September 30, 2007

Monday, 10/1

NYS 3:31
CS 3:10
LAT 2:39
NYT 2:26

October already! How did this happen?

Another week, another Monday puzzle I liked. Allan Parrish's New York Times crossword clears out the JUNK DRAWER, [Location for the ends of the answers to the four starred clues]. I like this twist on the standard "one word in each theme answer is related to the others" theme—it's more fun to link those components based on what they are rather than on what other word they might follow or precede. Here, the FLORIDA KEYS, PIGPENS, TICKER TAPE, and THIRD STRING have all been cluttering up that drawer.

Dominick Talvacchio's New York Sun puzzle skates into the National Hockey League's preseason with "The Icemen Have Arrived." The trio of theme entries end with singular hockey players from the New York metro area: THE LONE RANGER (NY Rangers), a PACIFIC ISLANDER (NY Islanders), and OH GOD, YOU DEVIL (New Jersey Devils). Plenty of longish (6 to 8 letters) Monday fill, including limey slang RIGHTO, ELIXIR and EXHALE with X action, and BUNGLE. (I did not bungle this crossword while solving.) A little bit of supra-Monday stuff, too—XIAN, home of the terra cotta warriors in China; [Silvery salmon] called SMOLT ("A smolt is a juvenile fish. This is the stage where Salmonid becomes physiologically adapted to saltwater and begins its trek to its salt water environment."); and PALS clued slangily as [Peeps]. There's also a double hit of A.A.—[Pooh creator A.A.] MILNE followed by [Ohio city where A.A. was founded] for AKRON.


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword, "Correction Rejection," offers this quip: I MARRIED MR. RIGHT / I CAN NEVER GET HIM / TO ADMIT HE'S WRONG. I dunno about the gender politics in this one. The clue specifies [a wife's remark], but in Massachusetts, Canada, and Europe, a gay man could easily say the same (if he were disposed to making quasi-"Lockhorns" remarks). Then GUYS is clued as [Dates for gals]—except when the guys are dates for other guys. And besides, who says "gals" any more? C'mon, CrosSynergy team—get with the century! Then there's OGLE, clued as [Eyeball an eyeful]—the word (and act) OGLE is so steeped in male privilege, and the clue reduces womankind to no more than "an eyeful," a mere object to be beheld by another. If a woman is beautiful in the forest, does she fail to exist unless there's a man nearby to see her? Putting aside the gender politics, I liked the X, Z, Ks, and J in this grid.

Curtis Yee's LA Times puzzle compiles three "too ___ to ___" phrases from our language—a clean and simple Monday theme. Curtis classes up his Monday puzzle with six longer (8 to 10 letters) entries. Other pluses: Instead of Mao getting a fill-in-the-blank clue for an outmoded transliteration of his name (TSE in so many crosswords), MAOISM is ["Little Red Book" ideology]; nice string of vowels in that word, no? (And crossing MAUI, too.) My husband likes Guinness STOUT, while I prefer ALE ([Darker-than-beer brew]); we don't keep lager in the house. Why, just last night, we both had Newcastle Brown a barbecue joint. What goes better with ribs and jalapeno cornbread than English beer?


September 29, 2007

Sunday, 9/30

PI 10:06
NYT 8:10
BG 7:32
WaPo tba
LAT 7:15
CS 5:55

The Sunday New York Times puzzle by Kelsey Blakley, "Five-String," had one of those themes I didn't pick up on until I hit on the giveaway answer at 17-Down—which just so happened to be in the very last corner I solved. Yes, I just tipped my son off the other day to the AEIOU sequence, but that doesn't mean I'm going to notice them splayed out in a phrase like GAME MISCONDUCT or (an especially nice one) GATHERING CLOUDS ([Sign of coming danger]). I wish I'd filled in that AEIOU sooner, because it would've added an extra fillip of mental action to working out each theme entry. Favorite clues and fill: [Frog's place] for THROAT; NEPHEWS linked to NIECE, in turn linked to AUNTIE Mame; [They may be high before a competition] for HOPES (not COACHES, not PITCHERS, not LINEMEN...); a non–H.G. Wells/Time Machine clue for ELOI, [Patron saint of metalworkers] (Eloi is French for Eligius); [Not skip a beat?] for PATROL, as in a cop or security guard's beat; [Go-go-go] for ENERGETIC; [Key holder?: Abbr.] for FLA (the Florida Keys); [What "dele" means] for theme entry TAKE IT OUT; [Does just all right] for GETS BY; [City of New Orleans operator] for AMTRAK; [Future residents] for medical INTERNS; [Some cliff dwellers] for the no-S plural, HOPI; [Development sites] for UTERI; [Word with bar or color] for CODE; [One-to-one, e.g.] for TIED; and [Repeated cry at a beer blast] for CHUG.

There were some tough words lurking in the midst. [Religious recluse] is an ANCHORITE. A [Derisive gesture] is a SNOOK. I've never heard that one—have you? The last name of [Dan ___, former N.B.A. star and coach] is ISSEL, and dang, that name sounds like an obscure Belgian river. [Biotite and phlogopite] are MICAS. Mica is familiar enough, but phlogopite? Phlogopite is an olive-green mica.

Speaking of minerals, last weekend I bought a polished chunk of labradorite from Madagascar. I love the blue/green iridescence, and this rock would've been a childhood favorite (c'mon, everyone has a childhood favorite semiprecious stone, don't they?) if I'd seen it then. The same rock store sold break-your-own geodes for $6.50 a pound. We bought two and my husband and son took 'em out back to break them open. The hammer and chisel didn't work so well, but tying a geode inside a sock and dropping it from the second-floor balcony provided a satisfying shattering.


My circadian desire for sleep hit while I was solving Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Did I Hear You Right?" Merl plays with sound-sorta-alike phrases, like the Lone Ranger AND HIS TRUSTY PSYCHIC (sidekick) or [Responds to an insult from a circus performer?] for GOES FOR THE JUGGLER (jugular). Over in the fill, there's one completely unfamiliar answer: Most dictionaries don't list AJEE, but this one says it's an adverb, British dialect, see agee. Agee means "to one side; awry." Iffy entry, sure, but what else fits into a _J_E space? AFRO is clued here as [1970s hairdo]—as I said a few days ago, it's also a current hairstyle. One of the fros I saw on Wednesday was in the suburbs, even.

Sunday morning:

Today's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge was constructed by Harvey Estes. One of the other CrosSynergy team members told me this is Harvey's last puzzle for that syndicate, that he's moving on after nearly 400 crosswords for CrosSynergy. Aw, darn! I'll miss his waggish style. What's so playful about Harvey's puzzles? Well, here's some of today's fill: GOES GAGA, SAYONARA, RHUBARB (clued colloquially as [Spat]), CANDY STORE, INSIDE DOPE, and HEY THERE. The more impish clues include [It's got you covered] for DERMIS; ["Kat" prefix, in celeb gossip] for TOM; [Where to end the word "taxi"?] for ON THE DOT; [Mind and then some] for RESENT; [Later alternative] for SAYONARA and also TATA; [It has curved arms] for LYRE (See?); [One who cuts up what others have shot] for FILM EDITOR; [Scoop of dirt, perhaps] for INSIDE DOPE; and [Lab retriever] for IGOR. My husband filched Harvey's book, Crosswords for a Rainy Day, from me last year—I'll have to reclaim it and get my Estes action from the puzzles he left undone.

If you liked Friday's Wall Street Journal puzzle with its NASA missions theme, you will also enjoy Patrick Jordan's Washington Post crossword, "Fifty Years of Space Flight." There are "only" five theme entries, really, but there's a standard number of theme squares—four answers are 21-letter milestones that span the entire grid, and one is 23 letters and stair-steps across the center of the grid. Extra elegance: They're in chronological order from top to bottom. There's also plenty of lively fill, and I liked the cluing style.

Merle Baker's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Big House," presents a confining assortment of eight phrases that end with slang words for "prison." They're a colorful group of words—is it my imagination, or do criminals concoct some of the liveliest slang? There's even a non-theme clue that sounds larcenous but isn't: [Picked locks?] means AFROS. There's a smattering of Scrabbly fill, too—SEXPOT, KNIEVEL, TOQUE, ZANE.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Getting Dissed," adds a DIS- prefix to a word in each theme entry, My favorite examples here were the TV show [after the fall?], WILL AND DISGRACE, and the [Ritual for expelling a lawyer?], DISBAR MITZVAH.


September 28, 2007

Saturday, 9/29

LAT 5:29
NYT 5:10
Newsday 5:07
CS 3:10

Last week on September 19, the New York Sun published a special puzzle, a plus-sized themeless Whopping Weekend Warrior by Henry Hook that editor Peter Gordon has made available to online crossword junkies. It's two to three times larger than the standard 15x15 crossword, and took me about two to three times as long as the typical Friday NYT puzzle, so it's hard, but not dauntingly so. Enjoy!

The Saturday New York Times puzzle by Robert Wolfe is anchored by three lively 15-letter phrases: THAT'S RIDICULOUS! (Which is referenced in the clue for PSHAW at 44-Down.) Then there's HEY, DON'T LOOK AT ME! And in the middle, items of a SENSITIVE NATURE ([Delicacy]). One particularly vexatious little crossing: the [Ring of anatomy] crossing [Land of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"]. Some references suggest that AREOLE means a cactus bud that spawns a spine, while the areola is the anatomical ring (around a nipple or the pupil of the eye). So, is it A or E? Don't know any Jules Verne lands called NED or NAD, but there are plenty of other NEDs out there, so it must be NAD, right? Wrong. It's the non-nipple AREOLE crossing the character NED Land. Icky crossing there. (20,000 Leagues isn't the only '50s Disney live-action movie referenced in this puzzle. Apparently SAL MINEO was a ["Tonka" star, 1958]. Before my time! As was Mort SAHL, [Joke writer for many Kennedy speeches], but at least Sahl comes up in crosswords more than Tonka or Ned Land.)

Favorite and/or toughest clues/answers: [Slip covers?] means BLEEPS. [Boy in the "Rose Is Rose" comic strip] for CLEM (who?). Today's ERICA isn't an actress but rather, [African evergreen shrub]. What's [Like VCRs in the 1970s]? They were NEW then. [Lead, e.g.] is ROLE—I like clues with ambiguous words like lead, which can be a noun, a metal, a verb, and an adjective. [Boring people] are those who bore holes: DRILLERS. (Who are these drillers? Technically, there are well drillers and whatnot—but also minor-league football and baseball teams from oil country.) [Some husk contents] clues the uncommon singular OAT. What the heck's an E-BOAT? Apparently the Germans called it an S-boot or Schnellboot, meaning fast boat, but the WWII Allies called it an E-boat, possibly E for "enemy." I like the cross-reference between DIVAS and OPERA; wonder how many people had DIVAS first and followed their crossword instincts to ARIAS instead of OPERA. I don't know ["Piece of My Heart" singer Franklin], ERMA, but Wikipedia tells me she was Aretha's sister. Oh! Not a fan of the spelling TEENTSY (though I like how it's clued with the adjective [Minute])—I prefer teensy. Last, there's the [Comment before turning in]: I'M TIRED. And so to bed.


