March 31, 2009

Wednesday, 4/1

Onion 4:12
BEQ/Rex 4:11
NYT 3:46
CS 3:14
LAT 3:08

Over in the comments on Monday's L.A. Crossword Confidential post, Joon crunched the numbers on the odds that two crosswords will share an answer. The upshot, which pretty well debunks the whole crossword fill conspiracy theory, is that "the two puzzles will have a word in common about half the time, and 2+ words in common about once a week." So now we know. When we see the same word in more than one of a day's puzzles, it's not eerie—it's just something that's statistically likely to happen a lot of the time.

The discussion there turned to the likelihood of two people in a group sharing a birthday. Facebook tells me that two of my crossword friends have April 1 birthdays—regular commenter PhillySolver and constructor Francis Heaney. Happy Birthday to the fellas, and Happy April Fools Day to all.

Reminder: Wednesday's Jeopardy! will have a category drawn from Brendan Quigley's Thursday NYT puzzle. Don't miss either one—and choose the order wisely. Would you rather spoil the crossword or the Jeopardy! category?

Ed Stein and Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

It's an April 1 crossword, so what does that mean? Mischief! The clues for the theme entries appear to give the answers away, but it turns out they're all trick questions:

  • 18A: [Where was the Battle of Bunker Hill fought?] Nearby BREED'S HILL, that's where.
  • 29A: [What animal does a bulldogger throw?] It's a STEER. The rodeo event known as bulldogging is also called steer wrestling.
  • 37A: [In what country are Panama hats made?] Why, that's ECUADOR, of course.
  • 41A: [What is George Eliot's given name?] It's not George, it's MARY ANN. Mary Anne/Mary Ann/Marian Evans was the novelist's name at birth.
  • 47A: [From what animals do we get catgut?] That material used in to string some musical instruments comes from SHEEP or horse intestines.
  • 59A: [In what country are Chinese gooseberries produced?] They're also called kiwi fruit, and they're from NEW ZEALAND.
  • 3D: [What color is the black box in a commercial jet?] It's ORANGE. For real? Wow. I had no idea. That's going to figure into my new fake story for why I call myself Orange in the blogosphere.
  • 7D: [What is actor Stewart Granger's family name?] It ain't Granger. It's STEWART. His real name was James Stewart, but there was another actor using that name so he changed it.
  • 31D: [The California gull is the state bird of which state?] That one's UTAH. The Utahns liked the California gulls because they came and ate up all the locusts that were plaguing the land.
  • 34D: [For what animals are the Canary Islands named?] That'd be DOGS, a.k.a. canines. The birds called canaries get their name from the islands, not vice versa.
  • 43D: [What kind of fruit is an alligator pear?] It is an AVOCADO.
  • 49D: [How many colleges are in the Big Ten?] This athletic conference has ELEVEN teams. The graphic designer who came up with the Big Ten logo is a genius—see the "11" in the background color framing the letter T?
Let us examine the numbers here. A whopping 12 theme entries and 72 theme squares? Yowzah! Between the ambitiousness of the theme and the sheer fun of it, I'm nominating this puzzle for the year-end Oryx awards.

Elsewhere in the puzzle, we learn that the Washoe Indians can also be spelled WASHO. The [California Indian tribe: Var.] clue and my memory suggest that Washoe is the usual spelling, but Wikipedia mostly goes with Washo. I love [Drop ___ (moon)] as the clue for TROU; hey, how else are you gonna clue TROU? EDIT is clued [Get copy right]; yes, indeed, that is what editors strive to do. Clever clue for TILDE: [Part of São Paulo] means part of that spelling, not part of the city. Speaking of diacritical marks, [Not différent] clues EGAL, the French word for "same." The clue for MSEC, or millisecond, is a little tricky: [Fraction of a tick: Abbr.]. I got snared by the HI-DE-HI clue, instead entering HI-DE-HO. Both can be called a [Cab Calloway phrase]. "Hi-de-hi" is in the lyrics to "The Hi De Ho Miracle Man." The [Site for a site] clue doubles up, giving both the WEB and the NET.

The lowly ARIL, or [Seed cover], is perhaps the oldest bit of crosswordese in the grid. Or maybe that distinction belongs to HODS, which are [Brick carriers]. Also in the debit column for today's puzzle is ALL SIZES, clued as [Nobody too big or too small, on a sign]. The clue seems to point more towards something like "one size fits most." Of course, the three things in the debit column are more than offset by the 12 theme answers, 72 theme squares, and assorted other clever clues and interesting fill. Excellent work, Ed and Paula. (And Will Shortz, of course.)

Updated Wednesday morning:

Pancho Harrison's Los Angeles Times crossword

Pancho's puzzle celebrates April Fools Day without any trickery, just theme entries that are movie titles ending with those words:
  • [2003 Katie Holmes film] is PIECES OF APRIL.
  • [1965 film based on a Katherine Anne Porter novel] is SHIP OF FOOLS.
  • [1962 WWII film] is THE LONGEST DAY.
Overall, this crossword was a straightforward affair, without much twist to the clues. (This puzzle may be an example of eased-up cluing on behalf of former TMS solvers just getting accustomed to the L.A. Times style.) An ANALYSIS ([In-depth examination]) of the fill reveals some ARID ([Bone-dry]) TEDIUM ([Monotony]) leading to INANE ([Vacuous]) ENNUI ([Listless feeling]). But still, Pancho manages to SEX ([Census datum]) it up with an UPBEAT ([Cheery]) pair of Biblical names, ESAU ([Genesis twin]) and ENOS ([Grandson of Adam]), and the PGA TOUR ([Links org. sponsoring the FedEx Cup]). Regardless of one's feelings about golf, PGA TOUR does make for a terrific crossword answer. The Biblical names, eh, not so much.

A commenter at L.A. Crossword Confidential the other day mentioned that the L.A. Times puzzle seems to have less Biblical fill than the NYT. Does anyone know if that is indeed the case? (P.S. Rex Parker has the L.A.C.C. write-up of today's puzzle.)

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Loaded Guns"

We take a break from the prank-filled holiday for a standard, no-tricks crossword. The theme entries are "loaded guns" in that they start with G and end with UN or start with GU and end with N:
  • [What a drop is made of, in "Do-Re-Mi"] is GOLDEN SUN. Not a great stand-alone phrase for a crossword answer.
  • The GULF OF TONKIN is a [South China Sea arm].
  • GOOD, CLEAN FUN is [Wholesome amusement]. This describes most crosswords, but not all of them. (See the assorted alt-weekly puzzles for touches of good, dirty fun.)
  • A [1972 Bread hit] I've never heard of is called "GUITAR MAN."
I did get duped by the clue for DESKTOP—[Location for many an icon] somehow put me in mind of religious icons and pop icons. The [Tree on Connecticut's state quarter] doesn't look that much like an OAK in its tiny numismatic form, but it's the Charter Oak. The Connecticut colony hid its charter in the tree so the English couldn't revoke it back in 1687. The tree was felled by a storm in the mid 1800s.

Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Why so many colors in the heading here? I did that to stall for time while I figure out what the theme is. Give me a couple minutes here...okay, I think I'm onto something. 69A PREYS is clued [Hear 51-Across], which is VIRGINS, clued as [They're chaste]. "Hear" that clue another way, as "they're chased," and you get PREYS. (Is that plural noun kosher? I think perhaps not.)

So let's look at the other theme clues. 1A is [Type A people], who are DOERS. Pronounce it as "Taipei people" to get 17A TAIWANESE.

9A is [One who gets a lot of booze], a DRUNK. The 28A clue [See 9-Across] is simply a standard cross-reference clue, and the answer is the synonym LUSH. 26A [Hear 9-Across] commands you to hear it as "one who gets a lot of boos," or a VILLAIN.

39A [Horse sound] is NEIGH. To 41A [Hear 39-Across's answer] is to pick up its homophone, NEE. Then there's 42A [Hear 39-Across], "hoarse sound"—a COUGH.

23A [Artificial] clues PLASTIC. 55A [Hear 23-Across] expects you parse 23A's clue as "art official," a CURATOR.

62A is [Not allowed], or FORBIDDEN. For 71A [Hear 62-Across], the clue becomes "not aloud," or TACIT.

So there are 12 answers involved in the April Fools Day sound-alike theme (plus two cross-referenced answers involving theme answers). That density of thematic material accounts for some fill that Francis probably wasn't thrilled to include (two-word partials AS PIE, NEED I, SEE TV, and OR TEA; letter run CDE; plural IAGOS; prefixed REWASH; dangling KAI, OLA, CHA, and SHA). But there's also some kickass fill. THE I CHING is an [Ancient divination tool]. DOOR LATCH seems flat, but the clue, [Fortunate public bathroom feature], salvages it. WHININESS is a [Bitching condition]. The DELACORTE is the [Shakespeare in the Park theater, in Central Park]. And I liked the gimme clue for GREG Brady, [One of Cindy, Jan, and Marsha's stepbrothers]—only that last character's name is spelled Marcia.

