(updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday)
Happy Labor Day! May your labors be few (but not unemploymentally so), your skies clear, and your barbecues free of all foodborne pathogens.
The New York Times crossword is a solo outing from Andrea Carla Michaels, who is one of those early-week specialists. As expected for a Monday, the theme is basic and straightforward, the clues are pretty easy, and the fill combines plenty of plain language with a handful of crosswordy answers that a beginning solver will soon learn all about. The theme answers all relate to hushing, but I don't quite get why the clues are worded as they are. SILENCE IS GOLDEN is ["Shhhh!" prompter]. Doesn't "Silence is golden" replace a "Shhh!" rather than prompting one? MUM'S THE WORD is clued with ["Shhhh!"]. That's "Shhh"! as in "Don't tell anyone" rather than "Be quiet." MY LIPS ARE SEALED is a ["Shhh!" response]—again, more of an "I'll keep your secret" than "Ooh, I better be quiet because she shushed me." I don't know how well these three theme clues and answers cohere, but hey, it's a Monday puzzle and the phrases are so familiar, there's no need to overthink it.
One of my favorite clues is [Like oranges and tangerines] for CITRUS. (Anyone else try CITRIC first? No?) Andrea just says "no" in two answers: NO SALE is a [Key on an old register], as in cash register, and NO RUSH means ["Take your time"]. There are 15 other 6-letter answers in this grid, which makes the fill feel a bit fresher than if there was a greater preponderance of 3- to 5-letter answers.
Here's a Crosswords 101 lesson. Study the following crosswordy items, which you will be quizzed on later in other crosswords:
Anyone know where the CrosSynergy puzzles have been hiding? I know this page offers an online applet and a printable option, but I want my Across Lite, dagnabbit! I especially want yesterday's themeless crossword.
The LA Times crossword by Joe DiPietro has six theme entries beginning with _AKE words:
The symmetry in this group of phrases is that the middle two Acrosses are verb-ONE'S-noun, the two bracketing them are verb-THE-noun, and the two Downs are verb-A-noun. The theme does not exhaust all the possibilities, though. BAKE COOKIES and SLAKE ONE'S THIRST could fit into a grid, but not within the bounds of the paired structures here. (I can't think of a good phrase that starts with BRAKE, though.]
Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword is called "I'm Surrounded by Idiots" because the theme entries are various "idiots" with extra letters in their midst:
I like the vocabulary word in the fill: OROTUND means [Sonorous]. ZANZIBARI's two Z's are zesty—it's clued as [Resident of the island where Freddie Mercury was born]. I didn't know the Queen front man was from Zanzibar. Hell, when I was a kid, I had no idea he was gay, either. Or the Village People. *whoosh* over my head.
Updated Tuesday morning:
Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Location, Location, Location" because the location of the words in the clue is key.
August 31, 2008
August 30, 2008
Argh! It took me 40 seconds to root out my typo in Alan Arbesfeld's New York Times crossword, "Extra Play." I think many of us who time ourselves have a cutoff in mind, below which we're delighted by our performance. Or a rival we want to edge out. For me, the Sunday cutoff is 8 minutes flat, and typoing myself out of clocking in ahead of Byron (...[Poet who wrote "She walks in beauty, like the night"]) Walden makes me grumbly. (I'll feel worse when the other speed demons show up and put me to shame too. ..Yep, there's Howard Barkin now.) UBSAY! That B is right next to the N key.
As for the puzzle itself: Hey! I like it. "Extra Play" in sports is sometimes called OT, or overtime, and the theme entries are altered by the addition of OT to the end of one word. The theme answers alternate between the first and last words taking the OT. A few of the theme entries made me smile:
The clues and answers I liked the most are:
I probably won't get to all the Sunday puzzles today—an out-of-town guest came a day early, the Jazz Festival is in town, and the blue skies are glorious.
I just solved Pancho Harrison's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, "Good Help Is Hard to Find," and regrettably, I found the theme off-putting. Each one is an occupation modified by an adjectival phrase that rhymes with it, but the results clank rather than sing. An [Out-of-shape policeman?], for example, is an ABOUT-TO-DROP COP, and a [Wandering cabby?] is a WAY-OFF-TRACK HACK. The theme phrases don't have a natural flow to them, and they're not inherently funny either. I will surely enjoy Pancho's subsequent crosswords much more, as I've really liked many of his earlier ones.
Time to head downtown—I bid you adieu for now.
