October 31, 2008

Saturday, 11/1

NYT 6:10
Newsday 5:48
LAT 4:24
CS 3:18

(updated at 11:11:11 Saturday morning)

Wow, talk about your weird Halloween experiences. We were driving home from the friends' neighborhood where we went trick-or-treating (and adult trick-or-treaters could tap the keg at one house), and found ourselves in ridiculously heavy traffic—the sort of traffic that turns a 10-minute trip into a half-hour one. The kid needed some protein after an evening of candy snacking, so we were heading towards the local McDonald's—which is the one in the heart of Wrigleyville. Holy cow, are there a lot of Halloween revelers bar-hopping tonight. I had no idea it was such mayhem. So anyway, the McDonald's drive-through was taking forever. Just when the line finally scooched forwards, a young red-haired man in a Ronald McDonald costume (of sorts) roller-skated up to our car and handed over a hamburger. Turns out no, he doesn't work there; he just wanted to complete his costume by ordering 50 burgers to go. You know what happens when one customer orders 50 burgers? All the other customers kinda have to wait. But with a free burger to eat while waiting...not so terrible any more.

But you didn't come here to hear about bizarre Halloween disbursements of hamburgers. Crosswords! This week's Thursday NYT was just a regular themed puzzle of medium difficulty, and the Halloween puzzle was just a regular Friday themeless. The gimmick was stored up for the Saturday New York Times puzzle by Donald Willing. In the middle of the puzzle, we have TWO-WAY STREETS spelled backwards, as STEERTSYAWOWT: [Many thoroughfares...or what this puzzle's Across answers consist of?] Every other row of Acrosses runs from right to left, as if the traffic is going back and forth from one side of the puzzle to the other as it travels down through the grid. It took me a long time to notice that every answer in a given Across row ran backwards, and that the backwards action occupied every other row. Two kinds of fun! I loved the twist on convention here.

There are two more theme entries, both running in the standard direction: [Detours] are ALTERNATE ROUTES and a [Possible result of an appeal] is a REVERSE DECISION. My favorite backwards business:

  • Pepsi backwards is ISPEP; [Its slogan was once "More bounce to the ounce"].
  • An [Aid in avoiding the draft?] around your neck is a scarf, or FRACS in reverse.
  • [Mass communication?] is in Latin, or NITAL.
  • [Cousin of a hyacinth] is a tulip, or PILUT.
  • Omigod, crosswordese rivers running upstream! The [Rhone feeder] is the Isere, or ERESI backwards.
  • Both adopt ([Take on]) and adept ([Crackerjack]) travel in reverse, and TPODA and TPEDA look bizarre in the grid.
And here's the forward stuff I liked best:
  • [It's often laid on someone else] refers to BLAME.
  • [Infernal], as in hellish, means NETHER, as in the netherworld.
  • [Start of many rappers' stage names] is LIL. Lil' Kim, Lil' Jon, Lil' C-Style, Lil' Eazy-E, Lil' ½-Dead, Lil' iROCC Williams, Lil' Keke, Lil' Mama, Lil' O, Lil' Romeo, Lil' Abner...shall I go on? (Most of them I hadn't heard of—found them in Wikipedia.)
  • [Like Venus vis-a-vis Mercury] is HOTTER. 
  • [Cranes constructing homes, e.g.] aren't construction equipment—they're birds who are NESTERS.
  • [Unable to hit pitches?] is TONE-DEAF. Hey, that's me!
  • [Total alternative] made me think of laundry detergent, but I was probably thinking of All. Total's a breakfast cereal, and so are WHEATIES.
  • I don't recall seeing [Stanzaic salute] as a clue for ODE before. Stanzaic is a word? It is indeed.


A few years ago someone told me that Stan Newman's "S.N." byline was reserved for the very toughest Newsday "Saturday Stumper" crosswords, so there was some trepidation as I printed out the puzzle. As it happened, though, the puzzle was on the easy to medium side of the Stumper spectrum. (PDF solution here.) There were some knotty crossings:
  • [Police Academy study] is TEN-CODE. I didn't know there were any "10-__" options besides 10-4, but there are more than a hundred of them. Actually, that one didn't really give me trouble with the crossings. I was reading the ['30s employer of the Marxes] clue (MGM) when I needed the [Top club] one (ACE in a deck of cards).
  • Steve KROFT of 60 Minutes was a [Lifetime Achievement Emmy recipient of '03]. I had drama and comedy in mind, not news, so I was stumped with the KRO in place. Crosser 49-Down was a dreaded "name that note" clue, [Tough key for pianists]. Something-SHARP, but if you don't know music well, you've got seven letters to choose among. It's F-SHARP here, and 50-Down is TEENER, clued as [Youth]. Nobody calls 'em "teeners," of course.
I learned that SRI is a [Title that means "wealth"]. I already knew that PEZ was a [Name derived from the German for "peppermint"]—Pfefferminz. Two other trivia bits: ["Beauty superhuman" in a 17th-century novel] is DULCINEA; ZAPATA was the [Oil company founded by George H.W. Bush]. I love the word NONESUCH, or [Paragon].

Robert Wolfe's LA Times crossword feels like it has a theme, since all three 15-letter answers are spoken phrases.
  • SEE ME AFTER CLASS is a [Teacher's request]. Much better than the shorter SEE ME that pops up in more crosswords.
  • THAT'S MORE LIKE IT is clued with ["Now you're talking!"].
  • YOU'RE NOT KIDDING is ["How true!"].
But the phrases are unrelated, so they're just the zest in this themeless. Clues of note, cool answers, etc.:
  • [Beethoven's Fifth, e.g.] is a WAR HORSE. A real horse? No; this page says the symphony's performed so often it's a war horse.
  • [Colombian carrier] is AIRES? That's a new one for me.
  • [Bush Cabinet member] is CHENEY. Wait, the V.P. counts as a Cabinet member? According to this, Cheney, the White House Chief of Staff, and four others have cabinet-level rank, but the Cabinet proper consists of all the Secretaries of ___ and the Attorney General.
  • I like the phrase RUE THE DAY, clued here as [Wish one hadn't].
  • [Muse emanation?] was making no sense to me until the crossings filled in "HMM..."
  • [Face extraction] is ORE, not a ZIT, thankfully.
  • ["Wonder Woman" regular ___ Candy] is ETTA. Yet another ETTA to store away in the memory banks for future crosswords.
  • [Linen tape used in trimming] is INKLE. I've seen ISTLE and INGLE in crosswords before, but never INKLE.
  • FELT FAINT feels non-crossword-ready as a phrase, as if FELT could be followed by any of hundreds of adjectives. The clue's [Reacted to bad news, in a way].
  • I hope people know TOM CONTI's last name ([1979 Tony winner for "Whose Life Is It Anyway?"]), because otherwise the intersecting Roman numeral could make for a knotty crossing. [Year in the reign of St. Gregory I] is DCI.
The theme in Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "RV Park," is phrases with R.V. initials:
  • RICE VINEGAR is a [Condiment used in Chinese salads].
  • RESIDUAL VALUE is [What remains at the end of an object's useful life].
  • [The ultimate decider] is a REGISTERED VOTER. I can't believe the powers that be didn't introduce widespread early voting before this year. Genius! So much more workable than one set day—if you can't get time away from work, if the weather is horrible, if you get the flu or break your foot, the first Tuesday in November might not work for you.
  • A [Tasty tuber] is a ROOT VEGETABLE.
  • [Its past tense is formed by adding -ed] refers to a REGULAR VERB. Irregular verbs are so much more fun, unless you're a kid or second-language learner wrestling with all those English oddities. 


October 30, 2008

Friday, 10/31

WSJ 8:35
Sun 6:24
NYT 5:37
CHE 5:17
LAT 3:41
CS 3:12

(updated at 11:45 a.m. Friday)

Hey, word nerds! Do you like spelling? Check out the online Spelling Bee at the Virtual Thesaurus site. It uses all sorts of fancy-pants algorithms to figure out what sort of words to give you—if you're not a terrific speller, it won't give you words like caracole. If you do have mad spelling skillz, it'll challenge you a lot but not punish you for getting some difficult words wrong. The top score is 800, and I can attest that you can score 800 despite missing a sizeable percentage of your words. (I flubbed 8 of my last 50 words.) If you play long enough, it'll give you another crack at words you gave up on—and it shows you the correct spelling when you "surrender," so pay attention to those freebie answers.

I learned about the Spelling Bee from Ben Zimmer's OUPblog post.

I must tear myself away from the Spelling Bee to tend to the crosswords.

Jim Page's New York Times crossword starts with a mini-theme—["Easy does it!"] clues the two intersecting 15-letter answers, TAKE A DEEP BREATH and WHAT'S THE BIG RUSH—and builds the rest of the puzzle around it with fill that groups itself into assorted topic areas.

