(post updated at 10:05 Monday morning)
December! What the...? How did that happen?
Vielen Dank to the Rätsel Mädchen, or Puzzle Girl. I just got home this evening and haven't had a chance to do any Sunday puzzles yet, so I haven't read her post about those crosswords. I'll bet it kicks ass, though.
The Monday New York Times crossword by Eric Platt is built around the phrase TURN ON A DIME. Inside my head, "stop on a dime" is the far more common phrase, but Google disagrees with me. In each of the other theme entries, a DIME turns around within. I'm not sure that "turn on a dime" is an apt description of "what the insides of 17-, 27- and 43-Across do"—the DIME turns, but the phrases sit there perfectly happy, DIME or no EMID. I like the mixed bag of theme answers: BETTE MIDLER, [The Divine Miss M]; a NURSE MIDWIFE, who is not just a [Birth mother's helper] but also a provider of routine gynecologic care in some jurisdictions (you wanted to know that, I'm sure); and an adjective, SEMI-DETACHED, or [Connected on only one side, as a town house].
I think this crossword may mark Mr. Platt's debut—nice work, as the fill includes some lively longer answers, such as RIGMAROLE and a LIFE-SIZED STERNUM.
My favorite Monday puzzle this week is Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword, "Do the Twist." This one features three 15-letter theme entries, a fairly low word count for a themed puzzle (74 answers), six 9-letter answers stacked with or crossing the theme entries, and smooth fill with accessible, Monday-grade clues. The theme answers all end with a word that does a "twist": UP AROUND THE BEND is a [1970 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit] I don't think I know. [Forward-thinking] means AHEAD OF THE CURVE. And [Says something inappropriate] is SPEAKS OUT OF TURN. In the fill, STOMACHED is clued [Put up with] and might just as easily have been TOLERATED. [Ironman competition parts] are MARATHONS. And look at the non-crosswordese river in the grid—the EUPHRATES is a [Major Iraqi river] that doesn't get much play in crosswords.
Tony Orbach's Sun crossword, "Five of Twelve," expands to a 15x16 grid to accommodate a 6-letter theme entry in the center. Each of the five theme entries is a famous person whose first or last name is also a month. AUGUST WILSON, the [Pulitzer-winning "Fences" playwright], was my only gimme. I can't say that I've heard of LEE MAY, the [Baltimore Orioles player who led the A.L. in RBIs in 1976]. The three actors—FREDRIC MARCH, JANUARY JONES, and JUNE LOCKHART—made me work from the crossings more. Did you notice that the theme entries appear in calendar order, with JANUARY at the left and AUGUST on the right? Nice touch.
Robert Morris's LA Times crossword has four theme entries that begin with a kind of LANE (50-Down):
Favorite clues and answers: [Homer's wife] is MARGE Simpson, but I was thinking of Homer's character Odysseus's wife, Penelope. To [Put a previously tested system into operation] is to GO LIVE. FARM AID is an [Annual agricultural benefit concert]. The colloquial "I'M DEAD" is clued ["It's curtains for me"].
November 30, 2008
November 29, 2008
NYT (gave up after 46:00)
BG (unavailable — if you know any different, please let me know in the comments!)
Hey, everybody, PuzzleGirl here with your post-turkey-coma puzzle commentary. Hope you all had a great holiday weekend and are ready to get back to the routine tomorrow. I am particularly looking forward to the part of my routine where I send my husband and kids off to the bus and enjoy some peace and quiet. But I'm sure that's just me. So. The puzzles!....
The theme in Merl Reagle's "Crossword Crossword" Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle is geared toward a fairly specific demographic that, I'm guessing, you belong to. That's right, it's all about people who know a little something about crossword puzzles. You'll find yourself in this puzzle whether you LOVE LETTERS and consider yourself a fan, or if you're a really slow solver who averages THREE SQUARES A DAY, or even if you're a BLACK ADDER (a puzzle artiste who uses way too many dark squares). (Frankly it's the black subtractors that cause me the most grief — you know who you are!) We've also got one answer that RUNS ACROSS and another that GOES DOWN. Other crossword-y theme answers:
Other stuff I liked:
I've also finally caught onto DRAY as a [sturdy cart]. I used to work with a guy whose last name was Dray. When he and his wife had their first child, they named him Ethan. Another co-worker of ours had a baby that year and named him Cole Reddington. At the time, I assumed that there had been some sort of law passed that all new parents were required to give their babies Soap Opera Names.
So, okay, just one more thing. I really can't say anything bad about a puzzle that includes ARTE Johnson, George JETSON, TANYA Tucker, and JETHRO from "The Beverly Hillbillies." But here's the one thing I want to say to all you constructors out there: Enough with the rivers already! I don't know them okay? I just don't! I have some sort of mental block when it comes to rivers and there's no way I will Ever get them except through crosses, so it's just not fair any more. I hope we don't have to have this conversation again.
