November 30, 2006

Friday, 12/1

NYT 5:26
NYS 4:49
11/24 CHE 5:29
LAT 3:53
CS 3:07

WSJ 8:17
Reagle 6:51

(post updated at 9:45 a.m. Friday)

All righty, Friday crosswords make me happy like Thursday ones do—only more so because there are a few more reliably good puzzles to chew on. The NYT's a traditional themeless by Mike Nothnagel (who looks a lot like actor Chris Noth in my addled head), and the Sun puzzle is a joint production of Jeffrey Harris and Patrick Berry. (Both puzzles, of course, bear the imprimatur of their respective editors.)

Nothnagel's NYT crossword has the kind of structure that irks some people—the northwest and southeast corners are almost stand-alone mini-puzzles, with just one word in each section interlocking with other parts of the puzzle. Me, I rather like that extra bit of challenge, at least when my brain's firing on all cylinders and there aren't any impossible crossings. I lucked out on the wavelength thing, with many of my first guesses being correct. Clues and entries that pleased me include the IRON CHEF TV show (I'd like to see a combination of Fear Factor and Iron Chef, where the most appalling offal must be used to prepare a fantastic meal), [Manager of a two-party system?] for NOAH, [Follower of Mao?] for TSE, JOIE DE VIVRE, cartoonist Jim UNGER (because I'm not sure why I even knew that name), and [Not fixed] for MOVABLE (my first guess there was FERTILE!).

In Jeffrey and Patrick's Sun puzzle, "Half-abetic," the theme pertains to being halfway diabetic. No, not really. But it took me a couple minutes to figure out what the title and the gimmick were. How are the letters in the grid AMBIDEXTROUS? The left side contains only letters from the first half of the alphabet (A through M), while the right draws from the N-to-Z pool. (The Across Lite notepad, by the way, informs us that we should imagine a dashed line splitting the left side from the right. I have never met any CAMELEERS, and I don't know rapper LIL Wayne, and I didn't know that scheletro was Italian for "skeleton" (a part of it being OSSO, or "bone"), and I didn't know KIBBLE was also a verb, and I didn't recognize that Denpasar is in BALI. And it's only now that I've figured out why [Salt creator] is Dahl—Roald Dahl dreamed up Veruca Salt for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So, yeah, I learned a lot in this crossword. Isn't it nifty that the word AMBIDEXTROUS has only letters from the alphabet's first half in its first half, and the last for its last?

Happy December, everyone! Here in Chicago, the snowflakes are wafting down gently now and dusting the parked cars, but we're told to expect 6 to 12 inches of accumulation by morning. Ack!


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle made me think hard for [Blowfish head?]. Turned out to be HOOTIE, which technically is nobody's name and the leader of Hootie and the Blowfish was/is Darius Rucker, but I still enjoyed it because it duped me into thinking of fish anatomy.

The trickiest clue for me in Todd McClary's 11/24 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Canis Major," was [It may be drawn to scale], which the crossings eventually told me was KNIFE. (Here's a picture of a guy using a knife to scale a fish.)

Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle ("Discount! Discount!") throws a bunch of sales come-ons at you. Took me a long time to get the first theme entry, but then the other ones came more quickly. Funniest clue: [Brief composition?] for COTTON.

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Just Sew," features a sewing theme. A knitting or crocheting theme would have reminded me more of my grandmother, who finally died in the wee hours, in her sleep. Her last day was a feisty one—she never was a pushover. Bye, Gram—we'll miss you.


November 29, 2006

Thursday, 11/30

NYT 5:10
NYS 4:47
LAT 3:38
CS 3:37

Ah, Thursday, Thursday, how do I love thee? So much. Two great puzzles, a themed one from Patrick Merrell in the NYT and a themeless from Seth A. Abel in the Sun. If you're one of those people who customarily do only the NYT but you enjoy pop culture in your crosswords, be sure to download the Sun crossword.

I got a kick out of Pat's NYT theme, with its gender-bending GEORGE AND JOAN pairs (the F/M SAND AND MIRO and the M/F BUSH AND BAEZ). Although it might've been fun to skew gay and combine Bush and Miro, no? The fill is terrific here—you've got the messy CHILI DOG and the mascot, the ARMY MULE, both intersected by ICARUS at 1-Across (which I like because a friend of mine uses the word as a favorite password). The RADAR GUN is now a toy—my kid is asking Santa for the Hot Wheels Radar Gun (which apparently converts your toy car's speed to the scaled-up velocity of a full-size car), and there's also the [Boy toy], GI JOE. Beethoven's ODE TO JOY crosses FAJITA and the [Musician who takes a bow], cellist YO-YO MA. [Phony] made me think of the adjective rather than the noun (POSEUR). Also liked [Group date?] for GIG and [Revolutionary paths] for ORBITS (having nothing to do with the Shining Path Maoist guerrillas).

In Seth's Themeless Thursday, there's a possible minitheme of African-American men of music with awesomely Scrabbly names: JIMI HENDRIX and QUINCY JONES. (Quincy Jones' daughter, by the way, is Rashida Jones, the actress who plays Karen, Jim's new office crush, on The Office.) As a quasiminitheme bonus, there's also P DIDDY. A bunch of colloquial phrases here, like I'M NOT YOU, LOOK AT THAT, and GLORY BE. In the same puzzle as HEARSE, who'd expect [Pass on, in a way] to be the wonderful word REGIFT? I also liked DECLASSÉ and SAD SACKS. DORITOS are preternaturally, artificially (preterartificially?) orange, as you can see in Wikipedia and as referenced by the clue, [Orange bowl fillers?] The Wikipedia article informs me that Canadians can buy "Bagged Milk" and "Ketchup" Doritos varieties; what I want to know is why. And what a Bagged Milk Dorito tastes like. The U.K.'s "Tandoori Sizzler" Doritos must be tasty. And have you Aussies seen the Doritos shaped like Christmas trees this year?

Kudos to Pat Merrell and Will Shortz and to Seth Abel and Peter Gordon for this yummy pair of crosswords.


November 28, 2006

Wednesday, 11/29

NYS 4:15
LAT 3:48
CS 3:32
NYT 3:21

Barbara Olson’s NYT crossword has a theme that’s all over the place, with every part of the grid interacting with the pairs of 7-, 10-, and 11-letter theme entries that aren't exactly oxymoronic combos. Of course I enjoyed [What a famous woman may play in a movie] as a clue for HERSELF. I also appreciated the inclusion of 14 fill entries that were 7 or 8 letters long, plus clues like [One who knows the score] for MAESTRO
I don't much care for AERO clued as [Prefix with magnetic]; aeromagnetic is a real word, yes, but much more obscure than the other aeros (-dynamic, -nautics, -space, -drome, -port)—and I could swear we saw the same clue within the past few weeks.

Patrick Jordan's Sun puzzle, "Chick Flicks," includes four 12's and a 14 in the theme within a 15x16 grid, also with 14 non-thematic entries of 7 letters or more. The theme is "chick flicks," as in younger versions of avian-titled movies. 3-Down plays on this Marx Brothers film; 9-Down is this; 15-Down is this; 24-Down is this; and 27-Down plays on this movie. (I've never seen any of the five.)


November 27, 2006

Tuesday, 11/28

Onion 5:15
Tausig 4:38
CS 3:49
NYS 3:42
LAT 3:07
NYT 3:05

(post updated at 8:45 a.m. and again at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday)

Alan Arbesfeld’s NYT offering is a great Tuesday puzzle with a solid theme and racy undertones. The theme didn’t go where I thought it was headed, with ["The Joy of Sex" author] ALEX COMFORT followed by the [So-called “King of Vibes"]—what with all the X's (more than triple-X, this puzzle is quadruple-X), SATYRS, PORN, AMO, and a 4-letter deadly sin (ENVY, not LUST, alas).

Gary Steinmehl's Sun crossword takes a stab at continuing in that vein, with LIBIDO, but then negates it with MR BEAN, NINO Scalia, and MAO (brilliantly clued as [Red head with a mole]). I also liked [Ape lions] as a clue for ROAR (having just done Hex's Atlantic cryptic with DOG APE as one of the answers), [Started a cigarette break] for LIT UP, ASA being clued in relation to the Buchanan clan of One Life to Live, and RENO clued with actor Jean Reno (if you haven’t seen The Professional, add it to your Netflix queue).


