzle by Joe Bower, "Press Time," combined an elusive theme with plenty of unexpected fill, like SUB-ABBOT right at 1-Across, atop ON A MARCH, plus TOE OUT and freshness like UNCOLA, WET-NAP, and LISA LISA. The theme, Q AND A SESSION, sandwiched a Q and an A around a U in the other theme entries, rendering subhuman into SQUAB-HUMAN. I don't recall seeing a letter-insertion theme that dropped two letters into different spots. Anyone know of other examples?

In Michael Doran's NYT puzzle, the grid is constructed to accommodate six word pairs, in symmetrical locations, in which the cross part of a term drops out, but the remainder of the term appears twice, crossing itself (e.g., "popular puzzles" yields WORDS at 3-Down crossing another WORDS at 17-Across). This theme relies on a flagrant flouting of the "no repeated words" rule of crossword fill, and the crossing square in each theme pair is essentially an uncrossed letter (since there's no other word or clue to help you with the crossing). That actually slowed me down with the last pair, at 50-Down/59-Across. "Tough positions for soldiers" is crossFIRES, but it didn't occur to me that the crossfire takes a plural (it can, but the Google hits for the singular dwarf those for the plural)—so I vexedly tried a couple other letters before figuring out the R. I found the basic NOTION behind this puzzle to simultaneously ENCHANT and be IRKSOME. It ought to get people talking, at least.


Ben Tausig's weekly Chicago Reader puzzle, "Tabloid Twosomes," warps celebrity names even more than tabloid stalwarts like TomKat and Brangelina—made my brain work hard. I wonder if this is the first crossword to clue ONEIDA with a Brooklyn band—perhaps Matt Gaffney or Matt Jones have gone there first, I dunno. Lots of 6-letter words in this grid, too.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Brain's Song," was entertaining and jam-packed with far more 6- to 9-letter words than most early-week puzzles. I did raise an eyebrow at OEM, but the Wikipedia article on original equipment manufacturer cleared things up...somewhat.


August 20, 2006


CS 3:24
NYT 3:18
LAT 3:12
NYS 3:08

Ray Hamel's "Mammal Moves" in the New York Sun is another 15x16 grid, accommodating two 16- and two 11-letter entries along with some perky fill—DIET PEPSI (far inferior to Diet Coke, of course), PTUI, and ASK AFTER.

Over in the Times, Elayne Cantor shows me what I have to look forward to as my kid gets older—GET OFF THE PHONE! CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM! DO YOUR HOMEWORK! And the line I always used in reply when I was a kid—LATER. With a couple 10-letter entries in the fill (ACROPHOBIA, SOFT-PEDALS), it's a fairly accomplished puzzle. And isn't this only her second or third published puzzle? Nice job!


August 19, 2006


NYT 10:33
WaPo [I forgot to jot down my solving time before I opened the next puzzle]
LAT [ditto]
BG 7:12
CS 4:13

I know plenty of you do the NYT puzzle via the timed applet. Can anyone tell me why the applet craps out on me if I inadvertently press the mouse's scroll-wheel button? I'm using Safari in OS X, if that makes a difference. Most vexing... I copied the half-completed grid into Across Lite and finished up there—and drat, my finishing time would've looked lovely in the online standings. (Provided, of course, that my solution's actually correct. I like to assume it is.)

This NYT puzzle, "2-D," was constructed by Richard Silvestri. The theme involves a double T converted into a pair of D's, as in OFF PUDDING ("Tainted tapioca?"). The trouble spots for me were golfer Laura DAVIES and "Hub of a wheel" as the clue for NAVE—crossword fans all know the nave architecturally as part of a church, but the American Heritage dictionary lists this second meaning (which, interestingly enough, has a completely different etymology, from Old English rather than Latin). The last square I filled in was the H in square number 90 (where HANGED and HAMPER cross); I also considered whether Captain Kidd may have been DANGED or BANGED, with a stink arising from a DAMPER or BAMPER. (Um, no.)


Today's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge by Harvey Estes features three triple-stacks of 15-letter entries crossed by another 15 down central vertical 15. • There's another David Kahn puzzle this weekend, the Sunday Washington Post puzzle, "Second Careers." • While sounding out the theme entries in Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle, "From the Hush Cupboard," I couldn't help but wonder if I was drunk. • I enjoyed the anagramming theme in Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "New Order." (Can one of you Bostonians recall how many weeks ago this puzzle appeared in the print edition? I'm wondering how many weeks behind the Across Lite solvers are.)


