September 30, 2006

Sunday the 1st of October

NYT 11:55
WaPo 9:45
LAT 8:56
CS 7:48
BG 7:45

I was late getting to the Sunday NYT puzzle because I was out celebrating my birthday (on the Times' six-week syndication delay schedule). Aptly, I preceded the Ashish Vengsarkar crossword with a hearty meal at an Indian restaurant, and doused the spicy heat with...Italian wine. Between the lateness of the hour and the libations, I'm delighted to have squeaked in under the 12-minute mark. My favorite fill entry here was WOWED EM, and my favorite clue...hard to say, because I'm sleepy now. What did you enjoy most?


I got mired down in the right half of Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge—the toughest themeless puzzle this week, for me.

In Richard Chisholm's Washington Post puzzle, it took me a while to make my way to the explanatory theme entry, so I spend a long time having no idea what tied the theme entries together. Hmm, suppose paying closer attention to the puzzle's title might've helped...

Ernest Lampert's LA Times puzzle, "Puts and Calls," features a theme of phrases clued simply [Put ___] or [Call ___], so letter/word pattern recognition is key for completing the theme entries (well, that plus the crossings). There was actually one phrase I'd never heard—military references are not my forte.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's "Beast Places to Live" Boston Globe puzzle is jam-packed with groan-inducing puns.


September 29, 2006

Saturday, 9/30

NYT 7:09
Newsday 6:06
LAT 5:07
CS 2:58

Patrick Berry's Saturday NYT is about as difficult as the average Saturday NYT, which means it had me barking up the wrong tree in several spots—rather than staring at a blank grid, I had plenty of answers, but some of them weren't correct. I got off to a quick start filling in GIRL for 1-Down, which was completely wrong (should've been HAHA—this was nowhere near as hard a clue for HAHA as the one Tyler Hinman used six months ago, but it duped me all the same). I personally resent the clue [Fiendish] for DEMONICAL—if it were demonic or demoniacal, I could get on board with it, though. My Entertainment Weekly habit failed me in that I forgot that it was ANNE HECHE who wrote the book in 19-Across—and, dang it, I read an article mentioning the title just this month. Didn't Patrick use TORTONI in one of those Starbucks contest puzzles last spring? It seems familiar. Wow, this post is meandering, isn't it? If you want a reminder on how to play DOTS, click that link. I love the word PROLIX, so how come I've never uttered it aloud? Favorite clues: [Exchange words?] for TRANSLATE, [Second person appearing in the Bible] for THOU (d'oh!), [Exciting drive?] for HOLE IN ONE, and [Producer of the megaflop "E.T."] for ATARI. I have no recollection of that last item, but apparently the game bombed so impressively that Atari buried millions of "E.T." cartridges in a landfill.


The Onion crossword to launch next week

The satirical weekly newspaper we know and love, the Onion, will start carrying a crossword puzzle next week. Ben Tausig, who edits the puzzles, reports:

The constructing duties are in the capable hands of some of the finest minds in the business, including Byron Walden, Brendan Quigley, Deb Amlen, Matt Jones, Tyler Hinman, Francis Heaney, and Matt Gaffney, and I will also contribute as well.

Upon launch, the feature will be in the print edition only, though it will expand to the website in the next few weeks. Beginning next Wednesday, October 4th, you can find it on newsstands in Madison, Milwaukee, NYC, Chicago, the Twin Cities, Denver, Boulder, LA, and San Francisco.

If you don't live in one of those cities, fear not: You can receive the Onion puzzle via e-mail each week along with Ben's Ink Well puzzle. Sign up here.

I'm psyched that an outlet with (scattered) nationwide distribution, heavy web presence, and younger demographics is making space for a crossword puzzle. This ain't gonna be your grandma's crossword!


Friday, September 29

NYS 5:50
NYT 5:22
9/15 CHE 4:22
LAT 4:11
CS 3:23

Reagle 7:49
WSJ 7:20

Two excellent themeless puzzles start the weekend off right—David Quarfoot's NYT crossword and a Sun Weekend Warrior by Jeffrey Harris.

Quarfoot did have one themeless puzzle that slaughtered me, but the others he's done have been reasonably kind to me. If this one feels a little familiar to you, it could be because this is the second time he's used ZYZZYVA—a [Destructive tropical American weevil]—in that spot (his June 18, 2004, NYT also included the bug). I admired the chunks of bundled consonants—CD-ROM DRIVE crossing JACKSON and OLD MAID, as well as MS-DOS crossing AMCS and WOMEN'S LIB. The grid also features Red Skelton's I DOOD IT, Mae West as a SEX GODDESS, and an Eisenhower quote using EGOMANIAC—even young constructors can play to older solvers. Here's the rose apple that's related to the CLOVE tree. A TAM-TAM can be either a tom-tom or a gong. The baseball player in 11-Across is Hall-of-Famer Johnny MIZE. The Québecois place name Rouyn-NORANDA was new to me; Noranda's a contraction or "North Canada" rather than a French name. My favorite clues were [Cut loose] for REVEL and [Alternative to war] for OLD MAID.

Where Quarfoot showcases ZYZZYVA, Jeffrey Harris drops in the also-Scrabbly EXXON VALDEZ. There's good interlock between the 11x3 sections crossed by 12-letter entries. The fill is interesting—SOURBALL hard candy, the short two-word phrase GO OFF (which took me a while to hit upon), FRAT ROW, and the unusual LARCENER—and has a few tricky spots where two plausible answers share some letters (MEDIAL, not MESIAL; YOKELS, not YAHOOS; FABRIC, not MATRIX). My favorite clues were [They have lots of dead people] for ESTATE SALES, relying on meaning #10 for "lots"; [Ringers ring them] for PEGS, in the game of horseshoes; the pairing of two [Solid, in a sense] words, IRONCLAD and CONCRETE; [Tribeca manufacturer] for SUBARU; and [Name in a 1984 breakup] for MA BELL, the phone company rather than, say, Elizabeth Taylor (who didn't remarry for nine years after her 1982 divorce from Sen. John Warner).


Ed Early’s LA Times puzzle jettisons the Y from base phrases to yield theme answers such as BOOB TRAP…which puts me in mind of mammography and spurs me to refer you to my donation page for the Walk for Hope on October 8; I’m raising money for breast cancer research, education, and treatment. (Sincere gratitude to those of you who have already donated.)

Merl Reagle’s Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle includes one of those giant clues that are difficult to view in Across Lite. 23-Across says [Calm, sit-down encounters that usually don’t involve, say, pythons and tarantulas—unless you’re talking to 120 Across (whose name, by the way, is an anagram of this answer)]. The 11 theme entries aren’t always obvious, but the puzzle is comparatively easy.

The Wall Street Journal crossword by Randolph Ross is also easier than usual, with an entertaining theme. Alan Olschwang’s Chronicle of Higher Education theme’s fun, too.

There’s a grammar faux pas in a clue in Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy puzzle. 37-Down is clued [Ulm article] but the answer is the conjunction UND. I wonder if the fill had originally been the French article UNE…

Sorry about the technical glitches with double-posting and null-posting. Perhaps Blogger has caught the cold that’s going around.


