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


October 28, 2005

Grr, for two reasons. First, I was hoping for a super-tough Saturday NYT, rather than one that I could do a couple seconds faster than the Friday puzzle. Second, while Joe DiPietro's puzzle wasn't as hard as I'd hoped, I still found it hard enough that I was a couple minutes slower than the fastest solver, and I'd rather be off by :05 than 2:05. So anyway...I like to think of this as the BOB COSTAS/EGGBEATER puzzle, because those parallel entries are so great together. (I've had a special fondness for Bob ever since that "Saturday Night Live" skit where the TV newsroom folks overpronounced everything that was Spanish, like Neee-caragua and en-chee-lah-da, as well as the Greek-American name Bob Costas.) Another parallel pair, ACTS NAIVE with its four consecutive consonants and SEA OTTERS with three vowels in a row, is also nice. And then there are CORDIAL and STINGER (which should have been clued as a cocktail). But let me ask you this: Did you ever clap when doing "one potato, TWO POTATO..."?


I liked Karen M. Tracey's LAT puzzle, which crossed two Scrabblicious 13-letter entries (JUXTAPOSITION and SIX OCLOCK NEWS) and interwove other goodies like WHIZBANG and GAZPACHO, COMANECI and US SENATE. Really the only thing I didn't like was the Moby Dick character PELEG, who must be obscure because I have forgotten him (Q.E.D.).

Stan Newman's Saturday Stumper was hard, but I threw away the Post-it with my solving time on it so I can't say how hard. The grid's got five meaty chunks to it, and the SW and NE corners connect to the rest of the puzzle through only a single entry. The uniformly tough clues should slow you down in every section.

NYT 7:39
Stumper ?:??
LAT 4:27
CS 3:19

WaPo 10:29
LA Weekly 7:26


October 27, 2005

And now, a Saturdayish Friday

A wicked themed puzzle from Patrick Berry in the Friday NYS put up a strong fight, particularly the SW corner. All that helped me through that section was figuring out what and where the rebus square would be (thanks for the meticulous symmetry and order, Patrick!). Despite the rebus taking this out of the knotty-themeless sweepstakes, this was still a challenging mofo of a crossword, packed with twisty but straight-up factual clues (only two question-mark clues in the bunch). Personally, I prefer more question marks and more playfulness, even in tough puzzles. But if I had to choose between a funny-but-easy puzzle and a hard-but-unfunny one, I'd have to go with the challenging one.

In the NYT, Elizabeth Gorski follows the same basic model as Patrick Berry: a hard puzzle with not much to laugh at, but much to admire. The clues were good and hard, weren't they? I found precious few gimmes. During the first pass, really only ATT, LUCIE, DRESSY (given away by a crossing S and ED), SRA, OTTO, and ELAPSE jumped out at me. Everything else was pieced together bit by bit. This is the second time I've come across I.M. Pei's first name (the implausible IEOH)—maybe I'll actually remember it the third time around.

Kudos to Patrick and Peter and to Elizabeth and Will for the rigorous challenges. It's looking like the Saturday NYT this week will be a killer, eh?

NYS 10:39
NYT 7:41
LAT 5:16
CS 3:23

WSJ 11:48 (Was this puzzle hard, or was I just sleepy?)
Reagle 6:56


October 26, 2005

A Fridayish Thursday

Bonnie Gentry is showing a deft touch with themes this week, in Tuesday's Sun and again in the Thursday NYT. The NYT theme rebus revealed itself quickly with the three spaces allotted to actor Burton (LEVAR) crossing the Red Cross city (GENEVA) in the NW corner. Getting the central theme entry, LITTLE EVA, then spurred me to look for more EVA rebuses rather than condensed random first names. Aside from the Thursday-style rebus, I thought the puzzle really had a Friday vibe to it, with things like DUANE EDDY and "where the shilling is money" for UGANDA. The slew of Friday-level solving times on the applet bear this out. Huzzah!

Ray Hamel's Themeless Thursday NYS features a lively little clue that could be the constructor's own, but it just seems to have that Peter Gordon vibe to it: "Lesbians are surrounded by this," for AEGEAN SEA. Elsewhere in the puzzle—with a dry, factual clue—we have ERLENMEYER FLASK, and oddly enough, I found that to be a great entry. The TAPIR always amuses me, ever since my husband and I saw one at the zoo with a rather alarming display of anatomy. (If you have ever seen what I saw, you know what I'm talking about.) And working in the SALT MINES, always a good phrase. (What exactly is so dreadful about working in the salt mines? Is it better or worse than coal or diamond mining? Where are these salt mines, anyway?) My least favorite part of this puzzle was AL HEDISON—who? IMDb tells us he switched to his middle name after his first few movies and has been credited as David Hedison since 1959. Feh.


Randall Hartman (Am I the only one who doesn't really know the difference between Randolph Ross and Randall Hartman? Another Kahn/Klahn, Mel/Merl/Merle, Patricks-of-all-kinds thing.) tossed a LATER DUDE into the fill of his CrosSynergy puzzle. I like it...

