August 31, 2005

Robert Wolfe's Themeless Thursday in the Sun seemed straightforwardly challenging, but now I see that it's a pangram, which always adds a little extra oomph. There were a number of entries I wasn't familiar with, but they were all ultimately gettable with the help of the crossings. Anyone ever seen MELANITES (black garnets) in person? Are they really black, or just very dark red?

This evening, I tackled Eric Berlin's Friday Sun puzzle, "Going Too Far." If you haven't gotten to it yet, word to the wise: Print it out after setting Across Lite to print the black squares in gray, even if you usually prefer to solve on screen. If you can't figure out how the hell you're supposed to approach the puzzle, the message in the notepad will help.

I hadn't even left the NW corner of Kevan Choset's Thursday NYT before figuring out a card-suit rebus was involved, so the rest of it was straightforward. I did keep forgetting that the corner letters were words, though—tried to think of what 5-letter singer dueted with Streisand before I remembered that letter 5 was DIAMOND and not D.

YOU GO GIRL! Yes, Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke did include that phrase in their Thursday LAT puzzle.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy featured a set of four 14-letter anagrammed phrases. The anagrams themselves may not have been terribly clever, but the puzzle title was "Turning State's Evidence," and Hartman did indeed "turn" STATE'S EVIDENCE into four other phrases. Isn't that one of the NEATEST DEVICES (that's 33 Across)?

Fri NYS 14:32
Thurs NYS 6:16
NYT 5:00
LAT 3:54
CS 3:50


August 30, 2005

Yo, Wednesday spoilers herein

I really liked Alan Arbesfeld's timely Wed. NYT with its hidden names. It was almost a pangram, missing the letter J. And I wasn't disappointed with my time, so I think my synapses have found one another again. There are a lot of 7:00-plus times tonight, so clearly something about this puzzle was tricky. What trouble spots were there for you?

The Wed. NYS by Joe DiPietro? Great! Such a smart theme, with the IM PATIENT and GE STATION and UN SEATS and whatnot. It took a while to figure out what he was doing with the theme entries, and then—aha!

Ben Tausig's "Crossing the Finish" (from the Village Voice, among other papers) was also a good one. You've got your LISTSERVE and DEAR JOHN spicing up the fill, and a CKS-to-X theme handled nimbly. (Political advisory: If you're a diehard Republican, you might not enjoy Ben's puzzles as much as the lefties do.) And it looks like Ben has toughened up the cluing a bit, which is terrific.

Tausig 5:22
NYS 5:08
NYT 4:10
CS 3:13
LAT 3:05


Triple-stacked 27s on the loose

The brand-spanking-new issue of Games World of Puzzles (Nov. 2005) contains a 21x27 Jumbo Crossword by Frank Longo, as usual. The twist this time is that there's a triple stack of 27-letter entries going down the middle of the grid. It's not that difficult to solve, but imagine how long it must have taken to construct! Crikey. I do want to whine just a little that the magazine always targets the Jumbo at a two-star level of difficulty—I'd love a magazine full of three- and four-star puzzles. (And yes, I have written to them to beg for harder puzzles.)

Other familiar bylines in this issue include Manny Nosowsky (17x17 with a beautiful grid), Mike Shenk (Spell Weaving), Vic Fleming (15x15), funny fellow blogger Francis Heaney (The Spiral), Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily (21x21), Patrick Berry (cryptic variety), Hex (cryptic), and Matt Jones (the Matchmakers contest—hey, you could win $500!). Now, doesn't that sound like fun?

If you don't subscribe, get thee and $3.95 (or $5.35 Canadian) to a bookstore!


Tools of the Trade

A couple days ago, two people in the NYT forum posted their hand-filled grids after they finished Byron Walden's Saturday monster, demonstrating large numbers of inky scribbled-over corrections. People, I love using a pen as much as anyone, but it doesn't have to be this way. Seriously. The Erasermate pen people have improved their product over the years. Once you wipe off the little glob of blue goo at the very beginning, you basically have a standard medium-point ballpoint pen, but with the delicious magic of erasability. And the eraser crumbs are far less noxious than pencil eraser crumbs. The down sides are that I haven't found Erasermates with a fine point, and I generally prefer the smoother feel of rollerball pens. And after doing several puzzles with an Erasermate, you can end up with an ink smudge on the pinkie.

If anyone has a contact with the Papermate company, you go ahead and tell them I'm available for celebrity endorsements. I used Erasermate pens at Stamford, after all, along with Tums for the finals—and yet not a single corporation has sought my paid endorsement. Do you believe that? It's a travesty.


Once again, it is Tuesday. Not yet Saturday, nor Friday, nor even Thursday.

I had gotten in the habit of being one of the top few finishers (not counting cheaters) for each day's NYT puzzle. Just as Tyler (Hello? 1:29 or 1:27 or something for the Monday NYT? Whoo!) has been taking himself to task for mucking up weekend puzzles lately, I must chide myself for mucking up easy early-week puzzles, over and over. Last night, it was plugging in ETONIAN for OXONIAN that did me in. Yes, I know Eton isn't a college. Yes, I too am not aware of any movie dog named TOTE. And yes, APET is not APEX. Whatever. It's been a long summer, folks, and my boy doesn't start school until next Tuesday. More to the point, though, Leonard Williams' puzzle is one of those classic good Tuesday NYTs with a clever theme.

The NYS by Robert Ward, "Just Say Noh," was cute. I liked te teme a lot.

In Martin Ashwood-Smith's CS puzzle, "Trifles," the grid was salted liberally with the letter Z (five appearances). I'm a sucker for the letter Z, as it was my last initial before I got married.

NYT 4:49
NYS 4:16
LAT 3:46
CS 2:54


August 29, 2005

Well, I couldn't crack the 3-minute mark on any of the four Monday puzzles I've done, and I have left the stalwart Crossword Fiend readers hanging without a post until afternoon (the horror!). The synapses are not firing at their peak today. For example, I was just at my local post office, which has a restored mural dating back to the WPA program. Smack dab in the center of the mural, Chicago's old Fort Dearborn is depicted. (Much more appealing than the part of the painting with the sledgehammer-wielding, Jughead-hat-wearing slaughterhouse guy ready to whack some cattle, that's for sure.) Anyway, having just looked at this mural, I still drew a blank on FT DEARBORN in the LAT puzzle. And I can't even think of anything to say about these crosswords.

NYS 3:43
NYT 3:38
LAT 3:22
CS 3:08


August 28, 2005

Nancy Nicholson Joline's oversized NYT puzzle, "Placement Test," was a worthy challenge. Eight pairs (unless I'm missing some) of theme entries, placed symmetrically in the grid, with the BEFORE/AFTER, OVER/UNDER (etc.) location terms all making sense, and the non-opposite NEXT TO/BESIDE pair in symmetrical locations, all in a solid puzzle. I can forgive that alternate spelling of FLOOSIE since AL PACINO and ZAPATISTA also make appearances. (AL PACINO also has a cameo in Alan Olschwang's "Buy and Buy" in the Washington Post.) How did you like the NYT puzzle?

Today's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge is by the estimable Rich Norris. While it doesn't put up the fight of, say, yesterday's Byron Walden puzzle, it's a lot tougher than most of the so-called Challenges. Plenty of ambiguous clues and lively fill, like YEAH SURE and GO TO JAIL.

The Sunday LAT by Robert Wolfe uses essentially the same theme idea as Rich Norris's puzzle for the letter Q in his A to Z Crosswords book: substituting a Q for the letters CU. Did you find the theme easy enough to decode, or did it give you trouble? There can't be too many of us who just did Rich's Q puzzle a few days ago and had a head start of sorts. Not that any head start was reflected in my solving time—perhaps 4 a.m. is not when my cognition peaks?

NYT 12:22
LAT 11:11
WaPo 9:44
CS 6:52


August 26, 2005

What can you say about Byron Walden's beast of a Saturday NYT? Whoa and wow. And whew! Several other recent puzzles with triple-stacked 15s have been surprisingly easy, since it's usually not much of a struggle to figure out at least a couple of the 15s. Not so with this puzzle. I needed a lot of crossings filled in first before I could hazard a guess at any of the long entries. And I was thisclose to Googling in the SW corner (the comet and Tara's foreman), but rolled the dice with some judicious guesses. While there were only two things I was tempted to Google, there were so many more that I absolutely did not know but managed to decipher somehow.

