February 28, 2009

Sunday, 3/1

NYT 10:30
LAT 9:37
PI 9:34
CS 5:12
BG tba...?

robert w. harris's new york times sunday crossword is called "good and bad." the title informs us: For the answer to each starred clue, including the first letter is good; dropping it is bad. what does this mean? let's see:

  • [*Good and bad for a motorist] is (W)RECKLESS DRIVING. yes, it's good to be wreckless (if that's a word). reckless is bad.
  • [*Good and bad for a marketer] is (C)LOSING A SALE.
  • [*Good and bad for a West Point cadet] is (S)HAVING A BEARD. this one seemed the weakest to me—i can see why having a beard would be bad, but is shaving one really "good"? isn't it pretty unlikely that you had one to begin with?
  • [*Good and bad for a jungle guide] is a (T)RUSTY MACHETE. is either one of these an "in the language" phrase? maybe i'm being nitpicky, but i don't really understand what the MACHETE part of this answer is really doing for it.
  • [*Good and bad for a vampire] is (B)LACK OF NIGHT. i liked this one. it's definitely an oddball answer, but it amuses me to think about vampires struggling with lack of night.
  • [*Good and bad for a spy] is (C)OVERT OPERATIONS.

overall, this was a so-so theme. a clever idea, to be sure, and i like that it's consistent in terms of keeping the full answer as "good" and the shorter answer as "bad." what i didn't like about it was the fact that one and sometimes both of the answers weren't really standalone crossword answers: WRECKLESS DRIVING and OVERT OPERATIONS, for example, are obviously made-up phrases. of course, i guess that's the idea; it's really a wordplay theme in disguise. maybe a tiny change like adding ? to the theme clues would have appeased me. or maybe i'm just being finicky. okay, i've talked myself into liking the theme. that was easy!

the puzzle took me a little bit longer to piece together than a typical sunday. clues that tripped me up:

  • [Places] are LOCI. i started with the verb LAYS, which obfuscated the (S)HAVING A BEARD theme answer.
  • adjacent to that, [Minnesota county or its seat] is WINONA. i was going to say this seemed deliberately obscure (why not WINONA ryder?), but google's top hits are mostly minnesota-related; ryder doesn't make it until #7.
  • [Kind of drug that inhibits bacteria] is SULFA. did everybody else know this? i sure didn't.
  • [Criminal's worry] is WIRETAP. actually, rod blagojevich wasn't worried about this enough, it seems. i like this answer, but the clue is pretty vague.
  • the northeast part of the puzzle took the longest. i couldn't figure out the end of SPILLING for [Cause of a stain, perhaps]. i had SPILL___ and was wondering why there were three more letters at all; then i tried SPILLAGE, which looked pretty ugly. the clue for NOUN, [You name it], wasn't much help. KLATSCH is a word i didn't know until last friday (and this is the first time i've seen this spelling). NECKLET doesn't look like a word at all, and if it is a word, it should mean a very small neck, not a piece of clothing like a [Stole, e.g.]. painter KEITH haring is unknown to me, as are CELESTE frozen pizzas. on the bright side, ARCANA is a great word, and i love seeing SAMUEL in the grid (even clued as the already-overexposed-in-crosswords [Justice Alito]) because it's my son's name.

most of the long fill in this puzzle seemed a little boring: LIBERATE, MANEUVER, SCHEMED, REBUKED, ADULATES, SPILLING, TACITLY. there were some quasi-awkward inflected forms, too, like SAXISTS (?!), STATIST, PANNER, BUTCHY (?!), EGGER, and NEARISH. but here's some stuff i liked:

  • AARE sitting on SAAB tickles me, for no readily apparent reason.
  • [Home of "Christina's World," for short] is the MOMA. i love that painting! it's on the cover of my copy of winesburg, ohio, which i also love.
  • that area also had SATYR clued as [Chorus member in an ancient Greek play], crossing THE RAGE, or [What's hot]. good answer, good clue.
  • DOFF is just an excellent word, isn't it?

okay, good night from here. i'll check in tomorrow morning(-ish) with the rest of the sunday slate.

merl reagle's philadelphia inquirer sunday crossword, "running gags," offers ten running-based puns on celebrity names, including (as is merl's wont) stacked long theme entries in the NW and SE. literally every single one of these took more than half the crossings for me to work out, but luckily the crossings weren't that tough. the only place where i tripped up was trying DOM DELUWHEEZE instead of DOM DE LA WHEEZE, since the actor's name is delUise, and i had no clue on the crossing down clue [Indian city, or Lord Jim's ship] PATNA. kind of a bummer, since i know some geography and love conrad, but i haven't read lord jim. it's on my list.

i don't love pun themes, and i don't love puzzles littered with names of people i only half-recognize (if that), so this one ... well, i didn't love it. but i did like it. it was nifty to include the M*A*S*H actress pun LORETTA SWEAT (swit), and also have ALAN ALDA's full name in the fill. other stuff from the fill that i dug: SPIKE LEE, RINGSIDE, ACTIVISM, NODS OFF, and the improbable-looking ukrainian river DNEPR. i'm pretty sure i'm used to seeing it with at least one and usually two more vowels than that, although even "dneiper" looks a little vowel-challenged. i also liked the scrabbly SW corner, with four Ks, a J and a Z.

updated 1:00 pm:

rich norris's themeless crossynergy sunday challenge is anchored by two 15s crossing in the center of the grid, SPOKE OFF THE CUFF and SCHOOL OF THOUGHT. i like SCHOOL OF THOUGHT, but the SPOKE part of SPOKE OFF THE CUFF seemed a little arbitrary to me. still, it's a fun answer with four Fs, and overall this was a good sunday challenge, with quite smooth fill overall.

the cluing was only a little tougher than a typical CS themeless; usually rich's name in the byline means we can expect some devilry. there were a few curveballs thrown in, of course. here were the sunny spots:

  • [Places to see high chairs] are SKI LIFTS, in the sense that they have chairs which are high off the ground. but very few babies are eating in those chairs.
  • [Lines at the theater] comprise the SCRIPT, not a plural noun. i think this was my favorite clue.
  • [Seek out fiddlers?] clues the verb to CRAB, as in fish for fiddler crabs. i didn't know this was a verb.
  • two similar answers in the third row both consisted of an acronym + word: LBJ RANCH, the [Historical attraction W of Austin], and the DC AREA, clued as [Arlington, Va. is part of it]. hey! that's where i am right now. ironically, this was the last thing i figured out in the puzzle.

i did not know: HCH, the [Pres. before FDR]. did you know hoover's middle initial? wikipedia says it stands for clark. also, [Sch. with a Lima campus] is apparently OSU. i guess it's lima, ohio? or maybe oregon... or oklahoma. i'm gonna guess ohio.

i might not have time to get to the BG and LAT puzzles until late tonight. feel free to comment on them, though, and i'll try to remember not to peek until i solve those two.

updated 9:00 pm:

fred piscop's syndicated LA times sunday crossword, "catching fish," hides the names of types of fish across word breaks in nine long theme answers. my favorite was the delightful realization that MRS. O'LEARY of great chicago fire fame hides a SOLE. i did not know YUPIK ESKIMO, clued as [Todd Palin ancestor, e.g.], and in fact the entire NW was pretty tough going: SAY, TRU, and PAP had clues that i didn't immediately recognize, and both STPAT and ARABY were also not immediately forthcoming (though i've seen that STPAT clue enough times that i really should have caught onto it). in fact, it wasn't until i realized that the theme fish in the answer was a PIKE that i was finally able to crack it.

what i didn't crack was the square where [Hundred: Prefix] met [She played WKRP's Jennifer]. the prefix can certainly be HECTO- or HECTA- (among other things; HEKTA- is also used), and i just didn't know the actress... or so i thought. it turns out that it's just LONI anderson, whom i've seen clued a zillion times as [Burt's ex]. whoops. this is what i get for having only surface knowledge! actually, it's kind of refreshing to see this person clued via what she did rather than via who her husband was. there was another knotty crossing in the grid, with ["Peg Wolfington" author] charles READE meeting [Elissa of "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1934)] LANDI at the D. luckily i knew READE, who's been in crosswords fairly often; no clue on the 1930s actress. that's kind of rough.

stuff i enjoyed from the fill: CONFLUENT and ADOLESCE look like normal words that have switched endings. MUUMUU is always fun (and no, i've never played it in scrabble, at least not with the four-U spelling). CHARLATAN is also an excellent word. LEGMAN reminds me of the seinfeld episode with teri hatcher.

the boston globe puzzle link doesn't seem to be working, so i guess i'm done for the day. tomorrow, we can welcome ACPT 9th-place hero orange back from her trip. yay! it's been fun, but also exhausting, serving as your oxymoronic GUEST HOST this weekend. i don't know how amy does it every day.


