first update: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday; secondL 8:25 p.m.)
Mayday! Mayday! The May 1 Times crossword is labeled as a Tuesday puzzle but feels more like a Wednesday. Co Crocker and Nancy Salomon have wrought a crossword that's all about BENDING THE RULES. Now, it follows the rules of size, word count, and grid symmetry, but the theme entries aren't clued. They appear in the circled squares and each one is a kind of rule that is bent in the grid, wherein it travels both across and down. We've got GROUND rules, HOME rule, the GOLDEN Rule, HOUSE rules, a GENERAL rule, and a quaint SLIDE rule. The best zone of the puzzle is where two rules take up parts of GROUCHO MARX, and the iffiest is GOLDFIELD. Sure, it's a completely valid word and gettable even if you haven't used the word, but it's dry and somehow evokes the name Gilbert Gottfried in my untidy brain. Favorite bits: [Like some relations] for SEXUAL; the [Order in the court], ALL RISE; GHOULISH; [What Alabama cheerleaders say to "gimme" four times] salvaging the entry, AN A; The GONG Show reference; WUSS clued with the gender-neutral (per the dictionary) [Milquetoast]; and BURB.
Joy Andrews' Sun puzzle, "Artoo," adds an -AR to the end of five lively phrases: DIET PILL, DR J, POP-TART, CAROL ALT, and RAG DOLL. My favorite parts of this puzzle: NO CONTEST; BEN GURION; CAJUN crossing JUNTA; and [They have shins on only one side] for DREIDELS. The very best entry in my book is ATALANTA, not because of the myth but because of the beloved feminist retelling from Free to Be...You and Me (link is to a YouTube clip of that). And yes, I own the DVD.
Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy theme, "They Have Eyes But Do Not See," is fairly basic but feels fresh. Lots of longer fill entries, including the cat's NINE LIVES crossing PLAY MONEY and assorted phrasal verbs (DROPS IN ON, HAMMER AT, DOTE UPON, SPOKE FOR), enhance the solving experience. Plus, I'm always a sucker for a Love Boat clue.
I learned from Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle that bees don't eat only nectar—they also eat POLLEN and feed it to baby bees. Do you know how nectar is converted into honey? That link says the worker bees hold nectar on their tongues until the water evaporates, leaving behind honey that they store in the hive. May I just say: Eww. The rhyming theme entries are accompanied by a fair number of those seldom-seen-outside-of-crosswords-or-specialized-discourse words, such as OTHO, ABLARE, LETT, and OMSK. They're offset by ZEPHYR, the mythical SIREN and AMAZON, and assorted Scrabbliness.
Will be quick with these last two (honest!) because it's almost time for a new round of blogging.
I just did Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Back Country," and have no idea what the theme is. Let's take a look: Ah, there they are. Backwards countries (which is not to say the societies are backwards) are embedded within five entries. RUN A RISK and HEAT LAMP hide Iran and Malta, Peru lurks amid PRESSURE POINT, and WAYBILLS and NINEBALL have Libya and Benin. Are there any others I missed? Yay, geography theme! I wish I'd figured it out while I was solving, but I kinda paid no mind to the puzzle's title.
Ah, Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club puzzle posits a familiarity with American Idol. Hey, I was glued to the screen for a couple seasons of it, and have halfway followed the current season. Fun theme! Technically, I think 3-Down should be I LIKE YOU, BUT.... Very much enjoyed this puzzle. Choice morsels: [It's a black thing] for ASSET opposite [It may be white] for NOISE; ["Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice ___ AGIN" (#1 hit of 1970)] for ELF; the so-Oniony ["___ man"] for AREA; [Book reviewer, briefly] for CPA; [Cornelius and Zira, e.g.] for APES; and [___ people] for POD.
April 30, 2007
April 29, 2007
(updated at 8:30 a.m.)
I was late to the crossword applet because we watched Happy Feet on DVD this evening. Have we got any ornithologists out there? Can anyone explain why the penguin named "Norma Jean" has cleavage and an hourglass figure? Or why the female penguins not only have those human secondary sexual characteristics, but also have arched backs and outwardly thrust bums—as if they were wearing high-heeled shoes?
If you like the idea of brainstorming pop-culture crossword theme ideas but could do without all those constraints like letter counts, symmetry, and having more than two theme entries, I know where you could go waste some time: Michael Bérubé's post at Pandagon, "Arbitrary but Fun Sunday Night." The game is to think of two (or more) bands or performers and "Concerts That Should’ve Happened," such as Meat Loaf and Bread, Poison and the Cure, or the polar-opposite orchestra rock bands, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Electric Light Orchestra. A lot of the groups listed in the comments are ones I haven't heard of, but there are some hilariously apt combos.
Swish! That's the sound of yet another crossword scoring a three-pointer: Allan Parrish's Monday NYT is just what I like to see in an easy Monday puzzle. Actually, make it a two-point shot—I have to deduct one for OGEE. The theme is five 9- or 10-letter phrases that end with B*ND, with the *'ed vowels in alphabetical order. Fairly basic theme, but the fill includes four beefy corners of 7-letter answers, words that don't seem to show up all that often in crosswords, and plenty of pop-culture references: MOMA; the Three Stooges' YUK; YMCA clued with the Village People lyric, "You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal"; SWEEP clued as [Win the first four games in a World Series, e.g.]; Greg KINNEAR (but I think he was much more memorable in Little Miss Sunshine and As Good As It Gets than in You've Got Mail) crossing KINK in a three-K corner; SHUL and SOWETO; a tricky Chicago suburb (Oak Park is better known than OAK LAWN, though Oak Lawn was just in the news for marking the 40th anniversary of a devastating F4 tornado); PANSY and PAJAMAS; and [Bart or Lisa] SIMPSON. Many easy early-week puzzles leave me cold, but I enjoyed this one.
Kelsey Blakley's Sun puzzle, "Half Anagrams," has six theme entries in which the first and last halves are anagrams of one another; e.g., TEAMMATE, LEGAL AGE. Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day was one of my favorite picture books when I was a kid, and there's no finer way to clue EZRA than in reference to this 1963 Caldecott Medal winner. 58-Across is ONE-DOWN, clued with [It starts in the upper-left corner of a crossword]—have we seen this answer in a crossword before?
Rich Norris's CrosSynergy crossword, "Grade Improvement," changes each initial C in the theme entries into a B. Later in the week, I'd like to see a puzzle where the grades improve, but all the starting grades are different. E.g., BONE MARROW -> A-ONE MARROW, FRY to DRY, DREAM to CREAM, etc. And to make it harder, the final grades wouldn't be A, B, C, D order.
April 28, 2007
(updated at 10:30 a.m. Sunday)
Bostonians who usually skip the online Boston Globe puzzle because it's a repeat of a recent crossword from your local paper, feel free to do this weekend's offering—the online source skipped a week, so Nancy Shack instead litzed a Globe puzzle by Henry Hook from a 1998 book collection. I haven't done it yet, so I don't know how it compares to Hook's Sunday NYT for this weekend.
Hook's NYT theme in "Circle of Friends" is mighty circular, but elegantly so. The first two people, MARK SPITZ and JUNE POINTER, have dog last names. June is also linked to DONNY OSMOND because both sang with their siblings. Donny and KEN JENNINGS are both Mormons, and Ken is linked to Jeopardy! with MERV GRIFFIN, who has a fanciful-beast last name like ETHEL MERMAN, who goes with FRED ASTAIRE because they both starred in musicals and make up another Fred and Ethel pairing like Lucy's neighbors on I Love Lucy. Astaire and track star CARL LEWIS [are known for their fancy footwork] (though that link is stretching it a tad—I mean, sure, Carl Lewis has a music video, but the only dancing he does, oddly, is while seated on an exercise machine; and yes, his track and field exploits involved his feet, but "fancy footwork" smacks of dancing and boxing...although the long jump certainly requires meticulous footwork, and this parenthetical remark is much too long now), and Carl Lewis brings us full circle to his fellow Olympic gold medalist, Mark Spitz. I'm guessing it was ridiculously cumbersome to generate a list of eight interconnected people whose names could occupy symmetrically placed spots with the same number of letters—and still, the fill has an awful lot of smoothitude to it, and plenty of Js and Ks. And did I mention how great the theme is?
Non-theme clues and entries I especially liked: [Compound number?] for ETHER; [Poet with a seemingly self-contradictory name] for NOYES; VASELINE; [No Westminster contender] for CUR; JACKO the King of Pop; [He reached his peak in 1806] for PIKE; [Faith in music] for PERCY (Percy Faith, vs. a woman named Faith); a non-Dallas-related clue for BIG D; two consecutive look-like-nouns-but-they're-not clues, 4- and 5-Down's [Cons] and [Access] (TAKES IN and TAP INTO, respectively); DOZING OFF; [Rogaine alternative] for the non-pharmaceutical TOUPEE (Look! It's BabyToupee.com!); [Strands in the winter?] for TINSEL (so much better than dull-as-road-salt ICES IN); [Make a name for oneself?] for FORGE; AMFAR for good works; [Grant money?] for FIFTY (great clue! probably my favorite here); [Cicada sound] for CHIRR—because the 17-year cicadas are due to emerge in northern Illinois in a few weeks; and [Think way back?] for the archaic/obsolete but lovely word TROW; and [It may be served in a bed] for RICE (just be sure to brush the grains off the sheets when you're finished eating, eh?). I didn't know the name KAREN Akers—this singer/actress has been on Broadway far more than in TV and film. I saw The Tempest on Broadway once. There was no singing. Broadway performers tend to be one of those trivia blind spots for me. (Like NASCAR and the bible, much of what I know about Broadway I learned from crosswords.)
Rex Parker mentioned that this NYT puzzle was one of his favorite Sunday crosswords this year—I second that emotion, and had added Hook's puzzle to my "great puzzles" folder yesterday.
The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is by Bob Klahn this time. It hasn't got many Scrabbly letters, and the fill is mostly words and phrases that you know—but with fantastic clues! Some of my favorite clues were the ones for short words, such as [Clothing for the masses?] for ALB, [They go down the tubes] for OVA, and [Play date] for GIG. If you usually skip this puzzle but appreciate top-notch themeless crosswords, then do this one. It doesn't have a low word count (a 70-worder) or a bunch of unusual answers, but the clues elevate this puzzle to my folder of favorites.
