May 31, 2007

Friday, 6/1

NYS 5:49
NYT 5:18
LAT 5:09
5/18 CHE 4:17
Jonesin' 3:50
CS 3:12

WSJ 9:45
Reagle 8:12

"Westward Ho!" (write-up below)



(updated at 7:15 and 9:05 a.m. Friday)

June already?!? Times flies.

June 1 is the official publication date for Henry Hook's new book, Terribly Twisted Crosswords. If it's like its predecessor (which I savored every page of), it's packed with variety crosswords that go beyond the mere across and down business. I just ordered my copy from Amazon, but it usually seems like Amazon doesn't ship Sterling books until days past the pub date. (Barnes and Noble's website would probably get it to me faster, but my heart belongs to Amazon.) I will be patient.

The day's only themeless crossword is David Quarfoot and Katy Swalwell's NYT puzzle. Plenty of colorful entries in this one, none more colorful than Mr. Blue himself, PAPA SMURF. I'm a smidgen too old to be well-versed in the fashions of Smurfs, but loved the mislead of the clue, [White-bearded, red-capped patriarch]. Sounded like an Eastern Orthodox prelate to me. PAPA intersects with a PIRATE ([Marine menace] hinted at sharp-toothed fish, but no) and a FRAT BOY. Many other exceptionally fresh entries: MARCH MADNESS (joined by BAMA, FSU, and RUPP ARENA) and ELVIS PRESLEY anchoring the center; BY GEORGE, I GOOFED; EASY TO SEE is unrelated to [Eye site], which is CYCLONE; [Show a thing or two] sounds vengeful but merely means EDUCATE; you've got your YIN-YANG at TEN PAST; the not-so-treelike desert tree called OCOTILLO; and much, much more! Favorite wrong turn: [Subject of some sightings], 12 letters, second letter L? Must be FLYING SAUCER, right? Nope, ELVIS. I usually adore Quarfoot puzzles, but I think his collaborator might actually be improving his work—so much terrific fill, so many twisty clues!

Alan Olschwang's Sun puzzle, "Snorefest," is anything but. The four interlocking theme entries each boast two sets of double-Zs, and I'm a big fan of the letter Z. (Who isn't?) For added oomph, the lower left corner has NOZZLES in the fill, allowing a 2x2 square of Zs to pop up. The 1965 Beatles song, DIZZY MISS LIZZIE, isn't one I've heard of. Other assorted Z answers include the ZEBU (Wikipedia says "sometimes known as 'humped cattle,'"), the sporty NISSAN Z, and one-time boxer EZZARD Charles. Other perky fill and clues: PEEWEE clued as a noun rather than baseball great Reese; ANDREA clued as NBA player Andrea Bargnani rather than a woman; DEAD BALL clued with baseball because what alternative is there; the FISHEYE lens; and OLDS and REO both clued automotively but without reference to one another (REO being named after Randolph Eli Olds). Honorable mention to ["The end of the Civil War was near" was the start of its theme song] for F-TROOP; faced with something military in nature starting with FT, I assumed it was Fort something-or-other. "Fort Roop?" I asked myself.

I enjoyed Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle for this week, "Dissed List." It has a fun Yiddish-inflected theme and tons of long fill—besides the theme trio, there are six 8-letter answers and over a dozen 6- or 7-letter entries. No explicit spoilers in case you haven't gotten to the puzzle but wanted to. Tell me this: Are you folks solving the Jonesin' puzzle? If so, are you pouncing on it Thursday (though it seems to come out rather late in the day) or waiting until later? I think I'll slot it with the Friday puzzles henceforth.

Updated:

Very nice fact-based puzzle from Annemarie Brethauer in the 5/18 Chronicle of Higher Education (in case you're wondering why I'm two weeks behind on the CHE puzzle, it's because I do the one that's linked on Friday at Cruciverb), featuring JAMESTOWN on its 400th anniversary. The only reason the ship at 22-Across was in my head was because Byron Walden included it in a recent themeless—and the colonists traveled in a couple other ships, the names of which escape me. Ah, Godspeed and Discovery.

The seven theme entries in Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle make no sense until you REVERSE THEM (27-Down)—or rather, reverse the order of each answer's halves. Unusual approach, and interesting in that it points out how many compound words or two-word phrases have meaningful flip versions. A [Car buff], for example, is a gearhead, so the answer here is the unrelated headgear.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Diversified Divas," groups three singers with occupational last names. Plenty of fresh entries in this easy crossword: BBQ SAUCE, MOSH PITS, Captain Ahab's PEQUOD.

Updated again:

Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach's debut in the Wall Street Journal is "Westward Ho!" I had to consult a map of the United States to fully grasp how the theme worked. The ALTERED STATES entries take a phrase and change two letters that are also a postal abbreviation for a state, inserting instead the two-letter abbreviation for a state just to the west. Thus, mind the gap becomes MIND THE ALP, Alabama being west of Georgia. From top to bottom in the puzzle, the states travel a westward course from Georgia on the Atlantic coast to Oregon on the Pacific. Impressive! After AL joins that first theme entry, it gets dropped from "deal" in the next one, which moves west to MS (Mississippi) and CLINCHED THE DEMS. Then MS is left behind in "gemstones" and replaced with Arkansas in GEAR TONES. The route continues from Arkansas to Oklahoma to Colorado to Utah to Idaho to Oregon. How ingenious is that? Kudos to Messrs. Orbach and Blindauer for the superb execution of a clever idea. Plenty of great non-theme fill, too, and good clues. (Have saved a copy of this crossword to my Great Puzzles folder!)

Merl Reagle's Sunday puzzle, "Twain Set," has a slew of 7- to 12-letter theme entries (19 of them, plus the shorter STOMP at 61-Down) that contain the letter strings HUCK or TOM (or, in the case of CHUCK A TOMATO, both). It wasn't until I was done with the puzzle that I noticed TOM in the non-HUCK answers, though! Uxorial clues popped out at me. MIA is clued as [Frank married her], and I know it's one of those traps (Is it AVA or MIA? Either fits.), but still—Mia Farrow's been in 54 movies and has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador speaking out on Darfur. NORA is clued as [Nick's wife] rather than as a fictional sleuth. Crossword clue shorthand, we've seen 'em time and time again, but that doesn't mean I have to like 'em.

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May 30, 2007

Thursday, 5/31

NYT 5:16
CS 4:35
LAT 4:22
NYS 4:05

(updated at 7:20 a.m. Thursday)

If you long to shape Hollywood's portrayal of crossword constructors, check out the comments on the previous post. The folks who are making All About Steve, a comedy in which Sandra Bullock plays an "eccentric" crossword constructor who stalks a CNN cameraman, want a leg up on figuring out just how eccentric to make Sandra Bullock's abode. (My vote: Crowded bookshelves, stacks of papers, a fat unabridged dictionary.) There's an e-mail address for an art department rep.

I wonder how eccentric today's crossword constructors are? We've got an NYT puzzle from William Stephens and a Sun from David Kahn.

Kahn's byline doesn't seem to pop up much these days, does it? He tends to make ambitious, showy crosswords, so it's fitting that the intersecting 15-letter entries in his Sun Themeless Thursday puzzle fit together as a mini-theme. Favorite clues: [Digital tool] for NAIL FILE; [They help you see better] for RISERS and [It doesn't help you see better] for GLASS EYE; [Jovians, e.g.] for ETS (though these Jovians aren't extraterrestrial); [Responds to "Bottoms up!"?] for MOONS (some people take their mooning seriously); and [Page from old pinup magazines] for BETTIE Page (ah, the obscured-capital-letter trick!). I always like to be reminded of Gustav KLIMT's The Kiss—how Klimt's models get through life with those broken necks, heads lolling perpendicular to the spine, is an inspiration.

The NYT puzzle has one of those Thursday twists that I neglected to suspect, which slowed my progress a bit. The four theme entries go BACK (55-Down) in that they appear backwards, though without BACK as a starting word in each case. ENOERAUQSOT looks like an Inuit word to me, but it's [BACK] TO SQUARE ONE backwards. Not only did I get tied up by the theme, I also drew a blank on most of the clues in the upper left corner. Eventually PRIMO crept out of the shadows and lent a hand. Worst pop-culture tidbit in months: [Burke of TV's "Burke's Law"] for AMOS. A short-lived series I never heard of reprising a show from before my time? Favorite clue: the straightforward [Snuggle in bed, say] for SPOON (which has inspired art both figurative and literal).

Updated:

Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle makes sport of terms that could double as apt baseball parks for certain teams. You've heard of the Polo Grounds, so why not COFFEE GROUNDS for where the Brewers play? And let's move the Twins to DOUBLE PARK. Cute theme. Girlfriend/wife alert! J LO is clued here as [Ben's ex-squeeze]. Do you think maybe Hollywood's wealthiest Hispanic performer might've rated a clue referencing her music or film career or her other business ventures? There are plenty of things to choose from. My personal favorite J-Lo work was Out of Sight, in which she's an FBI agent or US marshal tracking down George Clooney's fugitive. Beautiful, stylish film.

Here's Bob Klahn again with a CrosSynergy byline, meaning today's CrosSynergy puzzle is significantly harder than most. If the theme eludes you, look to 59-Down for the explanation. No stand-out clues or answers that knocked me over—just overall tough cluing.

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May 29, 2007

Wednesday, 5/30

Onion 4:34
Tausig 4:32
NYS 4:25
LAT 4:01
CS 3:14
NYT 2:42

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

Ben Tausig sent out this week's Ink Well and Onion A.V. Club puzzles on Tuesday night (or whatever day and time it is in Phnom Penh), so I've moved them to the Wednesday post...not that I've done them yet, but I'll blog about them in the morning.

The NYT crossword is by Mike Nothnagel, whose most recent themeless appeared in the Times just this past Friday. The theme builds on the famous quote by TIMOTHY LEARY (53-Across), using "turn on, tune in, drop out" as the starts of three longer phrases. (My fave: Old-school TV staple TUNE IN TOMORROW. Nowadays, don't the voiceover folks just say, "Tomorrow on All My Children:" to introduce teaser scenes?) In the middle of the grid in Tuesday's puzzle, LEARY sat there waiting for his starring role in today's crossword. Today's center squares are occupied by "HEY, BABY," which seems like part of the theme until you piece it all together and see that 53-Across's clue ignores that entry. It heightens the '60s free love vibe, though, doesn't it? IT'S TRUE. Other appealing fill: SUMATRA (geography!), POPOVER (I have never eaten one), LILYPAD, PUNNY, and WHEW.

