July 31, 2006


Tausig 5:32
NYS 4:05
NYT 3:22
CS 3:14
LAT 3:08

Another day where I liked both the NYT and Sun puzzles, by David ("Evad") Sullivan and Lee Glickstein, respectively. I completely ignored the "With 66-Across" part at the beginning of the clue for 1-Across, so I was semi-befuddled about the theme until I made my way down to 66-Across with its "See 1-Across" clue and grasped the YARD/SALE theme. Kinda cute to have PASTA a few rows below REDUCED CARBS, isn't it? FATWA crossing CASTOFFS ("'Survivor' losers") provides a reminder that getting kicked off the island is certainly not the worst fate that could befall a reality-show contestant—when will some ayatollahs launch their own reality show? They could call it Fatwa! with an exclamation point, just like Jeopardy! And, because I like Dave, I'll give him a little crap for old-school fill like IRAE and STEN (of course, for all we know, he might have submitted this puzzle last year when he was an unpolished cruciverbal beginner).

Lee Glickstein's Sun puzzle, "Cargo," had a title that led me down the wrong path. (Theme trouble: the theme of the day.) With the first theme entry starting with TON, I was thinking of literal cargo rather than CAR- going. (Anyone else?) I remember last year when Lee said he was giving up crossword construction—I'm glad he's not a man of his word. (I do miss those unpublishable but entertaining puzzles he made for a while that featured snarky quotes from the late-night TV hosts.) I bet it was editor/dad of preschoolers Peter Gordon who clued EZRA as "children's book author ___ Jack Keats (Keats' Snowy Day was one of my favorites when I was small). Anyway, with little bits like MAXES, FEED ME, and HOTTIE, I liked this puzzle.


Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle for the week is "You've Got to Stand for Something." It's fantastic to have a tougher puzzle this early in the week, but this particular theme (invented expansions of words that aren't abbreviations, like moon is short for MURAL OF OUR NIGHT) didn't grab me. However, there's much to commend in this crossword—hipster shout-out to Sonic Youth's THURSTON Moore, learning that PHNOM is Khmer for "hill," getting tipped off to SLASH's famous guitar solo that I'd never heard of (not a GNR fan), SET A DATE, WANT AD, GOT AN F next to G FORCE.

Harvey Estes pays tribute to the late AARON Spelling in the CrosSynergy puzzle, "TV Tycoon." Alas, "Beverly Hills, 90210" wouldn't fit the grid without a rebus, and what on earth crosses [90210]? No "Melrose Place" either—but there are five other Spelling shows, including a few I didn't know had been Spelling productions. Some terrific fill (ASK FOR IT, CELIBATE, TORQUES) and clues (such as "Where to see attractive models?" for AUTO SHOW and "It may bubble out of the mouth" for GUM), to boot.

Huh. Ever heard of a HOSEL? That word was in today's LA Times puzzle by Norm Guggenbiller. Apparently it means the socket in a golf club head into which the shaft is inserted (no jokes, please!) and looks like this. Live and learn, eh?


July 30, 2006

Moving on to Monday

NYS 3:20
NYT 2:36
CS 2:59
LAT 2:37

We head into Monday with two excellent puzzles, by Elizabeth Gorski in the NYT and Adam Cohen in the Sun. Elizabeth Gorski's NYT puzzle has only three theme entries, but it felt like more because they comprised such a fresh batch of introductory lines. And the theme was supplemented by six 8- or 10-letter fill entries (such as MAKES A MINT and CHIMNEYS), plus a couple X's and a Z.

Adam's Sun puzzle, "Terms of Endearment," has a solid group of theme entries in a grid seasoned liberally with five Z's plus a Q (in QADDAFI!) and X. The fill also features great entries, like SWERVE, BEEFALO, and FLYOVER.


The DODO hardly seems extinct

Remember last Monday's puzzle by Richard Chisholm, with the *O*O theme? I have a copy of Will Shortz's Favorite Crossword Puzzles before me, and it includes Sarah Keller's puzzle from Monday, January 28, 2002. Theme entries: COCO CHANEL, YOYO CONTEST, NO NO NANETTE, and GO GO DANCER, with TOTO, DODO, SOSO, and HOHO occupying the four corners of the grid.

Everything old is new again...



NYT 12:18
WaPo 10:29
LA Times 9:45
LA Weekly 7:45
CS 3:53

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge isn't clued to be that hard, but it's got some fantastic 9- and 10-letter fill entries.

Today is, apparently, Quotepuzzlepalooza, with a George Carlin quip in Vic Fleming and Bonnie Gentry's oversized 23x23 NYT, a safety-conscious Ellen DeGeneres quote in Henry Hook's LA Weekly crossword, and the OLD PERFESSOR (though I'm partial to the more enthusiastically misspelled spelling, "Old Perfesser") Casey Stengel, in Damien Peterson's LA Times quip puzzles. Then there's a non-quote puzzle, Kelsey Blakley's "Ship Shape" Washington Post puzzle with plenty of good fill around a types-of-boats-in-phrases (e.g., COOKIE CUTTER, TUG OF WAR) theme.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's cryptic crossword (the NYT's second Sunday puzzle) was fun. Is it just me, or did it go faster than the average cryptic?


July 29, 2006

Crossword fiends in the movies

And I'm not talking about Wordplay (for a change). The poorly reviewed new M. Night Shyamalan movie, Lady in the Water, includes as a supporting character a crossword fanatic portrayed by Jeffrey Wright. According to Roger Ebert's website editor Jim Emerson's review, in one scene, Wright's character tries to extrapolate clues from a folded newspaper, prompting one of the tenants to exclaim: "Wow! He's hearing the voice of god from a crossword puzzle!"

Words used in various movie reviews to describe this character include fiend, fanatic, whiz, enthusiast, expert, addict, lover, wordsmith, maven, devotee, fan, wizard, buff, sleuth, puzzle master, aficionado, and a plain ol' solver—a man obsessed with crossword puzzles, a man with a penchant, aptitude, and fondness for crosswords. In this article, a critic says, Jeffrey Wright, a brilliant actor, plays a guy who just stepped out of "Wordplay" with his ability to work crosswords but nothing else. (Wordplay as pop-culture referent!)

What were the odds that two movies this summer would feature people who enjoy crosswords at an obsessive level? Ah, the glamor.

One of the upcoming movies in my Netflix queue is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which I saw last summer but my husband didn't. I no longer remember whether it was Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt who was working a crossword in the movie; I think it was Brad Pitt, maybe using a pen? Must watch DVD to study crossword scene more closely...


July 28, 2006


NYT 10:39 (ouch)
Newsday 7:05
LAT 4:58
CS 3:16

Okay, so I didn't find Sherry Blackard's puzzle to be that hard yesterday. Karma caught up with me in the form of Bob Klahn's first Saturday NYT since 2003. Mind you, I got off to a great start, figuring 1-Across ("Supporters of women's athletics") to be SPORTS BRAS, working through the crossings, and filling in the rest of that corner (even baseball announcer MEL ALLEN, who was utterly unfamiliar to me—"Going, going, gone" was one of his catchphrases). But then...I began to slow down. STEP ON IT ("Put the pedal to the metal") was eely; I tend to forget the Greek island of PAROS (factoid: the Winged Victory of Samothrace is made of Parian marble); "Landed" should have yielded REELED IN much faster than it did (oy! nearly mad); and I kept thinking "Fast starter" had to do with fasting, not starting a fire (TINDER). I never knew Will Rogers called himself the POET LARIAT. Those "number" clues for ETHER don't fool me any more, but "Number of people" for ANESTHESIA? I totally fell into that trap. Throw in a couple movies I don't know ("The FALLEN IDOL" and "The LAST MILE") and a pipe tobacco term (DOTTLE) I've never seen—plus one wrong letter that took me a minute to find—and the upshot is a Saturday NYT crossword of a fearsomely Saturdayish kind. (And that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say, so kudos to Messrs. Klahn and Shortz.)

Of course, Saturday is not just for mental struggle. It's also for socializing, occasionally of a blog-related nature. Crossword constructor Dave Sullivan (a.k.a. Evad) is visiting the Windy City, and we'll be meeting for a Cuban/Mexican dinner at Café 28, a great neighborhood place. So I'll be tardy (and possibly tipsy) when it comes to doing the Sunday puzzle.