We've got some pop culture:

  • Chuck NORRIS is the ["Good Guys Wear Black" star, 1978].
  • ADAM WEST is the [Actor voicing the mayor on "Family Guy"].
  • DAME EDNA is [Aussie with purple hair and ornate glasses].
  • The [Sammy nicknamed "The Red Rocker"] is Sammy HAGAR.
And some geography:
  • ISR., or Israel, is a [Big exporter of diamonds: Abbr.]. A [Nazareth native, e.g.] is a SABRA, or one born in Israel.
  • BADEN is a [Black Forest resort] known for its mineral springs. BADEN means "baths."
  • The [Capital of the Apulia region] in Italy is BARI.
  • SAO fills in the blank in [__ Jorge (Azores island)].
  • [Chicago's Little Village, e.g.] is a BARRIO. I've never heard it called that here, but Wikipedia is pretty convincing.
  • RENNES is the [Capital of the Brittany region].
And some high culture:
  • [Maestro ___ de Waart] is named EDO, and the [Longtime La Scala music director] is Riccardo MUTI.
  • ARTES are [Cultural doings in Cadiz].
And some nibbles:
  • PASTA / SALADS are [picnic dishes].
  • SNO Balls are what's meant by [Hostess ___ Balls].
  • A [Little something] to snack on is a NOSH. Have you read Giles Coren's excoriation of his newspaper editors for changing "where to go for a nosh" into "where to go for nosh."
  • A [Drink with a straw] is a MALT.
  • [Some porters] are STOUTS.
  • SODAS are [Ballpark concessionaire's offerings]. So are BEERS, of course.
  • NACHOS are [Some chips]. Wow, this puzzle is loaded with junk food.
  • FETA cheese is a [Topping on a Mediterranean pizza] that I would not eat.
I had a couple favorite clues here. [Be too reserved?] clues OVERBOOKS, as in a restaurant or flight. [Artemis or Atalanta] is a HUNTRESS. Forget the hunting part—have you seen Free To Be You and Me, in particular the Atalanta story? It's a feminist retelling of the Atalanta myth.

I was ready for Donna Hoke Kahwaty's Sun crossword, "For Startlers," since I'd already done two Halloween-themed puzzles with BOO words this week. This time, the BOOs are bunched into eight rebus squares, with RAY "[BOO]M [BOO]M" MANCINI holding down the fort in the middle. Lots of hard clues in this puzzle:
  • [Game played with unmentionables?] is TA[BOO].
  • [What the king of diamonds holds] is an AXE. Really? Yes.
  • [Chacmas, for example] are BA[BOO]NS. Chacmas? Yes, grayish black baboons of southern and eastern Africa.
  • [Sprinter Pistorius] is named OSCAR. This one was vaguely familiar.
  • ICE-NINEI This clue wasn't hard for any Vonnegut fan—[Ocean freezer in "Cat's Cradle"]—but I love the entry and wanted to mention it. Read more here.
  • I took [Site to read the writing on the wall?] too literally, picturing an actual wall. The answer's FACE[BOO]K. Facebook is where I encountered the link to Ben Zimmer's post about Spelling Bee.
  • [Used kettlebells, say] clues EXERCISED.
  • [Last rewards?] are [BOO]BY PRIZES. This one's not so tough, but again, a great entry.
If this puzzle took you longer than you thought it would, you can take solace in the fact that it has 15 more squares than usual—the grid is 16 rows tall, not the standard 15. Before I hit the sack, let me single out one other marvelous answer—[BOO][BOO] BEAR, the [Ursine sidekick] of Yogi Bear.


Donna Levin's LA Times crossword contains some voting-related puns that took me a while to unravel:
  • [Voter from Twain's hometown?] is a HANNIBAL ELECTOR, playing on fictional creepazoid Hannibal Lecter.
  • [Meetings of the Hypnotist Party?] are TRANCE CAUCUSES. This plays on the Transcaucasus region, which includes parts or all of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. That's some high-end geography-based punning there, isn't it?
  • [Communist goon candidate whose name isn't on the ballot?] is a RED WRITE-IN HOOD, playing on Red Riding Hood.
  • [Convention deadlock?] is a DELEGATE BALANCE, building on a "delicate balance."
Favorite clues: [Like a unicorn tamer, in myth] for CHASTE; [Malay word for "man"] for ORANG; and [Rose born William Bruce] for AXL. Tricky bits: [Ready, willing and able: Abbr.] for ADJS (short for "adjectives"); [Glacier National Park's Garden Wall, e.g.] for ARETE.

The trio of Todd McClary, Craig Kasper, and Andrew M. Greene teamed up to make this week's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Election Headlines." The meat of each plausible news headlines is clued as if it pertains to a particular person. Three examples:
  • [Candidate Benny Goodman] GETS SWING VOTE, as he was a swing/Big Band musician.
  • [Candidate Orville Redenbacher] MAKES CONCESSION SPEECH, because Redenbacher's a popcorn brand and popcorn's sold at movie theater concession stands.
  • [Candidate Gingerbread Man] LOSES IN RUNOFF, because the Gingerbread Man was always running away to avoid being eaten, but was eventually scarfed down by a wily fox who outwitted him.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "In a Stew," says that [What you're working on (and a literal hint to 17-, 28-, and 47-Across)] is a CROSSWORD PUZZLE or rather, a puzzle containing cross words:
  • YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS is one [Grumpy remark], though it sounds more disbelieving than cross to me.
  • I CAN'T BELIEVE IT is clued as another [Grumpy remark], though it too sounds more disbelieving than testy.
  • The final [Grumpy remark] is indeed grumpy: THAT TICKS ME OFF.
The two longest Down answers sort of tie in with the theme. To [Have a cow] is to GET UPSET, but after all the crossness, the wise one FORGIVES, or [Shows compassion, perhaps]. [Comedian Murray] clues JAN, and that name didn't ring a bell for me. Turns out Jan Murray was a Borscht Belt comedian, né Murray Janofsky. [Those who stop Lightning strikes?] was no gimme for me—it's GOALIES, so the Lightning must be a hockey team. Or maybe soccer? No, hockey—the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.

Todd McClary also has a solo outing today, with this week's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Literary Bent." There's one standard theme entry, POETS' CORNER at 16-Down ([Westminster Abbey burial ground, four residents of which are hidden in this grid (in appropriate places)]. Apparently there are 28 writers buried there, as well as many others commemorated with plaques. Four of those buried there are also interred in the poets' corners of this crossword grid. Edmund SPENSER runs around the NW corner, upwards in EPSOM and to the right in the unusual ENSERFS ([Binds to the land]). Abraham COWLEY rest in the NE corner, in SCOWL and LEYTE. John DRYDEN goes down in REDRY and backwards at the end of KENNEDY in the SE quadrant. And Thomas HARDY occupies the last corner, backwards in AHEAD and upwards in HYDRA.

Plenty of tough clues, like [Post-recession measure?] for a TOUPEE, STU [Holcomb who coached for Miami and Purdue] (who?), and WELCH [__ Hall (Yale freshman dormitory)].


October 29, 2008

Thursday, 10/30

Sun 4:54
NYT 4:37
CS 3:53
LAT 3:41

Chuck Hamilton's New York Times crossword has a solid theme, nothing gimmicky or wild about it:

  • What's the DIRECTOR'S SHOUT? "Lights...camera...action!" So the other three theme entries end with those words:
  • The NORTHERN LIGHTS are clued as [So-called "fox fires"]. Wow, really? I haven't heard that term before. Aurora borealis, sure, but not fox fires. I went to college in Minnesota, so I had a chance to see the Northern Lights once, but this clue hid them from me.
  • One type of [Recording device] is a VIDEO CAMERA.
  • A [Certain lawsuit] is a CLASS ACTION.
So, the theme doesn't shout "It's Thursday!" but the fill and clues let you know that the first half of the week is over. To wit:
  • The BOSC pear is clued vaguely-yet-specifically as a [Fruit variety with a sweet-spiced flavor].
  • Did you know that [Uruguay and Paraguay] are RIOS, or rivers, as well as nations? I did not.
  • Can you complete the Latin phrase, ["In principio ___ Verbum"]? The missing word is ERAT, and the phrase translates to "in the beginning was the word."
  • [___ Sailer, three-time 1956 skiing gold medalist] is named TONI. I have a faint memory of learning this in another crossword and then forgetting it.
  • ROMEO? Everyone knows ROMEO. The clue, ["See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!" speaker] didn't ring a bell for me, though.
  • A final [Resting place] is a BIER. Don't go there for just a nap, okay?
  • [Stock holders] that hold livestock are BARNS. [Stock holder] that holds all the merchandise that's in stock is a STORE.
  • To [Get the point?] is to SCORE the point. My mind traveled in the wrong directions for this one.
  • I'm not familiar with ODOR used to mean [Repute]. Definition 6 bears it out.
  • [Take-home?] isn't referring to pay, but restaurant food—LEFTOVERS.
  • [Johnny with the 1958 hit "Willie and the Hand Jive"] is OTIS. Hey! A non-elevator, non-Milo and OTIS! Here's a video of Johnny Otis, his band, and his hand-jiving crew of women.
  • NED'S [___ Point Lighthouse, Massachusetts landmark since 1838]? Yes, that's correct. No, I never heard of it either. Once on an airplane, the in-flight magazine crossword's theme was famous lighthouses. Yeah, I worked the crossings for every last one of 'em.

