August 31, 2007

Saturday, 9/1

NYT 16:05
LAT 6:00
CS 3:49

No cut to hide the spoilers for the Saturday post—I haven't figured out yet if Google can really see through the unexpanded post, and I don't have my SiteMeter password saved on my laptop here so I can't check. And this NYT puzzle is one that ought to be just a little more Googleable, don't you think?

I won't be doing the Newsday puzzle for Saturday because there's no printer hooked up to my laptop. Sure, my father-in-law has a computer, but it has Microsoft's Vista on it, and it's like an ugly ripoff of the Mac OS and I can't bring myself to use it.

So. The Saturday New York Times crossword, by Karen Tracey. I'm a big Karen fan in general, but this puzzle? Hated it. Too many icky crossings that relied far too much on lucky guesses or, apparently, slightly broader knowledge than I possess. Was the puzzle impossible? Why, no, of course not. A number of people finished it well ahead of me. Tough for a Saturday puzzle, sure, but not impossible. I'm just not sure it was fair, though, with names crossing names and obscure Indian musical instruments.

All right, so what's got me so cranky? First off, let's take a moment to rant about the applet technology. It's fabulous—but they have got to do something about the messed-up diacriticals. That clue, [Grammy-winning merengue singer Ta??n] is unforgiveable. Will Shortz! Please ask Peter Ritmeester to tend to this! That [___ Tom?] clue (for SAO Tomé) the other week was also unforgiveable. We're paying money to use this applet, and it's not too much to expect diacriticals to show up correctly. Woe to anyone who tries to Google the famous Ta??n—how is that pronounced, anyway?

And now for the cranky-making clues. The [Indian lute] is a SAROD. Raise your hand if you knew that one. Anyone? The D crosses [Cellist who deputed at London's Wigmore Hall at age 16], JACQUELINE DU PRE. Never heard of her. The letter sequence DUPRE is somewhat more plausible as a last name than _UPRE with any other letter, but if there's an Indian lute starting with SARO_, who's to say we're looking at only plausible answers here? I've seen [Cartoonist Segar] in crosswords before—ELZIE is the first name of Popeye cartoonist E.C. Segar. He and the above-mentioned Ta??n merengue musician, OLGA (that's Olga Tañón, I learned by searching Wikipedia for merengue olga), both cross [Shakespearean scholar Edmond], who turns out to be MALONE with the L and O from the crossing semi-obscure names. There are less inaccessible MALONEs and OLGAs out there—would've been nice to make one of them a little easier given ELZIE's relative obscurity. (By the way, if you Google Indian lute, the first hits give you sitar and dotar before you get to sarod. All 5 letters long!)

In the top right corner, we've got a somewhat arbitrary [Size in a lingerie shop], C CUP, which could be A through G, really—and at first I was thinking that lingerie shop had petite sizes like TWO P and SIX P, which didn't do me any favors at all. Below that is [Basse-Normandie department]—who doesn't love those 4-letter French departments? All one can do (barring in-depth French geography knowledge) is wait for the crossings to tell us which one it is. Guess what? There are 11 4-letter departments in France. This time it was ORNE (not OISE or AUBE or AUDE or the others). The next one down is [2004-06 poet laureate Kooser and others]—that'd be TEDS. Below that is [Fluffy, perhaps] for HOUSE PET. Not HOUSECAT. And not an adjective meaning "fluffy." Yes, that corner was also problematic for me. "Surely the long Down clues crossing those were of enormous help?" you ask. Well, the other Acrosses below HOUSE PET also eluded me. There's good old JACQUELINE DU PRE, of course, as well as OZARK the airline, REED clued as [Fen bender] (because, I guess, a reed bends in the breeze and grows in a fen), and the tricky [Holders of shoulders: Abbr.] for RDS (too confusing, what with the C CUP bra and the phrase "over-the-shoulder boulder holder"!).

Getting past the sour taste from those two corners, what did I like? POINDEXTER as the [Stereotypical nerd] is terrific. [Squirts] the noun = TOTS. [Tears] could mean a zillion things other than RACES. PLAN B is a good [Backup] for contraceptive mishaps. [It'll knock you out after you knock it back] is MICKEY FINN (as in "slipped him a Mickey")—easy enough, clever enough. [Cautious people stay on it] = SAFE SIDE—also easy enough. AVAST MATEY is clued [Salt halter]. [Knot] is the vague but dead-on clue for ENIGMA. HE/SHE is the [Inclusive pronoun], differing in only one letter from HESSE, [Where the Fulda flows]. The [Expensive choice for a commuter], GAS GUZZLER, and ["Madame Butterfly," updated], MISS SAIGON, made a great pair of stacked entries—but they didn't help me quite enough with that perfect storm of names. I love SHAZAM, but the '70s kiddie show superhero sort of SHAZAM, not the [Gomer Pyle expletive]. Wrong decade for me, alas. In the corner above SHAZAM, the long entries of COTE D'AZUR, CREPE PAPER on the pi?ata (OK, piñata), and UNDETERRED eventually found their way into the grid, but not soon enough to make the TEDS and ORNE party come together easily.

What's your verdict? Eminently fair but tough, or kinda unfair with the intensity of "you know it or you don't" names mingling together in a mosh pit of empty squares?


Ha! There I was, working my way through Robert Wolfe's LA Times puzzle (thanks to Jeff A. for the hook-up), when I encountered the clue [Blogger's entry, maybe], 4 letters. Eventually the crossings revealed it to be RANT. "Wait, that's not fair. I rarely write a post that could be considered a... Never mind." Yes, I ranted above. It's true. This paragraph will be unranty, however. Three 15-letter entries here: the very colloquial STOP YOUR WHINING (["Grow up!"]) and FOR GOODNESS' SAKE (["GEE WHIZ!"]) bracketing the slightly less colloquial but still lovely INESCAPABLE FACT ([Reality that must be faced]). Throw in SLOWPOKES and WOULD-BE and a [Cutie pie] TOOTS (though TOOTS is so retro and sounds like it's meant for an old broad—please do not call me "Toots"), the candidate's WAR CHEST and ALL ALONE. The [Ministerial office] called a PASTORATE is a tad dry. Other clues of note: [It's right before a landing] for the LAST STEP; [Keys on the keys] for pianist ALICIA Keys; [Word with do or to] for HOW; [Common antacid] for BAKING SODA (does anyone use this remedy?); [Flirted with] for the idiomatic MADE EYES AT; [Leeds livers?] for BRITS (those who live in Leeds); [It had the same chassis as a Grand Am] for the Oldsmobile ALERO (a new clue for an extinct car!); [Small hair piece] for LASH; ELISHA [Cook who played Wilmer in "The Maltese Falcon"]; ["Mr. Lonely" singer] for Bobby VINTON ("the Polish prince"!); [Quarreled] for SPATTED (yes, spat is a present-tense verb); and [Damaging sound?] for SOFT G.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle has a "Cleaning Day" theme with phrases that begin with kinds of cleaning jobs (e.g., VACUUM BOTTLE, MOP-UP DUTY). A number of cute clues: [One for the road?] for CAR; [Level edges] for ELS; [Phone call at 3:00 a.m., sometimes] for BAD NEWS (well, that's not so much cute as accurate); [Went 0 for 50, say] for SLUMPED; and the never-heard-that-one-before ["Holy jumping catfish!"] for EGAD. I'm not up on things like [Computer language iteration], or DO LOOP, which is apparently also called a do while loop.


August 30, 2007

Friday, 8/31

NYT 9:51
NYS 6:32
Jonesin' 4:25
LAT 4:02
CHE 4:01
CS 3:41

WSJ untimed

When I finished Paula Gamache's New York Times themeless, I swear the timer said 9:51—and then nothing happened when I clicked "done," so eventually I clicked it again, and that time it worked. But still: Holy hell! That's about twice as long as a typical Friday puzzle, so either Will has flip-flopped the Friday and Saturday puzzles, or we're just getting an extra dose of challenge today. But Wednesday was an easy Thursdayish puzzle, Thursday was quite Fridayish, so why shouldn't Friday be Saturdayish?

So what took so long? Plenty of wicked-hard clues, clever and twisty clues, clues that mislead you astray. For example: [Shock source, sometimes] is PRICE TAG, as in sticker shock. [Exchange for something you really want?] is a noun, not verb: your RIGHT ARM. An OPENER is a [Handle, e.g.], presumably because a door handle opens things? [Catholic] is the non-religious sense, ECLECTIC interests. [They might just squeak by in a basketball game] are GYM SHOES, rubber treads squeaking on the wood floor. Good ol' ATRA gets a fresh clue, [Grooming brand introduced in 1977]. AUTOS are [Runners with hoods] because cars run and have hoods. I like Poe, but ["Berenice" author, briefly] for E.A. POE is awfully eely; haven't read that one! I had five of the six letters in [Club's cover] and still it took forever to get CHARGE, as in a cover charge at a nightclub. MADAME SPEAKER is the [Parliamentary address?], and I can't believe how long it took me to get beyond the MADAM part. [This, in Thüringen] is from German 101: DIESE. The [Striking figures] are PICKETERS on strike. ["Deal with it!"] for TOUGH isn't so tough, but it is entertainingly colloquial. [Catchers of some ring leaders] looked like it was supposed to be tricky, but it's T-MEN enforcing the Treasury laws. [Hard up] = DIRT POOR. [Void] means the verb, not the noun or adjective: ABROGATE. [Second chance] isn't RE-anything but rather, the colloquial DO-OVER. The [Cardinals' gathering place] refers to neither birds nor baseball: ST. PETER'S Cathedral.

Whew, those were just the tricky or interesting Across clues. Moving along to the dastardly Downs: [Pantheon heads?] for the Latin CAPITA, "heads." THE CRUSADES are [Fights with knights]; no tilting or jousting here. [Cool, in a way] is the verb FAN; how many people had FA and said, "Hmm, must be FAB"? [Hockey player Tverdovsky] is OLEG; I was relieved it wasn't some crazy unfamiliar name or variant spelling. RICHTER is the [Scale developer]. [Skin pics?] and [Skin pic?] are CHEESECAKE and TAT (tattoo). [It has pickup lines] means automaker GMC, which sells pickup trucks. The next clue, [It has many functions], is MATH; you'll note that pickup lines and math have no known association. SPOT REMOVER is the [Cleaning product that might be useful after a party]. A HOSE is a [Spray source] and HESS is an [Amoco alternative]; is Hess defunct like the Amoco name is? I have never ever heard of a HUG-ME-TIGHT jacket, a [Short, close-fitting jacket]. I also slowed myself down by renaming the [Desert Storm reporter] Peter ARNETT (hrm, ARNESS just doesn't help here). [Eyebrow makeup] is a great clue for HAIR, because hair is what eyebrows are made of. Every hair has a ROOT, which is also a [Lexicographic concern]. The noun [Dumps] means PIGPENS, a nice change from crossword regular STY. Did you know there's a RED ELM tree? It's a [Tree with double-toothed leaves and durable wood]. [See, say] is a tough clue for BET—as in "I'll see your blahblah and raise you blehbleh." RIP gets the tough-clue treatment too: [Turbulent water stretch].