Dispatch from Brooklyn

Hello! Amy here with a short update from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The preliminary standings are up at the ACPT site now, and Dan Feyer is currently in first place and I'm in ninth with the first four puzzles scored. Puzzle 5 was kinda wicked and apparently it's taking a while to score all the papers that are mostly wrong.

The cool new thing is that everyone's puzzles will eventually be posted online (by contestant number only), so if you're wondering where you messed up, you'll be able to look at the grids yourself rather than e-mailing Will to ask. The fancy-schmancy new scoring software being used this year is Matt Ginsberg's brainchild, and it's quite possible that he will be the ACPT judges' superhero forevermore by removing the most onerous part of the judging/scoring process. Judge Ashish Vengsarkar just walked up—he concurs.

Evad and I are heading out to dinner at Grocery this evening with assorted forumesque luminaries, and I hear the food is going to be transcendent. I'm definitely looking forward to that and hope I remember to save room for dessert. Chocolate, after all, is brain food.

A reminder: If you've seen the tournament puzzles, be sure not to post any spoilers in the comments because some folks will be doing the puzzles by mail and it'll muck things up if they run into details about the puzzles, their themes, the answers, and the gnarliest clues.


February 27, 2009

Saturday, 2/28

Newsday 23:08
NYT 9:58
LAT 6:01

frank longo's new york times crossword is a cranium-crusher of exactly the type you would expect from the author of cranium-crushing crosswords. the word count is only 66, and 16 of those are 8+ letters. my favorites were:

  • sir ALEC GUINNESS is clued as the [Oscar winner for "The Bridge on the River Kwai"]. sure, he's better known as obi wan, but this is still pretty famous. i was almost surprised i knew this.
  • ELIZABETH I is getting a lot of crossword play this week, isn't she? today's clue is [First holder of the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England], which got me thinking about henry VIII even though i already had the initial E.
  • AXIS OF EVIL is probably the marquee answer, and it's clued as the [Epithet coined for the 2002 State of the Union address].
  • [Summer cooler] for once isn't the (lame non-word) ADE; instead, it's delicious ITALIAN ICE.
  • [Enter la-la land] is a great clue for SPACE OUT. there's a mild etymological paradox here: are you going in or out? i'd say out, which makes la-la land a very strange place: it's where you enter when you check out of everywhere else.

i actually solved most of the puzzle pretty quickly (it really helps when i can get 1a), but the SE region of the puzzle did me in. everything to the east of BAFTA was blank for a while, because i didn't know:

  • [Group with the 1967 #2 hit "Georgy Girl"] is the SEEKERS. ouch. a 42-year old song and it wasn't even #1? i didn't stand a chance, although i did guess that it ended with S. [Wronski feint performers] would have been more up my alley.
  • never heard of english poet STEVIE smith.
  • [Butcherbird or woodchat] was not calling SHRIKE to mind. yikes.
  • i did eventually guess that [Like supermarkets] was AISLED, off the A from ELLA (which turned out to be wrong, but the A was right).

several anatomical terms are growing in this grid: a TRUE RIB; [Alveoli, e.g.], or AIR CELLS; DIGESTIVE tracts; and the ILIUM. there were also a bunch of little foreign words: ESSA is italian for "she," SCENA is an [Elaborate solo vocal composition], and [Heads of Italy] are CAPI. GAI is french for "happy," and is an unpleasant reminder of the time TOUJOURS GAI prevented me from finishing a saturday NYT about a year ago. (i didn't keep track of constructors at the time, but why am i not surprised to go back and find that it was brad wilber?) and AMO gets a very erudite clue: [Catullus's "Odi et ___"], which means "i hate and i love."

favorite clue: [It might be kicked after being picked up] is a HABIT.

updated 3:00 pm:

stan newman's Newsday Saturday Stumper was all very gettable except for the two longest entries, one of which i felt was clued unfairly, and one of which was a fictional character i'd neeeeeever heard of. CAUSTICALLY is an adverb, but [Emulating Mencken] seems not to be. how does everybody else feel about this? i don't think it passes the substitution test. and the [Oscar-nominated role of '50] is apparently ELWOOD P. DOWD. um... yeah. google tells me this is jimmy stewart's role from harvey, but even if the clue had been [Jimmy Stewart's role from "Harvey"] i would have needed every single crossing. working out the central part of this grid took me about the last 10 minutes of the 23 i spent on this puzzle. and although 23 minutes is a pretty typical time for me on the stumper, i felt i was doing pretty well until i hit an absolute wall in the OOH/DOE area. part of the problem was SPRAINS for [Stretches, in a way] instead of SPRAWLS, which led me to guess that the mystery name might be ELIOTT P. DOWD. then i tried ELINOR P. DOWD, but CREDN looked much wronger than CREDO.

stuff i liked:

  • [Seer's certification] is EYE TEST, not some sort of tarot license.
  • [Who's first] isn't an abbott & costello reference, nor is it ADAM or some such. it's roger DALTREY, lead singer of the who.
  • [Where Napoleon was crowned] is a historical fact that i just plain should have remembered. it's NOTRE DAME (and not the one in south bend).

i quailed a little when i opened up today's LA Times crossword and saw brad wilber's name in the byline. but this turned out to be a very smooth and enjoyable saturday solve, with none of the pull-your-hair-out moments i associate (fairly or un-) with brad's puzzles. the highlights:

  • ["The Purple Rose of Cairo" premise] is a FILM WITHIN A FILM. i don't know that movie, but this is a cool answer.
  • crossing it in the puzzle's center is SCRATCH PLAYER, or a [Regular par shooter] in golf.
  • circuits get yet more play in the LAT, with OHM'S LAW at 1a, clued as the deceptive [Resistance statement].
  • another statement demonstrating some resistance is "WHAT OF IT?," a [Defensive retort].
  • ["Yes!" accompanier] is a FIST PUMP, à la tiger woods. but not a terrorist fist jab, à la the obamas.
  • [Mini revelations] are not small revelations, but rather things revealed by minis: a lady's KNEES. how perfectly scandalous! i'm still getting used to the idea that loose girls might flash a bit of ankle.
  • good high-culture stuff: poet seamus HEANEY and artist FRANS hals, as well as SONNETS, clued as [Some Keats works]. "on first looking into chapman's homer" is one of my, oh, say, ten favorite poems.
  • good low-culture stuff: [Stereotypical monster's target] is TOKYO. [Gibson guy?] is MAD MAX, portrayed by a very young mel gibson. crossing both is [Four time AL home run champ Jimmie] FOXX, aka "double X" or "the beast."

gnarly/unfamiliar bits (fewer than usual for a wilber, but there were still some):

  • [Sally Ann of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"] is apparently surnamed HOWES.
  • [Snoopy's first owner] is LILA. this seems deliberately obscure, but maybe snoopy fans know it.
  • [Distillery waste] is POTALE. i've never seen this word. or is it two words?
  • ["Married to the Mob" actor] is MODINE. i think that's a last name, but i've never heard of the movie (or show?) or the person.
  • ["Little Shop of Horrors" dentist]? apparently ORIN. i should tuck this one away.


February 26, 2009

Friday, 2/27

Sun (untimed, drat) — It's not too late to subscribe to the Sun and do this cool crossword
NYT 6:25
CHE 3:38
BEQ untimed
WSJ 12:02
LAT 6:59

This is my last post 'til post-ACPT, most likely. I will see some of you at the tournament, and the rest of you will be entertained here by the bloggy stylings of Joon. Be nice to him, will ya? Thanks!

Mark Diehl's Sun crossword, "Think Twice," is Peter Gordon's way of going out with a bang and reminding us of how many truly exceptional crosswords he has edited and published. This is the final Sun puzzle until a possible vague future date, and it's a doozy. (It's in the running for the year's coolest gimmick crosswords.) It was kids' TV programming that tipped me off to the rebus gimmick—[Miranda Cosgrove TV character surnamed Shay] could only be CARLY, but there were four squares. With 12-Down being an adverb, the LY had to be the rebus square—and [With prudence] sounded like SAGELY, which would fit with two letters per square. Would you look at that? The entire grid is framed with rebus squares, 44 of them in all. The edges of the puzzle are DOUBLE-EDG[ED] in a sense—and [RA]ZOR BLADES and BROADSWORDS can also be double-edged. So there's a full-fledged theme to elegantly explain the point of having the rebus squares around the edge.

