February 28, 2008

Friday, 2/29

NYS 11:29
NYT 6:52
CHE 6:34
Jonesin' 4:12

I'll be leaving for Brooklyn first thing in the morning, so any crosswords I don't get to tonight will not get their blogular due. Same with the Saturday and Sunday puzzles—I'll probably do them all next week sometime, but blogging about them may or may not come to pass. Fair warning: the Saturday NYT will probably be extra-gnarly.

By the way, if you missed seeing me on Merv Griffin's Crosswords a few weeks ago but wanted to, and Nancy's YouTube version doesn't sate you, on Tuesday you can see me on episode two if your city airs two shows a day.

First up: Pete Muller's New York Sun puzzle. In "Return of the Indivisibles," the three longest entries give the instructions for the juicy gimmick: ENTER ANSWERS TO / DEREBMUN-EMIRP (that's PRIME-NUMBERED backwards) / CLUES IN REVERSE. That means that 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 23, 29, 31, 43, 53, and 59-Down and 5, 17, 19, 23, 37 (theme instruction), 41, 47, 61, and 67-Across are to be entered backwards, and the rest are entered normally. (I thought 1 counted as a prime number, and I'm sure one of you mathy people will explain why not.) 2-Down, for example, is AIXELSYD, or dyslexia, [What may make coroners look like crooners?] (love the clue!). It took me plenty of time to figure out the theme, and plenty more time to go back and reverse answers—though I confess it was driven more by crossings that wouldn't work than by paying attention to which numbers were prime. Favorite clues: ABE = [Chicago sausage king Froman impersonated by Ferris Bueller] (we were just reminiscing about Abe Froman!); [Wet bar, often] for SOAP; [Palm reading?] for EMAIL (as in a Palm Pilot PDA); [Envoy, e.g.] for SUV (my friend Robin was once in a GMC envoy commercial filmed in the Czech Republic); [Tighten up, perhaps] for EDIT; and [Rocket center] for YAO Ming, whose season has ended prematurely because of a stress fracture. I'm nominating this puzzle in the best gimmick puzzle of the year category. I enjoyed this puzzle from start to finish, and liked unwinding the reversals. It took me far longer than most crosswords, but it wasn't frustrating or a slog—it was nice to linger over it a bit.

The Friday puzzles bring another nominee for best gimmick puzzle of the year—Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "A Wild Time." This theme also screws with crossword conventions, with seven theme entries that skip a square, each one clued as [Animal known for jumping]. The beasties leap over a 3-letter abbreviation for a day of the week, squeezed into a rebus square; the days are given in order from MON to SUN, top to bottom. 59-Across explains what each of the animals does: LEAP DAYS. This is a brilliant concept for a Leap Day puzzle, executed deftly. The calendar order and the theme entries being restricting to jumping animals? Elegant! The CRICK/ET crosses TI[MON]; the OR/CA, STA[TUE] (anyone else try the ORYX?); ANT/ELOPE, CA[WED]; FL/EA, AR[THU]R; HA/RE, A[FRI]CA; KANGA/ROO, [SAT]ED; and FR/OG, [SUN]DER.

Leading into tournament weekend, Patrick Berry's also got the New York Times crossword. In this pinwheel grid, there are three full titles (Vanilla Ice's ICE ICE BABY, the Pryor/Wilder movie ANOTHER YOU, [Bernard Malamud's debut novel] THE NATURAL), numerous phrases (IN A POTHER, SKATE OVER, MAIDEN NAME, BETWEEN US, LEMON LAW), and interesting words (CONTESSA, MANITOBA), and the clue list has its highlights as well. My favorites: [Product once advertised with the catchphrase "There's no step 3!"] for IMAC; [In-house debugging] for ALPHA TESTS (software testing!); [Person at the wheel?] for a POTTER throwing clay pots; [Dispel a curse?] for BLEEP; [Soft spread] for BEDCOVER (100% oleo-free!); [Hang it up] for RETIRE and [Stop working] for TAKE A BREAK; [Classical art medium] for VASE; [Home for Ojibwa and Cree] for MANITOBA; [Split right before your eyes?] for BIFOCAL lens; [Go for a party, say] for VOTE; and [Picture writing, of a sort] for REBUS. Toughest bits, likely: [___ volatile] for SAL; [Goes to bed, in Britspeak] for KIPS.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword is called "Pretty Cheesy—any way you prepare it." How do you prepare cheese? APPLE CRUMBLE it, I MELT WITH YOU it, FIREPLACE GRATE it, etc. Favorite entries: HOME SLICE; FLUMP, which is actually a word but I didn't know it; Frida KAHLO; ["Dirty Jobs host Mike] ROWE (Dirty Jobs is this family's favorite show to watch together); BOURNE, the Matt Damon character; PEPPERPOT soup; UROLOGIST ([Doctor who must've been a whiz in med school?]); and HEATH BAR (yum!). Tons of pop culture, not all of which I'm young enough to know, but a fun puzzle.

Crikey, I need to pack for my trip! Cheers, and I'll see many of you in Brooklyn.


February 27, 2008

Thursday, 2/28

NYT 4:23
NYS 3:53
LAT 3:32
CS 3:20

One more day before the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! I'll see many of you there, and the others, I'll see you here on the internet. If you won't be in Brooklyn this weekend, I strongly encourage you to try the online competition or the solve-at-home (on paper) option. If you're feeling shy about revealing your speed or lack thereof, you can choose a "player name" for the online version, and your results on the at-home paper version aren't presented publicly. Either method will give you a sense of how you might rate at the actual tournament, and if you're pleased with your out-of-Brooklyn performance, perhaps you'll be emboldened to attend the ACPT next year.

The New York Times crossword by Matt Ginsberg has five long Across answers in the theme, plus two short Acrosses and also four short Downs in the corners. Each is clued with a pair of opposite meanings; e.g., [Add to or remove from] for TRIM, as in trimming a Christmas tree vs. trimming the hedge, and the two SANCTION meanings, [Approve or penalize]. Something can WEAR well or WEAR away. I LEFT home and they were LEFT behind. The ORIGINAL old architecture could be replaced by something really ORIGINAL. I have RESERVATIONs about the dinner RESERVATION. TRIP, TRANSPARENT, RAVEL, and the phrases GO OFF and NOTHING IS BETTER round out the theme. (Seventy-five theme squares = a boatload.) That doesn't leave much space for fancy fill, but a MINIDRESS and the BIG APPLE shine. The legal term GRAVAMEN, [Grounds for a lawsuit], is something that came from the crossings for me, as is ERICA, [Dr. ___ Hahn of "Grey's Anatomy"]. I don't watch that show, but Wikipedia tells me she's called Dr. McHardcore. There was one square I almost filled in without reading the clues—the crossing between THE* and H*CK. THEE and HECK, right? No: THEO Kojak and a horse's HOCK ([Equine ankle]. Definitely a practice that will stand you in good stead at the tournament, filling in a square only after you read at least one of the corresponding clues!

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" crossword was a barrel of monkeys. (That's a good thing, right? Lotsa fun?) The clues weren't tough and twisty enough to delight me, but the fill was ten kinds of fun. The Belgian cycling legend with the bestest name ever, EDDY MERCKX, makes his crossword debut. (His consonants are absolutely delicious. And a few columns over, MERC puts in an appearance.) Actor JOHN CUSACK, ["Martian Child" star] (that's a new movie), is the same age as me and appeared in some of my favorite '80s movies. There's a BEER CHASER ([Boilermaker part]) astride a BLANK STARE. SANTA ANITA, the racetrack with the adjacent A's in the middle, hasn't had its full name in a Cruciverb-indexed crossword since 1998. ALIEN RACES in Star Wars cross gymnastics UNEVEN BARS. L. FRANK BAUM crosses ANACONDA, pop-culturally clued as [Movie with the tagline "It will take your breath away"]. RAMONE is clued as [Drummer Marky]; I knew only Dee Dee and Joey's names. Seinfeld's George COSTANZA, [Sitcom employee of Steinbrenner], was a gimme, as was the IMPALA as a [Model for many police cruisers]. The Scottish word SKIRL, [Play the bagpipes], looks cool in the grid, and [McFlurry flavor at McDonald's] is a great clue for OREO. And did you know that BOSE is a [Company founded by and named after an MIT professor of engineering]? Perhaps this puzzle is anathema to those of you driven mad by a surfeit of names in your crossword, but I loved it.

Be on the lookout for an especially splashy Sun puzzle on Friday. Peter Gordon likes to give ACPT attendees something to talk about.


I wasn't quite seeing the theme in Donna Levin's LA Times crossword before I reached the explanatory entry at 71-Across, MASH. Yes, HAWKEYE STATE, MARGARET MEAD, B.J. AND THE BEAR, and RADAR ANTENNA all begin with M*A*S*H characters (Margaret Houlihan, of course, is Hot Lips). Plenty of unusual, non-Monday sorts of fill, too—QUAHOG, YUM-YUM, BRAHMA, SONIA clued as the sister of SONIC the Hedgehog (in video games).

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "A-Spire to Greatness," starts its theme entries with four TOWER types: IVORY, CONTROL, WATER, and CLOCK. No radio tower, but radio's in CLOCK RADIO (the other theme entries don't have second towers). 6-Down is [Perot's 1996 running mate]. I remembered Admiral Stockdale ("Who am i?") from four years earlier, but Pat CHOATE? I have no recollection of this guy.


February 26, 2008

Wednesday, 2/27

NYS 6:05
CS 3:42
LAT 3:37
NYT 2:49

Heavens to mergatroid! Just two more days before I pack my bag and head to Brooklyn for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! Puzzle-related blogging will be light this weekend, and ACPT-related blogging will probably be light until after it's all over, when presumably I'll have a long-winded wrapup.

The Wednesday New York Times crossword writeup will be late—pub trivia intervenes tonight.

