May 31, 2008

Sunday, 6/1

NYT 9:06
LAT 8:17
PI 7:42
BG 7:27
CS 3:27

NYT cryptic (Second Sunday puzzle) 10:40

Sorry that the HaloScan commenting function is out of order as of mid-day Sunday. Grr!

June at last! Chicago finally found solid May weather, just in time to usher us into June, glorious June.

All right, so, this Sunday New York Times crossword by Patrick Berry has such a cool theme, I had to read all eight theme entries to my husband. He laughed out loud at four of them, and had two questions:

"Who wrote those?"
"How does he come up with these??"

"Patrick Berry," I replied. "He's a geeenius."

In the "Extra Syll-uh-bles" theme, an uh sound is added within a word to radically change the phrase's meaning. Here are our favorites:

  • MORALLY SAFER, or [Wiser from an ethical perspective?]. This is a play on 60 Minutes' Morley Safer's name.
  • THE SALIVATION ARMY, or [Fighting force trained by Pavlov?]. Given that Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning techniques are akin to training, the clue's especially apt. (The base phrase is the Salvation Army, of course.)
  • HUMMABLE BEGINNINGS, or [Catchy song parts heard on "Name That Tune"?]. My god, could that be any apter? The game show did indeed give the catchy and hummable beginning few notes of each song. This one plays on humble beginnings.
  • RENT-A-SENATOR plays the political corruption game, positing a [Store that peddles political influence?]. This one spins off the Rent-a-Center chain.

The other four theme entries are:
  • BUYABLE BELT, [Waistband sold in stores?], Bible Belt.
  • CORONER ON THE MARKET, [Freelance autopsist?], corner on the market. The verb phrase corner the market sounds much more natural to me, but the noun phrase including the on has appeared in an 1896 NYT headline.
  • RIOTING IMPLEMENTS, [Stones and brickbats?], writing implements.
  • RED SKELETON, [Boiled lobster's feature?], Red Skelton.

Because this is a Berry puzzle, there's also much to admire in the fill, and nothing to deplore. Well, OK, we can deplore 9-Down, ["___ the Wanderer" (1820 gothic novel)], MELMOTH. I'm pretty sure I've never heard of that, and not all of its crossings were easy. [Two points?] is a good clue for COLON, but the first O crosses MELMOTH and the C crosses CASS, [Buchanan's secretary of state]. MELMOTH's E crosses LEONES, [West African coins]. At the other end of the grid, HETTY [Sorrel, woman in a love triangle in "Adam Bede"], didn't ring a bell. (My favorite Hetty is Hetty Green, the "World's Greatest Miser." PINSK is a [Belarus port], and Minsk is the capital of Belarus. Fortunately, the map doesn't show any other major Belarussian cities ending in -insk.

Turning away from that gnarly MELMOTH concatenation, look at this good fill:
  • An [Issue to avoid] is a HOT POTATO.
  • [Wellborn folks] are the non-S-plural GENTRY.
  • SARONGS are [Skirts worn by both men and women]. It's a shame most Western cultures don't have men's skirts. So comfy, and cool on a hot day.
  • CLAUDIA, my mother's name, was also [Lady Bird Johnson's given birth name].
  • ERITREA, over there near Ethiopia and Somalia, is a [Country with a camel on its coat of arms].
  • ATTACK DOG? [Its bite is worse than its bark]. I was reading the clue backwards and relied on the crossings to tell me what sort of gentle but noisy dog this might be. (D'oh.)
  • ROSEY, [N.F.L. star Grier] and singer of "It's Alright to Cry."
  • ORANGE! A [Self-descriptive fruit].
  • HANS ARP, [Founding member of the Dadaists], also called Jean Arp.
  • BRING IT ON! Them's [Fighting words].

My favorite nonthematic clue here is [Think that might is right?] for MISREAD. Isn't that one perfect? A few other clues I liked: [It's in the spring] for WATER; [Alibi] for STORY; [Sound of a failure] for THUD; and [They may be big fellers] for SAWS used to fell trees.


This weekend's second NYT Magazine puzzle is a cryptic crossword by Fraser Simpson. Feel free to ask in the comments if you're looking for a hint or an explanation for any of the answers. This puzzle's cluing style didn't much grab me. The clue I liked best was 13-Across, [Power chosen by Rhode Island metropolis]. Chosen = the adjective elect. Rhode Island's abbreviation is RI. A metropolis is a city. Put 'em all together, and you've got some power.

The Across Lite rerun of the Boston Globe crossword for this week is "Laundry List," by the team of Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. The ennead of theme entries are all puns incorporating laundry-related words. STARCH MADNESS, the [Laundry tournament?], plays on March Madness, for example. And FRANKENSTAIN is a [Monster of a laundry problem?]. Highlights in the fill: JOE BLOW, both PALOMA and PABLO Picasso, and both [Wife of Iago] EMILIA and [Marc Antony's wife] OCTAVIA. Now, the clue [Short, thick smokes] gives us BLUNTS. Wait: Can BLUNTS have tobacco, or are they strictly giant joints? The always helpful Wikipedia explains, "Blunt cigars are often utilized for cannabis smoking."

Updated again Sunday morning:

Patrick Jordan's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is clued to be easy, but you know what? I really liked it anyway. It gave me the WARM FUZZIES, a ["Feel-good" sensation]. TORNADO WARNINGS, or [Some Weather Channel bulletins], makes for a good, fresh 15. [Due to] is BY DINT OF. The three-word phrase GET AN A, can be tough to parse; I'll bet somebody will Google [Do well in class] and GETANA in search of an explanation.

In Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Funny Business," Merl dispenses a batch of his trademark puns. This time the theme is punny store names, such as PARAFFINALIA, a [Name for a candle shop?], and THE MERCHANT OF VENUS, a [Name for a sex shop?]. I'm also partial to EVERYBODY LOVES RAIMENT, a [Name for a vintage clothing store?]. There are six other theme entries in the mix. Some of the fill is what only Merl can get away with, such as CABO SAN linked to LUCAS and a 6-letter partial, SO NEAR ["___ and yet..."].

Tom Heilman's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Abutting In," ADDS IN (11-Down) to seven phrases to make something new. Favorite theme entry: [Affair in the mountains?], or HIGH INFIDELITY. The other theme entries are [Completely turned around?] or WELL INVERSED; [Stir up some stoolies?] or INCITE ONE'S SOURCES; [Get upset over nothing?] or INVENT ONE'S ANGER; [Missing the point?] or a DECIMAL INFRACTION; [Do software uploads at a news magazine?] or INSTALL FOR TIME; and [Goal of deep breathing?] or OXYGEN INTENT.


May 30, 2008

Saturday, 5/31

Newsday 40-some minutes, with liberal Googling
NYT 9:15
LAT 6:34
CS 2:24

Ach, headache. (Pre-crossword.)

You know how 1-Across can set the tone for a crossword puzzle? Robert Wolfe's New York Times crossword has an odd phrase there: [Porky] clues FAT AS A HOG. If you're like me, you had PIG there and eventually changed it to get crossings to work; if you're like me, you then Googled "fat as a hog" to see if it's an in-the-language phrase. Er, it's not. At least not in the internet age. Just 921 Google hits this evening—compare that to the 34,200 hits that misspelled Gremany gets. The adjectival THREE-TON, [Like some adult hippos], also clunked. Here's the rest of the rundown in list form, starting with the Acrosses:

  • "I DON'T CARE," or ["Whatever"], is good.
  • If you don't know that DEARE fills in ["The Wreck of the Mary ___" (1959 film)], you may also not have known obscure author READE recently. With their allotments of common letters, you'll be seeing them every now and then.
  • NUNNERIES are [Where habits are picked up?].
  • The [Seat], as in rump, as in tuchis, is also called the KEISTER.
  • [Get down] has nothing to do with K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight"—it's SADDEN. If you are saddened, why don't you watch a '70s disco video? It'll fix ya right up.
  • The NIN who is ["The Novel of the Future" author] is presumably Anais, but I don't know this title.
  • [First Earl of Chatham] is William PITT, not Brad Pitt (who looks good in a dress, even an ugly one).
  • [Ready to get engaged?] is ON HIRE. "For hire" sounds more natural to me; is this equivalent?
  • One kind of STILE is a [Vertical piece in a door frame]. I had no idea.
  • [Tennis star Petrova] is named NADIA; haven't heard of her.
  • [Product with a rotating ball] is a ROLL-ON. If you get blemishes, bug bites, or assorted other skin irritations, try this wee roll-on.
  • NA NA NA is a [Lyric stand-in, perhaps], when you don't know the words. Although sometimes that is the lyric.
  • I like BAWLED OUT, or [Read the riot act] (obscured past tense).
Moving along to the Downs:
  • [Obnoxious sort] seems rather vague for FINK. When's the last time you called someone a fink? And are you under the age of 50?
  • The related AS ONE and A DUE are clued as [Not independently] and [In unison], respectively.
  • [1956 Olympic skiing sensation ___ Sailer] is or was named TONI.
  • [St. ___ Bay, Jamaica] is the clue for ANN'S.
  • [Retaining instructions] is the awkward plural noun STETS. American Heritage lists only verb definitions.
  • [Top arrangement?] led me astray, what with the whole top vs. bottom gay thing. Here it's just a HAIRDO, and that H is important because it starts turning the PIG into a HOG.
  • Next to that is ORE, [Bank deposit, of sorts]—I had an I thanks to the PIG and banking terms like INT and IRA. It's related to 10-Down, ADIT, a mine entrance or [Passage to get 8-Down].
  • Hmm, 11-Down, [Bears do it]. Is this a four-word rebus entry? Oh, that kind of bear—it's SELL stocks.
  • [Tool for sewing canvas] is a sturdy SAIL NEEDLE.
  • N-RADIATION (hyphenated or not? no idea) is a [Certain atomic X-ray emission]. I'm not sure RADIATION should have a ray in its clue, since they're derived from the same Latin word. I haven't a clue what this N radiation is.
  • [Tick source] is also a tick-tock source: the SECOND HAND of a watch or clock.
  • Maybe lawyers know that DIES NON is short for "dies non juridicus" and means a [Day when courts are not in session].
  • A new(?) ENYA clue: ["Amarantine" Grammy winner].
  • [After the Pentateuchal period] is POST-MOSAIC, as in after Moses. Etymology note: A TILED ([Like many a backsplash]) mosaic derives from classical words for the Muses. Capital-M Mosaic is "relating to Moses."
  • [Attic, often] is the THIRD FLOOR.
  • [It's 8 for O] is ATNO, or AT. NO., or atomic number; oxygen is no. 8.
  • Sammy SOSA was [Sportsman of the Year co-winner of 1998]. I want to tack on an asterisk.
  • RENAULT could be any [One of three French auto-making brothers].
  • "I'll take Geography and Languages for $1,000, please." [Chichewa and English are its two official languages]. Guided by a crossing or two, I tried CANADA and OTTAWA (what?! no) and eventually fumbled my way towards MALAWI. Where is Malawi? It's where Madonna recently won approval to adopt a child, I hear. See the map for its size and location.
  • [Massachusetts motto starter] is ENSE. You will not be quizzed on the rest of the words.
  • [One found in the woods] is the OBOE, a woodwind instrument. You musically savvy types out there, tell me: Are the woodwinds ever called "woods"?
  • [Oscar show airer?] is PBS, the clue question-marked because it's Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street and not the Academy Awards telecast.


