April 30, 2008

Thursday, 5/1

NYT 5:47
NYS 5:30
LAT 4:21
CS 2:57

Happy May Day! Workers of the world, foundering ships, and maypole fans unite.

It's Thursday, and the New York Times crossword by Jim Leeds serves up a rebus challenge that I will call Tribute to Ellen Ripstein. (Ellen is wont to say things like "Smoking, ick." She has not, to my knowledge, said "Rebus puzzles, ick.") GROSS parks itself in the middle of the grid to spotlight all the [ICK] rebus squares. Let's gather them all up here, since it's hard to see them in the applet grid where a plain old letter I stands in for each [ICK]:

  • MR. PICKWICK is the [Club founder and president in an 1836 Dickens novel]. He crosses STICKS (the [Boonies]) and SNICK ([___ and snee]). (You can read about the phrase snick or snee here.)
  • CHICKEN LICKEN is a [Hysterical hen of fable]. She crosses a DROP-KICKER ([Field goal attempter, once]) and MONICKER ([Handle], or name).
  • [Awkward situations, informally] are STICKY WICKETS; this phrase crosses a SNICKERS candy bar and a BUICK [Century, e.g.]).
  • An [Easy winner in bridge] (about which I know nothing) is a QUICK TRICK, which crosses PICK AT and a [Game show gizmo] that's a CLICKER.
  • Those double-ICK entries were placed in symmetrical spots in the grid. For an extra [Crispy appetizer], there's also a one-ICK BREADSTICK crossing a TICKET.

I usually don't second-guess answers with small duplications, but the "good to the LAST DROP"/DROP-KICKER combo did give me pause. Other trouble spots and/or clues of note:
  • [Chest: Prefix] tempted me to thinking of STERNO-, relating to the sternum, rather than the correct STETHO.
  • Those who were vexed by SFC the other day will be grateful for easier crossings for MSGTS, [Ones graded E-8 in the Army].
  • [Cry at a doctor's office] seems to be a popular clue for NEXT, but doesn't pretty much every doctor's office summon patients by name rather than expecting the folks in the waiting room to jockey for position?
  • SEXT is [Noon service, to ecclesiastics]. I've heard of the other time-bound services more—this reference mentions Vespers in the evening, Compline at bedtime, Midnight Office for monasteries, Matins at sunrise, and Prime, Terce, Sext, and None (first, third, sixth, and ninth hours after dawn, roughly) taking you to 3 p.m. TERCE rarely shows up in crosswords, but I'm ready for it now.
  • A [Draper's offering] is CLOTH.
  • [You may get an extended one at a salon] is LASH. Say what? I had no idea that eyelash extensions were a salon service. Talk about your asinine wastes of women's time and money. Is it just me, or are those fake, permanently affixed lashes strongly reminiscent of Alex in A Clockwork Orange? Creepy.
  • ALSTON is the last name of [Ex-Dodger manager Walter]. Never heard of him—baseball that doesn't take place within a mile of my house is of little interest to me.
  • [Sir Thomas who introduced the sonnet to England] is WYATT. He's the poet who wrote the famed "Noli me tangere" sonnet. Strangest trivia question from last night's trivia contest: What's the last line following "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see" in Shakespeare's sonnet no. 18? That's the one that starts out, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"—but the final line is somewhat less memorable.


Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle bears the title "6 x 8." Within the crossword are six 8-letter ANAGRAMs, all clued in reference to another of the group. The family of anagrams includes two mathy words—TRIANGLE, INTEGRAL; three verbs—RELATING, ALTERING, ALERTING; and the oddball TANGLIER. In the fill sits some SOY MILK, clued as [Drink for the lactose intolerant]; I am delighted to tolerate lactose, personally. A goodly quantity of longish fill fleshes out the grid here.

Updated:

In Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Inner Ability," he hides his ESP (63-Down) abilities in the midst of each theme entry. The four ESP answers (e.g., TRADES PLACES, FREE SPEECH) are supplemented by some lively long fill—ALEX HALEY and an ALMA MATER, Hamlet's ELSINORE Castle and "JUST A SEC." I'm glad to see A TEST clued as ["This is only ___"] rather than the played-out atomic test; if only N-TEST and H-TEST could also be spiffed up with an alternate clue. The BUICK [Century, e.g.] goes out for a spin again (see the NYT), only without rebus action. My enjoyment of this crossword was diluted a bit by the inclusion of some blah crossword regulars—OGEE, OTOS and a UTE, ULNA, ICER. A QUONSET hut and a GNOME do help allay that, though.

The LA Times crossword is credited to "Sir Barton Giacomo (1919-2005)." That's not a deceased constructor—it's the names of the 1919 and 2005 winners of the Kentucky Derby (link is updated only through 2006). The theme entries are eight other horses that have won the Derby (which takes place this weekend) and have names that can be plausibly clued as regular words or phrases. The theme's explained by the clue for DERBY WINNER: [Each one in this puzzle has its year in parentheses]. So [Unison cheer (1894)] is CHANT, and [Tax law provision affecting prior years (1961)] is CARRY-BACK. I recognize that the inclusion of so many theme entries and the innovation of the non-horse cluing are cool but...but...I just don't care about horseracing. Or "motor sports," boxing, poker, or bridge. Many of the horses' names were unfamiliar to me: STREET SENSE (2007! How quickly I forget, or how thoroughly I paid no attention a year ago), SWALE (1984), SWAPS (1955), CHANT, REAL QUIET (1998), and CARRY BACK. Looking at the list of past winners, I've heard of the most famous ones from the '70s, a handful of older ones, and a couple of the recent ones. The rest? Whatever. (As for who constructed the puzzle, my guess is LA Times crossword editor Rich Norris, but it could be someone else tickled by the idea of a two-horse pseudonym.)

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April 29, 2008

Wednesday, 4/30

NYS 6:15
LAT 4:19
NYT 4:06
CS 3:10

Trivia tonight—will be out 'til 11-ish p.m. Central time. Discuss amongst yourselves in my absence. Last week's trivia contest demanded that we know a phone number that showed up in a Sun crossword this week—there's no telling how many of next week's crossword answers might stump our team tonight!

Hooray! We won tonight. After placing second last week, we're well positioned going into the last four weeks of the six-week cycle (knock on wood). We missed a question my son would've gotten—what was the name of the car in the original Speed Racer cartoon?—but we got a few that the other teams missed. In the spelling category, they finally used a tough word (last week's spelling question was playwright); we knew how to spell amanuensis despite the horrific mangling of its pronunciation. And in the crossword clues category, the question was not one that comes up in crosswords, really, but we got it anyway. (What's a group of giraffes called? Five letters, the fourth is an E.) In a tossup round, we deduced ourselves to Elvis's exact year of birth. What baseball player appeared in the movie Rawhide? We had no idea, but wagered zero points on that final question. What precious metal draws its name from a Spanish diminutive of another metal's name?

Henry Hook's New York Times crossword has three theme entries in which 8 letters are repeated. There are three popular song titles that end with ON MY MIND. The [1968 Glen Campbell hit] was GENTLE ON MY MIND, the [1960 Ray Charles hit] was GEORGIA ON MY MIND, and the [1982 Willie Nelson hit] was ALWAYS ON MY MIND. Ten answers in the fill are meaty 8-letter words or phrases. There's the ever-popular [Solver's online recourse], GOOGLING; the whuzza?-that's-a-word? DISSEVER (clued as [Cut into parts]); DWINDLED, or [Approached zero]; and [Put up], or NOMINATE. Favorite clues: [Till you get it right] for AGAIN; [Mouse who's always throwing bricks at Krazy Kat] for IGNATZ; [Hardly stuffy] for AIRY, as in an airy room; [Peace-and-quiet venue] for ARCADIA (also a Duran Duran spinoff); [Little fingers or toes] for the Latin plural MINIMI (not to be confused with Austin Powers' nemesis's sidekick Mini-Me); [What demonstrators demonstrate] for ACTIVISM; and [Senate tally] for both AYES and NAYS. Interestingly, this puzzle has 68 answers even though it's a themed puzzle (for which the maximum word count is often 78); themeless puzzles can go as high as 72. All those 8-letter answers surely help keep the overall word count in the impressive range.

I'm halfway through Lee ("Louie") Glickstein's New York Sun puzzle after nearly 4 minutes, but I keep dozing off. I'll have to finish in the morning—and I bet it's not so hard at all.

Updated:

All right, I finished Lee's New York Sun crossword, "Ooh, Oui!" just now. The first half took about 4 minutes when I was somnolent, but the second half took about 2. As the "Louie Glickstein" byline suggests, the theme involves changing the "ee" sound to an "ouie" or "Ooh, Oui" sound. The South China Sea becomes SOUTH CHINA SOOEY, heehawing is HOOEY HAWING ([Pauses made while saying nonsense]), beekeepers are BUOY KEEPERS, and attorney's fee is ATTORNEY'S "PHOOEY." I like the variation in spelling for the sound (yes, English orthography is nuts). One of my trouble spots was [Exam for the college-bound]; dangit, "SAT I" didn't exist back in my day. I plunked in SATS, which made it difficult to extract the phrase IN THREE-D, [Like some films]. Plenty of high-Scrabble-value letters in the fill—SISQO crosses XENON, and there are Zs, Ks, and a J to boot. [Fashion designer Behar] is a new IKE clue for me; am making a mental note of the name now. Favorite clue, which wins for sheer weirdness: [Fighting ___ (unofficial mascot of Mississippi's Delta State)] is OKRA. Fighting Okra? I would do battle against the Fighting Okra.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword begs "GIVE ME SOME SPACE," and includes spaces at the ends of four theme entries—e.g. KNOWLEDGE GAP, PEEPHOLE. There are two vertical 10-letter entries that aren't part of the theme despite their length—LOVE POTION and "CAN'T IT WAIT?"

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle, "TV Set," also has some long vertical answers that aren't part of the theme. Each theme entry contains a word ending in T followed by one starting with V, so a TV is hidden in each. The vertical fill was colorful—a JAM SESSION and BLOW A FUSE in one corner, a tasty CHEESE LOG and animator JOE BARBERA in the other. Overall, a good vibe to the fill.

