August 31, 2008

Monday, 9/1

CS 4:40
LAT 3:59
Jonesin' 3:43
NYT 2:30

(updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday)

Happy Labor Day! May your labors be few (but not unemploymentally so), your skies clear, and your barbecues free of all foodborne pathogens.

The New York Times crossword is a solo outing from Andrea Carla Michaels, who is one of those early-week specialists. As expected for a Monday, the theme is basic and straightforward, the clues are pretty easy, and the fill combines plenty of plain language with a handful of crosswordy answers that a beginning solver will soon learn all about. The theme answers all relate to hushing, but I don't quite get why the clues are worded as they are. SILENCE IS GOLDEN is ["Shhhh!" prompter]. Doesn't "Silence is golden" replace a "Shhh!" rather than prompting one? MUM'S THE WORD is clued with ["Shhhh!"]. That's "Shhh"! as in "Don't tell anyone" rather than "Be quiet." MY LIPS ARE SEALED is a ["Shhh!" response]—again, more of an "I'll keep your secret" than "Ooh, I better be quiet because she shushed me." I don't know how well these three theme clues and answers cohere, but hey, it's a Monday puzzle and the phrases are so familiar, there's no need to overthink it.

One of my favorite clues is [Like oranges and tangerines] for CITRUS. (Anyone else try CITRIC first? No?) Andrea just says "no" in two answers: NO SALE is a [Key on an old register], as in cash register, and NO RUSH means ["Take your time"]. There are 15 other 6-letter answers in this grid, which makes the fill feel a bit fresher than if there was a greater preponderance of 3- to 5-letter answers.

Here's a Crosswords 101 lesson. Study the following crosswordy items, which you will be quizzed on later in other crosswords:

  • [Lyrical, like a Pindar poem] is ODIC. When Pindar's in the clue, you almost always need the word ODE or some form of it.
  • ET TU completes ["___ Brute?"]. It's what Julius Caesar said to one who betrayed him. The clues for ET TU sometimes mention a "rebuke."
  • [Hersey's "A Bell for ___"] ADANO is a WWII novel for which Hersey won the Pulitzer Prize. Has anyone read this or seen the movie? I know it only from puzzles.
  • [Sign of a hit show] is SRO, short for "standing room only." Do Broadway shows sell tickets for standing room?
  • SNEE is clued [Snick and ___]. According to The Mavens' Word of the Day, "The classic crossword clue for snee is "cut, old style." Actually, just 14 of 110 os SNEE's crossword appearances in's database reflect that verb usage. About 25 times, it's been clued with some version of the "snick/snick or/snicker" thing. More often, SNEE is clued as an old dagger, a bygone blade, etc.
  • [Leave in, to an editor] is STET, or "let it stand." The opposite is DELE, or "delete." Yes, proofreaders and copy editors use these terms, but they (the terms, not the people) are equally popular within crossword grids.
  • LILT is a [Light tune]. I think the word gets more action in crosswords than in speech or ordinary writing.
  • [Old salts] are TARS. Old slangy word for "sailor." Popeye was the consummate tar.
  • [Drunkards] are SOTS. You know what sots do? They tope. And sometimes emit a "hic." If they don't keep drinking, they may get the DT's. Sot, tope, hic, DTS—that's crosswords and booze in a nutshell.


Anyone know where the CrosSynergy puzzles have been hiding? I know this page offers an online applet and a printable option, but I want my Across Lite, dagnabbit! I especially want yesterday's themeless crossword.

The LA Times crossword by Joe DiPietro has six theme entries beginning with _AKE words:
  • 17-A. FAKE THE FUNK is clued as [Not keep it real, in streetspeak]. This is not a phrase I've heard.
  • 23-A. SHAKE ONE'S BOOTY is to [Dance enthusiastically, slangily]. Isn't the one's quaint?
  • 52-A. STAKE ONE'S CLAIM is to [Assert a right of ownership].
  • 61-A. WAKE THE KIDS is to [Disturb your children with late-night noise].
  • 3-D. MAKE A DENT is [Show initial progress, with "in"].
  • 36-D. TAKE A RIDE is [Drive to the country, say].
The symmetry in this group of phrases is that the middle two Acrosses are verb-ONE'S-noun, the two bracketing them are verb-THE-noun, and the two Downs are verb-A-noun. The theme does not exhaust all the possibilities, though. BAKE COOKIES and SLAKE ONE'S THIRST could fit into a grid, but not within the bounds of the paired structures here. (I can't think of a good phrase that starts with BRAKE, though.]

Updated again:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword is called "I'm Surrounded by Idiots" because the theme entries are various "idiots" with extra letters in their midst:
  • NINEPENNY means [About 7 cm long, like nails sold in hardware stores], and the first and last letters form NINNY.
  • FILM SCHOOL is [Where many directors get their start]. There's a FOOL around there.
  • DOUBLE-SIDED TAPE, the [Gift-wrapping adhesive] for those too anal to let tape show, is wrapped in a DOPE. (Thanks to Triplerose for correcting me. I had DUPE. D'oh!) Is the double-sided tape for sticking on bows, or for holding the giftwrap around the box?
  • MORAL OBLIGATION, or [Do-gooder's reasoning, perhaps], is tied up in a MORON.
  • A TWIT encloses a TWO-BASE HIT, which [lets the batter get to second].
  • DOWN QUILT is a [Comfy handmade comforter], and it tucks in a DOLT.
I like the vocabulary word in the fill: OROTUND means [Sonorous]. ZANZIBARI's two Z's are zesty—it's clued as [Resident of the island where Freddie Mercury was born]. I didn't know the Queen front man was from Zanzibar. Hell, when I was a kid, I had no idea he was gay, either. Or the Village People. *whoosh* over my head.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Location, Location, Location" because the location of the words in the clue is key.
  • [Flu (taxi) symptom?] is CAB IN FEVER, because that taxi or CAB is inside "flu symptom," which refers to FEVER. Cabin fever is a familiar phrase if you ditch that first word break.
  • [Tim of (catch some rays) "Bull Durham"?] is BASK IN ROBBINS. Baskin Robbins is a chain of ice cream stores now conjoined to Dunkin Donuts.
  • [Family (Hershey treat) members?] clues KISS IN COUSINS. Kissin' cousins is the base phrase here.
  • [News (fair) magazine?] is JUST IN TIME. This theme entry is a smidgen jarring because unless there's a famous person named Justin Time, the base phrase has a stand-alone "in" while the other theme entries don't.


August 30, 2008

Sunday, 8/31

PI 10:11
LAT 8:10
NYT 8:07
BG tba
CS tba

Argh! It took me 40 seconds to root out my typo in Alan Arbesfeld's New York Times crossword, "Extra Play." I think many of us who time ourselves have a cutoff in mind, below which we're delighted by our performance. Or a rival we want to edge out. For me, the Sunday cutoff is 8 minutes flat, and typoing myself out of clocking in ahead of Byron (...[Poet who wrote "She walks in beauty, like the night"]) Walden makes me grumbly. (I'll feel worse when the other speed demons show up and put me to shame too. ..Yep, there's Howard Barkin now.) UBSAY! That B is right next to the N key.

As for the puzzle itself: Hey! I like it. "Extra Play" in sports is sometimes called OT, or overtime, and the theme entries are altered by the addition of OT to the end of one word. The theme answers alternate between the first and last words taking the OT. A few of the theme entries made me smile:

  • [Plea made to a chimney sweep] is SAY IT AIN'T SOOT. Can you hear it? "Say it ain't soot, Joe. Say it ain't soot."
  • [Distribute equal amounts?] is ALLOT THE SAME.
  • [Vote involved in a 15th wedding anniversary?] is CRYSTAL BALLOT.
  • [Narrow-minded affairs?] are BIGOT BUSINESS.
  • [Teacher's pet?] is a SCHOOLMARMOT. Marmots are cute! 
  • [Stop to admire one's pillaging?] is LOOT AND BEHOLD. "This village is officially sacked. It's breath-taking, isn't it?"
  • [Sexiest bell ringer?] is BARDOT OF AVON. Not a cathedral bell ringer—an Avon door-to-door doorbell ringer.
  • [Part of a Beckett play?] is AN ACT OF GODOT.