If you enjoyed the pronunciation play in this puzzle but you haven't tried your hand at cryptic crosswords, check out the new cryptics section in sidebar to the right. Biddlecombe's Guide will give you a good primer on how cryptic clues work. 101 Cryptic Crosswords: From the New Yorker is a great book for cryptic newbies—the puzzles are small and easy and, most importantly, not British. I love British cryptics, but can rarely finish one without peeking at the answers and have to Google things at in order to understand some stuff. But the American cryptics are much more pliable for an American solver.

Oh, crap. I forgot the BEQ puzzle today. Will this blogging never end? Crikey, I need to get out of the house already. Updating yet again!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "It's All About Me," is by Michael ("Rex Parker") Sharp today

Michael's puzzle tucks a hidden REX inside each theme answer.
  • [The Nerd Herd on "Chuck," ostensibly] are COMPUTER EXPERTS.
  • [Gymnastics component] is FLOOR EXERCISE.
  • [Quintessential] is on a par with PAR EXCELLENCE.
  • [Not so much] means TO A LESSER EXTENT.
The Scrabbliness of the four thematic X's is beefed up by a Z and Michael's beloved K (only one!) and Y (three of 'em). Favorite clues/answers:
  • AC/DC is clued as [Bisexual, slangily].
  • ASA was the [Longtime "One Life to Live" patriarch Buchanan]. If you watched that soap opera any time between 1980 and 2008, you know cantankerous ASA.
  • GARY SINISE is the {Detective Mac Taylor portrayer on "CSI:NY"].
  • GLEEM toothpaste was an [Ipana competitor]. I don't remember ever seeing Ipana, but my family used Gleem in the '70s when we were on a Crest break.



crossword 9:27
puzzle 0:40

hello friends. welcome to the 43rd installment of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest. this week's puzzle, "Please, No Calls," was a very difficult crossword capped by a highly unusual (though not terribly difficult) meta. let's have a look at the theme answers:

  • ["k ttyl" e.g.] is a TEXT MESSAGE. i kind of wanted this answer to be 1337SPEAK, but that wouldn't fit.
  • [Driver's license info for the person reading these words] is YOUR SURNAME.

well then, what are we to make of this? as always, the title is a hint, as are the contest instructions: This week's contest answer word will be of varying lengths. I must receive your entry by Tuesday at noon ET. hmm, that's odd—usually, he says something about sending an email with the answer word in the subject line, but not this time. and varying lengths? maybe YOUR SURNAME is somehow involved?

you bet it is. notice that the across answers in the grid are speckled with *s. here are all the *ed entries, in order:

  • 2a [Calendar abbr.*] = TUE
  • 23a [Must pay*] = OWE TO
  • 26a [Das Gegenteil von "Ja"*] = NEIN. i assume Gegenteil means opposite, not that i know any german.
  • 28a ["Now I get it!"*] = OHHH
  • 47a [Not merely cheap*] = FREE
  • 48a [Incomplete foursome*] = TRIO. you think that's how they think of themselves?
  • 62a [Korean cabbage*] = WON. not an easy clue, although it was a gimme for me. the WON is the currency of (south) korea.
  • 71a [Plus*] = TOO. i tried ADD, then AND, before realizing the theme.

that theme, of course, is that these are all homophones (or close, in the case of the 3's) of digits: 2, 02, etc. they spell out a 10-digit number to which you were supposed to TEXT MESSAGE YOUR SURNAME by tuesday at noon eastern. i won't actually spell out the whole number because i'm sure matt would rather not have his cell phone number here on the internet for anybody to read (he did say "please, no calls"), but you can work it out yourself pretty easily. by the way, 202 is the area code for washington DC, although matt lives a few hours outside of DC in virginia.

i'm not sure how you were supposed to participate if you don't have a cell phone, but there's probably a way to do that online. not to mention, if you sent matt an email and explained that you were trapped in a 1990s time warp, i suspect he'd count that as a correct answer.

gnarly bits from the fill:

  • [1993 movie in which Nicole Kidman tries to suffocate a mannequin with Saran wrap] is MALICE. i must have missed that one, although kidman is my putative favorite actress.
  • [Johnson in St. Petersburg] clues IVANOV, the russian surname, but i don't think the clue is 100% right. ivan is certainly the russian equivalent of "john," but "johnson" would more properly be ivanovich (the patronymic), as in nikolai ivanovich lobachevsky. i think IVANOV is more like "jones," which is pretty much the same name as john but used as a surname. at any rate, i would have preferred a chekhov clue here.
  • ["The Things They Carried" author Tim] is O'BRIEN. that's a good book, about the vietnam war. like many, i had to read it in high school english.
  • [Unlikely to escape] clues the informal adjective TOAST. as in, "syracuse is TOAST tonight." 0-for-10 from 3-point range, and a zillion turnovers—that's not the recipe for success.
  • HAD A SON is clued as [Furthered the family name]. amy would probably take this opportunity to gripe about the patriarchy, and not without cause. but since you're getting me instead, i'll take the opportunity to gripe about this not really being an in-the-language phrase.
  • the prefix NEO- is clued as [___-Grunfeld Defense (chess opening played by Karpov against Kasparov)]. (warning: technical chess gibberish ahead. you are advised to skip to the next bullet item.) i can't figure out exactly what this refers to—the grunfeld is definitely a defense (i.e. an opening for black), but the NEO-grunfeld seems to be a variant in which white chooses to delay Nc3. since it's white's decision that makes it a NEO-grunfeld, is it really appropriate to call it a defense?
  • the unhelpful [About 24 million people] clues YEMENIS, but i got it instantly anyway because i already had the Y in place. other geography tidbits i didn't know included UTAH, [The Wasatch Front's locale], and PERTH, the [City on the Swan River].
  • two proper names i didn't know crossed: MARA [Liasson of NPR], and ["Never Cry Wolf" author] farley MOWAT. even though CARA, DARA, LARA, SARA, and TARA are all perfectly good first names, i guessed this right, which probably means i did know MOWAT somewhere in the back of my mind.
  • [Mount Doom's location] is MORDOR, sauron's realm in the lord of the rings. i don't think i've ever seen MORDOR in a crossword before, but it's perfectly gettable. how many zillions of solvers have read tolkien and/or devoured the peter jackson films?
  • URANIC is [Pertaining to element #92]. i think uranium is the only heavy element that i actually remember the atomic number of, so this was a nice gimme.
  • COMBOS! they're the snack foods whose varieties include "pizzeria pretzels." i remember munching on these things as a kid, but i probably haven't had a combo since middle school.

that's all for this week. next time it gets easy again.


Set your DVR for Wednesday's Jeopardy!

Don't miss tomorrow's episode of Jeopardy!—there'll be a "New York Times Crossword Puzzle" category with video clues (Shortz on TV!) that are also the theme clues for Thursday's NYT crossword by Brendan Quigley. So if you watch Wednesday's show before doing Thursday's puzzle, you'll see massive spoilers for the theme. But if you record the show and watch it after you've done the puzzle, then you've spoiled an entire Jeopardy! category. Pick your poison.


March 30, 2009

Tuesday, 3/31

Jonesin' 4:28
CS 3:16
NYT 2:43
LAT 2:41

Allan Parrish's New York Times crossword

Parrish's puzzle features an anagram theme—the four theme answers begin or end with anagrams of BAER. Hey, if this crossword had a title, it could be "Baer on the Ropes." The theme entries are:

  • BROCCOLI RABE is a [Bitter-tasting vegetable]. Do not want!
  • RUNNING BEAR is a ["Young Indian brave" in a 1960 Johnny Preston #1 hit]. None of this rings a bell for me. Apparently it's a love song in which the couple drowns. My breakfast-test radar is pinging.
  • The BARE MINIMUM is the [Least acceptable amount].
  • REBA McENTIRE was a [Country singer with a hit sitcom]. She still is, but the show ended two years ago. When will I remember that the word entire is the end of her name? I blithely filled in REBAMCINTYRE first.
There's a ton of good fill here. DId you notice that? The SOLE of your shoe leaves the next answer, a SCUFF. SASHAYS, or [Steps nonchalantly], bounces off IMPETUS ([Driving force]) and BOREDOM ([Yawn inducer]). Nobody wants to eat the DREGS ([Bottom-of-the-barrel stuff]) of the RIGATONI ([Tubular pasta]). Yes, indeed, I have a PENCHANT ([Strong liking]) for these answers.

