December 31, 2007

Tuesday, 1/1

CS 3:07
LAT 3:06
NYT 2:51
Tausig tba
Onion tba

Happy New Year! At this writing, there are two hours to go before 2008 unfurls its clumsy legs and takes its first baby steps, toddling roughshod over that fusty old 2007. At Casa Crossword Fiend, we're welcoming the new year by watching DVRed episodes of Dirty Jobs (just watched #56, in which Mike Rowe sweats from terror when handling rattlesnakes and alligators) and sipping Prosecco. I thought I'd had plenty of Prosecco for the evening, but then that Wiki link mentioned the Bellini, so my husband fetched the blender to puree some peaches. Ah, Bellinis and blogging.

The New York Sun is on vacation for the holiday (both Monday and Tuesday), but Friday brings us a special treat—a vowelless crossword by Frnk Lng (better known as Frank Longo). It's the sort of meaty challenge that I find at least 50% harder than the toughest themeless crosswords.

The Tuesday New York Times puzzle by Adam Perl has a FOUR-H Club theme. Now, the club itself has PDF guidelines for emblem and name usage that specify a numeral 4, hyphen, and capital H. That means the "FOUR-H" in the grid isn't kosher. (Look out, Will Shortz—the agriculturally inclined youth of America may come after you.) The theme entries are phrases that begin with the four H words—HEAD, HEART, HANDS, and HEALTH. Those four phrases are 15 letters apiece, so there's a total of 65 theme squares; pretty beefy for a Tuesday puzzle. Before I go, allow me to also grumble about TOWNE being clued as [Colonial settlement]; what, Robert Towne, the writer of Chinatown, isn't famous enough? And now, I go.


Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Nu Beginnings." Why? Because NU is inserted at the beginning of four phrases (de facto, clear title, thatch palm, T.S. Eliot) to make new opening words, and the resulting phrases are clued accordingly. One factual correction: the [Owner of the highest building in Chicago] has not been SEARS for almost two decades. Sears still has naming rights, but doesn't own the Sears Tower. (Also, the Sears Tower will be dwarfed in a few years by the Chicago Spire, which will become North America's tallest edifice.)

The theme entries in Robert Doll's LA Times puzzle include TRASH TALK, WASTE ENERGY, PICK OF THE LITTER, and CHINESE JUNK—tied together by the DIRTY MIND you need to spot the theme. The first two theme entries start with the detritus, while the second pair end with it. Good puzzle here.


December 30, 2007

Monday, 12/31

CS 3:25
LAT 3:07
NYT 2:46

Yay! We can usher in the new year—or New Year's Eve, anyway—with a Lynn Lempel Monday New York Times crossword. I loved this puzzle while I was solving it despite having no clue what tied the theme entries together. So it was sort of an ex post facto solving experience, peering at the long entries afterwards to figure out what the theme is. A day at the office! IRON FILING, TOP BILLING, NAME CALLING, and BLOOD TYPING. (No stenography.) The fill has a lightness of spirit that I like—SCADS crossing SKIDS, TANG orange breakfast drink (oh, how I loved Tang when I was a '70s kid), NOT A WHIT crossing CHORTLE, a resounding SPLAT atop SPIELS, SAFETIES in football, and opera at THE MET.


Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke chart out a "New Year's Eve" in their CrosSynergy puzzle. HAVE A NICE DINNER at 8:00, move on to DRINK CHAMPAGNE and then SEE THE BALL DROP at midnight, and by 2 a.m., you may lose all inhibition and DANCE ON THE TABLE. The [Zoo landscaping feature] MOAT has been in the news in recent days—eek!

Samantha Wine's LA Times crossword has a rEAsonably EAsy theme—two-word phrases (well, one's a compound word) in which the EA vowel pair appears in both parts. The theme entries aren't so long, but there are six of them. Best entries in the fill: PUB CRAWL, QUEEG (one of several Scrabbly words), the NY POST, RATED R, and the ATKINS diet.


December 29, 2007

Sunday, 12/30

NYT 11:25
LAT 9:15
BG 7:20
PI 7:04
WaPo 6:42
CS 3:59

I read some hopeful wishes that the Sunday New York Times puzzle would be a trademark Liz Gorski crossword with visual oomph, and it is. In this plus-sized 23x23 grid with left/right symmetry, Frosty the Snowman takes up residence. His hat is made out of black squares, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN is spelled out in circled letters that, in connect-the-dots fashion, outline two big balls of snow (white squares!) to form Frosty's body. The song lyrics unwind in the theme entries: Frosty the Snowman was a JOLLY HAPPY SOUL (2-Down) with a CORNCOB PIPE (134-Across) AND A BUTTON NOSE (16-Down) AND TWO EYES MADE OUT OF COAL (114-Across). That last part is clued [Lyric, part 5], and I don't see an [End of lyric] anywhere so I think that's it. The HABERDASHER who might've made Frosty's hat also ties to the theme, but tangentially. Despite the constraints of the circled squares that build the snowman shape, the fill is smooth. IRS AGENTS and PAD THAI noodles, a timorous I DARE NOT, BAKER'S DOZEN, BEDSPREAD, STRONG-ARM, ONE O'CLOCK, a HAIRBRUSH, HOOSIERS, and a SHOE STORE were all good long answers. Favorite clue: [Artificial heat?] for TOY GUN. I lost a little time with a typo when I filled in this puzzle—no, it's not ROPRS crossing HABRRDASHER, not at all. Never heard of ["The Oath" author Frank] PERETTI. Oh, here's why: He's a contemporary Christian author specializing in the topic of "spiritual warfare." Not my genre. Tiffany designer Elsa Peretti is more my speed—this heart-shaped box sits on my dresser.


You know who's a really fast solver in Across Lite? Ellen Ripstein. Crikey! Those solving times for Sunday-sized puzzles are short. (Sigh.) I'll always have Saturday...

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "Four-Part Harmony," has five theme entries in a sort of a rebus puzzle. 22-Across is MOTHER OF A FILLY, or a mare. Next up is OUTCRY ON SEEING A MOUSE, or eek. The JOINT LINKING HAND TO ARM is wrist. UNMARRIED WOMAN'S TITLE is Miss. Put all four words together to get a HOLIDAY MESSAGE: mare-eek-wrist-miss, or Merry Christmas. It's cute, and not a sort of theme/wordplay I recall seeing in a crossword before.

Easy Washington Post puzzle from Randolph Ross, one called "Let's Face It." The theme entries share this in common: THEY WEAR MASKS. The theme clues were mostly straightforward, so I got all the theme entries without having any idea what the theme was. Favorite clue: [Calculus taker?] for the masked DENTAL HYGIENIST. Trickiest crossing: 13-Across and 13-Down. With *IDDLES for [Hoedown needs] and *INCHES for [Buntings et al.], it eventually dawned on me that buntings, like the brilliantly hued painted bunting, are birds along the line of FINCHES and not just decorative draping.


Andy Sawyer's syndicated LA Times crossword, "New Year's Re-solutions," has a hyphen in the title because the theme entries all have a RE- added to the beginning of a phrase to generate something new. My favorite theme entries were RESENT PACKING (who doesn't?), REMORSE CODE (dot, dash, head slap, dash, self-flagellation, dot, dot), and the REBUS DEPOT where one stores picture puzzles. Good theme, in my opinion. In the fill, it felt like there was more than the usual amount of words that have fallen out of favor as crossword fill in recent (re-cent...) years—[Chinese weight] TAEL crossing RARA avis, muralist SERT and puppeteer SARG, actor CLU Gulager. I do like the one-two punch of ["Woe ___"] for IS ME and [1996 grammar bestseller "Woe ___"] for IS I.

The title of Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Repeat Business," suggests that the theme will be like Sawyer's LAT theme, but in Merl's, each phrase begins with a repeated string of letters. I like TWENTY-TWENTY VISION and OLLY OLLY OXEN FREE best.

Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle is anchored by three horizontal 15s crossing THE GRATEFUL DEAD. I had a brief Dead phase in college... Other highlights: FRIGHT WIG across from PLATO'S CAVE (those two phrases have not appeared together on a web page until right now); SHTETL crossing SHALOM; [Mercury Seven astronaut Deke] SLAYTON's last name appearing in the grid instead of the more crossword-friendly first name; and Martin MILNER of the Adam-12 cop show (rewarding my childhood spent watching TV).


First and Last puzzle

This weekend's second Sunday puzzle below the New York Times crossword puzzle is called "First and Last," and Will Shortz concocted it. It was much easier than I expected. Am I a super-genius, or is this just easier than many of the other sorts of second Sunday puzzles? In this puzzle, the task is to guess the famous people given the first and last letters of their first and last names, which make a four-letter word.

My answers, if you're looking for help or confirmation, below the fold. They're in white, so highlight the line and the answer will appear. If you think I'm wrong on any, let me know, will you? Thanks.

1. ENDS Ellen Degeneres
2. DIME Demi Moore
3. BUBS Beau Bridges
4. ALAS Abigail Adams
5. DARE Della Reese
6. REDS René Descartes
7. MACS Maria Callas
8. JETE Joe Torre
9. MAST Martha Stewart
10. BASK Barbara Stanwyck
11. RAPS Rosa Parks
12. ELLE Emeril Lagasse
13. MAGI Mahatma Gandhi (not technically his name, but what he's best known as in the U.S.)
14. JEAN Jane Austen
15. CEDE Catherine Deneuve
16. GALA Gina Lollobrigida
17. PIPE Patti Page
18. BALI Bela Lugosi
19. MASS Monica Seles
20. SAWS Serena Williams
21. CYAN Clay Aiken
22. HOAR Horatio Alger
23. POST Picabo Street
24. PACK Petula Clark
25. CARE Condoleezza Rice
26. MEAT Madeleine Albright
27. EDGY Edward Gorey
28. BEAR Brooke Astor
29. LEIA Lee Iacocca
30. ESPY Elvis Presley

I like that 19 of the 30 are women, many of whom are clued in a gender-neutral fashion. So if your mindset is to assume a generic term = male, that could slow you down here. Also, one of the men has a first name ending with A, and one of the women has a first name ending with O.


