January 31, 2008

Friday, 2/1

LAT 7:57
NYT 7:16
Jonesin' 5:32
NYS 5:07
CHE 4:28
CS 3:28

WSJ 7:53

It's terribly distracting, trying to blog about crosswords (and solve them) when Lost is on. Quelle dramatique!

Okay, I blogged the NYT puzzle (below) while watching Lost. Then the show ended and I did the Sun crossword, and as I begin to blog that, my husband's doing a crossword on his iPod touch and asking for help. The man is nuts—he's filling in things that make no sense and pretending that they do. For a clue about a good-looking guy, the crossings led him to fill in STUDPUFFIN. Yes, a hot seabird. The crossing was [___-bang], and he opted for SLAP-bang rather than SLAM-bang. Slap-bang? Studpuffin? Oh, dear.

So. Yeah. Um, the crossword. The New York Times puzzle was constructed by Doug Peterson. Twenty-three black squares looks fairly impressive, but there are 68 answers, which is not so low at all. Which, in my book, is a good thing—more answers of higher quality means more entertainment than fewer answers that are more forced. There are pairs of 15s near the top and bottom of the grid—I like the [Hobbes in "Calvin and Hobbes"] clue for IMAGINARY FRIEND, and the USED CAR SALESMEN holding everything up. Some of the tricky clues fell like a house of cards—well, at least if I had some crossings. Or a lot of crossings. I took a wrong turn with [It stocks blocks], though—not a TOY STORE at all, no! Just an ICEHOUSE. I have never been to an icehouse; have you? That wasn't the only wrong turn I took, you'll see.

Favorite clues: [Prepare for a shower] for GIFT-WRAP; [Well activity] for WISHING (I opted for an oil well GUSHING at first); [Chief goals?] for END ZONES (as in the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL); and [Playboy's plea?] for RENEW the magazine.

Other clues of note: [Temper] for ASSUAGE; the verb phrase [Ape wrestlers] for GRAPPLE; [Body part above la bouche] for NEZ (French for mouth and nose); the cross-referenced prefix and suffix that go together, PENTA and GON; the noun [Intimate] for CRONY; [Subject of some conspiracy theories] for HOFFA; [Staff note] for MEMO (not a CLEF or REST); [She's dangerously fascinating] for CIRCE (I went with the generic SIREN); [Tickled the most?] for PINKEST (as in "tickled pink"); [Hosts] for RAFTS, both meaning a slew of something; [Before being delivered] for PRENATAL; [Make like Pac-Man] for CHOMP; [Aggressively ambitious] for HUNGRY; [Basso Hines] for JEROME; and ["Who ___?"] for DOESN'T.

The New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" is a Karen Tracey offspring, and I'll bet it makes a bunch of you cranky. Sometimes Karen reins in her propensity for including names in the grid, and sometimes she lets her freak flag fly. Hooray! The flag is hoisted high, and there are 15 or more people's names (pop-cultural ones, too) in the grid, along with some place names. Look at the full names—DESI ARNAZ, JOAN VAN ARK of Dallas, and otically gifted MITCH ALBOM. Chatty entries include "ARE WE ALONE?" or is there life on other planets and the [Retort to the indiscreet], "hey, I HEARD THAT." Scrabbly vocabulary includes AJAX, an [Amsterdam soccer team], and Spanish painter VELAZQUEZ. Good multi-word entries include "ANNIE'S SONG," the Atlantic and Pacific TIME ZONES, PURPLE SAGE, BONE-DRY, and FREE SPIRIT.

Favorite clues and entries and the toughest parts, jumbled together: [Extended operatic solo] for SCENA; [Weenie roast desserts] for S'MORES; [Birth] for NASCENCE (I do like the word nascent); ["Waking Ned Devine" star Ian] BANNEN; ["Tired blood" tonic] for GERITOL (which vitamin was Evonne Goolagong hawking in the '70s with talk of "iron-poor blood"?); [Ireland's Shannon-___ Waterway] for ERNE (wily sea eagle is hiding in its waterway guise!); [Aleve, generically] for NAPROXEN; [French quarters?] for ETES (ETE = summer, and a season is a quarter of the year); [Personal attendant in the British royal household; [Shooting equipment] for LENSES (thank you for being photographic and not about bloody hunting, LENSES); the UNSEEN/UNDONE crossing; and [Host] for RAFT (hmm, where did I just see that?...).


In the Wall Street Journal crossword, "Gofer Broke," Harvey Estes says that GOOD HELP IS / HARD TO FIND and helps out by extricating the workers who are hidden in the the other 10- and 12-letter answers, and placing them in symmetrical spots at the grid's top and bottom. There's a SERF in USER-FRIENDLY, for example. There aren't a ton of theme squares, so there's room for livelier fill—GONE TO POT, "THAT'S RICH," "SO THERE," Beckett's ENDGAME, a NEAT FREAK.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Stuck On You," is an easy one this week. The theme entries are four things that may be stuck on you—TOILET PAPER on your shoe, or a "KICK ME" SIGN, to name two. Fun fill—there's [Sitcom architect] MIKE BRADY, a SPLIT END (wow, did I have a ton of split ends before my haircut—winter!), SUSHI BAR, UBER-HIP, MINDY [Cohn of "The Facts of Life"] (Natalie!), Futurama's LEELA—light, fun, plenty of TV.

Pancho Harrison's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword for this week is called "Divining Women," and each of four long entries contains a GODDESS broken across two words: WITHER AWAY, GUARDIAN ANGEL, JEFFREY ARCHER, and CHRIS ISAAK. Hey, I like this theme! CHRIS ISAAK's maleness is balanced out by ISAK Dinesen. CARPE DIEM (the [Pithy life lesson coined by Horace]) evokes Dead Poets Society, which featured a young ETHAN / HAWKE, who's clued with reference to Training Day instead.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword, "King's English," pays tribute to a batch of Stephen King books—well, four novels and a 1985 movie based on three King stories. I don't think I've read any King books since FIRESTARTER in my early teens, but my cousin devours them. Wasn't it nice of King to unretire from writing novels? I do read him every month—he's got a column in Entertainment Weekly.

I didn't much care for the cluing style in Pamela Amick Klawitter's LA Times puzzle. Which is to say, it tied me up in knots and slowed me down more than I like, but didn't teach me oddball trivia or names like a tough themeless puzzle tends to. The theme was NO-WIN: Six other entries were phrases from which WIN had been yoinked. Two of the theme entries were just 7 letters long, which made it harder to recognize them as theme entries at first. So the [Techies' gossiping site?] E-COOLER just seemed so...bad. But it's wine cooler without the WIN, so I liked it when I realized it was a theme entry. Is it an editorial statement that THE METS are in this NO-WIN puzzle? The [Jungle hybrid] TIGLON also made me cranky—the liger, I know, but the tiglon or tigon (with reversed parentage) is less familiar. I also took umbrage at HOOD KING (hoodwinking minus WIN) clued as [Don?]. Really? The 'hood? (The clue could have gone in a cobra direction.) Read a little about King's philanthropic efforts here. Kudos to the constructor for including seven theme entries, though. (My take is subjective, of course—at the NYT forum, someone just singled this puzzle out as particularly good. Chacun a son gout!)


January 30, 2008

Stamford-on-Brooklyn t-shirts

Vic Fleming's I Swear Enterprises is offering ash gray Hanes Beefy-T shirts featuring Vic's "Stamford-on-Brooklyn 2008" crossword—clues on the front, large 17x17 grid on the back, laundry pen not included. You can buy a tee for $30 at the ACPT ($32 for XXL plus), or save $5 by sending a check before the tournament.

Send your name, mailing address, and contact information (including e-mail address) along with your check—$25 for S–XL, $27 for larger tees. You can opt for free delivery in person at the ACPT, or pay $2.50 for mailing. Be sure to specify what size(s) and how many shirts you want.

I Swear Enterprises
P.O. Box 7694
Little Rock, Arkansas 72217


Thursday, 1/31

NYS 4:20
LAT 3:52
NYT 3:42
CS 3:01

Well, I had to open up an Across Lite copy of the New York Times crossword to find the byline, which was covered up by the "it's Thursday, but we don't think you're smart enough to figure out the theme" explanation: Circled letters refer to phrases that start with "break." Paula Gamache has amassed seven theme phrases, 7 to 9 letters apiece, that "break" a word that follows break. The phrase WITS' END breaks wind, as it were. (Farting! In the NYT crossword!) EVIL QUEEN breaks even, and the other theme phrases break ranks, bread, free, open, and apart. Excellent theme in that each of the "break ___" phrases are all absolutely in-the-language, and the phrases that break the "___" words are sensational. OPIUM DEN! RATFINKS! BRAIN-DEAD! Moving outside the theme, we are treated to YAO MING, NAPSTER, POMPEII (in the same puzzle as LAVA!), and some Scrabbly short answers. Favorite clues: [The hots] for LUST; [Grill] for QUIZ; ["Ich ___ dich" (German words of endearment)] for LIEBE (the phrase means "I love you"); [Satyric looks] for LEERS (not satiric); ["Well, ___!"] for LADIDA; and [Did a number] for SANG. I don't think I'd ever seen ADELE clued as [___ Hugo, 1975 Isabelle Adjani role based on a real-life story]—that's The Story of Adele H., which is semi-familiar. I have probably heard of ANDY [Granatelli of auto racing], but my antipathy for "motor sports" obliterated him and turned him into an EDDY at first.

Last night, I received an e-mail that said, "Lee Glickstein has a joy of a puzzle this Thursday in the Sun!" The title of Lee's New York Sun puzzle is "The Question," and the titular question is TO BE OR NOT TO BE. The first two theme entries add a B to the beginning of each part, such that outlasts and landlubber become pugilistic BOUT BLASTS and [Unseasoned whale fat?], BLAND BLUBBER. (Ick!) The second pair opt for "not to B": bread and butter and bad to the bone turn into READ AND UTTER and [Classified seeking a soulmate?], AD TO THE ONE. (My personal favorites are the BLUBBER and AD ones.) Favorite clues: [Got high] for ROSE (and I totally didn't read that as "get stoned" while I was doing the puzzle]; [Paper mates?] for an ITEM mentioned in a tabloid; [Dec. tenths] for YRS (decade, not December); and [Sluggish] for TORPID (love both words!). DUENNAS is a great word; it means [Spanish chaperones], with assorted nuances in various definitions.
Answers like KALAMAZOO and PEPE LE PEW are welcome in the crossword regardless of the clue (well, unless the clue lauds Pepe for his sexual-harassing ways).