August 18, 2006


NYT 6:36
LAT 5:36
Newsday 4:26
CS 3:09

Okay, I'm pretty sure I know what search queries will bring hundreds of frustrated solvers to this page in about six weeks: the clues in that one corner of Bob Peoples' Saturday NYT puzzle. Namely, "Site of a 1776 battle that gave New York City to the British" (KIPS BAY) crossing "Big belt" (the awkward K.O. PUNCH). If you're like me, you tried a lot of other letters in the Random Alphabet Game before you hit on the K—was that your very last square to be filled in? (Stay away from the B.O. PUNCH—I hear it's terrible.) This was rather racy, as crosswords go: you can envision a tableau in which a SEXPERT ("Authority on birds and bees?") advises her clients to JUST RELAX, maybe TIE ONE ON or consider some sort of POWER PACK, and if all else fails, hire GIGOLOS. I'm gonna bet that this is the first time STOLLEN (which I do not believe to be racy) has appeared two days in a row in the NYT puzzle. Nor is Minnesota racy, but it accounted for two clues in the top left corner—IRON ORE from the Iron Range, locally pronounced "De Range," and the state's motto, l'Etoile du NORD (hence the hockey team, the Minnesota North Stars, which moved to Dallas and dropped the North). Also, if Minnesotans attend a POTLUCK, they're likely to bring hotdish.


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Secret Society," includes famous secret agents in the theme entries. A few months back, there was a similar theme, and that time, too, I had no idea who SOLO is supposed to be. I recall that it's not Han Solo, but who's the spy by that name?

David Kahn's clues in the LA Times themeless crossword are great—deceptively simple. For example, "Suit material" for LIBEL, "Call, in a way" for REFEREE, and "Battery, for one" for CRIME. I've always preferred the more evocative "snot rag" to NOSE RAG, clued as "Hanky" (snot rag far outpolls nose rag at Google, but it's admittedly a little gross for crosswords). Did anyone else briefly wonder who COCA PTAIN was? No?

Plenty of interesting fill in Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper, but the clues tended to be more straightforward than the Peoples and Kahn clues.


August 17, 2006


NYS 8:29
NYT 5:38
LAT 5:23
8/4 CHE 4:26
CS 3:06

WSJ 9:34
Reagle 8:36

Karen Tracey's Weekend Warrior posed a meaty challenge. I only got one of the long entries (two pairs of 15's crossed by a vertical 13) without a fight, and many of the clues for shorter answers left me agape in dimness. "Greek 'the'" was a total mystery until the crossings revealed it to be HOI, as in hoi polloi (d'oh). "First of all" called for a noun (ADAM), which isn't where my brain was heading. Did I know DECONTROL was a verb? I'm not sure I did. And "Toad in the hole, e.g." is a PUB GAME but also the name for a couple food dishes. No shortage of challenging clues in this puzzle, that's for sure. How do you know when you've done too many crossword puzzles? When you see a clue like "Castle with many steps" and instantly think, "Do I need five or six letters? It's either Irene or her husband VERNON." I'm usually delighted to be stymied by a good crossword, and this one took me twice as long as some themeless puzzles (like the CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge, most weeks—hey, esteemed CrosSynergy people, how about toughening up those Sunday clues?). Dee-licious!

Joe DiPietro's NYT puzzle has a theme, A HOUSE DIVIDED: in the other theme entries, a type of house embedded within a phrase is divided among the words in the phrase; e.g., WASH ASHORE. Now, the fill includes SOOPA ("Tiptop, in hip-hop"), and that spelling is not given in the online Urban Dictionary; there is, however, a Wikipedia article about a rap group that uses the word, but the article has the most erratic spelling and grammar I've ever seen in a Wikipedia entry. That's neither here nor there. Joe's puzzle also includes a lot of phrases that Jangler probably won't like, and I'm not sure how I feel about entries like HATED TO GO and ON LOOKOUT. I do like TAKE THAT, though, and don't recall knowing that RAVIOLI (yum!) meant "'little turnips' literally."


Cute theme in Timothy Powell's LA Times puzzle. I couldn't help noticing other words in the fill that seemed to have lost their first letter—ATE LESS from DATELESS, ALLOTS for BALLOTS, and plenty of shorter words. Did you know that TAI is also a Japanese food fish? Called the tai snapper, it's actually a type of sea bream.

Jack McInturff's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle from August 4 is educational, as the CHE crossword often is.

Today's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Stressed Out," comes from Jeffrey Harris and Todd McClary. It took me a while to realize that the theme entries didn't entail spelling changes, but rather, altered pronunciation of the base phrases with the stress put on a different syllable. Top-notch puzzle, with fantastic fill and cluing.

