March 31, 2008

Tuesday, 4/1

NYS 4:19
NYT 3:42
CS 3:05
LAT 2:54
Tausig tba
Onion—delayed 'til Thursday

Happy April Fools' Day! You know what that means—that's right. Crosswords with holiday themes of some sort. Trip Payne's annual "Wacky Weekend Warrior" puzzle in the Sun is, like all "Weekend Warriors," a Friday puzzle, coming out three days after April Fools' Day. (P.S. If you have a trip coming up, you'll be interested to know that you can download all the Suns through April 18.

I just got a used book from an Amazon-linked seller in the mail today—Stan Kurzban and Mel Rosen's The Compleat Cruciverbalist. Not that I feel the need to begin constructing crosswords with the book's help any time soon—but I'd recently ordered a used copy of an out-of-print childhood favorite, and it smells mildewy. So when I saw that a mint-condition first edition of The Compleat Cruciverbalist was on the market, I figured it would be a good addition to my library. Now I fear I will never read it because it looks so pristine in its plastic jacket. Maybe if I don white cotton gloves and promise to be very careful, I'll let myself leaf through the book. (My husband says I should order a beaten-up copy to actually read.)

The New York Times crossword is by Manny Nosowsky, and the problem with April Fools' Day falling on a Tuesday is that the crossings were so easy, I paid precious little attention to the theme and blithely entered APRIL FOOL in place of APRIL FEEL and NOBODY'S FOOL instead of NOBODY'S FEEL, having not noticed that the FEEL LIKE A FOOL theme interchanged the FEELs and the FOOLs. [Nitwit's swoon?] is FOOL FAINT (changed from feel faint), and [Doing okay as a magician] is FOOLING OKAY. The top and bottom Across theme entries are connected to the central theme entry by pairs of lively 8-letter entries (SWORE OFF and TOOK NOTE, OVERSELL and LIVE WELL), and the longer Down theme entries feed into 5x6 corner sections. Anyone get fooled by [Kind of eyes] and go for GOOGLY instead of GOOGOO? I did. Among my favorite clues was a bit of actual medical/pharmacy terminology, [Four times a day, on an Rx] for QID. Bid = twice a day; tid = three times a day; qd = once a day; and ter = supposed prescription frequency term found only in crosswords. Dr. Nosowsky also includes the ATRIA ([Places in the heart]), the [Belly part] that is the NAVEL (along with its INNIE variety—if there are medical terms for innies and outies, I don't know 'em), and the [Painkiller since ancient times], OPIUM. MIASMA, or [Bad atmosphere], is no longer blamed for diseases like cholera—that theory was so mid-19th century. Another clue I liked is [Red River city], 5 letters...did you say HANOI? No, this time it's FARGO, North Dakota, where I have in fact strolled beside the Red River of the North.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword includes 60 letters of instructions (four 15-letter entries) telling the solver that THE FINAL LETTERS / OF ALL TEN NAMES IN / THIS PUZZLE'S NOTE / SPELL OUT A PHRASE. In Across Lite, the note appears in the Notepad: "This crossword is dedicated to my close personal friends Twyla Tharp, Jennifer Capriati, Michael Chertoff, Yoko Ono, and Bill Gates." Twyla and Tharp end with A and P, and the rest of the names complete the phrase APRIL FOOLS. I feel like I've been fooled, because I was expecting some sort of gimmicky play happening within the grid, as is Patrick's wont. (Just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I asked Patrick, who confirmed that there's no other hidden layer to the puzzle. It's only Tuesday, so alas or fortunately, the dirty tricks must wait.) Favorite clues: [Sandwich that's definitely not glatt] for BLT (bacon isn't kosher, and glatt...well, it has to do with kosher rules, something about smoothness of lungs, and nobody's checking the smoothness of a pig's lungs to check whether it's any kind of kosher since pork is never kosher—unless it's in Chinese food, or so I've heard—so maybe I don't love the clue after all); the cross-referenced [Partner of 2-Down] and [...3-Across] pair, OOH and AAH; [One doing a waggle dance] for BEE; and [Word with France, Jordan, or America] for AIR (I just saw a similar clue a few weeks ago, and still like it). Good to see ROALD DAHL's full name in the grid. I knew that [Jewish holiday in Adar] was PURIM because I'd read SethG's guest post at Jim H's blog—all you need to know about Jewish holidays for crosswords, plus spelling variations in words transliterated from Hebrew.


Jennifer Nutt's LA Times crossword plays JACKS, with four theme entries ending with "___ jacks" words (e.g. SAFE CRACKER -> crackerjacks, SKI JUMPING -> jumping jacks). I think it's been a while since I've seen SPAM clued as [Hormel meat product] rather than as junk e-mail (did you read the article about the epidemiologic mystery at a pork processing plant next door to Hormel?). Is it unfair to feel disappointed that this was a regular theme and not an April Fools special?

Patrick Blindauer's other puzzle for the day, the CrosSynergy crossword called "F*O*O*L-Headed," has an April 1–pertinent theme sans twist. Each theme entry has a letter added at the beginning—F to the first, O's to the second and third, and L to the last. The Etch-a-Sketch toy becomes FETCH A SKETCH for SNL, and live ammunition takes an O to head to a Greek food fight with OLIVE AMMUNITION (you can picture it, can't you?). The [Proofreader's duty?] is OMISSION CONTROL (better than adding an E...), and LOVER LOOKING is the point of the dating site Favorite clues/answers: [Flotsam's counterpart] for JETSAM (I am also fond of the verb jettison); the letter PEE sneaking in as [Capital of Poland?]; and two actresses from Scream—NEVE Campbell and Courteney COX, the latter clued by way of Friends instead.


This week's Onion A.V. Club puzzle wasn't sent out with Ben Tausig's weekly crossword. Why?'ll see why after the puzzle is e-mailed out on Thursday. Hmm. Intriguing. Ben says "Congrats to Francis Heaney for his brilliant effort." Again, hmm.

Ben's Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, "Game On," also marks the opening of the baseball season (like several other puzzles this week) with four theme entries. I think. Two 14-letter and two 9-letter answers obviously contain baseball terms (BALLPARK FIGURE, GET TO FIRST BASE, STRIKE OUT, OFF THE BAT), but there are two other 9-letter Acrosses, SUGARCOAT and "I'M ONTO YOU," that can't possibly be thematic...can they? The Cubs played their home opener yesterday, amid thick fog and off-and-on rain. They lost, but their new player from Japan, Kosuke Fukudome, was 3-for-3 yesterday. (And he's hot.) Now, where was I? Oh, yes. The crossword. Great fill, with CRACKPOT crossing the aforementioned SUGARCOAT, and FOIBLE and ABSOLUT vodka crossing the aforementioned I'M ONTO YOU, which I love and was clued [Words uttered with a wagging finger and narrowed eyes]. Ben plays around a bit with crosswordese, cluing AAR as [Swiss river, and a homonym for 43-Across] but cluing 43-Across merely with [See 40-Across]. That's right—knowing your Great Rivers of Crosswordylvania is your most direct path to getting ARE.


March 30, 2008

Monday, 3/31

LAT 3:13
CS 2:54
NYS 2:51
NYT 2:40 (the applet didn't load until 23 seconds had ticked away)

The New York Times puzzle by Jeff Armstrong is jam-packed with theme entries—eight 8- to 10-letter phrases in which each word can separately follow AIR (36-Across). For example, BASEBALL splits off to make an air base and an air ball, and SHOWTIME yields an air show and airtime. The fill is excellent given the limitations posed by including 69 squares of thematic content—SPLASH, HOLY COW, and DOTCOM are fairly lively, and there are no ugly or awkward spots, no overreliance on proper names or abbreviations, no ARIA, ALOE, ERIE, ERA, OLEO, ERE, OREO, ANTE, or ORE. Was anyone else tempted to AIR out the 7-letter fill answers, TEE SHOT and HOLY COW? I don't know what an air cow would be, exactly, but I'm intrigued. (P.S. Congrats on your NYT debut, Jeff!)

The baseball season is kicking off (so to speak), and Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun crossword, "Getting to Second Base," offers a primer in baseball terminology. Actually, it doesn't educate so much as assume you know the terms—which I don't, but that didn't get in the way of solving. It just made me not grasp all of the theme. LEADING ROLES is a theme entry because of the take a lead sense of the word, I think. And tagging isn't just about getting tagged out (who knew?). SLIDING (SCALE), STEALING (AWAY), WALK, and SAFE were much more familiar to me. Favorite answers/clues: Britney's ex K-FED (Kevin Federline), ANAGRAM clued as [Trenchcoats, to technocrats], and BAGGIES.


Four daft synonyms take center stage in Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Mad About You," with the Across theme entries ending with BATS and NUTS and the Downs beginning with CRAZY and CUCKOO. In the fill, the PREAMBLE is clued as ["We the people" site]; here's the Schoolhouse Rock song that has taught so many 8th graders what they needed to know for their civics test. Plenty of short geography answers today—the Philippine island of LUZON beside the Indonesian island BALI; the African country TOGO and the Caribbean nation HAITI; two cities, LIMA, Peru, and ORAN, Algeria; and UNION clued as a word in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Shall we change the puzzle's title to "Mad About World Geography"?

Joy Frank's LA Times crossword has a "clever" theme—each theme entry begins with a synonym of that word (e.g. SHARP CURVE, QUICK BREAD). Just for kicks, the fill includes RED SQUARE, and I'm trying to think of a theme that would include RED SQUARE among other colored shapes. BLUE CROSS, YELLOW STAR, and...ORANGE RHOMBUS? No, that's too long, and too nonexistent.


Washington Post swan song

Nobody answered my question in the last post about when the last Washington Post Sunday crossword would appear, so I dug up the answer myself: Today's is the last one, so next weekend we'll be short one crossword. The replacement is, I believe, Merl Reagle's puzzle, already a required part of my crossword diet.

Thanks to the many crossword constructors whose entertaining creations have appeared in the Post, and of course thanks to editor Fred Piscop for his years of work on the Post puzzle.

