PI (untimed, but easyish)
NYT diagramless (untimed, but easier than many diagramlesses)
Don't miss the post just before this one—the Oryx Awards honoring the best achievements in the cruciverbal arts for 2008.
It appears that a beer with dinner and the Sunday New York Times crossword are not an optimal combination...though I didn't muck things up with any typos, so it wasn't so terrible. (Should've gone with a margarita.) "Grid-Irony" is the joint creation of Vic Fleming and Matt Ginsberg, and there are 10 other theme entries that relate to 81-Across, SUPER BOWL SUNDAY. Those 10 phrases are football terms, but they're all clued as if they've got nothing to do with the game:
I'm fond of both Vic and Matt, but guys, this football theme does nothing for me. I'm sure many others are enchanted by it. Let's see...what else is in this puzzle?
This week's syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword is Dan Naddor's "Buried Treasure." Each theme entry is a made-up phrase concocted in order to bury a gem in its midst:
I like the find-the-hidden-gems game here. Anyone else misread [N'awlins sub] as [N'awlins suburb]? Boy, that made PO' BOY hard to dredge out. I thought [Babe in the woods] was skewing figurative and not literal—that one's a BEAR CUB. I don't know that I'd call NEOCONS [Political interventionists]—that clue kept me wondering for a while. Strangest-looking word in the grid: BINAL, or [Twofold].
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Study Group," reimagines the meaning of various "study of ___" words, to humorous effect:
Favorite clue: [What Pop has that the Pope doesn't] for a SHORT O sound.
Paula Gamache constructed this weekend's Second Sunday NYT puzzle, a diagramless crossword. The theme entries take five phrases that end with a plural S and insert an IE before the S, thereby altering the meaning:
It's unusual for me to have no idea where 40% of the theme entries came from, at least if it's not a sports-themed crossword.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online-in-Across-Lite Boston Globe crossword, "Ready for '09?," ushered in the new year with 10 theme entries (9 to 11 letters apiece) that end in IX, the Roman numeral equivalent of '09. I didn't know that SPONDULIX was slang for [Bread, moola, clams], and money, but the crossings in this entire crossword had easy clues. The theme entries were clued straightforwardly, which also eased things up a bit. Good gravy! I rarely crack the 6-minute mark in a Sunday-sized puzzle. (There are some weekly Sunday puzzles, like Frank Longo's Premier King syndicated puzzle, Sylvia Bursztyn's LA Times magazine puzzle, and the Sunday Newsday crossword, that are usually about this easy—but I'm not in the market for more easy puzzles. I hanker for more tough puzzles.) Having heard of activist Dorothea Dix, [1930s advice columnist] DOROTHY DIX gave me pause.
Will Johnston's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" includes a lattice of eight 15-letter answers, four Across and four Down:
Of the 72 answers in this grid, 44 are 3- and 4-letter words, many of them lacking that je ne sais quoi that produces crossword joy. NORN (that's a [Norse goddess]) and SMEE, OOO and LTRS, REE ([3M's mancala game "Oh-Wah-___"]) and EOE, NEN and EIKS. I do lean towards themelesses with juicy 8- to 11-letter answers rather than marquee 15's or a slew of 7's.
January 31, 2009
Back in 2007, yours truly and Rex Parker started keeping track of their favorite crosswords, and teamed up to form the two-member squad called the American Crossword Critics Association. A year ago, we posted our joint write-up of first annual awards, but ever since, constructor Andrea Carla Michaels—a naming consultant by trade—exhorted us to let her rename the ACCA Awards. And so it is that the second annual American Crossword Critics Association awards are hereafter referred to as the Oryx Awards. The oryx is an Old World antelope that sometimes has black and white coloring, just like a crossword. It's one of those four-letter words that crossworders know but many of their friends don't. And it's a sonic blend between "Orange" and "Rex," so we love it. The Oryx Awards have not (yet) been made manifest in shiny cast gold trophies to be handed out at a gala affair, so the recipients need not stumble nervously or tipsily to the stage to thank their agent.
Without further ado:
These are typically themed Monday and Tuesday puzzles.
GOLD: Patrick Blindauer's New York Times, 10/6/08
- Look, he turned a crossword puzzle into a dollar bill! It's adorable....and rectangular.
- "Would you hush? I'm working a crossword here." The world's noisiest crossword has 20 theme entries making a terrific DIN. KERPLUNK!
- Four famous people share the same first names as the AMERICAN IDOL judges. Two corners boast four-packs of 7- and 8-letter answers, and the fill is lively.
This category includes themed daily-sized puzzles of Wednesday-NYT difficulty or greater, with no twisty gimmicks.
GOLD: Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club, 1/2/08
- Asymmetrical grid features Democratic (PILLORY CLINTON) and Republican (TWIT ROMNEY) "dirty debate tactics" with name-into-verb puns on candidates' names. Did we mention there are seven theme answers occupying 94 (!) squares?
- In "Strange Signs From Above," the zodiac puns are absolutely nuts: e.g., LEIGH BRA and "UH, QUERY US."
- What do a BAT MITZVAH and AQUA VELVA have in common? Add MAN to the first word and you're spawning superheroes. Great "aha!" moment.
These are the ones that people remember months or years later, the envelope-pushers that bend the rules, incorporate other kinds of puzzle challenges, and give our brains a delicious workout. These crosswords are so awesome, we couldn't honor just three.
