June 30, 2006


Jim Page, who constructed last Sunday's NYT, visits themeless territory (TERR) for the Saturday NYT. The grid's got ample interplay between sections, promoting the solver's flow through the puzzle. The fill's a nice blend of old and new, sprinkled with foreign-language entries (such as the "old German coins" TALERS—whence we get the word dollar—and HAUS; SES, A MOI, and TROMPE). The classics lend us AMORETTO, PLEIADES, and CAESAR. From the early 20th century, the Marx Brothers are AT THE OPERA, ANAIS/NIN, and OL' MAN River. More recently, there's playwright Edward ALBEE, OPRAH, and the movie EL NORTE. For fun, throw in the Williams College team, the EPHS (named after founder Ephraim Williams), and CRAYOLA BOX. If you're curious about the "annual short-story awards" called the REAS, read this write-up.


Just back from a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo (you can't beat gibbons for sheer entertainment) and shopping near the North Side theater that's showing Wordplay. I bought the companion book across the street at Borders (where there was actually another customer scoping out crosswords—he was looking for an easy book, but was daunted by the mostly-NYT selection of books and left empty-handed) and the cashier asked if the movie was out yet. Mind you, the movie theater is directly across the street from her workplace, but she apparently doesn't read the marquee. I assured her the movie was a lot of fun.

Before the zoo, I felt like a gibbon myself while working Stan Newman's Newsday Saturday Stumper. I got stuck in the middle and finally ended up Googling to find the answer to "Sam Walton did it on Wall Street in '84." Does anyone under the age of 40 know he did the HULA? Crossing AUTOSTAT ("bucket, for one") at the U, that was a trouble spot. AutoStat is a language for statistical programming, Google tells me. The OneLook dictionary search website unearths only one definition, computer-related (the word's not in my fairly new RHUD). It took a little digging to uncover a single site that holds a possible explanation, with autostat in the URL but not in the page itself; there's a rain-gauge bucket as part of a weather station. Surely I'm not the only one whose reaction to AUTOSTAT is "Huh?" The four corners of the puzzle were challenging and well-done, but that middle kinda sucked the fun out of it for me.

Newsday 11:19
NYT 6:01
LAT 5:24
CS 3:19


June 29, 2006


If only the Cubs were playing good baseball (the Brewers beat them 5-4 this afternoon)—then second baseman Neifi Perez might get famous enough for that three-vowel first name to be used in crosswords.

Speaking of crosswords, the Friday NYT is by Manny Nosowsky. I started in the 1-Across corner, which happened to be the toughest spot in the puzzle for me. (Should've moved on faster and come back to that corner later.) Highlights galore: "fabled fliers" for CARPETS, the lovely word EQUERRY, "pillar of a community" for OBELISK, "seeks change, maybe" for BEGS, "Tut's kin?" for TSKS, MAZURKA, SAYS ME—and that's just in the top four rows. Elsewhere, there's a triple stack of 15's, crossed in the middle by a couple 11's and three 9's. Off to the left, the 15's are crossed by the partial entry TILT-A ("__-Whirl")—did you know you can buy a Tilt-a-Whirl? (It'll run you about $250,000.) And don't overlook Manny's trademark medical entries: UTERINE and DILATE the pupils. (P.S. to Dean: Would anyone still remember Virna LISI if not for her crossword-friendly name?)

Moving along to Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "Gender Bender," am I the only one who never heard of Warren Spahn's teammate Johnny SAIN? The theme entries undergo sex-change operations, switching M to F and vice versa. I couldn't find video of what a GAVOTTE looks like in dance form, but here's a cello performance.


Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword is an absolute must. I won't spoil it other than to say I thought its twist was brilliant, and I've copied the Across Lite file over to my "great puzzles" folder.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle,"Little Miss Literal," has a funny theme.

Manny Nosowsky also goes the themed route today in the Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Irregular Meals."

What are the odds of both the LA Times (Curtis Yee) and CrosSynergy (Mel Rosen) puzzles including a form of OUTYELL and USSR in the lower right section?

Oh, yeah—here's a link to a column (relevant only until next week's column appears next Friday) that I find fascinating!

And one more thing—Will Shortz will be one of Charlie Rose's guests on tonight's "Charlie Rose" show. Check your local PBS listings for the time. If you miss the show, try going to Google Video later to download the show. Schedule change: A discussion on the Supreme Court decision on Guantanamo tribunals is bumping the Will Shortz episode to Monday, July 3, owing to Charlie Rose's mercurial dedication to topicality.

NYS 5:34
NYT 4:41
6/30 CHE 6:02
LAT 4:26
CS 3:13

Reagle 8:47
WSJ 8:23


June 28, 2006


Thursday puzzles mean Thursday activities are in the offing—for me and my son, that means going to see the Cubs play the Brewers. Will the Cubs win or lose? This is immaterial. The weather forecast is for a fair amount of sunshine and beautiful temperatures, so it'll be a good ballgame by my count.

The NYT is a fantastic puzzle by Brendan Emmett Quigley. He's cropped out the letter O (CROP CIRCLES) from the theme entries, ending up with a great batch of entries (my favorite: "Smoking or drinking in a small town?" for VILLAGE VICE). Like any BEQ crossword, there are plenty of lively entries, such as HELL-BENT, SHA NA NA, QUILTS, and JULEPS. I don't know that SAID SO equates to "gave one's approval" (defense, anyone?). I wasn't hep to Transcendentalist Bronson ALCOTT, nor to the Italian "to love," AMARE. No shortage of great clues here: "Not really interested in anybody" for ASEXUAL, "Sierra Nevada, e.g." for PALE ALE, "Playboy types, briefly" for EDS (one of the better editor-related clues I've seen). Furthering the overall devious goodness, there are non-S plurals ("Ones most wanted" for A-LIST, "Sprocket parts" for TEETH), an obliquely clued plural ("Mind set?" for IDEAS), and an obliquely clued non-plural ("Letters to a mathematician" for QED).

Karen Tracey's Themeless Thursday in the Sun has just 24 black squares (66 words) in a beautiful, spiraling grid with four minimally connected sections of wide-open space. Tons of interesting 10-letter words and phrases (four sets of triple-stacked 10's crossed by another 10). And good clues. On the off chance you're reading this but haven't done the Sun puzzle yet, hop to it! You won't regret it (unless you're not up for a bit of a challenge).


Cool theme in Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Backwards Boys."

Is there a name for the type of theme used in Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle? It's got CALM embedded within each theme entry, spanning two words (e.g., MYTHICAL MONSTER).

NYT 6:07
NYS 6:39
CS 4:13
LAT 4:06


June 27, 2006


Myles Callum's NYT is a quip puzzle (meh) but has a few notable entries. There's the unknown-to-me MR TAMBO—is that a generic name for "end man in a minstrel troupe"? What's an "end man," anyway? Or is it from Babes on Broadway? Then there's HOBO BAG—they're not just for hoboes anymore.

After doing the NYT puzzle, I spent an hour and a half on the phone getting sleepy—I'll hold off on the Sun puzzle until the morning.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader crossword for the week is "That's an Order." Good puzzle, but I'm too tired to review it at the moment...


Paula Gamache's Sun crossword, "Group Hug," tacks on a hug (O) to excellent effect. SKINNY DIPSO? That's perfect. And it crosses STREAKS, the close cousin of skinny-dips. I appreciated the multilingual H2O clues (for AGUA and EAU). Another mark of this puzzle's quality is the bottom row—with QUAKE, DOMO, and PSST, Paula didn't take the easy way out (words heavy on common letters like S, E, T, R, and D) in filling the grid.

Tausig 5:44
NYS 3:50
CS 3:31
NYT 3:26
LAT 3:23


June 26, 2006


I spaced on watching PBS's "Chicago Tonight" with Patrick Creadon's guest appearance this evening; fortunately, the show is re-aired at midnight, 1:30, and 4:30 a.m, so TiVo's all set.

Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle, "Think Peace," swaps out —D OF for DOVE, changing the spelling of the word that loses the D (as in FEEL DOVE DREAMS, based on "Field of Dreams"). Good puzzle overall; my favorite clues were "You need to go when it calls" (NATURE) and "Locale of Occidental tourists"? (ASIA).