Will Nediger's Sun "Themeless Thursday" was not too fearsome. My favorite answers and clues:
  • BEST WISHES always make for nice [Closing words].
  • LINE DANCE is clued as the [Electric slide, e.g.].
  • An [Inscrutable person] is a SPHINX.
  • SNL, or Saturday Night Live, is clued with [Chase scenes were often seen during its broadcasts]. Car chases? No: Chevy Chase.
  • BOBTAIL is a [Docked thing]. With the BO*T in place, I was first thinking of boats.
  • To DOZE OFF is to [Start napping].
  • SAME-SEX is [Like some marriages].
Oddball answers and clues:
  • [Colichemarde descendant] is an EPEE. Why not read up on the colichemarde?
  • [Castries is its capital] clues ST. LUCIA. I should know this, but I didn't.
  • [Holy Roman Emperor from the House of Welf] is OTTO IV. House of Welf is also known as House of Guelph.
  • ZIT is clued as [Pussy thing on a puss]. Nobody needs to see "pussy" meaning "filled with pus" in their crossword puzzle, do they?
  • An INK ERASER is a [Stationery store purchase]?


Dan Naddor drops nine (!) theme entries into his LA Times crossword. RR XINGS (railroad crossings) are exemplified in eight answers—two-word phrases (and one three-worder) in which adjacent R's end one word and begin the following one. The eight answers are placed in criss-crossing pairs that meet at the R's (I've added circles to highlight these)—so the RR entries are crossing, hence the RR XINGS in the middle of the puzzle. Two of the theme answers intersect with RR XINGS, so theme entries are traipsing all over this grid.
  • WIENER ROAST is a [Cookout with dogs]. It crosses WAR ROOMS, which are [Theoretical battle sites].
  • CESAR ROMERO, who [played Hernando Cortez in "Captain From Castile"], crosses a CAR RADIO, or [Mobile receiver].
  • BARRIER REEF is a [Lagoon border], and it crosses tracks with "LET 'ER RIP" (["Go for it!"]).
  • PETER RABBIT [snuck into Mr. McGregor's garden] and crosses rails with the [1984 Tommy Lee Jones film set on the banks of the Mississippi, with "The"], RIVER RAT.
I'm not double-checking my arithmetic, but I think that makes for a total of 77 theme squares. That's quite a lot. The surrounding fill doesn't fill me with awe (very few puzzles do that), but it's all solid stuff with no woeful obscurities or clunky abbreviations. Perhaps the worst entry, for my taste, is HEC ["__ Ramsey": '70s TV Western], but plenty of other crosswords have used HEC before. So the high theme-square count didn't force uncomfortable compromises in quality. Yay!

Two favorite parts of the fill actually introduce a clue/fill duplication, which I didn't notice while solving: [Congressional leader?] is a HARD C sound, and colorful BOOZE is clued as [Hard stuff]. I also liked it that [Peter or Paul but not Mary] didn't clue POPE this time—now it's APOSTLE. Have we seen that clue/answer combo before?

Today's CrosSynergy puzzle is by Bob Klahn, so you know it'll have more challenging clues than most CrosSynergy offerings. In the "Getting Approval" theme, three phrases ingest an OK and take on new meaning:
  • Guitar string + OK = GUITAR STROKING, or [Strumming?].
  • [Harnesses a Woolf?] is YOKES VIRGINIA, playing on "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus."
  • A tenant farmer turns into a TOKEN ANT FARMER, or [Lone-minority bug breeder?].
The clues that stood out for me are these:
  • [Majority shareholder?] for LION, as in the lion's share being the most.
  • [Didn't go fast?] clues ATE, as in "didn't engage in a fast."
  • [Fly opening?] is the GAD from gadfly and has nothing to do with a zipper that's down.
  • [Place to make a splash] is for the child in all of us—a PUDDLE.
  • [It's south of SIBERIA] clues MONGOLIA. Anyone else try to fill that space with EAST ASIA?
  • [Will-gotten wealth] is OLD MONEY. Without the W, ill-gotten wealth is pelf or lucre.
  • SALSA is a [Dance or dip], and a dip's also a dance move just to muddle things for the solver.


October 28, 2008

Wednesday, 10/29

Tausig 4:25
CS 3:45
NYT 3:36
Onion 3:35
LAT 3:12
Sun untimed

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

The crux of Steven Zisser's New York Times crossword theme lies in the clues. The trick those clues play isn't usually so prominent in a Wednesday puzzle, which strives to be more challenging than Monday but not so vexing that it scares people off. If you've seen the flower = "something that flows, a flow-er" trick before, you know what's happening in the theme clues:

  • A [Meteor shower] that might show meteors is the PLANETARIUM. Chicago is home to the Adler Planetarium, which still needs a new projector because that congressional earmark you may have heard about never actually made it through.
  • [Country bowers] using a long-O bow to play their instruments are FIDDLE PLAYERS.
  • [Farm towers] aren't silos but TEAMS OF HORSES, which may tow a plow on a farm.
  • The main [South American flower] that flows is the AMAZON RIVER.
Clues and answers I liked:
  • [What subjects and verbs should do] is AGREE. Grammar, usage, and mistakes involving them are the topic of the NYT blog After Deadline.
  • ["Lady Love" singer Lou] made me laugh because my first thought was Lou Dobbs and not Lou RAWLS.
  • A LIFESAVER candy is a [Holey confection]. Thank you, crossword, for not describing Swiss cheese as a "confection." You had me scared for a moment.
  • [Fife and Frank] are fictional and real BARNEYS. Barney Rubble feels left out.
  • HALF-MAST is clued [Flag's position, at times]. If you want to impress a nerd, use the term half-staff unless you're talking about a flag on a ship.
  • [Glen Bell's fast food] is TACOS. Did you know Taco Bell was started by a Mr. Bell? I should start Taco Reynaldo, and Will Shortz should found Taco Shortz. Let us not think of SPOOR, or an [Animal's trail], when we're eating tacos.
If you're fairly new to solving Wednesday puzzles, here are some words you should know:
  • ["The Cloister and the Hearth" novelist] is named READE. This may be ironic, because I'm not sure I know anyone who's read Reade.
  • The 3-letter [Southeast Asian] answer is LAO.
  • An OAR is a [Trireme tool]. Triremes and biremes are ships with three and two sets of oars on a side, respectively.
  • TERNS are [Fork-tailed flyers], essentially small seagulls. Don't confuse them with the ERNE or ERN, which is a sea eagle. These critters are the crossword's favorite seabirds.
  • The last name of [Susan of "L.A. Law"] is DEY. She also played Laurie Partridge on The Partridge Family, but I haven't seen her in anything lately.
  • ALAR may be clued as [Wing-shaped] or as a banned apple spray.
  • The [One-named artist] called ERTE is mostly clued as an Art Deco artist/designer/name/notable.
  • A [Narrow inlet] is called a RIA.
Laura Sternberg's Sun crossword plays around with anagrams. CRAZY HORSE, the Sioux chief, anchors the puzzle, and crazy anagrams of HORSE appear hidden within the other theme answers. For example, CULTURE SHOCK contains RESHO in the circled squares, and those letters unscramble to make HORSE, and the other theme entries' circled letters are also anagrams of HORSE.

My favorite clues and answers:
  • HEP C is short for hepatitis C, a [Liver disease, for short].
  • [Note that Kenny G held for 45 minutes, 47 seconds]. Was this during a concert? Because that sounds terribly dull to listen to.
  • BEE is clued as [Correspondent Samantha of "The Daily Show"]. She's hilarious.
  • [Anchors can be seen on them] means NEWSCASTS and not something nautical. Crosswords have too much nautical business as it is.
  • Thomas EDISON was a [Light-headed person]. Wait, this isn't a favorite clue. It's a clue I don't quite grasp. Because the idea for electric lightbulbs came from his head? 
  • [Closely examine the figures] clues OGLE, so those figures aren't financial data. Nobody ogles those.
I didn't notice that the Across Lite timer was stopped when I opened the puzzle, so I didn't start the timer. Whoops.


Steven Ginzburg's LA Times crossword includes a selection of window treatments in the theme entries. The theme's not super-tight as the window treatments land in the middle, end, beginning, and end of the theme answers. Ginzburg's batch of phrases is:
  • TURNED A BLIND EYE, or [Pretended not to see, with "to")
  • NIGHTSHADE, or [Belladonna or bittersweet].
  • SHUTTERBUG, or [One on a shooting spree?].
  • THE FINAL CURTAIN, or [End of a Broadway run, figuratively].
Now, all four theme entries could have started with a window treatment: BLIND AS A BAT and CURTAIN CALL are both 11's and SHUTTERBUG and SHADE TREES are 10's. We'd lose the 15's and end up with fewer theme squares, though.

