January 31, 2009

Sunday, 2/1

NYT 10:56
LAT 8:48
PI (untimed, but easyish)
NYT diagramless (untimed, but easier than many diagramlesses)
BG 5:55
CS 3:59

Don't miss the post just before this one—the Oryx Awards honoring the best achievements in the cruciverbal arts for 2008.

It appears that a beer with dinner and the Sunday New York Times crossword are not an optimal combination...though I didn't muck things up with any typos, so it wasn't so terrible. (Should've gone with a margarita.) "Grid-Irony" is the joint creation of Vic Fleming and Matt Ginsberg, and there are 10 other theme entries that relate to 81-Across, SUPER BOWL SUNDAY. Those 10 phrases are football terms, but they're all clued as if they've got nothing to do with the game:

  • BALL CARRIER is an [Airline for Lucille?].
  • HASH MARKS are [Corned beef stains?] as well as yard markings, I guess, on the field.
  • TWO-MINUTE WARNING near the end of the game is clued as [Caution when boiling a 60-Down?], or EGG.
  • PASS INTERFERENCE is a [Chaperon's job].
  • TIGHT ENDS are [Tersely edited epilogues?]. Finis.
  • The NEUTRAL ZONE is [Where everyone wears beige?]. I had no idea there was such a thing involved in football.
  • ILLEGAL MOTION is [Rolling past a stop sign?].
  • [Added comment?] is an EXTRA POINT.
  • OFFENSIVE LINE is clued with ["That dress makes you look fat," e.g.?]. I just saw a box of Christmas cards today with Santa clad only in a G-string asking "Does this make me look fat?"
  • FALSE START is the [Onset of a lie?].
I'm fond of both Vic and Matt, but guys, this football theme does nothing for me. I'm sure many others are enchanted by it. Let's see...what else is in this puzzle?
  • [1980s hit-makers with a geographical name] are ASIA. I'm blanking on their big hit—was it "Heat of the Moment"?
  • [Holden's little brother in "The Catcher in the Rye"] is ALLIE? That's not ringing any bells here.
  • [Liquefied] clues MOLTEN...not MELTED, which was my first answer here.
  • [Agreeing (with)] clues the two-word phrase AT ONE. I was duped into trying AS ONE, because why not clue ATONE as one word?
  • [Locales for some paintings] are CAVES.
  • The OED is a [Competitor of Chambers, for short]. I believe Chambers is a noted British dictionary.
  • [Subject for Hume] is MORALS. Does anyone really understand why all those Lost characters have the same name as various philosophers?
  • [Go for the bronze?] is to TAN your skin.
  • I like LET'S NOT as an answer. It's clued ["I think we should say no"].
  • [5 for B or 6 for C] is an ATNO, or AT. NO., or atomic number (for boron and carbon).
  • MIA HAMM is a [Hall-of-Fame forward] in women's soccer.
  • A [Mouth watering?] comes from one's SALIVA.
  • [Lovers], 8 letters, starting with FAN...FANATICS? Nope. It's FANCIERS.
  • TYNE [___ and Wear (English county)] was one of those wait-for-the-crossings answers.
  • I haven't heard of the WANDA who's a [Country singer Jackson].
  • [The U.A.E. is in it] isn't strictly geographical—the answer is OPEC.
  • [Flavius's fire] is the Latin IGNIS.
  • [Boot option] is STEEL TIP, not STEEL TOE.
  • [Small creeks] may be called RILLETS.
  • [Asian appetizer] is SATAY, as in chicken satay with a delicious Thai peanut sauce.
  • Nisan is a Hebrew month. [Meal in Nisan] is a Passover SEDER.

This week's syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword is Dan Naddor's "Buried Treasure." Each theme entry is a made-up phrase concocted in order to bury a gem in its midst:
  • [Cloudburst?] is an EPHEMERAL DELUGE.
  • [Clean up at Rhode Island's Newport Harbor?] os SCRUB YACHTS.
  • [Ineffective fly catchers?] are VINEGAR NETS, as you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  • [When the press starts its week?] is MEDIA MONDAY.
  • [Widespread panic over heartburn medication?] is TAGAMET HYSTERIA. The sheer lunacy of this one amuses me.
  • [Horse low in pigmentation?] is an ALBINO PALOMINO.
  • [Look loaded?] is APPEAR LIT.
  • [Showy penthouse shrubs?] are ROOFTOP AZALEAS.
  • [Beverly Hills medical films?] are TONY X-RAYS.
I like the find-the-hidden-gems game here. Anyone else misread [N'awlins sub] as [N'awlins suburb]? Boy, that made PO' BOY hard to dredge out. I thought [Babe in the woods] was skewing figurative and not literal—that one's a BEAR CUB. I don't know that I'd call NEOCONS [Political interventionists]—that clue kept me wondering for a while. Strangest-looking word in the grid: BINAL, or [Twofold].

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Study Group," reimagines the meaning of various "study of ___" words, to humorous effect:
  • PERIODONTICS becomes the [Study of punctuation marks?].
  • PODIATRY is the [Study of peas?].
  • COSMOLOGY is the [Study of women's magazines?].
  • CRYOGENICS becomes the [Study of babies?].
  • CARDIOLOGY is the [Study of poker?].
  • ELECTRONICS is redefined as the [Study of voting?].
  • HOMEOPATHY becomes the [Study of cozy places?]. This one jarred me a bit because the -pathy part relates to disease. But a dictionary tells me the suffix also denotes feelings (as in telepathy) and curative treatment (hydropathy), so let me de-cavil that. 
  • ERGONOMICS is the [Study of logic?], as you might say "ergo" to introduce a logical conclusion.
  • DENTISTRY is the [Study of minor car accidents?].
  • TOPOLOGY becomes the [Study of lids?].
  • CRYPTOGRAPHY is the [Study of final resting places?]. I spent some time trying to think of area-of-study words that started with grave- or tomb- and came up blank.
Favorite clue: [What Pop has that the Pope doesn't] for a SHORT O sound.

Paula Gamache constructed this weekend's Second Sunday NYT puzzle, a diagramless crossword. The theme entries take five phrases that end with a plural S and insert an IE before the S, thereby altering the meaning:
  • 14-Across is [Unable to mount further attacks?], or OUT OF SORTIES.
  • 25-Across is [Jokers who'll take a bet?], or COMIC BOOKIES.
  • 40-Across, spanning the center of the grid, is [Things that softly say "Feed me"?], or WHISPERING BELLIES. "Whispering Bells"? Say what? I Googled that one after I finished the puzzle and found out it's a plant and a 1957 song, neither of which were in my ken.
  • 56-Across is EARLY BIRDIES, or [Good scores on the front nine?] in golf.
  • At 68-Across, [Fraternity brother?] clues MAN OF PARTIES. "Man of parts"? Say what? I found this woeful little Wikipedia article that cites Casanova as an example of a man of parts. That article links to some info about those sleazy "pickup artist" types.
It's unusual for me to have no idea where 40% of the theme entries came from, at least if it's not a sports-themed crossword.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online-in-Across-Lite Boston Globe crossword, "Ready for '09?," ushered in the new year with 10 theme entries (9 to 11 letters apiece) that end in IX, the Roman numeral equivalent of '09. I didn't know that SPONDULIX was slang for [Bread, moola, clams], and money, but the crossings in this entire crossword had easy clues. The theme entries were clued straightforwardly, which also eased things up a bit. Good gravy! I rarely crack the 6-minute mark in a Sunday-sized puzzle. (There are some weekly Sunday puzzles, like Frank Longo's Premier King syndicated puzzle, Sylvia Bursztyn's LA Times magazine puzzle, and the Sunday Newsday crossword, that are usually about this easy—but I'm not in the market for more easy puzzles. I hanker for more tough puzzles.) Having heard of activist Dorothea Dix, [1930s advice columnist] DOROTHY DIX gave me pause.