Damon Gulczynski's NYT features 80S FADS, including LEG WARMERS, JELLY SHOES, RUBIK'S CUBE, and DONKEY KONG. (Note to self: In the NYT applet, one apparently must replace a numeral with the first letter of the number's name, no matter how odd EZS FADS may look.) I like seeing a rebus twist thrown in early in the week. Having been a teen in the '80s, I enjoyed this puzzle and, alas, have personal experience with most of the theme entries.


The one-time dental editor in me smiled when I looked back at Allan Parrish's LA Times puzzle to suss out the theme. The ROOT(CELLAR) contains the PULP(FICTION) and is embedded in the GUM(WRAPPER); the ENAMEL(PAINT) covers what's beyond the root area. It would've been good to find a spot for TOOTH or DDS to tie the theme together.

NYS 4:44
CS 3:46
NYT 3:31 (I had a typo to dig out as well as having numerals in the rebus boxes—hmph!)
LAT 3:04


June 25, 2006

The music in Wordplay

If you've seen the world's finest crossword-puzzle documentary and liked the song that's playing as the credits begin to roll, download the MP3 of the Minnesota Public Radio show featuring Gary Louris, the guy from the Jayhawks who wrote and performed that song for the movie. He sings it a few minutes into the radio program.

There's also a song from the They Might Be Giants kid-oriented album, Here Come the ABCs. You can download "Can You Find It" (the song with the "Can you find the letter H" lyric) at iTunes, download the whole album at the band's site, or buy the disc.

There were a couple other songs that I'd love to be able to listen to outside of the cinema—here's hoping that they'll be available via a soundtrack CD, the DVD release later this year, iTunes, or what-have-you.



Lo! I have once again returned from seeing Wordplay. (I am almost certain that I will not see it tomorrow, however.) It was nice to see Patrick Creadon again—he came in after the movie for a Q&A. He reports that the movie's been doing well; I'll be checking for those box-office figures in the morning. Those of you in Chicago, tune into "Chicago Tonight" with Phil Ponce Monday evening to see Patrick. If you're in the Daily Herald area, check the paper during the next few days—a reporter spoke with Patrick this evening. And if you're in the Daily Southtown zone, look for something on Wordplay this Friday.

In the NYT forum, Tom Ratcliffe linked to this article in the British paper, The Independent. Best quote: "Devotees will know that the soul of a puzzle lies not in the answers but in the clues. On Monday these are straightforward. By Saturday they are monsters of opacity, ellipsis and multiple meaning." (O delicious opacity!)

I didn't pay any attention to the theme in Lynn Lempel's Sun crossword until after I finished it. Oh! That's cute. The steps to "Make the Cake" include (HALF)MEASURE, (DOWN)POUR, (OFF)BEAT, (CLAM)BAKE, and (ROBERT)FROST. Throw in fill like BEST WISHES and SHALOM and good clues, and you see why Lynn's generally my favorite Monday constructor.

I LIKED (9-Across) the NYT by Randy Sowell. With fill like CHUNNEL and GINGER ALE, it was a fizzy crossword. Did you know how many other movie titles fit the same "The Man Who..." pattern? A lot.

CS 3:32
NYS 3:26
NYT 2:51
LAT 2:40


June 24, 2006

Two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper

As Richard Roeper began to discuss Wordplay on this weekend’s Ebert & Roeper show, the still photo on the screen behind him featured Jim Jenista in his crazy crossword helmet. "Roger, I’m thinking of a five-letter word describing a digit used to vote on movies. [Roger Ebert waggles his thumb.] That’s right! Thumb! My thumb is up on this documentary, despite occasional fits of dryness and a very heavy nerd factor." ["Blank-letter word for blank" trope, check. "Nerd" trope, check.]

NYT crossword constructors and "puzzleholics" are bright and "preternaturally wonky," Roeper continues. This is illustrated with a clip of Trip Payne’s discourse on the letter Q.

"Thank goodness we also get to see celebrities" like Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart, says Roeper, because Wordplay lacks the kids of Spellbound and the "more interestingly weird" Scrabble nuts of Word Wars.

Will Shortz, says Roeper, is "a god in his field. He comes across as scary smart, very nice, but a little dull." [Oddly, the closed captions translated "a little dull" into "bald."]

"With the exception of the college kid from Indiana [Tyler Hinman, who’s shown solving on the laptop at his desk in the frat house, and who is not from Indiana], there’s not much to distinguish the contenders from one another. Still," Roeper concludes, "I’m recommending Wordplay as a sincere and comprehensive look at the inside world of hardcore crossword puzzling."

“I’m recommending it, too,” states Ebert. He goes on to praise the graphics (yay, Brian Oakes!) and the device of having "the celebrities all solving the same puzzle at the same time and all talking out loud—that’s a great sequence. And when the three finalists are on the stage," … "it’s interesting. It is an interesting and very well-made film" with a lot of visual interest.

Roeper suggests doing the ACPT finals with bowling-alley technology, displaying the finalists’ grids on a screen above.

Ebert interjects, “By the way, Will Shortz majored at Indiana University in his own custom-made subject, which was enigmatology.”

“That’s impressive,” responds Roeper.

“It is!” exclaims Ebert.



Yeah, I saw Wordplay again. This time with my six-year-old son, Ben (he liked the movie—his favorite part was Jon Stewart getting ranty), my sister and her kids, and my mom. We grabbed lunch afterwards and then parted ways. As my family went back to the Century Centre to retrieve their car, they ran into Tyler Hinman and called over to the young celebrity in their midst.

Jim Page's Sunday NYT, "Keeping Company," had nine company names contained within the theme entries (e.g., DIC[K MART]IN). Puzzlemaster Will Shortz's "NPR host" colleague accounts for two entries here: LIANE (which has been used before) and HANSEN (a new one). There was definitely some tough stuff in this puzzle. "Leaflet appendage" is a STIPEL, or a minute stipule at the base of a leaflet? Why, that's so obscure it's not even crosswordese (at least it hasn't been in recent years). The Hebrew "month after Shevat" is ADAR (take a moment to refresh your memory about Hebrew month names here). DECRIAL ("Noisy censure") is a rather old word. And who recalled that Mussolini's forces captured the capital city of TIRANA, Albania, in 1939? Plenty of interesting clues to liven things up, though—"What this clue ain't got?" is GRAMMAR, "It may be stuck in a bar" is OLIVE, "It has two jaws" is VISE, "Not fancy" is FACT, "Series of shocks" is MANE. The Shakespeare quote "Love is my SIN" is from sonnet 142.


Bob Klahn's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge killed me. Was it a matter of hard clues intersecting with hard clues, or was I just distracted? The "German house-hunting goblin" threw me; amazingly, this word's one prior appearance in the Cruciverb database is from a Tuesday NYT ("It's Tuesday, Mr. Shortz, not Saturday."). If you like themelesses, go do this one and tell me if it really is a bear.

None of the Sunday-sized puzzles fought me too hard—though Hex's LA Weekly puzzle contained a liqueur RATAFIA I'd never heard of.

NYT 8:05
LA Weekly 7:20
LAT 7:10
WaPo 7:10
Newsday 7:02

CS 9:20


June 23, 2006


Not to repeat myself, but I just got home from seeing Wordplay. Yes, I know I said the same thing last night. But hey, it's so lovely to see it on the big screen, and I actually picked up a couple lines I'd missed the previous four times.

Harvey Estes' NYT is a winner in my book. ORANGE TREE ("Neroli oil source") together with COCOA BEANS. in a beautiful grid with four-way symmetry (what's the term for this type of symmetry?). Alas, I didn't finish the puzzle as quickly as I'd have liked (grumble), which I attribute to the fact that the room was quiet when I began but not midway through solving (everyone who attends the ACPT in Stamford, let me just say thanks for not turning the TV on loud during the competition). ANTA, clued as "'Man of La Mancha' org.," is the American National Theatre and Academy. Did you know AGENTRY was a word? My favorite clues were "Was charming?" for CAST A SPELL, "Things that may wind down" for STAIRCASES, and "Accounts of aliens, e.g." for SCI FI. Often, the clues that keep me guessing the longest are the ones I remember and admire the most. The ANNABEL LEE clue, "A wind chilled and killed her, in verse," refers to this stanza of Poe's poem: The angels, not half so happy in Heaven, / Went envying her and me:— / Yes! that was the reason (as all men know, / In this kingdom by the sea) / That the wind came out of a cloud, chilling / And killing my Annabel Lee. Now, there are no Scrabbly letters like Z, Q, X, and J here, but I don't mind ceding those for a puzzle with 16 9- and 10-letter entries.