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle took me longer than the day's other three crosswords, but it's still easier than most Klahn confections (and no, there's no conflict inherent in likening tough crosswords to candy—what could be sweeter?). I didn't notice any soup in the "Playing the Spoons" theme, but opted to read about the Soup Nazi anyway.

Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle contained a striking density of the words that used to crop up regularly in crosswords, but have fallen by the wayside in recent years (you've got your STERE and SERE, your ALAE and RIA, and, of course, the ETUI). An easy puzzle for the experienced solver, but presumably a challenge for a crossword newbie who hasn't stuffed the nooks and crannies of her brain with these words.

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword pays homage to a few winners of the Ig Nobel prize, and continues the mockery theme with Jennifer LOPEZ, winner of a Razzie award for lousy acting. Astonishingly, there appears to be a U.S. patent on the COMBOVER HAIR concept, despite the innate badness of the idea (viz. these photos of men with hair I'd like to see in the shower—you know, with a floppy 8-inch swath of hair draped over one ear and the lack of hair on the opposite side). Entertaining combos of entries, with GOOP crossing GUAC and UVULA crossing BUNION (I like to call my mom's biggest bunion "Paul"). Favorite clues included [Left behind?] for WILLED, [Kvetchphrase?] for OY VEY. Good three-word fill, with FELL BACK ON and UP THE ANTE, not to mention BOING.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword is called "TriPod," and the three theme entries begin with types of iPods. Fun fill and clues, as usual, with the Springfield ISOTOPES baseball team from The Simpsons, GANGSTA rap, and the [Turned-on turn-on], VIBRATOR. I wasn't familiar with the [Sid Meier video game series] CIV, now in the Civilization IV incarnation, and never would've gotten it if I hadn't figured out that [Wrigley stuff] referred to the baseball field (with bricks 'n' IVY and a lousy record most seasons) rather than the chewing gum company.


November 26, 2006

Monday, 11/27

NYT 3:07
NYS tba
LAT tba
CS tba

Hmm, I think this might be another NYT constructor's debut, this crossword by Marlon R. Howell—if so, that's three in a week. This is the way quote/quip puzzles ought to work—a fairly short quote (here, two 15's and a 7 in the middle) that minimizes the numbers of squares that the quote occupies. I wasn't familiar with the quote by Bertrand Russell, but I like it: THE TIME YOU ENJOY/WASTING/IS NOT WASTED TIME. Yes, indeed! Some fresh-feeling fill, too—YOKEL, UPLOADS, FREUDIAN, NINJA.


Sunday, 11/26

BG 11:20
NYT 9:32
LAT 9:27
WaPo 8:06
CS 5:48

It's a good thing the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament doesn't involve tackling crosswords at 2 a.m. That's when I was doing Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Eponyms." Or was it actually an especially tough puzzle?

Manny Nosowsky's NYT crossword is called "Energy Crunch." Where the 11/17 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword included assorted electrical units in the theme entries, Manny's puzzle features an [ERG] rebus in eight places, meaning he found 16 phrases that contained that letter grouping. Bestest clue: [Brought up the rear?] for MOONED; don't miss the discourse on mooning at Wikipedia. MOONED crosses THE MOORS; does anyone else instantly think of "the Moops" from the Seinfeld episode, "Bubble Boy"?

I've made this particular point before—in the Washington Post puzzle by Con Pederson (which I enjoyed), EVAN is clued as [Fashion's Picone]. There was not a person named Evan Picone! The clothing company Evan-Picone was named after Messrs. Evans and Picone. It's a bit like cluing PAINE as [Financier Webber].

Bonnie Gentry's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Vowel Language," includes phrases meaning EHS, EASE, EYES, OWES, USE, and WHYS, in order (A's, E's, I's, O's, U's, and Y's). One deadly crossing toward the bottom of the grid—DSOS (one of those British military award acronyms) meeting up with EADIE (never heard of Betty Eadie before).

Today's themeless CrosSynergy crossword is by Rich Norris, a bit on the difficult side.


November 25, 2006

Friday/Saturday, 11/24–25

Sat NYT 4:37
Fri NYT untimed
Fri WSJ 7:45
Reagle 8:25
Sat Newsday 4:19
Sat LAT 4:00
11/17 CHE 5:25

Just got home this afternoon after a couple days away, and since my last post, I've done a grand total of three crosswords: Dave Mackey's Friday NYT in the newspaper, Sherry Blackard's Saturday NYT on the applet just now, and the Saturday NYT puzzle from six weeks ago syndicated in the Sun-Times (Byron Walden's work is more tractable the second time around). Congrats to Dave on his first Friday NYT (I think)—definitely my favorite of his puzzles to date.

Sherry's puzzle seemed a lot easier than her usual Saturday killers—my hypothesis is that crossword-solving performance is optimized by consumption of pecan/chocolate-chip pie, so I'm thinking of baking again for Stamford. Regrettably, I will be unable to share pie with anyone I deem to be a competitive threat. I liked the mini-theme: TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: THE THRILL IS GONE, and has been since a LONG TIME AGO. Favorite clues: [See people] for BISHOPS, [It may be fit for a queen] for BED SHEET (I thought of queen ants first), and [Result of doing the twist?] for TORSION. Great fill with HAS DIBS ON, ONE DIME (as seen here), SAD EYES (song lyrics here, LASH OUT (or, if you prefer, LA SHOUT), and MAUNA LOA (rather than the crosswordESE LOA or KEA stranded in the grid without MAUNA). Because Sherry likes to make solvers work hard, there are also some tough words, such as TERNATE (here's a picture of soybean leaves) and ISOTYPE.


November 22, 2006

Thursday, 11/23

NYT 4:21

Another constructorial debut in the Times, with a crossword by Ari Halpern. It took me a while to work out how any of the theme answers related to the central entry, FLOSS—which can also be parsed as F LOSS, hence the [Injured pitcher?] is LAME THROWER. For an added consistency bonus, the four theme entries all start with an L. Good fill includes QUESTIONS, JIGSAW, and STATE FLAG. This time REA wasn't clued in reference to actor Stephen, but rather, [New Deal inits.]. I learned this before (in crosswords, natürlich) but had totally forgotten it—it's the Rural Electrification Administration. A few tricky clues, such as [Lots] for REALTY and [In a cord?] for SPINAL. Congrats to Ari on his debut!

There's no Sun crossword on Thanksgiving, but the cryptic crossword (by Fraser Simpson) for Friday is posted. Those of you in the U.S., enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday! And don't forget to save a little room for dessert—I've made pecan pie.


Wednesday, 11/22

Onion A.V. Club 5:52
NYS 4:45
Tusig 4:27
CS 3:34
LAT 3:06
NYT 2:56

Thanks for all your kind words. My grandmother's still hanging in there, and she's comfortable. Turns out she's very popular at the nursing home—the lunch lady checks in once or twice a day, and assorted maintenance guys, nurse's aides, and administrators pop in to see how she's doing. And hospice care is making the end of my grandmother's life so natural and peaceful—beats the hell out of uncomfortable IVs, invasive ventilators, and noisy hospital wards.

I think the NYT crossword might be a debut—don't recognize Edward Alch's name. Seven theme entries! The fill seems a tad crosswordese-ish (SERE, ESSO, etc.), but an X and a Z found their way into the grid, so I like that. Seemed awfully easy for a Wednesday puzzle, but does anyone really object to the occasional ego boost offered by solving an easier-than-expected crossword?

The Sun puzzle...hmm, I did it last night and was tired, so I don't remember where my favorite clues were. Alan Arbesfeld's theme gathers words that are homophones of other words starting with a soft C.

I liked Tyler Hinman's Onion crosswizzle, in which Mr. Hinmazzle which Snoop Doggifies base phrases by changing some word endings to -ZZLE. [Have lots of head?] is FIZZLE TO THE BRIM (as in "fill to the brim"). With 10 Z's in the theme entries, lots of zip and zest in the fill. Plus PSHAW! and EWWW!

Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle, "Scandal Sheet," had some wonderful fill, like NEAT FREAKS and NO FRILLS, and a hilarious clue: [Elimination round?] is TOILET BOWL.

Today's LA times puzzle by Gail Grabowski has a theme I find to be quite topical: phrases that mean RUNNING ON FUMES. At last, a crossword theme that speaks to how I'm feeling!

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle features "Broadway Closings," theme entries whose last words are the titles of Broadway shows. I'm drawing a complete blank on COMPANY, though—is that new or old?


