July 31, 2007

Wednesday, 8/1

NYS 6:29—see previous post for link to .pdf
LAT 3:43
NYT 3:19
CS 3:18

(updated at 2 p.m. Wednesday)

Ellen Ripstein tipped me off to some YouTube videos you might enjoy. The Discovery Channel's got a trivia game show called Cash Cab, in which people who hail a taxi and find themselves in the Cash Cab have a chance to win money by answering trivia questions. If they miss three, they have to get out of the cab even if they haven't reached their destination. Apparently puzzle folks in NYC are on the lookout for the Cash Cab and sometimes they find it.

In this segment, frequent NY Sun constructor Tony Orbach and his son do battle with the cabdriver/inquisitor. Another clip features Mark Danna, a constructor whose byline I've seen mainly in Games and/or Games World of Puzzles, I think. He's published several NYT crosswords and a Wall Street Journal one, too.

Patrick Blindauer continues to unearth new ways to innovate in crossword construction. In his 14x16 New York Sun puzzle, "Board Members," there's a 8x8 chessboard (though not one with alternating black and white squares) embedded in it. The two long vertical theme entries give you a chess problem to solve: WHITE TO MOVE; MATE IN THREE. Within the chessboard area, certain squares are tagged as containing black or white chessmen; K, R, P, B, and Q designate which pieces they are. Me, I skipped the chess portion of solving this puzzle—if you're a chess fan, though, tell me how you liked the embedded chess content here. Favorite clues: [Deal breaker?] for NARC; [Shirts and skirts et al.] for RHYMES (this one always fools me!); [It might be cashed for pounds] for CHEQUE; and [Common Polish name ender] for SKI (I have some Jablonski in me). I love the word [Salacious] and note that BAWDY (the answer here) and RANDY have three letters in common. Want to know more about the [Highly venomous snakes] called KRAITS? Read this. It also lists other poisonous snakes, including two sea snakes. I have an ex-Marine neighbor who has both water moccasin and tree snake anecdotes and, frankly, I can't say which is more horrifying—snakes lurking in trees or snakes lurking beneath the surface of the water. I never heard of baseball player Jim KAAT ([Pitcher Jim with 16 Gold Gloves]) even though he played with the White Sox for a couple seasons in my childhood. Of course, in my childhood, my dad was utterly bored by baseball and didn't expose me to it.

All that is a roundabout way of avoiding the point: Congrats to Patrick B2 for another cool twist that expands what "crossword puzzle" means!

The New York Times crossword by David Kahn is a tribute to Beverly Sills, who died this July 2. Tons of relevant answers: BEVERLY and SILLS, for starters. She was a LYRIC / SOPRANO (those entries cross in the middle). Some of her noted opera roles: CLEOPATRA, LUCIA, ROSALINDE, and VIOLETTA.
And, not part of the symmetrical theme, crossword stalwart ARIA, clued as ["Sempre libera," e.g.]. Here's a video clip of Sills on The Muppet Show, singing that aria while Miss Piggy tries to outsing her. Opera COSTUMES and Sills' nickname, BUBBLES, round out the theme. If you highlight the theme entries, you'll be impressed by how the 10 words intersect in the grid. Some of the fill is unexceptional (as one might expect with 10 theme entries that interlock), but there are also some goodies, such as ARCANA (a cool word—and also the plural of arcanum!); SERB and CROAT sharing the [Balkan native] clue; and CARRIES clued as the football-stat noun. I also took a fresh look at INANER. Nobody ever uses this comparative word outside of crosswords. It gets a mere 785 Google hits. But it could also double as a phrase. Where might you get stitches? IN AN E.R. (N.B. That wouldn't be kosher crossword fill.) Favorite clue: [Stretches out?] for COMAS.


Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Say Uncle," has a 100% pop-culture theme: actors who played uncle characters on TV shows. The Sopranos' Uncle Junior was the only one whose name (DOMINIC CHIANESE) came quickly to my mind. WILLIAM DEMAREST from My Three Sons was a close second. The other two? Let's see. BRIAN KEITH was in Family Affair, which was from my early childhood and I remember very little of it. He played the dad in the original Parent Trap movie, but I can only picture Dennis Quaid in the remake (which launched the talented Lindsay Lohan into her hideous celebrity). Here's what Brian Keith looked like. And here's DENVER PYLE in Dukes of Hazzard. Elsewhere in this puzzle, PLUMPS is clued as [Drops heavily]. I could swear I've heard "plop" but not "plump" with that meaning, but the dictionary tells me I should get out more.

Jerome Gunderson and Nancy Salomon's LA Times crossword features phrases that begin with 3-letter names of AUTHORS: Amy Tan, Edgar Allen Poe, Umberto Eco, and Anais Nin all get the treatment here. These writers are crossword heavyweights whose short names get a lot of action in the grid, so it's nice to see them used in a fresh way. My favorite theme entry is NINCOMPOOP. Other favorite bits: IGGY POP and MOSHPIT placed opposite one another in the grid, and [Where to hear a lot of grunts?] as the clue for ARMY. Not a big fan, in general, of short clues that alliterate or rhyme, though, and this puzzle has a great many of those.


The pdf for the Wednesday Sun crossword

Once again, a New York Sun puzzle fairly begs to be printed out from a .pdf so that the solver gets the full effect from its nifty features. Tomorrow's puzzle by Patrick Blindauer can be downloaded from Francis Heaney's link.


July 30, 2007

Tuesday, 7/31

Onion 4:34
Tausig 4:02
NYS 3:43
LAT 2:59
NYT 2:53
CS 2:44

(updated at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday)

I tackled two extra puzzles today. The first is Patrick Merrell's "Special Delivery." This is reminiscent of last Friday's remarkable NY Sun crossword (in which Francis Heaney and Patrick Blindauer used the letters in the numbered squares to fill in the theme clues, acrostic-style), only more so! It's not a spoiler to reveal that every single white square in the puzzle is numbered, and every single letter's used once in an acrostic. You get a few clunky, obscure words, but hey, every single letter has to work in the Across and Down answers as well as in the acrostic. Bravo, Patrick! (If you want to hear how Patrick went about making this puzzle, read his making-of post.)

I also did Fred Piscop's 'Tour de France" puzzle at the NYT site (the monthly free bonus puzzle). I thought it would have a cycling theme (and my husband's a cycling fan—difficult though that is in these doping-crazed days!). It turned out to have a pervasive French theme—names and words that have a French connection; e.g., [Fictional French musketeer], [French's condiment]. Easy, but fun to have that sort of overriding theme sans a set of long theme answers.

Last weekend's NYT Second Sunday puzzle was a diagramless crossword by Byron Walden. I haven't done this one yet, but wanted to remind you—me, I often forget about the Second Sunday puzzle until I see a mention of it in the NYT forum or blog comments. I don't mind the biweekly acrostics, but I have a soft spot for the other assorted puzzle types that fill that spot during the acrostic's off weeks. If you usually avoid diagramless puzzles because the lack of black squares seems insurmountable, remember that there are two shortcuts: You can look up the starting square of 1-Across (as I usually do) to get a little boost, or you can convert the Across Lite puzzle and have it fill in all the black squares for you so you can solve it regularly. Sure, it's easier if you use one of those shortcuts, but there's no law against it!

The New York Times daily puzzle for Tuesday was constructed by Allan Parrish. The theme entries occupy four long slots in the corners as well as two entries that intersect in the center of the grid. One of the central answers is WALKS, and the other theme entries end with things that can precede that word. Too bad ROMERO is clued with reference to Cesar Romero who played the Joker rather than George Romero, the director of HORROR movies like Night of the Living Dead. Instead, HORROR pairs up with its opposite in the grid, POTPIE. I think that's apt. There's a bit of a sporty vibe in this puzzle, with SAMPRAS, CHAMP, and OLYMPIC—and APLOMB sort of ties into that. This crossword's also got a slew of people's names (about 20 of them), plus a couple car models, a ship, and a place. Some people grumble about that, but I enjoy name-dense crosswords.

Randall Hartman's New York Sun crossword's called "Ch-Ch-Changes." Each of the four theme entries is a phrase or compound word with two 3-letter halves, with a CH added to both the beginning and the end. So Ang Lee becomes CHANG LEECH, [One who sponges off Eng's twin?]; the [Merit badge for paying off debts], CHITS PATCH, plays off "It's Pat"; an armpit becomes the singles bar CHARM PITCH; and Airbus grows into CHAIR BUSCH, the weakest of the quartet. This puzzle was jam-packed with fun clues and zippy entries. There's TED NUGENT, who may THROW A FIT, LOWCUT jeans, plus two Zs and an X (in REX, [King, in Latin]). Cluewise, the goodies include [Stick up at sea?] for MAST; [What you might do while dropping acid] for ETCH; [Dis subject, perhaps] for YO MAMA; and [Long-term appeal] for LEGS.


Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Seesaw Snacks," revisits familiar ground: Palindromes that fit into a crossword grid. (Patrick Blindauer had one some months back, and someone else had one around the same time.) I feel like I've seen EVIL OLIVE (clued here as [Fiend in a martini?]) before, but I'm not sure if it was in a crossword. My favorite of Ben's batch is KLIMT MILK, with a side of UFO TOFU. Entries I liked: MALWARE, NEW KID on the Block, NAUSEA (does that one typically violate the "Sunday-morning breakfast test"?), CUTESY [Like www.catsinsinks.com], and SCRAWL. Favorite clues: [Pirate speech disfluencies] for ARS; [One with galangal in the fridge, perhaps] for LAOTIAN; and the two Joycean tidbits, [Last word in "Ulysses"] for YES and [Bloomsday beverage] for ALE.

This week's Onion A.V. Club crossword comes from Matt Gaffney. There are six 6-letter theme entries, each one a name with a 2-letter and a 4-letter part. They're grouped together by an odd central entry, THE TWO FOUR SIX. The names are a groovy group, though, representing pop culture (JA RULE, BO BICE, ED WOOD, AL GORE), sports (TY COBB), and '90s world leaders (LI PENG and AL GORE). (If you've never seen Ed Wood, rent it. Johnny Depp is terrific in it.) Best fill entries: ISAO AOKI with that clot of vowels in the middle; FEEL ME from Tommy; SHARIA law; and LOOK BAD. As a fan of Pee-Wee's Playhouse, I like to see Miss YVONNE. Female anatomy shows up: CERVIX and BOOBS and, if you're juvenile enough, TITIAN. Plenty of longish answers in the fill and fresh cluing combine to make this a fun and somewhat challenging puzzle.


