June 30, 2008

Tuesday, 7/1

Onion 4:53
Tausig 4:53
NYS 4:28
NYT 3:43
CS 2:49
LAT 2:35

There's a new online crossword game called Crosswords Cubed, developed by Andy Harrison. Each puzzle plays out on all six sides of a cube (4x4 sides on weekdays, 6x6 on Sundays, I think), in standard crossword style. There's a long theme entry of sorts—two phrases—that wraps around the cube, and you complete that by working back and forth between the crossing answers and the partially completed phrases, a bit like when you're solving an acrostic. Does that make any sense? Give it a whirl and you'll see what I mean. Clicking the mouse will toggle you between Across and Down, and hitting the return key will jump you to the next clue.

Whoa. Ken Bessette's New York Times puzzle seems out of place on a Tuesday. There's definitely some Wednesday-plus fill—phrases, words, and abbreviations that strike me as beyond what we expect to see on a Tuesday. The three theme entries are phrases formed by zapping a double letter in the first word, changing arresting to A RESTING OFFICER ([Retired general?]), account to A COUNT PAST DUE ([Late nobleman?]), and appeal to A PEAL TO THE CROWD ([Carillon call?]). The trickier bits of fill include the following:

  • AVILA not clued as [Teresa of ___] but [Kansas City university formerly known as College of Saint Teresa].
  • Spanish AERO ([Commercial prefix with mexico]) and ESO ([That: Sp.]).
  • Two-word TULSA, OK, or [Part of the mailing address to Oral Roberts University].
  • Chinese food's Kung PAO chicken and General TSO.
  • ASHPIT, or [Residue locale]—rather nonspecific clue.
  • [Seven-year stretch] as a kinda tough clue for the TEENS (age 13 through 19).
  • VIRTU clued as [Objets d'art].
  • Clunky abbreviations for ALT clued as [Optional hwy. route] and SOR clued as [Sisters org.].
  • [1970s Japanese P.M. Kakuei ___] TANAKA—who??
  • RAILBIRDS, or [Horse-racing devotees, slangily]. Does everyone else know this slang?
  • TYPE A apparently clued as a noun, [Impatient sort].
  • HIHO crackers, an [Old cracker brand].
  • RIPON, the [Wisconsin town where the Republican Party was born]. Also the home of Ripon College, where Harrison Ford went years before a friend of mine matriculated.
  • ICE SHEETS are [Giant glaciers]? Did not know that, I don't think.
  • The old-school crossword answer ETUI, or [Decorative sewing kit]. It's generous to exclude this type of word from Monday and Tuesday puzzles, though beginning solvers will need to learn it eventually!

Will be back for the Sun puzzle after I tuck my son in.

And now, for the Sun:

Kevan Choset's New York Sun crossword, "One for All?", evokes The Three Musketeers' motto but puts an old-school Disney touch on it by featuring 3 MOUSEKETEERS in the theme. (Yes, the numeral 3, crossing 3COM [Park where the Giants used to play].) Three famous ex-Mouseketeers fill out the theme in this 15x16 grid: ANNETTE FUNICELLO starred in the original '50s version of the Mickey Mouse Club, while BRITNEY SPEARS and JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE launched their careers in the '90s version (along with Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell, and JC Chasez). If you don't care for pop-culture trivia, then this was not the crossword for you! It also skews serious with TAMMANY Hall, DIES / IRAE, Dostoyevsky's heroine SONYA, TOSCA, and ELLA Grasso. MOMMY and DADDY anchor two corners of the grid, apparently just for the hell of it. Utterly unrelated wordplay fact: BRITNEY SPEARS anagrams to PRESBYTERIANS. (Justin Timberlake's anagrams are clunky phrases. And Annette Funicello = INTONE FLATULENCE.)

Updated Tuesday afternoon, quickly:

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club crossword inverts some W's and turns them into M's. Tiger Woods, for example, becomes TIGER MOODS, a [Zoo psychologist's concern?]. A policy wonk turns into an [Ascetic responsible for abbey rules?], or POLICY MONK. Brendan's showing off by including seven theme entries, three of them just 7 letters long (THE MIRE, MOE IS ME, and SEA MALL). Excellent theme and execution, and lively fill (SKYLAB and ZONK, a 9-letter PAPERCLIP and a PB AND J sandwich.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Multiplicity," tacks an S onto the end of a word to alter its meaning. "Long story short" is an informal way of introducing a statement, whereas LONG STORY SHORTS are [Cutoffs with a complicated history?]. "Full of crap" means lousy, but FULL OF CRAPS could mean [Like some casinos?]. SLOTS CAR relates to gambling too, and there's some gambling in Goodfellas, the basis of GOODS FELLAS. The tour bus that turns into a French TOURS BUS could also transport folks to a casino, couldn't it? The shorts are the odd man out here. Favorite bits: [Yellow- and blue-haired family, with "the"] for SIMPSONS; and BFFS, or [Like, total bosom buddies 4 life] (it's short for "best friends forever," if you were wondering). Seeing that [Centers of intellectual activity] clues CEREBRA, it occurs to me that I would be drawn to a bra called the CereBra.

Gail Grabowski's LA Times crossword is easy-peasy compared with today's NYT. The theme entries are six commercial phrases that convey urgency—ONE DAY ONLY! ORDER NOW! LAST CHANCE! DON'T DELAY! GOING FAST! CLOSE-OUT! Suddenly I feel like making a purchase. I don't know what I'll buy, but I must buy something. Just waiting for the items I've already ordered seems inadequate.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Listen Here...", talks it up with four loquacious people: the VERBAL KINT character, a CHATTY CATHY doll, evangelist ORAL ROBERTS, and movie cowboy GABBY HAYES. Cool theme! The Down fill includes some juicy long answers, like TERRA FIRMA and WELLESLEY. Among the shorter pieces of fill are some pairs that perhaps don't belong in the same puzzle—ANTON Chekhov and Cleopatra's ANTONY, the prefix IDEO- and IDEA. I do like the double "cooler" references in the clues—[The cooler] is the STIR, and there's actor ALEC [Baldwin of "The Cooler"].


June 29, 2008

Monday, 6/30

LAT 3:22
NYT 3:19
Jonesin' 3:09
NYS 3:08
CS 3:05

Lynn Lempel's New York Times puzzle inadvertently bummed me out with 1-Across. [Like students in the Head Start program], 4 letters starting with P? *gasp!* Can it really be POOR? No, it was PRE-K. But then two other corners bummed me out, with [Reasons for special ed] cluing LOW IQS (ouch) and ALMS for the poor. The theme entries all contain FOUND MONEY in that the circled letters spell out various currencies. The South African rand is parked inside DURAN DURAN—and that was one of my favorite bands of the early '80s New Wave. I memorized all the lyrics on the Rio album, I did. Turkey's LIRA resides in a bordering land, in MOSUL, IRAQ. Japan's YEN and a HIGHWAY ENTRANCE and Mexico's PESO and GRAPE SODA round out the theme. Lots of longish fill, including TEA TASTER (clued as [Lipton employee]), which looked completely trumped up to me, but what do I know? Lipton probably has tea tasters on staff. I liked seeing Mark SPITZ in the grid, as I just read about 41-year-old Dara Torres fixin' to qualify for the U.S.'s Olympic swim team, which she's been kicking swimmer butt on since 1984.

The New York Sun puzzle is Patrick Blindauer's umpteenth published crossword in the past week. Well, maybe not the umpteenth, but at least the third, maybe the fourth or fifth. I groaned when I saw that the first theme entry of "Show People" was DREAMGIRLS, a Broadway show. But then the other shows turned out to end with (JERSEY) BOYS, (LITTLE) WOMEN, and (A FEW GOOD) MEN, so they make a good foursome, and the way they're paired gives a Mondayesque solving boost. Patrick (and/or editor Peter Gordon) was showing off a bit when he included four X's and two Z's in the fill...along with a Q, a J, and some K's. KARL MARX stacked atop corporate chicken man Frank PERDUE is beautifully inapt, isn't it?


Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword, "Abide With Me," begins three theme entries that are synonyms for abide: BEAR (MARKETS), STAND (UP AND CHEER), and STOMACH (ACHE). Supplementing the theme are longer-than-usual fill entries—two 9's, six 8's, two 7's, and 20 6's—that give it a hint of a themeless-fill vibe.

After getting the first two theme entries in Jerome Gunderson's LA Times crossword (BREEZEWAY and SQUEEZE PLAY), I thought all four would rhyme—but the other two are SNEEZE GUARD and FREEZE-DRY so the theme appears to be compound words or phrases that start with *EEZE words. One of the theme entries crosses SNAZZIER, with an extra Z added, and that extra Z crosses ZZ TOP with another optional Z, bringing the Z count to six. I can't be sure that anyone has ever uttered the sentence, "I'M HEP" (["You dig?" response]), though...

Updated again Monday afternoon:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword for this week is entitled "I'm Going to Have to Cut You Off," but it has nothing to do with overimbibing. Actually, that's not true, I see belatedly! The five theme entries are phrases with the last letter lopped off to change the meaning, and each of those phrases is a cocktail. [The part of the church that's covered in hair?] is a FUZZY NAVE (the Fuzzy Navel drink is peachy). [Irish version of an old French coin?] repurposes the crosswordesey SOU in WHISKEY SOU (whiskey sour). A hot toddy drops the Y to be HOT TODD, or [Attractive actor Bridges of "Diff'rent Strokes"]. There are also GIN AND TONI (tonic) and DRY MARTIN (martini). The fill percolates with bartending words, too—there's ice in ICEMAN, SPOONS for stirring (wait, do bartenders stir with spoons or just stirrers?), a bottle of BAILEY'S, ABEAM (evoking Jim Beam), ALE, TENDS (bar or the goal), DASHING with a dash of bitters perhaps, and ILL and MOANS for the hangover that results from ingesting all this liquor.


June 28, 2008

Sunday, 6/29, or "Crikey!"

NYT 9:05
PI 7:52
LAT 7:32
CS 3:43
Mike Nothnagel's second Sunday NYT puzzle (diagramless crossword)—untimed but fairly easy as these things go
(No Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite this week, and probably not for the next week or two)

Okay, I'll be leaving for my cousin's wedding at 5:00, when the Sunday NYT comes out. It would be very poor form indeed to blow off the ceremony (the bride's brother, a secular mail-order minister, will officiate) in favor of crosswords and blogging, so let this be a placeholder until either very late this evening or Sunday morning.

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves when you've done the puzzle(s), and I'll try to remember not to spoil the puzzles for myself by reading your comments before venturing into the crosswords.


Okay, that was a late night and I'm still tired this morning.