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April 28, 2008

Tuesday, 4/29

Onion 4:41
Tausig 4:31
NYS 3:15
NYT 3:05
CS 2:59
LAT 2:43

The Tuesday New York Times crossword is sort of an insane hybrid between a Tuesday puzzle (based on about...eight straightforward clues for easy words) and a Friday puzzle (lots of high-end vocabulary and a theme that's subtle while you're working the puzzle). The theme is "A to Z," with five entries that begin with A and end with Z. As someone who grew up with the initials A.Z., I'm partial to this. There's the [Semiautobiographical Bob Fosse movie] ALL THAT JAZZ ("It's showtime, folks!" *cue jazzhands*), ALEX RODRIGUEZ, the [1970s joint U.S./Soviet space project] APOLLO SOYUZ, ALCATRAZ (clued as [The Rock]—my first impulse was to squeeze Dwayne Johnson in there), and [Namesake of a branch of Judaism], ASHKENAZ. Now, I know that "Ashkenazi Jews" is a well-established phrase, but I'd never ever heard of a Biblical personage named Ashkenaz.

ASHKENAZ is of a piece with much of the fill, which is far afield from what one expects to see on a Tuesday. 1-Across is a SKI BUM, [No stranger to the slopes], crossing a SHASTA daisy and MOAB, [Ancient land along the Dead Sea]. Not shouting "easy-peasy Tuesday," really. Alongside ASHKENAZ is JACOBITE, [Supporter of the House of Stuart], and they cross NEW LINE, the ["Lord of the Rings" studio] that is being assimilated by Time-Warner. The SEINE is the [River along the Quai d'Orsay]; there are surely more Tuesday-friendly ways to clue that. Have you heard of MCGUIRE, [New Jersey's ___ Air Force Base]? Speaking of the military, how many correct answers could there be for [Certain NCO]? Here, it's SFC, sergeant first class; apparently American NCOs are mainly sergeants and corporals, but that still embraces SGT, SFC, SSGT, and CPL as possibilities. Did you know that RUPAUL is a [Drag performer with a wax likeness in New York's Madame Tussauds]? Hell, I didn't know New York had a Tussauds. (But I do like RuPaul.) Did you know that the [Arizona birthplace of Cesar Chavez] is YUMA? I want to know if he ever took a 3:10 train there. [It's a piece of work] is somewhat askew for TASK; usually that sort of clue points slyly at a crosswordy ERG. There's also a PYX, or [Eucharist vessel], which came to my mind quickly only because I read a blog comment thread today in which people were punning on transept, nave, apse, and pyx. (No lie!) The most insane swath of this crossword, of course, is the alignment of SYZYGY, or [Alignment of the sun, earth, and moon], and FERULE, or [Punishing rod]. I think I last heard about syzygy when we had that lunar eclipse one bitterly cold evening this past winter. FERULE is defined as a cane or stick used to punish children. Isn't that lovely! It's especially for kids. It's not to be confused with a ferrule, a word with an entirely different etymology; a familiar example of the two-R ferrule is the metal tip that secures a pencil eraser (that link goes to a review of the pencil I buy for my son—he destroys non–Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, but these ones hold up.


The New York Sun puzzle is a joint effort from Kevin George and Bonnie Gentry. The "To the Nth Degree" theme involves adding an N to the end of existing phrases. Thus, we get WONDER BRAN, [Awe-inspiring source of dietary fiber?], for instance, and a KLONDIKE BARN, [Item raised on a Yukon farm?]. (Wait, is a barn properly called an "item"?)

Favorite clues: [Gillian Anderson TV series, with "The"] for X-FILES (new X-Files movie coming this summer!); [Pea jackets?] for PODS; [Tailless feline] for MANX CAT; [Rather formally?] for DANIEL; and [Nutcracker suite?] for NEST (that's a nutcracker in the bird photo).

Updated:

Those of you who have already made generous donations for the fundraising walk I'm participating in this weekend, many thanks! Those of you who haven't seen the post before this one, please take a look. It's not just a plea for donations—there's also information about ovarian cancer that could help save a life.

New in the world of blogs is Pete Mitchell's site devoted to the New York Sun crossword. It's not even a week old, this nascent blog, but if you've been hankering for more focus on the Sun, here's your place.

The LA Times crossword by Michael Blake and Andrea Carla Michaels is a peachy gender-bending delight. Three old movies with Man, Mr., and Sir in the title get their male leads feminized in the clues and their titles reworked in the answers. [1970 Dustina Hoffman saga?] is LITTLE BIG WOMAN; [1939 Roberta Donat film?] is GOODBYE, MRS. CHIPS; and [1967 Cindy Poitier film?] is TO MA'AM WITH LOVE. (I would've gone with Sydney in the clue; it's a very girly name these days, Mr. Greenstreet be damned.) Favorite clues: [Cold explosion?] for ACHOO; ["The Genteel Style in Writing" essayist] for ELIA (in all these years, I don't recall seeing another ELIA clue that gave any details about his essays); and ["Cut it out"] with and without an exclamation point for "DON'T" and "STOP THAT!" The partial I CAME looks odd in the grid; y'know, it could've been clued as a non-partial phrase in the Onion.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Comparable Critters," harks back to another recent puzzle in which one of the first answers in the grid was an exemplar of happiness; I think larks seem happier than clams, because what on earth has a clam got to feel happy about? They sit in the muck filtering dirty water, and sometimes someone breaks their shell open and eats them; not to mention, nobody wants to be described as "clammy." Where is the joy for the clam? Anyway, this crossword has HAPPY AS A CLAM and three other similes that use animals. There's also a LARK, but it's clued as [Carefree escapade]. I know it wouldn't fit the "Comparable Critters" theme, but all this focus on similes reminds me of the line used often on Happy Days in the '70s: "funny as a crutch" (meaning not funny). Is there a word for an ironic/backwards simile like that?

Updated again:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Straight A's," spells the long-A sound in a non-English way: EI without a trailing GH. The United Way turns into the verb phrase UNITED WEI, or [Brought an ancient Chinese dynasty together?]. [Device for having an I.M. conversation?] is the most devious clue in the entire puzzle—that's I.M. Pei and not instant messaging, so it's a PEI PHONE (pay phone). "Lousy lay" turns into a LOUSY LEI, or [Flower wreath with rotten petals, say?]. And ["A half dozen eggs, per favore"?] branches out to Italian for SEI PLEASE (say please). I didn't know LEHI was [Where Samson slew the Philistines], but the crossings helped me out. THE POPE is [Noted Iraq War critic who recently visited the White House]. OUI is the old porn [Magazine in which Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed having an orgy with other bodybuilders]. And KAL PENN is [John Cho's co-star in "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay"]; I liked the first movie and hear this one's funny, too. [Consumes conspicuously?] is SLURPS. BOXY is [Like some modern concept cars]. Overall, a fresh theme that had four good payoffs, fun fill, and interesting clues.

Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword features five phrases that are IN THE NUDE in that the word NUDE brackets other letters in the phrases. For example, NURSE'S AIDE and NO WAY, DUDE. Just one entry completely mystified me here—ASL isn't clued as American Sign Language but rather, [Chat room inquiry abbreviation]; I have no idea what it's short for. Favorite clues: [Eat like an animal?] for RUMINATE, and its neighbor, [Actor seen in credits stuffing his hand down his pants] for ED O'NEILL (from Married With Children).

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And now, something completely different

This Saturday, May 3, I'll be taking part in the 11th Annual Break the Silence: Walk for Ovarian Cancer, held by the Illinois chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The NOCC is the nation's leading ovarian cancer public information and education organization; the group promotes research, raises awareness about ovarian cancer, and provides support for women and families dealing with the disease. If you'd like to sponsor me, please visit my donation page. There's no minimum donation, and every little bit helps. I'm hoping to raise $500 overall.

Thanks for your consideration, and please spread the word about ovarian cancer's nonspecific and deceptive symptoms (more details after the cut). Many women and many physicians don't think to suspect ovarian cancer, so it's incumbent on all of us to be familiar with the symptoms and be able to advocate for ourselves and the women we care for.

One of the biggest reasons that ovarian cancer is so deadly is that the symptoms are so nonspecific. From that Mayo Clinic link comes this information:

Recent studies have shown that women with ovarian cancer are more likely than are other women to consistently experience the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Urinary urgency
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain

Additional signs and symptoms that women with ovarian cancer may experience include:

  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain


Now, how many of those problems have you experienced off and on? A lot, right? Gas, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea are annoyances that strike all of us from time to time. (Pardon the violation of the crossword "Sunday morning breakfast test.") Apparently what marks these as suggestive of ovarian cancer is persistence and worsening—rather than coming and going or acting up depending on what you've eaten, if those vague abdominal symptoms just don't go away and you're female, it's not a bad idea to ask your physician to give you a workup to rule out ovarian cancer. This might include a transvaginal ultrasound, a rectovaginal exam, and/or a blood test to check your CA-125 level. (Note: CA-125 tests can be false-positive and freak you out, or miss many early-stage ovarian cancer cases, so it's not the be-all and end-all of ovarian cancer detection.)

One of the missions of the NOCC is to get this sort of information out there, because many women with ovarian cancer go undiagnosed for months after they become symptomatic. Their doctors may think they're complaining too much, or that they have something benign like irritable bowel syndrome. By the time the symptoms are recognized for what they are and the cancer is diagnosed, too often the disease has spread.

Again, thanks for listening, thanks for anything you are able to donate, and thanks for spreading the word about ovarian cancer's symptoms to women who need this information.

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April 27, 2008

Monday, 4/28

CS 3:27
NYS 3:00
NYT 2:56
LAT 2:48

Note: The solution to Lee Glickstein's puzzle (and exposition on the theme) are now posted.


Because it's a Monday puzzle, Gary Disch's New York Times crossword comes with an explanatory note to render the theme more explicit: the four longest entries, it says, conceal an article of clothing. The middle answer, NECKING, has a clue that already spells that out directly, so I'm not sure why the note is needed—the clue is [Making out...or a hint to this puzzle's four hidden articles of clothing]. Okay! We get the picture. There are four types of neckwear embedded within ROOMS TO LET, NOVA SCOTIA, NASCAR FAN, and ANTI-ELITE. Not every answer in the grid shouts "Monday! So easy!" For example, there's PERGOLA, or [Shaded passageway]; this is a word I know chiefly because my parents used to dine out at La Pergola. I don't know that the XMAS clue is particularly Mondayish—though maybe the rest of you know that's the word that completes [Lennon/Ono's "Happy ___ (War Is Over")]. THRALL for [Slave] seems a tad high-end for Monday, too. Favorite clues: [Old-time actress Turner] for LANA ("old-time"! a lovely sop to the younger generations of solvers); [Michelangelo's David, e.g.] for NUDE; and [Tour de France winner LeMond] for GREG. The clue for PUNS says that [Many conundrums have them]; would someone please provide an example?

