July 31, 2009

Saturday, 8/1

Newsday just under 11 minutes
NYT 6:30
LAT 4:11
CS 12:27 (J—paper)/3:47 (A—Across Lite)

Martin Ashwood-Smith's New York Times crossword

Remember Roberto Duran's famous plea, "¡No mas!"? Based on the early returns (i.e., the applet times posted thus far), I suspect more than a few people have been feeling rather "¡No mas, M.A.S.!" about this puzzle. Interesting and tough fill, a hearty batch of challenging clues, several easy traps to fall into, and some crazy crossings? That's a recipe for an arduous solving experience. What a great-looking grid, though, eh? Look at that diagonal swath of white space sprawling across the middle of the puzzle.

First up, the Tar Pits of Traps and Tricky Crossings:

  • Square 41. Where 41D: [Stately old court dance] meets 41A: [Tank type]. I started out with one of those dances I know from crosswords, the GAVOT, which made GUNNER seem plausible. But no. The dance is a different 5-letter dance with an AV in it, the PAVAN, crossing a PANZER tank.
  • 26A. [Sentences may end with them], P*R***S. Oh, that's an easy tricky clue! It's not PERIODS at all, no sir. It's PAROLES. Whoops, no, it's PARDONS. I wasn't getting much help with that from 9-10-11D. 9D is JAMES DEAN, the ["Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world" speaker]. (Aw, sad.) 10D is EVICTORS, clued with [They remove letters], as in renters. And 11D is SICKENS, which, yes, means [Repulses].
  • Stacked people you may or may not know—I knew 22A: ["Far From Heaven" director Todd] HAYNES. Great melodrama in the style of Douglas Sirk, I think they said; stars Julianne Moore, who's married to Haynes. Right below is 25A: [Patron saint of hermits], or GILES. Hmm, had no idea about that one. Crossings all the way. Douglas Sirk is not to be confused, mind you, with 38A: [British Columbia's ___ Mountains], or SELKIRK. Yeah, I'll bet Crosscan got that one right away. Oh, wait—you know what crosses HAYNES/GILES? Good lord, Martin and Will. [Satirist Ward] is named NED? Who is satirist Ned Ward? Oh, for pete's sake: he was doing his satirizing three centuries ago.

That was some hardcore Saturday stickiness, wasn't it?

Moving along to regular ol' tough Saturday clues without, perhaps, that extra touch of evil the aforementioned bits had, we have these:
  • 16A. [Demonstrate banking skill] is about banking planes: AVIATE. I thought of finance and then of a banked car or bike racetrack.
  • 18A. Hang on, this is right below 16A. Maybe these ones belong in the Tar Pits discussion, too. The [Distance light travels in 3.3. femtoseconds] is one MICRON. That's a millionth of a meter, or "a very teeny length" in technical terms.
  • 15A. [Hole that's not filled] is an OPEN DATE. The phrase feels not-so-familiar to me. Open dates on a calendar, yes?
  • Royalty confusion! 24A: [Queens or soldiers] are a CASTE of ants, while 13D: [Royal educator] is ETON, the school of princes.
  • 29A. This one's' super-easy, right? Everyone loves "Calvin & Hobbes" and knows how to spell Bill WATTERSON's name? He's the [Creator of a comic strip named after a theologian and a philosopher].
  • 32A. [Desert rodents] are JERBOAS. I hope you didn't let the ERB part take to to GERBILS.
  • 37A. [So, in Salerno] is COSI. I'm sure one of you will translate "Cosi fan tutte" for me, and perhaps also explain why Cosi is the name of a sandwich chain.
  • 3D. [Big name in slapstick] could be so many people, couldn't it? With the J in place, my first thought was JACKIE CHAN, but it's JERRY LEWIS.
  • 27D. [1947 western serial film] is...not very specific. What's the series? Who knows? Answer is SON OF ZORRO. NOSFERATU, the 30D: [Title vampire of film], is a much more familiar title to me.
  • 34D. [Diphthong dividers] are diaereses or, the crosswords seem to prefer, DIERESES. Those are the umlauty things you sometimes see in "naïve" or "coöperate" (I'm not sure which O takes the dots there, actually). Here's another accented character option I just found on the character map, and it looks like an emoticon: ȫ
  • 42D. [Get the best of] clues CULL. When you snag the best of what's available, you CULL it. Sort of.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few other things I liked:
  • PARTOOK! It's fun to say and it starts to look utterly foreign the more you look at it. It's clued as 21D: [Had some].
  • 39A. ["Class Reunion" novelist, 1979] is Rona JAFFE. I read this when I was about 14. Thank you, Rona JAFFE, for being a gimme. I needed the help today.
  • 1A. TAJ MAHAL gets a longer clue than usual: [Final resting place built in the 17th century]. And a SARI is 12D: [Attire around the 1-Across]. Maybe Christo could wrap the Taj Mahal itself in a sari.
  • 1D. TOUGH GUY! A real [Bruiser], eh?
  • How about the double K in WEAK-KNEED, or 29D: [Cowardly]? It's k-k-kool.