Will Johnston's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" includes a lattice of eight 15-letter answers, four Across and four Down:
  • THE INVISIBLE MAN is a [1933 film in which Claude Raines is seen...and not seen?]. Spelling mistake in the clue—it should be Claude Rains.
  • LEMON CHIFFON PIE is a [Dessert cart offering] I would say no to. Bring on the warm chocolate lava cake!
  • AGAINST THE CLOCK means [Under time pressure].
  • "THERE'S NO 'I' IN TEAM" is a trite [Pep talk adage].
  • [Shuttle astronaut's home] is the CREW COMPARTMENT.
  • [Clive Cussler adventure novel] is RAISE THE TITANIC.
  • [Casino dealer's action] is a FLICK OF THE WRIST.
  • [Sitcom with a show called "Tool Time"] as the show-within-a-show is HOME IMPROVEMENT.
Of the 72 answers in this grid, 44 are 3- and 4-letter words, many of them lacking that je ne sais quoi that produces crossword joy. NORN (that's a [Norse goddess]) and SMEE, OOO and LTRS, REE ([3M's mancala game "Oh-Wah-___"]) and EOE, NEN and EIKS. I do lean towards themelesses with juicy 8- to 11-letter answers rather than marquee 15's or a slew of 7's.


The 2008 Oryx Awards

Back in 2007, yours truly and Rex Parker started keeping track of their favorite crosswords, and teamed up to form the two-member squad called the American Crossword Critics Association. A year ago, we posted our joint write-up of first annual awards, but ever since, constructor Andrea Carla Michaels—a naming consultant by trade—exhorted us to let her rename the ACCA Awards. And so it is that the second annual American Crossword Critics Association awards are hereafter referred to as the Oryx Awards. The oryx is an Old World antelope that sometimes has black and white coloring, just like a crossword. It's one of those four-letter words that crossworders know but many of their friends don't. And it's a sonic blend between "Orange" and "Rex," so we love it. The Oryx Awards have not (yet) been made manifest in shiny cast gold trophies to be handed out at a gala affair, so the recipients need not stumble nervously or tipsily to the stage to thank their agent.

Without further ado:

Best Easy Crosswords

These are typically themed Monday and Tuesday puzzles.

GOLD: Patrick Blindauer's New York Times, 10/6/08
  • Look, he turned a crossword puzzle into a dollar bill! It's adorable....and rectangular.
SILVER: Matt Ginsberg's New York Times, 12/2/08
  • "Would you hush? I'm working a crossword here." The world's noisiest crossword has 20 theme entries making a terrific DIN. KERPLUNK!
BRONZE: Laura Sternberg's LA Times, 3/11/08
  • Four famous people share the same first names as the AMERICAN IDOL judges. Two corners boast four-packs of 7- and 8-letter answers, and the fill is lively.
Best Medium Crosswords

This category includes themed daily-sized puzzles of Wednesday-NYT difficulty or greater, with no twisty gimmicks.

GOLD: Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club, 1/2/08
  • Asymmetrical grid features Democratic (PILLORY CLINTON) and Republican (TWIT ROMNEY) "dirty debate tactics" with name-into-verb puns on candidates' names. Did we mention there are seven theme answers occupying 94 (!) squares?
SILVER: Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun, 1/3/08
  • In "Strange Signs From Above," the zodiac puns are absolutely nuts: e.g., LEIGH BRA and "UH, QUERY US."
BRONZE: Dan & Mike Naddor's LA Times, 10/8/08
  • What do a BAT MITZVAH and AQUA VELVA have in common? Add MAN to the first word and you're spawning superheroes. Great "aha!" moment.
Best Gimmick Crosswords

These are the ones that people remember months or years later, the envelope-pushers that bend the rules, incorporate other kinds of puzzle challenges, and give our brains a delicious workout. These crosswords are so awesome, we couldn't honor just three.

PLATINUM: Patrick Blindauer and Francis Heaney's New York Sun, 1/11/08
  • "Squares Away" is a really hard rebus puzzle with an asymmetrical grid. Guess what? If you color the rebus squares black instead of putting the word BLACK in 'em, those new black squares make the grid symmetrical, and the entries that had the rebuses are still valid words. HONOR [BLACK]MAN turns into HONOR and MAN with a black square in between. Sheer crossword genius.
GOLD: Patrick Blindauer and Frank Longo's Sun, 11/20/08
  • "Three-Ring Circus" messed with our heads in a big way. It looks like a 15x16 grid with two 15-letter answers in the middle, but it turns out there's a TIGHTROPE WALKER balancing precariously between those rows—all the Downs that cross the 15s are one square shy, and the extra letters wedged in spell out TIGHTROPE WALKER. Devious!
PALLADIUM: Pete Muller's New York Sun, 2/29/08
  • The skull-crushing trick in "Return of the Indivisibles" is that answers to prime-numbered clues have to go in backwards. 2-Down is AIXELSYD, no joke. EDISPU is here too: UPSIDE is upside down.
SILVER: Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/12/08
  • "Standardized Test" has ABCDE in five places and you have to blacken the space for the correct answer to the accompanying multiple-choice questions. If you err, you're going to flunk the Down answers.
BRONZE: Donald Willing's New York Times, 11/1/08
  • An amazing debut puzzle in which every other Across row's answers appear backwards in the grid. We call it "Two-Way Streets" but the middle entry is STEERTSYAWOWT.
"Dishonorable" Mention: Joe Krozel's New York Times, 6/19/08
  • This is the famous LIES puzzle: the black squares spell out LIES and—this is the genius part—the clue for TEN tells you ten clues are lies. For example, tennis player AGASSI is clued as [Golf great Andre]. Terrific Shortzian cluing twist.
Best Themeless Crosswords

Themeless puzzles tend to be the hardest ones each week, barring crazy gimmick puzzles, and we love them so. A touch of sadism endears a constructor to us, as does a fondness for shiny new crossword vocabulary.

GOLD: Karen M. Tracey's New York Sun, 5/16/08
SILVER: Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy, 6/29/08
  • ZOOKEEPER collides with CLIMATE CANARY in the middle of the grid, YES, LET'S sends mixed messages by colliding with OH STOP IT ... and then there's Orange's favorite word: PASSEL.
BRONZE: Karen M. Tracey's New York Sun, 2/28/08

Best Sunday-Sized Crosswords

These puppies are usually 21x21 squares, so there's room for all sorts of wordplay and visual artistry that daily puzzles can't accommodate.

GOLD: Elizabeth Gorski's New York Times, 5/25/08
  • "Spy Glass" - James Bond-themed puzzle has all the Bond actors, plus IAN FLEMING, plus an alphabetical connect-the-squares element that creates a huge martini glass, inside of which sits the word MARTINI, as if representing the surface level of the drink within the glass. It's just an astonishingly imaginative feat of construction, and a real pleasure to solve as well. Oh, and JAMES is used to clue the "Bond" that all the theme answers share. I'm telling you, this puzzle doesn't stop.
SILVER: Patrick Berry's New York Times, 3/9/08
  • "Splits and Mergers"- theme answers function like rivers, where other words flow into or out of them. Thus "NOT IF I CAN HELP IT" branches off (zags, downward) to create NOTIFICATION, and CLEAN SLATE merges seamlessly into TRANSLATE, etc. Phenomenal.
BRONZE: Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/9/08
  • In "Advanced Placement Test," prepositions are replaced by the order of the remaining words in a phrase. Read between the lines shows up as THE READ LINES, and I before E except after C is I E C EXCEPT. Merl being Merl, there are 11 of these gems to solve in his crossword.
Toughest Puzzle of the Year

Stanley Newman's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (Anna Stiga byline), 3/1/08
  • Some puzzles make us work harder—a lot harder—than others, but there are usually only one or two killer themelesses a year. This one was 2008's big bear, with that trademark Newmanian obliqueness in the clues.
Best Use of Crosswordese for a Higher Purpose

Dan Naddor's LA Times, 4/17/08
  • How many times have you rolled your eyes at yet another [Punxsutawney-to-Boise dir.] clue for a three-letter direction? You play the odds and plug in ENE without thinking about maps. In this crossword, all eight directions appear in criss-crossing pairs in the appropriate places within longer answers. "Gee, what's got NNW and WNW in it?" you ask. Heart's ANN WILSON and DOWNWIND, that's what.

Best New Website

Two of the crossword sites that launched in 2008 immediately established themselves as can't-miss favorites:
  • Brendan Emmett Quigley's eponymous site combines a blog in which BEQ posts three new crosswords a week and shares musings about crossword topics in his inimitable style. One of his latest puzzles is an early favorite for the 2009 Oryx Awards but hell, they're all good. Sometimes there are swear words, so this ain't your grandmother's crossword site.
  • At Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest site, Matt posts a two-part puzzle challenge each week. First you fill in the crossword, and then you curdle your brain figuring out the contest answer. Each theme is different, as is each contest challenge—and 31 weeks in, Matt hasn't run out of clever ideas.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...drumroll, please.

