March 31, 2006

Saturday the Foolth of April

Kevan Choset and David Kwong's April Fool's Day NYT is tricksy. I crave a wide-open Saturday grid (my precious!), but I can always make an exception for a tricksy puzzle that toys with the format. This one almost makes it too easy by including the key word think in the clue for OUTSIDE THE BOX, "How you have to think to solve this puzzle." There's an extra THINK pushed outside the borders of the grid at all four corners; for example, at the bottom left (where the gimmick first dawned on me), DEE[T], RIC[H], ELH[I], AEO[N], and MEE[K] sit atop an extruded THINK. Combine a twist like this with some Saturday-level clues (such as "Nice brushes" for CARESSES) and fill (NO WAIT), and I'm content.


Today's LA Times puzzle by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke is probably my favorite of their many joint ventures. Some Saturday-level clues and fill, as in the NYT puzzle, combined with an April Fool's twist, as above.

Stan Newman's ("Anna Stiga") Newsday Saturday Stumper has great fill with plenty of high-Scrabble-count letters (JFK AIRPORT, MIZZENMAST, THE DAKOTAS, ANTIQUATING, ADJUNCTS, A VOTRE SANTE, SORE LOSERS, O GAUGE). And is that enough for me? Of course not. As delightful as the grid was, the clues weren't quite hard enough to give me a strenuous Saturday workout. The clues were great, with lots of interpretative vagueness (the plain words with plain clues in the NW corner managed to elude me until the end)—I just would have liked it if they put up a little more of a fight. I think seeing Mike Shenk's A finals puzzle last weekend has whet my appetite for a good cruciverbal whupping. This may sound a little whiny or critical, but really, I liked the puzzle a lot—so much that I wanted to spend twice as long working through it.

NYT 7:58
Newsday 5:19
LAT 5:05
CS 2:58



It's April Fool's Day tomorrow, so this week's Weekend Warrior in the Sun is Trip Payne's annual Wacky Weekend Warrior. Always fun to have a twist on the usual format, and surprisingly challenging.

I liked the quiet theme in Gilbert Ludwig's NYT, but I was out of it just enough to swap MID and CAP in 1 and 17 Across, which slowed me down. There was some quaint fill in this puzzle, like SWAINS, GAMINE, CRUMPET, CAMPHOR, and...HELLCAT.

Good Wall Street Journal puzzle from Manny Nosowsky, "Contain Yourself." I enjoyed the medical vibe with EUSTACHIAN TUBE, SPECIMEN JAR (YECCH), and SACRA, not to mention OWIE. And ERUCT for "burp." (I'm still waiting for Dr. Manny to work borborygmus into one of his puzzles. It's such a fun word to say!) One thing that threw me in this puzzle, though, was the nonstandard (but existent) use of the spelling PAHLEVI instead of PAHLAVI; at least the crossing of BASEMENT made it clear that the E was needed. At Stamford, someone described Manny's clues as "pitch-perfect," and I can't say this puzzle refutes that. (It's also a relief to see a puzzle that Mike Shenk worked on that doesn't stymie solvers! Man, his A finals puzzle was an absolute bear.)

Who wouldn’t like a Reagle puzzle called “A Regal Puzzle”? Yet another fun excursion into Merl's realm of puns.

NYS 9:52
NYT 6:34
LAT 4:06
CS 3:37

WSJ 9:12
Reagle 7:21


March 30, 2006


Well, I fell asleep an hour before the Thursday NYT launched on the applet. Yes, that means I was out cold by 8:00 Central. What can I say? I needed to catch up on sleep. And I've come down with something involving a cough, laryngitis, and an inability to focus. I got through the NYT puzzle by Rich Silvestri just fine, but I struggled to stay awake through Anthony Salvia's puzzle, and now I can't think of anything to say about either puzzle. That's no knock on the puzzles—blame the miscellaneous virus or bacterium that's in charge. My couch is calling to me more strongly than the LA Times and CrosSynergy puzzles right now, so you know I must be sick. Too worn out for 6 or 7 more minutes of puzzles? Maybe someone should call an ambulance. (Just kidding—the couch is all I need.)

NYS 5:27
NYT 3:45
LAT 3:34
CS 3:20


March 28, 2006

Easing back into regular blogging

Time for a soupçon of catch-up (you want fries with that?).

The Monday NYT by Janice Putney was cute. GARY COOPER'S TOWN, DICK CLARK'S VILLE, and J PAUL GETTY'S BURG were a nice trio. • Tuesday's NYT by Jim Hyres featured assorted slang terms for the central entry, MONEY; alas, I solved it when I was drowsy, so I'm not remembering much about it. • The latest NYT by the late Frances Hansen fell fast for a Wednesday puzzle. It felt a tad old-fashioned, with fill like LEHAR, DAHL, and RLS—but would I be saying that if I hadn't seen the byline first? I dunno. I did like NAWLINS and "something that's pitched" as a clue for TRASH.

Boy, there are a lot of puzzles that I'm thinking about doing tomorrow. Tonight's for sleeping, for a change.


Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Duped," is a good one, as usual. Outside the theme, there's SEX SELLS, MOSHING, TREKKIE, OH OK, and SANTORUM. Crikey! SANTORUM. If you don't already know the meaning of that aside from Sen. Rick, I'm not sure you want to. (Personally, I think it's hilarious that columnist Dan Savage appropriated Santorum's name in that manner.)

Really good Monday Sun puzzle by Joy Andrews, "Zoo Compounds." DIXIECRATS, HUBBUBS, and CRYPTOGRAM in the fill? Good gravy. • Jack McInturff's Tuesday Sun, "A Matter of Degrees," is peppered liberally with Z's and X's, which I like, and throws in WOOZY and SNOOZED, which make a perfect pair of words. (And by "perfect," I mean I like them. That's the criterion. Plus I'm a little woozy and in need of a snooze, so...) • Patrick Blindauer (whose connect-the-dots puzzle from last Friday's Sun was the talk of Stamford) continues his UPward trajectory in crosswords with "Getting a Lift." The theme eluded me for far too long! What I liked best in this puzzle were the clues: "Cultured breakfast item" for YOGURT, "Burn's partner" for SLASH (I mentally moved the apostrophe and entered ALLEN), and "Ford part, familiarly" for INDY. We didn't need another constructor named Patrick (on top of Merrell, Berry, and Jordan), but this guy's a worthy addition to the roster.

Curtis Yee's one of my favorite LA Times regulars. He only started submitting puzzles last year, but he does some nice work. WAITING FOR GODOT in a theme, and SCALAWAG and RYDER CUP tossed in as fill? I like.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle contains a quote, which normally I'd rail against, but it's a Roger Ebert quote. Of course, once I had the first half of the quote, I filled in the rest of it without glancing at the crossing clues. TOWNSFOLK is a great entry—I'd like to see it in a themeless with an impossible clue and tough crossings.

Moving on to last weekend's puzzles, Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal outing, "At Play with the Rich and Famous," has a perfect theme for the moneyed readership of that paper. Excellent wielding of puns, e.g., IACOCCA COLA and RELIGIOUS ICAHNS.

I did not ralph while solving Henry Hook's "Ralphabet Soup" puzzle from the LA Weekly. One of my favorite things about this puzzle is that it rewarded me for knowing who played Bill to Keanu Reeves' Ted in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (first and last names separately in cross-referenced clues). I'll never decry pop culture clues—except for the ones I don't know.

Easy Washington Post puzzle from Elizabeth Gorski, "Minding Their Businesses." "An early Mouseketeer" was a gimme for DARLENE, but I'm guessing that very few people younger than me would know that one. I think Darlene Love and the "Roseanne" character named Darlene have more "legs" than the Mouseketeer clue at this point pop culture clue—but when they fade from the collective memory, poor Darlene will be locked out of crosswords...

Wed NYT 3:18
Tues NYT 3:46
Mon NYT 2:53
Wed NYS 5:31
Tues NYS 4:01
Mon NYS 3:30ish?
Tausig 4:27
Wed LAT 3:28
Wed CS 3:16
Fri WSJ 8:27
Sun Reagle 7:31
Sun WaPo 7:07
Sun LA Weekly 7:44


Wrapping up the Stamford wrap-up

I’m looking over the sketchy draft I wrote Sunday night, the material I planned to polish and make my next post out of. But it seems to seesaw between incomprehensible and disorganized, pointless and boring, indiscreet and self-absorbed. Other people’s already-posted write-ups render a lot of it superfluous. So instead I’ll cull much less, and I won’t fret about organization and transitions. Bulleted list, to the rescue!