You know, looking back at this grid, I see that the northwest and southeast corners don't have much interplay with the rest of the puzzle. If you aren't hitting a couple quick gimmes in each corner, that could make it an arduous task to work your way into those sections. I didn't personally feel attacked by that, but I recognize that it's the sort of grid that can frustrate too many people. But it's still pretty...

Updated Saturday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Cool Bin"—Janie's review

If you don't enjoy a good pun (or three), this puzzle is not for you. On the other hand, if you're like me and take high pleasure in this low form of humor, this one's for you! Bob has given us three phrases, each containing a word that has the letter sequence "oa" in it, and changed it to a word with the "oo" phoneme in its place. The "cool bin" in the title, was once a "coal bin." Get it? Good. Then get a load of the great clue/fill combos we get with:
  • 20A. [Device that makes ghosts not quite as scary?] BOO CONSTRICTOR. In its pre-pun life, this was a boa constrictor. This particular fill is the only one where the "oa" of the word that gets altered is sounded in two syllables. Not a hundred percent sure how I feel about that inconsistency, but am quite sure about how much I like the result.
  • 36A. [Bird that few are crazy about?] Why that would be the rare LOW-INTEREST LOON. Take a bow, low-interest loan—the joke's on you.
  • 55A. [Longing to see Italy again?] Yes, I am. So as I look at it on the map, it can be said that I'm MISSING THE BOOT. The only time I visited (omg, 22 years ago...), I flew over, so wasn't faced with the prospect (literally or figuratively) of missing the boat.
How else did I love this puzzle? Let me count some of the more outstanding ways. For starters, there's the particular range of names, including: actors JOHN HURT, Robin WILLIAMS, Christina RICCI, and Lash LA RUE; conductor Seiji OZAWA; author ENID Blyton; athletes OLGA Korbut, OTTO Graham and Jim THORPE; Old and New Testament reps ISAIAH and JUDAS; distiller HIRAM Walker; and Emperor HIROHITO.

One of my favorite crosses is HIROHITO with MOJITO [Rum-and-mint cocktail...]. Because it's an almond-flavored liqueur, I'd always thought AMARETTO meant "almond." In fact the word for "almond" in Italian is mandoria (which gets me thinking of mandelbrot...), though Amaretto may be distilled from bitter almonds—whence the clue [Liqueur that's Italian for "rather bitter"]. All of which is a PROLIX [Long-winded] way of getting to my point, which is that I also love seeing potable AMARETTO by HIROHITO's side also being crossed by potable MOJITO.

And since I've mentioned it, let me add that the SE column made by PROLIX, APOGEE and PETARD is a beauty. Nice, too, the way ARMY sits atop BASE in the SW—and the way that crossing herpetological pair SNAKY and SLITHERY falls in between.

Some fave clues include:
  • The triple-rhyming [Speedy steed breed] for ARAB;
  • [Height of fashion?] for HEM (the link will take you to an article about hemlines, hair-dos and the economy);
  • the wordplay-rich [Source of a drop in the bucket, perhaps] for LEAK;
  • [Grant and Grant's foe] for LEES (i.e., Lee Grant and Robert E. Lee);
  • [Being shot] for ON CAMERA; and that anatomical duo,
  • the almost too graphic (and very funny) [Butt out?] for MOON and [Nose lengtheners] for LIES (think Pinocchio, folks).
No doubt, I've excluded your fave(s). SUNLIT, anyone? In that case, do speak up. I think we can agree, though, that once again, Bob has made something EPIC of this compact 15x15 form.

Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Anna Stiga, a.k.a. "Stan again," a.k.a. Stanley Newman

(PDF solution here.)

Nothing too deadly, but nothing too delightful either. I didn't push to go as fast as I could this time. Here are some answers that did not come quite as readily as the others:
  • 15A. [Home of Georgian Technical University] is TBILISI. Can you name another city in Georgia? At the moment, I can't. I like to think the school has sports teams nicknamed "the Rambling Wreck."
  • 16A. [City on the Reuss River] is LUCERNE, Switzerland. Could've easily been German or Austrian, too. The 52A: [Sight from 16 Across] is the ALPS.
  • 26A. [Make an appointment] clues HIRE, as in appointing someone to a paid position. Tricky clue; I liked it.
  • 32A. [100 cents may equal one] 4-letter unit of currency. EURO? No, RAND.
  • 38A. I didn't know FRAPPE was [Literally, "iced"], but words like frio and frigid made that a little more gettable.
  • 43A. ABE is [Daisy Mae's boy], and I'm not sure where Daisy Mae is from. Al Capp?
  • 51A. I let the crossings give me CXC for [Multiple of XXXVIII] and then did the math to check. 38 times 5 = 190.
  • 61A. The TERMITE is [One on a high-fiber diet].
  • 3D. VITAMIN B COMPLEX is an [Important group in cell metabolism].
  • 5D. [E, as in Western Union] clues DIT, which is Morse code-ese for "dot," and the letter E is a dot in Morse code.
  • 9D. OUR GANG isn't just the Little Rascals, it's also a [Philip Roth novel].
  • 11D. RED SHIRT is a [Garibaldi follower]. His followers wore red shirts, which are also called garibaldis.