The New York Times crossword by Tony Orbach and Patrick Blindauer, "Ten Grand Surplus," inserts a K (or two) into various phrases to create the theme entries. "Show me the money!" becomes SHOW ME THE MONKEY, an [Impatient kid's pea at a zoo?]. My favorite theme entry is TRIPLE KLUTZ, or [Worrisome type at a china shop], building on the ice-skating move called the triple lutz. It's hardly fair to clue RICA as [Villa ___ (town near Atlanta)] when a vowel crosses a French word (RIRE, or [Laugh, in Lille]), that's not among the 10 or so French words that non-Francophones are likely to know. Yesterday's bride's little sister, also my cousin, got married to a man from Costa RICA, which is surely more familiar to solvers than Villa Rica, Georgia. (ELKHART, Indiana, the [Indiana city near the Michigan border], may not be any more famous than the Georgia town, but it's from my region so I knew it, and it doesn't have an easier cluing option.) I don't know Jack LAWRENCE [who wrote the lyrics to "Tenderly"]. Lots of juicy, fill, though—an APE SUIT, a NOSEDIVE, J.M. BARRIE, STYGIAN ([Hellish], or pertaining to the river Styx), and a hotel-room MINIBAR ([Traveler's temptation]). Besides those town names, other geography includes UGANDANS ([Dwellers along Lake Victoria]), LA PLATA ([City once called Eva Peron]), EDINA (crosswords' favorite [Minneapolis suburb]!), ESSEN, UTAHAN, NEWARK, TONGA, and the USSR. Tony previously included ORFE, a [Golden pond fish], in a Saturday NYT puzzle, crossing CUCHIFRITO in deadly fashion; that's the thing about those really obscure words that you encounter in crosswords. You may say "I know I'll never see that word in another puzzle," but it may well show up and redeem its earlier appearance. It took me all the crossings to see that WORMS are [Nature's aerators]; I was thinking more passively of PORES.

Kevin Donovan's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Out in Front!", appears in the Chicago Tribune, I think in the Books section. Yesterday at the wedding, a relative asked me about 1-Across, which I hadn't seen yet. [1964 Nobel Prize decliner] turns out to be SARTRE, and if you ask me, the crossings are all quite gettable... The theme entries all add an OUT to the front of existing phrases. My favorite theme entry was the last one I came to, and I'm definitely someone who likes to save the best for last. (So don't even think about asking me for the last bite of a sandwich or a dessert—I've already eaten all the less appealing parts and have been looking forward to that one perfect morsel at the end.) [Not a good place to go on a windy day?] is an OUTHOUSE OF CARDS. This combines wordplay with juvenile potty humor, so I think it works beautifully! It paints a vivid picture of someone caught in an indelicate position as a tiny house of cards tumbles around him. I'm also partial to the [Golfer's reject?], an OUTCAST IRON, and [Where Billy the Kid studied?], OUTLAW SCHOOL.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Deal!", features a bunch of puns involving the names of card games. I have never once played fantan, pinochle, whist, canasta, or skat. I may or may not have played a little poker as a kid, I played a little computer hearts, and rummy...that's gin rummy? Yeah, I've played that. Puns like YES YOU CANASTA QUESTION and WHISTWORLD don't grab me. Maybe it's just the headache talking. A couple TO*O answers weren't too familiar to me—TOHO is the ["Godzilla" studio, 1954] and TOPO Gigio is [Ed's mouse pal], I think. You need to be a good bit older than I to see a Gigio-less clue for TOPO and have any chance of getting it.

Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" was a delight. Not as tough as I like a themeless to be, but packed with lively fill and a certain esprit de cluing. From childhood, there's the [Child's modeling medium], PLAY-DOH, and the [Yellow Seussian creature that may have a star on its belly], or SNEETCH. "I'M A GONER," "YES, LET'S," "GOT 'EM," and "OH, STOP IT" are colloquial English. [Silk and wool] are both FIBERS and FABRICS. ALOHA OE is a [Song written by Queen Lili'uokalani] of Hawaii. A [Façade component] is the CEDILLA dangling from the C. My son loves RAMEN, or [Japanese noodle soup]. BASS ALE and NETZERO join PLAY-DOH in the trade name zone. DEAR SIR and IDEA MEN give a bit of retro sexism. I love the word PASSEL ([Whole bunch]) just as much as I love the phrase "lousy with"—as in "This crossword has a passel of fun words in it, and it's lousy with light-hearted clues." CLIMATE CANARY, [Species that serves as an early warning system], is likely a phrase we'll be seeing much more of in the coming years; I just read that the North Pole ice may melt this summer. Thanks, Paula, for a fun puzzle!


June 27, 2008

Saturday, 6/28

LAT 6:43
Newsday 6:36
NYT 5:52
CS 3:56

All righty, let me be quick here so I can get my kid to bed. The New York Times puzzle's by Byron Walden, and it feels like it's been a little too long since his last Saturday NYT. My favorite entries:

  • The ROYAL WE, or [The "I" of Elizabeth I?]. We like this one.
  • ZIPLOC BAG, or [Holder of many a sandwich].
  • TURNS TAIL, or [Goes yellow, say].
  • SOCK AWAY, or [Save].
  • MR. ROMANCE, or [2005 reality show hosted by Fabio]. 
  • CRAN, or [Start of some blended juice names]—I do actually think of that class of Ocean Spray beverages as cran-something drinks, so these days it's a solid word unit on its own.
  • RESORTS TO, or [Uses in desperation]. I am delighted not to have had to resort to Google for this puzzle.
  • NEW DO, or [Change at the top?]. My new do involves a cut with "more movement," according to ze stylist, and summery highlights. In case you were wondering.
  • PIRANHA, or [Ruthless type]. Guessed this one off the final A.
  • SASHAYS, or [Steps lively]. I should really sashay more often.

The clues I enjoyed most:
  • [They come with strings attached] for both HARPS and YO-YOS. I entered YO-YOS for the first one and had to backtrack, so it was nice to be right the second time.
  • [Coming right back at you?] for ECHOIC.
  • [Heart failures?] for RENEGES. This has to do with a card game. Bridge, maybe?
  • [Item called a geyser in Britain] is a WATER HEATER. Makes a certain amount of loopy sense.
  • [Will work?] for an OP-ED ESSAY by George Will.
  • [Corps of corpses?] for ZOMBIES.

The "Huh?" category:
  • BEAM ENGINES are [Steam-driven devices that pump water from mines].
  • I have seen AGA in plenty of crosswords, but [Janissary commander] was out there. The Wikipedia article on the Janissaries refers to something called the Auspicious Incident, which is the best name ever for a historical event.
  • [1785 invention of England's Edmund Cartwright] for a LOOM. Plausible enough.
  • ALCIDS are [Auks, puffins and related birds]. I've seen this word approximately twice in my life. Not to be confused with Alcee Hastings, El Cid, or antacids.
  • [Owen ___, rebel in Shakespeare's "King Henry IV"] for GLENDOWER. The historical plays are not the group I'm familiar with.
  • [100 aurar] are equivalent to a KRONA in Iceland, land of real geysers.
  • [Southern historical novelist ___ Price] is named EUGENIA.

Mark Milhet created the themeless Los Angeles Times crossword. About 20 of the entries consist of more than one word—everything from the short I-TEN to FILL IN FOR and THE TIMES. URUSHIOL is the [Irritant in poison ivy]. Did you know that 15% to 30% of people don't react to poison ivy? A biologist friend was just telling me that last weekend, and Wikipedia confirms it. THE TIMES is [London paper]; if you like easier sudoku puzzles that have a place to write teeny candidate numbers in the box, check out the Times' online sudoku solver. The Easy and Mild are at least as easy as the NYT's Easy, with Difficult approximating the NYT's Medium, and the Fiendish and Super Fiendish being more manageable than the NYT's difficult because of the teeny number thing. ...if you like that sort of thing. (Crosswords are my love, but I cheat on them with sudoku when the mood strikes.) DRAVIDIAN is a [Language family that includes Tamil]; the Branch Davidian sect in Waco threw me because it wasn't Branch Dravidian. Never heard of the EAGLE RAY, a [Winged ocean denizen]. Is ONE AND ONE a stand-alone phrase meaning [Two parts?]? It seems more like a baseball status or early-season won/lost record. Good to see J CREW clued aptly as a [Polo rival] rather than as an L.L. Bean rival; Polo's closer to that fashion niche. With ON DECK clued in relation to batters in baseball, did you interpret [Tool for bats] as a wood-turning LATHE rather than the correct SONAR for mammalian bats?

The last I checked the publisher chart at Cruciverb.com, the LA Times was paying just $60 for 15x15 puzzles, versus $200 for the New York Times and $136 for the New York Sun. It's scarcely any better than the Tribune Media Services' $50, and slightly lower than USA Today's $65. But you know what? The LA Times puzzles are usually considerably better than the crosswords in those last two publications. That is surely a testament to editor Rich Norris's skills, professionalism, and collegiality. The sort of lousy fill that appears in TMS and the sometimes-incomprehensible editing of clues in USA Today? Rich bars the door to both. Here's hoping the publishing syndicate that set that $60 rate can summon the will to increase it to $100 or more—these are good puzzles by good constructors, and it would be great if the paycheck would reflect that better.

Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" contains some nice words. LEXICON is [Available words] in a language; CLAMORS are [Rackets]; MONIKERS are [Handles]. Those one-word clues are words that have a variety of meanings, and that's the Newsday way—short clues that can be interpreted many ways, only one of which will be correct.

In Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword, "Final Thoughts," the word LAST (66-Across) can go before the first word of the four theme answers: DITCH-DIGGER, MINUTE RICE, DANCE FEVER, and NAME DROPPER yield last-ditch, last-minute, last dance, and last name. I think OTIC is an adjective for ears, not hearing—auditory is the big hearing word. In college, a linguistics professor told us that in a word like goin', nobody has dropped a G. Rather, that distinct ng sound has been replaced by an n sound. So from a strictly technical angle, I'm not sure that ELIDE really goes with [Say "somethin'"], though it's popularly believed to.


June 26, 2008

Friday, 6/27

LAT 5:48
NYT 5:43
CHE 4:24
NYS 3:46
CS 3:25

WSJ 8:07

Watching a competition show, The Next Food Network Star, I heard one contestant say "My heart was literally going a mile a minute." Now, technically, the speed of the heart is measured in beats per minute. Let's see...a mile a minute is 60 miles an hour, right? So for a heart to literally be going 60 miles an hour, it would have to be located in a motor vehicle traveling down the highway, wouldn't it? In this case, the contestant was in a kitchen. Why, oh why do people use "literally" to add figurative emphasis?

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior" was not so bellicose at all. It's got enough Scrabbly letters to make it a pangram, with the marquee entry "I'M TOO SEXY" down the middle crossing TIM CURRY, who played the too-sexy Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transylvania. The clue for JOY ADAMSON, the [Virginia McKenna movie role of 1966], refers to Born Free in a way that probably obscures the Born Free link for most of us. And then there's ELSA, the Born Free lioness, clued as [Tiffany jewelry designer Peretti]. (I'm partial to Peretti's hearts in crystal. But I already have two paperweights and a heart-shaped box, so don't get those for my birthday, okay?)

