May 31, 2006


Hot on the heels of last Saturday's NYT, Will Nediger's got another themeless puzzle, the "Themeless Thursday" in the Sun. Plenty of lively phrases (BOOZE UP, NO WAY JOSE, GUMMY WORM, HA HA HA HA), words (WEIRDOS, SPOOFED, MONKEYS), and clues ("Governor after Gray" = ARNOLD Schwarzenegger, "space neighbor" = ALT key), plus assorted X's, Z's, and J's. Well done, Will.

Ethan Cooper MUSCLES through the NYT with an impressive 65-letter theme featuring a muscle TEAR, CRAMP, PULL, and STRAIN. For a little extra oomph, there's also a mini-theme with ARAB, SAUD, IMAM, and RABAT.

NYS 5:48
NYT 4:00
LAT 3:36
CS 3:30


May 30, 2006


Damn you, Trip Payne! I was all set to be disappointed that your skills were being frittered away on a Wednesday puzzle instead of used to craft a challenging themeless puzzle later in the week. And then the puzzle turned out to be mighty easy for a midweek puzzle, which should also be disappointing. But your theme was so much fun—academic degrees as initials—I had to forgive you. The highlight was "Ph.D. in Communications?" for PHIL DONAHUE. (Was that the theme's seed?)

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle this week just might be the first to include CRUNK, "stoned and inebriated, slangily." The word appears to combine the "c" from "chronic" with the "runk" from "drunk." Crunk isn't just a slang word, though—it's also a genre of Dirty South rap. Three 6 Mafia, who won an Oscar for the pimp-themed song they performed on the Academy Awards telecast, helped pioneer crunk.

In Kelsey Blakley's "Double Back" puzzle in the Sun, three two-word theme entries have an extra letter plunked down after each word; e.g., "mach speed" becomes MACHO SPEEDO. The theme doesn't take up that many squares, but there's some great fill criss-crossing the grid—such as BBQ SAUCE, FAT ALBERT, and CRAFT FAIR (I like finely crafted objects made of glass or wood, but most of the stuff I've seen at those fairs makes me call them "crap fairs").

Tausig 5:45
NYS 4:44
LAT 3:31
CS 3:23
NYT 2:58


Son of the Contest Puzzle

Remember that wickedly hard diagramless puzzle by Craig Kasper? It's been a week (and a day), and the contest results are in. Byron Walden was the first to finish this beast of a puzzle. Stephen Williams was the second to accomplish that feat. And the third...well, let's just say that if anyone else managed to crack this puzzle, they didn't tell me about it.

Those of you who gave up, take heart. Craig made an Across Lite version that you can download here. It has the black squares in place! Some of the white squares are numbered! All the clues are numbered! You still have to figure out the answers yourself (unless you ask Across Lite to reveal them). Then you can peruse the completed grid, looking for that hidden fictional character; change one letter in that name to a B, and unscramble it to find a related word (hint: it's not STARBUCK).



"Intellectual athletes"

The Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee is moving to prime-time network TV, with the final portion airing on ABC this Thursday evening. Wait, if ESPN2 has lost the Spelling Bee broadcast, does that mean they have room for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament finals next March? Just a thought.

In an LA Times article about the Bee, ABC exec Andrea Wong says of the contestants, "They're all incredibly likable kids that you're rooting for. These aren't nerds; they are intellectual athletes."

Intellectual athletes. That's an apt description of the Stamford set, isn't it? Definitely zippier than "word nerds." I vote for a full-scale switch to the new terminology.


May 29, 2006


Early-week favorite Lynn Lempel has put out another good puzzle in the Sun ("You Can Say That Again!"), but it didn't feel very early-weekish to me. It didn't help matters that one of the theme entries played on a term I wasn't familiar with: RIGHT BOWER is, apparently, the jack of the trump suit in euchre. This puzzle also made me sneeze within a minute of filling in ACHOO. Nice to see expressionist painter EMIL Nolde (click this link to see some of his work). Great fill (OFF DAYS, TORA BORA, FARM TEAMS, MUG SHOT, QUEEN BEE) and clues ("cause of some head-scratching" = LICE, "Arresting image?" = MUG SHOT), as we expect when we see Lynn's byline.

Drat! I could've shaved off about 20 seconds from Patrick Merrell's NYT if I'd actually checked the Across clue and entered I WON instead of I WIN. (Don't gloat, Ellen—I'll check the crossings at Stamford.) Anyway, I did like Pat's double-bird theme, but I liked the overall fill even better. POP ART, NIKITA, PARODY, HUBBA, PEZ, SPIKED—plenty of P's popping up peppily in Pat's puzzle.


I enjoyed the LA Times -ILLO puzzle (by Rich Norris's alter ego "Lila Cherry"). I never knew who Chicago's Petrillo Bandshell (site of the Chicago Blues Festival) was named after, but it's "1940s-1950s American Federation of Musicians president James" PETRILLO.

Yes, I enjoyed that crossword, but I loved Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle. The theme's nothing special, really, but the fill is fantastic. If you normally skip the CrosSynergy puzzle, download this one and enjoy.

NYS 4:58
CS 3:28
NYT 3:19
LAT 2:52
Newsday 2:25
Tausig tba


May 28, 2006

Memorial Day

I liked the utterly inarticulate theme in Alex Boisvert's Monday NYT. WELL, ANYWAY, this puzzle is LIKE, YOU KNOW, pretty easy. I MEAN, COME ON, it's a Monday crossword, so it's supposed to be approachable. OR WHATEVER. In keeping with the colloquial theme, the fill includes DWEEB, LECH, and DUH. Following on the heels of yesterday's "ejaculate," 3 letters starting with C, it should be noted that SCREW is drily clued, "fastener that's twisted in."


In Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle, "Messing Around," there are two corner blocks of 9-letter words—that's fancy puzzlin' for a Monday.

NYT 3:08
LAT 3:00
CS 2:59
(No NY Sun puzzle on a holiday)


May 27, 2006

Site statistics

Of the last 4,000 visitors to Diary of a Crossword Fiend this week, almost half dropped by as a result of various queries to search engines. What were these folks looking for? Most often, the answers to that ultra-obscure "ancient Turkish dynasty founder" clue (SELJUK) and the clever "Obstructor of congress?" clue (CELIBACY) from Patrick Berry's Mother's Day puzzle, as well as a Saturday puzzle Patrick did last month (who played the jilted wife in 1939's "Intermezzo"? 'Twas EDNA BEST), and Ashish Vengsarkar's "quote" puzzle from last Sunday. The raw numbers on the first page (below) are misleading because they don't incorporate, say, the dozens of differently worded queries about that jilted wife. But the relative ranking gives a rough picture.

I like having this snapshot into what draws people here. The most obscure things tend to bring fewer hits than the most devious clues, presumably because the more twisted a clue is, the more Google-proof it is (unless there happens to be a website in which such clues are discussed). There's a rush of Googling right when the puzzles first come out and for a day or two afterwards; then, six weeks later, the bizarro crowd gets the NYT puzzles in syndication, and a segment of the population suddenly needs to know who was in "Intermezzo."


Sunny Sunday

Timothy Powell makes his Sunday NYT debut with "Reverse Effects," in which phrases are reversed, and the last word that becomes the first word gets pronounced differently (mostly—DISCOUNT as a verb may be pronounced the same as the noun form, or with an emphasis on the second syllable). My favorite themer was SAKE FOR OLD TIMES ("Drink at a Kyoto reunion?"). The best clue was "it runs down the leg" for INSEAM (not INSECT), but I also liked "common aspiration" for AITCH, "made multiple" for PLURALIZED, "certain Arab" for DAPPLE (the linked illustration is a dapple-grey figurine of a Shire horse—remember when SHIRE and SPODE crossed and some people cried foul?), "Construction financed by a hedge fund?" for MAZE, and "Donald Duck, e.g." for DRAKE. Interesting fill, including X FACTOR, CRUX, HOTTIE, DESPOND (part of the sad mini-theme story, with AMISS, I LOSE, LAMENTABLE, and CRY), PROVERB, and DRIP FEED.


Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle is one of those rare quote puzzles that I actually like. Today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle by Martin Ashwood-Smith features two triple-stacks of 15-letter entries.

NYT 9:27
WaPo 8:28
LAT 7:53
LA Weekly 7:05
Newsday 6:25
CS 3:55


May 26, 2006


In the NYT forum, Will Shortz said, "Some nice puzzles are coming up next week, including a Patrick (guess which one), a Trip, and a Brendan." Okay, I'll guess Patrick Merrell, though I won't be disappointed if it turns out to be Berry, Blindauer, or Jordan. After Trip Payne's delicious Friday Sun, I'm looking forward to another of his puzzles. And I always enjoy Brendan Quigley's puzzles. Which day do we allocate to each of them? I'm guessing Trip = Friday, BEQ = Saturday, and Pat M. = Thursday or Sunday...but I could be completely wrong.

Sliding back to the present week, Will Nediger (who's one of those young whippersnapper constructors, I believe) provides the ZIPPY Saturday NYT. It's good and Scrabbly (four J's, three Z's—one of them descriptively joining ZETAS and ZED, three V's, two X's, and a K). I started out with ISABELLA ("sponsor of a historic expedition") and YEAST ("common catalyst"), and the answers flowed from there. Apparently, I know things I didn't know I knew, such as that PUNJAB means "five rivers," and that MIRO is the "ceramic muralist for the Unesco building in Paris" (the sun and moon walls)> I learned that a BEL ESPRIT is a "très witty person," and the JACKFISH, or northern pike, apparently is good with lemon butter. Clever clues abound: "Sticks in the supermarket," fortunately, is not oleo but CELERY. "Lightweight boxer?" is PUPPY. "Exchanged notes?" is MONEY. Another one of the Z words, LAMAZE, aptly intersects with MAMA. Well done, Will(s)!


Well, I just did the other three Saturday puzzles I usually do—the Newsday Saturday Stumper (Daniel Stark), the LA Times themeless (Robert Wolfe), and a themed CrosSynergy (Patrick Jordan). That passed 12 minutes. Periodically, people complain over at the forum that the latest puzzles were uncharacteristically hard, and they think they detect a steady trend in toughification. Alas, I see no such trend. (Crossword editors, give us harder weekend puzzles! Pretty please, with sugar on top.) At least there are puzzle books to fill the time. My two latest purchases are Puzzability's New Yorker Book of Cartoon Puzzles and Games and the New Yorker cryptics.

LAT 4:52
NYT 4:16
Newsday Sat. Stumper 3:55
CS 3:06


May 25, 2006


I was tempted to be disappointed when I saw that the Friday Sun puzzle wasn't a themeless Weekend Warrior, but rather a titled puzzle—Trip Payne's "Process of Elimination." It turns out to be a delightful puzzle with an almost-mean-but-actually-clever twist to it. It's practically a themeless crossword, but with ENGLISH ALPHABET clued as "it's entirely represented in this puzzle grid." I worked through the puzzle clockwise from the upper right, and finally ended up with a single blank square at the end of 1 Across—a letter that could be anything, but only one letter—by "Process of Elimination"—will make the puzzle a pangram, as required by that clue for ENGLISH ALPHABET. Fairly unusual fill includes PEGLEG, XANADU, OPERA HAT, SOAP SUDS, P'S AND Q'S, FIVE AM, and YELLOWCAKE. Wonderful clues, too—"it might hold a dozen rosés" is CELLAR, "Civics' courses" is LANES, "Went back on one's word?" for ERASED, "Giveaway description?" for DEAD. Merci beaucoup, Messrs. Payne and Gordon!

Mike Torch's NYT also has a 15-letter entry spanning the grid, this time GODEL ESCHER BACH. Good stuff here, too: POP TOPS, SURE BET, "Artists' stands?" for TREESCAPES, "One out?" for SLEEPER, OUT OF STEP, "Place for a pickup line?" for CAB STAND. There's even a touch of crosswordese, my favorite crosswordese word, ORT—I used it in a high-school paper about medieval dining customs, and my teacher jotted a question mark by it, as if he could not decipher what I meant (apparently he wasn't into crosswords).

(It's very hard to finish one's crossword blogging when one is also watching a couple hours of "Lost" on TiVo.)


The notepad in the Across Lite version of Merl Reagle's puzzle says, "This puzzle contains a typically offbeat quip from comedian Steven Wright (one you may have even heard), but since it took up so little space I decided to "open up" the rest of the grid and make the puzzle a bit of a challenger. So if you find yourself laughing and crying at the same time, that's why." It didn't strike me as particularly challenging (the most obscure words had easy crossers), but I liked it anyway. Lots of good fill.

Donna Levin's LA Times crossword was quite enjoyable. • In Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle, the theme entries all contain OIL. It was somewhat surprising to see ETOILE in a non-theme spot—but when one works with OIL, it's hard not to get a spatter or two. • Todd McClary's May 26 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle featured the names of sports trophies I'd never heard of; fortunately, there were no killer crossings to impede my progress. • Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy wasn't as arrid as the theme would indicate.

NYT 6:17
NYS 5:41
5/26 CHE 4:42
LAT 4:21
CS 3:37

WSJ 8:50
Reagle 7:30


May 24, 2006


Hey, everyone knows that the Wordplay website is up now, right? If you didn't, swing by and check it out.

The Sun puzzle, "The Gravity of the Situation," is a quip puzzle from Patrick Jordan. Best clue: "Bad way to go?" for POSTAL (for the record, my mail carrier is sweet and dependable). Good fill: PONIED UP, AFFRAY (plus MELEE), STEPFATHER, LEBANON. Then there's the pairing of "a caddie might hold it" = TEE and "a caddy might hold it" = TEA.

Okay, I'm not excited about Gilbert Ludwig's theme in the NYT. I liked the puzzle, the clues were appropriately Thursdayish, there's some good fill (DEEPFRY, PARADOX, RUBIK rather than Ernö, NO MESS, THE RULES). But the theme—near as I can figure, it's synonyms for wee rivers included in longer phrases. I just looked up RUN (from RUN OF THE MILL); noun definition #17 is "Eastern Lower Northern U.S. See creek (sense 1)." Which states make up the Eastern Lower North? Then there's BATTLE CREEK and STREAM LINER, fair enough. Then there's FRANCIS CRICK, crick being and "Upper Northern & Western U.S." variant on "creek." Two regional terms? Hmph. I've got half a mind to throw GYM SHOES, TENNIS SHOES, SNEAKERS, and TRAINERS into a puzzle.


Patrick Blindauer's LA Times puzzle includes a "1 Diagonal" clue in the notepad in addition to 1 Across and 1 Down. That 15-letter diagonal theme entry crosses three other theme entries, and there are two more theme entries in the grid. Finely wrought, Patrick.

NYS 4:28
NYT 4:17
LAT 3:37
CS 3:00


May 23, 2006


I thought Craig Kasper's contest puzzle was fiendishly difficult! The fact that only one person (Byron Walden) has submitted the answer a day and half into the contest confirms that it was indeed a bear of a puzzle. If you're making headway, don't give up. You can do it! (Maybe.)

Ben Tausig's "Damaged Goods" puzzle serves a menu of foods that sound injured, such as PULLED PORK and BRUISED BANANA. I learned of the existence of the ELO rating system in chess, and the word FRIBBLE. Good clues: "Oxford, e.g." for HMO, "Seattle sound" for PUGET (GRUNGE wouldn't fit), "player with gigs" for IPOD, and "Union agreements?" for PRENUPS. The fill also includes SKITTLE, ONE IOTA, GIVE A DAMN, and PIRANHA.

