November 30, 2007

Saturday, 12/1

Newsday 8:06
NYT 7:45
LAT 6:35
CS 2:57

My, isn't that an imposing grid! Robert Wolfe's New York Times puzzle is pushing people towards some uncommonly lengthy solves. Why? Well, for starters, it's a 58-word crossword and two of the quadrants are severed from the rest of the puzzle save for a single answer connecting each to the middle. There were also a number of quicksand traps with multiple tempting answers, obscure references in some clues, obscure names in the grid, and a bunch of "roll your own" words (formed with suffixes, mainly -er here) that don't come readily to mind.

My favorite answer is KARSTS ([Limestone regions with deep fissures and sinkholes]), because I read the clue and knew that I knew it, but at first couldn't remember anything other than that it had a K. It helped kick-start that corner for me. Aside from the sinkholes, where was the quicksand? [Maximally mangy] is SEEDIEST (could be SEAMIEST). [Where much info can be found these days] is ON THE NET (could be ON THE WEB or INTERNET). Once you suspect who the [Dualistic deity] is, you still have to choose the right spelling—here it's AMON-RA, but AMEN-RA is a familiar spelling...and Wikipedia goes for AMUN. (Delicious factoid from Wikipedia: the words ammonia, ammonite {I want to buy a sliced, polished ammonite fossil}, and foraminifera are all derived from Amun/Ammon.) If you figure out that [Prince William, e.g.] is a big brother, you need to choose between ELDER SON (correct) and OLDER SON (wrong). [Comments of annoyance]: DRATS, not DARNS, DANGS, or DAMNS. And [Receive]! It's INCEPT, which one rarely hears outside of inception. ACCEPT, of course, has the same last four letters. Even the [Fawning type]—I went with GROVELER, but it's SLAVERER, which is a word that sounds good with a couple extra -ers tacked on.

Let's run through a few clues in each quadrant. In the northwest: BILLED is not the first thing that comes to mind for [Publicized]. [Baseball Hall-of-Famer Orlando] is Mr. CEPEDA; didn't know him but enjoyed the bio. [Sore spot] is an ABSCESS here. A PIPESTEM is [Something for Santa Claus to bite]. [Gear teeth trouble] means SLIPPAGE. [Bananas] is the clue for MENTAL, and I'd prefer a clue that focuses on cognitive function rather than sort of joshing at the expense of the mentally ill.

In the northeast: Editing papers like this has taught me that PLEURA is the [Lung covering]. The [Phrase of interest] is about the interest rate PER ANNUM. I like the criss-cross of RUMORS ([Products of some "mills"]) and the [Grapevine exhortation] to PASS IT ON. [Wolf __, captain in Jack London's "The Sea-Wolf"] is LARSEN. There are three of what Rex calls "odd jobs": a [Veterinarian, at times] is an ALTERER, [Banes] are RUINERS, and [Merger], which sounds like a union, is UNITER (odd-job clue for an odd-job answer: twice the oddness).

Moving to the southeast: [Webers per square meter] are TESLAS. [John Deere product] is REAPER (aw, no Grim Reaper reference?). [__ Gamp, nurse in "Martin Chuzzlewit"] stumps everyone who never bothered to read that Dickens novel (raise your hand if you've actually read it)—tough clue for SARAH, plain and simple. This corner's other obscure literary reference is SEERESS, ["The Prophecy of the ___" (Eddic poem)]. [Nancy's home] in France is LORRAINE, home of the quiche. I like the word ANTIPODE, [Direct opposite].

Back down to the KARSTS quadrant: Could you fill in the blank in ["The Daughters of Joshua __" (1972 Buddy Ebsen film)]? It's CABE. (And here's a pictorial retelling of the story from this made-for-TV movie, which also featured Sandra Dee and Karen Valentine.) [Pull off] is ACHIEVE—and the reversed clue, [Pull in], appears nearby (ARRIVE). The odd job MOUNTER is a taxidermist. No, a porn star. No, actually, [One who's getting on]. The [Winner's pride] is the TOP SCORE. [Cigarette smoke byproducts] include many toxins, such as ACETONES (which are also helpful for removing nail polish and dissolving plastic). I rather like [Producers of wall flowers?] for CREEPERS (e.g., trumpet creepers).


Karen Tracey's LA Times crossword has a lot of juicy stuff in it, including some particularly deft clues. I had no idea who was the ["Oppression et Liberte" author], but I've heard of SIMONE WEIL and with enough crossings, she firmed up nicely. ["Shirley, Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life" is one] refers to a misheard lyric, a MONDEGREEN. Without Googling it, I can't say what the real lyric's supposed to be. [Day one] is the DAWN OF TIME, which I hear is a phrase oft deployed in lousy college term papers. "Since the dawn of time..." Maybe also on ESSAY TESTS, as [They don't lend themselves to guessing] but padding is tempting. (Also on school papers: [Thesis defenders, at times] may be CITERS.) [One might make you stop and think] is a singular SCRUPLE. LA VIDA LOCA is a nice complement to the J answers (RED JASMINE crossing JORJA Fox crossing a JIFFY, PRIVATE JET crossing TOJO, JAPED crossing MAJUSCULES). I liked the clues for two of those J words—[Twinkling] is a noun meaning JIFFY, and MAJUSCULES is a fancy word for [Capital letters]. Karen previously tormented me with JACQUELINE DUPRE in a grid, so this time DUPRE is [Barbizon School artist Jules]; not any easier, but at least shorter and with easier crossings.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, another Marcel Marceau tribute, is really easy. Hmm, maybe having done another Marcel Marceau tribute puzzle in the last couple weeks helped me out here.

Well, the laser printer is waiting for my kid's computer to rejoin the household network, so I can't print out the Newsday Saturday Stumper yet. It's almost time for lunch at La Creperie followed by a movie followed by a winter storm warning. If I make it back from the movie (just a mile and a half away), I can do the puzzle later. And yes, I know that the Newsday puzzles are also available in an online Java applet, but I cannot abide the crossword applets other than the Times's proprietary one. (I calls 'em "crapplets.")

Updated Saturday night:

Stan Newman, writing as "Anna Stiga," made the Newsday Saturday Stumper. Best fill: SISYPHEAN (clued as [Eternally frustrating]...which may describe many people's experience with today's NYT crossword), ONE'S OWN MAN, Queen NEFERTITI, LOOSEY-GOOSEY, and CONDE NAST. Least favorite clue: [Not to mention] for TABOO. Give me a sentence in which the two are interchangeable that doesn't sound like it's really stretching it. Clues I liked: [What 1000 may stand for] for TEN AM; [Nickname for José] for PEPE and [Bishop of Roma] for PAPA (no PUPU platter or POPO here, alas); and [Not open] for CAGY and [Close] for STOP, muddling the open and shut doors concept. Did it seem a tad off to have ABE FORTAS in there, first and last name, when the [Blackmun's predecessor] clue includes only a last name?


Time to start thinking about the tournament

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is three months off and the registration forms aren't available yet, but you can start making your travel plans.

The host hotel is the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. The special rate for the tournament is $169 a night. Yes, that rate is considerably steeper than the Stamford Marriott's. But this hotel has the advantage of being in Brooklyn—closer to the NYC airports and many miles from the wan restaurant offerings of Stamford. Call the Marriott reservations line at 1-800-228-9290 (U.S. and Canada).

Which airport is best? What's the best way to get from the airport to the Marriott? What are the train options? See Stella Daily's blog for that discussion. The last two years, Nancy Shack found some great airfares from Chicago far in advance—in December, I think—so it may behoove you to start checking for fares now. (Last spring, I think I paid about $140 round-trip.) You could save a ton, even if you end up changing your flight later and paying a change fee.

Stella, Francis Heaney, and Ken Stern have compiled a wealth of Brooklyn info—mainly about travel and restaurants, I think. At some point, their Brooklyn ACPT guide will be posted at the ACPT site. I'm champing at the bit to explore some of those Brooklyn eateries—aren't you?


November 29, 2007

Friday, 11/30

NYS 10:12
NYT 5:09
LAT 4:29
CHE 3:35
CS 3:29
Jonesin' 3:12

WSJ 8:47

The Friday New York Times crossword by Henry Hook was a good bit easier than his other recent NYT and Sun themeless offerings, and that's just fine with me. It also relates a fun tale in several of the longer Across answers, this exhortation: CLERGYMEN, CROSS-DRESS MINDFULLY—LOOK BETTER! Add "GEE, YA THINK?!" and cartoonist R CRUMB, and you've got all my favorite fill here.

Favorite clues: [Indication of stress] for UNDERSCORE—I was thinking more along the lines of SWEAT BEADS rather than typographical stress. (Speaking of which: There's a Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood that emphasizes a word in a hand-lettered sign with an overscore. Don't try this at home, kids!) VONDA is clued as [Sci-fi author McIntyre] (never heard of her) rather than that other Vonda of Ally McBeal song fame, Ms. Shepard. [Minimal change] is CENT; I first went with DENT, but hey, my second-grader's math homework today was calculating change in pennies so it should've come to me sooner. CLERGYMEN are [Cloth workers?]. [Sculptor Oldenburg] was the gimme CLAES; my favorite of his sculptures are Batcolumn and Spoonbridge with Cherry. [Direct] could mean a number of things, but here it means NONSTOP, as a flight. PROM is a [Senior moment?]. [One who's happy when things look black] isn't that perverse—it's a BOOKKEEPER. CROSS-DRESS is clued [Undergo a change of habit?]. [Pompadour, for one] is MADAME (bet you also tried HAIRDO there). [Prerecorded] has an extraneous "pre," so it's an apt clue for the oxymoronic LIVE ON TAPE. The lettuce CRISPER is [Where cooler heads prevail?]. I even liked the ODER-NEISSE [Line (German/Polish border)]; at last, payoff for all those [__-Neisse Line] clues.

The New York Sun puzzle, Matt Ginsberg and Pete Muller's "Squeeze Play," sure did start out slowly. After a minute and a half of perusing clues, I had a whopping three letters in the grid.

Given the crossword's title, I suspected there was some squeezing going on, but which entries? How many letters squeezed into a box? Having been the sort of kid who dug those informational cards about animals and whose mom bought her a subscription to the cards, I knew the [Largest rodent in existence] was likely the CAPYBARA, but the space was seven letters. So I conjectured that the squeeze happened in the middle entry and tried out CAP[YB]ARA, and that got things rolling. There were not many gimmes—David LYNCH directed Eraserhead, and USERS are who go to methadone clinics. The three longest entries, two 10s and an 11, are actually two 20s and a 22 since each square's got two letters. They're double-themed, too: [YO][U T][WO][MA][KE][QU][IT][E A] [PA][IR], DOUBLE-ENTRY BOOKKEEPING, and YOU'D BETTER THINK TWICE. All but eight of the Down answers cross squeeze-play squares, too. "With construction constraints like these, Orange," you say, "surely the fill is blah." Au contraire! We get ZOOMING crossing the longish ADMITTI[NG], CLINTON and HEDGING; LL COOL J; COO[KT]OP beside RED [WI]NE ([Cab, e.g.]), "Rikki-TI[KK]I-Tavi" with the double-K.