Constructor of the Year

GOLD: Patrick Blindauer
  • Patrick B2 continues to be an innovator with a gift for not just pushing the envelope but dissolving it completely. Nobody else has three Oryx winners this year, so Patrick pwned crosswords in 2008. No lone wolf, he co-constructs with a terrific group of collaborators.
SILVER: Karen Tracey
  • Karen's a themeless specialist, and her puzzles captivated us all year. We honored two of 'em with an Oryx, but pretty much all of her crosswords kicked ass. More, please!
BRONZE: Patrick Berry
  • Patrick B1 took the gold in this category last year. He's got two Oryx winners this year, but several more of his puzzles were in contention. He's a perennial innovator, and if you're not doing the Chronicle of Higher Education's weekly crossword, you're missing many of Patrick's twists and turns.


January 30, 2009

Saturday, 1/31

LAT 5:29
NYT 4:50
Newsday (untimed, but longer than either of the other puzzles)

Ken Bessette's New York Times crossword has three answers I adore.

First, there's the KOOL-AID MAN, an [Ad pitcher who's really a pitcher]. I wonder how many people tried desperately to stretch former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer into 10 letters. The Kool-Aid Man was a giant glass pitcher that burst through walls, causing significant structural damage but bringing fruity refreshment. Crosswords like to clue the word HAM with its overacting connotation, and to use ham in clues for EMOTE. Bessette opts to change it up with HAM IT UP, or [Hot-dog]. (Fittingly, this answer crosses ON THE STAGE, or [Between wings].) [Stand-up routine?] sounds like it's looking for comedy, but it's THE WAVE that an arena full of people might stand up to create.

ADAPTATION is clued as an [Evolutionary process], but it's also a MOVIE TITLE ([Marquee name]). [Seek change?] couldn't be PANHANDLE because that's only got 9 letters; it's PASS THE HAT. I would've clued RAINMAKER with its business/law firm connotation rather than as an [Indian tribe V.I.P.]. The S AND P (S&P, or Standard and Poors 500 index) is one [Market yardstick, for short], while the DOW is clued [It has its ups and downs, with "the"]. I recently read that the Dow had 17 days with ±5% changes last year—and it took about 50 years to amass the previous 17 such days. Volatility! (Speaking of ups and downs, STEPS also [have their ups and downs].)

Crosswordy bits of language you ought to know if you're doing battle with Saturday puzzles:

  • [Fungal spore cases] are ASCI; the singular is ascus but I haven't seen that in a crossword.
  • The old British guns called STENS are [Weapons once produced extensively by the Royal Small Arms Factory].
  • APU isn't just the proprietor of Homer Simpson's favorite convenience stores and a father of octuplets. It's also a name from classic Indian cinema: [Satyajit Ray's "The ___ Trilogy"]. I've seen one of the three movies, I think.
  • AHI tuna is [Yellowfin, on Hawaiian menus].
  • [Bygone stickers] are old-fashioned knives of a sort called SNEES.
  • [___ Dinh Diem (first president of South Vietnam)] is NGO. Sometimes the clue may have Ngo ___ Diem just to mix things up.
  • To [Keep in] in proofreading is STET.

Let's see, what else is in this puzzle? I don't recall running into IVA with this clue before: [___ Archer, with whom Sam Spade had an affair]. IVA Majoli the tennis player, yes. EARS are clued [They're near temples], and eyes are just as close. [Dawdling sorts] clues POKES, though I wouldn't call someone a "poke" without appending a "slow" to its front. Have you seen "poke" as a noun meaning a slowpoke? I wouldn't have guessed that TEAKS were [Trees of the verbena family]. The most mystifying clue for me was [Pita source] for AGAVE. That's not pita bread and it's not the abbreviation for "pain in the ass"; it's a Mexican fiber from the agave plant. You know what['s often planted] besides agave? A KISS, that's what. [Last name of father-and-son N.F.L. coaches] is MORA—they were both named Jim. There is also a Melvin Mora who plays for the Baltimore Orioles. SAABS is somewhat awkwardly clued as [Automotive debuts of 1949].

In closing, "Hey, Kool-Aid!" Here's the video of a '70s commercialfor you.


Doug Peterson's LA Times crossword doesn't have a KOOL-AID MAN to woo my cruciverbal heart. Assorted clues and answers:
  • [Monitors, e.g.] are big, lizardy REPTILES, not just display screens.
  • Baseball [Diamond warning] is a BRUSH-BACK PITCH.
  • [Another 35th anniversary gift] is JADE, and its counterpart gift of CORAL is also here.
  • [Mentor to Jim Hawkins] is LONG JOHN SILVER.
  • If you're going down to the [Wire, metaphorically], you're brushing up against a DEADLINE.
  • [Green spans] are LEAS or meadows, no relation to Alan Greenspan.
  • Did you know that [Coins with overlooked flaws that are put into circulation] are called FREAKS? I didn't.
  • The Detroit PISTONS are a [Team named for its city's leading industry]. Other more directly occupational teams: Packers, Steelers, Cowboys, Senators.
  • BABAR the elephant is a [Friend of Zephir the monkey].
  • MUCILAGES are [Glues]. Do they still sell this? With the little clear brown bottle and the red rubber applicator? They do!
My favorite clue in Sandy Fein's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (.pdf solution here) was [Where Easter precedes Lent]. I thought of a dictionary but...the answer is only 8 letters long. Eventually I had the first three squares filled in with WEB, which served only to confuse me. Is there some generic term for a Web-based dictionary? Finally the crossings filtered in and I saw that it was WEBSTER'S dictionary. Aha! I didn't know TAFFETA was an [Early hot-air balloon material]. I have never eaten [Hamburger ___ soup (German dish)]/EEL (ick!). Speaking of German things, OSKAR is ["The Tin Drum" protagonist], and speaking of foodstuffs, BASMATI rice is indeed a [Fragrant food].


January 29, 2009

Friday, 1/30

NYT 6:13
BEQ 4:16
Sun 4:04
LAT 3:47
CHE 2:51
WSJ 6:07

(post updated at 10 a.m. Friday)

When it comes to themeless crosswords, Brendan Emmett Quigley likes to cram in a lot of cool entries. Here are the showiest answers from his New York Times crossword:

  • MATT DRUDGE is clued as a [Journalist with a widely read "Report"]. Is it merely coincidence that his name intersects with HIGH TREASON, which [has made many people lose their heads]?
  • The DIGERATI are a [Computer-savvy crowd]—a blending of digital and literati. Aptly, they cross DATA, clued with [It may be mined].
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm's LARRY DAVID was a [1993 Emmy winner for "Seinfeld"].
  • I learned about the AXOLOTL, a Mexican [Salamander variety], from one or two earlier crosswords. It rhymes, roughly, with "packs a bottle."
  • The separate halves of ADDIS ABABA used to show up in a lot more crosswords as fill-in-the-blank clue/answer combos. The full city name is clued as [City at the foot of Mount Entoto]. Wow, I've never heard of that mountain. Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia, it has over 2 million people, and it's fun to say. More African geography: DAR [___ el Beida (Casablanca, to its natives)].
  • "WE'RE DOOMED!" is a {Cry when you don't think you'll make it].
Favorite clues:
  • [Woolly bear, eventually] metamorphoses into a MOTH.
  • [Brownish orange] clues TERRA COTTA. This one took me a long time to figure out because I had Crayola colors on the brain.
  • [Hits a line drive] clues RIPS ONE.
  • [Briar locale] isn't the briar patch, it's a TOBACCO SHOP. Briar wood is used to make pipes.
Toughest clues:
  • SETH LOW was an [Early 20th-century New York City mayor]. Non–New Yorkers maybe don't remember any besides Bloomberg, Giuliani, Dinkins, Koch, LaGuardia...I'm out.
  • [Not overseas] is PAS, which is French for "not." Now, Quebec isn't overseas from here, and they speak French there. For Spanish, we have AVISOS or [Warnings, to Juan].
  • [Gardener or landscaper] is called an OUTSIDE MAN? Okay.
  • [Person in an apron] is ACTOR, the apron being part of a stage. Admit it: You wanted a BAKER or some other sort of cook, didn't you?
  • BAO [___ Dai (last emperor of Vietnam)] didn't ring a bell.
  • [Tritium output] is a BETA RAY. This is dangerous radiation, right?
  • What [Classic Pontiac] is the VENTURA? Apparently it's from the '60s and '70s, and I don't remember it at all.
  • ["Phoenissae" playwright] is SENECA.
  • [Asparagus's family] is LILY. I always forget this.
Karen Tracey's latest Sun "Weekend Warrior" felt like a "Themeless Thursday" because the clues weren't so hard. Or maybe they were, but knowing Karen's style, it's so easy to read a clue like [Fruity bread spread] and leap at a super-Scrabbly answer like QUINCE JAM. Other answers with uncommon letters include ARABESQUE above DIXIE CUPS, with that Q feeding into QUINCE JAM, whose J is shared by JAMI GERTZ (I just saw the clue [She's behind Biden in the presidential line of succession] and wanted it to apply to JAMI GERTZ), whose Z links to MAXIMIZES, which meets RELAX.

