Hot puzzle opportunity! Given the straits the newspaper business finds itself in, there are fewer top-quality crosswords available now than a year ago. Crossword constructors are keen to find a way to connect with solvers—and get paid for their puzzles—without relying on print media for distribution. Eric Berlin wants to make another suite of puzzles, along the lines of the groovy Brooklyn-themed puzzle extravaganza he made for the 2008 ACPT (available for free at the following link), and you can pledge a few bucks to get a copy. If Eric gets $1,500 of Kickstarter.com pledges within two months, his supporters will get a set of nine crosswords. A $5 pledge gets you the suite and puts you in the running for a contest prize. $40 adds signed copies of Eric's two mystery novels for kids.
I was the second person to sign up, and I want these puzzles to be made! So go sign up. Now. Please! You won't regret it. Crosswords are cheap entertainment even in these recessionary times.
If this approach works well for Eric, perhaps other constructors will follow suit. Can you imagine? Let's say that no newspaper or magazine will pay Hook or Heaney/Blindauer for a ridiculously difficult and intricate crossword (like their insane Friday Sun crosswords), but the constructor can self-publish via Kickstarter.com and reach a self-selected audience. The payments are handled via Amazon, so it's not as if we'd even need to write out a check. Win-win!
Joon Pahk's New York Times crossword
What day is it? Is it Saturday yet? No? Because it kinda felt like Saturday when I was doing Joon's puzzle. There are a few tough words but the challenge lies mainly in the clues. These ones were the most difficult, if you ask me:
When I can single out nearly a third of the clues as tough ones, you know it's a knotty puzzle. A welcome challenge! And now the waiting begins: Will the Saturday puzzle be even tougher, or is this one of those weekends when it seems the Friday and Saturday puzzles have been flip-flopped?
Updated Friday morning:
Happy May Day! Workers of the world, TGIF.
Gareth Bain's L.A. Times crossword
Crossword Fiend regular Gareth Bain has his second crossword in today's L.A. Times. (The first was three months ago.) The theme is NIXON/NIX "ON," [Follower of Johnson, and a two-word hint to this crossword's theme]. Each theme entry is made by lopping ON off the end of a familiar phrase:
Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Take That, Matt"
Brendan was looking to do penance—I'm not clear on the reason—and asked his readers whose crosswording style he should mimic as punishment. When Matt Jones's themeless Jonesin' puzzle came out this week with a 16x16 grid featuring an amazing 8x6 swath of white space in the middle, Brendan's challenge was clear. He didn't manage to replicate that fearsome midsection, but he eliminated Matt's corner cheater/helper squares and overall had smoother fill. (No skin off Matt's back for his clunkers—though I encourage other constructors to try to do better than Matt did with that middle.)
What's the best stuff in this puzzle? I liked these ones:
Trip Payne's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Modern Canterbury Tales"
This is Trip's second literary-themed CHE puzzle in a few weeks. Keep 'em coming, Trip! I'm enjoying these crosswords a lot.
In this 15x16 grid, the theme entries are famous people whose last names are also occupations/titles of Canterbury Tales characters. From left to right, they are:
JEHU, or [Biblical king who slew Joram], is one of those obscure answers that I try to pay attention to so they won't stump me the next time they appear. Do enough crosswords, and nearly everything will crop up a second time.
Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy crossword, "Up for Debate"
Super-smooth, easy puzzle from Doug today. It's not necessary to understand the theme in order to finish this Mondayish/Tuesdayish crossword—each phrase ends with something we might debate. An [Initial public offering, e.g.] is a STOCK ISSUE. The DECIMAL POINT [separates dollars and cents]. If you're seeing a Pixar movie, you'll get a SHORT SUBJECT as a [Feature film preceder]. GRAY MATTER is [Intellect, informally].
Plenty of highlights in the fill: SPEEDOS, PICKED ON, PINOT NOIR, JEKYLL, PRONTO, "YOU SAID IT" and "C'MON," EXTINCT, MCJOB—with a Z, X, J, and a few K's.
Fred Piscop's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Bad Day in the Market"
You know how business-page headlines and articles try to get creative with synonyms for "went down" or "declined"? Nine such verbs appear at the end of the theme entries here, doubling as part of familiar phrases. For example, [Bad-day-in-the-market headline for a sushi restaurant?] clues FISH TANKS, and [Bad-day-in-the-market headline for a used car lot?] is LEMON DROPS. There are five more Across theme answers and two Downs.
This puzzle seemed harder while I was solving it than my time suggests. There's TOURO [___ Synagogue, the oldest in the U.S.]. [Explorer of Canada's coast] is CABOT. [Verdi title bandit] is ERNANI, and as I do half the time when that's the answer, I started with ERNANO and backed out of it later. [Peninsula in the Adriatic] is ISTRIA, and I first tried a mangled ILYRIA there. I still have no idea why [Flat answers?] clues SPARES. Can anyone explain that one to me?