If you hanker for more of Fred's editing style, try these volumes of Washington Post Sunday crosswords.


March 29, 2008

Sunday, 3/30

LAT 9:26
BG 9:07
NYT 7:43
PI hmm, somewhere between 7:30 and 9:00?
WaPo 6:58
CS tba

I'll be out at a movie when 5:00 NYT time rolls around, so let me (1) post about the three Sunday puzzles available in advance and (2) try to remember not to read any comments with NYT spoilers before I do the puzzle this evening.

Henry Hook's Across Lite Boston Globe crossword, "Car Wrecks," has 12 theme entries, some of them stacked (which is a groovy bit of construction, stacking them like that) and all of them touching or crossing at least one other car—rather like a 12-car pile-up on the interstate. Each "car wreck" is the make and model of a currently available car, though I think the FORD FREESTAR was recently discontinued. The clues are anagrams of the make/model, so there are a dozen anagrams to figure out along the way. (Huzzah, anagrams!) These answers include many unusual letter sequences; HYUNDAI SONATA threw me off with the HYU at the start, and the ZUA of ISUZU ASCENDER also addled my head. Some of the theme clues reflect Hook's fondness for the transgressive and name-calling: [RAN SEX TRAINS] (NISSAN XTERRA), [MORONIC PIE] (MINI COOPER), and [UNUSED CRAZIES] (the above ISUZU). The best anagram is [ANDY ON A HIATUS] (the HYUNDAI one). The hot little orange car in the photo is a LOTUS ELISE ([UTILE SOLES]). Given the traffic jam of theme entries, some of the fill is tougher than usual—most NOTABLY (which is 119-Across), AVNET at 4-Down and REDI (of the non-Wip variety) at 65-Across were unfamiliar to me. I really liked the anagram challenge—did you enjoy it too, or is this the sort of puzzle that's no more fun than a quote puzzle to you because you're ignoring the theme clues and relying on the crossings to do the heavy lifting?

I tackled Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Oh, It's You Again," on Friday. Alas, the Across Lite file corrupted itself, and I jotted down my solving time and some notes in the Across Lite Notepad, so my solving time is guesstimated. Each theme entry contains the OU letter sequence twice, except for "COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA," which has three. Among the 11 theme entries are two stacked pairs, as in the Hook puzzle; Merl also likes to show off by stacking theme answers. While I do love the Seinfeld "NO SOUP FOR YOU!" and the Gilligan's Island "A THREE-HOUR TOUR," the other theme entries aren't particularly notable for anything but having a pair of OU's. Is there a regional variance in the order of the "__oulda" words in the center phrase? I always go with "woulda, coulda, shoulda," myself.

Hey, what's the date of the final Sunday Washington Post crossword? How many more weeks before weekend puzzling loses one of its bright spots? This weekend, we still have one, "Classic April Fool's Hoaxes" by Matt and Navarre Ginsberg. One of the nine theme entries made me laugh—POWDERED WATER. Just add water! (This was a Hong Kong April Fool's joke, addressing a water shortage with several approaches, including powdered water. Add one pint of water to the powder and magically get 10 pints of water!) That entry is stacked atop ORANGEADE, and I like to think the combination of the two is basically Tang. SPAGHETTI was the subject of a 1957 hoax saying it was grown in Switzerland; I will confess here that when Barilla or some other pasta/sauce brand ran TV commercials showing people harvesting spaghetti noodles from the trees in the spaghetti orchard, it was so well done, so perfectly filmed in the style of orchard-based orange juice ads, that it went right over my head. How great would it be if we could send e-mail via TELEPATHY? I would also love it if I could blog telepathically. By the time I get home, the urge to document whatever oddball bit of hilarity I encountered has passed, and the internet is poorer for it. Really. Fun theme, Matt and Navarre!


The second annual AAUW Crossword Puzzle Tournament took place this afternoon out east somewhere (Philadelphia, maybe?). JerryR, who has a newborn crossword-related blog, attended and wrote about it. Congrats to Susan Hoffman, who took the top prize. (In the blog's sidebar, Jerry describes himself as "just another obsessive creep." That, of course, is an homage to Daniel Okrent, one of the people featured inWordplay. Showing his detailed written log of his NYT solving times, Okrent explains that he keeps those records "because I'm an obsessive creep" and to document when exactly his mental decline begins. That's among the funnier bits in the movie, if you ask me.)

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword, "Mixed Feelings," takes a different approach to anagrams, with 11 phrases that include anagrams of feelings rather than fully anagrammed theme entries, as in the Hook puzzle. The anagrams are rather incidental to this puzzle as far as solving goes—the theme entries are clued straightforwardly, and if the scrambled feelings weren't circled, the theme would be nearly invisible. It's a pity that the fill worked out with TOENAIL CLIPPERS (TOENAIL anagrams to elation) in the marquee position of the first Across theme entry, because...toenail clippers? CASEY STENGEL feels ecstasy. TELEPHONE has hope. Irina SLUTSKAYA has lust (and I can scarcely believe that SLUT is what shows up in the circled letters!). THIRD GEAR has rage. The POTATO MASHER feels shame, and really, there is no need to be ashamed of mashed potatoes, no matter how much butter and sour cream are mixed in. SPORTS EQUIPMENT feels pique. There's a prideful PINSTRIPED SUIT; empathy in EMPTY-HANDED; boredom in BEDROOM EYES; and love in a PADDED ENVELOPE. In the middle of the grid, 64-Down is PSY., short for psychology, [Subj. that deals with mixed feelings].

Outside the theme, did you know that a [Japanese eel and rice dish] is called UNADON? That a [close overlapping of fugue voices] is called STRETTO? Or that there's an [Amazon parrot] called the ARARA? I didn't. Favorite clues: [Zingers] for INSULTS; [Leaves for lunch?] for SALAD; [K.G.B. predecessor] for OGPU (OGPU is fun to say as a word, it's short for Объединённое государственное политическое управление, and of course I learned of it through crosswords and crosswords alone...but OGPU!); and [Representations of a winged woman holding an atom] for EMMYS (the TV awards). ELOCUTE, clued as [Declaim], has far less of a dictionary presence than elocution; I wonder how many -tion nouns are significantly more common than their associated verbs. I've never seen the SHLEPP spelling ([Lug: Var.]) before; I just bookmarked this Yiddish-English glossary (which lists shlep, shleppen, and shlepper, but not shlepp) for future reference. I hear that the applet was showing an incomplete clue for 117-Down earlier—the correct clue for QUO is [Status ___], not [Status].

Updated again:

Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" offers a Scrabbly good time. Each quadrant has its share of uncommon letters—the MOD SQUAD and GAZPACHO in the northwest, clued as [Captain Adam Greer's group, with "The"] and [Soup served chilled]; the BRONZE MEDAL ([Olympics award]) crossing a REFLEX like a [Knee jerk, for one] down in the southwest; SARAJEVO ([1984 Olympics city]) spanning the southeast; and CALL IT QUITS up in the last corner. There's a pair of TV military clues—Gomer Pyle was in the USMC and Sergeant Bilko was a MSGT. Two short entries that touch at their corners, THE and BIRD, are the [nickname for '70s pitcher Mark Fidrych, who was said to resemble a big Sesame Street critter]. I'm not sure why Rich opted for an F in the word above SARAJEVO—[___ end (remnant)] is a perfect clue for TAG (tag end is defined as "remnant"), and TERN, the gull-like bird, is a valid, if dull, crossword answer. FERN is nice, and FAG end is also in the dictionary, but it can be a tad jarring to see FAG in the crossword grid. I do like the fact that this usage has Middle English etymology (Middle English fagge, fag, broken thread in cloth, something that hangs loose).

The syndicated LA Times crossword by Ed Early is called "Star Century," and until I made it to the bottom of the puzzle I had no idea what the theme was. ALL ABOUT EVE—that's a movie. All the other asterisked clues? Didn't ring a bell for me. It turns out BETTE (121-Across) DAVIS (122-Across) was born 100 years ago this week, and the theme entries were the titles of 10 of her films (nine of which were completely unfamiliar to me). STORM CENTER isn't meteorological at all—it's a movie about a '50s librarian who stands tall against the anti-Communist folks who want a book removed from the library's collection. Anti-censorship librarians kick ass! There should be more movies about them. The non-theme fill slowed me down, particularly some of the shorter answers. [Noggin] is NOB? Nob is also slang for "penis," apparently. [Somewhat world-weary] is JADISH; haven't seen that formulation before. [Guitarist Cline of the band WIlco] has a lot of nerve having a Scandinavian name like NELS with a non-Scandinavian surname. [The Beatles' "___ Blues"] fills in its blank with YER, and that Y crosses a Y in LAY BY, which wasn't the first answer that came to mind for [Save]. I was fine with [___ Tzu: small dog] because I know how to spell SHIH-Tzu, but not everybody does:


March 28, 2008

Saturday, 3/29

Newsday 8:34
NYT 6:07
LAT 5:47
CS 2:45

Shot in the dark/cry for help here: Anyone know why Yahoo keeps sending me this—

We noticed that you are accessing email using non-secure settings in your email software.

We would like to ensure that your AT&T Yahoo! Member ID, password, and email messages are transmitted securely between your mail software (such as Outlook or Outlook Express) and the AT&T Yahoo! Mail servers. In order to meet this need, please enable SSL via the instructions that are available on the Help site.

Since multiple email notifications have already been sent out about this, we request that you please make the necessary changes immediately. Remember, you need to make these changes if you want to continue to send/receive email using a mail client.

—no matter how many times I make the requested changes? I'm getting my and mail forwarded to my gmail account (where I've incorporated Yahoo's desired settings), so I'm not even using Yahoo's POP/SMTP servers for the mail in my Mac's Mail application. It's all coming from my gmail account now.

Secondary Yahoo question: If my gmail spam folder used to get about 50 spam messages a day, pretty much all addressed to my Yahoo addresses, why did that drop to one or two a day this week? Did Yahoo suddenly get better at spam filtering, or is it withholding mail from me because it thinks I am not cooperating with its SSL demands?