November 20, 2006

Tuesday, 11/21

NYT 4:16
NYS 4:11

Just a short post, and I won't be updating in the morning. Spent all day with family at a nursing home, where my grandma may be approaching the end of her life's journey. She's 94, so it's nothing unexpected or tragic, but it was a long, long day and I could scarcely read crossword clues tonight. On the bright side, Grandma had been wanting to see Wordplay—kept asking when the DVD was coming out—and did get a chance to watch it a week ago. She was in the hospital a week before the DVD came out, and the thought had crossed my mind that I hoped she'd last beyond November 7. And I'm glad to have a leisure pastime that gives my grandma something to brag about. "Are you the granddaughter who's a nurse practitioner?" people will ask in a hopeful tone. Nope (that's a cousin Grandma's proud of). "Oh! Are you the one who won the puzzle contest?" Yeah, that's me. Gotta give Grandma a good story for her conversational repertoire, right?

The NYT crossword's by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke, and the Sun puzzle's by Jim Hyres. My mind is fried, so I'll dispense with the commentary for now. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves, and may your Tuesday be drama-free.


November 19, 2006

Monday, 11/20

NYS 4:15
NYT 3:06
LAT tba
CS tba

Bernice Gordon's NYT crossword made me nostalgic for my childhood. Why? Because my family watched The Flip Wilson Show alluded to in 58-Across. (Don't miss the terrible joke at the end of the Wikipedia write-up.) But the show's run ended when I was just 7? Holy cow! (As in ELSIE the [Borden cow], right beneath COMEDIAN WILSON. Did I mention that my cousin's baby girl is named Elsie? Moo.) During the same era, we watched Love, American Style, which I think was shown after school in syndicated reruns, because I have the sense that I watched it an awful lot. William KATT, who starred in The Greatest American Hero a decade later, was recently in Entertainment Weekly, sharing his superhero take on Heroes (Save the cheerleader!), a new TV series which featured the NYT crossword last week. See? I'm not rambling. It's all related.

James Sajdak's Sun puzzle is cheerful, jovial, and downright riant. You know what? If I were writing the title for this one, instead of "Smile!" I'd have opted for "Glee Club."


November 18, 2006

Sunday, 11/19

BG 9:38
LAT 7:47
NYT 7:46
WaPo 8:35
CS 5:39

(post updated at 10:55 a.m. Sunday)

I finished two more puzzle books this week—Peter Gordon’s Hall of Fame Crosswords and David Levinson Wilk’s Really Clever Crosswords. Loved both of them! Peter’s book has lots of his easy, early-week NYT puzzles, but also some Thursday rebus action, themeless crosswords, and diagramless puzzles. Now I’ve moved on to a collection of tough NYT crosswords (Volume 13); I believe they’re all Thursday, Friday, and Saturday puzzles from 2001 and 2002. Sure, I did them all online (during my initial wow!-look-at-all-these-crosswords binge) a couple years ago, after I first subscribed to the Premium Puzzles service. But I won the book a couple months ago at Dean Olsher’s blog, and I’m always up for another themeless binge.

Tony Orbach’s Sunday NYT is called “What’s More,” and the theme is more themier—the theme entries add an -ER to their base phrases. For example, olive loaf (eww!) transmogrifies into an [Oddly colored shoe?], the OLIVE LOAFER (my favorite cold-weather shoe isn’t a loafer, but it is available in olive). Favorite crossing: FUTZ meets SLEAZES. This crossword offers the latest entry in the Parse It Another Way sweepstakes: the [Home of the NCAA’s Minutemen] just might be UM, ASS. My thoughts are a bit scattered this evening, so I’ll yield the floor to my esteemed colleagues in the comments lounge.


Patrick Jordan's Washington Post puzzle, "Toothy Picks," has whet my appetite for next Thursday, and has a good punchline in the last theme entry. The LA Times crossword credited to Samantha Wine also hews to the Thanksgiving motif; somewhere in the fill is the "what the heck does that mean?" word TREEN—which turns out to be a word for household objects made of wood. I love treen! I just never knew there was a collective word for those lovely things. Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle is "Puzzling Poultry," with a turkey-related quote. (Bostonians, is this the puzzle in your newspaper today, or did they run a turkey theme a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving?) I was lucky to finish this puzzle, what with the Irish town of ADARE crossing the acronym WAAC and the animal called the INDRI. Today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle by Raymond Hamel is right up there in difficulty with this weekend's hardest themeless crosswords.


November 17, 2006

Saturday, 11/18

NYT 5:44
Newsday 4:13
LAT 5:43
CS 2:52

Reagle 9:04
WSJ 7:12

(post updated at 9:10 a.m. Saturday)

The Saturday NYT is Vic Fleming’s first themeless puzzle in this particular outlet, and it’s a fun one. Who doesn't like a classic Saturday Night Live reference (here's a BABA WAWA script). [Clothing item with strings], 6 letters starting with B—BIKINI, right? Nope, BONNET. US STEEL itself isn't fun, but if you subtract an E and anagram what's left, you get the next word over, TUSSLE. Three 15-letter entries hold everything together in a free-flowing; yesterday's NYT crossword was closer to six discrete sections with less flow between them—mind you, that's not a bad thing in my book, as I'm fond of challenging themelesses. The AMERICAN EMBASSY is crossed by [Envoy and others], which relates not to diplomats but cars (GMCS), and then GMCS crosses a Toyota. Favorite clues: [Boomer born in the 1960's] for ESIASON, [Something to part with] for ADIEU. I'd never heard of poet SONIA Sanchez or sportscaster Chris SCHENKEL, but the crossings were all fair and I learned some new names. I took a jewelry/metalsmithing class in college, and don't recall the word COLLET when we learned to make bezel settings like this, but apparently it's the same thing. And how cute is the PACA?

Friday's Wall Street Journal crossword, Elizabeth Gorski's "Additional Charges May Apply," inserted an ION into the theme entries—including one built from the base phrase POT PARTY. (You know what they say about those folks at the Wall Street Journal, right? Stoners, all of 'em.) Seemed easier than usual.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Triple Play," marks the national population odometer rolling over to 300,000,000 by including 16 3's in the grid. Cool trick! (You ever find yourself filling in a crossword and see the pattern **GINA, and wonder what the clue would be?)


Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper had good fill, but the clues were on the easy side. Bob Mackey's LA Times crossword also had some lively long entries.


Holiday shopping

A "brainy toys" catalog came in the mail today from MindWare, which I'd never heard of before. But ooooh, I want to buy a lot of stuff. And not necessarily just for my son. There are games (strategy, trivia, board games, Super Scrabble now with quadruple-word squares), puzzles (including 4x4 and 5x5 Rubik's cubes, jigsaws), books, puzzle books (mazes, logic, mysteries, lateral thinking, and, er, sudoku), science kits, cool building blocks and other spatial gizmos, geography stuff, and artsy-crafty kits (remember wood-burning kits?) and...and...and it all looks so fun and educational. Who ever heard of a kid's etymology activity book? There are two levels to choose from! Where was this when I was a kid??

Not a single item in this catalog is gendered—no pink for girls vs. primary colors for boys, no workbenches for boys vs. kitchens for girls. Just toys and games for any kid. Hooray!

It's possible that Santa Claus will be placing a really big order...and not letting the kid have a chance to play with his new treasures.


If crossword-solving were a varsity sport

...I could have lettered in it.


November 16, 2006

Friday, 11/17

NYS 5:54
NYT 4:32
LAT 4:11
11/3 CHE 3:37
CS 2:50

WSJ tba
Reagle tba

(post updated at 9:00 a.m. Friday)

I learned via Ellen's blog (and Tyler's, and Trip's…) that Wordplay didn't make the Academy's short list of 15 nominated-to-be-nominated documentaries. I've never even heard of about 10 of them, though I'm sure they're worthy works of art. But are they fun? Do their soundtracks rock? Hah.

David Liben-Nowell's Sun crossword, "Before and After," is a damn sight harder than a Wheel of Fortune Before and After puzzle, even with the help of having the first and third components be homophones. Five vertical theme entries occupy this 15x16 grid, but while the theme didn't do anything for me personally, I appreciated the many tricky or flat-out hard clues. [Do a bang-up job on?] is TEASE (click the link for an illustration if the answer's got you befuddled). [Front edge?] is ISOBAR, which came to mind quickly for me given the oddball weather front passing through here today. I got [Org. whose members employ many guards] through the crossings alone—it's NBA. [People try to look their best for these] is EYE TESTS, of course—but I needed at least six crossings to figure that one out. [Lowland bottom] is KILT. KANSAS has 34 stars on its flag because it was the 34th state admitted to the union. [One of the subtractive primaries] is CYAN. Lots of thinking required for this crossword!