• Last year, I never set foot in the hotel bar (the colorful Northern Lights), and I was ensconced in my room well before midnight. Boring! I tried to get a good night’s sleep, but was too wired to do so. This year, I figured, why frustrate myself by trying to sleep? So instead, I set a goal of hanging out in the bar, avoiding room service, socializing, and sleep deprivation. Success! I did better this year than last year, so apparently it’s a winning plan. The hard part is unwinding afterwards and figuring out how to sleep again.

• I’m so glad I went to Sundance in January. Not only did I get to know feared rivals Ellen, Al, Trip, Tyler, and Stella, but I got to see Wordplay and study the way those people approach the tournament. I hadn’t understood the strategic aspect until I saw the movie, and I think it helped my performance this year.

• I’d planned to buy some puzzle books over the weekend, but was stymied at first when the hotel’s ATM was out of order and I had only $10 in my wallet. The only book I ended up buying was Peter’s brand-spanking-new Hall of Fame Crosswords, which collects all the puzzles Peter’s had published in the NYT over the years. It’s almost all themed puzzles, but I generally trust Peter’s themes to amuse or impress the limbic structures of my brain.

• From what I heard, pretty much everyone found “Jeopardy!” king Ken Jennings to be a great guy—funny, interesting, genuine, whip-smart. I had been expecting a touch of insufferable smugness, but there was none of that. And he looked taller and cuter than he did on TV. He made some great remarks before he embarked on bestowing trophies—he talked about how “Jeopardy!” and crosswords remind people that having knowledge is a good thing. It reminded me a little of The Incredibles, with its message that the glorification of mediocrity is to be deplored, and that the pursuit of excellence is far better. And in his Friday-evening Quiz Bowl game, I learned that (a) Ken Jennings knows a lot, and (b) he talks really fast. Also? I love that I can invoke his name to put the ACPT in perspective for outsiders. “Yes, I won the rookie prize my first year competing. The next year, that prize went to Ken Jennings, who’s always copying me! He did very well for a first-timer, winning the Division C finals. Of course, I won the B finals my first year…” Here’s a picture of Ken Jennings with Judy Pozar:

• While the C final was underway, I was working on the same puzzle but with Mike Shenk’s supraWaldenesque Division A clues. After about 5 minutes, Ken Jennings finished to win the division…and I looked up amid all the applause and (darn it!) saw the elusive 1 Across answer. With the A-level clue, that one was tough—that corner of the puzzle eluded Tyler, Kiran, and Ellen for a long time. Despite having that free spoiler, it still took me 11 or 12 minutes to finish; my figurative hat is off to Tyler for finishing in roughly that amount of time without an assist; I don’t know whether I would have finished it within 15 minutes. In my estimation, the A finals puzzle was tougher than puzzle 5, and clearly tougher than Byron’s finals puzzle last year. Plenty of people felt bloodied and bruised by Byron’s puzzle 5 this weekend, but if everyone had had to solve the A finals puzzle, I think those humbled glares would have been redirected at Mike. Here’s a photo (from left, Mike Shenk and Byron Walden); let me know if you need the hi-res version so you can make a dartboard.

Mike Shenk, Byron Walden

• On the flight home, I found a copy of the March 13 New Yorker. There was a cartoon that resonated—one penguin says to another penguin that’s wearing sunglasses, “Oh, get over yourself. We were all in the movie.” It’s so Wordplay! (This same issue of the New Yorker also had a glaring misspelling, and I know you all share my horror at that. “…After drinking it I wondered for several moments if I would wretch.” Wretch? And in another article, the S was pointlessly capitalized in “Down’s Syndrome.” Oh, New Yorker. What happened to your standards?)

• I enjoyed meeting a lot of people whose names are well-known in the crossword arena. Editor and constructor types like Manny Nosowsky, Matt Gaffney, Patrick Berry, Sherry Blackard, Karen Tracey, Rich Norris, and Shawn Kennedy. Assorted solving whizzes past and present, including David Rosen, Dave Tuller, Francis Heaney, and Ray Hamel. And then there were the many people I’d met last year and was pleased to see again—far too many to list. Not to mention the folks whose names I knew from their comments at this blog; I’m glad I can now put faces to the names. And it was nice to see Wordplay creators Patrick Creadon and Christine O’Malley again, and their warm and friendly family members who came to work at the tournament.

• Tyler is the youngest ACPT champion and also the second-youngest. I’ve got to train my kindergartner to break Tyler’s record—is that too much pressure to put on a kid? He took my Midwest trophy to school today for show-and-tell. Speaking of kindergarten, sometimes Ben’s homework includes a word search. I couldn’t help critiquing yesterday’s, which featured eight hidden words ending with -op. Who on earth would include HOP along with SHOP and CHOP? Poor kid thought he found HOP, but it was really CHOP. Who’s writing these dang workbooks, anyway?

• I came home with 70 pictures on my camera, and yet I’ve posted only two. You know why? My pictures suck. Poor composition, terrible timing with the red-eye flash, Satanic glowing red embers for eyes without the red-eye flash. I took one of those tests in college designed to tell you what sort of career you’re best suited to, and apparently I have a lot in common with photographers—except that they're actually good at photography. There are plenty of great pictures available via the 2006 tournament page.

• Still with me? You’ve made it to the end, and you’re wondering how it’s possible that this version is less pointless, self-absorbed, and disorganized than what I’d drafted? Trust me, the other stuff was far worse. Anyway, as mentioned in the comments on the previous post, yes, there was a scoring error that means I really placed 5th overall. (As of this writing, the posted rankings haven’t been updated.) Two posts ago, I was mystified by my score for puzzle 6. The referee who picked up my paper and jotted a “25” for the number of minutes remaining wrote it fast—you know how a sloppy/fast 5 can look like a zero? So they’d entered my minutes remaining as 20 instead of 25, shorting me by 125 points. I’m delighted to move upward in the rankings, of course, but I’m sorry that the change is a disappointing one for Katherine Bryant (who kicked major ass on puzzle 5—nobody else finished correctly until 2 minutes after Katherine, and she was a whopping 5 minutes faster than I was) and Al Sanders (the only thing that kept Al out of the finals this year was puzzle 5 slowing him down—on the other six puzzles combined, he was actually tied with or a minute faster than the three finalists).


Safe place for ACPT spoilers

I know those of you who are doing the Play by Mail option probably haven't seen the ACPT puzzles yet, so blog posts will remain free of spoilers for those puzzles for the time being. (If you're looking to avoid seeing any spoilers, don't read Eric Berlin's excellent write-up.) However, the HaloScan comments window is easy to avoid—if you don't want to read any spoilers, don't click on the comments link. I'll start it off.


March 27, 2006

ACPT wrap-up, part 1

Most of the people reading this blog probably have never attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. If that’s true of you, I encourage you to take advantage of the “Play by Mail” option—send in this form with $20, and they’ll mail you a set of tournament puzzles. You time yourself while solving and mail the completed puzzles back with your solving times noted. Then Will Shortz’s people score your performance by Stamford rules and return your graded papers with a sheet that tells you how you would have ranked in each category you’re eligible for. I Played by Mail two years ago, and would have been 33rd; that was all the encouragement I needed to fly to Stamford last year. Because it was a fantastic batch of puzzles this year, I think everyone should try their hand at them—they’re worth the $20. So I’ll try to avoid writing about specific entries or clues for the time being—but I don’t know how long I can hold off. It could be mere hours…

Here’s an overlong recap of the tournament itself:

Friday, I flew to New York and served as Nancy Shack’s trusty navigator on the drive from LaGuardia to the Marriott. (I was trusty until we reached downtown Stamford, anyway.) I checked into the hotel, tossed my luggage in my room, and essentially abandoned the hotel room for the next 11 hours. Mingling in the lobby, attending the NYT crossword forum’s annual Cru dinner, playing the preliminary part of the Quiz Bowl trivia game written and emceed by “Jeopardy!”immortal Ken Jennings (about a dozen Stamford contestants have also appeared on the show over the years—bright group of people, eh?), and then abandoning the sudoku contest in lieu of checking out the scene in the hotel bar. (Apparently there’s some interest in college basketball these days?) We quit paying for drinks and went over to the ACPT reception, and then returned to the bar and the lobby for more conviviality.

Saturday morning, I woke up far too early despite having stayed up far too late. A crossword tournament sounds like such a placid, low-key thing, but I must’ve been absolutely wired. I tried to perk up by solving Byron Walden’s Saturday NYT puzzle, which seemed unusually difficult. (Cue dramatic music to foreshadow events to come.) I finished it, handed it to the constructor himself, and learned I had one letter wrong—though you have no proof of that, since I didn’t use the NYT’s timed applet and it wasn’t a tournament puzzle. (Phew!)

Next, on with the tournament!

Puzzle 1, by one of my personal faves, Harvey Estes: It took me just over 3 minutes, but there were eight solvers who finished in under 3 minutes (leaving me 25 points behind the lead).