Favorite clues: [Word with dead and zone] for DROP (no Dead Zone tie-in); [Like a flâneur] for IDLE; [Prep for dragging] for REV the engine before a drag race, along with [Dragged things] for computer ICONS; 38-Across, [With 38-Across, where you might end up if you don't 38-Across], for SING (Sing-Sing prison); [Overnight letter?] for INN (a place that lets rooms overnight); ODS-[bobs (mild oath)] (here's a fun read about minced oaths, ranging from zounds and crikey to drat and ods-bobs); [Heat source?] for MIAMI, home of the NBA team the Heat; [Crowded womb member] for [QU]AD; [Quinsy symptom] for ABSCESS; and [City once known as Lugdunum] for L[YO]NS. Definitely a well-crafted crossword, fellas!

One advantage the weekly indie puzzles have is the ease of timeliness—the lead times appear to be much shorter than most of the daily crosswords, so fresher fill and more current references can pop up. To wit: In Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle ("Town Wot?") has PRICE clued as [Drew Carey figure]—Drew having recently taken over as the host of The Price Is Right; SAM is [Brownback who withdrew from the 2008 election]. Other recent indie crosswords have included YouTube sensations DON'T TASE ME BRO and TAY ZONDAY—now, if you included one of those entries in a puzzle for Will Shortz, the phrase may well have fallen into the pit of obscurity by the time the puzzle is published—but for now, they're golden. I do enjoy the super-contemporary bits that this post-Maleska, post-Shortz breed of puzzles offers. This week's Jonesin' combines geography (American city names) with palindrome action. There's a RENO LONER, FARGO GRAF, MESA KASEM, and TULSA SLUT. The fill talks, with "I RULE" and "NO DUH" and "UH-UH." Pop culture gets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' SEWER home, "Bop GUN" (a Parliament song I don't know), and Idol punchline, "SHE Bangs." I also like the SEA SLUG, NUEVO Latino cuisine, and learning that an INCH is [1/63,360th of a mile].


The 11/16 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, Rich Silvestri's "Grade Inflation," is a fun one, and made easier by the inclusion of previous letter-grade themes in this publication. Here, each theme entry moves up one grade: a full professor becomes a DULL PROFESSOR, drag racing becomes CRAG RACING, car pooling is BAR POOLING, and bone porcelain (more commonly called bone china) is A-ONE PORCELAIN.

Merle Baker's LA Times puzzle drops an R from each of six theme phrases, yielding things like PEP SCHOOL and DIVE-IN MOVIES. Took seemingly forever to notice what was happening in the theme entries!

The theme in Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Western Wordplay," involves four flagrant puns that work Western words into existing phrases. Seattle Slew become SADDLE SLEW, and a lhasa apso becomes a LASSO APSO. Ouch. Puns too painful. Cannot bear it.

Moving to the 21x21 size, Larry Shearer's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Symbols of Success," translates six corporate or brand names into special characters. Across Lite can't handle all of them, but I'm grateful to Lloyd Mazer for finding a solution to that problem (and for tirelessly converting each week's WSJ crossword for our free amusement). A star (* or ★ in the newspaper?) is a TABLOID MAGAZINE. Cross (†?) is a brand of FOUNTAIN PENS. Omega (Ω) makes WRISTWATCHES. Equal (=) is a SUGAR SUBSTITUTE. Diamond (♦) sells CHOPPED WALNUTS. And # is a brand of TELEVISION SETS. But what on earth does # stand for? Pound TVs? Octothorpe TVs? Ah! Sharp TVs. Got it. Great theme! (Those manufacturers should be sure to send Larry Shearer and editor Mike Shenk some free pens and televisions in exchange for the plugs.)


November 28, 2007

Thursday, 11/29

NYS 8:04
NYT 5:11
LAT 4:04
CS 4:04

Ah, I like Thursdays. Tuesday is good, because that's when the Onion A.V. Club and Ben Tausig puzzles come out and offer a safe haven from easy puzzles. Wednesday feels rather like another Monday. And Thursday is when the thinking cap comes off the hat rack. (I don't really have a hat rack, but if I did, I would definitely hang my thinking cap there.)
First up, Liz Gorski's New York Times crossword, a classic rebus puzzle. Only not so classic, because the rebus squares are plunked in the corners of the grid, and the explanatory entry isn't in the middle or at the very bottom. But then again, classic, because it's classic Gorski. In 2000 (10/28), she had a Saturday NYT [CORNER] rebus puzzle with AMEN [CORNER] being one entry. And today, she's got an [AMEN] rebus puzzle with [AMEN] CORNERS. Even though it's Thursday and I should have been rebusically suspicious, I wasn't, and all four corners were the last to fall. I even figured that TUTANKHA crossing MILITIA made perfect sense. Eventually, the [AMEN] corners asserted themselves. The rebus pairs are [AMEN] TO THAT/[AMEN] CORNERS, CAMER[AMEN]/[AMEN]DS, TUTANKH[AMEN]/MILITI[AMEN], and ST[AMEN]/[AMEN]ITIES. 55-Across, a PRAYER, ends with the [AMEN] found four times in the puzzle, wrapping the theme up with a bow.

Clues and entries I relished the most: [Put up] for HOUSED; OUT THERE; [Loads] meaning ONUSES and not "a lot"; [Follower of Max or Paul?] for INE; [Quick change artist?] for a bank TELLER; [Thumb locale: Abbr.] for MICH (non-U.P. Michigan looks like a mitten); ["Be brave!"] for Dan Rather's nightly COURAGE; the MUUMUU and TENT, both clued as [Roomy dress], but with only the former evoking a favorite Simpsons episode; MIMETIC, meaning [Imitative]; and two [Trattoria order]s, SCAMPI washed down with CAMPARI. I'm always vexed by a clue like ["Midnight Cowboy" role]—R***O, yes, but is it RATSO or are we being treated to the double Z of RIZZO? Always seems to be RATSO, but always I am hopeful and leave the three middle letters blank, looking for Zs in the crossers, and always I am disappointed. (Memo to constructors: Spot us a RIZZO, will ya?)

The Themeless Thursday puzzle in the New York Sun comes from the computer-assisted atelier of Frank Longo. (If you're interested in reading about the rationales for hand crafting vs. computer-aided constructing, read Matt Gaffney's book, Gridlock.) Frank's got a crazy-ass database of potential fill that apparently includes XOLOITZCUINTLI, the [Mexican hairless dog]. Wow. Never saw that word before, and I can't be sure that spelling will stick with me. Besides that mystery answer, there were plenty of tough clues, leading to a tough-Friday-"Weekend Warrior" experience rather than the loping amble I was expecting on a Thursday.

To wit: one [Source of fatty acids] is FISH OIL. [The A of BASE jumping] is ANTENNA (the others are building, span, and earth—all high-up things one can leap off with a parachute). [Four-wheeled carriages with hooded rear seats] are BERLINS; never heard of 'em. [Some franc spenders] are GABONESE, bien sur. [It can be sucked out] means SAP. [Put away in a hurry] is INHALED, as in a plate of cheese fries. [Canine component] is the CUSP of a tooth; PULP almost fit. [They fell after being circled 13 times] refers to the WALLS OF JERICHO, about which I know almost nil. [Having just been razed], a building's IN A PILE. [Like some sciences] means INEXACT; I like this one a lot. An INNIE is [Part of many a tummy]. The LAST SUPPER is the [Passion preceder], and that really stumped me. GAS is [Lemon juice?] in that a lemon's a lousy car. [Trees of the bignonia family] meant nothing to me, but I know that CATALPAS have broad, heart-shaped, pale green foliage and long seedpods. [Concord, e.g.] is a RED WINE; viz. Manischewitz. [Search engine returns] are WEB HITS while [Amazon, eBay, or Yahoo!] is a SUPERSITE. I think I've seen [Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny] TOLER's name in a crossword one other time (move over, Sidney Toler). RINNA is the last name of the [Lisa who cohosted "Soap Talk" with Ty Treadway], and he has lovely eyes in person (he hosts the crossword game show).


I really enjoyed Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword. The theme is terrific—a four-rung word ladder that achieves the ALCHEMIST'S DREAM of turning lead into gold. The LEAD BALLOON leads to LOAD THE BASES, then to GOAD TO ACTION, then to GOLDBRICKER. The puzzle's further enhanced by the fill, which includes plenty of answers we don't often see: SEMIPRO, DADAISM, PYREX, DOLLOP (which is also the name of a cozy indie coffeeshop around the corner from me—alas, my husband would like to patronize them, but he likes the coffee from behemoth Starbucks better), ENCROACHED, and SHELTIE. I don't recall seeing OREO clued lately as [Snack with multiple eating options], and I like the nonspecificity of the clue that led me to think of chips rather than cookies.

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "X Marks the Spot," uses X in lieu of SPOT in the theme entries. Unlike a rebus puzzle, though, X is just the letter X in the crossing Down answers. Gotta like a theme that delivers five Xs, eh? At 1-Across, LST is clued as [WWII boat featured in "Saving Private Ryan"]. There was a small foofaraw a week or two ago when a similar clue was used for LST in an NYT puzzle. Apparently the craft that disgorged all the soldiers onto the beaches were not LSTs at all, as LSTs are huge things that disgorge tanks from the front and personnel from stairs on the side. If LSTs show up in the movie, they may be in the background and not the "featured" craft we all associate with the long Omaha Beach sequence.


November 27, 2007

Wednesday, 11/28

NYS 5:16
LAT 3:43
NYT 3:05
CS 3:01

I just wrote this in the comments over at Rex's blog, but wanted to plop it into a post here, too.

Sunday's ELEARNING entry and the occasional non-EMAIL, non-EFILE E-prefixed words, along with a mention of the word educe got me thinking about common crossword answers that start with E but can be redefined as E-prefixed words. The resulting faux crossword entries are too short to make a decent theme, so I'll share it here instead. EERIE? That's e-Erie, some sort of crazy online lake or tribe. e-Duce is Mussolini for the MySpace era. e-Ra, the virtual sun god. e-mend, fix a typo in your blog post. e-den, the room where you lounge with your internet-connected devices. e-RN, a nurse available online. Hell, why not e-DNA? (No offense to Ms. Krabappel from The Simpsons.) The dreaded e-pee—write your own clue. e-lie, not an uncommon thing on the web. e-no, a rejection. Cook an recipe with your e-wok. Forget Abba Eban—have an e-ban on his name appearing in online crosswords. Send an e-pic in JPEG format. I could go on, but I won't.

