September 30, 2008

Wednesday, 10/1

Sun 4:36
CS 3:48
NYT 3:12
LAT 3:09

(updated at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday)

Here's the word from Peter Gordon tonight:

The Sun may have set, but not the crossword. I had many puzzles in the pipeline when the paper folded, so I will be publishing them online. Go to sometime this weekend to find out where to get them. There will be 108 puzzles starting with October 1 and running until February 27. The cost will be $12* for all 108 of them. I'm hoping to get over 2000 subscribers so that I can pay the authors their fees and still make it worth my time. If I don't get that by January, then it will stop on February 27. If I do, then it can go on indefinitely. So spread the word!

For the October 1, 2, and 3 puzzles, they're still online at the Sun's website, so you can get those three the way you've always been getting them. (If that doesn't work, go to and click on the appropriate date.)

*Or $12.67 to cover the Paypal transaction fee.

The Sun newspaper didn't publish on holidays, but the newspaper-free crossword will publish five days a week, Monday through Friday.

I liked Barry Boone's New York Times crossword just fine even before I carried out the theme instructions and played CONNECT THE DOTS (and did so ALPHABETICALLY). The central theme entry is NO PLACE LIKE HOME, and the picture you make by connecting A to B to C...and so on through L is of a basic house with a chimney on the side of the roof. Cute! If you ever drew a house in grade school, you can probably visualize this puzzle's house without drawing lines between the letters on a hard copy.

The fill didn't seem overly constrained despite the specific letters in specific spots in near proximity to the theme entries. My favorite parts (and random thoughts that have little to do with this crossword):
  • [Kind of cuisine in which onions, bell peppers and celery are the "holy trinity"] is CAJUN. I tend to like informative trivia clues.
  • I hadn't read the Langston Hughes poem "I, TOO" even though I've seen it in crossword clues before. This time, the clue was [Hughes poem with the line "They send me to eat in the kitchen"], and that teaser sent me in search of the poem. The rest of the lines are here. I think Hughes (d. 1967) would have liked Obama's candidacy.
  • [Introductory course, often] is SALAD. Shouldn't all 100-level courses at colleges be called soup or salad courses?
  • A new (?) clue for ALOE: [Cleopatra used it as a beauty lotion].
  • One [Way to find your way: Abbr.] is by using GPS. I think my husband and I are getting GPS for ourselves this Christmas.
  • A [Big name in kitchen gadgets] is OXO. Those clever bastards also make a great shower caddy, which I've had for a week.
  • I like the word CAVIL, clued with [Quibble]. Carping, nitpicking—they're all at the same party.
  • Euro car corner! [German car] AUDI meets [Russian car] LADA. I saw junky old Ladas in Prague in '97.
  • This week, who doesn't appreciate the FDIC? It's a [Bank protector, for short].
  • SHOO-IN is a [Sure thing].
  • [Gardeners may work on them] refers to their KNEES. Orthopedists may also work on the gardeners' knees.
  • Old-school geography! Dhaka used to be transliterated as DACCA. It's [Bangladesh's capital, old-style].
  • [Athlete who's not dashing?] is a MILER. The Chicago marathon is October 12—Mr. Fiend and I will be spectating at the finish line for a change. The Olympic gold medalist in the women's marathon will be competing here in Chicago, so it should be another good race.

Dave Tuller's 15x16 Sun crossword, "Genre Artists," adds six musical performers to the playlist because their names ends with a genre of music:
  • PANIC AT THE DISCO is the ["A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" band].
  • KID ROCK is one [Singer once married to Pamela Anderson].
  • ["Nights in White Satin" band, with "the"] is MOODY BLUES.
  • Scottish nationalist band BIG COUNTRY is clued as [Stuart Adamson's band].
  • IGGY POP is called ["The Godfather of Punk"].
  • I've never heard of the ["Shattered Dreams" band] JOHNNY HATES JAZZ. Let's see... Their biggest hit came in 1987, when I was ensconced in college and obligated not to listen to top-40 music.

David Soul is heartbroken that there was no room in this theme for him, even though his "Don't Give Up on Us" was a #1 hit in the '70s. DId you know David Soul is now a British citizen and acts on stage in the West End? I sure didn't before I looked up his Wikipedia bio.

Some of the fill in this crossword spins a line of dialogue: "YOU DIG BRUNETS, BATGIRL?" Alas, I can't make any other sentences as good as that one from the fill.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword, "Huh? (Olympics Division)," takes as its theme a quip that splits into three 13-letter pieces: NO ONE HANDS YOU / A GOLD MEDAL ON A / SILVER PLATTER. At the same time, nobody is bronzing your baby shoes, either. I slowed myself down a bit here by trying FEIGNING instead of FEINTING for [Making a false move]. There were a few apt crossings that leapt out at me while solving. AXL Rose crosses an ice-skating AXEL. The akin SPY and PRY cross at the Y. NADIR and FAKIR, with their unusual consonant-I-R endings, intersect at the I, which could have been an E (FAKER, NADER) with a new pair of clues. TO TERM, as in nine months' pregnant, aptly crosses ENORM. I wasn't wild about [Take off] as the clue for AVIATE, especially with a not-so-well-known AVA ([Marilu's "Evening Shade" role]) crossing it.

Mike Peluso's LA Times crossword has a FAIR (71-Across) theme, with the four long answers beginning with kinds of fairs, so to speak:
  • [Help-wanted listing] is a JOB OPPORTUNITY. (Job fair.)
  • VANITY PLATES are clued with [Players on the game show "Bumper Stumpers" had to figure out what they meant]. A friend of mine recently saw a vanity plate that read CNTPRTY and I hope that one wasn't on the game show. (Vanity Fair.)
  • One's STATE OF BEING is the [Physical condition]. (State fair.)
  • [One with an array of skills] is a RENAISSANCE MAN (or woman). (Renaissance Fair.)

A solid theme for a Wednesday. There's some intra-puzzle synchronicity today. Abel TASMAN was in the CrosSynergy puzzle, while TASM. is in this LAT, clued with [Hobart is its cap.]. FDIC is in the NYT as well as LAT, clued as [S&L guarantor] this time.


September 29, 2008

Tuesday, 9/30

Tausig 5:43
Onion 4:40
NYS 3:50
CS 3:12
NYT 2:45
LAT 2:45

(updated at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday)

The big news in the crossword biz is that the New York Sun is ceasing publication after tomorrow. So the Tuesday Sun puzzle will be the last published under that paper's auspices. The good news is that Peter Gordon had already accepted about 5½ months' worth of crosswords, and we'll be able to access them for a nominal fee. Stay tuned for details about where to get the crosswords and how to pay your pittance for the privilege. I'll continue blogging about the puzzles.

I forgot to notice the theme in Allan Parrish's New York Times puzzle until after I finished it. The theme is diner seating options, the counter, a booth, or a table:

  • GEIGER COUNTER is clued as a [Particle-detecting device].
  • JOHN WILKES BOOTH was the famed ["Sic semper tyrannis!" crier].
  • The PERIODIC TABLE is a [Chemistry class poster, perhaps].
Me, I like a booth. I also like how much longer fill there is in this puzzle—with just three theme answers, there's space for interesting stuff outside the theme. HYDE PARK is, among other things, [Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthplace]. AMARETTO is that [Almond-flavored liqueur] that comes to mind whenever I see the word amoretto. The upper left and lower right corners of the grid are pretty wide-open, with those theme entries intersecting a trio of 6's and a 9-letter answer. I'd say more, but I'm watching Heroes and it's awfully distracting.

Matt Ginsberg's New York Sun swan song is called "Eight Is Enough" because the answers in it contain only eight of the 26 letters, those in the word notaries. (These letters are sometimes held to be the most commonly used in the English language.) The theme is explained in the clue for 15-Across, NINE, or [One more than the number of different letters in this puzzle]. Well, the fill isn't at all Scrabbly, that's for sure. Working by hand, I imagine this puzzle would be mighty challenging to construct—but Matt has some sort of intricate database of crossword entries, and I would guess he had a computer do much of the heavy lifting. Matt, would you care to tell us how it played out?