Thanks for any counsel you may have to offer.

Now, on with the crosswords.

The Saturday New York Times puzzle is by Mike Nothnagel. I didn't love it as much as most of Mike's puzzles because I had trouble tuning into the right wavelength tonight. (I blame Yahoo!) I slowed myself down by entering SHORT for [In ___ (briefly)] rather than A WORD and TUPELO for [Seat of Shawnee County] instead of TOPEKA, and by sloppy typing (sure, you see BUZZLIGGHTYEA is wrong right away, but you still have to back up and fix it). Favorite answers: the intersecting BUZZ LIGHTYEAR ([Cinematic captain of Star Command]) and SWEATING BULLETS ([Very worried]); PSHAWS ([Concerned dismissals]); WHIZ KID ([Small wonder?]); HATE MAIL ([Form of intimidation]); HARD TIME ([It's done in the slammer]); and EAR-TO-EAR ([Very wide, in a way], like a grin). RAMSES II ([Son and successor of Seti I]) also looks cool in the grid.

My favorite of Mike and Will Shortz's clues: [Linebacker Brian banned from the 1987 Orange Bowl for steroid use] for BOSWORTH (speaking of steroids, see what happens when a writer tries to profile Jose Canseco—it's funny); [Sports stat specification] for CAREER; [Claptrap] for ROT; [Calls in the field] for CAWS (I considered OUTS); [Neighbor of Telescopium] for ARA (3-letter constellation? It's almost always ARA—and crosswords have taught me that ARA looks like an altar and is near Telescopium, Scorpius, Norma, and Pavo); [1/192 qt.] for TSP; [Point and click, e.g.] for VERBS (that trick didn't fool me this time); [Series finale?] for ET CETERA; [Caped combatant] for TOREADOR (I figured it would be some superhero); [Children's Bargain Town, today] for TOYS R US; [Indy sights since 1911] for PACE CARS (I've seen three different ex-pace cars around town in recent years); [Lines on planes] for the geometric AXES, crossing ETDS with an airplane-related clue; [It may rain in these] for SHEETS; [Start putting stuff away?] for DIG IN; and [Words said when one's hand is shaky?] for "I'M OUT" (a hand in cards, that is).


I've only got time for the LA Times crossword this morning—10:00 breakfast plans will take me either to IHOP (corn cakes!) or to m. henry (blackberry bliss cakes, which are indeed blissful). But imsdave issued a cry for help in the comments. Let's see...the northwest corner? I like the apt intersection of HOT AIR ([Just talk]) and TALK SHOWS ([Gas outlets?]). Had no idea where [Divorce parties, perhaps] was pointing until the crossings suggested MEDIATORS. Not sure why [Disapproving sound] is SSS; usually it's TSK or TUT, but it couldn't be [Air leak sound] because AIR is part of the fill nearby. [Manx mews] was not British meowing at all—Mews is a British term for a row of STABLES. Favorite word in the grid: BAMBOOZLE ([Trick]). Kinda like FM BANDS ([They range from 88 to 108 MHz]) and KOALA BEAR, too. Favorite clue: [Bust measurements?] for KILOS of illicit drugs. Metric also chimes in with TEN-K, clued as [About 6.2 mi.]. BE GOOD is hardly [Mom's admonition]—that is 100% ET's admonition. Who remembered that an [Armored helmet] is called an ARMET? Not I. We've also got [Toot] and [Toots] for BINGE and the pet name HON. The northeast corner dragged a bit when I put in OUT OF TUNE for [Like junior high orchestras, at times] rather than the correct NOT IN TUNE. I like my answer better, but James BARRIE insisted on that I, so out went NOT IN.

Updated again:

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Hidden Role Models," hides a HERO (63-Across) within each theme entry (as in MIDDLE OF THE ROAD). The crossings in Mike Nothnagel's NYT puzzle duped me into filling in TUPELO where it didn't belong—and where it did belong was in this crossword, clued as [Presley was born there]. I like the Greek O words: OMICRONS and Aeschylus's ORESTEIA. [Seuss's "Horton Hears ___"] A WHO gets a shout-out here—we saw the movie last week, and it was cute. None of the sly grown-up references usually tossed into cartoons as a sop to parents—just a good, Seussian cartoon that holds the interest of kids and parents alike.

Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was the day's toughest crossword. For this 72-word grid, 53 clues contained just one or two words, so the difficulty arises in figuring out which nuance of a word is needed. Nearly all the answers are single words, so you have very little of the "wait, is this a two- or three-word phrases?" pondering. For example:
  • 51A [One way to tell a story] for HULA—not an adverb like "aloud" or verb like "recount"
  • 18A [Volumes] for AMOUNTS—not books, not sound levels
  • 26A [Dig] for SLUR—the noun, not the verb meaning "to delve" or "to like" or "to understand"
  • 31A [Sources of culture] for YOGURTS—not museums
  • 52A [Receive] for GREET—not the opposite of "give"
  • 55A [Monitor of a sort] for METER—not a person such as a hall monitor
  • 29D [Ram] for ARIES—the zodiac sign/constellation rather than the animal or the verb
  • 42D [Still] for SILENCE—not the adjective, nor the noun sense of a distillery device, nor the adverb meaning "all the same" 

My favorite clue was [Literally, "little house"] for CASINO. I tried the Spanish CASITA, which didn't pan out. You can read the interesting word history of CASINO, from the Italian, here. And my favorite answer was the verb BIRD-DOG, clued as [Watch carefully]. Elsewhere in the deceptively animal kingdom is [Racer relative] for ASP—somewhere along the way, likely via crosswords, I learned that a racer is a kind of snake, and so, of course, is an asp.


March 27, 2008

Friday, 3/28

Whopping Weekend Warrior (Sun) 16:46
LAT 6:02
NYS 5:59
NYT 5:46
CHE 5:02
Jonesin' 4:14
CS 2:37

WSJ 10:02

Last week, the New York Sun published a section with a "Whopping Weekend Warrior," a jumbo 25x25 themeless grid filled by Patrick Berry. The middle of the puzzle is a ribbon of about two dozen interlaced 7-letter entries. The average word length is between 6 and 7 letters, and there are far more long entries than there are 3- and 4-letter ones. So it's really a masterful construction with boatloads of wide-open white space. I counted five people in the grid with their first and last names together. Favorite clues: ["Peace" time?] for the SIXTIES; the adjective [Expert in government policy] for WONKY; [Game featuring a Pop-O-Matic] for TROUBLE; [Player's choice?] for musical INSTRUMENT; [Set right] for INDENT; [You have to lay out a lot to get them] for SUNTANS; [On a plane] for EQUAL; [Good beating] for PULSE; [Gets stock from] for BOILS; [Prospector's laborer] for PACK MULE; [Like chew toys, often] for SLOBBERY; [They're often put on the bench] for BOTTOMS; and [One for all, say] for a ROUND of drinks. If you have an abiding affection for themeless crosswords, don't be daunted by the size of this one. It's almost triple the size of a 15x15 crossword, so I think it maps out to about a Friday NYT level, not a wicked Saturday level. (And isn't it a shame that there aren't more outlets for jumbo themelesses? I think the Sun has one each spring, and Games World of Puzzles a Frank Longo's 21x27 in each issue, and Games has the Ornery 25x25 in each issue. Want more!)

Barry Silk constructed the New York Times crossword, a smooth 68-worder. I skimmed through all of the Across clues for the top of the puzzle and found no gimmes, so I looked at the Downs and started with [How much of genius is inspiration, according to Edison], or ONE PERCENT (perspiration's the other 99%). The whole upper and left zones were the most resistant for me. Favorite morsels: [What seeds may be found in] for a TOURNEY, like the NCAA basketball going on right now); the [Stadium snack] that is a SOFT PRETZEL; [Time to burn?] for SUMMER; [Part of some complexes] for NEUROSIS (hmm, not an apartment complex, and not something from chemistry); [Symbol of limpness] for WET RAG (how long before the Cialis folks start using the wet rag image?) right before [Symbols of authority] (royal ORBS); [Where to order a cheesesteak "wit" or "witout"] for SOUTH PHILLY; [Reprimand lead-in] for "SEE HERE"; [Make a point of] for SHARPEN; the [W.W. II shelter] called a QUONSET HUT; SWAP MEET ([Cousin of a flea market]); [Like typhoid bacteria, often] for WATERBORNE (infectious disease epidemiology!); and basketball's SIXTH MAN, the [Best substitute on the court].

If you're wondering why the hell [Six bells, nautically] means THREE P.M., cast your jaundiced eye on this explanation of nautical time. Apparently six bells could also signal 3, 7, or 11 a.m. or 11 p.m. Who is ROSALIA, [Patron saint of Palermo]? She lived in a cave. Probably not much of a people person, eh? Can anyone explain how I ended up with EYECUP for [Spectacle] for a while? It's an EYEFUL.

According to this article about Philly cheesesteaks, Philly is also known for the SOFT PRETZEL; I'll bet you a dollar that Barry Silk's original clue tied the pretzel to Philadelphia rather than stadiums.

The Friday New York Sun puzzle is a rebus puzzle by Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette. This "Good-Looking Crossword" has nine [EYE] rebus squares distributed among seven symmetrically placed Across entries; one symmetrical pair of entries has an extra pair of eyes (SEE EYE TO EYE and EYE FOR AN EYE). Favorite clues/answers: [Baseball Hall of Famer Traynor] for PIE (this one is now a gimme because Rex was so effusive about Pie Traynor last year); ["Our Character, Our Future" author Keyes] for ALAN (because Alan Keyes is a nut); [Said three times, Fat Albert's greeting] for HEY; and [Lobster peduncle] for EYESTALK.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "Box Set," recasts phrases that end with a -CKS so that they end with -X breakfast cereals (which are sold in boxes). [Swishes one's spoon around the cereal bowl?] is TURNS A FEW TRIX, for example. Favorite entries: DADS-TO-BE, THIN CRUST pizza, and the somewhat Scrabbly FAUXHAWK and LOCKJAW. Favorite clues: [Large guy who can fit in narrow spaces] for SANTA; [Diet ad caption] foro AFTER; and [Bath butt] (as in Bath, England) for ARSE.

