January 31, 2006


The theme entries in "Roger DePont's" NYS puzzle ("And the Nominees Are...") are the films that were nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, announced Tuesday morning. With so little theme flexibility, some of the fill is blah (ITA, NAV, ULE), but some is zippy (VJ DAY, G STRING, R CRUMB, INKWELL, BREVITY). My favorite clue was "Number one place" for POTTY. I also learned about the Pittsburgh Steelers' logo (the three hypocycloids represent ORE, coal, and steel scrap) and a math term in 56-Down. (Not bad for a few hours' work, eh?)

If you're like me, when you do Ben Tausig's puzzle (the aptly titled —"Word Botching"), you'll ask yourself, who is this "noted OCD sufferer Summers" named MARC in 1-Across? Wonder no more. Right beneath MARC, we have ANAL ("uptight, slangily"), appropriately enough. Great spoonerism theme. I'd enjoy others like it—anyone know of other spoonerism crosswords?

Elizabeth Gorski multiplies by 10 in the NYT puzzle. I'm sure there's more to say about this puzzle, but I still haven't caught up on sleep since Sundance. So sleepy...


During a two-hour period this morning, I did 20 old Newsday puzzles on paper. (And took short breaks for e-mail and blog-tending.) Okay, I think I'm done with Stamford training for today...

NYS 4:43 paper
Tausig 4:39
NYT 4:12
LAT 3:35
CS 2:59


The Wednesday Sun

If you did what I did and downloaded the whole week's Sun puzzles yesterday, you'll need to fetch the new Wednesday puzzle, now available online. The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and Peter Gordon (as "Roger DePont") has crafted another "And the Nominees Are..." puzzle. Enjoy!


January 30, 2006

Tuesday's better than Monday

The NYT is by the brilliant Patrick Merrell, who made a giant letter A in the grid, from the bottom corners to the top center, composed of all the A's in the fill in connect-the-dot fashion. Think about the construction process involved in this puzzle—A's in specific locations, and absent everywhere else in the grid. And then be grateful for the RUTABAGA, which fit in nicely (there aren't many ***A*A*A words to choose from outside of Japanese words). Kudos to Pat on another twisty innovation in puzzling!

Lynn Lempel's NYS puzzle, "Color Mixing," has anagrammed color names in the theme entries (I loves me some anagrams, I do), and a couple great clues: "What running mates do?" for ELOPE (not quite as devious as the window-vs.-aisle clue in last Sunday's NYT by Rich Norris, but good all the same), and "Three-seater, e.g.," for COUCH (I started out with the not exactly accurate COUPE).

I did almost 20 crosswords on paper today, and the night isn't through yet. Stamford, I'm a-comin'.

NYS 4:53 paper
CS 3:57
LAT 3:30
NYT 3:14
Tausig tba



Quote of the day

Stephen King, in his January 20 column in Entertainment Weekly:

"Is Sudoku the stupidest game to ever appear in newspapers, or what? Before you answer that, remember that the Sudoku frenzy is not only postliterate but post-arithmetic (no adding, subtracting, or other computational skills needed). If you can count from 1 to 9, you can play Sudoku. Maybe I'm wrong, but this adds up to a big duh in my book."


January 29, 2006


First, don't miss this CNN clip that shows a few short clips of Wordplay, a glance at some of the crossword folks who went to Sundance, and what happens when a CNN reporter hits up random people for answers to last Sunday's NYT puzzle. (If the link doesn't work for you, try searching at CNN.com for "What's the word on the street?")

Adam Perl's NYT was about as easy as ABC, which is its theme. Kind of a funky grid design, isn't it? Nice to see six 8-letter entries in the fill, livening up the Monday challenge. I'm still waiting for the day when STDS is clued as "Herpes and the clap" instead of "regulations" or "norms"...

Also, I need to really get cracking on training for Stamford. That requires carbo-loading, of course (I do love my carbs), as well as doing far more puzzles on paper and getting in the EraserMate groove. Could y'all remind to keep doing those hard-copy crosswords?


Well, I reminded myself to do more puzzles on paper, and just did today's LAT and CS along with two weeks' worth of Sun puzzles. Yes, crosswords are coursing through my bloodstream and have crossed the blood-brain barrier.

Today's CrosSynergy is "Salliteration" by Harvey Estes. The grid's got four interlocked 15's featuring S alliteration, plus a big S made of black squares in the middle. Holy crap! I just noticed this very second that every single clue starts with an S as well. Check it out yourself.

Wordplay celebrity Trip Payne constructed today's NYS puzzle, "Double to Double," with theme entries that start and end with doubled letters. I can think of only one other possible candidate for this theme, but it would duplicate the -NESS ending already used in Trip's theme. Did anyone bother doing the math for "11 cubed then doubled, in Roman numerals," or did you rely on the crossings like I did?

NYS 3:49 on paper
CS 3:36 on paper
NYT 3:11
LAT 2:52 on paper


January 28, 2006

Sunday puzzling

Rich Norris's NYT, "Sounds of New England" wasn't quite a walk in the pock, but it's not as if it drove me stock raving mad or anything.

In Robert H. Wolfe's Washington Post, "In In and Out," "in" is in and "and" is out—in other words, "Stars and Stripes" becomes STARS IN STRIPES in the first of the theme entries. Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "BP Test," swaps out a B for a P in the theme entries.

Maybe I'm just distracted (I've been watching Super Size Me on TiVo—I feel obligated after meeting Morgan Spurlock at Sundance), but none of these puzzles have left me awestruck. I'm always a little let down after the Saturday themeless puzzles are all done...


Being a sucker for a good pun, I liked the musical pun theme in Kathleen Fay O'Brien's LA Times puzzle, "The Sound of Music." The OK CHORALE? The EURO PAEAN? VEAL TOCCATA? This puzzle helped me get through a weekend without a Merl Reagle crossword.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" includes seven 15-letter entries, starting off with the toony BORIS AND NATASHA. There was an unfamiliar term in the fill: SAD IRON, clued as "Old-fashioned clothes presser." Picture the sort of iron that's used as a token in Monopoly, and you know what a sad iron is. The term may hearken from an archaic meaning of sad meaning heavy. Who knew? (I've learned that when I toss out a hypothetical question like that on this blog, generally at least one person will announce that he or she did know whatever arcane fact I've mentioned.)

WaPo 9:25
LAT 8:44
Hook 8:35
NYT 8:23
CS 3:44


Wordplay media roundup #2

From an article in today's NYT comes this quote: Jonathan D. Sehring, president of IFC Films described his purchase of Wordplay rights as the coup of Sundance. According to the Times, Sehring said Wordplay could be the second most commercial film to emerge from Sundance after Little Miss Sunshine (a Steve Carell movie), given the tens of millions of people who do crosswords. "We bought a movie that may not do [March of the] Penguins business, but should do Mad Hot Ballroom business," said Sehring. (Mad Hot Ballroom grossed about $8 million, compared to $77 million for Penguins. Aw, c'mon! We can do better than $8 mil!)

There's also an audio interview with Doug Blush, the editor of Wordplay, here.

Hat tip to Ellen for the links.


January 27, 2006


Man, last Friday night at this time, I was arriving at my first party at Sundance. Sigh.