September 27, 2006

Thursday, 9/28

NYS 5:58
NYT 4:01
LAT 3:44
CS 2:47

All righty, I'm gonna go with dry, link-free descriptions of the Sun and Times puzzles on account of an overpowering somnolence overtaking me. The first of these is...Kevan Choset's Sun crossword, "Call Me Ambiguous," with four pairs of tangentially related men who share a name (the first name for one and the last name for the other). One thing that threw me off here was the clue, [Its members may have spent their allowances on eight-track tapes]—I was born two years into the GEN X era, and I'm not so sure that people a mere two years my senior were buying eight-tracks just before my peers were buying vinyl. Any 41- or 42-year-olds out there who used to buy eight-tracks?

The NYT puzzle's by Richard Chisholm, with a GREAT DANE theme of great Danes. It's either cool or off-putting that there are unrelated geographic names (SIBERIA, REYKJAVIK) and a Swedish store (IKEA) within the grid. There are JESUS and a pope, plus JERUSALEM and MENORAH, not to mention LEB (short for Lebanon). Okay, I've decided I like those entries.

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle's called "By the Numbers"—another mathematical theme. (I think it's time for clever literary themes, don't you?) I liked the payoff from the last theme entry in Jesse Goldberg's LA Times puzzle.


September 26, 2006

Wednesday, 9/27

NYS 4:56
Tausig 4:43
LAT 3:48
CS 3:08
NYT 3:06

I was out all day, so I haven't done Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle yet—will get to that sometime Wednesday, but maybe not until afternoon...

I didn't grasp what Jack McInturff was doing with his Sun theme until I got toward the bottom of the puzzle, with A BEAUTIFUL RIND containing an unmistakable M-to-R letter switch (the puzzle's title is "Mr. Bond). Fun clues: [Number two helper?] for EX-LAX, [Sister of Moses] for APPLE (Gwyneth's two kids). Difficult (for a nonmusician) clue: [Abruptly, on a musical score] for SUBITO. Here's a recent Ted RALL cartoon, in case you were wondering what he's done.

I did Elizabeth Gorski's NYT puzzle quickly enough, but apparently the effort exhausted me (tonight's the night I catch up on sleep! or that's my plan, anyway) because I can't think of a thing to say. Good night!


Good morning! Ben Tausig's sound-change puzzle has some clever clues. I've forgotten what they were after Googling the base phrase for 65-Across; I'd include a link, but the pictures are all too horrifying. Oh! I liked the clue [Tat exchange] for TIT—given the venue, the solver presumably thinks of tattoos rather than timeworn phrases.


September 25, 2006

Tuesday, 9/26

NYS 4:38
NYT 3:21
LAT tba
CS tba

I'm far too sleepy after dinner out with Byron and Tyler again. I realized it was past my son's bedtime, but hadn't noticed I was entering the witching hour wherein my cognitive skills start to doze off. Ergo, short, short post:The NYT puzzle's by Randall Hotman, or Hartman, if you insist—another in the series of Boston-accent themes. The Sun puzzle is Patrick Blindauer's "Double-Jointed," in which a (roughly) central letter does double duty in the phrases the theme entries are based on. Outside of the theme, there's the old video game QIX and the word CYBERPET—both seldom seen in crosswords but fun.


September 24, 2006

Monday, 9/25

CS 4:23
NYS 3:58
LAT 2:58
NYT 2:43

My favorite Monday constructor, Lynn Lempel, has produced another early-week puzzle, this one with five theme entries... all tinged with the family of hues: the old movie I'd never heard of, LILAC TIME, GRAPE NUTS, LAVENDER OIL, PLUM TUCKERED OUT (variant of plumb), and the more generic PURPLE PROSE.

Mark Feldman's 15x16 Sun puzzle, "Evil No-Nos," draws on the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" trio.

Hmm, there's really not much to say about Monday puzzles...


September 23, 2006

Sunday, 9/24

NYT 10:52
WaPo 9:18
BG 8:31
LAT 8:21
Newsday 6:06
CS 4:27

The NYT puzzle by Mark Diehl and Kevin McCann, "All-Knowing," ups the ante by being a quote puzzle, meaning you've got to work harder on the Down clues (unless you happen to have memorized this particular quote—I didn't). The quip is from OSCAR/WILDE, and it's accompanied by some difficult clues and unusual fill. Raise your hand (mine isn't raised) if you knew that the [Fish that may someday spawn] was the SAMLET, a young salmon. The M, where it crossed NMI (short for "no middle initial") was the very last square I filled in. [Stain] led me straight to DISCOLOR, which differs by only two letters from the correct answer, DISHONOR. The clue [Just firm enough] put me in mind of mattress-related adjectives, so henceforth I'll be referring to mattresses with just the right firmness as AL DENTE. [Scout leader?] had me wondering for a bit until the crossings gave up the REIN, the reins for Tonto's horse, Scout. I'm always pleased with a shout-out to a retired Crayola color like RAW UMBER.


Today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle's by Harvey Estes, as is the Washington Post Sunday puzzle, "Named for the Proprietor. The LA Times Syndicate puzzle's credited to Nora Pearlstone (anagram of "not a real person," i.e., editor Rich Norris).

A few of the squares in Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Numbers Racket," were flat-out lucky guesses. In square 59, the [Numerical prefix] could plausibly be HEXA or SEXA (as in sexagenarian), and it crosses [Ancient 1.5-gallon measure], the obscure HIN. Rationally, if the crossing were an S, there would have been a less obscure clue for SIN. An even trickier spot was where the ["Alice in Wonderland" illustrator] John TENNIEL crosses the not-too-common MINIFIES and CONGE.

For an easier crossword, try Fred Piscop's Newsday puzzle, "Vault Disney: Fun facts about Disney films."


September 22, 2006

Saturday, 9/23

NYT 6:34
LAT 5:50
Newsday 5:03
CS 3:21

Well, I finished Matthew Lees' NYT puzzle in exactly the same amount of time Sherry Blackard's puzzle took me yesterday. Not bad, considering that glass of wine (yes, just one) confused my fingertips and made it hard to type properly. The wine was imbibed during the Great September Crossword People's Chicago Dinner attended by me, Byron Walden, Tyler Hinman, and Byron's lovely friend Lisa. Lisa's not a crossword fanatic, so we actually had normal-person, non-crossword-centric conversation most of the time...except we did have to chat about Sherry's puzzle a bit.

So, the crossword puzzle. How about it, huh? The first thing to remark on is the central black squares that depict an EMBEDDED aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, plus the top and bottom rows spelling out the theme/mini-theme, INFINITE/NUMBER and HEBREW/ALPHABET. If you include the black-square aleph, that's 51 theme squares in a crossword that has a themeless vibe to it. Favorite clues included [Apples for the teacher, maybe' for IMACS, [Superbly pitched] for NO-HIT, [Cordial surroundings?] for BAR, and [Private instruction?] for SEX ED. Notable wrong turns included ROLL instead of MOVE for [Turn in a game], FINANCE instead of RUN A TAB for [Put off paying, perhaps], and, quite implausibly (I blame the pinot grigio), BANKS instead of BERMS for [Canal banks]. Anyway, good choice of a crossword to lead into Rosh Hashanah, no?