Beth Hinshaw had a Tuesday NYT puzzle last year (with BRADPITTSPITS), and now she's constructed a Friday NYT with a great amalgam of fill and clues. [Sticky-fingered guy?] is SPIDER-MAN. [Objects of some hand-wringing?] are MOPS, of course. COACH K (Krzyzewski) puts in an epithetic appearance. [Possible result of an accident] is traffic GRIDLOCK. STIR IT UP can lead you to racy song lyrics.With its scanty vowel content, STROHS doesn't show up in crosswords too often. And don't UMBRAGE and GRUNGE sound great together? Oh—and I liked [Messing with lines] as a clue for DEBRA. I hope Hinshaw keeps making themelesses.


Alan Olschwang's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle from two weeks ago highlights new additions to the dictionary. GIANNI VERSACE would have felt right at home in Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Here's Johnny." And Robert Wolfe's LA Times puzzle toys with Greek letters: AUDIBLE PSIS, anyone?


November 15, 2006

Thursday, 11/16

NYS 4:45
NYT 3:35
CS 3:20
LAT 3:10

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. Monday)

Mark Diehl’s Themeless Thursday Sun crossword was like a hefty bar of Trader Joe’s bittersweet chocolate—rich but not tough to swallow, sweet but not as unchallenging as milk chocolate. (Rather like semisweet SNOCAPS.) Plenty of crunchy almonds in the fill—KIDS’ TABLE, JON VOIGHT (which inevitably reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which George bought John Voight the periodontist's used LeBaron, thinking he was buying a celeb's car, and would you look at that? DENTIST and JON VOIGHT cross at the N!), BREWSKI, and BIRD FLU (crossing AVIAN!). Plus little words like VEG ([Do zilch]), ESS ([Non-P.C. suffix]), and MCP (abbreviation for male chauvinist pig) crossing ERICA JONG. [Death toll?] is a great clue for KNELL, too. Not too hard as themeless crosswords go, but a heck of good time.

In the New York Times, it looks like Wednesday and Thursday were flip-flopped—Wednesday's had a rebus, and Thursday's fell faster for me. I don't see Kevin Donovan's name in Barry Haldiman's database, so this fun NYT crossword may be a debut. The theme entries start with these syllables: BEE, EYE, EN, GE, and O—or BINGO (26-Down). The theme's perfect for anyone who's been a kid and learned the song, or who likes to play bingo. I'm partial to the words MAW (as in "Shut your gaping maw, please") and PATOIS (which I never find opportunities to use, DARN it). And Thursday's weather forecast for these parts may include GALE-force winds. Every puzzle puts me in mind of Seinfeld today—this one's got Edwin STARR, whose "War" lyrics Elaine cited to a visiting Russian author.


Will Johnston's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Potassium Supplement," inserts a particular letter into the theme entries—who doesn't enjoy a reference to Speed Racer? Z, Q, X, J, and K all show up here—the Q in DRAG QUEEN. Favorite clues: [He's two? (abbr.)] for AT NO, and [Handy unit of measurement?] for SPAN.

If you've already done Pat Merrell's Scientific American crossword, you ought to read the article about the making of the puzzle. (I always like those "making of" articles that show up intermittently at, too.)


November 14, 2006

Wednesday, 11/15

NYS 4:02
NYT 3:56
CS 3:37
LAT 3:25

(post updated at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday)

Ideally, I'd write something catchy here to lure you into clicking the "Read more" link, but I'm not in the mood. So without further ado:

David Benkof's Wednesday NYT crossword throws a curveball—a Thursday rebus a day early! Two [STRIKE]s and two [SPARE]s bowled on the LANE (69-Across). You know what? I honestly don't think I've ever seen an episode of THE A-TEAM. Some of the fill's a tad depressing: AIR [STRIKE] plus ARMING, FLINT (the depressed town in Michigan where the auto industry flaked out on the residents), MAO—not to mention HUTU (it was Hutu extremists who massacred hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda).

Timothy Powell's Sun puzzle, "Lisplessness," transforms the TH sound into a lisp-free sibilant S, yielding such entries as CRYSTAL MESS—[What a bull in a china shop might leave behind?]. I'm picturing a bull on meth stampeding (as much as a single bull is able to stampede) away from shards of Waterford. I liked seeing LASSI somewhere other than an Indian restaurant's menu (joining the oh-so-tasty SAMOSA that's popped up in a couple of recent crosswords).


Who doesn't like a theme that involves the letter Q? Only one of the Qs' crossings uses a U in Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle. In Spanish, what is the theme. (That's a statement, not a question.)


November 13, 2006

Tuesday, 11/14

Onion 4:31
NYS 4:24
Tausig 4:13
CS 3:29
NYT 3:09
LAT 3:07

(post updated at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday)

I'm almost done with David Levinson Wilk's first book, Really Clever Crosswords. One of the puzzles I did today wowed me. The theme clues were as follows:

[Proverb lover's translation of "quando"?] (10)
[Book lover's translation of "morte"?] (13)
[Movie lover's translation of "Da time when da leaves toin"?] (15)
[BMW lover's translation of "hergestellt"?] (13)
[Within a larger phrase, a rebuke lover's translation of "cha"?] (10)

The sequel is due out next June—I may need to add that to my Amazon cart. (He's also got a Sip & Solve book, but I can't see doing easyish small puzzles when the hard small puzzles take so little time as it is.)

Bonus puzzle! Go to the Scientific American website to download Patrick Merrell's topsy-turvy crossword, "Set Theory." Half the grid and clues are upside down, and wait 'til you see what happens where the two sets of answers intersect!

I can scarcely believe I made it through Sarah Keller's NYT crossword unscathed. My keyboard has entered some sort of a warp state in which I have difficulty typing things correctly. (What? It's gotta be the keyboard. Can't be me.) She's got a theme with four things that share this trait: THEY CAN BE SPIKED. I like those meaty-looking 5x5 corner sections.

Tony Orbach's Sun puzzle, "Funny Paper Names," gathers the newspaper names we wish existed: LITTLE ROCK STAR, BELFAST TIMES (at Ridgemont High)—wait, that one actually exists—CARLSBAD NEWS, and MOUNT SNOW GLOBE. Bonus points to the constructor for MOXIE, which I wish people said I had a lot of. And who doesn't love to be reminded of William WEGMAN and his Weimaraners?


Matt Gaffney's first Onion/A.V. Club puzzle was sent out from Google Groups today. The theme's got five anagrams of two Sacha Baron Cohen characters (BORAT/ALI G). The fill entertained and surprised me—everything from UMBRO brand soccer gear and the slangy THANG, "My name is INIGO Montoya" from The Princess Bride, DITTOS (How old does one have to be to have hands-on experience with pre-photocopy dittos? I even generated a questionnaire for a high-school project and used the ditto machine myself. Does this mean I'm old?), TAMPONS—cleverly clued as [Period pieces?]!—and LIKE ASS (see this reference and scroll down to ass for usage examples).

Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle may well represent the first time I've seen ZOMBIFY in a crossword. (It's also got BIMBO and GEORGE W.) The "Dually Noted" theme takes the letters that symbolize musical notes and displays them in seven pairs in which the first one ends the first word and the second starts the second word (as in GIF FILE).


November 12, 2006

Monday, 11/13

NYS 3:16
LAT 3:13
CS 3:00
NYT 2:57

(post updated at 8:45 a.m. Monday)

The theme entries in Peter Collins' NYT crossword filled themselves in easily enough, thanks to a discussion thread somewhere (here? the NYT forum?) a few months back—as this write-up of Ogden Nash and his poem, "The Lama," shows, you've got the one-L lama who's a BUDDHIST HOLY MAN, the two-L llama that's an ANDES PACK ANIMAL, and the "three-L lllama" that's a BLAZE IN BROOKLYN (as in "three-alarmer). Collins takes a droll but tired old verse, finds a trio of 15-letter entries that mesh together nicely, and builds a solid Monday puzzle around it, include such fill as PRE-K, SPAMS, MINISKIRT, and APACE. Yes, APACE is one of those words that one finds in crosswords more than in real life, but I like to use it. A friend of mine also enjoys tossing out APACE during business meetings; not everyone knows what she means, but that's their problem, isn't it?