The clues and answers I liked the most are:
  • [Humorist Sedaris] is AMY. I've been seeing her on Nickelodeon in promos for Gym Teacher: The Movie, airing on September 12. If you like Sedaris but don't usually watch Nickelodeon, mark your calendar.
  • [Three times a day, on an Rx] is TID. At last! It's not TER! Doctors don't use the TER that the T is short for; they use tid. Speaking of thrice-daily dosing, [Again and again?] is THRICE.
  • [World capital said to have been founded by King Midas] is ANKARA. Trivia I never knew!
  • I needed the crossings to tell me what the [Theater annoyance] was. SNORER? BURPER? TALKER? No, it's the little gadget called a BEEPER. Who carries those now? Do doctors need 'em?
  • TOY STORY is the [Movie with the repeated line "To infinity, and beyond!" I just realized how ridiculous Buzz Lightyear's catchphrase is. You can't reach infinity and you sure as heck can't go beyond it. ...Can you?
  • UNO is the [Game with Wild Draw Four cards]. In the Obama biography video aired Thursday night, the Obama family was seen playing Uno together. Aww.
  • [___ blocker], four brain went to medicine and beta-blockers. Nope! It's SPAM here.
  • [Stern cry?] is AHOY because that's Howard Stern's catchphrase, of course. No, it isn't. It's what a sailor might shout from the stern of a ship.
  • [They have substantial bills] refers to TOUCANS. I confess that I have a box of Toucan Sam's cereal of choice, Froot Loops—but it's the Reduced Sugar box so it's one half notch less crappy. But still tasty! Yum, dyes.
  • [Guam, e.g.: Abbr.] is a U.S. TERR. Did you know Guam and the other U.S. territories will have "state" quarters next year? So don't think your quarter collection is complete after Alaska and Hawaii come out.
  • The opposite of exhume is apparently INHUME, or [Bury]. The word makes me think of Brit Hume. On your way to be inhumed, ride in your [Last ride?], the HEARSE.
  • [Hungarian playwright known for "Liliom"] is MOLNAR. This one wasn't a particular favorite, but I'll throw it in there for Googlers. [Like a line, briefly] is ONED, or ONE-D, meaning one-dimensional. ONED, TWOD, and THREED often throw solvers because the spelled-out numbers are seldom ever used with the D.


I probably won't get to all the Sunday puzzles today—an out-of-town guest came a day early, the Jazz Festival is in town, and the blue skies are glorious.

I just solved Pancho Harrison's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, "Good Help Is Hard to Find," and regrettably, I found the theme off-putting. Each one is an occupation modified by an adjectival phrase that rhymes with it, but the results clank rather than sing. An [Out-of-shape policeman?], for example, is an ABOUT-TO-DROP COP, and a [Wandering cabby?] is a WAY-OFF-TRACK HACK. The theme phrases don't have a natural flow to them, and they're not inherently funny either. I will surely enjoy Pancho's subsequent crosswords much more, as I've really liked many of his earlier ones.

Time to head downtown—I bid you adieu for now.

Updated Monday morning:

I did Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Guess the Theme," late last night when I was falling asleep. I was too tired to notice the theme in the first 11 long entries before I reached 112-Across, which revealed what tied the theme together: IT'S THE BERRIES is an [Old expression of admiration] that I've never heard before, but it does point the way to the berry theme: Each theme entry contains a word or part of a word that can be followed by berry. ALAN CRANSTON serves up cranberries; a STATE SLOGAN, loganberries; CHUCKLE-HEADED, huckleberries; RASPUTIN, raspberries; TRUE BLUE, blueberries—and so on. Cute! I confess I have no idea what berry lurks within HALLELUJAH.


August 29, 2008

Saturday, 8/30

NYT 6:42
Newsday 6:41
LAT 4:57
CS 3:13

(updated at 11:15 Saturday morning)

Misha! It's been too long since we've seen a crossword by Michael Shteyman in the New York Times, and I gotta tell you, it reminds me of yesterday's Nothnagel: Lots of interesting entries and no garbage. Of course, it's a Saturday puzzle, so it's not unusual to encounter something you just plain don't know. For me, that's TALOS, the [Brass guardian of Crete, in myth]. Luckily, the crossings for that answer didn't put up any roadblocks for me. Oh, and PENNI, the [Old Finnish coin], again with reasonable crossings.

Michael built the grid around a lattice of 15-letter answers, three running across and three down:

  • GOOD CHOLESTEROL is a [Carrier of fatty acids]. This one relates to LIPID, or [Oil, e.g.]. Michael is interested in medical science, so we also see IN SITU, or [Undisturbed]; ALLELE, or [Mutated gene]; and a PAIN PILL, or [Anodyne].
  • FRENCH ONION SOUP is the [Common restaurant offering that was Julia Child's last meal]. Trivia I didn't know! (Also French: ARTISTES, RICHE, and the culinary rat's namesakes, EMILES.)
  • EBENEZER SCROOGE is a [Name associated with spirits], the ghosts of Christmas past, etc., and not bottled spirits.
  • "I DON'T FEEL LIKE IT" is an [Unenthusiastic response to an offer].
  • The Beach Boys' "CALIFORNIA GIRLS" is the [1965 hit parodied by the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."]. Trivia I didn't know!
  • The [Bakery item folded in half] is a PARKER HOUSE ROLL. Would you believe my faulty memory nudged me towards porterhouse rolls first? Steaky!

Favorite clues and answers:
  • One's [Bum] is one's HEINIE. Right up in 1-Across, like a full moon!
  • Alphonse D'Amato shortens to ALDAMATO, [Former senator with the memoir, "Power, Pasta and Politics"].
  • A [Rake] is a LECHER.
  • In [Silent's opposite], silent is a noun meaning a silent movie. TALKIE is the opposite.
  • [Ace, say] is a HURLER, as in a pitching ace in baseball.
  • ["My mama done ___ me"] is filled in with TOL'.
  • A [Hamlet] is a small town or a DORP. I think we had this pairing a year or two ago in another Saturday puzzle.
  • IN CAPS is [With emphasis, as text]. And I am NOT KIDDING.
Clues that may be a tad more vexing than the others:
  • [Sour condiment] is ALEGAR. (Lower down, ALLELE crosses ELGAR, echoing ALEGAR.)
  • [Work unit abbr.] is FTLB, as in a foot-pound.
  • [Florist's container] is a CACHEPOT. What? This, and ornamental receptacle that conceals a flowerpot. Oh! We have a pair of these on the front stoop.
  • [Fix, as sails] is RERIG. This is the closest to junk we have in this puzzle, and I swear it was in another crossword just this week.
  • EEK is a [Crossword cat with an exclamation mark in his name]. not know this feline.
  • [Songwriter Washington] is NED. Who? This guy. He wrote "Rawhide" and "When You Wish Upon a Star," and shares my birthday.
  • [Spinning circles?] are CDS in your computer or stereo.
  • [Word in many French family mottoes] is DIEU. Yes, more French. Tough clue for a fairly easy word.
  • [Cool red giant] is a C-STAR.