The recycled old Globe puzzle by Henry Hook is "Elementary," which features puns that work in the names of chemical elements. Three theme entries are stacked together (staggered) in the center of the grid. This impressive structural feat is behind the inclusion of a word I didn't know: HOKE up, meaning "falsify. Elsewhere, SCONCER was clued as [Malingerer, old style], and [Marquand's late Bostonian] is APLEY.
The theme entries in Gail Grabowski's syndicated LA Times puzzle have "Split Ends"—the word END is split between two words in each theme phrase.
Michael Ashley's Washington Post puzzle, "The Specialists," swaps in homophones to redefine a job as something else. A hairstylist, for example, becomes a [Leveret groomer], or HARE STYLIST (a leveret is a young rabbit). Cute.
April 27, 2007
(updated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday)
When the caffeine and medication didn't knock out that headache, I took to the couch and napped all evening, and have just now gotten around to doing the Saturday Times crossword. Speaking of Timeses, I've solved about six months' worth of Harper's cryptics in the past few weeks, and read old posts at the NYT's "Cryptics by Maltby" forum. Somewhere in there, someone complained that Richard Maltby had credited "London Times" for one of the puzzle gimmicks, saying that it's always called "the Times of London." On NPR today, reporter Martin Fletcher was said to be "of the London Times," so apparently it's kosher to call it that. Am wondering if I will find the time and motivation to seek out the cryptic crossword in that newspaper when I'm in the U.K. Will I wish to forsake my beloved American-style crosswords? (Nah...)
So. The crossword. Sherry Blackard constructed the NYT puzzle, and the northwest corner of it stayed blank until the rest of the grid had been filled in—none of the clues shouted answers at me. The puzzle is anchored by a 13-letter entry across the center, IDENTITY THEFT, [Wallet loser's concern]. Off to the right, a clue's "loser" was dieting and forgoing DESSERT, which is a terrible shame. (Eat less of a lighter entree and save room for dessert! That's my policy.) [Ratatouille ingredient] answered the question I had in my head yesterday: It's got EGGPLANT (and CGI rats in France, at least in this summer's Pixar movie). Anyone else ponder whether SCAVENGE could be a noun meaning [Refuse]? (The answer's actually LEAVINGS.) A SLAP from a Thomas Paine quote joins ETHAN ALLEN in the American Revolution subtheme. Nice to see OBLAST promoted from obscure-Russian-geography cluing to crossword answer. Next to that is [Top in a closet?] for BLOUSE. The southeast corner crosses ENNOBLE and LAUDER, but here it's Harry Lauder rather than "one who lauds." Moving to the southwest, [Makes some lines disappear] is IRONS, but could also be BOTOX. ELKE Sommer crosses Olympian Karin ENKE in the battle of the E*KE women. For romance, I'M IN LOVE crosses RED ROSES. By the time I moseyed back up to the northwest quadrant, I decided that 5-Down had to be FRONT LINES (whoops—ENEMY LINES). Love the word ANONYM for [Unidentified person], and the evocation of the perpetrator of IDENTITY THEFT. I've only read the first Harry Potter book, so ROWENA Ravenclaw didn't come to mind readily, and I've never seen Porgy and Bess, so ditto on Catfish Row as a TENEMENT. I couldn't picture any sort of [Table saver] until I had most of the letters in TRIVET. [Powers that be]/REGIME and [One on a longship]/VIKING both kept me in the dark for far too long, too. For those who've forgotten their geometry (like me), an ISOGON is a polygon with equal angles; presumably an equilateral triangle and a regular pentagon fit the category as well as a [Rectangle or square] does? I think I would've opted to clue either TEAR AT or TORE INTO in terms of physical ripping, though, rather than cluing both in terms of heated emotions. One of my favorite clues was the one for EAR: [Sound system component?].
I'm not sure where Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's wavelength lies, but for their Saturday LA Times puzzle, it was miles away from the cruciverbal lobes of my brain. The top third of the grid (which features two triple-stacks of 15-letter entries plus two more single 15s) was particularly elusive for me. [Removed by melting] is ABLATED? Not so much in medicine, where ablation is more about scraping or carving than melting. With -ETTER at the end of [First-class traveler], I had jet-setters on my mind rather than first-class mail (CERTIFIED LETTER). [Epitome of rightness?] is RAIN, which refused to come to me for the longest time despite three days of rain; read about the phrase here. Down in the bottom of the grid, there's a partial entry: "Thy hair IS AS a flock of goats": Song of Solomon. Angora and cashmere be damned, telling someone their hair is as a flock of goats is not likely to endear you to them these days. In the middle is RUMPELSTILTSKIN, a terrific entry that hid from me behind his clue, [Noted spinner] (the clue put me in mind of disk jockeys).
Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper yielded much more easily than the day's other themeless crosswords. Favorite morsels: [Land on the Pacific and Caribbean] for NICARAGUA (this map shows plenty of other countries that fit the bill); [B.B. King's guitar], LUCILLE; and [Go beyond embroidery] for LIE.
In Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, trains were the last thing on my mind for the clue, [Local's opposite] (EXPRESS). I blame the CTA for switching to all-stops trains some years back.
April 26, 2007
4/13 CHE 4:38
(updated at 9:10 a.m. Friday)
Crossword puzzle junkies tend to love language and the discussion thereof, and I think you'll enjoy this dissection of Thomas Friedman's tortured prose (by a philosophy prof and blogger). It entertained me—who doesn't appreciate metaphors tangled up like spaghetti in tree branches? Rob also links to the "Moustache of Understanding" cartoon, which I adore.
Byron Walden's Sun Weekend Warrior hit me like a ton of Saturday themeless puzzles (I'm feeling a tad Friedmaniacal). I don't think it was supposed to be quite so hard, so maybe this crossword caught me when my synapses were stuck in rush-hour traffic. How was it for you—like a really tough Saturday puzzle, or not so hard at all?
The spots that snagged me included 30-Down, [Susan Constant destination], which wanted to be DIME STORE rather than JAMESTOWN, which has plenty of the same letters. CAT LITTER eluded me because I was trying to summon up a 9-letter ingredient of kitty litter (d'oh!). I didn't know EXTREME BEER existed (and considered SUPREME). I know ALETA is from Prince Valiant, but not that she's drawn by Hal Foster. Mort SAHL didn't come to mind readily—WAHL, DAHL? ERICK Dampier plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Holy cow, he's 6'11"! According to the "Trivia" section in that Wikipedia article, Shaquille O'Neal likes to tar him with the female brush, which makes me think Shaq's naught but a big ass.
Clues I liked and/or clues that stymied me: [Front end?] for LOWERCASE T; [It's used to lower the stakes] is a MAUL; [See stars, perhaps] is CATCH A SHOW (not WATCH A SHOW); [Split] is BLOW, as in "Let's blow this pop stand"; [Minority leader?] is YOUTH PASTOR; [Plays poker?] is non-card-game-related JABS, as in pokes; [Carte man?] Frenchifies the king in a deck of cards as le ROI; [Banks, for example] is Ernie Banks, fondly known as Mr. CUB; [Pot, to a Colombian] is crossword stalwart OLLA; [Root that usually takes a while?] is ERST, as in erstwhile; and [Gets a load of] is, cleverly, AMASSES. I like the Britishism IN HOSPITAL (into which I always insert an American "the" when I encounter it in my editing work) for [Like someone being anaesthetised, perhaps].
One trivia bit I knew and two I didn't: DAV Pilkey writes the Captain Underpants books. They're crude and tasteless, and kids love 'em. LL Cool J's early oeuvre apparently included a Bigger and DEFFER album. (That LL Cool J sure stays in shape: have you seen those abs?) ALEX HALEY [interviewed Miles Davis in the first Playboy interview].
Favorite entries: EYE CONTACT, SNEAKING IN, CAT LITTER, AUTO LOANS, WETNAPS, and OKEECHOBEE. FLOWERLET, clued as [Bud light?], seems to be one of those words (like LOCKLET in another recent crossword) that appear mainly in unabridged dictionaries. This one has a wee spider on it.
Moving along to the Friday NYT by Randolph Ross, I begin by grumbling that SARASOTA SPRINGS is rather small and little-known, and entering SARASOTA, FLORIDA didn't smooth the way through the bottom right sextant of the grid (I kinda like this six-section crossword). The upper 15-letter entry dawned on me slowly. Downtown Chicago has plenty of moveable bascule bridges, but I can't say I've ever seen a DRAWBRIDGE AHEAD sign. When the 15s slow you down, the whole puzzle gets mucked up. I liked OPEN SESAME and KARATE CHOP; SOPHOCLES; the O'NEILLS, who could also be clued [My grandma's relatives]; and the preponderance of fairly straightforward words. And...now my husband has started The Office, so the TV calls to me.
Martin Ashwood-Smith goes the redundancy route in his CrosSynergy puzzle, and Dan Naddor plays with puns using state names in the LA Times. Ed Early's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword has a straight-up quote theme (meh) and includes a name I'd never encountered before: INONU was the second president of Turkey. Easy Wall Street Journal puzzle from Richard Silvestri, with an "Insider Training" theme in which two adjacent letters in each theme entry switch places. ATOMIC PLIÉ plays on atomic pile, not a term I already knew.
Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Floaters," is like a game of Battleship, except that the boats are hidden in a 21x21 grid and their names are spelled out. Most are short names (4 to 6 letters), and the two longer-named boats are signaled in the clues for the entries they're embedded in.