What's the best-reviewed movie of the year?

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle is a pangram.

NYT 7:19
LAT 5:14
Newsday 4:40
CS 2:59


Words that would be near extinction if not for crosswords

Dean Olsher's got a new contest. This time it's Words and Names That Would Otherwise Be Long Forgotten Were It Not for the Crossword Puzzle.

"I realize there was time when people read novels by Leon Uris, but I think we can all agree that ARI's crossword fame has long outlived any name recognition in the real world. And I suppose spoon bender URI Geller still crops up in the news from time to time, but I would argue his notoriety within the grid is disproportionate to what he deserves," Dean writes. "So send 'em in: as many words as you can think of in this category. Extra points if you have an interesting (and true) story to tell."

Head over to Dean's blog and leave your list/write-up in the comments. The deadline's next Thursday, June 29, and there's a prize (a puzzle book) for the best entry. I'm still contemplating my own contribution...


More clips

I won't try to highlight all the published reviews of Wordplay here, but I'll share a few links.

A 3-star review from the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. A couple interesting Shortz-centric remarks.

Roger Ebert's 3-star review from the Chicago Sun-Times: "To be a crossword champion, you have to be incredibly intelligent; be capable of intuitive, lateral thinking; know everything, and focus your knowledge into a narrow and ultimately meaningless pursuit. Yes, that makes you an obsessive eccentric, but they're really the only interesting people left, don't you sometimes think?" I'll accept the interesting label, but no thanks on "obsessive eccentric." Ebert's got a few factual errors in the review (no! not Ebert!)

For more reviews, check the Rotten Tomatoes list of reviews (and summaries) by date.


Lee Glickstein tipped us off to metacritic.com, a site that assigns numerical scores to movie reviews (e.g., 3 stars out of 4 = a 75). The average "metascore" for Wordplay is 72, which jibes with the 3-star reviews I've seen. There are links to the reviews, including Rolling Stone (reviewer's rating, 3 stars; average user rating, 3½ stars) and the New York Post (the critic has never finished a crossword but found the movie engaging).


June 22, 2006


I just got home from the word-of-mouth sneak preview of Wordplay. Brief recap: I like the new graphics that help the viewer follow the ACPT scores and rankings. The crowd seemed to enjoy the movie, and only a few people left before the Q&A. Vic emceed the Q&A, and he and Tyler handled most of the questions. Patrick Creadon's brother Michael (associate producer of Wordplay, a.k.a. financier) and I joined them and also answered a few questions. (This part was awesome, because the audience included my husband, cousin, aunt, and neighbor—who I trust are all suitably impressed with my "also featured" status in motion pictures.) Best of all, the parts of the film where I came off the dorkiest were trimmed, thereby lowering my dork quotient. Anyway, it was good to see Tyler and Vic, as well as NYT Cru regulars Marty Howard and Popeye Minarcik. And it was great to be able to see the movie by taking a quick bus ride through the Lakeview neighborhood, rather than flying to Utah or Connecticut!

I returned home to the applet and saw that the time to beat was Bob Mackey's 6:40. (Saw you briefly in the movie, Robair.) The NYT was one o' those triple triple-stacks that look so hard to construct, but are much less formidable from a solving standpoint. This might be my favorite Bruce Venzke/Stella Daily collaboration. It's not so tough, but the nine 15-letter phrases were a lively batch—everything from OLD WHAT'S-HER-NAME to SADOMASOCHISTIC. (Is it PC to call the BDSM crowd "Deviant, in a way," though?) The short crossers weren't as special, but they generally won't be in a construction like this. There were some zippy Downs, though, such as SKEETER and GRANOLA ("It's available in bars")

Patrick Berry's Weekend Warrior in the Sun ties in with the NYT: the Marquis DE SADE sits at the bottom of the puzzle. Great words in this one—I ought to work ACCURST and URSINE into my conversation and writing more often. TOUCAN SAM of Froot Loops fame was always one of my favorite childhood cereal-box celebrities. Tons of tricky clues, like "Removable locks" for TOUPEE, and "Stud poker's elicitations" for WHINNIES (I don't want to know who's poking the horse and why—I'm just glad the clue didn't turn out to require knowledge of card games). I looked up a few unfamiliar terms: PORTIERE (clued as "curtain in a doorway," these are tall, skinny tapestries), PANDARUS (the linked sources says, "In the medieval romance of Troilus and Cressida, Pandarus is the name of the lascivious intermediary between the lovers. The word pander is derived from the latter story."), DRUMFIRE (sort of a blend between gunfire and drumbeat), and the Latin phrase in OMNIA paratus ("ready for anything").


The theme in Kathleen Fay O'Brien's LA Times puzzle is that six of the 24 7-letter entries are pronounced one letter at a time, as in BMOC GPA. Sort of a Sun Wacky Weekend Warrior vibe to it (though the rest of the entries are straightforward).

Military history's not my thing, but this week's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Michael Ashley is erudite and fun.

Merl Reagle's "Word Division" has quasi-cryptic theme clues and answers. I finished the puzzle, but I'm having trouble parsing most of the theme clues. For example, "Only men like Al can land in foulness and like it" is STAGNATION. "Only men" = STAG, "land" = NATION, "foulness" = STAGNATION—but where do "Al" and "like it" enter into it? "A scary woman and a writer met at Lee's cheese party" is GORGONZOLA, the cheese whose name is gorgon + Zola—but who is Lee and why is there a party? I await clarification from somebody who grasps what's going on here.

Drat! For whatever reason, the Wall Street Journal and Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle files open in Across Lite with the timer off, while the Sun, LA Times, and CrosSynergy are raring to go. I often forget to start the timer when it's off. The WSJ is "Missing Pieces," by Harvey Estes. Wonderful theme—the theme entries have one letter removed and the clues hint at both the answer and the root phrase from which a letter was removed. That doesn't sound so special by itself, but the kicker is that the 10 letters that are removed are placed, in order, in a final theme entry that aptly describes the letters.

NYS 8:14
LAT 5:53
NYT 3:59
6/23 CHE 3:47
CS 3:47

Reagle 9:23
WSJ [untimed]



Here's another Wordplay-related link via the NYT forum (Tom Ratcliffe)—a Yahoo News story. Can we all agree that entertainment reporting ain't rocket science/brain surgery/the World Puzzle Championship? Why are errors so goldurned popular?

To wit: Will Shortz is "the holder of the only known Ph.D. in enigmalogy." Psst: It's enigmatology. And that's an undergraduate degree, no? And the NYT crossword's "gradual increase in difficulty [is] designed to make you feel like a superhero if you can get the Saturday one done in pen in two minutes or under." Is that so? And here I thought aiming for a sub-2:00 Monday solving time was something to shoot for. Clearly, Tyler Hinman and his ilk are mere mortals, as they're nowhere near breaking the two-minute mark on a Saturday NYT. (Also, only crossword nuts are aware that the puzzle Al Sanders tries to crack 2:00 on in the movie is a Newsday puzzle, not an NYT. And Trip's doing a puzzle in a Sterling book, I think a New York Sun collection, elsewhere in the movie.)



It's late, so this'll be brief.

Two links: Newsweek's blurb about Wordplay, and the San Francisco Chronicle article about Will Shortz.

The theme in the NYT puzzle by Christina Houlihan Kelly is phrases and words containing [POINT] (in rebus form). I liked the spoonerism clue for SPOONER, "Road tests?" for POTHOLES, and a shout-out to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (though the PRIORESS' Prologue and Tale lack bawdy fun). I'd never heard of RUSSEL Crouse; turns out he was a playwright and librettist who worked with a Howard Lindsay and named his daughter (actress Lindsay Crouse) after him. After I finished this puzzle, I noticed an additional "point" hiding within the abbreviated APPT; I imagine the appearance of both APPT and AP[POINT] in the top of the same puzzle vexes the more persnickety breed of solvers. (Please note that persnickety is not always pejorative.)