Pop culture madness: Wrestler RIC Flair, the Pierce Brosnan volcano movie "DANTE'S Peak" (I saw the Tommy Lee Jones volcano movie, Volcano, instead), young RORY Culkin (older brothers in show biz: Macauley and Kieran), agent ARI Gold from HBO's Entourage (haven't watched it, but I do read my Entertainment Weekly). Speaking of madness, this puzzle groups together SPUTTER, SNARLY, and STORMY; I wonder how many stymied solvers have found themselves sputtering and snarling their way through this delightful (to me) set of hard clues.

I sure do like tough themeless crosswords! They're so crunchy and nutty and chewy and, I want a candy bar right now. A puzzle like this, why, it's almost chocolate-coated. (Mind you, if other applet solvers come along and zip through the puzzle and leave me choking on their dust, then it retrospectively becomes a little less fun. What's that? Why, yes, I am a bit competitive.)

The New York Sun crossword's another joint production of Francis Heaney and Patrick Blindauer. The "Two Against One" title reflects the two different letters that fit into two otherwise identical words in selected phrases. That famous [Boston public works project] at 1-Across, the BIG DIG, is condensed into [B/D]IG, with the crossing answer being actor B.D. WONG. 9-Across, [J/S]ET (jet set) crossing J.S. BACH, also came quickly to mind. The other theme pairs were tougher, though. H.P. LOVECRAFT with [H/P]OCUS (hocus pocus), [P/O]UT (with put out clued as [retire] rather than, say, [douse]) with P.O. BOXES, BREA[K/D] (break bread) with K.D. LANG, [H[I/O]P (hip hop) with I/O ERROR, and [P/M]OWER (power mower) with TEN P.M. Cool twist on the rebus puzzle format! Favorite clues: [Etc., etc.] for ABBRS; [Ruthless] for DOG-EAT-DOG; [Stole], the noun, for SCARF; [Exercise done on a bench] for the piano exercise, ETUDE; [President of the Brooklyn Dodgers a century ago] for EBBETS, presumably the eponym of the Dodgers' old field; [Clicking sounds?] for AHAS; [Knight costar on '70s TV] for Georgia ENGEL; [Five of a kind] for AEIOU; and [2200] for TEN P.M.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword features a quote from Zsa Zsa Gabor: I NEVER HATED A MAN / ENOUGH TO GIVE HIM / HIS DIAMONDS BACK. Highlight: HARRUMPH!

Larry Shearer's 8/17 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle features historical college trivia—[First American college to win 100 NCAA titles], for example (that one's UCLA). Sheer unknown: [Aztec-___ (American Indian language family)] is TANOAN. Fave clues: [Go from first to second] is SHIFT, as in car gears; it was hard to dislodge thoughts of baseball here.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Bowling for Dollars," has a financial/bowling theme. While one must give props for the double-sided theme, oy, I've had quite enough of bowling themes to last a lifetime. There were some clues I wanted to single out, but I left the laptop to slather the kid in sunscreen, and I've lost my train of thought. There were some good clues, though, including the week's second instance of [Close up on the movie screen] for GLENN. Great minds think alike, apparently.

The Wall Street Journal crossword, "What a Piece of Work," is credited to Marie Kelly, an anagram of "really Mike," a.k.a. Mike Shenk. Each of the theme entries contains a STINT. This puzzle I solved poolside, untimed because I'm interacting with my kid and also, the humidity. And the heat. Good crossword, but the distractions render me unable to discuss the puzzle with any semblance of sentience. So I'll sunscreen up and hop in the pool myself...


Ah, the pool was refreshing. Last night's storms cooled down the water to a perfect temperature. But then a new round of storms rolled in, so pool time came to an end. And then the storms took a break, but came back again. I'm guessing the water's now a smidgen cooler than I want it, but that will be survivable. It won't actually be cold, in any case.

The LA Times crossword by Jack McInturff pops a PER into the base phrases to create each theme entry. I'll bet the ZIPPER CODE would make for better reading than The Da Vinci Code, and I like the idea of an educational PEPPER TALK. I can't imagine the cops would be able to pull off a BEEPER STING these days—how many people are still carrying pagers in this era of the ubiquitous mobile phone and PDA? A PLUMPER TOMATO sounds tempting, doesn't it? Mmm, tomatoes... An illegal chop shop gets converted into a CHOPPER SHOP—where else would you take your helicopter when it needs a tune-up? I like these theme entries. The P sound is inherently fun anyway, isn't it? Favorite fill entry: ZOMBIE. Fave clue: [Clippers home] for TOOLSHED rather than wherever the Los Angeles Clippers play—this one may have duped many of the local LA Times readers. Not quite sure why MAST is clued as [Spar] when SPAR sits just a few columns to the right.


August 29, 2007

Thursday, 8/30

NYT 5:46
LAT 5:22—late addition to the post
NYS 5:03
CS 4:14

I am going to mentally subtract a little time from my NYT applet solving times while I'm on vacation and using a browser that refuses, no matter how politely I ask, to let me jump to the next entry with the tab key. Am amazed I didn't nod off during the puzzle, considering I've been up since 4 a.m. Eastern time, over 18 hours now. Sure, there's an 18-Hour Bra on the market, but that doesn't mean that an 18-hour day isn't too long. Although what do I know? Maybe that bra makes all the difference. Maybe it infuses caffeine through the skin.

The Thursday New York Times puzzle by Vic Fleming and Bruce Venzke had some heavy-duty Friday vibes, didn't it? Sure, there were four theme entries—interlocked 15-letter entries starting with WHO, WHAT ("WHAT IN TARNATION?!?"), WHEN, and WHERE. (Why? Because crosswords are fun.) But they were interlocked in a themeless puzzle sort of way, and the grid had plenty of wide-open spaces much like a themeless puzzle.

Favorite clues: [Seinfeld's "sworn enemy"] for NEWMAN; [Vicious sorts] for PIRANHAS; [Sterile, in a way] for NEUTER; [Gore follower] for TEX (as in Gore-Tex); and [Gentleman of the court] for Arthur ASHE. I also enjoyed the literary references: VLADIMIR, [One of the men waiting in "Waiting for Godot"]; Bob AMES, [young man in Dreiser's "Sister Carrie"]; ENID, the [Tennyson woman called "the fair"]; and Uriah HEEP, [Mr. Wickfield's clerk, in literature]. I learned a few new things: Debussy wrote an "Air de LIA," which you can listen to here; there's a VEAL Orloff in addition to veal Oscar; there's a children's author/photographer named ARLENE Alda, whose books look fantastic and I want to know why nobody tipped me off to their existence; MURIATIC acid is the old name for hydrochloric acid; and a NIB can also be a [Pointed extremity]. I won't LIVE A LIE: this puzzle also has a bunch of quasi-crosswordese entries that may be most vexatious for newer solvers. But three decades into my puzzling avocation, I am not put off by the AARE and YSER, SRI and DAH, EERO and RHIN, ESSO and NISAN. (And of course, this lover of contemporary pop culture knows who NIA Long is and, in fact, just spotted her last night on an aged rerun of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, portraying Will Smith's girlfriend.)

Steven Ginzburg's New York Sun crossword, "Self-Reflective," bundles a set of phrases made of letters that share a reflective symmetry. The clue for the last of these, OKEECHOBEE, says, [Florida lake in which you could view the unchanged vertical reflections of 18-, 28-, 35-, 45-, and 54-Across]—and indeed, DIXIE CHICK, KICKBOXED, and two others are all composed of letters that look the same right-side-up and upside-down. Favorite clues: [Crawl out of one's skin?] for MOLT; [Put one's foot into someone else's mouth?] for KICKBOXED; [One intimately involved with the spirit world] for SOT; [Pole vault metal?] for the Polish currency unit, GROSZ; [Sign of fall] for SCORPIO; and [Georgia, once] for COLONY (not SSR for a change!).

Speaking of OKEECHOBEE, my husband and I thoroughly amused ourselves today with Florida place names I saw on the map. We aren't too far from the Withlacoochee State Forest, so we're contemplating buying a can of huitlacoche and leaving it in Withlacoochie, while singing 2 Live Crew's "Pop That Coochie." (What can I say? It was a longish drive.)


Well, I don't remember my password, so I can't get the LA Times puzzle in Across Lite this week. The CrosSynergy puzzle's by Patrick Blindauer today. The "Freudian Slip-ons" theme entries all have an ID tacked on, changing the meaning. Yo-Yo Ma the cellist becomes the YO-YO MAID; Special K cereal, SPECIAL KID; ho-hum, HO HUMID; car bra, CAR BRAID (the iffiest and/or hardest to figure out for me); and the down-South DIXIE CUPID. I surely never knew that [Spock's father] was SAREK. Highlights: ZADORA with Pia in the clue rather than vice versa; [Guy in charge of a spinning wheel] for PAT SAJAK; BABY TALK; and SKITTISH.

Updated again:

Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle has an Across Lite notepad entry providing the diagonal clues (yes, the diagonal clues). There are four 15-letter theme entries that all criss-cross in the center square, all clued as [Cross-country trip #1], [#2], etc.: ST CLOUD TO AUSTIN going from north to south, SAN JOSE TO DURHAM traveling west to east, SEATTLE TO NAPLES going NW to SE, and ANAHEIM to BOSTON going SW to NE. You might think ST CLOUD TO AUSTIN isn't truly cross-country, but there's no central state north of Minnesota or south of Texas. Yes, there's fill like OOOH (crossing TO in three directions, so three Os in a row were unavoidable) and a Roman numeral, but most of the words in this grid intersect with at least one of the theme entries. There's even room for a quartet of 9-letter entries (the tasty TV ANTENNA and "THAT'S A LIE," plus SIGHTLESS and FLIES SOLO), one FIEND (clued as [Evil sort]—frankly, I'm hurt), ADVERB with a great clue ([Again or anew], absolutely tricking me into trying AFRESH), STYX and NIXON meeting at the X, and the word SILVA, clued as [Trees of a region]. Flora and fauna get all the attention, but who doesn't appreciate these types of words? I do pay attention to the silva when I travel, but never manage to track down a "Trees of England" or "Trees of Florida" book to tell me what those mystery trees are. Anyway, congratulations to Dan Naddor on a cool four-way intricate geography theme! (And thanks to Matt for tipping me off to this crossword.)