If you're newer to crosswords, here are some answers that you'll see again and again:
  • EIRE is the Irish name for Ireland. It's [Where Donegal Bay is].
  • [Abbr. in a help wanted ad] clues EOE this time. It's equally likely to be EEO—you can't fill in the whole thing without using the crossing answers.
  • The RUHR is [Essen's region] in Germany. If the clue is for a Ruhr city, consider ESSEN.
  • [Village Voice award] is the OBIE, for off-Broadway productions. It's the off-Broadway version of the Tony awards.
  • [Vessel by a basin] is a EWER, an old-fashioned water pitcher.
  • APIA is a [Samoan port]. This one used to be much more common in crosswords than it is now—but it will eventually resurface again.
  • [Peace Nobelist Root] is ELIHU Root. The other famous Elihu in crosswords is Elihu Yale, the namesake of Yale University.
  • OBOES are [Slender woodwinds]. With those three vowels, the OBOE is probably the most common musical instrument in the crossword.
Take a minute to commit these to memory, and I promise you, it'll pay dividends. Not cash dividends, mind you, but crossword-answering dividends.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Go Digital: Turning over a new page in technology"

Isn't a Thursdayish gimmick puzzle a welcome sight this early in the week? Matt's puzzle ends the clues for the theme entries with the phrase "after the digital conversion?" and that "turning over" in the title's blurb is key to interpreting that. You take the number in the answer and turn the digits upside down—and then spell out the number in the grid. The longest answer, 17- and 52-Across, is SIXTY-SIX BOTTLES / OF BEER ON THE WALL (that [song for long road trips, after the digital conversion?]); 66 is 99 upside down. Here are the other theme entries:
  • [Get rid of, after the digital conversion?] is DEEP-NINE (deep-six).
  • [Nick Lachey's former boy band, after the digital conversion?] is EIGHTY-SIX DEGREES. 86 is 98 upside down, and Lachey was in 98 Degrees.
  • [Do a basic surfing move, after the digital conversion?] converts "hang ten" into HANG OH-ONE (10 to 01).
  • [Cat food brand, after the digital conversion?] is SIX LIVES, upending Nine Lives.
  • after the digital conversion?] 
Matt packs 71 theme squares into this puzzle, which is an awful lot. That's facilitated by the inclusion of fill that works for the alt-weekly audience but would cause grumbling in an older newspaper crowd. WASD is clued [Letter presets used in place of arrows in keyboard-based computer games]; the W, A, S, and D keys can be accessed easily by the left hand and are in the same basic layout as my keyboard's four arrow keys. (I pieced the answer together with the crossings and didn't understand it until I looked at my keyboard.) ROLLA is clued as [Rockn ___ (2008 U.K. movie)]; it's also a college town in Missouri. Jack Black's [Tenacious D bandmate Kyle] GASS and [Grateful Dead bass guitarist Phil] LESH have 4-letter last names that are tough to clue any other way. Reality TV accounts for MIRNA, [Charla's taller racing partner, on "The Amazing Race: All-Stars"]; Charla's a little person and Mirna is her cousin. AIBOS are those [Sony robotic pets], robo-dogs. GOT BUSY means [Started in on lovemaking]. And ASSY is ["___ McGee" (2006 animated series about a detective with no head, torso or arms]. These not-ready-for-NYT answers are joined by more standard crosswordese like OONA, ERLE, ILIE, ALAI, and ETO. There's also a rather (to me) obscure answer, IBLIS—[Satan's equivalent, in Islam]. I am considerably more familiar with DIG'EM, the frog [Mascot of Kellogg's Honey Smacks].

Steve Dobis's Los Angeles Times crossword

I suspect this is Steve Dobis's newspaper crossword debut. Congrats!

The theme was laying itself out nicely from top to bottom, with phrases starting with assorted male terms of nobility. That doesn't sound so fancy, but then the theme's tied together by THE KINGSMEN, ["Louie Louie" singers, and this puzzle's theme]. Nice touch, eh? The king's men are:
  • KNIGHT RIDER, the ['80s TV series with a talking car named KITT].
  • COUNT FLEET, a [1943 Triple Crown winner]. Not a horse whose name I knew.
  • PRINCE OF WALES, or [England's Charles, since 1958].
  • DUKE OF EARL, clued with ["Nothing can stop" him, in a 1962 doo-wop classic]. Great song—and two king's men in its title.
Highlights in the fill:
  • The RED SCARE was [McCarthy era paranoia].
  • MADCAP means [Zany]; I love both words.
  • VOODOO is a [Kind of doll used in magical rites]. Speaking of voodoo, I'm heading to New Orleans this weekend for spring break.
  • LAKOTA is [Sitting Bull's language].
  • "IF ONLY" is the equivalent of ["I wish it could be!"].
I'm having trouble making the clue for 1-Down work. AS FACT is clued as [To be the truth]. Let's see..."I take your story to be the truth" = "I take your story as fact"? It feels a little clunky, but its neighbors, VOODOO and EXODUS, rock.

For more on this puzzle, don't miss PuzzleGirl's post at L.A. Crossword Confidential.

Randy Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "What's in Your Wallet?"

The theme is money, money, money. Actually, there are six words for money at the end of the theme answers:
  • COOKIE DOUGH is a [Ben & Jerry's ingredient].
  • FRIED CLAMS are a [Seafood selection].
  • [Broadway handouts] are PLAYBILLS.
  • [Where one may place a tall order?] is at STARBUCKS.
  • JOHNNY CASH is an [Oscar-nominated role for Joaquin Phoenix].
  • [Flavored makeup products from Bonne Bell] are LIP SMACKERS. I'm not sure lip balm counts as makeup, but boy, LIP SMACKERS sure do come in a lot of flavors. Oh, how I loved them when I was 13.
This is one of those rare themes in which the answers would make great entries in a themeless crossword. And they all end with slang terms for money? Well done. The theme would've been less fun with, say, ROEBUCKS, GAS BILLS, and PETTY CASH—the phrases Randy Ross chose are much livelier.


March 29, 2009

Monday, 3/30

BEQ 5:12
LAT 3:02
CS 2:50
NYT 2:41

I can't tell you how disheartening it is to look outside at the end of March and see snow on the ground in Chicago. Oh, wait. The people up yonder in the northern Great Plains didn't have a month and a half of bare ground up 'til now, did they? They're still waiting for the snow to leave? I don't know how they live up there, I tell ya.

Andrea Carla Michaels' New York Times crossword

When I turn my attention to the New York Times' online crossword applet, I don't always check the byline right away. I want to read the title for a Sunday puzzle, and it helps to know whose themeless stylings I'm facing on Friday and Saturday. But on a Monday? I get right to the task of doing that puzzle. Part way through this one, I was convinced the puzzle must've been made by a woman so I looked at the byline and sure enough, it's Andrea's puzzle.

I'll get back to the woman's touch in this crossword in a moment. First, let's review the theme, in which multiples progress:

  • SINGLE OCCUPANCY is a [Small hotel room specification].
  • DOUBLE INDEMNITY is a [1944 thriller with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck].
  • TRIPLE LAYER CAKE is a [Baked dessert with lemon filling, maybe]. No! Not lemon! I'd like the cake's interstices to be filled with strawberries, raspberries, chocolate, or any combination thereof.
  • QUADRUPLE BYPASS is indeed [Serious heart surgery].
Sixty squares of thematic material? That's mighty fancy puzzlin' for a Monday.

Besides Barbara Stanwyck, who are this puzzle's other women? LEONA is the [Late hotel queen Helmsley]. There's EDIE [Falco of "The Sopranos"] and SELA, or [Actress Ward]. SPENCER is the late [Princess Diana's family name]. SHE is 52-Across, ["___ sells seashells by the seashore" (tongue twister)]. In Shakespeare, CELIA is [Oliver's love in "As You Like It"]. [Author Morrison] is the eminent TONI. [TV's warrior princess] was the ass-kicking XENA. Women have UTERI, or [Wombs] (unless they've had a hysterectomy). I, TINA is [Singer Turner's autobiography]. CLUE is a [Word in many a Nancy Drew title]. (The men chime in with OMAR, EMIL, ESAI, the ALS, AJAX, and KERN.) In comparison, last Monday's puzzle had about twice as many male answers as female answers. Equity is nice, isn't it?

Aside from the Noted Women's Club fill, my favorite answer was BIG BABY, or [Chronic whiner]. Definitely a harsh name to call someone. I'm also partial to the entries with the J's and X's—JAMB and JEST, AJAX and XENA, APEX and NINJA, EXES.
"I PLEDGE," clued as the [Start of a daily school recital], is really a 7-letter partial phrase, but is there any American who couldn't answer this?

There's a lot of Latin (e.g., more than one answer) for a Monday crossword. ANNI are [Years, in Latin]. [Ad ___ per aspera (Kansas' motto)] clues ASTRA. ET TU completes ["___, Brute?"]. If any of these are new to you, make a mental note of them—they are sure to return to the crossword another day.


Donna Levin's Los Angeles Times crossword

As with the NYT puzzle, the theme answers follow a four-step progression, this time with words indicating various levels of quality:
  • POOR RICHARD is [Franklin's almanac-writing alter ego].
  • FAIR-HAIRED BOY is a [Young, promising fellow]. This phrase isn't too familiar to me. My dictionary says it means "favorite, cherished." Sometimes a lad who shows little promise is cherished anyway, right?
  • GOOD SAMARITAN is a [Beneficent biblical traveler].
  • GREAT GATSBY is clued as the [F. Scott Fitzgerald title character, with "the"].
Now, one of the long Down answers is SUNDAY BEST ([Church garb]), which halfway fits in as a better-than-great capper to the theme. But BEST isn't the first word in that phrase, and its opposite partner is the obviously-not-part-of-the-theme INTEGRATES, or [Blends together into a whole]. So SUNDAY BEST is just sitting there as a terrific piece of non-theme fill.

