April 30, 2006


Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "Role Model," features a STAR and supporting cast members, EXTRA, CAMEO, and WALK-ON, along with the poor FAVA BEANS ("A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.").

Mike Torch's NYT is breezy and easy, with the STEAL/STEELE/STEEL triad.

Hey, they're Monday puzzles. Not much to discuss here...

NYS 3:36
LAT 2:56
CS 2:43
NYT 2:31
Newsday 2:19



Solving Elizabeth Gorski's Sunday NYT crossword was an on-again, off-again experience, with 14 squares containing ON/OFF. In the unchecked center square, ON/OFF reads across as is; in the other spots, the across answer uses OFF (as in [OFF]ENDER) and the down answer uses on (as in BEAC[ON]). This one's like a Thursday puzzle wrought large, and that's always a good thing. Extra bonus points to the constructor for the elegant consistency of across = OFF, down = ON (as Byron noted), even if up = ON for all my light switches. Slightly surprising to find an obscurity in the top row (Italian film director ELIO Petri—wonder if he was a dish?), but with PILLSBURY BAKE[OFF] and OXYMOR[ON] in that section, you take whatever works. The '60s TV series LAREDO was, apparently, a "light-hearted action" show. I can't say I'd seen URANIC before, but "pertaining to element 92" seems straightforward enough. Plenty of good fill worked in amid the many theme/rebus entries—EL NORTE and EGOMANIA, to name a couple.

NYT 10:20
LA Weekly 10:16
WaPo 8:54
LAT 7:47
CS 5:30


April 29, 2006


Wonderful NYT puzzle by Robert Wolfe! Seeing the spread in applet solving times—an impressive 7:00 for Byron Walden, a handful of other folks at roughly double that time, and Tyler Hinman at nearly 10 minutes behind Byron. I approached the puzzle this afternoon with some trepidation; between the applet standings and a fearsome migraine, what hope did I have of a Googleless finish? A decent hope, as it turns out; perhaps there's an advantage to be gained in already having the headache, rather than obtaining it in the course of doing this puzzle? Going from corner to corner, let's take a look at what's worthy of mention in this beasty (and there's a lot). "Caterpillar engager" for ALICE is clever. "Need for a third degree?" = a Ph.D. THESIS. "Taking a grand tour, say" = IN EUROPE, which I recently decided ought to be called the "In Continent." Which brings us to the entry just below it, CASCARAS—the dried bark of the "buckthorn trees with medically useful bark" is used in laxatives. "They bring tears to one's eyes" = DUCTS, of course. "Take illegally" = PIRATE (yo ho ho!). "Beat poets?" = RAP ARTISTS. Moving downward on the left, "NHL'ers, e.g." = ICE SKATERS (not HOCKEY TEAM). "Spam producer" = HORMEL. (I've not been to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota, but have a family friend who retired from the Spam-producing plant nearby. The museum was founded because so many tourists from Japan were making pilgrimages to Austin anyway; the Filipinos and Hawaiians are also huge Spam fans, of course.) "Leaf sides" - RECTOS. "Winning full house, for short" = ACES OVER; cute to have that crossing BETTERS (which isn't "bettors," though). Two tricky 3-letter words in the center: "puffer's place" for SEA and "Media center?" for DEE. In the lower right corner, a total gimme ("Actor Wass" = TED—he first gained fame on Soap and later played the dad on Blossom) helped crack open that area. "Beauty spot" = SALON is obvious, and yet sneaky—like many of the clues in this puzzle. Up above, "couple in a date" = SLASHES (as in "today is 4/29/06"). "Not the common way" = SIDE STREET. "Place for debauchery" = STY, as in the second definition here.


While solving Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Films of Ire-Land," I made a mental note to mention here how it always cracks me up when people misspell khan as the surname Kahn...and then it turned out that the puzzle actually included WRATH OF KAHN instead of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. (Ouch.) I think David Kahn should have another book of his crosswords and call it Wrath of Kahn.

Alan Olschwang's themeless LA Times puzzle includes a central triple stack crossed by a fourth 15-letter entry.

NYT 8:36
Newsday maybe 6ish minutes?
LAT 4:47
CS 3:24


April 27, 2006


Well, less than two days ago, I made sure you knew that Boots was DORA THE EXPLORER's monkey sidekick. (She also does her adventuring with Backpack, who is...a backpack. And there's a fox named Swiper who's always...swiping things.) If any of you regulars hesitated in the slightest in filling in that first 15 near the top of Eric Berlin's Friday NYT, you might want to check with a doctor about those memory problems. I liked TOURIST INFO connecting the two 15s, SPITFIRE, CUSTOMER SERVICE, Aunt JEMIMA, BOXCAR, IMHOTEP, and I DONT KNOW.

Karen Tracey returns to her rightful place as a preferred provider (she's in the crossword PPO directory, of course) of themeless puzzles, with a juicy Sun Weekend Warrior. YELLOWJACKETS and REYKJAVIK in the middle, the JOB JAR and SKYNYRD, ARRIVEDERCI and ANYONE ELSE, WINESAPS and TEAL BLUE. Karen, that looks like a trademark Peter Gordon clue for TEAL BLUE ("color similar to drake")—was it his, or did you just unearth a Gordonesque clue? In case you were wondering what the Opel ASTRA looks like, here's the Opel site; they also sell the Signum, Zafira, and a sexy little roadster called the GT—but not in the U.S. I'd never heard of swimmer DONNA DE VARONA; seems she competed at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and then became the first female sportscaster, and her sister is Joanna Kerns, the actress who played the mom on Growing Pains.


Merl Reagle's puzzle for this weekend is called "Baseball Trades." It's clever. You'll like it!

Manny Nosowsky dishes out groaner after groaner in his Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Oh Pun for Business." If puns are your weakness, you might also enjoy Timothy Powell's LA Times puzzle. And if puns leave you in need of a stiff drink, try Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle.

NYS 6:09
LAT 4:35
NYT 4:11
CS 3:40

WSJ 9:48
Reagle [Whoops, didn't start the timer]


The Wordplay trailer!

The trailer for Wordplay is out (you can see it here), and it's terrible. Why, I didn't see myself in it at all!

Seriously, it's still cool to see people I know on screen, even though I've already seen the movie three times. Shall we have a contest to find out who ends up seeing the movie on the big screen the greatest number of times? I think I've got at least three more viewings in my future. Who's going for 10?


April 26, 2006


George Balany and Michael Shteyman's NYT spotlights phrases that have become NO WIN SITUATIONS by losing their WINs—e.g., SEVERE GRO[win]G PAINS, GONE WITH THE [win]D. What's cool is that two pairs of theme entries are stacked together, making the task of constructing this puzzle that much more difficult. Speaking of difficult, those don't look much like Thursday solving times on the applet! I didn't fight that long to crack the theme (SEVERE GROG PAINS had many helpful crossings), but this was one of those puzzles where it helps to solve online. You'd think I'd remember the characters' names from the one opera I've seen, Turandot, and yet I cycled through a couple other Roman numerals before the applet accepted the L in LIU. Specific bit of cultural knowledge crossing a Roman year? D'oh!