Of course, a theme this flexible has also been done before. I searched for CURTAINCALL in the Cruciverb.com database and found two similar themes—Fred Piscop's 12/8/01 CrosSynergy, with BLIND ALLEY and SHADE OF BLUE joining CURTAIN CALL and SHUTTERBUG; and Lee Weaver's 6/15/99 Newsday, with two 11's and two 9's. Mind you, this is no slam on Ginzburg's puzzle today. Crossword constructors do tend to play with language in many of the same ways, so several are likely come up with the same theme idea independently. You wouldn't want to see the same theme reworked in the same venue just months apart, but for versions of a theme to be published in different venues or separated by years? Not a problem.

Hey! What do you know? Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Compression Chamber," has a variation on a Lynn Lempel theme I remember well. For my book, How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, I delineated my step-by-step solving of Lynn's 4/24/06 NYT crossword, which had two of the same theme entries as Randy's puzzle today. Here's what Randy has:
  • ORANGE CRUSH is a [Fruit-flavored soda]. Lynn had that answer in her theme, too, and I like its freshness in both puzzles.
  • MAIN SQUEEZE is a [Favorite girlfriend or boyfriend, in slang]. Terrific entry.
  • ACORN SQUASH is a [Thanksgiving side dish] that was also in Lynn's NYT.
  • MONSTER MASH was a [Dance novelty of the 1960s]. Fun answer.
Lynn's stand-ins for SQUEEZE and MASH were two 10-letter phrases, LEMON TWIST and the delightful CAP'N CRUNCH. Favorite clues and answers today: [It has its pluses and minuses] for MATH; HOT TUNA was a [Rock group spun off from Jefferson Airplane] (thank you, crossword answer, for not being the abysmal Starship); [King of pop music] for CAROLE King (I've seen this clue before, but I still love the Michael Jackson mislead); and [Work on a sentence?] for DO TIME (not EDIT). The toughest clue for me was [Apt. ad abbr.] for EIK (eat-in-kitchen). Cluing HAREMS as [Women's groups] sat wrong with me—the clue had me thinking of feminism and then HAREMS came along and depressed me.

Hah! After the Cubs were eliminated from postseason play yet again, I texted Tyler Hinman and pretty much laid the blame squarely at his feet. After all, he had lived in Wrigleyville at the beginning of the baseball season, but then moved to California and jinxed the Cubs. Tyler's reaction to the Cubs' loss was not to accept responsibility, but rather to construct an Onion A.V. Club crossword focusing on baseball's sad sacks. The [Hard-luck subject of this puzzle] is 20-Across, the CHICAGO CUBS. The rest of the theme clues cross-reference 20-Across. There's the BILLY GOAT and its CURSE; hapless STEVE / BARTMAN; the DODGERS, who shattered the Cubs' hopes this fall; and NINETEEN OH EIGHT, [The last time 20-Across won it all]. Every single one of these answers was a gimme for me. Tossed in without regard for symmetry are the bonus entries TRIB, the [Newspaper that owns 20-Across, familiarly], and the Cubs' AGE-LONG wait for another championship. Speaking of symmetry, did you notice that this puzzle has left/right symmetry rather than the typical rotational symmetry most crosswords have?

Most surprising answer: HYMEN, clued as innocuously as possible with [Maidenhead]. Toughest clues, for me: [Moirae (Greek) or Parcae (Roman)] for the FATES; [Satanist LaVey] for ANTON; [Beetle's bane] for SARGE (from the "Beetle Bailey" comic strip); [Chief Lone Wolf and his people] for KIOWAS. Favorite clues: [Unit of force?] for COP; [Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James] IHA, because I bought his sweet, RETRO solo CD in the '90s; and [On the clock?] for TIMED, the way Tyler, I, and many of you solve most crosswords.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "October Surprise," has a 15x15 variation on the theme that was in the 21x21 syndicated LA Times crossword this past Sunday: BOO is added to assorted phrases to alter their meaning.
  • BEE BOOSTING is clued as [Working for the apiarist's lobby?]. Bee sting + BOO.
  • [Rule regarding seabirds?] is a BOOBY LAW, building on bylaw. (Boobies' most striking representatives are the blue-footed and red-footed birds.)
  • Ban deodorant expands into BABOON DEODORANT, a [Source of lavender scent from the primate cage?].
  • Rapper T-Pain yields BOOT PAIN, or the [Result of failing to break in your Timberlands?].
  • The [Leading final car?] is the HEAD CABOOSE.
In the "not in your daily newspaper" category, we have an ENEMA, or [Colon cleanser, perhaps]; CYBERSEX, or [Second Life hookup]; STD clued as [Result of a rubber shortage?: Abbr.]; and ESG, a [Much-sampled South Bronx band]. You know, editors clean up punctuation. Are we colon cleansers too? REBAG ([Organize differently, as groceries]) looks like one of those terrible made-up verbs, and yet who among us has never rebagged our groceries at least a little, especially at the self checkout? KRUMPS is another answer that isn't likely to pop up in the daily paper's crossword. It's clued as [Dances in a clown suit, perhaps], and I'm not sure what it says about me that with the P and S in place, my first answer there was STRIPS. That's got to be worse than mixing up Lou Dobbs and Lou Rawls.


October 27, 2008

Tuesday, 10/28

Sun 3:55
CS 3:15
NYT 3:06
LAT 2:54

(updated at 9:20 a.m. Tuesday)

Allan Parrish's New York Times crossword sports a retro theme of DANCING in the '60s. Well, I didn't make it to kindergarten until the '70s, so '60s dance crazes are not my strong suit. Here are the theme entries:

  • OLIVER TWIST is a [Dickens lad] and the Twist is a dance most of us have heard of.
  • SHETLAND PONY is a [Small equine], and I have never heard of a dance called the Pony.
  • One [Weightlifter's lift] is the CLEAN AND JERK, and the Jerk is less familiar to me as a dance than as a Steve Martin movie.
  • I had no idea that there's a [Rum/vodka cocktail] called the BRASS MONKEY, and I have heard of the Monkey.
This theme is custom-made for those of you who are, say, 50 to 65 years old. The northeast and southwest corners of the puzzle are custom-made for fans of wide-open grids, with triple-stacked 9-letter answers. My favorites there are TOM SNYDER, who was ["The Tomorrow Show" host] some years back, and a TOTEM POLE, or [Indian carving]. Yesterday, I wrote that ET TU was sometimes clued as [Rebuke from Caesar], and sure enough, today it's here as [Caesarean rebuke]. Other crossword regulars that newer solvers should store away in the memory banks:
  • TET is an [Asian holiday], the Vietnamese New Year.
  • [Skater-turned-actress Sonja] HENIE was big decades ago, and her fame lives on in crosswords.
  • ELO, the Electric Light Orchestra, is the ["Xanadu" band, to fans]. Their other hit songs included "Don't Bring Me Down," "Telephone Line," and "Evil Woman."
  • The SPAD was a [W.W. I fighter plane]. This one doesn't appear often, but it helps to have seen the word before.
  • An AWL is a [Hole-making tool] used to poke holes in leather.
  • ENIAC was a [Computer that debuted in 1946].
  • ESSE is a [Latin 101 verb], "to be." Sometimes it's clued as [In ___] (meaning "in actual existence"), sometimes as part of another Latin phrase or motto.
  • ISR. is [Mount Carmel's locale: Abbr.], short for Israel, and the UAE, or United Arab Emirates, are an [Oil-rich land: Abbr.]. SYR. (Syria) is another land in the Middle East. Word to the wise: [Leb. neighbor] can be either ISR or SYR.
  • NAN is [Bert Bobbsey's twin sister], from the old Bobbsey Twin kids' book series. NIN is Anais NIN, clued here as ["Collages" novelist]. In other puzzles, you may encounter a baseball player named Robb NEN.
  • SKA is a kind of [Jamaican music], and a forerunner of reggae.
  • Meredith Baxter played ELYSE Keaton, the ["Family Ties" mother] to Michael J. Fox's Alex Keaton on the TV show. How else are you gonna clue ELYSE? That's pretty much the only workable option.
  • NRA isn't just the National Rifle Association. It's also the [New Deal inits.] that stand for the National Recovery Administration.

