December 31, 2006

Best of the Best, 2006

In a comment here last week, DA from Down Under suggested that we nominate the best five puzzles of 2007. He and I each hang onto our favorite crosswords during the year—I toss an NYT applet screen capture or an Across Lite file into a "Great Puzzles" folder on my Mac. And I'll bet plenty of you warehouse your favorites, too.

So let's look back at 2006 and give kudos to the crosswords that delighted, challenged, confounded, and entertained us. Here are some categories:

Best themeless puzzle

Best theme, daily size

Best theme, Sunday size

Craziest, most innovative twist

Toughest puzzle to solve

Toughest construction feat

Most entertaining crossword

Favorite newbie constructor

Favorite veteran constructor

Funniest or most dastardly clue

Best crossword book

I'm not in the mood to tally official results, so let's keep it resolutely nonscientific and free-wheeling. Feel free to mint your own categories as needed.

Some of the ones I remember off the top of my head (and yes, I know I'm straying from and muddling the categories I listed):

Twistiest: Ben Tausig's "reverse" 3/16/06 NYT (with theme entries like YGOLOHCYSP and MSICAR); Henry Hook's 3/17/06 Sun, "No Kibitzing" (rebused sentence); Michael Shteyman's surprising [MATCH] rebus in a Saturday NYT, 9/16/06; Henry Hook's HEAR/TTRA/NSPL/ANTS puzzle in the Sun, 2/10/06

Toughest construction feat: Joe DiPietro's 10/5/06 NYT with the clues in alphabetical order; Joe DiPietro's 2/19/06 "It's Next to Nothing" Sunday NYT, with every ITS next to a NIL; Joe DiPietro's "Lay of the Land" Sunday NYT, 12/17/06, with the state abbrevs rebused in where they belong on the US map—hmm, do you sense a pattern here?

Best Sunday theme: Ashish Vengsarkar's non-quote "quote" theme, 5/21/06 NYT; Michael Shteyman's pool table, 3/19/06 NYT; Trip Payne's Q extravaganza, 5/7/06.

Best themeless puzzles: Pretty much anything by Byron Walden, David Quarfoot, Karen Tracey, Bob Klahn, Sherry Blackard, Patrick Berry, Stan Newman, and Harvey Estes, plus most of the Saturday NYTs and Sun Weekend Warriors by other people, not to mention the Friday NYTs and Sun Themeless Thursdays. I'm moderately disappointed if a themeless doesn't fight me hard enough, but my favorite themeless constructors still entertain me even with easier clues.

Best themes, daily size: I'm partial to Thursday NYT and Friday Sun themes with twists or gimmicks. Nearly every early-week puzzle by Lynn Lempel, whatever the theme may be, delights me.

Favorite newbie constructor: I don't recall seeing David Quarfoot's byline before 2006, but he kicked butt with the many themeless creations he published during the year.

Favorite veteran constructor: In addition to the umpteen themeless constructors listed above, Pat Merrell's crosswords nearly always surprise and entertain me; I finished Henry Hook's Twisted Crosswords before this year and his sequel's not out yet, but I'm looking forward to the new book.

Toughest to solve: Might've been Hook's aforementioned rebus puzzle in the Sun, though there may have been a couple themeless puzzles that took me equally long.

Favorite crossword book: Among those published in 2006, the essential NYT Xtreme Xwords (collection of the hardest themeless NYTs of years past) and Byron Walden's Sit & Solve Commuter Hard Crosswords. In the non-crossword arena, The New Yorker Book of Cartoon Puzzles and Games is tremendously clever.

I'm missing a lot of my favorite Sun puzzles, because I've got the Across Lite files stashed in unannotated chronological order, and really, I ought to do a "save as" and copy my favorites to that "Great Puzzles" folder. I'd wade back through months and months of blog posts to give more specific shout-outs to the highlights, but you know what? Y'all will probably mention the same ones I would. So: what crossword puzzles and constructors would you like to single out for praise?


Monday, 1/1

CS 3:02
LAT 2:46
NYT 2:37

(post updated at 8:45 a.m. Monday)

If you're wondering how to find this week's Sun crosswords before there's a 2007 calendar page at Puzzle Pointers, try the page for recent puzzles. Mind you, it won't get you a Monday puzzle for this week since Monday's a holiday. Despite Gerald Ford's funeral and the associated holiday, however, there is a puzzle posted for the 2nd.

There is an NYT crossword for New Year's Day, by Randy Sowell. Nice 'n' easy, just like we like 'em on Mondays, and aptly, the theme's perfect for the holiday. The theme entries all start with different BOWLS—the ROSE, ORANGE, SUGAR, and COTTON Bowls of college football. I have absolutely no idea which teams are playing in any of the games, nor do I care. But I could come up with teams of all-star crossword constructors to fight one another to the death in cage matches honor, and that will be the subject of a stand-alone post.


In Donna Levin's LA Times crossword, a 56-square homophone theme is supplemented by three Z's.


December 30, 2006

Sunday, 12/31

NYT 9:27
WaPo 8:35
LAT 8:12
BG 7:15
CS 4:54

(post updated at noon Sunday)

Happy nascent New Year's Eve! I hope some of you have more exciting plans than I do. We're gonna have football (Bears-Packers match-up in prime time—which is throwing local Bears fans who had New Year's plans into a total tizzy) followed by whatever other TV is on. But it'll be in HD! On a big screen! And I bought a bottle of prosecco, which the Times told me was the hot new drink last summer, and I recognize that summer's long gone (in this hemisphere, anyway), but hey, it's a sparkling wine for New Year's Eve. Do these factors improve the caliber of my non-plans?

I haven't seen the Washington Post crossword yet, but I understand it's bylined by Elizabeth Gorski, who's also responsible for the jumbo (23x23) New Year's Eve crossword in the New York Times. Big theme for the 365th day of 2006—10 movie titles containing the numbers ONE to TEN, for starters. (And aptly enough, the one in the grid's center is TEN TO MIDNIGHT...nine, eight, seven...) The theme also includes COUNTDOWN IN /TIMES SQUARE and a 1987 heist flick with Peter Falk, HAPPY NEW YEAR. I would've guessed that there were at least a couple movies that started with the numbers (or "The" and then a number) from 1 to 10, but there must've been a lot of sorting out of movie titles by their lengths. Gorski managed to sandwich everything into the grid symmetrically, so that's cool. (And I bust no one's chops for ONE-EYED being in there along with 1932's ONE HOUR WITH YOU—it's crossing two theme entries, and who doesn't like a Cyclops reference?) I just confused myself looking at the finished grid. "Who is Bill Melater?" I asked myself. Ah, BILL ME LATER—a lively entry I liked as much as the adjacent QUIRKILY.


I knew Elizabeth Gorski had a knack for holiday crossword themes, but I hadn't known she could create four different New Year's themes for four different newspapers this weekend. She started the weekend off with the Wall Street Journal crossword and rounded out the year with three Sunday puzzles. The LA Times syndicated puzzle is called "Win-Win Situation"; it's got a timely quip.

Wait a minute. What's this? The Gorski Washington Post puzzle doesn't have a New Year's theme? Huh. "Middle America" is just a regular ol' theme, with some lively fill like YOU'RE UP, PINK LADY, and FREE SPIN. The clue for TOELESS is [Like some hosiery]; can anyone suggest a horrifying alternative?

This week's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge is by Harvey Estes, who's linked a trio of triple-stacked 15's together with a tenth 15-letter entry down the middle.

Hex's Boston Globe puzzle, "Sounding Board," puns with soundalike words, so that [Served atop mutton?] is ON THE LAMB. Question: What does SUNDAE PUNCH play on? What does "Sunday punch" mean?

John Samson, the editor of the Simon & Schuster crossword series, wrote to the Cruciverb-L group to rave about a couple notable puzzles in two recent books. In book #253, Frank Longo crosses vertical and horizontal triple-stacked 21-letter entries in a puzzle with a low word count of 124 (Merl Reagle once published a 21x21 with fewer words). In #249, there's a 21x21 rebus puzzle with a whopping 21 different rebus symbols; I won't mention the constructor's name in case you want to be surprised by the rebus onslaught. I've added both books to my Amazon wish list, but you never know—I may buy them myself for pre-Stamford practice binges.


December 29, 2006

Saturday, 12/30

NYT 7:43
LAT 6:10
Newsday (untimed, mediumish hard)
CS 3:44

Rich Norris gathers up some terrific entries in his Saturday NYT crossword. Yes, I got whomped by at least a couple other applet solvers (oh, speaking of whomping—did y'all notice that Tyler Hinman finished Friday's puzzle in 2:35? Mm-hmm, that's right), partly because I either couldn't type or couldn't see. Do we all recognize that it's wrong to write TONE-DEAD and NINTELDO? Yes, I think so. Highlights of this puzzle, for me: 1-Across's ICK FACTOR, [Didn't stir at the right time?] for OVERSLEPT, [Unable to hit a pitch] for TONE-DEAF, the vague [Parade] for FLAUNT, [One who doesn't go past a semi?] for LOSER (as in loser of a semifinal match), [Cry while shaking] for IT'S A DEAL (don't you like to picture someone quivering with fright saying, "It's a deal"?), [Hide] for CLOAK, EYE OPENER, SQUEEZED, the petulant DOES TOO, [They can fix shortages] for ATMS, and the shout-out to the movie, EVE'S Bayou. I do recommend the movie—and not just because one of the stars is Debbi Morgan, who I used to watch of All My Children in the '80s. The young actress, Jurnee Smollett, was terrific (now she's all of 20 years old, and had a recent guest appearance on House). Movies and typing tribulations aside, I enjoyed this puzzle, as I do most Norris themelesses.


Today's LA Times themeless is by Bonnie Gentry. Plenty of short gimmes helped me get a foothold, but other short answers vexed me for the longest time. (I had it in my head that Eleanor Roosevelt was originally named SARA rather than ANNA, and I didn't know IVAR Krueger but reckoned he was OTTO or ALDO for whatever reason.) I liked the pair of loop/Loop clues (for the CTA and CC'ED), the nifty GOOGLE HITS, [Pan handler] for CHEF, and [Simple life?] for AMEBA. FLOE is timely given yesterday's news story about a larger-than-Manhattan floe that's broken off from an Arctic ice shelf.

Favorite clue in Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Copper Heads": [50 Cent pieces] for RAPS. (Elsewhere, UNUM is [Twenty-five-cent word].)


The Fresh Princes of New York

The crossword cognoscenti all recognize Peter Gordon's antipathy to using the same ol' clues in the New York Sun puzzles. Did you know that the New York Times clues under Will Shortz's aegis, while perhaps less aggressively new than the Sun clues, also tend to eschew the same ol' stuff? It's true. If you use the Cruciverb database and look up the clue summary for, say, STY, you find that the #1 clue is the rhyming [Pig's digs]. The NYT hasn't used that clue in over six years (four times in the earlier years included in the database), and the Sun's used it just once, in 2002. In contrast, the LA Times, Creators Syndicate, and CrosSynergy puzzles have each turned to [Pig's digs] seven to 10 times.