My initial reaction to Mark Feldman's New York Sun puzzle, "Punchy Language," is "Why wasn't this last Monday's puzzle??" Last Tuesday, one of the pub trivia questions was "What was the toll-free number for Hooked on Phonics?" We didn't know. Well, the clue for HOOKED ON PHONICS is [Product that can be ordered by calling 1-800-ABCDEFG]. The other theme entries are JABBERWOCKY and CROSSWORD SOLVER, and the beginnings of all three, HOOK, JAB, and CROSS, are types of punches in boxing. Vices lurk in the corners of the grid—BEER CANs and cigarettes with LESS TAR. Roger EBERT is clued as ["At the Movies" cohost]; given that his speech was not restored by his last round of neck surgery, I think that's a historical clue. (And this month, he had surgery for a hip fracture and had to miss his annual festival of overlooked films.)

Updated:

I'm not crazy about the theme concept in Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword—J AND B whiskey, with two-word phrases that start with J and B—but I love the execution. Not only does every theme entry have a Scrabbly J in it, but there are six of them besides J AND B, and two of them have double Zs, one has an X, and one has a K. So overall, the Scrabble count is high in this puzzle. The theme phrases are lively, too—JOY BUZZER, JINGLE BELLS, "JUST BECAUSE." Favorite clue: [Bony jabbers] for ELBOWS. It's got a touch of J AND B action, and "Bony jabbers!" sounds like a euphemistic curse.

A couple commenters have already mentioned their difficulty with today's CrosSynergy puzzle. (Thanks for avoiding specific spoilers—I hadn't seen the puzzle yet.) Your explanation is in the byline: The crossword is by BOB KLAHN. His CrosSynergy puzzles are harder than the usual CrosSynergy offering about...95% of the time. He's known to be one of the tougher and twistier cluers in the business. When the byline has his name, toss out any expectations of a super-easy crossword. As for the theme, the title provides a big hint: it's "Finger Exercise" because all four 15-letter theme entries begin with words that can follow "finger." Fingerprint (PRINT JOURNALISM), fingertip (TIP OF THE ICEBERG), finger sandwich (SANDWICH ISLANDS), and fingerpaint (PAINT THE TOWN RED). My favorite clues: [Well-rewarded?] for RICH (I think it's because an oil well can make you rich); the verb [Square things] for ATONE (I suspect many of us read it as a noun first); [Serve behind bars?] for TEND (bartending, not serving time in jail); three meanings of "slip" in [Half slip?]/BOO (half of "boo-boo"), [Slip in the pot]/IOU, and [Slip or trip]/ERR; and [Something for Yum-Yum's tummy] for an OBI (sash). Never heard of [Gaming guru John] SCARNE; you can read about him here.

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April 26, 2008

Sunday, 4/27

PI 9:13
BG 8:29
NYT 7:55
LAT 7:15
CS 4:07

The Sunday New York Times puzzle by teenaged constructor Oliver Hill captivated me. The "Oops!" theme shines a cruel spotlight on IMPROPERLY SPELLED words. Wow, there are so many words that are so frequently misspelled, it must've been tough to narrow the list down to just 10. (Wait, the clue specifies that these were the top 10 from a 1999 study of the most frequently misspelled words. That'll narrow it down pretty effectively!) The shortest theme answers are 9 letters long, but look down there at 105-Across—WAVERS means [Is undecided], but how often have we seen waiver and waver interchanged? Further mixing things up, TOOTSY, or [Foot, slangily], asked me to spell it TOOTSIE, an accepted alternative. And DOPY, [Half-baked], wanted to be DOPEY. (Either is correct.)

A couple of the misspellings gave me pause. I know how to spell inoculate, but is the misspelling Hill is looking for the one with two Ns or two Cs? Google, after the fact, demonstrates that the two-N spelling that makes it look related to innocuous is the most common booboo, and indeed, INNOCULATE is what's in the puzzle.

Let me spell the theme out for you, and try not to spell those words correctly:

  • [Long, long time] should be millennium but is MILLENIUM. Crikey, that misspelling Googles up about 25 million hits of wrongness.
  • [Stick with a needle] is the aforementioned INNOCULATE (inoculate).
  • [Absence at a nudist colony?] is EMBARASSMENT (embarrassment).
  • [Bugs] is HARRASSES (harasses).
  • [Wee] is MINISCULE (minuscule).
  • [Conspicuous] is NOTICABLE (noticeable).
  • [Supplant] is SUPERCEDE (supersede). Antecede, precede, intercede...and proceed and supersede. If you haven't got a knack for memorizing exceptions, being a good speller in English is tough.
  • [Doggedness] is PERSEVERENCE (perseverance). I half expected an extra R, in "perserverance" or "perserverence."
  • [Oblige] is ACCOMODATE (accommodate). This one burned my mom in a grade-school spelling bee, and she was scarred for life. (My spelling-bee bête noire was sergeant.)
  • [Event] is OCCURENCE (occurrence).

Favorite clues and answers, and things I feel like commenting on:
  • [Tribal council makeup, often] is ELDERS. I racked my brain trying to figure out what they call the contestants on Survivor.
  • [Like the carol "Away in a Manger," originally] is LUTHERAN. Different sects had their own carols? Huh.
  • [What a Tennessee cheerleader asks for a lot?] is AN E. ANE is lousy fill, but a good clue like this can redeem it.
  • [Suffix not seen much in London] is IZE. Again, an unmoored suffix is lousy fill, but I like it with this clue.
  • [Attempts] is HAS A GO AT, which looks like HAS A GOAT every time I see it in the grid. Did you have a goat? It's only fair for everyone to get a chance to have a goat.
  • [Like some pens] means ERASABLE. For my paper-based crossword solving, I waver between Erasermate pens and the Pentel TwistErase 0.9 mm mechanical pencil. You were dying to know that, I'm sure.
  • [Symbol of happiness] is a CLAM, but might also be a lark, no?
  • [Mustang competitor] is the Pontiac GRAND AM? Hardly! My son says, "That doesn't look like a fast car."
  • [Tops] is ONE-UPS. I was so tempted by OUTDOS once the O was in place, but no no no. That would be IMPROPERLY SPELLED.
  • [Disarming words?] to someone with a gun: DROP IT!
  • ["Bro!"] left me wondering for a while. "MY MAN!"
  • [Cliff] is SCAR, and I'm not quite sure why. Can you explain it?
  • [They're seen in many John Constable paintings] is ELMS, and I don't recall seeing such a clue before. 
  • [Orator's no-no] is a MONOTONE.
  • [Target of many a Bart Simpson prank call] is MOE Szyslak.
  • [Rare imports] are EXOTICA. Why was I trying to think of another word for an vinyl record from abroad?
  • PERK UP is the [Opposite of "nod off"]. I need to perk up.
  • [Parish priests] pulls double duty for VICARS and the French-sounding CURES.
  • [Matriarchs] can be DAMES, but also MAMAS. I wonder how many people didn't find their way to the correct DAMES.
  • [International chain of fusion cuisine restaurants] is NOBU? None of Nobu's 20 or so restaurants are in the Midwest.


Updated:

In his Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite, "What's On?", Henry Hook comes up with workable puns for seven words that mean "clothing." My favorite is the long one in the middle, EVERYBODY LOVES RAIMENT, clued as [Why no one opts to go nude?]. The other ones didn't grab me as much, but look how fancy—at the top and bottom, there are stacked theme entries. The time the theme did take a while to work itself out, but it finally became clear midway through the puzzle. Strangest word in the grid: CAMBS, or [Ely's county in Eng.]. The abbreviated "Eng." must mean the answer is an abbreviation too—indeed, Wikipedia confirms that it's short for Cambridgeshire. Two favorite clues: [Period ending a sentence?] for PAROLE and [Many end with "ite"] for ORES.

Updated again Sunday morning:

I solved Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Dressing the Part," last night. Like the Hook puzzle, this one also had a clothing pun theme—this time, with specific parts of a hypothetical outfit included. MY CUFF RUNNETH OVER swaps in a cuff for a cup, and the other theme entries contain a SLEEVE, BODICE, LAPEL, V-NECKS, POCKET, COLLAR, ad BUTTON. THE SLEEVE TRADE fails my breakfast test, as it's punning on the slave trade. (I'd take ENEMA over the slave trade any day, unless the theme is, say, about the history of the abolitionist movement.) I was nodding off whilel I was doing the crossword last night, so I regret that I don't remember any favorite answers or clues. The relatives are coming over today for Ben's familial birthday party, so I'm too short on time to review the puzzle now.

Tyler Hinman's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Foreign Exchange," meets me in my wheelhouse. Geography plus anagramming? Count me in! The 11 theme answers (one in the middle split into two entries) consist of a short country name followed by a one-word anagram of it. For example, [Way to get to Asia?] is NEPAL PLANE, [Red Sea region invader?] is YEMEN ENEMY, [Mideast soap?] is ISRAEL / SERIAL (wow, I spent a long time thinking of 6-letter words that meant "soap you clean with" rather than "soap opera"), and [Dance in Oceania?] is TONGA TANGO. The theme was fun and (at least for a fan of both anagrams and geography) easy. The fill and clues were definitely Hinmanesque—plenty of sports, colloquialisms like "NO BIGGIE" and"NO SHIRT, no shoes, no service," a touch of tech with JPEG, PIXEL, ISPS, and [Phishing, e.g.] for SCAM. Favorite clues: [Toe or two] for DIGIT (isn't that a fantastic clue?); [Phrase in which "of" may be mistakenly inserted?] for "AS YET"; and [Kind of dog?] for SLY.

Randy Ross's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is fairly easy owing to the cluing, which tended to be direct. Direct, but not boring—and linked to some lively fill. Favorite parts: [Red Bull ingredient] for CAFFEINE; [Part of FWIW] for IT'S (FWIW is shorthand for "for what it's worth"); the JAGUAR XKE ([1961 U.K. auto debut]) crossing XTERRA ([Nissan SUV])—both Xs isolated away from vowels; ["Doctor" friend of 29-Across] for Dr. DRE, friend of ICE-T; [Reason for a Hail Mary pass] in football, DESPERATION; LOVED ONE; ELEVEN A.M., the [Time marked on Veterans Day]; and LIMA PERU and SE-RI PAK in their complete incarnations.