December 28, 2007

Saturday, 12/29

NYT 7:57 (Note: solution code for Across Lite file is 1247, not 1914)
Newsday 6:25
LAT 5:54
CS 3:55

Ah, I love a Saturday New York Times crossword that's good and gnarly, extracts half-remembered words from the misty water-colored corners of my mind, teaches me new words, and engages the humor mechanism. Bob Klahn's 66-word crossword wins on all four counts. We'll take this one in list form.

Pop culture! "AIN'T [Nobody" (1983 Chaka Khan hit)] was a gimme. Here's a concert video of the song, notable for the magnificence of Chaka Khan's costume. TOY STORY, [Pixar's first feature-length film], was another gimme. [Banks of note] is TYRA Banks. Let's put fusty curmudgeon ANDY ROONEY in this category, too; he is the ["Common Nonsense" author, 2002].

Vice presidents! ADVANCE MEN is a great entry; advance team, as used here in Dick Cheney's tour demands, is a good gender-neutral alternative. [Public appearance preparers] is a completely straightforward clue. (Yes, Bob Klahn puzzles can include those, too.) Speaking of Cheney, did you know [McKinley's first vice president] was named HOBART? I sure didn't. Ulysses S. Grant wasn't vice president before he became our EIGHTEENTH president.

Science! A DACTYL is a [Finger or toe]. The root appears in words for conditions like polydactyly and syndactyly. In poetic meter, a dactyl is "a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables." [Margay cousins] are big cats, a.k.a. OCELOTS. The [Mountain sheep] called ARGALI—the word rang a bell, softly. I've seen it before, but it took a while to fill in half the letters. One of those "I'll know it when I see it" words that I couldn't spit out independently. [Cupule's contents] means an ACORN; a cupule, as the name suggests, is a little cup-shaped structure, presumably the acorn's cap.

Geography! [Spanish city that gave sherry its name is often spelled Jerez, but here it's XERES. It can go either way, but both ways are Scrabbly. [You may be lost in the middle of it] is also quasi-geographic: NOWHERE.

Art and literature! OPERA SERIA is the serious [old form of Italian musical drama]; opera buffa is the comic alternative. MINA Harker is the Dracula heroine.

Things I didn't exactly know: GOLCONDA is clued as [Rich mine or other source of great wealth. Golkonda or Golconda is a ruined city in India famed for its diamond mines, which yielded the Hope diamond. An [Unexpected turn of events, as in a literary work] is PERIPETEIA; the Wikipedia entry has a decent description. A BRASSARD is a [Uniform armband]; it's etymologically related to the French bras, meaning arm. The [Scolding wife: Var.] is XANTIPPE; I haven't seen that variant, just the more familiar Xanthippe—she was married to Socrates and is said to have out-argued him. I've heard of ELI in the Bible, but [Father of Hophni and Phinehas, in the Bible]? Not ringing a bell at all.

Multiple meanings! [Where to pick up dates?] relies on the mislead—it's not a singles bar, it's PALMS, as in the trees dates grow on. [Private group] is the ARMY, with privates. [Shell, e.g.] is a BOAT. [You can make light of it] refers to a LANTERN, not joking. [Squire] is the verb ESCORT. [Draft picks] are BEERS, not just athletes. [Scoring units] aren't just points in a game, but musical NOTES. [One running for work?] is a BOOTLEGGER in the sense of "run" meaning smuggle (transitive verb, definition 14a). [Handle incorrectly?] means MISTITLE; I got this, but I think handle = name only in a noun sense, not as a verb. [Tear up] should be pronounced like teardrops, not "tear you a new one"—it's the verb MIST.

And now, for other miscellaneous stuff. [Modesty preserver, in some films]—I was thinking of the sheet hanging between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, but it's a BUBBLE BATH. I like this clue, and the way that the bubbles in a movie bubble bath always stay so thick and never have embarrassing gaps. In the opposite corner of the grid, I was still thinking of that movie when I encountered [See-through sheets], but that one's talking about PLATE GLASS.

I like [Sparkling] as a could-go-in-any-direction clue for WITTY. And WINTERTIDE is a lovely word; it's an old word meaning winter time, my big dictionaries tell me. I see no indication at all that it's an [End-of-year festival] (other than in the Shenandoah Valley), but it ought to be. I would like to celebrate wintertide. Maybe as part of Festivus? [Catawampus] or cattywampus is a regionalism meaning AWRY, and a fun word. OCHLOCRACY is one of those fun vocabulary words meaning [Mob rule]. MOPPET is a [Rug rat] and also a great word. So is [Gasconade], or BRAG.

TOC is clued as [List in a book's front: Abbr.] Now, I've been calling a table of contents a TOC for years and years, and yet TOC shows up only once in the Cruciverb database (with a "tic-toc" sound clue). Are you familiar with the TOC abbrev? Is there a reason it hasn't been showing up in crosswords?


Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper is less of a stumper than the Klahn puzzle. Fun fill: MNEMONIC device, VIGORISH from the world of bookies, soothing "THERE, THERE," a KIDNEY BEAN in the soup, LOIS LANE (clued as ["Kiss Me Kate" character], I don't know why), DADDY-O, and flaming CHERRIES JUBILEE. I'm not sure why it took me so long to understand that [Key-lock character] meant an UPPERCASE LETTER. Other clues of note: [Frozen formations] are ice CUBES, not obscure glacier formations. [Sm., med. and lg.] are ADJS, or adjectives, of course. [Percipient] is, I presume, related to "perceive"; it means ALERT. [Stick with a pocket] is a CROSSE, the stick used in lacrosse. Weren't there flux CAPACITORS in Back to the Future? ST LO is clued [Town on the Vire River], but the Vire doesn't seem to flow in crosswords.

Bonus points to Nancy Salomon for including KIKI DEE in her themeless LA Times puzzle. My sister and I loved "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" when we were kids; the coed duet probably kept us from sensing that Elton John was gay for a decade after the song came out, spangled sunglasses be damned.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "My Mother, the Car," has automotive puns of a dreadful sort. I just heard from a reader who did the 12/21 LA Times puzzle with mineral puns, and couldn't figure out the root phrase behind JUVENILE QUARTZ. I told her I thought it was "juvenile courts," stretching the punctuation further than the the other theme entries. We discussed the liberties that constructors sometimes take with pronunciation, and it's my opinion that those cut down on the enjoyment of the puns. (Pun lovers may disagree.) My correspondent said it was fortunate that those liberties are rare. Well, this puzzle's theme entries have taken all the liberties and left us with no more. Famous women whose first names sorta sound like car makes, if you torture their names—AUDI HEPBURN? RENAULT RUSSO? Ouch. If you find this breed of puns delightful, please tell me.


Another look at a crossword answer: URDU

URDU pops up often enough in crosswords, typically clued as something like [Pakistani language].

Did you know that although Urdu is the official national language, it's far from the most widely spoken language in Pakistan? Mark Liberman at Language Log reports that more people speak Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, and other languages than Urdu, and that Pakistan has had "language riots" over the years. I had no idea that Urdu was the native language of less than 10% of the nation's people.

So while the clue's technically 100% accurate—Urdu is the official language, and millions of Pakistanis do speak it—it doesn't tell anywhere near the whole story.


December 27, 2007

Friday, 12/28

NYT 7:51
Jonesin' 4:58
LAT 4:14
NYS 3:59
CS 3:11
CHE 3:04

WSJ 7:48

John Farmer's New York Times crossword is unlike most of his publications in that it's themeless rather than boasting a twisty innovation. That's not a complaint, mind you—themelesses are my favorite kind of crossword, and I liked this one. It took me a good two minutes and change to unwind my mistakes, but that's certainly not John's fault. Michael and I were just talking about EGAN, so I put it in my head that the [1950s British P.M.] was EGAN. It wasn't, of course—it was Anthony EDEN (click that link to see his piercing eyes). That gave me the semi-plausible USA TAX (that is semi-plausible, isn't it? Isn't it??) and the mysterious SIGEBOY for the crossings. No! The [Excise on some out-of-state purchases] is a USE TAX, and the [Seaman in a ceremonial honor guard] is a SIDEBOY. U.S. Navy regulations apparently dictate the number of sideboys to be present based on the importance of a visiting dignitary; the number of drum ruffles and bugle flourishes is also prescribed, and a brigadier general rates an 11-gun salute, not a 21-gun one.

