December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Will Shortz kicks off 2006 with an excellent puzzle by Joe DiPietro, featuring a theme that must have been fun to work on. Skimming the dictionary for REP* words in which the * is a word in its own right, and then cooking up entries like REPAIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY and REPROACH MOTEL? C'mon, that sounds like fun! The rest of the grid has treats like AFTERPARTY, SOUNDS GOOD, PED XING, and IM MOVED, and then there are some entertaining clues like "Moving experience?" for EXODUS. Great puzzle! You know it's a fantastic puzzle when someone can get screwed over by the applet and still love the puzzle—the screen froze up on me with 8:20 on the clock when I had a mere 33 squares left to go in the SW corner. Between sitting there agape and checking my e-mail before retyping the whole puzzle, I managed to use up plenty of extra time on the clock.


Nancy Salomon's LA Times fun puzzle works in the countdown to the ball dropping at midnight, with 10 numerical phrases like SEVEN DWARFS.

Harvey Estes has two puzzles today. The CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge has three triple-stacked 15's. I did slow myself down a smidgen by filling in ARMED TO THE GILLS instead of TEETH, because apparently some part of my brain believes that fish are heavily armed. Of course, piranhas and sharks are fierce, but their armaments have more to do with teeth than gills. Anyway...Harvey's other puzzle is "Not All There" in the Washington Post. One thing I learned from it is that "parabolic" can pertain to parables as well as to parabolas; who knew? Either this is the most difficult Sunday-sized puzzle today, or too much Moscato d'Asti is incompatible with deciphering Harvey's cluing style.

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Repeat Performance," was eased up a bit by the word duplication within theme entries. Most of the theme entries were lo-o-ong, too—I'm guessing that having two 21's rendered the construction process much more difficult. My favorite clue was the one that kept me guessing the longest: "Silent partner?" for HARPO. And I learned a few new words, VROUW ("Hollander's Mrs."), ESBAT ("Meeting of witches"), and EOLUS ("Colorado mountain"). If you're tackling this one one on screen with Across Lite, note two errors in the answer key for 28A—it's Mrs. Gorbachev who was named Raisa, not Mrs. Yeltsin.

NYT 18:30 on the applet, but I swear it had to be under 10:00
WaPo 10:51
Hook 8:07
LAT 6:44
CS 3:48


December 30, 2005


Robert H. Wolfe's Saturday NYT is a fairly straightforward puzzle—if you can consider anything with one triple stack and two double stacks of 15's straightforward. The clues tended to be straightforward, anyway. Not only is NO SUCH LUCK a lively entry, but it also ties together five of the 15-letter entries. The only fill-in-the-blank clue, "___-Mex," was designed to dupe, as most people will confidently plug in TEX long before CAL occurs to them. For me, the deadliest spot in the puzzle was the last across entry, GO BY SEA; I entered GO TO SEA and wondered how a FIT was an "inconsequential invention" (try FIB) and how "movable type" might mean SOFTO (try SOFTY). I clicked "done" and spent a minute reviewing the entire rest of the grid before questioning those two answers that made no sense to me. (Note to self: when the puzzle is incorrect and a couple entries don't make sense, reconsider those ones first!)

Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle was cute—a fun Beatles theme tied loosely into academia.

NYT 6:46
Saturday Stumper tba
LAT 4:47
CS 4:02
12/9 CHE 3:45



David Liben-Nowell's NYT puzzle was good fun since I was on his wavelength. A host of great entries—most notably SEX SCENES, spicing up the Gray Lady—were accompanied by so many fantastic clues. My favorites were "Cup of ice?" for STANLEY, "Banking assessor, perhaps" for TEST PILOT, "Outbound vessel" for AORTA, "Engages in violent practices" for SPARS, and "Kind of gold" for OLYMPIC...not to mention "Double execution?" for STUNT. It's shaping up to be another one of those weekends when we say, "Don't just pay the constructors more—Will Shortz deserves a raise, too."

David Sullivan (a.k.a. Fiend regular Evad) cooked up the "Do the Math" puzzle in Friday's Sun. This is the puzzle that blew John "Popeye" Minarcik away—the one with the vertical Roman numeral math problem complete with mathematical symbols. The trickiest aspects of this puzzle, for me, were parsing the second pair of theme entries (the minus in "take A LESSON from HISTORY and the plus in INSULT added to INJURY) and figuring out how to enter what in Across Lite (I couldn't for the life of me get a minus sign to show up). It's a rather bizarre, envelope-pushing, paradigm-bending puzzle—hooray!'s a pangram. Dave, would you care to talk a bit about the genesis and development of this puzzle?

Updated late:

John Farmer's LA Times puzzle has a clever theme with the best use of OREO ever.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle includes COP SHOP, which is slang for police station. I'd only heard the term used once, about 10 years ago, by a guy saying he played basketball "at the school over by the cop shop." That's all it took—my husband and I have called it the cop shop ever since.

Great theme in Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "50% Off."

NYS 7:45
NYT 5:09
LAT 4:43
CS 3:38

WSJ (Hmm, the timer still said 0:00 when I finished...)
Reagle 8:17


December 28, 2005


How about that theme in David Pringle's NYT, eh? It's a beaut. Four 15's cleverly hiding NORTH, EAST, WEST, and SOUTH amid in-the-language phrases, tied together with the explanatory DIR at the bottom of the grid. And it's too bad that ASIAN is clued in reference to bird flu, because otherwise the juxtaposition of CHICKEN, ASIAN, and CHUTNEY would have had me on the phone to Star of India for a late supper.

Speaking of India, Ben Tausig's Sun Themeless Thursday had some winning clues, like "Cleveland Indians, perhaps?" for the fresh entry EXPATS, "Michael Jordan, e.g." for SCENT, and "Extra minute?" for TEENIER. I also liked "Go through odontiasis" for TEETHE—I can't say I ever encountered the word odontiasis in all my years of dental editing, but the odont- portion definitely makes the answer gettable.


Two masters of the themeless form have themed puzzles today—Manny Nosowsky in the LA Times and Bob Klahn with the CrosSynergy puzzle.

NYT 4:11
NYS 4:09
CS 4:01
LAT 4:00


December 27, 2005


Richard and Judith Martin's NYS puzzle, "Just Add Water," has a beautifully executed theme, with EAU added to each theme entry. Can you think of other possible theme entries? The best I can come up could be clued "hood's dessert" (15), "giant rococo painting" (11), and "latex bikini top" (13).

The highlight of Ben Tausig's latest puzzle has got to be CZECH BI MALE. Now, I haven't checked the Cruciverb database, but I think that's a new entry. Nothing even comes up for it in a Google search. Someday, though, somebody will Google that term, and they'll be terribly disappointed when this post is the only search result.

I don't know why, but I've been slower than usual on the NYT puzzles for several days. I don't get it. You'd think I could have moved a little faster on Ernest Lampert's hurried theme, but no. What, do I need to brush up on Portuguese rivers and operatic baritones? Fine, fine...


Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Dalmatian's Delight," includes the shiny new entry XMRADIO. This puzzle and Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times puzzle have CASA in the 1A spot.

NYT 4:46
Tausig 4:16
LAT 3:58
NYS 3:46
CS 3:22



Just a cursory post this morning—

I liked Harvey Estes and Nancy Salomon's HO rebus puzzle in the Sunday NYT, but it took me a few minutes longer than I'd have expected since I'm usually on Harvey's wavelength. Was this puzzle on the hard side, or is it just that I'm not at my best when people are shouting over Monopoly while I'm solving?

I liked the better-late-than-never Christmas theme in today's NYS, with FROSTY and RUDOLPH GIULIANI.

And I enjoyed today's NYT by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon. The theme was on the hard side for a Tuesday, since the theme entries were made up and the clues didn't reference the original phrases at all. The theme would perhaps have been a little more intuitive ffor me if all the hard G's rendered into soft G's were followed by vowels (I and E) that can accompany hard or soft G's (get vs. gem, give vs. gin). Are there words starting with GA, GO, or GU that have a soft G sound?

Also, if you can find the January issue of Games World of Puzzles, pick up a copy. The Frank Longo Jumbo Crossword was especially good this time. There's a special cryptic section that has a fun cryptic crossword (with a center containing no black squares, and lively fill) by Harvey Estes. There are a bunch of Patrick Berry puzzles (I always like the Some Assembly Required format; he's also got an ingenious variety cryptic). And there's a contest puzzle by Mike Selinker that is eluding me for the time being.

Sun. NYT 12:45 (on paper)
Sun. CS 3:43

Mon. CS 3:44
Mon. NYT 2:45
Mon. LAT 2:41

Tues. NYT 4:14
Tues. NYS 3:25
Tues. LAT 2:53Tues. CS 3:11


December 23, 2005


Well, speak of the devil. No sooner do I mention how much I've enjoyed Byron Walden's puzzles this year, and then I get gobsmacked by another one—possibly his hardest puzzle this year. Or maybe it's not really so hard? Maybe my headache caused cognitive impairment? Or perhaps it really is The Killer of 2005 (cue slasher-movie sound effects). This puzzle was indeed rather 15A. And I'd talk specifics, but I don't want to make it easy for anyone to succumb to spoiler temptations and end up posting a faster applet time than I did—that was too hard-fought. I will say that Byron worked in about 15 entries that haven't shown up in crosswords before (per the Cruciverb database)—that's a whopping amount of new stuff. Also, check out the square around the middle made up of 24A, 24D, 46A, and 26D; isn't that a nice grouping? "Salty hail" is an awesome clue, and the combo of 1D, 2D, and 3D (clues and entries) is great, too. Thanks to Byron and Will for getting the holiday weekend off to a crushing start (and I mean that in the best way!).

P.S. Hapless Googlers, "Salty hail" means AHOYMATE.

NYT 15:14
LAT 5:08
Saturday Stumper 3:52
CS 3:32—"Twisted Christmas Carols" by Raymond Hamel was cute


We open the floor for YUMMV nominations

Over on the NYT's Today's Puzzle forum today, John "Popeye" Minarcik bemoaned the demise of the annual forum tradition of choosing the year's best puzzles. I don't know the full history, but originally they were the YUMMI awards, the MMI being the year 2001. Then there were YUMMIIs, YUMMIIIs, and YUMMIVs. And now, we are ready to nominate the year's finest for YUMMV status.

I'll nominate:

• Byron Walden's assorted themeless puzzles in the NYT and NYS
• Frank Longo's vowelless puzzle in the NYS (10/7)
• Eric Berlin's "Going Too Far" puzzles from the NYS (9/2 and...wasn't there another date?)

As you can see, my favorite puzzles are tough themelesses with clever clues and oddball varietals that pose an extra challenge.

I'll be away for an extended Christmas weekend, but the comments will remain open so you can put in a good word for your favorite puzzles and constructors of 2005. What and who gave you cruciverbal thrills and chills this year?


December 22, 2005


Two classic (but not that tough) themeless puzzles for Friday—Manny Nosowsky in the NYT corner, and Joe DiPietro in the NYS. Manny's got a wealth of good phrases, including six entries making their debut in the Cruciverb database: ABOARD SHIP, DRYABLE, ITS A CINCH, DOTTED THE I, CAME AS, and RAISE TAXES. There's even a new, less obvious clue for OTOE: "Iowa kin." And who doesn't like to see PASHA in a crossword? EMIR and AGA are dull, but I like to call my husband the pasha at times.

DiPietro's NYS "Weekend Warrior" featured a pair of triple-stacked 15's. Three clues stood out for me: "Sprint competitor" (deviously bringing things like Verizon and Cingular to mind) for RACER, "Featherweight boxer?" for PUPPY, and "Beat record: Abbr." for ECG (which is perhaps a little more common in than EKG in medical publishing circles).