I finished Dana Motley's Saturday NYT with a scowl: The crossing of IRNA ("soap opera creator Phillips") and GROSZ (clued as "George ___, German-American artist known for vitriolic caricature" rather than "100th of a zloty") was one of those wild-ass guess squares. This is IRNA's first (and last?) appearance in a Times crossword. I forgave Dana and Will for inflicting this deadly crossing on us after checking out Grosz's demented paintings. The second Google image hit is a painting of a one-third-clad woman and her wee groom, called "Daum Marries Her Pedantic Automaton George in May 1920, John Heartfield is Very Glad of It." (Pedantic Automaton would be a good name for a blog.) Going back to the crossword, the MISS UGANDA website hasn't been updated in a year, but it's certainly fair game for a fresh crossword entry. SWAG is a little bittersweet for me because I left Sundance with zero swag. I liked the groupings like LAMB/OWLET, GAGMAN/SKIT/SATIRES, BALDWINS ("some pianos")/ORGANS (not clued as musical instruments, though), and TARRAGON/RADISH. Tying IRNA for most obscure entry is EDUCTOR, "jet pump for fluid withdrawal"; honorable mention goes to KINESCOPE, "picture tube."


Mark Milhet's LA Times crossword has a few new entries in it. Stan Newman's Saturday Stumper was fairly hard, but not a killer; the NYT was tougher this week. Bob and Sharon Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle is a dreaded quip puzzle, but it's got some tricky clues and interesting fill to keep you busy.

NYT 8:25
Newsday Saturday Stumper 3:22 for the right half (oops)
CS 5:34
LAT 5:17


Wordplay on the web

Al Sanders sent along the link to this video from the Sundance Channel site, presenting an interview with Will Shortz and Patrick Creadon along with a few clips from Wordplay.

If you're looking for more pictures from the festival, visit Al's snapfish.com photo page (log-in required). This set of pictures includes a few peeks inside the Puzzle Palace condo and some great shots of "SNL's" Rachel Dratch with Tyler Hinman.


January 26, 2006

For Those About to Rock We Salute You

Crossword puzzles don't generally feature too many heavy metal themes, but Pete Muller's NYS, "Cross Currents," exploits AC/DC for a bidirectional rebus—AC for the across entry and DC for down, appropriately enough. Tack on a central BACK IN BLACK entry and an explanatory ACDC in the lower right, mix with lively fill (the rebused HEA[DC]OLD and HAR[DC]ORE, the new GO BLANK and AKRON OH), shake it up with typically interesting Sun clues, and then, for a final touch of elegance, place the rebus squares in symmetrical locations in the grids? Hell's bells! This is a great puzzle. P.S. This is the same constructor who did the recent word ladder puzzle in the Sun. Remember his name...

Okay, I wrote that first paragraph this afternoon when I wasn't quite so sleepy. (I'm nowhere near caught up on sleep after the sleep deprivation that is the Sundance Film Festival.) I just did Sherry O. Blackard's NYT, fighting to stay awake. Um, it's a good puzzle. Great fill, as we expect from SOB, and good clues. Discuss amongst yourselves. Good *yawn* night.


Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy offers another Mozart tribute (following last Sunday's NYT) and includes a shiny new entry: FARM OUT.

In Donna S. Levin's LA Times puzzle, GIB is clued as "spawning salmon's protuberance." Is that a third definition from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary? All I've found are the castrated cat and metal wedge meanings. But does anyone really want to hear more about protuberances used in spawning?

In Manny Nosowsky's WSJ, the most groan-inducing clue was "Money-making company?" for GIGOLO. New entries include A WEEK AGO, PARASKI, and CATSKILL.

Michael Ashley's "Caesar Salad" in the 1/6 Chronicle of Higher Education features a theme of the first nine Roman emperors, along with some great seldom-seen fill (including the new SLOWUPS and HARP SEAL).

Having seen Merl Reagle in Wordplay and conversed with him at Sundance (Has Merl ever met a person he couldn't anagram?), I've been jonesing for another one of his puzzles. Alas, Lloyd Mazer informs us on the NYT forum, "Due to a change in style of the LA Times Sunday Magazine, there is no Merl Reagle puzzle this weekend." All together now: "Aw, rats!" (Which is Star Wars backwards with the R and S gnawed off...)

Okay, here are some pointers for the folks who turn to web searches to find elusive crossword answers:

Antiphon = RESPONSE
Teller's area = MAGIC TRICKS (as in Penn and Teller)
Beat one's gums = NATTER
Ruthless governor = SATRAP (IT'S A TRAP is also in this puzzle—would a terrible technical services manager be an IT SATRAP?)
Something auto-dialed = CAR PHONE (such a retro term now that cell phones aren't tied to cars and special antennas)
Actress Chandler and others = ESTEES (according to IMDb, Estee Chandler was in Teen Wolf Too and now works off camera)

NYT 7:54
NYS 6:10
LAT 6:10
1/6 CHE 4:16
CS 3:04

WSJ 9:10


Wordplay media roundup

Interview with Patrick Creadon: Hmm, I think this info predates the film festival: Our goals for the festival are fairly modest - we hope to see a lot of films, meet a lot of the other filmmakers, and have fun with our friends and family that are coming out to support "Wordplay." We are confident that "Wordplay" has a broad audience, and we're hoping to find an opportunity at Sundance to bring the film to them. Anything beyond this will be icing on the cake." Patrick, consider your cake iced.

Reuters talks to IFC Films: IFC's Jonathan Sehring added that IFC thought the box office prospects were good simply because the film was "smart and funny" and because of the portrayals of real-life crossword fanatics such as former President Bill Clinton and comedian Jon Stewart.

Film Threat review: [For] crossword puzzle fanatics..."Wordplay" will be hot, steamy porn. For others, watching people scribble furiously on a sheet of paper will be as exciting as watching paint dry. Put me in the porn camp, please.

Variety review: Buoyant and exhilaratingly brainy... a moving and eloquent valentine to the English language...comes through with an intellectually and emotionally wrenching climax that Hollywood couldn't have scripted better [Hey! Shout-out to Al Sanders!] IFC Films should have no trouble positioning this irresistible item as an arthouse draw with serious crossover potential.

Review from Cinematical.com: Wordplay has all the gravitas of lint. You want gravitas? Try one of the Sundance documentaries about the Iraq war. Call me crazy, but I'm thinking a movie called Wordplay might be more...playful. And wordy.


January 25, 2006

Back to puzzles

I'm not caught up on sleep yet, but I'm almost caught up on crosswords now. My two favorites are Frank Longo's Jumbo Crossword in the March 2006 issue of Games World of Puzzles and Wednesday's NYS puzzle, "Queued Up," by Doug Peterson. Frank's puzzle is salted liberally with Scrabbly letters and brand-new entries. I know it can be hard to track down a newsstand that sells GWOP, but it's often worth the effort. Or you can subscribe and get four assorted Longo puzzles in every issue.

The "Queued Up" puzzle swaps an SQU for an SC or SK in each of the theme entries, to excellent result. Between SQUID MARKS and MICROMINI SQUIRT, good fill, and clues such as "like Dr. Evil's jacket" for NEHRU, it's a fun crossword.

Bruce Venzke and Vic Fleming built the Themeless Thursday NYS with 10 15-letter entries. I can't quite wrap my head around the process involved in constructing such a puzzle. The crossing entries are free of egregious compromises (such as questionable abbreviations), which must have been mighty tough to pull off, so kudos to Bruce and Vic.

The theme entries in Manny Nosowsky's Thursday NYT drop the nearly silent G in two-word phrases like DARK GLASSES. This theme doesn't especially excite me, but I do like the other goodies in the grid, like IM BACK, CUE BALLS, PBJ, QUACKERY, PRO SHOP, and LET LIVE, and the clues.

Note that the first two theme entries in this week's Ben Tausig puzzle are composed of letters that are also symbols for chemical elements.