NYT 5:07
NYS 4:40
LAT 4:13
CS 3:24


October 25, 2005


David Sullivan (better known around these parts as Evad) created the Wednesday NYS puzzle (woefully titled, "Separation H"). Lots of J's, K's, and X's to Scrabbleize the fill, which includes STYX clued as the band and AJAX clued as the household product (a classicist is spinning in a grave somewhere). And CIRCE, who apparently is also called Aeaea even though I've never seen that name in a crossword. Tying in with the retro non-chic of STYX, we've got RAJ clued as the "What's Happening" character—gotta love clues that advantage people who are 35 to 45 years old! (Do we thank you for that one, Dave, or do we thank Peter Gordon?) Thanks for throwing in my favorite wine, RIESLING. Alas, I really wish I could have 44D'd this morning (i.e., SLEPT IN).

Which leads us to the NYT puzzle by Adam G. Perl. I don't mind seeing Barry Haldiman's name ahead of mine in the applet standings, but I'd rather not take 50% longer than Barry to finish a puzzle. (Ouch.) The brain is not functioning at peak this evening, not after staying up too late last night and then chaperoning a kindergarten field trip today. I can't tell you how long I stared at the puzzle after finishing it, confused into thinking that the middle president was LBJ for LIGHTBULBJOKE rather than LIGHTBULBJOKE. Instead of seeing FDR and HST, I pondered which presidents' initials were COD and MSM. (See? Off-peak brain. Who's with me?) And look! There's AJAX cleanser again. Its product-placement people have gotten to both the Times and the Sun, apparently.


Paula Gamache's LA Times and Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzles are decent early-week puzzles, but they didn't make me laugh. Ben Tausig's "Gonzo Films" puzzle did. "Office party photocopy"? ASS, of course. "Curse of Notre Dame?" MERDE, of course. I liked ARMS RACE clued as "military competition" and the au courant coverage of Britney Spears' career. "Coalition of the Willing member," three letters...hmm, what could it be? There are so many possibilities... I also learned a new word, SCAG as slang for heroin.

NYS 4:58
NYT 4:20
Tausig 4:15
CS 3:38
LAT 3:21


October 24, 2005


First I was pleased to click done 1 second faster (2:59!) than I did for Monday's puzzle. Then I was a tad disappointed when the computer blew 4 seconds in the process of submitting my time. Then I considered being crushed when I saw how many people were a good bit faster than me. Then I decided not to care one way or another, since it's not as if it took me, say, 5 minutes. Or an hour. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Anyway, I liked the first and last theme entries (LAST SAMURAI and LUST FOR LIFE) better than the overall theme in the NYT puzzle by Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette. I liked KRILL—critters toward the bottom of the food chain get so little glory, ORANGE (of course), and COED clued as "like many college dorms, now." Let us never see COED used as a noun again!

I had a good time doing the Tuesday NYS by Bonnie Gentry and Vic Fleming, "Daze Work." A clever theme elegantly executed, with the zippity-doo of HOOPSTER ALONZO Mourning and the doo-dah of SUGE (OF RAP MUSIC) Knight sandwiched around ROCK SINGER PETER Noone in the midday slot. I was pleased by the Paul Krugman shout-out in FUZZY MATH, ALOHA clued as "HI hi," the "Complex character?" OEDIPUS, and the touch of etymology in the clue for OBOE (from the French hautbois). And how about that theme?

Better late than never:

Curtis Yee's LA Times puzzle has some crackle and snap to it, particularly in some of the longer non-theme entries. I know a lot of you don't ordinarily do the LAT puzzles, but this one's kinda fun. I won't spoil the goodies (which include a classic Sam Raimi movie) in case you want to solve this one.

Rich Norris's "Possessed" CrosSynergy amused me with its TOAD'S TOOLS and JOCK'S TRAPS. The term PUT-UP JOB was new to me, but apparently it's been around for almost 200 years. Who knew?

NYS 3:52
LAT 3:49
CS 3:47
NYT 3:03


October 23, 2005


Nice Monday NYT by Lynn Lempel. I'm always happy to see a shout-out to IHOP, where I enjoyed the International Passport breakfast with buttermilk pancakes today (abbreviated on the receipt as PASSPORT BUTT), especially when its anagram, HOPI, sits across the grid. The KAZOO, GIZA, HAIKU batches of Zs and Ks lended a smidgen of oomph as well.


Only on Mondays do we find the CrosSynergy puzzle taking longer than the NYT, but at least the NYT promises to ramp up in difficulty as the week goes on. Often all that makes it worthwhile to crack open the puzzles on a Monday morning is having a whole week's worth of Sun puzzles to do. (Of course, then Tuesday and Wednesday suffer in comparison.)

Speaking of the Sun, I liked the non-theme fill in the Monday puzzle by Fred Jackson III (newcomer?). The theme didn't excite me (I've never heard of DAMES AT SEA, and I'm not a big Broadway fan anyway), but the rest of the puzzle had much to commend it—KLEENEX, SAME SEX, IBIZA, CLASSIC clued as "textbook," and the word TRICE, which I really should use more. "Back in a trice!" "Hang on a trice, will you?" "Just rewind the TiVo a trice, please." Who's with me?