In the Sun crossword by Gary Steinmehl, "Beach Boys" are (semi-)famous men whose last names start with beachy words: SAND, SEA, TAN, and SHELL. (Too bad John Sununu's name has an infelicitous letter count.) Didn't know the Buzzcocks singer, PETE SHELLEY, have heard of tennis player ROSCOE TANNER, have not seen all the films in ADAM SANDLER's oeuvre, and have shunned most of STEVEN SEAGAL's movies (though my mother-in-law used to have a major crush on Seagal). A few entries perched on the tip of my mental tongue for too long—ZESTA crackers, an UPSWEEP hairdo. ESPIALS and RAGBAGS were also slow to dawn. Best clue: [Break check?] for X-RAY. Vocabulary-stretching clue: [Minatory statement] for THREAT. I confess I looked up the word.

Updated:

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle has a CLIMATE CHANGE theme in which four seasonal phrases advance one season, so that a "fall guy" becomes WINTER GUY. At the top and bottom of the grid, 13-letter theme entries are stacked (with a one-square offset); impressively, there are four longish (7 to 9 letters) answers crossing those stacks, with lively bits like the BUSHMEN of The Gods Must Be Crazy and BYE FOR NOW. While I commend the sentiment in the clue for TROJAN, [One-night stand necessity], sheesh, it's not like that's the only condom brand out there.

Typing the word answer in that paragraph made me wonder why there's a silent W in it. Because it comes from the Anglo-Saxon andswaru, that's why. I Googled andswaru, and was surprised to see that the first page of search results were for baby (and dog) names. Makes for an unusual girl's name, but for a dog? Shouting "Answer!" at a dog just seems like setting yourself up for disappointment.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Drug Combinations," pairs 10 slang terms for drugs to make five theme entries. I didn't quite recognize DANK, but the rest made sense to me. (This is not an admission of any kind.) I liked the druggy mislead of [PCP providers?] for HMOS; the proximity of SNORE to APNEA; the Scrabbliness of the fill (XBOX, XANAX, SKULK, REX, IRAQI, etc.); UTERO clued as [Nirvana's "In ___"]; JERRY clued in relation to Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, not far in the grid from [So-called "Hippie Chocolate"].

Bill Ballard's LA Times puzzle has six terms clued as [No-sweat job]. I have never once referred to anything as DUCK SOUP, a TURKEY SHOOT, or a LEADPIPE CINCH, but English has a colorful idiom, no?

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword compiles four kinds of LOTs (65-Down) at the beginnings of the theme entries.

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Visuals

The photographer who'll be taking my portrait for my college alumni magazine is trying to think of a fresh way to make a picture of a crosswordy person visually interesting. (Photoshopping a crossword puzzle behind the head = dull.) One idea he has involves those outdoor chessboard tables at the park, where old men set up their chess games. Nothing better is coming to my mind. Wordplay stars, have you ever been impressed with a photographer's approach to making a picture of a crossword solver intriguing? Everyone else, have you got any terrific ideas for an eye-catching Portrait of the Solver as a Semi-Young Woman?

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May 28, 2007

Tuesday, 5/29

NYS 4:15
NYT 3:18
LAT 3:17
CS 2:53
Tausig tba
Onion tba

(updated at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday)

All righty, I'm back home after a weekend in Wisconsin and a Memorial Day in the 'burbs. I'd almost been ready to put away the finally emptied suitcases a few days ago when it was time to reload one for the weekend trip—so now I'm back where I was a week ago, with luggage to unpack and laundry to do. (Sigh. Will refuse to sleep anywhere but my own bed for at least a month.)

It's possible I've seen a similar theme before, but I still liked Jim Hyres' theme in Tuesday's NYT. The six longest entries, a rather lively batch (I'm fondest of HOPSCOTCH with its paltry two vowels), all begin with words or syllables that can be preceded by BAR (38-Across, right in the center). The products of the recombinations include (BAR)HOP and (BAR)KEEP, a (BAR)BELL, the dry (BAR)CODE and (BAR) CHART, and the phrasal (BAR) NONE. MUD BATH is a nice bit of fill, but the tight layout—with four across entries, two downs, and the central BAR—limits the flexibility for most of the fill, so some of the shorter words are a bit blah.

The Sun puzzle for Tuesday comes from Patrick Berry. In the "En Zone," -NDS ends of words become -NS endings, and those Ds are scarcely pronounced anyway, so the resulting phrases sound a lot like the originals. "Rubber bands" become RUBBER BANS, or restrictions on galoshes. Zones of woe: 1-Across is a baseball player I've never heard of, an AARON Heilman who played with the Mets last season. (New York, Shmoo York...) I haven't heard a TV's picture tube called an IMAGE TUBE, and I don't think our plasma screen's got a tube anyway. And I still haven't read "The Lorax," so I blanked on the THNEEDS. Liked [Chew toy coater] for SLOBBER (no shortage of dog slobber at my sister's house this afternoon, but I was trying to think of what substance chew toys were made of); BOOTLEG concert recordings; and the clue [Something that isn't taken lying down?] for SHOWER.

Updated:

Daniel Bryant's LA Times crossword has a homophone theme (e.g., BORED BOHR'S BOARS), but oddly, HOMO and PHONE appear in two separate entries tying the theme together. The theme is Monday-easy. Okay, so it's Tuesday now, but it feels like a Monday owing to yesterday's holiday. Some Scrabbly entries and otherwise good fill: QUIZZES with its three crossings at the Q and Zs, another Q elsewhere, VIRTUOSO, THE ONE.

Martin Ashwood-Smith spends "Three Bucks" in his CrosSynergy puzzle, with three phrases that mean "buck," as in "buck the system." As with the LA Times puzzle, plenty of Scrabbly letters (three Xs, a pair of Zs and Ks, and a Q and a J) lurking in the midst. Also liked the 9-letter entries, JUAN PERON and METER MAID, but must take exception to [Addams Family lion] as the clue for KITKAT. The American rendition of the KitKat is one of my favorite candy bars, though it is nutritionally abysmal. The creamy filling between the crisp wafers is essentially saturated fat blended with sugar. It's tasty, but I kinda wish Hershey would upgrade to a nonsaturated fat. My also-beloved Snickers Almond has that good nut-based fat in it, so I guess I just ought to eat more of those.

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Monday, 5/28

NYT 2:13
LAT 2:29
CS 3:07
Newsday 2:17

Hi everyone, Al here one more time. I don't think I was supposed to do the blog tonight, but it looks like Amy didn't get a chance to post, so I thought I'd post a very quick entry for Monday, just so folks have a place to comment. Amy, feel free to supercede this with your own post tomorrow if you like. No Sun today, due to the Memorial Day holiday, so just three puzzles to talk about.



NY Times, John Underwood

This was a perfect Monday puzzle. A very tight theme, with three 15-letter entries starting with Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral and then the fourth entry being the game in which "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?" is asked, Twenty Questions, which conveniently has 15 letters as well! The puzzle was thus very tightly constrained, with the theme entries having to come in a particular order, and yet the rest of the puzzle has solid Monday level fill without a clunker in the grid. Very impressive construction. By the way, have you seen those 20Q handheld games? They're truly amazing how often they guess right. You can find the same engine online here. I just tried 20Q Movies and picked one of my favorite movies, Annie Hall, and it got it! In college we sometimes played 20,000 Questions where you would come up with the most ridiculous scenario possible and everyone would have as many questions as they liked to come up with it. One time I came up with "Queen Elizabeth winning the Kentucky Derby riding backward on Secretariat" and people were able to get it.

LAT, David W. Cromer

Another excellent Monday puzzle, with tons of theme, and a very clever one at that. In the center of the puzzle we have BOOK ENDS (placed in two entries) and in four other theme entries are phrases that start with "Bookends", that is words that can end a phrase that starts with book. So, a bookrack leads to RACK OF LAMB, a bookmark gives us MARK HAMILL, etc. On top of all that, we have ten vertical 7's slicing through the puzzle. All that and Monday simplicity, too! Well done.

CrosSynergy, "Up Front", Randy Ross

This was a little tougher than the other two, with the best theme of the bunch, although very easy to get from the title. Too bad I didn't look at the title before starting to solve, it would have helped me. Randy takes three common phrases and alters them by adding "UP" to the front. So, Right Reverend becomes UPRIGHT REVEREND, "set the stage" becomes UPSET THE STAGE, and scale drawings becomes UPSCALE DRAWINGS. Not quite as many theme squares as the other two, but 4 great vertical stacks at the corners to compensate.

Three very strong Monday efforts today, so bring on those comments. Happy Memorial Day!

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May 26, 2007

Sunday, 5/27

NYT 9:23
WP 10:35
BG 7:20
LAT 7:00
CS 5:29
Newsday 7:07

Hi everyone, Al here, filling in for Amy who's traveling this weekend. Saturday night is the busiest night on the crossword blogger's schedule, of course, with 5 21's and a themeless to cover. I don't think Amy usually does the Newsday Sunday, but I always like to do it as it provides the only real opportunity to "sprint" through a 21x21 grid. I was too late getting things posted last weekend, so I'll take a page from our host's book and get the puzzles that are available posted now and I'll do an update when the late comers arrive. So, we'll start with the Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe (OK, I cheated, I really did that one on Friday).

(Updated 10PM MDT with CS, LAT, Newsday, don't read the full entry until you're ready for spoilers)

NY Times, Patrick Berry, "Dinner Theater"

Here's Patrick Berry's second appearance of the weekend, after Friday's WSJ. This one has a nice tight theme, taking the common phrase, "Dinner Theater" and using that to motivate a theme of common plays altered with a food-related pun. I usually enjoy Patrick's work immensely (for instance, I loved his WSJ offering, with a really subtle theme execution), but I didn't think this one was quite up to his usual standards. The puns started off pretty well. BAREFOOT IN THE PORK was a somewhat disturbing image for me, as I had just had two pulled pork sandwiches at a neighbor's graduation party for their son. Let's hope the pork wasn't tenderized like this! THE MERCHANT OF VENISON was pretty humorous. But the puns seemed to get a little more forced as the puzzle went on. I wasn't too familiar with the original title, so THE BURGERS OPERA didn't click for me. CHITLINS OF A LESSER GOD was so outrageous it was kind of funny. But was it really intentional to have 20A, NICHOLS, clued as "Anne who wrote "Abie's Irish Rose", when we had ABIE'S IRISH ROAST as a theme entry? And A HAM FOR ALL SEASONS didn't work for me at all. Seems like it should take more than a common short A sound to drive a pun entry.