Doug Peterson's themeless Newsday "Saturday Stumper" doesn't have all the zip of today's NYT puzzle, but it's just as low on the junk-o-meter. RESIT, or [Pose again], is as bad as it gets, and it's neither obscure nor ungettable. Favorite clues:
  • [Two-thirds of sesqui-] is UNI. I was thinking of sesquicentennials and 150, but that's really one and a half centuries. So two thirds of 1.5 is 1, hence the prefix UNI.
  • A SIREN is an [Acoustical instrument], but not an acoustic musical instrument. With the SI in place, I nearly went with SITAR.
  • [Methuselah, for one] isn't just a biblical reference. It's a CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE that holds 6 liters.
  • [Cricket complement] is the number of players on a cricket team, or ELEVEN. It's not an insect body part.
  • ["Time Transfixed" artist] is René MAGRITTE. I like Magritte and Dali and those wacky surrealists. 
  • [Tub stopper?] refers to a big ol' boat called a tub, and the "stopper" is the word AVAST.
  • [Freckle, essentially] is MELANIN.

To get a solution grid for the blog, I typed my answers into the Newsday applet. It was fine for typing in a series of Across answers one after the other. Filling in crossword answers piecemeal on this applet? That would drive me bonkers.

Robert Wolfe's themeless LA Times crossword is braced by three 15-letter answers in plain language. A disbelieving "YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS" means ["This must be a joke"]. ["Better!"] means "THAT'S MORE LIKE IT." And something [Honoring a former friendship] is FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE. After you REOIL something, or [Quiet more squeaks], you may need to give it a REWASH ([Second cleaning]). There are two messes, a STY that [doesn't get picked up often] and a RAT'S NEST, or [Cluttered place]. [Yarn material?] is LIES, as in "spinning a yarn" or tall tale. Less familiar answers abound:
  • [Hall of Fame Vikings lineman Carl] ELLER is not Aunt Eller, who seems to be the more popular ELLER in crosswords.
  • [British weapon designed in Czechoslovakia] is the BREN. Raise your hand if the first British gun that comes to your mind is the crossword-friendly STEN.
  • [Half-sister on "Charmed"] is PAIGE. What, a tough clue for Satchel Paige wasn't available?
  • [Detection] with your eyes is ESPIAL.
  • [Doctor, often] is a DOSER. I started out with another "odd job" answer, CURER.
  • [Katz of "Matinee"] is OMRI. His acting career is not thriving in adulthood.
  • [One of multiple chemical activators] is a COAGENT. This answer may be chemically active but from a crossword standpoint, it's INERT ([Still]).
  • [Sweetened parched grain] is PINOLE.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Boys Will Be Boys," runs together three words that can precede boy in each theme entry:
[A trio of boys] is COW STABLE GOLDEN. At first I thought all three would be agricultural/ranching in nature, but no.
The first [Three more boys] are WATER CHOIR PAPER.
The last [Three more boys] are WHIPPING PLAY FLY.
You know what would be fun? If the boys were arranged into groups of words that could double as an intelligible phrase. Say, a GOLDEN FRAT BUS (though that's not a 15). Or MAMA'S PRETTY LOVER (also not 15). You get the idea. Something more amusing than a series of words in random order.


August 28, 2008

Friday, 8/29

NYS 5:46
NYT 4:47
LAT 4:38
CS 4:19

WSJ 6:44

(updated just past 9 Friday morning)

Mike Nothnagel's themeless New York Times crossword is simply a delight. There were so many entries I loved:

  • The [S.E. Hinton classic] THE OUTSIDERS was one of those books I read and reread in adolescence. "Stay gold, Ponyboy."
  • That takes us right to ONE-TRICK PONY, [Person who's talented but not versatile].
  • My recently gave my son one of those SKELETON KEYS, which delighted him, though our old doors that lock have no keyhole and the doors with skeleton key holes do not lock. The KEYS are clued as [Providers of many openings?].
  • BEACH BALLS are [blown up and thrown up]. Fortunately I had enough crossings already not to think of vomit.
  • PUT A SOCK IN IT! That means ["That's enough out of you!"] or "Stifle!"
  • The [locale of lots of locks] isn't a wig shop, but the ERIE CANAL, occupying 30- and 35-Down.
  • When I was a kid, we had a PETE SEEGER record of traditional folk songs for kids. My sister and I had no idea he was a [Protest music pioneer] back then.
  • IRKSOME means [Trying] means vexatious. Is it bad that I use these words a lot in life?
  • [Image on Oregon's state quarter] is CRATER LAKE. Here is what the quarter looks like.
  • The BATMOBILE! It's a [Way around in comic books].
  • That [Annual college event since 1935] is the ORANGE BOWL. I have no commercial connection with the Orange Bowl.
  • I'm taking my first cruise this Christmas. I hope I don't get SEASICK, or [Looking forward to being docked?].
  • An [Exceedinly rare infant, perhaps] is an OCTUPLET. On The Simpsons, Apu was slipping his wife fertility drugs, unaware that she was already taking them, so the Nahasapeemapetilons became the parents of eight.
Other stuff in Mike's deftly constructed puzzle:
  • [Like Ibsen, to his countrymen] is NORSK. I don't recall seeing this word in a crossword before. Norwegian words sure get short shrift in American puzzles.
  • [Ancient dweller in present-day Kurdistan] and Iraq is a MEDE. (Edited to say: According to Steve Manion, the Medes are more often associated with Iran. It looks like Turkey and Iraq account for more of Kurdistan, though.)
  • I wanted the [Component of morning dress] to be TAILS, but it's an ASCOT.
  • [Contents of some arms] are BABES. I don't like this clue. Same with [Where many heads are put together] for the STOCKYARDS.
  • "I'M ON" means ["That's my cue!"] Has this been heard many times this week in Denver?
  • If something is [More than spicy], it's not packed with habañero peppers, it's LEWD.
  • [Rice product] is a NOVEL. Anne Rice, I presume?
  • [Go for a few rounds?] at the tavern is to TOPE.

It's late and I haven't even peeked at Obama's speech yet, so maybe I'll be quick about this. The New York Sun puzzle by Peter Collins, "Four Corners," plunks two N's, an A, and an O in the corners of the grid. Reading them clockwise, they yield a word no matter where you start, and those four rotating words serve as the clues for the theme answers, which are essentially clues for those short corner words:
  • ONAN is LEAH'S GRANDSON in the bible. Spilling of seed? He's your guy.
Inventive theme, with the corner letters constraining the overall fill while providing more oomph than the puzzle would have if those 4-letter words were handed to us in the clues. Not just oomph, but also more challenge, and when it comes to themed Friday Sun crosswords, challenge is the order of the day.

Favorite answers and clues:
  • [Great depression] is a BASIN, geologically speaking. If you have a touch of the science/geology geek in you and you haven't read John McPhee's Basin and Range, check it out.
  • [Champ] the verb means GNASH.
  • [Deuce, for instance] is an OATH, as in an old-fashioned swear word.
  • [Bald pitcher?] is MR. CLEAN. Back in the '70s, he was the only man with an earring I knew of.
  • Capitol was a record label, so [Capitol output] is RECORDS.
  • [Clinton, once] is RODHAM.
  • [Supersize house?] is a MCMANSION.


Myles Callum's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Double Dealing," is—like last week's—considerably easier than a Sunday NYT. I hope it's just coincidence and not an intentional dilution of the difficulty level. The theme entries follow the title's model: seven two-word phrases in which both words start with D. I'd never heard of the DIME DEFENSE, or [Pass-stopping strategy], and don't know which sport it applies to. The other theme entries are:
  • DOLLAR DIPLOMACY, the [Taft doctrine].
  • DISHING DIRT, a [Yenta's activity].
  • DEAR DIARY, the [Start of a personal note].
  • DRAFT DODGER, or [One avoiding the service entrance?]. Cute clue.
  • DEMOLITION DERBY, always [Smashing good fun].
  • DANNY DEVITO, ["The War of the Roses" director].