So when you think about the sort of easy clues that you've seen over and over (and over) again, you might not be encountering them so much in the Sun or the Times. This is just one factor that makes Will and Peter's puzzles more challenging, interesting, and consistently high-quality than the other mainstream daily crosswords.


December 28, 2006

Friday, 12/29

NYS 6:25
LAT 5:25
12/15 CHE 4:05
NYT 4:02
CS 3:09

WSJ 7:54
Reagle MIA—the source for the Across Lite version isn't publishing this weekend

(post updated at 11:20 a.m. Friday)

First up, Seth Abel's NYT crossword, which I kept thinking was a Thursday puzzle, wondering what the theme or gimmick was. (Hmm, Friday, themeless. Gotcha.)

And Jeffrey Harris's 15x16 Sun puzzle, "Where Have All the Vowels Gone?" As it turns out, the vowels are mostly there. This reminds me of the ad copy in the Polana food catalog: "Who stole the kiszka? Nobody stole our kiszka, we have plenty of it!" (I also kinda wish I'd written the copy for their head cheese.) The Sun puzzle's missing just a few vowels in the theme entries, yielding warped phrases that end with LBS (LaBS), JR (JaR), BLVD (BeLoVeD), KG (KeG), and CTR (aCToR). The theme left me surprisingly unmoved. Grossest clue/fill of the year: [Lump in one's throat?] for PHLEGM.

Moving back to the NYT crossword, I liked the grid's framing with four 15-letter conversational phrases (two taunts, a question, and LOVE CONQUERS ALL), none clued with a synonymous phrase in quotes, which I thought was an elegant touch. (Though a couple shorter phrases are clued with quotes.) There were a few answers I wouldn't necessarily have known a few weeks ago. Just recently, someone on the NYT forum mentioned that Alice FAYE can be deemed pig Latin, and a crossword taught me that ROSH is [Hebrew for "beginning"]. Here's hoping that a subsequent crossword will let me take advantage of learning here that LARA is an [1814 Byron poem]. Dig it: Byron's Lara is Count Lara. Favorite clue: [Nitpick?] for DELOUSE. I'm hoping the entry was included specifically because of the clue.

Updated:Fairly easy Wall Street Journal puzzle from Elizabeth Gorski, "Easy New Year's Resolutions."

Steven Lewis's December 15 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Classical Physics," redefines five physics terms with classical music clues—wait, does Lawrence Welk's orchestra count as classical music?

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Familial Role Reversals," swapped MOTHER and SISTERS with FATHER and BROTHERS in the theme entries. Elsewhere in the grid, I half expected the answer to ["Treasure of the Sierra ___"] to be PADRE.

Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle inserted YOS into base phrases to concoct things like MAYOR'S ROVER, [Canine at city hall?]. It took me a while to grasp the theme, and even more time to figure out the fill clues. Either the clues were a tough batch, or I just couldn't hit on the right wavelength.


December 27, 2006

Thursday, 12/28

LAT 4:58
NYT 4:34
NYS 3:43
CS 3:36

Aren't Karen Tracey's themeless puzzles a ton of fun? Her Themeless Thursday in the Sun is no exception. (Spoilers down yonder.)

Ed Early's NYT puzzle had a quote theme combined with a themeless vibe—just 72 words (with 40 black squares shaping the left/right symmetry), including two corners with stacked 9-letter entries (like the quaint KNEE PANTS) and tough bits like [Gearwheel tooth cutter] for HOB. The quote is from James Russell Lowell; you can read his bio at Wikipedia and many of his other quotes (but not this one) at Wikiquote. I liked C PLUS ([A little better than average]), the consonant-dense TWELFTHS, the [Outfielder's cry] I GOT IT, FLASHCARD, and NEVERMORE with a non-Poe clue. I do enjoy twisty Thursday gimmicks, but there's also something to be said for a Thursday puzzle that smacks of Friday fill and clues.

Karen's Sun puzzle had many of her trademarks—two interesting long answers crossing in the middle (SCHADENFREUDE, which I love, and JOHN QUINCY ADAMS), Scrabbly letters (the great BLOWZY, plus SHORTZ crossing DR KATZ), exotic geography (MONROVIA and GABONESE), 70 words in a sprawling grid, lively phrases (I THEE WED, JURY-RIGS, GO NUDE), and pop culture (BREE, LAA-LAA, HAL ASHBY). Hey, you know what I'd like to see? A book of Karen Tracey puzzles. I'm sure I wouldn't be the only buyer.


December 26, 2006

Wednesday, 12/27

NYS 5:08
CS 4:19
NYT 3:46
LAT 3:30

I should get back to finishing up my Big Project With a Looming Deadline (and what good is a deadline if you don't use every last bit of it?), so I'll be brief.

The Wednesday NYT is by Manny Nosowsky, and not only are the theme entries a little resistant to solving, but plenty of other clues are on the tough side. For example, ["That just shouldn't happen"] is IT'S A SIN, [A chorus line] is ALTO, and ["Peace on earth," e.g.] is WISH. Super-cute to have [Napoleon's place] lead to both ELBA and BAKERY. The theme entries are all conversational filler that might be attributed to certain types of people; for example, FRANKLY SPEAKING is how a hot dog vendor might introduce a comment.

In the Sun, Tony Orbach and Patrick Blindauer team up for "TD Conversions," in which the theme entries convert T's in base phrases into D's. Thus, "height and weight" become HIDE AND WADE. Favorite clue: [Strange bedfellows might give them to you] for STDS—nice not to limit those letters to being an abbreviation for "standards." I suppose [Flies into the seats]/DINGERS has to do with baseball, but don't know exactly. ARM CANDY and NAME-DROP are the fill highlights.


December 25, 2006

Tuesday, 12/26

NYS 3:36
LAT 2:52
NYT 2:34
CS untimed
Onion tba
Tausig tba

(no post updating today—book deadline looms!)

On Christmas Eve, my mother gave me a gag gift—a 1993 Kappa Books publication, Crossword Companion 4, containing 106 (no, not 100—a hundred and six!) unthemed 13x13 crosswords, complete with 2-letter entries. "We trust that you will find weeks and weeks of solving pleasure from the puzzles that follow," the introduction notes. (Weeks!) Printed right on the cover is a yellow starburst: WALMART SPECIAL PRICE 2/$1.00. Whoo-hoo!

A simple but surprisingly elegant NYT crossword by C.W. Stewart—while the theme entries are so basic that a kid could (given easier clues and the animal + homophone gimmick) figure them all out, the theme structure pulls together perfectly. All six have a noun preceded by a modifier, with half using the animal as the noun and half as the modifier. The animal names all appear in exactly symmetrical sets of squares—the MOOSE at the beginning of 19-Across is matched to the HORSE at the end of 58-Across. And then you've got those wide-open corners packed with 6-letter entries to freshen things up a bit. I think this might be an NYT debut for the constructor, too. If so, congratulations!


Monday, 12/25

LAT 3:20
NYT 3:18
CS 3:10

Merry Christmas and—for non-Christmas-celebrants—happy day off work! The Fiendlet relished all his gifts from Santa this morning, but was whining about being bored before noon. So it goes. His mother, however, is enjoying the solitaire version of the Blokus board game. More challenging than a crossword! Especially on Monday.

Adam G. Perl's NYT crossword includes three ALPHABET QUARTETs in the theme—entries containing ABCD, LMNO, and RSTU runs of letters. You know, my husband bought himself a plasma HD set. There was a Ghostbusters sequel on today, but I don't think it was in HD—otherwise, we could have an alphabet quintet with high-DEF GHosts. Any other semi-legit quintets out there?

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy crossword, "A Word from Scrooge," includes BAH in five lively theme entries, beribboned with 8- and 9-letter fill entries.

In Arthur W. Farris's LA Times puzzle, guess what 14-letter word is defined as FEAR OF VISITING / SANTA. Oddly enough, I don't recall seeing that particular joke before. It's got to be an old chestnut, though, doesn't it?


December 23, 2006

Sunday, 12/24

LAT 9:10—"Gia Christian"/Rich Norris, "The Meaning of Christmas"
NYT 8:45—see below
WaPo 6:52—Frank Longo Xmas theme, easy
BG 7:03—Hex crossword, "New Start"
CS 4:48—Randolph Ross themeless, great pop-culture fill

Happy Christmas Eve! (Technically, I'm writing this on Christmas Eve Eve, but you get the idea.) May you either carve out a little time over the holidays for crossword puzzlin', or may you be having such a grand time that you don't even think about crosswords. (And please time-shift my generic "Happy Holidays!" wishes if you're celebrating Hanukkah, the solstice, Orthodox Christmas, and/or Kwanzaa, or just biding time until it's New Year's Eve/Day.)

Brendan Emmett Quigley's NYT crossword is called "Yule Laugh." Guess what? The theme is...Christmas-related puns. The eight theme entries warp their base phrases by swapping in a Christmas word that sounds the same or similar. For example, [Santa reindeer-turned-zombie?] is DONNER THE DEAD (playing on Dawn of the Dead); [Sunburnt Santa?] is LOBSTER CLAUS; the small PEE WEE WREATH lisps Pee Wee Reese. I've decided my favorite themer is PRESENTS OF MIND—[Gifts you only think about giving?]—hey, those are always the best gifts! In theory, anyway. The theme entries are supplemented with HOS ([Christmas laughs]), a little JESUS (which reminds me—if you like goofy comedy and you haven't seen Talladega Nights, watch the DVD. Will Ferrell's defense of praying to Baby Jesus, versus grown-man Jesus, when he says grace, complete with corporate sponsorships...I laughed. A far better movie than I expected.) Glancing back over the grid, I finally understood why [Like some chefs] was TRIBAL—because the word is "chiefs," not "chefs." Never heard of [Italian tragic poet Vittorio] ALFIERI. Fill I liked included BORSCHT, CHEM LAB, REMARKET (which doesn't have a big presence in dictionaries or Google, but haven't you heard the jargon plenty?), OUGHTN'T, and BERNIE Mac. This puzzle's also got Asimov's autobiography, I ASIMOV, which showed up in a Bob Peoples crossword last March. That time around, it was a Saturday NYT, with a tougher clue—a lot of people Googled their way to my blog post in search of that answer. (The current clue mentions "sci-fi writer," so that's more accessible.)


Movie puzzle

Jon Delfin posted this link on the Cruciverb mailing list—it's a British office-supply company's contest that's not open to American entrants, but you can still play along and try to decipher the 20 movies depicted by tableaux of office supplies. My husband and I figured out 17 of them, but we're stuck on #8 (five staple removers), #9 (highlighters and markers facing off in a road), and #14 (paperclip person run over by truck wheels of tape). Anyone have any subtle hints about those three? Or are there others you're stuck on?