PLATINUM: Patrick Blindauer and Francis Heaney's New York Sun, 1/11/08
- "Squares Away" is a really hard rebus puzzle with an asymmetrical grid. Guess what? If you color the rebus squares black instead of putting the word BLACK in 'em, those new black squares make the grid symmetrical, and the entries that had the rebuses are still valid words. HONOR [BLACK]MAN turns into HONOR and MAN with a black square in between. Sheer crossword genius.
- "Three-Ring Circus" messed with our heads in a big way. It looks like a 15x16 grid with two 15-letter answers in the middle, but it turns out there's a TIGHTROPE WALKER balancing precariously between those rows—all the Downs that cross the 15s are one square shy, and the extra letters wedged in spell out TIGHTROPE WALKER. Devious!
- The skull-crushing trick in "Return of the Indivisibles" is that answers to prime-numbered clues have to go in backwards. 2-Down is AIXELSYD, no joke. EDISPU is here too: UPSIDE is upside down.
- "Standardized Test" has ABCDE in five places and you have to blacken the space for the correct answer to the accompanying multiple-choice questions. If you err, you're going to flunk the Down answers.
- An amazing debut puzzle in which every other Across row's answers appear backwards in the grid. We call it "Two-Way Streets" but the middle entry is STEERTSYAWOWT.
- This is the famous LIES puzzle: the black squares spell out LIES and—this is the genius part—the clue for TEN tells you ten clues are lies. For example, tennis player AGASSI is clued as [Golf great Andre]. Terrific Shortzian cluing twist.
Themeless puzzles tend to be the hardest ones each week, barring crazy gimmick puzzles, and we love them so. A touch of sadism endears a constructor to us, as does a fondness for shiny new crossword vocabulary.
GOLD: Karen M. Tracey's New York Sun, 5/16/08
- FRANZ LISZT meets a MEAT-EATING ALEX TREBEK and totally HAS KITTENS.
- ZOOKEEPER collides with CLIMATE CANARY in the middle of the grid, YES, LET'S sends mixed messages by colliding with OH STOP IT ... and then there's Orange's favorite word: PASSEL.
- L. FRANK BAUM on the UNEVEN BARS, with a BEER CHASER. Co-starring RITA MORENO and JOHN CUSACK.
These puppies are usually 21x21 squares, so there's room for all sorts of wordplay and visual artistry that daily puzzles can't accommodate.
GOLD: Elizabeth Gorski's New York Times, 5/25/08
- "Spy Glass" - James Bond-themed puzzle has all the Bond actors, plus IAN FLEMING, plus an alphabetical connect-the-squares element that creates a huge martini glass, inside of which sits the word MARTINI, as if representing the surface level of the drink within the glass. It's just an astonishingly imaginative feat of construction, and a real pleasure to solve as well. Oh, and JAMES is used to clue the "Bond" that all the theme answers share. I'm telling you, this puzzle doesn't stop.
- "Splits and Mergers"- theme answers function like rivers, where other words flow into or out of them. Thus "NOT IF I CAN HELP IT" branches off (zags, downward) to create NOTIFICATION, and CLEAN SLATE merges seamlessly into TRANSLATE, etc. Phenomenal.
- In "Advanced Placement Test," prepositions are replaced by the order of the remaining words in a phrase. Read between the lines shows up as THE READ LINES, and I before E except after C is I E C EXCEPT. Merl being Merl, there are 11 of these gems to solve in his crossword.
Stanley Newman's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (Anna Stiga byline), 3/1/08
- Some puzzles make us work harder—a lot harder—than others, but there are usually only one or two killer themelesses a year. This one was 2008's big bear, with that trademark Newmanian obliqueness in the clues.
- How many times have you rolled your eyes at yet another [Punxsutawney-to-Boise dir.] clue for a three-letter direction? You play the odds and plug in ENE without thinking about maps. In this crossword, all eight directions appear in criss-crossing pairs in the appropriate places within longer answers. "Gee, what's got NNW and WNW in it?" you ask. Heart's ANN WILSON and DOWNWIND, that's what.
Two of the crossword sites that launched in 2008 immediately established themselves as can't-miss favorites:
- Brendan Emmett Quigley's eponymous site combines a blog in which BEQ posts three new crosswords a week and shares musings about crossword topics in his inimitable style. One of his latest puzzles is an early favorite for the 2009 Oryx Awards but hell, they're all good. Sometimes there are swear words, so this ain't your grandmother's crossword site.
- At Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest site, Matt posts a two-part puzzle challenge each week. First you fill in the crossword, and then you curdle your brain figuring out the contest answer. Each theme is different, as is each contest challenge—and 31 weeks in, Matt hasn't run out of clever ideas.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...drumroll, please.
GOLD: Patrick Blindauer
- Patrick B2 continues to be an innovator with a gift for not just pushing the envelope but dissolving it completely. Nobody else has three Oryx winners this year, so Patrick pwned crosswords in 2008. No lone wolf, he co-constructs with a terrific group of collaborators.
- Karen's a themeless specialist, and her puzzles captivated us all year. We honored two of 'em with an Oryx, but pretty much all of her crosswords kicked ass. More, please!