Overall, the fill and cluing struck a good balance between smart and fun. Favorite entries included DUDE RANCH, ALITALIA (plus GIANNI Versace and Lake GARDA, also from Italy), JAFAR the ["Aladdin" villain] from Disney, and the women's zone about 40% of the way down the grid (LINDAS, SARA, ADA, MADAME, MARGE).

Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword inserts an "ancient equivalent" of TEN to craft the theme entries, each of which adds an X to the first of two words in a phrase. The results are entertaining:
  • [Aggressive campaign targeting cell phones?] is a TEXT OFFENSIVE (Tet Offensive). This would have felt like a bit of a clunker to me two months ago, but now that the Obama campaign is communicating with supporters via text messaging, I wonder if "text offensive" will enter the political parlance.
  • Willa Cather's O Pioneers! takes an X to become OX PIONEERS, [First farmers to use yoked teams?]. Following Cather, I want to use an exclamation point to add oomph to "OX PIONEERS!"
  • [Clunky-looking car that really performs?] is a BOXY WONDER. Boy wonder is a terrific base phrase, and a friend of mine does love the performance of her ur-boxy Scion xB.
  • LATEX BLOOMERS are [Rubber underwear?]. It paints a pretty picture, doesn't it? Latex fetish underwear meets 19th century bloomers. Perfect for the late bloomer.

Doug has plenty of juicy fill in this puzzle—a delicious SKOR bar, Colonel KLINK, BETELGEUSE, HAN SOLO, a MOOCOW. PLEXIGLASS is clued as [Aquarium material, generically]. I believe the trade name is Plexiglas, but plexiglass has a slight edge in Google hits. I think the namer who came up with Plexiglas should have used two S's, unless they were targeting the German market. (Similarly, the X-Acto knife people should've just called it the Exacto knife. At least the Kleenex and Xerox people chose spellings that people don't routinely alter.)

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Po'Pourri," adds PO (the red Teletubby?) to four phrases and clues the resulting theme entries:
  • [Jabbing fiddler?] is a POKING CRAB (king crab).
  • [Why former Secretary of State Colin was never caught off guard?] is POWELL PREPARED (well prepared). Hey, where's the is or was?
  • [Stamp machine?] is a POSTAGE MANAGER (stage manager).
  • [Warden's budget?] is POKEY MONEY (key money). "Key money"? Not a phrase I know, so I read up on it.
UNCURL is clued as [Straighten, as hair], and it sounded off to me. It is indeed a proper word, though. Favorite entry: DIVE-BOMB, or [Attack from overhead]. I'm not quite sure why this puzzle took me a bit longer than most CrosSynergy crosswords—is it just me?


August 27, 2008

Thursday, 8/28

NYS 5:05
NYT 4:53
LAT 4:13
CS 2:54

(updated at 10:20 Thursday morning)

Dang. I lost 56 seconds to a typo in the New York Times puzzle by Sheldon Benardo. (The Z in the [Hot strip?] called GAZA and the noun sense of DOZE, or [Siesta], got entered as a neighboring S. D'oh!) The theme plays on "an eye for an eye," changing it to AN EYE FOR AN "I" and altering three phrases that contain the first person singular pronoun so that they have EYEs instead. The theme entries are clued without allusion to the switch:

  • [Historical 1976 miniseries] is EYE CLAUDIUS. The miniseries was I, Claudius, and I think my high-school English teacher had the poster on the classroom wall. He had a man-crush on actor Derek Jacobi.
  • [Classic 1947 detective novel] is EYE THE JURY, or Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury.
  • [Bygone political slogan] doesn't get a year in the clue. EYE LIKE IKE plays on the Eisenhower slogan, "I like Ike."
The EYE/I swap didn't feel particularly satisfying or clever to me, and there were a few things that made me cranky. I have seen [___ light: Var.] for KLEIG before, and it grates. A Klieg light, from the German name Kliegl, would be pronounced "cleeg." Following German pronunciation, the misspelled KLEIG would be "clige" with a long I. ANIGH sounds like "an eye," but its inclusion as [Close, old-style] didn't seem cute at all. Furthermore, both OLEO ([Stick on a dish]) and OLEIN ([Liquid fat]) in the same puzzle? Too close for comfort, etymologically. Two more O*EO answers are here—OREO and OSTEO.

I did enjoy SPONGEBOB, the [Title TV character in Bikini Bottom], opposite DESI ARNAZ, the [1940s-'50s film/TV star with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame]. My favorite clue was [Washington has some big ones] for EGOS. Isn't it apt to have the clue [One of the "Brady Bunch" kids] immediately followed by [Cold-blooded killers]? (PETER and ASPS.) Clues that may stump folks:
  • [C7H5N3O6] is the chemical formula for TNT.
  • Would you believe I knew ["Mens sana in corpore ___"] is completed by the Latin SANO solely from The Preppy Handbook back in the early '80s?
  • OJAI is the site of [California's ___ Music Festival since 1947]. Did not know this.
  • [Poland's second-largest city] is LODZ. Wait! Not any more. Wikipedia says it's third now, with Krakow stealing #2 last year. Did you know the slashed L in Łódź is pronounced like our W?
  • [Lay person?] is POET in that a bard might write a lay (scroll down to lay #3).
  • [Part of a pound] is a CAGE if you're thinking of a dog pound and not the unit of weight or currency.
  • [Delivery notation: Abbr.] is GPO. Why? It's general post office. I don't know who makes this delivery notation.

I think Tony Orbach's first themeless was the NYT one with that ill-fated (for me, anyway) CUCHIFRITO/ORFE crossing, and that this New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" is his second. After this one, Tony? All is forgiven. There's much to appreciate:
  • There's a mini-theme with MINNESOTA FATS and VIRGINIA SLIMS. State + plural word pertaining to body weight? A perfect pairing!
  • Pop culture permeates the puzzle. Jaime Sommers was the BIONIC Woman. ALI BABA gets a Beastie Boys clue. DIRK Diggler was Mark Wahlberg's breakout role in Boogie Nights. ALF was a TV series. GET A LIFE is clued as a phrase here, but it was also the name of that short-lived Chris Elliott sitcom that was so goofy. Rock singer TED NUGENT is tied to [Mythological matchmaker] EROS because he, too, likes bowhunting. ARNIE was Corbin Bernsen's L.A. Law role. EWAN McGregor gets clued with a movie I never heard of, Scenes of a Sexual Nature.
  • Shakepeare hits the big time with title characters CRESSIDA and HAMLET, and MALTS clued as [Shakes' peers?]. Another playwright, [Tony-winning playwright Yasmina] REZA, joins old Will.
  • Slangy action abounds, with DA BOMB, or [All that]; AS IF, or ["Fer sher...not!"]; SLEAZES, or [Dirtbags]; TIX, or [Concert score?]; the BLUE FLU, or [Beat walkers' walkout]; and I'M SURE, or ["Yeah, right"].
  • I love the word KERFUFFLE, and STIFLE sounds good with it.
  • Plenty of question-marked clues bend the brain. A [Super duper?] is a good LIAR. Fluke is a kind of fish, so [Fluke roll-ups?] are sushi and not a fishy alternative to fruit roll-ups. [Worked at a bar?] in the gym is CHINNED. And the non-question-marked clues entertain, too: [BBQ waitress's rack] means barbecued RIBS. [10/15, e.g.] is the IDES of October and not a non-reduced fraction. An EXIT VISA is what [might need to come before you can go]. I also like [Balder parent] for ODIN; no, not "Dad is balder than Mom."
The [Cyrillic alphabet letter] isn't such a fun clue. The answer is TSE. Wha...? Let us Google. The tse looks like a squared-off U and represents the ts sound. The Wikipedia article says, "Russian words starting with ц, such as tsar, are rare, and almost none of them are of Slavic origin." Did you know that SISTINE means [Pertaining to any of five popes] named Sixtus? I started out guessing LEONINE, which is wrong, wrong, wrong.


Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Course Objective," sounds like it's got a back-to-school theme, but golf is the star. Four places a golfer might hit the ball begin the theme entries: the GREEN BAY PACKERS, HOLE IN THE WALL, ROUGH AND READY, and BUNKER MENTALITY. The central Down entry is related; TROON, as in the Royal Troon Golf Club, is the [Site of eight British Opens]. The week after that Rosenbaum piece in Slate mocking puzzlers facing down a [Mauna ___] clue, Hartman serves up the complete MAUNA KEA, a [Dormant volcano of Hawaii]. Mauna Loa is active, but quite shallow in slope. Mauna Kea gets its name from the Hawaiian for "white mountain," which I knew (from crosswords!). What I didn't know is that the white is its snowcap in the winter.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's LA Times crossword would've gone over better if I'd been at all familiar with the base phrase lurking behind one of the theme entries. The theme has four phrases that include a metallic element as a word or part of a word, and that element has been replaced by its chemical symbol:
  • [Elementary Michigan arena?] is the Pontiac Silverdome, or PONTIAC AG DOME.
  • [Elementary tender beef cut?] is flatiron steak, or FLAT FE STEAK. I don't eat steak, but I thought I'd at least heard of all the menu options. Not this one!
  • [Elementary Oscar-winning producer?] is Samuel Goldwyn, or SAMUEL AU WYN.
  • [Elementary Silicon Valley daily?] is the San Jose Mercury News, or SAN JOSE HG NEWS.

There were some non-theme clues that also kept me wondering until the crossings revealed the answers: [GM's old electronics subsidiary] is DELCO, and JIBE is not just an insult, it's also a [Sailing maneuver]. I figured out the [Decorative alloy] PEWTER easily enough—its elemental makeup is mostly tin with a little copper and antimony (which sounds like it has to do with antipathy and matrimony, or an opposition to alimony).


August 26, 2008

Wednesday, 8/27

NYS 4:07
LAT 3:48
NYT 3:17
CS 3:03

I am officially out of sorts. Discombobulated by (1) a medical procedure and (2) two margaritas (administered for medicinal purposes, I assure you), I find myself feeling pesci (this household's word for nonspecific stomach upset, borrowed from a "Wayne's World" segment on SNL) and unable to hit the correct keys on the keyboard. Tomorrow will be better, but right now? Not so hot.

The New York Times puzzle by Donna Hoke Kahwaty teased me with the first long Across answer, FOOTLOOSE. "1980s movies that are also phrases!" I thought. Nope, that one's not a theme entry. The theme entries double the first 3-letter word in a phrase to transform it into something new:

  • PAWPAW PRINTS are [Some fruit still lifes?]. My eyeballs picked up a mention of fruit flies.
  • CANCAN OPENER is a [Showy dance intro?].
  • [Gobbler in a powwow musical group?] is a TOM-TOM TURKEY.
  • [Chocolate's journey?] is BONBON VOYAGE. I'd like to buy two tickets, please.

I would've broken the 3-minute mark, which always delights me on a Wednesday puzzle, save for the errant L replacing the K in TSK and KNACK. Three favorite entries here: the SLURPEE is a [7-Eleven cooler]; TYBALT was the [Capulet murdered by Romeo], Juliet's cousin; and [Sweating the small stuff] means NITPICKY. I also like that the longest nonthematic fill, FOOTLOOSE and IN AMERICA,, double as movie titles.

Joon Pahk's second published puzzle is "Divine Intervention" in the New York Sun. The theme is quite similar to one a friend had cooked up a few months ago, with at least two identical theme entries, each containing a hidden NORSE (53-Down) GOD (58-Across) within:
  • Odin is in MOOD INDIGO, [Classic jazz composition by Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard].
  • [Boundary of a black hole] is an EVENT HORIZON, which is a term I learned from a bad sci-fi movie.
  • MAJORITY RULE is a [Common political principle].
  • My favorite Norse deity is Loki the trickster, who hides here in HELLO KITTY ([Friend of the penguin Badtz-Maru] is a frightfully obscure clue, though).

Plenty of Scrabbly fill—GIZA atop AJAX, Al ROKER beside an E-ZINE. Citrus fruit not called orange—POMELOS, or [Large citrus fruits]. [Nickname for a fast woman] is specific to Florence Griffith Joyner, or FLO-JO. [Result of a hook-and-eye connection?] isn't Velcro but a SHINER, or black eye. The [City hard by Vance AFB] is ENID, OK; I'm always partial to those city/state entries.


I'm feeling much better this morning. Barry Silk's LA Times crossword has some abbreviations that might slow you down ([U.S. Army E-6's] are SSGTS, the IGN. is [Place for a key: Abbr.], [640 acres: Abbr.] is a SQ. MI., and that [Volkswagen hatchback] is the GTI, which might not be an abbreviation), a theme that didn't dawn on me until after the grid was completely filled in, and plenty of Scrabbly answers. The latter group includes XENA the Warrior Princess, a Lucy [Lawless TV role]; BUXOM crossing OXEN; YUCKY and a WALTZ; Mt. FUJI and a...QUAG? [Bog, for short] isn't just a shortening of quagmire; my Mac's dictionary includes the archaic quag, meaning "a marsh or boggy place," and says it dates back to the late 16th century (as does quagmire).

What about the theme? JOE MONTANA, the [Quarterback on the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team], shares his name with the state of Montana, whose nickname is Big Sky Country. Thus:
  • [Succeeds in spades] is MAKES IT BIG.
  • ["Ole" phenomenon in a Carmichael classic] is BUTTERMILK SKY.
  • And [Homeland] is MOTHER COUNTRY.

The CrosSynergy puzzle by Martin Ashwood-Smith, "Dark Humor," should've taken a good bit longer than most CrosSynergies since it's got a quote theme, but the clues for the fill were mostly straightforward and easy. The quote is a "Will Rogers observation": EVERYTHING IS / FUNNY AS LONG / AS IT'S / HAPPENING TO / SOMEBODY ELSE. The only answer that was completely unfamiliar to me was STALL-FEED, or [Fatten for market, as cattle]. That's happening to somebody else, not me, but...still not funny. (Sympathetic "moo" here.) There are just two question-marked clues: [Pull some strings?] is to SEW, and [Leaves the office early?] is RESIGNS, not just leaving work at 4:00 instead of 5:00.


August 25, 2008

Tuesday, 8/26

Tausig 5:26
NYS 4:10
Onion 4:01
CS 3:17
NYT 3:04
LAT 2:43

(last updated at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday)

Nancy Salomon's New York Times crossword parks itself in the Tuesday puzzle sweet spot. The theme is easy enough—three diverse phrases all clued the same way—there's nothing too obscure muddling it for Tuesday solvers, and a dozen 7- and 8-letter answers freshen the non-theme fill. The three [Rose] answers are the AMERICAN BEAUTY rose, as in the flower; baseball player Pete Rose's nickname, CHARLIE HUSTLE; and the past-tense verb meaning TOOK TO ONE'S FEET.

Clues and answers of note:

  • [Some spears] was the clue that confused me for the longest; it's the loathed BROCCOLI.
  • [Put down] could mean a few different things, such as writing an answer down, laying an object down, or trying to BAD-MOUTH someone.
  • HYSTERIA is [What 1938's "The War of the Worlds" broadcast set off].
  • [Yadda yadda yadda] can mean ET CETERA.
  • Geography! [Its capital is Hamilton] refers to BERMUDA.
  • BUSBOYS can be [Waiters' aides].
  • A SHEET, as in that percale or flannel thing in your bed, is a [Cover of night?].
  • Harking back a few days to Olympic track events, BATONS answer the clue [They're relayed in relays].