Karen's geographic hit this time isn't full of implausible letter combos: the IRISH SEA is [One end of St. George's Channel], which I know nothing about. (See also the Boston CELTICS.) I know OTAY only as what Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat character said on SNL, not as [___ Mesa (San Diego border crossing)]. LAOTIANS are there as [Vientiane natives], and NORD is [Lille's department] in France. The botanical arena gets AZALEAS, LANTANA, and a SEQUOIA—is that the shortest word containing all five vowels? The culinarily inclined might know ENOKI mushrooms and that MUSSELS are a [Billi-bi ingredient]. Judaism gets ISRAELITE and Simchat TORAH, a holiday not in my ken. Native Americans get a shout-out with CALUMETS, or [Peace pipes], and MANITOU, or [Algonquian spirit]. The [Inventor who gave skyscrapers a boost] is ELISHA OTIS, who made the elevator; usually he gets only his last name into the grid, but a regular crossword solver should know his first name from all those [Elevator pioneer Elisha] clues.

Brad Wilber's New York Times crossword is a good bit tougher than the Weekend Warrior, but still solidly Friday level despite some gnarly bits. As in Karen's puzzle, there are some paired answers, here specifically cross-referenced in the clues. The [Luau lighting] TIKI TORCH goes with HULA at 37-Across, the adjacent [Radio code word]s are ROMEO and SIERRA, and the [program pitched by Queen Latifah] is JENNY / CRAIG (she's touting a loss of 7% of her body weight rather than a goal of being skinny, which seems more realistic and health-oriented than the usual commercial diet plan).

Favorite entries:

  • ELMER'S GLUE, or [Big sticker?]
  • NEWS CRAWL, or [Ticker with headlines]
  • WEARS THIN, or [Stops being funny, say]
  • AMISH BUGGY, or [Sight in Lancaster County, Pa.]
  • HAT IN HAND, or [With respectful humility]
  • TURN TO MUSH, or [Get all sentimental]

Favorite clues include [Do the dishes?] for CATER. [Canyon tones] are OCHRES. Four of those letters are in the same spots in ECHOES, which could be sound tones in a canyon. Tricky! [Spring arrival] is an ARIES born in late March or most of April, and not a flower that emerges in springtime, as I was first thinking. [Gernreich who invented the monokini] is RUDI; here's a discussion of the back-formation of various swimsuit names as if -kini were a suffix rather than part of the Bikini Atoll's name.

Mystifying morsels:
  • SEGNO is a [Repetition mark, in music]. Things found on music staffs are not my forte.
  • ORY completes ["Le Comte ___" (Rossini opera)]. There's a Kid Ory in jazz, too.
  • I know INTL abbreviates international, but I'm not quite sure how [Not just at home: Abbr.] makes sense as its clue. As in "intl. sensation"? If it's that sort of usage, it's not one that is ordinarily going to be abbreviated.
  • ["___ Cardboard Lover" (Norma Shearer film)] is completed by HER. Er, whatever you say, Mr. Cardboard, sir.
  • [Footballer Ford] is LEN. Yep, that's a 3-letter man's name. That'll play.
  • [Francis ___, signer of the Articles of Confederation], is Francis DANA. Wikipedia tells me that his grandson Richard Henry Dana, Jr., wrote Two Years Before the Mast.


Jack McInturff's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "African Road Trip," assembles a narrative with the help of some fun geographical puns. [My guide and I began our tour in Khartoum, driving in a] LUXURY SUDAN, Sudan being where the city of Khartoum is. Accra points towards I'M GHANA LIKE THIS; Nairobi, KENYA GO FASTER; Kampala, HAVE UGANDA SLEEP; Porto Novo, I'VE NOT BENIN. This puzzle was right up my alley, though there was a 6-letter stretch that required every single crossing to complete. [Where Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac] is MORIAH? Wow. I know the Chronicle is a publication for academics, but I would have preferred MARIAH Carey crossing AVA Gardner to MORIAH crossing OVA. Does everyone else know Moriah? Is it just me?

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword features primatological puns. [Party snacks for apes?] are CHIMP 'N' DIP, although that sounds more like a snack for a carnivore that eats chimps. [Alternatives to monkey bars?] are RHESUS CUPS, playing on Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and, perhaps, candy bars. GORILLA MY DREAMS goes way back; this [Ape's heartthrob?] sounds like "girl o' my dreams." [Ape-to-ape exchange?] is GIBBON TAKE, although give-and-take represents exchange and I don't see where the gibbons are sharing here. Hearst's San Simeon becomes SAN SIMIAN, [California tourist spot in "Planet of the Apes"?]. I wanted this one to be ORANG COUNTY. Can we get a TV show called The O.C. in which all the parts are played by orangutans? Please? Good fill overall, with a smattering of long entries, and rather tough clues if you ask me.

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Birthday Beginnings," is published on Stella's birthday. Happy birthday, Stella! The theme is quite similar to that of Joon Pahk's bonus puzzle—the theme entries include words that can follow birthday. I think the options for phrases ending with "birthday ___" words might be more generous than for phrases that begin with those words—CAKE OF SOAP and SUIT THE OCCASION seem awkward compared with Joon's CLASS-ACTION SUIT and TAKE THE CAKE, for example.

Liz Gorski skews topical with her Wall Street Journal crossword, "Lending Limits." She handles the CREDIT CRUNCHES by crunching CR into a single square wherever it appears—in five longish entries that each contain two [CR] squares and two other shorter pairs of entries, not symmetrically plunked in, with single [CR] crunches. There were two intersecting names I didn't know—mystery writer LILIAN Jackson Braun and MALENA, a 2000 Italian film starring Monica Bellucci. Given that there wasn't another reasonable option for *ILIAN, that worked out OK.


June 25, 2008

Thursday, 6/26

NYT 6:18
LAT 4:28
NYS 4:07
CS 3:26

D'oh! I was barking up the wrong tree in David Kahn's New York Times puzzle. I'll bet I wasn't alone, but I'll also wager that plenty of you (*cough* Howard *cough*) caught onto the Thursday-style gimmick quickly and easily. The theme's a tribute to YVES SAINT LAURENT, the noted FASHION designer who died a few weeks ago and whose name is 16 letters long, necessitating a 15x16 grid. The theme entails having Laurent's famous monogram, YSL, in four rebus squares. It's not remotely arbitrary because he plastered that YSL on all sorts of merchandise—why, we had a couple multicolored washcloths with an embroidered YSL when I was a child. Where I went awry was guessing correctly that 17-Across, [Rube's opposite], was CITY SLICKER with a rebus somewhere, but KAYOS fit with the Y where the rebus square belonged in LAYS LOW ([Knocks to the ground]). 11-Down, [Orchid variety], is LADY SLIPPER crossing [New York's ___ Building, tallest in the world in 1930], or CHRYSLER. 36-Down, ["Ben-Hur" extra], is GALLEY SLAVE crossing PAY SLIPS, or [Check attachments] (this oddball term was just in another puzzle a few days ago). [Extra shuteye] is BEAUTY SLEEP and it crosses KEY SLOT, or [Lock opening].

Favorite clues: [It circles Hades nine times] for the river STYX; [Submarine base?] for SALAMI in a sandwich; ["Upidstay" language] for PIG LATIN; [Girl's name that's a butterfly genus] for GRETA (Greta oto is a glasswing butterfly); and [Canal near Rome] in New York State for ERIE. I had no idea that ALO was a [Phone greeting in Central America].

All righty now, moving along to Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword, "Here Comes the Sun"...what's the theme? SHADE YOUR EYES means we are to shade the letter I where it appears, I surmise. Hang on—let me go do that. Ah, doing so, we see that Patrick has drawn a sun with six rays. Or maybe it's eight rays, if you shade that central theme entry. All the I's give us a few words that end in that letter: Nancy PELOSI, the game of SHOGI, Sam RAIMI, GOTTI, SCUSI, SALAMI (this time it's a [Pizza topping] rather than sandwich fixin'), and a couple more. You don't get that many terminal-I words in most crosswords.


Patrick Blindauer's byline also appears on today's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Break a Leg!" The theme's got nothing to do with theater—rather, the word LEG is "broken," or split between words 1 and 2, in each theme entry. Some of the theme entries are inherently fun—the JUNGLE GYM, a DRIBBLE GLASS, and BUBBLE GUM. FLAMMABLE GAS and a VEGETABLE GARDEN resonate a bit less with my inner child...though there is a LEGUME connecting LIT and FLAMMABLE GAS, which connects with an inner adolescent dolt. [Captain Marvel's transformation word] is, of course, SHAZAM. Ah, '70s Saturday morning live-action TV! The Shazam and Isis hour was must-see TV.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword says that people who HAVE A MEAN STREAK are biting, sharp, foul, and cutting. Those four words begin the theme entries BITING THE BULLET ([Sucking it up]), SHARP CORNER ([Biker's challenge]), FOUL TIP ([Strikeout averter, perhaps]), and CUTTING EDGE ([Like the latest technology]). 1-Down is the [Current national all-time record], or the national DEBT. Speaking of the national debt, I'm hoping that Patrick Creadon's Wordplay follow-up, the documentary I.O.U.S.A., will be showing at the Chicago International Film Festival this fall. Below DEBT in the grid, we have two Jesus clues: [Jesus, ___ of God] and [Jesus of baseball]—LAMB and ALOU, respectively. Usually NIELS gets a Bohr clue, doesn't it? Here it's [19th-century Norwegian mathematician Abel]. His L crosses LICE, clued trickily as [Head case?]. There are some [Majestic fish eaters] in the grid, but they're not erns—they're BALD EAGLES.


June 24, 2008

Wednesday, 6/25

NYS 5:07
LAT 4:14
NYT 3:23
CS 3:20

Still another crossword debut in the New York Times, it looks like—the byline reads Rob Cook. The theme entries are five words that start with RE, broken into two words that are pronounced differently:

  • The noun [Talk in one's sleep?] is a REST ORATION.
  • [Building the Berlin Wall?] was a RED ACTION.
  • An [Equestrian addiction?] is a REIN HABIT. ("Whoa, I can quit any time I want.")
  • The [Back burner?] is a REAR RANGE.
  • And a [Literacy campaign?] is a READ MISSION.

The fill contains a baker's dozen of 7-letter entries and another dozen 6-letter entries. You might get likkered up with the COGNAC ([Snifter filler]), MADEIRA (one [Dessert wine]), and ETHANOL ([It gives punch to punch]) in general. I love the word PURLOIN, or [Make off with]. People at CASINOS may fancy themselves to be ON A ROLL. [Barry Bonds, to Willie Mays] is a GODSON.

