March 31, 2007

Sunday, 4/1

NYT 9:35
LAT 8:50
BG 8:16
WaPo 8:01
CS 4:42

(updated at 10:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday)

Okay, most strange. The NYT applet is the site of either an unfun April Fools Day trick or a technical glitch, because five hours after the online release of the Sunday puzzle, the applet has accepted zero solutions as correct. I was off seeing Blades of Glory (the Will Ferrell/Jon Heder figure-skating comedy, deliciously silly; Will Arnett and Amy Poehler also had perfectly pitched lunacy) earlier this evening, so I had the benefit of learning from others' frustration—did the puzzle in Across Lite and double-checked my solution against Harris's, and they're the same. (And Co Crocker knows how to crack the solution code for Across Lite NYT puzzles, and his solution was accepted as correct.) So I say we all finished Paula Gamache's "Fools Rush In" just fine.

Maybe the problem is that the NYT's computers wanted to censor the swear words; after all, one of the theme entries inserts an ASS into SHUTTLECOCKS (generating NASA's priestly SHUTTLE CASSOCKS). Does this pass the Sunday-morning breakfast test for the more delicate among us, an ASS insertion theme? Sure, the end results are all beyond reproach, but getting there (which is half the fun)... Question: How does [Fall guys?] make sense as a clue for OAFS? Another clue tells us that novelist ELINOR Glyn coined "It" as a euphemism, referring to sex appeal, as in "the It Girl." CUSIP numbers are the IDs for registered stocks and bonds; my husband knows the term, but I've not seen it before. Given my inexplicable propensity for curtsying when a movie camera is present, I liked having [Curtsier] as the clue for LADY. Academia gets its due here, with CANTAB clued as [Harvard student] and COEDS clued in appropriately retro fashion as [Abbott and Costello's "Here Come the ___"]. I will see you an old-school UKASE and an ERI TU and raise you a contemporary IMING (instant-messaging) and CHICK lit.

Looking forward to learning whether the applet lacked the correct solution or if there's some secret trick to this April Fools Day puzzle that has escaped solvers thus far.


CrosSynergy's April Fools Day trick is to have a themed crossword by Bob Klahn that's easier than his themelesses. The theme is performers with songs containing "Fool" in the title, and the only one I knew was the ROLLING STONES' "Fool To Cry." For a musical bonus, Purple Rain's APOLLONIA rounds out the fill (I have a Polish great-great-great-grandmother by that name), along with OLIVE DRAB, THE SYSTEM, the Scottish mountain BEN NEVIS, X-FILES, and FISHWRAP ([Nearly useless newspaper, in slang]).

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "It Could Be Verse," defines a batch of words that rhyme with "verse." Not being a rubber-stamp hobbyist or otherwise affiliated with the INKING business, I didn't know that that was a [Brayer's purpose[. And I never heard of [Soprano Amelita GALLI-Curci. Those two crossed the [1945 Betty MacDonald novel, with The], EGG AND I. Argh. I know the word impugn, of course, but don't think I've seen OPPUGN before. Or TELIC, for that matter. Here's hoping the other puzzles I do today don't unearth so many vacancies in my brain!

Timothy Powell's Washington Post puzzle, "Finish What You Start," has theme entries that start and end with the same word, like TALK A GOOD TALK. That sort of theme tends to help you fill squares in more easily, since one end gives away the other end.

Will do the LA Times puzzle after the gym. Back from the gym now: The syndicated LAT crossword by Joshua T. Fortenol is called "Break of Day." Took me far too long to understand what the theme was, but when I began to type up an e-mail/cry for help, I saw it. The clues are AP, RI, LF, O, O, L, SD, A, Y, and the theme entries are phrases that define those things; e.g., AP is NEWS BUREAU, RI is SMALLEST STATE. Sort of bizarre approach to a theme, but executed nicely with nine symmetrical entries.


March 30, 2007

Saturday, 3/31

NYT 9:00
LAT 4:54
Newsday 4:25
CS 3:40

(updated at 10:54 a.m. Saturday)

Ah! Just what was needed after last weekend's not-quite-hard-enough tournament puzzles—an honest-to-goodness tough mofo of an NYT crossword. I didn't recognize the constructor's name, John Duschatko, and Barry Haldiman's records show that his last daily NYT was in the year 2000. Must be one of those seven-year itches or something. Anyway...the puzzle. It's a March 31 puzzle with a definite April 1 vibe to it, with the tasty CONTINUED ON NEXT / LINE gimmick. Those nonexistent clues signal that those spaces are a continuation of the entry at the end of the line above everywhere that consecutive rows aren't interrupted by black squares at the edge; thus, 10-Across to 14-Across, [Freddy Krueger and others], is SLASHERS split into SLAS and HERS. 16-Across starts AIRP/ORTS; 19-Across, UNDE/RESTIMATE; 24-Across, GLENN M/ILLER; 34-Across, UPRI/SING; 40-Across, SEAS/ONER (strange occupation alert!); 45-Across, PREDE/STINED; 54-Across, INCAPACIT/ATES; 61-Across, RUMI/NANT; and 64-Across, CRIN/KLES. Not only does it take some doing to glom onto the twist here, but then there are also some solidly Saturdayish clues and entries. For example, [Mistake at the hospital?] is baby SWAP; [Dollars for quarters] are RENTS; UPRI/SING is clued with the word [Jacquerie], apparently a French popular revolt from 1358; [Head out on the range] isn't a verb, it's a STEER; [Like human skin] means PORED; [Been intimate (with)] is LAIN; speaking of intimacy, SPERM's here as [Kind of bank]; IRENE is clued as [Godfrey's woman, in "My Man Godfrey"], and I am not up on 1936 pop culture; [Starter, often] is SALAD, not a jock; and a FERMI is a wee unit of length (how many men want a tiny length unit named after them?). If this puzzle stymied you, then you may be the PATSY of 52-Down, [Object of an April Fools joke]. It's kinda fun to get kicked around by a crossword, isn't it? Especially in honor of April Fools day!


The Anna Stiga ("Stan [Newman] again") Newsday Saturday Stumper wasn't so apt to stump today. Some great entries, like UTAH JAZZ and AIR QUOTES. What makes BURRITOS a [San Diego snack]? You can get burritos in most of the country. Clues I liked: [Name meaning noble] for ETHEL; two types of [Oil holder(s)], CRUET and TANKERS; [Trail of a sort] for ODOR (but if it's going to cross a cheese, how about something more pungent than gentle GOUDA?).

Patrick Jordan (who returned to the ACPT and the top 10 last weekend after taking last year off) inserts RAYs of sunshine into the theme entries. Call me crazy, but there's something oddly intriguing about BRAYING CROSBY, [Crooner singing like a jackass?].

Robert H. Wolfe's LA Times themeless brings me a newsflash: REBA's series finale aired last month. Of course, given that MR C (what Fonzie called Richie's dad on Happy Days in the '70s) is still fair game, REBA can continue being used as a TV clue. And I much prefer TV clues to country & Western clues. Case in point: [Claire's kidnapper in "Lost"] was ETHAN, the creepy character played by Tom Cruise's cousin, William Mapother. You can count on the LA Times puzzle to reward your knowledge of TV and movies even more than the NY Times does.


March 29, 2007

Friday, 3/30

NYS 11:29
3/16 CHE 5:22
LAT 4:28
NYT 4:15
CS 3:22
3/9 CHE 3:20

WSJ 9:18
3/25 Reagle 7:59
4/1 Reagle 7:33

(updated around 12:30 p.m. Friday)

I'm doing a little catch-up on last weekend's puzzles as well as tending to the usual Friday puzzles.

This week's Friday Sun offering is the annual near-April-Fool's-Day "Wacky Weekend Warrior" by Trip Payne. A 56-worder with expanses of unbroken white space (just 17 black squares) certainly looks impressive, and it takes a nice, long time to solve, but it's unabashedly crazy. [The philosophy behind colatherapy] is SODA HEALS, naturally. This puzzle is not TWADDLELESS, not by a long shot. I actually find TIC-TAC-TOE TACTIC to be oddly pleasing, though. Must be fun to write the clues for these Wacky themelesses!

The 3/9 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle that was posted last week, Michael Ashley's "Passing the Time," features five prisons plus a handful of penal-related shorter entries. This must be one of the easiest CHE puzzles to date.

Eric Berlin had last week's Wall Street Journal puzzle; I picked up the paper at the Avis counter last Friday but didn't do the puzzle until this week. No idea what my solving time was—I did it at the Urban Tea Lounge and the playground. Really liked the theme, which combined pairs of state nicknames; e.g., GOLDEN (California's the Golden State) SUNSHINE (Florida's the Sunshine State). I don't recall any other specifics and I'm not about to fish it out of the trash to review it. Not that it's a trashworthy crossword, but that's where it's gone.

Just did last week's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle by Merl Reagle, "It's R Moving Day." I thought it was another version of a theme he did for the ACPT last year, but the Across Lite Notepad tells me it's actually the same one. You know what? I still like it. Favorite R-relocated entries: IT'S GEEK TORME and BRILLO FIGHTS.

Quarfoot! This Friday's NYT crossword was constructed by David Quarfoot, who was at the ACPT (like Merl, Eric, and Trip). I wouldn't be surprised to see his byline on an ACPT puzzle one of these years, and I'd welcome it. This themeless was a little meaty, but with classic Quarfootian fill like HOMEBOY and TEA COZY. Okay, so maybe TEA COZY doesn't shout DQ; fine. I wormed my way into the puzzle with 11-Across, Philip ROTH, but that corner (and its opposite) didn't spill over much into the rest of the grid. Highlights: the READ MY LIPS / NO NEW TAXES mini-theme; EDDIE MONEY (ah, '80s MTV, how I miss ye); [Start of a break-in?] for AHEM; the enthusiastic "YES, LET'S!"; the not-stale clue [Language closely related to Montagnais] for CREE; [Pop label] for PEPSI; the athlete's REST DAY; my name backwards and my birthstone; NEREUS the sea god, who apparently preceded Poseidon; [Robin's place] for BATCAVE; [Knuckle head?] for SILENT K (still waiting for the SILENT B to make an appearance; [Numb end?] or [Conclusion of a climb?], perhaps?); YOKO ONO's full name; and [Pitch] for DEEP-SIX.


Superb 3/16 Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle from Manny Nosowsky. "Mascot Madness" is sort of timely, with March Madness still going on (unless it finished up without my noticing, which it certainly could have, but it was definitely a factor back on 3/16). I knew a grand total of one theme entry (my husband grew up in Wisconsin, so I knew BUCKY BADGER). I knew Illinois State's team was the REDBIRDs, but not that there was a REGGIE. Oregon has DUCKs, yes, but DONALD? Really? And SYCAMORE SAM (is he, perchance, a tree?) and PISTOL PETE, complete mysteries to me. So the theme was tough for me, but so was the rest of the puzzle. {Roman Catholic Church's first jubilee year] is MCCC ( dates back to around 800 A.D.? Or 300? Or 1250?) There's a mathematician named Niels Henrik ABEL who died of TB at age 26 so he is remembered for work he did while quite young. MUDCAT is a catfish. Other entries I liked: TENDS BAR; EYE CANDY; the fish that will BITE the BAITed hook (those words crossing at the B). Favorite clues: two nouns that looked like verbs—[Hit back?] for SIDE B and [Run down the hill] for SLOPE—and a clue that looked like a noun or preposition but wasn't—[Behind] for LOSING.