You know what? I believe Diehl's puzzle has more than 225 letters in its answers, though there are only 225 white and black squares. No wonder it took a while to finish! My favorite answers were the double-packed ones, like CORN CHEX, THE SCORE, and MONA LISA in four squares apiece and ED KOCH in three. Would you believe the music world has a non-Brian ENO? Yep, it's [Spoon drummer Jim]. Overall, a cool crossword packed with Friday-worthy clues, and a fitting valedictory for the crossword snob's breed of crossword.

If you'd like Peter to bring the Sun puzzle back some day, and you'd be willing to pay an annual subscription fee (just 20¢ per puzzle!) for these fine crosswords, click here to sign up. I was #7, and I expect that number to skyrocket now that I'm exhorting you to signal your interest, too.

The New York Times crossword by Joe DiPietro has a fearsome-looking grid, doesn't it? Triple-stacked 15's at the top and bottom, and not with dead-giveaway clues? Yow. (Another "yow" is likely in store for the Saturday puzzle. Will likes to make a splash during tournament weekend.) Here are the six big girls:

  • [Bygone flag] is THE STARS AND BARS.
  • [Think a certain way about] clues HAVE AN OPINION ON.
  • [Make a call] is USE THE TELEPHONE. It's in the language as a verb phrase, yes, but it looks weird in the puzzle.
  • [Much of Central America, once] was BANANA REPUBLICS.
  • ["This would be a first for me"] clues I'VE NEVER TRIED IT. This is one of those spoken phrases that isn't remotely a dictionary entry, but that I like to see in the puzzle.
  • [Trading posts?] are GENERAL MANAGERS. Stock trading? Baseball trading? I don't know.
Now, here are my favorite clues. Sometimes favorite because of cleverness, and sometimes favorite owing to the sheer cussedness of a hard clue. And also, let's have some answers I liked.
  • [Cover girl, e.g.?] is a SPY with a cover.
  • [Laid-back] is TYPE B, with the unexpected B at the end. It crosses PLUMB, or [Downright]. Love the word plumb.
  • The [Time being] is the NONCE. Great word.
  • [Mammonism] clues GREED. Hey, a clue I could answer without a zillion crossings! Much appreciated.
  • [1960s-'70s touchdown maker] is a LEM, or lunar excursion module that touched down on the moon. No football here.
  • [Beat but good] clues THUMP. Also a cool word.
  • [Can't continue] was kinda tough because HAS TO STOP is an unusual answer. Same with [Withdrew quietly] for WENT ASIDE.
  • [Relating to wheels] is inferrable thanks to "rotary," but who ever uses the word ROTAL? Not I.
  • [Emulates Eve] clues RAPS. Great clue—not Bible Eve, but the rapper named Eve.
  • BORED is clued as [Yet to be engaged?]. I like that clue.
  • You don't see a lot of abbreviated long answers. [It's a little over 65 degrees: Abbr.] refers to the ARCTIC CIR., or circle. Degrees of latitude, I presume.
  • [Things that open and close yearly?] are WYES, as in the plural of the spelled-out name of the letter Y.
  • NAMIBIA is the [Home of Walvis Bay]. What else was it gonna be with the NA at the beginning? It sounds Australian to me, though.
  • G.I. JANE was a [1997 Demi Moore flick]. Great entry.
  • Very few of us know that REBURN is a [Co-firing technique used to reduce pollution from electrical power plants].
  • Are you up on your old Greek currency? [Pennies : dollar :: ___ : drachma] clues LEPTA. I needed every single crossing.
  • Who doesn't like a rainbow or sunbow? [Producers of sunbows] are MISTS. Don't ask why I started with MOONS here.

Tom Heilman's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Drama Queens," has a theme of Hollywood trivia. What [Royal role] has been played by four different actresses, two of them portraying her twice? ELIZABETH I, that's who. BETTE DAVIS chalked up her queen roles in 1939 and 1955 and CATE BLANCHETT played Elizabeth in 1998 and 2007. The same year that Blanchett was nominated for an Oscar for playing Elizabeth, so was JUDI DENCH—she played an older Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love and won the Best Supporting Actress trophy. And GLENDA JACKSON played her in 1971.

A few non-theme clues:
  • [Brno was once its capital] clues MORAVIA, a region in what's now the Czech Republic.
  • To [Take a shot?] in a shot glass is to IMBIBE.
  • [Terminus a ___] QUO looks to be Latin, and I don't know what it means. Speaking of Latin, CICERO is the ["In Verrem" speaker].
  • [Disrespectful replies] clues the mass noun SASS.
  • [Got too old for] is OUTGREW.
  • ELIJAH was the [Biblical prophet fed by ravens].
  • [Jörgen's wife, in an Ibsen play] is HEDDA Gabler.

updated 10:30 pm EDT by joon:

dan naddor's LA times crossword has a fun wordplay theme in which AR gets added to the beginning of an existing R word:

  • [Spiff up the family dog?] is ARRANGE ROVER.
  • [Milestone in St. Louis history?] is ARCH ARRIVAL. (i'm quite sure it was built there, rather than just arriving from somewhere else.) this answer tripped me up because i was thinking the first AR was the wordplay, but in fact it was the second one. nice answer, though. the ARCH is absolutely spectacular. on a related note, not two hours ago i flew into dulles airport, the main terminal of which was also designed by crossword hero EERO saarinen. it's also one of my favorite buildings in america.
  • [Weapon for a medieval assassin?] is MURDERER'S ARROW, playing on the term "murderer's row," which i associate with the 1927 yankees. this was my favorite theme answer.
  • [Places for bookings?] are ARREST ROOMS. larry craig has no comment.
  • [Lineup of battery terminals?] is CATHODE ARRAY. one the plus side (no pun intended—you have to believe me!), we aren't often treated to CATHODE in the grid; usually ANODEs dominate. on the minus side, this answer doesn't do much for me, even though i'm about to teach circuits next week.

the even-length MURDERER'S ARROW necessitated an oversize 15x16 grid, but i didn't mind. lots of good stuff in the fill, including retired hitters DARRYL strawberry and hall-of-famer ROD CAREW, plus petco park's PADRES to round out the baseball mini-theme. more circuits (AMMETER), and some biology (PABA, or [Vitamin B-10], and AMOEBA). chemistry wanted to have its place, too, but DIMERS was clued as [Nickel-and-___: nitpickers].

old-school crosswordese: PROAS are [Indonesian outriggers]. unfamiliar names: ["The Shoes of the Fisherman" author] MORRIS west, [Innovative bebop drummer] MAX ROACH, and ['90s FDA commissioner] KESSLER. also, could somebody explain why EOS are [Prez's decrees]? i would have liked to see a mythology clue there.

today's brendan emmett quigley crossword, "Hello Brooklyn! -- Natives only," has a fun "welcome to ACPT" theme. words with ER sounds get changed to OI sounds, as if spoken with a thick brooklyn accent:

  • [Brooklynites approach to the Atkins diet?] is LIVE AND LOIN.
  • [Brooklyners ventriloquism technique?] is BLANK VOICE.
  • [Cheers bartender Woody's slimy menu addition, in his new Brooklyn bar?] is OILY BOYD SPECIAL. sure, the clue is tortured as all hell, but this was a fun one, with two sound transformations. also, anything reminiscent of former red sox pitcher oil can boyd (no relation to OIL CAN HARRY of mighty mouse fame) is a good thing.
  • [Brooklyn burger caper?] is PATTY HOIST, playing on patty hearst, who was abducted by the semiconscious liberation army.
  • [Push carcinogens in Brooklyn?] is FOIST POISON, playing on "first person." i don't think this one works as well, because POISON has a Z sound in the middle, whereas "person" has an S sound. still, props for trying for another double-transformation answer.

my favorite fill was the cluster of F-words (no, not that kind) in the top part of the grid, with FANJETS and FLAG DAY and the vowel-dropping website FLICKR. although actually, the F there did cross DFL, or [Like the contestant who came in 699 out of 699 entrants, initially]. hint: D = dead, L = last. so maybe yeah, that kind of F-word.

impenetrable to me: [Band leader of the "Centerfold" band] JGEILS (i don't even know how to parse this—or maybe it's just one name anyway?) next to ["Beauty and the Beat" rapper] EDAN.

harvey estes's wall street journal crossword, "male bonding," has a cool theme that's a little tricky to explain. it's kind of like the "before & after" jeopardy! category in that an expression which ends with a certain word is joined to an expression which starts with the same word, but in this case, the middle (shared) word is always a word which could generically mean a male person:

  • [Vacation spot that was built more recently?] is LATER DUDE RANCH ("later, dude" + dude ranch).
  • [Muppet game show host with all the answers?] is WISE GUY SMILEY. two thumbs up for this answer.
  • [Cowboy star cheating at hide-and-seek?] is PEEPING TERRELL OWENS. no, just kidding—it's PEEPING TOM MIX. but terrell is jealous of the attention that tom is getting instead of him.
  • [Like streakers?] is FAST BUCK NAKED. you know, in the original olympics, they competed in all of the events, including footraces, wearing nothing but olive oil.
  • [What Jeb might call Dubya?] is MAMA'S BOY GEORGE. i emit a tehee at this one, too, mostly at the incongruous juxtaposition of W with boy george.
  • [Strange pinko?] is ODD FELLOW TRAVELER. i confess that i don't understand what "pinko" has to do with "fellow traveler."
  • the best theme answer is [Praise for a scholar?], or YOU DA MAN OF LETTERS.

this one definitely gave me a stiffer workout than recent WSJ puzzles. the toughest area was the NE, where YOU DA MAN was quite difficult to parse, and was also surrounded by vague and/or tricky clues. my favorite was [Thatcher follower]. john MAJOR refused to fit, because the answer is tom SAWYER, who tailed after his crush becky thatcher puppy-dog style. also, OILCAN makes another appearance in this puzzle; chalk up another point for crosssynchronicity.

goodness, it's already 11:20 and i'm just finishing the friday blogging. the saturday puzzle has already been out for 80 minutes! will hop right to it.


What's an 11-letter word for...

My Chicago Tribune interview is out now. My god, do I sound like a dork.

Edited to add: I picked up the dead-tree newspaper. Right beneath the "What's an 11-letter word for crossword whiz?" headline, there's a cool graphic. 11 squares, AM_R__NALD_, with a scratched-out D in the last square. And then on page 4 of the "Live!" section, there's a picture of me doing Tyler Hinman's Onion puzzle from last week, and it's possible that I look adorable in the photo.


February 25, 2009

Thursday, 2/26

Sun 3:50
NYT 3:49
LAT 3:35
Tausig (untimed)

Hey, sometimes Brendan Quigley makes crosswords that people pay him for, and not just those three free puzzles each week at his blog. His New York Times crossword has four theme entries, four phrases that have INGQ (or just GQ) in the middle. That sounds lifeless, doesn't it? It's not, because the Q is always up for a good time and the phrases are interesting ones:

  • LIVING QUARTERS is another way of saying [Residence]. The Q's crossing is IRAQ, the [Modern home of the ancient Akkadian empire].
  • BURNING QUESTION is clued as [It has to be asked]. That Q starts QUASI, which hooks up with the next theme entry—
  • The HOMECOMING QUEEN is an [Alumni weekend V.I.P.]. This Q is just in an abbreviation, SQ FT.
  • The last INGQ phrase is STRING QUARTETS, being [Many Haydn compositions]. Its Q feeds a QUAY, or [Unloading site]. If you ask me, both quay and wharf are great words. Way better than pier or dock.
I got off on the wrong foot with this puzzle by making 1-Down a wandering EYE instead of JEW. I just this minute learned that there was a wandering Jew in medieval Christian folklore—I only knew it as a houseplant. That corner was the last part I filled in, and KIRI wasn't helping me one whit (that's [___ Davis, "A Girl Like Me" documentarian].

I've got some favorite clues and whatnot:
  • The two-word partial AN ART gets an interesting quote clue: ["Conversation is ___ in which a man has all mankind for his competitors": Ralph Waldo Emerson]. 
  • ["Hard ___!" (captain's order)] clues ALEE. It's always fun to shout "Hard alee!" when you're trying to spin your Tilt-a-Whirl car.
  • [It comes from Mars] clues the TWIX candy bar. I mean, cookie bar. Yum. Want one now.
  • [Something in the air] might be an ODOR.
  • The informal PLAN ON is clued [Have in mind].
  • [It's similar to cream] refers to the color ECRU.
  • The informal "I'M IT" is clued ["You're looking at your guy!"].
  • [Twilight, old-style] is the GLOAM. The word is from Old English.
  • [Its home is on the range] isn't a TEPEE or anything like that—it's a SAUCEPAN in the kitchen.
  • I even like [Finnish architect Alvar ___] AALTO because it makes me think of the TV show Lost, in which the Dharma Initiative was funded by one Alvar Hanso. Who doesn't like Alvars?
It wouldn't be a Thursday Times without some curveballs:
  • [Reno's AAA baseball team] is called the ACES. Nobody knows this, right?
  • [Middle year of Nero's reign] is LXI. This crosses two answers that may not be readily apparent to many solvers, provided those solvers can't ballpark the middle of Nero's reign and need the crossings. ILENE is the first name of ["The L Word" creator/producer Chaiken]. Thank you, Entertainment Weekly, for teaching me these names. [False sunflower] clues the OXEYE daisy.
  • The BROUGHAM was a [Closed carriage with the driver outside in front].
  • [Old hwy. from Detroit to Seattle] is U.S. TEN.
  • [Lacking depth] clues TWOD, which always seems to befuddle many people because it's not ever written that way outside of crosswords. It's TWO-D, as in 2-D, as in two-dimensional.
  • [Opposite of pobre], or "poor," is RICO, or "rich."

Tony Orbach's Sun "Themeless Thursday" reminded me a bit of Karen Tracey's puzzles thanks to some Scrabbly names. There's TORQUEMADA (is it a coincidence that this [Cruel inquisitor] appears opposite MISTREATED with SADIST in between?) and the band JAMIROQUAI, and a most timely PONZI SCHEME crossing UZBEK. There's also a bakery zone, with TEACAKE (I'd have loved it if that were clued as the character in Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God) atop SODA BREAD. Never heard of the ["Mighty Mouse" villain] called OIL CAN HARRY. Favorite clue: [Jessica Simpson, to Bronx Mowgli Wentz] for AUNT. I haven't heard the term [Pigeon-hearted] before; it means MEEK. I was disappointed that the puzzle didn't have more challenging clues, but relieved that Tony didn't pelt me with an unfamiliar fish crossing a Puerto Rican fried food (as he did in his first NYT themeless).


In his LA Times crossword, David Kwong riffs on the phrase "kill two birds with one stone" with some rock 'n' roll trivia:
  • ['60s band co-founder who changed his professional name to Roger] is JIM MCGUINN. I think everyone knows him as Roger McGuinn, so the clue is a bit of insider trivia.
  • Another ['60s band co-founder] is DAVID CROSBY.
  • Together, they are TWO BYRDS.
  • There's also MICK JAGGER, a [Rock group leader for 46 years]. (46!!)
  • Mick, of course, is ONE STONE. There is no mention of killing, though the Stones are still around and the Byrds disbanded in 1973. I don't think it was Mick's fault that the Byrds broke up...or was it? Kwong's crossword cracks the 35-year-old case wide open!
Assorted clues:
  • ["I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work" speaker] was Thomas EDISON.
  • [One concerned with handicaps] is a BOOKIE. Here's a virtual bookie taking virtual bets on whether Tyler will five-peat.
  • SLASHER goes nonviolent with [Budget committee, these days].
  • [Common geriatric malady] isn't AGESPOTS, alas, but DEMENTIA.
  • [Matched the card, in golf] means MADE PAR.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Reel Copies," has a theme that was utterly unfamiliar to me when I test-solved it.
  • [2006 film from The Asylum about an anthropologist searching for ancient codes] is THE DA VINCI / TREASURE. (Not The Da Vinci Code.)
  • [2006 film from The Asylum about travelers menaced by vipers] is SNAKES ON / A TRAIN. (Not Snakes on a Plane.)
  • [2008 film from The Asylum about alien robots threatening human civilization] is THE DAY / THE EARTH STOPPED. (Not The Day the Earth Stood Still.)
  • These movie titles are all tied together by MOCKBUSTER, a [Word used to describe a film made by The Asylum film studio, such as "Transmorphers" or "Sunday School Musical"]. These are typically low-budget, straight-to-video B movies that are released to surf on the coattails of actual blockbuster movies. Before doing this puzzle, I'd never heard the term or any of these titles. How about you? Did you already know about mockbusters? If not, did the MOCKBUSTER clue explain it clearly enough?
Miscellaneous non-theme clues:
  • [2005 Coldplay album with the single "Speed of Sound"] is X AND Y. (Technically, the title's X&Y, but crosswords like to spell out symbols and numbers.)
  • An ice FLOE is a [Slippery sheet].
  • BEANO is a [Wise thing to take before a burrito-eating contest].
  • [Great place from which to see Kings and Senators?] is RINKSIDE. The Kings and Senators are NHL teams.
  • [Ho Chi Minh's rhyming birthplace] is VINH. Never heard of it. (The addition of "rhyming" to the clue was my idea. It's lame, maybe, but I think many of us could use the help in summoning up VINH.) Speaking of Vietnam, PHO is a [Vietnamese bowlful].
  • ["Terrorist fist bumps"] are DAPS. Thanks for the colorful phrase, Fox News.
  • [He said "Fear is the path to the dark side"] clues YODA. Why wasn't the line "Fear the path to the dark side is"?
  • [Equatorial Guinean greeting] is the Spanish HOLA. Who knew?