September 21, 2006

Friday! 9/22

NYT 6:34
NYS 6:17
LAT 5:35
9/8 CHE 4:17
CS 3:17

Reagle 8:40
WSJ 8:13

I love Crossword Fridays. The Saturday NYT is great, of course, but the Sun doesn't publish a crossword on Saturday, and Fridays are when the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Wall Street Journal pony up some puzzles, and when Merl Reagle's Sunday puzzle is generally posted online. Friday = good.

Sherry Blackard crafted the NYT puzzle; Gary Steinmehl, the Sun. Usually Sherry's themelesses are among the most challenging for me, but I think this week's is a bit easier than her standard whipping. Easier than normal, sure, but still not easy, as Sherry threw some not-too-familiar words at me: for example, there's the M1 GARAND rifle, which I should have known but blanked on, crossing the salts (BORATES, but I blindly gave it an -ITES ending), and there's the defense contractor LORAL Corporation, which crossed the old Welsh boxer, Tommy FARR. Sherry (or Will) threw me a curveball with the clue for crossword standby OAST, [Old-fashioned buildings in the English countryside]; read this interesting write-up about oast houses and check out the photo. Great fill and clues, eh? Namely, LITTLE TOE/[Fifth of five], GRIZZLY BEAR/[Yellowstone sight] (hey, OLD FAITHFUL also has 11 letters), MAI TAI/[It may be found under an umbrella], [Ghost of literature] crossing CASPER, Wyoming, GARAGE/[Tower's end?], SPATULAS/[Ones turning on stoves?], and GO AWOL/[Emulate a base runner?].

In the Sun, Gary Steinmehl's "Turnabout" title hinted strongly that the theme answers would be backwards; the interesting twist here is that they spell something clueable in reverse. For example, SPOTS SUB is bus stops backwards, and SNUG NUTS is stun guns. Better yet, all seven of the backwards-and-forwards entries split the words in the same place. My favorite clue was [Like a boxer, say] for CANINE. I didn't quite get why [Anaconda payment] was ANTE; turns out Anaconda's a variety of poker. The black guillemot is a kind of auk. My Googling didn't turn up any reference to it being called SEA DOVE (little auk and dovekie appear to be synonymous with sea dove, but I'm not really up on my Northern seabirds).


Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle from the 8th has a cute theme.

Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Health Plan Exclusions," taught me a drumming word: You can listen to FLAM midi files here. I'm still at a loss for one clue: Why are [Pen holders?] BARS? Oh, wait, I get it, finally. Prison bars hold people in the pen. Tricky clue!

Merl Reagle's theme includes 13 entries pertaining to Rocky and Bullwinkle. I knew only four of them—hooray for Down entries! I couldn't have done it without them.


A request

We all know the statistics—breast cancer is all too common, and if nobody in your particular circle of friends and family has had to to battle with this disease, it's probably just a matter of time, really. Not to be alarmist, but breast cancer is hardly rare.

My family has been incredibly lucky in that there's been remarkably little cancer, and I'm grateful for that. But just recently, my mother's best friend—a woman I've known for 35 years—was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy last week, and will be doing chemo and radiation therapy to cut her odds of recurrence from 25% to 5%. She's trying to figure out which adjunctive therapy to do first, thinking about which side effects fit her schedule when. With luck, she won't have a terrible time with either, and the cancer cells will be whipped into submission for good. But I still worry.

This is the first year I'll be doing City of Hope's annual Walk for Hope with a specific breast cancer survivor in mind—I've walked each year for the past four or five years, but now that I have a more personal connection to this cancer, I want to raise more money than I have in the past. I've set a modest goal of raising $500 before October 8.

If you can afford a few bucks* to support the cause and sponsor me in the Walk for Hope, please stop by my donation page and click the "Donate now!" button. It's a secure site, and the money will go directly from your credit card (issued by U.S. banks only, alas) to City of Hope. Thank you!

*If you're flat broke, or if you've already earmarked your charitable donations elsewhere, I understand. But keep a good thought for my mom's friend, will you?


September 20, 2006

Thursday, 9/21

NYS 4:26
NYT 3:37
LAT 3:19
CS 3:00

I enjoyed the theme in Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's NYT crossword and the themelessness of Karen Tracey's Sun puzzle. I also enjoyed the fact that these puzzles filled themselves in pretty quickly. In the NYT, if you know a couple words in Polish or Czech, odds are that 17-Across's DZIEKUJE shouted out that 30- and 47-Down were THANK and YOU. GRAZIE, MERCI, and DANKE are fairly well-known, OBRIGADO and TAK are not too difficult to figure out, and XIEXIE...well, the crossings sure were helpful there! If the link works right, you can hear a KLAXON here. I like the Scrabbliness of these assorted words of gratitude, too.

In Karen's Themeless Thursday in the Sun, I was drawing a blank on which country starting with A had the capital Baku. Then I remembered this was a Karen Tracey puzzle, and Karen often works impressively Scrabbly words into her puzzles, so it had to be AZERBAIJAN—which is just one of a dozen top-notch 10-letter entries here. My favorite clues here were [Course for Crusoe?] for ANAGRAM, [Bottom line reader] for BASS, and [August shower] for PERSEIDS. I didn't know the name RAJA Gosnell; turns out he also directed two Scooby-Doo movies, Big Momma's House, and Home Alone 3, among other movies. And if you were wondering about CARD SHARK being used rather than CARD SHARP, read this Language Log post on the two terms.


In Doug Peterson's good LA Times puzzle, the five theme entries rhyme but all spell the ending sound differently. And it's not the most obvious choice, like the different ways of spelling the long-A sound—the result is an interesting group of theme entries, and the non-theme fill has some highlights, too.


September 19, 2006

Wednesday, 9/20

NYT 4:51
NYS 4:45
LAT 3:16
CS 2:56

Thanks for your comments thus far on the preceding post. Keep 'em coming!

Joe DiPietro's NYT crossword at first seemed like something that had been sitting on ice for a decade. Why? The combination of AC COWLINGS and OJ SIMPSON had me half expecting to see Kato Kaelin, Johnnie Cochran, or Lance Ito in the grid. Turns out AC and OJ shared not only that infamous Bronco car chase, but also initials with an alternate meaning. The set of theme entries is entertaining when spelled out: Air Conditioner Cowlings, Orange Juice Simpson, Designated Hitter Lawrence, Alcoholics Anonymous Milne, and Police Department James. How many of you read the clue, [Company in the Martha Stewart stock trading scandal], drew a blank, and began concocting imaginary biotech company names in your head?

In Jack McInturff's Wednesday Sun puzzle, the "See Ya!" title means I'm outta here. In other words, IM has been removed from the base phrase for each theme entry: ROUGH EST[IM]ATE, DEC[IM]AL FRACTION, and NATIONAL PAST[IM]E. It took me a fair amount of staring before I saw where the IM's had been excised. Favorite clue: [Inventory taker?] for LOOTER.


Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle is a tribute to Red Buttons, who died this July (and happened to be the subject of a "Jeopardy!" clue the day he died).


