October 31, 2006

Wednesday, 11/1

NYS 4:55
NYT 3:11
CS 2:51
LAT tba

Wow, trick-or-treating is hard work. Bundling up (temps in the low 40s), walking two miles, reminding the Green Power Ranger to say "Trick or treat!" and "Thank you," and schlepping sacks o' candy home. I was walking like a zombie on the way back home. Then came the ceremonial Discarding of the Crap (the stick-to-the-molars stuff like Starburst, Laffy Taffy—whoever came up with that name should be drawn and quartered—and Tootsie Rolls), per the dentist's advice. And now the Power Ranger has retired for the evening, so I can sneak some of the better stuff for myself. Kit Kat and Reese's, here I come!

Check out the intricacy of Paula Gamache's theme in the NYT: nine entries that each contain the tenth, TSE (the initials of T.S. Eliot, which anagrams to "Toilets"—which is the title of Francis Heaney's parody of an Eliot poem, which you can read by clicking here and scrolling down to the first poem). Eight of those first nine theme entries appear in four crossing pairs, the longest of which cross the ninth entry in the middle. Thus, relatively few fill entries don't cross one of these. Plenty of good clues, too.

In the Sun, Gary Steinmehl goes OUT the in door in "Revolving Door"—IN in a base phrase is changed to OUT. My favorite clue here: [Pilgrim's progress?] for HAJJ. It's rather JAUNTY to have GUZZLE in a crossword, no?


October 30, 2006

Tuesday, 10/31

CS 5:15
Onion 4:53
NYS 4:31
Tausig 4:29
LAT 2:54
NYT 2:52

(post updated 9:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tuesday)

Happy Halloween! For about the eighth year in a row, I don't have a costume. Last time I dressed up for the holiday, I was a cloud. Do you know how hard it is to make pillow stuffing stay attached to a sweatshirt? And sewing the lightning bolts on my pants was a hassle, too. But my son's all set with a store-bought costume.

Patrick Blindauer's racking up the credits with two puzzles for the day: a solo outing in the NYT and a joint production with Tony Orbach in the Sun (if you haven't been able to download the Sun puzzle, try using the .zip file for 10/31 here). In the NYT puzzle, the black squares in the middle look like a jack-o'-lantern. In particular, a pumpkin carved to look vampirical—in the hard-copy newspaper, the black squares bracketing 52-Across are rendered as triangular fangs. The theme entries (three 15's) are all clued as [Dracula's least favorite (something)?]. Good fill to boot—TEE TIME, EVIL-EYED, EUREKA, ESCARGOT.

The Blindauer/Orbach Sun puzzle, "Catching Some Z's," doesn't have a Halloween theme. It converts an S sound into a Z sound, as in BRUISE WILLIS. Speaking of catching some Z's, this ending of daylight saving time means it feels like it's way past my bedtime, and I'm falling asleep mid-sentence. Good puzzle...and good night.


Either I'm off my stride, or Bob Klahn's Halloween-themed CrosSynergy puzzle has an awful lot of tricky clues. Given the byline, I'd say there's a 75% chance it's the clues. If you like to work harder than usual on a Tuesday puzzle, check this one out.

Ben Tausig, who edits the Onion A.V. Club crosswords, is also in the stable of Onion constructors. Judging from the theme, Ben may be feeling creatively tapped out (do the puzzle and you'll see what I'm getting at—it's not a slam on Ben!).

Meanwhile, Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Cultural Learnings for Make Benefit American Crossword Solver," pays tribute to the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, Borat, which is being released this Friday. But the theme requires knowledge of geography more than the entertainment business, so it's educational (I pieced two of theme entries together with the help of crossings and learned a bit) as well as fun. And the clues! They're great. [Late August?] might put you in mind of the dog days, but the answer's playwright AUGUST Wilson. That's just one example of the goodies in this most enjoyable puzzle.


October 29, 2006

Monday, 10/30

NYS 3:07
CS 2:55
NYT 2:37
LAT tba

(post updated 8:20 a.m. Monday)

The Monday Times and Sun crosswords both had quintessential Monday themes—the sort where after you've solved a couple theme entries, you can hazard a guess at the other two without having many crossing letters at all. In Raymond Hamel's Sun puzzle, I would have figured out the theme within the first theme entry if I'd actually taken a second to read the title: "On Your Feet!" Great fill in this puzzle—Mike TEEVEE from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and the movie with Willy Wonka in the title); SANCTUM, SATYRS, and SARONG; SCHNOOK and BRAVADO. One clue is rather horrifying, though: [Slaughterhouse sounds] for OINKS. Does anyone really wish to contemplate animal slaughter while solving a crossword? I'm thinking a vegetarian and someone snacking on a BLT would be equally unsettled by this one. Mention of slaughterhouses puts me in mind of the WPA mural at my local post office; here's a detail of it showing a burly man, incongruously wearing a Jughead hat, ready to whack a steer over the head.

The NYT crossword by Nancy Salomon bundles together four things you might say if you bumped into an old friend. I like the combo of the 9-letter entries at 10- and 33-Down; after NEAR BEERS, don't you want to make SNOW PLOWS rhyme, too?

I have no idea what befell the NYT's entire "Readers' Opinions" area. I'm sure plenty of people have been jonesing hard for their crossword raillery, their wine-soaked chatting, their baseball talk...wait, there can't be much left to say about baseball. I don't recall the forums being plunged into darkness for the entire weekend without warning, at least not in the past three years. (I swear I had nothing to do with it.)

There was a ton of traffic to this blog over the weekend, but it had little to do with this weekend's new crosswords or the NYT forum being down. Remember Michael Shteyman's last puzzle? The Saturday puzzle with the [MATCH] rebus? More than 1,500 solvers of the syndicated version of the puzzle Googled the clue for ODIN, [Mythical dweller across the Rainbow Bridge] (and I wonder if it was Michael's clue or Will's). I love an insanely hard clue that is fairly Google-resistant...at least before I mention it here on the interwebs.


The theme in Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "I've Got a Secret," has an unusual layout: two 15's in standard places, plus a 12-letter entry across the middle, split into two 6's (HIDDEN and AGENDA) separated by three black squares. It's apt because throwing those black squares in the middle sort of conceals the phrase.


Sunday, 10/29

NYT 9:58
WaPo 9:55
LAT 9:12
BG 7:24
CS 4:07

(post updated at 3:00 p.m. Sunday)

Elizabeth Gorski's "Sandwich Man" puzzle in the NYT uses MR IN-BETWEEN as the spur to insert a MR in between two components of a phrase to change the meaning. Thus, [Putting up a guy in the bath?] is HOUSING MR BUBBLE. Truthfully, I didn't love this theme. It grated a bit that JOLLY MR ROGERS relies on a plural of Jolly Roger, whereas ROASTED MR PEANUT has one measly roasted peanut. And hinging the MR IN-BETWEEN theme itself and one theme entry (MY BOY MR BILL) on song lyrics rather than titles was also irksome. But maybe I'm just cranky because I'm tired and because I'm not so familiar with those lyrics. I did like how Gorski sandwiched the vertical theme entries between staggered 9- and 10-letter entries. The trickiest thing for me was EUGENIA, clued as [Saint whose feast day is December 25]; the musical notes EGBDF, clued as [Lines on a staff], also threw me. A few old-school crossword entries made an appearance; the other day we saw the fiber ISTLE, and this Sunday puzzle has INGLE for [Fireplace]. Am I the only one who isn't always sure which is which? (Similarly, distinguishing the ORIEL window from the OSIER basket-weaving material has thrown me in the past.)


Whoo, how 'bout those Bears? I've never seen a coach of a pro team smile so much during a game. Too bad my late dad isn't here to enjoy the Bears' return to dominance.

In Patrick Blindauer's Washington Post crossword, "Yours, Truly," has an often-funny theme (SAVIOR RECEIPT! HOOSIER DADDY!) and good set of clues. The last square I filled in was the crossing of [London Philharmonic founder] Thomas BEECHAM and 19th-century composer CESAR Franck.

Manny Nosowsky follows up his Friday Wall Street Journal puzzle with a second Halloween-themed puzzle in the LA Times.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Kerr-Flooey," was available in the actual newspaper three weeks ago. (Thanks for the research, Dave!) It's got a quote from Jean Kerr.

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy crossword is laden with two 15's (crossing in the middle at a Q) and a dozen 10-letter entries.


