December 06, 2009

My Last Post (here)

The Crossword Fiend now posts at: Please make a note of it. Older posts will remain here indefinitely, and can be accessed from the "Old Blog" link at the new site.

Looking forward to seeing you at my new site!

Amy Reynaldo


December 05, 2009

Sunday, 12/6/09

NYT 10:18
LAT 8:50
BG 7:32
Reagle 6:51
CS 3:06*

Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword, "Double Break Point"

Theme: At the break point between two words, the first word's final letter gets doubled and scoots over to the second word. A few examples:

  • 20A. [Deciding the best man is better, perhaps?] is CHANGING GROOMS, based on "changing rooms" + G.
  • 25A. A SPORTS SCAR (sports car + S) is a [Memento of an old athletic injury?].
  • 52A. [Double or nothing, say?] is a NEW WAGER (goofy New Ager + W).
  • 93A. [Holder of pet electrons, protons and neutrons?] is an ATOMIC CAGE (the Atomic Age + C).
There are nine theme entries in all. That long central Down answer, LIBERAL-MINDED (29D: [Tolerant of other opinions]), is not part of the theme, though it does intersect three theme answers.

Weirdest (i.e., least familiar) answer: RAHAB, or 91A: [Prostitute who protected Israelite spies, in Joshua].

Notable clues and answers in the fill:
  • 60D. ¡THREE AMIGOS! That's the [1986 film featuring Chevy Chase as Dusty Bottoms]. "Sew! Sew like the wind!" remains my favorite line from that movie.
  • 2A. GIMLI is ["The Lord of the Rings" dwarf]. First answer in the grid when 1A (SCALED, [Like mountains and maps]) didn't give way instantly. I spaced out when typing in SCALED and it wound up as SCARED, which totally mucked up 4D: [They're set for drinking and smoking]. No, REGALAGES made no sense. LEGAL AGES! That's better.
  • Other than fixing that R/L problem, the last letter I filled in was the F in 47A: [Bottom line?]/FOOTERS and 47D: [Peggy Lee's signature song]/'FEVER." "Never" sounded plausible, but NOOTERS was not helping one bit.
  • 45A. TWEED is a stereotypical [Professorial material?].
  • 78A. Geography meets etymology: GHANA is the [Country whose name means "warrior king"]. They made the World Cup draw, didn't they?
  • 33D. [It might have an extension: Abbr.] clues a URL. Not a TEL., nope.
  • 45D. Maryland's TERPS (Terrapins) are [Competitors of Wahoos and Tar Heels].
  • 46D. [It's most useful when it's cracked] clues a WHIP. Ouch.
  • 70D. [Becomes layered while settling] clues SEPARATES. Gross. Word to the wise: If you should find yourself ordering a McDonald's milkshake, don't let it melt. It'll separate in disturbing fashion.
  • 72D. [Shaker's sound] is "BRR" if he or she is shaking from the cold.
  • 85D. The THROAT is a [Dewlap's place]. In cattle or birds, generally—not people.
  • 86D. SAINTS? [They're all good].

That's all for tonight. See you Sunday morning!

Updated Sunday morning:

Merl Reagle's syndicated crossword, "Fashion Plate"

Merl's theme this week is "food items that contain words that are related to clothing (items of apparel, fabrics, clothing fasteners, parts of clothing), clued with the word fashionable." For example:
  • 46A. [Fashionable condiment?] clues CAESAR DRESSING. Dressing...not sure how this fits the theme. "Getting dressed" or "dress" as part of the word. PITA POCKETS also stretches the theme a bit.
  • 56A. [Fashionable meat?] is SKIRT STEAK. 93A has the same clue, for BEEF MEDALLIONS. So add jewelry to the apparel concept. Wait, ONION RINGS also contains jewelry. Other answers with items of clothing are BLUEBONNET and BOWTIE PASTA, though those are accessories more than clothing.
  • 70A. GINGERSNAPS are [Fashionable cookies?]. See also BUTTON MUSHROOMS.
  • 104A. [Fashionable sweet?] is COTTON CANDY. FRENCH SILK also has a fabric name.
  • 119A. [Fashionable advice to diners at a fancy restaurant?] is DON'T SCARF IT DOWN.

This theme feels too sprawlingly loose to me. FRENCH SILK needs to be followed by the word "pie" to be a food. BLUEBONNET isn't food, it's a brand name of margarine. The vague "things you can wear/things that are used to make things you wear/things that are used as fasteners on things you wear/a pocket" concept doesn't have much punch.

No hitches in the fill. I did not know that 13D: ARBOGAST was the name of [The detective in "Psycho"], but the crossings were more familiar. I could see people getting snagged by the B, which crosses 23A: Victor BORGE, [Great Dane by the piano].

Weird ones: 117A: [999 follower, perhaps] is OOO (but really 000, with zeroes), if you're looking at a three-digit dial that's going to flip back to 000 after it reaches 999. 103D: E NOTE usually gets clued as the not-in-my-parlance "e-note," an electronic note. Here, it's [Part of a C major chord]. Do music people call the musical note E the "E note"?

Dan Naddor's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "Subliminal Messages"

The theme is fake advertising slogans in which the name of an apt company is embedded"
  • 23A. [Airline message] is SEE ISRAEL ALL OVER AGAIN. EL AL is at 74D.
  • 37A. [Electronics message] is THE REASON YOU LOVE TV. SONY is at 18D.
  • 66A. RELIABLE PICK-UP SERVICE is a [Shipping message], with UPS in the grid at 5D.
  • 98A. [Automotive message] is BUILT FOR DURABILITY. FORD's at 89D.
  • 116A. EXPLORE A LASTING BEAUTY is the hypothetical [Cosmetics message] from L'ORÉAL (53D).
  • 104A. [The brains behind this puzzle's theme messages] is an ADMAN. I just don't like that word's inherent maleness, though the New Oxford American Dictionary defines adman as "(informal) a person who works in advertising." Anyone know any women who work in advertisting who refer to themselves as "admen"?
The cross-referencing made the puzzle a little slower to unravel, I thought. There are some tough answers (obscure ARTEL, 21D: [Soviet cooperative]) and clues (80D: [Lesser of two evils, metaphorically] for FRYING PAN, as in "out of the frying pan and into the fire"), but no real trouble zones.

Interesting way to massage the "embedded word" gimmick into a sensible theme with a purpose. The idea of "subliminal advertising" ties the company names to appropriate slogans, so there's no randomness to the embeds. I did a little Googling afterwards to see if these were actual slogans—if ad agencies had actually persuaded corporations to go with the embedded-name approach—but the two I looked up weren't real slogans used by those firms.

