January 31, 2007

Thursday, 2/1

NYS 5:00
NYT 4:55
LAT 3:41
CS 2:51

(post updated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday)

Wow, February already? Yeesh. Time flies when arctic weather is on the march.

The Sun puzzle, Max Rosmarin's "Triple Doubles," has plenty of juicy clues. The theme has nothing to do with basketball stats. Rather, the theme entries have pairs of triple letters (as in HAWAII INN NAMING). My favorite clues included [Take a shine to?] for GLOSS, [Lose, as a tail] for SHAKE (I was thinking of those lizards that can regrow tails), [Have a date?] for EAT, and [OR setting] for PST.

In Michael Maurer's NYT crossword, I got off on the wrong foot with 1-Across, plugging in the more familiar AIR ACE instead of WAR ACE. The theme sent me all over the grid, as each theme entry was two cross-referenced entries forming OXYMORONS of a type. The word pairs seem to appear in random spots, but taken together, they occupy symmetrical pieces of real estate and account for a veritable boatload of theme squares (75 by my count). Having that many theme squares, of course, tends to force compromises in the fill, so we end up with ERNES singing MIS and flying across the ORNE River, for example. Favorite clues here: the simple [In] for ENTREE, [Choice after a football coin toss] for RECEIVE (Go, Bears!), and the doubling up of [Start to fall], SAG and the month SEP. For my money, Michael COLE has got to be one of the least well-known of famous COLEs: Natalie, Nat King, Gary, Old King, slaw, Porter, the USS, Haan shoes. The TV version of The Mod Squad was largely before my time. I looked up the [Lebanese port] TRIPOLI (being more familiar with the Libyan city), and found this nice tidbit at the end of the Wikipedia article: "Today, Tripoli is also known as Al-Fayha'a, derived from the Arabic verb Faha which is used to indicate the spread of a certain smell. Tripoli was best known with its vast orange orchards. During the season of blooming, the pollen of orange flowers gets carried by the air spreading a splendid odour that can be felt anywhere in the city and its suburbs, hence the name al-Fayha'a."


Sheldon Benardo’s LA Times puzzle has a fun theme that toys with people whose first names are also cities and whose last names are also nouns. I especially liked [Oregon newcomers?], EUGENE DEBS. Fictionally, Austin Powers could have been included. Any other famous names come to mind? I can’t think of any suitable Pierres. (Moving away from the theme, I thought [Five-sided home?] was a great clue for PLATE.)

Bit of an oddball theme in Randall Hartman’s CrosSynergy puzzle—phrases that contain the letter string NZO—but it makes for a lively trio of 15-letter entries.

Will and Merl's appearance on Oprah's show (which airs in the morning in Oprah's home market) was entertaining. They didn't have the same "wow!" factor as the two brothers doing the Cirque du Soleil act—could you lie on your stomach and lift your feet off the floor if there were a man doing a handstand on your heels?—but Oprah seemed delighted by the personal bits Merl worked into the Oprah-themed puzzle. While the acrobats wore a lot of makeup, even in HD, I didn't see makeup on the crossword guys. But they looked more polished than they did in Wordplay, so maybe the hair and makeup department did do something after all.


January 30, 2007

Wednesday, 1/31

NYS 3:59
NYT 3:53
LAT 3:35
CS 3:21

Co Crocker passed along word from Will Johnston that the Wednesday NYT crossword is a different creature in the applet than in Across Lite or the newspaper proper. If you're wedded to using the applet, I'll tell you what's in the Across Lite notepad below the cut.

This puzzle is by Brendan Emmett Quigley, and I've already stashed a copy in my "great puzzles" folder. Why? Because of the overall quality of the clues and fill and because of the gimmick. One could say that the puzzle exceeds the usual word-count limits, since there are 81 entries, and one could carp that there are only 31 theme squares—but the three theme entries run on the diagonal, and I hear it's mighty hard to build a puzzle within the constraints of three-way cross-checking of the theme squares. Despite the high word count, many of the entries are long words and phrases, so it sort of has an easy-themeless vibe to it, particularly for those solving on the NYT's applet (where the three diagonal clues were not provided). Those clues are:

1. Face imaginary enemies
7. 1972 Bill Withers #1 hit
37. Bettor's buy

Going back to the straight across and down stuff, my favorite clues and entries were: LA BOHEME, I'M LATE, SMOLDER, [One who may bug you] for SPY, [It's basic] for ALKALI, [Time and time again?] for TWICE, TITIAN RED ([Brownish orange]), MOS DEF, "THEM'S the breaks," and [Two-dimensional world?] for ATLAS. The entries that are borderline iffy (I don't question their legitimacy—just don't care for them) in my book—Roman numeral DII, LSTS, WAAH, POOLE, ENNIS—all intersect with the diagonals, so I can look past them.

I also admired Alan Arbesfeld's Sun puzzle, "H2O," in which the theme entries turn an H into an O. My favorite of the theme entries was COIN A (China) SYNDROME. Juicy clues and entries included [One who makes many sound investments?] for AUDIOPHILE, [Piñata feature] for TILDE, [French toast] for SALUT, [Wild West?] for MAE, [First offer?] for CAIN, INAMORATAS, [Server's offering] for SUBPOENA, and [It's sometimes right on the nose] for ZIT.


January 29, 2007

Tuesday, 1/30

NYS 4:59
Tausig 4:33
Onion 3:34
NYT 3:33
CS 3:04
LAT 2:56

(post updated at 3 p.m. Tuesday)

First up, Oprah alert! This Thursday, February 1, Will Shortz and Merl Reagle will appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The episode features assorted "how'd they do that?" segments, including one on crosswords with Will and Merl. So set your TiVo, off-brand DVR, VCR, or viewing schedule (and keep an eye out for Tyler Hinman in the audience).

The main thing I want to say about Nancy Salomon's Tuesday NYT is that I have been lobbying for years for wider use of the word HUZZAH—and here Nancy includes HUZZAH, HUZZAH in a large-circulation newspaper crossword. Huzzah! I'm also fond of the letter Z, having grown up with it as one of my initials, and this puzzzzzzle has 18 of 'em. All those zeds make for spicy fill, including ABOVE ZERO (dammit, I want it to be ABOVE FREEZING—ABOVE ZERO is still too cold), KIBITZ, GRIZZLIES (are there any sports teams that are specific kinds of bears? We have the Chicago Bears and Cubs, but are there some Grizzlies in the NBA? Where are the Kodiaks? And how come there are teams called Colts and Broncos and Mustangs, but I can't think of any Horses or Ponies?). MUDVILLE is great non-Z fill, too. Anyone else lose a little time by filling in PTUI instead of PFUI?

Jeffrey Harris constructed the Sun puzzle, "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes," which does not, alas, have a David Bowie theme. (Speaking of music popular in the '80s, among other decades, I heard the Wang Chung song "Dance Hall Days" on the radio today. Omigod, is that song awful. It pained me. Especially because I didn't hate it in the '80s.) So. The crossword. The theme entries change a word with a final K sound that's not spelled with a -CH into a homophone that is spelled with a -CH—"cross-check" becomes CROSS-CZECH; "mock turtle" is MACH TURTLE (clued as [Animal that's unusually fast for its species?]); "conks" is repurposed as [Shellfish repurposed as hats?], or the vivid image of CONCHS ON THE HEAD (which causes one to wonder if molluscoid slime would make a good hair pomade).


Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle "shapes up" pretty nicely.

Matt Jones' Onion A.V. Club crossword, "Rap Sheet," echoes today's NYT puzzle in its Scrabbliness—the JAY-Z theme spotlights other names or phrases that contain both a J and a Z, with 15 J's and Z's in the grid. I love entries like JEEZ LOUISE, CAJOLE, and SAVEUR magazine, plus the other J-Z names. Where else but an alt-weekly would the answer to [Safe choice?] be TROJANS?

Highlights of Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "Painless Solutions," in which the OW is removed from the theme entries: [Publish or perish, e.g.] for VERB, ["Much ___ About Nothing" ("Simpsons" episode)] for APU, [Keep one's pants on?] for ABSTAIN, [Seinfeldian shorthand for control in a relationship] for HAND, [Song, once] for AIRLINE, and [Good thing to hit] for G-SPOT.


January 28, 2007

Monday, 1/29

NYS 3:20
LAT 2:37
NYT 2:36
CS 2:33

(post updated at 8:40 a.m. Monday)

Remember the famous/infamous Puzzle #5 (constructed by Byron Walden) from last year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament? The puzzle that only a few dozen(ish) people finished correctly within the time limit? The one with the wicked clues and a frightfully obscure cheese? Well, there I was, reading John Updike's New Yorker review of Jane Smiley's new book, Ten Days in the Hills. The core characters met "in the cheese section at Gelson's last Easter, when Max was buying a Piave and Elena was buying a Gruyère de Comté and their hands touched as they both reached for the Époisses." Their first meeting over Piave out of the way, of course, the characters move on to explicit sex throughout the resst of the book. But: Piave in literature and magazines! Did you think it would ever happen?

The Monday NYT comes from Fred Piscop, with a theme of vowel movement—five lively phrases ending with -APPER, -EPPER, -IPPER, -OPPER, and -UPPER. There are plenty of 7-letter entries (including UNITERS and DEVISER, but no "decider") in the fill—nothing too fancy, but perhaps a more "open" grid than is normally seen in a Monday puzzle.


Harvey Estes does a nice job with tribute puzzles after assorted actors die. Today's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Everybody Loves Raymond's Father," and it pays homage to four characters (two 6-letter ones, a 15, and a 10) played by the late PETER BOYLE. It's a perfect combo because, if you ask me, there's a striking resemblance between the two. Behold: a photo of Harvey and a one of Boyle.