I enjoyed Doug Peterson's Newsday themeless—I think he constructs about one Saturday Stumper a month, but I wouldn't mind seeing more than that. Sterling fill—RAPUNZEL, LEE J. COBB, PAPYRUS, phrases such as ON IN YEARS, EASED IN, ADDED ONTO, and LEERING AT. Favorite clues: [King or Queen] for NOVELIST (I started with ROYALIST, which shares five letters); [Clear drifts] for PLOW (I was reading "clear" as an adjective, not verb); [Cant] for JARGON; [Blissful] for ELYSIAN; [Most letters, in DC] for STS (streets in our capital); [Crack] for SUPER; [Shark territory] for WEST SIDE (from West Side Story, not Discovery Channel's Shark Week); [Part of a trailer] for a movie SCENE; [Equation element] for the nonspecific SYMBOL; [Auto debut of '86] for ACURA (I guessed crosswords' favorite Olds, ALERO); and [Like crazy] for A LOT. I like EGADS—and now my son does, too, having encountered "Egads!" and "Gadzooks!" in a graphic novel for kids.

Another Robert Wolfe puzzle today, in the LA Times. As was mentioned at the NYT forum, both of his themeless crosswords today use the same grid, but the fill is entirely different. One answer did pop out faster thanks to my post-solving Googling of stuff in the NYT puzzle. Last night, I saw that Jules Verne published his Twenty Thousand Leagues book in 1870, so with a few crossing letters, VERNE worked for [Author of "Paris in the 20th Century," an 1863 novel first published in 1994]. That book is a dystopian look at future Paris from the 1863 vantage point; the main character "graduates with a major in literature and the classics, but finds they have been forgotten in a futuristic world where only technological writing is valued." The trio of 15s in this puzzle are OBEDIENCE LESSON ([Opportunity to learn to speak]), STOOD ON CEREMONY ([Demanded formality]), and ROTTEN TO THE CORE ([All bad]). a [Heck of a person] is a GEM; this makes me think, "Brownie, you're a gem." [Dangerous carrier] is the TSETSE fly; would an airline sue if its name were clued that way? Too bad GO BY is a two-word phrase ([Pass]), when we have the fish called GOBY, complete with a sucker fin. [Sites of small mirrors] means VISORS, as in the car, not PURSES or DENTIST'S OFFICES. [Do a makeup job?] is ATONE. Here, [Tiny] is MICRO (which I like better than TEENTSY in the NYT). ERSE is a [Language heard on Cape Breton Island], which is...where, exactly? It's part of Nova Scotia, and plenty of people there are of Scottish descent, hence the Gaelic or ERSE. Anyone else get slowed down by answering [Loses it all] with GOES NUTS rather than the correct GOES BUST?

Easy CrosSynergy puzzle from Mel Rosen—"Rail Splitting" splits the R from the AIL with intervening letters in four phrases. That's not a theme type that does much for me. I guess it's helpful if you're trying to make an easy crossword—if the solver figures out how the theme works, she can fill in at least the first and last letters of each theme entry. But such themes lack surprise or wit, no?



The American Heritage Dictionary is encouraging bookstores to hold Define-a-Thons between October 8 and 14. (They're like spelling bees, only you're given a definition and four words, and you have to identify which word was just defined.

Check the comments at Erin McKean's post to see if there's already one scheduled in your area. If your city isn't represented, feel free to ask your local bookstore to host a Define-a-Thon.


September 27, 2007

Future crosswordese alert

At the Emmys on September 16, Ali Larter of Heroes wore a red satin gown designed by Reem Acra. Is she any good, this designer? Apparently Marcia Cross's Desperate Housewives character got married in an Acra dress, Halle Berry wore Acra at Cannes, and Acra's designs have been featured in Vogue and W magazines.

REEM? ACRA? Seems like those could both come in handy for crossword constructors.


Friday, 9/28

NYS 8:30 (a Sun PDF this time
NYT 5:56
LAT 5:23
9/14 CHE 5:15
CS 3:14
Jonesin' (untimed)

WSJ 6:38

When I solved Byron Walden's Friday New York Sun puzzle, "Joint Custody," the theme managed to elude me despite the title sending a clear message. Well, not so clear, because joint custody has nothing to do with anatomical joints, and the theme does, and yes, I admit to asking the constructor for a hint about what the theme was. The gimmick is that four answers travel clockwise around the grid's corners, and where the bend is, there's a joint embedded within the corner answer. So 22-Clockwise is a dog's TRAVEL BOWL, 5-Clockwise is STUCK NEEDLES IN, 43-Clockwise is SUSHI PLATTER, and 55-Clockwise is CRANK LETTERS. 20-Down offers a hint about the theme: in order to find the hidden joints, you must GO ON A BENDER. The rest of the puzzle has a themeless vibe to it—tough answers, tough clues. Favorite clues: [Hookers on the strip?] for VELCRO brand hook-and-loop fasteners; [Shift worker?] for MODISTE; [Dialed up?] for SOAPED; [It might carry rock and roll] for a mine TRAM; [Course pro?] for TUTOR; the unappetizing [Spotted dick ingredient] for SUET; [Correct beginning?] for HARD C and [Correct ending] for -IVE; and the aerobic CARDIO for [Spinning, e.g.].

Tough words: Well, for starters, there's TOUGHIE, clued as [It resists cracking]. [Place of confinement for the fire-breathing Typhon, in mythology] is the ever-popular Mt. ETNA. [Nursling] is an unfamiliar word for TOT or "carefully nurtured person or thing." TRETORN tennis shoes were popular among the preppy crowd in the '80s; I didn't know it was a [Swedish sneaker brand]. A [Meteoric stone that can be carbonaceous] is a CHONDRITE. Guess what? Four years ago, my hometown got walloped by incoming chondrites, some zooming through rooftops and windows but most landing on the ground harmlessly. A KILOCURIE is a [Unit of radioactivity]? I'm sure it is. ERBIUM is [Element #68], and I don't have a clue what it's good for.

Fun entries: the DIVINYLS, [Band with the 1991 hit "I Touch Myself"] (lyrics here, video here—I don't know this song because by 1991, I was three years past college and too cool for current pop music); EVAN BAYH getting promoted from last-name-that-helps-a-constructor-finish-the-corner to full name; the cross-referenced OBLADI and OBLADA.

(P.S. Did you happen to notice that the black squares in this 14x15 grid aren't placed symmetrically?)

Moving along to the unthemed New York Times crossword by Harvey Estes—A couple answers came extra quickly after they appeared in other crosswords this week: astrologer Sydney OMARR, whose column I read when I was a kid, and the [Pacer maker: Abbr.] of carmaker AMC. It took some time to piece together the two triple-stacks of 15-letter entries, even though LEAVES A BAD TASTE came to mind quickly—I blame 5-Down, [Large accounts?] I knew what the clue was getting at, but opted for SAGAS instead of EPICS and thus questioned my 1-Across ideas. The other long ones are ART APPRECIATION ([Class in which various schools are discussed]), BY TRIAL AND ERROR, the lovely ESCAPE MECHANISM ([Daydreaming, e.g.], DEAD AS A DOORNAIL, and (out of character with those five lively phrases) the blah ASSESSMENT ROLLS ([Records of interest to real estate agents]).

Toughest and/or most beloved clues (the two are often synonymous for me): [Distillation location] for LAB (I was thinking moonshine, as in BEAM, the [Bit of moonshine]). An [Adolescent outburst] may be ACNE. [Initials of a noted "Wizard"] means TAE, Thomas Alva Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park (no known Harry Potter connection). [Go downhill] means ATROPHY (not SKI!). [Drive along leisurely] is TOOTLE (really!). The old word LEGIST means [Expert in ancient law]. A bed SHEET is a [Retiree's coverage?]. The automotive term for a bad [Front wheel divergence] is TOE-OUT. RICE is [Something needed for your sake]. An unfamiliar name is referenced for ERICAS: [Lois Lane player Durance and others]. From the original Superman show? Nope: From Smallville. I don't know about [Didn't paw] for FONDLED; unwelcome fondling would still be pawing, no?

Other worthy entries: ATTAGIRL; VARMINT; ["30 Rock" creator] TINA FEY (that was my favorite TV show last season—season 2 begins next Thursday night, and you can get caught up on last season via DVD); the [Emphatic turndown] I MEAN NO; and FRIEDA, the [Curly-haired "Peanuts" character].


By the way, I asked Byron to tell us a little about the construction of his oddball Sun puzzle. Watch for that later today in the comments.

Anthony Salvia's Sept. 14 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Arts Trek," presents four 15-letter works of art (a painting, symphony, novel, and play) that include parts of our solar system in the title. As with most CHE crosswords (deftly edited by Patrick Berry), the fill is interesting and the clues are smart—maybe a touch more literary and scientific literacy is called for, but there's still a smattering of pop culture. If you like tougher themed crosswords, you should make a point of solving this one each week. I download it on Fridays from, where the puzzle from two weeks before is posted. If you've missed some, Will Johnston's calendar page has all the Chronicle puzzles from 2007.

Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle is excellent, too. The theme entries include puns with Japanese words. [Boozy Japanese woodworker?] plays on Karen Carpenter and Kirin beer: KIRIN CARPENTER. A few favorite clues: [Baba not au rhum] for ALI Baba; [Four spot?] for a spot of TEA at 4:00; [It might land you in deep water] for DIVE; and [Newtonian fruit?] for FIG newtons.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle has four phrases starting with words that can follow MEAT. Meat MARKET ANALYST, fine. Meat LOAF OF BREAD and meat BALL BEARING, savory. Meat HOOK AND LADDER, though...I don't want to think about meat hooks!

The Matt Jones puzzle I solved last week, concurrent with the launch of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is this week's Jonesin' puzzle, "In the Language." The theme entries are words that have been added to this new edition of the SOED. If you didn't make time for the puzzle last week, now's your chance!

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Launch Time," includes nine NASA missions in the theme entries. The resulting batch of phrases is crisp: FREDDIE MERCURY and JUPITER, FLORIDA share space with VIKING PRESS, for example. Easier than most WSJ puzzles, too—it can be fun to zip through a puzzle faster than you were expecting.


