February 28, 2007

Thursday, 3/1

NYT 5:24
NYS 4:56
CS 3:44
LAT 3:23

(post updated at 9:30 a.m. Thursday)

I think the Thursday NYT marks a debut (within that paper, at least) for constructor Steven E. Atwood, who makes a splash with (if I counted right) 94 theme squares, 76 of them in symmetrical entries. Congratulations on both feats! The theme involves 16 entries with either [Mean] or [Means] for the clue, meaning that solvers pondered what else meant "mean(s)." Figuring them all out was no mean task. In fact, solvers who struggled with this one might well think that the constructor was in a mean mood when he pulled this together. For me, the main joy in a crossword comes from the clues, so this solving experience wasn't as fun as many Thursday puzzles. A worthy challenge, though, calling on a different hunk of brain.

The Sun crossword is Kelsey Blakley's "Triple Bonds." The three theme entries each consist of three words where AB, BC, and AC are all compound words or phrases. Thus, [Disloyal person with a pastry who's wearing a chesterfield?] is TURNOVERCOAT, with TURNOVER, OVERCOAT, and TURNCOAT. It's groovy that she found three solid examples of this. I'm sure there are many others or varying lengths, but my mind isn't generating any right now. Seeing LIL clued as [Crunk pioneer ___ Jon] makes me wonder: What would it look like if Lil Jon got spinach caught in his metallically adorned front teeth? I'll bet he never orders salad when he goes out to eat.


The theme in Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Literary Lockstep," eluded me for a while. Eventually I looked at the clues again—the three authors all wrote works with "March" in the title. Outside of the theme, ED NORTON and LIQUOR UP made a nice pair, as did the anatomical AXILLA crossing PLEURA. (I like medical terminology. So sue me.)

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times puzzle could also appear around Aprill Fool's Day, what with its practical jokes theme. Too bad there wasn't room for the 9-letter JOY BUZZER, but the 7-letter GEN X'ERS in the middle was a nice substitute.


Wednesday, 2/28

NYS 6:06
CS 3:47
LAT 3:46
NYT 2:58

(post updated at 10:15 a.m.)

I don't know what day it is in New York City. Near as I can tell, it's Monday or Tuesday at the Times but Thursday or Friday at the Sun.

The NYT puzzle by Liz Gorski felt easy, but it doesn't look easy. For example, I didn't know the ["Locksley Hall" poet], but guessed TENNYSON based on having one N. I didn't know the [Handel oratorio about a biblical woman], but the initial E prodded me to try ESTHER. The [Right triangle ratio] of SECANT, well, I had a lot more than one letter for that one. The theme came together with the beginnings of THAI RESTAURANT and TAI CHI CHUAN. Favorite bits of fill: JUST SO, PERUKE, EROTICA (a gimme with Nin's ["Delta of Venus" genre]!), FIXIN'S, MET UP, and HAVE SOME. You know, I don't see a single clue for ISIS in the Cruciverb database that references the '70s Saturday morning TV show (part of the Shazam/Isis hour, which I loved; if you want a little Isis nostalgia blast, check out this page and note that the show's coming to DVD this year) rather than the [Goddess depicted with a cow's horns]. Favorite clue, despite its lack of pandering to my childhood: [Eaves dropping?] for ICICLE.

The Sun offering from Kevin Wald fought me tooth and nail. The theme, "Attic 'A,'" jettisons the final A from the first four letters of the Greek alphabet (raise your hand if you know the order of the first five largely because of Huxley's Brave New World) and substitutes a homophone for the letter's name, but uses it in a phrase that normally includes the Greek letter's name, as in "alpha females" (here, ALF FEMALES). Tons of good fill and Scrabbly letters (5 J's, 4 Z's, an X), but not a theme that's easy to distill. Favorite aspects: evocation of pachinko in the clue for JAPAN (my childhood neighbors had a couple pachinko games in their basement), [One nigh to Bangkok] for THAI, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's RELAX, PRENUPS, SOUPED UP, [Pap smearer] for INFANT, [Deep purple] for EGGPLANT, [Catch some rays, maybe] for ANGLE, and [Professional players] for DJS (this last one stymied me ridiculously). IMAC rant: yet another clue referencing bright colors and/or fruit for IMAC, which, yes, it was fruit-colored in about 1999, but sheesh, you can buy one for $34.99. They're retro.


In keeping with the muddled days concept, Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle, "Think Fast," has a themeless vibe to it (though easier than most late-week themelesses). The trio of theme entries are all 15's, and the vertical one crosses the two horizontals. Then you've got these corners with stacked 8-letter entries (lively ones, too), and assorted other 6-, 7-, and 8-letter words reinforcing the structure. I won't even tell you what sort of lively entries I liked—if you usually skip the CrosSynergy puzzle but appreciate interesting constructions, download this one.

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword offers an incomplete list of ingredients for Chicago-style HOT DOGS (no ketchup, or course—and ew! The only toppings I like on a turkey dog are ketchup and some potato chips for crunch. Mustard, relish, pickles, peppers, onions? Feh.). CHILI (DAVIS) is a separate menu item, the chili dog.


February 26, 2007

Tuesday, 2/27

Onion 5:25
Tausig 4:46
NYS 4:20
CS 3:17
NYT 2:47

(post updated at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday)

Allan E. Parrish's NYT puzzle contains a ton of names (and that's not really a spoiler because the clues make it obvious that you need to enter a first or last name). Now, when a puzzle expects the solver to be able to summon up 15 or more names, that's generally a puzzle I like, but that drives some people batty with rage. (I hope you aren't among them, because life's too short to get mad at a crossword.) Not only did the people in this puzzle please me, but I also liked the theme: the title IT'S ELECTRIC ties together the lively trio of TYRONE POWER, CHARLES IN CHARGE (holy crap, season 1 is available on DVD! I never watched the show—honest!—but back when Scott Baio was on Happy Days and his cousin[?] Jimmy Baio was on Soap, man, that was my Tiger Beat era.), and GRAPEFRUIT JUICE. I like the incongruity of those theme entries. Fabulous bits of fill throughout—NEON / DEION Sanders, SWAIN, "Oh, my ACHING back," the au courant TED Haggard, DAWG, PORSCHE, HI-C, PUNSTER, and the wealthy RUPERT Murdoch and IMELDA Marcos holding court in the bottom of the grid.

Seth A. Abel's Sun puzzle, "Where It's At," is where IT becomes AT. I liked the theme entries, all nonexistent stuff clued in a fairly straightforward way. There's a BANANA SPLAT and a HATCHING POST, the twice-changed SWATCH HAT, and the PRO-FAT CENTER and WICKED WATCH. Favorite clue/fill tidbits: [Golden alternative] for LAB (and if you like the doggie pictures in those links, here's the PULI and TOY Papillon), OUR GANG, [Shot for the stars?] for BOTOX, [Song and dance, perhaps] for LIE, and Manolo BLAHNIKS.


Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword has no title with a hint to the theme, but I think it has to do with...cards. The long entries end with DOUBLE, STAND, SPLIT, and HIT. I think it's blackjack, but I don't know where DOUBLE fits into that scheme. Favorite clues/fill: AIR KISS, [Famous annual navigator] for CLAUS, SAYS AH, PLINTHS (which I like because it was one of those oddball gimmes and helped me out, and because it's six-sevenths consonants), EBONICS, [Like some ties] for LOUD, PLAYS TO WIN (here comes Stamford!), [Kids' TV host actually surnamed Rowe] for NYE (what, "Bill Rowe, Science Pro" wasn't deemed catchy enough?), and HEROICS.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Why I Switched," features a Y-to-I switch in the theme entries (e.g., syntax error becomes SIN TAX ERROR). I liked the theme, fill, and clues, but nothing in particular is leaping out at me right now. Perhaps my mind is aware that I need to get a move on with my day. I just saw "Vote" jotted on my calendar—oh yeah, I'm supposed to vote in the city election today. Will do that on the way to picking up my son from school, which is easy enough given that my polling place is his school. Must run!


Monday, 2/26

NYS 3:37
LAT 3:28
NYT 3:13
CS 2:33

Peter Collins is one of those constructors who seem to specialize in showy little twists, interesting departures from the usual. (Pete Muller, Patrick Merrell, and Patrick Blindauer are others who seem to have an especially high twist-to-nontwist ratio. What is it about the first initial P?) In today's NYT, Peter C. exposes THE HIDDEN AGENDA in three theme entries that contain the letters in AGENDA in order (highlighted by circled squares), spaced out. And for those of you thinking, "Gosh, Ame, that's a kind of slow solving time for you on a Monday," I will irk those of you who were glad to beat me by saying that I was feeling unwell and was happy just to stay awake while solving. Which isn't to say the puzzle was dull—it wasn't—but that I was wiped out. (Peter C.'s last NYT was the ONE-L LAMA one, which isn't so twisty, but his first one had those embedded state names, like IOWA in RADIO WAVES, and I really liked that one. He followed that up with the Beatles rebus puzzle, also showy.)