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

My full writeup, including a LEIF Garrett video, is over at L.A. Crossword Confidential.

I don't know about this puzzle. Usually I enjoy Barry's puzzles quite a bit, but this one didn't do it for me. Maybe I was just tired yesterday when I did it. Or maybe it's that crosswords with this sort of grid—tons of seven-letter answers but not much in the Really Cool Long Answers department—seldom delight me. When Saturday rolls around, dang it, I want Really Cool Long Answers. I want a JOE BAZOOKA more than BETTERS, PETTIER, and AIRIEST, y'know? The fill was pretty Scrabbly (a pangram to boot), but outside of REYKJAVIK and SPECIAL K, the Scrabbly letters weren't put to splashy use. A Z and an X in close proximity sounds awesome, but the TAX-FREE CZARINA? Eh.

I will almost certainly like Barry's next creation much more. He's got the chops to do cool stuff, but this wasn't among my Silken favorites.


July 30, 2009

Friday, 7/31

NYT 5:38
LAT 5:26
BEQ 5:18
CS 7:49 (J—paper)
WSJ 10:44

Mike Nothnagel's New York Times crossword

Now, you could look at Mike's puzzle and say, "Wow, 72 words? That's the most he's allowed to have in a themeless. He should've been more ambitious." But the ambition is in the zing—zingy fill and some twisty Friday clues. Here are 15 favorites:

  • 17A. SALMA HAYEK is the [Oscar-nominated portrayer of Frida Kahlo] on the silver screen. Like business magnate Carlos Slim, Hayek is a Mexican of Lebanese descent. She's funny, talented, and a passionate advocate of various causes. They say she looks nice, too.
  • 22A. Being WITHIN EARSHOT is one way of being [Relatively close].
  • 35A. Do you like to order the SPECIAL when dining out? That's [Something not on the menu].
  • 37A. If your "roll" is a bagel, [Roll top?] is s SCHMEAR of cream cheese.
  • 43A. [Heads up] with a hyphen is a noun and adjective about advance warning. As a verb, it can mean CHAIRS.
  • 46A. [Where a fouled player might go] is TO THE POTTY. No, actually, it's to the FREE THROW LINE.
  • 56A. BAZOOKA JOE is a bubblegum [Comics character with a "gang"]. Do you know the gang sign?
  • 60A. "OPEN, SESAME" is a [Passage enabler] that gets you through a door. And 51A: [Passage blockers] are NOES, as in no votes in the legislature.
  • 3D. If something [Wasn't full of holes] literally or metaphorically, it HELD WATER.
  • 5D. DEAD TO RIGHTS is a colorful way of saying [Red-handed].
  • 21D. In Ireland, County [Mayo sauce?] is IRISH WHISKEY.
  • 24D, 32D. The electric charge pair! [They might store electric charges] clues EELS and [It might store an electric charge] refers to a LEYDEN JAR. Cool answer, that.
  • 44D. SWOON is a favorite word of mine. Means [Become rapturous].
  • 49D. LEOS are [Independent, noble types, it's said]. Am I not independent? And noble?
  • 56D. Take a BOW. In a concert, [It comes after the last number].

Among the tougher spots for me, there's a quote clue for the good ol' ASP: 58D: ["My baby at my breast," in Shakespeare]. That's not the same baby/breast combo mentioned in the Salma Hayek writeup. And what about 1A? A fill-in-the-blank like ["___ better be!"] looks so easy, but it took me a bit to get IT HAD. Partial at 1-Across = meh. Patrick SWAYZE is a familiar name, sure, but who is this SWAYZE that's 42A: an [Early TV news commentator famous for doing Timex ads]? John Cameron Swayze, Google tells me. Ooh, this clue's a good one: 52A: [Stars participate in it: Abbr.] clues the NHL, as in the Dallas Stars' league. How about the TORAH? 10D: [It contains 613 mitzvot]. [Vultures were sacred to him] clues ARES, and [Fast Eddie's girlfriend in "The Hustler"] is SARAH.

Overall, a really fun themeless with enough tricky clues to keep me happy and an abundance of sparkle in the fill.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

Is it just me or is this the toughest L.A. Times puzzle in a good long while? Dan's last crossword made me grumble, but Brendan Quigley predicted the next go-round would be more satisfying—and so it is. Why? Let us count the ways:

1. The theme is straightforward and yet it took me a while to figure out what was going on. (Perhaps you cottoned to the theme faster than I did. It's words with an SK sound that gets flipped to become a KS sound, better known as X.)

2. There are six theme entries, but they're on the shorter side (56 theme squares in all), so...

3. There's room for plenty of lively fill, made all the more so by...

4. A relatively low word count (72), which translates to longer answers on average, with plenty of 6- to 8-letter entries.