I've got a terrible alternate clue for 38D, HADAGOAT: "What Old MacDonald did."

Now, count up the number of entries you just plain didn't know. I had about eight, plus the six slowly revealed 15-letter entries. Yeow!

Updated with more puzzles:

Henry Hook's "Smile" (LA Weekly) had some unfamiliar entries, too, but not as cutting-edge as Byron's PICONETS. Iceland's parliament is ALTHING (which I may have know at one point), and the 1950s skating champion is TENLEY Albright (a woman who went on to become a surgeon; notable quote: "If you don't fall down, you aren't trying hard enough.") I liked the inclusion of WOMYN, too.

The Newsday Saturday Stumper was by Daniel Stark, not Stan Newman, so it was fairly easy. Stan's website acknowledges that his contributors' Stumpers are easier than his own, but doesn't explain why the Saturday puzzle is still labeled "Stumper" when it's far less likely to stump a seasoned solver.

Today's CrosSynergy puzzle is a light one by Patrick Jordan, while the LA Times offers a good themeless (with two pairs of 15s) by Kendall Twigg. My favorite clue from the LAT: "Back biters" for MOLARS.

NYT 9:34, with a deep sigh of relief
LA Weekly 8:40
LAT 4:35
Newsday 4:02
CS 3:28


August 25, 2005

Funky grid for Joe DiPietro's Friday NYT puzzle! How many of you knew the water chestnut was a TUBER? (Not I.) It looks like Joe planned this puzzle to be a challenge: STYMIED? STUCK ON some tough clues? Feeling CHOKED UP? YER OUT! I'M SORRY. (PINHEAD.) The response? HISSES.

I took a couple detours along the way, entering ROSTRUM for SOAPBOX and crossword standby URI for UNH. A good challenge for a Friday.

I did Patrick Berry's Friday NYS at the beginning of the week, and found that it took me less time than the Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday puzzles. Beautiful puzzle, a fearsome grid, standard tricky Berry/Gordon clues. Glancing at the finished grid, loaded with so many seldom-seen entries, I can't say why it went so fast. I must have been channeling the right brain waves at the time.


My favorite type of Merl Reagle puzzle is one with a built-in word game, as in this weekend's PI puzzle. MARIAH CAREY OAKIE was an excellent way to make use of crossword stalwart Jack Oakie, wasn't it?

Today's WSJ by Myles Callum had—hooray!—a non-business theme. My favorite clue, 43A: "One may be made by a hooker" = RUG. (Those cheesy rug-hooking kits were all the rage during the macrame era. Ah, nostalgia...) One of the theme entries, LIQUID DIET, also made an appearance in the DiPietro NYT.

PI 8:16
WSJ 8:01
NYT 5:53
LAT 5:34
NYS 3:58
CS 3:38


August 24, 2005

Manny Nosowsky's NYT was so much fun. One of those treasures in which you feel smart when you fill in each answer, rather than either struggling or feeling "this is too easy." My favorite clue was 43A, "like 90, compared to 85" (HOTTER). "Half a train" for CHOO, "terrible twos, e.g." for PHASE, and "water beds" for AQUIFERS also pleased me. And of course, Manny had a trademark medical entry in RENAL. This one's my favorite puzzle of the week so far.

In Gary Steinmehl's NYS, I liked seeing ETCETERAS, but rebus puzzles have fallen out of favor with me. If I were doing rebus puzzles on paper, drawing little doohickeys would be fun, but doing them in Across Lite? Not so appealing. I remember my first rebus crossword, in an issue of Games magazine when I was a kid. It was probably in the very early '80s, and I made use of that girly collection of felt-tip pens in assorted colors to fill in key squares with spots of the appropriate color. Um, does anyone else remember that puzzle?

This is an unusual Thursday (and yes, I realize it's still Wednesday night, people): the LA Times puzzle (by Ed Early) took me longer than the NYT. That doesn't typically happen.

Updated to add another puzzle:

Ben Tausig sent out another of his puzzles Wednesday evening. "Flat Features" is his Village Voice debut, and it's sprinkled with NYC-specific clues. Now, there were a slew of clues I loved, but I won't spoil them all because I want y'all to start doing these puzzles yourselves. (If you didn't already sign up to receive them from Ben via e-mail, I could forward this one to you.) For now, I'll just list the many clues I liked: 27A, 38A, 39A, 10D, 11D, 36D, and 44D. This puzzle made me crack a smile more times than Manny's did.

NYS 4:49
Tausig 4:17
LAT 4:02
NYT 3:56
CS 3:49


August 23, 2005

Wow, 15-letter entries don't speed the solving process at all when they're completely made up, as in Mel Taub's NYT. And when they're IMMIXed with things such as "like the corn god Yum Qax" (MAYAN) and DOREMI in place of DINERO, the puzzle doesn't get any easier. I wouldn't say I agree with Marty Howard that this is the "most enjoyable puzzle of the year," but yeah, it was funny. (Says Amy the Fair to Middling.)

Ed Early's Wed. NYS has a Mark Twain quote that I appreciate as a lifelong procrastinator. Quip puzzles are generally one of the least compelling crossword varieties, in my opinion, but they can be salvaged if the quote's good enough. I must say I'm a little surprised Peter Gordon didn't opt to refer to the '80s band Journey in the clue for OPEN ARMS (he went with "sign of welcomeness"). What better place to mention Journey than in a puzzle that includes the word ACCURST?

The Wed. LAT by Robert Dillman felt very old-school. None of those newfangled multi-word phrases, but we have TELETYPE, a clue mentioning the dog Asta, John Wayne's costar in 1952, a '30s politician, and 1976's THE OMEN. Sure, EDU and HMO are modern terms and there's no ANOA in sight, but overall the puzzle struck me as being of another era. (I just discovered that the week's LA Times puzzles seem to be up already. Is it always thus?)

Updated 8/24 to include the CrosSynergy puzzle:

Harvey Estes' CS puzzle violates one of those crossword rules that, if you ask me, doesn't really matter. TIBET is an answer and also shows up in the clue for ASIA. Anyone have a compelling reason to prohibit such a pairing? The theme entries travel vertically, and Harvey's got a bunch of good 9-letter entries connecting the uprights, including DARWINIAN, SALAD DAYS, and NICE NELLY. The funniest clue was "Like the best flushes" for ROYAL.

Speak out, people. If you don't have any remarks on these puzzles, tell us who your favorite constructor is and why.

NYT 5:07
NYS 4:37
LAT 3:25
CS 3:04


I just realized I hadn't done last weekend's Washington Post puzzle, "How the Secret Got Told," by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke. I found it to be unusually challenging and liked the preponderance of vague and misleading clues that eventually all came together into a solid puzzle. Notable bits: "Title since 1952" = MISS USA (with the I crossing an Afghan airline—yeesh), "Gypsy, maybe" = TAXICAB, "Reprimanded one's place?" = CARPET, "Cozy place?" = TEAPOT, "Kind of heat?" = HANDGUN, "Billy the Kid's deeds" = OUTLAWRY (now there's a word you don't see much), "Like some displays" = REARLIT, "Undraftable, in a way" = FEMALE. Good stuff, good stuff.

The best entry in the CrosSynergy by Mel Rosen? "Priest, in an Ogden Nash poem" = ONE L LAMA. Second place goes to "Macho exhortation" = BE A MAN. And, hey, the puzzle's a pangram! I always like a good pangram. The puzzle is further livened up by shout-outs to Cheech and Chong and "The Daily Show."

Before I saw the USA at the center of Lynn Lempel's theme entries, I wasn't sure where she was going with CRUSADE and JERUSALEM, THOUSANDS and...SAUSAGE? She seemed to be telling a coherent story until SAUSAGE popped up. 46A is one of those trap entries with two equally plausible answers that have a few letters in common: "___ Bowl" could be SUGAR or SUPER, and I opted for the wrong one first.

Comments, anyone?

WaPo 12:03
LAT 3:21
CS 2:57


August 22, 2005

Nice Tuesday NYT by Denny Baker and Nancy Salomon. I do like entries like KEEP MUM and NOT A BIT. (I also like spelling Nancy Salomon's name correctly—there seem to be a lot of permutations of her last name that get tossed about. Poor thing. Must make it hard for her fans to Google her.) The applet vexed me tonight; somehow I kept typing over letters, or typing in the wrong direction, and I really don't know why. And then Iost another 20 or 30 seconds looking for a typo (no, a lowly laborer is not a DERF). And please—no complaints about my explaining away a solving time that's still not a terrible one. If I can't whine about that on my own blog, where can I?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, the Tuesday puzzle. Why do you suppose the Elvis theme showed up this week and not last Tuesday, on the anniversary of the King's death?