July 29, 2007

Monday, 7/30

CS 3:06
NYS 3:01
NYT 2:55
LAT 2:55

Monday, Monday. What is there to say about Monday crosswords? Not a whole heckuva lot.

The New York Sun puzzle by Jack McInturff is called "Business Founding Fathers." The names in the theme are three of America's founding fathers as well as corporate names: SAMUEL ADAMS beer, JOHN HANCOCK insurance, and ETHAN ALLEN furniture. They're all, in a sense, COMPANY MEN. I like that VAGRANCY is clued as [What a hobo might be charged with]; yesterday I learned that a friend's husband wrote his career-making dissertation on hoboes. The opal is the most common birthstone found in crosswords (it's for October); McInturff includes February's AMETHYST instead. Here's a site with photomicrographs of the standard birthstones; cool pictures.

Elizabeth Long's New York Times crossword takes three celebs whose last names double as sporting terms and tacks a possessive 'S onto their first name: LUCILLE'S BALL, SALLY'S FIELD, and NEIL'S DIAMOND. Two other candidates for this theme, both athletes, are the especially apt MARGARET'S COURT (Margaret Smith Court is a retired tennis player) and GILBERT'S ARENAS (Gilbert Arenas plays basketball in the NBA). There are a number of people named Park to choose from, too. Hey, pick an athlete named Park with an odd number of letters in his or her name and you've got yourself a doubly sporty variant on Long's celeb theme, if you don't mind having a pair of 14s in there.


Sunday, 7/29

Reagle 10:04
BG 9:21
LAT 8:59
NYT 8:52
WaPo 8:12
CS 6:28

I had a great time during my 12 hours at the BlogHer conference yesterday. The keynoter was Elizabeth Edwards, who stuck around for the cocktail reception (where I snapped a photo of her with my phone). She's one of those articulate people who speaks in paragraphs—and given that the keynote event was in Q&A format, it's not as if those paragraphs were written in advance. Though I'm sure Edwards has had opportunities to address the public on many of the topics, when have you heard her talk about blogging or elder care? If you've never seen her, how tall do you think she is?

The other famous speaker at the conference was Amy Sedaris. She was a panelist at a craft blogging session, and crafts, really not my thing. I prefer my Sedari (is that not the plural of Sedaris?) to be entertaining me with their wit, but still, it was cool to be at the same party as someone I saw on Letterman recently.

The conference gave me some ideas about expanding my site, maybe during the coming year. The swag was decent—a messenger bag and a mini flash drive were the highlights. Also popcorn and cotton candy for an afternoon snack, and seas of free wine at the reception. I also picked up a brown Blogger-logo t-shirt, size XL, but jettisoned it when I realized I had absolutely no use for such a thing. The green tea "pillow mist" and affiliated lotions and whatnot, also no use. A pin advertising a brand of whole turkeys, no use. A giant ballpoint ben (about a foot long and an inch thick), no use—though now that I think of it, my son would've loved that! Oh, well.

In the "small world" category, I gave my pseudo business card to a woman who said, "A friend of mine writes crossword puzzles that have been in the New York Times." She knows Vic Fleming down in Little Rock! We talked about Vic (saying only nice things, of course), so his ears may have been burning around 8:00 last night.

Moving right along, it is possible that today's batch of crosswords is the single finest batch of crosswords ever published on the same day (pretending, for our purposes, that the Boston Globe puzzle available online wasn't published weeks ago). Congrats to all the constructors and editors for compiling such an entertaining set of puzzles! That I enjoyed their efforts despite a soupçon of hangover headache is to their credit.

Today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle is by Bob Klahn, which means tough but spot-on clues and lively fill. What's good about the fill? Lots of combos that resonate, such as two first/last name entries, a few animals (including the [Honey badger], a.k.a. RATEL), pop culture, and a few phrases or words with Scrably letters. The clues offer some interesting trivia in addition to making you contemplate alternative meanings of the words Klahn uses.

This week's Across Lite offering from the Boston Globe is Henry Hook's "Solving for X." The answers to the puzzle-within-a-puzzle are prepositional phrases (or words/phrases that include a prepositiony component, like UNDERSTANDING) cleverly clued via sort of a rebus (using the standard idea of what a rebus is as opposed to the crossword-speak version): Solve for X in [CAXUSE], where the X is in the middle of cause, and the answer is WITHIN REASON. I love this sort of theme, and it's executed to perfection in this crossword. There's some sparkle in the surrounding fill to boot (PEEVISHLY, PATTYCAKE, POOL CUE). A bit of old-school crosswordese sneaks in, but with a clue that redeems it: ESNE is [A slave to puzzles?]. The only bit of mystery fill here, for me, was British actress LYSETTE Anthony, whose name I'm noting so I might remember it if she pops up in another puzzle some day. This crossword is going in my "great puzzles" folder.

I also enjoyed Elizabeth Gorski's Washington Post crossword, "White House Guest List," a lot. If you're up on your presidential middle name trivia, this one's for you. And if you're not up on the trivia, hey, this will teach you a bit. The clues throughout were fun—SODA is [Counter offer?], for example, and plenty of other short and ordinary words had light, fun clues. I learned a new vocabulary word, too: EMBROCATE means to rub with liniment or lotion, for medicinal or religious purposes. This winter, when my skin's dry, I expect to embrocate with shea butter or lotion more often than I do in the summer. And I hope I remember the word, because I've been embrocating for years without realizing that's what I was doing. Dry skin? Embrocate!

This is a fantastic day for crosswords. I'm writing about the puzzles in the order I'm solving them, and these first four have been right up my alley. The syndicated LA Times crossword is Rich Norris's "Taking Too Much." (The name in the byline, Nora Pearlstone, is an anagram of "not a real person.") The theme entries "take too much" by ODing, or adding OD somewhere in the base phrase. My favorites among the 10 theme entries were GODOT MILK, clued as [School cafeteria order that never gets filled] (playing on the ad slogan, "Got milk?"), and PODUNK ROCKER, [Rural resting place]. Good fill, good clues, fun theme—good puzzle!

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "One Fine Day at the Health Expo," nourishes with health-food puns. (And yes, aloe counts as a food because some people do eat it.) Two obscure geographic names here: EVORA is a small city in Portugal (rated the country's third most livable city!), and TETIAROA, which I've heard of, is the Tahitian atoll Marlon Brando bought. I'm not in a pun mood today, but this is a good crossword nonetheless.

Another eminently likeable puzzle in Brendan Emmett Quigley's New York Times crossword, "Th-Th-Th-That's All, Folks!" The theme entries all end with a TH tacked onto a base phrase, with spelling changes as needed to transform the last word into a real word. Not one's cup of tea thus becomes NOT ONE'S CUP OF TEETH (eww!). Great theme entries, and great fill, too. I liked getting started with PING PONG (the basis for Pong, which my family had as a retro hand-me-down when my friends' families had Atari or Colecovision consoles) atop EMOTICONS atop a theme entry. As in the Klahn CrosSynergy puzzle, there are plenty of entries that resonate with one another: MOOCOW and NO MEAT; MA AND PA, the MISSIS (also spelled missus), and the unwed POSSLQS; an athlete having an OFF YEAR (that one stands alone, but I like it anyway); Hugh JACKMAN and MEG RYAN in opposite corners, and Alfred MOLINA and Peter O'TOOLE in symmetrical spots; MY BAD and BEATS ME.


July 28, 2007

Saturday, 7/28

Newsday 5:58
LAT 5:08
NYT 4:49
CS 3:19

We went to the family fun fair at a nearby park this evening, and watched E.T. after sundown beneath the stars...and clouds...and jets flying east from O'Hare. It was Ben's first time seeing it, though I'm not sure how much he actually watched. I think he and his buddies were conferring much of the time. Anyway, the movie ended at 10:45, and by the time the kid was asleep and I'd had a snack, what do you know? It's past midnight, and the crossword awaits.

Long-time readers may recall my fear and loathing of centipedes. During the course of solving Manny Nosowsky's Saturday New York Times puzzle, what did I behold but a teeny centipede zipping across the wall to my left. Horrors! And the little bugger shot behind something so I could not rid myself of the distraction. So back to the puzzle (clock ticking), solving away—and there it is again, straight ahead! Fortunately, it had nowhere close to hide and could not escape my wrath. I think I deserve a medal for contending with nature's leggy fury whilst solving a crossword.

My favorite clues in the NYT puzzle: [Mike Brady of "The Brady Bunch," e.g.] for STEPDAD (though of course he was living with three boys of his own); [Common site of archaeological remains] for BOG (as in well-preserved ancient bodies unearthed in bogs); [Class struggles?] for LESSONS; [Carnegie Mellon athletes] for TARTANS (this I did not know); [Young members of a convocation] for EAGLETS; and [Guide feature?] for SILENT U. The [Bristol Cream ingredient] is OLOROSO; sherry, ick. Favorite entries: HAD DIBS; THE EDGE of U2; the Potsieesque SIT ON IT; BARGE IN; ELEANOR Roosevelt; NOW WHAT, and STINKER.

Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper contains 72 words, so there's plenty of flexibility for Scrabbly fill, and yet the grid is loaded with words like INTENTS and DESIRED and NEATENS (and precious few phrases—I counted three, vs. 18 in the NYT crossword). The clues were fine, but I do appreciate twisty question-marked clues that can amuse me. I also like having stacks of 8- to 11-letter entries with some surprises, some fresh phrases and unusual letter patterns.

By the way, I'm attending the BlogHer conference on Saturday, so I'll be tardy for the Sunday puzzle.


July 26, 2007

Friday, 7/27

NYS 6:15 + 3:00
NYT 5:44
CHE 4:16
Jonesin' 3:39
LAT 3:31
CS 2:44

WSJ 8:22

(updated at 11 a.m. Friday)

The New York Sun crossword, "Solving by the Numbers," is a joint production of Patrick Blindauer and Francis Heaney. In the comments on yesterday's post, our Aussie correspondent, DA, wrote, "Patrick B and Francis H have pushed the envelope off the table, and out the door. It is brilliant." What's the twist? The clues for the three theme entries are provided in a post-puzzle puzzle. After I finished the grid, I filled in the acrostic-style blanks above it with the letters that appeared in the crossword squares with the corresponding number. Those gotta-work-for-'em theme clues are mighty fine clues, and yet they had to be exactly the right length (21 letters each) and those letters had to fit into the grid's numbered squares. It's horribly intricate, this interwoven meta-construction. And the trio of theme entries? A rock-solid set: ON THE DOTTED LINE, DASHES ONE'S HOPES, and FILL IN THE BLANKS all go together thematically. And! And these phrases more or less describe the acrostic-style spaces. I will cry foul with the crossing of 1-Across and -Down; I didn't know the singer LULU and certainly didn't know that [Bogs] was British slang for "toilet," or LOOS. (That link also edifies me on "Bob's your uncle!" It's slang for "That's all it takes!") Although I have to uncry foul given that the L was also available via the acrostic. Favorite clue: [Briefs, briefly], which managed to surprise me by being UNDIES. Here's the mythological tale behind "Pile Pelion on OSSA" (53-Across), which isn't a phrase I knew before.