The way I was solving Mark Feldman's Sun crossword, "Head Cases," I ended up in the bottom corner with -LOGIST and none of the other theme entries filled in. Between the title, the fact that there were three other theme entries, and the length of the -LOGIST answer (16 letters), what else could it be but OTOLARYNGOLOGIST? I like to think my years as a medical editor cracked this puzzle open for me faster than the rest of youse (and please don't disabuse me of that notion, even though the syntax is messed up). The other 16's turned out to be phrases ending with EAR, NOSE, and THROAT. Loved it! (Having BEER GUT in the fill was an anatomical bonus, and PREMED

The CrosSynergy puzzle by Martin Ashwood-Smith is "For the Birds," featuring four bird-based phrases. At first glance, it looks like one of those overly simple "these four things fit a boring category" themes, but that would be PIGEONHOL(E)ing it unfairly. The four entries are all used to describe non-avian things, but all four derive from bird-related physical entities (PIGEONHOLE being a nook for a pigeon, and the other three referring to bird body parts).

The LA Times puzzle's credited to Gia Christian (anagram of "it's Rich again"). The five theme entries look like they're the five senses, but SMELLS, SEES, TOUCHES, and HEARS are joined by SPEAKS rather than TASTES. So how would you describe the theme?


February 25, 2007

Sunday, 2/25

NYT 9:01
LAT 8:35
BG 8:10
CS 4:23

I got a boost for David Kahn's Sunday NYT, "Comic Relief," from that Friday Sun crossword by Frank Longo that reminded me who some of the OSCAR EMCEEs have been. Like the Sun puzzle, the Kahn creation repurposed the emcees' last names in phrases in the theme entries. Excellent puzzle, with fill entries like MADAM, I'M ADAM as a bonus. I would have liked to have solved this one a little faster, but I'm feeling light-headed so really, I'm grateful just to have avoided passing out on the keyboard. (Which would totally muck things up in the applet, no?)

Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle features four really nice interlocking 15-letter entries, plus it includes my favorite candy bar, the [Treat now called Snickers Almond in the U.S.]. I still think of it as the MARS BAR, just as it's still a $100,000 Bar rather than "100 Grand". (I would, however, accept a slangification to the "100 Large Bar.")

The LA Times syndicated puzzle by "Charlie Riley" ("really Richie" Norris) is called "Flosses," and the theme entries have an initial F loss. I know this theme was used sometime last year, maybe in a Sunday NYT or a Sun puzzle, but don't recall the specifics. (No, I don't mind if themes are repeated in new ways. And yes, I do remember people expressing confusion the previous time, at a loss to understand how "Floss" figured into the theme.) I like the idea of a LOUT CONVENTION, [Annual gathering of boors?]. Let us hope next month's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament does not fit that description.

Liked Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Playing House." (Speaking of House, my TiVo failed to record that recent episode with the 30-foot tapeworm. Drat! And I don't think the show can be downloaded from iTunes, which is unfortunate. Why isn't every show available from iTunes?)


February 23, 2007

Saturday, 2/24

NYT 6:12
Newsday 5:36

I'm leaving the house at 7:45 tomorrow morning, so I rather doubt I'll find time for the LA Times and CrosSynergy puzzles before I take off for the weekend. You all behave yourselves, okay? If you find yourselves compelled to comment here on the Sunday puzzle because I won't have blogged about that before Sunday afternoon, feel free to do so. But somebody should send me an e-mail and remind me not to read those automatic e-mails HaloScan sends me with the comments before I've gotten around to doing the puzzle. (I am prone to spoilerizing myself that way—I just can't bring myself to steer clear of e-mail.)

So. This week, the Saturday NYT comes from the atelier of Byron Walden, who hit us up with quotation trivia right off the bat with 3-Down. Although there's a noted Twain quote, apparently the concept popped up earlier in BYRON's "Don Juan" in a slightly different form. (Way to put your name in the grid, Byron!) Other than that, the only entry that was flat-out unknown to me was the basketball player BOB MCADOO. I may have seen the name before, but good gravy, that's not the sort of trivia I know. I wouldn't have necessarily known that the [Family Guy mom] was LOIS, except that I recently saw this clip that depicts the behavior of a small child with terrifying accuracy. Speaking of funny YouTube clips, here's one from HBO's Extras featuring DANIEL RADCLIFFE from 7-Down (don't show it to your kids who like Harry Potter). What the hell, here's a video depicting JENGA. (Okay, I need to stop before I explode the Internet.) Favorite clues and entries: TABLOID TV; the glad-I-pieced-it-together-from-vague-memories RURITANIA; [Seat of generative power] for LOINS (that "generative" is key, isn't it?); [Hanky-panky] for DALLIANCE, which may occur during the TRIAL SEPARATION it crosses (with a great clue, [First step in division?]); [Study aid?] for NO-DOZ; straightforward [Place for a pin] for JACKET LAPEL; and [It has a certain ring to it] for ATOLL. MUSIC ROLLS did not come readily to mind for [Calliope filler], nor did POISON PEN for [Vitriolic]. Overall, this was tougher than yesterday's fun NYT by Pat Merrell, but certainly not among the toughest Byron puzzles.

Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper contains a ton of just-plain-words—nothing crazy, nothing obscure, quite smooth. Maybe a slight surfeit of -ED words, but none of those "roll-your-own words" (I forget who coined that usage about a week ago—someone at the NYT forum, maybe Bruce Morton?—but it's brilliant) formed with assorted prefixes and suffixes, words that are seldom used in those forms. The short clues are both straightforward and oblique, neither too challenging nor too easy.


February 22, 2007

Friday, 2/23

NYS 7:37
LAT 4:45
2/9 CHE 4:41
NYT 3:37
CS 3:23

WSJ 8:05
Reagle 7:23

(post udpated at 10:25 a.m. Friday)

Whoo-hoo! I think that's the fastest I've ever done a Friday NYT. Yessiree, I liked this puzzle by Patrick Merrell. (Whom I owe five bucks to, and I actually wrote out a check last May but I haven't mailed it, even though it sits on my desk. Because, apparently, I am a deadbeat. There. I said it. May as well hand over cash—with interest—next month at Stamford, eh?)

I was getting a little Oscar-fatigued by all the Oscar-themed puzzles in the Sun this week, so I was prepared to grumble about Frank Longo's Friday offering, but then the clues kicked my butt and made me like it.

Going back to the NYT, Pat's puzzle almost had a theme: long entries that are wonderfully fresh nuggets of in-the-language goodness. I mean, WHAT THE HECK? (I opted for HELL first. Whoops.) SEE HERE, phrases like BEATS ME and IT'S A LONG STORY are hardly BROKEN ENGLISH (although a TEXT MESSAGE often is exactly that). This puzzle really shines for its fill (and I'm not just saying that to make sure that Pat's enforcers don't break my kneecaps at Stamford). Favorite clues: [Standard jacket feature] for BLURB, [26 on a table] for IRON, [Poet/cartoonist Silverstein] for SHEL (because I've got another of his books on reserve for my son's birthday gifts), [Smithereens] for ATOMS, and [Do 80, say] for TEAR. RENEE is clued as [Girl's name meaning "born again"]—so when will RENE be clued as a boy's name in that vein? (Guys named René are ill-served by René Russo clues.) I'm grateful for traffic in the Orlando area to be so hideous that I've had plenty of time to peruse the map in the passenger seat, making ALTAMONTE Springs a gimme.

In the Sun, the theme of "Oscar MC-Jobs" is Oscar telecast hosts, whose last names double as ordinary nouns (hence, no Whoopi Goldberg). Billy feeds into LIQUID CRYSTAL displays; Chris is ROLLING ROCK beer; Bob's a RAY OF HOPE; Steve's a HOUSE MARTIN; and Chevy has to CUT TO THE CHASE. Educational aspects: I hadn't known that boondocks comes from TAGALOG; very specifically my mother-in-law, then, could be said to be from the boondocks. An ALIQUOT isn't just from chemistry—it's mathematical, too. There's a UKRainian river named Bug. I also learned that Popeye (and OLIVE) creator E.C. Segar's full name is Elzie Crisler Segar (yeah, I'd go with the initials, too). Some of the clues I liked and/or was stumped by: [Spud, e.g.] for VEGGIE, [Play presentation] for OBIE, [Not one of the big dogs] for TOY, [What you might do while running away from home] for TAG UP, [One who never gets out] for LIFER, [Pilot, for example] for EPISODE, and [Square meal part?] for MATZOH. (Too bad YOU TOO wasn't clued with "Et tu," though.)


Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle for this Sunday is called "Lesser-Known One-Named People of History." In it, Merl wrenches sound-similar puns out of 14 names from history, philosophy, and art. I won't spoil them, but the funniest ones were 43-Across and 123-Across.

You know all those clever clues for ED or EDS or EDITOR that you see, especially in late-week crosswords? (Hypothetical example: [New York leader] for EDITOR.) Well, Randolph Ross has flipped them. In his Wall Street Journal crossword, "Editorial Board," the clues all specify what sort of magazine's editor(s) he means, and most of the theme entries are phrases I've seen used as clues elsewhere. I actually had looked up some of those EDITORial clues when I was working on my book a few months ago, so that was a giant (but not unwelcome) spoiler for this puzzle.

Jim Leeds' Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle, "Class Openings," imagines geeky valentine lines (this was published before Valentine's Day) for various academic pursuits. Cute! My favorite was the classics student's YOU'RE ALL AENEID.

The theme entries in Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Body Building," are Picassoesque. The STOMACH's in the middle, but the MOUTH and HEAD are below it while the NECK and FINGER are up top.