Updated Monday morning:
I did Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Guess the Theme," late last night when I was falling asleep. I was too tired to notice the theme in the first 11 long entries before I reached 112-Across, which revealed what tied the theme together: IT'S THE BERRIES is an [Old expression of admiration] that I've never heard before, but it does point the way to the berry theme: Each theme entry contains a word or part of a word that can be followed by berry. ALAN CRANSTON serves up cranberries; a STATE SLOGAN, loganberries; CHUCKLE-HEADED, huckleberries; RASPUTIN, raspberries; TRUE BLUE, blueberries—and so on. Cute! I confess I have no idea what berry lurks within HALLELUJAH.
August 29, 2008
(updated at 11:15 Saturday morning)
Misha! It's been too long since we've seen a crossword by Michael Shteyman in the New York Times, and I gotta tell you, it reminds me of yesterday's Nothnagel: Lots of interesting entries and no garbage. Of course, it's a Saturday puzzle, so it's not unusual to encounter something you just plain don't know. For me, that's TALOS, the [Brass guardian of Crete, in myth]. Luckily, the crossings for that answer didn't put up any roadblocks for me. Oh, and PENNI, the [Old Finnish coin], again with reasonable crossings.
Michael built the grid around a lattice of 15-letter answers, three running across and three down:
Favorite clues and answers:
Clues that may be a tad more vexing than the others:
Doug Peterson's themeless Newsday "Saturday Stumper" doesn't have all the zip of today's NYT puzzle, but it's just as low on the junk-o-meter. RESIT, or [Pose again], is as bad as it gets, and it's neither obscure nor ungettable. Favorite clues:
To get a solution grid for the blog, I typed my answers into the Newsday applet. It was fine for typing in a series of Across answers one after the other. Filling in crossword answers piecemeal on this applet? That would drive me bonkers.
Robert Wolfe's themeless LA Times crossword is braced by three 15-letter answers in plain language. A disbelieving "YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS" means ["This must be a joke"]. ["Better!"] means "THAT'S MORE LIKE IT." And something [Honoring a former friendship] is FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE. After you REOIL something, or [Quiet more squeaks], you may need to give it a REWASH ([Second cleaning]). There are two messes, a STY that [doesn't get picked up often] and a RAT'S NEST, or [Cluttered place]. [Yarn material?] is LIES, as in "spinning a yarn" or tall tale. Less familiar answers abound:
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Boys Will Be Boys," runs together three words that can precede boy in each theme entry:
[A trio of boys] is COW STABLE GOLDEN. At first I thought all three would be agricultural/ranching in nature, but no.
The first [Three more boys] are WATER CHOIR PAPER.
The last [Three more boys] are WHIPPING PLAY FLY.
You know what would be fun? If the boys were arranged into groups of words that could double as an intelligible phrase. Say, a GOLDEN FRAT BUS (though that's not a 15). Or MAMA'S PRETTY LOVER (also not 15). You get the idea. Something more amusing than a series of words in random order.
August 28, 2008
(updated just past 9 Friday morning)
Mike Nothnagel's themeless New York Times crossword is simply a delight. There were so many entries I loved:
Other stuff in Mike's deftly constructed puzzle:
It's late and I haven't even peeked at Obama's speech yet, so maybe I'll be quick about this. The New York Sun puzzle by Peter Collins, "Four Corners," plunks two N's, an A, and an O in the corners of the grid. Reading them clockwise, they yield a word no matter where you start, and those four rotating words serve as the clues for the theme answers, which are essentially clues for those short corner words:
Inventive theme, with the corner letters constraining the overall fill while providing more oomph than the puzzle would have if those 4-letter words were handed to us in the clues. Not just oomph, but also more challenge, and when it comes to themed Friday Sun crosswords, challenge is the order of the day.
Favorite answers and clues:
Myles Callum's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Double Dealing," is—like last week's—considerably easier than a Sunday NYT. I hope it's just coincidence and not an intentional dilution of the difficulty level. The theme entries follow the title's model: seven two-word phrases in which both words start with D. I'd never heard of the DIME DEFENSE, or [Pass-stopping strategy], and don't know which sport it applies to. The other theme entries are:
Overall, the fill and cluing struck a good balance between smart and fun. Favorite entries included DUDE RANCH, ALITALIA (plus GIANNI Versace and Lake GARDA, also from Italy), JAFAR the ["Aladdin" villain] from Disney, and the women's zone about 40% of the way down the grid (LINDAS, SARA, ADA, MADAME, MARGE).
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword inserts an "ancient equivalent" of TEN to craft the theme entries, each of which adds an X to the first of two words in a phrase. The results are entertaining:
Doug has plenty of juicy fill in this puzzle—a delicious SKOR bar, Colonel KLINK, BETELGEUSE, HAN SOLO, a MOOCOW. PLEXIGLASS is clued as [Aquarium material, generically]. I believe the trade name is Plexiglas, but plexiglass has a slight edge in Google hits. I think the namer who came up with Plexiglas should have used two S's, unless they were targeting the German market. (Similarly, the X-Acto knife people should've just called it the Exacto knife. At least the Kleenex and Xerox people chose spellings that people don't routinely alter.)
Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Po'Pourri," adds PO (the red Teletubby?) to four phrases and clues the resulting theme entries:
UNCURL is clued as [Straighten, as hair], and it sounded off to me. It is indeed a proper word, though. Favorite entry: DIVE-BOMB, or [Attack from overhead]. I'm not quite sure why this puzzle took me a bit longer than most CrosSynergy crosswords—is it just me?
August 27, 2008
(updated at 10:20 Thursday morning)
Dang. I lost 56 seconds to a typo in the New York Times puzzle by Sheldon Benardo. (The Z in the [Hot strip?] called GAZA and the noun sense of DOZE, or [Siesta], got entered as a neighboring S. D'oh!) The theme plays on "an eye for an eye," changing it to AN EYE FOR AN "I" and altering three phrases that contain the first person singular pronoun so that they have EYEs instead. The theme entries are clued without allusion to the switch:
The EYE/I swap didn't feel particularly satisfying or clever to me, and there were a few things that made me cranky. I have seen [___ light: Var.] for KLEIG before, and it grates. A Klieg light, from the German name Kliegl, would be pronounced "cleeg." Following German pronunciation, the misspelled KLEIG would be "clige" with a long I. ANIGH sounds like "an eye," but its inclusion as [Close, old-style] didn't seem cute at all. Furthermore, both OLEO ([Stick on a dish]) and OLEIN ([Liquid fat]) in the same puzzle? Too close for comfort, etymologically. Two more O*EO answers are here—OREO and OSTEO.
I did enjoy SPONGEBOB, the [Title TV character in Bikini Bottom], opposite DESI ARNAZ, the [1940s-'50s film/TV star with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame]. My favorite clue was [Washington has some big ones] for EGOS. Isn't it apt to have the clue [One of the "Brady Bunch" kids] immediately followed by [Cold-blooded killers]? (PETER and ASPS.) Clues that may stump folks:
I think Tony Orbach's first themeless was the NYT one with that ill-fated (for me, anyway) CUCHIFRITO/ORFE crossing, and that this New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" is his second. After this one, Tony? All is forgiven. There's much to appreciate:
The [Cyrillic alphabet letter] isn't such a fun clue. The answer is TSE. Wha...? Let us Google. The tse looks like a squared-off U and represents the ts sound. The Wikipedia article says, "Russian words starting with ц, such as tsar, are rare, and almost none of them are of Slavic origin." Did you know that SISTINE means [Pertaining to any of five popes] named Sixtus? I started out guessing LEONINE, which is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Course Objective," sounds like it's got a back-to-school theme, but golf is the star. Four places a golfer might hit the ball begin the theme entries: the GREEN BAY PACKERS, HOLE IN THE WALL, ROUGH AND READY, and BUNKER MENTALITY. The central Down entry is related; TROON, as in the Royal Troon Golf Club, is the [Site of eight British Opens]. The week after that Rosenbaum piece in Slate mocking puzzlers facing down a [Mauna ___] clue, Hartman serves up the complete MAUNA KEA, a [Dormant volcano of Hawaii]. Mauna Loa is active, but quite shallow in slope. Mauna Kea gets its name from the Hawaiian for "white mountain," which I knew (from crosswords!). What I didn't know is that the white is its snowcap in the winter.
Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LA Times crossword would've gone over better if I'd been at all familiar with the base phrase lurking behind one of the theme entries. The theme has four phrases that include a metallic element as a word or part of a word, and that element has been replaced by its chemical symbol:
There were some non-theme clues that also kept me wondering until the crossings revealed the answers: [GM's old electronics subsidiary] is DELCO, and JIBE is not just an insult, it's also a [Sailing maneuver]. I figured out the [Decorative alloy] PEWTER easily enough—its elemental makeup is mostly tin with a little copper and antimony (which sounds like it has to do with antipathy and matrimony, or an opposition to alimony).
August 26, 2008
I am officially out of sorts. Discombobulated by (1) a medical procedure and (2) two margaritas (administered for medicinal purposes, I assure you), I find myself feeling pesci (this household's word for nonspecific stomach upset, borrowed from a "Wayne's World" segment on SNL) and unable to hit the correct keys on the keyboard. Tomorrow will be better, but right now? Not so hot.