February 24, 2009

Wednesday, 2/25

BEQ 4:41—don't miss this one
Sun 3:59
Onion 3:35
NYT 3:03
LAT 2:57

Good news! This blog will not get rusty while I am away at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament because Joon will be here to take care of business. Now, he might not have a chance to get to all of the puzzles by morning every day, but I know you'll be appreciative of however much he's able to squeeze into his own weekend plans—because even if he blogs just one newspaper crossword all weekend, that'll be more than I'd be able to do. Thanks a googol, Joon!

Newcomer Kelly Browder's New York Times crossword is perfectly pegged to Wednesday difficulty, with a theme that makes you think harder than a Monday or Tuesday puzzle, and with some answers that might be out of reach for a Monday-only solver. The theme entries are all things that might be SPIKED (48-Down):

  • NEWS STORIES make up some [Pulitzer Prize entries]. I'm not sure how news stories are spiked. Monica K., can you explain from a journalist's perspective?
  • VOLLEYBALLS [may be served at the beach]. Spike the ball over the net—kapow!
  • IRON FENCES are [Some ornamental barriers]. Those spikes can be dangerous. If it's icy out or you're intoxicated, be careful not to fall on an iron spike with your mouth open. Seriously. The rescuers will need to use a blowtorch to cut off the fence segment and take you to the OR with an iron fence on you.
  • [Party servers] are PUNCH BOWLS. The bowl's not spiked, but the punch in it may be spiked with booze.
Among the tougher stuff in the fill we find these:
  • An ARAWAK is an [Indian encountered by Columbus]. Other Caribbean natives include the Taino and Carib.
  • ["___ Republic"], 6 letters? Why is the store Banana Republic in quotes? It's not. It's PLATO'S Republic.
  • [Fruits de ___ (menu heading)] is MER. "Fruits of the sea" ≠ sea vegetables like kelp—they're seafood from the animal kingdom.
  • [___ Zion Church] brings back A.M.E., which was in another NYT puzzle just last week. African Methodist Episcopal.
  • Do you know your German. STILLE means "silent" and completes ["___ Nacht" (German carol)].
  • A board-game SPINNER is a [Randomizing device].
  • NO FEAR is a [Brand of clothing or energy drink]. I needed all the crossings for this one.
  • FERULE is a [Schoolmaster's rod] used in corporal punishment. Not to be confused with the metal sleeve that holds an eraser on a pencil—that's a two-R ferrule.
  • LST is a [W.W. II transport: Abbr.]. It's short for Landing Ship, Tank.
  • [Place for a thimble] is an ETUI, the sewing case much beloved by generations of crossworders.

Peter Collins' Sun crossword is called "That's Unreal!" It's got one of those mathy themes calculated to thrill the mathy types. The two longest answers spell out THE SQUARE ROOT / OF NEGATIVE ONE, but those two entries are clued with nothing more than [See 73-Across]. 73-Across is SHADE, with a long clue telling you to shade what's suggested by 71-Across, hurricane EYES. SHADE in the squares with the "EYES," or each letter I (I used the Across Lite circles rather than drawing on my monitor). They're in the middle column and make a lowercase i, which stands for imaginary unit (hence the "unreal" in the puzzle's title) and is THE SQUARE ROOT / OF NEGATIVE ONE. There are no other uses of the letter I in the grid, and it's elegant to make a big i out of four I's.

Highlights in the fill include Winnie the Pooh's pot of HUNNY, MOD SQUAD, HOOVERED, BARCELONA, GASBAG, and KAZOO. Can you work those all into a single sentence? I know I can.

Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club crossword pays homage to MOTOWN RECORDS, the [Musical legend celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009]. BERRY GORDY, JR., was its founder, and the "hallowed ground" of Motown's studio is/was called HITSVILLE U.S.A. Those three answers are clearly theme entries in this puzzle, but there are a number of shorter answers that may relate to Motown:
  • DIANA Ross at 9-Across was a Motown star.
  • WONDER is clued with ["Blind eyes could look at me and see the truth/___ if Steve do?" (Weezy lyric in reference to another 35-Across star)].
  • ["Santa Baby" singer Kitt] is EARTHA KITT. Was she Motown? Nope.
  • [Bribe to a DJ, say] is PAYOLA. Was Motown guilty of this? Depends who you ask.
I think the rest of the puzzle's completely unrelated to Motown. I'm not sure I know the joke in question for [Subject of a Grecian joke], or URN; is this the "What's Greek urn? Oh, about $45,000 a year" joke? The last [Wonka candy] I ate was NERDS from Valentine's Day. I'm just the sort of nerd who appreciates old Turkish honorifics, so I dig the combination of PASHAS, or [Old Ottoman VIPs], and AGA, or [Palindromic title]. [Intercourse, formally] is COITUS; that means traditional etiquette rules govern how you are introduced to coitus, right? Or formalwear is required? [Barely make it across the field?] clues STREAK, as in run naked. [Barack Obama, to Frasier and Marian Robinson] is/was their SON-IN-LAW (was for the late Frasier, is for Marian).


Scott Atkinson's easy LA Times crossword has eight theme entries that are compound words or two-word phrases, and they're all tied together by LINE, or [Queue, and word that can follow both words in the answers to starred clues]:
  • [Maupassant forte] is the SHORT STORY. Short Line railroad, storyline.
  • [Series of missed calls] is PHONE TAG. Phone line, tag line.
  • [Fan of a "Grateful" band] is a DEADHEAD. Deadline, headline—both important in newspapering.
  • [Sissy] is PANTYWAIST. The dreaded panty line, waistline.
  • [Aristocrat] is a BLUEBLOOD. Blue line (my dictionary says it's a hockey term), blood line.
  • [Highly anticipated appointment] is a HOT DATE. Hotline, dateline.
  • [Source of branches] is TREE TRUNK. Tree line (same as the timberline on a mountain), trunk line (main line of a railroad, phone system, or other network).
  • [Barely batted ball] is a FOUL TIP. The foul line, a police tip line.
I didn't remember that Jeb Bush's nickname comes from his initials; JEB is [John Ellis Bush, familiarly]. HELENA, Montana, is a state [Capital near the Great Divide]. [Words of worry] are "OH, ME," which I don't think anyone says. Crosswords also like to have AH, ME, which is about as implausible. ["This is too much!"] clues "I'VE HAD IT." [Sporty Toyotas] are SOLARAS. I thought those had been discontinued but it appears that Toyota is still making them.

Today's Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword, "Following Directions," has a diagonal line of circled squares running between the NW and SE corners of the grid, with no clue given to explain it. The four longest Across and Down answers all refer to themselves, so no trivia knowledge is needed to answer their clues. 18-Across RUNS ACROSS. 56-Across is HORIZONTAL. 27-Down runs SOUTHWARDS (if you posit that the bottom of the puzzle = south), and 11-Down appears NWODEDISPU, or an upside down "upside down." I always like it when crossword answers are entered backwards or upside down. The diagonal spells out BACK TO SQUARE ONE, and indeed, it starts at the lower right corner and returns to square 1. I didn't know if ["Look out..."] would be UH-OH or OH-OH (crossing UBER or OBER?), and I didn't know what the [Expressway that passes through Williamsburg] was (wasn't thinking of HQS for [Command posts: Abbr.]), so I did use the QU of SQUARE to finish that section. Hooray for three-way checked squares!