Hmm, I must be more tired than I knew. I got through the CrosSynergy puzzle just fine, but Seth Abel's Sun puzzle, "Forward-Looking Statement," took me too long (and then the LA Times took me even longer). This one did afford me the opportunity to learn about the AFL (American Football League)...

Joy Andrews' LA Times puzzle slaughtered me. Some obscure entries—AMINO GROUP, GO-AWAY BIRD (never heard of it—how about you?). And vague clues—"Blood test letters" for HDL, "Their jets don't fly" for SPAS, "Voting booth group" for PARTY SLATE. It took an inordinate amount of time to fill in the central helper entry that vaguely hinted at the theme (the long entries "contain a form of it"—is that a reasonable description of anagrams?). And then there's the entry PET CATS. Perhaps I'm just on a different wavelength with this one.

Two articles about Wordplay and crosswords were cited in the NYT forum this morning: Jim Conklin relayed this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, and Susan Hoffman mentioned the Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle this week, "Like Lines," was sent out about two days later than usual. Is it mere coincidence that his previous puzzle had a procrastination theme? This one's got a couple Chicago-centric clues, which I appreciate. I hope solvers in the New York area have to think a tad more when they see such clues—it's only fair after the rest of us have been contending with Gotham-focused clues in other puzzles.

LAT 8:05
NYS 6:10
NYT 4:11
Tausig 3:57
CS 3:30


June 21, 2006

Merl and Patrick on the radio

When you've got a spare 20 minutes or so, listen to this interview with Wordplay director Patrick Creadon and crossword constructor/roving punster Merl Reagle. They talked about the film and about crosswords on "Celluloid Dreams," a San Jose radio show about movies. The June 19 show will be posted for just one week, so don't dally. (Click the link on the right for the MP3 of the show. Merl and Patrick are in the first segment, about two or three minutes in.)

The highlights: Merl comments that crossword nuts are "sponge heads" who retain plenty of useless knowledge—were it not for crosswords, we'd have no outlet for those stores of accumulated knowledge. He likened multi-word crossword entries to "Wheel of Fortune" without the word spaces, and provided an eloquent paean to phrasal entries. He also pointed out that camaraderie isn't part of crossword solving unless you go to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament—though I'd say that this blog and other crossword-related sites offer the same thing in a virtual setting.

Patrick mentioned that crosswords are innately competitive—if you're not trying to best your loved one or a friend, you're doing battle with the puzzle itself. Subscribing to the NYT crossword service revealed to me the delicious timed applet—I'm hooked on the competition just as much as the "outlet for sponge heads" aspect. (And the camaraderie, and the entertainment inherent in word play.)

(Thanks to Byron Walden for the link.)


June 20, 2006


In the Wednesday Sun by Donna S. Levin, the couch-related punny theme entries stretched my patience. But hey, I learned a couple new things (Peter Gordon's cluing preferences do tend to make for educational crosswords). I wasn't familiar with EMIL Sitka, who has been called "the fourth Stooge." And I don't recall reading previous clues for AVILA that mentioned the walled-city aspect; there's a nice picture of it here (though the text is a little goofy—if you're not down with dowsing to find "energy beam points").

Let me ask you this: When you encounter an unfamiliar word in a crossword (or in your reading, or conversation), do you generally look it up and try to learn more about it? I do. My hunch is that this habit is shared by most of the top ACPT contenders—they generally know every word in a crossword, but on those occasions something new comes up, I imagine they make a point of learning about it and filing it in their memory banks. And among the zillions who are not Stamford stand-outs, I'll bet the ones who follow up on the unknowns tend to find their skills and solving speed improving. What's your experience?

Barry Silk's NYT features four theme entries that contain DOUBLE H. TABASCO and HUMIDOR are the most worthy fill, in my opinion. And somehow BALDISH strikes me as out of place in a crossword, even though I'm sure I've spoken the word(ish) aloud before. A OneLook search turns up only one dictionary that includes it, but I'll bet 10 or 20 years from now, it'll show up in more dictionaries. Is there a lexicographer in the house?

Have you read the NYT's Q&A with Will Shortz?

NYS 4:46
NYT 3:46
Tausig tba
CS 3:18
LAT 3:13


June 19, 2006

Wordplay again

I like to pop into the Rotten Tomatoes page for Wordplay every now and then, scoping out the latest reviews. What I hadn't noticed before was assorted stills strewn throughout the page amid the reviews. Why, look! There's that picture of Ellen (who, by the way, is an inveterate Wordplay Googler, so her LiveJournal's a great place to check for the latest) and Francis! There's Al Sanders! There's Stella in her crossword PJs, chatting with Trip (also a good source of Wordplay updates) and Tyler whilst Patrick Creadon cinematographizes. There's Jim Jenista! And there's the guy with the French-foreign-agent mustache, Will Shortz.

This weekend, when the film opens in Chicago (and about 45 other cities), I'll probably hit up fandango.com, moviefone.com, or movietickets.com to buy tickets in advance. Yes, it's highway robbery the way they charge an extra buck per ticket, but I love-love-love being able to bypass the line at the box office and walk straight to the ticket-taker with a piece of paper printed at home. If you're a fellow queue-loather and not overtly thrifty, try it out. (But not yet—as of this writing, the showtimes for June 23 and beyond aren't listed.)

Wordplay picked up a little free publicity courtesy of an NBC affiliate in San Jose/San Francisco/Oakland, which broadcast an interview with the "Crossword King" (their words!), constructor Byron Walden. See the video here.

There's a new look at the Wordplay site, and Ellen made them fix all those typos. (No more contestant "identifaction" cards—and we'll disregard the fact that the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament doesn't issue photo IDs.)



Isn't working a crossword puzzle the most relaxing thing in the world? How about when you're racing the clock (and assorted rivals) on the NYT's timed applet? How about when you have to answer the phone while in the midst of solving on the applet? Yeah, that really ups one's concentration. I don't think the theme would have eluded me so long if I hadn't lost my focus (see, this is why I don't keep my phone on at Stamford). Anyway, Steve Salmon's Tuesday NYT is chockablock with interesting entries, such as TOO OLD, LAKELAND, PAGEBOY, and SARDINES. Did anyone else try answering "___ shopper" with SMART instead of KMART?

Curtis Yee's got another well-done Sun puzzle, "Books and Letters." (That reminds me—I need to buy CDB! for my kid.) Curtis has SID CAESAR and RED DRAGON in the fill, not to mention CUSS WORD (if you Google "cussword" as one word, Google inquires, "Did you mean: crossword." Sometimes, yes!) and KAPOW.


I wonder if today's LA Times puzzle by Nancy Salomon was specially commissioned...

NYS 4:41
NYT 4:17
CS 2:47
Tues LAT 2:44
Mon LAT 2:38


By the way...

Diary of a Crossword Fiend marked its one-year anniversary last week. Let me take this opportunity to thank the regular readers who've been here since the start, the new folks who chanced upon this blog, and the random Googlers who find their way here from time to time.

Happy solving, everyone!


June 18, 2006


In Martin Eiger's Sun puzzle, "An Oldie, but a Goodie," the theme jumps all over the place, but when all is said and done, it accounts for an impressive 69 squares—or 81, if you add in the 4- and 8-letter entries that are used twice in the theme. And it wasn't strikingly Mondayish (that's one of the things I love about the Sun puzzles—they start the week out with a little more challenge than the other daily puzzles). Putting PAUL/MCCARTNEY and his song title and lyrics into a crossword the day after his birthday was cool, but tying in two other McCartney song titles to point out that his BIRTHDAY was YESTERDAY is a stroke of genius. I'm also pleased that this puzzle includes the word IBO ("Nigerian native")—I've been hoping it would make an appearance. I was talking with another mom at the playground, and it turns out that not only is she from Nigeria, but of the three main groups in Nigerian society, she happens to be IBO. Next thing you know, I'll meet someone who claims to be UTA Hagen's grandchild, or CNN will broadcast footage of an ANOA run amok.

