February 28, 2006

Woansdei (Frisian Wednesday)

Count me among the esteeming masses who thoroughly enjoyed Richard Silvestri's NYT puzzle, even if there was no place for the fabulous duo of Sonny and Escher, or Escher's Farewell Tour. I liked the theme, yes (particularly ESCHEW THE FAT), but also the clues, which mixed it up a little more than the Monday/Tuesday clues.

In the Sun, Oscar week continues with "The African Academy Awards," by AJ Mass (new?). As you may recall, I have a weakness for geography-related wordplay, so I liked this one, too. CAMEROON DIAZ has been waiting in the wings for years for this theme to arise. There's one entry that was utterly new to me: the Hyundai AZERA is, apparently, a new car model. And I've always liked the word ORNERY, but why must so many people pronounce it "onnery"? Why? Just one of my mispronunciation pet peeves. Sherbert, nucular, onnery. Aagh!

Barbara Olson's LAT has a funky theme that I liked. And today's Ben Tausig puzzle, "Tee Time," has a fun theme, fun clues, and sparkling fill. My favorite clue was "The Chicago ___" (5). Plenty of obvious answers come to mind (but are wrong). "The point of a male?" and "whale Dick" go nicely together, too.
NYS 4:26
NYT 3:40
LAT 3:35
Tausig 3:34
CS 3:32
Newsday tba


February 27, 2006

Tiisdei (Frisian Tuesday)

That's a nICEr puzzle, Jim Hyres' NYT with the CENTER ICE theme. The longer theme entries were supplemented with crossing central ICEs in the shorter entries in the puzzle's middle. Although...the wrong member of the Bush administration, ALBERTO Gonzales, is parked beneath AIMS AT ("Targets, as with a gun").

Graham Meyer (What has he done before?) presents the second Sun Oscar of the week, with "Worst Pictures." Cute theme—or should I say ugly theme? My Fair Lady becomes MY FOUL LADY, and A Beautiful Mind is A HIDEOUS MIND. Maybe it's a good thing I'm not a studio executive, because I'm oddly intrigued by the movies that would merit those bizarro-world titles. Plenty of interesting clues and 7- to 8-letter fill, though I can't help but wonder why Peter retained (or added) an abbreviation, RTES (22 Down), where it wasn't needed for the crossings. Change the T to a U and the I of I AM to an S, and you've got the perfectly respectable RUES and SAM crossing USED.

Updated: I liked the theme in Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle—the clues for the theme entries were "L?" "V?" and "Y?" Intrigued?

NYS 4:54
CS 3:40
NYT 3:06
LAT 2:56
Newsday 2:35 (on paper)


February 26, 2006

Moandei (it's Frisian week)

Somebody help me out, will you? In Ed Early's Monday NYT, those vertical 15's don't pertain to the theme, do they? They're just there to make for an impressive Monday grid? (And to balance out the HEAVEN mention with a little HELL? The mainstream media aim to present both sides of an issue, after all.) I wonder if OVER THE MOON was considered for the theme but jettisoned in favor of using the vertical 15's. Now, usually a Monday NYT will take me less than 3 minutes; this one took me a relatively long time because the SE corner chewed me up. I opted for TO TASTE rather than TO ORDER, and the A then led me to ETA instead of ARR, and it took a while to untangle that mess.


Newbie Jeremy Horwitz launches Oscar week in the Sun with "Reel Disappointment." The theme entries are past Oscar-nominated movies that were shut out on awards night. Looking forward to more from you, Jeremy! (And it was nice to meet you at Sundance.)

NYT 3:39
CS 3:24
NYS 3:22
LAT 2:47
Newsday 2:23 (on paper)


Starbucks contest puzzle #2

I just finished the second puzzle for the Starbucks crossword contest, constructed by Patrick Berry and edited by Will Shortz. This one has the trivia question in an acrostic you fill in (no thinking required in that step) after you solve the crossword.

My neighborhood Starbucks store is performing pretty well—they had the puzzle last weekend (albeit not bundled with the Sunday paper), and this morning they were happy to give my husband a copy of puzzle #2 without a newspaper purchase. (Hey, I give the NYT plenty of money as it is. I pay for the Premium Puzzles service, and a friend gave me a gift subscription to TimesSelect.) I hope the rest of you were able to pick up the puzzle yourselves. If you're desperate, e-mail me at orangecru-blog [at] yahoo [•] com and I'll send you a low-res scanned .pdf of the puzzle. It doesn't print out crystal clear, but it's decent.


February 25, 2006

Søndag (Danish and Norwegian for Sunday)

Aah, Randolph Ross's "Writing Lesson"...a perfect Sunday NYT crossword for the writer/editor type. I know all those grammatical rules, even if half of them are hooey and should be flouted by all right-thinking people who actually know how to write. (I'm not making this up—the linguists at Language Log eviscerate Strunk and White every so often, as in this post. The S&W rules they've protested include those pertaining to split infinitives, sentences ending with prepositions, and saying things like "Everyone should bring their lunch" instead of "Everyone should bring his or her lunch.") This doesn't detract from the theme at all, as most people educated in the U.S. will have had these rules foisted upon them, rightly or wrongly. Anyway, here are some clues/entries I enjoyed: "C-worthy" for SOSO, "Malodourous room?" for LOO, BEER CANS and GUINNESS, "Round end?" for BELL (boxing, ick), "Lowest state?" for MISERY, and PRESS KITS.

I like to list some of the trickier clues for the Saturday and Sunday puzzles, the clues that will give people fits and send them to the search engines in pursuit of answers. What do you know? Most of the trivia in this puzzle is clued so straightforwardly that Google should give these people what they need...


Today's LA Times puzzle by Rich Norris (the pseudonym Nora Pearlstone is an anagram of "not a real person") is great—it made me laugh a few times, and that's certainly the mark of a fun puzzle. The clue for AJAR is "Annoying to a draft evader?" The theme entry AMORAL SURGEON is clued as "Unscrupulous operator?" This puzzle's the first one I've seen that includes SUDOKU. And who doesn't appreciate a shout-out to Jean-Claude Van Damme, the muscles from Brussels? (Though I prefer Universal Soldier to TIMECOP.)

Speaking of Rich Norris, there's also a good CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge by him. If you're wondering about "ecological stages" and SERES, this may explain it a bit.

The theme in the Newsday puzzle by Gail Grabowski is the color brown. Many of the theme entries are food-related, so don't do this puzzle when you're hungry...