Richard Silvestri's New York Times crossword, "Uh-Oh," beat me up and beat me up good. Some of the problems stemmed from my own reasonable mistakes, like no joke for NO JIVE. Some of it was stuff I once knew but forgot, like that ANENT means [With regard to]. But some of it was just unfair. MENHADEN crossing DEODATO? That seems unreasonably cruel. GNAR? Seriously? What is that? SHAVUOT next to LANARK? (I actually knew SHAVUOT but wasn't sure of the spelling, which I think is Totally Reasonable given the whole Chanukah/Hannukah/Hanukah thing. Although I'm not Jewish, I do know a little bit about Jewish holidays. The first two that came to my mind in this case were sukkot and pesach. I tell you this just to clarify that I'm not a complete DOLT, i.e., [dummkopf], just because I couldn't finish this puzzle.) Okay, you know what? I'm in Orange's house and she doesn't typically rant about the puzzles, so I'm going to stop now. Sorry about that. Judging by the posted scores on the applet, some of you didn't have Quite as much trouble as I did with this puzzle anyway. (Hi, Dan! Hi, Byron!)
So the theme consists of familiar phrases in which an UH sound is changed to an OH sound:
I spent some time today watching the NCAA National Champion University of Iowa Hawkeyes RASSLE today, so I was all over that. (Go, Hawks!) I'm a big fan of LOST [The story of the aftermath of Oceanic Flight 815] and occasionally wonder why it's not in the puzzle more often. Oh, and I had two incorrect first guesses that I thought were pretty good. I had piano instead of ATOLL for [Set of keys?]. And I didn't think of beth as a LETTER in the Arabic alphabet. No, to me, "Beth" (especially in six letters!) is and always will be, a ballad.
Updated Sunday at 11:00am:
Nora Pearlstone's LA Times crossword, "Medical Group," starts out with EM DASH [Punctuation that makes one pause] at 1 Across. That's all it took for me to fall in love with this puzzle immediately. If you know the difference between hyphens, em dashes, and en dashes; cringe when you see straight quotes instead of curly quotes; and feel actual, honest-to-God anger when you see a single open quotation mark where an apostrophe is supposed to be — well, then, you know what I'm talking about. Why, yes, people do refer to me as a dork occasionally, why do you ask? When posting on the web, I usually just use two hyphens instead of taking the time to make an em dash, but in honor of this answer I'm going to spend an extra minute or so on this post and make it, well, more easily readable to be sure. But ultimately? More beautiful. You're welcome.
Theme answers in this puzzle are familiar phrases with the letters DR added to them to create new phrases:
Too bad that last one needs a pronunciation change to make both phrases work. Also, is [Boomer who's actually a boomer] ESIASON showing up in puzzles a lot lately, or is it just me? I know you've all seen Palin and CLEESE's "dead parrot" sketch. Good stuff. I just had to find a picture of ANNA SUI's Secret Wish Magic Romance perfume and I was right — the bottle is hideous. I know someone has explained the difference between a [Tolkien menace] ORC and an ent, but I can't retain it. I'm guessing I'm the only one here who noticed this, but [Winnebago descendants] IOWAS is crossing [Big name in discount brokerage] SCHWAB, which could also be clued as National Champion University of Iowa assistant coach and Olympic wrestler Doug. Okay, I've been rambling too long about this puzzle, so I'll leave you with LYLE Lovett and be back in a little while with your CS write-up.
Updated Sunday at 11:30am:
Today's CrosSynergy crossword by Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily was a fun, quick romp for me. Exactly what I needed after the pressure of filling in for the irreplaceable Orange on a bunch of puzzles that took me a long time.
CAJOLE is a great word, isn't it? And I really didn't see it coming at all. Threw in the J for JET and thought, "Well, that can't be right!" For [Opera alternative?] I was thinking of the web browser and confidently entered Safari. I guess the question mark cued a misdirection on the word alternative instead of on the word opera. How is it possible that I knew SAILOR Moon off of just the S? I read [Porcine toon] as Porcine tooth and had no idea what was going on there with PETUNIA. NEPTUNE is now the [Furthest planet from the sun]. Poor Pluto. For [Arnold-esque?] I was thinking Tom? Roseanne? No, Benedict: TREASONOUS. Are TIE tacks fashionable now? I suppose I could ask PuzzleHusband who, inexplicably, went all Metrosexual on me sometime in the last few years. Not that I'm complaining. Okay, I'm complaining a little that his shoe collection is more impressive than mine, but other than that, it's all good.
Thanks for letting me hang with you guys. I think I'll be seeing you again at Christmastime, which is right around the corner. That's right, people — it's time to get out there and SHOP!
November 28, 2008
NYT 5:45 (the applet claims 5:58, but my browser froze for 13 seconds and I want the credit)
I'm not sure I'll get to all of the other Saturday puzzles on Saturday morning—we're heading up north for the weekend, and if I don't wake up early enough...