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April 25, 2008

Saturday, 4/26

NYT 8:50 (really—the applet added 13 lousy seconds)
Newsday 6:09
LAT 5:38
CS 3:04

I am scarily behind on so many things. For instance, I wanted to tell you my first published crossword is in the Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #1, which was published in January. It was a joint effort with Vic Fleming from about two years ago. It had been long enough since I saw the puzzle that I had no idea it wasn't a 15x15. So when I bought the book to look for my puzzle, I couldn't find it in the 15x15 section. Someone else pointed me to puzzle #166, a 19x19. Aha! This same book has a crossword by editor John Samson called "Premier Puzzlers," with an insidery theme of ACPT winners—mostly the champions but also two B Division winners (*waving hello*). So Vic, thanks for the coaching and collegiality. John, thanks for publishing the one puzzle and aggrandizing me in the other. If you'd like a crossword book with 300 puzzles for about $10 from Amazon—that's about 3¢ a crossword, people!—click the link above and go buy this one. The pages are perforated so you can tear pages out for solving...if you can bring yourself to remove pages from a book. (If you can't rip, you can still work the puzzles bound in the book.)

More recent news on the crossword construction front: My first Sunday puzzle, a joint venture with Tony Orbach, will be appearing in the New York Times. When? I don't know. Sometime. On a Sunday. And yes, I am exactly as excited as you suspect. Thanks, Tony, for getting the ball rolling, doing the heavy lifting, and not mixing metaphors.

And now, on with a crossword with which I have had no involvement other than solving—Brad Wilber's New York Times puzzle. I was surprised to see the time the applet standings listed for me, because the applet is lying. Really. Here's my answer grid with a modestly better solving time shown. (9:03, my foot.)


Granted, I did get off to a slow start with a sleepy head, but eventually I found answers I could build off of and made it through even the most mystifying answers with the help of crossings. What's mystifying? Oh, I think you know: CURATE'S EGG is [Something damned with faint praise, in British lingo]. I won't Google this one, but I hope one of you has heard this phrase before and has something edifying to say about it. There were assorted other clues that rang no bells for me—[Swedish soprano noted for her Wagnerian roles]? Well, NILSSON sounds Swedish and the crossings pointed that way. [Gunsmith Remington]'s first name was PHILO? I'm tapped out after Philo Vance and philo majors. [Its currency unit is the ariary] could've been insoluble except once I had the MAD, MADAGASCAR asserted itself. [Time of Ta'anit Esther] shouts "Hebrew month!" and it looked to start with an A, which pretty well narrowed it down to ADAR. WEBER is the [Max who wrote "Politics as a Vocation"]; I knew it couldn't be artist Max Ernst, but it still took a while to extricate WEBER's name from the recesses of the brain. There's a TREE RAT ([Small, furry African climber])? Great. It can join tree snakes in my nightmares.

Favorite clues:

  • [Pound sign letters] didn't fool me for long—it's the SPCA.
  • [Galley output] made me think of galley proofs for books and rowing rather than a boat's kitchen producing CHOW.
  • When HIVE is in the grid ([Center of industry]), it's hard to see that [Drones] are non-apian MENIALS.
  • The [O. Henry specialty] was 5 letters too long to be IRONY—PLOT TWISTS works nicely.
  • [Cell's lack] is a PHONE LINE. Remember when those gadgets were called "car phones" and they were gigantic? Only the fancy people had that antenna plunked on the trunk of their car. (If you are under 25, you may have no idea what I'm talking about.)
  • [Green dragon and skunk cabbage] are ARUMS. Yay, botany! I don't know the green dragon but I know smelly skunk cabbage. (Jack-in-the-pulpit is related.)
  • ["Lose" at the office] addled me by making me think of "I gave at the office." It's MISFILE.
  • [Replacer of the Humble brand in the early 1970s] is EXXON. Too bad they changed. An oil spill from the Humble Valdez would have been easier to accept.
  • I drew a blank with [Douglas is its capital]. Even when ISLE filled in at the beginning, I wasn't sure where it was going. Eventually I deduced that OF followed, and that left 3 letters for MAN. Cool! A geography tidbit I didn't know.
  • [High-occupancy vehicles?] here are CLOWN CARS and hence not ideal for the carpool lane—though I suppose there's no reason a street-legal clown car couldn't drive in the HOV lane (which, by the way, is not a concept that's used in Chicagoland).
  • [Cavernous opening] is a MAW. I just like that word.

Coolest answers:
  • I AM A CAMERA and MRS MINIVER are works of stage and screen featuring women, and they're stacked (together).
  • WAX POETIC, or [Rhapsodize], is a great phrase.
  • C'EST SI BON is the [Song title followed by the lyric "Lovers say that in France"].
  • There are two birds in a row, the [Raspy flier] RAVEN and the [Cousin of a sandpiper] called a CURLEW (the etymology is Middle English from Old French, in case you wondered).

I didn't care for the [Buds]/MACS pairing. The disdainful "Listen here, bud" and "All right, mac" work in the singular, but does anyone ever talk about MACS in the plural, aside from computers or raincoats?

Updated:

Cruciverb.com, the exclusive source of Los Angeles Times crosswords in Across Lite, isn't working at the moment. Pooh.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" wasn't as fun as most of his themelesses. That's no slam on this puzzle—it's praise for Doug's prevailing style. This one, CORN CHEX or no (that's a [Party-mix ingredient]), struck me as a little drier than usual. Favorite clues: [Kept informed, in a way] for CCED; [Spoke harshly] for CAWED (wow, that's underused in referring to speech; I'm gonna start using that more!); [King's home] for CNN (that's Larry King); [Struck] for EDITED OUT; [Was thick with] for KNEW (that one didn't come naturally to me); and [Ones with big food bills] for TOUCANS.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy crossword, "Tin Types," has theme entries with the following clues: [Tin star], [Tin hat], [Tin foil], and [Tin can] (the answers are expansions of those—ALUMINUM FOIL and FOOD CONTAINER, for example). I'm not sure if there's a good way to define "tin ear" in 15 letters or less, but I halfheartedly looked for an EAR in the grid. There's EER, RARE, EARL, and ERR, but no EAR. Words I learned from crosswords long ago abound: ASTI, ALIT, ERNS, SLOE, STERES, and TAW. These are the sorts of words an American schoolchild is not likely to be exposed to (though I'll bet marbles-playing kids of the generations before me knew TAW).

Updated again:

Robert Wolfe constructed today's LA Times crossword. The grid is anchored by three 15-letter colloquial phrases: "HOLD THAT THOUGHT" (["We'll get to it"]), "EAT YOUR HEART OUT" (["Neener neener!" cousin]), and "NO CONCERN OF MINE" (["I don't care"]).

There are some Newsdayesque short and ambiguous clues:
  • [Works] is the verb phrase HAS A JOB (not a plural noun).
  • [Smashed] is IN PIECES (not "drunk").
  • [Fast] is PRONTO (not the verb or the "tight" sense).
  • [Turns] is ROTS (not "rotates" or the at-bats/dice rolls sense).
  • [Intimate] is the verb GET AT (not the adjective or noun).
  • [Corner] is the verb TREE (not the noun).

Other clues of note:
  • [Saltwater phenomena?] for TEARS.
  • [Bad-looking ones?] for OGLERS.
  • [Larry David HBO sitcom, initially] for CYE (Curb Your Enthusiasm).
  • [Blacks in literature] for the pluralized poetic color EBONS.
  • ["The Flying Dutchman" soprano] for SENTA.
  • [Opposite of a standing order?] for "BE SEATED."
  • [Short-lived team nickname used in response to McCarthyism] for REDLEGS" the Cincinnati Reds began as the Red Stockings but shortened it to Reds in 1890; being worried that people would associate the team with Communism is as ridiculous as renaming french fries "freedom fries."
  • [1962 Best New Artist Grammy winner] is Robert GOULET: Although Wikipedia puts him in 1963. It's an amusing list—sometimes the award goes to an artist of lasting influence (Mariah Carey over Wilson Phillips? Good call), and sometimes it's clearly wrong (A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello?!?).
  • [Pianist Ciccolini] for ALDO: he sounds eminent, though I'd never heard of him. We share a birthday.
  • A [News show quickie] is not sex during Nightline—it's a SOUNDBITE.
  • [Word with hard or head] is LINER; I cannot explain why I confidently entered LIGHT first. Hard light?

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Bonus puzzle from Lee Glickstein

Lee Glickstein, whose New York Times and New York Sun puzzles you've enjoyed, has a bit of a transgressive streak. Some crosswords just go a little too far over the edge to be suitable for a daily newspaper, and the Onion A.V. Club's puzzle editor, Ben Tausig, doesn't take outside submissions. In the past, Lee crafted some "Topical Punch" puzzles that drew on late-night TV show punchlines, and that sort of topical humor loses its immediacy quickly—those, too, had no home in traditional crossword publishing venues.

The internet, of course, offers a perfect (albeit usually unpaid) way to share content. Behold, Lee's "Picky, Picky" in Across Lite, parked in my Google Groups page. I hope you enjoy it—I did! If you do like it, please be sure to leave your hosannas for Lee in the comments, as that's the only remuneration he's getting for this crossword.

(Lee, thanks for sharing it!)

Updated to add more info about the puzzle and the solution, below the fold:

Did you notice the depth of the theme concept here? First, the standard theme: the letters NIT are inserted in phrases to create each theme entry. Each theme entry's clue is phrased as a complaining, carping bit of nitpicking. Many of the fill answers' clues are worded to accentuate the negative—for example, [Vexingly theatrical actor] is a HAM. Poet LEROI Jones is clued with a line that includes the word "against." The ABBA song is a demanding "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme." FEET are an [Oft-smelly pair]. And then some of the fill is negative in and of itself—see A DRAG and ANNOY. And DELOUSE ties in to the literal meaning of "nit."

Why? Because sometimes nitpickers seem to be negative about every darn thing, and there's no pleasing them. If you take a pretty good crossword and focus on two things that bugged you, why not turn your attention to a crossword that takes your vexation as a given?


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April 24, 2008

Friday, 4/25

NYT 5:32
NYS 5:28
LAT 5:26
CHE 5:16
CS 3:26
Jonesin' 3:12

WSJ 7:01

I've shorted myself on sleep for the last two nights and am off to a late start on the Friday puzzles (on Thursday night!), so I don't trust myself to solve the Friday Sun in a sentient fashion tonight. In the morning, with all the rest.