LAT 11:36 (with conversations)
NYT 8:14
Newsday 7:34 (on paper)
CS 4:45


February 24, 2006

Disadorn (that's Breton for Saturday)

It's a delightful surprise to open up the Saturday NYT and find that it's by Henry Hook. Do you think it's merely a coincidence that POSTERIORS and UP IN THE SKY are in the same puzzle with a phrase containing "moon" (MOONWALK—sadly, not the more apt MOONSHINE)? Anyway, this puzzle's crammed full of unusual entries and challenging clues. With just the ND portion, "High, in a way" led me straight to ON DOPE as one of the first few entries I filled in (what does this say about me?), although having AZUL instead of AZUR ("shade of bleu") below it ended up slowing me down. I learned a new bit of medical terminology with "renal : kidney :: amygdaline : ___"—TONSIL. Turns out amygdaline can refer to the tonsils, the amygdala in the brain, or almonds. Try not to think about eating tonsils the next time you've having a chocolate bar with almonds, okay? I never saw Gypsy, so I didn't know Mama Rose's declaration was I HAD A DREAM. I await an explanation from one of you about MONADS: in what sense is that "One and the same"? "208 people" seems like a tricky clue for IDAHOANS. "Bluejackets" are SAILORS in the U.S. or British Navy, apparently. Last, "Flex, for example" is a patently nonobvious clue for SHAMPOO. Congrats to Henry and Will on putting out a puzzle that pleased me so.


Henry Hook shows you the money in this weekend's LA Weekly puzzle, which is a good puzzle but has one pain-inducing obscurity: the "city on the Volga," TVER. If you haven't heard of it, you might know it as Kalinin (its name from 1931 to 1990), but the current name dates at least as far back as 1164 and the city's got a long and interesting history—so I suppose one can't complain too much about its use in a crossword.

Frequent Crossword Fiend commenter Bob Mackey makes his construction debut with today's themeless LA Times puzzle. Congrats, Robair! My favorite entries were AVENUE Q and TMOBILE.

The February 10 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Michael Ashley is timely—if you do it this weekend. It's got a Winter Olympics theme.

NYT 8:01
LAT 4:12
Newsday Saturday Stumper 3:52 (on paper)
CS 3:22
2/10 CHE 3:22

2/26 LA Weekly 9:52
2/26 WaPo 8:22


February 23, 2006

Föstudagur (that's Icelandic for Friday)

I loved Manny Nosowsky's NYT puzzle. Of the 20 longest answers (7 to 10 letters apiece), I'd say I really liked at least 16 of them. Did SEIJI OZAWA give a KARATE CHOP to his ESCRITOIRE because it was UGLY AS SIN? If so, did he cut himself, experience SHEER AGONY, and end up with SCAR TISSUE? The clues are great, too—there were about a dozen that stood out for me (too many to list, really), whereas many puzzles have a standout clue count of zero to one.

In the Sun, Randolph Ross boxes us in with the rebus puzzle, "Squaring the Square." Ten rebus squares in symmetrical locations seems like a lot—anyone know of any puzzles that can match that feat?


Friday at last! There's another Manny puzzle in the Wall Street Journal featuring a checkers theme; a field of COWs in Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer weekend puzzle; a catty quip in Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle; and a shindig theme in Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle. They're all good puzzles.

NYS 5:31
LAT 4:51
NYT 4:50
CS 4:37
Newsday 4:08 (on paper)

Reagle ?:?? (oops—forgot to start the Across Lite timer)
WSJ 7:52


February 22, 2006

Cxetvrtak (that's Bosnian for Thursday)

I can't vouch for its accuracy, but this is the site I've been using to find foreign names for the days of the week.

I enjoyed Todd McClary's NYT, which was foreshadowed by my husband's living-room performance of "My Name is Yon Yonson" earlier this week. I checked the Cruciverb database for all the J-into-Y theme entries, and it appears that this theme is a new one. (Even if it weren't, I'd still like it. The entries are fun to say aloud.) Outside of the theme, the puzzle's oozing with good stuff, like JINX, KOOKY, KENYAN, EELSKIN, MOWGLI, and ANTONYM (which had a great clue: "Head to toe").

Jay Leatherman's Themeless Thursday puzzle in the Sun seemed easier than most TT's, but had some lovely fill. FOGGY BOTTOM on top and SUNNY SIDE UP down below, and GO ASK YOUR MOTHER. I wonder if the Missouri mini-theme (two states clued "The Missouri R. forms part of its border, plus SHOW ME) was the constructor's doing or a Peter Gordon suggestion. And how sad is the clue for BUD: "the world's best-selling beer, for short"? Oh, there are so many better brews out there...

NYS 3:56
LAT 3:51
NYT 3:49
CS 3:45
Newsday 3:00 (on paper)


February 21, 2006

Quarta-feira (that's Portuguese for Wednesday)

John R. Conrad's Sun puzzle, "As Easy as ABC," looks crazy, with the top row and left column filled with BAABAABAA, AAAA, BABA, AABBA, and BBC—but then you realize that every single entry starts with A, B, or C. I was nearly done with the puzzle before I even noticed the gimmick, which I'd say is an indicator that it's a solid puzzle aside from the constructor's trick.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle, "Buzzwords," was a rollicking good time (insofar as a crossword can rollick). A bees theme, some interesting clues ("Old republican?" for PLATO), PARTY ON from "Wayne's World," and OH YOKO (which was the subject of a Cruciverb-L discussion lately—fill that fits the O**O*O pattern).

I liked half of the theme in Nancy Salomon's NYT: DIARY QUEEN and FIAT ACCOMPLI, yes, but RIAL SPLITTER and TRIAL BIKES, not so much. But that's just my opinion. I also liked DRY WIT, QUAHOG, OLD BOY, and the clues "What ___?" (FOR) and "What ___...?" (THE). And putting SCOTCH and OPIUM in the same section is intoxicating. But a few of those crosswordesey words are popping up, like OONA, SERE, and the ever-popular EKES. "My hands are so sere, I should see if I can eke out some lotion."

Updated: By the way, if you couldn't get the Starbucks contest puzzle last Sunday, you can call 1-800-STARBUC (782-7282) and they'll mail you a copy. (Or I can e-mail you a bloated .pdf file.)

And also: Of course, if you call the Starbucks phone number, they may well tell you to check your local store and see if they have any puzzles left (if they ever had them in the first place), or to mail in your SASEs to receive the puzzles by mail. So helpful! (Not.)

The Starbucks site had a new link, a "click here for this week's helpful hint." I went to the link for the "weekly clue" and got to watch a video of Will Shortz pondering, looking upward, eating grapes, and eating popcorn while looking upward, with his voice-over telling you that fill-in-the-blank clues are an easy place to start working a crossword. So you're not missing any vital clues for the contest—but if you'd like to see Will look thoughtful while snacking, that's the place.

Tausig 4:05
NYT 3:50
NYS 3:45
LAT 3:32
CS 3:11
Newsday 2:55 (on paper)


February 20, 2006

Antradienis (that's Lithuanian for Tuesday)

In Lisa Wiseman's NYT puzzle (a debut?), I knew EIGHT DAYS A WEEK and ONCE IN A BLUE MOON, but TWELFTH OF NEVER scarcely rang a bell at all. According to Professor Google, it's a song—a song that's been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley and Johnny Mathis, to Nina Simone and Keith Urban. Live and learn...