The theme runs like this:
  • 17A. [Paul Bunyan's admission in therapy?] is I HATE TO AX, playing on "I hate to ask..."
  • 27A. [Formal attire for Dumbo?] is an ELEPHANT TUX (tusk).
  • 43A. [Plant fiber used by moonshiners?] is WHISKEY FLAX (flask). Part of me wants this to be WHIXEY FLAX.
  • 56A. [Diver's tank capacity?] is OXYGEN MAX (mask). Part of me wants the original phrase to be oskygen mask.
  • 11D. [Catchall source of revenue?] might be a MULTI-TAX (multitask). Here, the original phrase is better than the change-a-sound theme answer.
  • 36D. [Keep a Northeastern fort under surveillance?] clues VIDEO DIX (disk).

  • The braids zone up top. A [Cornrow, e.g.] is a braid, or PLAIT. And a [Dreads wearer] may be a RASTA.
  • The egg zone to the right. A [Fertilized item] is an OVULE, more or less a plant's egg. An [Italian omelet served open-faced] is a FRITTATA. And if you [Bomb big-time], you LAY AN EGG.
  • The SELIG/HALF-MAN zone puts me in mind of a description of NBA commissioner David Stern: "Every year, he looks more and more like Emperor Palpatine's offspring if the mother was a frog." I get Stern and [Baseball commissioner Bud] SELIG mixed up. Are they not, in fact, the same person? HALF-MAN is a bizarre answer, clued as [Not a whole person?]. Half-frog qualifies.
  • Random trivia! NYU is [Ex-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's alma mater].
  • Knotty clues. [Jack's place] doesn't refer to a person, nor to a playing card—you should store a jack in the TRUNK of your car. [Like many Woody Allen characters], 8 letters? Come on! A gimme. Gotta be NEUROTIC, right? Except it's INSECURE. [You can get it from a blast]...hmm, I was thinking of nuclear fallout, but the answer is PLEASURE and the blast is just a good time. And how about that [Hockey lineup, e.g.]. Five letters, ending with a D...SQUAD! But no. It's a HEXAD, or group of six.
Updated Friday morning:

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Foodie Workout"—Janie's review

Gosh, I love this puzzle. Each compound-word theme answer (an entity unto itself) names both something that may be ingested and an exercise move, so there's a three-for-one thing going on that is a treat. Though the remaining fill is all of the seven-letter-and-under variety, there are some nifty connections to be made between several of them that add to the liveliness of an already lively construction. With Ray's culinary-themed regimen you'll savor/execute a:
  • 20A. SAUSAGE CURL [Thick lock of hair] And at the turn of the previous century, not just for girls...
  • 34A. FISH LIFT [Salmon's way around a dam] (Oh, for a picture of a weightlifting fish—still, love this fill!)
  • 46A. SODA JERK [Ice cream sundae maker]. Are there still "soda fountains"? Is there still such a job as a "soda jerk"?
  • 61A. GARLIC PRESS [Mincing tool]. The blog page that the garlic press pic comes from bears the caption, "You could hand-mince garlic. But why?" I've used my handy garlic press only to, well, press pieces of garlic, which kind of releases the juices in them in the process. Who knew there were presses that could mince, too? Live and learn!
All save one of the themed entries appear to be major-publication firsts, and the one exception—our friend the soda jerk—looks to be a CS first. Fresh fill of the sort we see today is always an ASSET in my book.

If the fill described so far has not piqued your appetite, perhaps the SWISS [Variety of cheese] and/or STILTON [Rich British cheese] will. I envision an INERT HOMER [Abe Simpson's boy] ensconced on the sofa, snarfing down PIZZA, STEIN [Beer mug] in hand. (Okay—Homer's more of a right outta the can kinda guy, but I'm tryin' to work with what I got here!) Nice, too, how those last three words stack up in the NE.

There are two particularly good clue/fill combos today: [A lot of sassafrass] for ESSES—there are five of 'em, in fact; and the charming [Course for Crusoe?] for ANAGRAM. Anyone need that one spelled out? I like, too, how SLAVS is right next to SERBIA in the grid, because even though the former has been clued [Poles, e.g.], it could have been clued in connection with the population from that [Balkan country].

The assonance of ANAGRAM, ANAPEST and NIAGARA is most appealing. And I like seeing ANT [Insect in "High Hopes"] right after UPSIDE [Optimist's focus]. If any creature was optimistic, it was definitely that ant. I also like seeing the high-scoring Scrabble letters—those Xs and Ks, the Vs, J and Zs.

Getting back to the "workout" component of today's theme, should you undertake it and find that your muscles start to TIRE and your body ache, Ray has provided a fitting bonus right there in the grid. Just pull out the ol' ICE BAG!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Fighting Words"

I'm not generally a fan of quote themes, but I am a fan of comedian Sarah Haskins, and she's a fan of Brendan's crosswords, as am I, so a puzzle that features a Haskins quote is OK by me. The quip is I'M A FEMINIST. IT IS / AN EXTENSION OF MY / LIFELONG WAR / AGAINST / PANTYHOSE. I follow sarah_haskins on Twitter (I'm OrangeXW) and like her "Target Woman" videos (which are not about Target, the store).