December 22, 2006

Saturday, 12/23

Newsday 8:35
NYT 8:06
LAT 7:20
CS 3:02

(post updated at 1:15 p.m. Saturday)

The parade of themeless challenges continues with Myles Callum's Saturday NYT crossword. Strewn amid the dozen 10- and 11-letter entries are a few old crossword friends (and enemies) and some new business. Plenty of the clues chewed up little bits of my brain, too. First up, a clue I remembered every word of the [Argonaut who slew Castor] clue from the last time around—hundreds of people Googled their way to my post and one by that January puzzle's constructor, Eric Berlin, because who's ever heard of IDAS? (Yep, I forgot him by December.) Then there's CNN's REA Blakey, who sounds only vaguely familiar. I know a lot of plants, but not the [Dwarf plant of the eastern U.S.], the VIOLET IRIS. Didn't know DAILY DOZEN meant [Set of routine duties]. Didn't really know [France's West Point], Saint-CYR, but think I might've encountered it while reading up on Lili St. Cyr when she was in a puzzle.

Myles has a quartet of numbers in his grid: the Italian TRE and SEI, the Roman III ([Crowd in old Rome?]), and THREE. Three times three plus six equals 15, just perfect for a 15x15 grid. Moving from arithmetic to the arts, we have HENRY MOORE's sculpture; Foucault wrote "This Is Not A PIPE (click link for excellent cartoon!); COROT painted; and Sir Georg SOLTI has won a load of Grammys. (No, ADAM SANDLER doesn't quite make it into the arts sentence.) Moving to the cruciverbal arts, fabulous entries in WATER COOLER, NAME BRAND, RITE-AID, and WHOOSH.

The most devious clues included [Couple in the news in 1945] for ATOMIC BOMBS, [Locks up?] for SPIKED HAIR, [Hang out] for AIR-DRY, and [Sign that something's missing] for CARET. Fortunately, we also had the crossword staple ORIEL (look at the picture—might help you remember it if you know what it looks like, eh?), [Island staple] POI, our favorite pre-Borat Kazakh city, Alma-ATA, and Simpsons staple D'OH. Overall, simply an excellent puzzle. Kudos to Myles and Will Shortz!


O bounteous Saturday! Meaty themeless challenges wherever I turn. Slightly quicker to solve than the NYT and the Newsday puzzle was Bob Mackey's LA Times puzzle, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Precious few gimmes—just CHI McBride and two crosswordesey words, ENOLS and TAL. Everything else, I had to work for. Favorite clues and entries include [Hopelessly ruined] for BELLY-UP, PHONE IN, HIM OR ME, HOT LIPS, [Alito or Scalia, e.g.] for ITALIAN-AMERICAN, and [Going concern?] for TIME OF DEPARTURE (so timely with all the holiday travel this weekend). And of course I always enjoy ISOPODS because that lets me link to the photo of the giant isopod (which I try not to think about when I encounter a wee roly-poly in the house).

In Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper, the clues did manage to stump me pretty well. I even knew what he was getting at with [Rice, for one], but couldn't think of an 8-letter word describing Condi. (DIPLOMAT!) Of all the shout-outs to George Clooney, alas, this one summons up the POMADED George of O Brother, Where Art Thou?. I move that we start using the word pomaded to describe those men who wear too much gel in their hair, even if gel's not technically the same as pomade. Good fill includes DRUTHERS, CON GAMES, and LEAVE IT TO ME. Most mystifying clue: [Judge missing since 1930]. It turned out to be CRATER; you can read about his mysterious disappearance here.

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle is gift-wrapped with the title, "Gnarled Christmas Tree: An Anagram Puzzle." Yup, that's exactly what it is. The stocking stuffers are the longer fill, like DAILY BUGLE, MEERKATS, and IRISH SEA.


December 21, 2006

Friday, 12/22

NYS 6:18
NYT 5:14
12/8 CHE 4:42
LAT 4:36
CS 3:09

WSJ 10:44
Reagle 7:42

(post updated at 10:10 a.m. Friday)

There's much to admire in the day's themeless crosswords—Mike Nothnagel's NYT and David Quarfoot's Sun Weekend Warrior. Looking first at the easier of the two puzzles, here's what I noticed in the NYT: Intersecting 13's through the middle of the grid, with their first and last pairs of letters hooked up to pairs of fantastic 8-letter entries (such as TO THE MAX, IT'S A DEAL, TV REMOTE). Those 13's cross at the letter O, which also starts 11 different entries. Other grand entries include SIM CITY (Wow, it dates back to 1989? My son enjoys the game now.), MY HERO, DEEJAY, TANKED, SNOOZED, QUINTS...not to mention everything with Scrabbly letters (four X's, plus some Q, Z, J, K action). Favorite clues: [Take the top off] for BEHEAD (!), [Show stopper?] for TV REMOTE, and [It can help you carry a tune] for IPOD.

Speaking of Scrabbly, the Quarfoot puzzle uses a Q outside the byline, along with some representatives of the Z, X, J, and K clan. Contemporary fill highlights include AL-ZARQAWI, ZIPCAR (those Zipcar and I-Go Car fleets are peppered all over Chicago's North Side now), XM RADIO, and the 2000 movie, SEXY BEAST. The Nothnagel puzzle serves up TWO EGGS, while Quarfoot cooks OMELETTES. Here there's an entry in two parts: I SEE DEAD/PEOPLE, Haley Joel Osment's memorable line from The Sixth Sense. Plus OUT COLD, OXYMORON, NET GAME, WINDEX—good stuff. Favorite/trickiest clues: the simple [Away] for ROAD (as in road games), [Have a cow] for CALVE, [Host country of the 2006 Asian Games] for QATAR (c'mon, how many other 5-letter countries went through your mind? Korea, Japan, India, Burma, Tibet, Nepal...), and [Turning aid] for SKI POLE (with four of the same letters, I first opted for SPINDLE).


Craig Kasper's December 8 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Poetry Readings," is one of those in which the brilliance of the puzzle lies in the clues. The four theme entries are types of poems—LIMERICK, CINQUAIN, RONDELET, and CLERIHEW. If you don't know how the various rhyme schemes, meter, syllable counts, and other conventions apply in these poetry forms, click the links on their names. The Down clues mentioned in the clues for these entries, while nonsensical as poetry, follow the rules for these forms. Thus, LIMERICK's associated clues, 45 through 51 Down, read, "Made use of to cover one's skin / She gave us original sin / They're held in high standing / Naproxen, by branding / Attack and completely hem in." Aside from the tour de force of clue structure, the fill's good, too. Congratulations on a well-executed and ambitious crossword, Craig.

Patrick Berry's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Carol Channeling," slightly mangles Christmas carol titles to apply to TV shows. Thus, the Baywatch song is O TAN AND BLOND. Kinda tough to tease out the reworked song titles—and I'm familiar with all the TV shows involved. If you're an anti-TV, anti–pop culture solver, you'll really have your work cut out for you. But me? I loved it!

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle for this Sunday has a timely theme—see 64-, 65-, and 66-Across for the theme's core. Funniest clue: [It might be wireless], 3 letters. Non-technical!

The theme in Patti Fitzgerald's LA Times puzzle eluded me for some time. With LOOP HALL, I suspected a sound change from loophole, but it turned out to be a first-half-backwards thing. For consistency, all six of those first-half words are *OO* words.

The most straightforward of the themed puzzles I did today was Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Triple Double Figures"—the theme includes four people who have three sets of double letters in their names.


December 20, 2006

Thursday, 12/21

NYS 5:09
NYT 5:06
CS 3:15
LAT 3:12

(post updated at 8:45 a.m. Thursday)

Yum, yum! Two gnarly Thursday puzzles to chew on, an NYT creation by Lynn Lempel and a Sun crossword by Donna S. Levin. They both had themes that turned out to be fairly straightforward—after the aha dawned. Before then? Gnarly. (Gnarly = challenging in a good way.)

Lynn's NYT puzzle made me work the crossings to tease out the first two theme entries, and the clues were hard enough that the first theme entry I filled in all the way was the third of five, but that gave away the theme. EMBOSS TWEED looked quite obviously like EM + BOSS TWEED. The explanatory fifth one, BRING 'EM ON, finally told me what I needed to piece together the other three. Didn't quite understand DEMON KING until I realized that EM-less, it's the great Don King. [Visine?] is red rover + EM = RED REMOVER. The [Idaho symbol?] is a TATER TOTEM. The very last square I filled in was the juncture between the tricky [It has its ups and downs] and [Takes to heart?]. I had THEDO and ran through the alphabet until the letter W sat up and waved at me (THE DOW, WEDS). I know some people grumble about entries that start with THE, but in this case, "the Dow" is so completely in the language, and nobody calls it just plain "Dow." Other clues I liked include [Goth subjugator] for HUN ("Oh, is that what the kids are calling a jock these days?"), [Professor's workload] for PAPERS, [One with a mission] for DIPLOMAT, and [Taurotragus oryx] for ELAND (does that mean bull-goat-oryx?). Didn't know ELSIE Janis, old comic actress, or lyricist NED Washington. Also liked seeing STREP and STREEP in opposite corners of the grid. Terrific crossword! Good and hard.

"Sounds Like Back Talk" is the title of the Sun puzzle. The theme entries have a couple things going on—"A of B" is flipped to a "B of A" order, and the A and B words are homophones of the originals. Thus, "sense of sight" becomes SITE OF CENTS; "chance of rain," REIGN OF CHANTS; "worst of times," THYMES OF WURST; and "vale of tears," TIERS OF VAIL. I can't imagine how long it took to come up with a suitable set of theme entries—can you think of other possibilities? I found plenty of clues to be tricky. [Opposite of on] for AGO (as in "from this day on" vs. "a day ago"), [It doesn't operate on Yom Kippur] for EL AL, and [Circus tent pole] for STILT. Great fill—TWISTY crossing TOPIARY crossing VIS A VIS, GET A RAISE. And look how the crosswordese [Erne] has been promoted to a position in the clues (SEA EAGLE). Never heard hopscotch called POTSY, but apparently it's an NYC regionalism. As I said about the NYT puzzle, terrific crossword! Good and hard.


Timothy Powell's LA Times puzzle puzzled me a bit—TAFT ERA seemed like a KINDA oddball answer. But then I realized that those 7-letter entries that cross in the center are theme entries, ERA being a DETERGENT. There hasn't been much filth in crosswords lately—two recent bar soap themes and now this laundry detergent theme.

Patrick Jordan packs his CrosSynergy grid with synonyms for suitcase, in a week when many people will be schlepping suitcases through airports.


December 19, 2006

Wednesday, 12/20

NYS 4:57
NYT 3:43
LAT 3:30
CS 3:29

It's Nancy Salomon day all over, with a solo byline in the NYT and a joint production with Brendan Emmett Quigley in the Sun. In the NYT puzzle, the theme is rude things that ill-mannered people say, such as NICE GOING, GENIUS. Puts me in mind of American Idol and its underlying mean streak—hey, the show's back with a new season in a couple weeks! Must set TiVo. Fantastic long non-theme entries, such as DUTY CALLS, and some old-school crossword terms like OGEE and APSE (crossing in today's crosswordese architecture intersection). Anyone know if truckers still use CB radios? Based on the scary movie, Joy Ride, I'll say yes, but CBs have lost that vibe of coolness they had in the '70s.