Barry Silk's LA Times crossword features five theme entries that begin with words that can precede the final Across answer, CASE. FEDERAL LAND's a little dull, but the other theme entries are livelier, and all five yield lively "___ case" phrases. Basket case! Closet case! Nut case! Federal case! Hard case!

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "The Buck Stops Here," has three phrases that begin with words that can follow buck (buck NAKED, buck SERGEANT, Buck OWENS) and...one phrase that's a mystery to me. I know what a FEVER PITCH is, but what the heck is buck fever? Tapping into Google...let's see: "Nervous excitement felt by a novice hunter at the first sight of game"? Ew. How unpleasant. Word Spy points out the heart attacks that may result, and cites a Sports Illustrated article entitled "Bambi's Revenge." Indeed.


January 29, 2008

Wednesday, 1/30

LAT 3:42
NYS 3:26
NYT 3:25
CS 3:23

Aw, man! I should've gone to trivia tonight. I decided I'd stay home on account of the 40-degree plunge in temps, the gusts to 50 mph, and the snow. One of my upstairs neighbors is having a party (on Tuesday! Who does that?) and apparently one of the guests found that same inclement weather to be unconducive to smoking, so instead they smoked in the stairwell, which is totally against the law. If I'd gone out to the bar, it would've been smoke-free. But no, I stayed home, where cigarette stink came whooshing through the doorway crevices. I expect to get a headache and rail further against smokers.

But I digress! The topic here is crosswords, not weather and smoking restrictions.

Look at Joe Krozel's super-fancy New York Sun crossword! "Secret Formula" is sort of a rebus-inflected crossword, if you think about the kind of rebus puzzle in which you add some words/sounds/letters and subtract others from the whole to derive the answer. (That link isn't actually an example of that, but it's hilarious.) Or more directly, it's a CRYPTIC MESSAGE in that it dismantles words the way many cryptic crossword clues do. 50-Across's clue is [24-Across + 32-Across + 41-Across – 58-Down – 13-Down – 48-Across – 28-Down]. THE DA VINCI CODE is THEDA + VINCI (PROVINCIALS minus the PRO and ALS parts—and those are both answers in the grid, in symmetrical spots) + CODE (CINCO DE MAYO minus CIN and MAYO). I did raise an eyebrow when I saw MAYO in the same grid as CINCO DE MAYO, because I knew Peter Gordon wouldn't allow such a duplication without a good reason. It's an integral part of the gimmick, so there it is. Aside from the groovy cryptic/rebus gimmick, it's just a good crossword—fill like LEMON TARTS and a BITTER PILL to swallow, WASSAIL, KARMA, and "IT'S A BOY." One complete mystery clue for me: [Tycho's pal in the webcomic "Penny Arcade"] for GABE. Let's see...it's mostly about videogaming, but this one was kinda funny.

Peter Collins came up with a fresh and interesting (if cholesterol-heavy) theme for his New York Times crossword. The three short entries across the middle of the grid read HALF DOZEN EGGS, and there are six EGGs hidden (Easter egg hunt!) in longish Across entries (17-, 18-, 19-, 55-, 57-, and 59-Across). Those six longish answers area joined by nine other longish answers in the fill, with lotsa nice stacking. This puzzle also has more G's than any other daily NYT crossword. Gotta give this crossword props for including ILLEST ([Coolest, in rap slang]—probably woefully outdated by now) crossing the 500-year-old word ALEGAR.


It took me far too long, it felt like, to extract the theme from Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy crossword, "All About Eve." Apparently my brain was dead, because I saw the EVE in a couple of the nonsensical theme entries, and didn't think to remove it. Ah! There you have it. Come to rest yields COME TO EVEREST, and leg room gives a LEVEE GROOM. Genesis forks over GENE SIEVES—and my favorite, the one that woke me up to theme, is fine dining/FINE DEVEINING of shrimp. Fill highlights: BEETHOVEN, FREEBIE, SLURP, and DEVILFISH (Octopus? Really? Yes, and also a gray whale.)

No time to blog the LA Times right now—gotta run!

Back from the salon, now a muted redhead:

In his LA Times crossword, Dan Naddor repurposes CURRENT EVENTS as electrical problems: a POWER BLACKOUT, an ELECTRICAL SHORT, and CIRCUIT OVERLOAD. Zap! Fortunately, no shocks, electrocution, or computer-frying power surges appeared during the solving of this crossword. Nice fill, with SLIPPERY across from OPOSSUMS, Tennessee Williams' STELLA and IGUANA, a DIMWIT and a tent REVIVAL, and a [Youngster's writing challenge], CURSIVE. Apparently many schools start teaching cursive in second grade, and I don't know if my son's class will be venturing into cursive before the end of the school year. He likes the idea, but crikey, his printing is so sloppy, I fear his cursive will be illegible. Anyone have terrible printing as a kid but more legible cursive?


January 28, 2008

Tuesday, 1/29

Tausig 5:45
Onion 4:21
NYS 4:15
CS 3:08
LAT 2:52
NYT 2:33

The New York Times puzzle by C.W. Stewart and J.K. Hummel felt surprisingly easy to me. The theme entries are tied together by the descriptor THEY CAN BE ROLLED. The theme entries are clued fairly straightforwardly, with the except of the BOWLING BALL: [It may end up in the gutter] is factual but open to misinterpretation. You might also roll a TURTLENECK collar or a movie camera, or purchase your QUAKER OATS in rolled form. (I do not advise rolling your own oats.) I liked the fill all right, too, and it's not so easy to get good fill with more than three or four theme entries. I appreciated the trip down memory lane (The '70s! Whoo!) afforded by country/rock's OZARK Mountain Daredevils. Ah, how I loved "Jackie Blue"! (The drummer/singer is cute! Like a young Paul Krugman, but he needs to lose the neckerchief. The song rocks, and the video...shows many hirsute band members.) CYGNUS the [Stellar swan], or swan constellation, looks a helluva lot more like a swan with a bird picture superimposed over the connect-the-dots stars. (Also in the sky: NOVAE. Also avian: EMU.) SUNDIAL had a great clue: [Old timer?]. I get tired of seeing the various OHO, OOH, and AAH answers in crosswords, but AHA (["Got it!"]) is at least pertinent to crossword solving. Two old names that could be clued in entirely different ways: SOL, [Showman Hurok], and FLO, [Showman Ziegfeld]. If you're not up on your old-time showmen, these could be tough little nuts. What do you make of SMUT appearing not long after [Skin-related] and [Makes hard]? I filled in SMUT first, and somehow, DERMAL and STEELS felt contextually inapt. The STUDS ([Some retired racehorses]) are not far away, either.

Randall Hartman's New York Sun crossword, "Y2K," did not have that easy Tuesday vibe. It took a bit too long for me to snake my way down to the bottom theme entry, MAKO CLINIC, where the theme became obvious: A letter Y is changed into a K. "Now, didn't the title tell you to turn a Y to K?" you ask. Why, yes. Then I had a typo in YOU ALL (YOA ALL), making me contemplate phrases ending in LACY. Ah, I LOVE LUCK (Lucy). Of course. And with the death yesterday of the aged head of the Mormon church, PLINK THE ELDER—[Shoot a church leader?]—seems unfortunately topical. With 18 6- to 8-letter answers in the fill, we get plenty o' freshness—CON AMORE, or [Tenderly, on a music score] (don't think I knew that one), a video game INTRUDER (?), and Hepburn and Tracy's DESK SET (haven't seen it) stand proudly in one corner of the grid. Pop-culture fun with Dylan MCKAY, the bad boy of Beverly Hills, 90210—he was the one played by Luke Perry, whose post-90210 career has failed to impress much. CMX is clued as [XXXV x XXVI]—it was only recently that I figured out how much sense it made to guesstimate an approximate answer to see if I could fill in an extra Roman digit. 30ish times 30ish is 900ish, so I added an M after the C that I had from the crossing. It's not the complete answer, but hey, it's faster than doing the arithmetic all the way.


The February/March issue of Bust magazine is on newsstands now. There's a new feature called X Games, a crossword by Onion A.V. Club constructor Deb Amlen. Deb's first puzzle is entitled, "Every Which Way But Missionary," and I think it'll fit right into Bust's overall vibe. I bought the magazine last Friday, but haven't made it to the crossword yet because I'm reading the 92 pages before the puzzle. When I've done the puzzle, I'll blog about it—so now's your chance to go buy the magazine if you've been hankering for a more feminist crossword. (I know I have!)

The LA Times crossword is by David Kwong and Scott Foley, and that's Scott Foley in the photo. He was on Felicity back in the day, and now he's on the [CBS drama costarring Scott Foley (who co-created this puzzle), and a hint to puzzle theme...]. The show is called THE UNIT, and I needed that clue to make me notice what tied the other theme entries together. LEAGUE OF NATIONS, YARD SALES, and the others begin with units of length. The LA Times puzzle is always the most Hollywood-inflected of the major newspaper puzzles, but this one takes that to a new level. Cool entries in the fil include ATLANTIS and the FOUR TOPS. My favorite clue: [One of seven] for EUROPE (my first thoughts were Snow White's dwarves and then the seven seas). Hey, I'll bet this is Scott Foley's constructing debut—congrats!

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Stop or I'll Hoot!", has as a theme all sorts of shouts—a REBEL YELL (Billy Idol comes to my mind long before anything Dixie for that phrase), a PRIMAL SCREAM, and two others. (Note to the CrosSynergy team: You'll want to fix the typo in the [Spot on an oscilliscope] clue before the puzzle's added to a book collection.) Great longish entries in the fill—POLICEMAN is not so exciting, but it's clued [Starsky or Hutch] so I like it. VERKLEMPT gets a Saturday Night Live clue, [Overcome with emotion, to Linda Richman] (she was a Mike Myers character). "The policeman was verklempt because Krispy Kreme was all out of chocolate-frosted donuts." SAY UNCLE gets expanded play for a nice change, rather merely UNCLE or ["Uncle"] used in a clue for I GIVE. SAO is clued as [___ Paulo, Brazil]—an article in Bust says it's the world's third largest city, and I had no idea it was so huge—about 18 million in the area. RIB is clued as [Eve's origin], and I don't like that. First of all, it posits the scientifically implausible as crossword fact, and second, my, isn't that part of the Bible awfully dismissive of women? "Aw, you're just a spare rib, nothing special." Hey, who says DRY UP for ["Shut your yapper!"]? Archie Bunker said "Stifle"; where do people say "Dry up"?