Alan Olschwang's Sun puzzle, "For Openers," sprinkles five KEY rebus squares throughout the grid, yielding entries like DO THE HO[KEY] PO[KEY, MON[KEY]POD, and HAW[KEY]E PIERCE. Good fill throughout, too—ATOMIC MASS, JPEGS, BOATLOADS.

Just as last weekend's Henry Hook puzzle happened to include HOOK, the Wednesday NYT by Adam Perl includes ADAM at 1 Across. The theme consists of a groaner of a quip. I tumbled into the "Mauna ___" pit, combining KEA and LOA into the utterly wrong LEA; that cost me 20 or 30 seconds. Grr. Or, in keeping with the piratical theme, arrgh!

NYS 4:20
Tausig 3:58
NYT 3:54
LAT 3:44
CS 3:25


Hate mail, in Wordplay


May 22, 2006


If you had trouble finding this week's Sun puzzles, you'll want to take advantage of my friend Popeye's NYT forum post, whence you can download a zipped file of the five puzzles.

Jack McInturff's Tuesday Sun puzzle was like a really fun Monday puzzle. The theme was light and breezy; HELP ME HONDA amused me an inordinate amount; the clues were interesting...and then there was NEST EGGS, which will bring a smile to the face of anyone who's seen Lost in America. (In the movie, Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty opt out of routine and take to the road. She blows their nest egg in a casino, and he takes umbrage at that. He rants that she must never use the words "nest" and "egg" again: "From now on, birds live in round sticks—and we have things over easy with toast!")

Alan Arbesfeld's NYT pays tribute to HENRIK IBSEN on the centennial of his death, with a whopping 69 theme squares (I'm not counting 27 Across's THE, since the clue for 39 Across could easily have included "With 'The'" and since the word also appears in THE DOLL HOUSE—that section could have included TOE and ADORNS crossing ONER). With BIG MAC, OLD LADY, KLATSCH, and the combination of ATTILA and HON, I liked this fill. I wasn't familiar with the "ornamental plant with fernlike foliage"; the SILK TREE is also known as the mimosa or silky acacia.

The Monday Sun puzzle, "The Name Rings a B*ll," is a 15x16 by Andrea Carla Michaels. It contains MIMOSA, oddly enough clued as "brunch drink" rather than "silk tree." Good fill, such as OSCAR NODS, MR BILL, and HELLCAT. (Hellcat's a much fresher word than "bitch," isn't it? I'm totally gonna start using that.)


I didn't look at the byline or title before I started today's CrosSynergy puzzle, but I enjoyed it a lot. No wonder—turns out it's by Harvey Estes, whose cluing style hits the sweet spot where my brain meets my funny bone.

I confess I'm not clear on the theme in Gail Grabowski's LA Times puzzle: SIXTEEN TONS, SCRAP HEAPS, PARKING LOTS, and TRUCKLOADS. Best I can figure, everything's sort of truck-related. What am I missing here?

Mon NYS 3:40
NYT 3:37
CS 3:35
Tues NYS 3:08
LAT 2:57
Tausig tba


Crossword Fiend contest!

UPDATE: You've still got until Memorial Day to submit your solution for the random drawing, but first prize—two books plus bragging rights—was claimed by Byron Walden late Tuesday afternoon.

The Puzzle: Craig Kasper has created a fiendish diagramless crossword, "Opposites Attract," that will yield a single-word final answer. The format's a little different from the usual, given the puzzle's diagonal symmetry and (except for 1 Across and 1 Down) unnumbered clues. Also, many of the clues are Google-resistant, so good luck!

The Prizes: The first person to submit the correct answer by e-mail will win two books: (1) The Mind-Challenge Puzzle Book, which is four puzzle books in one (variety puzzles by Henry Hook; airline-magazine crosswords edited by Hex; "paint by numbers" puzzles; and lateral-thinking puzzles). (2) Harvey Estes' new book, Crosswords for a Rainy Day

To motivate you to keep going even when you're convinced someone else must have won by now, I'll also send a copy of the NYT X-Treme X-Words book to two randomly selected contest entrants who submit the correct answer within seven days.

How To Play: Grab a blank 15x15 grid (I like the 20x27 graph paper you can download here). Read Craig's instructions, wrestle your way through the tough clues, fill in that grid, crack the code, and e-mail your one-word answer to me (orangecru-blog [at] yahoo [dot] com).


Opposites Attract, by Craig Kasper

This is a diagramless 15x15 crossword puzzle with diagonal symmetry. (That is, if you were to fold the diagram along one of its diagonals, all of the black squares would line up with other black squares.)

In this diagramless, every across answer has been paired up with its symmetrically opposite down answer (the down answer that would be in the same position as the across answer if the grid was flipped along the diagonal) before cluing. These pairs of clues have been sorted by answer length in ascending order (shortest to longest) and are presented below. As a starting hint, 1 Across and 1 Down are so noted.

Solvers who complete the crossword will discover that a well-known fictional character can be found in the diagram word-search style. Change one of the letters in the character's name to a B, then anagram it to an appropriate single-word final answer. This is the answer you must send to Orange.

A: The 20th, say: abbr.
D: Bruce's "Skating With Celebrities" partner

A: Small club, say
D: Former fort near Monterey

A: "Star Wars" plan
D: News org. owned by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church

A: Highly suitable for service
D: Comedian and PGA tournament namesake Bob

A: Set askew: abbr.
D: School founded in 1440

A: Oft-padlocked piece of hardware
D: Pat-___ (Christmas carol lyric)

A: Native of Richmond, Virginia, who won at Wimbledon
D: Native of western New York

A: Chick that emerges yearly around Easter
D: Gun for a pink slip, perhaps

A: Underoos components
D: Hoss's outfit?

A: Teeming
D: Critical quantity of sorts

A: Flex-time, for one
D: Peak figures?: Abbr.

A: Lefty with a green jacket
D: Facility

1A: Knotted, or knotted up
D: Cause to suffer

A: You, in the Yucatán
D: Aries and Taurus, for two

A: Lucy Liu role in a 2002 cinematic bomb
D: Carapace

A: Olympic qualifiers, often: abbr.
D: Leary of "Ice Age" and "A Bug's Life"

A: Bake-off recipe, e.g.
D: Pitcher who was a World Series winner with New York and Toronto

A: Bob or Doug McKenzie's epithet
D: Adrien of cosmetics

A: Org. with the magazine Playback
D: Nest on a tor, say

A: Batter in the face
D: Moon of Saturn named after an Amazon

A: Complain under one's breath
D: According to Yogi Berra, like 90 percent of baseball, purportedly

A: Lie low for a while
D: Previously, poetically

A: Disenchanting
D: Enchanting

A: "Yes ___"
D: Sycophant, often

A: They're prepared for Pesach
D: Certain lyric poems

A: Headwear that's somewhat habit-forming?
D: With "out," slowed to a trickle

A: Bitter in a bottle, perhaps
D: Tactical ploy notably associated with the O.J. trial

A: Offer after a checkmate, say
D: Leviathans, biblically

A: Heiress who was more than 70 years younger than her husband
D: "I can't make heads or tails of that"

A: "Don't try any monkey business"
D: Got involved

A: They're given to willing recipients
1D: Clean up, businesswise?


May 21, 2006


Edgar Fontaine's Monday NYT puzzle intentionally violates the strictures on using the same word more than once in a grid, with two theme entries starting with NEW and two ending with YORK. Both pairs of theme entries are crossed by a vertical IT'S A HELLUVA TOWN down the center. Am I the only one who read DUKE OF YORK and got "Duke of Earl" implanted in my mind's ear?