Alan Arbesfeld constructed the New York Sun puzzle, "Pick-Me-Ups." The theme answers don't contain bracing tonics; rather, each one is a phrase that picks up a ME, changing the meaning. The six (!) theme entries are as follows:
  • [When water parks make their money?] is in FLUME SEASON.
  • Conga lines turn into CON-GAME LINES, such as ["It's easy, pal—just keep track of the shell with the pea" and others?].
  • To [Embarrass grandma?] is to SHAME NANA (Sha Na Na). It's not nice to do that.
  • [Motto of indoor stadium advocates?] is DOME OR DIE. Anyone else take a wrong turn with DOME RIGHT? No? Just me?
  • [Coin featuring Sleeping Beauty?] is a PRINCESS DIME.
  • Actor Lee Majors becomes MELEE MAJORS, [Ones getting a degree in riot control?].

In the fill, Arbesfeld's crossword includes four X's, which pleases me. The BATON, or [Relay race handoff], is back again. Favorite clues and answers: SIGN HERE is [Words on a sticky note attached to a contract; [Marks with subscript dots] mystified me, but I certainly know what STETS look like; [It might have a certain ring to it] means a bath TUB; [It gets put in a sinkhole] refers to DRANO in a household sink drain; PETER is the name of the [Boy in "The Snowy Day"] by Ezra Jack Keats; and [Like soy sauce] sure as hell means SALTY.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Class Exercise," serves up an exercise in which you fill in five phrases that start with words that can precede class:
  • [Rainy day restlessness, perhaps] is CABIN FEVER. What's "cabin class"? Google to the rescue: it's the cruise ship accommodations level below first.
  • [White House title] is FIRST LADY (first class). If the nation's first female president is married, has the protocol been ironed already to label her husband this way? "First gentleman"?
  • [Reason for taking statins] is HIGH CHOLESTEROL (high class).
  • [Fundamentalist region] is the BIBLE BELT (bible class).
  • [Farewell dance] is the SENIOR PROM, for the senior class.
Anyone know ["Cavalleria Rusticana" composer Mascagni]'s first name without crossings? I did not; it's PIETRO. [1107, in old Rome] is MCVII—if only the last I hadn't been in a theme entry, it could have been changed to an E for Fleetwood Mac's Christine and John McVie.

Donna Levin's LA Times crossword hides an archery theme:
  • STRAIGHT ARROW is a [Morally upright person].
  • [Violinist's tool] is a FIDDLE BOW.
  • The [Ross Macdonald sleuth] is named LEW ARCHER.
  • [Exactly as projected] means RIGHT ON TARGET.

I'm not sure if the central entry, ENTAILS, is supposed to join the theme. Cursory research suggests that arrows used in archery have fletching (the feathers), not tails, but typographical arrows may have tails.

Beautiful corners in this grid—two quartets of 7-letter answers stand side by side.

Updated again:

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword for the week, "Dropping E," has naught to do with dropping the drug Ecstasy. Nope. In this Friday-tough puzzle, each of the five theme entries jettisons two E's from assorted spots:
  • KARAT BLT'S are [Deli sandwiches with purity measurements?]. Karate belts lose both E's.
  • A [Lusty sound file?] is a SIN .WAV, altered from sine wave.
  • [Potato sack race, essentially?] consists of HOP AGAINST HOP (hope against hope).
  • [Charged air?] is ION SKY, ditching the E's in Ione Skye's name.
  • The trickiest one for me was the [Sensitive tsetse?]. The other theme entries dropped the E's from two words, while this one dropped a double E from one word. TOUCHY FLY derives from touchy-feely, and not touché...yfely.

Unusual entries abound:
  • NGOS, or nongovernmental organizations, are [Int'l aid gps.]. A while back, there was a discussion on Cruciverb-L about whether this abbreviation was familiar enough. If you listen to NPR or the BBC Newshour, it should be.
  • [Longtime Nwe Yorker cartoonist Roz] CHAST is a genius. She and Steve Martin made an ABC book that I love. If you don't want your kid to see a cartoon WINO ([Brown bagger?]) in an ABC book, hide this one from her.
  • [CNN correspondent Octavia]'s last name is NASR. Good thing I know LORAIN is an Ohio town, or I might well have wanted to try LOTAIN or LOHAIN for [Ohio birthplace of Toni Morrison].
  • TANTRA is the [Hindu doctrine with secret sexual rituals]. The word's got five priors in the database, but none of those mention sex.
  • [She may never turn pro] refers to a CON who is against something.
  • SHUL gets a good long clue: [Place that it wouldn't kill you to go one of these Fridays. or maybe you think you're too important for God now?].
  • HOJO is indeed a [Dwindling restaurant/hotel franchise].
  • [2005 Rookie-of-the-Year power forward Emeka] OKAFOR crosses CHAST and the Jungle Book python KAA. I wouldn't have known OKAFOR off the cuff, but the other two names I did know. Fortunately.

I only have a couple minutes to blog about Brendan Emmett Quigley's Onion A.V. Club puzzle. The middle theme entry is HELL ON EARTH. The two long theme entries contain EARTH divided among the words in those phrases, WEAR THE TROUSERS and the perfect SORRY TO HEAR THAT. "Where's the HELL?" you ask. Why, it's sitting directly on top of the EART portion of EARTH, that's where. HELL is hiding in 14-Across, SHELL, above the top theme entry, and in MITCHELL at 55-Across. I've circled 'em for you in the grid image.
Weird answers I didn't know:
  • The AFL is [New York Dragons org.]. What the HELL is the AFL? Ah, I see: Arena Football League. I didn't know that was ever abbreviated.
  • ZEREX is a [Prestone competitor]. While I give props to any company that packs its trade name with a Z and an X, I must dock the company 10 points for not making itself a household name.
  • [Romance novelist Ashworth] is named ADELE. Who?

Apple's ICHAT (or iChat) allows for instant messaging. I rarely use it. Have we seen ICHAT in the grid before?

Time! Cool theme structure, Brendan—it's been a while since I've seen one along these lines.


Grant Barrett on open source lexicography

If you have an interest in lexicography, dictionaries, wikis, and neologism, check out this two-year-old post (not outdated) at Grant Barrett's blog, The Lexicographer's Rules. It was linked to in Language Log post today. Crossworders frequently get into dustups about what words mean and whether clues offer accurate representations of answer words. Some look askance at citations from Wikipedia or other user-generated sites. Grant gives his take on "The Dictionary" versus entities like Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary, and his essay's a good read.

If you attended the ACPT this year, you will recognize Grant from his color commentary during the finals and from the awards luncheon.


August 24, 2008

Monday, 8/25

Jonesin' 4:45
CS 3:13
NYS 2:52
NYT 2:30
LAT 2:25

(updated at 2:20 p.m. Monday)

The Monday New York Times crossword hits the Monday sweet spot—nice and easy, with an accessible letter-progression theme of phrases that sound great together (the P and K sounds are inherently entertaining). Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake teamed up to give us:

  • PACK A PUNCH means [Be very potent].
  • The PECKING ORDER is [Social hierarchy].
  • The PICK OF THE LITTER is the [Very best puppy or kitten].
  • POCKET CHANGE means [Miscellaneous coins].
  • PUCKERED UP is clued with [Got ready to kiss].

All this makes me want to say "Peter Piper packed a punch when picking a peck of puckered-up peppers. Then he purchased a pack of Pocky Sticks." My favorite fill mostly revisits the P and K: STUNK and SKIMPY, a PONZI scheme ([Kind of scheme that's fraudulent]), POPS and PUTTS.