The New York Sun puzzle is by Jeffrey Harris. The theme entries are clued with fish names that could define the phrases in the grid. An [ANGELFISH], for example, is a HOLY MACKEREL. My fave was LANCE BASS for [SPEARFISH]. The most ICKY answer here was OLEO OIL, a [Margarine ingredient] (crossing PECK AT, even though PICK AT feels like a much more natural phrase meaning [Nibble unenthusiastically]). On the up side, there's OKEY-DOKE, three answers that are slangy words for prison (STIR, PEN, COOP), ZEPHYRS, PASSWORD, and some other longish answers. Naked pandering in the clue for YOU: [The best-looking crossword solver in the world?]. Never heard of COE, ["Tyrell" novelist Booth]—here's the book's website. Youth fiction with an inner-city Bronx slant, by a woman named Coe Booth.

The New York Times puzzle was authored by Ray Fontenot. First, I must whine: Not fair to use the applet (which isn't free) and have no access while solving to what appears in print and in the Across Lite Notepad. After I finished solving the puzzle in the applet, I downloaded the Across Lite file to see that the Notepad says [DIAGONAL: What you might do eventually to make up for lost time]. Now, the clues were easy enough that I barely noticed the theme clues at all. Too many easy Down clues, I guess. The theme entries are GET LOST, FIND A GAS STATION, and BUY A MAP going across, and TAKE THE SHORTCUT along the NW-to-SW diagonal. Granted, it's tough to get fill to work with three-way cross-checking through the diagonal center of the grid, but the fill didn't excite me. I was fully prepared to grumble about "OH, ME" ([Words of woe]) until I Googled it and was reminded that it's also the title of a Meat Puppets song covered by Nirvana in their MTV Unplugged concert, which is one of my favorite albums and which is now available on DVD for the first time and I've ordered for my husband as a Christmas present. I had a soft spot for ENID, the [Sooner city], because at Absolut Trivia tonight, our biggest point-getter was knowing when Oklahoma, the Sooner State, was admitted to the union. I thought it was around 1905 (we needed to be within 5 years), and no sooner (ha!) did I mention that I thought the state recently celebrated its centennial then Tyler Hinman remembered an Oklahoma centennial crossword theme he'd solved this fall. As if Tyler needed any reason to continue doing Timothy Parker's Universal crossword online...sigh. Although we wagered (and won) 25 points for our 1907 answer and won tonight's round of trivia, alas, we lost the monthly prize by about 15 points.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "RV Hookups," spotlights phrases whose words meet up at an R and V, like COMPUTER VIRUS. What I liked: GORE crossing the themer POPULAR VOTE; rocker JOAN crossing her last name, JETT; two more Js in HAJJ; COPENHAGEN, [Home of The Little Mermaid statue]; and [Walk, like a Pacer] for TRAVEL on the basketball court. Good to see OWEN clued with the Owen who's currently the hottest, career-wise: Clive Owen. This kind of theme, though, is a bit of a snooze. I tend to like such themes better if they include a longer batch of embedded letters or a word, or if the letters in question are Scrabbly ones like X or Z.

Robert Doll's LA Times crossword was hiding its theme from me until I reached the tie-together entry (maybe I'm just slow this morning). ARTHUR DENT from Hitchhiker's Guide, a good FIRST IMPRESSION, and evil OLD SCRATCH can all be fixed at the BODY SHOP. As can a WINGDING—and I hadn't noticed that WINGDING was part of the theme at first, probably because it and BODY SHOP are each stacked with another 8-letter entry that doesn't appear to be part of the theme...though DREAM CAR sort of ties in, I don't see how OVERTAKE would. New name I learned: ELDON [Industries, one-time maker of slot cars]; the only Eldon I know is Murphy Brown's painter. Favorite misreading of a clue: [Frozen desert chain] with a B, must be GOBI. Er, no. It's dessert, and TCBY.


November 26, 2007

Tuesday, 11/27

Tausig 4:53
Onion 4:14
NYS 4:01
CS 3:13
LAT 3:06
NYT 2:46

Julie Ann Bowling's New York Times crossword hinges on a different reading of the first word in each of four two-word phrases. Change the pronunciation of that first word in LEAD PENCIL to rhyme with "heed" and you get the [Number one #2?]. A [Fish-shaped musical instrument?] is a BASS (rhymes with "ass") GUITAR. Shift the stress in "minute" so that a MINUTE MAID is a [Little woman?]. And the one that made me laugh was POLISH (rhyme with "abolish") JOKE, [What a comedian might do before going onstage?]. I have a vague memory of seeing a similar theme once, something playing with Polish/polish, but remember no specifics. (Anyone else?) Favorite bits of fill: FJORD, OUSE (because I just did a British cryptic including this [Northamptonshire river]'s name), VACUOUS, SCARES UP, and IRONSTONE. I had no idea that double rolls in dice were called DOUBLETS. Wikipedia just illuminated me about etymological doublets such as frail and fragile—if you get a kick out of etymology, go read that article. The only doublet I knew of was the men's jacket. We were spared another appearance of SILAS from the Da Vinci Code—SILOS is here, but could easily have been SILAS crossing SAVE instead of SILOS/SORE. I'll give the edge to SILOS over Dan Brown characters any day. (Also: If this is a constructing debut for Ms. Bowling, congratulations! I like the puzzle and look forward to more.)

Lee Glickstein has crafted an amusing New York Sun crossword, "Movies Free of Charge." Each movie title has lost an ION, or a charged particle, altering the gist. The Birth of a Nation turns into THE BIRTH OF A NAT, a D.C. baseball player. [Movie about a Hail Mary?] is PASS OF THE CHRIST, referring to a Hail Mary pass in football. Tom Cruise's franchise becomes a [Movie about a young diva?], MISS IMPOSSIBLE. Good theme, eh? I did this puzzle right after the NYT, so 1-Across, clued exactly the same in both puzzles, was an instant gimme ([Intense pain] = AGONY). Favorite entries: AARGH, MR TOAD (referencing Wind in the Willows, not the psychedelic Disney ride), "YES, BUT," and FISHY. I also liked E-FILE—one of a very few e-prefixed words that I use outside of the crossword arena. (E-mail is my other e-mainstay.)


Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Anatomy Lesson," groups four phrases that end with FLESH and BLOOD as well as SKIN and BONES. Good long entries—DISC GOLF, The WEST WING, WATERGATE, EARTH TONE. Good to see AFL-CIO in its entirety, instead of just a 3-letter half showing up in the grid. Three pre-euro currencies appear, too—LIRA, FRANC, and D-MARK. It might have been wise to retitle the puzzle or rework the fill in the bottom center—ANAT. is an answer that's been given in the puzzle's title.

The first three theme entries in Aymi Scott's LA Times crossword have a CHOCOLATE CENTER in that the middle of three words is a chocolate type. There's a MALTED MILK SHAKE, LITTLE WHITE LIE, and THE DARK CRYSTAL. Ideally, that first one wouldn't be using MILK in the same context—it's the same dairy product in the shake and in milk chocolate—but I can surely make allowances if the constructor is hard at work reminding me about chocolate. (Mmm, chocolate...) Good long fill: DEBACLE (seeing that spurred me to look up its etymology), OOH LA LA, and HOT RODS.

Updated again:

Fortunately, Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle explains the first five theme entries in the sixth entry. I won't give it away, because when the light dawned on me, it was such a good "aha" moment. If you're not familiar with the much-blogged and much-YouTubed event mentioned in 23-Across, watch this mashup of the video with an MC Hammer music video. I'll bet you a dollar that this entry was the seed entry for the theme. Or, if not the seed, at least the one that pushed a theme idea over the edge to a must-make puzzle. There was one knotty crossing of an album title from Radiohead and an ultimately gettable bit of drug slang. Good crossword, lots of theme squares, and a rare appearance of ENEMA in the fill (complete with fun clue).

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Tied Games," is also a fine construction. The theme entries are made up of (mostly) familiar board games combined into clueable phrases. As someone whose kid has hit the age group at which board games are no longer too complex for his wee brain, I found the theme fun and yet not as easy as I would've thought. I liked the 8-letter entries sandwiching the central theme entry, and the 6x6 corners. Both this puzzle and Matt G's Onion puzzle had plenty of Scrabbly letters wielded well, which I also liked.


November 25, 2007

Monday, 11/26

NYS 3:25
NYT 2:52
CS 2:43
LAT 2:32

Andrea Michaels' New York Times crossword has got a straight-up "what the h*ck" change-the-vowel theme, with HACKYSACK, a comedian's HECKLER, HICKORY-SMOKED ham, painter David HOCKNEY, and that movie nobody saw, IHUCKABEES. I like the theme, but find myself with little to say about the rest of the puzzle. (Such is Monday, eh?) I do like the double hit of Asian cuisine with BOK choy and a WOK...that's A-OK! And you've got to like BRAIN and LAPSE sitting directly opposite one another in the grid.

Dave Sullivan's responsible (well, along with editor Peter Gordon) for the New York Sun crossword, "iPod Shuffle." The theme entries are five phrases in which a scrambled IPOD appears in the midsection. There's PYRAMID POWER hooey, a POP IDOL, SECOND OPINIONS, ADIPOSE, and the [Butterfly, e.g.], LEPIDOPTERAN. Favorite clue: [Fine dodgers] for SCOFFLAWS, which is completely straightforward and yet sounded like it wanted to mislead me.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "On the Starting Line," groups phrases starting with READY (AND WILLING), SET (A GOOD EXAMPLE), and GO (DOWN IN HISTORY). The three also share an air of positive achievement. Favorite entries: OPEN STOCK china, YEA BIG, BOWLS OVER, JOCKEYING, and B-GIRL clued as [Female hip-hop dancer] rather than the antiquated meaning.

The LA Times crossword by Rich Norris is credited to his alter ego, Lila Cherry. The theme entries end with (ISLAND) HOPPER, (STONE) SKIPPER, and (PUDDLE) JUMPER. Good fill: TAX-EXEMPT with its kooky XEXE middle, BOOB TUBES, a TAILPIPE and an AIR RIFLE, BALD EAGLE and RAN UP A TAB (an improvement on fill-in-the-blank answer ATAB), and the vigor of a PUSHUP and an END RUN. Is the clue for IPOD correct, though? It says [MP3 player], and I thought iPods played a different file format. Wikipedia says iPods can play many different kinds of files, including MP3s, so the clue is spot on.