Otherwise, the grid fill was pretty good, with plenty of groupings of longer entries, including a couple of side by side 10's. I enjoy my recording of Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas, but I wasn't familiar with his father ALESSANDRO. I was also unfamiliar with FALLOW DEER, but their intersecting cousin at 26A was a nice close-to-home touch. I live about an hour away from that staple of the crossword gazetteer, Estes Park, CO which is filled with bugling ELK every fall. I never knew that one measly MEASLE could be referred to in the singular. I was totally hooked on Dallas when I was in college, and we used to love to make fun of how Barbara Bel Geddes, as Miss Ellie could drag out the "R" in J. R. Ewing for about 10 seconds. I devoured everything by Jane Austen a few years ago, so Mr. ELTON was a gimme. I had a guilty mind that I had never heard of Mens Rea. Finally, YACK as a variant for yak evoked a big YUCK, although given all the long entries in that part of the grid, I'm not sure how it could have been altered.

Washington Post, Frances Burton, "Mr. Vegetable Stew"

I commented the other day on how I thought Patrick's narrative WSJ was reminiscent of a Frances Hansen style puzzle. Today, Frances Burton also channels her namesake, in another food-based pun anthromorphic extravaganza that was anything but alimentary. (OK, I'll stop). In this puzzle Mr. Stew is busy dating all of his component vegetables. Ms. Bean was afraid he would STRING HER ALONG, Ms. Pea needed to SNAP OUT OF IT, and Ms. Corn hoped he would POP THE QUESTION. I thought this puzzle was a lot of fun. I was breezing through it pretty smoothly but I got pretty stuck in that little 5x5 square in the SW (yes, I've fixed my geographic dyslexia) which added a minute or two to my time.

Do you ever breeze over common crosswordese without really thinking about what the entry means? What better place to explore the background of some of these chestnuts than a crossword blog? Today, I wondered about the book "She" by H. Rider Haggard (52A). I've probably entered that a hundred times in puzzles with no idea what it's about. Turns out it's about Ayesha, known as "She Who Must Be Obeyed" who leads a tribe in East Africa and is discovered by three exploring Englishman. So now you know. Rumpole of the Bailey also referred to his wife as "She Who Must Be Obeyed". Rumpole, of course, was played by Leo McKern, who can be seen in the picture I linked above for "A Man for all Seasons" (and I didn't mean to imply Paul Scofield was a Ham). Well, didn't that all tie together nicely!

I think I'll pass on reading "She". But a couple of weeks ago, the puzzle that hid train stations in the theme entries, included PENN Station by referring to George Plimpton's Open Net. I knew Plimpton had done participatory journalism books about football and golf, but didn't know he had done hockey (and probably wouldn't have cared at the time). But now that my sons are hockey fanatics, it sounded interesting so I picked it up at the library and it's a fun read. Can't wait to get to the part where he actually plays goalie for the Bruins against the Flyers (in a preseason game).

Amy probably has a filter on this blog that will reject too much sports content, so I better watch myself.

Boston Globe, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon (Hex), "Who Let the Dogs Out"?

A theme packed gem in the Globe today, based on hiding the word (?) "ARF". Eight horizontal entries, crossed by 4 vertical 10's, an impressive feat of construction. None of the entries were too fARFetched, although I would have thought a dewAR Flask would be used to hold Scotch.

CrosSynergy, "Sunday Challenge", Rich Norris

This themeless has it all. Two great 15's bisecting the puzzle horizontally and vertically (with a somewhat nostalgic connection), WISH YOU WERE HERE and REAR VIEW MIRRORS. Cross-referenced entries at 1A and 9A, giving us the rise and fall of CARBON paper, I wonder how many of today's email users realize that when they CC someone, they're referring to carbon paper. I had no idea what NCR PAPER was, assuming it was paper that went in an NCR copier. When I realized it was actually carbonless, or "No Carbon Required" paper, that made the connection between the two entries much cooler. But wait! NCR paper was actually invented by NCR, the National Cash Register Company! That double acronym can't be a coincidence.

Lots of other really excellent fill like SAT SCORE, WASH CARS, LATVIA, D SHARP, NETSCAPE. And a creatively misleading way to clue AREA CODE, "727 in Florida, e. g."

LA Times, Frances Burton, "Best in the Business"

A Daily Double for Frances Burton today! This took common phrases and used them in the context of superior performance at various occupations. Favorites: The surveyor is BEYOND MEASURE, and The musician is NOTEWORTHY. Nothing too exciting in the fill, but a fun puzzle. It's unusual that I finish another Sunday puzzle faster than the Newsday, but this was the easiest puzzle of the weekend for me.

Newsday, Merle Baker, "Computer Connections"

A little harder than the typical Newsday. It wasn't at all clear to me what connected the theme entries, I kept looking for the "word in the theme can precede or follow another common word" type of theme. But it's actually the "end of the first word and start of the second word hide a common phrase" type of theme, like the ARF puzzle by HEX. I'll let you find the connection.

On Sudoku
I noticed on Eric Berlin's blog that Will Shortz will be holding a national Sudoku Championship in Philadelphia this fall. And the prize money is twice what it is for the Crossword Tournament. Well, I guess we know how we rate! Harumph. I'll look into going, as I do enjoy Sudokus, but I'm not particularly speedy and I know I have no chance against math whizzes like Roger and Thomas Snyder

That is all, Amy will return tomorrow night. Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend everyone!

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May 25, 2007

Saturday, 5/26

WSJ (21x21) 8:30
NYT 5:49
LAT 4:54
Newsday (untimed)
CS 3:32

(updated at 8:20 a.m. Saturday—have a great weekend!)

Oh! It's kinda short notice, but I'll be out of town this weekend. My in-laws have dial-up internet service (in this day and age!) and a single phone line, so I will be away from the blogosphere and cruciverbisphere when Sunday's post should go up. Is there anyone craving a chance to guest-blog the Sunday puzzles this holiday weekend? If so, please e-mail me by Saturday morning, earlyish. Otherwise, get out there and barbecue, garden, sit in a hammock or by the pool, take superfluous naps, and enjoy the long weekend! Edited to say that Al Sanders has generously offered to cede an hour of chill-out time to handle Sunday's posting.)

The Saturday NYT by Joe DiPietro reminds me of Friday's by Mike Nothnagel—similar difficulty, similar vibe in the fill (not so "wow, I've never seen that in a crossword" but also a high enough word count not to resort to roll-your-own words with dull prefixes and suffixes tacked on). The most mystifying clues for me included [Fandangles] at 1-Across for DOODADS (Google doesn't turn up a quick demonstration of "fandangle" used that way); [Massen of the 1940s film "Tokyo Rose] for OSA (read about her here); [Brown foe] for STEELER (yes, I've heard of the Cleveland Browns, but I couldn't purge Brown University from my head—I blame Hunter College); and [1992 Pulitzer poet James] TATE (that Wikipedia article makes it sound like I'd enjoy Tate's poetry). Also tricky: [Woolly] for OVINE, not fabric, and [Winter coat] meaning a woolly ULSTER coat rather than frost (not to mention [Come down briskly?] being SKI rather than precipitation; [Ones who accept charges] for MATADORS, across from [Charged] for HAD AT (which I don't quite get); the [Special treatment] of TLC crossing the RED CARPET, a [Special kind of treatment]; the abbreviated PARK AVE. clued as [Fashionable part of N.Y.C.]; ALIS from the Oregon state motto; and the vague prepositional descriptors IN CRATES, ON DEPOSIT, and IN VALUE. Best parts, to me: That middle section with all the S words (SCOT-FREE and SCRUNCH, SWOON and SKI); [It might follow someone] for ELSE'S; the SPIT-TAKE; and a clue for NERTS that somehow didn't push me straight towards the answer. I also liked [Like some plains] for FRUITED for whatever reason.

I meant to solve the Wall Street Journal crossword tonight, but I have dawdled too much while writing this post and ought to turn in soon. More in the morning—

Updated:

The CrosSynergy puzzle by Mel Rosen is a tribute to John WAYNE, whose centenary birthday is today. You may be astonished to hear that I needed to fill in the fourth of four movie titles before I figured out who the *A*NE actor might be!

Myles Callum's (good to see his byline again—it's been a while) themeless LA Times puzzle had some terrific entries (PASSION PIT right up top, STYROFOAM, LA BAMBA, HELLFIRE). Even better were these clues: [Seer's need] isn't a crystal ball but rather OPTIC NERVE; [Union buster] is the non-labor SECEDER; [Avoid taking a bath] is CUT ONE'S LOSSES; [All, for one] is a laundry DETERGENT, while [One, for one?] is CUBE ROOT (question mark not needed there); and [Singer's employer?] is SEAMSTRESS.

Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper had a number of knotty spots, toughest in the lower left corner for me. Have you heard of 1641 Irish Rebellion leader Rory O'MORE (also O'Moore)? I hadn't. And I knew Paul Bunyan's great blue ox was Babe, but he had a dog? Named FIDO? I did once know that LL COOL J's real name is James Todd Smith, but with a clue removing the rap context ([Performer born James Todd Smith]), the answer was sort of a nice surprise emerging in the grid.

"A Fabulous Day for Justice" gets the glory in Friday's Wall Street Journal crossword, constructed by Patrick Berry. I'd never noticed how many phrases in the legal system included such splendid adjectives. Such SPECIAL PROSECUTORS! And a perp with an OUTSTANDING WARRANT! The theme entries are tied together with a short story told in the clues and answers, following a continuous narrative from top to bottom. An entertaining theme, executed with elegance. As a bonus, the longest vertical answers contain words of praise not included in the theme: BEST-SELLERS and THE MAJESTIC.

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When the comments link is gone

Lately HaloScan's comments link has taken to disappearing or otherwise malfunctioning. If you want to comment on a post but the comments link doesn't appear beneath the post, try refreshing the page a few times. (That has worked for me.)

If the problem is something other than invisibility, please let me know (via comments, if visible, or e-mail) what you've encountered.

Thanks for your patience!

(If you've been feeling put out by technical woes, go watch a delightful Dick van Dyke Show slapstick clip, here.)

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May 24, 2007

Friday, 5/25

NYS 9:06
LAT 5:35
NYT 5:20
Jonesin' 4:10
5/11 CHE 4:02
CS 2:43

WSJ (see Saturday post)
Reagle mia this week

(updated at 11 a.m. Friday)

Ah, Friday! Or rather: Ah, Thursday evening! When the weekend's themeless puzzles begin to burst like fireworks! Although every other week, the Sun's Thursday puzzle is themeless. But you know what I'm getting at if you find yourself either thirsting for or dreading themeless crosswords.