Well! Time flies when you go out for Blackberry Bliss Cakes for brunch and then shopping for summer clothes. It was hard to summon up the urge to shop for sleeveless when the lakeside temperatures were limited to the upper 50s.

That Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Stan Newman (writing as Anna Stiga, "Stan again") was a killer. It's definitely in contention for the year's toughest crossword, what with taking me a good 40 to 45 minutes in a couple solving sessions and at least 10 different Google searches. I know it took Byron Walden a fourth as long as it took me, but that's still a considerable amount of time for a solver of his caliber. I can't say I enjoyed the puzzle, though. It felt largely obscure and oblique rather than twisty and clever. [Richard Burton subject] is ALI BABA? Apparently it's this guy, an explorer, and not the actor. [It's usually played sitting down] is BASS SAX—never knew there were saxes besides the tenor and alto. [Declination declaration] means "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, WE?" Er, okay. [Mary Collins, familiarly] is BO DEREK; you know how many other Mary Collinses come up ahead of her in Google? [Resort founded by Chet Huntley] is BIG SKY? So what? And a [Beef by-product] is OLEO OIL? (a) That's not remotely a lively answer. (b) It's sneaky because oleomargarine/oleo is a vegetable oil product. (c) It's not a fun sneaky. ["Princess Bride" name] is CARY because Cary Elwes is an actor in it. Now, that seems like a weird way to clue that. So, tell me—what was your experience with the Stumper this week?

Lynn Lempel's LA Times crossword, in contrast, had a bunch of clues with pleasing little "aha" moments when I deciphered them. To wit: [Canal problem] is EARACHE; [Hit the bottom?] is SPANKED; [Where one might be held up?] is a SEESAW; [Head of the line?] of royal succession is SIRE; [Place between Virginia and Tennessee?] refers to the Monopoly board and ST. JAMES Place; [AA or AAA] is an ORG., or organization (also small bra cup sizes, battery sizes, and minor league baseball levels); and [One living off the land?] is a SEAMAN on the water. Other favorite fill includes BYGONES, NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT, GETS DOWN and [Parties], and the Nike SWOOSH.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy crossword, "You Tubes," is a bit easier than most CrosSynergy offerings, which is fine with me given the Newsday beating. The theme entries begin with words that can precede tube: PICTURE POSTCARD is a [Tourist's memento], and picture tube is part of a non-flatscreen TV. Test tubes link to TEST MARKETING, or [New product sales offering]. And tire innertubes join INNER MONGOLIA, or [Region of northeast China].


May 29, 2008

Friday, 5/30

NYS 5:22
LAT 5:12
NYT 5:04
CHE 4:49
Jonesin' 3:25
CS 3:12

WSJ 8:22

Brendan Emmett Quigley's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" includes the full names of five people (one fictional) in the grid—the Scrabblerific NIKKI SIXX ([Bassist on the two "Girls, Girls, Girls"] by Mötley Crüe; birth name Frank Ferrana), the crosswordese-first-named ANA ALICIA (["Falcon Crest" actress]; birth name Ana Alicia Ortiz), JANGO FETT ([Bounty hunter in "Attack of the Clones," one of the Star Wars flicks), the crossword-friendly ANNE MEARA (["Archie Bunker's Place costar], wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben Stiller), and two-part crosswordese ETTA KETT ([Old comics girl whose boyfriend was Wingey]). Favorite clues:

  • [World Series game] for TEXAS HOLD 'EM, referring to the World Series of Poker—isn't that a magnificent mislead?
  • [___ mort (dispirited)] for A LA—a cool French phrase I've never used
  • [Squidward Tentacles, for one] for TOON—he's SpongeBob's next-door neighbor, coworker, and nemesis
  • [Block letters?] for SPF, referring to sunblock
  • [Like some sciences] for INEXACT
  • ["Friday Night Lights" player] for ODESSAN—that's a TV series about high-school football based in Odessa, Texas
  • [Tunable drums] for TIMPANI—paying no mind to the logic and having the T and M, I blithely filled in TOMTOMS, which were the wrong drums
  • [Anonymous guy] is MISTER X
  • The [11th-century king of Norway] is OLAV III...but he could also be OLA VIII, the eighth in a distinguished line of kings named Ola
  • [Part of ORU] is ORAL; I hope at least one solver out there wonders what sort of oral sex term is abbreviated ORU 

Speaking of Mister X, Natan Last's New York Times crossword has two full names that end with an X: JIMI HENDRIX, [Follower of Sha Na Na at Woodstock], and CHICO MARX, [Old comedian known for his unique piano-playing style]. The least dictionarified entries in the grid are "CAN I TRY SOME?", [Question while eying someone else's plate], and D-TEN, [Call in the game Battleship]. My favorite entries:
  • RIGMAROLE, or [Elaborate procedure]
  • BEE'S KNEES, or [Living end]
  • ERROL is ["The Fog of War" director Morris]—if you haven't seen this documentary featuring Robert McNamara, rent the DVD. If you think it sounds boring, you'll be amazed at how interesting, human, and relevant it is.
  • C'EST LA VIE, or ["Oh well"]
  • "I AM SO DEAD," or ["My parents are gonna kill me!"]—also not the sort of phrase that's listed in the dictionary, but isn't it terrific? I love it.
  • FLY SOLO, or [Eschew aid]
    LOKI, the [Shape-shifting giant of myth], is sometimes called a trickster—but the [Playful trickster] in this crossword is a PIXIE

Clues that may vex:
  • The [Soapmaking compound] is OLEIC ACID.
  • ["The Wandering Heir" novelist] is the APTLY ([Well]) named READE.
  • [Orsk is on it] means the URAL River.
  • [Rabbit punch landing site] is the NAPE. Is this used in boxing, or is it fighting dirty?
  • [Something to put on before trying] a case is a judge's ROBE.
  • [Peter who wrote "The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde"] is ACKROYD.
  • [Process of molecular synthesis] is ANABOLISM; I presume this has some relation to anabolic steroids.


James Sajdak's LA Times crossword shifts a vowel sound in each theme entry, from a long E to a short I, along the lines of really getting pronounced as rilly. [Sass from a preacher?] is LIP OF FAITH. [Classroom clamor] is DIN OF EDUCATION. [Pickle to die for?] is DILL OF A LIFETIME. [Klutzy pageant entrant?] is SLIPPING BEAUTY. And [Treatment using spirits?] is GIN THERAPY; this is especially popular among fans of the traditional, non-fruit-flavored martini. Did you know [Minnie Mouse's dog] was named FIFI? Or that OPEL is an [Automaker with a lightning bolt logo]? WAX POETIC, clued as [Speak in a rhythmic and flowery way], is an especially nice entry.

Tom Heilman's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Philosophertherance," provides furtherance of philosophers' names. Two of the theme entries are 16 letters long, forcing a 15x16 grid. [Belief that I think, therefore I can do whatever I want?] is a mashup of René Descartes and carte blanche: DESCARTES BLANCHE. [Place to relax while reading "The Social Contract"?] is a ROUSSEAUFABED (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, sofabed). If you don't watch Lost, you may not know that there are characters named Rousseau and Locke. Voltaire and a tearsheet combine into VOLTAIRE SHEET, [Pamphlet that claims this is the best of all possible worlds?]. It was just last week that I learned that Voltaire snagged that optimistic idea from Leibniz and gave it to his character, Dr. Pangloss. Søren Kierkegaard and gardening become KIERKEGAARDENING, [Growing plants by means of a leap of faith?].

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "Out With the Old," has a theme. Yes, it does. And I began this paragraph without knowing what it was, but now I see it. Each theme entry includes the letter string NEW, split across word breaks: there's GENE WILDER, for example, and NINE WEST shoes, along with four other phrases. Ambitious grid, with a dozen 7-letter entries in the fill.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Let On," puts a LET on the end of each theme entry's base phrase. "Put it on my tab" becomes a [Comment from Moses to God?], PUT IT ON MY TABLET. Favorite fill: HANG TEN, LAB RAT, HOT TUBS.

In the Wall Street Journal, Tracey Snyder's crossword has the memo-ese title "In Re." Each theme entry has an RE put into it. My favorites are [Wave to Billy?] for GREET ONE'S GOAT (get one's goat), [Special Forces order when greeting a lady?] for ALL BERETS ARE OFF (bets), and [Enjoy "The Devil Wears Prada"?] for WATCH ONE'S STREEP (step). I don't remember seeing this Brian ENO clue before: ["My Squelchy Life" musician]; you can scroll down here to read the lyrics. The [Mexican confection] PANOCHA is, Wikipedia says, a New Mexico and southern Colorado pudding as well as a slang term for vulva.


May 28, 2008

Thursday, 5/29

NYT 7:34
NYS 5:05
CS 2:51
LAT 2:26

By the way, that new ad atop this page? If you've got unlimited data service on your cellphone and you're looking for a good crossword application, click that ad for a free three-day trial of Crossword Cafe. The puzzles are from the CrosSynergy syndicate—meaning six easyish themed puzzles and one smooth themeless per week, from top-notch constructors including Bob Klahn, Rich Norris, and about a dozen others. Last I heard, Crossword Cafe was using puzzles from 2006, but intends catch up at some point and provide newer puzzles. Now, a phone isn't optimized for speed-solving, but if you've been hankering for crosswords on the small screen, check it out.

John Farmer's New York Times crossword inadvertently vexed me. *IAN*, [A Baldwin]? That must be DIANE Baldwin. She's famous, right? I know the name. Whoops—she's a crossword constructor. The answer was PIANO. I spent a minute or more toying with the rebus entries in an attempt to please the NYT applet before I realized the problem was that I'd only half-corrected DIANE and had DIANO. Er, no. Those rebus entries add a big fillip of cleverness—they're two-way rebus squares, replacing the word ACROSS in the Across direction and DOWN the other way. Why, what a coincidence! ACROSS and DOWN are so crosswordy! (I like insidery, toy-with-convention gimmicks like this.) The theme entries are:

  • [First clue] = ONE {ACROSS} crossing [Jazz/blues monthly] = {DOWN}BEAT
  • [Spans, as a river] = STRETCHES {ACROSS} crossing [Hit the skids] = GO {DOWN}HILL
  • [Relocate from one side to the other] = MOVE {ACROSS} TOWN crossing [Master] = GET {DOWN} PAT
  • [Facing one's house from a short distance away, say] = {ACROSS} THE STREET crossing [Scorn] = LOOK {DOWN} ON
  • [Transect] = CUT {ACROSS} crossing [Inverted} = UPSIDE-{DOWN}

The rebus squares aren't quite symmetrical—4-Down and 45-Down aren't opposite one another in the grid. All four corners contain three 7-square entries (three of them involving rebus action), and two of the liveliest entries are 11 letters long: ARSENIO HALL, who was Eddie Murphy's ["Coming to America" co-star], and those [Versatile performers], ONE-MAN BANDS (here are Pixar's dueling one-man bands). Tricky spots: TANTO is [Non ___ (not so much, in music)]. A Russian crosswordese burg is OREL, [City on the Oka]. Never heard of [Hall-of-Fame Nascar racer Bobby] ISAAC. High points: IN VITRO, or [Like some fertility lab techniques]; [Kvetcher's cry], OY VEY ("Is it a Northern thing?"); the noun [Innocent] for LAMB; [Celt of NW France] for BRETON (you can read up on Brittany here); [Hide in a closet?] for LEATHER; and ["This is not ___" (warning label)] for A TOY. Nice job, John! A rebus puzzle is always a bit of a surprise, and you managed to embed an extra element of surprise in your gimmick.