Mike Nothnagel's New York Times crossword was right in my Chicago wheelhouse. There's NAVY PIER, the [Landmark on the Chicago shoreline]; Henry HYDE, [1995-2001 Judiciary Committee chairman]; and ex-Cub Sammy SOSA, [Future star athlete who debuted with the Rangers in 1989]. Chicago's Field Museum also has the Sue skeleton, Sue being one of those T. REXES ([Some natural history museum attractions]). This 68-worder is dressed up with a mini-theme of sorts, the 24-letter phrase "PENNY WISE AND / POUND FOOLISH" split among two entries. Those are crossed by the [Long-running Art and Chip Sansom comic strip] THE BORN LOSER and [Fictional secret agent] MAXWELL SMART, and all four of these long answers hook up with chunks of 8-letter answers in the corners of the grid in a lovely sprawling fashion.

Favorite clues (and there are quite a few of them):

  • [Tournament organizer's concern] is BRACKETS. I also considered TOP SEEDS.
  • [Simple inflorescence, as in a lily-of-the-valley] is a RACEME. Don't you love botany quizzes?
  • ["___ Kommissar" (1983 pop hit)] is completed by DER. "Alles klar, der Kommissar"! Here's the truly insane MTV video that I probably saw dozens of times in '83. Also from the '80s: ["T.J. Hooker" actor Adrian] ZMED.
  • [Food described in Exodus] is MATZO. Am I the only one who went for MANNA first? Timely, given that Passover is running until April 27 this year. What the heck is a pope doing next to the MATZO? LEO I is clued [He was succeeded by his archdeacon Hilarius]. 
  • [Start to salivate?] is the letter ESS, of course.
  • [Work out] could go in a number of directions; here, it's SOLVE.
  • [Its logo is a goateed man in an apron] for...what? Oh, KFC! Of course.
  • [Two strikes?] of a billiards ball could be a CAROM.
  • [Fill up with gas] is AERATE; man, I hope I'm not the only one who thought anatomical and INHALE.
  • [Rushing home?] is the football field, or GRIDIRON.
  • [No Oscar contender] for a B MOVIE. I'm just glad it wasn't EMOTER.
  • An ECG, or electrocardiogram, is indeed a [Thing that keeps track of the beat?: Abbr.]. Also from the medical arena: STEROID, an [Inflammation reducer].
  • [Dinar earner], ending in B, was tricky. I went straight for ARAB, but the answer is SERB.
  • [Need to get hitched: Abbr.] is a marriage license, or LIC. for short.
  • [It's never right] is ACUTE, because an acute angle is less than 90°.

Favorite answers:
  • MUCHACHO is an [Hombre-to-be].
  • GO AWOL means to [Disappear, in a way].
  • ST. PETER'S Basilica—[Its dome was designed by Michelangelo].
  • ICED TEAS and OOLONGS ([Gunpowder alternatives]) give the one-two caffeine punch.

My biggest "Huh?" answer was ETTA, or [Editorial cartoonist Hulme]. Who? Apparently She's Texas-centric, so I don't know how well-known she is nationally. Etta James can't take the lead every time, I suppose. And Ettas Place and Kett, I could do without.

Updated:

I need to buckle down and do some editing, so super-short writeups of the puzzles are all the work procrastination I can spare today.

Kelsey Blakley's New York Sun crossword, "Like Heads and Tails," gathers four two-word phrases in which the beginning and end of both words are the same letter: the RUHR RIVER, TEMPEST-TOST, EDDIE EAGLE, DROPPED DEAD, SEES STARS, and, split into two entries, PHILIP PIRRIP (Pip of Great Expectations). A couple favorite clues: literally/scientifically [Tinny] for STANNIC; literally/scientifically [With feeling] for SENSATE; and the German [Sechs + fünf] for ELF (that's six + five = eleven—twelve is even better because zwölf is fun to say).

I really enjoyed Gary Steinmehl's LA Times puzzle. Each theme entry's missing an O, which is the FIFTEENTH LETTER. A BETTER MUSE TRAP (mousetrap) is a [New device that can capture Euterpe?], for example, and [Fencing displays at Nevada's Excalibur?] are VEGAS LUNGE ACTS (lounge acts). Sort of tough fill (TELA is a [Honduras seaside city]? New to me) and clues throughout—perfect on a Friday! What's harder to notice without reading the full clue for FIFTEENTH LETTER (and Across Lite on screen on a Mac makes it hard to see those long clues) is that the letter O is also left out of the grid and every single clue. The clues felt hard, but not crazily stilted as can happen when there's a constraint like this. RHEE can't use "Korean" in the clue because it has an O, and [Asian president, 1948-1960] involves a much broader category—but the clue didn't read weird because of the lack of an O.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword's called "Dis, Dat, and De Udder." The theme entries turn TH into D: a thumbnail image becomes a DUMB NAIL IMAGE, and thirty-five is DIRTY FIVE. My favorite clue was the first one: [AC/DC output]. Not electricity, but ROCK music. D'oh!

Jack McInturff uses literary puns for his Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Author, Author." [Authors who collaborated on "The Civil War Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"?] parses as the author of the first title in there, Shelby Foote and the author of the second mashed-up title, Anita Loos: FOOTE LOOS, which sounds like "footloose." "The Mammoth Lassie Hunters Come Home" merges Jean Auel and somebody Knight: KNIGHT AUEL sounds like "night owl." I like this theme—fun and erudite at the same time, like most of the Chronicle puzzles.

I made it through Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle quickly despite the inclusion of music names I didn't know. The "Hard Body" theme entries combine one metal and one body part: IRON LUNG, the band NICKELBACK, BRASS BALLS ([What closers need, per "Glengarry Glen Ross"]—isn't it fun to withhold something from someone and explain that it's because "cake is for closers" or "the remote control is for closers"?), and three more.

Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "You Can Blank on It," turns B-words into BL-words. My favorites: BLESS TRUMAN and THE BANANA BLOAT SONG. Had no idea that BAZOOM completed the [1954 hit "(___) I Need Your Lovin'"]. TRIPES are [Popular French dishes]? Ick! I started out with CREPES because organ meats are generally far from my mind.

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April 23, 2008

Thursday, 4/24

NYS 5:51
NYT 3:53
LAT tba
CS 3:16

Happy birthday to my son Ben, who turns 8 on Thursday. Birthday greetings also to three other charming people born on April 24—you know who you are.

Michael Langwald's New York Times crossword has a rebus puzzle (not in the sense that crossword folks use the term rebus for squares containing multiple letters) hiding within it. The [1965 hit by the performers suggested phonetically by the ends of 18-, 24-. 37- and 56-Across] is Sonny and Cher's "I GOT YOU BABE". (Here's an ancient video clip of their performance.) The four entries that are referenced are MIDNIGHT SUN ([Summer arctic phenomenon]), WOUNDED KNEE ([1890 battle site that's now a memorial]), SAINT ANNE ([Grandmother of Jesus]—really? I did not know that), and MARKET SHARE ([Measure of a company's dominance]). The ends run together thus: SUN KNEE ANNE SHARE. Seems like an odd way to assemble a crossword theme, but it's a good odd and a welcome departure from the ordinary.

I really should have finished the puzzle faster—the answers were tumbling easily, but the typing thereof? Not so smooth. TO SCALE was TOSSCAL the first two times I tried to enter it, and I kept typing answers in the wrong direction or order. Oy! Here's a clue I don't understand: SOL is clued with [G]. Are those equivalent musical notes or something? Favorite clues: [Mayo can be found in it] for AÑO (Spanish "year," Spanish month of May); [Hamilton who wrote "Mythology"] for EDITH (a highlight of high school, that book); [It'll never fly] for EMU; ["Sanford and Son" setting] for WATTS (Sonny and Cher's TV shows and Sanford and Son both ran from 1971 to 1977—and I was watching them); and [Prepare to serve] for ENLIST (I was thinking first of food served on a tray, then of tennis). I didn't know that CHUTNEY was [Condiment made with a mortar and pestle], but I did know that I love chutney, especially to cut the heat of curry spices. BERTHA was [Charlemagne's mother]? (Also known as Bertrada of Laon, who hooked up with King Pippin the Short, who may or may not have been a hobbit.) [War preceder] wasn't HEIGHTENED TENSIONS at all but rather, MAN O'. Did you know the Portuguese man o' war is not a jellyfish? Read all about it. [Cross as ___ (annoyed)] is A BEAR, and I don't know how many people still use that phrase—but bears certainly can be cross, as demonstrated by the one from the Will Ferrell movie that just killed its trainer this week. (Eek. Poor guy.)

The New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" is by Sue Alexander, and I don't recognize the name—a constructor's debut? She's got a smooth mini-theme: FEET ON THE GROUND and HEAD IN THE CLOUDS. I wonder if it's intentional that their locations are topsy-turvy, or if the fill just wasn't working with THE CLOUDS up top.


Favorite entries and clues: BIKER BAR, clued as [Hangout where you might see a lot of hogs]; SICK AS A DOG; the literal MOON-WALKER or astronaut [Alan Bean, for one]; [Hit singer, perhaps?] for RAT (who might "sing" or rat on a hitman); and [Things assumed to be false?] for ALIASES.

Updated:

Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy crossword is a good mid-week puzzle. The "Female Leads" in the theme entries (unified by SHE at 66-Down) are female animals, but those words are part of longer words in the two shorter theme entries and span two words in the longer ones. There's a SOW in SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW and a DOE in DO EXACTLY AS I SAY—both great entries even if you ignore the animal gimmick. HENRY CLAY and COWABUNGA contain a HEN and COW. Bonus points to the constructor for plunking WILDEBEEST in there as a fill answer.

David Kwong also has a cool theme in his LA Times puzzle. PETER AND THE WOLF anchors the theme, and the other four theme entries are phrases in which a word is replaced by the instrument that portrays that character in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The oboe plays the part of the duck, I have learned from a great many crossword clues over the years. So duck and cover ([Protection method from flying debris]) becomes OBOE AND COVER. There's a bird represented by the flute, so we get a tropical FLUTE OF PARADISE ([New Guinea's black sicklebill, e.g.]). Grandfather and bassoon are linked, so grandfather clock ([Tall timekeeper]) is a BASSOON CLOCK. And the clarinet stands in for the cat, so cat burglar ([Stealthy sort]) becomes CLARINET BURGLAR. The theme's explained in a Notepad note in Across Lite; I suppose the same explanation is given in the actual newspaper. That's probably a good thing, because if you don't know anything about PETER AND THE WOLF, the theme entries would be truly mystifying.