October 27, 2006

Saturday, 10/28

NYT 6:06
Newsday 5:27
LAT 5:02
CS 3:22

(post updated 9:15 a.m. Saturday)

What, what? (Read with Nigel Hawthorne's intonation from The Madness of King George.) Another David Quarfoot puzzle? We just had one last Saturday, and here's his byline again. Which is louder, the rejoicing throughout the land or the wailing and gnashing of teeth? On my end, it's the rejoicing, since I'm done with the crossword. I am a firm believer in the idea of doing a crapload of crosswords to tone your cruciverbal muscles, and this week I've done a bunch of Rich Norris themelesses. Coincidentally, this Saturday's 14-Across appeared in one of the Norrises, so that tricky letter sequence—EXHIBIT A ending with an A—popped into my head quickly. And another Norris puzzle had a word related to UXORIAL in it (clued there in relation to a husband, here as [Wifely]), so that helped, too. DQ always finds a way to sandwich in plenty of zippy entries, like YOU DA MAN (["Way to go, bro!"], SO HAVE I, the (TV) movie OMEN IV: The Awakening, and the liqueur TIA MARIA. There's the mini-theme in the center, two professional wrestlers pinning one another. Then there's the category of obscurities, fair game for a Saturday puzzle—the [Russian fermented drink] KVASS, the standby basket-weaving material OSIER (willow branches, really), the NEOGENE period (starting 23 million years ago), an [Anatomical term that's Latin for "hollow"] that makes perfect sense (CAVA, the root for the word cave), and the finch SERIN. My favorite type of clue—in full blossom here—is wickedly deceptive or otherwise tough. [Followers of ducks, sheep or pigs] is EIEIO, [Heady?] is CRANIAL, [Warren resident] is OHIOAN (not rabbit), [River tower] is TUG, and [Cursed] for DOGGONE. Not to mention [Lake in Mist County, Minn.], which seems to require knowledge of geography but doesn't (Lake WOBEGON is fictional). All in all, another great offering from David Quarfoot and Will Shortz.


The Newsday Saturday Stumper this week is by Doug Peterson. A sprinkling of Z's, X's, and K's enlivens the grid. My favorite clue here was [Sort of blue] for CERULEAN—are you feeling a little cerulean today? Or maybe more cobalt?

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LA Times themeless crossword beefs up two triple stacks of 15-letter entries by topping (or bottoming) them with a pair of 7-letter words (including tasty, tasty CHEETOS)—that means eight rows of the puzzle contain a total of just two black squares.


October 26, 2006

Friday, 10/27

NYS 6:51
NYT 5:31
10/13 CHE 5:20
LAT 4:18
CS 2:53

Reagle 10:17
WSJ 9:44

(post updated 7:20 a.m. Friday)

It's mighty hard to concentrate on crossword blogging when one's houseguest is attempting to get one suckered into Grey's Anatomy. It's getting later, I'm getting tireder, and the show's still on, so I'll be briefer than usual.

The NYT crossword's by David Bunker, who's had a few early-week puzzles in the NYT before. This themeless has a number of interesting combinations—JIGGLES next to ANATOMY, UPPED across from the neighboring UPGRADE and UPRIVER, GARGANTUA balanced by PORTLIEST.

Francis Heaney demonstrates broad musical knowledge in his Sun Weekend Warrior, which gathers WHO'S NEXT, a Depeche Mode song (LILIAN—never heard of it), the Beatles' MICHELLE and LENNON. Some excellent clues here, including [Between-flight stops?] for ROOSTS (I was thinking of landings between flights of stairs), [One hoping to be shelved?] for WRITER, and [Agoraphobe's anathema] for OPEN AREA. Plenty of Scrabbly goodness with QUIZ SHOW and XEROXES. Lotsa drugs, too—HEROIN, LSD, and UNPOT. What's that? The latter's a verb? No matter. (The NYT puzzle includes the CHRONIC next to a KEG.) Good batch of phrasal entries in this puzzle, too.


Joy Andrews' Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle from October 13 is entitled, "English Imports." The seven theme entries are all loanwords from other languages. O etymologies! How I love thee. Despite the strictures posed by seven theme entries containing several Scrabbly letters, the fill is great overall. Excellent crossword!

Paula Gamache's LA Times puzzle contains some lively fill as well. Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword provides a Mondayish amount of challenge.

Halloween puzzling kicks off with today's Wall Street Journal crossword by Manny Nosowsky and Merl Reagle's oddball Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle. In Merl's puzzle, a creepy quote (from "Rime of the Ancient Mariner") wends its way through an asymmetrical grid in an unbroken path, turning when it hits a black square. It's harder than the usual quote puzzle in that portions of the quote travel upwards or from right to left.


October 25, 2006

Thursday, 10/26

NYT 5:46
NYS 4:45
LAT 4:26
CS 3:05

Todd McClary and Dave Tuller's NYT theme didn't fully dawn on me until a few minutes after I finished the puzzle, at which point I said, "Oh! Now I get it." (Full disclosure: I didn't really say anything out loud.) You see here, the four cross-reference clues aren't just cross-reference clues; where it says [See 43-Down], it doesn't mean merely to read 43-Down—instead, the clue is [See ___] where the blank is filled by the answer to 43-Down. 43-Down is THINGS, so 11-Down's clue is really [See things], ergo HALLUCINATE. It was the "see" thing I failed to notice while I was solving the puzzle. You know what else? It feels like there have been more of those "huh—I never heard of that" entries in the crosswords lately. In this puzzle, that honor belongs to HUASTEC; the Huastecs apparently split off from the Mayans about 4,000 years ago (the INCAS appear above them here). Nice combo of pop culture (OTTO, OPRAH, STYX, MILLI Vanilli, THE D.A., and XENA with TV and rock/pop clues), geography (BAKU, THEBES, PISA), plus BEANO. Zippy cluing, too—[Touch and go?] for TAG and [20 places?] for ATMS.

The Sun puzzle by Kelsey Blakley, "Name the Vowels," features (sort of) famous people whose first names end with the letter that starts their last names. Never heard of IRA ALLEN—Ethan Allen's non-furniture-vending brother, apparently—and the poker player ($*#% poker!) STU UNGAR was just vaguely familiar. Plenty of interesting fill, like HOOLIGAN, THERAFLU, LAMAZE, and the poisonous pufferfish FUGU.

It's late and I'm falling asleep at the keyboard, so I'll sign off for now.


In the LA Times puzzle by Dan Naddor (new constructor? I don't recognize the name), there are six theme entries tied together by a seventh, OUT OF. The fill includes both CASTRO and FRANCO, though the latter was clued as football great Franco Harris rather than the dictator. Seeing ELDON, clued as [___ Industries, one-time maker of slot cars], I asked myself if that was the name of Murphy Brown's painter on the TV show. My Googling turned up a term paper ($104, cheap!) comparing Murphy Brown and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I seldom had $104 in my checking account when I was in college—who are these kids who can afford to pay that much to cheat?

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle is a tribute to the late Steve Irwin. It was mildly disconcerting to see OFFSHORE in the fill, given where Irwin died...and then to see it connected to SNAFU, which abutted END.


October 24, 2006

Wednesday, 10/25

NYS 4:36
LAT 4:14
NYT 3:58
CS 2:49

Don't miss Jeffrey Harris's Sun crossword, "Celebrity Swifties." It's all too seldom that theme entries actually make me laugh aloud (albeit quietly), and three of the five here amused me.

The NYT by Adam Perl is a quip puzzle. Maybe I should start a glossary with made-up terms, like DQP for "dreaded quip puzzle." I know quips have many partisans, but in this climate of bipartisan divisiveness, I come down squarely on the side of wishing quip puzzles appeared much less often. Obligatory anti-DQP grumble out of the way, let's talk turkey: There's some good fill here, like MOSH and SNIVELS, and the theme occupies four 15-letter entries. In the upper center section, there may be a secret moral lesson posed by JAILS crossing LUST, IDLE, and SPITES—how many of those are among the seven deadly sins? I fell into the HOTCAKE trap for [Brisk seller] before switching to HOT ITEM, which crosses
TAPIR, and seeing that word never fails to remind me of the time my husband and I saw a tapir with an erection at the zoo (that is one fearsome phallus, let me assure you). We've got a new-wave HARD C—[Croc's head or tail?]—balancing out the old-school entries like ELBA and ISTLE. I'm curious to know what aspects of this crossword gave trouble to some of the seasoned solvers whose applet times weren't at their usual stellar level tonight.