The New York Times puzzle by Donna Hoke Kahwaty teased me with the first long Across answer, FOOTLOOSE. "1980s movies that are also phrases!" I thought. Nope, that one's not a theme entry. The theme entries double the first 3-letter word in a phrase to transform it into something new:
I would've broken the 3-minute mark, which always delights me on a Wednesday puzzle, save for the errant L replacing the K in TSK and KNACK. Three favorite entries here: the SLURPEE is a [7-Eleven cooler]; TYBALT was the [Capulet murdered by Romeo], Juliet's cousin; and [Sweating the small stuff] means NITPICKY. I also like that the longest nonthematic fill, FOOTLOOSE and IN AMERICA,, double as movie titles.
Joon Pahk's second published puzzle is "Divine Intervention" in the New York Sun. The theme is quite similar to one a friend had cooked up a few months ago, with at least two identical theme entries, each containing a hidden NORSE (53-Down) GOD (58-Across) within:
Plenty of Scrabbly fill—GIZA atop AJAX, Al ROKER beside an E-ZINE. Citrus fruit not called orange—POMELOS, or [Large citrus fruits]. [Nickname for a fast woman] is specific to Florence Griffith Joyner, or FLO-JO. [Result of a hook-and-eye connection?] isn't Velcro but a SHINER, or black eye. The [City hard by Vance AFB] is ENID, OK; I'm always partial to those city/state entries.
I'm feeling much better this morning. Barry Silk's LA Times crossword has some abbreviations that might slow you down ([U.S. Army E-6's] are SSGTS, the IGN. is [Place for a key: Abbr.], [640 acres: Abbr.] is a SQ. MI., and that [Volkswagen hatchback] is the GTI, which might not be an abbreviation), a theme that didn't dawn on me until after the grid was completely filled in, and plenty of Scrabbly answers. The latter group includes XENA the Warrior Princess, a Lucy [Lawless TV role]; BUXOM crossing OXEN; YUCKY and a WALTZ; Mt. FUJI and a...QUAG? [Bog, for short] isn't just a shortening of quagmire; my Mac's dictionary includes the archaic quag, meaning "a marsh or boggy place," and says it dates back to the late 16th century (as does quagmire).
What about the theme? JOE MONTANA, the [Quarterback on the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team], shares his name with the state of Montana, whose nickname is Big Sky Country. Thus:
The CrosSynergy puzzle by Martin Ashwood-Smith, "Dark Humor," should've taken a good bit longer than most CrosSynergies since it's got a quote theme, but the clues for the fill were mostly straightforward and easy. The quote is a "Will Rogers observation": EVERYTHING IS / FUNNY AS LONG / AS IT'S / HAPPENING TO / SOMEBODY ELSE. The only answer that was completely unfamiliar to me was STALL-FEED, or [Fatten for market, as cattle]. That's happening to somebody else, not me, but...still not funny. (Sympathetic "moo" here.) There are just two question-marked clues: [Pull some strings?] is to SEW, and [Leaves the office early?] is RESIGNS, not just leaving work at 4:00 instead of 5:00.
August 25, 2008
(last updated at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday)
Nancy Salomon's New York Times crossword parks itself in the Tuesday puzzle sweet spot. The theme is easy enough—three diverse phrases all clued the same way—there's nothing too obscure muddling it for Tuesday solvers, and a dozen 7- and 8-letter answers freshen the non-theme fill. The three [Rose] answers are the AMERICAN BEAUTY rose, as in the flower; baseball player Pete Rose's nickname, CHARLIE HUSTLE; and the past-tense verb meaning TOOK TO ONE'S FEET.
Clues and answers of note:
Alan Arbesfeld constructed the New York Sun puzzle, "Pick-Me-Ups." The theme answers don't contain bracing tonics; rather, each one is a phrase that picks up a ME, changing the meaning. The six (!) theme entries are as follows:
In the fill, Arbesfeld's crossword includes four X's, which pleases me. The BATON, or [Relay race handoff], is back again. Favorite clues and answers: SIGN HERE is [Words on a sticky note attached to a contract; [Marks with subscript dots] mystified me, but I certainly know what STETS look like; [It might have a certain ring to it] means a bath TUB; [It gets put in a sinkhole] refers to DRANO in a household sink drain; PETER is the name of the [Boy in "The Snowy Day"] by Ezra Jack Keats; and [Like soy sauce] sure as hell means SALTY.
Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Class Exercise," serves up an exercise in which you fill in five phrases that start with words that can precede class:
Anyone know ["Cavalleria Rusticana" composer Mascagni]'s first name without crossings? I did not; it's PIETRO. [1107, in old Rome] is MCVII—if only the last I hadn't been in a theme entry, it could have been changed to an E for Fleetwood Mac's Christine and John McVie.