In the Sun, Ogden Porter/Peter Gordon dishes up "As Easy as AAA, BBB, CCC." I didn't watch "Honeymooners" reruns when I was a kid, and I never had any idea that "To the moon, Alice!" was customarily preceded by BANG ZOOM. Live and learn...

CS 4:19
NYS 3:54
LAT 3:25
NYT 2:55
Newsday 2:37 (on paper)


February 19, 2006

Jelhune (that's Manx for Monday)

Doug Peterson's NYT gives me a hankering for Mexican food, and it was a fun solve. One of the better Monday puzzles in recent weeks, with a meaty theme and good fill, like BUD SELIG, YES OR NO, MR DEEDS, LOVE crossing LORN, BALI crossing GUAM, and ECOLE crossing ECOLI.

Anyone know if President's Day is a New York Sun crossword holiday? Answer: Yes, it is, but Tuesday through Friday's puzzles are posted already.

LAT 3:49
CS 3:20
Newsday 2:49
NYT 2:44
NYS n/a

As of 5:20 on Sunday, I've done a whopping three extra puzzles on paper today (including the Starbucks contest puzzle by Patrick Berry)


February 18, 2006


Beautiful NYT puzzle ("It's Next to Nothing") by Joe DiPietro, even if the theme is bizarre—ITS next to NIL in six different places? I don't know how he came up with that idea, much less how he executed it within the confines of a top-notch crossword. SAMOSA and PEAHEN, SLAPDASH and LESS THAN, the adjacent VANILLA and EXTRACT, classics references (ILIAD, AENEID, SPARTA, ARIADNE), BIG DEAL and IM SURE...it's all good stuff.

Hmm, what will the hapless Googlers be curious about? During the week after a Saturday or Sunday NYT, and again six weeks later (when the same puzzles appear elsewhere in syndication), people struggling with to finish the crossword turn to search engines. Lately they've been asking about the red squirrel named for the sound it makes (CHICKAREE), Scottish Satan (CLOOTIE), spawning salmon protuberance (GIB—that one was in the LA Times), and "salty hail" (AHOY MATE). Remember those ones? This puzzle may vex people with SAGITTA ("the Arrow constellation"), ARIADNE ("Theseus abandoned her"), SEASCAPE ("specialty of Russian painter Aivazovsky"), NASL (the Minnesota Kicks' league), and maybe even—since that corner was a slow one for me—SAMOSA ("small turnover") and PEAHEN ("preener's partner").


In today's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge, Harvey Estes has written (and clued) a 45-letter sentence in the central triple stack: "Mailer of sexy catalogs...wishes to satisfy...people who like cheap thrills." For good measure, there are two more triple stacks and two vertical 8-letter entries each crossing six of the 15's.

Henry Cox and Emily Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle, "Four in a Row," has theme entries along the lines of MINNEHAHA HAHA (a fake example), but the number of letters outside the quadruple pairs ranges from one to four in each theme entry; that must've made it harder to assemble a list of good theme entries.

Robert Wolfe's LA Times puzzle features a limerick that includes a 6-letter run of consonants (DJBMCN). Is it just me, or do we not usually see that many consonants in a row outside of a vowelless puzzle?

David Kahn's Washington Post puzzle offers a timely batch of presidential trivia for President's Day, and Patrick Jordan's Newsday puzzle adds an IONic charge to the theme entries.

Don't forget the Starbucks/NYT crossword contest! I don't know if it's just my neighborhood Starbucks store or all of them, but when my husband went to buy the Sunday paper with the contest puzzle, the staff informed him that the puzzle (by Patrick Berry) came with the Saturday paper, but gave him one to accompany the Sunday paper. What the...? Anyway, I haven't started the puzzle yet, but I've got it scanned in and printed on plain paper. If you'll excuse me, I've got a crossword to do now.

LAT 9:58
NYT 9:30
Newsday 7:40 (on paper)
LA Weekly 7:38
WaPo 7:35
CS 3:52


February 17, 2006


Eric Berlin’s NYT looks great, with its grid shaped like a giant S containing 68 words and 29 black squares (did I count right?). And it’s got good fill and plenty of tricky clues that may mislead (my favorite kind!). “Certain links,” starting with W? WURSTS, not web-somethings. “Place to get rolls” is SUSHI BAR, not bakery; “lab locale” is KENNEL, not hospital; “ladies’ room” is ODA, not loo or lav, and “Canterbury can” is GAOL, also not toilet-related. I wonder how many people racked their brains for the names of giant world cities that could be a “megalopolis with about 30 million people, for short” (SOCAL). Today’s obscurities are MESNE, “intervening, legally,” and OLEG, “pianist Maisenberg” (here’s his bio in German and English), which crosses MESNE. Other factoids that struggling solvers will probably be Googling include “modern inhabitants of ancient Aram” (SYRIANS) and “commander at the Alamo” (TRAVIS).


With all the discussion yesterday about what constitutes a fair or unfair clue, I'd like to nominate a troublesome crossing in Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LAT puzzle. If you don't know the Brazilian writer Jorge AMADO (and I don't) or recognize the title Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon (which I didn't), then there's no way to know whether the last letter is an A or and O based on the crossing; "blood type, briefly" could be ANEG, BNEG, or ONEG. If I'd done this puzzle on paper rather than in Across Lite, I'd have plunked in an A and called it done, but I'd have been wrong.

Merle Baker's Saturday Stumper is one of the harder ones of late. Question: Why is the answer to "blackjack holdings" ALES? Is blackjack a term for a pub or something?

Newsday Saturday Stumper 7:12 (on paper)
NYT 5:37
LAT 4:35
CS 3:20

extra puzzles on paper: 27 on Friday, 16 on Saturday, all in Matt Jones’ Jonesin’ Crosswords—I recommend the book. Fifty themed puzzles of roughly Tuesday to Friday difficulty, plenty of clever themes, "edgy" content.



Trip Payne’s NYT is one of the harder Friday puzzles we’ve had recently. (Here’s hoping that means Saturday’s puzzle will be ferocious.) Highlights of the puzzle: six 11-letter entries, including MYSTERY DATE (my sister and I played the game at our cousin’s—I think my mom was too feminist to buy it for us); three first/last name combos; and “person who’s authorized to shorten a sentence” for EDITOR. It’s surprising how long it took me to piece together “newspaper inits. since 1851” (NYT, duh). I would’ve enjoyed more question-mark clues, of course.