CBER makes an appearance in both the NYT and the Sun crossword. (Oh! APSE is in the Sun, too. Coincidences abound.) In the latter, the theme is "Iron Supplements," or phrases with supplemental FE. Four of the entries have one iron pill, while the middle one dances with three pills: CHAFE, CHAFE, CHAFE. Most surprising clue: [Douche spray] for EAU (douche being French for "shower"). Never heard of baseball player EMIL Brown, didn't recall that the Lost character named Desmond had the last name HUME, don't know [1918 Allied commander Ferdinand] FOCH, and I can't say I recall the [Early Internet search engine] HOTBOT.


December 18, 2006

Tuesday, 12/19

Tausig 5:00
NYS 4:21
LAT 3:46
Onion 3:37
CS 3:29
NYT 3:01

(post updated at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday)

I'm too tired to concoct a fascinating but spoiler-free introductory paragraph to lure in the reader. (You may ask, "And how does this differ from any other day?") So, on with the specifics:

I enjoyed Sarah Keller's NYT crossword, which toys with silent K by adding it to the front of four phrases that start with N (one of those N's is shared by a silent-G word, GNAW). [Feudal tribunal?], for example, is KNIGHT COURT. If you liked '60s and '70s TV and Mr. Magoo, check out Jim BACKUS's IMDb page. I read up a little on Lucretia Mott when she showed up in a couple crosswords recently, and now it's Carrie Chapman CATT's turn—she worked on women's suffrage and founded the League of Women Voters. I many more deadly E COLI outbreaks before the bacterium's banned from crosswords?

Dave Tuller's Sun 15x16 puzzle is called "Working Animals," and it's got five professional-sounding beasties: the PILOT WHALE, NURSE SHARK, and SURGEONFISH (related to the blue tang, like Dory in Finding Nemo) all patrolling the waters and the CARPENTER ANT and gory BUTCHERBIRD plying their trade on land. A couple dozen 6-, 7-, and 8-letter words adorn the fill in this accomplished puzzle.


Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Way in Front," gathers phrases that start with BACK, LEFT, RIGHT, and FORWARD, all used as verbs rather than directions in the theme entries. A most edjumicational puzzle, as I learned several new words: a band from Montréal called ARCADE FIRE, the anime term SEME, and a basketball player's nickname (T-MAC is Tracy McGrady). Oh, and apparently VOX is a [Wah-wah pedal maker]. I like how the NE and SW corners each have three 7-letter entries stacked up alongside a theme entry—lotta white space for a themed puzzle.

Matt Jones goes RETRO with his Onion A.V. Club puzzle, "Go Ask Santa"—kids' Christmas wishes from a song, TV show, and movie. Good 8-letter entries in the fill—THAT MAY BE, IS IT SAFE, NO PICNIC, etc.


December 17, 2006

Monday, 12/18

CS 3:13
NYS 2:53
NYT 2:50
LAT 2:37

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. Monday)

First up, movie talk. Have you seen Akeelah and the Bee? Fantastic performances from the kids (particularly star Keke Palmer) and the adults (as you'd expect from Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett), plus a spelling-bee story line with a base of tragedy and middle-school angst. I found it far more moving than the documentary, Spellbound—heck, if I'd tried, I could have cried the whole way through it. And yet it didn't feel manipulative. If you were ever a brainy kid, see this movie. (Available on DVD.)

Donna Levin's NYT puzzle was fun to solve, and the Sun offering was an uncommonly easy crossword (easy by Sun standards) by Barry Silk, "Doubles Partners." The NYT puzzle had a timely theme, with three different [Holiday decoration] entries: CHRISTMAS WREATH, KWANZAA UNITY CUP, and HANUKKAH MENORAH. Between the crapload of consonants in the first and the Scrabbly letters in the latter two themers, plus the diversity inherent in the grouping, I liked the theme. The assorted long fill entries were spangly, too—GANGPLANK, GYPSY MOTH. Curiously, there are three quasi-duplications in the fill: OH NO/OH TO, NO-HIT/NO-WIN, and OPUS/OPERA.

Silk's Sun puzzle features five alliterative pairs like DRAG AND DROP. Three of those theme entries are connected by one of the more Scrabbly names from history, KARL MARX (and you know how I like Scrabbly fill). Plus there's a Q, and John UPDIKE. KAPOK doesn't see the inside of a crossword grid much—is that because of its letters or because it's obscure? (I know it because my grandma used to rehash the story about how my dad had to skip gym class in grade school because he was allergic to kapok in the mats or something. But I didn't encounter the word elsewhere for, oh, about 25 years.) Great clue for UMPED: [Worked at home?]. Constructor alert! I've seen ID TAG(S) about four times this month, and I've grown tired of it. Okay, so it's better than IDENT or RETAG, but still.


Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy crossword's a tribute to Jack Palance and his movies/characters. Now, the only Palance movie I've ever seen is City Slickers, but another answer was handed to me by a post in the NYT forum yesterday. Serendipity!

Norma Steinberg's LA Times puzzle was light and easy, plus it's got OBAMA in the grid.


December 16, 2006

Sunday, 12/17

NYT 15 minutes, half hour, whatever
BG 8:36
LAT 7:37
WaPo 7:35
CS 3:57

(post updated at 9:30 a.m. Sunday)

Hey, if you normally solve the Sunday NYT puzzle in the timed applet, you ought to switch to Across Lite (on screen or printed out) for Joe DiPietro's "Lay of the Land." I have it in the applet with a typo somewhere, but am now filling in a hard copy so its elegance can smack me in the face.

So, this puzzle. I had the applet all filled out, but with the rebus action, it was going to drive me nuts to scan the whole grid looking for it. Plus, I wanted to see clearly what was going on with the rebuses (I never do that + thing in the applet to enter more than one letter—hmm, maybe I should start), so I printed out the puzzle and grabbed my trusty EraserMate pen. Along the way, I found my error (I had GET SOFT crossing EMITS rather than GOT SOFT/OMITS), changed a letter in the applet, and submitted my solution. Then I turned back to the hard copy. There are no theme entries per se (at least I don't think there are), but the rebus squares contain two-letter postal abbreviations for 12 states, in their correct geographic locations. CA is on the far west coast, ME in the northeast, FL in the southeast, and KS smack-dab in the center. As a bonus, in symmetrical spots near the northern and southern borders, we've got CANADA and MEXICO. Impressive execution of a great idea!

This was definitely one of the hardest Sunday puzzles in months. Clues I found tough and/or clever included [Mountain top?] for SKI CAP, [Count with many titles] for LEO TOLSTOY, [It may be indicated by a stroke] for ONE A.M., [Eye openers?] for DI[LA]TORS, [Run for dear life?] for ELOPE, [Sound in the middle of Italy] for SCHWA, and [Supplier of candy and toys for kids] for PINATA (America's Funniest Home Videos showed what happens when kids bust open a piñata and only cut veggies tumble out—cauliflower delights no child). Answers I just plain didn't know included ABELARD (who I've heard of, but in terms of "Héloise and"), KAON, Hall-of-Fame pitcher ADDIE Joss, and French conductor RENE Leibowitz. No shortage of phrases in this grid, including a lot of phrasal verbs (YIELD TO, SENT TO, [FL]EW AT) but also OPEN SESAME, NOT FAR, NEON GAS, AM RADIO, BASS F[ID]DLE, and WEA[K S]POT.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle features two triple-stacks of 15-letter entries, one of which is an idiomatic phrase I've never heard.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "Yule Be Sorry," is built around a Phyllis Diller quote.

Randall Hartman's LA Times syndicated puzzle, "C-Span," gathers phrases with a pair of C's in the middle, like ERIC CLAPTON (fun clue: [Cream component?]). You know how [Obi-Wan portrayer] can be either ALEC Guinness or EWAN McGregor? In this puzzle, they're both there, along with DARTH.

Diane Epperson's Washington Post crossword, "Anniversary Gifts," plays around with things on the list of traditional anniversary gifts. The "modern" gifts listed in the second column strain credulity—cars? Groceries? Improved real estate? Oy.

The NYT's Second Sunday puzzle is another of Will Shortz's 3-D Word Hunt games, in which the challenge is to form as many 5-letter words as possible from the 3-D Boggle-type grid. The instructions say his answer list includes 51 common words and five not-so-common words, all found in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. Who doesn't like to pick up a gauntlet that's been thrown down and run away with it? After batting words around with Myles Callum, Peter Gordon, and Martin Herbach, and eliminating words that aren't in that dictionary (which I don't own), I think we've still got 60+.


December 15, 2006

Saturday, 12/16

NYT 6:23
LAT 5:15
Newsday (untimed, but felt about as hard as the LAT)
CS 2:59

12/15 WSJ 7:57

(post updated at 9:40 a.m. Saturday)

Okay, the Wall Street Journal crossword was posted early Friday evening, but I haven't gotten to that yet. Saturday...definitely Saturday.

Also, you can buy some Wordplay merchandise here—mugs, autographed copies of the companion book, a gift set complete with Jon Stewartian glue stick and permanent marker, and hats. Oh, how I coveted the official Wordplay caps that Patrick Creadon and Will Shortz sported at Sundance! And now, my very own cap is en route to me.

The Saturday NYT by David Quarfoot felt a little easier than yesterday's puzzle, and I'll blame the pinot grigio for allowing me to persuade myself that one made-up answer was real: I started out with RESET crossing ESPNETS, even though the latter's clue specifically says "cable," and ESPNews (vexingly lacking its other N) is something I've heard of while ESPNETS is merely something I imagined might include. Strokes of brilliance: [Faux finish] for SILENT X, [Persian attraction] for CATNIP, MR APRIL, SAME-SEX couples, AT THE GYM, YES IT IS (which looks an awful lot like it could be a word for inflammation of the yes), HOKKAIDO (double K!), and all the X's (including PERPLEX, KIX, and X-GAMES). I don't know if it's intentional or not, but it seems like Will Shortz often rewards regular solvers by including some oddball factoid or word twice in a week—that Tahitian airline clue for NUI helped RAPA NUI come quickly to mind in this puzzle. The cross-referenced 3-letter entries, EFF and PEE, are the initials of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president. (Forgot all about him.) Didn't know the TRIOLET [French poetic form], either. And even though almost half of this grid is 7-letter entries, there's so much flavor to them—few of the tack-on-a-prefix-or-suffix, not-quite-a-word words, and plenty of lively and fun stuff that you don't see in many crosswords.

A friend who is visiting me was delighted to know that she'd have gotten at least one entry, the Will and Grace character ROSARIO (Yay, pop culture! See also RENT-A-COP and the A-TEAM.)—but she figures SKEGS (which is clued as [Back parts of keels]) is just a made-up word invented for crosswords. (Cynic!) So I Googled it, and look what's in the Wikipedia entry—more made-up words! "Gudgeons and pintles," my eye!


The theme in "Pest Infestation," the Wall Street Journal crossword by Harvey Estes, came to me quickly—ANTs invading the pantry and/or picnic of the theme entries. What I liked best here, actually, were the NW and SE corners with their bundled 8-letter entries—APPLE PIE, BLEEPING, and BANDANNA, EINSTEIN and his friend ERIC IDLE.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Tight Ends," has a very basic theme (phrases that end with words that may follow "tight"), but has a fun vibe to it.