The left side of the puzzle skews medical. An L.P.N. is a [Hosp. staffer], PREOP means [Before surg.], and M.D.'s are [Hosp. VIPs]. Another helping profession is BARKEEP, or [Cocktail maker].

For more on this puzzle, see L.A. Crossword Confidential. The post isn't up yet, but should be soon.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy crossword, "Jam-Packed"

The theme entries here number three, and they all begin with words that mean "jam-packed":
  • SATURATED FAT is a [No-no for the health-conscious].
  • FULL METAL JACKET is a Stanley [Kubrick film of 1987].
  • CROWDED HOUSE are the ["Don't Dream It's Over" singers]. I completely missed their 1984-96 heyday, though I remember singer Neil Finn's previous band, Split Enz from the early '80s. They're a Kiwi/Aussie band.
The crossword isn't jam-packed with theme entries, which means there's space to jam-pack it with interesting long fill. EMILY BRONTE is here, opposite the four-word FIT FOR A KING. TEST SITES and a HONEYMOON are stacked alongside the top and bottom theme answers. There's a little APRES-SKI fun and some IDEALISM for good measure.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Shakespeare at the Bat"

If my reading comprehension skills are solid, then I think Brendan suggested that this puzzle is one of his older ones, but I hadn't seen it before. The theme is phrases from Shakespeare plays that can be applied to baseball, but the lines aren't ones I know. AND WHAT A PITCH is clued [William Shakespeare on the knuckleball ("Henry VI, Part II," II, i, 6)], for example. I care even less about baseball than Brendan does, and I like Shakespeare but random squibs of text I don't recognize don't do much for me. One could also quibble that PART II, which is part of that clue, is also in the fill crossing that answer. I don't like the WINDOW clue: [Internet Explorer or Microsoft Word, say]. Those aren't windows. They're applications that you'd have in a window. Would I have liked it better as [Safari or Mail, say]? I don't know.

Favorite bits: There's a WISH LIST, GAZPACHO clued with [It's a dish best served cold], and GLOM ONTO.


March 28, 2009

Sunday, 3/29

NYT 8:14
BG 8:09
LAT 7:46
PI 6:20
CS 4:10

Elizabeth Gorski's New York Times crossword, "Architectural Drawing"

Every now and then, Elizabeth Gorski gets the urge to craft a crossword that combines a rebus gimmick with a spatial or architectural aspect. She's had one with the Empire State Building, one with James Bond's martini glass, and another with Spider-Man's web. This time, she turns her talents towards the EIFFEL TOWER at 118-Across—a [Landmark inaugurated 3/31/1889 whose shape is suggested by nine squares in this puzzle's completed grid]. Which nine squares? Why, the rebus squares, of course, laid out (like the rest of the grid) with left/right symmetry. What's in the rebus squares? Eiffel Tower's initials, ET, which is also the French word et, or "and." What does et do, grammatically speaking? It's a conjunction—THE FRENCH CONNECTION, if you will (67A: [1971 Oscar-winning film whose title is hinted at nine times in this grid]).

There are more French connections in the puzzle's theme. 26-Across is AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is the [1951 Oscar-winning film whose title suggests a visitor to the 118-Across]. That American vacationing in Paris may want beverages or snacks. [Wine enjoyed by 26-Across, maybe] is a CHATEAU LAFITE (45A). [Morning refreshment for 26-Across?] is CAFE AU LAIT (52A); I'm not sure why there's a question mark in that clue. The baked good called a [Napoleon's place, frequented by 26-Across?] is a bakery, or PATISSERIE.

The theme marches on with the ET rebus squares:

  • The Eiffel Tower's spire peaks at 21A: [1986 self-titled album whose cover was Andy Warhol's last work] is ARETHA. (Trivia! I didn't know. See the record cover here.) The ET crossing falls in 10D: AETNA, or [Insurance giant].
  • 37D: Sidney LUMET is the ["Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" director, 2007]. This crosses 59A: DETS, short for detectives, or [Police dept. employees].
  • 74A: E-TICKET has two [ET] rebus squares and is clued [Modern traveler's purchase]. The crossings are 64A: ICE-T, ["Rhyme Pays" rapper] and 65D: A NET, [Work without ___].
  • 93A: [Chopin's "Butterfly" or "Winter Wind"] is an ETUDE. 93D: ETHEREAL means [Light].
  • 94A: RESET is to [Adjust, as a clock]. 95D: ETAGERES are [Snow globe holders].
  • 99A: SEETHE is [Bubble over], and not in a good, happy way. 101D: ETHEL is [Jazzy Waters].
  • 116A: ONSET is the [Beginning], and 117D: ETRE is [To be abroad]—or more clearly, "to be," abroad in France.
  • 121A: ETONS are [Some collars and jackets]. 121D: ETUI is classic crosswordese, [Pins and needles' place].
Beautiful crossword, isn't it? Liz has a gift for the visual and the constructing chops to get rebus squares to fit where they need to in order to draw a picture. And then there's a solid theme-entry count of six. There's probably a reason that very few constructors publish 21x21 rebus puzzles with theme entries layered on top—I can't imagine pulling this off.

Mind you, Liz also had a little help from some clunky little filler words. There's one I don't remember encountering in crosswords before—UNCI (125A) are apparently [Hook-shaped parts of brains]. I may be a medical editor, but I don't know this word. It's the plural of uncus, and my mother, the medical transcriptionist, doesn't know the word either. So it's not just you, if you were stumped by that one.

Here are a few highlights in the non-theme fill:
  • 20A: To [Lose one's shirt] is to GO BROKE. So timely! See also 76A.
  • 51A: BOTCHES means [Messes up].
  • 54A: One sort of [Fruity bowlful] is a COMPOTE. I just like to say "fruity bowlful."
  • 76A: [Doomed] and ACCURSED...sigh.
  • 88A: It's really called a peppermint patty, but still—it's candy. MINT PATTY is clued as a [York product].
  • 4D: PRINCE is clued as the ["Raspberry Beret" singer]. Oh, why that song? "Little Red Corvette," "Let's Go Crazy," the timeless "1999"? All infinitely better songs.
  • 14D: [Arms runners?] are the ULNAE running down your arms.
  • 15D: NED ROREM looks mighty fine with his first/last name combo. ["Bertha" composer] sure didn't ring any bells for me, though.
  • 33D: [Square meal component?] is MATZOH.
  • 41-42D: [It may be bewitching] clues both VOODOO and its neighbor, POTION.
  • 85D: The [Macarena, for one] is a LINE DANCE.
I have a half-nit to pick with 70D: [Soyuz letters] for CCCP. Yes, the old USSR's Cyrillic abbreviation CCCP appeared on old Soviet-era spacecraft. But the Russian space program is still using the Soyuz name—just this week, they launched a Soyuz craft that was heading to the International Space Station upon the departure of the space shuttle Discovery. (The Discovery landed in Florida Saturday afternoon.) The clue's accurate but anachronistic—which means Will Shortz has all the cover he needs to use it. Just a heads-up that Soyuz is still out there.

No late-week NYT crossword would be complete without a little crosswordese, some semi-obscurities, or both. (We call these learning experiences, no?)
  • 87A: [Gunwale pin] is a THOLE. Crosswordese!
  • 97A: [Venomous] clues ASPISH.
  • 105A: TATTED is [Like a lace collar, maybe]. Tatting is something you do when making lace.
  • 5D: TOVARICH is the answer to [Soviet comrade]. I have no idea how I knew that was right.
  • 6D: OKEMO [__ Mountain (Vermont ski resort)] made me mad on a flight once when it was in the in-flight magazine crossword. 'What?!? Nobody's ever heard of that! This puzzle is terrible," I said. I have seen it numerous times since, and it turns out that people have indeed heard of it.
  • 46D: [Long flights] are HEGIRAS. A hegira is an exodus or migration, not an airplane trip or long stairwell.
  • 58D: ARN is the [Royal son of the comics], the "Prince Valiant" comic strip in particular.
  • 83D: The LYS is a [River of France and Belgium]. Man, I got enough problems keeping track of all the 4-letter European rivers!
Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Wedding No-Shows"

This week's Merl Reagle puzzle reframes the phrase "wedding no-shows" and creates a theme of wedding-related phrases in which one letter (specified at the end of the clue) is a no-show. The resulting phrase gets clued with respect to various nuptial scenarios. For example, 67A is [What a priest might accidentally call the bride? (L)], or YOUR AWFUL WEDDED WIFE (lawful). Ha! I'll bet that was the seed entry for this puzzle.