I need to finish the Sun puzzle in the morning and go to bed now—I'm so sleepy my eyes are closing mid-clue!


Alrighty, after a good night's sleep, Joe DiPietro's New York Sun crossword made a ton more sense to me. It had taken me over 2 minutes to complete the first quarter or maybe third of the puzzle last night, and less than 3 more minutes to finish the rest this morning. The "Double Down" theme entries swap in the numbers ONE, TWO, FOUR, and EIGHT (each one double its predecessor) for won, to, for, and ate. For example, [Knock down the king and queen?] in chess could be FELL TWO PIECES, playing on the verb phrase "fall to pieces." Favorite clues: [Star of stars?] for Carl SAGAN, star of Cosmos; [Portrayer of Crane and Sparrow on film] for Johnny DEPP, whose bird-named characters were Ichabod Crane and Captain Jack Sparrow; [Took the wrong way?] for LED ASTRAY; [Fairly large] for TIDY, as in "a tidy sum" but not in many other phrases; and [Go around and around, in a way] for EDDY. Zippiest fill: AL ROKER, providing the weather forecast.

LOLA is in DiPietro's grid, clued as [Top 10 song of October 1970]. "Lola" was a Kinks song. Another Kinks song is included in this cool quiz compiled by Matthew Baldwin. Each quiz item is an alphabetical listing of the words included in an individual rock song's lyrics. The trick is to distill the song title and artist based on the lyric vocabulary. The first one, for example, is a and baby be become can come couldn’t fire funeral get girl hesitate higher i if in is it know liar light lose love mire much my night no now on only our pyre say set that the through time to try untrue wallow was we would yeah you. Catchy, right?

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Moment of Truth," features a quote theme: "I DO NOT MIND LYING / BUT / I HATE INACCURACY," by SAMUEL / BUTLER. What exactly does that mean? Aren't lies a divergence from accuracy as well?

The theme in Donna Levin's LA Times crossword tumbled like a house of cards. With EDMUND filled in by easy crossings at the beginning of 20-Across and [Site of the feat] related to EDMUND and 55-Across including EVER in its midst, EDMUND HILLARY, TENZING NORGAY, MOUNT EVEREST, and THE HIMALAYAS practically filled themselves in. Hillary is clued as [Name in the news 55 years ago today]; I suspect this would have been a Monday puzzle if not for the anniversary date dropping it on a Thursday. Favorite fill: EQUIVOCAL ([Wishy-washy]), PLAYBOYS ([Casanovas]), BIG TOE ([Water tester]), "USA! USA!" ([Olympics chant]), and END ZONE ([Area where excessive celebration is discouraged]).


Wednesday, 5/28

Onion 6:10
Tausig 5:26
NYT 5:01
NYS 4:23
LAT 3:57
CS 3:53

The good news is: We won the six-week trivia contest and the $600 top prize. (Favorite question, the rare multiple-choice: Are bonobos asexual, homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual? Tyler's big gimme: How many sides does an icosahedron have? Somehow we were the only team that knew the latter.) The bad news is: It's late, I'm tired, I've had a few drinks, the applet refused to load so 33 seconds were gone on the applet's clock by the time I saw the puzzle, my friend's recent Jethro Tull blog post did not tell me the answer to 51-Down, and I mistyped 67-Across and then couldn't grasp the crossings—so the New York Times crossword by C.W. Stewart kicked my butt. The theme is...let's take a look back and see. Ah, yes. The theme is BALLS. Each of the following six theme entries begins with a word that can be followed by BALLS:
BLACK-TIE = [Fund-raiser wear, perhaps] (blackballs)
BUTTERCUP = [Yellow flower] (butterballs)
GUM ERASER = [Artist's smudge remover] (gumballs)
HIGH NOON = [1952 Gary Cooper western] (highballs)
MEATHEAD = ["All in the Family" nickname] (meatballs)
SOFT-SOAP = [Cajole] (softballs)
It would be a little smoother to have the tie-together entry be the singular BALL, I think, but a word with an even number of letters would have to move from the center of the grid. The SW and NE corners are pretty wide open for a Wednesday puzzle. Where I got mangled up, mainly, was in the lower center section. [Aqualung, e.g., in the 1971 Jethro Tull album] was a LECHER? I had no idea. Flute + prog rock was as far as I got in understanding their oeuvre. I mistyped APES instead of APSE for [Vaulted area, often] and failed to notice the problem the first, oh, three times I read the 51- and 65-Down clues that crossed the wrong squares. [Put up with] is BEAR, sure, but with the mangling above, it just wasn't working out. (Sigh.)

I probably won't have time to get to the other five crosswords before lunchtime Wednesday. (Sigh.)


Randall Hartman's New York Sun puzzle, "Bury the Hatchet," buries an AX in five phrases to generate the theme entries. [Command to the promiscuous widow in "The Night of the Iguana"] is "STRIP, MAXINE" (strip mine); I know Maxine Waters from Congress and '70s singer Maxine Nightingale better than this fictional one. Favorite son begets FAVORITE SAXON, [Pet German of yore?]. My favorite theme entry's CHICKEN WAXING, or [Process of taking hair off a fraidy-cat?].

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy crossword, "E-tail Losses," repurposes too-frequent crossword fill ETAIL by using it in the theme concept—an E at the tail of a word in each theme entry is lost. Thus, [Really valuable hair gels?] are GOLDEN GOOS (golden goose); [What a sitting jury has 12 of?] are LAPS IN JUDGMENT (...but the laps aren't in judgment, are they?); [Lions, bears, etc.?] are DENS' POPULATION; and [Knockouts-to-be?] are FUTURE TENS. There are two 9-letter names in the fill: ANNIE HALL, the [1977 Oscar-winning film], and JOSE GRECO, an [Italian-born flamenco dancer] whose name somehow came to me, and I really don't know why.

The clues in Mark Sherwood's LA Times crossword kept eluding me and my wavelength. The theme entries all begin with related words: HOLY SMOKES is a [Surprised cry], the HALLOWED HALLS are [Academic environs, reverentially], BLESSED EVENTS are [Births], and SACRED COWS are [Certain untouchables]. Wouldn't you rather say "Sacred smokes!" and back off from the holy cows? One film clue was a little misleading: [Julia of film] is RAUL Julia and not Julia Somebody. And then the [Big name in film] clue surely wanted a cinema legend, right? Nope—FUJI film, as in camera film.

I know I'm a day later than usual on the two Ben Tausig puzzles—his regular Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword and this week's Onion puzzle. But if I start those now I'll be late going to the gym, and we certainly can't have that.

Updated again:

Am I just overtired or is Ben Tausig's Onion A.V. Club puzzle tougher than usual? The theme entries rework some vowel sounds THE LONG WAY. Men's short E goes long in MEAN AT WORK. Car's short A goes long to make CARE WASH. A bat (pronounced "bot") mitzvah becomes BOAT MITZVAH; muddy, MOODY WATERS; and bit, BITE PART. I got all tangled up by the [Dangerous ray], which is supposed to be a GAMMA ray and not a manta. Favorite clues: [Use acid for creative purposes] for ETCH; [Body image, briefly?] for TAT (tattoo). A MONSOON was an [Indian summer occurrence] not because of "Indian summer" (warm weather in autumn) but rather, summertime in India. [Hall of Fame football coach Ewbank]'s first name is WEEB. The [___ Rebellion (1739 slave uprising)] is STONO; if you don't know this piece of history either, read up and learn. [___ bomb] is completed with SAKE; a sake bomb is a shot of sake dropped into a pint of beer, causing mad fizzing. And I think this may mark WET SPOT's debut in a newspaper crossword.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "The Theme Theme," translates TV or movie theme music into written syllables. Wow, I am not good at making sense out of those. My mind's ear heard the Rockford Files theme for most of 'em, or Sanford and Son—and those weren't included here. 18-Across represents the "Final Jeopardy" music from Jeopardy!. 29-Across, with the *snap* *snap* bits, had to be ADDAMS FAMILY. 49-Across hits the GHOSTBUSTERS theme song sung by Ray Parker, Jr. 62-Across brings Superman. The Raiders and Star Warsthemes composed by John Williams could also have worked—or at least, the tunes are distinctive and memorable. (Wow, this theme made me spend a lot of time digging around YouTube for all those clips.) The last entry I completed was the [Slangy address] "YO, SON." Aside from that one, I liked the fill.


May 26, 2008

Tuesday, 5/27

NYT 3:25
CS 3:11
LAT 2:58
NYS untimed (drat!)

What? It's Tuesday in the morning? Wait. It's the weekend. How is this happening?

The New York Times crossword is by Adam Perl, who included his first and last names as the first and last Across answers. Sorry, but I don't think [1995 Physics Nobelist Martin L.] PERL is quite well-known enough for a Tuesday puzzle—especially when one letter crosses a name from a lesser Disney production. [Disney's "___ and the Detectives"] is completed by EMIL. Did somebody say "Detectives"? Here's Elvis Costello performing "Watching the Detectives" back in 1977. (Sounds much the same in this year's concert tour, but Elvis has added three decades' worth of age and weight and whiskers since then.) Maybe I would have been more favorably disposed to the self-name-dropping in the grid, but I had been taken aback by the clue for BRAT: [Kid you might feel like smacking]. That is not gonna give the warm fuzzies to any solver who's experienced or witnessed child abuse, now, is it? As for the theme, there are three 15s that are 17-letter phrases minus an ID, tied together by NO ID: [Reason to be barred from a bar...or the theme of this puzzle]. SCENE OF AN ACCENT (accident) is [E.S.L. class, perhaps]. CONTINENTAL DIVE (divide) is [Seedy hangout across the Atlantic?] Ooh, speaking of continental—here's a video of Christopher Walken on SNL as "The Continental." The third theme entry's RAP RESPONSE TEAM (rapid), or [Hip-hop critics?].