Jeffrey's Sun puzzle has some great fill—OXYMORON and (the unrelated) BUTTHEAD, XERXES I, KAPUT. There's a 7-letter entry I'd never heard of—EL GALLO demonstrates the gaping abysses in my knowledge of musical theater. Funny clue for BACON: [Strips in a club?]. And the theme! A fresh twist on Tom Swifties, using five famous people whose last names sound like adverbs. My favorite three were ["I think about quitting every time I can't stand the Heat," quipped ___] PAT RILEY (wryly), ["I'm not ashamed of my association with Gene Simmons," admitted ___] ACE FREHLEY (freely), and ["I have no doubt in my dancing ability," stated ___] MICHAEL FLATLEY (flatly).


Len Elliott's LA Times puzzle features pairs of bran, ban, band, and Rand names. You might say, "Aha! No brand names!"—but actually, DRANO and VESPA are elsewhere in the fill. I wasn't familiar with one of the theme components, BURN ban. Google tells me governments mandate burn bans (fireplaces, outdoor fires) when there's a risk of fires or a pollution-trapping air inversion. The Chicago area doesn't use these—but parts of the collar counties do seem to permit outdoor burning of leaves and yard waste, which means some suburbs are stinky and make me grumble.

I knew all the famous names in the Sun puzzle, but Randall Hartman included an actress I didn't know in his CrosSynergy puzzle, "Hollywood Shorts." Ruth ROMAN got her start as TV's Jungle Queen, moved on to Hitchcock, and finished up with Murder, She Wrote.


First-grade homework

My son had to compose 15 sentences, one for each of the week's spelling words. The second word was pen, and the sentence he came up with—without prompting from me, I swear!—was:

My mom dus crosswords in pen.

He copied the word crosswords from a book but did the rest himself. I hope the teacher doesn't think he's writing fiction!


The "Today's Puzzle" forum

Okay, I tried posting these remarks at the NYT "Today's Puzzle" forum twice this morning, and the "Service Unavailable" message stopped me in my tracks. So, change of venue.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that the forum is intended to be a social community for crossword fans, and that this identity supersedes any pretense that it's devoted to discussion of that day's NYT crossword. The "spoiler rule" bars posters from getting specific about a crossword until noon on the day of publication. So everyone who avidly downloads the puzzle the night before (and pays a subscription fee for the privilege) is supposed to wait up to 14 hours before posting comments about the theme, specific answers, or really, anything that a hypersensitive individual might deem to be a spoiler. The first-thing-in-the-morning solvers also have to wait several hours before the spoiler deadline passes.

Imagine if you had plans that kept you out of the house when your favorite team had a critical game on TV. You'd tape or TiVo the game and look forward to watching it later. If you wanted to avoid hearing the final score, you'd skip the local news broadcast, you'd certainly shy away from watching ESPN, and you'd be careful about what websites you visited. What you wouldn't do is expect ESPN to scrupulously avoid giving away the score before you'd gotten around to watching the game yourself. And that's basically what's happening at the "Today's Puzzle" forum. Enough people have grown accustomed to hanging out there for chit-chat, and they'd prefer not to have to avoid the site until they've finished the puzzle themselves. The continued enforcement of the spoiler rule indicates that the preferences of that particular group of people supersede the dedication to talking about the day's crossword.

One of the key reasons I started this blog was to talk about the Times crossword when it was fresh in my mind, minutes after solving it online. (Would you believe someone once e-mailed me to ask me to abide by the forum's spoiler-rule schedule on my blog?!?) I know a number of you appreciate having a place to read or write about the puzzle when it's convenient for you, regardless of whether noon has arrived—and I certainly appreciate reading your comments and keeping a puzzle-centric conversation going.

So from my perspective, the main problem with the NYT forum is that it's misnamed. Call it the "Crossword Fans" forum and highlight the spoiler deadline. How does it enhance that community of solvers to chide any newbie who mistakenly visits the "Today's Puzzle" forum in the morning to ask a specific question? It doesn't. It's certainly reasonable for someone to assume that the "Today's Puzzle" header is an accurate description of the forum's scope—but really, it isn't, is it?


October 23, 2006

Tuesday, 10/24

Onion 6:05
NYS 4:02
NYT 2:49
Tausig 3:44
CS 3:44
LAT 2:44

Tuesdays are usually the day Ben Tausig e-mails out the week's puzzles from his cruciverbal factory—the Ink Well puzzle he constructs and the Onion A.V. Club crossword he edits. Ooh, I don't know which Onion constructor is on tap this week! It's a teeny bit like waiting for a birthday present. We already had Francis Heaney, Byron Walden, and Matt Jones, and Deb Amlen and Tyler Hinman's puzzles aren't due just yet, I don't think...could it be Brendan Quigley? Or Matt Gaffney? Or Ben himself? We shall see.

Some folks thought the Monday NYT was a little on the hard side, given how easy Monday puzzles tend to be. The Tuesday puzzle by Gail Grabowski seemed a bit more Mondayish—I'm always psyched to finish a Tuesday puzzle under the 3-minute mark. For a more Tuesdayish/Wednesdayish challenge, there's Byron's Sun crossword, "Krispy Theme." Let us proceed apace to the spoiler zone: The NYT theme entries are explained by 54-Down: the ends of the themers are all AUTOS, or rather, nicknames thereof. Three fancypants cars—CADDY (the XLR Roadster is hot...and my kid thinks the Cadillac logo looks like a cupcake), ROLLS (gas guzzler), and JAG (I saw a new Jaguar a few months ago and...thought it looked like a Ford Taurus)—and one for the proletariat—the Volkswagen BUG. It's cute to have a TAILPIPE in the fill.

Byron's Sun puzzle has naught to do with glazed donuts. Rather, the SNAPPING, CRACKLING, and POPPING are from Rice Krispies, a bowl of which I enjoyed for breakfast today. There are five Z's in the grid, just for a little added zip and zing. No BAD EGG, the creator also opted to SPICE UP the puzzle with a CHILI DOG. I liked the clue [Takedown artist?] for STENO; Google that clue and you'll find all manner of wrestling and martial arts sites. The MADELEINE clued in reference to Proust reminds me to recommend Little Miss Sunshine, if you haven't seen it already; Steve Carell's character is a suicidal gay Proust scholar. In the bottom of the grid, PLATO and ZERO from the "Beetle Bailey" comic strip both appear. I hadn't heard of England's parliamentary LAW LORDS before, but their names in that link amuse me. "Lord Bingham of Cornhill" and "Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle"? Those sound more preposterous than the names in the Harry Potter series.


Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle, "Essex," includes RIA with the most meta clue I've ever seen: [Narrow inlet hugely useful in constructing crosswords]. Why not own up to the conventions of the medium and have a little fun with them?

Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle is positively pregnant with possibilities.

Brendan Emmett Quigley was indeed the constructor of this week's Onion A.V. Club puzzle, "Back in Black." Here are the items included in the theme in plastic toy form. Good to see the lively BEER PONG again, mere days after Paula Gamache used it in another puzzle; after skimming the Wikipedia write-up of this drinking game, though, I find myself grossed out. The inclusion of OOOO and NO YES don't gross me out, but they also don't delight me like RUFFIAN and HE'S SO SHY do.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle's another one in which each row of theme entries bundles two or three related words together without marking the word breaks (in this case, they're all "___ lights."


October 22, 2006

Monday, 10/23

CS 4:02
NYS 3:19
NYT 3:14
LAT 2:58

I returned home this evening from a cocktail reception following my second cousin's wedding. Lo! the crosswords waited patiently for my homecoming. And lo! the glasses of wine impaired not the cognition. I'm always a sucker for a wedding—I haven't seen this cousin in 20 years, probably (I attended as my mother's guest), but as she walked down the aisle resplendent in a sparkling gown, my fiendish eyes grew misty.

There were two Monday puzzles on tap for Sunday-evening solving: the NYT, by John Calvin Williams, and the Sun, by Kevan Choset. Before turning to the puzzles, I printed out copies of the NYT for my mom and husband...and they're still working on them. The NYT puzzle's theme gave me an aha when I figured out what was going on—the first three appeared to be anagrams of each other. Then I hit the fourth theme entry, PERMUTATIONS, which is a particularly apt anagram of the other three. I'm not always in an anagram mood, but...aw, who am I kidding? I'm usually in an anagram mood, and this one hit the spot nicely.