April 25, 2007
(updated at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday)
Last week, David Quarfoot commented elsewhere that he hoped last Saturday's NYT would be a Nothnagel (turned out to be a Walden instead). That dream was merely deferred by five days, as the Thursday NYT is by Mike Nothnagel. So this crossword from the math teacher of the day (the other two guys mentioned in this paragraph teach math) features a rebus theme, IT'S GONNA COST YOU. How much? Two [ARM]s and two [LEG]s. The [ARM]s appear at the intersections of B[AR M]ITZVAHS/DE[AR M]E and W[ARM]S/OSC[AR M]AYER, and the lower limbs kick it in NOB[LE G]ASES/AL[LEG]EDLY and CIRC[LE G]RAPH/PEG[LEG]. That CIRC[LE G]RAPH had an out-there clue: [Something never shown in bars]. Favorite bits: [A couple in Mexico?] for DOS; TAX RATE (I see my tax accountant tomorrow!) crossing XBOX; OH BOY (as well as OK OK, I FOLD, NOT SO, DEAR ME, and AH ME, rounding out the conversation part of this crossword, not counting a couple partial entries); [Not same-sex] for COED (yes! adjective! never a noun!); ZOOM and LENS, clued separately; [Old war story] for ILIAD; and IKE clued not as Eisenhower but as ["South Park" brother].
Anthony Salvia's Sun crossword, "A Tale of Jimmy the Greek," tells a short story in which each line features a dreadful pun with a Greek letter. The big trouble spot for me was the crossing of [Go ballistic], which could be RANT or RAVE as easily as RAGE, with two words that had dead-end clues. ["The Big ___" (Dr. Seuss short story)] turns out to be "The Big Brag" (look! available used via Amazon for less than $100!), but given Dr. Seuss's propensity for coining words, this one was a you-know-it-or-you-don't answer. (I didn't.) RAGE also crossed [Hogchoker, e.g.], which I've never heard of. Apparently it's an Atlantic fish along the lines of SOLE, but sheesh, it's not as if hogchoker is anything I've seen on a seafood menu. Anyone else find that to be a terrible crossing? What I liked: [One with three womb-mates] for QUAD; [One-piece brand] for SPEEDO; J. GEILS and W.C. FIELDS; [Problem in many photos taken with a flash] for REDEYE; and [Sweat spot?] for BROW (why the question mark here?).
Remember the word golliwog being used in the Sun recently as a clue for OGRE? I just came across this Slate.com slide show of racist advertising spokescharacters, including Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima, golliwogs, the Frito Bandito, "Chinese Cherry" Kool-Aid's bucktoothed cherry, and more. Interesting text alongside each image places the ads in context.
Aw, too bad Thomas Schier's finger-themed CrosSynergy puzzle ("Digital Analysis") came out three days after David Pringle's NYT crossword. He's got all five digits with THUMB TACK, but in lieu of Pringle's PINKY TUSCADERO, he's got the plainer LITTLE ONE.
Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle has one of those themes where the answers define words that sound alike—here, [Antes], [Aunties] (which sounds the same in my regional accent but not in all), and [Antis] (which I pronounce ant-eyes, particularly when used as a noun rather than a prefix). Highlight: being tricked by the clue, [Jordan was once in it: Abbr.]. Wait, is that the UAE or the UAR? Neither—the NBA, as in Michael Jordan.
Matt Jones' Jonesin' puzzle for this week is called "I Suspect Vowel Play," and the theme entries are words or phrases with double vowels...including SKYY brand vodka. The NINTENDO WII gets some play, as does the Scrabbly THE BRONX ZOO, and the Homer Simpson ploy to get disability pay involved getting so obese he had to WEAR A MUUMUU. Next to the latter entry is NED, clued here not as Homer's neighbor but as the Groundhog Day character Ned Ryerson, the insurance agent ("Am I right or am I right?" We still use that line around my house.). In the fill, there's a band I've never heard of (AFI, complete with unusual hairstyles). Favorite clue: [What you once was] for THEE.
April 24, 2007
Did you hear about all the folks who planned to go to Mexico or the Caribbean for spring break, but didn't get their passports in time? (Passports are now required for Americans flying there or to Canada, and some people didn't plan ahead.) Well, so many of those people applied for passports, the processing time for new passports and renewals skyrocketed. My husband's passport finally arrived today, so I won't have to leave him behind when I go to England on May 6. (Ben's passport has to be signed to be valid. I don't think he can print his name small enough to fit on the line!)
During the two weeks I'm gone, guest bloggers will keep my spot warm for me. They include constructor John Farmer, who's got the Wednesday NYT to his credit, and comments here as JJF; ACPT finalist and documentary film star Al Sanders, whose opinions we seldom see in public forums such as blogs, and I for one can't wait to see what he has to say; constructor David Sullivan, who guest-blogged for Rex and comments here as Evad; and patron of the crossword blogging arts, Barry Weprin, who tosses a dollar in my cyber tip jar when my post yields an "aha" and comments here as barrywep. If anyone else is hankering to be a guest blogger, write to me—I'm not sure these gentlemen will want to be on the hook for three to four days each.
All righty, I need to be brief here (although whenever I say that, I do tend to go on) because the Tausig/Onion pair of puzzles just arrived in my in-box this evening, so I've got four crosswords to tend to tonight. First up, John Farmer's NYT. QWERTY KEYBOARDS runs down the middle of the grid, crossed by three more 15-letter entries (which, near as I can figure, aren't thematic). The circled letters are all the letters of the alphabet, in QWERTY-keyboard order: Q, W, E, R, T, Y, U, I, O, and P are strewn from left to right in the top third of the grid and the next two keyboard rows are strewn in the grid's midsection and bottom, with one or two rows of breathing room spacing them apart. Where EXACERBATE contains X, C, and B, that means Z has to squeeze in to the left of the X, and V needs to fall in the rows between the C and B. I have no idea how challenging it would be to construct this way, but I'm guessing the structural limitations required a helluva lot of rejiggering of fill to make it all work out. And once again, John demonstrates that he's constitutionally incapable of making a crossword with an ordinary theme and layout!
The theme entries in Patrick Berry's Sun puzzle, "Double Y'ed Trailers," sound like babytalk, don't they? Dish pans become [Good-looking flower?], or DISHY PANSY. Patrick has six of these, and I like 'em all. Who wouldn't enjoy STEAMY IRONY so much more than a steam iron? Also like [Mound of arms] for BICEPS, [Hurly-burlies] for HOOHAS (that's got to be one of the best pages in the thesaurus, the one that gathers up words like hurly-burly and hullabaloo and brouhaha and kerfuffle), and [Type face?] for SMILEY. :-)
Okay, I've moved on to Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword, and my solving times are lengthening. Either I'm flagging, or the puzzles are getting successively harder tonight. Tyler's recently been to a couple Cubs games, but I don't know whether he was able to score one of the five fan freebies listed in his theme entries. I forgot what the clue was for 39-Across and went with the baseball vibe to put OPENING DAY in; hey, it's got 7 of 10 letters in common with ONE FINE DAY. (Two George Clooney clues in one puzzle! And David Beckham's used in the CLEAT clue.) Favorite things (so much for being brief): [Withdrawal sites] for ATMS; [Really expensive pieces of paper, perhaps] for DIPLOMAS; [One way to get to the top] for CLAW (I first went for crossword fave T-BAR); Samantha BEE of The Daily Show; ATHEIST; [Bar or pie alternative] for LINE graph; TOO BAD; and the three X's and three Z's.
Okay, Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Hey!", was more pliable. Five theme entries take on a YO, so G.I. Joe becomes YOGI JOE, the [Average Bikram instructor?]. Queen Anne goes nonspecific as QUEEN ANYONE. Cute! Fairly Scrabbly fill, good fill, good clues, and boy oh boy, am I sleepy now. I've been solving/blogging for an hour and a half now, and I'm beat. Good night!
Completely unrelated to the topic of crosswords:
I have a lovely LCD monitor, a 19" Princeton brand I bought at Costco two or three years ago. For the last few months, it's been possessed. When it's supposed to switch to power-save mode and go dark, instead it glows white. When I press the power button to turn it off, it glows white. The only way to make the screen actually turn off is to unplug the beast. Short of a technological exorcism, what can I do to remedy this?
Posted by Orange at 4:11 PM
April 23, 2007
Tues NYS 4:17
Mon NYS 3:02
(first update, 8:50 a.m. Tuesday)
• It's my son's birthday tomorrow, and we haven't started wrapping his presents yet. Hmm, maybe in the morning while he's at school? Not in the mood to wrap now.
• Speaking of birthdays, happy birthday to not one but two pals who are crossword constructors. Am hoping there is a powerful zodiacal tug that encourages those born on April 24 to be cruciverbally inclined, because nobody ever sings songs that say, "Mamas, don't let your boys grow up to be crossword constructors."
• Received two advance copies of Ben Tausig's book, Mad Tausig vs the Interplanetary Puzzling Peace Patrol: A Fiendishly Fun Puzzle and Mystery Book for Kids. Will send one to a smart 10-year-old nephew, and will dither about the recipient of the other copy long enough for my 7-year-old to beg me to let him keep it (so far, he doesn't evince much interest in puzzles). The book's got crosswords, anagram puzzles, an acrostic, a picture sudoku, and other pencil puzzles aimed at (according to Amazon) 9- to 12-year-olds, and there's sort of a propulsive storyline that urges kids to work their way through all the puzzles to crack the code.
• Ellen Ripstein sent me a link to the contestant application for the upcoming game show, Let's Do Crosswords. The show's slated to be taped here in Chicago. Anyone know anyone who's working on the show?
• Wife Swap is also looking for a crossword family (!) to appear on their show. If you're a crossword nut with a spouse or cohabiting partner and at least one kid aged 6 to 18, and you'd love a chance to open up your family's lifestyle to critical inspection on national TV, this could be your big chance! Just think: If you got to be the traveling wife, you'd have the opportunity to make somebody else's kids...do crosswords.
And now, the crosswords. The Tuesday NYT is by Brendan Emmett Quigley. The theme is "famous men with *ZZY first names" so it's super-Scrabbly, with two names from sports (DIZZY DEAN and FUZZY ZOELLER) and two from music (OZZY OSBOURNE and D.J. JAZZY JEFF of "Parents Just Don't Understand" fame). If those Z's weren't enough, there's also a double-X word (EXXON) in the fill. TZAR (clued as [Russian autocrat: Var.]) pops up here, as a rare exception to the "it's always gonna be TSAR" rule of thumb in crosswords; the more standard spelling, CZAR, appears in crosswords much less than TSAR but far more than TZAR. (Yes, that's the sort of hard-hitting research I did while working on How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.) You know who would use the term SISSY or [Girlie man]? BOORS and other [Rude sorts]. (Hate that sort of mockery, insulting men by likening them to women, implying that that's a bad thing and urging boys and men to instead be macho nitwits.) Not much else to say about this Tuesday puzzzzzzzzle, is there?
