July 08, 2007

Monday, 7/9

NYS 3:33
NYT 2:53
CS 2:51
LAT 2:20

Updated at 9:45 a.m. Monday)

So, How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle will be published on Tuesday. I'll be incorporating some excerpts here to whip you into a book-buying frenzy share some of the tips and tools included in my book. First up, foreign vocabulary:

Most American crosswords contain the occasional foreign word. Usually non-English content is limited to the sort of words that a literate American is likely to be familiar with or can deduce from the clue, even if he or she has never studied the language in question. Foreign-language entries may be signaled by explicitly mentioning the country or language (e.g., [German crowd?] is DREI, German for “three”) or by including another word in that language/locale in the clue (e.g., ETE, French for “summer,” may be clued [Summer on the Seine]; TRE, Italian for “three,” may be [Amount past due?], due being Italian for "two"). Diacritical marks are ignored, so a Spanish word containing Ñ, for example, will instead have a plain N.

Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the foreign words that pop up the most frequently. (Kevin McCann of Cruciverb.com was a huge help—he mined his database to generate lists of the words that appear the most often in the Times crossword.) A few of these are flexible, with non-foreign clues used some of the time (e.g., AVE can also be an abbreviation for avenue). But these are the foreign words and phrases you're most likely to encounter in the NYT puzzle:

A LA (French, “in the style of”)
AMI (French, “friend”)
AVE (Latin, greeting)
ESSE (Latin, “being”)
EST (Latin or French, “is”)
ESTE (Spanish, “east”)
ET AL (Latin, abbreviation for “and others”)
ETE (French, “summer”)
ETRE (French, “to be”)
ILE (French, “island”)
IN RE (Latin, “in the matter of”)
LES (French, plural article)
NEE (French, “born”)
OLE (Spanish cheer)
ORO (Spanish, “gold”)
RES (Latin, “thing”)
RIO (Spanish, “river”)
SRA (Spanish, abbreviation for señora, “Mrs.”)
SRI (Hindi, title of respect for a man)
STE (French, abbreviation for Sainte, a female saint)

If you're fairly new to crosswords, get these words embedded in your memory because you'll be seeing them again.

Proceeding to Monday's crosswords, I enjoyed Peter Collins' NYT crossword. It was maybe a little more like a Tuesday level of difficulty, with some tougher words, and it had a Thursdayish gimmick to it. The OCTOPUS and its ABDOMEN lurk in the grid's middle with eight ARMs radiating outward (in the circled squares). There are a slew of 6- and 7-letter answers, which I like (unless it's a themeless crossword, in which case a preponderance of 7s is just dull), offset slightly by all the wee 3-letter entries that facilitate the longer ones. Those ARMs greatly complicate the construction of a puzzle, requiring that third direction of crossings; that the entries crossing those limbs include lively bits like YES MA'AM and the movie I AM SAM is a nice accomplishment. Other things I liked: ARREARS appearing with the French ARRIERE, suddenly revealing to me the etymology of the former; the oceanic SEA STAR; the MAMMAL creatures called MARMOTS, which resemble PRAIRIE dogs; the beer Stella ARTOIS; multiword answers like MT SINAI and TINY TIM; and the Scrabbly word JINXES. I didn't know [1950s Wimbledon champ Lew] HOAD, but appreciate the timeliness of a Wimbledon clue on the heels of Roger Federer's historic win, tying Bjorn Borg's record of five straight Wimbledon titles (and how sweet does Federer look when moved to tears after a victory?)


Dominick Talvacchio's NY Sun crossword, "Typewriter Trivia," is another of those that place the pen(cil)-and-paper solver at a disadvantage—the theme answers are much easier to figure out if you're solving with the aid of a keyboard. We learn here that ANTISKEPTICISM is the longest word that alternates typing hands, letter by letter. The JOHNNY-JUMP-UP is typed with the right hand alone, TEETER-TOTTER contains only letters from the keyboard's top row, and SWEATER DRESSES is a left-hand term. I kinda like the clue [10 stone?] for OPAL. October's the tenth month, the October birthstone is the opal, and you're tricked into thinking of the British unit of weight called a stone, equivalent to 14 pounds.