The worst crossword ever!

The Chicago Tribune means well, adding a crossword puzzle about India to its special geography section (complete with quizzes). However, the guy who made the puzzle paid no mind to crossword conventions.

I think my favorite clue is 18-Across, [Former Portuguese enclave + old Romanian currency (ab.; two words)]. GOAROL! Although [M__. Chinese leader] certainly has potential. AO!


November 24, 2007

Sunday, 11/25

NYT 9:19
WaPo 7:22
LAT 7:15
PI 7:07
BG 7:01
CS 5:04

Aughh! While I was out to dinner, my husband installed the new Mac OS, Leopard, on my machine. Apparently there's a clash between Blogger's Javascript and the new version of Safari, which is not a happy turn of events. Why can't they all get along instead of crashing Safari repeatedly? I drafted my post about the Globe, Post, and Inquirer crosswords earlier, and now that I want to blog about the Times puzzle, I am cranky about the fact that the browser crashed the first umpteen times I tried to edit the post, and now that I've disabled Javascript, I can't access certain Blogger features while in Safari. So now I'm in Mozilla, which is displaying in hideous Courier font. I suppose it's time to give Firefox another try.

So: Cranky, but not because of Trip Payne's New York Times crossword. In the "Two Out of Three" theme, the theme entries are sentences or phrases made of 3-letter words with the same first two letters. We get ROB ROY ROT, MAD MAX MAN MAY MAR MAT, BIG BIC BIZ BIO, FOE FOR FOX, HAG HAS HAY HAT, SAD SAM SAW SAL SAY SAX, PUG PUP PUN, DIP DID DIG DIN, and ADD ADZ ADS ADO. Did you find this fun? I kinda didn't. I filled in the repeated letters by rote, and didn't spend much time puzzling out the theme answers based on the clues. If there is an extra layer that I've missed, please fill me in. Shiniest fill: BUTTON-FLY jeans and the U.S.S. ALASKA. Favorite clues: Uh, I don't know. All I have is a screen capture of the finished puzzle, and I'm in no mood to re-solve the puzzle to see the clues in context.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle, "National Anthems," puns on song titles by warping part of the title into a country name. The results are mixed. Rick James' "Superfreak" is always ripe fodder for crosswords, but SUPERGREEK diverges from the other theme entries by including an adjective rather than the name of a country, as in the rest of the entries. The gimmick works better with the country names, if you ask me: "Who'll Stop the Rain" becomes WHO'LL STOP BAHRAIN; "Clementine," YEMENTINE; "Danny Boy," SUDANNY BOY; "Blowin' in the Wind," BLOWIN' INDIA WIND; "Daydream Believer," DAYDREAM BOLIVIA; "It's Too Late" (which I'd never heard of, but when I Googled up the video, my husband came over, asked to see the video, and pronounced the song a '70s classic), IT'S KUWAIT; "The Thrill Is Gone," THE THRILL IS GHANA. It must've been challenging to find song titles that lent themselves to fake national anthemizing—I particularly like the rah-rah nature of the Bahrain and Ghana titles. Two total "huh?" answers in here—THULE is a [Remote land, to Pliny], not just a brand of rooftop bike racks, and Virginia is home to the LURAY Caverns.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Redefining the Game," is packed with football terms clued in unrelated contexts. Hey! Whaddaya know? This puzzle was pretty easy, even though several of the football terms are only vaguely in my ken. The funniest one: [Get rid of unwanted hair, cat-style?] for COUGH UP THE BALL. Ah, hairball humor! That never goes out of style.

Robert Doll's Washington Post puzzle, "Group Think," reclues phrases that end with words that double as collective nouns. This one felt rather dry to me—DEVELOPED LOT isn't a partcicularly zippy phrase in and of itself, and cluing it as [Mature group?] doesn't ramp up the humor level. Similarly, DRY BATTERY and [Sober group?] don't sing.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle has triple-stacked 15-letter entries at the top and bottom of the grid. The cluing was fairly straightforward and not so tough—except for that phrase I've never heard of at 59-Across, OF THE FIRST WATER. That last R crossed ERGS, which would be easy with a clue referring to the unit of energy. But [Sahara Desert areas]? Yes, dune fields are ERGS, too. [Eccentric] could plausibly be FUNKY rather than FLAKY, and the [Medical suffix] is a toss-up between ITIS and OSIS. Gnarly little corner there...

Gail Grabowski's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Bar Exam," has a clean theme that's been done before: phrases ending with soap brand names. I don't mind the thematic rehash in the least—there are so many soap brands and so many phrases to choose from that you get a fresh batch of suds. My favorite theme answers were ORANGE ZEST (I am all about the Orange zestiness!), MOLTEN LAVA (my kid digs volcanoes, and who doesn't enjoy geology? I read John McPhee's Basin and Range years before I took Intro to Geology and loved it), and DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL. TVs and phones don't typically have round dials any more, but I think the "dial" references will continue until today's 40-year-olds have become extinct. Aside from the theme, good fill, good clues, good times.


November 23, 2007

Saturday, 11/24

NYT 6:40
LAT 6:16
Newsday 5:33
CS 3:06

When I was in Hollywood for Merv Griffin's Crosswords, I didn't see a single movie star. I will, however, be having dinner Saturday with two stars—Al Sanders and Tyler Hinman from Wordplay. Al and his son are in town for a youth hockey tournament this weekend and Tyler lives about 12 blocks away from me, so we're all going out to eat. While I would, of course, be delighted to crush Tyler and Al at the crossword tournament, they're both uncommonly genial guys.

Hey, remember that song that played over the closing credits in Wordplay, "If You Don't Come Across (I'm Gonna Be Down)"? The guy who wrote that, Vic Fleming, is the constructor of the Saturday New York Times crossword. The highlight of the fill, for me, is MEL'S DINER, where the sitcom Alice took place ([1976-85 sitcom setting]). And a mini-theme (our second sports mini-theme in a row in the NYT) is always welcome—here it's the TOURING PROS ([Open competitors, often]) who may show up on the [Display at a golf tournament], or LEADERBOARD.

Favorite clues: A [Common bank deposit?] isn't silt or money, but O POSITIVE blood. TAVERNS are [Where things may be neatly ordered]; clunky wording for a mixed-drink reference, but necessary for the mislead (and I don't want anything to interfere with a good mislead!). CAROMS are [Results of some glances], as on a billiards table. [Drop off] is nice and vague—GO TO SLEEP. Two political bits, with a POWER BASE ([Source of political support]) and [Filibustered, say] for RAN ON. Are COLD SORES ready for prime time? [They may accompany fevers], sure, but the herpes virus doesn't get much play in the Times crossword. (Not that I object to such fill.) [They frequently become locked] clues HORNS. [Called for] sounds like a verb but isn't: it's NECESSARY.

In the "names you may or may not know" category: The ["Happy Days Are Here Again" composer] is Milton AGER; hmm, that doesn't ring a bell at all. I also didn't know [Israeli opera conductor Daniel] OREN. [Lash with a whip] is B-movie cowboy Lash LARUE. There are three jocks—Monica SELES is a [Three-time 1990s French Open winner], Hideo NOMO is the [Pitcher who was the 1995 N.L. Rookie of the Year], and the last name of [1980s-'90s N.B.A. star Danny] is AINGE. JARED Diamond is the [author of the 1998 Pulitzer-winning book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel"]—I've never read his books but enjoyed his magazine articles in Discover back in the day. Then there are five people clues in a row, 38- through 43-Down: David JANSSEN was the [Star of TV's "The Fugitive"], the [King of pop] is CAROLE King (love the clue!), O'HARA is the ["Ten North Frederick" novelist], REGAN is the [Duke of Cornwall's wife] in King Lear, and [Massey of film] is crosswordese ILONA.


Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper has a good assortment of 9-letter answers—my favorites were OGDEN NASH and VEAL OSCAR, PISTACHIO and TRIPLE SEC. There's also a pair of 15s crossing in the middle: GREYHOUND RACING and (clued simply as [Free]) ALL EXPENSES PAID. While I'm particularly fond of wordy, question-marked Saturday clues, some of my favorite clues here were single words like the one I just mentioned: [Means] for AGENT; [News] for WORD; [Realizes] for EARNS; [Dump] for STY; [Flags] for STANDARDS; [Tendency] for TIDE; and [Braces] for PAIRS. In each case, either the clue has alternate meanings you're likely to think of, or the answer does. Longer clues I liked included [Margarita ingredient] for TRIPLE SEC (did I know this??); [Archer's partner] for SPADE; [Electric ___] for CAR (I was thinking EEL and EYE and liked the switch-up to CAR); [Think about] for ENTERTAIN; and [Oath starter] for SACRE ("Sacre bleu!"). [Cooper's spot] is CNN, Cooper meaning Anderson Cooper; here's a handsome portrait from Vanity Fair for the Coop fans out there.

James Sajdak's LA Times crossword has five Xs in the grid—one in each corner and one in the center square. I'll bet that was no mean feat, getting everything to flow together with those X entries locked into place. The first corner has XM RADIO ([Satellite service since 2001]) crossing X-RATED ([Blue]), and the upper right has a BASS SAX ([Big wind]) crossing X-RAY EYES ([Advantage for one gathering inside information?]). Boy, that last one took a long time to fall since I had LINEAR B instead of LINEAR A, and couldn't see what would start with XRBY. The center X holds THE BRONX BOMBERS ([Powerful sports sobriquet]) and a SAD EXCUSE ([Not the best of examples]). At the bottom, we have Dr. Seuss's THE LORAX crossing XS AND OS ([Features of some love letters]), and REANNEX crossing SUSSEX. Favorite non-X clues: [Literally, it means "lover"] for AMATEUR and [Tub contents] for BATH (not, thankfully, OLEO). Best non-X fill: INTAGLIOS ([Gems with sunken designs]) and MONTAIGNE ([French Renaissance essayist]).

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy has a straightforward "4 Irons" theme—four theme entries beginning with kinds of irons. WAFFLE (WEAVE), FLAT (STOMACH), FIRE (BRIGADE), and LEG (EXERCISE). Wait, what's a fire iron? Any metal instrument for tending to a fire, such as a poker, fire tongs, etc.


