December 31, 2008

Thursday, 1/1

Sun 6:01
LAT 4:09
NYT 3:41
CS 3:00

(updated at 12:30 Thursday afternoon)

Happy New Year! Stay tuned for talk about another 1,700 or so crosswords over the course of the coming year. I have a good feeling about this 2009 business.

It could be the New Year's Eve margaritas talking, but I found Alan Arbesfeld's New York Times crossword to be just lovely. Sure, there are only three theme entries, but the trade-off is that we get eight 8- or 9-letter answers in the fill and a 72-word grid that satisfies the word count limit for themeless puzzles. The theme answers tack on a Z (the best of all letters) to completely change the subject of a phrase:

  • [Do a marathon in Egypt?] clues RUN AROUND SUEZ, playing on the Dion song, "Runaround Sue." Marathon in Egypt? Probably gonna need a lot of water stations for that.
  • [Goes all out at an audition for a sax great?] is PLAYS HARD TO GETZ.
  • [Top-secret carpentry tool?] is a CLASSIFIED ADZ. I like repurposing of crosswordese—a nutty little word like adz, which I never have a need for outside of crosswords, suddenly gets promoted to the big time. It's a little reward for the folks who have filled their heads with such words.
The longer answers in the fill include phrases like ON ONE'S OWN ([Independent]), ALL AT ONCE ([Suddenly]), and the surprising HOLD WATER ([Add up]), and the under-ballyhooed BALTIC SEA—that's [Part of Poland's border], not to mention the Baltic lands of Lithuania (I'm an eighth Lithuanian, you know), Latvia, and Estonia. BOYZ II MEN (pronounced "Boys to Men"), the R&B vocal group, are clued with [Band whose 1994 song "I'll Make Love to You" was #1 for 14 weeks]. That title seems a little racy for the Gray Lady, doesn't it? The Gray Lady is gettin' some action tonight.

Remember when yesterday's puzzle had YAKUT in it? Today, we get [Yakutsk's river], the LENA; you owe it to yourself to read up on Yakutsk—ice road truckers, four months of well-below-zero temps, a Museum of Mammoth, and a highway you can't always access from town. ILLER is clued [More wonderful, to a hip-hopper]; the daintiness of "more wonderful" amuses me here. [Certain scale start] is CDEF; these are music notes, I presume, and the C*EF lured me into entering CLEF at first. I didn't see this clue while doing the puzzle—[Rear end, anatomically] is NATES, with two syllables, a plural noun meaning the buttocks derived from the Latin natis meaning "buttock, rump." Despite my years of crosswords and medical editing, that one's new to me. Pound and stone are units of weight, while [Pound and Stone] are two EZRAS. Ezra Stone? He's as unfamiliar to me as nates—he got famous as a radio actor back in the '30s.


I'm glad I saved Karen Tracey's Sun crossword, a "Themeless Thursday," for this morning. I was much too tired to do it justice last night. I mostly waltzed smoothly through the clues—until I reached the 4x5 section in the upper right corner. For the longest time, all I had was the -OR at the end of the constellation. Eventually it occurred to me that [Woodstock artist] meant the creator of Snoopy's bird friend and not a 1969 musician: CHARLES M. SCHULZ. It might've helped if I hadn't been convinced that [Where Samsung is headquartered] was somewhere in Japan rather than SEOUL, South Korea. It all looks so plausible now, but I needed just one of those answers to be a gimme. I should've known [Service designation] would be the ol' ONE-A.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [GRE component] isn't one of the words starting with G, R, or E, as I'd initially thought. VERBAL, my favorite section.
  • EILEEN is the [Name in the only hit by Dexys Midnight Runners]. Yes, that '80s band could use an apostrophe, but they looked so down and out in that "Come On Eileen" video, they could scarcely be expected to scrounge up proper punctuation.
  • I didn't know that The PICKWICK PAPERS was a [Novel with the character Serjeant Buzfuz, with "The"]. This clue follows the Dexys one and lends an air of (sic)ness.
  • SPELUNK ([Explore among stalagmites and stalactites]) pairs nicely with CAVERNOUS, or [Yawning].
  • BRIC-A-BRAC makes for [Whatnot contents]. A whatnot is a "stand with shelves for small objects."
  • Adrian [Monk, e.g.] is a TITLE ROLE on cable TV. TV also gets must-see TV SITCOMS, VINNIE Barbarino, Sherilynn FENN from Twin Peaks, and a VOTE on Survivor.
Andy Sawyer celebrates New Year's Day with a bowl game theme in his LA Times crossword:
  • ROSE MADDER is a [Reddish pigment], and the Rose Bowl comes complete with a parade.
  • The LIBERTY PARTY was an [1840s abolitionist group] not of my ken. It morphed into the Free Soil Party, which I've heard of but know little about. There's a Liberty Bowl in football? There are a lot of bowl games that don't ring a bell in this Sporcle quiz. Thirty-four! My husband and I named maybe 10 of 'em.
  • ORANGE FREE STATE (yay, Orange!) is the [Former name of the province whose capital is Bloemfontein]. The Orange Bowl is one of the biggies.
  • COTTON MATHER was a [Witch trials VIP], and the Cotton Bowl has been around for ages. If you want a good read, pick up Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, about the Puritans. I'm only 90 pages in, but she's already name-checked my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Harbottle Grimstone.
  • SUGAR DADDY is a colorful phrase (meaning [Benefactor of a sort]), and the Sugar Bowl is one of the familiar ones.
  • BOWL, [Any of five that begin this puzzle's longest answers], wraps it all in a BOW ([Wrap session creation]) at 67-Across.
It almost looked as it DUMB DOWN ([Uncomplicate to a fault]) and BONA FIDE ([True]) could be theme entries too, based on their length and positioning. Oh, if only there were a Dumb Bowl in NCAA football!

Overall, an excellent and timely theme with some interesting fill and Thursday-tough clues. [Spanish sherry city, formerly] could be spelled Jerez, but here it's XERES, crossing GEN X, or [Thirtysomethings et al.]. [Makes a bust] isn't about narcs, it's about Rodin and his peers—the answer is SCULPTS. Its L crosses GADFLY, or [Annoying sort]; I hereby make a New Year's resolution to find more uses for the word gadfly. [Yearns for pines?: Abbr.] duped me again—it's SYN, short for synonym, and the last time I saw a clue like this, I was lost. A few days ago, PORNO was in the Sun crossword, and now it's in the LA Times one, clued as [Blue books?]. Miscellaneous other clues: MINYAN is a [Synagogue quorum]. CASCA was [One of Caesar's assassins]. [Insolvent banking giant, familiarly] is WAMU, recently reported to have been approving anyone for a mortgage.

Tom Schier's CrosSynergy crossword also has a seasonal theme—"Resolutions for the New Year." His four resolutions are notably lacking any mention of "get better at crosswords," but exhort the following: BE NICER TO OTHERS, SAVE MORE MONEY, EXERCISE DAILY, and LOSE EXTRA POUNDS. I like to misread multi-word crossword answers, don't you? "Be nice toothers," those are words to live by. One of the long Down answers, [Part of a sportscaster's game recap], is FINAL SCORE—there'll be plenty of that going on today. My personal favorite is the hockey Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, a matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Redwings. I wouldn't want to be sitting outside in Wrigley when it's 30° out—it's tough enough to make it through a spring ball game when it's 50°. (But then, I wouldn't have wanted to be standing in Times Square last night with the frigid temps, either.) It's cool to have an NHL game happening in the neighborhood, though, and luckily the skies are cloudy so the skaters won't have to contend with blinding glare.


December 30, 2008

Wednesday, 12/31

Tausig 4:30
LAT 4:10
NYT 4:06 by the time I found the typo
Sun 3:59
Onion 3:35
CS 3:15

(updated at 10:30 Wednesday morning)

Hey! I just reserved my room at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott and booked my flight for the 2009 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The Friday evening program includes a panel about crossword blogging. Listen, don't ask me hard questions if you want me to look smart, okay? (Ridiculously hard questions for the other folks are fine, of course.) Thanks. I hope to see many of you in Brooklyn!