The highlight of Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Oxymoronically Speaking," is the central trio, SERIOUSLY/YOU NEED TO/LIGHTEN UP.


August 16, 2006


NYT 5:32
NYS 4:52
LAT 4:22
CS 4:00

The NYT puzzle by Harvey Estes is a great bargain: Fifteen extra squares at no additional cost! This EEE puzzle is 16 squares wide, and Harvey's tossed in a couple vertical 15-letter entries to physically connect the theme entries (two 16's and a 14). You know, I think the third themer would have sounded more natural as OVER MY (rather than ONE'S) DEAD BODY—but how do you make an entertaining themed clue out of that? (You don't.) I didn't recognize the name of songwriter Sammy FAIN (though I'm fond of the archaic fain). My favorite clues were for the 15's: "Ball field?" for SITUATION COMEDY and "Red square" for TRIPLE WORD SCORE.


Curtis Yee's LA Times puzzle ties together three phrases starting with swimming strokes with the TV show title DIFF'RENT STROKES—how many solvers have been led astray by assuming it's DIFFERENT with both E's? That's sneaky, and I commend it.

Added to say this: Back on November 11, 2004, John Underwood's Sun puzzle used a similar theme—the theme entries were BACK SPACE, BREAST POCKET, BUTTERFLY NET, and SIDE SWIPE, with DIFF'RENT STROKES in the middle. Great minds, etc.


August 15, 2006


Tausig 4:36
LAT 4:05
NYS 3:52
CS 3:34
NYT 3:15

Kind of an unusual layout for the theme in Kevan Choset's NYT—the first across entry's down in the sixth row, and the three acrosses are joined physically and thematically by a central vertical entry. Good puzzle, but I'm sleepy and heading to bed without doing any other crosswords (the Sun and Tausig puzzles) tonight—I'm not farklempt, but talk amongst yourselves.


Ben Tausig's puzzle, "Ladies First," performs a sex-change operation on his theme entries, turning an initial HE into SHE—never to better effect than in SHEATH LEDGER, the "Accounting book for a sword case?" This puzzle roused me out of the semiconscious state I was in when I did the Sun, LA Times, and CrosSynergy puzzles (I liked 'em all, but can't be more specific than that—tendinitis is stealing sleep from me and making me dopey) with a few entries that seemed addressed to me personally. "Sore point, for some" = AGE? Yup. "Vanilla, botanically" is an ORCHID—hey! A friend sent me a slew of white orchids for my birthday. "What you are if today is your birthday" is also true for yesterday: LEO. And besides great clues, there's URKEL! Wait, that last one doesn't speak to me at all. I swear.

Confidential to Madonna: Happy 48th birthday!


August 14, 2006

Happy birthday to me

LAT 3:48
NYS 3:34
CS 3:32
NYT 3:10

What? Another kinda-easy Sun puzzle (by Jack McInturff)? That's okay. The Friday one'll be tough (I couldn't wait), and perhaps the Wednesday and Thursday Suns will be, too.

How sweet of David ("Evad") Sullivan to publish his NYT crossword on my birthday! The theme contains four phrases with T words changed to TH words, bound together by the defining entry, FOUR H. Who can come up with another good clue for DUTCH THREAT? (Dave's clue was "Killer tulip?")

The Sun puzzle, "Analog Receiver," is another one with a 15x16 grid. The theme unveiled itself quickly for me, which helped speed things along nicely.

If you'll pardon me, I'm tired and need to get some sleep before my birthday hits. At this age, I'll need all the vim and vigor I can get!


August 13, 2006


CS 3:54
NYS 2:58
LAT 2:50
NYT 2:39

I don't know if this is the first time I've cracked the 3-minute mark on a Sun puzzle. It just might be...

Gene Newman's NYT crossword commemorates something I don't remember learning in U.S. history class: the 65th anniversary of the ATLANTIC CHARTER between the UNITED STATES and GREAT BRITAIN, signed by Franklin D. ROOSEVELT and Winston CHURCHILL. The charter laid out the nations' agreement on the war against fascism and their dedication to peace. (Whether Roosevelt's successors have embraced the charter during the ensuing decades is a matter for another blog.)

The easier-than-usual Sun puzzle is Robert Wolfe's "With Washer, Get Dryer." I don't know what the title means, exactly, but the theme entries end with LEAKEY, FAWCETT, and PLUMMER. Cute! The fill includes LASAGNE, whereas the NYT puzzle includes the dish with the ends-with-an-A spelling—exemplifying why I always hesitate to fill in the last letter of that word until I check the crossing clue.