April 30, 2009
April 29, 2009
Greg Kaiser and Steven Ginzburg's New York Times crossword
Previously published constructor Ginzburg partnered with newcomer Kaiser on this geographic pun puzzle. Hooray, geography theme! And it's a cool one—they riff on CAPITAL OFFENSES, or [Pun-crimes committed by the answers to the six starred clues?], by featuring six countries' capital cities that sound like phrases:
I usually enjoy a theme custom-made for the geographically inclined, and I did indeed enjoy this puzzle. Let's see what else this crossword's got. There's more geography! [Congo tributary] is the UBANGI. [Like Gamal Abdel Nasser's movement], PAN-ARAB, sort of fits that category. There's ASIA [___-Pacific]. OKRA's clue tells us the word's place of origin: [Food whose name comes from a language of West Africa]. SIBERIA is the [Home of the 2,700-mile-long Lena River]; LENA is one of those Russian crosswordese rivers, along with NEVA, URAL, and OKA. IDAHO is the [Home of the Sawtooth Range], and MTN. is an [Atlas abbr.].
Other clues of note: [Wm. H. Taft was the only U.S. president born in this month] is SEP. ALFA is a [Preceder of bravo in a radio alphabet]. [Long key] isn't an island off Florida, it's the SPACE BAR on your keyboard. DART is clued [It has feathers and flies].
Updated Thursday morning:
Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Yucky Yuks"—reviewed by Janie
Wanna hear a dirty joke? Boy fell in the mud.
Wanna hear a clean one? Boy washed up.
And that, dear readers, usta give me real "cause to crack up." In the second grade...
How nice to be a (chronological) grownup and still be AMUSEd by the very clean "dirty" jokes that unify Randolph Ross's puzzle:
Since I basically never met a pun I didn't like, this puzzle had a high smile-factor for me.
And there's lots to love in the range of the non-theme fill as well -- mythology's CYCLOPS [One-eyed giant]; music's MOOGS [Some synthsizers] "Switched-On Bach", anyone?; philosophy's Immanuel KANT ["Critique of Pure Reason" author]; television (Sesame Street) and filmdom's (It's a Wonderful Life) [Bert's buddy] ERNIE. There's even a sports reference: GOAL!
Clue/fill pairs that just sat right: [Concentrate]/FOCUS; [Something to blow when angry/GASKET; [De-tension camp?]/SPA (since I basically never met a pun I didn't like...); [Vanity cases?]/EGOS; and the "bonus" [Dirty stuff]/SMUT.
Fave cross: AGRA/AMES. Exotic India and heartland Iowa. Quel juxtaposition!
And with the shout out to GELATI and DOVE chocolate, consider this post to be a RAVE!
Dan Naddor's L.A. Times crossword—back to Orange
This unusual theme hinges on 73A ATE, a [Word that homophonically forms a familiar word when attached to the end of the answer to each starred clue]. How does that work? Like this:
Eight theme entries! Plus a theme that goes beyond the "same old, same old." Dan Naddor continues to put out interesting, well-crafted puzzles.
After I finished this crossword frowning at the unfamiliarity of CAPE CORAL, I returned to the April 20 New Yorker article "Swamp Things" (abstract here) and the very next section focused on Cape Coral! The town was built with 400 miles of canals, which makes it a homey place for the Nile monitor, an invasive species of lizard that can reach 7 feet in length and eats anything that moves. Now I'll remember Cape Coral.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Broken Bones"
The theme here is bones that are "broken" by having their letters spaced out within the four longest answers. In my solution grid, I've circled the bone letters. The clues indicate how many places each bone is broken—so a bone broken in two places is in three pieces, and a bone with three breaks is in four pieces. RIB appears in the RUSSIAN MOB ([Certain Grand Theft Auto antagonists]). The FEMUR is in FORCE MAJEURE, or [Act of God, e.g.]. [Biased coverage of a court case] is TRIAL BY MEDIA, in which TIBIA is broken. And UNCLE VANYA, the [Chekhov classic], hides crosswords' favorite bone, the ULNA.
Assorted clues and answers:
I'm delighted to announce that Janie, whom many of you know from her comments here and elsewhere or from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, is joining the Diary of a Crossword Fiend blogging team. She'll be taking over the gig of blogging about the themed CrosSynergy/Washington Post crosswords. (I called dibs on the themeless "Sunday Challenge.") Janie'll be writing about the Thursday and Saturday puzzles this week and then usually covering Monday through Saturday.