I don't usually talk about the rest of the week's Suns on Monday, but if you're one of those people who skips them or only does the late-week ones, reconsider this week. Tuesday's puzzle by Bonnie Gentry and Vic Fleming was elegant and funny; Wednesday's by Dave Sullivan had some tricky clues and a late-'70s vibe; the Themeless Thursday by Raymond Hamel was too easy, but has some bright spots; and Friday's Patrick Berry puzzle kicked my butt. More on these puzzles as their days arrive.

CS 3:34
NYS 3:29
LAT 3:12
NYT 3:00


October 22, 2005

Sunday's cruciverbal forecast: warm and sunny

Great Sunday NYT by David Kahn ("Field of Dreams"), with a timeless theme because, after all, when will the Cubbies ever return to the World Series? (I have a feeling it'll be awhile.) I liked how Kahn unspooled the little story line by line, and how easy it was to figure out the rest of 92A once the word CUBS was in there and the concept of ungrantable wishes had been raised. Plenty of goodies in the rest of the grid, such as the crossing EUGENE/ONEILLS pair, KITTENISH, the crossing "John"/"John of England" LAV/ELTON pair, APOLOGY clued as "fight stopper," the crossing FOGY/STOGY pair, SOBERS atop ALANON just to the left of a cocktail ONION, POESY clued as "it's measured by the meter," DOGNAP clued as "Grab some chow?" and ACNE clued as "Tough problem to face?" Elegantly done, Messrs. Kahn and Shortz. The puzzle seemed to be flowing smoothly, so I can't say why I finished 2 to 3 minutes behind Barry Haldiman and Byron Walden (nemeses!).

The Second Sunday puzzle, another Going Too Far creation from Eric Berlin, was also a fun challenge. Thanks for serving up these treats, Eric! I don't care whether you publish them in the NYT or the Sun so long as you keep publishing them.


Berlin 16:00
NYT 10:30
LAT 7:18
CS 3:20
10/9 Puns & Anagrams 9:35


October 21, 2005


To quote the immortal Homer, "D'oh!" I liked Patrick Berry's Saturday NYT, except for one word and its pesky "American English only" spelling in place of the more oft-seen diaeresis. I could've done without the brain freeze that made me eschew the E instead of the A, which rendered the crossing "short, of a sort" incomprehensible, and made me doubt the R in WARE, further muddling things. I pieced it together, but it took me an extra 3 minutes.

Aside from that little trauma, what did this puzzle offer? A shout-out to the movie Lost in America, which is forever in my heart for Albert Brooks' (real name: Albert Einstein) tirade about nest eggs, nests, and eggs. I'm rather surprised to see "two-fisted" as a clue for VIRILE; somebody explain this to me, please—because women can be two-fisted drinkers too. And did you know VIRILE and VIRAGO have the same root? Never heard of the bespectacled owl character or the '30s actress GLENDA (yup, looks like a Saturday all right). As for CIGARILLO, were you aware that these are now available in flavors like peach and grape? Must be a subtle attempt to reach the younguns. I liked DEEPSIXED (tried to fit JETTISONED in first), LES ASPIN, EDITED OUT, and PUMPS IRON. Odd to have two trade names stacked together at 1A and 15A, isn't it?


Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle made me a little dizzy with its vertiginous theme. Happy birthday (whenever it was), Henry.

I liked the theme in Con Pederson's WaPo puzzle, especially ASCENT OF A WOMAN and AGATES OF HEAVEN. Overall, it seemed easier than the Hook puzzle, except for the SE corner that bogged me down.

I had just been wondering whether Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke had attempted a themeless puzzle, and then their LA Times puzzle popped up today with three triple-stacked 15s. Not a very tough Saturday themeless, but then we look to the NYT for that.

This week's Saturday "Stumper" stumped me for a whopping 25 seconds longer than the always-easy CrosSynergy puzzle. I've been wending my way through Stan's Cranium Crackers, which contains 100 puzzles that I presume are old Stumpers. The quality and challenge level varies widely. Some puzzles took a mere 4 minutes. Some are perfect (particularly the ones by Brendan Emmett Quigley). Some took me 20+ minutes and a peek at the answers to penetrate the Maleskan gloom of words like TEMS ("textile chemicals"), UHNAK ("cop novelist"), and PAON ("peacock blue")—and I do not care for Maleskan gloom. Give me Shortzian elan any day. Anyway, there are some gems in there, and the book's only $6.95, so if intermittent plunges into the Maleskan deeps don't daunt you, check it out.

If I won the lottery, here's what I'd do with the money: I'd become a decadent patron of the puzzling arts. Puzzles by my favorite constructors generally show up only a couple times a month, at most. With my spare millions, I could afford to woo the constructors to make extra-challenging puzzles for an extremely limited audience (me). While they are surely motivated partly by the fame of national newspaper syndication, who would turn down, say, $500 or $750 to make a single 15x15? Alas, I never buy lottery tickets, so this plan is unlikely to come to fruition.

NYT 10:26 (ah, I still remember the 7:11 I saw when I was almost done)
LAT 5:21
Stumper 3:51
CS 3:26

LA Weekly 9:28
WaPo 9:27


October 20, 2005

Friday again!