I liked Raymond Hamel's botanical eponyms puzzle in the NYT, too. JACK IN THE PULPIT would also fit the theme, but using that 15-letter entry would have necessitated killing a pair of theme entries (or squeezing in 67 theme squares in five long entries), so forget that.


According to Entertainment Weekly's weekend box office report: In other specialty debuts, crossword doc Wordplay averaged $17,479 on each of its two screens. If the movie's opening this weekend in your city, hie thee to the cinema!

In Time magazine, Richard Corliss writes about puzzles and Wordplay. (You know someone's not faking his love for puzzles when he says he wishes Patrick Berry and Henry Hook had also been in the movie.) My favorite quote from the article was this one: Solving a crossword takes brains and patience. Solving it in a few minutes, standing on a stage filling the spaces on a large board, with hundreds of people watching, demands poise, steel nerves and a killer instinct. Indeed!

NYS 4:11
CS 3:17
NYT 2:50
LAT tba


June 17, 2006

Happy Father's Day!

Gah! I just spent almost four minutes scanning my grid before changing UNLIT to UPLIT and the "wealthy biblical land" to OPHIR. (Biblical crosswordiana is not my strong point.) Aside from that wicked little crossing, I enjoyed this Father's Day puzzle by Ben and Mark Tausig, "Dear Old Dad." Chock-full of interesting clues, though a little less irreverent than the puzzles (which I'm inordinately fond of) that Ben publishes in independent weekly papers.

Henry Hook throws a bone to fans of crosswordese geography with his LA Weekly puzzle, featuring people's names that include the names of rivers—many of them known primarily to crossword fans and potamologists.

Harvey Estes' Washington Post puzzle, "Good for What Ales Ya," does not have a beer theme, despite the title. Good stuff, even without the brewskis.

NYT 13:14
WaPo 9:43
LA Weekly 9:22
LAT 8:52
CS 3:41


Shortz/Reagle interview

Joe Cabrera posted a link to CHUD.com's interview with Will Shortz and Merl Reagle. Good interview—just pretend that it says "obi" instead of "obe," and nobody gets hurt.


All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Crossword Puzzles

Dean Olsher, who's writing a book about crossword puzzles, wants to pick your brain. Head over to his blog and tell him about the things you've learned from crosswords—trivia and facts you might not have picked up anywhere else. (The ANOA and OPAH? That Schoenberg was into ATONAL music?) Dean's offering a tempting prize (an Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon book) for the best anecdote—but even if you can't spin it into a good story, go tell Dean how crosswords have expanded the contents of your brain.


June 16, 2006


Robert Wolfe's NYT has some good Saturday clues. There's "Prepare to take off?" for UNTIE. "Terse bit of advice" is well-known to any parent: DON'T. I liked SPELT's clue, "Like L-O-N-D-O-N." Not being a fan of military history, TIN HELMET didn't come readily to mind. I hadn't encountered MANTRAP referring to, essentially, a beartrap for people rather than a seductive woman. Clearly I don't watch much basketball—I would've guessed that Mario ELIE was European or South American, but he's a native New Yorker (though he played in Europe and Argentina); I also would've thought he was a current young player rather than older and a coach. How about that "Ivy, e.g."—anyone else plug in COLLEGE instead of CREEPER? (D'oh.) I don't quite buy the plural FAIR SHAKES. Technically, I suppose any valid noun entry can be pluralized in a crossword, but this one seems wide of the mark to me.

NYT 7:16
Newsday 5:27
LAT 4:48
CS 3:28


June 15, 2006

Wordplay opens!

This Friday, Wordplay opens in New York. Rotten Tomatoes displays a 90% fresh Critics Tomatometer rating, based (at this writing) on 18 good reviews and two negative ones.

One of the (moderate) raves is from Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. Her closing paragraph:

But sexiest of all (within the species) is surely Will Shortz, the New York Times puzzle editor and NPR ''puzzlemaster'' who has been running the ACPT since its inception. Shortz's gentle manner and French-foreign-agent mustache go a long way toward making him a thinking girl's pinup nerd — and this despite the man's pitiless insistence on making the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle ''tough as a _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.''

In the New York Times, Phillip Lopate reviews the movie. I can't be sure he saw the same movie I saw; he writes, Many of the players emerge as colorfully rabid characters; others seem robotic and washed-out, obsession having the curious property of heightening some personalities, flattening others.—but I'm not sure which ones might be rabid and which ones robotic. Lopate also writes, And the documentary lapses, at times, into an overly fawning tribute to Mr. Shortz, with a tone of excessive self-congratulation and apologetic insistence that everyone is "having fun." On the contrary: finishing crossword puzzles is a serious matter. (Huh?) He continues, Whatever the documentary's flaws, the filmmakers should be saluted for giving us a rare glimpse of life in these trenches. ("Trenches"? "Serious matter"? What is this, World War I?)

Anyway, congratulations to Patrick Creadon and Christine O'Malley on officially birthing their cinematic baby, and congratulations to the stars of Wordplay, whose lives are likely to get crazier starting tomorrow. (Will, if you get tired of the fame, you can always shave off your "French-foreign-agent mustache" and go incognito.)

More links:

The Salon review, which aptly describes Ellen Ripstein as a sweet pussycat crossed with a competitive tigress.

On YouTube, someone has posted a clip of Will's Letterman appearance.

A 3 ½-star review from Newsday.

A somewhat pissy review from a FilmJerk.com critic: I have no problem with a joyous celebration of mental dexterity or any pass at rewarding intelligence, but the characters in "Wordplay" have an irritating passive-aggressive arrogance about them as they're asked to define their value in the puzzle world. (Hah!)

From The Onion's AV Club, a reasonably good review: "Wordplay" suggests what "Spellbound" might have grown up to become had it attended an Ivy League school and became an academic and NPR subscriber. The film's subjects are almost uniformly likable, self-deprecating, funny, and hyper-verbal, and their peculiar passion for crosswords and the sense of genial camaraderie among buffs proves surprisingly infectious.



Alan Olschwang's NYT is a work of art. A triple stack of 15-letter entries in the middle, two more 15's spanning the top and bottom of the grid, and a vertical 15 crossing the other five 15's. If that weren't enough, the triple stack is also joined to the other horizontal 15's by six 8- and 9-letter entries (including ORTHODOXY and BOOMERANG). Some of the 15's are great, too—particularly ON THE RAZOR'S EDGE and CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR. I have a nougat-based nit about my favorite candy bar, formerly called MARS BARS; in 2000, the American Mars Bar was renamed the Snickers Almond, and what's sold in other countries under that name equates to our Milky Way bar (no delicious almonds). I wasn't hip to DOG ROSES. HE HE is clued "Schemer's syllables"; presumably it's meant to be pronounced "heh heh," but far too many people use it in lieu of "hee hee" in online writing (I deplore it). IUD has only two appearances in the Cruciverb database, both from the NYT; I'm surprised it's not used more often. Yesterday's OXPECKER is followed up by today's SPERM whale; if only the IUD and SPERM clues had referenced each other ("It keeps 22-Across from attaining its goal").

David Liben-Nowell's Friday Sun puzzle, "Not So Sharp," knocked me down because I have no musical training beyond whacking the xylophone and triangle in grade-school music class. The presence of only three squares for the answer to "Recently" tipped me off that it was a rebus puzzle (O[F LAT]E, and eventually I figured out that all the rebus squares held [FLAT]. But I don't know the order and name of ALL THE BLACK KEYS on a piano, and the central 15 was an utter mystery to me—the something MAJOR SCALE? The crossing clues happened to be tricky, too—"Red head?" for INFRA, "Diamond trade overseer?" for SELIG, "Small note" for ONE, "Didn't carry properly, perhaps" for MISADDED, "Pound of flesh?" for THROB, "One-year prison term, in slang" for ACE. I suppose those of you who do understand musical nomenclature didn't find this crossword so challenging?


I liked the other three 15x15's I did—Annemarie Brethauer's June 16 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Add Litteram" (great theme, literate fill and clues) Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Hit Parade," and Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle.

Great Wall Street Journal puzzle from Patrick Berry—the theme has to do with Rev. Spooner. Merl Reagle's punfest was also fun.

NYS 9:34
NYT 5:55
CS 4:36
6/16 CHE 4:11
LAT 3:45

Reagle 8:14
WSJ [untimed]


June 14, 2006

Why isn't it Friday yet?