Janie's a lyricist and actor whose day job is working for the estimable Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She's smart and funny and I'm looking forward to hearing her thoughts on the crosswords.
Let's give her a warm welcome. (Here's where we all applaud wildly and Janie takes a bow.)
Posted by Orange at 3:40 PM
April 28, 2009
Onion 4:20 (no kidding!)
Barry Silk's New York Times crossword
This is Barry's second NYT puzzle in under a week. Usually he's a themeless specialist, but here he is on a Wednesday. And for the second day in a row, the theme includes a bunch of short answers rather than a handful of long ones. Barry's theme is a word ladder that takes us through the STANDARD WORK DAY, from NINE (1A) to FIVE (71A). Here's the ladder, in which one letter changes to make a new word in each step:
Yeah, word ladders are cool. (Remember Patrick Berry's N.Y. Sun word ladder puzzle, with 5-letter words embedded in longer answers making a word ladder straight down the middle of the grid? Awe-inspiring.) You can see Barry's themeless-constructor DNA peeking through in the NW and SE corners' 4x6 blocks and the stacked pairs of 8's in the other two corners. Without further ado, a few more clues:
Updated Tuesday morning:
Doug Peterson's L.A. Times crossword
Doug may have spent some time in the kitchen doing the Monster Mash while he was constructing this puzzle—the theme entries are phrases that end with words that double as kitchen verbs that make food pieces smaller. It would have been a little more elegant if HAS AN AX TO GRIND ([Harbors ulterior motives]) had been replaced by a phrase in which GRIND is a noun, as the kitchen verbs are nouns in the other phrases. Alas, THE DAILY GRIND is one letter too short to partner with FIREPLACE GRATE ([Log holder]). The other theme entries are LOADED DICE, a [Shady high roller's advantage], and a KARATE CHOP, or [Dojo blow]. That last clue ends with the sound of "Joe Blow" so now I'm pondering "dojo sixpack" and "dojo schmo."
Lots of Scrabbly fill here—NOZZLE, ZIPLOC, RED SOX, JAVA, and a bunch of K's. Good stuff. For the rest of my comments on this puzzle, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.
Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Pizza Pieces"
Patrick's theme gives me a touch of indigestion. The three "pizza pieces" in the grid appear somewhere in the theme entries:
I wouldn't need the Tums if the CHEESE had found a way to appear at the end of its phrase, like the SAUCE and CRUST do. There's much to admire in the fill here, but I'd like a more consistent theme structure, especially when there are only three theme answers.
Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Gone Teabagging"
If you made it through the GOP "Tea Party" coverage without learning the X-rated meaning of "teabagging" and thus don't know why Brendan's puzzle skews anatomical, Wikipedia explains it here. The theme doesn't quite cohere:
Maybe those with the mindset of an 18-year-old boy appreciate this theme, but it's a big fail for me.
COQ AU VIN, a [Chicken-in-wine dish], makes for a lovely answer. We like it when Q isn't followed by a U. Not crazy about DEEP REDS as an answer—if you're stuck with the entry in your puzzle, clue it with two reds, not one ([Cardinals, e.g.])—maybe [Ruby and claret, e.g.]. Weirdest-looking answer is KEYOFE, which is three words: the KEY OF E is a musical term clued with [It has four sharps].
Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword
Matt's puzzle really should've run last week or the week before for maximum theme resonance. 420, or 4/20 or April 20, has become a marijuana thing. The theme entries begin with numbers that, when multiplied together, equal 420. The details:
My, that's involved. If I cared one whit about the whole 4/20 thing this theme would have wowed me, but while I appreciate the intricacy of the theme, the payoff was a bit of a letdown for me.
Names I didn't know: EMILIE is [Oskar Schindler's wife]. RITA is [Raspy-voiced former Fox News host Cosby]. [Joy Division casualty Curtis] is IAN Curtis.
Favorite clue: ["The Right Stuff" group, to legions of fans]. I had the TB at the end of the answer and just could not think of any nickname for the astronauts in the movie. Eventually NKOTB, or New Kids on the Block, emerged. I don't know if Matt (or editor Ben Tausig) hoped people would wander into that dead end, but I sure did.
hello, fellow crossword solvers, and welcome to the 47th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Disconsonant Vowels." this week's contest featured a very tough crossword along with a tricky metapuzzle. let's have a look. the puzzle contains five 15-letter "theme" answers:
what do these theme answers have in common? well, the title is a hint to look at the vowels, and it seems like each theme answer has only one vowel, used over and over: A in MANHATTAN, KANSAS, E in LETTER NEVER SENT, I in MISSISSIPPI GIRL, O in FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, and U in COLUMBUS SUBURBS. oh wait... except that COLUMBUS has an O in it, too. what's going on?