Updates below:

NYS 5:23
NYT 4:48
LAT 4:15—tribute to Rosa Parks
CS 3:36—Harvey Estes, with a goofball theme and some seldom-seen longish entries

WSJ—"Deck the Halls" puzzle by "Judith Seretto" ("just the editor" = Mike Shenk) that I liked, but I forgot to time myself
WaPo 9:17—a timely "Tree-Trimming Party" by the always-good Frank Longo
Hex LA Weekly 11:27 (don't time yourself when you're nodding off)—Who the heck is ALIDA Valli, and why is ISIS "Thames, in Oxford"? Always nice to see XERXES I pop up in a puzzle...
Reagle n/a this weekend


December 21, 2005


John "Popeye" Minarcik and Vic Fleming joined forces to create the THREE L LLLAMA delight, "Wanna Bet a Silk Pajama?" in the Sun. Sure, the theme entries are goofy, but that's half the fun. Then there's fill like NOHITS, MALLRAT, PHAT, ALLPRO, and the words that contain those two X's and five Z's. And the clue for INLAW ("One who comes with a tied knot?") is cute. My only quibble is that I don't think too many youths shop at Banana Republic—the apparel there tends to skew a little more grown-up.

Elizabeth Gorski's NYT features an interesting quip from Miles Davis. SPHINX and DEJA VU are great fill, no doubt, and I liked KOOK, but a few entries had me scratching my head. Never heard of Neil Diamond's SHILO, Villa RICA, CORON Bay, or the phrase LAND UP. Live and learn...and land up smarter?


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "On Average," has a pretty ambitious grid for an easy puzzle, with 10 8- to 10-letter entries outside of the theme. I liked how the first theme entry was clued in reference to a short entry, both involving Homer Simpson.

And updated again:

If you subscribe to Ben Tausig's crosswords via e-mail, you received today's bonus 21x21 ("Book Groups") from the Chicago Reader's fiction issue. (It'll also be posted at the NYT "Today's Puzzle" forum.) I liked the handful of Chicago-specific clues, sure, but even better were the clever clues that elicited laughs or "aha" moments. Even if you aren't familiar with every component of the theme entries, you're still sure to enjoy this puzzle. You can

Tausig bonus 8:52
NYT 5:38
NYS 5:04
LAT 3:40
CS 2:59


December 20, 2005


After I finished David Kahn's NYT puzzle and went back to reread the theme clues, I said to myself, "Holy sh...!" Yes, we were all duly impressed when Pat Merrell created one of last week's puzzles using only the 15 letters found on the left side of the keyboard. But here Kahn has made a puzzle using just the 10 letters found in A CHRISTMAS CAROL, he's included four 11-letter theme entries in addition to that central 15, and the theme entries interlock. Wow! David Kahn, I raise my glass to you—a glass containing a nice Moscato, from Asti (even though MOSCATO and ASTI didn't find their way into this grid). My guess for what inspired this puzzle is the constructor noticing that MRS CRATCHIT's letters were contained in the book's title. What do you think?

Sadly for Ben Tausig's indie puzzle, "Star Children," and James Kaplan's NYS puzzle, "Risky Business," I did them right after the NYT puzzle. Of course they're both good puzzles, but...the Kahn puzzle exhausted the evening's supply of enthusiasm.

NYS 4:50
Tausig 4:44
NYT 3:41
LAT 3:21
CS 3:16


December 19, 2005


Nicely constructed NYT puzzle by Nancy and Holden Baker with the man-of-war/Man o' War theme. I liked the six 8-letter entries (one sixth of which, ONE FIFTH, may be new to puzzledom) and the bunch of 6's (including PAPAYA, clued as "yellow fruit"—I wouldn't want to happen to have only the A's filled in when I hit that clue). Looking back at the puzzle just now, I was trying to figure out what a TEA RAT is. And who is this PAPA YA fellow, anyway?


The Monday Sun puzzle by Timothy Powell offers up an alternative to Roy Leban's set of herbs and spices in the 12/13 NYT. Wait, was ROSEMARY CLOONEY in the Leban puzzle too? Anyway, there's plenty of good fill (COSMIC RAYS, DR RUTH, BELARUS—not to mention EDIT OUT crossing PARSE in the editor's corner of this puzzle) to offset the occasional TPKE.

In Randall Hartman's Tuesday Sun, I understood how the "On/Off Switch" aspect worked in the theme entries, but had no idea what "coffin corner" meant. In football: "Either corner of the field formed by the sideline and the defending team's goal line. The ball may be deliberately punted out of bounds in this area, thus forcing the receiving team to play very close to its goal line." And in aviation: "Coffin corner is a dangerous portion of the flight envelope that must be carefully approached by high altitude high subsonic speed aircraft." Kudos to Randall for squeezing in two non-theme 10-letter entries.

NYS Tues 3:56
NYS Mon 3:17
CS 2:56
NYT 2:49
LAT 2:47


December 18, 2005


Richard Hughes' Christmas-themed NYT packs a lot of bonus theme entries into the grid in addition to YES VIRGINIA/THERE IS/A SANTA CLAUS: there are four 6-letter Yule-related entries going across, plus DEER ("Rudolph and team") going down. Having spent hours draping TINSEL and hanging ornaments while listening to CAROLS, the puzzle was a perfect way to cap off Sunday afternoon. Now, given that it was the New York Sun that originally published the "Yes, Virginia" editorial, I wonder whether Peter Gordon has a similar puzzle in store for us this week...

NYS tba
CS 3:03
NYT 2:44
LAT 2:19


December 17, 2005


Of the three Sunday puzzles I've done this evening (NYT, LA Weekly, Washington Post), my favorite is Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Flipped Fives." You know what? Just in case you've been busy with holiday shopping or something, I won't spoil it by discussing the theme. Just do it, will you?

Ethan Cooper and Michael Shteyman's NYT, "What the Professor Meant To Say," had plenty of good fill (JONESES, SAY WHEN, TRASH TV, THE REDS) and clues ("Caesarean delivery?" for ET TU, "Apples can be compared to them" for IBMS, "Heads of états" for TETES, "Best replacement" for STARR, "Some have black eyes" for PEAS). It was harder than the average Sunday NYT, too—thanks to Ethan, Michael, and Will for a good challenge.


Is it just me, or is anyone else a little troubled by the flipflopping of theme entries and clues in the NYT puzzle? The professor's unspoken subtext seems to be presented in the clues for 27A, 65A, and 94A, but in the entry for 115A; for 44A, 79A, and 29D, it's not clear to me whether it's the clue or entry that's "what the professor meant to say." I'm still a fan of the non-theme portion of this puzzle, but the theme confuses me a bit.

I liked the theme execution in Robert H. Wolfe's Sunday LA Times puzzle, "Gee, That's Better." There's also a hall-of-fame clue: "Moses' title?" I had *****MA and considered MAHATMA before figuring out it was GRANDMA. Did you know GRANDMA only shows up twice in the Cruciverb database?

NYT 10:45 (–20 seconds for technical difficulties)
WaPo 10:18
LAT 9:20
Hook 9:17
CS 3:49


December 16, 2005


Patrick Berry's NYT puzzle delivered a crisp challenge in a beautiful grid—really, I have no antipathy at all towards symmetry, especially when it looks this good. The puzzle features four interlocking 14-letter entries in a grid with plenty of connections between the various sections, allowing for a much smoother solving experience than yesterday's DiPietro, which felt like five small and hard crosswords in one. I liked the clues like "brave" for WARRIOR and "groups" for ASSORTS, probably because I guessed correctly that Patrick meant a noun for one and a verb for the other. Really, the central entries tell the whole story for this puzzle: it's INVENTIVE and it LUMINESCEs. (I just wish I'd been able to solve it faster, darn it; someone else using the NYT applet managed to finish in 41 seconds. *insert eye roll*)


The Newsday Saturday Stumper by "Anna Stiga" (Stan Newman) wasn't all that hard, but I really enjoyed the puzzle—the highlights were ATM INSIDE ("convenience store sign"), THE CREEPS ("uncomfortable feeling"), and YEAH YOU ("playground retort").

Mark Milhet's LA Times puzzle contains three 15's and two 12's bound together by a vertical 11. It's a pangram, thanks in part to the inclusion of QUARTZ TIMEPIECE. There was a wonderfully misleading clue for ELEM (short for element): "He or I." Other great ELEM clues in recent years include "I, O, or U, but not A or E: Abbr." and "Ca, Ga, or Pa" (both Elizabeth Gorski in the NYT)—all three are hall-of-fame clues in my book. Another good clue (and apparently a new one) was "it was you" for THEE.

LAT 7:16
Stumper 5:55
NYT 5:08
CS 4:02


December 15, 2005


Okay, I'm too sleepy to write anything cogent tonight. Joe DiPietro's NYT is stuffed to the gills with phrases, many of which are probably new to crossworddom—BED OF RICE, THE PINTA, WORK A ROOM, POUR IT ON. I was fooled by the "cousin of a capillary" clue and plugged in VENULE, assuming we were looking for another type of blood vessel; I'd say a TUBULE is more of a first cousin, once removed. Was this puzzle as tough as a Saturday puzzle, or is my brain just leaden tonight?

Jay Leatherman's "Puzzling Directions" in the Sun would have tumbled faster if I'd paid attention to the title, rather than filling in both [ACROSS] rebus squares with [OVER] (oops). I liked JESSICA being clued with regard to the old TV show, Soap; MUDFLAP, and NAPTIME. I wasn't crazy about OVULAR, which is gettable but on the obscure side; it turns out some have also repurposed this word as a female substitute for the word "seminar." Who knew?


The answer to the question in the first paragraph is yes, my brain was leaden. More than double Tyler's time = ouch.

In the Wall Street Journal, Harvey Estes produced another days-of-the-week puzzle, but the days aren't wedged into rebus squares because the grid's large enough to accommodate the letters. My favorite clue: "Death of the party" for WET BLANKET.

My favorite part of Merl Reagle's PI puzzle was the adjacent "John and Paul but not Ringo" for POPES and "John or Paul or George but not Ringo" for SAINT. Merl provides an example of how longer partial entries (A MOTHER TO, THE BUM) can be used to good effect. The first one ties together three theme entries that cross it, and THE BUM binds two theme entries plus IN THE BAG.

The 11/25 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Joan Yanofsky introduced me to a couple unfamiliar names. Make a note of them in case they rear their heads again: NARA ("Japan's capital, 710-784") has been used a handful of times before (or 1.2 handsful, really), and Belgian violinist EUGENE/YSAYE's last name has made two previous appearances.

NYT 8:30
NYS 5:23
LAT 4:47
CHE 4:29
CS 2:43

WSJ 7:51
Reagle 7:07


December 14, 2005


Well, I definitely noticed that Pat Merrell's Thursday NYT puzzle only contained certain letters—A, E, and a little over half of the consonants. But it wasn't until I opened the Across Lite file, read the notepad, and then read up the list of clues that I discovered the twist: Pat used only the letters that you type with your left hand. Oddly enough, I did a similar puzzle once on paper (anyone remember the constructor or date?), and figured I would have noticed right away if only I'd solved it via a keyboard. But no. Great job using the X, Q, and Z, and finding three 15-letter entries, Pat!

Joe DiPietro's "Themeless Thursday" in the Sun had some tricky clues ("check out" for EYEBALL was a favorite), but the main appeal for me was the fill. FU MANCHU mustache (How many other constructors wish they'd used that one first?), WENT AWRY (I love the word "awry"), LA RAIDER, and GAME BIRD are new to the Cruciverb database, and VULPINE only has one prior appearance. Great job, Joe!