Tyler Hinman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post "Sunday Challenge"

Yay! Tyler made this puzzle a couple years ago but Will Shortz wasn't keen on 1-Across. I liked the puzzle then (the * is because my solving time was assisted by the previous go-round) so I'm glad to see it's been published now. 1-Across had been completely unfamiliar to me, but I enjoyed learning it. [LSU cheer that includes a punny French spelling] is "GEAUX TIGERS," playing on "go." What's not to love about a bilingual sports pun? Kudos to the Louisianans who came up with that one.

The grid's chockablock with interesting fill. Such as:
  • 15A. ALL BROKEN UP, or [Emotionally crushed].
  • 17A. SPREADEAGLE, or [With arms and legs outstretched].
  • 39A. QUONDAM, or [Onetime]. Cool word, not seen often.
  • 62A. DON'T GO THERE, or ["I'm offended by that topic"].
  • 35D. AQUALUNG, or [Jethro Tull album or song].
  • 36D. BUTTER UP, or [Flatter insincerely].
Surprised to see the double A grades in EASY A'S and [An A often boosts it (abbr.)] as the clue for GPA. Never heard of AL RITZ, 3D: [Part of an old comedy trio, with his brothers Harry and Jimmy].

Gotta run now—hope to find time for the Boston Globe puzzle this afternoon.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword, "U and U Alone"

The theme entries—five grid-spanning 21-letter fake headlines—all contain no vowel other than U:
  • 27A. [Knuckleheads give rave reviews?] clues NUMSKULLS TURN THUMBS UP.
  • 43A. [The Donald's losing money?] suggests TRUMP'S TRUST FUND SLUMPS.
  • 64A. FUDD HUNTS BUGS BUT BUSTS is clued [Elmer just can't bag his quarry?]. Bugs Bunny's last name is left out, presumably because that Y serves as a vowel.
  • 89A. [Some towns have garbage issues?] clues SUBURBS SHUN DUMP TRUCKS.
  • 103A. This one's my favorite: CRUNCH DUNKS CRUSH SPURS almost sounds like a real headline in the sports section. For that matter, the Trump one wouldn't be out of place in the business section, either.

I like the intersecting Simpson clues. 86A: ITO is [Simpson judge] and 78D: [Sax-honking Simpson] is LISA. 65D goes with trivia, [World found by Herschel], to clue URANUS. My kid gets a kick out of inquiring, "How big is Uranus?" When I answer that it's surprisingly light considering that it's larger than Neptune (but less dense), he collapses into giggles.


December 04, 2009

Saturday, 12/5/09

Newsday 9:51
NYT 5:26
LAT 3:51
CS untimed

Bonus puzzle: Caleb Madison's Bard Bulletin crossword, "A Swift Response." It's a 19x19 to accommodate the theme, and if you've been plugged into pop culture this fall, you'll dig it. (Link is for a Java applet; here's an Across Lite link.)

Brad Wilber's New York Times crossword

Would you look at all the cool answers in here? Tyler Hinman was just saying on Twitter that "68 is the sweet spot for themelesses" because "68 is where you start to get the eye-pop factor without resorting to obscurities." Brad's 72-word grid may not have so much in the way of eye-pop, but the fill's highlights (and the twistiest clues) do offer brain-pop. To wit:

  • 1A. [Modern campaign element] is the ROBOCALL. If only robocalls were limited to political candidates.
  • 30A. The SHVG in the middle of BUSH V. GORE looks bizarre. This is, of course, the [2000 Supreme Court case hinging on the 14th Amendment].
  • 42A. GROUP HUG! Clued gruesomely as [Corporate retreat closer, perhaps].
  • 56D. [They work to maintain their faculties] clues college DEANS.
  • 65A. I always love to see the word AKIMBO, which is [One way to stand], with your hands on your hips.
  • 68A. [Producer of a piercing look], fictionally speaking, is X-RAY EYES.
  • 1D. REST UP, or [Recharge], is a solid phrase. Kinda looks like RE-STUP since multi-word crossword answers lack word spaces.
  • 7D. LET IT BE is a [1970 hit documentary] and the Beatles hit song.
  • 8D. The late, very great LES PAUL is clued as the ["Vaya Con Dios" hitmaker, 1953]. You know a guitarist is serious about his art if he shatters his arm in a car crash and, when the doctors say the elbow will be fixed in one position after surgery, instructs them to give him a permanent guitar-playing angle to his arm.
  • 9D. TORI, plural of "torus," was just clued in relation to doughnuts, I think in the LAT crossword. Here they're [Bagels, e.g.].
  • 32D. Great mislead in the clue. The [Model featured in "Little Miss Sunshine"] is the VW BUS the family drove, not a fashion model.
  • 34D. BART is a simple little answer. The trivia clue is [TV character who says "I didn't think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows"]. I am of the generation that uses "suck" as a synonym for "stink" without regard for any oral sex connotations the slangy usage may have had earlier.
  • 37D. OKEY-DOKE! ["You got it"].
  • 38D. DECREPIT's clued with [Condemnable?] because a decrepit building might be condemned.
  • 44D. The UV INDEX is another terrific entry, [It drops to 0 after sundown].

If you know your Greek roots/medical terminology, you can piece together what achromotrichia is even if you've never seen the word before (as I had not). 49D: [Start developing achromotrichia] clues GO GRAY, as in hair.

I wasn't as pleased with the EX-YANKEE and OXHIDE (though I like the Scrabbly letters). Crosswordese EELY ENE AGAR, meh. The Italian word GLI is not so well-known, I think—61A: [Los : Spanish :: ___ : Italian]. Speaking of Italy, MODENA is the [Maserati headquarters city] and where that yummy balsamic vinegar comes from, SBARRO is a poor [Alternative to Uno Chicago Grill], and LIRA is the [Old capital of 36-Across] (meaning the old unit of currency used in Modena).

Overall, good stuff. I do like a 72-worder if it's packed with goodies the way this puzzle is.

Updated Saturday morning:

Stella Daily & Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Getting Active"—Janie's review

Apparently, yesterday's sloth machines yield to today's exercise regimen. In a four-step process to shake off the lethargy and get movin', we:

•17A. SIT FOR A PORTRAIT [Have one's picture painted].

•26A. STAND ON CEREMONY [Follow protocol to the letter].

•48A. WALK ON EGGSHELLS [Proceed gingerly]. This one's my fave clue/fill combo.

•63A. RUN INTERFERENCE [One way to block defenders, in football].

There is nothing BLAH [Ho-hum] about that fill. It's fresh, lively and long–four 15s for a generous 60 squares of theme fill.

While, on the whole, the "straight-forward" school of cluing prevails, there's some nice non-theme fill as well. You can almost hear that BRAZEN GUFFAW clued as [Full of chutzpah] and [Hearty chuckle] respectively; or the person who SCREAMS [Hits the high note, in a way]–though one might also associate screams (the noun) with the sounds heard in the INFERNO [Dante's and Virgil's destination in literature]; or that "CLANG!" [Sound in "The Trolley Song"].