Donna Levin's LA Times crossword hides an archery theme:
I'm not sure if the central entry, ENTAILS, is supposed to join the theme. Cursory research suggests that arrows used in archery have fletching (the feathers), not tails, but typographical arrows may have tails.
Beautiful corners in this grid—two quartets of 7-letter answers stand side by side.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword for the week, "Dropping E," has naught to do with dropping the drug Ecstasy. Nope. In this Friday-tough puzzle, each of the five theme entries jettisons two E's from assorted spots:
Unusual entries abound:
I only have a couple minutes to blog about Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle. The middle theme entry is HELL ON EARTH. The two long theme entries contain EARTH divided among the words in those phrases, WEAR THE TROUSERS and the perfect SORRY TO HEAR THAT. "Where's the HELL?" you ask. Why, it's sitting directly on top of the EART portion of EARTH, that's where. HELL is hiding in 14-Across, SHELL, above the top theme entry, and in MITCHELL at 55-Across. I've circled 'em for you in the grid image.
Weird answers I didn't know:
Apple's ICHAT (or iChat) allows for instant messaging. I rarely use it. Have we seen ICHAT in the grid before?
Time! Cool theme structure, Brendan—it's been a while since I've seen one along these lines.
If you have an interest in lexicography, dictionaries, wikis, and neologism, check out this two-year-old post (not outdated) at Grant Barrett's blog, The Lexicographer's Rules. It was linked to in Language Log post today. Crossworders frequently get into dustups about what words mean and whether clues offer accurate representations of answer words. Some look askance at citations from Wikipedia or other user-generated sites. Grant gives his take on "The Dictionary" versus entities like Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary, and his essay's a good read.
If you attended the ACPT this year, you will recognize Grant from his color commentary during the finals and from the awards luncheon.
Posted by Orange at 1:19 PM
August 24, 2008
(updated at 2:20 p.m. Monday)
The Monday New York Times crossword hits the Monday sweet spot—nice and easy, with an accessible letter-progression theme of phrases that sound great together (the P and K sounds are inherently entertaining). Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake teamed up to give us:
All this makes me want to say "Peter Piper packed a punch when picking a peck of puckered-up peppers. Then he purchased a pack of Pocky Sticks." My favorite fill mostly revisits the P and K: STUNK and SKIMPY, a PONZI scheme ([Kind of scheme that's fraudulent]), POPS and PUTTS.
Mark Feldman's New York Sun crossword, "Military Medicine," has an elegant but still easy theme: phrases that begin with a military rank and describe something related to medical care.
Favorite entries: POP-UP AD, Christopher MELONI (only because it gives me a chance to call him a Fanelli boy), BELARUS and NEBULAS sharing six of their letters, and gaping MAWS.
Paula Gamache packs her CrosSynergy puzzle, "E-ZPass," with five theme entries (each containing EZ welding together two words) and a slew of 7-letter answers in the fill. The STRIKE ZONE is a [Pitcher's target]. WOWIE ZOWIE is an [Expression of glee]. EMILE ZOLA, whose writing is stark and richly detailed, is clued as the ["J'accuse" author]. The [Traditional marmalade ingredient] is ORANGE ZEST; I'm partial to this answer. [1960s group who sang "She's Not There"] is THE ZOMBIES. WOWIE ZOWIE and THE ZOMBIES make this a fun theme, don't they?
I liked a lot of the clues and fill here (and it's only Monday!). My favorites:
David Cromer's LA Times crossword was so easy, I filled in all four theme answers immediately after filling in 5- to 8-Down. The theme entries are plural nouns that begin with a man's nickname:
I wonder if I could have finished the puzzle even faster if I'd gone back to the top after entering the theme answers, rather than navigating my way up from the bottom. Is top-down solving markedly more efficient?
Matt Jones's newest Jonesin' crossword, "Flippin' Sweet," has three theme entries of different lengths, so the grid has left/right symmetry. It took me a while with my head flipped over to understand the theme clues:
Sweet! If you didn't notice, the three theme entries all describe the reversal aspect. Can you imagine if the clues and answers had been swapped? Would you ever come up with Je9ns or sa>le) as an answer for a straightforward-looking clue? The theme's complemented by zippy fill—YUPPIE, SQUAWK, YAKUZA, ELWOOD from Blues Brothers—and clues. My favorite, for its '80s musical nostalgia, is [They're pulled from the shell, in a Squeeze song title] for MUSSELS.