August 28, 2007

Wednesday, 8/29

NYS 5:03
NYT 3:30

All righty! Our flight to Florida leaves in less than 10 hours, and we have to finish packing and get some sleep. We're taking a wireless router and a couple laptops, so I ought to be able to keep up with the crosswords and the attendant blogging, but I might skip some puzzles along the way. It'll be a low-key vacation—staying at my in-laws', swimming in the pool, vegging out.

Tony Orbach's New York Sun crossword, "Give It a Whirl," has a diamond in the grid's center in which THE EYE OF THE STORM is spelled out. (The Across Lite notepad gives that spiraling entry a clue, [Safe spot in this puzzle?]. There are two straight-across theme entries, HURRICANE CARTER and a BROOKLYN CYCLONE. I'm dizzy! Favorite clues: [Link letters] for the resolutely non-golf HTTP; [Best alternative?] for the sign-off YOURS; [Fuzzy navel ingredient?] for LINT; [Bug exterminator?] for TECHIE and [Terminal person?] for USER; [Meet] for RISE TO, as expectations; and [Hot spot?] for a spot of TEA. I didn't know the [2002 hit for Cam'ron], but just learned that the lyrics for "HEY MA" are...questionable.

Jayne and Alex Boisvert collaborated on the New York Times puzzle, which surprises us with a rebus a day before Thursday. The four long theme entries contain [THUMB]s, as do their shorter crossing words. A lovely batch of phrases: [THUMB]S ONE'S NOSE, the Rolling Stones' "UNDER MY [THUMB]" (holy cow, that song came out the year I was born??), [THUMB] THROUGH, and OPPOSABLE [THUMB], crossing TOM [THUMB], a [THUMB]NAIL sketch, a SORE [THUMB], and [THUMB]S UP, which has been in the news this week. As a little bonus, there's also a GREEN thumb, or the word GREEN by itself, anyway. The grid gets two more thumbs up for fairly Scrabbly fill (BORAX, FIJI, Q-TIP, ZONED out, TRINKETS) and for the low number of 3-letter answers.


August 27, 2007

Tuesday, 8/28

Onion 6:10
NYS 4:54
Tausig 4:48
LAT 3:12
CS 2:51
NYT 2:48

A few days ago, Rick from the What in the Cornbread Hell blog posted his analogy between stone carving and crosswords. (Sneak preview: The Saturday Times puzzle is fine marble.) Rick may cast mild aspersions on Monday and Tuesday puzzles, but this week's Tuesday Sun puzzle has some clues that are as smooth and hard as marble.

At first I thought Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle, "Tripling," had a theme in which each long entry contains GIN twice—but then when all was said (well, not aloud) and done, I saw that it was triple-ING, or ING appearing three times in a row, as in BRING IN GINGRICH. That the constructor compiled four 15-letter phrases that fit this theme is impressive, but I was more pleased with the clues. These four clues were absolutely terrific: [Mac and cheese lead-in] for BIG (Big Mac, big cheese, great clue!); [Mobile home?] for a baby's CRIB; [Hit Fox series since 2000] for CSI, presumably referring to CSI actress Jorja Fox rather than the Fox network, since it's a CBS series; and [Close up on the silver screen] for GLENN Close, with a Saturday-trickery vibe to them. And it's only Tuesday! I don't know what we did to deserve such a treat so early in the week. I also liked [Words before and after "what"] for IT IS (two takes on "it is what it is" here and also here); [Affirmed, e.g.] for a race HORSE; and [Thing purchased before having a ball] for a ball GOWN. Fill highlights: LAVERNE from Laverne and Shirley, VIRAGOS, SUNBURN, and BLURB.

Linda Schechet Tucker's New York Times crossword has an HERB GARDEN theme, with SAGE ADVICE, BASIL RATHBONE, and MINT CONDITION. Plenty of longer fill entries, too. Why don't I know ROGER BACON? At least I do know the OUTER EAR and ASK AROUND and "BOY, OH BOY." There are also a fair amount of those mainly-known-to-crossworders words, like RIANT ([Laughing]); Napoleon's [Isle of exile], ELBA; ADLAI Stevenson; and ENTR'acte. But a savory theme!


Ben Tausig pulls double duty this week with both the Onion A.V. Club crossword and his regular Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle. It took me far too long to suss out the theme in the Onion puzzle: AN ENDLESS SUMMER hints that END has been removed from each of four theme phrases. BOOST was clued as [Nutritional beverage recently sued for causing priapism]; huh, I hadn't heard about that. Zippy entries: the I.T. GUY, tha SHIZNIT, "SPARE ME."

Ben's Chicago Reader crossword is "Giants of the Interstate"—those crazy oversized replicas of things like an OFFICE CHAIR. Raise your hand if you didn;t know that CSS is a [Language used with HTML].

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle's easy. "Don't Do That Any More" contains four theme entries that start with words that can follow STOP. I have never heard the term stop street, though.

Jim Holland's LA Times crossword features four verb phrases in which the verb can also mean a noun that's an item of clothing: SLACKS OFF ON, e.g. Fill I liked: COCKSURE, GO TO SEED, CAJUN, KIND OF, LIE LOW.


"Roman Holiday": The Second Sunday puzzle

Last weekend's Second Sunday puzzle in the New York Times is a Mike Shenk creation that was unveiled at last month's National Puzzlers' League convention. There are clues for 25 words or phrases from which all the Roman-numeral letters (M, D, C, L, X, V, I) are removed, with the remaining letters, in order, spelling another word or phrase. The challenge is to figure out what the starting and ending words/phrases are, given the sum of the Roman numerals subtracted in the process.

The example given was:

Deuce, often – 1151 = Military conflict — WILD CARD/WAR (ILDCD = 500x2 + 100 + 50 + 1)

I've got 22 of the answers, but three of them have thus far refused to show themselves to me. Anyone have subtle hints for these?

2. Idleness – 108 = Dapper

3. Motor oil brand – 111 = Steak sauce brand

16. Part of the year during which classes are held – 1150 = Large marble

Wait, I just figured out #16. Still at a loss for #2 and #3, though.


August 26, 2007

Monday, 8/27

CS 5:02
NYS 3:22
NYT 3:16
LAT 2:45

Boy, it's been one of those days. Beautiful day, but the sunny side of that taxi was a tad roasty, and the open window was whooshing my hair around too much, so I asked the driver to turn on the AC (per the passenger's bill of rights, I can ask that). And the cabbie tried to argue that it was plenty cool! I know it's nice out, but I feel too warm in your cab anyway, sir. Then we got to the movie theater, and while my husband and son bought snacks, I went in to find three seats together. Alas, there were no threesomes outside of the front rows of non-stadium seating, and we do like the stadium seating. There was a couple sitting in the first stadium row with two seats open on either side, so I scooched in and quietly asked if they'd mind moving in one seat. "We're watching the movie!" the man hissed in reply—during one of the first trailers, which, technically speaking, are not "the movie." And then at dinner, the waiter was fantastic but didn't ask if we wanted dessert, and does it sound like I could've used the chocolate soufflé cake by then? I tell you, the world was out to get me today.

At least I liked the movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, all right. Not my favorite of the Potters, but pretty good. And who doesn't like a loathsome character whose surname is a homophone for "umbrage"?

Quick! Call the exterminator! Steven Ginzburg's New York Times puzzle has a couple ANTs in each of the three theme entries, along with some NITS near the middle of the grid and the theme-defining word ANTS at the bottom. The middle theme entry, ANTIOXIDANT, is hitched to the top and bottom theme entries by 11-letter fill, ISAAC ASIMOV and CLASS ACTION. (My husband and I were just chatting about the Niketown class action lawsuit recently decided in favor of the employees, including the inspirational pair described in this Trib article.) What do you think of the TWO X TWO entry, clued as [Four]?

The New York Sun puzzle, "Head of the Animals," is by Pancho Harrison. It's got EYES, TEETH, NOSE, EARS, BRAIN, and JAW, so somewhat reminiscent of the Sunday NYT, only they're head parts from certain animals. We've got the piscine lenses called FISHEYES, cervine BUCKTEETH in need of orthodontia, porcine HOG NOSE tools, canine DOG-EARS marking a page, the avian BIRDBRAIN, and the...what's the adjective? Also a cervine thing, the Canadian town of MOOSE JAW (locals are called Moose Javians, Wikipedia tells me).

So both of those puzzles double up on something thematic—two ANTs and not one in the NYT, and animal/head part combos in the Sun. Twice the themed goodness at no extra cost!


If you like to do battle with Bob Klahn's cluing style, don't miss today's CrosSynergy puzzle. The theme, alas, is a quip, but the clues will give you a Monday workout.

Tracey Snyder skews maternal in the LA Times crossword, with a MA/MOMMIE/MAMMA/MOTHER theme.

Speaking of cluing style, Patrick Merrell has written up a list of crossword clue rules. If you're newish to crossword solving, you'll want to read Pat's post and make about 20 mental notes to remember when solving.


August 25, 2007

Sunday, 8/26

NYT 11:28
BG 10:10
LAT 9:43
PI 8:04
WaPo 7:01
CS 4:18

Strange thing, that. Last night I overimbibed and still finished the Saturday Times puzzle about 15% faster than Byron Walden, my NYT applet benchmark. Today I spent 12 hours with my son, two nephews, and assorted kids (and plenty of grown-ups) at the Museum of Science and Industry, and I finished the Sunday puzzle about 25% slower than Byron. Sheesh, I probably shouldn't drive after spending that much time with young children. Clouds the noggin!

The New York Times puzzle, "Getting Ahead," is credited to two constructors, Andrew Greene and Craig Kasper, but Craig let me know that he and Andrew had two other collaborators, Todd McClary and Jeffrey Harris, who would perhaps be listed as co-constructors if the byline had enough room. This marks Andrew's debut, and if you happen to take any photos of people solving this puzzle, he'd love to get a copy. The theme of the foursome's puzzle is getting a head into the grid: The circled squares spell out facial/head features in the appropriate places. HAIR atop SCALP over the BROWS, a pair of EYES with vertical EARS just past them, a NOSE in the middle, and LIPS and CHIN holding the whole thing up. These 10 body parts are contained within long "theme entries," unrelated but for the inclusion of facial features. And look, over there at 80-Across—somebody's got a TOE dangling from an EAR. (Here are some badger toe bone earrings to complete the puzzle.)

