July 31, 2008

Friday, 8/1

NYS 5:43
NYT 4:24
CHE 4:07
LAT 4:04
CS 3:21

WSJ 7:58

(post updated at 12:30 Friday afternoon)

It's always a treat to have a crossword by Patrick B., isn't it? Yeah, you know who I'm talking about: Patrick Berry. Or Patrick Blindauer. Heck, why not both? That's what we've got on hand tonight, a Sun puzzle by Mr. Blindauer and an NYT from Mr. Berry.

Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle is a 66-word themeless creation. He has set the bar high for himself with his past work, and as usual he rises to the occasion with a silky smooth crossword. It's almost three crosswords in one, with the northwest and southeast corners almost walled off from the diagonal center zone. In no particular order, my favorite clues and answers:

  • [Like singing in a shower] is the clue for A CAPPELLA. I don't know about the rest of you, but I often bring at least a guitarist into the shower to accompany my singing.
  • I don't usually care for U-BOAT ([Ship sinker]) and A-BOMBS ([W.W. II enders, for short]) in a crossword, but they work better when they intersect each other.
  • [Unwilling to get organized] is ANTI-UNION and has nothing to do with the volume of clutter on my desk. Labor activist Silkwood]'s first name was KAREN.
  • The CRIMEAN [War ("Charge of the Light Brigade" conflict)] is a Tennyson-reading English major's gimme. I knew someone who went to the Crimea for the Peace Corps.
  • Oh! The NORWEGIAN BLUE parrot, [Fictional parrot type featured in Monty Python's "dead parrot sketch"]. Watch the sketch here.
  • [Some swings in a ring] are LEFTS, as in boxing punches with the left hand.
  • The BURRO is a [Pack animal], while the CAMEL gets a question mark in [Pack animal?]. Why? I'm guessing it's the Camel cigarettes camel.
  • WATER BALLOONS—[They often make a splash]. Can you explain why I started out with TRIAL BALLOONS?
  • The OPEN BAR is [Where to find free spirits].
  • HONEST ABE was an [1860 campaign nickname].
  • [Around the witching hour] means LATE NIGHT.
  • [Snapper, of a sort] is a CENTER. I think this has to do with football.
Other clues of note:
  • [It might make you red in the face] is ACNE. Not sure why this clue, with "red," crosses BEET RED.
  • [Plato and Aristotle, e.g.] are ANCIENTS.
  • The Elmer's website claims that the [Elmer's product] called GLUE-ALL is "America's favorite all-purpose glue." Do you have any? I sure don't.
  • [Dextrose] is CORN SUGAR.
  • [The M-1, for one] is a CARBINE. Why did I get this right away?
  • Anything [Dealing with honey makers], or bees, is APIAN.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword is entitled "Twenty Question Marks." There are three question marks in the grid itself, where pairs of questions cross, and I counted 16 question-marked clues. That makes 19. I don't know if it's correct or not, but mentally I've added a question mark to one of my favorite clues, [Place to get sheets for a song], to get a 20th question mark. (The answer has nothing to do with sheet music—rather, it's a WHITE SALE where you can buy bedsheets for a good price.) Oh! Wait! There it is! It's the big question mark made out of black squares in the center of this asymmetrical 15x16 grid. Wow, there's a lot to talk about with this puzzle. Let's take it paragraphically:

The asymmetry— This crossword is asymmetrical for a good reason: The black question mark isn't a symmetrical beast, and it's a key element of the theme. It doesn't, I find, affect the solving experience one whit to have the grid deviate from symmetry rules.

The theme— The theme includes six questions in the grid, 16 question-marked tricky clues, and that big graphical element. The theme entries are "WHO'S ON FIRST?" crossing "SO?" (Hey, a 2-letter word! Those aren't permitted in standard crossword rules), "WHERE AM I?" crossing "WHEN?", and "WHAT?" crossing "IT IS?". Why and how don't get their moment in the sun.

The fill— Lots of long answers, good 'n' zippy. My favorites are X-RAY VISION, MCGRUFF the Crime Dog, WRITING, KEN STARR beside DULCINEA, ASKS OUT, crossword habitué ANI DIFRANCO's full name, ADAM ANT (the [Musician with the real name Stuart Goddard], not the adjective adamant), a FRAME HOUSE, GENII with that oddball ending double-I, and a SEVEN-IRON (which I didn't know could be called a [Pitcher]). Seeing SODOR, the [Island home of Thomas the Tank Engine], amused me. I wonder if Patrick included that or if Peter Gordon, dad to young kids, rejiggered the fill and added that.

The clues— With all those twisty question-marked clues, you know I enjoyed this puzzle. (I also enjoyed Bonnie Gentry's puzzle, in one of the Simon & Schuster books a year or two ago, in which every clue had a question mark. Anyone know which volume that's in?) My favorites include [Novel activity?] for WRITING; [Short vehicle of the 1980s, for short] for SNL (a vehicle for Martin Short, not a short car); [Small character in Oz?] for the letter ZEE in the word "Oz"; [Bottled spirits?] for GENII in a puzzle that also has bathtub GIN; and [Grind] for WONK, both being roughly synonymous with "studious nerd."


All right, I've got about an hour to solve four puzzles and blog 'em, so I'm going bare-bones here.

The CrosSynergy puzzle, "Final Score," is by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke. The theme entries end with thingamajigs that may be found on a printed musical score (forgive me if my musical terminology is amiss):
  • [Fiction that's thinly veiled reality] is a ROMAN A CLEF.
  • A [Company's representatives] are its SALES STAFF.
  • [At-ease position for soldiers] is PARADE REST. Not a term I'm hep to.
  • [Kidnapper's missive] is a RANSOM NOTE.

Plenty of terrific fill: BEAM ME UP, ARIZONAN, MOS DEF, AL FRESCO, QUALMS.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times puzzle has an insert-OB theme:
  • [Maintain surveillance of a feudal manor?] is OBSERVE THE LORD.
  • [Source of J.M. Smucker's success?] is a JAM OB SESSION.
  • [Admonition to a square?] is DON'T BE OBLONG.
  • [Foul-mouthed thief?] is an OBSCENE STEALER.
Clues of note:
  • [Board runner] for CHAIR, as in chairperson of the board.
  • [Score adverb] for MOLTO. Musical terminology! Always slows me down.
  • [Support group?] is BRAS, though I don't generally think of bras as traveling in groups.
  • [Zoological openings] are ORA, or mouths.
  • {Arthurian adulteress] is ISOLDE. I can't believe this ISOLDE reference is out there and I don't know it. Is Tristan there too, or is this a different Isolde?
  • [Tishby of "The Island"] is NOA. Hmm, that's pretty obscure. Her role was "community announcer." That doesn't sound like a lead part.
  • [Checked for the last itme?] is MATED in chess.
  • [Speakers' receptions?] are the HONORARIA, or the payments they receive.
  • [Helen Keller et al.] are ALABAMANS. I learned this from the Alabama quarter coin.

Todd McClary's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Campus Quads," works really well even without its gimmick, as just a good crossword with that trademark Chronicle erudition in the fill and clues. Plus: a TWIX bar. Nummy! I haven't had lunch yet, and now I want candy. The two long theme entries say that hidden within the finished grid are SIX UNIVERSITIES in TWO-BY-TWO SQUARES. I know of YALE and DUKE and RICE, of course, and PACE. ELON is a crosswordese school. I have never heard of LYNN University, though. It's got four letters, so it makes the grade here. That sly bastard McClary managed to place these clockwise-reading school names in exactly symmetrical spots in the grid, which definitely elevates the elegance of the gimmick. I'm wondering if he's got a Yale connection, because ELIS crosses the YALE box.

Favorite fill and clues:
  • [It may divide on a slide] for AMEBA.
  • WATERBUS! If only WATERBUG had fit.
  • [Danish relative] is the pastry called a BEARCLAW. (Still hungry.)
  • [They're used to make calls] clues BUGLES. Ha!
  • [South African leader Thabo] MBEKI's name looks great in the grid.
  • [River near Mohenjo Daro] is the INDUS. Mohenjo who? What? I will give a virtual dollar to anyone who's heard of Mohenjo Daro
  • A WIDOW is an [Orphan's kin, in typesetting]. These are words or ends of paragraphs that get shunted to the next page, something along those lines.
  • ANEW is clued as [From square one], though SQUARES is in a theme entry. Can we get a list of which crossword editors still care about such duplications, and which ones feel that it's no big deal? Because really, it should be no big deal.
  • [Molting, to biologists] is ECDYSIS. Stripping for bugs!