September 26, 2007

Thursday, 9/27

LAT 7:58
NYS 4:06
CS 3:58
NYT 3:39

Is it cheating if you're solving Peter Wentz's New York Times crossword online and look at the keyboard for answers? The first theme answer I happened to fill in was the last one, the one that gave away the gimmick: [What is being held in] the other four theme answers is THE SHIFT KEY. Shift [7] is the AMPERSAND, shift [1] is EXCLAMATION MARK, shift [3] is POUND SIGN (that's the one I looked at the keyboard for), and shift [90] is PARENTHESES on the 9 and 0 keys. Hooray for the clue [It's rarely seen under a hat] for AFRO—I saw two people (one man, one kid) sporting afros today, so I'm glad not to see another clue referencing the '60s or '70s. Other clues/answers I liked: DOT EDU ([End of many college addresses]—DOTEDU is crazy-looking without the space); ["Another Green World" musician] for ENO (because that's the Brian Eno album I bought in college); ONE GIG flash drive; MISSOURI; MOLIERE, the [Pseudonym of Jean Baptiste Poquelin]; the [Damned one], ANATHEMA; SCREECH (alas, not clued as the Saved by the Bell character, which I guess the average NYT reader should be proud not to know); MOVE ON (alas, not clued with; [Kind of card] for AMEX; and [Skittles variety] for SOUR (my son and I were perusing the candy shelves at a convenience store just this afternoon, and I beheld this abomination).

Patrick Berry's New York Sun puzzle is a comparatively easy "Themeless Thursday" (relative to other themeless puzzles). A beautiful swath of white squares in the center of the grid, no? Four 14-letter answers spinning around the middle anchor everything else. I always like a Z, and this puzzle has two: ZAMBONI crossing DOOZIE is particularly zesty. Plenty of favorite clues and answers, starting with Alan SMITHEE, the pseudonym directors of (some) crap movies use to hide their involvement. Then there's ROSEY Grier, who was in Free to Be You and Me singing "It's All Right to Cry" to show kids that big men are OK with crying. [Machete descendant] is UKE? I need to look that up. Ukuleles started out as Portuguese instruments called machetes, brought to Hawaii by Portuguese recruited to work in the sugar cane fields. The [Dental problem] CARIES is plain ol' tooth decay. [Round containers] (for GUNS) plays on the multiple meanings of "round"—the adjective that comes to mind here, and the noun that has to do with ammunition. Tricky! And [Pentathlete's equipment] sounds sporting, but it's another firearm answer: PISTOL. [They get depressed] refers to PEDALS, not tongues or mopey people. ORE is a [Dirty money source]. [Stud, e.g.] is an EARRING. [Elastic band?] is TUBE TOP. LOL is [What might be sent to a card on the computer?] Today, I saw some playground graffiti punctuated with a handwritten "LOL!!!" Gosh, how did people ever convey amusement to strangers passing by later before LOL was invented?

Updated, briefly:

No time to write much today. Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle has theme entries starting with SQU, but I don't really see what the theme is. Can someone explain?

I was completely out of sync with Ray Fontenot's cluing in the LA Times crossword. First off, it's a quip puzzle, and that usually puts a bad taste in my mouth. And then I got completely mired in the bottom midsection. [Mother of Sorrow, in an 1891 novel] is TESS? That seems needlessly arcane, particularly for a themed Thursday puzzle and particularly when it crosses the quip. [Blender setting] is CHOP? Accurate enough, but there are so many better clues for CHOP that don't lead the solver elsewhere (to, say, WHIP)—and again, crossing the quip, it should be more gettable than that. To the left, [Homecoming stragglers?] are COWS? Hell, I went with POWS and thought, "That's kinda depressing, if accurate." Again, crossing the quip. grumble, mumble


September 25, 2007

Wednesday, 9/26

NYS 4:34
NYT 3:31
LAT 3:25
CS 3:11

Lee Glickstein and Craig Kasper co-constructed the New York Times crossword, but it's hard for an online solver to know that when an unnecessary solving hint obliterates the byline. (The hint is: "Note: The 13 starred clues have something in common." Now, the fact that those clues are starred should be help enough, no? The "hint" adds nothing.) Anyway. The 13 theme entries, 4 to 8 letters apiece (79 letters in all for this theme), are all one-word Broadway musicals, I believe: OLIVER, OKLAHOMA, SPAMALOT, RENT, HAIR, CABARET, EVITA, CANDIDE (When was this on Broadway? Oh, Google tells me 1956, 1974, and 1997. Look for it again in another decade.), AIDA, FAME, CAROUSEL, SHOWBOAT, and KISMET—and none of them clued as musicals. A lovely Wednesday theme that flowed smoothly from start to finish. Some tough words: LAVALIER ([Bejeweled pendant]); COXES ([Regatta crew leaders]); OCULAR as a noun ([Eyepiece]); ALISO [Viejo (California city near Laguna Beach], which is utterly unfamiliar to me; KPAX, the [2001 film set in a mental institution] (Kevin Spacey as a purported alien); the [Ancient garland] called an ANADEM; the [Renaissance instrument] called a REBEC (which I first learned via a Frank Longo crossword); and DSC, because I seldom remember the [U.S. mil. medal] clues. These are a few of my favorite things: [1950s All-Star outfielder Minnie] MINOSO, because he lives four blocks away from me and has a garage parking space right next to my cousin's; the X/Z/K Scrabbly action; the intersection between NEONATAL, [Like some nursery care], and the LAMAZE [Kind of class] that might precede that stage; [Air ___] for JORDAN basketball shoes; and the automotive LYNX and CARAVAN.

Mark Feldman's New York Sun puzzle, "Backdrafts," made me thirsty after I figured out the theme. Having spent some time this afternoon in Crypticland, I was looking backwards within the theme entries for the theme—but really, it's just that a draft of cold beer can be found at the back end of each theme entry. STRIPED BASS goes with Bass Ale, which is (I just learned from Wikipedia) depicted in Manet's A Bar at the Folies Bergère (the bottle with the red triangle at right). I've never heard of the plant called DUSTY MILLER, but Miller beer is, alas, inescapable in America. ONCE IN A BLUE MOON...I once ordered a Blue Moon beer, unaware that it was a Belgian-style wheat beer, and I do not care for witbier, weissbier, or wheat beer. I hated Blue Moon until I added that orange slice, and then it was delicious. (Everything is better with Orange!) The AEOLIAN HARP links to Harp Lager, which is all right but I do prefer darker beers. The theme winds down on the sunny beach with SOLAR CORONA; among Mexican beers, I'll take the Negra Modelo, por favor. I don't know that I want to wash down my SNO-CAPS chocolate nonpareils with any of these libations, but I always like seeing SNO-CAPS on the candy shelf or in the crossword. Other tasty fill: LOWBALL, VAN BUREN, SNUGLI baby carriers, and IT'S PAT.


Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword has six kinds of WEIGHTS (or word components that can precede WEIGHT) at the beginning of the theme entries: FIGHTING, PAPER, FREE, DEAD, HEAVY, and COUNTER. Cool grid, with the 8-letter theme entries stacked (in part) parallel to the 11s and crossing the 10s. Between those and the central 7, every section of the puzzle is hooked to the theme entries. The only eyesore in the fill was [LPGA co-founder Marlene] HAGGE, whose name was unknown to me. Apparently she was a hotshot in her youth and won a Boys Junior title at age 10.

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Tec Support," clues four fictional detectives by saying who helped them with their cases. Nice trivia twist on a category theme.


September 24, 2007

Ogees in action!

All frequent crossword solvers come to learn that an ogee is an S-shaped molding. But how often do they have the opportunity to equip their homes with the ogee motif?

So when I saw the Retro Ogee rug in the Company Store catalog, I knew I had to call it to your attention.

That's an eye-catching pattern, all right.


Tuesday, 9/25

Tausig 4:50
Onion 4:36
NYS 3:39
LAT 2:58
NYT 2:46
CS 2:42

Dave Sullivan (a.k.a. Evad) passed along a link to the Boston Globe story about a marriage proposal lurking in the theme of Sunday's puzzle. Not the crossword available in Across Lite last weekend—one we non-Bostonians will see in a few weeks. Or you can print it out now if you can't wait that long. Cute story!

The theme in Raymond Hamel's New York Sun crosswords hits smack-dab in the middle of my pop-culture sweet spot: late '70s to early '80s TV and music. In this case, it's the TV show THREE'S COMPANY and a trio of theme phrases ending with words that are also the last names of the show's wacky trio. The fictional Jack Tripper, Chrissy Snow, and Janet Wood shared an apartment, and DAY TRIPPER, DRIVEN SNOW, and PETRIFIED WOOD share a crossword. Who remembered Janet's last name? Anyone? (Not me.) Ahh, pop culture. Great fill around the theme, too—I KNEW IT, DIM SUM, BOYCOTTED, and more. Best Roman numeral clue in ages: [Half of DCXX]. The answer's not 305 at all, but rather, the letters called EXES.

Randall Hartman's New York Times puzzle seemed a little easier than Monday's. The theme is food-related transportation: the APPLE CART and BANANA BOAT, the TURNIP TRUCK I surely did not fall off of, and the gross combo of MEAT WAGON (slang for ambulance) and GRAVY TRAIN. (Not a fan of gravy...or meat.) I like how the theme entries are all clued with reference to their colloquial usage. Favorite inedible bits: ["Phooey!"] for DANG IT (I first put in DARN IT, which left the BIG TEN looking like BINTEN), and [Mingle (with)] for RUB ELBOWS.


Don Gagliardo's LA Times puzzle runs BLANKETY-BLANK (as in "no-good so-and-so") down the middle with three other (blank)ETY-(blank)s crossing it: a "high MUCKETY-MUCK," YAKETY-YAK, and BUMPETY-BUMP. The latter is clued as [Sound of a smitten heart], but I think it goes better with [Sound of a cratered road]. Don't hearts go "pit-a-pat" rather than "bumpety-bump"? Good puzzle, anyway.

The theme in Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy was a little hard to tease out at first. "Movie Ratings" includes three movie titles that start with GOOD, BETTER, and BEST—except the first movie's first word is GOODBYE, so that gave me pause. Sometimes solvers must provide their own cheesy pop-culture references. [Welcoming gesture] is OPEN ARMS...which is also a Journey song from 1982. Here's a concert clip—bad sound, bad picture, but you can still make out the super-tight jeans the whole band is wearing with their odd shirts.

And again:

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is a barrel of fun. The theme entries are pairs of websites in which the first one has become a verb. You can, for example, GOOGLE WIKIPEDIA or MAPQUEST AMAZON corporate headquarters. Fresh theme, and it gets some unusual letter combos into the puzzle. This crossword is quite conversational, too—WOULDJA give me a BLEEPIN' break? I think I DID OK ON the exam, but it's been a LONG DAY, and I'm starving 'cause I ATE LESS for breakfast today. New clue for the old slang interjection, NERTS: [Card game alternately known as "pounce"]. Never heard of the card game, but appreciate the arrival of a new NERTS clue on the scene.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Short Cuts," gives the theme entries the CDB treatment, only signals it with [in a txt msg?]. PSYCHIC NRG = energy, XQZ MOI = excusé, ME WINNERS = Emmy, NE TIME = any, PUBLIC NME = enemy, and SA QUESTION - essay. Highlights: That XQZ string in one of the theme entries (with decent crossing words in that section), plus several other Scrabbly outposts; slangy 'TUDE and SPEX and TPING (toilet-papering); and the musical O-TOWN and P-FUNK. Unfamiliiar name: David WAIN, actor in The State.