In his LA Times puzzle, Richard Chisholm swaps -NCE for -NTS endings. Elsewhere in the puzzle, I like the evocation of [Carving figureheads] as a LOST ART. Too bad today's ships aren't bedecked with figureheads like these—though would it have killed the artisans of old to be a little more inclusive? The pirate, warrior, and Viking are the only male figurines, and they're not remotely beefcaky.


Kid test-solver needed

Ben Tausig has an upcoming puzzle book for kids, Mad Tausig vs the Interplanetary Puzzling Peace Patrol: A Fiendishly Fun Puzzle and Mystery Book for Kids. The book is intended for 4th to 6th graders. If you have (or know) a kid in that approximate age range who'd be interested in test-solving the puzzles to make sure the difficulty level's on target (and would appreciate a couple free copies upon publication), please drop Ben a note at datageneral@gmail.com.


February 21, 2007

Thursday, 2/22

NYS 5:05
NYT 4:33
LAT 3:39
CS 2:54

The Sun continues its week of Oscar-themed puzzles with Alan Arbesfeld's "Oscar-Winning Costars." As far as I know, the theme entries are pairs of actors who've won Oscars, but who are costars only insofar as (how the hell did the three words in insofar ever get mashed together like that?) they are paired in these punny theme entries. I like that OAK is clued in relation to the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, as I'll be there this weekend (and hence will be inattentive to crosswords and blogging on Saturday and early Sunday). Interesting fill (CHICHI, PIQUED, IN HEAT, WHOMP). Not sure how I managed to guess the controversial book was BALL FOUR with just a few crossings, because I'm quite sure I don't know the book or author at all. Nor do I know ALDO Nova, and the KNAPP commission is just vaguely familiar.

Mike Nothnagel goes themed with the Thursday NYT, and he ZAPS the ADs from the theme entries. All sorts of tricky clues throughout—[Stories often have them] clues TWO SIDES, [A tiny bit] is the phrase ONE IOTA, [Prefix with -cide] is ECO, [Knitted] is WOVE (though from a textile standpoint, aren't those completely different? Metaphorically, I suppose they're interchangeable), and [Having a bottom] is SOLED. Great intersection between LOST FACE and WHAT THE...


February 20, 2007

Wednesday, 2/21

NYS 5:13
NYT 4:41
CS 3:30
LAT 3:06

(post updated at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday)

Just as Tuesday's puzzle felt a little Wednesdayish to me (though there were others who posted obnoxiously Tuesdayish applet times), Elizabeth Gorski's NYT Wednesday crossword took me a Thursdayish amount of time. The theme, which is both deddy- and doddy-free, includes WHO'S YOUR DADDY (which I think of as more a "jeer from the opposing team's fans" than a [Slangy question from a benefactor, maybe]), the song DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY, and an OLD FUDDY DUDDY. Look at all the down entries that rock: BOTSWANA! GOO GOO! HOW-TO BOOKS (yes, I have that link bookmarked)! PEDAGOGY AT DAWN! (That's two entries, and that's also too early for class.) You'd hold a GRUDGE if you HATED something. Favorite clues: [Wine and dine, say] for WOO (anyone else go for WOW first?), [Thing that doesn't go off without a hitch?] for U-HAUL, [Soreness?] for GRUDGE, [In great disfavor] for HATED, and [20-20, e.g.] for DRAW.

The Sun crossword is by Fred Sabanella (is this a debut?). It's called "Now Showing: Best Picture Oscar Winners," and the five theme entries have an Oscar-winning movie title embedded within. I like the assorted doubling-up: Nick Charles' dog ASTA and wife NORA; OUGHTA and OUTTA; PAMELA and SHARON (neither clued as [Girl's name popular in the '50s], but rather as a book and a statesman). The clue for EDEN, [Garden of good and Eve?], puts me in mind of Grant Goodeve, the dreamboat in the back row of this picture of the Eight is Enough cast.


Doug Peterson packs an easy LA Times puzzle with an armoire's worth of lively fill.

Randall Hartman's "Ott Couples" puzzle from CrosSynergy switches a double-D to a double-T. Most of the theme entries had obvious roots, but BETTING PLANT left me at sea. "Bedding plant"? So I looked it up: bedding plants are those annuals that bloom like mad and are used to pack a flower bed with color. Think of impatiens, petunias, and marigolds, sold as plants that are ready to go rather than as seeds or seedlings that have to develop for weeks before blooming.


February 19, 2007

Tuesday, 2/20

Onion 5:01
Tausig 4:07
NYS 3:22
NYT 3:20
CS 3:10
LAT 3:03

(post updated at 9:15 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. Tuesday)

The Tuesday NYT crossword by Jonathan Gersch (any relation to constructor Charles Gersch? And is this his debut?) (Yes, it's his NYT debut—though he's previously been published in the NY Sun—and he's Charles's son.) boasts 79 symmetrical theme squares, plus 9-Down (without a mate across the grid) adds another 4 squares. Like yesterday's NYT, it's also got more than the usual number of black squares (44 here), and I think the math works out so that 45% of the white squares are thematic. That sounds like a lot to me. The theme is an 80th birthday tribute to SIDNEY POITIER, with entries including the title of his first autobiographical book (it's his new second autobiography that's the latest Oprah Book Club selection), three notable movies and a Broadway play he starred in, plus his childhood home of CAT Island in the Bahamas, his SAG award, and his work for UNESCO. If that's not impressive enough, check out the Wikipedia article about him. Speaking of impressive, I liked this puzzle because of the theme density and the elegance of the theme's execution and its subject, plus fill like NEOCON, MURMUR, and hoity-TOITY.


There are plenty of pop-culture clues in Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle, which I like. Alas, some of them are from the '50s and '60s, which is before my time—those are the names I learned from crosswords. The more recent pop culture adds more of a curry zing—and granted, not everyone likes curry, but I do.

I love the theme in Joy C. Frank's LA Times puzzle! [Disappointing dig finds?] are MODERN ARTICLES, [Beantown frozen treats?] are BOSTON POPSICLES, and [Work spaces for inventor Erno?] are RUBIK'S CUBICLES. Can you picture an office laid out in Rubik's cubicle fashion?

Patrick Berry's Sun puzzle is also dense with pop-culture clues, given that the nifty theme features seven thespians with a particular distinction, plus 7- and 9-letter answers that tie them together. Favorite clues: [Big-screen computer?] for HAL, [Cracker brand] for both RY-KRISP (wow, did that partial answer look strange when it was RYK****) and HI-HO, [Key mistake?] for TYPO (is that question mark crucial?), and [Saying what you don't mean, possibly] for SARCASM. I also love the word SKITTERS.

Second update:

Ben Tausig is this week's constructor for the Onion A.V. Club puzzle, which seemed to be clued a little on the hard side as far as Onion puzzles go. The theme completely escaped me. If it escapes you, too, try putting them in this order: 65-Across, 23-Across, 17-Across, 41-Across, and 52-Across. If that doesn't help, click here.

Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Measure for Measure," focuses on pronounced-sorta-like puns on units of measure. Three of the five are connected by TOM ARNOLD, naturally enough, because his acting has always demonstrated a measured approach. [/sarcasm] At last, I have found a practical use for my dad's having introduced me to firearms: [German arms maker] is MAUSER. I may have even fired a Mauser in my youth.


February 18, 2007

Monday, 2/19

CS 3:40
LAT 2:41
NYT 2:37
NYS tba

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

Happy Presidents/President's/Presidents' Day! If you have the day off, I hope you find something fun to do—whether it involves a day of action, hitting up the sale at Guitar Center, or sleeping late.

Monday's NYT crossword is by Andrea C. Michaels. The theme is Run, Lola, Run, or three-word phrases in which the first and last words are the same. Can you think of other candidates for this theme besides the three that were used (BOND, JAMES BOND; HOME SWEET HOME; TIME AFTER TIME)? Timely to have a Britney Spears clue (I'M A as part of a song title) so soon after she was in the headlines. Okay, so she's seldom been out of the entertainment headlines for the past year. But now it's because she shaved her head! (Being bald makes her nose look bigger, doesn't it?) Perfect Monday puzzle here, with tons of easy and crap-free 3-letter entries. Okay, maybe beginning solvers don't instantly associate Swedish air travel with SAS, but they've gotta learn it soon enough if they want to get better at solving crosswords.


Randall Hartman's LA Times puzzle marks Presidents Day with actors who played fictional presidents in the movies. Fun Monday puzzle.

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle startled me by including the word GOOK, clued as [Icky stuff]. I don't care if it's in the dictionary with that meaning (as a variant of guck). Its more prominent meaning (definition 1, in fact) is as a racial slur used against Asians and Asian-Americans. Here's a historical look at the word. And no, it hasn't lost its punch. It's alive and well, as this link from just last week shows.

The way I see it, if SCUMBAG and SCHMUCK have no place in the NYT crossword because of their used-condom and Yiddish-penis roots, a hateful word like GOOK—offensive not because it pertains to sex, but because it is used against a group of people—certainly should be off-limits. If you're a constructor and GOOK bails you out of a tough corner, I ask you to keep working on the fill. If you're an editor, if you can't find a way to rework the fill to eliminate that word, don't publish the puzzle. You'd reject anything with the N-word, wouldn't you?