Tracey Snyder's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Long Time No See," docks an initial letter C from one word in each theme entry. [Commands to a dog?], for example, are POINT AND LICK (click), and [Classes for would-be dermatologists?] are RASH COURSES (crash courses). I like a lot of the other theme entries, too—COME IN OUT OF THE OLD is the [Fountain of Youth slogan?], the ODE OF SILENCE (code), FIRST ON TACT (contact), PREGNANCY RAVINGS (cravings).

I'm out of time for blogging now. Enjoy your afternoon!


Documentary about crossword inkers

If you've got 7 minutes to spare, watch animator Michael Charles' "Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker. That's the high-res version that fills your browser window, but you can't pause or rewind.

To pause or rewind, watch the little YouTube version.

My favorite part is when Hampfield points out his original Bumfry drawing: "Believe me, it's well insured. This one drawing is worth almost $200." There are a zillion sly little lines like that packed into this cartoon.

(Hat tip to Jim H.)


July 30, 2008

Thursday, 7/31

NYS 4:17
LAT 4:14
NYT 4:10
CS 2:37

(post updated at noonish Thursday)

Allan Parrish's New York Times crossword meets one of the criteria for a themeless puzzle—the word count is just 72, which is pretty low for a themed puzzle. There are just 35 theme squares, so there's plenty of room for all those answers that are 7+ letters long. The theme journeys with Dante from heaven down to hell, passing through earth on the way: TOO MUCH HEAVEN was a [1979 Bee Gees chart-topper], from their post-Saturday Night Fever album; here's the video. RARE EARTH was the [Band with the 1970 hit "Get Ready"]; I don't remember them, or that song, at all. The third Dantean musical title is HIGHWAY TO HELL, the [1979 AC/DC seven-time platinum album]. Not just an album, but also a song.

Favorite clues and fill:

  • [Civvies] or civilian attire can be called MUFTI. Civvies rhymes with skivvies, and that's a word I like.
  • FIFE goes non-musical, non-Barney with a geographical clue: [County of St. Andrews, Scotland]. Did anyone actually know this one? Do British Open viewers hear of it?
  • [Professor Lupin in Harry Potter books, e.g.] turned into a WEREWOLF. J.K. Rowling gave etymologically inclined readers a huge hint that he was the werewolf, as lupine can mean "wolf-like."
  • Jane AUSTEN was the [Creator of the Bennet family] in Pride and Prejudice.
  • ST. MARK is clued as [One of the four evangelists, briefly]. My first thoughts were of Falwell and his ilk.
  • [Many Latin compositions] are EPITAPHS rather than some sort of old Catholic hymns.
  • To [Tear out] of a place is to SCOOT, to get going in a hurry.
  • More people! Suffragist Elizabeth Cady STANTON, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael LEAVITT, Chairman MAO, hockey great Bobby ORR, football Hall-of-Famer Gale SAYERS of the Chicago Bears, actor Patrick MAGEE, ["Walkin' After Midnight" hitmaker, 1957] Patsy CLINE, tennis star HANA Mandlikova, golfer Ernie ELS, and unknown-to-me [Violin virtuoso Hilary] HAHN. Sports, music, stage, history, and government all get their due.
  • [Architectural pier] is ANTA. This one doesn't show up too often in crosswords anymore, but you may see it again. A similar word (not in this puzzle) is ANSA, an archeological handle.
  • [One that's "perky" in the morning] is a COFFEE POT.
  • UTE crosses OTO, but the UTE's a truck and the OTO's a tribe. It could've gone the other way, with the Ute tribe and an ear prefix. Either one can be clued as a Western tribe, but the Oto/Otoe are more often clued with reference to the Great Plains, Oklahoma, or Nebraska.
  • PHALANX is a great word, clued here as [Military wing].

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" got me to laugh. [Game show host with the catchphrase "Let's do crosswords"]? TY TREADWAY! As I have mentioned before in this space, he has dreamy eyes in person. This puzzle's packed with fresh and flavorful answers and clues. To wit:
  • The LBJ RANCH, [HIstoric site on the Pedernales River in Texas Hil Country].
  • LOYOLA is a [University of Chicago]. Not the University of Chicago, but a university here.
  • Your [Hobbyhorse] is your PET PROJECT.
  • ERRANDS are [Run things?] in that errands are things that are run.
  • BUFFOONERY! The clue is the fancy [Harlequinade].
  • IBOOKS! They're Apple's [ThinkPad alternatives], along with MacBooks and PowerBooks.
  • Imogene COCA was [Caesar's partner]. Anyone else think of a Caesar salad with coca leaves instead of Romaine lettuce?
  • The smartphone called the BLACKBERRY is the [Standout success from Research in Motion]. 
  • The JOSHUA TREE is the name of a [1987 U2 album]. Good stuff.
  • To KERN text is to [Decrease the space between, as typeset letters]. When you misread rn as an m, those letters may be kerned too much. Here's a typography joke about "keming."
  • ROACHES are [Clipped joints], as in marijuana cigarettes.
  • A.J. SIMON is [One of a pair of brother sleuths on '80sTV]. I never watched Simon & Simon, so I have no idea of the other brother's name.
  • INDIAN CORN, NAPOLEON II, and laundry SPIN CYCLES run alongside one another beautifully.
  • BIFF was the ["Back to the Future" bully]. Nobody likes a bully.

And of course, Karen dispenses a few geography lessons:
  • IONA is an [Island about a mile off the coast of Mull]. Martin Mull? No.
  • MINSK [once had a large Yiddish-speaking population].
  • [Fuerteventura, Tenerife, Lanzarote, and others] are the CANARIES. I've heard of Tenerife...
  • SKOKIE is an [Evanston neighbor]. It's about a half hour from here.


The theme entries in Donna Levin's Los Angeles Times crossword all have the same clue: [Clutch]. In addition to its verb meaning, it has at least four noun senses: a GEARSHIFT PEDAL, BROOD OF CHICKS, HANDHELD PURSE, and CRITICAL MOMENT. Somehow I found myself wandering through this crossword distracted, not instantly getting too many clues (other than the Bee Gees' "STAYIN' Alive," a [1978 #1 hit]). ["National Velvet" horse, with "The"] is PIE? That is not a pie I would like to eat. PELHAM was a [Confederate officer under Stuart]? I know only The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. A [Manmade inlet subject to ebbs and flows] started with TID, that much I knew, but TIDAL BASIN was not on the tip of my tongue. [Small ones?] are FRY, but the Y crosses [Kind of devil?], and I went with SHE rather than SLY, which mucked up the FRY zone. The [Fictional braggart] is the HARE in Aesop's fable.

I figured I was in for a repeat of yesterday and that Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "See 38-Across," would take the same amount of time as the day's other three puzzles. But no! This one seemed Monday-easy. 38-Across is [First rock from the sun], or MERCURY, the planet closest to the sun. The other four 11- and 12-letter theme entries are all [A (or another) definition for 38-Across]:
  • QUICKSILVER is the liquid metallic element.
  • The MESSENGER GOD has wings on his shoes.
  • NASA's Mercury program included U.S. SPACE CRAFT orbiting the earth. When I was a kid, we had a manual pencil sharpener (the blue one) modeled after the Mercury capsule. Man, I wish I still had that.
  • Mercury is also a type of FORD VEHICLE.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [Falsify, as figures] for FUDGE. That's a lot of F's. Plus: chocolate.
  • LACTOSE, the [Milk sugar], is in here. It occurs to me that René Lacoste's last name is an anagram of lactose, and I wonder whether this pairing has been used in a cryptic crossword.
  • SKIING's double-I doesn't get much play in crosswords.
  • ETCH-A-Sketch! The Etch-a-Sketch probably cohabited with that Mercury sharpener for five or 10 years at our house.
  • Semi-unusual letter combos are found in Swedish cinematographer SVEN Nykvist, the Q-less FAQS, and the [Village People hit] YMCA.


July 29, 2008

Wednesday, 7/30

NYT 3:53
NYS 3:50
CS 3:47
LAT 3:43

(post updated at 11:30 Wednesday morning)

The byline above the New York Times crossword got nudged out of the window in the applet—it's Elizabeth Long. The puzzle's got a quote theme, and the subject of the [quote attributed to Sam Goldwyn] is spelled out (from top to bottom, left to right) in circled letters strewn throughout the grid: SHAKESPEARE. The quote is "FANTASTIC! AND / IT WAS ALL WRITTEN / WITH A FEATHER." Quote? Meh. The fill's got some mighty nice stuff in it, along with some tough nuts.


  • PASSEL is a [Large quantity]. Do you use this word? 'Cause I do.
  • SMACKDOWN is clued as a [Wrestling show]. Crossword tournaments also have their share of smackdowns.
  • [Irish red, for one] is ALE, as in Killian's Irish Red.
  • GODS is clued ["___ and Monsters" (1998 film)]. It's got Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser, and uses the word "et." Orange recommends!
  • SLAUGHTER sounds violent, but [Cream] moves it into the realm of sports and games.