It would appear that the neocon newspaper the New York Sun is so keen on celebrating William Shakespeare's birthday, they didn't get around to posting the week's crosswords on Monday. When they're up, I'll do the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. Fortunately, the Sun's themeless puzzles arrive late in the week, or I'd be awfully antsy on a Sunless Monday.
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle goes geographic with five different seas alluded to in the theme entries. Have I mentioned that I enjoy geography themes? I have, and I do. Not crazy about [Had problems with a shylock, perhaps] for OWED; is it necessary to evoke a touch of anti-Semitism in a crossword clue? It is not.
David Kahn's LA Times puzzle is akin to his CHRISTMAS CAROL puzzle that ran in the New York Times on December 21, 2005—the one that filled an entire grid using only the 10 letters in that theme entry, and that had several pertinent theme entries that followed the alphabetical limitation. Kahn's done it again, using only nine different letters (though it's got to be easier to fill the grid when one of the nine is an E). Each of the two 15's intersects with 9- and 7-letter theme entries. The honoree of the puzzle has a birthday today, too. (Birthdays everywhere!)
The Monday Sun crossword by Pancho Harrison, "R&B Singles," has a terrific and subtle theme with seven representatives (four Downs and three Acrosses, clues marked with asterisks). I won't give it away here, but if you don't grasp the theme quickly, note the crossword's title; this site (with sound—don't click the link with your speakers turned up loud) should give you a huge hint. I liked the fill, too, particularly those two words with a double-A that intersect...but not at an A.
Kelsey Blakley's 15x16 Tuesday Sun, "Books That Aren't Spaced Out," condenses three book titles by squeezing the initial A into the word that follows. Aptly, A Bridge Too Far becomes ABRIDGE TOO FAR. That title's both a book and a movie. I had Shel Silverstein's wordplay-ridden poetry book, A Light in the Attic, when I was a kid. And I'd never heard of A Rose in Winter. Know why? It's a romance novel, and I haven't read one of those in over 20 years. You can read an excerpt here. The sports clue about the Jets referred to the WINNIPEG Jets, the NHL team that moved to Arizona, scarcely a hockey hotbed.
April 22, 2007
Wonderful Monday NYT crossword from David Pringle, isn't it? Loved the theme, especially that theme entry that hit my pop-culture sweet spot but might be unknown to generations before or after mine. PUT ONE'S FINGER ON is the hint to the other four theme answers, each of which starts with a finger: the INDEX, MIDDLE, PINKY, and RING fingers. (No THUMB or EBERT thumbs-up distractions here.) Now, with just two or three letters filled in and the clue, [Fonzie's girl on "Happy Days"], PINKY TUSCADERO leapt into the crossword and gave me a frisson of tween nostalgia. Every time MR C or MRS C gets into a crossword grid, Pinky has been patiently biding her time, waiting for her chance to shine. Most of the remaining fill is fairly standard Monday fare, with a little X, Z, and K action to spice it up. I like [Roly-___] as the clue for POLY. Every time a crossword has a mention of the roly-poly, pillbug, sowbug, or other isopod critter, I like to post a link to the photo of a giant isopod; somehow, this amuses me while millipedes and centipedes evoke abject horror. Anyway, thanks to Pinky Tuscadero, I love this theme and have dropped a copy of the puzzle into my favorite-puzzles bin.
April 21, 2007
(updated at 9:40 a.m. Sunday)
Ahh, is there anything more glorious than clear blue skies, the air finally warming up in April...and spending three hours at Chuck E. Cheese? (My son's seventh birthday party.) Then we emerged from the House o' the Giant Rat into a beautiful 72-degree afternoon and drove home to our lakeside neighborhood...where it's a brisk 62. Had to close the windows because it was getting too chilly inside. Ah, microclimate!
So I came home an hour before crossword time and worked on taking my brain from the Chuck E. Cheese setting back to its default mode. I think the NYT applet went ooky and wouldn't let me type anything in, but it's possible that was my brain's doing and not the technology's fault. I do love the applet like a junkie loves her drug of choice, but Across Lite ain't half bad, either, so that's where I solved Vic Fleming's puzzle, "For April—National Poetry Month." Now, Vic loves quote puzzles and I usually can't stand 'em, so it was with some foreboding that I embarked on solving this quote crossword. I felt like Mikey on the old Life cereal commercial—hey! I really liked this puzzle. It differs from the typical quote puzzle in that this theme contains six different quotes accounting for eight theme entries (two longer quotes are split). Each quote is a poet's statement beginning, "Poetry is ..." (Well, I don't know if Joseph Roux counts as a poet. Google turns up mainly sites that gather his noted quotes...so maybe he's more of a quoet?) From a solving standpoint, I think piecing together six different quotes about poetry is far more interesting than assembling one long quote. Favorite bits in this crossword: the BUS LANE; the [Love letters?] SWAK (sealed with a kiss); [Japanese band?] for OBI; SAY I DO (though that sounds more nuptial than inaugurational); MR. KITE from the Beatles song; [Sing "gladly the cross-eyed bear," say] for GARBLE (though actually, that doesn't sound garbled at all); NEWBIE; ALL GONE; [Beachwear] for THONGS (meaning footwear or buttfloss?); ["Zounds," e.g.] for MILD OATH (with EGAD toward the bottom of the puzzle); CHORIZO; [Really, really] for OH SO; and [Wasted gas] for IDLED. A couple things I absolutely did not know: The French town EPINAL, and the Spanish ACA, [Here, in Juárez].
Patrick Blindauer's Washington Post crossword, "StoP," changes words starting with S to ones starting with P in the theme entries. For example, [Marx Brothers fan, maybe?] is a PUN WORSHIPPER, and [Lack of a platform?] is a PODIUM DEFICIENCY. Good puzzle!
If yesterday's tough NYT and Newsday crosswords left you bruised, try Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle today for a more pliable challenge.
If you can piece together famous marches (music), Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Marching in Columns," should also offer a particularly light challenge. There are only five theme entries, so the bulk of the crossword has sort of an "unthemed but easy" vibe.
John Halverson's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Adding Debt," inserts IOUS into each theme entry, turning P Diddy into PIOUS DIDDY, and Ted Turner and Victor Borge become TEDIOUS and VICTORIOUS people. Liked those name-based entries better than the ones that played on non-name nouns.
April 20, 2007
All right, it's on the late side, and I've not yet begun to blog about Byron Walden's Saturday NYT, so let's move swiftly here. Structurally, there's a quartet of triple-stacked 9's spinning around a central 15 that's embraced by a split THEATER OF / THE ABSURD. I took a college English class on "Plays and Antiplays," reading Ionesco and Stoppard and that ilk of absurdist writers. Good stuff, that. The northwest corner goes colloquial with LOST STEAM (a past-tense verb phrase that doesn't end with -ED, because this puzzle wants to be hard and not give away word endings other than a few -S plurals) and "YOU BETTER!" Who knew the TIBIA would be something that [connects to the deltoid ligament], what with the deltoid muscle being at the other end of the body? Yesterday, TATE was a lowbrow TV reference, but today, it's [English poet laureate of 1692-1715], Nahum TATE. The STUTZ Bearcat came from an Indianapolis company and was based on a 1911 Indy car. [Had a cow?] is an "eww" clue for ATE; who the heck eats the whole cow? [They fight to the finish] means MORTAL FOES, who send us to the northeast corner with a little TOPSPIN.
That corner gives us the YUPPIE FLU (which sounds like a rather disdainful way to refer to chronic fatigue syndrome) and the TEEN CROWD (raise your hand if you opted for TEENAGERS first) with that BOFFO company, APPLE / INC. [Recourse?] was misleading because the obsolete verb meaning is "to return or recur," but it's really a noun, and VEER is a verb; but if you veer off, you're setting a new course and thereby...re-coursing?
Taking the HARD ACT TO FOLLOW train to the southwest quadrant, what have we got? [Trevanian's peak] is the EIGER; why? I had to Google this to find out. Trevanian is a one-name pen name for the guy who wrote The Eiger Sanction. I like how HAIRSTYLE (clued as [A cut above?]...as opposed to a cut below) is next to THE BUSHES—puts me in mind of Chia heads. And on the other side of HAIRSTYLE is ERGONOMIC, which is made of three shorter words, two of which are used in crosswords fairly often (ERG and ONO, working without a MIC). Two tough clues for short answers here: [It may be pumped] for FUEL and [Help line?] for CUE. That L in FUEL crosses BROTHEL, clued as a [Toulouse-Lautrec hangout].
Dropping down to the lower right, I've never heard of the Sinatra album A MAN ALONE, but I [Forsooth], love "YEA, VERILY." Huzzah! Rounding things out, we've got a clue a six-year-old could get, [___ Pass (Candy Land shortcut)] for GUMDROP. Like a gumdrop, this puzzle is sweet, awfully chewy, and sticks to your mental teeth (if not your mental ribs) for a while. Dentists may advise against such things, but crossword bloggers applaud such crosswords.
Note to self: Don't do the Newsday Saturday Stumper when you're up past your bedtime and have been fighting sleep. Is recipe for a beating. This weekend's Saturday Stumper is by Anna Stiga ("Stan again" Newman), and it killed me. I doubt it was really 50% harder than Byron's NYT—if you've done both, how did your experiences compare?
Bob Peoples' LA Times puzzle and my brain were not on the same wavelength—the clues didn't resonate and entertain me. (Ah, well.) It's got a huge mini-theme, with two partly rhyming synonymous groups (15 letters apiece) joined by an 11-letter phrase that's something they might say. Although how often do the talking-head pundits actually say "IN MY OPINION"? I don't think they score rhetorical points by framing their remarks as their opinion rather than the opinion everyone else should have.