Puzzle 2, by Cathy Millhauser: Stella Daily tore through this puzzle in (I think) under 7 minutes, with about seven of us turning in correct papers in the minute after Stella.

Puzzle 3, by Patrick Merrell: Surprisingly dastardly for a supposed-to-be-easyish puzzle 3. I finished within 8 minutes, 2 minutes behind Trip Payne and 1 minute behind several other speed demons. This puzzle vexed a lot of folks.

Puzzle 4, by the legendary Manny Nosowsky: Finished in under 4 minutes, in a pack of people 1 minute behind Tyler Hinman, Trip, and Francis Heaney.

Puzzle 5, by the widely feared and ferociously talented Byron Walden (“I’m your number 1 fan”—cue music from Misery): You’ve heard of “Brokeback Mountain”? This was Brokeheart Crossword. Roughly 95% of the competitors were unable to finish it correctly within the 30 minutes allotted. Byron and Will Shortz laid many traps in this puzzle, and each of those traps left the tangled wreckage of many thwarted solvers in its wake. It took me nearly 16 minutes, if I’m doing the arithmetic correctly, with no errors. Katherine Bryant blazed through it 5 minutes faster than me, and another five people finished correctly 1, 2, or 3 minutes before me. This was the rare puzzle that trips up multiple top contenders with errors, shuffling the standings dramatically. One reason Byron’s my favorite constructor is that while his puzzles are uncommonly challenging, I almost always finish them perfectly—and I managed to do that on this one.

Puzzle 6, by Maura Jacobson: Whew, time to relax with a breezy puzzle. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out if my posted score is actually correct—I may have jotted down the wrong time limit for Maura’s puzzle (was it increased from 30 minutes to 35?). According to my notes, I finished the puzzle with exactly 25:00 left on the clock; either it took me a fast 5 minutes and I was shorted some points (inconsequentially—tack on another 100 points to my score, and all that happens is Al Sanders and I swap places), or the time limit was longer and I meandered through it in 10 minutes, trailing the leaders by 5 minutes. But I’m not sure that 50+ people finished ahead of me, as the scores would indicate; was I really such an outlier on puzzle 6?. So…I’m confused. The fog will lift eventually.

Puzzle 7, by Merl Reagle, another one of my perennial favorites: I so enjoyed meeting Merl at Sundance, I bought a copy of Volume 1 of his collected crosswords. Actually, I ordered it as a gift for a friend, but Merl autographed it, so I had to keep it for myself and order another copy for the friend. So in addition to the one Merl puzzle a week in my routine, I’ve solved an extra 13 (lucky 13!) of his puzzles in the past two months. Excellent practice for puzzle 7, which Al and Kiran Kedlaya finished 2 minutes ahead of me and another peloton finished 1 minute before me. I moved fairly deliberately on this puzzle, making sure I wasn’t writing sloppy or incorrect letters, checking the crossing clues, and protecting against an error that would make me plummet out of the top 10. I also took the time to chuckle at the funny theme entries—I wonder if Trip and I bothered our tablemates by laughing so often.

I want to write more, and have drafted a bunch of paragraphs, but I’m losing my focus here (sleep deprivation), so I’ll post this portion and finish the rest later.


March 26, 2006

Hold that thought

Okay, I'm gonna write a nice long post about Stamford, and throw in a bunch of photos. But it's 10:00, I've had less than 6 hours of sleep in two days, and I haven't sorted through the pictures yet. So hang tight. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow. But let me say this for now: Whoo! Seventh place! Whoo-hoo! I was genuinely surprised that I made the top 10. Those of you who made careless mistakes or moved slowly on puzzle #7, I thank you. Merl and Byron, thanks for constructing puzzles on which assorted rivals made errors. Will, thanks for easing up some of Byron's most impossible clues so that a couple dozen of us could actually finish the puzzle correctly.

In the meantime, those of you who weren't attending the tournament in Stamford who have written, beseeching me to send you scans of assorted Starbucks puzzles, you're gonna have to sit tight. I'll get to you in a day or two. I haven't done puzzle #6 yet and my husband hasn't scanned it in yet, so...patience.


ACPT, day 2

Once again, I've spent next to no time in my room since I left it for breakfast this morning, returning in the wee-ish hours. (Post-puzzling, I went to the Cru party, dinner, the Wordplay screening, the hotel bar, and a beer bash featuring puzzle editors and constructors doing some theme brainstorming that was totally off-the-hook wild.) Unfortunately, rather than having puzzles at 11:00, puzzle 7 is at 9:00, which is sounding mighty early right about now. The preliminary standings will be posted in six hours, and things like sleeping, showering, and eating breakfast need to get squeezed into that time window. Ack!

I don't know of any errors I made in the first six puzzles, but then, how awake was I when I solved them? There's no telling what sort of slop may have ended up on my grids. I mostly finished one or two minutes behind the vanguard on each puzzle, except for puzzle 5 (a wicked themed creation from Byron Walden), where I punched out about five minutes after the fastest solver (Katherine Bryant). However, I didn't make the known errors that may have knocked a couple of A finals contenders out of the running. (That doesn't preclude random errors in other parts of the puzzle...)

I can't wait to find out how I did and who's still in the battle to reach the finals. And so to bed.


March 25, 2006

ACPT, day 1

It's almost 2 a.m. Stamford time, and I finally had a chance to unpack and turn on my shiny new laptop. I have done one crossword puzzle today (or technically, yesterday)—Vic Fleming and Bonnie Gentry's Ornery crossword in the new issue of Games. (It's a good one, and Bonnie and Vic are such genial people.) That's it. I hear rumors about the Saturday NYT, but I haven't seen it yet; I'll wait for the hard copy in the morning.

The Cru dinner at the hotel restaurant was, shall we say, leisurely. I think they're not used to having quite so many people actually expect to order food at one time, so we waited. And waited. And enjoyed the beer, wine, and free-flowing conversation. In any event, the slow service beat the hell out of the absence of service last year (I missed the Cru dinner then, thanks to a tardy flight).

After dinner, there was Quiz Bowl with Ken Jennings (who looks better in person than on TV). Two teams of four each got 38 of 40 preliminary questions right—anyone know off the top of their head how many points there are on the Statue of Liberty's crown? What breakfast cereal mascot's "real" name is Horatio Magellan? My team got 34 right, so we got to watch the top teams acquit themselves in the fashion in which they acquitted themselves. (Better than I could've done.) Ken Jennings talks fast. Quiz Bowl was followed by the Sudoku Smackdown, introduced by Wayne Gould, who kicked the craze off a couple years back. The contest page had three puzzles; I was most of the way through the first one when I made some sort of error and said, "Screw it. There's a bar in this hotel," and went off to find socializing in lieu of sudokuing.

The bar scene morphed into the lively reception, which was followed by assorted chats in the lobby...and back in the bar. Wow, some people sure drink a lot here! (Hey, nobody's driving...) Plenty of good gossip, catching up, getting to know new faces.

The competition kicks off at 11:00 Eastern, with puzzles 1, 2, and 3 before lunch, a long lunch break, and puzzles 4, 5, and 6 at 2:30. The constructors this year include Harvey Estes, Byron Walden, Merl Reagle, Patrick Merrell, Manny Nosowsky, Maura Jacobson, Mike Shenk, and Cathy Millhauser. Hooray! I like them all, and I don't think any of them scare me. I haven't done many crosswords in the past week, but hopefully that means I'm well-rested rather than rusty. But who knows? I truly can't predict where I'll finish in the rankings.

In the evening, we'll watch Wordplay and have popcorn and other movie snacks (plus booze), courtesy of IFC Films. The film's director and producer are here with numerous family members, and they're about to garner several hundred more enthusiastic fans.

Into the wee hours, apparently, the judges (poor saps!) will be scoring papers to generate the preliminary standings for Sunday morning. Stay tuned...

(That wake-up call that's coming in 4 1/2 hours is gonna be painful. Diet Coke in ample caffeinated quantities will be my friend.)

Morning update: I got to sleep around 3:00 and awoke at 5:15, so...yeah, there are a few Diet Cokes with my name on them this morning.


March 23, 2006

Friday, and on to Stamford

Manny Nosowsky's NYT puzzle is intricately constructed, with 15- and 13-letter entries on each side interlocking at the corners and with the intersection central 13s. Most of Dr. Nosowsky's puzzles seem to include a medical or anatomical term as a signature; in this one, would that be PERSONAL HYGIENE or Mercedes E CLASS? Many clever clues, such as "library supporter, maybe" for MUNICIPAL BOND and "place for I, O or U" for PERIODIC TABLE.