Fun theme in the New York Sun crossword by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke, "Silly Songs." These goofy song titles are the sort of theme entries that can be tricky to spell correctly. There's the Police song, "DE DO DO DO, / DE DA DA DA," which I think is the one my Police-nut friend says is no good (but I like it just fine). Iron Butterfly recorded "IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA," and The Simpsons further immortalized it. Manfred Mann had "DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY," and the vaudeville era gave us "TA-RA-RA BOOM-DE-AY." I was so pleased to see that the [Rotund cartoon cat] was STIMPY (full name, Stimpson J. Cat) rather than Garfield. MEADOW gets a pop-culture clue, [One of the Sopranos]. Did you know that the robo-vacuum Roomba had a floor-washing cousin named SCOOBA? And do Isaac ASIMOV's Three Laws of Robotics apply to these appliances?


Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy crossword, "Inanimate Animals," assembles a set of three "[animal] in the [place]" phrases. There's a FROG IN THE THROAT, or [Slight hoarseness]; BIRD IN THE HAND, or [Proverbial sure thing]; and SNAKE IN THE GRASS, or [Concealed danger]. Hey, speaking of animals in the place, if you have kids and you're ever in the Twin Cities, don't miss Wild Rumpus Books. CHICKENS IN THE BOOKSTORE? Check. (Roaming freely, too.) And cats. And in cages, a tarantula, chinchillas, a ferret, birds, and a rat. We bought Eric Berlin's youth novel, the puzzly Puzzling World of Winston Breen, there.

Gary Steinmehl's LA Times crossword describes four theme entries with a fifth: CORNY ENDING. The [Fair fare] COTTON CANDY gives us candy corn, which I used to love but won't eat at Halloween time any more. Stacked below that answer is Peter Piper's PICKLED PEPPER, for a peppercorn. MOM AND POP, as in mom-and-pop store, crunch popcorn. [To the point] means SHORT AND SWEET, and sweet corn is indeed delicious. Anyone else feel estranged from the cluing wavelength in this puzzle?


June 23, 2008

Tuesday, 6/24

CS 4:52
Tausig 4:33
Onion 3:51
NYS 3:50
LAT 3:37
NYT 3:19

In showbiz news today, Broadcasting & Cable reported that Merv Griffin's Crosswords is going into production hiatus until at least early 2009 "because the costs were outweighing the returns." Mind you, 80% of the country was supposed to be airing the show's second season starting this fall, but that's not in the cards now. Does anyone mind? (Thanks to Clarence for sending the link.)

Barry Silk's New York Times crossword has five theme entries that begin with things you might DRAW (67-Across) in some fashion. They're not always a thing in the theme phrase—for example, a BLANK EXPRESSION starts with an adjective, but you can also draw a blank. And a BATH (TOWEL), CURTAIN (CALL), PICTURE (SHOW), and GUN(POWDER). In the fill, A ONE is paired with A TWO to make North Dakota legend Lawrence Welk's signature intro. KENTUCKY and neighboring TENN. are another related pair of answers. Old-time actress ANOUK Aimee gets her oddball first name in the grid rather than her last name (which sounds like a first name), which I think has appeared far more often. Also a smattering of foreign words—TRE and AMORE are Italian, ETAT is French, BESO is Spanish, DII is Roman (that counts, right?), QED is a Latin abbreviation and AD HOC is also Latin, and EMEER is Arabic. ROOTY is in there clued as [Like ground around a tree] rather than as part of the IHOP meal called the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity—it could have shared the grid with EGGO, a breakfast option for those who don't want to EAT OUT.

Derek Bowman's New York Sun crossword, "A and Q from A to Z," spells out a sentence that is a pangram (it's got 37 letters; longer and shorter ones are included with it here): WATCH JEOPARDY! / ALEX TREBEK'S / FUN TV QUIZ GAME. The theme didn't do anything for me, really, but I loved some of the fill: MR. BIG, JFK JR., and MCJOB all have unexpected consonant pile-ups. JURY-RIGS is a great word. SKIP ROPE's good, and I like the [Do double Dutch, e.g.] clue. (Here's a high-octane double Dutch video.) ABSINTHE! And LUKA, the Suzanne Vega song from 1987 (here's the video). And LES MIZ, which is what the Les Miserables musical was popularly called. And then there's KIKI / DEE, who duetted with Elton John on "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"; here's a video of that, in case you're in a YouTube mood. We had the 45 of that song when I was a kid, and I'm still fond of the tune. Watch the video and marvel at Elton and Kiki's wardrobes—bib overalls with an actual bib? Go figure!


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Vanishing Act," is, as usual, clued harder than the typical themed crossword from the CrosSynergy team. ACT has vanished from the theme entries—long-term impact, for example, becomes [Dennis the Menace, seemingly forever?], a LONG-TERM IMP. A [Saturn commercial directive?] is LIGHTS, CAMERA, ION because Saturn's SUV is called the Ion. [Jerk on the stump?] is CAMPAIGN TIC (tactic). Fanciest fill: RUSTY NAILS, or [Scotch and Drambuie drinks]; REGULAR JOE, or [Fine fellow]; [1973 Jim Croce hit] I GOT A NAME; and WARTHOG, or [Pumbaa of "The Lion King"]. My favorite clues: James [Caan job] for acting ROLE; [Skosh] for TAD; the three "power"-related clues for 46-, 48-, and 49-Down pertaining to math, the SEA, and geopolitics; the two "serenade" clues for BOO and WOO; [Initial education?] for the ABC'S; and [Cow's first sound?] for a HARD C.

Chuck Deodene's LA Times crossword features three 15-letter things that are FILED (which crosses the middle theme entry). There were a bunch of words that resonated with another one nearby in the grid. ALLY is separated from ENEMY by a wall of black squares. Marilyn HORNE and [Kenny G's horn], the SAX, are close together. DEPARTURE crosses AFAR. [Optimistic] ROSY crosses [Pessimist] NAYSAYER. A question, for those of you who still have vinyl record albums in the house: Is an [Album's first half] called SIDE A? I know 45's had the A side hit and a B side, but I'm thinking albums had sides 1 and 2.

Updated again:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Summer Blast," decides to TURN ON THE A.C., or insert AC into four other phrases to change them. Bombshell turns into BOMB SHELLAC, a [Ten-megaton finish?]. The [Floral-scented rapper?] is LILAC WAYNE (Lil Wayne). The [Cosmic campaign appearance?] is BARACK AT THE MOON (as in Ozzy Osbourne's "Bark at the Moon"). And an ID number turns into a drug [Dealer's inventory tag?], or ACID NUMBER. In the fill, CHACHA is clued as [Search engine that employs human searchers]. Here's chacha.com, if you're curious. My favorite fill: MANX CAT, ARM CANDY, [Queens-based clothier] FUBU, and [Kafka hero Gregor] SAMSA. BECK'S Dark is all right, but Negra Modelo is my go-to dark beer these days.

Deb Amlen goes literary in her Onion A.V. Club puzzle, but not so literary that the average high-school graduate who did the assigned reading will be lost. The theme is GEORGE ORWELL's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four—the THOUGHT CRIME concept, TELESCREEN technology, and all-seeing BIG BROTHER were scary and futuristic a few decades ago, but now? Orwell was looking mighty prescient. The Big Brother aspects of security cameras in public spaces, the PATRIOT Act, the TSA's airport screening, cameras that send you tickets for running a red light, and cell phones and search engines that track your whereabouts and queries weren't around in 1984, but they sure as hell are now. Scary, isn't it? I must chide Deb for the soap opera clue, [Anthony of "General Hospital"]. I immediately flashed back to 1980...and locked my sights on Genie Francis, who was Laura in the Luke and Laura pair. Anthony GEARY (Luke) eventually battled his way into the grid.


June 22, 2008

Monday, 6/23

NYS 3:32
Jonesin' 3:29
CS 3:08
NYT 2:57
LAT 2:51

Hello! I'm back home after five days in Minnesota, and boy, am I wiped out. I had a terrific time while PuzzleGirl held down the fort—nay, rocked the fort—here at la Casa de la Fiend. The only crosswords I tackled while in the Land of Ten or Twelve Thousand Lakes were the NYT puzzles, and most of those were done after 11 p.m. on a day when freight train horns and blazing solstice sun woke me ridiculously early. (If you loved any of the non-NYT crosswords from Wednesday through Sunday, tell me which ones they were so I can do those ones this week.)

I talked crosswords with three crossword-blog-reading Carleton alums, Seth G (who guest-blogged at Jim H's blog a few days ago), Christy M, and Everett C—all of them charming, as you'd expect of Times puzzle fans.

Let's see if I can remember how to blog about a crossword. The Monday New York Times crossword is the first as a duo for Andrea Michaels and Patrick Blindauer. Each is accomplished in his or her own right, and together, they've made an unrepentantly Mondayish puzzle. The fill is smoothly accessible, with the ARNO ([Florence's river]) being the most arcane-except-for-crosswords fill. (I.e., it should be straightforward enough for a beginning solver.) The theme entries are phrases one might say to shore up the bruised psyche of someone who didn't win. Is it just me, or is "WE STILL LOVE YOU" the most patronizing of the lines?


All righty, let's get this show on the road. I went to bed at 8:00 last night, so I just got to the Sun puzzle a few minutes ago. (And I still haven't done last Thursday and Friday's Sun, much less the other Saturday and Sunday themelesses.) Peter Collins' New York Sun crossword is called "Ending Up in Europe" because the starred theme entries are hiding European cities at their tail ends. The TEFLON DON, John Gotti, has London, England—a wordplay fact I'd never noticed. Tiffani-Amber THIESSEN has Essen, Germany, that city much beloved by crossword solvers. Or not loved, but faintly recognized when there's a 5-letter space for a German town. This one's kind of a cheat because even though the actress is American, the name is German. ROSEVILLE, Minnesota, has Seville, Spain. It would be great if there were a barber in that town called the Barber of RoSeville. Athens is in HEATHENS and Rome is in SYNDROME, which gets a Pixar pop-culture clue that you wouldn't know if you skipped The Incredibles. The Italian aperitif called Campari takes a plural in order to hide Paris; this one seems a bit brassy for a Monday, even in the Sun.

I really enjoyed the theme in Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "When the Saintes Go Marching In." STE (43-Down) is inserted into four 8- or 9-letter phrases to make new phrases. A RESTED GUARD incorporates the Red Guard, which is colorful. The TESTED KNIGHT includes Ted Knight, who played anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. [Hugh Laurie after a Friars Club event?] is a ROASTED HOUSE (roadhouse), and I should really get the latest season or two of House on DVD so I can catch up on that show. I like the BUSTED LIGHT because it's built from Bud Light, one of those watery beers I can drink only when they're free. Really, even when they're obscured by the addition of other letters, Ted Knight and Bud Light really liven up a crossword grid.

