December 23, 2008


crossword 8:27
puzzle ... maybe 2 minutes?

this week's installment of the matt gaffney weekly crossword contest, titled "Eight Isn't Enough," was a combination of an outstanding crossword and a really clever puzzle idea. it might have been my favorite of the series. each half of the four long theme answers is the name of one of santa's reindeer anagrammed, plus one more letter (circled in the solution diagram at right):

  • [Crepes you can't figure out?] are VEXING BLINTZES, which hides VIXEN and BLITZEN.
  • [Announcement of a stalwart's arrival?] is "UPHOLDER COMETH," which harbinges RUDOLPH and COMET (no anagram necessary).
  • [NBA center Wallace jumped around the court?] is RASHEED PRANCED, featuring DASHER and DANCER.
  • [Command that a certain tooth perform a farm chore?] is "REAP CORN, CUSPID!" this one was my favorite of the bunch, although they were all pretty silly. REAP CORN is PRANCER (plus an O), and CUSPID is CUPID with an S.

so who's missing? it's none other than DONDER, the best friend of BLITZEN (german for "thunder" and "lightning"). sometimes DONDER is known as DONNER. why? well, the poem "a visit from st. nicholas" (better known as "'twas the night before christmas") is the original source of the names of santa's reindeer (sans RUDOLPH, who was invented by a montgomery ward employee in the 1930s). the poem, which is ascribed to clement clarke moore in 1844, was actually written by someone else (nobody is quite sure whom) in the 1820s. the version that ran in an 1823 albany newspaper had "dunder and blixem" (!), which are again thunder and lightning... in dutch. the 1844 moore version had donder and blitzen. nowadays, the german word for thunder is DONNER, not DONDER, but there is some confusion as to the name of that ninth reindeer. i prefer DONDER.

anyway, the theme was only a small part of what made this puzzle so much fun. the fill clocks in at an ambitious 64 words, and is chock full o' gaffnish goodness. it more than makes up for any style points matt might have lost for anagramming DANCER to PRANCED, which is uncomfortably close to the name of another reindeer. highlights:

  • right off the bat, [Common letter closing] clues LOVE, MOM. terrific.
  • the [Coolest-sounding first name in the NFL] belongs to PLAXICO burress of the giants, he of the recent "plaxident." actually, there are dozens of players with fantastically interesting given names in the NFL, such as ladainian tomlinson, flozell "the hotel" adams, and d'qwell jackson. but PLAXICO is definitely up there.
  • [Scarily lifelike] is TOO REAL.
  • [Popular online dictionary] is ONELOOK dot com, a tremendously valuable resource for crossword constructors.
  • my favorite answer was IOCAINE powder, which [rescues the princess in "The Princess Bride"], one of the movie's wonderful subtleties. the man in black tells us that IOCAINE powder is "odorless, tasteless, ... and among the more deadly poisons known to man." after vizzini dies due to IOCAINE poisoning, expert tracker prince humperdinck comes upon his body, takes one sniff of the apparently odorless powder, and declares, "IOCAINE powder. i'd stake my life on it."
  • the [Onomatopoetically-titled 1973 horror film about snakes] is SSSSSSS. now that's a useful fill word for the bottom row or rightmost column. normally i don't love fill like this, but SSSSSSS is so bad it's good, you know? plus, a 64-word grid doesn't fill itself.

tricky/tough stuff included:

  • two very similar names i didn't know: [Texas congressman] CIRO rodriguez, and [Anti-anthrax drug] CIPRO.
  • the [Classic 1989 Bill Hicks comedy album] is apparently SANE MAN.
  • [Controversial military contractor] is DTN corp. i have no idea what this means. edited 4:30 pm: apparently it's DYN, not DTN, and the crossing clue is [X-]RAYED, not [X-]RATED. DYN still doesn't mean anything to me, but thanks to anne e(rdmann, i assume) for the correction. i'm too lazy to fix the screenshot, so you'll have to just pretend it's right.
  • [Dos follower] isn't TRES, it's PASSOS, as in author john dos PASSOS of the "USA" trilogy.
  • [Hac ___ (by this law)] clues LEGE, which is obviously some kind of declension of the latin noun lex, or law. i don't know this expression, but i'm no law-talking guy.
  • [European leader who died in 1980] is josip BROZ, better known as marshall tito of yugoslavia.
  • [Pilgrim's place] is MECCA, referring specifically to muslim pilgrims making the hajj. right next to it is [Word in 2000 Miami Herald headlines], ELIÁN. it's not really a word, is it? it's ELIÁN gonzalez's name.
  • there were several words you wouldn't see in a mainstream newspaper crossword. HOLLA, or ["Give me a call," in urban lingo], and LETCH, or [Skeezy dude], both crossed [Tough gal to handle] HELLCAT. (i think i'd spell it LECH, but i'm not sure how LECH walesa would feel about that.) GOT IT ON is clued as [Made love]. and failing the breakfast test in spectacular fashion is ORDURES, a $5 word for, uh, pieces of crap.
  • a pair of poker clues: ACES are ["Pocket rockets," to Hold' Em players]. and [Chase a straight, say] clues GAMBLE. i know what chasing a straight is, but it seems like a funny clue. playing poker at all is GAMBLING. why is playing poker badly any more of a particular GAMBLE?
  • nerd watch: [Atari rival of the 1980s] is COLECO, of the COLECOvision game console.

that's all for me this week. great puzzle. see you guys in the comment box. happy christmas to all, and to all a good night!