Judging from Jesse Goldberg's Sun puzzle ("Swish!"), JORDAN's GAME WINNING SHOT went up in the air and passed through Dick ENBERG on its way into the BASKET. I don't recall that particular aspect of the CHICAGO HOOPSTER's shot on June 16, 1998, but then, maybe I didn't watch that game. Or maybe I did. I'm not one to remember great sports plays. Fun puzzle, topped off with entries like VETTE, FINAGLE, and SEAFOAM (which, if this were a themeless puzzle, I expect Peter would've found an obscure color clue for).


Harvey Estes' "Give Mom a Hug" CrosSynergy puzzle is cute. I like the inclusion of EGGING ON and TOMATOES up above the HAM OMELET. Is it time for breakfast again?

I do get a wee bit disappointed when a themeless stalwart ventures into themed territory, as Karen Tracey does in today's LA Times puzzle. However, Karen works in great non-theme fill like JETSTREAM, NIETZSCHE, MR PIBB, and OH JOY, and all is forgiven.

NYT 5:36
NYS 4:47
LAT 4:25
CS 3:17



The PROLIFIC Jack McInturff's 15x16 Sun puzzle does a "Flip-Flop" of and I and and O in each theme entry. My favorite one was CHIPPED LOVER ("Slightly damaged statue of a paramour?") Plenty of tough clues and answers in this one—"Temple building" for DORM, "Tennessee woman" for STELLA, YMCAS, and the southwest corner with BLITZ and OY VEY crossing BOOK I and ZYGOTE. The clue for BOOTS ("Dora the Explorer's monkey sidekick") shouts "Peter Gordon has small children," just like the kid lit and Teletubbies clues that find their way into the Sun puzzles fairly regularly. Those tend to be gimmes for me, but how do those of you who don't have small children like those?

Wednesday's NYT comes from the team of Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke, and features ELIZABETH TAYLOR and her series of married names, in chronological order from top to bottom (but without theme symmetry, because Her Violet-Eyedness was careless enough not to choose her husbands based on the length of their surnames). The longer vertical entries, of course, tie into the theme. Larry FORTENSKY was known to DENIGRATE SCALLIONS, wedding rings are like MANACLES, and Liz has had plenty of OFF YEARS between husbands. (P.S. I wouldn't say the puzzle was as challenging as my solving time would indicate. I did the crossword after sleeping off a headache, but I should've waited until morning when I would've been more awake.)

Lloyd Mazer posted this link at the NYT forum. It's a video of a guy working on Michael Shteyman's wonderful POOL TABLE puzzle—while driving. And doing the filming himself.

And by the way:

Patrick Jordan followed up with his fellow CrosSynergy constructors about those two recent themed Sunday puzzles that appeared in lieu of "Sunday Challenge" crosswords. The upshot is that both occasions were honest mistakes, and the CrosSynergy team will redouble their efforts to keep us supplied with a themeless puzzle on Sundays. Themeless fans, rejoice!

NYS 5:31
NYT 5:08
LAT 3:35
CS 3:01


April 24, 2006

Frankly, my dear, I could care less

Great theme in Kevan Choset's NYT! There are three famous quotes from books, TV, and movies that were never actually uttered, as explained by two more entries, NONE OF THEM IS/A REAL QUOTE. With 72 theme squares in a 15x15 puzzle, you're liable to end up with some compromises on the fill. But in this case, the obscurities (to me) were educational—ODESA appears to be a transliteration of the Ukrainian spelling, vs. Odessa deriving from Russian (is that correct?), and Art Deco architect William Van ALEN designed the Chrysler building. Also, some of the 3-letter entries had clever clues—"Jordan was once part of it: Abbr." yields NBA (not something like UAR), and INE is clued "Hero's end?"

In the Sun, Gary Steinmehl's "Hesitant Conclusions" taught me that the LILAC (which is getting ready to bloom 'round these parts) is a "flower in the olive family," that GUAM's capital city has two diacritical marks (Hagåtña), and (in yet another new OBOE clue for the Sun) that the OBOE da caccia is a forerunner of the cor anglais. And then there's the eyebrow-raising but utterly innocuous "Dick-Dyke go-between" (VAN)...


Randall Hartman goes geographic in his CrosSynergy puzzle, "Capital Fellows," and Joy Frank greets us with the LA Times puzzle. Check 'em out...

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle expands things in the theme entries, yielding QUEUE TIPS, for example. Minor quibble with TEA MOBILE, though—a crib mobile's not pronounced the same as in T-Mobile, is it? This puzzle seems to be the first (and perhaps last) Cruciverb-eligible use of TAMPAX in a crossword. It also seems to be the first instance of LGBT, but I bet we'll see GLBT or LGBT in plenty of crosswords in the years ahead (even with that inconvenient lack of vowels).

Tausig 4:35
NYT 4:02
NYS 3:55
LAT 3:24
CS 2:54


April 23, 2006


My son, Ben, turns 6 tomorrow, so the weekend's been filled with birthday-related activities that have come between me and my crosswords. The Fiend should be back to normal in another day...

The Monday NYT's by Lynn Lempel, who mangles and masticates the theme entries, which not only end in smashing verbs, but are all yellow to orange in hue (well, once you get inside the ACORN SQUASH's skin). Add the longish fill, like SPIKE LEE, NOSEDIVE, and HECKLER, sparkles as well. POGO crosses AGOG and makes me wish there were one more O: POGO A GO-GO, anyone? (Wait a minute...is FOGHORN slang for anything? How about CUKE? GOON? Is Lynn going to have to run all her puzzles by 60-year-old male test-solvers to make sure that nothing appalls them? No? We're good here? Good.)

I don't remember the last time the Monday Sun went faster than the NYT. Timothy Powell's "Men of Great Intelligence" caused me to ask my husband what spy character was named SOLO. (Guess I wasn't paying attention during Star Wars.) Fortunately, familiarity with famous fictional spies was needed only to make sense of the theme—not to finish the puzzle.

CS 3:08
NYT 2:54
NYS 2:51
LAT 2:41


Lazy Sunday

Joe DiPietro's byline has been popping up a lot lately, and now Joe brings us another Sunday NYT, "What's the Story?" I loved LITTLE-READ WRITING HOOD. BOOTY ON THE BEAST would have been more fun to clue than BOOTEE IN THE BEAST, but the latter did allow AS IF I CARE ("like that matters") to cross three theme entries. There's even a short theme entry in the middle (KNOW WHITE), crossing three other theme entries—and there are five more 9-letter entries that each join three theme entries. Theme-rich (135 squares, if I counted right) and intricately constructed...you could do worse.