Advice for newbies?

Wordplay garnered a lot of media attention for crosswords this year. Some weekly independent newspapers (like the Chicago Reader) run the puzzles that Ben Tausig and Matt Jones make—making crosswords more appealing to the young hipster crowd by offering something that isn't your father's Oldsmobile or your grandmother's crossword puzzle. Books like Crossworld and Gridlock heighten the interest in puzzles. Even the sudoku craze, which seems antithetical to crosswords, is luring more customers into the puzzle sections in bookstores.

So there are a lot of people who have just discovered that crosswords are cool, or have finally been motivated to work a little harder to see if they can't finish a puzzle now. If you could give those newbies one piece of advice about solving crosswords—about getting better at it—what would it be?


September 18, 2006

Tuesday, 9/19

Tausig 5:10
CS 4:04
NYS 3:39
NYT 3:08
LAT 3:02

Allan Parrish's NYT plunked his theme entries down amid some juicy fill: words like BREEZES, JUBILEE, KITKAT, GINSU, and NL WEST. The theme gave itself away pretty quickly with BEER BELLY linked to a 3-letter word, and POT was more likely than GUT to lend itself to three more theme phrases. I wonder if the NYT crossword has linked POT to ILLEGAL DRUG before. (My son pretended to smoke a macaroni and cheese noodle tonight—Just say no to powder-based cheesoid substances, kids!) This puzzle also had its share of old-school fill like EDSEL, ETUI, ERE I, and LST, so I was finally compelled to find out just what the heck the [D-Day craft] LST stands for—it's the awkwardly phrased landing ship, tank.

In the Tuesday Sun puzzle by Fred Piscop, "Not the Best Puzzle Ever," the theme is types of WURST. The first theme entry, BRAT FARRAR, was unfamiliar to me; I know of Josephine Tey primarily from crosswords (same as Phil OCHS, who was in the Sunday NYT crossword).


I always appreciate getting Ben Tausig's puzzle via e-mail on a Tuesday when it won't be printed in the Chicago Reader until Thursday—Thursday difficulty is always a plus earlier in the week when you crave tougher crosswords. I won't spoil this one ("Check Your Ego for the Season") for you because you should experience it for yourself. I will reveal that it has about 80 theme squares, and you'll want to take a close look (or two) at the clues. Quite a constructorial feat!

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle (which you can download here—the link gets you yesterday's puzzle) features a quote from CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Today's LA Times crossword (available at the Cruciverb archive page) by Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily just might romance you.


September 17, 2006

Monday the 18th

NYS 3:42
LAT 2:53
CS 2:44
NYT 2:26

Whoo-hoo! I don't know for sure, but I think this could be the fastest I've ever finished an NYT crossword. Dave Tuller did a great job constructing it—four theme entries at a Monday level, 8- and 9-letter fill entries, and a smattering of...words with Scrabbly letters (e.g., JOGS, KIOSK, WIZARD). The theme's sweet, with GENTLE BEN (which I last saw dubbed in German on an Austrian TV channel in the '90s), WARM WELCOME, TENDER MERCY, and KIND WORDS. Those long fill phrases are top-notch, too—LOCH NESS and AS I RECALL, WIND CHIME and RED CROSS. The word FETID, by the way, is etymologically unrelated to fetus or feta cheese.

Bonnie Gentry and Vic Fleming constructed the Sun puzzle, "Lullaby of Broadway," which is heavy on the high-Scrabble-count letters (a whopping total of 13 Z's, X's, K's, or J's)—Peter Gordon seems to welcome such puzzles, and so do I. I hadn't even heard of the middle theme entry, The DROWSY CHAPERONE—apparently I'm behind the curve when it comes to Broadway musicals. So what else is new?


In his CrosSynergy puzzle, Harvey Estes works in five theme entries plus a dozen 7-, 8-, and 9-letter fill entries.


September 16, 2006

Sunday, 9/17

NYT 11:52
WaPo 10:30
LAT 8:52
BG 7:54
CS 5:23

What Brendan Emmett Quigley does and does not do with his Sunday NYT crossword, "Missing Persons": challenge and delight on the one hand, and disappoint and cut us some slack on the other hand. (If you haven't done it yet and you usually do it online, you might consider solving this one on paper.) The puzzle was a good 20% to 30% harder than most, owing to the BEQ/Shortz cluing, the interesting BEQ fill, and the polished theme. Me, I can't think of a single alternate for any of the theme entries—can you? As for that theme, I bet it's a little easier to find the pertinent [Missing from __-Down] clues on a hard copy, where you can scan all the clues at a glance. For me, the hardest theme entry to parse was BATTLE OF BIN; eventually I found the [Missing from 37-Across] clue, worked that section, found RITA, and saw that she'd been extracted from B[RITA]IN. Actually, TOGA SPRINGS confused me, too, until I found the SARA that precedes it. The others, of course, are MY FAVORITE MART[IAN], BOT[TOM] OF THE BARREL, C[ANNE]D LAUGHTER, LISTENS TO AD[VIC]E, (my personal favorite) THE S[CARL]ET LETTER, and BATTING A[VERA]GE. It was nice to have that gimme with [Memory trace], wasn't it? After ENGRAM stumped so many people on Tuesday, we now see that Will was just giving us all a leg up on the Sunday puzzle. Favorite fill and clues included [Flipper?] for SPATULA (would've been easier without the question mark), PIZARRO, SPENGLER, IT'S A SIGN, IRON-ONS, RAZOR-SHARP, and [Little sucker] for MINIVAC. The obscure (to me, anyway) name of the day is Jack NARZ, a game show host from the days of quiz show scandals. A Sunday puzzle sprinkled with Friday/Saturday toughness is just the thing to follow a Saturday puzzle blessed with a Thursday-style rebus, isn't it?


September 15, 2006

Saturday, 9/16

NYT 7:41
Newsday (untimed, but hard)
LAT 5:27
CS 2:57

Don’t let this deter you from using the word, but if you hear it just right, undeterred sounds like a two-word phrase that is unlikely to pass the Sunday-morning breakfast test.

Based on the early returns, the Saturday NYT by Michael Shteyman is uncommonly challenging. For starters, there's the fact that it's actually a Sathurday puzzle, a hybrid between Saturday and gimmick-laden Thursday. Me, I didn't know 1-Across or 1-Down, but eventually enough crossings in that section pointed me in the direction of a rebus for [MATCH]GAME, crossing [MATCH]BOX cars, and that made it so much easier to make headway on the rest of the puzzle. The Thursday-style rebus (five MATCH squares in all) is joined with Saturday-style cluing, like [Rake] (the verb) for SKIM, [Where singles start out in love?] for TENNIS[MATCH], [Mythical dweller across the Rainbow Bridge] for ODIN, [Half-serious run?] for AEIOU, "Low in education" for SETH, and [Frequent flier?] for KITE. Then, sort of out of left field there's YOU N ME. Great longer entries with the rebus squares in them, Michael. Thanks to Michael and Will for a twisty treat on a Saturday!


Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper is indeed a knotty one. As with the NYT, there was plenty of staring blankly at the clues and wondering what the answers could be, but both eventually unraveled themselves. Bob Mackey's LA Times themeless was a little easier than those two, but not too easy.


September 14, 2006

The curse continues: Friday edition

NYT 6:55
NYS 6:51
LAT 4:54
9/1 CHE 4:27
CS 3:43

WSJ 7:19
Reagle untimed

Sheesh, all week I've been having my derriere handed to me by more NYT applet solvers than usual. It may be in poor form to whine about plummeting a few notches farther from the top, but dammit, I expect better of myself. I think I'm just sleepy earlier in the evening now that the school year has started and I have to get my son out the door by 7:50 a.m. each day. But take heart: At Stamford, the whole competition takes place long before my bedtime.

You know who's been kicking ass lately? Howard Barkin, who was bested in the C finals by Ken Jennings at the most recent ACPT. Howard's time on the Thursday puzzle was fantastic. Howard, you'd better go to Stamford next March, because I think you'll be climbing the ranks. And then Byron Walden's almost always fast—so long as Will Shortz keeps hiring him to construct and judge for the tournament, we won't find out if he can beat us in the tournament setting and he won't find out if he'd self-destruct. (What? It could happen.) Also, if you've got ideas for how to defang Tyler Hinman, we should all start working on that project. The tournament's only six months away, after all, and he's taken to solving the daily NYT on paper, tournament-style. This could be trouble—so we need a plan. (If you're a constructor doing tournament puzzles, may I suggest that your name be Bob Klahn, or that you cross little-known rivers with old-timey entries? Anything from the '50s and earlier should be good.)

Even if I'm not setting any speed records on the Friday puzzles, I'm always pleased to have a couple themeless crosswords to sink my teeth into—here, Frank Longo's Weekend Warrior in the Sun and Harvey Estes' NYT. Frank has APPLE JACKS cereal (go ahead—click that link), SMART BOMBS, RAGGEDY ANN, and INSEMINATE (clued merely as [Sow]) anchoring the four corner sections of 10-letter stacks. Tell me this: What popped into your mind first when you read [It's often popped before mingling]? (The answer's MINT.) [Ranch dressing item] is not E. coli-infested spinach, but rather, a STETSON hat. [Compact toy] is the POMERANIAN dog, not a plaything. Terrific fill and clues here.

Harvey's NYT includes three triple-stacked 15s, and nary A TEENAGER IN LOVE in sight. Anyone else try plugging IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME in the bottom row, in lieu of IT'S TOO DEEP FOR ME? Or TONS instead of CELS for [Short units, perhaps]? Or MSG instead of DIN for [Headache intensifier]? Or GRINS for BEAMS? Those wrong turns didn't help me out. I like how THE POWERS THAT BE sit astride the rest of the puzzle. And the two rooster-related clues, one pertaining to the CHINESE CALENDAR, set the solver up to misconstrue [Where to see many rams?]—the DEMOLITION DERBY, of course, has nothing to do with the animal and everything to do with crashing. Hey, at least I didn't come up with a wrong answer for that one. I'm quite proud of myself.


Merl Reagle becomes a cruciverbal bad boy, breaking rules just because. In this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, he lets himself use unchecked squares (which I had no trouble filling in, so it's not as if Merl's made the puzzle harder) and two-letter entries in a themeless 21x21 format, with a grid that's completely symmetrical (see? he's not breaking all the rules). There are four 21s in each direction, all interlocking, none of them stretching the bounds of good entries. I see a mini-theme in INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE and THIRD INFANTRY DIVISION both dividing the grid vertically.

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a summer vacation in August, but the puzzles are back now. Paul Land's "Doctor Who" puzzle has a theme of identifying the targets of satire in various Seuss books—interesting! I did get stuck in one spot, where a trigonometry term and Shakespeare quote crossed a chemical and an easy word with an overly specific clue ([Mexican miss] for LATINA).

I liked Mike Torch's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Pop-up Blocker," but—since it's now morning and I'm wide awake—found it a little too easy.


September 13, 2006

Thursday, 9/14

NYS 6:20
NYT 4:23
LAT 4:10
CS 2:44

I can't tell what's going on with my higher faculties this evening. I received the November issue of Games World of Puzzles, leafed through looking for a Quint-Essential puzzle and found none, and turned to the contest puzzle. Pshaw! Easiest contest puzzle in ages. Had the final trivia answer (Starbuck! No, not really) figured out with about half of the grid still empty. So I figured I was firing on all cylinders. Put GWoP to the side and shifted my attention to the Thursday Sun puzzle by Mark Feldman—and it killed me. I was comparatively faster on Karen Tracey's NYT crossword, but I strive to crack the 4-minute mark on Thursdays and missed. (Oy.)

First off, Karen's lovely puzzle: It includes the word FIEND, but gracious me, it's clued [Villain]. I try to be nice, honest. The skeleton in Karen's puzzle consists of an interlocked quartet of 14s and 15s that could all be clued [How the solver feels on completing this crossword]. With fill like MILLI Vanilli, HOBBIT, LEIA, and BOB DENVER, the pop culture fizzed, and GODIVA chocolate is always nice to contemplate. Now, this puzzle also has its vexing crossings that may stymie plenty of solvers—the WESER River crossing WAF, or the tenant farm CROFT crossing the Firth of TAY—but you gotta be ready for such things on a Thursday.

What I wasn't ready for on a Thursday was the theme in the Feldman Sun puzzle, "Course Numbers." I paid no mind to the title and convinced myself that the theme pertained to birds—EAGLE, ALBATROSS, and BIRDIE supported that. Then COLONEL BOGEY came along, and that name means nothing to me, and it ain't a bird. Eventually I got to NOT UP TO PAR and figured out it was a golf theme...but what the heck is ALBATROSS doing in there? My husband likes golf, but he's never heard the word in relation to golf. Anyone?


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle is smooth and easy.


September 12, 2006

Not my night

9/10 BG 9:04
NYS 5:49
NYT 4:31
LAT 3:35
CS 3:23

I may have sprained my brain lately by plowing through 101 Cryptic Crosswords: From the New Yorker, edited by Fraser Simpson. Because I can't help myself, I've raced against the clock for most of these cryptics. Will Johnston's customer review says, "Because of their barred diagrams and extensive checked letters, you'll find that with practice one of them can be solved in under half an hour." Hmm, these must be phenomenally easy cryptics, because I can finish a lot more than one in that time. I think I have (temporarily) gummed up my mind, because the Wednesday NYT and Sun puzzles felt Thursday-hard.

The NYT by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon lured me into many wrong alleys: I went with chocolate MOUSSES instead of MUDPIES, CARP instead of YAWP, and AT ONCE instead of PRONTO. Anyone else? No? Just me? Okay, then. Lots of good fill surrounding the five theme entries, which were all for naught—being, like Seinfeld, about nothing, in particular, NOTHING IN COMMON. This "much ado" puzzle is good, but I don't know why it gave me such trouble.