The charming and delightful PuzzleGirl will be your Dear Leader for the rest of the weekend, handling the Sunday crossword blogging duties. (Thanks, PG!)
Barry Silk's Saturday New York Times crossword has a terrific grid layout—each corner has four long answers (9 to 10 letters), giving it room for lots of interesting longer phrases and words. The shorter answers that cross them are pretty smooth (like Silk) and accessible, with no obscure abbreviations. And then! The middle! The middle of this puzzle with 90° symmetry has a 2x2 block of all Z's.
My favorites among the long answers:
The clues I liked best:
The ZZ zone contains RAZZ, or [Heckle]; PIZZA, or [Kind of oven]; OZZY, or ["The Osbournes" dad]; and DIZZY, or [Swimming].
Lesser-known items: ENESCO is the ["Oedipe" opera composer, 1936]. CHIOS is a [Greek island in the Aegean]. I'll betcha most solvers thought of Crete or Corfu] first. MASER is an [Electromagnetic wave enhancer]. GREER was a Sixer, [20-Across in the Hall of Fame]—and a basketball player I've never heard of. And AYER is a [Philosopher who promoted logical positivism]. ("Is that logical? I'm positive it is.")
Yeah, I didn't wake up early, so I'll write up the LA Times puzzle and then hit the road.
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword was a delight to solve. Plenty of tricky clues that put up a fight, but then yielded to obviousness. The only spot that was at all off-putting was EEGS clued as [Head shots, briefly?]—EEGs are tracings, zigzag lines, and not "shots" of any sort. (X-rays, MRIs, CTs—those are quasi-photographic shots. EEGs and EKGs aren't.) Everything else was good. My favorite clues:
November 27, 2008
(post updated at 11:15 a.m. Friday)
Joe Krozel packs 10 15-letter answers into his New York Times crossword, but he spaces them out so it feels different from the sort of themeless puzzle with lots of 15's stacked together. Here are the long answers, every one of 'em a lively phrase:
Miscellaneous other clues:
Fraser Simpson's Sun puzzle is a cryptic crossword, and it's a good bit more challenging and involved than the NYT Second Sunday cryptics are. For a guide to solving cryptics, see Fraser's "How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords" tutorial. I wrote up my answers over at the Crossword Fiend forum before I noticed that there was already a PDF of the answers. In the PDF, "anag." means anagram; parentheses indicate letters inserted (CAPS) or deleted (lowercase); "hom." means homophone; "rev." means reversal. If you are hesitant about giving cryptics the old college try, read Fraser's tips and see if you get any of the clues in the puzzle. If you're stuck, peek at an answer or two—in my forum post, the answers are in white text, so you can peek at a single answer without having the rest of the puzzle spoiled. Often, having even just a single letter in place from a crossing will help you figure out what an answer is.
It took me a while to suss out the theme in Donna Levin's LA Times crossword. Each theme entry makes a pun using a demonym or nationality that sounds like a common English word:
Highlights in the fill (which tended to the Scrabbly side): [Capo di tutti capi] is the KINGPIN. CHEEK gets a funny clue: [Half-moon?], as in a single butt cheek. MY GIRL was a [1965 #1 hit for The Temptations]. To NITPICK is to [Cavil]. The [2007 People magazine adjective for Matt Damon] was SEXIEST; Damon's response was funny.
Clues that got in the way of my finding the answers (as they're supposed to on a Friday):
Randy Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Riddle Me Math," dispenses four riddles that hinge on math-oriented puns:
The fill includes 22 answers that are 6 or 7 letters long, which gives the puzzle added freshness. There's the [Persian poet] Omar KHAYYAM, for example, and MT. SINAI, a [NY hospital named after a biblical site]. My favorite clue was [Harry and Tara] for REIDS—one doesn't ordinarily think of the Senate Majority Leader and the largely discredited actress in the same moment.
Ed Sessa's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "School of Victual Arts," is more playful than most CHE crosswords. The theme entries are five fields of academic study punned out with food. For example, ["You'll view the world as thin sheets of pastry in our ___ class"] clues PHYLLOSOPHY, based on philosophy and phyllo dough. LINGUINISTICS combines linguistics and linguini. Sociology becomes SUSHIOLOGY; economics, EGGONOMICS; and literature, LIQUORATURE. Interesting fill includes ALATEEN and DOGBANE, VESPUCCI and the Battle of MIDWAY. Did you look at your fingers to figure out [Second digit from the right]? The answer is the TENS digit next to the ones place.
Dan Fisher's Wall Street Journal crossword has a theme that combines two things I like: word manipulation (e.g., anagrams, reversals) and geography. In each "Global Recession" theme entry, the capital city (or maybe just a large city) points you to a country, the name of which appears in reverse (in highlighted squares) in the answer. The rest of the clue gives a more straightforward definition of the answer:
November 26, 2008
Have a happy Thanksgiving! If you're cooking, may all your food be ready on schedule without being overdone. If you're traveling, I wish you smooth and safe journeys. If you're just eating, don't forget the Tums.
Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle (a plus-sized grid, 15x16) brings together seven words or phrases in which the first and last half contain the same letters in different order:
That's a lot of theme packed into one puzzle. Assorted other clues and answers:
Now that editor Peter Gordon is calling his own shots, the Sun crossword can come out on holidays. (The New York Sun didn't publish an edition on holidays.) Peter Collins' Sun crossword, "Stuffing the Bird," must have been constructed after Peter G. made the decision to have holiday puzzles, because it's got a Thanksgiving theme. The title hints at a rebus gimmick, and sneaker brand [K-S]WISS broke this one open for me. Seeing KS in the upper right corner made me suspect that TH would appear in the upper left corner and AN between those two. Indeed, the rebus squares occupy the four corners and the middle square on each side, spelling out TH/AN/KS/GI/VI/NG TU/RK/EY. The presence in the fill of FEDERICO FELLINI, PERRY COMO, and EMPEROR HIROHITO appears to be incidental.
There were so many echoes between this puzzle's fill and the NYT—SLALOMED here and SKI there, BE[VI]ES here and BEVY there, OP-EDS here and op-ed ESSAYS there. Favorite entry: CONTROL-P. Favorite clues: [Top sellers] for TOY STORES, which are places you might buy a spinning top; and [Harvard proponent of higher education?] for Timothy LEARY. Least familiar answer: ITALO is the name of ["Confessions of Zeno" novelist Svevo]. Svevo?
Barry Silk's LA Times crossword uses the term KICK-START as the impetus for a crossword theme. The first word in four phrases doubles as a ___ kick:
The fill has some trademark Silk Scrabbliness, with answers like RITZY, ZEN, MATZO, UNISEX, and JUG. [Year in which the Colosseum opened] is EIGHTY, not LXXX.
Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy crossword, "Iron Supplements," adds iron's chemical symbol, Fe, to four phrases. (If you're a fan of the periodic table, here's a quiz—how many can you list?) The theme entries are:
Non-thematic clues and answers:
A [Tempest in a teapot] is an ADO, and the [Teapot Dome material] is OIL.
["Bejabbers!"] clues EGAD.
["Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" guy] is a GIGOLO? I had no idea.
[Lime-laced libation] is a GIMLET. Do you think anyone's ever used gimlets instead of giblets in making Thanksgiving stuffing?
[Pies in the sky?] may be UFOS.
Your AVATAR is your on-screen representation of yourself, a [Virtual-reality pinch hitter] that has nothing to do with baseball.
The [Four-armed Hindu deity] is named VISHNU.
[Muppet with two tongues?] is the billingual ROSITA. F.A.O. Schwarz offers custom-designed-by-you Muppets, but you can't order one now because there was too much demand. Dang—I kinda wanted one. Maybe later...
November 25, 2008
(updated at 5:25 p.m. Wednesday)
Harvey Estes' New York Times crossword hits the Wednesday sweet spot with an elegant theme, a low word count (72 answers = themeless grade), and colorful fill and clues. 57-Across is OLE, defined as [49-Across, in this puzzle]. 49-Across is THE LAST HURRAH, a [1958 Spencer Tracy film...and a hint to 20-, 30- and 39-Across]. Those three answers all end with a last hurrah, a final olé, and in each one the pronunciation is different:
Here's what I liked best outside of this finely wrought theme;
If you haven't been doing crosswords too long, you might not know that FALA was the name of the [F.D.R. dog], or that a SETA is a [Bristlelike part], such as on a caterpillar.
Alan Arbesfeld's Sun puzzle is called "Catching Some Rays" because each theme entry has some sort of ray or Ray hidden within it:
Did you ever think that NEO CON could possibly be the answer to ["Sweet ___" (2005 Rolling Stones song)]? This came as a complete surprise to me. The song's got a Wikipedia page devoted to it. (Lyrics here.)
Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword combines an AEIOU vowel progression theme with an add-some-letters theme with interesting results:
Robert Doll's LA Times crossword contains five theme phrases that mean [Vamoosed]: FLEW THE COOP, MADE TRACKS, GOT OUT OF DODGE, HIT THE ROAD, and TOOK A POWDER. All are idiomatically equivalent as well as making for colorful language. Clues that took some work to get:
[Lou "The ___" Groza, memorable NFL placekicker] is nicknamed The TOE. That's apt, but I'd never heard of him.
[Art from Pompeii?] wants you to return to ancient Pompeii, where Latin, not Italian, was spoken. The noun art in Latin is ARS, as in "ars longa, vita brevis."
[Horse variety?] is GIFT, as in "don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
[Providence athletes] are FRIARS? Really? Both the men's and women's teams are the Friars.
Tom Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Interior Living Quarters," hides four different ABODEs (58-Across) inside the theme entries:
We see HOI in the grid with a "___ polloi" clue plenty, but having POLLOI clued as [Hoi ___ (the masses)] is unusual. Old crosswordese ANIL pops up from time to time; here it's clued as an [Indigo-producing shrub].