Mike Torch's New York Sun puzzle, "Plastic Surgery Gone Bad," has some juicy "aha!" moments in the theme. Now, most people visiting plastic surgeons and hoping to look like celebrities aren't focusing on their lower limbs, but that awkward concept gives the best "aha": [What the plastic surgeon created after I asked to look like a "Star Wars" actress?] are PORTMAN TOES—Natalie Portman from the newer batch of Star Wars installments crossed with portmanteau. Johnny CASH EARS (cashiers), Anais NIN KNEES (ninnies), and Billy CRYSTAL EYES (crystallize) round out this multi-layered pun theme. Lots of little hits of geography in the fill here—OSAKA, SYRIA, OTOE County, OMAN crossing SAMOA, SEDONA. [Torture ___ (genre of the "Saw" films)] for PORN (the term's a good way to point out the unseemliness of this gruesome horror genre). Good fill: EAT CROW, SNOW JOB split into two pieces, END ZONE, CAJUN, ZYGOTE.

Today's LA Times crossword may be Susan Miskimins' debut as a published constructor. The four longest entries are starred and their last parts can follow the word FINGER (50-Down):

  • [It's important to read it before signing] = FINE PRINT (fingerprint)
  • [Clown makeup] = GREASEPAINT (finger paint)
  • [Beef cuts] = SIRLOIN TIPS (fingertips)
  • [Small, as a sketch] = THUMBNAIL (fingernail)

That last one is, I think, the weakest member of the theme, since a more literal thumbnail is actually a fingernail, whereas the other theme entries aren't finger-related. Highlights in the fill are the quartet of 8-letter entries, including Ol' BLUE EYES (Sinatra), a weather FORECAST (Chicago's forecast today: Too %@$#* cold! In the 40s!), and a DEMOCRAT ([Jackson was the first to become president]). CHEF is clued as [Bobby Flay, for one]; it behooves me to mention that Deb Amlen has anagrammed that to "Flabby Boy."

Randolph Ross's (apologies for earlier having Randall Hartman's name in there) CrosSynergy puzzle, "Dirty Doings," contains a bunch of dirty puns—about literal dirt. [Messy, gooey dessert?] is KEY SLIME PIE (ewww). [Admonition to chimney sweeps about not getting anyone else dirty?] is SOOT YOURSELVES (I kinda like this one). [Oily buildup that's been around a long time?] is ANCIENT GREASE (not to be confused with retirement grease). GRIME DOESN'T PAY is [Judge's advice about cleaning up?], though the aforementioned "retirement grease" concept belies this theme entry. GUNK SCIENCE, or [Subject in which sludge is studied?], plays on "junk science." Look, there's an ORANGE in the fill! I am, of course, an excellent [Vitamin C source]—no scurvy here.


May 25, 2008

Monday, 5/26

CS 2:55
LAT 2:49
NYT 2:36

The New York Sun doesn't publish on holidays, so I assume that there won't be a Monday puzzle this week.

In his post on Liz Gorski's Sunday New York Times puzzle, Rex Parker wrote "Symmetry is great and all, but I think the puzzle should be more willing than it normally is to include the odd asymmetrical element, especially if the rest of the puzzle works so fantastically well." Here it is a day later, and the Monday New York Times crossword by Mark Sherwood also includes an unpaired, uncentered theme element that isn't in the customary bottom row or lower right-hand corner where unifying entries are usually placed, owing to that unifying answer being longer than usual. DENTISTS are [Experts with the ends of] the theme entries: KNEE BRACES are [Strap-on leg supports], covering orthodontics. Restorative and prosthetic dentistry chime in with PIE FILLING, or [Mincemeat, e.g.]; TRIPLE CROWN, or [Feat for Secretariat]; and a BLASTING CAP, clued as [It sets things off]. There are a few noted Chicagoans in the grid: First off, there's BOZO the [Classic clown]. And then there are both late [Film critic Gene] SISKEL and his longtime partner Roger EBERT, who lost his voice to surgical complications but is still writing his Pulitzer-winning movie reviews. The NYT puzzle keeps tossing Toots Shor at us, but this time the [Old Big Apple restaurateur] is SARDI. Lots of names in this puzzle—we also have Princess ANNE, NOAH from the Bible, Michelangelo's DAVID (behold what happens when David doesn't work out), JONI Mitchell, ZANE Grey, OREL Hershiser, fictional HEIDI, Art TATUM (I would've gone with TATUM O'Neal, given the preponderance of male names in the grid), and golfer ZACH Johnson. By the way, if you're like me and you've sometimes had a tough time distinguishing the EBRO River from the Arno (one's in Spain, one's in Italy), remember that the Ebro may well be what the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) was named after. Vowels and a B and R? Check. They go together.


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Toying With Emotions," takes three phrases that begin with emotions and anagrams the emotion into a different word. [Cab rider's concern?] is FARE FACTOR (fear), but I'm not sure how a "fare factor" would figure into things. When I take a taxi, I pay attention to the fare, but what is this unnamed "factor"? Anger management becomes RANGE MANAGEMENT, or [Grazing land supervision?]. And a love affair skews to the rodents with VOLE AFFAIR, a [Gathering of garden pests?]. Scrabbly fill includes KHARTOUM, INXS, JEAN ARP, and ZEALOTS.

Charles Slack's LA Times crossword serves up a chilly dish of Neapolitan ice cream—three sweet theme entries that begin with VANILLA (YOGURT), CHOCOLATE (MOUSSE), and STRAWBERRY (JAM). Yum, chocolate! I'm not sure how accurate the clue [Girls' rec. center] is for the YWCA. The YWCA isn't just a girly version of the YMCA—the organization is dedicated more towards addressing women's economic empowerment, racial justice, domestic violence, and child care than physical fitness.


May 24, 2008

Crossword from Alex Boisvert

Head to my Google Group if you'd like to solve Alex Boisvert's crossword, "Stat!" It's available in both Across Lite (.puz) and .pdf form. (If you have trouble downloading, try switching to another browser—that seems to do the trick.)

This puzzle appears in the August 2008 issue of Games Magazine, albeit there the theme has been edited out. (Spoilers after the cut.)

Alex's crossword took me 4 minutes and change. The theme is a subtle one—as hinted by the "Hurry up!" aspect of the title, the theme is speed. But rather than appearing in the theme entries themselves, fast and its synonyms begin each of four question-marked theme clues. The clues all merit the question mark—"ARRIBA, ARRIBA" is clued as [Speedy delivery?] because it's a line delivered by Speedy Gonzales (cartoon mouse). [Swift characters?] aren't swift, they're written by Jonathan Swift—who coined many words for his characters, including LILLIPUTIANS. RAMADANS are [Fast times?] because that's the month when Muslims fast during the daylight hours. And [Fleet people?] include ADMIRALS in the Navy.

I learned something new—that the French spell that noted European river RHIN. Why didn't I know this?? I am not up on my sports slang, so I also didn't know that [Superior jumping ability, in slang] is MAD HOPS.

(The glitch in the Games version is that the RAMADANS clue was changed and no longer began with the word fast.)


Sunday, 5/25

NYT 7:57
LAT 7:47
BG 7:15
PI 7:05
CS 6:36

Before I opened up Liz Gorski's Sunday New York Times crossword, I saw a comment about it at the NYT forum that read "Wow. Wow! WOW!" Then I solved the puzzle and thought it was indeed a very nice puzzle, but didn't see what the fuss was. I put my kid to bed, came back, and finally took note of the seven circled squares that formed a connect-the-dots puzzle. Oh! Look at that. The solver draws a martini glass with left/right symmetry, and the word MARTINI appears inside the glass at 39-Across. Who likes martinis? JAMES Bond, whose 72-Down clue reads [Bond common to the answers to the six starred clues]. Get it? Bond, the last name = bond, something that connects the six names—those six names being actors who have portrayed Bond on screen in the years listed in their clues:

  • [1969] is one-film GEORGE LAZENBY.
  • [1973-85] is ROGER MOORE, the Bond during my formative years (alas).
  • [1987-89] is TIMOTHY DALTON.
  • [1995-2002] is PIERCE BROSNAN. Note that these four appear in chronological order in the grid.
  • The guy who came before all of them ([1962-67, 1971]) appears in the upper left corner as a Down entry, in first position: SEAN CONNERY.
  • The newest Bond, DANIEL CRAIG, appears in the lower right corner, last of all ([2006–]).
  • In the mix, fitting in opposite the 10-letter ROGERMOORE, is IAN FLEMING, [Writer born May 28, 1908]. Fleming, of course, wrote the Bond novels.
  • SIR is also thematic, clued as [Title for 48-Across and 3-Down] (Moore and Connery).

Those circled squares were designed to contain A, B, C, D, E, F, and G in a layout such that they'd make a dot-to-dot martini glass. That B in GEORGE LAZENBY had to be opposite an A or C, then, and that C is in SCARING, which crosses both a theme entry and a long answer running alongside it. So it's further impressive from a construction standpoint, with that stacking of CARGO PANTS ([Attire with supersized pockets]) and BILL HUDSON ([Rock guitarist once married to Goldie Hawn] and actress Kate Hudson's father) beside the Down theme entries and two other 10s in the fill (GRECO-ROMAN, or [Like some wrestling], and GOLF COURSE, or [It's full of holes]). Other fill and cluesl I liked:
  • TO SCALE, or [How architects' models are built]
  • [Moles' production] for TUNNELS (I had spy-type moles in mind, given this puzzle's theme)
  • ON DEMAND, or [Like some video, to cable customers]—we love OnDemand here chez Fiend
  • [Piano players' hangouts] for LOUNGES (though I daresay the vast majority of piano players don't hang out in lounges)
  • [Chairman's supporter?] for MAOIST
  • [Edwards and others: Abbr.] looks like DEMS or (ex-)SENS, but it's AFBS (Air Force bases)
  • C.S. LEWIS is ["The Allegory of Love" writer, 1936]
  • The SWIM TEAM are [Butterfly experts, perhaps]
  • TOYLAND is clued with a lyric: [In song, "Once you pass its borders, you can ne'er return again"]

Mystery fill:
  • OUSEL, or [White-collared thrush: Var.]—also called the ouzel or white-throated dipper
  • NOHO, or [Neighborhood next to N.Y.C.'s East Village]
  • TASS, clued as [Old propaganda propagator]—we usually see Itar-Tass mentioned rather than a stand-alone TASS
  • LUNA [___9, first spacecraft to land softly on the moon]
  • And a third Russian answer, IGOR [Kurchatov who oversaw the Soviet atomic bomb project]
  • [March 25, in the Christian calendar], is LADY DAY, which is also a nickname for Billie Holiday
  • [Game played with a 40-card deck] is OMBRE—the 8s, 9s, and 10s are removed from a standard deck

PhillySolver's got the scoop about this crossword's creation from Ms. Gorski herself.