November 22, 2007

Friday, 11/23

NYS 15:30
NYT 5:35
CHE 4:21
Jonesin' 4:20
LAT 4:10
CS 3:05

WSJ 7:46

We'll start out in a place that is alien to many of you: The land of cryptic crosswords. I'll list many of the answers to Fraser Simpson's post-Thanksgiving New York Sun puzzle, a cryptic crossword. If you don't know what cryptics are about and are skipping the puzzle, at least take a peek at the clues and see how I derived the answers. You never know—it just might appeal to you after all. And if you like to tackle cryptics but haven't done this one yet, unfocus your eyes as you scroll down to coverage of Friday's standard crossword puzzles.

In the Sun puzzle, I had a hard time getting my head wrapped around Simpson's cluing style. Some clues were too easy—12-Across, 15-Across, 2-Down, 8-Down, 15-Down, and 18-Down were straight-up anagrams of a word (or two words) in the clue, and 24-Across was a straight-up embedded answer. (Feel free to ask in comments if you need extra hints on any of those.) Granted, it's been a long day and I was ready to fall asleep at 7:00 while working on this puzzle, but a few other clues just weren't adding up. So I cheated and used Across Lite's "reveal current letter" a few times, and then was able to piece together the answers and see how they were derived. For 1-Across, catcher = C, to kid = to RIB, win = BAG, and electronic = E: game = CRIBBAGE. For 3-Down, a swimmer = BATHER, which hems about = RE, and a brief rest = BREATHER. Here's how the other ones shake out:

5-Across: Double definition, secure and place for baby Jesus—STABLE.
9-Across: Rub out = MURDER, answer = ANS.; both are "written about" or in reverse, making a SNARE DRUM percussion instrument.
11-Across: The fruit BERRY sounds like ("so it's said") bury, or put into the earth.
13-Across: The IRS AGENT tax collector is I + (SAG inside the musical RENT).
16-Across: Pennsylvania = PA, the word IS is inside it; PISA is a tower locale.
19-Across: LIFT = LI (Roman 51) + FT (abbrev. of foot); give someone a ride = give someone a lift.
20-Across: DWELLING (home) = D is Depot's "leader" + welling (up).
23-Across: EMERSION (coming out) = Ralph Waldo EMERSON protecting the letter I.
27-Across: THEME (topic) = THE + ME (abbrev. of Maine).
28-Across: "Better" able by anagramming it into ELAB + ORATE (to speak); ELABORATE = add details.
29-Across: ROTATE means turn. Turn = ROT + T ("turn" originally, first letter of that word) inside A & E.
30-Across: A $5 bill is a FIN, inside ice cream CONES -> CONFINES = encloses.
1-Down: COSTAR = commanding officers (COS) + a sailor (TAR).
4-Down: GARY = GRANARY (thresher's warehouse) - RAN.
6-Down: The note TI (do re mi fa so la ti) + BIAS (a bent) = TIBIAS (leg bones).
7-Down: Communist RED is uprising -> DER, inside BORING (pedestrian); BORDERING = surrounding.
10-Down: The initial of "mentioned" is M + character named ARI GOLD = flower MARIGOLD.
14-Down: AS A WHOLE (in full) = SAW (carpentry tool) inside A HOLE (a gap).
17-Down: AL OERTER = ALERTER (more aware) around O (Olympics' first letter).
21-Down: ASCENT (climb) = A + SCENT (trail).
22-Down: ANGERS = park RANGERS "after introduction," meaning without the first letter.
25-Down: PLAIN (everyday) = homophone ("in the auditorium") of carpentry tool PLANE.
26-Down: MAYO (spread at lunch) = MAY (might) + O (love in tennis).

I think it was hard for me to get into the constructor's frame of mind, since I've been spending a couple hours a week on British cryptics for the past three months. Here are a few clues I've admired in The Times Crossword Book 11. Can you figure these out?

1. Savoy, perhaps, gets cold underground? Just the opposite (5)
2. Uproar created by lout leaving a dance first (8)
3. Obsession about larva over in Winnipeg area (8)
4. Writer depicting seabirds according to Chinese dynastic principles? (6,9)
5. Quick pint, perhaps around four? (5)

Moving along to American-style crosswords:

For our post-gluttony dessert, everyone has room for Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword. There's a mini-theme with the VISITORS' DUGOUT ([Where Yankees are found at Shea Stadium]) across from BALLPARK FRANKS ([Fan fare?]). This crossword has a lot to say: "IT'S ALL GOOD" (["Everything's cool"]); "OH, GOSH" (["Jeez!"]); "LOOK, MA!"; "EVER SO SORRY" (["A thousnad pardons"]), hey, BRO ([Dude]); and "HOLA" ([Ciao, in Chile]). Can someone explain that last one to me? I though hola was hello in Spanish, and ciao is goodbye. Ah, ciao also means hello. Interrelated clues: [Waist products] for OBIS, [Waste product] for TRASH BAG, and TOSS for [Put into a (TRASH BAG)]. Tennis gets two, with the USTA ([Court org.]) and GRAND SLAMS, of which [Rod Laver won two]. The completely unrelated RURIK stands alone—that's the [Ninth-century founder of the Russian monarchy]. Never heard of him, but the Wikipedia story is interesting. Oddest clue: [What someone might win after stumping a cultural group?] for ETHNIC VOTE. I prefer the more colloquial stuff—the LOUSY ([Stinko]) [Two-timing types] are RATS, and DETOX and MAGS are both short for longer words, and there's GLOM and YADA. Stale crossword shoe width EEE gets promoted to EEE WIDTH. I learned a new word in the clue for ASIAN FUSION, [Cuisine that may be served with a chork]. Chork? Here's what it is, a chopstick/fork blend. People, it's not that hard to learn to use chopsticks. Honest. Avoid the chork.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "DEF Jam," has four theme answers that contain the DEF letter string. There's also a South Park character I'd never heard of, GINGER KID. And a band I wouldn't recognize, STEREOLAB (where first I entered STEREOGUM, but that's a music website, not a band.


Dan Fisher's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "The Borrowers," has just five theme answers tied together by 104-Down, LOAN—each contains those letters in a chunk. CARMELO ANTHONY and APOLO ANTON OHNO cover sports, while movies give us actor EVERETT SLOANE, director MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI, and the toons LILO AND STITCH. The thematic lightness means there's plenty of room for good fill, with numerous chunks of 7-letter answers. MASHUP is clued as [Musical mix of two songs into one]—as in Danger Mouse's Grey Album combining music from the Beatles' White Album with vocals from Jay-Z's Black Album. Overall, I really enjoyed this puzzle's cluing and fill.

Jeffrey Harris's 11/9 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "On the Campaign Trail," takes political campaign terms onto the hiking trail, cluing those terms as if they pertain to a twig running for office. GRASS ROOTS, SPLINTER PARTIES, STUMP SPEECH, and the others can all be viewed from a tree's standpoint. Two unfamiliar names in the grid: PAVIA, the site of a battle in the much-beloved Italian War of 1521. (What? That's not one of your favorite wars to study?) It was [Where Charles V defeated Francis I, 1525]. The other mystery, wait-for-the-crossings name was [Bengals kicker Graham] SHAYNE. Is it Graham Shayne or Shayne Graham? The latter.

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword really beats around THE BUSH—six other theme entries, all clued with [Beat], encircle THE BUSH. I admire the thematic density, but one of the theme entries, LIKE KEROUAC, rubs me the wrong way. I can overlook that thanks to the swath of stair-stepped Across answers in the middle—CAROUSEL atop HONOLULU atop THE BUSH atop OVERTOOK atop SEAN PENN.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Going Nowhere" because its four theme entries are verb phrases that sound active but don't involve making physical progress—e.g., RUN OUT OF STEAM, JUMP AT THE CHANCE.


November 21, 2007

Thursday, 11/22

LAT 6:00
NYT 4:16
CS 3:12

I may or may not get to the non-NYT crosswords Thursday morning—those potatoes won't peel themselves, you know. And I'm plumb tuckered out from making the sweet potatoes and the pecan pies tonight.

Oliver Hill, Will Shortz's teenage neighbor, now has his second crossword published in the New York Times. This one bends the rules, sort of—you're not supposed to have unchecked letters, and here there's a quartet around the center square that look unchecked. Actually, they're all the same letter, and that letter is formed by the black squares radiating out from the center in a big X, and the two big theme answers are clued [See diagram]—referring to that big black X. Those long answers are the ADULT FILM RATING and the ROMAN NUMERAL TEN. It's a cute gimmick. Clue and fill APOGEEs (an APOGEE is a [High point]): [Crosses and such] for AWARDS (as in decorations such as the Bronze Cross); SNOWPEA; [Word with ceiling or football] for FAN (go, Packers!); [Wisconsin senator Feingold] for RUSS (yeah, I'll bet he likes the Packers too); ALDINE is the answer to [___ Press, classic Venetian printer that introduced italics] (the only Aldine I know is a street a mile away from me); [Thumb's end] for SILENT B; [What x makes] for PRODUCT (though the x should really be a × symbol, and maybe it is in the newspaper—and is this supposed to tie into the theme?); and two words ending with I crossing each other, STIMULI and WAPITI. Two names didn't readily come to mind: LEONORA ["Fidelio" protagonist] and the SYD [___ Lawrence Orchestra (British big band since the 1960s)].


Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Turkey Shoot," has theme entries containing turkey parts at the outer edge of the answer. BREAK A LEG? My kid has been hankering for a chance to gnaw on a big turkey leg, Renaissance Faire style, for about a year. Today is his big day! Here, ORU is clued as [Sch. named for an evangelist]. Had you heard that ORU has been roiled in scandal of late? If you're in the mood to read about misappropriations of ministry and university monies and Oral's daughter-in-law keeping company with teenage boys, here are some details (alleged in a lawsuit) and here are some more.

The LA Times byline is another of Rich Norris's pseudonyms—Cathy Carulli is an anagram of "actually Rich." The first three theme entries are clued [Turkey], [Yam], and [Gravy]. The fourth one is an apt admonition referring to those three, split into DON'T and PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD. (That last bit is 16 letters long, so this is a 16x15 grid.) The clues were hard, or maybe I just lost sight of Rich's wavelength. Funniest misstep: Deciding that [Yam] was a CARB FOR POPEYE. No! He ate spinach! "Yam" is a VERB FOR POPEYE. I though [Educational tools illustrating everyday life] might be SCHEMA, but they're REALIA. My dictionary widget dates the word to the 1950s.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Sun cryptic on Friday

Do you like cryptic crosswords? Peter Gordon sent word that the New York Sun has an annual day-after-Thanksgiving cryptic. (Did I know this? I don't recall.) If you are new to cryptics, you can take advantage of a solving tutorial from Fraser Simpson on the Sun website.