Once I figured out the theme in Jennifer Nutt's LA Times crossword, I really liked it—it evokes a LONG WEEKEND. Mind you, the clue for that entry spells out the theme clearly, but in an easy puzzle, I don't always read every clue, especially a long one: [Break suggested by the first three letters of 18-, 23-, 51- and 57-Across]. Those four answers are:
  • FRIGHT WIG, or [Halloween hairpiece], begins with the abbreviation for Friday.
  • SATELLITES, or the hidden plural [Orbiting craft], starts with Saturday.
  • SUNKEN SHIP is a [Source of ocean treasure, perhaps]. It begins with Sunday.
  • MONEY BELT, or [Where a tourist might keep cash], starts with the abbreviation for Monday. Hey, a four-day weekend! That's 33% better than a three-day weekend, and offers double the value of a standard two-day weekend.

There's one clue that has become factually inaccurate in recent days. Is WAMU still a [BofA competitor]? Poor WaMu.

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's CrosSynergy crossword, "Talking a Good Game," centers on an "observation": AFTER ALL IS SAID / AND DONE, A LOT MORE / IS SAID THAN DONE. True enough, that. I rather like the entry GOES BOOM, clued as [Explodes, to a kid]. I also like the potato pair: a COUCH is a [Place for a potato?], while IDAHO is a [Place for potatoes?] in the plural.

Updated again:

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword for this week is horribly rude (...not that there's anything so wrong with that), as each theme entry tells you where you can get off—at least, those imprecations are found at the beginning of each of those phrases.
  • [Popeye's "I'll be!"] exclamation is BLOW ME DOWN. Blow me is one of those dismissive, rude phrases.
  • The [1991 Phoebe Cates comedy often compared to "Beetlejuice"] is calle DROP DEAD FRED, and drop dead is a more mortal but less obscene demand.
  • To [Make it through an excruciating, extended ordeal] is to GO TO HELL AND BACK. Skip the return trip and just go to hell.
  • I've never heard of the [2007 Marilyn Manson album] EAT ME, DRINK ME, and I don't generally go around saying eat me.
  • [What studying philosophy will do, according to Steve Martin] is SCREW YOU UP. I don't doubt that, but I don't recall the circumstances in which Steve Martin said that. Screw you, of course, is the less impolite version of the phrase that this puzzle evokes.
In the fill, there are eight 8- and 9-letter answers, including slangy SCHMOOZES (clued as [Shoots the shit]) beside SKEEZIEST ([Superlative for a flasher], and no, I don't wish to contemplate the very skeeziest of the flashers). Two full names that are likely brand-new as crossword answers are BOB NEY, the [Former Ohio congressman released from prison in August 2008], and MACK BROWN, the [Coach of the 2005 NCAA football champion Texas Longhorns]. Guess which one of the two I've heard of?

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Covered in Spots," is covered in advertising spots. That is, each theme entry has an AD added to it, changing the gist:
  • AD + ding-dongs leads the way to [Sex reassignment surgeon's task, at times?], or ADDING DONGS. It can be done, yes, but is technically difficult.
  • AD + AM radio = ADAM RADIO, or [Religious station?].
  • AD + poetic diction = POETIC ADDICTION, or [Foot fetish?]. Poetic diction is not so familiar to me. And I call myself an English major! My degree should be rescinded, shouldn't it?
  • {What swing state viewers might experience as the presidential election draws closer, punnily, or a possible title for this week's puzzle?] is AD NAUSEAM. Nauseam doesn't stand alone in English, hence the "punnily," I guess. I am not in a swing state. It was just two days ago that I saw my first McCain bumper stickers in Chicago—and one of the vehicles had an out-of-state plate.
  • AD + Miami Vice = MIAMI ADVICE, or ["Make sure to eat at this amazing Cuban place in South Beach," e.g.?].
Favorite clues and answers aside from the theme: NBA JAM, the [arcade basketball game that failed to include Michael Jordan]; [Place with millions of inhabitants at the time of its "discovery"] for AMERICA; AUDRA, or [Actress Lindley of "Three's Company"] for a '70s TV nostalgia hit (she played Mrs. Roper, of course); and stale ol' STYE with a non-eye clue, [Sebaceous gland problem], that pointed right towards ACNE (hey, when's the last time a STYE clue wasn't a gimme?).


September 28, 2008

Monday, 9/29

Jonesin' 3:10
NYS 2:50
CS 2:46
LAT 2:39
NYT 2:30

So, I petted some stingrays today at Brookfield Zoo. Do you know what their backs feel like? The answer may surprise you. ...I'll give you three guesses.

The striking Inca tern (that's it in the photo) dwells in the Humboldt penguin exhibit. So now I'm contemplating a lame crossword theme consisting of phrases made of words that are common crossword fill—but I don't know if the Inca tern has much company in that category. If only there were a famous aria about oleo, or an erne native to the Aral Sea.

Another theme idea came to mind today. Add -er to the classic line from All That Jazz and you get "IT'S SHOWER TIME, FOLKS!" Let's see...what else could that theme have? With an added -r, you get "E.T. phone Homer."

After returning from the zoo, I fired up the ol' New York Times crossword applet—and discovered that three people (deadbydawn Doug, Dan Feyer, and the mysterious zachugly) had cracked the 2:00 barrier. Dang! That's fast. So the pressure was on, and I transposed pairs of letters over and over again in my attempt to be super-fast. I believe this easy Monday puzzle marks Sharon Delorme's constructing debut. What makes this puzzle so easy? Each theme entry consists of the same word twice, so once it's half filled in, you can fill in the rest. Actually, each theme entry contains a pair of heteronyms—spelled the same but pronounced differently (thanks to PhillySolver for the reminder that these are called heteronyms):

  • [One who embroiders a waste conduit?] is a SEWER SEWER.
  • [Sketcher of a bureau compartment?] is a DRAWER DRAWER.
  • [Presenter of a bathroom stall?] is a SHOWER SHOWER.
  • [One pulling a tall structure?] is a TOWER TOWER.

I like how this evokes those hard crossword clues in which we're tricked into reading one of these words (or flower) with the wrong pronunciation and meaning—for example, [Prominent tower] for AAA. Speaking of towing, I wonder if TOWIN shouldn't have been clued as TO WIN rather TOW IN, given the TOWER in the theme. It'd probably be a harder clue, though, and it is Monday, after all. I missed seeing the clue [Drug that's smoked in a pipe] as I filled that corner in with the down clues. I wonder how many solvers put in CRACK (marveling that the Gray Lady would put the crack pipe in the crossword puzzle) and mucked things up for themselves, since the answer is the old-school OPIUM.

Mark Feldman's New York Sun crossword may or may not be the final crossword published in that newspaper, which may or may not be facing imminent demise. The "Avian Anatomy" theme groups five phrases that consist of a kind of bird + a part of the body:
  • A [Keen observer] has/is an EAGLE EYE.
  • [Horripilation] is a wonderfully goofy word meaning goosebumps or GOOSEFLESH. The pilation part of the word relates to hair, as does the Sunday NYT answer PILAR.
  • I've never heard of the [Dark red sometimes called Spanish wine] that is PIGEON BLOOD. Not a beverage, fortunately, but a color of rubies. (I hope the jeweler in that link is kidding about killing pigeons while assessing gem color.) This is a term I've never heard before.
  • A [Jimmy Buffett fan] is known as a PARROT HEAD. A couple summers ago, Buffett played a concert at Wrigley Field. The neighborhood was overrun by 50-something people in garish clothing all weekend. It was frightening to behold.
  • A DOVETAIL is a [Certain carpentry joint]. 