What's that? What about the puzzle? Oh. 15x16 grid, lots of tough stuff, lots of long answers sprawling across and beside one another. Good crossword. Am short on time thanks to two-hour (!) doctor visit.

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Egotism"

The theme is all about ME, as in the two ME rebus squares that appear in each otherwise unrelated long theme entry. It didn't take me that long to figure out that there was a rebus involved, but it still wound up being a tough puzzle for me. Ten double-rebus answers in all, with the middle one, [ME]DIA NA[ME], sharing its rebus squares with two Down theme answers, one of which shared another ME with another Across theme entry, so instead of an egotistical 20 MEs, we have a humble 17 MEs.

A couple tough names from long ago—TILDEN was the [Popular vote winner of 1876], and [ME]LLON was the [Treasury secretary under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover].

Time to work now!


July 29, 2009

Thursday, 7/30

NYT 4:55
LAT 3:38
CS 7:37 (J—paper)
Tausig untimed

Ashish Vengsarkar's New York Times crossword

Ashish repurposes the term FOUR-LETTER WORDS by representing eight words with four identical letters that sound alike if pronounced in the plural. Oh, dear. That doesn't make a lick of sense, does it? Demonstration will help:

  • 1A. [Facility] is ease, represented as EEEE, which you could describe as "Es," as in "the letter E, in plural," which sounds like "ease."
  • 8A. [Signals] is a verb synonymous with cues, shown as QQQQ. Sure, you get three ugly abbreviations among the four Q crossings, but the space beneath couldn't very well be filled with CUUUU.
  • 19A. [Peer group?] are things that peer: your eyes, or IIII.
  • 20A. To [Razz] is to tease, or TTTT.
  • 47A. [Garden sights] is pretty vague, but what we're going for here is bees, or BBBB.
  • 49A. [Is behind] on paying means owes, or OOOO.
  • 61A. ["Man oh man!"] clues jeeze, or GGGG.
  • 63A. If you're [Hip] to something, you're wise to it—or YYYY.

What, no seize/CCCC, use/UUUU, or pees/PPPP?

Having a stretch of consecutive vowels or consecutive consonants can make it harder to fill a grid. So can planting a couple 15s in the grid—FOUR-LETTER WORDS are [Profanities (and a hint to this puzzle's anomalies)], and REPEAT OFFENDERS are [Record holders? (and a punny hint to this puzzle's anomalies)]. The eight short theme entries, the anomalies, are 4-letter repeat offenders...and they are offenders in that things like GGGG and OOOO make for ugly fill and can't be clued in ordinary fashion. I hereby sentence the constructor to five years of hard labor...making more Thursday through Sunday crosswords.

Highlights in the fill and clues:
  • In the Across column, 5. [<-- What this is, on a calendar] is the fifth month, MAY.
  • 33A. To [Do what Jell-O does] is to JIGGLE.
  • 45A. [Wasn't straight] clues ARCED.
  • 60A. ["American Idol" judge], 5 letters...hmm, is it PAULA or SIMON or RANDY? None of the above. It's ABDUL, Paula's last name.
  • 4D. It's not fun to have to come up with a clue for a superlative form of a word, and those words don't make the best fill, either. EERIEST is salvaged somewhat by the clue, [Like H.P. Lovecraft among all popular writers?].
  • 9D. A quarter, or QTR., is [12 or 15 min.]. It's what, college basketball games where quarters last 12 minutes? Or football? Some sport.
  • 10D. At last, an [Rx abbr.] that doctors may actually use, unlike TER. QID means four times a day.
  • 39D. I thought [Big chip off the old block?] was an ICE CUBE, but that's not a big enough chip. The answer is ICEBERG. I just bought a Titanic-ships-and-icebergs ice tray.
  • 54D. I love the word FEY. It's clued as [Hardly macho], though the Mac's dictionary defines it as "giving an impression of vague unworldliness; having supernatural powers of clairvoyance; [chiefly Scottish] fated to die or at the point of death." American Heritage Dictionary largely agrees. Merriam-Webster expands it to include "excessively refined (precious); quaintly unconventional (campy)." Is it just that the word sounds like a blend of "gay" and "fairy" that accounts for the use of "fey" to mean things not at all listed in some reputable dictionaries?
  • 55D. Say what? [Actress Williams of the 1960s-'70s] clues EDY, which more often is clued as the ice cream brand's namesake. I wonder what percentage of NYT crossword solvers know the name Edy Garcia Schaffer. Her crossword dictionary's the top-selling one on Amazon at the moment.
Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "I Love a Parade!"—Janie's review