The late octogenarian constructor Kendall Twigg (who died just recently) loaded his themeless LA Times puzzle with a lively batch of phrases, and I enjoyed it. I learned a new sports name: Spaniard Manuel ORANTES beat Jimmy Connors in the 1975 U.S. Open for his sole Grand Slam victory. I also got a kick out of the answer to a French fill-in-the-blank place name, Plateau d'ASSY (good place to ski, apparently)—a friend of mine uses "assy" as an apt descriptor of certain fromages.

Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper is very good, too—neither disappointingly easy or vexingly tough.


Language Log goes medieval on Will Shortz

Really! Read it for yourself. The Puzzle Master's weekly word puzzles apparently disgruntle linguist Geoff Pullum. Go figure.

(It's Language Log's Benjamin Zimmer who wrote about Wordplay a few months back—so the linguists there haven't got a universal fear and loathing of the Shortzian world.)


July 27, 2006


NYS 7:54
NYT 4:59
LAT 4:45
CS 3:31

Reagle 7:34
WSJ 7:11

Well, it was awfully sweet of Will Shortz to run Sherry O. Blackard's latest puzzle (a 58-worder) on a Friday rather than with hardcore Saturday clues. When I last looked into it a few months ago, Sherry accounted for my longest average solving time for a single constructor; with this solving time, that average may drop a second or two below Byron Walden (if I'm not mistaken, the NYT is sorely overdue for another of his themeless creations). Anyway, Sherry's got a fantastic bunch of entries—she gets a little randy with STRIP POKER and LOVE SCENE, energetic with CONGA LINE and KNEE BENDS, botanical with GOLDENROD, SEDGE, and GRASS STAIN ("You see what you've done here—if I may—the triple S. You think that's cute? That's not cute."—Jon Stewart in Wordplay), metallic IRON and NICKEL (clued otherwise), plus SLEEPER SET and the centerpiece, LOOK MA NO HANDS. The trickiest clues for me (and hence my favorites) were "Number of mari" (SETTE, as in seven seas), "Handle holders" (CBERS), "Make bank withdrawals?" (ERODE), "Qajar dynasty's domain" (PERSIA), "Not on the edge" (INSET), and "They're more than pinches" (CRISES). Excellent production, Sherry and Will!

Patrick Blindauer's 15x16 Sun puzzle, "I's Front," plays on the pronunciation of five phrases that begin with "I." Highlights: LOLLIPOPS; CUSPID clued as "Canine with a white coat"; ELO with the obscure new clue, "Chess player Arpad or the rating system he developed" (hey, it's better than yet another ELO song title...), TOP NOTES, FLEXTIME, LOW LATIN, and FAUX PAS. I get the theme and see what the original phrases are supposed to be, but I don't quite grasp EYES UP HOSE. In the clue ("Leers at leggings?") is "leers" a verb or plural noun? Is "eyes up" an established usage?


Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Foreign Imports," doesn't toy with accents like Fred Piscop's recent Sunday NYT, but rather enters the world of anagrammed cities. Hey, geography plus anagrams? Win-win!

In the LA Times puzzle by Donna Levin, the theme is phrases with Norwegian cities/words swapped in, e.g., FJORD MUSTANG, OSLO BOAT TO CHINA, BERGEN STOCKS. But what phrase is AMUNDSEN RAISINS playing on? I'm drawing a blank here.


July 26, 2006

Thursday triumphant

NYT 4:05
LAT 3:52
NYS 3:46
CS 3:29

The marquee puzzle for the month [edited from the original "day"] is Ethan Friedman's NYT. Sure, the general concept isn't completely original, but dayumn! Didn't he pull it off nicely? Yes, he did. And it was a particularly fun crossword to solve. (Spoilers comin' right up—don't click below until you've done this puzzle!)

The constructor uses the same general trick that Jeremiah Farrell used in the famous movie-star crossword, the 1996 Election Day CLINTON/BOB DOLE puzzle—which Patrick Berry also played with in his June 30 Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle. In the current puzzle, Ethan pairs EMPEROR PENGUINS with DAILY NEWSPAPERS (could've also been CROSSWORD PUZZLE, but those Z's might've made filling the grid too hard) and then has two possible answers for 46-Across, BLACK or WHITE, with the crossing clues doing double duty. ("Had on one's back" = WORE or BORE; "Not open" = SHY or SLY; "Skewer" = PIN or PAN; "Home, for one" = PLATE or PLACE; and "Construction site sights" = CRANES or CRANKS.) The gimmick is pointed out with the answer opposite from 46-Across, the word TWICE, clued as "How 46-Across can be answered." Throw in fill like PIT BOSS, MENTOS, and WOULD I LIE, and you've got yourself a helluva puzzle (one that certainly excuses the dull word DESEED). And if you knew SPANDREL but thought to yourself, "What is that exactly"?—here are some pictures.

This week's Themeless Thursday in the Sun is by Patrick Jordan. Great Scrabbly 15's joined by LETTERBOX, plus interesting words like CALUMET (this word for a Native American pipe has a Greek root, implausibly enough), TOM THUMB, and THE NERVE. I found it surprisingly easy, though—not enough wickedly elusive clues for my taste. (I know, I know, it's a Themeless Thursday and not a Weekend Warrior.)


The anatomy of this blog

The left two thirds of this page contains the most recent batch of posts, as you all know (unless, maybe, you're getting posts via the RSS feed—I don't know how that works). New posts used to have the What's on the right side in that long sidebar? Do you ever look at that?

The first item of note in the sidebar is Crossword Links. You've got the NYT forums (I peruse the "Today's Puzzle" forum daily). Next, Will Johnston's indispensable Puzzle Pointers page (where I go for a fix when I'm jonesing for things like the Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, a week's worth of Sun crosswords, the Hex/Hook Sunday puzzle, and the Sunday Washington Post puzzle. Then there's cruciverb.com, where I'm a paid member so I can access the crossword database (so handy!) as well as downloading the Across Lite version of the LA Times puzzle each day. Barry Haldiman's site is great when I want to know if an NYT constructor is new, when the last time a constructor had a themeless NYT, or the date of someone's previous Sunday puzzle—or if I want to download an old NYT puzzle that my mother's just found in an old newspaper (you have to be a paid NYT crosswords subscriber to do so, I believe). Constructor Patrick Merrell's site has samples of his illustration work—would you believe the back of the Alpha-Bits box?? And at Merl Reagle's site, you can order his books and do sudoku online (if that's your poison). Last, the OneLook site tells you which dictionaries include a given word (complete with links), and also lets you find words/phrases that fit a pattern (handy when constructing and trying to find something to fit a *G***L* space).

Next in the sidebar is a handy box with a button that allows you to help support this website with money. This blog is work, and it costs me money (e.g., SiteMeter fees, prize books) as well as time. I've kept the site ad-free so far, but it would be nice to cover my expenses. If you value having an ad-free space for crossword conversation, you might consider chipping in once a year to help me keep it this way. (Thanks to Dave and Barry for their donations!)

Then we have Blogs of Crossword People. I check in at most of these sites daily, though the bloggers have varying degrees of crossword-related content and varying posting schedules.

The next section is brand new as of today: Amazon links for books I personally recommend. (Those aren't paid ads—Amazon will give me a wee commission if you click on the link and buy the book in question, though. And remember, if you buy a used copy via resellers at Amazon, the hard-working author gets zip, but if you buy a new copy directly from a bookstore or website, the author's royalty account gets a boost.) Henry Hook's Twisted Crosswords is probably the one puzzle book I've enjoyed the most (it has umpteen types of variety puzzles). Matt Gaffney's new nonfiction book, Gridlock, is also warmly recommended. And Francis Heaney's Holy Tango of Literature is laugh-out-loud funny for English majors and other literature fans. From time to time, I plan to rotate other books in and out of this section. I hope you buy these books and enjoy them as much as I did.

Then there's the list of recent posts—blah, blah. And links for monthly archives. If you're trying to find something you remember reading at Crossword Fiend, forget about Blogger's "search this blog" feature up in the blue bar at the top. You're better off using Google or another search engine to track down the post you're looking for.

Any questions?


Anagram party

A clever blogquaintance has anagrammed my name into a phrase that perfectly captures my mood today: Oy! Nearly mad.