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "The In Crowd," threw two unfamiliar words at me. I can't say I've ever seen YOK before (clued as "hearty laugh," which makes me think of YUKs, not a YOK). And then there's DEASIL, meaning "clockwise" (pronounced like "diesel"). It's one of the rare English words that comes from Scottish Gaelic, and apparently it has Wicca connotations.

Paula Gamache and Vic Fleming's Washington Post puzzle, "Wisecracks," cracks Y's into the theme entries.

Hey! Who stole the Sunday Challenge again? CrosSynergy team, we crave your themeless creations! (And make 'em hard, please.) You've got six days a week for themed puzzles, and you've gotten us hooked on having one small themeless on Sundays. Two themed Sundays in a month? You're making the natives restless.

NYT 10:45
LAW 10:05
LAT 9:35
WaPo 8:02
CS 3:41


April 21, 2006


Over in the NYT forum, I likened the Friday puzzle by Manny Nosowsky to crème brûlée—smooth and sweet but with definite crunch. The Saturday NYT by Brendan Emmett Quigley is a little more like a honey wasabi tuna burrito—newer and spicier, with unexpected flavor combinations. For instance, he's got SPACE CADETS, NO TELL MOTEL, ASIAN FUSION, and LA VIE EN ROSE; GIRLY MAN and quarterback TOM BRADY; operatic TURANDOT and the Pointer Sisters' HES SO SHY; SALT BATH crossing TUBB; AMSTEL beer, STARDATE, and JIVE. Trickiest clues: "deliver crosses, e.g." for BOX, "it's next to nothing" for IOTA, "they line some streets" for METERS, "creator of Genesis" for SEGA, "place for seeds" for TOURNEY, "you might tear it up" for ROAD, "Picture within a picture?" for CEL, "big Dutch export" for AMSTEL, "Ping and Pong are characters in it" for TURANDOT, "mad-dogged" for GLARED AT, and "it may follow a bridge" for REFRAIN. Lovely crossword, even if I've never heard anyone say ILL NEVER ("Me? Harrumph!"). Is that a regionalism?


Ooh! In honor of Earth Day, today's Times brings us another suite of puzzles from the Puzzability folks, Robert Leighton, Amy Goldstein, and Mike Shenk. My weekend just got busier.

Robert Wolfe's themeless LA Times puzzle has a great clue, "physical part," and an interesting assortment of fill. Hey, Jangler—please check this one out and tell me if you approve of the answer to 28 Down. (I won't include spoilers here for those of you who don't normally do the LAT but will now. Does anyone ever do a puzzle based on my recommendation, or do you all resolutely adhere to your standard regimens?)

Another pangram from Patrick Jordan in today's CrosSynergy puzzle. I was surprised to learn that the answer to "North Dakota's state tree" was ELM; I'd always heard it was the telephone pole.

NYT 7:55
LAT 6:41
Newsday Saturday Stumper 4:47
CS 3:18


April 20, 2006

What activates the punning lobe?

Which words seem to push crossword constructors to extract puns from their fevered brains? There's no shortage of punny clues for EDITOR. In addition to Manny Nosowsky's "Post office worker?" we've seen these clues alluding to the Post:

Post operative? / Post position? / Post master?

And Time is more amenable to puns than Newsweek, as are the other vague noun-named magazines:

Wheel of Fortune?
Time keeper? / Time worker
People person?
Money manager? / Money changer? / One who works for Money
One who changes Life sentences / One who makes Life-changing decisions?
Person who is Self-employed?

The best ones, of course, don't make it obvious that the publication's title is just that, by obscuring its capitalization (placing the word first or including it in a known uppercase phrase, as in "Wheel of Fortune?"). The best clues also let the solvers' minds carry them away in the wrong direction (as in Manny's misleading "Post office worker?" and Byron Walden's devilishly game show–inflected "Wheel of Fortune?").

EDIT has some similar types of clues, and adds the wonderful "Polish writing?" / "Polish film, e.g." / "Polish literature, maybe." And EDITED has "Did work for New York."

What other words seem especially amenable (or should I say vulnerable?) to the pun approach in cluing? I'm sure there are oodles of them, but I'm drawing a blank on what they might be.

And can you think of a great clue for EDITOR that tops these?


Friday at last!

Manny Nosowsky’s Friday NYT took me longer than most of Manny’s puzzles, and longer than most Friday puzzles. I fell into a few traps—like entering TOPS instead of LAPS, MALT SHOP instead of SODA SHOP. And I drew blanks on a bunch of great clues—like "Post office worker"? (EDITOR), "Refrain from piracy?" (YOHOHO, which happens to cross OHO), "some sneaks" (NIKES). Remarkably low obscurity factor for a late-week themeless, in that the most obscure entries were quite logically gettable (SAPWOOD; ETHANES starts with the common ETH- and ends with a common chemical ending) or words I’ve encountered often enough before (LAI, SULU, EILAT, lovely ETYMA). I wasn’t familiar with ROS Asquith, who’s published a cute book for babies as well as, apparently, drawing STD-related cartoons. And then there are those six long entries (HOW TIME FLIES, A PRETTY PENNY, etc.) sliding past one another like tectonic plates and crossing in the middle, and crossed by that square of 7-letter entries that tie all the corner sections to the center—just in case the fill and clues didn’t impress you enough, there’s always the feat of construction to marvel at. Well done, Dr. Nosowsky and Mr. Shortz.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s "Eminent Domains" is aptly slated as a Friday puzzle. It took me a long while to figure out that this was a rebus puzzle—thankfully, LAM[EDU]CK was fairly obvious when I finally worked my way over to that corner. But throw in deliciously vague clues and a handful of obscurities (like baroque composer Arcangelo CORELLI), and you’ve got a meaty challenge. Did this one sock any of you with unusually slow solving times, or was that just me?


Merl Reagle's puzzle ("Mm-mm, Good") was a fun solve, as always. I'm generally not crazy about themes that include phrases with X number of instances of a letter (unless it's wickedly hard to pull off—was it Brendan Emmett Quigley in the Sun a year or two ago with that multiple-X puzzle?), but perhaps it was worthwhile if it meant Merl could work YUMMY IN MY TUMMY and PHI SLAMMA JAMMA.

Vic Fleming and Paula Gamache teamed up for this week's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Taking Sides," a rebus puzzle in which PRO and CON pepper their respective sides of the grid in roughly symmetrical spots. (At first I thought it was unfairly tilted to the PRO side, but then I realized that the budget prefix entered (and accepted by Across Lite) as ECO was actually E[CON]O, crossing author BA[CON].)

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon's LA Times puzzle boasted some perky fill, such as BAZOOKAS, PFIZER, and POP ART. • I bet the germ of Thomas Schier's add-an-I CrosSynergy puzzle was GENUS GENIUS.