I really liked Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Miner Miracle," and figured out the SILVER STREAK gimmick of having an [AG] rebus in every square across the middle. (She did a variant of this some months back in a Simon & Schuster collection, with marching [ANT]s.) Six theme entries plus 21 rebus squares in a row, plus those 21 Down entries crossing the rebuses—impressive! However, I ground to a halt in the upper right corner, in large part because I opted to decide that a "side" of a right triangle could be an ELL rather than a LEG. Didn't know the VERDI opera or symphony or whatever "I Lombardi" is, never heard of the racehorse ZEV that crossed him, and blanked on [Peter Gunn's girlfriend] EDIE. Plus, [Leading indicator?] was BATON—perhaps I should be quicker to suspect classical music from Liz, who plays the viola. The crossing of AQUAVITS and SALAD BAR made the pain worthwhile, though.

This weekend's Merl Reagle puzzle, "New Words I'd Like To See," contains 11 non-words aptly defined. For example, [Government in which people only think they rule?] is a DEMOCKRACY. ("It's funny because it's true!"—Homer Simpson.) Fun crossword, and I liked it a lot, but I'm fresh out of commentary at the moment.

Sunday is April Fool's Day. I hope plenty of the weekend's crosswords will try to mess with our heads in honor of the occasion!


March 28, 2007

Thursday, 3/29

NYS 4:54
NYT 4:36
Jonesin' 4:09
LAT 4:08
CS 3:19

(updated at 7:30 a.m. and again—with the Jonesin' puzzle—at 5 p.m. Thursday)

One of the fun parts of working on How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle was choosing some of my favorite Times puzzles and constructors. Several of the 50 or so constructors represented have more than one crossword in the book—David J. Kahn is one of them. And here he is again with a Thursday NYT crossword with an unusual-looking theme. The theme is four famous Dianes spelled various ways, so there's a 15-letter DIANNE FEINSTEIN running across the middle of the grid and intersecting three shorter Down entries, DYAN CANNON, DIANE LANE, and DIAN FOSSEY. (The longest Down entries are unrelated, though.) A goodly amount of pop culture here, aside from the two actresses in the theme—there's JUDE LAW, ANNETTE Funicello, Jennifer ANISTON, and the Gene Hackman character Harry CAUL (though the word caul has some bizarre meanings, too). Favorite clues and entries: TAKE IT OUT ON, [Part of São Paulo] for TILDE, EAT DIRT, UNICORN, [Kind of shelter] for TAX, and POST-IT.

The Sun crossword by John R. Conrad is called "DEF Jam" because all the entries begin with D, E, or F. It's not a gimmick that leads to particularly interesting fill—EEEE, DEEE, DEDE? D'oh, egad, and feh. I liked [Stopping point?] for DIME and the TV nostaliga shout-out of [Murphy who played Tabitha on "Bewitched"] for ERIN (here's a kid picture as Tabitha).


Loved the theme in Karen Tracey's LA Times puzzle, which gathers three things that end with INFERNO, PURGATORY, and PARADISE, and sums them up with THE DIVINE COMEDY. I took a class on Dante in college. Go ahead—ask me how much I remember! (Sigh.) I rather liked the clue [Early development sites?] for UTERI and its combination with ab OVO. [Right in the head] is SANE—how often is that phrase used in the positive rather than "not quite right in the head?"

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle features phrases that start with famous casinos. Nice little extra to have both EBONY and IVORY in the fill. How do you feel about SANDY Koufax and SANDS OF TIME appearing in the same grid?

It's a blog updating frenzy!

Matt Jones' crossword for this week is called "Soy What?" I am tempted to answer, of course, "Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan." I liked two of the soy-based theme entries, YOU MAKE MISO MAD (MISO HORNY was too short to work, I suppose) and TEMPEH TANTRUMS. The third one, EVERYBODY / PLAYS TOFU, mystified me because I'd never heard of '70s soul group The Main Ingredient, nor their song, "Everybody Plays the Fool." I was nostalgically delighted to see the hoary FILMSTRIP rear its celluloid head. (Please, if you have any comments on this puzzle, please mangle as many metaphors as you can. Don't leave me hangin' here.)


March 27, 2007

Wednesday, 3/28

NYS 3:45
NYT 3:30
LAT 3:15
CS 2:49

(updated at 9 a.m. Wednesday)

I thought the official crossword tournament photos by Don Christensen would have been posted by now. They're not, but in the meantime, there are photos from Nancy Shack and Pete Mitchell. If you're planning to solve the puzzles through the "play by mail" option, be prepared to unfocus your eyes so you don't inadvertently see the finals puzzle—some pictures show the finalists' answer grids on stage.

The Wednesday NYT is another constructor's debut, I think—Burton Clemans opens strong with five 15-letter entries. Each theme entry contains a trio of anagrams, such as TIMES EMITS MITES. The rest of the fill tends toward the ordinary (though I rather like ASHTON Kutcher, James SPADER, and CICADA), which is understandable since most of the Down entries intersect with two or three (!) theme entries. A note on MAO ([1972 Nixon host]): Did you know that Mao refused to use toilets and was loath to bathe or brush his teeth?

Seth A. Abel's Sun puzzle, "Pop Music Surprise," features a [JACK] rebus in five spots. Very good puzzle, lots of tasty J's and a couple X's, good fill, good clues. I'm a little unclear about the title; a JACK-IN-THE-BOX plays "Pop Goes the Weasel," but is there any other music invoked by the title? Across Lite also confused me by refusing to accept [JACK] in a single square, preferring a J alone.


The LA Times crossword is a collaboration between David Kahn and Stephen Brown. My favorite thing about this puzzle is the (wrong) answer that came to mind for the ****LATHEH*N blank. SHEILA THE HEN! Er, no. ATTILA THE HUN. Close, though. That, and METH being the answer for [George W. Bush, for one]. Hard to see meth mentioned in the same breath as a famous person and not think "gay hooker" (thanks, Rev. Haggard!). Methodist, crystal meth...all swirled together in my head right now.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle ("What's New?") has four longish theme entries that start with "new" things—NEW WAVE, NEW AGE, etc. I want the pair of 9-letter entries to also be part of the theme, so I've been pondering what NEW DUNCE and NEW BEEF might be.


Mercenary matters

All righty, my name's finally on the Amazon page for How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle: Tips, Tricks and Techniques to Master America's Favorite Puzzle, so I've added a link in the sidebar.

The book's due to publish this July. I got my first look at the page proofs this past Saturday, and it looks rather like a book! (Well, if you ignore the giant white margins on every page.) I'm excited about it—agog, even!—and grateful to each and every person who's expressed interest in the book or extended their congratulations.

As a hired gun for St. Martin's Press, my remuneration comes in the form of a grant rather than royalties. However! I can earn a modest commission on copies bought via that handy little box near the top right of this page.

"Alas!" you may exclaim. "I've already pre-ordered my copy."

Fear not! You can always cancel your order and re-order the book through my site, thereby prompting Amazon to send some of its money to me. What could be easier?

P.S. Here's the tabletop poster St. Martin's had at Stamford:


March 26, 2007

Stamford spoilers

A few other bloggers have written in detail about the crosswords from last weekend's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Given that many of you might be doing the "solve by mail" option (if you didn't travel to Stamford or participate in the online tournament, you really ought to try the "solve by mail" method), I don't want to put any key answers or clues right out there.

If you've done these puzzles and have something to say about them, please feel free to comment on this post. If you haven't and you don't want to see spoilers, I advise you not to click the "comments" link.

I'll start:


Tuesday, 3/27

NYS 5:28 (really!)
NYT 4:17
Tausig 4:08
Onion 3:52
LAT 3:31
CS 3:01

(updated at 9:30 Tuesday morning))

Wow! I'm really tired. It just took me an unreasonably long time to get through Alan Arbesfeld's Sun puzzle, "Mixed Message," and I'm fading fast. Will be brief tonight. I don't have the touch typing skills to type with my eyes closed, alas. Anagram theme, executed nicely. A few great long fill entries traveling vertically, like OLD SCHOOL and PSYCHED OUT.

Time for the NYT crossword now. [Switching to another browser for NYT applet.] Okay, I'm back. 4-Down in Lucy Gardner Anderson's puzzle couldn't have been more apt, because I did in fact NOD OFF for a moment while working this puzzle. It was over by the Roman numeral...I just rested my eyes for a little bit. If I were encountering the road signs quoted in the theme entries, you'd better hope I was riding in the passenger seat. Could use a little [RC or Jolt] COLA, but it's too close to bedtime for caffeine.

Those of you who are more lucid, please feel free to say something more incisive about either or both of these puzzles. I'm wiped out! Good night, and good luck.


Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword, "It's Not Mine," is my favorite of today's releases. (I ran into Matt a couple times at Stamford. He specializes in edgier puzzles that your grandma wouldn't like, but in person he comes across as just so sweet. I'll bet that all the grandma types adore Matt and cannot resist pinching his cheek and referring to him as "that nice young man.") The theme entries jettison the apostrophe-S and redefine the resulting phrases, so Peewee's Playhouse becomes the tot theater, PEEWEE PLAYHOUSE. Matt's got a couple longer all-consonant entries: MLK JR and MR DJ (part of the song title "Hey Mr. DJ," which I know only from a Byron Walden/Peter Gordon collaboration). The highlight, though, is the upper right corner, where the F WORD ([The granddaddy of all curses, euphemistically]) and UH-HUH intersect with FUNNY HA HA ([Amusing, rather than strange]) and "WHAT'D I DO?" in a balletic barrage of colloquial speech. (Can a barrage be balletic?)

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Orno-Thology," has four theme entries containing the ORNO string (including the 5-letter vertical entry in the center), plus a handful of 10- and 11-letter fill entries. Speaking of CrosSynergy, I hear that a new constructing duo is joining the CrosSynergy team—Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke.

Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword uses CALL ME MISTER to CITE Messrs. BIG, RIGHT, and CLEAN. Seeing the word AMUSE in that grid reminds me: If we'd been on the same team for the Friday-night games at the crossword tournament, Michael and I had a team name at the ready: The Reamusers, paying homage to those "roll your own" crossword answers that tack on prefixes or suffixes. Maybe next year...

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Hues on First," compounds colors such that a [Clotting emergency?] is a BLOOD RED ALERT. Good theme, plus a couple 8x3 corners, MR RIGHT (clued as [ user's goal, perhaps]—always nice to see language that doesn't assume the default setting is male and straight), and Gatsby's WEST EGG.


Visual eavesdropping

I'm one of those people you don't want to sit next to on public transportation, because whatever you're reading, I'll be reading over your shoulder. And I doubt I'm all that unobtrusive about it.