Got any apt anagrams of your own name you'd like to share, people?


July 25, 2006


Tausig 4:34
CS 4:24
NYS 4:13
NYT 3:26
LAT 3:16

Congrats to Dave Mackey on his NYT debut! (More below.)

There was chitchat at the forum this week about Emily Dickinson, who was cited in a clue for EM DASH. I've belatedly recalled that Francis Heaney's book, Holy Tango of Literature, includes a Dickinson parody. The poet's name anagrams into "Skinny Domicile," which Francis took as the topic of his parodic poem. You can read it for free at this site (do a text search for "skinny")—and then buy the book, because it's that good. (You know, I wanted to post this note at the forum, but that works surprisingly seldom. So here 'tis.)

Oh! There's another story I wanted to share. My mom watched (the lowly) Leno last night, and he mentioned that he'd just been an NYT crossword answer. His wife, Mavis, was doing this past Sunday's puzzle, and she apparently answered the clue, "Monologist of note," with ZENO rather than LENO. (LETTERMAN and OBRIEN wouldn't fit the space.)

The always-dependable Gary Steinmehl has another good crossword in the Sun. I did some checking on one of the clues, "Tragedy at Hector International Airport?"—NORTH FARGO CRASH (one of four groups of three 5-letter movie names bundled into the theme entries). Back in my Minnesota college days, the joke was that Fargo's "international airport" had a couple flights across the border to Canada; turns out the international cred derives from a few charter flights to Mexico instead.

The NYT puzzle's fill was easy enough that the presence of a quip wasn't irksome to me. I did some cursory Googling of that quip—EXCUSE ME OFFICER/BUT THAT SIGN SAID/FINE FOR SWIMMING—and no joke sites popped up. Did you concoct that yourself, Dave?


Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle, "The Rest of the Story," puts a new spin on the BED SIZE theme by including TWIN, FULL, QUEEN, and KING within movie titles (bonus points for having one be an indie, TWIN FALLS IDAHO). I can forgive ETUI because it crosses IRAQIS, and I like NO HOW, and I'll bet Ben was pleased to clue TEEN as "TRL enthusiast."

Harvey Estes and Nancy Salomon avoid offending any INUIT who might be doing the CrosSynergy puzzle by eschewing the use of the word "Eskimo" in their clue. Good puzzle, with plenty of 6- to 8-letter entries to freshen up the fill.

Easy but good LA Times offering from Sarah Keller today.


July 24, 2006


LAT 4:14 (while carrying on a phone conversation)
NYS 4:04
CS 2:59
NYT 2:50

Anne Garellick's NYT has four theme entries tied together by a fifth, shorter entry, which is generally a good thing but I'm not too excited about this particular fifth entry. I did like the four main theme entries, though. (I rather think I've seen other themes along these lines, but that's fine by me.) It kinda felt like a Monday puzzle, didn't it? Occasionally some people claim the early-week puzzles have gotten harder lately—would that it were so!

I liked Todd McClary's Sun puzzle, "Same Difference," which has a theme I might've thought Peter Gordon wouldn't have gone for—rumor has it Peter doesn't much care for repeated-letter themes, and this one repeats the ISO at the beginning of each themer. Either Peter appreciated the overall quality—phrases like MADE ROOM and WRAP IT UP, Scrabbly fill like VEXED and OVITZ, and the consonant-dense PNC PARK—or maybe he just couldn't resist the concept of the cast party that a bunch of roly-polies could put on (ISOPOD CAST). (Did you know how freaking big isopods can be?) Along the way in this puzzle, I picked up knowledge of another baseball player, José RIJO. Great puzzle, Todd!


July 23, 2006


CS 3:12
NYS 3:08
NYT 3:01
LAT 2:53

Very good Monday NYT crossword from Richard Chisholm—five theme entries with *O*O starts to them, plus a related DODO, LENA OLIN's full name for a change, and a bunch of long fill entries.

James Sajdak (newbie? I don't think I recognize his name) constructed an easy Monday Sun puzzle called "Animal Shelters." Plenty of goodies in the fill, like NONTOXIC, GIT-GO, GIOTTO, and the linked ATOMIC and ENERGY.


Weekend catch-up

I trust you all entertained yourselves over the weekend with the uncommonly good batch of puzzles that were published.

All the themeless puzzles were of similar difficulty for me—no killer puzzles. Robert Wolfe's NYT (5:58) and LAT (5:17) puzzles, Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper (6:05), and Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge (5:58) all took me about the same amount of time. My favorite of these was the Klahn puzzle.

The Sunday themes were also a great bunch. Fred Piscop's NYT, "Foreign Accent," was a worthy challenge, and I liked how he played around with the accented pronunciations (9:43). Patrick Blindauer's Washington Post puzzle, "Backflips," upended a particular letter in each theme entry, and was jam-packed with good fill and clues (9:29). Dave Sullivan's LA Times syndicate puzzle, "Interconnectivity," had a fun theme, fun cluing, and a smattering of Scrabbly letters (7:16). Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle, "Land of the Free," also had lots of good stuff in it, but the theme (all things that are "free") didn't capture my fancy—the theme clues/entries were straightforward and free of wordplay (8:18).


July 21, 2006


NYS 8:56
NYT 7:49
LAT 5:03
7/21 CHE 4:41
CS 3:29
7/14 CHE 3:17

WSJ 9:38
Reagle 6:56

Wordplay update: The crossword doc expands to 161 screens this weekend, will cross the $2 million gross mark today. I'll be lobbying my in-laws to see it this weekend, but I don't think I can see it yet again...

And the puzzles: Two excellent themeless puzzles today—one from seasoned pro Patrick Berry (the Weekend Warrior in the Sun) and one from teenaged constructor Kyle Mahowald (NYT). I'm pressed for time (heading out of town for the weekend, and unless I hang out at the gas station near my in-laws' for the wifi, I'll be offline for a couple days), so I'll be quick.

The upper left corner of the Berry puzzle stymied me the most—particularly "Spots on a face" for PIPS on dice crossing "Coke consumer"/STEEL MILL (aha, the hidden lower-case "coke") and "It comes out of a bowl"/PIPE STEM. Uniformly good clues and fill.

I didn't do Kyle's NYT until this morning, owing to the exploded cable taking the Amsterdam internet exchange offline (or something like that). Maybe the system's not fully back online, because my finishing time didn't transmit. Whatever. Anyway, beautiful puzzle with umpteen fantastic entries, and clues that wouldn't be out of place on a Saturday. Why don't the rest of you fill in for me and share your impressions of this and the other puzzles of the day?


The theme in Steve Atwood's easy July 14 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle is Tom Swifties. Vic Fleming and Bonnie Gentry team up for the July 21 CHE puzzle, "Infomercial Science." (57-Across is funny.)

Ray Hamel's got a bunch of good stuff in his CrosSynergy puzzle today. And either Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzles is hard, or I wandered off on a different wavelength.

Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Quaff It Up," converts K's/hard C's into Q's to make an especially Q-dense crossword. Quoth Trip Payne, "Yes, Q is a very good letter."

Great offering from Merl Reagle with this week's Philadelphia Inquirer Puzzle, "T Time."

Note re: UTNE, which appears in a few of these puzzles: There's a small chain of local groceries here that has no tabloids in the checkout lane. Nope, at Treasure Island stores, you might peruse the Utne Reader or Architectural Digest while waiting to be rung up.


July 20, 2006

Is it just me?

I can't crack into the NYT's applet—the Java applets won't load—and I've tried two different machines and two different browsers. Is it me or is it them?


July 19, 2006


NYS 4:34
NYT 4:04
CS 3:38
LAT 3:22

It's Thursday (more or less), and you know what that means: If we're lucky, there'll be some sort of gimmicky twist to the NYT puzzle to liven things up. This week, Kevin McCann takes a quick break from his tireless stewardship of cruciverb.com to put out, constructor-wise, with a meaty theme. Or not put out, but rather, put on the dog. With 73 theme squares and four "LOST DOGS" hidden within theme answers, one might say "nice job with the theme, Kevin." But a smattering of other clues also pertain to dogs: ALPO, OFF, SKYE, and HELP. Good clues, too, but I'm too tired to list them now so I'll leave that to the rest of you.