And then Fred Piscop's Sun crossword, "Think Small," also stymied me. I did not turn to Google, but I did ask my husband for the hockey player (Denis POTVIN). I spaced on the concept of a packing plant, and can't say I'm too familiar with PLANTLET, so the top theme entry fought me. Looking back at the puzzle, it doesn't look all that hard. Hmm. What did you think?


Last Sunday's online delayed edition of the Boston Globe puzzle was delayed a couple days, so I've just done it today. It's Henry Hook's "Airplay," playing around with the names of TV series. Most of the theme entries involve changes in vowel sounds, but there are a few with added or changed consonants, as well. Five of the seven horizontal themers are crossed by the vertical one, which is impressive interlocking.

After a good night's sleep, Nancy Salomon's CrosSynergy puzzle and Jack McInturff's LA Times both felt like...Wednesday puzzles.


The Believer

For $8, you can buy the Games Issue of The Believer from The issue includes a translation of Georges Perec's foreword to his French books on crosswords; you can read the beginning of "Thoughts on the Art and Technique of Crossing Words" here.

The magazine's TOC also includes "Crossword After Perec" by Ben Tausig.


September 11, 2006

Tuesday the 12th

Tues. NYS 4:50
Tausig 4:30
Mon. NYS 3:23
LAT 3:20
NYT 3:09
CS 2:57

Without tossing my solving times into a spreadsheet (and, presumably, without knowing the details of your own solving times), how would you guess the Friday NYT, New York Sun Weekend Warrior (the themeless puzzles publishing on alternate Fridays), and Saturday NYT crosswords stack up against each other in terms of difficulty? Which of the three do you consider the hardest?

The theme in James R. Leeds' NYT crossword revealed itself quickly, didn't it? Moving right along to spoilers—right there in 1-Across, the circled letters spelled the Greek letter NU, giving a huge hint to what was in the circled letters in seven other entries and what the central 15-letter entry might say: IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME. While I don't object to NAZI clued as ["The Soup ___" (classic "Seinfeld" episode)], it would have been easy to swap it out for NAVE (crossing HOVELS and EPEE) to extirpate the word. There are some creaky old entries (RETE, OENO, ETAPE) and a name I'd never heard (former NASCAR driver Ernie IRVAN), but more important was great fill like S[PHI]NX crossing URTEXT, RABBIT EARS, GUAVA, and BA[RHO]P. Seeing SHIH Tzu reminds me of a hand-lettered sign posted in my neighborhood, seeking a lost dog—but the dog was described as a "shit-zu."


Those of us who don't live in New York (or eschew right-leaning newspapers) went without the Sun puzzle yesterday, but it just means we get two today. In Gary Steinmehl's Monday puzzle, "Say It With Vowels," I wasn't sure what [Stag movie] was getting at, and was surprised to see BAMBI. (Makes perfect sense, of course.) Then there's [Obstacle on the way to second base?] for BRA.

Randall Hartman's Tuesday Sun, "Show Me the Show Me State," adds an MO to the theme entries. It would have gone a little easier for me if I'd ever heard of the Modoc tribe, and if Doc Savage were more prominent in my mind than Dan Savage.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy theme is movies ending with the names of countries. Can you think of any besides the three he included? Out of Africa came to my mind, but Africa's not a single nation.

I really like the theme entries in the LA Times puzzle by Gia Christian ("it's Rich again").

In his Ink Well crossword, "Blending In," Ben Tausig spices up a themed puzzle with two themeless-style stacks of 9-letter entries, including the " that right?" BOYZ II MEN.


September 10, 2006

Monday the 11th

CS 3:30
LAT 3:02
NYT 2:51
NYS tba

Lynn Lempel remains my favorite Monday constructor. She's not doing anything fancy—just a solid group of theme entries for a standard type of theme, amid a solid fill—but somehow it always seems to feel extra fresh in Lynn's hands, as in the Monday NYT. (More below.)

I like to do both the NYT and the Sun the evening before they're published, but the Sun puzzle's not posted online yet. But you know what? That's okay. I'm flexible. I can wait. I'm very patient...although if the Sun puzzle's still not posted by around 9:00 Monday morning, I will get antsy, and may turn to artificial stimulants to keep me going.

I liked Lynn's theme entries, which didn't cohere in my brain until I worked my way to the lower right corner, where EYES revealed itself to be the tie between the theme entries, since NEEDLEs, HURRICANEs, POTATOes, and FACEs all have 'em. Lynn also dropped a couple X's and 10-letter entries in the grid for added seasoning.


September 09, 2006

Sunday, 9/10

NYT 9:46
WaPo 8:52
LAT 8:05
CS 4:28
BG tba (MIA)

Joe DiPietro is in fine form with his Sunday NYT, "Two Steps Late." I haven't checked out the other Sunday puzzles (other than Merl Reagle's, which I like to do on Fridays) yet, but I believe it's Hook week for the Boston Globe puzzle.

I bought, started, and finished a new crossword book this week—Byron Walden's Sit & Solve Commuter Hard Crosswords. (As a "commuter" book, it has a disposable coffee cup cover rather than the original Sit & Solve toilet design.) The book contains 42 10x10 puzzles, mostly themeless, but with some mini-themes snuck into the grids. The clues are Waldenesque, as you'd expect. A handful of these puzzles were quite knotty, but most of them took me between 2 and 3 minutes. So a speed-solver might get a solid two hours of entertainment out of this book—at $4.95, that's a much better value than a movie. Now that I've finished the book, though, I'm wishing I hadn't plowed through the puzzles in a couple binge sessions. Buy the book, but savor them like little chocolate truffles instead of gorging on them like a bag of M&Ms. (Congratulations on your first book o' crosswords, Byron!)

And now, the stuff with spoilers:

Loved the theme in DiPietro's puzzle—the first letter of each theme entry's seed gets moved two notches further along in the alphabet, so when a crossing gives you the first letter, you find yourself saying the alphabet backwards to figure out the base phrase so you can fill in the full entry. The twelve theme entries all involve a different first letter. The funniest one is HAIRY GODMOTHER, of course. One could make a case that the fill entry ST JOE is a tad narcissistic... Clues I admired include [Pens and needles] for STYLI, [Rap relative] for SISTA, and [They meet in the middle] for RADII. I couldn't picture "The Laughing Cavalier" by HALS, so I Google-image-searched; note that while the subject's eyes and prodigious mustache are laughing, his mouth is not; so why that title?


If sports is your thing, you'll enjoy Ray Hamel's LA Times puzzle (football) and Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's Washington Post crossword (baseball). Will Johnston crafted today's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge with three triple stacks of 15-letter entries; I like Will's 15s, but most triple-triples lose me with the 3s and 4s crossing the stacks.