If you're a beginner but want to wade deeper into cryptics, I recommend Fraser's 101 Cryptic Crosswords: From the New Yorker. It doesn't offer much challenge to cryptic junkies, but it's a good way to get your feet wet. If you find American cryptics too easy, try the British ones. I hear that the Times (of London) has puzzles of middling difficulty (from an English standpoint), but this book has been keeping me occupied for months.

As a reminder, the Sun disappears on holidays, so there's no Thursday NY Sun crossword this week.


November 20, 2007

Wednesday, 11/21

NYS 4:44
NYT 4:21
CS 3:46
LAT 3:31

I'm heading out for a night of trivia with Tyler Hinman and friends. (Here's hoping I don't jinx them and destroy their good position in the standings this month.) So I won't be home until late, and may or may not have the energy for the Times puzzle before morning. Here's my Sun write-up for now. Feel free to chat about the NYT too—if I forget and read spoilers in the comments before I solve the NYT (the comments are e-mailed to me), I will chastise you for my own forgetfulness. Fair enough?

Russell Brown, who comments here fairly often, has ponied up a rebus puzzle with 10 rebus-filled answers for the New York Sun. (Russell also does grid design, sort of, for turned wood bowls and vases.) The theme gave itself away easily enough since I know that confectioner's sugar contains CORN ST[ARCH]—I just had to figure out if the rebus was [STAR] or [ARCH]. And no, the title, "Gateway," didn't give it away because I often forget to utilize the title. (The Gateway Arch is near where Lewis and Clark set out from.) The Kansas City MON[ARCH]S Negro League team crosses the CLE[AR CH]ANNEL radio conglomerate. CORN ST[ARCH] meets up with the [Tomboy of fiction], JO M[ARCH]. 53-Across threw me because CHART fits into five spaces just as well as B[AR CH]ART does; the latter crosses WEB SE[ARCH]ING, which runs alongside PALE BLUE, [Like liquid oxygen] (Pretty! And not a fact I knew.). In the middle there's the pro-wrestling SUPERST[AR CH]ALLENGE crossing a CED[AR CH]EST. And at the bottom, [ARCH]ITECTS] crosses [ARCH]ERY, which has the "Wha?" clue of [Toxophilite's skill]. The exact symmetrical placement of the five rebus squares will appeal to Rex, though I thought it felt like they were asymmetrical while solving.


Trivia night went well, and the team is well positioned in the overall standings so we've got a shot at the $1,000 prize next week. My shining moment: For the tossup question, "What year was The Godfather: Part II first released?"—for which points were awarded to the five teams closest to the actual answer—I guessed 1974, the correct year. My 20-something teammates were stumped. (Age has its benefits.) The last time I went, the tossup question was "How much does the Hummer [I forget which model] weigh?" Pfft! That seems far more random and arbitrary than '70s movie releases. (FYI: The Godfather, 1972; The Godfather: Part III, 1990 and far too late for anyone to care.)

I solved Kelsey Blakley's New York Times puzzle late last night. I was not at my peak. And I was too tired to blog about it then. Let's see what I recall now: The theme is movie-related phrases that start with words that are also military ranks, and those ranks are abbreviated in the grid. Hence, PVT SCREENING, MAJ MOTION PICTURE, and GEN ADMISSION. Movies, in the army? If only Stripes and Private Benjamin and Three Kings figured into it somehow. Outside of the theme, there are two giant fill entries, the Consumer Reports BUYER'S GUIDE and SMOKE SIGNAL, which would be lovely additions if they weren't mildly discomfiting by virtue of being as long as many theme entries. (Shorter than these three theme entries, and thus kosher, but still bringing pause.) And then the longest of the Down answers are just words...except that one of them, MATINEES, relates to movies and muddles my head a little. And this morning, my head is muddled enough as it is. [Ed: At the NYT forum, Ghulam points out that Consumer Reports compiles a Buying Guide, not a Buyer's Guide. I suppose the clue still works if you lowercase it to be a generic buyer's guide.]

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke play with the basketball team in their LA Times crossword. STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRAETORIAN GUARD, and DETENTION CENTER all end with basketball positions, and fortunately, they've got funny clues tying them to the sport. If this theme included literal clues for those three entries plus a helper entry of, say, HOOPS, it would be a boring theme—but with the playfulness Stella and Bruce opted for, I liked it. Overall, the fill and clues had a fun vibe to them. Smooth puzzle!

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Oscillation," has a THURBER quote. Bleah, quote themes. Bizarre fill—ROOTWORM, ENDWAYS, and PLUMELET? Not on the tip of my tongue. (Thank goodness there are no rootworms on the tip of my tongue!)


November 19, 2007

Tuesday, 11/20

Tausig 5:23
Onion 4:30
NYS 4:24
CS 3:46
NYT 3:11
LAT 3:02

Cool football theme from Larry Shearer in the New York Times. Dagnabbit, I should have broken the three-minute mark on this one, but I had a typo (the Z is right next to the X, and yes, I know there's no such thing as The Z-FILES, honest. Anyway: There are four theme entries comprising two NFL team names. The [Big spender's woe?] is a GIANT BILL, as in the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills. There's a COLT PACKER packing heat, a CARDINAL CHARGER ([MasterCard-carrying ecclesiastic?]), and [Peter?], the CHIEF SAINT. These pairings are tied together with the capper: the SUPER BOWL is [Where this puzzle's theme pairs would like to meet]. I checked Wikipedia and yes indeed, each pair includes one NFC and one AFC team. I also liked the density of names in the grid. Where else do [Missing Jimmy] HOFFA and Paula ABDUL share space? The [Reggie Jackson nickname] MR OCTOBER parties with the [1975 Barbra Streisand sequel] FUNNY LADY. The X-FILES, KAL-EL and VULCAN are sci-fi-ish. BUICK and ALERO are automotive. And those 5x5 corners are wide-open for a Tuesday puzzle.

David Kahn marks the recent passing of MARCEL MARCEAU with a meaty tribute puzzle in the New York Sun, :"The Quiet Man." Marceau was a PANTOMIME ARTIST. (Speaking of pantomime, are any of you familiar with the English pantomime shows? When I went to England last spring for my friend's wedding, she was marrying a guy who's an enthusiastic panto participant, putting on shows for kids each winter. His panto friends were a rowdy bunch—they sang a lot at their table at the wedding reception.) Marcel's classic character was BIP, who wore a RED FLOWER in his hat. One of his mime routines was called IN THE PARK. He had the only SPEAKING ROLE in SILENT MOVIE, and that word was NON. Favorite clues and fill: The Scrabbly double-Mexico hit of AZTEC and OAXACA; [Bart Simpson's middle name] is JOJO (how did I not know that?); "I'M UP," the [Comment after a shake in the morning?]; and the automotive action with the Toyota SOLARA and the ACURA TL, in which a driver may make a [Louie, so to speak], or LEFT turn. The most out-of-louie-field clue is [56 __ 5 = 1]; the answer, MOD, is ridiculously complex mathematically for a mere Tuesday crossword, even in the Sun. As Byron explains it, "It's the notation for modular arithmetic. The most direct way to read it is when you divide 56 by 5 you get remainder 1. (A more precise reading is that 56-1 is a multiple of 5.) Basic clock arithmetic is mod 12." That makes so much more sense than anything on the Wikipedia modulo page.


Ben Tausig goes geographic with this week's Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, "Land Locked." Five theme answers have countries embedded within them. My favorite examples: PYROMANIAC with Romania and MANGO LASSI with Angola. Good fill: WILD ABOUT (my grandma used to sing "I'm just wild about Harry"), SIMON SAYS, OFF-HANDED, AL GORE, and BACOS bacon bits. HONDA gets a new clue—["Punch Out!!" fighter Piston ___]. I have no idea what that means.

A delightful but sometimes offputting Onion A.V. Club crossword from Matt Jones this week. Delightful because of how the theme comes together—the O'Reillyesque NO-SPIN ZONE is what the other theme entries avoid because they've all got added SPIN. Al Gore gives way to SPINAL GORE, the gruesome spine-ripping violence from the video game, Mortal Kombat. The German exclamation, "Ach du lieber!" becomes SPINACH DU LIEBER. A Y chromosome carries a prickly trait if it's a SPINY CHROMOSOME. There's also an awful lot of ass in this crossword. The [Adult film store aisle] at 36-Across is ANAL, a Saturday Night Live pair of characters are A-HOLES, a Japanese candy is called ASSE, and I saw Pier PAOLO Pasolini's Canterbury Tales in college, and I believe 36-Across was depicted. Bonus points to Matt for the EASY BAKE Oven, Napoleon Dynamite's TATER TOT fixation, and the double cinematic clue for MYSTIC, with "River" and "Pizza."

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy creation, "Keeping 41-Across," defines a central 5-letter entry with the other four longer theme entries, so it takes a while and a ton of crossings to uncover the theme.

David Cromer's LA Times puzzle has GAMES PEOPLE PLAY in the middle, but clued as a 1969 country song I never heard of rather than the 1980 Alan Parsons Project song I know. The other four theme entries end with words that can precede "games," such as (CALL) WAITING and (BRING TO) MIND. Aw, this would've been more fun with names of games rather than "___ games" phrases. Say, entries like CALCULATED RISK, I'M REALLY SORRY, or LOCKED UP FOR LIFE.


November 18, 2007

Monday, 11/19

NYS 3:35
CS 3:09
LAT 3:01
NYT 2:42

Lynn Lempel's New York Times puzzle is well suited for appearing in a newspaper, as the contents of the PAPER make up the theme. A newspaper comprises multiple instances of the following items: (FIFTH) COLUMN, (TOILET) ARTICLE, (SCARLET) LETTER, and (BEST) PICTURE. Favorite clues and entries: ["Jeepers!"] for CRIPES; [Searched] for TROLLED (though I more often see the internet usage of the latter); the LOCH [___ Ness monster], because my kid was captivated by the preview for The Water Horse, a fantasy movie about Nessie that opens on Christmas Day; UNCOOL sitting atop the freshman BEANIE hat; [One who'll easily lend money for a hard-luck story] for SOFT TOUCH; Charlton HESTON (I liked him in the '7os disaster flick, Earthquake); [It gets a paddling] for a CANOE; and [Fella] for BUB.

Peter A. Collins' New York Sun puzzle is called "What Goes Around..." and it comes FULL CIRCLE in two senses. That's the last theme entry, and it aptly describes how the theme goes: Each two-word theme entry links to the ones before and after it. Thus, an athlete might keep her GAME BALL in her trophy case, and that BALL begins BALL ONE, and that ONE begins the next entry, ONE HALF. The first one starts with CIRCLE, which the final one ends with. Best clues: [Cross checks, maybe?] hints at checks given to a joint with crosses on the wall, or TITHES; ["Telephone Line" group] for ELO (whose "Don't Bring Me Down" is my obnoxious cell-phone ringtone); insane [Old biscuit brand], UNEEDA (from the earliest Nabisco company); [Marty of "Young Frankenstein"] for FELDMAN (thinking back fondly on the parody song, "Marty Feldman Eyes," which is mentioned in this parody encyclopedia entry); and ["The Joy of ___" (Gyles Brandreth book about words)] for LEX.


Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle lets you decide how to pay with JUNE CARTER CASH BACKGROUND CHECK, and PICKETT'S CHARGE. I hadn't heard of Pickett's Charge, the [Ill-fated Civil War assault at Gettysburg] in which the Confederacy was ill-fated. Nice batch of 8-letter fill entries: LUNA MOTH, CAVALIER, KEEP CALM, and DIET COLA.

Another Lynn Lempel byline for today's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Football Follies." The theme is puns on NFL team members. You've got some BALTIMORE RAVING (Raven), a MIAMI DAUPHIN (Dolphin), an OAKLAND RATER (Raider), and a GREEN BAY PACKARD (Packer). Since a RAVING doesn't sound like a person at all, I tried to come up with an alternate 15-letter entry for this theme, and couldn't think of one. But hey, Green Bay won yesterday! Note to cluers: If the only current host of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire is Meredith Vieira, shouldn't the [Game show host for millionaire wannabes] clue for PHILBIN specify "former" or "first"?


November 17, 2007

Sunday, 11/18

NYT 11:03
BG 10:05
WaPo 8:30
PI 7:50
LAT 7:07
CS 5:07
Split Decisions 4:15

A masterful Sunday New York Times crossword from Patrick Berry! As the title, "World Pay," suggests, the theme wordplay involves moving the letter L from one word to another. With the resulting clues nudging the solver towards phrases that don't exist, the theme was a relatively difficult one to piece together. And then, there are 11 of these move-the-L answers to figure out. [Alexander the Great's ambition?] is TO SLAY THE EAST, relocating the L in "to say the least." In the middle, "study hall" becomes [Shakespearean prince who's handsome and muscular?], STUDLY HAL. Off to the side, [Macho beer drinker's outerwear?] is a COAT OF MANLY COORS ("many colors"). The magician might HALVE THE GAL ("have the gall")—that one's among my favorites. "Vinyl siding" yields VINY SLIDING for Tarzan, "flop over" becomes FOP LOVER (and who doesn't love a fop?), "cold cuts" are COD CULTS ([Fish-worshiping groups?], another funny one). "Place your bets" is PACE YOUR BELTS, good advice for drinkers. PLOTTED PANTS grow from "potted plants." [Oil spill?] is, unfortunately, a timely clue given the recent fuel oil spill in the Bay Area; "sleeping sickness" yields SEEPING SLICKNESS, a smooth entry. I don't really know what "fee splitters" are, but I will always FLEE SPITTERS, too. It's amazing that Patrick managed to squeeze in 11 theme entries, and with plenty of unusual fill around them.

What I liked: HECTOR below his last name, BERLIOZ; [Novelist Jamaica] KINCAID; [Flat remover] for TIRE IRON; [Like Kashmir rugs] for ORIENTAL; [Much of Anais Nin's work] for EROTICA (e.g., Delta of Venus and Little Birds); [One of the five stages of grief] for ANGER (I could only think of denial, bargaining, and acceptance); IMPASTO ([Technique involving thickly applied paint]); [Early collaborator with Eastwood] for Sergio LEONE (not Sondra Locke!); [You might hear it going up and down] for MUZAK, a.k.a. elevator music; [Performance that takes a second] for DUET; YODA is the [Little green man]; and [Party to many a civil union] for GAY.

What I didn't like or just plain didn't know: STAYS is clued as [Good news for some prisoners]. Is it really necessary to evoke the topic of execution in a crossword? No, it is not. Ick. I'd never heard of the IRENE who's [One of the Forsytes in "The Forsyte Saga"]. We need more Irenes to get famous now—it's been a while since Irene Cara came onto the scene. SAND-BLIND means [Unable to see much]. Interestingly, it's got nothing to do with sand. The etymology is "[Middle English, from Old English sāmblind : sām-, half + blind, blind." (Does this put you in the mood for a samwich?) OGALLALA is the [Nebraska town, named after an Indian tribe, featured in "Lonesome Dove"]. And MOMUS is the [Greek god of ridicule]—"the god of satire, mockery, censure, writers, poets, a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism." Hey! Momus lives on the internet.

Updated Saturday evening:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Come On Down!", has nine 21-letter entries running down in the grid (four of them forming two pairs of entries that abut), crossed by one 21-letter Across answer through the middle. That's a lot of thematic density! I believe Merl pioneered this sort of theme, where the long answers contain a string of members of a category (one was a traffic jam puzzle with intersecting highways of auto makes). Here, IT'S RAINING CATS AND DOGS, and the nine vertical long entries contain mainly breeds of cats and dogs (though a CHESHIRE and SCAREDY cat are also included). It's up to the solver to figure out where the breaks between words are located, but fun to suss out letter patterns that point toward a type of dog or cat. Only two of the Across answers don't cross two or more of the theme entries—wee little ELF and TLC cross only one theme entry apiece, and nothing's untouched by theme entries.

Henry Hook's Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle, "Grand Openings," tacks a grand, a thousand, a G onto the start of each theme entry. "Echo chambers" become GECKO CHAMBERS, for example, and "eye droppers," GUY DROPPERS. My favorite was "oddly enough," GODLY ENOUGH ([Suitably pious?]). I was surprised to find an [1840 Poe short story] I didn't know; you can read "MORELLA" online, but you might wish you had those 10 minutes back).

Updated Sunday morning:

This weekend's Washington Post by Patrick Jordan is terrific. In "Fare Game," there are only five theme entries placed into a grid with left/right symmetry, but I didn't notice the shortage of theme answers because the overall cluing and fill were so good, and because the explanation of the four food-related answers up above offers a satisfying "aha" at the bottom: The (EARL OF) SANDWICH, Justice (WARREN) BURGER, (GET INTO A) STEW, and (PRIMORDIAL} SOUP are all USES FOR LEFTOVER TURKEY. My favorite fill clue: [How a sponge may live] for RENT-FREE. [Mr. peanut?] duped me into guessing Jimmy CARTER, who has five letters in common with George Washington CARVER, the intended answer.

Robert Doll's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Fun Food," relies on puns on food. I got off to a dyspeptic start with the banker's LIEN GROUND BEEF; I don't eat red meat, so ground beef isn't remotely appealing. The sailor's NAVAL ORANGE? Much better. And who doesn't like cake? The batter (as in baseball player, not cake batter) likes BUNT CAKE. Also from the bakery: WRY BREAD.

Today's themeless "Sunday Challenge" is from CrosSynergy's Bob Klahn. It's smooth as silk, but a little knotted up in spots. You know how a silk sweater or shirt may have a tag that says the slubs are a natural part of the silk? That's what this is like. If you've done this puzzle and questioned what the PIN was doing in one of the long entries, see here. (I learned it with "penny," and have taught my son the penny version.)

Updated Sunday afternoon:

The second Sunday puzzle in the New York Times is another Split Decisions puzzle. (Can anyone with the print Magazine tell me if this one, like previous Split Decisions offerings, has a George Bredehorn byline?) It seemed awfully easy to me, but there's no way to know if the two spots that were spoiled by NYT forum posts would have vexed me or not. So my solving time may be wind-assisted by those spoilers—but still, I don't think I usually finish a Split Decisions puzzle that quickly.


November 16, 2007

Saturday, 11/17

Newsday 7:05
NYT 6:04
LAT 5:18
CS 3:09

Brad Wilber's New York Times puzzle makes me glad my college "History of Modern India" class took a field trip to see A Passage to India. The first letter of the [Character on trial in "A Passage to India"] crosses a foreign currency, [100 centimes, in Haiti]. At first I had MR AZIZ, but it needed to be DR AZIZ crossing the GOURDE (hey, GOURME looks equally plausible if you blank out knowledge of lesser-known currencies). Plenty of other tough stuff here, too, and some phrases that didn't ring any bells at all. For example, [Keen of vision] is LYNX-EYED? Sure enough, it's right there in the dictionary, but I don't think I've encountered the phrase before. ANGEL PIE is a [Lemony meringue concoction]? Never heard of it (here's a recipe). What's this GRAND CANAL ([Its banks are lined with nearly 200 palaces]? Ah, the Grand Canal of Venice. ["Giuliani: Nasty Man" author] means ED KOCH? The book came out in 1999, so there's a Giuliani combover on the cover. TESTACY is a word ([Willful state?])? It means "the condition of being testate. COLEUS plants ([Mint-family plants with bright-colored leaves and blue flowers]) have blue flowers? I knew about the multicolored leaves, but not the flowers. There's a SHIH ["___ Ching" (classic book of Chinese poetry)]? Never heard of that, either. NEI means ["In the," in Italy]? And there's a French phrase, "ici ET LA," meaning "here and there"?

Clues and answers I liked: [Presidents Adams, Fillmore, and Taft] were UNITARIANS. A [Rolls roller] is a TYRE; I like this because a British cryptic I'm working on this week used "American band" to mean TIRE. FELICITOUS, CRAZY HORSE, OXYGEN BARS, and IPOD NANO are the more show-offy entries. ORANGEY is clued as [Like a bad spray-on tan]—the Go Fug Yourself blog illustrates what they call tanorexia here. I love BUBBLER being clued as [Drinking fountain]; this is one of those insane regionalisms that is mostly heard in Wisconsin these days. ANACIN gets into the action: [Its ads once showed hammers inside the head]. (Alas, I could not find a video showing that—but here's another retro Anacin commercial.) How do you feel about ONE OR TWO as an entry ([Not many])? I'm torn. I think I like it, but I could be mistaken. I don't like BLATS ([Makes a raucous noise]), not because the cluing is off or the word's illegitimate but simply because it's a hideous word. Maybe partly because Blatta and Blattella are cockroach genera.


Randall Hartman's got a cute CrosSynergy puzzle today—"Spreading the Gospel in Hollywood" includes four actors named MATTHEW (PERRY), MARK (HAMILL), LUKE (WILSON), and JOHN (TRAVOLTA).