This crossword is notable for its unusual wide-open white spaces in what's still a fairly easy crossword. Two corners have heaps of 6-letter answers, and the other two have 7- and 8-letter answers running alongside one another. Thank goodness the [11th-century French saint] THEOBALD has gettable crossings, eh? That answer was assuredly not on the tip of my mental tongue.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Middle Distance," hides a small distance (INCH, or 54-Down) inside three theme entries. An [Important media staffer] is the EDITOR IN CHIEF. A [Language spoken around Beijing] is MANDARIN CHINESE. And [The Andes, for instance] are a MOUNTAIN CHAIN. It's Monday, so it's time for a short tutorial on those words that are far better known to regular crossword solvers than to most others. An ITER is a [Road that led to Rome]; I haven't seen this one lately, but it's not just a Latin word for a road, it's also an anatomical passageway. SERE means [Drought-ridden]; ARID is more accessible and I think it appears in more crosswords, but SERE will always return so you need to know it. A [Small river island] is an AIT. The termly is chiefly British, sure, but it does show up in plenty of American crosswords. (The other little-known 3-letter river geography term is ria, a long, narrow coastal inlet.) An IMARET is the [Istanbul inn]; it's more often clued as a Turkish inn or hostel. And a EWER is a [Washstand jug]. Other common clues for EWER include [Water pitcher], [Decorative pitcher], and [Still-life subject]. Commit these oddball words to memory and you'll have a new batch of instant gimmes to help you out with future crosswords.

Samantha Wine's LA Times crossword invites famous people to a "house" party—the five theme entries are people (one fictional) whose last names are roughly synonymous with "house." There's GREGORY HOUSE, of course, the [TV doctor played by Hugh Laurie]. [Nixon's 1960 running mate] was HENRY CABOT LODGE, which sounds like a relatively stodgy place to vacation. MARY KAY PLACE is ["The Big Chill" actress] who played Meg, the single woman who wanted to get pregnant; before that, she had a key role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. IRENE CASTLE was [Vernon's dancing partner], Vernon being Vernon Castle. Read about Irene here—not only did she and Vernon popularize ballroom dancing (Dancing With the Stars, anyone?) almost a century ago, but they traveled with a black orchestra, promoted animal rights, and had an openly lesbian manager. The last theme entry is PANCHO VILLA, the [20th century Mexican revolutionary]. In the puzzle's fill, my favorite clue was [Work up a sweater] for KNIT.

Updated again:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "You Can Look It Up," spotlights eight words and phrases (6 to 9 letters in length) added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the past eight decades—one for each decade. I was surprised to learn that BEER PONG, the [Drinking game involving cups and a table tennis ball] dates back to 1972. The MOTORBIKE, or [Lightweight two-wheeled vehicle], was added to the OED back in 1944. The newest word in the theme is SUDOKU, just added in 2004. (SUDOKU sits atop ITUNES, which I thought was quite new, but Apple introduced iTunes back in 2001.) The oddest-looking entry is ZTOA, or Z TO A, clued with [From ___ (how some descending lists are sorted)].


September 27, 2008

Sunday, 9/28

BG 9:04
NYT 7:53
PI 26:40 (ONOT*)
LAT 23:00 (ONOT)
CS 28:00 (ONOT)

* Obviously Not Orange's Time

I'll be at the movies when the Sunday NYT is released, so either I'll get to that puzzle later this evening or PuzzleGirl will swoop to the rescue and blog the NYT for us. Either way, the hilarious PG will be doing some guest-blogging here tomorrow. Behave for her, will you?

Henry Hook constructed the Boston Globe crossword that's available in Across Lite this weekend. As the title "Struck for an Answer" suggests, the theme answers are phrases in which ST__ words are changed to STR_ words to alter the meaning. For example, [Participated in a food fight?] clues STREWED TOMATOES. The theme wasn't too difficult, but there are a number of knotty crossings and names that aren't common in crosswords. I had to play the "type random letters until one is correct" game where [Psychologist Emil] COUE meets [Leatherwood shrubs] or WICOPIES at the C. Wow, I wonder how many constructors have wicopy and the plural wicopies in their word lists. I hadn't heard of Émile Coué before, but you gotta love him—he's the guy who recommended saying "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." [1993 Nobel Prize winner Robert] FOGEL was also new to me, and I don't think I care for him. The other mystery person in this grid is [Violin virtuoso Fritz] KREISLER. Luckily, I figured out all the crossings for the economist and the violinist. I'd never heard of the [Kia concept cars] called KUES, but fortunately I knew KAPOK, a [Mattress fill of a sort], because my grandma had told me my dad was allergic to it (or maybe he was allergic to non-kapok fill) as a kid.


(Still Orange here.) Well, my weekend plans have changed for the third time. So here I am! Angela will be by Sunday morning (or early afternoon) to blog about the other three puzzles.

It's been too long since we were treated to a puzzle by Cathy Allis Millhauser. Her New York Times crossword is called "'Twas Puzzling" because each theme entry contains a W__ word changed to a TW__ word. Same basic theme idea as in the Boston Globe puzzle, but with the added appeal of the TW sound. Read Cathy's theme entries aloud and you'll feel like Elmer Fudd twying to pwonounce TR__ words. Here are the theme entries:

  • THE TWITCHING HOUR is [When jerks come out?].
  • DESSERT TWINE is [String around a cake box?]. Kinda boring entry, but now I'm in the mood for a bakery cake.
  • THE TWEAKER SEX is clued as [Men or women who pinch?]. I do not care for pinching, I must say.
  • THE SOUL OF TWIT is a [Nerd's essence?]. I like this one. I don't think brevity is the soul of twit.
  • FLIP ONE'S TWIG is [Roast the other side of the marshmallow]. Bonus points for working from the colorful phrase, "flip one's wig." (Though it would be more idiomatic with "your" than "one's.")
  • YOU CAN'T TWIN 'EM ALL is a [Discouraging comment to a cloner?].
  • TWEED KILLER is a [Moth, perhaps?].
  • LIVING TWILL is a [Fabric that really breathes?].
Other clues and answers of note:
  • ON TOPIC means [Pertinent to the discussion]. Kudos to you, the Crossword Fiend reader, for usually staying ON TOPIC in the comments lounge.
  • NEWBIE is one of the better words to arise from the Internet's giant stockpot of slang. It means a [Novice], of course. Another __IE noun is TOWNIE, or [Off-campus local].
  • I DO'S are a [Once-in-a-lifetime exchange, maybe]. If you get remarried, it's twice...or three times...or more.
  • ANGELINA eschews Ms. Jolie for its clue: [Texas county, river or forest that's a girl's first name].
  • [Bridge], the verb, means to CROSS OVER.
  • An APSIS is an [Orbital point]. This is one of those words I learned from crosswords and not from the astronomy unit in physics class.
  • [Dope] as in info is the SKINNY.
  • STIPES is another word crosswords taught me—they're [Mushroom stalks].
  • [Unlikely to run] is COLORFAST if you're talking about fabric dyes. My first thought was "unlikely to run for office." Er, nope.
  • GLORY BE is clued ["Praise the Lord!"].
  • [A leveret is a young] HARE.
  • PILAR is Spanish for "pillar," a word used in some place names. It's also an adjective meaning [Pertaining to hair]. And it's part of the name of Pio del Pilar, a Phillipine national hero who was my husband's grandfather's cousin or something.
  • "Same difference." SAME is a [Kind of difference, oxymoronically].
  • I started right off at 1-Down with a wrong answer. [Monitor type, for short] is CRT, not LCD. Aren't flat-screen monitors cheap enough now that nobody's buying CRTs any more?
  • [Like some eggs or cloth] is SHIRRED. I'd love to find directions for shirring an egg that instruct the cook to sew a bunch of elastic onto the egg.
  • [City near Tel Aviv] is LOD and [City near Milan] is LODI, but poor Lodz, Poland, is left out.
  • The last time there was a '60s baseball clue, 6 letters starting with K, I did the same thing I did today—try to make Al KALINE's career match that of Sandy KOUFAX. Whoops.
  • ["Vigilant ___ to steal cream": Fasltaff] is completed by AS A CAT. Were you familiar with the quotation? I wasn't.
  • WIGWAM is an innately pleasing word. It's one type of [Native American home].
Updated again:

Hey, everyone! PuzzleGirl here, thrilled to be hanging out with you guys this weekend. For those of you who don't know me, I'm, um ... a little slower than Amy. So, while solving and blogging three Sunday puzzles might take her, oh, let's say anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, for me it's more like at least half the day. So I'm going to go ahead and get Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Gag Me With a Spoonerism," out of the way tonight. Let's get started.