Myles Callum's LA Times themeless is a nice one, with stacks of 9- and 10-letter entries. Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper also has stacks of 9-letter entries in the corners, bound together by two 15-letter entries crossing in the center. [Center of South Florida], 5 letters, is not EPCOT, which is in central Florida.


December 14, 2006

Friday, 12/15

NYT 7:06
NYS 6:18
LAT 5:09
12/1 CHE 4:07
CS 3:48

Reagle 7:55
WSJ tba

(post updated at 9:00 a.m. Friday)

Between a soporific state and one of those Vh1 clip shows ("Most Embarrassing Celebrity Moments"—ah, schadenfreude, my old friend!), this'll be a short(ish) post.

First up: Why on earth do you solve crosswords? What do you get out of it? And isn't it a bit like playing video games? Blogger Rich S makes a good case for the latter—and not in a bad way—in a thoughtful rumination on the crossword fixation.

The Friday NYT is by Levi Denham, and the puzzle's reminiscent of those by Sherry Blackard and Bob Klahn—just a lot of stuff packed into a grid and hiding behind tough clues. There were a few gimmes, like the A-ha song "Take ON ME" and DDT (both are toxic!). Plenty of 11-letter phrases—felt more like a Saturday than a Friday.

Alan Arbesfeld's Sun crossword, "Joint Administrations," sandwiches two presidential names together, monkeys with the word breaks, and reclues. For example, JOHNSON and GRANT become [Musical diatribe from the bathroom?]—a scary, scary clue with the non-scary JOHN SONG RANT answer. Nifty theme, I thought. No shortage of wicked clues elsewhere—[Bets follow them] is ALEPHS, not a gambling term; [Say "C-H-E-E-S-E"?] is SPELL, not SMILE; [Dutch astronomer Jan] is OORT, as in the Oort cloud; [Good fighter?] is EVIL.

Lemme go on record as saying I've grown mighty tired of all the hair-care-related clues for GEL/GELS lately. The Friday Sun, the Thursday NYT, and at least one or two other puzzles I've done this week. Can we get an aspic or an agar reference, or something other than salons and hairdressers? The verb form? Toothpaste?


Michael Ashley's December 1 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "League of Nations," duped me at first. Given the title, I thought the Costa Rican and Mexican presidents were part of the theme. Quite cleverly, the theme entries are...well, I'll let you discover that for yourself. There's an entry toward the end that ties the theme entries together in a fancy bow (figuratively).

Merl Reagle's "Cliche Combos" features words that have become "married" in English idiom, such as "scantily clad"—how often do you see a different adverb for that sense? Merl gathers 11 other phrases like that. It'd be fun to mess with these idioms and call someone an abject amateur, but I'd probably get some odd looks if I did that.

Robert Wolfe's LA Times puzzle puns with five musical notes (as in KNEAD THE DO). The square that gave me the most trouble was the crossing of the woody fiber BAST with BORE, clued as [Was worthy of]. BAST?? If I were editing that corner, I might've opted for CAST/CORE, FAST/FORE, LAST/LORE, MAST/MORE, or PAST/PORE. Also, I love pop-culture clues, but only when they're recent enough to be in my ken; [Harry of old Westerns] didn't shout CAREY to me. [Mariah of "Glitter"], sure.

The Wall Street Journal's Across Lite version won't be available until later today, maybe Friday evening.


December 13, 2006

Thursday, 12/14

NYS 5:28
NYT 4:29
LAT 4:08
CS 3:30

(post updated at 9:30 a.m. Thursday)

Today's The Oprah Winfrey Show was a rerun (anyone whose bras don't fit perfectly, check out this link to info from the episode). But at Harpo Studios, they recorded an upcoming show featuring assorted "How'd They Do That?" topics, including how crosswords are made. Will Shortz and Merl Reagle were on the show, which, alas, I was not invited to attend. But Tyler Hinman was in the heavily estrogenic audience, and he lived to tell the tale. More important, my degree of separation from Oprah has dropped precipitously. "Oh, you live in Chicago? Have you ever gotten tickets to see Oprah?" "No, but I know a couple guys who were guests on the show." Woot!

This week, the Sun Themeless Thursday crossword's by Jeffrey Harris, and the NYT puzzle's by Ed Early.

In the NYT crossword, the theme consists of a riddle presented in four 15-letter entries, with a 3-letter answer in the bottom corner of the grid: A FISH WITH NO EYES turns out to be FSH, which...I FISH minus the letter I? I know FSH better as follicle-stimulating hormone (I know some women who've had their FSH levels checked) and a type of muscular dystrophy (my brother-in-law's buddy has this—it affects the arm, shoulder, and face muscles). So the punchline seemed bizarre to me. Plus, FISH only has one I to begin with, so oughtn't the fish lose one eyeball in the riddle? Hey, old-school solvers: Remember when ELATER was always clued as "click beetle"? And raise your hand if [Better suited] induced you to enter APTER until the crossings eventually made you change it to ABLER, though the clue aptly clues APTER. Props for the inclusion of four X's in the grid.

Moving along to Jeffrey's Sun puzzle, raise your hand if you wanted 1-Down to be TATARS rather than NOMADS. I know someone whose last name is Tatar, so I always want Mongol Horde–related entries to be that. Always nice to see ORANGE in the grid, and the SW corner's combo of JAM BAND, AQUARIUS, and YUMMIEST is, well, yummiest. Not being a New York baseball fan, I'd never heard of Manny ACTA, who turns out to have been born two months after Sammy Sosa in the same Dominican town. I did know that [Annie Oakleys] are PASSES—one of those oddball factoids I learned from a crossword. I hope someone can explain in 25 words or less why PEDRO is [The five of trumps]; heck, a one-word answer would be good. Yes, EARRINGS are usually sold in pairs, but you can pay a little more than half to get just one (as I did when purchasing an engagement earring for my man lo these many years ago). Wonderfullest clue in this puzzle: [Pole position?] for EUROPE.


Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy theme in "Get Yer Ya-Yas Out," with two 14's, two 10's and two 6's, is more fun than a Ya-Ya Sisterhood.


December 12, 2006

Wednesday, 12/13

NYS 4:42
NYT 4:12
LAT 3:29
CS 3:11

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday)

Both Dave Sullivan's NYT crossword and the Sun puzzle by Donna Levin are highlighted by some nifty fill, particularly in the 8- to 10-letter length. The themes are divergent—in Dave's puzzle, he españolizes the theme entries by adding an O, as in POLLO QUESTION, clued as ["Why did the chicken cross the road?," e.g., in Tijuana?] (but oy, who put the comma between the question mark and quotation mark?). I especially liked ACE VENTURA, YEAH YOU (which happens to be a memorable line from Sixteen Candles), CRITIQUE, and PEDICURE. I didn't know what BEE BALM was, but learned via Wikipedia that it's related to fragrant bergamot (but not the self-same bergamot that's in Earl Grey tea). I learned a new celeb name—ESSIE Davis, an Aussie actress who played Maggie in the Matrix sequels that I didn't see.

The other day, I was pondering why AT THE COPACABANA hadn't been used as a 15. Probably because the song doesn't much use those exact words in that sequence, eh? But the next best thing (or really, a better thing) is to pay homage to that with Donna Levin's COBRA CABANA, [Changing room for a snake?], in her "In Cold Blood" crossword. No Capote, but a COBRA, NEWT, IGUANA, and BOA. My favorite fill entry was LOU RAWLS, mainly because I don't know chess notation and figured it was LAURA somebody until that second L finally filled itself in and made me reparse the word break. CASHMERE is soft, but a DUNCE CAPmakes you want to skulk off and be CURLED UP somewhere. A Gordon-friendly clue for PALAU is the trivially educational [Pacific Ocean nation whose largest island is Babelthuap]—I do like those little learning opportunities that pop up in crosswords.


If you like old comic books (or new stories continuing old comic books, don't miss Paula Gamache's LA Times puzzle today. And if you enjoy anagram-based themes, try Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Teams' Mates."



Quick question: I know that not a single one of you has bought any of the books via the Amazon links in the sidebar (and darn it, I was hoping to earn cents on each copy), but have any of you sought out one of those books elsewhere because you saw it here?


December 11, 2006

Tuesday, 12/12

Onion 4:36
Tausig 4:06
NYS 3:46
LAT 3:30
NYT 3:14
CS 2:59

(post updated at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday)

The Tuesday NYT, a joint effort with Vic Fleming, marks Stephen Manion's constructing debut. Congratulations, Steve!

The Sun crossword, "Enter Laughing," is credited to Randall Ha-Hartman, which can clue you in on the theme—a HA tacked onto the beginning of each of the five theme entries. My favorite of the batch was HAREM SLEEP, a play on R.E.M. sleep. Once again, my inattention to the NYC theater world rears its head in a crossword—who knew AS IS was the name of a play? Not I.

Steve and Vic's puzzle in the Times has a BITTER END theme, in which the other five theme entries end with a word that can follow BITTER—e.g., [BITTER]SWEET, [BITTER] TRUTH. (Whaddaya call that kind of theme, anyway? Is there a name for that?) Not that I like to be reminded of the [BITTER] COLD concept, having just escaped from a wicked cold snap. And I know it's a temporary reprieve, what with January and February lurking in ambush. Having IBO clued as [Nigerian native] reminds me—several days back, when the afternoon high was about 17 degrees, I saw a Nigerian-native neighbor emerge from an airport taxi, laden with giant suitcases, wearing a light track jacket. Yeah, it hadn't been 17 degrees in Nigeria. BAY AREA was a highlight in the fill—surprisingly, it's got a mere two appearances in the Cruciverb database.


Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle, "Arrested Development," honors series that, like Arrested Development, got cancelled despite the avid enthusiasm of cleverer TV viewers. I missed FREAKS AND GEEKS, watched a little of MY SO-CALLED LIFE in reruns (MTV, right?), watched all of SPORTS NIGHT (but just can't get into Sorkin's latest show, that one with 60 in the title that has a premise similar to that of 30 Rock), and watched quirky WONDERFALLS for the few weeks it aired. I hear it's being shown somewhere on cable now. Anyway, this puzzle was chock full of stuff I had to guess at (hey, anyone know what the S in SWAG stands for? I know the rest is "wild-ass guess.") CLARA Rockmore? (Hey, that was my grandma's first name.) KOMBU seaweed? (Don't eat sushi.) FIT TO DROP? Don't know anyone who uses the idiom. And I thought I had no idea why [Follower of Jimmy] would be RONALD, but just remembered Carter and Reagan. TATU was only vaguely familiar to me, and I didn't know MOFO was part of a Chili Peppers album title or that TICO was part of a Brazilian song title. Loved [___ pad] for MAXI, ANGKOR WAT, and the mention of NICK NOLTE's mug shot—and any reference to Hammer pants is always welcome.