Over in the Sun, there's a nifty connect-the-dots puzzle, “Digital Connections,” from Patrick Blindauer. I was forced to do the math for 15 Across, dividing 28,800 by 60 twice, to come up with the correct number for 4PM. Is it just me, or do you draw a five-pointed star starting where the 5 is in this puzzle? No matter—even if the puzzle doesn’t follow how I draw a star, it’s a great gimmick combined with tough end-of-the-week cluing (“margay’s cousin” for OCELOT, “it connects directly with the sternum” for TRUE RIB, “juramentum” for OATH, and “sponsor of NASCAR’s Meijer 300 race” for OREO).

I'm flying to Stamford Friday morning for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. non-tournament crossword solving will lag over the weekend, and Fiendish blogging will be effervescent or phlegmatic, depending on how much free time is not occupied elsewhere. I'm hoping to do better than I did last year, or at least have a good time doing poorly...

NYS 8:15
NYT 4:45


March 22, 2006


Just a few days after Michael Shteyman's fantastic Sunday NYT, his friend Ethan Cooper circles the square with the Thursday NYT. I must say, I'm delighted with my 5:52 finish, slow for me for a Thursday, since the current #1 finisher on the applet has posted a 5:21. Not bad for a solver with two glasses of Riesling in her! And I'm a lightweight, to boot. Anyway—the theme made my addled brain work a little too hard, but I liked things like UZBEK crossing AZTEC (plus INCA! Where are the Mayans?), XMEN, and SWEET THING, plus tough clues like "mess of pottage buyer" for ESAU (is this biblical? I'm at a total loss) and "perfectly alike" for EYE TO EYE. As a mom and a former dental editor, I'm not sure I like "appeared, as baby teeth" for GREW IN; maybe something pertaining to hair roots? No, that'd be GREW OUT. Maybe something post-Rogaine?

"Ogden Porter"/Peter Gordon's “Decision Makers” puzzle in the Sun knocked my figurative socks off with (I think) 12 Supreme Court theme entries in symmetrical locations comprising a whopping 86 theme squares; a very few symmetrical puzzles have exceeded 86 in recent years. Thursday, I hope to bring you Peter's story of the puzzle's genesis, because I enjoyed hearing it myself.

Here's Peter Gordon's tale:

"I've found a few other puzzles that had 86 or more theme squares. (Rebus puzzles, which traditionally count the full lengths of both words crossing the rebus square often have more than 86, but I'm not counting those.) One is similar to the Supremes theme (the 4/3/03 zodiac puzzle by me, with 92 theme squares), but it's not symmetric, so you can't really compare. The others all have slightly more, but (except for the Sun 3/20/03 by Byron Walden, with 90 theme squares) the authors had some flexibilty in what went in the grid. For example, in Charles Barasch's 3/2/04 NYT puzzle (88 theme squares), OOBLECK could have been replaced by ONCELER (a character in "The Lorax") or any number of other things. The Supremes were a fixed set, except for the extras CHIEF and JUSTICES, though I don't think anything else could have replaced them. I noticed that THESUPREMECOURT was 15 letters over a decade ago, and I've been waiting until the lengths balanced enough to do this puzzle. The key was having ROBERTS cross THESUPREMECOURT. So I like him for that. I was rooting against ALITO and was hoping he'd be replaced by an eight-letter name. Then I would have dropped CHIEF and JUSTICES and put the new name where JUSTICES was. When he was confirmed, I was home writing the Oscar nomination puzzle, and that was done by noon, so I spent the rest of the day writing this one. It was unbelievably hard to get them all in. The corners are very cut off from the rest of the grid, but I couldn't do any better."

NYS 5:53
NYT 5:52
LAT 4:11
CS 3:33
Newsday 3:09 (on paper)


March 21, 2006


I don't know any Wednesday jokes, so let's get right to the puzzles.

In Curtis Yee’s Sun puzzle, “Two-Point Conversions,” it took me a while to suss out the theme. I finally figured out that the theme entries end with the opposite of the word that’s in the original phrase, but with different meanings, they're converted at two points? BIKINI WANE derives from WAX, TRAFFIC EBB from FLOW, and SONIC BUSTS from BOOMS. It was nice to be reminded of After Hours, a movie with Griffin Dunne and Teri GARR. “More work” is a wonderfully vague yet specific clue for UTOPIA. And CHOPSTICKS, GLITTERATI, and CURACAO are great non-theme entries.

In the NYT, Jim Hyres delivers the CREAMy cruciverbal goodness. A solid theme—or rather, a liquid/viscous one, plus good stuff like TAKE THAT, TAB KEY, and EARDRUM. Interesting clue for INDIA: "where mahouts toil." I looked that word up here and learned that a mahout is a person who drives an elephant. Mahouts can be further classified into those who use love (reghawan), ingenuity (yukthiman), or cruelty (balwan) to control their elephants. (Boo, hiss on the balwan.) Don't you love those clues that teach you some oddball fact?

NYS 5:00
CS 4:27
LAT 3:37
NYT 3:32
Newsday 3:02


March 20, 2006


Here's my favorite Tuesday joke, courtesy of Leo Rosten's book, The Joys of Yinglish:

Rummaging through his desk, Morty Potemkin found a claim-check for a pair of shoes he had brought to I.J. Narkin's Shoe Repair—seven years ago!

That afternoon he went over to the shoe repair store. "Mr. Narkin, I know this is going to surprise you—and maybe this is all too late—but you were supposed to put new heels on a pair of my shoes—
seven years ago!"

I.J. Narkin turned pale. "Seven yiss? Eh, you got to have a check!"

"I do." Morty handed Narkin the old, faded check.

Narkin, who was a bit
farchadat [shocked, stunned], gulped, muttered to himself, disappeared behind a beaded curtain. After a bit, he returned. "Your shoes—dey are brown? And dey got a buckle, not laces?"

"That's right!" beamed Mr. Potemkin.

"They'll be raddy Tuesday."

I should have read the title before delving into Timothy Powell’s Sun puzzle, “Place in the Sun God,” as it would have sped my progress through the puzzle if I’d realized earlier that the theme entries had a RA inserted into a phrase. So, this puzzle taught me that CARA is Spanish for "face." (I'll have to tell my kid that—he's always asking me to pony up the Spanish word for something, when his knowledge of Spanish is on a par with my own.) Nifty how the NE and SW corners of this puzzle contain four similarly structured entries—C-SPAN, A LINE, Q-TIPS, and SIDE A.

Levi Denham's indirectly tennis-themed NYT puzzle, seemed a tad gnarlier than the typical Tuesday puzzle. Why is that? Is it the preponderance of multiword phrases like NOT FAR and OLD SOUL? The vagueness of clues like "brand of liqueur" for PERNOD? I've got a question for the Canadians out there: How often is Alb. used instead of Alta. as an abbreviation for Alberta?


Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle might be the first crossword to include BUSH SR—which is technically inaccurate, but absolutely "in the language." I like it. Today's CrosSynergy puzzle by Randall Hartman and the LA Times by Timothy Powell are both good Tuesday puzzles.

This week's crossword-related journalism prize goes to the Boston Globe's Michael Molyneux, whose article about ACPT top-10 solver Katherine Bryant. The article does not include the "what's a 6-letter word for..." trope that's so popular and yet so bemoaned by Ellen Ripstein and others. By the end of this week, there will be many more articles about the tournament—here's hoping that the articles all get it right.

NYS 4:26
Tausig 4:13
NYT 4:09
LAT 3:34
CS 3:17
Newsday 2:29 (on paper)


March 19, 2006


I seldom have anything much to say about the puzzles that come out on Monday and Tuesday. Earl Reed and Nancy Salomon's NYT puzzle was straightforward, no tricks, nothing much to slow anyone down—in other words, an unadulterated Monday puzzle. (P.S. Those of you who ever have cause to write Nancy's last name, please do heed the spelling: it's Salomon, not Solomon or Salamon or whatever. just think of it as "salon" with a meditative "om" near the middle.) One quibble about the clue for IMACS—here and elsewhere, IMAC(S) is often clued with a reference to the bright colors the iMac had for its first few years. But iMacs have been plain white and metal for the past four years. Puzzle editors, it's time to upgrade your cluing conventions!

I haven't done puzzle #5 from the Starbucks/NYT contest yet, but my husband has once again picked up the puzzle on a coffee run and then scanned it in for me. He bought the Sunday NYT in week 1, but has been able to just get the puzzle insert the past four weeks. The barista was reluctant to hand over the puzzle this morning, complaining that someone had taken five puzzles earlier, but did give up the goods. Does that chap your hide if you're one of those people whose local stores claim never to have heard of the contest? Yep, I lucked out that the place two blocks away hasn't missed the boat once.