A clue in Jared Banta's Sun puzzle (aside: See, that's how Jared should be spelled. It always bugged me that the title character in The Pretender was spelled Jarod. And since it bugged me, it stuck in my brain until, at long last, that bit of knowledge had a practical use in the Saturday NYT crossword.). Where was I? Yes, a clue in the Sun puzzle included the word boustredephonic, which was new to me. Boustredephonic writing travels back and forth across the page like OXEN in a field, rather than jumping back to the starting end so all the lines travel in just one direction. The theme is chicken parts (culinarily speaking, not biologically). But where are the neck and feet??


January 27, 2007

Sunday, 1/28

LAT 10:19
NYT 8:55
BG 7:33
WaPo 7:23
CS 4:24

Vic Fleming and Bruce Venzke's Sunday NYT crossword, "Having Pull," has a smattering of pop culture clues, but less than yesterday's puzzle. These were mostly gimmes for me: STARSKY of …and Hutch fame and ALLIE of Kate and… fame, daytime TV's Linda DANO, and the discotastic GIBB. There was nowhere in this grid for A FAST ONE, YOUR LEG, or STRAIGHT A'S, but there were 10 other "things that can be pulled" (including the pair of 7's crossing in the center of the grid—and one of those, MUSCLES, is crossed, aptly enough, by TONED UP). [Appeared] was a rather bland clue for CAME OUT, given what "coming out" means in the vernacular. Seeing [Lincoln, maybe] (as a clue for TOWNCAR) reminds me of something my son said at Chuck E. Cheese today—there was a Mount Rushmore mural on the wall, with five faces (four presidents plus the titular rodent). "Chuck E. is not the president!" he said, aghast. Speaking of presidents, I loved the clue for VIRGO: [Lyndon Johnson, by birth]. Favorite theme entries included ALL-NIGHTERS, WISDOM TEETH, and the OLD SWITCHEROO. Anyone familiar with the usage that teams [Kick] with BEEF?


Dat ol' forum

Looks like the NYT "Today's Puzzle" forum is on the fritz again—the last four days' worth of posts appear to have vanished, which is a new thing.

I'll bet the NYT's many new blogs have much more robust software and servers than the creaky forums. You think eventually all the forums will migrate to the blog format?


January 26, 2007

Saturday, 1/27

NYT 7:49
LAT 6:22
Newsday 4:21
CS 3:15

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. Saturday)

Well, I still need to finish the Tournament Crosswords, Volume 2, book, and a Stan Newman–edited book (sort of a “best of Random House puzzle books” collection). But the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is eight weeks away, and I’ll need more books to accommodate the 10-to-20-puzzles-a-day training habit. So I ordered four more books today: the second volumes of Thursday and Friday Sun crosswords, the CrosSynergy Challenging 30-Minute Crosswords book (which I hope is mostly themeless "Sunday Challenge" puzzles), and Trip Payne's Pop Culture Crosswords (because Stella Daily said the Madonna puzzle was the gayest crossword ever, and who can resist that?). Mysteriously, Amazon knocked off the cost of one of the books and gave me another $5 "promotional discount." So I'm getting about $32 of books for under $19. Sweet!

We've been graced with another Karen Tracey crossword, the Saturday NYT. How did I like it? Let me count the ways. (1) Great adjectives: TRICKSY ([Mischievous]) and DITHERY ([Highly agitated]). Words like these always please me in a crossword, in prose, in speech—anywhere. (2) Pop culture: ATOM ANT from the '60s, Eric BANA, JAROD (At last! I am rewarded for having watched The Pretender with my husband.), Star Trek: Voyager's JERI Ryan (who also costarred in the collapse of a senatorial race in Illinois, clearing Barack Obama's path to national prominence), comedian ELAYNE Boosler, past Tonight Show announcer EDD Hall, the short-lived sitcom ENOS, and three unfamiliar (to me) song things, Sinatra's OLD NEW YORK, "I GO for That," and ELENI Mandell. (Wow, that's a heckuva lot of pop culture. Love it! But it's probably angering high-culture snobs—though they get Tintoretto's ARTE, Warhol's MARILYN, and ERNST.) (3) Terrific words, some of 'em with a past-centuries vibe: the plant family SPURGE, the MUDHEN (also called the American coot), ALEGAR ([Sour, fermented liquid]), OMIGOSH, and NONSTARTER (clued straightforwardly as [Dud of an idea]). (4) Geography: one capital city, Fiji's SUVA, and a bit of the Bronx I'd never heard of, THROGS NECK. (5) Zippy clues: [Occasion to reserve a table for two?] for LATE LUNCH (ah, 2:00), [Bank donation?] for PLASMA, [Formal introduction] for DEAR SIR, [Flooring?] for AMAZEMENT, and [Like some connections for SIAMESE (a Siamese connection is that double fire-hose connector doohickey you see outside buildings: like this).


No time for giving due consideration to the day's other crosswords—there's a party at Chuck E. Cheese at 10:00, and one wouldn't want to be late to that! But there's a booboo in the LA Times puzzle by Robert Wolfe. NAPA is clued as ["Sideways" setting], but the movie took place in California wine country further south. Even the Washington Post's movie critic got this wrong: the correction on that page says, "the setting of the film was incorrectly identified as the Napa Valley. The movie was set and filmed in the Santa Ynez Valley and other locations in Santa Barbara County."


January 25, 2007

Friday, 1/26

NYT 5:53
LAT 5:29
NYS 4:44
CS 3:45
12/12 CHE [whoops, forgot to note my time]

WSJ 9:53
Reagle 7:43

(post updated at 9:45 a.m. Friday)

Loved the theme in Alan Arbesfeld's Sun crossword, "Add a Line"! I'd enjoy another crossword with the same type of theme, and I'd enjoy assorted twists on this theme. How about you? And if you haven't done this one already but usually solve via keyboard, consider printing it out and solving on paper.

Back in unthemed land, Mike Nothnagel constructed the Friday NYT crossword with a rather sinuous grid pattern. Alas, I felt stymied on the wavelength front, as I kept having no idea what the clues were getting at. The slowest corner for me was the upper left, where I dabbled with NIXON instead of AGNEW, GROW for BREW, ASK AGAIN for ASK ABOUT, drew a blank on A, B, OR C for [Multiple-choice choices] and OAK for [Bourbon flavorer], and couldn't make any sense out of ONONO**** (which turned out to be ON ONE KNEE). I didn't finish that corner until after escaping to the rest of the puzzle, where THERE'S NO I IN TEAM sparkled with its triteness (what a shame it's so "in the language"!). As did the combo of MAYBE NOT and IT DEPENDS, the GINSU knife, and NONPAREIL (I do like Sno-Caps chocolate nonpareils). Clues that I liked and/or was stymied by: [Hardly windy] for CURT, [Trailer makeup] for SCENES, [Single or double, say] for BED (nope, not a baseball HIT), [It helps keep one's place] for RENT, and [Boxer's org.] for AKC (what was it, about a week ago that a similar clue was used for WBA? Shortz is messing with us!).

Going back to the Sun puzzle, in the theme entries, there's an extra stroke added to one letter (which means solving by keyboard gives a slightly less elegant version of the "aha" moment). Those people who use lowercase letters to fill a grid? Hey, this puzzle is proof that they're wrong and should stick to capitals like the rest of us. GO OUT OF STYLE gets another line tacked onto the first O, transforming it into an Q in GQ OUT OF STYLE. In the other theme entries, an F becomes an E; a P, an R; and an I, a T. Very few crosswords play with the way we physically write letters, but I find it an entertaining slant. (Aside: On the windowsill behind my friend's kitchen sink last weekend, I marveled at her wee aquarium of BRINE shrimp, lovingly known as Sea-Monkeys. Astonishingly, she said her kids have no interest in the Sea-Monkeys. But they're awesome!)


Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Education Reform," has a theme that's solid but perhaps not so exciting. But I truly enjoyed it—great clues, great fill, overall a great puzzle. I amused myself by being terribly confused by **GNUMP*, [Show whose title character wore a Tigers cap]. My brain simply refused to parse it as MAGNUM P.I.

Joy Andrews' January 12 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "A Bone-ified Puzzle," uses bony puns in the four 15-letter theme entries. My favorite was [Garbo's request to have her fibula removed?], I WANT TIBIA ALONE. There were a couple new-to-me words in this puzzle—ISHI, a California Native American who survived a massacre that eradicated most of his tribe, and the card game PIQUET.

In Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Oh, It's You," O becomes U. Cutest theme entry: [Overdid it at a love-in?] for WENT HUG-WILD.


January 24, 2007

Thursday, 1/25

NYS 5:45
NYT 5:10
LAT 3:48
CS 2:51

(post updated at 9:15 a.m. Thursday)

If my upcoming book is currently listed on Amazon with Will Shortz's byline instead of mine, is it too soon to post the link?

Sheesh, I really lose steam when I do crosswords on the New York schedule (at 10 p.m.) rather than with the Central Time advantage (promptly at 9 p.m.). That extra hour is when my neurons start to cuddle up together and rest their eyes. So it is that I will give short shrift to two good puzzles.