I was happy to see the title on this one. Although puns are likely to make me cringe, spoonerisms, on the whole, make me laugh. Or at least smile. I assume the readership here consists solely of Elite Crossword Solvers and Language Experts, right? Therefore any sort of detailed explanation of "spoonerism" would insult your intelligence? Mkay, moving right along....

Theme answers:
  • WALKING YOUR HARES is clued as [Giving the jumpier pets some exercise?].
  • A LUNCH OF BOOZERS might be made up of [Six martinis and one big olive?]. This is my favorite of the group. Probably because the original phrase is funny too. At least the way I hear it in my head.
  • BELLY JEANS are [Levis with an elastic waistband?]. Any moms out there have the same reaction I did when I put on my first pair of maternity jeans? "Why the heck don't we wear these All The Time?"
  • HUMMING AND PLEATING describes [What goes on at the Happy Shirt and Skirt Factory?].
  • BUSY CHEWING THE DOORS is [What the escape-minded goats were?].
  • BACK TO THE MALT SIGNS is a [Soda-shop owner's decision after the flyers didn't work?]. I've heard the original phrase on this one, but don't really know what it means or where it comes from. ... Okay, I Googled it. Just one of the many services I offer. It simply means "going back to unpleasant work" and may or may not derive from a time in the past where prisoners were sent to Siberia to dig for salt. I'm going to think of it as an early version of "Time to make the donuts."
  • WAIT FOR THE OTHER DREW TO SHOP [What Carey and Barrymore do at Christmastime?]. I could only think of Jim Carrey for the longest time, so I was all kinds of mixed up on this one.
  • MONKEY CHILD SALSA [One way to spice up mashed bananas at the zoo?]. And now, ladies and gentlemen, we've come to the point in the blog where I admit to you that I don't understand this. (You knew it would happen sooner or later, because it always does.) I mean I understand that this phrase is a spoonerism of chunky mild salsa, but what does the resulting phrase mean? Salsa made out of ... children? monkey children? I'm confused and, frankly, a little grossed out.
Other notable stuff:
  • [Late-night Carson] is a verrrrry tricky clue for DALY, dontcha think? Raise your hand if you thought to yourself confidently, "Well, of course that's Johnn... Wait, what? Four letters?"
  • "You're a RIOT, Alice," is a phrase from the old "Honeymooners" television show. Not from Alice in Wonderland. Although it wouldn't surprise me to hear it on "The Brady Bunch" too.
  • KIX is a [Cereal brand]. Also an '80s band from Baltimore that you probably don't want to listen to.
  • [Tillis of country], with no crosses in place, could have been either MEL or Pam. I was going to link to one of Pam's songs but, as it turns out, I'm not a big fan.
  • [Was within popcorn-sharing distance, perhaps] is a super-fun clue for SAT NEAR.
  • I think ["All My Children" star] Susan LUCCI was in the puzzle last time I was here. I'm sure it's been a good 25 years since I've seen AMC, but I still really like this woman and her gorgeous smile.
  • ABC is the ["Lost" network], which reminds me -- when the heck does "Lost" start up again? Anyone know?
  • KNUTE Rockne is a [Big name at Notre Dame]. "Knute" is also the title of what I learned today is PuzzleDaughter's "Very! Favorite! Book! Ever!" Highly recommended for seven-year-old girls, especially if they own the polar bear Webkinz.
  • I was looking for something a little more complicated for [Climber's goal]: apex, acme, summit ... huh? Only three letters? TOP? Oh, okay.
  • Quick story on STREAKER [Runner in the raw]. I was looking at a feminist blog the other day and I saw a headline that I read as "Courtney Streaking in Minneapolis." I thought, "Well, that's a little weird -- some kind of publicity stunt?" The first sentence of the post explained that she'd be talking about her "book, perfectionism, body image...." And I thought, "Well okay, then, I guess it makes sense." (Of course what the headline actually said was that Courtney would be speaking in Minneapolis. HAha!)
Alright, time for me to get to bed. See y'all back here in the morning with two more puzzles.

Updated Sunday morning:

And we're back! Kathleen Fay O'Brien's LA Times puzzle, "Co-editing," drops the letters CO from a familiar phrase to create new funny phrases. Like so:
  • (co)RONA DISCHARGE = [Firing of a gossip columnist?] - I'm not entirely sure what the original phrase means. I'm guessing it's science and not beer.
  • SECOND (co)MING = [Yao junior?] - This refers, of course, to the Houston Rockets Chinese center, Yao Ming.
  • KING (co)BRAS = [Some of Billie Jean's lingerie?] - How much do you suppose Billie Jean King would hate seeing this particular clue/answer pair?
  • XEROX (co)PIES = [Unoriginal desserts?]
  • NOEL (co)WARD = [Hospital section where carols are sung?]
  • STAGE (co)ACHES = [Aftermath of a fall during the play?]
  • PERSISTENT (co)UGH = [Sign of tenacious disgust?]
  • (co)PING MECHANISM = [Gadget that makes a bullet-impact sound?]
  • MY GOOSE IS (co)OKED = [Relieved comment from a "Next Food Network Star" contestant when the judge likes her fowl dish?] - That's a long way to go for the joke, but I like it!
What else?
  • CARIBOU [Arctic deer] seem to be in the news relatively often lately.
  • Unfortunately, RAISINY, [Like some cereal], is not a word. It's just not. But it's Sunday, so that's okay.
  • A debutante, or DEB, is the party who "comes out" at the coming-out party, which makes her the [Coming-out party?]. Got that? People still do this, right? Wow. So far away from my reality.
  • [One of a dozen, often] is a JUROR. Raise your hand if you initially had donut.
  • I wish Jack Johnson would do something with the [Classic Hawaiian song] ALOHA OE. That would be cool.
  • I had never seen the word LincolnIANA. As it turns out, though, I was given some as a gift several years ago.
  • Could ULU Grosbard have a cooler first name? No, he could not.
  • ARPEL is a ["Mon Oncle" family name]. Has anyone seen this movie? Seems like it might be a little hard to understand.
Let's just say there was a lot of Googling going on during the solving of Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge. I think the four long answers in this one are colorful:

  • John Denver's "Calypso" is, of course, a tribute to JACQUES COUSTEAU. Also, the song I'll have stuck in my head the rest of the day.
  • The LEGAL PROFESSION can be described as a [Brief field].
  • A MASQUERADE PARTY is, indeed, a ball.
  • And DON'T MOVE A MUSCLE is a much more precise way of saying ["Stay right there"], particularly if you have children who when you say "Don't move" start flailing various limbs around just to annoy you. Not that that ever happens to me.
Good stuff all the way through, a lot of which, sadly, I did not know.
  • HORAL means [Happening every 60 minutes]. I pieced it together, but don't recall ever seeing it before.
  • WISCONSIN is the [State that hosts the "World's Largest Music Festival"]. With only the first I in place, I guessed Minnesota.
  • [Square-toed] means PRIM. Who knew?
  • The [First man to walk in space] was Alexei LEONOV. Now that really seems like something I should have known.
  • [Queen Dido's lover] was AENEAS.
  • A [Queen's demesne] is a REALM. When I don't even know the words in the clues, I know I'm in trouble.
  • A SHOJI is a [Rice paper screen]. Apparently, the depth of my ignorance knows no bounds.
  • Frances the Badger was created by Russell HOBAN.
  • Ya know that [Lining that keeps the lungs from rubbing against the ribs]? Yeah, that's called a PLEURA.
  • ELMER is a [Bugs' bugbear]. I have no idea what this means.
  • JA-DA is a jazz standard written by Bob Carleton in 1918. Here's a clip.
  • A [Banshee's bailiwick] is EIRE. I didn't know banshees were specifically Irish.
  • EDEN is Hebrew for "pleasure." Good to know.
  • [Clementine's final solution] was BRINE. Anyone know all the words to this song? It's pretty sad.
  • Robert DONAT starred in "The 39 Steps." Why can't I ever remember this man's name??
I took it as a challenge when Orange said last night that I might not have the rest of the puzzles blogged until "afternoon," and it's 11:44 now, so let me get this up. Someday Orange will ask me to blog a Monday puzzle for you and you'll see that I am sometimes pretty fast! And smart! Enjoy the rest of the weekend....