You know, that Starbucks contest must be driving a lot of people nuts. Not because the Patrick Berry/Will Shortz puzzles are unreasonably difficult (they haven't hit Saturday NYT level yet; and this is beside the point, but I love the extra puzzle within each one), but because so many Starbucks stores are leaving their puzzle-seeking customers high and dry. Are there store managers who just don't open the packages they get from headquarters? How could that many stores have staff claiming never to have heard of the contest? I mean, really. Sure, the puzzles are available through the mail if you send in your SASEs by today, but you'll receive photocopies. Yes, that's right—puzzle #4 with the puzzle-piece perforations, photocopied. I'll show you where the perfs are, and I'm happy to share my scanned (blank) versions with people who couldn't obtain the puzzles locally (just send me a note at orangexw [at] gmail [dot] com). But it'd be nice if everyone who wanted to participate in the contest didn't have to grapple with logistical frustrations before they could even do battle with the puzzles. I'm sure a lot of people simply gave up. Fewer rivals for me, yes, but I'd rather out-solve them than beat them because their local stores let them down.

Robert E. Lee Morris’s Sun puzzle, “Fruit Filling,” has fruit names embedded within the theme entries. Especially apt was the last one, ANK[LE MON]ITOR, clued with a reference to Martha Stewart—who, when asked what she missed most in prison, famously replied, “Lemons.” Harvey Estes pays homage to the late Don Knotts in today's CrosSynergy puzzle. Gia Christian (an anagram of "it's Rich again") marks the official start of spring in today's cute LA Times puzzle. The Newsday puzzle was an easy one, as it always is on a Monday—I learned in the documentary Wordplay that Al Sanders never quite cracks the 2-minute mark on the Newsday puzzle, and dagnabbit, I'm a whopping 18 seconds off. Maybe in a few more years, I'll make it...

CS 4:15
NYS 3:25
LAT 2:56
NYT 2:43
Newsday 2:18 (on paper)


March 18, 2006

Sunday star

I haven't yet seen the other puzzles I typically do on Sunday (the LA Times, Newsday, LA Weekly, Washington Post, and CrosSynergy), but I think it's safe to say that Michael Shteyman blows them all out of the water with his NYT puzzle, "Always Felt This Way." Luckily, I figured out the rebus in the NW corner, the corner POCKET, and interpreted the 19x23 grid as a POOL TABLE, so the rebus aspect didn't throw me for a loop. Note that in addition to the thematic entries crossing in the center, the long vertical entries and 9-letter horizontals contain pool terms (ENGLISH, BREAK, BANK, and RACK).

Nonthematic stuff I like in Michael's puzzle: SPERM BANK ("it has frozen assets" but isn't a SNOWBANK)—crossing SCAG, slang for heroin, no less. "Smart set?" is 5 letters, starting with M, but it's MINDS, not MENSA. ALTOIDS trivia ("popular candy since the 1780's"). Also POINT B, UNCLE TOM, SNAP OPEN, and NEPALI King Gyanendra. If you're like me, you figured the reasonably little-known songwriter NEVIN was Mr. Ethelbert's first name. Turns out that it's Ethelbert Nevin. Congratulations, Michael and Will, and thanks for a fantastic and twisty Sunday puzzle.


This weekend's LA Weekly puzzle by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon is the one that ran in the Boston Globe a few weeks ago—and inspired Dave Sullivan and Lee Glickstein to brainstorm alternate clues for BOSTON POOPS. Eventually Lee came up with "#2 for the Bruins?" and nobody could top that. If you want to see what else Dave and Lee thought of, check the comments on the February 25 and 26 posts.

Responding to Pat Merrell's comment—It does seem unfortunate, though, to talk of puzzles as being in competition with one another.—I recognize that it's a subjective pursuit. Many's the time that someone expressed their delight with a puzzle that I didn't particularly enjoy (and when they point out a nifty coup that I'd failed to notice, I'm grateful). Other times, I've read complaints (anything from unfair cluing or too much pop culture to thematic inconsistency or unoriginality) about a puzzle that I loved. In the case of this weekend, I enjoyed Michael's NYT puzzle so much that I knew the other puzzles were unlikely to bring me as much joy. And they didn't. They were all good, solid crosswords, no doubt about it—I have no complaints about any of them. But they didn't happen to resonate strongly with my Crossword Appreciation Gland. This one did—probably my favorite Sunday NYT in weeks.

NYT 10:11
LAT 8:56
LA Weekly 8:42
WaPo 6:46
Newsday 6:44 (on paper)
CS 3:16


March 17, 2006


Did you all drink green beer for St. Patrick's Day? No? How about green milk? Green wine? (Red and white are for sissies.)

Patrick Berry's NYT took me longer than most of his themeless puzzles have, but not as long as the one that killed me with the a-less DIERESIS. Regulars at the NYT "Today's Puzzle" forum know Berry's dad Stephen as Papa Bear; it'd be cute if MAMA BEAR's birthday was this week. There were a few relative obscurities in the grid, starting with ARAMEAN ("Mesopotamia dweller") and continuing over to ELI, the "1951 play by Literature Nobelist Nelly Sachs," and MIRA, "variable star in Cetus." Who knew TRIG was British slang for "smart-looking"? And LAY SISTERS, "manual laborers in a convent"? Guess I'm not up on the convent business. Did you notice that gristly glob of consonants in the NE corner of the puzzle? The STL of RUSTLERS and STST of REST STOP cross the TTSB of PITTSBURGH and LLST of ALLSTAR. Anyway, good puzzle, and there's more Berry to come with this weekend's Starbucks contest puzzle. (Those of you who have had trouble getting the puzzles at your local Starbucks stores should consider going in on Saturday and asking for the puzzle insert early. Maybe they'll hand it over—my local store seems to think the insert belongs in the Saturday paper, even on Sunday.)

NYT 7:47
Newsday Saturday Stumper 6:07—a good one this week, from Doug Peterson
LAT 5:50—another fun outing from Karen Tracey
CS 3:10


March 16, 2006

Ah, Friday

I couldn't stay away from Henry Hook’s Sun puzzle, “No Kibitzing,” last week, which is a shame because I really wasn't very fast on it. When a crossword slays me, I like to think I'd have been much faster if only I'd done the puzzle the next day. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) I blithely keyed in typos and pretended the letters were right when trying to make sense out of the crossings, and the fact that it was a rebus puzzle escaped me for a frightful amount of time. I don't remember seeing a rebused sentence before—and it occurs to me that this approach could make a quip puzzle bearable. (Within reason. Say, twice a year.) The fill is appropriate, isn't it? There's a PEEVISH NONHERO (although a hero to cruciverbia). My favorite clues were "Check for one who needs glasses?" for BAR TAB, "having pets" for PEEVISH, "they're often okay" for ASSENTS, and "displaying conspicuously" for OOZING.

John Farmer's NYT puzzle has a nice mini-theme (the CHARGE and COST in the 15-letter entries), great fill (PUDDLE JUMPERS, PRO SHOP, BLUE JEANS, LESS TAR), and good vague clues ("not sharp" for MILD, "no longer practicing" for LAPSED, "shined" for THRIVED, "it supplies drivers" for PRO SHOP, "something ventured" for GUESS). There was also a pair of names with unrevealing (for me) clues: DENISE Nicholas of "Room 222" and Daniel Decatur EMMETT, "Dixie" composer. (Denise Richards and Emmett Kelly, I know. These ones, not so much.)


After you do Merl Reagle's puzzle, don't forget to read the Across Lite Notepad for the background of Merl's theme. If you can think of any other legitimate theme entries, let's hear 'em.

The WSJ is by Maryanne Lemot, an anagram of "not my real name," a.k.a. Mike Shenk. Good rebus puzzle.

As for the 3/3 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Patrick Berry, if you don't know old Dutch cartographer Willem BLAEU (turns out he studied under noseless astronomer Tycho Brahe), at least try to remember that last name.

The Newsday puzzle by Stan Newman is a quip puzzle with some challenge built in.

Since when is an ASCOT a "trendy tie"? Possibly it's a trend in formalwear and wedding attire (as well as on the LA Times crossword page), but other than that? I think not. I page through Esquire each month, and I've yet to see the unleashing of the ascot trend. (Was it Morgan Freeman who wore one with his Oscars tux?)

NYS 12:15
LAT 6:50
NYT 6:07
Newsday 5:19 (on paper)
3/3 CHE 3:37
CS 3:01

WSJ 9:40
Reagle 8:11



I’m glad Ben Tausig doesn’t reserve all his best puzzles for syndication, because then we occasionally get a week with two of his fun puzzles. The NYT puzzle has a reversal theme leading to a completed grid wth YGOLOHCYSP as a theme entry. Besides the spelled-backwards theme entries, there’s chipper fill in which JAY-Z and MRS C can MEET for a PILSNER and admire the four X’s and two Z’s.