NYS 5:08
NYT 4:28
LAT 4:05
CS 3:26


December 13, 2005


NAKED MAJA—Now, that's a hell of an entry, isn't it? And it's only a Wednesday! Congrats to James Leeds for an NYT puzzle with two new 9-letter entries (the aforementioned plus RURAL AREA); for other good fill like the WANTON and WILD pair, DOWN ON, and AMNION (you know I like medical terminology); for a fairly ambitious Wednesday grid; and for the three-camel theme.

Ben Tausig's "Reintegration" is a classic example of what his puzzles are like. A touch of politics (ERA, ABU GHRAIB, and UNITER), a little hipster cred (JAM BAND, R CRUMB), pop culture (the clues for NATASHA and ENCINO), computer stuff (IMS and DESKTOP), and the freshness of cluing DEATHTRAP as "car without brakes, say" (rather than as "Ira Levin play"). And a good theme! I especially liked A-LIST ACTOR turned into REALIST ACTOR, and wonder if that was the seed for the puzzle.

I don't know why it took me so long to realize that Randall Hartman's "Mixed Metaphors in the NY Sun was an anagram-theme puzzle. Entering FATHERS PA instead of MOTHERS PA probably didn't help! (D'oh.) It's nice to have SHEWOLF added to the crossword vocabulary, too.


Cute LA Times puzzle from Doug Peterson with an OZ* theme, supplemented by fill like YOOHOO, BUZZWORD, and I LIKE IKE.

Tausig 5:02
NYS 5:01
NYT 4:18
LAT 3:23
CS 2:57


Polemic on the future of crosswords

I'm lucky. When I reached the age at which a kid can manage more challenging adult crosswords, Games magazine had begun publishing, and I started subscribing (and have subscribed for a good 25 years or so). Games gave gainful employment to an assemblage of puzzle professionals who were turning crosswords inside out. Over time, of course, that generation of puzzle editors and creators ended up in charge of the best newspaper and magazine crosswords. While ERNE and OLEO still show up far more often in puzzles than in daily conversation, at least the need to summon up the names of Indonesian trees is a thing of the past; dry obscurities have been supplanted by wordplay, pop culture, modern technology, vernacular phrases, trade names, and other words more reflective of the world we live in. This is a good thing from my perspective. (I don't much enjoy the older puzzles Barry Haldiman collects each year for Litzmas—most pre-Shortz, pre-Newman, pre-Games crosswords strike me as just plain not as much fun.)

Now that the changing of the guard is largely complete, it's time to examine the hide-bound traditions that still constrain the art of crossword construction—and consider whether some of them ought to go the way of the ANOA.

There is such strong insistence on symmetry—symmetrical grids, symmetrical theme entries, symmetrical placement of rebus squares. While symmetry is visually pleasing, I wonder how many otherwise fantastic puzzles and themes have been chucked into the trash because the constructor couldn't get a good fill to fit into the constraints of symmetry. In his Mensa Crosswords for the Super Smart book, half of Frank Longo's puzzles deviate from symmetry. It was a fantastic move on the part of Frank and editor Peter Gordon. By moving some black squares around, Frank squeezed some terrific entries into those puzzles, and I haven't heard anyone say their solving enjoyment was lessened by the asymmetry in the grids.

I bet almost everyone who makes themed crosswords has had to discard a favored theme entry because he or she couldn't find another good entry of the same length, or couldn't design a symmetrical grid to accommodate it. Are crossword solvers best served by the sacrifice of great theme entries at the altar of symmetry? Or would more flexibility in the arrangement of theme entries pay off with greater appreciation of a clever theme? (Perhaps the theme clues could be italicized or all-caps to help solvers identify them if the entries weren't symmetrical.) Imagine that you think up a list of theme entries, and the three very best ones are 10, 12, and 13 letters long. Are solvers grateful if you discard the best ones and instead use the eighth best entry from your list because it had the right number of letters?

Another tradition that can limit crossword constructors is the "rule" that two forms of a word should not appear in the same puzzle. There are deviations from this rule—note SERF BORED and BORER in this weekend's Boston Globe/LA Weekly crossword by Hex, and EAT ON and ATE in Ben Tausig's Sunday NYT. These deviations probably bugged some people who are enmeshed in the crossword world, but does the average solver care, or even notice? Probably not. If you construct, have you ever had to change a word you really liked just to avoid a quasi-duplication in a crossing entry? I bet you have. I certainly don't quibble with not using the same word more than once in a puzzle, but having a pair of closely related ones just might not be so terrible.

Some editors are said to impose strict limits on the number of allowable abbreviations, partial entries (e.g., ON A "___ dare"), or proper nouns. Obscure abbreviations for government programs, for example, don't enhance a puzzle, but I doubt most solvers are bothered by more familiar abbreviatons (especially if they have lively clues). Which entry is better: MPAA or OLEO? RFK or UTA? I vote for the abbreviations. If a partial entry can be clued well and is needed to facilitate the inclusion of top-notch entries nearby, I don't mind. As for proper nouns, quality definitely matters. This Monday's NYT puzzle had about 25 capitalized entries, including STUTZ, EGGO, and SHREK—possibly more proper nouns than some editors would be willing to accept. However, these entries are qualitatively different from (and better than) oddly spelled or obscure names that are quite limited in how they can be clued (e.g., LUISE, ENZO, PATTI, the LEINE river). I suppose the editors need to proclaim certain limits to forestall submission of truly abysmal puzzles, but I hope they are all flexible enough to accept a good and entertaining puzzle even if it exceeds the caps for certain categories of entries.

Granted, a puzzle that is great and hews to all the traditional guidelines is more elegant (or at least more hard-fought) than one that dispenses with the rules. But what is the primary purpose of a crossword? To provide entertainment for the solver—all solvers, not just the tiny minority who construct, compete at Stamford, kibitz in the NYT Today's Puzzle forum, and otherwise obsess about crosswords. Maybe, just maybe, there is a place for the imperfect-but-highly-entertaining puzzle—one that bends the rules—alongside the elegance of the more rare "perfect" puzzle.

Solvers, constructors, editors: What do you think? Are you open to stretching the boundaries of the black and white squares?


December 12, 2005

Tooeasyday redux

Okay, so it wasn't quite as easy as the Tuesday puzzle three weeks ago, but Roy Leban's NYT still seemed much easier than a Tuesday puzzle ought to be. (Maybe Will Shortz is deliberately easing up the early-week puzzles? Say it ain't so, Will!) But as I zipped through the grid, it did not escape my notice that it's a good puzzle—PAPYRUS crossing GARGOYLE and SHORT U? GALILEO crossing MUESLI and NOT YET? A spicy/herbal theme? I liked those things. Can anyone explain TORRES = "Spanish constructions" to me, though?

I enjoyed the bodily theme in Paula Gamache's Sun puzzle, "Habeas Corpus"...

Updated: ...and the gearshift theme in Curtis Yee's LA Times puzzle.

NYS 4:18
CS 3:13
LAT 3:00
NYT 2:45


December 11, 2005

The theme in Allan Parrish's Monday NYT had me scratching my head for longer than it took to solve the puzzle. It just so happens I'd filled in the central across entry with just the down clues, so I hadn't seen the explanatory clue for RHYME. (D'oh.) A casualty of an extra-fast solve—I think this was my fastest Monday NYT ever. Did it seem easy to everyone else? This is completely off topic, but a few years ago the Chicago Tribune stopped carrying the comic strip, Rhymes with Orange, which is a shame because it had been one of my favorites. Click on the link for some dry, droll cartoons.

If you don't frequent the NYT Today's Puzzle forum, you will have missed Lee Glickstein's latest Topical Punch crossword. Lee started making these fun and timely puzzles a few months ago. The theme clues are the beginning of topical jokes (largely political) from late-night TV, and the entries are the punchlines. The puzzles are too good to be given away for free, so if you know of any outlet that would pay Lee for their use, send me an e-mail and I'll forward it to Lee.


Somehow Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle took me longer than any of the other daily puzzles today. I didn't figure out the theme until I was finished—the theme entries in "Fight Prelims" begin with KNOCK, DOWN, DRAG, OUT. Kinda cute!

Curtis Yee's "One-Two Three" is a classic Monday NYS puzzle. Solid, fresh theme; fill with some Scrabbly letters; baseball facts and Hollywood names.

CS 3:56
NYS 3:26
LAT 3:03
NYT 2:43
Topical Punch 5:30


December 10, 2005


Ben Tausig hired himself out to a daily paper for a change, with the Sunday NYT puzzle titled "Switch-Ups." And I'm glad he did, because it means this bang-up weekend of great puzzles continues unabated. I liked the theme, particularly the first theme entry, LIFE OF MY LIGHT. The theme was perhaps a little more challenging than some because the theme entries flip-flopped variably around OF, OF THE, or OF MY. I also liked the energetic fill (ONE VOTE, AIR BALL, SHAKE OFF, AGES AGO, TONGUE TIED, TALKIES, WREAKS) and the cluing—"left homes" for ESTATES, "you can say that again" for MANTRA, "Reed in music" for LOU, "Tony Clifton, to Andy Kaufman" for ALTER EGO, "followers of wells" for UMS, "joined the mob, maybe" for RIOTED, and the etymologically informative "title from which 'admiral' is derived" for EMIR. Congrats on a lovely puzzle, Ben (and Will)!

NYT 9:03
LAT 7:06
CS 4:45 ("Sunday Challenge" from Bob Klahn—check it out)


December 09, 2005

This appears to be only the second NYT puzzle by Henry Hook in five years (the previous one was Saturday, 6/12/04). So treasure the experience, folks; it may not happen again any time soon. Henry knows how to make a quality puzzle, doesn't he? He does. To wit, the following great entries and clues:

"Didn't get nothing" SCORED
"Head of ___" STEAM (Who else went with STATE first?)
"Impregnable stronghold" GIBRALTAR
"Ball carrier, at times" ARNAZ
"Unimprovable situation" HEAVEN ON EARTH
"Its biggest attraction is on a list" PISA
"Water temperature gauge" TOE
"Horse's halter" WHOA (Who had REIN until it appeared elsewhere in the grid?)

That's some primo stuff, man.


You know what? This just might be the best weekend of puzzles in months. I just got caught up by doing seven crosswords, and the Hook puzzle isn't the only goodie out there.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's WSJ puzzle, "iPod Playlists," was standard BEQ—i.e., fantastic. Crazy fill like IXTACIHUATL and OOMPAHPAH; a few first/last name combos (hello again, IRENE CARA); "like Andy Rooney" as a clue for JOWLY. And the theme! My favorite theme entries were CARS POISON AIR SUPPLY and CARPENTERS HAMMER DOORS.

I also loved Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly/Boston Globe puzzle, "Playing Charades." The theme entries were plenty of fun to puzzle out (HAYDN SIKH! CZECH MARX!). Now, if I don't mention that SERF BORED crossed BORER, with both clues relating to the boring of holes, somebody else is sure to carp about it. Yes, I noticed it; no, it didn't bother me.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle features things one can buy in bookstore other than books, and yes, it is a tad ridiculous how much unrelated merchandise bookstores sell. It's an entertaining puzzle, complete with a little punchline toward the end.

Patrick Berry's Washington Post Sunday puzzle is great, too. There were plenty of tough clues ("dovekie, for one" for AUK was new to me) and off-kilter clues ("took a shot" for DRANK, "letter, in a way" for STENCIL), but the crossing entries and the thematic movie titles paved the way to a quick solve.

Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper had a great clue that kept me guessing for far too long: "back biter" for MOLAR.

Jesse Goldberg's LA Times themeless featured a crossing pair of entries in the center that had nice runs of consonants: HITCHHIKE and CUTTHROAT.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy quip puzzle had some good fill, such as CROP CIRCLE.