Mark Feldman's New York Sun crossword, "Military Medicine," has an elegant but still easy theme: phrases that begin with a military rank and describe something related to medical care.
  • GENERAL HOSPITAL is a generic term as well as a [Long-running ABC soap].
  • MAJOR OPERATIONS include [Open-heart surgeries, e.g.].
  • PRIVATE PRACTICE also gets a pop-culture clue, ["Grey's Anatomy" spinoff], but doubles as a generic term.
Favorite entries: POP-UP AD, Christopher MELONI (only because it gives me a chance to call him a Fanelli boy), BELARUS and NEBULAS sharing six of their letters, and gaping MAWS.


Paula Gamache packs her CrosSynergy puzzle, "E-ZPass," with five theme entries (each containing EZ welding together two words) and a slew of 7-letter answers in the fill. The STRIKE ZONE is a [Pitcher's target]. WOWIE ZOWIE is an [Expression of glee]. EMILE ZOLA, whose writing is stark and richly detailed, is clued as the ["J'accuse" author]. The [Traditional marmalade ingredient] is ORANGE ZEST; I'm partial to this answer. [1960s group who sang "She's Not There"] is THE ZOMBIES. WOWIE ZOWIE and THE ZOMBIES make this a fun theme, don't they?

I liked a lot of the clues and fill here (and it's only Monday!). My favorites:
  • The IPHONE was [Time magazine's 2007 Invention of the Year].
  • Two timely answers are the NOMINEE, a [Convention VIP], and ORATE, or [Give a keynote address], which will be done at the Democratic convention by...Mark Warner? Wow, I don't know anything about him.
  • [Like some soap] is ON A ROPE. I haven't seen soap-on-a-rope in years, but there is, of course, a web retailer specializing in it.
  • "SAYS WHO?" is equivalent to ["And what's your source?"].
  • RESIZE looks like a junky add-a-prefix entry, but if you've ever had to [Make smaller or larger, in Photoshop] or another image editing program, it's a familiar word. Heck, who hasn't RESIZEd a browser window a zillion times?
  • [What heirs split] evokes "splitting hairs," but it refers to ESTATES.
  • I like that FEELERS is clued as [Trial balloons], but I would have liked it as bug antennae too.

David Cromer's LA Times crossword was so easy, I filled in all four theme answers immediately after filling in 5- to 8-Down. The theme entries are plural nouns that begin with a man's nickname:
  • BOBBY PINS are [Hair holders].
  • BILLY CLUBS are [Beat walkers' sticks], as in the police beat.
  • TEDDY BEARS are [Furry carnival prizes].
  • TOMMY GUNS were [Prohibition era weapons].
I wonder if I could have finished the puzzle even faster if I'd gone back to the top after entering the theme answers, rather than navigating my way up from the bottom. Is top-down solving markedly more efficient?

Updated again:

Matt Jones's newest Jonesin' crossword, "Flippin' Sweet," has three theme entries of different lengths, so the grid has left/right symmetry. It took me a while with my head flipped over to understand the theme clues:
  • INVERT SUGAR is [Je9ns]. Flipped upside down, everything's in reverse order. Viewed upside down, s is still s. n flips to look like a u. Upside-down 9 looks sort of like a capital G if you squint. (If it had been 6 instead of 9, the upside-down version would look like a lowercase g.) e upside down looks sort of like a typographical a. And a sans serif J inverts to a sketchy r
  • APPLE TURNOVER is clued [aldde]. The a and e invert to become one another. d flips to p, and l is pretty much the same either way.
  • UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE is [sa>le)]. a and e swap directions. The greater than l part has to be flipped and squeezed together, with the l and less than resembling a K. The ) flips to be (, which is a shallow C shape.

Sweet! If you didn't notice, the three theme entries all describe the reversal aspect. Can you imagine if the clues and answers had been swapped? Would you ever come up with Je9ns or sa>le) as an answer for a straightforward-looking clue? The theme's complemented by zippy fill—YUPPIE, SQUAWK, YAKUZA, ELWOOD from Blues Brothers—and clues. My favorite, for its '80s musical nostalgia, is [They're pulled from the shell, in a Squeeze song title] for MUSSELS.


August 23, 2008

Sunday, 8/24

NYT 14:53—try printing the PDF version rather than using the applet or Across Lite
LAT 8:42
NYT cryptic crossword 7:48
BG 6:06
CS 5:15
PI untimed

(post updated at 10:30 Sunday morning)

First off, if you're the "r larson" who posted a solving time for the NYT, your time can't possibly be right. Sure, 28 minutes is plausible, but not as an applet time posted less than 20 minutes after the puzzle was released online. And certainly not in the applet, where at 6:21 Eastern, only two finishers are listed, neither named "r larson." Were you reporting your Saturday time just after 6 Eastern, when my standings widget flipped over to Sunday?

Second, Will, what's with throwing two hard Kevin Der puzzles at us in a single weekend? Ouch! Two days after Kevin's 18-block themeless, he's got a plus-sized (23x23) Sunday New York Times crossword. The "Come Fly With Me" theme is explained in the theme entries, which spell out [instructions for what to do when this puzzle is done]. We are to CUT ALONG THE DOTTED LINE first. Um, what dotted line? There must be one in the NYT Magazine, but it's not there in the applet. Next, FOLD THROUGH EACH / PAIR OF NUMBERS / IN THE GRID SEQUENTIALLY. Finally, GO THROW THE PAPER AIRPLANE. Just this afternoon, coincidentally, my husband was folding a fancy paper airplane for our son. Since I have the puzzle on screen and not on paper and since there's no dotted line for me anyway, I'll skip the instructions altogether. (Edited to add: I looked at the PDF, and the dotted line simply circumscribes the grid. So if you cut out an Across Lite grid, you're good to go.)

As for the puzzle itself, aargh! Effing hockey! It took me an extra two minutes to hit on the correct [Common hockey power play] numbers, 5 AGAINST 4. It would have helped if I'd noticed the sort-of-symmetry of the numbers in the grid and seen that the 5 and 4 in the top row needed to be paired with a 5 and 4 down below in the hockey answer. The numbers that tell you which folds to make when are:

1: In the middles of 8- and 149-Across. [Belonging to] is AS 1 OF, crossing 1 EYE, [Cyclops' feature]. And [Slay somebody] is DO 1 IN, crossing AT 1, or [In accord (with)]. This is messing around with convention a bit because these phrases don't generally include a numeral. It's sort of rebusoid, I guess. The phrase do one in sounds unnatural, but I concede that the inclusion of numbers in predetermined spots in this grid dictate this sort of mild compromise.

2: The 2's are on the right, in 83- and 113-Across. [It follows the initial part of a procedure] means STEP 2, crossing WW2, the [1940s conflict: Abbr.], which is usually seen as WWII. [How one must win in ping-pong] is BY 2 points, crossing 2 UP, [Like a team that's ahead by a safety], which is worth two points in football. Sports non-fans having a meltdown yet?

3: The 3's are on the left, opposite the 2's, in 78- and 109-Across. [Need for the winner of a Wimbledon men's match] is 3 SETS, crossing an MP3 [File on an iPod]. [Staples of early education] are the 3 R'S, crossing 3 A.M., [N.Y.C. time when it's midnight in L.A.]. Sports non-fans beginning to fall to their knees.

4: The 4's are at the top and near the bottom on the right side of the grid, in 13- and 127-Across. [July holiday, with "the"] is the 4TH, of course, crossing 4 ACTS, the [Structure of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard"]. The other 4 is in the aforementioned hockey clue, crossing 4-LANE, [Like the majority of Interstate highways].

5: The 5's are opposite the 4's on the left, in 5- and 127-Across. The [U.K. counterespionage agency] is MI5, crossing 5-CENT, which is not a cut-rate rapper but means [Costing a nickel]. The hockey 5 crosses 5-STAR, or [Highest-rated, as a hotel]. If you're not a sports fan but stay in luxury hotels, you had a shot here.