February 17, 2007

Sunday, 2/18

WaPo 10:22
LAT 8:40
NYT 8:33
BG 8:05
CS 5:35

(post updated at 1:20 p.m. Sunday)

David Kwong and Kevan Choset have teamed up cruciverbally before, as in last year's April Fool's Saturday "THINK outside the box" puzzle. Now they've got the Sunday NYT, "Magic Words," which has a theme it took me far too long to notice—but when I did figure it out, I admired it. Strangely enough, that sentence is riddled with spoilers, what with the use of the word it. As the central entry, NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T hints, you see an extra IT in half the theme entries and don't see it where it belongs in the other half. Thus, [Einstein's asset] is GREAT BR(it)AIN, and [Acerbic folk/rock singer] is BITING CROSBY. The theme's real elegance comes in having the with-IT entries all on the left and the IT-less ones on the right, in keeping with the central entry. And most of the theme entries are kinda funny, which immeasurably increases the value of a Sunday puzzle. If it weren't so late, I might write more, but instead I'll sign off and have a bedtime snack.


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy themeless puzzle has a fantastic assortment of 10-letter answers, and great clues. One nice pairing is [Bark bark] as a clue for CANOE, and ARF with the clue [Lab report?].

Henry Hook's online Boston Globe crossword, "Granted," has one of those themes in which the clues all include the same name (various people named Grant). I don't recall being particularly fond of this type of theme, but at least in this case, the puzzle has sort of a themeless vibe to it—plus there are nice big splotches of white space in the grid. Two thumbs up!

The LA Times syndicated puzzle by Dan Naddor, "Turn of the Phrase," flips the verb over to its opposite, so that "pay the piper" becomes STIFF THE PIPER, defined as the opposite of the base phrase's meaning in the clue, [Avoid unpleasant consequences?].

Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon's Washington Post puzzle, "Praise Be," features puns on statements acknowledging praise, such as as THANKS, I KNEADED THAT from a baker. (Ow.) I'm not in a punning mood today. Plus, 1-Across stumped me until I eventually filled in enough letters to get AL HIRT. He's a [Musician nicknamed "Jumbo"]? I had no idea. Yeah, looks like he was a big guy. He was also sometimes called "The Round Mound of Sound," though he wasn't that round.


February 16, 2007

Saturday, 2/17

NYT 7:21
LAT 4:28
Newsday 4:18
CS 3:23

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

Another crosswordese renaissance is in the offing! A fat double issue of the New Yorker arrived this afternoon, bearing glad tidings to crossword constructors everywhere. Contributor Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief, is said to be working on a book about Rin Tin Tin. Just when RIN had largely been extinguished in the mainline newspaper puzzles…

Robert Wolfe's Saturday NYT is a doozy. Not the dooziest of doozies, no, but still a doozy. Plenty of oddball words and phrases you don't see much, including a batch of prefixed and suffixed words: RETROCEDE (clued as [Go back]), REAROUSAL ([Further stirring]), SWASHER ([Daring adventurer]), DRESSERS ([Valets, at times]), AMUSERS ([Toys, for tots]—hey, I liked that clue when it was for TYPO), SORER ([Less likely to reconcile]), and SEDUCER ([Don Juan]). Oddballs include ARSENICAL poisoning, the hunter's GAME CALL, FULL (vs. half) SISTER, IVIE Anderson (who sang with Duke Ellington's band), and the Derby's HORSEWOMAN. Here's some ribbed silk FAILLE for you. Favorite clues and answers: [One using the metric system?] for BARD; [Decorate] for SMARTEN UP (in counterpoint to STUPID); the ALFA ROMEO Spider; the Belgian geography of ANTWERP, clued [It's across the Albert Canal from Liège; ["On a similar note," e.g.] for SEGUE; [Landing place] for STAIR; and BURNS DOWN. Raise your hand if, like me, you tried APOSTLE for [Jude, e.g.]; fortunately (or unfortunately), the correct EPISTLE shares five letters.


Robert Wolfe also has today's LA Times puzzle. The grids are different—this one has a 15-letter entry in each third—but the lower right corner of each contains the letter string LATESTA (LATE START in the LA Times, LATE STAGE in the NYT). Doug Peterson's Newsday puzzle was, for me, the easiest of the day's themeless trio.


February 15, 2007

Friday, 2/16

LAT 4:45
2/2 CHE 4:40
NYS 4:36
NYT 4:26
CS 3:25

Reagle 9:54
WSJ (untimed)

(post updated at 9:30 a.m. Friday)

Not only is there a Karen Tracey Weekend Warrior for Friday, but one of the "What the…? Who?" entries from her last NYT themeless crossword—ELENI Mandell—leapt off the page of Entertainment Weekly today. Her new album, Miracle of Five, got a good review. "With her penchants for torchy jazz and Porter-era pop, this long-time L.A. favorite is like a funnier Norah Jones or a less daffy Nellie McKay….It's a perfect bedtime album for grown-ups." So all of us who had no idea who she was, now we know a smidgen about her. She'd better hit the big time, 'cause those Nicholas Gage/Kate Nelligan clues for ELENI have been churning for two decades.

Two other recent puzzles handed me a couple answers for Karen's Weekend Warrior in the Sun. The XYZ AFFAIR wouldn't have come to mind so readily if not for the Chronicle of Higher Education theme I saw last week (political scandals). And [Additional epithet] is AGNOMEN, which wasn't a familiar word until this week. This Scrabbly puzzle was a fun solve—1-Across was ZAMBEZI, which suggested that this might be one of Karen's especially ZQX-packed grids (5 Z's, 2 X's, a J, and 3 K's). That suspicion certainly made it a lot easier to make educated guesses elsewhere. Favorite morsels of cluing and filling goodness: [Name on the range?] for AMANA, PASSEL (I do like that word), [Having a lot to lose] for OBESE, COVER GIRL, the combo of [Business head?]/AGRI and [Business heads]/BOSSES, and the [Food eaten with gravy] pairing of ALPO and SOP.

Charles Barasch's NYT felt equally hard (i.e., not all that hard for a Friday puzzle). His grid features four 15-letter entries near the outer edges, interlocking at the corners. I liked the idiomatic STRANGE GOINGS-ON ([Unexplained phenomena]), the THRILLA IN MANILA, the PRISONER OF ZENDA, and a CAST OF THOUSANDS. Also the jail sentence, FIVE TO TEN; PASSING FAD; PUTT OUT; [Swing alternative] for ROCK music; the TOVES from "Jabberwocky"; and [Put down] for PENNED (as in "put down on paper"). Words that came out of nowhere but, fortunately, had crossings I knew: the AUBE River that feeds the SEINE; home-run champ Tony ARMAS; SETOSE (hello, derivative of crosswordese SETA!); AHERNE for [Brian of "Juarez," 1939], and Henry Clay's Lexington, KY, estate, ASHLAND.


Merl Reagle has come up with 14 MEN'S NAMES to play a word game with in "Who's the Guy in the Back?" (his Sunday puzzle for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers). You might ask, "Why isn't this paragraph so ___, ___?" And I'd reply, "Well, if I wrote more, I'd end up giving away the answers, and I don't want to deprive you of that fun." (I'm almost done with Volume 1 of Merl Reagle's Sunday Crosswords and will have to order another volume or two soon.)

Manny Nosowsky's Wall Street Journal puzzle marks the Chinese New Year with a dozen theme entries.

In Frank Virzi's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Designer Genes," I learned that the wags working in Drosophila genetics have given no fewer than six nonscientific-sounding names to fruit fly genes.

Elsewhere, there's a quip puzzle from CrosSynergy's Patrick Jordan and a move-the-S-to-the-other-word puzzle from Timothy Powell in the LA Times.


February 14, 2007

Thursday, 2/15

NYT 5:17
LAT 4:58
NYS 4:41
CS 3:01

(post updated at 9 a.m. Thursday)

Vexing, most vexing. Two different puzzles with themes that left me feeling befuddled. And on this, the eve of my half birthday! (Not to mention Valentine's Day.) What Thursday things smacked me around a bit? Well, totally different things in the NYT and Sun crosswords.

In the Sun, it was the fact that Patrick Jordan's three theme entries ending with the SAME DIFFERENCE anagrams of "same" all occupied shadowy corners of the unknown. I've never heard of a FRENCH SEAM, I didn't know Lamour had a bestseller as recently as 1987, much less its title (THE HAUNTED MESA), and the [Early American Federalist leader] FISHER AMES. I Googled that last guy, and apparently he's become the poster child for Bible-based education and recently had a "Christian distance learning university" named after him.

The NYT crossword by Elizabeth Rehfeld was knotty, too. Felt like it took me forever to make sense out of the theme entries. Actually, I only managed to correctly parse one of the four during the solving process. As I see it, [Tantrum expected from a money player] is a PRO FIT that's FORECAST; [Preventive maintenance on a water barrier?] is DAM AGE CONTROL; [Beachgoer wearing bug spray?] has OFF (the bug spray) ON A TAN GENT; and [Bit of mischief that won't be noticed for years] is LONG-TERM IMP ACT. Favorite entries/clues: HIS OLD SELF, [Knots] for ENIGMAS, [On the 31st of February] for NEVER, and ["Warmer" or "colder"] for HINT.


Martin Ashwood-Smith's anagram theme in the CrosSynergy puzzle turned out to be more accessible than the Sun's—more anagramming action, less trivia. (Not that I want to talk trash about trivia. I like it, honest!) I hadn't known that this particular landmark had two apt anagrams.