NYT 8:27
Stumper 6:51
LAT 4:24
CS 3:39

WSJ 8:50
Reagle 8:08
Hex LAW 7:40
WaPo 7:13


December 08, 2005


Holy CRIMEWAVE, Batman! Sherry O. Blackard's Friday NYT felt more like a Saturday puzzle, didn't it? I learned a new word (GAMESOME, meaning playful or "feeling one's oats"). Plenty of tricky clues, like "wipe out an old score" for GET EVEN (I wrongly read the clue as making amends), and clever clues, like "has little to complain about" for NITPICKS. The central intersection of RETAR and RETAG is forgiveable, of course, with words like THINGAMAJIG (anyone else try THINGAMABOB first?) in the vicinity. And who knew IRENE CARA had won so many awards back in the day? Good trivia to know. Now that Sherry has featured her, and Byron Walden included IRENE JACOB not long ago, can Irene Dunne's place in the sun be far off?

When I did the NYS Weekend Warrior by Nancy Kavanaugh a few days ago, I must've channeled her (and Peter Gordon's) intentions from when the clues were written—I filled it in like a CrosSynergy Sunday "Challenge." Beautiful-looking grid, though, with the four 15's anchoring those six blocks of 7's.

Those of you in the snowy Chicago area, I hope your Thursday evening commute wasn't of the five-hours-on-the-expressway variety. Yoicks!


Richard Silvestri's "Learning Centers" from the 11/18 Chronicle of Higher Education reminded me of a Ben Tausig puzzle from a few months ago. The long entries have the names of four colleges embedded within them, and teeny REED College makes an appearance in both puzzles. I suppose it was too tempting to pass up that easy letter combo.

The LAT puzzle by John Underwood contains a whopping 13 theme entries comprising 67 theme squares, all with the same clue: "Mother ___." Kinda cool!

NYT 8:40
LAT 4:21
CHE 4:01
NYS 3:44
CS 2:52

WSJ tba
Reagle tba


December 07, 2005


Yes, it's a THU puzzle all right, the NYT by David Pringle, with the days-of-the-week rebus. I wonder how many solvers will get stuck in the middle, where PULSING is about as valid as PUL[SAT]ING, and question everything else that crosses UNSED (which is UN[SAT]ED). SLOW (SLO[WED]), STAT (STA[TUE]), and MICA ([MON]ICA) look legitimate without the rebuses, too. Good job with the longish fill, too—DE NADA, SWARMED, the largely forgotten ANDROPOV.

Joe DiPietro's Sun puzzle, "Seeing the Sites," features a whopping six dotcom-based theme entries, five of which (plus the two long vertical entries) are new to the Cruciverb database (GILA MONSTER was used once before). It's a shame that BARNEY GOOGLE hasn't been used in a themeless, isn't it? This has been a great week for realizing the full extent of a theme hours or days later. and didn't occur to me until just now. I'd originally noticed only three of the five theme entries in yesterday's creepy-crawly NYS; and some people didn't notice the second and fourth installments of the Wednesday NYT's theme. It's a shame that all the uncounted thousands who solve the puzzles and put them out of their mind probably miss out appreciating the full extent of the constructors' cleverness.

By the way, check out the Wikipedia article on crosswords. I learned there that "a creator may be called a cruciverbalist, setter or compiler." Who are your favorite setters and compilers? I think Irish setters are pretty, personally.

NYS 4:56
NYT 4:37
LAT 4:15
CS 2:37


The pace of human evolution

Here's a question for longtime Stamford contenders (Trip, Ellen, Al, and everyone else who's been competing for years—I'm looking at you) and/or Will Shortz: Has the level of competition at the ACPT been elevated over time, just as world-class athletes' performances have surpassed those of years past? Or are this year's top finishers on a par with their counterparts from 10 or 15 years ago?

I'm wondering whether the solving times listed in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Will Shortz's Tournament Crosswords are commensurate with the current crop of competitors (sorry about the alliteration), or if they reflect performances that wouldn't cut it at Stamford in 2006.

What do you think?


December 06, 2005

Manny Nosowsky serves up a grammar lesson in Wednesday's NYT, with theme entries conjugating the verb is five ways in contraction (I'M, HE'S, YOU'RE, SHE'S, THEY'RE). I did get slowed down by two phrases I haven't heard before—RUN TO SEED (I usually hear "go to seed") and BY ALL ODDS. One clue also rang a little untrue to me: "source of an androgyne's confusion" for SEX. Who says androgynes are confused about their identity?

Gary Steinmehl follows up his Monday NYT with another NYS outing, "Jeepers Creepers," featuring a SPIDER, WORM, BUG theme—and actually, looking at it again, I see that the HAL ROACH and SLUGFEST entries are also thematic. Even so, this was much less creepy than the centipede/millipede puzzle Dave Mackey concocted for me in July, which gave me a nightmare. (Literally.) The Sun puzzle pops with fill like WHAMMO, OAXACA, and POOHPOOHS. And the clue for ODOR, "mephitis," reminds me that I should use the word mephitic more often.

NYS 5:17
NYT 4:32
LAT 3:28
CS 3:10


December 05, 2005

Nice Tuesday NYT by Nancy Salomon. Lots of fresh longer entries to liven things up, and a tight theme. In honor of OLEO's second appearance in a puzzle today (the other was in the Monday NYS), I am compelled to mention how appalling it was to find only margarine, no butter, at the Drake Hotel's Sunday breakfast buffet. Margarine! At $21 a person! The horror, the horror.

Nice Tuesday NYS ("Apostrophe Catastrophe") by Randall Hartman, too. But it appears that Blogger is having technical difficulties tonight, so even if I came up with something clever to say, I don't know when anyone would actually read it. Alas.


It was only after I finished Ben Tausig's latest puzzle, "Mental Blocks," that I looked at the black squares and saw that they were all Tetris pieces! Maybe not all the fill was up to Ben's usual standards (OFF A, ON NO, AERI, FMS), but in addition to the five theme entries and the theme black squares, he managed to use ANXIOUSNESS, THEBRONXZOO, and—for the first and possibly last time—MIERS ("short-lived Bush nominee").

Tausig 4:52
CS 4:05
NYS 3:23
NYT 3:06
LAT 2:50


Manic Monday

Byron Walden's "Great Guys" in the 15x16 Monday Sun
The two shorter theme entries, MR WONDERFUL and TOM TERRIFIC, and appeared previously in JackMcInturff's 3/8/05 LAT puzzle, but were paired there with MARVELOUS MARVIN and the not-an-actual-character/person SMASHING PUMPKIN. The theme definitely benefits from a taller grid that allows two 16-letter theme entries (and if you haven't seen the oddly funny movie NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, you should). Byron's showing off just a little with those four 9-letter entries in the NW and SE corners: all four have never appeared in puzzles indexed by the Cruciverb database. Crossword Fiend rule #1: For every great new entry like VODKA SHOT, a constructor is entitled to one OLEO use.

The grid in Harvey Estes's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Trust Aside," doesn't look like a standard early-week grid. In today's NYT, there are 45 3- and 4-letter entries and just eight 6-, 7-. 8-, or 9-letter entries. Harvey's puzzle, in contrast, is weighted toward lots of white space, with just 26 short entries and 22 in the 6- to 9-letter range, and just 32 black squares. It's still a fairly easy CrosSynergy puzzle, yes, but with a much more ambitious grid than we usually see on Mondays.

I liked the four theme entries in Gary Steinmehl's NYT puzzle, but tying them together as STORE employees struck an off note. Perhaps I'm just not shopping at the sort of stores that hire people to crate, box, and pack things? Bonus points for NO CARBS, though, which is new to the Cruciverb database.

CS 3:27
LAT 3:25
NYT 3:10
NYS 3:08


December 03, 2005

Whew, Sunday already?

Technically it's not Sunday yet, but once the Sunday NYT is released, I move on to the next day. I was making my way through Eric Berlin and Craig Kasper's great puzzle when the applet decided to stop. Technically, the applet continued on in its merry timer-advancing way but the browser window froze up, so I finished the puzzle in Across Lite. I loved the theme and how it played out. I'm guessing by the byline that Eric came up with the idea and Craig figured out how to lay it all out elegantly. (According to Eric's blog, Francis Heaney also helped with the theme.) And look at how elegant it is—the first and last five across answers combine to re-parse into terms described by the long entries. I bet this puzzle's genesis came during Super Bowl season when Eric thought about a SUPERB OWL; yea or nay, Eric? Anyway, it's a great puzzle. Look at all the longish vertical fill—HEAVE HOS and TEAPOT DOME, EPITOMIZE and EXORCISM? Good stuff. I'm sure the clues were great, too, but I'm a little too traumatized by the technical glitch to remember specifics.

Updated on Sunday: I'm not really in the mood for crosswords today (although that didn't stop me from doing five of them just now). My favorite clue/entry from all five of them was in Henry Hook's LA Weekly: "Woody's mother-in-law" for MIA. (Har!)

NYT somewhere in the 10- to 11-minute range
WaPo 8:16
Hook 8:17
LAT 9:13
CS 5:04
Saturday Stumper 7:50


December 02, 2005


Dana Motley's Saturday NYT features interesting long entries and knotty clues. But...I'm not going to mention any of them. Nope. Not giving away any answers tonight. I don't mind spoilers, but I'm seeing some killer times (i.e., like molasses) on the applet, and I'd hate to give anyone a unfair boost. I will say this, though—maybe this puzzle's not jam-packed with long entries, but it also has only four 3-letter entries. There are plenty of 4-letter words but the clues diverge from the usual; even the 3's and 4's offer a challenge. Congrats on a tough puzzle, Dana and Will!

NYT 6:41
LAT 5:09
CS 4:03


December 01, 2005

Will Johnston (over on the NYT forum) was right: Pat Merrell's Friday NYT grid is indeed a funky one, with four pairs of adjoining 15s meeting near the corners, and each pair joined by a 7-letter entry. Not only is it impressive that each corner contains the intersection of two pairs of 15s, but it appears that every single entry crosses either a pair of 15s or those four 7s (well, unless it is one of the 15s or 7s). Do you think you could pull off that trick? Yowza! The fill is remarkably solid, too—the worst we see are SSSS and REAIM, which arguably are better than yesterday's TOL, anyway.

My ahistorical knowledge of baseball slowed me down on Charles Gersch's Sun puzzle, "Urban Legends." I had BI*DGREEN and spent too much time wondering what the heck that could be; I also drew a blank with the crossing clue about the Tower of Hanoi game. BIG D for DALLAS! And PEGS! Fine. Anyway—when life gives you LEMONS, make LIMEADE? My favorite clue was "Watch flashers?" for COLONS; however, I think it's time for the crossword world to quit being embarrassed about their viscera and admit that they have abdominal organs. I also enjoyed "More like a young man?" for ANGRIER.

NYS 5:49
CHE 4:19 (more Ben Tausig!)
LAT 4:14
NYT 4:12
CS 3:27

WSJ 8:49
Reagle 8:55


November 30, 2005

I liked Randolph Ross's Thursday NYT theme, particularly COCO CHANNEL, and the plethora of 7-letter entries livening up the puzzle—PICASSO, SPOONED, MIMOSAS, INSULTS, SUITS ME. (Never heard of the TACONIC State Parkway, though. Sounds like an adjective roughly describing tostadas and burritos.) As for MENORCA, I'm more familiar with the spelling Minorca, but the Wikipedia entry explains that the island is spelled with an E in Catalan and Spanish. Other tidbits from the article: The Phoenicians called it Nura ("island of fire") to honor Baal. The local dialect includes the word xumaquer (shoemaker, borrowed from English during the British occupation a few hundred years ago). Last but not least, we can blame the Minorcan town of Mahon for lending its name to mayonnaise.