I liked the "Nora Pearlstone" (Rich Norris) puzzle in today's LA Times. The theme hid in plain sight, with pairs of 8- and 9-letter entries plus a single 15; I was distracted by both halves of RARA AVIS appearing together for a change and didn't notice that the AVIS half is a car-rental company. This crossword is packed with unusual letter sequences—CZ, AO, VCH, AA, UU, RTZ, AIO, and words ending in EI or AI or AII or U.

The 15x16 Sun puzzle by Gary Steinmehl hearkens back to Seth Abel's Sunday NYT from 8/27, with its "Six Bars" soap theme. "Six Bars," but five theme entries—the middle one's a two-fer (IVORY COAST—and wow, the Coast webpage is annoying, as it foists upon you the noisy waves associated with Coast's Arctic Surf and Pacific Force soap flavors). Good blocks of 7-letter words, too.


November 11, 2006

Sunday, 11/12

NYT 12:16
WaPo 10:48
BG 8:40
LAT 8:16
CS 7:07

(post updated at 11:10 a.m. Sunday)

The Sunday NYT by Patrick Berry, "Look Inside," had this one vexing crossing in the northwest corner that led me to exclaim, "What the hell?!" But after I Googled the two entries in question, I felt much better...about one of the two, anyway. I'm really not up on my early Christian missionary history, so the city on Cyprus that was abandoned over 1,300 years ago, SALAMIS, remains a location non grata to me. Why not the plural of salami instead? C'mon, how many people reading the Times know Salamis? (Grr.) The crossing for that was ["Sixteen Tons" singer's workplace]. I'm not up on my 50-year-old (or current) country music, but I do know, it turns out, a line from the song: "Another day older and deeper in debt." The song's about coal mining (hence the answer is MINE) and the woes miners faced until unionization. (Just heard on NPR that nearly all the U.S. coal miner deaths in recent years resulted from code violations, and if the laws were actually enforced, those miners wouldn't have died. The execs say, "Accidents happen," but if they simply followed the law, their employees would be so much safer.) So, aside from those two words, what's in this crossword? A theme in which the circled letters within a theme entry reveal a key component of the longer phrase. Nifty! My favorite was PUNCHCARDS. My dad used to bring a bunch of IBM punchcards home from work and used them to jot down the grocery list each week. Ah, nostalgia. Low point: ALICE clued as [Role in Verdi's "Falstaff"]—aw, c'mon! With the various pop culture and literary options available for cluing? High point: ERUCT, with classical Latin roots. (Why can't I think of a Latin-based verb for the expulsion of flatus? Have you heard of the disposable Flatulence Deodorizer?) High point: BRUT aftershave; back in the punchcard era, my dad had the [Aftershave sold in green bottles] on his dresser. Medium point: As long as you're a crossword regular, the presence of ETUI as a crosser will help you piece together Poe's LIGEIA, which wasn't included in the Poe collection I have (gasp!). Low point: WASHATERIA, which is gettable but which I've never encountered in life; Chicago's a laundromat town, whereas washateria/washeteria seems to be a Texas/Southwestern thang.

That's quite enough rambling, no? In sum: Fairly tough puzzle, intriguing theme. Can anyone think of other possibilities for Patrick's theme?


My most favoritest crossword of the day is Lynn Lempel's Washington Post puzzle, entitled "Keep in Touch." I found the theme entries tricky to get, but so obvious once I figured them out. Many of the clues had a Friday/Saturday vibe to them, a mind-bending difficulty with cleverness to spare. Really a treat to solve. I still think Lynn's one of the very best Monday constructors working today, but she's also got the chops for themeless and Sunday puzzles—I hope she's got more in the pipeline at each level.

Bob Klahn goes old-school in his CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge with names from classic radio, combined with current pop culture, ordinary words, and fresh phrases. You should all be able to find something to stymie you!

Rich Norris goes undercover as Charlie Riley for today's LA Times–syndicated puzzle, "J as in José," changing a letter sound. In their three-week-old Boston Globe crossword, "W's Inaugural," Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon add a W to the start of each theme entry, offering a challenge similar to that in the LA Times puzzle.

By the way, if you haven't made a regular habit of Merl Reagle's syndicated Sunday puzzle, you should. From now on, only the four most recent puzzles will be available via Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers, so get 'em while you can. If you're looking for more Merl puzzles, visit Merl's website to order his book collections.


November 10, 2006

Saturday, 11/11

NYT 5:46
Newsday 4:57
LAT 4:53
CS 3:06

Reagle 8:14

After Ellen Ripstein tipped me off to another sighting of yours truly in the special features on the Wordplay DVD, I watched the segments with the constructors talking about their featured puzzles (included in a booklet inside the DVD case). They were all interesting, but I was a bit put out by Elizabeth Gorski's name being misspelled on screen as "Gorsky." (Spelling counts!) My son made me play the Gary Louris music video over and over—I must say I'm glad my six-year-old rock fan never got into the Wiggles, because three rounds of "Every Word" has got to be far more tolerable than even one listen of "Fruit Salad."

The Saturday NYT is by Brendan Emmett Quigley, who plays guitar (correction: he now plays keyboards) in a Boston band. Whether he plays a GIBSON guitar, I don't know. (My husband's new guitar is a Breedlove.) My favorite clues and fill here included [Spanish uncle?] for NO MÁS (as spoken by Roberto Duran when he quit during a boxing match against Sugar Ray Leonard), [Term paper?] for CONTRACT, [Slammed] for LIT INTO, STONERS, and YECCH. For the Gateway Arch designer, I had EADS in my mind—he's actually the engineer who designed the Eads Bridge across the Mississippi in St. Louis, whereas the Arch is by Eero SAARINEN. (Major props to BEQ for including Eero's last name for a change. First time in the NYT, according to the Cruciverb database.) The Death of Marat is in a BATHTUB, of course (thank you, art history class). Have you ever recreated that scene at home just for fun? Me neither. '80s pop culture gets a couple shout-outs, with THE CARS and REPO MAN, which costarred Harry Dean Stanton, who was recently profiled in Entertainment Weekly. Sure, he's 80 years old now, but he still parties with his Hollywood neighbors and is Mr. Cool. From '50s pop culture comes the song, C.C. RIDER, which apparently transformed R&B singer Chuck Willis into the King of the Stroll. What, pray tell, is the Stroll? A line dance from the '50s, apparently. I'm not a big ESPN fan, especially not a "Baseball Tonight" fan, o WEB GEMS was new to me—and new to crosswords, almost certainly. Never heard of AIRMADA, but it makes sense for [Fleet of warplanes], doesn't it?


November 09, 2006

Friday, 11/10

NYS 13:05 for the crossword portion, 7:33 for the -oku
NYT 7:54
10/27 CHE 5:47
LAT 4:19
CS 3:48

Reagle tba
WSJ 6:59

(post updated 9:50 a.m. Friday)

The Wordplay DVD arrived today! Imagine my surprise when I popped it into the DVD player, fast-forwarded past the previews, reached the main menu, looked at the short video clips looping above the menu—and saw myself. Yes, the Fateful Curtsy not only didn't get cut from the film, but it also garners me a spot on the main menu. From the standpoint of hoovering up attention, that curtsy turned out to be the savviest inexplicable thing I've ever done. "Hi, I'm a dork. Have you seen my movie?"

The movie itself...well, what's left to say after the tenth viewing of anything? But the special features! Extra interview footage with the famous people—I watched only my favorites, Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton; Bill Clinton became so much more animated when he was talking about his friend (and mine!) Vic Fleming. More pre-tournament footage of the Stamford legends—highlight for me: Ellen's interesting discussion of puzzles and the Peter Pan syndrome. Remember that great song Gary Louris wrote for the closing credits, "Every Word"? There's a music video of it which I believe is not in heavy rotation on MTV, but/and I love, love, love that song. Another bonus section includes a few video segments from the Sundance Film Festival, which made me terribly nostalgic for that mellow but adrenaline-filled five-day trip (and gave me a few more seconds to appear on my own TV screen). My son enjoyed it, too—he knows a few of the people in the movie, and although he hasn't met Will Shortz, he recognizes him. I think he finds his name to be most memorable.

