October 31, 2007

Thursday, 11/1

NYS 8:20
NYT 4:37
LAT 3:49
CS 2:37

It's hard to pay attention to a crossword when a cherry Tootsie Pop is kicking your salivary glands into overdrive. Yes, Darth Vader and I went trick-or-treating tonight and came home with 5½ pounds of candy. I would be a terrible mother if I let him eat all those sweets, so I have to make my way through the candy bowl.

Larry Shearer's New York Times puzzle offers both a trick and ample treats. The trick is that it's another of those occasional puzzles in which the squares that begin both an Across and a Down answer—the northwest corner of each respective section—have just one clue for the two answers. (We've had one or two of these before, haven't we? Who remembers the newspaper, date, and constructor?) That's the trick. The treat is that some of the word pairs have the same number of letters, so we get to use both AVER and AVOW for [Maintain] instead of dithering over which one is called for. (Linda G. was just talking about that particular interchangeable pair, and how you seldom pick the one you need.) How about [Dodge]? Is it EVADE or ELUDE? Here, it's both! [Rubberneck] is both GAWK and GAPE, and [Fiddle with] means ALTER and AMEND...but not EMEND. (The other answers in those sections tell us which one goes where.) The other theme pairs have varying word lengths, but still retain a little trickiness. [It's all downhill from here] means APOGEE and...APEX or ACME? I chose wrong and then changed it to ACME. [Gusto] is VIM and VIGOR, right? Nope—VERVE. I didn't have any wrong turns for RUPTURED and RENT, at least ([Tore]). The other one or two puzzles using this theme idea have listed the Across and Down clues in a single numerical-order list—Across Lite and the applet require a clue for every numbered entry, fortunately, because having the Across and Down clues intermingled would drive me nuts. (Edited to add: Profphil's comment reminds me that I completely forgot another theme pair: DUO and DYAD, which sometimes floats in the ether with DUET and DUAL when a 4-letter twosome starting with D is needed.)

Is it just me, or is Alex Boisvert's New York Sun puzzle hard enough to be a Friday Sun crossword rather than a Thursday? "Magic Square" contains the digits from 0 to 8 evenly spaced in the grid. Each row, column, and diagonal with numbers adds up to the same total, 12. The numerals sometimes serve as a crossword rebus for the number's name (8IES stands for the eighties (rather than '80S) and V6ES stands for spelled-out V-sixes—neither of these felt natural to me) and sometimes they're just numerals (as in rap group D4L). I found it briefly confusing to have BASE TEN in the fill, but it appears to have nothing to do with the theme here. Oddball entry of the day: MISS RONA, [Barrett autobiography]. (Check out the book's opening line—it's a gem.) No, wait: the oddball entry of the day has got to be ANT EGG [___soup (Laotian delicacy)]. Or maybe it's VAV, [Hebrew letter before zayin]; that one's new to me. My favorite entry: FEH, or [Yiddish "Yuck!"]. Feh, eh, and meh all do such lovely jobs expressing varying degrees of distaste.


Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle is a hoot. In "Letter-Perfect," Patrick corrects the spelling of Krispy Kreme, Led Zeppelin, the Keystone Kops, and Pet Sematary. Aah, that's satisfying, to see them spelled "right" in the grid for a change. Though this constructor likes to make pangrams, this puzzle lacks a Q—but it more than makes up for it with words like JACUZZI and ST CROIX (where I honeymooned).

John Collin's LA Times crossword includes four 15-letter entries that could all be clues for the word [Bond]. Two great words appear opposite each other in the grid: CYBORG and ORNERY. If I ever pen a sci-fi novel, I will call it The Ornery Cyborg.


October 30, 2007

Wednesday, 10/31

NYS 5:50
NYT 4:54 (using the Across Lite version)
CS 4:02
LAT 3:25

It's Halloween, and my kid will be dressing up as Darth Vader. There'll be Halloween parties in the classrooms, with the proviso that no masks or weapons are allowed. So Ben will be a maskless Darth Vader sans light saber...wearing a manufactured costume that's basically a full-length black nylon jumpsuit with a matching stretchy cape. Yeah, that'll look awesome. Trick-or-treating in the evening will be a more Vaderesque event.

And it's Halloween, so crosswords get spooky.

Ken Stern's holiday New York Times crossword refused to load in the NYT's applet (15x16 grid), so I downloaded the Across Lite file instead. It's got some Scrabbly and otherwise fun fill and, oh yeah, a double-action rebus theme. There are six rebus squares that read as TRICK one way and TREAT the other. [TRICK]S OF THE TRADE crosses laundry stain PRE[TREAT]MENTS up top. We see ST PAT so often in the crossword that I didn't notice that it's ST PA[TRICK] here, crossing RE[TREAT]S. There's [TRICK] OR [TREAT] down the middle ([Something said while holding a bag]) crossing [TREAT]ISE and a hockey HAT [TRICK]. And at the bottom, our [U.N. ambassador under Reagan], JEANE KIRKPA[TRICK], shares a square with PEACE [TREAT]IES; she also crosses CARD [TRICK], which crosses an EN[TREAT]Y. So, it's a groovy Thursday-style rebus theme/gimmick slotted on a Wednesday so's not to miss Halloween. The top row of the grid includes two vowel-free answers, WKRP ([Johnny Fever's workplace, in 1970s-'80s TV]) and MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price for a car). There are vowels to spare in MUUMUU. Rare letter action: X-AXES, the awesome JINXED, IQ TEST, KLUTE, and KINSEY. I also like [Spunky] for FEISTY and [Like The Onion] for SATIRICAL.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword is called "It's Alive!" and "it" is FRANKENSTEIN'S / MONSTER in the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein. Peter Boyle plays the monster, and he sings PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ in a classic, much-loved scene...that I have never seen. That's not true. I think I saw it when I was 8, and all I remember is Marty Feldman's bug eyes. (Have added the DVD to my Netflix queue.) Patrick fills out the Frankenstein theme with MARY SHELLEY, writer of the original tale. (Favorite clue: [Cold war ammunition?] for DRISTAN.)

The head in the grid (which has left-right symmetry) is a little easier to see with the dead-tree graphical enhancement of forehead sutures than in Across Lite, where we see a sketchy face with a couple neck bolts:


Thomas Schier also goes Halloweeny with his CrosSynergy puzzle, "Halloween Options." The theme entries are clued as [Trick], [Treat], and [Trick or treat], so it's less tricky than, say, the NYT puzzle. There are a fair number of names in this grid, including a couple that we see infrequently in crosswords: [Declaration of Indepedence signer Edward] RUTLEDGE and [The L of L. Frank Baum] for LYMAN.

The LA Times puzzle by Ada Honeywell has four theme entries that start with [the most popular adult Halloween] COSTUMES in other contexts: VAMPIRE BAT, CLOWN AROUND, PIRATE RADIO, and WITCH HAZEL. I do wonder whether clown costumes really rank that high for Halloween—how many clown suits are used outside of Halloween? Do those add to the clown count? One of the fill entries in this puzzle is really the cat's meow: the CAT'S MEOW. (Edited to add: Patrick Blindauer pointed out to me that CAT'S MEOW is one of the theme entries. Patrick also sent along a link to a listing of this year's top costumes, and clown's down at #8. Maybe we could've had TARTAR SAUCE instead of CLOWN AROUND?)


October 29, 2007

Tuesday, 10/30

Onion 7:05
Tausig 4:12
NYS 3:52
NYT 3:41
CS 3:27
LAT 3:13

Gary Steinmehl's New York Times crossword messes around with homophones of scary noises. A humpback whale, Battle Creek, farm-grown, and the company, Bell and Howell, can be misspelled when a ghost MAKES A BOOBOO. The result is scary sounds like a HUMPBACK WAIL, BATTLE CREAK, FARM GROAN, and BELL AND HOWL. I'll bet you a dollar your last square was either the same as mine or right nearby: the crossing at the D of BELL AND HOWL and ARDEB. Bell + Howell seems to lack focus and a strong brand identity these days, judging from its website. And ARDEB...what can one say about ARDEB? It's popping its modern-day cruciverbal cherry today, as it has no prior appearances in Cruciverb.com-indexed crosswords. That [Egyptian dry measure equal to about five-and-a-half bushels] is actually 5.62 bushels or 198 liters, but you probably don't need to know that. (This World Bank document tells us that an ardeb of fenugreek weighs 155 kg. Also? A kentar of sugar cane weighs 45 kg, and a camel load of maize stalks weighs 250 kg. I am absolutely not kidding—camel load is a standardized unit of measure! I'm gonna start using it as a figure of speech. "I raked up a camel load of leaves today." "I ate a camel load of pizza.") Enough with the ARDEB. It did tough duty, hooking up three theme entries, and what else fits the A_D_B space? I think we just saw PROSY ([Tedious]) recently, and I don't care for the implicit criticism of prose embodied in that word. I far prefer prose to poetry, and where is my "poetryey" slur? All things considered, I think I'd rather this puzzle had dispensed with FARM GROAN, which doesn't play on a noun like the other theme entries do, and loosened up the fill a bit.

Robert Doll's New York Sun puzzle, "Ch-Changes," has nothing to do with the David Bowie song. (Which I love! I just this minute sprang from my chair to grab the Changesbowie CD so I can copy it to my hard drive.) There are six theme entries based on phrases that start with CH, but the CH changes to a plain ol' H. The Ben & Jerry's flavor Chunky Monkey becomes a [Macho macaque?], or HUNKY MONKEY. Now, that's just disturbing. I'm not crazy about HEAP TRICK and HICK FLICK, but I like to be reminded of Cheap Trick (here's a video of "I Want You to Want Me") and chick flicks. Speaking of retro music, we also get KIKI DEE here, and she dueted with Elton John on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." Other fun fill: HOOHAH, PSHAW, UH-HUH, and George WENDT.


Fun theme in Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle—the "Hi, Mom!" theme entries begin with an added MA. There's the geologic MAKING OF THE HILL, MASONIC BOOMS down at the lodge, Hawaiian thanks in the MAHALO EFFECT, and a [Dormant virus?], MALADY IN WAITING.

Donna Levin's LA Times puzzle had a helper entry to explain the theme, fortunately, because the link between NEWSPAPER LAYOUT, IT'S NIP AND TUCK, and COME DOWN THE PIKE was lost on me. [The last words...are body positions in it]? That'd be DIVING. I did not know there was such a thing as a layout in diving; here's how to do it.