  • SADA [Thompson of TV's "Family"] is an ironclad gimme for anyone my age, but maybe semi-obscure to the younger contingent.
  • [Foxtail feature] is an AWN. I would've had no clue about this, but I just read a blog post about a particularly wicked foxtail (this is a plant thing) that got stuck inside a dog's ear. An AWN is, of course, "a slender, bristlelike appendage found on the spikelets of many grasses."
  • ARHAT is an [Enlightened Buddhist]. I usually try to sneak ATMAN in where ARHAT belongs. I'm not sure if that's Buddhist or Hindu or what.
  • [Early colonists along the Delaware] were SWEDES, apparently. I didn't know any early colonists hailed from Sweden.
  • SWALE is a [Low marshland]. I thought it was more grassy, but I may be thinking of sward.
  • [Jacob's-ladder] and PHLOX are both plants, but I didn't know they were interchangeable.

The New York Sun puzzle by Alan Arbesfeld is called "Oops!" [Making a blunder (and this puzzle's theme)] is DROPPING THE BALL, and the other four theme entries drop a BALL from established phrases. You know what a ballpark figure is—a PARK FIGURE is a [Ranger?]. To [Do masonry work on brick enclosures?] is to POINT PENS, as in tuckpointing (ballpoint pens). [Wading places?] are FOOT POOLS (playing on football pools for wagering). And a pinball machine turns into a PIN MACHINE, or [ATM?]. I found the [Missile pact of 1972] to be tricky—it's SALT I, the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. And [MVP of Super Bowl XXI] is somebody named SIMMS, whose first name I can't begin to guess. An investment that [Appreciates] RISES in value. The [Hebrew toast] L'CHAIM has a nice batch of initial consonants, and it's followed by UIES with a bundle of initial vowels. The [Sighed line] "AH, ME" crosses "OH, MAN!" (["Holy cow!"]). If it's [Curtains] for you, it's THE END. This summer, I bought a copy of a PIPPI book ([Longstocking of kiddie lit]) for Ben—I loved the movie when I was his age.


Wow, four Wednesday puzzles, and I solved each in the same amount of time—the toughest took me 10 seconds longer than the easiest. If you time yourself, did you find all the puzzles to be perfectly keyed to a Wednesday level of difficulty?

Pancho Harrison's LA Times crossword has a Hollywood theme and a bit of a show-biz vibe to the fill. The theme entries are clued as blanks with years in parentheses, the years being when the answer movies were released. The 1984 movie at 17-Across with the missing clue is MISSING IN ACTION. The LOST IN YONKERS (1993) clue is lost from 36-Across. And 56-Across's clue is pretty much GONE WITH THE WIND, from 1939. Other cinematically linked answers include OATER ([Shoot-'em-up]), TEEN IDOL [Miley Cyrus, e.g.], Leonard NIMOY (["Three Men and a Baby" director]), ANN [Sothern or Jillian], the musical RENT, LILI [Taylor of "The Haunting"], actor John RHYS-Davies, and AMANDA [Blake of "Gunsmoke"].

The fill includes plenty of 6- to 8-letter answers, many of which intersect with theme entries. Highlights include GAMBOL, a FAT LIP that's a [Shiner accompanier, maybe], BATBOYS, HAS-BEENS, ESCHEWED, and a NAKED LIE ([Bald-faced fib])—the latter is the top slice of bread in the LOST IN YONKERS sandwich, with ENTITIES below that theme answer. The only answer that seems to stretch the limits of Wednesday is ["Mon Frere Yves" author Pierre] LOTI, whose name was unknown to me.

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Out Cold," has a quip theme. You know what? I think a little context helps quip/quote themes go down better. Having a title for the puzzle helped point me towards some of the words. It looked like LOG was at the end of the first part of the quip, and the "Out Cold" title strongly suggested it would be I SLEPT LIKE A LOG rather than, who knows, something about sawing logs or making log cabins. The quip continues, ...LAST NIGHT / AND WOKE UP / IN THE FIREPLACE. I think another factor that keeps me from saying "meh" about this one is that the quip splits at natural points, between clauses.

I do wish to carp a wee bit about the clue for ADOPT: [Rear as one's own]. This suggests that an adopted child doesn't become "one's own" child, but merely serves as a facsimile. Parents who have adopted children tend to resent such distinctions. And boo to all the celeb news articles that describe Nicole Kidman as having recently "given birth to her first child." No, this baby is her third child. It's just the first time she's given birth. Her older kids were adopted, yes, but dammit, they count!


July 28, 2008

Tuesday, 7/29

Onion 4:30
Tausig 4:12
CS 3:51
NYS 3:50
LAT 3:02
NYT 2:43

(post last updated at 7:20 Tuesday night)

I really liked the Tuesday New York Times puzzle by David Kwong and newcomer Emily Halpern. It was clued easy enough to be a Monday puzzle, but the theme entries are altered phrases and those aren't so Mondayish, so here it is on Tuesday. The constructors took four "Great" things and dampened the enthusiasm for them:

  • [Mediocre F. Scott Fitzgerald novel?] is THE DECENT GATSBY.
  • [Mediocre place to scuba?] is the GOOD BARRIER REEF.
  • [Mediocre Steve McQueen film?] is THE NOT-BAD ESCAPE.
  • [Mediocre Jerry Lee Lewis hit?] is OKAY BALLS OF FIRE. This one's the funniest theme entry, though I like all four.
The theme is better than so-so, isn't it? I liked the fill too, though some may frown at all the names of people and places. "INDEED!" is clued as ["For sure!"], and I am fond of indeed's exclamatory usage. "EITHER/OR" is another way of saying ["Take your pick"]. We've got SYNONYMS, [Roget's listings]. Dracula's CLOAKS, CRAFTY, and PSEUDO lend a seamy undercurrent. And OPRAH sort of rhymes with OKRA, which she's sitting atop.

Tom Heilman's New York Sun crossword, "Bakin' Bits," mixes up a quartet of baking-related puns. [Gluten?] represents FLOUR POWER, playing on flower power. DOUGH-EYED (doe-eyed) is [Like someone whose cornea is caked up?]; eww. NOT KNEADED (not needed) is [Without having been pressed or folded?]. And [All there is from crust to crust?] is PURE BREAD (purebred). I appreciate some of the 8-letter fill—the former COMISKEY Park, SOFT SOAP, potatoes AU GRATIN, ERASURES clued as [Disappearing acts?]—but DEW-LADEN ([Moist, in a way]) sounded off. I Googled it and found photos of dew-laden grass and cobwebs and flowers, so I guess I'm off base here. ERIE is clued as [Gannon University's home], and that's a clue I cited in How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle as an example of a tough late-week clue for an common answer like ERIE. What's Gannon University doing here on a Tuesday? Flavor FLAV, the [Rapper with a trademark clock necklace, informally], is my favorite short answer today.

Timothy Meaker's LA Times crossword provides ample PROOF (37-Across) in the theme—the other four theme phrases begin with words that can precede proof.
  • A [Highlighted agenda item] or blog listing item is a BULLET POINT (bulletproof).
  • [Blaze fighter's aid] is a FIRE HYDRANT (fireproof).
  • [Artist's alternative] is WATER PAINT (waterproof), which I would call watercolor, but what do I know?
  • [Shirley Temple, notably] was a CHILD ACTOR (childproof).
Favorite entries in the fill: FLEX TIMES, or [Customized work schedules]; LET IT BE, or [Beatles title lyrics after "Whisper words of wisdom"]; and VESPA, the ["Roman Holiday" transport] that's growing more popular these days owing to its gas-sipping ways.


The theme in Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Salon Work," feels like it's referring to an old-lady salon. Each theme entry begins with a salon verb, all clued in the past tense but CUT and SET being non-ED past tenses. TRIMMED THE SAILS ([Adapted to prevailing winds]) and CUT ONE'S LOSSES ([Accepted a bad situation]) include pretty much the same salon function. TEASED THE BOYS, or [Was coquettish], grates a bit as a phrase. Then there's SET A GOOD EXAMPLE ([Modeled good behavior])—I don't know anyone my age or in my mom's generation who gets her hair "set," but my late grandma used to like a "set." I bet she was also more familiar with ICEBOXES, or [Cold compartments].