Monday at noon Central time, I plan to post the Crossword Fiend contest puzzle by Craig Kasper. So bring your thinking cap and get ready for a challenge. There'll be a prize for the first correct answer (alas, it's not a lifetime annuity), as well as smaller prizes for two randomly selected finishers, so give it a whirl!

LAT 3:06
NYT 3:05 (in Across Lite)
CS 3:05
Newsday 2:35
NYS tba


May 20, 2006


Ashish Vengsarkar, who gave us the "Begone" puzzle a couple months ago, goes a different route with "Spellbound" in this Sunday's NYT. It seems inspired to base an entire Sunday-sized theme on literal clues: "start of quote" signals the first letter of the word "quote," which is Q, which sounds like queue, which is a BRITISH WAITING LINE. "Part 2 of quote" is U/you, SECOND PERSON SINGULAR; part 3, O, OPRAH WINFREY'S MAGAZINE; part 4, T/tea, DRINK WITH JAM AND BREAD; the end is E/e-, WORLD WIDE WEB PREFIX (as in eBay). I don't know whether the constructor noticed it, but I liked the family of Indian words—SARIS, RANEE, ASHRAM, BENGALI, SONIA Gandhi. (By my count, India beats Star Wars, 5–2.) I do want to dispute the clue for AFROS, "bushes rarely seen nowadays." Perhaps afros are less common today than they were 35 years ago, but I daresay they're much more popular now than 10 years ago. Case in point: Ben Wallace.


Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Elementary," has a great theme. (And if the theme's been done before by others, I'll bet I would have enjoyed those puzzles, too.)

I don't quite get why Lynn Lempel's Washington Post puzzle is called "Box Office Losers," as some of the names are not associated with the movies. Maybe I'm missing something here. Explanation, anyone? But I like Lynn's (or Fred Piscop's?) cluing style—"Tree hugger?" is VINE, "it's driven" is SCREW, "D.C. station" is CSPAN, "Grease, of sorts" is PAYOLA. The clues are just oblique enough to make the puzzle a bit more challenging and a lot more enjoyable.

NYT 10:18
WaPo 10:03
LA Weekly 8:25
LAT 7:34
CS 4:16


May 19, 2006

An axolotl for Saturday

It appears that Bob Klahn hasn't published a Saturday NYT for three years. A Sunday puzzle last month, and plenty of CrosSynergy Sunday Challenges, but no chewy Saturdays for years? That must be remedied by more Saturday Klahns, that's all there is to it. VA VA VOOM! This puzzle's SOCKO! It taught me about ALAN LOMAX, the "folk music scholar who helped popularize Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters." I hadn't known the peridot was a form of OLIVINE. And I don't think I knew that ODE TO JOY was the official anthem of the European Union. The ISBN number given as an example in the clue belongs to the OED. No wonder the creator of Popeye, E.C. SEGAR, uses his initials; E.C. stands for Elzie Crisler. The clues were were good and tricky, which I applaud. And Klahn worked in some great entries, such as EITHER OR, JACKKNIFE, JOCOSE, JAVA MAN, the crazy-looking AXOLOTL (the salamander itself looks far weirder than its name), and MARE'S NEST.


You know, AXOLOTL gets zero hits in the Cruciverb database, but I could've sworn the word's appeared in the NYT or Sun crossword. Cruciverb shows one hit for AXOLOTLS, in a Stan Newman Newsday puzzle from 2000, but I'm pretty sure I haven't done any Newsday puzzles from back then. Does anyone else remember seeing the word (or using it in one of your puzzles)?

Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper and Lynn Lempel's LA Times themeless are twins—both contain PSST, CROC, and a clue or entry pertaining to blogging.

NYT 7:42
LAT 5:17
Newsday 5:12
CS 3:30


May 18, 2006

Berry Friday

It's a veritable Patrick Berry extravaganza! He had the Wall Street Journal and Sunday NYT venues last weekend, and constructed both the Friday NYT and Sun crosswords. How 'bout that Sun puzzle? "This & That" was a doozy. Six pairs of rebused opposites (YES/NO, IN/OUT, TO/FRO, ONE/ALL, OFF/ON, HEM/HAW—except the last pair aren't opposites, hence the puzzle's broader title) kept me guessing, as did all the non-rebus portions of the puzzle. I printed out the finished puzzle and circled my favorite clues—and there were at least a dozen. Some amused me (like the lyric for the Weird Al Yankovic song, EAT IT). Some stymied me ("single-named 1950s TV star" is DAGMAR—check out her third husband's name in that link; "tarlatan garment" is TUTU; "RCA executive known as 'The General'" is SARNOFF, "baroque suite finishers" is GIGUES, and the first name of "mathematician Mandelbrot" is BENOIT—he's the fractals guy). And some simultaneously amused and stymied ("well-placed thing" is PAIL, "Activity that involves seeing people?" is POKER, "crib sheet user" is TOT, "Half-man of science?" is MR SPOCK, and "thick smoke" is CIGAR). Figuring out which pair of opposites might appear in this puzzle, and where they'd show up within each entry—that took a while. Thanks for a wonderful and challenging crossword, Patrick and Peter.

Solving Patrick's themeless puzzle in the Times was a much more straightforward venture and seemed of about average difficulty for a Friday NYT. The highlights are HANKY-PANKY, POLLIWOG, and PILLBUGS (roly-polies!) A fairly low word count and black-squares count yield delicious wide-open spaces—always a good thing in capable hands. [Hey, I went to college with a SARAH (22 Across) BING (21 Across)...]

The May 19 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle is from Jack McInturff, who piles on the philosopher puns in "Wise Guys." I'm glad the CHE crosswords are available to us via Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page—the brainy themes are the sort that seldom get published in the daily newspapers.


Harvey Estes constructed today's Wall Street Journal puzzle ("Big Deel"), and Merl Reagle goes Dada in his "Something in Common" puzzle. Neither puzzle is particularly hard, but they're both fun.

NYS 16:55
5/19 CHE 5:41
LAT 4:42
NYT 4:26
Newsday 3:36
CS 3:36

WSJ 7:42
Reagle 7:23


May 17, 2006


It feels like it's been a few weeks since the Thursday NYT was a rebus puzzle. This week, it's Peter A. Collins (who treated us to the RAD[IOWA]VES puzzle a couple weeks ago) with a Beatles-themed rebus. Tough to muscle through the first corner, with entries like PIG LOT and POST UP sharing a wide-open space with a rebus entry. Further upping the challenge, four of the six rebus squares (which spell out LOVE, ME, DO and LET, IT, BE) aren't in symmetrical locations, and there are two bonus thematic bits without symmetrical partners (GEORGE Harrison and Lovely R[IT]A). The theme entries are LOVE [LOVE] LOVE, DRUM[ME]R, BR[IT]ISH, TIT[LE T]RACK, TEEN I[DO]LS, and THE [BE]ATLES.

Trip Payne's Themeless Thursday Sun puzzle is as breezy as being naked on the beach (not that I know anything about that)—you start with TOPLESS BEACHES, make them BOTTOMLESS (PIT), and add some SKIN (DOCTOR), the MOONERS proudly showing their bums, and a fair MAIDEN (NAME), all in the OPEN AIR...with BATGIRL and a STONER rounding out the beach party. Wait, scratch that last one; the WEED-B-GON negates his PRIMO stuff. I don't know how many of these entries Trip intended to tie together, but they heightened the entertainment level of the crossword. Thanks for an excellent puzzle, Trip. (But it wasn't difficult enough for my taste—c'mon, Peter, make 'em harder!)


Over in the NYT forum, this puzzle was posted. It's by Peter Abide and Patrick Blindauer, and it's called "Man of Mystery." Tough clues—it took me about 7 minutes to fill the grid. Then I spent a few more minutes figuring out the hidden answer (which I won't spoil here). Clever puzzle, guys!