And really, don't a lot of us? Whether it's something ginormous, like the Macy's Thanksgiving affair or something on a smaller, more human scale, like your local Memorial Day or Independence Day tribute, there's usually something in the event itself and/or its effect on you that's made it memorable. At least that's the hope!! In her puzzle, Donna has given us four theme-phrases, each of which begins with a word that is also something you're likely to see at a parade. All but the last look to be making major-puzzle bows, and that last one looks to be a CS-first. Nice to have the fresh 'n' lively theme-fill!
  • 20A. BALLOON PAYMENT [It may be required when a mortgage matures]. Sure wish this parade had more than one balloon, but (unlike phrases ending in the word) there is a decided dearth of phrases beginning with balloons...
  • 26A. FLOAT ONE'S BOAT [Be stimulating, slangily]. Terrific fill, though once again, a parade with but one float?... Here's what I learned from Absolute Astronomy about floats: "Parade floats were first introduced in the Middle Ages when churches used pageant wagons as movable scenery for passion plays...The name is derived from the first floats, which were decorated barges that were towed along canals with ropes held by parade marchers on the shore." Aha! (No, I can't vouch for the reliability of the site, but it sure sound feasible / reasonable.)
  • 48A. MARSHAL DILLON ["Gunsmoke" lawman]. A parade's Grand Marshal is the dignitary who's usually right up there at the front, glad-handing and waving and lending the force of his or her personality to the event. Check out the list of Grand Marshals from the Parade of Roses. Then check out that "Gunsmoke" link. The show was on tv from 1955-1975 and besides the leading players, oh boy, did a lot of actors pay their dues there, including Burt Reynolds, Pat Hingle and crossword-staple Jack ELAM.
  • 56A. BAND OF BROTHERS [Spielberg's WWII miniseries]. No parade is complete without at least one!
To complement the stirring theme-fill, Donna has filled the grid with little that is SO-SO [Middling] and much that is A-OK [Hunky dory]. There's first-timer OPEN-MINDED; and PAPER TRAIL, ODD LOTS, HYBRID and LEEWAY. Did you know that a [Journey in Swahili] is a SAFARI? I love getting tidbits like that from the puzzles. Ditto [Maximum number of marbles at play in a Chinese checkers game] for SIXTY or [Sheep species originating in Siberia] for BIG HORN or being reminded that the [Sides of a pie slice, geometrically] are RADII.

Some nicely related clue/fill pairs: a [Seer] is a SIBYL, someone who may have [Peered, as at a crystal ball] GAZED; [Like the 1890s, supposedly], the GAY '90s was a specific [Period of time], just after the Gilded AGE (1878-1889); and make sure everything's in order with your ERISA [Pension legislation acronym] or you may have the T-MAN [Revenuer, for short] after you!

And to bring it all back to the beginning, here's a link to picture of a Willy WONKA theme-FLOAT. YEOW!

Fred Jackson's Los Angeles Times crossword

The LAT puzzle pokes around the same region as the NYT puzzle: the Land of Letters Replacing Words That Sound Alike. This time, it's the beginning of a compound word or phrase that's changed from a short word to the single letter it sounds like. And then it's clued as if it has nothing to do with the original phrase. To wit: A pea-shooter becomes P SHOOTER, or [Photographer of a letter?]. An eyedropper turns into I DROPPER, or [One who can't hold a letter?]. The [Letter out for a stroll?] is a J WALKING (jaywalking). "Tea break" is the least in-the-language base phrase; it transforms into T BREAK, or [Letter's rest period?]. The [Undercover operation to trap a letter?] is the dreaded B STING (bee sting). And a sea captain becomes C CAPTAIN, or [Official in charge of a letter?].

I have to dock Jackson a couple points for including D-DAYS ([Times to attack]) in the fill—it looks like another of the theme entries, but "dee-days" means nothing. Maybe dee-days could be like months with an R—the rest of you maybe eat oysters only in the months that have an R, and I won't eat oysters on any day that has a D.

For more on today's crossword, see PuzzleGirl's L.A.C.C. post. She's got a photo that proves Scottish men are way better at the CURTSY ([Respectful gesture]) than I am.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Adenine"

Pronounce that title as "add a nine," convert into Roman numerals, and that's your theme: an added IX inserted into four familiar words or phrases to change 'em completely. Here are the theme entries:
  • 20A. DORSAL FIXIN'S are [Garnish for the tail?], building on "dorsal fins."
  • 30A. [Like some second-tier animation?] is SUB-PIXAR (subpar).
  • 47A. Potpie adds IX to become a POT PIXIE, or [Drug-dealing sprite?].
  • 57A. To STOCK QUIXOTE (stock quote) is to [Keep some essential Spanish fiction on the shelf?].

Favorite clues and answers:
  • 24A. COED is clued [Like some imaginary naked sporting events, on dumb old t-shirts].
  • Cute QDOBA/Q-TIPS qrossing. The latter are clued as [Cleaners that ought not to hit the drum, if you can help it]. Ear drum, that is.
  • 5D. MS. PACMAN is a [Maze classic].
  • 41D. JOYRIDES is a terrific crossword word. They're [Some pseudo-thefts].
  • 54D. TOOTS! After all these years of crossword clues that suggest this is a synonym for "sweetums" or "honey pie" or "darlin'," at last, a straight-up accurate clue: [Sexist address]. Thanks, Ben!



crossword 8:50
meta about 15 minutes, with a break for ice cream

hi, folks. the 60th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Can't Get There From Here," was a challenging but not killer crossword combined with a cool meta. let's take a look at the "theme" answers (the four 11-letter entries in the grid):