The New York Sun crossword by Gary Steinmehl, "Throw in the Vowel," adds a vowel inside a 7- to 9-letter word, turning it into a two-word phrase with a markedly different pronunciation. A porpoise turns into POOR POISE, for example, and a tormentor into a golf TOUR MENTOR. Not knowing that [Paul McCartney's first name] was actually JAMES, I moved far away from 1-Across and worked this one from the bottom. When I made it back up to the top, the [Fall faller on an Italian island?] really threw me. CAPRI*CORN, but what fills in the asterisk? I was trying to change the central vowel sound, but in this entry, the added vowel adds a syllable (CAPRI ACORN). Grr! It didn't help that I blanked on the [GM subsidiary] and had no clue who ['30s and '40s pitcher Newsom] was (BOBO, crossing SAAB). On the plus side, 17 fill answers are at least 7 letters long.

Updated later Tuesday night:

Lee Glickstein's New York Times puzzle gathers the NUCLEAR FAMILY in the exact center of four theme entries: SKEDADDLE and THERMOMETER, PAWNBROKERS and SUBSISTED. (Side note: Some two-parent families have two moms or two dads.) Favorite entries: FRITOS clued as [Chips that one might "muncha buncha"] (ah, TV commercial nostalgia); "I WOULD"; DOTS clued as [Movie theater candy] (Sno-Caps kick Dots' collective sugary ass); ONE A.D. clued as [I, historically]; "BLESS YOU" (I prefer to say "Gesundheit"); and TRIBE clued as ["Survivor" team]; DEAD ON. I didn't know that BREF was the French word for [Concise, in Cannes], and the Hopalong [Cassidy portrayer of TV and film], William BOYD, was only faintly familiar.


At first I thought Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy crossword, "Word Oddities," was rehashing the double-letters theme, starting with BOOKKEEPER, the only (?) English word containing three consecutive pairs of double letters. The other four theme entries were different sorts of word oddities, and not all were ones I'd heard before—so it turned out to be an entertaining theme for this word geek. FIVE THOUSAND is the longest number spelled with no repeated letters. RHYTHMS is the longest word lacking the standard five vowels—didn't know that, but it was easy enough to guess. A prior crossword had, I think, demonstrated that STEWARDESSES is a left-hand-typed word, but I didn't know (a) that SOUPSPOONS was the longest word made of letters from only the second half of the alphabet, nor (b) that SOUPSPOONS wasn't two words.

I just finished Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword and have no idea what the theme is. Let's have a look-see. Oh. Books of the Bible, I think. Meh. Major props for including the Ali/Foreman/Rumble in the Jungle documentary, WHEN WE WERE KINGS, as a theme entry. (The others end with ACTS, JUDGES, and NUMBERS.) The fill sparkles in places—THUMBS UP, ROB LOWE, ELVIRA, a PLAYPEN, MACARONI with a "Yankee Doodle Dandy" clue, COSMO as the mag. I don't mind a TSAR at AGRA when there's no OLIO/OLEO/OREO action.


February 25, 2008

Tuesday, 2/26

Tausig 4:31
Onion 4:25
NYS 3:29
CS 3:12
LAT 2:58
NYT 2:41

It is hard to pay attention to crosswords and blogging when Little Children is so engrossing. Now it's 11:20 and the movie's just ended, so I can get down to brass tacks here.

Sarah Keller's New York Times crossword has a delightful academia-pun theme. Four phrases get converted to something new by means of a sound-alike or sound-similar university name replacing the first word. Colonel Sanders of KFC becomes [Polishing machines at an Ithaca campus?], or CORNELL SANDERS. We go to Georgia for EMORY BOARD (emery), Louisiana for TULANE ROAD (two-lane), and Wisconsin for MARQUETTE SHARE (market). Cute theme plus easy clues = fun Tuesday puzzle. The fill features two Scrabbly hats (TOQUES and KEPIS, but no fez), utilitarian items (PULLTAB, NAMETAG, NOTEPAPER), FRO clued as [Old Michael Jackson 'do], and a MEAL (complete with TOFU, AGAR, ARGO cornstarch, and PECAN pie).

Speaking of meals, Kevin George's New York Sun crossword is called "Repast Tense." (Is this a constructorial debut? If so, it's a promising one.) Four phrases that end with -ATE are moved to the present-tense EAT, such that a running mate becomes prey, RUNNING MEAT. Favorite clues and answers: [Blow a ___] GASKET; a LAPTOP beside the OZARKS (inscrutably, [Range that includes the Boston Mountains]); "HECK, NO"; [According to legend, he spent decades in his mother's womb and emerged with a gray beard] for LAO-TSE; and [South side?] for OKRA. I'd never heard of ABE "Kid Twist" Reles, a mob hitman 'til 1940, nor the tenoroon, also known as the tenor bassoon, whose [little cousin] is the OBOE. The answer for [Some 12-steppers], WINOS, seems inappropriate and uncompassionate to me.


Ben Tausig pulls double duty this week, with the Onion A.V. Club puzzle along with his regular weekly offering. The theme evokes one of my favorite jumbo Sunday puzzles, Eric Berlin and Craig Kasper's 23x23 from 12/4/05, the one that split Park Avenue into PARKA and VENUE, Super Bowl into SUPERB and OWL, and rabbit ears into RABBI and TEARS. Ben's puzzle includes those RABBI TEARS, along with PRISON STRIKE/PRISON'S TRIKE, STAND-IN GROOM/STANDING ROOM, and BLOODSPORT/BLOODS' PORT. In the fill, "WHAT GIVES?" aptly sits opposite IDIOMATIC; other fresh entries are DR SEUSS, ASKS OUT ([Uses a line on, perhaps]), and the "SEE ALSO" tag from reference books (which strikes me as a stand-alone concept in the language rather than a partial crossword entry or bit of awkwardness). I like [Standup Bernie] MAC—just saw his high school picture in a Tribune/RedEye feature. Now, the [God in an Egyptian origin story], PTAH, was a horribly obscure entry when I first encountered it in a Random House puzzle book a couple years ago. But when I encounter horrible obscurities, I circle the clues, jot the answer down beside the clue, and skim through those out-there words when I've finished the puzzle book. Some of them I've never encountered again, but some others do pop up in other crosswords—and then the fit of pique at the obscure word cluttering a grid turns to gratitude that I had a chance to learn that word so it can't stump me a second time. Egyptian god, starts with P? PTAH has become a gimme there. And so it is that my brain is clogged with nearly useless knowledge—useful only when a constructor uses those bits to rescue a corner of his or her grid.

Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Borrowed Time," celebrates LEAP DAY (which is this Friday) with an unusual sort of theme in which the leap sound is sandwiched inside each of five theme entries. For example, DOLLY PARTON and CHILI POWDER. Things I didn't know here: that [String Cheese Incident, e.g.] is a JAM BAND; that ORAL-B makes a [Triumph FlossAction Power Toothbrush] (I think the name overpromises); that LEE PERRY is a [Pioneering dub reggae producer nicknames "Scratch"]; and that EEE ain't just a wide shoe designation any more, it's also an [ASUS laptop with a 7-inch screen] (apparently not so named because of its narrow dimensions). Favorite clues: [Release for free, e.g.: Abbr.] for SYN (synonym!); [One with blocks in his chest] for TOT (why did I think TUT made sense??).

Gail Grabowski's LA Times crossword puzzle cracks five EGGs by assembling phrases that begin with words that can fill in the blank in "egg ___"—SALAD DAYS from egg salad (blech), the maybe-not-quite-in-the-language PLANT A TREE, egg roll, egg noodle, and egg white. No gripes about the puzzle, and no specific plaudits either. It must be Tuesday!

Only one fourth of the theme in Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "For the Birds," really works for me. RAVEN LUNATIC as a [Crazy bird?], sure. Easy enough pun, very direct. I suspect EAGLE HOLIDAY relates to legal holiday, which isn't my phrase of choice. (I tend to specify federal, state, city, or county holidays—Pulaski Day, anyone? No school March 3!—or trading holidays, because of where my husband works.) DISCOUNT STORK..oh, is that a play on discount store? And HUMPBACK QUAIL...I see no reason for Quasimodo flying to be a quail. He'd be more of a humble humpback pigeon, I think. Does Paris have many quail outside of restaurant kitchens?


February 24, 2008

Monday, 2/25

CS 4:14
NYS 3:29
LAT 2:59
NYT 2:52

You know what? I think the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle by Randall Hartman should've had the clues toughened up a bit so the puzzle could be published on a Wednesday. Unless the solver likes woodworking, I'm thinking the theme is better suited to something beyond a Monday. And some of the fill seemed non-Mondayish in nature, too. The theme is held together by the vise of 55-Across, WOOD, and the beginning of each of the four longest Across answers ar STRIP, SAND, PRIME, and PAINT. The bits that seemed post-Monday included PRIME MOVER, clued as [Initial power source]. Then there's ELIMIDATE, which I've seen parts of over the years, clued as [Competitor of "The 5th Wheel," in reality TV]. All right, The 5th Wheel is the only dating reality show I have zero recollection of, so the clue actually made the answer harder to find. TAP OUT is [Lose all one's money in gambling]; not familiar with that usage. Favorite clue: [Top secret?] for TOUPEE. Arguing in favor of a Monday slot, we hit the trifecta of the word ladder made of OLIO, OLEO, and OREO. (If only OMIT, OBIT, OBIE, ODIE, ODIN, OLIN, ORZO and OUZO had also been used! And wow, it's not hard to make a word ladder out of 4-letter words that frequently appear in crosswords.)


Today's CrosSynergy crossword is by Bob Klahn, meaning it's not a Monday-level puzzle. I started out by scanning the "Colorful Pentagon Insiders" theme clues first, and [Purplish-red spy?] announced itself as MAGENTA HARI, hiding a GEN (general). Ha! Hardly ever start a puzzle by filling in a theme answer. The other ones took a few crossings, though. At first I thought [Greenish-brown rocker] ending with NUGENT would have some other military abbreviation wedged into TED, but instead, it's hazelnut + gen = HAZEL NUGENT (with the GEN part not showing up in the color name). ARGENT GARFUNKEL is silvery-white, and a less common color name than the other two. (GENERAL PRACTICE sort of ties the theme together.) Fill I liked the best: SPACKLE! SHTICKS! Bernard MALAMUD and Red SKELTON! Toughest and/or best clues: [1830 Hugo play on which a similarly named Verdi opera is based] for HERNANI (the opera is Ernani); [Bangs out] for TYPES (retro!) followed by [Retro copy, for short] for MIMEO; [Merchant ship flotilla] for ARGOSY; ["Johnny Eager" Oscar winner Van] for HEFLIN; [Joint for dummies and jerks] for KNEE; [Like "yea" and "nay"] for RHYMING; [Measure of fun?] for TON; [Juju, mojo, or grigri] for AMULET; and [Tolerant Latvian?] bringing a little fun to crosswordese LETT.