Updated again Tuesday evening:

I still haven't gotten to Deb Amlen's Bust puzzle (go buy the magazine so the spoilers won't spoil the solve!), but this week's Onion A.V. Club puzzle is by Deb. The theme entries are song titles warped to include the name of a famous painter. "Don't Know Much" (which I don't much know) is DON'T KNOW MUNCH (Edvard). "Hello Dolly" is HELLO DALI (Salvador). "Get Back" is GET BRAQUE. And "Make That Money" (another song I don't know) becomes MAKE THAT MONET. Over yonder in the fill, I think STAND ON may be a 7-letter partial entry; don't much care. I was disappointed that HUMPS was clued as [Arches] rather than with reference to Alanis Morissette's slowed-down version of "My Humps." The doubled-up TOMTOM and BOOBOO are beside one another, which is cute. Favorite entries: JOHN Q. Public and "LOOK MA, no hands!"

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle (and if you're out there calling this the Village Voice puzzle because that's what it's listed under where you download the puzzle, please cease—the Voice got bought out by crossword-ditching dirtballs ages ago, and this lovely weekly puzzle doesn't run in the Voice)—damn, I'd better start over. That parenthetical aside was just too long. Ben's puzzle is titled "Pairs, Trips, and Quads," and the theme entries contain letter pairs (three in BBQ QUEENS), a triplet (the Ts in SCOTT TUROW), and three quads (VJ J.J. JACKSON, KKK KNIGHTS, and the AAA AUTO CLUB). I lovelovelove that VJJJJACKSON one—not only is it super-Scrabblicious (and not surrounded by compromised fill), but it takes me down memory lane to that first year of MTV. (The KKKK and QQ bits are also Scrabbly and tough to work into the fill.) I learned a new word in the fill—HYMNODY, or [Sacred songs]. Politics and current events get some play—LIKABLE is clued [Obama to Clinton: "You're ___ enough"], George Allen's unwise MACACA remark, and BUSH SR., clued simply as [41]. Yes, Bushes Jr. and Sr. aren't really Jr. and Sr. because they have different middle initials, but people call 'em that anyway.


January 27, 2008

Monday, 1/28

CS 3:05
NYS 2:51
LAT 2:35
NYT 2:32

Michael Blake's New York Times crossword is both delightful and dreadful. Delightful because it's got a fresh theme (no sign of THE CHIPMUNKS in the Cruciverb.com database) with names not often seen in a Monday puzzle; a fair number of 6- and 7-letter fill answers; and non-boring fill like I MIGHT, STREP, LAMAZE, STIFFS, and TO WIT. Dreadful because, well, it's THE CHIPMUNKS, who are so annoying I've patently refused to take my kid to see the recent live-action movie. But at least the squeaky-voiced rodents have been swapped out for the far more august trio of ALVIN TOFFLER, the ["Future Shock" author], SIMON WIESENTHAL, the [Late hunter of Nazi war criminals], and THEODORE DREISER, the ["Sister Carrie" author]. I believe congratulations are in order for Mr. Blake—his name's not in the Cruciverb database, so I think this is his newspaper crossword debut.

James Sajdak's New York Sun crossword, "Buff Buffet," has three theme clues that refer to 58-Across, so I checked that clue. The only William S. Burroughs novel I know is NAKED LUNCH (never read it, but I saw the movie, and boy do those images stick with you. Wonder if the book's images are as sticky in the memory?), and that fit the space. The other theme entries are what you might order at the naked lunch—a STRIP STEAK, SALAD (NO DRESSING), and GODIVA CHOCOLATE. Fairly Scrabbly fill for a Monday, with BOZO the Clown, UNIX, and IBIZA. Favorite clues: [Ones with a Bunker mentality?] for BIGOTS; [When Central Park closes] for ONE A.M. (did not know that; will avoid heading there after one during the crossword tournament); [Half of a "Sesame Street" duo] for both BERT and ERNIE; and [Mudder fodder] for OATS.


Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy crossword ("Who RU?") evokes Ashish Vengsarkar's great "Spellcheck" puzzle of a year ago with a soupçon of CDB? action. Here, the first names in the theme entries are represented by sound-alike letter sequences: K T COURIC, L N DEGENERES, the obstetrical O B WAN KENOBI, and three others. My cousin's toddler girl is named Elsie, and L C THE COW (the Borden spokescow) remains the first Google hit for Elsie. Here's hoping the average second grader six years hence will not have heard of Elsie the Cow!

David Cromer's LA Times crossword plays a different sort of name game, here transposing the first and last names and reinterpreting the last names as verbs. Who wouldn't wish to TRUMP DONALD? Although it would be uncalled for to SHORT MARTIN some money, and just plain cruel to CAGE NICOLAS or HURT WILLIAM. When I was a teenager, I had a huge crush on William Hurt. (Just look at the fabulous career he had in the '80s.) I think the crush ended when the good parts disappeared.


January 26, 2008

Sunday, 1/27

NYT 9:25
PI 8:23
LAT 7:28
BG 7:12
WaPo 6:58
CS 4:58

NYT Second Sunday cryptic 10:25—check out Will Johnston's annotated answers that outline how each answer's derived from the clues, step by step

Mike Nothnagel's Sunday New York Times puzzle, "I Need My Space," adds a little breathing ROOM in or at the end of seven phrases. I liked the theme until I got to the sixth theme entry, when my cruciverbal ardor increased—NO RESTROOM FOR THE WICKED would be an awesome [Sign outside a church lavatory?]. I'm guessing that was the seed entry, and all the rest are there to give this bon mot a raison d'etre. (No, there's no reason for using French here, other than that French offers le mot juste.)

Juicy entries include K.T. OSLIN, the [Singer with the #1 country album "80's Ladies"]; THE OMEN, the [1976 horror film whose score won an Oscar]; FLOWN IN, or [Imported by plane]; BORDER TOWN, such as [Laredo or Nuevo Laredo]; IRA GLASS, the [Host of public radio's "This American Life"] (before he moved to New York, my best friend used to see him at the gym and swoon); DEN MOTHER, the [Cubs' protector] in scouting, not the forest; SPAZ, or [Extremely inept person, slangily]; and a slew of short, Scrabbly words like WAX, JERK, ROUX, ZORBA, and JOG. The [Attempt to trick] is a PUT-UP JOB, which isn't a phrase I've heard before—is it old-fashioned slang? Regional? Newfangled? British? My other answers o' mystery include VOSTOK [1, Yuri Gagarin's spacecraft], and BERNICE, [Eccentric friend on "Designing Women"].

I was too busy noticing the fill to note any clues I especially liked, so I'll turn my attention back to the theme. [Beer sources for genteel guests?] are POWDER ROOM KEGS, but if you were genteel, would you want to (a) drink beer from a keg, and (b) visit the john to get said beer? I think not. You might wish to visit a dainty powder room after having a few beers, but the beer should be poured from bottles or a professional-quality tap into a frosted glass suitable for that particular brew. The clue for THE BALL'S IN YOUR COURTROOM, [Reminder to a forgetful judge on bowling night?], makes me wonder whether constructor/judge Vic Fleming likes to bowl, and whether he'd ever leave a bowling ball in his workplace. DAVY JONES' LOCKER ROOM is my other favorite theme entry, because who doesn't like a Monkees reference?

This weekend's Second Sunday puzzle in the Times, a cryptic by Rich Silvestri, might be the best NYT cryptic I remember. The clues tended to rely much less on anagrams, it seemed to me—far more reliance on charades, double meanings, and containers (using the terminology that our Aussie regular commenter, DA or David Astle, uses in his roundup of his favorite cryptic clues at his blog). For example, [They make lace rags] is TATTERS(highlight text with mouse to see hidden words), which means both "people who make lace" and "rags" (double meaning). A charade clue is [Former French island outcast]; EXILE is EX, or "former," plus ILE, French for "island." An example of a container clue is [Rolling pins in center plot]; roll PINS into NSPI and put them inside CORE, or "center," to get CONSPIRE, a verb that means "plot." Silvestri included so many different clue types—just three anagrams (9A, 5D, 20D) and one straight embedded word (LENORE). This puzzle is still worlds easier than the (London) Times cryptics I've been doing of late (and have put aside until post-ACPT), but I liked it a lot.

Speaking of David Astle, he's devoted one post to his favorite "Tee-Hees," oblique or lateral or twisted-thinking clues. Some are British cryptic clues, but "Several hail from the American maestri, such as Ben Tausig, Francis Heaney, Henry Hook and Patrick Blindauer, among others." I haven't savored them yet, but plan to.


I hadn't noticed that the NYT crossword had a supersized 23x23 grid. And still, Stella Daily finished in in 7:04 on the applet. (!)

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite, "Link Letters," is quite good. The fill has more than a dozen 8- and 9-letter answers in it (e.g., NO-HITTERS, XENOPHON, and EUPHONIUM), and there's not a clunker in the bunch of eight theme entries. Two theme entries intersect in the center square on a Q. The "link letters" are individual letters that stand as a separate word or component in the two halves of each theme entry, as with MR T and T-SQUARE, joined together to be a MR T SQUARE. (Technically, Kmart lacks a space or hyphen, but the K's pronounced like the letter name, so SPECIAL K MART works just as smoothly as the rest.) SHEILA E COLI gets special mention for the breakfast-table violation. KENNY G FORCE, SUZY Q TIPS, MALCOLM X RAYS, and STANDING O HENRY were other favorites of mine. The fill had some gnarly spots, too. [Mercurous chloride] is called CALOMEL? It sounds like a cross between caramel and a Mallomar. Beside that was OPAL, with the obscure clue [Geyserite, for one]. On the other side of CALOMEL is EGGCUPS. If you opted for TEACUPS and blanked on the other two, the Across clues wouldn't be much help.

Pamela Amick Klawitter's Washington Post crossword, "If It Fits, Wear It," suggests nine kinds of occupational garb that could be alternate definitions of existing phrases. An astronomer might don an ASTEROID BELT, a train conductor has a RAILROAD TIE, and a meteorologist's feat could boast WIND SOCKS. We've probably all seen old jokes involving FREUDIAN SLIP as a piece of lingerie, but the other eight theme entries feel fresher. Taken literally, the theme entries would be the most boring assortment ever (HEAT PUMPS and a FINISH COAT?), but I like the apparel twist.

Damien Peterson's syndicated LA Times Sunday puzzle, "Stress Management," chills out with six phrases that might go with a LAID-BACK PERSONALITY, such as RELAXED-FIT JEANS and EASY LISTENING music. The clue that took me the longest to understand was [Canine event, in more ways than one]. DOG-something, but what? And why? Ah, DOG BITE, canine animals and canine teeth (yes, dogs have canines, too).

