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)].