Joe Bower's Tuesday NYS had an elusive theme. I thought it was just an anagram theme, but the title, "Second to Last," made no sense. I eventually realized the second letter moved to the last spot in an elegant twist. Joe, if you're out there, would you please tell us the seed of your theme? How did you come to choose this approach? Some clues I liked were 36D "J. Smithson endowed a famous one" = INST (it totally never occurred to me that Smithsonian was an adjective!), 51D "Fail to heed the 'Measure twice, cut once' adage" = RESAW, and 26D "Show that aired opposite 'MacGyver'" = ALF. And I suspect "extract the juice from" was not the clue Joe submitted for REAM. The best part of this puzzle? It took a long time, a lot longer than I expected a Tuesday Sun to take. Longer than the Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday puzzles, in fact. Thanks for a challenge with an elegant theme, Joe (and Peter).

I received Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle of the week this evening via e-mail and found it on the easy side. When I mentioned that to Ben, he said some of the solvers who get the puzzle via the Chicago Reader have been asking for a tougher puzzle. Those of you who signed up to receive these puzzles by e-mail, be sure to join me in dropping Ben a line begging for a higher degree of difficulty, will you? Thanks.

NYS 5:54
NYT 3:52
Ink Well 3:44


I seldom have much to say about the Monday puzzles—but if you've got something you'd like to say, comment away!

I liked the overriding Middle Eastern vibe in Lynn Lempel's Monday-puzzle-that-wasn't-in-the-applet-last-night. After encountering PASHA, MULLAH, ALIBABA, AQABA, and AFGHANS (clued as blankets rather than people), other words started to look Arabic. Like ZAPPA (is that Italian?) and SHANANA (Donna Shalala was of Arab descent, I believe, though one is not to confuse Sha Na Na with Donna Shalala).

How many of you devour the whole week's NYS puzzles (or your favorite days' worth) on Monday, and how many of you mete them out to yourself on a daily basis? I go back and forth. If you're a wanton devourer and tell me how great one of the later-week puzzles is, I won't be able to resist. If I'm bored, I won't resist. But otherwise I try to save them as daily treats to look forward to.

CS 3:45
LAT 3:09
NYT (Lempel) 3:03
NYS 2:57


August 21, 2005

Head-to-head comparison

Will Shortz reported in the NYT forum tonight that the Anthony Salvia Monday puzzle in the timed applet was pulled from the print edition and Across Lite, as the same puzzle was already published in the Sun on April 18. I've just compared the two, and I'd have to say I prefer the Sun version overall, though I definitely like GURU in Will's rendition more than EPEE in Peter Gordon's. I don't know what Salvia submitted originally, so I don't know if Will or Peter retained more of the original fill (or if each editor made roughly the same number of changes). The sections where one or both editors obviously asked for reworking are the NW, NE, center, center right, and SW—a whopping five out of the nine discrete zones of the puzzle. It's neat to have the opportunity to see what the two editors produced out of the same source material—a hidden-camera peek into how they do their jobs.

I haven't yet retrieved the true Monday NYT puzzle by Lynn Lempel yet—remind me in the morning if I forget, will you?


Ah, crap

Why is it that when I have a typo in one of the long entries, I fail to notice it? I left an incorrect letter in puzzle 1 at Stamford because I never read that particular long answer in its entirety. And today, I finished the Monday puzzle in 3:00 and then reread every short across answer for the next 1:28, before I finally saw Mao TSS-Tung crossing CAINSMUTINY. Argh! A typo will always abash me.

I do like Monica's concept of being able to submit an imperfect solution to the applet and getting points deducted as needed. Added motivation to avoid making the mistakes in the first place, right? And getting punished for making mistakes would be excellent training for Stamford, rather than getting as many chances as you want (the ever-popular Try Every Letter Till One Sticks approach). They don't seem to give out many extra chances at Stamford.

By the way, y'all are always welcome to comment on anything here. You can talk about puzzles I didn't mention, you can disagree with me, you can tell me how clever I am. The comments lounge is always open.


August 20, 2005

True confessions

Okay, I admit it. There's an explanation for that quicker-than-usual time for a tougher-than-usual puzzle, Byron Walden's "The Mamas and the Papas." I did it in unedited form a couple months ago, so I already knew how the theme worked and had the added advantage of prior exposure to the more wicked fill. It's not totally cheating, though. Remember, I'm the person who bought the same Henry Hook book under two different titles and had to be told that the puzzles were identical even though I'd done half of them a second time. Give me two months and it practically becomes a new puzzle! (Just not quite as challenging the second time around.) I hadn't timed myself on the last go-round with "Mamas and Papas," but it was probably in the 10- to 15-minute range (i.e., longer than most Sunday NYTs for me).

As you'd expect, there are some hall-of-fame clues, like "face trouble" for ACNE and "tube top honors" for EMMYS. And there's a good amount of trivia to be learned within this puzzle, both informative (ADELAIDE is the "City of Churches") and entertaining (MRT "played Santa with Nancy Reagan in his lap").

Back in June, I predicted that this puzzle would be greeted with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and perhaps accusations of Saturday-level incursions into Sunday. That reliably fast solvers like makrausse and hoffmanspa spent over 20 minutes on this indicates that Will Shortz thought a Saturday-level challenge on a Sunday was a capital idea. I, for one, want to see more puzzles in this vein. So please, everybody tell Will how much they enjoyed the wailing and the gnashing of teeth, and beg for more.



Old ladies and ashcakes

The 7/22 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Alan Olschwang felt a lot harder than my solving time reflects. That's what's so fun about the CHE puzzles—if you can finish them, you sure do feel edjimicated. And it's always nice to see a reminder that Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar.

The Newsday Saturday Stumper has returned to form this week after a shockingly easy puzzle last Saturday. Merle Baker makes a nice themeless, he does. I also appreciated Bonnie Gentry's well-constructed LAT themeless today, though it fell a lot faster than the Stumper. Bonnie has a knack for new fill. I liked OLDLADIES, but who's responsible for that clue, "girlfriends, informally"? It seems a tad retro.

Now we turn to Patrick Berry's NYT, which I plodded through in a surprisingly brisk fashion. None of the 15s were really gimmes for me, but they were easy enough to figure out after a few letters were filled in. Then the rest of the puzzle followed naturally, as a mere seven vertical entries didn't cross either triple stack. There aren't that many 4- to 6-letter entries that you can't figure out when you've already got three letters filled in.

I'd never heard of ASHCAKES, so I did a little research. These are the cornmeal-based pancakes also known as johnnycakes, cornpone, and hoe cakes, rumored to have been introduced to the Pilgrims by the Native Americans. The essentials are cornmeal, water, and salt, plus a frying pan; butter, oil, eggs, and baking powder might be tossed in as well. Mmm, I'm ready for another round of breakfast now.

Newsday 8:19
NYT 4:28
LAT 4:22
CHE 3:52
CS 3:02


Which clues stumped people last Sunday?

According to Yahoo's Buzz Index, the Yahoo Search people see a spike in searches like "ballerina Karsavina" every weekend, when people are stumped by the Sunday NYT puzzle. Last weekend, in addition to TAMARA Karsavina, here are some other clues that saw heavy web-search action:

king of England in 1700
Duke Ellington classic
musician Brian
sister of Erato
Sophocles drama
Shatner's war
fire goddess Brigit
female swans
french illustrator Gustave

I don't even remember seeing half of those clues. Let's see, the first was probably William of OrangePeach. And then "Mood IndigoPeriwinkle." (Hah! Patrick Merrell's theme had an ingenious way of thwarting Googlers, didn't it?) Brian Eno, Urania, Ajax, Tek War, ___, pens, and Doré. Who was the fire goddess? I'm looking at a static image of the completed puzzle, and I don't see that one. Julia Child??

The article also informs us that most of these searches were performed by women between the ages of 35 and 64. (I swear it wasn't me.)