An olio of updates

The Crossword Fiend Forum looks a smidgen different now. Using a technical suggestion from the incredibly helpful Will Johnston, my admin/husband fixed it so that the forum will fit into a smaller browser window without making the user scroll left and right. I know little about poking around in the innards of a website, but luckily I have friends and spouses who know what they're doing. Well, one spouse, anyway. (The other ones are technologically inept.)

Emily Cureton, the artist who's been making those cool daily crossword drawings all year, has concluded that project. Darn! The Sunday NYT crossword that Tony Orbach and I constructed won't get the deluxe Emily treatment. If you've always wondered what else Emily does, don't miss Rex Parker's interview with Emily.

There's a new link in the sidebar, to Justin's Puzzles. You may remember seeing Justin Smith's byline on some recent New York Sun crosswords. Justin's puzzle site contains a batch of "Metacross" crosswords that have a meta-puzzle for the solver to figure out after filling in the grid. The more final answers you figure out and send to Justin, the more points you'll rack up on the leaderboard. There are also "Metapic" picture puzzles to work a different lobe of your brain. Check it out.

There are changes afoot at the New York Times site. The crossword forums that have had avid devotees for a decade will be discontinued in a couple(ish) weeks as the Times moves to a blog-based format. Jim Horne will write that blog, and his NYT crossword database will also be moving to the NYT site. I'll update the sidebar links when the new site goes live.


September 26, 2008

Saturday, 9/27

Newsday 5:35
NYT 5:02
LAT 4:38
CS 2:39

(updated at 8:40 a.m. Saturday)

We're watching the presidential debate on DVR delay, so even though it has concluded, it's not over in our house yet. But the kid's bedtime allows for a brief blogging break. So—

Karen Tracey's Saturday New York Times crossword fits into the "Karen Tracey Scrabbly themeless" mold quite nicely. The centerpiece is DON QUIXOTE, clued with [Whence the expression "mum's the word"]. Hmm, I don't know about that. Yes, it's right there in Wikiquote, but Don Quixote was written in Spanish, and I don't think "mum" is a Spanish word. Perhaps Zulema or another reader familiar with the original Spanish work can tell us what Cervantes' wording was. Though the clue feels off to me, I do like the Q/X action in the answer itself. Other items of note in the Across direction:

  • [Third Servile War leader] is SPARTACUS. Wow, I have never heard of the Third Servile War. My favorite Spartacus reference in Hank Azaria's character in The Birdcage, Agador Spartacus (as seen in this video).
  • A golfer's [Driving ambition?] is to get a HOLE IN ONE.
  • In New Orleans, a [Hero] sandwich is a poorboy or POBOY. Make mine catfish, please.
  • The [Gaming debut of 1985, briefly] is NES, or Nintendo Entertainment System. Thus, the cross-referenced 14-Down is SYST.
  • [Jam] clues CLOG UP, which is a perfectly natural phrase that looks bizarre in the grid. CLO GUP, anyone?
  • NAZI gets very little play in crosswords. Here it's clued as a ["Hogan's Heroes" figure].
  • [Med. supplier?] is an IV TUBE. 
  • [Chocoholic's dessert] could be a lot of things, no? Here, it's a MUD PIE. That reminds me—I want to snack on those dark chocolate chunks I bought a bag of at Whole Foods today. Bagged chocolate chips aren't just for baking, you know.
  • [Assuaging agents] yields the odd-job answer, EASERS. That word would look better with an extra R, making ERASERS. Same thing lower down—INTESTATE, clued with [Not willful?], could be more accessible with an added R, making INTERSTATE.
  • In the [Courage] zone, STOUTNESS is followed by Bella ABZUG, the [Former congresswoman nicknamed Mother Courage].
  • EARL HINES was [Louis Armstrong's "Weather Bird" collaborator].
  • I couldn't believe how long it took me to piece together DOYLE for [David who played Bosley on TV's "Charlie's Angels"]. Thirty years ago, that would've been a total gimme for me.

Moving along to the Downs now:
  • [Den delivery] is a TIGER CUB. Sure, they're cute, but don't mess with 'em.
  • [Part of a pinball machine] is the COIN BOX. Are they still called that when the machine only takes tokens?
  • [Ancestors from long, long ago] are APEMEN. Grandpa! Is that you?
  • ["The Silence of the Hams" director Greggio] is named EZIO. Who? What? The movie is a horror-movie parody that preceded Scary Movie. It's in English, but also has an Italian title: Il Silenzio dei Prosciutti. It's nice to have a more contemporary EZIO for crossword clues. Mr. Pinza needs to take a break.
  • A river [Bank manager?] is a DIKE. Or not for rivers? Do other bodies of water have banks?
  • A [Supply of arrows] is a QUIVERFUL.
  • Anyone else drop in OKIE for the [Great Depression figure]? The answer is HOBO. A friend's husband launched his academic career with a well-received dissertation on Midwestern hoboes, available as a book. Hobo studies!

When the Friday and Saturday puzzles seem to have been switched—Friday's was harder than this one for me—I always wonder how that comes to pass. Did the test-solvers find this puzzle harder than yesterday's? How much of a difference is there in the difficulty level Will Shortz is targeting for Friday vs. Saturday clues? Do some puzzles just look like they belong on Friday or on Saturday? I'm genuinely curious.


Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" is a 72-worder, but despite the flexibility granted by not chasing a low word count, the fill is rather dry and overly reliant on common word endings. Perhaps the inclusion of 36 7-letter words (vs. 18 7+ words in Karen's puzzle) is a huge restraint? (Themeless constructors, please weigh in.) The -ED past tenses include AROUSED, STORMED, COVETED (clued as an adjective, [In demand]), SPEEDED, CHINNED, ENSURED, and STEAMED. The plurals and -S verbs roll call features CREASES, PESTERS, ENROLLS, GIRDERS, STAMENS, TRIOS, CELTICS (with a Larry Bird clue that could be misinterpreted as being about birds), AURAS, ISMS, PLATS, HELMETS, GENDERS, SOARS, and EDIBLES. Despite the usual Stumper short clues, this puzzle was easier than many Stumpers, perhaps because all the -ED and -S endings provided many toeholds.

Maybe it is Stark's grid that compels the sort of fill associated with low-word-count puzzles. Frederick Healy's LA Times crossword has 14 7+ answers, and jazzier fill. For example, JAZZ IT UP, or [Add oomph to something]. That crosses JACKAL, but not at the J, so that section's got two neighboring J's. And EMBEZZLE, or [Take wrong?], adds another double Z. LARRY Bird makes an appearance in a second puzzle today, clued as [Bird good at shooting?]. The last square I filled in was the P where PILES, or [Foundation parts], meets PIKER, or [Closefisted type]. Anyone else try to get MISER to work there? Regrettably, I must issue a nerd alert. I think the clue for ENTS is wrong. [Literary tree dwellers]? No. Tolkien's ents are "tree-like creatures" and not creatures who live in actual trees.