Updated again:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Downgrading," changes letter grades and not in the student's favor:
  • The A in the song "A Boy Named Sue" becomes a B in B-BOY NAMED SUE, or [Breakdancer with a feminine sobriquet?].
  • The B in bar mitzvah turns into a C in CAR MITZVAH, or [Coming-of-age on wheels?].
  • [Prozac?] is a DOLOR GUARD, dropped down from color guard.
  • And "Dear Prudence" becomes FEAR PRUDENCE, or [Be intimidated by good judgment?].
Favorite clues and answers:
  • An [Ass] is a BOOB. Nothing untoward here, folks.
  • The [Band with "1"] is the BEATLES. 1 was the relatively recent compilation of their #1 hits. "Dear Prudence" is not on this album.
  • BALI is a [Resort island in the 4th most populous country in the world], Indonesia. (Only China, India, and the United States are bigger.)
  • [Frank, notably] is DIARIST Anne Frank. Last night on Jay Leno's "Headlines" segment, he showed an ad for a "Dairy of Anne Frank" show.
  • [One of us?] is either YOU or me.
  • You know what, though? An IUD isn't precisely an [Alternative to the morning-after pill]. Yes, both are technically contraceptives, but there's a definite difference between a form of birth control that takes up residence for, say, five years and one that's used ad hoc. That said, I like IUD getting its day in the sun in crosswords.

Francis Heaney was on deck for this week's Onion A.V. Club crossword. I don't know how much Francis got paid for this one, but it's lousy with product placements so he should've gotten fees from the advertisers. He imagines four movies (spread across five long entries) whose titles could have been changed to accommodate product placements. A [Michael Jordan movie featuring product placement] might be SPACE SMUCKERS (Space Jam). Aardman's Chicken Run turns into PERDUE RUN. The Pelican Brief sells underwear as THE PELICAN BVD. And Like Water for Chocolate morphs into LIKE EVIAN / FOR NESTLE. Now, that would be a cinematic abomination. Did you know that there's an [Upcoming Sylvester Stallone-directed biopic] called POE? Hmm, my Googling suggests that the lead role hasn't even been cast yet. Never heard of ART BRUT, the ["It's a Bit Complicated" band]. MR. PEEPERS, the [Classic sitcom starring Wally Cox], aired in the early '50s. It also appears to be the name of a porn website. I love little hits of highly specific pop culture, like [She dated Keith Hernandez and David Puddy, among others] for ELAINE from Seinfeld. Although I should clarify: Specific pop culture trivia from before my time is not fun at all.


July 27, 2008

Monday, 7/28

Jonesin' 4:25
LAT 3:53
CS 3:20
NYT 3:19
NYS 3:02

(post updated at 12:30 Monday afternoon)

The Monday New York Times puzzle by new constructor Roger Baiocchi deviates from the usual early-week theme layout with the unusual inclusion of 5-letter words at the beginning and end of the Acrosses in addition to three long entries. Those 5's are part of the first and third long entries, and together they make a pair of 16-letter phrases. To [begin from scratch] is to START / AT SQUARE ONE—and that phrase does indeed start at square one of this grid. The middle entry is TAKE CENTER STAGE, or [Move into the limelight]. The third section is [be beaten by the rest of the field], or END UP IN LAST / PLACE, aptly ending in the grid's last place. If those 5-letter chunks of theme entries were just randomly lopped off because they didn't fit into the grid, I wouldn't like the theme—but the picture-perfect aptness of answers' locations is a winner. I got slowed down in a couple spots here. For [It's "catchy"], I entered TUNE. But guess what? The answer immediately below that is [Something to whistle]—a TUNE! The "catchy" thing is a SNAG. I also blanked on [Such a jokester] once I had the CU***—all I could think of was comic and wag, but I needed CUTUP. (Patrick Blindauer nudged me to note that 72-Across, SITE, is part of the theme too—it's clued as [___-specific (like the answers at 1-, 41- and 73-Across)]. Thanks, PB2!)

The New York Sun crossword, Justin Smith's "Double Creatures," requires a 15x16 grid to accommodate its 16 and two 15's. One of those 15's is a plural so for maximum theme consistency, it should have been a 14—but the three phrases make for a solid Monday theme and I'm not as hardcore about consistency in theme entry structure as some people are. [Elaborate presentations] are DOG AND PONY SHOWS. An [Implausible tale] is a COCK AND BULL STORY. And [You might toy with your opponent during it] refers to a CAT AND MOUSE GAME. Favorite clues and answers:

  • 1-Across is BRAD [Pitt of "Ocean's Eleven"]. You know what? He's not just easy on the eyes—he also has talent.
  • STEPFORD, as in The Stepford Wives, means [Robotically compliant]. And creepy, too! There's plenty of other longish fill, including STROLLERS, DIMENSION, and LIVE UP TO.
  • The most patently ridiculous Roman numeral I've ever seen in a crossword is the [Early date in the 27th century], MMDCII. I glossed over the clue and filled that in via the crossings, but now that I see it? Delightfully ballsy.
  • Gross! I just noticed the clue for SAT: [Sampled a stool?]. Who doesn't love sly potty humor?
  • There's a lot of Othello action here. There's OTELLO, [Opera based on a Shakespeare play]. There's IAGO, [Broadway role for Christopher Plummer]. And there's SCAR, clued as [Villain in "The Lion King"]. Jeremy Irons, who voiced Scar, said ""Scar is the first out and out villain that I've ever played. He's the baddie and a very hammy one at that. I think we all like a good villain who's sort of witty and slimy and seductive. He has many layers and lots of tricks. He's not unlike Iago in 'Othello' in that he's a very charming villain although structurally he's much more like Claudius in 'Hamlet.'"
  • [They often wear dark eyeliner] refers to GOTHS. They also wear plenty of black clothes and strive for non-square hairstyles.


Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle for this week has a brilliant theme. In "Rainbow Connection," the mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow—ROY G. BIV, for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet—holds the key. The six other theme entries take one of those letters in a phrase and advance it to the next one in the mnemonic, and the resulting altered phrase is clued.
  • [Patterns that chickens run in?] are COOP CIRCLES, changing the R in crop circles to an O—red connects to orange.
  • [Fade off in buzz?] is LOSE HYPE, changing the O in lose hope to a Y.
  • [Where swamp creatures get married?] is ALTAR BOG, changing the Y in altar boy to a G.
  • [Site where donkeys are allowed to make noise?] is BRAY AREA, changing the G in gray area to a B.
  • [Actress Gertz greeting guests?] is DOOR JAMI, changing the B in door jamb to an I.
  • [French woman with a sexy shape?] is MADAME CURVE, changing the I in Madame Curie to a V.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • NEWT is clued as [Survivor in the movie "Aliens"]. Newt is the little girl.
  • Absymal pop culture is represented by MEEGO, [1997 CBS flop with Bronson Pinchot].
  • MEH encapsulates the feeling of ["It's not that exciting"], but in a pithier way.
  • The TOP SEED is a [High-ranked tournament player]—the highest, in fact.
  • To [Bust some rhymes] is to RAP.
  • DEALT is clued with [Passed out on the poker table?].

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "End Points," has five theme entries linked by the hidden words at their ends—words that connote "points." As spotlighted in the solution grid, the theme entries end with a PIN, LANCE, TINE, SWORD, and ARROW. The first theme entry is PERI GILPIN, clued [She played Roz Doyle on "Frasier"]—nice to see the actress's full name in the grid, rather than just her crossword-friendly first name. CROSSWORD is in the crossword, but it parses as a CROSS WORD, [Utterance from a curmudgeon].

Gail Grabowski's LA Times puzzle links a MOUSE (68-Across) to five things you do with your computer mouse. CLICK BEETLE, or [Noisemaking hard-shelled bug], starts with CLICK. The old [Series with Sergeant Friday] was DRAGNET, with DRAG. [Oddsmaker's equalizer] is the POINT SPREAD, and that arrow cursor POINTs at things. I love having a SCROLL wheel on my mouse, and a SCROLL SAW is a [Tool that cuts intricate curves]. I seldom DRAW with my mouse, but that's an option embedded in DRAW POKER, clued with ["Jacks or better" is a form of it].Favorite entry outside of the theme: LOVESICK, or [Filled with amorous longing].


July 26, 2008

Sunday, 7/27

NYT 14:30
LAT 10:39
PI 8:52
BG 8:40
CS 3:24

(post updated at 1:20 Sunday afternoon)

Yay! It's a plus-sized Sunday New York Times puzzle by Mike Nothnagel and Dave Quarfoot. I was surprised to see the clock ticking on (and on...) as long as it did, because I never felt stuck. But it's a 23x23, which takes a while to fill in—after solving in the applet, I downloaded the Across Lite version to have a screen-capture (clicking on the image will enlarge it) that didn't have single letters in the rebus squares, and it took 7½ minutes to retype the answers I'd already figured out a few minutes earlier. The rebus squares could contain arrows or words, but I'm partial to words—UP or DOWN, LEFT or RIGHT, or "Going Every Which Way," as the title says.