The New York Times crossword by John Conrad has a reasonably Fridayish-looking grid, but with a Thursday-style rebus trick that may induce sneezing if you have a dust allergy: A [DUST] rebus in six exactly symmetrical spots in the grid. [DUST]Y SPRINGFIELD and INTERSTELLAR [DUST] anchor the long entries in the middle, and the top and bottom rows have shorter words/phrases containing [DUST]. The overall cluing and the shorter answers didn't do much for me, but I admired the longer fill (IRIDIUM, [DUST]BUSTER, BIT THE [DUST], NETZERO, SECRECY, and the evocative pair of CHEESES and HORMONE). [Shop coat?] was one of the trickiest clues, since I didn't know [DUST] was involved there at first (SAW[DUST]). I know some people rail against gimmicks like rebuses making Friday incursions, but I always like the punched-up surprise.

Matt Jones' Jonesin' puzzle for the week is called "For Your Security," and its theme entries include the key words from the national threat advisory. Highlights: SEX TAPE, clued as [Paris Hilton recording]; OOMPH; SHAUN clued as ["___ of the Dead" (2004 comedy)] (most entertaining!); and APLOMB. [Author of "The Sandman" series Neil] is Neil GAIMAN, whose name I hear a lot but whose work I've never read. What am I missing? The Busta Rhymes CD called ELE is actually E.L.E., short for extinction-level event. (Hey, I remember that from the movie Deep Impact.)


Michael Ashley's July 13 Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle, "Party Time," quizzes you on assorted U.S. political parties formed between 1828 and 1971. Are you up on your political history?

Wall Street Journal puzzle editor Mike Shenk bylined today's crossword under one of his pseudonyms, Alice Long. "Singling Out" converts a double letter into a single one in various -ING words, altering the phrase's meaning and cluing according to the new meaning. Thus, [What eyes have?] means STARING ROLES. Plenty of interesting clues for the fill, but the theme wasn't up my alley. I think it's because the theme entries are all so unnatural. A bowling teammate is a SPARING PARTNER?


About the Friday Sun

Francis Heaney posted this pdf link for tomorrow's NY Sun crossword, a collaboration between Francis and Patrick Blindauer. Francis advises that this puzzle is best solved on paper, and that this pdf is a better choice than Across Lite.

If you haven't solved the Thursday Sun, note that the Thursday answer grid appears on the same page in the pdf.


July 25, 2007

Thursday, 7/26

NYS 4:55
NYT 4:36
LAT 3:42
CS 3:25

(updated at 8:20 a.m. Thursday)

The constructor of the Thursday New York Times puzzle, Joe Krozel, had another NYT puzzle last year, in which he included five 15-letter movie titles. This one has a phenomenal 106 theme squares! Granted, the theme entries are tied together via gimmick and not semantically, but still, 106 is a huge number! The gimmick is that every Across entry starting at the left edge of the grid is a continuation of the Across entry at the right edge. Thus, 15- and 13-Across together are ALSO / RAN, and 36- and 34-Across are ROBERT / E. LEE. The crossing fill one the left and right is not always great (e.g., OSSE and RESEE), but can you imagine the difficulty of squeezing in 13 pairs of phrasal entries that can be split this way and fit into a symmetrical layout? Good gravy. I didn't notice until after solving that the puzzle lacks the standard all-over interlock—the left and right halves are divided by that top-to-bottom snake of black squares. I liked this puzzle, but I'm sure the rule-breaking and the gimmick itself will have their detractors. I also liked the longer vertical entries in the grid's midsection(s)—LIP-SYNC, ON CREDIT (speaking of credit: I cannot hear about the Optimus Prime character from Transformers without thinking it sounds like a credit card. "Bad credit or no credit? You may qualify for Optimus Prime!"), and OPEN ARMS (alas, not clued with the Journey song).

The New York Sun Themeless Thursday puzzle by Jeffrey Harris was not too hard for a themeless. Plenty of Scrabbly fill, anchored by JOHNNY KNOXVILLE of Jackass infamy. Plenty of world geography, Africa edition: GHANA crossing RWANDAN; ASMARA, the capital of Eritrea; and the Egyptian setting for AIDA, [Memphis belle?]. Pop culture lesson: I didn't know that NENA's real name was Gabriele Kerner, but the Germanic name and "one-hit wonder" designation fairly shouted "99 Luftballons" and Nena. Geek alert: [Data representation expert?] is SPINER, as in Brent Spiner, the actor who played Data on that Star Trek spinoff. I never, ever heard of the thermodynamics term ENTHALPY, and the clue, [It's symbolized by an H], seems to serve no purpose other than to tempt solvers to think, "Could it be that easy?" and put in HYDROGEN. Including the word thermodynamic in the clue would at least serve an educational purpose. Awful clue for ROADKILL: [Animal that's tired right before dying?]. Picturing tire tracks on a dead animal fails the Sunday morning breakfast test. Then there's APRIL clued as [Roger's dead girlfriend in "Rent"]. I've never seen the show, but this synopsis tells me April committed suicide after learning she was HIV-positive from dirty needles. Cheerful! And the SKIN's clued as [Partner of bones]—"skin and bones" can also be depressing. At least the ATRIAL septal defect can be repaired surgically...


If U have a partcular fondness for the letter U, U won't want to miss David Kahn's LA Times puzzle.


July 24, 2007

Wednesday, 7/25

NYS 6:18
NYT 3:46
LAT 3:39
CS 3:35

(updated at 9 a.m. Wednesday)

Another cursed typo in the NYT applet! I would've been right up there with Howard B, but for an errant letter.

The New York Sun puzzle by Pete Mitchell, "Nonconformity," has a little kick to it. That kick comes in the form of an outside-the-grid twist: The only theme answer inside the grid, color OUTSIDE THE LINES, hints at the gimmick. In each corner section, the entries extend outside the grid in one direction, and the letters that don't fit inside the grid spell colors. Thus, above 1-Across, LOVEY Howell, you need your BROWN crayon to complete the Down answers of [B]LOC, [R]ONA, [O]VERSKIRT (a [Woman's accessory] that is, I believe, passé by centuries), [W]EAVE, and [N].Y. MET. In the northeast corner of the puzzle, the outer color is to the right and spells ORANGE; continuing clockwise, GREEN's under the southeast corner and PURPLE abuts the southwest. Cool trick, eh? The constructor knows how to color inside the lines, too, as AQUA fits into 6-Across normally. Favorite clues: [Sauce whose name is Italian for "pounded"] for PEST[O] (related to "piston," apparently—though pestle derives from Latin pistillum, meaning what? Anyone up on their Latin?); [Niminy-piminy person] for [P]RISS; [Nice thing?] for OBJET; [Park and bowl?] for STADIA; [Guinness Book cofounder McWhirter] for ROSS (raise your hand if you know his brother's name, too); and [Typical S.E. Hinton character] for TEE[N] (Ponyboy and Sodapop!). Wondering what zarzuelas are? That link explains the opera-ish form.

Ed Early's New York Times crossword is a quote puzzle. "A dreaded quote puzzle!" you exclaim. (Or else you're saying, "Ooh, I enjoy quote puzzles." Pfft.) This example was more like a standard crossword theme than most—instead of offering you a single "aha" moment when you eventually fill in the last line, it adds a few smaller "ahas" along the way. It's fairly standard to add a [Speaker of the quote] entry, and here it's CHICO. He's balanced across the grid by [Sibling of 54-Across], his brother HARPO. Then there's an extra symmetrical pair of entries, MARX and BROS., not explicitly tied to the quote theme by the clues but aptly describing CHICO and HARPO, et al. The puzzle is further enhanced by including 15 7- to 8-letter fill entries, with John MCENROE beside OEDIPUS, HOUDINI by ARMENIA, and a TRIVIAL/COHABIT corner. My typo was in another 7, where NET COST turned into NET COSE.


Annemarie Brethauer's LA Times crossword gets down in the dumps. It's really the pits. Why? Because the theme entries all end with things that are dug out, like pits. And in each case, the word's used in a sense other than that of a hole in the ground. There's NE'ER-DO-WELL, LAST DITCH, the GREAT DEPRESSION, the movie ENEMY MINE, and PIGEONHOLE. Extra bonus points for putting STARSHIP in the grid but not mentioning the World's Most Terrible Song, "We Built This City." I just Googled the song title and one of the first hits was this USA Today article agreeing with my assessment that this song (video here) is the absolute worst ever. Number 3 is Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" (video here), but a few months ago I heard their "Dance Hall Days" on the radio, and it was painfully, gratingly awful. I think "Dance Hall Days" (video here) is every bit as abysmal as those other songs—maybe even worse.


July 23, 2007

Tuesday, 7/24

Tausig 4:40
NYT 4:10
CS 4:01
NYS 3:59
Onion 3:49
LAT 3:26

(updating Tuesday in dribs and drabs...okay, done at 1:30 p.m.)

You know how vexing it is when you accidentally put the wrong letter into a crossword square, but that wrong letter masks itself by forming a familiar crossword answer in the crossing? And you scan every Across entry looking for something amiss, eventually finding the outlier in the 12th column of Down answers? My, that's bothersome.

Crossword constructor and illustrator Patrick Merrell has launched a blog, Pat Tricks. The highlight thus far is the debut of a weekly comic strip, "Squares," starring a black square and a white square talking smack about life in the grid. Coffee fiends, take note: Pat's next book is Coffee Time, featuring trivia and puzzles about that hot caffeinated concoction.