Enough of military customs! It's crosswords I like. Favorite clues and answers: JENNIFER LOPEZ strides pregnantly across the grid (clued with a song I don't know), treading all over LANDO CALRISSIAN, the [Sci-fi character whose name is an anagram of CAROLINA ISLANDS]. The other long answers are MEMBERS OF THE BAR ([Some licensed practitioners]) and the QUICK BROWN FOX that jumped over the lazy dog in the classic pangrammatic typing exercise ([Exercise animal?]. Between J-Lo and the fox, we've got a Z, Q, X, and J—nice! The [Algonquian Indian tribe] the MIAMI crosses IND., home of many Miami. Borderline unfair to cross two cross-referenced words, but really, what else could MIAMI be? (There's also a [Northwest tribe] here, the SPOKANE.) The OPERA is a [Place to find a C-note?]. [Climber's support] is a TENDRIL, but look how nicely TRELLIS fits that spot and mucks things up if you write it in. [Indian pastries] called SAMOSAS are spicy-hot but oh-so-good. Mmm, potatoes! I love PEGASUS as an answer, though the [Constellation between Cygnus and Pisces] clue meant nothing to me. Right between that Cygnus the Swan clue and a [Bird: Prefix] sits [They're plucked]—fortunately, it's LUTES and not ill-fated chickens. (And [Pluck] is VALOR a few squares over.) I always like Ambrose Bierce, so I liked the clue for PIANO, a Bierce quote: "A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor." ERRANDS are clued as [They'll give you the run-around]. South Beach is the name of a FAD DIET. FROGS is clued as the [2004 Sondheim musical, with "The"]—it was his musical adaptation of the Aristophanes play, starring Nathan Lane; Sondheim used to create cryptic crosswords for New York magazine. SAILS BY ([Passes effortlessly]) is nicely idiomatic verb phrase, as are its neighbors, STEAM UP ([Make hot]) and PINE FOR ([Miss badly]).

Toughest stuff: Besides that SIDEBOY section, there's POTSY, or [Hopscotch]; a LEK, [100 qintars] in Albanian currency; [Chalon-sur-___, France], or SAONE; ["The Da Vinci Code" priory], SION; ["___ of Six" (Joseph Conrad story collection)] for A SET; [Fuchsite and alurgite] for MICAS; and [Place, e.g.] means LOSE (as in take second place in a race).

Kelsey Blakley's New York Sun puzzle, "Once Upon a Word," is possibly the easiest Friday Sun puzzle I've ever done. Usually they're killers, but this one proved much more pliable than expected. The theme is certainly an unusual one—an ISOGRAM is a [Word or phrase that has no repeated letters (every answer in this puzzle is an example of one)]. Wikipedia includes a list of single-word isograms of 10 letters or more, and good gravy, those are some boring words. I'm glad Kelsey (and I'm faking the first-name basis here, since I don't know her—but I like the name Kelsey) opted for mostly phrases in the 9- and 14-letter categories. PINKY TUSCADERO and GEISHA BOY! YOU BETCHA and RHAPSODY IN BLUE! It can't have been easy to fill this grid without double letters, without the use of more than one E in a word, etc. The fill is fun and hip, too—there's also Y'KNOW; S AND M ([Folsom Street Fair theme] in San Francisco); the Amazing RANDI, [debunker of pseudoscience]; Frankie MUNIZ; and thrash metal band Anthrax's "Caught in a MOSH." Not to mention artsy DIPTYCHS and naked NUDISTS ([Adamites]). What are Adamites? It appears that they were an early Christian sect that "professed to have regained Adam's primeval innocence" and stripped nekkid. All right, that's a tough clue—but the crossings were so reasonable. Question: Would you say this puzzle contains a record 189 theme squares?

The title of Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "For the Bards," hints obliquely at the theme. The phrase for the birds has one letter changed to create the title; the theme entries change one letter in each notable person's name to turn their surname into a bird's name. Part of the clue describes the person and the end suggests what bird will result after the letter change. There's JIMMY FALCON (Fallon), COURTNEY DOVE (Love), CHRISTOPHER DODO (Dodd), SUSAN OSTRICH (Estrich), and ROBERT ROBIN (Rubin). The rest of the puzzle's pretty straightforward, with Thursday- or Friday-level cluing. The upper left corner did snag me for a bit—1- and 2-Down were unfamiliar names and they crossed a [Plastic suffix]. I guessed that HAJI filled the blank in [1980s NFL kicker Ali ___-Sheikh] and that the plastic is -INE, which made the [Former Starbucks CEO Smith]'s name ORIN.


Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Grime Syndicate," uses the same idea as Byron Walden's 11/9/06 NYT puzzle, except he had SANDY DENNIS where this puzzle has SANDY DUNCAN, and he threw in a PEOPLE OF THE EARTH unifying entry. The DUSTY, MUDDY, and DIRTY names are fun entries regardless of whether they've appeared together before, though. I also liked the entries PRIVY TO and STONE AGO, and the geographic names—BAVARIAN, RWANDAN, IBO (I know someone who's Ibo!, TAOS, ARAGON, the Lithuanian ex-SSR, and IRANI.

Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword celebrates a B-DAY (65-Across) by adding a B before both words in a phrase or compound word. I laughed when BLAND BLUBBER emerged, and I like the pronunciation change from read lips to BREAD BLIPS. Best entries: TV DINNERS and the TIME SLOT for your TV show, SOTHEBY'S, SPECTRAL.

Frank Virzi's 12/14 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "The Front Lines," features opening lines from five 19th and 20th century novels. No spoilers, because lit fans will want to do this one without hints. As with all CHE crosswords (adroitly edited by Patrick Berry), excellent fill and clues throughout.

Liz Gorski's made a funny Wall Street Journal crossword for us this week. In "Out Is In," OUT is added to seven phrases to warp their meaning. My favorite theme entries were the [Place where the going is tough?], a BLEAK OUTHOUSE (building on Dickens' Bleak House), and [Khrushchev's favorite steakhouse?], OUTBACK IN THE USSR (playing on the Beatles song). (By the way, Men's Health magazine named Outback Steakhouse's Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing the single worst food in America: "2,900 calories, 182 g fat. Even if you split this 'starter' with three friends, you'll have downed a dinner's worth of calories before your entree arrives.") Cute section at the top of the grid, where EIEIO crosses IEOH (I.M. Pei's first name), YEO (abbr. for yeoman), and Lucy LIU. Ee-yow!


Hillary Rodham Clinton likes crosswords, too

Everyone knows Bill Clinton digs crosswords, but he's not the only one in the house. Associated Press has been quizzing various presidential candidates on their likes, dislikes, first car, worst habit, etc. For the "hidden talent" category, Senator Hillary Clinton responded, "I love crossword puzzles." I'll bet she's really good, too. I wonder which of the Clintons is faster...


December 26, 2007

Thursday, 12/27

NYS 5:02
LAT 4:48
NYT 4:07
CS 3:26

This afternoon, my husband and son were getting haircuts at a neighborhood salon (no such thing as a barbershop around these parts, unless you mean the fancy men-only salon on Halsted). Ben was in the chair getting a fauxhawk while his parents waited, and what did we overhear? The guy at the counter hashing out the Wednesday NYT crossword with a friend. I sprang into action as I must (my secret supersuit is emblazoned with a bold XW) and lent a helping hand. I also jotted down this blog's URL so the guy (a stranger to the blogosphere) could check it out.

And as I finished the Thursday New York Times puzzle by Jim Leeds, I thought, "Ohhh, Salon Man will be vexed by this." The southwest corner, in particular, and the northeast to a lesser degree, and also a little in the upper midsection (the thorax, if you will), and a bit in the northwest corner—combinations of answers that aren't so familiar and also aren't zippy and fresh. To wit: in the SW, Latin legalese CAUSA, astronomical O-STAR, the ship ISERE, and the acronym LORAN are piled up alongside one another. Gah! In the opposite corner, [Hebdomadally] clues A WEEK. Now, hebdomadal means "weekly," so "weeklily" means A WEEK? I'm not seeing it. Can anyone offer a sentence to demonstrate the interchangeability? And KELSO clued as a racehorse the day after FUNNY CIDE—¡no mas! (I prefer KELSO clued with reference to Ashton Kutcher's pretty-boy character on That '70s Show). Moving to the upper left, ABIE gets a non–"Abie's Irish Rose" clue with ["___ the Agent (old comic strip)]—feh, I say! And going to the right side of the thorax, LOESS and COPRA (both words I learned strictly from crosswords) cross the [F.D.R. agency] OPA. That's the Office of Price Administration, in case you weren't following the news in the 1940s. OPA is usually clued as the Florida town, Opa-Locka; for once, I'd like to see it clued as [Granddad, in Germany]—at least the PA part is inferrable, whereas [F.D.R. agency] is practically a clue that says [Random three-letter abbreviation].

Good gravy, I'm channeling Rex.

That out of the way, let's poke the theme and see if it moves. Five theme entries add a C before the O at the beginning of a phrase or compound word, and the resulting creation is clued accordingly. A marine biologist performs a CORAL EXAM, one might CON THE LOOKOUT, Slinky art could be COIL PAINTINGS, witches cook with COVENWARE, and (Canadian slur alert!) [Eskimos in an igloo?] are COLD FOLKS AT HOME. That last one seemed completely random to me, but Professor Google says it's a song title.

Doug Peterson's "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the New York Sun has plenty of vibrant fill. Jimi Hendrix's PURPLE HAZE, a MENTAL NOTE, PINOT NOIRS (I'll wager that pinot noir sales skyrocketed after the movie Sideways came out, with its famously profane anti-Merlot line, "I'm not drinking any fucking merlot."), a REPORT CARD, and a dose of ENRICHED URANIUM. Not to mention KATAKANA (the [Japanese syllabary]), artist and film director Julian SCHNABEL, and James [Bond foe] SMERSH. Favorite clues: [Baby, maybe] for the verb SPOIL; [Press release?] for OLIVE OIL; [Shade] for a ghostly WRAITH; and [Lander at TLV] for EL AL (presumably TLV is Tel Aviv's airport code).