September 08, 2006

Saturday the 9th

NYT 7:35
LAT 5:27
Newsday untimed
CS 3:00

The often wicked Bob Klahn constructed this week's Saturday NYT crossword, and as the byline would suggest, many people found it a toughie. There were a lot of words you don't generally see in your average crossword puzzle—like SOIGNÉE, SILICA GEL ([Absorbent component of some cat litter] as well as what's in those little pouches in a box of new shoes, OPEN-TOED or otherwise), Archibald MACLEISH (I thank my high-school teacher for assigning J.B.), NUTCASE, and SHIVAREE. A handful of tricky clues gave up their secrets easily; with one letter, [Makings of a hero, maybe] shouted SALAMI, and [Having digital display?] insisted on OPEN-TOED. The other hard clues put up more of a fight, for me—[Base figure] sounded military, but it's baseball (INFIELDER). [Victorian] was three quarters easy, but adjective PRIM or noun PRIG? (Turned out to be PRIG—sitting right on top of PORN, no less.) There were many wonderfully misleading clues, including [Self-guided "tour"] for EGO TRIP, [Extra boots] for RESTARTS, [Thorny subject] is ROSE, "Remains to be seen?" for RUIN, and the one that duped me the longest, [Hamlet's cousin] for VILLAGE. And SHORT A, the [Fan sound], also eluded me. Young celebrity name alert: KENAN Thompson has mainly shown up in crossword clues for KEL, e.g. [Kenan's comedy partner]. The Nickelodeon show Kenan and Kel only ran from 1996 to 1999, and Kenan's now on Saturday Night Live, so his name may be around for some time. (I don't know if Kel Mitchell, with that handy 3-letter name, will be as lucky.) Last and least, 32-Across is ASS and 35-Across is PAN, and my mind keeps reading them as a unit. However, a cursory Google search hints that there is no such thing as an ass pan.


Lynn Lempel's themeless LA Times puzzle has plenty of great clues, among them [Removes a curse, say] for CENSOR and [Ones in pairs] for ELEVENS.

The Newsday Saturday Stumper by Daniel Stark is smooth and easy—definitely easier than the Klahn NYT, and probably easier than Lynn's LAT.

If you're in the mood for an even easier themed puzzle, you've got Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle.


September 07, 2006

Friday the 8th

NYS 6:57 (sort of)
NYT 5:59
LAT 4:06
CS 4:00

WSJ 8:39
Reagle 6:56

I liked David Bunker's themeless NYT puzzle, and found Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle to be a challenge (and also liked it).

Hey, does anyone know why the Chronicle of Higher Education crosswords haven't been available online since August 11? I always feel frightfully clever when I polish off one of the CHE puzzles, so I've been missing them.

The NYT crossword boasts plenty of high-Scrabble-count letters—two per entry, a few times (SQUARE JAW up top, EQUINOXES and ZINC OXIDE at the base). The clues I liked best included [It's frustrating not to get it] for PUNCHLINE, [Stretch for the stars?] for LIMO, [Mars to mars, e.g.] for ANNÉE, [Season openers?] (why the question mark?) for EQUINOXES, and [Were running mates] for ELOPED. I wasn't familiar with CAIRNED as an adjective, but Google shows that hikers mark trails with stone cairns and use the word. Here's a picture of the [Soldier armed with a spear], PIKEMAN, and here is DALI's Lobster Telephone is here (what's the difference between art and schlock?). I did get messed up for a while by the [Cryptozoological topic], plugging in SETI instead of YETI, which completely mucked up the formation of MY LAI.

First up for Patrick Bl.'s Sun puzzle ("Not for Cardinal Fans"), confession time. I stopped the timer when I filled in the grid, and figured Across Lite just didn't like the way I'd entered the rebus entries. No, that was just fine—it was having SCANS instead of SPANS for [Goes over] that was the hitch. (I've never heard of the Mets player Todd PRATT, so for all I knew, he was CRATT...) Anyhoo, Patrick plants five ordinal (not cardinal) numbers into the grid rebus-style, with FIRST, THIRD, and FIFTH placed in long entries and SECOND and FOURTH in short entries near the NE and SW corners of the grid. Good to see BABKA with a "Seinfeld" clue ("Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka!") and Weird Al Yankovic's EAT IT—it's always nice to be rewarded for pop-culture consumption. Thanks, Patrick!


In Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, the extra-long clue at 22-Across reads [Paul's crossword credo? (Note: To mark Paul's turning 64 this year, every theme answer in this puzzle is a Beatle song on which Paul sang lead)]. Somehow, Merl included two songs I don't recognize (!). Try not to sing or hum too much while you're doing the puzzle, eh?

Harvey Estes tries something "Somewhat Different" in his fun Wall Street Journal crossword. Looking back over the completed puzzle, I really like the set of theme entries. Elsewhere in the grid, Harvey includes the Mexican city, JALAPA, which I had never heard of; turns out it's also spelled Xalapa, and jalapeño peppers get their name from Jalapa.

I enjoyed the theme in Manny Nosowsky's LA Times puzzle. Presumably most of his solvers won't have already done his April 21 NYT, and they'll delight in the [Refrain from piracy?] clue. Those who have already seen it will find it much easier to figure out the second time!

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle has an unusual sort of theme I don't recall seeing before.


September 06, 2006

Thursday the 7th

NYT 5:55
NYS 4:14
LAT 3:57
CS 2:59

I think Lucy Gardner Anderson's fun NYT crossword may be her debut. If so, what a fine debut it is! Both this puzzle and Elizabeth Gorski's Themeless Thursday in the Sun sent me into childhood reminiscences: In the case of the NYT, it was the geeky "look how I can play around with my calculator," while the Sun sent me back to grade-school art class.

The NYT's three 13-letter theme entries explain how eight numerical clues are to be solved: display the numbers on a calculator, turn it upside-down, and read the words. The most famous of these is 0.7734 for hELLO, but kids always knew you could also get hELL and BOOBIES. My old favorite was 71077345, but that link gave me a new fave: 378193771. The number words in the grid aren't in symmetrical locations, and you know what? I like it that way, because overall the fill is quite good; with three 13's plus eight more symmetrically placed entries containing a limited set of letters, this puzzle could have ended up with some terrible fill. Jostle the symmetry a bit, and see if the fill isn't a bit smoother.

Liz Gorski's Themeless Thursday has a perfect pop-culture mini-theme (BEFORE SUNRISE and AFTER MIDNIGHT) and fizzy fill (AVUNCULAR, OH DEAR ME, TACO STAND, the BAD CALLS that so beset John McEnroe, and DEMIGOD). It's also got RAGBAG clued as "Hodgepodge." This spurs a couple thoughts: First, do you ever do a Google search on a word and click definition near the top of the results page? That gets you the page for the word, which includes the American Heritage dictionary definition (a bag of rags, or a motley collection, a hodgepodge), along with thesaurus listings, translations, and the relevant Wikipedia article. In this instance, I like the comparison between the Italian translation of ragbag, given as confusione, and one of the German words, the very-literal-sounding Lumpensack. Second thought: Does anyone else remember a brand-name '70s arts and craft substance called Hodgepodge? Some sort of lacquer or glue, maybe used in papier mache? With a deliciously tangy aroma? Anyone?


September 05, 2006

Wednesday the 6th

NYS 5:08
NYT 4:03
LAT 3:40
CS 3:26

Up first, a little game. Give me a headline containing two 8-letter words that are anagrams of each other, to accompany a story about a particularly hassle-filled commute for a driver.