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April 22, 2008

Wednesday, 4/23

NYS 5:17
NYT 4:01
CS 3:34
LAT 2:50

Yep, that's right. I haven't done any of the Wednesday puzzles yet, and it's too late now. Am out the door to trivia in a minute. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves in the comments if you've done the New York Sun and/or New York Times crosswords—I will try to remember not to read those comments before I've done the puzzles. And if I should spoil my solves by reading comments first, I will have no one to blame but myself—unless someone else offers to take the blame.

Late Tuesday night:

I started reading the blog comments after coming home from trivia (we took second place and are positioned well for the new six-week cumulative points total prize chase—$600 for our team if we come out on top after six weeks), and Alex said he would accept the blame for spoiling—and that's as far as I got. Thanks for the save, Alex! I was going to blithely read comments until I regretted it, but you saved me.

Stephen Edward Anderson had his debut puzzle quite recently, and here's his second New York Times crossword already. Way to go, SEA! He's an expat living in Europe (and a semi-regular on the NYT forum), so of course his theme is ur-Americana: cowboys and their horses. QUICKSILVER, CHART TOPPER, HAIR-TRIGGER, and TALENT SCOUT all end with famous horses, and 30- and 27-Down spell out RIDE 'EM / COWBOY. W-w-wait, TOPPER? Wha? Google tells me that's the name of Hopalong Cassidy's horse. SILVER goes with the Lone Ranger, TRIGGER is Roy Rogers, and Scout is...let me look this up...the horse belonging to Tonto, the Lone Ranger's pal. I'm quite fond of an OKAY GUY ([Nice enough fellow]) in the fill.

Robert E. Lee Morris's New York Sun crossword, "Alcohol Containers," has a theme I didn't see while solving. What is it? Let me take a look. Aha! Embedded within the five theme entries are kinds of liquor. RIVER MOUTHS, LAST OUTLAW, NUMERIC KEYPAD, VAPOR TRAIL, and TWIN-ENGINED split some alcohol between two words. (Edited to add: Reader Joon notes that the last theme entry is also serving GIN.) The [2004 Israeli film set during Sukkoth] was a complete mystery to me: USHPIZIN. I am far too sleepy to remark further.

Updated:

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Spin Doctoring," puts TURN at 63-Down to tie the theme entries together—each phrase's final word can follow "turn." Having actress JULIA STILES among the ordinary nouns in the theme adds a little élan. With actors JOSH Duhamel, ILKA Chase, Lotte LENYA, and Esther ROLLE and L.A. Laker player Lamar ODOM in the fill, this really felt like an LA Times crossword.

The theme in Billie Truitt's LA Times puzzle feels like I've seen it before—a vowel progression running through the beginning of five theme entries—but a quick check of the Cruciverb.com database doesn't turn up anything obvious with these particular theme entries. PAPARAZZI has just three prior uses in the database, all in themelesses. The letter P just plain has a fun sound—peppy and poppy—so the progression through PEPPERONI, PIPSQUEAK, POPPYCOCK, and PUPPY LOVE works beautifully. These words/phrases share a consistent vibe—substituting flat entries like PAPER CUTS and PEPPER BOX and PIPE STEMS wouldn't be nearly as effective. Terrific group of theme entries + solid and Scrabbly fill = good crossword.

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April 21, 2008

Tuesday, 4/22

Onion 5:02
Tausig 4:18
NYS 3:36
LAT 3:21
NYT 3:09
CS 2:50

Well, Friday's NET LEASES and Monday's WASH SALE were leading us straight to the Tuesday New York Times crossword's theme. Here, there are four financial terms, all clued with a twist on the first word's meaning. NET EARNINGS hook into a fishing net, CAPITAL GAINS are tied to a seat of government, a newspaper publisher might have PAPER PROFITS, and [Salary for selling insects for food?] could be construed as GROSS INCOME indeed. 1-Across launches the puzzle straight into trickery: Just as yesterday brought a different crossword with a SILENT C in it, here HARD G is clued as [What a gal has that a gent doesn't?]. Now, count how many other 5-letter things there are that a gal has that a gent does not. I can think of at least three, beginning with OVARY. ERIE shows up for the second day in a row with an unusual clue—this time, [Lake next to Avon Lake], which is not a lake I know. The less-seldom-seen AMEER spelling clocks in ([Mideast pooh-bah]), crossing HARD G at the A—so the tricky 1-Across didn't even have completely obvious crossings. How well-known is the hockey term DEKES, [Fakes out with fancy footwork]? I didn't know it before the 2005 ACPT finals puzzle taught it to me.

The title of Michael Langwald's New York Sun crossword, "I Before E As in Movie," means that an I and E are combined and added inside movie titles. For instance, [Movie about an amp hauler's African journey?] is ROADIE TO MOROCCO, based on Road to Morocco + IE. In the fill, ONO gets a clue I don't recall seeing before—[Sponsor of Central Park's Strawberry Fields]. I thought I knew my desserts, but had no inkling that [Frangipane nut] was an ALMOND. (Frangipane is apparently named after a different guy named Frangipani than the fragrant Plumeria/frangipani shrubs or trees.) Who is DINO Valenti? [Quicksilver Messenger Service lead singer Valenti] seems to convey plenty of information, and Wikipedia has still more—yet I still have no clue. Don't know their/his songs at all.

Updated:

"Emote" alert: Entertainment Weekly just reported that Was (Not Was) has a new album out, with one of their trademark odd guest vocals from the "minimal-voiced" Kris Kristofferson. They asked him not to emote too much because they were going to layer the sound of a cattle stampede over his vocals, and Kristofferson laughed because usually he's being encouraged to emote. Why? Because emoting seems to have pejorative connotations mainly in crosswords. Why, here's some advice for aspiring Broadway performers: "Emote. The best actors know how to emote, but also know how to emote effectively."

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword has four seemingly unrelated phrases but, as the "End Game" title hints, each phrase ends with a word that's also a game. We have TROUBLE (the Pop-o-matic die is less engaging than I remember from childhood) and SORRY, Ben might get CLUE for his birthday, and RISK doesn't excite me despite its geography aspect. Props to the constructor for getting SKYPE in there—boy, is it handy to have a free way to talk on the phone with an overseas friend. I don't recall seeing it in a crossword before, but perhaps it's been in a Tausig or Jonesin' puzzle.

Norm Guggenbiller's LA Times crossword places its title within the grid: JOIN FORCES. (Yes, the same Norm Guggenbiller who, according to his blog comment, is a resident of Avon Lake, Ohio. That's beside Lake Erie, you know...) The other three theme entries begin with "___ force" entities: POLICE (WORK), AIR (SECURITY), and LABOR (STRIKE). NO, wait! They end with "___ force" entities, too: work force, security force, strike force. I didn't notice that at first and was underwhelmed. Six thematic components is more impressive than three, and while the theme phrases are rather dry, they yield six solid "___ force" phrases. I have no idea how LIFO ("last in, first out") is used as a [Inventory evaluation meth.]. Minor peccadillo in the clue for 46-Down, IN A JAM: it includes the word in although that appears in the answer ([In need of bailing out, perhaps]). [Needing to be bailed out, perhaps] is clumsier phrasing but ESCHEWs the in issue. (HECTIC and ESCHEW appear beside one another in this grid, and despite the part-of-speech problem, I like the idea of "The Hectic Eschew" as a band name.)

Updated:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Generational Shift," takes phrases that end with a word that is (or can be) an adult animal and substitutes the name for the young of that species. The resulting phrase is clued as if it has nothing to do with a young animal. A papal bull is a PAPAL CALF, or a [Lower muscle in the Vatican?], for example, and Rommel, the Desert Fox, becomes a DESERT KIT with a canteen and a cactus-cutting knife. The fill includes eight 8-letter answers, stacked three abreast and crossed by another 8. Speaking of "abreast," Ben ventures into non-cactus cluing for AREOLA, [Oft-sore area for marathoners]. (It's true. They chafe. For men and women alike.) The discussion of what 5-letter parts a gal might have that a gent lacks (see today's NYT crossword) points to the squeamishness about body parts that newspaper puzzle editors must have because a segment of their audience would indeed wig out with a human AREOLA or various bodily substances appeared in the crossword. Here, it wasn't at all titillating (that's an unfortunate word), and in fact, the clue could mislead a solver into thinking of achy feet or leg muscles. If you're gonna drop the AREOLA into the puzzle, this is a good way to do it (though I wouldn't expect to see it in the next few years in a daily newspaper puzzle). Favorite entries: MALAPROP crossing the BAD KARMA that could strike you if don't leave tips, a BAZAAR for haggling, and Pig Latin IXNAY.

The AREOLA (clued in a more risqué fashion as [Nipple ring]) also pops up in Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club puzzle. On the heels of his Charlton Heston tribute puzzle in the NYT, Byron again draws on current events—with "Client 9" Eliot SPITZER and [Louisiana Senator David] VITTER (a client of the "D.C. Madam") skulking around near a PROSTITUTE RING that spans the center of the grid at 38-Across. A 38-Across might leave a TART CARD in a London phone box. Let's see...what else is thematic? One could make a case for CREEP and FLING. This topical puzzle also has a gimmick—four "prostitute rings" in the corners of the grid contain synonyms for "prostitute" (HOOKER, ESCORT, GIGOLO, CALL-GIRL) traveling clockwise from the top in 6- or 8-square rings. Those corners are packed with 6- and 8-letter entries, which means that fill has to mesh together in three dimensions.

Now, the result of the ambitious construction is that some of the fill is insane. [Kid-safe update of "very"] is HECKA (in lieu of "hella," but I gotta tell ya, I haven't heard anyone using "hecka"). [Make a mess of] is FRIG UP; now, I've heard "frig" used in lieu of the other F-word, but not in the "___ up" formation. PAPPAS is an odd-looking spelling for [Dads]; my county treasurer is Maria Pappas, but I suppose the rest of the country doesn't know her name. Favorite clues: [She wants to be starting something] for a PYRO; [Wonkette, e.g.] for a BLOG; ["Ya got it"] for YEP; [Kind of car or album] for CONCEPT; [Have an eruction] for BELCH; [You can stand to go there] for a URINAL; and [Hang loose?] for DANGLE (...right by the urinal). I think the clue for SIT'N SPIN (which is a terrific entry) is wrong—raise your hand if you remember Sit'n Spin toys being around before the '80s. Sure, this page calls it an '80s toy, but it was originally a pre–Care Bears toy and I swear they were around in the '70s.