The Sun puzzle by Tony Orbach has one of those themes that I paid no mind to while solving. I surmise that it's called "Making Out" because each theme entry begins with a way of making an out in baseball. There are six ways? The phrases are mostly lively, and I like their clues:
  • FLY SWATTER is clued as a [Thing causing a buzz kill?].
  • POP ROCKS are the [Candy that did not, in fact, kill Mikey] from the Life cereal commercials. I just saw a show on the Food Network that sort of explained how Pop Rocks are made (melted sugar with carbon dioxide mixed in?) and why you won't die if you combine Pop Rocks and Coke.
  • LINE DANCING eschews country music and gets a cheesy clue, [Doing the Macarena, e.g.].
  • A [Concern for someone holding put or call options] is the STRIKE PRICE. Okay, this answer isn't particularly lively and the clue is equally flat. It's hard to liven up the derivatives market without putting your own money at risk, isn't it?
  • FOUL PLAY gets a specific clue: [1978 Goldie Hawn movie]. According to the synopsis, the bag guys are linked to a "Tax the Churches League." Chevy Chase costars.
  • GROUND BEEF is a [Sloppy joe ingredient]. So's brown sugar, and if you're in my family, you don't skimp on the sweet stuff.
My favorite answer in the fill: that [Hershey's product] called the KIT-KAT. Solvers outside the U.S. may know it as a Nestlé candy bar. I bought a bag of 55 snack-size Kit-Kats for my kid's school Halloween party a couple weeks ago. There are only 18 left. We're fond of Kit-Kats around here.


Janet Bender's LA Times crossword features a simple theme: two-word phrases with T.T. initials. "So what?" you ask. Well, all five phrases come from the world of sports, so phrases like taste test, Tommy Tune, tuna tartare, and Tiny Toons don't make the team. A [Race against the clock] in cycling (if not other sports) is a TIME TRIAL. TABLE TENNIS has been an [Olympic sport since 1988]. The TENNESSEE TITANS [were the Oilers before 1999]. They played in the Monday Night Football matchup last night, and I was quite taken by their baby blue uniforms. [Hall of Fame pitcher Seaver's nickname] is TOM TERRIFIC. TRASH TALK is a [Taunting exchange during the game]. Other sports-related content in the puzzle includes IVIED, [Like Wrigley Field's walls]—once again lying dormant in October. The INDY 500 is a [Big May race, familiarly]. And Sean PENN could have been clued as PENN State, whose football team is doing well this season.

Patrick Blindauer recently had an NYT puzzle with ANTs on the march in the shortish theme entries. Today, his CrosSynergy crossword, "Moving Violation," offers another version of this theme. This time, it's a SIN (clued as [Violation, and word that "moves" within the six starred clues]) that moves one letter back with each step. It's at the beginning of the first 8-letter entry, SINISTER, and makes its way to the end of the sixth 8-letter answer:

SINISTER means [Ominous].
TSINGTAO is a [Popular Chinese beer brand]
ELSINORE is the ["Hamlet" setting].
BASSINET is a [Baby's bed].
DEPOSING is [Writing one's sworn testimony].
ASSASSIN is [One with a contract, say].

From the non-theme fill, here are my favorite clues: ARSENIC is clued as [One of two elements that ends with the letter C]. I love this sort of clue—can you name the other element? [Classical gas?] clues not music but an old gas company, ESSO. [Short pants] are GASPS and not something like knickers or capris. [It may come out of the closet] refers to LINEN. [Sources of world views?] are GLOBES.


October 26, 2008

Monday, 10/27

Jonesin' 4:44
Sun 3:11
NYT 2:31
CS 2:45
LAT 2:42

Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake have teamed up again for a Monday New York Times crossword puzzle. The theme is 55-Down, SPIN—they've put an SP at the beginning of three 13-letter phrases to convert them into 15-letter phrases:

  • [Aerosol tanning?] clues SPRAY OF SUNSHINE.
  • [Tiffany showroom?] is SPACE OF DIAMONDS.
  • [Babble incoherently?] is SPUTTER NONSENSE.
I have the sense that most themes involving question-marked clues for nonexistent phrases don't manage to have such simple clues. This trio is short and sweet, with two-word clues conveying all the sense they need to. There are a number of answers that new solvers need to commit to memory if they don't already know them:
  • ASTI [___ Spumanti] is a sparkling wine. ASTI also gets clued as an Italian wine region.
  • The [Korean automaker] KIA has a 3-letter name with a couple vowels, so it gets some play in crosswords. (AUDI and SAAB also appear more often than, say, FORD with three consonants.)
  • NEAP [___ tide] is some sort of monthly or bimonthly tide. I think its opposite number is the EBB tide, and EBB is also a verb that gets plenty of play in crosswords. NEAP's less familiar to most people, but crossword solvers need to remember it.
  • LOEWE is [Lerner's partner for "Camelot"]. Three vowels? Yeah, this guy's a regular in the puzzle, too.
  • [Pesos : Mexico :: ___ : Turkey] clues LIRAS. The LIRA (plural LIRE) used to get clued as Italian currency, but then the EURO came along.
  • [Dodger or Met, for short] is NLER, as in NLer or National Leaguer. Some say that this and ALER are never used anywhere but crosswords.
  • ABAFT is clued as [Sternward]. Most of my familiarity with nautical terms comes from doing crosswords.
  • ET TU, ["___, Brute?"] is the Julius Caesar line. [Words to Brutus] and [Rebuke from Caesar] are other clues you might see for ET TU.
  • The two-word A TAD, or [Not much], shows up fairly often. A LOT is more common; A BIT, less common. Remember, the NYT crossword doesn't tip you off when an answer has more than one word.
  • [Egyptian snakes] are ASPS. The ASP clues often relate to Cleopatra, who was killed by an asp. 
  • [Building additions] are almost always ELLS in the puzzle.

The Sun crossword is called "The Old College Try" and it was constructed by Joon Pahk. Three theme entries end with IVY LEAGUERS. The band KING CRIMSON corresponds to the Harvard team, the Crimson. HEY BULLDOG is a [Song on the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" album], but I've never heard of it. You know how Yale students are in the crossword all the time as ELIS or YALIEs? Their official nickname is the Bulldogs. The Princeton Tigers show up in PAPER TIGER. It's a little distracting to have another team name in the grid—Whittier College's bad-ass POETS, not of the Ivy League. I like how the '80s band ERASURE sits beneath KING CRIMSON. (Wikipedia tells me Erasure is still recording and touring. Who knew?) Favorite clue: [Strong suit?] for ARMOR.


Matt Jones has crafted a puzzle with an unusual gimmick in it. This week's Jonesin' crossword, "Early and Often," includes a ballot of sorts, and instructions to MARK AN X for whichever one YOU PICK. Each "candidate" entry is 14 letters long—FIRST CANDIDATE, ANOTHER NOMINEE, and THE THIRD OPTION—but appears with a blank 15th square (those 15th squares are supposed to be circled, but the circles were missing when I downloaded the Across Lite version of the puzzle). If you X in one of those squares, you change the crossing word, but the answer will be correct with or without the X:
  • 13-Down is [What's seen when ice skater Babilonia hails a cab]. TAI Babilonia and a TAXI both work, depending on whether you want to select the FIRST CANDIDATE. The clue is pushing it a bit, but I'm guessing there aren't a ton of words that work with and without an X. 
  • 33-Down is [___ earnings (phrase used when comparing a current and upcoming paycheck], or NET and NEXT. I can't imagine anyone discussing their "next earnings," so this spot slowed me down.
  • 57-Down is clued as a [Participant in a historic 1899 war or rebellion]. The South African BOER War began in 1899, as did the Chinese BOXER Rebellion. This one's so perfect, it makes up for the goofiness of the first one and the awkwardness of the second.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Have a Good Time!", has five different "good times" at the start of the theme entries. One [Pome variety], and a tasty one at that, is a GALA APPLE. SOCIAL WORK is a [Profession intent on improving living conditions. One [Joint type] is BALL AND SOCKET, as in your hip and shoulder. A RAVE REVIEW is a [Pan's opposite]. And a PARTY LINE is a [Tie-in to another telephone customer, as well as a tie-in to this puzzle's theme]. I wonder if anyone younger than me has first-hand experience with party lines—when I was a kid, my grandparents had a party line, and they gave out their phone number prefix as HEmlock-7 rather than 437. Old school!

Updated Monday night:

Well, the LA Times crossword hadn't been posted as of lunchtime today, and after it was posted, I didn't get a chance to solve it before late evening. Robert Morris's theme is PAPER, which precedes the first word of each of the four theme entries:
  • MONEY TRAIN is a [1995 Snipes/Harrelson film about a subway heist]. I like paper money, I do.
  • The [Youngest Masters champ] is TIGER WOODS. A paper tiger is "a person or thing that appears threatening but is ineffectual." Tiger Woods is no paper tiger on the golf course.
  • [Price-gouging business] is a CLIP JOINT, and paper clips were invented in the 19th century. (Staples are about the same age, if you were wondering.)
  • [Cattle drive VIP] is a TRAIL BOSS. Wasn't Jack Palance's City Slickers character Curly a trail boss? Surely there is a paper trail that proves this.
One of the 8-letter answers in the fill was unfamiliar. RANGE WAR is clued as a [Big beef over big beef?]. Wikipedia explains that range wars can also involve sheep herding and water rights.