Tim Wescott's New York Times crossword has a foursome of 15-letter entries, but those aren't exactly the theme answers—rather, the theme lies within the first letter of each and a trio of letters in the middle. The center of the grid has a WWW, [Letters after two slashes]. The first letters of the four 15's spell out HTTP, or hypertext transfer protocol. The circled letters within each 15 are a web domain:

  • [Feel like quarreling about something] clues HAVE A BONE TO PICK.
  • [No halfway effort] is TOTAL COMMITMENT. This phrase seems like a weird choice for a crossword answer.
  • [Basis of a false arrest, perhaps] is a TRUMPED-UP CHARGE.
  • [Going past the fourth quarter, say] clues PLAYING OVERTIME. "In overtime" is what I'd say, not "playing overtime."
I like the visual twist of the theme, but would be happier if the 15's were more unimpeachable as crossword fill and if the 3-letter domains were all split across answer words.

I blew a half minute or so in the applet by typing DUKE instead of [Dick Van ___] DYKE. Dang those adjacent-key typos that yield plausible words in one direction! Toughest answer in the grid: YAKUT, or [Native of NE Siberia]. Those Yakut folks are thousands of miles from the URALS, a [Range extending south from the Kara Sea]. Biggest duplication: ONE P.M. is a [Common lunch hr.], while U.S. ONE is an [Auto route from Me. to Fla.]. Tastiest answer: GUMBO, clued as [Okra stew]; my husband just polished off the last of Sunday's carryout gumbo from Heaven on Seven. Favorite answers: SKORTS are [Women's hybrid clothing], the spork of fashion; and SCREWY means [Off the wall].

Do you know how many 4-letter words there are for your rear end? In Patrick Blindauer's Sun crossword, "Rear Ends," he's taken six 4-letter rears and split them in half, putting 2 letters at each end of a longer phrase:
  • [Belmont Park statue subject] is the horse SECRETARIAT, which is embraced by a SE AT.
  • [Farm laborer] clues HIRED HAND, with a HIND.
  • TUNA FISH is a [Melt ingredient] and is bracketed by a TUSH.
  • DUSTS OFF means [Takes out for use after a period of inactivity]. DUFF is also the beer brand on The Simpsons.
  • Lou Costello's ["Pardon My Sarong" costar] is BUD ABBOTT, who lives inside a BUTT.
  • To RUBBERSTAMP is to [Endorse without question], clasped by RUMP.
The British prat and arse are left out, as are the assorted 3-, 5-, 6-, and 7-letter synonyms. Twenty points to Patrick for working in six theme entries without forcing untoward compromises in fill. A bonus of 5 points for BUMPPO, or [Natty of literature]. I don't know what James Fenimore Cooper was thinking when he came up with that character name for The Last of the Mohicans. (You're picturing Daniel Day-Lewis in his flowing locks promising "I will find you!" now, aren't you?)

This is the week for butt themes, apparently, because Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Bum Deal," is also fixated on the hindquarters. The term ASS BACKWARDS holds the key here: The other three theme answers contain synonyms for your rear end (or maybe somebody else's) backwards. To wit:
  • [Rocker's plectrum] hits us up with some guitar vocabulary—that's a GUITAR PICK. The word PRAT appears backwards within it.
  • Comedian DANA CARVEY is Wayne's World's [Garth Algar, in real life]. He's got a CAN facing the wrong way.
  • Turn around a TEST-TUBE BABY, or [Conception breakthrough of the 1970s], to find a BUTT.
ASS BACKWARDS is definitely "in the language" these days, but would be verboten in your standard daily crossword puzzle. I'm glad we have these other indie xwords opening up new angles in puzzling.
(Whoops, that's last week's puzzle, and Angela blogged it last week, and I did actually read that post.)

Highlights in the clues and fill:
  • SPIRO is clued as [Agnew whose name has at least two famous anagrams]. Hmm, I had to Google this. They're "grow a spine" and "grow a penis."
  • [Cambodian tongue] is KHMER. That mash-up of consonants looks wrong until you figure out the answer.
  • [Southern rapper Young ___] JEEZY doesn't get much play on the crossword page. Definitely a better name than Natty Bumppo.
  • The MINK is a [Muskrat eater]? Who knew? The Captain and Tennille's "Muskrat Love" didn't warn of the mink menace, did it?
  • I didn't know YAHTZEE was a [Yahoo! Games staple]. Are there any other double-Yah__ combos out there?
  • BEAVIS, of Beavis & Butthead fame, is the [Cornholio alter ego].
Deb Amlen celebrates New Year's Eve in her Onion A.V. Club crossword. Deb groups four staples of the evening, pairs them with various beginning words, and gives them holiday clues. You have a toast at a party, the Waterford ball drops in Times Square, and people make resolutions for the coming year:
  • [New Year's hair-of-the-dog breakfast?] is CHAMPAGNE TOAST. The original NYE thing is a champagne toast, so this theme entry feels a bit off to me. Is this TOAST toasted bread at breakfast?
  • [New Year's soiree that brings in the bucks?] is a STAG PARTY. Stags are male deer, or bucks. Most NYE parties are not stag parties—maybe in Boystown they are.
  • [New Year's item "'dropped" in a brothel?] is a BEN WA BALL. If you don't know what that means, I will leave the Googling to you. Be forewarned, it's a sex thing and highly unlikely to be mentioned in the New York Times.
  • [New Year's promise made to one's self while stoned?] is a HIGH RESOLUTION. High-resolution images are crisp and clear. Usage question: Shouldn't that be "oneself"?
Favorite clues:
  • ["Schyah!"] means the exclamation AS IF.
  • BEAKER is [Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's assistant at Muppet Labs].
  • "ZING!" is a [Possibly sarcastic joke response].
  • Captain AHAB is that ["Grand, ungodly, godlike man" of fiction]. Who doesn't like a non-Omoo Melville reference? 

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle for this week is called "Chasing Out the Rats." 2008 was the Year of the Rat, and 2009 will be the YEAR OF THE OX. That joins six other theme entries that end with OX:
  • MAGNAVOX is a [Blu-ray player maker]. Our new Sony PlayStation 3 also plays Blu-ray disks.
  • SLYLOCK FOX is a [Mysatery-solving comic strip character]. Who? I haven't seen this before.
  • The PENALTY BOX is [Where one goes after slashing].
  • DEWEY COX is John C. Reilly's ["Walk Hard" protagonist]. Is that movie worth seeing?
  • The RED SOX are a [Team owned by the New York Times, oddly]. How did I not know that? Hmm, could be my complete lack of interest in the Red Sox.
  • FT. KNOX is a [U.S. city with tons of expensive bars] of gold.
Other good stuff:
  • MYSPACE is a [Notoriously busy-looking site]. Facebook is much crisper, less appalling to grown-ups.
  • I like that BULL drops into the OX crossword, though it's clued as a [Vatican decree].
  • UNISEX is clued with [Like the name Blake]. Yep, that works.
  • This week's "music clue I didn't know at all" is [Johnny Rotten's post-Sex Pistols project, for short]. The answer is PIL. That's Public Image Ltd., or PiL. I think this was in another indie crossword in recent months, so I should remember it.
  • BOK CHOY looks tasty in the grid; it's a [Stir fry ingredient].
  • ["When is this thing over?"] clues a bored YAWN.
Pamela Amick Klawitter's LA Times crossword has APB'S, or [Emer. broadcasts (and this puzzle's hidden theme)] parked within the four theme entries. I was led astray by the theme answers all starting with S, though SNAP, SOAP, SCRAP, and SAP don't rhyme and have varying letter counts, so I was confused. The theme entries are:
  • SNAP BEANS, or [Casserole legumes]. I have never called green beans "snap beans." Nor have I eaten green bean casserole.
  • SOAP BOX DERBY is an [Annual world championship competition held in Akron].
  • SCRAPBOOKING is the [Subject of the how-to book "Keeping Memories Alive." I prefer to store the memories in my brain. Much less hassle that way.
  • SAP BUCKET is a [Sugar shack vessel]. I think this is maple sap and a sugar shack's where syrup gets its start. Mmm, maple syrup.
Who doesn't love those [Mythological vengeance deities] known as the FURIES? The [Rodent yielding the fur nutria] is, as luck would have it, called the nutria. It is also called the COYPU. The scientific name of this "large semiaquatic beaverlike rodent" is Myocaster coypus. The word coypu is from the Araucanian (an Indian language family from Chile and Argentina). [Hawaii's "Gathering Place"] is OAHU.