Check out the article yourself—it doesn't say much else, but it's illustrated with a picture of Trip Payne in the ACPT finals last March. (Next year, Trip and I are going to have to uncoordinate our wardrobes. What were the odds of two people in lime green shirts appearing on stage?)


August 19, 2005

Word pairs

That pesky puzzle with the dropped GG theme put me in mind of a variation. But actually trying to force a bunch of entries into a puzzle and having to come up with reasonable clues seems like too much of a hassle. So instead, let me dispose of them here. Feel free to guess the answers in the comments, and—of course—contribute your own. (No need to thank me for not making a crappy crossword with these phrases in it. I fully realize how lame the resultant puzzle would have been.)

The concept is pairs of words in which they both have the same letters in the same order, except that one of the two also has a double T inside. For example, "Reverberation caused by doing The Bump" = BOTTOM BOOM. The shorter word may appear first or second. Herewith, the clues:

Amended Amstel
Mash note from an ogler
Herd's words to live by
Warfare in the barn
How you won the W.C.
Hosed dandelion
Sound from a particularly mulish mule
Unsavory dish
Hunting dog's psychic
McJob wages
A mouse too cute for an owl to eat

Okay, what have you got for us?


August 18, 2005

I flew through Hex's 8/21 LA Weekly puzzle, "Metallurgy." The fill and clues seemed fairly straightforward, and anything sort of obscure must have crossed easy answers. The theme entries were pretty easy, definitely more familiar terms than the firecracker words in the Hex puzzle two weeks ago. Was I channeling their combined brain, or did the rest of you zinc it was easy too?

I did the Friday Sun puzzle by Matt Skoczen a couple days ago, and it fell faster than the Wednesday and Thursday Sun puzzles—even with the extra time I spent entering multiple letters into the rebus squares. Although I don't enjoy rebus puzzles that much anymore, I liked the fact that the letters FIRE didn't mean "fire" in the across theme entries, iF I REcall correctly.

The Friday NYT also seems to be a bit easier than the Thursday puzzle. I commend David Liben-Nowell for his wealth of interesting entries. PT BARNUM, HI MOM, PB AND J, SHALL I, ATTAGIRL, SNUCK AWAY, HAIR GEL, ROISTER, PILE ON—good stuff. "Duke's fall, e.g." is a great clue for SEMESTER, as is "Lord of the rings?" for PT BARNUM.

Given that we just marked the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, I imagine everyone who was troubled recently by AMBER ALERT, LETS ROLL, or O RING was also stunned by "Mushroom producers" = A BOMBS. The first three didn't perturb me much, but A BOMBS absolutely gave me pause.

Edited Friday morning to add LAT, CrosSynergy, WSJ, and PI:

Rich Norris made the CS puzzle, which had plenty of good 7-lettter entries (LIPREAD, AMRADIO, TRIPLEA, ITSLATE) but, like any CS puzzle, was clued to be easy. But I like Rich Norris's overall style and am enjoying his book, Crosswords A to Z. Every puzzle is a pangram; there's one themed puzzle for each letter of the alphabet, plus a bunch of themelesses.

Patrick Berry's "Cop Rock" was this week's WSJ puzzle. Would you believe I drew a blank on the "Charlie's Angels" costar of Jaclyn and Kate, 6 letters starting with F? Eventually it dawned on me. Sheesh. Any week that the WSJ theme doesn't pertain to business is a good one in my book.

It took some study to figure out the theme in Merl Reagle's "Who Are We?" puzzle. The notepad says there are 11 theme entries, and I'm only sure of 9 of them. I've got sticks, straw, bricks; huff, puff, blow; wolf, eating, and...something within PITCHINGMACHINE. Chin? What are the other two entries?

WSJ 9:04
PI 8:28
LAW 7:10
NYS 5:40
LAT 5:24
NYT 5:11
CS 3:58


Men, women, and crossword competition

A few weeks ago at the small Chicago Cru dinner, I mentioned the small number of women in contention at Stamford. Some of the men present felt that there were plenty of women competing at the tournament, and rattled off the names of the handful of women near the top. (It's a typical reaction, where someone in the majority views a few token minorities as indicative of a healthy representation.) I just took a look at the 2005 ACPT standings, and there were only about 20 women in the top 100, versus almost 60 in the bottom 100. (I say "about" because names like Leigh or Terry could swing either way.) So clearly, women are in fact underrepresented at the elite levels, despite the stereotype that "girls are better than boys in language."

My explanation is that (1) girls and women are more often socialized to "make nice" and please others, rather than compete against the other sex, and (2) women are less likely to have the time and energy for optional pursuits like doing tons of crosswords, since they tend to have more household and child-care responsibilities than men.

I'd like to hear from the other women out there. What do you think is behind the M/F imbalance in crossword competition?


Today's LAT is by Vic Fleming, who must have let his mind wander in the drugstore when passing through the foot care and cosmetics aisles. EYE_ BROW_ PENCIL_ leads to...ARCH SUPPORT? First I was amused; then I groaned at the pun. Vic, Vic, Vic. I know I'm a repeat offender myself, but: Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Co Crocker posted Stanley Newman's "Tough Stuff" puzzle from the American Airlines in-flight magazine. Maybe the clues don't feature tricky wordplay, but there was some ambiguity (like "nursery item" for MISTER rather than, say, DIAPERGENIE). And it's a themeless 21x21! Now, I'd like to see more large themelesses at a Friday Sun/Saturday NYT level. Stan's puzzle didn't take me any longer than a typical Sunday themed puzzle (and fell faster than many). Frank Longo does those 21x27's (I think that's the size) in Games World of Puzzles, but they're not at a Saturday NYT difficulty level. Anyone know of a source for oversized challenging themeless crosswords?

American 8:40
LAT 4:20
CS 3:12
Newsday 2:50


August 17, 2005

Twofer Thursday

Crazy NYT by Paula Gamache. I was out when the puzzle was released, so I had a chance to see the thrashing that Paula gave many applet solvers before I started on her puzzle. Which I loved! Incredibly inventive. I quickly found myself in the middle and had the -NG- of GOINGIN, so it nudged me in the right direction(s) early on. Is this one of those construction feats that people will still be talking about months from now? My favorite entry was DOO GO NOT PU, with its cryptic scatological message.

The spot that held me up was 5A, POKE. According to whatever dictionary source it is that you get when you look up a word via Google, one of the meanings of POKE is a sack big enough to hold a pig (hence "pig in a poke") or, in parts of Scotland, a small paper bag or a paper holder for an ice-cream cone. Cluing POKE with "small bag" is a bit much on a Thursday—seems like more of a Saturday obscurity (unless the puzzle is appearing in certain parts of Scotland, that is). But from now on, I fully intend to call little paper bags "pokes."

The Themeless Thursday NYS by Robert H. Wolfe doesn't have many marquee high-Scrabble-count entries like Frank Longo's FUZZBUSTER or Byron Walden's FUZZYNAVELS (excuse me while I whisk all that lint off my keyboard), but it is jam-packed with long entries that don't show up in the database. While that's no guarantee that they haven't been used in a published crossword, it's pretty impressive to have 12 long entries that might be new. My faves were BLUE STATES (clued as "Bush-whacked regions?"), TAKE ORDERS, and the team of SPARE BED and SLUMBERERS. Not to mention SCHATZIS, "Sweethearts, in slang" (exactly whose slang, I'm not sure—the Austrians?).

NYT 6:41
NYS 6:30


I don't know what happened to me when doing Joy Andrews' NYS. The theme entries missing GG didn't come to me quickly enough, and neither did the rest of the fill. Was anyone else slower than usual on that puzzle? No? Guess it was just me. Kudos to Joy for getting VIZIER in there, though!

In Kyle Mahowald's NYT, I sense a confessional mini-theme: YES MAAM, I ADMIT IT. SO WHAT? But what is he confessing? A weakness for tennis-themed crosswords?

Today's LAT is by Ben Tausig, but in a cleaned-up puzzle suitable for a family newspaper. I prefer the Ink Well puzzle he runs in independent papers, in which ASSES may be clued as "moon units" and there are often some political references; it's fresh and different and interesting.

I've started the NYS Crosswords book #1. It's only 20% Themeless Thursdays and Weekend Warriors, but I love those puzzles and where else am I going to get the old ones? The book covers the first few months of modern-day NYS puzzles, so I'll probably be buying adding the rest to my Amazon wish list.