In Jack McInturff's deft Sun puzzle, "Opening Pair," the title and central explanatory theme clue led me to fear yet another poker crossword, but it turned out to be much more elegant than that. McInturff assembled four phrases whose first words could be preceded by IN OR OUT (as in inset and outset). He included some great fill, too—SYRIANA, MCDLTS, RAY KROC, and MIA SARA (who was cute as can be in the classic movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off).


Paula Gamache's LA Times puzzle has six theme entries reinforced by some good fill, like SIR NO SIR. • Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle was bound together by a theme of painful chicken-based puns.


July 18, 2006


Thanks to those of you who commented on yesterday's post, discussed Kevan Choset's theme (the mathematically minded people say it's both an impressive theme—67 squares—and mathematically sound), and played around with possible substitute theme entries. I tried to post a note at the NYT forum letting folks know that "today's puzzle" discussion actually did exist, just over here; but the post wouldn't load. The poor benighted souls who like to talk about the crossword but don't hang out here—all they got was this, featuring a flame war about the offensiveness or lack thereof of the word Eskimo and, more entertainingly, chitchat about the use of glue as a personal lubricant.

Moving along to the menu for Wednesday:

NYS 4:42
Tausig 4:11
NYT 3:35
LAT 3:16
CS 3:02

Lynn Lempel's Sun puzzle. "Tie Game," is sprinkled with great clues. I wonder how many are her work and how many are Peter Gordon's—I do tend to find that some of the cleverest clues in puzzles by my favorite constructors were added by editors such as Will Shortz, Peter, and Mike Shenk. My favorite clues in this puzzle were "Locker room shower?" for ESPN and "Happy time?" for HOUR, and "Poles, e.g." for EUROPEANS. Okay, everyone here done with the puzzle by now? Good. Let's get all spoilery. The rebus leapt out at me early on, with 20-Across's "Côte d'Azur resort"; starting with ST, what else could that be but ST T[ROPE]Z? (As in the old sun-worshipping ad jingle, "Bain de Soleil for the St. Tropez tan"...you remember those commercials, right? A faux-French woman in a bikini, about five years off from converting her skin into Robert Redford–style facial leather? Chemical & Engineering News remembers, and explains how self-tanners work.) The rebus was rendered slightly more difficult to complete because the [ROPE]s weren't symmetrically placed, but the central TIGHT[ROPE]S was perfectly apt. Well done again, Lynn! (And Peter.)

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle for the week is called "All Out," and the theme entries lose an ALL along the way—to best effect in "Rhine ranch hand?"—DAS COWBOY. I liked the phrasal entries, like I SWEAR, ON LOAN, and AT WORST, and the newfangled vibe of GMAIL, Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er BOI," and MOVEON clued as "Left-leaning PAC." Ben is clearly playing to the diehard crossword crowd, because he's included IEOH ("The I in I.M. Pei," of course). And for "Spanish skating figure," I feared it would be some Olympian I had forgotten, but it turned out to be OCHO.

Alison Donald's quip puzzle in the NYT struck me as less onerous than most quip puzzles—possibly because of more interesting clues for the fill? Having read the NYT forum's heated Eskimo discussion today, I couldn't help but laugh when I came across "Many Eskimos" as the clue for ALASKANS. (Will there be an international incident as a result?) Controversy aside, there's "fun house fixture" for MIRROR, "Go from pillar to post" for ROAM (I don't even know what that clue means—common idiom?), "Think about it" for IDEA, "Barefoot activity" for KARATE...I dunno, this puzzle just didn't bore me like many quip puzzles do. The fill also includes LLAMAS—a friend of mine whimsically decided that, alongside his other enthusiasms, Will Shortz is also a noted llama rancher. (Rumor has it there is no truth to that.)


Curtis Yee's LA Times puzzle has a cute theme—it spans classical times, the Renaissance, and the age of plastic schlock—and plenty of great fill, too. Well done, Curtis.


July 17, 2006


NYS 4:48
NYT 3:57
LAT 3:21
CS 2:54

Competitive zeal interfered with my appreciation of Kevan Choset's NYT. The plus side of finding my way to the timed applet later on is that I see a specific speed to shoot for; however, when the seconds tick on beyond the target time, mild disgruntlement ensues. But the puzzle has much to commend it, as does David Levinson Wilk's Sun crossword.

So, where did I get bogged down in the NYT crossword? Right in the first corner, trying to cross ACID and AWES instead of (the much better) WHIM and WOWS, and trying to wedge ROAR in instead of HOHO. And then I blanked on "Star Trek" actor Walter KOENIG. Commendable aspects: a 67-square NUMBERS theme (WHOLE, RATIONAL, REAL, and IMAGINARY), ASWOON and ENAMOR, and the aforementioned upper left corner. (There's another member of the "Hardly Anybody Who Doesn't Do Crosswords Has Ever Heard of Them" club here: NITA Naldi.)

Having no idea how long the Sun puzzle took anyone else, I was free to enjoy it unsullied by issues of competition. "How's That Again?" has one of those extended 15x16 grids, accommodating pairs of 16- and 12-letter theme entries. The term ZITCOM is perfect, and I'm glad to add it to my vocabulary. The always entertaining MTV show PUNK'D was a welcome inclusion in the crossword. Loved the clues for PRE-K ("First class, for short") and LOANS ("Poor students sometimes get them").


Donald Blocher's LA Times puzzle is good for all but the lactose-intolerant. • Helped along by SQUEEZE PLAY, Patrick Jordan's "Fill-osophy" for CrosSynergy is a pangram, as is Patrick's wont.


July 16, 2006


NYS 3:52
CS 2:59
LAT 2:54
NYT 2:51

I think Larry Paul's Monday NYT was actually one of the easiest NYT crosswords in months—if not for a mistake the timed applet triggered me to find and fix, I'd have finished 20 seconds sooner.

The mistake involved not knowing that two letters differed in the spelling variant FALDERAL, which was apparently the original usage, predating folderol. (I suspect people will be up in arms over a two-fisted spelling variant in a Monday puzzle, but they'll have to suck it up and enjoy the etymological lesson.) I hadn't even looked at the crossing (hi, Ellen!) for the first A. The "...to a housekeeper" theme was light, perfect for a Monday, and the fill included many better-than-Monday words (OUTSMART, SOY SAUCE, BICEPS, EXTERIOR).


Gary Steinmehl's Sun puzzle, "Failure Is an Option," gave me a hankering for Milk Duds...


July 15, 2006


NYT 8:41 (in Across Lite)
LAT 8:31
WaPo 8:29
LA Weekly 8:02
CS 4:03

I lost my mojo while doing Ashish Vengsarkar's Sunday NYT puzzle when the timed applet froze up on me (if only I knew which key it was that I bumped—this has happened before, where I hit some non-letter key and whoomp, it's all over. So I opened the puzzle in Across Lite, scrupulously avoided reading any clues while copying over the answers I'd already put in, and came up with an honest bipartite solving time. I loved the theme, which was an ambitious one (if not as frightfully clever and prone to stump people as his last effort, the queue-you-O-tea-E "quote" puzzle that I adored, or as hard to clue as his "Begone" B-less puzzle).

Ashish included seven long theme entries (one a full 21 letters long), all famous people whose names can be aptly anagrammed into the clues. My favorite was NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, clued as "TO APPEAR ON ELBA, NON?" In the category of "proof that remembering the relative obscurities you encounter in crosswords will help you in the future," I didn't mind seeing decades-past baseball player Johnny SAIN this time around; similarly, AQI (air quality index) stumped me a few weeks ago, but hey, I was ready for it when it showed up in a Saturday puzzle. Today's items that I might remember in the future include early Chinese philosopher Mo TZE (a.k.a. Mocius, Mo Zi, Mo Tzu, Mo Tse; into universal love); the Pulitzer-winning NYT critic MARGO Jefferson (who reportedly once said, "No society ever rights a wrong without finding a new one to put in its place."); LOUR as a variant of LOWER (as in a sullen look). Is 117 theme squares a lot? It felt like a lot, which—together with some chipper fill and clues ("Some nerve" = OPTIC!) makes up for the spelling variants RACOON and JNR. I'm looking forward to Ashish's next puzzle, and wonder if he's been cooking up some daily-size themes for us.

Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Bank On It," redefines the banking industry. My favorite clue here was "Swiss capitalists?" for BERNESE.

Fred Jarmuz made his crossword-construction debut this week in a joint effort with Bonnie Gentry, the Sunday LA Times dance-themed puzzle. Fred follows up "Shall We Dance?" with his second go-round will be a Thursday LAT later this month. In a cute fillip (intended?), the central vertical entry is TUXES—and while a tuxedo isn't required for the POLKA, a wedding party in formalwear might well do the POLKA, the SWIM, or the TWIST, no? Congratulations on your debut, Fred!

Good batch of theme entries in Jim Page's Washington Post puzzle, "Big Job." The theme entertained me, though I've never used the phrase, THROW THE BULL ("shoot the bull," yes—same thing).

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" was easier (for me, anyway) than the Friday and Saturday NYTs. If you're one of those solvers who's trying to stretch your skills to reach the Friday/Saturday NYT level, you can tackle each Sunday's CrosSynergy themeless puzzle and work your way up to the harder clues in the NYT themelesses.


July 14, 2006


Newsday 6:30
NYT 5:35
LAT 4:34
CS 3:32
and also Byron Walden's NYT diagramless

Swish! Patrick Berry's NYT puzzle hits nothing but net with just 56 words, a wide-open white-space extravaganza packed with common letters, but not-so-common clues. The toughest clue, for me, was "Two-seaters or four-seaters, e.g.?" for MAITRE DS, and I really should have grasped that "Life at a grocery store" was the CEREAL and not the magazine. My favorite section of this puzzle isn't the quadrant with the Q and J in it—it's the corner where APOLOGIA, WATERLOO, and LITERATI are stacked up, all ending in atypical vowels crossing TAOIST (which, for all I knew, could have been MAOIST—turns out Chuang-tzu was a Chinese philosopher about 2,500 years ago). Is it just me, or do you agree that the REDSTART's breast and tail (avian T&A?) is more orange than red? (I say the robin's "red breast" is orange, too, and ketchup is red-orange. Who's with me?) I know all about France's Cesar film awards and Britain's BAFTAs, but how many Americans know the Canadians have the GENIES? AQUAVIT can be flavored with caraway, or dill (blech), or fennel (yecch), or grains of paradise (huh?) Chaucer's SUMMONER's Tale includes mention of friars flying out of Satan's arse. (The Farrelly brothers have got nothing on Chaucer.) I ventured into Google to look for a picture of a Prince ALBERT frock coat, but came across the Wikipedia entry on the NSFW Prince Albert piercing (hint: it's not in the can).

Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper took a little longer than the Berry puzzle. There are some great entries (GO AWRY, the verb pair SHINNY and JIMMY, and "something on one's agenda," AX TO GRIND), some obscure ones (Ethiopia's Lake TANA, ARCTICS as "waterproof overshoes"), and the acquired-taste RR STA.

Cute theme in Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy creation, "One for All."

Barry Silk, who just had last Saturday's NYT, has today's LA Times themeless. It's on the easy side as themeless puzzles go, but I liked it. My eyes tricked me into thinking the clue for TITO was "20th-century Ethiopian leader for over 30 years," but no. I see now it says European; yes, that makes much more sense! That's just one of about a dozen geography-related entries; YO-YO MA is tied to the Silk Road, ICE is clued as "Cap material?" and Sweden, France, Israel, Germany, the Adriatic, South Africa, the Philippines, Hawaii, and ARABIA all get their due.

This weekend's NYT second Sunday puzzle is a diagramless crossword by Byron Walden. I printed the blank grid out and solved it (great clues, interesting fill)—and later looked at it in Across Lite with the black squares added in, the better to appreciate the visual oomph of the pattern.



This "parental review" of Wordplay (Trip Payne linked to it on his LiveJournal) is hilarious. It warns parents about the questionable and possibly distressing content relating to beer, profanity, poor attitudes, cleavage, and whatnot. My one regret is that I didn't wear a low-cut top myself, so that my cleavage could have been singled out for its iniquity.


July 13, 2006


NYS 16:20
NYT 7:21
CHE (7/14 puzzle not posted yet)
LAT 5:12
CS 3:15

WSJ 8:23
Reagle 8:01

Dear Readers: We're changing things around a bit to make this blog a friendlier place for those people who have fallen behind on their puzzles and aren't as maniacal as I am about doing them promptly. From now on, all those detailed spoilers will be lurking behind the cut; to read the full post, just click the "Read more..." link. The solving times up top will tell you which puzzles are discussed after the jump. And if you're a few days behind on your crossword intake, you can scroll down to the post you want without seeing a zillion spoilers above. Also, the pesky inelegance of having only HaloScan comments accessible from the main page, but Blogger comments accessible from single posts—gone. Now it's all HaloScan, all the time.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Dave ("Evad") Sullivan, who not only makes crossword puzzles, but also is a web expert. Dave monkeyed around with the template and fixed things up for me. Thanks, Dave!

The puzzle getting the lion's share of attention this week is Pete Muller's twisty Sun crossword, "Following Directions." It's a major head-scratcher. The instructions for the gimmick take up four 15-letter entries, and it's hard to fill those lines in before you have the crossing letters, but it's hard to suss out the crossing letters before you've figured out the instructions (whenever a number/references both a/down and an across/clue, swap answers). The gimmicked clues themselves weren't so hard—but the twist meant the solver spent a lot of time assuming the wrong word length. So, did this puzzle take the rest of you two or three times longer than the typical late-week Sun puzzle? Herewith, some related links: CHAKA is dressing funny these days. I once had a boss who went to DEPAUW University. I never knew SATB was used as an abbreviation for soprano, ALTO, tenor, and bass.

This is a good time to issue a plea: You constructors who excel at making twisty, envelope-shredding puzzles, and you editors who publish them (I'm talking to you, Peter and Will), we need more! Constructors whose skewed puzzles I've savored in the past year or two include Henry Hook (Twisted Crosswords book of variety puzzles), Frank Longo (vowelless crosswords), Eric Berlin ("Going Too Far"), Craig Kasper, Lee Glickstein, Pete Muller, Patrick Berry (whose variety puzzles and variety cryptics in the GAMES publications never disappoint), and Patrick Merrell. If I've left off your favorite master of the oblique, please mention him or her in the comments.

Moving along to the NYT, he of the overtly Hibernian name, Brendan Emmett Quigley, actually has an Irish entry, the ARAN Islands. I feel like I should've remembered that the movie based on the ...Electric Sheep book was BLADE RUNNER, and surely I must once have known that TINY TIM's real name was Herbert Khaury. Devious clues are always appreciated; "Man of steel" for JP MORGAN (when SUPERMAN would also fit), "Finger-pointer" for UNCLE SAM, the could-be-related-but-isn't "Blamed" for DOGGONED. Here are some pictures of SATYRS (the butterflies); they're not too colorful. But Brendan's fill was colorful—HAVENT WE MET, WARTS AND ALL, SLAM DANCERS, JAM-PACK, GAG WRITER.


The LA Times puzzle by Joy Andrews made me cranky, as I am not up on my '60s NY Giants coaches (ALLIE Sherman), never heard the last definition for SAP (meaning "a leather-covered hand weapon; a blackjack"; clued as "blunt weapon"), and don't know infielder Manny TRILLO. At least I got UELE right off, eh? And I liked the long fill—LEGERDEMAIN and METROSEXUAL, TRASH TV and EPHEMERA.

Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "Cosigns," cleverly mashes up signage, producing such combos as DO NOT DISTURB WOMEN. Favorite clue: "One who may marry two people" for MINISTER (BIGAMIST also has 8 letters, of course). Then there's "Yodeler's range," which is not ALPS but FALSETTO.

I loved Merl Reagle's "If I Owned a Travel Agency" theme entries. You know what? The geography puns are too good to spoil. If you haven't done this crossword but you appreciate apt and funny puns, get to it. (For one of them, I first put in PIPESTONE, which I've actually been to, but no.)


July 12, 2006


I don't remember the last time I saw a themed NYT puzzle by Manny Nosowsky (that doesn't necessarily mean it was a long time ago). Theme, shmeme—it's all those 7-letter entries I appreciate. FRAID SO, WHATNOT, GO TO POT, IN OR OUT, ZIP CODE (clued "12345, e.g.")? Good stuff. And good clues—such as "Grand finale?" for OLE OPRY, "happy guy in a musical" for FELLA, etc. And all this themeless-type quality constrained by the placement of the theme entries, including the diagonal SLANT? A delight to solve.