Last night on the American Airlines jet (where coach-class passengers don't rate a half-ounce bag of pretzels, but may buy M&Ms for three bucks—just in case we missed a chance to pay exorbitant prices from the hotel minibar and felt the trip would be incomplete without that experience), Tyler was on my right and another 20-something guy was on my left. Mr. Aisle was writing his to-do list on his laptop. In a word processing document. Using the automated outline format with double-spacing. (Er, isn't that how everyone does it?) Up top, there was mention of a symposium, maybe something Greco-Roman. A little lower down, this:

III. Personal

1. Fingernails

2. Buy shampoo

I looked at Mr. Aisle's hands, and his nails were already short. Tyler suggested that he's planning to paint his nails. I'm thinking he wants to remember to apply his Lee Press-on nails before the symposium.

From now on, I'm putting fingernails on every to-do list.


Monday, 3/26

CS 3:01
NYS 2:59
NYT 2:46
LAT—Is this posted yet?

First things first: In May, I'll be out of the country for two weeks, and between the uncertainty of a regular Internet connection, the time zone difference, and the fact that it would be incredibly stupid to spend two hours a day in England doing crosswords and writing about them—well, doubt I'll be blogging much. I'm hoping to recruit several guest bloggers to keep the crossword chat flowing here. There's no obligation to do all the same puzzles I'd do, or to post your solving times, but I'd hope that the Times and Sun puzzles would get mentioned daily. If you're interested in joining Team Fiend in May, please send me an e-mail (and let me know how many posts you'd be comfortable being slated for).

Second thing: My mother just called and asked me to convey to Al Sanders that she, like countless others, really wanted him to win the tournament this year. She bears Tyler no ill will but thinks he should quit with the winning already and let someone else have a turn.

You know how the golf and tennis worlds keep track of "money leaders"? I suspect Tyler has won more money at crossword tournaments than anyone else in this country. When the tournament enrollment was smaller, the prize money was also considerably smaller, so his three years have probably been more lucrative than Jon Delfin's seven wins. (Plus inflation, yadda yadda.) So yes, Tyler, you have enough. Quit being so damned good at crosswords, will you?

Moving along to the day's crosswords: The Monday NYT is by Eric Fischer. The theme entries include the words CREATURE, BEAST, and ANIMAL, and are three lively phrases. Bonus points for BEAST OF BURDEN's Rolling Stones clue. Double bonus points for reminding me of Aardman Animation's short, Creature Comforts, with claymation zoo animals talking smack about life in the zoo; if you've never seen it, keep an eye out for it. I really liked AIDS being clued as [___ quilt (modern memorial)] rather than, say, [Helps]. The AIDS quilt is an established part of America's cultural fabric, and I applaud Will Shortz for publishing this non-stigmatizing clue. Is this the first time a mainstream crossword clue for AIDS has referenced the disease? I'm not sure HOSTLER can be tagged as an easy Monday-level word—I presume it's a variant of OSTLER, but don't recall seeing HOSTLER before. Let's look it up—whaddaya know? It's OSTLER that is the variant, but it's shorter and hence more crossword-friendly.

Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy puzzle, "Mule Train," has a theme that didn't jump out at me. The title and the central entry, ["Mule Train" singer Frankie ___] LAINE, didn't seem to be connected to the long entries. Aha! There's SHOE at the bottom, clued [Mule, or word that can precede the first word in...] the theme entries. SHOESTRING, SHOEHORN, SHOE TREE, SHOE BRUSH. I like Harvey a lot, I do, but this theme does nothing for me. The Mule Train/mule = shoe combo? Weird. But the quartet of 9-letter fill entries were decent, especially ORANGEADE. Hey, I always like to see ORANGE, AMY, or FIEND in a crossword.

Leonard Willliams' Sun puzzle, "Podcasting," recasts the letters P, O, and D in various permutations (all five options other than POD) in the middle of the theme entries. I wonder if the word podcasting itself was the impetus for constructing this puzzle.


A somnolescent update

Let's take it chronologically:

Yeah, I made a muddle-headed, blind-eyed, synapse-clogged mistake mistake on puzzle 1. There must've been five or six times in puzzle 1 alone that I noticed I'd put in random wrong letters, but erased them and put in the correct letters. Apparently it should've been six or seven times, because the mistake was a rather pointless, brain-dead sort of mistake. Ah, well. I might've placed around 10th if not for the error. I won't beat myself up over it, though. I've been sick lately and writing in plenty of random wrong letters in the last couple weeks (not my usual M.O.!). So I had a rough morning on Saturday, but had a blast on puzzles 4 through 7.

By all rights, I should not have brought home any sort of trophy, but they gave out second-place trophies for regional runners-up this year (in my previous two years, I don't think they recognized anyone beyond the regional winners). So I have a SUPER-DUPER FANCY TROPHY to add to the bookshelf: Second place in the Midwest. It ain't much, but I'll take it!

Richard Maltby of Broadway and cryptics fame delivered some brief remarks before moving on to announcing all the various winners and trophy recipients. (P.D., he was pretty damned funny, but I didn't get to meet him and snag an autograph for you.)

This isn't going chronologically at all, actually. I neglected Friday night and Saturday night. Briefest recap: Had lovely time at the Cru dinner with folks like Michael S. ("Rex Parker," whom everyone wanted to meet), Byron Walden, Dave Sullivan, Howard Barkin. and Ellen Ripstein. Met hotshot twisty constructor, Pete Muller, who has another puzzle coming up (soonish? not sure) in the Sun, I think. Skipped out on the official games and contests for the evening because the Grand Ballroom approximated a Giant Steam Room—much too warm, and with hundreds of people in there, it didn't promise to cool down. Plus I was thirsty, so I got a bottle of water and progressed to the hotel bar. (Ben Tausig and I convinced each other that it was silly to stay when it was so warm in there.) Yes, it is possible to hang out in a bar for hours nursing a bottle of water. And the bar was delightfully over-air-conditioned. Caught up with Deb Amlen (one of the Onion A.V. Club team of crossword constructors) and discussed things like children and their Lego collections. Miscellaneous mingling, good times. Stayed up too late, got under 5 hours of sleep.

Saturday: Lovely breakfast with the Rex Parker Fan Club (but not at IHOP) before the ill-fated morning puzzle session. A quick lunch off-site with Dave Sullivan was the perfect antidote, and I was stoked on a grilled cheese and fries for the afternoon session. Dinner was at the Southport Brewing Company with Byron Walden and good beer, with a rainwater chaser—had to hightail it back to the Marriott in time for the evening entertainment featuring outtakes from Wordplay, and got soaked on the way. I have a teeny, lightweight umbrella that fits into a purse, sure, but it was hundreds of miles away, mocking me from the dry comfort of my home. Movie time was followed by more bar/mingling/party time—stayed up too late, got about 4 hours of sleep.

Meandered into the hotel restaurant Sunday morning, and Nancy Shack invited me to join her and Alan Arbesfeld (whose byline pops up what, about once a week in various venues? It was great to meet him and finally have a face to associate with the famliar name) for breakfast. Was well-fed in time for the standings to be posted, and really wasn't too surprised to learn about that mistake. Still felt good going into puzzle 7, which was the gentlest Bob Klahn puzzle I've ever seen. We were under house arrest after puzzle 7 and couldn't go yap in the lobby because a third of the contestants were solving in the adjacent pavilion area and wouldn't much appreciate the ruckus. Got started on reviewing the page proofs of my book (had picked up the proofs from my editor at the St. Martin's Press table on Saturday) and played junior high, passing notes with Stella Daily, Al Sanders, and Trip Payne.

Enjoyed watching the finals, and happy for all who made it up on stage this year. Nutty foul-ups with scoring meant the incredibly gracious Howard Barkin was excluded from the B finals he should have been on stage for (I believe that there's a statistical tie: Howard and Al Sanders are both the Undisputed Heavyweight Champions of Crossword Tournament Grace). Scoring errors abounded, but fortunately many were caught before puzzle 7. (Howard caught one mistake in his scoring earlier, but alas, the judges or computers made another mistake not in his favor.) I think Byron Walden also should've had the top rookie prize, but the online standings don't indicate that he was a rookie contestant. So...yeah. We'll see where the numbers all shake out in the coming week. (Last year, the judges shorted me 5 minutes, which meant that Al, Katherine Bryant, and I took home one another's trophies last year—but that mistake wasn't identified until after the tournament was over and everyone had gone home. So the three of us swapped old trophies this year.)

If you compete at the ACPT in the coming years, if you think there's any chance you might be in contention for any sort of recognition, it behooves you to write down your finishing time after each puzzle, pay attention to when you finish relative to other people each time, and compare your Sunday-morning scores to your own records and to other people's scores. It's crazy how many errors bubble to the surface, and the sooner they're identified, the better. It pays to be compulsively numbers-oriented at the tournament.

After the aforementioned awards luncheon, Nancy, Tyler, Bob Petitto, and I headed to the airport in Nancy's rental car, and discovered that there were no scoring errors at all in our seat assignments for our flight back to Chicago. The airline had rather randomly assigned Tyler and me to the same row for the flights there and back, and we found the SkyMall catalog to be inordinately entertaining Sunday evening. Would you buy a product that promised to "elevate your little helper"? I almost had Tyler convinced to spend his grand prize money on ludicrous SkyMall items—Tyler, there's still time to go to before you blow the money on a plasma TV and a Wii. We split a cab back to our neighborhood, and that brings me to the end: it's now after midnight, I've got a sizeable sleep debt to repay, and I'm still sitting here blogging. Must go to bed! Apologies for this post's rambling discursiveness. Bonus points to anyone who finds typos!


March 24, 2007

Quick report from Stamford

Hail, hail, the gang's all here! Having a great time at the crossword tournament so far, with the first six puzzles down the hatch. Struggled through the first trio of crosswords, finishing two minutes behind the leaders of the pack on each one (and one really can't expect to make up a six-minute deficit). So I'm out of contention for a spot in the finals, definitely, but I fared better this afternoon (a minute behind the leaders on each puzzle, I think). Whether I have a shot at the top 10, I can't say. And my mind was strewn about the floor in pieces this morning, so I might well have made a boneheaded error somewhere along the way. Sunday morning, we shall see.

Puzzle 1, by Paula Gamache, kinda beat me up. Puzzle 2, by Patrick Merrell, was slightly less painful. Cathy Millhauser's puzzle 3, I felt a little better about—I did a bunch of her crosswords on the flight here on Friday.

Puzzle 4 was by Mike Shenk, and it was easier (for me) than puzzle 1. (Though really, puzzle 1 was easier. I just had a brain freeze, that's all. Omigod, I was writing in incorrect letters and erasing them so often! Tsk.) Puzzle 5, usually so feared, proved to be much more tractable. Merl Reagle is too nice a man to slaughter everyone via crossword. Maura Jacobson constructed puzzle 6, her 30th straight year of making puzzles for the ACPT. All three of these puzzles felt breezy compared to the morning's challenges.

It looks like Tyler Hinman, Al Sanders, and Francis Heaney are occupying the top three slots so far (barring any unnoticed errors they might've had, or any unknown rookies who have snuck up there). The pre-puzzle 7 standings will be posted at 8:30 Sunday morning. I wait with bated breath, crossed fingers, and a little angst. I fervently hope I will not then learn that I made careless mistakes along the way because, frankly, that would suck big time. Puzzle 7 and the finals puzzle will be by Stan Newman and Bob Klahn (not necessarily in that order). Both have a knack for wickedly tough clues, so puzzle 7 may be a little bit of a workout. Which would be fun! I do like hard crosswords.