NYS 10:02
NYT 6:55
LAT 4:43
CS 4:02

WSJ 9:13
Reagle 7:58


April 19, 2006


Will Nediger’s Themeless Thursday in the Sun has a delectable alphabet soup of high-Scrabble-count letters, making in a quintessential Sun themeless. There's a bit of a sot/anti-sot mini-theme, with BOOZER, BAR SCENE, and TEETOTAL. It's trivially educational, with tidbits like POPES named Zephyrinus and Zosimus. Cute clues, such as “Coal porter?” for TRAM and “Fear of Frankfurters?” for ANGST.

The entire NYT site had some major hiccups Wednesday night, which was unusual. I didn't much care for waiting almost an hour to fetch the crossword, but it was kind of sweet to be given a pop-under ad for "File not found." Ah, they know what I like...

The Thursday NYT puzzle's got a sound-change theme by Joe DiPietro and truthfully, the theme doesn't excite me at all. But DiPietro's got a knack for filling a grid with entries I like, such as IM ON IT, WON BRONZE, AS NEEDED, MOOING, KOAN, and FABIO. I don't know whether the clues are mainly from the constructor's or editor's camp, but they're smooth.


Bill Ballard's LA Times puzzle has (if I counted right) 70 theme squares, which doesn't put it near the top of the list of theme-dense puzzles, but it's certainly got far more than the usual crossword. The theme is TWELVE RHYMES/AT THE BORDERS, with the edges of the puzzle lined with a dozen words in which the final long-A sound is spelled differently. Kinda neat trick, that.

NYS 5:35
NYT 4:42
LAT 3:41
CS 3:33
Newsday 3:23—hey, it includes FIEND!


April 18, 2006

Moving along to Wednesday

I know I said Lynn Lempel should keep making Monday puzzles because she’s so good at it, but I suppose we can make allowances for her to enliven the other days, too. The typical remove-two-letters theme isn’t always entertaining, but I liked Lynn’s theme entries in "Ready…or Not" in the Sun. LAB OF LOVE as “Fertility clinic?” That’s good stuff. As is the fill, with entries like SKINK, GET EVEN, and LARYNX. (Are the people who pronounce that “larnix” the same ones who buy houses from “Relators”?)

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon’s FALSE STARTS puzzle in the NYT gave me a couple false starts: PATS instead of PETS, and AMINO instead of OLEIC. Just a few days ago, I was telling my husband that “kind of acid,” 5 letters, invariably clues AMINO…except, of course, for the handful of times it’s OLEIC, BORIC, MALIC, or SALIC.

NYS 4:23
CS 4:20
LAT 4:19
NYT 3:54


Four things

This week's Chicago Reader puzzle by Ben Tausig: Do you like mixed drinks? Do you like anagrams? Do you like coming up with anagrams while under the influence of mixed drinks? As long as your answer to the second question is "yes," you'll like this week's offering from Ben. As usual, top-notch fill and clues rock the joint.

The new Wordplay poster: Trip Payne reports that the new poster—which features Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, and ace solvers Trip, Ellen Ripstein, Tyler Hinman, Al Sanders, and Jon Delfin—has been unveiled at CHUD.com. Those of you in New York, make sure you pick up a copy of the New York Times today, as there's a Tribeca film festival insert with the Wordplay poster.

A new blog in the sidebar: Patrick Blindauer has had some crosswords in the New York Sun recently, including that showy connect-the-dots star puzzle published the Friday of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Patrick's started a LiveJournal that focuses on the Sun puzzles and his puzzle creation activities.

A new old blog in the sidebar: You know, I've been reading Trip's LiveJournal every day for months and have had it bookmarked since before it took on its current title, "In Black and White." Somehow I never added it to the blogroll until today. When you're hankering for the latest on Wordplay, check out Trip's, Ellen's, and Tyler's LiveJournals.


April 17, 2006


A fancy little gimmick in the Tuesday NYT by Pete Muller—the answers and the clues do not contain the letter S, but every other letter of the alphabet does make an appearance in the grid. I wonder if the dead-tree version will say the puzzle was "Edited by Will Hortz." And I wonder if the clues originally contained esses when the puzzle was first submitted. I'm sure there are some people who don't appreciate puzzles that are made with only certain letters—like the CHRISTMAS CAROL puzzle by David Kahn, or those that contain only a single vowel, or that exclude a common letter like E—but I like 'em. (And yes, as hinted at in a comment on the last post, this puzzle contains the word BONER, clued as "boo-boo." Is that what the kids are calling it these days?)

Lyell Rodieck presents POULTRY IN MOTION in the Sun, with a tight theme of CHICKEN RUN, DUCK WALKS, TURKEY TROT, and GOOSESTEPS. Favorite clue: "Piccolo player of note" for CAAN. New Fiend rule: Early-week puzzles by women whose first names start with LY are always a good bet.

Hey, did you ever see Mercury Rising, the Bruce Willis movie? It's on some movie channel at the moment, and Games World of Puzzles plays a key role, as reviewed here. They keep the constructor's bylines fuzzy (drat!), and the puzzle that figures into the plot (it has to do with some top-secret government cryptography) is, well, pfft. Fake. Looked like a big word search grid with Greek letters and math symbols strewn about.


As has been mentioned at the NYT forum, if you're a fan of the New York Sun puzzles, consider using the PayPal link here to send some monetary love to Peter Gordon. Many of us find the NYT's Premium Crosswords service to be worth every penny, and the Sun puzzles are every bit as good (some say better). If Peter charged a fee like the NYT does, I'd pay it without hesitation. So don't be a freeloader just because you can...

NYS 3:26
NYT 3:13
Tues LAT 2:54
CS 2:37
Mon LAT 2:34


April 16, 2006

Scumbag Monday!

The comments lounge has been so quiet the last couple days, it's forcing me to talk dirty to older men. ("Scumbag," of course, is a dirty word only to older men. For the rest of us, it's just a word.)

This appears to be Larry Paul's NYT crossword debut (congrats!), though he's had at least one puzzle in the New York Sun. He perked up the ICE/STEAM/WATER theme with a number of 8-letter entries, including CHARISMA and APERITIF, and some corner bricks of 6-letter words—nice to see more challenging constructions on a Monday. I'm not a fan of apéritifs, so I never got around to looking up the word's derivation before now; it comes from the Latin aperire, to open, as it opens the meal. Fortified wines such as sherry and vermouth, anise-based liqueurs, bitter drinks like Campari, and sparkling wines (which invariably inflict me with mal à la tête)? Terrible idea for a pre-dinner drink, if you ask me, but quite nice in a crossword.


Cute CrosSynergy puzzle from Randall Hartman.

Damn you, Dave Mackey! You touted your 1:56 on the Newsday puzzle and forced me to take a stab at it. Harrumph!