The Thursday NYT is by Manny Nosowsky, and it gave me trouble. First off, EARTH REENTRY, when enclosed in quotes and Googlified, garners only about 1,000 hits, which explains why that answer was slow to emerge from the grid. If the space shuttle were reentering earth like a sperm enters an ovum, that'd be one thing, but I think of it as reentering the earth's atmosphere. EVEN-MONEY CHANCE also battled its way out, letter by letter; "even money," I'm familiar with, but the phrase "even-money chance" gets less (special word for Howard and Michael) than 700 Google hits. I'd never heard of the Moyers speech, "The FIGHT OF OUR LIVES," either. The easiest of the theme entries, for me, was NOT WORTH A SOU, thanks to old crossword regular SOU (and its cousin, ECU). I do find it amusing that "not worth a sou" gets a mere 140 or so Google hits! The dime, nickel, cent, and buck all outpoll the sou, but I like the sou. Anyway, these theme entries contain ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR embeds, and that string of numbers occupies a vertical 15-letter entry crossing the other four theme entries. So that's neat, even if the specific phrases containing the hidden numbers vexed me. Plenty of vague clues for shortish answers: [Head] for JOHN, [Go against] for BUCK, [Chinese thought] for MAOISM (which shares 5 letters with TAOISM), and the ONLY/DULY pair clued with [As recently as]/[As required]. Favorite clue: [Wet bar?] for SOAP.

Doug Peterson packed a slew of great stuff into his Themeless Thursday crossword in the Sun. DWARF PLANET has shown up in a lot of clues in recent months, but here it stars at 1-Across. Doug doubles up on Italian with LUIGI PIRANDELLO and CHIAROSCURO, throws in a Traceyesque capital (DAR ES SALAAM, which was named by the Sultan of Zanzibar and where you can find Zanzibari restaurants), and includes the first name for an artist with a quasi-crosswordese last name (MAX ERNST). Best-loved clues: [Teens, for example] for CARDINAL NUMBERS, [See stars?] for PONTIFFS, [Eldritch] as an old, old word for EERIE, [Part of WWJD] for WHAT (right after a Roman numeral clue asking for a fraction of MMMDV...My Mother's Maid Doesn't Vacuum?), [Has kittens, so to speak] for ERUPTS, [Some toy inserts] for C BATTERIES, and [Vexillology subject] for FLAG (say "yo" if you studied the "flags of the world" article in the encyclopedia when you were a kid).

Huh. I guess I didn't exactly skimp on the posting after all.


In Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword, the theme entries are all the words running around the perimeter of the grid, tied together with a central BORDER / GUARDS (the words around the puzzle's border can all be followed by guard; e.g., SPLASH [GUARD], BODY[GUARD], and RED [GUARD]). The fill is surprisingly smooth for a puzzle with 58 theme squares blocking off the edges and middle of the grid.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle features a WOODY / ALLEN quip. If you overlook symmetry and read the line immediately below Part 3 as if it were Part 4, you'd get this: MY ONLY REGRET IN / LIFE IS / THAT I'M / AN ASS.


January 23, 2007

Wednesday, 1/24

Onion 4:58
Tausig 4:54
NYS 4:25
NYT 4:19
LAT 3:29
CS 2:34

(post updated a tad at 8:40 a.m. Wednesday)

I didn’t get a chance to do the indie crosswords Tuesday afternoon, so I’m plumb tuckered out from doing four crosswords (Wednesday’s NYT and Sun, plus the Onion A.V. Club and Tausig/Ink Well puzzles) and blogging about them this evening. It’s not so much that I’m a morning person—just that I’m not much of a night owl.

When I finished Gary Steinmehl’s NYT crossword, the burning question on my mind was, "Who the hell is PIE TRAYNOR?" Turns out he was a swell baseball player from 1920 to 1937 and “received his nickname for a fondness for eating pie.” The theme entries all start with words that are also desserts in other contexts; my cousin can TRIFLE WITH a trifle made of chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, fresh raspberries, and whipped cream. (Yum.) NAPOLEON SOLO is a name I know only from crosswords, and now Pie Traynor joins him.

Byron Walden’s Onion A.V. Club crossword flipflops five names from the arenas of politics and blowharding in a lively theme that somehow eluded me even after I had several of the last-names-first filled in. (It was Rush Limbaugh’s pharmaceutical misadventures that finally tipped me off.) Hey, raise your hand if you’d heard of PAPAYAS’ contraceptive properties before (and look, OVUM and UTERO appear in the same puzzle). I would’ve mentioned root beer in a clue for BURPY; that word reminds me of this juvenile little video of flatulent dinosaurs (don’t have the speakers turned up loud if you’re at work). [Former Swank playmate] sounds like porn, but it’s just poor Chad LOWE. There’s also a YUTZ, which is YIDDISH; this informal reference about Yiddish is a fun diversion.

Roger DePont (a.k.a. Peter Gordon) has another of his annual OSCARS puzzles featuring the five films nominated for Best Picture (and don’t forget: the nominations were announced Tuesday morning and the puzzle was posted by Tuesday evening. Speedy delivery!) Given their disparate letter counts, the titles are split up into 3- to 8-letter pieces, all plunked into a symmetrical set of squares in the grid. (So maybe it’s for the best that Dreamgirls was snubbed?) Aside from the movies, I liked seeing PASHMINA in the fill, and [Boot’s opposite end] as a clue for BONNET. (When my VW’s trunk is open, the dashboard tells me “bootlid is open,” and I can’t tell you how charming I find that. Sometimes the car also advises me to “top up wash fluid.”)

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle for this week is the tattoo-themed “Needle Work.” Plenty of entertaining clues here: [Someone with free junk?] is a NUDIST; [Adults score them for HS students] means SATS, not beers; and [Parliament style] is P-FUNK (I was thinking of plain ol’ FUNK, one letter shy). I learned a new 3-letter abbreviation—[Google Earth mapping syst.] is GIS, which means geographic information system. The [Insect with pincers] made me cringe. Know what’s worse than an EARWIG? A centipede. Or a scorpion. I had to check on the genus and species names for a couple scorpion varieties for a paper I was editing last week, and just reading about them gave me the willies.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle echoes Ben Tausig's puzzle with one great clue: [Run out of clothes?] is STREAK.


January 22, 2007

Tuesday, 1/23

NYS 3:48
NYT 3:23
LAT 3:01
CS 2:41
Onion tba
Tausig tba

(post updated at 9 a.m. Tuesday)

I liked the theme entries in Jack McInturff's Sun puzzle, "Doublet Is Doubled," in which double-T becomes a busty double-D. Oddly enough, this puzzle and Timothy Powell's NYT crossword have a few words in common; SWAMI, ALMA, and EEL(ERS). Must be a conspiracy on the part of the swami to market himself more effectively. In the NYT, THE gets wedged into the middle of various compound words, transforming the first part into a verb: PAN THE CAKE, for example. Both of these crosswords seemed to have a surfeit of creaky crossword fill (EPEE and ELON and ACHER, ELAL and ALOE and RESAW), despite the smattering of letters like Q, Z, and X in them. Oh, well. The NYT includes CUTEY, which isn't the usual spelling but has both dictionary and comic book credibility. (Of course, CUTIE outpolls CUTEY more than 20-to-1 at Google.)


Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle could be called a healthy challenge—or at least, that word could describe the theme. The fill's good, and includes a handful of Scrabbly letters. XENA pops up here and in Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle today.


January 21, 2007

Monday, 1/22

CS 3:48
NYS 3:25
LAT 2:48
NYT 2:43

(post updated a wee bit at 8:50 a.m. Monday)

Adam Cohen's Sun puzzle, "Names of the Past," is a sheer delight. At least, it's wonderful if you're one of those solvers who like having plenty of people's names in the grid (I am), especially when it's supplemented by still more pop culture (huzzah!). Extra bonus points for crossing CHARLIE ROSE with I'M IN LOVE—a dear friend of mine adores CR. Favorite clues/entries: all five theme entries (people whose last names are past-tense verbs), [Ice cream extra] for MIX-IN (I like to add Heath Bar mix-ins to chocolate ice cream), [Shout at 11:59:59 P.M. on December 31] for ONE, WORMHOLE, [Friend of Dorothée] for AMIE. And I'm so glad there was an NYT clue last week for an XFL player, which inspired people to reminisce about the player who replaced his name with HE HATE ME on his jersey, because I would not have known the answer (XFL) for the related clue here.

C.W. Stewart's NYT has an accessible theme (for drivers, at least) of six road signs. Having a COP in the bottom right corner is a nice touch, though what are the odds of seeing a cop [in your rearview mirror if you ignore the above signs] if the sign says NO PARKING? I think cops prefer to lie in wait until you've left the car so they can plunk a ticket on your windshield.


I encountered an unfamiliar word in Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Bug-Free"—the answer to [Mayor with judicial powers] is ALCALDE, a Spanish title taken from the Arabic. Up until California became a U.S. state in the mid-1800s, the title was used for the elected official in charge of San Francisco—after statehood, he was the mayor.


January 20, 2007

Sunday, 1/21

LAT 8:58
WaPo 8:53
BG 8:48
NYT 7:38
CS 5:35

(post updated at noon Sunday)

In his NYT crossword, "Kareem of the Crop" (such a fun theme!), Patrick Berry includes a lot of famous women in the grid: NAOMI JUDD, DIANE LANE, MARLENE Dietrich, IDA LUPINO, Steffi GRAF, Elinor WYLIE, ANASTASIA, CLEOPATRA, and NORAH O'Donnell. Poor ERIN Moran was dumped in favor of "___ go bragh!" Nine women vs. seven theme entries—women win!

I really liked the theme—Patrick took a juicy assortment of base phrases like Soul Train, pro-choice, and Falcon Crest and massaged them into SOUL TERRAIN, PEROT CHOICE, and FALCON CARESSED by adding a schwa (or another sound not strikingly different from a schwa). The fill indirectly taught me something about birds. OSCINE, clued as [Like a crow or lark], is a broad term for songbirds (as opposed to waterfowl, ratites, etc.), and—believe it or not—crows are in that category, even though their raucous caw is a horrible sound. Anyone else try both BETAMAX and WALKMAN (which are older) before hitting on DISCMAN at 4-Down? And does anyone else ever use the [sailor's yell], "Hard ALEE!" in non-boating contexts? Such as, say, on a Tilt-a-Whirl, or when pushing a grocery cart?