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Count Me In," counts in a ME to change each theme entry's base phrase into something new:
  • [Contests in which little energy is expended?] are INERT GAMES. We see INERT gases used as dull fill often enough—it's good to extract more value from it by playing around with it.
  • [Milne's marsupial lover?] is KANGAROMEO. Kangaroo + ME = Roo's mom Kanga + Romeo. Good play.
  • [Get-together of Mr. Universe contestants?] is a HE-MEN PARTY. Nice expansion of hen party.
  • [Scarsdale and South Beach?] are FAMED DIETS and also fad diets, with or without the ME.
This theme type isn't an innovative one, no, but I admire the deft execution of a standard theme variety. The crossword is improved further by lots of longist fill—a NERF BALL crossing SELF-HELP, DODDERS crossing Lou DOBBS, a TANGRAM [Puzzle with geometric shapes], and a STOGIE, for instance. I'm also partial to the [German name for Cologne], KOLN (Köln, actually). I appreciate it when those high-school German classes come in handy.


December 29, 2008

Tuesday, 12/30

Sun 3:52
NYT 3:38
CS 3:27
Jonesin' 3:25
LAT 3:08

(updated at 8:51 a.m. Tuesday)

Doug Peterson's New York Times crossword has a simple yet elegant theme. It runs the line of filial descent from Sr. to Jr. to III:

  • SENIOR DISCOUNT is an [Incentive aimed at golden agers].
  • JUNIOR MINTS are a [Chocolate-coated candy]. Here's an avid fan's dissection of an addition to the Junior Mints family.
  • THE THIRD MAN is a [1949 Orson Welles film].
  • What ties these all together is the fourth theme entry, the [Ivan Turgenev novel] FATHERS AND SONS.
I fell into the anti-Ellen Ripstein trap when I entered AYES as the ["Thumbs-up" responses] without checking the crossings. Hmm, that wanted to be A-OKS to evade the BLYW and LOEI crossings. I'm sad to have missed seeing LOKI, my favorite [Norse trickster]. Highlights in the fill, which struck me as more Wednesdayish than Tuesdayish though I could be having an off night:
  • A [Key element] is called a LINCHPIN. Not etymologically related to the word lynch.
  • SCHNOOKS are [Easy dupes]. I slowed myself down by starting out with SCHMUCKS here, but Will Shortz has sworn off that answer given the Yiddish "penis" etymology. I should've known better.
  • ODYSSEUS was clever. [He devised the Trojan horse].
  • [Where touch typists begin] is the HOME ROW. That's the one with ASDF and JKL;, the keys where the fingers are poised.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Just Do It," has an unusual grid—16 squares wide by 15 high, with left/right symmetry. The theme is people who do or did "it":
  • ALL THE COOL KIDS are clued with [They're doing it! (in peer circles)].
  • Frank SINATRA's song "My Way" is referenced by [He did it...his way! (in song)].
  • [She did it again! (in pop music)] cites BRITNEY Spears' song "Oops! I Did It Again."
    THE DOG ate the cookie or dealt the stink, in [He did it! (in blameworthy situations)].
  • [He did it! (in certain novels)] means THE BUTLER.
  • O.J. SIMPSON is clued with [He speculated if he did it! (in a 2007 book)].
    [She does...them? (on film)] clues DEBBIE, as in old porn film Debbie Does Dallas.
Crossing those last two answers, there's a SYBARITE, clued as a [Hedonist of sorts]. The theme entries are all specifically tied to "did it" or "are doing it," but sybarites probably do all sorts of "it," too. My favorite clue: [It'll grow on you] for HAIR. [Shot to the forehead?] for BOTOX is good, too. Other clues of note and/or unfamiliarity:
  • [Pitcher Chin-hui] is named TSAO. He's Taiwanese and hasn't had much of an MLB career. Elsewhere in the grid is [Taiwan's capital], TAIPEI.
  • THE PJS was the [Stop-motion animated Fox series featuring Eddie Murphy] that didn't last too long.
  • [Varnish or Viagra, perhaps] clues HARDENER.
  • REET completes the title in ["Are You All ___?" (Cab Calloway song)]. Doesn't ring a bell for me.
  • ["Until next time," in instant messages] is TTYL, short for "talk to you later."
  • My favorite snake name is KRAIT, the [Deadly snake with venom 16 times more potent than a cobra].
Jim Leeds' Sun crossword, "Adverbially Yours," interposes an -LY between two parts of a word or phrase to turn the first part into an adverb:
  • A lame duck, such as Bush in these last three weeks of his presidency, becomes LAMELY DUCK, or [Avoid getting beaned in an inept manner?]. I suspect this puzzle was made long before Bush eptly ducked those flying shoes.
  • GINGERLY SNAP is clued [Hike with great care?], as in hiking or snapping a football. This Sunday at the annual holiday brunch for my mom's kin, I hope to encounter those tasty, teeny ginger snap cookies my aunt and cousin bake.
  • [Gave very little support to?] clues BARELY BACKED, building on riding a horse bare-backed.
  • We did not have to eat hardtack, the old-time hard, dry biscuit for sailors, aboard the cruise liner. HARDLY TACK is clued as [Use a bulletin board only once in a great while?].
The theme is good, but it's the overall fill that really shines here. Three Z's, an X, and five K's lend a Scrabbly je ne sais quoi. My favorite answers all run Down: UNMANNING, ANNE HECHE with first and last name, SCHLEP, Gene RAYBURN of '70s game show Match Game, Monopoly's PARK PLACE, and a B-BALLER, or [One who plays hoops].


Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword journeys from [Always] to [Never] with two stops in between:
  • WITHOUT FAIL is a phrase that means [Always].
  • EVERY NOW AND THEN means [Sometimes].
  • ONCE IN A BLUE MOON denotes [Rarely].
  • WHEN PIGS FLY is a colorful way to say [Never].
Running along the right side of the grid is NOLAN / RYAN, [baseball's career strikeout king], whose stats suggest plenty of "always" or "often." Favorite answer: the cross-referenced combo with the EVIL TWIN, a [Villain who might pull a 10-Down], or SWITCHEROO, clued as [Unexpected reversal, in slang].

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Body Scan," scans the phrases from head to toe:
  • TALKING HEAD is [Part of many a political commentary show].
  • WHITE SHOULDERS is a [Perfume since 1949].
  • WEAK IN THE KNEES is clued as [Having just seen a hottie, perhaps].
  • TWINKLE TOES is a [Nickname for a dancer].
I don't watch Gossip Girl, so I had no idea that NATE Archibald is a ["Gossip Girl" role for Chace Crawford]. There's the NBA Hall of Famer Nate Archibald as well as the Crawford character. As far as I know, the abbreviation for the state of Virginia is Va., not VIRG ([Where Thos. Jefferson was born]). I'd have changed MERGE ([Get onto the highway]) to MANGE crossing WAD and VING Rhames to skirt that issue.


December 28, 2008

Monday, 12/29

NYT 3:01
Sun 3:00
CS 2:59
LAT 2:18

(updated at 7:37 p.m. Monday)

The key to the theme in Kevin Donovan's New York Times crossword is 54-Down: [Something 18-, 26-, 42- or 51-Across might have] is a RUN. Mind you, the three Across answers that intersect with RUN were easy enough to fill in without ever looking at the clue for 54-Down, so I had zero idea what the theme was when I finished the puzzle. The four things with RUNs are:

  • RUMMY HAND, which [might include a 10, jack, queen and king of hearts];
  • BASEBALL GAME, clued as a [Yankees/Red Sox matchup, e.g.];
  • BROADWAY PLAY, which is a [Candidate for a Tony]; and
  • PANTYHOSE, a [L'eggs product].
This crossword's got some answers that we don't often see in a Monday puzzle. BIG TOE is [Something often stubbed]. [Most morose] means GLUMMEST. NO DOUBT means ["Absolutely"] as well as being the name of Gwen Stefani's band. Steve CARELL of The Office entertains me on Thursday nights. To REPHRASE something is to [Say another way]. [Much ballyhooed] is HYPED UP. Favorite clues: [Like half of Istanbul] for ASIAN; [Like an N.B.A. center] for TALL; and [Sunbathe] for TAN—sunbathing this week was lovely, but now that I've passed through O'HARE, the [Chicago air hub], I am months away from another sunbathing opportunity.

Updated Sunday evening:

Peter Gordon's alter ego, Ogden Porter, constructed the Monday Sun crossword, "Foodies." The six theme entries are food metaphors for people. A STRINGBEAN is a [Tall, thin person]. An [Insignificant person] is a PEANUT. A [Show-offy person] is called a HOT DOG. BUTTERBALL is a [Chubby person]. A [Crazy person] is a FRUITCAKE, and I'm pleased to note that I have encountered no literal fruitcake this holiday season. A [Weak person] may be called a CREAMPUFF. If you ate too much of that stuff, you might be hankering for ROLAIDS ([Ad answer to "How do you spell relief?"]). Other food-related answers include QUIZNOS, TUNA, Seven SEAS salad dressing, LIMES, SALAD, and the AGRIBIZ that provides some of this stuff. There's such a thing as GENOA salami, but the answer gets clued non-foodly as [Port south of Milan]. Non-theme answers of note: SAPPHIC, [Like some odes]; SHEILA E., [Former percussionist with Prince]; and NOZZLES, or [Hose spouts], with a double Z.