The theme in Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle is the most common BOAT NAMES in recent years, every one of 'em a truly lame pun. This theme, it left my sensibilities bruised, and I actually have a reasonably high tolerance for puns. Favorite entry was MUUMUU, with the clue tied to The Simpsons episode when Homer deliberately gained weight to be heavy enough to qualify for disability and thereby work from home, clad in his "fat-man muumuu" and a hat, which, if I recall correctly, had a nautical slant to it.

(As a reminder, both of these indie puzzles can be downloaded here.)


December 10, 2006

Monday, 12/11

CS 3:02
NYS 2:59
LAT 2:52
NYT 2:50

(updated at 8:20 a.m. Monday)

Two impressive Monday offerings in the Sun and the Times—by Francis Heaney and David Kahn, respectively. The Kahn puzzle pays tribute to RITA MORENO, who turns 75 (!) (damn, she looks good) on Monday, with a 75-square theme. Hey, double 75's—coincidence or mind-blowing intentionality? The theme includes her name, birthplace, job, and four shows for which she won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony. And, as a hidden shout-out to her work on HBO's Oz, there's TOTO from The Wizard of Oz.

Francis's Sun puzzle is called "Broadway Closings," and it's got six hidden MUSICALS at the end of symmetrically placed entries. The public radio show FRESH AIR contains HAIR, for instance. I'm not a Broadway buff, but I think the six shows are HAIR, NINE, CHESS (?), RENT, MAME, and AIDA, and they're embedded in an assortment of top-notch fill (MEZZANINE, EDAMAME, AL QAIDA, Yves ST LAURENT finally expanding past his crosswordese initials). There are plenty of 7- and 8-letter entries that aren't part of the theme (SCRAWNY, LEADFOOT, SPINOZA), which is a nice touch. DECIDER looks like one of those iffy tack-on-an-ending words, except that Bush's "I'm the decider" has given this one legs. Favorite clue: [List of good things that comes from those who wait?] for MENU. Runner-up: [High crime?] for DUI.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword, "Bondsmen," doesn't have the 13-letter, single-film Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby, but everyone else in the category is in the grid. Wait, Wikipedia informs me that Dalton actually made two Bond movies. Who remembered? Quick question for those who care about such things: Are BEWARE and WARY considered duplicative if they appear in the same puzzle? (If so, then add the CrosSynergy team to the list of editors who may not adhere to a hard-and-fast rule against dupes.)


December 09, 2006

Sunday, 12/10

NYT 14:12 (about 9:30 plus 5 minutes of scrounging around for that one bad square)
LAT 9:00
WaPo 8:31
BG 8:29
CS 5:56

(post updated at 12:30 p.m. Sunday)

I greatly enjoyed how David Kahn worked the theme in his NYT crossword, "Putting on Heirs." My one least favorite entry looked so obviously right (despite one wrong letter) that I hadn't even checked the crossings, until finally hopscotching the down entries (tab, tab, tab, ad nauseam) took me to the Square of Pure Evil. And then I expunged the memory by heading to the kitchen to bake delectable oatmeal–chocolate chip–pecan–cranberry cookies (the Quaker oats recipe, minus raisins, plus goodness). I have et of the dough, I have et of the crispy cookies, and I am ready to blog.

So, what ailed me during my solving time earlier this evening? 'Twas SLATY, [Bluish gray]. Not SLATE, because, well, a [Yellow ball] could be a YOLK but not an EOLK. (In making cookies, you better believe I spanked those egg yolks hard.) Google has about 450,000 hits for slaty vs. 33,000,000 for slate. The former seems to like nature—the slaty-backed gull, the dragonflyish slaty skimmer, slaty cleavage of rocks. SLATY, you'll not vanquish me again! The theme adds a SON somewhere, to excellent effect; Virgin Mary becomes [Newly mortared bricks and stone], or VIRGIN MASONRY, the Hamletian WATCH YOUR STEPSON, and the [Old Roman's boast after a deer hunt?], VENISON VIDI VICI. I wonder which of the eight theme entries was the seed for this crossword. Another great touch is the 10-letter entries at 2- and 3-Down and their opposites across the grid—one of them is EARED SEALS, who've been promoted from being a clue for the crosswordese-ish OTARY. Some baseball stuff, including TWO ON ([Runners at the corners, say, in baseball]), but not [World Series game] (POKER). Other good clues: [Company on the move] for TROUPE, [Spoke in a poke?] for OINKED, and [Wedding band, maybe] for OCTET. Raise your hand if you knew that SAMOA is [Where "yes" is "ioe," pronounced in three syllables].


I have a new game I play with the CrosSynergy puzzles—waiting to see if the byline reads "Bob Klahn" and I'm in for an extra shot of challenge that day. Today's themeless Sunday Challenge is indeed a Klahn puzzle, though a bit easier than many of his monsters. Absolute favorite clue: [Luster, e.g.] for SINNER. Runner-up: [Beethoven in 1992, e.g.] for DOG STAR.

In his LA Times syndicated puzzle, "Jailbreak," Patrick Blindauer busts the CONs out of the joint, so that reunion concerts become [Mints at a homecoming?], or REUNION CERTS. And campsite tipplers go the the ALCOHOL TENT, of course. Minor quasi-nit and/or question: Can [Old VHS option] be BETA, or was that strictly an alternative to VHS, and an old VCR option? My in-laws were still hanging onto their Betamax machine as late as 1988 or '89—but they've actually got an HD TV set and a DVD player now.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Election Results," features a cynical quip that's not too hard to get because the title helps the solver fill in the blanks—more so than with most quip/quote crosswords. Where Patrick Bl. used Lucretia MOTT, Henry H. uses LUCRETIA Mott. Go read about her and her efforts fighting against slavery and for the rights of blacks and women to vote.

I did like the fill in Patrick Berry's Washington Post crossword, "Bird Watching," and I do like birds (though my husband finds them untrustworthy and a bit creepy), but the theme entries stretched the bounds of sound-alike puns pretty far. Lots of pop culture in the fill, newer (Howard Stern's sidekick ARTIE, TV's [Movie Macabre" host] ELVIRA) and older (Renée ADOREE; HELEN KANE, the inspiration for Betty Boop) and in between (theme entries based on All in the Family and Welcome Back, Kotter and...wait a minute! Ah, the true elegance of the theme dawns on me only now. "Bird Watching" plunks in bird puns to alter the names of TV series. The plunking still seems a bit off to me, but I'll give Patrick B. props for the thematic consistency of TV shows.)


Mmm, taste the cruciverbal goodness!

(I'm borrowing this from a comment I wrote at the Rex Parker blog.)

Some of my favorite themeless constructors have a certain flavor to their work, hallmarks that they use more often than not.

Karen Tracey likes Scrabbly letters and insane-named geographic entities—an exotic curry, perhaps.

Byron Walden likes to build a puzzle around one or two entries with a showy batch of letters in them, and frosts them all with devious clues—imported bittersweet chocolate with nuts, a smoky whiskey.

Harvey Estes tends toward fill that feels light and droll (even in his cryptics in Games), with a smattering of churchy words—a rich soufflé, not something to rush through like a dish of pudding.

Constructors like Bob Klahn and Sherry Blackard seem to go more for straight-up wicked difficulty, like Scotch bonnet peppers. Patrick Berry, perhaps a slightly milder hot pepper.

What flavors do your favorite constructors' styles embody? (And no fair picking someone who bores you and likening their work to Wonder Bread.)


December 08, 2006

Saturday, 12/9

NYT 5:56
Newsday 4:16
LAT 4:12
CS 3:18

(post updated at 9:00 a.m. Saturday)

I bided my time during Ben’s two hours of after-school activities by solving about 15 themeless crosswords. Just 3 1/2 months to Stamford! Training continues apace. And I’ve already bought my plane tickets. Nancy Shack tipped me off to a great airfare ($120 round-trip!) so I couldn’t resist. Tyler Hinman’s booked on the same flight as Nancy and me…so it occurs to me that Ellen Ripstein’s whole “If somebody’s plane couldn’t make it, I wouldn’t be too upset” thing, well, what if somebody’s plane made it, but one passenger wasn’t allowed to board? Ah, but that’s not nice. Plus, Tyler and I have discussed the idea of a Tipsy Tournament—tackling crosswords under the influence after the wine reception on Friday evening. Who’s in?

Moving right along…Ah, delicious! Another themeless puzzle in which the grid’s got two quadrants with only a single word connecting them to the rest of the grid. I like the extra challenge that structure imposes. This time, the constructor is Robert H. Wolfe, and he’s packed this 58-worder with plenty of “Huh?” stuff (as we expect on a Saturday). To wit: Things I didn’t know, but which make sense after they’re pieced together. The [Mathematical grouping] COSET and light-emanating RADIANTS; the CYCLECAR of a century ago; and the British military’s Taps, LAST POST, and [Tax, in Tottenham] for CESS. Unfamiliar names, such as baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe CRONIN and LEONID Andreyev, a Russian writer [famous for his horrific tales]. Now, one thing I did know was [Auriga's brightest star], CAPELLA, but only because it killed me eight weeks ago in a Byron Walden puzzle. Clues I liked include [It can be carved out] for CAREER, [Write seperately, say] for MISSPELL, [Shade provider] for COLORANT, and [Note] for EMINENCE (as in "person of note"). On the minus side, there are a few of those words that end with -ER or start with RE-, but hell, it's a gnarly 58-worder, so who cares?


The day's other themeless puzzles, by Matt Skozcen in the LA Times and Daniel Stark with the Newsday Saturday Stumper, were considerably easier. I tend to prefer those with stacks of 9-, 10-, or 11-letter entries to those with a slew of interlocking 7's. Why? Because the longer an entry is, the more likely it is to be seasoned with the zesty herbs and spices that are good multi-word phrases. The Skoczen puzzle, for example, has CHA CHA CHA, LADIES' MAN, ODD MAN OUT (and no, honestly, I don't care that MAN's in there twice, and didn't notice it while solving—so it would appear that both Will Shortz and Rich Norris are OK with good puzzles containing a little duplication [solvers take note]), AMOS 'N' ANDY, SEA OF AZOV (I do like me some geography), MOHS SCALE. The Saturday Stumper, on the other hand, has just a handful of phrases amid a slew of 7-letter words. Another difference between Newsday and the other newspaper puzzles I solve are that Newsday clues tend to be much shorter. Sometimes I like that elegance, and sometimes I prefer long, trivia-packed clues.


December 07, 2006

Friday, 12/8

NYT 5:24
NYS 4:42
LAT 4:12
CS 3:07

Reagle 10:41
WSJ 9:07

(post updated 8:30 a.m. Friday)

I'm in that delicate zone between awake enough to enjoy a themeless crossword and too sleepy to be coherent. I was so much more alert at 9:00 when I started Harvey Estes' NYT crossword than I am now, and sheesh, it's 9:18 as I write this.