Bruce Adams' New York Times puzzle has four long theme entries that change a 4-letter plural into what sounds like its nickname. Thus, White Sox fans turn into WHITE SOX FANNIES perched on the bench, and [Angry rabbits in August] are HOT CROSS BUNNIES. (If you ask me, hot + cross is a feeling that deserves its own adjective, along the lines of hungry + cranky = hangry. I get ornery when it's too warm in the house, and dangit, I need an adjective! Suggestions?) The highlight of this puzzle, for me, was the pair of quasi-themeless corners with 9-letter entries stacked alongside a 15-letter theme entry. Did you know that ESPERANTO is a [Language in which plurals are formed by adding -oj]? I did not. (And apparently there are hundreds of "native speakers" who learned Esperanto from their parents!) Oh, that typo I had? Somehow ABBE found its way into the grid as EBBE, crossing _LBA and looking awfully plausible. Alas, the isle of Elba was not called for, but the Duchess of ALBA was.

In his 15x16 New York Sun crossword grid, Barry Silk tacks on an -ING to rework a movie title. The best of the three theme entries in "Filming Retakes" is THE RIGHT STUFFING. Me, I always like to see ORANGE in the crossword grid, even if it must be sandwiched between CAVIAR and TIN GOD. Seeing EMILIO clued as [Actor Estevez] reminds me of a wee in-joke in the cartoon, Jimmy Neutron. Scientific genius boy Jimmy has a pal named Sheen Estevez—Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez being two of Martin Sheen's four actor sons.


Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Curses," has just three theme entries, FOUR-LETTER WORDS and a pair of phrases made of nonprofane four-letter words. These are supplemented by an FCUK at 1-Across, as in French Connection UK and its logo tees.Favorite clues: [Sue, e.g.] for T. REX; [Bender for one hoping to get married?] for KNEE; [Pittsburgh, Akron, et al.] for RUST BELT; [Upper] for STIMULANT; and [Stick in a certain body canal] (!) for Q-TIP. I never heard of the [Swiss cheese plant, e.g.], but last weekend I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory and visited the AROID Room. PTL is clued with reference to Jim and Tammy Faye; Tammy Faye Bakker Messner died last week. (I heard a replay of her Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross yesterday—I hadn't known that Tammy Faye embraced people with AIDS when many others shunned them.) [Like much of the crowd at Star Gaze] must be a reference to this Andersonville restaurant and dance club, Andersonville being WOMEN's answer to Boystown. Two phone answers in this puzzle: the terrific Internet telephony service SKYPE and PAY PHONES, clued as [Outmoded communication devices]. I'm a little surprised by the number of pay phones that remain in my Chicago neighborhood, but hey, not everyone can afford a cell phone.

This week's Onion A.V. Club crossword is by Byron Walden. Byron pulls out five rhymes for booze; e.g., [Intoxicant discussed online] is BLOGGER LAGER. (Though this blogger much prefers ale and will discuss no lager online.) Favorite fill entries: MMM BOP (What on earth were the Village Voice critics thinking, picking that as best single of '97?), CHINA SEA, HIGHER-UP, PATSIES, and CLIP ART. Boring old ENID, Oklahoma, gets a breath of fresh air with a Jurassic Park III quote in the clue. '70s nostalgia pops up in a couple spots. The clue for CPO references the '70s Don Rickles sitcom, C.P.O. Sharkey, which I actually watched. And then there's the original host of Soul Train, DON Cornelius—Soul Train was originally a Chicago show aired on a local UHF station. The puzzle goes juvenile with [Kindergarten whiz?] for PEEPEE, but skews "adult" with [Hot times for stags?] for RUTS. Romanian-born actress ELINA Löwensohn has a crossword-friendly first name, but didn't recognize her name or her movie, Nadja—a "postmodern vampire tale," apparently. ALI moves beyond boxers and actress McGraw and Ali Baba to cite actress [Larter of "Heroes"]. Was anyone else disappointed that [Exerts dominance over, in slang] was OWNS rather than PWNS?

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times crossword is a little buggy, with four theme entries that end with types of ANT. Who doesn't love the KAREN CARPENTER ant? By the way, if you ever get a chance to catch the cable documentary about the siafu ants that can eat animals and attack people, don't miss it! Unless it sounds like it might give you nightmares, in which case, pretend I never said anything, okay?

I call foul on a crossing in Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle. Crossing an abbreviation for football positions with a football player I never heard of. Sammy BAUGH apparently peaked as a player during World War II. Hey, could someone provide a list of all the football position abbreviations? Other than QBS, they tend to look like random letters. All right, what else about this puzzle? It's a quote puzzle, CHARLES DICKENS slamming lawyers. Meh.


July 22, 2007

Monday, 7/23

CS 4:43
LAT 3:03
NYT 2:45
NYS 2:41

(updated at 7:35 a.m. Monday)

I have plenty of crossword spoilers after the jump, of course, but no Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoilers! I read the first book this year and have seen the first four movies, so I'm a long way from encountering the ending of Deathly Hallow—except that I read the spoilers at a couple blogs just so I can go about my business with no distracting curiosity.

But I am curious about this—if you have kids, would you say that this summer's Potter movie is appropriate viewing for a 7-year-old who wasn't scared by the last movie?

The Monday New York Times crossword by Randall Hartman offers five terms ending in anagrams, but the one real-word anagram that's left out is OPTS. Maybe OPIE down there in the southeast corner really wanted to be a tie-it-all-together OPTS, because there sure aren't any good noun phrases that end with OPTS. Favorite entries: BLOOPER and BO-PEEP beating out corporate giants US STEEL and DUPONT.

Hmm, my third sub-3:00 completion of a New York Sun crossword this month—is it just me, or has Peter Gordon eased up the Sun's Monday puzzles? The Monday Sun was written by Larry Shearer (a debut publication?), and "Beginning With Z's" contains phrases or words whose two parts can each be preceded by BED (the last Across entry). E.g., SPRING ROLL evokes bedsprings and bedrolls, while CHECKMATE ponies up bed check and a bedmate.


What explains a Monday CrosSynergy puzzle that takes a lot longer to solve than the Times and Sun? Bob Klahn's byline, of course. Usually short rhyming or alliterative clues are ridiculously easy, like the stalwart STY clue, [Pig's digs], that's been used again and again. Klahn writes clues like [It may flank a frank] (that's a ROLL) and [Lapel label] (an ID TAG) that aren't the same old, same old, despite the surface resemblance to easy clues. He also uses the same word in two clues with different contexts—[Artsy gathering place] and [Gathering dust], 68- and 69-Across, may swirl together in your head and keep your brain from instantly recognizing the key word's meaning. Need I say that I like it when that happens?


July 21, 2007

Sunday, 7/22

Reagle 8:54
NYT 8:26
BG 8:26
WaPo 7:49
LAT 7:02
CS 3:53

(updated at noonish Sunday)

The Sunday New York Times puzzle this week is by David Levinson Wilk. His new book of puzzles came out this summer, and I have a copy of it, but I haven't cracked it open yet. Maybe after I finish Hook's book, I'll get to it.

Anyway, the NYT crossword's called "Worst Pickup Lines." Now, yesterday's puzzle had AMORIST clued as [Love lover]. I looked the word up (and linked to the page I consulted) because it really wasn't that familiar to me, and read the American Heritage Dictionary definition: 1. One dedicated to love, especially sexual love. 2. One who writes about love. Further down that page were some synonyms from the thesaurus, and those words had a different sense for "amorist": A man amorously attentive to women: Casanova, Don Juan, gallant, lady's man, Lothario, Romeo. Now I'm glad my eyeballs scanned that page because [Amorist] popped up as a clue in the Sunday puzzle, first letter R, and ROMEO came right to mind in a way it wouldn't if I'd only known the dictionary definition. I routinely look up words that aren't so familiar as they're used in a crossword, and it really does help cement those words and meanings in my head for the next time I encounter the word.

(Another example: Karen Tracey had the Tanzanian island of PEMBA in one of her puzzles this weekend, and I'd never heard of it before. Just today, I was checking the postage rates for international mail, and wouldn't you know it? There was Pemba, about 10 notches above the Philippines. Pemba's big enough for the USPS to include it separate from Tanzania—but, um, I didn't really read much of the Wikipedia article when I looked that one up for a link in my post the other day. I await Pemba's next intrusion into my consciousness.)

This crossword includes the dreadful punchlines of seven bad pickup lines, such as ["Even though we've never met, I'm sure your last name is Campbell. That's because..."] YOU'RE MMM, MMM, GOOD. Bundle these together in one place, and they're painfully entertaining. Outside of the funny theme, the puzzle's overall vibe has zing and zip. There's BOOTSY Collins, who can make Elton John's '70s style look tame; MARY ANN from Gilligan's Island; a TWO-FOOTER putt on the golf course; AKRON, OHIO beside SHRUGS OFF; [It gets a licking] for POPSICLE (now with exploding candy tip!); a SIX-string guitar; [Rich with humor] sounding like a description rather than Rich LITTLE; dancing the CHA CHA.

Wait a minute: Who is NPR's SCOTT Simon? Oh, he hosts Weekend Edition Saturday, which airs here between 7 and 9 a.m., when I don't have the radio on. Who the hell are LFO? Oh, they're also called Lyte Funky Ones, best known for their 1999 hit, "Summer Girls," which I've never heard of. Who's DEE DEE Bridgewater? A jazz singer, two-time Grammy winner, Tony winner (1975), and "the first American to be inducted to the Haut Conseil de la Francophonie."


Harvey Estes has two puzzles out today. The syndicated LA Times crossword, "Off to the Races," has a lively batch of theme entries, all of which begin with kinds of races: ROAD, FOOT, BARREL, HORSE, DRAG, THREE-LEGGED, ARMS, and the noncompetitive HUMAN race. My hunch is that the THREE-LEGGED STOOL/three-legged race combo was the seed for this theme. I like how the blissful ARMS OF MORPHEUS defang the ugly arms race. Overall, a fun crossword. Harvey also cosntructed the themeless CrosSynergy puzzle: Pretty grid, isn't it, with its four-way symmetry? Best entry: I HEARD THAT!

Merl Reagle marks the release of the seventh Harry Potter book with an encore presentation of "How Do You Spell Harry Potter?" The theme entries are phrases that sound like they could double as the results of magic spells. CAULIFLOWER EARS? TWO LEFT FEET? BUTTERFLIES / IN ONE'S STOMACH? All part of our whimsical language.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "Not a Bit," is an anti-rebus puzzle: Each theme entry has had BIT removed from it, though it's clued with the intact phrase. The results are mighty dry, though—UMINOUS COAL? PHENOBARAL? OUARY COLUMNS? HOOP is clued as [Farthingale part]; a farthingale is a hoop skirt. (Who knew? Not I.) SAMP is clued as [Hominy cereal]; apparently the word goes back to colonial times. Speaking of corn products, I read [Corneal irritation] as [Cornmeal irritation].