Mike Peluso's LA Times puzzle includes four phrases that start with synonyms:
THROWS A FIGHT = [Loses deliberately in the ring]
PITCHES A TENT = [Starts setting up camp]
HURLS INSULTS = [Heckles vehemently, with "at"]
TOSSES A SALAD = [Mixes greens and dressing]
Of course, the four words are synonyms in other contexts, but are all used in non-synonymous ways in the theme entries. It's more elegant that way, no?

There are several problems with Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "What's the Problem?" The theme entries are self-referential: Whatever the problem is with the answer is spelled out in the grid in a way that demonstrates the problem itself. It's sort of meta and hard to explain without just showing the answers:
ONE LETTER TOO LON wants the space to be one letter longer so the G will fit at the end. The one in the middle is MSSNGLLTHVWLS. (This one makes me hanker for Frank Longo's book of Vowelless Crosswords, scheduled to be released next January. I can't wait! It might be terrible practice for the ACPT, but I don't think I'll be able to postpone my purchase until March.) The third one features WORDZ SPELED RONG. I wonder how hard it would be to populate a crossword grid exclusively with words that are plausibly misspelled. Probably really difficult. In the fill here, there are plenty of 6- to 8-letter answers to spiff things up—ROLL CALL, COP-OUT (or...co-pout), C.S. LEWIS, a TRANS AM.


June 21, 2008

Sunday, 6/22

LAT 55:46
NYT 50:56
PI 23:30
CS 19:53
BG - not available this week

Welcome back to the blog, everybody. My name is PuzzleGirl and I'll be your host today. Are you all tired of me? Well, good, because Orange will be back in the hot seat for tomorrow's puzzles and you won't have old PuzzleGirl to kick around any more. I want to thank you all for hanging with me these last few days and I especially want to thank Orange for asking me to sub for her. It's been a real treat for me because my favorite place in the whole world is ... ? Anyone know? (My mom and my sister are probably reading this; I bet they know.) You got it: right in the center of attention. I actually prefer for there to be a stage involved, or at least a podium, but this way is pretty cool too. But enough about me, let's talk about my opinions.

Pamela Amick Klawitter's New York Times puzzle, "Chain Reaction" was really hard for me. I had three or four trouble spots that I had to keep going back to. I really liked the theme. It was, let's see, how can I explain it? Kind of an expansion on the "Before and After" category on Jeopardy. Each theme clue consists of three two-word phrases (and when I say two-word phrases, I mean that to include compound words). We're supposed to figure out the second of the three phrases and enter it into the grid. In each case, the last part of one item and the first part of the following item can be put together to make another two-word phrase. The last two-word phrase of one theme clue is then used to start the next theme clue. Here, I'll show you the first one in detail and then just list the rest: The clue is [Food court _____ circuit board], so the answer is CASE CLOSED: Food Court --> Court Case --> Case Closed --> Closed Circuit --> Circuit Board. Get it?

  • [Food Court] CASE CLOSED [Circuit Board]
  • [Circuit Board] FOOT LOCKER [Room Service]
  • [Room Service] ROAD HAZARD [Light Touch]
  • [Light Touch] SCREEN DOOR [Bell Pepper]
  • [Bell Pepper] SPRAY PAINT [Brushfire]
  • [Brushfire] WALL STREET [Smart Car]
  • [Smart Car] POOL PLAYER [Piano Bar]
  • [Piano Bar] GRAPH PAPER [Trailhead]
  • [Trailhead] MASTERCARD [Countertop]
  • [Countertop] DOLLAR SIGN [Post Office]
So if someone says "nowadays," how far back do you have to go until you get to a time when the thing you're talking about isn't true any more? I was surprised to see that [Like many dorms nowadays] was looking for COED. I lived in a coed dorm back in 1983. That seems like an awfully long time ago. But I went to kind of a hippie school, so maybe coed dorms were unusual. I did not know that Salvador Dali had a pet OCELOT. Apparently, it went almost everywhere with him. Here's a (slightly altered) picture. This is the second time this week I've seen the word chaperon in a puzzle without an E at the end. Merriam-Webster on-line says that without the E is a var. spelling. Then again, it's first definition is "a person (as a matron) who for propriety accompanies one or more young unmarried women in public or in mixed company." It could be time to update that. (It doesn't really mean that nowadays, does it?) One quick story and I'll shut up about this puzzle for now. [Prince Albert, for one] is a COAT. I didn't know that, so I was going through the alphabet: is it a boat? a goat? a moat? And that reminded me of an email I got from our realtor last week (our house is on the market). A couple who looked at our house thought they might be interested in buying it but they had heard from one of our neighbors that a couple of months ago we installed a moat around our house. The realtor wondered what that was all about. A moat. A MOAT. What is this, the Middle Ages? What did she expect me to say? "Yeah, we built a moat to, ya know, deter the invaders. We're having some over-crowding issues in our dungeon." I couldn't stop laughing. I have Absolutely No Idea where that came from. A moat. Still cracks me up.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle this week is called "Animals Are People, Too." The theme answers are familiar phrases that end with the name of an animal:
  • [Plant of a sort] = GOVERNMENT MOLE
  • [Pub-crawler's cousin] = LOUNGE LIZARD
  • [Talker looking for a deal, often] = STOOL PIGEON
  • [Usurer] = LOAN SHARK
  • [One with a big closet, perhaps] = CLOTHES HORSE
  • [Slangy resident of the Southwest] = DESERT RAT
  • [Low-rent womanizer] = PARLOR SNAKE
  • [Engine expert of a sort] = GREASE MONKEY
  • [Fame chaser] = PUBLICITY HOUND
Do we have a name for an answer that isn't part of the theme but kinda goes with it? Well, I found two of those in this puzzle: [Where to see urban gorillas] is CITY ZOOS, and [Shootout sounds] is RAT-A-TAT. Other than that, I don't have much to say about this puzzle. It was solid, creative, fun -- pretty much what I expect from Merl. If anything really struck you about the puzzle, please share in the comments!


Sorry I'm so late with this update, but Alan Arbesfeld's L.A. Times puzzle, "Switching Hands," which has a fun theme, was really, really hard for me. In each theme entry, a familiar phrase that includes a word starting with L or R begins that word with the "opposite hand" (R or L) instead.
  • [Jeweler?] = LOCKETMAN (rocketman)
  • [Review a women's bygone outfit?] = RATE (late) BLOOMERS
  • [Build a support network?] = COLLECT LOYALTIES (royalties)
  • [Tarot expert?] = READER (leader) OF THE PACK
  • [Cat's room service request?] = SEND UP THE LIVER (river)
  • [Shoe store temp's diary entry?] = A DAY AT THE LACES (races)
  • [Copy of "Atlas Shrugged" that was ordered?] = THE PROMISED RAND (land)
  • [How Bush felt about a former top aide?] = ALL YOU NEED IS ROVE (love)
  • [Shaky gymnastics maneuver?] = RICKETY (lickety) SPLIT
  • [Able to resist sexual desire?] = LUSTPROOF (rustproof)
I liked this puzzle a lot but, seriously, my head still hurts and it's late so I'm just going to move on.

Rich Norris's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has a ton of fun fill. Did you know the [First company to create glow-in-the-dark underwear] was JOE BOXER? Did you even know glow-in-the-dark underwear existed? I didn't. [Xer's parent, probably] was a gimme for me. I'm an Xer; my parents are BOOMERs. I used to live a couple blocks away from TKTS [Sign on a B'way booth]. Do people outside of New York know that place? It's a booth that sits on an island right in the middle of a really busy street. Seriously, you take your life in your hands trying to get to it. And once you get there, you can buy discount tickets for the day's Broadway shows. Here's a picture. TIMBUKTU is an [Historic city near the Niger River]. Also a song by Bob Seger that I can't find on YouTube. Sorry. Missteps along the way for me include spikes for SPURTS [Sudden increases]. (Thank God for TORI Spelling or I may never have gotten out of the southeast corner.) Leia for XENA [Princess from Amphipolis]. I obviously don't know my sci-fi princesses. I’m pretty solid on the Disney princesses though. I thought a [Begrudging agreement] would be I guess so but it was I SUPPOSE. And, finally, I wanted blared for BRASSY [Like trumpet music]. It all got worked out in the end, though, so I feel pretty good about myself and now I can go do some laundry and pay attention to my children. Thanks again, everyone!


Saturday, 6/21

Newsday 30:26
NYT 28:25
LAT 18:42
CS 8:04

Hey, everyone. I'm sure it's obvious from those numbers, but it's me, PuzzleGirl, with you again for a look at the Saturday puzzles.

The big surprise in the New York Times puzzle today is that apparently Tyler Hinman has a middle name. Who knew? I had a pretty good feeling when I saw his name on the puzzle. I thought to myself, "As long as he doesn't throw in any of that ultra-nerdy stuff -- Star Trek, Star Wars, or whatnot -- I'll be good." (Is he really known for putting that kind of stuff in his puzzles? It's possible that's just my impression of him. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.) So anyone want to guess the last letter I placed in the grid? That's right, the L in RIGEL [Planet system in several "Star Trek" episodes]. It was crossing the wicked, oh-man-I-hope-I-never-get-an-analogy-like-this-one-on-a-GRE clue: [Iberia : Spain :: _____ : Chile]. Iberia, I now know is a Spanish airline; its counterpart in Chile is LAN. The funny thing is, I totally guessed on that letter and it turned out right. That never happens. Overall, I thought it was a great puzzle. Funny-looking grid, four 15-letter entries, tough but gettable clues -- all-around good fun.

Stuff I learned: The [Group whose logo has a clock set at 11:00] is the ELKS. Does anyone know why? The [Six-Day War battleground] is GAZA. When all I had was the G, I thought, "Guam? Was there a war in Guam?" Jethro Tull, the band, was named after [Pioneering agriculturist Jethro] TULL. He invented the seed drill.

Stuff I knew: [It contains M.S.G.] refers to Madison Square Garden, which is in NYC. The [Girl who's the "you" in the lyric "I'll see you in my dreams"] is IRENE. My grandmother's name was Irene and at her memorial service a couple years ago we all sang "Goodnight, Irene" at the cemetery. I tell you what: You get enough old Irish guys together and there's gonna be some singin'. A [Crash pad?] is a FUTON. I had a friend who could never remember that word and always referred to a futon as a fondue.