I'm not that familiar with Louis Hildenbrand's style yet, but I must say I like it. In his Friday NYT puzzle, he served up a good number of multi-word entries, nothing obscure or unfair, a NE corner with a lot of entries we don't see often, and assorted trickyish clues ("uses a tap" for SPIES, "Pole, for one" for EUROPEAN, "one who handles stress" for POET). I liked the linkage between the quince and quinze clues, and between TROIS and TRE. And I thank my high-school German teacher for telling us that MENSA was Latin for "table."

I'm still waiting for Amazon to send me the new Frank Longo book. In the meantime, there's Frank's puzzle in the Friday Sun. OH PUHLEEZE slowed me down a little, but it was helped along by the crossing entry PUDDY (my favorite ancillary "Seinfeld" character). "Singer who acts" threw me briefly as a clue for LORI. SKYY vodka and HOUSE OF YES (an odd but entertaining movie) were other entries I liked. I don't have any data to support this, but it sort of looks like this could be Frank's lowest-Scrabble-scoring puzzle ever, with entries like LINE TESTS and IN DISTRESS and ENSENADA.

Speaking of LORI, Entertainment Weekly wrote about a folk singer named Lori McKenna who was featured on Oprah as a "stay-at-home mom" despite her having recorded something like four albums. Supporting the argument that McKenna was hardly a nobody, the article mentioned that she'd been used twice in NYT crosswords—indeed, in puzzles by Patrick Berry and Will Johnston. I wonder if the clues were theirs or Will Shortz's.


I wonder if Patrick Jordan's CS theme, "SATURDAY NIGHT ___," was used by another constructor 20 or 25 years ago when LIVE and FEVER had both emerged. It seems so obvious, and yet it doesn't show up in the Cruciverb database of more recent puzzles. (Despite the puzzle being called "Weekend Beginnings," I was sort of hoping "Uptown Saturday Night" would make the cut, too, for a total retro vibe.)

Manny Nosowsky serves up a sparkling capitalist theme (and one that requires no business vocabulary) in the WSJ. Is it just me or does NOSE XRAY look more like NO SEX RAY? (Extra bonus points for including my nickname in college toward the top of the grid. Who can guess it?)

I was dreading Merl Reagle's "If Lasorda Ran for President" (I'm not much of a baseball fan, White Sox or no). But it required no familiarity with Tommy Lasorda—just a working knowledge of the many baseball phrases that pepper our colloquial language.

NYS 7:23
LAT 5:41
NYT 5:35
CS 3:25

Reagle 8:47
WSJ 8:44


October 19, 2005

If I had to come up with more 12- to 13-letter theme entries containing IFI (and following the same pronunciation) for Manny Nosowsky's Thursday NYT, I don't think I'd be able to. I especially liked SOFT MUSIC clued as "romantic notes" (took me a while to realize it wasn't about love letters), EQUALIZER, and the geography vibe of Quai D'ORSAY, TAMILS, Finger LAKES, MIAMIAN, and OSTEND. But where's the trademark medical terminology? (I miss it.) The entry FACE WEST was maybe a little iffy. And then there were the two related crude slang terms lurking near each other in the puzzle (clued innocuously, of course)—not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just a wee bit surprising.

I figured out the TIPTOP rebus in Jay Leatherman's NYS puzzle fairly quickly, with the Z in 2D's ZANE pointing toward ZZTOP in 1A. The rebus made for some cute pairings: ZZTOP and TIPSY, plus TIP O'NEILL and CARROT TOP (who may well never have been mentioned in the same breath before; you know, I once rode in a hotel elevator with Carrot Top, but I never met Tip O'Neill). This puzzle had a lot of oddball rarities, like ZARF and EFFENDI, along with oddball longer entries like RAILWAY CAR, PLANT A TREE, and GINGER NUT.


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Six World Leaders," had a nice flow to it. Over in the LA Times, I liked Alan Olschwang's theme idea (entries ending in muscles, e.g. LATS, ABS) better than the execution, maybe because the first theme entry, TAXI SQUADS, was a football term that was unfamiliar to me. And then there was F SCOTT clued as "contemporary of Stephen Vincent" rather with Zelda or Fitzgerald or Jay Gatsby; wha?

If you don't share my distaste for crapplets (my preferred term for the various non-NYT solving applets), try Crossword Fiend regular Dave Mackey's quip puzzle in today's USA Today.

NYS 5:32
LAT 4:46
NYT 4:15
CS 3:22


October 18, 2005

I really liked Kelsey Blakley's NYS puzzle, "Hang Five," in which the theme entries were altered by the addition of an A, E, I, O, or U at the end. (Although I must deplore the inclusion of the GOP spin term "death tax" in DEATH TAXI.) "Keep heat out of?" is a great clue for SPAY.

Levi Denham's hidden-NYSE NYT puzzle had a ton of 3-letter entries, but fortunately, they didn't detract from the puzzle. There were many elegant longer entries to balance them, such as IN A SLUMP, MEL TORME, and some blocks of 6-letter words. Fresh clues, too, such as "where 'besuboru' is played" for JAPAN. (That reminds me of an old Games magazine puzzle that entailed figuring out the original English of English-based Japanese words. I recall things like "otomiru" for oatmeal and "Biru Kurinton" for Bill Clinton; in fact, around my house, we've been calling it otomiru ever since doing that puzzle. Anyone remember the other words Games included?)