Justin Smith's New York Sun crossword, "Hard Stuff," starts off Monday morning with a little hair of the dog that bit you. Three "BOTTOMS UP!" theme entries end with slangy synonyms for booze: TURNER AND HOOCH, RUNS OUT OF JUICE, and DUCK SAUCE. A few other entries, not in symmetrical spots nor overtly tied to the theme, echoed the likkered-up vibe: TEE SHOT, RELIT, ISOTOPES, and a PINT. There's some difficult fill lurking in the grid, but with easy enough crossings. [Assassination, in spy lingo] is WET WORK (wet because of all the blood—ick); [Actress Moon of "House of 1000 Corpses"] is SHERI (her married name is Sheri Moon Zombie); and [Horse tracks that also include slot machines] are RACINOS.

The theme in David Cromer's LA Times crossword bundles nonmusical phrases including words that are also musical instruments (e.g., DRUM BRAKES, HORN OF PLENTY). One of the theme answers is ORGAN DONOR. Have you talked to your family about wanting them to donate your organs if you kick the bucket with healthy organs? You could save lives and restore sight, and let a few of those 98,000 Americans graduate from the transplant waiting list. See Donate Life America for more. (Yes, this is totally off-topic, but there are few good excuses for healthy people not to be willing to be organ/tissue donors.)


February 23, 2008

Sunday, 2/24

NYT 9:45
BG 8:44
LAT 8:30
WaPo 7:34
PI 7:24
CS 4:15
NYT diagramless untimed

I only have a few minutes before I go out for the evening, and may or may not write more about Nancy Joline's New York Times crossword later on. I'm verrrry tired today after being on the radio 'til 1 a.m. The "Winners' Circle" theme (and I assume there was an apostrophe there—it showed up as a box character on the applet for me) salutes past Oscar winners by having eight winners (movies, actresses, actors, director, song) in the long entries embracing eight more winners whose names (last name only) are included within the long names in circled squares. Thus, MARLEE MATLIN enclasps David LEAN. Yes, this is essentially another movie trivia theme, as some of you have grown weary of such themes this week. I think it's a great theme, personally, though the clues—e.g., [Actress (1986), director (1962)] for Marlee and David—usually gave me only minimal help in guessing the answers. The crossing clues/fill seemed pretty gettable, by and large, so the puzzle took a little longer than usual but not dramatically so. And I didn't mind that 1-Across, THE OSCAR, was thematic but not paired with a related entry in the opposite corner.

(An aside: This is Will Shortz's "asymmetry is OK!" weekend, with Patrick Blindauer's beautiful diagramless crossword having a soupçon of asymmetry amid its visual punch. More on that puzzle later tonight or on Sunday.)

Back to the Sunday crossword: There's an unfamiliar clue for TSE, [Philosopher Kung Fu-___]. I liked [Password, e.g.] for ENTREE. Possibly knotty crossing between Prime Suspect's Jane TENNISON (Helen Mirren, I believe) crossing the [Fish in fish and chips], PLAICE. Hmm, COD just won't fit there. [Villa in Mexico] took me a while to understand—PANCHO Villa, the name, not a villa = el pancho.

If you're wondering who the circled people are in the theme entries, we have Charlize THERON, Gregory PECK, David NIVEN, Nicolas CAGE (for Leaving Las Vegas, I presume), David LEAN, Michael CAINE, Dianne WIEST, and CHER (in...was it Mask or Silkwood?).

Gotta mosey!

Updated Sunday morning:

I went to dinner and Targét last night, came home, and was rendered unconscious by the sofa in short order. Am much refreshed this morning!

Patrick Blindauer's diagramless crossword could be entitled "Here's Looking at You": The completed grid depicts a big eye staring out of the page at the solver. (After Tyler Hinman expressed his disappointment that I was routinely using the starting square hint, I quit using the hint. Hey, that doesn't take much longer at all! Just an extra piece of paper, that's all.) The symmetry would be top/bottom and left/right were it not for one less black square in the pupil zone of the eye. I'm glad that Patrick and Will were willing to experiment with a little asymmetry, because this puzzle was a delight. The four longest Across answers contain EYE in a non-eye context, and the middle Down entry at the bottom is EYE, [Observer that's found in 8-, 31-, 48- and 66-Across]. Here, for anyone looking to check their answers, are all the Across answers, whited out (to view them, click your mouse and drag it over the white space):

1A VISTA (centered in the middle of the top row), 6A PENCILS, 8A BREYERSICECREAM, 16A PROVERB, 17A CHARMER, 19A LACES, 20A ASH, 23A GOTTI, 24A INKS, 25A POSSUMS, 29A ORTS, 30A EDY 31A HACKNEYED, 33A ALE, 34A RIVIERA, 36A STREAKER (the first letter occupies what would be a black square if the grid were symmetrical), 38A FAQS, 39A RAVI, 40A HABITUE, 43A EPITOME, 47A IRA, 48A HEYERDAHL, 52A BAR, 53A LANE, 55A TSHIRTS, 56A LTYR (light-year), 57A TBIRD, 59A SPY, 60A NEATO, 61A SISTERS, 64A TRIVIAL, 66A CHEYENNEWYOMING, 70A LANYARD, and 71A GEENA.

And now, the other crosswords:

I really don't recall a barrage of Oscar-themed puzzles in previous years. What, does it take a writer's strike and a threat that the telecast will be canceled to flush all the Oscar crosswords into the open? The syndicated LA Times crossword by Rich Norris (a.k.a. "Gia Christian"), "Screen Gems," revealed pretty quickly that the theme phrases included an Oscar winner's name, repurposed as a non-name word. But then I realized that each one included two Oscar winners! That was a lovely "aha" moment. The SWANK CAGE features Hilary Swank and Nicolas Cage, for example. I'm not sure who each winner is—PAGE and YOUNG?—but I knew enough of them for it to be fun. The clue for 78- and 79-Down explains that the nine theme entries contain 18 BEST ACTOR / OR ACTRESS winners. My favorite theme entry was [Promote hair growth?], FOSTER HANKS.

Kelsey Blakley's Washington Post crossword, "Frankenwords," presents a set of portmanteau words, such as EDUTAINMENT, LABRADOODLE, and MOCKUMENTARY. All eight of the theme words were clued straightforwardly and I've seen them before, so it seemed easy. My favorite misstep was [Shute's "A Town Like ___"]. I had the C and promptly filled in NANCY. I don't know why! It's ALICE.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Four Little Words, The Sequel," makes use of the candidate theme answers he didn't use in another recent puzzle. Each phrase takes the form X, two little words, rhymes-with-X: for example, SHOP TILL YOU DROP and CRUISIN' FOR A BRUISIN'. Perle Mesta gets an indirect reference in HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST. The theme entry at the top of the puzzle is NERVOUS FROM THE SERVICE, [Shell-shocked, in WWII slang]. I was familiar with that one only because Merl was asking about it on the Cruciverb-L mailing list not long ago. I believe he was surprised to learn that it had been completely unknown to a number of people.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "No End in Sight," deviously tried to hide its theme from me for too long. Dastardly theme! Once I paid enough attention to see what the theme entries were doing, I loved the theme. Each entry's a phrase minus its last letter. So bargain basement becomes [Low-salaried infielders?], or BARGAIN BASEMEN. There's also AGENT ORANG, the FBI ape, a SEVENTH HEAVE (not clued as what follows the sixth round of retching, fortunately!), SISSY SPACE, and more. Great theme! I'll bet there are plenty of other candidates for this type of theme and I wouldn't at all mind seeing another version.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's CrosSynergy themeless puzzle has four completely natural 15-letter phrases forming a frame across all four sides: I DEMAND A RECOUNT and the all-too-rare-at-O'Hare ON-TIME DEPARTURE, and the PICK OF THE LITTER who probably aren't stuck being SECOND-STRINGERS. Fairly easy for a themeless crossword, with no deadly clues or fill.


Friday, 2/22: CHE edition

CHE 4:00

D'oh! I just got a comment on the original Friday post from Pancho Harrison, the constructor of the February 22 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword. I completely spaced on doing that puzzle, and not even the "tba" tag reminded me that I'd forgotten. So Pancho's puzzle will get its very own tardy post.

Like the Oscar-themed puzzles in the Sun all week, this one features movies, but not Oscar-caliber ones. The "Universal Pictures" theme relates to the components of Aristotle's universe, with the Bruce Willis/Chris Tucker/Gary Oldman/Milla Jovovich/Ian Holm movie, THE FIFTH ELEMENT being one essential component along with EARTH, WATER, FIRE, and AIR, which appear in other movie titles in the grid. I have no idea how this fifth element relates to the others, but I can tell you that my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was coming out in Austria when I was there in 1997, so I also got a kick out of the movie posters for Das Fünfte Element:

I like the high/low combo in this theme—Aristotle partying with a bunch of movies that the critics mostly did not rave about. I don't recall seeing a clue like [The Congo River's ___ Falls] for INGA before. It's nice to give the Nordic women the day off, isn't it? There's more low culture with a Hall and Oates reference, CSI, and TYRA Banks, but quotes from SHAW and Shakespeare to academitize the puzzle. I liked [Get smart?] for PREEN, related to [Dressed to the nines]/SPIFFY, along with the two-entry ESKIMO PIE. Is it time for ice cream? I think it is. And with that, I'm off.


Listen here

Nancy Shack, whom I like to call my volunteer publicist, not only copied my game show appearance to YouTube, and not only nudged WGN Radio's Nick Digilio to have me (and Tyler) on the air, but also made it possible for everyone to hear the radio program here (an MP3 file, quick download) or here (a .mov file). My mother stayed up late to listen, but possibly everyone else I know was sound asleep. Except Nancy! Who recorded it! Yay!