John Underwood's LA Times puzzle takes four phrases that fit the R__ING ___ template and redefines them by reading the second word as a noted person's last name. It took me awhile to recognize what was going on because I plugged in LANO for [Wool: Pref.] (thinking of lanolin) rather than LANI (the start of, say, laniferous). (Aside: Did you know actress Lani O'Grady of Eight is Enough died five years ago? Second aside: Lani Guinier has taught at Harvard Law since 1998.) Most misleading clue in this puzzle: [Cans or jugs], 6 letters.


February 13, 2007

Wednesday, 2/14

NYS 4:48
LAT 3:53
NYT 3:18
CS 2:59

(post updated at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday)

Happy Valentine's Day! I will mark the occasion by...er...doing nothing. Doing something would entail digging the car out, and the lake-effect snow will continue through the night. I know, I know—if it ain't 10 feet of snow, it's hardly worth complaining about. But even 8 to 10 inches is a mess when it blows and drifts and is then followed by bitter cold. So if you're lucky enough to be in a non-snow-buried region, get out of the house and do something fun with a friend or loved one, will ya?

Curtis Yee's Sun puzzle happens to be holiday-themed, with a perfectly symmetrical batch of [LOVE] rebus squares. Not every theme entry's romantic—you've got your [LOVE] HANDLES and TOUGH [LOVE]—but many are. Two of the cleverest clues lurked in the upper left corner, which is generally where I start solving, and I drew a blank for way too long. [What many regular people eat] turned out to be BRAN, and [Ford explorer?] was HAN SOLO. I liked this LOVEly puzzle, I did.

Having celebrated the holiday three days early with the Sunday heart rebus puzzle, the NYT has a standard Wednesday offering from Paula Gamache. Paula opts to TURN UP THE HEAT with theme entries that progress from ICE to WATER to STEAM. 1- and 2-Down are both laundry detergents (FAB and ERA), though not clued as such. The longer down entries seem to tell a gripping tale: HASHISH? TUT-TUT. STRIKE TWO! SIDEBAR...SEE YA! SKIPS TOWN via QANTAS.


Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Love Songs," features four performers of "___ Love" songs—Real, Puppy, Baby, and (my favorite) Modern. Kinda cute seeing BABYLON elsewhere—can you hear THE SUPREMES singing, "Baby-lon, my Baby-lon"?

Another love songs theme in the LA Times crossword by Matthew Lees, with song titles ending with the words Love, Valentine, Roses, Kiss, and Heart.


February 12, 2007

Tuesday, 2/13

Tausig 5:11
Onion 4:01
NYS 3:53
CS 3:27
LAT 3:08
NYT 2:46

(post updated at 11 a.m. Tuesday)

Nancy Salomon and Harvey Estes’ NYT crossword tricked me into thinking there was another twist to the theme. The first two theme entries I filled in both rhymed—HANDY ANDY and PLAIN JANE. So it felt like that slowed me down a bit in rassling with the other ones…but I won't complain about my solving time. The theme is non-rhymingly consistent, with all five entries being colloquial descriptive terms consisting of adjective + name. I'm a fan of blocks of white space, as seen in the corners that together hold a dozen 7-letter entries. (Yes, ORANGES are indeed [Juicy fruit].) And who doesn't like a nudge to read about PIDGIN languages?

Sean O.F. Smith’s Sun puzzle, “Grade Inflation,” changes a single letter in each theme entry, starting at the top with a failing grade turned into a D (CLAIM TO DAME) and progressing to the B student getting an A (ROBBER AARON). I like the theme, and I like the fill, salted as it is with K’s and Z’s.


Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Dirty Pictures," draws on a rich vein of wordplay, the cheesy puns on movie titles used by the producers of some porn flicks. If that sort of pun amuses you, this site lists many more—you know, like "Lust of the Mohicans" and "Mating for Guffman" and "Saving Ryan's Privates."

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is timely for the week of Valentine's Day, but BROKEN-HEARTedly so, and offers good pop-culture fill (SHOW BIZ crossing ZOOEY Deschanel! Will ARNETT! DROPS A BOMB, non-militarily speaking! Clooney's SYRIANA!). But who the hell is Jim KAAT? I'd never heard of him, which isn't surprising given how little I'm into televised baseball.


February 11, 2007

Monday, 2/12

NYS 3:26
CS 3:25
LAT 3:02
NYT 2:28

(post updated at 10:20 a.m. Monday)

Happy Lincoln's Birthday! Usually I'm not too thrilled about a day off school (quality time with the kid cuts into blog-related leisure activities, y'know), but when it's cold out, the sidewalks may be snowy, and I've got a head cold? I treasure the chance to sleep in and stay warm.

It's always a treat to see Lynn Lempel's byline. Her Monday NYT sparkles with an unusually large number of longer fill entries (17 of 'em are 6 to 8 letters long) and a swingin' theme. Donna Summer's LAST DANCE holds the key to the other four theme entries, phrases that happen to end with a string of letters that are a dance. DON SHULA dances the HULA, the HORA is in the PLETHORA, the fearsome CONGER EEL hides a REEL, and the lively JIG ends THINGAMAJIG. (Extra bonus points for including a word as fun as THINGAMAJIG.)

It took some study to discern the theme in Gary Steinmehl's Sun crossword, "Completely Complete." Eventually it dawned on me that the first three themers ended with LOCK, STOCK, and BARREL, while the three on the bottom began with HOOK, LINE, and SINKER. So really, it's two small variations on one theme in a single puzzle. Cool interlocking, too—the majority of the letters in the four theme entries in the middle are linked to another theme entry by the vertical crossing entries. I'm always pleased to see a Poe reference, as in "The CASK of Amontillado" (it was pointed out elsewhere that the Sunday NYT's heart rebus omitted "The Tell-Tale Heart").

P.S. It's Freedom to Marry Week—so it's apt that the NYT puzzle happens to include [Not straight]/GAY.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle uses a "Monday Kickoff" to morph phrases by added MON at the beginning. ARCHENEMY -> MONARCH ENEMY, K-RATION -> MONK RATION, GOOSENECK -> MONGOOSE NECK, and KEY CLUB -> MONKEY CLUB. I think a theme like that has the potential to be clunky, but I liked how it came out. I also enjoyed the long vertical fill entries FIG NEWTON and NEVER EVER.


February 10, 2007

Sunday, 2/11

NYT 10:04
LAT 7:56
WaPo 7:42
BG 6:34
CS 3:23

(post updated at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and at noon and 2:50 p.m. Sunday)

I wasn't sure if I recognized the name in the byline for the Sunday NYT. So I checked Barry Haldiman's site and looked up my blog post about Mark Feldman's last Sunday puzzle. Well, I'll be darned—his two previous Sunday NYTs were also rebus puzzles. (Note to self: Think rebus the next time his byline appears.) The current puzzle is a pre–Valentine's Day special, "Love Is All Around," with a [HEART] rebus in a jumbo 23x23 grid. Of the 13 pairs of rebus entries, eight involve symmetrically placed long vertical entries, while the other five are shorter and scattered around the grid. There's a lot of interlocking, with some rebus entries crossing other ones in assorted places—for example, DIS[HEART]ENS shares its rebus square with [HEART] OF DARKNESS, but its D crosses DOWN[HEART]EDNESS. So, I like the intricacy of the construction. Favorite clues and answers: [Mary Hartman's TV hometown] for FERNWOOD (when I was about 11, my mom and sister and I watched it on a 13" black-and-white TV each week), GOES DUTCH, and BY JOVE, along with assorted HEARTy phrases. You ought to read the Wikipedia article on SALO, which apparently is a bit like bacon only without all the meat, and is the subject of Ukrainian humor. I'd like each commenter to use the word MATUTINAL (clued as [Of the morning]) in a sentence. Never heard of Ravel's "MENUET Antique"; apparently menuet is a variant of minuet. I didn't know that NIGERIA is [Where nairas are spent]. It looks like there's plenty of difficult or obscure-ish fill, but I think it's offset by the boost solvers get from having a large number of entries that include the word/syllable HEART.

Gasp! Over at the NYT forum, Spencer Thomas posted a link to an illustrated grid. If you play connect-the-dots with the [HEART] rebus squares, you get a big heart! This just might be the cutest Valentine's crossword ever.


If you didn't already do Merl Reagle's puzzle for this weekend, do it. It's got a puzzle-within-a-puzzle aspect as well as a ton of piratical fun.

Patrick Blindauer's LA Times syndicated puzzle was good fun. He took seven Broadway shows and tacked letters onto their final words; thus, [Show about a switchboard ghost?] is PHANTOM OF THE OPERATOR. Good fill (TIDES OVER, PORCUPINE, and my personal favorite, WHOA NELLY) and clever clues, too. My favorite clues included [Place for three men?] for IN A TUB, [Chile powder site?] for ANDES, [Pot for the kitty?] for CATNIP, and [Ginormous] for COLOSSAL.

Paula Gamache's Washington Post puzzle, "Wild at Heart," imagines beastly proclamations of affection, such as a leonine YOU'RE MY PRIDE AND JOY. This crossword threw a couple unfamiliar geographical names at me—LYSTRA, the [Ancient city visited by Paul and Barnabas], and GERA, the [City SSW of Leipzig].