Robert Wolfe's Washington Post crossword builds on sports terms, adding a few letters to the end to get somethign new: e.g., BASEBALL BATTLER, WRESTLING HOLDOUT.


July 20, 2007

Lee's new project

You've been enjoying Lee Glickstein's limericks in the blog comments here. Now he's looking to branch out into a crossword-themed comic strip and needs a collaborator who can draw:

Humorist/crossword constructor seeks artist(s) for collaboration on a crossword-themed comic strip.

Background: Former stand-up comedian, now professional speaker/coach who teaches presence/magnetism (www.SpeakingCircles.com), author of Be Heard Now! Tap Into Your Inner Speaker and Communicate with Ease (Broadway Books). Contact: lee@speakingcircles.com.

Constructing crosswords the past six years has been a great exercise in writing humor to fit precise parameters. Recently (re)discovered the limerick form as another precise frame to inhabit and through which to deliver punchlines.

The frame I'm ultimately drawn to is the parameter of the daily comic strip, and I have an idea for a strip about a crossword family that would appeal to the crossword crowd yet be clear and funny to any reasonably intelligent reader who doesn't do crosswords though knows of their existence. It would feature wordplay, but not inside jokes and industry jargon.

This project calls for a simple, elegant, cartoon style in which characters come through as semi-real (I'm thinking Luann). I have a couple of representative strips of dialogue (three panels) that would give an opportunity for interested artists to play with a treatment.


Saturday, 7/21

LAT 7:45
NYT 5:59
Newsday 5:00
CS 2:30

(updated at 10:40 a.m. Saturday)

You know what's more fun than a triple-stack of 15-letter crossword entries? (Well, besides the obvious: climbing a tree, sipping margaritas, road-tripping, going to the movies, etc.) A quadruple-stack of 10-letter entries. Raymond Young's Saturday New York Times crossword has two quartets. As with stacks of 15s, the letters tend to be fairly common ones, but there are some zippy clues in the stacks: STEPFATHER is clued as [Faux pa?] and the [Helpful figures?] are the phone number NINE ONE ONE. (However! Let me say that some stepparents are 100 times the parent the kid's biological parent ever was, and those folks might be deeply hurt by the "faux" designation.) Elsewhere, I liked these clues: [Italian for "sleeves"] for MANICOTTI (hey, I learned something new!); [1920 Summer Olympics site] for ANTWERP (mainly because I like that city name, with its hidden twerp); [Chaos] for ENTROPY (I like both words). AMORIST ([Love lover]) and EROTICIST ([Purveyor of hot stuff]) lend some spice. Why is [Abalone] sometimes called SEA EAR? Because its shell looks a bit ear-like, apparently. The [15th-century prince of Wallachia] shares his name with my husband's colleague, VLAD.

A 64-word crossword like this has more constraints on it than a 68- to 72-word themeless, which means more compromises: French (A MOI, GROS, HONORE), partials (RIO DE, SEAL-A), abbreviations, semi-obscure fill (Dallas suburb De SOTO), and beaucoup non-Scrabbly letters (hence ENTENTE, ATTENDANTS, ORIENTATED, SIESTAS, etc.). The really low-word-count puzzles, those with fewer than 60 entries, are harder to construct but generally less fun to solve. It's like weightlifting: Do you admire the hardcore bodybuilder who can bench an insane amount of weight but looks freakish, or the nicely muscled guy with a little more balance to his workout? I like a nicely muscled themeless puzzle. Oh, and he has to have a sense of humor. I like crosswords that entertain me.


Paula Gamache's themed CrosSynergy puzzle is super-easy. The five theme entries (three 15s and a pair of 13s) all contain TALC embedded within.

Karen Tracey's LA Times crossword was pretty hard—both because of some obscure entries (the island of PEMBA; the NEOSHO River; Portuguese mathematician Pedro NUNES, whose contributions to navigation facilitated Portugal's exploration; the word DOGDOM, as in the cocker spaniel [Tramp's category?]) and because of difficult clues. Oh, and because I opted for the PITS instead of PITY, which kept me from getting the middle Across answer. My favorite clues, for cleverness or challenge: [Like some nightmares?] for LOGISTICAL; [Make sure not to see] for SHUN; [Harum-scarum] for AMOK; [Kind of ills] for SOCIETAL; and [Pleasure seekers?] for Freudian IDS. Top-notch entries: HOME STRETCH and the interlocking Scrabbly central entries, SIT BACK AND RELAX and MASQUERADE PARTY.

Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper was easier than the day's other two themeless offerings. I do like those MANDARIN ORANGES, and NANCY DREW sitting in a GREASY SPOON. Tennis player ALICE Marble was before my time—hell, she was before my mom's time. I don't know if any of the ALOUs ever pitched, but this puzzle has both STARTING PITCHERS and the pitcher plant's home, a PEAT BOG.


July 19, 2007

Friday, 7/20

NYS 8:50
NYT 6:35
7/6 CHE 5:43
Jonesin' 4:25
LAT 3:58
CS 2:45

WSJ 8:42

(updated at 10:45 a.m. Friday)

Is it just me tonight, or did both Karen Tracey's Sun puzzle and Barry Silk's NYT puzzle have some knotty little spots? Karen's crossword hit me up with some quicksand (yes, I know quicksand can't be tied in knots), particularly where Ogden Nash met Roger Corman. Barry's puzzle knocked me around by means of a unit abbreviation. Both crosswords, however, were packed with cool answers and some tough clues.

In the New York Times puzzle, it was the [Work unit: Abbr.] that stopped me cold. All I could think of was the 3-letter FTE (full-time equivalent), but the answer was 4 letters long. Eventually I sussed out the answer to the crossing clue, MOLLS for [Tough companions?] ("tough" being a noun here, as in a tough guy) and got FTLB. Wha? That's a foot-pound.

Plenty of answers looked great in the grid: BELLYACHE; a cell-phone DEAD SPOT and WIKIPEDIA representing contemporary technology; the colloquial DARN IT ALL; the Scrabbly SQUAD CAR; the five-sixths consonants word, CROWDS; and the hyena's cousin, the AARDWOLF.

The clues I liked best: [Top of a stadium] for JERSEY (I needed a lot of crossings to figure that one out—jerseys as tops worn by athletes in stadiums); the aforementioned [Tough companions?]; [Relief may follow it] for BAS (as in bas-relief); [Be a night watchman?] for STARGAZE; [Black-and-white] for SQUAD CAR; and [Samoan, e.g.] for ISLANDER (fresher than a hockey clue).

I never heard of poet ALAN Seeger, the uncle of folk legend Pete Seeger. Another unfamiliar name was John OPIE, [Artist John, known as the Cornish Wonder]. I like him better than yesterday's crude OPIE and Anthony! The Isthmus of KRA is the skinny part of Thailand that extends south towards the Malay Peninsula and Malaysia, as seen on this map.

Karen's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" knocked me out where the 15-letter 36-Across ended. THE BRONX...something. Turns out that Ogden Nash's poem, "Geographical Reflection," consists of just four words: THE BRONX? NO THONX! The ending didn't come to mind, so I figured the character in a campy Roger Corman movie had GRAY EYES, because what else would fit? Oh: X-RAY EYES!

Karen, as is her wont, included plenty of words with high-Scrabble-value letters besides that X crossing. There's a QUAHOG, the NEZ PERCE, and BRUCE BOXLEITNER. Other entries that sparkled included NANKIPOO, the MANGA comic book genre, and HIRED GUN. Her geographical bent is represented here by two Native American answers, OMAHAS and NEZ PERCE, and by RSA (Republic of South Africa). No crazy Scrabbly capital cities this time!

My favorite and/or the toughest clues: [Paint holder?] for STABLE ("Goodbye, Old Paint" is a song about a horse); [Underground rider, probably] for LONDONER (I should've gotten that one a lot more quickly, having ridden London's Underground two months ago!); [Offer?] for HIRED GUN (one who offs); [Two-star system] for BINARY stars (alas, I know more of astrology than astronomy); and [Drip conduit] for IV TUBE.

Also in the tough category: RESEDA isn't just a California town or a plant; it's also defined as a [Grayish green] color. [Strepitous] is a rare word meaning NOISY. I don't think I realized that end-run is a verb and not a noun, complete with the past tense END-RAN.


Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle for the week is called "Peace Sign Hook," a peace sign resembling the "V for victory" hand sign and a hook resembling the letter J: thus, the theme entries have V.J. initials and are tied together by VJ DAY in the middle (though that day's a few weeks off). GETS LUCKY is clued as [Finds a friend for the evening]; hmm, maybe "friend" should be in quotes.

Todd McClary's July 6 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword is entitled "Iggy Noramus, College Bowl Alternate!" The theme clues are potential College Bowl questions (but too easy for real College Bowl) and the answers are Iggy's stall-for-time remarks that turn out to be correct. For example, [What does a rating of 10 on the Mohs scale represent?] Iggy replies, THAT'S REALLY HARD!—and indeed, 10 on the Mohs scale is the rating for the hardest mineral. I'm surprised I didn't struggle longer with this crossword, because there were a zillion clues I just stared at. Definitely a good set of clues—plenty of things to learn and to think about.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynregy puzzle, "Minor League," has an easy theme (three 15-letter phrases) amid almost Monday-level clues. If Friday puzzles have you feeling burned out, this one may rejuvenate you. Not sure how I feel about the entry LION'S TAIL—is that a phrase in and of itself, or is it more along the lines of "blue car," descriptive but not necessarily "in the language" as a concept?

The LA Times crossword is by Robert A. Doll. (This could be another constructor debut.) Cute theme—puns involving desserts (yum!). The theme entries are lashed together by six longish fill entries crossing them vertically, making it a somewhat ambitious grid.

The Wall Street Journal crossword, "Neat Solutions," is by Randolph Ross. Each of the 10 theme entries begins with a word that has to do with neatening—e.g., MOP, CLEAN, LAUNDER. My favorite bits of fill are opposite one another: THE ONION and ZUCCHINI. Two vegetables, one satirical.