NYS 5:30
NYT 5:09
CS 3:49
LAT 3:31


May 16, 2006


Patrick Blindauer is like that Visa commercial: "Visa. It's everywhere you want to be." Wasn't it just last week Patrick had the NYT and Sun puzzles on the same day? And here he is again, filling the NYT puzzle with a recipe for MILD SALSA. I love PETARD, BUTT IN, and POMADED. I don't know about CUBED TOMATO, though; I dice them, but I suppose cubing's another way to go.

In Gary Steinmehl's "Add It Up," IT is added upwards—in other words, TI is added to down entries, except that three of the five theme entries add it next to an I, so technically, it could be an IT or a TI that's added. Although it's not rock-solid in its consistency, the results are good: PETITE FOUNTAIN, TIRED HERRING. It's a crazy-looking grid, but it's filled with savory morsels like MR FIX-IT, TWEEZES, SOFT SELL, and SCHERZO. It also has a baseball term I'd never heard, split into two entries: EEPHUS and PITCH. Live and learn; store in memory banks; retrieve next time it shows up in a crossword puzzle. A most enjoyable puzzle, even if my brow furrowed at EEPHUS.

NYS 5:34
NYT 4:27
LAT 3:23
CS 2:42


May 15, 2006


The theme amused me in David Liben-Nowell's Sun puzzle, "Timely Recognition." Took me a while to fully grasp what they meant, though. Kudos for four 15-letter entries (as in Monday's NYT), with the middle pair of 15s glued together by seven 5-letter crossers. I liked the double duty performed by the clues, "big do"—GALA and AFRO—and "fashion magazine"—ELLE and VOGUE. I had lunch today at IHOP, the "restaurant chain that started in Toluca Lake, Calif." (I believe that factoid appears on the back of the menu.) Speaking of food, VEGAN is clued "Butter-and-egg man's antithesis?" Meat-and-potatoes man, I've heard of. Who is this butter-and-egg man, and will he please get some flour and sugar and bake me a cake?

Nancy Salomon's NYT puzzle burned me (briefly) by letting me enter WHERE'S THE FIRE as the first theme entry, when that particular phrase belonged to the third theme entry, clued exactly the same: "Officer's query to a speeder." (Harrumph.) The PERIDOT—arguably the least attractive of all the birthstones—makes an appearance here. (Personally, I'm upgrading from my own birthstone to that of my child, who had the sense to be born in the month of diamonds.) It's kinda cute to cross OOF and OOH LA LA. I'd rather change an A to an O and have BOWLER crossing OTRAS instead of BAWLER with ATRAS, though.

I just left a comment the other day at the Mackeys' Puzzle Brothers blog, saying that the people who game the NYT applet system to pretend that they're fast don't really bother me. And they don't—much. You know what they're like, spamothemag and robrot and their ilk? Gnats. Sometimes they bite, but usually you just shoo them away and forget their existence. And sometimes you get one in your eye or your mouth, and much wiping or spitting ensues. Gnats aren't pleasant, but I try to keep them outside my screen and usually manage it. Has anyone got any bug spray?


Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle, "Victimless Crime," drops a three-letter sequence from each theme entry, turning "vicious cycle" into IOUS CYCLE. One of Harvey's shticks is to lower the overall word count a bit by including longer fill—in this puzzle, there are 10 non-theme entries that are 8 letters long, which means plenty of words and phrases not often seen in early-week crosswords.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily serve up an energetic theme in their LA Times puzzle.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle, "Getting Fresh," has a fruity theme—although the raisins of RAISIN HELL aren't fresh, they're dried; but then, there's a bonus MANGO outside the theme to balance that. I like the contrast between "Mayberry's Gomer and Goober" (PYLES) and "Howard and Jeremy" (RONS). "Bought glasses on credit" is a clever clue for RAN A TAB, isn't it?

Tausig 4:04
CS 3:51
NYS 3:41
NYT 3:29
LAT 2:50


May 14, 2006

Questions for Monday

John R. Conrad's NYT puzzle is a rather ambitious construction for a Monday—four 15-letter entries spanning the grid. And the raciness trend continues. First SCUMBAG a few weeks ago; the latest Sunday puzzle mentioning "congress" (meaning 1b) in a clue, and now, blatant parading of female reproductive parts.

Two questions:

1) If you do the New York Times acrostic every other week, how long does it take you? Dean Olsher wants to know. Go leave a comment over there with your guesstimated solving time (and you might mention whether you do the acrostic in the Magazine or on printout, or if you solve online with that nifty labor-saving applet Mike Shenk created—I choose the online route).

2) Anyone have any idea what's the maximum size crossword that can be created with no black squares? I'm guessing that, with some effort, a stand-alone 15x3 stack could be created. And themeless puzzles frequently have corner sections that approximate 7x7 or 8x6 blocks, but they must connect to the rest of the grid. Could a stand-alone 8x8 be made? Or larger?

And one remark:

A while back, I said I needed a contest idea to unload a spare puzzle book or two. Craig Kasper came to the rescue with a contest puzzle that I found quite challenging. The contest is slated to launch early next week (meaning May 22 or 23). There will be multiple prizes, and the contest endgame will not involve speed-dialing. It will also not involve a hefty cash prize, but there could be an Amazon gift certificate in it for you—and the all-important bragging rights.

Better late than never:

Four minutes away from the launch of the Tuesday NYT, I've just done Randall Hartman's Monday Sun puzzle, "A-List Movies," featuring movie titles containing A as the only vowel. Eight theme entries on a Monday! Very nice. Smooth puzzle overall, plus it's got a shout-out to my distant cousin Prince WILLIAM (he's something like my 9th cousin, once removed.)

NYT 2:51
NYS 3:21
CS 3:51
LAT 2:51


Mother's Day of crosswords

A leisurely breakfast in bed was followed by a crossword puzzle marathon. Okay, so really, it was a short marathon, but it had more uphill climbs than I expected.

First up, Patrick Berry's "Traveling in Circles" in the NYT, featuring FAMOUS CROSSINGS. This encapsulates what makes good crosswords fun: You've got famous crossings from ancient and more recent history juxtaposed with the CHICKEN crossing THE ROAD. Other features of this puzzle: A brilliant clue ("Obstructor of congress?" for CELIBACY), the unusual inclusion of long non-theme fill like ONE-ARMED BANDIT (necessitated by the asymmetry of the theme entries), some tough spots (including, of course, the six unclued CROSSING pairs), and many words not commonly seen in crosswords (HAYFORK, NOODGES, and—huh? who? what?—SELJUK, "ancient Turkish dynasty founder").

Richard Silvestri's Washington Post puzzle had clues for everything, and yet it took me longer to finish it. In each theme entry, MA has been added, to good effect.

Despite my reputation for not being the most baseball-attuned person, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's "Swing Time" puzzle from LA Weekly didn't give me much trouble. Did baseball nuts need to rely on the crossings as much as I did in order to complete the six 21-letter theme entries?

If you're in the mood for an easier Sunday-sized challenge, try Gail Grabowski's LA Times syndicated puzzle, "Cagey Connections," or Fred Piscop's Newsday puzzle, featuring terms for collectors.

And, in a smaller themeless format, don't miss Bob Klahn's excellent CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge.

WaPo 12:09
NYT 10:54
LA Weekly 9:15
Newsday 7:12
LAT 7:10
CS 5:54


May 12, 2006

A Saturday in November

The puzzle says May 13, but the weather in the Midwest puts me in mind of November. It's not terrible weather for November, but for May, it's absymal.