In his Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Animals House," Merl Reagle commits animal cruelty by pun. Some are real groaners, like changing bygones to pythons in LET PYTHONS BE PYTHONS. I do like the sheer lunacy of MARCH OF THE PANGOLINS (swapping out another animal, penguins). Pangolins are odd-looking scaly mammals; you can see one in the Los Angeles Zoo or a zoo in Taiwan, but no other zoo. The seal's résumé says it PLAYS WELL WITH OTTERS, which I think is the most successful pun in the puzzle.

Today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle's by Bob Klahn. There was plenty I didn't know, but the crossings generally has easier clues and let me fill things in much faster than in a Klahn NYT themeless. Favorite clues: ["Mark twain" Mississippi measure] means DEPTH, and no, the measure wasn't named after the writer. Rather, the writer chose the measure as his nom de plume. I never knew that! He should've kept the Clemens name—he's a distant, distant cousin of mine. [Athlete more likely to take second than third?] is a base STEALER. The ["Apocalypto" language] in the Mel Gibson movie (I almost typed "Mel Brooks") is YUCATEC. [Come up quickly] is LOOM, but first I opted for ZOOM and then BOOM. [Dirt ball] is the literal CLOD of earth.


January 25, 2008

Saturday, 1/26

Newsday 10:10
NYT 6:34
LAT 4:38
CS 2:45

Karen Tracey's New York Times crossword is perhaps a little less showy and a little less fun than her usual themeless work, but then, she's set the bar mighty high because this remains a very good crossword. The longest entries are 9 letters, so there's no pair of headliners really set apart from the rest. Plenty of letters you'd want to make use of in Scrabulous (or Scrabble), to be sure—a Q, Z, and X along with a bunch of Js and Ks. There were two names I just didn't know, and they intersected—the last name of ["Turandot" composer Ferruccio] is BUSONI (not to be confused with Puccini's more famous Turandot), and the actress TANIA [Raymonde, player of Alex Rousseau on "Lost"] is unknown to me, except that I knew Alex to be a female character so I was looking for a woman's name. I don't cry foul on the crossing, because it was likely to be TANIA or TANYA, and BUSONY doesn't look remotely Italian with that Y ending.

I savored a number of the clues. In the Across direction, I especially liked [Cash cache, often] for COOKIE JAR; [Wanton type] for SATYR; [Shout across the Seine?] for the French word CRI; [They don't stay hot for very long] for FADS; [General equivalent] for ADMIRAL; ["New York City Rhythm" singer] for MANILOW (I prefer to forget that he recorded songs other than "Copacabana"); [Weasley family's owl, in Harry Potter books] for a non-Flynn ERROL (I also like documentarian Errol Morris); [Breaking sticks] for pool CUES; [Cold weather] for TEENS (and lemme tell you, that didn't feel good with the wind today); and [Blues guitarist Vaughan] for STEVIE RAY (a great entry—he's instantly recognizable sans last name).

Going Down, there's [They're seedy] for apple CORES (didn't you want to fill in DIVES?); [Hip-hop producer Gotti] for IRV (and no, Gotti's not his real last name); [Peer group setting?] for the JURY BOX; the two-syllable [Peaked] for ANEMIC; [Potential canine saver] for ROOT CANAL (technically, the root canal is merely a canal within the root of a tooth and not the name of any endodontic procedure, but everyone calls it a root canal anyway); the verb [Direct] can mean REFER; [The Yasawa Islands are part of it] refers to FIJI (who knew?); [Review unfairly, maybe] for UNDERRATE; the misleadingly non-plural adjective [Tops] for NUMBER ONE; and the misleadingly canine-sounding [Dalmatian or Pomeranian] for SLAV.
The TREPAN is clued as a [Mine shaft tool]. Heh. It's also handy for boring a hole in the skull.

Who is 14-Down's [Playwright/painter Wyspianski]? His first name is STANISLAW, and I like the paintings displayed on his Wikipedia page; check 'em out. I'd never heard of him before, but ask me for a Polish man's name, and Stanisław (I believe the crossed L is pronounced like our W) comes readily to mind; it was my grandma's dad's name. Also in the category of European writers, we have JEAN GENET (["The Thief's Journal" author]) opposite STANISLAW, so maybe there is a wee mini-theme of sorts. And a pair of wines, RIOJA and MOSELLE, for the writers to sip.


It's inadvisable to start a tough crossword in the wee hours, because the brain gets a mite creaky then. I had to put the southwest corner of Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" aside until after sleep and breakfast. Well, now it's doable, but a lot of the clues in that corner were on the oblique side, there more than in the rest of the puzzle if you ask me. [Iron, e.g.] for golf CLUB seems obvious now, as does the BOSTON fern, but [Have in mind] and TARGET don't seem quite equivalent to me; URGERS is a yucky answer for [Force's sources]; [Staying power] and LENGTH don't feel synonymous to me (LEGS, yes); and I just plain blanked on the concept of a stone CAIRN that might be a [Mountain-summit marker]. I like to think the climber's carried a cairn up the mountain side for just that purpose, rather than finding a rock atop the mountain. Did you know MARIA was the plural for [Lunar seas]? I had the MAR part right. I liked the crossing SWORD SWALLOWING and BRAND SPANKIN' NEW, ONE OR TWO, and [It may keep you up at night] for PAGE-TURNER. With the "turner" part in place, I was lured into thinking of tossing and turning, which was absolutely the wrong sort of turning for this answer.

Robert E. Lee Morris's LA Times crossword has a bit of a Los Angeles vibe to it, with movie titles, UCLA in the clue for ALMA MATER ([UCLA's "Hail to the Hills of Westwood," e.g.]), and the occasional actress name. [His name can be typed using three contiguous keys] has got to be harder for the legions of solvers who aren't working the puzzle on their computer (it's ERTE). I like TAP DANCE clued as [Be evasive], PET NAME crossing HONEY, UNCLE SAM, SAVALAS clued as [Co-owner of the racehorse Telly's Pop], and [Leatherback] for SEA TURTLE. (Why was I thinking of the Marine Corps for that last clue?) Other good clues: [Hot air] for JIVE; [Ring leader?] for boxing CHAMP; [When the U.S. Open ends] for SEPT (tennis, not golf; I think it begins in late August); and [English logician John] VENN (don't know who he is at all, but with the V in place, "Venn diagram" came to mind).

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Food Groups," tortures a few musical groups with food puns: the GRAPEFUL DEAD, ROLLING SCONES, and OAT RIDGE BOYS. There's nothing particularly grapey, sconeish, or oaten about these groups, is there? Good to have a Monday-easy puzzle this morning, though, since I've got to run!


January 24, 2008

Friday, 1/25

Jonesin' 5:45
NYS 5:36
NYT 5:17
CHE 4:34
LAT 4:25
CS 2:52

WSJ 6:39

The Friday New York Times puzzle by David Quarfoot wasn't one of those that lent itself to jumping right in. 1-Across, [War-torn Baghdad suburb], and 9-Across, [23-Across and others] linked to [Shade shade]. Whuzzah? Fortunately, my eye caught sight of [11 1/2" soldier], which had to be GI JOE, and that got me started. Eventually the crossings in the northwest corner pushed me towards SADR CITY, with its chunk of consonants in the middle. And 9-Across turned out to be BEIGES, linked to ECRU. Another cross-referenced pair is the musical A SHARP ([It's almost a B, scorewise]) with E MAJOR ([Key that doesn't include 58-Across].

My favorite clues and fill: [One and only] for TRUE LOVE; [Fleet runner of myth] for ATALANTA (the Free to Be You and Me version is far superior to the Greek myth); [Powerful piece] for a chess QUEEN; [Boarding spot] for SLOPE (think snowboarding); two baseball bits, YER OUT (great clue, [Call from home]) and MEL OTT's full name (he was the 1936 N.L. leader in slugging percentage]); AVENUE C, [Part of Manhattan's Alphabet City]; "DON'T LIE," "I SEE IT," and "YES, INDEED"; [Underhand?] for PEON (er, not PALM); [Pilot's place] for both a GAS RANGE and the SKY; [Apple application] for ITUNES; [Judge of films] for REINHOLD (cheesy pop culture! Would you believe Reinhold is 50?); ARTICLE VI, which [forbids religious tests for political office]; [Piehole] for TRAP; E.C. SEGAR ([Swee' Pea's creator]); CYRANO crossing CELICA most mellifluously; and uncommon plural DISCI for [Track-and-field equipment].

My most favoritest entry in this grid has got to be KIM JONG-IL, the North Korean [Head of state known to his people as "Dear Leader"]. For a look at the surreal experience that is being a Westerner in North Korea, check out Guy Delisle's graphic memoir, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. It's by turns funny, weird, and haunting. And what makes it easier to absorb lessons about unfamiliar cultures than a comic book? If you like travel books, insane dictators, and/or comic books, you will love Pyongyang. (Juche!)

Raise your hand if you know Mr. SOREN, [Archaeologist David who found the lost Roman city of Kourion]. He's much less Google-hot than Soren Kierkegaard and Tabitha Soren.

The 15x16 New York Sun crossword by Kelsey Blakley, "It's Elemental," hinges on expanding chemical symbols into elements' full names. Narrated expands Na to make SODIUM R-RATED. Automate expands Au to GOLD TO MATE. Fe is iron, so the femoral nerve turns into IRON MORAL NERVE. For sheer ridiculousness, you can't beat [Gathering celebrating cassiterite?], or TIN ORE FEST (Sn-orefest). Cu is copper, so the cured ham expands into COPPER-RED HAM. Lots of interesting fill, like the multi-word GO OFF, OD'S ON, and "SIR, NO SIR" ([Grunt's negative]).

Favorite clues: [Shaker mover and shaker?] for ANN LEE; [Ruin] for DAMN; MEAT [wagon (ambulance, in slang)]; [Amour-propre] for EGO; [Peaked] for ILL; [Christmas trees?] for PEARS (from "The Twelve Days of Christmas"); and [Butcher on "The Brady Bunch"] for SAM the butcher. The actor who played Sam the butcher, Allan Melvin, died a week ago. R.I.P.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Vote Early," embeds the postal abbreviation for the six states with the earliest primaries or caucuses in existing phrases, warping them into something quite different. Dry dock picks up Iowa: DIARY DOCK. Che Guevara takes Wyoming: CHEWY GUEVARA (this one's my fave). The Showtime series The L Word visits New Hampshire for THE NHL WORD. Hong Kong and Michigan team up for HOMING KONG; Nevada invades a slow cooker for SLOW CONVOKER (meh); and pot pies in South Carolina become POT PISCES ([Stoner born in March, perhaps?]). Lotsa phrases in the fill, but it's the theme I enjoyed most here.