Putting aside the various wickednesses of the entries with numbers and, essentially, 90-some unclued squares in the instructions, what else was hard here? Picking a spelling for ["Stupidest thing I ever heard!"]—here it's PUH-LEASE. Sometimes you see a Z, or a double-E. ["A Little Princess" heroine and others] are SARAS; I had no idea. I didn't exactly know that [Sequoyah, for one] was a CHEROKEE, but it was simple enough to guess it with some crossing letters. As for ["___ et manus" (M.I.T.'s motto], well, I never heard the motto (all right, Der, that's enough with the MIT stuff! You made us learn that the school ring was called the BRASS RAT in a previous puzzle, but now I'm full up on MIT trivia. No más!). Looks like Latin for "something and hands," so it must be the mind 'cause it ain't gonna be the feet: MENS. Would you call PAPAYAS [Orange and green fruits]? Yeah, I guess so. Most of the nonthematic clues in this puzzle were quite accessible, I thought. The junkiest-looking entry was perhaps KUM, but clued as ["___ Ba Yah" (campfire song)], it was a quick gimme.

I was thoroughly enjoying this puzzle until I futzed around with various alternatives for the hockey clue, like 3 AGAINST 4 or 4 AGAINST 4. No, 4-on-4 wouldn't be a power play (which means one team's playing with an extra player because the opponent's got a player sitting in the penalty box), but I think the finest lodging I've ever stayed in was a four-star hotel. No, wait, it was five stars. Dammit, I should've gotten 5 AGAINST 4, then. (For the record, I own only one home, and the mortgage isn't paid off yet.)

Favorite clues and entries:

  • [Leaves in the kitchen] are CILANTRO. Technically, my cilantro's in an herb garden out on the deck, and it's flowering so it doesn't look like tasty herbs right now.
  • SPOON-FED is [Given directly]. This theme was spoon-fed to no one.
  • POE is the [Author mentioned in the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus"]. Poe's in there? I confess I don't know the lyrics, but I do like Poe, especially "The Cask of Amontillado." A friend of a friend's sister named her baby girl Caesg, which they pronounce in such a way that I can't help thinking about the Poe story and that brick wall.
  • [A small one helps the indecisive] is a MENU. Yes, too many choices lead to decision paralysis. I'm one of those people who has enough foods I won't eat that I narrow down a restaurant menu by eliminating all the dishes I can't have, and then decide among, say, three great-sounding items. It's got to be so much harder to decide when you have 15 or 20 dishes to contemplate.
  • I might say [Oh, pooh!"] but never "TISH!" Who says that?
  • I like the URLs in 41- and 44-Down, CURL UP and UNFURLED.
  • A TROLL is an [Internet forum rabble-rouser]. Indeed!
  • GLORIA is a [Girl's name that's Latin for "fame"].
  • Who doesn't love a [Many-armed Hindu goddess]? Her name is KALI.
  • Architect I.M. Pei takes the day off, as PEI is clued as the [Eastern Canadian prov.] Prince Edward Island.

Hey, if you cut out the puzzle and make the paper airplane, let me know how it flies.


The mini-tournament called Lollapuzzoola debuted on Saturday. Ryan and Brian wrote up their event—congrats on the win, Howard! That link also includes downloadable Across Lite versions of the six tournament puzzles and a bonus puzzle. I haven't looked at any of them yet.

This weekend's second NYT Sunday puzzle is a cryptic crossword by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon. Seven of the 28 answers are straight-up anagrams of words in the clue. The most surprising anagram was INSTANT MESSAGE as a rearrangement of "seat assignment." I cost myself about two minutes by having a typo in that answer, spelling is MSESAGE and having 21-Across seriously mucked up as a result. I wanted it to end with -ED, but with another E before that? It can't be. And it wasn't, because that letter was an S, in AMASSED ([Put together a pole on a ship in the sound]).

The themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is by Bob Klahn this week, but the clues are only modestly harder than usual. The entries I liked best were:
  • TEASER RATES, or [Lender's lures].
  • OLIVER STONE, the ["Midnight Express" Oscar winner].
  • ULULATED! It means [Hooted and howled]. My kid ululated this morning.
  • STERLING means [Thoroughly excellent].
  • NESCIENT means [Unenlightened]. I've never used the word, but it seems like a good one to use if you're trying to come off as superior in a pompous way. Michael Quinion of World Wide Words agrees.
  • PUMMELED is the answer for [Beat in the ring]. I started with PUNCH OUT. And yes, pummel and pommel are related.

Favorite clues: [Land lover] for PATRIOT and [Duty-free commodity?] for LEISURE TIME. Quibble: [Bud variety] can't be LITE because the beer is Bud Light. It's Miller Lite that uses the cheesy spelling.

Updated Sunday morning:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Conventional Wisdom," offers a set of topical puns centering the imminent Democratic National Convention. (A friend of mine has blogger press credentials for the convention. How cool is that?) The puns are a mixed bag, which is par for the Merl course:
  • [What convention goers hope to achieve?] is A DELEGATE BALANCE (a delicate balance).
  • [What convention speakers stand on?] is THE GOOD OLD DAIS (the good old days).
  • [Breakfast cereal made especially for the convention?] might be KELLOGG'S CORN FLAGS (Kellogg's corn flakes).
  • [With 64-Across, a tired conventioneer's plaint?] is I GET NO KICK / FROM CAMPAIGNS (the song "I Get No Kick From Champagne").
  • [Inspirational reading for Democrats?] is DONKEYXOTE (a symbolic donkey merged into Don Quixote).
  • [Why Democratic symbols aren't seen at Republican conventions?] is because THEY'RE IRRELEPHANT (they're irrelevant).
  • [Wall-to-wall convention decor?] is A VAST BANNERAMA (a vast panorama).
  • [Convention breakfast topics?] are SPEECHES AND CREAM (peaches and cream).

As strange as DONKEYXOTE looks, 44-Down may beat it for weirdest entry. FIG FARMER is clued with [Amos was one, in the Bible], but it's not a phrase that's out there, really. (Less than 700 Google hits at this writing...and Google asks, "Did you mean: 'pig farmer'.") The other seven 9-letter Down answers that run parallel to FIG FARMER are perfectly ordinary, though—LOVE SONGS and SCINTILLA are particularly nice.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Across Lite Boston Globe crossword, "Theme Songs," is an easy pop-culture confection—or at least, it's easy if you know your TV series theme songs. Sure, I had to piece together the Hannah Montana and Monty Python's Flying Circus songs, but M*A*S*H, Friends, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and The Sopranos came pretty easily to me. In the fill, SHORT I was elusive despite the quotation marks in the clue, ["Hit" or "miss" trait]. 91-Across also demanded most of the crossings before I figured it out; [Signal by flapping] and WIGWAG aren't instantly associated in my head.

The syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword is called "The Three B's" because each theme entry contains the letter B three times. The name in the byline is Sabrina Walden, which anagrams to "brand new alias" (thanks, reader Ted!), a new pseudonym for editor Rich Norris. Three of the 10 theme entries are people's names—BILL BIXBY was a ["My Favorite Martian" costar], but he was more famous as the lead in the TV series The Courtship of Eddie's Father and The Incredible Hulk. BARBARA BOXER is the [Senate's Democratic Chief Deputy Whip]. '80s pop star DEBBIE GIBSON is the ["Foolish Beat" singer]. There are two place names—PEBBLE BEACH, the [Scheduled site of the 2010 U.S. Open] in golf, and the BIBLE BELT, [Fundamentalist section]. The other half of the theme entries are uncapitalized nouns—the BOOB TUBE, a BLUE RIBBON, a PLUMB BOB, a ROBBER BARON, and a BABY BOOMER.