What took me longer than usual? Well, that whole 1-Across corner fought me, for one. The [Toddler's mealtime accessory] is a BOOSTER CHAIR, but somehow having a 7-year-old means I've wiped the slate clean of toddler memories. The cross-referencing of 1-Across to 7-Across, which in turn referenced 1-Across and 61-Across, was kind of a nasty trick. (The EMBLEM of the IMAC is an APPLE.) The [Steve Martin romantic comedy] killed me, too—I thought of ALL OF ME and ROXANNE (but not THE JERK) when the 7-letter movie title needed was L.A. STORY. Ack! Cluing EBB as a noun ([Point of decline]) and sprinkling in BORAXO ([Heavy-duty hand soap]) and MOORAGE ([Dock payment]) didn't help that corner fall easily.

Favorite clues: [Crawl space?] for PUB; [Safari, e.g.] for WEB BROWSER; [Knight time?] for YORE; [___ Rose] for AXL; [Worth trying?] for ACTIONABLE, as in giving cause for legal action (here is an entertaining rant about the word being shanghaied by corporatese types); and [Subj. follower] for PRED. (short for predicate, as learned from Schoolhouse Rock's "The Tale of Mr. Morton"). Why is a KAZOO a [Skiffle instrument]? Skiffle is a "type of folk music with a jazz and blues influence, usually using homemade or improvised instruments."

Unfavorite aspects: ACIDY and RETAG are the kind of words that may appear at the end of a dictionary entry for the main word, in a fat and comprehensive dictionary, but don't get much use in the language. They're thisclose to being "roll your own" words. BLARNEYED ([Persuaded with flattery]) as a verb, also not as common as the noun blarney. That word and HEYERDAHL ([Noted explorer of Polynesia]) contain EYEs and the A of the crossing EARs. [Defense contractor whose stock symbol is the same as its name] is much less fun than Cousin Itt when it comes to ITT clues. I didn't know [Creatio ex ___ (Christian tenet)]; here's a definition of creatio ex NIHILO.


Henry Hook's onlineBoston Globe puzzle, "Takeout Menu," strips the theme entries of a word in the clue, leaving an incomplete answer. Thus, [Thrill-seeker, out of tune?] is soldier of fortune minus tune, or SOLDIER OF FOR. Most obscure clue/answer, for me: [College basketball's Coach of the Year Award eponym] for Henry IBA, a complete unknown to me. (I wasn't following Oklahoma State hoops action during my toddler years, nor before I was born.) It's a tad surprising that this name doesn't find its way into crosswords more often. Two-thirds vowels?

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy puzzle, is packed with lots of colloquialisms, so it's a fun solve.

Gail Grabowski's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "In Reverse," adds BACK to the end of each theme entry, since BACK can change the meaning of the second part of each theme entry. I was fooled by the first theme entry, DIAMOND CUTBACK, because diamondback is also a meaningful word, but actually, the theme hinges on diamond cut and cutback. (Unless, that is, chicken back and jelly back are meaningful entities...)

Robert Doll's Washington Post crossword, "I Spy," has seven theme entries starting with spy-type words, like SECRET (INGREDIENT), UNSEEN (DANGER) and CRYPTIC (CROSSWORD). Nice theme, and a super-smooth, easy solve.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer offering, "A Kinder, Gentler Puzzle," puns on nine violent phrases to make them more palatable. For example, Give 'Em Hell, Harry morphs into GIVE 'EM HELP, HARRY, and barroom brawlers no longer have blood on their hands, they have spilled BUD ON THEIR HANDS.


Posting experiment

Okay, I'm not convinced that Google can see the stuff inside my posts now. So let's try this: The Saturday post will not have a jump cut and will already be expanded.

If you want to see some older posts and avoid Saturday spoilers, just cover the left side of your screen as you scroll down to the sidebar listing of archived posts or to an older post.

Here's a little spoiler space for you:

And if it turns out that Google has forsaken me no matter what I do, then screw 'em.
There's the Saturday post down there...


August 24, 2007

Saturday, 8/25

NYT 7:09
LAT 5:32
Newsday 4:58
CS 3:38

My friend Amy (not to be confused with me) took me out to celebrate my birthday tonight. The strawberry margaritas on the rocks were plentiful, and the inebriation remains extant. But I tend to find the wavelength in Myles Callum's crosswords, and this Saturday's New York Times puzzle is no exception. There were just enough complete or partial gimmes ([Comic Boosler] is ELAYNE, [Soap actress Kristen and others] is ILENES, ["What's Going On" singer] wa Marvin GAYE, [Roy Rogers' surname at birth' was Leonard SLYE, the [Money machine mfr.] NCR, and Mary and Rhoda's friend Phyllis was, of course, played by CLORIS Leachman; [Pier grp.] was IL_ {ILA} and [New Wave singer Lovich] was LEN_ {LENE}) to flesh out answers with leading patterns of letters to help (when one sees *****DYAN* and the clue relates to a [Little redhead], can it be anything but RAGGEDY ANN?), and just enough misleading clues that I caught the wavelength for.

Yeah, so, I enjoyed this puzzle, but I may have a headache in the morning, and if so, I will blame the crossword. (Nothing personal). Favorite clues (some of which partner with terrifically colloquial entries): ["That may be true but..."] for "THE THING IS"; [When a procrastinator tends to something] for ANOTHER DAY (world-class procrastinator here); [It's built for a trial] for CASE; [Shot putters' supplies?] for SERUMS; [Title locale of five 1980s films: Abbr.] for ELM ST; [Chic] for A LA MODE (and doesn't ice cream make anything more stylish?]; [No-nonsense cry] for "I MEAN IT!"; Stephen [King's second] for SALEM'S LOT; [Diamond, e.g.] for STONE (as in gemstone); [They're thick] for IDIOTS; [Ones going head to head] for RAMS (started with FOES here); [Part of a rebel name] for Robert E. LEE; [Puppet glue-ons] for the delicious entry, GOOGLY EYES; comedy [Routine responses?] for HAHAS; [Response to "I had no idea!"] for "NOW YOU KNOW"; [Cry "nyah, nyah!"] for RUB IT IN; [Engagement breakers] for CEASEFIRES; [Clammed up] for the short and sweet MUM; [Felix, e.g.] for TOMCAT; the doubling-up of [Like some instruments] for REEDY and SURG (abbr. for surgical).

Nice to see the UTNE READER and ORONO, MAINE promoted beyond the quasi-crosswordese UTNE and ORONO standalones. Who the heck is [Italian tenor ___Schipa]? This guy named TITO, and apparently he could rock a hat. Two biblical clues I didn't know: [Son of Elam whose name means "God the Lord"] for ELIAH and [God commanded him to marry a harlot] for HOSEA. Having never been a Boy Scout, I was totally guessing that the [Arrow of Light earner's program] was WEBELOS. I also had no idea that ESME was the [Saki story whose title character is a hyena].


Bonnie Gentry's themeless LA Times crossword was blessed with two wide-open corners hitched to the rest of the grid by 15-letter answers. Phrases I liked in the answer grid: LET IT GO, TOO SOON, WING IT, SHOPS AT, DRANK IN, and LAY INTO. My son Ben doesn't have any K'NEX building toys, but we have quite a collection of Legos lying fallow. Ever since that Seinfeld episode, the Chrysler LEBARON has amused me. Favorite clues: [Demoted, in recent lingo] for the neologism PLUTOED; the misinterpretable [Let off] for PARDON; [Animal, vegetable or mineral] for NOUN (aren't those fun, the clues that call for an answer like VERB or NOUNS by listing two or three examples?); [Starting point] for WOMB; [Fruity quaffs, informally] for ZINS (Zinfandels); and, because I like her, [Emmy-winning comic Sykes] for WANDA.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" has lotsa goodies. Now, ALPHA MALE ([Leader of the pack]) and NERO WOLFE (nice clue: [Stout fellow]) appear in opposite corners of the grid, but I have no idea if they're intended as a minitheme. Is Nero the alpha male of the Wolfe pack? I always like to see Orange variations in the grid (ORANGE SODA here) because, let's face it, I'd have to get far more famous for my last name to make it into a crossword ("Middle name of ex-president of Nauru" is a bit of a stretch). ORONO, MAINE gets classed up with the addition of the state name to a crosswordese college town—just as it did in today's NYT crossword. The last square I figured out here was the crossing of the [Fictional phantom] at 6-Down with the ["Dukes of Hazzard" character]—I opted for DUKE, which, hello, is already in the clue. (Brain freeze!) It was LUKE Duke crossing Jacob MARLEY, of course. Favorite clues: the looks-like-a-verb [Calls to action] for RED ALERTS; [Less windy] for TERSER because, frankly, we had enough wind in Chicago on Thursday, and yes, I know they call it the Windy City, but not because of 70 mph winds; and [Cranium feature] for SINUS, because my kid has a durable sinus infection that seems to be laughing at the antibiotic.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Tattoo Review," has four theme phrases that start with popular (?) tattoos. My cousin's wife has a small BUTTERFLY on her ankle. And my cousin? A Ralph Lauren polo player logo on his upper arm. Me, if I ever got a tattoo, I'm thinking a 10x10 crossword grid, partly filled in, or maybe a 15x5 grid, easier to play around with the fill.


August 23, 2007

Friday, 8/24

NYS 6:45
LAT 5:32
NYT 5:16
Jonesin' 4:15
CHE 4:32
CS 3:59

WSJ 8:16

Whoo! Nothing like a four-hour-plus power outage to make one appreciate electricity and all the nifty machines that run on it. Chicago and environs got smacked with some ferocious winds this afternoon—70 mph, I heard, and I believe it. Never have I seen so many trees broken or wholly uprooted. Alas, the mulberry tree on my block, a summertime snacking favorite, was yanked out of the earth. At least that one didn't end up in the street like plenty of other trees. A nearby highrise lost the roof over its (roughly) twentieth-floor swimming pool. The roof paid a visit to Lake Shore Drive, which mucked up traffic before and during rush hour. That highrise is next door to Ben's school, which saw two locust trees uprooted in one of its playgrounds. And a small picture window from the ninth floor of the building across the street from me somehow was yoinked out of its frame and dashed to the ground (fortunately missing people and property below). I am astonished that ComEd was able to restore electricity to my neighborhood so soon, given the widespread nature of downed trees and electrical lines.

Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle is a themeless one with 68 answers. Lots of long phrases and a few long single-word answers (fairly low on the "roll your own" word quotient—UNCONSOLED and INARTISTIC are crafted with prefix action), a meaty chunk of white space in the middle of the grid with long answers radiating out from it, ambitious interlocking of long answers—and good clues for both long and short answers. Two IS_C guys in the grid: ISAAC HAYES, the [Soul singer who is also a coronated king of Ghana], and ISOCRATES, [One of the "10 Attic orators"]. (Quick! Name the other nine!).