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy is among the easiest themeless puzzles of late. It has a touch of Valentine thematicity (if that's a word), with LOVE POTION crossing Cupid's ARROWS—though the latter is clued with reference to William Tell rather than Eros.

This week's Across Lite offering from the Boston Globe, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's "Dream Team," is posted now. Good [Gallimaufry] (OLIO) of dream-related theme entries, easy-peasy cluing, and Scrabbly fill.


Saturday, 2/10

NYT 7:43
Newsday 4:31
LAT 4:26
CS 3:15

Bob Peoples is one of the constructors whose themeless creations I find the most challenging, and his Saturday NYT bears that out. Plenty of uncommon fill, meaning solvers are less likely to have their limbic brain bits think of those answers. Plenty of entries with alternatives that fit the same space. Plenty of devious clues. Mix 'em all together and what do you get? I GOT THE SHAFT. The trickiest clues, IMO (clued as ["I think," succinctly]), were: [Top in a certain contest] for WET T-SHIRT (raise your hand if you thought "top" was a verb and tried to get OUT-something to work); [Task to focus on] for EYE EXAM; [Glen Gray's "Casa ___ Stomp"] for LOMA; [It has a cap in the kitchen] for MOREL mushroom; [Oppressive measure that helped spark the French Revolution] for SALT TAX (I'm not up on my French history); [Artist on the cover of a 1969 Life magazine] for PETER MAX; and [One of the five major circles of latitude] for ANTARCTIC. Oddball fill included TELEG (abbrev. for telegram or telegraphy, presumably, clued as [Wire: Abbr.]); EXIM ([___ Bank, U.S. loan guarantor]); and BRA PADS ([Ones doing push-ups?]). [Bothered] set a trap; the answer's IN A STIR, but IN A SNIT and IN A STEW also fit (I was leaning toward the SNIT). I liked GO OFFLINE, SMIRCH, the WAR ROOM, and I HEAR YA. And here's a sampling of paintings by Berthe MORISOT, whose name aptly crosses the French phrase, BONS AMIS.

Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper was markedly easier than the NYT. The LA Times puzzle by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke has a fun mini-theme (YO ADRIAN and STALLONE), six 15-letter entries (five of which I really liked), which helped ease the challenge level. Paula Gamache turns the letter A into gold in her CrosSynergy puzzle, "The Midas Touch."


February 08, 2007

Friday, 2/9

NYS 6:34
LAT 5:00
NYT 4:40
1/26 CHE 3:47
CS 3:10

WSJ 9:16
Reagle 7:39

I'm alternating between gaping blankly at the computer monitor and yawning—just a garden-variety rhinovirus, but it's making 9:30 at night feel like midnight. So I'll try to be brief and open the floor to observations, plaudits, and grumbles about the Friday puzzles.

The themeless NYT was constructed by Eric Berlin. Nothing too terribly exotic, aside from the "Benny Hill" theme, YAKETY SAX, which I learned the name of just last year via another crossword. But then I sort of forgot the title and keyed in YAKETY YAK, which made the [Masters topics] answer appear to be SEKLIVES until I had an AWAKENING and found the SEX LIVES. I like how GOES DEAF segues down into OUTER EAR, [One end of a canal], which sits atop another end, the car's FRONT END. The clues didn't seem too tough, nothing to really STYMIE. Can't say for sure if I had any idea [Votaries] were ADHERENTS, but the crossings gave it away.

Patrick Blindauer's Sun crossword, "Optical Delusion," explains its nonsensical theme entries in a Notepad note. Some sort of letter-substition code, I guess, with selected answers giving clues—too woozy to make sense out of it now. While I was solving, the fact that the theme entries looked like random strings of letters meant the vertical crossings had to do all the heavy lifting...and, this being a themed Friday Sun crossword, those clues weren't going to give up their secrets too easily. [Prince Eric's dog in "The Little Mermaid"]?? Really? *AX. I took a wild guess that the answer was MAX, but I've never seen the movie, so that was a lucky stab. And my Hebrew alphabet's awfully rusty, so YOD wasn't far from being a wild guess, either. And [Noodle ___] is RONI, but...what is that" A scary, over-processed box o' noodles made by the Rice-A-Roni folks? I also didn't know [Singers Evans and Quin], but figured SARAS was more likely than something with another vowel in the second square. Favorite clues: [Spin a yarn?] for MACRAME, [Hamlet's "To be," e.g.] for IAMB, [Slugger?] for FIST (which is also "F is T" for the code, I think), and [Goals for some people in beds] for TANS. Oh, and [Madison, e.g.] for SLOB (as in Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple"), and [Bean shakes?] for NOS. And also [Peter and the Wolfe?] for NEROS.

Good night, all.


When you see an unfamiliar name in a byline accompanied by Nancy Salomon's name, you suspect the puzzle may be the constructor's debut. If the LA Times puzzle by Pancho Harrison and Nancy is indeed a debut, congrats! I rather liked the add-ES-at-the-beginning theme, particularly the ESCAROLE KING. I hadn't known that the [Undealt portion of the deck] of cards was called TALON; did you know that talon also means "an ogee molding"?

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, like the LA Times crossword, includes a handful of lively 8-letter entries.

Patrick Berry's crossword from the January 26 Chronicle of Higher Ed, "Affairs of State," features seven "___ Affair" government scandals from the 1790s to the 2000s. I hadn't known of the TRENT or PEGGY EATON Affairs. Easier than most of the CHE puzzles, wasn't it? Favorite clue: [Looking into?] for X-RAYING.

The Wall Street Journal crossword, "Stock Exchange," is by "Judith Seretto" (one of editor Mike Shenk's pseudonyms). It's a rebus puzzle, but the rebused entries aren't limited to the longest acrosses. Those two sections in the grid's northeast and one in the southwest were eluding me until I thought to see if a rebus square would help out. My mental thesaurus is on the fritz at the moment, so I'll call this a very nice puzzle and be done with it.

For Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Seek Your Booty," the so-long-you-can't-see-it-in-Across-Lite hint in the clue for 5-Across says "Hint to the buried treasure: The G in this answer is also the first letter of the word GOLD, which can be seen running diagonally down to the left. Can you find the other five diagonally hidden pirate treasures?" Okay, good, another word-search-within-the-crossword crossword. I like puzzles within other puzzles. This crossword is packed with pirate-themed clues, which is fun—for example, SEXY is clued [Like Johnny Depp, perhaps], and Depp plays Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It took me an extra several minutes to find the hidden treasures. (This puzzle's going in my "great puzzles" folder. Entertaining!)


February 07, 2007

Thursday, 2/8

NYS 6:16
LAT 3:51
NYT 3:44
CS 3:07

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

The theme in Dan Reichert's NYT puzzle—two 10's, two 11's, and a 15-letter entry—kinda made me laugh a couple times, and Patrick Berry's Themeless Thursday in the Sun was rather tasty.

In the NYT, the theme involved converting CH- words to SH-words that rhyme with them. My favorite theme entries were [Cobblers' cause?], THE RIGHT TO SHOES, and [Comment on a woman from Copenhagen?], SHE'S DANISH. If you get your ERNES and terns mixed up, see the pictures of both birds here—the photo makes it obvious why the [Sea eagles] clue is appropriate.

The Berry Sun puzzle is anchored by two 14-letter titles (A MOVEABLE FEAST and AS GOOD AS IT GETS) linked by the BRONTES (I wish there were a literary dinosaur called the Brontesaurus). It's got phrasal verbs like TRAIL AWAY, ZEROED IN, CARDED IN (which is new to me) and TOSS ASIDE; pop culture names like NOLTE, PLATT, and pulpy CONAN the Barbarian; phrases like YOU WISH and TO WIT; OHIO STATE and the BEAU MONDE—so yeah, no shortage of interesting fill. The clues? Just as tasty. ["Waiting" is a palindrome in it] is MORSE (c'mon, how close were you to entering NORSE?)—I just did Peter Gordon's Morse-code crossword from this book and recommend that puzzle and the book it's in. [Sites of camel executions] is figure skating RINKS, not desert oases of cruelty. Other clues I commend include [Carbon] for COPY, [Adventure serial extras, often] for NATIVES, and [Common middle name for someone named Francis] for XAVIER.


If you're one of those who don't customarily do the Sun puzzle, here's a heads-up about tomorrow's offering from Patrick Blindauer. Mind you, I haven't solved it yet, but I hear good things. (I'm practicing my delayed-gratification skills by waiting all week.)

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle features a quip—generally my least favorite variety of themed puzzle. This time, I do like the quip itself (and it splits nicely among the three lines): SOME MISTAKES / ARE TOO MUCH FUN TO / MAKE ONLY ONCE. I also liked the longer fill entries—DOORMATS (clued in its colloquial sense) and COMMANDO (not clued in its slangy sense of underwear-free). The [Shrubby evergreen plant] turned out to be PYXIE, which is a pretty shrub found in New Jersey, but apparently there's also a striped pyxie frog and the pyxie cup lichen.

Peter A. Collins' LA Times puzzle has four theme entries containing hidden FRUITs. What, no ORANGE? Let's see...what 9- or 10-letter phrase could ORANGE be embedded in? KORAN GENIE? WHO RAN GE, EH? COLOR ANGEL?