Without further ado, the long theme entries with two directions apiece and their rebused shorter crossings:

  • 16-A. "[DOWN], BOY!" or [Command to an overfriendly canine].
  • 29-A. [UP]STAIRS, [DOWN]STAIRS, or [Popular 1970s British TV series].
  • 37-A. "ALL [RIGHT]!" or ["Now you're talking!"].
  • 38-A. [LEFT] IT [UP] TO CHANCE, or [Took the risk].
  • 71-A. THE [LEFT], or [Liberals].
  • 84-A. [DOWN]-SIZING, or [Cause of unemployment].
  • 90-A. "[RIGHT] ON!" or ["Amen!"].
  • 92-A. "'S[UP], DOG?" or [Slangy street greeting]. ("What's up, dog?" with the "what" elided.)
  • 95-A. SET-[UP]S, or [Arrangements].
  • 101-A. [RIGHT] END, or [Football defensive line position].
  • 125-A. "SIT [DOWN] and SHUT [UP]!" or [Exasperated teacher's cry].
  • 137-A. [RIGHT] WHERE YOU [LEFT] THEM, or [Missing glasses' location, usually].
  • 1-D. DAM [UP], or [Block].
  • 16-D. [DOWN] THE [RIGHT] FIELD LINE, or [Barely fair, maybe], in baseball.
  • 30-D. [DOWN]-SHIFTED, or [Went from second to first, say], in a car and not in baseball. Nobody tries to go back a base, do they?
  • 36-D. STANDING [UP][RIGHT], or [Erect].
  • 38-D. [LEFT] ON BASE, or [Not brought home], again in baseball.
  • 41-D. [UP] AT, or [Awake by].
  • 70-D. IT'S [RIGHT] [UP] YOUR ALLEY, or [Sentiment suggesting "Try this!"].
  • 72-D. [LEFT] A [DOWN]PAYMENT, or
  • 89-D. RESTED [UP], or [Took it easy].
  • 105-D. STAGE [RIGHT], or [Common entry point].
  • 113-D. GO [DOWN], or [Happen, slangily].
  • 140-D. [LEFT] EYE, or [Bazooka Joe's working peeper]. I would have gone with Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.

So that's, what, eight long theme entries with 16 rebused crossings? Criminy! That's a lot of thematic action, and it's not forced. I very much enjoyed my sojourn inside the grid, piecing together all the crazy directions and tackling an entertaining set of clues and fill. Outside the terrific theme, here's what I liked best (and I won't list everything I liked, because this crossword is just too damned big for that):
  • "SHALL I?" or ["Do you want me to?"].
  • LET RIP means to [Deliver, as harsh criticism].
  • UMAMI, the [Proposed "fifth taste," which means "savory" in Japanese. It's the taste of meat, cheese, and MSG. Yes, that MSG. I have much more interest in sweet than savory.
  • A MOSAIC is an [Arrangement of 40-Downs], 40-Down being a TESSERA or mosaic tile.
  • [Hollow center?] is the DOUBLE L at the center of the word "hollow," and [Building component?] is the SILENT U in that word. Some call such entries "quarfeet," so I kinda want to know if it was Mike Nothnagel who put those entries into the grid.
  • The VW BEETLE is clued simply as [Bug].
  • Botany gets play with MOSSY, or [Sphagnous], and AMANITA, the [Genus of poisonous mushrooms]. That's the death cap mushroom, mentioned in this paper I edited on mushroom poisoning.
  • One [Result of pulling the plug?] in the bathtub is an EDDY down the drain.
  • An [Opening screen option on many an A.T.M.] is ESPANOL. I'm partial to ATMs that offer French, German, or other languages. I have a very good track record at navigating those correctly, but I've seen one or two ATMs that offer Chinese or Japanese, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get money out.

There was a mystery man in the grid, Ralph BLANE [who co-wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"]. I'm not up on any [Part of a shark's respiratory system], so GILL SLIT was another "rely on the crossings" answer for me—and I found all the crossings to be fair. Thanks for making a giant rebus puzzle and inviting us all in to play with it, Mike and David (and Will)!


LA Times crossword editor Rich Norris ran one of his own puzzles for today's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Extra Credit" (under the pseudonym Nora Pearlstone, an anagram of "not a real person"). Even after I sussed out the theme—phrases with CR, an "extra credit," inserted—I still found the overall cluing fairly tough. The last letter I entered was the U joining UFOS and SOUP. UFOS are clued as [WWII foo fighters, e.g.], and I knew the phrase only as the capital-F band name. SOUP is clued as [Trouble, informally, with "the"], which is not terribly obvious. The theme entries are:
  • CRASH WEDNESDAY, or [Good time to catch up on your sleep?]. Hey, I slept 'til 9:40 this morning. It was delightful.
  • ROLLED CROATS, or [Transported some Balkans?].
  • CROUTON BAIL, or {What you have to pay to get the bread bits released from your salad?].
  • MIGHTY CROAK, or [Sound from a huge frog?].
  • SIX-PACK CRABS, or [Conveniently boxed crustaceans?].
  • CROUCH THAT HURT, or [One bend too many?].
  • MORAY CREEL, or [Basket for snigglers?].
  • PHOTO CROPS, or [Farm produce caught on film?].

Toughest clues:
  • Edwin [Land development?] is the Polaroid CAMERA.
  • [Joseon Dynasty country: Abbr.] is KOR (Korea).
  • [Med. research org.] is NIMH. Remember the kids' book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH?
  • [Basra natives] are not just Iraqis here but ARABS.
  • For [Musician heard in "Memoirs of a Geisha"], I thought I needed to remember the name of the classical Japanese musical instruments. Nope—just cellist YO-YO MA.
  • [Colorful flowers] are PHLOX, no plural S on the end. The X crosses the nice X FACTOR, or [Unpredictable determinant].
  • [Rock-boring tool] is TREPAN. Trepans: They're not just for boring through skulls anymore.
  • [Tyrannical boss, facetiously] is HIS NIBS. The phrase's derivation is here.
  • [Soprano Mitchell] is LEONA.
  • [Added help] is the noun HIREE, not the verb "hired."
  • [Ecuadoran province named for its gold production] is basic Spanish: EL ORO.
  • [Daughter of David] is TAMAR.
  • [Ochlocracy] is MOB RULE. This is the third time in a year, I think, that this pair has been included in a newspaper crossword I've seen.
  • [Like some earth pigments] is OCHERY. Is that a word? Yes, it is.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Old Paint," is packed with painterly puns:
  • [Reaction to French art prices?] is DEGAS TO BE KIDDING ("They got to be kidding"). In writing, it makes no sense, but read aloud, it sounds like colloquial English.
  • [When the art museum is closed?] is MONDRIAN TUESDAY (Monday and Tuesday, I think). Yes, Mondrian sounds like "Monday and Tuesday," sort of, but are art museums closed on Tuesdays or on Mondays and Tuesdays?
  • [Chicken's reaction to great art?] is BRAQUE-BUCK-BUCK. Sounds sort of like clucking.
  • [Classic novel about a painter?] is VERMEER TO ETERNITY, playing on From Here to Eternity.
  • [What you need to get into Paul's exhibit?] are CEZANNE TICKETS, which sounds like "season tickets."
  • [Reaction to American art prices?] is O'KEEFFE ME A BREAK ("Oh, give me a break"). This one's more of a sound stretch than the Degas entry.
  • [Sources of famous oils?] clues CASTOR AND POLLOCK, playing on Castor and Pollux with castor oil and artist Jackson Pollock. I like this one's multiple levels, though Pollock's drip paintings weren't oils.

Merl supplements the theme with scattered art-related clues for the fill entries—TAR is an anagram of art, DIEGO is painter Rivera, ROSE was one of Picasso's periods, etc.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's syndicated Boston Globe crossword, "Magazine Mergers," reminds me of a theme in a Patrick Merrell crossword at the ACPT a few years ago. I usually enjoy this sort of theme, in which theme entries are crafted by piling up two or three magazine titles. OUTSIDE NEW YORK is clued as a [Mag for Big Apple escapees?] and combines Outside and New York magazines. My favorites are DOWNBEAT GOLF, combining a jazz magazine with a sports one and cluing it as [Mag for dismal duffers?], and SELF-WIRED TV GUIDE, which bundles three publications (women's magazine Self, tech-geek magazine Wired, and TV Guide) as [DIY home theater mag?]. In the fill, there were several oddities and obscurities. At 107-Down, SESS was clued as [Ganja], and while I'm familiar with ganja as slang for marijuana, I haven't seen "sess" before. 74-Down is [Greece, to Romans], or ACHAEA, with the C crossing [Cookbook author Joyce] CHEN. At 103-Across, LILA is clued as a [Robert Pirsig book], but I tie his name to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and nothing else.