a closer look at the grid reveals that actually, entire rows of the puzzle contain only single vowels. in fact, the 15 rows can be divided into 5 3-row stacks, each stack containing only a single vowel: A for the top fifth, then progressing alphabetically to E, I, O, and U. so in some sense, those five answers aren't the theme answers... every single across answer is a theme answer! (well, maybe not SSR, DMV, PSST, FSK, and TSST.) however, there are some glitches (like the O in COLUMBUS), which i've circled in the screenshot:
what do these seemingly out-of-place (you might even call them "disconsonant," if that were a word) vowels have to tell us about the answer to the metapuzzle? well, as always, it's good to check the instructions: This week's contest answer word is a well-known four-letter geographical place name. straightforward enough. is there such a place name that uses I, A, and O? why yes, there is: IOWA. and that's the answer to the puzzle.
i wasn't too sure about the W, because i didn't really understand how we would know it wasn't, say, IONA. but matt assures me that the W is also hinted at in the same way, because the W in HOW'S (49d, ["___ that again?"]) is also a vowel, and hence "disconsonant" in the same way that the I, A, and O are. color me skeptical... especially since the W crosses WOK, where it is most certainly being used as a consonant. i think of W as a vowel only in crazy welsh words like CWM and CRWTHS (which are fun words to spring on unsuspecting anonymous online scrabble opponents, not that i'd know anything about that), but i suppose there's something to be said for matt's argument when the W is part of a diphthong.
at any rate, it's a cool theme. the demanding nature of the grid (five 15-letter answers plus the vowel constraints all over the grid) required matt to exceed some of the usual norms for a 15x15 puzzle: 80 words, 48 blocks, and a whopping 40 three letter words. there were also a number of entries that, it could reasonably be argued, fall somewhat short of crossword legitimacy/familiarity:
my favorite clue has to be ["___ Island" (Tina Fey-written "30 Rock" episode featuring attractive older women], which clues MILF. i recently got into 30 rock. funny show. MILF island is jack's brilliant idea for a reality show, with the tagline "50 8th-grade boys, 25 super-hot moms, no rules." the only problem with making fun of reality TV, though, is that any ridiculous reality show parody you can dream up is actually not far from being an actual reality show. MILF island, as ridiculous as it sounds, is really just a combination of date my mom and temptation island, isn't it? not that i've ever seen either of those.
okay, that's all i have time for, even though there's plenty more interesting stuff in this grid; feel free to comment on your favorite clue. see you next week for the easy-peasy may puzzle.
April 27, 2009
People, I am swamped. You know how we're seeing more puzzles from Brendan Quigley each week (three, at his blog) than anyone else? Those represent but a teeny fraction of his constructing these days. On my plate: Second pass on the page proofs for two BEQ books. Almost half done with the first round of solving/proofing for a third book of BEQ puzzles. Have not yet begun the fourth, which landed in my in box today. Sure, I didn't get a chance to blog about Brendan's Monday puzzle, but rest assured, he is keeping me busy elsewhere. Then there's that medical paper I'm editing, too... Why should you care? I'm excusing myself from all but the most cursory blogging for a few days.
Matt Ginsberg's New York Times crossword
Matt must get bored with the standard sort of theme because he specializes in nutty themes. Here he's got 18 SIMILES in which the first word appears in the grid—and not in symmetrical spots, either—and the "as a blah-blah" part is in the clue. Of course, you can't fit 19 theme answers (including the explanatory SIMILES) into a 15x15 grid without making 'em short, so they're 4 to 7 letters apiece. Fun twist on the norm—and a surprise to see an oddball theme on a Tuesday.
A handful of clues to note:
Matt Jones's themeless Jonesin' crossword, "Center Piece"
Matt's crafted a plus-sized (16x16) themeless puzzle for us this week. The center zone is the centerpiece of the puzzle: a 6x8 chunk of uninterrupted white space, with 6- to 10-letter answers intersecting it vertically and 8- to 10-letter entries running across. Swirling out from the middle are four corners with three or four long answers stacked together. Many of the answers are stone-cold awesome, while some others rate high on the "meh" scale. Here's a small group of both, just from the Acrosses:
Beautiful grid, isn't it? Now I am hankering for more plus-sized themeless grids with a skosh more room for insane blocks of white space.
Updated Tuesday morning:
Joy Frank's L.A. Times crossword
Today's offering is on the easy side, unlike its Wednesdayish counterpart at the NYT. The theme is things we do to animals, metaphorically speaking:
Crossings I liked:
Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "Joint Account"
Paula's quartet of theme entries begin with joints in the body:
The first two theme entries I had were the KN ones, and having paid no mind to the puzzle's title, I figured the theme would be all KN phrases. Er, no.