Interestingly, the Williams puzzle clued SUSAN as [Actress Sarandon], and Sarandon's Bull Durham character made up two cross-linked entries in Choset's Sun puzzle: ANNIE and SAVOY. (Hang on a sec here...let me add that movie to my Netflix queue, 'cause I haven't seen it in years and I love it so. I don't even particularly like baseball, but this movie puts in a good word for it.) The Sun puzzle's called "Verbal Volley," and I think the theme consists of three phrases starting with volleyball words: BUMP, SET, and SPIKE. Are there other volleyball words I'm missing? LOVE and PEPSI don't fit in there, do they?


I spent the morning on a first-grade field trip to the Children's Film Festival. If you get a chance to see Winky's Horse—a Dutch movie about a Chinese girl who moves to the Netherlands, falls in love with a horse, and learns about Sinter Klass—don't miss it. Great movie, touching and funny. Coming out on DVD this week...in the Netherlands. I'm doubtful we'll get a subtitled version over here any time soon.

Harvey Estes, who apparently left a number of solvers utterly confused about how his Sunday NYT puzzle worked yesterday, has today's CrosSynergy puzzle. In this puzzle, Harvey EATs out by omitting EAT from the theme entries. Man, those were hard to make sense out of—always nice to have to work a little on a Monday, though.

Fred Jackson III's LA Times puzzle was more typical Monday fare, as it did not make me cogitate so much.


Sunday, October 22

BG 11:43 (on paper)
NYT 9:10
LAT 8:37
WaPo 8:17
CS 4:34

The Sunday NYT crossword created by Harvey Estes, "Linkletter Art," has nothing to do with Art Linkletter. Rather, there's a gimmick whereby the theme entries are linked by a letter that looks like art (if you can call a big letter H composed of black squares "art"). The theme entries (49/50-, 52/53-, 67/68-, 84/85-, and 89/90-Across and 7/95- and 13/97-Down) span two entries and make sense only if you pretend there's an H where a black square—part of the big H—separates the two; there's no separate clue for the second component). I don't see any commonality among the theme entries other than that they make use of that H. Next to the big H are vertical swaths of long entries stacked together, and inside the H are four 10-letter entries; these 10 longer entries are the highlight of the fill. Clever clues include [Hockey game starter, often] for O CANADA, [Where to find an eBay listing] for NASDAQ, [It's often left hanging] for ART, and [Very expensive contest prizes?] for SENATE SEATS. I also liked I OWE YOU ONE, clued as ["Thanks, pal"]. I didn't know the name ROSSANO Brazzi (star of South Pacific), but whaddaya know, he's got a fan site devoted to him. Another actor in this puzzle, B.D. WONG, has fan sites, too; here's a moving interview about Wong's becoming a father. Never heard of ad VALOREM—[how tariffs may be assessed]—before. The NORNs—[Norse goddess of fate]—are worth reading about. Oh! DALI is clued by his painting, Hallucinogenic Toreador"; my husband has been wearing that image on a Salvador Dali Museum t-shirt for so many years, the shirt's grown thin and the underlying molecular structure is all that remains. (Santa's bringing him a new one, but shh! Don't tell.)

David ("Evad") Sullivan has the Sunday Washington Post puzzle, "Oy!" The theme entries all sound a little Australian (though Aussie commenter DA may beg to differ), with a long A sound changing to an oi sound—e.g., [Doggie bag from a luau] for TAKE-HOME POI. Some good fill, like VAN HALEN and GO IRISH, and some fun clues, like [They may sport shades] for LAMPS, [Bare existence?] for NUDISM and [Place to swing?], which, after NUDISM, you may be disappointed to see is merely a TRAPEZE.

James Sajdak's LA Times syndicated puzzle, "Commercialization," places an AD at the start of each theme entry. My favorites were [What spin doctors do?] for ADJUST THE FACTS and [One selling green cheese?] for ADMAN ON THE MOON.

The highlights of Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle are MR SPEAKER and BEER PONG. (No connection between the two is implied.)

The Boston Globe puzzle that's online for today was also published in the Philadelpia Weekly on October 11; any Bostonians remember when Henry Hook's "Booty Call" was in the dead-tree edition? Anyway, the clues for the theme entries all include the word boot in some fashion.


October 20, 2006

Saturday, 10/21

NYT 5:31
LAT 5:07
Newsday 3:59
CS 3:43

Good to see that David Quarfoot either is constructing puzzles more prolifically, or has more of his accepted puzzles floating to the top of Will's stack. His themeless creations never fail to please me (except that one time when I found his work uncommonly challenging, but other people—harrumph!—did not). I'm pleased not to have nodded off mid-solve, because I ordered out for Thai tonight and accompanied my dinner with an absolutely adorable juice box of wine, and I'd been thinking it was a single serving, but really, 250 mL is closer to two servings. If you've never sipped wine directly from a wee box, you've got to try it. No stemware to wash! Anyway...the NYT crossword. One clue/answer combo made me laugh out loud—that'd be [___ hoppen?!] I saw A Mighty Wind just a few weeks ago, so Fred Willard's catchphrase, "WHA' hoppen?!" was fresh in my mind. That colloquialism is joined here by I'M ON IT (the line to the boss), LET 'ER RIP (the line of encouragement), LIAR, LIAR (...pants on fire), and GO POSTAL. [It may be found in an elevator] turns out not to be love but rather, WHEAT. Equally noncolloquial is the answer to [Vaporize]: AERIFY (which can also mean "aerate"). SCOP is a great word for [Old English poet], isn't it? And [Peel provider], 6 letters ending in A, I had pegged as BANANA but it turned out to be DAY SPA. The use of the verb form PISHED (as opposed to the interjection pish) seems to be a thing of the past. The last one I'll mention is another favorite here: [Matching pair, informally] is HIS 'N' HERS. In sum, wha' hoppen?! David Quarfoot turned out yet another entertaining themeless crossword, that's what.


Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper was smooth, but not particularly likely to stump solvers—the easiest Stumper in many a week.


October 19, 2006

Friday, 10/20

NYT 6:59
NYS 5:23
10/6 CHE 4:41
LAT 4:36
CS 2:40

WSJ 8:30
Reagle 7:20

Ed Early's NYT crossword features three triple stacks of 15-letter entries, one of which—KITTEN ON THE KEYS—I'd never encountered. If you want to know how a Brazilian kid would pronounce DOIS (and the other numbers from 1 to 10), check out this link; numbers in other languages are here. My favorite clue was [Suit protector?] for GOLDEN PARACHUTE; least favorite, [Ones associated with wheels and deals] for CASINOS.

Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle, "Three by Two," breaks two words into three for each theme entry. Plenty of "huh?" moments in this puzzle—the Greek region ELIS, BERGERAC as the French region rather than Cyrano de ___ (the town is the Gateway to the Périgord and there's a nonsmoking policy at the tobacco museum), the Gershwin song "BLAH Blah Blah". The Urban Dictionary doesn't include ORBS as the verb [Stares at, in slang]; where is ORBS slang for "stares at"? My favorite clue here was [White sale purchase?] for PINOT GRIGIO. (With a typo, you could make bean wine: pinto grigio. Or reject another vegetable-based white wine out of hand: Chard-no-nay…I'll stop now.) Good to have three pairs of long fill entries (8, 9, and 11 letters), too.

Cute theme in Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle. I especially liked envisioning this guy wearing this or maybe this.

The theme in Jim Leeds' Chronicle of Higher Education crossword plays with the names of four schools, only two of which were familiar to me—but that didn't make the theme any harder, actually. Bonus points for ALIGHIERI and NEODADA, and for the ASTROTURF clue, [Field of plastics?].

For his Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, Merl Reagle assembled a baker's dozen of two-word theme entries that start with I and T. Elsewhere in the fill, I learned that Mercury's winged sandals are called TALARIA.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily made today's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Point of View," which features a quip. With key letters filled in, it's not hard to fill in most of this particular quip, so it felt a little more like a themed puzzle and less like a quip puzzle.

Okay, I think I've figured out the CrosSynergy difficulty target. Uniformly easy themed puzzles from Monday to Saturday (including today's quick solve from Randolph Ross), except when Bob Klahn's name appears in the byline and it's more of a Thursday NYT level, and the easiest themeless of the week on Sundays, except when Bob Klahn's name appears in the byline and it's more of a Friday/Saturday NYT level. Sure, I'm glad there are quality crosswords that are easier than the NYT to keep the less experienced folks in the habit of daily crosswords, but I wouldn't mind at all if the CrosSynergy team ramped up the difficulty level throughout the week.