The Wall Street Journal puzzle from Randolph Ross is called "Climate Change," and the eight theme entries swap weather-related terms to flip-flop the prevailing conditions. Cool Hand Luke becomes WARM HAND LUKE, Foggy Bottom becomes CLEAR BOTTOM, "warm and fuzzy" turns into COOL AND FUZZY like a refrigerated peach, and WET/DRY and HOT/COLD also trade places. Once one theme entry was in position, the rest became much easier.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "On-screen Illumination," bundles four movie titles that end with the words DAY, MOON, BACK, and FLASH, all of which can be followed by LIGHT (the central entry). Good, light (appropriately!) puzzle, with plenty of names in the grid—the names make it easy for me, but I know some people get bogged down by a crossword that has a preponderance of names (over a dozen here).

Michael Ashley's January 25 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Carriage Trade," demands familiarity with the names of old carriages and a willingness to pun with them. The HANSOM DEVIL and CHAISE MANHATTAN (cf. Chase Bank's old name), sure. Piece of cake. BROUGHAM CLOSET and COACH POTATO, fine. But DELPHIC CURRICLE? Are curricles well-known enough in academic circles? I didn't know the word, but then, I never read Northanger Abbey. (Is this the same Michael Ashley whose acrostics I've been doing in Games magazine lo these many years?)

(Friday-morning breakfast test violation and pointless tangent: Keller's puzzle contains ORACLE and Ashley's plays on "Delphic oracle." Around these parts, we've taken to using "the Oracle of Sphincter" as a euphemism for certain unseen emissions. Is this Oracle's wisdom any less valid than that divined from an array of tea leaves in a cup? I think not. Listen and the secrets of life will be revealed to you.)

The theme in Donna Levin's LA Times crossword puns on Scottish words (with one pun also swapping in a cholesterol-lowering medication). In the fill, boring ol' RTES is updated with [MapQuest offerings: Abbr.] Really, is anyone under the age of 60 still getting their route recommendations from AAA? Sure, AAA's little Triptyk book of maps is handy, but it takes a lot less time to print out your maps from the internet. (GoogleMaps is better than MapQuest, if you ask me.) Factoid I learned: JEAN is a [Cotton textile named for an Italian city], Genoa. Now, I knew denim was derived from de Nimes, but how did I not know the jean/Genoa link?


January 23, 2008

Thursday, 1/24

LAT 5:03
NYS 4:30
NYT 3:58
CS 3:38

The "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the New York Sun comes from Peter Collins, and I think this is his first published themeless puzzle. Well! It appears he has a knack for the form, and I hope he's been working on other themeless grids. I took a gamble that ["Later"], starting with A, was ADIOS AMIGO, and I was pleased as punch when the crossings bore that out. Other top-notch entries include SALT SHAKER, "PORE JUD" from Oklahoma!, a SQUARE PEG, TREE-HUGGER, the SEX PISTOLS, HUGH LAURIE, GO DEEP, and my personal favorite, ALL AQUIVER. (As in, "Are you all aquiver that not only is the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament just over a month away, but you can now register online and pay via PayPal, which makes it easier to register from outside the U.S.?") Mind you, the clue is [Showing trepidation], but I think the phrase is used more often for excitement than for fear.

Favorite clues: [Creator of Major Major] for Joseph HELLER, author of Catch-22; [Ipanema hello] for OLA (must be the Portuguese equivalent of hola—learned something new); [Long, for short] for ANTONYM; [Vera Wang creation] for DRESS (I wore a Wang in England last year—bridesmaid dress); [Hole in the wall] for OUTLET; [Green] for TREE-HUGGER; [Rotten band] for SEX PISTOLS; [Rapper Biggie] for SMALLS (much better than a [T-shirt sizes, perhaps] clue); [Pepper and others] for DRS and [Pepper, e.g.] for SGT (paired clues like these greatly improve a couple of abbreviations); and [Fitting toy for a child?] for LEGO. I'd never heard of "SO RARE," the [Jimmy Dorsey hit of 1957], nor Houston Astros president TAL Smith. I temporarily blanked on the TINE TESTS for tuberculosis; my medical editing client calls it the purified protein derivative (PPD) test.

As for the New York Times puzzle, gah. Sloppy typing throughout, though I caught all but one of the mistakes before moving on. That last one didn't help. Anyway, the puzzle. It was constructed by Matt Ginsberg, and it's got a ton of theme entries (75 theme squares in all). Each of eight theme entries (three 13s, two 8s, a 6, and two 5s) omits HIT THE (63-Across) from the start. There's a [1961 chart-topper for Ray Charles], "HIT THE / ROAD JACK"; phrases like HIT THE/ GROUND RUNNING, HIT THE / CAMPAIGN TRAIL, HIT THE / SKIDS, and HIT THE / NAIL ON THE HEAD; hitting both the BULL'S EYE and a PINATA; and hitting the FLOOR to dodge bullets. Great theme here, eh? Covers a variety of phrases, and has a satisfying "aha" moment as you figure out that the phrases are missing hit the. Least familiar answers, for me: the [Fictional C.I.A. unit on "Alias"] for APO and [Walter who wrote "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money"] for TEVIS. I liked the unfamiliarity-yet-gettability of [Zooid] as the clue for ANIMAL; the '70s pop-culture hit of OJAI with the clue, [California hometown of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman]; ["Mother of all rivers"] for the MEKONG, a bit of geo trivia I didn't know; the misleadingly inquisitive [What's up?] for the SKY; [Entertaining] for OPEN TO considering something; and the baseball [Unsafe?] for OUT.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Consequences," delivers the following quip: IF YOU FAIL TO / PAY YOUR EXORCIST / YOU'LL PROBABLY BE / REPOSSESSED. There wasn't much in the fill to offset the fact that this is a dreaded quip puzzle. TAPPETS? I've heard of that only from public radio's Car Talk, hosted by "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers." My mechanic's never mentioned my car's tappets. Canasta MELDS, ELOI, ESTE, and ECU are old-school crossword fill, and the not-old-school E-CASH is one of those e-bad e-words I never e-use. The quip's punchline seems like an obvious wordplay, and yet, I don't recall seeing this one before. Sorta droll, this joke.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword links the last syllable in each of four Across theme entries with a suffix that's also in the grid, POSE, so that DISPOSE, COMPOSE, and other words are floating out there. There are four Scrabbly Z's and a pair of Js in the northwest corner of the grid, but I wonder if the attachment to those unnecessarily constrained the rest of the fill. One of the long non-theme answers is ZOMBIE WALK. Huh? Apparently that's a flash mob sort of thing, but I've never heard of it. Have they had zombie walks in your city? The other is LED TO PANIC, but that doesn't feel quite in-the-language to me. Is it substantively different from led to disappointment as a standalone phrase? Maybe it is. There are two words in the fill that I don't recall ever seeing in crosswords, and I daresay they weren't common crosswordese-type fill in the '80s (when I really started doing crosswords), or I'd know them as easily as AGIO (the [Currency exchange fee])—these are GAND, the [1814 treaty site, to the French] (French for Ghent, apparently), and SOCLE, [Architectural column base]. FOCSLE I know; SOCLE, no. I don't expect to encounter more than one completely unfamiliar word in a Thursday puzzle, not after all the thousands of crosswords I've done. Saturdays can push me, but Thursdays aren't supposed to. *grumble mumble*


Wednesday, 1/23

NYT 3:24
LAT 3:20
CS 3:17
NYS 3:10

Just got home from pub trivia, where we won first place, unfortunately. Second prize was the usual first-place prize, a $25 gift card for use at the same bar. First prize was a pair of tickets to Wednesday's Wyclef Jean show at the House of Blues, but my team does not wish to see a concert (with standing-room tickets) tomorrow. Here's hoping we can sell 'em!

The Wednesday New York Sun puzzle wasn't posted in advance because Peter Gordon needed to make it first. (If you don't know why, I'll give you a small hint: It's an annual tradition.) Look for it to be posted sometime Wednesday morning(ish)—if you see it before me, leave a comment to let folks know it's out, would ya? Thanks.

Henry Hook's New York Times crossword plays a rhyming game that's missing my favorite mouse of kiddie lit, Maisy, but contains all (I think) the other plausible rhymes. There's PATRICK SWAYZE, a name made for crosswords with the Z, K, and W—he's clued obliquely as ["She's Like the Wind" singer, 1988] rather than as an actor. There's another name for the [Aster], the MICHAELMAS DAISY. And then the trifecta, "Those LAZY HAZY CRAZY Days of Summer." Gotta love a shout-out to ROSE MARIE, clued here as a ["Hollywood Squares" regular] rather than a member of the Dick Van Dyke Show ensemble. And ANATHEMA! Love that word ([Something detested]). One favorite clue is [C's in shop class?] for CLAMPS (as in C-clamps). [Its motto is "Manly deeds, womanly words"] clues MARYLAND. What the eff does that mean? (Janie, an explanation? And speaking of JANIE, that's clued as [Title girl with a gun in a 1989 Aerosmith hit].) I have no idea why there's a question mark in the clue, [To say in Spanish?] for DECIR. Perhaps a Spanish speaker can explain? Have you heard AT HAZARD used to mean [On the line]? I have not.


Quick takes, because I've got to go to the gym—

The New York Sun crossword is an annual Peter Gordon (or "Roger DePont") tradition—a puzzle that appears the day after the Oscar nominations are announced and includes all five BEST / PICTURE nominees. Now, if you know this theme in advance and pay attention to the titles of the nominated movies, the grid practically fills itself in. Kudos to Peter for once again finding a way to include all the movies in a symmetrical grid. Thanks to the Academy for not nominating The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which would really crowd the grid (as it is, there are 72 theme squares), and to the filmmakers who called the Clooney movie MICHAEL / CLAYTON, which splits so nicely across the center square. ODE TO JOY and a HOT PLATE are nice inclusions in the fill, but I think the theme's requirements forced some fill Peter wouldn't ordinarily be pleased with; e.g. ANIL, and, well, I guess that's the only obvious crosswordese sort of answer.

I got a kick out of Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LA Times crossword. Gotta love a theme that includes the words SCREWBALL, HALF-BAKED, DIMWITTED, and COCKAMAMIE, eh? And then the fill includes "OH, FUDGE" for good measure.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Lingo," tacks a LING onto each theme entry's base phrase. (I will take one CITY DUMPLING, please.) One request: A moratorium on cluing IMACS as [Colorful computers]. These haven't been colorful in years. They were glossy white for a couple years, and now they're brushed silver.