1/26 NYT 5:28
1/26 NYS 5:22
1/21 Newsday Saturday Stumper 4:26
1/25 NYS 4:11
1/27 Tausig 4:05
1/26 CS 3:56
1/26 LAT 3:50
1/24 NYS 3:48
1/23 NYS 2:59


Wordplay sold for $1 million

It's official: IFC Films has bought the North American rights to Wordplay for a cool mil. The DVD rights went to The Weinstein Company. IFC plans to release the film this year.

Hooray! And warmest congratulations to Patrick, Christine, and the rest of the Wordplay team!


Pictures from Sundance

You know what? I'm not ready to return you to your regularly scheduled programming. I've got about 15 crosswords I downloaded but haven't done yet, so the typical Crossword Fiend content remains on hold. But before they're old news, I've got to post my pictures from Sundance.

Will Shortz has been termed "a national treasure," and he's got to be the single most famous person in crossworddom. When such a luminary becomes the subject of a motion picture and attends a film festival, you probably figure he'll settle for only the finest accommodations. That's Tyler Hinman in the top bunk, Will down below, and a daybed off to the side (see next photo) for their roomie, Dean Olsher:

After the premiere screening of Wordplay, the stars (from left, Al Sanders, Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, Ellen Ripstein, Merl Reagle, and Will Shortz) took the stage for an audience Q&A:

Later that afternoon, we all occupied space at Will's book signing and neglected to buy any NYT puzzle books. (Hey, we've done all the NYT puzzles already.) So why not hold up the line of paying customers by taking pictures? Here's one of me, Will, and Byron Walden, who of course constructed the 2005 ACPT final puzzle that was the source of such cinematic drama:

After Monday's screening out at the Sundance Resort, there was another Q&A session, after which the Wordplay editor Doug Blush, producer Christine O'Malley, Al, director Patrick Creadon, associate producer Michael Creadon, Tyler, Ellen, and Merl posed for the camera. The brothers Creadon are sporting their Wordplay caps—caps we'd all gladly buy if only they were available. (I believe only 10 such hats were made.)

Then Glenn Close mingled:

At Monday night's Cinetic party at Zoom, the official photographer took a zillion pictures with famous and not-so-famous people. Here's one I took of Brian Dominy (sorry I caught you with your eyes closed), Trip, Al, Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame, and editor Doug:

Closing out my Sundance experience, here are Stella, me, Tyler, and Dean taking the shuttle back to the Puzzle Palace after the Zoom party:

Last but not least, here's one of the badges promoting the movie. My five-year-old son suggested that it should include a sound button that, when pressed, says "The crossword movie was great."


January 24, 2006

Like a Dervish: The Whirlwind of Sundance

It's my last day in Utah, and four days of Sundance experiences are now swirling inside my mind. Here's what I've been up to lately. (If you were part of the crossword clique, wouldja please tell me if I've gotten the chronology all wrong? This Sundance habit of getting four hours of sleep a night is taking its toll on my powers of recall.)

Friday, January 20: My Sundance Film Festival experience kicked off with a party hosted by Wordplay director Patrick Creadon and producer Christine O'Malley's families (Patrick and Christine are married and have two little girls in addition to a bouncing baby documentary). The gathering was pretty mellow, and offered a chance for the puzzle people and the filmmakers' relatives to mingle and get to know each other--we'd be seeing a lot of one another over the coming few days. I arrived after dinner, but in plenty of time for a giant carrot cake decorated with a Wordplay theme. Patrick took the opportunity to thank a lot of people--everyone from the kin who had funded the movie to Vic Fleming (who came to Utah with his charming wife Susan), who helped arrange for Bill Clinton's participation in the movie; once the Clinton interview had been scheduled, Jon Stewart was suddenly much more interested in appearing in Wordplay himself.

Ellen Ripstein had booked a roomy multilevel condo, affectionately termed the Puzzle Palace, where she and seven other cruciverbalists--Will Shortz, Trip Payne and his partner Brian Dominy, Tyler Hinman, Al Sanders, Stella Daily, and Dean Olsher (who's working on writing a deep book about crosswords)--stayed. The group welcomed the non-Palace folks (including me, Byron Walden, my friend Lisa, and Byron's friend/test-solver Mary) to join them for board games, camaraderie, great food (cooked from scratch by Stella), and heavy drinking (milk, water, and sodapop). The kitchen table was often laden with laptops, used for checking email, solving crosswords, blogging, and Googling the latest buzz on Wordplay.

Saturday, January 21: Saturday morning, the puzzle gang and the Creadon/O'Malley families converged on the Prospector Square Theater, site of the Wordplay world premiere. The movie had sold out well in advance of the festival, and a couple hundred people lined up in the hope of getting into the screening from the waiting-list line. The process was inexplicable and chaotic, but eventually our entire contingent did get in to see the premiere (some of us at the last minute). The movie was fantastic, the crowd loved it, and the Q&A session was so well-attended, the Wordplay stars were asked to be available after subsequent screenings. Your faithful correspondent pops up on screen briefly a few times, and I'm the only one in the movie who curtsies. (Yes, I know that's a little odd. No, I don't know what I was thinking. And no, I don't regret looking a tad silly since it kept me in the movie! Someday, I'll meet Bill Clinton or Jon Stewart, and he'll think, "She looks familiar...where do I know her from?" And I'll curtsy, and it'll click: "Oh, right! We're in the same movie!")

That afternoon, Will did a book signing at Dolly's Bookstore on Main Street. It was the second biggest signing they'd ever had. Merl Reagle (he and his companion Marie were also key members of the Wordplay contingent) also gave out his autograph at Dolly's, but some of his fans started out by asking, "Are you Will Shortz?" Merl's got a nonstop puzzling mind (like many others in the group) and livens conversations with apt anagrams and wordplay. I've been a fan of Merl's puzzles for a while, so it was fun to get to know the personality behind the whimsy (you find more whimsy).

My memory's getting fuzzy on what went on on which day, but I believe most of the puzzle crew hung out at the Puzzle Palace that evening for games, conversation, and laughter.

Sunday, January 22: Sunday morning, we convened at a restaurant called 350 Main that was a looong walk uphill (damn mountains!) from the shuttle-bus stop. The post-premiere brunch featured good food, NPR puzzles with Will (with NYT crossword books as prizes for the first people to shout out the answers), mingling with assorted distributors who were interested in the film, and a CNN interview taping with Tyler, Al, Trip, and Ellen.

Stella, Tyler, and I did a little window shopping and bought souvenirs like microfleece Sundance pullovers. That evening, we had another kitchen-table shindig. It was great to get to know everyone better, and Stamford's going to be an even richer experience for me this year. No, I won't end up in another film, but I'll see these intelligent and interesting people again, in addition to the horde of other crossword nuts who attend. Many of the gang here at Sundance have been interacting for months via our blogs, so we all understood everyone's interest in checking or updating their blogs. Between the crossword solving and the blogging, the smart conversation and rampant wordplay, I definitely felt like I was among my tribe.

Monday, January 23: Many of us went to another Wordplay screening Monday afternoon out at the beautiful but cold Sundance Resort. Having already seen the movie once before--a viewing that involved plenty of nudging and whispering and awaiting the sight of one's own visage on screen--we were able to relax and enjoy the movie even more the second time around. Glenn Close saw the film, too, and liked it enough to approach the Wordplay/puzzlers group for conversation and photos. She's absolutely stunning, she's short, and she said she listens to Will's NPR puzzles--but I think she's not one to do crosswords. We grabbed some lunch at the deli and chatted.