April 19, 2007
4/6 CHE 4:49
(updated at 9:15 Friday morning)
If it were legal to do so, I just might marry David Quarfoot's Friday NYT crossword. From start to finish, it was just fun, fun, fun. And so fresh! Right off the bat, 1-Across had me singing the old commercial jingle to myself until "I'm a TOYS R US KID" came to me. Throw in ABS OF STEEL and a ONE-MAN ARMY crossing S'MORES, the TATEs from Bewitched, [Harmonia's antithesis] ERIS the goddess of discord, and [Turnoffs, e.g.: Abbr.] for RDS (as in "turn right at the Beerwah turnoff"), and that quadrant is mighty tasty.
Moving to the right via an ONLINE CHAT, we get a FLU SHOT (every fall!) and a BURP, along with a couple question-marked clues—[Broadcasting unit?] for AIRWAVE and [Gateman?] for ST. PETER.
Add a couple letters to that eructation to get a BURLAP wrap for plants, and head into classics corner with OVID and the PERIL that is [Scylla or Charybdis]. [Bars from a store] means UPC CODE and not the dreaded oleo, which might have been an ingredient in the MRE's predecessor, the C RATION. [a, b, c, d, e, etc.] are such CHARACTERS, they escort us to the lower middle/right quadrant of the grid.
[Gets into] turned out to be DONS, not DIGS. [Muffin, for one] is a PET NAME, and the [Starting point?] is EDEN. I needed the crossings to tell me that Southern University was in BATON ROUGE; apparently Branford Marsalis went there, along with Randy Jackson ("Dawg! I just wasn't feelin' you tonight.") and a Chicago public servant I've voted for. Below that city is AMEN CORNER, which is clued as [Church section]; and here I thought it was just a golf thing (interestingly, the golf thing derives from a jazz song!). I absolutely did not know that the title of Berlioz's LES TROYENS is French for "the Trojans," which begs the question, What do the French call condoms? The answer is here. What's a [Chart maker]? Something that makes the charts: a POP TUNE. The intersection between MALORY (who wrote Le Morte d'Arthur) and MOME (from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky") was rewarding—I like it when I know things that an English major ought to know. (Other delicious words from that poem: frumious, galumphing, and "O frabjous day!") Really, this DQ puzzle could not have been more entertaining. *clink* It just landed in my favorite-puzzles folder.
In the Sun, Gary Steinmehl's "Four Corners in the Middle" theme inserts the postal abbreviations for the four states (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico) that meet at Four Corners. (I don't think they're in geographic order, so if you get lost out west, rely on a map rather than this crossword.) Cowboy boot plus NM = COWBOY BON MOT, the best of the theme entries. Other highlights: [What a vecturist collects] is TOKENS; [End of a well-known series] is XYZ, crossing BORAX and GROSZ; [It was called Lacus Asphaltites in ancient times] clues the DEAD SEA; and [Name that comes from the Greek word for "life"] is ZOE, as in zoology (plus there's PEACE, [What "shalom" means]—life and peace make a lovely pair). What does [It's used in a box] mean in terms of TEE? Is this golf?
[Golliwog] serves as the clue for OGRE in the Sun crossword. I wondered about the word golliwog, so I Googled it. Oh, my. There's a collection of golliwogs at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, and Ferris State University sociologist David Pilgrim writes about the golliwog's history. Wow. I wonder if the constructor and editor were aware of that, or if they plucked golliwog out of a list of synonyms for "ogre."
Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Cash Crop," has an ordinary theme that I didn't even notice (the first word of each theme entry can precede "cash"), but the clues! Loved the clues, which included a good eight pairs of successive clues that shared some wording. For example, [Slot insert] and [Plug insert] (TAB and JACK); two [Bailiwick]s (TURF and AREA); [Emphatic aprobación] and [Emphatic refusal] (SI SI and NO-HOW); and [Water bird] and [Check the water] (SWAN and DAM, but not the Aswan Dam). OBIE crosses OBI, clued as [Something for Yum-Yum's tummy], above John Belushi's SAMURAI character. EELS swim in ["I don't mind ___, Except as meals..." (Ogden Nash)]. [The least funny Marx] is KARL, though I hear his friends thought he was a hoot. This puzzle wasn't that difficult to solve, but the clues made sport of the English language more than most themed puzzles do.
Susan Sugarman's April 6 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "They're Entitled," serves up the given names of several title characters, and the solver has to remember, guess, or slowly tease out what the book's title is. I vaguely knew 18-Across, and the other three were strictly pieced together from the crossings. Remember where I said in a previous paragraph that I liked feeling rewarded as an English major? Yeah, the CHE puzzle has a knack for highlighting spots of ignorance. (Sigh.)
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword includes the word WHANG, clued as [Metallic percussion sound]. My, that's a useful word.
Merl Reagle's Sunday puzzle for the Philadelphia Inquirer is called "Another Opening, Another Show." The short theme entries are one-word movie titles with another letter tacked on at the beginning, creating a new word or phrase. The clues combine both the original movie and the fake one with a pithy pitch, which must've been challenging to pull off for all 20 (yes, that's twenty) theme entries. I'll bet that Norbit was the impetus for this crossword, which would be great because then some good would have come from the movie (which I didn't see, because no, fat suits are not the height of comedy). I always like this sort of crossword, where the theme entries would make a good word game on their own.
Patrick Berry's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Two for One," inverts "X for Y" phrases into "Y for X" ones. My favorite: ["Oh, what lovely scales you have," and so on] means COMPLIMENTS FOR FISH. Best clue I've seen for MERLOT: [Wine disparaged in "Sideways"]. Loved that scene in the movie! I liked this puzzle, but I find myself having little to say about it. It's not the crossword's fault.
April 18, 2007
(updated a smidge at 7:10 p.m. Thursday)
A milestone of sorts in Henry Hook's Thursday NYT crossword, no? For the theme of the musical, The PRODUCERS, to include the play-within-a-play, SPRINGTIME / FOR HITLER? I guess Will Shortz figured that the musical's long and popular run on Broadway offered sufficient cover for allowing the unsavory name Hitler into the puzzle—but I'll bet he'll get some angry mail all the same. Three of the seven theme entries are stacked together in the center of the grid, and despite the structural limitations imposed by having so many theme entries (including having the two actors occupying both of the vertical slots), the fill is remarkably unclumsy and the clues are clever. A few of my favorite things: [Children of Norman and Enid] for SOONERS (as in people from the Oklahoma towns of Norman and Enid); [___ Bear] for MAMA and PAPA in opposite corners; a non-elevator clue for OTIS Armstrong; "What's COOKIN'"; [Lip] for EDGE (not SASS); [Support group?] for BRAS; [Game 7, e.g.] for DECIDER (aw, why no clue referencing "the Decider"?); [Smuggled stuff] for OPIUM; [Law man] with no hand-tipping question mark for OHM; [Protesters' ammo] for EGGS; and 'It's been ___!" for AGES (who went with A GAS there?)
So, what do you think? Good call to publish this great puzzle, Hitler and all, or a bad idea?
Fairly easy "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the Sun. The byline reads Graham Meyer—I didn't recognize the name but he's got some of his past work online. Got off to a good start by pegging 1-Across as BRANGELINA. Favorite fill (besides BRANGELINA): hotel ICE MACHINE, LUMMOXES, the titles AS TIME GOES BY and EVER AFTER, and the DOM Pérignon/Trappistine NUN combo. Favorite clues: [With 11-Across, thing on a key] for PALM/TREE; [They can be ripped with a lot of work] for ABS; and [Tickle the palm of] for BRIBE. I didn't single out a zillion different entries and clues, but I very much enjoyed this crossword.
As for Jonesin':
"The Big Owe" spotlights a CHRIS ROCK quote (amazing how long it took me to figure out what name went into the ***ISRO** space) about taxes. The quote includes two X's, but Matt's plunked a couple more (plus a Q) into the fill. Favorite entries: CRACK Up, FOXHOLE, AXEL F, KAPUT, and EQUUS. And zero Hitler content!
April 17, 2007
(updated at 9:20 a.m. Wednesday)
Apparently Alex Boisvert didn't use up all of his world-capital puns last Wednesday, as he's back with another Sun puzzle, "Capital Pun-ishment: The Sequel." This batch of five geographic two-fers and three-fers includes TAIPEI BELGRADE (type A bell grade), ANKARA KHARTOUM (anchor a car tomb), HANOI DAKAR TUNIS (annoy the cartoonist), DAMASCUS DUBLIN (the mask is doublin'), and MOSCOW BUDAPEST (ma's cow booed a pest). Did anyone go afoul of the baseball clue, [Part of a ballplayer's uniform]? I opted for CUP until I read the crossing clue and had to change it to CAP. Favorite clues: [Like civil union members] for GAY and [Good name for an investment advisor] for IRA. I also like the word SPECK because of that fast-food commercial where the guy feels put out because his rental car is a "Speck" and his hotel room is cramped, and ordering the Bloated-Size portion of fries and Coke makes him feel better; I can't help but think of the fictional Speck whenever I walk past a Yaris or Aveo. Here is a photo of a rather ungainly-looking MARMOT.
When I got the first theme answer in Jim Page's NYT crossword, PARISH HOUSE, I groaned. Surely not another in the recent series of embedded HHO/H2O puzzles! No, this one's got embedded SHHs shushing throughout. ROSH HASHANA (I prefer the "Hoshanah" spelling variant because I've seen it more) and ASHHEAP, I like. POLISH HAMS seems like an iffy entry, but look how many Polish hams there are (that link's from the same company that has a catchy head cheese write-up). FRESH HERBS are useful, but is the phrase crossword-worthy? I'm not sure. I do like the non-theme entries BEHEMOTHS, Robert MITCHUM, and MUZAK. I did not like the clue [Jumper alternative] for SET SHOT because dangit, basketball was the last thing on my mind.
I made Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle harder than it needed to be, guessing that the second theme entry was CHEVY CHASE SCENE rather than CHEVY CHASE CHASE. Had I realized the second word was repeated in each theme entry, this could've fallen a lot more swiftly.
Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword has a fresher theme in that the theme entries all start with variously spelled words/names that rhyme with "fresher": Fran DRESCHER, a THRESHER SHARK, PRESSURE, and CHESHIRE. Hey, you know that not-always-followed guideline about not repeated bits of fill? In this puzzle, there's a *AN crossing MARKSMAN, so following that rule means the crossing won't be MAN. Which is a shame, because *AN's other crossing is A*USE. If I have to choose between ABUSE and AMUSE in my entertainment, I'm picking AMUSE even if it doubles up the MAN (which could be clued in reference to the Isle of Man).
April 16, 2007
(updated at 11 a.m. Tuesday)
Is this constructor Jennifer Nutt's debut in the NYT (and/or elsewhere)? If so, congrats! I like the theme and its execution. Like Patrick Blindauer's Sun crossword, there are about 60 theme squares, which is on the meaty side. The NYT theme is FISHTAILS, with five other entries that end with ___fish: SCAREDY-CAT(fish), GRAPE JELLY(fish), etc. Yes, technically STARfish are supposed to be called "sea stars," but if it's good enough for SpongeBob, it's good enough for me. Surely I'm not the only one who has drei German writers occupying the same spot of mental real estate> ["Die Lorelei" poet] is HEINE, but HESSE and RILKE came to mind first. I'd rather have seen a clue like [Lead the meeting] for CHAIR—[Drastic sentence, with "the"] is particularly gruesome.
The theme (also well executed) in Patrick's Sun puzzle, "Take Five," is what's missing: the five vowels (in order) yoinked out of ROCKET L(a)UNCH, CURIOUS G(e)ORGE, ELECTRONIC F(i)LING, FREEZING P(o)INT, and SHOWER FA(u)CET. The studio of Peter Gordon was out-Gordoned with the fresh clue for OREO, [Source of the title material in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "The White Stuff"], since Henry Hook used that clue approach earlier this month for the Boston Globe. If I needed to express [Words of horror], I'm not sure OH NO would cut it. LUKE is clued with reference to General Hospital's Luke and Laura, which hark back to my junior-high soap-opera addiction; much better than a New Testament clue!
David Cromer's LA Times crossword uses [Man of steel?] as a clue for ROBOT; the same clue in Monday's NYT crossword hinted at CARNEGIE! The clue for AHEAD OF ONE'S TIME is [Visionary, and a hint to what each word in 18- and 55-Across and 3- and 33-Down is]: thus, DOUBLE DOWN signals both double time and downtime. Turns out that the theme in last week's Onion A.V. Club puzzle by Matt Gaffney also worked on both words in each theme entry, too (e.g., LUXURY FLAT —> both luxury tax and flat tax(. The clues didn't spell out the involvement of both words in each theme entry, and I dimly failed to notice, thinking the added TAXES applied to only the first word. Anyone else totally miss the double aspect in Matt's puzzle? (Thanks to commenter chiwhistler for pointing out my error last week.)
Ben Tausig's Onion A.V. Club puzzle for this week took me a while because I am old and out of touch (sigh) and was slow to grasp that the theme was based on Friendster.com. The theme entries are phrases in which a -STER is split off from the word it belongs to, as in SEAMONSTER, [Social networking site for Jamaican sailors?]: "seaman" with the stereotypical Jamaican accent would be "seamon," tack on a -STER, and you've got a SEA MONSTER with a different word break. (Nice touch to have REGGAETON abutting this entry.) Favorite clues and entries: GIRL POWER (anyone else slow themselves down by putting in GRRL POWER first? And let's keep the Spice Girls out of girl power discussions.); [Bloody, to some] for DIRTY WORD; [Corp. VIPs] leading to CFOS rather than the usual CEOS; PIL for a post-Clash, post–Sex Pistols band I should've known (it parses asPiL, or Public Image Ltd.); and ["Whenever..."] for NO RUSH and ["Whatevs..."] for I DON'T CARE and YEH ("Yeh"?).
Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword seemed even tougher than his Onion puzzle. The theme was elusive; if you "see" ___, where the blank's filled by certain entries in this puzzle, that becomes the clue for another entry, misleadingly designed to look like standard cross-reference clues. Thus, [It may be checkered] is PAST; [See 54-Across] means [See past], which is OVERLOOK. (Who constructed that NYT or Sun puzzle with a similarly vexatious theme a few months ago?) More music clues here: ["The Genius" alias] is GZA (who's a week younger than me!); [Rotten band, initially?] is PIL, which I wouldn't have known if I hadn't just Googled it after doing the puzzle blogged about in the previous paragraph). AGING is clued as [Cheese process]; as luck would have it, earlier this morning I heard about cheddarvision.tv, where you can watch cheddar age. Tough clues, Scrabbly and fresh fill; I'm out of time for blogging now.
April 15, 2007
(updated at 8:40 a.m. Monday)
The Monday NY Sun crossword treads where the Gray Lady dare not go. What's funny is that the Sun is a conservative paper and the Times is more liberal, but the Times crossword is somewhat more bound by delicate sensibilities than the Sun. To wit: Mark Feldman's Sun puzzle, "Spa Treatments for Miss World," includes three geographically named spa treatments, SWEDISH MASSAGE, FRENCH MANICURE, and BRAZILIAN WAX. You know what's probably markedly less uncomfortable than a Brazilian wax? A wrestling BODY SLAM. Both may be considered NEAR-FATAL. Other zippy fill here includes CYBERSEX and SHAZAM (rumor has it a script is in the works for a Shazam movie). I PASS is clued here as [Nonparticipant's declaration]; what states other than Illinois have an I-PASS system for paying tolls?
The NYT crossword by Randall Hartman has a theme centered around famous people with *ARR last names swapped into phrases that start with *AR words, such as FARR-FETCHED. Hey! I think this theme is a tad far-fetched. It is not, however, star-shaped, carpooled, or bartended. Fill I like: TOM SWIFT, TRIFECTA, I'M SET, ZING (clued as [Get but good]), and THE BOSS. When I came to [Naval affirmative], the entry was A*EA*E—does anyone in the Navy ever say AT EASE (which I know isn't an "affirmative")? Odd to have two militaryish remarks with four letters in common.
Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy crossword, "AAA List," includes three definitions of AAA. One adjacent pair of 8-letter entries are BASEBALL and APPLE PIE (crossing DELAWARE—as in the first state or as in crossing the Delaware?).
The LA Times crossword by Mike Burlisen has a 15x16 grid that accommodates six theme entries, and after you get theme entries 1 and 2, the rest practically fill themselves in. Highlights: JUST SAY NO biding time next to TUPAC, the clue [Drink mixer] for BARTENDER (doesn't the clue put you in mind of tonic and soda rather than the people who mix the liquids together?).
April 14, 2007
(updated at 11:15 a.m. Sunday)
My son and I are going to a third-grader's birthday party in a while. The birthday boy's in the gifted class and on the chess team, his mom didn't want him getting more toys or videogame cartridges, and they're broke but the kid's got some nice reference books. So I figured a bookstore gift card was in order. I was hoping the local Walgreens drugstore would have one on the rack of gift cards so I could avoid the book-buying temptation, but dammit, they didn't. So I ws forced to go to Barnes & Noble, where I also picked up a volume of Wall Street Journal Crossword Puzzles and The Enlightened Bracketologist, which gives the NCAA bracket treatment to everything from crosswordese (Tyler Hinman) and punctuation (Jesse Sheidlower) to political hot-button issues (Mo Rocca) and marital arguments (two people I've never heard of).
The Sunday Times crossword is Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Rube Goldberg Device," and it's essentially a quip puzzle. Ordinarily I deplore such themes with vigor (and vinegar), but I liked BEQ's last quote puzzle in the Onion and I like this one. The theme follows a Rube Goldberg mousetrap through all the steps: [First you...] PLACE CHEESE ONTO SEESAW is followed eventually by FLOODS MOUSE HOLE and the advice to [Next time...] BUILD A BETTER MOUSETRAP. The theme entries happen to include the letters Z, Q, J, and K, and take up a lot of real estate. That's 146 theme squares, long things stretching through the entire grid. You might think the layout would force a lot of compromises in fill, but I don't think it did (although, looking back at the grid, there are plenty of short blah answers, but nearly everything is dictated by the theme density, no?). One might argue that it's not ideal to have the [Antitheft device] THE CLUB crossing two other phrases with THE in them, but who doesn't love the Club? Great crossword entry, along with GENETIC CODE, BREEZE BY, MAITRE D'S, KNEE SOCK, ART LOVER, LUDEN'S cough drops (oh, how I love those), and IN LIEU OF. I never heard of Handel's "CHANDOS Anthems," but there's a great story behind the work. I am pleased to see the reemergence of JAROD, [Lead character on TV's "The Pretender"]; oh, how that name gave people fits when Karen Tracey used it earlier this year. My favorite clues: [House or senate] for BODY (crossing [Senate staff]/AIDES), [Glaswegian : Glasgow :: Loiner : ___] for LEEDS (new one for me), [It comes with strings attached] for BONNET (er, not BIKINI, then?), [Asking too much of someone?] for USURY, and [Subject of a makeup exam?] for GENETIC CODE. A few nifty combos, too: ETNA and LAVA; BIRTH and DEATH; THE WEB, EDU, and URL; LUSTFUL and TRYST; Senators ORRIN and THAD.
The highlight of Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle is SHIH-TZUS (which, as when someone lost one in my neighborhood last year and posted signs, can be misspelled as SHIT-ZU), which happens to have the same number of letters as SHAR-PEIS. (That is a terrible sentence. Moving on!) Moderately Scrabbly and pop-cultural (MRS C, NIMOY, and DEMORNAY, which becomes DEMON RAY with one transposition).
A smooth LA Times syndicated puzzle today, Frances Burton's "Major Excitement."
I presume that Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "April Fuel," originally ran in the paper on April Fool's Day. There were several knotty spots, such as the crossing of [Re element 56] with [Sandarac tree] and ["___, Pagliaccio..."] (BARIC crossing ARAR and RIDI) and the intersection of [Literary pastiches] with [Subject of Weird Al Yankovic's "The White Stuff"] (CENTOS crossing OREO).
The theme in Seth Abel's Washington Post puzzle, "Let the Show Begin!," (am I allowed to use a comma there?) highlights the TV show titles (from the '70s to the present) at the beginning of longer phrases, such as LOST IN THE SHUFFLE and THE VIEW FROM ABOVE. Yay, TV!