Merci beaucoup, Nancy!


February 22, 2008

Saturday, 2/23

Newsday 6:04
LAT 5:15
NYT 4:39
CS 3:10

If you're a night owl, tune into WGN Radio's website at midnight (Central time) Friday to hear "crossword experts" Tyler Hinman and me on the Nick Digilio Show.

Emily Cureton's NYT Crossword Puzzle Drawings blog is in my RSS feed so I never miss one of her illustrations. My favorites combine two or more disparate words from a grid to create something that is one part surreal, one part ludicrous, and two parts laugh-out-loud funny. Emily's drawing inspired by Thursday's puzzle cracks me up every time I look at it! (Be forewarned: There is some nudity of an anatomical nature.)

All righty, the Saturday New York Times puzzle is considerably easier than Friday's was. Barry Silk's fill is on the Scrabbly side, with answers like NETFLIX ([Service with a queue]), SHMOOZE ([Chin-wag]), XANADU ([Exotic estate]), QUAKE ([Faultfinder's concern?]), and JUTE ([Cordage material]). The waist section of the puzzle is toned up, with a CONSENTING ADULT ([One who didn't say no?] in a ménage à trois with a ROAD WARRIOR ([Frequent business traveler]) and a bunch of STALACTITES ([They hang from the roof]—the mnemonic my husband learned as a kid was that stalactites hold tight to the cave roof, and stalagmites might reach it someday). Those three are crossing CARGO PANTS, which I am wearing right now but not [for rough outdoor activities].

I need to put my son to bed and then head out, so I'll be super-abbreviated now: [Part of some Muslim households] strikes me as a terrible clue for HAREM. [First to be admitted?: Abbr.] is the state of DEL (Delaware). It's EWA [___ Beach, Hawaii]—don't know it. It's ULAN [-Ude (Russian city on the Trans-Siberian Railroad)]. A CARTEL is a [Trust]. [Things that wear well?] are ERODERS (meh). Singular [Nostril] is a NARIS. [Feelthy stuff] is a dreadful clue for PORN; if you're gonna put PORN in the crossword fill, enough with the prudish, judgmental-sounding clues. If you think it's [Dirt] or [Feelthy], don't include it in the puzzle! TAI is [Sea bream, in a sushi bar]; poor Tai Babilonia, losing even her crossword fame.


Two more geographical, gotta-work-the-crossings answers in the NYT I wanted to mention: The WESER River, [River formed by the junction of the Fulda and Werra]. With two E's, this one pops up in crosswords from time to time. The [Afghan province or its capital] is HERAT (which is not a name for a male rodent). The Wikipedia writeup on the city tells me it's in western Afghanistan not too far from the Iranian border, and that the population is largely Persian-speaking Tajiks. The city has been around for a good 2,500 years, and used to be administered by a satrap. (Crossword answers in action!)

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was a fun one to solve. As someone with a pseudonym that starts with an O, I couldn't help but notice all the O words in the grid. OOPS! OPTICS! OPTIONAL! ORACULAR! ORDAINED! The fill was awfully smooth, with no obvious clunkers. DORA THE EXPLORER and her friend in X-dom, ALEXANDER CALDER, criss-crossed in the middle of the grid. The picture shows Calder's "Flamingo," standing beside the Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago.

Other highlights: DIMAGGIO atop ED O'NEILL; TRICOLOR pasta (more filling than the French flag); RAINOUTS and a TARP; FAUX PAS; LOTUS clued as [Plant in the "Odyssey"] (here's an excerpt about Homer's lotus-eaters); REDACTS crossing nearly synonymous EDITS; WALLS UP clued as [Punishes, a la Poe], as in "The Cask of Amontillado"; and PHLOX ([Butterfly attractor])—so pretty!

Manny Nosowsky's LA Times crossword seemed less satisfying than most of Manny's themelesses. It's got a beautiful grid with 360° symmetry, a word count of just 62 words, and wide-open corners packed with 6- and 7-letter entries. Answers like TAIL PIN ([Cello support piece]), COZENER ([Cheater]), EBONIZE ([Blacken, in a way]), LEGATEE ([Executor's contact]), NEGATOR ([Skeptic]), TIE RING ([Part of a horse-hitching device]), and PIE DISH ([Cobbler's place]) all made me think of SNOOZES (which had the only question-marked clue, [Nap kin?]). I'm glad to see Ida LUPINO clued as ["The Hitch-Hiker" director, 1953] rather than as just an actress. She was the first woman to direct a film noir.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Zero-G," extracts a G from each theme entry, such that a ghost writer becomes a HOST WRITER, or [Penner of an RSVP?]. It's probably not too hard to avoid using the letter G in the entire grid, but Paula's made sure that it's nowhere to be found. Well, it's in the clues, but that's completely fine.


Questions about the Tribune Media Services crossword

I've been corrresponding with C.C., a new blogger who's been blogging about the crossword in the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a month. It appears that the puzzle the Strib prints in the paper is the TMS crossword edited by Wayne Robert Williams (the website has the Universal puzzle). Can anyone confirm that the TMS crossword does not become progressively more challenging as the week goes on, in contrast to the NYT and LA Times?

And do you know why the same answer would have different clues on the Chicago Tribune website vs. in the Minneapolis paper? C.C. sees LHASA clued as [Tibetan capital] in her paper, but the Chicago Tribune site has it clued [Forbidden City]. Perhaps the Tribune gets one version, and it's edited slightly for syndication customers?

One sample from the crossword in the Star Tribune: [Japanese deer], *I**. Can you fill in the other three letters? Or is this old-school crosswordese, the sort of obscurity that very few of us are well-versed in these days?


February 21, 2008

Friday, 2/22

NYS 7:45
NYT 7:35
CHE tba
LAT 4:05
Jonesin' 3:16
CS 2:26

WSJ 10:08

Two constructors who make mostly (or all?) themeless crosswords, Mike Nothnagel and David Quarfoot, teamed up on the Friday New York Times puzzle. Just because there were two of them, I don't think the clues had to feel Saturdayish, but they sort of do. The grid's left and right halves are linked by just two squares, so it's almost like having two separate puzzles. That upper left zone was the toughest corner for me. In the opposite quadrant lies my favorite answer, the plastic nostalgia of an [Outdoor toy that attaches to a garden hose]. SLIP 'N SLIDE!

Favorite clues: [Awfully accurate?] for SAD BUT TRUE; ["What's ___?"] for DOING; [They might indicate hunger] for MEOWS; [Start of some how-to titles] for THE ART (but shouldn't the SODA CAN clue then avoid the word art?); [Response of feigned innocence] for "WHO, ME?"; [Shortening in the kitchen?] for the abbreviation TBSP; the verb [Level] for TEAR DOWN; [Dine, in Dusseldorf] for ESSEN (the verb "to eat"); the noun [Hide in the woods] for DEERSKIN; [It's out for a pout] for LOWER LIP; ["That's Amore" setting] for old NAPOLI; and [Photo flaw] for RED-EYE.

Less-than-obvious clues: [Jarrow's river] for TYNE; [Singer of the 1967 hit "California Nights"] for LESLEY GORE (all I know her for is "It's My Party"); [Queen in a long-running comic strip] for ALETA; [Mil. V.I.P.] for SGT MAJ; [Eye component] for AREOLA; [Poet who won a Pulitzer for "The Dust Which Is God"] for BENET; [Where I-25 and I-70 meet] for DENVER; [Kinkajou's kin: Var.] for RACOONS (the spelling grates, but can we really get upset when the word comes from Algonquin and the English spelling might be rather arbitrary?); [1883 Maupassant novel] for UNE VIE (raise your hand if you thought you were filling in a one-word name along the lines of Sylvie, the mystifying UNEVIE, rather than a two-word French title); and [Execute exactly] for the four-word phrase DO TO A TEE.

Good gravy, I'm sleepy! On with the blogging anyway: The New York Sun puzzle is by David Kahn, yet another 15x16 and yet another Oscar-related theme. The [ET] rebus is justified by THE FRENCH / CONNECTION, ET being French for the conjunction/connecting word "and." (The puzzle's title translates, "And for You, Monsieur?") The [ET] rebus occupies six movie titles, four Across and two shorter ones Down—that's a whole lotta theme. In the fill, I'd never heard of the SEABOB, a [Hand-held water propulsion device]. B[ET] ON IT, the High School Musical 2 song, I learned a few days ago from another crossword. I liked the crossing of ["CHiPs" nickname] PONCH and Daily KOS. I knew Ursa Minor meant "Little Bear," but the phrasing LESSER BEAR is looking mighty unfamiliar; I like to call it the the Little Dipper myself.

I'd write more, but I seem to be having a paradoxical reaction to the extra caffeine tonight (I'm training to stay up late Friday night!) and am too drowsy to think.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle is Monday-easy and very meta. It's called "Introspection" and it's self-referential. 17-Across, [What this is]: SEVENTEEN ACROSS. 36-Across, [Feature of this grid]: SEVENTY-SIX CLUES. 55-Across, [Arthur Wynne invention] and what you're looking at: CROSSWORD PUZZLE. Some lively fill here: DAVID FROST, my son BENJAMIN, CENTAURS, and some economics with a TRADE WAR and STATE TAX.

Jeremy Horwitz's LA Times crossword could be titled "I'm Outta Here, Not In"—the IM- and IN- prefixes that negate are dropped from four words that lack an unprefixed opposite. PECCABLE TASTE is not so tasteful, and PROMPTU SPEAKING would be a [Lecture with no ad-libbing?], for example. I just learned recently from the Sun puzzle that a SHOE is a thingy that holds multiple decks of cards for a dealer. Funniest clue: [Elder hostile?] for AGEIST.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Take a Bow," spotlights four famous wearers of bow ties. Senator Paul Simon didn't make the cut, and I didn't know two of the dudes in the puzzle were known for their neckwear. Here's WALTER GROPIUS, and here's ALFRED KINSEY; yep, bow ties on both. Easy puzzle, in any case. I liked the crossing of UH-HUH and OH NO and the inclusion of plenty of pop-culture names. There's also an old word, REAVE (definitions and etymology here), meaning [Plunder], among other senses.