Update #2:

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is the funniest crossword I've seen in a while. Having observed that ANDY RODDICK's surname comprises two separate euphemisms for "penis," he managed to build a whole theme around it. As the DOUBLE-HUNG window that serves as the puzzle's title suggests, each theme entry includes two such euphemisms. There's WEE WILLIE WINKIE, the PECKERWOOD plantation from Mame, JOHNSON & JOHNSON, and PETER O'TOOLE (that's 10 penises in all—possibly the most virile crossword ever). Add the fresh and Scrabbly fill and the playfully Waldenesque clues, and you've got yourself a good time. Best clues: [Play God?] for CREATE; ["Naked ___" (Oscar-nominated 1974 documentary)] for YOGA (NSFW warning: that link's not to the movie); [Super Bowl bowlful, familiarly] for GUAC (guacamole); [Castle unit, perhaps] for LEGO; [Spanish architect celebrated by the Alan Parsons Project's last album] for GAUDI; [Birth control superlative] for SAFEST; [Classic sour hard candy brand] for fizzy ZOTZ; [Homer Simpson mistook Tony Blair for him] for MR BEAN; and [Pointless player, perhaps] for LOSER. Shiniest fill: THE WIZ; AFC WEST; D-LEAGUE linked to the NBAERS who play in it; CARLS JR (with the porniest commercial ever starring Paris Hilton); and DODO EGG. I didn't know DR. G, the forensic expert from a Discovery Health series.

The title of Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle, "CD Exchange," doesn't seem quite right to me. Each theme entry's base phrase ends with a CE, which is traded in for a DS. Is it supposed to be a soft-C -CES becoming -DS? The original phrases all seem singular to me. Anyway: Putting aside the theme, which is small enough not to get in the way of great fill, I loved this puzzle—particularly the Down stuff. Favorite fill and clues: [Lonely Planet competitor] for LET'S GO; ["Don't Watch TV Tonight...Play It!" company] for ATARI; [Don Herbert's alias] for MR WIZARD; [A bag of pot, maybe] for EVIDENCE; [Small town?] for LILLIPUT; [NSA invasions] for WIRETAPS; the double slanginess of [Black gold] for TEXAS TEA (both meaning oil); [Invasive computer programs] for ADWARE; [Entertainer "the Entertainer"] for CEDRIC (here's a clip of Cedric the Entertainer semi-roasting Condoleezza Rice on C-Span, much to the Secretary of State's amusement); and [Online meeting spot that may be viewed in English or Hebrew] for JDATE.


October 28, 2007

Monday, 10/29

NYS 3:47
NYT 2:41
CS 2:38
LAT 2:34

The worst thing I can say about Fred Piscop's New York Times crossword is that PANATELA, or [Slender cigar], is rather fancy for a Monday puzzle, though all eight of its crossings are fair. The best thing I can say about it is that the theme is interesting and feels fresh, there's a smattering of longer fill answers, and some clues skew in a new way. (Okay, that's at least three things.) The foursome of theme entries split -ATION words into two parts to create fake phrases. The process of carbonation is boring (but has such delightfully fizzy results if you like pop), but break that open into a CARBO NATION, or a [Pasta- and potato-loving country]. I can't believe that hasn't been used as the title of a screed against carbs (which I love). a GENE RATION's an [Allotment of heredity units?]. 1-Across and 1-Down are for smokers and drinkers, with LIT UP crossing LAGER. Now, I don't consider a LAGER a [Hearty brew] compared with, say, a brown ale or a dark beer, but I suppose even a crappy Bud Light is heartier than a brewed cup of tea. I like [Milk for all it's worth] as a clue for USE; SEAHORSE, TAN LINES, MAJORED IN, and STONE AGE; [Furrowed part of the head] for BROW (am envisioning a furrowed skull instead, and it's not a good look!); and [Stewed to the gills] for BLOTTO. I had trouble parsing the clue for LIVES A LIE; [Is false to the world] doesn't really use familiar phrasing, but I suppose the Times crossword isn't ready to venture into talking about, say, closeted gay men with wives who cruise public bathrooms for anonymous sex. Speaking of sex, [Rooters] is a funny clue for FANS if you've heard what "root" is Australian slang for.

Pete Mitchell's New York Sun crossword, "Five of Clubs," fills the golf cart with five clubs: a TAXI DRIVER, FLYING WEDGE, KERRY WOOD, CURLING IRON, and SHOT PUTTER. Throw in an octet of 7-letter fill and a pair of 10s, and it's mighty fancy Monday fill. Favorite entries: The old TV show THE FBI; ED ASNER; ROXANNE clued with a line from the Police song; and architect Frank GEHRY. GATO's clue, [Chihuahua cat], put me in mind of the cartoon chihuahua Ren and his pudgy kitty pal, Stimpy—so it pleased me no end to find REN, the [Toon pal of Stimpy], further down in the grid. [Rev.'s rev.] for FWD looks weird. It looks just as weird on my DVD remote, where the rewind key is labeled REV and the fast-forward key is FWD. What happened to REW and FF? Are those, like, so 20th century?

I usually don't care so much for themes that feature phrases that begin and end with halves of the same word, but Paula Gamache spruces up the idea in her CrosSynergy crossword, "Supernova," by tying them together with a purpose. Phrases that begin with ST and end with AR? (E.g., STEEL GUITAR, STOP THE CAR,) By themselves, boring. Highlight the EXPLODING STAR in each, though, and the puzzle gains a reason for being. Favorite fill entries: THE BRONX, WEBSTER, ORVILLE Redenbacher, and NON-PC ([Like a sexist joke, briefly]).

Nancy Salomon's LA Times crossword is light on theme density (41 squares), but rich in fill. The theme, while small, is a tight one: "NO PAIN, NO GAIN," "NO GUTS, NO GLORY," and "NO HARM, NO FOUL" are tied together by NO-NOS crossing the center. Fill highlights: a STANDING O, SILAS MARNER, HOI POLLOI, IN GOOD SHAPE, and Damien: OMEN II.


Sunday, 10/28

NYT 9:43
WaPo 9:38
PI 8:36
LAT 6:57
BG untimed
CS 5:02

The Sunday New York Times crossword, "Talking Heads," is a good one. Ben Tausig is one of the most reliably prolific (or prolifically reliable) constructors working today—he's got a themed 15x15 every single week (the Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle he self-syndicates), he writes an Onion A.V. Club puzzle about every eight weeks, and every so often he graces us with an NYT crossword. I am rarely semi-disappointed by one of Ben's creations. In this Sunday-sized puzzle, the puns on "pundit" with PUNNED IT (84-Down) and the seven theme entries, each containing the name of a TV or radio political mouth. For the left, there's (Al) FRANKEN SENSE (a pun on frankincense) and (Phil) DONAHUE DARE ("don't you dare"). For the right, there's DO THE LIMBAUGH (Rush, limbo), YOU'RE GETTING COULTER (Ann, colder), and LIFE OF O'REILLY (life of Riley, Bill). WHY PAY MAHER (Bill, more) and [Don's parting words?], IMUS BE OFF NOW (Don, I must). Clever theme, finely wrought. Favorite fill: good ol' UTA HAGEN in full-named splendor; CALLER ID; the NAKED EYE; FOR SHAME; BINOCULAR vision; and the NORMAN / EMPIRE. Least favorite fill: FASCES. What is this [Roman symbol of power]? Read all about it here. Far-out clues: [Pedicab alternative] for CYCLO; [Mushroom with an umbrella cap] for AGARIC; [What Astrophysics and Advanced Calculus probably aren't] for EASY A'S. I'm too sleepy to think any more—those paragraphs down below? I wrote those segments last night.

Lynn Lempel's Washington Post puzzle's called "Extended Forecasts," and it extends two-word weather forecasts by tacking on another component that goes with the second word. Is that at all clear? No? It's cloudy? An example will help. A hot spell might be forecast, and a bit of [Stolen software] might be a HOT SPELL-CHECKER. Heavy snow + snowbird = [Rotund Florida visitor?], or HEAVY SNOWBIRD. (Hey, my in-laws have become snowbirds. That means we've got a place to visit in Florida all winter long!) I'd like to spotlight some terrific fill—LADY GODIVA (puts me in mind of imported chocolate...mmm, Godiva), I TOLD YOU SO, LIP-READS, PARSLEY, and an ALOHA SHIRT. The [Soap ingredient] is POTASH, and here's a little etymology I recently picked up—the word potash is a mashup of pot and ash, with the compound having been discovered in wood ash. The element potassium comes out of potash, both physically and etymologically. I don't know if my grandma was aware of the chemical and wordy link, but she always did mispronounce is "potashyum."

The Boston Globe crossword that's available in Across Lite this weekend is the one I wrote about roughly a month ago—it contained a marriage proposal theme in the service of an actual marriage proposal! Any oddball names you see in the puzzle are likely to be names of significance to the now-affianced couple.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Horrors!", suggests screen names for local TV station horror-movie hosts. (Here in Chicago, I grew up with Son of Svengoolie. He predated Elvira.) As with last Sunday's Reagle crossword, I must issue a Heavy-Duty Puns alert: we are at code red.


Ooh, a lovely themeless CrosSynergy puzzle from Rich Norris! It's not too Scrabbly (a Q and five Ks) and the clues aren't too tough and the fill isn't aggressively showy, but there's much to admire here. Among my favorite clues and answers: [Catcher's position] for CROUCH (crouch is a kinda funny word); the vague [Give] for the idiomatic CRY UNCLE; [Buyer without warranty?] for EMPTOR (that's the emptor we're caveating in "let the buyer beware"); [Author honored in a Prague museum] for KAFKA (I thought of Karel Čapek first; I don't know if this museum was in Prague yet when I was there in '97); [Gloaming followers] for E'ENS; [Top of the Grampians] for TAM (the Grampians are mountains in Scotland, and their tops could be mountain tors or the hats that might be worn by Scottish visitors there); NO WONDER (["That explains it"]); the OSCARS; CHEAP SEATS; PILE IT ON; [Hollywood ending?] for THAT'S A WRAP; [It's an act] for a SKIT; and last but not least, the combo of a SEMICOLON clued with [It may be part of a long sentence] and the SPACE BAR, which [may be used often in a long sentence]. A smooth puzzle from start to finish!

Joy Frank's LA Times-syndicated puzzle, "Job Descriptions," splits out the meaning of a word or word fragment at the beginning of a job title to change the meaning. A psychotherapist is one thing, but a [Healer with issues?] might be a PSYCHO THERAPIST (still a therapist as before, but a psycho one). A used car salesman sells cars, but if she's an [Exploited dealership employee?], she may be a USED CAR SALESMAN whom everybody uses as a doormat. Cute theme, solid fill, and easyish clues.