Progressive references to time can be seen in YEARS [What birthday candles represent] and LIFE [Birth to death] and EON (which I'd not thought of as such but which can refer to a) [Geologic time unit]. If you fervently created objects with ROPE [Macramé medium] at some time in your life, chances are you're of a certain age. Or if you baked your own granola, or rolled your own...candles...

[Stick in one's ___ ] CRAW is an almost quaint phrase these days, but I like it still. The craw is the stomach (of an animal) and the phrase is used to describe the way it feels when you just can't easily dismiss something that's bothering you; it causes resentment; it rankles. That would be an exaggeration of how I felt on encountering crosswordese SNEE, SPEE and TRON all in the same puzzle–but I also took pleasure in the way the first two rhyme with ONE G, TREE and NO TV. Cluing RNS as [They work with MDs] did not go unnoticed, btw. Or unappreciated.

Kyle Dolan's Los Angeles Times crossword

I suspect this is the constructor's major newspaper crossword debut. If so, congratulations!

The puzzle's got an unusual grid, with two vertical 15s constituting a mini-theme: 6D, 9D: The mini-theme includes 6D: GREEN-COLLAR JOBS, or [Work in the environmental sector], and 9D: CARBON FOOTPRINT, or [Environmental impact factor]. Timely, since the international summit on climate change is coming up in Copenhagen this month.

Things that caught my eye:
  • 13A. [Wild Asian equine] (ONAGER). Bonus points because this is an anagram of Orange.
  • 14A. ISABELLA is, among other things, a ["Measure for Measure" heroine]. Speaking of Shakespeare plays, I just received an e-mail newsletter alerting me to a community theater production, Comedy of Error. (Just one? Sure, in these recessionary times, who can afford more?)
  • 17A. ["Receiving poorly," to a CBer[ (TEN-ONE). I know "10-4, good buddy," but not "10-1." Remember the '70s, when a song about CB radios could be a runaway hit?
  • How about some deep-sea diving? 35D: [Sea named for its seaweed] (SARGASSO) crosses 39A: [Watery expanse] (SEA). (Not many people love cross-referenced clues, but SARGASSO's clue could've referenced 39A rather than including the word "sea.") What's in the sea? 20A: [Shockers in the deep] (EELS).
  • Favorite fill, narrative style: The CLASS CLOWN got into trouble for throwing his PB AND J at the NINJAS, who fought back throwing stars crafted from BASMATI. The clown was sent to the principal, who declared him a LOST SOUL.
  • 31A: [What it takes?] is TWO. To do what? To tango, to fight over the remote control, or move a sofa upstairs.
  • 1D: [Possible source of unwanted feedback, for short] (HOT MIC). Short for "hot microphone." This answer, in combination with the name in the byline, leads me to suspect today's construct is under age 35.
  • 3D: [Trattoria order?] (MANGIA). "MANGIA" is Italian for the imperative, "Eat!"
  • 33D: [Big name in oil filters] (FRAM). Lame answer on its own merits, but it made me think of an Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong duet on "The Frim Fram Sauce," and that makes me happy.

Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

(PDF solution here.)

This one seemed a little more obliquely clued than the other recent Stumpers I've done. Among the clues I struggled with were these:
  • 1A. [One of Maryland's state symbols] is the CALICO CAT. I was thinking state flower, tree, bird, gem, and seafood. Maryland has too many state symbols. The state sport is jousting. Apparently they like the calico because its colors—orange, black, and white—are shared by the Baltimore oriole and the state butterfly.
  • 17A. [Unlikely Phi Betes] are B STUDENTS. Straight As will get you into Phi Beta Kappa more easily.
  • 19A. BEES, not ANTS, are the [Symbols of industry].
  • 27A. [Bonding agents?] are PARENTS. Eh, that clue reaches too far.
  • 35A. [Fruit favored by Jefferson] is the GHERKIN. Who doesn't love gherkin pie?
  • 39A. STAGERS are [Home-sale aides].
  • 58A. [Party snacks] clues EDAMS. Really? Pfft. Next party I host, I'm putting out a bowl of Edam cheese wheels. Potato chips and Edams, that's it.
  • 1D. [Sort of driver] is a CABBY. I prefer the "cabbie" spelling.
  • 5D. Took a while to remember a 3-letter first name for a female dancer of yore. CYD Charisse is [Fred's partner in "Silk Stockings"].
  • 7D. [Food processors] are the CANNERS who put your gherkins into jars.
  • 9D. [It's often spoken into microphones] clues ", two three."
  • 12D. WATER SKIS are [Skimming gear].
  • 33D. [Frequent fast-food giveaways] are...GLASSWARE? Wait, didn't that pretty much stop in the '70s? I was just talking about this last weekend with my husband, but thought it was more of a gas station giveaway, the drinking glasses with cartoon characters or sports team logos on them. Have you seen a fast-food joint giving out glasses in the last 10 or 20 years?
  • 44D. [Upgrade one's alarm] clues REWIRE. If you say so.
  • 52A. TARES, the verb: [Computes net weight].


Daily Beast, 12/4/09

"Climate Changes" by Matt Gaffney
Time - 12:42

Everybody likes to talk about the weather, and today Matt has it all backward. Weird weather has reversed things all over the puzzle. Let’s blame it on 98D: [Climate change champion] – AL GORE.
23A: [What July is, to many students?] – TOO COOL WARM FOR SCHOOL
41A: [Headline about comic Billy’s poor memory?] – CRYSTAL CLEAR CLOUDY
58A: [Like irritated Icelanders?] – HOT COLD AND BOTHERED.
86A: [Creedence Clearwater Revival classic about SPF?] – WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN SUN. Better pack the sunscreen. Shouldn’t that be Creedence Cloudywater Revival.
98A: [Ben Stiller movie about mighty Inuit warriors?] – TROPIC ARCTIC THUNDER
120A: [Eugene O’Neill play about insomnia?] – THE ICESANDMAN COMETH. Is sand the opposite of ice? Hockey vs. volleyball?
21A: [Solo song] – ARIA.
26A: [Poetry contest] – SLAM. I didn’t know poetry was a full contact sport. Will this catch on at crossword puzzle tournaments. Look out for that flying pencil!
27A: [Mr. Nahasapeemapetilon] – APU. Let’s see this clue in reverse.
28A: [Mr. Kotter] – GABE.
34A: [Scientist with a unit of capacitance named for him] – FARADAY. Don’t you wish someone would name a unit of capacitance after you? Orange has a fruit and a colour named after her.
63A: [Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” partner] – ACOSTA. Am I dumb or is this obscure?
80A: [Marathoner’s need] – WATER. Non-marathoners also need it.
102A: [President after Fillmore] – PIERCE. He must be the least remembered president.
106A: [“Titanic” actor] – LEO. Had to search for Canadian content this week.
119A: [Sheriff Taylor’s son] – OPIE.
128A: [Robot maid on “The Jetsons”] – ROSIE crossing 124D: [“Little ol’ me?”] – MOI. Today’s question: Who would win in a fight between Rosie and Miss Piggy?
2D: [Kept playing over and over] – LOOPED. Also can happen in badly written computer programs. Also can happen in badly written computer programs. Also can happen in badly written computer programs. Also can happen in badly written computer programs.
31D: [White House party crasher Michaele or Tareq] – SALAHI. This clue will self-destruct after 15 minutes of fame.
33D: [“Heavens to Murgatroyd!”] – YE GODS.
37D: [Human fallibility, with “the”] – OLD ADAM. Huh??? Dictionary? The old Adam, the natural tendency toward sin: He attributed his wild outburst to the old Adam in him.
50D: [Clapton classic] –COCAINE.
101D: [“99 Luftballons” singer] – NENA.