Harvey's puzzle features six 15-letter entries going across, and they're all glued together by three vertical 15's. From a constructing standpoint, that just looks...fearsome. The nonet of long entries have a fresh feel to them—particularly YOUR PLACE OR MINE. Entertaining clues, such as [Passage leading to Panama?] for A MAN A PLAN A CANAL, [Dollar rival] for EURO, and [Time to draw?] for NOON. Plenty of old-school fill here to facilitate the slew of 15's, but not with the same old clues—for example, RARA, ERAT, and ENOLA all eschew mention of "___ avis,", Q.E.D., and "___ Gay" (though OMOO and IRAE do have more malleable clues—[Novel of the South Seas] and [Dies ___]). And ETUI! Who knew that the Europeans were all about the étuis these days? The clue reads [German iPod holder], and Google turns up a zillion French references (such as the Louis Vuitton iPod étui). ETUI! Hip again! I eagerly await an animated feature film about a feckless anoa making her way through a challenging world. This puzzle's also got some local appeal, with [___Center (Chicago's second tallest building)]. The AON Center used to be the Amoco Building and before that, in my childhood, the Standard Oil Building. Such schadenfreude when they had to replace the entire stone façade a few years back! Anyway...thanks for the puzzle, Harvey and Will.

Karen Tracey's Sun Weekend Warrior wasn't too hard, but it was a classic piece of Traceyiana: A Scrabbly world capital, Chad's N'DJAMENA. Fun stuff like SHLEMIEL, WASABI, and WATUSI (what? no WAPITI to fill out the WA***I possibilities?). Consonant explosions like CBGB and Greta SCACCHI. The clues were interesting but fair—[Husband of Cornelia] for CAESAR, [They may be tragic] for FLAWS, [Blue or bird follower] for FLU. And look! KEN is clued as ["Brainiac" author Jennings]. There's also a dash of ethnic pride inherent in UNITAS, [He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the same year as Butkus]—ah, two Lithuanian-Americans! (Me, I'm an eighth Lithuanian.) So, thanks for a fun puzzle, Karen and Peter.


Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Caveat Emptor," warns you away from various members of professions, such as trombonist said to be LONG-WINDED and a drummer who's A LITTLE OFF-BEAT.

Ouch. Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle for this Sunday, "The Same Name Game 2," assembles nine different Floyds, without telling you that's the name they all have in common. Some are real people, some fictional—plus there's Pink Floyd. The first theme entry I filled in completely was PIANO MAN CRAMER, and even after figuring out Floyd can be added to each name, I still didn't recognize the guy's name. (Ouch.) And TV's Floyd the Barber had a last name? I had no idea. GANGSTER PRETTY BOY finally clued me in on the theme.


December 06, 2006

Thursday, 12/7

NYS 5:31
LAT 3:57
NYT 3:47
CS 3:15

Kelly Clark's NYT puzzle and Joy M. Andrews' Sun crossword play around in different ways. I found the NYT offering to be much easier, but then, I'd just been practicing backwards spelling when putting my kid to bed (telling him his backwards name is Nimajneb). So easy-enough crossings combined with DRENS in a [Dummy up?] clue put me in mind of MORTIMER SNERD, traveling upwards. Interestingly, the four theme entries are presented as four consecutive Down clues, [___ up?] or [___ down?] depending on which way the entry runs. To liven things up, there's SEX smack-dab in the center of the grid (we'll overlook GOUT and ODOR here). Fortunately, I'd seen ORACH and ASHCAN in crosswords before, or else that bottom center section might've slaughtered me. You know what I learned in college that helped in this puzzle? My freshman-year RA was from HAVRE, Montana. I'll bet a lot of solvers penciled in BUTTE, which is a Montana town with a Frenchy name, because who's ever heard of HAVRE, Montana? Last comment: This is one of those crosswords in which the editor doesn't stick to the standard limit of 38 black squares.

The Sun puzzle, "Possessive People," has a 15x16 grid, also not the standard. The five theme entries follow the pattern of [famous name]'s [noun], and when you re-parse the entry to plunk that S at the beginning of the noun, you get a last-name-first famous person. Or not so famous—I didn't know the name Sloan Wilson lurking within WILSON'S LOAN (he was a writer; a couple of his books became films). The others are a Stooge (HOWARD'S HEMP—when will Shemp's hairdo make a comeback?), comedian (CAESAR'S ID), director (LEE'S PIKE), and tennis player (SMITH'S TAN). Great theme, plus some great fill—CROP TOP, NEOCONS. Oh, I had to look up Grateful Dead bassist Phil LESH; my tie-dye credentials are iffy.


December 05, 2006

Wednesday, 12/6

NYS 4:33
NYT 3:44
LAT 3:44
CS 3:15

(post updated at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday)

Okay, today's the day I will talk about Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle, the one I inadvertently did a day early. (I do try to solve the Sun puzzles on the NYT-solving schedule for ease of timely and comprehensible blogging—not that I lay claim to always being comprehensible.) And also Levi Denham's NYT crossword.

First, the NYT, as it's fresher in my mind 10 minutes after solving. The theme entries hid their commonality from me for a while. First I thought it had to do with double letters, thinking that the great 10-letter entries at 11- and 29-Down (non-theme fill, as it turns out) were part of the theme. It's delightfully showy to work INTERMEZZO and HUBBA HUBBA into the grid just for sport, crossing a couple theme entries apiece. Then I decided the theme was the embedded ERR within each long across entry, but how boring would that be? It turned out to be more elegant than that—with TERRA spanning the middle of five theme entries, it's a "LAND" BRIDGE (the sixth themer) joining each pair of words. Not crazy about NEUR, IBLE, or TIRER, but with a 66-letter theme and the aforementioned long down answers, I'm content overall.

Patrick Blindauer has a style all his own. His themes generally strike me as interesting twists I wouldn't have thought of, and that offer something a little different from what the other constructors do. In the Wednesday Sun crossword, "Getting Personal," Patrick inserts an I, YOU, HE, SHE, and IT into common phrases, and these theme entries appear in that standard grammar-lesson order (first person singular, second person singular, three types of third person singular). The fill includes nice bits like FAT LIP, PLETHORA, and REAGAN in the same corner as ATOMIC and a famous transsexual. Now, regular commenter Barry Weprin bemoans the "Petergordonisms," clues in Sun puzzles that veer toward the obscure to avoid repetition (which may well be written by the constructor and not Peter). The clue for MASH might fit that category: [Richard Hooker book subtitled "A Novel About Three Army Doctors"]. I've never heard of the author and wasn't aware the movie and TV series were based on a book, but isn't that a nifty bit of trivia to pick up? My husband was just mentioning MUIR Woods the other day—the only place I've been where you can't find your way out of the woods by knowing that moss grows on the north side of a tree, as the trees there tended to be mossy the whole way around. Another potential Petergordonism is [Taiping Rebellion general] for TSO—why the chicken dish bears the general's name is apparently unclear.


Both Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword and Jesse Goldberg's LA Times puzzle include JIMI Hendrix, on the heels of last week's Themeless Thursday in the Sun, where Seth Abel included his full name. Are you experienced?


December 04, 2006

Tuesday, 12/5

Onion 4:37
NYS 4:32
Tausig 4:32
NYT 3:14
CS 3:07
LAT 2:59

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. Tuesday)

Aww. I made a mistake and did Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle for Wednesday, which I oughtn't blog about until tomorrow, but I liked it. It was actually a little easier than the Tuesday Sun, I thought.

The NYT puzzle by Kenneth Berniker included a smattering of proper names, but right there at 1-Across, I was stumped by [Soprano Lehmann], who turned out to be LILLI. In the Cruciverb database, this 19th-century opera singer appears just once, in a 1999 Boston Globe puzzle. Aha! No wonder I didn't know the name. She isn't pop culture, and she ain't even crosswordese these days. That corner of the puzzle seemed more Wednesday than Tuesday to me. Ambitious theme, with a 15-letter vertical entry down the middle of the grid plus four phrases that start with 3-letter initialisms. This crossword also happens to pair RADII and ULNAS, INCA and AZTEC, and the confession I AM BI ([What gay men wish Brad Pitt would say?]). Oh, wait...that's IAMBI, plural of iambus.

The Tuesday Sun puzzle by Alan Arbesfeld culls phrases that contain a homophone of a musical instrument and swaps in the instrument. My favorite theme entry was [Noisy lovemaking props?]/SEX CYMBALS, which paints a vivid scene. Also an ambitiously sized theme, with five long entries, enhanced by some Scrabblicious fill.


Two months ago, Harvey Estes included AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, the Richard Gere/Winona Ryder movie, in an NYT theme. Patrick Jordan plays with it in his CrosSynergy puzzle, turning it into a "Late Show" as WINTER IN NEW YORK. What I'm wondering: Did anyone you know actually see that movie?

Alex Boisvert, who has today's LA Times crossword, left a blog comment yesterday about a crossword editor's pseudonym. Several newspapers' puzzle editors often use pseudonyms in the byline when they publish their own handiwork. Barry Haldiman's list of these aliases is here. Alex's theme is great—two 15's and two 14's following the form of THE ___ IS/ARE ___, in which the two blanks are opposites (as in THE ODDS ARE EVEN). I love old words like RAKEHELL, which has a decent Wikipedia write-up.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is "What? Me Worry?" It pays homage to paranoid conspiracy theorists and the things they fret about. Major props for including FLUMMOX in the fill—a word I ought to use more often. (How do you flummox a lummox?) Never heard of ["Chunklet" or "Skyscraper"], which crossed a basketball player (is the repeating MVP Steve NASH or a different NASH?) and [Invader ___ (former Nickelodeon alien)]. I guessed at ZINE and Invader ZIM, and they panned out. In the opposite corner, I was temporarily flummoxed by a couple other crossings, having first opted to spell it PUH-LEEZE rather than PUH-LEASE. All right, how many people know Bob Marley's wife's name off the top of their head? At least I was semi-familiar with the STAX record label, so that corner came together, too. (Is this what it's like to not own a TV and try to solve the NYT crossword every day?)

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Think'ing' Differently," transforms phrases starting with -ING words by using those words as verbs instead of...whatever the term is for an adjective made out of an -ing noun. [The "V" in V-Day], it should be noted, does not pertain to victory as in VE-Day and VJ-Day. [Dizzee Rascal's genre] is GRIME; I'm gonna guess that's something hip-hoppy, but I don't have time to look it up now. And industrial musician Scott KLAY—never heard of him. But years ago, I ran into a former high-school classmate, who said she was doing "industrial dance." Is that more like "industrial films" or "industrial music"? I dunno. Great fill, with THE STRIP, VIS A VIS, DIAL-UP, and GO PRO.


December 03, 2006

Monday, 12/4

NYS 3:52
NYT 3:23 (or 2:38 if it hadn't been for that typo)
LAT 2:42
CS 2:25

(post updated at 5:30 p.m.. Monday)

Grr for typos! Why is it that when a typo parks itself in one corner of the grid, the solver invariably starts looking for the error on the opposite side? Must be Murphy's law of online crossword solving. One of the things I liked best about Richard Chisholm's NYT crossword was the preponderance of proper names—about 20 of them, in fact, not counting those in the theme entries. I'm fond of puzzles that include plenty of names of people and places. The theme is blissfully free of Tom Cruise, whom PENELOPE CRUZ dated for a couple years. It's nice to see Penelope keeping company here with entirely different homophones of her last name. Other highlights include GEEZER, "Been there, DONE THAT," and UNDERAGE.