January 21, 2008

Tuesday, 1/22

Onion 5:05
Tausig 4:50
NYS 3:49
CS 2:59
NYT 2:55
LAT 2:52

Adam Perl's New York Times puzzle dusts off the Superman story, gathering together three key staff members from the DAILY PLANET: star reporters Lois LANE CHANGES ([They require signals]) and Clark KENT STATE, and their editor, Perry WHITE LIES. (Is this a commentary on journalistic ethics?) In the version of the story floating in my head, ELIZABETH I and ADAM AND EVE all work in the advertising department, Eve's getting a promotion to a marketing job, and Steve the intern will take over as Adam's partner. Aaaanyway...it's an inventive theme, and I liked a lot of the fill—a HOT DOG and CREPES, TULANE and a HORNET, The WIZ and SCHLEP. Favorite clues: [Number of operas composed by Beethoven] for ONE (Fidelio); [Liechtenstein's language] for GERMAN; [Peach pit] for STONE (because The Peach Pit was the name of the diner on Beverly Hills, 90210, and the proprietor was played by an actor with the implausible name of Joe E. Tata); [After the buzzer] for LATE; and ["Oh, goody!"] for HOT DOG.

James Sajdak's New York Sun crossword is called "What the H?" but it's not about hell or heck. Instead, the theme entries sound like my son a year ago, when he had trouble pronouncing the th sounds, which tended to come out as t or d sounds. In this puzzle, phrases starting with TH are changed to the T sound, with the spelling changing as needed to make a real word. For example, the Suzanne Somers Thighmaster turns into a TIE MASTER ([Haberdasher?]), theme music becomes TEAM MUSIC, and thrill and three become TRILL and TREE. (Speaking of the Thighmaster, I never remember what that muscle is called, the one you'd use to close the Thighmaster, so I just call it my Suzanne Somers.) I sure don't recall seeing the Russian city SMOLENSK before, and it's wedged in besides MINEOLA, New York (which I have heard of, fortunately). Favorite fill: ON DVD, OEUF, and DR. JOHN packed in together; SULLIED; YUMMY— Dr. John sullied the yummy oeuf: See it on DVD!


Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Running Jokes," has sort of tortured electoral puns for a theme. The Caucasus Mountains become CAUCUS MOUNTAINS ([Piles of ballots?], prime number (I think) becomes a PRIMARY NUMBER, Champagne toast turns into CAMPAIGN TOAST, and bait and tackle becomes DEBATE AND TACKLE. The theme? Meh. Not for me. Favorite clues: [Lacking baggage, say] for DATEABLE; [B, be, and bee, e.g.] for HOMONYMS. Most satisfying crossing: THWACK meets KRUMP.

Ben's e-mail accompanying that puzzle and his Onion A.V. Club crossword warn "don't solve this week's AV Club with your dear old Aunt Ethel." I'll get to why in a moment. (DO NOT GOOGLE ALL OF THE THEME ENTRIES.) First, the theme is the TV WRITERS' STRIKE (though they're also movie writers, not just TV) and the things people do for entertainment while their TV shows are out of commission. One options is LOLCATS, which I love; I Can Has Cheezburger? is one of the main centers of LOLcats fun. I hadn't heard of FANTASY CONGRESS, the political version of fantasy football leagues. Looks cool. Alas, the theme also gives plenty of space to WATCHING PEOPLE / REACT TO / TWO GIRLS ONE CUP. If you haven't heard of that (and I hope you haven't), I recently learned that it's an online porn video involving two women and plenty of coprophagia-related action. Is the current generation of young people picking up the message that this sort of degradation of women is entertaining, or completely suitable for joking about? What does it say about our society that this is a viral video that millions of people have seen this, and that (Wikipedia tells me) there are plenty of videos of people reacting to the video? (Note: None of these links go to videos.)

Stepping off my soapbox, I turn to the CrosSynergy puzzle, Paula Gamache's "Secret Service." The theme is rather shy—an ACE, or a tennis serve (service), is embedded within each theme entry. Plenty of long fill to admire in this one. There's a POLITICO and LEONARDO da Vinci, a SOMERSAULT and the ROSETTA Stone, and some FIBEROPTIC cable.

Mike Peluso's LA Times crossword plays chess with five sort-of-famous people. I know IRENE CASTLE only from crosswords, and ELVIN BISHOP's name, hmm, I probably picked that up from Alan Arbesfeld's 1/12/05 NYT crossword. (The Arbesfeld puzzle had four of the same people. but swapped in Stephen for LARRY KING.) The five people's last names are chess pieces, and until there are famous people named Pawn, this is about how such a theme will go. Favorite entries: SAO TOME getting both of its words in the grid (instead of one for a fill-in-the-blank clue); OIL-RICH nations; TROT OUT; and an employee's ID BADGE, a much zippier entry than the IDTAG that's been popping up fairly often.


January 20, 2008

Monday, 1/21

CS 3:48
LAT 3:06
NYS 3:00
NYT 2:43

It's a two-fer from Andrea Carla Michaels, who constructed both the New York Times and the New York Sun crosswords for Monday.

In Andrea's New York Times crossword, the theme is "Win, Lose or Draw": WIN BY A NOSE, LOSE ONE'S BALANCE, and DRAW A BLANK. All three theme answers are sort of competition-based, referring to a victory, a gymnast on the balance beam, and Scrabble. Did you try to link NOSE, BALANCE, and BLANK as I did? My favorite fill included UNDER OATH, SMIRKS, and the JUMBLE (now with strippers!). Not crazy about the variant YACK, but it's in the dictionary. This puzzle kept trying to lead me astray. [More unusual]? Must be ODDER, right? No, RARER. [Unoccupied, as a theater seat] was FREE, not OPEN. EBB*** wanted to be EBBETS Field, verb clue be damned. Hey, how about the headline across the top row: LEWD DWARF JEST.

In the New York Sun puzzle, "You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello" refers to the three words that begin the theme entries—words that double as both "hello" and "goodbye" in their original languages. ALOHA STADIUM invokes Hawaiian, CIAO BELLA GELATO invokes Italian, and model SHALOM HARLOW's name evokes Hebrew. I thought I'd never heard of that gelato brand, but when I checked out the company's website, I recognized the packaging from the freezer case at Whole Foods. Is this stuff good? Should I buy some? My favorite clues included [___=washed jeans] for ACID (ooh, bad '80s fashion!); [Dessert, to a Brit] for AFTERS (I could go for some gelato now, but it seems silly to venture out when it's 5° to buy ice cream); and [Tina's "30 Rock" role] for LIZ Lemon. Best entries: SHUSHED, THE ARTS, AL PACINO, the LAST WORD, and those Scrabbly words with Q, X, and Z in the corners.


Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle struck me as dull (though Scrabbly—missing F and W and so not a pangram, but including all the less common letters), but I think it was because a reader left specific comments with theme details first, so I was in a PIQUE (61-Across) when I solved the puzzle. I receive copies of all comments via e-mail, and I hadn't done this puzzle yet when I saw those comments. I'm not about to embargo my e-mail just because twice a year, somebody posts spoilers before I've done a puzzle. Instead, I'll just ask PLEASE DON'T COMMENT WITH SPECIFICS ABOUT PUZZLES I HAVEN'T BLOGGED ABOUT YET. Thanks. As the commenter already mentioned, in the CRONY theme, each theme entry begins with a "crony" as part of the first word (e.g., PALACE, CHUMP). I think it's more elegant to hide the word within another than to gather phrases that start with a set of words, don't you?

The LA Times crossword by Teri Smalley (which anagrams to "it's really me," so I presume the constructor is editor Rich Norris) has a sprawling theme—four long "king" names in a 15x16 grid, along with four other short (4 and 5 letters) "king" names, with most being people called "the king of ___" (LEAR isn't called a king, he is a king; ALAN King is named King). The fill has some boring stuff but also plenty of showy answers—OJIBWA, YO HO HO, SQUAWKS AT and GOBBLE (poultry!), THE WHO. Now, there are 18 circled squares in the grid. I've been eyeballing these from various angles and in various orders, and regrettably, I will have to peek at the Across Lite Notepad to understand what the circled squares are about. Okay, it says to anagram them to discover the subject of the puzzle. Ah, a puzzle within the puzzle! MHUAREGLRTINIJRNTK wasn't looking like much, so I used a trick I learned from Will Shortz (on a Chicago radio program, I think)—write the letters in sort of a pyramid-form bunch so your eyes can hook the letters up more easily. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. jumped right out of that heap of letters. Hey, this is cool! Not the usual sort of tribute puzzle—those typically include key words or titles from the person's life. This one riffs on King's name and gift-wraps itself with an anagram challenge.


January 19, 2008

Sunday, 1/20

NYT 11:28
WaPo 10:44
PI 8:39
LAT 8:32
BG 6:44
CS 3:44

I'm a little disappointed in myself, because I should've gotten through Natan Last's New York Times puzzle in less time. I'm tired! But I really shouldn't be so sleepy before 7 p.m., really. The puzzle's called "Triangulation," and the theme combines two gimmicks: First, there are six longish answers—two Down answers on each side, and two Across answers in the middle, near the top and bottom of the grid. Each of these long answers contains a trigonometric ratio rebus square, with SIN (sine) in DANTE'[S IN]FERNO crossing [SIN]NER and TWO PEA[S IN] A POD / CA[SIN]OS, COS (cosine) in BELLI[COS]ITY / AC[COS]TS and [COS]MO KRAMER / DIS[CO S]TU (!), and TAN (tangent) in CA[T AN]D MOUSE / SA[TAN] and EQUIDIS[TAN]T / S[TAN]ZA. For added elegance, the ratio pairs appear opposite one another. The second gimmick is the triangle of highlighted squares in the center of the grid that spells out TRIGONOMETRY. Notice how well the answers mesh together in the center despite the inclusion of that triangular answer—RESTROOMS and MY DARLING and OLIVE OYL? Those are smooth.

In other parts of the grid, the most savory answers are BEATNIK, SUDOKU and HANGMAN, a CD DRIVE, all the first-person phrases (I DON'T CARE, I GET IT, I'M FINE, IS IT I), and New York's Governor SPITZER. Hey, did you know an [Early pulpit] is an AMBO? My favorite clues: [Numbers game] for SUDOKU; [Saw things] for TEETH; [It might be silver] for LINING (good gravy, did that one take a long time to figure out, even with the INI in place); [Single, for one: Abbr.] for SYN (synonym!); [Star in old Westerns] for BADGE (oh, how long I pondered Lash Larue and the prospect of other actors in old oaters); [Facilities] for RESTROOMS; [Words of honor?] for ODE; [Strip joints?] for CA[SIN]OS; [1950s stereotype] for BEATNIK; [Highlighted, as text] for IN BOLD (raise your hand if you went with ITALIC first); [Place for a swing] for a golf TEE; and [Bottom of the ___] for NINTH (Why did I opt for EARTH first?). Overall, a fun puzzle with some good gimmick action.