Vic Fleming and Bruce Venzke joined forces on the NYS Themeless Thursday. Vic, a judge who oversees many drunk-driving cases, often has a trademark sobriety entry in his puzzles; this time, he and Bruce went the other way with TIES ONE ON and MOONSHINE. There's a subtle minitheme at the bottom of the long entries, 5D and 10D. Two of the trickier clues both led to G answers: "Like 'Charlotte's Web'" was RATED G, and "Ride attire" was G SUIT. The alphabet party continued with A LINE and B FLAT, not to mention ABC SPORTS. I've never heard of actor TOL Avery, but I'll file his name away for his next cruciverbal appearance. Another great clue was "Family members?" for GENERA.

David Kahn's LA Times puzzle is fun if you're familiar (as I am) with the TV show, "Monk"; if you know nothing about the title character, this might not be the puzzle for you.

NYS 5:03
NYT 4:09
LAT 3:10
CS 2:51


November 29, 2005

At last! A crossword with a theme devoted to medical terminology! Of course, the average high school biology class teaches you the bone names featured in Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "A Bone to Pick," but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it all the same. My favorite clue was "Ma is one" for CELLIST.

Ben Tausig's tire-themed puzzle, "Spare Time," had three theme entries notable for also containing some unusual consonant runs (LDF, WNGL, TSCR, and NTV); the fill also had runs of LLC, DRDR, and RLST. As always, there are fun clues; TOUPEE is "comb-over alternative," EWES is "wool coat wearer," and "doesn't give up on a dream?" is SLEEPS LATE (which I wish I could do). And three hip hop names are included—DR DRE, ICE T and LL COOL J. Include one rapper, and it's boring; fit three in, and now you've got a little something. I'd never heard of ESG; according to this link, they were an "art-funk ensemble from the South Bronx" whose beats were sampled by groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan and TLC, leading ESG to release a 1992 EP called "Sample Credits Don't Pay Our Bills."

I'd probably appreciate Seth Abel's NYT puzzle more if I'd ever heard of the song MISTER IN BETWEEN. It's a little surprising to see ABEL in a puzzle by someone of the same name, isn't it? I wonder if Mr. Abel put it in there himself, or if Will reworked the fill in that corner. (A few months back, there was a puzzle by Frank Longo in one of the Games publications containing LONG O, clued as the long vowel sound. And there was a more recent puzzle that had both ABIDE and ESTES—but the puzzle wasn't by Peter or Harvey.)

NYT 4:10
Tausig 4:00
NYS 3:54
LAT 4:21
CS 3:43


November 28, 2005


The theme in Adam Cohen's Tuesday NYT tickled me because it included FLY ROBIN FLY. The lyrics are as follows: Fly, robin, fly. Fly, robin, fly. Fly, robin, fly. Up, up to the sky. (Repeat while disco dancing.) The puzzle's also a pangram, and it's stuffed to the gills with perky fill like ASHCAN, ROYKO, JUNGLES, SYLPH, ALOHA STATE, RISOTTO, and BAZAAR.

I also dug Lynn Lempel's "All-Inclusive" puzzle in the Sun, particularly STALLONES THROW, "Rocky ceremonial start to a baseball game?" The fill tended toward name-calling, with YES MAN, MEANIE, NEATNIK, and SCROOGES. I would've liked to see MINEO and DEAN cross-referenced as Rebel Without a Cause costars (rather than DEAN being "college admissions bigwig"). How many of you actually try to picture a map when you come across a clue like "Yonkers-to-Stamford dir." and how many of you just wait to see if it turns out to be ENE, ESE, SSE, or NNE? I generally wait for the crossings to reveal the answer, personally.

NYS 3:49
CS 3:21
NYT 3:18
LAT 3:18


November 27, 2005


I liked Kevan Choset's NYT puzzle, with the Sr., Jr., 3rd theme and a bunch of longer entries that would liven up even a late-week puzzle: ABE LINCOLN and JANITORS, IN CONTEMPT and MOON UNIT, and even POTPIE and ZSAZSA. Am I the only one who sees Leslie Caron in a clue and immediately fills in _I_I, cursing her for starring in both Gigi and Lili? It's such a drag to actually have to glance at the crossing clues, man.


Today's CrosSynergy is by Bob Klahn, and it's probably not really as hard as my comparative times suggest, but if you skip the CS puzzles because they're too easy, you might like this one.

Ogden Porter/Peter Gordon's NYS puzzle improves on standard quip puzzles by having three famous headlines that you may actually be familiar with. The third headline, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, reminds me of a less famous wrong headline from the summer of 1980: "It's Reagan and Ford" in the Chicago Sun-Times. (Turned out to be Reagan and Bush running together.)

Over on the NYT Today's Puzzle forum, Lee Glickstein's latest Topical Punch puzzle was posted Monday morning. If you like topical humor (skewing to the liberal side, given the news out of Washington these days) and good crosswords, check it out.

CS 5:15
NYS 3:11
NYT 2:49
LAT 2:43


November 26, 2005

Topping off the weekend

Peter Abide's Sunday NYT, "High Jinks," was one of those smooth solves where you move throughout the grid, filling in your path as you go. (Or maybe not you. But definitely me.) After not quite being on the same wavelength as Rich Norris yesterday, this puzzle was a nice salve. How many of you knew the founder of the Borden company was GAIL Borden? (That part wasn't on my wavelength.) Plenty of great entries peppered throughout, such as TOWNCAR, UP TO IT, SLAPDASH, DRAGSTRIP, GOT RID OF, BEAM ME UP, EARFULS, TV RATINGS, and the medical terminology crossing of RALE and POLYP. My favorite clues were "one who may give you fits" (TAILOR), "Afghan makeup" (YARN), "cold one" (BEER) and "'hot' one" (MAMA), and "Jazz scores" (BASKETS). The best theme entry was TIPTOP ONEILL, and the worst was LAPTOP DANCER. Yes, it's fun to sneak lap dances into the NYT crossword, but the clue ("Part of Santa's team on a computer?") doesn't do it for me. Can anyone think of a better clue for that?

NYT 8:01
LAT 8:57
CS 3:39


November 25, 2005


Rich Norris's Saturday NYT was filled with tough spots that eluded me, starting with 1 Across ("intro interruption" = WEVE MET) and continuing through every section of the grid. As the minutes ticked by, I was IN A HOLE, but eventually I RAN RIOT over the grid and finished it. While I always appreciate a challenge, and liked plenty of entries (DAME EDNA, HOLD COURT, ROLEPLAY, and the aforementioned WEVE MET) and clues ("neither here nor there" for EN ROUTE), there were a few dry spots (REERECT, the clue "two seater, perhaps?" for MAITRE D, and good ol' RETS). It was kind of odd to see the plurals HUHS and EHS, but they were salvaged by the clue "Hah!" (for SO THERE)—does anyone else hear James Brown?

NYT 8:51
LAT 6:00
Stumper 5:32
CS 3:05

Reagle 10:05
LAW 9:55
WaPo 8:22


November 24, 2005

Just last weekend I was asking for a Joe DiPietro Saturday NYT, and got a Friday one instead. And it was too easy! (Please don't smack me. I'm not the only one in my applet time range.) So many of the longer entries practically filled themselves in. I did start out with MADE A PEEP instead of MADE NOISE, but then ONE COURSE and SEA OTTERS led me to the crossings and the NOISE correction. There's some fantastic fill, though—EIGHTYSIX and BABY TEETH (which was a tricky one for me) were my favorites. You know what? Maybe the folks with the slower solving times are still digesting their Thanksgiving feasts. I'm actually hungry now, since my family sat down to eat at 12:30.

I enjoyed Fraser Simpson's cryptic crossword in the Friday Sun a few days ago. I don't seek out cryptics, but dig 'em when I come across 'em.

My husband's watching this week's episode of Lost right now. Locke was doing a crossword that's been discussed on the internets—for the clue "Enkidu's friend," he fills in GILGAMESH. But thanks to TiVo, I took a good look at that grid. If GILGAMESH is the answer, his crossings are all messed up. From what I could see of the crossing entries, SPRI???C? looks more likely. So I plugged that in at OneLook, and it gave me one possibility: SPRINT PCS. There must be a deeper meaning to this incomprehensible crossword, because the show has so many layers of mysteries. But SPRINT PCS? Frankly, I'm lost.


Don't miss Roy Leban's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, complete with Shakespeare puns, and Cathy Millhauser's WSJ, which was kinda tough.

NYS 8:04
NYT 4:51
LAT 4:36
CHE 3:56
CS 3:20

WSJ 10:12
Reagle tba


November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tonight, I am thankful for mashed sweet potatoes and Michael Shteyman. I was actually thinking this afternoon that it'd be nice to have another Shteyman puzzle soon. Here it is, a Thursday NYT puzzle with the bonus of a Fridayish difficulty level. We've got the standard gleaming fill, with entries like LIZ PHAIR, GAS TAX, US TOUR, CALLER ID, E CARD, and F TENS. We've got the standard Shteyman theme-with-circled-letters aspect, and the trademark shout-outs to college life (TESTERS SHOUT crossing EXAM). Not to mention the polished Shteyman/Shortz cluing, "Mind-set"? for MENSA being just one example. All that's missing is the Russian vibe, replaced here with Spanish and German. (Hey, does anyone else look at ONE CENT and think that it'd make a fine rapper's name?)

There's no Sun puzzle for Thursday since it's a holiday, but there is the cryptic crossword from Friday's Sun to work on while you digest your grand repast.

NYT 6:34
LAT 3:26
CS 2:56


November 22, 2005

Levi Denham paints a clear picture in the Wednesday NYT puzzle, with DRAW POKER, DRAFT BEER, and the other theme entries he penciled in. (Sorry. Too many puns?) I liked the clues and fill, such as "knocked off, in a way" for the synonymous ICED and SLEW, "utter" for OUT AND OUT, "it may be organized" for CRIME. But how come TAKES TEN wasn't clued as "knocks off, in a way"? I've noticed that now I sometimes fill in some answers without reading the clues; what else could T?M?W?RP be, after all?

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon paired up on the NYS puzzle, "Easy Come..." My favorite clue in this one was "gin maker of note" for ELI WHITNEY. Surely I'm not the only one who thought of spirits flavored with the juniper berry? I love a clue that dupes me (temporarily) in a clever fashion. There's some great fill in this puzzle, too—NINJA, GAZETTEERS, SEERSUCKER, NEXT TO LAST. Since the first two theme entries seemed to substitute an "ease" for an "ee" sound, the third one confused me for a bit. Then I realized the trick was adding EZ, so CANNES FRANCE became CEZANNES FRANCE. Nicely executed, Lee and Nancy!


Today's CrosSynergy puzzle by Randall Hartman felt more like a Sun puzzle to me (high praise, indeed). Maybe it was because the PETER theme brought Peter Gordon to mind, or maybe it was because of fill like PLEXIGLAS. There was also a good clue for ASP that seemed new (though it may well have have been used before): "Cleo's feller."

Aah, at last Ben Tausig's weekly puzzle has arrived! It's usually one of Wednesday's highlights, since it typically offers more of a challenge than the other puzzles of the day. One of Ben's trademarks is to use things that sound racy even if they aren't—e.g., "house for rakes and hoes" is TOOLSHED, and "it gets laid in a bathroom" clues TILE. Another fresh touch was defining MCJOB as "Data Entry Associate, say." And I always appreciate "YOND Cassius has a lean and hungry look," because my mom and her friend used that line when they were scoping out my then-skinny dad-to-be in their college English class. It ain't much for romance, but that's my backstory.

Tausig 4:28
CS 4:08
NYT 3:45
NYS 3:42
LAT 3:30


November 21, 2005


I swear the Tuesday NYT puzzles have been getting easier lately. This week's from Nancy Salomon is quite good (aside from the dreaded OLEO)—a solid theme plus good fill like SWISH, FREE FOR ALL, SHAKE IT UP, MOJO, and BED OF ROSES—but too darned easy. Then there are the quaint expressions that have been largely superseded in recent decades: NERTS situations more commonly call for four-letter words now, and the eye in MY EYE has been replaced with another three-letter body part that isn't making it into the NYT crossword in conjunction with MY.