October 26, 2007

Saturday, 10/27

NYT 6:47
Newsday 6:06
LAT 5:34
CS 3:22

The Saturday New York Times crossword this week is from the atelier of Brendan Emmett Quigley. It's one thing to encounter an obscure name of a place or person and be stumped—but to have a 15-letter answer with a sensible clue like [Classic laugh-inducing parlor game with writing or illustrations] be utterly unknown is weird. Maybe you've all heard of EXQUISITE CORPSE, but I hadn't—if you're wondering what it's all about, Wikipedia's got a zillion links. That entry's sandwiched between two other 15s in the middle of the grid: COUNT ONE'S LOSSES, which seems like it's not quite an in-the-language phrase, and the READING RAILROAD we all know from Monopoly. Is "count one's losses" a phrase that emerged out of a mild mangling of "cut one's losses" and became about taking stock rather than minimizing damage?

Moving along to other clues, other answers: MARK CUBAN pops in at 1-Across, with a clue that reads [Billionaire sports entrepreneur who heads HDNet]; no idea what that means, as I know him as the Dallas Mavericks owner and the guy who was on some reality TV show giving away money or hiring someone Apprentice-style. (Speaking of pro basketball, [Court stuff] means DUNK here.) [Case made for a shooter] made me thing of guns and marbles (I think the only people who still play marbles are the magical ones who live in Crosswordtopia, with their agates and taws and immies, always talking about UTA Hagen—who, by the way, [played Martha in Broadway's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"]), but the answer was CAMERA BAG. Whaddaya know? ROILY ([Agitated]) is in my dictionary, with reference to turbulent water. Anyone ever read [Dr. Seuss's "Too Many ___"] DAVES? I like to follow marathon action, so I liked HAILE clued as [Marathon runner Gebrselassie]; he's broken 25 world records and is damned fast. (Plus, his name ends with Lassie.) AOL is the [Name for Quantum Computer Services since '89]; I had no idea. There are a pair of 5-letter entries without vowels: NSYNC and RSVP'D. TOMATO RED is [What green might ripen into]; fair enough. Wait, RAMEN is a [Far East bowlful]? I dunno, it seems pretty Midwestern to me. Is it popular on all the continents, I wonder? And what [Some religious fundamentalists] did you think of? I started out with the Shakers and their fundamental wood furniture instead of SHIITES. Guess what? A [Connecticut city on the Naugatuck] is ANSONIA. Who wrote "The Mischievous Dog"? 'Twas AESOP (though I was willing to give the credit to Joseph Alsop instead.) More literature: GODOT is [One who's waited upon]—the other day I saw a car with a GODOT vanity plate and wished I could have been stuck in traffic behind it. "Let's go." "We can't." "Why not?" "We're waiting for Godot." C'mon, that's way funnier than [Ecuador's southernmost coastal province], EL ORO.

All righty, that's enough rambling for tonight.


A busy day for la familia Naranja! We arose early and cabbed it downtown and to the Bridgehouse Museum where Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River. We got to see the bascule trunnion bridge open up and witness the giant gears spinning beneath the bridge. Then we raced the sailboats upriver (or is it downriver? Hard to know in a river that's had its direction of flow reversed by engineers) as the Wabash, State, Dearborn, Clark, LaSalle, Wells, and Franklin Street bridges lifted. The Wells Street bridge is cool because it's got two-way car, pedestrian, and El traffic on it—when the bridge is opened all the way, the train tracks heading steeply upwards look like part of a fearsome rollercoaster. After the bridge adventures, we took the El up tp the North Side's mini-Chinatown and walked over to Pumpkinpalooza at a neighborhood park. Whew! Lotta walking today.

Back to crosswords:

In Daniel Stark's Newsday puzzle, some clues were good, hard, or good 'n' hard: [Stored, as chestnuts] for STABLED, chestnuts being chestnut-colored horses; [Franchise] for VOTE; [Capitol feature] for PORTICO; [Literally "little pan"] for PATELLA (I did not know that!); [Resistance reducer] for SIEGE (reducing political resistance rather than having anything to do with electrical current); and [Place for slides] for LAB (persumably glass slides to view under the microscope and not, say, water slides).

Highlights in Bob Peoples' LA Times themeless: TRANS AM clued as cheesy pop culture ([KITT of "Knight Rider" was one]); HOME ICE clued as [Edge for some skaters]; [Pinch] for SOUPCON; THAT'LL DO clued as ["I've seen enough"] rather than ["___, pig" (memorable line from Babe]; TIME WARP ([Fictional portal])—and we just heard the Rocky Horror Picture Show song, Time Warp, over at Pumpkinpalooza; and [Half a sleepless night?] for TOSSING (the other part being turning).

Thomas Schier's Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Triple Plays," concocts phrases with three N's in a row. I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as an INN NUTRITIONIST or JOHN GLENN NOVELS. Anyone know if there's a significance to the NNN trigram?

Edited to note: Tom Schier left a comment saying:

The "Triple Play" crossword which featured NNN was not constructed by me. The CrosSynergy files show that it was constructed by Martin Ashwood-Smith. I don't understand how my name was attributed to this crossword!


October 25, 2007

Friday, 10/26

CHE 7:35—Download this if you like tough crosswords
NYS 6:15
NYT 5:42
LAT 4:28
CS 3:52
Jonesin' 3:35

WSJ 8:58

It's la Dia de dos Davids! (Por favor, excuse the bad Spanish.) The Davids Quarfoot and Kahn headline the NYT and Sun crosswords for Friday.

David Quarfoot's New York Times puzzle has a zillion 7-letter entries that really sparkle. Three entries are creatures of the internet: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation's MYSPACE, the [Modern rental option] NETFLIX, and the E-TICKET you get when you book a flight online. Spoken discourse brings us I'M NOT YOU (["Let me live my own life!"]), HAS A COW, OMIGOSH (["Heavens!"]), ROCK ON (["Way to go, dude!"]), and HERE I AM! The Flintstones gets a shout-out with MR SLATE (which I first parsed as MRS LATE), clued as [Cartoon boss working at a quarry]. Other multi-word entries I admired include IO MOTHS ([Yellow fliers with large eyespots]); YOKO ONO ([Poem reader at the 2006 Olympics opening ceremony]); RED WINE (["Cab," e.g.], meaning cabernet sauvignon); PGA TOUR; the NY TIMES; a LOVE SET in tennis ([Lopsided court result]); and SILENT C, the [Center of Connecticut]. Other notable clues: [Get a handle on?] for TITLE; [Buries] for TROUNCES; the misleading [Taper] for VCR; [Was sluggish?] for CREPT (here's a nature video of slugs creeping together...and then having dizzying slug sex); [Gaga] for SMITTEN; [Little women] for PETITES; and [He wrote "It's certain that fine women eat / A crazy salad with their meat"], a line from this poem by YEATS.

In David Kahn's New York Sun puzzle, "Fall Guys of the '70s" are sort of a blend between the Boys of Summer and Mr. October—the five baseball players whose last names end the theme entries were all WORLD SERIES MVPS in the 1970s. Roberto (SAN) CLEMENTE won in 1971; Rollie (LADY)FINGERS in 1974; Pete (HONEYSUCKLE) ROSE, 1975; Johnny (PARK) BENCH, 1976; and the ridiculously named Bucky (MADE A) DENT, 1978. ("Bucky"? That name's fine...if you're a cartoony badger mascot. Speaking of sports mascots, did you know they've got their own Hall of Fame? No lie.) Anyway: a 70-letter theme is big and impressive. Outside of that, my favorite clues were [___ Roni] for PASTA (not RICE-A!); [Place for free shots] for an OPEN BAR; [Tennessee county that was the setting of the Scopes trial] for RHEA (hey! a fresh clue for an old answer); [Villein] for SERF; [Watered down] for VAPID; and [Rebel with a cause?] for CHE Guevara. I didn't much like [Leaves in a hot state?] for LEI—I thought leis were more blossoms than leaves, and this site says Hawaii's summertime high temp is around 84°, which is more warm than hot. Hawaii's got nothing on Arizona or Vegas for heat, no?

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "Un-Scary Movie," alters one letter in five horror movie titles and describes the new creations in the clues. The Omen turned into a movie about baking cookies? It becomesTHE OVEN. The Grudge becomes THE GRUNGE, and Hellraiser morphs into a volunteer organizer, a HELP RAISER. Pretty easy for a Jonesin' crossword overall. My very favorite clue: [Menu phrase often misused after "served with"] for AU JUS. You can Google up plenty of menus, like this one, that say the roast beef sandwich is "served with au jus sauce," and it must be said that the addition of the word sauce just makes it fancier. I also liked [Jeans brand with a question mark] for GUESS.


It took me a while to see what was going on with the theme in Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal puzzle. It's called "Taking Up a Collection," and the first two theme entries, CHASING LIKE A BIRD and LOONY BRITAIN, made no sense to me. Eventually I came to the central entry, CHARITABLE DONATIONS, and saw that chunks of that phrase were being "donated" to the phrases that were the seeds of the theme entry. Thus, CHA + "sing like a bird," and RITA = "loony bin." Then come I AMBLED I SAID, CAPTAIN'S LOGO, NATURAL RIVER, and ONIONS COMMISSION. Most elegantly wrought. Terrific clues throughout the puzzle, too. My pets: [Renovation] for FACELIFT; [Runway model] for PLANE; [Slips between the covers?] for ERRATA sheets; [Wheaties, e.g.] for FLAKES; [Singer of "Footloose"] for actress LORI Singer, not a singer of the song by that name; [They're not critical] for YES-MEN; and [Steel works?] for Danielle Steel NOVELS. Best fill: REBRAND, DANNY THOMAS, ROSES ARE RED, LIP GLOSS, FIDGET, MISS USA, POLONAISE, and SPACE CAMP.

Gary Steinmehl's LA Times crossword takes __CKS words and swaps them out for sound-alike __X words. [Have salmon-phobia?] is DREAD LOX, playing on dreadlocks. An [Albany veto] is a NEW YORK NIX. Those were my favorites among the five theme entries. My favorite non-theme answer adds yet another X to the grid: TEXTING, [Sending messages, in a way]. I love it when words that have only recently been added to our daily discourse make their way into crosswords.

Jonathan Pederson's 10/12 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle is a must for anyone who likes those knotty, twisty, toy-with-convention crosswords. Four lines of the theme explain how the gimmick works: ALTERNATE / LINES READ IN / THE OPPOSITE / DIRECTION. The answer in the middle is NODEHPORTSUOB, or boustrophedon backwards. It's from the Greek for "turning like oxen in ploughing"—i.e., you get to the end of one row and turn around to travel the opposite direction to the other end of the next row. Until you grasp the theme, all those backwards answers are perplexing. And they're not all easy words, either! [How the speed of light is measured] is in vacuo forwards, UOCAVNI backwards. Tough clues + oddball theme = maximum mind-bending fun.