I’ll be on holiday next week, leaving the warm weather of Canada for the coolness of Florida. There will be an extra-special super-secret guest-guest blogger to take care of you. Bye!


December 03, 2009

Friday, 12/4/09

CHE 5:51
NYT 4:17
BEQ 4:15
LAT 3:58
CS untimed
WSJ 7:30

The Oregon/Oregon State football game is on TV right now. Jacquizz Rodgers just had a 14-yard rush. Husband reports that Rodgers is only about 5'8" so he might not make it to the NFL. But I want him to be famous enough to appear in a Karen Tracey crossword!

Martin Ashwood-Smith's New York Times crossword

Martin Ashwood-Smith, a pioneer in triple-stacking 15-letter entries, returns with a smooth sextet of 15s. (Minus two points for having ONE'S in the middle of two answers.) Here are the long ones:

• 1A. AS OLD AS THE HILLS means [Antediluvian].
• 16A. [It's served in parts] clues a THREE-COURSE MEAL.
• 17A. OUT OF ONE'S LEAGUE means [Completely unqualified for competition]. Terrific, in-the-language phrase.
• 50A. [Framing need] isn't about picture frames—it's a TRUMPED-UP CHARGE. I have a slight preference for the plural of this, but the standard crossword isn't 16 squares wide so this will do. Why plural? If you're taking the trouble to frame someone, surely you can come up with multiple trumped-up charges.
• 55A. WATERLOO STATION in London is a [Railway terminus with the Victory Arch].
• 56A. OPENED ONE'S HEART is clued as [Became emotionally receptive].

None of these entries is on the list of the most common 15-letter NYT answers, so the whole triple-stack enterprise feels fresh.

Mystery people! I had three of 'em tonight. 27A: ROSA is ["The Accumulation of Capital" author Luxemburg]. She was a "was a Polish-Jewish-German theorist, philosopher, and activist" who cofounded the Spartacist League in Germany in 1914. 40A: JOSH WHITE is [Singer of the 1940s blues hit "One Meat Ball"]. I have to say, that's one meatball too many for me. 48D: IGOR is [Real-estate tycoon Olenicoff]. He's still a billionaire despite losing a couple hundred million bucks.

Comments on other answers and clues:

• Not crazy about the short two-worders. 29A: "DO IT!" is clued with ["Get cracking!"]. 1D: [Rafts] clues A TON. And 3D: ["... ___ go?"]—what is that, Morse code? The ellipsis replaces "for here" and the blank's filled with the partial OR TO.
• 35A. TASTE BUDS! [They may be excited by dinner]. Lively answer.
• 11D. [Laugh syllable] is HEE. (And 31D: HAHAS is [Music to a comic's ears].) If you are typing "he" as a laugh syllable, I must insist that you stop immediately. "Hee hee" and "ha ha" are laughs, "heh heh" has a less jocular air. "He he" or "hehe"? That's no laugh—that's a pronoun for a gay male couple.
• 15D. SLEETIER is clued as [More like a cold shower?]. I Googled the word and the first 60 hits gave the impression that this is not a word anyone actually uses, but on the seventh page, lo and behold, we find that the word appears in a Ted Hughes poem, "Tractor". I will use the word in a sentence that contains another phrase in the poem: "Sleet is SLEETIER than cast-iron cow-shit."
• 29D. I wanted the [Perilous place] to be AT DEATH'S DOOR, but that doesn't fit. It's a DEATHTRAP.
• 30D. Medieval! [Competition among mail carriers?] is a JOUST—mail as in chain mail.
• 32D. [The second part] is STAGE TWO. That feels arbitrary.
• 37D. Excellent use of the definite article in THE SHAH, a [Leader exiled in 1979].

My nomination for trickiest crossing is the M where 46A and 46D meet. ["___ Fate" (Andre Malraux novel)] crosses an [Unstable particle]. MAN'S and MUON, but if you're thinking the Malraux title will include a proper name or a common noun and you're not up on your atomic particles, DAN'S, FAN'S, JAN'S, and NAN'S don't look completely implausible. Heck, the author's got a French name, so why not "SANS Fate"? (Thank you, puzzles I have done previously, for teaching me the word MUON.)

John Lampkin's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Baroque Embellishments"

Boy, pun themes are hard when you're not that familiar with all the words in the answers, when the base phrases are more oblique, and when the sound changes are a mixed bag. I gather than the theme entries end with two baroque dances and two forms of baroque music:

• 17A. [Baroque dance full of hostility?] is BITTER ALLEMANDE. I think this is a play on "bitter almond," with an added vowel syllable.
• 27A. [Eco-friendly baroque dance?] clues GREEN BOURRÉE. Bourrée? This is not a regular part of my vocabulary. Lovely sound play on "Green Beret," though. The first vowel in the dance shifts from "beret."
• 46A. [Baroque song that's less than a masterpiece?] is THE O.K. CHORALE (the O.K. Corral). Okay, that's kinda funny. Great sound-alike play.
• 61A. [Offering at the Baroque Music Hotel?] is A ROOM WITH A FUGUE. Wait! FUGUE and "view" have markedly different pronunciations. This one doesn't feel close enough for solid punning, especially not with 27A and 46A's closer sounds.

Gotta love a puzzle that includes the [Burp]/ERUCT combo, though. (Still holding out for BORBORYGMUS to make an appearance somewhere.)

Trickiest clue for me: [One that goes to school regularly] for BUS. "That" was a tip-off that we're not looking for a person, which would be "who," but I contemplated fish here.