October 18, 2006

Thursday, 10/19

NYT 4:47
LAT 4:47
NYS 4:43
CS 3:10

Two fine Thursday offerings from the Times and the Sun. The NYT's printed version has a format twist that's not accommodated as elegantly by the applet or Across Lite, so if you're an NYT online puzzle subscriber, consider downloading it in .pdf form to get the full effect.

In Raymond Young's NYT, every down/across pair of entries that share a number (i.e., the NW corner of any section that has such a corner) shares a single clue, so that [Singer Jackson] is both JANET and JOE, and for [Sprite flavor], "lymon" has been torn asunder into its LEMON and LIME components; there are four other such pairs. This crossword seems to be challenging applet solvers—perhaps it's because of things like LAKE BASS, Hazel's MR B, the we-should-totally-use-this-phrase JEU D'ESPRIT, the technical OLEATES, and the "Who?" guys, ERROL Le Cain and Ken ERNST. My favorite clue was [Part of a Southern network]; GOOD OL' BOY eluded me until I had plenty of crossings.

Jeffrey (“Jangler”) Harris crafted the Sun Themeless Thursday puzzle. Cute mini-theme, with GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS and THREE TIMES A LADY (the latter always reminds me, of course, of "Fee Tines a Mady."). My favorite bits of fill were J'ACCUSE (which is a catchphrase of sorts in my household, always with accompanying gestures) and PROLIX (we need more words ending with X). The website for ELLESSE Italia has a short movie spotlighting the tennis attire they sell, but who wears high heels with tennis garb? And that's an awful deep kiss for people dressed for tennis. They might transmit disease that way—much like the tsetse fly. (Segue!) The clue for TSETSES is [Nagana carriers]; the Wikipedia article on nagana, or animal African trypanosomiasis, suggests that the disease kept horses and the soldiers they carried out of much of the continent.


Alan Olschwang's LA Times puzzle includes a defining entry split in two, with the second part up top and the first part at the bottom—WOOD/WORK, cuing you to find TREE, BRANCH, TWIG, and STICK embedded within the theme entries. Who knew there was such a thing as MULTI-BRAN CHEX cereal? Plenty of fiber, but the second ingredient is sugar! Oh, and here's what an INRO is.


October 17, 2006

Wednesday, 10/18

NYS 4:38
NYT 3:40
LAT 3:39
CS 2:48

Sure, John Farmer's NYT puzzle has some short theme entries and maybe a few more black squares than usual—but then, there are a whopping nine theme entries tied together by a tenth one that's 15 letters long, and the fill is pretty smooth. Not perfect, but hey, John managed to include a couple X's and a J up top, and every single section of the grid has to mesh with theme entries. There were a couple entries that didn't come to mind from the clues—the ["To a Waterfowl" poet] is Willliam Cullen Bryant, and the [1941 Stanwyck/Fonda comedy] is The LADY EVE.

Edited five minutes later to say this: Crikey! One of my faithful correspondents just alerted me that this theme was done before, with a couple different entries and vastly different fill, back on January 25, by the same constructor. I like the new one a lot better—can we pretend the other one didn't happen? I'm sure there's some sort of story behind the publication of two versions of basically the same puzzle...

Donna Levin's Sun puzzle is called "Pooh Bah!" and the theme warps the pronunciation of various phrases to include Winnie the Pooh's friends' names. The clue for OPEL threw me, as I'd never heard of Broadway actress Nancy OPEL. The clue for crossword stalwart ALVA took a fresh turn—who knew it was not just Edison's middle name, but also Dick Cavett's? Never heard of Snakes on a Plane's ELSA Pataky (a Spanish actress) before, either, but those of you who are straight men might appreciate this link. I definitely never heard of the [Unit of magnetomotive force], the AMPERE-TURN; I think it might've been reasonable to clue those two words without reference to one another.


Interesting theme in Joy Andrews' LA Times puzzle—nine words that are loan words from the language at 31-Across. A few of the words surprised me—I would've guessed they came from English, African, or Latinate roots.


October 16, 2006

Tuesday, 10/17

Onion 4:53
CS 4:30
NYS 4:26
Tausig 3:47
LAT 3:03
NYT 2:39

First up, a theme-creation contest challenge. The title of Merl Reagle's latest Sunday puzzle was "Snacks on a Plane." Lee Glickstein suspects there's at least one puzzle in the works with the fill SNACKS ON A PLANE (14), clued something like [Peanuts and pretzels, perhaps?]. The contest is to come up with a matching 14-letter entry and clue. What's the theme scheme? That's up to you. Extra acclaim for a whole set of theme entries and clues. (The prize? Uh, modest bragging rights. I'm fresh out of extra puzzle books these days.) So if you're clever enough to think of a direction to take that theme, jot it down in the comments.

Moving right along to Tuesday's puzzles, Alan Arbesfeld's NYT features a theme that...has six entries, none of them hard to figure out. With six theme entries each containing an X, plus some modestly Scrabbly names like ZORA Neale Hurston (author of one of my favorite novels), and XENA and KEANU (I do enjoy pop culture), I suppose we have to make allowances for old crossword stalwarts like ATKA, EERO, YSER, ITER, and ATRI (and it's not as if the stalwarts slow down a solver who learned those words years ago).

The Sun puzzle by Jack McInturff, "T for Tuesday," slowed me down much more. I'm not sure why. Did you find this one to be significantly tougher than the NYT? Must be the clues. Interestingly, all of the theme entries tack a T onto the beginning of a phrase that starts with a B, so something like T-TOP-NOTCH wouldn't fit the theme so well. T-BOZ SCAGGS could've worked, though it involves names rather than nouns.


Either Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle is more challenging than one would expect on a Tuesday (and when the byline says Klahn, that's often the case), or I just couldn't tune into the right wavelength.

Today's LA Times puzzle (with six entries in a basic type of theme) is by David Levinson Wilk, whose Really Clever Crosswords book lives in my car, along with Rich Norris's A-to-Z Crosswords (lots of themelesses), to fill the time when my son's in after-school activities. Yesterday afternoon, I left both puzzle books in the car and instead read Ken Jennings' Brainiac, in which I was startled to find a couple typos. But it's entertaining and moves fast.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "The Brew Crew," puts a cold one at the end of three of the theme entries and at the beginning of the fourth one.

This week's Onion AV Club crossword is Matt Jones's "The World's Worst Scratch 'n Sniff Collection." What put an unpleasant smell in my nose was a deadly crossing of two cartoon characters I didn't know—one from a show that aired on Saturday mornings while I was in college and one a supporting character on Futurama, which I watched for about a year. (Hmph.) So handy to use Across Lite, so I could key in random letters until chancing upon the correct one and generating the Happy Pencil.


October 15, 2006

Monday, 10/16

NYS 3:42
CS 3:29
NYT 3:12
LAT 2:51

Paula Gamache's NYT puzzle is deceptive, really: It's a standard "this word can follow the first words of ___" theme, but this time, there are eight theme entries containing "the first words," and they interlock in pairs. Scarcely anything in the grid doesn't cross a theme entry, so it's really a finely crafted crossword. What's more, the grid's not filled with questionable junk despite the structural limitations posed by the large number of theme entries. Excellent Monday puzzle.

The Sun puzzle by Mark Feldman, "Flower Flicks," features three 16-letter movie titles. I was thrown off by one clue, [Leader of the Lost Boys]; I had the cinematic Lost Boys in mind, which was wrong, wrong, wrong.


October 14, 2006

Sunday, 10/15

NYT 10:37
WaPo 8:25
Sun LAT 7:01
BG 6:40

Sat LAT 6:22
CS 4:22

The Sunday NYT's by Norma Johnson and Nancy Salomon; Norma Johnson's byline has shown up before on early-week NYTs 2+ years ago, but I like the fill she and Nancy devised for this "Help Wanted" puzzle. The theme didn't do much for me personally, but the fill had a fresh feel to it: entries like DAEMON, CUPCAKE, BRENDA and STARR, TOE SHOE, TO DIE FOR, NO MATTER, DOWNTOWN, and NO EXIT. And it's always good to be reminded of Calvin TRILLIN—I recommend his food- and travel-related books, such as Travels with Alice and The Tummy Trilogy.


The themeless Saturday LA Times puzzle by Robert Wolfe includes four 15-letter entries, three of which are colloquial phrases.

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge includes a mini-theme of three 9-letter entries.