NYS 5:52
NYT 3:48
LAT 3:30
CS 3:25


Ben Tausig's Inkwell

Now that the past couple months' worth of Ben Tausig's Inkwell puzzles are available thanks to Martin Herbach, you can get caught up before the puzzles are added to Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page. Or if you want the Across Lite puzzles to land in your in-box each week, sign up here.

This week's puzzle, "Play Calling," features a theme of game-show catchphrases that I found surprisingly elusive until the "Price Is Right" entry came along. Great clues include "Paper tiger, say" for ORIGAMI, "O.J. matter" for PULP, "This is hell" for HADES, and "Takeout general" for TSO. And poor KENNYG is clued as "Noted one-note wonder." I always enjoy Ben's puzzles, so I'm glad they're getting a little more play.

Tausig 4:39


October 17, 2005


The Sun puzzle by Shannon McDowell (newcomer?) and Ben Tausig has a theme that's well explained by the title, "Oh, It Really Becomes You!"—an O becomes a U (in each case, actually, the O-into-U follows another O). Looking past the theme, this one's rich. There's CZAR instead of the more common TSAR, AKIMBO (long a favorite word of mine), the vowel-free MCDLTS, DARWIN, TWEEZES, and the "dinner table faux pas," BURP. Fun puzzle, as I'd expect from anything with Ben Tausig's name in the byline.

Jay Leatherman's NYT felt like it had more 6-, 7-, and 8-letter entries than a typical Tuesday puzzle, and they were good ones (NATHANS hot dogs, NEMESIS, NOUVEAU, DOGTAG). Seemed like more theme squares than usual, too (though not as many as last Tuesday's remarkable SNL puzzle).

NYS 3:42
CS 3:27
NYT 3:16
LAT 2:51


October 16, 2005

Mondays lack thrills and chills

Don't they?

What do you call the type of theme in Gregory Paul's NYT puzzle? I don't see anything tying the three theme entries together other than that they're vaguely adjectival phrases with "and" in the middle (though I think of NICKEL AND DIME as more of a verb than an adjective).


A little like Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle last Friday, Harvey Estes' "Girl Crush" CS includes 15-letter entries that each contain three related words, in this case first names of famous women. Bundling them together into 15s serves to lower the word count; this one has 70 entries, I believe. I'd like to see this sort of theme done with harder clues than you find in a CrosSynergy puzzle, to see if the undefined word breaks really add to the challenge.

Thomas Schier's LA Times puzzle had an unfamiliar word: "synthetic fiber brand" ARNEL. I asked myself, is this a word I need to know for crosswords? I Googled it, and the first 20 hits were for assorted companies bearing the name Arnel but with no textile connotations. Then I Googled Arnel fiber, and learned the following here: "The first commercial production of triacetate fiber in the United States by the Celanese Corporation in 1954. Domestic Triacetate production was discontinued in 1985." Yes, Arnel was around longer than James Dean or Buddy Holly, but I'm not sure it's equally worthy of being immortalized in crosswords.

Just for the hell of it, I did today's Creators Syndicate/Newsday puzzle. I could have finished it faster if I'd really tried—this is the type of puzzle Tyler Hinman can solve in 70 seconds. It's a neat party trick, sure, but that's 70 seconds he'll never get back and 2:23 I'll never get back. ;-)

NYT 3:29 (typo, too much sangria, headache—enough excuses?)
CS 3:29
NYS 3:17
LAT 3:11
Newsday 2:23


October 15, 2005

I always enjoy Con Pederson's puzzles when I see them (mostly in the Wall Street Journal?) and the Sunday NYT is no exception. I'm sure there are plenty of other good on/off entries that could have gone in the puzzle if any of the theme entries hadn't worked out. How about "Leno's request to plastic surgeon?" TAKE IT OFF THE CHIN.

This puzzle had a couple entries that were new to me. 49 Across, REA, was the Rural Electrification Administration FDR initiated in 1935. I wonder how many small-town people doing the NYT puzzle online owe their electricity to this government initiative... Down at 122 Across, the paving stones called SETTS would appear to be largely a British thing, based on a cursory Googling. This site has a lovely description of setts, complete with mention of kerb-stones and lolly sticks.


If you're a Joe DiPietro fan, you might like today's LA Times puzzle.

NYT 9:33
LAT 8:37
CS 3:48


October 14, 2005


Ouch. Paula Gamache's NYT didn't fight me as hard as some of those other wicked Saturday puzzles over the last couple months by Byron Walden, Bob Peoples, and Sherry Blackard—but it did put up a helluva fight all the same. I never, ever heard of LA CORUNA, and I also tried to spell FRIED as FRIID, which mangled that section for an extra minute of pain. MAIN MENU clued as "automated answering machine base" was a great inclusion, as were FLIMFLAM and TWIST TIE. No shortage of difficult clues, like "walloping" for GIGANTIC, or clever clues, like "Goth's look enhancer" for EYELINER. Cool five-zone grid, with plenty of difficulty spread over all of the zones. I have a quasi-nit as a medical editor, though; LESION clued as "cut" may be technically accurate with the definition of "wound or injury," but I can't say I've heard the word used in that sense. (Anyone else?) Of course, there are other 6-letter words that would work with the clue, such as BISECT or INCISE or SLICED, so if the intent was to lead solvers astray, it could work. Aside from the clue for LESION, walloping kudos to Paula and Will for a fairly meaty challenge.