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle has an ordinary sort of theme. Yes, there's a Blindauer byline, but the CrosSynergy puzzles generally eschew bendy gimmicks, rebuses, or (except for puzzles by Bob Klahn) tough cluing. The theme in "Inside: The NFL" is that NFL is embedded in each theme entry. There are six theme entries (64 squares), so it's ambitious in that sense. Two bonus points for the inclusion of NAKED LUNCH, the William Burroughs novel. I never read the book, but it was made into a movie in the '90s...a bizarre movie. Picture a typewriter...with an anus...and a jones for roach powder made from mugwump jism, mugwumps being creepy giant wormy critters.


October 24, 2007

Thursday, 10/25

NYS 6:35
LAT 3:57
NYT 3:50
CS 3:06

I tucked my son into bed and dozed off myself. The sound of gentle snoring woke me. (I suspect it was my own, though the kid snores too.) Good thing, because it was crossword time. I roused my brain and was rewarded with two puzzles with some uncommonly good fill, both by three-named constructors—Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Themeless Thursday" from the Sun and Susan Harrington Smith's quote theme in the Times. Imagine that: a quote theme with juicy fill!

Smith holds the record for the most uses of the letter Y in a 2003 NYT crossword, in a puzzle with 16 short rhyming theme entries including HOOEY, PTUI, BUOY, and CHEWY. That's completely irrelevant to this crossword, yes, but I Googled her name and that's what came up, so I took a look at the puzzle and thought it had a zippy theme.

Smith's Thursday New York Times puzzle includes an ITALIAN / PROVERB, TO TRUST IS GOOD / NOT TO / TRUST IS BETTER. Eh, most quote themes do nothing for me. But the fill that proverb is planted in blossoms madly with cool answers. INTAGLIO ([Incised printing method]), a PIPE DREAM ([Bit of wishful thinking]), a Cadillac DEVILLE crossing Greta Garbo's classic "I VANT to be alone," NONSTICK Teflon, an ALIQUOT ([Exact proper divisor, in math], or a portion of a whole taken for analysis in chemistry), PRATTLE ON ([Talk, talk, talk]), JOUNCES (a little-heard late Middle English word, clued as [Bumps on a ride]), DIGITALIS ([Medicinal cardiac stimulant]), a DIXIE cup crossing Pope Paul the SIXTH—I liked all of those. I even learned some more geography, with the [Pacific islands in W.W. II fighting] being the GILBERTS. What are they? The Gilbert Islands are now known as the nation of Kiribati, which is how the Gilbertese pronounced "Gilbert," apparently. Tarawa, home of a W.W. II battle, is part of the Gilberts. If that's too obscure for you, just be thankful that the clue wasn't [The centimeter-gram-second electromagnetic unit of magnetomotive force, equal to 10/4π ampere-turn.]!

Moving along to (rich, chocolaty) dessert, BEQ's themeless New York Sun puzzle has got some of the zippiest fill I've seen in ages. Crikey! You've got the crazily spelled ANDRUW JONES, [Youngest person to hit a home run in a World Series]. The [Office services giant], FEDEX KINKO'S, has that groovy XK combo in the middle. NETIZENS ([Wiki writers, e.g.] crosses TANZANIA—and how did I not know that [Dodoma is its capital]? Ah: The capital was moved from Dar es Salaam in 1996. And did you know that Tanzania's name is a mashup of mainland Tanganyika and the Zanzibar Islands? True story. The crazy RAELIAN sect! You must marvel at the design of their home page. NEAL gets a contemporary clue, ["Alternadad" author Pollack]. A friend of mine blogs at the hip parenting site Offsprung, and so does Pollack. Toss in the IRAQ WAR (clued as [2008 presidential debate subject], and would you believe I had *RACKER for a while? Yep.), EVA LONGORIA, and a great word like RODOMONTADE ([Hot air]), and the fill just gets better and better. And Paul TSONGAS ([Presidental candidate who wrote "A Call to Economic Arms"] when he was up against Clinton for the 1992 nomination) beside ARSENIO Hall, not far from MAALOX and across the grid from the lovely word SMITTEN ([In love]). I even liked the partial IS UP, as in ["The jig ___!"]—I like to say that whenever I have occasion to, which is not nearly often enough. Oh, and ELMO is clued as [Pal of Mr. Noodle]; I was partial to the late Mr. Noodle's brother, Mr. Noodle. For the top-notch answers in this baby, I'll toss it in the ol' "great puzzles" folder.


Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "2006 Movie Remakes," clusters four movies that came out last year and were remakes of movies from 32 to 47 years ago. What else do these remakes have in common? They all stunk. PINK PANTHER, 24% Tomatometer rating at RottenTomatoes.com. The "family movie" THE SHAGGY DOG, 28%. The horror film, BLACK CHRISTMAS, 17%. The suspense movie, THE WICKER MAN, 15%. For comparison, Bewitched, the 2005 movie remake of a TV show: 25%. 2004's The Stepford Wives: 26%. This month's Sleuth: 41%. I don't think any of these movies have done any better at the box office than in critics' estimation, and yet the studios keep cranking out the remakes. Creatively bankrupt? Too chicken to bet on interesting scripts from unknowns when a remake must be a sure thing? A sure flop, it appears.

Robert Wolfe's LA Times crossword also does movies. It presents five movie titles that consist of the same word multiple times, but without repeating any words. Thus, Elvis Presley's Girls! Girls! Girls! is rendered as GIRLS THRICE, and Jim Carrey's Liar, Liar is LIAR DOUBLED.


October 23, 2007

Wednesday, 10/24

NYS 4:35
NYT 3:05
CS 3:00
LAT 2:38

David Kwong's New York Sun crossword packs one of those juicy wordplay/geographical themes into its 15x16 grid. As the "United Nations" title hints, each theme entry consists of three overlapping ("united") country names. We get JAPANAMADAGASCAR, CUBAHRAINDONESIA, CHILESOTHONDURAS, and AZERBAIJANGOLAOS, and despite the seeming lack of any particular organization to the names (other than the overlapping letters), I love the theme. The first two letters in JAPAN cross two more countries, FIJI and IRAQ, just for the hell of it. Plenty of tough clues here: [Vanua Levu Island is part of it] for FIJI; [Grecian formula ingredient?] for ETA; [Mark Twain's celebrated frog] for DAN'L; [Insult subject] for YO MAMA; ["GoldenEye" villain Trevelyan] for ALEC; [Joneses] for YENS; [Harmoniphon soundalike] for OBOE; [Sweat spot] for AXILLA (that's the armpit in anatomical terms); [Eunuch flute's more common name] for KAZOO; and [Graceless] for STIFF. LAB RAT was nice fill, though it overlaps in part with the BIO clue, [Class with a lab].

Do you ever hesitate to click the "done" button in the New York Times crossword applet? When I filled in 59-Across in Patrick Blindauer's puzzle, I had to look at it a little longer because it looked so preposterously wrong to me. Patrick's theme consists of seven Latin phrases—only four of which were familiar to this solver. In English, [The die is cast] is familiar, but the Latin ALEA IACTA EST, with all those clumsy vowels bumping up against one another? Oy. SEMPER IDEM means [Always the same] thing. ECCE SIGNUM (as used in this Shakespeare/Henry IV quote) means [Behold the proof]. I'd wager the other four phrases—HABEAS CORPUS, TERRA FIRMA, AB OVO, and SINE QUA NON—are far more familiar to most solvers. Favorite clues: [Shout to a team, maybe] for MUSH (as in a team of sled dogs—and no, I'm not ready to contemplate the snowy season just yet); [They're rather pointless] for EPEES; [He said "Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting"] for Yogi BERRA; [Sport whose name means "gentle way"] for JUDO; and [Black lacquer] for JAPAN (japanning is something I learned about strictly from crossword puzzles). Favorite brand-name fill: NODOZ and BVDS.


Easy LA Times puzzle from John Greenman—idiomatic phrases placed in fairy tale settings. Favorite one: Goldilocks is LOADED FOR BEAR. Aw, and that fairy tale was never particularly violent—not like Little Red Riding Hood with all the carnage. I'd never heard of VALPARAISO, the seaport that's the sixth largest city in CHILE. I'm much more familiar with its Indiana namesake and the university there—but is that Valpo something known only to those in the Chicago and Indiana vicinity?

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Right Between the I's," includes four phrases that start and end with I's. I like ISABELLE ADJANI and IRONCLAD ALIBI the best, I'M FROM MISSOURI and ITALIAN SALAMI a bit less.


Test your vocabulary!

I came across a groovy link at the Away With Words blog—at FreeRice, advertisers will donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program for every vocabulary word you get right. One vocabulary word, four possible answers—click the definition you think is right. After you get a few right, you discover you're on level 40. Keep getting correct answers and you may reach level 50...at which point you're bound to get some words you've never seen that have no familiar cognates and drop down a level or five.

Play as long as you like and watch your rice count climb. If you can stay at level 50 for more than a few words, my toque is off to you.


October 22, 2007

Tuesday, 10/23

Onion 4:59
Tausig 4:27
NYS 4:22
NYT 3:07
LAT 3:02
CS 3:02

The Tuesday New York Times puzzle comes from the mind of Alan Arbesfeld. Four theme entries begin with THINGS (that are) DRAWN. I.e., the curtain in CURTAIN CALL. The things that are drawn—a curtain, blood, a gun, and a bath—are all drawn in different manners, and none at all like a picture being drawn. Good longer fill lurking about, too—BOBBY KNIGHT, for one, and I FORGOT.

Sarah Keller's New York Sun puzzle, "Film Flam," flip-flops a pair of letters in each of four movie titles and reclues them accordingly. A Star Is Born loses Streisand and becomes a [Winter Palace baby announcement?], A TSAR IS BORN. Fun wordplay action in the theme! There are a dozen 6- to 8-letter answers in the non-themed fill, and uncommon letters galore (two X's and two Z's, a Q and a J, and three K's). I'm not familiar with the [California Congresswoman Lofgren], first name ZOE—nice to have a clueable alternative to Zoe Caldwell, whose name I know from crosswords but honestly, I don't know who she is or what she's done.

Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword has a theme that works a lot like Sarah Keller's: Rather than two letters switching spots, an initial F moves to the end of the first word in each theme entry. A free radical goes Greenpeaceful as a REEF RADICAL. Far From Heaven (great movie, by the way—an old-school melodrama for the present decade) becomes a dog's ouija board message, ARF FROM HEAVEN. My favorite of the five theme entries here is ATF TUESDAY. Favorite clue: [Studs of note] for the legendary Studs TERKEL.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy outing, "Inner Piece," stashes a GUN (41-Down) in each of the three theme entries. Favorite bits: Austin Powers' "OH, BEHAVE!" for pop-culture fun; trusty ol' Walter CRONKITE; and the CCC at 1-Across atop OOO.