August 12, 2006


NYT 10:33
WaPo 10:05
LAT 8:39
BG 8:29
CS 3:52

After I finished Derrick Niederman's NYT puzzle and really scoped out the theme, I said to myself, "Hot damn!" The 13 symmetrically placed theme entries make up an exceptional (and complete) set of entries for this particular theme. The title is "13 x 2 = 26*" and the theme clues are marked by asterisks (most are the same length as or shorter than some other non-theme entries). The deal here is that each theme phrase starts with two letters that are initials or abbreviations, and the 13 pairs of letters make up the entire alphabet—i.e., JR EWING, UN RESOLUTION, YA TITTLE, and IQ TEST account for eight letters, which don't appear in the other bigrams in the theme entries. Now, in a perfect world (which doesn't exist), perhaps entries like AMFM, T BAR, and X-RAY would be verboten, and the river INN wouldn't appear near INNKEEPER—but in my book, the sheer coolness of the theme is ample recompense. I can't imagine how long it took Niederman to come up with a list of entries that used up the alphabet and could be placed symmetrically in the grid and didn't prevent him from getting publishable fill around them. I didn't know who former Milwaukee Brave Lee MAYE was, but now I do. And those of you who didn't know of Marilyn MCCOO until three days ago, aren't you glad Todd McClary included her in his puzzle? That river INN flows through Innsbruck, Austria; Innsbruck means bridge on the Inn (that last link gives some interesting etymology of Germanic place names—check it out if you're that sort of geek).


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge includes two vertical triple-stacks of 15-letter entries, plus one crossing where two entries end with Q.

In Eric Berlin's LA Times syndicate puzzle, "Reverse English," I didn't grasp the theme until I'd filled in four theme entries—the first one, THE LONGEST DRAY, looked like The Longest Day with an R rather than The Longest Yard with the last word backwards. (Nice mislead.) There was one deadly little crossing. If you don't know that "Clandestine maritime organization" is ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence), then it could just as plausibly be ONN—and the crossing, "Put down," could yield the past-tense LAID or present-tense LAND.

Lynn Lempel ventures into Sunday-sized territory (is this her Sunday debut?) in the Washington Post puzzle, "Tree Huggers," with tree names embedded in the theme entries.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Cha-Cha-Cha," adds an initial CH to one of the words in each theme entry. Henry has a couple notable entries I haven't seen before: AGGRO, British slang for aggravation/aggression. It's also used in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and in Germany, and in a bike racing business. There's also "Pair from Masschusetts?" as a clue not for SAME-SEX SPOUSES but rather, SMALL T'S. (Oy.)


August 11, 2006

Saturday, O Saturday

Second Sunday vowelless puzzle 22:43
LAt 6:44
NYT 5:37
Newsday 4:53
CS 3:05

Reagle 10:17 (I wasn't very focused)
WSJ 8:17

Patrick Berry's NYT kept me guessing. I swear I didn't know "achluophobic" meant AFRAID OF THE DARK. And I don't remember the last time I saw the plural of beef, BEEVES. (A meaty puzzle, with OVEREAT clued as "Have a cow?" and RIDER clued as "Piece of pork?"). I was led astray by "Country club figure" and first put in TENNIS PRO rather than the correct (but less common term) COURSE PRO. I like the clues that lead solvers down the primrose path, such as "Pilots are found inside of them" for GAS RANGES (not cockpits), "Their work may involve banking" for AVIATORS (we knew airplane pilots had to figure in somewhere, right?), "Clicker" for CASTANET (not remote control), "Night light provider" for MOON (not neon), "It goes on a break" for CAST (not...whatever), "Steering ___" for OAR (not wheel).


I finished Arthur Schulman's Second Sunday puzzle in the NYT last night, but I was nodding off at the time. Frank Longo's vowelless puzzle in the Sun last October didn't take me nearly as long—I'm going to chalk that up to sleepiness. Thanks for publishing one of these vwllss pzzls, Wll Shrtz! I hope to see more of them in the NYT and the Sun.

Two other themeless puzzles had the same sort of vibe: Robert Wolfe's LA Times and Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper were both good, solid crosswords, but the clues weren't quite as oblique as I like 'em. Favorite clue/entry combos: In the Wolfe puzzle, "Cheerios' cousins" for ADIEUX, and in Stark's, "Asteroids, e.g." for ARCADE GAME.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle reorients some phrases by using the modifier at the beginning of a two-word phrase as a verb. This one grew on me after I'd finished it.

Good Wall Street Journal crossword by Randolph Ross on Friday—"See You in Court" featured terms for people allied with the legal profession, all given clues with nonlegal definitions. I especially liked "Couples at the retirement community?" for SENIOR PARTNERS.