Moving to the 21x21 size, Tyler Hinman's Wall Street Journal crossword was tougher than I was expecting a "Birds of Action" theme to be. The eight theme answers are all clued with birds that double as verbs. And one of the clues has two synonymous bird verbs, [GULL or ROOK]—LURE INTO A SCAM. Highlights in the fill: HASHISH sitting atop STINKO several rows below ON MEDS (a fresh and lively entry with one prior in Cruciverb, a 2006 NYT puzzle); MR CLEAN; EARBUD; TOM SNYDER; the RIAA, [Org. that's the plaintiff in some file-sharing lawsuits]; and ICE WATER in the veins. LUCIE is clued as [Charles Darnay's love]; that's from Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. Favorite clues: [Lucky man?] for Lucky LUCIANO; [What someone in a doctor's office is, or may need to be] for PATIENT; and [Clubs used at clubs] for golf IRONS. I didn't know that [Pitcher's perches] are SLABS—presumably baseball slang—and that B was the first letter I needed for the [Mineral also called heavy spar]. The who? Wha? Here's some more info about barite. It's also called Bologna stone. "My heavy spar has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R..."


On the radio

This Friday night, you can listen to me on the radio, on the Nick Digilio Show. WGN Radio is a Chicago station (720 AM), but there's a "Listen Now!" button on the title bar of that webpage.

Tyler Hinman and I are scheduled to start yammering—I mean, speaking eloquently—at midnight Central time. We'll be chatting with Nick about assorted crossword topics, such as my book, How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, the upcoming tournament, and my ill-fated appearance on that game show.


CrosSynergy crosswords via mobile phone

My husband's been enjoying the New York Times crossword on his iPod touch. If you've been hankering for quality crosswords on your cell phone, you can now subscribe to a service that will provide the most recent 30 days' worth of CrosSynergy crosswords. See here for details. You'll want to have an unlimited data package for your phone account so it doesn't cost you money beyond the $2.99 a month subscription.


February 20, 2008

Thursday, 2/21

NYT 5:35
NYS 4:57
LAT 3:58
CS 2:43

It's 11°F (that's –12°C) outside. Perhaps I should've put on a coat when I went outside to look at the lunar eclipse a few minutes ago. It was in totality, the moon tinged russet by refracted sunlight bent by the earth's atmosphere. There aren't too many astronomical events that are easily visible from the heart of a big, bright city—and far too many times when the night sky is masked by clouds—so I appreciated the opportunity to cast my jaundiced urban eye on a lunar marvel.

However! I may have over-chilled my brain in the process, because I had a dickens of a time navigating through Peter Collins' New York Times crossword. There were plenty of gimmes, but I kept not seeing those clues for too long. ARIANNA Huffington, you could've helped me out if I only had seen you sooner! I figured out the MIXED NUTS theme quickly, with the scrambled pecan (yum!) in SAUCEPANS. The filbert in FILTER BASKET revealed itself soon after...but FILTER BASKET? That's not right on the tip of my tongue. And while I was on the lookout for a cashew (yum!), CHEWS AT was hiding. (Google chews at me and you may get 8 hits; chewing at me garners over 5,000.) It's legit, but doesn't sound natural. And I tried to smash Charles Kuralt to extract a cashew before SAM DONALDSON offered me an almond. Overall, I didn't find this puzzle nearly as satisfying as a handful of pecans, but was it my mood or the puzzle? The clue for ETC is [It may precede an ellipsis]; say what? Who's doing that? That strikes me as terrible writing. "Mixed nuts include pecans, cashews, etc. ..."? There's no point to having an ellipsis after et cetera. I also paused at NWT, [Yukon neighbor: Abbr.]. Canada's Northwest Territories are 60% smaller than they used to be, Nunavut having recently split off; I had it in my head that the entire territory had been renamed, but no. I figured [Yen or yuan] was Asian money, but ASIAN MONEY didn't sound like crossword answer. Maybe it was the crossword and not me—the applet times look to be on the slow side for a Thursday.

My head felt defter when I moved on to the New York Sun puzzle (another extended 15x16) by Gary Steinmehl. Oscar week continues with "Honor Roles," featuring four Oscar-winning roles for KATHARINE HEPBURN (one role hogging up two entries: ELEANOR OF / AQUITAINE from The Lion in Winter). And rather than the inimitable Miss Hepburn merely having her name in the grid to tie the rest together, she's in there as yet another Oscar-winning role, Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Hepburn in The Aviator. Well! That's a lovely conceit for a crossword theme, even if I'd never encountered two of the characters, EVA LOVELACE and CHRISTINA DRAYTON. The non-Hepburnesque phrase IRISH BULL wasn't familiar to me—an example of this sort of [Incongruous statement] is "Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?" (Heh.) That corner of the grid also had the [1942 Preakness winner] ALSAB, which I often forget because it's a dumb and unmemorable name. (His owner: Albert Sabath. Too uncreative!) And the first name of Sheriff Lobo is ELROY. Really? We're expected to know B.J. and the Bear characters? I was the right age for the show but sure as heck wasn't watching it. (My Elroy of choice is George Jetson's boy.) I was amused to see REDTOP in the grid—this [Grass also known as fiorin] is the grass Merl Reagle had put in his Wordplay-featured crossword, but later jettisoned in favor of PILEUP. [Chilly reaction] is BRRR, but that's not what I said when the 11° night air got to me.


Check this out: The obscure people partying together in the NYT grid, Perle Mesta and Brian Aherne, both appear on this page, Hedda Hopper's filmography. Aherne was in 1935's I Live My Life. In 1957, Playhouse 90: The Hostess With the Mostess dramatized Perle Mesta's life. And the 1937 fashion musical (?) Vogues of 1938 featured Mischa Auer of recent NYT crossword fame. Not so much a violinist! I'll bet 85-year-old crossword solvers are familiar with all of these names.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword, "Idle Talk," has a quip theme, which usually means working through the Downs to fill in the quip segments. This one's an old chestnut, though, so a handful of crossings per line pointed the way to the full joke. Boss: "CAN YOU TELL ME WHY / I KEEP CATCHING / YOU GOOFING OFF?" Peon: "YOU WEAR SNEAKERS."

Don Gagliardo's puzzle in the LA Times is a bit showier. The theme is K-RATIONS, and that's clued as [Military allotment: this puzzle's is 30 "units"]. I counted—yup, there are 30 K's in the grid! Compare this to the record number of Ks in an NYT crossword, 18. And that 18er was sort of a cheat—PatricK Merrell had 10 K's in a row in one entry. Gagliardo's puzzle has no gimmicK, just a slew of K-rich words. The long theme entries contain 3 to 5 K's apiece, and more K's are pacKed into shorter answers throught the grid. It's KooKy! I do want to taKe a moment to Kvetch about the clue for ARK: [Early survival aid] has an anthropologically factual ring to it that is not borne out by the answer.


Wednesday, 2/20

NYS 3:58
NYT 3:13
LAT 3:07
CS 3:05

It's late, I just got home from pub trivia, and I'm tired. Some of tonight's questions: What fragrance/cosmetics/skin care company has Kate Winslet, Clive Owen, and Anne Hathaway as spokespersons? (My fairly random guess was right, but the team went with something comparably plausible.) List five of the top eight baby names for boys 100 years ago (I got 'em.) Something-something right triangle, something-something hypotenuse (the category was Trigonometry; Tyler knew the answer). Which publication was Pauline Kael a movie critic for: New Yorker, Village Voice, or New York Post? Place these three countries in order from biggest to smallest in terms of (a) population and (b) land area: Italy, Iran, Japan.

Quick takes on the Times and Sun puzzles before I go to bed—first, the New York Times crossword by Chuck Hamilton. (Debut, or just someone who hasn't had a puzzle lately?) The theme is DOUBLE (65-Across) things. The five theme entries begin with double ___ entities. For example, SPACE CADET and MAJOR CHORD give us "double space" and "double major." Fill highlights: ZAMBONI alongside CLIP ART, and Scrabbly AJAX crossing the NAZIS who were/are [Simon Wiesenthal's quarry].

In Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun crossword, Oscar week continues with "Oscar-Winning Double Features," in which each theme entry is a mashup of two Oscar-grade movies. For example, the [Unstable meteorologist] is a ROCKY RAIN MAN. (Imagine if Sylvester Stallone had played Raymond instead of Dustin Hoffman...) I suppose there aren't a ton of options for paired movie titles that make clueable phrases, but this theme didn't especially grab me.


Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword has an AYE-AYE theme. No, not this insane-looking little creature from Madagascar—the [Sailor's assent], which is pronounced like the letter i twice. Each theme entry is a two-word phrase with two is in the middle: e.g., JULI INKSTER, FIJI ISLANDS.

Nancy Salomon's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Get Out," gets the GET out of each theme entry's original phrase. Balanced budget becomes your [Fair friend?], a BALANCED BUD. Overall, a smooth crossword. If only [Jamie Foxx's Oscar-winning role] or [Comedian Martha] were here to join Charlotte RAE and Stephen REA for a celebrity-[ray] party, eh?


February 18, 2008

Tuesday, 2/19

Onion 4:47
Tausig 4:38
NYS 3:34
CS 3:16
NYT 2:59
LAT 2:44

Those of you who are academics should check out page A6 in the February 22 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. "King of CrossWorld" is an article about crossword blogger Michael Sharp, a.k.a. Rex Parker. And I'm not just saying that because MY NAME APPEARS IN THE ARTICLE too. (Will Shortz is also quoted.)

Golf is the theme in the New York Times crossword by Vic Fleming—three 15-letter phrases that mean "golfing," clued [Enjoying an outing, perhaps]. Ehhh...that doesn't grab me. 1-Across is golf-related, too, but it’s clued as [Puppies’ plaints] rather than whatever it is that YIPS means to golfers. (Wow, it's been studied by sports medicine specialists and written up in a medical journal!) It’s a treat to have a word like LOQUACITY and a good long phrase like MY MISTAKE. Back in the land of shorter words, it seemed a tad crosswordesey for a Tuesday, with ESTE, STEN, EL AL, and SLOE.