14A, ROUX, could have been clued as [53-Down thickener] to avoid having SAUCE both in the grid and a clue. [Type of yogurt] clues NO-FAT. I'm never keen on that answer, because hardly anybody uses that. Nonfat, yes. Low-fat, yes. Not NO-FAT.
[Rasta's messiah Haile] SELASSIE is timely for me. Rastafarianism is largely a Jamaican thing, and today my son will be dyeing his first-ever tie-dye shirt—using the colors of the Jamaican flag. His school is studying the Olympics and the nations that compete in it, what with Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games. Having the Games here would be both a hassle and awesome. A proposed tennis site would be about three blocks from my house, and bringing the Olympics here would probably mean that a promise to fill all those potholes within 7 years. If the Games go elsewhere...then there is no hope for the roads.
April 26, 2009
Whew! Long day. Loud day. We took the kid to see the new Harry Potter exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry this afternoon. (Who knew museums could be so noisy?) And then this evening we had Ben's birthday at Pump It Up—16 kids bouncing around, clambering a rock-climbing wall, and getting jacked up on sugar. (Also noisy.) At last, quiet time and crosswords.
Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword
Now, Barry Silk was just remarking the other day that he'd asked Will Shortz about running a crossword tribute to the World Series champion Phillies, but Will "said that puzzles must have a 'shelf life' of at least 5 years." I don't know that JOE THE PLUMBER, a [2008 campaign personality], fills that bill. Frankly, that feels like a dated reference already—I would have liked that theme answer better last December.
The other theme entries—name + occupation—are DORA THE EXPLORER, the [Animated TV character whose best friend is Boots], and ROSIE THE RIVETER, [Norman Rockwell painting subject of W.W. II]. These two are rock-solid, more enduring than Joe the Plumber/Journalist's moment in the sun. Answers I liked:
Pancho Harrison's L.A. Times crossword
Pancho's theme is phrases that sound like they're violent but aren't—except for that one that still is:
If things don't turn out well for that BUSHWHACKER, he might end up in BOOT HILL, the [Gunfighters' graveyard]. The crossword answer ON RYE shows up not infrequently; this time we get RYE BREAD, clued with [Corned beef is usually ordered on it]. [Andre the Giant, e.g.] was an actor in The Princess Bride after being a professional WRESTLER. [Fozzie Bear, e.g.] is a MUPPET from The Muppet Show.
Updated on a busy Monday morning:
Depending on when Brendan Quigley's blog crossword is posted, I may or may not have time to review it today. But don't let that stop you from talking about it in the comments.
Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Blockheads"
This is one of those Monday puzzles that one might plow through without needing to understand the theme—and in fact, I finished it before beginning to ponder how "Blockheads" related to the theme answers. The first word in each of five theme entries can precede the word block:
The two 10-letter Down answers are unrelated to the theme. A RAT-CATCHER is a [Certain pest control worker], but "rat block" isn't a thing. Neither is "near block," so NEAR AT HAND, or [Close by], is also not a theme answer.
Guess what? I don't have much in the way of a recap as I wasn't there. What I do know is that rookie competitor Jordan Chodorow swooped to the top of the standings heading into the finals, where he was joined by two ACPT divisional finals veterans, Eric LeVasseur and Eric Maddy. John Farmer reported that the three finalists all finished the finals puzzle correctly in the 7- to 12-minute range, with Eric M. taking 1st place, Eric L. in 2nd, and Jordan in 3rd. Tyler Hinman was supposed to split color commentary duties with a TV guy, who had to leave before the finals and so Andrea Carla Michaels filled in.
If you attended Crosswords West, please share a few thoughts about the day in comments—but do avoid relaying any spoilers about the crosswords, as the rest of us will be doing the puzzles in the New York Times this week.
So: How was it? Was a good time had by all? Did anything embarrassing happen? Anyone have great photos to share?
Posted by Orange at 4:23 PM
April 25, 2009
Trip Payne's New York Times crossword, "Roughly Speaking"
I've been using the NYT's online applet for five years, and all this time I've simply entered the first letter of a rebus entry. But the last time around, I finally paid attention to what people said about how you make the applet accept multiple letters (type + and then the letters), and after I solved that rebus puzzle I used that + trick to make a comprehensible answer grid for this blog. But taking the time to enter multiple letters in a square while the clock is running? Never—until today. I am so glad I did because it turned out that there are both UM and ER rebus squares, and it would have been an unholy mess trying to make sense out of a grid littered with misleading U's and E's.