The most obscure entry in Karen Tracey’s Sun Weekend Warrior has got to be PEKANS, or “large brown martens also known as fishers or wejacks.” Curious? Of course you are. This fact sheet explains that a female pekan’s gestation lasts almost a year, and she’ll get pregnant again shortly after giving birth. (Ack!) Also, pekans are among the few animals that are able to eat porcupines. Moving right along: In the SW corner of the grid, the trio of SMACK DAB, TANDOORI, and JOE CAMEL is great, isn’t it? Karen also included a whopping eight entries ending with I (only one of which is a Roman numeral). Last and least, can you envision KARL MARX and Emiliano ZAPATA doing the MEXICAN HAT DANCE? (P.S. I hate the noun COED. When will the dictionary definitions be updated to include men at Vassar?)


Curtis Yee's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Lettered Men," is tough if you have to rely on the crossings to get some of the theme names, as I did.

Dave Mackey's LA Times puzzle made me wonder who Bessie Coleman was (OHARE is clued "airport on Bessie Coleman Drive"). She was the first African-American woman pilot.

Van Vandiver's WSJ, "Inn-Cognito," offers up some products placements. (Those of you with kids, watch for the product placement in the animated movie, Curious George. Yes, they drew in a few logos! Kids, ask for Dole bananas by name...)

Merl Reagle picks the weirdest themes. "All About Eaves"? Somehow, he makes it work.

NYT 6:31
NYS 5:28
2/3 CHE 4:55
LAT 4:09
Newsday 3:55 (on paper)
CS 3:20

WSJ 9:29
Reagle 9:05

# of puzzles on paper from books: 26 on Thursday evening


February 15, 2006


With the NYT timed applet running on empty tonight, I meant to print out Levi Denham and Nancy Salomon's puzzle for extra on-paper practice. But I promptly forgot that plan and solved it via keyboard instead of pen. Anyway—the rebus began to reveal itself to me in SCI[FI], but even after I'd filled in the four long entries with rebus squares, I was still stuck in the middle for a startlingly long time until it dawned on me that the 4-letter "ominous cry" would BE [FEE][FI][FO][FUM]. Voila! I have defeated the giant. (Must be that Englishwoman blood in me.) Fun theme, well executed. Levi and Nancy have certainly earned their magic beans this time. P.S. The puzzle didn't load in the applet because it's only 14x15; I hadn't counted across, but the central 4-square entry should have been a tip-off.

I always enjoy a puzzle that pushes the grid's boundaries, and the Sun puzzle ("X Out") by Lee Glickstein and Vic Fleming is no exception. With different clues for the long vertical entries, this would merely be a good, if reasonably ordinary, crossword. But the central HANG TEN instructs you to hang a T, E, and N from the bottom of the long entries, transforming those phrases into new ones. (I don't want to think about how long it took to come up with three 15-letter phrases that could be re-clued if those particular letters were added to the end of each phrase.) I tried connecting the dots, the dots being the five instances of the letter X in this puzzle—but they don't really form a decent surfboard. Regardless of that, well done, gentlemen!

Updated: Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Nonsense," features synonyms for nonsense. Curious about the eytmology of those words? According to my shiny, new Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, BALDERDASH dates back to 1590–1600 and is of obscure origin. FLAPDOODLE goes back to 1820–1830 and has an uncertain origin. MOONSHINE means just that, but the term dates back to Middle English (1375–1425). Finally, POPPYCOCK actually has some specifics: The American usage began in the 1840s and the word may derive from the Dutch pappekak, pappe meaning "pap" and kak meaning "excrement." Papcrap?)

NYT 5:12
NYS 4:56
LAT 3:52
Newsday 3:14 (on paper)
CS 3:02


February 14, 2006


It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on in David Kahn's Sun puzzle, "The Difference Between Men and Women"—normal phrases with a WO inserted. (I don't know which I like best, SPECIAL WOK or the bizarre STANDING WOPAT.) I also got derailed by by two words crossing the theme entries in the middle, 1944 Physics Nobelist Isidor RABI and LONG A (clued as “Take part?”).

And what's this? A Byron Walden NYT on a Wednesday? A straightforward math theme, with LINES, CURVE, and POINT—but before I figured out it was a math theme, I filled in AHEAD OF ONES TIME for the middle entry. (Oops.) I liked "No ordinary joe?" as a clue for MOCHA LATTE, and CUE UP as a new entry ("Man, I haven't shot pool in ages," complains Dick Cheney.) Cute mini-theme lurking in there, too, with LADIES MAN and BARE ROMPS.

NYS 6:28
LAT 4:25
NYT 4:03
CS 3:32
Newsday 3:01 (on paper)


Big-bucks crossword contest

I received an e-mail today from a guy at an ad agency, encouraging me to flog his promotional contest for free. My initial reaction was, "Hey, Starbucks and New York Times, I'm not some cheap strumpet who will put out like that." Then I learned that the winner can choose an annuity of $1,460 a year (one premium coffee a day, at 2006 prices—what's a latte going to cost 50 years from now?) or a flat $32,000, and my interest was piqued. According to the Starbucks site, you need to buy the Sunday NYT at Starbucks for six weeks—February 19 through March 26—to retrieve each week's insert with an Ultimate Coffeehouse Crossword Challenge puzzle edited by Will Shortz. (You can also send an SASE each week to get the puzzle for the cost of a stamp.)

According to the AD MAN's e-mail, "Each crossword created for Starbucks is linked to coffeehouse experiences, featuring artists, musicians, painters, and others whose works were inspired at the coffeehouse of their time. The puzzles range from easy to moderate, with each week presenting a new thematic test of wit and wisdom, and a unique way to shake up your weekend crossword ritual with Starbucks."

Hang onto the six puzzles and use them in the final "treasure hunt," which involves calling with your final answer on Tuesday, April 4. There are byzantine plans for handling any ties—you can read all the rules here.


February 13, 2006


Kevan Choset's timely NYT puzzle offers a BOX OF CHOCOLATES for Valentine's Day (I'll take mine dark, please), plus a little hint of the Winter Games (SLALOMS). Plenty of nice fill, like DRIBBLES, IN COLOR, and I GOT IT.

The Sun is also celebrating Valentine's Day, with Gary Steinmehl's XOXOX hugs-and-kisses half-rebus. In the theme entries, an O replaces [HUG] and an X replaces [KISS], but the O's and X's are merely themselves in the crossing entries. But I want to know who to blame for the harsh MOO clue, "slaughterhouse sound." Could we keep the cows alive in the crosswords, please? So that they can moo in a lea somewhere? Go ahead and clue STD as "Gonorrhea, e.g.," Peter, but please, go easy on our bovine friends.

Monday's Sun puzzle, Robert E. Lee Morris's "Let Us Prey" has a reasonably good birds-of-prey theme, but what I liked best about it was YAHTZEE! (Sorry, but that word must be said in an exclamatory fashion.) YAHTZEE and COBBLER both appear to be new entries, and they're accompanied by five 8-letter entries each composed of two 4-letter words (e.g., DRUM SOLO).