Bob Klahn's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has a bunch of fresh, almost oddball entries—the sort that pushed me to rely on the crossings to piece them together:
  • BLIND PIG is an [Illegal saloon offering "complimentary" drinks to those who paid to see an animal curiosity].
  • NOBELIUM is a [Radioactive element with a once-disputed name].
  • TAFIA is a [Cheap West Indian rum made from sugarcane juice].
  • JOHN RAMBO is a [Macho stereotype of filmdom]. Is it wrong that I wanted to make John Wayne a stereotype?
  • THE CLASH are the ["London Calling" punk rockers]—this one wasn't at all hard for me, but I'm glad to see the Clash in the grid.
  • FATHERLY is an ordinary-enough word, but the [Like an old man?] clue misled me for awhile.
  • LIME KILN is a [Hot spot for shells]. Lime kilns transform limestone into quicklime.
  • ET ALIAE is one expansion of "et al." and [It may follow a list of women], since aliae is a feminine plural in Latin.
  • ALICE BLUE is a [Color named for Teddy Roosevelt's daughter].
  • THE DJ is [Jazzy Jeff, in a 1988 Fresh Prince album name]. Fresh Prince, of course, is Will Smith.
  • RHUMB is a [Point on a mariner's compass]—not a word I knew.
  • X FACTOR is clued with [Its effect is hard to predict].

Dan Naddor's syndicated LA Times crossword is custom-made for sports fans and for Californians. Each theme entry in "California Pros" is a phrase that starts or ends with a word that's also a professional sports team name (in the singular) in California. There are 14 theme entries! The state has no other major franchises (not counting Major League Soccer) that didn't make it into the grid. The phrases are clued straightforwardly, but with the league initials in parentheses. My favorite was [Liver nutrient (MLB)], hiding a wee A at the end of VITAMIN A. The San Francisco Giants make it in a GIANT SQUID, the Los Angeles Kings (hockey) and Sacramento Kings (basketball) share KING LEAR, and the Dodgers appear in DRAFT DODGERS. There's actually a mountain bike company called NINER BIKES—probably not well-known enough to normally make the cut in a crossword, but there aren't a ton of two-word phrases that include NINER. Naddor's got about 140 theme squares, 14 theme entries in a symmetrical grid, and complete coverage of the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL teams in California. Well done!

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Hard-to-Do Songs," bundles together some song titles that posit difficult tasks. How exactly would one CATCH A FALLING STAR or CLIMB EV'RY MOUNTAIN? It's a tall order—and so is every other theme entry. The theme clues all include the particular song's year in this format: [1954 song ("okay, but it won't be easy")]. There's some really nice fill in this one, but my son kept saying, "Mom, look! Look! Watch me pick up this building! Mom, look! I'm throwing it at those monsters." (He's playing a Godzilla game on Wii.) Very distracting, I say.

Henry Hook's online Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle, "Gridlock," shares its title with Matt Gaffney's book, which features a whole chapter on Henry Hook. If you haven't read the book, I encourage you to buy a copy—it offers a glimpse inside top constructors' methods (hand-crafted à la Gaffney and Byron Walden vs. database-aided à la Frank Longo and Peter Gordon), an exploration of the crossword business (books, magazines, syndication), and a touching profile of Hook. The book also quotes this blog a couple times, but I swear I would recommend it warmly even if my name weren't in it. Back to the crossword: The theme entries are all men whose last names begin with a CAR. No, not a HONDA or a FORD—the letter grouping CAR. Hey, where are the CAR women? I'm sure there are a few famous ones. Off the top of my head, there's Belinda Carlisle or Kitty Carlisle, Rachel Carson, Rosalynn Carter or Dixie Carter. Ambitious construction: the 12-letter names in the NW and SE corners of the grid are in stacked pairs.


May 23, 2008

Saturday, 5/24

NYT 10:34
Newsday 8:15
LAT 5:05
CS 2:42

I am beat. Between five and a half hours of sleep last night and a delicious dinner out (with wine), I can scarcely keep my eyes open to type the proper keys. And yet! I went ahead and did the Saturday New York Times puzzle by Charles Barasch. Let's see how much I can say about the puzzle before I drift off to sleep.

Two 15s: MARRIED WITH KIDS, clued as [Like a family man], would resonate with me more without a man-specific clue. Does the family man LEAD A DOUBLE LIFE ([Be like Clark Kent])? Among the mid-range and short fill, here were my trouble spots and/or the spots that troubled me (but did not slow me down):

  • GUESSER is [One taking a shot]. Are you a guesser?
  • [Cy Young had a record 815] refers to STARTS. Alas, AT-BATS shares a few letters, which did slow me down.
  • I CAN SO is one of those playground retorts that more often pepper shorter fill; here, it's clued ["Just watch me!"].
  • [Slow runner in the woods] is SAP; I don't like the use of "runner" this way.
  • [Long gone] clues OF YORE; I started out with NO MORE, again sharing three letters. Hard to unravel that.
  • Who the hell actually eats HAM SALAD sandwiches? This has been in the crossword before, and I just haven't seen it on a menu. Is it a particularly New York kind of [Deli sandwich material]?
  • [Went (off)] is VEERED and [Went off] is ERRED; not wild about the latter clue.
  • [Girl with a future?] is a SEERESS. (1) "Girl"? Not "woman"? (2) SEERESS and ERRED along the bottom row are unexciting.
  • A [Certain Christian] is a UNIATE. No idea what that means; am too sleepy to look it up.
  • [Restaurant business bigwig] is Toots SHOR (Toots!), not Ray Kroc.
  • [Coll. entrance hurdle] is the SAT I test.
  • [Split is both REND and DASHED AWAY. DASHED AWAY feels not quite in-the-language; can we get a ruling from the judges?
  • A [Repeated musical phrase] may seem obstinate: OSTINATO.
  • [It's stuffed with dough] clues FAT WALLET. This one feels odd to me—do you like it as an entry?
  • [Super finish?] is IOR, the end of superior. Meh.
  • A SWAN is not a [Kind of song]. A swan song is a kind of song—a swan is a kind of bird.
  • [Area of interest to Archimedes] is PIRSQUARED, or PI R SQUARED. I'm holding out for a spelled-out quadratic equation.
  • [Zoologist's foot] is PES, though really, that's not the zoologist's foot—it's a beastie's foot. The zoologist herself has just plain feet.
  • SCHAEFER is a [Beer brand since 1842]. Last time I saw a can was in a jigsaw puzzle when I was a kid; the can label/design was clunky and outdated even then.
  • [Prefix with calyx or thalamus] is EPI.
  • No idea what [Song from Bernstein's "Wonderful Town"] is—"IT"S LOVE was pieced together from the crossings.
  • MAFIAS is clued [They have family units]; meh.
  • Never heard of [Gulf of San BLAS (Caribbean sea inlet)]. I have heard of the [West African capital] LOME, next to it. Togo!


Brad Wilber's LA Times themeless crossword is a fun one. The fill spins out from twp 15s that cross in the center square: the FERNWOOD FLASHER, an [Eccentric in the soap parody "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"], and POISONED CHALICE, a ["Be careful what you wish for" gift]. Is the latter a Snow White reference? The "Mary Hartman" clue didn't really narrow it down much, as about half the characters on the show were eccentrics. (Season 1 is available on DVD.) Each quadrant of the puzzle had stacks of 8- or 9-letter entries. My favorites among them:
  • TALE OF WOE: [Stereotypical country song]
  • ["Pure as the driven slush," in Bankhead's words] for UNCHASTE (Tallulah Bankhead)
  • Golfer MIKE WEIR, [2003 Masters champ]
  • Thomas EAGLETON, [McGovern's 1972 running mate before Shriver]
  • [Spaghetti, perhaps] for SIDE ORDER
  • [Cut back] for ECONOMIZE
  • FLEABAGS, [Run-down hotels]

There were some fun shorter words (or clues for them), too:
  • [Argentine "Hey!" that became a noted nickname] for CHE—interesting trivia bit
  • [Scratch] for the verb CLAW
  • French ETAT ([Louis XIV, to himself?]) crossing ECLAT ([Razzle-dazzle])
  • More names, includign Dave EGGERS and Kato KAELIN
  • CHURL, or [Boor]—I need to use that word more
  • The verb [Race] for TEAR
  • [Stable element?] for HAY
  • Christian Dior's A-LINES cross-referenced with FLARED

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was tough without turning to obscure words. Here are my favorite clues and answers:
  • The makeup cases called COMPACTS are [Foundation holders]—this works for powder or cream foundations, obviously, not for liquid.
  • The noun [Stir] is a SPLASH.
  • I had no idea who the [Groom in '52 headlines] was and tried to think of historical figures—but it's LIL ABNER.
  • The two-word MT. IDA answers [It was sacred to Rhea].
  • FISHPONDS, or [Landscaping options], have a nice SHP pile-up in the middle.
  • Did you know Chicago's Al CAPONE was a [Brooklyn-born bad guy]?
  • [Digital bands] go on the finger: ENGAGEMENT RINGS.
  • Crossword clues like [Hearts, e.g.] often seem to pertain to playing cards, but not this time—they're ORGANS.
  • [Ports, but not harbors] are RED WINES.
  • Larry [Bird, notably] was a Boston CELTIC.
  • [Bean player] means Mr. Bean—Rowan ATKINSON. My kid finds Mr. Bean's antics hilarious.
  • [Pet peeve, perhaps] is a pet peeve for pet owners: SHEDDING. Terrific clue!
  • [Saturn section] has nothing to do with a planet's rings but rather, a rocket's NOSECONE.
  • [Fermion family member] is a PROTON. I've never heard of fermion, but there's Enrico Fermi and the Fermi Accelerator Laboratory, makes sense.
  • [King maker] is mattress manufacturer SERTA.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle is an easy themed one—in "Ladies Last," each theme entry ends with a word that can be followed by lady. NATIVE LAND, or [Country of one's birth], yields a landlady. [Standard file cabinet color] STEEL GRAY produces the Gray Lady, a nickname for the New York Times. HEAD-FIRST, or [Impetuously], yields a First Lady. And the [Travel accessory] called a GARMENT BAG gives a "bag lady," which is a bit of a bummer.