Dinnertime brought yet another gathering with the Creadon/O'Malley clans, celebrating the second birthday of Patrick and Christine's little girl. Afterwards, Ellen, Stella, Dean, Al, Tyler, Trip, Brian, and I went to a club called Zoom for a party held by the sales agents trying to sell Wordplay and a few other films. People were turned away at the door if they weren't on the guest list--and the crossword geeks, of course, made the cut. (There was no velvet rope, but it was pretty damn cool to be ushered into a private party. One woman actually grabbed Dean's coat in a futile attempt to ride his coattails into the party.) The folks at the door did let a few outsiders in--we met Saturday Night Live comedian Rachel Dratch and documentarian Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). Patrick Creadon reported that an even more esteemed documentarian, Errol Morris, had called him to put in a plug for the studio that distributes his films.

Tuesday, January 24: Today, the talented people behind Wordplay will continue relishing the well-deserved attention and weighing the various distribution offers, and have a couple more Wordplay screenings before the film festival draws to a close. The non-Hollywood contingent, the cruciverbalizers, either flew home yesterday or are leaving today.

So what's next? I've got to get cracking on doing more crosswords--Tyler and Stella were often zipping through puzzles during downtime, and while Al Sanders is the prohibitive crowd favorite to win Stamford this year, there are plenty of us who wouldn't mind beating him (even if Al's expanding fan base would boo, hiss, and sic the dogs on us). The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is coming up March 24-26, and who knows? This could be the last year the crowd fits into the Stamford Marriott. After Wordplay gets a nationwide release, I'm sure it will draw a tremendous number of newcomers to the tournament. (Will, I hope you've got a plan for managing the influx of crossword hajjis traveling to the word-geek mecca of Stamford in 2007.)

I'll post a few Sundance photos in a day or two. And I suppose I ought to get back in the habit of doing crosswords, eh? The only ones I've done since I arrived on Friday are the Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday NYT. (Congrats to Dave Sullivan, a.k.a. Evad in the comments on this blog, on his fantastic Tuesday puzzle.)

Signing off from Utah,

your devoted Crossword Fiend


January 21, 2006

Live from Park City, it's Saturday night!

Here I am, at the cozy Puzzle Palace, sitting at the kitchen table with Ellen Ripstein, Trip Payne, Dean Olsher, and a couple friends, inhaling the aromas from the kitchen where Stella Daily is preparing a feast. The whole crossword mafia managed to get into the Wordplay premiere earlier today, although doing so entailed standing in a line (indoors, fortunately) for a couple hours, and we weren't all assured of getting in until the last minute.

I suppose it's possible that I'm a biased observer, but I thought the movie was fantastic. You laugh, you cry, you think, you learn, you get to see me on the big screen—what's not to love? Hundreds of enthusiastic people stuck around for the Q & A afterwards, so I don't think I was the only one who liked the movie. Jon Stewart was hilarious, as you'd expect, and the other celebrities who gave interviews had assorted insights and anecdotes, but were not as funny as the professional comedian. The heart of the movie, though, was the lesser-known celebrities like Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, and the people who dominated at Stamford last March. Ellen threw her baton in Central Park, Trip discussed his favorite letter, Tyler watched TV with his frat's dog (and omigod, you should see how fast his fingers move when solving a crossword on his laptop), Jon Delfin played piano for numerous singers auditioning with décolletage, and Al Sanders speed-solved in his beautiful kitchen.

After the interviews, the movie segued into covering the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament—by turns gripping, dramatic, touching, and funny. I saw myself on screen a few times, which was exciting, and I saw dozens of familiar faces as well. (Hi, everyone! You'll get such a kick out of seeing yourselves in this movie.) Those of you who attended the tournament last March will find that the movie captures the experience, the vibe, the gemütlichkeit of Stamford.

Then Wordplay wraps up with the credits, and I was delighted to be listed under the "Also Featuring" heading. I'm also featured in a movie! Rumor has it that the eventual IMDb page for the movie will include even the also-featured people, which would liven up the Google results someday when I Google myself.

Stella's ready to serve dinner, so I'll sign off. No word on who will buy the movie (yet) or when it'll be playing at a theater near you. But I am so looking forward to the upcoming media coverage of Sundance, to see if Entertainment Weekly or Roger Ebert or [insert your favorite film critic here] caught the press screening and loved Wordplay as much as I did. Ciao from Park City!


Blogging from Sundance

I've just returned from the welcoming party for the Wordplay crowd. Director Patrick Creadon spoke to the 60 or so people gathered together and said that it was just about a year ago that he left a voice mail for Will Shortz--Will, I presume, thought a crossword documentary was a capital idea. A year later, the movie's all set for its world premiere in competition at the Sundance Film Festival. The folks at the party who've seen the movie say it's fantastic (it was bizarre to be recognized by people I'd never met!). I and many others will be lining up at 9:30 Saturday morning in an attempt to score tickets to the premiere. If that doesn't pan out, we'll all manage to see a screening one way or another.

The Saturday NYT by Brendan Emmett Quigley was a classic BEQ themeless, and it was great to edge out the reigning ACPT champ/Wordplay star Tyler Hinman by more than 3 minutes (and to hear of his solving time in person!). I'd talk more about the puzzle, but it's past 2:00 a.m. in my body's time zone, and I've been up since 4:30 a.m. in Utah's time zone. I did the WSJ puzzle at the airport and...I no longer remember the theme. (What? It's late.) I also did Merl Reagle's puzzle while waiting for my flight, and enjoyed the FAT/BALD theme. The puzzle title ties the theme to Homer Simpson, but movie star Merl said he'd originally come up with the theme when Siskel and Ebert hosted a show together and insulted one another's hair loss and heft with vigor.

I got a tour of the lovely condo where eight members of the crossword gang are staying. Get this: Tyler, Will Shortz, Al Sanders, and Dean Olsher are sharing a room. Will and Tyler have the bunk bed, which I find absolutely hilarious. (Yes, I took pictures.)

At the party Friday evening, Patrick also said something about CNN coming to the Wordplay brunch on Sunday. There may be a speed-solving contest of some sort, so feel free to park yourself in front of CNN all day Sunday to see if they air anything.

If you hear anything cool about Wordplay in the media, could you tell me about it in the comments? I'll try to check in sometime Saturday, but have no idea what I'll be doing and when...


January 19, 2006

A Farewell to Blogs (for a few days)

I don't have time to do justice to the Friday themelesses because I've got an early flight tomorrow. (Sundance, here I come!)

We haven't had a themeless NYT puzzle by Harvey Estes since last May, and it's been much too long! I bet there are numerous brand-new entries in there—maybe LIMA PERU, I CANT SEE, PUNCHED TAPE, and SPOON OUT? The new factoid I learned was that crossword denizen Irene Castle's husband and ballroom dance partner was VERNON—he's the "Castle with many steps." I'd never heard of Vernon Castle, but I usually manage to find Harvey's wavelength, so this was a fun puzzle. I also admire the construction—a triple stack of 15s in the middle bound together by pairs of 9- and 11-letter entries anchoring blocks of 8-letter entries.

In the Sun, Karen Tracey's Weekend Warrior is anchored by entries designed to delight Peter Gordon: SCHWARZKOPF across from KILIMANJARO? Good stuff. Plus TRADED IN, BOATEL, ABJURE, OUGHTA, HIRELING, DAKOTA FANNING? Also nice to see "SCUSE Me While I Kiss This Guy," the book of mondegreen lyrics.

That's all for now. I'll post from Sundance if I get a chance to—please emit as many "you will get premiere tickets" and "the waiting-list line won't be too cold" vibes as you can, because some of us who are going don't have tickets for the Wordplay premiere on Saturday but really really really want to go! Also, watch for Will Shortz and director Patrick Creadon on Paula Zahn's CNN Sunday show...