In the LA Times crossword, Jack McInturff groups four things that something follow GO TO (61-Down) at the front of the theme entries. Things can go to waste (WASTEBASKET) or seed (SEED CATALOGUE). A person can go to pieces (PIECES OF EIGHT). And someone can be a go-to guy (GUY LOMBARDO). I like the non-themed 10-letter entries that criss-cross in the corners: OUTSMARTED and AMATEURISH, ENGLISH LIT and EXHAUSTIVE.

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, "Costume Crisis," conjures up some half-assed Halloween costumes an uncreative person might come up with. Combine a broom and a book and call yourself a BRAINY WITCH, or pair Birkenstock sandals with a bedsheet and be an EARTHY GHOST. I like most of the fill, but cannot abide this one: KLEIG, clued as [Movie set light: Var.]. Just because a lot of people don't know how to spell Klieg light doesn't make the misspelling a valid word. (Although I might entertain myself by making a crossword filled with misspellings like "recieve"...) The light is named after the Kliegl brothers, so really, even the correct spelling is a misspelling. I'm gonna call 'em Kliegl lights in my head from now on.


October 21, 2007

Monday, 10/22

NYS 3:05
NYT 2:55
LAT 2:55
CS 2:50

What do LAWRENCE WELK, CLAM BISQUE, and a FAIR AMOUNT have in common? Well, in Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword, three of LITTLE BO PEEP's misplaced charges are hiding in those three answers: a EWE, LAMB, and RAM are split between words in the theme entries. Favorite fill: RAQUEL WELCH, NOSE JOB, RAZZ and MESTIZO not crossing each other, and the SALT I treaty (anyone else ever get nostalgic for the cold war? Sure, we feared nuclear holocaust, but cold wars are so much less bloody than hot ones). Those three Z's, a J, and a Q are joined by an X and three K's for an extra-Scrabbly Monday.


Sarah Keller's "Cross References" puzzle (CrosSynergy) includes four theme entries that are definitions of the word cross. The boxing blow, hybrid, and "you'd better not cross me" senses of the word are omitted, but the theme entries include a noun, verb, adjective, and proper noun (the PEN MANUFACTURER brand name).

Don Gagliardo's LA Times puzzle has a slew of 3-letter answers and a mild surfeit of black squares, yes, but it's also got six theme entries (in rows 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13) and a quartet of 7's. An easy enough Monday theme—phrases that end with -IEF words.

Sun update, Monday evening:

Mark Feldman's New York Sun crossword, "You Are What You Wear," elegantly groups five phrases in which a person is referred to as an item of apparel. For example, a STUFFED SHIRT, a TURNCOAT, a BRASS HAT, a SILK STOCKING, and a SMARTY-PANTS. The grid is well seasoned with the inclusion of four 10-letter entries in the fill.


October 20, 2007

Sunday, 10/21

PI 10:46
NYT 9:54
WaPo 9:32
BG 7:42
LAT 7:02
CS 7:33

My Mac just went uncharacteristically bonkers on me. The applet disappeared and reloaded itself after the timer started running, and then there was a lag before the letters I typed showed up. After I finished the puzzle, the Grab screen-capture app was logy, and the other browser where I blog was also creaky. All right, everything's restarted and now I've got the puzzle completed in Across Lite so I've got something to look at while blogging. But you go ahead and mentally subtract as much from my solving time as you think is appropriate.

The New York Times crossword's called "Set Your Mind at Ease," and it's by Brendan Emmett Quigley. The theme entries morph a short E sound into a long E sound, changing the spelling. A chicken leg becomes a CHICKEN LEAGUE, [Organization of easily frightened people?]. An educated guess becomes [Smart fowl?], or EDUCATED GEESE. The phrase "a good many" turns into A GOOD MEANIE, [Bully turned Samaritan?]. Another favorite was RED HEARING, [House Un-American Activities Committee event?]. Now, you might think that 19-Across, the [Open-mesh fabric], is terribly obscure. ETAMINE? Why, that's been written about in the New York Times—in 1917. I wasn't hip to the Q RATIO ([Market value of a company's assets divided by their replacement cost]) either, but everything else seemed reasonable to me.

Toughest clues: [Oil used in making polyurethane] for ANILINE (usually clued with reference to dyes); [Italian eyeglass] for LENTE; [HBO founder Charles] for DOLAN; the two emperors, OTHO ([Roman emperor with a three-month reign]) and NERO ([Last ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty]); ["Whle We Were Young" songwriter Wilder] for ALEC; [Chinese mafia] for TONG; and [Black bird] for DAW (raise your hand if you defaulted to the ANI).

Favorite clues/answers: ["Day of ___" (what "Dies Irae" means] for WRATH (crosswordese explained!); ["The Treachery of Images" artist] for MAGRITTE (this is the painting that says "Ceci n'est pas une pipe"); [Part of a dash] for TACH (part of a dashboard rather than, say, a 50-yard dash); [It may not need clarification] for OLEO (as opposed to unclarified butter); [Psychiatrist's urging] for LET IT OUT; [Lie detector alternative] for PENTOTHAL; [Place for couples?] for ARK; ["Take your time"] for No RUSH; and [Charley horse, e.g.] for SPASM.


Henry Hook's online Boston Globe puzzle, "Nothing to It," turns every NIL into a zero, or rather, the letter O. A vanilla shake is VAOLA MILK SHAKE, Barry Manilow is BARRY MAOOW, and there are seven other theme entries. One never-saw-that-before entry here: ASTRE, [1970s Pontiac model]. Fill I liked best: OBAMA, ECHIDNAS, kissing GOURAMIS (here's a short video showing how these little fish "kiss"). Favorite clue: [Springy?] for VERNAL.

Pancho Harrison's Washington Post crossword, "Prefixation," appends an A and doubles the first consonant following it (and changing the word's spelling as needed) to fake some prefix action. Salted nuts are cocktail snacks, and "under attack," they're ASSAULTED NUTS. A [Pirate craft?] is an ASSAILING SHIP. Answers that did not come readily to mind: [Tiger legend] for Ty COBB; [Sidi ___, Morocco] is IFNI; [Make undrinkable] is DENATURE; [Hebrides isle] is MULL; ["Gullible's Travels" author] is Ring LARDNER; [CO's asst.] is ADJT; and [Michael of "The Day the Earth Stood Still"] is RENNIE. GIULIANI runs alongsize CEZANNE—surely the folks who complain about the inclusion of "you know it or you don't names" don't object to names with this degree of currency or lasting import? The [Snoopy persona] JOE COOL is a terrific entry, isn't it?

Good thing Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword is the last of my Sunday roster to be available by Saturday evening, because I'm dozing off here even though it's only 8:15 now. The computer's working fine—it's the brain that's slowing down here. The theme in "The First-Name Game" is puns, dreadful puns, on famous first names. Gladys Knight becomes GLOTTIS KNIGHT; John Paul Jones is JUMP BALL JONES; the secretary of state becomes CONDO-LEASER RICE. See? Real groaners, all of 'em. And there are six more, equally groanerrific!

Sunday update:

The themeless CrosSynergy puzzle is by Bob Klahn. Huzzah! Nothing very Scrabbly here, but great fill and customarily Klahnerrific clues.

The toughest part of Robert Doll and Nancy Salomon's LA Times syndicated crossword, "Con-clusions," was figuring out what the theme was. Eventually it dawned on me—the eight longest entries end with words that are roughly synonymus with the verb con: ROOK, CLIP, BITE, HOSE, FLEECE, STIFF, SHAFT, and CROSS. Funniest clue: [Bed wetter?] for GARDEN HOSE.


October 19, 2007

Saturday, 10/20

Newsday 6:28
NYT 5:54
LAT 5:12
CS 3:24

Yay! Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle has a shout-out to one of the most illustrious graduates of my alma mater, Carleton College—the mellifluously named Thorstein VEBLEN, the [Economist who wrote "The Theory of the Leisure Class"]. This crossword has a fairly low word count (64 answers) and hence not much in the way of Scrabbly fill. But still, there are plenty of words and phrases that don't get much action in crosswords. The DOLLAR TREE chain of dollar stores, for example. And PARTY FOUL, which is a [Gaffe at a social gathering, in modern lingo]—lingo so modern, it had not yet penetrated my ken! That one did not HIT HOME ([Seemed particularly relevant]) for me, but my son is an ONLY CHILD (like Eloise). We've got two Latin plurals here, MINUTIAE ([Details]) and ENCOMIA ([Laudations])—both words I like. I also like GENTEEL ([Refined]).

Favorite clues: [Small suit] for SPEEDO (here's a water polo Speedo suit with a "vibrant fun print"); ["The Outsiders" author] for HINTON (I read and loved all four of her '60s-'70s youth novels); [Result of a day at the beach?] for a PEEL of sunburned skin; ["Infidel" author Ayaan Hirsi ___] ALI (her book is a feminist critique of Islam); [Linguist Okrand who created the Klingon language] for MARC (my, that's an oddball Trekkie way to clue that name!); [It's "heavier freight for the shipper than it is for the consignee": Augustus Thomas] for HATRED; [Poem whose first, third, and seventh lines are identical] for RONDELET or roundelay; [It's cleared for a debriefing] for THROAT; [Pan American Games participant] for AMATEUR (I rather thought it'd be something like CHILEAN); [Typically green tube] for GARDEN HOSE; [Often-unanswered missive] for FAN LETTER; [Tough's partner] for MOLL (usually a Saturday clue's "partner" means a word that appears in tandem, not an actual human partner); and [Country of two million surrounded by a single other country] for LESOTHO, which is embedded within South Africa.


I liked the showbiz trivia in Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper. What is the [Film role portrayed by Skippy]? Why, it's our favorite crosswordese cinematic pooch, ASTA! I thought [Premiere of 1989] was going to be a contemporary opera or something, but no: SEINFELD! Mickey ROONEY apparently has been a [Film actor in nine decades]. Favorite clues/answers: [They're in some jams] for CURRANTS; the verb [Shells] for SHOOTS AT; [Tiger's turf] for ASIA (tigers being native to Asia); [Scotch water] for a LOCH; DOMINEER coming right before Simon LEGREE; [Spode or Wedgwood] for JOSIAH (not FINE CHINA); [Plugging away] for HARD AT IT; and [One without a handicap] for SCRATCH GOLFER.

Joy Andrews' themeless LA Times offering includes a minitheme: a political OCTOBER SURPRISE that occurs AT THE LAST MINUTE. It's been a while since I've seen a minitheme, and it's always a welcome addition. Favorite fill: PETER BOYLE and PERRY MASON, the latter clued as [Street boss] because Della Street worked for him. Favorite clue: [Shaded area?] for EYELID. Most obscure: It's a tie between SEME, [Sown, on the Seine], and COYPU, [Rodent yielding the fur nutria].