May 22, 2008

Friday, 5/23

NYT 5:21
LAT 4:28
CHE 3:53
NYS 3:45
CS 3:12
Jonesin' 2:55 — in Across Lite here

WSJ 8:52

Yeah, Will Shortz was right. He'd said that 18-year-old Patrick John Duggan's debut crossword, a themeless Friday New York Times puzzle, was a beauty, and it is indeed an auspicious beginning. For starters, it's got a mini-theme: Two seminal fictional crime families from film/books and TV, the CORLEONE family ([Crime family name]) from The Godfather and the SOPRANOS ([Crime family]) from the titular HBO series. (Note for newbies: A small percentage of themeless puzzles have a mini-theme, which consists of two symmetrically placed entries that are related.) There are no crappy or questionable words in the fill, though there are some two-word phrases that purists may take issue with. The highlights (with stars for my favorites):

  • [Dr. Seuss story setting] = WHOVILLE ✭
  • [Parting words] = AU REVOIR
  • [Fop in "The Wind in the Willows"] = MR. TOAD
  • [Memorable "Marathon Man" query] = "IS IT SAFE?" ✭
  • ["If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer?', e.g.] = ONE-LINER
  • [Literally, "art of softness"] = JUJITSU ✭
  • [Study aid?] = GRANT (great clue)
  • [Philosopher who coined the phrase "the best of all possible worlds] = LEIBNIZ
  • [Muscle strengthened by a pulldown exercise, in brief] = LAT (hey! I just did lat pulldowns on Tuesday)
  • [1988 film set in an inner-city high school] = LEAN ON ME
  • [Like some airport purchases]= DUTY-FREE ✭
  • [It was shipwrecked in 1964 somewhere in the South Pacific] = S.S. MINNOW ✭ from Gilligan's Island
  • [Popular boxing venue] = UPS STORE ✭ (wouldn't you know it? I had the first S and then filled in LAS VEGAS—it's a great clue)

I'd never heard of JOANN, the [Title girl in a 1958 hit by the Playmates]. The two-word entries that seemed less smooth than the rest of the puzzle included HUSH UP, or ["Quiet!"]; SO THEN, or ["Anyway, after that..."]; NOT IT, or [Untagged]; NO FUN, or [Like a wet blanket]; ON LATE, [Like postmidnight TV shows]; WE DID IT, or [Celebratory cry]; and MAY I SEE, or [Potential buyer's question]. Most of those phrases cross answers I singled out as my favorites, and I do tend to find these iffy phrases preferable to tortured word forms (e.g., SLAVERER, RECARVE, EXPUNGER, REPASSED). So on balance, with all the 8-letter entries that sparkle, some surprising clues, a pop-culture mini-theme, and precious little obscurity, I give this one a thumbs-up.

Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle, "Auto Trailers," was ridiculously easy for a Friday Sun. Of course, my haste in dispatching it could be in part because I had test-solved Dave Sullivan's July 8, 2007, syndicated LA Times crossword, "Rear Wheels." (Was it considerably easier than the typical themed Friday Sun for you, too?) Alan's theme entries are:
  • [Abdominal network] = SOLAR PLEXUS
  • [Song that knocked "Ticket too Ride" out of the #1 slot] = "HELP ME, RHONDA"
  • [Words before a date] = ANNO DOMINI
  • [Has to wait for the next round, perhaps] = LOSES A TURN
  • [Spanish architect who designed the unfinished Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona] = ANTONIO GAUDI
  • ["Three's Company" hangout] = REGAL BEAGLE

Dave's set of entries included CZECHOSLOVAKIA, NORTH BIMINI, EAST RUTHERFORD, SELF PROPEL, TAKES A TURN, and the same three phrases for Audi, Lexus, and Honda.

Favorite fill in the Arbesfeld: ARMY BRAT, or [Base kid].


Patrick Berry usually edits other constructors' work for the Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, and it seems like his byline shows up only when he's got a really elegant gimmick of some sort. Here, in the 15x16 "Syllabus Space-Savers," the theme is veiled anagrams paired with an adjective that might show up in a cryptic crossword clue to suggest anagramming. To wit:
[Modern-art lecture topic: AIMED] leads to MIXED MEDIA, MEDIA being an anagram of AIMED.
[History-of-socialism lecture topc: ORAL-B] gives you ORGANIZED LABOR.
[Cartesian-geometry lecture topic: PAIRS] is ORDERED PAIRS.
[Gastroenterology lecture topic: SATCHMO] is UPSET STOMACH.
[Genetics lecture topic: AND] is RECOMBINANT DNA.
[Economics lecture topic: SEATS] is FIXED ASSET.

The fill is remarkably good for a crossword with a whopping 72 theme squares. No, I didn't recognize IPOH, the [Urban center in Malaysia], but the O should be fairly obvious in [Turkish Empire founder] OSMAN for an academic solving audience so I don't think that's a deadly crossing. SANSEI is a [Grandchild of Japanese immigrants]; I knew only Issei and Nisei. I didn't know Columbus dubbed CUBA "Isla Juana."

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "And the Last Shall Be First," is likely the easiest Jonesin' puzzle I've seen. The theme entries are people with closely related first and last names: [1992 Tim Robbins title role] is BOB ROBERTS, [Unsuccessful 2008 Republican candidate for president] is TOMMY THOMPSON, and CARL CARLTON (who?) and BILLY WILLIAMS (faintly familiar baseball name for me) join them. Favorite parts: [Word before job or tube] for BOOB; THE BEAR, or [1988 movie based on the novel "The Grizzly King"]; a LOBSTER BIB and SPORTS BARS; ELWOOD of the Blues Brothers (Jake is the other one); [Manu Ginobili's full first name] for EMANUEL (so that explains the mystifyingly non-Italian-looking name of that basketball player!); and LEA clued as ["The X-Files actor Nicholas ___].

Lee Glickstein's LA Times crossword interprets the [Lake denizen] TROUT as a [hint to this puzzle's theme]: the letter pair TR is taken OUT of each theme entry. [Aperitif?] is a SUNSET SIP (Strip); [Snafu at the base?] is MILITARY OOPS (troops); [Sewing class lesson?] is SEAMING VIDEO (streaming); and ["Fahrenheit 451," for one?] is an ASHY NOVEL (trashy). Favorite fill: TREE TOAD, LORD OVER, VESPA scooter, a LATE TAG in baseball. Favorite clues: [Drafty rooms?] for PUBS; [Big wheels] for HELMS, not LIMOS; [Movie assistant] for IGOR (not a GRIP!); and [Hotspot seeker] for a computer USER in need of a wireless hotspot.

Patrick Blindauer hides a bunch of CEOS in the middle of his theme entries in "Middle Management," today's CrosSynergy crossword, with CE ending one word and the O beginning the next. LAURENCE OLIVIER anchors the theme, with shorter FORCE OPEN, NICE ONE, FACE-OFF, and VOICE-OVER supporting him. MMVII was clued as [2007, in movie credits]; I am glad to have a Roman numeral year not clued as [Year in the term of Pope Benedict XVI]. (Over at Rex's blog recently, a commenter called such clues YOTP: year-of-the-pope. Can be pronounced "yacht-pee.") Interesting fill: TIRAMISU, SODOM, NAIFS, and WICCAN. Best clue: [They're non-PC] for IMACS.

This week's Wall Street Journal crossword by "really Mike" Shenk (a.k.a. "Marie Kelly") features a quote from MENCKEN: THE CHIEF VALUE OF / MONEY LIES IN THE / FACT THAT ONE LIVES IN A / WORLD IN WHICH IT / IS OVERESTIMATED. Despite the presence of a quote theme, I still liked the puzzle, which surely is a sign of good fill and cluing overall. What I liked: [Londoner's lot] for CAR PARK; [Heinrich Schliemann unearthed it in 1871] for TROY; the BARRACUDA, a [Plymouth muscle car]; a noted CAPITALIST opposite the bonds called TREASURIES (apt inclusions in a WSJ puzzle); [Price performance] for OPERA (Leontyne Price, not stock prices); the AGA KHAN; EBOOK with a current [Kindle download] clue (Kindle being Amazon's electronic book reader); [Prepare to switch] for BAIT; and more.


A month from now

I'll be taking my son on a vacation to Minnesota, to my 20th college reunion. I know at least one of my Carleton classmates who's registered for reunion comments here sometimes—see you in June, Everett!

Are there any other Crossword Fiend readers who will be in Northfield next month?

(The charming and funny PuzzleGirl will be guest-blogging here while I'm away. If you've seen her comments at Rex's blog, you probably also adore her.)


May 21, 2008

Thursday, 5/22

NYS 5:13
LAT 3:58
CS 3:57
NYT 3:40

Richard Silvestri's theme in the New York Times crossword is a little oblique—OMEN at 38-Down can also be parsed as "O men," and the six 9-letter theme entries are names of famous men that include no vowel other than O. There's BJORN BORG, the [Five-time Wimbledon winner]; ROB MORROW, the ["Numb3rs" star] and star of Quiz Show and Northern Exposure; JOHN BROWN, [Harper's Ferry raider]; TOM POSTON, ["Newhart" actor] and husband of Suzanne Pleshette; [Famed restaurateur] of crossword notoriety, TOOTS SHOR; and [Co-star of "The Andy Griffith Show"] and portrayer of Mr. Furley on Three's Company, DON KNOTTS. Thursdayish clues: [Misbehaves] for CUTS UP (not ACTS UP); [Stretches] for AREAS; [Be deceitful] for PALTER; [Catfish Row denizen] for BESS; [Perfect pitch] for a STRIKE in baseball; [Region of Israel: Var.] for NEGEB (hmm, that's a new one on me); [Vesta, Pallas or Hygiea] (which I want to be spelled Hygieia or Hygeia) for ASTEROID; [Orly : Paris :: Gardermoen : ___] for OSLO (airport names : cities); [Athletes on horses] for GYMNASTS, their kind of horse being a stationary piece of equipment; ["Sun Valley Serenade" sar, 1941] for Sonja HENIE; [Classic spy plane] for U-TWO (which, I presume, the military never spells out thus); [Yclept] for NAMED; and [Female whales] for COWS. Old-school fill includes "Dies IRAE," ["Socrate" composer] Erik SATIE, the [Priests' garb] called ALBS, and AROAR ([Bellowing]). (Edited to add: Also TUN, the [252-gallon unit], another word I learned via crosswords.)

Another late addition about the NYT: At the NYT's "Today's Puzzle" forum, native Spanish speaker Zulema wrote this about 2-Down, [Red, as a Spanish wine]:

I'll just begin by saying that before this puzzle goes further into print, the clue has to change. You need to find a subject (or object) that is of feminine gender as ROJA is, and definitely not wine, which beside being a masculine noun, is not ever called ROJO in Spanish but TINTO. Within reds there are CLARETES also, if one wants to get more particular.

How about the color of a torero's cape or a brightly colored rose in Spain, maybe? Notice I did not use the word WRONG, but oh is it!

Tom Heilman made the New York Sun "Themeless Thursday." I am far too sleepy to do it justice tonight. Lots of nice entries peppered with Scrabbly letters. The [President of the American League before Lee MacPhail] drew a complete blank from me—JOE CRONIN is the answer, but I've never heard of either guy and don't know when they served. More in the morning, perhaps—


Here's one other remark about the New York Sun puzzle: [Atomic ___ (Crayola color formerly called Chartreuse)] can't possibly be right. Atomic TANGERINE is a vivid orange, while chartreuse (which I don't remember as a Crayola color—perhaps it launched after my childhood but was replaced before my son's) is a yellow-green color. Crayola might've had atomic tangerine replace chartreuse, but it couldn't have been a new name for the same color. ...And now that I've said all that, I Googled chartreuse crayola and find a Wikipedia claim that Crayola had misnamed an orange-red crayon "chartreuse" between 1972 and 1989. Does anyone remember this? My peak crayon years were in that span, and I sure don't remember that at all. Okay, this link specifies that chartreuse was part of the fluorescent octad, and those ones weren't, I don't think, in the box of 64. What, was Crayola stupid?