Favorite clues: [Drop a few positions, maybe] for AUTOMATE, as in automating grocery store checkout and dropping employees; [Red line?] for ARTERY; [Overprotect] for COSSET, a word I should use more often (along with BEASTLY, clued here as [Very disagreeable]); [It was good for Sartre] is the French BON; [Bad time for a tropical vacation] is RAINY SEASON, though Hawaii, the Caribbean islands, and Mexico all remind us that hurricane season isn't so great for tourism either; the basketballish [Pass under the basket, maybe] for ASSIST; [It may be bid] for ADIEU; [Stocking stuffer] for SANTA

[Mystery author Dexter] is COLIN Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse mysteries, which I've heard of even though I didn't recall the author's name. Did you know [What stare decisis upholds the validity of]? It's CASE LAW. What [Dog in Disney's "Cinderella"] is BRUNO? I don't remember a dog. So, TOP GUN was the [Highest-grossing film of 1986]? That's a shame (never did see the movie); here are the movies it beat out. Two bits of educational trivia: TWEED is a [Fabric with the same name as a Scottish river], and BRIE is a [French district that lent its name to a foodstuff]. I'm not crazy about [Near the bottom of the drawers?] for INARTISTIC, though—it seems to overreach.

Other entries I liked: EAST GERMANY; the phrases HAS NO IDEA and RECONCILED TO; COMPANY MEN who don't necessarily work for SNAPPLE; CHERIE Blair. Not much Scrabbly vocabulary in this grid—as you'll see below, the other Patrick B. hogged up all the uncommon letters.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "The Dr. Is In," plays with that guy whose name is quite crossword-friendly: Dr. Dre. (Anyone else see that '93 movie, Who's the Man? Denis Leary's character, a cop, rags on Dre for calling himself a doctor without having gone to medical school, which...he's got a point. What are Dr. Pepper's credentials, anyway?) The theme entries incorporate an extra DRE, so the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan's Island becomes a DRESS MINNOW, a [Fish to wear to formal events?]. (Cute extra: Another small fish, a GUPPY, is right beneath that entry.) CLASSIFIED DREAD is clued as [Systematically categorized one's anxieties?], and [What people had to repeat to Freud?] is I DREAM, I SAID (playing on a Neil Diamond song.

Two corners contain bricks of 8-letter entries, such as CHIPOTLE, the LOG CABIN Republicans, AL CAPONE, and a SOREHEAD. Favorite clues: [Guy who cuts you off in traffic, e.g.] for A-HOLE; [Big wheels] for SEDAN (though a sedan isn't always big—Ford Focus, anyone?); [Crab in a can?] for OSCAR the Grouch from Sesame Street (the muppet I always identified with the most); [In need of relief, in a way] for GASSY; ["Your fly is open" noise] for AHEM; and [Word repeated after "here"] for KITTY. [Wireless carrier formed in 2005] is HELIO, which I've seen a magazine ad for but know nothing about. I didn't know that Kalpen MODI was Kal Penn's real name; he was one of the stars of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. (Sequel due out next year!) ALAS is clued as ["___, Babylon" (1959 post-apocalyptic novel)]; hey, I read the 1979 edition of that book during my adolescent sci-fi dalliance.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword offers anagrams of playing cards in a royal flush, ergo the title, "Shuffled Cards." You don't need to have a clue that anagrams are involved to finish the puzzle, though. ONE-STEP FADS comes from ten of spades; SAFE JOCK PADS, jack of spades; FED OPAQUENESS, queen of spades; FAKES DOPINGS, king of spades; and ESCAPED SOFA, ace of spades. If any of you figured out the anagram angle, do you feel that it sped your journey through the grid? Because while the theme entries are gettable based on the clues and the crossings, they're not remotely "in the language" phrases.

Lots of Scrabbly words in this puzzle (bonus points for that), but I'll have to dock Patrick 10 points for using one of those Xs in a Roman numeral. The construction, in which pairs of theme entries are mostly stacked together (staggered by a few letters), earns back a few bonus points. But then a few points are taken away for the abundance of 3-letter answers.

The only AMOS OZ (1-Down) novel I remember is the dismal epistolary novel, Black Box. I completely missed the existence of grunge band TAD (11-Down).

Favorite clues: [One out of 10?] for ZERO; [You might jump for it] for JOY (with the Y filled in, I first thought SKY...though really, who jumps for the sky? Reach for the sky, jump for the stars?); [Drop back?] for LET (as in droplet); [Noted trio member] for EGO (with id and superego); and [Also, archaically] for EKE (this may be etymologically related to the German auch, meaning "also").


It took me a while to figure out what Gary Steinmehl had done with the theme entries in his LA Times crossword. The hint at 1-Down was HAIR LOSS, but the theme entries didn't appear to be formed by zapping a HAIR from them. The first theme entry, though, loses an H (Broadway show becomes BROADWAY SOW, a [Performer in the stage version of "Babe"
?]), the second loses an A (weight gain becomes WEIGHT GIN), the third loses an I (street riot, STREET ROT), and the fourth, R (business trip, BUSINESS TIP). Good clues in this one. What's an [Osiris feature]? He's been depicted with a crazy BEARD. I've heard of bluesman Keb' Mo' and rapper Lil' Kim, but didn't know [Hip hop's ___ Mo], LIL' Mo (née Cynthia Loving). I also hadn't heard of the Maui tourist attraction, IAO Valley. Other clues I liked: A [Calculating endeavor] is ADDING; [Ideal enumeration] is WISH LIST (I can't believe nobody cleaned out my Amazon wish list for my birthday!); [Zig instead of zag?] is ERR; the [Kind of binding that allows a book to open flat] is WIRE EDGE, and it appears to be a handcrafting thing rather than an option commercial bookbinders use; [Unlike a picnic?] means HARD; and a [Hospital closing?] is a SUTURE.

In the August 10 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Conference Program," Leonard Williams plays around with alternate meanings of words in meeting phrases, so an [Arthroplasty conference?], about joint surgery, could be a JOINT DISCUSSION. Classical Greece gets a lot of play in the fill, with ILIAD, the island CHIOS, and ARGUS. ANDROS looks Greek too, but that's an the [Largest island in the Bahamas].

Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy puzzle ("What a Hoot!") embeds an OWL (70-Across) in each of the five theme entries. Plenty of 7-letter answers in the fill, too.

Tracey Snyder's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Pluses and Minuses," pairs red (debt) and black (in the plus column) entities. Two movies, RED DRAGON and MEN IN BLACK; two bands, the BLACK CROWES and SIMPLY RED; two equine books, Steinbeck's THE RED PONY
and BLACK BEAUTY; and two ways to be treated, RED CARPET and BLACKBALL. TRIP UP, or [Expose in a blunder], is a nice entry, isn't it? The last square I filled in here was the A where MACLE, or [Twinned crystal], and DALASI, or [Gambia's unit of currency], crossed. Favorite clues: [Ride in the space shuttle] for SALLY; [Once-popular diet] for ATKINS (It's no longer popular? Good: I don't like people talking smack about my beloved carbs.); [Dish setting, maybe] for HOUSETOP (yesterday I saw one of those DirecTV satellite dishes on the ground—probably used to be atop a house or affixed to a side wall somewhere); [General delivery?] for ORDER; [Cat hangouts] for LAPS (though I do not want a cat on my lap, ever); [Maker of night flights] for BAT (if you'd like to have bats flying safely around you, visit the Twilight Zone at England's Chester Zoo).


August 22, 2007

Thursday, 8/23

NYS 5:50
NYT 5:17
LAT 4:44
CS 3:00

Here's a crossword comedy interlude for you. This guy oughta write a how-to book!

The New York Times crossword by Joe Krozel looks markedly different in the online forms vs. the Thursday paper. The Across Lite Notepad—alluded to in the applet but inaccessible there—says "The clues in the print version of this puzzle appear in a single list, combining Across and Down. Where two answers share a number, the unclued Down answer is a homophone of the corresponding Across answer." In the online versions, the clues are split into standard Across and Down lists, with dashes in lieu of clues for those number-sharing northwest corners of the various grid sections. As a bonus, all of the affected word pairs start with the same letter.

The thematic pairs are (1) BOULDER/BOLDER, (8) BARRED/BARD, (24) BASED/BASTE, (27) BODE/BOWED, (37) BALE/BAIL, (38) BORDER/BOARDER, (54) BEAT/BEET, and (56) BEAR/BARE. They're not laid out symmetrically by virtue of the inherent northwest-cornerocity of the theme/gimmick. I suspect other Western languages couldn't be used to assemble a list of eight pairs of homophonic words starting with one letter—English's orthographical oddities mean the same sounds can be spelled many different ways and, let me tell you, kids just learning to write really don't appreciate that.

Favorite clues: [Party of the first part and party of the second part, e.g.] for LEGALESE; [Tailors] for SEWERS ("ones who sew," as opposed to the storm sewers? C'mon, sewers filled with rainwater pass the Sunday morning breakfast test, don't they?), not far from ALTERS with a misleading tailoring clue, [Lowers the cuffs on, maybe]; and [Country named for its location on the globe] for ECUADOR. I don't care for [Point to] as the clue for BODE; given that each theme clue has to pull double duty, a clearer clue would have helped here. That was the last square I filled in, after contemplating the other options (CODE, MODE, RODE...) that might fit there. And OVA as [Donations at some clinics]—well, that clue makes egg donation sound so much simpler than it really is.

It's been a while since I've seen Frank Longo's byline in a newspaper puzzle, but he constructed the 68-word "Themeless Thursday" in the New York Sun. Pop culture stuff I enjoyed: MURTAUGH, Danny Glover's character in the Lethal Weapon franchise; the fairly entertaining Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts movie, THE MEXICAN; the penguin cartoon, HAPPY FEET; and the comic strip ARLO AND JANIS. I liked the corner where, in an I/T/L party, TITTLE and TRITT cross A LITTLE BIT and a TITLE TRACK, the latter clued as [Biggest cut, often]. [You definitely don't want them to drop by your house] is a creepily surreal clue for ATOM BOMBS; I don't like it. While GLAD-HANDS is a verb I've used, have you ever heard of it used as a noun, as in [Warm welcomes]? WIRE RODS is rather dull, as are ESSENE and EVENER and AGER. I hadn't heard of NO-GO AREAS. I do like BIPARTITE, clued here as [Joint], because I have bipartite sesamoid bones, which is really hard to say out loud without it turning into a tongue twister that mangles the -oid and -ite endings. (If you can say it, my hat is off to you.) Also good: CHEESINESS, which is mostly boring letters but a great word nonetheless; the phrase SWEAR BY; and that glut of consonants in the middle of the TUNGSTEN LAMP.


Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Front Flips," inverts the short first names of the four theme people. [Show no respect to "Show of Shows" star?] is DIS CAESAR (Sid Caesar), for example. Easy enough. The clues had some zip to them—favorites include [Fabulous writer?] for AESOP; [Abba's roots] for SWEDEN (crosswords have trained me to think of Abba Eban from Israel, another 6-letter country); [Hook, line, and sinker?] for GEAR; [Stop sign?] for RED (as in red light); and [Cutting class?] for BIOLOGY (ew, dissection).

The duo of Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke constructed today's LA Times crossword. The theme entries are all clued [DOWN]: DRINK QUICKLY (with CHUG in the same corner), FEELING BLUE (crossing BLAH), SOUTH ON A MAP (below [East ender?], ERN), and FOOTBALL PLAY (well...I don't see anything quasi-related to that, but OPERA and OPRY do intersect elsewhere). Favorite clues: [Respond to cuteness] for MELT; [Not-so-friendly look] for LEER (it's not often enough that clues for OGLE and LEER highlight unwelcomeness rather than lasciviousness); and [It covers all the bases] for TARP.


August 21, 2007

Wednesday, 8/22

NYS 4:42
LAT 3:50
NYT 3:22
CS 2:57

Before moving along to the Wednesday crosswords, let me direct your attention to the sidebar. Under "Amazon links," you'll find a list of book titles. I've added four puzzle books besides How to Conquer [etc.]—we have the Terribly Twisted book by Henry Hook that I recently reviewed; two wee coffee cup–shaped Sit/Sip & Solve books of hard crosswords, one by Byron Walden that I enjoyed thoroughly and reviewed ages ago and one by Matt Gaffney that I'm in the midst of and having fun with; and Carnal Knowledge, an etymology/trivia book about the words for the parts of the human body by Charles Hodgson, the guy with the etymological podcast site. If you like Fridayish and Saturdayish challenging puzzles, check out those puzzle books, and if you get a kick out of etymology, try the last book.

The first theme entry I got in Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle, "Greetings From the Front," was HAIKU WAIT, or HAI KUWAIT, which sounds like, "Hi, Kuwait." (The "hai" part puts me in mind of LOLcats who say "oh hai," and that makes me happy.) The other theme entries cleaved into two pieces and squished the first piece up against another "hi" homophone to make a new two-syllable entity. Jack Lord giveth the HIJACK LORD; permissive, a HYPER MISSIVE; a HoJo, HEIGH-HO, JO; ball club, HIGHBALL CLUB; and Denmark, Eric HEIDEN MARK. Hey, I like this theme. Well executed! In the fill, I couldn't place ["Magnet and Steel" singer Walter] EGAN for a while—and then I remembered how much I liked the song (How handy is YouTube? You get to hear the song and see the au courant satin jacket) back in '78. Other favorite clues: [Banks, familiarly] for Ernie Banks, a.k.a. MR CUB; [Companion of a certain fat cat] for ODIE, because the clue tried to keep me from thinking of that odious Garfield as long as it could; and [Light up?] for HALO. Can someone explain how the clue for ALIBI works? I understand the "out" portion of [Stand out?] but not the "stand" bit.

The New York Times crossword's by Patrick Blindauer. The theme is PICK-UP LINES, but not the way you think of them ("Hey, good-lookin', what you got cookin'?"). The fictional cop who's picked up the bad guys says "BOOK 'EM, DANNO." The driver picking up a hitchhiker asks, "NEED A LIFT?" Whoever picked up the phone first hollers, "IT'S FOR YOU." Those abysmal Chevy pickup truck commercials used that abysmal Bob Seger song, "LIKE A ROCK." The fill's livened up by a wealth of 6- and 7-letter answers. Favorite clues: [Father figure?] for PRIEST; [Bugs on a highway] for VWS (not "smudges on the windshield"); and [Hardly a celebrity] for UNKNOWN. I learned that the British have the slang term SLAP-UP, meaning [Top-notch, to a Brit]. That's a bang-up piece of information, isn't it? And have you been wondering what TINA [Yothers of "Family Ties"] has been up to lately? Reality TV and shows like The View, that's what.


Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy crossword, "Yes, Deer," has a quartet of theme entries that start, end, or start and end with words that mean "deer" in other contexts: the TV show HART TO HART, STAG PARTIES, MEET JOHN DOE, and FIFTY BUCKS.

The LA Times puzzle by David Cromer has a theme of the ELEMENTS OF STYLE, redefining "style" from its usage connotations to high style, with accoutrements like a STRETCH LIMO and PRIVATE JET.


August 20, 2007

Tuesday, 8/21

Tausig 4:36
NYS 3:57
Onion 3:50
LAT 3:50
CS 3:07
NYT 2:52

The New York Times crossword's by Tom Heilman, and I suspect this is another constructing debut. The theme entries are the BEES knees, with two phrases starting and two ending with apian words. THE AFRICAN QUEEN and the very colloquial GIVE ME A BUZZ offer those sweet-as-honey Zs and a Q, and STING OPERATIONS and HONEY, I'M HOME (which is also a famous line from The Shining, as seen in this speeded-up clip set to "Yakety Sax"). The clue [Private stash] (for CACHE) put me in mind of this Saturday Night Live skit, "You Put Your Weed in It"—and lo and behold, WEED shows up lower down in this crossword (clued as [Work in the garden]).

The New York Sun puzzle is "Final Offer," by Joe Bower. The theme is TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT, so two phrases take on an extra IT and two others lose IT: THE BIG BANDIT ERA and PULPIT FICTION ([Falsehoods from the preacher?]) vs. CENTER OF GRAVY (ha!) and UNEXPECTED VISOR. Joe's from South Dakota, and there are two clues related to that: [Neighbor of S. Dak.] is NEB (Nebraska), and [Part of S. Dak. is in it] is CST. The other half is in the Mountain time zone. "What? Mountains in South Dakota?" you ask. Yes, indeed. My sister's family just vacationed in the state and visited the Black Hills, home of the tallest peaks east of the Rockies (apparently the Appalachians and Adirondacks are no competition). The clue [Singh rival] stumped me until Ernie ELS revealed himself—ah, golfer Vijay Singh.

This week's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is by Deb Amlen. [A possible title for this puzzle] is ANGER MANAGEMENT, but fortunately the Adam Sandler connection ends there. (For some abysmal writing, see the Wikipedia plot summary of the movie.) The other theme entries contain the letter sequence ANGER embedded within them, as in RANGE ROVER and ORANGE RIND. Tons of pop culture, which makes me happy.

Ben Tausig's latest Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword's called "Jam Session," and the theme is a sweet one: four kinds of BERRY, such as STRAW MAN and BLUE MONDAY (the latter being a song title that I know without knowing why). With answers like JUKEBOX, XEROX, and VIOXX, this puzzle's got tons of Scrabbly freshness. Excellent pop culture tidbits, like cluing R. KELLY as [Indicted musician who said: "Osama Bin Laden is the only one who knows what I'm going through"] and SIX as [Blossom's pal]. The Tausigean sass comes from such clues as [One might be erotic] for CAKE (don't follow that link at work) and [Sponge alternative] for the female condom called the FEMIDOM. I hadn't heard of SHAY Haley, [N*E*R*D*'s Haley] or RARA, the [Haitian party music]). Favorite clues: [Field of flowers?] for BOTANY; [Tasty pockets] for RAVIOLI (tonight's dinner!); ["Get ___, you two!"] for A ROOM; [Weight-loss celebrity, familiarly] for JARED from Subway; [Warped Tour sponsor] for VANS (Vans canvas shoes are available for your puzzling pleasure in crossword and maze prints); and [Marlene Dietrich und Angela Merkel] für FRAUEN. Look! Here's the trusty [Aquatic crustacean], the ISOPOD; isopods can be smallish, land-based like the roly-poly, or giant.


The LA Times crossword by John Halverson is about...what is the theme? Let's see. Ah, I see it now. (Took a while.) SEIZE THE DAY, COLLAR STUDS, BUST OF HOMER, and CATCH A FEW Z'S all begin with synonyms for "arrest." My favorite entry: OH ME, OH MY, clued as ["Goodness!"].

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle has a pun theme. In "The Sty's the Limit," four famous people's first or last names get turned into porcine words. What would it sound like if a pig combined an oink with a pun-induced groan?


MP3 of of Will Shortz on the radio

Nancy Shack recorded the long Will Shortz segment of last night's Nick Digilio Show on Chicago's WGN Radio, and her husband Bill converted it into an MP3 format you can listen to. Thanks, Nancy and Bill!


August 19, 2007

Monday, 8/20

NYS 3:33
CS 3:23
LAT 2:32
NYT 2:28

All righty! I was gone most of the day, but in my absence trusty Crossword Fiend webmaster Dave Sullivan toiled away on my behalf. He upgraded the Blogger template, installed the expandable posts hack suggested by Alex Boisvert, and got HaloScan comments incorporated again after Blogger ate them. Sorry that the Blogger comments were a hassle when they were all that was available—I do like HaloScan.

Anyway, the expandable posts should work like magic. Click the "read more" link and boom, the post expands within this window. Click again to shrink it back to "summary" form and the post magically zips back to smallness. The blog archives are now organized better, with an expandable outline format and the latest stuff listed first, not last. After today, I expect that the summary will consist of the newspaper abbreviations and solving times, with all the paragraphs of text available if and when (and only if and when) you want to see 'em.

It's been a while since Lynn Lempel had a Monday New York Times puzzle, and I'm always glad to see her byline early in the week. She's got five famous trios, with the two vertical ones crossing the three BILLY GOATS GRUFF. (I used to read to Ben from this board book edition of the story. It was the first book he could fake-read by reciting from memory.) The other trios are the three LITTLE PIGS, FRENCH HENS, BLIND MICE, and MEN IN A TUB. Not that many 3-letter words, which is a plus. And some interesting longer answers: MALARKEY, which is a wonderful word; the DON'T WALK sign; South America's Lake TITICACA, beloved by '80s fans of Trivial Pursuit; and GLITCHES, another great word. What's its etymology? Let's look it up: possibly Yiddish, possibly from the space program?

Curtis Yee's New York Sun puzzle is called "Slice of Hamlet." Four theme entries that begin with words that can precede play are crossed in the grid by the Hamlet quote, THE PLAY'S / THE THING. POWER BASE gives us power play; HORSERACING, horseplay; SCREENSAVER. screenplay; and WORDSMITH, Wordplay. Like Lynn Lempel, Curtis has packed the grid with interesting longer entries (PRINGLES, the Upper EAST SIDE, SPLATS) and not many 3-letter words.