Theme, schmeme: That's basically the theme in Ben Tausig's latest Ink Well puzzle, "Discounts." It's also a pangram, with multiple instances of Q, X, and Z (and one of the Q's is U-free, at the crossing of QWERTY and QBS). There are a couple hip hop entries, JAY Z and HEY YA—which brings to mind the griping in the NYT forum over the weekend, after SNOOP DOGG was in David Quarfoot's Saturday puzzle.

The whole "I don't listen to rap"/"Snoop Dogg's lyrics are misogynist" line of criticism smacks of borderline racism to me, coming from a population that is so disproportionately white (probably about 95% of Stamford entrants last year were white). As others have said, there's no moral standard for crossword fill—nobody complains when Idi Amin shows up in a puzzle. But to single out rap is disingenuous. Crossword fill/clues regular Sean Connery hits women; as mentioned here, country and rock videos also rely on misogynist images (and I'm sure you can think of misogynist lyrics in many rock or country songs). You don't have to listen to hip hop (and I rarely do), but you do have to grasp that it's a dominant force in the music business and in society; it's simply not a fad that's going away any time soon. Hip hop will be in the newspapers (in the past year, Eminem and 50 Cent have been mentioned more often in the NYT than Vivaldi has), and it will be in crosswords, as Will Shortz pointed out. Just learn the names and how to spell them, and you'll be fine.

Tues NYS 4:19
Tausig 3:50
NYT 3:17
Mon NYS 3:05
CS 2:59
LAT 2:54
Newsday 2:48 (on paper)


February 12, 2006

Ripening Tomatometer

After just one more Tomatometer-approved critic reviews the movie, Wordplay will get its very own Tomatometer rating (the minimum number of reviews needed is five). With four "fresh" reviews, even if the fifth one is "rotten," the movie will still be deemed a an 80% fresh tomato.

One of those four reviews is new to me: Eric Snider says It's growing safer and safer to be a nerd in our society, and "Wordplay" is the latest clarion call, a delightfully unimportant and entertaining documentary about the New York Times crossword puzzle and its editor, Will Shortz.

And what about Stamford? Snider writes, Champion puzzle-solvers are the sort of lovable geeks and non-photogenic types you'd expect, happy with who they are and cheerful about the annual competitions, which are a cross between summer camp (with friends you only see once a year) and fierce intellectual combat. Uh, yeah.



Janet Bender's NYT puzzle is a standard Monday crossword, and as such, there's not a tremendous amount to say about it. Early in the week, when the puzzles present fewer conversation topics, maybe it'd be fun to pick a corner and rework it—sort of an amateur construction workshop. In this puzzle, SMELL OUT struck a false note; yes, it's in the dictionary, but sniff out is much more common. If we change SMELL OUT to SMELL BAD, that SE corner could become:


Pros: SMELL BAD could be fun to clue. Gets rid of an abbreviation (RNA) and a prefix (TETRA). Adds a rare Z to the grid. DYLAN could clued as Bob D. or D. Thomas, or—going for '90s nostalgia and pissing off older or TV-snob solvers—as Luke Perry's character on "Beverly Hills, 90210."

Cons: YUL is limited to Brynner. And we lose UTURN, which was a nice entry.


Pros: Still have the Z. BAGGY and DEMON could lend themselves to entertaining or straightforward clues. GUM's better than YUL.

Cons: "Miracle-___" is achingly dull.

Anyone else want to suggest alternative fill for that corner?

NYT 2:51
NYS tba
CS 3:21
LAT 2:52
Newsday 2:40 (on paper)


Wordplay release dates

If you listened to puzzlemaster Will Shortz on NPR this morning, then you know that Wordplay is scheduled to open in New York on June 16 and in Los Angeles on June 23, rolling out in other cities thereafter...


February 11, 2006


Manny Nosowsky's "Ladies' Finishing School" has an unusual theme—feminine suffixes tacked onto words to rework the phrases. For example, "mass hysteria" becomes MASSEUSE HYSTERIA, clued as "Rubber mania?" My favorite clue: "Class of planes?" for GEOMETRY. Plenty of good entries, such as AUTOBAHN, SAY UNCLE, and SHRUB and SCRUB. And...I haven't got much to say, but I did enjoy the puzzle.


Today's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge by Randolph Ross is pretty good—check it out. And the Newsday Sunday puzzle, Fred Piscop's "Pasta Salad," either quizzes you on or expands your knowledge of the Italian meaning of assorted pasta names

NYT 9:24
LAT 7:26
Newsday 6:38 (on paper)
CS 4:28


February 10, 2006


David Quarfoot’s Saturday NYT felt like an easy Friday puzzle to me*, but that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for it. Plenty of shiny (possibly) new entries, like SNOOP DOGG (who had the hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot”), AYMARA (“one of Bolivia’s official languages”—and a nice counterpart to LA PAZ), SHOULDNT, ITS A PLANE, ESSAY TEST, and SRI LANKAN. AIR GUITAR and LAZY SUSAN are great, too. My favorite entry, though, is the one that looks for all the world like THEM ASSES. Has anyone got a good clue for that?

*Byron, on the other hand, posted a Tuesday-level time for this Saturday puzzle. Harrumph!


Either Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle was harder than usual, or I'm not at my peak as a speed-solver when I'm falling asleep late in the evening. (Or both.) This was the second puzzle this week that clued MOSES along the lines of "He took two tablets"—anyone remember the other one? If not, maybe it's in a book of crosswords.

If the weather's lousy, you don't care about the Olympics, and you have an addictive personality, you'll love the Word Sandwich game. You guess a five-letter word, and the game tells you if the mystery word is before or after it alphabetically. Eventually you may find yourself sandwiched between two words, at a complete loss for a word that comes between them—can you think of a common word between EXERT and EXIST? Alas, I blanked on that one. But I did pretty well a few other times. (A hearty "thank you" to Trip Payne for luring me into spending the entire day playing this game yesterday.)

LAT 5:42
NYT 4:47
CS 3:55
Saturday Stumper 3:53 (on paper)

Hook LAW 10:32
WaPo 7:52


February 09, 2006

I love Fridays

Valentine's Day is coming up next Tuesday, so why not celebrate early with Henry Hook's Sun cardiac-themed puzzle, "Without Missing a Beat"? This puzzle duped me into thinking it contained a [HEART] rebus in 1-Down, rather than a deleted [HEAR], and this definitely slowed me down. A lot. Eventually, I pieced it together, with the help of TOILEINING and the obvious removal of [TTRA]. Between the challenging clues (or were they challenging? maybe it was just the tricky gimmick) and the innovative [HEAR][TTRA][NSPL][ANTS] mechanism, this was a deliciously knotty puzzle. (Peter Gordon, can you get Henry to pony up some more killers for us? To paraphrase cheesy valentines, the two of you make beautiful music together.) For those of you who got bogged down at the crossing of "Quintana ___" (it's ROO, not RIO) and "Piece of baloney?" (CROCK), here's the Wikipedia entry on the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (constructors, check out the list of other Mexican states at the end of that page); some of the college kids there are attending the cutely monikered UQRoo.