August 23, 2008
NYT 14:53—try printing the PDF version rather than using the applet or Across Lite
NYT cryptic crossword 7:48
(post updated at 10:30 Sunday morning)
First off, if you're the "r larson" who posted a solving time for the NYT, your time can't possibly be right. Sure, 28 minutes is plausible, but not as an applet time posted less than 20 minutes after the puzzle was released online. And certainly not in the applet, where at 6:21 Eastern, only two finishers are listed, neither named "r larson." Were you reporting your Saturday time just after 6 Eastern, when my standings widget flipped over to Sunday?
Second, Will, what's with throwing two hard Kevin Der puzzles at us in a single weekend? Ouch! Two days after Kevin's 18-block themeless, he's got a plus-sized (23x23) Sunday New York Times crossword. The "Come Fly With Me" theme is explained in the theme entries, which spell out [instructions for what to do when this puzzle is done]. We are to CUT ALONG THE DOTTED LINE first. Um, what dotted line? There must be one in the NYT Magazine, but it's not there in the applet. Next, FOLD THROUGH EACH / PAIR OF NUMBERS / IN THE GRID SEQUENTIALLY. Finally, GO THROW THE PAPER AIRPLANE. Just this afternoon, coincidentally, my husband was folding a fancy paper airplane for our son. Since I have the puzzle on screen and not on paper and since there's no dotted line for me anyway, I'll skip the instructions altogether. (Edited to add: I looked at the PDF, and the dotted line simply circumscribes the grid. So if you cut out an Across Lite grid, you're good to go.)
As for the puzzle itself, aargh! Effing hockey! It took me an extra two minutes to hit on the correct [Common hockey power play] numbers, 5 AGAINST 4. It would have helped if I'd noticed the sort-of-symmetry of the numbers in the grid and seen that the 5 and 4 in the top row needed to be paired with a 5 and 4 down below in the hockey answer. The numbers that tell you which folds to make when are:
1: In the middles of 8- and 149-Across. [Belonging to] is AS 1 OF, crossing 1 EYE, [Cyclops' feature]. And [Slay somebody] is DO 1 IN, crossing AT 1, or [In accord (with)]. This is messing around with convention a bit because these phrases don't generally include a numeral. It's sort of rebusoid, I guess. The phrase do one in sounds unnatural, but I concede that the inclusion of numbers in predetermined spots in this grid dictate this sort of mild compromise.
2: The 2's are on the right, in 83- and 113-Across. [It follows the initial part of a procedure] means STEP 2, crossing WW2, the [1940s conflict: Abbr.], which is usually seen as WWII. [How one must win in ping-pong] is BY 2 points, crossing 2 UP, [Like a team that's ahead by a safety], which is worth two points in football. Sports non-fans having a meltdown yet?
3: The 3's are on the left, opposite the 2's, in 78- and 109-Across. [Need for the winner of a Wimbledon men's match] is 3 SETS, crossing an MP3 [File on an iPod]. [Staples of early education] are the 3 R'S, crossing 3 A.M., [N.Y.C. time when it's midnight in L.A.]. Sports non-fans beginning to fall to their knees.
4: The 4's are at the top and near the bottom on the right side of the grid, in 13- and 127-Across. [July holiday, with "the"] is the 4TH, of course, crossing 4 ACTS, the [Structure of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"]. The other 4 is in the aforementioned hockey clue, crossing 4-LANE, [Like the majority of Interstate highways].
5: The 5's are opposite the 4's on the left, in 5- and 127-Across. The [U.K. counterespionage agency] is MI5, crossing 5-CENT, which is not a cut-rate rapper but means [Costing a nickel]. The hockey 5 crosses 5-STAR, or [Highest-rated, as a hotel]. If you're not a sports fan but stay in luxury hotels, you had a shot here.
Putting aside the various wickednesses of the entries with numbers and, essentially, 90-some unclued squares in the instructions, what else was hard here? Picking a spelling for ["Stupidest thing I ever heard!"]—here it's PUH-LEASE. Sometimes you see a Z, or a double-E. ["A Little Princess" heroine and others] are SARAS; I had no idea. I didn't exactly know that [Sequoyah, for one] was a CHEROKEE, but it was simple enough to guess it with some crossing letters. As for ["___ et manus" (M.I.T.'s motto], well, I never heard the motto (all right, Der, that's enough with the MIT stuff! You made us learn that the school ring was called the BRASS RAT in a previous puzzle, but now I'm full up on MIT trivia. No más!). Looks like Latin for "something and hands," so it must be the mind 'cause it ain't gonna be the feet: MENS. Would you call PAPAYAS [Orange and green fruits]? Yeah, I guess so. Most of the nonthematic clues in this puzzle were quite accessible, I thought. The junkiest-looking entry was perhaps KUM, but clued as ["___ Ba Yah" (campfire song)], it was a quick gimme.