Ogden Porter/Peter Gordon’s Themeless Thursday in the Sun is the second puzzle I did on Wednesday that included ALL KIDDING ASIDE (the other was Rich Norris’s Wednesday CrosSynergy featuring 15 IDEs). Peter clearly couldn’t resist the letters in BKLYNQNSEXPWY, or in BILL MAZEROSKI (not a ballplayer I’ve heard of, but with a name like that, how many crosswords is he going to appear in?). “Centipede’s place” put me on edge (oh, how I loathe centipedes) until I figured out it was ARCADE.

I managed to do only about 10 puzzles on paper yesterday, but I'd done almost 30 the day before so I remain roughly on target for 20 a day.

NYS 5:30
NYT 4:58
LAT 3:16
CS 2:59
Newsday 2:53 (on paper)


March 14, 2006

Jecrean (tailless cat's Hump Day)

The upside of Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle being dropped by the Village Voice's new publisher is that the Across Lite file Ben sends out now has the Chicago Reader version of the puzzle, complete with a few local-interest clues. (That clue about I-94 is no joke—steer clear of the Dan Ryan Expressway for the next two years if you're driving through Chicago.) This week's puzzle, "Between Jobs," is of the standard freshness and qualiity. An inventive theme, lots of long entries, plenty of pop culture, and the occasional eyebrow-raising clue ("Horny heavyweight" isn't TYSON, but rather RHINO).

I really enjoyed Jeffrey Harris's Sun puzzle, "Leaves in Fear," although it has unveiled a lapse in my mom's botanical teachings. What my mom always called a tulip tree turns out to also be known as the YELLOW POPLAR. Geography or botany themes, I'm always a sucker for those. Nice construction, with 9-letter entries anchoring the theme entries; METER MAID and POOL TABLE. "Number of spirits?" is a good clue for PROOF. (Has anyone else noticed that the Sun puzzles have more clues involving kiddie lit than the other puzzles? I don't know if Peter Gordon has preschoolers in the house or if he just likes to find fresh clues.)

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon's NYT was more challenging than recent Wednesdays' puzzles have been. You know what accounted for much of the extra time? It was plugging in BEST OF SHOW instead of BETS—EMT is, after all, about six times more common a crossword entry than EMS, and ITSYBITSY and ITSY are roughly twice as common as ITTYBITTY/ITTY. Between those and not being up on the moons of Uranus, it was a slow start. At least WETS OF THE MOON was easy enough—even though I'd never heard the phrase (Ms. Google seems to indicate that "West of the Moon" typically follows "East of the Sun"). In any event, good puzzle, good clues. Two thumbs up from this "assertive type" (LEO).

NYT 4:28
NYS 4:07
CS 3:53
Tausig 3:47
LAT 3:32
Newsday 3:15 (on paper)


March 13, 2006

Dydd Mawrth (Tom Jones' Tuesday)

I really liked Lynn Lempel's NYT puzzle, but I couldn't quite put my finger on the reason. Could be the theme and overall quality, or it could just be my gutter mind. Looking over the puzzle now, while chatting on the phone with a friend, I see a slew of could-be-ribald answers. The intersecting COCKS and STUD at the bottom, not to mention TOOL, TEMPT, RED HOT...even UPEND is looking suspicious now. And I worry about OPIE.

Steve Salmon's Sun puzzle, "Repeat After Me," is much the same. Between GRANDPA, the BEE GEES, and SNIDELY Whiplash in YUCATAN...EGADS! (Okay, maybe not.)


If you did the CrosSynergy puzzle, you may be wondering who RITA TUSHINGHAM is; the answer is here. And if you did the Newsday puzzle, you may be confused about how EPA can be clued "ecology agcy." (or, as it has often been clued elsewhere, "clean-air org.," "ecol. watchdog," "antipollution org.," etc.), given that the agency's current role seems to involve easing the way for polluters rather than ensuring clean air or serving as a vigilant watchdog. Seeing crossword clues over and over that imply that the EPA is still hewing to its original mission just makes me cranky.

I'm back into the ACPT training zone, doing 20+ puzzles a day on paper. Some of them have been in the new NYT X-Treme X-Words collection, which has been kinda disappointing so far. Out of the first 21 puzzles, only a few have taken me more than 7 minutes, and I was hoping the book would be packed with the 8- to 12-minute toughies. But maybe I'm doing them wrong—they're X-treme, so perhaps I should be skateboarding off a rooftop while working the puzzles.

NYS 3:48
CS 3:38
LAT 3:13
NYT 2:56
Newsday 2:34 (on paper)


March 12, 2006

Poniedziałek (Monday for John Paul II)

Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "Mind Your P's and Clues," is a good 'un (bonus points for anyone who can tell us what the apostrophe's doing in "good 'un"). Seven theme entries, X's and Z's in and out of the themers, some good 8-letter fill. And it amused me when I almost completed 17 Across without reading the clue, since I had the first five letters and what else could it be but a hallucinogenic mushroom? Heh. (Said hallucinogen doesn't show up in the Cruciverb database, so it's yours for the taking, constructors...)

Bernice Gordon's NYT was also peppered with tasty X's. Scads of retro stuff (although not BOBBYSOX)—IRMA, REMUS, HENNY, and TELEGRAM—perked up with the newish verb PHISH. I know a lot of folks shrink from cross-referenced clues, but (1) I don't, and (2) I liked the "TRIX is for KIDS" combo.

NYS 3:43
CS 3:30
NYT 3:19 on the timer when I finished (what is with the applet these days?)
LAT 2:54
Newsday 2:48 (on paper)


Starbucks puzzle 4

If you've picked up the NYT/Starbucks contest puzzle #4 and your perforations are incomplete, if Starbucks mails you a photocopy rather than an insert (as has been their wont), or you've printed out a scan I've e-mailed you, you probably aren't sure where the jigsaw pieces are supposed to break off. This should give you and your scissors something to work from:

Don't thank me—thank my husband. He went to Starbucks, he scanned in the puzzle, and he colored in the image for you.


March 11, 2006


Is Mary Steenburgen a DANSON QUEEN? And is oddball actor Christopher ever given his WALKEN PAPERS? Those examples aren't as good as the ones in Daniel Bryant's Sunday NYT puzzle, "Know What I'm Sayin'?" Really a good puzzle overall. Look at just the first corner, with WNBA, OEUF, and WOWS—there and elsewhere, this crossword's got a lot of interesting stuff in it. I like the phrasal answers, like OVER IT, MY DEAR, and YOU DO, and the unusual entries such as MARCHESA, VIENNESE, ART CINE, and the obscure-but-gettable-through crossings YAKUT ("Siberian people"—somehow I think I knew this one). The theme is delightful—ETON DISORDER, MACON WHOOPIE. And clues that feint ("period in English literature" for STOP) or educate ("Just over 6% of U.S. immigrants nowadays" are AFRICANS). Bryant's previous Sunday NYT, "Overheard Down Under," appeared in February 2005.


Out of the other Sunday puzzles, my favorite was Harvey Estes' "What They Did" in the Washington Post. Harvey also has today's LA Times puzzle; Henry Hook's got the LA Weekly puzzle; and Frances Burton put together an easy Newsday puzzle. Raymond Hamel did the CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge," which wasn't difficult but had some uncommon longer fill in it.

The Starbucks/NYT crossword contest moves into week 4. Those of you who haven't found a reliable Starbucks source for these puzzles are going to be mighty irked this week. Puzzle #4 is perforated, and the completed puzzle has to be dismantled and put together like a jigsaw puzzle to create a coffee mug. What Starbucks has been mailing out for the first three weeks is a photocopy of the puzzle—it's really hard to see the perf marks on my laser printout of the scanned puzzle, and I can't imagine a photocopy will make it any clearer. If the Starbucks contest people have any sense at all, they'll be mailing out cardstock originals. In the meantime, my husband and I are working on redoing the scan with the perf marks highlighted...