September 23, 2007

Monday, 9/24

CS 3:45
LAT 3:16
NYS 2:56
NYT 2:46

I missed noting a couple blog milestones: Earlier this month, I published my 1,000th post. And June marked my second bloggiversary. Really? Just two years? Feels like three. And I mean that in a good way.

Fred Piscop's Monday New York Times crossword strikes me as what a Monday puzzle should strive to be—answers that sparkle, a fun theme, easy clues, and only a couple of the sort of words (e.g., Nita NALDI) that crossword junkies know but new solvers don't. The theme answers are super-fresh: HERE'S JOHNNY, THERE'S NO "I" IN TEAM, and WHERE'S WALDO. (I'm not sure how to describe the theme, exactly, but I like the trio it includes. "Johnny, Waldo, and I are all over the place"?) The fill includes all sorts of goodies: "I'D SAY" is beautifully colloquial, as are "PLAY ME, Coach," NOT A WHIT, IN BAD, and TOWNIE. A few unusual letters in PIQUE and ZEN and VENAL. SUEDE, PACMAN, SMITH, and OLDIE also lend a little zing.

Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle is a little fancy for a Monday—look at those two corners packed with 7-letter answers! But the clues were easy enough that I filled in the theme answers without noticing what the theme was. "Unfinished States" hints that the states aren't finished, and indeed the theme entries end with MASS(achusetts), PENN(sylvania), HIT OR MISS(issippi), HAND-WASH(ington), and TAKES THE CONN(ecticut). Highlights in the non-theme answers: WEBCAMS, CZECH, ZIPS UP, HIPPO, MY HERO, and BAGEL. MANILA, [Capital of the Philippines], reminds me of the Ken Burns' WWII documentary episode I watched part of tonight. Absolutely heartrending...and I don't think I can bring myself to watch any more.

Kudos to Messrs. Piscop and Arbesfeld (and Shortz and Gordon) for a stellar pair of Monday crosswords.


Diane Baldwin's LA Times goes negative with three spoken phrases: "NOT HAPPENING!" "DON'T EVEN GO THERE." "IN YOUR DREAMS!" Yep, this theme is putting out a lot of attitude, and I don't like its tone of voice. (That's a lie—it's a fun theme.) I love goofy old words like FOLDEROL ([Nonsense]), don't you? Our language is especially rich in oddball words that mean "nonsense" (claptrap, tommyrot) or a "to-do" (kerfuffle, brouhaha, ruckus, donnybrook). The clue for ORGY cracked me up: [Sexy party]. I...guess that's apt enough, but "sexy party" seems to downplay the orgiastic aspect a tad, doesn't it?

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Taking Classes at Pun State," offers puns on possible college classes. Photojournalism and physical education become FRODO JOURNALISM and FISCAL EDUCATION, for example. (Groan.) The puzzle probably wasn't any harder than the other Monday puzzles, but my mother was asking me questions while the clock was running. V. distracting!


September 22, 2007

Sunday, 9/23

LAT 9:05
NYT 8:25
WaPo 7:55
BG 7:28
PI 7:08
CS 5:28

Must be comparatively brief in my blogging tonight, as I am trying to summon up the willpower to continue working on a freelance project when I would really like to retire to the sofa and veg out. My procrastinatorial skills are the stuff of legend, however, so we'll see how the evening plays out.

The New York Times crossword by David Levinson Wilk, "Flip-Flops," is not about footwear. Rather, the nine theme entries all take "X for Y" phrases and invert the X and Y. Thus, "bob for apples" becomes APPLES FOR BOB, [Dylan not liking Dell computers?]. [What scientists working for Gatorade have?] is a KNOWLEDGE FOR THIRST. Plenty of good fill seasons the grid: JUMBO-SIZE, UNKEMPT, JUGGLE, HENRY I, APARTHEID, and OOMPAH. Didn't really know that a PARTERRE is a [Rear seating section in a theater], or that PANAM was the airline involved in [The Beatles arrived in New York in 1964 on this]. [Develop anacusis] means GO DEAF. Did you know that [A bird flying by on the right, to the Greeks] was a GOOD OMEN? I didn't. DEBRIS is clued as [Ruins]; how come I never see it clued in relation to Mother's biscuits and debris?

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Pre-K Class," tacks a K onto the end of each theme entry. The funniest of these is ATTILA THE HUNK: [Story of a famous conqueror, Hollywood-style?]. Other morsels I enjoyed: STAN LEE, the U.S.S. IOWA, TAKE ILL, and a GAS BILL; the Charles in Charge two-fer of Willie AAMES and Scott BAIO; [The common type?] for ROMAN (as in not bold, not italics); and [Some kind of nerve] for OPTIC.

Jim Page's Washington Post crossword, "For the Birds," is laden with bird-related puns. Favorite bits: J.C. WATTS and BRUCE LEE as full-name entries; [Port, e.g.] for RED WINE; [Pontificate], the noun, for HOLY SEE; and the quaint DESCRIED ([Caught sight of]). Most confusing and then most alarming: [Like some ants] for ALATE. When I didn't have all the letters yet, I just couldn't see what it wanted to be. Then the crossings told me it was ALATE. ALATE? Oh, alate, as in "having wings." Ew! Flying ants! Hate those things.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Mouthing Off," has a bunch of theme entries that pertain to smiles, with the :-D emoticon included in each of those clues. I don't quite know how I finished the puzzle as quickly as I did, given the number of letters I just plain guessed on. [Author de la Roche] is MAZO? Okay. [Spiritual powers] are CHARISMATA, crossing the COCOS, an [Indian Ocean island group] whose name wasn't coming readily to mind. OSH is a [Kyrgyzstan city]? Okay. That one's crossing the [Provincial ruler], an ETHNARCH, also not a word I've seen. [Plants adorning Corinthian columns] are ACANTHI; I've seen the singular acanthus, and didn't know of the plant's classical connection. [Louis' "That Old Black Magic" partner] is KEELY? Is that a first or last name? (One of the E's crosses the very small [Minnesota city], ELY, and the K crosses FSK, Francis Scott Key's initials). And there's a [River near Nairobi] called the ATHI? All righty. I'd Google these mystery words and provide links, but I'm trying not to procrastinate too much. In any event, the act of writing these down helps them find a crack in my brain to sneak into, so if they show up on a tournament crossword, I may be ready.


Ashish Vengsarkar shows that he's not limiting himself to making Sunday puzzles with never-before-seen themes, and he's willing to also make a crossword with an add-a-letter theme. In today's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Tee Time," he adds a T to the end of the first word in each multi-word phrase. Boy, I hope there was an alternate clue for CLOSET ENCOUNTERS, because [Fashion designers' secret meetings?] doesn't let that answer reach its full potential. I liked the [Eft?] graduating from fill to clue, for NEWT BEGINNING (efts being wee young salamanders, basically). Speaking of wee young things, the RUNT OF THE MILL is a [Tiny factory mascot?]. My enjoyment of the puzzle was dampened somewhat by a few out-there entries, but you know me—I see something that seems obscure, I make a note of it and try to remember it for future use. [One 60-trillionth of a minute] is a PSEC, presumably picosecond, displacing the more commonly seen (in crosswords) NSEC or nanosecond. I don't care for that one picowhit. ALOW sits atop NEVE, the granular snow, both crossing NOVI Sad. ORNITHIC ([Avian]) is inferrable, but not a form of the word I encounter. It crosses a T-SLOT, [Letter-shaped opening]. Throw in an ECU and AZO and ULLA, On the bright side, [What cheese has that pâté doesn't?] actually managed to stump me for a bit—it's a SILENT E. And there's BONSOIR, THE STREET, the RAT PACK—good stuff.

Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy doesn't have the funny/twisty sort of clues I love so much, but it does have terrific fill. Two long answers stacked atop DERANGEMENT are GENTLEMAN'S C (with that tricky ending) and "I'LL BE DAMNED," and that's a beautiful corner. The lower left corner has a BANANA SEAT. (Remember the Schwinns that were hot in the '70s? The Stingray for boys, the Fair Lady for my big sister, the Lil Chik for me—there's a secondhand bike shop in my neighborhood that specializes in vintage Schwinns, and I slow down and gaze every time I walk past the window.) At the lower right, a [Las Vegas winner] is MISS AMERICA, who's having ENDIVE SALAD and DESSERT WINE (I recommend a nice Moscato, personally). The upper right features the GLITTERATI and SWEETIE PIE crossing a POWER TIE. Good stuff.


September 29 crossword tournament near Cleveland

If you live in the Cleveland area, head to Shaker Heights next Saturday morning for a crossword tournament! Proceeds will benefit the the Shaker Heights High School Latin Club. Hey, if you do well, you might even win a copy of my book, How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

What: SHHS Latin Club Crossword Tournament
When: Saturday September 29 from 9:30 to noon
Where: Shaker Heights High School, 15911 Aldersyde Drive, Shaker Heights OH 44120
Cost: $8 ($10 day of tournament)
Format: 3 preliminary rounds & 1 final round
Puzzles: Not-yet-published early-week NYT crosssword puzzles, courtesy of Will Shortz

Registration info can be found at here.


September 21, 2007

Saturday, 9/22

NYT 5:59
LAT 5:05
CS 4:36
Newsday 4:02

Mark Diehl's Saturday New York Times crossword nudged me off to a good start. 1-Across, [Mad magazine feature], too long to be "foldout"...must be SPY VS SPY because that would make a stellar 1-Across. The Y at the end launched the 15-letter [Daredevil's creed], which had to be YOU...YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. The rest of it unrolled gradually from those entries, though it was the whole SPY VS SPY corner that I finished last. That 15-letter answer sprawling down the center was just too tempting a starting point for me to stay in the upper left. There were a few other gimmes: COCCI are [Spherical bacteria] (the name's derived from the Greek for "berries" because, well, look at 'em); ["Happy Days" catchphrase] is SIT ON IT ("Up your nose with a rubber hose," of course, was the catchphrase from Welcome Back, Kotter); ["The Partridge Family" actress], 3 letters, gotta be Susan DEY; [Dobby or Winky, in Harry Potter] is ELF (I don't know Winky, but Dobby's a house elf); and [Source of lecithin] is SOYBEAN (approximately eight gazillion ingredient labels list "soya lecithin"). My best wrong answer: deciding that [Providers of peer review?] meant EYETEETH rather than EYE TESTS.