- Patrick B1 took the gold in this category last year. He's got two Oryx winners this year, but several more of his puzzles were in contention. He's a perennial innovator, and if you're not doing the Chronicle of Higher Education's weekly crossword, you're missing many of Patrick's twists and turns.
Posted by Orange at 5:00 PM
January 30, 2009
Newsday (untimed, but longer than either of the other puzzles)
Ken Bessette's New York Times crossword has three answers I adore.
First, there's the KOOL-AID MAN, an [Ad pitcher who's really a pitcher]. I wonder how many people tried desperately to stretch former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer into 10 letters. The Kool-Aid Man was a giant glass pitcher that burst through walls, causing significant structural damage but bringing fruity refreshment. Crosswords like to clue the word HAM with its overacting connotation, and to use ham in clues for EMOTE. Bessette opts to change it up with HAM IT UP, or [Hot-dog]. (Fittingly, this answer crosses ON THE STAGE, or [Between wings].) [Stand-up routine?] sounds like it's looking for comedy, but it's THE WAVE that an arena full of people might stand up to create.
ADAPTATION is clued as an [Evolutionary process], but it's also a MOVIE TITLE ([Marquee name]). [Seek change?] couldn't be PANHANDLE because that's only got 9 letters; it's PASS THE HAT. I would've clued RAINMAKER with its business/law firm connotation rather than as an [Indian tribe V.I.P.]. The S AND P (S&P, or Standard and Poors 500 index) is one [Market yardstick, for short], while the DOW is clued [It has its ups and downs, with "the"]. I recently read that the Dow had 17 days with ±5% changes last year—and it took about 50 years to amass the previous 17 such days. Volatility! (Speaking of ups and downs, STEPS also [have their ups and downs].)
Crosswordy bits of language you ought to know if you're doing battle with Saturday puzzles:
Let's see, what else is in this puzzle? I don't recall running into IVA with this clue before: [___ Archer, with whom Sam Spade had an affair]. IVA Majoli the tennis player, yes. EARS are clued [They're near temples], and eyes are just as close. [Dawdling sorts] clues POKES, though I wouldn't call someone a "poke" without appending a "slow" to its front. Have you seen "poke" as a noun meaning a slowpoke? I wouldn't have guessed that TEAKS were [Trees of the verbena family]. The most mystifying clue for me was [Pita source] for AGAVE. That's not pita bread and it's not the abbreviation for "pain in the ass"; it's a Mexican fiber from the agave plant. You know what['s often planted] besides agave? A KISS, that's what. [Last name of father-and-son N.F.L. coaches] is MORA—they were both named Jim. There is also a Melvin Mora who plays for the Baltimore Orioles. SAABS is somewhat awkwardly clued as [Automotive debuts of 1949].
In closing, "Hey, Kool-Aid!" Here's the video of a '70s commercialfor you.
Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword doesn't have a KOOL-AID MAN to woo my cruciverbal heart. Assorted clues and answers:
My favorite clue in Sandy Fein's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (.pdf solution here) was [Where Easter precedes Lent]. I thought of a dictionary but...the answer is only 8 letters long. Eventually I had the first three squares filled in with WEB, which served only to confuse me. Is there some generic term for a Web-based dictionary? Finally the crossings filtered in and I saw that it was WEBSTER'S dictionary. Aha! I didn't know TAFFETA was an [Early hot-air balloon material]. I have never eaten [Hamburger ___ soup (German dish)]/EEL (ick!). Speaking of German things, OSKAR is ["The Tin Drum" protagonist], and speaking of foodstuffs, BASMATI rice is indeed a [Fragrant food].
January 29, 2009
(post updated at 10 a.m. Friday)
When it comes to themeless crosswords, Brendan Emmett Quigley likes to cram in a lot of cool entries. Here are the showiest answers from his New York Times crossword:
Karen Tracey's latest Sun "Weekend Warrior" felt like a "Themeless Thursday" because the clues weren't so hard. Or maybe they were, but knowing Karen's style, it's so easy to read a clue like [Fruity bread spread] and leap at a super-Scrabbly answer like QUINCE JAM. Other answers with uncommon letters include ARABESQUE above DIXIE CUPS, with that Q feeding into QUINCE JAM, whose J is shared by JAMI GERTZ (I just saw the clue [She's behind Biden in the presidential line of succession] and wanted it to apply to JAMI GERTZ), whose Z links to MAXIMIZES, which meets RELAX.
I misread [My brothel's keeper?] as "My brother's keeper" and thought biblical rather than MADAM and prostitution. [Neither fore nor aft] clues AMIDSHIPS; the cruise ship I was on just called it midships. The Lone Ranger is a MASKED MAN but somehow I wanted that answer to be NAKED MAN. TIM MCGRAW has five consonants in a row heaped up inside his name.
Daniel Finan's LA Times crossword replaces successive sounds with double letters that, when read aloud, sound roughly the same as what they replace:
Toughest clues for me: [Plain type?] for JANE; [Fire and brimstone target] for SODOM; [Popular tourist spot] for MECCA (do hajjis consider themselves tourists or religious pilgrims?); and [Gran Paradiso, e.g.] for an ALP.