NYS 5:18
NYT 4:34


January 18, 2006

Thursday Afternoon: a Brian Eno album

If you're thinking of attending the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this March 24–26, go print out the registration form and mail it in. Highlights on this year's schedule include a trivia quiz with "Jeopardy!" champ Ken Jennings, a "Sudoku Smackdown" (watch for the glowering faces of crossword constructors who deplore sudoku as a threat to their livelihood), and a screening of Wordplay. Also, the Stamford Marriott has added a day spa (the Agora Spa—very crosswordy!), so if the tournament stresses you out, you can get a massage, and if you prefer more stress, there's always waxing.

I loved Joy Andrews' Sun puzzle, "Achtung, Baby!" The German number puns are great, especially SECHS PISTOLS—and all three theme entries led to "aha" laughs. And there are plenty of good entries, including people (the new RIORDAN, plus VONNEGUT and MEATLOAF) and phrases (RATED PG, IN UTERO, I SEE YOU, and IN THE BAG). My favorite clue was "spine line" for AUTHOR.

Another great puzzle from Joe DiPietro in the NYT. I went temporarily blind while doing this puzzle—I was reading "Sykes" as "Skye" for the longest time and trying to figure out the play on IONE instead of WANDA. (Ow.) I also compounded my trouble by entering EXTRA instead of SPARE and then crossing it with TAHOE instead of ASPEN. Great entries here, too, of course—notably, IF I MAY, BRUSH AWAY, and MAN TO MAN.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Either Way You Look At It," has a fun theme, which I won't spoil. But if you remember other puzzles with a similar theme, tell me about them in the comments—I'd like to do more in this vein.

There's another days-of-the-week puzzle in the LA Times, but this time it's not a rebus. Jesse Goldberg's got all the days in their proper order, plus ONE FULL WEEK at the end. (But I like to parse GETS A TAN as GET SATAN—good clue for that, anyone?)

NYT 6:48
NYS 4:57
LAT 3:54
CS 3:12


January 17, 2006

Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m.

I liked the AM+ theme in Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "The Morning Before," but heavens to Murgatroyd! That top middle section killed me. A something-CALF, something-GOU tea (I should have remembered that one), artist Julian something-IE, and a mysterious "Belgian horticulturist of note"? Eventually I pieced it together, but...ouch. I hadn't heard of Julian OPIE, but check out the link to see his artwork. A BULL CALF is not only a young male of the bovine variety, it's also "a stupid fellow." And here's a nice write-up of CONGOU and other teas. The horticulturist is Louis Augustin Guillaume BOSC, the pear's namesake. (Elsewhere in the puzzle, we have "HEC Ramsey"—for those who have forgotten seeing the name twice in a week last spring, this was a 1970s TV Western starring Richard Boone—and I still say, "Who? What? Huh?")

Sheldon Benardo's NYT is a great example of a Wednesday puzzle (though maybe a tad easier than expected). The DIS+name theme is fun, and at the moment I can't think of any other possibilities for the theme—there aren't any famous people named Turb, Parate, Cern, or Pose, are there? The fill includes a few interesting words, like SCRUM and KNESSET, but the bulk of the puzzle is straightforward words with precious little in the way of compromises. AMINE's rather obscure outside of crosswords, but the grid's filled with words like CLIPS, DARE, EASE, and VAIN—and I'll take those over HEC any day. (OPIE also appears here, but not as "artist Julian." Anyone think "Mayberry moppet" will show up in the LAT or CS puzzle?)

NYS 6:17
LAT 4:30
NYT 3:11
CS 3:03


January 16, 2006

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

Look at that, the Tuesday Sun puzzle by Steve Salmon includes RUBY. (If you can think of a song title that includes "Wednesday" and a word found in one of the Wednesday puzzles, I'll give you a dollar.) I like the "Pleonasms" theme of redundant phrases, and I like spoonerizing "pleonasm" to "neoplasm." This puzzle also launches two new 8-letter entries, HAS IT OUT and FIXING UP.

Nancy Salomon's NYT gathers four ways of saying "I dunno." I HAVENT GOT A CLUE would also fit nicely in place of CLUELESS REPLIES, though perhaps Nancy tried it and the fill wouldn't work. Seeing BROWSE at 6D clued as "look without buying" makes me wonder if that meaning of the word will disappear over time, thanks to web browsers usurping the word...

Updated: Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle pays tribute to the late Richard Pryor. Somehow he manages to include one or two Pryor movie titles that don't ring a bell with me—but fortunately, he leaves out the troubling movie, The Toy.

Ben Tausig's "Triple Play" had a gimmicky theme involving a numeral, plus the lively fill and fresh clues that are hallmarks of Ben's style. Nuff said?

Tausig 3:48
NYS 3:45
CS 3:38
LAT 3:29
NYT 3:08


Monday ennui

Sarah Keller's letter-change puzzle in the NYT provides both NUT N HONEY and NITPICKER, which lead me to offer a minor cereal-related nit about the clue for OAT BRAN, "healthful cereal grain." Bran is strictly the fibrous outer layer of a grain, and not the grain itself, isn't it? In any event, I liked the grid because of all the non-theme 7- and 8-letter entries; early-week puzzles are typically more stingy with longish entries.

The "Lila Cherry" (really Rich Norris) LA Times puzzle had a cute basketball-position theme. Seeing TACO clued as "snack in a shell" here (or, in many other puzzles, "Sonora snack," "Tex-Mex snack," "Mexican munchie," etc.) makes me ask: How many of you eat tacos as a snack, and how many consider them a meal? Cheetos are a snack; tacos are lunch. (Yes, some crosswords have clued TACO as "salsa-topped entrée" or "meal in a shell"—but the snack/munchie clues appear to predominate.)

Hey, look at that: Jeffrey (Jangler) Harris's "Play Things" puzzle in the Sun includes TACOS, too. Good clue for it: "Tostada relatives." The PUCK/BALL/BIRDIE theme didn't excite me terribly, but I liked the seldom-seen entries such as GET BACK and the fun WACKOS and DIMWIT.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "To-Do Items," may be John ASHCROFT's cruciverbal debut. Now, I don't mind seeing Janet RENO pop up in crosswords, but I could do without Ashcroft, even if he does have an impressive 8 letters in his name.

NYS 3:40
LAT 3:14
NYT 2:56
CS 2:49


January 15, 2006

Wordplay fever

All righty, a couple people left comments inquiring about Wordplay. Here's the deal (as I understand it): Last winter, a guy named Patrick Creadon traveled around the country, interviewing New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, a handful of top solvers (Trip Payne, Ellen Ripstein, Al Sanders, and Tyler Hinman), and constructor Merl Reagle. Patrick, his camera, and producer Christine O'Malley went to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, last March, following the "stars" and filming the weekend's events (which included an "American Crossword Idol" talent show—who knew a crossword-tournament talent show could land people in the movies?). Patrick also interviewed some famous crossword buffs, such as President Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart.

The zillion hours of footage were winnowed down to a 90-minute documentary compelling enough to be selected for the Sundance Film Festival's documentary competition—one of 16 films to make the cut out of about 700 submissions. Because the movie's not out yet, Wordplay's IMDb listing is rather spartan—merely the title, a few names, and a modest "Nominated/Grand Jury Prize/Sundance Film Festival" mention.

The Sundance website has a review by Basil Tsiokos that cites "the unexpectedly riveting coverage" of Stamford and the "intelligent and ingratiating contestants" who are profiled. Wordplay is, Tsiokos writes, "an engrossing, yet lighthearted, portrait of an American institution."

The Wordplay premiere is Saturday, January 21, in Park City, Utah, and there are several more screenings later in the festival. Every screening sold out on the first day of individual ticket sales, so there might be just a teeny bit of buzz. I'm going to Sundance next week, and I'll do my damnedest to get a ticket. If it takes standing in line in the cold for two hours, I'll do it—I need to find out just how goofy I look in this movie. Oh—and of course, I'm keenly interested in the rest of the film as well!