Easy Boston Globe puzzle from Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon—"Getting It Backwards" reverses the last word in a phrase. Wasn't there a similar theme elsewhere in the past couple of weeks?

Gail Grabowski's Sunday LA Times puzzle also fell quickly.

Robert Wolfe's Washington Post puzzle, "Sign Language," adds a word (or syllable) to change a common sign into something else.


October 13, 2006

Saturday, 10/14

NYT 19:17
Newsday 7:26
LAT tba
CS 2:45

Oh. My. I finished Byron Walden's Saturday NYT crossword in about 13 minutes...except for that one wrong letter it took another 6 minutes to unearth. Even if I'd actually finished this monster in 13 minutes, it'd still qualify for Killer of the Year status. The two puzzles that come closest to it in difficulty (for me, anyway) were also by Byron—from 10 and 12 months ago. This one, well, it's got that triple stack of 15's in the middle, but with not a single short 'n' easy crossing—the crossers are all 5 to 9 letters apiece. Precious few gimmes, some tough fill, and dastardly cluing combine to form a perfect storm of cruciverbal destruction. Where I went awry was with [Capella's constellation] at 31-Down; I rather randomly plugged in AURORA, eventually changed the O to an I, but left that second R because SIR seemed a suitable [M. equivalent]—except that M. is a French abbreviation and the answer, SIG, is an Italian abbreviation for "Mister." Okay, so I'm not up on my constellations and didn't jump to AURIGA (which has no prior appearances in the Cruciverb.com database, which I'm delighted to have access to again). The funniest clue was [Introduction to ancient history?] for WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE. Tricky clues abounded: [Supply center?] for PEES, [Numbers on the radio?] for ARBITRON RATINGS, [Black-and-white flash?] for APB, [Reading event?] for GAOL BREAK, and [Something darn useful?] for THREAD KIT. [Trade places] was also deceptive, as SWAP*E*TS could be the verb phrase SWAP SEATS or, if you want to make things hard on yourself, the plural noun SWAP MEETS. Rather obscure words I learned (or relearned) included Bona DEA, the goddess also known as Fauna; that damned constellation, AURIGA; the French river involved in WWI battles, AISNE; SAL volatile, better known as smelling salts; and LILI ST CYR, the burlesque legend. So, to sum up: Whoa. And thank you, sir; may I please have another?


October 12, 2006

Friday, 10/13

NYT 6:04
NYS 5:59
9/29 CHE 5:05
CS 3:08
LAT tba

WSJ 7:57
Reagle 6:54

Another crossword-related social occasion this evening—my family and I had dinner with writer Gary Krist, a sometime denizen of the NYT crossword forum. Gary's visiting Chicago to do research for his next book. We ate at La Creperie, which a few of you have been to. I picked up a copy of the Onion on the way and discovered that Byron Walden's puzzle bears the byline from last week's constructor, Francis Heaney. Maybe that's the Onion's satirical way of handling crossword bylines?

(By the way, the Cruciverb.com site is back up. We're glad you're back, Kevin!)

Returning home with a happy stomach, I was pleased to discover an Eric Berlin NYT puzzle for Friday the 13th. Interesting construction if you look at the interlock of the long entries—it's one thing to group HELL'S ANGELS and DESPERADOS, but to sandwich the TRIX RABBIT between them and join the three with a KLEENEX BOX is inspired. Throw in ENERGY BAR, SPORK, SWF, and DREAMWORKS and you've got some mighty fresh fill. Favorite clues included [It's just one thing after another] for PARADE (I started out with SERIES first), [No longer minding one's business?] for RETIRED, [Torch carriers] for SPOT WELDERS, and [Potty] for DAFT.

Patrick Berry's got another Sun Weekend Warrior, this time with four 10x3 stacks in the corners. I'd never heard of the DIRE WOLF (clued as [Ice age creature])—reading the "cultural references" section of that Wikipedia article tells me that I'm nowhere near geeky enough to be acquainted with the beastie. And I didn't get ACE VENTURA based on the clue, so I'm feeling pretty darned sophisticated right now. Clues I particularly enjoyed: [Job done on the convertible?] for EVANGELISM and [It's read only a few times a year] for GAS METER.


Michael Ashley's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle clues FAD as [Sudoku, e.g.]; time will tell if it's the crossword kind of fad that endures and evolves for decades, or the Pet Rock variety that fizzles out and lives on in mocking memory. I'd never heard of El Cid's horse, BABIECA, but there's a good story about him.

Easy Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle from Merl Reagle—"Snacks on a Plane." Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Business Associates," is similarly punny.


October 11, 2006

Thursday, 10/12

NYT 6:18
NYS 4:30
CS 3:30

Tony Orbach's Sun puzzle, "For Ice Cream Lovers," and Dave Tuller's NYT puzzle bear some similarities. Where they differed was that the Sun puzzle seemed a bit easier than the average Thursday Sun; the NYT, harder than usual—the two flip-flopped my expectations. Getting into the specifics, both are rebus puzzles with a 4-letter word squeezed into the rebus squares—CONE (appearing four times) for the Orbach puzzle, TENT (five times) for the Tuller. (Tea for the Tillerman? Never mind.) The rebused crossings sometimes included unexpected entries, such as BB[C ONE] and [CON E]DISON, HOT[TENT]OT and GU[TEN T]AG. The NYT wins the offensive-to-other-cultures sweepstakes, with both HOT[TENT]OT ("nowadays considered offensive by the Oxford Dictionary of South African English," says Wikipedia) and ESKIMO (deemed offensive by Inuits in Canada but not, perhaps, by anyone else).

Both of these crosswords have plenty of interesting fill, too. Tuller's NYT features SIRRAH (so Shakespearean!) and COSMISM; Orbach's Sun, IONESCO, ANASAZI, and CAP-A-PIE.


October 10, 2006

Wednesday, 10/11

NYS 6:51
NYT 4:11
CS 2:59

If you don't always do the mid-week Sun crosswords, I recommend Todd McClary's Wednesday one. Spoilers down yonder, after the cut.

The NYT puzzle by Jack McInturff marks the second time this week that an NYT crossword has…included the word AURAE, clued this time as [Sensations before migraines]. My favorite clues were [It's slippery when wet] for EEL and [Promise to a cook?] for OLEO. The theme, which I was a bit slow to catch onto, involves reversing the last word of a phrase.

Wonderful Sun puzzle by Todd! It's a 15x16 crossword entitled "Portmanteaumorphosis," with two 15- and one 16-letter theme entry combining two portmanteau words (including one word I didn't know but should have. Terrific fill—plenty of Scrabbly letters, some fantastic 8-letter entries (they are, in fact, DAMN GOOD). And fresh clues that made me work to complete the puzzle (though maybe the puzzle wasn't as hard as my relative time would suggest—I did the puzzle after putting my son to bed, and I am powerless to resist the siren song of flannel sheets). Clues I'd like to single out include [Due to a higher power] for OTTO, [Scout gathering?] for INFO, and [Closing report?] for SLAM.


Cruciverb.com status update

The latest from Cruciverb.com's Kevin McCann:

For those of you who have not heard what happened, a phone company (Rogers) came into my home and removed the analog phone connection in my home, which was installed by a competing company (Bell) years ago. This error was committed despite repeated assurances by Rogers that the new digital phone service was be separate and would have no impact on my existing network. Obviously, Rogers was wrong. I have been trying to get service restored by the original company, Bell, but I have been on a waiting list for a long time now. Maybe they don't put a rush on things when dealing with customers who have been doing business with the competition. I dunno.

In any event, I have been told that the line will be fully restored on Thursday. It amazes me that it has to take this long, especially in critical situations like this.

Thanks for your patience.

- Kevin


October 09, 2006

Tuesday, 10/10

Onion 4:49
NYS 4:17
Tausig 4:03
NYT 3:15
CS 2:36

Today, I witnessed pig races and a pumpkin catapult. These events must be exhausting, it appears, because it's not yet bedtime, I have yet to begin writing anything about the Tuesday crosswords, and I'm scarcely awake. So I'll be brief.

The NYT is by Tyler Hinman, who ordered the chicken pastilla for dinner last night. I think my six-year-old son (who sat across the table from Tyler) will be excited to hear about the puzzle tomorrow because he's into Star Wars, and Tyler included both LEIA and ARTOO-Detoo. Two gimmes for a six-year-old; OCTAL and CUOMO, not so much.