LA Weekly 9:46
NYT 9:14
WaPo 8:36
LAT 7:55
Newsday 7:35 (on paper)
CS 3:55


March 10, 2006

Saturday pains

Oh. Ow. That was unfortunate. I launched Saturday's NYT puzzle and rejoiced that it was by David Quarfoot, whose previous Saturday outings this winter took me less than 5 minutes apiece. This puzzle was a little trickier throughout, I thought, but it was that little northeast corner that killed me. I got GETA and KNEES and TEETHE ("Go from 0 to 20 in three years?"), but the rest of it eluded me for far too long. I spent most of my solving time trapped in that little corner, in fact. Aargh. "Draft choices?" is OXEN, not ALES. "Actively trading" is OPEN, which I would have had within seconds if only I'd asked my husband (but I solve solo). "Inflict upon" may lead to a mere 4-letter entry, but dang it, it's two words (DO TO). And "Gets to" isn't about being allowed to, or attaining—it's ANNOYS. It all makes perfect sense now, but during that eternity, it all eluded me. I blame the hidden DEVIL within GOOD AND EVIL for misleading me. Outside of the hell corner, kudos to Quarfoot for more Q's in QUID PRO QUO and for SEE IF I CARE. Great clues abounded; "Baby shower" for ULTRASOUND, "It was uncommon at the Forum" for RARA, "Love, e.g." for NO SCORE, "Pair from a deck, maybe" for MASTS, "Some cause laughter" for GASES.


James Buell's LA Times themeless might have felt like a killer if I hadn't already been slaughtered by brain freeze during Quarfoot's puzzle. Plenty of great clues, like "most recent box office arrival, probably" for LAST IN LINE, and "cells don't have them" for DIAL TONES, and assorted tough/interesting clues. Much more challenging than today's Saturday Stumper.

NYT 12:34
LAT 8:15
Newsday Saturday Stumper 3:31 (on paper)
CS 3:08


March 09, 2006

Péntek (Friday on the shore of Lake Balaton)

First, a brief grumble. The NYT's "Play Against the Clock" applet is a wonderful thing...except when its gears get gunked up with goo and it takes an extra 45 seconds or so to register one's solving time. Raise your hand if the applet didn't make you look about 45 seconds slower tonight. For everyone else, we'll just assume your actual time was faster.

Kevin McCann, the proprietor of the indispensable site, reveals his constructing chops in the Friday NYT. He's got some entries that are not yet in his Cruciverb database, to wit: JOBLESS, LEG BONES, BROKERED, and HOW NOVEL. The latter of these is one of those New Wave entries custom-designed to irk some solvers and delight others (I'm in the delighted camp). No need to NITPICK into an EXTREME HOLYWAR; having so much IRE that your NECK is SEVERED would really be THEPITS. I wonder if Kevin noticed the leg subtext in this puzzle, with LEG BONES, THIGHS, and JAMB, which harks back to Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin for horse's hock or leg. Anyway, nice work, Kevin!

Alan Olschwang’s Weekend Warrior puzzle in the Sun contains seven horizontal 15’s crossed by an eighth vertical 15. My favorite entry was THATS INCREDIBLE, which takes me back to my salad days, when "That's Incredible" and "Real People" were what passed for reality TV. Ah, that was some truly memorable television! (It really was. I remember a frightening amount of detail from those shows.) Did you find this puzzle unusually hard, or was that headache I had when I solved it impairing my cognition?


Among the other six puzzles I did for today, my favorite was Janet Bender's 2/24 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, a pangram with a geology theme. Myles Callum's WSJ anagram puzzle and Merl Reagle's "4-H Club" were both good. For each week's Reagle and WSJ puzzles, when I open the Across Lite file, the timer doesn't automatically start ticking away, and I forgot to start the timer for both of them today. I liked the subtlety of Merle Baker's theme in the Newsday puzzle, "Take a Good Look." Special mention for Will Johnston's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Star Cluster," for including Algol as a theme clue; that was the rather obscure title of my college yearbook. (Yes, it was a geeky school.) I've been enjoying Jack McInturff's puzzles lately, but his LA Times puzzle today featured a quip that didn't resonate at all.

NYS 9:18
NYT 5:28 when I told the applet I was done; 6:10 by the time the applet listened
2/24 CHE 4:27
LAT 4:03
Newsday 3:56 (on paper)
CS 3:29

WSJ oops, no timer
Reagle oops, no timer


March 08, 2006

Csütörtök (Zsa Zsa's Thursday)

Bravo, John Farmer! Great NYT puzzle that plays with the conventional format by thinking outside the box. I'm grateful for those (mostly) Thursday and Friday Sun and NYT puzzles that bend the rules and send letters around in circles, outside the grid, upside down, etc. Although I liked this puzzle a lot, I must protest the iffy fill, like SSBUL and INGTO. (Just kidding!) I'm glad the threefold repetition of the word SQUARE within the theme entries that wrap around the 5x5 squares wasn't a deal-breaker for Will Shortz, and impressed that INSIDE and THE BOX were included. Not to mention the good non-theme fill, like QUENCH, EYEPATCH, and DIORAMAS. My only suggestion for improvement would be for everything to be clued at a Saturday level so that the puzzle would have taken two or three times longer to solve (really, I'd be pleased if every crossword were clued Saturday-tough).

In the Sun, Paula Gamache‘s “Life Gets in the Way” has a more standard theme, beefed up with great fill—
MESHUGA, STKITTS, RYEBEER, MEGAHIT, ALLRISE. Anyone know why the clues for the theme entries all start with asterisks? Is it just to make clear that the 8- and 9-letter entries are themers in a grid packed with so many 7's?

NYT 4:53
NYS 4:36
LAT 4:15
Newsday 3:38 (on paper)
CS 3:17


March 07, 2006

Szerda (Wednesday, to Imre Nagy)

Out of the past seven or eight months' worth of themeless NYT and Sun crosswords, those by Sherry O. Blackard have challenged me the most, on average. But when the trusty SOB goes retro with a themed puzzle, it's a snap—a quicker solve for me than the Monday and Tuesday puzzles this week (though I don't know what the hell took me so long on those earlier puzzles). If not for the Y in STRAYS, I might have been tempted to put in DUCKTAIL rather than PONYTAIL. I knew POODLE SKIRT was lurking in there somewhere, too. Swell puzzle with plenty of keen entries, like the neato BILOXI. Then there were the inadvertent shout-outs to Oscar winners, like FOLSOM referencing Reese Witherspoon's Walk the Line and AW HO referencing Best Song winner "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." Oh, wait. That's "Horton Hears A WHO." My bad.

The Sun puzzle by Barry Lindsley, “City Blocks,” has rebus squares filled with five symmetrically placed city abbreviations. All of them are commonly used abbreviations, more common than, say, the CHI and DAL that show up on sports scoreboards. I don't really have much to say about the puzzle, except that it's well-made and I enjoyed it. P.S. Aha! I suspected there was more to say, and Lee Glickstein identified it: The puzzle approximates a U.S. map, with the rebuses placed in proper geographic order. Wow!

NYS 5:36
LAT 3:46
Newsday 3:20 (on paper)
CS 3:18
NYT 3:14


I hate recycling

I'm all for helping the environment, but what I'm not crazy about is the transformation of trees into paper for puzzle books that are reprinted, rehashed, recycled, or repurposed. I loved that one Henry Hook book, but was kinda pissed off when I ended up buying it again (sight unseen, via Amazon) with a different title. Most of the NYT crossword books are just endless recyclings of old puzzles, and many of the older ones are creakier than anything Will Shortz would publish in the paper today. (An exception, I hope, is the brand-new, published-just-today Xtreme Xwords, which undoubtedly contains mostly Saturday NYT puzzles I've already done, but I think many of them will be worth a second go. Just in time for last-minute Stamford training, too.)

I have on my desk a Christmas gift I received, The Mind-Challenge Puzzle Book, and it's useless to me. It contains:

• Cox/Rathvon's First-Class Crosswords (US Airways magazine puzzles), which I own and but haven't finished yet.
• Hook's Hard-to-Solve Word Puzzles, which I've already bought twice (see above).
Perplexing Pixel Puzzles, a book of those paint-by-number logic puzzles I did a few years ago when I was hooked on that type of puzzle.
The Ultimate Lateral and Critical Thinking Puzzle Book, which I'm really not interested in.

So it's a fine book, with four fine books spiral-bound together in one volume, and printed on that nice paper stock Sterling Publishing always uses. But I don't need it, so I'm prepared to give it away as a Crossword Fiend contest prize. Problem is, I don't know what sort of contest to have. Perhaps something in the cluing department again?


March 06, 2006

Kedd (Hungarian Tuesday)

Tuesday NYT = quip puzzle by Richard Jacobs. Decent enough puzzle,'s still a quip puzzle. Meh. In my book, themeless > themed > quip.

In the Sun, the reliable Lynn Lempel hides a bouquet of flowers at the ends of the theme entries in "Late Bloomers." PARASKI just might be a new entry, and Lynn has several other good ones, like BUZZARD, WRAITH, and DELIRIA.


I'm so glad that Ben Tausig lets us have his Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle on Tuesdays rather than making us wait a couple more days, because I like having a Thursdayish puzzle earlier in the week. I really liked this one, with some hip last names that don't pop up in most crosswords, a meatless theme, a new clue for IKES ["Mike and ___ (fruit candies)"], HELL NO, and a fresh clue for TENANT ("Flat letter?").