Updated Friday morning:

Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Goth Milk?"—Janie's review

Wow. The last time we had a Peterson puzzle was just over a month ago, but I have to say: it was worth the wait. Doug's given us an "add a letter" theme, which we're familiar with. But in contriving an "add an 'H' to a word ending in 'T'" approach, he's managed to come up not only with a very humorous title but also a great variation on this familiar trope. Look what happens as:

• 17A. Vampire bat + h → VAMPIRE BATH [Tub shaped like a coffin]. The visual leap from beginning to end is what gives this one its punch. (And that is one scary lookin' creature—yowzuh.)
• 27A. Slot machines + h → SLOTH MACHINES [Exercise equipment for lazy people]. The perfect complement to "lose weight while you sleep" pills...
• 44A. Wrestling mat + h → WRESTLING MATH [Subject covered in "Geometry for Grapplers"?]. Or: Jane vis à vis higher numbers...
• 59A. Boot polish + h → BOOTH POLISH [Diner owner's spiffer-upper]. Anyone else grow up in a home where every two weeks, for purposes of spiffing up, the furniture got a going over with Jubilee Polish?... Seems it's no longer available, but that's the recollection this clue and fill brought to mind.

Other goodies in the grid:

• [Mad scientist's milieu] LABORATORY and (speaking of mad scientists) ["Young Frankenstein" assistant] IGOR.
• [Its color indicates rank] KARATE BELT.
• Phrases TAGS UP [Touches a base on a fly ball] (oh, great—only four months til opening day...) and "TRY ONE!" ["Have a sample!"].
• THUMP clued as [Soundly defeat] (with the emphasis on sound, no?).
• The colloquial contexts for "UNFAIR!" ["You cheated!"], "I CAN'T!" [Defeatist's cry] and "HEY!" ["What's the big idea?"].
• The group of "heads of state" types: SHAH [Former Iranian monarch], EMPEROR [Nero, for one] and TSAR [Erstwhile Russian sovereign]. (Each was part of a DYNASTY of sorts, though not the [Joan Collins TV series]). I'm guessing that only the tsar (as a child anyway...) may have had a head-covering with an [EAR-FLAP] detail. It gets pretty nippy in Mother Russia—and that can be a nice [Winter cap feature]!

Jack McInturff's Los Angeles Times crossword

My son's friend is coming over for a play date (no school today) any moment, so only cursory blogging this a.m. Theme entries have a CK inserted into them. E.g., [Take down by Tinker Bell?] is a FAIRY TACKLE. The theme answers tended to feel a tad strained to me, though, and the little hitches in the fill (SFC, not SGT, for [Army E-7: Abbr.] and CLK for [Court recordkeeper: Abbr.]) were found mainly among the 29 3-letter answers in this grid. Offsetting the 3s are the pairs of 9-letter answers that intersect two of the five theme answers—that's a lot of real estate occupied by the nine longest entries. Favorite clue: [Former pen pal?] for EX-CON.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Tiger Trap"

As I said in a comment at Brendan's blog, this week's easy BEQ puzzles all require an obsessive attention to tabloid-ready names that aren't remotely inferrable if you haven't been following the stories closely. I knew 20A/ELIN NORDEGREN, but the other women? They have weirdly spelled first names and/or uncommon last names (like Wednesday's couple, Michaele and Tar...eq? Salihi). This gives today's puzzle the air of a quote puzzle in which the quote's half in Hungarian. I didn't know if 28A should be parsed as KALI KAMOQUIN (no) or KALIKA MOQUIN (yes). JAIMEE GRUBBS or JAIME E.? RACHEL UCHITEL? Uchitel? Sounds like a Japanese hotel chain.

B'NAI BRITH and QUINTUPLE are lovely, but there weren't enough such entries to grab me today. Thematic SCANDAL is balanced by nonthematic E.B. WHITE, and thematic LIE by nonthematic MIN. With 26 3-letter answers (NEA! KEA! MEA! UBI UZI!) and old crosswordese ISTLE ([Agave fiber]), I say boo to this puzzle. I'm sure I'd have loved it if I were closely following the Tiger Woods scandal, but I'm not, so...half-Hungarian quote puzzle.

Looking forward to a "Themeless Monday"!

Patrick Blindauer's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Scrambled TV Signals"

Hey, this is a fun puzzle. All of the theme entries are TV show titles in which one word's been anagrammed, changing the gist of the show. For example, Arrested Development becomes SERRATED DEVELOPMENT, or [TV show about a breakthrough in knife research]. I had part of DEVELOPMENT and set to work pondering anagrams of ARRESTED that could relate to knives. The game show Deal or No Deal becomes LEAD OR NO LEAD, a [TV show about a filling station choice]. Retro clue—didn't leaded gasoline disappear in the '70s? Also retro: cluing SSR as [Moldova, e.g.: Abbr.]. Moldova hasn't been an SSR since '91.

Favorite clues, answers, and combinations:

• 73A. [Possible reading of a Brannock Device] is EEE. Clue sounds medical, but the Brannock is the metal shoe-size doodad in the shoe store. I like how EEE crosses EERIE.
• 43A/44D. [Foe of Popeye] SEA HAG meets HAGEN, [Golf legend Walter].
• 24A/14D. CLARITIN crosses CLARETS—[Allergy medicine brand] and [Some red wines].
• 83A. A [Cel body] is a TOON, or cartoon character.
• 36A. DO SHOTS! That's to [Toss back some Stoli, say].
•  96A. CHALUPA! A [Taco Bell offering] I've never tried.
• Longer fill that shines includes SOFT SELL, RIFFRAFF, DAME EDNA, and LOSE SLEEP. (Should've clued SLOTHS as something other than [Arboreal sleepers], though.)
• 121A. Au courant clue for TBS: [Home of George Lopez's talk show]. I should watch that.
• 77D. [Ball-bearing creatures] are trained SEALS balancing a rubber ball on their snouts.
• 103D. YELLS is clued as [Makes a long-distance call].


December 02, 2009

Thursday, 12/3/09

NYT 7:10
LAT 2:58
Tausig untimed
CS untimed

Matt Ginsberg and Pete Muller's New York Times crossword

Whoa, somebody forgot to issue a "Saturday comes two days early this week" warning about this puzzle's difficulty. If you struggled mightily with this one, you are not alone.

I test-solved an earlier version of this puzzle—I think that one had more of the "all roads lead to Rome action" than this one, and they might've been (semi-)famous roads rather than words that can preced "road." See the four diagonal roads leading to the ROME rebus square in the middle? LOGGING road, PRIVATE road, UNPAVED road, and WINDING road. Those make a solid foursome. The ROME is wedged into a DENVE{R OME}LETTE, or 37A: [Dish with ham], crossing 36D: [Cry from Juliet], O {ROME}O. I like the way the gimmick plays out here.