Am I impaired this morning, or is this week's Newsday Saturday Stumper by Merle Baker really 40% harder than the Paula Gamache puzzle? See what you think. And maybe have your caffeine first—I did the puzzle decaf.

Stumper 13:08
NYT 9:19
LAT 7:46
CS 4:42

WaPo 10:50
LA Weekly 9:41


October 13, 2005

Friday, at last

Another impressive creation from Michael Shteyman in the NYT, with three vertical 15s intersecting the three horizontal 15s. When you're familiar with a constructor's life story, of course, it's tempting to identify entries with an autobiographical slant, like FOREIGN LANGUAGE, ESL, WHERE ARE YOU FROM, and TROIKA. This puzzle had lots of good clues, such as "Like some devils?" for HANDSOME, "Historic trials" for A TESTS, and "One affected by a strike" for TENPIN.

Maybe I'll start paying attention to the number of clues I never had to look at in the course of finishing a puzzle. In this one, there were just two (RAY and TIE). Early-week puzzles can be completed with about half of the clues, generally, whereas wicked Saturday puzzles require repeated visits to nearly every clue.

Kevin Wald's Sun took me a lot longer than the NYT did, I think because the theme was rather elusive. Most insert-a-letter themes don't use a different unrelated letter in each theme entry, after all. Then there were the unfamilar entries (e.g., ANDREAS) and ornery clues (to name just a few: "Old English character" for ASH, "Confronts" for BREASTS, "Shepherd's sound" for ARF). Man, was I grateful for gimmes like MALICK, LE CAR, ETTA, and SOZE.


Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy theme is one of those with a series of related words strung together—in this case, each theme 15 lists three kinds of cars (e.g., RACE, PATROL). Personally, rather like the challenge inherent in this sort of theme, because there's no cue telling you where the words start and end. I had TOY for a while, until I realized that it was followed by NARMORED and it had to be TOWN instead. How do you feel about this variety of theme?

I really liked Patrick Berry's WSJ puzzle, so much so that I stopped in the midst of solving to jot down clues and entries I liked. To wit, LOVERBOY (who doesn't love '80s pop references?), TOO TOO, PRAT (British slang for the butt, or an idiot; origin unknown; this one was new to me), and PHREAK were fill that stood out for me. I liked the theme entries, too, particularly A DRY WHITE SEASONING. The best clues were "Showing less wear?" for NUDER, "Piles on the floor" for RUGS (kept me guessing until the end), and "A certain point underground?" for STALAGMITE.

Merl Reagle's "Incognito" puzzle had the twist of separating the hidden celebs' first and last names into adjacent entries, which made it harder to figure out what was going on.

NYS 8:34
LAT 5:05
NYT 5:01
CS 3:51

WSJ 10:35
Reagle 9:52


October 12, 2005


Pat Merrell's NYT was...surprisingly easy for a Thursday. Will has trained us to expect gimmicks or rebuses on Thursday, but unless I'm missing something, this is more of a straightforward crossword. (Nothing wrong with that.) It's a wee 14x14—is that the Thursday twist? There are plenty of slower-than-usual applet times, though—was it the theme entries, or a fruitless search for gimmickry that slowed folks down? I always like the chatty fill, like YES LETS and SEE YOU; SHOOFLY was nice, too. (But what's up with the various constructor Pats including PAT in the middle of their puzzles?)

Robert Wolfe's Themeless Thursday in the Sun gets bonus points for the blog blocks of white space, the pangramitude, CHIP SHOT, JUST FOR MEN, and EXTRA FRIES. It seemed a tad dry, though, with entries like MADE REAL and CRESTLESS and EROSIONAL; of course, I haven't even attempted to make a themeless myself, so it's easy for me to say (and hard for me to top).


I enjoyed Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "All in Good Measure," which gives a shout-out to some of our lesser-known units of measure. Good theme, in my opinion. I preferred it to the embedded-AKA theme in the Sabins' LAT puzzle, anyway.

NYS 5:56
LAT 3:39
NYT 3:35
CS 2:56


October 11, 2005

Still playing catch-up

Anyone know if the quip in Paul Guttormsson's NYT puzzle is original or recycled? I don't recognize it. Anyway, it's a nice puzzle, highlighted by fill like EYE CANDY, LOW RISE, and LAST WORDS.

Ben Tausig's Village Voice puzzle has Yom Kippur theme entries crossed with a bunch of good 8's, such as TOO OFTEN with its triple-O, DEBONAIR, and EGGPLANT. There's a clever clue in "hot body" for SUN, and a naughty clue in "it may keep you up at night" for VIAGRA.


Today's LAT by Joy Andrews includes a papal fashion term I hadn't heard before: a TIPPET is the Pope's silk scarf. The square with TIPPET's final T crossing TENS with a vague bowling-pin clue was one of those deadly squares where I started plugging in random letters. TIPPET, you will not beat me again!

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy is a tribute to the late Justice Rehnquist. Just a hunch, but I don't think anyone will ever build a crossword puzzle around Harriet Miers.