February 06, 2007

Wednesday, 2/7

NYS 4:34
CS 3:46
LAT 3:23
NYT 3:00 (The applet stole a second from me! I swear!)

(post updated at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday)

It's always nice when one's habits or proclivities are borne out as good things. Case in point: I like to solve the all the newspaper crosswords I do online, either in the Times' applet or in Across Lite. There are plenty of books of crosswords to allow the on-paper "training" that many people like to do in the weeks leading up to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. My fondness for online solving worked out nicely with David Kwong's Wednesday NYT puzzle—the theme entries are the rows in TYPEWRITER / KEYBOARDS, and it sure was easy to key in QWERTYUIOP, ASDFGHJKL, and ZXCVBNM. I wonder if pencil-and-paper solvers found this crossword to be tough going (online, it seemed mighty easy to me). Moving along to the fill and clues: Excuse me, [It's hard to do with "orange"] is RHYME? Codswallop! My son and I banter rhyming words all the time. Have you ever noticed that LEBANON and the Chrysler LeBaron differ by only one letter? (If you're a crossword constructor, I bet you have.) I wondered if 33-Down, NAGGY ([Shrewish]) was a real word. Google was inconclusive (as it often is), but my jumbo Random House Webster's Unabridged lists it. Naggy means "naggish," and dates back more than 300 years. Naggish means "intending to nag; somewhat nagging." Nagging gets a longer definition, but both naggish and nagging are newer words than our friend NAGGY.

Timothy Powell's Sun crossword is called "I Before EE," and the theme entries swap an I for an EE. Thus, a cow chip becomes [Cattle call?], or COW CHEEP. Props to Mr. Powell for including six theme entries and having the vertical ones appear in abutting pairs. Read them aloud and hear yourself sound like Fez from That '70s Show or a similarly accented character. A summer theatrical production with Meryl Streep is STREEP SHOW. See? Fun to say. I haven't heard [Murphy] used to mean "potato," but here it is, cluing SPUD. (Want some HAPPY JUICE with your murphies?)


Lynn Lempel's LA Times crossword has a BED AND BREAKFAST theme in which the first two theme entries begin with words that, combined, are a kind of bed, and the last two begin with words that make up a kind of breakfast. The theme's a bit roundabout, but I like it. There's some fill with DASH, such as RATCHET UP, SHOOFLY pie, GO-TO guy. Not crazy about SLUMLORDS (or the use of [Ghetto blasters, e.g.] as a clue for STEREOS in the Klahn puzzle below), though.

Anyone know much about the birds and the bees? In Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy quip puzzle, "Mass Transit," OVULATE is clued as [Make eggs]. In humans, of course, ovulation is the release of an egg that has been present in the ovary for a woman's entire lifespan; the eggs were "made" long before ovulation. Is the clue technically accurate in birds or bees?


February 05, 2007

Tuesday, 2/6

Tausig 5:55 (on paper)
Onion 5:14 (on paper)
NYS 4:45
LAT 4:11
CS 3:09
NYT 2:42

(post updated at 11:20 a.m. Tuesday)

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's NYT contains a bunch of apt pairings—intentional or not, I can't say. There are so many, the constructors must've been aware of it, though. Obviously, the quartet of theme entries are related—they all end with breakfast foods. But look at the other pairs: JEEPS crossing UTES, SOUP and ENTREES, two Winnebago offshoot tribes, tech ASCII and SPAMS, ZIMA above the HAPPY JUICE (are my husband and I the only ones who've never heard that particular slang term for [Booze]?), TUTU crossing OUTFIT, SMITH next to the first name of KEVIN BACON triggering thoughts of Kevin Smith, a QUART of SKIM milk (which I prefer to JUICE with my breakfast), the sporty combo of UPSET and LOST TO, and the unpopular corner with IDIOT and NERDS. All that PIQUED my interest, along with entries like SCHTICK and ACOLYTE. One final technical note: Would constructors and editors please quit cluing IMAC with reference to bright colors? Apple's iMac hasn't been candy-colored in years. Here's what it looks like now—white and brushed silver.

Alan Arbesfeld's Sun crossword, "Country Clubbing," anagrams four countries' names and combines them with apt words to generate new phrases. "Tonga" scrambled up, for example, is TANGO DANCING. Either this one was clued kinda hard, or I was every bit as distracted as I felt. (Sigh.)


Two interesting themes from the Ben Tausig crossword factory—Ben's own Ink Well puzzle, "You've Been Briefed," and Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle featuring ROMAN NUMERALS people. In the BEQ offering, those people have names in which the consonants could all be Roman numerals—including programming pioneer ADA LOVELACE (whom I learned about via crosswords) and basketball's VLADE DIVAC. The theme entries aren't placed symmetrically, and neither are the black squares (I didn't notice that at all while solving, nor did I really read the clue that specified which names in the grid were part of the theme). Did you notice the asymmetry? If so, did it bother you at all? Me, I'm happy to have a puzzle with good fill (LUDACRIS, SPIT CURL, and BEAVIS), a theme I like, good cluing, and plenty of pop culture; asymmetry's fine in good hands. (Presumably the asymmetrical grid explains why this puzzle's available in Word rather than Across Lite.) Unfamiliar word alert: LEISTER is a three (or more)-pronged spear used for fishing, particularly to stab salmon.

Once they've been filled in, the theme entries in Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword look utterly meaningless. OCDEMTIDSLP? Each theme entry comprises a bundle of abbreviations: that's an EMT with OCD WHO ID's an LP. Fun theme! I wouldn't mind seeing more variations on this theme. The fill and clues tend toward the pot-obsessed (24-, 49-, and 68-Across, 43-Down—though two of them don't really refer to weed). Unfamiliar word alert: My history lessons didn't include the STONO Rebellion, but I'm glad to have read about it at that PBS link.


February 04, 2007

Monday, 2/5

NYS 3:17
CS 2:59
LAT 2:58
NYT 2:41

Joy C. Frank's Times crossword boasts an especially lively trio of theme entries and some sparkling fill. The theme phrases start with METRO, UNDERGROUND, and SUBWAY, all of which mean, er, "subway." The [Modern fashion-conscious guys] are METROSEXUALS, naturally (or not naturally, if they color their hair). The best bits of fill included the movie THE STING, NO-HASSLE financing, and PSEUDO. STIR is clued [Use a swizzle stick], and the party subtext continues with the OPEN BAR and the KEG. So long as nobody overimbibes or gets some bad SUSHI, they won't end up needing the PAILS. There're a couple moderately clunky words (UNPOT, REWASH), but the zippiness of the theme entries more than compensates.

Jack McInturff's Sun puzzle, "Big Raise," pays homage to some folks whose last names are common in crosswords—CHARLOTTE RAE, MARTHA RAYE, RACHAEL RAY of the Food Network, and CAROLINE RHEA. (Stephen Rea's agent, of course, wants to know why he wasn't in this puzzle.) Good fill includes MR ZIP (my local post office had a wooden cutout Mr. Zip that was taller than me), a bunch of X and Z words (including the Dr. Seuss short story, "The ZAX"), PHYS ED, and RHUBARBS.


February 03, 2007

Sunday, 2/4

NYT 8:34
LAT 7:48
WaPo 7:45
BG 7:37
CS 4:01

(post updated at 11:30 a.m. Sunday)

I believe this was Paul Guttormsson's debut for a Sunday puzzle in the NYT. And hooray! because I really enjoyed it. This puzzle had me at HUBBA HUBBA. The theme entries are shorter than usual, and 14 of them occupy the outer perimeter of the grid; the defining entry, INITIAL INITIALS, also crosses the 15th theme entry, B-GIRL, in the center (the 15 starred clues all split like that—e.g., V-NECK, eBAY, T. REX). Given the relatively small footprint of the theme, there was plenty of room in the grid for expanses of white space, with an intriguing and lively batch of longer entries: APERITIFS, aptly, is opposite TIES ONE ON (while appetizers and aperitifs both precede a meal, I just now satisfied my curiosity about their etymologies—they're unrelated); I also liked STRIKE ONE, WHAT IS IT?!?, WHEATIES, THE STICKS, ERECTOR SET, CARRIES ON, AFTERTASTE (though I swear to you that Diet Coke sweetened with Nutrasweet does not have an aftertaste like old saccharin-sweetened pop did), and KICKSTAND. In addition to being 1,000 years, MILLENNIUM is also defined as "a hoped-for period of joy, serenity, prosperity, and justice." My favorite clue, because it kept me guessing and led to a fun word, was [Pats on the back?]. With all the pat-related clues for OLEO, BURPS made for a refreshing twist.


Great batch of crosswords today! Nothing struck me as too hard, but I enjoyed all of these.

If you thought Rich Norris's Saturday NYT was too tough, his themeless CrosSynergy puzzle offers a more easy-going challenge.

Jesse Goldberg's Washington Post puzzle, "Washroom Woes," is not about constipation. Rather, in four 21-letter entries and one 19, five bathroom items whine about their woes—cute, actually. My favorite clue was [Item in a chest] for...LUNG.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword ("Who R U?") features an ennead of noted people whose names start with RU-. One of the theme people, ["Rose-Marie" composer] RUDOLF FRIML, was unfamiliar to me—Rose-Marie was a 1924 operetta. Several other words came out of left field—REAVE is an archaic word meaning [Plunder]; [Waltons creator Earl] HAMNER, Jr.; and [Postiches] are TOUPEES or wigs.