I can't believe it's only Wednesday. Not because the crosswords are hard—it's just shaping up to be a long week.

Adam Cohen's Thursday NYT is a quote puzzle with a Fridayish vibe. You've got O-TYPE (see here for the Japanese "blood type theory of personality"—I am, apparently, a natural leader with a ruthless streak. I always suspected as much), AMOROSO (I say you can't beat a good cask of amontillado), ESSIE from Ah, Wilderness!, ELEGIT ("writ of execution"), the bird called the OXPECKER (how have I not heard this name before?), JOSS sticks (incense—why not Joss Whedon?), and poet Howard NEMEROV.

David Kahn's Themeless Thursday in the Sun is framed by four interlocking 15-letter entries, including an Ian McKellen movie I loved. It's basically your standard, high-quality Kahn themeless (LOU REED, SOPOR, IN JAIL, SKORT), but not too tough. There's an extra fillip, though—note the apt placement of the 11-letter entries that cross in the center.

NYT 4:47
LAT 4:01
NYS 4:00
CS 2:49


June 13, 2006


Wednesday the 14th is kindergarten graduation day around these parts. My kid's getting more adept at reading every day, but so far he's only at the word-search level. After kindergarten, bring on the crosswords!

The Sun commemorates Flag Day with "Flying Colors," a 15x16 puzzle by Ogden Porter (Peter Gordon). The theme trio—two 14's and a 12—includes the REDS, WHITES, and BLUES in the midst of plenty of good 6- to 9-letter entries. Nasty ol' BIT-O-HONEY, nasty ol' BENNY HILL, good ol' GOOD GRIEF. I'm hoping somebody will explain the clue for the latter: "Brown 'Sugar!'?"

I'm in the mood to quibble with Lisa Wiseman's NYT theme, "Body parts never driven through/on/over." Since when are DENTAL BRIDGES considered body parts rather than dental prostheses? The theme was obscured a little by the fact that two of the three entries began with CAR- while the clues mentioned "driven"; I can't decide whether I like the misdirection or not.

CS 4:48
NYS 4:03
NYT 3:42
LAT 3:37


June 12, 2006


Janet Bender's NYT crossword swings from the rafters—PATRICK Rafter, whitewater rafters, and BUILDING SUPPORT rafters. Further livening up this early-week puzzle are two Q's, a Z, an X, and a J (none of them part of the theme entries) helping to constitute a pangram.

In Alan Arbesfeld's Sun puzzle ("Ow No!"), -OW words become -OE words in phrases clued accordingly. And in one corner, AROUSE and SMUT intersect...


Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle, "The Hold-Up," is a prime example of his cruciverbal style. There's the "Hip-hop article," THA, the names of several musical artists (rap, R&B, punk, and hard rock), TV with snarky cred (MR SHOW), a soupçon of drugs, and a diversity vibe (Hindu, Spanish, Islam, Japanese, the Holy Roman Empire, English lit). All built around a fresh theme, mixing it up with 24 different letters of the alphabet (including Q, Z, and X). Thanks for a fun diversion, Ben!

Last night on The Late Show With David Letterman, we learned that Paris Hilton does not do crossword puzzles, but her sister does. (I'll go out on a limb here and say I bet that's the first time anyone in the media has ever asked Paris if she does crosswords.) After Paris's segment ended, we had to wait through innumerable commercials before the show resumed with Will Shortz. My theory is that Paris's interview took far less time than the producers had planned, owing to her fondness for answering questions without much elaboration. (Bonus tip: If you're being interviewed on TV, try not to respond with a silent nod.) Dave mentioned Wordplay a few times before Will came out—hooray for free advertising! Dave told Will he just can't get more than a few easy answers in any crossword (and also commented that he doesn't think it's possible for anyone to actually finish the Sunday NYT crossword)—Will said Dave could finish a puzzle if he applied himself. (It's true.) Will came equipped with an NPR-style puzzle featuring phrases starting with D and L; Dave acquitted himself well but claimed to have read the answers in advance. The clip they showed was the entertaining "hate mail" trailer (you can see it here).

Tausig 4:05
NYS 3:50
NYT 3:05
LAT 3:04
CS 2:46


June 11, 2006


Curtis Yee spices up the NYT with the F word—or rather, with 12 F words in phrasal pairs in the theme entries. Two of the six theme entries are 15 letters long, crossing in the center, and the other four intersect with the 15's—that's fancy puzzlin' for a Monday. I loved the clue, "Porgy and bass," for FISH, as well as fill like STEP ON IT, IM GAME, ET CETERA, and ABUZZ.

Donna S. Levin's "whee, whee, whee" soundalike puzzle summons up adolescent '80s memories of Simon LEBON. Ahh, I thought he was dreamy when I was 16—him and that redheaded guy from Thompson Twins, whose picture appears on the same web page linked here.

NYS 3:27
LAT 3:10
CS 3:08
NYT 2:52


June 10, 2006


Just a few days ago, people on the Cruciverb mailing list were joking about Will Shortz's fictitious family members, such as JIM SHORTZ, who coincidentally shows up as "High School Sports Reporter" in "Newspaper Directory," the NYT puzzle by Maxwell H.D. Johnson Jr. I'm not wild about this particular theme, but I like the overall fill: OLD FOGY, BIG GREEN (the Dartmouth home page says crosswordese fave Elie Wiesel is the commencement speaker this weekend), RELICT, BRIOCHE, MOLESKIN, BASENJIS, and LAMONT.


I liked the themes offered by Merle Baker's Newsday puzzle, "It's Elementary," and Randolph Ross's Washington Post puzzle, "What About It?" Today's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge is from Rich Norris; plenty of stellar entries, but fairly easy clues.

WaPo 10:02
NYT 8:24
Newsday 7:39
LA Weekly 7:21
LAT 6:57
CS 4:00


June 09, 2006


You know why my favorite type of themeless crossword has stacks of long entries (9+ letters), as opposed to 7x7 corners? Because the longer the entry, the fresher it's likely to be. While 7-letter words aren't exactly a dime a dozen in crosswords, stacked 15's are much rarer. The Saturday NYT by Harvey Estes is bracketed by triple-stacked 15's, each with six 7-letter entries crossing them; going across the center are two 9's, two 10's, and a 7. So, an elegant and molto ambitious grid, with plenty of great fill and clues. There's an asymmetric mini-theme of GARRISON KEILLOR and EDITORIAL WRITER (I like his political columns), KING TUT and SPARE PARTS, LOVE SET and PAISANO, the promotional "Product line" MAKES A GREAT GIFT. I recalled ENTENTE CORDIALE from last year (Manny Nosowsky also used it in his March 11, 2005, puzzle). I found the clues to be on the tough side: "It's full of x's: Abbr." is ALG (algebra), that EDITORIAL WRITER is "One whose pieces are slanted," while a "Parlor piece" is DIVAN. "Put down" is DEPOSITED, while "Puts down" is ABASES. I much prefer a crossword that, like this one, offers precious few gimmes—I like to finish quickly, yes, but it means so much more when the puzzle puts up a fight first.


The other puzzles today are two themeless crosswords—Bob Peoples' LA Times and Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper—and an easy "Central Scramble" from Thomas Schier in CrosSynergy.

NYT 7:14
LAT 5:07
Newsday 4:37
CS 3:12


Crossworld in paperback

Remember Marc Romano's book, Crossworld? It's coming out in paperback next week. (I wonder if the assorted typos and errors have been remedied.) Entertainment Weekly says, "If the documentary Wordplay doesn't sate your crossword-puzzle fetish this summer, pick up this literary ode to the obsession."

This raises a couple issues:

1. There are crossword-puzzle fetishists? Is there a whole crossword porn industry I'm not aware of?

2. Any crossword-puzzle fetishists worth their [old sailor] have already read the book in hardcover.


Wordplay release dates

The word from Patrick Creadon is that IFC Films has expanded the roll-out of Wordplay:

June 16 — NYC
June 23 — 45 cities (all the majors)
June 30 — 150 screens nationwide

And tune into David Letterman's "Late Show" on Monday, June 12. My TiVo tells me only that Paris Hilton is scheduled to appear, but Will Shortz has also been booked to promote the film. Woot!