October 25, 2008

Sunday, 10/26

PI 9:58
BG 8:54
LAT 8:15
NYT 7:33
CS 4:05

Next Saturday is All Saints' Day, so Daniel Bryant's "All Saints' Day" New York Times crossword appears the Sunday before. The abbreviation for Saint, ST, gets added to the beginning of a word in eight phrases:

  • EXCHANGE OF STRINGS is [Switch in an orchestra section?].
  • HOLY STROLLER is a [Pilgrim?].
  • STONE-ARMED BANDITS are clued as [Neolithic outlaws?]. This one feels a bit off, as people in the Stone Age were not themselves made of stone.
  • ULTRAVIOLET STRAYS are [Invisible lost dogs?]. I might've gone with lost dogs working at a tanning salon.
  • GOES ALL STOUT is clued as [Gets fat?].
  • WHERE THE BOYS STARE is a [Go-go club?]. What, not Fire Island?
  • PUT ON STAIRS is [Add new connections between floors?].
  • STARCH ENEMY is a [Dieter?].
The trickiest crossing for me was in square 125, where the [Old Indian V.I.P.] meets the [Key of Bach's best-known Mass]. As far as I know, there are seven letters that could work for the music clue (A through G), and NAWAB is better known in the corrupted form, nabob. Do musically inclined people remember things like "Oh, yeah, Bach's Mass is in B MINOR"?

Here are some clues I think people might be Googling this weekend:

  • [African nation founder Jomo ___] KENYATTA founded Kenya.
  • [Franz who composed "You Are My Heart's Delight"] is LEHAR. Raise your hand if you wanted Franz L. to be LISZT.
  • [Curly conker] is MOE of the Three Stooges. Earlier today, I'd been reminded of a [Curly poker] clue for MOE, highlighted as Crosswordese.com's Clever Clue of the Month.
  • [Costume designer Danilo ___] is DONATI.
  • Full-name ALDO RAY is ["The Naked and the Dead" star, 1958].
  • [American suffragist honored with a 1995 stamp] is ALICE PAUL.
  • [Cowboy actor Calhoun]'s first name is RORY.
  • [Explorer Tasman of Tasmania fame] is ABEL.
  • [Genesis creator] is video game company SEGA. Did you get duped into thinking this was a biblical clue? I sure did.
  • To [Be Circe-like] is to ENTICE.
  • To [Do some tune-up work on] is to REOIL.
Places! (Sort of.)
  • 28-Across, [Union member since 1896], is UTAH, and [Another name for 28-Across] is DESERET.
  • [Kipling's "Follow Me ___"] is completed by 'OME.
  • [Rabbit's home, maybe] is the BRIER patch.
  • [Leman and others] are LACS. I just learned the other day that Lac Leman is the French name for Switzerland's (but not Wisconsin's) Lake Geneva.
And the catch-all, miscellaneous:
  • [Negative north of England] is the Scottish NAE. The clue had me seeing "negative north" as an entity.
  • [Traditional symbol of friendship] is TOPAZ. Really? I had no idea.
  • [Whistler's whistle, maybe] is a TUNE. I don't quite follow. Whistle as a noun refers to the tune one is whistling?
  • [PX users] are NCOS, or noncommissioned officers.
  • [Loaded with fat] clues LARDY. Lardy, lardy! Goodness gracious me!
  • I wanted [Force in the ocean] to be EL NINO, but it's ARMADA. [El ___] NINO appears elsewhere in the puzzle.
  • One kind of [Anatomical cavity] is an ANTRUM. A sinus is another.
  • For [Needing a lift?], I almost filled in CAR-LESS. Turns out it's BRA-LESS.
  • A Spartan [Serf] is a HELOT. One-word clue? Tough to Google this puppy if you don't know the answer already.
  • [Thrice, in Rx's] is TER. Except that nobody seems to know any doctors who are using that particular Latin abbreviation in their prescriptions.
Updated Saturday night:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Halloween Party Checklist," has another of Merl's punpalooza themes. Before I get into the theme, though, I must single out this clue: [Colon opening] is the clue for a 4-letter answer. Could it be...ANUS? No, Merl wouldn't do that. It's the prefix SEMI, as in semicolon. This one's my pick for gutsiest clue of the month.

There are 13 theme entries, with two pairs of Down answers running right next to one another.
  • ["Let's see...this is the tennis player's kid..."] clues RAY'S A RACKET (playing on the phrase raise a racket).
  • ["This is the mechanic's kid..."], VIC'S A TIRE. I don't know what this is a pun on. Fix a tire?
  • ["This is the caterer's kid..."], MEG'S A SANDWICH (makes a sandwich).
  • ["This is the soldier's kid..."], TY'S A YELLOW RIBBON (ties).
  • ["This is the Olympic star's kid..."], CARRIE'S A TORCH (carries). At last, a girl name.
  • ["This is the clam digger's kid..."], LUKE'S A LITTLE PAIL (looks a little pale).
  • ["This is the traffic cop's kid..."], RON'S A STOP SIGN (runs).
  • ["This is the Italian-restaurant owner's kid..."], PETE'S A PIE (pizza pie). My son likes the William Steig story, Pete's a Pizza.
  • ["This is the crossword guy's kid..."], SOL'S A PUZZLE (solves a puzzle, I think).
  • ["This is the pet-store owner's kid..."], PAT'S A PUPPY (pats a puppy). 
  • ["This is the dentist's kid..."], CHIP'S A TOOTH (chips).
  • ["This is the tailor's kid..."], LEW'S A BUTTON (lose).
  • ["This is the farmer's kid..."], SKIP'S A BEET (skips a beat).
My favorites are the PAIL and BEET ones, where the last word is changed to a homophone. Unfamiliar answer alert: DECRI is [Disrepute, to Depardieu]. Right next to that is HOBS, the [Pegs used in quoits]. (Anyone here ever play quoits?) ETERNO, presumably meaning "eternal" in Italian, is clued [Everlasting, to Enrico]. Its E crosses LEAL, which is an archaic Scottish word meaning [Faithful, old style]. For my generation, SHAZAM is forever enshrined as the Captain Marvel word, but my husband (betrayer of the generation!) also knows it as a [Mayberry exclamation] from Barney Fife.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite was originally published some weeks back. The Across Lite edition shows up the same week that Lynn Lempel used the same theme idea in her Tuesday CrosSynergy puzzle, and both puzzles have the title, "Popinjays," as the constructors have popped in a J. Hook has eight theme entries, some of which intersect other themers. My favorites:
  • BARBARY JAPE is clued as [Mockery in northern Africa?]. I like the word jape almost as much as jackanapes.
  • [Member of a swing-dance group?] is a JIVY LEAGUER, playing on Ivy Leaguer.
  • Loved ones add a J to become LOVED JONES, or [What many Monkees fans did?]. Who doesn't like Davy Jones? Or the movie Love Jones, which is also one letter off from this theme entry.
  • [Jack's relaxed partner?] is JILL AT EASE. (Seth, this one's for you. Don't worry about that Jack guy.)
  • SIX-PACK JABS are [Punches in the gut?].
Oddities in the fill include NICHEVO, or [Nikita's "never mind"]; ASOR, a [Bible-era lyre]; FASCIATED, or [Malformed, as plant stems]; and ILIESCU, the [1990s Romanian president]. And then there's the insane crossing between a [Small nautical rope] called a CABLET (which I'm guessing is based on the word cable) and actor [Brad of "General Hospital"], MAULE (he played Tony Jones, a character I'm familiar with, but boy, did I not know who played him). The crossing was an L, but I tried some other random letters there first. There's also some primo fill: B-COMPLEX vitamins, the song "GET A JOB," a JALAPENO pepper, DERRIERE, Rhett Butler's GIVE A DAMN, and some potent GANJA.