Wow, is this the easiest Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle to date? Usually they're at a Thursday or Friday NYT difficulty level, but this one felt like a Tuesday. In John Lampkin's "Misplaced Modifiers," the theme answers are things like French fries, things with a geographical name that's inaccurate (fries are a Belgian creation):
Mike Shenk, writing as "Alice Long," constructed this weekend's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Winter Business." Easy puzzle! The seven theme entries all have "in winter business" appended to otherwise straightforward clues. Each answer is a common business phrase that begins with a word associated with winter. For example, [Manufacturing supplies, in winter business] are RAW MATERIALS, and damn, is it ever raw outside in Chicago today. Windy and 15°F? That's also cold (COLD, HARD CASH is [Real money, in winter business]) and frozen (FROZEN ASSETS are [Blocked funds, in winter business]. We have snow (SNOWBALLING is clued as [Momentum in the equities market, in winter business]) here, but it's too cold for slush (SLUSH FUND is a [Money reserve, in winter business]). The other two theme entries evoke a much warmer winter—BRISK TRADING is clued as [Market activity, in winter business], and "brisk" describes early November better than a Chicago January. COOL MILLION is a [Tidy sum, in winter business]. Overall, the fill and clues were a good bit easier than a Sunday NYT crossword's.
Brendan Emmett Quigley's self-published crossword, "Lean on Me," has the subtitle "Think thin." That should have pointed me away from thinking AL ATTRACTION was made by removing NIMA from ANIMAL and straight towards seeing that it's FATAL without the FAT. With the NIMA in my mind, I had no idea what was going on with the other theme entries, but it came together after the grid had been filled in. CRUEL TWIST OF E takes the FAT out of FATE, and HER CHRISTMAS diets down the FAT in FATHER. Two of the four 11-letter Down answers in the fill put me briefly to sleep—ORAL VACCINE and DATA STORAGE—but hey, they're stacked 11's crossing two theme entries so we can't expect them to break new ground. Favorite entry: DON CHEADLE, the ["Hotel For Dogs" star]. How many Hotel ___ movies must he make? He's also had two recent verb-preposition-Me movies, Reign Over Me and Talk to Me.
January 28, 2009
I was just thinking to myself, geeze, I haven't found the time to do the themed CrosSynergy puzzles in at least a week. Maybe I should be doing them so I'm not too rusty by the time the ACPT rolls around. And then I remembered that I test-solved and proofread 51 other crosswords between January 20 and 27 and felt a little more prepared.
Barry Silk's New York Times crossword defines BAR (66-Across) in five ways, with all five definitions being clued simply with [See 66-Across]. Now, if I'd had any sense, I would have traveled directly to the lower right corner and used the crossings to give me BAR right away, but no, that didn't occur to me until now. The five theme answers are the LEGAL PROFESSION, to BANISH BY DECREE, a TAPROOM, a UNIT OF PRESSURE (not to mention cell phone signal strength), and MUSICAL NOTATION. Favorite stuff from elsewhere in the puzzle:
David Kahn's Sun crossword, "Chop To It," builds a theme around the ADDAX, an [Antelope with spiraled horns (and a hint to this puzzle's theme)]. Everyone knows the oryx is the cooler antelope, right? Six theme entries incorporate and ADDed AX that changes a phrase's meaning:
Congratulations to regular reader Gareth Bain on his constructing debut—today's LA Times crossword. The theme was a little tough to suss out, but eventually it hit me. The four longest answers end with slang terms used to refer to the police:
The pigs and po-po are sitting this one out, but there is a KOP ([Keystone bumbler]). TRINI LOPEZ gets promoted to full-name treatment; she's the ["Lemon Tree" singer, 1965]. FLOYDS is clued with [Pink and golfer Raymond?], the question mark reflecting the playfulness of treating Pink Floyd like a first and last name. Anyone else find that their first impulse for [Capital near Troy] was ANKARA? I don't know how close ancient Troy is to modern-day Turkey's capital, but New York's ALBANY rules the day here.
January 27, 2009
The theme in Michael Langwald's New York Times puzzle feels a decade out of date. Four theme entries begin with the words MAID INN TIE JUAN, which sounds like "made in Taiwan," which this crossword tells us is a phrase borne by a CHILD'S TOYS. Nope, those almost all say "made in China" these days. You have to look long and hard to find a toy that's not from China. The answers whose beginnings sound of "made in Taiwan" are:
This crossword boasts 10 long answers (7 to 9 letters) in the fill.
Gary Steinmehl's 15x16 Sun crossword, "On With Its Head," puts a head on top of four vertical theme entries
See the H-E-A-D that modifies the four original phrases? I've circled those letters in my grid. [Three-time Gold Glove winner Minnie] MINOSO walked past my cousin's dining room window, walking his dog, while we were having Thanksgiving dinner in November. His car has MINOSO vanity plates, and he looks good for 83.
Sometimes ACRE gets clued as [Part of a plot], and presumably some solvers first interpret the clue as being about a scheming plot rather than a plot of land. Robert Morris's LA Times crossword plays with that by making ACRE the [Secret plot found in 17-, 26-, 44- and 55-Across]. Those four answers include words ending with A before words beginning with CRE, embedding an ACRE in each:
This theme might seem a little "so what?" or lackluster if not for the "secret plot" twist that imparts a little oomph.
Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword has SPEED DATE clued as [Encounter shared by the four celebrity couples in this puzzle]. Each of these "speed dates" uses a celeb's name as part of a pun on a specific sort of race:
Highlights: (1) SPEED DATE intersects two of the theme entries. (2) Word count's low enough to be a themeless, so there are lots of long answers here. (3) My favorite letter, Z, makes three appearances. (4) Zingy clues and fill. Why, look: here's DILDOES, clued as [Junk kept in drawers by the bed?]. Slangy HATED ON, clued as [Disparaged, slangily], is of a piece with NO YOU completing ["Oh ___ di'n't!"]. "SIC 'EM, BOY!" means ["Attack, Rex!"]. [Black-and-tan, say] doesn't mean the Guinness-and-Harp drink this time—it's DUOTONE for the two colors mentioned.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "The Last Shall Be First," has a terrific theme with a whopping eight theme answers. In each of them, the first and last letters swap places:
What elevates this theme—besides the fact that there are eight of 'em and two pairs have answers stacked alongside one another—is the freshness and flavor of the original and modified phrases and their clues. A love child, Fritos, Mr. T, bleacher bums, and Pop-tarts? You won't find more than one of those in most crosswords (Mr. T, I'm looking at you).
Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle today is called "Connecting Flights," and he combines pairs of airlines into made-up phrases. My favorite of the three theme entries is AMERICAN VIRGIN, clued as [Yankee who's never been to third base]. An [Estuary in Phoenix] or SOUTHWEST DELTA is mighty implausible, and the CONTINENTAL US is indeed [Everything but Alaska and Hawaii]. Favorite fill: JOAN MIRO, ["The Tilled Field" painter]; MR. BILL, [Old "S.N.L." character currently in MasterCard's "Priceless" ads}; THE MAMBO, a [Dance invented by Cachao], whoever that may be; and exactly THAT GOOD, or [As great as everyone says].
I awoke this morning relieved to escape from the dream I was having.
I was at the crossword tournament and couldn't find a seat at any of the tables, so I and my flimsy yellow folder settled into a folding chair with no table, so I'd have to do crosswords on my lap. I had to jot down an eight-digit contestant number, and my number was impossible to discern. (What's that last number?)
Then I flipped over the puzzle and discovered that the font was horrible, not very readable. And the photocopy quality was awful. A lot of clues, I simply couldn't read. And those I could make out...well, I had no idea what any of the answers were. None of them. [Steinberg], 5 letters? The only Steinberg I could think of was Chicago columnist Neil, with 4 letters.
Feel free to share your own fevered ACPT dreams in the comments.
Posted by Orange at 4:31 PM
puzzle maybe 3 minutes?
the 34th installment of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest is called "Three Thirteen-Letter Phrases," and it was much easier than last week's cranium-crusher. the theme answers are:
what do these crazy phrases have in common? they're not 13-letter phrases, as the title suggests. but they are phrases which consist entirely of greek letters, 13 of them in total:
this is the second MGWCC whose theme required us to GO GREEK. the instructions tell us: One of the grid entries in this week's puzzle anagrams into one of the eleven you didn't need. This grid entry is this week's contest answer word. so we're looking for a grid answer which anagrams into one of the other 11 greek letters: gamma, delta, rho, etc. the quickest way to do this is to notice that most of the across answers in the grid are 7 letters long. there are only so many 7-letter greek letters. there's no EPSILON, and UPSILON has been done, but what have we here? here's OMICRON, disguised as MORONIC, or [Stupid], which must be the answer.
January 26, 2009
(post updated at 9:15 Tuesday morning)
I think the Tuesday New York Times crossword by Jim Hyres was a little easier than yesterday's puzzle. (I had a typo, so my time should've been 10 or 15 seconds faster.) The theme entries all end with homophones:
Assorted other clues and answers in this puzzle: [Cop's cruiser] is a PROWL CAR. Squad car and patrol car are more familiar terms to me. [High-voltage weapon] clues AIR TASER, but I have never heard the term with "air" included. I, ROBOT is a [Classic Isaac Asimov short-story collection]. BENIN is the [Nation once known as Dahomey]. If you like African geography, try this map quiz. [Exert one's superiority] is PULL RANK. [Vigorous feelings] is a strange clue for ENERGIES. I'll bet PONZI [___ scheme (investment scam)] is far more familiar to crossword solvers in the wake of the Madoff debacle.
Peter Gordon/Ogden Porter's 15x16 Sun crossword, "Hitchcock Double Features," includes four mash-ups of Hitchcock movie titles that can be clued plausibly as made-up phrases. 10-Down was my favorite of the four. The clue [Subvert hawks and doves?] made me think of metaphorically pro- and anti-war groups, but the answer is more avian-minded: SABOTAGE THE BIRDS. Holy crow, The Birds freaked me out when I saw it late at night by myself when I was about 18. Birds have beaks or [Bills, e.g.], but that clue is for an NFL TEAM. [Thing that gets socked?] is a FOOT; the official socks of this blog are Smartwool.
Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Just Add Vodka," creates its theme entries by adding vodka to something in the base phrases and thereby mixing a cocktail. This is one of those puzzles with a slightly delayed "aha" moment, where I had the whole thing done but didn't understand the theme yet. I don't understand all of the theme entries, so I need to Google up some info. What's a Greyhound? It's grapefruit juice and vodka. So:
In the non-thematic fill, there are some cool answers. DARA TORRES was a [Swimmer in the 1984 and 2008 Olympic Games]; she won a silver medal last summer at about age 40. TUNA HELPER is a [Dinner mix with a glove on the box]. Cute little cartoony glove with a face on its palm, too. [It's promoted as infallible truth] clues THE GOSPEL, and I like the clue's vague suggestion that there's a marketing or P.R. team working on that account. GOOD LOOKS are [What vain people think may get them far in life].
The theme answers in today's LA Times crossword begin with FEE, FI, FO, and FUM, all tied together by the GIANT (67-Across) who is the [Fairy tale bellower of the starts of 20-, 31-, 42-, and 53-Across]:
I thought I'd seen this theme concept before, so I Googled it—there were two FEE FI FO FUM rebus puzzles in 2006, from Levi Denham and Nancy Salomon (NYT) and Edgar Fontaine (Sun).
Miscellaneous clues and answers:
Mark your calendars now for the Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament on Sunday, April 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. (registration starts at 12 noon). The event, which is open to the community, will be held at Harvard University and is being generously hosted by the Harvard College Crossword Society (HCCS), in cooperation with Cruciverbalists of Boston (Boston Cru).
We are delighted to announce that Will Shortz, crossword editor for the New York Times, will be the guest speaker at the event. Mr. Shortz is also furnishing unpublished upcoming puzzles from the New York Times for use in the competition.
Admission will be free for Harvard undergraduates, with a small registration fee for other participants. Non-monetary prizes and considerable bragging rights will be awarded to top finishers.
STAY TUNED: More information, including a tournament website and email announcement list, coming soon!
Kyle Mahowald and Nathanial Rakich (HCCS student leaders)
Joon Pahk (HCCS faculty advisor and Boston Cru)
Eric Helmuth, Boston Cru
Boston Cru Google Group: http://groups.google.com/group/bostoncru
(Announcement lifted from Joe Cabrera of the Boston Cru.)
Posted by Orange at 4:06 PM
January 25, 2009
LAT 3:38 (Flash version)
The New York Times crossword applet seems to be out of commission this evening, but luckily the Across Lite version of Timothy Powell and Nancy Salomon's puzzle downloaded just fine. The theme is embodied in the clue for all three long answers: ["Bad idea!"]. How else can you say that? LET'S NOT GO THERE, for one. YOU MUST BE JOKING. Or perhaps I DIDN'T HEAR THAT. What I like best in this puzzle are the longer Down answers, all four of them so lively:
KIBITZ is also a great word, meaning to [Offer advice from around a card table]. There's one shorter answer that I have seen on the internet plenty, but it grates every single time: HE HE, a [Gleeful giggle]. No. The giggle would be HEE HEE. HE HE is a pair of pronouns, a pair of chemical symbols for helium, or a pair of matching Chinese names.
Tougher clues include ["My sweetie" in a 1957 hit for the Bobbettes], or MR. LEE; [Instrument with 30+ strings] for ZITHER; and ["___ River" (song from "Show Boat")] for the two-word OL' MAN, which looks like a mystifying OLMAN in the grid.
Tony Orbach's 15x16 Sun puzzle, "Roman Wrestling," leaves out my great uncle Roman (he used to give me a silver dollar every time we visited—a surefire way of being remembered by a child is to make a habit of giving her unusual money) but includes five more famous people who have a first or last name that's an anagram of "Roman." Two have last names in this category—ERIN MORAN, who was very genuine on that Scott Baio is 45...and Single show, and SUZE ORMAN, who is skewered on SNL. The other three are former Cub and Mia Hamm helpmate NOMAR GARCIAPARRA and two actors of yore, NORMA SHEARER and RAMON NOVARRO. Man, I misremembered that last name in so many ways. Alvarez first, then Navarre, then Novarre, and finally Novarro with crossings. I liked the profusion of names in the puzzle—there are about a dozen in the non-themed fill, and plenty of other words (BRAD, BOND, HAZEL, IRA) that could have been clued as people.
Edgar Fontaine's LA Times crossword wasn't posted in Across Lite at Cruciverb.com yet, so I bit the bullet and solved it in the interactive Flash version on the newspaper's website. I blithely type things in without looking at the grid, instinctively behaving as if the Flash cursor moves like the Across Lite one, and it doesn't. So I think that slowed me down some. Anyway, the theme is a tribute to the late, great PAUL NEWMAN. The theme includes two of his most notable films and the role he played in both of them:
A handful of answers seem a tad beyond Monday-grade. ABEAM is an old nautical word meaning [Perpendicular to the keel]; it crosses its fellow nauticalisms ALEE, or [Sheltered, at sea], and BILGES, or [Ships' seepage collection areas]. LISLE is a [Stocking thread]. [Ab ___: From the beginning] is the Latin phrase ab INITIO. [Caustic potash] clues LYE. The French POEME is clued as [Verse, in Vichy]. [Devereux's earldom] is ESSEX.