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy theme is puns using the names of classical goddesses. Why the title is "God Spell," I don't know—would be nice to have the title reflect the female power of those goddesses. [Grain goddess's fluctuations?] are OPS AND DOWNS, which doesn't quite parse—the plural ups is swapped for a singular name, and you wouldn't call fluctuations "Joseph and downs." [Adulation of the queen of gods?] is HERA WORSHIP—that works beautifully. [Goddess of parking, in Brooklyn?] is DEMETER-MAID, as the Brooklynites are supposed to pronounce the as de. [Athena's protectors?] are the PALLAS GUARD.


October 18, 2007

Friday, 10/19

Jonesin' 5:54
NYS 5:47
LAT 4:30
NYT 4:21
CHE 3:52
CS 3:05

WSJ 7:35

The kids in my son's second-grade class have been assigned the task of reading a newspaper article and summarizing it in a paragraph. So we were at the grocery store this afternoon and checked out the offerings on the newspaper rack.

"Well, Ben, which one do you want to get? The Tribune, the Sun-Times, or the New York Times?" I asked, not nudging him in any particular direction.

He pondered briefly and decided, "I'll take the Times." How sweet is that? I've bred a seven-year-old newspaper snob.

The most fearsome part of Patrick Berry's New York Sun Weekend Warrior was the crossing between the [Capital of the Mexican state Coahuila] and the 3-letter abbreviation clued [It's headquartered in Fort Meade, Md.]. The N-what-A? I played the "mentally scroll through the alphabet and start typing in fairly random letters until Mr. Happy Pencil appears" game. Turns out to be the NSA (not the NRA, NBA, NEA, or NWA) crossing SALTILLO. What's in Saltillo, you ask? Why, they've got clay tile and serapes, every crossworder's favorite poncho.

Outside of that Crossing of Near Death, notable entries included the cinematic E.T. PHONE HOME, the crickety TEST MATCHES, the terrific ANGELS IN AMERICA, and the idiomatic PIECE OF CAKE. Favorite clues: [Be there in spirit?] for HAUNT; [It has peaks and valleys: Abbr.] for EEG (wow, did I think I had something wrong when I'd filled in just the two E's—only eels came to mind at first); ["Fearless" star] for the super-short first/last name combo, JET LI; [Not hard to swallow] for COATED, as in tablets of medication; [Some '60s hits?] for LSD; [Luddite's antithesis] for TECHIE; [Like some nurses] for NEONATAL (which I should have guessed with a lot fewer letters!); [Nobody in the Middle Ages] for SERF; and [New Jersey delivery sound, maybe] for MOO (as in the sound when a new Jersey calf is born). I don't think I knew there was an ANT-Man (Stan Lee creation)—I'm holding out for a superhero modeled after the ladybug or walking stick.

Frederick Healy's New York Times crossword puts out some BIG TALK ([Bluster]), doesn't it? "OH, WOW!" "I'VE HAD IT!" "WAIT A SEC!" "GET A LIFE!" I like it when crosswords get mouthy like that. Crunchiest pop culture Cheetos: ["Eight Is Enough" wife] for ABBY (Betty Buckley's stepmom to Dick Van Patten's eight offspring), for one. Then there's [1984 hit parody of a 1983 hit song] for EAT IT—I went off to find a YouTube video of that song and was waylaid instead by Weird Al's Like a Surgeon, which gave me the giggles. ("Eat It" isn't as funny.) If only SPICE were clued with one of the Spice Girls and the A-TEAM were TV, not sports. Favorite clues/entries: [Windshield wipers] for SQUEEGEES; [Clam] for SIMOLEON; [Fat cat, in England] for NOB; and [Something to get a kick out of] for RIFLE. I'm not sure that KNEE PANTS have been a [Garb symbolizing youth] since Little Lord Fauntleroy's days. (A century ago, apparently they were de rigueur for diplomats in Europe.) And—I think this came up in another puzzle some weeks back—nobody really calls it SALSA DIP. Salsa is a dip, but it's just salsa.


Must be quick this morning—Ben's got the day off school and we're venturing to Chinatown this morning.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle: The theme in "Together at Last: 25, meet 26" is joining the letters Y and Z, in six disparate words, names, phrases, and places (. Fortunately, a blogger I read had linked to the ["Chocolate Rain" singer]'s YouTube video, which is quite an odd thing. I like how the Jonesin' puzzle isn't afraid to include a name with almost no offline visibility at all—but hey, in these third-wave crosswords, YouTube phenomena are fair game. Besides the lively batch of theme entries, there are some tough and interesting answers and some tough and interesting clues. Orange recommends!

Jim Leeds' LA Times puzzle: Fun! Anagramming words in the clue generates a theme answer, and all four of the ANAGRAMS are tasty sauces. Foodie bonuses: Steak AU POIVRE, GARLIC, TOMATO, EATER, and SEASON. Musical trivia I didn't know: LEONORA is a [Name of three Beethoven overtures]. And a geographic tidbit I learned: MALAYA was a [United Kingdom territory until 1957].

Annemarie Brethauer's 10/5 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword: "Off the Shelf" includes five once-banned books as the theme entries.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle: "Get on the Stick" includes four phrases starting with kinds of sticks (JOYstick, YARDstick, etc.). Fairly easy puzzle, right about a Wednesday NYT level.

The Wall Street Journal puzzle by Mike Shenk (a.k.a. "Marie Kelly"): "Rate Increases" adds RATE inside various phrases to make new meanings. Bedrock + RATE = BERATED ROCK, or [What an angry Doris did in many movies?]. Nonthematic fill/clues I liked: [B.B. King's guitar], LUCILLE; MAN'S MAN; [Navel bases?] for ORANGES; ["Always on Time" musician] for JA RULE.


October 17, 2007

Thursday, 10/18

NYS 5:33
NYT 4:35
LAT 3:37
CS 3:13

The sleep I missed last night owing to trivia night asserted itself tonight, and I just had a two-hour nap that has left me woozy. So we'll see how lucid a post I am able to cobble together before I go back to bed.

Lucy Gardner Anderson's New York Times crossword includes a 13-letter title for the puzzle across the middle of the grid, SIDE-SPLITTING, explaining the splitting of the side dishes throughout the grid: FRENCH and FRIES, BAKED and POTATO, COLE and SLAW, ONION and RINGS. (FETID and MEAL are not clued in relation to the theme, fortunately.) Sorta lively twist on theme layout here. Highlights in the fill: our TOP STORY tonight, IN SECRET, and HERCULES (I Netflixed the animated Hercules for my kid, who never wanted to watch it. I put the DVD on this afternoon, he paid it no mind, and the songs got on my nerves. Yoink! Back in the red envelope it goes.) BION, [One of a series of joint Soviet/U.S. space satellites], leapt out at me as a possibly obscure word I did not know. Why not swap out the O for and E and make it BIEN crossing ENT? Because then that ENT would cross a crossing ENT, and that's too many ENTs for one crossword. Tight spot, what with two theme entries involved. Surprising to have a rap song, the crunk tune GET LOW, in the grid (clued as [2003 #2 hit for Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz]); I'd link to the video but I don't care for its objectification of women. Plus, what he's had his dentist do alarms me.

Ashish Vengsarkar once again one-ups the quote theme concept. Last year, he made one of my favorite Sunday puzzles, in which [Part 3 of quote] clued a phrase synonymous with the third letter of the word quote (O, or OPRAH WINFREY'S MAGAZINE). His Thursday New York Sun crossword, "A Solution to the Question," spells out "an easy question" in the theme quote: FROM ONE TO / NINE HUNDRED / NINETY-NINE, WHICH / VOWEL IS USED / ZERO TIMES? The answer is right there in the title, as A is the answer to the question. (I did not know this trivia factoid! Those pub quiz people should ask this one now that I know it.) What elevates this quote theme is that the letter A is also used zero times in the grid. (In fact, every letter of the alphabet save A makes an appearance.) Favorite clues: [Winning word at the 1984 National Spelling Bee] for LUGE (were all the winning words that easy back in the '80s, or was that one an exception from the norm?); [Dove home] for both the noun NEST and the baseball verb SLID; [Ends of some close NFL games] for both OTS (overtimes) and FGS (field goals); and [Stable fellows?] for LIVERY MEN (my grandmother's grandfather ran a livery stable back in Chicago's horse-and-carriage days)
The NYT clued CLEAN as [Drug-free], and the Sun has [Not clean] cluing DOPED (hello, Tour de France!). I did not know that OBP means on base percentage (hence [OBP part] is PCT). I also didn't know that ZEN was a [Movement with mondos.


Rich Norris's themed CrosSynergy puzzle, "Gorillas in the Midst," has a vaguely themeless vibe, even in the theme entries. The phrases that contain a hidden APE would all be at home in a themeless puzzle, and would stand out to me as good entries: "NOT A PEEP," RHEA PERLMAN and the fictional EMMA PEEL, IN A PERFECT WORLD and ON A PEDESTAL. The freshness is further...freshened by the inclusion of 16 longish (6 to 8 letters) answers in the non-theme fill. Fill highlights: ST NICK, RUNS AMOK, HIAWATHA.

David Kahn's LA Times crossword is loaded with theme squares: the uniifying THINGS WITH HOLES along with pairs of 13- and 9-letter entries. In each case, the things with holes are literal reinterpretations of the last word of each phrase—RIGHT ON THE NOSE doesn't refer to a particular nose, you can't wear the WHEAT BELT, you tipple rather than tootling on a CHAMPAGNE FLUTE, and a HOT-BUTTON issue won't fit into any buttonhole. Favorite clues and answers: HOLY GRAIL and ILL-SUITED; [Kind of dog] for the non-canine CHILI dog; [Keeping quiet] in a transitive-verb sense, SEDATING; and [Oldman or Newman] for ACTOR.


Congrats to Eric LeVasseur!

I just watched one of today's Merv Griffin's Crosswords episodes with Eric LeVasseur (who was a B Division finalist this year at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and was a most congenial fellow). Okay, I didn't sit down with Eric and watch the show, but rather watched the show on which he competed. Eric started out in the spoiler row, worked his way to the Podium of Life, racked up more dollars there, got booted back to Spoiler Row, and regained the Podium of Life in time to win. He charged through the final round with only a couple of pauses and left with more than $8,000, a trip to St. Lucia, and two California vacations. Well done, Eric!

Now that your show has aired, Eric, feel free to share all your winning strategy tips...


October 16, 2007

Wednesday, 10/17

Onion 4:53
Tausig 4:26
NYS 3:56
LAT 3:48
NYT 3:19
CS 2:52

Wordplay was showing at 10:00 in Chicago, but I was out. Yes! On a school night! Pub trivia night with Tyler Hinman and a couple of his friends—and I don't know where the hell they came up with those horrible questions, because too many of them landed outside our foursome's sweet spots. Next week! Next week will surely be better. And now we will not speak of this.