So! If you're looking for a theme that provides a joke or maybe wordplay of some sort, you are out of luck today. But if you're keen on Sunday-size puzzles with a themeless vibe and a rebus gimmick, then you have hit the jackpot today. Guess what? I'm in the latter group. I don't feel cheated that there's no group of theme entries that have more in common than some letter pairs, I don't get vexed by rebuses, and I do love a good themeless. I was surprised to see how many words and phrases there are that contain both an UM and an ER:
There were also plenty of answers with two ERs or a single UM or ER. All told, I count 35 rebus squares, which seems like a lot for one puzzle.
My favorite clues and fill were these:
Some less familiar stuff follows:
Updated late Saturday night:
According to Jim Horne, the previous record for the most rebus squares in an NYT crossword was 28, so Trip blew that record out of the water with his 35.
Norm Guggenbiller's syndicated "Daily" Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle, "Overheard at the Pub"
The theme entries here purport to be what certain phrases sound like when drunkenly slurred—a word that ends with SS turns into one ending with SH:
For more on this puzzle, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.
Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle from maybe six weeks ago, "Treevia"
I was going to skip this crossword, but the "Treevia" title lured me in with its promise of botanical content. Alas, the octet of theme entries were just an assortment of names and phrases that begin (n=3) or end (n=5) with a word that's also a tree. Sort of. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY starts with the HOLLY shrub. The ELDER (STATESMAN) can be either a tree or a shrub. The (STAN) LAUREL is a shrub or another name for the bay tree. There's the (MARTIN) BALSAM fir, (MODEL) PLANE tree (a.k.a. the sycamore tree), two fruit trees—(EXPIRATION) DATE and (DOESN'T CARE A) FIG—and ASH (WEDNESDAY).
As many of you probably know, folks at the Rex Parker blog dub deadly crossings "Naticks," after the crossing of NATICK, Massachusetts, and painter N.C. WYETH stumped many. Well, this puzzle has a pretty good Natick too. 73D is [Composer Grofe], or FERD*. It crosses 97A: [Armpit], or OXT*R. I figured an E for FERDE sounded more plausible than the other vowel options, but...OXTER? That's a new one for me. It's from the Old English and they use it in Scotland and thereabouts. Here's the Scottish Wikipedia entry on it: "The oxter is the pairt o the human body richt unner the jynt whaur the airm jynes the shouder." There's a beefcake biceps photo accompanying that definition. As for Grofé, you can bone up on him here.
Other not-so-familiar answers lurked here and there, but with crossings I found more gettable. TESSA is clued as [British actress-author Dahl]. PITOT is the [Physicist with an eponymous tube]. [Wing-footed, zoologically] clues ALIPED. Last, we have ["Embraced by the Light" author Betty] EADIE.
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Oscar Stew"
This puzzle has an accompanying note: "Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood, so maybe the best way to win next year's Oscar for Best Picture is to recycle ideas from previous Best Pictures. Forthwith, a few samples." The theme entries commingle parts of the titles of two Best Pictures and clue them with descriptions of the resulting make-believe movies:
I didn't have any of those entertaining "aha" moments. Maybe because I was sleepy? I dunno. There was one mystery answer I got only thanks to the crossings: [Kim of "True Grit"] clues DARBY.
Updated again Sunday morning:
Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"
Earlier this week on Facebook and Twitter, I asked who people's favorite overlooked constructors were—on various individuals' lists of the best/favorite constructors, a few of the same names seem to pop up over and over. But there are so many more talents who don't live on those "top five" lists. Anyway, a couple people cited Rich Norris. If you like themeless puzzles and you have an NYT Premium Crosswords subscription, do yourself a favor. Use Jim Horne's database listing of Rich's puzzles, jot down the dates of a slew of his Friday and Saturday puzzles, and head to the NYT puzzle archives to download those crosswords. About 130 of Rich's NYT crosswords are Friday and Saturday puzzles, so that's a book or two's worth right there. There's also Rich's A-to-Z Crosswords book, which I enjoyed. (I believe this is a USA Today-branded reprint of the earlier Sterling book, so these aren't USA Today crosswords.)
The last square I filled in was the B in the southwest corner. [Attend to one of one's preflight chores, maybe] is CALL A CAB (I don't call cabs—I just walk down to the corner and wait for one to come by), and the [2001 self-titled pop album] is BETTE. Midler? Yes, but I was trying to think of a much younger pop singer fitting *ETTE.
1-Across is extra-Scrabbly—[Speaker], as in a loudspeaker, is a SQUAWK BOX. Colorful answer, eh? Assorted other clues and answers:
April 24, 2009
Photo from last weekend's Marbles Amateur Crossword Tournament. From left, J. from Marbles; 2nd place winner Ben Bass; 1st place winner Anne Erdmann; 3rd place winner Jonathon Brown; Amy Reynaldo; Bob Petitto; Lindsay Gaskins from Marbles.