Outside the positional theme, here's what I liked best:
  • A SCHMEAR of cream cheese is a [Bagel topping].
  • AFRICA is clued as the [Song that knocked "Down Under" out of the #1 spot], and JOSHUA is the ["WarGames" computer]. Hooray! It's 1983 again!
  • PHARAOH and MOSES are clued in reference to each other, with [He fought (clue number) in the Bible].
  • [One of Hamlet's courtiers] is OSRIC. Putting that English degree to good use!
  • [X, e.g.] isn't about math. It's MALCOLM.



crossword 6:18
puzzle 9:56

well, well, what have we here? it's the 38th edition of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest! this week's contest, "Click for Puzzle," featured a not-too-tough crossword and then a doozy of a metapuzzle.

let's start with the crossword: the four-part instructions in the grid helpfully tell us: TO GET THIS WEEK'S / ANSWER WORD / JUST LOCATE / THE MISSING LINK. combined with the title, i was immediately thinking about hyperlinks. since you can't put hyperlinks into across lite files (or paper printouts), i figured there was some sort of easter-eggish link on matt's actual blog. so the first thing i did was scour the text of the blog post to find a hidden hyperlink; no luck. i even clicked on every actual link, to make sure it didn't take me somewhere surprising (à la rickrolling). nope; they're all legit. then i saved the HTML source file for the post and went over it with a fine-toothed virtual comb: nothing.

next step: re-read the contest instructions: This week's contest answer word is a five-letter surname. okay, so maybe i should look at that list of surnames over on the blogroll. hmm, several of these are five letters. maybe i should click them all to see if they go somewhere unexpected? nope. estes, hamel, jones, klahn, longo, payne, shenk. all legit. what's going on?

let's look at that list of names one more time. i know almost all of these constructors. patrick berry, joe dipietro, harvey estes, etc. is there somebody new on the list just for this week? wait one second, what's this nestled in here between patrick merrell and stan newman? missing! this, literally, is the "missing link" (really, the "missing" link) from the grid instructions. i dutifully clicked it (the title did tell me to "click for puzzle") and got... another puzzle. here it is (i'll save you the trouble of clicking back to matt's page). the instructions there read:

To get this week's contest answer word, solve this:

Take one of the surnames under 'Crossword Links' at MGWCC. Add a letter to the beginning of it and you get the medical term for a part of the human anatomy.

Take a second surname from that list, add two letters to the beginning of it, and you get a slang term for that same part of the human anatomy.

This SECOND name, which is five letters long, is this week's contest answer word.

Good luck, and I hope you had a ball with this week's contest!

well, i started at the top and looked for a name that could take a letter at the beginning. didn't take me long to find harvey estes, who can take a T to form... yes, TESTES. crude, but they are a part of the human anatomy. (or at least, my anatomy. amy's, not so much.) are there slang terms for those? i'd say yes. let's look at the 5-letter names in the list again: matt jones can take CO to become COJONES. ding ding ding! he's our winner. and yes, i "had a ball with this week's contest." quite the treasure hunt.

oh yeah, the crossword. i didn't think it was as tough as last week's, but a big part of that was the fact that i could fill in big chunks of the "theme" based on logical guesses; TO GET THIS WEEK'S / ANSWER WORD came pretty quickly. the bottom half was slower, but i got through it. notable stuff from the fill:

  • MITT romney [ran against Ron, John, and Mike in 2008]. i'm glad rudy didn't make it into the clue. can he really be said to have run? did he ever actually get around to campaigning anywhere?
  • unrelated to republican presidential candidates, THE DOLE is [Government handouts]. great fill there.
  • [Got] is PRANKED. very tough clue.
  • speaking of PRANKED, [Covers in Charmin, as a house] is TPS. this takes me back to my middle-school days, even though i've TPed just as many houses since middle school (that is, zero).
  • the toughest part of the grid was the lower right, with just-barely-familiar asian names NOBU matsuhisa and bao DAI mixing it up with KIKI someone and rather unspecific clues for MOLOKAI and ST SIMON. on the bright side, i did enjoy the clue for LOL: ["u r fun-e"]. but no EMO this week.
  • retro technology clue of the week: [A, C, and D, but not B] is DRIVES, as in disk DRIVES on a PC. i remember when computers had A drives, for floppy disks. i even remember when we had a PC with two floppy drives, and yes, the second one was indeed called B.

that's all from me this week. see you next time.


February 23, 2009

Tuesday, 2/24

Sun 4:12
Jonesin' 4:02
NYT 3:20
LAT 2:59

Lately folks have been saying that "four is the new three"—that themed puzzles usually seem to have four or five thematic entries rather than just three. Stephen Edward Anderson's New York Times crossword, a plus-sized 16x15 puzzle, has three theme answers and a lively pair of non-thematic 10's, and some good bits to the fill. The theme entries are "[bird that's a verb] ONE'S [noun]":

  • [Strain to see over the top] is CRANE ONE'S NECK.
  • [Eat humble pie] is SWALLOW ONE'S PRIDE. I like the eat/swallow echo between the clue and answer.
  • [Be a street peddler] clues HAWK ONE'S WARES.
The aforementioned 10's are WIGGLE ROOM, or [Margin to maneuver], and PAPER TIGER, or [Toothless enemy]. OSLO is unexciting fill, but its clue links it to the [Norwegian coast feature], FJORD. Other fill and clues I liked:
  • TOPAZ is the [Birthstone for most Scorpios].
  • TWERP is an [Insignificant type].
  • LATIN is the [Root of all Romance languages], and right above it is an example of a Romance language, the Spanish AMIGO, or [Friend in a sombrero]. Nearby is its French cognate, AMIE, a [Friend who's française].
  • STYX, the [River of Hades], meets the XBOX [___ 360]. Speaking of video games, GAMERS are [Arcade fans].
  • PITA bread is an excellent [Hummus scooper-upper].
  • LEOPARDS are [spotted in tall grass].
  • [Professzor Rubik] gets a Hungarian title. ERNO Rubik invented Rubik's cube.
Less welcome were the military abbreviations, SSGTS ([U.S.M.C. noncoms]) and PFC ([Low-rank inits.]); the suffixes, ENES ([Hydrocarbon suffixes]) and ITES ([Social finishes?]; the triple-letter EEE ([Wide shoe spec] and SSS ([Sound of bacon frying]); the HIREE who's a [Company newbie]; and the awkward-looking RED A, or [Stigma borne by Hester Prynne]. I've never heard of the PAM in this grid, [1989 Bond girl Bouvier]—that's the character played by Carey Lowell in License to Kill. You know what movie character I'd like to see in a crossword someday? Lars Thorwald, the heavy in Rear Window.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle is called "I Don't Got U, Babe" because each theme entry has lost a U:
  • Mobius strip becomes MOB IS STRIP, or [Angry crowd forms a small band?]. The answer phrase doesn't scan well.
  • Policy premium turns into POLICY PRE-MIM, clued as [Insurance plan, before the "Mad Madam" from Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" showed up?]. Never heard of Mim, and the answer phrase is just weird.
  • Julius Caesar has two U's and only one of them departs to make JULI'S CAESAR, or [Golfer Inkster's salad order?].
  • Sodium nitrate becomes SO DIM NITRATE, which seems to violate the rules of grammar. The clue is [Chemical in the dumbest diet ever?].
  • Oksana Baiul drops her U to yield OKSANA BAIL, or [Money to spring a Ukrainian figure skater from the pen?]. I kinda like this one.
Two TV-show names I'd never seen appear in the fill. JAIMIE completes ["The Travels of ___ McPheeters" (1960s TV western with Charles Bronson and a teenage Kurt Russell)], and ["For the Love of ___" (2009 VH1 reality show)] is about RAY J. I also don't spend enough time with desktop publishing to recall LOREM [___ ipsum (faux-Latin phrase frequently used by publishers in placeholder text blocks)]. Bonus points for two game-show references, NO DEAL ([Phrase said without hitting the button, on TV]) and Alex TREBEK ([Connery's foil, in "S.N.L." skits]), for swapping out the usual "Garfield" supporting character Odie for NERMAL, the [Overly cute kitten that annoys Garfield]; and for the scholarliness of Abraham MASLOW, the [Psychologist with a hierarchy of human needs].