Continuing in the what-happened-to-the-upward-trend-of-difficulty vein, the Tuesday Sun puzzle by Randy Hartman, "Movin' Men," was one of the easiest Sun puzzles I've seen in ages—despite the fact that I was unfamiliar with the nicknames LARRUPIN LOU and RAMBLIN JACK beforehand. (Why, oh why didn't I slow down before I finished the Frank Longo book of killers?)

Have any of you ever tried spreading oleo on an Oreo? How awesome would it be if Nabisco decided to market a version replacing the creme filling with margarine?

CS 3:10
NYS 3:03
NYT 2:33
LAT 3:41


November 20, 2005


What a sweet and romantic puzzle! Wesley Johnson's Monday NYT lays it all out: four 10-letter entries—FALL IN LOVE, GET ENGAGED, GET MARRIED, and SETTLE DOWN—culminating in the central crossing pair of MOM and POP. (We'll assume that BILLS and DEBT aren't necessarily part of the storyline.) If November 21 happens to be Wesley Johnson's parents' anniversary, he definitely wins crossword son of the year. There's also a (presumably unintentional) crossword constructor mini-theme, the symmetrically located Peter ABIDE and Harvey ESTES.

Gary Steinmehl's NYS puzzle, "Child's Play," made me nostalgic for the days of playing tag. I think Peter Gordon got the days mixed up this week, though—the Tuesday puzzle went way faster than the Monday.

NYS 3:55
LAT 3:02
CS 2:55
NYT 2:52


November 19, 2005

Patrick Merrell's plus-sized Sunday NYT was wonderful: It's big, it's harder than the typical Sunday puzzle, and sometimes it's funny. When I filled in my first theme entry, I laughed at the rejected school mascot, ST JOHNS WORT; I want to know what other theme candidates didn't make the cut. I also laughed at "it might make the torso seem moreso" for BRA. (Pat, that's terrible! Do we blame you or Will for that one?) There were plenty of traps in this one, too. LIBELERS ("Name-callers, maybe") could be LABELERS, until you see LABELED a few rows below it."Author Sinclair," of course, could be UPTON or LEWIS, but look over there in the opposite corner for "Author Carroll" to see where LEWIS belongs. The four-letter landlocked country, second letter A? Isn't that always MALI? This time, it's LAOS. (The latter was the only trap that snared me.) Also, I learned that Ping-Pong balls tend to be ORANGE these days.

Anyway, thanks for scheduling a great weekend of puzzles, Will! You can't beat Manny on Friday, Byron on Saturday, and a jumbo Pat on Sunday. (Although other bylines would certainly be welcome, too—here's hoping that Frank Longo, Sherry Blackard, David Kahn, Joe DiPietro, and Bob Klahn make Saturday appearances soon.)

NYT 11:23
LAT 9:32
CS 5:19


November 18, 2005

I love Saturday

If forced to limit myself to just one crossword a week, I'd have to go with the Saturday NYT, and Byron Walden's puzzle is a prime example of why. You've got sparkling entries such as JEBEDIAH Springfield, OH ITS YOU and JUST ME, and EVIL GENIUS. Hall of Fame clues like "Place close to Sundance" for ETTA, "O and W, e.g." for MAGS, "Mustang braking system?" for LASSOS, and maybe "Y beneficiary" for SON. Not to mention great clue/entry combos like "Wayne duds" for BATSUIT, "Pudding content?" for THE PROOF, and "Stymie the feds" for LAWYER UP. Add an overall difficulty level that's both wicked and manageable. Then consider the construction: those corners with stacked 8-letter entries joined by a vertical 15 and each crossed by another 10-letter entry, not to mention the five longish entries crossing the central vertical entry. It's just a fantastic puzzle, isn't it? If only every day could be a Byron Saturday...

NYT 8:20
Newsday Stumper 5:17
LAT 5:05
CS 3:59

WaPo 8:34
LAW 7:35


November 17, 2005


Manny Nosowsky's NYT: Really, I'm just always going to enjoy a themeless puzzle by Manny Nosowsky. The brain gets a good workout, the eyebrows raise a little here and there, and it's a good time. And you have to admire the construction—all those jumbo entries criss-crossing one another, those longish ones stacked up and down and side to side in all four corners—great stuff.

Karen Tracey's NYS: The Weekend Warrior comes on the heels of Karen's recent Saturday NYT, and it's a little easier than her last go-round. Like my favorite Sun puzzles, it's got plenty of Scrabbly fill (SAN JOAQUIN, ALTO SAX, and other words in the QXZ family). There's the quaint ABORNING and UNBOSOMS, GALAHAD (counterposed with "Round Table location"—but it's ALGONQUIN) and ALSATIA. There's the anagram cluing ANAGRAM and "it's full of unknowns" cluing ALGEBRA. And there's the TV trivia of AJ SIMON. Karen, keep making themeless puzzles, please! One question: do "fireballer" and MOUNDSMAN mean a baseball pitcher? I'm not familiar with either term.

*Thank Shortz and Gordon It's Friday.

NYT 6:43
NYS 6:16
LAT 5:06
CS 3:28

WSJ 8:24
Reagle 6:42


November 16, 2005

Elusive Themesday

Brendan Emmett Quigley's NYT: What is this, Airline Appreciation Week at Casa Quigley? First the Sunday puzzle filled with airline names, and then the minimalist COACH/BUSINESS/FIRST-class theme in this puzzle. I actually had a tough time extracting the theme when I looked at the puzzle (thanks for the mental assist, Monica)—I was hoping Will had embarked on a new program of spoiling us with themeless Thursday puzzles. This one pretty much played like a BEQ themeless (but easier), so I loved it. And while REPASS is a terrible little bit of fill, it's overcome by the terrific BOB FOSSE, FERRET OUT, and ITS A LULU. Just your standard Quigley-quality super-zippy long entries.

Van Vandiver's NYS: The theme of "RR Xing" hid from me thanks to the red herring at 1D, where JCT was clued as "RR Xing." The actual theme didn't reveal itself to my brain until I'd filled in six of the seven theme entries—suddenly, DAFT CAD was obviously DRAFT CARD without the R and R. "Cold war weapon?" is a fantastic clue for DRISTAN, isn't it? I also liked seeing GMS clued as "Envoy letters," strictly because a friend of mine in Prague once appeared in a TV commercial for the Envoy SUV. They dressed her up in coveralls and a hard hat and smudged her face so she could look like one of the "American steelworkers" in the ad. Gotta film in an overseas steel mill because what American steel company, if it's engaged in the actual manufacture of steel, would take on the liability of a film crew? The Czech producers had to work hard to find a diverse "American" cast; my multiracial friend was joined by assorted immigrants or visitors from Africa and Asia. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

Updated: Joy M. Andrews' LA Times: Did anyone else struggle with this one? It felt like the cluing kept me away from the answers rather than leading me to them, which is not my usual crossword experience. More often (at least with puzzles of the quality I seek out), the clues and entries "sing" together harmoniously, and this one seemed atonal. (Maybe I just had a momentary brain lapse?) One of the theme entries, MUFFET MORSEL, also threw me off; morsels strike me as being drier and more self-contained than curds.

NYS 5:50
NYT 4:47
LAT 4:38
CS 2:56


November 15, 2005

So many good puzzles, so little time

Philip Thomson's NYT: Marjorie Berg's Monday puzzle accentuated the positive, while this puzzle's theme is "there's no..." whatever. Fun puzzle with nice fill like ON THE SLY and SO THERE, and some funny clues like "Lousy eggs?" for NITS. And it gave me probably my best Wednesday NYT finishing time, so that's another plus.

Ben Tausig's Inkwell: "Dinner with the Family" had a hilarious mafia-supper theme—at least MOBSTER BISQUE cracked me up. The puzzle had much to commend itself: PSHAW, ELK clued as "male with a rack," "Thirteen, in NYC" for PBS, KOD ("decked"), "Glass on the radio" for IRA (my best friend used to run into him at her neighborhood gym here in Chicago), "milk container" as a clue for UDDER, "In gear?" for CLAD, "old items" for EXES, and oh yeah, it's also a pangram, just for fun.

Robert H. Wolfe's Wednesday NYS: "It's All Greek to Me" showed me just how many Greek letters I can't identify on sight! I liked seeing WOTAN and ORECK vacuums crossed by GO SOLO and TECHNO, and ELIE clued as "Tahari of fashion" (Elie Tahari, of course, designed that beautiful dress Halle Berry wore when she won her Oscar).

Gary Steinmehl's Tuesday NYS: "We're Back" added US to the theme entries—to best effect in DEADLY SINUS.

Joy M. Andrews' Monday NYS: "Diplomatic Conclusions" was stuffed with seldom-seen fill like OLD IRISH, FILE CLERK, GOOSE EGGS, BiG FISH, and BAEDEKER. I'm not a huge fan of Condoleezza Rice, but turn her into BASMATI RICE in the theme, and I'm all for it.

Updated: Hey, even if you don't normally do the CrosSynergy puzzles, you might like today's outing from Randall Hartman, "Things are Looking Up." Fun theme!

Tausig 5:01
Tues NYS 4:32
Wed NYS 4:24
Mon NYS 3:42
LAT 3:42
CS 3:40
NYT 2:45


November 14, 2005

My membership is paying dividends, as members will have access to each day's LA Times puzzle in Across Lite. It'll be added back into my daily crossword diet.

The NY Sun puzzles have gone AWOL. My standard five-puzzle glut on Monday mornings has been postponed to whenever the puzzles are unloosed on the world.

Sarah Keller's Tuesday NYT kicked my butt. There's a restaurant chain in the Chicago area called Leona's—the last two CruCago dinners have been held there, in fact. My familiarity with that and my unfamiliarity with MAMALEONES killed me (to the tune of 30 or 40 seconds—hey, it felt much longer). There was a typo, too. I figured out the theme right away, but then BABYSNOOKS slipped my mind, and the dastardly "one end of a bridge" clue for TOOTH had me thinking NORTH or SOUTH (despite the "a"). HORRORS and SOBSTORY: those pretty well sum up my experience tonight. Which is unfortunate, because it's really a lovely puzzle. Tight theme, fresh fill like HORRORS and SOBSTORY, perky clues—good stuff.


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Cel Mates," made me laugh when I figured out MULAN ROUGE. Cute theme, plus it's a pangram, and I think it's a good example of what an easyish crossword should be. The only entry that seemed a little iffy was SWIPER, and it's not iffy at all for anyone whose kid watches "Dora the Explorer."

NYT 4:17
CS 3:01
LAT 2:55


Puzzability quiz in Esquire

Mike Shenk, Amy Goldstein, and Robert Leighton (the Puzzability folks) created a 50-question quiz, labeled "The Hardest Quiz Ever," for the December issue of Esquire. I don't see the quiz on the magazine's website, so go to the newsstand and pick up a copy (look for Bill Clinton on the cover) if you don't subscribe. It's more than merely a trivia quiz—much more. Wordplay, math, logic, trivia with unexpected twists.

If you submit a full set of complete answers by November 28 (a two-week deadline for a monthly publication?!?), Esquire will list your name (or your team's name) under the rubric "Esquire's Smartest Readers Ever." I will expect to see some familiar names on that list. Get cracking!


November 13, 2005


I am in favor of Marjorie Berg's positively themed Monday NYT. It did take me a minute to figure out the theme, which was a little oblique since the theme words are all used differently in the context of the theme entries. I suppose it would have been awkward to clue BEHINDTHEWHEEL in a way that indicated affirmative support of said WHEEL, and it is a Monday puzzle, after all. It's nice to see 8- and 9-letter fill worked into the grid, isn't it?