Well, yesterday had a crossword with four women with the same initials. Today, the New York Sun puzzle by Randolph Ross, “M.S. for Movie Stars,” has four women with the same initials as “movie star,” all of them Oscar-winning movie stars, crossing a fifth member of the class. That one vertical answer, MAUREEN STAPLETON, is 16 letters long, so we get a bonus row of crossword fun here. What the hell is The Waltons Grandpa, WILL GEER, doing keeping company with these esteemed actresses? Favorite clues/answers: There's the Scrabbly NOXZEMA near GEN XERS. MOB RULE is clued as [Ochlocracy]—remember when Bob Klahn included OCHLOCRACY in a Saturday Times puzzle and some people cried foul? It's not that obscure, really. No shortage of long fill, with phrases like ON STRIKE, LOOKED UP ([Checked in a reference book]), and IN THE RED. [Worked for M] means SPIED, M being James Bond's boss. BLU [-RAY (HD DVD rival)] seems to be winning out, now that Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Netflix have opted to stick with the Blu-Ray high-def format. [Port authorities?] are WINOS. And I'm pleased to see KEYSER in the grid, with a Keyser Söze Usual Suspects reference.


I hadn't noticed that the Sun grid was asymmetrical. That's a great use of rule-breaking, if you ask me—to accommodate a theme that's both consistent (the theme entries all cohere within a very specific category) and complete (there are no other possible candidates who could be included). The names don't break down into symmetrical chunks, but otherwise they lend themselves to being grouped into a trivia theme.

Whoo! Wouldja look at Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword? There are five theme names ending in XX, meaning 10 Down answers that contain an X—and these include XTREME, SEXTASY ([MDMA/Viagra combo, on the street]), AGE MIX, and XHOSA. Extra Scrabbleosity derives from the full house of Js and Ks in the theme entries. The fill really gleams—for example, TOP DOWN, BET ON IT, AVIATRIX, and JOB-HOP. I'm always amused when I see BIBI Netanyahu because it makes me recall this Letterman Top Ten list of ways to mispronounce the name. (My favorites: Yahu Netanbibi and Betty Needs a Yoo-Hoo.) Speaking of amusement, there's Hugh JASS! (Subject of one of Bart's prank calls to Moe's.) Favorite clues: [Word quintupled for maximum annoyance] for NYAH; [Handled souvenirs?] for MUGS; [Item in a Yahtzee box] for SCORE PAD; ["Comfortably ___"] for NUMB (a Pink Floyd reference); [Person who outs himself?] for ESCAPEE; and [Hitting basket after basket, say] for ON FIRE. I'd never heard of FOO DOG, the [Ceramic canine seen outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre] in this photo; it's an imperial guardian lion. And XIAMEN, [Chinese city of 2.6 million on an island of the same name], I pieced together from the crossings. Ah, it's what we used to call Amoy. Overall, two enthusiastic thumbs up for this puzzle.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Working Things Out," gets in a workout at THE / GYM, which is where I'll be heading once I finish the morning's puzzles and blogging. Five theme entries end with LIFT, BOX, SPIN, STEP, and RUN—and I will be doing approximately one of those at the gym (I hate aerobic exercise). Favorite clues/answers: HOT BOX, a [Small, smoke-filled place, in slang] (me, I used the term to describe my grandmother's overheated small apartment); [Emerge unintentionally, as a curse word] for SLIP OUT; SCREECH with a Saved by the Bell clue; UGGS sheepskin boots; the loathed Minnesota VIKINGS being associated with a scandal; "TEN-FOUR"; and [Good way to finish a sentence?] for PAROLE.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times crossword is pretty easy, with a theme of phrases that start with "blah" words (e.g., SQUARE, DULL, BORING, DRY). The fill includes plenty o' non-blah words and phrases, such as DING-DONGS, SNACK BARS, SPLURGES, and I'VE HAD IT. I laughed when I came across VIVA paper towels in the grid; long story involving my grandmother. Viva! I've seldom seen BLIN, [Light Russian pancake]; I presume that it's the singular of blini, and I know if I'm wrong, one of you will correct me.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Prelims," evokes a giggle with the LIM+ theme entry LIMBURGER KING. Favorite entries: The Michael Douglas movie THE GAME, SWAN SONG, LIBEL LAW, and SENORES (I believe the sham American plural SENORS shows up in crosswords more often than this Spanish-approved plural).


February 17, 2008

Monday, 2/18

CS 3:07
NYT 2:39
LAT 2:32

Happy President's Day! Enjoy a Monday without a New York Sun crossword. (Insert sad-face emoticon here.)

Lynn Lempel's New York Times puzzle hooks up tangentially to the presidential race, with theme entries beginning with LIBERAL, PROGRESSIVE, LEFT, and RADICAL. (I will ally myself with the first three, but what's RADICAL doing in there? Most lefties are no more radical than the extremists on the other end of the political spectrum.) Unusual non-theme fill includes MEAT STEW, "NOT SO FAR," and PAY TV. Some fill combos entertained me—a GOFER keeping company with an EMIR, the BOB UP/OBIE/BABY B action, Vladimir LENIN with a banjo TWANG, and the OAF looking SMART sporting a FEZ. Overall, a lively Monday puzzle, maybe a notch below the usual high level I expect of Lynn Lempel, but crisper than many Monday crosswords.


Nancy Salomon's LA Times crossword filled itself in pretty smoothly, despite the inclusion of 14 7-letter answers that should take a little longer to answer because the kneejerk response we develop to clues for those short words that appear all the time is absent. But the clues were largely straightforward, so zip-zip-zip, the puzzle fell on the easy side. The theme could be called "Utility Men": three men of use are a JACK OF ALL TRADES, HANDY ANDY, and JOHNNY ON THE SPOT. Many answers in the non-theme fill are conversational in nature: BEAT IT, IT'S A JOB, WHY ME, SO SORRY, and TEN HUT are all spoken phrases.

Yesterday's syndicated LA Times puzzle had a theme of M.C. phrases. Today, Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword, "Emcees," limits that to the names of famous women with M.C. initials: MARIAH CAREY and MARY CASSATT ("The Child's Bath" is my favorite of her paintings; it lives here at the Art Institute of Chicago), MARIA CALLAS and MARCIA CROSS. Nice mix of high and low culture. Highlights in the fill: Leo the MGM LION, the JAZZ AGE, WANNABES, RUPAUL, and the ARGYLE/GARGOYLE intersection.


February 16, 2008

Sunday, 2/17

NYT 13:something
WaPo 9:28
BG 9:20
LAT 8:55
PI 8:21
CS 4:28

A few days ago, reader Jordan asked why I don't blog about the USA Today crossword. It's not just the lack of an Across Lite option for that crossword. Tyler Hinman explains in depth here.

(Tyler also explores the flaws in the gameplay of Merv Griffin's Crosswords and suggests a few tactical improvements.)

My mojo was been stolen. My desktop computer (aka Home of All Things Crosswordy) was refusing to connect to the internet properly, so I was using my laptop instead this weekend. But you know what? Working a Sunday puzzle on a 13" screen is a lot different from working it on a widescreen Apple Cinema display. I did the NYT crossword in Across Lite to avoid feeling hemmed in in the applet, but everything's all out of whack. (Sigh.) Or maybe the New York Times puzzle by Henry Hook was just clued hard? Let's take a look at the applet. No, a couple people were five minutes faster than me. I'm back on the big machine now, where I hope to reclaim my mojo when I do the other Sunday puzzles.

The theme in Hook's "Political Leaders" puzzle is a little oblique. The clue for 19-Across reads, [With 105-Across, what the answer to each starred clue starts with]. Those two answers give us SCRAMBLED / PRESIDENT, but I missed the end of the clue, so the anagrams hid from me until after I finished the puzzle. The beginning of each of 10 theme entries is an anagrammed U.S. president, but they can be part of one word (e.g., Bush at the beginning of HUSBAND-TO-BE) or part of two words (Hayes in SAY HEY KID)—or, in one case, part of three words (Harrison in RAIN OR SHINE). Monroe is one ONE MORE TIME; Adams, DAMASCUS STEEL; Taft, FATTED CALF; Carter, TERRA COTTA; Pierce, PRICE/EARNINGS; Wilson, SLOWING DOWN; and Taylor, ROYALTIES. You didn't need to figure any of that out to finish the puzzle, of course—although it might speed the process up for an anagram-savvy solver. There's a whole lotta theme packed into this grid, though, isn't there?

I had a passel of favorite clues and answers. [Passing remark?] is "'SCUSE ME" as you squeeze past someone. [Home of Faa'a International Airport] for TAHITI? That gave me my RDA of geography factoids. [Butlers and maids] means the HELP; did you see the HBO movie, Bernard and Doris, about heiress Doris Duke and her butler Bernard? (Soapy, but in a good way.) [Supermarket lines?] means a UPC CODE (and yes, I know the C stands for code; it's still an in-the-language phrase.) [Split] pulls double duty for the consecutive CLOVEN and FORKED. The RED HEN is the ["Not I!" hearer]; there's a great old short cartoon of that tale I should scour YouTube for. KEISTERS are indeed [Rears], though I was looking for a verb here. Another body part is a HAIR CELL, [Sensory receptor in the ear]; you have a boatload of these if you're lucky. (Also in the sensory category: RETINAE are [Rod holders] in the eye.)

Toughest answers: I've seen VENIRE before ([Jury pool]), but it's the sort of word I tend to forget. A couple unfamiliar names struck me: BOUTON is the last name of [Jim who wrote "Ball Four"; [Schumacher of auto racing] is RALF; HENRY is [___ Fleming, central character in "The Red Badge of Courage"]. Then there's COIGN [___ of vantage (good position for viewing)]. I didn't know that ATTILA was an opera, a [Titular Verdi role]. DEMIT can mean [Relinquish]. Her sister Erato gets so much more play in crosswords, but it's good to dredge EUTERPE, the [Muse of music], out of the memory banks from time to time.