Harvey Estes is back in the NYT, just three weeks after his previous Friday puzzle (the one with the complete sentence in the triple stack—AL AND TIPPER GORE/CAME TO THE RESCUE/ONE WAY OR ANOTHER). This time, it's a 70-worder with two triple stacks and a central 15 bound together by two vertical 15's. (Is it just me, or does assembling a construction like that seem like a formidable task?) For me, the highlights of Harvey's puzzles are the clues. Now, it may well be that Will Shortz is responsible for these ones, but they sound Harveyesque to me: "Light show?" for SITUATION COMEDY, "Bit of shrink rap?" for I SEE, "Rest of the afternoon" for SIESTA, "Casual states?" for SEZ, "Match maker?" for SETS, and "Hogan's hero?" for CROCODILE DUNDEE.


Patrick Berry's WSJ puzzle, "Latinized Names," is the first to take advantage of hip cluing for ENNIS ("Heath's 'Brokeback Mountain' role"). It's just a tad fresher than "bandleader Skinnay" (who?), "1940's-50's Phillies star Del" (who?), "Texas town" (where?), or "capital of County Clare" (you don't say). Cute theme, if a little groan-inducing.

Speaking of groan-inducing, then there's Merl Reagle's "Horsing Around" puzzle from the Philadelphia Inquirer. MUZZLE TOV! (Oy.)

NYS 14:30 (ouch)
NYT 5:17
LAT 5:30
1/27 CHE 4:54
CS 3:33

WSJ 9:03
Reagle (oops—forgot to start the timer)


February 08, 2006


Ethan Cooper (whose last NYT puzzle was a Sunday collaboration with Michael Shteyman, "What the Professor Meant to Say," in December) managed to fill his Thursday NYT with plenty of fresh fill to top off his SOUR GRAPES theme. This puzzle was a good bit harder than last Thursday's—and how often does a constructor following Byron Walden by a week lay claim to having the tougher puzzle?

The highlight of Karen Tracey's Themeless Thursday Sun puzzle is the central vertical entry, VERNAL EQUINOX, anchoring the rest of the grid. There's a two-way tie for most obscure entry—kid lit's ARTIE the Airplane and Canadian comic actor NED SPARKS (who was so dour, he took out a Lloyds of London insurance policy to cover him if anyone ever photographed him smiling). According to Wikipedia, SpongeBob's neighbor Squidward bears a striking resemblance to Sparks. Karen also has the word FALLOW in this puzzle, and for whatever reason, I'm fond of that word. Maybe it's the Old English vibe it gives off, with its root being fealh.

If you haven't done Henry Hook's ingenious Friday Sun puzzle, get cracking. It slaughtered me.

NYS 6:00
NYT 5:30
LAT 3:38
CS 3:12


It's time to throw down

I was sporting my gang insignia today (a Wordplay button) when I walked into a chocolate shop in Evanston. The woman behind the counter inquired, "What's that about?"

"There's a documentary about crossword puzzles that'll be coming out in a few months."

"Where will it be shown? PBS?" she asked. (As if!)

"No, it'll be playing in theaters in a few months. It premiered at Sundance last month and got picked up for distribution. You laugh, you cry—it's a fun movie."

"You're talking about crossword puzzles? You get mad, you swear, you make up your own answers," she said. (Heathen!)

"[Gasp!] Never!"

"It's Sunday and I can do whatever I want with the damn crossword," she barked. (The heathen is no longer oriented to space and time, having leapt ahead a few days in her mind.)

Apparently there are those who enjoy crosswords, those who can't or don't do crosswords, and those who will do them but dammit, they're not going to enjoy them.


February 07, 2006


Hey, look at that! Three great puzzles here. The first one I did was Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "SUV-enirs," full of phrases containing the names of gas-guzzling vehicles. (What, couldn't find a phrase that contained ESCALADE, "the act of scaling a fortified wall or rampart"? Fine, fine.) This puzzle also had good fill, like SANDSTORM and ANAGRAM, and LOMPOC federal prison makes its cruciverbal debut. For an added fillip, TILDE is clued as "Symbol in the crossing of 41-Across and 34-Down"—SEÑOR and NIÑA.

Next up, Patrick Merrell's in the NYT for the second week in a row. This time he livens up a quip puzzle by tying all the entries in the top and bottom rows to the central entry, which is, you know, completely unnecessary, but makes the puzzle so much more interesting than a plain ol' quip offering. "Red letters?" is the sprightliest clue I've ever seen for SSR—who's ever going to top that? And any puzzle that juxtaposes SEACOWS and EROTIC...what can I say? That's pure crossword gold.

Ben Tausig's Village Voice puzzle, "Key Phrases," features computer keys in the theme. The clues entertain, as usual—"Home haircut hazard" is BALD SPOT, "Berry native to Cleveland" is HALLE, and "They make wax wane" is QTIPS. I believe "Elvis follower?" is a brand-new clue for ARON, and THE OC (the TV series) appears to be a brand-new entry.


John Underwood's LA Times puzzle is cool, too. The theme entries are 8-letter words or phrases that rotate their halves: WOODWORK to WORKBOOK to BOOKMARK to MARKDOWN to DOWNEAST to EASTWOOD, which brings it back to the beginning. Is there a word for that sort of vaguely word-ladderish sequence?

In Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, TOUPEE is clued as "comb-over alternative." Can we all agree that both are vastly inferior to a close-cropped cut and peaceful acceptance of hair loss? Paula introduces the term JAMCAM to crosswords, but I've never heard it used. Do your local traffic reporters say it?

NYS 5:23
Tausig 4:18
LAT 3:46
NYT 3:45
CS 3:19


Wordplay media roundup #4

The indieWIRE folks surveyed 50 critics and writers who attended the Sundance Film Festival and provided a list of top vote-getters. In the documentary category, Wordplay is one of the runners-up to the film that won the jury prize, Iraq in Fragments.

An Australian site mentions "the regular geniuses" who compete at Stamford. "The film beautifully delves into the mind of those who are ferocious intellectuals and the result is a wonderfully funny, exciting and moving piece. I'm not a crossword fan but Wordplay is a surefire winner."

According to Bob Mackey, Wordplay is slated for a limited release on June 16. Can anyone else confirm that date?


February 06, 2006


In Alan Olschwang's Sun puzzle, "Cherchez la Femme," first you solve the crossword, and then you get a little word search action finding the women's names (LINDA, ERICA, DIANA, MARSHA) embedded within the theme entries. I'm not sure if the two longest down entries are part of the theme—ELLA is fair game, but INA as part of 3-Down is iffy. I prefer the theme with just the four acrosses. There's plenty of good fill, too, such as GILLIGAN, RESORT TO, RSVP, and YAMMER.