The day's other themeless puzzles didn't do much for me. Bob Peoples' LA Times puzzle crossed an old college coach whose name I forgot with a phrase I've never heard—[Hall of Fame coach Hank of Oklahoma State] is Hank IBA (I'm more familiar with Mike Gundy, the ranting "I'm a man! I'm 40!" OSU coach who's a YouTube hit). That B fills in ON THE BEAM, or [Going along well]. Also from the land of sports, golfers use the term HOT PUTTER? A clue like [One might help you win, in golf slang] doesn't help me one bit. In the mini-theme, NASCAR DAD ([Working-class parent]) is opposite ALPHA MOMS ([High-achieving parent]), and again, the latter isn't a phrase I'm familiar with. It also sounds like class war in the crossword. [20th century conductor ___ Mata] is EDUARDO...hmm, nope, don't recognize that name, either. At least I've seen OTOMI ([Mexican language or people]) in a couple previous crosswords. I did like how [Looking over one's shoulder, maybe] evokes nervousness rather than driving IN REVERSE, and the mislead of [Gut feeling] for AGITA (anyone thinking HUNCH rather than heartburn?).

Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper was also a fairly dry venture. The triple stack of 15-letter answers in the middle were slow to reveal themselves to me. ABLE TO TAKE A JOKE, TOLD IN OPEN COURT, and CRYSTAL DETECTOR didn't resonate for me as interesting or zippy phrases. One of the Down answers, ON A DOWNER, sounds like more of an adverbial phrase to me, but here, it's clued with the adjective, [Gloomy]. Does that sound right to you? I can't hear it being used that way. "The team's season ended on a downer," yes; "I am on a downer," no. Explanation, anyone? New botanical term I learned: STOLONS are [Botanist's runners]. [Big brother player] hints vaguely at Orwell, but the answer's TONY DOW, who played Beaver Cleaver's big brother. I like the vagueness of [Mainers, e.g.] for YANKEES.


November 15, 2007

Friday, 11/16

NYS untimed
NYT 5:09
Jonesin' 4:36
LAT 3:50
CHE 3:23
CS 2:32

WSJ 7:49

Have I got any QUIBBLES ([Nitpicking]) with Chuck Deodene's New York Times puzzle? Not really. Here's what I liked: CADBURY, the [Creme Egg maker], even though those taste icky. A football conference clue for AFC that starts with a misleadingly mandatory capital letter, [Bills are in it: Abbr.]. SYLLABI, [First-class handouts?], because who doesn't like non-S plurals in a themeless puzzle? [Poses in a studio?] are YOGA. The [Town on the Long Island Rail Road] for SYOSSET, because Long Island's got so many fun town names that pop up in NYC-based crosswords. I like [Colloquial] and IDIOMATIC content in crosswords, so that's an apt pairing. [Logic's counterpart] is SENTIMENT, and that one kept me guessing. For [Trunk accumulation], I was picturing the heaps of stuff that pile up in a car trunk rather than TREE RINGS. There's a fresh clue for TAI, [Mount ___, sacred Chinese site] (read about Mount Tai if you like China, geography, or ancient temples). [Green stinger] sounds like it has to do with, I dunno, the Green Hornet—but it's simply the stinging NETTLE that's intended. There's a ROAD TEST that's a [Cavalier evaluation?]—referring to the Chevy Cavalier. (Another hidden-capital-letter mislead—I like those clues!) The fact that [Seeing the sites] had sites rather than sights didn't shout ONLINE at me—I like that clue. There's an occupational vibe here, too, with ENGINEER (clued as the verb, though: [Bring about with some effort]), STEERSMAN, a corporate RAIDER, an IRONER (bleh), a REP ([Mouthpiece]), Mafia DONS ([Underbosses' bosses]), a cattle RUSTLER ([Herd-thinning menace?]), a STEERSMAN ([One at the helm]), and some ASSTS to help them all.

Aw, drat. Across Lite used to open almost everything with the timer automatically starting, and when I opened the Friday New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" by Mark Diehl, I didn't notice that the timer was off. No idea how long it took me—sevenish minutes, maybe? There were plenty of things that didn't come easily. With a few crossings, tasty AGLIO E OLIO (garlic and olive oil) popped in. That and the hard-to-get USB PORT were my favorite entries. My son's favorite would have to be the [Mustang rival], CAMARO—he's a fan of muscle cars. (He also likes Mack trucks, but MACK is clued with the contemporary slang, [Hit (on)].) (Punctuation party!) Strangest-looking answer: DOAJOBON, or DO A JOB ON. FONTANA is the [City that's home to the California Speedway]? Let us study up on this town: The Wikipedia entry says the Hells Angels hail from there originally, toon Speed Racer was from Fontana, and Whitman Mayo, Grady on Sanford and Son, lived there as an adult.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle is called "The Second Half," and the second half of each theme entry's repeated. Thus, a DARWIN WIN, a KIDMAN MAN, and so on. Fresh fill—REDIP (clued as [DO a party no-no at the snack table], which puts me in mind of the Seinfeld "double-dipper" episode even if it looks like a roll-your-own word) crossing Michael Jackson's I'M BAD; Ian MCKELLEN; MUDFLAPS; SUBARU and IRABU; "WORD UP"; and a tasty SKOR bar. And I always welcome a reference to early Saturday Night Live, here represented by Father GUIDO Sarducci. And who doesn't like a little ARSE? That's [___ over teakettle (upside-down, to Brits)].


Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword is called "Queue & A," and each queue of letters in a theme entry is followed by an A. The first one is BEVERLY HILLS COPA, and that is all the justification I need to once again link to this "Copacabana" video that plays with words and graphics to entertaining effect. Among the other six theme entries, I like the [Concluding words from a Samos temple attendee?] best: AND I LOVE HERA. This whole puzzle was fun—good fill, clues that are light and fun but not too easy.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's Monday-easy CrosSynergy puzzle, "Familiar Threesome," has a TOM, DICK, and HARRY. Despite the title, there is no implication that Messrs. Stoppard, Van Patten, and Truman are engaged in a ménage à trois.

Alan Olschwang's 11/2 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Wondrous Sites," quizzes the solver on the sites of the Seven Wonders of the World—a smart little trivia test. But just knowing this classical knowledge won't get you through the puzzle—there's also [Pop singer Basil] for TONI (Toni Basil had that '80s one-hit wonder, "Mickey," with the insane cheerleading music video) and ["Invincible" singer Pat] for BENATAR (I preferred her song, "Heartbreaker"—go ahead, go rock out for a minute with that one).

Paul Guttormsson's LA Times puzzle features a quip: YOU CAN PUSH / THE ENVELOPE / BUT IT / WILL STILL BE / STATIONERY. Hmm. Not quite funny, nor educational, nor inspirational. My appetite for quote/quip themes is sated by about three zippy ones a year—the rest I could do without.


Scientific American crosswords

Patrick Merrell is one of those crossword innovators who likes to devise insane twists on the crossword format. If you missed his Scientific American puzzles from last year and the year before, Pat's posted links here. (One of the puzzles has a wormhole gimmick to it. See? Insane.) I can't wait for this year's offering!


November 14, 2007

Thursday, 11/15

NYS 6:34
NYT 4:02
LAT 3:47
CS 3:02

You know what? I'm finding Merv Griffin's Crosswords to be a lot more fun to watch now that I know how it all comes together in the studio. The stride down the Plexiglas ramp, what you can't see behind and above and in front of the set, how soft the podium padding is, how much time the fivesome of contestants have spent together before taping, what shade of green the green room's walls are, what the contestants can see if they're looking in a particular direction—all that stuff. And I learned things that more observant viewers have already figured out, such as that the Crossword Extra clues come when there are about two minutes left in a round.

The New York Times crossword is by Joe Krozel, and it had me coming and going. The theme entries are palindromes: MUST SAVE VAST SUM and AERATE PIPET AREA fit into 15-letter swaths, whereas the middle entry spans two swaths, PAGE GAWKS AT / TASK WAGE GAP. I like that last one the best. I found it a little disappointing, though, that the palindrome aspect was given away in the clues. It would have been a much harder puzzle (and for me, tougher = good!) without that hint, and the "aha" moment when the solver starts piecing things together and sees the reversed letter pattern would've been a great payoff. With the hint, any letters that were filled in in the theme entries could automatically be copied over to the other end of the answer. There were a number of answers nobody's excited to see (ALETA, ESSE, ERNE, TET), but there were also terrific entries like SIDE BETS ([Extra winning opportunity]), LOSE A TURN ([Unlucky board game square]), HAS-BEEN ([Star no more]), FROM A TO Z ([Completely]), IS THAT SO crossing I GUESS, the BIG TEN ([Michigan is in it]—though I would have liked it to be BIG BEN crossing BRIO instead), and other phrases including STARE AT, IN SESSION, STOP IN, WEAR ON, and LET BE. And BESOT! I love BESOT. It means [Intoxicate], and besotted and smitten are both such cool words.

Francis Heaney's New York Sun puzzle, "A Study in Scarlet," took me a supra-Thursdayish amount of time to finish, in terms of filling in the squares. Then I spent a few more minutes following the instruction given in 18-Down: COLORED IN is [What each instance of 36-Across should be]. Little 36-Across is RED, and the clues for the longest entries reference 36-Across and all have something to do with RED. If you scan the grid word-search style, you'll find eight RED instances, which are to be COLORED IN. Those colored-in squares form, roughly, a big letter A that's 10 rows tall and nine rows wide. That big scarlet A has left-right symmetry, even though the grid's pattern of black squares has 180° rotational symmetry. And for an extra fillip, HESTER / PRYNNE occupies opposite corners of the puzzle, tying it all together as a play on Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Toss in answers like PRINGLES, a KOOSH ball, and a BAD COP and clues like [Cheesecake pieces?] for GAMS and [Italian word that becomes English after deleting its third, fourth, and fifth letters] for SIGNOR (which becomes SIR without those three letters)—and I'm a happy camper. I like that the gimmick was completely unnecessary to discover in the course of solving, so the extra level of the puzzle remained to be enjoyed after the main solving was over.


Patrick Jordan goes green in his CrosSynergy puzzle, "Growing Places." The theme entries start with places to grow plants—NURSERY (SCHOOL), GARDEN (CITY), baseball's FARM (SYSTEM), and GREENHOUSE (GAS). GARDEN CITY doesn't resonate with me at all—let's Google it up. Ah, it's in the dictionary as an established term that dates back more than a century. (Learned something new.) Favorite clue: [Modern subculture that's fascinated by morbidity] for GOTHS. I gotta tell you, that's not remotely my cup of tea.

Timothy Meaker's LA Times puzzle gave up its theme with the first theme entry I filled in. CHEATING PAD certainly looked like C + heating pad, and it was, so the other four were fairly easy to puzzle out. The one that made me smile: [Rowboat that's put on weight?] for CHUNKY DORY. My favorite clue: [Bar worker] for LAWYER, because I expended mental energy thinking about bartenders and waitresses and not attorneys.