  • [What wild goose chases do] is LEAD NOWHERE.
  • [Misstep in a labyrinth] is HIT A DEAD END. tricky use of "misstep" as a verb.
  • [Join] is PUT TOGETHER.
  • and [Straight crusher] is FOUR OF A KIND. i nailed this one with a couple of well-placed crossings. "straight" is a noun here—the poker hand. and yes, FOUR OF A KIND crushes a straight.

i stared at these theme answers for a while. the first two tie in pretty clearly to the puzzle's title, but what are PUT TOGETHER and FOUR OF A KIND trying to tell us? the puzzle's instructions are, at first blush, pretty unhelpful: This week's contest answer is of no specific length. hmm. and, oddly, there's no across lite file this week (matt says, "I'll tell you why in next week's post"). why is that? there's nothing particularly unusual about the grid that across lite wouldn't be able to handle. could it be that there are multiple correct solutions, like in the famous NYT clinton-dole election puzzle? across lite wouldn't be able to handle that, and it could explain why there's no specific length for the answer to the meta. but everything seemed pretty straightforward, so that line of thinking was ... yep, a dead end.

the other big possibility i thought of for something across lite can't handle is futzing with clue numbering. could that be it? so i went through the clue lists and looked for anything fishy. lo and behold, there are four clues that don't correspond to any answer in the grid: 33- and 45-across, and 28- and 47-down. solving a puzzle on paper, it's easy to miss an extraneous clue in the clue list. (this one time, patrick merrell ... yeah, you know what i'm talking about. and if you don't, i'm not going to spoil it for you.) you might even say that those clues LEAD NOWHERE, or that starting at one of those squares and going in the indicated direction, you'd HIT A DEAD END. what happens when we PUT TOGETHER those FOUR OF A KIND?

  • 33a: [Enter (by)]. the 33 is the L in 32a, ALI [Lindsay Lohan's sister].
  • 45a: [Submitting]. the 45 is the K in 44a, SKEWERS [Kebab shop supply].
  • 28d: [Any]. the 28 is the E in 23d, HEDGE [Fence alternative]. this one is almost interesting in its own right, as you might interpret "23-down" as the EDGE of HEDGE. but that's not where this is going.
  • 47d: [Large island]. the 47 is the W in 44d, SWANK [Oscar winner whose surname is also the name of a pornographic magazine]. and no, i'm not going to say anything about pornography, or even bring attention to the fact that "47-down" could be interpreted as WANK. i've got a squeaky-clean image to maintain, you know.

it's spelled out for you right there in the clues: enter by submitting any large island. so that's why there's no specific answer length! well, you can pick whichever your favorite large island is. me, i went with sumatra, because it's got a cool name that reminds me of star control II. it's also big (the 6th largest in the world, if you don't count australia).

i thought it was a really cool meta. i'm not sure the "clue" meta will ever be topped, but this is up there with any of the others. but what can i say: i'm a sucker for meta anything. this was a very meta meta, and i appreciated that.

okay, the crossword. it wasn't all that tough: 9 minutes on paper is actually reasonably fast for me. i haven't timed myself on a paper crossword in quite some time, so maybe the fact that i've gotten faster overall is coloring my perception of things, but last week's crossword was certainly tougher. but there was, as usual, a smattering of tricky clues, outright traps, and things i just plain didn't know:

  • right out of the gate, i face-planted at 1a: ["Lili" actress, 1953]. isn't that leslie CARON? yeah, it is... but not this time. apparently zsa zsa GABOR is also in it. at least the two vowels were right, and the others weren't too hard to fix.
  • there was only one totally unfamiliar name in the grid: [Longtime NBC News correspondent] is KUR. any idea who this guy is? i was able to figure out by googling that his first name is bob. that's about it.
  • wait, make that two. [U.S.S. John C. ___ (one of America's 12 active aircraft carriers)] is STENNIS, which i actually thought might be ST. ENNIS but isn't. apparently this guy was a mississippi senator for 40 years.
  • high-end latin: [In ___ (submerged in water)] is AQUAM. sure, it had to be AQU__, but damned if i know the declensions. or even if "declensions" is the right word.
  • ["Your Code Name Is ___" (classic Choose Your Own Adventure book)] is JONAH. um, yeah. i read some of those books when i was 8 or 10, but i certainly don't remember any of their titles. still, i liked this clue because it reminded me of my name is jonas, a great track from weezer's blue album. ==W==!
  • speaking of ==W==, matt indulges his penchant for somewhat pejorative clues for EMO by cluing it this time as [Given to brooding]. i guess that's fair.
  • fun pair of cross-referenced clues: 45d is [54-down, in reality--but what is reality?], and 54d is [45-down, in fantasy -- or is it reality?]. the answers are KEANU (reeves) and NEO (anderson) of the matrix (and i'm exercising my right to pretend the sequels never happened).
  • great clue for a crosswordese repeater: [Upright, so to speak: abbr.] is NNE. i love it.
  • an odd pair of crossing answers: [You and me and no one else] is WE TWO. shouldn't it be "you and i"? i tried US TWO first. but i changed that when i noticed that one of the crossing answers was ONE OF US, clued as [Not with the enemy]. tangentially, "enemy" is an anagram of YEMEN. i was flipping through a book of will shortz's NPR puzzlers, and there was a fun one with words that anagram to countries. the best find in the bunch was ANEURISM/SURINAME. how awesome is that?

and on that note (is it really a tangent if we never get back to the main thread?), i'll stop. see you next week; i don't know if it will count as the fifth week of july or the first of august. if it's the fifth week of july, gird your loins for a titanic struggle.