Merl Reagle's puzzle from the Philadelphia Inquirer, "O Punnish Me," included a couple complete "huhs—BXP ("Old notation for a certain chess capture") and OSHAY ("Western comic strip, Rick ___"). Both were wedged between theme entries, so perhaps Merl wasn't crazy about this fill, either. Favorite theme entry: SPOILED BRATS for "Wurst at their worst?"


August 10, 2006

Friday, yeah

NYS 6:42
LAT 4:57
NYT 4:45
7/28 CHE 4:05
CS 3:27

WSJ tba
Reagle tba

Ah, the Friday puzzles include two twists on their usual from two favorites—early-week heroine Lynn Lempel with a themed Friday Sun, and those are always far less straightforward than any sort of Monday puzzle, and Patrick Merrell, who comes up with so many innovative gimmicks, giving up that sort of trickery for the more rarefied challenge of a themeless NYT (unless there's some elusive theme hiding in there).

Pat's NYT doesn't stack up the longer answers, but rather meshes them together in a tossed word salad. The slanginess of HAPPY PILL ("Upper") and SKEETER, the brand consciousness of MISTER SOFTEE, the early '90s flashback to the appalling ICE ICE BABY, a Scrabbly SQUEEGEE, and some plain ol' nouns. The two longest entries are bonded together by four long crossers, sending the solver hither and yon in this funky grid. Favorite clues: "Pedestrian" for HOHUM and "They keep large flocks" for CATHEDRALS.

In Lynn's "Motion Passed," the AYE rebuses outnumber the NAYs, and hence the motion passes. I don't know which of the AYE voters CROSSED THE AISLE, but I've got my eye on the MOR[AY E]EL—I saw some of its brethren at the Shedd Aquarium yesterday, and those are some creepy-looking buggers (they're not alone). It took me a while to piece together the rebus action in this one; how about you?


Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle has a geography theme. Hooray! It was a bit odd to see the two extraneous Florida cities in the fill, though.

I also enjoyed Michael Ashley's July 28 Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle, "Double Quotes." I hadn't been aware of the connection for three of the four titles in the theme entries.

Haven't seen the Wall Street Journal and Merl Reagle puzzles for the weekend yet...


August 09, 2006


NYT 5:37
CS 5:24
NYS 4:43
LAT 4:16

Two top-notch puzzles for Thursday: Todd McClary's NYT and Jeffrey Harris's Sun Themeless Thursday. In the Sun crossword, which I did first, Jeffrey (a.k.a. Jangler) interlocked a slew of great entries in his puzzle, and the clues (presumably a mix of Jeffrey's work and Peter Gordon's, because we know Peter is hands-on) are mighty fresh. Well done, Jeffrey. (I'd give it high scores if I were rating it.) Looking to the specifics, I didn't care for the word forms of SERENER and SNARING (though they're certainly valid crossword fill), but liked pretty much everything else. WIKIPEDIA plus BRAZIL NUT, KLUGMAN and SINE WAVES, clues like "Prior work" for POEM (ah, the obscured uppercase trick), "Shady fellow?" for ROY G BIV, "Continental conjecture" for ETA (obscured uppercase again), and "Newspaper piece" for PAGE.

Todd (a.k.a. Tmcay) threw a bunch of shoes in the bottom of the closet and out came a Times crossword—each theme entry pairs two kinds of shoes with a made-to-fit clue. The fill around the theme has a themeless vibe to it, with HO SCALE, LEARJET, M AND M'S (though technically the candy uses an ampersand, and I wish they'd bring back the tan ones), SEASICK, FESS UP, and MADE SURE. I also liked the retro shout-out to Marilyn MCCOO. Trickier clues (for me, anyway) included "Pop star?" for NOVA (not DIVA!), "Two-player activity" for DUET, and "Where lines may cross" for DEPOT. So that's two good showings by two NPLers in one day.


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle has the sort of poker theme that doesn't grab me because your solving is enhanced if you know that there's a poker variety called LIARS. There was some good stuff in this puzzle, but the highlight for me was the inclusion of ARIKARAS (clued as "Dakota Indians"). A couple months ago in Dean Olsher's blog, a commenter told the story of an endless mystery clue/answer circle made up of Ree and Arikara. Who knew the Arikaras (and hence Rees) were Dakota Indians? See, we learned something today.

Vic Fleming's LA Times puzzle is FEVERed. I got the theme after seeing the defining clue (word that can follow the ends of the theme entries) and HIT THE HAY—HAY/FEVER season, I just heard, is about to pounce on those of you with ragweed allergies. I wasn't quite sure about GOLD/FEVER; Wikipedia sends you directly to the Gold rush page, so that explains that.