I've never done the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" before, so it was nice to see a familiar name in the byline. This is the third Doug Peterson puzzle I've blogged in four days. What's up with that, Doug? You trying to take over or what? I've heard the Saturday Newsday puzzle is really hard, so I was a little scared going in. It was tough but fair and I enjoyed all of it. Okay, most of it. That bottom-right corner took me a loooong time to figure out. Let's take a look at the tricky clues:

  • [Major fire] = BARRAGE, not three-alarm or anything along those lines
  • [Throw on the floor] = AREA RUG, so proud of myself that I got this with no crosses
  • [It's cool, supposedly] = MILLION, had no idea what this was going for
  • [Refuse service] = TRASH COLLECTION, it's all about the pronunciation
  • [Price number] = ARIA, Leontyne Price
  • [Batter's need] = EGGS, my favorite clue/answer in the puzzle
  • [Round figures] = DISCS, I actually had pears in there for a while
  • [Coyote, for one] = NHLER, that's a hockey team, the Phoenix Coyotes
The major missteps I had were stave for SCARE, [Deter, with "off"]; first all wet and then sopped for SODDEN, [Soaking]; and, well, this wasn't a misstep but ALDA is an [Oxygen releaser]? From a quick Google search, it appears this refers to the Aldehyde Dehydrogenase Gene (aldA). But, honestly, after about five seconds my eyes glazed over and all the words blurred together, so I'm not 100% sure. Update: Alert reader Dan says the [Oxygen releaser] is ALGA making [Exhausted] ALL GONE. Thanks, Dan! It seemed like that was an awfully long way to go for ALDA.

I can't tell you how happy I was to finish James Sajdak's super-Scrabbly L.A. Times puzzle. I have not been having good luck with the late-week LATs and I was going to be embarrassed to post if I wasn't able to finish.

Things I learned: The ['40s gp. that trained at Congressional Country Club] was the OSS: Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA. CLETE is the [1969 Gold Glove-wining third baseman Boyer]. In 1969 he was an Atlanta Brave in the line-up with frequent crossword denizen Felipe Alou and a couple other guys you may have heard of: Hank Aaron and Joe Torre. Staying on the baseball topic, [Negro Leagues great Buck] O'NEIL was the first African-American coach in Major League Baseball. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.'s highest civilian honor. Oh and that [Ceramic container used as a lamp base]? That's a GINGER JAR.

Things I liked: [Trees for keys] completely baffled me until I had everything but the initial E. EBONIES are used to make piano keys. ["And now," e.g.] is a LEAD-IN even though I wanted it to be a segue at first. I had Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun" in my head this morning, but the puzzle replaced it with "ALL I Wanna Do." [Taxpayers] can be described as ASSESSEES. Wow. That is one funky looking word. And, finally, I don't know TOM LEHRER's ["That was the Week That Was"], but here's The Vatican Rag, an old favorite of mine from this brilliant and hilarious musician.

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "On the Mend," and the theme answers all end with things one could use to fix something wrong with your tired, old, broken-down, clumsy body.
  • [Fruity garden] = STRAWBERRY PATCH
  • [Gin cocktail] = SINGAPORE SLING
  • [Actors without major roles] = SUPPORTING CAST
  • [Seven Seas product] = ITALIAN DRESSING
The only real problem I had in this puzzle was in the southwest where I confidently entered DAVID for [Michelangelo statue vandalized in 1972]. I realized that was wrong when I wrote in diet for [Lo-cal] and thought to myself, "But if it isn't David, shouldn't it be PIETA?" Well, yes, it should be. But I first had to change diet to LITE. Whew! Problem solved. [Ricky Martin's hit, "Livin' la Vida LOCA"] got old after the first 500 times I heard it, but I tell you what. If you like Ricky Martin at all -- and even if you don't -- check out this song. I'm putting this on my "Can't Sit Still Mix."


June 19, 2008

Friday, 6/20

NYT 53:38
WSJ 41:56
NYS 28:52
LAT 20:07
CHE 13:42
CS 5:46

PuzzleGirl here. It's comical seeing numbers that big at the top of this blog, isn't it? Thanks everybody for being so dang nice to me the last couple of days. It's been a blast so far. Now I want to ask you something and I want you to be honest. Are you here for an explanation of the theme in Joe Bower's New York Sun puzzle? It's called "Would You Believe?" Personally, I solved the puzzle, looked at the title, looked at the theme entries, looked at the title, looked at the theme entries some more …. Couldn't figure it out. There was no way I was going to post again without understanding the freakin' theme, so I emailed our friend Pete over at Sunblocks. He hadn't solved the puzzle yet but said casually, and I quote, "The title immediately makes me think of 'Get Smart,' but I can't think how that would be a theme." Guess what, boys and girls. That's the theme. Thanks, Pete! "Would you believe...?" is, of course, a catchphrase from the popular 1960s television show, "Get Smart." The theme entries all start with words related to the show.

  • [Sassy] = SMART-MOUTHED. The show's main character is secret agent Maxwell SMART.
  • [#2 hit of January 1984] = 99 LUFTBALLONS. Agent 99 is the character played by Barbara Feldon.
  • [They preside over presidential impeachment trials] = CHIEF JUSTICES. The agents' boss is pretty much exclusively referred to as "CHIEF." As in, "Sorry about that, Chief."
  • [Micromanager, for example ] = CONTROL FREAK. CONTROL is the secret U.S. spy agency the show is centered around.
This is a solid, creative theme. I'm embarrassed that I couldn't see it on my own. Because I didn't know the theme, the 99 really surprised me. I couldn't decide if I loved it or if it was totally unfair. Knowing the theme makes that an easy answer: love it. What do you all think about numbers in the puzzle?

Miscellaneous stuff: [_____ to Go (stain remover)] was looking for TIDE, but with all the home improvement projects we've been doing lately, all I could think of was wood stain. It seemed very strange to me that there was a product available to remove wood stain. I thought you just had to sand the stupid wood. I couldn't multiply properly and came up with CCL for [L squared], which isn't even close to the actually answer of MMD. I majored in English; you do the math. [It might be sold by the yard] is ALE, but I wanted ade. You know, like a lemonade stand out in front of your yard? [Not flat, in a way] was looking for a FITTED sheet, but I was still focused on the bra theme ([Like some bras], PUSHUP) so could only come up with words like buxom and full-figured, which obviously didn't work at all. [Genre associated with turntablism] is RAP. Turntablism? Really? Apparently, yes. [School in Philly] is UPENN. I've always liked schools that can be referred to like that, U Penn, U Conn, Texas U. Of course I'm kidding about that last one.

When I saw Mike Nothnagel's name on the New York Times puzzle it made me so happy. I'm typically right on Mike's wavelength and, though his puzzles are tough, I can pretty much expect to fight my way through them. And, well ... I don't usually have as much trouble as I did tonight. I'm going to blame it on the exhausting pace of keeping up with this blog.

Lots of good stuff here. [Head of an alley?] is a ONE PIN. Whenever I see Head in a clue I think the answer is going to be Edith. As far as I know, she wasn't much of a bowler. You didn't think I'd let you leave without telling you what Gravlax is, did you? It is, apparently, a Scandinavian dish consisting of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and DILL. Considering my heritage, it seems like that should be right up my alley. But I think I'll stick with lefse. (Here's where you can order some. Yum!) I always get Ed WYNN [Old-time comic Ed] confused with Fred Gwynne (Mr. Munster). [A National Cartoonists Society award is named for him] = Elzie SEGAR, Popeye's creator. Recipients of this award include frequent crossword denizens Dik Brown (1973), Al Capp (1979), and Bil Keane (1982). Thank God for HANNAH (and her sisters) [Title role in a 1986 Woody Allen film], or I might never have finished that corner. [Part of an even exchange] refers to TIT for tat. (Heh heh. You said "tit.") And [Butt] was looking for RAM, and not bum, which I had until the bitter end. (Heh heh. You said "butt.") I wanted [Be in the can] to mean something along the lines of all wrapped up or finished. But the puzzle wanted SERVING TIME. (When I just typed that it made me think of the way John Locke always talks about The Island. "The Puzzle knows what we need, Jack!")

There's a bunch of other good stuff in here, but I'm so late posting already that I'll leave the discussion to you. See ya in the comments....


John Lampkin's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle takes some well-known scientific phrases and clues them as if the first word of the phrase is spelled differently. Like so:
  • [It predicts that the dullest party guest will sit next to you?] = BOHR THEORY
  • [It indicates how many times you'll be made fun of after doing something dumb?] = MACH NUMBER
  • [It measures the hardness of a bop to Larry or Curly's head?] = MOHS SCALE
  • [It governs the behavior of watched pots on stoves?] = BOYLE'S LAW
I don't know nothin' 'bout no science stuff, but I have heard of these phrases. I know some of you are going to have a field day discussing them in detail. Have fun! I'll be over here licking my wounds from the beating Nothnagel gave me. Several of the answers in this puzzle were obviously included just for me. (It is all about me, right?) When I lived in New York for a couple years I was like two blocks away from the [T.S. Eliot-inspired musical] CATS. Every once in a while my neighbors and I would get to see one of the actors walking down the street in one of those costumes. Too funny. As a graduate of the University of Maryland, I had no problem getting TERRAPIN for [Diamondback reptile]. We're college wrestling fans here at our house and I was telling my kids the other day that since we're moving away from Iowa and back out to the DC area, we'll probably start following the Terps wrestling team. They asked me what a terp was and I explained it was short for terrapin, which is a turtle. You know the next question, right? "Mommy, why would they want a turtle for their mascot?" To which I responded, "Um, er, … well, it's a big, scary turtle." Not sure how else to make sense of that one. The University's slogan right now is "Fear the Turtle," which I think is pretty humorous. If you haven't read John Irving's A Prayer for Owen MEANY, you might want to check it out. Most people I know who've read it consider it one of their favorite books. Let's see, what else was in there for me? [Simon Bolivar's birthplace] is CARACAS. Been there. An EXACTA is an example of a [Two-horse wager]. Done that. TAE BO is a [1990s exercise fad]. Bought the tapes.

Updated again:

I guess I hadn't really focused on the fact that I'd be blogging six puzzles today. And if you're still reading this, I've already taken up a significant part of your day. So these last three will be short.

The theme of Dan Fisher's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "R&D Investment" is pretty tricky. He took a two-word phrase, added an R somewhere in the first word and a D somewhere in the second word and then clued the resulting phrase. Like so:
  • [Bitter tub feature?] = ACRID DRAIN (Acid Rain)
  • [Tennis drop shot from Gandhi?] = INDIRA DINK (India Ink)
  • [Protectors of the reef ecosystem?] = CORAL MINDERS (Coal Miners)
  • [Cultivated basswood trees?] = BRED LINDENS (Bed Linens)
  • [Very small measure in a hardware store?] = BRAD BREADTH (Bad Breath)
  • [Silt that came from a brook?] = STREAM POWDER (Steam Power)
  • [Poets who wrote about the market in 1929?] = CRASH BARDS (Cash Bars)
  • [Items discovered while hiking?] = TRAIL FINDS (Tail Fins)
  • [Squeeze the water out of Southern greens?] = WRING COLLARDS (Wing Collars)
  • [Colorful kerchiefs worn by Al?] = GORE'S BANDANAS (Goes Bananas)
Whew! Some of those were hard to figure out. Especially the ones that had other Rs and Ds in them. Other notable stuff: Thought we might be seeing Tonga again already, but ARUBA's motto is ["One Happy Island"]. A [Brief scene] is a VIGNETTE. Great word. [Summer music] did exactly what it was supposed to do and gave me fits. I couldn't think of a genre specific to summer (the season) and only through crosses did I remember DISCO queen, Donna Summer. [Fawning flattery] is SMARM. Another great word. Is there a creepier character on television than BEN Linus, [Leader of the Others on "Lost"]?