Am off to the local brewpub for dinner, which will be followed by Wordplay outtakes (never before seen! What could they be??) and random mingling.

P.S. Liked Rich Norris's Sat. NYT—tough clues! I read through half the across clues before anything seemed remotely gettable. Turned out to be fun, didn't it? (Didn't time myself.) The answer to that pipe clue was my favorite—wasn't quite expecting that...


March 22, 2007

Friday, 3/23

NYS 13:41
NYT 5:02

Would you believe the electricity went out before I started packing Thursday evening? I gathered up most of what I needed by flashlight...and then the power came back on. But hey, what else was I going to do in the quiet dark? I've got a morning flight from O'Hare with Nancy Shack (ACPT/Cru photographer extraordinaire) and Tyler Hinman (sometime documentary film star and my chief rival for the ACPT's Midwest region trophy). If that plane goes down, the Midwest trophy is up for grabs. And even if we arrive in Stamford without incident, who knows how many hotshots there are among the 200 or so rookies competing this year?

Those of you who are going to the tournament, I'll see you Friday! Those staying home, I encourage you to solve online or, at your leisure, play by mail. Either way will let you solve the always-excellent tournament puzzles and give you an idea of how you'd place in the standings. I'll try to steal some time in the wee hours to blog.

Two terrific puzzles to launch the weekend: Pete Muller's themed NY Sun crossword and Manny Nosowsky's themeless NYT.

Pete Muller's Sun crossword, "Paws," is one of those masterful puzzles with a twist. In this one, the solver must swap (anagram of "Paws") some clues. As 17- and 59-Across instruct, FIND ANAGRAMS FOR / ALL ONE-WORD CLUES. Aptly, the central entry, REARRANGEMENT, means permutation, which is an anagram of [Importunate]. It took me far too long to figure out what the gimmick was, despite having used the crossings to fill in RASPS for [Flies] (files) at 1-Across, and then some of the anagrams stumped me, and then I wanted 59-Across to be SINGLE-WORD CLUES. The other 21 one-word clues, their anagrams, and their answers are, in clue order but unnumbered, [Compliant] (complaint) BEEF; [Lead] (deal) AGREEMENT; [Ratchet] (chatter) YAP; [Rifles] (lifers) INMATES; [Sienna] (insane) BERSERK; [Omits] (moist) WET; [Mashes] (shames) DISHONORS; [Phat] (path) AISLE; [Gulp] (plug) SEAL; [Delis] (idles) LOAFS; and moving to the Down clues, [Sire] (rise) STAND; [Ride] (dire) FEARSOME; [Twits] (twist) WRINKLE; [Bud] (dub) NAME; [Gum] (mug) STEIN; [Interims] (minister) REVEREND; [Equals] (squeal) RAT; [Course] (source) SEED; [Snail] (nails) BRADS; [Provides] (disprove) BELIE; and [Diapers] (despair) WOE. The straight clues didn't make the puzzle much easier—[Leaves alone] sounds more like "lets be" than MAROONS, for example. And I neither read nor saw The Da Vinci Code, so the role of NEVEU was a mystery. [One by one?] is ELEVEN, and [Set up, as chairs] iS ENDOW. And one of Los Angeles's MLS soccer teams is Chivas USA; the team that signed David Beckham is the Galaxy. ROOTLE is apparently a variant of "root," as in what a pig does with its snout. The Rutles, on the other hand, were a Beatles parody co-created by Eric Idle.

And so Pete Muller continues his streak of cool crosswords that bend the conventions.

Manny Nosowsky's Times puzzle is a delightful soup of colloquialisms—"WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?" is joined by plenty of other bouncy phrases. These include WHIM-WHAM (meaning [Gimcrack] or whatzit)—I didn't know the term but it's got a good story. {Vikings, e.g.] are an NFC TEAM. The NEUE Galerie is an NYC museum of German and Austrian art. I may live near Wrigley Field, but I can't say '50s-'60s Cubs pitcher Don ELSTON is familiar to me. (Also did not know The Da Vinci Code's Priory of SION). RETRONYMs—words that become modified when newer versions arise, like "cloth diaper")—are fun; here's a list. Favorite bits: [Teacher, in dialect] for MARM; the two white wines, MOSELLE and MUSCATEL; [Not hear a single word?] for LIP-READ; [Parlor piece, for short?] for TAT (as in tattoo parlor); and [Relative of Sven, possibly] for INGMAR (generally not kosher to clue a name without reference to an actual person or character, but this was gettable).


March 21, 2007

Thursday, 3/22

NYS 6:27
Jonesin' 4:20
NYT 4:09
LAT 3:55
CS 3:37

(updated with Jonesin' at 6:10 pm Thursday)

Last year, the Friday Sun crossword that ushered in ACPT weekend was Patrick Blindauer's connect-the-dots star puzzle. If you don't do the Suns ahead of time and you're traveling to Stamford, make sure you take along this Friday's puzzle by Pete Muller. It will be talked about.

Off and on, I'll be talking about the Jonesin' crossword, constructed by Matt Jones and edited by Matt Gaffney. To get this week's, download a PDF of the puzzle on Thursday.

Karen Tracey's NYT crossword struck me as unusual—in that it's a Thursday puzzle with no apparent twist to it. Thursday-level clues plus lively fill enhance a standard theme type: four sternly uttered phrases that mean ["Case closed!"], such as "NOT ANOTHER WORD." Fill highlights include VISHNU crossing VLAD, BEGORRAH!, a DROP SHOT, and Greg LOUGANIS. Favorite clues: [Exhibit extreme anticipation] for DROOL, the combo of [Meat-and-potatoes] for BASIC and [Unlikely steakhouse patron] for VEGAN, and [Dish you might flip over] for OMELET (which a vegan also would steer clear of). This crossword is very bossy, though. Not only are the theme entries rather imperious, but the fill goes on an ego trip with I AM A, I DID, I GOT, and BE ME.

Patrick Berry's Sun Themeless Thursday is an impressive beast, with a quadruple stack of 15-letter entries in the middle bracketed by two more pairs of 15's. Better still, the quad-stack has no 4-letter crossings—just 5's, 6's, and 10's. Now, a crossword like that is likely to include at least a couple answers that you aren't sure you've seen before. For me, those included FONTAL ([From a spring], adjectival form of font/fount), APPLEBY (I read Catch-22 once, in high's been awhile), and SKIBOBS. And somehow I never picked up on what HOLOCRINE GLANDS are (sebaceous glands are holocrine). Favorite clues: [Plastic handle?] for VISA, [Single bonus?] for B SIDE, [Opening in a sweater?] for PORE, [Departments of the interior?] for ROOMS, and [One who's in and out of the office?] for TEMP. I may HAVE A SCREW LOOSE, but I've dropped a copy of this crossword into my "great puzzles" folder for its well-wrought quad-stack.


This week's Jonesin' puzzle by Matt Jones is called "Italian for Beginners," and the theme is a quip (somewhat amusing, as those things go). There's a new actor in the fill, one you should remember because of his crossword-friendly first and last name: Masi OKA. He's a special-effects computer programmer as well as a member of the ensemble cast on NBC's Heroes. Fresh and slangy fills include GET BENT, ["What's up, ___"] DAWG, and CARSICK. Good clue for ELS is clued as [Golfer whose name is often mispronounced]; who can tell me the correct pronunciation? (I'm guessing people say "elz" and it should be "else.") Took me a wee bit too long to grasp that [No. 5 maker] is CHANEL; another brand name is the [1990s Ford], ASPIRE, and CITGO is [Hugo Chavez's favorite gas station] because Citgo buys Venezuelan oil. Plenty of rock music here, with two bands, PANTERA and WEEN, plus Bob SEGER and John BONHAM. (Hey! I've heard of all of them. Francis Heaney's Onion puzzles usually stymie me with bands I don't know.) However, I dispute the clue that suggests people see an ENT for head colds; you'd have to be an extreme hypochondriac to see a specialist for a mere cold.


March 20, 2007

Wednesday, 3/21

CS 4:25
NYS 4:04
NYT 3:33
LAT 2:49

(updated 9 a.m. Wed.)

NY Sun warning: The file I and others downloaded has the answers filled in already. Blur your vision until you've managed to have Across Lite erase the answers. Also, this puzzle has one of those super-long clues that are hard to read in Across Lite. 41-Across reads, "I want you to think of one of your parents...Concentrate now...Create an image in your head...The parent you are thinking of is ___." I know it's a little spoilery to include that up here, but without that clue, it's a different puzzle, and I wish I'd read it before I finished the puzzle. Don't click the link to read more if you don't want the Sun puzzle further spoiled.

So, Jesse Goldberg's Sun creation is called, "A Parent Time," and the twist is that the puzzle will read your mind (as suggested by the quartet of theme answers like TELEPATHY)—for 41-Across, did you think of MOM or DAD? Whichever one you picked, the Down entries that cross it will work, CLINTON/BOBDOLE style. [Glide over a surface] can be either SKIM or SKID, [Trample] is STOMP or STAMP, and [Companion] is MATE or DATE. (Of course, the gimmick doesn't work at all if you chose MUM or POP or PAW.) Smaller highlights are TOYS R US crossing SMUSH, and the [2004 Fox makeover reality show], THE SWAN. Good entry, but terrible show. I daresay it presented a far more harmful view of women than Baywatch ever did. Glad the show isn't on its fourth season by now.

2006 brought us Ethan Friedman's BLACK/WHITE puzzle in the NYT and Patrick Berry's pick-a-grade report card in the Chronicle of Higher Education (it was his, wasn't it?), and now Goldberg's Sun puzzle is the third to use the same gimmick Jeremiah Farrell used in his 1996 NYT. I wonder how many more constructors will find clever ways to apply that trick?

The Wednesday NYT offering is a quote puzzle by Ed Early, with a line by OSCAR / WILDE. I wasn't sure if one of the fill entries, BAD MEN, was truly "in the language," so I Googled "bad men" and got 768,000 hits, including a number of movies, books, and articles that include the phrase in their titles, so I conclude it's fine, if less instantly understood than "bad guys." I'd never heard of the old actor Andy DEVINE, but was intrigued to read that (a) he had a raspy voice and (b) it resulted from a childhood accident with a curtain rod.


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Fold 'Em," may have an unexciting theme (the words at the end of each theme entry form compound words if FOLD is added to them), but the cluing, fill, and construction are first-class. The central theme entry hooks up with the top and bottom ones via eight longish vertical entries. Those verticals include POOH CORNER, MINIVANS, and POCAHONTAS. Favorite clues: [Hole-in-the-wall gang?] for MICE, [What "will be" will be] for ARE, [Spring summer, initially] for CPA, [Boom or box] for SPAR, [Green stuff] for MOOLA, [Beach type] for NUDE, and [Who's there, in a bit] for FIRST (as in "Who's on first"). Bonus points for citing the Johnny Depp/Martin Landau movie, ED WOOD. I know the MG, but didn't know there was an MGB model of the sportscar. And darn it, that was 1-Across! Got off to a slow start on this one.

Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword has four 15-letter theme entries, plus a 3-letter word that ties them together. Not crazy about the fill (OON, ALTE, both I'M SO and IF SO), but don't mind seeing my name in the grid.


Get a haircut

If you're going to Stamford and don't want to risk looking terrible on TV, you've still got time to get a new haircut and pack flattering clothes. Francis Heaney reports that the Discovery Channel will be filming for a documentary, tentatively titled, The Joy of Lex.

(Getting a real job is optional.)


March 19, 2007

Tuesday, 3/20

NYS 4:31
Tausig 4:18
Onion 4:11
LAT 3:31
CS 3:05
NYT 2:47

(updated at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday)

Quick post tonight—

Laura Halper's NYT crossword plays a homophone game with a- verbs paired with A [noun or name], as in ACCRUE A CREW. If the fill hadn't worked out with one of the vertical theme entries, perhaps ABASE A BASS ([Humiliate Ezio Pinza?]) could have filled in. Not quite sure that AMAZE A MAYS really works, given that Willie Mays is the only famous Mays, so "A MAYS" falls wide of the mark. But I like the vertical 8-letter fill words (POLKA DOT in the SHOWROOM), and the SLUGS/GIZMO crossing amuses me for whatever reason.

Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle, "Nixed Doubles," halves a double letter in each of five theme entries. Thus, Holly Hunter becomes [Sacred person on safari], HOLY HUNTER. Good fill—NEPENTHE (which would make a mint for a pharmaceutical company that could make a legal forget-your-troubles pill), GOSSAMER, and GODSON (clued as the fictional Godfather's godson!), to name a few. Favorite clues: [Word with sugar or sausage] for BLOOD (hard to find a more troubling food than blood sausage); [Tower for the tired?] for AAA (took me forever to read "tired" as "with tires"); and [Sound of one hand slapping] (as on the forehead) for DUH.


Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is anchored by three 15-letter "until" followers: ...HELL FREEZES OVER, THE FAT LADY SINGS, THE COWS COME HOME. My favorite entry was PEACH PIT, the diner where the "Beverly Hills 90210" teens hung out; I watched the entire run of the show in daily reruns when my son was a baby. I learned a lot. This puzzle taught me about NANOBOTS and Pentagon jargon for the CON(tiguous) U.S. [Rice alternative?], 6 letters starting with BA? I thought BARLEY (though who serves up a side of barley these days?) rather than BAYLOR University. Clever clue. And yes, the F HOLE is indeed a [Dirty-sounding cello feature].

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "What Is It Good For," has four theme phrases that start with words that can follow WAR (38-Across). The theme and title evoke the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine tells a Russian author that War and Peace was originally called War, What Is It Good For ("Absolutely nothing!"). Plenty of really nice fill here, and interesting clues, but I've gotta run now so I won't list any.


March 18, 2007

Monday, 3/19

NYS 4:07
CS 3:26
NYT 2:26
LAT 2:26

(updated at 9 a.m. Monday)

The Times crossword is on a roll. John Farmer's Saturday killer and Craig Kasper's elegant Sunday puzzle have been dropped into my virtual folder of noteworthy puzzles, and Richard Chisholm's Monday puzzle joins them. I've got a decided preference for difficult or gimmicky crosswords, but occasionally an early-week puzzle stands out. Generally what impresses me in a Monday or Tuesday puzzle is a clever or funny theme, good fill, and lack of entertainers whose heyday was 50 or more years ago.

So what did I like about Chisholm's crossword? When I got to the bottom of the grid, I saw that the word POT could precede the first words of the four long entries. Not typically the most exciting type of theme, but the POT connection made for such a lively batch of words and phrases. BELLY DANCER was visually evocative, and so is [POT] BELLY. I can see them now, the pot-bellied people bellying up to the table of casseroles at the [POT] LUCK dinner. The [POT]HEAD is loading up his plate to tend to the munchies, and the vegetarians are averting their eyes from the [POT] ROAST and looking for some hummus. The longish Down entries also sparkle: PREACHY sits opposite the EVIL ONE, and the BEEFCAKE does not CRY UNCLE. Nice and easy, no obscurities, and lots of fun. (Plus it has AMY near the middle.)


And I love today's Sun crossword, "Five of a Kind," by Ogden Porter/Peter Gordon. Anagram themes can be fun, and here, one vertical 10-letter answer crosses its four anagrams. The word ANAGRAM itself is also in the grid. The theme wasn't the fun part, though—it was the inclusion of more than 20 7- or 8-letter entries in the fill, zippy words and phrases with entertaining clues. Tops in fill: NETFLIX, HOT PANTS, CREAM PIE, EL NORTE (which I saw in college), PALME D'OR, and Ronald McDonald's purple pal, GRIMACE. Randy-sounding clues included [Takes up all the space in bed] for SPRAWLS, [Problem that some people have in bed] for APNEA, [Nighttime deposit acceptor] for ATM, [Burning] for ON FIRE (with passion!), [Expressing delight] for AAHING, and what the hell, let's include [Lying facedown] for PRONE. In addition to letting my mind go right in the gutter, I learned a new (to me) baseball name, JAE Seo, a Korean pitcher for the Devil Rays.

In Will Johnston's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Pest in Show," four long theme entries contain embedded bugs (as in STIFLE A YAWN). Will really needs to call an exterminator, because these bugs are also lurking in each corner of the grid, clued as [Pest seen in 52-Across], for example. I like the extra fillip of theme action.


March 17, 2007

Sunday, 3/18

LAT 9:46
NYT 9:18
WaPo 9:11
BG 7:47
CS 3:46

(updated at 11 a.m. Sunday)

Color me amazed at what Craig Kasper pulled off in his Sunday NYT puzzle. If you were underwhelmed by the theme, look again or read on.

In the applet, you can key in an ampersand, but does The Machine accept it as correct? I don't know, so I used an A (for "and") and went back after I finished and switched the appropriate A's to &'s. In so doing, I discovered that Craig placed eight ampersands in symmetrical pairs, plus one more smack-dab in the center of the grid. And! And the short crossings look like abbreviations for each long theme entry; thus, MIX & MATCH crosses M & M, ADAM & EVE cross A & E, etc. It took me 45 minutes to notice that the short "&" entries correspond to the long "&" entries' initials. None of the short or long theme entries are remotely stretching plausibility; all are "in the language." Now, that is mind-bogglingly elegant, in both concept and execution.

There were a few creaky spots for me. TROAS is a place in Asia Minor where the apostle Paul was said to have a vision. Old actress BETSY Blair was unknown to me. CORNET can be pastry, a lesser-known meaning of the word. I seldom remember Theodore BIKEL's name. Is ABANDONEES a real word? Indeed it is. Is ENARM a real word? Not according to, but it's gettable anyway. Didn't know the French term idée REÇUE, either. Solve and learn, eh?

Overall, some terrific fill: the colloquial NO NO NO, ANY MINUTE, EASY AS PIE, ON THE CHIN ([One way to take it?]), AT ALL COSTS, and EPISODE I. I like the word SHIVAREE ([Noisy celebration]), which I might have learned from crosswords. And I love iTUNES, both as crossword fill and as a service. Favorite clues: [Major player in the movie biz?] for VCR (modestly dated, but a clever clue approach), and the nostalgia-inducing [Old "Romper Room" character with bouncing antennae], Mr. DO BEE.

Congratulations to Craig (and Will Shortz) on a most impressive crossword puzzle.


Speaking of WIll Shortz, my mom just called after listening to Will on the radio. Apparently he reported that there are 700 registered entrants for the crossword tournament, including Phil Donahue. So presumably there will be 200+ rookies competing next week. How many of them are avid speed-solvers with a shot at making the finals? I wouldn't be surprised to see several new names in the top 20. (I just hope they don't beat me.)

I enjoyed Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "On a First-Name Basis." In it, 10 compound words or two-word phrases have the second word swapped out for the first name of a famous person whose last name is the second part of the base phrase/word. For example, kilowatts are KILO NAOMI, scarecrow becomes SCARESHERYL, and fallen idol becomes FALLEN BILLY. Hook uses mainly people famous in the '80s and beyond, which I appreciate. Having an old crosswordese-type name (say, SAND IRENE for Irene Castle) would have dried out the puzzle, and I like my pop culture to be contemporary (i.e., not before my time). One bonus point for including PTOMAINE in the fill; has anyone ever come up with a clever theme involving words with a silent P?

Robert H. Wolfe's Washington Post puzzle, "Film Splicing," combines two one-word movie titles (clued by their stars' names), such as [Grant/Del Toro film about a Christmas headache?] for HOLIDAY TRAFFIC. I hadn't heard of all the movies, but it was a fun challenge! Good cluing, too.

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge has a sweet CREAMSICLE and NECTARINE. The clue for THOMAS NAST, [Tweed unraveller?], spurred me to read up today. A month or two ago, hordes of solvers Googled an NYT clue, [Tweed twitter Thomas], and found the answer at my blog or Rex's—I knew the basics of the Tweed/Nast story, but not the details. Nast was the political cartoonist who targeted Boss Tweed, the APOTHEOSIS of a corrupt politician. Tweed funneled New York government money to himself and his cronies via contractor overbilling (hmm, shades of Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois politics...). In reference to Nast's Harper's Weekly cartoons, Tweed was said to have exclaimed, "Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can't read, but, damn it, they can see pictures!"

The LA Times syndicated Sunday puzzle, "The Shoe Must Go On," is credited to Cathy Carulli, which unscrambles to "actually Rich" Norris. The theme involves shoe puns, such as LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOAFER, [Shoe banned in Britain?]. Favorite clue: [Capital asset?] for SHIFT KEY.


March 16, 2007

Saturday, 3/17

NYT 11:02 (ouch)
Newsday 8:28
LAT 5:48
CS 2:53

(post embiggened at 12:50 p.m. Saturday)

If you appreciate themeless challenges, don't miss Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper (and go get it before you read all the spoilers). It beat me up—if you have an easier time with it, feel free to gloat here.

The above paragraph was written shortly before I was bloodied and bruised by John Farmer's NYT crossword. John pops in here and at the NYT forum from time to time, and he always seemed so nice. But now I know: he is cruel when it comes to making themeless puzzles. Looking back at the grid, it seems so reasonable, so completely fair. Sure, the phone rang halfway through and rattled me (yes, I will let it ring if I'm mid-applet). I found so many ways to stray from the true path, particularly in the NE corner, and also the SW and SE corners; the NW corner had some unfamiliar answers, but didn't vex me as terribly as the rest of the puzzle.

Things I learned in the NYT puzzle: the National Space Society's magazine is called AD ASTRA, which is a LATin phrase; RAILBIRD is a term for a [Racetrack habitué]; Sophia Loren and Paul Newman were in a movie called LADY L; LAPLACE was a French astronomer; and a SUMPTER is a pack animal like a [Packhorse or mule].