Geography + anagrams = HYPER-AGOG! In other, more comprehensible, terms, I loved Patrick Blindauer's Washington Post puzzle, "Capital Shakeups," featuring state capitals and their anagrams. The first one I got was RALEIGH LEG HAIR, so I was sold immediately. I'd love to see Patrick's list of unused possibilities for this theme!

Henry Hook's recent Boston Globe puzzle, "When I Grow Up," matures Lamborghini and John Coltrane into SHEEPORGHINI and JOHN HORSERANE; the theme includes five other phrases in which the young animals grow up. Not as cute as puppies, but cute all the same. Notably, over a dozen entries end with the letter I.

Levi Denham's LA Times syndicated puzzle, "Periodically Speaking," had me thinking I should be on the lookout for chemical elements in the theme. Nope, periodicals—each theme entry, clued straightforwardly, begins with the name of a magazine.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge is tough but not too tough.


January 19, 2007

Saturday, 1/20

LAT 6:50
Newsday 5:52
NYT 5:25
CS 3:06

(post updated at 7:50 a.m. Saturday)

Woot! There’s a 56-word crossword from Harvey Estes in the NYT, and it’s practically like having four separate mini-themeless puzzles in one. True story: My mom called the other day to discuss a couple oldish crosswords, one by Harvey and one by another esteemed constructor whose work doesn't quite "click" with me—and she volunteered that she didn't much enjoy the other person's puzzle, but really liked Harvey's. Apparently, cruciverbal wavelength and sensibilities may be genetic, as I also like Harvey's work. (Aside: I could swear Will Shortz occasionally dispenses little hints a day or two ahead of time to help regular solvers—why would the clue for Friday’s CARIB include the word “Trinidadian” if not to nudge us toward TRINIDAD as today's answer to [Columbus discovery of 1498]?) Anyway, bizarre solving experience here: I got 1-Across (CANAL) and its first four crossings (including the mislead in [Half of an old comedy duo]—yes, Jerry Stiller and ANNE MEARA don't do the duo business these days, but they're still both in show biz) just like that. This doesn't ordinarily happen in Saturday puzzles. Anyone else notice that PIASTER ([Part of a pound], as in the Syrian and Egyptian currency unit, the pound) and BIAS TIRE share an IAST*R chunk? Another pairing is ALIKE (clued as [Not disparate]) atop SAME AS ([Matching, with "the"]). I first thought the [Words before a sarcastic "ha ha"] were I'LL BET, but I GET IT turned out to fit there. Who doesn't love the Georgia-the-country vs. Georgia-the-state trick? The [Political leader from Georgia] wasn't CARTER or anyone from Congress but rather, STALIN. [Driving range device?] is, aptly, ODOMETER. [Chewed on] has nought to do with gnawing; it's PONDERED. And a STILETTO can be an [Eyelet creator]. I rather wanted [Supplements] to be a noun like VITAMINS, but it decided to be ENLARGES instead. [Producing bullets?] is a great clue for SWEATING, no? I hadn't known that the capital city of KABUL was located on the Kabul River. I have a friend whose last name is [Stout], so I was glad the answer was INTREPID rather than something meaning "portly." Never heard of the [Brazilian beach resort] OLINDA. I must resolve to use the word MOLDER (meaning to [Crumble], decay, or rot) more often. (Speaking of that, just saw a book review that mentioned the vocabulary of the cad character—he uses words like "anon" and "soupçon" in speech. I think I would like that cad.) Never been a big ALAN KING fan, but I appreciate the quote in the clue: "Marriage is nature's way of keeping us from fighting with strangers." Crazily fearsome-looking grid, but in the end, I found it quite tractable (easier than the Friday NYT by Karen Tracey). What was your experience?


Favorite entries in John Farmer's themeless LA Times crossword: DR SCHOLLS, SORE LOSER, CAST DOUBT, THE LOUVRE.

Plenty of long words in Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper—of the ten 10-letter entries, seven are single words. Favorite clues: [It might have a slide on the side] for SWINGSET and [One on a liquid diet] for VAMPIRE BAT.


January 18, 2007

Friday, 1/19

NYT 6:20
NYT 6:20
1/5 CHE 6:12
NYS 4:44
LAT 4:33
CS 2:55

Reagle 9:27
WSJ 7:57

(post updated at 9:20 a.m. Friday)

Well, the first two Friday newspaper puzzles offer something for everyone: a themeless crossword by Karen Tracey, and another themeless crossword by Karen Tracey. (I think they’re both 70-worders, too.) Okay, I suppose it’s possible that not everybody is keen on (a) themeless puzzles or (b) Karen’s particular style, but I’m pleased by the double-dipping.

Usually a Sun Weekend Warrior is tougher than a Friday NYT, but this week, it’s Karen’s NYT puzzle that has more bite. Maybe that’s because the Sun offering has four 15’s anchored by a vertical 13, whereas the NYT is heavy on 8-letter entries. Or maybe it’s just me. In the NYT, there are lots of K's and J's (as in the terrific entry J ALFRED PRUFROCK), plus a well-deployed X in ST FRANCIS XAVIER. The upper right quadrant juxtaposes two lively idioms, IN CLOVER and CAKE WALK, and over to the left, there's RIDES OUT, and lower down, CRACKS UP. Clues I especially liked: [Saint born in Newark, N.J.] for EVA MARIE, [Rack holder] for OVEN (not BRA!), the simple [Pan] for KNOCK (I tried CROCK first), [Joint assemblies] for non-S plural PLENA, and [Word of emphasis] for ITSELF (as in "The window itself was talking to me," perhaps?). DE KLERK makes an appearance here; he was the [1993 Peace co-Nobelist] (with Mandela) for ending apartheid. (I was thinking he was "The Old Crocodile," unlamentedly deceased a few months back, but that was P.W. Botha.)

Now, the range of applet times suggests that Karen's NYT crossword was particularly tough. What challenged you the most?

Karen's Sun Weekend Warrior was even more Scrabblicious, with a full house of Z's and X's, plus a K/Q pair. I liked how JEFF FOXWORTHY (what other triple-F phrases are out there?) crossed all four of the 15-letter entries. Highlights: [Fain] for LIEF (excellent old-skool words, both), ARRIVIDERCI ROMA, the small trio of TEENIEST, JUST A TAD, and ITSY, [Some bands take them] for REQUESTS, and South TARAWA (gotta have a little-known or hard-to-spell capital city if it's a Sun puzzle by Karen, you know). And look who's here! [Politician nicknamed "The Old Crocodile"], bad ol' BOTHA. Tune in next month, when Karen doubles up with Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki! (Or not. But wouldn't THABOMBEKI be an awesome entry? It even starts with "tha bomb.")


Gary Steinmehl's January 5 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword is a toughie (hooray!). The theme clues made no sense to me until I looked at the puzzle's title ("Where the Dickens Are...") and realized the answers were titles of Dickens books...and even then, there were one or two titles that rang no bells at all (and none of the characters listed in the clues helped me, either). Favorite clues: [Black-and-white broadcast?] for APB, [Leaves for dinner] for LETTUCE.

The first theme entry in Myles Callum's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Silicon Alley," was JESSICA SIMPSON, giving me a brief moment of dread that the theme involved silicone implants (though she may not have any); AREOLAR sitting right on top of that entry didn't help matters. Turned out the theme was actually phrases with two SI's (the chemical symbol for silicon is Si). I learned a new word in here, too. I knew SALAT was German for "salad", but it's also a word meaning the [Five-times-a-day Islamic prayer].

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Unkind Donuts," purportedly moves the first letter of one word to the end of that word (à la Dunkin Donuts -> Unkind Donuts). My favorite theme entries were ARRIVERDERCI OMAR and UNIVERSAL EMOTER. It took me a long time to understand how EAT LEAVES worked (aha! tea leaves).


January 17, 2007

Thursday, 1/18

NYT 4:58
NYS 4:25
LAT 3:25
CS 3:01

Tomorrow, the students at my son's school are all supposed to wear Chicago Cubs shirts, hats, or colors—the Cubs are coming to visit the school. Wrigley Field's only about a mile from the school, so it's not much of a commute for the team. (And no, parents are not invited.) I'm thinking there'll be at least one eighth-grader who wears White Sox gear and gets chastised by the principal, who is not merely a hard-ass, but an adamantine-ass. She means business.

Randolph Ross's NYT puzzle seemed a little tougher than the average Thursday puzzle. The theme involves ANAGRAMMED WORDS (which is clued [SWORD], which is an anagram of WORDS) and includes three other entries following this pattern. I like the circularity of the defining entry simultaneously describing and embodying the gimmick. Favorite bits: HAD A COW, [Like some noses] for PIERCED, [They've got brains] for CRANIA, and tasty SNO-Caps. I was trying to remember [“The Card Players” artist] by summoning up a mental image of the painting. That didn’t help one whit because I was picturing Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters” instead of the CEZANNE painting. (What? Both have people sitting at a table and were painted in the late 1800s.) The fill also includes MAUS (German for "mouse") and RAT, which reminds me that the NYT crossword forum tumbled into the ABYSSES of writing in Greek today, discussing how the Greek language uses the same word for "mouse" and "rat." The German phrase for "It's all Greek to me" is "Es kamm mir Spanisch vor," and the Spanish words for various rodents are immaterial here.