I thought about continuing on to solve the Wall Street Journal puzzle tonight, but I began to nod off whilst doing the Chronicle of Higher Education crossword by Larry Shearer. "They're Animals!" is the theme and the theme entries are people whose first names (or nicknames) are beasties: There's TIGER WOODS and BEAR BRYANT, representing sports; BAT MASTERSON, about whom I couldn't have told you a thing (Wikipedia says he was Wyatt Earp's deputy at one point); and the amphibian NEWT GINGRICH. Did you know that the Pacific nation of Tuvalu used to be called the ELLICE Islands? I didn't.


I figured out the trick in Lee Glickstein's LA Times crossword quickly, but that didn't mean I charged through the puzzle. The first few Across clues meant nothing to me, and one sounded themey, so I looked at 1-Across's opposite number, 62-Across. [Reverend honored in this puzzle]? Well, the most famous reverend linked to wordplay is SPOONER, and the other five theme entries were all spoonerisms (the initial sounds of two words are swapped). [Reverend turns wage issuer into Mother's Day minister?] is MAY PASTOR, a spoonerism of paymaster, which is a word I've never heard anywhere but from my grandmother. A calm sea changes spelling more dramatically to become PSALM KEY. The elegance of this theme is that each of the spoonerized answers is churchy—there are a PEW, MASS, and church SPIRE in addition to the PASTOR and PSALM. I'm guessing that COOL PEW (pool cue) was Lee's seed entry. Overall, fairly tough cluing and fill, I thought. [Laughed mockingly] is the seldom-used FLEERED; [Gets into shape] is MOLDS; [Storage sites] are DISKS; [National Soccer Hall of Fame city] is ONEONTA. My favorite clues: [The last thing a fish might eat?] for BAIT; [One of 109 in Vatican City] for ACRE; [Like some retreats] for HASTY (as in "beat a hasty retreat"); and [Back supports?] for PATS on the back.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Social Group," is mighty easy for a Friday puzzle. (The CrosSynergy puzzles seem to run at roughly a Tuesday or Wednesday NYT difficulty level Monday through Saturday—but the other Friday puzzles are tougher so this one's like a warmup.) The four theme entries begin with words that can follow CLUB (65-Across, the last Across answer). CLUB STEAK and CLUB SANDWICH, yes. CLUB CARD and CLUB ROOM seem less natural to me. I don't know what those are, exactly. One semi-nit: SERB is clued as [Kosovo native]. According to this page, 92% of Kosovars are ethnically Albanian while 5.3% are Serbs. The U.S. now recognizes Kosovo as an independent state and not a province of Serbia.

I always enjoy a good Harvey Estes 21x21 puzzle. The title of his Wall Street Journal crossword, "That's It, End of Story," echoes Harvey's fondness for cryptic crosswords: Each of the seven theme entries has ITY added within it, or IT and the Y that's at the end of storY. Favorite theme entries: "No prob, man" becomes the superhero lacking in moral rectitude, NO PROBITY MAN; the song "C.C. Rider" becomes CITY-CITY RIDER, an [Interurban commuter?]; in an uproar becomes an INANITY UPROAR—and doesn't the world have too many inanity uproars? Especially in a political season. And on the internet. And in the world of reality TV.


Thursday, 3/27

NYS 5:30
NYT 4:03
LAT 4:02
CS 3:08

The New York Times puzzle by Joe Krozel offers a trio of CRANEs—the long-necked LARGE WADING BIRD, STRETCH ONE'S NECK, and NOVELIST STEPHEN Crane. Fill highlights: Cary Grant, the male WAR BRIDE; PLOTZ ([Faint, in slang]); GINNIE MAE ([Federally guaranteed security]); PRENUP; and the [Oscar-winning song from "A Star Is Born"], EVERGREEN. Oddball clues: [A good breakfast, but a bad supper, according to Francis Bacon] for HOPE; ["Donald's Cousin ___" (1939 Disney cartoon)] for GUS. Clues I liked: [Skates on thin ice, e.g.] for DARES; [Back] for FINANCE; [Start of many a story] for DATELINE. Crosswordese on the march: OLIO, ANIS ([Black cuckoos]!), ERNE ([Marine eagle]!), APSE.

The "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the New York Sun is by David Kahn. There's a mini-theme, two 15-letter French thespians who were in Loulou (whatever that is). Does anyone like GERARD DEPARDIEU? His head is ginormous. Strangest-looking fill: GOONAJAG. That parses to a four-word phrase, GO ON A JAG, but I like to think of it as one word. Favorite clues: [Causes to list] for SLANTS (I like that third listed list); [1962 movie whose title means "danger" in Swahili] for HATARI (Have we seen this trivia in a clue before? How did I know the answer?); Harry [Potter, e.g.] for TEENAGER; ["The Unparalleled Adventure of One ___ Pfaall" (Edgar Allan Poe short story)] for HANS (not a story I'd heard of of before, so I read it online tonight—if you read it and you're feeling bogged down, skip to the end); [Back in California, perhaps] for a RAIDER in the NFL; [1976 title role for Raquel Welch] for JUGS (the movie was Mother, Jugs & Speed); [High cry?] for "LAND HO!"; [Turkey part] for ASIA MINOR; and [It's parked under Wayne Manor] for BATMOBILE (you know, part of this summer's Batman sequel was filmed right here in my neighborhood—gotta see the movie!).


Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword includes seven theme entries, BOARD plus six compound words or two-word phrases in which both components can precede BOARD to generate a dozen other phrases or compound words. For example, IRONING OUT splits out for an ironing board and the word outboard. I'm not wild about the theme although it's technically adept—this sort of theme tends not to set off the amusement receptors in my brain. BLACKHEAD (blackboard, headboard) is pretty gross fill, and it reminds me of this evocative zit-squeezing video (no, really). I like the corners of 9-letter entries (two fill alongside one theme). There are a couple mystery Russian names: [Nordic skier Smetanina, first woman to win 10 Winter Olympic medals) for RAISA (she's not Nordic—she just does Nordic skiing) and [1970s to '90s Russian cosmonaut Vladimir] TITOV. I also had no idea that ELDON was the [Iowa city where Grant Wood's "American Gothic" house is located]. Can you be a city with fewer than 1,000 residents?

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Petite Four," has four theme entries that begin with the synonyms SLIM, THIN, NARROW, and SLIGHT. More than that, I cannot say—I have an appointment in 30 minutes and I haven't taken a shower yet. Gotta run!


March 25, 2008

Wednesday, 3/26

Tausig 4:11
Onion 3:55
NYS 3:45
NYT 3:19
LAT 3:17
CS 2:41

Hmm, the Tausig and Onion A.V. Club puzzles didn't come out via e-mail on Tuesday, when they're normally delivered. Maybe Wednesday. I will not liken them to Godot until Wednesday evening.

Michael Langwald had the Tuesday LA Times puzzle, and now the Wednesday New York Times crossword—his NYT debut. The theme involves famous people whose last names are homophones for cooking-related words, such that [name]'s [food] sounds like [first name] [verb]'s [food]. So we have actor PETER BOYLE'S STEW, singer GLENN FREY'S EGGS, and singer SAM COOKE'S STEAK.

** We interrupt this broadcast to note that the Tausig and A.V. Club puzzles just reached my in-box (will do them Wednesday), and that my browser just crashed but one of the things I like best about Blogger is its autosaving of drafts every minute. I lost nothing in the browser crash! **

Favorite clues in the NYT crossword: [Angered and enraged, e.g.] for ANAGRAMS; [Word before luck or cluck] for DUMB; [Clinton cabinet member satirized by Will Ferrell] for Janet RENO ("Now dance!"); and [It may be under your hat] for SECRET (ah, yes, I remember that day about 12 years ago when my division's executive V.P. told me a corporate secret and told me to keep it under my hat—the one and only time I've received the hat request).

A dear friend asked me what the heck the theme was in the New York Sun puzzle by Alex Boisvert. It was a pretty easy crossword for a mid-week Sun puzzle, except for figuring out the theme after I was done. Did you find the theme to be too subtle for a Wednesday, or wonderfully subtle, or so obvious you're a little embarrassed for me that it took me a while to identify it? The title is "Post Post," and the vertical entry FOURLETTERWORDS is said to describe the last parts of the four theme entries, collectively. Those ending words are CARRIER, PERFECT, BOX, and OPENER (BOX is part of THE JUICE BOX, a great nickname for a ballpark with naming rights belonging to a juice company). That vertical entry isn't FOUR-LETTER WORDS, hyphenated, but rather, FOUR "LETTER" WORDS: letter carrier, letter-perfect, letterbox, and letter opener. Aha! My favorite entries were brand names: SUZY-Q snack cakes (not to be confused with Suzi Quatro), VW BUG, and CUERVO tequila; brands are also represented by IHOP, BOSE, EDDIE Bauer, AMCS (cinemas), TRIX, and the clue for BRA. Favorite clues: [Die across the border?] for LES (die in German is feminine or plural "the," and plural "the" in French is LES); the two pachyderm clues for BABAR and a HIPPO; [Credit, informally] for PROPS; and [Bizet's brother] for FRERE (French for "brother," that's all).


Super-easy Wednesday CrosSynergy puzzle from Martin Ashwood-Smith. The "Fine Dining" theme entries are phrases that begin with the words BITING, CHEWING, and EATING, but none of the phrases are about the intake of aliment. I like the name density in the opening corner, where JONAS Salk crosses two names that were bigger in the '80s, JOBETH Williams and OLIVIA Newton-John. Favorite clue: [Level the playing field?] for MOW the grass.