Updated Monday morning:

The Across Lite version of the LA Times puzzle isn't posted yet at Cruciverb, so check back this afternoon for that one.

Nancy Salomon's CrosSynergy crossword, "Midafternoon," finds PMS—[Afternoons, briefly (and hint to this puzzle's theme)]—in the midst of the long answers:
  • CHEAP MONEY is a [Result of low interest rates]. Is this term readily familiar to most of you?
  • SCRAP METAL is [Some industrial waste].
  • STRIP MALLS are [Easy-park shopping centers].
  • SLEEP MASKS are [Light blockers for slumberers.
I'm still waiting for PMS = premenstrual syndrome to be deemed acceptable for daily crosswords. It's not cancer, it's not scatological—it seems fussy to have it always be the plural of P.M. in crosswordland. Does mention of PMS really make anyone squeamish?

Good fill includes DR. PHIL, POP-TOP, the UPSHOT and LAY-UPS, and TEAM USA, the [2008 women's basketball gold medalists]. Salomon took a gamble on cluing RENO as [Betting setting] three answers before the [Skeptic's snort] I BET.

Updated Monday evening:

David Kahn's LA Times crossword was super-easy—all five long theme answers are "[name] THE [job]" monikers. When the clues and theme let you fill in a third of the puzzle with just five clues, everything else is bound to fall into place quickly too. The theme answers are:
  • ROSIE THE RIVETER, the [Iconic WWII worker];
  • BOB THE BUILDER, the [Animated kids' TV character with a yellow hardhat];
  • DORA THE EXPLORER, another current-decade kids' cartoon character—[Toon girl who's always traveling];
  • JOE THE PLUMBER, the [Middle America symbol of 2008 politics] who is on the way to becoming no more than a footnote in history; and
  • POPEYE THE SAILOR, [Bluto's rival] for Olive Oyl's affections. Though it must be said, Bluto is an abuser who Olive seems quite unfond of.
You might think that OMOO ([Melville novel]) and ORONO ([Maine college town]) are out of place in an easy Monday crossword, but the rest of the fill is straightforward and familiar enough that these shouldn't have given anyone too much trouble.


December 27, 2008

Sunday, 12/28

NYT cryptic 9:16
PI 8:32
NYT 8:04, maybe
LAT 8:02
CS 4:53

(updated at 4:35 p.m. Sunday)

Wow, cruises and crosswords don't mix for me. I know Stan Newman puts on an annual crossword cruise, but I don't think I could ever go on that trip. The Transderm Scop patch cut down on seasickness, but gave me blurred vision, so I wasn't doing any crosswords. Now that I'm back on dry (well, rainy) land, my head is convinced that I am still aboard a ship—mal de debarquement makes me dizzy unless I lie down. So here's my answer grid for Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword, "Going Around in Circles." I have a typo or error somewhere, but I am ill-equipped to look for it as my head is swimming.

I also don't grasp how the theme works—something about planets in orbits, but the circled squares didn't mix well with dizziness. So if you have some insights about this crossword, feel free to share them in the comments. I think I'll lie down now, and hope the mal de apres-mer is short-lived. This is a really weird feeling, and I don't appreciate the way it is interfering with blogging!


A belated thanks to Puzzle Girl for filling in all week! I hope to get caught up on some of the week's puzzles and read her posts and your comments, but this may take a while.

I still haven't been able to find all the planets in Berry's NYT crossword. I get too woozy looking at the grid.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle has a classic Merl pun theme—all 13 of the "Guy Friends" have more or less plausible names that sound like phrases related to the clues. The [Hell-raising guy?], for example, is BARNABY WILDE, which sounds like "born to be wild." NOAH VALE is the [Guy who's just plain useless?], or "no avail." I enjoyed this puzzle a lot, but am seriously too woozy to write more about it. I need to take a lie-down break before moving on to another crossword!


Lying down with a small laptop isn't the best set-up for solving crosswords or typing, especially Sunday-sized ones. Oh, well.

Lynn Lempel's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has some goodies in it. My favorite clues and answers:

  • LA RAZA is a [Term signifying Latino pride].
  • LONG-LOST FRIENDS and SPEAK OF THE DEVIL criss-cross in the middle of the grid.
  • [It comes straight from the horse's mouth] clues a BIT literally rather than some information metaphorically.
  • A trivia factoid livens up Johnny MATHIS: [First-ever singer with a Greatest Hits album, in 1958].
  • [President Lincoln, astrologically] is an AQUARIAN thanks to his February 12 birthday.
  • [Where many shots are taken] on the basketball court is the FOUL LINE.
I'm not fond of ORE MINER, or [Iron man?].

Updated again, quickly:

Donna Levin's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, "Not on the Best-seller List," features a pun theme like Merl's puzzle. In Donna's theme, the theme entries are reworded book titles. A few examples:
  • [Tolstoy saga about a jurist's porridge ingredient?] is WARREN PEASE, as in Earl Warren and pease, the original plural of pea. War and Peace is the real Tolstoy title.
  • [Lewis book about lobster?] is MAINE'S TREAT. Sinclair Lewis's novel is called Main Street.
  • [Eliot book about a stoic bereaved?] is SIGHLESS MOURNER, playing on Silas Marner.
The grid's got a lot of longish Down answers in the fill.

Doug Peterson crafted a cryptic crossword for this weekend's second Sunday New York Times puzzle. Like most American cryptics, this puzzle's a lot easier than the typical British cryptic. If you have any questions about how an answer is extracted from its clue, leave 'em in the comments.


Saturday, 12/27

NYT 44:22
LAT 27:51
CS 7:50
Newsday tba (maybe)

(Updated at 12:45pm Saturday)

Hi everyone. PuzzleGirl here, trying to make it through the tough Saturday puzzles and then I'm outta here! Gonna be a little lazy tonight — hope you don't mind. I'm also filling in for the vacationing Rex Parker, so I'm going to send you over to his blog if you care what I think about today's New York Times crossword. I'll have the post up over there by 9am and I'll see you back here a little later with the rest of the day's puzzles.


I couldn't finish Brad Wilber's L.A. Times crossword without mistakes. Having gurgle for BURBLE at 1A — and being completely convinced that it was correct — made the northwest impossible. I also didn't know the word SARACEN so Siracen looked fine for [Crusader's foe] and [Neighbor of Scorpius] ARA might as well have been Ari. But this puzzle had a lot of fun fill. Only real clunker for me was the wildly out-of-place AWNINGED. But here's the sparkly stuff I liked:

  • [Illegal aid?] = CRIB, as in crib sheet, a small note you can hold in your hand (or hide somewhere else unobtrusive) and cheat from while taking an exam.
  • [Hummer, e.g.] = GAS HOG. Have you seen the website where people submit pictures of themselves flipping the bird to Hummers? Good stuff.
  • [Ark and bark] are BOATS. See also [Sailer "round Nassau town" of song] Sloop JOHN B.
  • [Tweezing target] is a UNIBROW. I was thinking the more benign eyebrow.
  • [In days of yore] = AGES AGO. I originally had long ago, but I like the real answer better.
  • GIGO is a [Data entry acronym] meaning "Garbage In, Garbage Out."
  • This is embarrassing. For [1998 Reeve memoir] I had S-IL--- and came up with So I Lied. That would be completely inappropriate now, wouldn't it? Actual title of Superman's book: STILL ME.
Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Go Ahead," adds the letters GO to the beginning of familiar phrases and then clues the resulting phrases with question-mark clues.
  • [Mongolian newspaper?] = GOBI WEEKLY (bi-weekly)
  • [Stabbed hair stylist?] = GORED BARBER (Red Barber)
  • [Stroller component?] = GO-CART WHEEL (cartwheel)
  • [Incite ERA advocate?] = GOAD LIBBER (ad libber)
Just a couple quick observations:
  • I don't believe I will ever get used to ALTA being the abbreviation for Alberta. There really needs to be a B in there somewhere.
  • [It's got you covered] = EPIDERMIS. Made me laugh out loud.
  • Did you know Madagascar (wrong answer) and MOZAMBIQUE (right answer) have the same number of letters?
So I'm still working on Sandy Fein's Newsday Saturday Stumper and ... it's not looking good. This is what I have so far:

But hey! I'm only 20 minutes in! If I finish this one, I'll log back on and tell you about it. If I don't, well, maybe Orange will take three minutes or so to complete the ridiculously hard puzzle and enlighten us all. It's been a blast as usual, guys. All together now: "Welcome back, Orange!"