Brad Wilber's New York Times crossword
Aside from two 3-letter answers, there's nothing in this puzzle that's of questionable value. Smooth fill, lots of interesting phrases, several surprising entries, some intellectual trivia, tricky clues—what's not to like? It's even targeted right at the tough-but-not-too-tough Saturday difficulty level.
My favorite parts:
Tough stuff, arcane facts, names, and so forth:
Updated Saturday morning:
Barry Silk's L.A. Times crossword
Barry Silk, constructor of Friday's NYT puzzle, is back with today's L.A. Times puzzle. I blogged it in a fugue state late last night at L.A. Crossword Confidential. I liked the puzzle, I did, but I kept falling asleep while blogging about it. Blogging is hard work, y'all!
What I liked best in this puzzle was the zig-zag of WHIZBANG to GREAT WHITE SHARK to KATE MOSS. Isn't that a whizbang procession?
Good ol' ANIL shows up, but with a botanical clue I haven't seen before—[Shrub of the genus Indigofera]. There's the OXLIP [Plant in the primrose family]. Moving from plants to birds, we have AVI, or [Prefix with fauna]; MYNAHS, or [Winged mimics];; and a WATTLE, or [Turkey appendage]. Moving from biology to physics, we see ROCKETRY, or [Space science], and a RECEIVER, or [Listening device]. Head down the hall to the place where chemistry class and auto shop collide, and you'll learn a few more things: HEXANE is a [Hydrocarbon obtained from petroleum], the antifreeze ZEREX is a [Prestone competitor], and the tire company UNIROYAL [merged with Goodrich in 1986.
ICE FOG is not something I've ever encountered, but I like its clue: [Weather phenomenon also known as pogonip]. The word pogonip comes from a Shoshone word, and it's fun to say. Do yourself a favor and read the Wikipedia entry. They say that in Siberia, a person walking through ice fog clears out a body-shaped tunnel, so you can play a game of guessing whose tunnel you're looking at based on its size and shape.
Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"
I wonder if Newsday and the other papers that carry its puzzle have been getting letters of complaint lately about the Saturday puzzles. Not only is there the whiplash from six days of easier-than-the-NYT puzzles to a tough themeless, but lately the Stumpers have been markedly more difficult (from my perspective). Woe to the less adept solver who blithely picks up the Saturday puzzle, thinking it's the same sort of challenge as the Tuesday puzzle!
The top of this one killed me. (Solution here.) I even Googled INNES, the ["Wreck of the Mary Deare" author], but that didn't help too much. Might I kvetch here about the INNES clue? Yes, it is factual. But English classes and bookstores don't tend to focus on Hammond INNES, do they? (Actress Laura Innes is better known on the Google front.) Sure, that book was made into a movie with Gary Cooper...who died several years before I was born. A thriller that won no awards, based on a novel by a genre writer of no great distinction? Feh. You can learn something by Googling all this, but it sure is boring. More trivia clues:
NAPSTER is a [Best Buy buy] not because you can buy Napster at Best Buy but rather because Best Buy purchased the Napster company in 2008. Other tech answers include DSL, or [High-speed initials], and WIFI, a [Cafe offering].
Tough clues I didn't find so irksome:
These ones weren't so hard for me and I liked 'em:
Now, Newsday team: Can we go back to Doug Peterson puzzles that are like his NYT and LAT puzzles? Maybe 20% harder than those, not 100% harder?
Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Let Me Add...Um...To That"
Well, the title describes what goes on in the theme entries, but it doesn't sound natural at all.
My favorite theme answer is SENIOR MOMENTUM, or [AARP movement?]. Hartman takes a lively phrase, tacks on an UM, and creates a workable clue. I'm less fond of the other theme entries, particularly RED BARNUM. We don't precede a person's name with RED to indicate that they're embarrassed, and "red barn" feels a bit like "silver car"—yes, red barns are more common than other colors, but... And then there's COUNTRY DECORUM ([Etiquette while traveling abroad?]. Wait, a red barn and country decor? Too much! I am an urbanite. The ACHE FORUM ([Chat room for hypochondriacs?]) is okay.
There's lots of cool fill—W.C. Fields' The BANK DICK, the BIG EASY, RAY KROC, THE MAN, NO PROB, and that GOOSE EGG with three sets of double letters.
April 23, 2009
Happy birthday to three of my favorite puzzle people! Evad, Byron, and PuzzleGirl were all April 24 babies, as was my son. Luckily, only one of the four expects me to present him with Legos tomorrow.