Last night I listened to the Nick Digilio show on Chicago's WGN Radio. The host had Will Shortz on for almost an hour, and they talked about Cheap Trick, crosswords, sudoku, the Jumble (tip from Will: If you're having trouble unscrambling or anagramming some letters, try writing them down in bowling pin/pyramid form, such as 1 letter above 2 letters above 3 letters. Somehow that helps your brain shuffle the letters into a new order more easily. This could come in handy when you're working on a cryptic and know what letters need to be anagrammed, but can't see the answer.), the tournament, self-designed majors. I went to college with a guy who majored in hermeneutics, which is a good deal more arcane than enigmatology. In case you wonder what sort of job that course of study might lead to, it turns out to be president of an artisanal sake importer. Anyway, Nick said my name and the title, How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, approximately a zillion times, which so fun! Nick also said he plans to have me and Tyler Hinman on the show soon—which Tyler and I learned via the radio. I'm thinking Nancy Shack should be our publicist and arrange all this, because she seems to have a knack for it.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle features a quote (bleah). From the comic strip cat, GARFIELD (double bleah). I haven't understood the enduring success of Garfield since I was about 12 and discovered it wasn't funny. Who's still buying the Garfield merchandise and books? I did once come across an X-rated spoof of the strip online, in which the relationship between Jon and his cat took an intimate turn.

In the LA Times puzzle by Don Gagliardo, the theme entries appear to be nothing more than "phrases that start with DW, in alphabetical order." DWEEB, alas, did not make an appearance here. The puzzle's spruced up by the presence of great long fill (e.g., BLOODY MARY and SHENANIGAN). Extra bonus points for keeping the Urals out of the grid but using them to clue both EUROPEAN and ASIA.


August 18, 2007

Sunday, 8/19

NYT 9:46
PI 8:48
LAT 8:33
WaPo 7:58
BG 7:08
CS 4:52

The Chicago Air and Water Show did not disappoint. This afternoon, we watched planes swoop about for an hour and a half in the rain. The rain didn't let up at all, though it may have let down, so we packed up and hopped on a bus. During the one-mile bus ride home, of course, the rain quit, and we stood at the end of our block watching the Air Force Thunderbirds perform their aerobatic marvels. A couple times, one of the jets swooped over our block, which was kinda cool. And when the show ended, why, look! We're just steps from home. Couldn't have planned it better.

In other Chicago news, apparently Will Shortz will be chatting with Nick Digilio on WGN Radio Sunday night at 11:00. (Thanks to Nancy Shack for the tip.)

Usually the nobody on the NYT “Today’s Puzzle” forum talks about the Times puzzle before it launches online. But this afternoon, a print newspaper subscriber (locals get the Magazine with Saturday's paper) raved about this Sunday's New York Times crossword by Liz Gorski. What's the big deal? Well, Liz has a knack for visually arresting gimmicks. In this puzzle with left/right symmetry, the "Buried Treasure" theme involves a rebus. There are 10 squares that contain [AU], the chemical symbol for gold, and if you play connect-the-dots, you get a heart of AU—as in the song BY NEIL YOUNG called HEART OF GOLD. The lyric that's included here is I'VE BEEN A MINER FOR A / HEART OF GOLD—I tried squeezing "keep me searching" in there, but instead, sadly, there's an accidental reminder of the Utah coal mine tragedy. Balancing BY NEIL YOUNG on the other side of the grid is gold's atomic number, SEVENTY-NINE. If you did the puzzle on the applet and you'd like to see where those [AU]s are, see below for an Across Lite screen capture (no guarantee that the rest of the grid's correct—I didn't check my work.)

Before venturing into the nitty-gritty of clues and fill, let me mention that the NYT applet keeps mangling letters with diacritical marks. At least some online solvers saw this: [___ Tom?], 3 letters, S_O. Seo Tom? Soo Tom? No! SAO Tomé. This technical glitch ought to be ironed out by now—it can be vexing.

There are some tough words in this puzzle. Here were my blind spots: 10-Down, [Bill who created the comic strip "Smokey Stover"] (crossing that [___ Tom?] spot, alas). He's Bill HOLMAN, apparently. The ["Baptism of Christ" painter ___ della Francesca] is PIERO. A [1954 Jean Simmons movie] is DESIREE. And who knew that [Mme. Tussaud]'s name was MARIE? BIENNIA, meaning [Two-year periods], was gettable with a few crossings, but it's not a familiar word. I've seen ISTLE, the [Basketry fiber], in other crosswords; but it's pretty darned obscure. Same with the [French department in Picardy], AISNE.

Favorite clues: [Music unlikely to be played at a party] for DIRGE; [Strands in a diner] for SPAGHETTI; [One who keeps a beat?] for PATROLMAN; [Victorians, e.g.] for [AU]SSIES (Victoria being a state in Australia); [It's often proud] for SPONSOR; [Jalapeño feature] for TILDE; [Facilitates] for GREASES; and [Mountain climbers?] for chair LIFTS. I also like the [March of ___] DIMES and IDES [___ of March] flip-flop, and the [Complete flip-flop] clue for U-TURN. And the video game ASTEROIDS: totally old-school! And the [Deep black garnets], MELANITES, which I've never seen but are indeed deep black, as the linked pictures show. (Surely I'm not the only one who loved books about minerals and gems when they were young?)

I like the 10 pairs of words that intersect at the [AU] rebus squares. TABLE[AU] and FR[AU], the writers [AU]STEN and [AU]DEN, the Bahamas capital NASS[AU], DE G[AU]LLE airport.

And? I've always liked that song. Here's a video of Neil Young in concert back in 1971, singing "Heart of Gold."


Okay, I went to the gym and the grocery store, and Dave Sullivan's been toiling away at upgrading my Blogger template, and it's taking a little work to get the HaloScan comments back in working order. So the Blogger comments are there now, and I don't like 'em. Don't get used to them. But they may be there until tonight (or longer) because I've got to go to a family party today. Given the time crunch, I'll be doing the crosswords before I go but giving the blogging short shrift.

The Boston Globe puzzle by Emily Cox/Henry Rathvon, "Flower-Filled Phrases"—loved it! I like flower themes, and this one was tasty. Short fill, a 4-letter word, [Like ___ on hot bricks], ending with T. Only one 4-letter word ending with T came to mind, and it was...a four-letter word. That'll be our new meaningless saying around the house. (The answer turned out to be A CAT, which does not make a phrase I know.)

Rich Norris made the themeless CrosSynergy puzzle. Interesting phrases, interesting clues, not too challenging but not too easy either. Hidden secret message: Rich Norris has NORRIS in the grid, as in Chuck Norris, directly opposite...DR RUTH.

James Sajdak's Washington Post puzzle, "Found Money," lists places you might hide your cash stash. Theme's okay, liked the fill and clues.

Liz Gorski's also got the syndicated LA Times crossword, "The Mercury Is Rising," with a summer/heat theme. It would be timely but for the cold and rainy spell we're having here. Hasn't even cracked the 70° mark this weekend! A few tricky crossings (BARR/ASTANA, CASSIE/CARA), but a good puzzle.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle tells a story of a vacation through "The Great Outdoors," in which a family experiences things that sound like the great outdoors but aren't (like the movie GRAND CANYON). Punchline: [But what fun is a trip across America if we have to ___?] GET OUT OF THE SUV?


August 17, 2007

Saturday, 8/18

NYT 5:15
LAT 5:14
Newsday 5:03
CS 3:25

(updated at 9:15 a.m. Saturday)

Last night, my husband and I watched Hot Fuzz, the British cop action/comedy starring the guys who were in Shaun of the Dead, the British zombie action/comedy. It was indeed quite funny. One bit towards the movie's beginning centers on a cryptic crossword. The star cop, Nicholas Angel, has been transferred to a small village. He's checking into a quaint hotel, and the proprietor behind the counter suddenly spits out, "Fascist!" Angel's taken aback, but she explains that it's the answer to 7-Across (or Down?) in the crossword she's doing. He corrects her, that the clue's looking for FASCISM with an M. They continue the check-in transaction, and then he bites out a "Hag!" What? He explains that's the answer she needs for 12-Down. It's a captivating exchange, of course.

Across the Atlantic we have our American crosswords, including Jim Page's New York Times puzzle. This themeless creation has a relatively low 64 words, so we can expect a few "roll your own" words that are seldom used, crafted by tacking on a prefix or suffix. For example, PRECOLOR, PERTER, RECARVE, and the plurals LEIFS and BORONS. This particular puzzle also has an editorial vibe to it, with EDITS, clued as [Applies polish to?]; DELETES, hiding behind the wonderfully easy-to-misinterpret [Strikes]; and STET (raise your hand if you suspected that [Galley countermand] had something to do with oars). And GRAF could have been clued in its newspaper-editing sense rather than [1988 tennis Grand Slam winner] Steffi.

Today's Magical Mystery Answers (i.e., things I didn't know): [Actress Pataky] is ELSA Pataky, the Spanish actress who was in Snakes on a Plane, which nobody I know saw. [Conductor Segerstam and novelist Enger] are LEIFS (hm, I only know Leif Garrett and Leif Ericson). [Some bygone roadsters] smacks of the Roaring Twenties, but the cars in question are just DATSUNS. [Face with stone] is REVET (you can read up on revetments here). [Waite ___, Hall-of-Fame Yankees pitcher] is HOYT; was Waite Hoyt ever white-hot? Why on earth is ALOE clued as a [Fragrant heartwood]? Because of the agarwood tree, also known as aloe wood or, in the Old Testament, aloes. The [Old washday choice] DUZ was before my time.

Favorite clues: [Who's a critic?] for EVERYONE; [Thighs may be displayed in it] for both EROTICA and the icky MEAT CASE; [It rises in the Black Forest] for DANUBE (mmm, Black Forest cake...); [Less like a yo-yo] for SANER; [Writ introduction?] for HABEAS; plain ol' [Out] for OBSOLETE; and the "Huh?" clue of [So as to avoid being shot] for OFF CAMERA. An AEROBAT is a [Blue Angels member], and this weekend is Chicago's big Air and Water Show, featuring the Air Force Thunderbirds (really, is there any difference between the two groups?). I'd like to thank the zillion crosswords of yore that clued MATA or HARI with reference to the Greta Garbo role, since it made the 8-letter [1932 Garbo title role] come to mind quickly. Other answers I liked: CRUSTACEA ([Water fleas, barnacles, etc.]), SAMISEN ([Banjolike Japanese instrument]), Dirty Harry CALLAHAN ([Eastwood played him in five films]). Wait, did someone say CRUSTACEA? That's my cue to provide a giant isopod link. Why? Why not?