The Sun Weekend Warrior by Byron Walden seemed a bit easier than his last NYT puzzle, and yet still considerably harder than I was expecting. The NYT crossword by Mike Nothnagel looks like a Saturday-tough slog based on the early applet solvers' times, and yet I found myself on Mike's (and/or Will Shortz's) wavelength tonight.

First up, the tougher nut to crack (for me, anyway), Byron's puzzle, blogged in bulleted list form (thanks for the lesson, Dave!). Note that this grid's got just four 3-letter entries.


  • Favorite clues: [Classic loafer] for LOTUS EATER (I had shoes on the brain); [Ducky] for JAKE; [Bar exam?] for TRIVIA QUIZ; [Beethoven et al.] for ST BERNARDS; [Starting five?] for the TORAH; [One doing the lord's work?] for LIEGE; [Cuban cubo] for OCHO (as in dos to the third power); [Fraction of a mil] for THOU; [It might be found on a sweep hand] for SOOT (chimney sweep's hand, not a second hand on a watch); [Tick, for example] for MARK; and [Zenana] for HAREM, as one of those obscure words I learned via crossword clues long ago.
  • Favorite entries (besides those mentioned already): DIDI clued as Gogo's pal in Waiting for Godot (short for Vladimir and Estragon); the Hungarian town of SZEGED (a Karen Traceyesque geographic name); POP BOTTLES.
  • Things that befuddled me: The PARADE LAP at Indy; oh, Byron, motor sports befouling one of your puzzles? Tch. A BUSTED FLUSH is a crappy poker hand, not a broken crapper. The museum AUDIO GUIDE was fresh in my mind from all the museum-going, yet eluded me because I'd put in dusty TEAL instead of AQUA, mucking up the top left. [Ballpark figures, for short] is STATS, but I opted to disregard the "for short" bit and go for STABS crossing B CELL, but the clue for 19-Across signals T CELL with its allusion to a "neck gland" (t cells come from the thymus). [Intro to many a colon] had so many reasonable 4-letter options: IS TO? No. Oh, then maybe HOUR? No. There's a T in there, so it must be ATTN, then. No, not that either. It's HTTP. ANTAL Doráti's name didn't leap to mind. And [Quattro competitor] had me thinking of Audis rather than Schick razors, so the Gillette SENSOR took ages to shave the stubble of ignorance from my brain. (Is that metaphor too much?)


Mike's NYT puzzle threw a few "Huh?" clues at me, but they were outnumbered by the clever ones that I figured out, albeit often with the help of plenty of crossings.


  • Trouble spots: Well, how about 1-Across? [Actor with an L.A.P.D. auditorium named after him]. Huh? Okay, JACK somebody. Jack Lord? No, LORD is over there in the opposite corner. Turns out to be JACK WEBB of Dragnet. I've wielded plenty of [Double daggers, in printing] in my time, but don't recall ever seeing them referred to as DIESES. [World's second-highest capital]? Well, crosswords have taught me that Lhasa, Tibet, is the highest; #2 is QUITO, Ecuador. (QUITO's Q is joined by another in the dead center of the grid, plus two Zs, an X, a J, and a pair of Ks.) I have no idea how NOB and [Cribbage jack] relate, and don't care to look that one up. [Erstwhile grp. of 15] is SSRS rather than an organizational acronym, as I'd first thought. [Marxist leader?], 3 letters ending in O, sure looks like MAO but for the question mark; I think I had the N in NEO soon enough not to fall in that trap. I did stick my paw in the [Put on a pedestal] trap, going past tense with IDOLIZED before figuring out it had to be IDEALIZE. A pained spot for other reasons was MY LAI.
  • Fabulous entries: I'M ON A DIET; the FOXHOUND chasing the MACAQUE; HIRELINGS (we need more -ling words! Who's with me, solvelings?); AXEMEN (slang for guitarists); the this-should-help-you pairing of GRADE A'S and A MINUS (unless you've been trained to assume such repetition is taboo—if you've embraced that taboo, Will Shortz repeatedly flouts it in small ways, so it'll help you to forget that "rule" when solving the NYT crossword); and the centerpiece, BEGS THE QUESTION (that link will help you fight on Vic Fleming's side in one of those usage JIHADS).
  • Favorite clues: [It can have its charms] for ANKLET (just two letters different from AMULET—tricky!); [One's native land] for SOD (I confused my kid by saying it was good to be back on the old sod at O'Hare last weekend); [Key letters] for CTRL (not PHIS!); [Jazz greats, e.g.] for NBA STARS; [It's less than perfect] for A MINUS; [Lulu] for CORKER; and [2006 Oscar winner for his first film] for GORE.


So, if you've tackled both of these crosswords, did you find one markedly harder than the other?

Updated:

The Across Lite version of Merl Reagle's weekend puzzle (labeled as the Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle) actually comes via LA Weekly, which is skipping (an issue? the puzzle?) for the holiday weekend. And the Wall Street Journal puzzle gets converted to Across Lite by Lloyd Mazer, but the puzzle wasn't on the WSJ website early enough, and Lloyd's daughter is getting married this weekend, so we may not see that puzzle either. Use the free time to get outside and relax!

Today's LA Times puzzle by Donna Levin challenged me. Lots of vagueish clues, like [Does some field work] for BALES, and some tricky ones, like [Emile's uniform?] for EGAL (the French adjective, not a noun). The theme entries involve puns on Russian/Soviet region words/names. PUTIN ON AIRS = "putting on airs," MIR BAGATELLE = "mere bagatelle" (a phrase I love), COSSACK STAN = "Kazakhstan," and KIEV SEA MAJOR = ...what, exactly? I don't understand this one at all. The race is on: Will writing those words crack that synapse open in my brain, or will somebody else explain it to me first?

I flew through Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Greenbacks," in nearly Monday-Newsday-level speed. Filled in all the theme entries right off the bat after a couple crossings gave me the first one, which almost never happens. Kinda fun that way!

The May 11 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle is by Jack McInturff. (How much do I love the Chronicle puzzles? So much! Crosswords expressly designed for an academically accomplished audience, no sops to beginning solvers—they're not for everyone, no, but if you crave smart puzzles and aren't doing the CHE crossword each week, you're missing out.) The theme is "Antinovels," so each theme entry swaps out a word in a novel's title for its opposite. Fun for the literary crowd!

This week's Jonesin' puzzle by Matt Jones is called "A Ghost of a Chance." Five long answers spell out four clues, the answers to which are ghost characters from the classic video game, PAC-MAN (67-Across); all four chase Pac-Man, whom the player controls, and the player's job is to eat dots and avoid getting caught by the ghosts. Favorite entry: 51-Down, MULVA, which people who don't care for Seinfeld probably don't know. Fun puzzle!

(I think I just used up the rest of my allotment of exclamationn points for the month.)

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May 23, 2007

Thursday, 5/24

NYT 5:54
NYS 5:05
LAT 4:01
CS 3:25

(updated at 6:40 a.m. Thursday, a time I'd ordinarily be sleeping—See? I told you I had some jet lag)

I am on a streak! Another sleepy evening, another NYT crossword, yet another eely typo! This one took less than a minute to identify, though. Where I intended to have TUTEE crossing ETAT, I had RUTEE and ERAT. (Makes me think of RuPaul.) The puzzle's by Patrick Merrell, and the twist involves counting. 3-D becomes DDD, for example, and the last theme entry is KKKKKKKKKK RACES (10k races). The theme didn't take me that long to figure out, but some things were slower to dawn on me. [Western moniker] is KID (not the most obvious clue for that answer), I'd never heard of avant-garde composer EARLE Brown, [Almost bound] didn't quickly parse as APT, and the very literal [Goes out to sea] should've quickly hollered EBBS to me but it didn't. High points: the Scrabbliness of the aforementioned 10 Ks, [Attention-getting haircut]/MOHAWK, [Mike's partner in candy] for IKE, [Jefferson site] for NICKEL (wow, that should've been easy), those bricks of 7-letter entries at the left and right (including POOHBAH, [Two-piece suits?]/BIKINIS, and the wrestler's SINGLET, a most unfortunate garment), [Runner of an experiment?] for RAT, and the grammatically incorrect but completely comprehensible NOT ME. I am a charter member of the Pat Merrell Fan Club, but there were plenty of blah entries in this one (ISE, OSE, ENE, III, KTS, ERTES, etc.) that dampened my enthusiasm. (Props to Pat for finding LAFAYETTE to work below nine of those Ks, though.)

Updated:

Tony Orbach constructed today's Sun crossword, "Elision Day." The theme entries reflect what you hear when the speaker elides the "it" in "it's" at the beginning of a sentence: ""It's no problem" becomes SNOW PROBLEM (clued here as [Whiteout, e.g?]). Sfun, but you can't make a theme entry out of "sfun." It took me a while to puzzle through SIN THERE for [Rejected Las Vegas motto?]: Where's the answer? Oh, 'sin there. Love the inclusion of CUNEIFORM; in high school, we had to read about the Babylonian tablets in They Wrote on Clay, which has stuck with me all these years as a bizarre book title. Plenty of tough clues breathe new life into familiar crossword answers; for example, REOS is clued with [Runabouts, e.g.]; ISAK Dinesen is [Creator of Babette]; and IDES is [Middle March?]. And apparently Kool and the Gang's KOOL was bassist Robert Bell. Good puzzle with plenty for the solver to chew on.

Today's CrosSynergy puzzle marks Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's debut in that venue, unless that already happened while I was away. (Patrick Blindauer is the other pint of fresh blood now coursing through the CrosSynergy veins.) Stella and Bruce's fun puzzle is called "Oh, You Beautiful Doll!" and it features toy dolls from four different eras (though the RAGGEDY ANN is a classic, still sold after nearly a century). The section from 10- to 13-Down reads STONER / TOOK /LAZE / ODED. A compelling vignette, and I believe I have ODed on laze myself. STONER, alas, is clued as [One administering a Biblical punishment]. Given the recent "honor killing" of a teenage girl in Iraq, captured on cell-phone video, it'd be much less unsavory to clue it as [Pothead]. (Bruce and Stella also teamed up on today's LA Times puzzle, which wasn't as fun as this toystore crossword.)

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May 22, 2007

Wednesday, 5/23

NYT 5:04
LAT 4:02
NYS 4:01
CS 3:01

(updated at 9:35 a.m. Wednesday)

Crossword blogger meet-up alert! Barry Weprin will be in town Thursday and we'll meet for lunch. And yes, we'll talk about you. So if your ears are burning, you'll know why.