In the Sun crossword by Lee Glickstein, "Stock Exchange," the theme is SWAP / MEAT. Lamb of God and Chicken of the Sea swap meats, as do pig iron and talking turkey; my favorite resulting theme entry is TALKING PIG, because who doesn't love Babe? (Babe, of course, would be saddened greatly by the LAMB, CHICKEN, PIG, and TURKEY being called meat here.) I like the shout-out to Madalyn Murray O'HAIR. The Madalyn spelling was the 356th most popular baby girl name in 2005—how many of the parents intended to evoke memories of O'Hair? Favorite clues: [They're often seen next to temples] for RINGLETS, [What a high-top covers] for ANKLE.


January 16, 2007

Wednesday, 1/17

NYS 4:10
NYT 3:59
LAT 3:24
CS 2:55

The title of Barry Spiegel’s smooth Sun crossword bears investigation for the non–New Yorker. In “Eighth Avenue Line,” the theme is key words from the POST OFFICE motto, and Eighth Avenue is where NYC’s 24-hour post office is located. Wikipedia says it was the building’s architects who supplied the paraphrased HERODOTUS line that’s popularly considered the USPS’s official motto; who knew? Besides the six theme entries (and who doesn’t love SNOWGLOBES?), the fill and clues were wonderful. There’s GROSBEAK (e.g., rose-breasted grosbeak), KIMCHEE, two [Common deciduous tree]s (OAK and ELM), [Suffers from prurigo] for ITCHES (never heard the medical term prurigo, but it’s akin to pruritus, or itching), DREYFUS, and BELIZE.

Nancy Kavanaugh’s NYT puzzle demands that we GET CRACKING on the other three theme entries, which are all things that can be cracked—SECRET CODES, TEXTBOOKS, and EGGSHELLS (and I like that the crackable things are the full theme entries, and not just a word at the end of each). Best clue: [It may be under a top] for BRA. Who on earth is Tommy MADDOX, though? The clue says [2001 M.V.P. of the XFL]—did you know the late XFL got far enough to name an M.V.P.? (A better-known Maddox may be Angelina Jolie’s oldest son.) SETT has several widely divergent meanings including badger tunnels and [Small paving stone]—Google suggests those two meanings are more British than American.


January 15, 2007

Tuesday, 1/16

Tausig 4:54
Onion 4:33
LAT 3:10
NYT 3:07
CS 3:05
NYS 2:58

(post updated at 5:55 p.m. Tuesday)

Dave Mackey's got his third NYT publication now, the Tuesday puzzle. The theme combines classic literature, kid-lit, and a recent movie—and sandwiches the thematic family REUNION smack-dab between the two halves of HEATHER HAS / TWO MOMMIES. (I hope Will Shortz and the NYT don't get cranky letters from troglodytes homophobes complaining about that entry.) I liked the longer fill in this puzzle, including [Pizza slices, usually]. At first, I figured ["No problemo"] was OKAY, which would obviously cross OCTANTS for the pizza. Hmph! EASY and EIGHTHS. (Close enough.)

Adam G. Perl's Sun crossword is called "Give 'Em 'L'" and, not surprisingly, the theme entries pick up an extra L. My favorite of the theme entries is BLEACHED WHALE, clued as [Moby-Dick?]. The American lit prof who assigned Moby-Dick had a great anecdote that's pertinent here. He had a friend who went canoeing in some river, and there were often pedestrians on the bridges he canoed under. Paddling away, he'd call up to them, Ahab-like: "Hast seen the White Whale?" (I hope at least two of you find that as hilarious as I did.)


Ha! Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword features a suitable theme of the sort of meals a single 21-year-old guy eats. (Tyler, I hope you're not eating things like INSTANT NOODLES and LEFTOVER PIZZA with BEER more than, say, five days a week. You have good cookbooks!) I learned several new factoids here: TRILL is a [Southern hip-hop portmanteau meaning "respected"]—but what words does it combine? There's an athlete named Lorena OCHOA (La Tiger Woods Mexicana, they call her). And the Detroit Shock is a WNBA team. Zippy clues and fill asserted themselves: WHAT NERVE, BAD SANTA, SQUISH, [Bad things to share in bed] cluing STDS, [Ass] clues both NINNY and SEX (is the latter usage an example of metonymy or something else?) I remain a little grossed out by the linkage of [Like many a hot wing eater] and SWEATY. Eww! I was hoping they'd merely be GREASY.

The theme in Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Changing Temperatures," took some time to unravel, as the quasi-thermal components of the theme entries had traded places. A lackluster psychic medium is a PSYCHIC MILD, the mildly abrasive sandpaper becomes a HOT ABRASIVE, and (coming full circle) hot pursuit cools to IN MEDIUM PURSUIT. Favorite clues: [Southern bread] for TORTILLA and [Declaration of dependence?] for I LOVE YOU.


January 14, 2007

Monday, 1/15

CS 3:46
NYS 2:56
LAT 2:52
NYT 2:46

(post updated at 10 a.m. Monday)

There's much to like about David Pringle's Monday NYT crossword. Four long theme entries, tons of Scrabbly letters, over a dozen 6- to 8-letter fill entries, pop culture (The Jeffersons theme song, "Movin' ON UP," The WIZ, YELLOW SUBMARINE), groovy animalesque fill (LEAPFROG, KOWTOWS, CATCALL)—and they're all wrapped up in a Christmas bow (YULE, NOEL, EGGNOG). And it's a good theme, too—the TRAFFIC LIGHT of RED-LETTER DAY, YELLOW SUBMARINE, and GREEN BAY PACKERS (my husband's favorite team—he was disappointed that the Packers' nemesis, the Bears, won their playoff game this afternoon).

Is it just me or have the Monday Suns been easier than usual in recent weeks? Alan Arbesfeld's easyish Sun crossword, "Word Ladder," has six theme entries that end with 4-letter words that make up, yes, a word ladder. It runs the gamut from HEAD to FOOT: HEAD to HEAT to BEAT to BOAT to BOOT to FOOT. Gotta love any crossword that crosses TIGER BEAT magazine with SWEETIE PIE.


Donna Levin's LA Times crossword celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr., with two 15's, two 11's, and the MLK initials. Good puzzle.



I haven't played Scrabble in years—mainly because no opportunities have arisen. Every so often, Trip Payne posts about hardcore competitive Scrabble, and wow, that form of the game doesn't appeal to me at all. RENITENT, JUBHAH, OBTECTED, YAUD? Hmm, the idea of memorizing words like that makes my synapses snap shut. (Not that there's anything wrong with competitive Scrabble! It's just not for me.)

So I'm somewhat intrigued by the idea behind the WildWords game, which looks a lot like Scrabble but allows for asterisked tiles (the game includes a dozen of these tiles) or flipped-over tiles (regular tiles placed on "turn to wild" squares on the board) to be denote one or more letters. As seen in the YouTube video, V*QUIST could be played as V[ENTRILO]QUIST. A subsequent play can build off the wild tile, but it can stand for an entirely different batch of letters in the intersecting word. Seems less constrained than Scrabble, no?

There are some reviews linked at the WildWords site, and you can order the game there from "Inventor, Publisher, Sales Manager, Web Master, and Shipping Clerk" Peter Roizen.


January 13, 2007

Sunday, 1/14

WaPo 8:38
NYT 8:34
LAT 8:05
BG 7:45
CS 4:05

I liked the theme in Harvey Estes' NYT crossword, "Sounds of Old," in which he recasts words that end with "old" into their rhymes. My particular favorite (I don't know why) was [Comment about suddenly thinner mares?], I KNEW THEY'D FOALED (rather than "fold"). The answer to [Opera singer Simon] is ESTES, so I checked the Cruciverb database to see if Harvey's used his conveniently lettered surname in other puzzles—yep. Mostly clued with '50s pol Estes Kefauver, but also actor Rob Estes and Estes Park, Colorado. (I checked a few other constructor names that show up in crosswords, but KAHN, WALDEN, and SALOMON haven't used themselves; Longo has used LONG O in a non-Cruciverb-indexed puzzle.) I appreciated the clue for BULGARIA, [Birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet]; do you know how hard it is to think of famous Bulgarians? Really. See how many of these people you recognize; I know two, the soccer player Hristo Stoichkov and the artist Christo (did you know he was Bulgarian?). Oh, and the tennis-playing Maleeva sisters. Very low-key society; maybe the nation is full of people who keep to themselves. Anyone else think the "Blame It on the Bossa Nova" singer was Mel Torme rather than Eydie GORME? I'm glad the crossing wasn't a short word that could plausibly start with G or T (say, *OT), or I might've skipped reading the clue and had one of those where's-the-flippin'-typo applet freakouts. No need for that.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Egomania," an "I" forces its way into assorted phrases. The best ones, I thought, were the ones up top: SITAR WARS and SALIVATION ARMY. I learned a new word in this puzzle: TERTIAN, or [Every other day].

In his Washington Post crossword, "What's My Line," Charles Barasch gathers phrases that could be described by various kinds of "lines," such as [Property line?] and [Fine line?]. He changes each of the nine lines from a physical or metaphorical one into a spoken line—so the "property line" is MINE, ALL MINE. Cute theme, yes?

Leonard Williams' LA Times syndicated crossword, "Verbification," inserts an -IZED into certain phrases to verbify them. A Canon copier becomes [Saintly scribe?], or CANONIZED COPIER. (Next round of obscure-ish word learning for the day: SAMI, clued as [Scandinavian language from which we get "tundra"], is a group of Finno-Ugric languages of the nomadic Lapps. I would've guessed "tundra" came from Russian, and it does—but the Russians borrowed the word from the Sami. "Tundra" is the only Sami word that's remotely well known in English.)