The single rebus square and the roads don't account for the brutality of this Thursday puzzle, though. No, that distinction belongs to the bottom middle. Good lord, EARBOB? What sort of 49D: [Bit of jewelry] is that? (Dictionary says it's chiefly a Southern U.S. term for "earring.") 70A: [Lot] is GOB but could be other words, like TON. 67A: [Base figure, for short] is an NCO, but there are other 3-letter military abbreviations out there. 54D: [Scammed] is STUNG. I looked up the definition of pizzicato to figure out 60D: [Not pizzicato], or ARCO (played violin with a bow vs. by picking the strings with the fingers). I was also stuck for a long time on 64A: [Michael Jackson genre]. URBAN POP? That's a music genre? When a gazillion MJ fans live in suburbs and small towns, and Jackson's lyrics weren't so heavy on "urban" themes? Hmph. I just Googled "urban pop" and among the first few hits are one for an Aussie mix master and one in which it's reported that Lindsay Lohan billed her upcoming (in '07) album as "urban pop." (For what it's worth, I'd love to see URBAN CONTEMPORARY in a Sunday-sized grid any time.) This zone killed me.

There are plenty of other unusual entries in the grid, but I managed to work through the other sections without so many hitches. Oddball answers:

• 17A. [Restricted zone] is NO-GO AREA.
• 22A. VOIT is a [Big brand in basketballs] and also the name of my grandma's dentist.
• 23A. MARY II is the [English monarch who shared the throne].
• 45A. For [Hare follower], I thought of fabulous tortoises instead of Hare KRISHNA.
• 53A. [Connection means, for short] sounds like it's looking for something more technical, more about wires and modems and whatnot, than ISPS.
• 61A. KONICA is a [Classic camera].
• 71A. ["Mi casa __ casa"] clues ES SU. "My house is your house." I messed myself up a bit with IS SU, which made A AND E, the 56D: [Cable choice], harder to tease out.
• 4D. [Howard the Duck prop] is a STOGY. I prefer the "stogie" spelling.
• 11D. ["Absolument!"] clues "OUI, OUI!" "This little agreeable piggy cried 'oui, oui, oui' all the way home."
• 13D. Roll-your-own word PETTER is clued as an [Attentive dog owner]. No "heavy petting" ramifications here.
• 18D. AGIO! My long-lost crosswordese friend! It's an [Exchange premium].
• 32D. [The "H" in Hanukkah] is called HETH.
• 40D. EOHIPPUS! I love that little old pre-horse. This prehistoric [Ancestor of the modern horse] was much smaller than today's equines and lived in the Eocene epoch.
• 45D. KRAKOW looks great in the grid, doesn't it? It was the [Polish capital, 1038-1596].

I fret that the EARBOB zone may overshadow the whole "all roads lead to {ROME}" gimmick, which is just sort of there for appreciation rather than something that had to be grappled with while solving. Agree or disagree?

Updted Thursday morning:

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "In the End"—Janie's review

In the end, what holds this puzzle together is that today's theme phrases end with words that rhyme with in. While there's nothing more that unifies the theme, the four phrases are definitely on the fresh side and there's some ear-appeal in saying them aloud as they're all (essentially) dactyls (three syllables with the stress on the first one). Today's guilty parties are:

• 20A. RECYCLE BIN [Curbside container]. And of course, this one (with four syllables...) is the exception. But I think of that first syllable as a pickup to the more metrical remainder of the word.
• 33A. SAFETY PIN [It may secure a cloth diaper]. Apparently Pampers and Huggies haven't completely put diaper service companies out of business. I'm glad to know that.
• 41A. MUFFIN TIN [Baking pan for cupcakes]. And a COFFEE TIN can be a baking container for date-nut bread. I saw the double Fs and TIN emerging and that's what I (smugly) entered. That's what I get for thumbin' my nose at the clues!
• 52A. BATHTUB GIN [Prohibition spirits]. Love this fill. For any DIYers out there, this one's for you. At your own risk. Don't want anyone out there becoming a [Sidewalk stumbler]/WINO...

The subject of alcoholic beverages is a nice segue to pointing out my favorite cross today. Note the repeated word in the clues (both nouns) and you'll see why I enjoyed seeing the juncture of BREWS [They may be found in coolers] and BRIG [Cooler at sea]. In another example of a repeated word in the clues, one is a verb [Board] for GET ON, and one is a noun following TOTE [ ___ board (track fixture)]. That first one took me a while to understand.

There isn't a lot of long fill in today's grid—though I did like seeing SNOWBALL [Winter missile]. And while the preponderance of the grid is made up of four- and five-letter words, note that there are only four three-letter words in the mix. Nice!

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

The puzzle's got a straightforward theme type, but there's some juice in the theme entries:

• 17A. ["Imagination at work" company] is GENERAL ELECTRIC. GE is selling NBC to Comcast. What's going to happen to 30 Rock's "East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming" division when GE ceases to be a factor at NBC? (Alec Baldwin's JACK, a [Stranded motorist's aid], is the vice president of that division.)
• 26A. An ELEPHANT EAR is a [Fried-dough carnival treat].
• 43A. Ah, the Doors! "LIGHT MY FIRE" is [The Doors #1 hit covered by Jose Feliciano]. Say what? When did that happen? Totally missed it. I'm guessing it is best to keep the Doors rendition foremost in my head.
• 55A. It's a fairly easy puzzle, but this answer nudges the fill away from the early part of the wek: DAME MURIEL SPARK is ["The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" author].
• 63A. PLUG—[Ad, or the word that can follow the end of] the theme entries—generates an electric plug, ear plug, fire plug, and spark plug.

Did you know AUNT JEMIMA is a [Quaker Oats trademark]? I stay away from Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth and their ilk. Fake maple-flavored corn syrup smells like headaches to me, but real maple syrup? Yum. Speaking of sweet and sticky viscous substances, HONEY is a [Drambuie ingredient]. I believe the other ingredients are peat moss and haggis.

VIRTU ([Artistic merit]) is a good word to play in Scrabble because you can add an E or AL or OUS to it. I think one of my Lexulous (the Scrabble variant on Facebook) opponents played SKEG, a [Surfboard fin].

CLETE ([1950s-'60s Yankee Boyer]) reminds me of Cletus on The Simpsons—my son was just asking my husband what "yokel" meant, and the kid correctly tied the description to Cletus.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "...Or Not To Be"

Each theme answer loses two Bs:

• 17A. [Headline about the failing health of a former Velvet Underground member?] clues CALE ILL. (CAbLE bILL.)
• 18A. [Contest to see who can read "Cathy" fastest?] is an "ACK!" RACE. (bACK bRACE.)
• 27A. ["OK, tennis students, I want everyone to practice near the net with everyone else"?] clues EACH VOLLEY ALL. (bEACH VOLLEYbALL.)
• 47A. [Expose about the tawdry relations of a 16th-century theologian?] is CALVIN AND HOES. ("CALVIN AND HObbES.")
• 61A. [Ribald yoga mantra?] is DIRTY OM. (DIRTY bOMb.)
• 63A. [Have a flat bottom?] clues the verb phrase LACK ASS. (bLACK bASS.)