Updated on Sunday morning:

On Halloween last year, the holiday-themed LA Times crossword was credited to Ada Honeywell. This year, the pre-Halloween syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword is another Honeywell puzzle with a timely theme. In "Scared You!", each theme entry is made by adding BOO to an existing phrase:
  • BOOMING DYNASTY is a [Really loud regime?]. BOO + Ming dynasty is a good combo.
  • WEAPONS BABOON is a [Monkey in charge of the armory?].
  • BOOSTING OPERATION is a [Ring of shoplifters?]. I like that this one's built off of sting operation.
  • KICKING BOOTEE is clued as a [Bit of equipment for nursery football games?].
  • ATTACHE CABOOSE is the [Part of the train where briefcases are kept?].
  • The two Down theme answers both take phrases that begin with stand-alone letters and add the BOO. BOOK RATION is [Allotted reading?], expanding off a K-ration. And B movies turn into BOOB MOVIES, such as ["Dumb and Dumber" et al.?].
Seven theme entries is on the low side for a Sunday puzzle, and the result is that there's space for yummy fill:
  • ARGY-BARGY is a [Heated dispute in Halifax] or across the Atlantic. It's also (sans hyphen) the title of a Squeeze album.
  • OUT-AND-OUT means [Total].
  • "SO IT GOES" is clued with its French counterpart, ["C'est la vie!"].
  • EOHIPPUS takes me back to high-school biology. It's the [Dog-sized creature thought to be the horse's earliest ancestor]. Eo = early, hippus = horse.
  • MR. MAGOO is, apparently, [Waldo's uncle, in toons]. He had a nephew named Waldo? MR. SULU is a [Sci-fi character named for a Philippines sea]. Don't you dare complain that the MR. component is duplicated in this puzzle. These entries are terrific, and I like the juxtaposition. Imagine if they had swapped places. Old myope on the Enterprise's bridge? The starship surely would have crashed. And Mr. Magoo's Asian houseboy might have been treated more respectfully if the show's lead had been Mr. Sulu.
  • IN LIMBO means [Left hanging], and an ODDBALL is a [Weirdo].
I do wonder, when I see a constructor's work only in the LA Times and I like the puzzles (as I do this one), if the byline contains another pen name for editor Rich Norris or if it's just a constructor who isn't particularly prolific.

It's my impression that among the CrosSynergy team of constructors, the one whose themeless "Sunday Challenge" puzzles are most likely to contain triple-stacked 15-letter answers is Martin Ashwood-Smith. He's got another one today, with triple stacks at the top and bottom. Favorite clues/answers:
  • [11/5/08 headlines] are ELECTION RESULTS. For a moment, I thought the answer would be more specific and wondered who Ashwood-Smith picked to win the presidency.
  • Two consecutive "swing" clues are [Swing site], the PORCH, and [Swing players], or BIG BANDS.
  • Three things you don't want to be called wander aimlessly about the grid. DODO is clued as [Old fogy], CRETIN as [Hardly a brainiac], and NUTS as [Ding-a-lings]. There's also a NERD, clued as an [Unpopular sort], but true nerds don't care if they're not popular among the CRETIN jock crowd. The people who matter to them are fond of them.
  • BONGS! In the crossword! Water pipes for smoking dope? Uh, no. Just [Big bell sounds]. My favorite brunch place is right across the street from Cafe Bong.


October 24, 2008

Saturday, 10/25

NYT 6:54
LAT 5:17
Newsday 4:37
CS 3:30

Yay! Another themeless crossword from Karen Tracey, this time in the New York Times. Like many of Karen's confections, this one contains a lot of Scrabbly letters (three J's, a Q, three K's), pop culture, people's names, and a little geography. Let's start with my favorite entries:

  • JACKANAPES is a [Whippersnipper]. Let's give this word some currency, shall we? Who's with me?
  • CHE GUEVARA was the ["Guerrilla Warfare" author, 1961].
  • An unfamiliar-to-me word, EARTHSHINE, is clued as [Faint illumination of the moon's dark side]. What a lovely astronomy word!
  • JAMES JOYCE was, among other things, [Writer of the 1918 play "Exiles"]. Wow, I haven't heard of that work.
  • JELLYSTONE! That's the [Park in Ranger Smith's charge] in the old Yogi Bear cartoons.
  • IRAQ WAR provides a Q, and is clued with [Tony Blair advocated it].
  • I do not like SQUIRREL, the animal, but as a crossword entry, it's golden. The clue is rather icky, though: [Brunswick stew ingredient].
There were lots of other people and characters in the grid:
  • Fictional JABBA the Hutt was the [Captor of Han Solo] in some Star Wars movie.
  • Fictional IRENE ADLER is the [Opera singer created by Arthur Conan Doyle]. This one I learned strictly from crosswords.
  • Actress TARA REID! She's blown her career for the most part, but she was the [Player of Danni Sullivan on "Scrubs"]. The character was bit of a trainwreck.
  • Fictional ILIA is a [Princess in Mozart's "Idomeneo"], apparently. (The pelvic bones and ice skater Ilia Kulik are other ILIA options.)
  • [Jazzman ___ Allison] is named MOSE.
  • Fictional SHE-RA is [He-Man's twin sister].
  • ["Gilmore Girls" co-star Alexis] BLEDEL has also been in those Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies.
  • BEN is my son's name, and also that of the giant clock bell in London, [Big ___] BEN.
  • TUPAC Shakur is the [First name in rap].
  • Actress ESSIE [Davis who played Maggie in two "Matrix" movies] should get a bigger role in something so she can appear in more crosswords.
  • ["Six Feet Under" star Peter] KRAUSE was also in Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin's first TV series.
  • [Sherlock's French counterpart] is ARSENE Lupin.
  • Fictional LIAT was [Joe's love interest in "South Pacific"]. Liat was also the name of one of these paper dolls we had when I was a kid—as seen in this video. Anyone else have those paper dolls from around the world?
  • RONA Barrett was once the [First name in Hollywood gossip].
I know a lot of people grumble when a crossword contains a slew of names, but I'm glad Will Shortz is willing to strike a balance and publish this sort of puzzle on occasion to delight those of us who love it.

Other favorite clues and answers I want to mention:
  • SAN ANTONIO was hiding from me even with a handful of letters already filled in. It's the [Home of Our Lady of the Lake University], apparently. It's a cute town, but don't try to go to the art museum without a car.
  • [Like some lava] clues BASALTIC. Geology rocks.
  • AFICIONADO is clued with the could-mean-a-lot-of-things [Buff].
  • YERBA BUENA is a [Trailing evergreen related to savory]. At first, I didn't know why this wasn't given an easier clue relating to Richard Nixon, and then I realized that's Yorba Linda I was thinking of.
  • ORGANIST is clued with [One may play at a ballpark]. Alas, none of the good teams are still playing ball these days, unless you can summon up some excitement for the Phillies or Rays.
  • One [Measure of support?] is C-CUP. This may be the best clue I've seen for a bra size crossword answer.
[Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to the stars?] are LEOS, astrologically. Hey, me too!


Doug Peterson's themeless LA Times puzzle duped me with that [Type of trail] fitting a *AP*R pattern. A PAPER trail, right? Nope, it's a VAPOR trail. Another trouble spot was [Taken out, as refrigerators], which made no sense to me. UNCRATED = taken out of a crate? Yeah, that works. [Products of hydrocarbon combustion] are OXIDES, but rust is an oxide and I don't think combustion is involved in rusting. Chemistry's not my strong suit, so I'm not familiar with all the ways of making oxides.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [Group that includes TV's "Friends"] is GEN X. I had no idea what the answer was until the X was in the grid.
  • [Groom on the cover of Life's 3/31/52] issue was ABNER. Whoa, really? Apparently Li'l Abner had avoided marrying Daisy Mae for 18 years, so the comic strip characters' wedding was big news. Ah, simple times.
  • [It may be part of a round] is ALE, if someone's buying a round of drinks.
  • One type of [Legal challenge] is the BAR EXAM—this was my favorite clue because the answer's so simple but I thought I needed to summon up some obscure legal term.
  • X-RAY VISION! It's a [Fictional threat to privacy]. I was thinking BIG BROTHER at first.
  • [Scoop, perhaps] is one kind of NECKLINE.
  • ALI MACGRAW gets the full-name treatment. She's clued as ["The Getaway" actress].
  • My favorite answer is SIR, NO SIR, an [Emphatic military answer].
For me, today's easiest themeless was Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper." (Solution PDF here). The clue that took me off guard was [Temperaments, so to speak] for KIDNEYS. Say what? Who speaks that way? It's in the dictonary, but I've never encountered that usage before. I wonder if it dates back to when people talked about their humors (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile) as if they affected personality traits.

Favorite and/or gnarliest clues:
  • [Up a lot] is a verb phrase cluing DOUBLE.
  • [Tie-wearing toon] is YOGI BEAR. What a coincidence, having JELLYSTONE in the NYT puzzle on the same day.
  • [National Capital Territory of Asia] is DELHI. I have no idea what the clue refers to.
  • ERIK is ["The Flying Dutchman" role]? Mr. Estrada wishes he could get some love here.
  • BEARDS are [Sun blocks]. Why? Because they block the sun from a chin? Is there another level here?
  • [It's larger than Australia] clues the SAHARA Desert. My, that is big. All that sand, wasted because it's not in beach form.
  • [Part of a date] is a STONE. I surmise that the pit or seed in the fruit called a date is termed a STONE.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy crossword is a "Paul Newman Tribute." The legendary actor Paul Newman died about four weeks ago, and his passing definitely merits a crossword made in tribute to him. The theme entries are three 15-letter movies for which Newman was nominated for an Oscar. Newman was in many other notable movies of varying letter counts: Hud (3), Cars (4), Blaze (5), Exodus (6), The Sting and Slap Shot (8), The Verdictand The Hustler (10), Nobody's Fool (11), Cool Hand Luke (12), and some longer titles. That's a lot of material, though mostly not bunched in same-length pairs—I wonder if anyone's been working on a Sunday-sized tribute to Paul Newman's career.