Why, the theme in Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle positively fizzes, doesn't it? "Pop Quiz" is a 15x16 crossword with five one-word sodapop brands at the ends of the theme entries. Today, I noticed that my cellphone matches Diet Coke's silver-and-red color scheme, so it's been a carbonated day all around. Nicely Scrabbly, with three Z's, an X, a Q, and three K's. I like the non-Mondayish cluing of WATER SPRITE as [Undine], not to mention OLE MISS being [Oxford university, familiarly].

I just solved the Second Sunday NYT puzzle, a cryptic crossword by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. Most of the Across clues contained the word "clue" or "hint," so there's a nice thematic bent to it.


I was out all day for my grandmother's funeral. The sadness was lightened considerably by the array of old photos my sister had gathered together—I hadn't ever known that one of my cousins and her daughter bore such a strong resemblance to my grandma at age 10, having never seen these photos before. And my dad had been a skinny kid—who knew he was such a butterball as a baby? Too cute. The assorted family rifts even healed up a bit today, so all in all, not so sad.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Big Box Office," is that rarity: An easy Monday puzzle packed with terrific fill, much of it long.

"Lila Cherry" (really Rich Norris) assembled four words/phrases with double K's for the theme, and jacked up the Scrabble count with a total of 10 K's, two Z's, two J's, and a Q.


December 02, 2006

Sunday, 12/3

NYT 10:11
WaPo 8:07
LAT 7:41
BG 7:07
CS 4:25

(post updated at 10:55 a.m. Sunday)

That was weird. First I started out with the NYT applet set for a daily-size puzzle rather than a Sunday, and couldn't quite comprehend what was happening. Then I remembered to switch to the large grid, but was struck by déjà vu as I began reading the clues in Pat Merrell's "Prefix Remix," and pondered the wisdom of continuing to solve a puzzle that I'd done before instead of finding the correct puzzle—before snapping out of it and realizing it was the right puzzle. Then I started to have trouble typing properly. I remain in a bit of a fugue state and probably ought to go to bed early tonight. Oh, wait, it's kinda late to be getting to bed early.

So anyway, the puzzle. The theme splits out a word's prefix and clues it as a two-word phrase, so SUPERVISOR is parsed as the building SUPER's VISOR, clued [Headwear for a building chief?], and COUNTER BALANCES are [Amounts owed at a diner?]. I liked the theme, but the non-theme fill was even better—the blah A-TEST crosses ATOMIC, which spells out the A in A-TEST (so you know it's not N-TEST here). The VON TRAPP family, WISCONSIN, I MANAGE (clued ["Somehow everything gets done"]) and the contradictory HELP ME, PILSNER and GESTALT, and the out-of-left-field DECAGONAL. I hear they're working on a movie version of CHiPs, with the Erik ESTRADA part played by Wilmer Valderrama. So, what was your favorite part of this puzzle? And am I the only one who was hit with déjà vu?


Seth Abel's name is showing up more often in bylines these days, isn't it? He's got today's Washington Post crossword, "Playing the Field," which reclues phrases that happen to include a word that's also a football position. Hence, [Gridder on a crowded bus] is a STANDING GUARD, and [Scornful gridder] is a BITTER END. SUDOKUS and KWANZA lent the fill some sparkle. And this time around, I knew [St. Philip ___] was NERI; a week or two ago, that one had stumped me in another puzzle.

1-Down in Sean O.F. Smith's LA Times syndicated puzzle is [Early animal handler], NOAH, which reminds me that yesterday, I caught part of This American Life on Chicago Public Radio. Toward the end of the "Sink or Swim" episode, there was a darkly hilarious retelling of the Noah story, by a Simon somebody, in which Noah was portrayed as a jerk who always called his sons "big dummies" and who first thought the voice talking to him was a whistling in his nose. You can subscribe to the show's podcasts for free via iTunes; right now, last week's episode is the most recent one available for download. (And I liked the theme in this crossword, by the way.)

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe quote puzzle ("Not to Mention...") managed to be easy despite the quote within it. Is COFELON a word?

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy puzzle has two triple-stacks of 15-letter entries, spiced up by having 6- to 8-letter words or phrases for almost half of the stacks' crossings.


December 01, 2006

Saturday, 12/2

NYT 9:06
Newsday 7:44
LAT 4:49
CS 2:51

(post updated at 9:50 a.m. Saturday)

Okay, this is going to be a long post. The Saturday NYT is by Bob Klahn, who tends to be one of the toughest cluers out there. That means a zillion clues are worthy of mention, and it means nobody gets through this puzzle without working their mental butt off for it. First, I'll mention two gimmes that wouldn't have been gimmes for me just a few weeks ago: GUIDO and HIRT. The Cruciverb-L mailing list can be so helpful to solvers. A couple weeks ago, Vic Fleming initiated a discussion of GUIDO and old crosswordese combo "Guido's note"/ELA. It turns out E LA is two words, and Guido wasn't a singer, but some sort of [Musical notation pioneer]. Thanks, Vic! And more recently, regular commenter Barry Weprin singled out as a "Petergordonism" a clue for HIRT that was much like the Klahn/Shortz clue, ["The Green Hornet" trumpeter]—thanks for cementing that factoid in my mind, Barry!

I don't think my English-lit education taught me that Shakespeare's epithet was the Sweet SWAN of Avon. And what's this BASTA that's the [Third highest trump in card games] and that I've never heard of? Not crazy about STOP STREET—is that a regionalism? I haven't heard this term, either. But I loved DO I HAVE TO, A GOOD MANY, 'TRANE (short for Coltrane) ALIBI IKE with the double I. BRAD isn't just a [Thin fastener]. Roosevelt Island isn't just a part of Manhattan; there's also one in ANTARCTICA. EL ROPO can apparently mean a huge marijuana joint as well as a cigar.

Other clues I want to single out include [Leaves for dinner] for SWISS CHARD, [Brand of chips] for INTEL (salty! crunchy!), [Plain sight] for HERD, [Unlocked?] for BALD, [Park Avenue retailer?] for AUTO DEALER, [Washington posts] for INTERNS, the simple [In] for HOT, [Toaster setting?] for DAIS, and [Monopoly's railroads, e.g.] for TETRAD. Fabulous clues, every last one of 'em, and a vigorous crossword challenge. Kudos to Messrs. Klahn and Shortz!


Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Roman Movies," calls on the solver's knowledge of Roman numerals. Which reminds me—I watched one episode of that new game show, 1 vs. 100, and was surprised when the 1 and assorted members of the mob of 100 had no idea which letter was the Roman numeral for 100. People! Were you not paying attention in junior high? This puzzle also contains the word XEBEC; click the link if the word was similarly unfamiliar to you so you can read more.

The themeless LA Times crossword by Ernest Lampert bummed me out with one of the first entries I got—[Seeks change?] for BEGS. Being reminded of the unfortunate straits of the destitute did not pass my "Sunday morning breakfast test"—I'd sooner see Merl's ENEMA or URINE, actually. Maybe [Works like a dog?] instead for a day when [Pleads] or [Entreats] is too easy?

The Newsday Saturday Stumper by Stan Newman was the finals puzzle in one of the recent smaller crossword tournaments. I solved it within the past month or two, and still found it mighty hard the second time!


Everyone's doing it

Calling out the pesky pedants, that is. The pseudonymous Rex Parker railed against the strain of pedantry that involves harping on others' mistakes, as seen at the NYT Today's Puzzle forum a few days ago. And then today, Ken Jennings took trivia nit-pickers to task in his latest blog post.

Hey, I'm a reasonable person. A little pedantry is fine, as long as it's good-natured and not directed at an individual. But the nasty stuff, the one-upmanship, the personal carping—who needs it?


November 30, 2006

Friday, 12/1

NYT 5:26
NYS 4:49
11/24 CHE 5:29
LAT 3:53
CS 3:07

WSJ 8:17
Reagle 6:51

(post updated at 9:45 a.m. Friday)

All righty, Friday crosswords make me happy like Thursday ones do—only more so because there are a few more reliably good puzzles to chew on. The NYT's a traditional themeless by Mike Nothnagel (who looks a lot like actor Chris Noth in my addled head), and the Sun puzzle is a joint production of Jeffrey Harris and Patrick Berry. (Both puzzles, of course, bear the imprimatur of their respective editors.)

Nothnagel's NYT crossword has the kind of structure that irks some people—the northwest and southeast corners are almost stand-alone mini-puzzles, with just one word in each section interlocking with other parts of the puzzle. Me, I rather like that extra bit of challenge, at least when my brain's firing on all cylinders and there aren't any impossible crossings. I lucked out on the wavelength thing, with many of my first guesses being correct. Clues and entries that pleased me include the IRON CHEF TV show (I'd like to see a combination of Fear Factor and Iron Chef, where the most appalling offal must be used to prepare a fantastic meal), [Manager of a two-party system?] for NOAH, [Follower of Mao?] for TSE, JOIE DE VIVRE, cartoonist Jim UNGER (because I'm not sure why I even knew that name), and [Not fixed] for MOVABLE (my first guess there was FERTILE!).

In Jeffrey and Patrick's Sun puzzle, "Half-abetic," the theme pertains to being halfway diabetic. No, not really. But it took me a couple minutes to figure out what the title and the gimmick were. How are the letters in the grid AMBIDEXTROUS? The left side contains only letters from the first half of the alphabet (A through M), while the right draws from the N-to-Z pool. (The Across Lite notepad, by the way, informs us that we should imagine a dashed line splitting the left side from the right. I have never met any CAMELEERS, and I don't know rapper LIL Wayne, and I didn't know that scheletro was Italian for "skeleton" (a part of it being OSSO, or "bone"), and I didn't know KIBBLE was also a verb, and I didn't recognize that Denpasar is in BALI. And it's only now that I've figured out why [Salt creator] is Dahl—Roald Dahl dreamed up Veruca Salt for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So, yeah, I learned a lot in this crossword. Isn't it nifty that the word AMBIDEXTROUS has only letters from the alphabet's first half in its first half, and the last for its last?

Happy December, everyone! Here in Chicago, the snowflakes are wafting down gently now and dusting the parked cars, but we're told to expect 6 to 12 inches of accumulation by morning. Ack!


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle made me think hard for [Blowfish head?]. Turned out to be HOOTIE, which technically is nobody's name and the leader of Hootie and the Blowfish was/is Darius Rucker, but I still enjoyed it because it duped me into thinking of fish anatomy.

The trickiest clue for me in Todd McClary's 11/24 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Canis Major," was [It may be drawn to scale], which the crossings eventually told me was KNIFE. (Here's a picture of a guy using a knife to scale a fish.)

Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle ("Discount! Discount!") throws a bunch of sales come-ons at you. Took me a long time to get the first theme entry, but then the other ones came more quickly. Funniest clue: [Brief composition?] for COTTON.

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Just Sew," features a sewing theme. A knitting or crocheting theme would have reminded me more of my grandmother, who finally died in the wee hours, in her sleep. Her last day was a feisty one—she never was a pushover. Bye, Gram—we'll miss you.