On the fame and fortune front, I'm awaiting a call from a photographer who will take my portrait for an upcoming issue of my college alumni magazine. A publicist for St. Martin's Press has sent out galleys of my book to a bunch of newspapers and magazines.

All right, just a few more minutes 'til NYT launch time. One more paragraph to keep me awake until then (and I've already written the paragraph about the Sun crossword). You know how much merriment and pain we can wring out of bad signs? There was a drawing on a sign above the toilet in our bathroom in Peckforton Castle that illustrated the things one should not flush, including a comb, Q-tip, plastic bottle, condom, tampon, and syringe. That's right: Junkies are kindly requested to dispose of their works in the wastebasket. (Have you ever thought to flush a comb? I thought not.) Some sign-makers like to use quotation marks to call extra attention to certain phrases, bastardizing the quotation marks in the process. There's actually a blog devoted to documenting such signs photographically: the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks. Enjoy the snark.

Well, last night it took me about 30 seconds to find my typo in the NYT applet. Tonight, about 90 seconds. My brain is flagging because it's 3 a.m. in London, darn it, and I should be sleeping. Today's typos involved some N confusion, with STRETCN crossing those helpful NINTS and COULDN'T in the theme quote repeatedly coming out as COULND'T. The shame is that a handful of crossings let me figure out the last two parts of the quote lickety-split, but a case of typo madness destroyed me. So...it's a funnyish quip (original or borrowed joke? It's I TRIED TO BUY / A CAMOUFLAGE SUIT / BUT I COULDN'T FIND / ONE ANYWHERE) from Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke. Bits of the fill resonate. HOLY COW? Yes, so NO MEAT, please. Instead, a BANANA. ASCOTS and a watch FOB are old-school fashion (and there was an American guy at the wedding I attended in England who wore a dark orange ascot to the reception; says he likes the feel of silk). AMY makes it into another puzzle, but REX must be satisfied with being the T REX dinosaur. I've seen a zillion clues for ESAU over the years, but don't recall seeing [Biblical "hairy one"] before.

Steven Ginzburg's Sun puzzle is called "You and I Must Intervene!" because WE force our way into each theme entry. The pinnacle was [One who has roasts without hosts], an MC ESCHEWER. (In the mood to look at some M.C. Escher drawings now? Check out the Picture Gallery links here. Don't get too dizzy to come back, though. I nearly hypnotized myself over there.) Other high points: juicy fill like CORNBALL (Googling "cornball humor" turned up this clip of Chris Elliott giving a dramatic reading of Elton John's "Rocket Man," which I wouldn't consider cornball. William Shatner's version isn't either, and it's far awesomer than Chris Elliott's Shatnerian ripoff.), the JOB CORPS, SNOW DAY, and WISE TO, and a couple rather vague clues that made me work for the answers, [Profession] for AVOWAL and [Locale of rapid development] for WOMB.

Nighty-night!

Updated:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "See You in Court," has four theme entries that begin with judicial terms (HEARING, TRIAL, SUIT, and CASE). We saw plenty of SUITs OF ARMOR at the Tower of London. The best one belonged to Henry VIII. You can't see it all that clearly in the picture here, but there's a larger-than-life metal codpiece jutting forward. (None of the other armor on display had that feature.)

In the LA Times, Dan Naddor serves up a theme with four 11s and four 8s all tied together by the 7-letter word (KEEPERS) that can follow the last word in each of the other eight theme entries. Despite the abundance of theme squares, the fill didn't strike me as particularly forced or clunky (not amazing fill, but not bad either). We end up with these words before KEEPERS: GREENS, GATE, BOOK, FINDERS ("Finders keepers! Losers weepers!"), GROUNDS, HOUSE, TIME, and GOAL. A crossword in which just four of these entries appeared would be lackluster, but to include eight plus the unifying KEEPERS? Much better. I would be remiss not to mention Groundskeeper Willie. While in England, we happened to catch the Simpsons episode in which Willie stripped off his shirt and said, "Grease me up, woman!" to the lunch lady so that he might slither through the air ducts and catch the Simpsons' dog, Santa's Helper.

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May 21, 2007

Tuesday, 5/22

Tausig 5:26
NYT 3:40
LAT 3:39
NYS 3:34
Onion 3:26
CS 2:45

(updated at 5:45 and 6:30 a.m. Tuesday)

Is it just me, or does it feel like three in the morning? I thought I'd readjusted to my local time zone, but I can scarcely keep my eyes open.

The NYT puzzle is credited to Roger Wolff, and it may be his constructorial debut. The three theme entries are 15-letter excerpts from that "Do-Re-Mi" song from The Sound of Music (with the lead-off "a" dropped from all three). I'm not sure why DOREMI is clued as [Money, slangily] with no reference to the doe-ray-me theme, though. And EDELWEISS ([Alpine flower]) is in there, too. Any other thematic add-ons? (I'm pretty sure that ROBOCOP doesn't relate to the theme.) Pluses: The 10-letter entries running parallel to two theme entries, FLAT SCREEN and ROTTEN IDEA, and clues like [Muscat-eer?] for OMANI and [Red star?] for STALIN. (Of course, Stalin may have been responsible for 10 million or more deaths, putting him right up there with the likes of Hitler and Mao—which reminds me, MAO is in plenty of crosswords despite his horrors.)

Pete Muller's Sun puzzle, "Middle 50%," has three theme entries containing DEMI, HEMI, and SEMI in the middle, or HALF HIDDEN. It's kinda funny—the answer key included for this puzzle on Monday morning included an entirely different lower right section, owing to CRUISE MISSILE appearing as the plural CRUISE MISSLES, misspelled. Apparently the error was caught soon enough to redo that corner with new fill and clues, but not so soon that the Across Lite file had the complete fix. Aside from that, good puzzle.

Updated:

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "I Believe I Can Fly," has nothing to do with R. Kelly and everything to do with fictional characters who fly in five very different ways. One day after Klahn's puzzle, this one marks a return to easy/breezy CrosSynergy offerings.

Mark Diehl's LA Times puzzle is another finger-themed one (we had a couple others in close proximity several weeks back). He's got all five including the THUMB (A RIDE). While it's hard to top PINKY TUSCADERO for the pinky, PINKY SWEAR is great, too. Something about NAUGAHYDE never fails to amuse me; I don't want it in my house, but the brand name has such a cheesy '70s vibe to it. Did Archie Bunker mention it on All in the Family? Somehow, I associate the two.

Again:

Ben Tausig sent out this week's Ink Well/Chicago Reader and Onion A.V. Club puzzles bright and early from Saigon. (Perhaps it's his ethnomusicology studies that take him to Southeast Asia?) Ben's puzzle, "Time for a Break," riffs on spring break with three theme entries defined as [Spring]. Highlights: fill like BAD-ASS, CON JOB, TURKEY TROT, and JFK JR; clues like [Hawk, often] for NEOCON, [Tower company?] for SEARS, [Events with badminton and boom boxes] for BBQS, and [With less on top] for BALDER. (Has there ever been a race for men who are losing their hair, a Balder Dash?)

The Onion puzzle by Matt Jones, "Do's and Dont's" (hey! apostrophe mayhem!), has a title. Many weeks, the Onion puzzles don't have titles. I'd like it to be consistent—either a title every week, or not at all. Anyway—the three theme answers (occupying four entries) are tied together by a fourth (or fifth), BAD HAIR DAY. The theme doesn't particularly grab me, but I do like the long fill: Ben Kingsley's movie, SEXY BEAST, BRUCE DERN, MINNESOTA, SONDHEIM. Not sure whether ELMIER should actually be considered a word, though...

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May 20, 2007

Monday, 5/21

CS 4:17
NYS 3:35
LAT 3:22
NYT 3:09

(updated at 11:15 a.m. Monday)

All righty, I'm going to ease back into this nightly blogging thing without even checking to see if tomorrow's Sun puzzle has been posted. Why should I stay up until sunset just to blog? I've been up for nigh unto 17 hours already, and what the existence of the Playtex 18-Hour Bra has taught me is that really, an 18-hour day is much too long. If your day is 18 hours long, I certainly hope you're not stuck wearing a bra for all 18 of those hours.

My travels within England, by the way, presented me with many crossword stalwarts. The cathedrals had tall reredoses (is there a plural of reredos?), spacious naves and apses, and ample ogees. The Chester Zoo had okapis, coatis, emus, rheas, and a small herd of very fetching onagers; I did not see the anoa exhibit, but of course was delighted to see it on the map. Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey had authors whose names, initials, characters, and works find their way into crosswords often. I hope that my slightly improved recollection of English kings and queens will pay off somehow.

The only American crosswords I did during vacation were the two weeks of Sun puzzles I'd printed out. Most days, I worked on one or two British cryptics from the daily papers. Most American cryptics yield their secrets to me within 15 minutes; many of the English ones limited me to a couple answers every 15 minutes...if that. Here's a sample clue from a puzzle I brought back with me: [Satisfied to have queen back inside tower] (7). The clues tend to be a bit more opaque and less complete than American cryptic clues, which give you every piece pretty literally, plus the definition.

The Monday NYT crossword by Allan Parrish provides a straightforward theme: All four long entries end with words that can be followed by MARKETS: STOCK, BLACK, FLEA, and MEAT. Pluses (and here's where I'm wishing I already knew how to code for a fancy bulleted list layout): a Q, Z, J, X, and several Ks; good fill like NAYSAY, PEACHY, TOLD YA, JETSKI, and ED KOCH; and 10 people's names I knew. Minuses: 1-Across is a dead bridge columnist's first name? Okay, so ALAN Truscott wrote for the Times for 41 years; still never heard of him. (Bridge beats poker in my crossword dislikes.) But he was born in Brixton! That was just a few Tube stops southeast of our hotel. I wondered if two entries still existed: TABU fragrance is indeed still on the market, and there are still some TCBY locations out there. The suburban Milwaukee one my husband once worked at closed years ago, and the only branches within Chicago are all at O'Hare Airport. How long before they go the way of the dodo?

Updated:

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Sun puzzle, "At the Snow Bank," has a teeny theme (two 12s and a 9) embedded in a delicious soup of a grid. Tons of Scrabbly entries, the Eastern vibe of FENG SHUI and WASABI, pop-culture trivia (the HOFFMAN clue, [Only last name shared by two different Best Actor Oscar winners], made me ponder who else besides Dustin for a couple minutes, when Philip Seymour finally came to mind). Do not like seeing my name in such close proximity to the word NEOCON, however! But my name does cross PLAN B, which is also the name of that emergency contraception. And right there below AMY sits REX.