June 08, 2006


Manny Nosowsky's NYT whomped me with a tricky crossing that really shouldn't have been tricky—the spot where the Latin TEMPORE crosses LIRE, "Bygone coins." I finally looked up what I should have learned years ago: The current Turkish and Maltese currency is the lira, which was also the currency of Italy, San Marino, and Vatican City before the euro came along; the plural of lira is lire or liras. There. Now that I've written it down, I'll never forget it. But anyone else who has been troubled by this, feel free to disregard this lesson. Great puzzle-solving experience, apart from that minute and a half I spent looking for that LIRA/LIRE error. THAT'S OK. Lire/lira has just been my BUGBEAR. But ALLELUIA! I've got it down now and need not BLEAT about it. No SWEAT ("Worry beads?"). I don't know if LESS FAT and DONUT belong in the same puzzle—call me OLD-FASHIONED. And ONE MORE THING: if I had an OUNCE OF SENSE, I wouldn't have felt like a C STUDENT with this puzzle. Manny's medical clue of the week is "Spot for a shot" for ARM. I learned that the ABC Powers that negotiated between the US and Mexico in 1914 were Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The grid's nifty, too—a pinwheel centered on stacked 12- and 15-letter entries.

Another great Sun themeless from Karen Tracey. Two 15's crossed by a Scrabbly 13 (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO), surrounded by HANS BLIX and YITZHAK Rabin, HARRUMPH and ZOOKS, RASSLE and HOPS TO, LOCOWEED and TV ROOM. Sorry I don't have anything insightful to say about Karen's puzzle, other than that I liked it a lot—it's been a long week and my mind is resting now.

The July issue of Esquire arrived in the mail today. For the first time ever, a page in a major magazine (not counting Games) mentioned four people I've met: Will Shortz, Patrick Creadon, Merl Reagle, and Morgan Spurlock. And Wordplay gets a nice plug:

A Puzzle Piece
"An amiable portrait of New York Times crossword-puzzle editor Will Shortz, Wordplay follows the template established by little-doc-that-could Spellbound—endearing eccentrics, competitive climax. It's every bit as charming, to, even if director Patrick Creadon spends too much time on crossword-loving celebs like Jon Stewart. You'll wish for more of ace puzzle constructor Merl Reagle, a bearish dude given to such offhand, anagrammatic observations as...well, solve the puzzle below to find out."

The puzzle is an acrostic by Mike D'Angelo: "While driving around his neighborhood, puzzle master Merl Reagle spots a sign and observes..." [solve the acrostic or fill in my favorite Merl quote in Wordplay from memory].


If you like puns, you're in luck today: Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, Joy Andrews' Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, and Donna S. Levin's LA Times puzzle all have pun-based themes.

NYT 6:17
NYS 5:06
LAT 4:24
6/9 CHE 4:23
CS 2:58

Reagle 9:10
WSJ [untimed]


June 07, 2006


Joe DiPietro's NYT is a wonderful puzzle, isn't it? I think it's my favorite themed daily puzzle this month. The theme is reminiscent of Eric Berlin and Craig Kasper's Sunday NYT last December 4 (the one with SUPERB OWL/SUPER BOWL and RABBI TEARS/RABBIT EARS). In this one, though, instead of breaking an existing phrase into different chunks, Joe pairs two animal names and cracks them (TAPIR EGRET becomes TAP I REGRET, for example). That puzzle-within-a-puzzle is enmeshed within an excellent crossword, with great entries ("Symbol for a kiss"/CAPITAL X, CHEERIO, GRAPPLE, BAGS IT, EX-JET, THE ALAMO, and ILL-MADE) and clever clues (there are many worthy ones, but my favorites were "Jazz quintet's home" for UTAH—brilliant!—"Lab food?" for ALPO, and "Leaves rudely" for JILTS). And I'm glad to see a shout-out to my favorite cartoonist, ROZ Chast, rather than "'Frasier' role."

Robert Wolfe's Sun puzzle, "Short People," is also good. It's got a CDB vibe, with five famous people's first names shortened to sound-alike letters (e.g., Edie McClurg becomes E D MCCLURG; Emmy Rossum, M E ROSSUM), plus fill like SAGUAROS, SIXTIES, and SWATTER, and an interesting assortment of clues.


Lynn Lempel's LA Times puzzle is a good one. (I think she likes her initials.) • Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle is also good, but there's a notable error in a clue: EYRE is clued "Austen heroine" rather than "Bronte heroine." !!!

NYS 5:29
NYT 5:04
LAT 3:55
CS 3:20


June 06, 2006


Patrick Blindauer's NYT has a Thursdayish gimmick within: there are ten 3-letter body parts hidden diagonally in the grid. Let's see how many I can find...LIP, ARM, LEG, JAW (which explains the presence of UNWON), RIB, TOE and EAR (accounting for MINTER, which I just saw in another recent puzzle and didn't much care for), EYE, GUM, and...EGG? The long non-theme entries can be called to duty, too—DISCLAIMER: Do not attempt to reattach HIDDEN BODY PARTS with ELMER'S GLUE.

Randall Hartman's Sun puzzle, "Bean Town Banter," is reminiscent of Rich Norris's Sunday NYT last January 29, "Sounds of New England"—both play on the "pahked the cah in Hah-vahd Yahd" accent. Are there any Elvis fans who can tell me if his middle name is misspelled on his tombstone, or if the clue, "Name on a Graceland tombstone," refers to someone other than Elvis Aron Presley? [Yes, indeed: There's a misspelling cast in bronze (or whatever metal that is) on Elvis's tombstone.] "It takes an ID to get mail there" is a wonderful clue for IDAHO, and "They're horny" is a hoot for RHINOS.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle, "Society Functions," has (as expected) plenty of zing in the fill (HOTCAKES, DJ GIG, BACk/AT YA, BAR SCENE, CYBORG, CARRY ME) and clues (a DE SADE quote, "Sex, slangily" for ASS, "Body image?" for CAT SCAN). I don't think Ben has it in him to make a dull crossword, honestly.

Sun 4:30
Tausig 4:20
NYT 3:43
LAT 3:19
CS 2:58


Famous people!

Hey! The Wordplay page at IMDb now has an expanded "credited cast" listing with 44 people, all playing the part of "Himself" or "Herself" in the finest documentary fashion:

Judie Berger
Leslie Billig
Dr. Selmer Bringsjord
Katherine Bryant
Ken Burns
Bill Clinton
Neal Conan
Stella Daily
Jon Delfin
Joy Dewing
Bob Dole
Brian Dominy
Nancy Ellwood
Nancy Ellwood Fasulo
Vic Fleming
Liane Hansen
Doug Heller
Tyler Hinman
Jim Jenista
Patrick Jordan
Dan Katz
Kiran Kedlaya
Lloyd Mazer
Norma Mindell
Eileen Mogan
Mike Mussina
Stanley Newman
Daniel Okrent
Norman (Trip) Payne
Fred Piscop
Miriam Raphael
Amy Ray
Merl Reagle
Amy Reynaldo
Alex Ripitsky
Ellen Ripstein
Marc Romano
Mel Rosen
Emily Saliers
Al Sanders
Will Shortz
Jon Stewart
Ben Tausig
Byron Walden

Hello, everyone! (That includes you, Jon Stewart. You should absolutely come to the crossword tournament next March to meet your costars.)


June 05, 2006


Barry Silk's NYT puzzle sadly lacks any mention of underarms or stone fruits, but it does have three 15-letter things with PITS. And it also has fill like FRESH AIR, MING VASE, XBOX, and FILIPINO. I must note that while the clue "Tagalog speaker" is accurate enough for FILIPINO, the opposite would not be true; read this if you'd like to learn about the many other languages that are spoken in the Philippines.


Collegiate cruciverbalist Kyle Mahowald constructed today's LA Times puzzle, with three phrases meaning "Big deal!" The theme's good, but the fill is even better. It was great to see entries like GET A GRIP, CUTIE PIE, HERE WE GO, EAT DIRT, and HOT SEAT, especially in a Tuesday puzzle.