April 13, 2007
(updated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday)
Hey! What's this Friday puzzle doing in the Saturday New York Times? Usually Sherry O. Blackard's one of the toughest themeless constructors I encounter, but this crossword seemed quite pliable. 1-Across yielded immediately, and 1-Down followed—and that's not how most Saturday NYTs kick off. [Dessert preference] shouted A LA MODE at me, and while I'm no expert on poetic feet, I do know that ANAPESTIC starts with an A. From a construction standpoint, I reckon it's tremendously difficult to fill a grid like this one (just 60 words and 24 black squares) without making use of a number of common letters at the end of the entries. People and things with an -ER ending here include PAMPERER, NONUSERS, REGRETTERS and SIGHERS (aptly abutting), SILENCER, SENDERS, ANIMATERS, and a RECTIFIER—all of which make it easy to fill in a couple squares as toeholds. My favorite tidbits: [Proof provider] for ACID TEST; [So-so series] for OCTAVE; [Benjamin's love in "The Graduate"] for ELAINE (not because it's a tough clue, but because I like being reminded of that movie); the words CASTIGATES, STRAIGHT-EDGES, and MUDPIES; EGOMANIA (I would dearly love it if someone would write a limerick rhyming egomania with Romania); [Novel price, way back when] for TEN CENTS; [Places to put some bags] for TEAPOTS; [Not gauche] for ADROIT; [Nejd natives] for ARABS (I was guessing it was Slavic until the crossings helped me out); and [Single component] for SIDE A. Also, note that this grid has just two 3-letter entries and four 4-letter entries. That's impressive, Sherry! (But Will, you should have run this one on a Friday even though the empty grid looks fearsome.)
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Mixed Martial Arts," has a theme of 11-letter anagrams. Fun!
Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper was fairly straightforward, though one entry was a complete mystery: the answer to [Vic's wife] was SADE. I Googled up the Wikipedia article on the old radio show, "Vic and Sade"—it began in 1932 and eventually found its way to television for seven weeks in 1957...before my time. If I could choose one kind of pop culture to eradicate from crosswords, it'd be old-time radio shows.
Vic Fleming and Bruce Venzke's LA Times themeless contains TIRAMISU, and who doesn't like that? (Well, I don't. Coffee, ick.) [Near failure] had me trying to think of a noun for far too long, when the answer was D-MINUS. And [Red crawlers]—not ANTS, but EFTS! Here's a red eft. Here's some info about the red-spotted newt—after the egg and larva stages, this newt has a "terrestrial eft" stage that lasts for 2 to 7 years before the eft metamorphoses into an aquatic adult. And the eft—so small! Today's long-overdue lesson (I really should have looked this stuff up years ago) about the top amphibian in crosswords is brought to you by no-longer-an-Eft Gingrich.
Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle ("Zip! Nada!"), which I couldn't access during yesterday's solving/blogging session, has Seinfeld's IT'S ABOUT NOTHING plus 24 theme entries (unless I miscounted) with fill-in-the-blank clues that include the word nothing, zip, or zero. These theme entries, which range from 4 to 15 letters apiece, are not all symmetrically placed (though the long ones are), but the theme clues are CAPITALIZED so they're easy to spot.
April 12, 2007
3/30 CHE 4:35
(updated at 9:05 a.m. Friday)
Oy! It's Friday the 13th! And my kid's got the day off school, so we'll see if I actually find the time to do all those other Friday puzzles when it's actually Friday. Wish me luck!
The Friday NYT is a 66-worder by Patrick Berry with batches of 8-letter words crossing 7-letter ones that cross 15-letter entries. Very good fill in which words play with one another, resonating. To wit: BUDDHA (of Four Noble Truths fame) and PEACENIK are IN ECSTASY because of a TRIPLE WORD SCORE, while ISRAEL spins a DREIDEL—and that's just the top of the puzzle. SODA is a [Gin fizz ingredient]. What kind? SLOE gin, PRITHEE. The drink SLOSHES because he DANDLES a baby on his knee. The clues are terrific, too: [It might wind up in the kitchen] for EGG TIMER. [Country where Taki-Taki is spoken] is SURINAME, though the Wikipedia article doesn't list it with the slew of languages spoken in that diverse land. (Ah, it's the same as Sranantongo.) The Scrabble TRIPLE WORD SCORE has a tricksy clue, [Red square], and so does DREIDEL, [Top of the holiday season?]. [Any number from 1 to 12] is GRADE (meaning a grade in school, as in 1st or 12th grade). [Impressionists exaggerate them] refers to performers who do impressions, not French painters; they play up TICS. The OFF SEASON [is no time for playing games]. [Like some complex feelings] is OEDIPAL. You can read up here on the black ALDER [(winterberry plant)]; gotta love a botanical article that mentions the Rialto at Venice, pendulous catkins, Norse mythology, and rheumatism in Newfoundland. Here is a picture of Cate Blanchett playing Veronica GUERIN, opposite Colin Farrell. You know what? I really enjoyed this crossword. Very few super-easy clues, plenty of clever clues, and a passel of words and phrases that bump up pleasantly against one another. Some themeless grids are just boring, but this one's got zing to it.
Oh, pooh. I finished writing all about Patrick Berry's fabulous NYT puzzle, opened up the Sun Weekend Warrior...and it's another themeless by the same guy. It was tougher, and I liked it, but it seemed a little drier than the other one. Favorite pieces: [Stick in the medicine cabinet] gets me every time: it's Q-TIP. The movie in the RUSS Meyer clue was written by Meyer; it was Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens that Roger Ebert scripted. Liked the citation of The Aristocrats in the SARAH clue. [Noise heard after someone crashes, maybe] is SNORE. Two fur-bearing animals cross each other, STOAT and OTTERS. I had no idea that HAN SOLO [gets frozen in carbonite] (and please, don't enlighten me with which movie that happened in. I am okay with this sort of ignorance). A MASTER is an [Original document]. Who doesn't love [Enigmatology topic] as a clue for CROSSWORDS? [Pitching technique] is HARD SELL rather than anything having to do with baseball. The clue for John TESH is ["Roundball Rock" composer]; I don't watch much NBA action on TV, so I didn't know the music (which you can hear via a Java music player at that Wikipedia page)—but my husband recognized it immediately and thought I was on the ESPN site.
Pancho Harrison's LA Times puzzle has an excellent theme involving puns on the names of four pop stars of the '80s and beyond. The crossword is further enlivened by fill such as SLURPEE, PEEP HOLE, LA STRADA, and GAMBOL, and clues like [Touching sport?] for EPEE, [Sumac with a wide range] for YMA (both of these rescuing otherwise boring entries), and [Folding line] for I'M OUT.
Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword assembles a group of nearly ubiquitous items these days—DVD extra features.
Patrick Berry (again!) constructed the March 30th Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, with a theme of EPONYMS. I knotted myself up in the upper right corner by having ****L**L from two theme entries and deciding that [In a line?] should be PARALLEL, and that second A convinced me that GUAVA was the green fruit. And then nothing else fit! Turned out to be FAMILIAL and OLIVE...
Took me a while to see the theme in the Wall Street Journal puzzle by "Colin Gale" (anagram of Mike Shenk's school paper), "Tax Increases." The title is timely, but a little skewed. Yes, tax time is taxing and it's trying, but thinking about income taxes doesn't send one straight to TRY. Each theme entry has a TRY tacked on somewhere, so a faux pas becomes FAUX PASTRY, a plastic doughnut.
April 11, 2007
(updated at 8:55 a.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday)
Oddly enough, I have no new Tyler Hinman media exposure to report. We've covered a major urban newspaper, a major city's radio station, and a major city's marquee public TV program in the last few days; I await word that a magazine is profiling Tyler.
Are you like me? Did it take you a while to make sense out of the theme in Jim Page's NYT crossword? I am not averse to COMEDY CENTRAL, but the other theme entries had nothing to do with the cable channel. They did, however, contain a comedian's name in the center (Lucille BALL, Bob HOPE, Chris ROCK, and Jay-not-funny-anymore LENO). Of the various definitions of HASH(ED), the one I'm least familiar with is the verb meaning "to make a mess of." HASHED crossed the NEOSHO River at its H, which was a tricky crossing. [Neighbor of Hi and Lois] was a hard clue for IRMA; I used to read the strip and recall no neighbors. (I can picture Cora Dithers, though, so I don't mind encountering her in the crossword.) Raise your hand if you decided lava was MOLTEN long before you conceded that it was SPEWED (does all lava spew, or does some of it just ooze?) Gruesome word of the day: FLENSE, clued as [Strip off, as skin] and pertaining to whales.
The Sun crossword by Alan Olschwang offers another take on a different puzzle from this week. Ben Tausig's "Water Supply" had theme entries containing HHO, whereas Olschwang's "Waterlogged" squeezes those letters into H2O rebus squares joining eight theme entries. (My son saw HHO in a few squares in the Across Lite puzzle and was intrigued. It is never too early to learn about rebus puzzles!) I don't recall seeing SLEUT[HHO]UND before, but it's here, along with SOUT[H HO]LLAND (a region of the Netherlands, but also a suburb 14 miles from my mom's. LARA is also a state in Venezuela (speaking of estados, I saw my first Mexican license plate on a car in Chicago the other day—Durango plates).
Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Catching a Few Z's," reminded me a bit of Tyler Hinman's first Onion A.V. Club puzzle back in November, though Tyler was changing word endings to -ZZLE, à la Snoop Dogg while Ross is inserting ZZ into the theme entries (two of which include a -ZZLE). In addition to the eight Z's included in the theme, there's another Z and two X's in the fill—and one of the theme clues uses the word pizzazz. Trip Payne sings hosannas to the letter Q, but I gotta say, there's just something about Z.