The Sun puzzle by Gary Steinmehl flips an M into a W in the theme phrases. Wasn't there a Sunday NYT, or a weekday Sun puzzle, that involved an M/W flip within the past year or two? The concept feels familiar. I'd never heard of a SWAY BAR, but that link explains how an anti-sway bar works to stabilize a car. I also read up a bit on Ottorino RESPIGHI; interestingly, he died in 1936, while his widow, 15 years his junior, lived for 60 years after that, always championing his work.


This week's Onion crossword is Byron Walden's "Where's Suri?"—featuring theme phrases with hidden SURIs in them. Byron assembled three 15- and two 14-letter phrases for the theme (some of which may surprise you), and bound the theme entries together with a smattering of 8- and 9-letter entries. (If you'd like to sign up to get the Onion puzzles in Across Lite via e-mail—along with the Ink Well puzzles—head to Ben Tausig's Google Group.)

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle is quite easy, and well-constructed to boot. Lots of long fill entries, including a vertical one connecting all three theme entries.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle features short theme entries around the edge of the grid and across the center.


Four weeks until the Wordplay DVD release

Hey, look! You can preorder the DVD of Wordplay now. The Amazon page includes just one customer review so far (and features a compelling price of $16.99).

The customer/reviewer writes: In following these different people (literally from all walks of life-a homosexual, a mid-west family man, a college student, a single female) the audience almost becomes a part of their group. It was absolutely warming, to say the least (Ellen Ripstein has got to be one of my all-time favorite characters!). Poor Al Sanders, always misrepresented by the inattentive viewer (assorted writers and bloggers have assigned him a motley assortment of surnames amd professions). Which part of the Midwest accounts for the scenic mountain vista seen from his yard, exactly? And how lovely to limn Trip Payne as, simply, "a homosexual." (Oy!) At least Ellen gets an enthusiastic endorsement. Technically, Al, Trip, Ellen, and Tyler don't represent "all walks of life," unless that means "all sorts of bright and well-educated Caucasians"...but I digress.

I encourage those of you who aren't in Wordplay (but enjoyed the movie) to write Amazon reviews. It could be fun to raise the bar of inaccuracy and see who can compile the freshest and most entertaining mistakes. (No fair plagiarizing from Trip's meta-review of wrongness.)


October 08, 2006

Monday, 10/9

NYT 3:51 (Wait! I can explain!)
NYS tba
CS 3:02
LAT tba (if Cruciverb.com comes back online)

My family and I dined on African cuisine for the second evening in a row—Moroccan this time. Tyler Hinman joined us, and we all had sweet entrées. Can't go wrong incorporating fruit and sugar into your dinner food, really.

So then I returned home, satiated and sleepy, to tackle Sarah Keller's Monday NYT. I once again had the opportunity to demonstrate the utility of the Ellen Ripstein Axiom: Check the crossings. I zipped through the puzzle in about 2:30...but I put in an incorrect letter—UTMOST instead of UPMOST for [Highest]. The crossing THI (in lieu of PHI) made no sense, but I never even saw it there. Alas, it took me well over a minute to dig out of the T-hole. According to this commentary, upmost is often best cashiered in favor of the longer synonym, uppermost. This puzzle also gave NYT solvers another -gram: TRIGRAM. I like that better than DIGRAM and ENGRAM, but all three pale beside CANDYGRAM, no?


Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle, "Game Center," has a double-edged theme—three "before and after" combo phrases (my favorite was [Small, hard buns?] for LITTLE ROCK BOTTOM) in which the center words also form a set of their own to add a fillip of goodness. Or have I not been paying attention? Maybe "before and after" theme entries are always tied together by their contents. Yes? No?


October 07, 2006

Sunday, 10/8

NYT 9:18
Boston Globe 8:44
WaPo 8:04
second Sunday 7:54
CS 3:47

Those of you in New York may doubt the veracity of what I am about to say, but it is possible to get good NYC-caliber bagels in the Chicago area. There's a joint with a few locations just north of the city called (naturally) New York Bagel and Bialy. I've bought their bagels from neighborhood places in the city, but Chicago-area folks should make the drive to Skokie, Niles, or Lincolnwood to get 'em where they're made. We bought a half dozen this evening, steaming hot—so fresh, they were still warm an hour later when we returned home from dinner at Ethiopian restaurant. What goes better with crosswords from New York than New York–style bagels?

Don't miss the second Sunday NYT puzzle this weekend, another of Eric Berlin's "Going Too Far" variety crosswords. In a "Going Too Far" puzzle, the black squares are gray and need to be filled in—some of the entries are too long for their allotted spaces and spill over into the gray square before or after an entry.

Fred Piscop's NYT puzzle for Sunday is called "Turnabout is Fair Play"; the theme flips the first and last words of assorted phrases. My favorite part of this puzzle was 48-Down, which doesn't appear too often in crosswords: the SOMA cube, [Popular block puzzle first put out in 1969]. When I was a kid, we had the blue plastic version; a wooden one with magnets is available at Amazon. Oh, how I loved to while away the time with that thing... There were also a couple medical words, one of which, EVULSE (clued as [Yank out]), shares five letters with the much more common avulse. Evulsion, my Stedman's Medical Dictionary tells me, is "a forcible pulling out or extraction," as of a tooth, whereas avulsion is "a tearing away or forcible separation." And then there's [Burst open] cluing DEHISCE; dehiscence is "a bursting open, splitting, or gaping along natural or sutured lines." Gruesome puzzle today!


Patrick Jordan's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle was easy as themelesses go. One entry contains the letter pair ZJ; I wonder if there are any other legitimate crossword entries featuring those letters together in that order.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Changing Sides," has something that was missing from the print version, apparently—clues for the last three Down entries. So if you're a Bostonian and you were vexed by missing clues a few weeks ago, they're included now. I learned a new word in this puzzle; the answer to [Corniche] is ROAD, as in a road that winds along the side of a cliff. I suppose the Pacific coastal highway in California qualifies as a corniche?

The Washington Post puzzle by Jim Hyres uses an X in every theme entry, nicely upping the Scrabbleosity of the crossword.


October 06, 2006

Saturday, 10/7

NYT 7:40
Newsday [untimed]
LAT? tba
CS 2:58

As of Friday night, the Cruciverb.com site is still offline, so broad access to the Across Lite version of the LA Times puzzle is still gone. And apparently there was a fire earlier on Friday that knocked out the Houston Chronicle's posting of the CrosSynergy puzzles in Across Lite. If the puzzles are there Saturday morning, I'll do them; if not, then maybe another day...

Another commendable themeless crossword from David Quarfoot, the Saturday NYT. It's got the hallmarks of a good time: a dozen entries with 9+ letters, not to mention plenty of...Scrabbly letters, multi-word phrases (the cross-referenced SQUARE PEG and ROUND HOLE, C'EST LA VIE, and AS SOON AS), unexpected letter sequences (V SIGN, IT'LL DO, RATED G, ABC SPORTS), slang (DA BOMB), and clues that make you work for the answers. 2-Down is clued as [Choice], 20-Across as [Smart, in a way] and 29-Across is [Break], fighting the noun vs. adjective, verb vs. adjective, and noun vs. verb battles. (If you guessed adjective, adjective, verb, well done—EXQUISITE, LASER-GUIDED, VIOLATE) The [Wooded area surrounding a community is GREEN BELT; read the Wikipedia article to learn more. My favorite clue was [One subjected to disarmament?] for VENUS DE MILO.


Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper was fairly straightforward as themeless puzzles go. My sources have expressed doubt about 26-Across, though, saying that [He sang about Bo and Luke] can only be Waylon Jennings, whereas this crossword has MERLE (Haggard). Can anyone shed light on this?


October 05, 2006

Friday, 10/6

NYT 10:03
NYS 5:34
9/22 CHE 5:06
CS 3:26

Reagle 9:21
WSJ 8:29

The crossword sphere conspired against me today. I did Tony Orbach's Sun puzzle, and wow! It was far more tractable than the typical themed Friday Sun puzzle. Then 9:00 p.m. (Central) rolled around and I got right to work on the Friday NYT by Nancy Joline. Yow! That one knocked me (and numerous others) down a peg with Saturday-tough cluing.

Orbach's Sun theme, "Dose of Reality in New York," shouted itself in 17-Across (TAN DEM BIKES), giving away the BROOKLYNESE descriptor at 58-Across. I made a few wrong turns here and there in the fill, but overall, it was nowhere near as challenging as most Friday Suns are.