I really liked Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy themeless. (Might be a wind-aided solving time—I saw the spoilers in Dave M.'s comment before I did the crossword.) Deliciously Scrabbly, and not just with the rarest letters. The Scrabbliciousness of a word like ZOMBIES (crossing the vampire SLAYERS!) or ZIGGY includes the mid-range M, B, and G's, and this grid's also got a lot of V's. Favorite clue: [They help people choose sides] for MENUS.


January 12, 2007

Saturday, 1/13

LAT 5:47
NYT 5:25
Newsday 4:44
CS 3:00

(post updated, ever so briefly, at 8:45 a.m. Saturday)

Patrick Berry's 66-word NYT crossword has just two question-marked clues—me, I rather like to have a bunch of twisted clues in a Saturday puzzle. However, the fill was smooth as silk—just one term I didn't know ([Kerosene] is COAL OIL? Okey-doke.), and none of the trumped-up entries that make people grumble. You know the type—the RE- and -ERS word formations. Instead, we get a little bit of pop culture: the 1956 cult film from Japan, RODAN, crossing the Elton John song SAD SONGS. My favorite bits here include the clue [Hospital dogsbody] for NURSE'S AIDE (here's what dogsbody means), [People in trees] for ANCESTORS, the double frosting ([Frosted] for GLACÉ, [Frost lines] for POEM), [Ticks] for MOMENTS (BUG BITE is entirely separate!), [They make tracks] for PAWS, [One that picks up the kids] for BABY MONITOR, TOWN MOUSE, [Napoleon, e.g.] for CORSICAN, [Cross references?] for BIBLES, [Detectives check them] for ALIBIS (I learned today that the word alibi means "elsewhere"), and [Still] being the adjectival AT REST rather than the verb ARREST. Mmm, yes, it would appear that I liked a lot of stuff in this one. And I did. And even without question marks, there was plenty of clue interpretation needed.


At 7-Across, Barry Silk's LA Times puzzle includes one of my favorite geographic place names—only somewhat sullied by the Billy Joel song.


January 11, 2007

Friday, 1/12

NYS 12:00
NYT 5:55
LAT 4:08
CS 2:59

Reagle 8:52
WSJ 8:11

(post updated at 9:15 a.m. Friday)

Hey, if you haven't done the Friday Sun crossword yet, consider reading the Across Lite Notepad before you start. I think it'd be more fun that way.

The NYT puzzle is by Sherry Blackard, and I want to know this: Why did I spend so much time trying different answers for 1-Across? There should be a limit to how many wrong answers one tries before moving along to another part of the grid! Sherry's concoction felt a little harder than most triple-stack extravaganzas (this one has three sets of triple-stacked 15's crossed by a vertical 15)—though somebody else may visit the NYT applet later on and demonstrate that it wasn't that difficult after all. Anyway...I quickly guessed that 1-Across started with ISSUE, but unfortunately, A STATEMENT and STATEMENTS both fit the space just as well as A MANIFESTO does. Terrific batch of 15's, isn't it? I particularly liked TRANSLITERATION (which is a cool word) and CAST IRON SKILLET. Other favorite clues and entries: [Something that's often made up] for FACE, DOGLEG, [Joins in space] for DOCKS, ARTURO TOSCANINI, and HOLD ALL THE CARDS.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Sun puzzle, "You Can Say That Again," is unusual by the numbers: a 15x16 grid, with 83 entries, 50 black squares, and 20 (mostly) short theme entries, not all in symmetrical spots. Those 20 theme entries are unclued, or rather, clued only with numbers. The Across Lite Notepad holds the key to understanding what the unclued words are: "The 20 numbered clues are the rankings of the most common nouns in the English language according to the Oxford English Dictionary." The solving process felt a bit like playing Gamedesign's crossword game, where you're filling in a grid based on letter patterns rather than clues (which can be most diverting, and hones your pattern-recognition skills)—and also a bit like The Christmas Story's Ovaltine decoder ring letdown. Yes, it's a coup to fit 80+ theme squares and 20 different theme entries into the grid—but a fourth of the puzzle is unclued, and dagnabbit, I like interpreting clues. I enjoy fighting my way through a challenging crossword, but it would appear that I prefer the challenge to arise from tricky clues.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle's pretty easy, but it's got a baker's dozen of longer (7 to 10 letters) fill entries.

Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle includes LITCHI, which came up in the NYT the other day. Yes, it's usually spelled lychee, but in crosswords, it's invariably litchi. Constructors: Can't somebody throw us a LYCHEE for once?

Brendan Emmett Quigley's byline also shows up on today's Wall Street Journal puzzle, with a quote from Bill Gates. I definitely prefer a BEQ with more long entries and clues for everything!

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle pained me. Yes, I have a pretty high tolerance for puns, but this particular batch subs BARD for all or part of nine different words, and...this approach didn't thrill me.


Five large

Ooh! The top prize at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament has increased to $5,000. Second place gets $600, which might cover the costs of airfare, hotel, and registration; the rest of the prizes are smaller. And most competitors, of course, find it a money-losing (but highly entertaining) venture.

Are the Norwegian-style crosswords featured in the Friday-evening activity the same as Frank Longo's Puzzle Pointers in Games? This magazine cover suggests they are.

Five grand!


January 10, 2007

Thursday, 1/11

NYT 5:44
NYS 4:57
LAT 3:11
CS 2:42

(post updated at 8:45 a.m. Thursday)

You ever find youself solving a crossword in which a theme entry plays on a phrase you don't know? That happened to me tonight with Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon's NYT puzzle, which I tackled when not fully awake, which had the magical effect of making me feel like their wavelength was located on another planet. Really, I suppose, their wavelength was right here while mine was off in the land of Nod. At least I felt a bit more alert when I turned to Adam Cohen's Themeless Thursday puzzle in the Sun afterwards.

What penetrated the fog best was the meaty chunks of 6- and 8-letter words in Lee and Nancy's creation. APOPLEXY should have delighted me, but instead I sat there gazing blankly at APO***** and trying to summon up the word from the dusty recesses. It's still a fun word to say—as is CAVORTED. Other good entries I am barely conscious enough to admire include IGUANA, BIVOUAC, NEAR BEER, and FORTY-TWO. I struggled a bit to get the last theme entry after I filled in the helper entry ADDICT, or ADD "ICT" (bonus points for cluing that as [Fiend]!)—on the off chance that I'm not the only one unfamiliar with SIMON-PURE, here's a link explaining its derivation. Somehow I feel like I didn't know LEAVEN was a noun, either. (Sigh.) Favorite clues: [Noted Australian sprinter] for EMU, [It's to the left of #] for OPER (raise your hand if you immediately looked at a keyboard rather than a phone keypad), and the verbish [Glimpse] for APERCU.

Highlights in Adam's Sun puzzle include the KWIK-E-MART where Apu works on The Simpsons (read that link for a ridiculous amount of information and speculation about Apu), the combo of V-E DAY and VIJAY, DIME NOVEL, and the two [Behind]s (IN TOW and REAR END). I also liked seeing MANE clued as [Locks in a cage, maybe]—there's an older woman on my block whose hair looks strikingly like a lion's mane. And Ben wants to focus on lions for his habitat diorama project (good gravy, first-grade science involves making kids design dioramas? I don't even have any empty shoeboxes in the house. I think I'm gonna have to buy myself some new shoes this weekend. For educational purposes!)


Kelly Clark's LA Times puzzle contains the classical elements at the beginning of the ELEMENTARY theme entries. One of the entries spurs this question: What do Eartha Kitt and Marsha Mason have in common?


Across Words game

Anyone know anything about the battery-operated word game, Across Words? I saw a review in Games magazine, and I'm wondering if the game would be fun for crossword whizzes, or if it'd be too, too easy.


January 09, 2007

Wednesday, 1/10

NYS 4:25
NYT 3:38
CS 3:32
LAT 3:11

(post updated 8:40 a.m. Wednesday)

There must be something in the water these days. Another quote puzzle that I actually like?? Unusual. The Sun crossword is a joint venture between Vic Fleming and Bonnie Gentry, and Curtis Yee made the NYT puzzle—I enjoyed both offerings.

The theme in Curtis's puzzle is a HOMER SIMPSON quote broken up into three long pieces and two short ones: JUST BECAUSE I / DON'T / CARE / DOESN'T MEAN I'M / NOT LISTENING. (This was something Homer said to his children.) Favorite parts of this puzzle: the Asian subtheme (HSING, KWAN, RAU, RANI, ANG LEE, JADE), good fill (LEMMINGS, OLD HAT, WKRP, KNOPF), The Fog of War director ERROL Morris (rent the DVD if you haven't seen it—a fascinating interview documentary with Robert McNamara), [Bud holders?] for STEINS, and [Famous Amos] for TORI.

Vic and Bonnie's Sun crossword, "Exterior Paint," has phrases enclosed in the letters that make up PAINT, such as the delicious PAIN AU CHOCOLAT. I admired the Scrabbly fill here—doubled up in MEZZO and FIXX, alongside HAZY and HAZEL, BEIJING and KOSOVO. There's also literature (the [Poe poem], TO HELEN) and pedantry (STRUNK of The Elements of Style renown). Two clues were particularly entertaining: [Lab coat discovery] for FLEA and [It sometimes has the poop] for DIAPER.


Some great fill in Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, like BOOGIE and TIE-DYES. Van Vandiver's LA Times crossword includes four theme entries ending with anagrams of TOPS. It's a nice touch that three of the phrases sort of hint at the scrambling—TROUBLE SPOT, TRADING POST, and MELTING POTS. (I can't make WHISTLE STOP seem like part of a cryptic clue for TOPS, though.)


January 08, 2007

Tuesday, 1/9

Onion 5:47
NYS 5:13
Tausig 4:10
CS 4:04
NYT 3:02
LAT 2:47

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. and 3:55 p.m. Tuesday)

I'm all set for Stamford. Got my flights booked, my room reserved (the Marriott reservations agent I talked to said, "Good luck at the championship!" Anyone else get that nice touch?), and my registration form (printed from the ACPT site) in the mail.