I like the LA Times crossword by Gary Steinmehl today. The last section of the puzzle I filled in was the upper right, which is where the tie-it-all-together answer was—and before I saw that, I didn't realize that there were also two 7-letter theme entries, nor what the theme was. What links TWEETYBIRD, MARVIN GARDENS on a Monopoly board, and a SMILEY FACE? And also relates to the ONE BALL in pool and PIKACHU from Pokemon? They are all YELLOW (16-Down)! Of course. Now it's obvious. Au courant clue: [Center of Phoenix?] for Shaquille O'NEAL, recently traded from Miami. It's probably against somebody's rules to have both ANIMAL clued as [Orwellian farmer] and an ["Animal House" house] clue, but you know what? The Orwell thing made me think of Animal Farm, so I wanted to see if BARN would work in lieu of FRAT house. (We all know about the "aha" moment in crosswords, but there are also "d'oh" moments.)

I'm heading to the gym now, so I'll get to the Tausig puzzle and Deb Amlen's Onion crossword later this morning.

Updated again:

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well puzzle was most enjoyable. "The Hidden Persuaders" are his subliminal ads, brand names found BACKWARDS as words in the other four theme entries. Larry Flynt can be called a SMUT PEDDLER, and Tums antacids are in there backwards. Evian water's NAIVE backwards; the BOXER SHORTS have Stroh's beer; and MAPS is Spam meat product backwards. I think I knew that Evian and naive were a pair, but I never noticed the other three. SHORTS is a particularly nice find, in my opinion. Twenty-six of the fill entries are 6 or 7 letters long, with plenty of goodies among them: PALE ALE, BAND-AID, TRAIPSE, MAH-JONG, and intersecting baseball pitches HEATER and SPITTER. Favorite clues: [Something caught in the act?: Abbr.] for STD; [Handheld console, for short] for PSP (that's the PlayStation Portable that my kid has—hooray, a video game answer I actually knew!); and ["Damn it!" alternatives] for D'OHS. I don't really like KIX as a [Corn Pops competitor] because while they are both breakfast cereals, one is a guilty pleasure (mmm, I do enjoy a bowl of Corn Pops—for an extra flavor kick, splash a couple drops of OJ on top of that cereal with milk) and one is pretty guilt-free (or as guilt-free as a major-brand non-organic cereal can be).

Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club crossword celebrates Easter with theme entries starting with BUNNY, EGG, CHICK, and BASKET. I like that BUNNY SLOPE. CHICK MAGNET, and BASKETCASE have exactly nothing to do with the symbols of Easter. Look what's in the fill—a GONAD! Clued as [Testicle, e.g.]. Nothing wrong with that. Parts is parts, after all. Favorite clues: [Laptop item?] for NAPKIN; [TV show featuring "The Others"] for LOST; [Out of gear?] for NUDE; and the verb phrase [Reference books?] for READ. Isn't that last one terrific? Favorite entry: "OH, I DUNNO."


March 24, 2008

Tuesday, 3/25

NYS 4:42
CS 3:34
NYT 3:15
LAT 3:06
Tausig tba
Onion tba

Wow, I don't quite know how I finished the Tuesday NYT and Sun puzzles tonight. I tucked my son in (making sure the tooth he finally lost in Florida was safely stashed beneath his pillow for the tooth fairy) and promptly fell asleep. An hour or an hour and a half later, I awoke for crosswords. It wasn't a refreshing nap—rather, it was an amuse bouche for the sleepy brain, whetting its appetite for a full course of dreams.

The New York Times puzzle by Steve Salmon plays a densely packed homophone game. The vertical MORNING MOURNING ([Wake at dawn?]) anchors the theme, with two 10-letter theme entries crossing it and four more (9 letters apiece) heading Down. I wonder if tomorrow's puzzle will also have more than the usual allotment of theme squares, like this one and Monday's. Not a hard theme, but kinda fun.

It took my sleepy head a while to understand how the theme entries in Lee Glickstein's New York Sun crossword, "Send in the Clones," worked. Was that tricky for you, too, or am I just not fully awake? Each of the base phrases for the five theme entries adopts a PC (as in an IBM clone PC), altering the meaning. The goon squad becomes a GOP CON SQUAD ([Republican dirty tricksters?]), "Proud Mary" is a PROUD MAP CRY (["I found it in the atlas!"]), and the Miami Heat turns into a jazz-loving MIAMI HEPCAT. Favorite clues: [Fade, e.g.] for HAIRDO; [Play opener?] for FORE (now, does that mean "Fore!" opens the play of golf, or that it's the beginning of foreplay?); [Oscar-winning role for Hoffman] for CAPOTE (oh! Philip Seymour Hoffman, not Dustin Hoffman—Dustin won for Rain Man and Kramer vs. Kramer); ["Now you've done it!"] for UH-OH; and [Split components] for bowling PINS.


I woke up quite refreshed this morning, so that pre-bedtime nap paid off eventually. Just not last night when it impeded my consciousness.

In Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Catching Up," each theme entry's base phrase catches an UP. [Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor?] are an OLD KING COUPLE. (No, they weren't a couple, as they lived about 200 years apart. They were just a couple of English kings of old.) I especially like CATSUP AND DOGS from a hotdog vending cart. And I like that DUPING BATS derives from dingbats. Interesting fill: G-SEVEN (though I don't think I've seen the 7 spelled out, it seems to be crossword convention that that's kosher, as with VH-ONE); "YOU GO, GIRL"; TO AND FRO.

Michael Langwald's LA Times crossword has a BLACKJACK theme in which the other four theme entries (clues asterisked) end with blackjack actions: HIT, STAND, DOUBLE, and SPLIT. The clues were easy and required no blackjack knowledge (the theme entries have non-card contexts, such as BANANA SPLIT and TAXI STAND), though, so zip-zip, it's an easy Tuesday puzzle.


March 23, 2008

Monday, 3/24

NYS 3:22
NYT 3:10
CS 2:58
LAT 2:20

David Kahn's New York Times crossword pays tribute to the anniversary of the day ELVIS was inducted into the Army 50 years ago. This is one of those tribute themes I have so little interest in...but you know what was even less interesting? When I flew to the crossword tournament a few weeks ago, the airline magazine crossword took as its theme "things that happened in 1958." I forget who constructed it, but the theme clues were simply dates; as one not yet alive and reading the headlines in 1958, it was as flat and "aha"-free as a quote puzzle. I reckon [3/24/58] was one of the clues, as Elvis's induction was one of the theme entries. Here, ELVIS takes center stage. He was stationed in WEST GERMANY, where he met COLIN POWELL. He got a HAIRCUT and made G.I. BLUES. He was in KING CREOLE just before the Army, and his fans may have been "ALL SHOOK UP" (an Elvis song) by his enlistment. He began as a PRIVATE and left as a SGT, and recorded for RCA. So that's an impressive count of 10 theme entries...none of which I care about. Elvis didn't come to my attention until he was garishly clad Fat Elvis, so... At least this puzzle's pale, bloated belly contains lots of white space, plenty of 6- to 10-letter entries. (Cruciverbally speaking, a pale, bloated belly is a good thing. So are pale, bloated corners, but I can't think of a good anatomical reference for those.)

Huh. This is the second time in a week that the Ogden Porter (i.e., Peter Gordon) byline has appeared atop the New York Sun puzzle. For the past few years, that's been a rare occurrence—there's the annual Oscar-nominated movie puzzle, and maybe an occasional filler in the schedule here or there. Peter used to construct a lot in his NYT days (his many NYT puzzles are collected in book form), but he seems to have been focusing his efforts on editing crosswords rather than making them from scratch. Here's hoping the two recent Porter puzzles presage a construction resurgence. Anyway: The Monday puzzle is called "Instrumentalists," and the theme entries are famous people whose last names are also musical instruments. BRIAN PICCOLO waited years for enough other people to join his party, and here are baseball's STEVE SAX and FRANK VIOLA, 19th century politician JOHN BELL (a wealthy slaveholder who lost his race for the presidency to Abraham Lincoln), and now architect RENZO PIANO (who designed the New York Times' new building and has gotten a lot of prominent gigs in the U.S. of late). Aptly, ABE Lincoln and the CSA (the Confederacy) also appear in the puzzle to supplement JOHN BELL. Hottest fill: ANN B. DAVIS (Alice of The Brady Bunch); JARJAR Binks atop OLE OLE; CORN-FED opposite PTOLEMY; and a BALD PATE.


Zipped through the LA Times puzzle by Mike Peluso, thanks to the easy-peasy theme. Once it became apparent that the second theme entry would follow the same structure as the first, ASHES TO ASHES, zoom-zoom, the rest were easy to fill in. Are there other 5-letter words that would qualify for this theme? We've got ASHES, COVER, COAST, and HEART phrases. Ooh! CHEEK TO CHEEK would also fit the theme.

I didn't see what the theme was in Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy crossword while solving the puzzle. Isn't there something great about a meaty Sunday puzzle or a themed late-week NY Sun puzzle in which you can't quite finish unless you understand what the theme is? "Exit Poles" was easy enough that grasping the theme was optional. Each theme phrase ends with a "___ pole" word—GREEN BEAN gives us a beanpole; TRUE NORTH, the North Pole. I like that three are literal poles, tall straight thingies (with pole derived from the Latin palus, meaning "stake"), while the North Pole goes for a different word altogether (derived from the Greek polos, meaning "axis, sky"). Yes, I know I've said elsewhere that themes that include three of one thing and one outlier less elegant, but this one sent me into the land of etymology, and I'm always glad for that.


March 22, 2008

Sunday, 3/23

NYT about 9:00
BG about 9:00
WaPo about 8:45
Going Too Far 8:21
PI 7:24
LAT 6:29
CS 3:27

You know what? I have a typo or error somewhere in my New York Times crossword, and I don't feel like looking for it. (Oh, wait, there it is! YUURE for YOURE. My applet time says 20:18, but that's a lie. A lie, I say!) It's late, I just got back home after eight days of spring break, the bathroom was painted while we were away so we had to clean up and re-equip the bathroom, and nobody's gone shopping for Easter Bunny stuff yet. So a grid the applet won't accept is fine with me. "Common Interests," by Robert W. Harris, has eight phrases that are directly associated with half the clue and sort of punnily connected to the other half. For example, the common interests of [Electrical engineers and news anchors?] are CURRENT EVENTS. The order of the two clue parts seems random, rather than sticking with straightforward first, punny second. I like the 7x7 corners in the upper left and lower right, lots of white space. (Edited to add: According to Jim, this is Harris's debut. Congrats!)