Whoops, I forgot Monday was one of the Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword days. In Brendan's accompanying blog post for this one, he says constructors want every solver to grasp the theme, even if it takes a good long while for the "aha" moment to hit. His test-solvers had delayed "ahas" with this one, and I am still in the midst of my delay. The theme is the WATCHMEN comic/upcoming movie. ALAN Moore wrote WATCHMEN, which is a PHENOMENON [in the graphic novel world]. The WATCHMEN clue says the WATCHMEN members are hidden throughout the grid. Great, research required to see a theme—I know nothing about the characters. Wikipedia to the rescue! The characters are clued without reference to Watchmen and include OZYMANDIAS, NITE / OWL, Doctor MANHATTAN, The COMEDIAN, RORSCHACH, and SILK / SPECTRE—two of them spanning two sequential entries apiece. That's a cool way to hide them—and the two-worders diverge from thematic symmetry, so the hiding places are more...hidey. Do these characters do a lot of hiding in plain sight? I have no idea. The puzzle kinda left me cold since I have zero familiarity with the characters.
January 24, 2009
Michael Torch's New York Times crossword, "Fiddle Dee Dee," fiddles around with some phrases by replacing a double-T with a DD in eight theme entries:
This puzzle's got some goodies in the fill, too:
A miscellany of other clues:
In Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge", he tests a new grid for triple-stacked entries—the top and bottom rows contain four 3's to bracket the trios of 15-letter answers. Now, the folks who just do the puzzle in their newspaper and get the CrosSynergy's team's product might remember ON HANDS AND KNEES from last Sunday's Paula Gamache puzzle. This time that [Crawling] takes on a more dissolute air, with DRINKS LIKE A FISH ([Has big belts?]) and RUSSIAN ROULETTE ([High-risk game]) enclosing it.
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Grinning Periodically," pays tribute to Mad magazine with its [Coverguy since 1955], ALFRED E. NEUMAN, his catchphrase "WHAT, ME WORRY?," and a whopping 12 other theme entries with a hidden MAD (see the circles I've added to my answer grid) in each. In Across answers in the NW and SE corners as well as vertically at the right and left sides of the grid, Merl has stacked theme answers together. C'mon, nobody includes four pairs of stacked theme entries! Well, Merl does.
I had no idea that [The Society of Professional Journalists, formerly] was called SIGMA DELTA CHI. I did know, though, that an ARMADILLO is an [Animal that usually has quadruplets]. I thought the [Popular drugstore brand] IMODIUM A-D was pushing the "Sunday morning breakfast test," but it's got that MAD at the end providing cover.
John Lampkin's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword is called "Off With Their Heads!" because each theme entry is a title with its head letter lopped off:
January 23, 2009
As much as I enjoy a Saturday New York Times crossword that delivers a solid thrashing, I suppose there's something to be said for an uncommonly easy Saturday puzzle. Mark Diehl's crossword just might let some folks finish a Saturday Times for their very first time, which will whet their appetites for more such conquests. Sure, they might get their asses handed to them next weekend, but maybe they'll be more likely to keep trying—and that is objectively a good thing.
This puzzle seems to be trying to convey a narrative: "OPEN YOUR EYES (["Look, bonehead!"]), JAVA MAN ([Early hominid])! JIFFY POP ([Brand for preparation in a stovetop]) is RACIST ([Like some misguided remarks])."
More specific people in the puzzle:
There are a lot of common letters in these names—why, look how many of them can be broken into two shorter crossword answers. DES/ADE, TIER/NEY, SIN/ATRA, EST/ELLA.
The RICE ([Jambalaya need]) University sports teams are the OWLS ([Fifth-year exams at Hogwarts])—I wonder if the constructor originally had these clued together.
Brad Wilber's LA Times crossword introduced me to a marine creature, the SEA HARE (a [Marine slug named for its earlike appendages])—watch it locomote in this video. Here's a good example of how clues transform ordinary, familiar answers into Saturday-grade creatures: ERIE is [1960 railroad merger company] rather than, say, [Pennsylvania port] or [Toledo's lake].
Assorted answers from the arts:
Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (PDF solution here) taunts me with SLEEP IN ([Stay out late?]), as my son prevents me from sleeping in on 98% of weekend mornings. I slowed myself down with some wrong turns—like MOONSTONE instead of METEORITE for [Exotic rock]—and blanked for the longest time on the ["Still Standing" actress]. I could picture her in Twister and Square Pegs but my brain played word-pattern tricks on me and I couldn't get GOMEZ out of my head instead of Jami GERTZ (same G, same Z...). GOMEZ turns out to be [DiMaggio's first Yankee roommate], six answers to GERTZ's left. Favorite answers:
Crosswordese opera star EZIO PINZA was the ["Some Enchanted Evening" introducer]. [Name meaning "rose"] is RHODA. Apparently complaining about these etymology-of-names clues just makes Stan Newman put more of them in. Uncle! (Though this one was a gimme, Stan...)
Ooh, there's a misspelling in a clue. ALIKE is clued [Analagous], but that should be [Analogous].
January 22, 2009
Fri. BEQ #21 6:06
Wed. BEQ #20 4:07
I've been up since 3:30 this morning, so I might well be asleep before the NYT puzzle comes out at 9:00 p.m. Central. If so, feel free to discuss that amongst yourselves here until I return. Will I make it through all those puzzles on Friday? Highly doubtful. My son is off school tomorrow and sick, and my husband will be home sick too. You envy my life of glamour, I know.