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Let Go!", begins each theme entry with a word that's synonymous with "let go." In the fill, Star Trek: The Next Generation's Counselor TROI shows up, and she's also in Manny Nosowsky's LA Times crossword. Manny's puzzle has A LOT TO ANSWER FOR running vertically down the middle of the grid, surrounded by five questions: WHY BOTHER? WHICH IS IT? WHAT'S IT FOR? WHERE CAN I WASH UP? And WHO'S THE MAN? Favorite clues: [Leader of the pack?] for HARE (because the hare's a fast runner...although in "The Tortoise and the Hare," the hare loses his lead); [Stout fellow?] for BREWER, and the associated NEAR BEER.


Christina Applegate should stop by here

The latest Entertainment Weekly double issue includes celebrities' pop-culture recommendations. Christina Applegate, who is perhaps best known for portraying über-ditzy Kelly Bundy on Married With Children, contributed this:

It's nerdy, but seriously, crossword puzzles are really an obsession. I've got the entire cast and crew of Samantha Who? involved in New York Times puzzle mania. Oh, God, by Friday and Saturday, there's a lot of Googling going on. We like to call that "learning," not necessarily cheating.



December 25, 2007

Wednesday, 12/26

NYS 4:00
NYT 3:58
LAT 3:29
CS 3:25

Jim Page's New York Times puzzle seems a bit tough for a Wednesday, no? Like turkey kept in the oven a bit too long? What I learned from this crossword is that there's a song called "N.Y.C." in the musical Annie. A rather gnarly thing to hinge a theme on for the non-musical-theater-fans constituency. What I like better than that aspect is the embedding of NYC within the long theme entries, JOHNNYCAKE (you know what? I think this is essentially what IHOP serves me when I order the "corn cake pancakes," which I slather with butter and drizzle with hot maple syrup), TONY CURTIS, racehorse FUNNYCIDE, and...PONY CARTS? Must Google: It's a smaller version of a horse cart, it seems. Now, I sort of figured it had to be PONY CARTS, but that corner was mighty resistant to filling. I wanted [Fit for duty] to be ONE-A, the ["Superman II" villainess] wasn't coming to mind, [Not discounted] was meaning nothing, and I wanted ARRS for [Itinerary details]. It was actually ABLE crossing ETAS in the corner, with evil URSA (what, no "celestial bear" today?), LIST price, pale AQUA, and historical fiction BURR. Though I may grumble at the musical tincture of the theme and the PONY CARTS, I did generally like the fill: Get high on CANNABIS! (And not in the Onion puzzle, either.) The cinematic SETPIECE. Scrabbly CLOROX, BEIJING (my family has Beijing Olympics t-shirts brought back from China by my in-laws this summer. Mmm, lead.), and MESS KIT.

Frank Virzi's New York Sun puzzle contains a fairly dry theme, "Split Ends." Each theme entry starts and ends with a matching set of 3-letter sequences, each of which appears in the closest corner of the grid. So TONI BRAXTON is near TON, and the HOWARD STERN SHOW is near HOW. Throughout the grid, there's Scrabbly fill, heavy on the names. Does everyone else know JAMAAL [Magloire of the Nets], or am I in the dark by myself here?


Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "A Good Day for X-Changes," exchanges an X for a CKS in each theme entry. Timothy Meaker's LA Times crossword defines four OO-OO things in 15-letter entries: [Goo goo], [Yoo-hoo], [Voodoo], and [Boo Boo].


Christmas crosswords

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate the holiday, Merry Paid Holiday From Work for non-Christmassy people whose jobs have paid holidays, and Merry Tuesday When Stores Are Closed, Dangit to the rest of you!

My husband gave me Crasswords for Christmas. Okay, technically I ordered it and wrapped it and put a gift tag on it, but I'm not to give myself gifts today so my husband gets the credit. My mom spent the night with us, so she had a chance to leaf through it. She wants a copy for her 65th birthday, if she doesn't pick it up from Barnes & Noble before March. I haven't started working the puzzles, but see that some of Francis Heaney's crosswords were previously published in Penthouse Forum (er, is that like the crossword forum?). There's a menstrual theme by Brendan Emmett Quigley, a Simpsons "Hugh Jass" theme from Francis, and the gayest crossword ever from Frank Longo. This looks promising. (And yes, my mom is pretty cool.)

We gave our son Ben two puzzle books this morning: Pat Merrell's Picture Clue Crosswords and Patrick Blindauer's Scrabble Sticker Crosswords (fill in the grid with sticker tiles, not a pencil). Man, I hope he likes these! I am absolutely trying to inculcate a crossword habit in the boy.

Also on the puzzle front, my husband gave me a soma cube, which I've been hankering for. I finally found a place that sells the cube! (Yes, I ordered this one myself, too.) It's smaller than the blue plastic one my dad had when I was a kid, but that's OK.


December 24, 2007

Tuesday, 12/25

Tausig 5:30
Onion 4:42
NYT 4:03 (typo!)

D'oh! Having completed Santa Clausian duties (my husband's still hooking up the Wii), I settled in for Nancy Salomon's timely New York Times Christmas puzzle. That little typo won't ruin the holiday, though. Sure, [Hit the jackpot] could be past or present tense, and I opted for present without troubling myself to read the clue for the crossing, much less to notice that IVAL isn't a word. OVAL! Of course, I opted to scan the grid in the downward direction looking for the typo—bad choice. Anyway...the theme is "Merry Christmas" in French (JOYEUX NOEL), Danish (HAAGEN DAZS—no, wait, I mean GLAEDELIG JUL), Spanish (FELIZ NAVIDAD, Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad—sing it with me!), and Italian (BUON NATALE). There's a double play in the clue for RED SEA—[It had a notable part in Exodus], as in parting of the waters. Favorite entries: MUD BATHS, FLY-BY, DREAM JOBS, AVOCADO. I don't know that I like EVEN OFF as a verb phrase—I would even something out rather than off. But maybe that's just me.


Oh! I had sort of decided I was skipping the LAT and CrosSynergy puzzles today, but eventually remembered that I did want to solve the Onion and Tausig puzzles.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle has a timely theme, too: Crapalicious Christmas presents one might have received. Here are a woebegone SUDOKU TIE and a dreadful pair of REINDEER SOCKS. The HOMEMADE SWEATER has potential, but the knitter's gotta be up your alley. If Space Invaders captivates you, you might like this sweater. The ABS OF STEEL DVD would be a fine thing to purchase for yourself, if you like that sort of thing, but getting it as a gift? Would suck. I heard an interview on public radio about Southern Supreme's FRUITCAKE, supposedly edible (first ingredient pineapple, contains no chewy radioactive green bits). The fill here is nuttier than a fruitcake—TOMSK is a [Siberian industrial center], it seems, and UNPEEL is not a word. A [Certain geneticist] isn't Mendel at all, but a CLONER, and that duped me. Things I liked: BAKED HAM appears opposite a rapper's EMCEEING skills. MACAQUES and FAUX jack up the Scrabble score.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "Knock It Off!", has bastardized brand names that might be used for counterfeit designer goods. If you're not up on your fakes, you'll need the crossings to know where the names have been changed. We've got a KATIE SPADE PURSE (Kate Spade), LEVY'S JEANS (Levi's), ROLAX WATCH (Rolex), and GUCHI SUNGLASSES (Gucci). Like the BEQ Onion puzzle, quite Scrabbly, but not a ton of fun for me. I am really tired, though, even at 6:20 in the evening. Plumb tuckered out from staying up late as Santa and playing Wii bowling this afternoon, I guess...


December 23, 2007

Monday, 12/24

LAT 3:05
CS 2:47
NYT 2:33

Christmas Eve Eve! Where did the year go? And does someone else wish to volunteer to peel the potatoes for me Monday morning? Anyone?

Because the New York Sun doesn't publish on holidays, there's no Monday or Tuesday puzzle this week or next.

The Monday New York Times puzzle by Mark Sherwood was super-duper easy. I first clicked "done" at 2:16, which might well be the fastest I've finished a Times puzzle. Although the word "finished" isn't quite accurate, because I had a typo. The quartet of theme entries begin with words that can precede the word LINE (52-Down): PARTY ANIMAL, CREDIT REPORT, LIFE IN PRISON, and PICKUP TRUCK. It's a little splashy, what with the J and X in the top row, though the Scrabbly letters peter out after that until PICKUP TRUCK ponies up the K's. Pop culture permeates the grid: RAPPERS [Jay-Z and Timbaland], '80s cheese-rock band REO Speedwagon, dummy Mortimer SNERD, JAPAN's Pokemon connection, MARIO of Nintendo video game fame, Springsteen's BORN TO RUN, a singular X-MAN from the X-Men comics, Hans Christian ANDERSEN's fairy tales, reference to movie actor Ed Harris for EDS, '70s TV show CPO Sharkey, The Nutty PROFESSOR movie, and the "ROCKIN' Around the Christmas Tree" song.


Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle's title is "Who Do We Appreciate?"—as in a "2, 4, 6, 8" cheer. It's not a new theme, but that's fine. Best entries: ARMY BRAT, PRECINCT (I like the sound of words that end with -inct), and SAM I AM. It's a fairly Scrabbly grid for a Monday, too.

Fred Jackson III's LA Times puzzle wonders, "Can I get a WITNESS?" 26-Down is WITNESS, and the four theme entries end with kinds of witnesses: MATERIAL, EYE-, KEY, and STAR. A smattering of crosswordese that isn't seen much any more shows up—TERN and STEN in particular. (They've been used two and three times apiece in 2007's NYT puzzles, Cruciverb tells me.) You know the Simon & Garfunkel song, "Sounds of Silence"? "Hello, etui, my old friend. I've come to solve with you again."