December 25, 2008

Friday, 12/26

WSJ 37:52
NYT 36:22
LAT 17:21
Sun 12:58
CS 5:00
CHE Unavailable

(Updated at 7:30pm Friday)

Good morning, everyone. It's PuzzleGirl again. Hope you're enjoying your Day After Christmas, or your Fifth (fifth?) Day of Hannukah, or, ya know, your Friday. Whatever it happens to be for you, I hope it's good. After today you'll only have one more day of me before our beloved Orange is back, so things are looking up! I'll be honest with you, I don't know how early I'll get to the rest of Friday's puzzles. If you want to talk about them — is anyone really even here? — please feel free, but I'll try to get them up before 1:00 tomorrow afternoon. But no promises!

When I saw Brendan Emmett Quigley's name on the Friday New York Times crossword, I suspected I was in for a workout. And I wasn't disappointed.


  • First drive-in, then stadium, and finally BOXSEAT for [Where to get a good view of a hit and run].
  • Stadium at 1 Across gave me ten to one for [Pretty poor chances]. (Actually, ONE IN TEN.)
  • I thought package would be a good tricky answer for [Prepare to ship]. Eventually, changed it to the correct CRATE UP.
  • I know I've been sneered at contemptuously, but come to think of it, I've probably been SNORTED at too.
  • You knew damn well I'd enter imp for ELF, didn't you, Mr. Quigley?! What is this, some kind of sick joke?!?
I admit I was troubled by duplicate words in the grid: CRATE UP, NEXT UP, ONE-UP and FIT IN, ONE IN TEN, KEPT IN. A year ago, I probably would not have noticed this, but since I've been doing a lot of puzzles on a regular basis, I know that there's a "rule" and I don't really expect it to be broken. So, although I knew that NEXT UP looked really good, I was hesitant to use it when I had already seen CRATE UP and that one seemed to be right as well. Obviously, the "rule" can be broken and I certainly don't mean to chastise BEQ or suggest in any way, shape, or form that I could have made this puzzle better, I'm just saying it affected my solving experience. So that and four dollars will get you a half-caf skinny caramel latté (no whip) at Starbucks.

Hip Hip Hooray:
  • It took me way too long to remember that SIR PAUL McCartney was knighted in 1997.
  • This is how discombobulated I was about 3/4 of the way through this puzzle. I had _OE for [One of the Baltimore Ravens' mascots] and was all "Moe? Joe?" Did I mention that I majored in English? Yikes! (By the way, Poe the Raven was voted the "Most Fierce NFL Mascot" for 2008.)
  • OTIS is a [Leading manufacturer of cars]. Elevator cars, that is.
  • SUZIE [Wong of book and film] is the archetypal "hooker with a heart of gold" in Richard Mason's The World of Suzie Wong.
  • BALOO is ["The Jungle Book" bear]. AKELA is the wolf. I only know this from my son's Cub Scouts activities.
  • Nice to see the whole name of MAUNA KEA in the puzzle, instead of just the KEA.
  • Way back in the old days when I moved to New York to go to college, I couldn't wait to "Take the A TRAIN."
  • Never heard of "EADIE Was a Lady." It's a song originally sung by Ethel Merman in the Broadway show "Take a Chance." According to Wikipedia, "In 1933, the show was made into a film with almost no resemblance to the original show, except for the song Eadie Was a Lady. Lillian Roth played Merman's role in the film." So now I know.
Karen M. Tracey's Sun "Weekend Warrior" started out with a big ol' collision of seemingly unrelated letters at 1 Across. [The IJsselmeer was a part of it before construction of the Afsluitdijk]. Um ... WHAT? Got the answer — ZUIDERZEE — completely from crosses and still don't know what it means because I didn't look it up and now it's late and I'm going to try to finish this so I can get to bed. Just to be clear, I'm not complaining. Those are all awesome words.

  • ATRA is the [Fusion predecessor]. I'm going to assume the Fusion is a razor that was created more recently than the Atra. So, nice tricky clue for a common crossword answer! Have you guys ever seen the Uncyclopedia site? I don't know if the whole site is like this, but this article tells the "history" of the "Gillette Good News! Trac II Atra Sensor Excel3 Turbo Power Fusion Power for Men and Women." Funny stuff.
  • COSMO Spacely isn't exactly my go-to answer for Jetsons references, but it was cool to see him here.
  • Never heard the term lady chapel before, but it's related to an APSE. Not sure if one is a subset of the other or what.
  • [Pet for Hamlet] is referring to the Hägar the Horrible comic strip. Hägar's son is named Hamlet, and SNERT is the family dog.
  • Big Spike Lee fan back in the late 1980s. I saw all six of the films he made starting with "She's Gotta Have It" in 1986 through 1992's "Malcolm X." Not sure what happened after that because I didn't see another Spike Lee Joint until "25th Hour" in 2002, and then INSIDE MAN in 2006.
  • It's embarrassing how many words I don't know. COZEN means "to deceive, win over, or induce to do something by artful coaxing and wheedling or shrewd trickery." So I guess [Hoodwink] would be a good clue.
  • I promise — promise — I'll learn my rivers. In the meantime, though, please, please, please I'm begging you, don't clue one river with another. My fragile ego can't take it. ([Rhôone feeder] = ISÈRE. It's in France. I'm writing it down now.)
  • I figured out [Bar in a bar] but I wonder if it threw some people. A bar is a measure in music and a REST is ... shaped like a bar I guess? It looks like this.
  • For some reason I just can't wrap my head around the word bucolic. To me it sounds like anemic or asthmatic ... something medical that's, ya know, not good. But in real life, it means "of or relating to shepherds or herdsmen." So I guess that pretty much describes a LEA.

Okay, this is going to be quick. I was up early this morning with PuzzleSon, who felt like he was going to throw up. He didn't, but I was up with him for quite a while. Then I went back to bed and didn't get up until 11:00. I'm getting my hair cut at 2:00 and the kids are clamoring for ... breakfast? It's basically lunchtime! I guess things are a little off today. What? You don't care about this stuff? Okay, sorry. Here are the rest of today's puzzles:

Don Gagliardo's L.A. Times crossword is filled with puns where the original phrase includes a word that ends with the letter T and resulting phrases change that T sound to a D sound. I'm not one of those people who loves puns, but I don't hate them either. I kinda liked these.
  • [Many a con game? ] = FRAUD (fraught) WITH DANGER
  • [Hippies?] = BEAD (beat) GENERATION
  • [Student's concern?] = GRADE (great) DEPRESSION
  • [Visit Disneyland?] = DO THE RIDE (right) THING (this is my favorite; maybe because it's one of those Spike Lee films I was talking about earlier!)
  • [Math-challenged?] = PAINED (paint) BY NUMBERS
[Low digits] pulls double duty today as a clue for both ONES and TOES. Also a couple of golf clues today with JULI [Inkster of the LPGA] and ERNIE Els, [Rival of Tiger (Woods) and Vijay (Singh)]. I was having trouble getting out of a jam instead of a RUT for a while. Had limo instead of DICE for [High roller's rollers], signing up instead of SIGNING IN for [Registering]. Never heard of Kimmie Meissner, but her milieu is a RINK, so I guess she's a skater. I can never remember how to spell SHIH Tzu. I know how it's pronounced so I always think the first word is going to be shit and then realize that, of course, can't be right. Don't get me started on [Like many couples] = WED. I just don't have time for that kind of a rant today.