But did you navigate here just for a self-absorbed DVD review? No. Crosswords! My favorite Monday constructor, Lynn Lempel, shows some impressive themeless chops with the Friday NYT. It felt like a hard puzzle to me, but some other solvers have demonstrated that it's about average Friday difficulty, so I don't know what my problem was. Cool-looking grid, with that diagonal stretch of black squares giving a wide-open feeling. Great fill—BLOG crossing RINGTONE crossing CRIME LAB is au courant, and CRENELED in that section, au old castle. I got slowed down by trying ATONIA for ATAXIA ([Loss of muscle coordination]), which enticed me to try END where AXE belonged, which kept me from filling in BOGART and just generally bollixed up that section for a while. In the opposite corner, I opted for STAINS instead of SMEARS, similarly bogging me down (Ach! Two medically themed words that I was wrong on. The shame...) Also, when Paul RUDD is such a cutie, why go for NASCAR's Ricky RUDD in the clue? (I hate NASCAR.) Entertaining clues and fill overall (except where they vexed me)—ODD SOCKS (I have a collection of about eight odd socks that have accumulated now—where the hell are their mates?), [Touched] for DAFT (why did I try ALIT there??), [Spot for a date] for PALM TREE, [Fierce fighter] for BEARCAT (I would dearly love to be the bearcat of Stamford...but I could do without the bearcat's communication style), DEAR READER, SCRABBLE, SCRUB UP. Good crossword—I just wish I hadn't gotten my butt kicked on it.

The Friday Sun puzzle can't be done in Across Lite. Those of you in New York can buy the paper (if you can bring yourself to spend money on it) or download the PDF file from the Sun site.


I lost time while doing Frank Longo and "Ogden Porter's" "Crosswordoku" puzzle in the Sun—I glossed over the directions where it says, "treating the gray squares as black squares," and my printer printed those grays so light I thought I was contending with unknown word lengths. I loved the whole top left corner, but the rest of the puzzle also had some terrific fill (NO PROBLEM, NO EXCUSE, R-LESS, RATED X) and clues—to name just a handful, [Source of some allergies] for LATEX, [Shooting star, perhaps] for MVP, [Top finisher?] for PEE, [Chocolate and strawberry, e.g.] for COLORS, [Information information: Abbr.] for NOS, [It might have a small window] for ENVELOPE. (Yes, a handful = six. You got a problem with that?) Having done some of Frank's Wordoku book, I was half expecting ORIENTALS to appear in the central -oku grid.

Todd McClary's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Scrap Papers," includes four 15-letter theme entries and the word XANADU...but it's clued without reference to the classic Olivia Newton-John movie and song. Damn those academics and their fixation on poets in the canon!

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword includes plenty of old-school fill (AGIO, OLEO, ESTE, EBRO), but the theme is famous people, bears, or clocks that share my son's name, so that's fun. And how often do you encounter someone you've met within a crossword grid? KEN is clued as Ken Jennings, whose blog is a good read.


November 08, 2006

Thursday, 11/9

NYS 5:22
NYT 4:50
Thurs. LAT 3:55
CS 3:54
Wed. LAT 2:52

O frabjous day! What bounty! Two most enjoyable crosswords from the NYT and the Sun—conjured up by Byron Walden and Ben Tausig, respectively. The clues! The fill! The themes! They're the perfect antidote for an overlong day.

Byron spins 57 letters of thematic fun, with the PEOPLE OF THE EARTH being those whose names start with earth-related adjectives. If there were a famous person or character named Loamy, he or she would fit right in here. I liked the inclusion of the Cubs' recently fired manager, DUSTY BAKER (always pleased when I know sports clues right off the bat...or with a few crossings, anyway). I know CLU Gulager was just mentioned (NYT forum?) as retro fill, and I think OATERS might've been, too—so those entertained me as STENOS did in the Wednesday puzzle. Fresh fill, with IN A FUNK, O'DOUL'S, SADDLE UP, RAGMAN, and FT MYER. Favorite clues: [It may be swiped at work] is BADGE (not stapler, pens, or Post-its), the noun [Familiar] for FRIEND, [Ranch settings] for SALADS, [They're produced by degrees] for ALUMNI, and [Cry repeated to a vampire] for DIE. And I almost forgot to point out the structure—notice that the top and bottom theme entries are welded to the central entry with 8- and 9-letter entries, while the middle three themers are bound by a pair of 7's.

The quality of cluing is not strained in Ben's Sun puzzle, either. Don't know who the Sneaker PIMPS are, but no matter. Two of the "Internal Organs" theme entries were particularly lively ones—FALUN GONG and THE ARTIST—in addition to containing the vital organs, LUNG and HEART. The fill includes a Q, X, and Z. And the clues! My favorites: [Person you don't want to play peekaboo with] for FLASHER, [Cover of night?] for PJ'S (I can't tell you how excited my kid is that his class can wear pajamas to school tomorrow), [Hip sound?] for SHORT I (this one addled me for far too long!), [Pool opening] for BREAK, [Nancy's opposite number, once] for RAISA, and [What Barbara Billingsley spoke in "Airplane!"] for JIVE. This puzzle informed me that the locals in Italy call Mt. ETNA Mongibello (or Mongibeddu in Sicilian).


November 07, 2006

Wednesday, 11/8

NYS 4:22
NYT 3:58
CS 3:15
LAT tba

(post updated 8:10 and 9:40 a.m. Wednesday)

It's mighty hard to focus one's attention on a crossword when election returns are rolling in on TV, and harder still to focus on blogging when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are on. So I'll be brief, and I won't do the Sun crossword until the morning.

The NYT by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon made me giggle a few times—first when I encountered the word STENOS, clued as [People in a pool]. NYT forum moderator Will Johnston had just opened discussion this afternoon on dated words that still appear in crosswords, and stenos were a hot topic. I was entertained by the [Borden bovine] ELSIE, as my cousin recently named a baby Elsie (and everyone over the age of 30 seems to respond, "Elsie—like the cow?"). There were a couple politically themed entries (SEN and INS), hearkening back to the Tuesday puzzle. I don't know how I feel about GEISHA being clued as [Gentleman's companion]—today's forum trolling has me feeling extra-sensitive to potential sexist undercurrents in language. It even got in the way of properly appreciating [Has an outstanding figure?] as the clever clue for OWES. Of course, sometimes a CIGAR is just a [Thick smoke?].


The Sun puzzle is by Courtenay Crocker (hi, Co!). I went at this crossword all wrong, saving the top right section for last—meaning I didn't grok the DIAGONALLY aspect until late in the game, and I was waiting for some sort of crossing of answers with A's to reveal itself. Aha! Both corner-to-corner diagonals contain only the letter A. Neat trick. And who doesn't like to be reminded of kinetic ART? Raise your hand if you knew that ASES was Spanish for aces, as in the playing cards.

Anyone else having trouble getting Cruciverb to load? I can't get in there to access today's LA Times crossword.

If you're in the mood for a light crossword that smashes any number of cruciverbal conventions just for fun, go download Pat Merrell's MAD Magazine 50th Anniversary puzzle from a few years ago. You may think there are a couple unchecked letters, but no! There are Down clues for 1-letter entries in those squares. Some familiarity with MAD, even if it's from decades ago, will be helpful. There are also 2-letter entries, clues that go ahead and tell you the answer, and trumped-up fill. In the wrong hands, those would make for a dreadful puzzle, but the Pat Merrell/MAD combo makes it work. Enjoy!


November 06, 2006

Tuesday, 11/7

Ink Well 4:17
NYS 4:12
Onion 3:45
NYT 3:20
Tues. LAT 3:16
CS 3:06
Mon. LAT 2:27

(post updated at 9:15 a.m. and 5:05 p.m. Tuesday)

Don't neglect to vote Tuesday! (Unless you're supporting candidates I don't like, in which case I don't mind if you're too busy to vote or don't want to go out in the rain.)

Two nifty puzzles from the Times and the Sun—an election-themed puzzle by Bruce Douglas in the NYT and a monkeying-with-words theme in Gary Steinmehl's Sun.

The NYT crossword has three [Red state] theme entries (e.g., COMMUNISM) in the western half of the grid and three [Blue state] entries (e.g., MELANCHOLY, which is an awesome word) to the east. Now, to more accurately reflect past voting trends, the westernmost red entry should be California blue, and the southernmost blue should be Deep South red. That would have been a fun bending of symmetry, no? Douglas's grid includes election-themed clues for other words, too—FADE, WEST, SLID, AISLE, OF AGE, RIDES, GORE. If you include that smattering of words as part of the theme, you get a pretty thematically dense puzzle, but one with a light and effortless feel to it. (Pointless aside: The fill includes SCOTSMEN, and my husband has just learned from the Food Network that it was the Scots who invented fried chicken. So now you know who to thank.) Punch 1 (or fill in the optical scan arrow, or poke the touchscreen, or pull the lever) for this puzzle.