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April 20, 2008

Monday, 4/21

NYS 4:00
NYT 3:47 (sigh)
CS 3:22
LAT 2:58

Here's the breakdown for my experience with Janet Bender's Monday New York Times crossword: 2:40 to fill everything in, and 1:07 more to figure out which square was incorrect. In general, the clues and fill were easy for a seasoned crossword solver, but I noted several answers that seemed unfriendly to beginning solvers. I ran those by my husband and indeed, he didn't have a clue about any of them and might've looked askance at them even with solid crossings. More on that in a moment.

The NYT's theme includes six phrases that start with words that double as housekeeping verbs. (Alas, there is no room for something like MOPTOPS to squeeze in—though it's certainly impressive to combine CLEAN, SCRUB, SWEEP, WASH, DUST, and VACUUM.) Two of the theme answers are just 8 letters long—SCRUB OAK ([Low-growing tree typically found in rocky soil]) and WASH SALE ([Stock transaction done at a loss for tax purposes]). That latter term isn't one I've seen before, so I hesitantly put CASH SALE in and questioned how a [Pantywaist] was a CUSS. (Hmm, that'd be a WUSS.) The other theme entries were more familiar.

Throughout the fill, though, there were a number of answers I (and many of you, I'd wager) learned from crosswords and seldom, if ever, see anywhere else. So I consulted my husband. He has never heard of [Legendary Washington hostess Perle ___] MESTA, nor Mr. ADAIR, the [Red who fought oil well fires]. SITED, he thought, sounded awfully technical; [Put in place] also seems too deceptive a clue, with the obscured past tense, for a Monday. And then there's NABES, [Local theaters, in slang], which proved to be one of the gnarliest words in last Friday's NYT crossword. If it's too hard for many Friday solvers, it's surely odd to find it in a Monday puzzle. If you're newer to crosswords, did this puzzle vex you more than most Monday puzzles?

Updated:

To clarify, let me say that aside from that one crossing that threw me a curve, my delineation of the NYT puzzle's problems relates to the expected ordinariness of Monday fill. This crossword was perhaps too easy to be slated as a Wednesday puzzle, but the vocabulary, I think, puts it squarely at a Tuesday/Wednesday level. Jim H., Rex, Brian, and Ryan concurred that there was a definite non-Monday vibe to the fill.

The New York Sun crossword, "Special Teams," is by Bob Klahn. The theme centers on three rhyming 3-letter team names from the New York/New Jersey area: HAVEN'T WE MET covers baseball (the YANKS also pop in, and I wonder why those arrogant Yanks can't just let the Mets have the spotlight for a change), WORK WITHOUT A NET does basketball, and MILITARY JET covers football. Like the NYT, it's got HAZMAT in the fill. Hello again, word! That's just one of many Scrabbly words (CHUTZPAH! AJAX! ZIMA!) in the fill. There's a touch of trivia in the clue for LEO I: [Pope who convinced Attila to spare Rome]. (Better than cluing with a year, no?)

David Cromer's LA Times crossword has a 15-letter OPEN FOR BUSINESS tying together four other theme entries, which end with words that can "open for 'business'"—that is, GREEN MONKEY ends with MONKEY, and "monkey business" is an established phrase. This puzzle's "My ___" song title is MY GUY, [1964 Mary Wells hit].

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Pajama Party," has four theme entries that, like SLOOP JOHN B, contain a PJ within them. [What's found in muscles, but not mussels] stumped me for too long. What, what! The SILENT C trick on a Monday? I wasn't expecting that. (I was, however, expecting the CrosSynergy crossword to take about this long to complete, since its steady difficulty level means it's typically harder than the NYT and LAT at the beginning of the week but easier later.) This puzzle's "My __" song title is MY GIRL, the [Temptations hit] that I love.

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April 19, 2008

Sunday, 4/20

NYT 8:20
PI untimed
LAT 7:18
BG 6:30
CS 3:26

The Sunday New York Times crossword by John Farmer not only has a smattering of circled squares in the theme entries, it's also got shaded letters that ring the grid in a big circle with left/right symmetry. The shaded letters aren't visible in Across Lite or on the applet, but they're not needed for solving so it's not so traumatic. The Across Lite Notepad gives the following locations for the squares that are shaded in the Times Magazine:

When the puzzle is done, the letters in the following squares spell a bonus phrase: 7A - 3rd letter, 31A - 5th, 65A - 4th, 104A - 6th, 136A - 3rd, 151A - 1st, 149A - 4th, 133A - 4th, 100A - 1st, 62A - 1st, 29A - 6th


The puzzle's title is "Spaced Out," and the eight theme entries (15 to 18 letters apiece) contain the names of all eight planets, spaced out in the circled squares. This puzzle exists in an expanding universe, too—the grid is a plus-sized 23x23 instead of the usual 21x21 Sunday size. The shaded letters in the big circle around the grid spell out SOLAR SYSTEM. The SUN shows up at 9-Down, clued as [Center of many revolutions], and poor demoted PLUTO is at 131-Down, [2006 neologism meaning "to demote"]. With a good telescope at (MOTHER) NIGHT ([Nick Nolte movie based on a Kurt Vonnegut novel]) and too much AMONTILLADO in you (the [Spanish sherry] I remember so fondly from Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" story), you might even be able to spot all these planets. (Okay, those aren't really part of the theme.) Other than those two answers, though, the rest of the fill contains fairly short words. Given the requirement to have eight long entries that contained the planets in order, plus the SOLAR SYSTEM squares in fixed positions, I'm not surprised. Though the fill lacks long phrases, it does have color—R. KELLY, VIJAY Singh, YASMINE Bleeth, ERIE PA, Mark ROTHKO, POSTDOCS, and a few more names that seemed lively to me (...because I knew them, unlike the names peppering Saturday's Newsday puzzle).

There were a few semi-obscure things lurking about, and tricky clues, and clues I enjoyed. Here they are, in a jumble:
  • ["Sons and Lovers" Oscar nominee Mary] URE—she was Scottish and died of an alcohol/barbiturates overdose at age 42. (See 71-Across, [Exceeded the speed limit?] for ODED. Ouch. I don't think I like that one.) Her fellow Scotsperson, Midge Ure, wouldn't mind being in a clue. He (Midge is Jim backwards, sound-wise) co-wrote the Band Aid song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
  • [Going rate?: Abbr.] is MPH, or miles per hour.
  • The [1941 Henry Luce article that coined a name for an era] was THE AMERICAN CENTURY.
  • EVERYTHING MUST GO is a [Closeout come-on].
  • EAR is clued as [___ candy (some pop tunes)].
  • [Truncated cones, in math] are FRUSTA. Do they frustrate you?
  • [Laughing gas and water, chemically] are OXIDES.
  • If a billiards ball [Glances] off something, it CAROMS.
  • NMI, the [Application letters], stand for "no middle initial."
  • [Hills of Yorkshire] are WOLDS, right beside old-school crossword answer OSIER ([Willow used in basketry]).
  • [___ Zagora, Bulgaria] is STARA. Stara Zagora was founded by the Thracians about 2,500 years ago. Neolithic!
  • A few hundred years after Stara Zagora was settled, EUCLID was the [Author of the "Elements," ca. 300 B.C.].


Updated:

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite for this weekend is called "Surprise Endings." The 10 theme entries are movie titles reworked with "surprise endings" in that their last letters have been changed. The plot twists at the end of each clue: [Study of a rich...philosopher?] is CITIZEN KANT, ditching the last letter of Kane. [Story of a secret macho...board game?] is FIGHT CLUE (Club). "The first rule of Fight Clue is 'Do not talk about Fight Clue.'" [Drama in which De Niro...blathers?] is TAXI DRIVEL. These are kinda fun, right? But not too difficult to figure out, since the clue guides you to the original movie title rather than cluing the fake movies as something drastically different. Favorite fill: the LITERATI, a BANSHEE and a HOBBIT, TEA LEONI's full name. Favorite clue: [Wrap artist?] for CHRISTO, who has wrapped things on a large scale for public art installations. ZIA is a [New Mexico tribe]—why don't I recognize this word? Here's a trivial factoid courtesy of Wikipedia: The Zia sun symbol appears on New Mexico's flag; the rays point off in four directions and the Zia were quite keen on various foursomes (compass points, seasons, times of the day, stages of life). FOEHN is a [Dry Alpine wind], TARN is a [Lake District lake], and SERAC is an [Icy pinnacle]; all three of these, which appear close together in the grid, are words I learned in crosswords way back in the day. Just to their left is STOATS, [Ermines in summer]—another one of that class of words. Hello, old friends. Because I've been doing crosswords for an eon, these are quaint gimmes for me. Those of you who have been into crosswords for a year or less, tell me: How do you feel about such words?

Some crosswords open in Across Lite with the timer off, and others start timing automatically. Usually they just start running, but for Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "If I Wrote the Dictionary," the timer didn't start and I didn't start it, either. (Oh, well. Let's call it mediumish-easy compared to the NYT and Globe puzzles, shall we?) What really stood out for me in this crossword was the plethora of fill-in-the-blank partial entries—about a dozen FITBs that were two words, a few of them longer than 5 letters (the standard suggested cutoff for partial lengths in many crossword venues). For example, [Going ___ (fighting)] is completed by AT IT, and ["___ to you, buddy!"] points to SAME TO. I dunno, these don't usually bug me, but today, it seemed like too much. Oddest clue/answer: [Makeup artist Westmore] for PERC. That C could've been a V, crossing VULTURE, but who wants a PERV in the puzzle? Those of you who have done this year's Merl offering from the ACPT know the idea behind the theme—the answer is clued with the definition Merl might assign it if he wrote the dictionary. Thus, [adj. afraid of being injected] is HYPOALLERGENIC. Craziest answer: [Circe's all-vowel island] is AEAEA. Several of these islands are to report immediately to the Czech Republic, where there are many consonants in desperate need of vowels. Brno, anyone?

Updated Sunday morning:

Aww, I miss having Fred Piscop's Washington Post puzzle around.

Alex Boisvert's syndicated LA Times crossword is called "Get It?" The eight theme entries are clued with a single all-caps word, which the solver must introduce with "get" to interpret. [THROUGH] is MAKE ONESELF UNDERSTOOD, as in "Am I getting through to you?" [DOWN] is DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY, as in "Get down!" Tougher words skulking about include JACAMAR ([Puffbird relative]), [2000-01 Hart Memorial Trophy winner Joe] SAKIC, and [SportsCenter anchor Linda et al.] for COHNS (I don't watch SportsCenter, so I actually had to guesstimate the Roman numeral math for the C). Favorite entries: the movie MALL RATS; AKRON, OH ([It come sbefore 44301 on an envelope]); FLOOR IT; NEAL Conan (who doesn't like seeing someone they've met in a crossword?); and SLUGGO from the "Nancy" comics. Favorite clue: [Reaction to Wile E. Coyote] for the Road Runner's BEEP.