And one more:
Matt Jones' Jonesin' crossword this week is called "Oink Oink." The theme is a riddle that seems targeted to a nine-year-old's sense of humor—you know how kids gte hooked on joke books and will tell jokes they don't even understand? This puzzle's highlight was ALMOND clued as [Part of some Snickers bars]; I fell in love with the Mars Bar, but have followed it to its new home as the Snickers Almond, and now I'm in the mood for one (insert Homeresque "Mmm, Mars Bar..."). I also liked HEROES clued with reference to the NBC series, GUIDO Sarducci from SNL, the PERMs of the '80s (yep, I had one), and SCYTHE clued as [Prop for the Grim Reaper] (the Grim Reaper is a character on The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy; he lost a limbo contest and is doomed to spend his days with a dim boy and a bossy girl, and he's got a Caribbean accent).
Nancy has gently violated copyright to bring us a 9-minute YouTube video of Tyler Hinman's appearance on a Chicago TV program. At the 3:15 mark, Tyler begins to solve the Tuesday NYT, but the video is speeded up so that almost 3 minutes of solving takes a bit more than a minute. (Tyler and the host, Phil Ponce, continue their conversation while that video plays, so Tyler's not obligated to talk while solving.)
April 10, 2007
(updated at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday)
We watched Tyler Hinman's appearance on Chicago Tonight. He solved the Tuesday NYT crossword in 2:50-something on paper, on video. No amazing new insights were elicited by Phil Ponce's questions, but it seemed like a more in-depth interview than the usual news feature on a crossword champ. Once again, Tyler passed up a chance to plug my book when asked how people can improve their crossword skills. (Sigh...)
Two very different crosswords from the Sun and the Times, but both fun. The Sun crossword, Alex Boisvert's "Capital Pun-ishment," has a not-so-easy-to-grasp theme and some knotty fill (plus some savory pop culture). Bruce Adams' NYT also had some knottiness to it.
In the NYT, I'm guessing a lot of people walked into a trap at 1-Across and had another couple entries that had to be pieced together, letter by letter. 1-Across is [Disney pup] SCAMP, son of Lady and the Tramp; and no, he wasn't named in the classic movie, but found his way into various spinoffs. Words like MAHAYANA (the [School of Buddhism]) and RATCH (apparently a variation on the more familiar ratchet) slowed me down. Zane GREY is the writer from Zanesville—he was named after town-founding ancestor Ebenezer Zane. The theme is A MATTER OF DEGREE, with three academic levels reflected in BACHELOR PARTIES, MASTER BEDROOM (clued cleverly as [Parents' retirement place?]), and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. (This theme reminds me of Trip Payne's puzzle from a year or two ago with degree-initials people like Ph.D. Phil Donahue and M.A. Maya Angelou; Trip got a copy of the puzzle autographed by Phil at the ACPT. But forget those spoilers—the puzzle will be included in my book, which I know you're all hankering to pre-order...) Stuff I liked, besides the theme: SEAN PENN, DOGFIGHT (though I'm not sure if [Ace versus ace] counts as a noun to correspond to the answer), [It may be set in Paris] for STYLE, and [Actors Hale Jr. and Hale Sr.] for ALANS (Jr. was the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, of course, while Sr. was in movies from 1911 through the '40s).
The Sun puzzle's dimensions are 15x16 squares, accommodating five vertical theme entries that stack up state capitals to generate puns. Near as I can figure, ANNAPOLIS ALBANY = "An apple is all, Bunny?"; BOSTON CONCORD = "bossed and conquered"; JUNEAU BOISE DOVER = "D'you know boys eat over?"; AUGUSTA ST. PAUL = "Augustus ain't Paul" McCartney; and MADISON CHEYENNE = "Matt is on shy Anne," maybe. How many hours would it take you to play around with the capital cities to see what puns you could extract? (Yikes.) One of my "Huh?" answers here was MONDO GRASS, which might not be considered part of the lily family, clue be DAMNed ([End of a famous Rhett Butler line]), but look at those amazingly blue berries. I didn't know miler EAMONN Coghlan, but when my husband saw that I had his Wikipedia page up, he commented that he was a miler and a noted indoor runner. KING OLIVER was also outside my ken, but he and crossword regular Kid Ory led a band together about 90 years ago. Plenty of pop culture here: ROD from The Simpsons, GENA Rowlands, MR T, director Mira NAIR, EEYORE, and Survivor's "Boston ROB" Mariano, the one who married fellow Survivor contestant Amber Brkich. Sports: DR J, Johnny UNITAS, Warren SAPP, and SE RI Pak. Other highlights: MOONPIE, ZIPLOC, [Follower of Big or Power] for MAC, and [Fish in "Finding Nemo" who thinks her reflection is her sister Flo] for DEB (get it? Deb and Flo? Ebb and flow?)
Karen Tracey's LA Times puzzle has a JV SQUAD theme: four people with J.V. initials and a slew of J's (11 of them) and V's (8) throughout the grid. Fun crossword!
Sarah Keller hides body parts in "No Evil," her CrosSynergy crossword. Depicted in this picture are, from top to bottom, BRITNEY SPEARS, ALAN KEYES, and STONE PHILLIPS. Charlotte RAE of Diff'rent Strokes and the spinoff, The Facts of Life, is in this puzzle. You know which famous actor and director was also on the latter show? IKE (Dwight D. Eisenhower) beat AES (Adlai E. Stevenson) in politics and in placement within the crossword grid—IKE's on top at 1-Down. This is the second puzzle I've seen in a few days that had the Fighting ILLINI of the University of Illinois. A month or two ago, the U of I finally decided to jettison "The Chief," the student-in-an-Indian-costume mascot. (The motivation? The NCAA wouldn't let them host major sporting events unless they dropped the mascot.) It's about time!
April 09, 2007
(updated at 9:40 a.m. Tuesday)
Chicago TV alert! Tyler Hinman will be performing live this evening on Channel 11's Chicago Tonight, 7 to 8 p.m. And by performing, I mean solving a crossword. And talking. If you're local, set your recordamajig so you don't miss it.
The Tuesday Sun crossword by Gary Steinmehl had a rather complex theme for so early in the week, whereas Kevan Choset's NYT had a more basic type of theme.
The Choset puzzle contains three [Fantastic!], [Excellent!], or [Stupendous!] entities, the INCREDIBLE HULK (following up yesterday's GREEN theme), the GREAT GATSBY, and the AMAZING KRESKIN. Here, BABEL is clued as the Brad Pitt movie (beefcake fans, click that link!) Is LOCKLET really a word? I entered RINGLET first. I don't feel like pulling out that giant unabridged dictionary to check (after 10 p.m., I limit my hoisting of weighty tomes), but Google shows locklet as mainly a misspelling of locket (it is almost painful to see so many search results that are so wrong!) or a surname. I know I usually say that minor duplications in crossword fill don't bother me, but this puzzle had IN E and IN ME and ON ME, as well as I THE, THE BEAR, and THE RIVIERA.
I had a sense of deja vu (insert your own accent marks as desired) with the Sun puzzle, "Upscale Wordplay." A few weeks ago, Ken Jennings had presented a little word game involving DO, RE, MI, and friends, and these theme entries move up a notch on the scale to make SPIN DOCTORS into SPIN RECTORS, for example. MI advances to FA, making FAXED DRINKS; SOL to LA makes PUZZLE LAVER; and TI to DO makes DOME BANDITS. I like these themes that make the solver (or Laver!) do a little work to figure out what's going on. Eight Scrabbly letters adorn the fill (X's, K's, and Z's). Favorite bits: [River of Cairo] for OHIO (that's Cairo, Illinois, pronounced "kay-ro," where the Mississippi meets the Ohio); BABYGAP and DOULA; the poet ANNE SEXTON's full name; AXE clued as [Deodorant brand] (if Axe's advertising has swayed you and you buy this product, your sales resistance could use some serious work); and the KIEV/UKRAINE combo.
By the way, I see that Don Christensen's 2007 tournament photos are posted at the ACPT site now.
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Rated PG," gathers six two-word phrases that start with P and G. Today, apparently, is my day for noticing duplicated fill: here, PLAYING GOD crosses PLAYPEN. Am I the only one who thinks of copepod when CAPECOD loses the space between words in a crossword grid? Always nice to see my internist's surname in a crossword, though she doesn't overtly resemble a [13th-century invader].
See what I mean? In the LA Times puzzle by Lila Cherry ("really Rich" Norris), we see both ON A DARE and ON A DIET, plus two uncommon UN- words (UNSET, UNRIG). Not crazy about IF HE being clued with ["___ hollers, let..."] owing to the troubled American history of "eeny, meeny, miny, moe." The theme entries here are four types of PRIZE POSSESSIONs, the RIBBON, MEDAL, STAR, and CUP one might win in competition. (Does Tyler's ACPT trophy count as a CUP, or is it a festive bowl?) I don't much care for Ernie PYLE or Nellie BLY alone, but put them together in a crossword (crossing at the Y) and they dance beautifully. I'm not sure how many people my age know either name if they're not crossword buffs, but they're both gimmes for anyone who's been solving crosswords for years.
This week's Onion A.V. Club crossword comes from Matt Gaffney, who preps for April 15 with the theme BEFORE TAXES—four other phrases that start with words that may precede "taxes," such as LUXURY (FLAT). Some of the longer fill will probably irk those people who like to quibble over whether entries are "in the language" or "contrived." There's LET'S LEARN, which is clued as [First words in many language book titles]; the top Google hits are language-learning websites. The NEW MOTHER ([She just had a baby]) doesn't sound like something from the dictionary, but I'll bet most of us have used the phrase in speech. I do not tend to say IT'S SUPER, however; sounds more like something Big Gay Al says on South Park, though Google isn't confirming that sense. 1-Across is a great entry, the comic book (and movie) SIN CITY...but wait! The clue is followed by an asterisk, meaning that "sin tax" is part of the theme. But the entry in the opposite corner isn't part of the theme, so the theme entries are not symmetrical. Which is hilarious, because Matt and I just had an e-mail exchange in which he defended the very moral rightness of adhering to symmetry in crosswords! You are so busted, Matt.
Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle for the week is called "Water Supply," and the four theme entries all have HHO (H2O) embedded within them (e.g., BEACH HOUSE). Highlights: Two all-consonant 5-letter entries, MTV VJ and RSVPS; V-NECK plus V-SIX; [Drunk ___ (call smashed)] for DIAL; and the juvenile combo of [Crack house?] for ASS and [Feels relieved, in a way?] for PEES. Fun puzzle!