22A: [Not-so-good news for a groom? (I)] clues THE BRIDE'S MAD (the bridesmaid). That definite article would pair better with the maid of honor or the best man, as there's usually just one of those. But there are typically two or more bridesmaids and ushers. 24A: [What Eskimos do at weddings? (R)] is THROW ICE (throw rice). The other theme answers are BOTHER-IN-LAW (brother), LOWER ARRANGEMENT (flower), HERE COMES THE BRIE (bride), EXCHANGE VW'S (vows), and A LOVELY COUPE (couple).

Merl presents a new ENZO, [Singer Stuarti]. Not really new, as the fellow passed away in 2005, but new in that he's not the usual ENZO in crosswords. According to Wikipedia, "During the 1960's and into the early 70's, Enzo Stuarti appeared in a series of commercials for Ragu Spaghetti Sauce, where his catchphrase was 'That's A'Nice!'" Another person I've never heard of is LUANA, or [Actress Anders], who started out in Roger Corman's B-movies. And who is [Actress Felicia] FARR? Jamie Farr says he's much better known among Americans.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's delayed Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite, "Presidential Pet"

There's not too much to say about this puzzle, which is good because I am running out of time tonight. The theme is a "presidential factoid" presented in four 21-letter answers that span the grid and an 11 in the middle: THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE / GAVE TO JOHN QUINCY ADAMS / AN ALLIGATOR, / WHICH THE PRESIDENT KEPT / IN A WHITE HOUSE BATHROOM. I just told my son this factoid, and he was underwhelmed. Aw, I thought he'd get more of a kick out of it.

Was President's Day about six weeks ago? Yes, it was—so this was a timely holiday puzzle when it appeared in the Globe. Granted, it was still a quote/quip sort of theme, and I generally can't get too exercised about such themes.

Updated Sunday morning:

Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

How often do you find yourself filling in 1-Across as the last answer in a crossword? That happened to me with this puzzle. [Cheap trinkets] are tchotchkes or tsatskes or, apparently, CHACHKES. The tchotchke spelling is the one I'm familiar with, but Yiddish words seem to have a variety of spellings in English. I can't help thinking that when Joanie and Chachi got married, they received a few CHACHKES as wedding gifts.

Favorite fill and clues:
  • WOULD-BE means [Aspiring]. My dictionary labels the term "often derogatory." (Wannabe gets labeled "informal derogatory.")
  • CAPE COD is the [Eastern terminus of 3,205-mile-long U.S. Route 6]. Route 6 goes from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to eastern California.
  • [Shrunken head?] is a LAV, which is a "shrunken" form of lavatory. Head is also slang for the room with the toilet.
  • [Virgin Mary, e.g.] is a MOCKTAIL—an alcohol-free version of the Bloody Mary cocktail.
  • [Protesting testing] clues ANTI-NUKE.
  • [They may be subject to slo-mo reviews] clues HOMERS in baseball.
  • RED STATE is a [Republican stronghold].
  • [Analog watch, for one] is a RETRONYM. Retronyms are new names for things that didn't need elaboration before. Before the advent of digital watches, a watch was just a watch. Other retronyms include acoustic guitars and land-line phones.
  • [One in Düsseldorf?] clues that single UMLAUT over the U. I'd like to see UMLAUTS, plural, clued as a [Pair in Mötley Crüe].
Kathleen Fay O'Brien's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, "Los Angeles Clippers"

For my full write-up on this puzzle, see L.A. Crossword Confidential.

The theme entails clipping an LA from nine phrases to create the theme answers:
  • 23A: Toy guns? (FALSE ARMS). This one plays on false alarms.
  • 24A: Education for lab rats? (MAZE CLASSES). This is Lamaze classes minus the LA. I was thinking about childbirth in the previous theme entry, where FALSE ___ losing an LA might've involved "false labor." It didn't, but then labor and birth were evoked in the very next answer.
  • 39A: Thug down in the dumps? (BLUE GOON). Blue Lagoon was a racy 1980 movie starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, who was like Willie Aames only blonder.
  • 43A: Where the South American school gp. meets? (RIO DE LA P.T.A.). Rio de la Plata is a South American river.
  • 65A: Dana Carvey doing The Police's lead singer? (STING IMPRESSION). That might give a lasting impression. Did you see Sting at the Golden Globes, looking all...woolly? Robin Williams could do a solid impression of Sting now.
  • 92A: Cop who brings back the genie when he goes AWOL? (ALADDIN'S M.P.). Aladdin's lamp is the base phrase here.
  • 94A: Dubbed-in sounds of disgust? (UGH TRACK). A laugh track turns into an UGH TRACK? That's perfect. Only the cleverest theme entries actually make solvers laugh, and this one got me. American Idol has an ugh track, thanks to Simon Cowell.
  • 113A: Appropriate style of dress for exams? (TEST FASHION). The latest fashion.
  • 115A: ATM accesses that nobody can guess? (GREAT PINS). Most of the theme answers lop the LA off the beginning of a word. Here, it's extracted from the middle of the Great Plains.
Tribute to Dave Sullivan, Our Tireless Webmaster

A lot of you have no interest in paying attention to how long it takes to finish a crossword, I know. But some of us do like that aspect. And look how cool the revamped leaderboard is! Thanks to Dave and his programming mojo, we can now see how we stack up against the friendly competition on both the NYT and LAT crosswords, in one handy-dandy box.

Dave also made one of these standings boxes for Brendan Quigley's site. It is a bit disheartening to be trounced by others, I know. (Ellen, so fast on the LAT today! A slew of people, faster than me on the BEQs!) But it's all in fun, and I encourage the relative slowpokes (who are, of course, still faster than the majority of solvers out there in America) to post their times too. The minutes field goes up to 90 minutes, so don't be shy if you go over the hour mark.

Please join me in a round of virtual applause and whooping for Dave.


March 27, 2009

Saturday, 3/28

Newsday (not timed, but maybe 9:00ish)
NYT 6:31
LAT 3:48
CS 3:21

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword

Joe Krozel makes a habit of stacking and interlocking 15-letter answers in his themeless puzzles. This one is no exception, with two 15's near each edge. Those long answers roll out thus:

  • 15A. [Estate taxes, e.g.] provide INTERNAL REVENUE.
  • 17A. [Grosbeak relatives] include SCARLET TANAGERS. Not to be confused with Scarlett Johansson as a teenager—this is a red and black bird.
  • 50A. A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE means [Tons of work to do].
  • 53A. PLEASURE CRUISES are [Carnival offerings] from the cruise company Carnival. Who calls these "pleasure cruises"?
  • 2D. UNCONDITIONALLY means [Without reservations].
  • 3D. To STAND ON ONE'S TOES is to [Try to get a better view, say].
  • 12D. A telephone [Operator's line] might be ONE MOMENT, PLEASE. Ah, such a treat to actually get a human voice on the line.
  • 13D. The EUROPEAN THEATER in WWII [included the Eastern and Western fronts].
The puzzle's word count is 74—two over the usual max for a themeless puzzle. I reckon 99% of the people who solve this puzzle will neither notice nor care. (Edited to add: What was I smoking last night? The crossword has 64 words and a very low black square count of 19—which, again, 99% of solvers won't notice and won't care about.) What they might care about are the answers that are strikingly unfamiliar—though the Saturday puzzle sometimes bludgeons us with such fill:
  • The last Down answer in this category demands to be listed first, ahead of the Acrosses. AETAT! 43-Down is an [Old tombstone abbr. meaning "at the age of"]. If this is old crosswordese, it has been 25 years since I saw it/
  • The Greek island SAMOS is [north of the Dodecanese Islands]. I wanted NAXOS here.
  • EDO: It's not just for breakfast in old Tokyo any more. It's also a [Nigerian native or language].
  • SINGER is a perfectly ordinary noun and name. I had no idea it would be the answer to this clue, though: [___ Building, company headquarters erected in 1908 in New York City, at the time the tallest building in the world]. Singer sewing machines, I presume? Speaking of erstwhile tallest-building-in-the-world joints, the Sears Tower in Chicago is to be called the Willis Tower, after a British concern, setting the stage for a couple decades of people in my age group saying "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" whenever the building's name is mentioned.
  • We know what is a [Sentence part: Abbr.], sure. But how often do we see phrase abbreviated as PHR.?
  • Crosswordese alert! ANSA pops back up on occasion. It's a [Looped vase handle].
  • TIR is a [French shooting match]. All my shooting matches take place here in the Midwest, so I didn't know that.
  • We know ERLE Stanley Gardner, sure, but ["Phineas Finn" character Barrington ___] ERLE is not a regular denizen of the crossword.
  • AVAS are [Prizes for video production]. Acronym, I presume?
  • [Having no aisles, in architecture] clues APTERAL, which looks to mean "without wings" if it's got the word roots I think it does.
  • TOSCA is a regular in the puzzle, but not clued as [Object of Cavaradossi's affection].
  • [Be no slouch in class?] clues SIT ERECT, which feels not quite "in the language" as a phrase.
  • Hey, look! It's one of those "roll your own" words that likely not a single one of us has ever uttered: IRELESS is clued as [Having no spleen], relying on the "anger" meaning of "spleen."
I dunno, that sort of felt like a lot of "Huh?" stuff for one puzzle, but I still made it through safely thanks to the crossings. Here are some less vexing clues and fill I liked:
  • [Big catch of 2003] is Saddam HUSSEIN. The year wasn't pointing me in the right direction at all, so I was surprised by the answer. I can't say i liked it, but it surprised me.
  • "SPILL IT!" means ["Fess up!"].
  • [One on a strict diet] is a VEGAN, whose request is NO MEAT. (Also no eggs, dairy, etc.)
  • BISCOTTI are [Crunchy cafe treats]. Horrible excuse for cookies if you haven't got anything to dip them in.
  • [Intrepid palace employees] are TASTERS checking for poison in the royal's food.
  • [Five-time winner of the Copa do Mundo] is BRASIL spelled the Brazilian way, in keeping with the Brazilian way of saying "World cup.
  • [There's sometimes no room for it] clues DESSERT. Nonsense! If you don't finish your entrée, you will have room for bomba al cioccolato like I did tonight.
  • [Work ID] is an OPUS number.