Will Nediger (Will, are you still 16?) constructed this week's Themeless Thursday in the Sun, and the puzzle is just jumping with J's and K's (plus a couple Z's). The grid is anchored by the companion entries, JABBERWOCKY and CRACKERJACK, and seasoned liberally with multi-word phrases. I learned that Patrice MACMAHON served as the first president of France's Third Republic, from 1875 to 1879. (His Irish ancestors had been in France for over a century.) The island of Bawean is in the JAVA SEA, and I encourage you to read the interesting (if brief) Wikipedia entry about Bawean. A "karateka's workplace" is DOJO, because a karateka is a practitioner of karate. Will and Peter, thanks for this slice of edutainment.

NYS 5:19
NYT 3:56
LAT 3:56
CS 2:51


Young vs. old crossword fans

I get the Cruciverb-L mailing list in digest form each night. Last night's batch of posts involved a heated discussion spurred by a nascent constructor asking the list members if TRL was kosher crossword fill. The responses were largely split between younger constructors like Ben Tausig and Curtis Yee, ardently defending the validity of crossword entries that skew young, and older ones arguing against an apparent abbreviation (alliteration!) that older solvers might not understand even after completing the puzzle. The esteemed elders pointed out that it's not a term that would show up in a printed reference book (yet), and felt it wouldn't be a fair entry.

Far be it from me to avoid the fray. Here's my opinion: Go for it. Yes, crossword editors who are catering to a largely older audience won't necessarily be fond of an answer best known to MTV viewers. Yes, older solvers may be vexed by such entries appearing in "their" crosswords. However, if the crossword industry as a whole doesn't want to dwindle toward extinction (sudoku, anyone?), it must continue to evolve and try to lure younger solvers. Ben pointed out that the younger generation of crossword solvers have never seen the movie, The Man Who LOVED CAT DANCING which was a theme entry recently. Dean Olsher had a recent post about names that live on primarily in crosswords—how many people under the age of 40 who don't do crosswords know who Eve Arden, Irene Castle, Una Merkel, Elena Verdugo, or Erle Stanley Gardner were? And yet these names haven't been blacklisted from crosswords. I say for every ELENA or ERLE, young solvers have earned a TRL or LIL JON. Plus, if the clue provided a little information (e.g., "MTV show hosted by [whoever hosts it]"), solvers might not learn what TRL stands for, but at least they'd now know that TRL was an MTV show. And who knows? It's possible that a few decades from now, the show will be deemed as key to pop music as the old "Ed Sullivan Show" was. Why not start teaching solvers the content that their puzzles will continue to have in the years ahead?

And remember Will Shortz's philosophy, articulated in Wordplay and elsewhere, that the NYT crossword can include everything that appears in the paper? A search for TRL and MTV turns up 30 articles in the New York Times.

*getting off my soapbox now, feeling ever so young*


July 11, 2006


Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader puzzle, "World Figures," plays on numbers in foreign languages that sound like English words. I liked the LIBERAL DOS the best. Tausigean touches include KLONDIKE bars, DEEPDISH pizza, a bunch of 8- and 9-letter fill, BOSE stereos, "'Simpsons' dad" for APU (father of octuplets, vs. Homer's mere three children), and silken and firm TOFUS. IFNI is pretty obscure (it's a Moroccan area the Spaniards used to lay claim to), but I've seen it in another crossword in the past year, so it's not completely out there.

Joe Bower's Sun puzzle, "Under There," has a laugh-out-loud punchline at theme's end. Anyone who knows Joe has been trained to sniff out lewdness and double entendres in anything he writes, but I think the puzzle's innuendo is only in my mind. I mean, he's got the word ORAL in there, but the clue relates to...Rev. Roberts. And "it has a button on its tip" puts the Joe-savvy solver in mind of something other than an EPEE. Anyway, the puzzle's great fun, and well-crafted to boot (I can certainly forgive ACT UP crossing FED UP—there was another puzzle the other day that had WEAR crossing WORN or WORE in some form, and I didn't hear anyone whinging about that).

There's some nice fill (QUASH, WHAT IF, PINKIE) in Richard Chisholm's NYT, which could have been titled, "From Right to Left" (the theme entries contain an R-to-L letter change). This crossword's not unusual in cluing IDA as "actress Lupino." Did you know she was also a director? It's true. She specialized in melodramas, one of which I saw as part of a "Women in the Director's Chair" film series.

Are you a fan of the song Gary Louris wrote for the Wordplay closing credits, "Read Every Word"? Then eat your heart out. My husband's been listening to the song on that Minnesota Public Radio program, and now he can sing it and play it on guitar. Until such time as IFC arranges for a soundtrack album or gives us a way to download Gary's recording, I will make do with the household live cover version. (See? This is why the girls go for the guys in earnest college bands.)

Tausig 4:54
NYS 4:49
NYT 3:39
LAT 2:54
CS 2:54


July 10, 2006


Karen Tracey's sweet and chewy COOKIES-themed NYT was the perfect antidote to the woeful excuse for a CHOCOLATE CHIP cookie I just ate (store-bought, and not by me). A fresh theme (to my eyes, anyway), some above-Tuesday fill (SALINA, REA clued as "New Deal program: Abbr."—but with easy enough crossings), and interesting fill (INVEIGLE, APOLOGIZE). And why did this puzzle take me longer than most recent Tuesday NYTs? I was multi-tasking. My husband wanted an assist with the Harvey Estes book, "Crosswords for a Rainy Day," and it's challenging to speed-solve and consult simultaneously (it's like running with ankle weights).

Patrick Berry's 15x16 Sun puzzle ("Palindromic Products, Inc.") is nicely constructed, and I like the BURSITIS RUB and REDNESS ENDER entries. Ever heard of SHARP-SET, meaning hungry? (Me neither.) I had a brief tumble into nostalgic reverie with the POLLUTE clue mentioning Woodsy Owl. Was it just me, or did other '70s kids tend to conflate Woodsy Owl with the Tootsie Pop owl?

NYS 4:54
NYT 4:05
CS 3:55
LAT 2:40


More Wordplay cities

By the way, there are additional cities scheduled to show Wordplay in the weeks ahead. (I haven't heard about any new additions—places that hadn't signed up before but have now been whipped into a frenzy of anticipation. March of the Penguins sprawled out to the suburbs, and who knows? Maybe Wordplay will open wider, too.) Here's the listing I received a few weeks ago:

July 14
Bellevue, WA
Omaha, NE
Great Barrington, MA
Bantam, CT
Tallahassee, FL
Tulsa, OK
Oklahoma City, OK
Santa Fe, NM
Albuquerque, NM
San Antonio, TX—perhaps it will still be playing when the NPL attendees hit town
Tucson, AZ
Monterey, CA
San Luis Obispo, CA
Ft. Collins, CO—home of movie star Al Sanders
Las Vegas, NV—remember, what happens in Vegas...
Nashville, TN—just added!

July 21
Lawrence, KS
Newburyport, MA
Keene, NH
Waterbury, CT
East Stroudsburg, PA
Harrisburg, PA
Charleston, SC
Ponca City, OK—Patrick Jordan's hometown
Reno, NV
Salem, OR
Eugene, OR
Corvallis, OR

July 23
Allentown, PA

July 28
Dayton, OH
Missoula, MT

August 4
Gettysburg, PA

August 18
Hilton Head, SC



Monday NYT by Randall Hartman: I bet the name + name = homophone of phrase theme is almost endless in its possibilities. Could be a good basis for a word game...

Favorite puzzle of the weekend: Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's LA Weekly puzzle, "Spelling Test," filled with Scrabbly, tough-to-spell names. I whizzed right through it—hooray for being able to remember unusual spellings! I read an article in the Chicago Trib about the spelling reform people who deplore the plethora of ways to spell many of the sounds in the English language. The article listed about 30 ways to spell the long-U sound, ranging from MOON to RENDEZVOUS to LIEU to SHOE, etc. While I see the reformists' point, I love the diversity of the English language, the fact that these crazy spellings hint at the origins of the words—we have Old English roots, Greek and Latin, Romance languages, Asian, American Indian, Germanic, Scandinavian, Slavic, African, etc.