Favorite answers and clues:
  • VLADIMIR [waited for Godot with Estragon].
  • VOICES are a [Bad thing to hear?]. Are voices a "thing" in the singular?
  • [Natterjacks] would look great in the grid, wouldn't it? It clues TOADS, and I knew the answer only because natterjack has been in crosswords before.
  • STU could be clued as an [Alphabet run], but it's more fun if it's ["The Simpsons" disco guy].
  • [Jenny's mate] is JACKASS. This is, of course, a reference to Love Story.
  • The [Mississippi river to the Mississippi River] is the YAZOO, which is one of the best river names out there. Way zippier than the Elbe or Oder.
  • [Sister or mother] is a NUN and probably not a member of your family.

Randall Hartman's easy CrosSynergy crossword is called "Ham Sandwich" because each theme entry contains the letter string HAM sandwiched inside a longer phrase, such as the FOURTH AMENDMENT or an ALPHA MALE. I think this is the first puzzle I've done since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in which PALIN was an answer—and it's clued [Monty Python member Michael]. Perhaps the puzzle was put to bed a month ago when Sarah was a far more obscure PALIN. Slangiest crossing: Where "HEY, MAN" (clued as ["Yo, dude!"] meets RATFINK ([Stool pigeon]). Weirdest-looking answer: theme entry MOCHA MINT, or [Starbucks order]. Maybe that should be mint mocha, hold the HAM.


September 25, 2008

Friday, 9/26

NYS < 7:59
NYT 6:59
LAT 4:58
CHE 4:31
CS 2:48

WSJ 7:08

(updated at 7:20 p.m. Friday)

All righty, let me get my gripe out of the way. There's a clue in Barry Silk's Friday New York Times crossword that suggests to me that Barry and/or Will Shortz don't bake. The clue for 24-Across is [Ones at home on the range?], and the answer is BAKERS. The American Heritage Dictionary definition of "range" includes one cooking-related noun" A stove with spaces for cooking a number of things at the same time." Baking is done inside the oven, and not on the burners on the stovetop. Sure, they sell appliances called "ranges" that include an oven, but the appliance makers lie like scurrilous dogs, I tell you. They lie! Plus, that first letter of BAKERS crosses [Beat badly], and I got thrown for a loop by considering WASTE and PASTE long before BASTE popped out. (Sigh.) And in case you're wondering, yes, I do feel a little dumb after finally getting that B.

My favorite entries:

  • PIZZA MARGHERITA (yum!) is a [Dish named for the queen consort of Italy's Umberto I].
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., is the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE winner alluded to in [King's honor]. Anyone else try to think of awards given to Billie Jean King and Stephen King?
  • My first thought for [Where moles may try to dig?] is a golf course or garden, but no, it's CIA HEADQUARTERS. So three of the five 15-letter answers contain a Z or Q. Scrabbly goodness!
  • The other 15's are A MAN CALLED HORSE, a [Film about an aristocrat captured by the Sioux], and STATIONARY ORBIT, clued with [An artificial satellite may have one].
  • SIXTEEN is clued with [It's a square], as in 4 squared = 16.
  • VEHEMENT shares a bunch of letters with BEHEMOTH. It's clued as [Very strong].
  • A couple unusual double vowels appear in [Den ___, Nederland] or HAAG, Dutch for "the Hague," and WII, an [Xbox 360 competitor]. 
Other tough clues:
  • [Reversion to an earlier type] is ATAVISM. Who among us has actually spoken this word aloud?
  • [Hamburger's course?] is a weird clue for the ELBE River. Anyone else trying to think of a 4-letter meal course in German? Zuppe, Salat? Nein, dummkopf.
  • ["Friends" who aren't really being helpful] are ENABLERS. Boy, have I got a good enabler story.
  • [Stout] of character is HEROIC.
  • I wanted [Ready for the bad news] to be SITTING DOWN, but only STEELED would fit.
  • [Ithaque, e.g.] is ILE, French for "island," Ithaque presumably being French for Ithaca.
  • [Book concerned with the end of the Babylonian captivity] is EZRA.
  • A kite is a kind of bird, so [Kire flying destination?] is a bird's NEST.
  • [Sluggish tree dweller] screams SLOTH, but the actual answer is KOALA. This spot wasn't helping me with that BAKERS clue.
  • [Like the Colossus of Rhodes] means BRONZE.
  • To [Deconstruct?] a building might be to RAZE it—cute clue.

Daniel Finan's New York Sun crossword, "Buried Treasure," didn't take me as long as the Across Lite timer said. Mid-solve, I leapt up to turn down the volume on the TV receiver, which was momentarily possessed by the home electronics devil and was about to wake the entire neighborhood. The puzzle's got sort of a two-way rebus gimmick to it. The central entry is X MARKS THE SPOT, which explains that where there's an X, it stands in for SPOT—but in one direction, it's still just an X. The X in X MARKS THE SPOT crosses TOSX, or [Lush]—i.e., TOSSPOT with the SPOT buried. The other two theme entries use the X in place of SPOT, but in the Down crossings, the X's are just X's. [Is unjustifiably critical] clues TAKEXSHOTS, or TAKES POTSHOTS. LOX, or [Smoked salmon], intersects here. In the lower half of the grid, the [Character voiced by Estelle Harris in "Toy Story 2"] is presented as MRXATOHEAD, or MRS. POTATO HEAD. She crosses ANOXIA, or [Deficiency of element #8].

If you're wondering why SPA is the answer to [Room in the game Clue], you haven't seen the weeks-old new version of the game. If you're wondering why LEACHES is the answer to [Lixiviates], you probably haven't ever looked up the definition of that clue word. (It was new to me.)

Cute theme, and I think I'm glad there were only three X/SPOT squares because this puzzle took me long enough as it is!


Yikes! I forgot to do the other four crosswords today. On the plus side, my kid and I had a decent day off school, so it's not a total loss. And I can play catch-up now:

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword puns on phrases by changing parts of them into synonyms for "garb." Nathan's Hot Dogs are digested into NATHAN'S HOT TOGS, or {Wardrobe stolen by actor Lane?]. Close-mouthed becomes CLOTHES-MOUTHED, or [Like Mr. Potato Head with fabric lips?]. This one makes the least sense of the four theme entries. Nuclear threats change a letter to turn into NUCLEAR THREADS, or [Attire for reactor inspectors?]. [Goldbricks in the men's department?] is APPAREL LOAFERS, playing on a pair of loafers. The latter entry isn't much better than the Potato Head lips one, in my opinion. The middle of the grid has fashion house VERSACE, and I daresay that Versace doesn't design any Mr. Potato Head parts. And look! 5-Across is OBAMA, so the Los Angeles Times is in cahoots with the New York Times in favoring OBAMA over MCCAIN, thanks to those three juicy vowels alternating with consonants. (Did you read that Politico article by constructor David Levinson Wilk? It's astonishing that many of the comments on it were of the angry, cynical political variety. People! Try doing crosswords, and you will be let in on the joke.) Anyone know why ORALS is the answer to [They're often evaluated by doctors]? Is it that professors hearing a doctoral candidate's ORALS are themselves holders of doctorates?