Love love love Alice Long's Wall Street Journal puzzle today! It's called "Boxing Day" and rebus squares contain the letters ALI. Like Muhammad Ali! A three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer! Awesome!
  • [Cardiologist's prescription] = DIGITALIS
  • [Lucky charm] = TALISMAN
  • [Deceptive art] = OPTICAL ILLUSION
  • [Gym class activity] = CALISTHENICS
  • [Steinbeck's California birthplace] = SALINAS
  • [Support for a bridge, perhaps] = DENTAL IMPLANT
  • [Some MoMA works] = DALIS
  • ["The Jungle Book" setting] = COLONIAL INDIA
  • [Eucharist need] = CHALICE
  • [Noted University of Padua professor] = GALILEO GALILEI
  • [Trotsky rival] = STALIN
  • [Historic Chicago-to-Los Angeles train] = CALIFORNIA LIMITED
  • [Name on the runways of Milan] = ALITALIA
  • [Mind readers] = MENTALISTS
  • [Hood's handle] = ALIAS
  • [High-pH stuff] = ALKALI
  • [Lionhearted] = VALIANT
  • [Temporary partnership] = COALITION
  • [Vezina Trophy winners] = GOALIES
  • [Detectives check them] = ALIASES
  • [Make illegal] = CRIMINALIZES
  • [Flippered critter] = SEA LIION
  • [Assassination victim of A.D. 41] = CALIGULA
  • [Mullah Omar's group] = TALIBAN
  • [Mouth moistener] = SALIVA
That's a lot of rebus squares! The only other thing I want to mention real quick is that if you haven't seen the HBO series "Entourage," you should consider it. Vince's agent, ARI Gold, played by Jeremy Piven, is the best thing about the show. PuzzleHusband and I just started watching it last year but are catching up with our sweet Christmas present of seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. (One caveat: If you're offended by bad language and sexually explicit humor, this is not the show for you.) I was completely tickled last month when in one of the episodes the actor/director Peter Berg had a cameo. Ari was taking a call from him and told the other people in the room "This is Pete Berg! He was my roommate in college!" Well, that was a shout-out to those of us who attended Macalester College in the early 80s and know that Peter Berg was, in fact, roommates with Ari Emanuel, the guy Ari Gold's character is based on (and, coincidentally, Rahm Emanuel's brother).

Gotta go for now. Back later with the CS.

I'm so late getting to today's CrosSynergy puzzle that I'm just going to post the grid for you and tell you that the theme is Puppet Duos. PUNCH AND JUDY, KUKLA AND OLLIE, and BERT AND ERNIE. I noticed an old-timey feel to the puzzle with the inclusion of LASS, GENT, and FELLA. See ya in a little bit with tomorrow's NYT....


December 24, 2008

Thursday, 12/25

LAT 16:53
NYT 10:31
Sun 9:35
CS 7:09

(Updated at 10:30am Thursday)

Hey, everybody, thanks for stopping by. PuzzleGirl here hoping you're enjoying a day filled with peace and are surrounded by people you love. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, that sounds like a good goal for today.

Are you ready for some football? Theme answers in Eric Tentarelli's New York Times puzzle mash three pro football teams' mascots into a clue-able phrase.

  • [Chestnut-colored mustang offspring?] = BROWN BRONCO COLT
  • [Main dedicatee of an Austin cathedral?] = CHIEF TEXAN SAINT
  • [Hefty invoice for boots and spurs?] = GIANT COWBOY BILL
I'm not a big football fan — honestly, it's been so long since I've paid attention that I don't even know where half the teams are any more — but I still think the league's mascot names can make for enjoyable entries. And if you can package them up with some fun fill, well ... you've got yourself a crossword puzzle. I believe this is Eric's puzzle debut. Very nice job, Eric — congratulations!
  • I was surprised to learn that SKA was pioneered by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. I would have expected its pioneers to have a name more like Marcus Marley and the Rastaboys. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires sound like they belong on the "Grease" soundtrack to me. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • Did you know that PERU's coat of arms includes a vicuña? Did you know that a vicuña is an animal similar to a llama?
  • I always loved that Speedy Gonzales's cousin's name was SLOWPOKE Rodriguez.
  • ALICE Walker and ALICE Cooper. Now there's an interesting pair.
  • So, yeah, it's football season, but it's also college wrestling season. That means when I see Ness in a clue, LOCH is nowhere on my radar and Eliot doesn't even come to mind. No, I'm thinking University of Minnesota 133-pounder Jayson Ness. I'm guessing I'm the only one here who's even heard of him. And hopes our guy at the University of Iowa can pull it together enough to beat him up a little bit.
  • ALBEDO, a [Light ratio in astronomy], is a more specific form of the term reflectivity. I just looked that up.
Daniel A. Finan's Sun crossword, "Ancient History," plays on the phrase "water under the bridge" by locating the name of a river in the grid underneath the name of a bridge. Love it!
  • [1950 John Wayne film] = RIO GRANDE (the Rio Grande is known as the Río Bravo del Norte in Mexico)
  • [Dwarf, with "over"] = TOWER (the Tower Bridge is in London and is not the same as the London Bridge)
  • [Boulder's place] = COLORADO (the Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon and is home to 14 native species of fish)
  • [Theater district] = RIALTO (the original Rialto Bridge was built in 1255 and made of wood; the current stone bridge replaced the wooden structure in 1591)
  • [Big book e-tailer] = AMAZON (the Amazon River, the largest river in the world by volume and second by length, apparently is spanned by no bridges)
  • ["Welcome Back Kotter" setting] = BROOKLYN (the Brooklyn Bridge is in ... Brooklyn -- and it's not for sale)
  • You know you're getting better at solving when you can fill in R AND B and A TO Z without breaking a sweat.
  • For [Wolfgang contemporary] I was thinking Mozart and not Puck, so it took the crosses for me to finally get EMERIL Lagasse. Bam!
  • Hey, this is interesting. Joanne DRU co-starred with John Wayne in "Red River" in 1948!
  • Do people SIGNAL when they [Prepare to change lanes] where you live? Here, not so much.
  • Lute OLSON was a [Longtime Arizona Wildcats basketball coach]. He was with the Wildcats for 24 seasons before retiring earlier this year. Quick note: Lute, Ted, and the Folgers coffee lady spell their last name OLSON. Mary-Kate, Ashley, Merlin, Tillie, and Jimmy spell it OLSEN.
  • Finally, I hate to complain. I really do. But Carolyn KEENE was a pen-name. And it wasn't just a name used by one person. It was (and is) used for the stable of writers who have produced the Nancy Drew books over the years. For many years, it was widely accepted that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams was the writer behind the series, but eventually it became known that she was simply the face the publisher put in front of the camera. Maybe because she was the publisher's daughter? Who knows? Harriet Adams did write some of the early books, but Mildred Wirt Benson was responsible for 23 of the first 31 books in the series. The point is that Carolyn Keene is not the "creator" of Nancy Drew. Carolyn Keene is a pen-name used by many, many people who write books with Nancy Drew as the main character. But the character was created by Edward Stratemeyer. And he never went by the name Carolyn Keene. I feel better now.

I had a ton of problems with Gia Christian's L.A. Times puzzle. It was totally my own fault though. The puzzle was just fine. First, let's talk about the theme. Then I'll tell you about the series of bad decisions I made while solving.

Theme answers are puns involving things you use to decorate for Christmas.
  • Crash helmet ==> CRECHE HELMET
  • Tensile strength ==> TINSEL STRENGTH
  • Holy scripture ==> HOLLY SCRIPTURE
  • The Three Bears ==> THE TREE BEARS
Okay. No problem with the theme. Here's where I had trouble.
  • I was not going to fall for the [Fall guy] trick this time. I know damn well that's a trick clue for Adam. But no. In that case, I believe the clue would include a question mark. Here, you really just need to know another word for fall guy. That would be MARK.
  • For ["Later"] I initially had see ya, then I'm out, and finally the correct I'M OFF.
  • Somehow I added an H into the [1995 N.L. Rookie of the Year] clue and guessed Gordie Howe off the O. When it became clear that it wasn't Howe, I thought "Hockey player, four letters, second letter O — how can that not be Howe?" That's when I actually read the clue and saw I needed a baseball player. Of course! Hideo NOMO. That's probably a good name to know. I bet he'll come up in a puzzle again soon....
  • I had ipso dixit, instead of IPSE.
  • I wanted the dreaded "see me!" note instead of the defiant "SEZ me!" Man I always hated finding the "see me" note on my chair back when I worked for the ... ya know what? I'm not going to say anything mean about him today. It's Christmas after all.
  • I'm going to declare publicly right now that my New Year's resolution is to learn the four-letter rivers of the world. This is getting ridiculous. I knew I'd have to wait for a cross on this one. And when I got the E, I confidently entered Ebro. Reasonable, right? Well sure, except that the Ebro is in Spain and the clue points to a river in Germany. The ELBE. Ach!
  • Couldn't get the name O'Toole out of my head for the Confederacy of Dunces author. I knew I was close, knew it wasn't right, but had a really hard time coming up with the correct answer. Maybe one day I'll actually read the book and that will help.
  • Finally, I fell for the misdirection in [Peck part], reading it as peck apart, which brought all kinds of creepy Tippi Hedren images to mind. But the answer was the benign Captain AHAB, a part Gregory Peck played in the 1956 film "Moby Dick." Hey, he also played a part in the 1998 TV production of "Moby Dick." And looky here: he was in both the original (1962) and the remake (1991) of "Cape Fear" too. Did you guys see that movie? PuzzleHusband and I were just talking about it the other day (the remake, not the original). That is a Seriously Creepy movie. I remember being disturbed for days after seeing it.
  • Wanted basic for BASAL, but knew LANI Guinier was right.
It was just tough all the way through! Good stuff, but I was not on the wavelength At All.

In Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "Internally Consistent," the word same is buried in the theme answers: makeS AMEnds, gosSAMEr, MrS. AMErica, seSAME seed, haS A MEal.

Quick hits:
  • "Whatever you say' = I'M EASY. You can never have too many Commodores videos.
  • The hat trick is accomplished by a hockey player when he scores three goals in one game. There are hat tricks in other sports, also referring to doing something three times, but I think this is the most common understanding of the term.
  • So when did it become okay to spell amoeba AMEBA? I see it all the time in puzzles and it makes me pause every single time.
  • I don't remember ever hearing of the MAYPO brand of breakfast cereal. But it's got quite a long history. Did MTV rip of—er, borrow their first catchphrase from Maypo's ad campaign?
  • Hey look, it's Hideo NOMO! I told you he would turn up again!
  • [Finishes second] = LOSES. Harsh.


December 23, 2008

Wednesday, 12/24

Sun 15:19
Onion 13:44
Tausig 8:01
LAT 7:46
NYT 7:27
CS 6:20

(Updated at 11:00am Wednesday)

Hey, everyone. PuzzleGirl here. Is Orange back yet? What? It's only Wednesday? I mean, I'm having a blast and everything but this pace is grueling. I do most of the puzzles Orange does on a regular basis, but I don't typically do them right away. Let's just say I have several Saturday Stumpers still hanging around just waiting for the magic to set in. I'm hopeful. I guess I'm actually more worried about you guys not hanging around when you come here and find out it's just me. I know you're used to enlightening and engaging commentary on the art of cruciverbalism. And when I'm here you get the ramblings of a middle-aged stay-at-home mom who doesn't have a lot of recent experience with intelligent, grown-up conversation. I'm going to assume that you're toughing it out with me. As a favor to Orange? Kthxby.

Today's New York Times crossword by Warren Biro isn't likely to stir up the same type of emotion and ... enthusiasm we saw yesterday, but it's a good solid puzzle. Nothing too flashy, but nothing to get heartburn over either. Theme answers are all synonyms for [Power connectors] or PLUGS:

  • [Show interrupter] = TV ADVERTISEMENT
  • [Copenhagen wad] = TOBACCO CHEW
  • [Old-fashioned tub feature] = BATH STOPPER
  • [Expensive alternative to a toupee] = HAIR REPLACEMENT
AVATARS, BLASE, TAPAS, PERSONAE, and APEMEN spice things up a little. And how awesome is it that the tallest building in North Dakota has only 19 floors? That would be the state capital building, by the way. As some of you know, I grew up in North Dakota. I used to have a postcard of the Fargo "skyline" that showed, basically, one building. I think the postcard was created with serious intent, but it turned out to be pretty funny. Oh, do you want to know what we called that building? "The High-Rise." Seriously.

Today's Sun crossword by Doug Peterson, "Cold Storage," adds the letters BR to familiar phrases to create new phrases. Heartsease, which I recently — and I mean very recently — learned is a common European wildflower, becomes HEARTS BREEZE clued [Simple task for a ticker?]. The three other theme answers are:
  • [Bout of self-flagellation?] = BRAWL FOR ONE (all for one)
  • [High-fiber ballpark food item?] = BRAN FRANK (Anne Frank)
  • [Raised writing on a largemouth?] = BASS BRAILLE (Bass Ale)
  • [Subtitle for a "Girls Gone Wild" video?] = BREWS AND BRAS (oohs and aahs)
In addition:
  • Didn't see Marisa TOMEI in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," but she was fabulous in "In the Bedroom," an intense film based on the intense short story by Andre Dubus.
  • I assume the the YIDDISH-tongued Singer referred to here is Polish-born American author Isaac Bashevis Singer, although there are likely a few other Singers around who speak Yiddish.
  • The only thing I know about "The Matrix" is that Keanu Reeves's character's name is NEO. And Laurence Fishburn plays ... God? I don't know. It's hard to remember.
  • Omar SHARIF played Che Guevara in the 1969 film "Che!" My fake boyfriend Benicio del Toro will play him in the upcoming Steven Soderbergh production, which apparently won't be as exciting. The title is just "Che." No exclamation mark.
  • I've heard of Bill Nye the Science Guy, but not Sid the Science Kid. Well, no wonder! The show just debuted in September of this year on PBS.
  • Snoopy did, indeed, often drive a ZAMBONI. It seems like there should be something really obvious I could say here that would be funny, but ... I got nothin'. Crosscan?
  • "Stoned Soul Picnic" was a hit by the fabulous Fifth Dimension, written by Laura NYRO. She also wrote "Eli's Coming," which I almost talked about yesterday when I saw Three Dog Night mentioned in one of the puzzles.
  • Math game with matchsticks! I know this one!!!
Finally, Doug, if you're reading, I would just like to express my appreciation for not having to see the phrase "baby bump" in this puzzle. Sincerely. Thank you.

The theme of this week's Onion A.V. Club puzzle by Tyler Hinman is a little unclear. It's about dictators and corrupt politicians leaving office and getting into legal trouble. But then it's also got a bunch of farewell-type words directed at President Bush. Not sure I get the connection. At least not out here on the Internet where the Google Machine can find me! Ha!

As expected, there's all kinds of funky fill in this puzzle. An air of RACINESS in some of the clue/answer combos, like BANG for [Get with, so to speak] and ["Thong Song" singer] SISQO. Some crumbs for the pop culture fans including Will Smith's wife, JADA Pinkett; astrologer to the rich and famous, Sydney OMARR; and NOAH Baumbach, who's married to Jennifer Jason Leigh and has written an adaption of Curtis Sittenfeld's novel Prep. (Sort of an I Am Charlotte Simmons Lite.) Should be good.

The best word I've seen in a puzzle all week? No contest. AKIMBO.

Another new experience for me today was solving Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword for the first time. And I must say I'm shocked — shocked — by some of the things I saw here! Bad language, drug references ... I mean, I think they're drug references, I wouldn't actually know. (Hi, Mom!)

The theme answers contain synonyms for, um, rear-end spelled from right to left. That is, ASS BACKWARDS. So prat is hidden in GUITAR PICK (by the way, plectrum?), can is hidden in DANA CARVEY, and butt can be found in TEST-TUBE BABY. Tons of pop culture references including several hip-hop/rap artists: Sean COMBS, BIZ Markie, and Young JEEZY. This puzzle was a blast and I will definitely add it to my schedule in the future. In fact, I probably won't do any future Ink Well puzzles until I've done every single one from January 2008 forward. (I like to be ... thorough.) You know what impressed me the most about this puzzle though? I love the extreme boldness of putting both UMA Thurman and UTA Hagen in one puzzle. Love it!


Kids are off school today and I have a few things to do yet today, so this will be quick. If I miss something that you're just dying to talk about, please have at it in the comments! Gene Newman's LA Times puzzle hides a FRUIT in each theme answer.
  • [Aircraft navigation system] = RADIO RANGE
  • [O'Hara novel, with "A"] = RAGE TO LIVE
  • [Construction site debris] = SCRAP LUMBER
  • [Everybody, in Paris] = TOUT LE MONDE
The clue [Fed] doesn't refer to food today, but to a government worker, or G-MAN. And [Fraser or Douglas] doesn't refer to people but to FIR trees. Anyone else originally have moats for [Ancient city protectors] instead of WALLS? I guess I had never thought of a NERD as particularly obsessive, although now that I think about it, it makes pretty good sense. It will be a happy, happy day in PuzzleGirl's world when GABLE is clued not with reference to Clark, but to "Iowa wrestling legend Dan."