Monday NYS by Kelsey Blakley: "Double Feature" laid out six theme entries, all two-word phrases starting with A/A, E/E, I/I, O/O, U/U, and Y/Y, in that order.

Sunday Washington Post by Dave Sullivan: In "You Can Say That Again," the RE- theme is supplemented by some great fill, such as GOES LONG and MR ROGERS.

Monday CrosSynergy by Bob Klahn: Relatively hard for a Monday puzzle, and for a CrosSynergy offering.

Mon. NYT 2:52
Mon. NYS 3:22
Sun. LA Weekly 6:44
Sun. WaPo 8:30
Sun. CS 4:39
Mon. CS 4:45
Mon. LAT 2:42


July 09, 2006


The talented Patrick Berry constructed today's "Kneecaps" puzzle in the NYT. The eight theme entries made up one of the most amusing themes I've seen in months, appending a sounds-like-"knee" syllable to the ends of the base phrases. WITHOUT A CLOONEY, CONTEMPT OF COURTNEY, EDGAR ALLAN PONY, THE KARATE KIDNEY, REMEMBER THE ALIMONY, FROM ON HEINIE, and LOOK OUT BOLOGNA were my favorites among the theme entries. (Yes, seven out of the eight were my favorites. What can I say? They made me giggle.) I won't document my dead-tree solving time today, but will say that I suspect I've become considerably faster online than on paper by now.

I accompanied my xenial hostess to the late showing of Wordplay I have now seen the movie in four states (Utah during Sundance, Connecticut during the ACPT, Illinois, and Minnesota). I'm guessing the stars, who traveled to so many film festivals to support the film, can top my count. There were about 30 people at a 9:30 showing on the third weekend it was showing here, in a state where the winters are so long that locals like to take advantage of the outdoors in summertime—so it seems like a respectable amount of business.


July 08, 2006


Wow, look at all the Scrabbly goodness in Barry Silk's NYT crossword! After uncovering the first few instances of Q, Z, and X, I figured there could be more—and indeed there were. That heightened suspicion made it a little easier to fill in the later sections of the puzzle. I didn't time myself while doing the puzzle in the paper, but the upper left corner filled in nicely; I think the other quadrants and especially the middle were tougher than that first corner. Several great clues to single out: "Ball girl" for BELLE, "They might scrape bows" for BERGS, and "Debriefed group?" for NUDISTS.

Great entries, and oh so Scrabbly: T SQUARE, QUICKIES ("afternooners" being, I presume, midday romps in the sack), Z AXIS, WONT DO, and numerous other Z, J, X, and Q words. The less-than-demure QUICKIES is partnered with HEROIN, summoning up the tableau of junkies in a cheap motel (but I doubt they're NUDISTS). Oh, Gray Lady, when did you get hooked on the smack?

New factoids I learned: Outside the U.S., Motown carries the TAMLA name. Crocodile Dundee's given name is Mick (I've never seen the movies, so I had no idea). Bulwer-Lytton wrote a romance about George ARAM. (What? Another Aram besides Mr. Khachaturian?). The gastropod is this here mollusk, the MUREX. There's a giant ASTEROID named ICARUS that swings past earth every 19 years, apparently. LIS pendens is a pending lawsuit.

I haven't done the other daily puzzles today—probably won't get to them for a couple days. But the weather forecast here in the Twin Cities is for mid-80s and not muggy, so it's a perfect day to eschew crosswords.


July 07, 2006

Wordplay update

The latest news from director Patrick Creadon:

We have another huge weekend ahead of us. WORDPLAY is expanding further to 125 screens across the country. We hope we can continue to post great numbers as we move through July. Many thanks to all of you that have trekked out to see WORDPLAY, and if you haven't had a chance to see the film yet please try to rally this weekend.

WORDPLAY has crossed the $1 million mark at the box office, taking only 19 days to get there (just under three weeks). By comparison, last year's "Enron" took 3 weeks, "Mad Hot Ballroom" didn't get to $1 million until its 4th week, and "Murderball" took 6 weeks. Of these films, two of them were nominated for Academy Awards last year, and "Mad Hot Ballroom" was on the short list but missed out on the nomination.

We've taken a terrible fall on Rottentomatoes this week. I'm sorry to report that we are no longer the best reviewed film in America. We have fallen all the way down to number 3 on the Top 100 Movies of 2006 list. We apologize for any embarassment this may have caused you.... and if I ever meet that guy from The Village Voice...... (just kidding).


July 06, 2006


I'm wondering if this is a debut for the NYT's Friday constructor, Joe Krozel. It's got the look of a themeless puzzle, but those five 15-letter entries are, impressively enough, all movie titles. (Anyone know of previous puzzles along these lines?) Sure, there's plenty of shorter fill that won't wow anyone, but holy cow! There are 75 letters' worth of movie titles (83, if you include GODSPELL). Good cluing overall, too.

I had to laugh when I was doing Ed Early's Weekend Warrior, with three sets of triple-stacked 15's. Byron Walden once mentioned that an unusually high percentage of triple-stacks include the entry A TEENAGER IN LOVE, and here it is again! "Why must I be a teenager in love, in a crossword once again?" (Is there any other 15-letter entry that's been used more than this one?) JENNIFER ANISTON was a gimme up at 1-Across (she's also been in a themeless puzzle before, Byron's March 25 NYT), and another actress, ELIZABETH HURLEY, was moderately gimme-ish; the two of them led me through the grid without much struggle. (And look what I found when I Googled "jennifer aniston" and "crossword.")

Ben Tausig's weekly Chicago Reader puzzle, "A Substitution," has a trumped-up theme, but what pun theme isn't inherently trumped up? Best Roman numeral clue in ages: "Roman 2x4?" for VIII.

I'll be out of town this weekend, and will be waiting for the newspaper to land on the porch to do the Saturday and Sunday NYT puzzles. Blogging may take place, but then again, it may not...we'll see. I may hold off on the other weekend puzzles for a ginormous crossword binge upon my return on Monday night.

Oh—those of you who have grown frustrated with the technical malfeasances of the NYT forum, try going to this NYT page to submit a complaint via the e-mail form. I tried to complain earlier today, but gave up when I couldn't get my message to go through despite trying three times. Ain't that rich?


Today's CrosSynergy, "Surely You Just," is an easy one from Harvey...Ustes.

Tough Wall Street Journal puzzle by "Judith Seretto" (a.k.a. editor Mike Shenk. "Exchange Seats" has one of those themes in which the answers end up packed with things that aren't real words.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle includes one of my favorite medical terms, BORBORYGMUS. It's not generally thought of as a "stomach-rumbling sound," at least not the way your stomach growls when you're hungry. It's more the gaseous burblings down in the intestines. If you never knew there was a word for that mundane phenomenon, remember borborygmus! Live it, learn it, love it. Also, if you couldn't view the full clue at 17-Across, the parenthetical explanation said, "This is the first 'three-peater' in this puzzle. There are 14 more—plus one 'bonus-peater' near the end." The three-peaters are words/phrases in which the first three letters are repeated as the second three letters. The bonus-peater must be ALFALFA, which both starts and ends with repeated trigrams.

Tausig 5:10
LAT 4:13
NYS 4:10
NYT 4:04
CS 3:16

WSJ 10:54
Reagle 8:42


July 05, 2006


I don't know if Pete Muller has it in him to make an ordinary crossword. He had the word ladder and the AC/DC rebus in the Sun, and then the utterly S-less NYT (not a single S in the grid or clues). And now, THE_GAP puzzle in the Thursday NYT, with intentionally blank squares as sort of an anti-rebus. (If you're hung up in the timed applet and can't figure out what to enter in the gaps, try S for space. It took me about 30 seconds to hit on that solution.) Some juicy clues ("Board unit?" for MEAL, "They may be hard to beat" for ODDS, "Meat dish often served with gravy" for ALPO, "Good college for poets?" for BARD). My favorite entries were AMY and vacant-eyed DONDI.


In the order in which I completed them:

In Edgar Fontaine's Wednesday NYS puzzle, "Do You Know Jack?", there's a FEE FI FO FUM rebus laid out an entirely different way from how Levi Denham and Nancy Salomon did it in their February 16, 2006, NYT. Both versions are fun.