It's almost as if the New York Sun is playing passive-aggressive games with us. "Oh, you say you care, but did you remember to pony up some money via PayPal? No? You take me for granted. Maybe I should just leave. Yeah. We'll see how you like it when I'm gone. Then you'll see how much I do for you." No, we don't like waiting until Tuesday for Monday's puzzle, but at least we're not waiting a few weeks like we used to. If you feel the need to gorge on 15 Sun puzzles, you may do so. (I tend to wait until the night before publication—unless someone tells me a particular puzzle is too juicy to wait for.)

Anyway: The Monday Sun is by Edgar Fontaine, who assembled 10 (count 'em, 10) theme entries for "Letter Openers." They're not long entries, but good gravy, there sure are a lot of them. Well done, sir.

I also enjoyed the Tuesday Sun, Vic Fleming's "Gee Whiz!" Vic just so happens to have several entries that would have been right at home in the Monday puzzle—H BOMB, B SIDE, and E MAJOR. The theme entries all include a silent G; the best was METRO GNOME (clued as "City dwarf?"). Other good entries are MCGWIRE (so many consonants in a row), DRUG DEAL, cell phone DEAD SPOT, and KOSOVO. And I learned that GLENGARRY is a type of Scottish hat.

Tues NYS 4:06
Mon NYS 3:46
NYT 3:13
LAT 3:13
CS 3:05


June 04, 2006


A very smooth NYT creation from Fred Piscop, with the NUISANCE, PAIN, PEST, and DRAG theme entries joined by the central NAMES, and embedded in a non-Mondayish grid with entries like NAKED EYE, LEXICON, KIT KAT, and PASSPORT. What else can be said about a Monday puzzle?

NYS tba
LAT 2:47
NYT 2:44
CS 2:40
Newsday 2:17



All right, people. I honestly don't know what your deal is. I liked Patrick Blindauer's NYT puzzle, "Overcharged," with the added -ION in the theme entries (e.g., RUN OF THE MILL[ION], NOT[ION] FOR PROFIT). Plenty of yummy fill, like ALMOND JOY, MR PEANUT, NO TASTE, GRANDMA, WATERLOO, GOSSIPED, and MINXES. (How is it possible for Oscar DE LA Hoya to be so pretty when he's a boxer?) Good clues, like "Turkey club" for NATO. As it happens, I didn't get OFF TO A GOOD START or finish with this crossword. When I opened the puzzle in the timed applet, it wouldn't let me type in any letters, so I had to click "refresh" and lose 30 seconds in the process. Then at the end, I learned I had a typo, and lost another 30 seconds searching for it (yup, there's no N in CABOOSES). And despite losing that minute, I still ended up with an average (for me) solving time—so on balance, this was a pretty easy puzzle, I thought. But there are other solvers who are usually much closer to my time who are slower than expected today. What gives? What well-laid traps did Patrick set out for you?


Entertaining Washington Post puzzle by David Kahn, with movie title and quotes. • In Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, the theme entries incorporate FOR. Two obscure words in this one: RACON, or RAdar beaCON, and ADDA, the "lizard of crossworddom" (though the word doesn't show up in the Cruciverb database, so it seems to have been expunged from crosswords...until now. Here's a page of lizard-related limericks, one of which is about the adda. • Harvey Estes did this week's themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge. • The LA Times puzzle's got a long quote, and the constructor is Charlie Riley (that's an anagram of Really Richie—is this another of Rich Norris's noms de cruciverbalisme?).

WaPo 9:24
LA Weekly 9:23
NYT 8:57, –:30 for technical woes and (optionally) –:30 searching for a typo
LAT 7:26
CS 4:00


June 03, 2006


The Saturday NYT is a BEQuintessential offering from Brendan Emmett Quigley. You've got your hipster vibe (modest author DAVE EGGERS, PABSTS, cradle of punk rock CBGB'S), lively phrases (TAPAS BAR, NO REGRETS, MAKE A SCENE, TOP SECRET, and R-LESS, "like English pronunciation in most of England"), and Scrabbly nuggets (CAJOLED, ZANIEST, BERSERK, and FUJI, clued as "film maker" rather than "Japanese peak"). Then add in superlatively clever clues—my favorite was "refuse visitors" for RATS (a prime example of clues that can mislead the solver about the part of speech that's hinted at), but I also liked "Heated competition?" for MEET and "soft support" for EIDERDOWN. Then you mix in three quarters of a cup of obscurities for Saturdayish good measure: "Najda" actress ELINA Löwensohn, gyroscope inventor Elmer SPERRY, and MEROE, the "ancient capital on the Nile" (read about the Meroites here). I still don't get how "windjammer" is GOB; the source I checked says the latter is a sailor and the former is a boat. Anyone?


Well, I'm too competitive to resist a good challenge, so when I heard Stan Newman's Saturday Stumper was a toughie, I had to try my hand at it—even though it was late and I was drowsy. I should've waited until this morning, with a fresh round of caffeine, because that poky solving time throws this puzzle into the ranks of killers like the harder puzzles in Frank Longo's Mensa book. Good entries and great clues throughout (particularly 1-Across, which I won't spoil because I don't want to nudge anyone along to be faster than me!).

Rounding out the day's themeless feast is Bruce Venzke and Vic Fleming's LA Times puzzle, with an impressive nine 15-letter entries grouped into triple stacks. The cluing was very approachable, though, making it easy to fill in the grid quickly. There were some obscurities in the grid—hard to avoid with such an ambitious structure—but the crossings were all workable. As long as you know Barbara BAIN was in the old "Mission: Impossible," you can guess the "city northeast of Venice," UDINE.

Newsday 15:00
NYT 6:46
LAT 3:51
CS 3:26


June 01, 2006

Ah, Friday

Well, I spent a couple hours watching the final rounds of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee before turning my attention to the Friday crosswords. My favorite bee word tonight: tmesis, meaning "separation of the parts of a compound word by one or more intervening words." The Wikipedia article on the word lists numerous popular examples, such as "a whole nother" and "abso-fuckin'-lutely." I don't know that tmesis lends itself to a crossword theme, but it's a darn handy device to wield, isn't it?

Jim Page's NYT puzzle tricked me from the get-go with the clue for 1-Down, "range of some singers"—I plugged in ALTO and then BASS, but of course, it's ALPS. Over on the other side of the grid, I had something starting with PROW for "One who works for pin money?"—it took a while for the W to break off in my head (the answer was PRO WRESTLER, which is a great entry). What's more, WHAT'S MORE is also great, as are SWORD SWALLOWERS, HOW SO, and LET'S GO. The clues often tended to be elusive; "having a bite" was ACERB, not anything involving eating, and "crack heads" was SPAR. I see a lot of gnarly Saturdayish solving times on the applet—what did you find most challenging about this puzzle?

The theme in Patrick Berry's Sun puzzle, "'Change of' Venue," plays on "of" phrases: "man of mystery" becomes MANNA MYSTERY, and "hair of the dog" becomes HERA THE DOG (clued as "Aphrodite's cruel nickname for Zeus's wife"). I was utterly unfamiliar with a couple entries: a term for the U.S. Marines, GYRENES, and a short-lived TV series PS I LUV U. Cute clue for EDIT: "Refuse to pass a sentence?" Although I wouldn't complain if Peter Gordon switched to running two themeless puzzles a week, I do like the challenge level the late-week themed Sun puzzles present.


There's an embarrassment of cruciverbal riches today. The most timely one is the June 2 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Alan Olschwang (available via Puzzle Pointers), featuring final words from recent years' SPELLING BEE. • Colin Gale did a fantastic job with his Wall Street Journal puzzle, "The Closing Bell." The theme's fun, and the puzzle was great from start to finish. • Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Except After C," has a solid theme. I was partial to FIEND FOR ONESELF, but FRIED ROGERS was funny, too. (I just hope Mr. Rogers' loved ones don't see this puzzle.) • Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon GET THE WORD OUT in their LA Times puzzle. Or, more specifically, they get the word the out. "Opening opening?" kept me guessing for far too long (the answer's LONG O, of course). • After you finish Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle ("Gunfight") in Across Lite, be sure to read the Notepad.

NYS 8:55
NYT 6:33
LAT 5:21
6/2 CHE 5:06
CS 3:22

WSJ 8:40
Reagle (untimed)