I misread [My brothel's keeper?] as "My brother's keeper" and thought biblical rather than MADAM and prostitution. [Neither fore nor aft] clues AMIDSHIPS; the cruise ship I was on just called it midships. The Lone Ranger is a MASKED MAN but somehow I wanted that answer to be NAKED MAN. TIM MCGRAW has five consonants in a row heaped up inside his name.


Daniel Finan's LA Times crossword replaces successive sounds with double letters that, when read aloud, sound roughly the same as what they replace:
  • [Suits?] are corporate execs or CORPORATE XX.
  • [Add up one's losses?] is assess the damage or SS THE DAMAGE.
  • [What you won't hear from a mutineer?] is "aye aye, Captain" or II CAPTAIN.
  • [Simple?] is as easy as pie or AS ZZ AS PIE. This one's a little different from the other three because ZZ doesn't just replace "easy"—it includes the Z sound from AS.
Toughest clues for me: [Plain type?] for JANE; [Fire and brimstone target] for SODOM; [Popular tourist spot] for MECCA (do hajjis consider themselves tourists or religious pilgrims?); and [Gran Paradiso, e.g.] for an ALP.

Wow, is this the easiest Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle to date? Usually they're at a Thursday or Friday NYT difficulty level, but this one felt like a Tuesday. In John Lampkin's "Misplaced Modifiers," the theme answers are things like French fries, things with a geographical name that's inaccurate (fries are a Belgian creation):
  • CHINESE CHECKERS is a [Board game invented (despite the name) in Germany]. Hey, I never knew that.
  • SWISS CHARD is a [Vegetable first cultivated (despite the name) in Sicily]. Here's a Swiss Chard you can drink.
  • PANAMA HATS are [Headgear made (despite the name) in ECUADOR]. I believe Panama's most prominent export is Panamanian strongmen. (What guides journalists' decision in labeling various leaders as "strongman" vs. "despot" vs. "dictator"? And wouldn't it be great to have one of those ESPN2 broadcasts of a World's Strongest Man competition featuring feats of strength for dictatorial strongmen? I want to see Robert Mugabe try to pull a jumbo jet. And getting Fidel Castro out of green fatigues and into shorts and a tank top to carry a giant rock would have been fun.)
  • [Reuben-sandwich condiment created (despite the name) in America] is RUSSIAN DRESSING.
Mike Shenk, writing as "Alice Long," constructed this weekend's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Winter Business." Easy puzzle! The seven theme entries all have "in winter business" appended to otherwise straightforward clues. Each answer is a common business phrase that begins with a word associated with winter. For example, [Manufacturing supplies, in winter business] are RAW MATERIALS, and damn, is it ever raw outside in Chicago today. Windy and 15°F? That's also cold (COLD, HARD CASH is [Real money, in winter business]) and frozen (FROZEN ASSETS are [Blocked funds, in winter business]. We have snow (SNOWBALLING is clued as [Momentum in the equities market, in winter business]) here, but it's too cold for slush (SLUSH FUND is a [Money reserve, in winter business]). The other two theme entries evoke a much warmer winter—BRISK TRADING is clued as [Market activity, in winter business], and "brisk" describes early November better than a Chicago January. COOL MILLION is a [Tidy sum, in winter business]. Overall, the fill and clues were a good bit easier than a Sunday NYT crossword's.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's self-published crossword, "Lean on Me," has the subtitle "Think thin." That should have pointed me away from thinking AL ATTRACTION was made by removing NIMA from ANIMAL and straight towards seeing that it's FATAL without the FAT. With the NIMA in my mind, I had no idea what was going on with the other theme entries, but it came together after the grid had been filled in. CRUEL TWIST OF E takes the FAT out of FATE, and HER CHRISTMAS diets down the FAT in FATHER. Two of the four 11-letter Down answers in the fill put me briefly to sleep—ORAL VACCINE and DATA STORAGE—but hey, they're stacked 11's crossing two theme entries so we can't expect them to break new ground. Favorite entry: DON CHEADLE, the ["Hotel For Dogs" star]. How many Hotel ___ movies must he make? He's also had two recent verb-preposition-Me movies, Reign Over Me and Talk to Me.


January 28, 2009

Thursday, 1/29

Sun 3:53
LAT 3:48
NYT 3:42

I was just thinking to myself, geeze, I haven't found the time to do the themed CrosSynergy puzzles in at least a week. Maybe I should be doing them so I'm not too rusty by the time the ACPT rolls around. And then I remembered that I test-solved and proofread 51 other crosswords between January 20 and 27 and felt a little more prepared.

Barry Silk's New York Times crossword defines BAR (66-Across) in five ways, with all five definitions being clued simply with [See 66-Across]. Now, if I'd had any sense, I would have traveled directly to the lower right corner and used the crossings to give me BAR right away, but no, that didn't occur to me until now. The five theme answers are the LEGAL PROFESSION, to BANISH BY DECREE, a TAPROOM, a UNIT OF PRESSURE (not to mention cell phone signal strength), and MUSICAL NOTATION. Favorite stuff from elsewhere in the puzzle:

  • The IPHONE is [Time magazine's 2007 Invention of the Year] and IPODS are [Products once pitched by U2 and Eminem]. You go, Apple! IPASS is not an Apple product. It's clued as a [Bridge declaration], but it's also the name of Illinois's toll-collecting transponder doohickey, the I-Pass. I CAME is also not from Apple—it's [Start of Caesar's boast], "I came, I saw, I conquered" (a.k.a. "Veni, vidi, vici"). And then there's IMAX, a [Big film shower].
  • MISTRALS are [Cold northerly winds of southern France]. The prettiest-named of all the notable winds, if you ask me.
  • Slangy CUKE gets the slangy [Salad veggie] clue.
  • [Sixth graders, e.g.] are TWEENS.
  • I didn't know that Mr. SEATON was the [George who directed "Miracle on 34th Street"], so it's a good thing I'm hip to the ol' crosswordese—the E came from LETT, a Latvian or [Riga resident].

David Kahn's Sun crossword, "Chop To It," builds a theme around the ADDAX, an [Antelope with spiraled horns (and a hint to this puzzle's theme)]. Everyone knows the oryx is the cooler antelope, right? Six theme entries incorporate and ADDed AX that changes a phrase's meaning:
  • A Model-T Ford becomes a MODEL TAX, or [Levy on cover girls?]. Feminist grumble: Men are models too, and many cover "girls" are grown women. The clue could've included runway workers instead, with an airline pilot mislead.
  • Co-host turns into COAX HOST, or [Try to influence a game show leader?]. Hey, I just took the Jeopardy! online test tonight. If you missed tonight and last night, you can register for tomorrow's, at 8:00 p.m. Pacific time.
  • A native son morphs into NATIVE SAXON, or [Person born in northwest Germany 1,500 years ago].
  • [Deception requiring a vote recount?] is a TALLY HOAX (tally-ho).
  • "Takes wing" becomes TAKES WAXING, or [Is a student in a housekeeping course?]. If "housekeeping" courses exist, I highly doubt that floor waxing is taught. Now, cosmetology school may well include a waxing course.
  • "On paper," or theoretical, takes an AX to become AXON PAPER, a [Disssertation about neuron appendages?].