NYS tba
CS 4:09
NYT 3:06
LAT 2:41


November 12, 2005

Boy, I just flew through the Sunday NYT puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley, "Flying Start." It wasn't until I got to the theme entries starting with VIRGIN and DELTA that I looked into the theme and saw that it was phrases starting with airline names. (Will had to run this one quickly, since the demise of SONG is just a few months off.) I wonder if Brendan was cognizant of the Hibernian vibe, with OREILLY, LIAM, and AIDAN? This grid was chock full of fantastic fill, as we expect from BEQ—MR MAGOO, QWERTY, TIPTOEING, AL FATAH, and POLE VAULT, to list a few—and commensurate clues. "Bar challenge" for POLE VAULT, for example, and "They haven't any definite forms" for AMOEBAE, and "Is that what you expected?" for SURPRISED. To answer that question, yes, this is the quality I expected from BEQ (one part delicious Saturday, one part expansive Sunday), so I wasn't surprised by it. Thanks, Brendan and Will, for a meaty challenge. (If you're still working on the Sunday puzzle and you're here to get a few answers, 'fess up.)

Although technically I can stop any time I want, I did buy another puzzle book today. It's The Big Book of Crossword Puzzles: 288 Puzzles for the Crossword Fanatic. It's actually four Sterling books in one: two books of puzzles from the '50s and '60s, which I may well skip; one book of US Airways puzzles edited by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, and—the reason I bought this—one book of "Beat the Champ" puzzles that includes the finishing times for past ACPT champions Ellen Ripstein, Jon Delfin, and Doug Hoylman. I love to see how my times stack up against other people's times, so this should be fun.

Updated: Hey, a CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge that actually challenges! Bob Klahn can always be counted on to cook up a tough one.

NYT 9:49
CS 6:51


November 11, 2005

Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July

Nicely done, Karen Tracey! The Saturday NYT is packed with the hard stuff. Right off the bat I fell into the ITARTASS trap instead of IZVESTIA, and then I opted for Fer SHUR instead of Fer SHER (and Google tells me how wrong I was—800 hits vs. 10,000). "Big name in oil," ends with CO? Must be CONOCO. Or SUNOCO. Right? No. Guess again, and forget about the petroleum industry. One doesn't see PROPINQUITY or READY TO ROCK pop up in too many crosswords, either. Thank goodness for gimmes's see, which entries were obvious? A LA MODE and some of the words hanging off of it...and that's about it. (It's always fun when the constructor solves her or his own puzzle on the applet and needs more time than I do!)

Kumar Bulani's Washington Post puzzle, "At the U.N. Cafeteria," was a lot of fun. The theme entries hinge on breakfast-related puns using names of countries. I'm always a sucker for geographical puns—don't ask me why. If you like that sort of thing, have at it.

With Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle, "Creatures' Features," I had one of my fastest 21x21 solving times ever. Once you've got a few letters filled in for one of the theme entries, it's pretty obvious, and there were 10 theme answers, so badabing, done.

The Saturday "Stumper" by Daniel Stark was frightfully easy. The words in the fill were mostly quite ordinary (SHOE TREE is about as exotic as it gets), and the clues were correspondingly straightforward. Now, I like themeless puzzles to combine sexy fill—unusual words and phrases, Scrabbly letters, daring letter combos—with infernal clues. I want them to put my brain through the paces.

NYT 8:06
Stumper 3:53
CS 3:34

WaPo 9:15
Hex 6:11


November 10, 2005


I've grown used to Eric Berlin's puzzles having some ingenious wrinkle to them, so I'm looking at this one and trying to identify some sort of theme or twist. I got nothin'. It's themeless, isn't it? I love themeless puzzles, but I just get suspicious with this byline. Okay, assuming it is indeed themeless: What a great puzzle! The fairly current X PRIZE entry is a winner, plus CEZANNE and TOLSTOY's full names, BETELGEUSE (who isn't picturing Michael Keaton in "Beetlejuice" right now?), BALI HAI, and GALLEONS. Yes, we see the OGEES and the ESE, but we forgive them because the longer entries are so tasty. (But after a workout, isn't a cool or warm shower better than a HOT SHOWER?)

The Friday Sun puzzle, "Frame-Up," is by Crossword Fiend denizen David Sullivan (a.k.a. Evad). This puzzle offers a goofy rebus mechanism in which / means a spare in bowling and X means a strike in bowling. Complicating matters, the multiple-X thingies have nicknames, apparently, and these nicknames are used in the theme entries. XBREAKERS (strike-breakers) was easy enough, as was TALKINGXXX (turkey), but I had to Google when I was finished to understand TAKEOUTXX. Apparently two strikes are called a double, and a takeout double is some sort of tactic in the game of bridge. (I have never bowled two strikes in a row, and my bridge knowledge has been gained almost exclusively via crossword puzzles.) Anyway, great job, Dave! A twisty theme combined with CAREBEAR and BIKEPATH, and down entries crossing all those X's.


Congrats to Tyler Hinman for both turning 21 and having today's WSJ puzzle! Great RE- theme, particularly DEUTSCHE REMARKS and MISS THE REBUS. The best non-theme stuff included BAD SEED for "babysitter's nightmare," "Sub stratum?" for SALAMI, soccer's OLE OLE (I've also heard it chanted as "ole-e-e-e, ole ole ole," but that'd be a much longer entry), and "Movie that might rope you in?" for OATER. And the MARS BAR is my favorite candy bar, even if its manufacturer insists on calling it the Snickers with Almond these days. (Hell, why don't they rename the Three Musketeers "Snickers without Anything Decent"?)

NYT 5:35
NYS 5:29
CS 2:52

WSJ 9:13
Reagle 7:51


Cranium crushed, but structurally sound

This week, I finished Frank Longo's new book, Mensa Crosswords for the Super Smart: 72 Cranium-Crushing Challenges. After 72 puzzles in about 10 days, I must say I feel better prepared for Stamford.

The easiest puzzle took me about 6 minutes (i.e., it was harder than today's Themeless Thursday in the Sun). And the hardest puzzles? Tougher than the toughest Saturday NYT puzzles. Some of the difficulty lay in ferreting out the occasional obscure entry (they wouldn't be called "cranium crushers" if the words were all familiar ones), but the bulk of it was just figuring out what on earth Frank was getting at with the clues. There's a preponderance of long entries—looking at one random puzzle (#67), I see four 15's, a 13, six 11's, and eight 7's. What happens when you have all these wide-open grids full of long entries you haven't seen umpteen times before? You have to suss out the meaning of clues you haven't mastered umpteen times before. And then these long entries are bound together by shorter answers with nonstandard clues. In puzzle #67, for example, Frank serves up "she played Pearl on The Beverly Hillbillies" instead of "actress Arthur," and "Janet Craxton's specialty" where we're accustomed to having a gimme like "orchestral reed." With these challenging puzzles, even a crack solver will have errors (I did, and I'm not the only one) or the occasional blank square. Now that's tough.

Half of the crossword grids in this book lack symmetry. I didn't notice any appreciable difference between the symmetrical and asymmetrical puzzles—they were all good, and the difficulty levels varied among both types. The upshot of the asymmetry is that it allowed Frank to include a ton of great longer entries (with their great clues), rather than having to sacrifice a lot of marvels at the altar of crossword symmetry. After solving the 36 asymmetrical puzzles in this book, I'd definitely be open to Will Shortz and Peter Gordon giving the occasional devious themeless puzzle special dispensation from that convention. All symmetry does, really—besides making grids visually pleasing—is place strictures on the constructor. I'd rather have a fantastic puzzle with a few "misplaced" black squares than a symmetrical puzzle that required compromises in overall quality just to hew to this design tradition.

At $7.95, this book offers an astonishing value for your entertainment dollar. I probably whiled away a good 10 hours with this book, so it was like seeing five movies but without being coerced into buying five boxes of $4 popcorn. If the puzzles take you longer than that, it becomes an even more cost-effective proposition for you. If these are two-hour puzzles for you, you're talking a whopping 144 hours of diversion for the same low price! (Would you believe I'm not getting kickbacks? Amazing, I know.)

Those of you who have waded into the book already, what do you think? Was the difficulty level what you were expecting? And how do you feel about the asymmetrical grids?

(Congratulations on another premier publication, Frank! And Peter, kudos for your editing; your changes are generally invisible to the solver, but I know they must be in there somewhere.)


November 09, 2005

Thursday madness

Okay, it's fine to occasionally have an NYT puzzle that needs to be printed out in PDF form for solving. But to let some solvers into the applet with yesterday's puzzle, and to keep everyone else from getting at the PDF until 10 after the hour? Most bothersome.

Anyway—The Thursday NYT is by Lee Glickstein and Craig Kasper, and it's got unchecked, unnumbered rebus-type squares that presumably would throw off both Across Lite and the timed applet. Supplementing WATER WATER/EVERYWHERE and the watery rebuses, the middle of the grid's got YACHTED crossing Lake TAHOE. Two of the theme entries are WHITE[WATER] and [WATER]GATE; if only the current administration's scandals included the word WATER, Lee and Craig could have included more than a mere two White House scandals. (How about another Cru special to give cruciverbal heft to other scandals, Lee?) There's some nice longer fill here, too—ONION ROLL, ANNE MEARA, SAME OLD, PACHELBEL, DOWN EAST. Nifty twist in construction, guys.

Over in the NYS, David Kahn's Themeless Thursday crosses two baked-goods men, JELLY ROLL MORTON and MAX BIALYSTOCK (it's bialy day: "Bialy, e.g." was the clue for ONION ROLL in the NYT), and tosses in a PIE CRUST to boot. There are two pluralized first names, ERICAS and ETHANS, which reminds me that my son's class includes one "Ethan with an E" and one "Ithan with an I"; this does not constitute permission to put the name ITHAN into crosswords, however. It's a good puzzle, but I'm always a tiny bit disappointed when a themeless doesn't fight me for a little longer.


Okay, this is bizarre. When doing Ben Tausig's latest puzzle, "Underemployed," I felt like it was his hardest puzzle in ages. And yet, my solving time was shorter than usual. One contributing factor, perhaps, was the inclusion of three "25-Down option" clues that I encountered before solving 25-Down ("Bar food?" for SUSHI). Even if it didn't add to my solving time, it was fun to have that extra puzzle within the puzzle. And "husbands, or a wife" was a fresh way to clue MRS. There may be those who would say the plural of MR has to be MESSRS, but if my sister and I went out without our husbands, I really don't think we'd refer to them as "the messieurs."

NYS 5:32
NYT 5:14
Tausig 3:41
CS 3:10


November 08, 2005

It looks like slower-than-usual Wednesday solving times for Ed Early's musical NYT. There may be people who immediately link, say, CAB CALLOWAY and JIVE, or WOODY HERMAN and BIG BAND, but I am not one of them. "Big jerk" as a clue for TUG misled me; I was thinking OAF and APE and CAD (are there any 3-letter words for nice guys?). And "up" is always wide open for a 5-letter answer starting with A—ASTIR, AWAKE, and ALOFT would do about as well as AT BAT. I liked the longer fill in this puzzle, with TUNA MELTS, SLALOMED, and BONEYARD.

In the NYS, we have a fairly easy outing from Gary Steinmehl, "Disneyfication." The "American Idol" theme entry fell immediately, but DUMBO BROOKLYN (short for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass," apparently) was more elusive for this non-New Yorker. The fill didn't excite me terribly, but with a clever theme containing three 15s and two 13s, I suppose we make allowances.

Updated: I haven't gotten to the Tausig puzzle yet—sick kid. (My kid, that is, not Ben Tausig.)