The Tausig puzzle will have to wait until after this morning's third grade spectacular at my son's school.
I confess it took me a long time to understand the theme in Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle at all. The title is "The Short List," and here are the theme entries:
So I guess the crossword's called "The Short List" because these phrases build off of five shortened names. I feel old and out of touch having zero familiarity with 40% of 'em.
In the fill, there's a slew of juicy answers. THE VIEW, a DOVE BAR, and STIR-FRY occupy one corner. TV STAR and ACT TWO each have a four-consonant pile-up. GODCAST, a [Neologism for a holy download], is new to me. My dictionary informs me that COMFIT is a dated word—it means [European fruit candy] or, according to that dictionary, a "candy consisting of a nut, seed, or other center coated in sugar." Seeds? Damn near killed me having that M crossing the unknown-to-me M. WARD. BAKR fills in the blank in [Abu ___ (Muslim leader after Muhammed)].
November 24, 2008
Ah, kids these days! Teen constructor Caleb Madison's New York Times crossword packs in six theme entries and some sparkling fill. Each theme entry takes a two-syllable word and swaps its two vowels and clues the original and flipped words together as a phrase:
Favorite answers here:
[Heart beater in bridge bidding] is a SPADE. Do most Tuesday solvers know that? I don't know bridge at all, though in hindsight, it shouldn't have been too hard to guess that the answer was one of the suits in a deck of cards. The KEPI is a [Hat for a French soldier], and this is one of those words I know mainly from puzzles. I had an adjacent-key typo that messed with my solving time—no, the [Shout from Scrooge] is not BAJ. I meant to type BAH. Jonest.
Do you ever finish a crossword and find yourself staring at it, trying to figure out what on earth the theme is? I do, and I did tonight with Randall Hartman's Sun puzzle, "Spin Doctors." Eventually it dawned on me that a D and R (Dr., or doctor) that start and finish a word get "spun" so that the R now starts the word and the D ends it:
AL GORE is in the fill, clued as the ["While I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it" speaker]. Wednesday morning, my son's third grade pod will be putting on a "Goin' Green" show inspired by Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Speaking of cautionary documentaries on important topics, Patrick Creadon's Wordplay follow-up, I.O.U.S.A., made the short list for the Oscars—of the 15 docs on the short list, five will be nominated.
Longer fill includes PIKES PEAK in Colorado, the STATE PEN (terrific entry!), BUMS A RIDE, and MAIL IT IN, or [Do a perfunctory job]. Is "mailing it in" more half-assed or less half-assed than "phoning it in"?
Gene Newman's LA Times crossword features three theme entries that add a silent W to change the meaning of a phrase:
The theme's pretty easy, but some other clues are tougher. [Ritchard who played Hook on Broadway] is CYRIL, and I've never heard of him. [Actress Berger], or SENTA, has the advantage of having a more crossword-friendly batch of letters, so I've seen her name before—though I haven't a clue what work she did and whether she was any good. An [Encircling ring of light] is an AUREOLE—not to be confused with an areola.
Will Johnston's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Wishy-Washy," is excellent. The theme entries are three things you might say as a [Wishy-washy resly to a proposal]: "I CAN'T SAY FOR SURE," "MAYBE YES, MAYBE NO," and "ASK ME AGAIN LATER." Mind you, if you're planning to propose to someone in a public place, you need to be 99.99% sure you won't be getting one of these responses. Some of the fill dances around this topic—one who is IN LOVE (or [Smitten]) and gets rebuffed will then cry DON'T GO (["Please stay!"]). There's also some lively longer fill: The N.Y. YANKEES are the [MLB team with the most ALCS wins]. BAGUETTES are a [Boulangerie basketful]. [Comprehensive victory] is a CLEAN SWEEP. "YOU DA MAN!" means ["Bravo, bro!"]. And my favorite entry is ARMS AKIMBO, a [Jaunty pose description].
Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "Hidden Strength," hides an OBAMA in each of six theme entries. [Superhero with the power to produce Japanese noodles?] is YAKISOBA MAN, for example. And [Hope/Crosby travel flick that takes place in Mali's capital?] is THE ROAD TO BAMAKO. Cute! Mind you, each theme entry is a preposterously made-up phrase, but that's half the fun right there—seeing how Matt's brain works. The surrounding fill is fun, as usual for Jonesin' crosswords. [Toy advertised with the slogan "but they don't fall down"]? Why, that's a WEEBLE, of course. It wobbles, but you can't knock it over. SPAZ is a [Like, totally uncool person]. And [Menage-a-many?] clues an ORGY.