Anyway—Brendan Emmett Quigley's style is recognizable enough that it dispenses hints. The clue for 1 Across in his Saturday NYT is "He wrote 'I have the true feeling of myself only when I am unbearably unhappy'" sounded vaguely Kafkaesque, and knowing BEQ's fondness for Scrabbly letters, it had to be FRANZ KAFKA. (Is that from one of his works of fiction? Google isn't telling me.) Here's what you see on LIME STREET, home of Lloyd's of London. I had to reread the clue just now to make sense of DOPE NANCE—oh, yeah, that's DO PENANCE ("Follow priestly orders?"). I liked "Makes the rounds?" as a clue for BARTENDS, and "gets through quickly, in a way" for SPEED READS. "Buckthorn variety" was a quick trigger for CASCARA after Robert Wolfe's puzzle had CASCARAS two weeks ago (the bark is used to make laxatives, remember?). I recall seeing BARETTA's Robert Blake in Tiger Beat magazine when I was a kid—see? It behooves the serious crossword solver to be familiar with Tiger Beat. (Tiger Beat was flip-flopped into BEAT TIGER in the Thursday NYT.)


Karen Tracey's got another themeless puzzle, this one in the LA Times. Some hard stuff ("where the D layer is" is the IONOSPHERE), some fun stuff ("they're loaded" for HEIRESSES), plenty of kickass fill (DISCO ERA, THATS A WRAP, COTE D'AZUR, TONSILLITIS).

Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper has an unusual grid—four interlocking 15s, and the center of the grid's peppered with stand-alone black squares (there are four spots along the edges with two adjoining blacks). Who constructed that puzzle about six months ago in which none of the black squares touched any other? Was it Patrick Berry, or Will Johnston?

Newsday 7-ish minutes
LAT 5:29
NYT 5:02
CS 3:52


May 11, 2006

Festive Friday

The word of the day is SAW, which shows up as a clue (for CLICHE) in David Quarfoot's NYT and an answer (to "thriller with the tagline, 'Every puzzle has its pieces'") in Patrick Berry's Sun Weekend Warrior. The English language is so well-suited to crossword puzzles because of this richness. An adage, a tool, a creepy movie, past tense of a common verb—saw is all those things.

I did the Berry puzzle right after the Quarfoot, and there was another overlap, sort of. The NYT had EDSEL, and then there was a 5-letter "infamous Ford" in the Sun puzzle—turned out to be PINTO, but I had EDSEL on the brain.

Quarfoot's puzzle contains some PAIRED entries, like OFF/CAMERA and I BEFORE E/EXCEPT AFTER C ("or when sounded as A, as in neighbor and weigh"—hey, that doesn't address either or heist), and the ABCS and RRR. I don't recall ever hearing LAMS used to mean "thrashes," but the dictionary bears that out. I like the parallel construction of FDA APPROVAL and VIP TREATMENT, REDD FOXX, and DOMO ARIGATO (which has bad-Styx-song connotations for my generation). The trickiest clue, for me, was "spoilers, at times" for NANAS.

The highlight of Berry's Weekend Warrior has got to be FAHRVERGNUGEN, which is German for driving pleasure (not to be confused with the knock-off car stickers that say Fukengrüven). The clue "20th-century Christian" for DIOR amused me. EUGLENA took me way back to high-school or junior-high biology. The flagellum! (Who remembers which protozoan was ringed with cilia?)


Quick hits: Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle has a great theme, executed better than most insert-two-letters themes; Patrick also had a nice triplet of UV RAYS, TV ADS, and OK SIGN. • Patrick Berry's May 5 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Learning by Example," is fun. • As for Ed Early's May 12 CHE ("Absolute Values"), has Lindsay LOHAN ever kept company with references to "Pagliacci," Philip Roth, Kant's philosophy, and the Volsunga saga before? • Great Wall Street Journal puzzle by Patrick Berry, "Name Brands." Of the three Berry puzzles in this post, this one's my favorite. It's a gestalt thing: good theme, good clues, good fill, all swirling together into a great crossword. • Merl Reagle's "Occupational Hazards" included the clue, "great movie for puzzle fans, The Last of ___." The answer is SHEILA, which I never saw; the movie's synopsis is here.

NYS 5:45
NYT 4:38
5/12 CHE 4:05
CS 3:51
5/5 CHE 3:42
LAT 3:40

WSJ 8:04
Reagle 7:43



I just came across a great blog post about durian, the stinky fruit that made an appearance in the May 4 NYT puzzle. The blogger, Chris Clarke, is mostly a nature writer, and his writing is beautifully evocative. If you were curious about durian, or if you've been jonesing for regular hits of nature writing, I encourage you to check out the link.


May 10, 2006

Sweet Thursday

I loved the flip-flopped magazine theme in Joe DiPietro's NYT puzzle. (I love magazines and geography, yes, but not so much geography magazines.) Clever theme, terrific assortment of non-theme fill, and hard clues. Highlights: OHMS LAW ("current rule"), THE SEMIS, BIG YUKS, SODA JERK ("float preparer, maybe), LONG O ("it appears in droves"), HAS GUTS, BUN ("dog holder"), and XFL (will there come a day when this disappears from the hive memory?). The ASO volcano is a new addition to my memory banks. In summary: a great theme is like chocolate cake, and the entries and clues you might expect to find in a wide-open themeless puzzle are like a perfect strawberry sauce (or vice versa). Yum!

Timothy Powell's Sun puzzle ("Signs of the...") throws a [TIMES] rebus into the mix six times, in symmetrical locations; and if you tilt your head (or the puzzle) 45 degrees, there's even a black-square times sign in the middle. What makes this rebus a little trickier is the fact that sometimes the S doesn't belong with the TIME, as in [TIME S]HEET and [TIME S]LOTS. Favorite clues: "Final line of a movie?" for CREDIT, and "horse source" for ARABIA. For good measure, IRA LEVIN and ED HARRIS make appearances, and there are plenty of other rock-solid entries (SIT ON IT, SARONGS, and, of course, AMYS).


The CrosSynergy and LA Times puzzles are by Ray Hamel and Elizabeth Gorski, respectively.

NYS 5:38
NYT 5:02
CS 3:54
LAT 3:23


May 09, 2006

Woden's day

Gary Steinmehl's "Yellables" puzzle in the Sun predisposes one to shouting, as the theme entries begin with words like FIRE! and STOP! I like clues that ask the solver to look beyond the meaning of the words, at the letters themselves (I group these generically in the "SILENT T" or "LONG I" class); this puzzle has ENS clued as "Nonwinning half?" I wasn't familiar with the word TEETOTUM; you might find this write-up from World Wide Words interesting. Teetotums are dreidel-like spinning tops with labeled sides. If you ever wondered how a collector might classify tops (and I'll bet you didn't), then holy crap! you should take a look at this guy's classification scheme. This topic reminds me of a great clue I just saw today in the NYT X-Treme X-Words book—in the November 30, 2002, puzzle by Jim Page, DREIDEL was clued as "place to see a nun"...

Kevan Choset's NYT TRIPLE CROWN puzzle includes the names of five horses that won the Triple Crown. I knew I'd seen at least one similar puzzle in the past—the Cruciverb database led me to Nancy Salomon's May 5, 2004, puzzle, which featured seven Triple Crown winners. The common entries were AFFIRMED, CITATION, and OMAHA; the new puzzle adds SECRETARIAT and ASSAULT, while the prior one included WAR ADMIRAL, WHIRLAWAY, SIR BARTON, and COUNT FLEET. Still waiting for his turn in the cruciverbal spotlight is Seattle Slew; Gallant Fox has appeared twice in CrosSynergy puzzles.


Those last two horses joined the other seven Triple Crown winners in Peter Gordon's 17x17 NYT diagramless puzzle on January 7, 2001 (included in Peter's latest book). Between that puzzle and the two subsequent daily puzzles, I call for a moratorium on further horse puzzles.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Way to Fly," was easy but fun. • Gene Newman's LA Times puzzle celebrates FRED ASTAIRE's 107th birthday.