• The four corners with triple-stacked 7s.
• [Entomology class?] clues the class INSECTA.
• An ISOGRAM is a [Word with no repeating letters]. Did you know there was a name for that? There are a great many isograms out there. In English, anyway. English probably had a higher percentage of these than Hawaiian does, given our larger number of letters to build words from.
• A HEN is a [Mother clucker].



crossword 6:04
puzzle 0:16

if october was "hell month" at matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, then november must have been "earth month," because all four puzzles featured geographical themes. what does december (i.e. "heaven month"?) have in store? before we get to that, let's take a look at last week's puzzle, "Regional Variation." the five overt theme answers (with starred clues) were:

  • [Doing a lot of damage to*] is MASSACRING. like in christopher marlowe's the massacre at paris (good title!).
  • [Show set in the Northeast*] is NEWHART. i have definitely heard of this show, but i don't even know what it was about, let alone where it was set.
  • [Literally, "little worms"*] is VERMICELLI. you can't go wrong naming food after vermin, can you? oh wait, maybe you can.
  • [Word on a janitor's door*] is SUPPLIES. okay, just kidding—it's MAINTENANCE. but i just love that little clip, despite its mild racial stereotyping. by the way, that clip is actually only my second-favorite movie supply closet door gag (what are the odds?), but i couldn't find a clip of the one from top secret!.
  • an [Expert*] is a CONNOISSEUR.

what about the sixth theme answer, the one hiding in the grid? well, the theme isn't necessarily obvious, but i was on the lookout for another geographical theme (and the title didn't dissuade me of that), so i noticed pretty much right away that each of the starred answers began with the first four letters as a state in new england: MASSachusetts, NEW Hampshire, VERMont, MAINe, and CONNecticut. what's the other state in new england? why, RHODe island, of course. that makes the hidden theme answer RHODA, at 15a, clued as [She moved from Minneapolis to New York City]. i don't know anything about this show other than it spun off from mary tyler moore (i think?), but i imagine this geographically-inclined clue was yet another hint, as was the clue for NEWHART.

odds & ends from the fill:

  • can't get enough geography? well, how about [Washington, Lincoln and Jackson], which are all... US CITIES (in addition to former presidents)? or ANN arbor, [Word in a Michigan city's name]?
  • a couple more place names get non-geographical clues: MAUI is [___ Gold (pineapple brand)], and further afield, there's [Ancient Africa's ___ Empire], or MALI. ghana, mali, and songhai were the three great empires of west africa.
  • there were two unfamiliar names for me, [Fox Business anchor David] ASMAN and [Lead role in the 2005 Spielberg movie "Munich"], or AVNER. ASMAN looks like it could be clued as a partial, AS MAN. i've started listening to christmas carols non-stop, and the second verse of "hark the herald angels sing" has the line, "pleased AS MAN with us to dwell" ... but AS MAN is a weirdly-placed clause, and when i was younger i always wanted it to be "pleased as punch with us to dwell."
  • decidedly non-random roman numeral: [It ends in about a month] is MMIX. hey, that's this year! (and hey too, that's the last four letters of a common five-letter word. hmm.)
  • [Congressional retirement result] is an OPEN SEAT. which reminds me, crap! i think i'm still registered to vote at my old address, which means i'll have to schlep out there for next week's primary. it's not that far, but it's still a bit of a nuisance.
  • our random chess clue of the week isn't for ELO, which gets a standard ["Strange Magic" singers] clue, but TACTIC, [Deflection or underpromotion, in chess].
  • probably my favorite overly erudite clue in this puzzle is [Rhyme scheme used in some Roethke quatrains] for ABAA. i've complained in the past that the standard [Simple rhyme scheme] is a really annoying clue, but it's not a trivial matter to cite a well-known specific example of ABAA. but the last stanza of a villanelle, such as roethke's the waking, is ABAA.
  • crazy unfamiliar word of the day: ULLAGE, the [Unfilled part of a wine container]. wha?

overall, i found this puzzle surprisingly easy for a fourth-week puzzle, both the crossword and the meta. how did it treat you?

that's all for me this week, this month, and maybe this blog. see you over at the new site!


December 01, 2009

Wednesday, 12/2/09

NYT 4:38
BEQ 4:04
Onion 3:57
LAT 2:59
CS untimed

Jack McInturff's New York Times crossword

I've noted before that Jack McInturff's fill tends to run old-school, and this puzzle is in that vein. The theme involves a letter change from H to W, as in HASTE MAKES WASTE ([Advice to the rash, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]). In the other theme entries, an H in a familiar phrase becomes a W:

• 17A. PICTURE OF WEALTH is clued as [Bill Gates snapshot?]. Base phrase is "picture of health."
• 28A. [Banshees' boast?] is SO PROUDLY WE WAIL. So Proudly We Hail is a 1943 movie, and part of a lyric from "The Star-Spangled Banner.'
• 39A. BASE WIT, playing on base hit, is a [Comedic soldier during training?].
• 47A. [Words to estate attorneys?] is HEAD FOR THE WILLS. "Head for the hills" is familiar, but legal documents are a weird thing to "head for," aren't they?

Among the fill that's reminiscent of '80s crosswords are these words: AGHA, or [Turkish V.I.P.]; N-TEST, or [Mushroom producer, for short]; ARLENE [Francis of "What's My Line?"]; ENOS, [Son of Seth]; OAKIE, or [Jack of "The Great Dictator"]; LADES, or [Does dock work]; ILEA, or [Sections of digestive tracts] ("Let's all put our ILEA together and see if we can't come up with a solution that works for all of us"); RAJA, or [Big Indian]; [Mata ___] HARI; SKAT, the [Game with 32 cards]; and ESSO, the [Old Sinclair rival]. Two or three of these are plenty for any 15x15 crossword. The biggest blast from the past is ASE, [Mother of Peer Gynt]. She says, "You may remember me from such crossword clues as ['___ Death']." Pop culture tidbit from Wikipedia: Extracts from "Åse's Death" are played in a Simpsons while Norwegian workers are leaving their town. This may mark the first time this blog has wielded an Å.

I'm not familiar with O'SHEAS Casino, the [Irish-themed Vegas casino]. Apparently it targets gamblers in their 20s and 30s and features a heavy metal star's tattoo parlor. I'm guessing Celine Dion doesn't sing there and that there's no fancy art gallery. Don't recall seeing [Pikake garland] as a LEI clue, though the only other common 3-letter garland is the boa.