Robert Wolfe's L.A. Times crossword

I'm getting a late start on blogging today, and a crossword proofreading gig demands my attention. So let me lay out just a few clues here and then refer you to my L.A. Crossword Confidential post on this puzzle.

If you haven't checked out the new blog yet, let me tell you one cool feature—a "Crosswordese 101" section for every puzzle. PuzzleGirl, Rex, and I are taking a decidedly educational approach over there, laying out the sort of lessons that are a boon for newer solvers. There's also a lot of content like that in my book, How To Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, but hey, nobody who's Googling because they're stuck on a crossword is able to Google their way to the lessons in my book. Today's Crosswordese 101 focuses on the 4-letter European rivers. Who among us couldn't use a refresher course on those?

All righty, some clues from today's LAT:
  • [What a nyctophobe fears] is the DARK.
  • A [Floating point] is the WATERLINE. I'm sending warm, dry thoughts to the folks battling the Red River up in the Fargo area. I don't know if WATERLINE is a word that the hydrologists use in talking about rivers. Let's look it up. Nope: "The waterline is an imaginary line marking the level at which a ship or boat floats in the water."
  • [Lions or tigers or bears], oh my! Each of those words is a NOUN. Cute clue.
  • [Peggy Lee and Marilyn Monroe, at birth] were both NORMAS. Marilyn was Norma Jeane Baker, and Peggy Lee was North Dakota's Norma Deloris Egstrom.
  • A [Doe to be identified] isn't a female deer. It's JANE or John Doe.
Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" crossword

Doug Peterson continues to pep up the Stumper with livelier fill than the themeless Newsdays are generally known for. To wit: Christina AGUILERA, the [Best New Artist Grammy winner in 2000], and Paula ABDUL, ["Cold Hearted" singer]. Not to mention MR. T, the ['80s TV star]. The rest of the puzzle (answer here) doesn't swim in pop culture, but that dose of three pop names makes a difference in my enjoyment of the puzzle. It's when the pop culture backslides into the '50s that I grumble—as with ["Hardy Boys" girlfriend] crossing a word with two accepted spellings. Come on! That's hardly fair. Is the [Steer snarer] RIATA or REATA? Is the Hardy Boys character named IOLA or EOLA? (Turns out it's the more common RIATA crossing the really-not-common IOLA.)

One-word clues with multiple meanings abound! [Upset] is the verb OVERTURN as well as an adjective. [Brook] is the verb ABIDE as well as a noun. [Transport] is the noun ECSTASY as well as a verb. [Compact] is the noun ALLIANCE as well as an adjective. This is now the hallmark of Stumpers—clues that are harder than ever to Google. Why use obscure trivia when a one-word clue will stymie solvers just as effectively?

Other clues:
  • The PLASMA TV can be a [Modern wall hanging], but ours sits on a table.
  • [Word-processor pioneer] is WANG. The WANG! At my first post-college job, we were all on the Wang. Gotta love the green screens. Eventually people upgraded to IBM 286's and 386's.
  • [Military publisher] JANE'S does those "fighting aircraft" books, I believe.
  • ["Pequod" co-owner] is PELEG. With the final G in place, I tried QUEEG, but that was a mashup of Wouk's Captain Queeg and Melville's Queequeg, a more memorable Moby-Dick name than PELEG.
  • [Mortar/pestle material] is AGATE? I haven't seen AGATE mortars and pestles. Mine are ceramic.
  • [Milton and More wrote in it] clues NEO-LATIN.
  • SYDNEY is a [City named for a British home secretary].
  • [Union suit?] is a TUX, the tuxedo a man might wear when embarking on a marital union.
  • The [Largest arboreal animals] are ORANGS. Arboreal animals hang out in trees.
  • [Rossini's forte] doesn't mean his personal strength. It means the English equivalent of the Italian/music word forte—LOUD.
  • Did you know that LP'S were a [Musical innovation of '48]?
Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy crossword, "What's in a Name?"

I wasn't quite firing on all cylinders when I did battle with this crossword. I misread the verb tense in one of the theme clues, and the Anagram Center of my brain was dialed way down. Each theme entry has a verb followed by a famous person's surname that's an anagram of the verb. The verbs alternate between no-final-S and final-S:
  • [Make a Chicago bigwig late?] is DELAY DALEY. I don't know how Mayor Daley does it—all around him, people get indicted and sentenced for corruption within Daley's administration, and yet somehow the evidence never seems to point all the way to the top. Rod Blagojevich should have knelt down and kissed Daley's ring to ask for pointers on not getting nailed by a federal investigation. Daley is the king of eeliness.
  • [Goes easy on a pop singer?] is SPARES SPEARS. I blanked on the anagram name here. Who calls her SPEARS? She's Britney. Alas, "trybine" and "bintery" are not verbs.
  • [Annoy an Oscar-winning actress?] clues PESTER STREEP. I misread the tense here and put PEEVES in for the first half, which impeded my progress in the lower midsection of the puzzle.
  • [Stops a newswoman from going on the air?] is HALTS STAHL. I had the STAHL part but my mind got stuck on LATHS for the anagram. Oy!
LEVEE ([Embankment to ward off floods]) and N. DAK. ([One of Saskatchewan's U.S. neighbors]) are topical. OLD FLAMES makes for a great crossword answer; it's clued as [Long-ago loves].

I also like TRADES UP, or [Exchanges for a better model]. I'm thinking of trading up to a new Ford Fusion Hybrid—41 mpg in the city! Any car geeks out there who can give me a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on this idea?


March 26, 2009

Friday, 3/27

NYT 6:32
BEQ 5:43
CHE 3:49
LAT 3:46
CS 3:05
WSJ 7:05

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

The centerpiece in Paula's puzzle is a [Certain sex scandal, in slang], or BIMBO ERUPTION. That's just one of 20-some multi-word entries in this puzzle—considerably more phrases than were in the last two Saturday NYTs. This is part of what gives the crossword its extra-fresh feeling. Among my favorite answers and clues, the puzzle boasts these:

  • SWUNG BY is perfectly colloquial language. The clue is [Detoured to pay a visit along the way].
  • [Gallimaufry] is a beautiful word, cooler than GRAB BAG.
  • RITZIER puts a Z in the grid and is clued as [Having superior amenities].
  • [It may fall flat], 7 letters? It's a BAD JOKE. I'll bet there were those who figured SOUFFLE was a gimme here.
  • A [Liberal, informally] is a LEFTIE. I prefer the -ie spelling for politics, the -y spelling for the left-handed folks.
  • [Their beans were used as currency by the Aztecs] clues CACAOS. Yum, chocolate.
  • I had a short detour with [It's not really mink, for example. I started with FAKE FUR instead of the correct FAUX FUR.
  • ET VOILA! That's the [Chef's cry] if the chef is of a dramatic bent.
  • EDAMAME! Probably not something the chef says ET VOILA about. The clue is [Finger food at a Japanese restaurant].
  • [Worker who sets things down] is a SCRIBE, not someone physically putting objects down.
  • The adjective [Game] clues UP TO IT. Smooth.
  • In football, a YARD LINE is a [Grid marking]. Don't check the average crossword grid for a YARD LINE.
  • BTW, or "by the way," is the [Start of a text-message afterthought]. I won't use LMAO, but I do use BTW.
  • JUST RELAX is awfulyl Scrabbly, with that J and X. ["Cool your jets!"].
  • I want MR. FIX-IT ([Recipient of a honey-do list]) to shout "Et voilà!" upon caulking the bathtub.
  • I thought [Old track holders] referred to train tracks, but these tracks are songs and they're held by LP'S.
  • The CICADA is indeed a [Shrill flier]. I can't think of a single flier that's more shrill than the cicada.
And now for the tough stuff:
  • CAPELLA is [One of the 10 brightest stars]. Don't ask me what the other nine are. Sirius?
  • An [Engine line] is an OIL TUBE. Uh, okay. I'm sure I couldn't locate one in my engine. 
  • History: [Connecticut town attacked by the British in the War of 1812] is ESSEX. If you're keeping track, there are counties, townships, or towns named ESSEX in England as well as 13 states and Ontario.
  • [Quaint aviation accessory] is a silk SCARF. You can picture the pilot zipping about in a biplane with the scarf flapping in the wind, can't you?
  • MEA fills in the blank in "___ culpa" as well as ["Magnificat anima ___ Dominum"].
  • There are two [Diamond-shaping choice] clues today: one BAGUETTE and one STEP CUT. Apparently baguettes are examples of step cut diamonds.
  • [Transforming Tonka toys] are GOBOTS. Those were after my childhood and before my son's childhood, so I don't know 'em.
  • Rainer Maria RILKE is ["The Book of Hours" poet].
  • [Enter like a storm trooper] clues BUST INTO.
  • [Cousin of a clog] is a SABOT—one of those words I learned from crossword puzzles.
  • IOS is a Greek [Island SSW of Naxos]. Did Ariadne auf Naxos ever visit friends on Ios?
  • ACUATE is a word meaning [Needle-shaped], and Google suggests that it's not at all common.
Overall, this is a smooth crossword, with relatively few 3-letter answers and short abbreviations, and no words I'd never seen. I'm prepared for a strange word in a Saturday puzzle, but when it's Friday, I'm not expecting any outré obscurities. (And ACUATE didn't feel obscure to me—I sort of thought it was a standard botanical word but perhaps not.)