NYT 4:49
NYS 4:12
Tausig tba
CS 3:14


November 07, 2005

Tuesday: New and improved

Whew! Now that's more like it. Maybe it's just not a good idea to solve a dozen puzzles and time yourself after spending seven hours traveling? I'm feeling much better after posting a decent time for the Tuesday NYT.

Speaking of which—nice puzzle by Gail Grabowski and Nancy Salomon. Gail's been doing solo puzzles for a while now, so I'm guessing this puzzle had been in the pipeline for some time. News flash for cluers and editors: AFROS have made a comeback in the last few years, so the preponderance of clues referencing the '60s or '70s are out of date. Anyone have a great hair-related (or non) clue for AFRO/AFROS? SLUSHY's a good word; is that the spelling used for the frozen concoctions Apu sells on "The Simpsons"? Which reminds me—that executive acquitted of financial fraud charges, Richard Scrushy, has an awesome name. I'm not sure what the word scrushy would mean, but it should totally be a word. Scrunchy meets squishy meets slushy meets screechy.

Timothy Powell's NYS puzzle, "Tsar Search," has nothing to do with Russian aristocrats and everything to do with an ST/TS swap. I liked the puzzle, but haven't figured out one of the clues: 12D, "blind, essentially," is ANTE. Huh? Is this about poker? (Dave Sullivan's Friday NYS includes one theme entry that had me at a loss. It turned out to combine a slang term from the theme—which I won't spoil yet—with a term from bridge, and everything I know about bridge, I learned from crosswords.)


If you enjoy early-week puzzles, Randolph Ross has a wiener winner in the CrosSynergy "Get Your Hot Dogs." I've never heard the first theme phrase, KNEW HIS ONIONS. According to World Wide Words, the phrase originated in the 1920s in America. Similar phrases that were used at the time included "know one's eggs" and "know one's sweet potatoes." Around the same time, Americans were fond of animal anatomy phrases like "the bee's knees" and others that haven't survived, like "elephant's instep" and "gnat's elbow."

NYS 4:14
CS 3:26
NYT 2:54


A bit off

I returned home last night and got all caught up on the Friday through Sunday puzzles—but I'm not posting my solving times. Because they sucked, incomprehensibly. If you're usually a little behind me, just assume you beat me this weekend. And if you're usually a little ahead of me, pretend I was right there, just a couple seconds slower.

A very nice hardware-themed Monday NYT from Jay Livingston. Pairing NORA and ASTA made both entries fresher, and TURBAN was a nice hat for the IMAM below it. There was some decent 8-letter fill, including MYSTIQUE and FOLLOW ME.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Sit for a Spell" in the NYS was good and Scrabbly (yes, I know Scrabble doesn't allow proper nouns like ZIMMER and JETER, but I'm talking about high-scoring letters). You've got 1A, "it might be right under your nose" = ZIT—and aren't those zits some of the peskiest ones? TURGID, INFINITI, LOLITA? Good stuff. (And if ZIMMER and JETER are actually in the Scrabble dictionary as uncapitalized words, pretend I gave other examples.)

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle is another tribute to the late Don Adams. I never, ever watched "Get Smart," but the previous tribute puzzle(s) gave me all the theme answers.

NYS 3:46
NYT 3:10
CS 2:50


November 03, 2005

Friday, at last

I liked Martin Ashwood-Smith's Friday NYT. Sure, it was easier than yesterday's puzzle by Byron, but we can't hold that against it. Who'd a thunk RABAT would make an appearance two days in a row? I'm not wild about the entry LESSON TWO, but check out the construction of this thing—those four 9-letter verticals that connect the three central 15's to the top or bottom 15's? That looks...difficult. I got NEUF ("dix preceder") only through the crossings—my brain came up with Fort Dix and ipso dixit. I also got duped by "megabucks event?"—5 letters, ending in O? I filled in LOTTO before RODEO revealed itself.

The NYS Weekend Warrior by Ogden Porter (né Peter Gordon) had some tricky clues, like "hears without ears?" for AITCH and "weak heart" for THREE. And C AND W was an elusive entry—I'm used to R AND D and R AND R, but parse Peter's entry until the W showed up. I can't say I've ever heard of Tony winner JIM DALE. And I hatehatehate the term GAL PALS; yes, it's in the language and utterly fair game for a crossword, but I just don't like the phrase. I loved BAA BAA, however!

I'll be away until Sunday night, and the to-do list down below will be waiting for me. I'm half done with Frank Longo's new book of cranium crushers. I'm trying not to devour them all at once, but during a weekend away from all the online puzzles? I can't be held responsible if I should finish them all...

NYS 6:49
NYT 6:01

To-do list:

Fri: WSJ, CS
Sat: NYT, CS
Sun: Reagle, Boston Globe, WaPo, CS


November 02, 2005

I've gOTTA WArn you

Byron Walden's Thursday NYT is the puzzle Will Shortz called a wower, featured in the finals of last weekend's Westchester Crossword Tournament. I don't know that I'd call it a wower (is that really a word?), but I will say wow and hooray! A Thursday puzzle that's Friday+ hard! Without the circles in the grid, I suspect many solvers would have just thought this was a tough puzzle and missed seeing the elegant twist of six capital cities divided between two words in the theme entries. Plenty of trademark Byronic touches, like APOLLO XI and PUBLIC TV side by side, IS IT ME and HAS A GO, stern clues like "receivers of manumission" for SERFS.

The NYS by Patrick Blindauer offered two theme entries that described the central 15-letter entry, which is MAKE UP OR BREAK UP, split and mixed in an alternate-letter mishmash. My favorite clues were "it's not a cheap shot" for BOTOX and "exmaple, for example, for example" for TYPO.


Byron, you're best known for your themeless puzzles. What prompted you to make this puzzle? My guess is you were reading a menu and saw ROME lurking in the Denver omelet, or saw AMMAN in team manager in the sports pages. It couldn't have been seeing a mascara case, because I can't say I've ever heard anyone talk about a mascara case. (Lipstick case, yes; mascara, no.) We'll forgive you and Will for not knowing that—but clearly, the world of crossword editing and construction could benefit from including more women.

NYT 6:54
NYS 5:11
CS 2:53


November 01, 2005


Randall Hartman's Wednesday NYT has a nice double-homophone theme. It's also got the new (at least according to the Cruciverb database) entry SMATTERING. And a new clue for EROTIC, "like the Kama Sutra"—other clues used frequently in the past include steamy, titillating, hot, and arousing; variously, past clues have also alluded to R, X, and XXX ratings (so which is it?). There's also a possible medical myth in the clue for FEVERS, "they're dangerous when they're high"; I could swear my kids' health reference books assure me that even a high fever poses no risk in and of itself.

Ed Early's NYS puzzle features a quote from Andrew Young, spiced up with the "feigned laughter" HAR HAR, MOISTURIZER, and the potent potables ZIMA and OUZOS.


Ben Tausig's "That's Rich" puzzle was deliciously chocolaty (though I'd prefer a MILK, DARK, and SEMISWEET theme—WHITE chocolate does not deserve the name). Using the recent movie DARK WATER for one theme entry lent the puzzle the standard Tausig contemporary touch. I also liked "Calvin going, often" for DECAL and the game STRATEGO (who remembers the old TV commercials for that?). Surely I'm not the only one who sees a certain string of letters and fills in ARSENIC before seeing that the clue is for ARSENIO? Happens every time.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle is another one of those ones with the bundled theme sub-entries of indeterminate length (e.g., "play by play by play" FOUL MIRACLE FAIR). A CrosSynergy puzzle that took me longer than the Sun and NYT puzzles? Astonishing!

CS 4:32
NYS 4:27
Tausig 4:17
NYT 3:44


October 31, 2005

Sarah Keller's cinematic-themed Tuesday NYT seemed easier than the Monday puzzle. The two highlights, for me, were "How's it hangin', bro?" for SUP and the centrally placed Rosa PARKS. (I'll bet you a dollar Will changed the clue from the original in honor of the recently departed civil rights legend.)

When I did Joe Bower's Tuesday NYS, "Reset the Clock," on Monday morning, I must not have had my mojo working because it took me over 5 minutes. I didn't glom onto the theme quickly, and then there were opaque clues like "codpiece, essentially" for FLAP. (FLAP? Codpiece? Really? Okay, whatever.) Joe the car salesman had VETTE and ISUZU, not to mention FT DODGE. "Film with a memorable shower scene" was PSYCHO, of course; what does it say about American cinema that the best-known shower scene involves more blood than soap? Hollywood must remedy this.

It would appear that the LA Times puzzles are no longer being provided in the Across Lite format we all know and love, so they'll be dropping out of my daily rotation. I'll just have to fill that half hour a week with the many puzzle books I've acquired...

NYS 5:11
CS 3:07
NYT 2:55


October 30, 2005

Trick or treat!

When I filled in my first of the 15's in Jim Hyres' Halloween-day NYT puzzle, DOWN FOR THE COUNT, I thought "Aha! A Dracula theme." Then it crossed SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, and I thought "Ah, surely there will be a ghost and a witch, too." As it turned out, the theme was commands to a dog, so I was tricked, but with fill like I GUESS SO and a vertical 15 intersecting three horizontal 15's, it was also a treat. There was no ghost, but there was a HAG, and HMOS can be pretty scary, too.


Anyone know if the LA Times puzzles are still going to be made available in Across Lite, or if they'll be exclusively available through a crapplet™? (That's what I'm calling any Java crossword applet that isn't the NYT's elegant and easy-to-maneuver-in applet.) Crapplets irk me, so I generally don't do puzzles in that format.

And updated again, Monday evening:

Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle had the Halloween theme I was expecting in the NYT, with movie titles like GHOSTBUSTERS. Interestingly enough, THE VAMPIRE BAT crosses VAMPED, and SKELETON COAST crosses KEY. (Man, I loved that skeleton key to the attic at my grandparents' when I was a kid.) Intentional or coincidental? And right in the middle of the grid is George TAKEI, who played Sulu on "Star Trek." He was in the news last week for talking about his coming out, among other topics, in this interview. (He also discusses being a child in the internment camps for Japanese-Americans.)

NYS 3:35
CS 3:11
NYT 3:00
LAT tba


October 29, 2005


It looks like "Halloween Play" by Maxwell H.D. Johnson Jr. was actually Halloween work for a lot of solvers on Saturday night, but hopefully all agree that the holiday add-a-letter theme was worth the effort. My favorite theme entries were DUTCH COVEN, INTENSIVE SCARE, and GAME SHOW GHOST. Old crosswordese friends like ABELE and LETT were welcome when the puzzle also included trickier stuff like "Act high-handedly?" for SALUTE, "long green" for LETTUCE, BUSH HOG (apparently it's a "land-clearing device") and RED RAG ("provocation, metaphorically"—wha? In bullfighting, or...?).

About a year ago, I bought Frank Longo's Cranium-Crushing Crosswords. Sadly, the book only lasted me about two weeks, because I'm no fan of delayed cruciverbal gratification. Mete out one puzzle a day so the book lasts longer? No no no—can't be done. Unfortunately, that meant a long gap between volumes of cranium crushers. But today, Frank's new (and awkwardly titled) book, Mensa Crosswords for the Super Smart: 72 Cranium-Crushing Challenges, arrived. Amazingly enough, I haven't done any of the puzzles yet, even though the book has been in my possession for more than four hours. (I blame the dinner plans.) Every other page has a puzzle constructed outside the confines of crossword symmetry, so I'm expecting some exceptional fill; the asymmetrical grids may not be as pretty as standard grids, but all the tantalizing white space could give you snow blindness. So, if you'll excuse me, the book awaits...


In the last 15 hours, I got a full night of sleep, cooked breakfast, played with my kid, and polished off the first quarter of the new Longo book. See? No self-control. Good puzzles, though, with a smattering of killers.

NYT 10:49
LAT 9:04
CS 4:19