Bob Peoples made today's themeless LA Times crossword. Plenty of goodies in here. [Banquet offering] is a brand-name TV DINNER, and [Square fare] is RAVIOLI. Speaking of brand names, there's also SUE Bee, a [Big name in honey], the [Hyundai model] ELANTRA, and CONICAL, clued as [Like Hershey's Kisses]. A SLED is a [Follower of dogs], which are also alluded to in [Regulation involving boxers] (LEASH LAW). Educational geography: the ZUIDER ZEE is [Literally, Dutch for "southern sea"]. LIMEADE is clued as [Tart quaff], while [Tart] clues MORDANT; isn't a mordant quaff refreshing? [Minor party candidate, often] is SPOILER (Nader!). [Charm] is about the most innocuous clue possible for FETISH. Who is ["Before You Sleep" novelist Ullmann]? LINN Ullmann is Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman's daughter; she turned out to be a terrible actress so she went into journalism and eventually fiction writing. Favorite entries: THE BLOB, [Film whose tagline ends "Nothing can stop it!"]; DEA AGENT, [Crack operative?]; and IMCLONE, [Drug company whose stock was the subject of Martha Stewart's conviction].

Merle Baker's 68-word themeless puzzle in Newsday wasn't too hard, wasn't too easy. Favorite clues and/or answers: [1 in 21] for UNITS DIGIT; the [Parish officer] called a BEADLE, because it's a silly-sounding title; [They're on stage at the Grammys] for STATUETTES; [Sound sound] (verb + adjective) for TALK SENSE; the verb [Contests] for LITIGATES; HOT SEATS and HOME RUN. [Play up] is the clue for UNDERSCORE. If you play something down, are you overscoring it? Speaking of overscoring, there's a neighborhood restaurant near me that has a front window packed with hand-lettered signs, one of which actually overscores a word for emphasis. (I think it's also painted in italics.) That sign's almost as awe-inspiring as the place that offers a "2 hot dog's with frie's" meal.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword hides three SEAs with short names (RED, DEAD, ARAL) within the trio of theme entries. The puzzle contains a lot of names: ATLI, King of the Huns; Elvis ARON Presley; ALDEN and MURINE and HALAS and NAST and STEEN. ATLI, I think, is a name I learned via crosswords. I wasn't familiar with one of the theme entries: [Recipient's name and delivery details, on a business letter] is INSIDE ADDRESS? Ah, it's merely the address above "Dear ___" and below your own address or masthead. Never knew that had an official name!


Experiment in posting

I knew a few people wouldn't read this blog if it didn't have the jump cuts hiding spoilers from plain view. If you're a few days behind on the puzzles, it's nice to be able to scroll down to the writeup you want without seeing answers from crosswords you haven't done yet.

However, Google seems to have forgotten how to scan the text that's hidden, which makes it considerably harder for new readers to find their way here. (And this is patently ridiculous, because who owns Blogger and blogspot? That's right: Google.)

I dearly love my regular readers, I do, but it'd be wonderful to have new people join this community, too, wouldn't it?

So I'm going to try eliminating the jump cut and see if it helps. Apologies to those of you who appreciate the jump cut (and please let me know who you are—I don't know if it's five people or a hundred).


August 16, 2007

Friday, 8/17

NYT 5:15
NYS 4:59
Jonesin' 4:17
LAT 3:59
CHE 3:34
CS 3:28

WSJ 8:16

Karen Tracey's on tap for this week's Sun Weekend Warrior, and Roger Barkan's name appears atop the Friday Times puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed both of their crosswords.

Karen's themeless 70-worder in the New York Sun bears many of the hallmarks I like so much in Karen's puzzles. The marquée entries featuring uncommon letters? Check: JOAQUIN PHOENIX and CZECHOSLOVAKIA rack up a Q, X, Z, J, and K.

Geography? Check: That Scrabbly ex-country, SSRS that have joined the EU, the [Aztec language] NAHUATL, with its unexpected TL ending, and FARSI clued as [Cousin of Kurdish].

Pop culture? Check: That actor, plus ERIC BANA's full name (usually he shows up in the grid as the last name of [Eric of "Munich"], [The second word of "Candle in the Wind"] (NORMA Jean), NORA DUNN from S.N.L., ANN MILLER from Sugar Babies, and ILSA from Casablanca.

Idiomatic or colloquial language? Check: "FLOOR IT," "HOME, JAMES," EL CHEAPO, CRIES WOLF, LOW BLOW.

There's also a little Florida politics, with VERN Buchanan (who replaced Katherine Harris), a hanging CHAD, and voting machine maker [Diebold competitor], NCR. And two fragrances, TABU and ARAMIS (achoo).

My favorite clues: the verb [Stiff] for CHEAT; [Dilettante] for ESTHETE; [GUI piece?] for USER (graphical user interface, pronounced "gooey"—I have a friend with cats named GUI and SCSI); [Addition to a letter] for CEDILLA; [What plomo is transformed into in alquimia] for ORO (gold, made from lead in alchemy); [Bunny bits?] for DUST (as in dust bunnies—did you know there's a guy who collects dust bunnies? It's true!); [Bulb unit] for CLOVE of garlic; and [Encouraging start?] for ATTA (as in "Attagirl!").

Who is ARIE Selinger? He's a 70-year-old who's coached Olympic volleyball. Who is RONA Berg? She wrote a book with 1,000 makeup tips for women. Okay, no woman on this planet needs a thousand "fixes." Why, that's just...insulting.

The New York Times puzzle has 66 answers, and tons of 'em are great (and the grid's groovy, too). Barkan includes geography that resonates for me: the [Caribbean cruise port of call] is CHARLOTTE AMALIE in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and we landed there en route to our honeymoon. APPLETON, Wisconsin, is the [Home of Lawrence University]; we traveled there for my sister-in-law's graduation. Did we drive through [Utah's ___ Mountains], the UINTA Mountains? Possibly. (Did not go to OREM, however.) And I picked up a lot of Indian place names and language names, including the [Language of India with a palindromic name], MALAYALAM, from that college class on Indian history.

However, it's pop culture, not academia, that taught me that [Diwali revelers] are HINDUS, in a cringe-inducing yet funny episode of The Office (American version). More from movies and TV: the TELEVISION PILOT, DOC from Back to the Future, old-time movie actress ZASU Pitts (pronounced ZAY-sue—who knew?), Jean-Claude Van DAMME (so help me, I enjoyed Universal Soldier), and the X-MEN.

The most mystifying partially filled-in answer was 1-Down, [Star performer's reward]. SAN DIEGO with an extra letter stuck in it? A something-INGO? Ah, a STANDING O (vation)! Terrific entry in the way it fought not to be recognized until suddenly, it was.

The absolute best clue here was [Leaves alone, sometimes] for SALAD. Brilliant! Other Down clues I liked: [Got together] for HERDED (I was reading it as an intransitive verb); 9[100, say] for A-PLUS; [Accessories for a secretary] leading you to think plural when the answer's DESK SET; and [Wickiup, for one] means HUT, or wigwam. In the Across direction, [You can sink your feet into them] means SHAG CARPETS; the [Bus line?] is the driver's command, STEP TO THE REAR; EN GARDE is a [Pointed warning?]; and we get a little medical terminology with URIC ACID as a [Major component of kidney stones].

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword this week is called "Let's Have Dessert Outside." The theme entries have other letters filling the CAKE, as in CLAMBAKE and CALLED STRIKE. Newfangledest entries: LAME-ASS, FOOSBALL, and the [Start of some monster B-movie titles], IT CAME. Nice Chinese double-take, with mega-sized YAO Ming and megalomaniac MAO. Two communications clues: [Get hold of, in a way] for EMAIL, and [Phony prefix?] for TELE. I did not at all understand the relationship between [Weed event] and CLAMBAKE; apparently it's drug slang meaning "sitting inside a car or other small, enclosed space and smoking marijuana." Live and learn, eh?


The August 3 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Annemarie Brethauer is called "Standing Innovations." The theme entries are those crazy structures—such as the UNISPHERE and the SPACE NEEDLE—built for the WORLD'S FAIR in various years and cities. The puzzle seemed to be fairly easy, but there are plenty of clues that call on broad knowledge. Peru has mountains called the Cordillera BLANCA? Fanny HILL is a John Cleland heroine? ESTO is here as [Word in Idaho's state motto].

Which reminds me: In How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, each crossword has three paragraphs of "Hints and Tips." I think these were originally envisioned as Dummies-style callouts on the puzzle pages, but given th 6x9 trim size, the Hints and Tips moved to the end of the book. But there's a wealth of information there, particularly for the newer solver. One of those quasi-crosswordese words may launch a discussion of related words. For one puzzle with ORO clued as part of Montana's state motto, I wrote this:

Clues for ORO sometimes reference Montana’s motto, “Oro y plata.” Other state mottoes that get play in crosswords include “Ad ASTRA per ASPERA” (Kansas), “ESSE quam videri” (North Carolina, “ENSE petit placidam sub libertate quietem” (Massachusetts), “ESTO perpetua” (Idaho), “Salus populi suprema lex ESTO” (Missouri), “Live free OR DIE” (New Hampshire), “ALIS volat propriis” (Oregon), and “L’étoile du NORD” (Minnesota). MGM’s motto is “Ars gratia artis,” while the Prince of Wales says “Ich dien.”

It took some doing to assemble the theme in Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy crossword, "The West of the Story." It's got an exchange between MAE West and George RAFT, in which he said "GOODNESS / WHAT BEAUTIFUL / DIAMONDS," and she replied, "GOODNESS / HAD NOTHING / TO DO WITH IT." Interesting to have 22-Across's GOODNESS pulling double duty here. Oddly, I encountered 11-Down, [Response to a sneeze], about 10 seconds after I sneezed. Harvey says BLESS YOU; I stick with "Gesundhheit!"

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword is a tribute to ELMER FUDD, who had twubble saying his Rs. Four phwases have TR or CR words that get twisted into QU or TW words: FALCON QUEST, for example. In the fill, I learned that there's a band called DAMONE, and apparently I might know them if I played video games. Some great fill: FLOTILLA, the [Exclamation from Poirot] "MON DIEU," LAST STOP on the line, a CUE STICK, BLUE LAW, and SUNDRY (which is a word I like).

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke co-constructed the Wall Street Journal puzzle, playing with the sort of phrases that pop up in "Market Speak." What might happen with guillotine stock? It WENT DOWN SHARPLY. That was my favorite theme entry. And miniskirts GOT SOLD SHORT. There are seven other theme entries, some of them shorter 7-, 8-, or 9-letter words/phrases, but those two were the ones I liked best.