What answers and clues did I like best? What ones led me astray? I'll tell you. First, the Acrosses. THE NATION has been a [Weekly since 1865]. [Martin of Hollywood] isn't Steve or Short or Mull or Landau or Mary, but PAMELA SUE (Nancy Drew of '70s TV!); mmm, love the '70s TV pop culture (see SIT ON IT, above, and the General LEE from Dukes of Hazzard). [Falls apart] is TANKS, while military vehicles are summoned up more directly with [Hum follower?], VEE. I was just musing to myself about what middle initial [1990 N.F.L. running back Curtis] ENIS might have: his middle name is Paul! Yes, I giggled when I saw that. [Keep in order] is POLICE, but first I tried POLISH, which just won't work. Many deplore the "Kind of ___" variety of clue (as in "Kind of anemone" for SEA—there's such a thing as a sea anemone, but a sea is not a kind of anemone). This puzzle's got [Kind of state] as a clue for SATELLITE, and here it works perfectly—while satellite state is a familiar term, one of the definitions of satellite is "a nation dominated politically and economically by another nation." [Rest stops] are SANATORIUMS; the difference between sanatorium and sanitarium is those two vowels, but the meaning is the same and I'm guessing somebody misspelled it eons ago and both spellings stuck. A single BISCOTTO (singular of biscotti) is [One use for anise], but I happen to think anise should have no uses. [Mountain climber's need] makes you think you need to remember arcane equipment names, but no: it's just ENDURANCE.

Moving to the Downs: ST PETER is indeed a [Figure in many jokes]. Love the word PHALANX ([Troup group]). [London's Covent Garden and others: Abbr.] = STAS, and that was the first Underground station I ever ascended from (by elevator, or rather, can take the stairs but must climb 193 of them). CBS SPORTS is another terrific entry—look, only one vowel in the whole thing! Between that and SPY VS SPY, Mark Diehl is showing off a little. Ooh, CRAPPIE! The [Small sunfish]. It's pronounced "croppy," my dad always said. New word for me: [Cantillates] means INTONES (like a cantor?). Fun clue: [When the kids are out] is NAPTIME. I was thinking of fast food for [Old drive-in fare], but needed to think movies: an OATER. [Chooses] is nicely vague as a clue for ANOINTS. NEWSDAY is [Part of the Tribune Company], apparently—it was part of Times-Mirror when I worked for a subsidiary, but later Tribune bought the LA Times and its sister properties, as I recall. Oceanic [Current events around Christmas] are EL NINOS (which can be plural because these weather phenomena occur every year or two, don't they?). Another funny clue: [Kind of crystals] sounds geologic or chemical, but it's those damned FOLGERS coffee "crystals." What are those, the product of ground coffee geodes rather than beans? My kid just got a handout at school that indicated the editing symbols like the CARET ([Addition sign]), triple-underline for uppercase, slash for lowercase, the dele mark—I say second grade is the perfect time to introduce these things. [It's hard to walk on] goes podiatric with CORN.


Today's CrosSynergy crossword by Bob Klahn, "Heap of Trouble," features a 75-letter "observation"—five 15-letter chunks of a quote occupying a full third of the grid. Classically deft Klahn cluing plus a quip/observation I haven't seen before make for a nice, knotty solve that gave my mind a good morning workout.

In their themeless LA Times puzzle, Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke layer the grid with five 15-letter entries. The first and last Across answers are fun ones—a LAVA LAMP and a [Sly comment?] (as in Sly Stallone), YO ADRIAN. Good puzzle here.

Dan Stark's Newsday puzzle, a 72-worder, is pretty easy for a themeless crossword. Pretty straightforward clues, no answers longer than 8 letters, lots of answers that are ordinary words rather than colloquial phrases.


September 20, 2007

Friday, 9/21

NYS 8:50
LAT 6:24
NYT 5:48
CHE I dunno, 4:00-ish?
Jonesin' 3:22
CS 3:19

WSJ 7:43

Okay, commencing blogging with sentence fragments owing to freelance work time crunch.

Loved Byron Walden's tasty and asymmetrical Weekend Warrior from the New York Sun. Terrific Scrabbly fill: RAN INTO A BUZZSAW and AL JAZEERA crossing BJ AND THE BEAR, SQUARE ROOT, and the apt PUZZLE OUT. Plenty of lively entries, both words we don't often see in crosswords and fresh phrases: DEWCLAWS, mind like a STEEL TRAP, PHOTO OPS (not merely [Photo ___]), actress LINDA EVANS with a project I didn't know she did, and a touch of geography with YEREVAN (the [Capital on the Hrazdan River]—and that's in Armenia). My favorite clues: [Mustard, for example] = COLONEL; [Taster's choice?] = WINE BAR; the noun [Conduct] = PS AND QS; [Julian I] = EGO (as in Latin first person singular); [Upright] = PIOUS (raise your hand if you started with PIANO); [Social services?] = TEA SETS; [Stop order?] = WHOA; [Display pattern] = RASTER (I know this word from shopping for a desktop publishing monitor in the '90s; still have no idea what it really means); [Scotch flavorer] = PEAT; horribly pop-cult [Show that begat "Lobo"] = BJ AND THE BEAR (back then, I had a crush on the star, Greg Evigan, but not the monkey); the mathy [Radical solution?] = SQUARE ROOT; [Sport with body wires] = EPEE (no idea what "body wires" are); [Get, with some effort] = PUZZLE OUT; good ol' St. ANSELM = [Saint who originated the ontological argument]; [Paddling for pleasure?] = BOAT RIDE (and no, I didn't think of naughty spanking while solving); the deliberately misleading [Held consistent views] = STARED; [Cooperstown position] = UPSTATE; [Its flag has the Union Jack in the upper left] = HAWAII (why??); [Attacked jointly?] = KNEED in the groin; [Positions of power] = ONS of on/off switches; two cigarette clues, [Lights come-on] = LESS TAR and [Salem outcast] = ASH; [Quick draw] of breath = GASP; [Political shootings?] = PHOTO OPS; and the noun [Stir] = SPLASH. The single most enjoyable clue/answer combo for me was [Question that comes before and after "or"] = AM I RIGHT—husband and I often say that with the intonation of insurance salesman Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day. Never heard of Super Bowl XXV MVP OTTIS Anderson. I wouldn't have known [Photons] = QUANTA (plural of quantum) were it not for a recent NYT puzzle with that answer. [She, in Italian] is LEI? Huh. Live and learn.

So, in sum: Fabulous puzzle, didn't miss the symmetry at all, felt I got my money's worth (so to speak). Can't single out that many clues and not toss this puppy into my "great puzzles" folder, can I?

Verrrrry nice New York Times puzzle from Paula Gamache, too! 'Tis a good day for themeless action. Paula's puzzle has symmetry and three triple-stacks of 15-letter answers—and all nine of those 15s are great. Some politics in each third—Reagan's [Classic line of debate?], THERE YOU GO AGAIN, up top; AIR AMERICA RADIO, the liberal outpost on the airwaves; and a LIBERAL DEMOCRAT in charge at the bottom. There's one football team (SEATTLE SEAHAWKS), much more lively than most entries packed with that many Ss, Es, and Ts. And a batch of in-the-language phrases: AS BAD AS BAD CAN BE, LITTLE OR NOTHING, OVER AND DONE WITH, and ANY PORT IN A STORM. MAKE A RESOLUTION is the dullest of the bunch, and it's completely fine—it just can't keep up with the other eight who've raised the bar. Other highlights" FAJITA crossing TAMALE; [Second of 24] Greek letters, BETA; [Arm raiser, informally] for the DELT (oid) muscle; [Toot] for BINGE; [Yo-yo] for JERK. You know, usually I'm not too excited by triple-stacks, and the more 15s there are, the less I like the fill. In this puzzle, though, I felt the 15s were the best part of the crossword—that's gotta be hard to pull off.

Kudos to Byron and Paula and their respective editors, Peter Gordon and Will Shortz. Am happy solver tonight.

Quick Update:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle: Lots of fun. Theme: "Why the Face?" Featuring four thespians with distinctive faces, one who [always looks creepy as hell], one who [always looks like he's about to kick someone's ass], one who [always looks pissed off], and one who [always looks like she just sucked on a lemon]. Matt's got these actors dead to rights. No real spoilers here—but if you like those post-millennium, hipster-skewing, pop-culture-heavy crosswords, download this PDF and have fun with it.

If you like puzzles that hew closer to the classic vein, try Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Lincoln Center." The overall gestalt of the clues and fill felt old-school to me.

Russell Brown, who's been commenting here of late, created the September 7 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle. This is one savory treat! Download this Across Lite puzzle and dig in! No, the theme in "Middle Marches" isn't food, despite my remarks. And I won't spoil it for you, because the theme's so cool, I want you to discover it for yourself. The theme's so deftly executed and such a neat idea, I'm putting this one in my "great puzzles" folder, too.

Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle kicks a RE out of each theme entry's base phrase. "Our little secret" thus becomes [Motto of a small splinter group?], OUR LITTLE SECT. Not too easy to make out the theme answers as I worked my way through the puzzle, though, even after figuring out the trick in TAKE A DEEP BATH.

Updated again:

Whoops, forgot to do the Wall Street Journal puzzle this morning. (So that explains why I finished puzzling and blogging earlier than I'd expected.) The byline reads Colin Gale, which means the puzzle's by WSJ crossword editor Mike Shenk. Each theme entry ads a CO at the beginning.


Shorter OED celebrates with a crossword puzzle

The new sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is out now, and to mark the occasion, Matt Jones made a crossword. Alas, when I go to the site, I get "Error reading crossword file. Check null is uploaded and readable" in lieu of a puzzle. Anyone else have trouble loading the puzzle in a Java applet?


September 19, 2007

Thursday, 9/20

NYS 5:59
NYT 5:32
LAT 4:17
CS 3:44

Between late-onset seasonal allergies (who gets hayfever for the first time at the age of 41?) and being slammed with freelance work, I am plumb tuckered out and need to sleep. So tonight's post will be an abbreviated one.

Alex Boisvert's New York Times puzzle offers a Thursday rebus: ERNEST HEMINGWAY holds court in the center of the grid, and there are six rebus squares spelling out his novel with the title consisting of six 3-letter words: THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. The rebus squares are found at the two ends and smack dab in the middle of the second row and the second-from-last row. THE appears in 1-Down, where ATHENS crosses THELMA at the [THE]. At 7-Down, there's FOLDED crossing SMOLDER. At 13-Down, EMANATE and HERMAN. In the bottom of the grid, there's ERRANDS/ANDEAN, ESTHER/EAT HERE, and NAUSEA/RESEAT. Kinda tricky to figure this one out, eh? Props to Alex for including my favorite Law and Order SHRINK, Dr. EMIL Skoda. He was played by the actor who also portrayed evil skinhead Vern Schillinger on Oz.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun puzzle, "Booty Call," has a trickier theme. I filled in the grid correctly, but I don't know what comes next. The instructions in the long entries are CONNECT THE X'S / WITH TWO LINES. Then 34-Across's clue is [After following the instructions to make a big one, hint that tells you where to look around to find hidden booty]. The answer to 34-Across is X MARKS THE SPOT. I'm too tired to make sense out of this. Why don't you clever people explain it to me?


Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy crossword, "Hot Movies," throws up a SMOKE SCREEN with three silver-screen ventures that are afire: Elvis's FLAMING STAR (a Western I've never heard of), Mel Brooks' BLAZING SADDLES (a comedy classic), and IS PARIS BURNING, a [1966 Charles Boyer film] I've never heard of. I will take that SWEETIE PIE in the fill over all the HONs we usually get, though.

Verna Suit's LA Times puzzle adds a letter to the initials of various famous people, giving an added fillip to the name. P.G. Wodehouse turns into PGA WODEHOUSE, a [Humorist on the links?]. Anyone who hasn't done this puzzle: Do you know the merchant Woolworth's initials?


September 18, 2007

Wednesday, 9/19

NYS 4:54
LAT 3:29
NYT 3:14
CS 3:10

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke play with baby animals in their New York Times puzzle. I like the lively assortment of phrases starting with the wee beasties: CALF MUSCLES and CHICK FLICKS, JOEY LAWRENCE and a COLT REVOLVER. The fill shines with HUMBLE PIE ([It's embarrassing to eat]) and a LOQUAT (the [Plumlike Chinese fruit]), CATNIP and KNEEBONE, NERVOUSLY and WHISTLES. It's also got an "ick" subtheme, with ICKY, CHICK FLICKS, and [Clinton advisor Harold] ICKES (whose father, Harold L. Ickes, was in FDR's cabinet). What the heck is a Z BAR ([Letter-shaped beam])? It's this. Old-school crossword answers make up the peanut butter binding together all the multigrain bread goodness in the fill and theme: you've got your LEAS, Mortimer SNERD, OMOO, LIEF (one of my favorite words that date back to Old English), YMA Sumac, polluter ALCOA, a Turkish BEY, ILIA ([Pelvic bones]), [Mother-of-pearl] NACRE, and the most prominent composer in crosswords, Thomas ARNE. I learned most of those words and names from crosswords. They're not as E-heavy as the worst of the crossword regulars—words like EKE, ERE, ERIE, EERIE, EEN, EER, and ENE—and I'm feeling fond of them today.

The toughest clue, for me, was geographic in nature: [Land on the end of a peninsula] sounded like it should be a generic term, but it turned out to be OMAN at the tip of the giant Arabian Peninsula. If you grumbled at SAAB being clued with [Fashion designer Elie] rather than the car, remember that it was the Lebanese designer Elie Saab who made the fabulous gown Halle Berry wore when she won the Oscar:

For the New York Sun, Alan Arbesfeld crafted "New York Minute." A minute is a unit of time, so this puzzle puts TIMES SQUARE in the center and fills the four corners with...time squares. Each corner square contains another unit of time: [WEEK], [DAY], [HOUR], and [YEAR] each serve as the beginning or end of the two answers intersecting at the corners. I had to look up COMMON [YEAR]—that's a year that is not a leap year and thus has 365 days (did you know that a common year is one day longer than 52 weeks?). Favorite clues: [First place?] for the ONES place; [Part of a chorus line?] for TRA (la la); [Crowd control?] for MOB RULE (also called ochlocracy—shouldn't being ruled by the clock be called oclockracy?); ["War cannot for a single minute be separated from politics" speaker] for MAO; [Nice compliment] for TRES BIEN (Nice, France—not merely nice)' and [Dog "house"] for hot dog BUN. Fill I liked best: POP TOP and QUARTETS. Obscurish river of the day: the WESER in northern Germany.


Nancy Salomon collects six phrases (occupying 66 squares in all) that mean "Cool it!" in her CrosSynergy puzzle. A few quick reactions while solving: First, rare isn't a noun, so how can [Steak orders] be RARES? (Granted, fill options are constrained for a space between two theme entries, but still.) UTERI is clued as [Egg holders], but the uterus doesn't hold eggs, the ovaries do. In humans, it is only after fertilization that a fertilized egg travels to the uterus, implants in the uterine wall, and develops into an embryo and then a fetus. (And in birds, the fertilized egg spends up to 20 hours in the uterus before the bird lays the egg and incubates it for weeks.) Do you think of Fido as a name for a female dog, or is it a male name? [Fix Fido] clues SPAY, and spaying is strictly for females.

Fred Jackson III's LA Times puzzle contains four phrases that end with words that fit the "SMART ___" model. The [Simple homemade radio], CRYSTAL SET, didn't resonate with me, and I've never called paper money FOLDING MONEY. I did like GREETING CARD—I was just looking at a display of Hallmark cards with sound. Omigod! Those cards are fun! Horrifying in their aural assault, but fun. I was sorely tempted to buy a handful of $4.99 cards just to be able to mail the Village People's "YMCA" or Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to someone. Or the super-schmaltzy Rex Smith song, "You Take My Breath Away," which I loved in my early adolescence. The music cards were so wonderfully lowbrow, I wanted them all. The last theme entry was CHERRY BOMB, which is a great phrase but is a terrible thing to throw through the air into a crowd (I have a scar to prove it).


September 17, 2007

Tuesday, 9/18

Tausig 5:12
NYS 4:18
Onion 3:33
NYT 3:20
CS 3:03
LAT 2:39

Chuck Deodene's New York Times puzzle livens up the "three phrases that mean the same thing" theme by choosing three phrases that sound natural and casual when spoken: NO NEED TO THANK ME, GLAD TO BE OF / ASSISTANCE, and IT WAS MY PLEASURE. Better still is the quality of the fill. Every time a clue refers to something like [Small jobs for a body shop], I write D*N*S, hoping it'll be DINGS and typically disappointed that it's DENTS, when DINGS is a much more fun word. And this time, it was DINGS—hooray! Plenty of big-ticket letters, too: ZONED crossing NIKE and ZSA ZSA, who crosses COZIEST, GALAXY crossing the lovely EXPATS, the great SQUAB/CLIQUE meeting, JABS and JOHNS. The clues and answers I liked best: [Inane] for DUMB (nice to get inane out of the grid for a change); the vague [Beam] for SMILE; [Jazz dance] for STOMP; [Vice squad arrestees, perhaps] for JOHNS; the lovely [Perturbation] for ALARM; [Philosophy of bare existence?] for NUDISM; [Spode ensembles] for TEA SETS; [St. Andrew's Day observer] for SCOT; B-TEAM (in lieu of the more common—and more skilled—A-TEAM); SATCHMO; [It's repellent] for insect repellent DEET; the EXPATS in PARIS cross-reference; STELLA Artois beer; SAYS YES; [¢] for CENT (the poor cents symbol, exiled from the computer keyboard in favor of ^ above the 6); and [Fierce type, astrologically] for LEO (yeah, that's right: the Fiend is fierce). I hear from Harris Ruben that [Clipper's sheet] is a technically inaccurate clue for SAIL (a "sheet" is a rope to aficionados), but I can't imagine anyone who's not into sailing or clipper ships would object. Why the hell would anyone call a rope a "sheet"? Why, that makes no sense at all!

The New York Sun puzzle by Trip Payne (whose Wordplay line about the letter Q appears in Pat Merrell's cartoon) is called "How's That Again?" and it toys with typography. [OTTAWA] is an UPPERCASE CAPITAL, or a capital city in capital letters. [G r o g g y] is SPACED-OUT DAZED, again bundling two synonyms. [Intrepid] is BOLD COURAGEOUS. It's an inventive theme, but it didn't quite click for me. 1-Across made me laugh because mere seconds before reading the clue [Hairball sufferer], I had coughed—and it was not unlike the hairball sound, frankly. Favorite clues that do not pertain to my health: [Apply concealer, for example] for DAB (a spot-on makeup clue for a change); [Architect born in Canton] for I.M. PEI (Canton, China, is now called Guangzhou—though at first I was surprised to find Pei was a native Ohioan); [Liberal foil of Archie] for MAUDE; ["Conjunction Junction" conjunction] for NOR (watch the Schoolhouse Rock video here); [Contest at the bar?] for LIMBO; [They ring rings] for the ROPES of a boxing ring; and [Category in the game Careers] for FAME. Careers! I loved that board game (1979 edition). Other fill centerpieces I admired included HE'S A REBEL, EYE COLOR, and BABY TOOTH.

Updated Monday night:

It's Matt Jones's turn in the Onion A.V. Club, and his crossword theme requires me to call on the Urban Dictionary for support. [Redundant term for money, to 50 Cent?] is CHEDDAR CHEESE? Wha? Let's see: cheddar means money and cheese also means money. The other slang-dependent theme entries were more accessible to me: [Chick magnet vehicle, to Richard Pryor?] is MACK TRUCK. Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton's referenced for HOOD ORNAMENTS. [Soreness from a smoker's cough, to Dr. Dre?] is CHRONIC PAIN—chronic = marijuana, and Dre's first album was called The Chronic. Crib = home (as in the MTV series featuring celebrity abodes), so CRIB NOTES are Ludacris's musical notes written at home. Hey! There's another UMA, ["Fox News Live" host Pemmaraju]

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Sayin' Policy," muddles up spellings by changing words in the theme entries to words that sound about the same, all including a long A sound. I dunno, I don't pronounce BAYER and BEAR the same way. Best entries: IRS AUDIT, DON'T STOP, DR. EVIL, HEARSAY evidence. Favorite clue: [Like some legal systems] for ISLAMIC. Single most mystifying, need-every-crossing answer: the shoot-'em-up arcade game ZAXXON. Never heard of it! Though the screen shot included in the Wikipedia article looks awfully familiar, so maybe I did play that on my friend's ColecoVision.

Tuesday update:

Patrick Jordan groups three "High Points" in his CrosSynergy puzzle: CREST TOOTHPASTE, SUMMIT MEETING, and PEAK PERFORMANCE. With 21 6- to 8-letter entries in the fill, this puzzle's a crisp cruciverbal snack.

Last but not least, a Tuesday puzzle that's actually keyed to Tuesday-level difficulty. (The NYT felt like a Wednesday today.) Timothy Meaker's LA Times crossword is easy, but the overall easiness didn't impede my enjoyment of the puzzle. (That sounds backwards, doesn't it? What can I say? I like 'em gnarly.) The theme entries are noun phrases that start with a famous last name, so [Where Billy debuted?] is a CRYSTAL BALL, and [Sean's radiofrequency?] is PENN STATION. Tim ALLEN WRENCH and Tori SPELLING BEE co-star. Nice fill, a light touch with the clues—fun crossword. I learned one new name, thanks to easy crossings: TAMMI [Terrell who sang with Marvin Gaye]. Oh, how sad! She died at age 24 of a brain tumor when I was 3, which may explain my unfamiliarity with her name.