Wed NYT 3:56
Wed NYS 5:15 (ouch)
Tues NYS 3:14 (nice job, Dave Sullivan!)
Mon NYS 2:59
Wed LAT 4:08
Tues LAT 3:24
Wed CS 3:03
Tues CS 3:10
Tausig 5:06


October 10, 2005

Baker's dozen

Okay, I'm back from vacation, and the only non-book crossword I did over the long weekend was Byron Walden's Saturday NYT—on newsprint Sunday night, with my son pestering me with questions as too many minutes ticked by. Maybe I need new glasses because that little dab of ink that made the clue "Creep" look like "Greep" shouldn't have slowed me down—or maybe I need a new brain? Anyway, hard, hard, hard. I fell into a number of the traps that other people mentioned on the NYT forum, like PARTY HATS instead of PAPER HATS, and it was a tremendous relief to find out that I wasn't the only one who took a beating from Byron. (How fast was Tyler? What was the fastest applet time?)

After coming home this evening, I did the Tuesday NYT in possibly my fastest-ever Tuesday time. I credit my parents for letting me stay up late on Saturday night starting when I was nine so I could be well-acquainted with the classic SNL characters featured in Mike Torch's puzzle.

Then I caught up on a slew of other puzzles:

Sat NYT 14:45
Sun NYT 10:19
Mon NYT 2:55
Tues NYT 2:49

Sat LAT 4:17
Sun LAT 7:06
Mon LAT 2:50 (Congrats on the debut, Curtis!)

Sat CS 2:51
Sun CS 5:12
Mon CS 2:53

Sat Stumper 3:34
LA Weekly 8:24
WaPo 9:27 (Joe DiPietro can do all the Sudoku puzzles he wants so long as he'll keep constructing crosswords for us)

And tomorrow, I'll get to the Suns...


October 07, 2005

By the way

I'll be on hiatus for the Columbus Day weekend. I've got a source for the Saturday and Sunday NYTs on actual newsprint (how novel!), but will be away from the other puzzles and this blog until Monday or Tuesday. Have a good weekend! In the meantime, if someone wants to tap a keg in the comments lounge and talk in a spoilery fashion about the assorted puzzles, you go right ahead.


October 06, 2005


It appears that Manny Nosowsky has popped the WHISKBROOM's cruciverbal cherry by topping the Friday NYT with that entry, which must have been a little hard with so few vowels in the word. He's got some other new(ish) long entries in TOM COLLINS (does anyone actually drink those?), CLEAN HOUSE, and ONESTEPPED (what the heck is the milonga?). HENNY PENNY and APPLESAUCE have been used before but are still tasty. Plenty of vague and short clues, too, all good.


I loved Brendan Emmett Quigley's WSJ puzzle. One kudo to Brendan for finding an oddball quip that broke down into chunks of symmetrical lengths, and multiple kudos for creating a fun and practically perfect puzzle. (That's not really an invitation to point out any troublesome flaws you may have spotted, but do so if you must.) It's a nice touch to include PEPE LEPEW instead of just his first or last name, and then to toss in FANFARONADE like it's just any ol' word? Elegant.

I also enjoyed Jack McInturff's LAT with its inserted-STR theme entries. The clues just seemed uniformly good and entertaining. My favorite was "special case" for ETUI, making it okay that the word ETUI was in there at all.

tht wckd NYS 16:46
NYT 5:27
LAT 4:58
CS 3:08

WSJ 8:41
Reagle 8:10


Th Vwllss Crsswrd W Ll Lvd S Mch

In regards to the Friday Sun puzzle—the one with all the vowels removed—let me just say this: Frank Longo and Peter Gordon, marry me. Or, barring that, will you create and publish a lot more of these puzzles? I don't suppose there's any chance of a book full of this type of crossword?

It was great to luxuriate in a crossword for twice as long as a typical Saturday NYT, and great to have a stern challenge that didn't involve resisting the temptation to Google some obscure name. A little Googling could come in handy to interpret the answers after the grid's filled in correctly—baseball player Frankie FRSCH is what, Forsuch? Frisch? I have no idea. And I thought MTLFNDS was metal funds until I realized it had to be mutual funds. I suspect many of us have a few answers that we can't expand with any degree of certainty.

This puzzle does lend itself to creative interpretation. The Sultan of Swat vs. the saltine foe's wet. Premature births vs. promoter breaths. Negation vs. nougatine. At times vs. tee times.

I hope Kevin McCann asks Frank to write up the anatomy of this construction for Cruciverb. Did he start with a vowel-free word list? Did he just start plugging in the 15's and hoping for the best? Did he look for unique possibilities (i.e., could RSTTHTP be anything other than rise to the top?) or entries that could be interpreted more than one way (like TTMS)? Did it take a tremendous amount of time to construct, or was it a fairly routine process?

So, tell me: Did you all enjoy this twist on standard crosswords as much as I did? Do the regular puzzles leave you hungry for more of a mental workout?


October 05, 2005


Yeah, I know the letters in the middle of YADSRUHT aren't reversible, but Daniel Bryant's mirrored theme in the NYT was so cool, I had to type backwards anyway. Nice non-theme fill, too, with I ROBOT, MAHIMAHI, GAWAIN, and BOZOS. I have two questions. First, are there any Shakespeare scholars out there who can tell me where TUWHITTUWHO came from? Second, am I the only one who really wanted to fill the blank in "It's ___ time!" with GO or HAMMER?