November 23, 2008
Billie Truitt's New York Times crossword treads some familiar ground—I've seen at least two previous digital-themed puzzles before. This one proceeds through all five fingers on a hand, from thumb to pinky:
Now, in my heart, no fingers theme can top David Pringle's 4/23/07 NYT with PINKY TUSCADERO, but I do like the completeness of including the thumb. I liked seeing [Mr. ___ (Lucy's TV boss)], Mr. MOONEY, here; I don't know why. The [First of 12 popes with a religious-sounding name] is PIUS I. Hmm, we don't see a lot of Roman-numeraled pope names in Monday puzzles, do we?
Mark Feldman's Sun crossword, "Dressing Up in England," compiles a group of clothing items that have taken the name of places in England. All five are clued the same, [Part of an English outfit]. They include ETON JACKET, RUGBY SHIRT, NORFOLK COAT, OXFORD SHOE, and WINDSOR TIE. Wait, what's that one in the middle? The Norfolk coat or jacket is "a loose, belted, single-breasted jacket with box pleats on the back (and sometimes front), now with a belt or half-belt." Outside of the theme, the fill's a bit Scrabbly and two of the corners contain a 6x4 chunk of white space.
Today's LA Times crossword comes from Andrea Carla Michaels and Myles Callum. Three theme entries are tied together by GIMME A KISS, a [Hopeful demand of 17-, 35- or 41-Across]:
Highlights in the fill include an EGG-TIMER, or [Board game gadget]; [Snoopy's foe], the RED BARON; SPLEEN clued as [Anatomical source of ill humor?]; and ST. PETER, [Heaven's gatekeeper]. I didn't know that MIRA meant ["Look!" to Luis]—it's one of those Spanish words I've heard on TV shows without being clear on the meaning. And yes, usually a [Bride's partner] is a GROOM, but sometimes it's another bride.
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "It's Hot Outside!", has four theme entries with HOT outside—that is, the phrases start with HO and end with T.
The most frightening thing in this puzzle was the clue for CATHY: [Comic strip about modern women]. All the women I know are modern, and I don't think any of us can relate to Cathy. The character is not emblematic of our lives, our concerns. This essay explains why. Who doesn't appreciate an articulate evisceration of something lame?
Bonus points for including TOMMYROT and the FOUR TOPS in the fill—hey, that sounds like a group, doesn't it? Tommy Rot is the frontman. I love the oddball synonyms for [Nonsense]; besides TOMMYROT, we have balderdash, claptrap, poppycock, twaddle, hooey, and malarkey.
November 22, 2008
Do you like huge time-wasters? Trip Payne mentioned quiz website sporcle.com on his blog. Can you name all the countries in Africa? Or in the world? How are you on the schools in six major Division I conferences? Can you name all the NBA teams? Identify dozens of Simpsons characters? Name all the U.S. presidents? There are quizzes for a whole bunch of topics like those. Better yet, when you're done, it'll tell you which answers were guessed the most or least often, so you can see if everyone else forgot the Comoros too.
The New York Times crossword by David Kahn is called "Picture This," and it's got a trivia theme—everything you ever wanted to know about a silly moment in art history. Here's how the story goes:
HENRI MATISSE, a FRENCH ARTIST who was the [Leader of the Fauvist movement], created a PAINTING called LE BATEAU using WATERMEDIA. At a MOMA EXHIBITION in 1961, that painting appeared UPSIDE-DOWN. And do you know how long LE BATEAU hung that way before being noticed and fixed? FORTY-SEVEN DAYS, that's how long. The circled squares tell you what the picture is of—a SAILBOAT REFLECTION. And if you connect the dots, you get a decent representation of what LE BATEAU looks like. This visual aspect of the puzzle makes it feel a tad Gorskian, doesn't it?
According to the Wikipedia article on the work, though, Le Bateau (if you look at it, it's easy to understand how it ended up upside-down) is a lithograph and not a painting. But the Matisse write-up calls it a gouache, and gouache is a type of watermedia used in painting.
Assorted clues and answers from the rest of the puzzle:
[Train stop?] is an ALTAR if a bride is wearing a gown with a train.
The WAX BEAN is a [Vegetable with yellow pods]. Green beans are better. They're green.
The odd plural ODIUMS is clued as [Intense aversions].
The odd word LOWISH is clued as [Somewhat reduced].
[Say "Final answer," say] is how you COMMIT on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. Hey! Trip Payne was the third contestant on that show.
PITAS are [Double-layer breads]. That reminds me—it's time to have some hummus.
[What Ramona wore in a 1966 Chuck Berry song] was a TIGHT DRESS.
I like the use of Roman numerals in [Year Super Bowl XXXVII was played] and MMIII (2003).
[Al Kaline, in uniform] was the number SIX. Anyone else try to make him a SOX?
A billiards shot that's a [Cushion user?] is a BANK SHOT.
[Cupid, e.g.] is one of Santa's REINDEER.
A [Cleanup hitter, e.g.] is a real WALLOPER.
[Like the earliest Olympic festival] clues ELEAN. Say what? Didn't know this one at all. It's the adjectival form of Elis, where the first Olympics took place in 776 B.C.E.