Today's NYT constructor, Allan Parrish, also made the LA Times crossword. It took me a while to parse the theme entries, which are tied together by 61-Down, WORK. Ah, HEINZ FIELD, NAME CALLING, and the other two end with words that can mean "career" or "work." I see. Solid puzzle, but not my favorite type of theme. (On the Cruciverb-L mailing list, Nancy Salomon called for publicizing of the theme types that crossword editors want to see less of. I suspect quote puzzles are on that invisible list—would love to know what other themes are more likely to get a puzzle rejected.)

Fans of tough clues are generally Bob Klahn fans. A nice surprise to get a Klahn CrosSynergy puzzle on a Monday! "Take Five" has a theme a little harder than standard Monday fare, and the clues? Ahhh, good. If you appreciate crosswords that don't hand out too many gimmes, download this one. No spoilers!

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Sunday, 5/20

NYT 10:02
WaPo 9:10
LAT 9:03
BG 8:30
CS 4:25

Quick takes, because it's already Sunday afternoon:

The NYT by Seth A. Abel is called "More Headlines That Make You Go 'Huh?'" Now, I don't specifically recall its apparent predecessor, but I like this type of theme. I always enjoy poorly worded headlines that are open to horrible misinterpretation. There were a number of clues I loved, but I did the puzzle in the wee hours and have since forgotten what they were. Here's one: [Shaker formula] for NACL. Let's see...and [Palm readers?] for the brand of PDAs called TREOS. And SHAW clued as [Newsman Bernard], because before he was a clean-shaven CNN anchor, he was a mustachioed anchor on the local news in Chicago. Never heard of NFL running back KEVAN Barlow, but have now made a mental note of the spelling of that first name.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Quiet, Please," adds SH to the beginning of a word in each of 10 theme entries. NOAH'S SHARK ([Not Jonah's whale?]) evoked Merl Reagle's line in Wordplay about inverting two letters in "Noah's Ark" to make "No, a shark!" I rather liked SKATING SHRINK, [Analyst on ice?].

Patrick Jordan's Washington Post crossword, "Reformed Criminals," assembles eight fictional villains and anagrams them. Just the sort of puzzle-within-a-puzzle I enjoy! With two theme entries in each corner of the puzzle, none interlocking, the grid seemed a little more open, without any super-creaky entries compromising the fun.

The syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Show of Shows," was a group effort. According to the Across Lite notepad, "Puzzle constructor Bonnie L. Gentry recently led a crossword workshop during a cruise. This puzzle's theme, title and pen name (made on a cruise) came from members of that workshop. Ms. Gentry did the rest." The five theme entries from "Mae Donna Cruz" are mashups of of three TV shows, such as COPS LOST LAW AND ORDER, clued as [Officers failed to control rioters?]. A few clunkers in the fill (such as NO EAR, clued as [Absence of musical skill]), but I did enjoy the theme entries. Despite my love of pop culture, it took me far too long to figure out that the theme involved TV shows.

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy puzzle was about par for the course, difficulty-wise, meaning easier than most of the other themeless puzzles I do. Favorite bits: SOUR NOTES and SORE LOSER, [Way below] addling me as the clue for UNDERPASS, and the pairing of COME AGAIN? and SO TO SPEAK.

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Ode to the guest bloggers

I'm back from London and wide awake in the wee hours. When you go to bed at 6 p.m., you're bound to feel well-rested by about 2 a.m., so here I am.

Before I turn to the crosswords, please join me in showering The World's Best Guest Bloggers with plaudits. Weren't they all great? Al, Barry, Dave, John, and Linda shared their personalities, perspectives, experiences, and wit with us each day, and I enjoyed every one of their posts. I'm sure all of us did—traffic to this site didn't drop off at all while I was gone. (And, a salve to my ego, it didn't skyrocket because I was gone either.)

We have some (virtual) awards to bestow:

The Golden Fire Extinguisher goes to Al Sanders for his blazingly fast solving times, reported daily in the comments when he wasn't on call for that day's post. Yes, I'm fast, but there's that extra notch of speed that ACPT finalists have that's awfully difficult to approach. (Al is also my pencil mentor—I bought a pair of the mechanical pencils he was using at Stamford.)

The Ava Gardner Memorial Personal Touch Award is bestowed on Linda G., who charmingly shares personal tidbits, ruminations, and reminiscences evoked by the crosswords, drawing us into her friendly orbit.

We award the Medal of Honor to Barry Weprin for his promotion of patronage of the blogging arts, combined with detailed dissection of crossword themes and a treatise on what he calls Petergordonisms.

The Special Jury Prize for Magnificent Linking goes to John Farmer, who had (I estimate) a gazillion text links in his posts. (I love text hyperlinks! I think they mimic how our brains work, making associations and finding connections between things, showing us where the writer's synapses have been firing.) John is also recognized for his journalistic report on Will Shortz's appearance at UCLA.

Dave Sullivan garners Her Majesty's Bell and Whistle for fancy blogging. Pictures! Bulleted lists! Colored text! Bold and italics—at the same time! I'm definitely going to ask Dave to show me how to do those bullets. (I know how to add pictures, but it takes longer than adding text links, so I generally skip them.)

As a fake token of my very real appreciation for all five of you, please accept these flowers (edited to remove dead-link picture that was supposed to show a bouquet with 100 red roses, but instead diverted the viewer to a mail-order bride site, and replace it with deep pink roses that connote gratitude):

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May 19, 2007

Saturday, 5/19

NYT interrupted
LAT 5:24
CS 2:37
Stumper 6:50
5/4 CHE 4:50
NYT Second Sunday Cryptic 13:00

I knew it would happen. But it's so cruel for it happen on the last night of guest blog time posting. Byroned. Admittedly, it wasn't the best solving conditions. I'm really tired from blogging too late last night. And Eileen was throwing a big retirement party for one of her fellow teachers tonight, so the house was full of people. I was being very good, mingling, socializing, having a beer (which didn't help either), but I kept watching the clock and as it got past 8, the puzzles were calling. Finally I thought, I'll just sneak upstairs and polish off one puzzle really quickly. No one will ever notice. When the puzzle came off the printer and I saw it was a Byron, I knew I shouldn't have tried it. But, in a fit of hubris, I went ahead. It started innocently enough. Plenty of footholds. Steady progress. I had the whole puzzle done in around 7 minutes except for that measly little SE corner, which would only take a few seconds and I'd back downstairs mingling in no time. Wrong.

NY Times, Byron Walden, "The Saturday Slasher"

The corner looked innocent enough, only a 5x7, but only two ways in, one connecting to an impossible entry, 38A, "Acoustic instruments", and one only giving up the end letter of 5 words. (ODESSA). I even got that Mizraim was Egypt pretty quickly, thanks to attending our neighbor's Seder a few weeks ago. But then I was completely stuck. I was pretty sure it was DELTA State. OBEYS seemed right. I had GOTREAL for "Lost frivolity" (great entry). And I was 90% sure of METED for Parceled. That should have been enough to crack the corner. But I kept thinking SLAPS instead of CLAPS and FORGE instead of BARGE, and that was enough to keep JUMBO CD from falling. I knew one or two of those across entries had to be wrong, but I couldn't come up with the right combination. And what was Fit? So many meanings, and none of them did (fit, that is). Panic set in, knowing I needed a time to post. Cold sweat broke out. Then my daughter discovered me hiding out and I had to come downstairs. I actually ended up solving the corner in my head (while pretending to be social) by methodically going through letters until I got JUGS and the rest fell from there. So, there is my sad tale. On the last night of public blogging, it turned into a public flogging (hey, is that a theme?), as my state of Byrownage is laid out for all to see.

But enough of my troubles, the puzzle was of course, being a Byron, full of wonderfully fresh entries. I loved how QUARTER TO THREE spanned two entries across the second row. New informative way to clue REBA, which I didn't know was set in my home town of Houston. ALLFEMALE was an answer I hadn't seen before, but very gettable from the Supremes and Go-gos combo in the clue. I was a big ELO fan (thereby completing the destruction of my musical reputation), but I've never heard the song "Secret Messages". Great clue for a somewhat overused entry. Speaking of ELO, did you ever play their best song "Fire on High" backwards on a turntable? I did in college, and it was the coolest thing ever.

MSOLYMPIA was a great entry, but that link is not for the faint of heart. Yeesh. YUKFEST must be another original, and self-descriptive at that! Hadn't heard of DYSPNEA, but it was easily derivable from apnea. To close, I'll just STATE THE OBVIOUS and say this was a wonderfully evil Saturday puzzle.

Oh, and did you notice the FIEND made an appearance, even clued in the approprate fashion? (Devotee)

Once again, I've let it get too late tonight (really, Amy, how *do* you do this every night?), so I'll keep it brief on the other puzzles.

Chronicle of Higher Education, "University Extension" by Jim Leeds

Jeff, thanks for reminding me yesterday that I forgot to do the 5/4 CHE. I second your recommendation. Nice rebus puzzle with 5 symmetrically placed rebus squares and therefore, 10 theme entries, several with the rebus spanning word boundaries, like CRIED UNCLE and POSTAGE DUE. Well done.

LAT Saturday Themeless by Robert H. Wolfe

This one had three 15s which makes things a little easier. Some nice Mannyesque phrasing for the 15s, my favorite being GAVE THE ALL CLEAR, which is very familiar to anyone who's participated in a fire drill, but I don't remember seeing it in a puzzle before. Lots of 8's and 10's abutting and crossing the theme entries. The rest of the fill is good, but no entries stood out as spectacular.

Newsday Saturday Stumper by Merle Baker

This had many more long entries than a typical Stumper. I really liked the staggered triple tens in the center (FAR CRY FROM, AS FREE AS AIR, PRESS ENTER) intersecting an 8/11/8 coming down. ZIGGURAT is a wonderful word.

CrosSynergy, "Winners" by Martin Ashwood-Smith

Martin is the pioneer of the triple stack, but he has a much simpler puzzle today (the CS' have been on a streak of pretty easy puzzles lately). A common definition theme today, all answering to the clue "Wins". FREEWHEEL and GOTOWARDS were pretty good non-theme entries.

"If Spider-Man Were More Like a Real Spider", by Merl Reagle

This is a classic Merl grid. A few more black squares than you might usually see, but with that incredible number of horizontal theme entries, who cares? 11 long entries crammed into a 21x21 grid, filled with true Reagle groaners (my favorite, 100A, Q: "So, Spiderman, is it safe to say the the Mrs. is expecting? A: EGGSACLY).