I solved the Across Lite Boston Globe crossword, "What's My Line," on the plane, with the laptop on my husband's tray table because the yob in front of me opted to recline his seat into my airspace (I am morally opposed to reclined seatbacks when it's not sleepy-time), getting a sideways crick in my back. What does that have to do with the puzzle? Nothing. The 12 theme entries hinge on the clues—each clue is a "___ line" phrase, split into separate words pointing toward a phrase that might be such a line. Baseline becomes [Base line?], which is WHO'S ON FIRST. An assembly line becomes [Assembly line?], or INSERT A INTO B.

Mel Rosen's Washington Post puzzle, "Roommates," slaps together two "___ room" words, ditches the "room" part, and reclues accordingly. Elbow room and a storeroom join forces as ELBOW STORE, [Where to buy pasta?], for example. Wiggle room and work room contribute to WIGGLE WORK, having to do with belly-dancing. These and eight other theme entries take up plenty of grid space. Actor Armand ASSANTE is in the puzzle; in strip poker, is it possible to have an ass ante?


Easy themeless offering from Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily in the CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge." Two triple-stacks of 15-letter phrases amid lots of 3- and 4-letter words that are mostly not too tough to figure out, and once you've filled in one or two of the 15s, you've got a lot of footholds to charge through the rest of the puzzle.

Also in the easy vein, the syndicated LA Times crossword, "Strike Effects," by David Kwong and Kevan Choset. Each theme entry is a TV show's title with a letter removed, changing one word into another. For example, [Show about a castaway's wrath?] is THE LONE ANGER (The Lone Ranger). The Down answer in the bottom right corner is WRITERS, [Recent strikers who literally account for today's missing theme letters]. That's right: The first theme show is missing a W (DESIGNING OMEN), the second an R (FAMILY MATTES), the third an I (MARRED WITH CHILDREN), and so on through T, E, R, and S. I like the play on the multiple meanings of strike—the union members were on strike, and the letters are struck out.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "IQ Test," assembles a batch of phrases that contain IQ, such as THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE and UNIQUELY QUALIFIED. Lots of theme entries, some of 'em long, many of them intersecting to make a lattice through the grid. The theme itself isn't particularly entertaining, though I do like to see a bunch of Qs in the grid, but I admire the way the theme entries interconnect.

Updated again:

This weekend's second Sunday puzzle in the NYT is Eric Berlin's latest "Going Too Far" puzzle. The clues aren't so hard and answers aren't at all obscure, but it takes a while to fill the grid because you're not sure of the length of each entry until you get some of those gray squares filled in by entries that "go too far." I didn't try piecing together the quote (which occupies the gray squares) until the end, when I needed the final letter to tell me the first letter of the [___ Canal, joining Lake Huron with Lake Ontario]. The quote ends with a T, so it's the TRENT Canal. Hey, Eric, put aside your Puzzling World of Winston Breen sequel and make 60 more "Going Too Far" puzzles for a book, will ya? I'd like that.

The quote in the "Going Too Far" puzzle includes the word MAGIC, which spurs me to recommend the engrossing March 17 New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik on magic, what it tells us about how we think, and magicians. I'm not into magic, but loved the article. (Except for where Gopnik uses "regime" where he ought to've used "regimen." Pet peeve.) Here's the abstract of the article, which you'll need to dig up in the printed magazine.


March 21, 2008

Saturday, 3/22

NYT 9:25
Newsday 8:10
LAT 5:14
CS 3:28

Well! It's been too long since the last Byron Walden themeless in the New York Times. Maybe seeing his puzzle in the paper will help make up for Vanderbilt's loss in March Madness tonight. Looking at the NYT applet, it looks like most of the seeded solvers are going down in defeat, failing to whip this puzzle with their customary speed. This is a fairly low-word-count crossword, so you know we're in for something other than the standard fill. This time, it's a few obscure words blended with a slew of unusual (but not obscure) fill, and some ordinary fill jazzed up with tricky cluing.

The splashiest entry is JELLO SHOT, a [Jigger that jiggles?]. I'll have mine with a DIET SODA ([Light mixer]) chaser, please. The NW and SE corners boast quartets of 9-letter answers, such as JELLO SHOT and AQUAPLANE, BURST OPEN, BIKE STAND, and the [MTV reality show] DATE MY MOM. The other two corners have quartets of 8-letter answers stacked up.

The furthest afield answers, for me, were HAPAX, ROXIO, and FERIA. Hapa-who? HAPAX is clued [___ legomenon (word or phrase used only once in a document or corpus. Wikipedia lists some examples, such as nortelrye ("education") appearing just once in Chaucer and Lilith having just one appearance in the Hebrew Bible. (I wasn't at all sure of the X at the end, but the X seemed the most plausible choice for XIA, the [Earliest recorded Chinese dynasty].) Here's the ROXIO homepage, for the [CD-burning software company that bought Napster]. FERIA is both a [Spanish festival] and a Roman "free day" and Catholic term. PERIODIDE looks like it relates to period rather than iodine; the clue, [Salt with the maximum proportion of element #53], didn't exactly point this non-chemist in the proper direction. That [Shrub also known as the Russian olive] was tough, too—OLEASTER shares so many letters with OLEANDER, a plant I've actually heard of. We even had a Russian olive tree in the backyard when I was a teenager, but I never learned another name for it.

The clues I liked best: [Nurses, say] for the verb CARES FOR; [Zebralike] for EQUINE (ha! I got this one quickly); [Like anchors] for the newsy, not nautical, ON CAMERA; [Steps away from], which could be a verb phrase or a description of location, for OPTS OUT OF, which looks bizarre in the grid; [Forced, in a way] for STAGY, not a verb; [Where to go] for COMMODE; [Legendary brothers-in-law] for EARPS (They weren't brothers? Huh. What do you know?) (make that "brothers in law," as in brothers who were lawmen and not one guy married to the other guy's sister); [Saw the light] for WISED UP; [First justice alphabetically in the history of the Supreme Court] for ALITO; [First African-American golfer with 12 P.G.A. tour wins] for Calvin PEETE (I never knew he wasn't white—never saw him because I wasn't following golf at all in his day); and [Neighbor of Ghana] for TOGO (not Chad, not Mali).

Favorite answers: JABBER (which could have been YAMMER equally plausibly); "NO DUH" (which makes me parse NODAT as NO DAT rather than NOD AT); the TEN-DAY WAR for Slovenia's independence; SUPERMINI cars like the [Volkswagen Polo, for one]; roller skate TOE STOPS; a last-second football play AT THE GUN (though "at the buzzer" is used more, I think); and ANTI-FUR. BOY-MAN just looks weird ([One suspended in adolescence]; if you cross it with the ORANG ([Animal from Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"]), do you get some sort of boy-apeman, or an ape boy-man? ANURANS ([Frogs and toads]) is a strange-looking word, too, given that anuria is a lack of pee; Anura is the order of amphibians that includes frogs and toads. (My son encountered a wee frog near the swimming pool yesterday morning—when it rains at night, sometimes frogs sneak into the lanai.)


Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was pretty tough, too—or maybe it wasn't and I'm just tired from an afternoon in the pool. Favorite clues and fill: SKEDADDLED ([Beat it]); [Like Java in January] for RAINY; [Congratulates, perhaps] for HIGH-FIVES; [Ballpark figure] for ATTENDANCE; [Presses and folds] for KNEADS; [Inclusive term] for ET ALII; [Course with layers] for LASAGNE (my first thought was GEOLOGY class); the MUENSTER cheese/GRATER combo; ["Hot Shots!" director] for ABRAHAMS (who also did Airplane! as part of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker trio); [Qualifications] for PROVISOS; and [Experienced] for VERSED. I have no idea what RING GEAR is, and [Differential component] doesn't explain anything to me.

Mark Diehl's triple triple-stacked LA Times crossword has some scintillating entries. Among the nine 15-letter answers are "YOU HAD ME AT HELLO," wickedly clued as [Cruise line] (from a Tom Cruise movie, not a cruise ship line), and "AVAST, ME HEARTIES," a dab of pirate talk ([Stop order?]). Shorter answers I admired include EPHEDRA and SOCK HOP. Favorite clues: [Paper work] for ASSOCIATE EDITOR; [Contents of some carry-ons] for PETS and [Windows commonly comprise about one third of it] for AIRPLANE SEATING; [Fail to get in] for LOSE THE ELECTION; and Gladys [Knight music] for SOUL. I must remark that 38-Across can also be parsed as "YOU HAD MEAT? HELLO!"

Updated again:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "Happy Endings," includes four phrases that end with "happy ___" words. The theme entries aren't especially fun by themselves, but the implied happy HOUR and happy FEET perk things up. ADIOS and AMIGO both appear in the film, along with Spanish-born PABLO Picasso, and German HERR and European IRISH.



March 20, 2008

Friday, 3/21

NYS 7:45
NYT 5:47
LAT 5:08
CHE 4:49
Jonesin' 4:05
CS 3:31

WSJ 9:12

Do you know which crossword is the hardest, on average? Using a compelling n of 1 (that would be me), Peter Gordon, editor of the New York Sun crossword, has calculated my average solving times (data taken from my blog posts) for the Sun (Monday through Friday), NYT (Monday through Saturday), and Newsday Saturday Stumper. Pop quiz: Can you put the following in order from toughest to easiest?

Thursday Sun (half of which are "Themeless Thursday" puzzles, half themed)
Friday Sun ((half of which are themeless "Weekend Warrior" puzzles, half themed)
Friday NYT (pretty close to all themeless)
Saturday NYT (all themeless, save for the rare rebus)
Saturday Newsday (all themeless)

For extra credit, what are my average solving times for the hardest vs. the easiest of these?