Given the title of Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle—"Strike Zone"—and Peter Gordon's proclivity for baseball themes, I kept trying to figure out what the longer entries had to do with baseball. Which is...exactly nothing. Smiting, yes; America's pastime, no.

NYS 4:15
NYT 3:05
CS 2:48
Newsday 2:22
LAT—still AWOL?


April 15, 2006


Mike Torch's Sunday NYT, "Word Display," was on the easy side, but I liked it. It was especially light on obscurity—I'm not positive I've heard of the "spinachlike plant" ORACH before; this herbal info about it is entertaining (it's good for "wandering pains")—and packed with straightforward clues and entries. Plus an accessible and amusing theme—my favorite bit was SERMON ON THE DISMOUNT. I wasn't sure I recognized the constructor's name, so I checked Barry Haldiman's site. Mike Torch also did last October 11's puzzle commemorating the 30th anniversary of "Saturday Night Live," which was fun; he previously had a Sunday NYT on February 27 of last year, featuring INSIDER IN CIDER and INQUIRE IN CHOIR.


Brendan Emmett Quigley's Washington Post puzzle, "The Gods Must Be Crazy," is a lot of fun. Standard BEQ fill like KIELBASA, SULU SEA, and PD JAMES, clues like "joltless joe" (SANKA), and a theme centered on bad puns (and some good ones) involving the names of Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian deities.

LAT 9:30—Liz Gorski fans, rejoice!
LA Weekly 8:34—A tax-related quip in a solid Hex puzzle
WaPo 8:05
NYT 7:58
CS 5:54—The Sunday Challenge is back, this week from Harvey Estes, and it's harder than the typical Sunday Challenge


April 14, 2006


SLIP RINGS?? Not being an expert in "electrical connectors," that was the last entry I filled in in Bob Peoples' Saturday NYT. Although I do not care for lemon desserts, I liked the clue, "sweet little thing," for LEMON TART; I was thinking terms of endearment more than baked goods. I've always liked the word HULLABALLOO (though usually spelled with one L in the back half); there may not be a consensus on the etymology, based on the first three definitions I found. Great assortment of phrases, including GEEK CHIC, IN A LATHER, LAST STRAW, ROCK STARS, and UNION REP, as well as HONKYTONK and the quaint TINCTURE and AMPHORAE. And look! Plenty of solving times that would not be out of place on a Friday, in contrast to the Friday puzzle's distinctly Saturdayish vibe. Pooh. I was hoping for two distinctly Saturdayish NYTs in a row.


You know how the NYT daily puzzle runs 6 weeks behind in syndication? The March 3 post (scroll down) on Bob Peoples' previous Saturday puzzle is getting a lot of hits—the clue “1994 literary autobiography whose first chapter is titled ‘Infant Prodigy?’” (for I ASIMOV) is vexing the bizarro puzzle-solving nation today...

NYT 6:01
Newsday untimed
LAT 5:21
CS 3:45


The Return of the Fiend

Just got back from Florida tonight, turned on the computer, checked my e-mail, skimmed through the week's posts at the NYT forum, took a peek at the NYT applet rankings...and checked to make sure I hadn't lost a day. Nobody had cracked 10 minutes...and it's not the Saturday crossword? Can't be. And yet it's the Friday puzzle, by James Buell, clad in killer Saturday clothing. Just about nothing was clued in such a way as to be a gimme in this one. SWEATHOG got me started, with the S from the plural 1 Down (that S was all I had for a while) and the G from the -ING in 7 Down. Some twisty clues I liked: "rule that can be bent" for TAPE MEASURE, "they often have strings attached" for TEABAGS, "football conference" for HUDDLE, "Really!" for I KID YOU NOT, "lowlife" for INSECT, "get back" for REAP, "it's quite attractive" for LODESTONE, and "fleeced" for WOOLEN. Relative obscurities like ADJURE, NYALA, LIRA, and AIRE upped the challenge. And then there's GENERAL LEE, not clued as the car from "Dukes of Hazzard." I treasure a Saturday-hard puzzle on a Saturday, but I'm glad I didn't do this one right at 9:00 CDT, or I might have been freaking out as the minutes ticked away.


My take on the Battle of the Themelesses is that the NYT was a bit harder than Byron Walden's Weekend Warrior in the Sun, which was of average Byron difficulty—definitely easier than his killers, like ACPT puzzle #5, but also tougher than his easiest (relatively speaking) puzzles. Is the general consensus that both puzzles had you over a barrel for a while? I redid the puzzle today because I'd done it a couple weeks ago, and it was much easier the second time around—maybe that means that the clues and entries were particularly memorable? Between MAJOR MAJOR and THE FAR SIDE, MAD LIBS and SHRIMP SCAMPI, and clues like "Standard cab?" for HOUSE RED and "where you might find a white elephant" for THAILAND, it is memorable. Even the shortest entries have great clues, like "crown-molding expert" for DDS, "Sticking point?" for RIB, and "Match head?" for MIS. Kudos to Messrs. Walden and Gordon for another finely pitched crossword.

Todd McClary's Wall Street Journal puzzle was a good challenge, with the capital cities added into the theme entries. Extra bonus points for 108 Across, "NYSE ___ (online stock exchange)"—not only do I know someone who works at ARCA, but it's nice to have an alternative to "medieval chest" to bring the word out of the crosswordese arena.

Merl Reagle spoils me with a "Themeless Think Piece," a Sunday-sized themeless puzzle. Ah, if only I saw more puzzles like this. Harvey Estes had a big themeless in Games some months back, and Frank Longo always has the excellent-but-not-hard-enough Jumbo Crossword in Games World of Puzzles, but I'd like to see Saturday-tough Sunday-sized puzzles every now and then.

NYT 9:21
NYS 8:58
LAT 5:39
Tausig 4:55—ooh, four non-theme 11s in the fill—that's fancy constructin'!
3/31 CHE 4:01
CS 3:21

WSJ 11:49
Reagle—whoops, the timer's still at 0:00


April 11, 2006

Lamest posting ever

I'm glad I brought Peter Gordon's Hall of Fame Crosswords on vacation, because otherwise I'd be suffering the xword DTs. I've done the Monday and Tuesday NYTs in the actual newspaper (retro chic!), and I brought this week's Suns in Across Lite (have done only the Monday and Tuesday puzzles so far).

The most fun one was the Sun with DOGGY BOTTOM, which made me laugh. By Gary Steinmehl, was it? The file corrupted itself, so I can't see what I jotted down about it in the notepad. Ben Tausig's Monday Sun was cute, too, with the vampirical theme.
My official time was about 45 minutes, because I had just started the crossword when my son barfed in the bedroom. Such a shame when you're visiting someone in their brand-new house and your kid throws up strawberries (red!) on the pale carpet... By the time we finished cleaning up the mess, the Across Lite timer had gone on a rampage.