NYS 4:27
NYT 3:53
LAT 3:32
CS 2:42


May 08, 2006

Tuesday is Blindauer Spaghetti Day

Patrick Blindauer garners the lion's share of attention for the day by having his byline in both the NYT and the Sun ("Throw in the Towel"). In the NYT, the theme is palindromes, and Patrick doesn't duplicate any of the theme entries in Merl Reagle's recent palindrome-palooza. All right, who else thought "Gives a hand?" was CLAPS before you entered SLAPS? Plenty of good 6-, 7-, and 8-letter fill, too (SWAHILI, PET NAME, etc.).

In Patrick's Sun puzzle, he plunks a RAG into four phrases, yielding things like FRAGILE CABINET and THE DAPPER DRAGON. Favorite clues: "Fit to serve?" for EDIBLE, and "Experts in pop psychology?" for MOMS. I think I like this theme better than the one in the NYT, but there's juicier fill in the NYT puzzle. Thanks for the double-dip, Patrick—I do enjoy your work.


Best clue in this week's Ben Tausig puzzle: "John, to Paul, George, and Ringo" = LOO!

Tausig 4:43
NYT 3:59
NYS 3:53
CS 3:25
LAT 3:11


May 07, 2006


Woo! Alan Arbesfeld doesn't include a zoo animal, but in the Sun puzzle, "Oo La La," he's got seven other two-word phrases that start with a single iteration of a [X]OO (hence no Goo Goo Dolls). Seven theme entries—that's pretty fancy puzzlin' for a Monday. Lots of Scrabbly fill, too, like ZONKS.

Good Monday puzzle by Norm Guggenbiller in the NYT. The theme entries sit BOY/GIRL/BOY/GIRL, like they're at a nice dinner, but I'm not sure what sort of conversation the VALLEY GIRL and the GOOD OLE BOY would have. CARBS, BILLFOLDS, FOGEYS, and LUSTY are nice entries...


Today's LA Times puzzle by Jack McInturff provides a lesson in the study of crossword themes. This is a good Monday puzzle (Jack McInturff's byline is generally a good sign), but let's compare this theme and Arbesfeld's theme in the Sun. This one has five theme entries ending with [X]EE words, vs. seven theme entries in the Sun. Three of them are two-word phrases, one has three words, and one has four; in the Sun puzzle, all seven have two words. In my book, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the LA Times puzzle or its theme. But the Sun puzzle by Arbesfeld goes above and beyond what I'd expect for a Monday theme, with razor-sharp consistency (if consistency can be sharp) and the inclusion of all possible candidates for the theme (at least, I couldn't think of other possibilities that fit the criteria). The LA Times puzzle might plausibly have included entries like GOLLY GEE, RUPERT JEE, ROBERT E LEE, or RIDDLE ME REE, so it's not a complete set. There had been heated discussion of Lynn Lempel's January 3 NYT, which had the COLE'S LAW/BUCK'S KIN theme I enjoyed—some people thought the theme was impaired because it had been done before and could be done many more times with fresh entries, while others (including me) opined that it matters less whether the theme uses up all possible entries and has never been done before, as long as the puzzle's well-made and entertaining. I will give props for an elegantly wrought theme like Arbesfeld's, though.

CS 3:43
NYT 3:15
NYS 3:00
LAT 2:49


May 06, 2006


I haven't gotten to the non-NYT Saturday puzzles yet (I will). I've done the Sunday NYT, but won't be showing up in the applet (temporary insanity in which I thought the applet had frozen up and so switched to Across Lite—but the applet's just fine, as it turns out). Anyway, the puzzle's by Trip Payne, and the theme hinges on Trip's Favorite Letter of the Alphabet®, Q. (Those of you have seen Wordplay should have a chuckle at that.) There were a few completely unfamiliar entries for me: the printer's measure EM QUAD, the French town of BLOIS ("King Louis XII's birthplace"), and the EPA's pollution measure, AQI (the all-important air quality index). Kudos for Trip (and/or Will) for livening up LATEX—previous NYT clues for that word have involved paint or gloves, but this puzzle has "skintight material." Other favorite clues are "con junction" for PRISON, "it's used with some frequency" for HAM RADIO, and "Reading and the like" for RRS. The theme's a fun one—the first letter of a phrase is changed to a Q, often drastically changing the pronunciation (as in Q AND A BEAR, QED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, and QUICK CENTURY—originally panda, red, and Buick). Trip, what was your initial theme phrase? I'm pulling for QBERT AND ROEPER. Or maybe QURAN DURAN. Or QUIT YOURSELF. Hey, they're all good.


Will Johnston's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge has a lot of great entries, but the clues are mostly straightforward (i.e., fairly easy). One exception: "Lines at the grocery store?" for UPCS.

I like the themes in Patrick Jordan's Washington Post puzzle, "Banned Leaders," and Robert Wolfe' LA Times puzzle, "Urban Development" (hooray for geography-based crossword themes).

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "After Taxes," takes out every last CENT. How is it that I never knew (or simply forgot) that E. E. Cummings' middle name was ESTLIN? I noticed a couple 7-letter partial entries (SKATE ON and OF TEXAS)—I know some people object, but I like the flexibility afforded by judicious departures from the so-called rules of construction.

NYT 10:54
LA Weekly 9:49
WaPo 8:14
LAT 8:42
CS 3:58


May 05, 2006


Three weeks ago, James Buell had another Saturday NYT—only it ran on a Friday. Now he's got an actual Saturday puzzle,'s nowhere near as fearsome as that previous one. Mostly I was on Buell's wavelength—except for where the answers were completely unfamiliar. There's jazz trumpeter Ziggy ELMAN, the Ohio county and town of Van WERT, and the "compound used to treat chiggers and scabies," ROTENONE. Clues I liked included "cutting-edge features" = SAWTEETH, "sounding" = DEPTH, "hit list" = TOP TEN, "it's detected by the Marsh test, in forensics" = ARSENIC (maybe I should watch more "CSI"?), "like some dads" = STAY-AT-HOME, and "Where visitors can barely relax?" = NUDIST CAMP. Nifty entries included PASTA SALAD, BACKPEDALS, RAW BAR, COKED up, READY TO EAT, BOOK EDITOR, and PRESENT DAY. Now, I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't enjoy quasi-crosswordese entries like the ever-popular SMEW (clued here as "merganser relative"). But I appreciate having a quick toehold like that in the opening corner of a puzzle—SMEW yielded SAWTEETH crossing at the W, and coaxed out ARMORPLATE and DEEPSEATED. The southwest section had APU and the ARAL Sea as quick hits, and the southeast had RONA ("first name in gossip," Rona Barrett—read the Wikipedia article for a great quote from her autobiography; turns out she's been retired from the media for 15 years and now farms lavender) and NORA ("romance novelist Roberts"). A couple easy fill-in-the-blanks (KRISS Kringle and CREME caramel) helped things along, too.

Updated, finally:

Harvey Estes' "Win Some, Lose Some" CrosSynergy puzzle has a kinda fun theme.