(Google experiment: If I add [Violinist Mischa] at 1 p.m., along with the answer, AUER, how long will it take Google to send someone here?)


Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer crossword this week is a rerun as he works on a tournament puzzle, says the Across Lite Notepad. So if you don't do Merl Reagle's puzzle each week and you're getting ready for the ACPT, you'd better start practicing! The theme entries in "I'm Gonna Rearrange Your Face!" are phrases that include the wrong facial feature. After working a long night towing Santa's sleigh, shouldn't he be called RUDOLPH THE / RED-EYED REINDEER? Sure. And Jeanie with the light brown hair gets too much testosterone and becomes JEANIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN GOATEE. Fun theme—standard playful Merl.

Robert Wolfe's Washington Post puzzle, "Pronouns-ments," has an interesting theme—eight phrases that include a pronoun (it, which, our, I, what, none, we, and you) swapped out for a homophone (as in SECOND TO NUN and the non-urinary THE ROYAL WEE). I liked this puzzle, but now that my internet connection's working just fine, I'm interfering with myself by using the little wireless keyboard with its wee arrow keys, and the cursor keeps running off in the wrong direction. So I think this crossword was a bit easier than the comparative solving times suggest.

I should've paid attention to the title of Arlan and Linda Bushman's syndicated LA Times crossword, "McPuzzle," earlier on. It was only after meandering through the grid for a bit that I realized each theme entry was an M___ C___ phrase, such as MEXICO CITY, MOLOTOV COCKTAIL, and MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Not an especially aggressive theme, but the puzzle's got a lot of nice fill (including theme entries)—GOTTA GO, EMMA PEEL, a TIE GAME, a creepy FOOTSTEP, BOXED IN.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "Candyland," contains a hodgepodge of candy-related puns. TRUFFLE EXPENSES instead of travel expenses, for example, and DROMEDARY CARAMEL for camel. I couldn't quite land on this particular pun wavelength, except for PERILS OF PRALINE (thanks, Baskin Robbins ice cream!). A-words you should know for crosswords include AROAR ([Wildly cheering]) and ALOFT ([In the sky]); A TRIFLE ([Slightly]) appears to be two words. (ANEAR, ABEAM, and ASTERN are other A-words you're likely to see in crosswords.)

Moving to themeless territory, Rich Norris provided this week's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge." The fill is rather Scrabblicious, with three Zs, a bunch of Ks (nine answers end with K!), and a Q. DAFFY DUCK and BIZARRO come from cartoon/comics land. SECONDHAND SMOKE is a [Pub hazard, in some places]—fortunately not in Illinois! You know how you can tell if you've done too many crosswords in your time? My second answer in the grid was the UBANGI River. If you encounter the set of a BAREBACK (62-A) POLAR BEAR (33-D) SKIN FLICK (34-D), DON'T MOVE (37-D). At least that's what PEARY (50-D) told me. One of the BLUENOSES (2-D) who SCRAMS (9-A) just ends up QUENCHing (16-A) the bears' thirst for blood.


February 15, 2008

Saturday, 2/16

NYT 13:40
Newsday 7:48
LAT 5:28
CS 3:08

Aaaarghh! Tony Orbach is a lovely human being, but his Saturday New York Times crossword did not make me happy—one of those collisions of unfamiliar words that shoves me into a tight corner and ENTRAPs ([Bait]) me into asking Google to throw me a lifeline. Oy! That middle section was a nightmare! The [Small, deep-fried pork cube] is a CUCHIFRITO, apparently a Puerto Rican food, and I've never heard of it, not ever. I tried with all my might to make it have a double R (like churro), but alas, no. That answer, 8-Down, crossed 26-Across, [Golden fish stocked in ornamental ponds], or ORFE. Another word I didn't know! Not at all! Below ORFE is PORNO, but the clue, [Dirt] (how Puritan!), wasn't convincingly pointing towards PORNO there. And that damned ["Rugrats" baby], DIL—I tend to forget that name, and this time tried DEL, further mangling the pork cubes. (Googling cucherrito will get you nowhere.) Running alongside CUCHIFRITO is ETHYLENE, clued as [C2H4], and that section was so mangled I tried making that ETHYLANE or ETHYLINE (I was desperate!) My other dastardly trouble spot was where [Apply messily] meets [Anti-ship missile that skims waves at nearly the speed of sound]. I put in SLAP ON instead of the less natural SLOP ON, though I should've recognized that EXOCET would be right and EXACET was wrong. Oy! (I suspect that many people will be calling for Tony and Will Shortz to be deep-fried in an ornamental pond.) (And maybe I shouldn't have had all that wine this evening.)

There were a few other tough words lurking in the grid, but none so baffling as those above. The [Lab tube] is a BURETTE, and wait, do I remember that from chemistry class, or just the pipette? I can't recall. [Touch-related] is TACTUAL and not the more common TACTILE (which I tried to include, further slowing me down). The [Hindu sage] is a RISHI (as in maharishi, I presume), but SWAMI called out to me first.

"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" The play was finely crafted and entertaining. Highlights pour moi: VAMOOSE ([Amscray]) crossing NO CHEESE ([Big Mac request]—anyone else go for NO ONIONS?); a PASSEL ([Slew]) crossing a CHEATER ([One using a crib]); [Ready to be put to bed] for EDITED (publishing! and it crosses STETTING!); the baseballish "DROVE IN a run"; and the GABFEST of The View on which everyone GETS MAD ([Bristles]). Other favorite clues: [Post boxes?] for CEREALS; [Piece of silver, say] for UTENSIL; [A lot of foreign intelligence intercepts] for CHATTER; [Many-sided problems] for HYDRAS; [Patron of Paris] for GENEVIEVE (doesn't she look nice in the middle of the grid?); [Home to Mount Chimborazo] for ECUADOR (a geography clue I don't know at all!); [Decayed] for MY BRAIN...I mean, MOTH-EATEN; and [Nearest, for Nero] for PROXIMA (I don't know Latin, but that was beautifully gettable].

Cuchifrito! Orfe! Here's a recipe for the former (caution: link plays music). When a few of the steps involve washing the pig ears and really scrubbing the pig stomach and pig tongue, I know that this is not a dish I will ever go near. The orfe is also known as the ide, and it's native to Europe and Asia.


Still bruised from last night's NYT solving misadventures, Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" made me a little grumpy, what with the [Ornamental pine tree] called a MUGHO. MUGHO?!? I'm torn between wishing to never see it again in a crossword and hoping it comes up in a tournament puzzle so I'm rewarded for having learned it today. (Orfe!) I hadn't realized that fanfarea could be a verb, as in FANFARED; I checked a few dictionary sites and see only the noun senses mentioned. I also hadn't realized that [Wow] could be a noun (here, cluing FEAT), but the dictionary says it can. (That's a wow!) Favorite clue/answer combo: [It can count] for NEATNESS. ACPT attendees, if you can't compete on speed and accuracy, you can always shoot for the judges' annual neatness prize!

Frederick Healy's themeless LA Times puzzle has plenty of nifty phrases in the fill. MEASURES UP ([Makes the grade]), COMES CLEAN ([Fesses up]), DR PHIL and AL CAPONE, SORE LOSERS and the AMEN CORNER, PENNY CANDY and SOAP OPERAS. I liked STAY TUNED ([Request not to surf?]), but cluing both IS ON and ON TV with versions of the word "air" seemed a bit much. I liked [Front runner?] for MEDICO—as in one running at the battlefront. [Sweetums] clues POOPSIE, and I've gotta say, if anyone ever calls me POOPSIE, that'll be the last time they do that.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Chest Openers," is not about thoracic surgery. Rather, the four theme entries begin with kinds of chests. TREASURE HUNT, treasure chest; COMMUNITY CENTER, community chest; WEDDING ALBUM, wedding chest; okay, fine. But isn't a MEDICINE CABINET basically the exact same thing as a medicine chest? This offered a nice break from the themeless beatings, in any event.


February 14, 2008

Friday, 2/15

NYS 10:10
NYT 4:52
LAT 4:25
CHE 4:08
Jonesin' 4:04
CS 2:58

WSJ 7:25

Happy Half Birthday to me! To celebrate, themeless crosswords from Patrick Berry and Byron Walden—o frabjous day!

Omigod, guess who's on public television right this minute? It's Etta James! Of crossword fame! Now I know what she looks like.

All righty, Byron Walden's latest New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" is in the running for the year's toughest puzzle. The year's young, so surely there could be sterner challenges ahead, but this is the one to top now. It could be that I did it late in the evening the other day, or it could be a wicked crossword. This 70-worder is anchored by a brace of 15-letter entries: "WHAT'D YOU SAY TO ME?" (clued as [Slight reaction?]) and ALGEBRA PROBLEMS ([XYZ affairs?] toying with French/U.S. history).

There's much to like here, starting at 1-Across. Usually [Play starter] is ACTI, but here, it's a football SNAP for a change. I don't know why a [Shoe insert] is a DECK; anyone? (Edited to add: It's a casino thing.) I like the slanginess of BAG IT ([Abandon one's efforts, slangily]), NO CHANCE (["When hell freezes over!"]), WHALED ON ([Beat badly]), and quaint NEATO (['50s "Radical!"]). I always like it when a crosswordese-named person gets promoted to first-and-last-name status—here, it's POLA NEGRI. DRACO is [Thuban's constellation], and I'll assume that Thuban is a star. Credit goes to http://www.ket.org/cgi-bin/tvschedules/episode.pl?nola=MSTR++001625&cd=1&&framed=1&layout=popup for teaching me that Troglodytes is a small bird's genus, so I could guess WREN for [Creature with the scientific name Troglodytes Troglodytes]. Science also gives us [Thermophilic habitats] like GEYSERS. [Money pitch?] is a STORY IDEA given to one's editor at Money magazine. There are two people with an unusual AO in their names: the [Red giant] MAO ZE DONG and the [New York Times film critic who succeeded Janet Maslin], A.O. SCOTT. [Trick parts?] are KNEES.