Many great clues: the brilliantly deceptive [Masters of verse] for EDGAR LEE Masters; [An old secretary might sit in one] for ANTIQUE SHOP; [It's sometimes mined] for DATA; [Result of running off?] for XEROX COPY; woefully misleading [One of four in mythology: Abbr.] for SYL(lable); [Some Russians until the Emancipation Manifesto of 1861] for SERFS; [Conference member] for TEAM; [Roast ingredient?] for ONE-LINER; [One working on a canvas?] for BOXER; [Preserves fruit] for QUINCE; and [Dead center?] for MORTUARY.

Most vexing spots in the NW: [Line delivered before lines are delivered] for BREAK A LEG (all I could think of was cues). In the NE: [Become] for AMOUNT TO at 9-Down (tried a number of different verb phrases); drew a complete blank on Freddie LAKER and OKSANA Baiul (next to and crossing the troubled AMOUNT TO spot); spaced on UP AHEAD for [Looming in the distance]; tried BARKS AT in lieu of SNAPS AT for 14-Down; thought UNWINDS for UNREELS; blanked on author MAUPIN—I told you that whole corner killed me. In the SW: the politician's avoidance of YES OR NO. In the SE: [Potter's field?] for SORCERY (er, not CERAMIC at all) crossing SUMPTER and BOLERO (the opera clue threw me), which in turn crossed EPSOM SALT and [Fast food] BURGER (what could be more straightforward than that?).

So, John Farmer and Will Shortz: well played. Thanks for trying to shatter my confidence a week before the crossword tournament.

Either Merle Baker's Saturday Stumper was uncommonly tough, or his wavelength and mine do not intersect. Given my lack of musical training, I had no idea what LEDGER LINES were, so had the vague [Staff adjuncts] clue pointed me towards music, I still wouldn't have known that. The first letter crossed L-BAR, which Googles right to a lesbian bar. (Looks fun!) [Bores] put me in mind of everything but DIAMETERS. Fill I liked: CHRISTMASSY, CARTOONISH (with the clue [Not true to life, perhaps]), BLURTED OUT, and PASSES GO. Favorite clues: [Rappers] for CRITICS, [Mass marchers] for ALTAR BOYS, [They manage] for OVERSEERS, and ["Happy Days" actor] for BAIO (I thought of seven other actors first! Even with *AI*! Oy.) A few WTF? entries: an EDUCT is [Something drawn out], but it cannot be drawn out of many dictionaries. The answer for [Peacock blue] is the French word PAON, meaning peacock. And DYNEL seems to be more of a composite fiber than a [Synthetic fabric]. Yes, this puzzle was SCABROUS, or [Full of difficulties].


I really liked Barry C. SIlk's LA Times puzzle, which challenged me without drawing blood. I do sometimes say "HOME, JAMES" in the car when no James is present. The [Dewy-eyed quality] of STARDUST is lovely. The NW corner took the longest—who knew there was a Peoria in ARIZONA? Not I. Leo G. CARROLL was before my time, and I wanted RON Jaworski to be LEO (thinking of Watergate's LEON). Favorite clues: [Far East accord?] for HAI (Japanese for "yes"); [Cracks] for QUIPS crossing [Popped questions?] for QUIZ; [Stores in the country?] livening up ENSILES. Plenty of Scrabbly letters, with lots of Z's and V-SIX crossing ELIXIRS at the I rather than the X. Also liked the double Iranian combo of Shah REZA Pahlavi and the FARSI language.

Mel Rosen's themed CrosSynergy puzzle, "Me, Two, Two," includes five phrases in which ME appears twice. Not crazy about that as a theme idea, but the theme entries are a nice batch of phrases. And a HOT SHOWER (in the fill) always refreshes. Now that I've managed to finish a Saturday puzzle without struggling, I'd best get back to tournament training. Sheesh, only six more days?


March 15, 2007

Friday, 3/16

LAT 4:57
NYT 4:51
3/2 CHE 4:34
NYS 4:12
CS 2:56

WSJ 7:32
Reagle 7:23

(updated at 9:15 a.m. Friday)

Ah, Friday! The day when I seek out crosswords from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Wall Street Journal, and Merl Reagle's one-man crossword factory. The day when—if I'm lucky—the New York Sun'll have a tough themeless puzzle (though I have no objection to the alternate-week tough themed puzzles) to balance out a New York Times themeless. And the LA Times and CrosSynergy puzzles don't take the day off, either, so there are a couple easier crosswords, too.

This is a Sun Friday Weekend Warrior week, and this week's puzzle is by Karen Tracey. Like many of her crosswords, this one has high-Scrabble-value letters (Z,Q, X, J, K) sprinkled throughout the grid, geography (ancient PHOENICIA, Italy's TARANTO [huh?], and America's own APPOMATTOX, OKEMO Mountain, and SITKA), colloquial terms (yummy FLAPJACKS, a CHICK FLICK, "I HEAR YOU, "UH-HUH," and "THINK AGAIN"), and pop culture (BOGIE, KUNTA KINTE from Roots, GRIZABELLA from Cats, and Mary's friend RHODA, to name a few). Special citation for coolness with the "cosmic jazz" of SUN RA and the Arkestra and a dystopian novel I never heard of, THE / IRON HEEL. My favorite clues: [Giving life to, as cel bodies?] for ANIMATING, ["Dziekuje," across the Oder] for DANKE, [Gross root?] for DOZEN, and [Paper work] for ORIGAMI. I kinda wish the clues had been harder, though. I love to be vexed by hard crossword puzzles. (P.S. Am I the only one who likes to pronounce it a-POM-a-tox and use it in a sentence like "Appomattox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!"?)

It's possible Will Shortz is gaslighting Eric Berlin. Two weeks ago, Eric had another Friday NYT puzzle and blogged that he'd thought the previous one was his last in the pipeline, and yet he's also got this week's Friday puzzle as well as last Sunday's. I could've snuck in under the 4-minute mark for this one if not for the baseball aphasia I suffer from. [Make a sacrifice, perhaps] shouted sports to me, but I put in PUNT instead of BUNT, leaving DAP (which is a verb) in place of DAB for [Bit]. (And yet I got LASORDA with just the L. It's a selective aphasia.) Eric has OSMIUM, while Karen had ACTINIUM in the Sun puzzle—it must be Element Day. Eric also has a few Scrabbly letters, lots of wide-open white space in the middle of the grid (well, above and below the middle, to be exact). I like [A.A.A. offering] being JUMP rather than the stale RTE; STATIC clued as [Complaints, informally]; and [Holy smoke?] for INCENSE. What did ERNEST Thayer (as in [Poet Thayer and others] write? "Casey at the Bat"; again with the baseball!


Colin Gale's Wall Street Journal puzzle (really Mike Shenk's) is called "Product Placement," and the theme entries contain an embedded company or product name in the circled squares. After getting the first one, I worked on getting the other theme entries with minimal crossings. A puzzle within the puzzle—always fun. Took me a while to figure out why [You might have a shot at it] was BAR, even though there was another shot/bar clue/answer combo a day or two ago. And it was a week or two ago that I learned PROJET was a [Treaty draft] and I did remember that one today, so I'm definitely educable.

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "A Re-Sounding Success," also has a puzzle within the crossword. Each of 12 theme entries is a famous person's name (hooray, I like names in crosswords!), and the surname has a heteronym—an unrelated word (or phrase, here) that's spelled the same but pronounced differently. E.g., "ESAI says that MORALE'S just as important as talent on a movie set." The me loved the theme!


March 14, 2007

Thursday, 3/15

NYS 4:15
NYT 4:11
LAT 3:58
CS 3:19

Is it just me, or has the Times crossword forum been nonfunctional pretty much all day? I so enjoy seeing the British Airways ad atop the "Service Unavailable" message, because I'll be flying BA in May, and I'm beginning to get a Pavlovian reaction: British Airways = 12 hours of waiting. Hmm, maybe that's not what they're hoping their ads will evoke.

Odd-looking crossword grids abound—Michael Shteyman with the NYT puzzle, and Barry C. Silk with left/right symmetry in the Sun.

In Michael's, the four corner squares are black, but they are not connected to form a big X. The theme entries, if you can call them a theme, are four entries around the grid's perimeter plus the two that cross in the middle, all of them with two X's. (XANAX and XERXES are bonus XX entries not in symmetrical spots.) I love Scrabbly letters in crosswords, and this one has a baker's dozen of X's. Toughest words: the [Brazilian dance] MAXIXE, TELESTO the [Moon of Saturn], and the race horse ALYDAR. Favorite entries: all the XX words, SAT PREP, EX-MARINES, and AT AN ANGLE. Favorite clues: [Private affair?] for EXTRAMARITAL SEX, ["Shifting gears a little" and others] for SEGUES. And have I mentioned that I like the X business?

I didn't notice the fullness of the theme, if you can call it that, in Barry C. Silk's Sun puzzle, "T Squares." Sure, there's a big T in the middle of the grid and that long TEETERTOTTERING had a lot of T's in it—but every single answer contains at least one T, too. (I'm fine with the clues not all starting with T.) I never knew the Wait Until Dark bad guy was named Harry ROAT. ROAT? Is that a real surname? Apparently it is, and it's Scottish. Military abbrevs. in both of these puzzles—TSGT is short for Technical Sergeant in the Air Force, whereas the NYT's SGTMAJ is a Sergeant Major in the Marines and is ranked above the TSGT, according to the chart at the latter Wiki link. Favorite clues: [College basketball Hall of fame] for SETON Hall University, [Sudden death can end it] for TIE, and [What hyperactive people might be on?] for THE GO. My first guess for the hyper clue was DRUGS, giving me a U at the end of the sudden death word...FLU? That's terrible! Fortunately, a trusty time zone clue and old standby NTH coaxed me out of the FLU idea.


Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle makes note of another key day this week (aside from Pi Day and St. Patrick's Day) in "Beware the Ides of March."

Kelsey Blakley's LA Times puzzle includes IDES in the fill, but unrelated to the theme. I had a hard time teasing out the theme in this one. Across the middle was GARRISON KEILLOR, which backwards is ROLLIE K? NO SIR, RAG. That was unilluminating. Eventually it dawned on me that the three long Across entries bound together by a vertical word down the middle began with POST, GARRISON, BASE, and FORT. Those ruminations took place after I finished the puzzle, but during the solve, I stumbled over BUMBLE, [Make a mess of], which really wanted to be BUNGLE, FUMBLE, or JUMBLE. It didn't help that the M came from Kristen MARTA, No, wait, it's MARTA Kristen; either way, not a name stored in my pop-culture bank before today.


Wordplay mention on Jeopardy!

I don't know why Chicago's ABC affiliate has to set its own daytime schedule this way—Oprah is on at 9 a.m., not in the afternoon, and Jeopardy! is on at 3:30, not in early evening. Alas, that means I missed seeing ACPT contestant Scott Weiss on the game show today. Sherry Blackard tipped me off, but alas, after the show had aired here.

Sherry reports that Scott's interview segment included a mention of Wordplay (his scene in the movie ended up on the virtual cutting room floor, alas), that Alex Trebek said he saw the documentary recently on an airplane (ooh, I wonder if the censors dubbed over Merl Reagle's "enema" and "urine"), and that Alex reported that Scott placed 27th last year, ahead of Ken Jennings' 33rd-place finish.