August 08, 2006


NYS 4:25
LAT 4:25
CS 4:09
Tausig 4:06
NYT 3:37

All right, I'll be giving short shrift to Wednesday's puzzles because I'm short on time. Anyone ever have the NYT applet go partway crazy on them and hide the numbers in the grid within whatever entry's space you click on? The numbers do come back, but it's a pesky little bug, that.

Maxwell H.D. Johnson Jr.'s NYT puzzle is solid with its five theme entries. But I couldn't help trying to find noted cinematic BATON WIELDER Ellen Ripstein in the grid. (She's not there, alas.)

Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle, "Aw, Shucks," converts the "ah" sound to "aw" in the themers. It took plenty of talking in my head to sound them out. (Patrick, was the inspiration just random sound change, or do you know someone who talks like this?) My progress was impeded by deciding that ED**** had to be ED AMES rather than ED WYNN—d'oh...

Both of these puzzles had a dental twist—Patrick included DENTIST ("One who might get to the root of the problem?") and the NYT puzzle had ENAMEL ("Plaque collector?"). Given how common dental anxiety is, perhaps it's wise for the clues to be playful?


Lynn Lempel pops up again with today's LA Times puzzle. The theme is fairly straightforward—five phrases/words that end with different spellings of the "urd" sound. The fill's good and the theme works, but it's Lynn's clue-writing that makes me a regular customer.

In Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle, "All That and a Bag of Chips," he contrives punny definitions for sandwich names, such as "Backup point guard?" for SIX FOOT SUB. Good fill and clues, including ZEITGEIST, "One who stops at first base" for PRUDE, MUBARAK (rather than the more common entry HOSNI), and "Can't touch this" for THIRD RAIL.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle has a quip and, sandwiched between two rows of theme entries, the name Robert COOTE. "Who?" I asked myself. "Is this someone I should know?" Turns out he was in a lot of old movies I never saw and appears in crosswords about once every five years. He thus rates a half-assed inclusion in my memory banks.


August 07, 2006


NYS 3:28
NYT 3:27
LAT 3:18
CS 3:04

Ed Early's contribution this week is another NYT puzzle with left-right symmetry rather than 180° rotational symmetry. The theme in Van Vandiver's Sun puzzle promised to alienate me, but it turned out to be right up my alley. The NYT puzzle features a dreaded quip. Not that the quip itself is bad—I just generally feel cheated out of a theme by any quote puzzle. One vague clue for about 45 squares, with an answer you can't divine using your standard crossword-solving skills. Constructors keep making quip puzzles and editors keep publishing them, so presumably somebody likes the format—but it's not me.

The Sun puzzle, "Hold'em Holdings," has a poker theme—nicknames of starting hands in hold'em. I enjoy poker themes about as much as quote puzzles, but this particular iteration is wonderful. The poker hands have names cleverly derived from the two cards they include. The queen and jack are tagged OEDIPUS REX; 9-5, DOLLY PARTON; 7-7, SUNSET STRIP; and 5-5 is SPEED LIMIT. I never even knew that poker hands bore names like these, but the names connect to the cards so perfectly that it makes a helluva crossword theme. Then Van Vandiver wraps the theme with fill like LUCA BRASI, XANAX, and NONUNION, and I'm a happy camper.


August 06, 2006

Monday's puzzles are fair of face

NYS 3:28
NYT 3:12 (plus another 1:41 finding that typo)
CS 3:00
LAT 2:49

My favorite Monday constructor, Lynn Lempel, did a nice job with her NYT puzzle theme, and I liked Kelsey Blakley's Sun puzzle, too. In Lynn's puzzle, she tracks the development of a plant from SEED to SHOOT to STEM to LEAF to BUD to FLOWER, and fills the the grid with fragrant blossoms like PLAY MONEY and PUNCH IN. Hmm, I haven't got much more to say about the puzzle—hey, it's a Monday. My typo was PTT for OTT, and the typo eluded me for far too long since TAP's as plausible as TAO (though it absolutely doesn't fit the clue).

The Sun's title is "The French Connection," and the theme entries were all phrases derived from French. Surely I'm not the only one who slows down while remembering the order of the vowels in words like HORS DOEUVRE and COEUR D'ALENE?