July 18, 2007

Thursday, 7/19

NYS 5:13
NYT 5:00
LAT 3:41
CS 2:49

Rex Parker e-mailed me a picture this evening—my book on the shelf at the Harvard Coop bookstore! "Harvard, baby!" he wrote. Indeed.

Thursday kicks off with a Times puzzle by David Kahn and a Sun crossword by Patrick Blindauer. In the Times, Kahn asks WHAT IMPLEMENT / CAN BE PRODUCED / FROM POTASSIUM / NICKEL AND IRON? The answer appears in the circled squares in the third-from-the-bottom row: KNIFE, as in K (potassium's symbol), Ni (nickel), and Fe (iron). The clue for EPEE branches out from the usual fencing sword, instead giving us Abbé de l'EPEE, a sign language pioneer. Favorite clues: [Like worms] for ICKY (Hey! What's with the anti-worm bigotry? I loved earthworms when I was a kid. Once gathered up a bunch after a rainstorm and stored them in the pocket of my raincoat. My mom was delighted.) and [Canines that bite] for TEETH. Most of the fill and clues seem fairly ordinary (exceptions: BRIAN ENO, REDWINGS, FICKLE, SET A DATE) , but I grooved on the compounding of KNiFe.

Patrick's Sun puzzle is called "Not Finalized" because each theme entry is based on an -ize word that is no longer finalized with the -ize suffix. I liked [Prius goes kaput?]/HYBRID DIES best because I think my next car will be a Prius. Plenty of 6- to 8-letter answers in the fill (many in the wide-open upper right and lower left corners), which I also liked. Isn't TSOTSI a wonderful entry to have in lieu of the TSETSE fly? I haven't seen the film but I hear it's amazing. Favorite clues: [Hearing aid?] for BAILIFF; ["Robot" man?] for Karel CAPEK; [Chicken tenders?] for VETS; [Stud poker?] for AWL (though I don't know what sort of stud's being poked by the awl); and [One end of a pump] for HEEL.


July 17, 2007

Wednesday, 7/18

NYS 3:58
NYT 3:47
LAT 3:32
CS 3:00

Alan Arbesfeld's Sun crossword, "Split Personalities," has one of those themes I'm kind of disappointed not to have thought of myself. Celebrities' first names are broken up into multiple words and their last names reinterpreted as words: Young actor Topher Grace becomes TOP HER GRACE, and Martin Landau becomes MAR TIN LANDAU. (Too bad Jolie isn't a noun or place, or we could have had ANGEL IN A JOLIE.) Great long entries hanging around in the fill, too—NUMERO UNO, DIRT CHEAP, NAVY SEALS, IMPROV, I SWEAR.

Tibor Derencsenyi's crossword might be another NYT debut (debuts every day this week?), though he was published in the LA Times last year. The theme has an unusual layout (though not as out-there as yesterday's): FAMOUS LAST WORDS in the middle and six shorter (6 or 8 letters) ways of saying "toodle-oo." The very American SO LONG, GOTTA RUN, TIME TO GO, and BYE BYE share space with AU REVOIR and SAYONARA. Not enough colloquialisms for you? Not to worry: OKAY BY ME and I SURE CAN also pop up here in the fill, lending still more zip to the crossword. I didn't know people danced at a BISTRO—I thought it was primarily a place for eating. Though technically, one can dance at Burger King, even if it's not typically described as a [Dancing locale]. I don't know about [Four-footed TV star] for MR ED, because a recent crossword reminded us that the equine star was Bamboo Harvester, the horse who portrayed Mr. Ed (insofar as a horse can portray a character).


July 16, 2007

Tuesday, 7/17

Tausig 5:14—my favorite puzzle in weeks, I think
Onion 4:46
NYS 3:55
NYT 3:09
CS 2:55
LAT 2:37

(updated at 8:04 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Tuesday)

Idea for my next book: The Crossword Whisperer. There are whisperers for dogs, horses, and birds, so why not crosswords? The crosswords want to be solved, but sometimes their human companions have a hard time understanding what the crosswords need. Let me teach you the secret language of crossword puzzles so you can learn how to get even the wildest one to coexist with you peacefully and happily.

I think the New York Times has another debut constructor, Natan Last. [Edited to add: Will Shortz reports that this is Natan's debut, and he's a 16-year-old high school student!] His theme is AT BOTH ENDS, which is how pairs of letters repeat in the theme entries, which include CASABLANCA, ART OF WAR, and seven other phrases or words. Nifty! I questioned whether the clue for TAE BO, [Popular aerobic program], was still accurate—the Wikipedia article says yes, and provides a recap of a Celebrity Deathmatch claymation battle in which Billy Blanks, tae bo's developer, tae'd Richard Simmons into a bo.

A fun pop-culture hit from Ken Stern in the Sun, with "Space-Age Greetings" from The Jetsons. The '60s cartoon's theme song introduced the main characters: MEET / GEORGE JETSON/ HIS BOY ELROY / JANE, HIS WIFE / DAUGHTER JUDY, and, of course, their dog Astro and the robot maid, Rosie. Good fill, spotlighted by the late, great FLO-JO, TEDIUM, and the MAESTRO, plus plenty of Js (three of which are included in the theme entries).


Jim Holland's LA Times puzzle makes a meal out of famous food-named people. Yum!

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Walk This Way," has phrases that start with words that are also ways of walking. I like the combination of the band LIMP BIZKIT with MARCH MADNESS. NIA LONG gets promoted from quasi-crosswordese grid-friendly first name to her full name. Plenty of crisp clues and Scrabbly bits of fill (this could be a pangram [Edited to add: It is], but I haven't got time to check right now).

Updated anew:

Ooh, Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "It's All in the Past," amused and entertained and edified and intrigued me. What more could I ask for? (Only for the clues to be harder.) Why did I like this one so much? First off, the theme entries made me do some thinking in order to parse each one. By turning one word in a phrase into its past tense, the word's meaning changed completely. For example, must-see TV becomes MUST SAW TV, as in the tool that cuts wood. Paid leave becomes PAID LEFT, meaning the political left. On the rise gives us the flowering ROSE bush, speak of the devil yields a bike-wheel SPOKE, and an idiot light becomes IDIOT LITerature. The non-theme clues are snappy, too. YESMAN is clued with the Simpsons character [Smithers, e.g.]. I never knew that the late Phil Hartman was a rock 'n' roll graphic artist who designed the album cover for Steely Dan's AJA. Other favorite clues: [Biology classes?] for TAXA, ["Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice" org.] for the ABA; [Colon alternative] for EM DASH; and [Afikomen cracker] (new word for me) for MATZO. A diverse batch of names, too (not a one of them having been famous in the 1950s or earlier): ["The Namesake" author] Jhumpa LAHIRI, Paul GIAMATTI, Rocky BALBOA, YO-YO MA, and erstwhile teen idol JTT (Jonathan Taylor Thomas). Not to mention fill like DIME BAGS, ZAFTIG, and TOYS R US. Well done, Ben! This one goes into my "great puzzles" folder.

Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword draws its inspiration from the summer blockbuster, TRANSFORMERS, and anagrams four phrases into lunacy. For example, ["I wanted a SUBMARINE, but that lab experiment left me with ___! (Now I think like a flightless bird)"] yields EMU BRAINS. Twenty fill answers of 6 to 8 letters apiece spice things up a bit. I'd never heard of the DOG ROSE, but I always enjoy learning about the plants that sprout up in crosswords.


July 15, 2007

Monday, 7/16

CS 3:51
NYS 3:43
NYT 3:06
LAT 2:45

What happens when someone talks about crosswords in a venue that's usually about something completely different? At Kevin Drum's blog, Political Animal, he mentioned struggling with the Saturday puzzle, coming over here to see if it had also vexed me, and discovering that there is a new book that can give him the keys to the kingdom of crossword triumph (I paraphrase). Some of his commenters chatted about crosswords, and some of them were just haters. "Mellors," for example, wrote, "hard to think of anything more boringly inane than the deracinated associational fragments involved in Jeopardy or doing crosswords but comments here give slight insight into obsessional grey world fluctuating between alpha and beta brain waves in service of escapist mindful mindlessness. One more thing to do while waiting to die." (By George, I think he's got it!) '"desmoinesdem" says, "I hate crossword puzzles. I like cryptic crosswords better, because more of the information you need to solve the puzzle is right there in the clues. I like logic problems the best, because all of the info you need to solve them is right there." (Well, that's hardly sporting, expecting to be given all the information ahead of time.) A "Steve Paradis" writes this blasphemy: "Forget the help books, get a crossword dictionary." (Where's the fun in that?!? Once you learn to ride a bike without training wheels, you chuck the training wheels—you don't scrupulously avoid learning to balance.)

I think this is Elizabeth A. Long's NYT constructing debut (though Cruciverb shows a December 2005 LA Times puzzle with her byline), and it's pretty nifty for a Monday puzzle. (Congratulations!) The theme is HOW TO FIX / YOUR HAIR: SAGEBRUSH and HONEYCOMB it, STRIPTEASE it up just so, and OCEANSPRAY it into place. Six theme entries mean that every section of the puzzle shares space with a theme answer. In addition to all the standard Monday-type fill, this crossword's got some zippy longer fill, like Kevin COSTNER and GUILTY OF, as well as a couple X's and a Z.

The Monday Sun crossword's by Byron Walden, and that's not a name one associates with Monday puzzles. (Though a Monday Sun is more like a Wednesday Times, really.) Super-tight theme, this "Flight Manual"—the first word of each of the four theme entries rhymes with flight and the second word relates to the hands (manual = "of or relating to the hands"). We've got a LIGHT-FINGERED pickpocket, TIGHT-FISTED miser, RIGHT-HANDED non-lefty, and a WHITE-KNUCKLED scaredy-cat. Favorite entries: DOLLAR SIGN, SHOUT-OUT ([Public thanks]), and the square-dancing DO-SI-DO. Favorite clues: [Cold pad?] for IGLOO and [Synonymous rhyme for cache] for STASH. MADE EASY leads off the section that contains the Scrabbly crossing of AJAX and MAZE—perhaps Byron could write up a Crossword Construction Made Easy book. (Shout-out here to Patrick Berry, who's already written such a book, Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies.)


July 14, 2007

Sunday, 7/15

Reagle 9:29
NYT 8:30 to 9:00-ish
LAT 7:53
WaPo 7:23
BG 6:57
CS 3:32

(updated at 12:20 p.m. Sunday)

That crazy New York Times crossword applet went on the fritz shortly after I started solving Patrick Berry's puzzle, "In the Beginning." So I started over again in Across Lite. These things happen, eh?