So far, the Wordplay website is bare-bones (more to come in March), but you can check out the movie poster, which rather alarmingly depicts a giant pencil poised to penetrate Will Shortz's cranium.

When will Wordplay be "coming soon to a theatre near you"? That's a good question. With a little luck, distributors will get into a bidding war and offer to buy the movie for a princely sum, Patrick's directorial career will be off to a fabulous start, the winning distributor will give the movie a wide release, the word of mouth will be incredible, Wordplay fever will sweep the nation, tens of millions of people see the movie, it'll become the top-grossing documentary of all time, and next year it will win an Oscar. At least, that's how I see the scenario playing out. Too optimistic? Only time will tell.


January 14, 2006


Richard Silvestri cooked up a tough-looking puzzle ("E-Tail") for the Sunday NYT, starting near the upper left with the new entry LENINITE and clues mentioning Livonia and chrism, continuing to the top center with another new entry, HEMIC (which never crops up in my medical editing) crossing INO.* Rich ups the ante on the challenge by sometimes adding the E to the first word of a theme entry and sometimes to the last. (I like PROSE AND CONS and EITHER ORE best.) Ha! I just noticed an Across clue I hadn't read (hi, En!) while filling in the puzzle: "Go from worse to bad?" is a great clue for IMPROVE. (Oddly enough, IMPROVE has a mere three prior appearances in the Cruciverb database, all with straightforward clues.)

*For those of you Googling because you're stuck on these, let me make it easy for you: "Early Russian Communist" = LENINITE, "Modern-day inhabitants of old Livonia" = LATVIANS, "Apply chrism" = ANOINT, "Blood-related" = HEMIC, and "She rescued Odysseus" = INO. (This is my random act of kindness for the day.)


In Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Id Est," the theme entries incorporate an extra EST; i.e., TAKING A NAP morphs into TAKING ANAPEST, and who doesn't appreciate wordplay involving literary terms? Henry also tosses in SMALL A ("One of three in Alabama?"), further expanding a category of crossword entries I like (LONG I, LONG O, SILENT H, SOFT C, HARD G).

It's all about the Benjamins: in honor of Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday on January 17, we have Patrick Jordan's homage in the Washington Post and Vic Fleming and Bonnie Gentry's in the LA Times. There's a particularly clever clue in Vic and Bonnie's puzzle: "Browning gadget" had me thinking of rifles rather than TOASTER.

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge had a number of interesting longer entries—the new IM KIDDING and HOTFOOT IT, for example—but I'd argue that APNEAL isn't a word. Not only is it missing from my Stedman's Medical Dictionary, but it garners a mere 811 Google hits. ("Apneic" is the accepted adjectival form of "apnea.") What's more: I haven't bought a copy of the Random House Unabridged Dictionary yet, but apparently "apneal" is listed there ahead of "apneic." Can't blame a non-medical person for believing the big ol' dictionary of choice for crossword folks, but I've got a bone to pick with the RHUD for making things up. Their lexicographers should know better than to do that!

LAT 9:22
LAW Hook 9:12
NYT 8:56
WaPo 7:35
CS 4:10


January 13, 2006


Aw, that Saturday NYT by David Quarfoot was fun! (It'd be great if I could cruise along on the constructor's wavelength like this for every puzzle at Stamford.) The very first entry, MMMM GOOD, is a fantastic way to start a puzzle and also has a great clue ("Soup line"). Beneath the quadruple M, we have the triple A of AAA MEMBER—way cool. Two "sub-Saharan scourges" (MALARIA and TSETSE) provide a little education. The SW corner includes three X's. THATS TOO BAD and TELLS A LIE appear to be new entries. Some clues I liked were "Tender shoot?" for LOVE SCENE, "Olympic team" for DEITIES, "like a lottery winner, typically" for ENVIED, and "inclined...or flat" for PRONE. Sure, nobody's crazy about that many suffix/prefix entries (IERE, ATOR, and OPTO), but overall I thought the puzzle was a blast and beautifully constructed.

As for that other current obsession...I learned tonight that I'm definitely in Wordplay. I'm so excited to be in the same movie as people like Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart! (Um, and Ellen Ripstein, Tyler Hinman, Trip Payne, etc.) Going to Stamford last year was such a clever idea, wasn't it?

P.S. It's Delurking Week in the land of blogs. If you've been reading quietly, now is a great time to pop up and say hello in the comments.


Today's Newsday Saturday Stumper by Doug Peterson took me a long time, but I'm not positive it was really all that hard. Or maybe it was; there are plenty of clues that didn't easily lead me to the answers, although the answers seem much more obvious once they've been filled in. Here are a few examples: "put back in" is REELECT, "crawled quicker than" is OUTSWAM, "pencil product" is EYELINER, and "recovers, in a way," is RANSOMS. None of those entries was obvious to me.

Saturday Stumper 9:46
NYT 4:23
LAT 4:something
CS 2:48


January 12, 2006


Eric Berlin’s got a Friday two-fer, with the NYT and “Cashing In” in the Sun. I give the edge in this head-to-head competition to Eric’s NYT puzzle: themelesses are my favorite, and this is a good one. Tons of great entries: MISTRALS (odd etymology, and I love the named winds: mistral, scirocco, chinook), LINEAR B, LIGHT SABER, FELL FOR IT, and the HORATIO/OSRIC combination. BAG LADY seems a little harsh for the gentle world of crosswords, though. And who’s this IDAS, “argonaut who slew Castor”? (Note to self: Remember that IDAS, ANSA, and ENSE all exist.)

Eric’s other puzzle is also good, and I couldn’t believe how long it took me to figure out that the MONEY FOR NOTHING gimmick was that any clue synonymous with “nothing” led to a random unit of currency. And shouldn’t “bubkes” have been the clue for SHEKEL? A little cultural/linguistic tie-in? I’m just saying.


Merl Reagle, looking forward to his big-screen debut in Wordplay next week, created an anagram puzzle called "Overheard at Sundance," with 10 13-letter theme entries. Good puzzle, too. Merl's puzzles show how 7-letter partial entries can be included in a puzzle without turning it into dreck; they're part of the Merl vibe. In less adroit hands, though, such entries would probably be a blight upon a grid.

Patrick Berry's Wall Street Journal offering, "Rhyming Dictionary," seemed relatively tough, but the Across Lite timer didn't start itself, and I didn't start it either. (Anyone know why some puzzles open with the green timer starting up, and some open with the red stopped timer?) Patrick B. can always be relied on to provide a smart challenge.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle offers "Triskaideka Trivia" on this Friday the 13th.

NYS somewhere in the 7ish to 8ish range
NYT 6:01
LAT 4:02
CS 3:28

WSJ ?:??
Reagle 8:44


January 11, 2006


The finished grid in Kyle Mahowald’s Thursday NYT rebus puzzle looks bizarre in the timed applet—SIGIITHERAI and RIGADIGDIG, anyone?—with I replacing IN in most instances, both across and down. I counted just three regular I’s in the puzzle, along with a whopping 22 condensed IN’s; what’s the record for number of rebus squares in a daily puzzle? I wonder if the genesis of this puzzle was noticing that MAITAI is MAINTAIN without the N’s, as demonstrated in 8 Down.

John Farmer’s Themeless Thursday in the Sun
plenty of good entries, like GREEN EGGS AND HAM, ER DOCTOR, OH GOSH, AFTER DINNER MINT (new), FITNESS CENTER (new), EYE OPENER, ZODIAC, and SLEAZY. The clues seemed pretty straightforward (though still interesting), but “check accompanier, perhaps" (for AFTERDINNERMINT) kept me guessing longer than it should have.