Barry Silk's New York Times crossword
Apparently I shouldn't fritter away an hour on Lexulous and phone calls before making it to the puzzle, because I got trounced by Howard Barkin to the tune of 3 minutes plus, and 4 minutes plus by Dan Feyer ("fredwbear" clocked in between Howard and Dan but I don't know that I buy that 3:20 time.) I took any number of detours in this crossword—RENTA instead of ECONO [___-Car], CREW instead of NAVY for the [Sub group], LAST WEEK instead of LAST YEAR, BIOLOGY instead of ZOOLOGY for [Alfred Kinsey's field], and my favorite wrong turn, BIKINI instead of INNING for [It has top and bottom parts]. Either answer is good for that last one and they share a couple letters.
I was also looking for 18A [Running] to end with a long A sound (the answer turns out to be ON THE LAM) because it sits opposite FIND A WAY, and SUSAN DEY and ENOLA GAY ([Carrier of very destructive cargo]) are another pair of long-A rhymes.
My favorite clues and answers follow:
Answers I didn't know:
Updated Friday morning:
That rapper in the NYT puzzle, Ric-A-Che? I guess the name's supposed to be pronounced like "ricochet," but I see Che and hear the "Che Guevara" pronunciation. This puts me in mind of the little Pokemon critter called Pikachu, and I'm thinking that's not what any male over the age of 10 would wish his name to evoke.
Robert Wolfe's L.A. Times crossword
The theme doesn't seem to signaled in any way at all. Each theme entry contains an abbreviation for a road of some sort (abbreviations you'd see in a street address), but taking the place of words that aren't normally abbreviated in phrases. There's no hint that there will be abbreviations, no unifying entry whose clue explains it all. And that is why this puzzle's running on a Friday and no earlier in the week. Did you like the theme? It did not move me (or my car). Here's the theme:
Does SOEVER work for 47A: [In any way] without a preceding what? My dictionary says yes: adverb, archaic or poetic/literary, "of any kind, to any extent." Hey, how did you like 51D: [Lincoln-to-Cheyenne direction]? Four letters...hmm, that won't work for something like NNE, so what could it be? Just plain ol' WEST. I don't recall seeing a cardinal direction clued in relation to the space between two geographic points before. 7D: [Edwards who played Ben Casey] is VINCE, and I sure didn't know that one.
Mike Torch's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Rock Festival"
All right! A puzzle for the geologically inclined out there! You don't see that too often. The theme answers are puns with the names of minerals (or a rock) substituted for words that sound similar:
I did this one on paper last night while putting a birthday boy to bed, so I have no solving time to report.
Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Going Through Hoops"
I finished the little bitty northwest corner, the PBJ/BOZO/JOSS stick corner, and moved along to 20A: [Sugar-covered peanuts]. Well, it doesn't take a Bostonian to know those are called BOSTON BAKED BEANS, but that wouldn't fit. It started with BOS, though, so that confirmed the answer and shouted "rebus" at me. "Hoops" in the puzzle's title? OK, so it's an NBA rebus. The other long rebus theme answers are AMERICAN BANDSTAND, which Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon appeared on a record 110 times. Is it OK that I've never heard of him? I know only Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter. Then there's BENJAMIN BANNEKER, the [African American mathematician who purportedly surveyed the District of Columbia. There's an extra rebus in the southeast corner, with no long answer anchoring it into place; Brendan wants to know if you felt that was fair. I wasn't on the hunt for symmetry, so I didn't mind it.
Among the flashiest answers were these:
Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Roomful of Roses"
Ray Hamel is one of those legends in the trivia world, and this puzzle's theme answers could be a tough trivia question: "What do BETTY WHITE, the KEWPIE DOLL, the country GEORGIA, BING CROSBY, and UMBERTO ECO have in common?" The word "rose" or the name "Rose" ties them all together:
A couple of the fill answers relate to rose, too. A [Rose supporter] is a STEM. WILTS is clued [Droops, like an old rose]. And SMELL completes the phrase ["Stop and ___ the roses"]. Unusual theme but not a difficult puzzle; good fill. Two thumbs up.
Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "The Bases Are Loaded"
Boy, I could've save myself a lot of time and mystification if only I'd paid attention to the puzzle's title. It didn't take me forever to find the rebus square with THIRD in it, and eventually I found FIRST, but it didn't occur to me that they were in symmetrical spots and would be accompanied by SECOND base and HOME plate, the four rebus squares forming a baseball diamond. I was just thinking of ordinal numbers. 'Tis the season for baseball themes, and even without the New York Sun delivering a barrage of them, there are still so many. (Sigh.)
The long theme entries weren't straightforward answers at all, so there was a gimmick underlying the gimmick:
I'm past being out of time to blog this morning, so I'll sign off here. Hope your Friday will be unseasonably warm but not too hot!