The Sun puzzle by Gary Steinmehl and Manny Nosowsky's NYT are both roughly Thursday level in difficulty. (Of course, they're both Wednesday puzzles.) There's one entry in Manny's puzzle that left me wondering, and perhaps one of you can shed some light on that for me: I understand five of the six theme entries—places for a queen, places in Queens, the place where Queens is—but have no idea what "Queen's place, in fiction" and SPIDER NEST relate to. My Google search was unrevealing.

In the Sun puzzle, "Essex," an S becomes an X in each of five theme entries. I especially liked MARX BAR and PLANET OF THE APEX. My favorite clue was "Liberty, for example" for JEEP.

I'd write more if I weren't so sleepy...


Mel Rosen spiffs up his CrosSynergy quip puzzle with plenty of long entries. I have two questions about one clue, though: the answer to "Xena and Charon, as of August 16, 2006" is PLANETS. It was my understanding that they and Pluto are categorized as dwarf planets, and that although the key noun there appears to be planet, dwarf planets fall short of being planets. (1) Am I right or am I confused? (2) Are there any other terms in which a noun is negated by its modifier, but the modifier isn't something innately negative, like non or anti?

Cool link: This is actually not off topic because of the SPIDER NEST mystery and the fact that there's a picture of a the incredible shrinking man battling a spider in this article, "The Biology of B-Movie Monsters," from a University of Chicago professor—a crucial discussion of what would happen, physically and biologically, if people shrank or animals were enlarged to colossal proportions by, say, the effects of B-movie radiation. Issues of mass, surface tension, metabolism, biomechanics, oxygen requirements, and so forth explain why Mothra shouldn't be able to fly, why the giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea surely suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and why King Kong's cranky disposition might derive from achy feet.


September 04, 2006

Tuesday, September 5th, the day I've been waiting for

Tausig 5:29
CS 3:55
NYT 3:38
NYS 3:34
LAT 2:42

(Because my son starts first grade on Tuesday.)

Two excellent Tuesday puzzles in the Sun and NYT, by Joe Bower and Timothy Powell, respectively. Oddly enough, both puzzles use PHONE BILL(S) as a theme entry, in entirely different contexts.

Joe's Sun puzzle is called "Are You Ready for Some Football?" (My answer: Uh, not really.) The theme entries end with NFL team names (here, PHONE BILLS derives from the Buffalo Bills), and the fill is particularly fresh and Scrabbly: there's JET LI, QUIXOTE, BUST A GUT, RAYBAN, MT SINAI, and SEX. (Sure, Joe, you can clue SUE as "Famous South Dakota T. rex," but we all know Sue hightailed it out of SoDak and to Chicago the first chance she got.)

The NYT puzzle has six theme entries, all converting a standard two-word phrase into a personal exhortation. For example, "Clean up, Mr. Stewart" is SHOWER, ROD! PHONE BILL is clued here as "There's a call for you, Mr. Gates." Among the good fill here are CATS EYE and KABOOM.


Allan Parrish's LA Times puzzle was easy, but I didn't suss out the theme—TIC TAC TOE, GATEWAY ARCH, LUCILLE BALL, LEMON SOLE, and TARHEEL—until after I finished. D'oh!

Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle for this week, "Nine in One," arrived via e-mail with instructions: Each theme answer in this puzzle contains four overlapping six-letter words, which also contain five three-letter words. A list of clues for each set of nine words is provided, though their order is scrambled. If you're solving on the computer with Across Lite, be sure to change the layout set-up so that you can see the long clues without truncation or extreme miniaturization. I like the twist and hope to see more puzzles like this one.


September 03, 2006

Labor Day

CS 3:05
LAT 2:57
NYT 2:52

There should be no New York Sun puzzle because of the holiday (drat!), but the other newspapers don't take a day off. In his NYT puzzle, Mike Nothnagel links the theme entries together with lively 10-letter fill entries, which is a nice touch, especially on a Monday—he spruces up the elitist theme with FEATHER BOA, DIRTY TRICK, and BEER KEGS.


September 02, 2006

Sonntag, 3 September

NYT 11:37
WaPo 9:34
BG 8:23
LAT 8:08
CS 7:51

Lee Glickstein and Ben Tausig teamed up for the Sunday NYT, in which each theme entry is a puzzle unto itself. I suspect that accounts for the challenge most solvers are running into—although the non-theme clues are on the tricky side, too.

Cute theme in the Washington Post crossword by Paula Gamache, "A Losing Proposition"—if you don't ordinarily solve this puzzle each weekend, think about doing this one. I liked it.

In the "Triple Play" theme, each entry's a three-word phrase made of homophones of the words in a common base phrase. One of the entries is recycled from an Ink Well puzzle Ben published last year—CZECH BI MALE, clued here as "Eastern European guy who loves both sexes." An entry that perfect deserves to be reused! My favorite clues were "Salon workers, for short" for EDS, "Results of piercing pain?" for NOSE RINGS, "Prudent time to get to the airport" for EARLYISH, and "Subject of some gossip" for MISTRESS. And of course, it's always fun to see one's own name in a crossword, especially when it's placed in close proximity to a word like POUTIER.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle (again, the one online is weeks behind what's in the dead-tree edition), "Cracked Cases," makes puns with the names of fictional sleuths. One person's obscurity or knowledge lacuna is another person's "Well, duh, everyone knows that." Here are the lacunae I uncovered in this puzzle: DOPANT ("Electronic impurity"), CORTONA ("Town of Tuscany"), OATCAKE ("Kin to a bannock").


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge was a tough one.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times Syndicate puzzle, "Get a Move On," dispenses plenty of action verbs, and mystified me with ORV (abbreviation for off-road vehicle)—ATV, of course, is a much more commonly seen abbreviation.


September 01, 2006

Saturday, 9/2

NYT 6:34
Newsday 6:05
LAT 5:28
CS 3:06

Part of me hoped that David Quarfoot's Saturday-tough Friday NYT would be followed by an inhuman challenge for the Saturday puzzle, but what do you know? Mel Rosen's crossword is roughly...Saturday level. And I made it harder on myself by not getting enough sleep last night—that only seems to work out when there's enough adrenaline to counteract the sleep loss, as at Stamford. This puzzle combined a few gimmes with a lot more entries I questioned myself on, so it actually felt like more of a struggle than the solving time reflects. NEEDLENOSE pliers came quickly, and I extracted LEAF-EATING out of the root words in "Folivorous," but the rest of the long entries made me work for them, even SPIKE JONZE, whose name I blanked on until enough crossings made it obvious. I sent myself down some crazy wrong paths (deciding the "Devon river" was Ayr rather than the EXE, placing Scheherezade on the Greek Mt. Ida rather than in an ODA), and I also erased ONE for "Not split" because ONE O ("Clock starter?") was already in the grid—duplicated entries don't bother me if I don't notice them, but jeeze, if you notice it mid-solve, it can throw you. There were a few things that eluded me—like SLOWLY for "Larghetto" (a music term unfamiliar to me) and ESSE for "Sum, ___, fui" (some Latin I never knew).


Stan Newman (as "Anna Stiga") put together a good Newsday Saturday Stumper. Maybe a few more less-than-smooth word forms (e.g., EXCITERS) than would be ideal, but a fantastic set of clues offsets that.