NYS 6:08
NYT 3:59
LAT 3:44
CS 3:27


August 16, 2005

Tuesday, and not much to say

I'm a little bit of a sucker for the pun themes like the one in Randall Hartman's NYT: NEANDERTHAL MANN! I know, puns are not the height of wit. So sue me.

I'm also a sucker for anagram themes, but in Lynn Lempel's NYS, only the first five letters of each theme entry were anagrammed. I like the longer anagrams, plus those anagram pairs— GRAVELY ILL VALLEY GIRL and OPPRESSING POP SINGERS—from Frank Longo's wicked Sunday NYT on May 29.

How about you—do you prefer puns or anagrams? (Or do you insist on both? Or neither?) And am I the only one who wants to know when Trip Payne's next Wacky Weekend Warrior puzzle will appear?

CS 3:35
NYS 3:26
NYT 3:11
LAT 3:03


Ink Well by e-mail

Ben Tausig has been sending out a weekly e-mail with a link to his Ink Well crossword (the one that runs in a few weekly papers and is coming soon to the Village Voice), plus a Word file for those who like to solve on paper. And now he's added a dandy Across Lite version! If you'd like to be added to the distribution list, send a note to Ben (datageneral *at*


August 15, 2005

Lite Monday

As Popeye aptly explained over in the NYT crossword forum, there's not much to be said about those easy Monday puzzles after the weekend glut of meaty puzzles. I did these four, and I liked them all just fine for Monday puzzles. But you know, it's just fine that today's puzzles were quick and easy, because it freed up my schedule for receiving the following birthday presents:

Marc Romano's Crossworld
Francis Heaney's Holy Tango of Literature (the author constructs crosswords, and the book involves anagrams, baby!)
Sniderman, Disch, and Hook's Classic Word Puzzles
Stanley Newman's Stan's Cranium Crackers (contributors include Newman, Quigley, Nosowsky, Piscop, Hook, and Payne)
NYS Crosswords, #1 (with star ratings indicating the original day of publication—hooray for 5-star Fridays!)
Peter Gordon's Harder Wednesday Crosswords (because I already finished the Friday and Thursday books)
Will Shortz's Funniest Crossword Puzzles

Yes, I will be busy...

CS 3:31
NYT 2:53
NYS 2:55
LAT 2:48


August 14, 2005

Patrick Merrell's colorful NYT puzzle, "Lighten Up," was a little tricky after the first theme entry. It's easy to pastelify RED into PINK and ORANGE into PEACH, but the pastel versions of the other colors in the rainbow are less standardized. LEMON CREAM instead of plain LEMON or LIGHT YELLOW, LAVENDER instead of LILAC? Patrick's color choices livened up the challenge of solving the puzzle. Also, another astute solver noticed that the theme entries appear in ROYGBIV order, adding elegance to the construction.

"Lighten Up" reminded me of another puzzle I did recently in David Levinson Wilk's book, Really Clever Crosswords. The theme in puzzle 8 involves addition or subtraction of colors. See if you can solve the theme clues:

"Exasperated, but with some yellow" (14)
"Pleased, but without the red" (12)
"Cowardly, but with some violet" (12)
"Jealous, but without the blue" (14)

Today's LAT is by Gia Christian, or "it's Rich again." I really don't get the point of puzzle editors using pseudonyms when the publish their own puzzles. (Peter Gordon, Stan Newman, and, IIRC, Mike Shenk also work pseudonymously in their own venues.) I would think seeing the editor's estimable name in the author byline would add cachet and prestige—no one would think less of the NYT if Will Shortz published one of his own creations. Personally, I tend to like these people's crosswords (especially later in the week), and it'd be nice if it were easier to recognize them when they crop up. Wherefore art thou Gia Christian, Ogden Porter, and Anna Stiga?

One of the theme entries in the LAT didn't sound familiar to me: SNAP COURSE, meaning an easy A. I Googled "snap course" and got a mere 396 hits, many of which reflect exactly the meaning Rich Norris is using (and some of which are along the lines of "the SNAP Course") "An easy A," by comparison, gets almost 15,000 hits. Is "snap course" a regionalism?

Two clues I especially liked in Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle are 38A, "Opposite of sow" = REAP (I was thinking BOAR), and 30D, "Holding areas for newcomers?" - UTERI. Harvey's got two triple stacks of 15s joined together by two vertical 15s.

NYT 9:28
LAT 8:10
CS 3:59


August 13, 2005

Blogger ate my post

Okay, I just lost the post I wrote. Dagnabbit! Let's see. What did I write? We'll do the short form.

Patrick Jordan's WaPo puzzle hid its theme from me until I finally reached the explanatory entry, at which point I admired the theme. Nice job, Patrick! The puzzle actually felt kinda tough.

Bob Peoples' NYT uses my favorite basic grid design: triple-stacked 9- to 11-letter entries in two corners. And my favorite crossword style: themeless, with colorful entries that seldom show up in crosswords, and interesting/clever clues. Highlights of the Peoples include PT CRUISER, AUTO SHOWS, MAKINGS, HDTV SET, I CANT GO ON, INEXACTSCIENCES, and AT WITS END (clued with "buffaloed").

Mark Milhet's LAT offered a lot of goodies, too: SQUAWK, RAT POISON, A BRONX TALE, MISBEHAVIN, ON THE DL, NO SENSE, and BEAN SALAD.

If you quake with fear when Saturday rolls around, take heart: the Creators Syndicate Saturday Stumper felt like a Wednesday puzzle, and the CrosSynergy felt like a Monday. If that's more your speed than a monster themeless, have at it.

And Stan Newman, if you're listening: We want more Saturday Stumpers that make us really struggle for toeholds but still let us emerge triumphant. (Tricky clues with more wordplay a plus.)

NYT 6:44
LAT 5:02
Creators 3:43
CS 3:01


August 12, 2005

Wrapping up Friday

I'm still digesting Bob Peoples' Sat. NYT. In the meantime, let me tell you about the puzzles I did this morning instead of freelance work: the Friday Wall Street Journal and two Sunday puzzles, from the Philadelphia Inquirer and LA Weekly. (I also did the regular Friday LAT and CrosSynergy puzzles.)

Henry Hook's "Who's That Girl," LAW—An entertaining theme that took me far too long to suss out. I had to work for each theme entry, too. My two favorites crossed each other: LUCICANNON (loose cannon) and TRACIELEMENTS (trace elements). Of course, I went with LUCY and TRACY, the more traditional spellings, but Across Lite told me the Y was wrong. (Whatever.) Anyway, it was a fairly tough puzzle.

Randolph Ross's "Insurance Adjustment," WSJ—A good challenge. As much trouble as I have getting excited about business themes, the constructor really did all he could to make insurance industry–related puns entertaining, and he succeeded. I was also oddly pleased to see the "yellow-red dyestuff" ANNATTO make an appearance—finally, all those years of reading food packaging pays off!

Merl Reagle's "Witches My Point," PI—Usually I fly right through Merl's puzzles, but his witchcraft-related puns slowed my broom down. It felt like the fill was more obscure and the clues harder—though maybe it was just me. Anyone else struggle more than usual with this week's Merl?

Sun. PI 12:14
Sun. LAW 10:30
Fri. WSJ 9:17
Fri. LAT 4:38
Fri. CS 3:38


Calling all speed demons

In the comments to the post just below, Dave Sullivan asks exactly how the speed demons manage to be so speedy. My own explanation is in the comments, but I'd be interested in hearing others' take on this. Care to share?


August 11, 2005

The doctor is in (and so's the mathematician)

Two hellacious puzzles for Friday! The NYT, by Dr. Manny Nosowsky, and the NYS by Byron Walden.

Hereafter are spoilers galore.

Let's talk about the Manny first. Two triple stacks of 15s and a slew of 7-letter entries interlocking with them mean I can't begin to fathom how to even attempt constructing such a beast. There weren't many short (or long) gimmes to offer a toehold; I started with Santa ANA winds and the old crossword staple PATEN, and they got me going. I can't believe I finished as quickly as I did given the preponderance of completely unfamiliar words in this puzzle. You better believe I'm making a mental note of them for future retrieval: TERNE metal is a plating alloy. VENTAGES are the finger holes in a flute. Mediterranean winds that occur annually are ETESIAN (adj., from the Greek etos, year). A laced waterproof boot is a SHOEPAC. And a minister-in-training may be called an ORDINEE. (Who knew? Not I.)