Michael Ashley's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword

These CHE puzzles are edited by Patrick Berry, Crossword Maestro. There's now a Patrick Berry Facebook fan club with 33 members.

This week's CHE offering is "Ell-isions." At first, I was looking for deleted ELL's in the theme entries, but eventually I saw that all that's been removed from them is a single letter L. Each theme answer began life as a book title:
  • [Getaway resort for pampered fish?] is COD COMFORT FARM. This plays on Cold Comfort Farm by...whoever wrote that. I know the movie with Kate Beckinsale, Rufus Sewell, and Stephen Fry.
  • [What a beach bungalow might have?] is EAVES OF GRASS. With the L, that's Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
  • [Neologism that saves the day?] is BRAVE NEW WORD. The current economic dismay is fomenting a batch of neologisms; the linked article quotes two lexicographers of my acquaintance, Ben Zimmer and Grant Barrett (attendees this year and last year, respectively, at the ACPT). The book title Ashley used here is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Anyone know where I can get some soma?
  • [What the Rangers' goalie provides?] is SAVES OF NEW YORK (Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York).
The clues I couldn't answer without the crossings were (1) [1995 Isabel Allende memoir] is PAULA; (2) [Pietro Mascagni opera] is IRIS; (3) [Author of the "Strangers and Brothers" novls] is C.P. SNOW; and (4) [Nom de guerre of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar] is EL CID. My goodness, I'm feeling unliterate. At least I knew that ["Lolita" character ___ Darkbloom] is VIVIAN Darkbloom, an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. Alas, [Showgirl's name in Barry Manilow's "Copacabana"] was an instant gimme for me.


My son's off school today, so I slept in. Sleeping in is great, but when you eventually realize that you've got four crosswords to blog about in short order, it's a rude (belated) awakening. Onward!

I have been taken to task for not criticizing the use of BIMBO ERUPTION in the NYT crossword, owing to the phrase's innate sexism. No, the women in the noted Clintonian "bimbo eruptions" should not be cast as bimbos, not even if it was a female politico who coined the phrase. Yes, the American media and populace are unreasonably fixated on supposed moral transgressions that really were none of their business unless they were one of the people involved. But if anyone is going to be maligned in a scenario of adulterous goings-on, it's got to be the married individual who's violating a spouse's trust (provided that the relationship is not an "open" one) and not the single person. How often do we hear that a single woman is a "home wrecker" rather than blaming the man who disrespected his wife? Really. As in "bimbo eruption" scenarios, the blame is shifted from a man to a woman, and it's patently unfair and sexist. It's as if men are innocents with no control over their behavior, led astray by women who dare to have sex outside of marriage. It takes two to tango, and if only one of the tangoers is betraying someone, let the scorn fall squarely on the betrayer.

Spencer Corden's Los Angeles Times crossword

This is Spencer Corden's first puzzle—congratulations! He's inserted a PRE into four phrases to create the theme entries, which are made-up phrases with question-marked clues:
  • [Undercover cop?] is a LEGAL PRETENDER. Legal tender is cash money.
  • [Introduction to "SeinLanguage"?], the Jerry Seinfeld book from back in the day, is a FUNNY PREFACE. We all know about funny faces—if you hold it too long, your face may stick that way.
  • [Words to roust an oversleeping ecclesiastic?] are "GET UP, PRELATE!" "Get up late" is a familiar verb phrase.
  • [Cannery worker's credo?] is BORN TO PRESERVE. I'm not sure where "born to serve" comes from. Anyone?
I had no idea that HIPPY was the missing word in [PBS's "The ___ Gourmet TV Show"]. Is this a current or old show? I learned a new plural today: a FINN from Finland is [One who used to spend markkaa]. Before the euro came along, I know the markka was Finland's unit of currency, but I'd never seen the double-A plural form. Whenever I see [Triathletes] referred to as IRONMEN or encounter the Ironman Triathlon, I grumble that the term completely overlooks the women who compete.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's blog crossword, "Jeesh"

Brendan's Friday puzzle takes some phrases with an SH in them, changes the sound to J, and adjusts the spelling as needed to end up with real words in the theme entries. [Cushioned door part?] is a PILLOW JAMB (pillow sham). [Cord to plug in one's receiver to a home stereo?] clues RADIO JACK (the Radio Shack store). Man, did I get mired with AUDIO JACK there. A puppet show turns into PUPPET JOE, or [Vice President Biden installed by the Shadow Government?]. A [Dark Humvee?] would be a BLACK JEEP of sorts (black sheep)—that was the first theme entry where I had the slightest understanding of how the theme worked. A roof shingle becomes ROOF JINGLE, or [Sound heard on Christmas Eve?].

Nobody's excited by variant prefixes (DEK-), letter runs (RST), directions (ESE), partials (IN AID), or old crosswordese (ECU), but there's plenty of good stuff to offset the cruciverbal detritus. The best entries are TULSA, OK; the QB SNEAK; "JAVA JIVE"; SUDOKU; and a DIMWIT. Good to see LUIS clued as [Actor Guzmán]—that guy steals every scene he's in. I was just mentioning soma in the CHE write-up, and here Brendan clues SOMA as ["Brave New World" drug]. I have no idea who TEK is—this [Boston Red Sox captain's nickname]. TEK should be Ted Kennedy's nickname.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Body Language"

The theme entries here are four verb-ONE's-body-part phrases. I wish such crossword answers would routinely swap out the ONE'S and give us YOUR, but what constructor wants to cede the crossword-friendly letters of ONES and have to contend with trickier Y and U instead? If you [Show great interest], you CRANE ONE'S NECK. (Sigh. I want to use "you" but then I get backed into a nongrammatical corner and am forced to one it up.) If one wishes to [Show disinterest], one CLOSES ONE'S EYES. To SHAKE ONE'S HEAD is to [Show agreement or disagreement]. Wait, what? In America, we shake our head "no" and nod our head "yes." What's this agreeable head-shaking? To CLENCH ONE'S JAW is to [Show anger].

Trickiest clues:
  • [Actress Sally Ann] HOWES is someone I've never heard of. She was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. [Hockey's Gordie and inventor Elias] would have been easier for me.
  • QUOIT is a [Ring used in a throwing game].
  • Four-letter rivers of Europe! Italy's ARNO is a [River to the Ligurian Sea], and the URAL is [Orsk's river].
  • ELISA is a ["Paint Your Wagon" song]. Don't ask me about musicals.

There's a bit of the Klahnesque clue pairing going on here. ["How Great ___ Art"] (THOU) is followed by "Great" art, ["The Great Forest" painter Max] ERNST. There are two Peters in a row, [TV detective Peter] GUNN and the [1997 Peter Fonda title role] ULEE.

Lex Shue's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Mixed Company"

I suspect "Lex Shue" is a new pseudonym for WSJ puzzle editor Mike Shenk. Is it an anagram of something that makes sense? Each theme entry begins with the name of a company, followed by an anagram of that name. There's an INTEL INLET and some CHASE ACHES (clued without reference to the current woes of the banking system). [Digression from a newspaper company?] is a GANNETT TANGENT. My favorite theme entry is PEPSICO ICE POPS, or [Dessert-on-a-stick products from a soda giant?]. I hadn't noticed before that PEPSICO + L = POPSICLE, but I tried to wedge that POPSICLE in here even though it wouldn't fit—not thematically, not space-wise. STAPLES PASTELS are [Art supplies from an office supply store]. The hardest theme answer to puzzle out was the DIRECTV VERDICT, thanks to that mash-up of direct and TV. That clue is [Ruling in a broadcast satellite company's case?]. The last two entries in the theme are ADOBE ABODE and RYDER DRYER. I didn't run into any tough spots with obscure answers, so hooray for smooth fill.