September 16, 2007

Monday, 9/17

NYS 3:24
LAT 2:59
NYT 2:58
CS 2:37

One of the Sunday puzzles featured alphabetical foursomes in the theme entries. Gary Steinmehl serves up a variation on that with "Bespectacled," his New York Sun puzzle. Each of four theme entries contains the letter I (i) four times, and they're tied together by the sound-alike FOUR EYES. The clue for the first one, IF I DID IT, isn't quite right; it says [Unpublished O.J. Simpson book], but the book has been published by the Goldman family whom O.J. owes millions of dollars. The cover design emblazons I DID IT in big red letters, with a barely perceptible IF on the first letter, and the book's subtitle is "Confessions of the Killer." (Edited to add: Peter Gordon doesn't miss a beat, of course. He reports that he corrected the clue to [Controversial O.J. Simpson book], but the online guy didn't update the puzzle.) Favorite entries in the crossword: WELL I'LL BE, DIN-DIN, and RHEINGOLD beer.

Sarah Keller's New York Times crossword features four different [Bell ringer]s, one split into two 4-letter halves. Does anyone like it when 1-Across has a clue like [With 68-Across, a bell ringer]? On a Monday, I like to see an easy 1-Across that gives me the first letters for the first group of Down clues, and dang it, this puzzle fought me on that. Furthermore, it threw a not-so-well-known poet in at 2-Down, [Poet Lindsay] VACHEL. Who is she? Ha! Wikipedia tells me I have that backwards. It's VACHEL Lindsay, the "Prairie Troubador," known for his use of sound in "The Congo." All right, I forgive Sarah Keller for plunking that in an inopportune spot because Lindsay's story is an interesting one. The AVON / LADY is an obvious bell ringer, but CHURCH ___ drew a blank (CHURCH WARDEN), I don't commonly think of PERCUSSIONISTs and bell ringers in the same breath, and BICYCLE RIDER rings hollow (cyclist and bike rider sound more natural to me). Two great criss-crosses in the upper right and lower left corners: ROUND TRIP with YES DEAR and DREAMBOAT with OLD MAID.


Today's LA Times puzzle is credited to Ken Bessette and Nancy Salomon, so I'm guessing Nancy worked with a new constructor on his debut publication. I liked the theme: three BASIC NEEDS, all clued without reference to their commonality. The clues are worded in parallel, though: [Swanson line], [Dockers line], and [Jagger/Richards line] refer to two product lines and a line of song lyrics, FROZEN FOOD, MEN'S CLOTHING, and GIMME SHELTER, with food, clothing, and shelter being BASIC NEEDS. The theme is executed with élan. My favorite clue/entry combo: [One who cleans up after the maid?] for NEAT FREAK. Highlights from the rest of the fill: the idiomatic RAG ON, YEA BIG, and ONE SEC; KAREEM Abdul-Jabbar and LADY DI; and MUMBLE. Well done!

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle is selling "End Tables": a dressing table (SALAD DRESSSING), card table (SMART CARD), pool table (MOTOR POOL), and bridge table (COVERED BRIDGE).


September 15, 2007

Sunday, 9/16

LAT 11:11
WaPo 9:05
PI 8:37
NYT 8:22
BG 7:05
CS 4:35

All righty, the husband and kid are off at the park playing ball, so I had some quiet time to do crosswords. Wow, my Sunday morning just opened up beautifully! I should do all the Sunday puzzles that are available early on Saturdays.

Mike Nothnagel's New York Times crossword, "Lingo," is a beaut. Mike found seven phrases that could tack LING onto the end of one word to make a new word and a phrase that could be plausibly clued and also evoke some amusing images. The [Local cutiepie?] is the TOWN DUMPLING, and I picture her holding court at the local landfill. [Fraternization on an army base?] is MILITARY COUPLING, and I'm picturing the generals in the junta getting cozy with one another. SQUID INKLING? SpongeBob's neighbor Squidward has plenty of ideas, many involving getting rid of SpongeBob so he and his clarinet can live in grumpy peace. I wonder how many unused theme candidate Mike had—can you think of any other good ones?

To this puzzle and its constructor, I say 14-Down: I LIKE YOU. I got a kick out of the cluing, and I liked that a bunch of answers contained Scrabbly letters. JEREMIADS (great word meaning [Prolonged complaints]) and JABBER, KANJI crossing K.D. LANG (or k.d. lang, as she prefers—her All You Can Eat album is among my favorites, and if you like warm, yearning, torchy songs, check it out), TALL SIZES crossing DEEP-SIXED, and more.

The clues I enjoyed most: [Chant at a basketball game] for DEFENSE ("Dee-fense! Dee-fense!"); [Load bearer?] for clothes DRYER; [Least populous U.N. member] for TUVALU (love that geography!); [1992 Oscar-nominated title role for Robert Downey Jr] for CHAPLIN (which I've never seen, but I want to because Downey is talented and he has lovely eyes—and why isn't it available on DVD so I can get it from Netflix?); [With geniality] for AMIABLY (I love the word amiable because it's such a favorable word to sound like the adjectival form of my name—can anyone top that? I mean, Elizabethan isn't cute at all.); [Particular purpose] for NONCE (derivation: from Middle English "then anes," mangled by misdivision—just like "a norange" and "an ekename" somehow became "an orange" and "a nickname"); [Saturn, for one] for GOD (not car, not SUV, not the planet); [Calf feature] for SILENT L and [Start of an itinerary] for POINT A; [It should have a head and a good body] for BEER; [Injured, in baseball lingo] for ON THE DL, as in "on the disabled list" ("on the DL" can also mean on the down-low," describing men who purport to be straight but also have sex with men on the sly); [Sound's partner] for SAFE up above [One trying to find the right combination?] for YEGG, slang for safecracker; [Anatomical part whose name comes from the Latin for "grape"] for UVEA (I just read this and totally blanked on it); and [What a train goes down] for AISLE (as in the train of a wedding gown). I either forgot or never knew [1980 N.F.L. M.V.P. Brian] SIPE.

Other Puzzles:

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "Quartets," has 10 theme entries that contain four of a kind—if Alabama weren't in a clue, it would qualify as an answer here because the letter A appears in it four times. The last of the 10 contains two different letter quartets, and I think no theme entry features the same foursome. Fairly easy puzzle, as these things go, with one word I didn't quite realize was a word (DUPERY, the noun form of dupe) and another unfamiliar word, RATLINE (ratlines are the ropes one can climb to ascend the riggings on a sailing ship, apparently). Hey, if you like these Sunday puzzles (with bylines alternating between Cox and Rathvon, a.k.a. Hex, and Henry Hook) and you feel a tad guilty getting the puzzles for free in Across Lite, consider buying one of the many book collections of Globe puzzles. I've got a volume somewhere around here.

Alex Boisvert's Washington Post puzzle, "Do Be Do Be Do," made me smile when I figured out the funniest of the 10 theme answers. Each one's a phrase in which the letters BE have been changed to DO (as in "beg pardon" into DOG PARDON) or vice versa ("China doll" into Asian/Mexican fusion fast-food eatery CHINA BELL). The DO -> BE entries are on the left side of the grid, and the BE -> DOs on the right. Anyway, it took me a while to figure out what to do with [Disparaging psychiatrist?]: DR. BELITTLE!

You'll need to don your Hat of Pun Sensibility to tackle Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Pun Party." There's a short fill-in-the-blank clue here, [Shih ___]. I can spell TZU. Some months back, though, a purebred (one of Merl's trickiest clues this weekend: [A pure and thorough conclusion] for BRED) owner in my neighborhood lost his dog and posted this sign:


Rich Norris's themeless puzzle for the CrosSynergy syndicate has some high notes and low notes. The highs: [Question after a trip] for ARE YOU OK; [Follow a boat, in a way] for WATERSKI; [High] for EUPHORIA; [Change one's mind about, as a computer option] for DESELECT (which is a terrible word in regular English but a perfectly descriptive one in computerese); the sarcastic ["Oh, joy"] for I CAN'T WAIT; [Got ready to go up] for TAXIED, as in a plane heading to the runway]. Lows: [Bourg's department] for AIN (that's a new one on me, I think) and [Eared seal] for OTARY (it's been a good long while since I've seen that one).

Rich Norris, in drag with the "Lila Cherry" pseudonym (anagram of "really Rich"), made the syndicated LA Times puzzle: nine two-word phrases that have an LP split between the end of the first word and start of the second. Hence, COCKTAIL PARTY, and the title "Broken Records." The puzzle wasn't as hard as my comparative times would suggest—I was off the clues' wavelength and did half the puzzle while talking on the phone.


September 14, 2007

Saturday, 9/15

NYT 11:18
Newsday 5:48
LAT 4:19
CS 3:38

Brad Wilber's New York Times puzzle is an old-school toughie with very few gimmes. For me, the only real gimmes were GEENA [Davis of "Cutthroat Island"] (the pirate movie that nearly killed her career), [Documentarian Morris] for ERROL (love him! Rent The Fog of War if you missed it), [Chick playing a piano] for jazz musician Chick COREA, ARON for [Elvis follower], [Novelist Potok] for CHAIM Potok, and DR T ([Richard Gere title role of 2000]). Huh, what do you know? All names! Mainly from pop culture! That really is a good crossword category for me.

My worst categories? A lot of the stuff in this puzzle. The obscurish words were particularly vexing today: NOSEBANDS are [Bridle parts], a BAILEE is a [Temporary property holder], a TOLL BAR goes with [It's raised after a payment is collected, and [Slipping frequencies] are ERROR RATES? These simultaneously stumped and underwhelmed me. What I liked better: a word I didn't know but am glad to have learned, RECLAME, which comes from the French and means [Notoriety]; and the colorful phrase GIMLET EYE ([Piercing glance]), which I'd forgotten (gimlet is both a cocktail and a corkscrew-like boring tool).

Favorite parts: [Interest for Miss Marple] for CLEW (British spelling of "clue"; raise your hand if you wrote CASE); [Contortionist's inspiration?] for PRETZEL; [Aquavit flavorer] for CARAWAY (remind me never to drink this stuff); [Seed's exterior] for TESTA (old crosswordese I remembered!); DEAD WRONG; [Where some addresses come from] for PODIA; [One yawning] for CHASM; [Do groundbreaking work?] for the verb MINE; [Shakespearean character who introduced the phrase "salad days"] for CLEOPATRA (did not know this!); and [Symbol of industry] for ANT.

Took far too long to figure out: [Paris fashion house since 1956- for CHLOE; [Setting of Camus's "The Fall"] for AMSTERDAM (Really? Did not know that. The Plague takes place in Oran, of course.);[Marina accommodations] for our old friend, the BOATEL; [Hansom cab accessory] for LAP ROBE (my mind breaks LAPROBE into LA PROBE and wonders if that beer from Latrobe is involved somehow); [Factor in a home's market value] for CURB APPEAL; [Carried by currents, in a way] for OCEANBORNE (couldn't get electrical current out of my head); [Serenity] for HEART'S EASE; ["Pink Shoe Laces" singer Stevens] for DODIE; ["Be more..." sloganeer] for PBS; and [Honourary title: Abbr.] for MBE. Speaking of MBE, I just looked up those Order of the British Empire honours: MBE = Member (the lowest-ranking), OBE = Officer (the abbreviation most often seen in American crosswords), CBE = Commander, and those named to the two highest ranks, Knight or Dame Commander (KBE, DBE) and Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE), are entitled to use Sir or Dame before their names (e.g., Dame Judi Dench, Sir Paul McCartney).