While Manny's puzzle stood out more for entries that were new to me, Byron's puzzle was notable for its entertainment value. Yes, it's a challenging themeless puzzle, but it's so fun too, packed with great clues (presumably courtesy of both Byron and editor Peter Gordon). There's this puzzle's Hall of Fame clue: "Honor for a really good doc" = OSCARNOD! "It makes soda pop" = FIZZ! "Bad thing to be out of" = SORTS! "Brother's cousin?" = DRAT! "Packers' org.?" = NRA! Not to mention the "eww" clue/entry: "Poor drink choice for body shots?" = FUZZYNAVEL. And the puzzle has my name in it at 5D, which isn't funny but entertained me all the same.

From a construction standpoint, the NYS puzzle gets added zip and zing from its preponderance of Zs. In the northwest corner, there are even two double Zs bunched together (FUZZY/FIZZ crossing NUZZLE/JAZZED), another double Z to the right in OZZFEST, and a single Z down below. ZZZZZZZ...which reminds me of NEEDANAP, clued as "Flag in the afternoon?" Didn't last week's NYS Themeless Thursday, also by Byron, include INEEDANAP? (Clearly, someone needs a nap.)

NYS 7:51
NYT 5:47


Five consonants in a row

Watching a TiVoed episode of "The Daily Show," my non-crossword-doing husband noted that "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Corddry has but one vowel in his last name, and five consonants in a row (if you count Y). Question: Is Rob Corddry famous enough for a mainstream newspaper crossword puzzle?


Let's chat, shall we?

I'd like for this site to be more interactive. Did you really enjoy a puzzle I didn't talk about? Do you want to point out a particularly great clue or entry? Have you got any ideas for another crossword-related contest/game you think we'd all enjoy? Anything else you'd like to see on this blog? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

I know you're out there, reading quietly. Make some noise!

Oh—and go to Puzzle Pointers and retrieve the Friday NYS puzzle if you haven't already. Otherwise, you're bound to encounter spoilers in my next post or two.


A Ben Tausig sneak preview

I mentioned in the NYT forum that I was looking forward to Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle becoming available online via the Village Voice. As it turns out, it's already online through the SF Bay Guardian, with one of those pesky not-the-NYT applets. Go ahead and do that one; I'd call it roughly Wed./Thurs. level in difficulty.

I picked up the August 5 issue of the Chicago Reader today and did the Tausig puzzle entitled "Wait There's More" (presumably the same as last week's SFBG puzzle?). The theme entries include "Around the clock and then some?" = TWENTYFOUREIGHT and "Mutant Ebert's high praise?" = THREETHUMBSUP. As an example of how Tausig's content skews, let me share a couple notable entries: "Drummer/divorcee in a noted duo" = MEGWHITE of the White Stripes, and "Moon units?" = ASSES.

I'm hoping that the Ink Well puzzles will become available via Across Lite (or maybe printable PDFs at one of the newspaper sites). They're not for everyone, but the folks who wish the content in the Sun puzzles was even edgier will enjoy them.

SFBG 5:08 in the applet I don't know how to maneuver around
Chi Reader 4:40
CS 4:35
LAT 4:03


August 10, 2005

A return to form

After the last two Thursday NYT puzzles followed all the crossword rules, didn't we just know that Will Shortz had a rule-breaker in the pipeline for this week? Indeed he did. Michael Shteyman's O-ring puzzle, with four identical entries clued four different ways, definitely violates a basic Law of the Crossword World. And why not? Misha once again shows his virtuoso talent and tosses random bits of idiom at us, like BINGO and BLING and BARGESIN. (Any way to clue that as BARGE SIN?) Plenty of great 6-, 7-, and 8-letter entries, too.

Dentistry must be on Will's mind these days. Frank Longo had ORALHEALTH last Saturday, and the Thursday puzzle serves up dental XRAYS and FLOSSES. Fine, Dr. Shortz, we'll all floss, we promise.

I wonder if Will was holding onto this puzzle until after the space shuttle landed safely, given the historical link between the O ring and the Challenger disaster.

The Thursday NYS is by the team of Paula Gamache and Vic Fleming. I could swear I've done another puzzle with that quip, or maybe I just read the quip elsewhere not long ago. It's a funny one, though, and it includes the word JUDGE—and we expect Vic to toss in at least one signature reference to his career. Am I the only one who had the Y and confidently entered YOKEL at 37A and had to backtrack?

NYT 5:26 (including about 45 seconds looking for the mistake I had in APEECE/AVEATOR—ack!)
NYS 3:54

P.S. I don't have to spell out how cool the ring of O's is, and the lack of O's elsewhere in Michael Shteyman's puzzle, do I? You all caught that yourselves and were duly impressed?


(I can't think of a title)

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's bucolic LAT was nicely constructed, with chunks of 6-letter entries in two corners, bracketed by the fussbudget mini-theme of CRABBY and TSKTSK. I don't recall seeing MEADOWSOPRANO in a puzzle before. (Alternate clue: High-pitched ewe?)

I liked the theme for Thomas Schier's "Presidential Pair Pretenders." Last year, I attempted to make a crossword with pairs of famous Joneses. Did that ever see light as a Cru special? I suspect I would absolutely cringe if I looked at it today, so I will avoid doing so and appreciate your own lack of attention to the issue.

Steve Levy occasionally tosses me puzzle recommendations. Yesterday, it was Patrick Berry's "Watch the Birdie," a Second Sunday puzzle from 2001. If you weren't doing the NYT puzzles back then, go to this page maintained by Popeye (John Minarcik), scroll down to the bottom, click on "download all 61 YUMMIs," unzip the download, and open watchthebirdie.puz in the YUMMI folder. Read the notepad for instructions before you launch into solving. Enjoy! (Hat tip to Steve for the recommendation and to Popeye for keeping the puzzle accessible.)

CS 3:39
LAT 3:04


August 09, 2005


Well, last night I was just plain slower than usual. Tonight, I had one of those NYT applet typos that I was blind to for about a minute and a half (ERMA instead of IRMA, and of course MUSECIAN is not a word, so why didn't I catch that sooner?).

Who is this constructing duo of Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette? I don't recognize the names. If it's their debut, then huzzah!

Yesterday, I did tomorrow's NYS, so I may as well talk about it now. It's by David Levinson Wilk, whose book is on my coffee table. You'd think working a bunch of puzzles in his book recently would have sent me flying through his NYS puzzle, but au contraire. Last night was slow-but-typo-free night, and it took me 5:51 to finish. Anyway, the grid was a tad ugly (those blocks of squares that looked like Utah), but the puzzle was great. The "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny" theme was innovative and unexpected. Some great consonant-packed entries: XSANDOS, RCRUMB, MMMBOP. A question, though: APIECE is clued simply as "up." Huh? Is that a sports score thing?

NYT 5:08 officially, but 3:38 not counting that one square
NYS 5:51


The other half of Tuesday

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle, "...And a Cup of Coffee," was a great Tuesday puzzle. Easy enough, but it felt like I had to think while solving. Fresh fill (MRMAGOO, NAPPY, MARAUD, BADOMENS, MOXIE, WIZARDRY, OLDNEWS) and a good set of clues. I'm still waiting for Rich to construct many more challenging themeless puzzles...

Fellow blogger Dave Mackey made today's LAT puzzle. Congratulations, Dave! According to his blog, Dave also had the July 27 USA Today puzzle (which I admit I haven't done because I'm a proprietary Java applet snob and like only the NYT applet; I get irked trying to maneuver around the grid in other applets). Dave also reports that an upcoming NYT puzzle will be his.

Okay, I reconsidered and tracked down Dave's USA Today puzzle. I was right; that applet is really annoying (it took me twice as long as Dave's LAT puzzle). And once I finished, a little animated doodle guy started prancing around and the puzzle was gone. Dave, I saw some really nice clues in there; one was in the NE corner and one was...elsewhere. I can't see the puzzle anymore, so it's hard to be more specific. (Could you do me a favor and submit your puzzles only to the outlets that use Across Lite or to Games magazine? Thanks!)

CS 3:24
LAT 3:03


August 08, 2005

The Tuesday NYT and NYS, with plenty of spoilers

My good friend Vic Fleming devised the Tuesday NYT, which is chockablock with goodies like FENGSHUI, Warhol's SOUPCAN, QUIETUDE, NIPSEY Russell (Nipsey!), and "business that makes a lot of dough" as a clue for BAKERY. And the theme? It was a little corny. (Ba dump!)