It took me until near the end to grasp the theme in Patrick Jordan's LA Times syndicated puzzle, "Bug Infestation." The word "infestation" had me looking for hidden arthropods embedded within the theme entries. Eventually I figured out that each of the eight theme entries ended with words that could be followed by "bug," such as OYSTER BED (bedbug) and LEADING LADY (ladybug).


February 02, 2007

Saturday, 2/3

NYT 7:01
LAT 5:42
Newsday 5:12
CS 3:45

(post updated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday)

This week's Saturday NYT crossword is by Rich Norris. I liked it a lot and was feeling quite clever as I zipped through the grid…until I hit the southwest corner and screeched to a halt. I'll bet everyone who came into the lower left corner of the puzzle from the right (and who isn't a martial arts expert) figured that the [Form of boxing using both the hands and feet] had to be KARATE, especially since that fits the *A*ATE pattern that the crossings yield. The answer turned out to be SAVATE (two syllables), which is also called French kickboxing. (I do love Wikipedia's one-stop shopping for quick reviews on approximately two zillion topics. This particular article also tells you what well-known books and movies have included savate.) In all my years of being a medical editor with FRECKLES, I'd never encountered the word ephelides (plural of ephelis). The other not-so-well-known scientific word of the day is [Lacking light], APHOTIC. This puzzle spurred me to finally iron out the difference between ET ALII (clued as [Bibliographer's term]) and et alia. Et al. can be expanded three different ways: the masculine "and others" is et alii; the feminine, et aliae; and neuter, et alia. It's worth learning a little about John RAE, too. Rae was the explorer who found the Northwest Passage (in the Arctic region north of Canada) between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Rae Strait, [east of Canada's King William Island], was named for him.

The clues that challenged or entertained me the most included [Top with a quip, maybe] for T-SHIRT; [Bow-making time] for CURTAIN CALL; [Conjoined area] for TRISTATE; [Knot] for BRAINTEASER; [Indication to look down] for ASTERISK; [Stretch in the 90's, say] for HEAT WAVE; [Lies together?] for PACK (as in "pack of lies"); [Convenient, in a way] for EASY-POUR; [Kids] for SMALL FRY; and [It's in the neighborhood: Abbr.] for EST (short for estimate). Last but not least, I liked the colloquial trio of I'D LOVE TO, IS THAT SO?, and I, FOR ONE.


The Newsday Saturday Stumper by Anna Stiga (a.k.a. "Stan again") has a great clue: [Split personalities] for CROATS. (Split is a Croatian city on the Adriatic Sea, with some architecture dating back to the Roman Empire.)

Alan Olschwang's LA Times puzzle included some names I hadn't encountered before, and the crossings weren't so easy that the names filled themselves in. [His orchestra once included Hoagy Carmichael and the Dorsey brothers]? Turns out that's ED LANG. I was stuck at the G because I thought the crossing clue, [Calendar leg, perhaps], referred to something calendrical rather than a pin-up's GAM. The [2004 cycling gold medalist] is the Australian ANNA MEARES, and one really has to work to keep up with female cyclists—the marquee events like the Tour de France are for boys only. I liked the clue, [Alarm indicator], for GOODNESS ME. If you were truly alarmed by something, would those be the first words out of your mouth?


February 01, 2007

Friday, 2/2

NYT 9:41
NYS 5:39
1/19 CHE 5:15
LAT 4:28
CS 2:56

WSJ 8:15
Reagle 7:18

(post updated at 9:10 and 9:50 a.m. Friday)

Ah, Friday! I like Fridays. Tuesdays are pretty good because of the extra weekly puzzles (the Onion A.V. Club crossword and Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle), but the daily puzzles are generally pretty easy. When Friday rolls around, it usually means a themeless NYT, a wickedly hard Sun (themed or themeless), the show-us-your-book-learnin' Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, the Sunday-sized Wall Street Journal crossword, and an early crack at Merl Reagle's Sunday puzzle.

You know how hard it is to find Bears apparel for your kid three days before the Bears play in the Super Bowl? I couldn't find a sweatshirt until the third store, and all three stores were sold out of the coveted kid-sized jerseys. The students at Ben's school have been instructed to wear Bears gear or colors tomorrow. Sports jingoism!

It's getting late, so I'll hold off on blogging about Byron Walden's Sun Weekend Warrior until the morning and focus my waning neural transmissions on the NYT by David Kahn. Holy schnikes! We've been socked with a rebus puzzle on a Friday! It would have been cruel to run it on a Thursday, rebus or no—these clues were supra-Thursday clues, and the asymmetry of the entries containing the 12 rebus squares (aside from the crossing RAINING and [CAT]S AND [DOG]S in the center) doesn't hand out easy answers. Also, Kahn's puzzle exceeds the standard word-count limit of 78, demonstrating that editors do bend the rules for puzzles they love. This crossword seemed different from most rebus puzzles in that about half the instances, the rebused letters actually stood for a [CAT] or [DOG] (as in [DOG]HOUSE and HEP[CAT]) rather than just a sequence of letters (as in [DOG]MA). It did take me a while to notice that this was a rebus puzzle—who's expecting that on a Friday?—and that there were two kinds of rebuses. Favorite and/or most vexatious clues and answers: For *HOUSE, [Place of disgrace]; I put in [CAT] and couldn't figure out how HOT[CAT] made sense. (Because it didn't, of course. [DOG]HOUSE!) I never knew CAT'S PAW meant "stooge." My mind read [E.T.S. offering] as [E.M.S. offering], so I plugged in CPR instead of GRE (Whoops. Minor difference.). [Lowly post] yielded an answer with consecutive rebus squares: [DOG][CAT]CHER. In the meat arena, [CAT]SUP is a [Burger topper] and ROULADE is a [Meat dish with a filling]. COSETS pops up again as a [Mathematical grouping]—glad that word was in another puzzle not long ago! I needed the help, frankly.

For reference, the entries with rebus action are: 1A, DOGMA; 9A, DOG EAT DOG; 14A, CAT ON; 18A, CAT-O-NINE TAILS; 37A, CAT'S PAW; 41A, CATS AND DOGS; 54A, DOGHOUSE; 62A, CATCH AS CATCH CAN; 70A, DOG IT; 1D, DOGCATCHER; 4D, VACATE; 9D, DOG STAR; 13D, DOGE'S; 31D, LOCATE; 37D, CATSUP; 38D, HOTDOG; 42D, DOGGIE BAGS; 49D, HEPCAT; 51D, CORNDOGS; and 62D, CATER. (Whew!) Unless I counted wrong, there are 94 theme squares in this grid if you include all the words with rebuses, plus RAINING. (Wow!)

Interestingly, both the Kahn puzzle and Byron's Sun puzzle included a 3-letter word with a *AR pattern, clued as [Slander, say] and [Sully], respectively. Both times, I gravitated to the same first letter, and both times, I was wrong. Slow learning curve for me this week.


Byron Walden’s themeless Weekend Warrior in the Sun felt easier than many of his crosswords. The NW quadrant still managed to tie me up in knots—the aforementioned MAR-for-TAR issue muddled 1-Down (PRESTONE, maker of Super Flush), and I had OSCAR NOM instead of OSCAR NOD (the [Short honor?] clue seemed to hint at an abbreviation rather than short-subject films), obscuring George EADS and further hiding PRESTONE. The adjacent REST AREA is clued as [Place with stop-and-go traffic?]. Off to the right, [Pupillary sphincter] is IRIS ("A sphincter says what?"). That crosses the "Mikado" setting, TITIPU—sphincter, go, PU, Flush? Moving…right along, my favorite clues/entries here were [Last character seen in "Casablanca"] for CLOSE QUOTE (I'm partial to the hyperliteral clues that require solvers to disregard semantics); [Shine sources] for STILLS; [Space City rival] for BIG D; [With nothing too spare] for ORNATE; THE TWINS [Castor and Pollux]; [Indicator of condensation] for ETC; [Eye-catching style, for short] for ITALS; [Anger caused by chemically enhanced beef?] for ROID RAGE; and [Xing folks] for PEDS. So, how did you find the difficulty level compared to that of the typical Weekend Warrior?

I've grown fond of finding Bonnie Gentry's name in crossword bylines. Her Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Turning Around Bear Markets," was packed with anagrams. And in this Simon & Schuster book, puzzle 9 is Bonnie's masterpiece, a 17x17 crossword that's almost themeless—the unifying theme is that every single clue is a question-marked clue. If the askew clues are always your favorite, check out Bonnie's S&S puzzle.

Michael Ashley's January 19 Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle (or, as I call it in my head, the Chronic) features five famous pseudonyms of Wild West figures. Super-jumbo-bonus points for including a blast from the past in LEO SAYER, clued as ["When I Need You" singer]; ah, the '70s! My mom bought the Leo Sayer album (the one where he wears suspenders on the cover) when I was a kid.

When solving Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Socked In," the haze lifted quickly and I was able to suss out the 11 theme answers without much difficulty. James Sajdak's LA Times puzzle includes one of my favorite words, MAELSTROM, and a French-spelling theme. Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Pinch Me!"—but the combination of one theme entry, SALT SHAKER (as in "pinch of salt"), along with GYRATING and SPIN CITY, led me to think a dance floor was busting out.