This week's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is by Martin Ashwood-Smith. The grid's quite odd-looking, with Rorschach blots of black squares drawing the eye away from the vertical triple-stacks of 15-letter entries along the left and right sides. While most of the triple-stacks' crossings are short entries, as usual, each stack does intersect another stack of 8-, 9-, and 10-letter answers—an impressive bit of construction. Overall, the cluing was pretty easy, maybe Wednesday NYT level. Did you know that "The Toy Parade" was the opening theme for LEAVE IT TO BEAVER? I didn't, but having the LEAV part in the grid early on pointed the way towards the show's title. Favorite clue: [Ebony item] for MAGAZINE ARTICLE.


July 25, 2008

Saturday, 7/26

NYT 8:26
Newsday 7:50
LAT 4:15
CS 3:04

(post updated at 10:30 Saturday morning)

All righty, I (barely) finished the NYT crossword before it was time to put my kid to bed. I took a diagramless puzzle with me—I'm test-solving for an upcoming book of diagramlesses. If you dig 17x17 grids that don't tell you where the black squares go, you're gonna like that book, which I'm guessing will come out next year sometime. Anyway, my head is in that frame of mind...going to finish it...okay, now I'm back and will don my standard crossword blogging hat.

Ach! Barry Silk's New York Times puzzle really was quite reasonable, but I had a typo that eluded my vision for the longest time. The [Hunter of fish] is a SEA EAGLE, but I had SEE EAGLE for a ridiculous amount of time. No, WEENERS didn't look right, but what know I of [Stockbreeding devices]? Yeah, those were supposed to be WEANERS. THERE NOW sure seemed to be [Words of solace], but that errant WEENERS and the less-familiar variant RHEBOKS ([Cousins of oribis and dik-diks]) threw me. I'm wondering if Will Shortz is a big Mick Jagger fan, because Sir Mick just celebrated his 65th (!) birthday, yesterday's puzzle included a Stones song title, and ROLLING STONE is in this one, clued generically as a [Drifter]. This STONE is partnered with ELEANOR RIGBY, [Title woman of a song who "lived in a dream"]. These long entries are crossed by ["Let ___"], which surely must be the Beatles' "Let IT BE," except it isn't—it's "Let IT GO."

Favorite entries and clues here:

  • MR. WIZARD, [Conductor of many TV experiments.
  • I thought [Like some palms] was botanical in nature, but no. Just SWEATY palms. The other kind of palms might be found in an OASIS, or [Haven].
  • [Children] are one's ISSUE.
  • [Direct] means BLUNT, and that describes me.
  • [Cause of an explosion] is IRE, not TNT. Were you fooled?
  • A TYPESET publication is [Ready to be put to bed]. Well, after proofreading, of course.
  • B MOVIES [may have just one or two stars], in terms of reviewers' ratings as well as who's in the cast.
  • BONANZA! Good word. Clued here as [Ore galore].
  • GOALIES are [Players with saving accounts?].
  • All the Scrabbly stuff, plus the two entries with W following an unexpected letter, QWEST and DWELL ON. QWEST crosses IQ TEST, so both Q answers don't have a U after the Q.
Random factoids:
  • [Where Charles de Gaulle was born] is LILLE.
  • Scottish : Mac :: Arabic : IBN.
  • The ["Frank TV" airer] is TBS on cable.
  • AKRON, Ohio, is the [Home of minor-league baseball's Aeros].
  • Queen NOOR, née Lisa Halaby, is a [U.S.-born Jordanian queen]; she got "dowager queen" status after her husband, King Hussein, died.
  • OXNARD is [Ventura County's most populous city], while ORSK is the [Second biggest city in Russia's Orenberg region]. This is not to be confused with the Orenthal region of O.J. Simpson's name.
  • Mount Saint ELIAS is an Alaskan/Canadian peak, while MT. SINAI is the [High point of the O.T.].
  • I have friends who went to RPI, home of [The Engineers of N.Y.'s Liberty League].
  • [1966 Pulitzer-winning poet Richard] EBERHART is unknown to me.
  • Did you know there's a New York congresswoman named LOUISE Slaughter?
  • [Oahu "thank you"] is MAHALO.
Clues I dispute:
  • ST. KITTS was a [Columbus discovery of 1493]. Well, except that the clue is imperialistic bullshit. Indians were there for 5,000 years before Columbus "discovered" St. Kitts and Nevis.
  • [Many people get 100 on it] is the clue for IQ TEST. I don't care for that clue because [Many people get 101 on it] and [Many people get 99 on it] are probably equally logical. Okay, fine. "Many people get ___ on it" is accurate enough for any number between, say, 80 and 120.


Patrick Jordan's themed CrosSynergy puzzle, "Bar Stars," isn't about lawyers or drinking. No, it's much tastier than that—the theme entries are famous(ish) people whose last names are also the names of candy bars. SIR EDWARD HEATH was a [1970s British prime minister]. PETULA CLARK is the ["Don't Sleep in the Subway" singer]. KENNETH MARS [was Inspector Kemp in "Young Frankenstein"]; who? I may have seen the movie when I was a kid, but the name Kenneth Mars doesn't ring a bell. BARBARA HERSHEY was ["The Portrait of a Lady" Oscar nominee]. Yum, chocolate! Outside of the theme, fill I like includes the real SLIM SHADY, [Nickname for Eminem]; TOURMALINE, [One of October's birthstones] (usually a crossword cites October and birthstones for the opal); CHAIN GANGS, or [Groups of linked convicts]; and ITZHAK, [violin virtuoso Perlman]. I used to always forget which of the ARNO and EBRO is in Italy and which is in Spain; they're both here, only ARNO is clued as [Cartoonish Peter]. (The EBRO is in Spain, and Iberia's name derives from the river's name; the ARNO is in Italy.)

Doug Peterson's themeless Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was pretty tough. SHARKSKIN JACKET ([Hepcat's attire]) anchors the grid along the middle, and the other entries I liked most include JETTISON ([Toss]), HOME BREW ([Do-it-yourself draft]), ZEPPO Marx ([Brother-act nickname]), and SCREE ([Crater debris]), just because I'm fond of those SK-sounding words of Scandinavian origin (cf. skulk, skid). Favorite clues:
  • [Jaguar juice] is GASOLINE.
  • [Wing or back] for ATHLETE—not, say, chicken part.
  • [Literally, "vault"] is CAMERA.
  • [Simulated] does double work: it's both SHAM and ERSATZ. Hey! It's an adjective in both cases, rather than the clue duping the solver by meaning the verb in one case. Whew!
  • [Puzzle] puzzled me for far too long. It's BAFFLE. I like both words.
Trouble spots:
  • [Merits bleeping] could be CUSSES (which it is) or CURSES (which I had). Having that R there really mucked up [Some stock] by hiding the COWS.
  • A [Line on a sea wall] is a TIDE MARK. I'm a Midwesterner, and Lake Michigan doesn't have tide marks.
  • The [Efficiency measure] crossing 13-Down, [Unrestrained], got mucked up when I assumed the Down answer ending in -REE ended in -FREE. It turned out to be ON A SPREE crossing MPG, or miles per gallon.
  • That [Medieval crossbow] is an ARBALEST. Obscure? Pretty much. That word really slowed me down in that corner of the grid.
  • [Endymion's love] is SELENE, [Gary Cooper's birthplace] is HELENA, and I had to piece both together from the crossings. If only Tejano singer SELENA had joined the party.
  • DANCE is clued as [Reel example]. That feels backwards. Isn't a reel a dance example?

My favorite entry in Mark Milhet's themeless LA Times crossword is JACK SQUAT, or [Zilch]—three uncommon letters plus colloquial? Win-win. The fill was surprisingly dense with prepositions (some used as adverbs here, but they're also prepositions):
  • EASES IN is [Starts slowly].
  • SIT UP is [Show sudden interest].
  • NOT ON A BET is ["Never!"]
  • IN OR OUT is a card [Dealer's query].
  • EXCEL IN is [Be among the best at.
  • STOOP TO is [Use in an undignified way].
  • TROT OUT is [Submit].
  • AGREE TO is [Shake on].
  • FLAIL AT is [Try to hit with wild swings].
  • CHEATED ON is [Two-timed].
  • SLIPS IN is [Enters without notice].
There are other entries that contain the same letter sequences as those prepositions—INGRATE, OTRANTO, ATE A LOT, AKRON OHIO, PLATEAU, SALONGA, HEATHER—so there's an overall feel of sameness in the grid. But! This grid's got only 64 answers, so it's got a fairly low word count. MY personal preference is for a higher word count and more answers in the delightful JACK SQUAT vein.