Crosswords and sex in the media! The February 2007 Esquire has plenty of sex advice for the fellas. Among "The Rules for First Encounters," there's a list of "things to think about to last as long as possible," including "…Hegel's color theory, that New York Times crossword clue you were having so much trouble with, the Norwegian language..." No pressure on the constructors and editors here, but tough clues are good in so many ways.

Ed Early's NYT puzzle is a tribute to WOODY / ALLEN, with three 15-letter and two 9-letter movie titles, plus his the name of his former quasi-stepdaughter/present wife, SOON-YI—a total of 76 theme squares. I haven't seen any of the films with 15-letter titles. Tribute puzzles usually mark a birthday, anniversary, or landmark of some sort—anyone know if there's such a reason for this puzzle? (Allen's birthday is December 1.)

Bob Klahn pops up in the Sun with the "New York Yanks" puzzle, in which NY is "yanked" from the theme entries. '70s pop singer Tony Orlando (of Tony Orlando and Dawn" fame—you know, when I watched their variety show when I was about 8, I thought he was Tony, and that Telma and Joyce were named Orlando and Dawn. Ah, the '70s variety-show craze—what were they thinking??) becomes where (Disney's) Goofy fans are headed: TO ORLANDO. Absolute favorite clue: [Arch enemy?] for STILETTO.


Elizabeth at the NYT forum griped about the personal sleaziness of the NYT's theme subject. Yep, yep, yep. In the fairly recent Allen movie, Match Point, you start out rooting for the hero/antihero, and then he proves to be coldbloodedly evil and gets away with everything. Probably a Woody Allen fantasy—wrongdoing that nobody finds out you perpetrated, so you continue on with your privileged life.

John Halverson's LA Times puzzle has some great entries, particularly GODAWFUL a couple rows away from BIBLE BELT, which is part of the B-B- theme (two vertical 9's and two horizontal 9's crossing a pair of intersecting 15's).

Bob Klahn's also got today's CrosSynergy byline. The "Overcharges" theme's a little eely—[This can follow the beginnings of the three longest entries] turns out to be PRICE, and the first words of the long verticals are UNITED, LISTENS, and NETHER. Aha, you need the beginnings of the beginnings—UNIT, LIST, and NET. You know how many Hindus are vegetarians, and there's a Simpsons character who's Hindu? [Breast-beating vegetarian], 3 letters, A-P-blank. APU beats his breast? No, an APE. (I amused myself with that one.) [Epithet for the Yankees] is, aptly, DAMN.

Ben Tausig doubles up this week with his regular gig, the Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, plus he's up to bat for the Onion A.V. Club crossword. The Ink Well puzzle, "The JBs," features four famous musicians with those initials in addition to a JUKEBOX in the middle of the grid. Freshest entries: PLAYA, G-SEVEN, YES BUT, and THE KID—not to mention OY VEY and SPINSTER. Bestest clue: [You change when you hit it] for PUBERTY.

Ben's Onion puzzle fills the need Rex Parker expressed just yesterday—four of the seven theme phrases were mentioned by Michael (a.k.a. Rex) and his commenters. The puzzle's title at 34-Down made no sense to me, but Professor Google teaches me that video games use it because, darn it, writing out all four digits of 2007 takes too long when a mere three characters can encode the same meaning. Favorite word in this puzzle: PYKNIC.


January 07, 2007

Monday, 1/8

NYS 3:52
CS 3:38
NYT 2:47
LAT 2:37

The last time Harriet Clifton published a crossword in the NYT (9/20/05), it included the line HERE'S THE REMOTE. In this household, we can no longer fight over possession of the remote control because the gadgets have proliferated like bunnies. I think the AA batteries are an aphrodisiac, and the remotes are conceiving baby gadgets whenever I'm out of the room. Anyway, in her new Monday puzzle, the theme includes three idiomatic phrases a DOUBTING THOMAS might say. I SAW and ESAU are undistinguished fill on their own, but when they're connected, it triggers thoughts of "I saw Esau sitting on a seesaw," no? [Scalds, e.g.] was used to clue BURNS, which made me think of Montgomery Burns on The Simpsons, so I checked Cruciverb.com to see if the word has been clued in reference to Mr. Burns. Would you believe the word hadn't been used in the NYT crossword since 2000? (And no, no Mr. ___ clues. )


Blogger has quite rudely kept me from updating the post today. Hmph!

The Sun puzzle by Gary Steinmehl had one of those "what the..." themes I couldn't figure out, even after I was done with the puzzle. Eventually it dawned on me that the "Surfdom" title signaled channel-surfing rather than surfing the web—with five theme entries ending with cable channels. You've got your E! (sans exclamation point in the grid), WE (I think it stands for "Women's Entertainment" and is a Lifetime knockoff), LIFETIME (ahem), SPIKE (formerly TNN but no longer Nashville-centric), and BRAVO (my favorite of the pentad). I wonder how many other cable channels there are with one-word names. There's Versus (formerly Outdoor Life Network), but what phrases end with "versus"? And Nickelodeon, which is a little long for ending a theme entry...


January 06, 2007

Sunday, 1/7

NYT elevenish or twelveish
LAT 10:09
WaPo 9:09
BG 8:46
CS 4:34

(post updated at 9 a.m. Sunday)

A minute or so into the Sunday NYT, the phone rang, setting off a chain reaction of events. Okay, a really, really short chain—if I inadvertently move the mouse's scroll-wheel button, whoosh! The Java applet gets addlepated and freezes up like an evil nemesis trying to freeze the world. So I switched to Across Lite to finish up Ashish Vengsarkar's delightful puzzle, "Spellcheck."

Before I headed online for the crossword, I exchanged Christmas gifts with a friend, who gave me Letter Perfect by David Sacks, a book about the letters of the alphabet. When I was a kid, I was a sucker for those illustrations that show how letters morphed over time—say, the Phoenician ox-turned-aleph that's adapted into a Greek alpha and, eventually, our Roman A. And this book has plenty of that! The G chapter covers the crazy gh spellings, the G-string and G spot, which root languages give words with hard or soft G's, slag and ghoul and gargantuan. Yes, I think I'm going to enjoy this book.

The "Spellcheck" puzzle harks back to childhood memories, too—William Steig's CDB? book. As in, IMNNML = I am an animal. Vengsarkar's theme includes eight phrases that can be partly spelled out like that (e.g., BURNED IN F-E-G for effigy), plus a 5-"letter" word in the center of the puzzle, XPDNC (expediency). I'm now too tired to remark cogently upon this crossword, other than to say that (1) the theme's a winner, (2) I look forward to more from this constructor, who's got a knack for interesting themes, and (3) can you imagine how much harder it would have been if the CDB-type squares hadn't been circled? It was tough enough even with the circles—especially in the aforementioned BURNED IN F-E-G section.


James Sajdak's LA Times syndicated crossword, "Misinterpreted NBA Headlines," is a fun challenge. I almost always esteem the Washington Post Sunday puzzle, and this week's offering from Harvey Estes ("Before and After") is no exception. Liked the gimmick in Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Something's Up"—I do appreciate gimmicky crosswords, I do.


January 05, 2007

Saturday, 1/6

NYT 8:19
Newsday 8:16
LAT 5:23
CS 3:04

post updated at 7:30 a.m. Saturday)

Stella Daily has already put the world on notice that she's begun her annual 20-crosswords-a-day Stamford training regimen. I can't fit in 20 a day, but yes, I'll be focusing on this as well. Those of you who are thinking of going to Stamford for the first time and wonder what you're supposed to do to get ready, my advice is twofold: Do plenty of extra crosswords (focusing on the Will Shortz–edited variety, since he also edits the ACPT puzzles—can't go wrong with the two book collections of Tournament Crosswords, Volume 2 from 2005 and Volume 1 from 1997), and make sure you can function on little sleep for a weekend.

The Saturday NYT puzzle's a 60-worder by Robert Wolfe, and I made a number of ill-advised commitments to wrong letters and wrong interpretations of clues. There were also a few unfamiliar terms, such as TORPEDO NET (literally a net around a battleship to ward off torpedoes); Sir Frank STENTON, the historian who wrote Anglo-Saxon England; and I love the word PASHA but didn't know there was a Doctor Zhivago character called that. Favorite clues and entries: [Cranberry center] for CAPE COD (oh, how I wanted to make that some sort of SEEDPOD), [Not spontaneous] for STUDIED, [Toast, after "a"] for GONER (I couldn't get beyond thinking of the "à votre santé" type of toast as opposed to the "Ooh, you're toast!" usage), PICCALILLI (I thank my grandmother for keeping that in her fridge a couple years ago), and [Didn't stay dry] for PERSPIRED. Not crazy about TALL AND SLIM, though.


Tough Saturday Stumper from Stan Newman in today's Newsday.

Maybe I'm not the only one who doesn't know the name of the [Gardening tool] in Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, DIBBLE. Turns out it's used to poke holes in th dirt for planting.


January 04, 2007

Friday, 1/5

LAT 6:05
NYS 5:34
NYT 4:48
CS 3:29
CHE—n/a (winter break—1/5 puzzle in 2 wks.)

Reagle 8:58
WSJ 8:33

(post updated at 9:15 a.m. Friday)

What a fun themeless crossword by Paula Gamache! I loved most of the 10- and 11-letter entries in her Friday NYT puzzle, not to mention plenty of the clues and the overall happy solving gestalt. Patrick Berry's Weekend Warrior in the Sun felt slightly less just-plain-fun, but a bit more challenging, and I'm equally pleased by being entertained or challenged.