Mon NYT 2:59
Tues NYT 3:45ish?
Mon Sun 45:45
Tues Sun 4:10ish?


April 08, 2006

Sunday: technical difficulties

There's some kind of mojo of woe going on today. First I couldn't get the Petals grid for Will's Second Sunday puzzle (is there a PDF out there somewhere?), and then the NYT applet pooped out on me part way through solving Paula Gamache's jumbo 23x23 "Stock Market Report." I finished up in Across Lite, but the technical discombobulation leaves me with no real impression of the puzzle, other than that it seemed tad harder than usual. Tell me what you liked best about it. I see plenty of great entries, like PREPPIES, ROTH IRAS, SCHLEPS, and SHIATSU, but I'm not a big fan of business themes (my favorite Wall Street Journal crosswords are invariably the ones with non-business themes).


Easy Sunday Newsday puzzle by one of Stan Newman's clones, and an easy themed CrosSynergy by RIch Norris. Man, I hope CrosSynergy's not giving up on providing themeless Sunday Challenge puzzles...

Dave ("Evad") Sullivan's Sunday debut is today's LA Times syndicate puzzle, "Comic Relief." The theme involves dreadful puns (the best kind!) with over-the-counter medication names. I liked the clues, both light ("one pulling in a pusher" for NARC) and educational (a SARI "may be worn over a blouse called a choli"). There's also some juicy fill, like ZAMBONI and DC UNITED.

NYT 10:56
LAT 9:40
Newsday 6:34
CS 3:07


April 07, 2006


Patrick Berry, who spoiled us rotten with his collection of intricately interwoven, multilayered Starbucks puzzles over the past couple months, constructed the Saturday NYT crossword. Somehow this puzzle fell all too quickly for me, but if you take the average of this puzzle and the Starbucks tiebreaker...then my average solving time is astoundingly long. I bet people will be Googling like mad to ascertain the following answers: LAS CASAS, the "Spanish priest who famously oposed the conquistadors"; EDNA BEST, "she played a jilted wife in 'Intermezzo,' 1939"; AVERILL, "Earl in the Baseball Hall of Fame"; STEGNER, "'Angle of Repose' author"; CALX, "metal oxide"; and TSONGAS, "Massachusetts senator succeeded by Kerry." Lots of pop culture, with SINISE, DAVID CARUSO, IRENE CARA, and JAMES CAAN (it's always impressive when a first and last name appear together in the grid). Other great entries include THE IDIOT BOX, LET THERE BE LIGHT, LIPSYNCHED, and MANUMIT (which is a goofy-looking word). My absolute favorite clue here was "Colonial home?" for ANTHILL.

LAT 7:05
NYT 4:23
Newsday [untimed, but it felt fast]
CS 2:37

LA Weekly/Hook 9:20
WaPo 7:14


April 06, 2006


I really liked Adam Cohen’s NYT puzzle. (Hey, that’s the same Adam Cohen who won the B division title at Stamford, isn’t it? You know, some of the very best people win the B finals…) Great puzzle! The DALAI LAMA and ERIN MORAN probably don’t spend much time in close proximity, but here they are, joined for eternity. And LEVAR Burton and Ed ASNER were in Roots together. SPINSTER and RED LETTER, good entries. And here’s OVALTINE, just evoked by numerous people disappointed that STARBUCK was the answer to the Starbucks contest (remember the decoder ring in A Christmas Story?). Not to mention SLEAZE, which Pen Girl said Will Shortz cited as a reason to reject a puzzle she once submitted to him. Yes, it’s scumbag and sleaze week! And I, for one, have no objection. Clues I especially liked: "Bug" for TAP (wonderfully vague yet dead-on specific), "United, for one" for SYNONYM, "Novel figure: Abbr." for ISBN, "They’re a big part of the life of Riley" for MIAMI HEAT, "Red, maybe"for RIPE. Thanks and congrats on a fine crossword, Adam and Will. (P.S. For those of you who, like me, thought crossword regular EZIO PINZA was an opera singer, read the Wikipedia article on him. Opera + Broadway.)

Another baseball-themed puzzle in the Friday Sun by John Farmer, who seems to be making only splashy puzzles, no boring ones. "The 600 Club" includes four notable ballplayers (I presume RUTH, AARON, BONDS, and MAYS all hit 600+ home runs) around HOME RUN, plus SWING AND A DRIVE, GOING, GOING, GONE! as the batter rounds the bases through the grid. John, did this puzzle spring fully formed from your head, or did you and Peter work it out together? Either way, great results!


I just did some catching up with the Chronicle of Higher Education puzzles, and recommend all three. The March 24 one by Patrick Blindauer calls on your classical knowledge. Doug Peterson's March 17 puzzle spotlights former geographical names in the theme and has some top-notch fill, to boot. Ray Hamel's March 10 puzzle features poets who've written about roses.

Merl Reagle's weekend puzzle, "Connections," is punctuated with a zillion theme entries. Well, maybe not a zillion, but I counted 26 of 'em, ranging from 4 to 20 letters apiece. Fun puzzle! (But to be nitpicky, perhaps 22 Across should have been changed or eliminated for maximum elegance...)

If you enjoyed Harvey Estes' recent "Before and After" puzzle, you might also like Ed Stein's Newsday puzzle, "Mixed Media." It's got a vaguely related sort of twist to the theme entries.

Vic Fleming's LA Times puzzle adds an L to generate the theme entries, which led me to ask, "What the heck's a beer pump?" Turns out it's the thing you attach to a keg, the tap. Who knew it had a name? BULLFLINCH would have worked about as well as BULLFLIGHT for the toreador clue. I tried to come up with a funny clue for BE GENTLE; Google was remarkably unhelpful in this, but it did lead me to this article about a male gorilla who's the 23-Year-Old Virgin. How can a girl gorilla woo him? "She should focus on flirtatious behaviors. Throwing dirt doesn't work." Words to live by...

NYS 6:38
NYT 6:14
3/24 CHE 4:52
LAT 4:37
3/17 CHE 4:19
3/10 CHE 4:14
CS 2:58
Newsday [untimed]

Reagle 9:52
WSJ 7:07


You know what's great about the ACPT?

I was thinking about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament today. It may be short on ethnic diversity, but the age range of the participants is phenomenal. I think Will Shortz said on the radio that the youngest competitor was 18 and the oldest 86—and both rookies. Looking back at who I talked with a couple weekends ago, it's amazing. I had conversations with college students, people in their 70s and 80s, and all the decades in between. Going to Stamford's kind of like attending a big family wedding, where you'll talk to the kids and your cousins and assorted grandparents and a bunch of weird uncles—except at Stamford, it's a crossword-lovin' kinship rather than a familial one, and there's no taffeta or dance floor.


