(updated at 8:20 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday)
In the comments on yesterday's post, Isabel asked why ALAI (as in [Jai ___]) wasn't included in the list of crossword-friendly foreign words. While it may seem as if the word pops up an awful lot in crossword puzzles, it's actually not among the 300 most common NYT crossword answers. Would you believe that Mel OTT also fails to make the grade? It's true. The sports-and-leisure terms and names that arise the most often—although some of these words are clued in non-sports contexts—are as follows:
ACE (golf, tennis)
ALI (boxers Muhammad and Laila)
ANNA (tennis player Kournikova)
ASHE (tennis great Arthur, tennis stadium)
ELI (football's Manning)
ELS (golfer Ernie)
ENOS (Slaughter of baseball)
EPEE (Olympic sport)
IAN (swimmer Thorpe)
ITO (skater Midori)
LIE (golf ball position)
NAT (Washington, D.C., baseball player)
ORR (hockey's Bobby)
TED (Williams of baseball)
If sports really aren't your bag but crosswords are, you would do well to commit this handful of names and words to memory. It doesn't hurt to pay attention to the sports headlines, either—there are plenty of other sporting names that recur in crosswords. The ALOU family, A-ROD, Derek JETER, Sammy SOSA, Manny MOTA—pay particular attention to the names that contain common letters (the ones with low Scrabble values) and have plenty of vowels. ALOU has three vowels, while SOSA and A-ROD (Alex Rodriguez's nickname) have the alternating consonant/vowel pattern that comes in handy for constructors. A sports name like PODSEDNIK is far less likely to land in a crossword grid.
Just as yesterday's NYT puzzle skewed a day harder, Pete Muller's Tuesday NYT felt like a Wednesday puzzle. The inventive theme was slow to dawn on me—the firsts four long Across answers seemed dry and utterly unrelated until the fifth theme entry revealed the point of it all. The SONG BY PAUL SIMON cited in 59-Across is "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and those title words begin each of the other theme entries. The non-theme fill included a pair of 11-letter Down entries, though the surfeit of long entries was balanced by an abundance of 3-letter answers. Old-school crossword vocabulary tip of the day: INGLE is another word for "fireplace." Hmm, you know what? I think I might like the theme mainly because I like the Simon & Garfunkel song. I can't get YouTube to open tonight, but would like to watch this video of the duo performing the song in 2003.
In his Sun crossword, "Tabloid Twosomes," Tony Orbach seems to take Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's tabloid-merged name Bennifer as a starting point, then coming up with the alternative of PEZFLECK. There are four other faux portmanteau names for real Hollywood couples (or ex-couples) in the theme. And all five names are clued with reference to the couple and to the resultant phrase. [Alec & Kim, or a way to describe Moby or Seal?] gets you BALDSINGER. (Side note: The series Alec Baldwin is on, 30 Rock, is worth your while. I got hooked on this clever comedy halfway through last season and bought the entire season's worth of episodes from iTunes.)
Ahh, another Bob Klahn creation from the CrosSynergy syndicate! The theme concept is unexceptional (a group of two-word phrases linked by MPH), but the clues, the clues are what we come for. Unrelated "Paper Moon" clues for intersecting answers, adjacent answers with Amtrak in the clues, and overall kinda tough and interesting clues. The fill includes fresh phrases like SAY BOO and HAD WORDS, too. And one of the theme entries is poor overlooked Stooge SHEMP HOWARD. An enjoyable puzzle, like most of Bob Klahn's work.
Brendan Emmett Quigley wrote this week's Onion A.V. Club crossword with binge drinkers in mind. A solid teetotaler might find the six theme entries a tad elusive, as they're all liquor (clued as subsequent stops in a "big drinking night"). "Oh, well, surely the crossings will help the non-drinking solver," you say. Au contraire. The crossings include the [Swiss city where Einstein studied], AARAU (population less than 16,000), and [Gay porn star Spears], ZAK. Never heard of either one, though I'm amused to learn from that second link that the porn star's stage name pays homage to Saved by the Bell. One of the theme entries was also foreign to me; MAD DOG ON THE ROOF alludes to a fortified wine for winos. On the plus side: (1) This puzzle may enchant reluctant young crossword solvers and persuade them that crosswords are not so stodgy after all. (2) The fill contains some obscure crossword words (hello, POILU and ALB!), but it also has three delicious 8-letter entries, BUTTHEAD of Beavis and Butthead fame; OREM, UTAH; and the S.S. MINNOW from Gilligan's Island. (3) Seventy-two theme squares is a lot. (4) The theme entries include the a variety of high-Scrabble-value letters in TEQUILA SHOTS, KAMIKAZES, and VODKA RED BULL.
The theme in Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "Hidden Articles," has eluded me. Oh, finally! There it is. Hidden articles of clothing: The fantastic group of theme entries (featuring the Scrabbly PSYCHOSEXUAL and QUETZALCOATL) are hiding a KILT, HOSE, SOCK, COAT, and SARI within their squares. Mystery answer: GGALLIN, the [Masochistic punk singer with the given name "Jesus Christ"]. Google tells me it's GG Allin, and that he was prone to peeing and pooping on stage. All righty, then! I prefer the musical answer ALISON, for the classic Elvis Costello song. Two clues related to hook-ups: [Without commitment, in personal ads] is NSA (short for "no strings attached"), and [Post-hook-up drug] is PLAN B. Now, ideally that hook-up will involve a condom, but if the condom fails, Plan B can prevent ovulation and hence pregnancy.
So no, the Onion A.V. Club, Ink Well, and Jonesin' crosswords are not your grandmother's Oldsmobile. They're not the daily newspaper's Oldsmobile, either. But the in-your-face disregard for standard crossword decorum is probably doing more than anything else to lure teens and twentysomethings to the crossword habit. If we non-kids want to maintain our own crossword habits 20 or 40 years from now, we'd better hope that today's youth and tomorrow's youth get a kick out of crosswords, too.
July 09, 2007