P.S. The online versions of this puzzle had to have a clue for the vertical leg of the triangle, so the clue numbering differs between them and what's in the Sunday magazine.

P.P.S. A note from Will Shortz at the NYT forum: "Tomorrow's crossword is a Sunday debut by Natan Last, a high school senior in Brooklyn. At 17 years 2 months he is the youngest known Sunday crossword constructor in the Times' history. It's a very impressive debut, too." Indeed!


Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s Boston Globe crossword, “Look Both Ways,” is jam-packed with palindrome action, which made it easy to fill in the reverse of any partially completed theme entries. The palindromes I liked best were the ones I haven’t seen before—particularly BORROW OR ROB and BOSTON DID NOT SOB. I think I may have seen DO GEESE SEE GOD before, and it’s beautifully ludicrous. Favorite fill: the diva’s HIGH NOTE, a HOMINID, and Patrick SWAYZE. Cleverest clues: [Good-time bird?] for LARK and [Patty’s escort?] for BUN. (Patty and Frank should be a couple.) The [Borage family plant] called BUGLOSS was unfamiliar.

Merl Reagle’s Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle is titled “What’s My Wine?” because it’s filled with winy puns. Sometimes, pun themes with a variety of different sound/letter changes irk me, but this time, it went down smoothly and with aromas of nectarine and green apple. Merl has long been the master of stacked theme entries, and here, each corner of the grid has a long pair of theme entries (14/13 and 16/15) running alongside each other, along with four more Down entries (12 or 10 letters apiece) in the midsection. (160 theme squares? Holy theme density, Batman!) My favorites are SUMO RIESLING, the Brooklynese-sounding VENUS DE MERLOT, APPRECHABLIS, and—even though I’d never heard of Beloved Infidel—BELOVED ZINFANDEL.

Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “Box Office Numbers,” features seven song titles that are reinterpreted as belonging to the soundtracks of assorted fictitious “___: The Musical” movies. “ROCK THE BOAT” (don’t tip it over) goes with The Poseidon Adventure, and “GREAT BALLS OF FIRE” pairs up nicely with Deep Impact. I think this puzzle was actually easier than the comparative times suggest—I’m beat, and I kept realizing my eyes had closed whilst solving. The answers I liked best in the fill: PEEKABOO, GARY HART, ANN ARBOR, and a word I didn’t exactly know, CATENARY ([Curvature of a suspended cable]). Least favorite, on account of sheer creepiness: SAND EELS and SEA WASPS. Favorite clues: [They hold a bit] for REINS; [You can stop it before you go] for MAIL (anyone else think of Kegels and peeing? No?); [Pack unit?] for LIE (as in “a pack of lies”); [“Living” person] for STEWART (as in Martha Stewart Living magazine); [“Truman” star] for SINISE (He was in that? So were 6-lettered CARREY, LINNEY, and HARRIS, dangit!); and [It’s got you covered] for SKIN.

Updated Sunday morning:

Ooh, I really liked James Sajdak's theme in the syndicated LA Times crossword, "Prefixation." Eight words with prefixes are reimagined with the prefix broken off to be a standalone word. For example, a [Masterwork?] is a PRO CREATION, and not at all about sex and procreation. SUB HEADING is the direction a submarine's heading and not a subheading. And CONTRA DICTION is an [Accent once heard in Managua?]. My favorite clues: [Al or Mo] for ELEM. (chemical element); [Partners in crime] for MAFIOSI; [Sleeper, say] for RAIL CAR (I was thinking of movies); [Most people sleep on it] for REDEYE; [Popular cups] for REESE'S; and [Rock mixing tools?] for REVERBS.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle is pretty easy for a themeless crossword. I had no idea what a [Limassol resident] was, but the crossings pointed me towards CYPRIOT, which is my all-time favorite word for a person from a particular place; Monégasque and Muscovite are close behind. The middle of this puzzle grid features a triple-stack of 15-letter phrases.


January 18, 2008

Saturday, 1/19

Newsday 6:31
LAT 6:19
NYT 5:44
CS 3:22

I've been slacking off on my ACPT training in the last few days—I've been trying to do at least 10 extra puzzles a day. Given the forecast of subzero overnight lows and subzero wind chills all weekend, I suspect I'll find plenty of time to sit inside and do crosswords.

I could be wrong, but I think David Kahn's shtick for themeless New York Times crosswords is to include a minitheme of two long entries that intersect at the middle. He had that one insane baseball puzzle with two entries relating to that walkout or lockout (I don't keep up on baseball labor issues) some years back, and one of the minitheme entries included a year, in numerals. Here, there's nothing so diabolical, but HERCULE POIROT ([Noted 36-Across passenger]) was wont to ride the ORIENT EXPRESS ([See 15-Down]). I read a lot of Agatha Christie in my teen years, so this pair came together with not too many crossings. Besides the X in that entry, there are two other X's and a pair of Z's peppering the grid.

Favorite fill: HAVE A COW, or [Freak out]; ARABIST, or [Mideast expert, maybe]; THE BOXER, or [Simon & Garfunkel hit after "Mrs. Robinson"]; METRO NORTH, or [New York City transportation option]; and SLEIGH RIDE, or [Christmas song favorite since 1949].

Tastiest clues: [Embassy issue?] is an EXIT VISA. [Platters platters players] are HIFIS. [Indisposed] means LOATH, a word I love. [Superlatively derogatory] sounds so much better (or worse, I suppose) than SNIDEST, doesn't it? [___ letters] clues CALL, as in radio call letters; why did it take me so long to see that? [Rabbit food?] is TRIX cereal, of course ("Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"). [Father-and-son comedic actors] are the STILLERS; how nice for Anne Meara to have her husband and son mentioned in the crossword! (MEARA gets a lot more play in crosswords.) [What a game plan leads to?] is a SAFARI; I don't get exactly how this clue reads, but I like it all right anyway. (A question-marked clue does tend to turn my head, as long as it's not a superfluous question mark.) Little bitty LAY gets clued as [Romantic narrative]; so courtly! ENOS the space-travelin' chimp gets an unusually specific clue: [Mercury-Atlas 5 rider].

Toughest nuts to crack: [1993 rap hit with the repeated lyric "Bow wow wow yippy yo yippy yay"] is DRE DAY; hmm, it appears the full title may be "Fuck Wit Dre Day". [Concordat] is not a word I've seen before, but it looks an awful lot like a concord, so PACT made sense. Crossing that at the P was STEEP, clued as [Acclivitous], a word I didn't recognize and yet somehow grasped the meaning of. [Gridiron stats: Abbr.] is usually YDS or TDS, but here it's FGS (field goals). The southwest corner meshed together four two-word phrases, none of them coming quickly to mind—AIRED OUT, READ INTO, ON FIRE, and GONE IN. That corner was gnarly. PAVED is clued as [Hard-top], but didn't we all first think of hard-top cars? [___ Lyman & His California Orchestra, popular 1920s-'40s band] is another ABE, less famous than Lincoln, Simpson, or Vigoda.


All right, there were a couple spots in Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper that irked me. Is it really fair to cross a middle initial with the letter that precedes the word STAR, when the person whose middle initial is needed is signaled only as [Literary monogram]? There's a reason that all the other clues for EBW (E.B. White) in the Cruciverb database are more specific—they reference Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, children's lit, or New Yorker essays rather than just asking for an unknown author's initials. Are crossword solvers really expected to know how various stars are classified? If so, here's a primer: O stars are the hottest. B stars are next, and supergiant Rigel is a B STAR. Next is the A star, like Sirius. Then there's the F star, followed by G stars like our sun, K stars like Aldebaran, and cool M stars like Betelgeuse. Here's a mnemonic I found at Wikipedia to help us remember which letters are the main star types: "Only Boys Advocating Feminism Get Kissed Meaningfully." This crossword also had the word PRINKING, which I'd never encountered before; it means [Fussing over finery] and yes, PRIMPING and PREENING were both obvious first choices there, but didn't work with the crossings. What I liked: OLEO clued as a [Prefix meaning oil]; good gravy, I've never been so glad to see a prefix clue! Although prefixes are generally suboptimal in crosswords, I find this an improvement over the "toast spread" that nobody in this country actually calls oleo. (If only Leo DiCaprio would date a singer who would record an "O, Leo!" song.) I also like seeing PATRICIAN, AFTERSHOCK, CATTY-CORNER, and BLUE MEANIE in the grid; GERITOL's ["Quiz Show" sponsor] clue; and the TRIPEDAL (three-legged), [Like "War of the Worlds" aliens].

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Elmer Fudd's Favorite Movies," changes "R" movies into "W" movies—The Rookie becomes THE WOOKIEE, Real Genius becomes WHEEL GENIUS Merv Griffin, etc. I don't know the original movie behind WOMB SERVICE, though—IMDb lists about 10 Room Services, including a 1938 Marx Brothers movie. There is certainly VIDEO on many DVDs, but another [DVD part] is the word versatile (though apparently it can't be said definitively that DVD = digital versatile disk.

Gotta run—my son has acting class in 22 minutes, and it's –2° F. LA Times puzzle Saturday afternoon.

Updated again:

Mark Diehl's LA Times crossword is roughly as difficult as the day's other themeless puzzles. My biggest highlight: LITHUANIA! I'm an eighth Lithuanian. I'm sure [Many iPod toters] are indeed TEENS, but I'll bet far more iPod owners are adults. Combine adults' sheer demographic advantage with the high price of the best iPods, and I think the teens lose out. I don't recall seeing HAMON clued as anything other than HAM ON rye, but here's it's ["La Comedie humaine" artist] Jean-Louis HAMON. ROSS MARTIN (né Martin Rosenblatt) was a ["Wild Wild West" costar] in the '60s TV version, not the Will Smith/Kevin Kline movie. Never heard of him...


ACPT registration is open

The registration form for the 2008 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is now posted. The form may be on the web, but it's old-school—print it out, fill it in, and mail it with a check or money order. No credit cards, no PayPal, no online submission. (Maybe next year?)

It'll cost you $275 for the whole shebang (the tournament proper plus events). I forget what it cost last year, but I think it was quite a bit less.

(Thanks for the heads-up, Janie!)


January 17, 2008

Friday, 1/18

NYS 4:53
NYT 4:45
1/11 CHE 4:32
LAT 4:28
1/18 CHE 3:48
Jonesin' 3:32
CS 2:45

WSJ 8:58

Whoo! It is brisk out there! And by "brisk," I mean 14 degrees not counting the wind chill factor, and the wind is howling and whining. An upstairs neighbor's for-sale sign was being buffeted about by the wind banging on the wrought iron fence, so I after I did the Times puzzle, I grabbed some wire cutters and a wire hanger and secured the flapping metal sign. See? I'm handy with more than just crossword puzzles.