Good (if easy) CrosSynergy puzzle from Martin Ashwood-Smith today—"When in Rome." And I kinda liked Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle, too.

Tausig 4:17
NYS 3:52
NYT 3:21
LAT 2:58
CS 2:55
Newsday 2:33 (on paper)


March 05, 2006

Hétfő (Hungarian Monday)

Jack McInturff's NYT drives through the gears, with theme entries beginning with FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, NEUTRAL, and REVERSE. The non-cheaters' applet times are slower than is typical for a Monday—is that because the puzzle's harder overall than most Monday crosswords, or is it that other people tried to figure out how FOURTH would figure into the answer for a clue about Esperanto? (D'oh.)

Over in the Sun, Doug Peterson draws his sword with "Choose Your Weapon," in which the theme entries end with assorted weapons. Wouldn't tough neighborhoods be more interesting if instead of guns and knives, one had to worry about facing a spear? Or a fencing foil? This puzzle also includes a couple first/last name combos (BILLY JOEL and NERO WOLFE), as well as non-Mondayish words like HOUSESAT and PYRAMID.

Updated: Could someone else do Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle,"Buttery End," and tell me if it's really that much more challenging than the rest of the Monday puzzles? With the first theme entry divided into two spots, it took me longer to figure out what I was doing, and next thing I knew, a Thursday's worth of time had elapsed.

CS 4:20
NYS 3:22
LAT 3:19
NYT 3:16
Newsday 2:39 (on paper)


Starbucks contest puzzle #3

Is it just me, or are the Starbucks puzzles getting a bit harder? I'm hoping the difficulty level for puzzles #4–6 will be at or above today's, just to start weeding out more of the competition.

As before, I've got the puzzle scanned in, so if you were stymied in your efforts to pick up the puzzle, feel free to e-mail me.

Also, if you're one of those five people who found this blog by searching for starbucks crossword puzzle answers, nice try. But when prize money is on the line, do you really think anyone's going to hand you the answers? Hah!


March 04, 2006

Snein (Frisian Sunday)

The highlight of Ashish Madhukar Vengsarkar's Sunday NYT, "Begone," has got to be 17 Down, "Concern for Rev. Falwell?"—GODLESS AMERICA, dropping the B from "God bless America." I liked CHEESE URGERS and THE NOEL PRIZE, too; a solid theme, rendered a little tougher by the variety among the theme entries (one to four words apiece, with the B dropped from various words and, as in NO[B]EL, not always dropped from the start of a word. There's perky fill, like SUSIE Q and ITS LATE, to buffer the difficult (but gettable via crossings) entries like SGT MAJ, IODATE ("halogen salt"), and SOCLE ("projecting part at the foot of a wall"). Question: can a HAHA (see Tyler Hinman's Friday NYT) have a SOCLE? The puzzle also has Don KNOTTS in it, but presumably the clues were finalized just a tad too soon to reflect his recent death. I'm holding out for a Don Knotts tribute puzzle with Mr. Furley, Barney Fife, and The Apple Dumpling Gang...


Bob Klahn's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge actually put up a challenge. I got stuck in the NW corner and confess that (alas!) I Googled the capital of Swaziland to extricate myself.

NYT 9:44
LA Weekly/Hex 9:36
Washington Post 8:36
LAT 8:14
CS 8:26


March 03, 2006

Sneon (Frisian Saturday)

I’d been feeling we were overdue for really tough Saturday NYTs from Bob Peoples and David Kahn. We’ve got the Bob Peoples this week, but either I’ve cracked his code or this is nowhere near as hard as some of his previous outings. Without further ado: I’m always fond of entries like SILENT K (“start to knit”), and reasonably obscure proper names that I know (“Rachel of ‘General Hospital’” is, of course, AMES. She’s been playing Audrey since 19-freakin’-64, people. She’s a soap legend.). There are some fantastic clues, such as “King’s bane” for RACISM, “very violent, say” for RATED R, “frequent raid target” for PIGGYBANK, and the vaguish “green light” for CLEARANCE. (By the time the end of the week rolls around, the vaguer the better, as far as I’m concerned.) As for “ignis fatuus, the fair maid of ___” IRELAND, read this if you want to learn more about the ghostly phenomenon (which some folks call spunkie or hinkypunk). I.ASIMOV (“1994 literary autobiography whose first chapter is titled ‘Infant Prodigy?’”) is Isaac Asimov’s memoir; not to be confused with I, Robot, his book of short stories. YEAN, a verb meaning “birth,” applies to sheep and goats, so don’t ask a pregnant woman when she’s due to yean.

Grateful for a little help with this tough crossword? Consider supporting the Crossword Fiend site via the Amazon honor system button on the home page. Thanks, and enjoy your puzzles!


Today's Newsday Saturday Stumper by Anna Stiga ("Stan again") is a good one. Nothing particularly showy; just a solid themeless puzzle.

Newsday 6:29 (on paper)
NYT 6:10
LAT 5:21
CS 3:33


March 02, 2006

Freed (Frisian Friday)

Beautiful NYT puzzle from Tyler Hinman. Those of you who appreciate symmetry surely liked this grid. As for those of you who enjoy a wide-open grid, I...don't have any idea how this stacks up with the new mathematical descriptions that have been hashed out by the mathematicians over at the NYT forum. There are broad expanses of white space, and all the sections are linked to the middle by more than one square. So...whatever. I generally like anything that features stacked 9- to 11-letter entries, and Tyler wrangled four stacks of 9's. New-to-Cruciverb entries include the SE corner of three 9-letter entries (TEEN ANGST!), WITS END, GO FOR IT (which seems familiar—maybe it's appeared elsewhere recently?), and LITIGATED. Some good clues from the Hinman/Shortz camp: the vague "personal" for AD HOMINEM, "Whistle blower?" for TEAKETTLE, and "it goes over the wall" for HOMER. Looking over the completed puzzle, I see an odd clue for HAHA: "ditch with a retaining wall used to divide land." Yes, for real; here's the Wikipedia entry for ha-ha. Now, raise your hand if you started out answering "rankles" with PESTERS rather than FESTERS. And am I the only one who's been wavering between MARSALA and MADEIRA for years, only now beginning to realize that the Sicilian wine clues seem to be for MARSALA?

Gary Steinmehl closes out the Sun's Oscar week with "And the Oscar Goes to..." This puzzle, with left-right symmetry, features five Best Picture winners at the beginning of 17, 22, 39, 48, and 59 Across. It's a tad unexpected to have the CHICAGO WHITE SOX as a theme entry in a movie crossword, but I'll take the backwards hometown mention. (Too bad the length didn't work out for MARTY FELDMAN to make an appearance.) For those of you who are curious but too lazy to do the legwork, Chicago won in 2002, Rocky in 1976, Wings in 1927–28, Platoon in 1986, and Rebecca in 1940. Is it bad that I've seen only one of those movies? And who knows which one it was?


Of the puzzles I did this morning, my favorites were Randolph Ross’s “Complaint Department” in the Wall Street Journal (eaasy but entertaining) and Jack McInturff’s doom-and-gloom “Love Stories” from the 2/17 Chronicle of Higher Education. Merl Reagle’s always fun, too; this week’s puzzle is called “Testing Your Blurbal Skills.”

The May 2006 issue of Games World of Puzzles came in the mail this week. There are four varieties of Frank Longo puzzles, as usual; the Jumbo Crossword features two vertical 27’s near the edges, with four pairs of 13-letter entries stacked to the side. There’s also an uncommon themeless 21x21, by Harvey Estes.

NYT 4:34
NYS 4:32
LAT 4:22
Newsday 3:52 (on paper)
2/17 CHE 3:42
CS 3:11

Reagle 7:36
WSJ 7:05


Tongersdei (Frisian Thursday)

In the Thursday NYT, Pat Merrell dishes out another twisty theme—this time, if you add the parenthetical initials to the beginning of the words in the theme entries, you get a famous (or semifamous) name; e.g., HARLEY RIDE yields Charley Pride. I don’t wish to contemplate how long it might have taken Pat to identify a theme’s worth of names that become clueable phrases after dropping their first and last initials. Can you think of other candidates? (And did anyone else solving in the timed applet have a glitch where the numbers disappeared from the grid until you clicked on that area?)

In the Sun, Jeffrey Harris (a.k.a. Jangler) provided a math twist on Oscar week in “Hollywood Squares”: a rebus involving four movie titles that contain a square number (1, 4, 9, 16). Assorted structural limitations relating to the 15x16 grid and the rebus apparently forced a surplus of black squares and 3-letter words.

NYT 5:50
NYS 5:29
LAT 3:54
Newsday 3:08 (on paper)
CS 3:07