Oh! Before I forget, there's another of George Bredehorn's Split Decisions puzzles as the Second Sunday NYT puzzle. I always enjoy those, though I confess that sometimes I get deeply mired in a few tricky spots.

One of the things I liked in the Berry crossword was the preponderance of perky 5-letter words, such as GLINT, SLINK, CRISP, DUMPS, EXCON...and smack-dab in the middle of the grid, BONGS! It's clued as [Water pipes], and Wikipedia says the word comes to us from Thai. (In my senior year of college, there was a freshman drug dealer across the hall. He had the unfortunate habit of dumping his bong water out in the nearby women's shower and not rinsing it down the drain. I learned that stale bong water really reeks.) Other great entries were GIVE A DARN, NAME DAY, and TV STARS, along with the medieval trio of RUNE, MEAD, and SAXON.

• The theme entries are phrases that have adopted an extra IN- at the beginning, changing their meaning. My favorites were the INVOICE OF DOOM, the Harry Potter slant of INVOCATIONAL SCHOOL, and the [Sharply focused Warsaw residents?], INTENT POLES.

• Head-scratcher clues/answers: [Basque novelist Pio] BAROJA (apparently an influence on Hemingway); [Ancient Greece's Seven ___] SAGES, "often regarded as the founders of Greek philosophy."

• Best clues: [It's often put on paper] for POST-IT; [One who's expected to deliver?] for MESSIAH; [All your work may go into it] for RESUME (here are some entertaining excerpts from résumés and cover letters); [Cod pieces?] for FINS; and [One who's done stretches?] for EXCON. ["Hellboy" star Ron] for PERLMAN reminds me: If you haven't seen Hellboy, you should—comic-book action + wry humor = a good time.


Randolph Ross's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Or Else," adds an OR to the beginning of a word in each theme entry's base phrase. Hey, I liked this theme! I missed ever learning about the HYADES, [Rain-bringers of Greek myth], but the rest of the fill was words, names, and phrases I've seen before. Plenty of good clues. I liked the interplay between [Chard lover's prefix] for OENO (Chard being short for chardonnay) and the theme entry, SWISS ORCHARD, [Alpine apple site?], building on the leafy veggie Swiss chard.

I also really enjoyed Harvey Estes' Washington Post puzzle, "Bird Cages," in which the theme entries follow the "Before and After" format with the middle word being a bird. For example, [Saloon in a Western novel?] is LONESOME DOVE BAR (mmm, Dove bar...chocolate). Favorite clues: [He had a hunch] for IGOR (!); [Still yield] for MOONSHINE; [Biblical plot] for EDEN; and [Soft rock] for TALC. I missed the equivalence between "thin" and "rare" in Saturday's NYT crossword, but here's RARE clued as [Like mountain air]. Okay, then! I get it now.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Apply Directly to Your (___)," anoints the solver with plenty of skin lotions and hair products. Some of the embedded goos are at the end of the theme entries, while others are in the middle. TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL parses as "Touched By an An" hair Gel; the subsequent theme entries contain SALVE, SPRAY, BALM, CREAM, BUTTER (I swear by shea butter for dry skin—this one's unscented and available in most malls), OIL, OINTMENT, and MOUSSE (in ENORMOUS SEEDPODS, which is not a phrase one encounters often!).

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is among the easier themeless puzzles I've seen. It probably helped that I had chicken CANNELLONI on Tuesday night, and that there was only one "Huh?" entry. That would be HARA, [Biblical place of exile]. I can't find anything via Google that makes this look like anything other than an obscure place name mentioned in the bible but of no import. Anyone know more about Hara as a place of exile? I enjoyed ORANGE TREE sitting in the same grid as FREE-RANGE—look at those chunks of letters they share. THE FONZ seems to be getting more play in crosswords these days, and I like clues that hark back to my TV-watching youth.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "Pop Psychology," might have originally run on Father's Day last month—the theme's a [condensed quote by Frederic F. Van de Water] about fatherhood. Meh, quote puzzles. The quote itself wasn't particularly amusing. At least the non-theme clues were easy enough to make filling in the quote less of a slog. (There are those who peg quote puzzles as being unsatisfying because there's only a single "aha!" in the whole theme. I think they're onto something...)


Out of the ghetto

Look what's on the New Non-Fiction table at the Barnes & Noble store at Webster Place in Chicago's Lincoln Park! And not exiled to the crossword ghetto upstairs in the shadow of the sudoku section.

Rex said I should whip out a pen and sign the books when nobody was looking, but nerts (as they say in crosswords)! I forgot.


July 13, 2007

Saturday, 7/14

NYT 6:17
LAT 5:21
Newsday 5:20
CS 3:20

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

I have some new hobbies now. I compulsively refresh the book's Amazon page: Where has its Amazon sales rank landed for this part of the day? Who is this schmo selling the book at a discount of 2¢ (just $3.99 shipping and handling—what a non-bargain!)? Will there ever be a customer review? How many stars? Will any nice reviews make it look like my friends and relatives are stacking the deck? The other hobbies involve checking the Borders and Barnes & Noble sites to see whether my local stores ever carry the book. "Not in stock," one says. "You can order it, you know, but no, it's not in stock," says the other. Okay, granted, this is no Harry Potter juggernaut involving hordes of customers expecting to find the book the instant the publication date arrives, and crossword books are probably a fairly sleepy corner of most bookstores, but still...it'd be nice to see the book parked in the store.

The Saturday NYT crossword was constructed by Vic Fleming. The 15-letter vertical entry down the middle demands to know, WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? Well, there are a number of big ideas in this puzzle. ASIANS, clued as [Easterners]—there are billions of Asians. The BEATLES, with a curveball clue, [Former Shea players]. A FIREBOMB gets attention, too. Hardest clues/answers: MARANTA, [Plant of the arrowroot family] (click the link, and you'll probably recognize the plant in the photo); [Shucks, so to speak] for LIES TO (I'm guessing "shucks" here means "shuck 'n' jive"); the [Threaded holder] has nothing to do with sewing, but rather, a T-NUT; [Sigmoid curves] is OGEES, not ESSES; [Snow on an album cover] is the late country singer HANK Snow; the glassy combo of PRISMS clued as [Dispersion devices] and [Focus provider?] sounding lens-like but turning out to be the FORD Motor Company; [Curtain fabrics] for NINONS (I usually remember only that it's *I*ON, but forget the other letters); the PACER was an [Edsel model]; and [Thin] is RARE, but I still don't quite understand the connection.

Terry BRADSHAW at 1-Across wasn't as tough for me, but it was one of a number of answers I pieced together with the aid of the crossing words. Others included Aunt ELLER, Christopher Columbus the MARINER, and HIMSELF as a [Word in a documentary's credits] (here's Vic as Himself in Wordplay). Not to mention James ENSOR, ["Christ's Entry Into Brussels in 1889" painter]—the painting depicts Christ coming into Brussels in a Mardi Gras parade (!). There were plenty of other answers that had to be teased out.

Favorite bits: [San Francisco neighborhood, with "the"] for CASTRO; [Swiss multinational] for NESTLE (mmm, chocolate); [One along an autobahn?] for EIN (German "please," BITTE, also pops in); [High ones may produce a roar] for RPMS (does a stoned lion also roar?); Picasso's companion DORA MAAR; SNORKEL; [Return address abbr.?] for IRS; and B DALTON. Vic is a judge, so the legal slant to the puzzle is a fun bonus. SLOBS are [Folks guilty of disorderly conduct], we'll IMPANEL a jury, the HIREE is a [Fresh face at a firm], and VENICE is [Where Antonio and Shylock litigate].


Today's themed CrosSynergy puzzle is by Will Johnston puts the theme in the clues: the vowel series [HACK], [HECK], [HICK], [HOCK], and [HUCK]. Some excellent fill in there—STAGE MOM and TIME BOMB, poet NIKKI Giovanni and JAPANESE. Hey, if you aren't in the habit of fetching puzzles from Will's Puzzle Pointers site, you've been missing out. In addition to having handy links for the day's new puzzles from major venues, Puzzle Pointers also offers access to months of archived puzzles in many cases. Will is one of those altruistic citizens of Crosswordland who help others feed their crossword addiction.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times puzzle offers a twist on the triple-stack grid, with the top and bottom of the grid containing a 14-letter entry stacked outside a pair of 15s. The 14s make up a mini-theme: NATIONAL ANTHEM and LA MARSEILLAISE, celebrating Bastille Day today. Best misstep: Seeing that the beginning of the [Classic ultimatum] was LOVE ME, I filled in the rest of the line with LOVE MY DOG. Now, that's more of a proverb than an ultimatum, isn't it? It was supposed to be LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.

This week's Newsday Saturday Stumper is by Merle Baker. The grid's anchored by a trellis of 15-letter entries. One of them was a gimme because it's practically a regular in themeless puzzles with 15s—[Masthead credit] means something editorial, and the 15-letter ASSISTANT EDITOR, with its super-common letters, has appeared in no fewer than six themeless puzzles since 2000. (The song A TEENAGER IN LOVE has also found its way into many a triple-stack, and constructors who use it from here on out will probably get made fun of in certain circles.) [Obama in '08] kept me guessing for a ridiculous amount of time—all sorts of possibilities were too long (DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE) or too short (PRESIDENT-ELECT), not to mention too prognosticatory for an '07 crossword clue. FRESHMAN SENATOR! Yes. In '08, he enters the second half of his first term in the Senate. My favorite part of this puzzle: [Former SNL regular], 6 letters. MURRAY, MURPHY, CURTIN, MORRIS, RADNER? No, it's claymation MR. BILL!


July 12, 2007

Friday, 7/13

NYS 6:32
NYT 5:06
6/29 CHE 4:32
Jonesin' 4:20
LAT 3:59
CS 3:01

WSJ 7:33

(updated at 1 p.m. Friday)

Oooh! Friday the 13th! It's not looking too unlucky, what with Friday crosswords—a themeless from Manny Nosowsky in the New York Times and a themed New York Sun crossword by Gary Steinmehl.