August 05, 2006


WaPo 8:54
NYT 8:49
LAT 8:40
BG 7:14
CS 5:02

Great theme in Mark Feldman's NYT, "Switching Sides"—the PROs go CON and the CONs turn PRO so that you end up with things like ABSENT-MINDED CONFESSOR and CONTESTANT WORK ETHIC. Sure, a 3-Down (NITPICKER) could carp that the PROs and CONs aren't evenly balanced, but whatever. Nice blend of fill, with ICE POP, SORE SPOT, MUSIC CITY, ON MEDS, and CARDIO. (Mark Feldman published a [FACE] rebus puzzle in the NYT about a year ago, on Sunday, July 31.) (Parenthetical remark #2: The NYT applet zapped out on me partway through solving when I activated the secret mystery Bad Mouse Button while the cursor was over the Bad Juju Square of the puzzle, apparently. Anyway, I finished up in Across Lite and my posted solving time is accurate. Yup, Trip's puzzle took me longer than the Sunday puzzle!)

The puzzles formerly available from LA Weekly—the ones that alternated between Henry Hook and Emily Cox/Henry Rathvon—are now linked up with their marquee paper, the Boston Globe. This week's Across Lite offering (which isn't necessarily this weekend's Globe puzzle) is Cox/Rathvon's "Puzzle Movies." I don't know how they cooked up this batch of movie titles that could be misconstrued as being about puzzles—but cluing SORRY WRONG NUMBER with a sudoku reference is precious.


August 04, 2006


Newsday 9:44
NYT 8:54
LAT 3:46
CS 3:46

Tough Saturday NYT puzzle from Trip Payne, no? The right side of the grid filled itself in without much of a fight, but I got bogged down on the left side (top and bottom...and the left side of the midsection, too). Damn Trip and his crazy Q fixation—"Q-Tip, for example" is a RAPPER (I knew RAPIER didn't make sense, but...). The clues on the left side stymied me for so long, but the answers seem so natural once they're filled in. AGAPE for "Hardly poker-faced"? Sure. GONE FLAT for "Fizzled out"? Not as patently obvious as "Lost fizz," but it makes sense. An actor's name (AL PACINO) tied to a show I didn't know he was in shouldn't be a tremendous stretch. IN PEN for "Hard to change" should be a gimme for any crossword solver! (And elsewhere, "Completely filled, say" = SOLVED.) The 3-letter words in the upper left section had elusive cluing, though, as did many of the 3's and 4's in this puzzle—don't you rely on having a few easy ones to serve as a nutcracker? The stack of longish phrases at the bottom had relatively vague clues—ALL THE RAGE is simply "Hot," MOVE ALONG is a straight-up "Don't stop," EVER SINCE is "From then on," and RED STATER is "Many a conservative." Enough rambling for now. Did the rest of you find the left side of Trip's puzzle much harder than the right?


If you felt that Trip's puzzle didn't work your brain hard enough, try Stan Newman's Newsday Saturday Stumper. The fill is nothing exotic, but the clues will work you over. "Pinch," 3 letters; "Edge," 8 letters; "Joining," 8 letters; "Send," 10 letters; "Support," 3 letters, next to "Didn't support," 5 letters; "___ road," 4 letters. Your first guess for many of these is likely to be wrong, because there are so many ways to answer short, vague, elliptical clues like these. Good workout for the synapses.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's themeless LA Times puzzle is easy (filled with plenty of old cruciverbal chestnuts) but features five separated (unstacked) 15-letter entries going across, bonded by three 15s going down.


August 03, 2006

Calling all Bostonians with a cruciverbal orientation

Eric Helmuth's setting up a local gathering of crossword folks (constructors and solvers alike) in the Boston area. If you're interested in learning more, head over to Eric's Google Groups page.



NYS 7:18
LAT 5:46
NYT 5:19
CS 3:17

Reagle 9:20
WSJ 8:30

Greetings, dear deadbeats. (Yes, you.) Light blogging tonight on account of feeling lightheaded, which is not the optimal mode for writing sensibly.

The NYT's timed applet has gone kerflooey for the evening, it appears, so I did the puzzle in Across Lite, which sometimes steals my mojo (or maybe it was knowing that my finishing time was a full two minutes slower than Byron's—mojo thief!). Loved most of Manny Nosowsky's multi-word entries (even if I was duped into trying WHOA NELLY before hitting on WHOA THERE). WHOA THERE! WHAT SAY, OLD GOAT? Fantastic clues, like "Place to get a date?" = OASIS (I was on the right track, first thinking of PALMS) and "Bed occupant" for OYSTER.