Moving along to the NYT by Elizabeth Gorski, we've got a cute ME, MYSELF, ANDI theme, but between the QUOTE/TALKING commonality in the first two theme entries and the embedded KING shared by the second two, it took a while to parse it as such. The puzzle’s also got two good 10-letter (non-theme) entries, GETS WISE TO and WALNUT CAKE, along with ON BUTTON, SO WHAT, and JINGO.

However...I honestly didn’t mind the ANOA in Monday’s puzzle, but the ETUI is showing up far too often in the NYT puzzles—it's in this one. If you Google etui sewing, you get about 12,000 hits. Remember the “salami pizza” contretemps? Google ”salami pizza” and you get 14,000 hits. If you don’t sew, collect antique sewing boxes, or do crosswords, you’re unlikely to ever encounter the word etui. Maybe the crossword crowd doesn’t need to see the word so much, eh?

I took a few seconds to sketch out a 4x4 grid that could easily replace the ETUI corner in this puzzle. If you stack WOWS, ELAN, and LIRA on top of DONTQUOTEME, the down answers are WELD, OLIO, WARN, and SNATCH. Do you prefer those to WONG, ECOL, and ETUI crossing WEED, OCTO, NOUN, and GLITCH? Or do you have a great corner fill of your own?

And while I'm feeling ranty, let me say that I’m also tired of LATEX being clued as “paint ingredient.” Why, latex is so much more! You’ve got your condoms and your latex-clad fetishists, as well as run-of-the-mill latex gloves. And latex allergy is fairly well-known these days. Let's allow the natural rubber to breathe a little, shall we?

NYS 4:43 (on paper)
NYT 3:45
LAT 3:30
CS 2:50


February 05, 2006


Cute anti-theme in Sheldon Benardo's Monday NYT puzzle. It's nice to see a few 8-letter fill entries in a Monday puzzle.

Lynn Lempel's Sun puzzle, "Chain Letters," made good use of ABC, DEF, KLM, STU, and XYZ in the theme entries, but HIJ (HIJACKING) and NOP (NOPROBLEM) would've worked well, too.

And...that's all. Hey, it's Monday.


Harvey Estes' "Beer Chasers" CrosSynergy puzzle has 18 non-theme entries that are 7 or 8 letters long, cutting the word count to 72. (So refreshing on a Monday!) Many of those longer entries only show up once or twice in the Cruciverb database, which also ups the freshness factor. The theme completely eluded me until I reached the helper entry, though.

The LA Times puzzle by Barry Silk has a minor mistake in the clue for IZOD. The clue reads, "shirt that once had a reptilian logo." As you can see, Izod apparel still features the crocodile logo.

P.S. Blogspot blogs are slated to be out of commission Monday night from 9 to 10 p.m. Central.)

CS 3:35
NYS (3:something, maybe? Accidentally tossed it out with last week's puzzles)
LAT 2:49
NYT 2:44


Sunday worship

Okay, I've finished Eric Berlin's puzzle, having slowed down a few times to see if the numbers in the theme clues corresponded to the letters in the boxes with those numbers, which of course they didn't. The 5x5 black box in the middle and the fact that the numbers in the clues ranged from 1 to 25 should have tipped me off sooner (but hey, there's no explanatory notepad to view in the timed applet). The message that resulted after deciphering the extra answers clued by the theme entries and entering the letters thereof into a 5x5 grid was "WALKERS OUTDISTANCE RUNNERS." This made sense to my husband, a marathoner, while the notepad says it's "a bit of advice about getting ahead." Interestingly enough, if you Google that exact phrase, the search comes up empty (but not for long). P.S. Over on the NYT forum, Ghulam Faruki notes that Eric used each of the numbers from 1 to 25 exactly twice. Hot damn! That's some fancy puzzlin'.

Aside from the standard Eric-Berlin-comes-up-with-a-twist aspect of the puzzle, there was some mighty fine fill in there. Down below the big black area, did you notice the vowel-free SWF and HTML crossing WMDS? I can't say I recall seeing other consonant-only entries stacked together like that before, unless you count those terrific vwllss pzzls that pop up from time to time. If you're like me, you'd never heard of the "red squirrel named for the sound it makes, the CHICKAREE; whaddaya know, it pretty much looks like a quiet squirrel. Anyway, great puzzle. Thanks to Eric for concocting the thing and to Will Shortz for printing (and presumably honing) it—aside from plain ol' hard themeless puzzles, my favorites are the oddball puzzles with ingenious twists that we see every so often in the NYT, the Sun, or Games/Games World of Puzzles.

Here's Eric's explanation of the puzzle's genesis and development.


Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle, "Leading Lights," kicks off Black History Month with a theme of eight symmetrically placed civil rights leaders (including the late CORETTA SCOTT KING), supplemented with four shorter entries (such as ROSA Parks and Julian BOND) salted throughout the grid. Not to mention four other noted African-Americans (musicians and athletes), a partial entry from a gospel song title, and the word RACISTS. Add all those entries together, and you've got 165 thematically apt squares (double-counting the squares where two of these entries cross). And then there's DARK TAN (clued as "suede hue"), which my little boy considers a more accurate descriptor of skin color than "black." Kudos to Hex for ending up with a theme-packed puzzle that also serves as a nice tribute to Coretta Scott King.

The LA Times puzzle by Jack McInturff, "Senate High Jinks," plays around with senators' names to good effect. My favorite theme entry was FEINGOLD JEWELRY.

Good CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge by Bob Klahn. He managed to include three people in the grid with their first and last names—always a nice touch.

Patrick Berry's 1/20 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, published the week of Ben Franklin's 300th birthday, features a long quote (70 letters long). You know how I feel about quote puzzles, but at least this quote was surrounded by some fairly challenging fill and clues. And I was pleased to encounter "buffalo seen in crosswords"—according to the Cruciverb database, the crosswords of note made it through all of 2005 without the poor ANOA. Welcome back, endangered Celebes ox.

WaPo 10:33 (on paper)
LAT 10:25 (while consulting on TiVo cleanup)
NYT 9:44
LA Weekly 9:15 (on paper)
1/20 CHE 6:23
CS 5:32


February 03, 2006


The Saturday NYT appears to be Philip Ordway's first NYT puzzle—debuting on a Saturday? Nice work if you can get it! It's an eye-pleasing grid with plenty of interesting longer entries—HUSH HUSH, PETUNIAS, COSTA RICA, NEPALESE. When I had ***EHERE for "concurring comment," for a moment I railed against the wrongness of "here, here"; then I saw that it was SAME HERE. The PLAY DEAD/CANINE row is a cute combo. Let's see, what clues might particularly vex solvers? What are people likely to Google when they're stuck? Maybe the botanical "funnelform flora" (PETUNIAS—and via that link, I learned that petunia leaves are "somewhat sticky and pubescent," pubescent being botany jargon for "hairy"), "flowering plant with prickly leaves" (TEASEL), and "cousin of a sego" (MARIPOSA lily).