Peter Gordon's crafted his annual "And the Nominees Are..." Sun crossword featuring the just-announced Best Picture Oscar nominees. I was hoping he'd take a rebus approach, given the unwieldy length of a couple titles, but no, he just split 'em up into multiple entries. But look! It's still a symmetrical 15x15 grid with symmetrically slotted theme answers. The only quasi-cheat was docking "The" off CURIOUS / CASE / OF BENJAMIN / BUTTON and READER. MILLIONAIRE is in the middle with its SLUMDOG opposite CURIOUS. FROST/NIXON balances OF BENJAMIN; MILK, CASE; The READER, BUTTON. It's fitting that the Brad Pitt movie takes up so much space in the grid since it hogged up a lot of nominations too. You'd think the circumscribed fill would make for clunky fill, but no—there's CZARINA, MCRIB, TROJAN, and KRANTZ. Okay, so the puzzle also has RENA and IBERT—but at least the crossings were reasonable.
Updated at 10 p.m.:
Barry Silk's New York Times crossword has plenty of interesting fill that was hiding behind good clues. I slowed myself down owing to sheer exhaustion of the eyes and brain—I didn't see the "H." in [George H. W. Bush, once], so CIA DIRECTOR was the furthest thing from my mind. The only answer that was at all jarring was SNEAK THIEF, or [Lifter], not a familiar phrase to me.
And so to bed.
Updated Friday morning:
Dang, my kid woke me up before 8 this morning. On the plus side, he and his dad are the picture of health today, and the freelance project is done. (It may appear that I have been doing fewer crosswords than usual this week, but really, that extra batch of 25 puzzles counts.)
In Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword, puns are de order of de day: [Support for a formal downgrading proposal?], for example, is I SECOND DEMOTION, playing on "I second the motion." There are six of these "the –> DE" puns in all. I forgot that NENE was both singular and plural for those [Hawaiian flyers]. Speaking of geese, [Goya's goose egg?] is CERO, Spanish for "zero."
Patrick Berry kicks it literary with his Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Unhappy Endings." Edgar Allan Poe was a huge fan of the unhappy ending, so it wasn't so hard for Patrick to find five Poe characters who met dramatic ends in wildly different ways. My personal favorite is FORTUNATO, the [Poe character who gets walled up alive in a crypt] in "The Cask of Amontillado." Now, I thought I knew plenty of Poe, but I didn't know three of the characters here, and if you don't already know METZENGERSTEIN, it's not as if it's easy to guess it from the clue. Super-smooth crossings made the puzzle eminently doable, though.
Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Whack Job," has a CHOP, CHOP theme: Each of the other seven theme answers joins two words together with a hidden CHOP, as in SANCHO PANZA. The theme entries are a little on the short side, so there's plenty of breathing room for smooth fill and wide-open grid spaces along the top and bottom. Among the livelier entries are "I'M FOR IT," "GO HOME," MAN-TRAP, "OH, GOODY," TOOK A HIT, HARP ON, the ONE RING to rule them all, and O. HENRY.
Ben Tausig constructed this week's Onion A.V. Club crossword. 69-Across, FRENCH, ties everything together: [People inaccurately adjectivized before a word in 18-, 29-, 46-, and 57-Across]:
So this puzzle goes beyond the "phrases with words that can follow ___" theme by including only such phrases in which the French part is a misnomer. Well done, Ben. From elsewhere in the puzzle: LOQUAT is a [Fruit used in Chinese traditional medicine]. BOHEA is a [Fujianese tea]. SORREL is a [Fragrant Jamaican beverage]. Less exotic beverages include NECTAR, or [Godly stuff], and ADE, or [Fruity quaff]. [TV role for Savalas and Rhames] is LT. KOJAK (the Ving Rhames version was on the USA Network in 2005, while the Telly Savalas series was a classic '70s cop show. "Who loves ya, baby?").
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "You Send Me," goes postal. Each theme entry begins with a word that's a mail class. Madonna's EXPRESS YOURSELF is a ["Like a Prayer" single]. MEDIA ELITES are [Bogeymen for Stephen Colbert]. STANDARD OIL is the [Company in "There Will Be Blood"]. And BULK FOOD SECTION is an [Area with nuts and grains, often]. Who doesn't love bulk mail?
Today's Brendan Emmett Quigley puzzle is called "Alternative Medicine" and the theme includes three famous alternative medicine gurus. Actually, I'm not sure that Mehmet Oz qualifies as "alternative." He's on Oprah a lot, he has books, he says some reasonable things—is there lots of alternative medicine in his shtick? My friend Kristin thinks he's hot. Anyway, the theme entries:
Lots to like in this puzzle. [Bouncing all over the place, perhaps] clues BRALESS. Remember that lawsuit brought by a strip-club customer who complained that a dancer's capacious bosom had been used to BLUDGEON ([Beat but good]) him? Another B-word, BREEDER, is [Straight person, in gay slang]. Has VOIP ([Transmission technology used in Skype]) been in an NYT crossword yet? I don't know that it has. [Generating heat] sounds like it wants a word from physics or chemistry, but the answer's EROTIC. [Safari sight] is a POPUP AD, Safari being an internet browser. [Bar order] is A BEER, and while usually crossword answers don't include an indefinite article like this, I like it here.
The Wednesday BEQ has an iPod theme, with the theme entries starting with the iPod varieties TOUCH, NANO, SHUFFLE, and CLASSIC. You don't need an answer grid or discussion here today, do you? You've moved on already?