Reader Larry mentioned a tricky crossing in Robert Fisher's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Think Again." I think I know which one it is—probably the last square I filled in, the square where I hit every plausible letter on the keyboard, starting in the QWERTY row and working my way down to the M before Mr. Happy Pencil graced my Across Lite screen. You think that might be the one? There are five theme entries—two 15's, two 14's, and a 13—so they really limit the constructor's wiggle room when it comes to finding a workable fill. Here, 31-Down crosses three theme entries, and what fits the M*S*H space? MISCH does. It's clued as [___ metal (alloy used in flint)]. Mischmetal or misch metal gets its name from the German Mischmetall, meaning "mixed metals." I don't know about you, but it would have helped me immeasurably to have (German for "mixed metals") in the clue. The crossing was BARMECIDE FEAST, or [[Lavish meal that isn't really a lavish meal]. Barmecide is an Arabian Nights character who laid out an illusory feast. The other theme entries have the same vibe of something that seems great (or at least real) but really isn't: a FAUSTIAN BARGAIN, PYRRHIC VICTORY, POTEMKIN VILLAGE, and HOBSON'S CHOICE. What's impressive is that aside from the mystery MISCH and the [Monetary unit of Ethiopia], BIRR, the rest of the fill seemed eminently gettable and pretty smooth despite the hefty theme content.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Bring It!", debunks the liberal-bias-in-crossword-fill theory by making room for [2008 campaigner Mitt] ROMNEY. Congrats, Mitt! You've got a long way to go to catch up with Idi Amin, but so does Barack Obama. I'll bet Idi Amin ranks pretty high among political figures in crossword fill. The theme is simple and the crossword's an easy one, but the fill is smooth and not stale. The theme entries all begin with words that can mean "bring":
  • BEAR WITNESS is clued with [Describe in court what one saw].
  • LUG WRENCH is a [Tool in many a trunk].
  • CARRY NATION was a [Famed hatchet wielder].
  • And a TOTE BOARD is a [Racetrack reference].

Elizabeth Gorski's Wall Street Journal crossword supplements its theme with plenty of long fill in the 8- to 11-letter range. 24-Across is NICE AND EASY, or [Uncomplicated], an apt description of this puzzle. Although the theme is a quip and usually such themes provide little help in solving, many of the words in this quip filled themselves in with the context. The clue provides more guidance than most quote/quip clues do: [...a memo from a CEO who just returned from a 49-Across]. 49-Across is a TIME MANAGEMENT SEMINAR, so it's amusing that the five-part memo is as follows: UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE / I WILL CONTINUE TO HOLD / DAILY EMPLOYEE MEETINGS / UNTIL WE DETERMINE WHY / PRODUCTIVITY IS DOWN. If you're going to make a Sunday-sized quip theme, this is the way to do it: (1) Break it into logical chunks. If one theme entry were TO HOLD DAILY EMPLOYEE, the quip would seem stilted and clumsy, but Gorski's breaks are natural ones. (2) Make sure the crossings are all gettable so there's no deadly square solvers can't fill in. (3) Make sure the punchline is solid. Check; check; check. Is my memory flawed, or does Gorski have a tendency to use longer theme entries in Sunday-sized puzzles than most constructors do? There are just six theme answers, but they account for a respectable 116 squares. (Merl Reagle's the master of including an uncommonly large slew of shorter theme entries. Most of the other constructors seem to hit a middle ground between Liz and Merl.)


September 24, 2008

Thursday, 9/25

NYS 5:19
NYT 4:33
LAT 4:27
CS 2:47

(updated at 9:30 a.m. Thursday)

Vic Fleming's New York Times crossword contains eight theme entries, all with the same clue, [Draws]. The theme answers are short, but they criss-cross in pairs in all four quadrants.

  • In the northwest corner, 17-Across is RECEIPTS and 4-Down is TIE GAMES. I'm not sure I understand how RECEIPTS goes with [Draws]. Who will elucidate?
  • Moving to the northeast, 26-Across is GETS CARDS, which sounds more like a clue phrase than a crossword answer. It intersects with 11-Down, INFERS, as in draws a conclusion.
  • In the southwest quadrant, [Draws] means PULLS A GUN at 49-Across and CLOSES, as in the drapes, at 46-Down.
  • The southeast gives us SKETCHES at 58-Across and ATTRACTS at 37-Down.

Wow, I drew a blank on the [Tony player on "NYPD Blue"], and all I could think of was Jimmy Smits and his Bobby Simone character. Eventually ESAI Morales percolated up to the surface. Knowing that there's a Clearwater, Florida, I almost put FLA for [Home of the Clearwater Mtns.], which of course are not in the very flat Sunshine State—they're in IDA., or Idaho. I don't quite feel that a HEEL is a [Sole support]; doesn't a shoe's heel support, well, the heel? I had zero idea who the [Female companion in "Doctor Who"] was—LEELA is also the name of one of the main character's in Futurama. [Board with a couple seats] isn't a corporate board—it's a SEESAW. Although any investment bank's board probably feels like a seesaw right about now—or maybe a precipitously steep corkscrew slide. Favorite answer, on account of its sheer weirdness: SPURGE, or [Poinsettia's family].

The "Themeless Thursday" puzzle in the New York Sun is by Jeffrey Harris. Medium difficulty as these things go, no? Favorite answers and clues:
  • DISCO BALL! Clued as a [Go-go gadget?].
  • For the ink to [Go off the edge of the page] is for it to BLEED. Who doesn't like printing technology?
  • The [British logician famous for his diagrams] is VENN. Have you all seen Jessica Hagy's blog, Indexed? She draws Venn diagrams on index cards and posts them. The latest one shows that Henry Paulson exists in the intersection between Marx and Engels.
  • [Taiwan's setting] kept wanting to be EAST ASIA, but [Asia, e.g.] is a BAND and that clue steals ASIA out of the grid. Taiwan's situated in the CHINA SEA. Possible cryptic crossword clue: Leno sailing along the coast of Taiwan (5,3).
  • LIBIDOS are [Drives in the back seat of a car?] if your standards for comfort are low.
  • Louise LASSER was the ["Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" star] in the '70s. I wonder how that show bears up over time. 

Scott Atkinson's LA Times crossword walks us through the dramatic solving process of an overconfident crossword solver:
  • ["Today's crossword? Piece of cake!"] clues the early boast, THIS IS SIMPLE. I would go with "this is so easy," personally.
  • Getting into the puzzle with ["No mistakes so far!"], the solver asks WHO NEEDS ERASERS? I would say "Who needs an eraser?" in the singular.
  • The solver thinks ["Hmm...maybe not so easy after all"], and says UH-OH, I'M IN TROUBLE.
  • Utterly stymied, our hapless solver grumbles ["%$^#!"], or STUPID PUZZLE.
In defense of crosswords, I must point out that the puzzles I blog about will almost never fall in the category of "stupid puzzle." There are crappy puzzles out there with mistakes, terrible fill, or bad clues that will irk even the aptest solver, but they're not the ones I blog about. If solvers find themselves grumbling, "Stupid puzzle," they're usually just mad that their skills weren't up to the challenge. But those skills are definitely amenable to improvement. (By reading my book, following the blogs, looking up unfamiliar answers and clues, and making a point of remembering those short words that are so crossword-friendly.)

In the fill, I got slowed down by [Catalogued compositions]. The word opus was already in the OCTETS clue, [Mendelssohn's Opus 20 and others], so it couldn't be OPUSES...except that it was. Having done a quick test-solve/edit of PhillySolver's puzzle that's posted at the Fiend forum, I learned that I wasn't at all attuned to catching that kind of duplication between clue and fill words. D'oh!

Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy crossword, "Splitting Airs," hides the word SONG (67-Across) inside each of the four otherwise disparate theme entries:
  • [Alcatraz worker, once] is a PRISON GUARD.
  • [2000 American League MVP] is JASON GIAMBI.
  • [Idealized American women of the 1890s] were GIBSON GIRLS.
  • [Diphosgene and radon, e.g.] are POISON GASES.
Favorite fill and clues:
  • The [NCAA tetrad] is the FINAL FOUR in the spring basketball tournament.
  • [Frosty's pipe tipe] is CORNCOB.
  • Remember GERI [Jewell of "The Facts of Life"]? This actress and comedian is one of the few famous people with cerebral palsy.
  • [Gets a "five-finger discount"] means SHOPLIFTS. I shoplifted just once, and it truly was an accident.