Steinmehl's Sun crossword, "Coast to Coast," has an intricate theme: Three 17-letter phrases that begin and end with letter pairs that double as state postal abbreviations, in geographic order. [WA]STE PRECIOUS TI[ME] has Washington and Maine in the northernmost corners of the West and East Coasts. The [OR]ANGE RIVER COLO[NY] (which I'd never heard of before) takes us down the coasts a bit to Oregon and New York. Farther south, we have California and Delaware in [CA]LLS A SPADE A SPA[DE]. I don't know how Steinmehl managed to come up with the idea and to find a trio of 17-letter phrases that would fit. And the fill surrounding these phrases is good, Scrabbly stuff, too—TUXEDO, CAJUN, KABUKI. Favorite clues: the gender-neutral [Wedding dress] for TUXEDO; [Scrabble], the verb, for CLAW; [It shouldn't be tried by people who aren't good at English] for the billiards shot called MASSE; [Turn over] for RESELL; [Roman goddess of the dead] for MANIA (really!); [No alternative] for KABUKI (No is another spelling for Noh); and [Coleus's cousin], an out-there clue for THYME. Fun to see Super Dave OSBORNE's name—his real name is Bob Einstein, and his brother, born Albert Einstein, is better known as comedian and actor Albert Brooks.

Now, wasn't I just saying last week that themeless puzzles packed with 7-letter answers tend to be so boring? Well, when half of them are phrases and the clues have some zip to them, the puzzle's quite likeable, and this explains why the phrase "a Manny Friday" brings happiness to many NYT solvers. The first five Across answers are fairly lively phrases: "BUT THEN," "the JIG IS UP," EN ROUTE, ON A ROLL, and SWING AT. The town of ENOLA, Pennsylvania, is awfully small, but if we have to have ENOLA, it's nice to have a switch from the Enola Gay. Le Bon Bock means "The Good Pint" and is a beer-themed painting by MANET. I don't think any local movie theater bills itself as a three-screen TRIPLEX. Clues I liked best: [Topless?] for BALD; [Spandex and Lurex] for TEXTILES; [Dog] for FLOP; [What you do if you can't beat the suckers] for JOIN 'EM; [What X + Y signifies] for MALE SEX; the doubled-up Mexico clues, [Mex. is in it] for NAFTA and [Neighbor of Mex.] for GUAT (-emala); [Very much] for BIG TIME as an adverb; and [7-up, e.g.] for a TIE score. Favorite entries: WALKMAN; ZOOT SUIT; XENIA (a friend of mine, our most frequent houseguest, says I am a most xenial hostess); and MELROSE Place. Least favorite bits: UNWEAVE (though the Minnesota highway folks have an Unweave the Weave initiative); ETHANES; LIE IDLE (though it Googles up OK); plural BEIGES; the ESSAYER who tries so hard to be a word that's actually used in English.


Elizabeth Gorski constructed this week's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Laboratory Chic." The theme entries are akin to Wheel of Fortune "Before and After" answers, but in each case, the "before" portion starts with a chemical element and the "after" answer is an item of apparel. Thus, the [Day-Glo accessories for Special Forces troops] are NEON GREEN BERETS. There are six of these entries, all bundled together under the rubric ELEMENTS OF STYLE, [Classic writer's manual, and an alternate title for this puzzle]. Liz is a musician, so the score directions allegro ASSAI and SUBITO show up here. Elsewhere in the grid, ICES UP crosses the partial IT UP and SPEED UP; if those little dupes irk you, I hope they didn't keep you from enjoying the wonderful clues, such as [Compact disc?] for MIRROR (as in a makeup compact); [Pocket protector?] for MISER; and [Ham's place, perhaps] for ON RYE (I was thinking STAGE and NOAH'S ARK). Fill highlights include ACTION HERO and CIGAR BUTT (ick, cigars). The flower BETONY was unfamiliar to me, so I read up on it in Wikipedia.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "What Happened?", rehashes the ending of The Sopranos, featuring lead character ANTHONY / SOPRANO: A JOURNEY song plays, followed by 11 seconds of SILENCE, and then, ROLL END / CREDITS. Great-looking grid with tons of longer fill. The risqué content comes in the form of [The feeling may be mutual], ORGASM; I like the words that cross that one, such as SCHOOLGIRL, TOSTADA, and MIASMAS.

Jim Leeds' Chronicle of Higher Ed crossword, "Snake Handling," features assorted herpetological puns. I wouldn't describe my reaction to these puns as FEH ([Yiddish expression of disgust]), but this puzzle seemed a little less rewardingly smart than many other CHE puzzles.

Thomas Schier melds state names in his CrosSynergy puzzle, "United States!" MAINEBRASKANSAS is a mash-up of Maine, Nebraska, and Kansas, for example. You know me and geography—I eat that stuff up.

Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle excises an AL from each theme entry. [Danger for a shark under a boat?] is FIN JEOPARDY—funny, but when I think about sharks and jeopardy, I don't typically think of the dangers faced by the shark.



Last year, Shinzo Abe became the prime minister of Japan. Crossword constructors and editors rejoiced: a respectable non-Lincoln, non–pop culture (Simpson, Vigoda) clue for ABE was finally available!

However, Shinzo Abe made worldwide headlines a few months ago: He said there was "no evidence" that Japan had coerced as many as 200,000 mainly Chinese and Korean "comfort women" to work in military brothels between the early 1930s and 1945. South Korea accused him of attempting to "gloss over a historic truth," reported the Guardian.

Oh? No evidence? Today I listened to a public radio program, The Story with Dick Gordon. The host interviewed an elderly Korean woman, Ok Sun Kim, who told of her experience during wartime. For seven years starting at age 16, she was held by the Japanese as a "comfort woman" and forced to have sex with 50 to 60 men every single day, in constant pain. She was strong and survived the extended ordeal, but lived with her secret for decades. She did not speak publicly about her experience until provoked by Abe's denial.

You can listen to the story yourself here.

This is a roundabout way of saying that from now on, crossword clues referencing Shinzo Abe are going to leave a sour taste in my mouth. No, he's not a cruel dictator or a killer. But as a rape apologist denying potentially many millions of individual rapes, I don't want to see him in my crossword puzzle. Large-scale rape apologists do not pass the Sunday morning breakfast test.


Books and movies

Hey! Look! How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle isn't available only in the U.S. People in the U.K. can order it from amazon.co.uk for £4.95, and South Africans can snap it up for just 113.95 rands at kalahari.net. The British pound's worth about $2, so that's a comparable price, but the South Africans must spend over $15, poor dears.

Hey! Look! I just got my box of advance copies this morning. Well, I guess they're not advance copies by now. But yay! It's my first peek at anything since the page proofs back in March.

Hey! Look! The crossword-constructor movie gets mentioned in the latest Entertainment Weekly. Bradley Cooper, perhaps best known for his work on Alias (which I didn't watch), is "set to play the lead in the comedy All About Steve. He and his co-worker, a TV reporter played by Thomas Haden Church [playing Steve], are stalked by a crossword-puzzle writer (Sandra Bullock). 'It's really about life,' says Church, 'and how people have eye-opening experiences.'"


July 11, 2007

Thursday, 7/12

NYS 6:07
NYT 5:28
LAT 3:27
CS 3:06

(updated at 11:55 a.m. Thursday)

Did you know that 2007 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of the mathematician Leonhard Euler? A Swiss watchmaker, Oris, has honored Euler with a limited-edition Sudoku wristwatch. Perfect for the sudoku buff on your gift list—provided you've got about $1,700 to spare.

Don't you hate it when you're doing a crossword puzzle on the Times applet and the phone rings? I didn't want to let it keep ringing because my kid had just fallen asleep, so I answered it. Market research firm looking for Spanish-speaking adults. Is that really the best way for these groups to find their target audience, calling anyone with a somewhat Spanish-looking name? Pfft.

The interrupted puzzle was Michael Shteyman's NYT crossword for Thursday. The theme entries are interlocked, with STORM CENTER crossing the other three phrases starting with POWER, WASH, and TRUST; those first words can all follow 65-Across, BRAIN. Things I admired: FAUX PAS and MAX ERNST with their X-rated action, plus [Titillating] cluing JUICY; the tennis clue [Border in the court?] for SIDELINE; buying software ON CD but getting a CD (as in certificate of deposit) at an S AND L; MED school plus the anatomical HUMERI; the colloquial theme entry TRUST ME ON THIS sitting atop the even more colloquial ME EITHER; and the [Egg-laying mammal], theECHIDNA. The [Yellow spring flower] turned out to be OXLIP (etymology: Old English ox + slimy substance). Another spring flower, the tulip, ends with the same three letters but is unrelated (it's from the Persian for turban). ASH is clued as [Wood for oars] instead of the usual baseball bat; did you see the NYT article today about how ash trees may not always be a good source for bat wood? (The emerald ash borer from Asia kills the trees, and climate change may soften the wood.)

Karen Tracey's back with another Themeless Thursday puzzle in the Sun, with a number of her trademarks in evidence. The overall Scrabblosity, check: two Zs, a Q, an X, a J, and a few Ks. A touch of geography, check: AQABA ([Eilat's neighbor across the border]). Fresh phrases, check: a LIVE ONE, OLD SCHOOL ([Opposed to innovation]), MEXICAN-AMERICAN, HAZARD AN OPINION, NIKOLA TESLA's full name. I could've sworn I learned about the [Hungarian folk dance] called the CZARDAS from a Byron Walden puzzle, but it doesn't show up in the Cruciverb database; maybe a tournament puzzle? Favorite tidbits: [One who won't mix fleishig and milchig food] for JEW; [Small cells] for AAS (as in batteries); [Current in spot?] for ANODE; [Singer at Charles and Diana's wedding] for TE KANAWA ("Tek somebody? Wha?"); and [1800] for SIX PM. Plenty of unexpected and unfamiliar (to me) clues for names like LIZA, ETTA, SHAQ, and ILSA.

The crossword conspiracy rears its head today, with OPINION in Michael's puzzle too, and ABILENE being an answer in Karen's and part of a clue in Michael's. Let the record show that I have no opinion on Abilene.


Pancho Harrison's LA Times crossword takes 10 phrases that start or end with eye, changed the eye to a capital I, and clued the result as an autobiography. No I, Asimov here, but rather, the zombie's DEAD I, Chuck Yeager's I IN THE SKY, and a streaker's NAKED I. Cute! Bonus unrelated I action with IHOPS, [Blue-roofed franchises]—coincidentally where I had breakfast today. (Just at a single IHOP.)

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Rated AA," groups five two-word phrases with A.A. initials. I kinda liked the trio of two ["Shoo!"] clues and one ["Shoot!"]. Did you know one of the nicknames for ARKANSAS is the Bowie State> I didn't. It has to do with Bowie knives, apparently.