Congratulations to regular reader Gareth Bain on his constructing debut—today's LA Times crossword. The theme was a little tough to suss out, but eventually it hit me. The four longest answers end with slang terms used to refer to the police:
  • [Landmark birthday, informally] is THE BIG FIVE-O. (I went with FOUR-O first.) I think the old TV show Hawaii Five-O is the origin of this slang, which I only learned of in the last year or so.
  • [Gives strict orders] clues LAYS DOWN THE LAW. "I fought the law and the law won."
  • I'd never heard of the [Bird who loved Horton in Broadway's "Seussical"] the musical, but GERTRUDE MCFUZZ ends with the fuzz.
  • [Hot-weather rash] is PRICKLY HEAT, and the fuzz are also called...are they "heat" or "the heat"?
The pigs and po-po are sitting this one out, but there is a KOP ([Keystone bumbler]). TRINI LOPEZ gets promoted to full-name treatment; she's the ["Lemon Tree" singer, 1965]. FLOYDS is clued with [Pink and golfer Raymond?], the question mark reflecting the playfulness of treating Pink Floyd like a first and last name. Anyone else find that their first impulse for [Capital near Troy] was ANKARA? I don't know how close ancient Troy is to modern-day Turkey's capital, but New York's ALBANY rules the day here.


January 27, 2009

Wednesday, 1/28

Onion 5:39
BEQ 4:54
Tausig 4:38
Sun 3:25
LAT 3:15
NYT 2:51

The theme in Michael Langwald's New York Times puzzle feels a decade out of date. Four theme entries begin with the words MAID INN TIE JUAN, which sounds like "made in Taiwan," which this crossword tells us is a phrase borne by a CHILD'S TOYS. Nope, those almost all say "made in China" these days. You have to look long and hard to find a toy that's not from China. The answers whose beginnings sound of "made in Taiwan" are:

  • MAID MARIAN, or [Robin Hood's love].
  • INNKEEPER, or [One at the front desk, perhaps].
  • TIE GAME, or [Nail-biter, perhaps].
  • JUAN PERON, or [Leader deposed in 1955].
This crossword boasts 10 long answers (7 to 9 letters) in the fill.

Gary Steinmehl's 15x16 Sun crossword, "On With Its Head," puts a head on top of four vertical theme entries
  • HANGER MANAGEMENT is a [System for keeping closets organized?]
  • EMOTION PICTURE is ["The Scream," e.g.?].
  • ASCENT OF A WOMAN is clued as [Amelia Earhart flight starter, for example?]. A-hoo-ah!
  • DREADING RAILROAD is [Apprehensive about a train trip?]
See the H-E-A-D that modifies the four original phrases? I've circled those letters in my grid. [Three-time Gold Glove winner Minnie] MINOSO walked past my cousin's dining room window, walking his dog, while we were having Thanksgiving dinner in November. His car has MINOSO vanity plates, and he looks good for 83.


Sometimes ACRE gets clued as [Part of a plot], and presumably some solvers first interpret the clue as being about a scheming plot rather than a plot of land. Robert Morris's LA Times crossword plays with that by making ACRE the [Secret plot found in 17-, 26-, 44- and 55-Across]. Those four answers include words ending with A before words beginning with CRE, embedding an ACRE in each:
  • BANANA CREAM PIES are [Rich desserts].
  • SEA CREATURE is clued as a [Squid, e.g.].
  • EXTRA CREDIT is a [Grade booster].
  • VIRGINIA CREEPER is a [Boston ivy relative].
This theme might seem a little "so what?" or lackluster if not for the "secret plot" twist that imparts a little oomph.

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword has SPEED DATE clued as [Encounter shared by the four celebrity couples in this puzzle]. Each of these "speed dates" uses a celeb's name as part of a pun on a specific sort of race:
  • HALF MAYERATHON is [Jennifer Aniston's weekend in bed with her pop-star boyfriend John, cut short?]. This plays on a half-marathon.
  • AMERICA'S SCHTUP is [Ryan Piers Williams's romp on a waterbed with "Ugly Betty" star Ferrera?]. Never heard of the guy. The waterbed is in the clue because the America's Cup is a yachting race. Anyone else get misled by the —CHT in the clue and try to fit a YACHT in there?
  • ZACH RACE plays on a sack race and is clued as [Drew Barrymore's quickie with "Scrubs" star Braff?]. I didn't know those two were an item.
  • I DID A-ROD invokes the Iditarod dogsled race. It's clued as [Madonna's announcement after her workout with the 3-time American League MVP?].
Highlights: (1) SPEED DATE intersects two of the theme entries. (2) Word count's low enough to be a themeless, so there are lots of long answers here. (3) My favorite letter, Z, makes three appearances. (4) Zingy clues and fill. Why, look: here's DILDOES, clued as [Junk kept in drawers by the bed?]. Slangy HATED ON, clued as [Disparaged, slangily], is of a piece with NO YOU completing ["Oh ___ di'n't!"]. "SIC 'EM, BOY!" means ["Attack, Rex!"]. [Black-and-tan, say] doesn't mean the Guinness-and-Harp drink this time—it's DUOTONE for the two colors mentioned.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "The Last Shall Be First," has a terrific theme with a whopping eight theme answers. In each of them, the first and last letters swap places:
  • [Anti-war activist's shiver?] is a DOVE CHILL. This one inverts LOVE CHILD.
  • [Trend toward looking like Jenna Jameson?] is PORN CHIC. I love corn chips, but not in the singular. They are too tasty to have just one.
  • [Wall built to hold back caustic chemicals?] is a LYE LEVEE (eye level).
  • [Battle of exasperated sounds?] clues SIGH CLASH (high class).
  • [Opportunities to announce that one pities the fool?] are MR. T FORA (art form).
  • Right beside that is [What bleacher bums might get?], or GAME TAN (nametag).
  • [Murkiness on the medical film?] is X-RAY FOG (gray fox). I like how this one and MR. T FORA split the X and the T off from the rest of a word.
  • Next to that is [Most effective infield cover?], or TOP TARP (Pop-tart!).
What elevates this theme—besides the fact that there are eight of 'em and two pairs have answers stacked alongside one another—is the freshness and flavor of the original and modified phrases and their clues. A love child, Fritos, Mr. T, bleacher bums, and Pop-tarts? You won't find more than one of those in most crosswords (Mr. T, I'm looking at you).

Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle today is called "Connecting Flights," and he combines pairs of airlines into made-up phrases. My favorite of the three theme entries is AMERICAN VIRGIN, clued as [Yankee who's never been to third base]. An [Estuary in Phoenix] or SOUTHWEST DELTA is mighty implausible, and the CONTINENTAL US is indeed [Everything but Alaska and Hawaii]. Favorite fill: JOAN MIRO, ["The Tilled Field" painter]; MR. BILL, [Old "S.N.L." character currently in MasterCard's "Priceless" ads}; THE MAMBO, a [Dance invented by Cachao], whoever that may be; and exactly THAT GOOD, or [As great as everyone says].


Tournament dreams

I awoke this morning relieved to escape from the dream I was having.

I was at the crossword tournament and couldn't find a seat at any of the tables, so I and my flimsy yellow folder settled into a folding chair with no table, so I'd have to do crosswords on my lap. I had to jot down an eight-digit contestant number, and my number was impossible to discern. (What's that last number?)

Then I flipped over the puzzle and discovered that the font was horrible, not very readable. And the photocopy quality was awful. A lot of clues, I simply couldn't read. And those I could make out...well, I had no idea what any of the answers were. None of them. [Steinberg], 5 letters? The only Steinberg I could think of was Chicago columnist Neil, with 4 letters.