The missing challenge got added into the Joline puzzle, where it made goo-goo eyes at another challenge, and then the two challenges crept away for a night of passion and bred new baby challenges to take up residence with them in the puzzle. Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite that hard, but sheesh! It's Friday, not Saturday. So, why did this puzzle take me about 65% longer than most Friday NYTs? Wicked clues. Nothing overtly duplicitous—just a lot of vague clues that I stared at blankly for a while. My first misstep was trying to fill in the too-short PSEUDONYM for [George Orwell, e.g.]—it wasn't until some crossings eventually filled themselves in that NOM DE PLUME occurred to me. The clue for 32-Across, [Settled], could mean so many things; I ventured LODGED long before I pieced together SAGGED. 3-Down had a vague fill-in-the-blank clue, ["___ what?"]; turned out to be MEANING. Also in that upper left quadrant (which stymied me the most), [Coil] for HANK; I thought to myself, hmm, a coil isn't what I think of when I hear that word, but lo and behold, it's definition 1. I take comfort in the fact that I wasn't the only one left bloodied by this puzzle—why, there are Community Blood Services tournament hotshots Bob Mackey and Howard Barkin, both minutes behind me. Excellent work by Nancy Joline and Will Shortz, and kudos to Cole Kendall for solving this puppy in less than 7 minutes.


I found the clues in Jack McInturff's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle hard, too. An asteroid and a star, not to mention a [Laptev Sea feeder]? Those felt rather obscure to me. The historical theme also slowed me down—LEWIS AND CLARK I know, of course, but the name of the group they led? Not so much.

In Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "When Zookeepers Don't Get Along," there was one small word that was a huge gimme: [Senate runner], 4 letters. Ha! The theme entries required more piecing together with help from the crossings, whereas the theme in Colin Gale's Wall Street Journal puzzle was much more accessible (I don't always grasp the theme in a 21x21 by the second theme entry).


October 04, 2006

Thursday, 10/5

NYT 3:56
NYS 3:36
CS tba

Kevin McCann posted an update at the NYT forum earlier today—Cruciverb.com may be down for a few more days while various ISP/phone/cable companies learn how to get along. If you're craving the LA Times puzzles in Across Lite, see the comments on the previous post for Karen Tracey's offer; the other puzzles Kevin posts are generally available here.

Before heading off to Europe for the annual World Puzzle Championship, Will Shortz promised NYT solvers a forehead-smacker (this, I reckon, is akin to a sock-knocker-offer). Presumably he was referring to Joe DiPietro's Thursday puzzle, which wasn't very difficult to solve...but must've been a bear to construct. The clues are in ALPHABETIC ORDER, with exactly three clues for each letter. This accounts for a clue like [Kangaroo pocket openings] for SLITS; can you think of a smoother clue that lands between "just" and "Ken" in the alphabet? But while I was solving this puzzle, the clues never struck a false note (the kangaroo one seemed the oddest, yet was completely gettable). If anything, the clues were a little easier than I'd expect, which is amazing given the limitations inherent in how they were written. I wonder how much the fill was worked and reworked to facilitate the cluing. (The same gimmick was used in Lee Glickstein and David Liben-Nowell's Wednesday Sun puzzle from June 8, 2005—mere days before I started this blog—with two thematic entries, RUN THE GAMUT and ABECEDARIAN. I think the fill came out a bit smoother in Joe's NYT version.)

I was able to zip through Will Nediger's Themeless Thursday from the New York Sun faster than I've ever done a themeless Sun or NYT crossword. What was your experience—easier than you expected? And d'you think SNEEZES AT and RUNNY NOSE were meant to be a mini-theme?


October 03, 2006

Wednesday, 10/4

Wed NYS (Glickstein) 5:29
Onion 5:05
NYT 4:17
Mon NYS (Steinmehl) 4:14
Tausig 4:04
Tues NYS (McInturff) 3:26
CS (Rosen) 3:14

Hmm, it appears that I have my work (if we can call it that) cut out for me on Wednesday, provided that the week's Sun puzzles get posted, the indispensable Cruciverb.com comes back online, and Ben Tausig sends out his weekly e-mail with the addition of the new (and I'm so looking forward to this!) Onion crossword.

In the comments on yesterday's post, Nancy Schuster offers to e-mail PDFs of the Community Blood Services crossword tournament puzzles. If you want to take a stab at them, make sure you avoid the Puzzle Brothers blog until after you've done the finals puzzle (which none of the A finalists were able to finish in the 15 minutes allotted, apparently)—the most recent post contains a written spoiler, and the post before that features a large photo of winner Bob Mackey with his mostly filled-in finals grid. (Aaugh! My eyes! 1-Across seared itself into my brain.) Yo, I don't know why Bob left the NE quadrant blank—that was one of the easier sections for me. Did the other finalists struggle with the same area or different ones? I found the middle the toughest. (For now, let's avoid spoilers in the comments on the tournament puzzles.)

Moving on to the Wednesday NYT by Adam Cohen: I found much to admire in this puzzle, namely...the cute theme, good clues, a smattering of Scrabbly fill, and four great 8-letter fill entries, including MOOD RING (click here to learn how it works), LET ME SEE, A STUDENT, and PAT SAJAK (clued as [Man of letters?]). The top left corner section was the last to fall for me, thanks in part to [Headline?] as the clue for PART. The ["Home-Folks" poet] RILEY is the "Hoosier poet" James Whitcomb Riley. Nice work, Adam!


At last, the Sun puzzles are available for bingeing on. I won't spoil 'em for you on the off chance that your morning doesn't afford as much time for crossword binges as mine does. I will say that Jack McInturff's Tuesday puzzle was uncommonly easy for a Sun puzzle, that one of the theme entries in Lee Glickstein's Wednesday puzzle played on a base phrase I'd never heard (Google tells me it's a golf thing), and that Gary Steinmehl's Monday Sun had a theme entry that was a composer I didn't know.

Francis Heaney kicks off the Onion's new crossword in the A.V. Club section. If you don't know music from the '80s to the present, you're not gonna like the theme. Me, I liked it even though I hadn't heard two of the bands/songs in question (and they didn't sound remotely familiar on iTunes). Elsewhere in the puzzle, there was a song I remember, but I swear I've never heard of the band. Good fill, good clues, similar in spirit to Ben's Ink Well puzzles.

I learned two things in Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle: the factoid in the theme (go back and read the puzzle's title when you're done) and the Korean liquor SOJU.


October 02, 2006

Tuesday, 10/3

NYT 4:06 (wait! I can explain!)
CS 3:44
Tues NYS tba
Mon NYS tba
LAT tba

(An adjacent-key typo cost me 40 to 60 seconds...)

Hey, Peter Gordon—any chance you can remind the Sun's tech staff to hook us up with this week's puzzles? You know we all really start jonesing for them by 9:00 a.m. Monday!

Ed Stein's Tuesday NYT puzzle is thematically dense: I counted 79 theme squares split among a whopping nine entries, with PORTMANTEAU WORD describing the other eight words. If you like portmanteaux—and who doesn't?—check out the Wikipedia article on 'em. Aside from the typo, this puzzle didn't take me much longer than the typical Tuesday NYT, but I suspect people will be grumbling about a few of the entries—Villa D'ESTE crossing the Latin GESTAE and the currency-related UNPEG, MACAU (which I usually spell Macao) crossing the prairie grass BLUESTEM (but look how pretty!), the uncommon DIGRAM, and the gettable-but-is-that-actually-a-word UNNEATLY. But still, 79 theme squares!


October 01, 2006

Monday, 10/2

NYT 3:06
CS 3:02
LAT 2:42
NYS tba

Perhaps I'm a terrible parent. All I asked for was not to be spoken to for three minutes. Three minutes! The kid made it about one minute before he sidled up to me with a question. It makes me grateful that Will Shortz hasn't opted to toughen up the crossword tournament by randomly interrupting contestants mid-puzzle. Ever see that game show on Comedy Central, "Distraction"? The host reads trivia questions while the contestants are distracted by things like ping pong balls being shot at their heads, or nudists squeezing into a phone booth with them. It's so much easier to think without distractions like pain, or children. This, I posit, accounts for the preponderance of single people without kids among the elite solvers at Stamford.

So, yeah, I would've liked to finish Harvey Estes' light Monday NYT crossword a little faster than I did...


Another puzzle from Harvey Estes—today's CrosSynergy crossword, a tribute to actor Glenn Ford, who died on August 30. The only Ford movie I ever saw was Superman—his career was mostly before my time and out of my genres.

Still waiting for the week's Sun puzzles to be posted...