LAT 4:30
NYT 4:27
Newsday Saturday Stumper 17:29—but I kept dozing off because it's been a long day
CS 3:02


May 04, 2006

Order is restored to the universe

Surely there will be no carping about the Friday NYT, by Manny Nosowsky? It's themeless, so there are no theme irregularities to trouble anyone. I suppose some might complain that many of the clues require the solver to think sideways, but that's a problem with the solver, not the puzzle. Today's semi-obscure fruit is LOQUATS ("Japanese plums"); who knows what produce tomorrow will bring. I was mighty proud of myself for quickly figuring out that 15 Across, "four times what's left," was THREE SCORE (60 is 4 x 15). That entry was bracketed by two other 10s containing the letter Q (QUINTUPLET, "unexpected birth"; ROMANESQUE, "pre-Gothic style"). All the 10s in this puzzle were great, particularly A RARE BREED, SPORTS PAGE, TINKER TOYS, DIRTY JOKES, and AFTER A SORT. "Eco location" is a devious clue for ITALY. Anyone else plug in MEGA instead of SEED for "start of something big"? The trademark Manny medical entry is LIGATE (do CORPSMEN LIGATE as well as PATCH?). Another recent puzzle clued BEERY in relation to the old actor Wallace Beery; I prefer the hipper "like the bar scene" clue here. In sum, this puzzle's exactly what I'm looking for in a Friday NYT.

In the Sun, David Kahn's "Follow Directions" puzzle works you over in a circuitous fashion. There are four interlocking 15s, each clued with a word in the grid that is paired with a direction word in the grid. E.g., "NCAA hoops conference" clues BIG and EAST together, and BIG is itself the clue for TOM HANKS PICTURE. This beast (and it is a beast because so many of the clues are tough) is intricately constructed: NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, and WEST all appear in the center of the appropriate sides of the grid, and the four 3-letter words that partner with them are placed symmetrically around the center square (shout-out to Paul Lynde!) and parallel to their partner direction entries. I did three or four other David Kahn puzzles this week (in the X-treme X-words book), so it's been a delightfully challenging week.


Martin Ashwood-Smith dresses up the CrosSynergy puzzle ("Dress Code") with FATS WALLER, the SPIDER WOMAN, and SAGITTARIUS in addition to a set of clothes.

I generally dislike quip puzzles, but on occasion they do entertain me. Kudos to the Bruce Venzke/Stella Daily team for bringing these words of wisdom to my attention: "Hard work pays off in the future, but laziness pays off now." Anyone know who's credited with originating this quote?

Cathy Millhauser's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "McJobs," was fun and filled with tasty bits like ATTACK DOG and STRESS OUT. (Okay, so those particular entries don't sound fun. But the puzzle's good...)

In his "Everyday Palindromes" crossword, Merl Reagle serves up 15 delicious little palindromes. Hurrah for palindromes!

NYS 8:12
NYT 6:44
LAT 4:03
CS 2:40

WSJ 7:33
Reagle 7:06


May 03, 2006


Hey, I really liked Rob Richardson's NYT puzzle with the BEELINE/STING/QUEEN/DRONE theme. Sure, you could make a case that the worker bee's absence is a shortcoming, but it's such a lovely crossword without it. There's wonderful fill, like OXYMORON, ASIAGO, IBIZA, LOOFA (Bill O'Reilly!), STYX, delicious POBOYS, and the stinky DURIAN, in a near-pangram (only W is missing). And some good clues, like "literally, 'the gentle way'" for JUDO, "they sometimes slip" for DISKS, "head butt, e.g." for OXYMORON, and "'ain't' ain't part of it" for QUEENS ENGLISH. I liked this puzzle enough to forgive ERIA, the "suffix with ranch."

Jeffrey Harris (a.k.a. Jangler) acquits himself well with the Sun Themeless Thursday. My favorite entries included AL ROKER, THE JERK, REAL MEN, ALL GONE, and KARAOKE; good clue/entry combos were "honorable behavior"/CRICKET and "throw some back"/DO SHOTS. Nothing to grumble about here... In fact, Jangler not only doesn't strike any wrong notes, he hits all the right ones—beautiful puzzle! (Extra pop-culture bonus points for MORTY Seinfeld.)


Lynn Lempel's LA Times puzzle includes one of those entries that's more fun if you parse it wrong: SECOND GO AT A TEST could also be an escalation of anti-troll tactics by the middle Billy Goat Gruff: SECOND GOAT A-TEST.

The Chronicle of Higher Education puzzles for April and May are posted at Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page. The April ones are by Sarah Keller (literate), Richard Silvestri (pun-filled), Todd McClary (crunchy), and Joy Andrews (all about architects).

4/28 CHE 5:28
NYS 5:14
4/21 CHE 5:09
NYT 4:26
4/7 CHE 4:18
LAT 4:04
4/14 CHE 3:44
CS 3:17


May 02, 2006


You know, I'd probably be content with my solving time on Lisa Wiseman's NYT if not for the number of people faster than me on the applet. (Is this the third constructor debut in the last few days? If so, congrats to another newcomer!) Under 4 minutes for a Wednesday puzzle certainly seems respectable...unless you know for a fact that less than 3 minutes was doable. It's certainly a bright and shiny puzzle, with STROBE, GLOSSIER, SHEENS, and BRASSY. GABFEST and nutty John STOSSEL (did anyone see that "20/20" show where he reported on the availability of weight training in prisons, producing convicts who are "bigger...and scarier" than before? A pinnacle of cheesy TV journalism!) are good entries, as are the long RESURRECTS and INDENTURES. In the golf club/actor theme, though, I'm a smidgen put off by Jeremy Irons having the S already, but Elijah Wood and Minnie Driver needing to have an S tacked on to yield plural golf clubs—but while there are folks named Woods, I certainly don't know of any famous people named Drivers or Iron who could fill in here.

The theme in Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle ("Gee Whiz!") dawned on me rather slowly, but it's an elegant one—"X in Y" turning into "Xing Y," with totally different meanings for the phrases with and without the G. Did everyone else find this one to be a little tough, or am I just slacking off? Hey, with that many months before the next crossword tournament, I can afford to slack off plenty right now.


Another fine Ink Well puzzle from Ben Tausig, this one called "Pitching Artists." DR DREIDEL "Hanukkah toy endorsed by a hip-hop producer?") is perfect. "Swiss and Dijon locale" is DELI, of course, "Mach 4 target" is BEARD, "Source of rocks?" is ICEMAKER, and "palindromic speed demon" is RACECAR. Clever, no?

Good LA Times puzzle from Tibor Derencsenyi today—coincidentally, it contains GABFESTS (see above).

Easy theme in Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Set Sale."

NYS 5:51
Tausig 4:55
NYT 3:59
LAT 3:37
CS 3:18


Time out for an important cause

This Saturday, I won't be doing my usual crossword puzzles in the morning. Instead, I'll be participating in the Walk for the Whisper to raise money for ovarian cancer awareness and research.

This cause is a personal one for me, as my aunt has been fighting advanced ovarian cancer—and coping with the side effects of treatment—for over two years. Because there is no reliable way to detect ovarian cancer early (when it is more treatable), many cases have already reached an advanced stage before diagnosis. The Walk for the Whisper is raising money for the Illinois division of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, to fund research and promote awareness. So much research is still needed to find ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat ovarian cancer. For this particular type of cancer, raising awareness is as crucial as research funding—often the symptoms are vague and seem unrelated to the reproductive system.

If even a fraction of Crossword Fiend readers choose to make a small donation to sponsor me (at the linked page, fill in a donation amount and click "continue") in the Walk for the Whisper, I'll be well on my way to meeting my goal of raising $250 this week. I thank you, and the ovarian cancer community thanks you.


May 01, 2006


Ah, you know what? I waited too long to start writing a post tonight, and now I'm sleepy, so I'll make this quick. Is this an NYT debut for Peter A. Collins? I liked the embedded state names (like RAD[IOWA]VES), and the longer fill, such as MAKE A WISH and MARADONA.

The Sun puzzle by Joel Calahan (another debut?), "Creative Drive," features a tight theme, and seemed easier than most Tuesday Suns.


Did I go temporarily dim, or is Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle actually much more challenging than the typical Tuesday puzzle?

CS 5:47
NYS 3:39
NYT 3:18
Newsday 2:48
LAT 2:42
Tausig tba