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's CrosSynergy crossword describes a few things people do to get ready for Christmas. They DECORATE THE TREE, HANG UP STOCKINGS, LEAVE SANTA A NOTE and, finally, OPEN THE PRESENTS. Do you guys open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Those of you that celebrate Christmas, that is. We open everything Christmas Eve and then the kids have their "Santa" presents in the morning. I don't know how it is at your house, but the PuzzleKids have been lobbying hard for early opening. I have a feeling this is going to be a looooong day.

I'm going to go ahead and wrap this up with two quick clips for you. First, for you young'uns out there who don't remember MIKEY, here he is. And I'll leave you with a Christmas medley from SONNY and Cher. I'll even throw in Bernadette Peters and Captain Kangaroo for free. Random!

Enjoy your Christmas Eve and I'll see you back here tomorrow. You'll all be here tomorrow, right? I'm sure you don't have anything else planned....



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

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

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

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

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

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

tricky/tough stuff included:

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

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


December 22, 2008

Tuesday, 12/23

Jonesin' 12:49
CS 9:19
NYT 7:41
Sun 6:28
LAT 5:14

(Updated at 10:45am Tuesday)

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword is, well, it's, in a word ... awesome. It's a Thursday puzzle dressed up (or maybe dressed down) to look like a Tuesday puzzle. Or maybe it's just a Tuesday puzzle in a Thursday puzzle's grid. I would have liked this theme a lot on Thursday, but the fill was definitely Tuesday level. Should I stop babbling about the days of the week and get to the specifics already? If you haven't figured out the theme yet — and I'm guessing there are a few people out there who haven't — you might want to sit down because this is going to blow your mind.

The puzzle is symmetrical. No, not just the grid. The letters in the grid. Check it out: TED at 1 Across in the northwest corner mirrors DET at 72 Across in the southeast corner. And, yeah, keep going. It works through the Whole. Damn. Puzzle. I don't care who ya are, that's impressive. Nicely done, Joe. (Is it okay if I call you Joe? How about Krozie?)

Obviously, with the restrictions posed by the theme, some of the fill is going to be iffy, but I'm just going to let it go because the symmetry is so very cool. I'm not going to say much about this puzzle. But you should take the time that you would typically spend reading my commentary and admire the puzzle some more. I'll just tell you the one thing that made me laugh while I was solving. What does it say about me that when I saw the clue [Eat by candlelight, say] I thought of a power outage and not, ya know, a romantic dinner. Sheesh!

Whoa! Complicated theme and "A Flurry of Activity" in Brent Sverdloff's Sun crossword today! The four letters in the corners of the grid — W, O, S, and N — are circled, as is the letter R in the center of the grid. The notepad explains that the five circled letters can be arranged to form a word that rhymes with the first part of the starred clues. That word is SWORN. In addition, the four letters in the corners can be arranged to form a word that can precede the second part of the starred clues: SNOW. So here we go. Starred clues are:

  • [Bald car parts] = WORN TIRES
  • [Builder of an immense domed nest of twigs] = THORNBIRDS
  • [Basic breakfast cereal] = CORN FLAKES
  • [Admiral in C. S. Forester novels] = HORNBLOWER
In retrospect, the theme is kind of cool. It didn't help me at all while solving though. I looked at the instructions on the notepad and decided it was too complicated and I'd figure it out later. I did like quite a bit of fill in this puzzle though:
  • I had no idea that [Moisturizer brand] Oil of Olay shortened its name to OLAY in 1999. Where have I been?
  • I also didn't know that SOUFFLE means [Literally, "puffed up"], although that certainly makes sense.
  • Did you know that those little decorations people put in their CROCS are called Jibbitzes? Here's the thing about Crocs. Most people seem to have very strong feelings about them. They either go on and on ... and on and on about how comfortable they are, or, on the other hand, they think they're just above the plaid shirt on the Style Scale. Me? I have a pair that I wear when I have to run outside for a minute but wouldn't care to be caught dead wearing them anywhere else.
  • [Many PTA volunteers] are MOMS. I thought they were "Type A, Helicopter Parent, Control Freaks With Superiority Complexes, Fake Smiles, and the Crazy Eyes Who Want All My Money." But that doesn't fit.
  • [Gallivant] and TRAIPSE are both awesome words.
  • I can't think of ISIS — the [Goddess of ancient Egypt] — without remembering the Saturday morning show from when I was a kid. "Oh mighty Isis!" Anyone else remember that? I'm pretty sure it was either right before or right after "Shazam."
  • TYNE Daly has done a few things since "Cagney & Lacey" days, hasn't she? Oh man, she was on "Judging Amy" for six years. I never did see that show. Unless she picks up the pace, I guess she'll always be known as Mary Beth Lacey. Have you all seen Sharon Gless on "Burn Notice"? She's good.
  • If you want to see someone FIRE UP a crowd, watch this video of Barack Obama telling the story of the woman who gave his campaign its catchphrase. Good stuff.
  • [Number in "A Chorus Line"] is ONE. Cuz, see, it's the name of a song in the show. And they call songs in shows numbers. Plus it's One, which is a number. So it, like, works on two levels. Get it?

Pretty sure this is the first time I've ever done a Jonesin' crossword and it was hip, which is just what I expected! Theme answers in this "Note for Note" puzzle exchanges one letter of a musical artist or band name such that the resulting phrase contains a word describing a foreign currency. So the Scottish post-punk band Franz Ferdinand becomes FRANC FERDINAND. (Yes, I had to look that one up because I'm ... old.) Mary Wells, who sings "My Guy" becomes MARK WELLS. (I didn't have any trouble with that one.) Dinah Washington becomes DINAR WASHINGTON, Boys II Men becomes BOYS II YEN, and The E Street Band becomes THE E STREET RAND. Clever and fun!

I always get a kick out of seeing music-oriented clues and answers in puzzles. Unfortunately, this particular puzzle references one of my Top Three Least Favorite Songs of All Time, "Send in the Clowns." So now it's stuck in my head and I'll no doubt be cranky all day.

TAFKAP stands for The ARTIST Formerly Known As Prince. I wanted to post a link for any Prince fans out there but apparently TAFKAP is diligent in his review of copyright infringement on YouTube. So here's Tom Jones doing a Prince cover.

Oasis's song "D' YOU Know What I Mean?" is not the same as Lee Michaels's classic 70s song "Do You Know What I Mean?," which I first heard covered by Renee Geyer and which I'm seriously hoping gets stuck in my head now that I'm talking about it.

Ya know what? I could spend all day looking up all the musical connections I made while solving this puzzle, but I think I'll move on so I can get some other stuff done today!

I don't typically tend to struggle much with the CrosSynergy crossword, but today's constructor is Bob Klahn after all. Which means, of course, that it contains colorful fill, tricky clues, and a theme that I almost didn't see. The title of the puzzle, "Letter Openers," made me think that the theme had something to do with letters of the alphabet when, in fact, the first words of the theme answers can be added to the word letter resulting in a familiar phrase. We've got RED (letter) HERRING, CAPITAL (letter) CRIME, SILENT (letter) BUTLER, and BLOCK (letter) PARTY.

To my mind, Klahn is the King of Cluing Misdirection. Most of the time I really appreciate his humor — like OPIE for [Bee minder of '60s TV] and MADAM for [Address of the very first palindrome?]. There are also few in this puzzle that rate pretty high on the groan-meter. [Brest milk], [It's put before Descartes], and [Item peddled by a spokesperson?] leap to mind. Ya know what, though? I don't think a pun cares whether you laugh or groan, it just wants the attention.

I was going to tell you a funny story about Bob SEGER but I can't remember all the details off the top of my head and this is already taking me too long. Maybe he'll appear in another puzzle this week and I'll be ready for it.

Gail Grabowki's L.A. Times crossword offers us phrases that all begin with words that describe someone who TALKs A BLUE STREAK. The first theme answer, RAMBLING MANSION, made me think the theme was going to be adding -SION to familiar phrases. Of course I had the Allmann Brothers song in mind, but to make up for leaving out the Bob Seger story, here's a clip of his "Rambling Gambling Man." Do you think they couldn't afford a mike stand so he wrote his part for just the one hand? Other theme answers are GABBY HAYES and WINDY NIGHT.

Hey look! Just when Orange went to the trouble of letting us know that AT SEA is usually clued as [Confused] (or something similar), here it is clued as [Between ports]. I guess Miss Smarty-Pants Speed Solver doesn't know everything. Of course, she never claimed to know everything. I'm just making a joke at her expense because she's not here to defend herself. Plus I did yesterday's NYT in 4:07.

Finally, I'll leave you with my favorite NAMETAG and see you tomorrow.