Great Sun puzzle by Gary Steinmehl. In “Lose Ends,” the four theme entries lose part of a word at the end, leaving a shorter word with a very different meaning. (Each removed fragment constitutes a standalone word, too.) [Convention for vulgar types] drops a SURE from the end, leaving INDECENT EXPO (I think I’ve seen a show about those expos on HBO). I like the near-juxtaposition of POP DIVA Madonna and WANNABE (remember the Madonna wannabes?). DOOWOP, delicious TWIX, and DRAWL all add a little more zest to the grid. Never heard of the '50s vocal quartet, the HI-LO'S; they disbanded before I was born. Mind you, Buddy Holly died before I was born and I know his music, but... I actually like it when a crossword includes one of those old actress names that puzzlers know but hardly anyone else does—it's NITA Naldi this time, but Pola Negri's also a cruciverbal all-star. Punch 2 for this puzzle.


Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle has seven theme entries.

This week's Onion A.V. Club crossword is Deb Amlen's "For the Birds." It's rich with pop culture—ahh, just the way I like my crosswords. With references to "Saved by the Bell," Courtney Love, and outré film, the fill was great. The theme? Groan-inducing puns.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "State Lines," clues HELEN as [Milli___ (the amount of beauty needed to launch one ship)], which amused me—as did much in this puzzle. An educational experience, for me; I'd never heard of Daddy Yankee in 43-Down's clue or MARC Bolan from 5-Across, and didn't know much about '70s pundit SHANA Alexander (who was the model for Jane Curtin's "SNL" character doing the point/counterpoint debates on Weekend Update).


November 05, 2006

Monday, 11/6

NYS 3:19
CS 3:17
NYT 2:34
LAT tba

(post updated at 6:50 p.m. Monday)

Ah, so much drama in the cruciverbal internets of late, and so hard not to take it personally! There was one person who deplored fast solvers' posting of fast solving times. Whoo-hoo! I'm delighted to have finished Monday's puzzle a few seconds ahead of the other folks on the applet (so far—usually someone faster will come along later on). I'd love to win at Stamford one of these years, and paying attention to my solving times is part and parcel of training for that. If seeing my solving times makes you feel bad about yourself, hmm, that's a darn shame. It's my hope that blog readers appreciate having a metric to compare their own solving experience to (however irrelevant this sample size of 1 may be). Then there was another who wrote to the Cruciverb-L mailing list to deplore any and all blog-based criticism of crosswords. It's my hope that I come across as constructive and enthusiastic rather than as a kvetching whiner who rags on crossword constructors. But I'm not responsible for other people's feelings on the matter, so all I can do is have fun writing this blog and engaging in comments-based conversation. I hope you enjoy the site, and if you don't, well, nobody's making you read it. To those of you who have gotten in touch over the months to let me know that you do enjoy this blog, thank you—I'm honored. I put in a lot of time and effort (and a little money) to maintain the blog, and knowing that people appreciate it makes it all worthwhile.

Back to crosswords: The Monday NYT is by Christina Houlihan Kelly, and I liked it a lot. (Not just because my husband's employer appears in the grid—and no, he's not an ORKIN man. Whether he's a NINJA or not, I won't say.) I hate coffee, but enjoyed the theme and the fact that each theme entry includes a J or K, PERKing up the grid a bit. A couple short multi-word entries (SO AM I, HIT ON) are like the two packets of Equal sweetener. The pop culture represents the half-and-half stirred into the coffee—CHAKA Khan, the Cars song "Shake IT UP," the '70s TV show RHODA, and "Teenage Mutant NINJA Turtles." The two vertical 9-letter fill entries are the coffee stirrers. And the AIOLI? That's for the folks who like extra-garlicky coffee. As for the handful of geography entries, those are the baked goods I will buy at the café when picking up some coffee for my husband. (I predict that regular commenter Michael will mention no fewer than three of this puzzle's pop-culture clues in his blog, Rex Parker Does the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, tomorrow morning. If you haven't started reading that blog but you like irreverence and pop culture, check it out.)


Anyone else been able to access today's LA Times puzzle at Cruciverb?

The Monday Sun crossword is by Pete Muller and—gasp!—it's...a regular themed puzzle, free of any high-flying gimmicks. Which is fine, because the Pete Mullers and John Farmers and Pat Merrells are entitled to make regular ol' crosswords, too, and not just ones that toy with crossword conventions. (But I do certainly appreciate the twists their puzzles often provide.) This puzzle's a pangram, with a couple Z's, an X (within SEXY, clued as [Like a dish]), and a Q peppering the flavorful fill. The theme includes four US NATIONAL PARKS within the theme entries—hey, anything that gets YOSEMITE SAM into a puzzle is fine by me. Interestingly, on the other side of the grid opposite SEXY, we find both LOIN and EGGS (clued as food, alas, and not as a body part and gametes).


November 04, 2006

Sunday, 11/5

NYT 11:50
WaPo 8:53
BG 7:45
LAT 5:48
10/20 CHE 4:25
CS 3:58

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

Don't be surprised if Derrick Niederman's Sunday Times puzzle, "Missing Links," takes you longer than usual—you've got 88 extra squares to contend with since it's a 23x23 grid rather than 21x21. As in this weekend's Merl Reagle creation, Niederman's theme is a bit of a word game. Speaking of word games, NYT crossword subscribers (and anyone who buys the Sunday Times) can also do this weekend's Second Sunday puzzle, Will Shortz's "The Outsiders." So far I've got 18 of the 24 answers; must persevere!

Back to the NYT crossword: In the clues for the theme entries, a blank space between two parts of a phrase needs to be filled in by creating a series of two-word phrases (or compound words) that link together. For example, 25-Across is [White ___ House] and the answer is CHRISTMAS TREE because "White Christmas" ties to Christmas tree, which ties to treehouse. The longest chain is in the 23-letter entry at 76-Across, with six other components linking Easter to bunny. I liked this theme, I did—especially how the e___Bay and i___Pod chains began with e.g. and IQ. Wouldn't you love to see Niederman's list of rejected theme entries? They'd make for a fun game. This puzzle's also got some tricky fill, such as WIGWAGGED (not ZIGZAGGED, which I tried first) and the legal term ABATOR. (By the way, when something's hyperlinked, it's typically a definition or illustration of a word, or occasionally an illuminating link like this from World Wide Words. So if you're wondering about a word and there's a link for it, click away.) Then there are traps like 114-Down's [Fleet of ships], 6 letters starting with AR. ARMADA? Nope: ARGOSY. Did you know [Abdominal pouches] are called MARSUPIA (plural of marsupium)? I know the animals with pouches are called marsupials, but never knew the word related to the pouches that way. (P.S. There were no other "fill-in-the-blank" clues besides the theme ones. Nice touch!)

Back to Will's "Outsiders" puzzle!


Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle from three weeks ago is called "Gaining a Profit" because the theme entries gain a NET. Good theme, good fill, good clues—all-around enjoyable crossword.

I forgot to do the Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle on Friday. The October 20th crossword is Jeffrey Harris's "Student ID's," and it's got one of those classic CHE quasi-academic themes that I always enjoy. The fill includes ANANSI, [Trickster god of African lore]—every culture ought to have its own trickster character, as Norse mythology has Loki the trickster. This crossword taught me that the ISUZU car company's named after a river, and both P*NZ* options are included here—Ezio Pinza in a clue, and PONZI schemes in the grid.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge has three triple stacks of 15's crossed by a vertical 15: Andy Gibb's EVERLASTING LOVE. When I was about 12 years old, I was absolutely over the moon about Andy Gibb. Oh, how I loved that poster on my bedroom wall...and the photos on his album covers...and any pictorials in Tiger Beat. Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett had nothing on Andy—nothing.

Frances Burton riffs on quasi-numerical prefixes in her Washington Post puzzle, "You Do the Math." For example, [Two termites = ?] is SIX SMIDGENS, ter- being a prefix meaning three (3 x 2 = 6) and mites meaning smidgens or iotas. I can't say I ever looked at the clue words in quite that way before, but I like what she's done here. "Decadent" as ten dents? Diodes as a couple poems? I've never seen a theme like this before. It's nifty!