If you want to check your work

Here's my solution grid for the Starbucks tiebreaker puzzle (which I assume was constructed by Patrick Berry and edited by Will Shortz, though there was no byline on the PDF). Where there are two letters in a circle, one of the letters from each down answer should be dropped (e.g., 14 Across, "Hammer," is RAM after the H and O are dropped). You can obtain the blank grid and clues here (thanks for posting it, serendipity).

The dropped letters, read in the numerical order of the Down entries, spell out the final question, of course.

I'm sure I could have solved the puzzle on my own, but 80% of the grid was filled out cooperatively with my talented teammates, Marty Howard, Vic Fleming, and Bonnie Gentry. It was a treat to have a puzzle so challenging that it lent itself to group solving—I can't imagine doing that on a standard daily puzzle, which I can finish more quickly by myself.


April 05, 2006

Bloody Thursday

Heading into the Thursday puzzles, I'm feeling a little puzzled out. I think I'll wait until morning to do the Sun puzzle. In the meantime, what are Friday-level solving times doing on a Thursday NYT? Ed Early's quote puzzle (to paraphrase Ellen Ripstein—whose views on quip/quote puzzles are unknown to me: Quotes, ick.) was harder than I expected. Not only was the quote an unfamiliar one, but then there are Saturday-stretchy, semi-obscure entries like ARMCO ("former steel giant"), CYANIN ("dye used on photographic plates"), and CROOKING ("bending"). Amazingly, "one-legged literary character" did not come to me without the crossings, despite AHAB making an appearance inside the Starbucks tiebreaker. At least IMAGO was fresh in my mind from the Starbucks puzzle. (Conspiracy theorists, those are surely coincidental.) And seeing ROSEBUD in this grid makes me think that should have been the answer to the Starbucks challenge! I bet at least one person tried to phone in with ROSEBUD as their answer.


I was telling my son, Ben, about the Gary Steinmehl "Heroic Men" puzzle, and the existence of a Plastic Man and Iron Man. "He dresses up like an iron," said Ben. Pressing shirts and steaming out wrinkles wherever he goes, it's Iron Man!

Karen Tracey gives us the one-two with the Themeless Thursday in the Sun and a themer in today's LA Times puzzle. The themed puzzle squeezes in a few hard words like Karen's themeless puzzles. The Themeless Thursday's skeleton is made of two vertical 15's joined by an 11 crossed by a central 9, and these entries contain a Z, Q, X, and J—one Scrabbly letter per entry. Nice work, Karen! (And Peter.)

Scumbag redux: In Slate, Jesse Sheidlower writes about the SCUMBAG flap. Thanks to Byron for the link. Sheidlower's concluding sentence: "If, once you come up with the seven letters, you're still bothered, well, you're the one with the dirty mind." Exactly.

NYT 6:15
NYS 4:52
LAT 4:38
Newsday 2:57
CS 2:52


Well, so much for that

I finally finished every square of the Starbucks tiebreaker puzzle. The long hint entries read EVERY DOWN/ANSWER IS MISSING/ONE LETTER. Circle those missing letters, or jot them next to the appropriate clue, read them in clue order, and you get the woefully anticlimactic climactic question: "Who was Captain Ahab's first mate in Moby Dick?" Duh, STARBUCK. Now, I spent about 50 minutes co-solving over a conference call with three teammates, and some additional time afterwards to finish the grid. There's no way in hell the first person to call with the magic word—STARBUCK—actually solved much of the puzzle. Or maybe any of the puzzle. Trip Payne solved the NE corner, had enough extra letters from the word "Captain" figured out, realized the obvious, and called 10 minutes into the solving period—to learn that he was too late. Trip is one of the fastest solvers there is, so unless the winner turns out to be someone well-known in puzzling circles (say, a perennial Stamford contender, or a National Puzzlers League member), then it may be that someone merely guessed STARBUCK. Hell, if COFFEE HOUSE got ya into the tiebreaker, how hard could it be to guess STARBUCK as the final answer? It'd be great if whatever person or people called in before Trip not only knew STARBUCK, but could actually read off multiple entries from the tiebreaker puzzle. But that didn't seem to be part of the contest design.

Given that it was completely unnecessary to complete all the steps from the first six puzzles, the ad, and the 3/26 NYT puzzle in order to call in and say "COFFEE HOUSE," it feels like a big waste of time. Raise your hand if you're disappointed.

Wait! I ended this post too soon. The tiebreaker puzzle, which presumably is another Patrick Berry creation edited by Will Shortz, is fantastic, gnarly, and tricky. It took me a helluva lot longer than Byron Walden's ACPT puzzle #5, and has plenty of devious entries and clues. "Words that affect the span of attention?" = AS YOU WERE, with the W dropped out. "Performs poorly" is EMOTES, with the S dropped out. These both cross TOUPEE ("It provides limited coverage"). See? Devious. Especially challenging to fill in the grid when you don't know which letter is dropped out of the down entry—first, last, anywhere in the middle. The contest portion may have been frustrating, but the crosswords themselves delighted me.



I'm as ready as I can be for the tiebreaker puzzle in the Starbucks challenge. When 4:00 rolls around, man, I hope the puzzle turns out to be a crossword!


April 04, 2006

Hooray for Wednesday

...and the onslaught of great crosswords. First up, Patrick Merrell's NYT puzzle with its CKS-to-X theme. I hope the germ for this puzzle was the funny DREAD LOX. Throw in BABYING, BAGPIPE, METOOER, and BUSYBODY, and you've got yourself a lively crossword.

In Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Park Parlance," the timely theme this week is baseball. I thought the puzzle was harder than most of Ben’s Ink Well crosswords—his editor mentioned at Stamford that they’re aiming for harder, so that’s good. The world needs more challenging crosswords! Okay, now, be honest. Who saw "brand of rubbers," 5 letters, and put in DUREX? Oops. It’s TOTES, the brand of rubbers my dad used to wear…over his shoes on rainy days. Rubbers, not scumbags! Duh. And who can explain why "modern mod" is TAT? Mod = modification? And how 'bout that clue for PEN: "some like it felt on the tip"! Tch.

The Sun puzzle by Gary Steinmehl, "Heroic Men," appears to have three theme entries, CASEY AT THE BAT, ITSY BITSY SPIDER, and BUILDING SUPER. And...I don't get it. How do they tie together? (I await a grand "d'oh" moment.) Albrecht Dürer's WOODCUTS, $5. Cluing EWE as "baa nana," $100. USES PLASTIC, priceless.


'Tis the season: More baseball in Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LA Times puzzle.

Tausig 5:19
NYT 4:49
LAT 4:03
NYS 4:01
CS 3:15
Newsday 2:34


April 03, 2006


I haven't even heard of two of the songs in Robert Dillman's theme in the Tuesday NYT puzzle. If I'm too young to know the vulgar connotations of "scumbag," then surely I'm too young for some of those songs...