Billie Truitt's LA Times puzzle is full of Zs. She took a familiar phrase, changed the spelling of the first word to include a Z, and then clued the resulting phrase.
  • [Grab a lantern?] = SEIZE THE LIGHT (Sees the Light)
  • [Ongoing confusion?] = DAZE OF OUR LIVES (Days of Our Lives)
  • [Be paralyzed by money woes?] = FREEZE FROM DEBT (Frees from Debt)
  • [Relax, commuter-style?] = LAZE ON THE LINE (Lays on the Line)
Stuff I liked: [Wearer of #37, the first uniform number retired by the Mets] is Casey STENGEL who, like Yogi Berra, was exceedingly quotable. Here's one of my favorites: "The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided." Indeed. One of the words my son learned in school this year is GLUTEUS [Bum muscle?]. He uses it at every opportunity and just knows he's hilarious.

Thank God for Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Minding the Storage." I'm hoping that my time on this puzzle allows me to keep at least a shred of credibility around here. Theme answers in this puzzle all end with something that can be used as storage.
  • [1970s cop show] = STARSKY AND HUTCH
  • [Woodpecker's feeding spot] = TREE TRUNK
  • [Track and field event] = POLE VAULT
  • [Quickly-decided matter] = OPEN-AND-SHUT CASE
Ya know what? That's all I'm going to say about that one. I need to go rest up for tomorrow's puzzles.


June 18, 2008

Thursday, 6/19

NYS 27:04
NYT 12:35
LAT 9:38
CS 6:12

Hi, everybody. PuzzleGirl here again with your daily dose of puzzly goodness. Doug Peterson's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" was slow going for me, but I was able to finish without a Google so I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

The puzzle has two awesome 15-letter answers crossing each other. [Telecommuting reduces it] is a nice reminder to keep an eye on that CARBON FOOTPRINT. And [Brown Bears' adversaries] are the PRINCETON TIGERS. So what's a Brown Bear? Well, duh. That's the mascot of Brown University. Don't you love how Wikipedia allows you to look something up immediately and avoid that extra 5 or 10 seconds it would take to come up with a really obvious answer on your own? Wikipedia also tells me that "Brown's first mascot was a burro, first introduced in 1902 in a game against Harvard. The burro mascot was not retained after it seemed frightened by the noise of the game, and due to the laughter it provoked." Notable Brown Bears include John Heisman, a football player who I'm pretty sure has a trophy named after him.

I don't know what it is about the phrase BABY BUMP, [Indication of a bun in the oven?], but it really gives me the creeps. Almost as much as the phrase "bun in the oven." It took me a while to figure out that [Part of M.E.] is referring to a Medical EXAMINER even though I've watched every single episode of Law & Order except for one from 2001 that, for some reason, TNT refuses to rerun even though they show Law & Order like 12 times per day. What? You all don't keep a spreadsheet to keep track of which Law & Order episodes you've watched? Well, you should. Loved the clue for TRIOS: [Backup groups, often]. Did you know that these days Gladys Knight tours with just one Pip? When I got to [She accompanied Ferris on his day off], I'm all, "Ferris Bueller's girlfriend's name is ...? Anyone? Anyone?" (It's SLOANE.)

HAha, YMCA: [Where "you can hang out with all the boys," according to song]. Did someone say Village People? Okay, I apologize for that. To make it up to you, this link will take you to my favorite reference to TUSCALOOSA, which is, of course a [City on the Black Warrior River] (the audio is a little light on this video, so turn up your speakers). I'm going to go ahead and declare this the best opening 32 seconds in all of country music. Said PuzzleGirl.

The Thursday New York Times is typically the puzzle I look forward to every week. And the minute I opened up this Joe Krozel masterpiece, I could tell I wouldn't be disappointed. What an awesome format. The black squares form the word LIES. When they tell you right upfront there are going to be lies involved, you know that's gonna be fun, right? When you finally make your way down to 56 Across, you find out the [Number of clues in this puzzle that contain factual inaccuracies] is TEN. Here are the lies I found in the puzzle:

  • [France's _____ von Bismarck] = OTTO. Hi, France? Yeah, Germany called and they want their Chancellor back.
  • [Chemical element with the symbol Fe] = NEON. I can only assume that every single one of you did what I did and confidently wrote in IRON and then couldn't figure out what kind of f**ed up way they were trying to spell Mother TERESA [Mother of Calcutta]. (In case you're wondering, the symbol for NEON is Ne.)
  • [Former pharmaceutical giant] = GTE. Only in the sense that pharmaceutical = telecommunications.
  • [Father of Jacob] = ESAU. As any crossword puzzler knows, Jacob and Esau are twin brothers.
  • [Golf great Andre] = AGASSI. I obviously knew the puzzle was going to have some kind of LIES in it, but this was the first answer that made me realize some of the answers were just going to be Wrong. Now, I don't claim to know All the golfers, but I'm pretty sure I could rattle off a list of the golf Greats. And not one of them is named Andre. Agassi is, of course, a tennis champ.
  • [Standard office-closing time] = NINE AM, which actually makes a pretty good office-Opening time, don't you think?
  • [It's more than 90 degrees] = ACUTE ANGLE. In the sense that more than = less than (or ACUTE = obtuse).
  • [Tennis champ Ernie] = ELS. Ernie Els! The Big Easy! (Does anyone really call him that? I think they do.) He's the golf great masquerading as Andre Agassi up at 8 Down.
  • [Currency of China] = YEN. Yeah, hi, China? Japan called and wants their currency back. Sorry, I'm too tired to come up with a new joke.
So here's the thing. That's nine lies. Is the number TEN a lie too? Or am I just not smart enough to see the other wrong answer I entered? Let me know in the comments.
Updated to say that [Summer hrs. in N.Y.C.] are EDT and not EST. So that makes ten lies. Thanks, John! Updated again to admit that I didn't find the first nine lies on my own -- I only had six. Thanks for the other three, Wade!


The theme answers in Dan Naddor's L.A. Times puzzle all contain a homophone for the word MAIN.
  • [Droll ESPN personality] = KENNY MAYNE
  • [City on the Penobscot] = BANGOR, MAINE
  • [Chinese noodle dish] = BEEF LO MEIN
  • [Lahr costume feature] = LION'S MANE
  • [Underground conduit] = WATER MAIN
I got that first one right out of the gate with no crosses. I heart Kenny Mayne! BANGOR was harder for me to puzzle out because for [Screwup] I initially had "gaff" (which I'm pretty sure isn't spelled right) instead of GOOF. [Oft-monopolized den item] made me laugh. My husband travels a lot and, while I hate to have him gone so much, I must say I do like being in charge of the REMOTE. I had to work for [Part of Roy G. Biv], a "traditional mnemonic for the sequence of hues in the visible spectrum": Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, INDIGO, and Violet. Skye is one of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, so a [Skye cap] is a TAM. Tricky.

Theme answers in Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Bull Ring," all start with the letters BU and end with LL.
  • [Battle site of the American Revolution] = BUNKERHILL
  • [William Cody's nickname] = BUFFALO BILL
  • [Play the stock market] = BUY AND SELL
  • [Taps or reveille] = BUGLE CALL
  • [Bebop era jazz pianist] = BUD POWELL
Just yesterday, my daughter and I picked up a few things at the local grocery store and found that they're giving away one of those reusable grocery bags to each customer. Awesome! Printed right on the bag are the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, RECYCLE [Use again, in an eco-friendly way]. That got my daughter and me singing this cool Jack Johnson song on the way home. I misread [Pitched properly] as "pitched property" and couldn't figure out why "tepee" wouldn't work with the crosses. (The correct answer is ON KEY.) I don't get how [Pickup line?] is HELLO. Is that a Jerry Maguire reference? Seems like USA! USA! [Patriotic shout] is showing up a lot these days. It must be time for the Olympics. Do people in the 'hood really declare they're badness? I think of I'M BAD as a declaration on a Michael Jackson album more than a [Delcaration in the 'hood]. But maybe that's just me.


June 17, 2008

Wednesday, 6/18

LAT 12:42
NYS 8:54
NYT 7:17
CS 6:25

Okay, I know what you're thinking. "Oh my God -- someone call 911! Orange has obviously fallen on her head and lost the ability to solve crossword puzzles!" Don't fret. Orange is off enjoying some quiet time for a few days. And I mean quiet like very little Internet access and no television in her room. Makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it. In the meantime, you're stuck with me, PuzzleGirl. Let's just try to make the most of it, okay? Obviously it takes me quite a bit longer than Orange to solve the puzzles so I just hope my kids don't expect me to, ya know, pay attention to them, make them food, take them places -- stuff like that, for the next few days. Onto the puzzles....

Alan Olschwang's New York Sun puzzle, "Atom," has some fun long answers:

  • [The Golden Globe lifetime achievement award is named after him] is CECIL B. DEMILLE. I was poking around on imdb.com yesterday looking at some awards stuff and came across this fact, so it was a gimme for me today. Speaking of gimme....
  • ["Mamma Mia!" song] is GIMME GIMME GIMME. How do I not know this song? I clicked over to YouTube to find it, expecting that once I heard it I'd go "Oh THAT Gimme Gimme Gimme." But no. Never heard it. Maybe because it's … not a great song.
  • [Peggy Parish protagonist] is AMELIA BEDELIA. My 7-year-old daughter read the part of Amelia Bedelia in a school read-aloud play and tells me she is very funny. When Mrs. Rogers tells her to dress the chicken, Amelia puts clothes on it. And that's where my daughter says she had the opportunity to use expression: "You told me to dress the chicken! So I dressed the chicken!"
Okay, this is embarrassing but it's definitely not the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last, so I'm just going to own up to it: I have no idea how the title relates to the puzzle. I'd be grateful if someone would please explain it in the comments for those of us who are clearly not smart enough to keep up with Peter Gordon. (It's not just me, right?) Thanks.

Other interesting stuff: [It has two lameds in its name] is the Israeli airline EL AL. The lamed, Wikipedia informs me, is the 12th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Thank goodness for crosses with two ungettable (for me anyway) names right next to each other. [2005 NBA Rookie of the Year _____ Okafor] is EMEKA and [2003 Peace Nobelist Shirin _____] is EBADI. Note to self: memorize Peace Nobelists. Seems like I DIG [Beatnik's expression of understanding] has been popping up quite a bit recently. I can't see a reference to beatniks without picturing Mike Myers in "So I Married an Axe Murderer." Nice echo in a couple clues: [Guy's female friend], meaning Guy like a French guy named Guy, leads to AMIE. Later in the puzzle, [Guy's female friend], referring to just any old ordinary guy, leads us to GAL. Nice.