September 23, 2008

Wednesday, 9/24

NYS 5:23
Onion 4:45
Tausig 4:12
LAT 3:25
NYT 3:08
CS 3:03

(updated at 10 a.m. Wednesday)

I like Lynn Lempel's New York Times crossword for a few reasons. It's got a quote theme, true, but the quote occupies just 30 squares, with the subject and speaker taking up another 22. That subject is the HUMMINGBIRD, [One of the "dumbest dumb animals," according to 60-Across]. (Hey! On Friday, I saw two emerald hummingbirds visiting a friend's roof-deck petunias.) According to GEORGE BURNS, "IT'S REALLY TIME HE / LEARNED THE WORDS." My favorite clues here are: [Trip provider?] for LSD; [Ends an engagement] for WEDS; [Where many cultures thrive] for LABS; and [Something to drool over?] for BIB. There's also a lovely batch of non-theme answers:

  • BUMMERS are [Lousy breaks].
  • HOLY TERROR is an [Imp plus]. Fill doesn't get much better than this.
  • Better behaved is SIR GALAHAD, ["Le Morte d'Arthur" figure].
  • [Definitely] means FOR SURE.
  • Just a [Tad] is a WEE BIT.

The title of Lee Glickstein's New York Sun puzzle—"Oh, Yes!"—should've given away the theme, but I was thinking literally, in terms of adding letters, rather than sonically, in terms of adding an "oh" sound that can be spelled various ways. Further complicating the theme, the "word + oh" sometimes results in a new word that changes the spelling of what precedes the "oh" sound. Crystal-clear, that explanation? This'll be clearer:
  • "You are here" + "oh" = YOU ARE HERO, or [What Leander said to his lover?].
  • "Rent to own" + "oh" = RENT TO ONO, or [Provide Yoko with quarters?], as in a dwelling. 
  • "Cowbell" + "oh" = COW BELLOW, or [Intimidate author Saul?].
  • "Hip boot" + "oh" = HIP BHUTTO, or [Cool former prime minister of Pakistan?].
  • "Bookmark" + "oh" = BOOK MARCO, or [Schedule Polo for a performance?].
  • "Wounded Knee" + "oh" = WOUNDED NEO, or [Injured "Matrix" character?].

I like the diversity of root phrases here, and the consistency of the with-an-"oh" words all being real or fictional people's names. And while the theme answers are on the short side, there are six of 'em! And the pairs at the top and bottom of the grid are partly stacked together. One completely unfamiliar (or thoroughly forgotten, if I ever knew it) name: [1997 N.L. Rookie of the Year Scott] ROLEN. I would've gone with ROLEO crossing ION myself. I surely must've known JAPP, the [Inspector in Agatha Christie stories], at one point, but had forgotten him.


If you're looking for an extra crossword to do today, head to the Fiend Forums for PhillySolver's debut puzzle. His inspiration was the talk in the comments here a week or two ago when the NYT theme was phrases with male animal terms. (Click on "Fixed3.puz" there to download the puzzle.) I love the title!

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Conspicuous Consumption," has six theme entries that are foodstuffs consumed competitively, with the clue alluding to the record set. [Eating record #1 (four 32-ounce bowls in eight minutes)] is MAYONNAISE. 1-Across is a suitable reaction: BARF. TURDUCKEN and MATZO BALLS are among the other theme entries, and don't those make awesome crossword answers outside of any theme? Ben may have been hungry when he constructed this puzzle, because a FRITO, FRIED RICE, TUNA, Popeye's YAM, a PEA, and SOYS are also in the fill. Moving past the food, here's my favorite content:
  • [Seattle area code, archaically represented] is CCVI, or 206 in Roman numerals. Can you imagine how long it would take to dial calls if you had to dial each digit in Roman numerals? (III I II) VII IV VIII-IX II V VIII would be hard to keep straight.
  • Richard PRYOR gets a quote clue: [He said "They call [cocaine] an epidemic now. That means white folks are doing it."].
  • [Liz Phair's alma mater] is OBERLIN. I didn't know that—just that she went to New Trier High School.
  • LITE FM is a [Station type that may play a lot of John Mayer].
  • A.V. CLUB is a shout-out to th Onion's A.V. Club section, clued thus: [Extracurricular group that likely includes few jocks].
  • I am quite fond of the word AKIMBO, or [With hands on hips].

I'm not sure how to describe the theme in Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword. Three phrases (spread among four theme-entry spaces) with assorted sounds (schwa, T, CH) added to the beginning of a word to make the phrase about adulterous romance—that's about it. [A mysterious red hair on a shirt collar, perhaps?] is an AFFAIR WARNING (schwa + "fair warning"). [Job for a private eye hired by a suspicious spouse?] is a TRYST WATCH (T + "wristwatch"). [With 57-Across, "Too bad there's no time for me to linger in our love nest!"] clues SORRY I HAVE / TO CHEAT AND RUN (CH + "eat and run"). Fun theme, combined with a slew of long fill—10 fill entries are 7 to 9 letters long, and 9-letter fill is unusual in themed crosswords. There's a CITYSCAPE, SEAWORLD, SEMISWEET chocolate chips, the BRONZE AGE, a FIRETRAP, and more. I'd never heard of [Washington Nationals manager Manny] ACTA, or I did but I forgot. [Gorillaz bandleader Damon] ALBARN's name was only semi-familiar from my Entertainment Weekly reading. If you're a fan of 30 Rock, don't forget that it returns to TV tomorrow night'll...have to download it from one of several sources. Wow, TV addiction is much easier now with all that enabling technology. Anyway, if you're a fan, then you know [Frank's colleague on "30 Rock"], Toofer, hired because he was two-for-one, a Harvard grad and a black guy. This crossword spells it TWOFER, which is a word in its own right but not the way the show spells the character's name.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword theme is simple yet fun. Who doesn't love colorful words that are synonymous? In the "ado" category we have words like kerfuffle and foofaraw. And in the "twaddle" category, we have the current puzzle's theme: [Gibberish] clues MUMBO-JUMBO, [Hokum] clues PSYCHOBABBLE, [Nonsense] is ROT, [Doubletalk] is GOBBLEDYGOOK, [Bunk] clues FLAPDOODLE, and [Twaddle] is HOOEY. Other words in my thesaurus that could also have been used here include claptrap, hogwash, piffle, poppycock, balderdash, malarkey, and codswallop. I love 'em all! Crossing two of the theme entries is another colorful phrase, PLUMB CRAZY. There were some trickier or more crosswordese-inflected bits:
  • [Mass vestments] are ALBS. If you don't know the word, make a mental note of it because it'll be back.
  • [Neighbors of heel bones] are TALI, or ankle bones.
  • [Brazil's ___ Francisco River] is completed by SAO. Three letters, Brazilian? It's usually SAO.
  • [Sci-fi author and former Omni editor Ben] BOVA. I read some sci-fi in junior high and high school, but missed seeing any of his books.
  • [Loos, here] clues LAVS. I don't know anyone in America who calls a toilet a "lav," and a "lavatory" is on a plane or in England with the loos.
  • [Contrasting ornaments] are SET-OFFS. I don't know the context in which this term is used. 
  • I feel very young indeed when facing such clues as [Singing brother of Joe, Gene and Vic]. The answer is ED AMES, who's in crosswords a good bit, but who are these brothers of his? I don't know them at all.

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Chronicles," spotlights authors who've written books or book series with "Chronicle" or "Chronicles" in the title. For a moment, I paid no mind to the title and clues and thought the theme was "authors whose last names begin with a first name," with LLOYD ALEXANDER containing an "Alex," JOHN CHEEVER containing a "Che," and RAY BRADBURY containing "Brad." DOROTHY DUNNETT, the [Author of "The Lymond Chronicles"], ruined that idea. (That's a series of historical novels I'm not familiar with.) During my sci-fi adolescence (see preceding paragraph), I also read Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain and hope my kid gets into the series in a few years. I may have read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, a short story collection. I never read Cheever's novel, The Wapshot Chronicle.