David (Evad) Sullivan's Sun puzzle, "Pump Up the Volume" adds an FF (fortissimo, "to be played very loudly") to generate the theme entries, turning AVIAN FLU into AVIAN FLUFF (aptly clued "Down?"). Great fill, too—just a guess, but I bet VISHNU and PLOTZ have never appeared together in a crossword. The clues "Dead" for AT PEACE and "Vomit Comet org." for NASA raise a mildly surprised eyebrow—death and puking in a single crossword?—but the eyebrows return to their default amused position with GO WEST (“Advice for a young man?”), LALA land, the “Common sense?” of SMELL, and the shout-out to Gladys and ABNER from “Bewitched.” Dave, is that OREO clue—"Cookie that’s been kosher since 5758"—yours or Peter's?


Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle plays a Jeopardy!-ish "Before and After" game in the theme entries (five interlocked 15's). It felt refreshingly challenging for a Tuesday, even though my finishing time says otherwise.

NYS 4:23
LAT 3:27
NYT 3:15
CS 3:13


April 02, 2006

Starbucks Ultimate Coffeehouse Crossword Challenge

Tuesday, April 4: After the Starbucks contest is over, I will be happy to spell out all the puzzle details I know. But until then—everybody zip it! Don't discuss any specifics of any puzzles here. You know why? Because my teammates and I are in it to win. To win real money. Anyone who posts answers or revealing hints on the internet makes it easy for any yahoo who doesn't know what he's doing (but knows how to use Google) to call in and try to win. You never know what details from earlier puzzles might be brought to bear in later stages. So, I repeat: Zip it!

My teammates and I finally cracked it this evening, and I'm left with a question.

The official contest rules say When you have solved the treasure hunt and the answer to the question, you must call 1-866-801-0112 on April 4, 2006 after 1:00PM Central Daylight Time (“CDT”). But after you've cracked the puzzle, you're told to return April 4th at 10 a.m. (PST) to complete the next phase of the Ultimate Coffeehouse Crossword Challenge. Well, we just moved to Daylight Savings Time (most of the country did, anyway). By my calculations, 10 a.m. PST translates to 11 a.m. PDT and 1:00 p.m. CDT, meaning the "next phase" coincides with the time window for calling in. Unless the folks managing this contest have completely forgotten about the onset of Daylight Savings Time, which isn't that far-fetched, given the assorted problems throughout the contest (such as people going to Starbucks stores and having the employees tell them they haven't heard of any crossword contest). Is there a one-hour window for solving "the next phase" before calling, as some people believe, or is it a hurry-up-and-solve-so-you-can-call thing?



I was hoping to get a chance to meet Lynn Lempel at Stamford, but I don't think she (or he?) was there. I enjoy her (his?) Monday puzzles far more than most early-week puzzles. This one's no exception, combining an ON THE BEACH theme with six entries (most of which are cool entries on their own), SEETHE (which I always want to put in when the answer's SEE RED; SEETHE is such a fun word to say), the sporty END ZONES and FACED OFF, RUBEN Studdard from "American Idol," and SCUMBAG. I didn't really raise an eyebrow at that last word until I saw Harris RUBEN's "hmm" comment on the NYT forum, leading me to his blog, leading me to figure out that the word connotes "condom" to the generation before me. I did a little Googling and found the Random House Word of the Day write-up of "scumbag." According to that link, when Rep. Dan Burton called Pres. Clinton a scumbag, the New York Times opted not to print the word in an article about the foofaraw. Has the NYT become less delicate about such words since 1998, or did the Monday puzzle stray from house style? Is it a matter of Will Shortz, Style Renegade, or The Times: Keeping up with the times? (Lynn Lempel, if you're out there: Please keep constructing early-week puzzles, which you do so well!)


I enjoyed Kelsey Blakley's Sun puzzle, "This 'n' That." Six theme entries, one of which actually follows the form of "This, That 'n' The Other Thing" (ED EDD N EDDY, a Cartoon Network show my kid watches; every episode name works "Ed" into something, like "Over Your Ed," "Ed-n-Seek," "In Like Ed"—many of the references are hard to explain to a kindergartner. Actually, a lot of cartoon episode names draw heavily on wordplay...). And there's REDRUM from "The Shining," and BRAD has a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" clue.

Hey! Over in the Puzzle Brothers blog, Ellen left a link to a great article about Merl Reagle. Check it out.

CS 4:22
NYS 3:27
LAT 3:18
NYT 3:11 (I've forgotten how to type today)
Newsday 2:09


April 01, 2006


Bob Klahn seems to specialize in late-week difficulty, so it's a treat to see his byline on a Sunday NYT. Of course, he brought along plenty of that difficulty, making the treat even better (unless you're too stymied to enjoy it). "Take Five" means, of course, that a V (Roman numeral 5) has been removed to make each theme entry, like ENDING MACHINE for "Guillotine?" Clever cluing, like "Mistress of the spirit world?" for ALEWIFE, "Was an Orly arrival?" for FLEW IN, "Ring count" for ONE TO TEN,
"Lose track?" for DERAIL, "Frost lines" for POEM, and "Hustler’s hangout?" for DISCO. Zippy fill, like ILL TELL, CODE RED, MA AND PA, and MEECE (as a goofy plural of "mouse"). I'm always pleased to wield the remnants of my German language knowledge, as in "When Schweine fly!" (NIE means "never"). And I knew that people speak Catalan in ANDORRA because I'd just seen a similar clue today in Peter Gordon's new book. I actually would've been about a minute faster if not for a typo ("tenuous" is not SHALY, of course, but SHAKY, which I should have picked up on quickly instead of assuming that LASHMIRI was a word. D'oh.)

Updated: The Puzzle Brothers Dave and Bob Mackey have today's LA Times puzzle, "OO-EE," where OO is changed to EE to make theme entries like NEEDLE CASSEROLE and SNEEZE ALARM. Plenty of fresh longer entries, like MGM LION, SAD EYES, NY GIANTS, and ALIEN RACE. (Interestingly, that LION crosses LAMBS, but two days into April rather than at the beginning or end of March.) I got snagged by the crossing of BILBO (clued as the arguably obscure "old-time alternative to ankle chains"—ouch!—rather than, say, "hobbit who turned eleventy-one") and RBS. (Somebody want to give me a list of all the football positions and their abbreviations?)

Timothy Powell's Washington Post puzzle, "Scrambled Headlines," provides a little anagram action for the morning. • Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon strew body parts all over their LA Weekly grid. • Mel Rosen's Newsday puzzle features songs with birds in the title.

Bob Klahn also puts in themeless time today, with the CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge. Tons of snappy multiword phrases in the long entries, plus one obscure old word apparently derived from Anglo-Saxon (SNATH, a scythe handle),

NYT 10:22
LAT 9:02
LA Weekly 7:57
Newsday 7:28
WaPo 7:05
CS 6:41