I was thoroughly enjoying this puzzle until I futzed around with various alternatives for the hockey clue, like 3 AGAINST 4 or 4 AGAINST 4. No, 4-on-4 wouldn't be a power play (which means one team's playing with an extra player because the opponent's got a player sitting in the penalty box), but I think the finest lodging I've ever stayed in was a four-star hotel. No, wait, it was five stars. Dammit, I should've gotten 5 AGAINST 4, then. (For the record, I own only one home, and the mortgage isn't paid off yet.)
Favorite clues and entries:
Hey, if you cut out the puzzle and make the paper airplane, let me know how it flies.
The mini-tournament called Lollapuzzoola debuted on Saturday. Ryan and Brian wrote up their event—congrats on the win, Howard! That link also includes downloadable Across Lite versions of the six tournament puzzles and a bonus puzzle. I haven't looked at any of them yet.
This weekend's second NYT Sunday puzzle is a cryptic crossword by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. Seven of the 28 answers are straight-up anagrams of words in the clue. The most surprising anagram was INSTANT MESSAGE as a rearrangement of "seat assignment." I cost myself about two minutes by having a typo in that answer, spelling is MSESAGE and having 21-Across seriously mucked up as a result. I wanted it to end with -ED, but with another E before that? It can't be. And it wasn't, because that letter was an S, in AMASSED ([Put together a pole on a ship in the sound]).
The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is by Bob Klahn this week, but the clues are only modestly harder than usual. The entries I liked best were:
Favorite clues: [Land lover] for PATRIOT and [Duty-free commodity?] for LEISURE TIME. Quibble: [Bud variety] can't be LITE because the beer is Bud Light. It's Miller Lite that uses the cheesy spelling.
Updated Sunday morning:
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Conventional Wisdom," offers a set of topical puns centering the imminent Democratic National Convention. (A friend of mine has blogger press credentials for the convention. How cool is that?) The puns are a mixed bag, which is par for the Merl course:
As strange as DONKEYXOTE looks, 44-Down may beat it for weirdest entry. FIG FARMER is clued with [Amos was one, in the Bible], but it's not a phrase that's out there, really. (Less than 700 Google hits at this writing...and Google asks, "Did you mean: 'pig farmer'.") The other seven 9-letter Down answers that run parallel to FIG FARMER are perfectly ordinary, though—LOVE SONGS and SCINTILLA are particularly nice.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Across Lite Boston Globe crossword, "Theme Songs," is an easy pop-culture confection—or at least, it's easy if you know your TV series theme songs. Sure, I had to piece together the Hannah Montana and Monty Python's Flying Circus songs, but M*A*S*H, Friends, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and The Sopranos came pretty easily to me. In the fill, SHORT I was elusive despite the quotation marks in the clue, ["Hit" or "miss" trait]. 91-Across also demanded most of the crossings before I figured it out; [Signal by flapping] and WIGWAG aren't instantly associated in my head.
The syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword is called "The Three B's" because each theme entry contains the letter B three times. The name in the byline is Sabrina Walden, which anagrams to "brand new alias" (thanks, reader Ted!), a new pseudonym for editor Rich Norris. Three of the 10 theme entries are people's names—BILL BIXBY was a ["My Favorite Martian" costar], but he was more famous as the lead in the TV series The Courtship of Eddie's Father and The Incredible Hulk. BARBARA BOXER is the [Senate's Democratic Chief Deputy Whip]. '80s pop star DEBBIE GIBSON is the ["Foolish Beat" singer]. There are two place names—PEBBLE BEACH, the [Scheduled site of the 2010 U.S. Open] in golf, and the BIBLE BELT, [Fundamentalist section]. The other half of the theme entries are uncapitalized nouns—the BOOB TUBE, a BLUE RIBBON, a PLUMB BOB, a ROBBER BARON, and a BABY BOOMER.
August 22, 2008
(post updated at noon Saturday; Thursday post also updated late with Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle)
A Saturday New York Times puzzle, constructed by Natan Last, with 70 words and 30 black squares—this puppy breaks no records at all. But a handful of the entries were straight-up fun to uncover, and MR. MIYAGI brought a smile to my face. (His clue: [Film character who says "I promise teach karate. That my part. You promise learn"].) A sweet little hit of '80s pop culture will generally give me the warm fuzzies towards a crossword. There were other terrific entries, and the clues amused me too. My favorite ingredients:
I needed a lot of crossings to figure out the [Oil-based paste mentioned in the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"]. I knew it was something-INE, but not that it was PLASTICINE. The lyric is given as "Plasticine porters with looking glass ties." What? Ties? Not eyes? Sighs. Another answer that sort of rhymes with PLASTICINE is JOLENE, a [#1 country hit for Dolly Parton]—for this one, I needed all the crossings. The [Existential musing] "WHY AM I HERE?" asks the self-referential question. Why is that phrase there? Is this an "in-the-language" phrase that's perfect crossword fodder, or a contrived phrase? I rather think it's the former.