There are two women with Ys in place of Is. LYNDA, [Actress Carter who was once Miss World USA], is best known for portraying Wonder Woman. SYD, usually clued as Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett, is clued as the [Lead role on "Providence"]. Remember that show? Ran from '99 to '02? Her dad was played by B.J. Hunnicutt.

Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club crossword

In Deb's theme, phrases that begin or end with double-E words turn into double-O words:

• 21A. [Golfer?] is a WOOD WHACKER (weed whacker). Let us not speak of Tiger Woods, whose Escalade whacked a tree.
• 26A. [Stress of being strapped?] is POOR PRESSURE (peer pressure). Topical!
• 43A. [Jerky doctor's office combo?] might be SHOT AND A BOOR (shot and a beer).
• 50A. [Prize for the ultimate sulk?] is BEST IN BROOD (best in breed).

Oniony highlights:

• [Teeny problem?] is ACNE, a problem for teens (among others). A unit of ACNE is a ZIT. Watch out for the kilozit.
• [Buck passers?] clues ATMS. Is this a new clue? It stumped me, so I feel as though it is.
• [His middle name was Milhous] refers to Richard NIXON, not Milhouse Van Houten.
• "YEAH, SURE" is a terrific entry. The clue is ["I bet!"].
• BRAS are [Support systems, of a sort].
• "I'M ON FIRE" is the [Springsteen song that starts, "Hey, little girl, is your daddy home?"]. The "little girl" part sounds creepy.
• Unfamiliar OHIO clue: [Kent State tragedy song].
• The F-BOMB! Another great answer. Clued thus: [One might get dropped, to everyone's shock].

You know, Deb's got a humor book coming out next June: It's Not PMS, It's You.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "In Position"—Janie's review

Ya gotta think very literally with this one as the first word of each of the theme phrases corresponds to its position in the grid. In today's case, that also mean that those terrific theme phrases are all oriented vertically. And they are:

• 4D. LEFT HEMISPHERE [Brain area]. Yes, this map of the human brain is sexist and wrong but it still makes me laugh. This map is more to the point.
• 7D. MIDDLE-AGE SPREAD [Weight gain, of a sort]. Not a pretty subject, but the fodder for lotso "humor"...
• 16A. RIGHT VENTRICLE [Heart part]. Here's a cutaway view.

As you probably know, I tend to take a lot of enjoyment in (what I perceive to be) mini-themes and connections within the grid—and today's puzzle delivers nicely. Two of the theme fill are anatomical (referencing the brain and the heart), but look: there're also optical allusions with CORNEA [Pupil's cover] and EYED [Gave the once over]; and [Win by ___ ] A NOSE. That's nothin' to sniff about!

There are ethno-geographic connections, too, as the grid contains ASIA [ ___ Minor]; and from Southeast Asia, HANOI [Vietnam's capital] and [Vietnam's] NGO [Dinh Diem] (who was assassinated in 1963). (Have you ever wondered about Asia Major? While it's not a term we ordinarily use, it's east of Turkey and Asia Minor, and refers to the "heartland of the Persian Empire.") From Europe, there's FLORENCE [Italian city on the Arno]; and from Mexico, AZTECS [Montezuma's people]

Another set of connected fill contains exhortations: the JEERS (and not MEOWS) for [Catcalls], the NOES [Refusals] and "EGADS!" the [Edwardian outburst] ("Edwardian" standing in for "quaint"...).

And in "sacred" territory, there's DIES IRAE [Solemn hymn], MITER [Bishop's hat] and even betrayer-Apostle [Judas ___ ] ISCARIOT.

When I saw SAFE SIDE [Cautious people try to stay on it], my first thought was that it was more theme fill. SNOW TIRE [Winter traction provider] proved not to be a symmetrical match, however, so let's chalk up the former to "bonus fill." To be on the safe side, let's also hope that as the inclement weather driving-season approaches, your snow tires have lotso good tread on 'em—especially for any STOP-GO driving you may have to do!

Ed Sessa's Los Angeles Times crossword

Especially in the Monday-to-Wednesday stretch, there are so few crossword themes that feel new, so this one's a delight. The phrase RAIN CATS AND DOGS can be parsed another way in the punctuation-free zone of the crossword grid: as if it's three entities, RAIN, CATS, AND DOGS. Those three entities are clued by the other three theme answers, which are clued straightforwardly. Kind of the multi-level marketing scheme of crosswords.

• 17A: [*Nightly news show segment] is the WEATHER FORECAST. In Seattle, the forecast often includes rain.
• 27A: [*Big Apple show] clues BROADWAY MUSICAL. One musical I've never seen is Cats.
• 49A: [*1955 Disney animated film featuring Darling Dear] is LADY AND THE TRAMP. Lady and Tramp are both dogs.
• 65A: [Come down in buckets; also, when applied in sequence to the answers to starred clues, this puzzle's theme] clues RAIN CATS AND DOGS. RAIN in the forecast, CATS on Broadway, AND DOGS in the cartoon.

For fill highlights and videos featuring the legendary Pete Seeger, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald, please hop over to my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "The In Crowd"

In Brendan's post, he says his test solvers thought this puzzle was super-easy, suitable for solving Downs-only to avoid having the puzzle be merely a speed test. I would have been in a total snit if I'd read and followed the "go Downs only" advice because it wasn't all that easy. Maybe other people are finding this a Monday-level venture, but it hit Thursday medium for me.

Perhaps I'm just slow today, because the 35A clue says "two show up in this grid unannounced," but the only DINNER CRASHERs I can find (TAREQ and MICHAELE) are clearly announced as being 35-Acrosses. Are there other hidden answers the 35A clue is referring to? WHOLESALE PRICES and FAIRBANKS, ALASKA don't seem to contain "dinner crashers." What am I missing? (Edited to add: Brendan explains that the crashers' last name, SALAHI, is hidden in stacked halves in WHOLESALE/WAHINE and FAIRBANKS ALASKA/TAHITIAN. What, we're supposed to know the spelling of their first names and what their last name is? Boo!)

I like the GLAMOR/ENAMOR combo, but not the OKED/I'M OKAY pair. Hey, where are the quotation marks of sarcasms in the FEMA clue? [Hurricane Katrina helpers]? Really? Unless the implication is that the agency helped the hurricane carry out its mission. That would be the Army Corps of Engineers, though.

Plenty of Polynesian action today. The Hawaiian word KAHUNA is clued with [Big ___ Burger (fictional chain of "Pulp Fiction"]. WAHINE is a [Female surfer] or a Polynesian woman/wife (esp. in Hawaii and New Zealand). And TAHITIAN is the [Language that gave us the word "tattoo"].