The Monday NYS by Donna S. Levin is called "'Sex' Appeal." Took me a while to glom onto the theme—"Sex and the City" characters. Cute, if a tad anachronistic (at least the reruns are in syndication now).

The highlight of today's CrosSynergy puzzle by Will Johnston, "Sandwich Spot," was the intriguing fill. The Brazilian dance MAXIXE was new to me. I also like IT'S ME (so much more idiomatic than ITSI or ITISI), LET'S GO, ORMOLU, and DIE DOWN.

Ed Early's quip puzzle in the LA Times was right up my alley, too, despite being a quip puzzle. How often does that happen? (Not too often.)

The Thursday NYS is Gary Steinmehl's "Zounds!" I love the theme entries! Excellent puzzle overall.

NYT 5:57
Thur NYS 5:44
Wed NYS 5:15
LAT 3:46
Mon NYS 3:40
CS 3:31
Tausig tba


Lame Star Wars word game

Okay, this came out of brainstorming with my six-year-old, whose knowledge of Star Wars is mostly attributed to the Lego Star Wars video game, and my husband, whose inner word geek is emerging after seeing Wordplay. My own understanding of the characters is sorely lacking, so if you're a Star Wars geek, my clues will appall. The gist of it is that each answer is a Star Wars character's name with one letter changed. None of the characters is really obscure. (My husband and I also came up with a potential crossword theme, but I haven't really checked for symmetrical letter counts yet...)

Example: [Jedi pilot experiencing too many G's] could be PUKE SKYWALKER. Two answers are hyphenated, but the hyphen breaks aren't signaled. If you don't like puns, then move along—nothing to see here.

Bulldozer (5,4)
Jedi pain reliever (6,9)
Deli sandwich, hold the cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo (3,4)
Bounty hunter salad topping (4,4)
Lesbian royal (5,7)
Leader with a good feeling (10,9)
Where Gungans wash up (3,3,5)
Jazz royal (8,4)
Rogue with initiative (5,10)
Kingpin who's a total ass (5,3,4)
Unlucky Jedi master (6,4)
Dancing bounty hunter (5,4)

Leave your answers in the comments.


July 04, 2006


Nancy Salomon's NYT supplements a sound-change pun theme (Wasn't "Send in the Clones" one of the titles George Lucas was considering for a Star Wars movie?) with goodies like ROTTEN LUCK, HOW SO, YOUR TURN, SLUSH FUND, and CASH COWS. MICRO was clued "short-short skirt," and I thought to myself, what does that mean exactly? So I did a Google image search, and all I can say is, holy crap.


Hmm, still no Sun puzzles uploaded this week? We're being set up for some crossword bulimia here—at least the binge portion.

NYT 3:58 (frittered away 15 or 20 seconds with an adjacent-key typo)
CS 3:44
LAT 3:13
NYS tba


An olio

The "Charlie Rose" show featuring (in the second half) Will Shortz and Wordplay is available via Google Video. Play the show in your browser—Will's segment starts at the 36:00 mark, and you should be able to skip the first 35 minutes if you're not interested in Sydney Pollack's documentary on Frank Gehry.

Matt Gaffney's brand-new book, Gridlock, arrived Monday afternoon. I've read most of it already, and even if my name didn't appear in it (this here blog is quoted a couple times), I'd still recommend it. Matt's writing takes a warmly conversational tone, and the subjects he covers offer a nice addition to what we learn in Wordplay: this year's ACPT; a Farrar vs. Weng vs. Maleska vs. Shortz discussion; a constructing smackdown involving Matt, Frank Longo, Byron Walden, and Peter Gordon; an in-person interview with the elusive Henry Hook; a behind-the-scenes look at puzzle publishing from the magazine side; and the impact of packaging on crossword book sales (learn about the genesis of those teeny Sterling toilet-seat books).

While waiting for the fireworks show to start last night (Chicago's pyrotechnics are traditionally held on the 3rd of July), I came up with a Star Wars–based word game (my little boy is fond of the Lego Star Wars video game and talks incessantly of the characters—whose goofy names lend themselves to wordplay. I'll post that little game later tonight if I don't drowse off first.


Tuesday the Fourth of July

Ed Early's NYT features a Revolutionary War theme. Who's GENERAL GAGE, anyway? I don't recall that name from U.S. history class in high school.

The CrosSynergy puzzle, Thomas Schier's "Independence Day," fills six rows with 15-letter entries made up of strings of red, white, or blue items. I rather like that format—not knowing where the word breaks fall ramps up the challenge a little. (Love those variety crosswords in Games or Games World of Puzzles in which the whole grid is white squares and you're on your own for figuring out where the word breaks should go.)

Diane Baldwin's Monday LA Times puzzle was...tasty, and Fred Jackson III's Tuesday LA Times was above AVERAGE MAN level.

CS 4:35
Tues LAT 3:23
NYT 3:04
Mon LAT 2:40


July 02, 2006


Take a word from Randall Hartman's NYT puzzle, change one letter to a G, and anagram it (leaving four letters in the same spots), and what do you get? You get a word that ties in tangentially with the hidden COLON/ASS mini-theme. Putting such malarkey aside, I liked the pun theme. Crossing one of the theme entries is DEKE ("Hockey player's deceptive move")—a word that this hockey nonenthusiast learned only last year, when it popped up in Byron Walden's ACPT finals puzzle. I tend to appreciate the scarring experience of puzzling out a mystery word via crossings or a wild guess, and looking it up or asking someone about it later—given that my overarching goal is to someday win the tournament, I'd rather uncover new-to-me words throughout the year so there are fewer words left to vex me at Stamford. I'm just arrogant enough to not worry that sharing what I've learned about somewhat obscure words will boost somebody else's tournament performance to my detriment.

So, who's your favorite Monday- to Tuesday-level constructor? I don't expect a ton of answers given that it's a holiday weekend, but I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.


Perhaps July 3's also a New York Sun holiday. And perhaps the LA Times staffer in charge of uploading the puzzles is off for the day.

Don't forget to watch or record "Charlie Rose" tonight, featuring Will Shortz and director Sydney Pollack.

I'll be celebrating Independence Day by going downtown for the annual July 3rd fireworks in Chicago's Grant Park, and staying in a hotel nearby. After hotel checkout on the 4th, assorted family events will keep me from the internet until Tuesday evening—so look for my Tuesday post around the time I ordinarily put up a Wednesday post.

In the meantime, if you're not racing about hither and yon with holiday festivities and you're bored silly, check out this list of autoantonyms at fun-with-words.com. The page includes links for other goodies like spoonerisms, palindromes, heteronyms, malapropisms, mnemonics...need I go on? I haven't had time to explore the site, but it looks diverting.

CS 3:17
NYT 2:50
NYS tba (?)
LAT tba


July 01, 2006


Just a few short days after one of Elizabeth Gorski's ardent fans left a comment at this blog raving about her talents, she pops up with a Fourth of July–themed NYT. I got off to a good start by eyeballing the mostly empty grid when I read the clue for 20-Across, "Historic symbol whose shape can be found hidden in this completed puzzle." The sideways T-shaped blocks next to 42-Across, the left-right symmetry, and the overall look of the grid shouted LIBERTY BELL to me, though I think the solver was supposed to connect the dots made by the [RING] rebus squares to see the bell. (And sure, the thingamabob from which the bell is suspended is more L-shaped than T-shaped, but whatever.) The rebus entries were mostly short ones, which made it a little tougher to spot the right places for them. Plenty of good, longish non-theme entries, including the 9-letter words (PHONE TREE is great) in the top corners that run alongside the 16-letter theme entries, and the triple-stacked 10's (including ROSE GARDEN and I CAN RELATE) in the bottom corners. Interestingly, the words in the bottom row could have been split into two entries each, since the 101-Down and 103-Down rebus entries could have been made singular.


In Henry Hook's LA Weekly puzzle, "Movie Series," there was just one movie title I wasn't familiar with: The Blue MAX. Alas, that M crossed SHEMA, a Jewish prayer I hadn't heard of. (Grr.)

NYT 10:25
LA Weekly 10:10
WaPo 8:28
LAT 7:56
CS 4:17