David Sullivan, who I believe is the Dave we know as "evadnavillus" at the NYT forum, provides a nice Tuesday NYS outing. I don't know if it's Dave or Peter Gordon who's responsible for this gem: EXLAX, clued as "it's often taken to go." Toss in SEXED, and this is not your father's Oldsmobile. I also liked ACTV—it feels like I've seen ACTI, ACTII, ACTIII, and ACTIV before, but not ACTV—a fresh and altogether tragic entry (well, unless there's a comedy in the clue). Dave included THROE as well, which has been popping up a lot lately and always reminds me of Rumsfeld's line about a "calm last throe."

NYT 4:12
NYS 4:11


NYT Omnibus

I turned my attention back to the NYT Ultimate Crossword Omnibus, the book with 1,001 puzzles from 1993 to 1997. Some of these puzzles are terrible! And I say that only because Will Shortz has raised everyone's standards so high, plenty of puzzles he accepted a decade ago would be tossed in the dustheap today (by him and many other puzzle editors as well). Fortunately, some of the other puzzles in the book (by known quantities like Trip Payne, Harvey Estes, and Richard Silvestri) are good, and I'm guessing they're from later in the cycle.

The real reason I'm mentioning the book today is that a couple Saturdays ago, I got skunked by director George Pal in a Creators Syndicate puzzle. Never heard of him, didn't much expect to see the name again. And here, in puzzle no. 75 by Silvestri, is the entry GEORGEPAL, clued as "'When Worlds Collide' producer." (He also directed Tom Thumb, you know. And a bunch of cartoons in the 1940s.) Crosswords are so educational...


Easy Monday

Two by Harvey Estes (NYT and CrosSynergy), one Alan Olschwang (NYS), and one Jack McInturff (LAT) this morning. Harvey's one of my favorite constructors, but I like his wide-open themeless puzzles more than the early-week outings. Heck, I like just about any knotty themeless better than easier themed puzzles. The NYS puzzle features four homophone pairs, with each pair of words crossing each other in symmetrical spots of the grid—if you're not homophonophobic, check it out.

NYS 3:22
CS 3:04
LAT 3:01
NYT 2:59


August 07, 2005

Boy, it must have taken Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon a while to hammer out the UR theme in the Sunday NYT! My favorite theme entries were NEUROCONSERVATIVE, HOURLYMATRIMONY, and THECURRYINGGAME. If you're out there, Lee, can you tell us what your initial seed idea was? And was there another great theme entry that broke your heart when it wouldn't fit in the grid? (All I can think of is THELIONSMANURE.)

In Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge, there's almost a story or headline in the bottom stacked 15s: Miniature poodle escaped detection, seen and not heard. Although in this scenario, the dog would have to be escaping a blind person's detection if it can be seen. We still await a 45-letter, 3-line entry with a single workable clue...

I'm troubled by the mismatch between the strenuous effort that must have been required to construct this puzzle—with two sets of triple-stacked 15s—and the much lesser degree of challenge facing the solver. I recognize that CrosSynergy puzzles aren't supposed to be as tough as NYT and NYS puzzles, but that doesn't stop me from wishing they could all be tougher...

Lynn Lempel created today's LAT puzzle, "Starting Out." I especially enjoyed OUTCASTPARTY ("Pariahs' gathering?"), OUTCOMEOFAGE ("Aches and pains?"), and OUTHOUSEOFLORDS ("Medieval castle feature?"). Kudos for the tricky clue at 129A, "Fixes a bed, in a way," for WEEDS—I was starting to think of an iron bed and WELDS. I love being temporarily duped by misleading clues.

NYT 10:42
LAT 8:40
CS 3:43


August 06, 2005


Just in case you didn't notice, I really must call your attention to a startling turn of events in the Play Against the Clock standings. I. Was. Faster. Than. Tyler. I'm not sure I've ever been in the lead this late in the day (after the cheatin'-heart folks, of course).

speedy typists 0:43 to 2:38
me 6:19
"rcvwhite" 7:01
Byron Walden 7:14
Tyler Hinman 7:30

I'm sure there are logical explanations, like Byron's computer crashed and Tyler left mid-puzzle to go get a snack. But it looks pretty cool all the same.


A slew of Saturday puzzles

Frank Longo's Sat. NYT is close to perfect. Packed with entries and clues we haven't seen often (if ever) before, with long entries sandwiched together like extremely intricate Oreos, seasoned with a smattering of wee obscurities (such as HOB, "rounded quoits peg") to hone our cruciverbal skills.

The former dental editor in me would be remiss if I didn't express appreciation for 1A, ORALHEALTH, the shout-out to dentists as more than the meanies they are rumored to be. That's just one of the 14 10-letter entries, which include FUZZBUSTER, JEANEDIXON, AMBERALERT, BEEFNOODLE, and, goodness me, GOODNESSME. I never think of LAVAROCKS as "volcanic spew," but rather as those homely brown rocks overused in landscaping. (Do the rocks get spewed out of volcanos in that very color?)

Joe DiPietro's LAT puzzle was challenging, but didn't have the same oomph as the Longo. (Not many puzzles do.)

The Saturday Stumper by "Anna Stiga" (Stan Newman) was easier than other Stumpers in recent memory. Lots of trivia: Did you know the Romans called Portugal Lusitania? I didn't. I accidentally printed out the Friday Creators Syndicate puzzle by Doug Peterson; typically I do only the Saturday Stumper each week. The theme, "Right to Left," entailed swapping out the letter R for an L (e.g., "Bozo's valuables?" = CLOWNJEWELS). Cute, but easy.

NYT 6:19
LAT 6:12
CHE 7/15 5:49
Sat. Stumper 5:26
Fri. Creators Synd. 3:39
CS 3:25

In the category of Sunday-size puzzles, my favorite this week (not counting tomorrow's NYT and LAT, which I've not seen yet) is the WaPo by Harvey Estes. The theme, "Apostrophe Atrophy," seemed a bit Reaglesque. Favorite entries/clues included "Oscar's place" for TRASHCAN, RIOTACT, PORKPIE, and MEACULPA. The theme entries paint humorous pictures: "Slow creatures act impatiently?" = SNAILSPACE. (Can you see them in the waiting room, oozing back and forth?) "Authors play on the line?" = WRITERSBLOCK. (Do you see the novelists in their football gear?) "Mick and mates warm up in the bullpen?" = STONESTHROW. (I hear Mick and Keith's arms snapping.)

WaPo 9:00
PI 8:34
LA Weekly 8:02


August 05, 2005


If it's Friday evening and you haven't already done all the Friday puzzles, what are you waiting for? Get cracking and do those puzzles before you read all the spoilers here. Quick! Cross your eyes before the all-caps answers enter your consciousness!

David Ainslie Macleod hasn't published a puzzle in the NYT for a while, but I'm hoping he's got more in the pipeline. His Friday creation wasn't that challenging a puzzle (we await Saturday for that), but it featured three utterly colloquial 15s (my favorite, WHATCHAMACALLIT). Packed with misleading and ambiguous clues—and that's praise, not criticism. Entries I liked: SCHUSS, SEATANGLE (who didn't first think of AISLESEAT for that one?), BETENOIRE, OPERANDI, and GLITZ.

This week I learned that no matter how tempting it is to do the NYS puzzles "early," I should resist if I have a migraine. Without a headache, I suspect I would have loved the Sabins' Friday NYS, and perhaps I wouldn't have been utterly bogged down by the west-central portion of the grid. I Googled the RUPAUL autobiography, and really wasn't crazy about that clue. The book came out years ago and I don't know a soul who read it. However, what would a better clue for RUPAUL be? That's a tough one, since he only recently returned to the public eye after taking a few years off. RuPaul, please get a TV show pronto so you can be included in more crosswords.

Today's LAT was by Donna S. Levin, whose name is new to me. (Pseudonym??) It was a fun puzzle, with delicious theme entries like CANDIDEYAM and LINZERTORT. A nice pair of identically clued "elite groups": MENSA and ATEAM. And the best clue: "Vine connoisseur?" for TARZAN. I wonder if that was the constructor's clue or editor Rich Norris's?