Maybe a couple of you Mountain or Pacific time zone people will get a chance to see the show.


March 13, 2007

Wednesday, 3/14

NYT 5:24
NYS 4:48
LAT 3:51
CS 3:32

(updated at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday)

On tonight's schedule, the NYT crossword by Peter A. Collins and the Sun puzzle by Patrick Blindauer. Neither of these constructors is known for lackluster work.

Starting with the NYT, one might exclaim, "What what? A rebus puzzle on a Wednesday? But that sort of thing rightfully belongs to Thursday." However, when the rebus is π (PI), it would be wrong to run it on 3/15 when 3/14(159...) is just a day off. I think I had a little advantage going into it, seeing the beyond-Wednesday applet times posted by other people—figured there had to be something twisty about it. The theme entries include the four long entries, the words that cross them at the PI, assorted shorter words with PI, and the non-rebused PI DAY, [March 14, to mathematicians]. We've got [PI]NUP [PI]CTURE crossing TAR[PI]T and HAP[PI]ER, POP[PI]NG [PI]LLS crossing POT[PI]E and OKA[PI], [PI]ZZA TOP[PI]NG crossing [PI]P[PI]N and [PI]NOT, and O[PI]NION [PI]ECE crossing O[PI]ATE and [PI]ETA, as well as Nevada's state tree, [PI]NON, UP[PI]NG crossing S[PI]NE, S[PI]RO crossing [PI]LOT, PU[PI]L crossing A[PI]AN, and [PI]CKLE crossing S[PI]N. Besides the heavy-duty rebus action skewing this puzzle in a Thursday direction, there are also relative obscurities like KURE, RETOP, and CONTEMNED. I'm not nuts about the artwork of Odilon REDON, but I've long been fond of that name. Also, I had no idea mathematicians were wont to call March 14 "pi day." Do they really? Anyway, I haven't seen Peter Collins' byline too often, but I'm glad when I do.

The hardest thing about Patrick Blindauer's Sun puzzle was making sense out of the title, "Good Start for Trick Ending." Near as I can figure, G = start of "good" and CK = "trick" ending, and the theme entries swap out a final CK for a G (as if you've got a stuffy nose when you say them aloud). My favorite of the three is NEW KID ON THE BLOG. Took me a long time to figure out [Pussy galore?], which is ACNED. (Say it with me: Eww!) Also in the "ick" category: TUNA MELT. So one "ick" subtheme, plus the Spanish geography subtheme with the city of MALAGA and the clubbing island of IBIZA. I like the subtle baseball of [Cards in play at once, e.g.] for NONET (the baseball Cardinals, they're still in St. Louis, aren't they?) Other good fill: BUNDT cake, ATM CARDS, and BIG DADDY (Jon Stewart was in that as well as in Wordplay, you know). The phrase EYED UP (meaning [Checked out], assessed) didn't resonate for me, so I Googled it; does it have a British slant to it? Or are there Americans without Commonwealth connections who use the phrase? Just curious.


The theme in Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle includes four 15-letter entries with made-up phrases consisting of words that can follow fire: e.g., [Siren irritates prison head?] is ALARM BUGS WARDEN, as in fire alarm, firebugs, and fire warden.

Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle has five phrases all clued by [Drive]. Nice structure—the central theme entry intersects the two vertical ones, and a pair of 10-letter words crossing that central entry also connect it to the other two horizontal theme entries.


March 12, 2007

Tuesday, 3/13

Onion 5:24
Tausig 4:08
NYS 3:38
CS 3:34
LAT 3:02
NYT 2:56

(post updated at 9:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday)

We moved our clocks ahead an hour yesterday (and—gotta love technology!—more than half the things in my house that display the time updated themselves), but it appears that the New York Times' applet server in the Netherlands didn't get the memo. I'm guessing the puzzle will show up at 10 Central, 11 Eastern, but I'm not waiting. I was in bed before 9 the last two nights (I'm not dreadfully ill, no, but sick all the same), so I'll catch up with the NYT crossword Tuesday morning.

The week's Sun puzzles have been posted, though, so this blog features the one-woman show that is Kelsey Blakley's Sun crossword, "Beginning to End." (Yes, I know Peter Gordon often works closely with the Sun constructors, yadda yadda.) This puzzle has a syllable flip-flop theme with things like NASSAU SAUNAS and TICTAC TACTIC. Try as I might, I can't think of any other words that would lend themselves to this theme; can you? SINBAD BAD SIN doesn't quite work. Good fill—those MUSCLE CARS are a DIME A DOZEN. TRUE GRIT (surely I'm not the only one who can scarcely differentiate between John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn and the cartoon rooster Foghorn Leghorn?) combined with REDNECK and AMARILLO. Three Z's and an X. And multiple entries that did not exist in Maleska's day—ZIMA! PIXAR! BLOGS!

And…good night.


Holden Baker's NYT crossword unifies five IRISH COUNTIES of the Republic of Ireland and two counties in British-held Northern Ireland. (And no, the counties are not placed in geographically accurate spots in the grid). Three of the counties are the first or last word in a phrase, and four stand alone in the corners of the grid; all are clued in other contexts without reference to Ireland. The puzzle's back to early-week easiness, after the Monday puzzle was harder than usual. Yes, I like hard puzzles, but more so when I expect them to be tough; it's a little jarring when the difficulty level lands wide of the (usually so well-calibrated) mark, isn't it?

And furthermore:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "The Brand Wagon," features trademarked product names that have morphed into more generic nouns via GENERICIDE. (By the way, if you haven't done the puzzle in Across Lite already, you're going to need to tweak the layout to display the loooong clues.) The theme answers aren't just the long Across entries—5-, 13-, and 45-Down are also clued accordingly. And I'll bet that OREO and ICEE have both been used to describe sandwich cookies and slushy drinks of other brands. Favorite clue: [Get shots all over?] for BARHOP. Shiny new entry: the not-yet-released Apple IPHONE (or iPhone).

Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club has Francis's trademark shtick of including bands I've never heard of. Here it's the DRESDEN Dolls, and I also didn't know that Paul ANKA was a featured vocalist on Jay-Z's "I Did It My Way," but given the title, it shouldn't have been so hard to guess. And I've heard of Yo La Tengo, but not the IRA Kaplan thereof. I kinda guessed at the OMD one, too; don't know their oeuvre. The long theme entries (a lively grouping that can be described as "things a drag queen might wear") are tied together by the descriptive A DRAG and TV SET. Has anyone, anywhere, ever referred to a transvestite's apparel as a "TV set"? I await a link that will quell my objection to that entry. I also don't like HONIED—yes, it's in the dictionary, but is honeyed that hard to write? Then there's the SIZE II HEELS with II standing in for the number 11, which makes some people cranky. On the plus side, I like FRONTED (as in a band), PB AND J, a pair of 11-letter vertical fill entries, and the way [Kennebec River city] put me in mind of Kennebunkport and Maine rather than AUGUSTA, Georgia. But wait: It's AUGUSTA, Maine, which may be the state capital but has a population of under 20,000.


March 11, 2007

Cru dinner update for the ACPT

As Ellen Ripstein mentioned, the plans for the annual Cru dinner at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament have changed. If you signed up for the dinner but haven't read Chris Aldrich's post this weekend at the NYT forum, please go to Chris's page and e-mail Chris to confirm your attendance. The upshot is that (1) the Marriott's restaurant is wigged out by the largeness of the crowd registered for the ACPT (700, apparently), so they've decided not to take restaurant reservations for the weekend, and (2) there were hideous waits for food last year anyway), so (3) the substitute plan is a buffet dinner. Which means (a) less waiting for food and (b) you can try a little of each entrée (steak, chicken, pasta) instead of being limited to ordering one, eh?

All the details are at Chris's page, so if you signed up before, check it out and send your confirmation to Chris (e-mail link is in her page).


Monday, 3/12

NYT 3:39
CS 3:19
NYS 2:57
LAT 2:52

(post updated at 10:50 a.m. Monday)

Another constructorial debut in the NYT, if I'm not mistaken—the byline reads Kevin Der, and his crossword is pretty smooth. There's plenty of lively content in the grid aside from the theme, which takes five warnings you might see on packing boxes and puts them in human contexts. Thus, KEEP DRY becomes an exhortation to a recovering alcoholic, and THIS SIDE UP is [Sign for a sunbather?]. Elsewhere in the puzzle, there are two dull words, ATTENDEE and HOST, livened up by being placed alongside one another (though the crossings kind of ruin their party: AHAB and the YETI brought plain TOFU cubes; at least the DESSERTS are waiting down below). TATTOO and OP ART evoke visuals, while LET ME SEE and ANYHOO evoke conversation. SCHTICK evokes Yiddish, which ties to HIGH DAY (which I Googled because I wasn't sure it was "in the language" without a HOLY in the middle; Googling high day Jewish gave plenty of examples of the usage).


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Send in the Clones," has a so-so theme (sound-alike pairs like MINER MINOR for a [Coal-digging 16-year-old?]), but it had other high points. The past-tense SPAMMED, which is a word we see often enough these days, but it hasn't shown up in the crosswords since 1999 (when Brendan Emmett Quigley used it in a Sunday NYT). [Promise to a chef?] as a non-stale clue for OLEO. Although what chef is using Promise in her cuisine, really? That reminds me, though—recently read that bakers are having a hard time complying with strict limits on trans fats because butter—tasty, perfect butter—contains a small amount of natural trans fats. So baked goods made with butter instead of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are off-limits at Starbucks, whereas saturated palm oil and certain hydrogenated margarines are A-OK, except that really, wouldn't we all prefer butter to palm oil when it comes to pastries? This crossword—see? I remembered I'm writing about crosswords—also includes SPACEMAN, which is the name of the quack doctor on 30 Rock, only he pronounces it "spuh-CHAY-man." I just got hooked on 30 Rock and downloaded all the episodes I've missed from iTunes. It's smart-funny and silly-funny, with plenty of throwaway lines that are gems. Less whimsical than Arrested Development, but with a similar appeal.

Edward Alch and Eric Platt's Sun puzzle, "Here's the Story..." (the comma is not happy with the ellipsis in quotes, so it asked me to insert a parenthetical remark to give it some breathing room), features the BRADY bunch in three vertical entries. You may ask yourself, why are the adults CAROL, ALICE, MIKE listed in that order? Well, that's where they are in the Brady tic-tac-toe grid, and the kids are also listed in Brady grid order (oldest to youngest from top to bottom). That is nifty. I think there were other parts of this crossword I wanted to mention, but I'm too out of it this morning to remember what they were.

Ray Fontenot's LA Times puzzle has five TV WESTERNS clued out of that context, so [Sudden windfall] is BONANZA, and [Lone dissenter] is MAVERICK. DR RUTH and MAZEL TOV are there to liven up the fill, too.


March 10, 2007

Sunday, 3/11

WaPo 10:10
NYT 9:24
BG 8:45
LAT 8:19
CS tba

I liked Patrick Berry's Second Sunday puzzle for this weekend, "Partners." (His variety crosswords are one of the reasons I subscribe to Games and Games World of Puzzles—I shamelessly skip the pages I'm not interested in.) I will confess that I have stared at the words in the top shaded row for some time now and even though I know the first letter and the letter count, nothing's coming to mind that fits. Maybe tomorrow my brain will function better. For now, hey, I have an excuse. I'm sick. And did you know that a five-day course of antibiotics doesn't make you all better within hours of the first dose? It's true. Sad but true.