The NYS by Josh Strayhorn (is he new?) made me work as long as I do on a Saturday NYT. I spent too much time contemplating the theme entries and trying to figure them out in the midst of solving, and really should have focused on the down clues instead. The two bottom theme entries sandwiching EL MONTE, which I'd never heard of, killed me. And then there was the "desired gift in 'A Christmas Story'"—I managed to put O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" in my head, and dagnabbit, there was no BB GUN in that story. Tack on tricky clues like "crush" for HORDE, and it all adds up to a crushing Saturday-level time. It was a good pain, though...


In Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, CAROB is clued, as it so often is, as "chocolate substitute." As if! The Cruciverb database shows a couple uses of a much more accurate clue: "chocoholic's bane."

NYS 8:30
NYT 5:11
LAT 3:32
CS 3:15


October 04, 2005


Nancy Salomon's NYT features a Bob Seger lyric that never did make much sense. As much as I deplore the general concept of the quip puzzle, the world of lyrics offers an embarrassment of riches and wrongness to be mined for future quip puzzles. Start counting up the letters, people, and find some symmetrical phrase lengths. There must be a couple generations of solvers who would get a kick out of, say, some Styx, Men at Work, Air Supply, or Pointer Sisters lyrics. Anyone? No? Then how about the Beatles or The Who?

Larry Paul's Sun puzzle has a Dolly Parton quip that I've seen before. My favorite clue? "Does, as dos" for STYLES.

People are already talking about Frank Longo's fabulously twisted Friday Sun puzzle. Shall I hold off until Thursday night, as usual, or start raving about it a day or two early?


I liked Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy, "The Four R's." Case in point: theme entry NUCLEAR BRAN.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke serve up a supplement to Schoolhouse Rock with today's LAT on NOUNs, and manage to get some good 7-letter fill in there.

Ben Tausig's puzzle, "Moonlighting," has a clever theme, fresh clues (note 2D dispenses with the usual "___ even keel"), and plenty of good fill.

NYS 4:56
Tausig 4:49
NYT 3:33
LAT 3:29
CS 3:10


October 03, 2005


Barry Silk's NYT features theme entries containing LLL. I'd like to see some of those entries pop up as tricky non-theme fill more often—when faced with ****LL***, who's gonna slap another L before the two L's they've already got?

Over in the NYS, Sarah Keller's "Add-Ons" adds ONs in the theme entries. I don't know why, but I particularly liked YON CHROMOSOME. Kudos to the constructor for those solid bricks of 6-letter entries in the SW and NE corners. I'm guessing it was Peter Gordon who tossed in that obscure STYX clue ("Blue Collar Man" band)—I was a teenybopper during Styx's heyday, and I sure don't remember that song. If you're going with 1978 Styx songs, clearly "Renegade" is the most memorable. ("Hangman is coming down from the gallows"? C'mon, that's classic!)

NYS 4:36
NYT 3:30
CS 3:26
LAT Tues 3:19
LAT Mon 2:45


Monday morning

Delight of delights, the New York Sun puzzles for the week were available bright and early today. I just gorged on all five, and boy, is there a helluva Friday puzzle in store for those of you who haven't done it already. (It took me about twice as long as a typical Saturday NYT, so it is one meaty bastard.)

The Monday NYS by Charles Gersch had a cute kosher theme. I imagine there were plenty of other possible theme entries on the constructor's list, but I like the assortment that made it into the grid (RABBIT EARS? Who knew?). I've been on a bit of an anti-3-letter-entry kick lately, but this puzzle's plethora of short answers were just fine. Having once been a dental editor, I especially liked the intersection of DDS ("one who might diagnose gingivitis") and GUMDROP (gingivitis = inflammation of the gums, and sticky candy like gumdrops are deplored by dentists).

I also liked Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy tribute to the late Bob Denver and his "Gilligan's Island" pals. I watched an awful lot of that show when I was a kid, whereas "Get Smart" was a little before my time—Roy Leban's tribute to the late Don Adams didn't resonate with me the same way. If only Lovie Howell had made the cut...

I haven't managed to access today's LA Times puzzle—anyone else get it yet?

NYS 3:51
CS 3:29
NYT 3:04
LAT tba


October 02, 2005

Playing catch-up

Sun NYT 8:25 (Randolph Ross's "One for the Books"—hey, I've actually read three or four, or maybe five, of those books!)
Sun CS 5:48 (Bob Klahn's Sunday Challenge—tougher than most CS puzzles)
Sun LAT 8:22 (Raymond Hamel's "Alliterative Alliances")
9/2 CHE 4:57 (Richard Silvestri's "All the Right Schools"—"I was a dance major at" DISCO TECH? Har har!)
9/9 CHE 4:27 (Vic Fleming's "Taxa Returns"—they're ba-a-a-ack)

Mon NYT 3:04 (Roy Leban—man, it would have been 2:57 without that one typo)
Mon NYS tba
Mon LAT tba
Mon CS tba


October 01, 2005


I'll be away from the blog from Saturday morning until sometime Sunday. Y'all are welcome to hang out in the comments lounge (no cover charge) and talk about the Sunday NYT, or not. Whatever.