July 24, 2008

Friday, 7/25

NYS 6:46
LAT 5:00
NYT 4:53
CHE 4:39
CS 3:19

WSJ 6:06

(post updated at 2:35 p.m. Friday)

Wow, it is tough to concentrate on crosswords when a member of the household insists on watching a TiVoed episode of Wipeout at the same time. I had to pause the Across Lite timer multiple times during the Sun puzzle when my husband was pointing out particularly hilarious tumbles on the part of the contestants. (They end up in mud or water if they don't safely complete each step of the obstacle course, and there's a lot of bouncing off giant balls.) I'm just lucky he didn't turn the show on until after I'd finished the NYT puzzle, as the applet offers no pause option.

John Farmer's New York Times crossword has some really impressive quadrants. Look at those corners with triple-stacked 9-letter entries crossed by a six-pack of 6's! That's some good-lookin' white space in this 66-worder. The marquee entry is JUMPIN' JACK FLASH, the [Rolling Stones hit just before "Honky Tonk Women"]. Did the Stones do HASHEESH ([Weed])? My favorite entries and clues are:

  • UP A CREEK is clued with an equivalent idiom, [In Dutch].
  • A [Turkey's dewlap] is a WATTLE. Dewlap and wattle are both great words, and came to mind when I saw Michael Douglas on TV yesterday.
  • BOS are [Baseball's Belinsky and Jackson]. Remember the "Bo knows" commercials? If not for those, I'd have been lost here.
  • Plenty of *IS entries get "[letter] Is for [word starting with letter]" references in the clue. Here, the Sue Grafton title trick is flipped—[Sue Grafton's "N"] is for NOOSE.
  • MOE is the ["Calvin and Hobbes" bully]. All of his dialogue is written in messy printing to reflect his bullying dimness.
  • RICE-A-RONI is now a [Quaker Oats product]. Nice to get the product's full name in here, rather than [Rice-___].
  • The [Ill-fated NASA effort] was APOLLO ONE. Anyone else looking for a three-space Roman numeral?
  • I know the [Five-time Horse of the Year, 1960-64] strictly because the name has been in enough crosswords. KELSO is also the name of the character pretty Ashton Kutcher played on That '70s Show, and the last name of the fusty, evil chief of staff on Scrubs.
  • [Some court contests] are ONE-ON-ONES in basketball.
  • The verb [Intimate] is to SUGGEST.
  • I'm oddly fond of PLINTH, an architectural [Base of support]. Does anything rhyme with that? There's hyacinth.

I also want to mention these:
  • [Got by] is the non-ED past tense, DID OK. Who doesn't love those late-week non-ED past tenses and non-S plurals?
  • [Bank of America Stadium] team is CAROLINA. The Carolina Panthers? I don't know. I miss the days when stadiums weren't corporate trollops.
  • Are [Attire] and ENROBE both the same kind of verb? I'm having trouble finding a satisfactory equivalence.
  • Scotland gets two shout-outs, the [Celtic canines] called SKYES (Skye terriers) and ROB ROY, the [Legendary MacGregror].

Unfavorite answers (but I can forgive 'em all, because I like the stuff that surrounds them):
  • MENDER, clued as [Cobbler, at times]. I don't think of shoes as being mended.
  • TRIM WAIST is a [Goal of middle management?], but does anyone actually say they're striving for a "trim waist"?
  • SOBERNESS is a [Dry state], but sobriety is a much more commonly used word. Yeah, soberness is an inflected form listed in the dictionary, but it sounds off to me.

Moving along to the New York Sun "Weekend Warrior," we have a joint production from Doug Peterson and Barry Silk. The grid's anchored by a pair of intersecting 15s, the CHICAGO WHITE SOX and a NUMBER TWO PENCIL. The SOX clue was [Team with the 1980s mascots Ribbie and Roobarb], and neither my husband nor I remembered this one. Which is fine—we live in Cubs territory. Speaking of baseball, 1-Across is [Turns up], and "turns" is a noun there—they're AT-BATS. Lots of short 'n' slangy clues right off the bat—[Bunk], [Heaps], and [Nuts] sounds like a breakfast cereal, but they're CLAPTRAP (a fun word), CRATES, and MADMEN (non-S plural—hello, Friday!). My favorite clue is at 2-Down: [What this clue have] are BAD GRAMMAR.

Other favorite clues:
  • A [Second, e.g.] is a UNIT of time. It took me a long time to understand how the clue and answer went together.
  • [Pinched the cheek of] is GOOSED—and the cheek in question is a buttcheek.
  • A political party's [Ticket's target] is the VOTER. This clue also took me forever to parse properly.
  • [Did a line, say] is SNORTED, as cocaine. !!
  • [Made up, maybe] in the adjectival sense means NOT SO. It'd be easy to misled into thinking of one-word adjectives like PHONY or past-tense verbs, wouldn't it?

Assorted minutiae:
  • I don't have a clue what Steak-UMM is, but there's a website.
  • ["Labor omnia vincit" is its motto: Abbr.] refers to OKLA. How nice is it to not have to cobble together the right Latin word missing from a state motto? So nice.
  • I've read some Henry James, haven't I? And I majored in English. I still needed a zillion crossings to find out that the [1890 Henry James novel, with "The"] was TRAGIC MUSE.

Robert Doll's LA Times puzzle changes a J into an H, sort of as if the J's needed to be pronounced the Spanish way. ["You Can Heal Your Life" author Louise on a constitutional?] is HAY WALKING (jaywalking), but I don't know that Louise Hay is well-known enough to anchor a theme entry. Wikipedia informs me that her publishing company published Deepak Chopra. [Assembly of radio operators?] is a HAM SESSION (jam session). [Camel rider's attire?] is a HUMP SUIT (jumpsuit). HOLLY ROGER, HACK CHEESE ([Cabbie's snack?]), and HUNK BOND round out the sizeable theme. Several clues really made me work for the answers:
  • [Coram nobis et al.] are WRITS.
  • [It may be partly set on a stage] is an OATER, or Western, which may take place partly in a stagecoach.
  • [Reaction to a big library volume?] refers to noise, not tomes—it's SHH.


Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Sounds Simple to Me," features five phrases in which the first word contains a series of letters pronounced like the word "easy," spelled five different way. There's a CHEESY JOKE, or [Bad attempt at humor] (what is it about cheese and corn that allowed them to be redefined as good-natured badness?). BREEZY WEATHER makes for [Good conditions for kiting]. An [Unscrupulous person] is a SLEAZY CHARACTER. [Seasickness] is a QUEASY FEELING (Sing it with me: "I've got a peaceful, queasy feeling..."). And the EZ-PASS LANE is the [Fast way through a toll plaza in some states; Illinois uses the I-Pass instead. Favorite entries: ZOHAN, Adam Sandler's title character this summer (Nobody Messes With the Zohan); the CYRILLIC alphabet; and ["Right Place, Wrong Time" singer] DR. JOHN.

Sharon Peterson's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Home Finance," has a quote theme that isn't new to me, but I had a rough time piecing it together thanks to the Down clues crossing the quote. For example, [Macgillicuddy's ___ (Irish mountain range)]—with *E*K* in place, it sure looked like PEAKS. Nope, it's Macgillicuddy's REEKS. For [One of three virtues mentioned in Corinthians], I entered LOVE instead of HOPE, which mucked up the top middle for a bit. I was at a loss for [You might get one to spare?] for far too long—bowling, yes, but TENPIN wasn't coming to mind. Favorite clue: [It's on the school board?] for CHALK. More erudite entries include words from classics—HESIOD, ["Theogony" poet]; geography—KARST, [Area likely to have sinkholes]; and lit—["Lord Jim" ship], PATNA. The quote spelled out in the theme is "THE TIME TO / REPAIR / THE ROOF IS WHEN / THE SUN / IS SHINING," spoken by JFK (33-Down, right in the center of the grid).

Last update:

Sorry for the delay in posting about Pancho Harrison's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Union Perks." I went to the gym and then out to lunch, where the waitress opted to give us a leisurely paced European experience. But hey, at least we were sitting on the restaurant's patio on a beautiful day. Anyway—in the comments, Dan mentioned a lightning-speed solving time for this puzzle, which indicated that it was going to be unusually easy for a WSJ puzzle. It was (though I haven't yet cracked the 5:00 mark on an easy Sunday-sized crossword). The theme provided little help in solving—I mean, I noticed the precious materials included in the theme entries, but had no idea why there were parenthetical numbers after the theme clues or why the title was "Union Perks." Oh! ANNIVERSARY GIFT, of course, the years associated with the gift given in parentheses. I'm just now realizing that each theme phrase is actually a famous person's name, which explains why the paper anniversary is omitted—and the name aspect makes the theme nice and tight. I'm partial to RUBE GOLDBERG and SHEL SILVERSTEIN, with their gifts embedded in their last names rather than standing alone (as in BILLY CRYSTAL, MINNIE PEARL, ELIJAH WOOD, JAMES IVORY, and NEIL DIAMOND). Favorite entries: SCOT-FREE ([Totally unscathed]); the villainous ["Les Miserables" inspector] JAVERT; Uncle Scrooge MCDUCK; and BLUEBEARD.