NYT 5:41
NYS 5:26
LAT 4:21
CS 2:55


January 10, 2006


I got a kick out of Mel Rosen's 2006 arithmetic puzzle in the Wednesday NYT. To compile a group of numbers that can be clued straightforwardly, that add up to 2006, and that fit symmetrically into the grid when spelled out—I'm thinking that might have been challenging. (Can any of you math types confirm this?) Sure, the grid's a little ugly and nobody seeks out entries like HGT and AGFA, but I did like the gimmick here. I do wish, though, that GIGI had been clued "Leslie Caron role" rather than "Best Picture of 1958," because it probably would have tricked me into entering LILI.

Joy Andrews' Sun puzzle took me longer than expected, for whatever reason. The "Bod Squad" theme was cute, particularly HILARY DUFF for the [posterior] body part. The clue for UTERI, "Major growth areas," was wonderfully deceptive and accurate. Isn't that the best kind of clue—one that's dead on but off-kilter at the same time? There's some nice fill in the SW and NE corners, too, such as TINA FEY and COURT TV and CD CASE.

Ben Tausig's Voice puzzle, "Mixed Media," manages to include TV, WEB, and RADIO in the theme, but the poor newspapers, they lose out here. If you're going to have a fill-in-the-blank partial entry, why not dupe the solver into the standard "When I was ___" A LAD, but have the answer be A BOY? Much more fun that way. "Hay there!" as a clue for BARN is a bit of a groaner, but how many word geeks actually object to any sort of pun? I also enjoyed "It gets high every day" for TIDE and "Invented something" for LIED.

NYS 5:28
Tausig 4:40
NYT 3:24 (since we're doing arithmetic now, I subtracted the 22 seconds that elapsed between clicking "done" and the applet noticing)
LAT tba
CS tba


January 09, 2006


In Randall Hartman's Sun puzzle, "O Yeah," I was delighted to see a color clue that wasn't another mystifying Peter Gordon oddball color clue—I can't say I've ever heard of "sea pink," but it sounds like a fair description of CORAL. "Boy toy" is a cute clue for GI JOE, as is "What you never want to hear a mohel say" for OOPS.

David Kahn sure crammed a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber entries into his NYT puzzle, didn't he? Four 4-letter words, the 6/5/6 name, and the four 10's. "You might get a ticket for doing this" is a fun clue for EIGHTY, but all the stuff about the musicals? Eh, not my thing.

NYS 3:45
LAT 3:44
NYT 3:42
CS 3:05


January 08, 2006


Great TV SHOWS theme in Allan Parrish's Monday NYT, featuring phrases ending in words that were long-running TV series with one-word titles. The extra oomph comes from the titles and entries using different meanings of the same words: "Wings" of an airplane vs. waiting IN THE WINGS, a football "Coach" vs. STAGECOACH, the California Highway Patrol of "CHiPs" vs. POTATO CHIPS, and the "M*A*S*H" mobile army surgical hospital vs. MONSTER MASH. I can only think of a few other TV series that could fit this theme: LIQUID SOAP, HAPPY MEDIUM, and ANIMAL CRACKER—though "Medium" is a new show and "Cracker" didn't last long. A show like "Friends" would work only with something like SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, which is too long...


Curtis Yee's got two puzzles out today. I liked the gimmick in his LA Times puzzle—"half-priced" book titles. (Know what? It's easier to do the math in your head when you're working with one- and two-digit numbers than with a four-digit number.) In Curtis's Sun puzzle, "Obvious Choices," he's peppered the grid with X's and Z's, and this appears to be JAY-Z's debut as a crossword entry. (Hey, the last time I saw LL COOL J in a grid, I had *LCO*** and started putting in ALCOHOL before I read the clue. Um, yeah...you do have to read the clues.)

CS 3:42
LAT 3:40
NYS 3:34
NYT 3:15


January 07, 2006


The Sunday NYT by Michael Ashley is called "Amateur Poker Party," and all the theme entries are poker terms. I'm sure the theme delighted the hordes of people who enjoy playing poker (or watching it on cable), but I've never played a hand in my life. But I liked the puzzle anyway—entries like ESTRAGON*, My SHARONA, HOLY TOLEDO, BLOTTO, and ENTRE NOUS; clues like "Store outside a city?" for ENSILE and "Food for thought?" for DATA

* If you liked Waiting for Godot and cooking shows, you'll love Francis Heaney's parody, "Bake Me Cutlets" (scroll waaay down toward the end). "Bake Me Cutlets" is, of course, an anagram of Samuel Beckett. Or skip the hassle of scrolling and buy yourself a copy of Francis's book, Holy Tango of Literature.


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge is easier than most Friday and Saturday NYT puzzles, but it's about as stern a challenge as a CrosSynergy puzzle ever offers. I counted eight shiny new entries, including FAINEANT, which I never knew was from the French (it looked Irish to me), HOW ARE YA, PUTSCH, and BUSFARE (clued as "Greyhound charge"). Other good clues were "Parchment?" for THIRST and "End of Denver?" for BRONCO.

Nice LA Times puzzle from Matt Skoczen, "See You Around." Usually I enjoy the Washington Post and LA Weekly puzzles more than the LAT, but this week it's flipped.

NYT 9:25
LAT 9:10
CS 5:05

WaPo 8:43
Hex 7:53


January 06, 2006


I found the Saturday NYT puzzle by Jim Hyres harder than Friday's. What the hell is CLOOTIE? I just noticed that in looking back at the puzzle. Oh, Scottish Satan. Okay. Got that one through the crossings, obviously. I was also unfamiliar with SARRE and H HOUR, although I think *HOUR was my first entry. Clues I liked include "Pluto and others" for TOONS, "Change places?" for MINTS, "Bullyragged" (a new word for me) for MISUSED, and "Driving aid, of sorts" for LARIAT, and the last thing I filled in after working backwards, "Some pizza slices, e.g." for OCTANTS.

I just might go to Sundance for the Wordplay premiere. How else can I recoup the $5 I spent to preregister to be assigned a 30-minute time slot in which to attempt to buy tickets?

NYT 5:21
LAT 4:49
Saturday Stumper 3:42
CS 3:13


January 05, 2006


The marquee puzzle of the day is Byron Walden's Weekend Warrior in the Sun. I wouldn't say this is Byron's toughest puzzle ever (some may dispute that), but it could be his best. I counted 14 entries that aren't listed in the Cruciverb database—and that's a lot of shiny newness to stuff into one puzzle. There are some trademark colloquialisms (most notably HMM I WONDER and HUMOR ME) and a trademark tech term (DRILL DOWN), two intersecting authors with Z's in their names, and an R&B song from 1994 (HEY MR DJ) that I'd never heard of. The Jack Nicholson movie was hard to come by, even with the first letter—his last three Oscar nominations were all for movies starting with an A! (Different letter counts, though.)

But as fantastic as the fill is, it's the clues that make me a loyal Walden customer. The best "aha" clues are "Mystery offer?" for RAT POISON and "Dick Cheney supporter?" for STENT. When a math professor writes, "Fixed circle above a moving center?" it's natural to think of geometry, but it's basketball: RIM. "Odio's opposite" probably befuddled everyone who doesn't speak Italian, but when AMORE fills in, the etymology reveals itself. "Nose expert" hints at otolaryngology, not wine (OENOPHILE). DOGWALKER is, naturally enough, "One who follows many leads?" Both of these clues tempt the solver to assume the wrong meaning of a word like "nose" or "lead"—par for the course in Waldenesque cluing. P.S. What was your solving time?