December 22, 2007

Sunday, 12/23

LAT 8:29
BG 7:50
NYT 7:27
PI 7:24
WaPo 6:44
CS 5:28

Adam Perl's Santa-themed New York Times crossword, "Yule Outsourcing," has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it, with the four-line verse ending EVERY TOY IS MADE IN CHINA (the reason Santa has been lounging in his recliner). Yes, complete with lead paint or toxic plastic compounds. (FYI, here's a Vermont alternative to made-in-China toys. They even make a Soma cube, which is hard to come by. Wish I'd have found that early enough to order it as a Christmas present...for myself.) The explicit theme takes up just four 21-square rows, but there's Yuletide cluing strewn throughout the puzzle in the form of about 15 short answers. My favorite clues: [Way overdue to take off?] for OBESE; ["What to do? What to do?" feeling] for PANIC; [Theodemocratic state] for IRAN; [Of fast times?] for LENTEN; [Discriminating sort, in a way] for AGEIST; and [Out-elbowed?] for AKIMBO. Speaking of elbows, there's also [Elbows] for POKES, [Joint part] for TENON, and [Joint] for REEFER—so not all the joint-related action here is anatomical. Did you notice that BIOTA was followed by IOTAS? The former crosses GUITEAU, [Garfield's assassin] and nobody I've heard of.

Henry Hook's Across Lite edition of the Boston Globe puzzle, "Family Affair," relates not to the old TV series of that name but rather, to The Simpsons. The theme clues are the members of the family, with the parents listed first and the three kids in order from eldest to youngest. [HOMER] is a FOUR-BAGGER / IN BASEBALL, or home run. [MARGE] is SYNONYM FOR OLEO. (Is this a common spoken abbreviation for margarine? I prefer butt to marge, personally.) [BART] refers to the SAN FRANCISCO RAIL LINES. [LISA] is simply an ANAGRAM FOR SAIL. And baby [MAGGIE] is the utterly tortured (but I like it) M PLUS TEXAS A&M ATHLETE, or M + AGGIE. That sly little ampersand also belongs to P&L, or profit-and-loss statement. This crossword's enhanced by the Scrabbly letters in fill like UP NEXT, EXTERIOR, STAX, and MIXED (implicating four separate X's), JAY LENO, ZULU, and the juicy little KUMQUAT. Highlights in the non-Scrabbly, non-theme fill: MARISA TOMEI and ROY ACUFF's full names, FEMBOT, GALILEO, and the TASMANIAN devil.

Frank Longo's Washington Post crossword, "Birthday Greetings," serves up cake to eight famous people who were BORN ON CHRISTMAS. Easy (but still good) cluing, and terrific fill. Favorite bits: JEROBOAM; AGE RANGE; DULLARD; REORG; ["Washington," in poetry] for DACTYL (a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables—and Wikipedia points out that a 2006 NYT crossword pointed out that poetry is itself a dactyl); [Semi fluid] for GAS (did your mind's eye add -nal to that first word?); ["Bejabbers!"] for EGAD; [___ freak] for CONTROL; [They may have umbrellas] for MAI TAIS; [Press unit] for REP (as in bench press, chest press, leg press); KEY GRIP; LIKE MAD; [Significant one?] for OTHER; and ["No, No, No" singer] for ONO.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Carol of the Bells," isn't as Christmassy as the title suggests. Instead, each theme entry contains the letter string DING or DONG within it. Ho-hum, you say? Well, there are 13 of these entries, and the one in the middle is awesome: BAKED-ON GREASE. I'll bet that puppy's never appeared in a crossword grid before, and it amuses me terribly in a crossword. In the kitchen, much less so. (Soaking does wonders, though.) As a little extra fillip, Merl clues PEALES as [Norman Vincent's family (and an apt answer in this puzzle)].


Kathleen O'Brien's syndicated LA Times crossword also trods the Christmas-theme path in "Not a Good Sign," with a quote from SHIRLEY TEMPLE. I think I've read the quote before, but the punchline's still a good one.

It's Christmas a couple days early if you're a fan of Bob Klahn's cluing style—he constructed today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle. The clues that were right up my alley (meaning I liked them, not necessarily that I understood what the answer was right away): [Ten-cent pic] means FDR, whose portrait is on the dime. [Third degree] is a DOCTORATE, literally and not idiomatically. [King of the old South] is more metaphoric—COTTON.

[Put your head down, try this, and you'll breathe easy] clues SNORKEL. The first and last time I went snorkeling was on my honeymoon, on Christmas day in 1991. I slathered on Bullfrog waterproof sunscreen and was fine, but my "I tan, I don't burn" husband got fried. His wedding band also slid off and sank down to a coral reef, so he did a little diving, too.

[Small fry] and [Future fry] are TAD and ROE, respectively. I do like the paired clues Klahn often concocts. [Wacky] appears twice, but not in adjacent spots, to clue INANE and LOCO, and [Wacky one] is a KOOK. [A, for one] clues SYNONYM, as "a clue" is synonymous with "one clue." Sort of a lateral-thinking clue. [Loose things not found in rings] is also sort of aslant—they're ENDS, as a ring has no ends.

I'm not crazy about bible clues, but [Two-person starter home?] is as good as a biblical EDEN clue gets.

I don't get why [Balance opener] is TRIAL. Oh—apparently trial balance is a bookkeeping term.

[Muse] is not Erato or one of her sisters here, but the verb: REMINISCE.


December 21, 2007

Saturday, 12/22

NYT 5:32
LAT 5:20
Newsday 4:38
CS 3:12

Oh, I am sleepy. There was wine with a friend while the boys played together and it made me sleepy. The walk home in the drizzly briskness (surprisingly warm for solstice time) gave me a second wind to tackle the New York Times crossword by Harvey Estes, but now the drowsiness has returned like MacArthur. This is a very-low-word-count puzzle, with just 56 answers in a windmill- or clover-shaped grid. The upshot of a low word count is that it's much harder for the constructor to fill the grid, so you do end up with scads of E's and S's (and no uncommon letters) and the occasional RELOANED (but there are just four 4-letter answers and no 3-letter ones). I don't care for loan as a verb, but the American Heritage usage folks say "The verb loan is well established in American usage and cannot be considered incorrect." The #1 "WTF?" answer has got to be ELEGIT, or [Creditor's writ], which I am tempted to say I've never seen before. The database, however, tells me that it was in the 6/15/06 Thursday NYT puzzle, and I blogged about the word. Huh. A dictionary definition: "A writ of execution against a debtor by which the debtor's property or goods are delivered to the plaintiff until the debtor can settle the debt."

Favorite clues: [Lobby, say] for the verb PRESSURE; [Where one can retire young?] for CRIB; [Singles player] for PHONO (playing 45 r.p.m. records, not tennis); [Eyeballs] for ASSESSES; [Encrypted?] for INTERRED; and [Long-armed redheads] for ORANGS—especially that last one. Tougher clues with more out-there answers: [Tom, Dick or Harry] for PRENAME (defined by the American Heritage dictionary as "forename," which is defined as a first name); [Upper parts of piano duets] for PRIMOS; [Roadsters] for RUNABOUTS; and [___ shorthair (cat breed)] for ORIENTAL—I had to piece all of those together from the crossings. Along with ED MEESE, [Dick Thornburgh's predecessor in the cabinet]—I'll bet most Reagan-era(ish) officials crossword action involves Meese. No shortage of lengthened solving times on the applet—what hitches did you have? Did ELEGIT balk at being filled in? Oout-of-the-way beographical places in the puzzle; SALINA, Kansas; ALAMOSA, Colorado; LA MESA, California; and the SIENESE from Siena in Tuscany.


Barry Silk's LA Times crossword took me down two wrong paths for [Nike offering]—first I had ATHLETIC SHOE, then I had RUNNING SHOE, and eventually I caved to the retro JOGGING SHOE (running shoes outpolls jogging shoes by a factor of 100 on Google). Cool entries: CIA HEADQUARTERS, WINSTON-SALEM, EXCAVATING and UNORTHODOX with their X's. This puzzle's probably a pangram, but I haven't time to check. Must wrap gifts! Buy gifts! Tidy house!

Dan Stark's Newsday themeless was easier than the NYT and LAT puzzles, for me. It's got 72 words, and yet plenty of common-letter entries of the sort seen in Harvey's 56-word NYT—REASSERT, TENSER, SENSES, NEATER, STEERAGE. And 26 3- or 4-letter words, too. I like the combo of SCREE and DEBRIS (they have semi-similar meanings, and they rhyme!), [Cultured fare] for YOGURT, KITTY-CAT, DEHUMIDIFY, and the understated [Close one] for SOULMATE.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "R&B Progression," cycles through the vowels in RABBIT'S FOOT, REBEL YELL, RIBCAGE, ROBIN HOOD, and RUBBER-STAMP. What, no Billy Idol clue for REBEL YELL?


December 20, 2007

Friday, 12/21

NYS 5:32
Jonesin' 4:42
NYT 4:28
CHE 4:28
LAT 4:something (uh, I forgot to note the time)
CS 2:43

WSJ 7:27

Patrick Berry delivers the one-two knockout of the Friday New York Times crossword and the New York Sun "Weekend Warrior." Comparison by the numbers (some of them subjective):

Word count: 64 NYS to 66 NYT
Advantage: Sun

Question-marked clues: 6 NYT to 2 NYS
Advantage: Times

Clues that I found especially entertaining, interesting, or challenging: 16 NYS to 16 NYT
Advantage: tie

Scrabbly letter count: 2 Ks and an X in NYS to 2 Ks and a J in NYT
Advantage: tie

Cool entries: 9 NYT to 6 NYS
Advantage: Times

Clunkier or dull entries: 6 NYS to 6 NYT
Advantage: tie

"Roll your own" words formed with suffixes, prefixes, or excessive pluralizing: really none in either (bravo!)
Advantage: tie

Executive summary: Two superior themeless puzzles with a slight edge to the Times for a smidgen more enjoyment.