March 25, 2009

Thursday, 3/26

NYT 4:33
LAT 3:57
CS 2:56
Tausig (not timed, but it's a toughie)

I'm a little off-kilter on the days of the week here, and I felt like it was time for a Wednesday puzzle. When you're expecting Wednesday difficulty and you walk into a Thursday puzzle with a quote theme, you're going to feel a tad battered afterwards. In Edward Safran's New York Times crossword, the theme entries lay out the [Start of a poem by Emily Dickinson that continues "But God be with the Clown, / Who ponders this tremendous scene"]. I may have been an English major, but I never got into Dickinson. The poem excerpted here reads A LITTLE MADNESS / IN THE SPRING / IS WHOLESOME / EVEN FOR THE KING. Given my unfamiliarity with Dickinson's oeuvre, this was a slog through the Down answers. Bonus points for timeliness—this is the first Thursday after the vernal equinox—but extra demerits for having a quote theme in the first place. I can abide a quip theme with a good punchline, but this one isn't moving me.

All right, what else is in the puzzle? Plenty of tough clues:

  • [Dimwit, in Yiddish slang] is GOLEM? I know of the golem as a clay figure brought to life or the more modern definition of a robot, but dimwit isn't ringing a bell for me. Is there a Yiddish expert in the house? (Zulema?)
  • [International company with the slogan "Home away from home"] is the Israeli airline EL AL. Hey, nice slogan. Our other travel corporation is AVIS, named after the [Warren who founded a rental car company].
  • [A la ___ (nearby: Sp.)] is MANO. Must be the Spanish version of "Close at hand."
  • LEN [Barker of the Cleveland Indians who pitched a perfect game in 1981]. Wow, that is not a LEN I have heard of.
  • [Refuge for David, in the Bible] is the DEAD SEA. Crosswords without Bible clues are my refuge.
  • [Former Nebraska senator James] EXON is another person whose name was completely unknown to me.
  • [Sleep disturbers] are ALARMS. Sure, that's not so tough—unless you opt for SNORES instead.
  • [Queen of Bollywood] clues the general word for a Hindu queen, RANI. I'm not quite sure why Bollywood is in the clue.
  • [Shipping mainstay of the 1600s] is the ship called a GALLEON.
  • [Double ___]...boy, I can't tell you how long I couldn't see the ENTENDRE fighting to get into those squares.
  • [South American monkey] is TITI, and [Monkeyshine] is an ANTIC. I think all crosswords should have two monkey clues, don't you?
  • [Divine water] is the verb DOWSE.
  • [They have no ties] clues LOAFERS, which are slip-on shoes. Tricky clue, since there are plenty of other things that have no ties.
Places! There's no Erie or Ojai today, but two other 4-letter cities get their due. ORAN, Algeria, is the [North African city captured by the Allies in 1942]. NOME, Alaska, was an [1899 gold rush locale].

What I liked best in this puzzle were these entries:
  • CELADON is [Chinese porcelain with a pale green glaze]. So pretty!
  • [1977 best seller set at Boston Memorial Hospital[ is Michael Crichton's COMA. Hey, I read that when I was in junior high. It creeped me out.
  • [Physician William] OSLER was a seminal figure in North American medicine, but I'd never heard of him before I worked at a medical publisher. He had a waggish streak, as seen in this hoax he perpetrated.
  • SHAKES UP looks great in the grid. It's clued as [Reorganizes drastically].

Bonnie Gentry's L.A. Times crossword is pretty gutsy, isn't it? The theme entries all begin with synonyms of "gutsy":
  • 21A. The NERVE CENTER is the [Operational headquarters].
  • 26A. BRASS NAMEPLATE is a [Classy office door adornment]. Mine was plastic.
  • 46A. [2006 political best-seller, with "The"] is Barack Obama's AUDACITY OF HOPE.
  • 52A. [Beside one another] clues the phrase CHEEK BY JOWL.
Perfect theme, if you ask me. Used in other settings, the words are all completely unrelated, so there's a good "aha" moment when the unifying meaning clicks.
A few noteworthy words in the rest of the puzzle:
  • The TOM COLLINS is a [Gin cocktail]. I ordained this as my new signature drink at the ACPT, but then the migraine whomped me and I'm afraid to ever order another. Refreshing taste, but maybe gin has too many aromatics for my delicate composition. Headaches aside, it makes for a killer crossword answer.
  • 30D's clue is [Punish with a fine]. I know the word AMERCE, but this one was only 5 letters. Is MERCE a word? Not so much. But MULCT is. The M and T are in theme answers and the L is in the lovely CELLIST (fantastic clue with a mislead—Yo-Yo [Ma, for one]), and there aren't many options besides MULCT for M*L*T. The crossings were fine, as long as you know that Creedence Clearwater Revival, or CCR, is the ["Proud Mary" band, for short].
  • We've all heard of Tel Aviv, sure. But [Tel ___- Yafo] didn't scream AVIV to me. Apparently the Yafo part is the same as Jaffa.
Don't turn to today's New York Times or Washington Post to solve Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Newspaper Columnists"—the columnists in question were all published in the past. ART BUCHWALD, the [Writer of the column "Paris After Dark"], died in 2007. He spent about a year in hospice care rather than receiving dialysis, and it sounds like he had a pretty decent final year, all things considered.

DAMON RUNYON was before my time, but everyone should recognize his name still. He was the [Writer of the column "The Brighter Side"]. Did you see the recent New Yorker article about his writing style? Good read.

The other two theme entries are newspaper columnists of yore—way yore. EUGENE FIELD, [Writer of the column "Sharps and Flats"], died in 1895. I don't recognize the name. And DREW PEARSON, [Writer of the column "Washington Merry-Go-Round"], died when I was 3. Apparently his column sent four Congressmen to jail, and Pearson spoke out against Joseph McCarthy's demagoguery. Good guy, eh?

So the theme clues didn't point me towards any answers (I didn't recognize the title of Buchwald's column), and when the puzzle was done, I had two unfamiliar names in it. Does that sound like an unsatisfying solve? It wasn't. I'm glad for the opportunity to read up on these journalists.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Bad Strokes," spotlights some bad keystrokes. In this puzzle, the theme is TYPOS (49A: [Things of which there are ten in the Across clues, and ten in the Downs]. How are those TYPOS made? [How the constructor's finger moved, on a keyboard, to create this puzzle's 49-Across] was ONE TO THE RIGHT. Ah, adjacent-key typos! Here, at last, is your moment in the sun!

When I test-solved this puzzle, it took me forever to track down the 20 clues with typos. Some were obvious while solving because the clue made no sense, and some were harder to identify immediately. 35A [Nebraska city famous for steals] is about OMAHA Steaks. The DEN is a [Place to lick back] (eww!), or really, a place to kick back. Here are the TYPOS:
  • 1A. "Ununformed" should be uninformed. I HAVE NO IDEA.
  • 20A. "Vase" should be case. LAWYER.
  • 30A. "Shoe" is show. OOHS.
  • 35A. "Steals" is steaks. OMAHA.
  • 56A. Read "Rum" as Run. The letters EFG.
  • 59A. "Hoof" should be Hood. NIA.
  • 62A. "Fishes" are dishes. It took me a long time to realize this clue wasn't really about "oily fishes." SCOURING PAD.
  • 69A. "Old Tome" is old Rome. MLI.
  • 71A. "Deer's" should be Seer's. ESP.
  • 72A. Change those "deaf people" to dead people. ESTATE SALES.
  • 2D. No, raves do not now include potato sack races. "Raves" is a typo for races. HOP.
  • 6D. "Layer..." is "Later..." NOT NOW!
  • 9D. "Lick" is kick. DEN.
  • 13D. "Joy down" is jot down, or MAKE A NOTE OF.
  • 23D. [Hay people, more formally] was one of my favorite clues, because it kept me confused the longest. Change "Hay" to Gay and you get HOMOSEXUALS.
  • 26D. "Test" should be rest. Wow, there's no hint at all that this one-word clue's got a typo, because it makes perfect sense as is. SHUT-EYE.
  • 53D. Change "dense" to sense. TASTE.
  • 58D. [Old TB hookups] are old TV hookups, or VCRS.
  • 63D. Change "grads" to grass. OAT.
  • 66D. "Post-pink" is really post-punk. PIL.
I like crosswords that bend the usual paradigm and give me another way to challenge my brain. Imagine how hard this puzzle would've been without the TYPOS and ONE TO THE RIGHT answers explaining how the theme works! We might've all thought we were losing our minds for a while.

One hundred bonus points to Ben for including the [Catchphrase spawned by Christopher Walken in "SNL"], MORE COWBELL. Have any of you heard of PHANTOM SHIP as a [Bela Lugosi maritime murder mystery]? I sure hadn't.