October 23, 2008

Friday, 10/24

NYT 7:02
Sun 6:02 (by the way, downloading the Sun should work now at Cruciverb)
LAT 5:51
CHE 4:02
CS 3:22
WSJ 7:34

(updated at noon Friday)

Friday blogging will be light/late—my son is off school, and we need to get started on making a model of the earth. Mantle, anyone?

Frederick Healy's New York Times crossword is riddled with spots to trip or to draw a blank on, but somehow it all came together. What's in this 70-worder? There are some people, specific and general. Two people get the full-name treatment:

  • KARL MALDEN! He was the [Warden player in "Birdman of Alcatraz"].
  • The late JULIA CHILD is the [Subject of the 1989 musical monologue "Bon Appetit!"].
  • ANNIE HALL is make-believe—that movie was the [Oscar winner aftr "Rocky"].
Last names only for these folks:
  • Horace SAKS and Bernard Gimbel opened Saks Fifth Avenue, so SAKS is clued [Gimbel contemporary].
  • The late Leon URIS was ["O'Hara's Choice" novelist, 2003]. That Wiki page says "He was known for his long epic novels. In one episode of The Simpsons, Cletus uses one of his books to crack open the shell of a turtle, saying 'Nothing cracks a turtle like Leon Uris.'"
  • The PEALES were a [Family of 18th- and 19th-century painters.
On a first-name basis:
  • ["Married...With Children" actress Sagal] is KATEY.
  • [Novelist Binchy] is MAEVE.
Fictionally, we have the '70s [Sitcom guy with a frequently upturned thumb, with "the"], FONZ, and SATAN. The latter is a [Bad lover?] if he loves bad.

Then there are all the generic sorts:
  • YOU AND I are [We].
  • P.R. MEN are [Guys who make people look good], or they try to, anyway.
  • The CANTOR is [One whose lead is followed in the service]; that's just at synagogues, isn't it?
  • One [Unconventional sort] is a BEATNIK.
  • [One taking a first step] is a TINY TOT.
  • I don't care for the entry, but my friends' 15-month-old just took his first steps this week so it gives me some warm fuzzies.
  • HOT TAMALES are clued as [Sexy numbers]. Is it just me, or does that clue dehumanize?
  • SIBS are [Young rivals, often].
  • [Cancun kinsman] is TIO, or "uncle."
  • A [Supporter of the mascot Handsome Dan] is a YALIE. My brother-in-law's niece is talking to Yale's gymnastics coach about an athletic scholarship.
Geography figures into this puzzle, too:
  • [Chichi-___ (largest of Japan's Bonin Islands)] is completed by JIMA. (Also from Japan, the [Obi accessory] INRO.)
  • MICRONESIA is the [Country whose capital is Palikir].
  • A [Union member of the future: Abbr.] is a TERR, or territory.
  • ALP is the [View from the Arlberg Pass].
  • [Geneve and others] are LACS, French for "lakes."
  • Why is NEWARK the [Home of the University of Delaware]? I don't know.
Assorted other not-so-well-known bits:
  • [Yellow primrose] is an OXLIP. Does this flower resemble the lip of an ox?
  • MENE is a [Bit of biblical graffiti].
  • [Evening for Evangelo] is SERA. Does that mean Evangelo is Italian?
  • [1992 film directed by and starring Edward James Olmos] is AMERICAN ME.
  • [Every, in prescriptions] is OMN. Do doctors actually use this one?
  • [Seraglio section] is ODA. It's essentially a room in a harem.
  • The [Third-largest asteroid] is VESTA. Hmm, don't know it. Are #s 1 and 2 more famous?

Justin Smith's Sun crossword, "Swiss Cheese," has sprouted three HOLEs in rebus squares:
  • I sort of figured [Song that includes woofs in its chorus] had to be the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out," but the exact rebus eluded me for a while—it's W[HO LE]T THE DOGS OUT.
  • [Unified entities] are INTEGRATED W[HOLE]S.
  • In the middle, THREE-[HOLE] PUNCH is aptly clued as [What you might use to finish this puzzle—the three [HOLE]s are aligned along the diagonal, and you could use a three-hole punch to replace those squares with holes.
I like that my first name, AMY (or ["This Is the Life" singer Macdonald]—who?]) intersects with MR. HAT, the ["South Park" puppet] wielded by whacked-out teacher Mr. Garrison. I like other stuff, too, but duty calls.


The theme in Larry Shearer's LA Times crossword is spelled out in the final theme entry: DISAPPEARING INK is a [Prankster's item, and this puzzle's theme] because INK is removed from various phrases to create the other four theme entries:
  • DR. UNDER THE TABLE is a [GP due for a whopping hangover?]. I'm not wild about DR. appearing as a word here. (Drink under the table is a phrase.) Then there's also MDS, or [Hosp. workers], the AMA, and ON MEDS clued as [Following a doc's orders, in a way] to round out the physician sub-theme.
  • BLING LIGHT is clued as [The flash in flashy jewelry?], with the INK dropped from blinking light.
  • PIE RING alters pinkie ring, and is clued as a [Gang of bakery thieves?]
  • Sylvester Stallone's nickname is Sly, so SLY DRESSES (slinky dresses) are the [Wardrobe for Stallone playing a transvestite?].
The surrounding clues and fill slaughtered me, alas. TEL [___ Hai: Israeli monument site] was a bit much, as the TEL crosses two theme entries, and the puzzle's already got B'NAI Brith, HORAS, an ESSENE ([Supposed inhabitant of ancient Qumran]), and ERIC Bana (who played an Israeli assassin in Munich) for the Jewish/Israeli sub-theme. I've heard of MORONI as Mormonism's Angel Moroni, but not as the [Capital of the Comoros]. All sorts of clues felt like Stan Newman "Saturday Stumper" clues—the noun [Adept] is an ACE; [Evening] a game is TYING the score; [Beats] are TEMPOS and not a verb; the verb [Rush] means to BOLT. Slightly more specific were these clues that still eluded me for a while: The [Gist] of something is its KERNEL of truth; and [Pleasure seekers?] are IDS.

Was this one tougher than you expected, or am I just not on Larry Shearer's wavelength?

The theme in Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Spaghetti Western," kept me guessing, and when it finally added up, it made for a nice "aha" moment." Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the quintessential spaghetti western, and the three theme entries are 15-letter movie titles that begin with THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY. The [2006 Matt Damon movie] is THE GOOD SHEPHERD, THE BAD NEWS BEARS is a [1976 Walter Matthau movie], and THE UGLY AMERICAN is a [1963 Marlon Brando movie]. Perfect theme, isn't it?

Karen Adams' crossword in the Chronicle of Higher Education just might be her debut. The theme is "Is There a Wort for That?"—Wort is German for "word," and the theme entries are all German words that have no one-word English equivalents:
  • REALPOLITIK is a [Word that means "foreign relations based on expediency rather than ethics"].
  • SCHADENFREUDE is a [Word that means "glee felt on hearing that something bad has happened to someone else"].
  • GESTALT is a [Word that means "a configuration that it not simply the sum of its individual parts"].
  • BILDUNGSROMAN is a [Word that means "a novel that traces the psychological development of a protagonist from childhood to maturity"].
  • FESTSCHRIFT is a [Word that means "a celebratory publication written by the colleagues of a retiring scholar"]. This is the only one whose meaning I didn't have a decent sense of.
Cool theme. I also like the anatomical collision between GLUTE, or [Certain muscle, slangily], and GLOTTIS, or [Laryngeal opening]. Things I didn't know: ROWE is [18th-century Poet Laureate Nicholas]. CAPUA is or was an [Appian Way city]. BODHI is [Enlightenment, in Eastern religion].

I had fun with Pancho Harrison's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Male Bonding." There are nine theme entries, famous men whose names include MAN at least once, and those MANs appear in rebus squares. Since [MAN]FRED MAN[N] has two MANs, that means there are 10 rebus squares that need to work out with intersecting Down entries. It all comes together smoothly, and some of the non-theme clues are fun: [Shell games?] are REGATTAS. [It has little foliage] clues BONSAI. [Tool used when the stakes are high?] is a SLEDGE, used to pound stakes into the earth. Archie [Bunker, for one] is a BIGOT. The fill contains a lively batch of words, such as Miami Vice's TUBBS, a GUSHER, ONE-NOTE, GARBLE, ROOMIES, Huey Lewis and THE NEWS, and SPLATTED like a water balloon. I still want to grumble that the WSJ crosswords have been easier than usual of late, but this one was a little closer to the mean, and the rebuses were fun to root out rather than burdensome. Anyone else notice DANTE and PEAK appearing in sequence together near the bottom? Dante's Peak was a volcano movie.