Peter A. Collins' New York Sun puzzle, "Class Divisions," had a great theme together with some excellent fill and clues. The theme entries are all two-word phrases or names that split the name of a high-school class between them. For example, ANGER MANAGEMENT has a language class, and ZIGGY MARLEY has P.E.

Paula Gamache's New York Times puzzle appends an -ILE to the first word of each theme entry, altering the phrase's sense. I like Miss Universe turning into MISSILE UNIVERSE, but some of the other theme entries felt a tad dry. Who doesn't like a spare MUSK OX roaming the grid, though? Am proud of myself for summoning up NOVUM as the answer to ["___ Organum" (1620 Francis Bacon work)].


Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club puzzle takes six phrases that end with words that are also magazine titles and reinterprets them. [Cheat a pop culture weekly?], for example, is SHORT PEOPLE. (Here's a clip of Randy Newman singing his '78 hit, "Short People," the irony of which was lost on my fellow sixth-graders, who sang the chorus at me as an insult. And no, it didn't scar me for life and make me want to wear high heels.) Good theme! Time, Slate, Mix, Vibe, and Money also get their due from Deb. Crunchiest new fill: WIIMOTES at 36-Across. (The [Avatar created using 36-Across] is called MII.) [Old photo color] is SEPIA; read about the word's Farsi/Greek/Latin etymology and cephalopod connection here and admire the high-octane punning in the comments. Toughest word for me: the [Flowering shrub] SPIRAEA; I think spirea is the more familiar non-genus spelling, but then, I don't hang out in plant nurseries much, so what do I know?

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Pieces of Axe," includes GUITAR PARTS at the end of the other theme entries. Here's a diagram that shows the HEAD, BODY, FRET, and PICKUP—I didn't know those thingies were called pickups. Favorite fill entries: DAYDREAM, WET MOP, BEAM ME UP, LAND LINE, FATIGUES, and AKIMBO. Did not know that ELO was a [Chess skill rating system]—but I just downloaded a ringtone to my cell phone (first time!) and chose an ELO song. Crossword cred plus a suitable instruction to all callers: "Don't bring me down." Not that they'll hear the song unless they're calling me when we're in the same room, but still.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle's got a quote from Robin Williams, while Alan Olschwang's LA Times puzzle embeds STORY synonyms in the theme entries (e.g., GUESS AGAIN). Both crosswords seemed to have an awful lot of the words I've been seeing in crosswords for decades—here an ESSE and AMAT, there a SMEE and RAJAS.


October 15, 2007

Tuesday, 10/16

NYS 5:05
CS 3:27
NYT 3:07
LAT 2:47
Tausig, Onion: See Wednesday post

See belowWordplay is on PBS Tuesday night!

I'm not sure if Justin Smith's New York Sun crossword marks his published-puzzle debut—if so, congrats! "P.C. Language" swaps some keyboard key abbreviations for the words they stand for. Thus, the ESC key abbreviates escape in ESC FROM NEW YORK, and there are also ALT REALITY GAMES (alternate reality games may be an "in the language" phrase, but it's not something I ever talk or read about) and CTRL EXPERIMENT. Control experiment is in the dictionary, but sounds off to me because the doctors whose writing I edit are always going on about randomized controlled trials (a case of the critic knowing too much to properly appreciate the work of art). Anyway—new name for me in this one, [Argentine president Néstor] KIRCHNER. Love the LEAD PIPE from the board game, Clue. Like the non-S plural of PAPYRI. Five X's in the fill! I learned about the GOLEM in Prague. (If you visit Prague, don't miss the sights in the Jewish Quarter, Josefov. Fascinating, moving.) Is it just me and the pinot grigio, or was this puzzle surprisingly tough for a Tuesday?

The New York Times crossword is credited to Michael Kaplan. Another debut, perhaps? If so, congrats! The theme entries include an embedded DATE, as alluded to by the central answer, DATES. The best of the four is UP AND AT 'EM, which is a zippy colloquialism. I also like the [Greedy monarch], MIDAS—my dad worked at Midas headquarters, and I still have a beach towel depicting exhaust pipes and a muffler, reading "Our work is exhausting." (What? Do you have any beach towels that say something more clever than that?) And outside of those entries, I am far too sleepy to comment. Good night, all!


Wow, I hit the sack, lights out, by 10:10 last night. Uncommonly early for me.

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy crossword, "For Ezra," has three 15-letter entries crossed by another 11-letter entry, all clued as [Pound]. I just learned from Charles Hodgson's Podictionary entry for today that polysemy is the capacity for a word to have multiple meanings, but that in some cases, words that are spelled the same are merely homonyms because they've got different roots. The four meanings of pound here reflect three different etymologies—the unit of measure and the currency share a root. Patrick enlivens the fill with quartets of 7- and 9-letter entries and a pair of 11s (highlights: AVENUE Q, PEACE SIGN, BETTY RUBBLE. Despite the impressive structure of this puzzle, with the interlocked theme entries and all the long fill, my favorite part was AW, C'MON, clued as ["Pretty please?!"]. That WCM string in the middle looks so implausible, and yet the phrase is part of every kid's vocabulary.

Curtis Yee's LA Times puzzle is also impressive. The starts of CARD-CARRYING, SCHOOL OF THOUGHT, and HEAD FOR THE HILLS can precede both ROOM AND BOARD. There's a cardroom for poker and corrugated cardboard; a school room and the school board; headroom (Max or otherwise) and a bed headboard. The doubling up is carried through to a slew of paired entries (mostly not explicitly linked by cross-reference clues). Scarlett O'HARA is linked to RHETT Butler. KIA and ACURA cars show up. The Queen and prime minister show up—Queen LATIFAH, that is, and Churchill's famed V-SIGN. HERB and FENNEL (inadvertently clued as [Aromatic herb] rather than, say, [Pizza sauce flavoring I can't stand]). And then there's RIC Ocasek of The Cars crossing ORRS, clued as [NHL's Bobby et al.], which technically includes Benjamin Orr of the The Cars in the "et al."


Wordplay comes to broadcast TV tomorrow!

Launching PBS's Independent Lens series, Wordplay has its broadcast television premiere tomorrow night. If you missed seeing it in the cinema and haven't gotten around to renting (or buying) the DVD, here's your couch-potato opportunity to see the movie.

If you're one of those people who eschews the TV habit but has a TV set, I'm sure you can make an exception for a highly entertaining documentary film about crosswords.

Check your local listings for the time and, if you're really on the ball, set your VCR, TiVo, or DVR to record the movie.

If you've enjoyed Where's Waldo and you like drinking games, take a drink every time you spot a woman in a lime green top. If you see her curtsy, take two drinks. If you are incredibly observant and do not blink for 90 minutes, you are likely to drink at least four times and get a glimpse of what your faithful bloggerly correspondent looks like.


Merv Griffin's Crosswords tryouts

Having already run through many of the Southern Californians into both crosswords and game shows in the first couple months of taping, the Merv Griffin's Crosswords producers decided to expand their contestant search to Chicago. On Saturday, hundreds of Midwesterners tried out, and the producers will fly 50 of them to L.A. to compete on the show. Here's how it all went down.

We assembled in the overheated lobby of the NBC Tower. Why did I wear a cashmere sweater?? Staffers worked their way back in the queue, giving out numbered name tags and photographing each applicant.

Elevatorfuls of would-be contests were taken up to the spartan second floor, where we filed into a pair of conjoined rooms, skinny and cramped but with vending machines. We were asked to seat ourselves in numerical order—the papers on each chair were numbered sequentially. While we waited, we filled out the papers—name and address, an avowal that we don’t know anyone who works for the show, etc.

A staffer broke up the waiting by asking us to answer crossword clues. The first person to give the answer and correctly spell it aloud, MGC style, won a t-shirt embroidered with the show’s name. [Greek letter shaped like a trident]? Whoo, I’m all over that. PSI garnered me a t-shirt…men’s size large. What, no tailored women’s tee? Hmph.

Eventually it was test time. Twenty-nine multi-square blanks corresponding to the 29 clues a staffer would read (clues were also projected onto the wall), with one square filled in. Mind you, that’s one square filled in for one word, and zero squares filled in for 28 words.

The clues definitely had the same Timothy Parkeresque vibe the clues on the show have, meaning sometimes they made me furrow my brow and scowl just a tad. Most of the clues were gettable. The very first one was for a 5-letter adjective that could be completely straightforward or a little slangy, but the others were more clearcut. I left only the last one blank: something like [Some parental substitutes, psychologically speaking], 13 letters. Completely obvious after someone said what they'd put down, but nothing had come to my mind during the test. Out of about 2,500 people who have tried out for the show in L.A., only about three have answered everything correctly on the test.

About 40 people in the noon group passed the test, so there was more biding of time and another round of win-a-t-shirt action. Then we bided a little more time up on the fifth floor, in a spacious conference room. Someone had actually decorated the fifth floor, not dingy, not beige, not spartan. Another woman mentioned Wordplay, so we chatted about that. In small groups, we went down the hall to tape our interview—basically face the camera, pay no mind to the camera ogling you as it pans all the way down and back up again, introduce yourself, talk about something interesting you do, answer a couple questions. The producers will review the videos and choose 50 people. I figure there were more than 100 people who passed the test, so most of the auditioners will not be getting a call. Only the selected contestants will hear anything—the others will be left wondering if their phone malfunctioned when TV fame came calling.

When I came out of the interview room, the show’s host, Ty Treadway, was meeting and greeting the applicants biding their time in the elevator lobby. He chit-chatted, gave hugs (apparently it is de rigueur to hug anyone who has seen one on a soap opera), posed for a picture, and talked about game play. He said there’s a definite advantage to watching the show and knowing how to strategize, and that contestants who haven’t seen the show don’t do as well as regular viewers. He also said the final round, in which the winner tries to finish the puzzle in 90 seconds for the grand prize, is harder than it looks. (Although I’m guessing that any seasoned speed-solver should be able to contend with that.) Also, it must be noted here that Ty has lovely blue eyes. Blogger is petulantly refusing to upload the camera-phone photo of me and Ty, but here's another picture of him. Hey, he was wearing a black shirt and a leather jacket on Saturday, too.

The show’s format has changed a bit. There are no longer getaway clues with Podunk vacations; instead, there are five “crossword extras” that are a little like a Jeopardy! Daily Double, and I think the amount you can wager has increased. The grand prize has also been upped, to $5,000 and a trip to somewhere tempting, like Hawaii.

Also, a staffer said that it’s been breaking about 50/50 for who wins: a contestant vs. a spoiler. This gives encouragement to the people who are assigned to be spoilers—although if front-row contestants make up 40% of the players but 50% of the winners, then there is a statistical advantage to not getting assigned to the back row. If you're invited to appear on the show, you won't know until taping whether you'll be a contestant or spoiler.