Peter Gordon's inner esne, Ogden Porter, constructed the Sun crossword entitled "Puzzle of the Week." The theme is people whose first or last names double as a day of the week. Peter reached into fictional characters to fill out his hebdomadal septet:
  • NANCY FRIDAY is the [Author of "My Secret Garden"].
  • PAUL SUNDAY is an [Identical twin character in "There Will Be Blood"]. Didn't see the movie.
  • THURSDAY NEXT is the [Protagonist of several Jasper Fforde novels]. I started one, lost interest, and lent the book to my mom, who likes mysteries but not classic English lit.
  • WEDNESDAY ADDAMS is an Addams Family TV character who's also a [Christina Ricci film role]. Can you name the rest of her family? How about the members of other TV families? Try this Sporcle quiz. My husband and I got about 96 of the 130 names.
  • Never heard of JEFF SATURDAY, [All-Pro center for the Indianapolis Colts]. Football teams have centers?
  • RICK MONDAY was a [Cubs player who prevented two protesters from igniting an American flag on the outfield grass during a 1976 game at Dodger Stadium]. I may be a North Sider now, but in 1976 I was a tween with a dad who didn't give a fig about baseball. Never heard of him.
  • I have heard of TUESDAY WELD, of course, but didn't know she was in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I didn't see any R-rated movies when I was 11. Plenty of RATED G movies, [Like "Wall-E"], though.
Did you notice how tall this puzzle is? It's 17 rows high, so we get 30 more squares than usual and at no extra charge. Favorite answer: William WEGMAN, whose art photographs of his Weimaraners are so captivating.


Waah, I have a sore throat and I feel a bad cold coming on. Just in time for the crossword tournament!

Today's LA Times crossword is a quip puzzle by Pancho Harrison. The [Start of an editor's quip about verbose writing] clue is perfect—it's specific and gives the solver some guidance for filling in the theme entries, whereas a flat [Start of quip] clue just says "hey, bozo, good luck working the crossings." The quip theme still didn't excite me, but I appreciate the specificity of the clue. IN EVERY FAT BOOK, / THERE IS A / THIN BOOK / TRYING TO GET OUT.

[Tweeters' quarters] does not refer to stereo speakers with woofers and tweeters. Nor does it refer to Twitter users, whose Twitter action is called tweeting. The answer is birds' NESTS. The [Canonized pope known as "The Great"] is ST. LEO (he's called LEO I in more crosswords). [Supreme council of old Rome] is just a SENATE, nothing more obscure than that. [Turner and a general] clues IKES, as in singer Ike Turner and Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower. To [Exercise a 19th Amendment right] is to VOTE, if you're a woman. [Wall St. trading group] clues ASE.


February 22, 2009

Monday, 2/23

BEQ 5:15
Sun 2:51
LAT 2:50
NYT 2:27

(post updated Tuesday morning at 9:15.)

Just five more Sun puzzles left. (Sigh.)

Just five more days left 'til the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! (I have to date had exactly one day of ACPT-centered practicing. That day was yesterday.)

Just one second ahead of Doug Peterson (deadbydawn) on the NYT applet...and I would've been in first place but for the interruption of one paulatc. Given that there's nobody named Paul who has been rivaling Tyler Hinman and given some patently unrealistic applet times, I am prone to think that this paulatc is one of those people who solve the puzzle in Across Lite and then enter their solution in the applet—but use the "play against the clock" option rather than the "check my solution" one. If you are paulatc and that's what you're doing, sheesh, wouldja knock it off already? It's bothersome. If you are legitimately super-fast, then head to the ACPT and test your mettle under tournament conditions. Please and thank you. (There. I feel better getting that off my chest.)

Alan Arbesfeld's New York Times crossword features a vowel-progression theme, with vowel changing in the B*ND word/syllable at the end of each long answer:

  • RUBBERBAND is a [Stretchable holder].
  • AROUND THE BEND means [Loony].
  • THE TIES THAT BIND are [Strong family connections, idiomatically].
  • MUNICIPAL BOND is a [Tax-free investment].
  • CUMMERBUND is a [Tux go-with].
You know what's really cool? The B*ND words may all be etymologically related. Or at least some meanings of bend (a href="http://www.answers.com/bend">scroll down to word 2) relate to band, and binding and bonding tie into that as well, and the end of cummerbund means "band," too. Usually a vowel-progression theme has completely unrelated words.

What did I like aside from the etymological elegance of the theme? This:
  • WEBMASTER is an [Internet guru], generally the TECH (25-Down) whiz who is responsible for keeping a particular website purring smoothly.
  • HIRED GUNS are [Armed thugs] or hitmen, which is not to say a HITTER in baseball, as in [One getting a single or a double, e.g.], which is not talking about single or double scoops of ice cream, one brand of which is EDY'S, an [Alternative to Haagen-Dazs].
  • SLAP and SNAP and SNIP pop. The first is clued as [Part of a Three Stooges routine]. The second, a [Sound heard with the phrase "Just like that!"]. The third, a [Paper doll-making sound].
  • [Hoverers over sports stadiums] are not domes, hummingbirds, or UFOs. Nope, they're BLIMPS. Blimps were terribly exotic sights when I was a kid, but now that I live near Wrigley Field, blimps waft overhead periodically.

Michael Williams' Sun crossword, "Pinstripers in the Hall," has a New York Yankees theme. Aw, I thought the Sun puzzle ceasing its run before the baseball season began meant no more baseball themes. This one appears to be nicknames of Yankees who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, each clued with [Bronx Bomber in Cooperstown]. JOLTIN' JOE DiMaggio, some OLD PROFESSOR whose nickname I have never heard (Google tells me it's Casey Stengel's nickname), THE SULTAN OF SWAT (a.k.a. Babe Ruth), Lou Gehrig THE IRON HORSE, and Reggie "MR. OCTOBER" Jackson. Let's see...how many notable old Cubs or White Sox nicknames can I think of? There's Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks...and that's all that comes to mind.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle, "Blank Expressions," asks us to fill in the blanks, and punctuation is the key to understand the context of these clues without any letters.
  • 1A. [ ___ ] gets square brackets, I'm not sure why, to clue MEH. Why not just a plain blank space?
  • 18A. The halting "___...?" can be filled in with "YOU CAN'T MEAN...?" I think "You don't mean...?" would work better.
  • 35A. One "___!" exclamation is JEEPERS CREEPERS. Yeah, I'll bet Brendan says that one a lot.
  • 54A. The overexcited MySpace type who overuses exclamation marks but sometimes gets sloppy with the shift key gets "___1111!11!1!!1" This is completed with OMGROTFLMAO, or "omigod, rolling on the floor laughing my ass off," which in the history of the internet may well never have been typed by anyone who actually fell to the floor laughing.
  • 64A. A common parenthetical remark, ( ___ ), is SIC.
Technically, there is no such thing as a BICEP, the singular muscle being the biceps, but it's in the same common parlance that brings us MEH and OMGROTFLMAO. I didn't recall any Ritchie COOTE, a Beater on Harry Potter's Quidditch team, but the crossings were easy enough.

Updated Tuesday morning:

D'oh! I forgot to check back for the LA Times puzzle, which hadn't been posted to Cruciverb in the morning. Mike Peluso's theme has some stuff I just plain don't understand. The theme appears to be compound words or phrases in which the first part is a first name, and a famous person with that name is in the clue:
  • [Actress Ringwald makes her escape?] clues MOLLY BOLTS. Am I supposed to know what molly bolts are? Apparently you can use them to fasten something to drywall. Not remotely a familiar term to me.
  • [Actress Brice prepares for a trip?] is FANNY PACKS. I know the Brits, South Africans, and probably Australians snicker when the Americans use the word "fanny."
  • [Ebsen ushers at the theater?] clues BUDDY SEATS. Hey, Ebsen lost his "Actor" tag in the clue. Three "Actress so-and-so" and he's so famous he doesn't need identification? Consistency is a good thing in crossword themes. I have no idea what buddy seats are. Back to the Google: They're for motorcycles.
  • [Actress Hunter visits a pawn shop?] clues HOLLY HOCKS. Hollyhocks are tall and a little wild-looking as flowers go.


February 21, 2009

Sunday, 2/22

BG 7:04
PI 7:01
LAT 6:52
NYT 5:52
CS 4:00

Whoo! That was not a hard crossword. I'm pretty sure I haven't cracked the 6-minute mark on a Sunday New York Times crossword before, but Barry Silk and Doug Peterson's "The Cruciverbalist" facilitated that just now. The theme entries are familiar to anyone who has submitted their work to Will Shortz, though a great many of those people don't make it to [Step 6 (the payoff)]. Here are the [Cruciverbalist's Step 1] through 6:

The exact wording of each theme answer wasn't completely obvious, and of course to anyone who hasn't given much thought to how constructors make puzzles, the steps and their order might be elusive. But the non-theme answers that surround the six steps were easy enough to usher solvers through the process. Perhaps because there are just six theme entries (albeit long ones), Barry and Doug were able to avoid any deadly crossings. The only completely unfamiliar answer I encountered was MNEME, or [Memory principle]; I know mnemonic but not MNEME (the word doesn't have a Wikipedia article for this definition, but look, it has its own web page). Wait, that's not true. HARZ, as in [Germany's ___ National Park], was also new to me.