I'm not sure where Eric Berlin and Will Shortz are going with the title of the Sunday NYT. "Thinking Green"—is that ecological or a lead-in to St. Patrick's Day? Either way, the theme relies on cross-referencing five "green" things and their descriptions. The five things are scattered throughout the grid asymmetrically, and the definitions are each 20 or 21 letters long: e.g., green CHEESE is WHAT THE MOON ISN'T MADE OF. Good theme; I like it. In the fill, I love SLURPEE, CAPITAL I ([Frst person indicator]), LOW-GRADE (like my fever, which has asked me to convey to Messrs. Berlin and Shortz that it is hardly [Inferior]), O ROMEO, and the juxtaposition of HOLY SEE and PAPER HAT (so close to PAPAL HAT!). I wonder how many solvers out there will be Googling that tricky crossing between 10-Across and 11-Down: the ["Concord Hymn" writer's initials] are RWE for Ralph Waldo Emerson (I don't know that title, though—wonder if a clue like [19th century American essayist's initials] would be easier?), and the [Early Chinese dynasty] is WEI (Wikipedia tells me the Wei dynasty unified northern China in the year 439. I know what you're thinking: No way! And I rebut, Wei!). Very little pop culture in this crossword, so presumably those who complain about an excess of pop culture in the NYT puzzle will be pleased. I'm pleased with it too, but I do find that contemporary stuff livens up crosswords. So, this isn't much of a post, but I'm out of it this evening. Please, y'all feel free to talk amongst yourselves in more detail. (And yes, you'll need to read that sentence with both a Southern accent and whatever accent Mike Myers used as the Linda Richman character. Joisey? Brooklyn? Long Island? Surely one of you knows more than Wikipedia.)


The LA Times syndicated puzzle, Doug Peterson's "Target Practice," assembles eight parts of a gun (including a SHELL and BULLET) in the theme entries. The fill entries ARMY and ASSAULTS are not tied to the theme, nor is (go) POSTAL.

Highlight of Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's "O'Puzzle" in the Washington Post: OREO SPEEDWAGON. There was another puzzle in the last year or two that played with OREO (or possibly OLEO) in a theme entry, and that was groovy, too—nice to see those easy filler words stepping up, being used for good rather than evil/expediency. Major nostalgia bonus points for cluing BRETT as ["Match Game" panelist Somers]; she was always my favorite among the panelists.

Another St. Pat's tie-in with Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe puzzle, "Two-Part Harmonies," featuring eight symmetrically slotted halves of four song titles from 109-Across, EIRE. "IT'S A LONG WAY / TO TIPPERARY" was the only title that was familiar to me, making for a few could-be-deadly crossings. We don't often see Egyptian god AKER or the Zoroastrian sacred texts AVESTA, both of which crossed theme entries, or [Dragster driver Joe] AMATO, which crossed AVESTA. (I think we usually get Across Lite versions of 2-week-old Globe puzzles, but this one's Irish theme makes me wonder if it's what's in the Boston paper today.)


March 09, 2007

Saturday, 3/10

LAT 8:09
NYT 7:22
Newsday 4:10
CS 2:59

You know how so many themeless puzzles contain a few iffy words, a few compromises that may have been necessary in order to facilitate the good stuff? I suppose iffiness is in the eye of the beholder, but my eyes beheld none of those crappy trade-off entries in Patrick Berry's NYT crossword. All I see is good stuff, hiding behind super-smooth clues.

Patrick's puzzle is anchored by two 15-letter entries that aren't crossed by a single 3-letter word (and the whole grid contains just six 3's). I sure as heck didn't recall the title of the Laurel and Hardy movie, SONS OF THE DESERT (special fondness: my sister's name is Laurel, which left me to be Hardy). Maybe I haven't had truly good SWEET POTATO PIES, but I don't care for them (chocolate and fruit are far superior to tubers when it comes to making desserts). I started off at 1-Across and -Down with a pair of wrong answers: the Disney title character isn't BELLE, it's SIMBA (The Lion King); and [Pickles] isn't BRINES, it's SOUSES.

My favorite clues (and there are many): [Small drawing?] for PUFF; [Nikola Tesla, for one] for SERB; [Information for the record] for LINER NOTES; [Becomes an issue] for ARISES; [Flip alternative] for PAGEBOY; [Coat hangers-on] for FLEAS; [It's often underfoot] for INSOLE; [What many Latter-day Saints are] for UTAHANS (not MORMONS!); [Female bacchanalian] for MAENAD (great word!); [Follows a course] for GOLFS; [Scuzz] for SMUT (see under synonyms for "feculence")

My favorite entries not already mentioned: the neighboring PEPCID and LAO TZU; PFENNIGS ([Divisions of a mark]); MAD DOCTOR; the RAMONES; and PONIARDS. MAINFRAMES was clued as ["Big iron," in hacker slang]—doesn't ring any bells with me, but I'll take Patrick and Will's word for it. Also, [Radio's "___ American Life"] could have been rendered trickier as [Showtime's "___ American Life"]—Ira Glass's radio show is making the leap to pay cable. (We don't have Showtime, alas.)


March 08, 2007

Friday, 3/9

NYS 8:11
2/23 CHE 6:37
NYT 6:09
LAT 5:05
CS 4:09

WSJ 7:03
Reagle 6:46

Randolph Ross's NYT crossword tossed some utterly unfamiliar things at me. First off, there's [Singer/film composer Jon], who turns out to be Jon BRION; the only project of his I'm at all familiar with is the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind score, but I can't say I remember the movie's music. The [1987 BP acquisition] is SOHIO; alas, gazing up at the skyward-bound granite-clad BP building overlooking Chicago's Millennium Park on Monday did not yield any SOHIO epiphanies. I'm not up on historical cattle-ranching legalities, so AGIST was also new to me; it's clued as [Feed for a fee, as cattle]. And BELL LAP is, apparently, the last lap in track events as well as [Climax at Daytona]. (Too bad that clue wasn't looking for a verb.) There were, fortunately, many more entries that I did know, and clues that I appreciated. I never read Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT, but (a) he has got one crazy head of hair, and (b) many of his writings are available at his website. SWISS BANKS are the [Secretive places]. [Like some fears] is the clue for IRRATIONAL, but I'd like to point out that many fears are quite rational; have you seen the horrible centipede-attacks-animal video? I haven't, but my husband saw it and now he understands my fear and loathing of centi- and millipedes. I liked GEORGIE Porgie, though he shouldn't go around kissing the girls without their consent, pudding and pie or no. I liked the FIRST FLOOR elevator stop, the MAZE that's [Hedge fun?], and [Jack's place] in the TRUNK of the car (if he didn't want to end up there, he shouldn't have double-crossed me). Also liked [Person of intelligence?] for WIRETAPPER, [Begin, say] for ISRAELI, [Body shops?] for SPAS (dangit, I started out with GYMS), and [Baseball, in slang] for POTATO (which reminds me, I should make mashed potatoes this weekend). [Dental routine] tricked me into taking the patient's point of view and trying ORAL CARE rather than the correct ORAL EXAM.

Beautiful theme in Dominick Talvacchio's 15x16 Sun crossword, "Self-Descriptors"—the answers to the five theme entries describe themselves. In three cases, they're straightforward—POLYSYLLABIC is indeed a polysyllabic word. It gets more fun with 10- and 39-Down, which exemplify the errors described by the words (MISPELLED is misspelled because an S is missing, and INCOMPLET is incomplete because the final E is missing). Favorite clues and answers: [Ground round opening?] for MANHOLE, [Beat it] for DRUM (though I'm not generally a fan of the "it" clues in which the answer substitutes for the "it" rather than the complete clue), [Comanche, e.g.] for JEEP, [Rose buds?] for THE REDS baseball team, [Relating to head cases?] for CRANIAL, [Tug on, as an ear] of corn for SHUCK, [Out-of-style do?] for DOST, [Start badly?] for HOTWIRE, and the retro TV flashback of Happy Days' ARNOLD'S crossing FLO.
I didn't know there was a Y-LEVEL tool, nor that there was a LESLEY University in Cambridge, MA. This puzzle complements the NYT's Menachem Begin appearance with GAMAL, EGYPT, and IRANI. Again, terrific and innovative theme, perfect for a Friday NY Sun puzzle.


The northwest corner of Patrick Berry's 2/23 Chronicle of Higher Ed crossword, "Celebrity Endowments," took me a loooong time, partly because I didn't know there was a poet named EUGENE FIELD. The Wikipedia article on him tells me he wrote "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" and other children's poetry—and he once lived three blocks from where I sit right now! (Those Prairie-style houses on Hutchinson St. are gorgeous. If I won millions of dollars in the lottery I don't play, I would buy a house on that block as well as becoming a patron of the cruciverbal arts.) There's also a Chicago Park District park and fieldhouse named after him—the Field Fieldhouse? [Age of Discovery commodities] are SPICES, someone named PAULI [postulated the neutrino's existence], [Getting ready, in a way] is RIPENING ("I'll be ready to leave in about 15 minutes...I'm not quite ripe yet."), I don't always remember the Long Island town ISLIP, and it took me far too long to figure out that [Ultimate accolade?] meant EULOGY. Good clues, good crossword.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy offering, "A Sophomoric Puzzle," is fun. [Grumpy coworker] is another of Snow White's Seven Dwarves, [Wet bottom?] is SEABED, the phrases CHEWING OUT and DAWN ON cross each other, and OREO has a clue I haven't seen a zillion times before: [Each one has two colors and three layers].

Donna Levin's LA Times crossword adds a NO to each theme entry without negating anything—a [Dolphin rookie?], for example, is MIAMI NOVICE. SOMA (why, oh why can't I find any place that sells a blue plastic Soma cube like we had when I was a kid?) is clued with reference to Huxley's Brave New World. I haven't read any sci-fi since high schoolish, but I was reading a discussion of sci-fi at a feminist blog. Did you realize that there are no female Alphas in that book? And there's just one male Beta, apparently—and he works as a mechanic, because goodness knows an entire second-rate class of women couldn't be expected to use tools. No Alpha women! What kind of make-believe society is that?

Merl Reagle's "Do Your Duty" (his syndicated Sunday puzzle for this weekend) packs in 13 theme entries, and since they all have the initials KP, which makes it a lot easier to guess the answers. In addition to those 13 initial K's, there are a couple other K's plus a Q, X, and pair of Z's. Despite the lack of humor in the straightforward theme, it's still a fun crossword.

Manny Nosowsky's "No Big Deal" in the Wall Street Journal turns out to be almost as easy as Merl's puzzle—i.e., considerably easier than either of these venues typically are. I would suspect that my brainpower had blossomed today, but the NYT and Sun puzzles I did last night, and the CHE puzzle...not so easy. Anyway, Manny has seven theme entries surrounded by lots of expanses of white space. A quasi-themeless look to it, but not a quasi-themeless difficulty level.