Doug Peterson's Weekend Warrior took me longer, despite the long gimme down the middle of the grid (LADY AND THE TRAMP). I especially liked the bottom right corner, with the stack of ARTICLE I ("Where to find the elastic clause," which I confess I'd never heard of), MNEMONIC clued as "Role for Reeves," and PERP WALK (clued as "Turnkey trot?"—which on first glance looks like "turkey trot"); the three were bound together by the oddly clued IMP ("Horny half-pint"? O-o-okay...). Why did I like that section? I respect a puzzle more the morning after if it makes me work harder.


Okay, clearly I'm missing something. Would somebody who's done Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle ("How High Can You Go?") explain the theme?

The Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle available each Friday on the Cruciverb site is from three weeks earlier. Would y'all prefer me to follow that schedule, or do them (and write about them) closer to real time, when they're usually available via Puzzle Pointers?

Loved the theme in Pat Merrell's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Opposite Ends," liked Merl Reagle's "Avian 'Role Call'" theme.


August 02, 2006


NYT 6:58
NYS 4:42
LAT 3:45
CS 3:18

Well! How about Nancy Salomon's NYT puzzle? It's gone all topsy-turvy with a double Thursday twist: both an [UP] rebus (trickily, the eight rebus squares aren't placed symmetrically and aren't limited to the long entries), and any down entry containing [UP] is an up entry instead, even if it's one of those short ones (like [UP]DOS and ONE[UP]S). There are four long theme entries containing the word [UP] once or twice, and those are in symmetrical locations. I thought this was a wonderful double gimmick, even if I echoed some of the fill (OH CRUD and D'OH) when I espied my finishing time. Best clue, for me: "Giant successes, briefly" for TDS.

Alan Olschwang's "Runs Both Ways" features alphabetical runs in both directions—OVERSTUFFED CHAIR having two runs and the other theme entries containing a UTSR (BOUTS-RIMES, which are "poems composed from given line-ending words" in a parlor game, as in this contest and these examples) or CDEF (STRATEGIC DEFENSE)—though here it's just the letter runs that flip over, not the entries themselves. The clue "Boss's address?" kept me guessing (E STREET), and I appreciated the high-quality fill (THE NHL, ZEBRAS, ZIONIST, TOP THIS—although "top that" sounds more typical to me).

Turning my thoughts to language, and the recent Inuit-or-"Eskimo" flap (in which we learned that up in Canada, the Inuit find that other word offensive), and a several-years-old NYT crossword my husband just did that contained the word GOOK (clued as "icky stuff" or something like that). In my blog browsing, I came across an apt take on the topic from Angry Black Bitch, down in the comments; talking about the phrase tar baby, she writes, I like to think of it like this...if you have a fantabulous apple and you accidently drop the apple in a shit filled toilet, you may still have an apple but it's just not the same anymore. Some folks like to think that you can wash that apple off and still eat it...but a bitch favors tossing it in the compost file of history as a reminder of how language/fruit can be corrupted. Not the most delicate phrasing, but I generally agree.


August 01, 2006


NYS 4:34
NYT 4:22
LAT 3:37
CS 3:04

My husband continues his induction into the world of crosswords, encountering our old friends like LEA, ICER (you actually can find a job as an icer—here's a want ad and you can always operate the icing machine), and EIDER. He's been doing the Chicago Tribune's puzzle, and it's breaking his spirit. Today's had no theme and clues/fill like "Multiply-curved wheel"/CAM, "Vessels for washing tableware"/DISHPANS, and "Place for briars"/PIPE RACK. He had a lot more fun when I handed him a Gorski Tuesday NYT from a few years ago. I'll make a puzzle snob out of him yet!

Moving along to the Wednesday puzzles, I frittered away 10 or 20 seconds on Harvey Estes' NYT, thanks to a mindless typo. (CHEER IP? No.) But the theme was cute, and the left/right symmetry gave the puzzle a different vibe. Wasn't I just saying that "Likker" was a better clue for HOOCH than for BOOZE the other day? (If I didn't say it, I thought it. And now here it is, because my brain waves can control the universe. It's true.) I go back and forth on whether "bonus" entries that relate to a theme improve or detract from a puzzle—how did you feel about PEARL crossing the first half of THE WORLD IS/YOUR OYSTER?

David Kahn's "Film Composers" theme in the Sun changes a word (or two) of a movie title into a sound-alike composers name, and all four 15-letter entries are rock-solid. (Any other candidates come to mind?) I do wish those gigantic clues that won't fit in the Across Lite interface were shorter; fortunately, "Player who tried to catch the ball that Cubs fan Steve Bartm..." was sufficient for me to get the answer (ALOU)—you know, I know someone who was at that ill-fated game. I saw her on TV, clutching her face in dismay, like everyone around her. Cubs have sucked ever since that day, haven't they?