NYT Second Sunday Puzzle, Cryptic by Richard Silvestri

I found the left half of this one fell pretty quickly, but the right half was quite tricky. Trust me, trying to solve a cryptic while sleep deprived is not recommended. I'm guessing Amy will start us on a cryptic tutorial after two weeks of British puzzles, but I'll give a very quick intro here in case you haven't figured out to solve these yet. By the way, the definitive tutorial text on Cryptics is Emily and Henry's guide. So, every cryptic constructor's goal is to get you to read the clue as a complete sentence. For example, 2D "Region around North Stadium". Hmm, parking lot? But a cryptic clue has nothing to do with the surface meaning. There are two parts, the definition and the wordplay (in either order) and your job as solver is to determine that parsing. In this case, "Stadium" is the definition, and "Region around North" is the wordplay, leading to AREA around N, or ARENA. One more example, 23A, "Wicked person embraces Republican crony". No, don't send a letter to the editor, this has nothing to do with NY Times bias, or Jack Abramoff. Here, "Crony" is the definition and "Wicked person embraces Republican" is the wordplay. Here we get Wicked Person=FIEND (hey, that's the wrong meaning of FIEND, we all know it's really a DEVOTEE!), embracing the letter R which gives us FRIEND which of course means crony. I probably shouldn't have picked two clues of the same type (containers), but I had to get that second inclusion of FIEND in today's puzzles mentioned somehow!

If you get stumped on any more clues, post a question in the comments, and someone will post an explanation I'm sure (I'll be at a roller hockey tournament most of tomorrow after attending the special HP showing of Shrek the Third in the morning).


And thus brings to a close our two weeks of guest blogging. On behalf of Linda, John, Barry, and Dave, I'd like to thank Amy for the chance to participate in this wonderful virtual community. Thanks to everyone for the comments and participation, thanks for putting up with my ridiculously late posts, and I'll see you all in the comments page. Let's all give Amy a big welcome home tomorrow. So long!

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May 18, 2007

Friday, 5/18

NYT 7:35
NYS 6:07
LAT 4:36
CS 2:35
WSJ 8:46
Reagle 8:53

TPP #11 10:05
TPP #12 6:25

We're down to our last two days of guest blogging, both covered by me, before our fearless leader returns from her overseas adventures. It will be interesting to see if she comes back as a Cryptic convert.

Lots of good puzzles today, a Quarfoot themeless in the Times, a juicy non-Warrior Friday Sun, a solid WSJ from Randy Ross, a pun-filled Reagle extravaganza (which I'll blog about tomorrow), and two variety puzzles from Trip.

I'll start with the Sun tonight because there's so much good stuff to talk about in that one.

NY Sun, "Unqualified" by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon

So, you know Lee and Nancy must have died when they saw last Thursday's LAT, a "No ifs, ands, or buts" theme. But they have nothing to worry about because this puzzle is a much superior execution of the same theme. I don't mean to put down the LAT puzzle, but it's informative to compare the two instances of the theme and see why Lee and Nancy's is special.

The LAT had four 15 theme entries going straight across. One missing IF, one AND, one BUT and the obligatory NOIFSANDSORBUTS. No intersection of theme entries. The first three entries were straightforward phrases with the word IF, AND, or BUT removed, ie THEOLDMANTHESEA . The missing word was an actual part of the phrase, not a hidden sequence of letters.

In the Sun, there were 7 theme entries of varying lenghts (2 6's, 2 8's, 2 9's with 2 each of a missing IF, AND, or BUT) with NOIFSANDSORBUTS cutting vertically down the middle and intersecting 4 of the themes! A unique theme layout that must have been very challenging to construct. Each theme entry took a well known phrase containing the letter sequence IF, AND, or BUT but not the word itself, and removed those letters to form another phrase, explained by a humorous clue. I find it much more interesting when the result of the theme alteration is a viable phrase in it's own right. Here are the themes:

Get a life => GET ALE, clued as "Order at a pub?" Putting this at 1A helped uncover the theme very early in the solving process.

Wife of Bath => WE OF BATH, "Autobiography by the three men in a tub?"

Panic Buttons => PANIC TONS, "Lose one's head big time?"

Branding Iron => BRING IRON, "What you might do to help a friend with pressing needs?"

Time Bandits => Time Bits, "Nanoseconds?"

and

Butted out => TED OUT, "Headline after Kennedy gave up on his presidential run?"

The last theme entry is probably the weakest since the altered phrase is fairly close to the original, but all in all a great set of entries.

Then on top of an outstandingly well executed theme, we have the Friday level cluing for the rest of the grid. "Silk ingredient" for SOY, "Frank" for RED HOT (I didn't know that a red hot was a hot dog), "It's inspired" for AIR, symmetrical BOOGIE and NOOGIE, identical clues for UGLI and POMELO, finding out an ANORAK isn't just a parka, etc.

Again, I don't mean to put down last week's LAT. It was a well executed midweek puzzle. I just wanted to show why today's Sun was a classic.

NYT, by David Quarfoot

David Quarfoot is quickly becoming the "Thane of the Themeless" (hey, it's way too late and I couldn't think of any other alliterative words for Master). This puzzle was special due to all the entries with non-standard letter combinations: ROEVWADE, CSIMIAMI, RRATING, TMOBILE (what did they do with Catherine Zeta-Jones?), and CCRIDER. One of my favorite albums features STANGETZ. I already admitted to liking the Carpenters, I might as well admit that "Girl from Ipanema" is a favorite as well! This clip is so cheesy, you gotta love it!

The grid is Stumperesque, no entry longer than 8, meaning no breakthroughs from cracking a long answer. Just a slow and steady slog around the grid (the way Stan Newman likes his themelesses over at Newsday). I was sailing through this grid pretty well until I totally hit the wall and came to a dead stop in the SE. I seem to have a really hard time breaking through roadblocks, (note that Howard beat me by a full 2 minutes on this puzzle). To work my way out of the block, I took a stab that the end of 26 down had to be an S. That let me guess SULA for the title character, which led to ATLASES for "Country albums?" and things fell from there. But it seemed like forever before I made progress.

WSJ, "What's Up, Doc?", Randolph Ross

Every theme entry in this puzzle raised a smile. It's a tad inconsistent in that the first six entries are everyday expressions clued in a humorous medical context, ie, "Question from a surgeon?" MAY I CUT IN. Then the last two entries switch to puns, "Compliment to an acupuncturist?" A JAB WELL DONE. But I enjoyed this one a lot.

LAT, by Alison Donald

Things don't quite seem to click on this one ("Traitor's smile" CROSS BEAM) until you get to 49A and see that the word DOUBLE needs to go in front of each theme answer. Then everything falls in place. Nice payoff moment.

CrosSynergy, "Give Bees a Chance", by Will Johnston

WIJ, host of the NYT forum, is one of the very best constructors, and I wish we saw more from him. This puzzle is a good example of why puzzles with titles have a bit of an advantage. The title perfectly motivates the P to B switch theme in a way that an untitled puzzle never could. Will repeats Sarah Keller's CS feat of yesterday, fitting 5 theme entries in a Monday level 15x15. Very impressive.

Trip Payne, Marching Bands

This is a Mike Shenk inspired variety puzzle, of a type often seen in Games Magazine. As long as each letter is part of two entries, the puzzle can be considered a variation on a crossword. My favorite variation is Patrick Berry's "Some Assembly Required" frequently seen in Games or World of Puzzles, which combines crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. In the Marching Bands puzzle, each row contains a sequence of entries, as does each concentric band going around the square. The fun comes in having to work back and forth between the rows and bands, and dealing with going backwards and upside down as you come around the band. You'll see what I mean as you try to solve it.

Trip Payne, Crisscross for Dummies

I remember solving Crisscrosses back when I first started getting Dell Puzzle Magazines as a kid. I haven't done them in a while, so it brought back fond memories to solve this one. Great theme, every entry is a subject covered by a "For Dummies" book. I wonder if Amy bought this prior to her trip. This one is pretty easy, but if you need a starting hint, this should help you with the first horizontal entry.

Oh man, it's way too late and it took me way to long to get this written and posted. Sorry about that everyone, I'll try to get the posting up earlier tomorrow night.

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May 16, 2007

Thursday, 5/17

Continuing the Norwegian theme of this year's ACPT, Norwegians celebrate their Constitution Day, Syttende mai (May 17th) today.

Join the celebration and try to order this typical Norwegian meal at your local diner: lutefisk, rutabaga, meatballs, cranberries, & lefse. (One would think in a land with so much snow, a celebratory meal might have a bit more color to it!)

But you came here for some smack about the puzzles, didn't you...

NY Times, Alan Arbesfeld

Alan had this Tuesday's NY Sun puzzle, "Eye-Catching," where an I was added to both words of two-word phrases (expertly blogged by Barry here).

Today, Alan offers us a rebus puzzle, inspired by the theme entry BOXED SET. (Thursdays at the Times are known as days when "anything can happen," so we were prepared, weren't we?) The four long phrases with SET "boxed" in one square in them are:


SIAME[SET]WINS - [Ones with a family connection?]
HOR[SET]RADERS - [Shrewd bargainers]
LO[SET]RACKOF - [Fail to keep tabs on]
CUR[SET]HEDAY - [Be very, very sorry]

I'm always interested to hear in rebus puzzles, how long it took to figure out it was one, and which entry finally gave it away. For me, I had -SIN for [Takes root] and knew more than one letter had to go into that empty box. It was later when I had BA-EN for [Decimal] in the middle, that I figured out the rebus was SET. (Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, I had RA-EN first, with SPAR for [Bayonet] instead of STAB, thinking of the noun and not the verb, but I quickly recovered.)

Other great clues/entries:

  • [Single, for one: Abbr.] - SYNonym (This puzzle also had TYPO as an entry, which is often clued in a similar way--[Toys for tots] is my favorite, particularly, as someone much smarter than me pointed out, the Y and T are next to each other on the keyboard, making it a likely TYPO someone would make!)

  • FAL[SET]TO as [Much higher than normal]...tough to get with that rebus in there!
  • THE ROSE as [1980 Bette Midler hit] - a great movie, but a title song that got way too much airplay.
  • Alan and Will send a shout-out to Scandinavia on Norway's Constitution Day, with LAPP over OSLO.
  • And finally, a hoorah! for HETERO, clued as [Straight]--as Orange would say, "This ain't your father's Oldsmobile anymore..."