The answers I liked best were these ones:
  • ["Hamlet" star, 1990] is MEL GIBSON. Good crossword entry, talented actor and director, but a man with some serious problems.
  • An EARTHWORM is a [Night crawler].
  • CABBY, or [Driver of a 72-Down], and TAXI, or [Modern advertising medium], go together. I prefer the cabbie spelling, but both ways are valid.
  • "SO THERE!" means ["Hah!"].
  • If you hit [The mother lode], you've struck PAY DIRT.
  • [Jacuzzi] is a HOT TUB.
  • Remember Marcus Welby, M.D.? The ['70s small-screen role for Robert Young] could also be called DR. WELBY.
  • PEPBOYS is a [Big auto parts chain].
Assorted other clues:
  • OSAMA is a [2003 Afghani film that won a Golden Globe]. I prefer Afghan as the adjective and noun.
  • [They keep you from passing] refers to EFFS, as in the letter grade F.
  • [Belgian city in W.W. I fighting] is YPRES.
  • OVINE means [Like rams and lambs] and sheep in general.
  • [Cat Stevens's faith] is ISLAM. His name is Yusuf Islam now.
  • [They have loads to do] clues WASHERS. Does this mean washing machines or people who do the wash?
  • ASIA is [One edition of the Wall Street Journal].
  • [Long-distance call?] is sometimes a YELL.
  • To [gild the lily] is to OVERDO it.
  • SAN REMO is a [Riviera resort].
  • [Page-oner] is a CELEB.
  • [Pope after John X] is LEO VI.
  • [Anatomical passages], in a crossword? Gotta be ITERS.
  • [French equivalent] is EGALE.
  • [Elementary school trio] is the three R's, or RRR (readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic).
  • [Hedingham Castle locale] is ESSEX. I'm guessing it's the Essex in England and not the New Jersey county.
  • One [Target of a youth outreach program] might be a RUNAWAY.
  • [Where I's cross?: Abbr.] is JCT., as in an interstate junction.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword rerun in Across Lite, "Body of Work," takes as its theme phrases that pair a body part and an "of ___" component. Working from the top down, there's HAIR OF THE DOG, HEAD OF CABBAGE ("head of steam" or "head of the household" would also have fit), EYE OF THE TIGER ("...the needle" also works), NECK OF THE WOODS, BACK OF BEYOND ("...the box"), CHEST OF DRAWERS, HEART OF THE MATTER ("...palm"), and the roving BONE OF CONTENTION. What, no 'leg of lamb," "butt of the joke," "belly of the beast"? I had one square awry, where a crossing could have a different letter and still pass muster for both clues—[Rush headlong] is CAREE* and [Excludes] is BA*S. CAREEN/BANS or CAREER/BARS? It's the latter, but a noun definition for either word would have made the choice clearer. There was another iffy square—the [Speculative investment] could be spelled FLIER or FLYER, and the crossing [City of Ecuador], c'mon, how many of you know if it's IBARRA or YBARRA? Turns out to be the I. A couple other relatively obscure words are here. AURATE is a [Gold-based acid salt]. HOSTLER is clued as [Roundhouse employee]; this innkeeper's hired tender of horses can also be spelled OSTLER, which also shows up occasionally in crosswords.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Oscar Night," redefines a bunch of words and phrases in an Academy awards context:
  • SHOOTING STARS is a [Photog's job at the Oscars?].
  • Concert HALL MONITORS might be [Visual aid for those in the auditorium's back row?].
  • [Winners in the animated and live-action categories?] might be a PAIR OF SHORTS.
  • [Comment after the TelePrompTer broke?] could be "WHAT'S MY LINE?"
  • [Producer's evasive response as to why the show always runs long? (see 97 Across)] is SONG AND DANCE. I heard they asked Peter Gabriel to cut his song down to about a 90-second snippet and he refused, so he'll not be performing his song on the broadcast.
  • [What some dresses give some celebs?] is GOOD EXPOSURE.
  • [Category that Clint Eastwood wants added?] is BEST WESTERN. Eastwood hasn't done a Western since 1992, has he?
  • 97A is WHOLE NUMBERS, [What might have to be cut to shorten the show].
  • [An Academy Award, plus its definition? (or actually, Steve Austin's boss on "The Six Million Dollar Man")] is OSCAR GOLDMAN.
  • [Joe Pesci's only Oscars complaint?] concerns DE NOMINATIONS.
XEBEC, the [Corsair's vessel], has got to be the single most obscure word in this crossword. I like seeing L.A. TIMES right up top at 1-Across, clued as a [W Coast daily].

Dan Naddor's syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword, "Star Search," combines a crossword puzzle with a word search. Naddor takes a couple liberties with the theme entries' layout. The eight theme entries are titles of movies whose stars won an OSCAR (116-Across), the [Award won by lead actors in this puzzle's starred films: the winners' names are hidden "word search"-style in the grid (across, down or diagonally, and forward or backward)], but they're not all in symmetrical locations. (I've added circles to the squares where the stars' names are spelled out in my solution grid.) A couple long non-theme answers butt in:
  • SANTA MONICA PIER is the [Westernmost point of Forrest Gump's long run]. Tom HANKS' last name is hidden inside 73-Down, but the movie title, Forrest Gump, is not a theme entry, and neither is SANTA MONICA PIER despite its length. Yes, Hanks won an Oscar for this movie, but he also won for PHILADELPHIA, which gets a starred clue (45A. [1993 film]). Al PACINO is found backwards in SANTA MONICA PIER, though.
  • 82A, [Rival of Leonardo], appears opposite PHILADELPHIA in the grid, but MICHELANGELO isn't a theme entry. It does hide Jessica LANGE, though.
In addition to PHILADELPHIA, here are the theme entries:
  • 33A. [1987 film] is MOONSTRUCK, starring Cher. Her name's hidden in 9-Across.
  • 57A. [1994 film] is BLUE SKY, starring Jessica Lange.
  • 74A. [2003 film] is MONSTER, starring Charlize Theron. She's hiding in 5-Down.
  • 95A. [1980 film] is RAGING BULL. Robert DE NIRO runs diagonally down from square 62.
  • 106D. [1995 film] is Nicolas Cage's LEAVING LAS VEGAS. His name's in 93-Down.
  • 3D. [1992 film] is SCENT OF A WOMAN, and I just don't understand how Al Pacino won that Oscar. He was up against Denzel Washington in Malcolm X, Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, and Stephen Rea in Crying Game...and he just shouted "Hoo-ah!" a lot.
  • 58D. [1982 film] is SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Meryl Streep's name is symmetrically opposite from De Niro's, diagonally upwards ending in square 45.
Despite the limitations that the word-search answers place on the constructor, the overall fill is remarkably smooth—no overreliance on unfamiliar abbreviations, foreign vocabulary, or obscurities.

(If you're an LA Times reader, you may be wondering why this isn't the same puzzle that's in your Sunday paper. I don't solve the one that's printed in the Sunday LA Times, but you can do the excellent syndicated Sunday puzzle for free. Just register (it's free) at Cruciverb.com, download the Across Lite crossword-solving software (also free) here, and click the LA Times link in the Cruciverb home page's sidebar on Sundays. The Monday through Saturday LA Times puzzles are also available in Across Lite via Cruciverb, and these will be the same as what's in the newspaper. With Across Lite, you can solve on-screen, save a partially finished puzzle for later, or print it out for pen/pencil solving. )

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has some sort of blah fill, but also some fun stuff:
  • ERICA KANE is a [Daytime TV character since January 5, 1970].
  • [Carnival quarters?] is a good clue for cruise-ship STATEROOMS. Carnival Cruises, not the sort of carnivals that hire carnies.
  • ARCHIE [Andrews from Riverdale] is the classic comic-book teenager.
  • Linda RONSTADT is the ["Different Drum" singer]. Why haven't I heard of that song?
  • MARMOSET! That's a [Mini-monkey] of a sort. Have you seen the " Marmoset There'll Be Days Like This" video?
In the "blah" category, we have these:
  • [Good place to drill] is an oil WELL SITE.
  • TENDEREST, with an -EST ending, is clued [Like the best steak].
  • There are several -ER words. ROOTER is a [Fan], as in a fan rooting for her team to win. LADER is a [Longshoreman, e.g.]. ARRIVERS are clued with [They're met at the airport]. RICER is a [Kitchen gadget], and it's a more common word with its -ER ending than these other ones.
  • There are -INGs at the end of a few words, too. PINNING is a [Tailor's activity]. DICING is [Preparing peppers, perhaps]. CCING is clued as [Keeping in the loop, briefly].