My questions, for those of you who have competed on the show or who watch it regularly:

• What’s the most important thing to do, strategically? What's the best approach?

• If there’s a clue that could have more than one answer based on the board—e.g., ***U**, [Make certain], could be ASSURE, ENSURE, or INSURE—does it make sense to ring in early and hope you guess lucky? Or do you sit back and wait to see if other contestants flub it so you can zero in on the correct answer?

• If you’re a spoiler, do you ring in even if you don’t know the answer immediately, just to have a shot at taking a front podium? If you're a spoiler, you lose nothing with a wrong answer, no?

• How does wagering for the Crossword Extras compare withJeopardy! Daily Double wagering? Do you want to bet conservatively since you just need to be ahead of one other podium, or does a big-money lead pay off strategically? (Obviously, a big-money lead lets you take more money home if you win, but if the grand prize is $5,000, I think it’s less important whether you enter the final round with $1,000 or $2,350.

• When it comes to that final round, what’s the most expeditious approach? Head for words with lots of blanks, or words with more givens? If there’s a long answer with four blanks, do you want to spell the one long thing or split it into four crossings?

• Would you recommend getting a book of Timothy Parker crosswords for pre-show training? Apparently there are no older Parker books available from Amazon (older books are available only from people selling books via Amazon, and are not sold by Amazon), but several MGC tie-in books will be released tomorrow and later this month.


October 14, 2007

Monday, 10/15

CS 4:14
NYS 3:43
LAT 2:45
NYT 2:28

I was hoping one of the day's crosswords would include a famous 3-letter crossword name seldom encountered outside of puzzles, and the New York Times puzzle by Andrea Carla Michaels did me that favor. Why? Because I just read this New Yorker piece that mentioned a 1962 work of short fiction called "Yma's Dream" by Thomas Meehan, in which he writes of a dream in which he's making introductions: "Yma, Uta; Yma, Ava; Yma, Oona"...shades of David Letterman's "Uma, Oprah" shtick that didn't go over so well at the Oscars. I don't suppose any of you dear readers has that New Yorker electronic archive with access to "Yma's Dream"? I'd love to read the whole thing.

Turning back to the crossword, which included YMA: Easy Monday puzzle with an easy, approachable theme. Four familiar "[Verb]ING [animal]" phrases, two of them birds (EATING CROW, TALKING TURKEY) and two mammals (PLAYING POSSUM, CRYING WOLF). Can you think of other phrases that follow this form? My mind is stuck on SPINNING MOOSE, which of course is not anything. (Unless you Google it and discover a key ring). Lots of other verbs in the longer Down answers (CANCELS, REWRITES, CONDUCTS, ASSIGNS, ENCRYPT) and two other animal names (TOAD, JOEYS), but no more combos. Although I would kill to have a rewriting toad as a pet. Good IMUS clue: [Don with a big mouth].


Brendan Emmett Quigley's New York Sun puzzle, "Letter Perfect," tends to its i, t, p, and q components with DOTS ONE'S I'S AND / CROSSES ONE'S T'S and MIND ONE'S P'S AND Q'S. (Hey! Those letters spell Q-Tip.) With a Q in the theme, four extraneous X's, and a Z, this grid's good and Scrabbly for a Monday. The puzzle didn't really take me much longer than most Monday Suns, but the clues felt a little more oblique and challenging.

Bob Klahn fans, you're in luck—he's got today's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Selected Shorts." I didn't grasp the theme until after I finished the puzzle. Ha! Fresh fill, interesting and mind-exercising cluing, a theme that may raise an amused eyebrow—it's like a Thursday puzzle but with a more straightforward theme.

Andrea Michaels' other puzzle today is in the LA Times—four famous "artists" with names evoking a chill. ("Artists" is in scare quotes because I'm not sure that VANILLA ICE is properly considered an artist. Maybe more of a low-talent hack?) The fill skews a little naughty, with BONGS (albeit clued without reference to pot) and HOTWIRE. It's fitting that RAPS (albeit without reference to hip-hop) and BLING share space with Mr. Ice. ARBY'S is also in the fill—did I ever tell you about the time my family stopped at an Arby's drive-through to pick up lunch, and were informed that they were out of roast beef? Yep.


October 13, 2007

Sunday, 10/14

WaPo 7:59
LAT 6:55
PI 6:46
BG 6:32
NYT untimed
CS 3:07

The Crossword Fiend will be out of town Saturday night. I may not get a chance to do the NYT crossword before Sunday night (do you want your Fiend to ditch her family and hang out at the wifi hotspot at a BP gas station?), and John Farmer may or may not guest-blog about the NYT on Saturday night. Feel free to talk about assorted Sunday puzzles in the comments here and/or in John's guest post. Enjoy your weekend!

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "Bad to the Bone," has a theme that tickled my funny bone—puns using the Latinate names of bones. Hooray for medical terminology! I breezed through this one. Good vibe to the fill overall—much freshness and light.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle is also a breeze. The theme is the sort of music theme I like—no technical musical knowledge required, just an ear for pop culture and pop music. All the theme entries in "The Ultimate iPod Menu" are edible song titles (or a couple items of tableware that are also band names). Fun!

Robert Wolfe's Washington Post crossword, "Autosuggestions," takes seven words or phrases and tacks on a word that goes with the ends of those phrases to make a car part. The resultant answers are clued in silly ways, befitting the nonsensicalness of the theme entries. [Curb on an actor?] is TOM CRUISE CONTROL, for example. (Which his handlers were probably wishing for right around the time of the Oprah couch-leaping episode.)

Updated Sunday night:

I did Liz Gorski's New York Times puzzle in the paper this morning. As I've already written in the comments on this post, for a while I thought the theme wasn't too impressive, but then I noticed the full force of the theme and was duly wowed. In "Go With the Flow," each long theme entry contains a state name (which I'd initially thought were lesser-known rivers), crossed by a shorter entry that's the name of a river that traverses that state. The mighty MISSISSIPPI, aptly enough, is so big it crosses both TENNESSEE and MISSOURI. These are all tied together by the movie title, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. A geographical theme plus an allusion to a Brad Pitt movie? That's a winning combination. Best fill: CAROL ALT, MAY I GO NOW, ONE-SHOT, OSLO FJORD, STALL OUT, and NO REALLY.

Harvey Estes' LA Times Syndicate crossword, "In the Cradle," puts a TOT to bed in each theme entry. All the theme entries follow the [something]TO T[something] format. Fun puzzle, fairly breezy.

Patrick Jordan's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle must be one of the easiest themeless puzzles I've done. Two nice 15s, JACKRABBIT START and MASQUERADE PARTY, amid a sea of 7-letter entries—such as [Wilcox's 1970s costar], Erik ESTRADA.


October 12, 2007

Saturday, 10/13

NYT 10:39
Newsday 4:43
LAT 3:54
CS 2:50

Crikey! I got myself wedged into the southwest corner with no way out save a search engine. [1959 #1 hit for Lloyd Price]? Are you kidding me? Turns out it's STAGGER LEE. I had STAG... and figured it had to be STAGE-something, but no. Post-Googling, I have a recollection of Googling that before, because the story is faintly familiar. All right, now I truly understand why people complain about sections of crosswords that have limited connections to the rest of the puzzle. (Kudos to Arnold Reich and Craig Kasper, who don't seem to have been hung up so painfully.)

My favorite entries were the conversational ones. "AMEN TO THAT!" means ["I hear ya!"]. "GUESS SO" is ["Seems that way"]. "NO TAKERS?' is ["Isn't anyone interested?"]. The PROM QUEENS ([Some dance honorees]), [Dietary danger] TRANS FAT, SAY HI TO ([Greet]), and REPUGNANCE ([Antipathy]) were also welcome. And NICO, the [One-named singer with the Velvet Underground], was a gimme. Clues I enjoyed: [Not be fair?] for RAIN ([Winter fall, in Falkirk] is SNA? That one's less fun); [Needle holders] for FIRS; [Calls in a field] for CAWS (crows, not referees); [Lovelace who was called "The Enchantress of Numbers"] for ADA (Lord Byron's daughter); [Check] for INHIBIT; and [Spare change?] for TIRE.

Toughest entries/clues: STAGGER LEE, as noted; [Home of Gannon University] for ERIE (without Googling, does anyone actually know anything about this school?); [Legendary Christian martyr] for URSULA (Ms. Andress, we needed you today); [Classic sports lineup] for T-FORMATION; [Work period] for STINT (not SHIFT); [Cossacks' leader] for TSAR;
I can't say I knew that André PREVIN was a [Winner of four Oscars for musical scores], but his name fit and there you have it. [Revolutionary War general Thomas] GAGE also popped out of the recesses of memory, fortunately. (Not that it helped much in that corner.)

Least favorite clues and answers: [Take the top off] for UNHAT; [Range, e.g.] for OPEN AREA; MGT for [Company keepers: Abbr.] (MGMT is much more common, no?); [Like a snood, commonly] for NETTY; [Like many supermarket lines?] for SCANNED (nobody thinks of UPC codes as "lines," do they?); [Producer of some beads] for SWEATER (when there's a perfectly good knit sweater to play around with, why go with a verb + ER concoction?); and [It can give people flight reservations] for JET LAG (does anyone skip traveling because of trepidation about jet lag? Too much of a stretch for the twist on "reservations").


Robert Mackey's LA Times puzzle turned out to be easier than most Saturday LAT crosswords. Favorite entries: HOME ICE is [Hockey team's advantage]; TENNIES are [Sneaks on the court?]; GENERAL TOM THUMB is the biggest answer in the whole puzzle despite his short stature; USED TO BE; and the MARIANAS are [Guam, Saipan, etc.] and I do like me some geography. Favorite clues: [Like some computer woes] for VIRAL (insert obligatory "You really don't have to fret about computer viruses if you have a Mac" statement here); [Simple basket] for a TIP-IN in basketball; [Hammer or anvil] for EAR BONE; and [Slanted in the newspaper] for ITALIC. Not crazy about ALARMER (wasn't Chicken Little a textbook alarmist?) and VANISHERS; the semi-arbitrary-sounding ONE SPADE and SEVEN IRON; and the old-school crossword answer ADIT.

Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper had a few clues I enjoyed: [Secretive group] for GLANDS (not a cabal of spies!); [White elephant, for one] for ALBINO (not a hand-me-down piece of junk!); [Course length] for SEMESTER (time, not distance, and school, not golf or food); and [Punting site] for the THAMES (boating, not kicking a football).

Paula Gamache's themed CrosSynergy puzzle, "Shaken and Stirred," offers four phrases that end with things that may be MIXED (61-Across): STUNT DOUBLES, SPORTS DRINKS, etc. Easy crossword for a Saturday!