Elsewhere in the Sun puzzle, I like the TACO SALAD and Maxwell Smart's SHOE PHONE (my kid's looking forward to the Steve Carell movie remake—and wait, why does my son know the name "Steve Carell"?); the tennis TOPSPIN that is Billie Jean [King's English?], I presume; NIM clued as [___ Chimpsky (chimp in a language experiment)], in the news recently when that talking bird died; [Chalazia] as the plural of chalazion, or STYES (I have a fontanel for medical terminology); [Jettisons] for DEEP-SIXES; CRYING JAG; and [Twist request] for MORE (Oliver Twist's request, not a bar order). Boy, ["The Voice of Bugle ___" (1936 Lionel Barrymore film)] sure is a bizarre clue for ANN, ain't it?

Moving on!

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Playing with the Detroit Lions: An Anagram Puzzle," is exactly as billed: The theme entries are anagrams of DETROITLIONS. ["Taxi Driver" star flipped?] is DENIRO LOST IT; [Tested some skin products?] is TRIED LOTIONS; [Dig up a treasure chest?] is DISINTER LOOT; and a [Soggy chip?] is a SILENT DORITO (eww...). (The PRINGLES in the grid have not been made soggy.) A few hits from the crossword past: ZEBU! A [Humped bovine]. SERE! [Like the desert]. Its anagram ERSE! An [Old World language]. OONA! [Geraldine Chaplin's mother]. And TRET! A [Weigh station factor] not to be confused with TARE; I think TRET is more truck-oriented. These were all pretty much gimmes for me—how about you?

Gary Whitehead's LA Times crossword kept me wondering until I reached the southeast corner of the grid and the explanatory entry WINE, or [Cellar supply, judged by the ends of 17-, 31-, 38- and 54-Across]. Those four theme phrases are GUEST APPEARANCE ([Talk show gig]), CROOKED NOSE ([One reason for rhinoplasty]), CLEFT PALATE ([Doc Holliday was born with one]), and SEMI-GLOSS FINISH ([Painter's option]). 1-Across, opposite WINE, is NAPA, an [Apt region for this puzzle]. Not crazy about LATIN I, [Introductory language course], or some of the other fill, but ZEALOTRY looks a lot better in the crossword grid than in the real world.


Wednesday, 5/21

NYT 4:03
NYS 3:30
LAT 2:58
CS 2:33

Another late night for me, as it's Tuesday and the second-to-last trivia night. We won! We didn't do very well, but apparently everyone else scored even more poorly, so we won and are well positioned to vie for the $600 prize that caps off a six-week run next week.

The only crossword I've done tonight is Dave Mackey's New York Times puzzle. I paid zero attention to theme until some time after I finished it, when it became obvious: makeup.

  • ROUGE ET NOIR: a [Solitaire card game] I'm not familiar with

  • SHADOW BOXERS: [Pugs in gyms, at times], and shadow as in eye shadow

  • SOLID FOUNDATION: [Good thing to build on]

  • AT FIRST BLUSH: [Initially]—a great phrase

  • LUXURY LINER: [Cunard fleet member], referring to either lip liner or eyeliner

Colorful fill includes NITWIT, or [Birdbrain]; FURIOSO, or [Forcefully, in music]; SOFT G, or [Gentle opening]; MR. MOM, or [1983 Keaton comedy]; SHOWER GIFT, or [Item from a registry, perhaps]; and XTC, or [Band with the 1987 single "Dear God"] (good band, don't know that song). Favorite clues: [Liked leader?] for IKE; [Go nuts, with "out"] for WIG; and [Something to kick up] for a FUSS.


The byline above the New York Sun crossword reads Yaakov Bendavid, and I think this is his newspaper crossword debut. The "Empowered" theme promotes some Ns to Ms:
[Ship used to transport letters?] = MAIL CLIPPER
[Frequent steakhouse patron?] = MEAT FREAK
[Over two million works of art?] = MET ASSETS (as in the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
[Ingredient you shouldn't use to make quiche?] = MACHO CHEESE

Two theme entries are merely solid, while two hit the funny bone dead on—given that I can go days without finding a single theme entry in multiple crosswords to be flat-out funny, getting two funny theme entries in one puzzle is great. The fill gleams, too: The Beatles' "LOVE ME DO," OAXACA paralleling TREBEK, names from high and low culture (Yehudi MENUHIN and VANESSA Hudgens), two other Xs, and many more 6- to 8-letter answers. Favorite clues: ["___, Babe" (1992 Mark Leyner book)] for ET TU; and [Cut the mustard?] for REAP (mustard's a crop plant, after all).

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, " has four kinds of deals at the beginning of the theme entries. A COMPACT (CAR) and a CONCORD (GRAPES) are roughly on a par with each other. A BARGAIN (HUNTER) is a different kind of "deal" altogether. And a BOND (RATING)...I'm not sure exactly how that's a deal of some sort. Explanations welcome. There's some first-class fill here: SCROOGE, Jimi Hendrix's PURPLE HAZE, a BIG MOUTH, JETSKI, and ANGLO-SAXON.

Dan Naddor has a happy theme in his LA Times crossword, with [Euphoric] cluing five phrases: ON TOP OF THE WORLD, TICKLED PINK, ON CLOUD NINE, HIGH AS A KITE, and IN SEVENTH HEAVEN. Two corners contain stacks of 7- and 8-letter words (ALTER EGO, CANSECO, GO AHEAD, and more), but the ambitious theme and grid result in a couple compromises in the fill. Or maybe they don't—I don't know [Tony Hillerman detective Jim] CHEE, but maybe the rest of you do. I could see some solvers hitting a snag where SHRIKE ([Predatory bird]) crosses [Campground chain KOA], or name-haters having trouble with [Danny of the Boston Celtics] AINGE crossing NIA [Peeples of TV's "Fame"] at the I. Is it just me, or does reading the theme answers improve one's mood?


May 19, 2008

Tuesday, 5/20

Tausig 5:35
Onion 4:28
NYS 3:54
NYT 3:15
CS 3:14
LAT 2:39

Billie Truitt's New York Times crossword has the sort of theme that seems like it must've been done at least once or twice before, but I don't see these particular animal theme entries in the Cruciverb database:

  • [Antlered salon employee?] is a STYLING MOOSE (as in styling mousse).
  • [Lost bobcat?] is a MISSING LYNX (missing links).
  • [Wildebeest who doesn't spare the rod?] is a SPANKING GNU (spanking new).
  • [Unwelcome porcine party attendee?] is a CRASHING BOAR (crashing bore).

Hey, that's kinda cute. I really can't quite believe this exact theme hasn't been done, because it seems so obvious a play on words. (Obvious enough for a Tuesday puzzle, but still surprising enough to be fun.) Note that in the original phrases, the first word's an adjective, while in the theme entries, there's a bit more of an active-verb aspect. (Maybe not so much in MISSING, but the other three animals are doing specific things.) My favorite entries in this grid's fill: BLONDIE, a.k.a. [Mrs. Bumstead] from the comic strip Blondie (maiden name Boopadoop); TAKE A NAP, or [Grab some Z's]; OLD-HAT, or [Passé]; BANISTER, clued as [Something to slide on], but you know your parents told you not to slide down the banister; EXPATS, or [Nationals living abroad, informally]; and BEGONIAS, the [Showy blooms] pictured at right.

WEE LAD ([Li'l fellow]) seems like a rather bizarre crossword answer to me—how did it sit with you? Crosswordy words that newer Tuesday solvers might not know (but that will surely appear again) include ADEN, the [Yemeni port]; DADO, a [Woodworker's groove]; LARGOS, [Slow movements, in music]; ROES; [European deer]; and ELLS, [Building extensions] (which I can't say I see often outside of crosswords). My very favorite clue is [Curly poker], for MOE—Curly and Moe were both part of the Three Stooges, who did a lot of eyeball poking.

Lee Glickstein's New York Sun crossword, "What's My Line?", toys with a modern crossword cluing convention. Those goofy clues that use "flower" to mean "a thing that flows" and not "a floral blossom" are at the heart here. [Delivery room nurse?] is a BABY SHOWER, or one who shows babies. [Welder?] is a TORCH SINGER, who singes with a torch. [Piano mover?] is an IVORY TOWER, towing the ivories. [Macrame artist?] is a TOP TIER, tying knots superbly. And the [Head anesthesiologist?] is the hospital's PRIME NUMBER, numbing patients. Highlights in the fill include the longish entries BELOW ZERO, TEA LEAVES (tea [Caddy contents], APARTHEID, AT ANY COST, and COZUMEL in Mexico. I don't know what an ASHPAN looks like, but apparently it is a [Fireplace accessory]. Favorite clues: [Like snake eyes] for BEADY (referring to snake eyes, literally—not to a double-ones roll of the dice); [Band whose only hit was "Whip It"] for DEVO; [Hamlet's father] for HAGAR (this would be Hagar the Horrible and his comic-strip son, not Shakespeare's Hamlet); and [Musical vibrator] for REED.


John Underwood's LA Times crossword flip-flops people's names so that their first names become their hairstyles. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is referenced in ALDRIN'S BUZZ, [Army haircut for an astronaut?]. Marcel Proust inverts to PROUST'S MARCEL (marcel waves seen in photo), or [Wavy hair style for a French novelist?]. NEWHART'S BOB is [Short hair style for a TV comic?]. CASSIDY'S BUTCH is a [Crew cut for a notorious outlaw?]. Two of these theme entries intersect my favorite fill entry today, BAH HUMBUG ([Scroogean outburst]).

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Identity Theft," steals an ID from each theme entry. My favorite of the theme entries was French braids (pictured) turned into [Paris support group?], or FRENCH BRAS. The [Network censor's motto?] WE SCREEN TV was cute, too, and who doesn't like wide-screen TVs? The lively fill includes SPAMALOT, PAYDAY, and a WWI DOUGHBOY. Favorite clue: [Fighter who went from champ to chomp?] for Mike TYSON. Not crazy about YAM in the singular as a [Thanksgiving dish] or the retro STENOS.

Updated again:

Today's toughest puzzle is Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Moving Together." The theme entries were all contrived contraptions, which makes it tougher to piece them together. For example, [Difficult beast to ride into battle?] turned out to be WAR CHICKEN, and [High-tech hay facility?] is MODERN BARN. What ties these phrases together is that they consist of two words that can be followed by 69-Across, DANCE. Boy, until I made it down to the end of the grid, I had no idea what the theme was doing—there's something to be said for skimming the list of clues to look for something obvious like [Word that may follow either word in 17-, 30-, 46-, and 62-Across], and yes, it is harder to skim that way in Across Lite. (That's one of a very few down sides to this particular solving format, which is popular among this blog's readership according to the sidebar poll.) The erstwhile '80s teenager in me appreciates RAIN SAFETY being one of the theme clues, producing "The Safety Dance." (My husband began making a big "S" with his arms after the first two bars of the song, without seeing what was on my screen. If your friends don't dance, of course, they're no friends of mine. S-s-s-s, A-a-a-a, see where this is going, right? If you don't, that video link will explain all.) Lovely and lively fill includes CAFE NOIR, ALAN BALL, "I CAN'T WIN," a SURE HAND, Split ENZ (also a shout-out to early-'80s MTV...sigh), PIZZERIA, and the Brazilian spelling of BRASIL. I'm gonna have to dock Ben 5 points for RESOWS and another 10 for ENEMA, but he earns 15 points for cluing the latter as [Generally forbidden (but highly useful) crossword puzzle entry]. RALPH is clued as [Puke] in this puzzle (see below).

Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club crossword has a TAKE IT / ALL OFF striptease theme. GOOSEBUMP and DAILY GRIND end with "bump and grind," and two other theme entries end with STRUT and SHAKE. Now, there's also the [Last wardrobe element left on after doing this puzzle, perhaps: HIGH HEELS. Opposite that in the grid is SPEED BASS, a [Superfast electronic music genre]. I have no idea if that's meant to be part of the theme too; if so, I am too square to grasp its relevance. Gotta love having BLOGGER in the grid (clued as [One who writes for surfers]). Deb's also got RALPH in the grid, but this time the clue is ["Me fail English? That's unpossible!" quotee]. I'm guessing that's Ralph Wiggum in The Simpsons. Another toon in the grid is MR. HAT, [Mr./Mrs. Garrison's alter ego on "South Park"] (second only to Mr. Hankey in the category of "Best South Park Misters").


Will Shortz's IU commencement address

Will Shortz recently gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Indiana University. Captured off a C-Span broadcast, it's available in two parts on YouTube:

Part 1: about 9 minutes
Part 2: about 4 minutes

(Thanks for the upload, Nancy!)


May 18, 2008

Monday, 5/19

NYS 3:25
CS 2:46
NYT 2:44
LAT 2:41

Mike Nothnagel applies his Nothnagelian grid-filling skills to a straightforward Monday theme in the New York Times crossword. The theme entries begin with a big nothing: a VACANT APARTMENT, EMPTY PROMISES, a HOLLOW VICTORY, and BLANK CARTRIDGES. The longest Down answers, JOE PISCOPO ([Portrayer of Frank Sinatra on "Saturday Night Live"]) and PATCH ADAMS ([1998 Robin Williams title role]), are also rather VACANT if you ask me. Qualitatively speaking—but they're terrific crossword entries. There's no shortage of lively fill:

  • IN KNOTS = [Feeling tied up, as a stomach]
  • GROUPIE = [Rock band follower]
  • GIDDY = [Euphoric]
  • SIDECAR = [Brandy cocktail]
  • GEN X = [Baby boomers' kids, informally]
  • SYNONYM = [Roget's listing]
  • PHASER = ["Star Trek" weapon]
  • LOWDOWN = [Scuttlebutt]
  • VORTEX = [Whirlpool or tornado]

Good gravy, what are these all doing in a Monday puzzle?! Mind you, it's not 100% chocolatey goodness. The crosswords of 25 years ago were more likely to have fill like RIN [___Tin Tin], the [Food thickener] AGAR, and everyone's most beloved [Anatomical passage], ITER. I'm particularly fond of 1-Down, [Rikki-Tikki-___] TAVI. That was a favorite animated special in my childhood, and would you believe I can't Netflix it for my son? Anyway, a most enjoyable Monday crossword.


Andrea Carla Michaels' LA Times crossword has a lot of breezy quasi-abbreviated fill in addition to a theme of wide open spaces. The theme entries are actors whose first or last names are grassy expanses: TIM MEADOWS was the [Portrayer of the "SNL" Ladies' Man]; HEATH LEDGER was nominated for an Oscar as a ["Brokeback Mountain" star]; SALLY FIELD was the ["Norma Rae" Oscar winner]; and LEA THOMPSON repurposes the common crossword answer LEA as the ["Caroline in the City" star]. In the fill, these answers are all abbreviations of a sort without being three-letter abbreviations, or TLAs:
  • DONUT: [Dunked snack], shortened from doughnut
  • E-MAIL: [Online letter], originally "electronic mail"
  • U-BOAT: [WWII German boat], from the German Unterseeboot
  • T. REX: ["Jurassic Park predator, briefly], short for Tyrannosaurus rex
  • SLO-MO: [TD replay speed, often], short for slow motion
  • UTES: [Sport ___: versatile cars], short for utility vehicles
  • OLEO: [Substitute spread], from oleomargarine
  • CALC: [Math course with derivatives and integrals], or calculus
  • STRO: [Houston player, to fans], short for Astro
  • TEMPS: [Weather stats], or temperatures
  • TECH: [PC support person], short for technical support

I rather like the casualness these answers lend Andrea's crossword.

Andrea also constructed the 15x16 New York Sun crossword, "Fun, Fun, Fun in the Sun," with another outdoorsy theme. This time, it's THE BEACH BOYS and five people with beachy last names. There's football's ART SHELL, lowbrow comedy's PAULY SHORE, pop music's BILLY OCEAN, ice skater TODD SAND, and dancer VERNON CASTLE. Rather than tracking down a Beach Boys video, I've opted for the Stray Cats' "STRAY Cat Strut," a 1983 rockabilly hit. Playwright Eve ENSLER makes her second appearance in a Sun crossword, while the other newspapers seem to shy away from a Vagina Monologues clue.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Conservation," the theme entries are phrases beginning with KEEPS, SAVES, and HOLDS. The first one doesn't sound like a phrase people really use idiomatically: KEEPS ONE'S TEMPER is clued as [Stays cool]. You might not be prone to losing your temper, but does anyone say you keep it? I wasn't sure how the adverb ASTRALLY ([In a starlike manner]) could be used, so I Googled and quickly found this Q&A about "the dangers of astral projection." Highlights: "Q. Can a demon possess you while you’re astral? A. This was certainly my biggest fear when I began." and "Demons vibrate at a level of consciousness that contains a lot of lust." (Indeed!) Favorite entry: CUE STICK, which looked like it wanted a Q before the UEST part.


May 17, 2008

Sunday, 5/18

NYT 9:51
LAT 7:48
PI 7:20
BG 6:27
CS 4:16
NYT second Sunday diagramless 12:05

Brendan Emmett Quigley is better versed in pinball terminology than I am. The theme in his New York Times crossword, "Pinball Wizard," is phrases that begin with words that pertain to pinball. I think there are nine theme entries, and that the longish entries in the 8- to 10-letter range are just fill. The theme entries, with the pinballish parts in bold, are as follows:

  • TILT AT WINDMILLS: [Fight imaginary foes]
  • FLIPPER ANDERSON: [Former L.A. Ram who holds the N.F.L. record for most receiving yards in a game (336)]—the clue might just as well read [Football player I've never heard of]
  • SPECIAL RELATIVITY: [Einstein subject]—I don't know what "special" means in pinball argot
  • BONUS QUESTIONS: [Test extras]
  • BUMPER CROPS: [Good farming results]
  • DRAIN BOARDS: [Sloping surfaces next to sinks]—man, helplessly watching a pinball ball drain when your flipper reflexes have missed the boat is sad
  • RAMP UP SALES: [Push for more business orders]—not sure this phrase can really stand alone as an in-the-language entity
  • JACKPOT JUSTICE: [Awarding of huge settlements to plaintiffs, in modern lingo]—not a phrase I know
  • ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN: [Opening track of "The Beatles' Second Album"]—I think "roll over" means something in pinball, but I'm not sure what

The funniest part of this puzzle for me lay in the answer that was the most obscure to me a month ago—AZAN. That was just in the Tribune Media Services Saturday puzzle the other weekend and was singled out as lousy fill, the worst sort of obscurity, the kind of answer that the most respectable crosswords would never deign to include. Turns out AZAN appeared in the NYT three times in the fall of 1997...and today. It's a [Mideast call to prayer], and I surely wouldn't have known it if I hadn't encountered that TMS puzzle with clunky fill. "This word is horrible. It's so obscure! This will never come up again. It shouldn't have been used at all. Such lazy constructing or editing, to include such a word. Oh. Wait. Here it is again. Huh, I guess it's good that I learned it from that other puzzle." You know why Tyler Hinman has won the ACPT four straight years? Because he does the crosswords he doesn't like, and gleans those dreadful little words that you think you don't need...but you never know when they might show up again.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "The Secret Forest," has an arboreal theme—within each otherwise unrelated theme entry lurks a part of a tree. LET'S TALK has a stalk, RUSH LIMBAUGH has a limb, STRUNK AND WHITE has a trunk, PLEA FOR HELP has a leaf, FUSSBUDGET has a bud, MULTI-BRAN CHEX has a branch, FROOT LOOPS has a root, ELLEN BARKIN has bark, "I SEE DEAD PEOPLE" has a seed, ALL SYSTEMS GO has a stem, and WEREWOLF has a flower, backwards. It's good to see 11 theme entries and to see The Sixth Sense's "I see dead people" line make it into a crossword, but the theme didn't captivate me as much as one with hidden tree or flower names would.

The second Sunday puzzle in the New York Times Magazine is a diagramless crossword by Jon Weems. It took me longer than the typical full-size Sunday puzzle, but it felt really fast for a diagramless. I did get the words in the grid one row further to the right than I should have, but it wasn't a terrible mistake. The completed grid is asymmetrical: a cresting, rolling wave. The fill includes WAVE HELLO, GREEN WAVE, THIRD WAVE, LOW WATER, and WATERLINE; I'm not sure if WAVER is intended to be thematic also. The most obscure word in the grid is HOSTLER, or [Stable worker]; this is more commonly spelled without the H in crosswords, but I can't say which spelling is more typical outside of the cruciverbal realm.


Annemarie Brethauer's syndicated LA Times Sunday puzzle is a tribute to JAMES STEWART, whose 100th birthday is this Tuesday. The other theme entries are the titles of six Stewart movies, some of which (THE NAKED SPUR, a 1953 Western, and BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, a 1958 comedy) were unfamiliar to me; I recognized VERTIGO, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, and ANATOMY OF A MURDER even though I've only seen two of them. The puzzle's title is "Flying Star" and the Notepad explains, "Today's honoree was a decorated pilot in WWII as well as an accomplished Hollywood star. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve."

The Across Lite edition of the Boston Globe puzzle this week is "Collectibles," by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. The theme entries are things some people collect, clued with the often-obscure words that describe those people. A [Brandophilist's collection] is CIGAR BANDS, for example, while a sucrologist collects SUGAR PACKETS, a digitabulist collects THIMBLES, and a tyrosemiophile likes, inexplicably, CAMEMBERT CHEESE LABELS. (If there is a word for collectors of glass paperweights, I don't want to know it.) I'd never heard of most of the theme clues, and yet the puzzle was quite easy. No idea why FRANCO is/was [Spanish caudillo]; does that mean "leader"?

The highlights of Mel Rosen's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" puzzle are the longest entries, CHEESEHEAD—[Wisconsin sports fan, hatwise], a nutty but dead-on clue—and SMATTERING, a [Little bit]. I did not know that ACHATES was the [Faithful companion of Aeneas, in "Aeneid"], nor that there is such a thing as a BACK JUDGE who is a [Gridiron official]. If I knew that ICELAND was a [Onetime Danish province], I forgot it.