Now that I'm back from my Triumph of Handiness, let us (the royal us) blog. It was Trip Payne's 70-word New York Times crossword that instructed me to 53-Down (LASH, or [Secure, in a way]) that sign. The puzzle also says to DO IT AGAIN ([Steely Dan hit of 1972]), but I refuse. Favorite entries: MAGNETISM, or [Drawing power]; SNEAKINESS, or [Cunning]; the [Moliere comedy] THE MISER; a tasty PIEROGI, or [Filled treat] (I'll take mine with potatoes and cheese, please); Richard DREYFUSS (though the only ["Moon Over Parador" star] I remembered was Raul Julia); ACT and NOW clued jointly; and THE PROPHET by Kahlil Gibran, the subject of a recent long New Yorker article. That last clue misspells the author's name: [Classic mystical book by Khalil Gibran]. Tsk!

Favorite clues: [Brood : chicken :: parliament : ___] for OWL; [Where the wild things are?] for MENAGERIE; [Hard-to-break plates] for ARMOR followed soon after by ["Ode to Broken Things" poet] for NERUDA; [Prometheus Society alternative] for MENSA. Obscurities or little-knowns: HAMAN the [Villain in the Book of Esther]; [Ancient fragrance] for NARD; [Canadian equivalent of the Oscar] for GENIE (sorry, Canadians—we Americans don't follow your cinema so much); [Asian title] for RANEE, not the spelling we usually see and lacking any female or Indian cues; [Gulf of Taranto's locale] for the IONIAN SEA (the Gulf of Taranto, it turns out, is the water between the heel and sole of Italy's boot); [Echo, e.g., in Greek myth] for OREAD (Echo was a mountain nymph? I didn't know that); [___ Atomic Dustbin (English rock band] for NEDS; [___ Carinae (hypergiant star)] for ETA; ["The Amazing Race" host Keoghan] for PHIL (Who? Now Trip will know I've never watched that show, which he's blogged about numerous times); and [Rotary motions] for SIDE SPINS.

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" is a 70-worder. Pairs of stacked 15s near the top and bottom are bound together by ANGELINA JOLIE stretching vertically. Although I don't know the song, I was delighted to guess that ["Be My Yoko Ono" band] meant BARENAKED LADIES just from the EDL in the middle. Other favorite entries besides those two: SWOOSIE Kurtz across from OLD MAID; Froot Loops cereal spokestoon TOUCAN SAM; and the ZEBRA with the equally Scrabbly clue, [Quagga relative].

Favorite clues: [Match game] for OLD MAID; [___ Marchand (rapper Foxy Brown's real name)] for INGA; [It might end with a bang] for SENTENCE; [Shellac] for DRUB; [Gloamings] for the equally poetic EVENTIDES; [Crunch time action?] for SITUP; [WHO concerns] for STDS; [Fancy alternative] for FACT; and [Work sheets?] for MEMORANDA.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "Cornering Ability," is an easy (for pop-culture fans) themeless crossword with 66 words. Because I am, after all, a 14-year-old boy, I laughed at the two violations of the Sunday-morning breakfast test: [Leak source?] for URETHRA and [Testicle, slangily] for NAD. A few spoken phrases, lots of TV/movies/music clues, HARIBO Gummi Bears, some KEPT MEN ([Lovers supported by older women]), a little sports, and an impressive 36 7- or 8-letter answers. The grid's top and bottom halves meet at just one square in the center, but I thought the clues were easy enough to give any Friday-level solver plenty of footholds to offset that structural limitation. Tons of fun if you enjoy pop-culture clues. (I do!)


Norman Wizer's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Making Ends Meet," contains eight exactly symmetrical [END] rebus squares linking 16 entries. Favorite entries: RATED X, CROP TOP, DEAD CALM, THE EGG that may or may not precede the chicken, and TRADE WAR. Favorite clues: [Bear of a story] for PAPA; [Champagne flow] for the SEINE River; [State] for SNIT (as in "in a ___"); and [Yard goods?] for SOD. Mystery answer: [Advances-to-declines indicator] is TRIN (the link explains this).

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Hind Limbs," is easy but filled with some great stuff. The theme entries end with BRANCH, STICK, and BOUGH (plus there's a bonus SCION [Grafting shoot]). The fill includes five Ks and Vs, a Z, an X, and a J, and answers like TOM HANKS, "TSK, TSK," KLUTZ, and BOBCAT. Thank you, Ray, for using the [Egg holder] clue for OVARY and not UTERUS! Scientific accuracy rules.

Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle takes __SS ___ phrases and makes them __SS S___ phrases, so business trip becomes "Dilbert," a BUSINESS STRIP, and "SNL's" Weekend Update is a PRESS SKIT. Six theme entries, solid (if not particularly exciting) fill, Fridayish clues. My favorite clues/answers: the PC LAB; [Lead-in for a crook] for the Nixonian I AM NOT (technically, this is a 6-letter partial, but Nixon's always fun and certainly better than yet another [Playground retort] clue); FISHNET stockings; a NOSE GUARD in football; and [Part of a trip around the world] for ARC.

Well, Cruciverb.com's Friday link for the Chronicle of Higher Education used to run on a two-week delay, and I followed that schedule. Now it's got the current link, so suddenly I'm two weeks behind. The January 11 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Larry Shearer is called "Academic Transfers," and the theme entries here are 7- or 8-letter colleges with their anagrams (it's a 15x16 grid). TO MY MIND (55-Across), the best are AMHERST HAMSTER and HAMPTON PHANTOM. I think there's a typo in the clue for REAR: Shouldn't it be [Raise] and not the mysterious [Raisex]?

Jim Leeds' January 18 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Band Master," features the MARCH KING, John Philip Sousa, and four titles of his works that I've never heard of. Fortunately, they're also clued straightforwardly, so they're gettable for non-march fans. Why is there a Sousa work called WASHINGTON POST? Or MANHATTAN BEACH?


January 16, 2008

Thursday, 1/17

NYS 5:34
LAT 4:34
CS 4:17
NYT 3:24

Matt Ginsberg's New York Times puzzle is loaded with the sorts of things I like to see in themeless Friday crosswords—a boatload of 7-letter answers that are fresh and breezy, a pop-culture theme, a few more hits off the pop-culture pipe in the fill, and a bit of a gimmick. The gimmick is that the four two-word theme answers, all movie titles, are split into eight entries spanning four rows in the grid, with the first word clued straightforwardly and the second word unclued. 6-Down tells us to fill in the BLANK, and 55-Down tells us each completed pair is a FILM. The movies are TEQUILA SUNRISE, TREASURE ISLAND, ANIMAL CRACKERS, and BLAZING SADDLES—extra credit for the Q, Z, and K included in the titles.

One of my correspondents has asked why there are other intact movie titles in the fill (THE BLOB, REPO MAN) when the theme is divided movie titles. Were these a distraction or detraction to you? Me, I loved 'em. And the top row suggests (in reverse) THE BLOB ABSORBS, which is sort of what the Blob did, isn't it? I liked that resonance, and [Director Ivan] REITMAN, whose name differs from REPO MAN by just two letters. Along with these, other lively fill includes BOOZE ([Sauce]), SCOURGE ([Plague]), TSURIS (Yiddish for "trouble," or ["Oy vey!" cause]), and the [Risque beachwear] called THONGS. (It's spring break!)

Favorite clues: [Taylor, Wilson, or Harding] for ANN (the store Ann Taylor is not named after anyone); [Saint of dancers] for VITUS (which I know only because Huntington's disease or Huntington's chorea used to be called St. Vitus' dance); [1/64th of a checkerboard, maybe: Abbr.] for SQ. IN. (I taught my son to play checkers this week!); [Ocean liner?] for SAND; and [Ornery sort] for CUSS. The main "Huh?" bit for me: REI is clued as [Defendants, legally], rather than the outdoorsy retailer. I know Latin legalese primarily from crosswords, and this one rarely comes up.

Ethan Cooper's New York Sun crossword, "Times Two, Brute," makes us ply our Roman-numeral arithmetic skills—the last letter in each theme entry is changed to the letter(s) that represents the original letter doubled, if that letter were a Roman numeral. So "COME ON, BE A PAC" doubles the L (50) in PAL to C (100), "MARVELOUS, MARX" doubles the V (5) in MARV to X (10), "CAN I HAVE A WORM" doubles the D (500) in WORD to M (1,000), and MILWAUKEE WII doubles the I (1) in WI (Wisconsin) to II (2). Extra points for including the popular Nintendo Wii game system in a theme entry. Great theme, and a terrific conversion of Roman-numeral hell (e.g., [7th-century date] for DCVI) into Roman-numeral cleverness.

Favorite clues: [___ music (brushback pitch)] for CHIN (hey! a baseball clue I could answer!); [Film title character whose mother dies three minutes into the the film] for Pixar's NEMO; ["High" terror alert level] for ORANGE (hey! I resent that); [Then, in Italian] for POI (a nice switch from [Taro paste], though horribly obscure for us non-Italophones—but the crossings gave me all I needed); [1992 film directed by Stephen Frears] for HERO (since subs aren't called heroes in Chicagoland, I appreciate a break from sandwich clues for HERO); [Arab food containers] for NOSEBAGS (Arab = Arabian horse here); [Chambers romancer] for MALONE (as in Diane Chambers and Sam Malone of Cheers); [Dixie diphthongization] for DRAWL; and [One who might try to sell you a bridge?: Abbr.] for DDS.


The CrosSynergy puzzle is by Bob Klahn today. If you want to defang Klahn (or if you just enjoy his cluing style, as I do), visit the NYT crossword archives for the Klahn puzzles listed here (scroll down), and buy Challenging 30-Minute Crosswords. Today's puzzle is called "Dank Like a Fish," and the theme entries are phrases that start with D and have lost the R that originally followed the D.

David Kahn's LA Times puzzle pays tribute to the late Evel KNIEVEL by embedding EVEL within eight theme answers (two 15s, two 9s, two 7s in the middle, and two 6s—hey, that's a heckuva lot of theme squares!). The theme entries themselves are not especially zippy—they were chosen because they contain the EVEL letter string—but I'm sure Knievel's family won't mind. My favorite clue was for one of the themers: [Indian home] was, I thought, some sort of structure inhabited by Native Americans or by people in India—but no, it's where the Indians play Major League Baseball, CLEVELAND.