July 23, 2008

Thursday, 7/24

NYS 5:15
LAT 4:45
NYT 4:01
CS 3:01

(post updated at 1:25 p.m. Thursday)

Matt Ginsberg is back with another New York Times crossword, this time taking the Jacqueline Susann novel ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH as the starting point. [...The problem with some of the answers in this puzzle] is that once is not enough—that the first word needs to be used a second time in order to be correct. DUM BULLETS are [Hollow-point projectiles]? No, dumdum bullets are. A [Mutually beneficial interaction] should be a win-WIN SITUATION. The [Puerto Rican-born P.G.A. star] is Chi CHI RODRIGUEZ. And the [Child's fair-weather wish] is the sing-songy "Rain, RAIN, GO AWAY, come again another day." With some 8- and 9-letter answers in the fill and a total word count of 72, there's a Thursdayish touch of themelessness—but then, the theme square count is a hearty 69. Clues and answers of note:

  • ALEX and HALEY are cross-referenced as the full name of the [writer of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X"].
  • Holy schnike, Leonhard EULER is clued as the [Originator of the equation e to the power (pi * i) + 1 = 0]. Wikipedia tells me that's called "Euler's identity," and it's frightfully popular among math geeks, some of whom apparently have a crush on the equation.
  • I like the words [Bazaar] and EMPORIUM. So much pleasanter than, say, "strip mall" or "big box store."
  • CROSSE is a [Roughly triangular racket]. Is this about lacrosse or some other crosse-bearing sport?
  • I misread [Follows temporally] as [Follows temporarily], fresh on the heels of reading Ben Zimmer's Language Log post about exactly that conflation. (Click through to see photos of entertainingly wrong signs.) The answer is POSTDATES. 
  • THE is an [Order at a French restaurant] if you add an acute accent: thé is French for "tea."
  • "MY, MY" is clued as ["Really!"]. Wait, what's this doubled-word business? No soup for you!
  • [Synthetic] could be FAKE, FAUX, MOCK, SHAM—or MADE, as opposed to natural.
  • I love seeing OXBOWS ([River bends]) from up in a plane.
  • [Like a leopard] is simply FELINE, not spotted or wild or predatory anything else.
  • [Incense resin] is ELEMI, not to be confused with the Nicholas Gage book/John Malkovich movie Eleni.
  • The opposites WELL-TO-DO and DIRT-POOR are clued as [Rich] and [Impoverished], respectively.
  • FLYNN gets a non-Errol clue: [One of the Mudville players on base when the mighty Casey struck out].
  • The verb [Dice, say] means CHOP.
  • [Preschoolers?] are fish ROE, not yet in a school of fish.
  • [Mass dismissals] are PURGES. Of what or whom, I don't know.
  • [Duke Atreides in "Dune"] is LETO. I haven't the foggiest idea why.
  • [___ Weasley of Harry Potter books] could be Ron or his older brothers, whose names I forget, as well as his younger sister GINNY, who...no, no spoilers here.

Mark Sherwood's New York Sun puzzle is called "Location! Location! Location!" because location is key. Each theme entry removes a preposition and conveys its meaning by way of words' location. The [1953 Ira Levin novel] A Kiss Before Dying is presented as A KISS DYING—A KISS before DYING. The opposite of before is after, and Dog Day Afternoon ([1975 film set at the First Brooklyn Savings Bank]) is NOON DOG DAY—DOG DAY after NOON. The Down theme entries are MIND MATTER, or MIND over MATTER, a [Phenomenon exhibited by psychokinesis], and GROUND WENT, or WENT underGROUND, clued as [Disappeared, maybe]. In the grid's center is HACUTLF, or CUT in HALF—[Divided fifty-fifty]. I do like this theme a lot—a batch of wacky wordies, sort of, amid our crossword.

Favorite clues and answers and other items of note:
  • [Six-pack abs?] might be a BEER GUT. Heh. Good one.
  • GETS MAD clued as [Sees red]; the E-heavy SEES RED shows up in the grid more often, so moving it to the clue is fresher.
  • [White, in a way] can mean ANGLO or SNOWY depending on which part of the crossword you're in.
  • [Eating right?] means the rightmost part of the word "eating," or the letter GEE. The wording seems a big clunky to me.
  • CADGES means the verb [Bums], as in "bums a ride."
  • ["Help!" is one] clues an OLDIE, because that Beatles song is an oldie.
  • Potty humor: a LATRINE is [Head of the army?], "head" being slang for toilet.
  • Did anyone else want to squeeze ACTION into four spaces for the [1997 film title character surnamed Jackson]? It's Peter Fonda's ULEE the beekeeper.
  • I don't know a thing about TESS, the ["Murder by Death" character Skeffington]. Google will help me: It's a Neil Simon whodunit spoof, and Eileen Brennan played the role in question.
  • Baseball, schmaseball: TAKE is the [Third base coach's sign when the count is 3-0, typically].
  • [Glabrous] means SMOOTH, as in hairless skin. "My, your palms are glabrous."
  • MIT is clued as ["21" sch.] because the movie 21 features characters who are MIT students.
  • Corn's [Middle ear?] is the COB.
  • [Speedo product] ain't just teeny swim briefs—they also make GOGGLES.
  • Vague one-word clues starting with P: [Pull] can mean CLOUT, and [Paw] can be your DADDY.
  • [Peer group?] are EYES that peer. Meh.
  • I'm usually pretty good at the Filipino geography that shows up in crosswords, but Cagayan de ORO, a provincial capital of the Philippines? Had no idea. Wikipedia tells me "de Oro" was added in 1950.


Wow, Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword has a lot of out-there answers and clues. The five theme entries are linked by the clues, which are all "___ line" phrases; the answers are spoken lines that might be associated with the ___ setting.
  • [Railroad line?] is the conductor's line, ALL ABOARD.
  • [Fishing line?] is the angler's exaggeration, IT WAS THIS BIG.
  • [Tag line?] is YOU'RE IT in a game of tag.
  • [Party line?] is TOGA! TOGA! TOGA! in the movie Animal House, most notably.
  • [Time line?] is MY, IT'S LATE.

[Box behind a painting, maybe] is a wall SAFE. This could be targeted by a THIEF, who might be described as [One taking things badly?]. I like this pair of clues. People in the grid include Phoebe CATES, ["Fast Times at Ridgemont High" actress]; LUISE [Rainer who won back-to-back Oscars]; [German fantasy novelist Michael] ENDE of The Neverending Story; actor ERNEST Borgnine (why wasn't he on Star Trek? The Borg, Seven-of-Nine, Borgnine...seems like a natural fit); Buddy EBSEN, a [Clampett player] on The Beverly Hillbillies; [Noted shoe collector] IMELDA Marcos; [Conductor friend of pianist Vladimir] is ARTURO Toscanini (Vladimir Horowitz married Toscanini's daughter); ["Dracula" director Browning] is named TOD, and he's the go-to one-D TOD in crosswords; and LOU Gehrig was a [Teammate of the Babe].

The oddball or obscurely clued stuff is as follows:
  • Mystery materials! [Golf ball covering] is BALATA, and [Matted woolen sheet] is BATT. There's also [Kid stuff] for SUEDE—common material, but a tricky clue.
  • ["M*A*S*H" ranks] is LTS, short for lieutenants. Now, I remember Major Houlihan, Captain Pierce, and Colonel Potter, and Radar was a corporal. I suspect the clue was chosen for its abbreviated nature, because lieutenants don't come readily to mind when I think of the TV series.
  • [In-state opponent of a 'Cane] is a NOLE. This one's new to me; I presume it's Florida's Seminoles and Hurricanes.
  • A MODEM is a [Digital interpreter] in some way.
  • OSAKA is clued as [Yodo River city], and that Yodo part didn't shout out "Japanese geography" to me.
  • The [Sugar Plum Fairy's instrument] is the CELESTA. Also from the world of music is YESTERME, [Beginning of a 1969 Stevie Wonder title] that rings no bells for me.
  • [Snippy retort] is "IS SO." A further slide down the slippery slope of "AM SO," "DO TOO," "ARE NOT" playground retort category of fill.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Tiny Baubles," gathers three phrases that start with synonyms for "tiny." There's the [2000 Woody Allen movie], SMALL TIME CROOKS, a MINIATURE POODLE, and the LITTLE RIVER BAND. The latter is clued as ["Cool Change" rockers], and I don't remember that song at all. I still like "Reminiscing," though that video is an odd one. My favorite clue: [Speed reader?] for a traffic cop's RADAR. I wish I understood why PRINT is the answer to [Not stick to the script?]—anyone?