Looking at the Downs, now—I have a kid, but had no idea such an entity as KIDS WB. Apparently the [Home to "Tom and Jerry Tales"] is a Saturday morning lineup only, and not one my kid watches. (Though he does have a fine appreciation of "Tom and Jerry.") BDAY doesn't show up much in crosswords or, I presume, dictionaries—but people say it all the time, and here it is, as a [Card type, for short]. I like the clue for nod: [Bean dip?]. [Some SAT takers] is spot-on for JRS—hey, I took the SAT my junior year. [Mae West's swan song] apparently was SEXTETTE (it was a 1978 movie). Oh! The most horrifying clue of all! [Thrust in one's briefs?] I'll let you muse on that for a while, and think of everything that could possibly be. It's nothing more than a lawyer's ARGUMENT, the thrust of his case. [Günter Grass's birthplace, today] is GDANSK, Poland (formerly Danzig, Germany). The noun phrase [Display innovation?] is PLASMA, as in the TV that I love so.

I thought Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle was a damn sight easier than the Sun. How did the two comparefor you, difficulty-wise? This 64-worder has two stacked pairs of 15s: ARTURO TOSCANINI ([He conducted the premiere performances of "Pagliacci" and "La Boheme"]) with CLERICAL COLLARS (clued cleverly as [Bands of holy men]) on top, and IN THE NEAR FUTURE atop a ROCK AND ROLL STAR at the bottom.

Favorite Across clues: [Maker of Coolpix cameras] for NIKON (because I have one); ["Field of Dreams" actress Amy] for MADIGAN (because she's a Chicagoan); [1979 #1 hit for Robert John] for "SAD EYES" (because I loved that song in junior high); [Yielding ground] for MUD (I had the right idea, but first thought of BOG); and [Compliant] for TRACTABLE (seems like intractable is far more common). The Down clues I like best: [Jelly seen on buffet tables] for STERNO (don't eat it!); [Boxy Toyota product] for SCION (though technically, only the Scion XB—which would be a great crossword entry—is boxy); [First African-born Literature Nobelist] for Albert CAMUS; [Titular mouse in a classic Daniel Keyes novel] for ALGERNON; [1600 to 1800, on a boat] for DOGWATCH; [Big hit] for SOCKEROO (wait a minute...has anyone ever actually used that word? Its Google presence is mighty slim, but it's such a tempting word to use in blogging, and it sounds like it should mean "even better than socko"); and [Roughly a third of the earth's surface] for DESERT. UTA HAGEN, like POLA NEGRI in the other puzzle, gets the full-name treatment. (Has her name been clued cryptically with UTAHN + AGE or UTAHAN + GE?). Never heard of HANNO, [Carthaginian statesman who opposed war with Rome].

SURGE is clued [Kind of protector], and usually I brush off the "kind of" clues without a thought, but this one sticks in the craw. There is such a thing as a surge protector, yes, but a surge is no kind of protector at all. The surge is what's being protected against.


So, Etta James on TV last night? She was cool. I will look on the inevitable [Singer James] clues more fondly now.

This week's Jonesin' puzzle by Matt Jones is a themeless. Yay! Another themeless puzzle today! I think Matt puts out a themeless once every few months. This one's called "12:11" because it has a dozen 11-letter entries. Favorite entries: HOT AND HEAVY, TRICERATOPS, SYNESTHESIA ([The ability to hear colors, say]), "I WANT TO LIVE!", and "OF COURSE NOT." I didn't know that BENTLEY was a [British automaker now owned by Volkswagen]. The Bentley Continental GT is one of the most gorgeous cars out there, and I see one around the neighborhood from time to time. I like the consonant pack in Youssou N'DOUR's name, and of course I'm delighted with the partial entry I CAN (["___ Has Cheezburger?"], because LOLcats amuse me:
Humorous Pictures
moar humorous pics

(Speaking of themeless puzzles, the Ornery Crossword in the new issue of Games magazine is by Harvey Estes, and it contains no 3-letter entries—everything is 4+. A 25x25 grid, a set of hard clues, and all themeless? That's always a treat for me. The constructorial feat of eschewing 3-letter words is just icing on the cake.)

The LA Times puzzle by Jack McInturff sort of felt like a Chronicle of Higher Education crossword—the theme involved puns on authors' names. Now, this Midwesterner definitely does not pronounce BIDDING WAUGH and bidding war the same. I liked SOCCER MAUGHAM (mom) and UNDER A CHEEVER (achiever) best. A pair of terrific long fill answers: WILD GUESS and PROM QUEEN.

The actual Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Daniel C. Bryant ("Four of Hearts") has a huge "aha" moment that just hit me. The central entry, ROBERT INDIANA, is clued [Pop artist who created a famous verbal image in 1964 (reproduced four times in this grid]. That's LO above VE spelling out LOVE. In each corner of the grid, there's a down answer containing LV next to one with OE, spelling out LO/VE in a 2x2 square. (And those 2x2s are in exactly symmetrical spots.) Cool! But that gimmick isn't the extent of the theme—there's also VALENTINE'S DAY, CARA MIA, JE T'AIME, ROMANTIC, and GO STEADY. All righty, I'm nominating this puzzle for best gimmick of the year. The only down side is that someone who doesn't read the whole clue for ROBERT INDIANA might miss the gimmick altogether.

I like everything about Randolph Ross's easy CrosSynergy puzzle, "SAT Exam," except for COEDS not being clued as the retro crap it is. In case you need a reminder, Googling "coeds" these days will get you a ton of porn and nothing that pertains to the average woman's college experience. Just [Sorority sisters]? No. When the majority of college students are female, it makes no sense to have a noun that sets them apart as not-the-norm—heck, let's clue it as [Fraternity brothers]. I'd welcome the word if the clue referenced the 1950s—are there any old books or movies featuring "coeds"? The theme entries could be initialized as S.A.T.—there's SURF AND TURF and SICK AND TIRED, for example. 100% solid theme phrases, and nice fill like MACADAMIA, IDYLLIC, DOUGHNUT, a ROADIE, and L.L. BEAN.

Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Lincoln Center," embeds ABE Lincoln within nine theme entries (including two shorter ones, EDNA BEST and "WANNA BET?"). Favorite entries: WE DELIVER, HIT THE CEILING, MARISKA Hargitay, and WALLEYE. Favorite clues: [It's full of leaves] for TEABALL; [Chance to catch bugs] for BETA TEST; and [Banking device] for the avionic AILERON.


More word hunt puzzles

If you enjoyed the latest 3-D Word Hunt by Will Shortz and are hankering for more, try Shawn Kennedy's book, Sip & Solve Word Hunts. I've added a link in the sidebar (under "Amazon links") to buy it from Amazon. (Thanks to Will for the tip!)


February 13, 2008

Thursday, 2/14

NYT 4:59
LAT 4:32
CS 3:43
NYS 3:42

Happy Valentine's Day! I received an early valentine from my son today—cut-out construction paper hearts glued to a white paper, with orangey-brown crayon lettering: "happy Valentime's day." I like it better because of the M.

David Kahn and Justin Smith also celebrate the holiday with an M—a bunch of them, in fact, along with plenty of other letters. Kahn has the New York Times crossword, a Thursday rebus puzzle with eight [HEART] rebus squares that form a connect-the-dots heart:

(You can connect the dots yourself.) The [HEART] usually appears as itself, as in [HEART] OF DIXIE, but a few times, its letters are just letters, as in NOW [HEAR T]HIS and [HEART]HS. I do have a medical-editor question: RED EAR is an [Inflammatory ailment]? First off, I've never heard of this, and I've managed both otolaryngology and dermatology publications. Second, a bit of Googling suggests it has to do with pain and nerves and not inflammation. But the dot-to-dot heart is cute, I'll grant you that.

Justin Smith's New York Sun puzzle skews Valentiny in a somewhat more subtle way: "Pucker Up" is all about the kiss, with five theme entries ending with words that mean "kiss." The middle of the grid has the old-time song, "A BUSHEL AND A PECK." The [Pilgrim's weapon] is a BLUNDERBUSS, and there are also TALKING SMACK and a HERSHEY'S KISS and GENERATION X. Fun fill and fun clues throughout—VODKA is [Tartar sauce?]; [Activity with a downward-facing dog] is YOGA; [Bob McKenzie's "Great White North" brother] is DOUG (eh, ya hoser!); oddball [Unguinous] is OILY; [Taradiddles] are FIBS; and a KNEE is [One of all fours?].


Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Heart Strings," has four 15-letter entries clued the same way: [HEART]. It's a VALENTINE SYMBOL, yes, but also an ARTICHOKE BOTTOM. There are a couple romance-related words dotting the fill, too—COO and LOVER.

OXIDE is clued as [Nitrous ___], which launches me onto a soapbox: If you're one of the millions of people with dental anxiety that deters you from visiting the dentist regularly, (1) tell the dentist's office that you have anxiety and need to be babied, (2) ask the dentist not to berate you for your absence, lest you never return, (3) use a dentist who can give you nitrous oxide when you're having any stressful procedures, and (4) find a new dentist if the one you have doesn't try to alleviate your anxiety. Honest: Dentists want you to come see them. They don't want to scare you off. And the nitrous can make a huge difference. (This has been a public service announcement from a one-time dental editor.)

The LA Times crossword by Linda Tay Stevens includes four theme entries that contain a little Latin love (51-Down, AMOR) within them. There's noted architect JULIA MORGAN, who designed Hearst Castle, along with three other phrases. Favorite clue: [Whom Tony and Rico fought over in "Copacabana"] for LOLA ("She was a showgirl"). The fill skewed old-timey, with MALTS, RIN Tin Tin, Davy Crockett's rifle Old BETSY, the adjective SOCKO, RKOS, and UNIX tied to the '60s.


Brooklyn Bridge Marriott sold out

The host hotel for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the Marriott by the Brooklyn Bridge, is completely booked for the Saturday night of the tournament. If you're planning to go but hadn't reserved a room yet, don't freak out. Sit tight. The ACPT organizers are working on lining up an overflow hotel.

This doesn't mean registrations have skyrocketed. They're predicting a slightly smaller crowd than last year, based on registrations to date vs. registrations 2 1/2 weeks pre-tournament last year.

And no, you can't share my room!