Patrick Jordan did today's CrosSynergy, "Send in the Troops," in which the theme entries had GI inserted to change the words. The highlight was the Beach Boys song transformed into FUNGIFUNGIFUNGI. (Do you think Patrick sang it that way in his head? I like to think so.)

This week's Wall Street Journal puzzle is an excellent one by Con Pederson. Plenty of pop culture fill, which is a plus in my book. The theme was literary rather than business-oriented, which is another huge plus. I enjoyed HADACOW (I started with HADAFIT), "Org. for women drivers" = LPGA, and...just the whole puzzle.

NYT 4:56
NYS 11:19 (ouch!)
LAT untimed
CS 3:56
WSJ 8:15


August 04, 2005

Obligatory daily post (totally spoliacious!)

The puzzle that stands out today is Byron Walden's Themeless Thursday in the Sun, lending support to Matt Gaffney's argument that the Sun puzzles Peter Gordon ushers into print top those in the NYT. Tired of seeing HAN Solo in crosswords? This puzzle has CHEWBACCA, clued ingeniously as "Solo accompanier." Other highlights include "Yawner's self-diagnosis" for INEEDANAP, "Cheesecake ingredient" for SKIN, "Incapable of littering" for SPAYED, and "Hand-raiser's shout" for IKNOWIT. It was an educational puzzle for me, too, as I didn't know the Iggy Pop song BOOGIEBOY or political cartoonist DAVIDLOW.

I did Byron's puzzle a couple days ago in the grips of a migraine (it didn't effect a cure), so I'm not sure if the puzzle was really all that knotty or if I was having an off day. BEQ's Themeless Thursday two weeks ago took me a lot less time (5:15), so I wasn't expecting to take so long on Byron's.

What's up with Will Shortz and the gimmick-free Thursday puzzles this week (Gorski) and last (Berlin)? Will, you're giving us a complex. We do the puzzles and then we search for a trick that will explain why it's a Thursday NYT. It's one thing to toss in a harder-than-Wednesday regular themed puzzle every so often, but two Thursdays in a row serves only to confuse us, and possibly puts a wrinkle in the space-time continuum.

NYT 4:27
NYS 7:42
CS 3:11
LAT 3:51


August 03, 2005

Who likes the Chronicle of Higher Education? I do

I haven't been doing the CHE puzzles, which are standard 15x15 crosswords published on Fridays, and made available online on a 3-week delay. There's enough scholarly content in the puzzles that you feel especially learned when you finish them (regardless of whether you merely got the long entries through the crossings). Patrick Berry does a fantastic job editing the puzzles so that they all hit the same smart level, roughly on a par with Thursday to Friday NYTs, and have an academic slant (entries like TAS and DORM pop up).

I just tackled the puzzles from May 20 through July 8, and enjoyed them all. Sarah Keller's June 10 was my favorite. Looking at it, I can't pin down exactly what I found so very enjoyable—just trust me, it's a fun puzzle. The hardest one—for me, anyway—was the July 8 puzzle by Jeffrey Harris.

Not sure where to find these puzzles? Check the Puzzle Pointers link in the sidebar. (Muchas Dank, vielen merci, and beaucoup gracias to Will Johnston for maintaining Puzzle Pointers. Will, you make it so much easier for us to feed our crossword jones!)


Wednesday on Tuesday and Wednesday

I did today's NYS, David Kahn's "Words, Words, Words," yesterday. Maybe it was the migraine, and maybe it was just Kahn, but it took me a solid 6 minutes to finish. For a Wednesday puzzle! Did this puzzle slow the rest of you down, too, or was it just me?

Today's LAT (by Allan E. Parrish) threw me for a moment with an utterly unfamiliar name, which I will share with you so we all remember it henceforth: "Stranger on the Shore" clarinetist ACKER Bilk. Now, other than inventing a verb-into-noun and cluing ACKER as "Bill the Cat in 'Bloom County," for one," there might be no other way to do it.

Oh. My. God. I just looked at the label of the bottle of Peach Oo-La-Long Honest Tea I just finished, and saw a mention of "Bloom County" and a drawing of Opus the penguin, which I truly had not noticed before. The Great Crossword Conspiracy is now branching out into soft drinks and my brain. Where will it stop?!? (Additional crossword tie-in, or NYT crossword forum tie-in, anyway (from the discussion of ICEDTEA vs. ICETEA and the sweetness thereof): this chilled tea product is "just a tad sweet," placing it between the Southerner's standard sweet tea and unsweet tea. It's actually a tad too sweet for my taste.)

Moving back to the titular subject of crosswords, I loved David Liben-Nowell and Ryan O'Donnell's Wed. NYT. (Who is this Ryan O'Donnell—new?) Great theme of miscounted things (e.g., THEBIGTEN, with its 11 member schools), with two 15s and two 9s. Surely there are more examples that, depending on length, could have been used as theme entries—can you think of any? (I can't.)

NYT 3:38
LAT 2:46
CS 3:32
NYS 6:00


August 02, 2005

Blogroll added

In the sidebar, I've added links to crossword sites (plus the Times of London's Su Doku page) and blogs by crossword fans, with varying degrees of puzzle-related content. If you're one of those bloggers and you'd rather not be blogrolled here, please let me know. And if you'd like to suggest other links, feel free to send those along as well.


Sun poll

We're waiting for the August 8 issue of the Weekly Standard to reach newsstands and libraries so we can read Matt Gaffney's tract, "The Best Crossword." The 11 1/2 sentences we can read online for free indicate that Matt will make a case that Peter Gordon's Sun puzzles are superior to Will Shortz's Times puzzles.

Speaking of the New York Sun, tell me this: How many of you do them on the day of publication, and how many of you gorge on the whole week's worth (or just the later-week ones) as soon as the puzzles are released online? Lately I've been parceling them out to myself one at a time, but gosh, if everyone else is gorging, peer pressure may persuade me not to delay gratification.

Note: If you're reading this and yet not doing the Sun puzzles regularly, you really must start. Peter's editing style is to provide puzzles that are of the highest quality, with plenty of wordplay. Themeless Thursdays and the Weekend Warrior on Fridays (I think both are on alternate-week schedules, mixed with themed puzzles) offer lots of white space and a sterner challenge. Peter also pushes the envelope more than Will (working for the Gray Lady probably limits Will's leeway). The Sun puzzles are probably my favorite (if there were Saturday puzzles and a competition-friendly timed applet, I would have to marry the Sun puzzles).

In the meantime, we have the Tuesday puzzles. And I can't summon up anything to say about any of them. Blame the lurking migraine, not the puzzles themselves.

NYT 3:03
LAT 2:58
CS 3:16
NYS 3:53

(The best thing about speed solving, aside from the chance to win trophies and money at Stamford, is that you can do a lot of puzzles and still have time for even less productive pursuits...)


August 01, 2005

My son's theory

My 5-year-old son Ben likes to speculate on the reason a fire truck he sees has been summoned to the scene (we seldom see any smoke or flames). In Chicago, some fire engine crews are trained as paramedics, so if no nearby ambulance is free, a fire engine is sent in its place. This morning, Ben explained that the ambulance was busy because "maybe they were doing a crossword." Emergency medical assistance can wait! First, the daily puzzles. My boy is learning his priorities here.


Particularly juicy Monday

I started out the day last night, with Kendall Twigg's NYT. If you ask me, it's a perfect example of what a Monday NYT should be. Though Ken is in 80s, he's hip enough to throw us a little BOOGIE.

Harvey Estes has some funny stuff in his CrosSynergy puzzle, "Whatsa Matter?" My favorite theme entry is MENSAWEAR ("Smart clothing?") and my favorite fill is SKITTISH. I looked over the puzzle after I was done and discovered two great clues I hadn't seen while solving: "Correct but unlikely answer to 'Who's there?'" for ITISI, and "Waiting room cry after 'Next!'" for ATLAST.

What do you know? Brendan Emmett Quigley knows how to make easy Monday puzzles (see today's NYS). Of course, he includes rarely seen entries like HOPIINDIANS, HALFTONE, FLOODLIT, and CLAIMJUMPER. Not to mention the quartet of BOOZE, DOPE (clued innocuously), BBQ, and TOGAS, plus "QUEER Eye for the Straight Guy" combined with HOMO. Throw in LOU Dobbs and EVAN Bayh, and hell, the whole grid's a fabulous party!

LAT 3:27
CS 3:09
NYS 3:05