Here's what I liked in Berry's Times crossword: First, look what 1-Across is sitting on. BEBOP, UVULA? So close to Be-Bop-A-Lula that you can sing it. Favorite clues: [Novel that nobody reads] for AUDIOBOOK; [Net sales?] for E-COMMERCE (which feels like a real E-word and not, you know, an E-note or E-mag that feels cooked up for a tough spot to fill a crossword grid); [Grave mound] for BARROW (check out the three different meanings of barrow, all with different Old English etyma); speaking of Old English, here's GRENDEL, clued as [Cannibal of Anglo-Saxon legend]; [Union station?] for ALTAR; [The Pearl of the Danube] for BUDAPEST; [Stick on the grill] for SKEWER; [Product lines?] for BAR CODES; [Who's left?] for LIBERALS; and [Bridge declaration] for LAND HO, referring to the bridge of a ship and not that dratted card game that gets so much play in crosswords. Most favored entries: WINSOME smile; INSIDE JOB; VETERAN crossing the DRAFT; HANDILY; [King's successor as S.C.L.C. president] ABERNATHY; GENTLE BEN, the '60s TV show starring a young Clint Howard and a bear (I saw this show 10 years ago on TV in Vienna, dubbed into German, and I don't grasp why they went to the trouble); and WYNTON Marsalis. Side note: 2-Down EVA GABOR was born in 3-Down BUDAPEST.

In Berry's Sun puzzle, three women's names take a variety of clues: PAMELA is [Diplomat Harriman], CLORIS is actress Leachman, and AMANDA is some Boston song I have no recollection of ever hearing. My favorites clues: [Having the most guts?] for GORIEST; [Stubborn] for ORNERY (I get ornery when I'm sleepy); [They go back and forth through trees] for SAWS; [It's far from the point] for HILT; [Statue subject outside of Dolphin Stadium] for MARINO (which I was going to make fun of until I remembered the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center—no, wait, I can still make fun of the Dan Marino statue because it's painted and in a flowerbed); [What actually gets tapped with a hammer during a reflex test] for TENDON; [Special delivery?] for TRIPLETS; [What the chorus of "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" is] for PERSONAL AD; [Purslane and peppergrass, e.g.] for POTHERBS; [Fictional writer of "The World According to Bensenhaver"] for GARP; and [Like some marriages] for SAME-SEX. The best entries: DEAR DIARY; TUMULT (it's an odd-looking word); NORMA RAE with its complete title; BOWLARAMA; UNALASKA instead of its fellow Alaskan island, Attu; and STENCILED.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "I Curse You," starts each of five theme entries with idiomatic synonyms for damned or effing. They make a fun quintet! And I won't spoil 'em for you. The Tool album title at 46-Down is said to be a blend of the Jungian word anima and the word enema. Ooo-kay, then.


Nancy Salomon and Bill Zais's joint effort in the Wall Street Journal is a delight! "Christmas Presents" has two gimmicks in the grid—the obvious one is the highlighted squares in the middle, six interlocked 11-letter presents that form a big beribboned box. That's not really a gimmick per se, so much as a cluster of theme entries in a pleasing array. The other gimmick is the rebus entries, the four longest Across and Down answers aside from the gift box in the middle. Each of those long answers includes a wrapped-up [BOX] rebus, and those entries (one of which is, aptly, GIFT-WRAPPED [BOX]) sort of enclose the central gift box in a rebus wrapping paper.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, if you're looking to buy yourself some puzzle books, or to bestow same on others, print out the recommendations Rex and I compiled and head to the bookstore. Me, I'm not done with my shopping, and I haven't gone to the store all week. I should get on that, eh?

Ray Hamel's 12/7 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword is called "Hybrids," and the theme entries are two hybrids that can be plucked and two that can be found in jams—but not necessarily that kind of jam or that kind of plucking. The strangest entry in this puzzle is BEEF TEA, [Broth served to the ailing]. I Googled up a recipe for it and was delighted to see that the website's called "Recipes of the Damned." Yes, indeed. Not recipes I will be making. Speaking of food, the [Sauce put on rice] clue threw me. Asians typically eat white rice plain or with a saucy food on top—and do not douse rice with SOY sauce. (My husband was surprised to learn that I grew up putting butter or margarine on rice, but I drew the line at soy sauce.) Uncommon vocabulary word in the grid: RENITENT, [Uncompliant].

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword is fortified with five essential minerals, worked into the theme entries in a successfully punny way. As a bonus, some of the theme entries are rather Scrabbly. Interesting fill and clues—overall an enjoyable solve. (And here, SOY is a [Vegan staple] rather than an Americanized abomination on rice.)

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Striking It Rich," highlights three phrases synonymous with rich. Quite easy despite the generous amounts of white space.


December 19, 2007

Thursday, 12/20

NYS 5:56
NYT 4:04
LAT 3:40
CS 2:59

Peter Collins doesn't appear to be that prolific a constructor (this is his tenth puzzle this year), but when he does make a crossword, it's an event. Why? Because he digs the twisty bends. He made one puzzle with diagonal cardinal directions, another with mathematical equations whose answers were clue numbers, and now this New York Times puzzle in which each entry...well, let the constructor tell you himself. EVERY ENTRY THAT'S / IN THE GRID HAS THE / SAME FIRST LETTER / AS THE ENTRY'S CLUE. That's 60 theme squares right there, plus every single answer and clue follows the rule laid out in those 60 squares. Even the clues for the parts of the explanation begin with [Explanation], [...including this...], [...still more...], and [...and, finally]. Once you figure out that's what's going on, you've got a little help with the rest of the answers. When I had **STLE ata 49-Across, I thought of NESTLE and HUSTLE before I looked over for the clue—[Busyness] starts with B, so it had to be BUSTLE. IOTA and MOTE are roughly synonymous, but have to have different clues: [Insignificant amount] and [Minute bit]. I'd never heard of the [Norse goddess married to Balder]—Mrs. Dash?—but apparently she is NANNA. The old-school crossword coal-mine entrance ADIT shows up here, clued as [Access for a collier]. I don't know that I'd want to do another crossword with this particular gimmick, but as a one-off, it's all right.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword, "VW Bug," hints at the theme—adjacent Ws are presented as VV and VV, with the Vs pulling regular duty in the Down answers that cross the themers. Slow-witted is displayed as SLOVVVVITTED; Snow White, SNOVVVVHITE; glow-worms, GLOVVVVORMS; and Lew Wallace, LEVVVVALLACE. Goofy twist, but fun. Noteworthy clues: the [Manchester United manager Ferguson]'s first name is ALEX. Never heard of him. ASHE isn't Arthur here, but [American Revolution general John]. [Trap beneath the water's surface] is, fortunately, not a verb, but rather a noun (EELPOT).[Flash-y?] is the clue for FAST—as in The Flash. [Bungstarter] is certainly not a common word—just over a thousand Google hits—but it's a type of mallet. (One Google citation: a 1932 Time magazine article.) It sounds vaguely obscene. [Creator of Captain Underpants] is DAV PILKEY—and yes, my son has a couple of his books. The clue for AVAST is [Sea prompt?]—it has been many a year since I saw a C: prompt, but my husband claims to tussle with it every day at the software-testing mines.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle offers up a joke from the late Mitch Hedberg. Hedberg was funny—case in point, this Letterman appearance, five minutes of comedy gold. Or this five-minute standup routine. Or this clip—I especially enjoyed the bit about club sandwiches and the formation of that club.

The theme in Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword is WHITE CAPS—three theme entries are things that have whitecaps or white caps. The middle Down entry seems a little iffy: RUN LAST is [What relay anchors do], a relay anchor being the member of a relay foursome who runs last and has the best shot of making up any extra distance. But is RUN LAST an "in the language" phrase? I dunno. I also take issue with the clue, [Like a frump], used for SCHLEPPY. This page says schleppy means (among other things) having to do with "a clumsy, stupid or incompetent person." A frump, on the other hand, is more schlubby than schleppy—although frump (Middle Dutch etymology, not Yiddish) does usually seem to apply to women, and schlubby seems more for out-of-shape men.


December 18, 2007

Wednesday, 12/19

NYS 5:58
NYT 3:24
LAT 3:20
CS 2:47

Vic Fleming's New York Times crossword has THE LAST theme I'd expect on a Wednesday. Rather, the theme is 36-Across, THE LAST: four entities from which the opening words THE LAST have been lopped off, forcing new descriptions in the clues. We've got MAN STANDING, clued as [Guy ready to sing the national anthem?]. The DAYS OF POMPEII were ended by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. OF THE MOHICANS means [Belonging to a Hudson Valley tribe?]. And a [Museum exhibit?] is a PICTURE SHOW. I like this twist on the "words that can be preceded by blah-blah" sort of theme. In the fill, the lowlights were old-time actresses ILONA Massey and POLA Negri, along with comedian TOTIE Fields—one grande dame of crosswords per puzzle, please. (That Wikipedia link says that Totie played at the Copacabana in New York, by the way, but I'm not linking to that YouTube video I love so much.) GLEEM would feel like a lousy crossword answer if my parents hadn't sometimes bought that brand of toothpaste when I was a kid; nostalgia points trump the iffiness factor. NOT SO HOT isn't not so hot, which is to say, it's a good entry. As are TONE-DEAF, ANN clued as Ann Richards, and BOGIES clued as [Unidentified planes]. I am no fan of military and war terminology, so I learned that last one from the kids' movie, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

Dominick Talvacchio's New York Sun puzzle, "Letter Openers," has five Across answers and one Down answer in the theme. Each one is a term that starts with a stand-alone letter, but that letter is spelled out here, thereby changing the term's meaning, which is then clued. For extra trickiness, the short vertical one includes two numerals. T-squares become TEA SQUARES; iTunes, EYE TUNES (["Jeepers Creepers" and others?]); Q-Tips, QUEUE TIPS; U-bolts, EWE BOLTS; C-section, SEA SECTION; and B-52, BEE 52. That last one vexed me and twisted me brain around, obscuring the familiar Bee brand of playing cards and the fact that there are 52 cards in a deck, which coincidentally team up with a B-52 plane. Oy! And the clue for one of the crossings, [II]—I was thinking AND or END rather than 2ND. Excellent theme, but dagnabbit, it got the best of me with that BEE 52. Groovy corner bricks of 7-letter entries didn't make this puzzle any easier, either. Favorite clues: [Mark due to violence?] for R RATING (...not ARE RATING, so maybe a slight distraction from the theme); [Dog coat?] for CATSUP; ["OMG," long before IMs] for EGAD; [Third person?] for UMP; [Finger food?] for the verb KNEAD; [Put a stake in, maybe] for SLAY (go, Buffy!); and ["Like what?!"] for NAME ONE.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Icebreakers," has theme entries that have ICE split among two words. Each time, it breaks down __IC E__, with the first word an -ic adjective. Too bad PEPSI CENTER didn't make it in there to mix things up a bit.

Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword sets a formal PLACE SETTING with CHINA (CLIPPER), CRYSTAL (CLEAR), and SILVER (BULLET). That first one is the [PanAm plane that made the first trans-Pacific mail flight] and I hadn't heard of it before. Nor did I know 1-Across, MITZI [Kapture of "Silk Stalkings"]. Costar Rob Estes gets much more play in crosswords, and she's done little of note outside of that cable series. I think her parents must've been fans of the more famous Mitzi, as her birth name is Mitzi Gaynor Donahue. Omigod, does this mean there may be children named Britney Spears Kowalski, or Paris Hilton McElligott?


December 17, 2007

Tuesday, 12/18

Onion 4:45
Tausig 4:41
NYT 3:18
NYS 3:06
CS 3:01
LAT 2:33

There's a new link in the "Crossword Links" listing in the sidebar. Ephraim's Crossword Puzzle Pointers offers a different spin on Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers concept. Ephraim Vishniac's page makes it a little easier to download the Across Lite files for recent crosswords (a week's worth for daily puzzles, three weeks' worth for weekly ones). It'll save me a few mouse clicks on the weekend when I'm scrounging for Sunday puzzles. If you want access to calendar pages with months' worth of crosswords, Will's page remains the best source. I'll continue using Will's Sun calendar pages, for sure. I usually grab the CrosSynergy and LA Times puzzles from (you need to be logged into Cruciverb to get the LAT in Across Lite). The Times puzzle comes straight from the Times. The Onion and Tausig puzzles arrive via e-mail from Ben Tausig's Google Groups thing. The extra Friday and Sunday crosswords, I might start grabbing from Ephraim's page.

Which is not to say that anyone should suddenly begin doing far more crosswords than they've been doing, but if you have some down time over the holidays and Santa doesn't bring you crossword books, there are puzzles galore online.

Drat! The New York Times applet chewed up 30 seconds and spit 'em out while I looked for that typo. I was lost in an '80s Men at Work/"Who Can It Be Now" reverie (YouTube is evil if you hate to fritter away time watching videos that were popular during your salad days) while typing in the WHO CAN IT BE answer, and didn't see that the B was an N. (D'oh!) So. The theme. The five theme entries are phrases (not all questions) that begin with "wh" interrogatives: WHO CAN IT BE, WHAT MATTERS, WHERE DOES IT HURT, WHEN PIGS FLY, and the super-cheesy [Discounter's pitch], WHY PAY MORE? I like this theme. I like the fill, too. "IS IT SAFE?" means ["Can I come out now?"], but it's also a famous line from the '76 movie, Marathon Man. There's a JUNKYARD for auto parts. Small apartments called STUDIOS sit right on top of TO RENT. The Hostess HOHO snack cake is there—but those corporate bastards won't take the beef fat out of the cream filling, so Twinkies, Ho Hos, and Ding Dongs aren't vegetarian. Mmm, nothing says chocolaty goodness like animal fat! Where was I? Crossword, yes. 'FESS UP is also a lovely entry.

Randall Hartman's New York Sun theme was hiding in plain sight, but the clues were easy enough to let me fill in everything without having a clue what was going on in the theme entries. The "S&L Deposits" are the letters S and L added to the first and second words in the original phrases. Inner ear turns into SINNER LEAR, making King Lear a bad boy. Watch over becomes a SWATCH LOVER. (If you love Swatch brand watches, there's even a club for you. Lights out works out to [Disrespects a boor?], or SLIGHTS LOUT. With all the ogling that goes on in crosswords, it's good to slight the lout sometimes. Alley-oop becomes SALLEY LOOP, referencing John Salley, whose name I know because he once played for the Chicago Bulls. In addition to a great theme, this crossword's got two Xs and three Zs, and showy long fill like "YOU GO, GIRL!" and DARTH VADER. Props for cluing LOLA with reference to "Copacabana."


Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle is "A Tribute to Deborah Kerr," who apparently died two months ago without sending me a memo. The movie title (one of four) at 44-Across is not one I've ever heard of. Fans of old movies, this one's for you.

The LA Times puzzle is by Donna Levin, who e-mailed me after my post about the Brooklyn guide for ACPT attendees to rave about the banana-chocolate-macaroon pastry at Jacques Torres. So if you manage to procure one of those and you like it, think fondly of Donna when you do her crosswords. The theme in this one is aviation, with one pair of theme entries ending with PILOT and FLIGHT and the other starting with PLANE and RUNWAY.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Shifty Eyes," has some rapid I MOVEMENT: Each theme entry has an I that's relocated itself. The OJ trial becomes [Path to the "real killer"?], or THE OJ TRAIL. Rapper Lil' Romeo mutates into Shakespeare's ILL ROMEO. Dial soap becomes surreal DALI SOAP, which has got to be tough to keep from flopping over the edge of the soap dish. A global icon is minted into a GLOBAL COIN. Favorite entries in the fill: UNQUOTE and EXHUMES in the Scrabbly corner, and NHL TEAM opposite them.

Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword pulls its theme out of drug slang. The clue for 17-Across combines an opera title (Einstein on the Beach) with a heroin reference to generate a HORSE OPERA, which is another name for a Western movie. The CRACK LAWYER refers to crack cocaine. BENNY HILL relates to the amphetamine benzedrine. The [trip to a laundromat] is an LSD trip, hence ACID WASHING. Deadheads are notoriously fond of pot, so a Grateful Dead decal (quite popular among that crowd) is a POT STICKER. Peter Tork of the MONKEES flunked out of my college; the campus game room was named after him. Favorite entries: DIET COKE and, after that carbonation, BURP GUN. I also love the LUNGFISH at the Shedd Aquarium. You can watch it for a long time without seeing it surface for air, though it'll move around and make you think it's about to go up. Total tease, that.


December 16, 2007

Monday, 12/17

Trip Payne's Themeless Challenger #4 9:45
NYS 3:13
CS 2:58
LAT 2:36
NYT 2:35

Crikey! Santa had better get a move on with stocking stuffers, or she's not going to be ready for Christmas Eve. And I need to get those Christmas cards in the mail, though I've done nothing towards that end other than amassing cards, addresses, and pictures of my kid. And then there's wrapping, possibly sending some gifts...where did the time go?

The Monday New York Times puzzle by Richard Chisholm sparkles. The theme is rock-solid—seasons with an S on the end, with place names for the ones that begin with equinoxes and people's names for the solstice seasons. LARRY SUMMERS, the [Former president of Harvard], was famously obtuse; I think I first heard of him via this profane blog post by a feminist academic. Is he Monday-crossword famous? I don't know. But I won't forget his name any time soon. Why did this crossword sparkle? Because it was liberally buttered with answers that don't get much play in the puzzle so early in the week. Long answers in the fill: SILENT ERA, MORTGAGES, TOLERANT, SULLIES, the IRISH SEA, ATLANTIS, NOWHERE, and OUTLANDS (I like the geographic vibe of the last four). CAJUN is a little Scrabbly. U.S. ONE is essentially a three-word answer, and it ties to the other answers with split-off letters: I-BAR, SIDE B, and BIG D. Other words that pleased me were SAMOAN, SPRAWL (better Samoan sprawl than suburban sprawl...), and PROLE, which evokes Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Will Nediger's New York Sun puzzle, "Gotham Routes," has three NYC thoroughfares mentioned in the theme entries: BABES ON BROADWAY (a musical I'm not familiar with), WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG (famous headline after the stock market crash in '29), and the BUICK PARK AVENUE. My favorite clue is 4-Down, [Dylan portrayer in "I'm Not There"]—in this movie, one female and five male actors play Bob Dylan, and Richard GERE isn't the only 4-letter candidate (CATE Blanchett, Christian BALE). Most horrifying clue/answer: [BLT request, maybe] for EXTRA MAYO. I am strictly a "hold the mayo" sort. The only voluntary mayo usage has come in the form of a BLT with turkey bacon and a light, thin layer of mayo, upon my husband's insistence that a BLT must have mayo. (I survived.) Some excellent entries: SWISS MISS hot cocoa, SLY AS A FOX, DEWARS, and the words using the three Xs and the Z.