In sum: Fun puzzle with a lively pop-culture vibe. I think Will Shortz got his days mixed up, though, because yesterday's Kevin Der record-breaker felt a good bit tougher than this one.
Brad Wilber's themeless LA Times crossword has many cool entries:
Is it just me, or was this one a good bit easier than most of Wilber's themeless puzzles?
Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" is again a bit tougher than the day's other themelesses. Is it just me, or has Stan Newman stepped up the difficulty level in the Stumper? It's been a while since I had cause to blog about the disconnect between the "Stumper" name and an easy puzzle. In this one, the last quadrant I filled in was the upper left. It all looks so reasonable now, sure, but mid-solve, these answers were hiding from me:
Did you know the [World's most common place name] is SAN JOSE? I recall a bar trivia question along these lines, and my team figured it had to be something reflecting the old British Empire, like Victoria. I don't remember if San José was given as the correct answer—they had some crazy wrongnesses sometimes.
Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Where's the Fire?" because the four theme entries end with words that can follow the word fire:
In the fill, [Goes from tavern to tavern] is BARHOPS. Did you ever notice that barhop and carhop are just one letter off?
August 21, 2008
(post updated at 9:19 a.m. Friday)
I know getting three silver medals isn't as good as winning the gold, but wouldn't it have been nice to clue 43-Down in Kevin Der's New York Times crossword as [41-year-old Olympic medalist Dara], in the singular, rather than the plural [Baseball's Joe and others] for TORRES? In a 60-word puzzle, you expect some compromises such as pluralized names, but it was entirely unnecessary in this case. The grid features triple-stacked 15-letter answers at the top and bottom, with INTERLEAGUE PLAY ([All-Star Game, e.g.]) the highlight. Know what else? This grid breaks Manny Nosowsky's 3/11/05 record of 19 black squares by one. Congrats to Kevin on immortalizing himself as Mr. 18, at least until someone manages to make one with 17. This is not the sort of record that solvers generally get exercised about, as most of them won't notice and the black-square count does nothing to enhance a puzzle's entertainment quotient.
The first wrong turn I made in this puzzle came right above that, where I assumed the answer to [It has 33 letters] would end in ALPHABET. Nope, it's the RUSSIAN LANGUAGE...though I think the 33 letters aspect more specifically clues an alphabet. Favorite clues and answers:
The tradeoffs for the black-square count include the following, which may mystify or irk some solvers:
Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior," on the other hand, contains 70 words and 28 black squares. It breaks no records and wins no prizes other than smiles. It's got a few weird answers, but four of the five long answers were captivating:
Favorite clues and entries:
The weirdest answer was GRIPPY, or [Afflicted with the flu]—this is the adjectival form of grippe, the old-fashioned word for influenza. Note the etymology: related to claw and seize. If you've had the flu, you've been in the grips of its cruel talons.
We've got DVRed Olympics on the TV right now. In the 110m hurdles, a Cuban runner won the gold medal, with Americans taking the silver and bronze. The two Americans exulted together, and the silver medalist said to the camera: "We're number one! Number one!" That's a...healthy self-regard. Rather a loose grasp on reality, but definitely a healthy self-regard.
Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "Alternative Rock," is pretty easy. The five theme entries are phrases that end with STONE, only that word has been anagrammed into another word and the resulting phrase is clued accordingly.
The puzzle's got a fair number of colloquial-language entries—"YOU'RE ON," and...well, I can't find the others. But I swear they were there. My favorite pairing was [Word shouted at church] for AMEN...and then the next section over, the same clue also meant BINGO.
The theme in Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword may be hard to describe clearly. The theme entries are people's names altered my appending the first letter of the last name to the end of the first name, which might be hard to hear when spoken aloud but changes the spelling of the first name, as name + an L sound creates a homophonic word. Clear as mud, right? Examples will work better:
Other clues and entries of note:
Tom Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Red Alert," gathers together various red things in the clues for the three 15-letter theme answers. [Reds and Red Sox] are BASEBALL PLAYERS. [Red-eye] is an OVERNIGHT FLIGHT. And [Redcoats] were BRITISH SOLDIERS. One clue kept me wondering for a while—regular crossword denizen ONER was clued [Nonesuch]. That's "a person or thing that is regarded as perfect or excellent." Those Olympic Games, they sure had a lot of oners! I wonder if anyone thinks a PAPAW, or [Custard apple], is a oner.