NY Sun, "Themeless Thursday," Karen M. Tracey

I think I finally have Karen Tracey's M.O.--she finds an interesting name (lots of "scrabbly" letters are a must), checks if it's fifteen characters long, and builds a themeless puzzle around it.
A couple of weeks ago, the Belgian jazz guitarist, DJANGO REINHARDT (be sure to try the "Listen Now" link if you're not at work), caught her eye. And today, we are treated to the "modern-day master of suspense," M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN. I learned from this, that the M. stands for Manoj, and his real middle name is Nelliyattu. (I prefer it to "Night," myself...I wonder if he thinks someone is asking him to wear a teddy if he hears "Nighty Night"?)

But our friend M. Night is just the start of great things happening in Karen's puzzle.
We have Barbara Billingsley's forte in the 1980 (sheesh, is it almost 30 years ago?) release of "Airplane," JIVE TALK, opposite [Tina Fey's style],
GEEK CHIC. And slap down the middle, we have "The Boy from Oz," three-time Tony Awards host, HUGH JACKMAN. A dear, dear friend of mine refers to him as "Huge Ass-Man," but I can't see it...)

The celebrity parade continues with (Ed) ASNER, SANDRA (Bullock), AVA (Gardner, these days masquerading as blogster "Linda G"),
(Armand) ASSANTE, HANA (Mandikova), ALEC (Guinness), (Édouard) MANET, and screenwriter ERNEST (Lehman). By my count, 10 of the 70 clues refer to people's names. That's a lot for my taste--I know Orange would be agog with all these celebrities, but hey, I'm in charge around here tonight!

Not all the celebrities in this puzzle are real people. For one, we have the other 15-letter entry, CALVIN AND HOBBES.
(When I first read the clue, I picked out the phrase "Mutant Killers," and wondered which "duo" of Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael or Donatello would fit.) And then there is Mr. Tumnus, the FAUN from "The Chronicles of Narnia."


Some unusual entries too:
  • QUEEG, the captain from 1954's "The Caine Mutiny"
  • ACHTUNG, clued from the U2 album "Achtung Baby"
  • RHUBARB as slang for [Row] and not the pie filling
  • CANASTA as [Basket rummy], the name of which comes from the Spanish for "basket," or the tray the cards are held in
  • QUICKSILVER, a synonym of mercury. (To say someone is "mercurial" is to say they are fickle or erratic in nature.)
  • And continuing our Scandinavian theme today, the city of MALMO, Sweden, third largest in the country, and home to the tallest building in Sweden, The Turning Torso (maybe the name doesn't translate well into English?)
  • My favorite clue [Con, across the Pyrenees], as AVEC, playing on the Spanish and French translations of our word "with."

And I hope by now,
Gentle Solver, no one fell for that old chestnut, [Lab coat ruiner], which was MANGE.

Many thanks for hanging with us guest bloggers. I'm sure I speak for all of us in our appreciation of your comments and a newly found appreciation of how much work goes into maintaining this blog.

Evad

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May 15, 2007

Wednesday, 5/16

John here again one more time. It's been fun being part of the guest blogging squad. I have learned a bunch reading all the posts these couple of weeks, and enjoyed the experience. I also have a special appreciation for the work that the Fiend does each and every day. I thank her for the opportunity, but am also glad to hand back the keys to the palace when she returns.

Without further ado, on to the puzzles!


N.Y. Times Puzzle by Patrick Blindauer

This is one fun puzzle that Patrick (B2) has put together! (Another "Patrick" puz for me to blog.) The cool thing here: you get to solve a puzzle and play a game at the same time.

The game is TIC TAC TOE (I admit it, I play for a tie), and each makes an appearance as the start of a 10-letter theme answer: TICKLE PINK, TACHOMETER, TOE THE LINE. Linking them is CHILD’S PLAY (which probably doesn't describe making this puzzle) in the SE corner, and best of all, a 3x3 section in the center filled with Xs and Os. The way it looks to me, the three Xs at 34D [Adult-only] have it.

I had to think a bit about what combination of Xs and Os made [Kisses and hugs, in a love letter], but the only one that makes good sense for the logic of the puzzle is XOO. That’s the way I see it. Any other opinions?

I have a feeling this puzzle will generate some comments (assuming the gods at haloscan cooperate), so I won’t say too much here.

I thought the theme was very well-executed. I vaguely remember seeing TIC-TAC-TOE before, but nothing like this. Elsewhere, I enjoyed the two adjacent [Breakfast spot, briefly] clues (I had IHOP in the wrong place at first), I didn’t mind the bit of geographical obscurity, New Guinea's LAE, and I'm glad to see Ed OTT (the man with the shortest name in baseball history) get into a puzzle every once in a while (the few times when Mel's name needs to be plural).

Sun Puzzle by Pete Mitchell, “Gimme Shelter”

Some titles feel as though they’re added as an afterthought, and some, like this one, feel as though they may have been there at the puzzle’s conception. I like “Gimme Shelter” because it’s a good fit for the theme, without giving away too much, and it brings back memories of my younger days and the many hours I spent listening to the Stones. "Gimme Shelter" is not only an iconic song but also a documentary film that captures one of the more infamous moments in the history of rock.

None of this has anything to do with the puzzle, which is not about the Stones or, for that matter, shelter (at least not of the protection-from-the-elements, fallout, or air-raid variety, if that’s where you were headed). The title alludes to the name we find tucked away in the SE corner, LEE. Hardly a week goes by without seeing LEE in a puzzle somewhere, though only on rare occasion do we see it clued as it’s defined the dictionary: shelter. (Its close cousin ALEE seems to get the “shelter” cluing treatment more often.)

LEE is a popular name, both first and last, and its use as a surname is what ties together the four 15-letter theme entries crossing the grid. Each is a multiword name or phrase with part of the first word being the given name of a famous LEE. So STAND-UP COMEDIAN (deftly clued [Rock, e.g.]) leads to comic book demigod STAN LEE (nice numbers, Spidey). (Fwiw, my RHUD (2nd ed.) says “stand-up” entered the language in the 1580s and “stand-down” in the 1920s, a 340-year gap. No further comment.) The clue [1992, to Queen Elizabeth II] offered me a gimme, ANNUS HORRIBILIS (still a better year for the royals than 1997, if you ask me). Another gimme for the [City in upstate New York with horse racing]; the 15 letters of SARATOGA SPRINGS were fresh in my mind since Florida’s SARASOTA SPRINGS made it into a recent puzzle. Finally, ANGER MANAGEMENT, which was not a gimme since the movie tagline “Feel the love” meant nothing to me. So if you’re keeping score at home, those final three LEEs are ANN, the Shakers lady, SARA, the “Nobody doesn’t like...” girl, and ANG, the Eat Drink Man Woman guy. (Those other LEEs — Spike, Jason, Harper, Peggy, Robert E., and Gypsy Rose — get to watch from the sidelines.)

Otherwise, nothing more than six letters, and none of the high-scoring Scrabble quartet (J, Q, X, Z), but still some fun to be found in the grid. In opposite corners, some tricky letter combos: TBALL (not my first thought for [Activity for young swingers?]) and TVSET [Remote target]. A few lively snippets of dialog: MISS ME? / NO, SIR / OH, DARN. Poor guy? YEAH. And some clever cluing: EEE is [Like a fat mule, perhaps?].

Add to that, if you want to play, the toys. Right smack in the middle is TONKA, and on the lower right, EASY-Bake Oven (which was easy unless you thought it was EZ). Know something these two have in common? This: they are two toys inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame! Who knew there was such a thing? Click away to discover all 36 members, including the dolls (Barbie, G.I. Joe, Raggedy Ann), the board games (Monopoly, Scrabble, Candy Land), and other faves (marbles, jacks, alphabet blocks). What I’d like to know is how the cardboard box got to be in the Toy HOF! If you’re thinking that your Xmas shopping just got a whole lot easier, I wouldn’t bet on Junior being amused. He may end up popping Pop with his POPGUN (which isn’t in the HOF but I liked seeing in the puzzle).

Ink Well Puzzle by Ben Tausig, “A Round 8”

The title here refers to the Magic 8-Ball, the classic kid’s toy that offers indisputable proof that there are more than two ways to answer a yes-no question. There are 20 standard answers, in fact, each written on a face of an icosahedron floating inside a Magic 8-Ball. No word on how Ben decided which three made it into the puzzle, but maybe he followed this procedure. Let’s hope he didn’t drink the blue liquid.

It’s a 70-word grid, fairly open for a themed puzzle, and some excellent selections providing the fill. I liked SKIP A BEAT, GAS RANGE, and REST EASY, along with some clever clues for CHECKERS [Game of kings?] and especially DIPLOMA [Wall paper?].

A couple of other nice touches were the clues for ITO [Judge who Wikipedia calls “regular fodder for crossword puzzles”] and IMIT [“You tagged me...”], the latter avoiding the more commonly used abbreviation.

And if you wonder if the Magic 8-Ball is in the National Toy Hall of Fame, DON’T COUNT ON IT. I can see it being a future inductee, though, and you may get a different answer if you ASK AGAIN LATER. With icon-status and longevity two criteria for selection, I’d say SIGNS POINT TO YES.

Onion A.V. Club Puzzle by Byron Walden

Here’s a before-and-after theme with an added twist. Each of the four theme entries begins with a before-name starting with a double initial. First up we get JJ EVANS, the sitcom character played by Jimmie Walker (this one, not that one) paired with EVANS AND NOVAK, the longtime political columnist team. I can’t help but smile thinking of the “Dy-no-mite” comedian and the pundits together — that’s quite an image — and this was my favorite theme entry. My reaction to the others was similar to Al’s. I wasn’t familiar with the Mister Rogers puppet KING FRIDAY (XIII), and TOP BUTTONS didn’t ring a bell for me either.

Lots to recommend in this puzzle, in any case. The fill is stellar throughout, and I don’t think Byron is capable of making a puzzle without some real sparklers. (Last week at the UCLA event Will Shortz was talking about “lively fill” and he read off about a dozen examples to make his point. They were all in a single puzzle, a themeless of Byron’s from 11/05.) From this week’s Onion: ABOUT A BOY on top of ROY ROGERS, PUSH-UP BRA, BOTTOM LEFT (finishing in the bottom left), names like EMO PHILIPS (extra points for getting both names in), RIGOLETTO, and ANNA MARIA Mozart, and adjacent Down entries in the center, TITIPU, IN TRUTH, and GOES TO / SHOW. That’s lively.

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