This week, the Friday New York Sun puzzle is a "Weekend Warrior" by Frank Longo. (Raise your hand if you wish Frank would spend a little more of his time crafting themeless newspaper crosswords, and raise your other hand if you're feeling a little whiny that you have to wait until January for Frank's crazy Vowelless Crosswords book to publish.) The marquee entries have unusual letter combos, such as CQ (in FRERE JACQUES, clued as [Renowned round]) and, well, LMXBLVD (from MALCOLM X BLVD.) crossing MBCH in LAMBCHOP. (What the heck, Frank? Are you trying to go half vowelless in regular crosswords, too?) There's also IOD at the beginning of I/O DEVICE, and who expects those letters together outside of iodine?

Let us wander through the Acrosses, shall we? I adore the word PLUMBAGO ([Graphite] or the plant also called leadwort); it looks like a portmanteau of juicy plums and the back pain called lumbago. Actor OMAR EPPS graduates to first-and-last-name status, which is, of course, the goal of ever famous person with a short name. Is it wrong that when I read the clue, ["I Felt Like Smashing My Face in a Clear Glass Window" singer], I wanted it to be ENYA? Alas, it is Yoko ONO. (Yes, that one's a Down answer, I know.) Enya's new-age stylings are also not involved in [Composer and singer of "And When I Die"]; that's Laura NYRO. [Bee kin] is a devious clue for OPIE—TV's Opie had an Aunt Bee, of course. "Good gravy, what is the answer to [Stool softener] going to be?" I asked myself. Turns out it's a CUSHION placed on a hard stool. Love that clue! (Much more so than E. COLI, [Likely find in a gut check?]) Am proud of myself for grasping that [It is what it is] referred to the PRONOUN "it." Any other Seinfeld watchers expect [Sponge alternative] to be a form of contraception rather than a WET MOP? I like the name Childe HASSAM, but the painter's work doesn't grab me at all. I usually think of OPIATE as a noun rather than an adjective meaning [Causing dullness], but there you have it.

Moving to the Down zone: The NYT crossword just had the Te-Amo cigar, didn't it? And here is TE AMO, clued as a [White Owl alternative]. To anchor the Downs, ANNA PAQUIN and baseball's NELLIE FOX follow the DRUM MAJOR (a [Long march leader?]) to the DANCE-A-THON. I've never heard of Las LUNAS, a county seat in New Mexico. (A typo while typing "never" leads me to note that Albanian leader ENVER HOXHA doesn't show up in the Cruciverb database.) And my Italian is rusty, if "rusty" means "nearly nonexistent," so while CAPI makes etymological sense as [Heads of Italy], I didn't recognize the word. The NYT's TEAT gives way to the Sun's TIT ([Lead-in for lark or mouse]).

The New York Times crossword by Peter Collins may represent the first time that a BETSY WETSY doll and the David Lynch movie Eraserhead (you know—back when Lynch made avant garde movies, before he got so ordinary with Blue Velvet) have been mentioned on the same page of any newspaper. Excellent combo!

Favorite clues: [Falcons' grp.] for USAF (not the NFL!); [Sealing fans?] for POLAR BEARS (the verb "to seal" means to hunt seals); [It's no longer divided] for BERLIN, tied to OST (German for "east"); [It is in Peru] for ESTA (Spanish for "it is"—you didn't go for LIMA, did you?); [Simplest, in math and logic] for FIRST ORDER (hmm, more or less new to me); [When doubled, what a rat does] for names NAMES; [Immoderate indulgence] for ORGY (see usage note about the word's history here); and the non-poker [Opening pair?], ADAM AND EVE.

Flashback: A few weeks ago, Mischa Auer was in the NYT crossword with a violinist clue, but it was his grandfather Leopold who was a noted musician; Mischa AUER was an actor, the [Oscar-nominated "My Man Godfrey" actor, 1936], in fact. I reckon this clue is nit-proof.

Groovy entries: SQUEEZEBOX (this [Zydeco instrument] is just an accordion); ORANGE ZEST (I hereby declare that if my fake first name is Orange, my fake last name is Zest); two nutty Norwegians not of my acquaintance, mathematician NIELS Henrik Abel and prime minister JENS Stoltenberg; and two intersecting current actors, Liam NEESON and Edward James OLMOS. Please, let no one complain that these actors are too obscure to cross in the grid. Neeson was nominated for an Oscar for playing Oskar Schindler (any other Oscar-nominated Oskar roles?), he played a Jedi in that bad Phantom Menace Star Wars movie, and he was also in Krull.


I didn't notice the byline on the CrosSynergy puzzle, "Chard Catalog," until after I finished. The theme entries convert four phrases starting with CA- words to ones beginning with CHA-. For example, Camp David becomes CHAMP DAVID, [Title for a giant feller?]. Favorite clues: [Stag film?] for BAMBI (hah! I couldn't get that one for the longest time); [Expletive from Cathy or Bill the Cat] for ACK (I could do without "Cathy," but I love-love-loved "Bloom County" and once owned an Opus shirt); the paired [Total] for DESTROY and ENTIRE; and the paired [Scratch, e.g.] and [Scratch] for FLAW and CLAW.

Bruce Douglas's LA Times crossword takes five phrases ending with -LL words and changes those words to -LT endings. Geeze, it took me forever to make sense out of [Lithuanian skid row denizen?]—GUTTER BALT. (Eerie coincidence: My half-Lithuanian grandfather was once an alcoholic in the gutter! But it was before I was born, so this clue didn't traumatize me.) I think the BARBIE DOLT is the one Mattel sold some years back that said "Math is hard!" [1982-94 NFLer], 8 letters, was hard; I forgot about the L.A. RAIDER football team. Did they go back to Oakland? Favorite entry: [Fictional author of "The World According to Bensenhaver"] for T.S. GARP. Five bonus points for pulmonary anatomy: PLEURAL was a gimme for this editor of pulmonary medicine manuscripts.

Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education is masterful without being exceptionally hard. The "Quarter Rests" are the seasonal breaks from the academic calendar (not sure how many places have a FALL break, but the other three seasons, absolutely—we are on my kid's SPRING break right now). Each season is broken in the grid, staggered in two rows (e.g., the SPR of SPRING is circled in SPRAINED and the ING follows in the answer below, RINGED). The longer words for the broken seasons all intersect with the vertical explanation, THEM'S THE BREAKS, which is delightfully and colloquially ungrammatical for a crossword for academics. Wonderful gimmick crossword! Favorite clue: [One who loves too much?] for TWO-TIMER. I misread [Badly circumstanced] (IN A MESS) as [Badly circumcised]; uh, no. NUN is clued as [What a novitiate aspires to]—some will argue (and did argue this week on the NYT forum) that novice and novitiate are different, blah-blah-blah; close enough for crosswords, if you ask me. BUTTER UP is a terrific entry. VITAMINS is clued as [Junk food's lack]. I would argue that plenty of junk food has been fortified with vitamins to cozen consumers into buying it. For example, Glaceau vitaminwater is basically Kool-Aid—sugar and water, total junk food, but with vitamins added to persuade customers that it's somehow better for them than plain water. Corn Pops cereal—tons of sugar, little fiber, enriched with vitamins. Is it junk food anyway? I say yes (and pour myself another bowl).

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "90-Degree Turnz," plays a fun game—a pair of Zs get turned 90° so that they look like Ns. Thus, a [Belly button that tells jokes] is a FUNNY NAVEL instead of a Fuzzy Navel. Cute! Fresh fill: HALFPIPES, NFC WEST, CAT PERSON, Julie KAVNER, IT'S PAT, ISN'T IT? Favorite clues: [Diesel that's not fuel] for actor VIN Diesel, and [Took a stool sample?] for SAT. Two stool clues in one day! A proud day for crosswords—at least it is if you enjoy playing with the multiple meanings of so many words in this rich language of ours.

Randy Ross's Wall Street Journal puzzle is calculated to delight those who prefer their rebus puzzles to hew to a strict symmetry—the five rebus squares in "Box Sets" form a symmetrical pattern. There are 10 phrases intersecting at [TV] rebus squares, and they're not so long. That means Ross had the leeway to include some broad expanses of white space in the grid, with plenty of lively longish fill entries—WHODUNIT, JAYWALKS, OF NO USE, TUNES OUT, CRACKLES. One semilethal square for me. Actually, two: [Fall, for a señorita] crosses [Jibs on racing yachts] and [Acid used in food preservatives]. OTONO crossing GENOAS and SORBIC? Ow. At least my guesses turned out to be right.


March 19, 2008

Thursday, 3/20

LAT 4:58
NYS 4:44
NYT 4:40
CS 3:32

The comeuppance lurks in the offing—as I sit here half wishing the air conditioning were on, I see that there's a winter storm watch in effect for Chicago, with a chance of a 6" snowfall by Friday night. I won't be wearing my sandals home from Florida on Saturday, that's for sure. (But before you gloat, let me mention that I spent an hour in the pool outside this evening, after dark.)

The New York Times crossword by Stephen Edward Anderson skews all crazy for a Thursday—instead of there being some sort of gimmick, there are four theme entries. I like the X-ness of the theme, with four X's. It's not the tightest theme in the world because I'm sure there are other candidates for the theme—though I don't know how many others there are that don't duplicate any of the place names that feed into this set of entries. MEXICALI, MEXICO takes its name from California and Mexico (as does Calexico). KANORADO, KANSAS is presumably at the border with Colorado; haven't heard of this one before. DELMAR, DELAWARE is beside Maryland, I suspect (I knew there was a Delmarva region, but not a border town named DELMAR). And TEXARKANA, TEXAS is a part-Arkansas portmanteau place name. Good fill—Donkey KONG crossing PEACENIK, baseball legend Buck O'NEIL (whom I mentally adopted as an extra grandpa when I saw him in Ken Burns' baseball documentary), a DORM ROOM and a TV DINNER.