The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" by Mel Rosen has plenty of lesser-known words in it, but with enough easy clues crossing those words that the whole thing fell like a house of cards in an earthquake. The [Indonesian gongs] or TAMTAMS, [Ardent longing] or DESIDERIUM, [Feature of some tires and bridal veils] or BEADED EDGE, [Stretching quality] or TENSITY, and [Low-ranking clergy officials] or SUBDEACONS were all answers that didn't come readily to mind, but the crossings pointed the way. I did like ["___ chance!"], which looks like a clue for a two-word partial like NOT A, but here it skews French with BONNE—a nice thwarting of a Crossword Fiend's expecations. Whenever I see Emil ZATOPEK's last name in a crossword, I wish that ZAPOTEC would join it.

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April 18, 2008

Saturday, 4/19

Newsday 12:45
NYT 6:58
Second Sunday cryptic 6:32 (the NYT's link needed the date changed—this link works)
LAT 4:22
CS 3:32

Call me crazy, but when I arrived at the NYT applet tonight and saw that Byron Walden and Arnold Reich were both in the nine-minute range, (1) I knew that it meant the Saturday New York Times crossword was constructed by Bob Klahn, and (2) I was thus delighted. And the puzzle did not disappoint—I did indeed enjoy it. Three of the long words ended with I, and one of those bastards was a plural. [Giant perissodactyls] was a mystery—it turns out to mean hoofed mammals with an uneven toe count, like horses and RHINOCERI. Luckily, I had the RH in place, and the "dactyls" part probably meant something with fingers or toes. (Dactyls as a metrical foot in poetry didn't occur to me.) SALMAGUNDI (some etymology here) is a [Mixture], and MONTEVERDI was the ["L'Orfeo" composer].

I'm fond of Klahn's cluing style, and these clues were twisty in a good way:

  • [Lock combination?] is a COIF. I knew it had something to do with hair but definitely needed some crossings.
  • [Seeks change?] means BEGS. Do not be misled into thinking of change in politics.
  • [Poor devil] is a WRETCH...who might be seeking some change.
  • The [Product once advertised as "Ice-cold sunshine"] is COKE. Whe knew?
  • I didn't understand [Bicycle pack?] until just now—it's a DECK of Bicycle brand playing cards.
  • ["A Clockwork Orange" instrument] is a MOOG synthesizer. I have largely blacked out memories of the movie, but loved that paperback book with its glossary of Nadsat language at the end.
  • That vague [Reason] is a PURPOSE.
  • What's [Like M, L or XL]? ROMAN, as in Roman numerals 1000, 50, and 40.
  • Pronounce [Windy?] with a long I and you see why the answer is SERPENTINE. ("Serpentine! Serpentine!" is part of the funniest sequence in the '70s movie, The In-Laws.)
  • [Check for letters] is the RENT payment that the tenant gives the landlord who is letting the place.
  • [Network seen in many homes and not proudly] makes one think of the proud Peacock network NBC, but it's just a COBWEB.
  • ["Love Jones" actress] is NIA LONG. Cute movie. She was good in it.
  • [City whose name is Siouan for "a good place to grow potatoes"] is TOPEKA. I had no idea. Plus: Hey, it's not in Idaho!
  • One sort of [Blade holder] is an ICE SKATE. Hooray, no ATRA or TRAC!
  • A [Hamlet] is a small town or DORP.
  • [What "!" provides] is, of course, EMPHASIS!
  • I love the word STICKLER, but [Person not easily budged] isn't the main way I think of it.
  • [Something well-placed?] is a PAIL in the well, bringing up fresh water.
  • [Powerful], 6 letters, ending with -UST? Could be AUGUST, but it's ROBUST.
  • A relief MAP could be a [Relief provider, maybe]. Who doesn't like a good relief map? Bumpy mountain ridges, smooth plains and oceans.

Tougher entries/clues that were more straightforward:
  • What's an ONIOMANIAC? It's a [Compulsive shopper]. One who buys a lot of onions? The OED says the onio- part comes for the Greek for "sale" and is related to the Latin
  • venum (as in venal). (Thanks for the OED look-up, Byron.)
  • BARCELONA was the [Birthplace of Sert and Miro]—with the first A in place, I filled in CATALONIA, but seven of those letters were wrong.
  • An artist's GARRET is a ["La Boheme" setting]; were you combing your memory for 6-letter Parisian place names?
  • ["Casablanca" screenwriter Julius or Philip] means EPSTEIN. They were twins!
  • [Like a raspberry bush stem] is CANY. A post here explains the canes, or stems.
  • [Folds] means PLIES if you think of noun senses for both words.
  • [Boxing-related] is FISTIC. I suspect it's a back-formation from fist. (Vague letter-advance theme idea: fisticuffs become FISTIC UGGS, sheepskin boots worn while boxing?)
  • To [Engage in cabotinage] is to EMOTE in crosswords; outside of crosswords, it means to be a lousy actor.
  • The [Western Sahara region] is the RIO DE ORO. Most often seen as a partial fill-in-the-blank crossword answer.
  • [Flattering courtier who changed places with the tyrant Dionysius, in Greek legend] is DAMOCLES. I don't know where Damocles' sword figures into the story.
  • [Cousin of a kinkajou] is a raccoon, or COON for short. What, you want a hint that it's shortened? Not in a Saturday Klahn!
  • MARY ORR is the [Writer of the story upon which "All About Eve" is based]. What's this? A famous ORR other than Bobby of hockey and Benjamin of The Cars? Where has she been hiding?
  • GUNN is a ["Treasure Island" character] I don't know at all. Also the surname of that guy Tim from that fashion reality show I don't watch.
  • I wanted PARAPET but it was too short; the [Defensive structure] is a PALISADE.
  • [It could end up in a fiasco]—what? CHIANTI? Huh? Oh, I see now! The word fiasco derives from the Italian for "bottle," and wine comes in bottles. 
  • Speaking of grape products, RAISIN is clued as [Dark purplish blue]. None of the raisin-colored apparel I found online was dark purplish blue—the fashion industry feels no need to hew to specific color definition, does it?

Crikey, that's a lot of knotty stuff, isn't it? If you're enmeshed in an insoluble section of the crossword, I hope this writeup helps you finish. And if you made it through on your own (...or with a search engine), good on you!

Updated:

It's about midnight now, and I've done the weekend's NYT Second Sunday puzzle, a cryptic crossword by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, along with Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper." That Stumper killed me! Maybe this is not the optimal time for me to tackle themeless Saturday crosswords? Am too tired to blog about these puzzles now, but will try to get to them in the morning before my son's birthday party.

Saturday morning:

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LA Times puzzle has triple-stacked 15s at the top and bottom of the grid. Favorite long answers: SUNSET BOULEVARD (probably a total gimme to Los Angeles solvers—[It forms part of the border of UCLA's Westwood campus]) and the [Seuss classic narrated by Morris McGurk], IF I RAN THE CIRCUS. I never knew a [Full breakfast, in British slang] was a FRYUP. Favorite clue: [Receivers of spot payments?] for parking METERS. Even with the *ETERS part in place, that one wasn't obvious to me.

Will Johnston's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Universal Donor," gives some type O blood to the type AB recipients: Each of three theme entries loses its AB, which is replaced by an O. For example, Bringing Up Baby becomes BRINGING UP BOY, with a Tarzan-related clue. Best fill: AVON LADY, BOOT HILL, and SERIAL NO. Call me crazy, but I love the crossing of "Beau GESTE" and GIST.

Where did I have trouble in Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"? Let's see...well, nearly everywhere. If you've done this puzzle, was it a killer, or just a routine Stumper? I know Byron solved in about 60% of my finishing time, so maybe I'm the outlier and not the puzzle. [Blazing] wanted to be AFLAME, but it was that blah word, AGLARE. [Machine with a shovel] wanted to be a DIGGER, but it was a LOADER. [Big music family]...let's see, the Von Trapps and Osmonds and Jacksons all have too many letters. BACHS? Were there more than two Bachs who were big in music? The SOUSA (3D), ELLERBEE (4D), BYRON (47A), KARAS (23D), RITT (34D), and SUTTON (56A) clues all stumped me, too. Omigod, it finally happened. My love for crosswords packed with names finally came face to face with either unfamiliar names (KARAS) or unfamiliar clues (all the rest of 'em). Throw in a March King clue for SOUSA, a poet clue for BYRON, a news clue for ELLERBEE, and a bank robber clue for SUTTON, and I would've gotten them just fine. (The only name that came easily was AGEE, ["Night of the Hunter" screenwriter].) AD INTERIM ([For now]) took forever to piece together with crossings, which were loaded with missteps. TULA is the [Capital city of the Toltecs]? Ouch. I wish I'd figured out that wee BAIRNS were [Some Glaswegians] sooner—I like the clue and answer. For the [US acquisition of 1917], the Caribbean was the last place I looked—it's SAINT THOMAS.

This weekend's Second Sunday puzzle in the NYT magazine is a cryptic by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. It was a little too easy to guess answers based on part of the clue and the enumeration rather than actually doing the wordplay. For example, [Declaration about split in diplomats' agency (5,10)]—well, STATE DEPARTMENT fits and is a "diplomats' agency." Working backwards from that, the declaration is a STATEMENT and split = DEPART, which is inserted into the former. [Compass heading as in "Alien" (4)]—EAST or WEST? EAST fits the crossings. AS inside an E.T. = EAST. [Bush of greater age (5)]—OLDER or ELDER? ELDER fits the crossings. Oh, as in elderberry bush. I prefer to have to study a clue and try parsing it a couple different ways before it gives up its secrets. Favorite clue: [Hard-to-solve clue upset Mr. Wilder (7)]. Wilder isn't a name here, it's the hint to wildly scramble the letters before it. UPSET and MR anagram to STUMPER, which is exactly what the "Saturday Stumper" was for me last night. If you'd like an explanation of how each answer adds up, Will Johnston lays it all out. Like me, Will is keen on persuading those of you who are hesitant to try cryptics that they're not so tough at all! Once you learn the basic tricks, you've got the tools to master cryptic crosswords.

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