Feel free to share your own fevered ACPT dreams in the comments.



crossword 4:37
puzzle maybe 3 minutes?

the 34th installment of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest is called "Three Thirteen-Letter Phrases," and it was much easier than last week's cranium-crusher. the theme answers are:

  • the [Vehicle crossword constructor Ben hires to get around labyrinths?] is the TAUSIG MAZE TAXI. a theme shout-out to ben tausig!
  • ["Poker tokens? Are you kidding? My wager was for religious artwork!"] clues the phrase "CHIPS? I BET A PIETA!" this one made me chuckle. i can just imagine the pope and some cardinals sitting around a poker table and tossing in a michelangelo when the stakes get raised.
  • the most contrived-sounding theme answer has to be ["Former Burmese leader -- I'm talking about a Swiss pork product bought for a professor's helper!"], which clues "THE T.A. ALP HAM, U NU!" i've often had to make this clarification in my conversations with U NU. maybe his english isn't very good.

what do these crazy phrases have in common? they're not 13-letter phrases, as the title suggests. but they are phrases which consist entirely of greek letters, 13 of them in total:

  • "THE T.A. ALP HAM, U NU!" = THETA ALPHA MU NU. the NU in this one is the only letter which stands as its own word in the theme phrase.

this is the second MGWCC whose theme required us to GO GREEK. the instructions tell us: One of the grid entries in this week's puzzle anagrams into one of the eleven you didn't need. This grid entry is this week's contest answer word. so we're looking for a grid answer which anagrams into one of the other 11 greek letters: gamma, delta, rho, etc. the quickest way to do this is to notice that most of the across answers in the grid are 7 letters long. there are only so many 7-letter greek letters. there's no EPSILON, and UPSILON has been done, but what have we here? here's OMICRON, disguised as MORONIC, or [Stupid], which must be the answer.

other stuff:

  • there are five partial phrases in the grid, every one of them clued as part of a song title: eminem's "GET U mad," coldplay's "ONE I love," "ON A carousel" by the hollies, b.b. king's "why I SING the blues," and aaron tippin's "i wonder how FAR IT is over you." that last one is totally unfamiliar to me; apparently it's a 1991 country song. keeping them company is ELEANOR [Rigby of song], specifically the beatles song from revolver.
  • speaking of women's first names, ELEANOR is joined in the grid by MIMI rogers, GABI (gabriella) sabatini, and REBA hart (the sitcom character played by REBA mcentire on the show "REBA").
  • three clues referenced african geography: the [Capital on the Atlantic] is ACCRA, ghana. adjacent to it is [Much of Mali], which is part of the SAHEL. and over in the lower right is the HORN, clued simply as [Part of Africa]. also joining in the african mini-theme is the TUTSI people of rwanda.
  • puerile gaffnish goodness in this puzzle seems to be limited to BOOGERS. i suppose that'll do.
  • word i did not know: MALEN, which is german for "to paint." are we supposed to know that much german? i'm familiar with mathis der maler, the opera by paul hindemith about the painter matthias grünewald, so i suppose in one corner of my mind, i knew that "maler" is german for "painter." still, this seems like a too-obscure foreign word for an american crossword. what do you all think?


January 26, 2009

Tuesday, 1/27

Jonesin' 4:50
Sun 3:40
LAT 3:03
NYT 2:45

(post updated at 9:15 Tuesday morning)

I think the Tuesday New York Times crossword by Jim Hyres was a little easier than yesterday's puzzle. (I had a typo, so my time should've been 10 or 15 seconds faster.) The theme entries all end with homophones:

  • MILLE BORNES is a [Game with "Out of Gas" cards].
  • JASON BOURNE is a [Robert Ludlum protagonist] and a ROLE (55-Down) for Matt Damon.
  • The FIRST-BORN is [Heir to a throne, typically]. Poor Prince Charles. He's been next in line his whole life, but now he's nearing standard retirement age and he still hasn't gotten that promotion to King. If he ever makes it, he won't get to be king for all that long.
  • WIND-BORNE is clued as [Like the dust in a dust storm]. Raise your hand if you ignored the phonic aspect of the theme and went with WIND-BLOWN first.
Assorted other clues and answers in this puzzle: [Cop's cruiser] is a PROWL CAR. Squad car and patrol car are more familiar terms to me. [High-voltage weapon] clues AIR TASER, but I have never heard the term with "air" included. I, ROBOT is a [Classic Isaac Asimov short-story collection]. BENIN is the [Nation once known as Dahomey]. If you like African geography, try this map quiz. [Exert one's superiority] is PULL RANK. [Vigorous feelings] is a strange clue for ENERGIES. I'll bet PONZI [___ scheme (investment scam)] is far more familiar to crossword solvers in the wake of the Madoff debacle.

Peter Gordon/Ogden Porter's 15x16 Sun crossword, "Hitchcock Double Features," includes four mash-ups of Hitchcock movie titles that can be clued plausibly as made-up phrases. 10-Down was my favorite of the four. The clue [Subvert hawks and doves?] made me think of metaphorically pro- and anti-war groups, but the answer is more avian-minded: SABOTAGE THE BIRDS. Holy crow, The Birds freaked me out when I saw it late at night by myself when I was about 18. Birds have beaks or [Bills, e.g.], but that clue is for an NFL TEAM. [Thing that gets socked?] is a FOOT; the official socks of this blog are Smartwool.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Just Add Vodka," creates its theme entries by adding vodka to something in the base phrases and thereby mixing a cocktail. This is one of those puzzles with a slightly delayed "aha" moment, where I had the whole thing done but didn't understand the theme yet. I don't understand all of the theme entries, so I need to Google up some info. What's a Greyhound? It's grapefruit juice and vodka. So:
  • [Racing dog attempts to sleep really close?] is GREYHOUND SPOONS, with vodka added to the phrase "grapefruit spoons." I do not own such a utensil (though there was one in the house when I was a kid), and I loathe grapefruit.
  • CAPE CODDER BOGS gets a [Maine resident's swamps?] clue. Cranberry bogs, and cranberry juice + vodka = Cape Codder. But...Matt, isn't Cape Cod in Massachusetts rather than Maine? 
  • [Servant's complaint about serving a British queen one course of a meal?] is BLOODY MARY SOUP, a Bloody Mary being tomato juice + vodka. And yes, I've noticed that all these theme entries chuck the word "juice" completely. This theme entry threw me a bit because there was a queen called Bloody Mary, so the servant might whinge about "bloody Bloody Mary."
  • The Orange Bowl in college football adds vodka to become the SCREWDRIVER BOWL, a [Lazy place to store your tools in the kitchen?].
In the non-thematic fill, there are some cool answers. DARA TORRES was a [Swimmer in the 1984 and 2008 Olympic Games]; she won a silver medal last summer at about age 40. TUNA HELPER is a [Dinner mix with a glove on the box]. Cute little cartoony glove with a face on its palm, too. [It's promoted as infallible truth] clues THE GOSPEL, and I like the clue's vague suggestion that there's a marketing or P.R. team working on that account. GOOD LOOKS are [What vain people think may get them far in life].


The theme answers in today's LA Times crossword begin with FEE, FI, FO, and FUM, all tied together by the GIANT (67-Across) who is the [Fairy tale bellower of the starts of 20-, 31-, 42-, and 53-Across]:
  • FEELING ALIVE is [Getting a buzz from being].
  • FINAL STRAW is a [Metaphorical backbreaker]. I wish this were FINAL EXAMS or FIRE ENGINE or FINE DINING, because "last straw" is better than "final straw." Yes, people use "final straw," but "last straw" has more dictionary grounding.
  • FOCAL POINT is the [Center of attention].
  • FUMBLE AROUND means to [Grope, as for a light switch].
I thought I'd seen this theme concept before, so I Googled it—there were two FEE FI FO FUM rebus puzzles in 2006, from Levi Denham and Nancy Salomon (NYT) and Edgar Fontaine (Sun).

Miscellaneous clues and answers:
  • ENATE means [Related maternally]. Your paternal relatives are the agnate ones.
  • ILONA [Massey of old movies] has one of those names kept alive primarily in crosswords.
  • The Kennedy clan clues BRO and SIS: [Ted, to Eunice] and [Eunice, to Ted]. Do kids these days know Eunice's name?
  • [Conductor Klemperer] is one of a handful of OTTO clues you'll see periodically. I prefer the drawn OTTOs, like the comic strip dog and the stoned school-bus driver on The Simpsons.
  • When the clue is [Evaporating sea] or [Shrinking sea], the answer is the ARAL Sea. Not to be confused with URAL, the name of a Russian river and the mountain range that divides Europe from Asia.
  • [Three-time Wimbledon singles champ Maria] BUENO is not a familiar name. She played doubles with Althea Gibson in 1958.
  • ADLAI E. Stevenson was a [Two-time loser to Ike], as in Dwight Eisenhower.
  • [Bert Bobbsey's twin] is NAN. The Bobbsey Twins book series ran from 1904 to 1979. I don't think I ever read one.


Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament: April 5

Mark your calendars now for the Boston Crossword Puzzle Tournament on Sunday, April 5 from 1 to 4 p.m. (registration starts at 12 noon). The event, which is open to the community, will be held at Harvard University and is being generously hosted by the Harvard College Crossword Society (HCCS), in cooperation with Cruciverbalists of Boston (Boston Cru).

We are delighted to announce that Will Shortz, crossword editor for the New York Times, will be the guest speaker at the event. Mr. Shortz is also furnishing unpublished upcoming puzzles from the New York Times for use in the competition.

Admission will be free for Harvard undergraduates, with a small registration fee for other participants. Non-monetary prizes and considerable bragging rights will be awarded to top finishers.

STAY TUNED: More information, including a tournament website and email announcement list, coming soon!


Kyle Mahowald and Nathanial Rakich (HCCS student leaders)
Joon Pahk (HCCS faculty advisor and Boston Cru)
Eric Helmuth, Boston Cru

Boston Cru Google Group: http://groups.google.com/group/bostoncru

(Announcement lifted from Joe Cabrera of the Boston Cru.)


January 25, 2009

Monday, 1/26

BEQ 3:58
Sun 3:41
NYT 2:43
LAT 3:38 (Flash version)

The New York Times crossword applet seems to be out of commission this evening, but luckily the Across Lite version of Timothy Powell and Nancy Salomon's puzzle downloaded just fine. The theme is embodied in the clue for all three long answers: ["Bad idea!"]. How else can you say that? LET'S NOT GO THERE, for one. YOU MUST BE JOKING. Or perhaps I DIDN'T HEAR THAT. What I like best in this puzzle are the longer Down answers, all four of them so lively:

  • GREEN THUMB is a [Gardener's gift].
  • NOAH'S ARK is clued as a [Two-by-two vessel].
  • BLIND DATES are [Social arrangements that don't always work out].
  • The MAIN DRAG is a town's [Central street].
KIBITZ is also a great word, meaning to [Offer advice from around a card table]. There's one shorter answer that I have seen on the internet plenty, but it grates every single time: HE HE, a [Gleeful giggle]. No. The giggle would be HEE HEE. HE HE is a pair of pronouns, a pair of chemical symbols for helium, or a pair of matching Chinese names.

Tougher clues include ["My sweetie" in a 1957 hit for the Bobbettes], or MR. LEE; [Instrument with 30+ strings] for ZITHER; and ["___ River" (song from "Show Boat")] for the two-word OL' MAN, which looks like a mystifying OLMAN in the grid.


Tony Orbach's 15x16 Sun puzzle, "Roman Wrestling," leaves out my great uncle Roman (he used to give me a silver dollar every time we visited—a surefire way of being remembered by a child is to make a habit of giving her unusual money) but includes five more famous people who have a first or last name that's an anagram of "Roman." Two have last names in this category—ERIN MORAN, who was very genuine on that Scott Baio is 45...and Single show, and SUZE ORMAN, who is skewered on SNL. The other three are former Cub and Mia Hamm helpmate NOMAR GARCIAPARRA and two actors of yore, NORMA SHEARER and RAMON NOVARRO. Man, I misremembered that last name in so many ways. Alvarez first, then Navarre, then Novarre, and finally Novarro with crossings. I liked the profusion of names in the puzzle—there are about a dozen in the non-themed fill, and plenty of other words (BRAD, BOND, HAZEL, IRA) that could have been clued as people.

Edgar Fontaine's LA Times crossword wasn't posted in Across Lite at Cruciverb.com yet, so I bit the bullet and solved it in the interactive Flash version on the newspaper's website. I blithely type things in without looking at the grid, instinctively behaving as if the Flash cursor moves like the Across Lite one, and it doesn't. So I think that slowed me down some. Anyway, the theme is a tribute to the late, great PAUL NEWMAN. The theme includes two of his most notable films and the role he played in both of them:
  • [30-Down's role in 56-Across and 4-Down] is FAST EDDIE FELSON.
  • [1961 30-Down film] is THE HUSTLER.
  • [1986 30-Down film] is THE COLOR OF MONEY.
A handful of answers seem a tad beyond Monday-grade. ABEAM is an old nautical word meaning [Perpendicular to the keel]; it crosses its fellow nauticalisms ALEE, or [Sheltered, at sea], and BILGES, or [Ships' seepage collection areas]. LISLE is a [Stocking thread]. [Ab ___: From the beginning] is the Latin phrase ab INITIO. [Caustic potash] clues LYE. The French POEME is clued as [Verse, in Vichy]. [Devereux's earldom] is ESSEX.

Updated again:

Whoops, I forgot Monday was one of the Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword days. In Brendan's accompanying blog post for this one, he says constructors want every solver to grasp the theme, even if it takes a good long while for the "aha" moment to hit. His test-solvers had delayed "ahas" with this one, and I am still in the midst of my delay. The theme is the WATCHMEN comic/upcoming movie. ALAN Moore wrote WATCHMEN, which is a PHENOMENON [in the graphic novel world]. The WATCHMEN clue says the WATCHMEN members are hidden throughout the grid. Great, research required to see a theme—I know nothing about the characters. Wikipedia to the rescue! The characters are clued without reference to Watchmen and include OZYMANDIAS, NITE / OWL, Doctor MANHATTAN, The COMEDIAN, RORSCHACH, and SILK / SPECTRE—two of them spanning two sequential entries apiece. That's a cool way to hide them—and the two-worders diverge from thematic symmetry, so the hiding places are more...hidey. Do these characters do a lot of hiding in plain sight? I have no idea. The puzzle kinda left me cold since I have zero familiarity with the characters.


January 24, 2009

Sunday, 1/25

LAT 9:25
PI 8:21
NYT 8:12
CS 4:23

Michael Torch's New York Times crossword, "Fiddle Dee Dee," fiddles around with some phrases by replacing a double-T with a DD in eight theme entries:

  • [Dairy frivolity?] is UDDER NONSENSE.
  • [Creamy dessert atop a cracker, informally?] is PUDDIN' ON THE RITZ.
  • [Advice for golfers?] are CADDY REMARKS about which club to use.
  • [Measure of a reaction to horror?] is SHUDDER SPEED. I rather like this one.
  • [Guardians of a house painters' celebration?] are LADDER DAY SAINTS.
  • [Linens purchased through a Web site?] are ONLINE BEDDING.
  • [Why the eBay user was laid up] is a BIDDER COLD. This one is slightly less on-target than the others—"bitter cold" isn't something countable, like one biddder's head cold. But significantly, every theme entry simply replaces TT with DD, with no broader spelling changes entailed (e.g., if one of the pairs were BEDDER/BETTOR, there'd be a spelling change).
  • [Trendy lab hazards?] are FADDY ACIDS.
This puzzle's got some goodies in the fill, too:
  • PODCAST is a [Certain audio download].
  • BAD LOANS didn't used to feel quite so "in the language" as a discrete unit of meaning, but now? Oh, yeah. These [Default subjects] make the crossword grade.
  • OLD IRISH is the [Source of the word "clan"].
  • [Disposable bathroom item] is WAD OF T.P. No, actually, it's a DIXIE CUP.
  • [Sponges] clues TOSSPOTS, which is the sort of word we more often see as a clue for SOTS. I'm a little sad that [Sots] isn't our clue here.
A miscellany of other clues:
  • [Clarified, in England] is SPELT OUT, as in "that's zed as in 'zebra'." (And ZEDS are [Snore symbols in England].)
  • [Losing admiral in the Battle of the Falkland Islands, 1914] is Maximilian von SPEE. The ship called the Admiral Graf Spee is named after him. Who knew? Not I.
  • [Landlord's schedule] is RENT ROLL—not a familiar phrase for me.
  • I don't care for [Sushi supplier] cluing EELER. The eeler may provide eels to the sushi bar, but I rather doubt the eeler is doing the slicing and rolling that are involved in making sushi. This answer crosses CREELS, or [Anglers' baskets], for a fishing intersection.
  • [Home to Ohio Northern University] is ADA, and this is not one of the usual ADA clues. Other 3-letter bits from down below: [Clockmaker Terry] is ELI, and [Tape player spec: Abbr.] is IPS. Inches per second, I presume?
  • To [Support, as an embankment] is to REVET.
  • [Plain's opposite] is ORNATE. I like this.
  • Isn't the clue for HANNITY too broad? [Fox News opinionator]? I rarely watch the cable news channels owing to an aversion to opinionators.
  • [Home of Wheeler Army Airfield]...hmm, sounds plain. Probably sitting in the heartland somewhere, right? Nah, it's out in OAHU.
  • [Gardener's bagful] is neither SEEDS nor EARTH, but MULCH.
  • [Halfback option and Hail Mary] are football PLAYS.
  • [Some underwear] clues BOXERS. My little kid loves boxer shorts.
  • [Italian 100] is CENTO.

In Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge", he tests a new grid for triple-stacked entries—the top and bottom rows contain four 3's to bracket the trios of 15-letter answers. Now, the folks who just do the puzzle in their newspaper and get the CrosSynergy's team's product might remember ON HANDS AND KNEES from last Sunday's Paula Gamache puzzle. This time that [Crawling] takes on a more dissolute air, with DRINKS LIKE A FISH ([Has big belts?]) and RUSSIAN ROULETTE ([High-risk game]) enclosing it.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Grinning Periodically," pays tribute to Mad magazine with its [Coverguy since 1955], ALFRED E. NEUMAN, his catchphrase "WHAT, ME WORRY?," and a whopping 12 other theme entries with a hidden MAD (see the circles I've added to my answer grid) in each. In Across answers in the NW and SE corners as well as vertically at the right and left sides of the grid, Merl has stacked theme answers together. C'mon, nobody includes four pairs of stacked theme entries! Well, Merl does.

I had no idea that [The Society of Professional Journalists, formerly] was called SIGMA DELTA CHI. I did know, though, that an ARMADILLO is an [Animal that usually has quadruplets]. I thought the [Popular drugstore brand] IMODIUM A-D was pushing the "Sunday morning breakfast test," but it's got that MAD at the end providing cover.

John Lampkin's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword is called "Off With Their Heads!" because each theme entry is a title with its head letter lopped off:
  • Kurt [Vonnegut book about a fun-loving frat clique?] is LAUGHTER HOUSE FIVE (the novel Slaughterhouse-Five).
  • John [Donne's geographical mistake?] is OMAN IS AN ISLAND (the poem "No Man Is an Island"). Geography humor!
  • [Rembrandt's "Leprechaun"?] is an ELF PORTRAIT (the painted Self-Portrait).
  • Erica [Jong's Dumbo biography?] is EAR OF FLYING (the novel Fear of Flying).
  • Margaret [Mitchell's hang-gliding memoir?] is ONE WITH THE WIND (the novel Gone With the Wind).
  • Frédéric [Chopin's homage to Darwin?] is EVOLUTIONARY ETUDE (the piano work The Revolutionary Étude).
  • [Disco film starring Zorro?] is LASHDANCE ('80s movie Flashdance).
  • Martin [Scorsese film about an over-the-hill financial optimist?] is AGING BULL (the film Raging Bull). This one was my favorite, probably because the first answer that came to mind was (G)OLDEN BEAR. Bears, bulls, whatever.


January 23, 2009

Saturday, 1/24

Newsday 8:23
LAT 4:33
NYT 4:09

As much as I enjoy a Saturday New York Times crossword that delivers a solid thrashing, I suppose there's something to be said for an uncommonly easy Saturday puzzle. Mark Diehl's crossword just might let some folks finish a Saturday Times for their very first time, which will whet their appetites for more such conquests. Sure, they might get their asses handed to them next weekend, but maybe they'll be more likely to keep trying—and that is objectively a good thing.

This puzzle seems to be trying to convey a narrative: "OPEN YOUR EYES (["Look, bonehead!"]), JAVA MAN ([Early hominid])! JIFFY POP ([Brand for preparation in a stovetop]) is RACIST ([Like some misguided remarks])."

More specific people in the puzzle:

  • The Marquis DE SADE is ["The Crimes of Love" author].
  • [Longtime North Dakota senator Gerald and others] are NYES. Who? Gerald with a hard G, served from 1925-45.
  • [Pitcher Saberhagen] is named BRET.
  • [Peruvian Sumac] is late singer YMA, not a plant.
  • ADELA is [Writer ___ Rogers St. Johns].
  • Gene TIERNEY was the ["Laura" star, 1944]. Gene was really her given name. Speaking of '40s film actresses, ANN BLYTH was the [Nominee for Best Supporting Actress in "Mildred Pierce," 1945].
  • PELE is a [Sports star with an accent in his name].
  • Frank SINATRA was the [Sands part-owner, once].
  • ESTELLA [was a pip to Pip in "Great Expectations"]. Aw, if only the clue had mentioned the 1946 movie.
  • [English singer Corinne Bailey ___] RAE has been dislodging Charlotte and Norma RAE in more and more crosswords lately.
There are a lot of common letters in these names—why, look how many of them can be broken into two shorter crossword answers. DES/ADE, TIER/NEY, SIN/ATRA, EST/ELLA.

The RICE ([Jambalaya need]) University sports teams are the OWLS ([Fifth-year exams at Hogwarts])—I wonder if the constructor originally had these clued together.


Brad Wilber's LA Times crossword introduced me to a marine creature, the SEA HARE (a [Marine slug named for its earlike appendages])—watch it locomote in this video. Here's a good example of how clues transform ordinary, familiar answers into Saturday-grade creatures: ERIE is [1960 railroad merger company] rather than, say, [Pennsylvania port] or [Toledo's lake].

Favorite answers:
  • NASCENT means [Budding], and I happen to like the word a lot.
  • CRYING JAG is clued as a [Meltdown of a sort].
  • A [Phishing lure] is one type of E-MAIL HOAX.
  • [Quality of being possessed?] is APLOMB, as in being self-possessed, not demonically possessed.
  • STONE-COLD means [Completely]. Were you stone-cold flummoxed by this puzzle?
  • That's UNHEARD OF—it's [Not even rare], it's less common than that.
  • CHOP-CHOP means ["On the double!"].
  • Lake [Mead] is a MAN-MADE LAKE.
  • [Made a pass, perhaps] clues GOT FRESH.
Assorted answers from the arts:
  • [Classic song featured in "Lilo & Stitch"] is ALOHA OE. 
  • [Provencal poem] is ALBA. Say what? The Duchess of Alba, Jessica Alba, and linea alba, I know.
  • ["St. Dominic's Glory" painter Guido ___] is RENI.
  • THE GARDEN OF EDEN is, among other things, the title of a [Hemingway novel published in 1986].
  • [1964 Tony winner O'Shea] is TESSIE.
  • LA SCALA was the [Venue for seven Verdi premieres].
  • ["Schelomo" composer] is BLOCH.
Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (PDF solution here) taunts me with SLEEP IN ([Stay out late?]), as my son prevents me from sleeping in on 98% of weekend mornings. I slowed myself down with some wrong turns—like MOONSTONE instead of METEORITE for [Exotic rock]—and blanked for the longest time on the ["Still Standing" actress]. I could picture her in Twister and Square Pegs but my brain played word-pattern tricks on me and I couldn't get GOMEZ out of my head instead of Jami GERTZ (same G, same Z...). GOMEZ turns out to be [DiMaggio's first Yankee roommate], six answers to GERTZ's left. Favorite answers:
  • That AVALANCHE ([Onrush]) really PILED IT ON ([Kept adding]). Have you heard that this winter has been a terrible avalanche season in North America?
  • ODD MAN OUT is a [Square peg]. See Jami GERTZ's '80s teen show. I'm beginning to suspect that Doug had a crush on Jami back in the day.
  • SPLURGED is clued as [Shot the works]. Speaking of shooting, there's "I'M ALL EARS," or ["Shoot"], and a CAP PISTOL, or [Noisy plaything].
Crosswordese opera star EZIO PINZA was the ["Some Enchanted Evening" introducer]. [Name meaning "rose"] is RHODA. Apparently complaining about these etymology-of-names clues just makes Stan Newman put more of them in. Uncle! (Though this one was a gimme, Stan...)

Ooh, there's a misspelling in a clue. ALIKE is clued [Analagous], but that should be [Analogous].