Pancho Harrison turns to a classic song for inspiration for his New York Sun puzzle, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." The theme entries, set apart by highlighted clues, are all words pronounced two ways in the old song: OYSTERS (ersters), BANANA (banahna), EITHER (eye-ther), HAVANA (Havahna), PAJAMAS (pa-jommas), TOMATO and POTATO (...ah-to), LAUGHTER (larfter), and NEITHER (nigh-ther). The theme departs from symmetry twice—EITHER and NEITHER lack partners opposite them in this 15x16 grid.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Where There's a Wheel, There's a Way," has four phrases in which the first word can also precede "wheel." (May I just say that I am so, so tired of this type of theme? It seems like the CrosSynergy and LA Times puzzles rely on the "first or last word can precede or follow X" theme fairly heavily. I wonder if Crasswords has a dirty-words version of this theme variety, such as ___ JOBs?) I love that FERRIS BUELLER is one of the theme entries, though, as Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a memorable and quotable movie. And ERIC IDLE and COP A PLEA look great in the grid, too.

The LA Times puzzle by Ernie Lampert has five theme entries clued as [HAND], one of those reverse themes where the theme entries look like clues for the same 4-letter answer. LON CHANEY and ORANGEMAN ([William III follower]) each lash together three theme entries, an ambitious construction (with 69 theme squares). The thematic density required certain tradeoffs, such as LUNIK ([Soviet moon mission series]), which I've never heard of, and EBOLI crossing OBAD and RIELS. Why did this puzzle take me so long to solve? Was I just wandering around lost in search of the constructor's wavelength, or were the clues and fill tough?


March 18, 2008

Wednesday, 3/19

NYS 4:45
LAT 3:32
NYT 3:30
CS 3:27

Will be short in posting tonight—

Gary Whitehead constructed the New York Times puzzle. The theme is things that JAM (56-Down): RUSH-HOUR TRAFFIC, a HARD ROCK BAND ([Def Leppard, for one]), and a LASER PRINTER. I like the theme—three disparate things that do fit the category. The fill seems targeted at my son—he likes MAC and cheese, and MILLE Bornes, and FLATBED tow trucks. [Signs of decay] is kind of icky for ODORS; what decaying thing are we supposed to be smelling over our breakfast crossword puzzle? At least MOLDS were for making chocolate and not being found on our bread and EDAM.

The New York Sun crossword's got a quote theme, which is atypical for the Sun. The byline, Ogden Porter, is an anagram of Peter Gordon. The quote's a [Horace Mann quote that's the motto of Antioch College]: BE ASHAMED TO / DIE UNTIL YOU / HAVE WON / SOME VICTORY / FOR HUMANITY. Wouldn't it be terrible to live out an undistinguished life, winning no victories for humanity, and to lie on your deathbed feeling ashamed? Aw. In the fill, KARAOKE BAR is balanced by MR MAGORIUM, the title character played by Dustin Hoffman in that dreadful-looking holiday movie my kid had zero interest in seeing. (Were the moviemakers not ashamed to be ripping off Willy Wonka, winning no victories for humanity or art?) Favorite clue: [Thing studied by a helminthologist] for WORM. Just because.


Robert E. Lee Morris's LA Times crossword has a roundabout theme. The central entry is FIT TO A T, which the first words of the four theme entries are said to do. Those words can be fitted to a T to make T-SQUARE, T-BONE, T-TOP, and T-MOBILE. I like the inclusion in the fill of COOLEY High, which I watched back in '75; and of course I didn't miss an episode of "What's Happening." (Shirley Hemphill rocked.) There's a '60s to '70s vibe here, with Tatum O'NEAL and Goldie HAWN's Oscars, Louise LASSER of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and a TAPE DECK before its near-obsolescence.

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword is called "First Take!" and it's a good thing. I'm not sure I would have noticed the theme if not for the title. The four theme entries begin with words that can follow "take"—take CHARGE, take ACTION, etc. Best fill: "OFF YOU GO," Fido, to THE POUND. VAL Kilmer is in this grid. The other day I read that he and Wilmer Valderrama are in an upcoming movie together. I hope they entertained themselves on the set by swapping last names and initial letters. Val Valderrama and Wilmer Kilmer! Val Wilmer and Kilmer Valderrama! If they became a tabloid item, perhaps they could be called Kwilmer or Valmer. Valmer Kilderrama! Okay, I'll stop now.


March 17, 2008

Tuesday, 3/18

Onion 5:16
Tausig 4:13
CS 3:40
NYS 3:37
NYT 3:23
LAT 3:05

I'm at my Florida blogging outpost now, where the wireless works great out by the pool, but it's after dark so I'm on the couch with my kid instead. I don't know how you Floridians can stand it, this whole late-winter 81°F business. The heat! The humidity! The lack of dry, chapped winter skin! The green grass and trees! The flowers! It's crazy. Don't you people know that a proper mid-March features temps in the 30s or 40s and a winter-scorched earth? I mean, really.

My mother-in-law has enjoyed crosswords (and not in her first language—major props to those of you who tackle American crosswords despite either living in another country or growing up speaking something other than English) for years and years. My father-in-law just got into sudoku last year after he retired. He even bought a book to get better at it—Peter Gordon's Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku. The book makes me laugh because it mentions "Gordonian Rectangles" right on the cover, and I didn't think to call any tips in my book "Reynaldoesque." He's learning, Peter!

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun puzzle, "Two Heads Are Better Than One," was good, light fun. The quartet of theme entries are mashups of repeated-syllable terms with terms beginning with one iteration of those syllables. E.g., [Journey for a chocolate?] is a BONBON VOYAGE. Plenty of fun fill, too—gotta love anything (or anyone) with both MOXIE and VERVE. My most intense junior-high celebrity crush was ["Shadow Dancing" singer Andy] GIBB, and that cheesy poster you see adorned my bedroom wall and caused me to swoon. (My great grandmother declared his hair to be pretty, as I recall. The same visit, she was nonplussed by tacos in hard shells, as she'd never seen such a thing before.) Patrick's got two words ending with U and two with double-G—KEANU and HAIKU, BRAGG and STAGG. Is this a stealth Ugg boot theme? Favorite clues: [Ones left behind?] for TIPS, and [Pilot's place?] for GAS OVEN. Favorite random hit of pop culture: NEST clued as ["Empty ___" (Richard Mulligan sitcom)]. I have no explanation for why my husband and I watched that show for a couple years. Is it because we were nostalgic for Kristy McNichol from Family and Mulligan from Soap?

The other day when STAX, the chips that look like Pringles, were in a crossword, I secretly wished that it had been constructor David Pringle who included it. And now here he is, with the Tuesday New York Times crossword. The theme MAKES SENSE, which sounds like it makes the plural of cent/scent/sent (though the latter can't be pluralized). The other three theme entries end with those three words—HEAVEN-SENT, NOT ONE RED CENT, HOT ON THE SCENT. (Raise your hand if you went with the more colloquial HOT ON THE TRAIL first.) Slightly twisty for a Tuesday theme, isn't it? Given the business section of late, I'm not sure INVEST is such a great answer for [Play the market]; though I suppose if you're a contrarian investor or actually hew to the "buy low, sell high" approach, this is a fine time to invest. Just don't plan to RETIRE on your returns too soon. The markets in ASIA dropped Monday, didn't they? Does BUSH have anything to do with this? Does the nascent recession make you WEEP into your mai TAI? If you work for Bear Stearns, probably—you may be TOAST.


Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle for this week has an asymmetrical grid. Did you notice that? It's not even almost symmetrical, save for a few adjusted squares. The theme entries have 16 (9/7), 11, 12, and 18 (9/9) letters. In each, one letter changes from the original phrase to create a phrase about birth control. There's TRIUMPH OF / THE PILL (Will), MY NAME IS IUD (mud), PRIVATE PLAN B (plane), and SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOM (Condor). Very likable theme, and one that results in the fewest unplanned pregnancies. The fill doesn't sparkle uniformly—A TEN crosses A SNAP, ECCL crosses ENOCH. While the asymmetry loosens things up, the inclusion of 67 theme squares tightens the screws. There are good long chunks of fill without symmetrical partners: LOUIS PRIMA, MAMMA MIA, B. DALTON. Favorite clues: ["Evil Dead" hero] for ASH (played by Bruce Campbell—I like the most overtly spoofy "Evil Dead 3" best); [Either of Heather's parents, according to a book title] for MOMMY; [Fixture near a toilet] for BIDET (I've never seen one outside of a scares me a little); ["___ on Main St."] for EXILE (the Rolling Stones album, or is it a song?); and ["Crap!"] for "OH, NO."

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "All Together Now," unifies various concepts by tacking on a UNI- prefix to established phrases. A cornrow braid becomes the mythical street, UNICORN ROW. Browbeater becomes a UNIBROW BEATER used to shave between the eyebrows. A form letter is the UNIFORM LETTER on a team uniform. And the pièce de résistance is UNISEX TOYS, built on sex toys. Favorite clue: [Dressing spot?] for SALAD. Pop culture reigns with Twisted SISTER and SLAYER (heavy metal division), URKEL and Dom DELUISE (crappy kid-oriented viewing divisio, HOMER and CONAN (the comedy-I-like division), and Devo's "Jocko HOMO" (New Wave music division).

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword runs the fraction gamut from an EIGHTH NOTE to a QUARTER POUNDER to a HALFTIME REPORT to WHOLE WHEAT. This progression puts me in mind of the NCAA finals, semis, quarters, Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen, and so on. (Is there an "and so on"? Is there a term for the Thriving Thirty-Two who win their first matchup?) Favorite fill: Sheena EASTON (my dad was inordinately fond of her in the early '80s); EVIL TWIN, such as the dual roles played by Ty Treadway on One Life to Live a few years before he achieved crossword fame on Merv Griffin's Crosswords.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Reverse Course," flip-flops the first and last words in four "___ the ___" or "___ {preposition} the ___" phrases. So one for the books becomes BOOKS FOR THE ONE, or [Reserves a single hotel room]. None of the theme entries really resonated with me—I didn't twig to the trick right away, and then I didn't enjoy an "aha" moment when I did figure it out. Wouldn't MOTORCAR appreciate a hint about old-timeyness in its clue? [Automobile] doesn't quite capture it for me. Maybe [Horseless carriage].