Wait a minute. For the second time in three months, a crossword from a woman on the CrosSynergy team has clued UTERI incorrectly. Here, in Sarah Keller's puzzle, it's [Egg developers]. Technically, the eggs are already there when a baby girl is born. A follicle ripens to release an egg from the ovary for ovulation. Only a fertilized egg, which then is no longer merely an egg but a blastocyst, an embryo, or later a fetus, is developing in the uterus. If you want to use [__ holders] or [__ developers] for UTERI, don't use "egg." Please. This bugs me. Moving right along: The "Top Hats" theme entries run vertically so that their tops can be hats: HARD, TIN, PANAMA, and HIGH, though the last is, I think, strictly a metaphorical hat. Can one wear a high hat?

David Cromer's LA Times crossword has a nice theme of phrases that follow the same formula: verb + ONE'S + body part + preposition. HOLD ONE'S HEAD UP, PUT ONE'S FOOT DOWN, and KEEP ONE'S HAND IN make a good trio, don't they? One minor quibble: IN-LAWS are not really [Inevitable results of marriage]. An only child whose parents have passed away and who were also only children will not bring a passel of in-laws with her or him upon marriage. If you want to be technical about it...

Updated again:

Trip Payne's added a new puzzle on his website—a 21x21 themeless puzzle. Sports fans and movie buffs will find a few gimmes, but other long entries are drawn from colloquial spoken English. Though this puzzle is themeless, the clues are closer to Thursday NYT level than to Saturday. So if the tougher themeless puzzles are daunting to you but you're up for a meaty, plus-sized challenge, download "Themeless Challenger #4."


December 15, 2007

Sunday, 12/16

PI 9:49
WaPo 9:17
NYT 8:14
LAT 7:38
BG 6:52
CS 5:11

As I wrote yesterday, I'll be out of town Saturday night and during the day Sunday, so feel free to talk about all the Sunday crosswords in the comments.

I had fun with Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle. The "Snake Charmer" theme involves puns incorporating snake names. Just last night, my son was telling us what he'd learned about some sort of green snake at school, and my husband and I were riffing on mamba vs. mambo. And here are the RED-HOT MAMBAS, which we'd not worked into last night's riffs. I don't know what it is about herpetological puns, but this batch didn't evoke any groans in me.

Leonard Williams' Washington Post crossword, "No Rest for the Weary," features eight phrases that begin with action-packed words, such as ACTIVE VOICE and ANIMATED SHORT, with the phrases redefined to emphasize the action aspect. I don't think the clues were as tough, comparatively speaking, as the solving time indicates—I was on the phone part of the time, but was enjoying the puzzle and didn't want to put it aside 'til the call was over. (I know, such multitasking is rude. But I was talking to my sister, also a phone-call multitasker.) Anyway, it's an enjoyable, smooth, fun crossword.

What's included as this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Murray Christmas!", actually ran in the Inquirer in January 2006, but wasn't made available in Across Lite until now (Lloyd Mazer explains here). The theme is famous Murrays, but the nonstandard treatment of names didn't sit right with me. Fred MacMurray is FRED MAC OF MY THREE SONS? F. Murray Abraham is A ABRAHAM OF AMADEUS? Ow. And apparently there is or was a Jan Murray I never heard of, JAN OF EARLY GAME SHOWS. This theme was so not my cup of tea. It felt like a slog to me. Ah, well. Next week's will be more fun for me.

Updated Sunday night:

David Kahn and (no relation) Steve Kahn's New York Times puzzle, "Movies You May Have Missed," packs in 11 theme entries—10 movie titles minus an L and one never-heard-of-her actress's name, NOEL NEILL. Noel sounds like "no L," and thus the entertaining theme unfolds. Fun for movie buffs who've heard of the movie titles in question—as I had.

Charles Barasch's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Power Outage," has seven theme entries that have lost an AC, as in alternating current electrical power. Good fill throughout. My favorite clue: [Fiend] for OGRE. "Diary of a Crossword Ogre" definitely has potential.

The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" from Lynn Lempel is quite good. A couple Saturday-tough semi-obscure words (CONUS and EDDO), interesting fill (FARM CLUB, GRIT ONE'S TEETH, SCANDALMONGER, NO ANSWER, BALTHAZAR of the Magi, MR WIZARD), and a few things I ate up: the interjection "HORRORS!"; OPPOSABLE thumbs; PINT-SIZE; and a Valencia ORANGE.


December 14, 2007

Saturday, 12/15

Newsday 8:43
NYT 5:15
LAT 4:28
CS 2:47

I'm a little late getting to the Times crossword tonight because my kid and I were at Movie Night at his school, and towards the end of Ratatouille, he ran directly into a pillar and developed a truly impressive lump on his forehead. I think he's fine, aside from the mighty protuberance that will still smart and will still be quite visible when he sees his grandparents this weekend. His sense of wordplay remained intact, so I don't think his brain got gobsmacked by the pillar.

Speaking of this weekend, we'll be Amtrakking to Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, where I can get online only if I go around the corner to the gas station/café. (Not that all of Wisconsin is offline—just my in-laws' house.) So the Sunday puzzles that aren't available by early Saturday won't get blogged until late Sunday.

I do like Rich Norris's touch with the themeless format. Why? Well, just look at 9-Across in his New York Times puzzle: [6'5" All-Star relief ace with identical first two initials]. That's certainly nobody I've ever heard of. But J.J. PUTZ is such a great name, I am delighted to make Mr. Putz's acquaintance here. The name's both ridiculous and Scrabbly (two Js and a Z) at the same time. How can anyone not love learning this name? In the opposite corner, I had a hard time hazarding a guess at any answers. It was fitting to find more uncommon letters lurking there (a Q and an X).

Lots of answers resonated with other ones. TOSSPOTS ([They're fried]) opposite HOTHEADS ([They get sore easily]), for example, not to mention SOTS ([They're lit]). The [Pro's remark], I AGREE, meshes with the [Pro fighter], ANTI, and a more lukewarm pro, I THINK SO. ONE IN TEN odds echo ODDS ARE. Other favored entries: HOUSE-SAT, gross RAW EGGS in a protein shake, tastier AMBROSIA, and the Scrabbly words crossing J.J., JIFFY and ZEROED. And LIED is clued [Wasn't straight], which is then followed by BEARD.

The best clues, in my book: [Get bronze, say] for the verb MEDAL, as at the Olympics; [Places to make notes] for music STAFFS; [Meanies] for SADISTS (because the clue's so playful and the answer, not); [They come and go] for FADS; [Top piece] for BRA; [Certain ball] for MASQUE; [Order to leave] for the theatrical EXEUNT (and boy, did I ponder hard what sort of eviction edict might start with an E and have six letters); ["Symphony in Black" and others] for ERTES, because it sounds like a musical clue rather than a visual art clue (here's what Erte's illustration looks like); and [Rx instruction] for TID, because we've seen TER too much lately and TID is what the docs actually write on a prescription pad.

The [1970s-'80s Australian P.M.] is Malcolm FRASER, who was quite accomplished: "Australia's Prime Minister at the time Malcolm Fraser managed to make headlines in 1986 by wandering around a Memphis hotel lobby in a dazed state with his trousers missing. He had met a lady at the bar the night before who had drugged and robbed him. It was not reported whether he actually got lucky before passing out." That's way more embarrassing than growing up with a name like Putz.


Merle Baker's Newsday puzzle is not a good puzzle to begin when one is at a nadir of alertness. The first 45% of the puzzle took about 6 minutes, during which time the unanswered clues were utterly impenetrable. But after sleep and breakfast, wow, those clues turned out to be quite pliable indeed, and the rest took about 2⅔ minutes. Huh. That "sleep on it and come back to it later" strategy really works! Most of the following clues managed to perplex me when sleepy, but pleased me when I was more alert. [Desk-calendar shapes] was an odd one—apparently some people like to have 12-sided solid calendars (and those shapes are DODECAHEDRA). Who knew? [Cheap] defines FOR PEANUTS (though [Cheaply] sounds better to me). [Take advantage of] clues the very much "in the language" phrase, WALK ALL OVER. [Beans] clues SQUAT, [Beyond help] is NO-WIN, [Racetrack figure] is the PURSE (not a horse or a tout or a bettor). NOD means [Green light] approval, but it also means DROWSE (clued as [Drop off]). [Pope piece] is a poetic COUPLET, though I contemplated papal garb here. [Make uncomfortable, in a way] is the fun word SQUISH. [Potential perch] are fish ROE. A couple days ago, AGAZE threw many NYT solvers; here, the A-words of the day are ABEAM and AROAR.

Frederick Healy's LA Times crossword had plenty of near gimmes that propelled me through the grid, which has a nice flow from top left to bottom to top right to bottom. Favorite clues: [Ones in a class struggle?] for STUDENTS; [Runner's strong points] for QUADS (quadriceps muscles); [It's known for its big busts] for RUSHMORE; [Word in a winter forecast] for TEENS; and [Message on a dirty car] for WASH ME.

And now for something completely different: Paula Gamache's easy-peasy themed CrosSynergy puzzle, "Bushed." One reason it's a fast solve is that it's one column narrower than usual, with three 14s and two 8s in the theme. The first four theme entries are clued [Bushed] and are all idiomatic phrases meaning "tired": TOO POOPED TO POP, DOG-TIRED, RUNNING ON EMPTY, and WIPED OUT. Why so tired? Because you've been RESISTING A REST. (RIm shot!) Fun puzzle, with bonus points for including the TROGGS ([Group who sang "Wild Thing"]).


Another crossword sneaker

Converse has Chuck Taylor crossword sneakers now (also available in hightops):

They're adorable, but a little further from standard crossword format than the Vans crossword sneakers:

(Hat tip to Erin McKean.)