One sort of [Animal oddity] is an ALBINO. Near Carleton College, there's an albino squirrel. It doesn't like to pose for pictures. Must be shy.
[Revolutionary 1930s bomber] is the B-10, which looks like BTEN spelled out in a crossword.
I don't know the [Kipling short story, with "The"] called MALTESE CAT.
[Unreasonable, pricewise] clues STIFF. Did you opt for STEEP first as I did?
Well, I solved these next four crosswords late last night, but didn't make any notes for blogging purposes. So this'll be short.
This week's Washington Post Style Invitational contest is to come up with funny clues for answers in Paula Gamache's November 12 CrosSynergy puzzle. If you want to play along, you can download the Across Lite file at Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page.
Henry Hook's Boston Globe repeat in Across Lite is called "Green and Bear It." Each theme entry is clued [GREEN], and the answers are essentially clues for the word green: there are two adjectives, ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND and INEXPERIENCED. There's the color, YELLOW MIXED WITH BLUE. And there are three nouns, SLANG FOR MONEY, traffic LIGHT TELLING YOU TO GO, and AREA WHERE GOLFERS PUTT. I like the stacks of longish answers in the NW and SE corners, but the 3-letter crossings are less appealing. Overall, in fact, the shorter fill was a little off—FPL, FOL, ALW, OCUL, ANSE? Hook usually spoils us with better fill than that. If you've ever grumbled at the word amerce being used in a crossword, Hook's got a new synonym for you: [Imposes fines] also means MULCTS.
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "At the Animal Salon," unfolds a tale with animal puns in a hair salon setting. It begins with "COME ON IN, DEER," deals with hairstyling issues, and reinforces the stereotype of massive gabbing about man trouble going on at hair salons. The GUY IN BUFFALO, SUCH A WEASEL, and YAKETY YAK YAK entries aren't puns, though, just phrases in Merl's narrative that include a kind of animal. I am compelled to iluminate "...TO TAPIR A BIT" by mentioning that at England's superb Chester Zoo, a tapir sprayed my family with pee last year. (Never trust a tapir with its back to you, folks.) The word PUISSANT, or [Powerful], is in the grid—I like that because if you omit the U, you get an entirely different word.
By the time I was solving Dan Naddor's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, I had grown rather sleepy and I kept catching myself with my eyes closed. It's not at all the fault of the puzzle—it was just late at night. The theme, "Not More of the Same," adds an -S (or -IES) to pluralize nine phrases that customarily are never used in the plural:
So, it's a good theme. It makes you think a little bit, it's executed consistently and well, and it yields a few smiles. The upper left corner of the grid got off to a slow start. 1-Across is an not-that-common abbreviation, SUPT or [Bldg. boss]. Here in Chicago, we have school superintendents but building managers, no supers. Below that, the [Swift Malay boat] is old-school crosswordese and used to show up in a lot more crosswords; it's a PROA. Right under the PROA is EBEN, ["___ Holden": 1900 Bacheller novel]. They all cross TANTARA, or [Trumpet blast], another of the words I learned in crosswords.
Other clues and answers:
Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has an unusual-looking grid for a themeless puzzle. The puzzle is anchored by two 15-letter answers. FLAVOR OF THE WEEK is a [Passing fancy], and SAME-SEX MARRIAGE is clued, [It's legal in Massachusetts]. Crossing those answers are several other long ones:
All six of those are lively phrases. Other parts I liked:
I didn't even see this clue last night—a MABE is a [Hemospherical cultured pearl]. There's a YOTP (year of the pope) clue: [Year Pope John XVIII was anointed] is MIV. The [Dairy case designation] for eggs, AA LARGE, seems a tad off as crossword fill. LATEEN is a [Sunfish sail]; again, all things nautical are things I'm not too familiar with.
November 21, 2008
(updated at 10:30 Saturday morning)
Hooray! We just had a Sun puzzle co-constructed by Frank Longo—who has been keeping himself too busy with things other than newspaper themeless crosswords—and now the Saturday New York Times puzzle proudly sports the Longo byline. And good gravy, is that an insane-looking grid. Triple-stacked 15's at the top and bottom, and a midsection spanned by two more 15's. They're not such easy 15's, either—none of the usual-suspect 15-letter answers that get used over and over. Here are the big boys:
How did you survive this one? Did 36-, 37-, and 38-Down kill you? Me, I was just happy to have a too-rare Longo themeless to kick me around.
Robert Wolfe's LA Times crossword has 70 answers, and about 20 of them are multi-word phrases—ranging from the very short (MR. T, ['80s Peppard costar]) to the long (I DON'T UNDERSTAND, or ["Huh?"]). Here's a selection of the other phrases:
And now, some single-word answers with interesting answers:
Three things I didn't know:
Two bits of standard old crosswordese are here. An ARIL is a [Seed protector]; one aril you may recognize is the little juicy ruby surrounding each pomegranate seed. The STOA [often bordered an agora].
Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was the day's hardest themeless for me. (PDF solution here.) Favorite clues and answers:
Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Le Puzzle," adds -LE to the end of four phrases that end with a CK to transform those phrases into something different. The results sound zingy:
I'm fond of PTOLEMY, the [Ancient Greek astronomer with an Earth-centered theory] and a silent P, not at all fond of NO PARKING signs, though NO PARKING makes for an excellent bit of crossword fill.
November 20, 2008
I thought of Merl Reagle when I read this list of "worse than Quantum of Solace" titles, from Chicago Tribune writer Steve Johnson. My favorite was "Cardamom of Venice."
We're having patrickberry pie with patrickberry ice cream—both the NYT and Sun crosswords are by the same constructor.
Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword shows again that he is the primary exception to the rule that I don't much care for 62-word themelesses because they're racked with compromises in the fill. This 62-worder has an oddball grid, with most of its open space in the middle rather than the corners. The fill is Berryesque, which is to say that it's smooth and unforced and rather light on tacked-on word endings and prefixes. To wit:
The cluing is also top-notch, presumably a mash-up of good ideas from the Berry and Shortz ateliers. Some of the items in this listing are not exemplars of great cluing, but rather, facts people may be Googling. I'll bet you can tell the difference.
In its very own category in this crossword, we have a PANTY GIRDLE, or [Unmentionable]. I guess there are still things called panty girdles on the market, but back in 1965, doctors recognized their danger.
Berry's Sun "Weekend Warrior" was a little harder than the NYT. This one's a 66-worder with about 15 people's names in the grid. My favorite clues:
And my favorite answers:
Those four longest ones frame the black square in the middle of the grid, and they make a beautiful quartet of crossword answers.
Weirdest answer: SEABAG is a [Duffel with a drawstring]. I never knew sailors had a special name for their duffels.
I won't have time for all four of the other Friday puzzles this morning because I came across a link to the Visual Thesaurus spelling bee, and I am powerless to resist its siren song. (I'm the Amy R. on the leaderboard. You add the aura of competition to something nerdy, and I get sucked right in.)
Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword has a slew of tricky spots, and the theme didn't come readily to mind, either. 63-Across, the [Sound created by the four identical letters missing from] the other four theme entries, is AIR LEAKAGE, so each missing letter is an S (as in a hissing SSSS). It took forever to figure out where COMIC BEING, or [Batman or Robin?], originally had an S. I daresay "cosmic being" is not so familiar a phrase. [Used up the subs?] is RAN OUT OF TEAM (steam). [Biennial rash?] is THE EVEN-YEAR ITCH (seven)—hey, I like this one. [Supplier of deep-fried fare?] is a FAT FOOD CHAIN (fast).
Clues that made me work for the answers:
Updated midday Friday:
Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Class Act," has a quote theme. The quote itself is fine (Aristotle: TEACHING IS THE / HIGHEST FORM OF/ UNDERSTANDING), but didn't at all enhance my solving experience. But I enjoyed the puzzle in spite of the quote theme. Those meaty corners with 7's crossing 6's helped, as did sparkling longer fill—the IROQUOIS include [Mohawks, e.g.], GOOD TIMES was the classic '70s [Esther Rolle sitcom], and WATERLOO goes beyond Abba and metaphor to be [Battle of ___ (1815 conflict)]. I liked the overall vibe of the puzzle, what with clues like these for wee little 3-letter answers: WHY is [Philosopher's question]. [Backseat driver] is one type of NAG. SUE is a [Boy in a Johnny Cash song]. ME A is clued ["Peel ___ grape"]. You'd think a quote puzzle with 34 3-letter words would just be horribly arid, and it didn't feel that way at all.
John Lampkin's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Failure to Launch," plays around with terms from astronomy that can be misunderstood by those not in the know. The would-be ASTRONOMER thought a RED DWARF might be Snow White's compadre, Bashful, and that MICHAEL JORDAN must be a shooting star. Given all the wrong answers on the short-answer test, the prof labeled the student a SPACE CADET. All right, that's cute. This puzzle seemed lighter on the erudition scale than most CHE puzzles (this is not a complaint, just an observation). The only clue that held me up was [It holds a yard] for MAST—the nautical terms just aren't at the forefront of my brain.
"Colin Gale," a.k.a. Mike Shenk, has crafted an impressive Wall Street Journal crossword. In "Make Me an Offer," there's a TAKEOVER BID in seven places in the grid—that is, the letters TAKE appear over the letters BID seven times (see circles in solution grid). I had no idea what was going on in this puzzle until I reached the explanatory clue, but I had noticed a lot of TAKEs floating around. I'm guessing it was quite difficult to find a workable way to place the lists of "words and phrases containing TAKE or BID" into the grid, with solid crossings. Try it yourself! Mind you, Mike made it a little easier on himself by not insisting on symmetrical locations for the theme pairs. But still—an impressive construction.