Vic Fleming and Bonnie Gentry's LA Times puzzle put up a valiant fight Saturday morning. The triple-stacked 15's didn't all yield quickly, and while I was familiar with almost all the people's and characters' names included, a few had difficult clues that made me work the crossings—and in the left center of the puzzle, the crossings were also names that didn't come to mind quickly. KNOWALL (the same thing as a know-it-all) eluded me for the longest time, even though the Cruciverb database indicates that I've seen it in a crossword before. (How can I be a KNOWALL if I forget this term?) Favorite clue: "Old bread, briefly" for DMARK.

Daniel Stark's "Stumper" was one of the easiest Saturday Newsdays in a long while. BUNDT ("cake pan") has a peculiar origin; read about it in the Wikipedia article.

LAT 8:10
NYT 6:18
Newsday Saturday Stumper 3:34 paper
CS 3:18


February 02, 2006

The trouble with Friday

Friday puzzles are great, don't get me wrong—but while I generally like them better than the puzzles that precede them, they're still missing that extra oomph that is the Saturday NYT puzzle. Some weeks, the NYS Weekend Warrior is Saturday-tough, and I'm a happy camper those weeks. But this week, Patrick Berry's Weekend Warrior and Manny Nosowsky's Friday NYT were pretty equivalent in solving time, leaving me pining for a wicked Saturday puzzle to launch into the cruciverbal stratosphere tomorrow night.

Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy both of these puzzles—I did. I just wish they'd been, say, two minutes more difficult. It's hard to make a triple-stack (like Manny's puzzle) tougher without filling it with obscurities, so let's look at the good stuff. Manny's triple-stacks contain six great, in-the-language, colloquial phrases. There's a signature medical entry (EMETICS—we don't see many crossword entries that pertain to vomiting, do we?) or two (SPLINT). One relative obscurity (TORELLI, "Italian violinist Giuseppe"). Interesting fill like IRON HAND, CLICK ON an icon, TRYSTED, the HINDLEG for kicking. And we learn that MAUNA means "mountain" in Hawaii.

Which takes us to Patrick Berry's Sun puzzle and 16-Across, MAUNA LOA (can someone explain how that's a vine whose flowers are used to make leis?). There were some fantastic clues, such as the tricky "Puts in a box, perhaps" for PENALIZES and "It catches the swift" for RADAR TRAP, and plenty of great entries, like SKY HOOK and CARBUNCLE. I'll bet you a dollar that the clue for CARBUNCLE, "Color also called London brown," came from Peter Gordon and his dictionary in which oddball color names lurk. (Peter seems quite fond of mystifying solvers with color name clues.) This link equates CARBUNCLE and London brown, but the sources I looked at presumed that carbuncle has a couple meanings: primarily a hideous boil with multiple pus-oozing openings, but back in the day, also a cabochon garnet. Also, can someone explain how "Jakes" = LAV? British toilet slang??


I liked Randolph Ross's bank-wordplay theme in the Wall Street Journal puzzle. The highlight of Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Enquirer puzzle, "Slightly En-Hanced," was HAPPY ENTRAILS, "the 'healthy colon song.'" John Underwood's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Poets' Corner," offers a smart challenge with some tough fill and clever use of poets' names.

# of puzzles solved on paper today: 15

NYS 5:53
NYT 5:42
1/13 CHE 5:24 paper
LAT 4:11 paper
CS 3:47 paper

Reagle 8:24
WSJ 8:16


February 01, 2006

Ah, Thursday

You know what? Between the three blue margaritas over dinner (what is that, a Windex/tequila Slurpee?) and waiting until after 11 p.m. to do the NYT puzzle, I'm too sleepy to write intelligently. Thursday puzzle by Byron Walden, lovely as usual, such a clever fellow.

In Randall Hartman's Sun puzzle ("What the Ell?"), the theme entries make a 90° turn at the [ELL] rebus. Super-nifty!

Remind to write more in the morning, will you?


Karen Tracey's LA Times puzzle is pretty good. The theme entries are supplemented with lively fill, such as WAITED UP, OLD GEEZER, MOVES IN, and the five-consonant MCGRAW. There's also the unfamiliar SEIDEL, "mug with a hinged lid." The main definition seems to be "large beer glass," as seen here, but the term also appears to cover this.

As mentioned in the comments, I got stuck in the Sun puzzle where the two central entries cross on an [ELL]—those entries aren't excused from the 90°-turn gimmick.

Byron's NYT contains a bunch of new entries—all the 9-letter ones, I believe, plus the partial A MOTH and the variant-spelling DUFUS. According to the Cruciverb.com database, Byron has used OLEO before, in a Sun puzzle where it was clued "creation of Hippolyte Mège-Mouriez." "Promise kept in a tub, perhaps" is much more fun. (Am I the only one thinking of Last Tango in Paris now? It's unfortunate.)

NYS 6:07
NYT 4:19
LAT 3:27
CS 3:20


Wordplay media roundup #3

CNET's Michelle Meyers calls Wordplay "an awesome documentary." She's pulling for more edits before the theatrical release—"while the footage was fascinating, some of it was a bit rambling, if not redundant." I'll go on record stating that Al Sanders' pre-finals comments are absolutely crucial to the movie (and I'm sitting a few seats down from him, so I get on screen then).

In the Onion's A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin writes, "of the films The A.V. Club saw, only [Lucky Number] Slevin, [Small Town] Gay Bar, and the quirkily endearing crossword-puzzle documentary Wordplay inspired anything approaching the kind of buzz likely to project them to even a fraction of the crossover success enjoyed by sex, lies and videotape, Napoleon Dynamite, and past Sundance juggernauts."

In Canada's National Post, Chris Knight discusses the prize vs. deal aspect of the Sundance Film Festival: "There are two kinds of winners at Sundance. Some filmmakers go home with a prize, others with a coveted distribution deal, but seldom do they pick up both. • The most talked-about (and quickly purchased) films this year included the documentary Wordplay, about New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz; Little Miss Sunshine, a crowd-pleasing comedy starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear; and The Science of Sleep, Michel Gondry's visually stunning movie, set inside the dreams of its protagonist. None was recognized at Saturday's awards ceremony. • The prevailing wisdom is that Sundance juries give their prizes to good films that need a boost, rather than those already headed to theatres."

New England columnist Chris Elliott, after noting that Oprah Winfrey anagrams to "why I fear porn" and attempting to come up with a good anagram of Samuel Alito, mentions Wordplay as "the surprise hit at Sundance this year."

The AP's David Germain wrote about the highlights of the film festival, starting off with the category of crowd-pleasers: Little Miss Sunshine, with Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear, and Wordplay, featuring "a lovable assortment of contenders" at the crossword tournament. (Ellen, Tyler, Al, and Trip are charming people.)