One quasi-nit to pick: LASH is clued as [Liner's locale]. Have you ever tried applying eyeliner to eyelashes? I'm thinking it wouldn't work. The lash line, a.k.a. the edge of the eyelid, sure, but the LASH itself? I say not. Opinions?


I'm short on time this morning, so I'll be brief. (Honest!)

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle has a short quote by SAMUEL GOLDWYN: COFFEE ISN'T / MY CUP OF TEA. Agreed!

James Sajdak's LA Times puzzle has some terrific words in it. They're not laden with uncommon letters, but I'm fond of the quaint-sounding ALMONERS ([Charity distributors]) and FLACON ([Perfume bottle]); WALLEYE ([Minnesota's state fish]); the play and poem A RAISIN IN THE SUN; the [Mythical monthly predator], a WOLFMAN; PLASMA TV; "STEP ON IT!" ([Fare order]); the colloquial AS LONG AS ([Seeing that]); John CLEESE; the [Swamp gas] MIASMA (love this word! it's much better than smegma); and a RECLINER chair (clued well: [Super Bowl seat for many]). Other clues of note: [Game invented by Native North Americans] for LACROSSE (a gimme); [Battle of Britain locale] for MIDAIR; [Kitchen drawers?] for AROMAS; [Artemis's companions] for OREADS (don't know the mythology behind this, but I'm always pleased to see oreads, naiads, and maenads in the crossword); [Musical nonsense syllable] for DOO (well...that's one way to clue that!); and [Goody-two shoes' feature?] for HALO.

Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper has a glorious grid—every answer is between 5 and 9 letters in length (no 3- or 4-letter answers!) and the total word count is quite low: just 58 answers. My favorite entry is a word I couldn't readily define: DESCANT. Clued as [Comment at length], this could be a a very good word for me to know! (Here's the American Heritage definition.) There are perhaps a few more prefixed and suffixed words than in most themeless puzzles, owing to the difficulty in filling a 58-word grid, but it didn't strike me as off-putting in the slightest. No jokey clues here—it's all straight-up "just the facts, ma'am" puzzling with eminently fair clues. I've only given away one answer, so if you usually skip the Stumper, try this one. Though there are no short words like ARIA or ERA to help you along, it's quite doable—especially compared to today's tough NYT puzzle.


September 13, 2007

Friday, 9/14

NYS 6:40—The Sun is a brilliant must-do! Solve it before reading the blog.
NYT 5:13
Jonesin' 4:03
LAT 3:59
CS 3:21

WSJ 7:58

John Samson, who edits the Simon & Schuster crossword book series, sent me a copy of the latest volume, #257. I'll be digging into that book and a couple other recent S&S volumes this winter for American Crossword Puzzle Tournament training. (If you've done ACPT puzzles, you've noticed that there are 17x17 and 19x19 grids—which are hard to come by outside of the S&S books and the occasional Games puzzle.) John let it slip that a book due out in January 2008, the hefty Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #1, will include my name in one puzzle (!). The theme is "Premier Puzzlers," and I'm clued as [2005 ACPT champion (Div. B)]. Looks like there are seven ACPT overall champions in the puzzle too (1978, 1987, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2007), along with another B champion (2007). I'm not going to look them up—it'll be more fun to guess the names based on letter counts and the odd crossing letter. If you're in the puzzle, I think it is incumbent upon you to give your folks a copy of the book so they can brag about your fame.

Now, on with the day's crosswords.

Patrick Berry has crafted a tour de force for the New York Sun: The middle five columns (with circled letters in Across Lite) are unclued, and you have to rely on the Across answers, the title "Color Change," and the clues for 4- and 57-Across ([Beginning of a transformation] and [End of the transformation]) to figure out what's what. (The Across Lite Notepad merely informs the solver that the print edition includes no clues for the five columns in the center.) So what's what? There's a word ladder, that's what. And not merely a word ladder with 4-letter words, either—this one's got 5-letter words. And all but three of them are also part of a longer Across answer. In a sense, the Across answers that aren't checked by Down answers still do have checking, as 4 of the 5 letters will be the same above and below. At the end, you're left with 4- and 67-Across and have to change a letter from the adjacent row to get an apt pair for the "Color Change" title: BLACK and WHITE.

If that's not enough (and really, it was!), there's more: The fill is lusciously Scrabbly, with a single Z, Q, and X along with two Js and quartets of Ks and Vs. You might think the answers that include the word ladder pieces would be iffy, but we have Milton's BLANK VERSE of Paradise Lost; a little GOSLING with the misleading* clue, [It gets further down with time], down being goosedown; SWINE FEVER; and GHOST-WRITE ([Take cash but not credit] is also a smart misdirect). Stepping off the ladder, we have STYX crossing QUERY, RAZE crossing RAJIV Gandhi.

Other clues that caught my eye: the vague verb [Compact] for TAMP; [Turn about] doubling up for SLUE and SWING, one after the other; [A little way in?] for PORE (wait, what goes into a pore rather than out?); baseball commissioner [Bud Selig's real first name] for ALLAN (pointless trivia, but look! A new clue for ALLAN. I'll take it!); and [Red Bull New York soccer coach Bruce] for ARENA (all I could remember of his surname was that it began and ended with A). I never heard of [Buddy of the Songwriters Hall of Fame], but Buddy DESYLVA was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, a stage and film producer, and a cofounder of Capital Records.

Executive summary: Kerplunk! Overall excellence slathered like buttercream frosting on top of a sweet and unbelievably rich gimmick = this cruciverbal torte is going in the Great Puzzles folder as one of the year's best.

*Misleading = wonderful.

Moving to the New York Times crossword, John Farmer brings us a beautiful themeless 70-word puzzle. Each quadrant has a show-stopper or two: VERKLEMPT ([Choked up]) in the upper left, a PASTRAMI sandwich in the upper right (who can forget Seinfeld's George successfully wooing a woman by saying that he always felt pastrami was the most sensual of all the cured meats?), a SOUL PATCH down below (the teeny-weeny beard sported by Frank Zappa and Dizzy Gillespie, and QUIXOTIC ([Starry-eyed]) in the remaining corner.

Favorite answers: SOPOR ([Lethargy] and the root of soporific—I also like torpor); ABORIGINE (which means [Early inhabitant] anywhere, not just in Australia); QEII (Queen Elizabeth II, the [Modern-day monarch, for short]; the cross-referenced combo of Brian ENO and his AMBIENT music; the LAO people of Thailand and Laos crossing the Chinese LAO TZU (who can also be spelled Laozi, Lao Tse, Laotze, or Lao Zi); the MUSSED UP and NEAT combo; the GAZA STRIP; and QUANTA (plural of quantum, [Fundamental energy units]).

Favorite clues: [Muscleman with a 1980s cartoon series] for MR T; [Subject of interest in the question, "Who are you wearing?] for a GOWN worn on the red carpet; [Movie villain voiced by Douglas Rain] for evil 2001 computer HAL; [Spell checker?] for a magical AMULET; ["Take ___ the River" (Talking Heads hit)] for ME TO (enjoy a video of a live performance, big suit and all); the surprisingly straightforward [Spanish kitties] for GATOS; [Doesn't support a conspiracy theory?] for ACTS ALONE; [Moon of Uranus named for a Shakespearean character] for OBERON (heh, heh, he said "moon" and "Uranus"); [Available] for IN PRINT, like books; and [Largest of the ABC islands] for CURACAO (A and B are Aruba and Bonaire).

Crazy intersection: [Actress Nancy of "Sunset Boulevard"] crossing [Old-time actress Crabtree]—is it OLSEN and LETTA or OLSON and LOTTA? Turns out it's OLSON and LOTTA. Medical terminology for the day: GAVAGE, or [Forced feeding, as with a tube].


The theme in Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette's LA Times puzzle is straightforward, but I had to fill in an awful lot of the grid in order to see what it was. Each theme entry squeezes in a DIS- before the final word, transforming phrases into TAKE-OUT DISORDER ([Problematic deli syndrome?]), HEAVEN DISSENT, GOLF DISCOURSE, and CABBAGE DISPATCH ([Wired money?]). There's some dreadful Latin from a state motto, but fortunately it's in the IDAHO clue, [Its motto is "Esto perpetua"], rather than ESTO being clued as [Idaho motto word]. (Here's my refresher course on state mottoes that get play in crosswords.) Lots of deft clues here: [Star with potential] for NOVA and [Star witnesses?] for MAGI; [Additional ones not itemized] for REST and [And addtl. ones not itemized] for ET AL; ["___ put hair on your chest"] for IT'LL (my son likes to think that onions will put hair in his armpits); [One of the British?] for ISLE; ["___-12": '60s-'70s police drama] for ADAM (ah, childhood nostalgia); [Beijing-born violinist Frank] for HUANG (that's a new name for me. Note to self: remember name.); [They may be screened] for DOORS; the looks-like-a-verb [Trusted] for RELIABLE; and [Place enjoyed by Sundance] for ETTA (Etta Place from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, not Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival).

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle asks the solver to distinguish between Bill Nye and Bill Nighy, Mark Wahlberg and Mark L. Walberg, Michael Haydn and Gen. Michael Hayden, and Henrik Ibsen and Henry Gibson. It's easier than it sounds, because you get most of the info in the clues—for example, you only need one word to finish [...while Mark L. Walberg currently hosts PBS's "___ Roadshow"], and you can probably do that without knowing this guy. CLAQUE is a [Group hired to applaud a performance]; I recently learned the word from Patrick Blindauer and like it (it dates back to early-1800s France and is the forebear of today's canned laughter. Favorite clues: the completely grammatical [You was once this] for THEE; [Anatomical in-between area] for TAINT; and [Discovery Channel game show with a host/driver] for CASH CAB (that link's a clip of constructor Tony Orbach's appearance on the show).

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Blast Off!", plays the prefix countdown with TRI-, BI-, and UNI- words followed by "THREE...TWO...ONE," blast off. [Pawning place] clues HOCK SHOP; in my town, it seems that a hocking place is a pawn shop rather than the other way around. Perhaps "hock shop" skews toward being a Canadian usage?

In the larger format, we've got today's Wall Street Journal crossword, Elizabeth Gorski's "Crunch Time." Each theme entry has an OREO tucked inside, and BLACK AND WHITE SANDWICH and OREOS also show up to make the theme crystal-clear. The name Catherine AIRD was new to me—she writes crime novels, mainly, which I don't read. A lot of art and artists in this puzzle: MAGRITTE, DALI, the SISTINE Chapel ceiling for visual arts; a VIOL and the LEONORE OVERTURE for the music arena; MERCEDES for automotive beauty.