Last and easiest but not least, I whizzed through Patrick Jordan's LA Times puzzle because its theme is "Windy City Cinema." I hadn't known that the Cary Grant movie at 84-Across was set in Chicago, but the other seven? Bing-bang-boom, they fell like dominoes. I'm sure it's inordinately helpful to be from Chicago when solving a crossword with this theme. Thanks for a fun puzzle, Patrick.


November 03, 2006

Saturday, 11/4

Newsday 7:53
NYT 4:14
LAT 4:12
CS 3:02

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

I generally enjoy Rich Norris's themeless puzzles, so I was glad to see his byline on the Saturday NYT. The puzzle struck me as easier than most Saturdays, but it could be that I hit the right wavelength thanks to that book of his puzzles I've been working on. Good longer entries, such as ALL-NIGHTER, THIS JUST IN, SLUGGISHLY, AVERAGE JOE, and CAT'S CRADLE (anyone remember how to play that string game?). [Dickens' pen?] quickly settled into being GAOL, just a few weeks after another NYT crossword had GAOLBREAK; swap the halves of GAOL and you get OLGA, which appears just below it. Never heard of Italian composer LUIGI Boccherini, or the ["Drink to me only with thine eyes" dedicatee] poem by Ben Jonson,, "To CELIA." I can't believe SHRINKAGE was clued with respect to shoplifting rather than this classic "Seinfeld" episode. Nice to see the ANC (clued as [Anti-apartheid org.]) mere days after the death of the pro-apartheid ex-leader of South Africa, P.W. Botha (who refused to release Nelson Mandela from imprisonment). I love the word ARAWAK—clued here as [Antilles tribe]. I'm not sure why, exactly. But I just learned from Wikipedia that the word hammock derives from an Arawakan word, hamaca. Final random impression: The TITI>—[Capuchin monkey relative]—is awfully cute. What's more, after birth, a titi's dad is in charge of caring for the baby and brings it to the mom only for nursing. Clever genus of monkeys!


The Newsday Saturday Stumper by "Anna Stiga" (Stan again) is pretty tough, so put your thinking cap on and print it out.


November 02, 2006

Friday, 11/3

NYT 5:52
LAT 5:30
NYS 5:10
CS 2:59

Reagle 10:10
WSJ 9:15

(post updated 9:55 a.m. Friday)

Manny Nosowsky crafted the Friday NYT crossword with two swaths of long entries (a 15 and a pair of 12's) crossing in the center, with their ends feeding into a pinwheel of 8-letter trios—the result is an awful(ly good) lot of white space to fill in. You might say to yourself, "What on earth is an ICE CANOE? What are MAN-WEEKS?" Well, man-hours are better known, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for one, talks about man-weeks. And one version of an ice canoe is an ice proa! The proa's last appearance in an NYT crossword grid was in 1997—ah, proa, how we miss and the anoa. Five of the six long entries contain THE, facilitating the impressive interlocking. I detoured with NUTSO in lieu of NUTSY, leading me to think [Not fine] meant the judge decided to LET GO—when actually, the answer was MEALY. Right next to that was [A following], which kept me guessing until I had all but one crossing (BCDE!). I had no idea there was such a thing as Toledo SWORDS—thank goodness for gettable crossings, eh? Nice to be reminded of French illustrator Gustave DORÉ and his moody, atmospheric drawings. Oh—when I was in college, I liked to stay on in the summer and work during the alumni reunion weekend. One year, the KINGSTON TRIO performed in the chapel (the only large concert venue on campus). During the show, some friends and I snuck down to the chapel basement where the group's "dressing room" was. We pilfered some of the Kingston Trio's beer (might've been cans of Budweiser). It was cold and—much like the long entries gracing the middle of this crossword—refreshing.

In Seth A. Abel's Sun puzzle, "Club Sandwiches," three types of club—BALL, HEALTH, and COUNTRY—are sandwiched into three-word entries. MENTAL HEALTH DAY is a great entry, but what the heck's a HIDDEN BALL TRICK? Let's see...Wikipedia says it's a baseball ruse in which a fielder dupes the runner into thinking the ball is elsewhere and then tags him out. DALIS is clued with reference to this painting featuring a pomegranate. I figured pomegranate's etymology would relate to the garnet (granat in Czech—that linked page includes text that appears to be translated via Babelfish, such as "During the ninetieth of the past century the appearance of the genuine Czech Bohemian Garnet jewelry has reached in the characteristic design in which granat dominate over the metal." What?) While the granate in pomegranate pertains to grain, the garnet gets its name from the pomegranate. Since I'm rambling (hey! that was 7-Across in Manny's NYT puzzle!), I'll mention that my kid loved his first pomegranate this week. I don't know if he liked the tartness or the seed spitting more. Favorite clue in this puzzle: [Makes number one?] for WETS. It kept me guessing for an unreasonable amount of time.


Jack McInturff's themed LA Times puzzle took me almost as long as Manny's themeless. The clues tended to hide their meaning from my brain (and I've had my caffeine dose already!), and the theme dawned on me only slowly. But when I got down to the last pair of theme entries, the payoff was great—they evoked both tasty BLINTZes and Maya Angelou (I think I'd never read the poem "Still I Rise" before today, but I love it). The bottom right corner of the grid jumped out at me with old-school SERE and ERNE beside each other. Every now and then I like to attempt a little grid tweaking to see how hard it would be to eliminate fill like that. Expanding from the crossing of AND STILL I RINSE and LIVENS UP, we could have:


As with the LA Times puzzle, the theme in Patrick Berry's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Not in So Many Words," resisted discovery for a while. Once I figured it out, several theme entries were chuckle-inducing—great payoff! The theme entries cross or parallel each other, which must have made constructing the puzzle that much more difficult. And, Berry being Berry, there's plenty of interesting fill. Especially good clues, too—one favorite for me was [Change places?] for POCKETS.

Last but not least, Merl Reagle's puzzle for this weekend is an absolute must. "A Bunch of Two-Timing Name Droppers" has a great word game within the puzzle—figuring out which celebrity's name drops the two letters listed in the clue, and also figuring out the resulting theme entry. And there are 13 of these to play with! Terrifically fun. I'm guessing that 113-Across (where the resulting theme entry is also a famous person) was the seed for this crossword. Anyway, definitely download this one.


November 01, 2006

Thursday, 11/2

NYS 4:02
Wed. LAT 3:44
Thurs. LAT 3:34
CS 3:21
NYT 2:58

John Farmer's NYT puzzle is one of the easiest Thursday offerings in a while, but it demands that you take a little extra time after solving to luxuriate in the fully realized theme. Over in the Sun, Karen Tracey's byline sits atop the Themeless Thursday puzzle, a classic Karen-styled creation.

Without further ado, in-depth spoilers: In the NYT, John has packed the grid with interesting longish entries (ITALIAN JOB, in which my kid loved the Mini Coopers racing down into the subway; FLIP A COIN; LETS SLIP, with its four consonants in a row; OBJET D'ART, INFLUX; and Chicago Bears legend Walter PAYTON). I zipped on through the puzzle, finding it to be a smooth and fun solve...and then I said, "Hang on. What's this theme all about?" You count the NUMBER OF LETTERS in each answer, MULTIPLY BY THREE, and get the number of letters in EACH ANSWER'S CLUE. By gum, it works! Holy cow, the clues for the three 15's contain 45 letters each! The abbreviated entries have abbreviated clues, and there are even some ? clues—[A foot wide?] for EEE, [Put away, crypt-ically?] for ENTOMB, [Joy of the morning?] for BEHAR. Will Shortz and assorted constructors typically do a fantastic job with these crosswords that have significant restraints on clue writing—the clues here don't seem "off" despite the length requirement.

Karen's themeless puzzle contains a rich assortment of Scrabbly letters (an X, two Z's, three J's, and a sprinkling of K's) that grace the long entries, TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE and VLADIMIR NABOKOV (clued with an anagram!) bound together, logically, by KENNEBUNKPORT. Then there's JIPIJAPA hats next to ANASAZI, a TALLBOY can of beer, ONE L LAMA clued as [Priest of poetry], and [Not balmy] cluing SANE (rather than, say, CHILLY). Not to mention a little early-'80s pop music with FALCO—who doesn't love that era of music? Plus (as mentioned in the Wikipedia piece on Falco), "Rock Me Amadeus" was aped by "The Simpsons" with the "Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius" bit. Good times.