Paula's NYT puzzle had so many highlights, I won't mention them all. SPEED DATING and UNH-UNH are extra-zippy. Two songs (REBEL REBEL and THAT'S AMORE) abut each other, and you can also sing along with NATALIE COLE and DAY-O. (I first put down NAT KING COLE until I realized he wouldn't have had any posthumous solo CUTS.) The Coles share 7 letters in their names, and the word VARIETAL shares 7 letters with parietal; how many other 8-letter word pairs are there that differ by only one letter? My favorite clues included [One who got held up, maybe] for LATE ARRIVAL, [Slate evaluator] for VOTER, [You can see right through them] for PANES, [Falcon's home] for US AIR FORCE (I'm assuming that a Falcon is a kind of jet—anyone?), and [Top secrets?] for HAIRPIECES. (My father-in-law tells a joke in which there's confusion between "hairpiece" and "herpes"; telling the joke with an authentic foreign accent, and pronouncing the words the same, is key to the joke. Alas, I don't remember the rest of it.)

Both the NYT and Patrick's Sun crossword included the word MARES, and I learned a mythological tidbit from the Sun clue: [___ of Diomedes (animals captured by Hercules)]. Loved the double-Z crisscross between JAZZ HANDS and ZZ TOP (whose "Velcro Fly" I've never heard of), the O-CEDAR mop brand advertised so heavily during my childhood, [Feeding tubes] for ESOPHAGI, FREE LOVE, ONION DOME, [It sucks] for ASPIRATOR, and [Works on a bit?] for CHAMPS. Seeing SHEL Silverstein in the grid reminds me that I have got to start foisting Silverstein poems on Ben, who should appreciate their wordplay. (I think my boy might have the puzzlin' knack—in copying the word horse for schoolwork, he started at the right and spelled the word backwards to the left. Are the other first-graders doing that?) And this last clue I didn't even read until just now, having gotten it through the crossings: [It's used to fire someone who's late] for PYRE. (!!!)


And look at Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon's Wall Street Journal puzzle! Really—if you don't seek out the WSJ puzzle each week, get today's offering, called "Trade Shows." The "trade shows" theme is brilliantly executed (though it took me a while to grok onto what was going on with the theme entries), and there's no shortage of lively fill and clues.

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "The Constancy of Consonants," has 10 theme entries. The top and bottom pairs of theme entries run next to each other, with a 9-letter fill entry stacked up there, too. And each of the four long fill entries running vertically hook three theme entries together. Wide-open spaces and long entries, yum. (The consonants theme makes me hanker for another one of those vowel-less crosswords—is anyone making one of those for the Sun, Games, or an NYT Second Sunday puzzle?)

Curtis Yee's LA Times crossword is a (dreaded) quip puzzle, but with plenty of sparkling fill and knotty clues, and a quip with a decent punchline, I actually liked it. I so rarely like quip/quote puzzles, it's got to be a sign of quality and difficulty when I enjoy one. Well done, Curtis!


January 03, 2007

Thursday, 1/4

NYS 7:00
NYT 4:01
CS 3:27
LAT 3:10

(post updated at 9:20 a.m. Thursday)

Ah, it makes me happy when the Thursday puzzles roll around each week.

From Ellen Ripstein's LiveJournal comes this link to a Forbes interview with Will Shortz.

The Sun and NYT crosswords are by the Alans, Arbesfeld in the Sun and Olschwang in the Times. First up on my schedule this evening, the easier of the two, the NYT. I loved the punctuation rebus, with the names of the . , : and – used in intersecting entries. The rebus squares are in exactly symmetrical spots for an extra oomph. (Reminder for applet solvers: You can save yourself a lot of time and aggravation if you just enter the first letter—as in C for comma—and remember which squares contain which rebus. Doesn't look elegant that way, but man, is it efficient.) CORA pops up for the second time this week, this time clued as the Last of the Mohicans character (played by Madeleine Stowe—and wow, her hair always looked fabulous despite the travails of wartime). Some tough clues lurking in here, such as [Canadian prov.] for PEI and ["Tobermory" writer] for SAKI—but always with fair crossings. One last thing—don't most white-collar workers have a PAY [PERIOD] every two weeks or twice a month rather than [Week or month at the office, usually]? Ah, what do puzzle professionals know about the workaday life, anyway?

Arbesfeld's "Axis Shift" puzzle combined a slow-to-dawn theme with tough cluing overall—unless it's just me who couldn't find the wavelength. Did you find this crossword to be Friday/Saturday hard? In the theme entries, two X's become Y's and two Y's become X's; my favorite was GETS A WAX WITH. Among non-theme parts, I liked the HILL/DALE cross-referencing, NEW DELHI, [Not up to scratch?] for DECLAWED, [They may help with closings] for CLASPS, and [Line indicating that X misplayed] for OOO (crossing OOOLA!). I'm presuming that [Mazuma] is slang for money since the answer is KALE…unless mazuma is a cruciferous vegetable or something. I also liked the chunk of names in the lower left corner—pro athletes ELVIN and RYNE, explorer PEARY, and kid-lit author ERIC. (I wonder how hard it would be to construct a crossword in which every single entry was a capitalized word or name.)


Lynn Lempel's LA Times crossword took some peering at to suss out the theme. I found the hidden ICPR in the middle of the theme entries. Oh, wait—that's CPR, as in resuscitation, as in revival, as in REVIVAL MEETINGS. And aptly, the theme phrases are two words that "meet" at the "revival," with CPR spanning the first and second words.


January 02, 2007

Wednesday, 1/3

NYS 4:48
Tausig 4:14
Onion 4:11
NYT 3:30
LAT 3:38
CS 2:35

Goodness gracious, how did it get to be 2007 already? Isn't it, like, still 1998? Do I need to stockpile beans and bottled water for Y2K?

The NYT crossword by Kim Seidl (a debut, I think) has one of those themes that took me a few rereadings to make sense out of. Eventually I reinterpreted the first words as game equipment: you've got your Monopoly TOKENs, a DIE or two, a violent chess PAWN, and MARBLEs. Oh, how I loved marbles when I was a kid. Not playing the game by that name—I loved those little swirly glass balls. (No surprise to hear that I collect glass paperweights, eh?) You know what I liked about this crossword aside from the keep-me-guessing theme? The Scrabbly letters (Z, X, and J action), the 8- and 9-letter words crossing the theme entries, and the FIJI/FATWA/Soup NAZI progression.

Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club crossword, "Military Fatigue," is fresh, fresh, fresh. I really liked the theme despite the fact that the term CORPORAL OATH was utterly unfamiliar to me; apparently it's an oath taken while touching the corporal. No, not Corporal Klinger—the third definition of corporal, a cloth on which consecrated doohickeys are placed. Favorite entries and clues: [Chilly powder] for SNOW, the BLUE PILL from The Matrix, CRAPS OUT, [They may work with drips] for RNS, MOJO, OTHELLO clued as the game, WOMAN'S touch, [Command to a kindergartner] for SHARE, and WHAT THE. Those last two are linked, for me—we've taught our son to say things like "What the…" and "What the heck," and his kindergarten and first-grade classmates always want to rat him out to the teacher for saying those bad words.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Air Supplies," steals a theme out of the SKYMALL CATALOG, which any air traveler knows is a ripe source of mockable cheesiness. Ben did not include the classic hot-dog-and-bun warming machine, but did cite the PET STROLLER (there are two kinds to choose from!), ANIMATRONIC / CHIMP BUST, and MARSHMALLOW GUN. (Alas, no links because either skymall.com is woefully slow or it's not designed to work smoothly with my browser.) Favorite entries: GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan (he and RZA were deliciously droll in that Jarmusch picture, Coffee and Cigarettes), the balanced ARE**A pair (ARETHA and AREOLA), [One preceder] for TWELVE, and SPAMMER.

Sean O.F. Smith's Sun puzzle is called "Singular Sensations," and it reinterprets the last word in four phrases as if they were plurals (which cheese, lox, tax, and breeze are not) and singularizes them (into QI, LOCK, TACK, and BRIE). My husband once had a boss who gave him a copy of that Who Moved My Cheese? book (a cheesy management thang), so WHO MOVED MY QI amused me. Now, I bought the pseudo-plural of BAGEL AND LOCK this afternoon, but I don't get the clue. How [What you need in order to be sure you'll have something to put your cream cheese on?] work here? Why a LOCK, exactly? Shiniest new entry: KETEL ONE, the trendy Dutch wheat-based vodka distilled in an alembic.


January 01, 2007

Tuesday, 1/2

NYS 3:36
CS 3:36
NYT 3:20
LAT 3:19
Onion tba
Tausig tba

The New York Sun is back after the holiday with a new year of crosswords. The Tuesday puzzle, "Less Is More," is by Steven Ginzburg, and I'm surprised to note that there are only three theme entries, because they're so solid, it felt like there were more of them. Ginzburg assembled three nouns that are also comparative adjectives, and paired them with their adjectival opposites. Ergo, [Less hip wine drink?] is SQUARER COOLER. (Quick poll: Do restaurant drink menus include wine coolers where you live?) The northeast and southwest quadrants each contain adjacent pairs of 8-letter entries that link the top and bottom theme entries to the one in the middle, which is a nice touch. And the northeast pair share the same clue, [Desire]—one noun (APPETITE) and one verb (YEARN FOR). A COOLER puzzle, eh?

Sarah Keller's NYT puzzle plays the anagram game with "Cómo ESTA?" How is it? Scrambled up in five ways at the beginning of the theme entries. TEAS IN THE HARBOR strikes me as a little contrived, but I love SATE SAUCE—a spicy, peanutty, lively crossword entry.