David Levinson Wilk's NYT features a pair of triple-stacked 15's that are about as zippy as triple stacks get: GONZO JOURNALISM looks great across the top of the grid, doesn't it? There are a few new entries, but, um, not as many as in the aforementioned puzzle; JERRY RICE, PAW PRINTS, and FOSTER DAD make their debuts, along with one of the 15's (HOT ENOUGH FOR YOU). As with Byron's puzzle, there are also a number of entries (I like WHO IS IT and WASH ME) that have been used only once or twice before. Best clue: "Sticking point?" for CARET.


Check out the order of the theme entries in Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle. My golf experience is limited, but I'm guessing that TEE, ROUGH, BUNKER, GREEN, HOLE would be a reasonable sequence of locations for a somewhat troubled golf ball.

Today would have been my late grandmother's 93rd birthday. When I was a kid, she's the one I watched tackle the NYT and other crosswords. The only time there was no folded newspaper page with a crossword atop her kitchen table is when the space was needed at mealtimes; dishes cleared, the crossword was returned to its rightful place. Grandma found the puzzles increasingly difficult as more pop culture and wordplay were incorporated, which raises the question: What will crosswords be like 40 years from now? Will we still like them, or will we grumble that they were better back in our heyday?

NYS 8:38
NYT 6:50
LAT 4:23
CS 3:22

Reagle 9:35
WSJ 8:47


January 04, 2006


Brilliant Thursday Sun puzzle ("One Step at a Time") by Pete Muller, featuring a vertical WORD LADDER along with four rebus squares containing the steps in a word ladder (in which one letter at a time is changed, yielding a new word). Even the symmetrical locations of the rebus squares didn't speed things up much for me, and the NE corner slaughtered me. I should have jettisoned PYREX (which I had in place of SILEX) much sooner, since 8A appeared to be AMOEBAS and not something ending with a P. It didn't help that I'd never heard of Green Day's drummer, TRE COOL. But I'm most disappointed in myself for failing to get the LAVE rung despite having watched "[LAVE]RNE and Shirley" for years. Speaking of Green Day, have you ever encountered the color "mermaid," which purportedly is similar to SAGE GREEN? (Peter Gordon claims it's supported by his dictionary, which has provided him with oddball color clues in the past.) This puzzle has a number of not-in-Cruciverb entries: A CAPPELLA and DOULA, in addition to TRE COOL and SAGE GREEN. Well done, if vexing.

The timed applet wouldn't load Vic Fleming's NYT for me, so I defected to Across Lite. (Grr.) Anyway...the puzzle features a classic Oscar Wilde quote that breaks down nicely into 15/12/15-letter chunks, supplemented by the author's first and last names at the beginning and end of the puzzle. Favorite clue: "Banks on a runway" for TYRA. Edited after reading Lee's comment: D'oh! Okay, so it didn't break down into 15/12/15, it was 16/12/16. Eh, who counts?)


Unless I miscounted, David Kahn packed 82 theme squares into the LA Times puzzle. I've seen a similar theme at least once before, but I daresay previous versions of this theme weren't as elegantly executed or as thorough. I won't add any spoilers because I know some of you don't normally do the LAT puzzle—you should do this one.

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle has two corners of nice 8-letter entries.

NYS 8:33 (nope, no typo there)
NYT 4:45
LAT 3:38
CS 3:07


Would you like to play a game?

No, it's not a WarGames reference. It's an invitation to play a theme game.

Tuesday's NYT puzzle by Lynn Lempel featured BUCK'S KIN (clued as "Family for Pearl?"), WHITE'S ALE, COLE'S LAW, HEAD'S TART, and SAND'S TONE. In each of these, the first part is a famous person's surname, and together the two parts can also be read as a well-known one- or two-word term. Lee Glickstein says there are likely 100 or more other candidates for this type of theme, and he's already got a list of 20 good ones. So let's play in the HaloScan comments party room. Write clues (with enumeration), guess answers, or both. We'll stop when we reach 100.

To start us off, here are two from Lee's list:

1. Dad for Doris? (6)

2. Jack-of-all-trades for Rich? (13)


January 03, 2006


If you haven't done Ben Tausig's "Subscription Descriptions" yet, consider going to the Voice website and solving online or downloading the Word version—the Across Lite version posted this afternoon appears not to be the final one. Never mind—I hear the AL file's been replaced.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Sun puzzle, "Put a Finger on It," pays homage to the QWERTY keyboard and demonstrates the most straightforward manner of accomplishing a pangrammatic crossword. (Though it must've been tricky to arrange the fill around something like ZXCVBNM.) The clues I liked best were "Dead waters?" for STYX, "Shuffle, e.g." for IPOD, and "Moving direction?" for SHOO. This puzzle also marks the second day in a row of Sun puzzles containing TIP JAR. Yesterday, new and exciting; today, old hat.

John "Popeye" Minarcik and Nancy Salomon's TALE OF TWO CITIES theme occupies an impressive 60 squares of the Wednesday NYT. It's one of those themes that makes the solver rely heavily on the crossings, so it ups the challenge a bit. I'm a little disappointed, though—I'd have hoped that pathologist Popeye would have tied OOZE and ITCH together in a clinically relevant fashion, and maybe found a way to work a PUSTULE or LESION into the grid somewhere.

Returning to the Tausig puzzle—in addition to some seldom-seen entries like KVETCHES and METS FAN, Ben's got the great clue, "Went platinum, perhaps, but probably not gold" (for DYED).

Looking ahead to the rest of this week's Sun puzzles, I will say that the Thursday puzzle killed me (particularly the NE corner), but Byron Walden's excellent Weekend Warrior did not, even though it's rumored to be leaving solvers feeling battered.

NYS 4:45
NYT 4:19 (Would you believe I typed a bracket and a 3 in this grid? I just could not type tonight! I blame the Sun puzzle for jinxing my keyboard.)
Tausig 3:57
LAT 3:53
CS 2:50


January 02, 2006


Cute NYT puzzle from Lynn Lempel. All these years I've been eating cole slaw, I've never been tempted to pronounce it as if it were COLE'S LAW—until now. This is one of those themes that make me wish I'd had the idea first, because it looks like it would have been fun to concoct a list of candidates for the theme entries.

I've been in New York Sun withdrawal since early last week. Here's hoping this week's puzzles are posted first thing in the morning so I can binge again...


The Tuesday Sun by Anthony Salvia has been posted, but I haven't seen the next three days' puzzles—anyone else get 'em yet? I liked the puzzle, "Capital Liquidity," because of my fondness for geography themes (blue is my favorite Trivial Pursuit color) and anagrams. The bonus is some top-notch fill, such as TOKLAS, ERSATZ, and TIP JAR (which doesn't show up in the Cruciverb database, despite showing up on so many café counters. Now I'm supposed to tip someone for selling me a dish of ice cream? Feh.)

NYT 3:35
Tausig tba?
LAT 3:21
NYS 3:03
CS 2:23



Cute theme in Linda Schechet Tucker's NYT puzzle, and well-timed—I did the puzzle shortly after my family left, and the group included my kid's UNCLE TOM and my MAMA (alas, I have no COUSIN VINNY). I managed to cost myself 20 seconds on the applet with the typo SHPERE (which should be a word in its own right)—why is it that when I have a typo near the top of the grid, I start searching for it from the bottom? Looking at DESSERTS, my eye traveled up and saw STRESSED, so I checked the opposing spot of the grid to see what it offered. STUNTCAR backwards is even better!

CS 3:54
NYT 3:11
LAT 3:04
NYS (Is today a Sun holiday?)