In the New York Times puzzle, Adam Fromm added the letter L to some familiar phrases to come up with some amusing entries. [Appetizer, entrée or dessert?] is DINNER PARTLY, [Bonbon and how it should be divvied up?] is SUGAR PLUM FAIRLY, and [Doubting apostle? Not by a long shot!] is THOMAS HARDLY. So I hate to make this blog all about me right on the first day and all, but wow! Lots of gimmes for me today. I grew up in North Dakota so Lawrence WELK, [Lawrence of the North Dakota Hall of Fame], was a no-brainer. And does anybody remember that 80's band the Jets? The band, which had a couple of hits in "You Got It All" and "Crush on You," was made up of brothers and sisters in a large Mormon family (at least they all claimed to be brothers and sisters -- I had my doubts, but that's not really important). Before they hit the big time, such as it was, they performed poolside at a Holiday Inn in Moorhead, Minnesota, every weekend, where they were called the Polynesian Pearls. After the Polynesian show, which featured their mother singing and I'm pretty sure one of the boys ate fire at some point, the kids would come back out and sing covers for the rest of the night. I lived in the next town over at the time and I'm not really sure how it started, but a friend and I were there to see them pretty much every weekend. We got to know them and I even sang with them a few times if you can believe that (I can't). So that's a pretty long story just to tell you that they were originally from TONGA, an [Archipelago known as the Friendly Islands], which comes up in crosswords from time and time and makes me think of them fondly. And now that I've babbled on so long about, basically, nothing, I'll leave it to all of you to discuss the puzzle in the comments.


Doug Peterson's LA Times puzzle offers some fun wordplay:

[Good place for a split] = STOCK MARKET PAGE
[Bad place for a split] = BOWLING ALLEY
[Good place for a split] = SODA FOUNTAIN
[Bad place for a split] = SEAT OF ONE'S PANTS

I love starting off with a gimme at 1 Across. I've been doing some work for a RABBI [Temple leader] the last couple days so the word was right there for me. Unfortunately, as you can tell from my time, everything pretty much fell apart after that. I spent the last two minutes or so on the Northeast corner where I couldn't get "Here Comes the Judge" out of my head, though the puzzle wanted ["Here Come the COEDS": 1945 college comedy]. SO AM I ["Likewise"] was overshadowed by ditto, me too, and same here. [Little, in Livorno] was looking for POCO. Livorno is, of course, not in France so peu and petite were getting me nowhere.

Other stuff: For [Lovey-dovey letter] I was searching my brain for a word that I still haven't been able to come up with. It's a strange word, it means "love letter" but doesn't seem like it should mean "love letter." Anyone? I'm glad it wasn't that word though, because MASH NOTE is pretty fun. I had a friend once who referred to "making out" as "mashing." Me: "Did you have fun last night on your date?" Her: "Yeah. We mashed." I know that [Calgary's prov.] is ALTA but, seriously. What's up with that abbreviation? Shouldn't there be a B or an R in there somewhere? I also liked seeing the reference to the ARK [Place of refuge] today. I thought we were going to need one here in Iowa these last few days.

The theme of Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle today is HEAD START [School readiness program and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. All the theme answers start with words that can precede the word HEAD to make another familiar word.

[Touchy topic, so to speak] = HOT POTATO =>HOTHEAD
[Smack-dab in the middle] = DEAD CENTER =>DEADHEAD
[Inflatable sleeping surface] = AIR MATTRESS => AIRHEAD
[High-speed transporter] = BULLET TRAIN =>BULLETHEAD
[Seamstress's accessory] = PIN CUSHION => PINHEAD

There's another kind of HEAD that would have been funny to include, but I guess this is a family show. I hadn't heard of "7 Faces of DR. LAO" [1964 title role for Tony Randall]. Wikipedia tells me that in that film, Tony Randall "also appears as Pan, Apollonius of Tyana, a borderline-senile Merlin and even Medusa and the Abominable Snowman." Talk about range. BRAGS, [Toots one's own horn], reminded me of Dizzy Dean's line: "It ain't bragging if you can do it." I said that to my sister one time and I recall she responded with, "Except that, well, yeah, it is." Interesting that BETTE is pronounced two different ways to fit the clue, [Midler or Davis]. Happy to see the [1992 presidential also-ran] Ross PEROT in the puzzle. He's from Texas, you know.


How do you pronounce AERIE?

Click here and scroll down past the dictionary definition to the "Word Tutor" sample sentence. Click the speaker icon to the right of the sentence to hear it spoken aloud. Laugh. Click it again. Laugh again. Forward link. Click it again. Laugh again.

(Hat tip to Rex.)


June 16, 2008

Tuesday, 6/17

Onion 4:45
Tausig 4:40
NYS 4:23
Jonesin' 3:59
LAT 3:19
CS 3:12
NYT 2:39

Whew! Busy busy busy. Wednesday morning, I'm heading to Minnesota, and I'll be mostly off-line through Sunday. The charming and delightful PuzzleGirl (who may or may not tell you folks her real name) will work her fingers to the bone leading the puzzle discussion here while I'm away, and Dave Sullivan (also charming and delightful) will peek in and make sure those new solving-time standings doohickeys (he tells me they're "bricklets") are working all right. (Wait, "bricklets"? That sounds like gum that'll shatter your teeth.)

I had to peruse Steven Ginzburg's New York Times crossword for a bit to understand how the theme worked. DINNER TABLE, DOUBLE AGENT, and PLAYSTATION all relate to DATE AND TIME in the same way—we have dinner dates and dinner time, double dates and double time, playdates and play time. I don't care for [Bride's title] as a clue for MRS—yes, it's accurate some of the time so it's valid as a crossword clue, but there are plenty of women who remain Ms. after exchanging wedding vows. I like the slanginess of SHIV ([Weapon in a gang fight] or the sort of knife that sounds at home on Law and Order) and KITSCH ([Show of lowbrow taste]). That Kinkade picture can be classified as kitsch (and makes me want to shout, "Omigod, call the fire department! The interior is a blazing inferno!"). There are a few great multi-word entries, too—NOSE-DIVED and CLOUD OVER are solid 9s, and the DNA TEST can be a GODSEND to guests on the Maury Povich show. Favorite clue: [African heavyweight, for short] for RHINO. Was your first thought of boxing?

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword, "Gross Out," takes out the gross (ICK, 61-Down) and thus morphs six phrases into different creatures. To get a bit more space for six Across theme entries, the grid's expanded to 15x16. Julie Chen of CBS's Early Show (and Big Brother) is featured in SPRING CHEN (spring chicken). Pickup trucks become PUP TRUCKS, the wicked witch becomes WED WITCH, a PET FENCE emerges from picket fence, a ticket office celebrates a New Year as a TET OFFICE, and sticky fingers turn into STY FINGERS, a truly icky [Source of pigs' knuckles?]. The 10 longest answers in the fill have some gems, too.


Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Never a Good Sign," changes one letter in standard road sign verbiage to alter the message. Bike lane becomes NIKE LANE, COW-AWAY ZONE [restricts Holstein parking] (tow-away zone), a red stop sign says ATOP instead, and PRONG WAY points the way to antlers (not wrong way). My favorite themer is DUNAWAY VEHICLES / ONLY, [sign indicating that the movies "Network" and "Mommie Dearest" are coming up, but no others?]. The Rocky Balboa sign turned out to be YO, RIGHT TURN, but I took a wrong turn on that by guessing NO FIGHT TURN. (Whoops.)

Michael Langwald's LA Times crossword is out of season. Snow? In June? I mean, sure, there was snow out west just last week, but I'm not generally looking for wintry themes in the summer. The theme answers—BOARD ROOM, BANK BRANCH, BALL BOY, BIRD DOG, and BELT BUCKLE—are all SNOW-BOUND in that there are such things as a snowboard, snowbank, snowball, snowbird, and snowbelt. For an added touch, all the theme phrases start with a B.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Accentuate the Positive," incorporates an UP in four phrases. [Two minutes in the penalty box?] might be a FOUL UPSHOT—add UP to a foul shot, and the upshot of a foul in hockey is two minutes in the penalty box. [Spassky's loss to Fischer?] was a CHESS UPSET—chess set + UP. Solid theme, and plenty of solid longish crossing entries in the fill (e.g., PETER PAN, the ARABIAN SEA, and a DAIRY COW). GENE is clued with [One might make you fat]—is that a medical/genetic fact?

Updated again:

Whoops, I forgot that Ben Tausig's Google Group would be sending out two puzzles today. Ben's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Shady Business," breaks out some fancy Crayola shades. Technically, I don't know that these are Crayola colors, but the theme works like this: A phrase is preceded by a color name, and the first part of the phrase also forms a discrete entity when welded to the color (a la Wheel of Fortune "Before and After" answers). [Peaceful financial institution?] is an OLIVE BRANCH BANK, with olive branch and branch bank being legitimate stand-alone phrases. [Buffalo cloverleaf?] refers to Buffalo, New York: RUST BELT LOOP. The TAN LINE JUDGE is [One who evaluates bodies back from the beach?]. And a [Trainer in a herpetarium?] might be a COPPERHEAD COACH. Favorite fill: PEA and LENTIL with [Samosa legume] clues (although I've never seen lentils in a samosa—mostly potatoes, peas, and spices); KABUKI; IXNAY; and JOCKS.

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword stretches out to a 16x15 grid. There are five theme answers spanning six entries, all of them inventions that killed their inventors. Certainly an oddball trivia amalgamation, isn't it? Such a shame that the ROPE AND PULLEY / SYSTEM ended up strangling the clever engineer who devised it. Fill highlights include those dozen answers that are 7 to 9 letters long. LOIS LANE is clued ["It's better than your drawings of naked ___" (Retort by Elaine to Jerry)], and I don't remember that line of dialogue. [Not worth doing?] clues BAD IN BED. The Terminator's "I'LL BE BACK" catchphrase is a latter-day classic, of course. I've never heard of ["The Young and the Restless" star Don] DIAMONT; I was always an ABC soaps watcher. I could swear I grew up seeing ONAN clued as a Biblical seed-spiller in crosswords before the convention became cluing it as a two-word partial, ON AN. Byron's clue for it is [Biblical character whose act of coitus interruptus led to his death]; when looking back at the Across Lite window to see if that was the end of the clue, my eyes took in "(as seen on YouTube)" from another clue and I was taken aback. ONAN's crossing an ENEMA, or [Process of elimination?], rounding out the transgressive corner of the crossword. Actually, BRAN is [Regular input?], too.