July 28, 2009

Wednesday, 7/29

Onion 4:55
BEQ 4:11
NYT 3:40
LAT 3:17
CS 7:44 (J—paper)

Tim Wescott's New York Times crossword

Themes with circled letters aren't too tough to figure out. This time, the circled letters spell out various MLB team members. And despite the constraints of having (1) six theme entries (2) occupying 70 squares (3) with each Down theme entry intersecting two Across theme answers, the fill's pretty smooth. Here's the theme:

  • 17A. To MAKE A STRONG CASE is to [Argue forcibly]. The Astros play in Houston.
  • 28A. The Tampa Bay Rays figure into the [Pesticide spreader, e.g.], or CROP SPRAYER.
  • 48A. SHORT-WINDED is clued as [Terse]. My dictionary says "short-winded" means out of breath or apt to be out of breath rather than being the opposite of a long-winded speaker. Does anyone really love the Minnesota Twins?
  • 61A. Okay, NORWEGIAN THRONE doesn't feel so "in the language" to me. Then again, I've never been Norwegian. It's [Where Olaf I or Olaf II sat]. San Francisco Giants play baseball, New York Giants prefer football, Andre the Giant liked wrestling.
  • 11D. ORANGE RINDS are [Juicer remnants]. Hey, look! A bonus baseball reference in the clue! See also 10A: SOSA, [Baseball star in Senate steroid hearings]. I often forget the Texas Rangers exist.
  • 24D. To COME TO TERMS is to [Shake hands] and agree. There's a New York Met in the phrase's midst.

I gotta dock Mr. Wescott a couple points for one of the six theme players (RAY) being embedded inside a single word when the other five are split between two words. The only other baseball reference I noticed was 71A: [Like Yogi Berra, physically] for SQUAT. SHORT and STOUT were my first two guesses. Oh, wait, there's also 22A: SAC [___ fly (run producer)].

Football interjects itself. Talk about your manly-man sports-nut puzzles, eh? There's an ONSIDE kick, a Denver BRONCO (...clued as the horse, [It's most useful when it's broken]), and SCHULZ, the [Charles who created Peppermint Patty], who was fond of Charlie Brown, who could never quite manage to kick the football. There's also a DEKE fakeout from hockey.

Assorted crosswordese repeaters rear their ungainly heads here. The ERNE, or [Fish-eating raptor], crosses EIRE and NÉE. NORA of The Thin Man meets IRMA la Douce. Better are the longer fill answers, such as ONE-SIDED [Like a Mobius strip] and a slew of 6s. Does ONE-SIDED duplicate ONSIDE too much? I know that tie the knot is 100% "in the language, but to literally take a rope or shoelace and [Finish lacing up] by deciding to TIE A KNOT...I'm not sure TIE A KNOT is a lexical entity unto itself.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Direct Overhead"—Janie's review

"Direct overhead" is a business term that refers to the "expense directly associated with the production of goods of services," such as the cost of electricity, maintenance or rent. As a kid, I had no idea what it meant, but I think I first became aware of the word "overhead" in the commercials that used to run for Robert Hall clothing stores:
When the values go up, up, up
And the prices go down, down, down.
Robert Hall this season
Will show you the reason
Low overhead! Low overhead!
Sarah Keller's "direct overhead," however, has no association with matters financial, though (broadly speaking) there is a sartorial connection. Here we're dealing literally with items that go on (or in one case, over) your head. I like the way none of the cluing tips Sarah's thematic hand and the fill itself is quite nice. In this way:
  • 17A. [Palace display] gives us CROWN JEWELS; and
  • 27A. [Jaguar on a Jaguar, e.g.] yields HOOD ORNAMENT. Credit for this particular combo probably belongs to Paula Gamache, who used it years ago in a similarly themed puzzle (for another publication). But a great clue is a great clue is a great clue and this seems to be the only other time the fill has made a puzzle appearance.
  • 46A. [Stuffed animals that were a '90s fad] renders BEANIE BABIES. Yesterday it was Furbies, Beanie Babies today. Both have earned a rightful place in The Bad Fads Museum.
  • 61A. [Mine that Bird, in 2009] produces DERBY WINNER . This fill, too, is making its CS debut.
I don't have lots and lots to add today. The remainder of the fill is perfectly fine, mind you, just not particularly sparkly. There's nothing wrong with PETER OUT, NADIR, LESSENS, RESIDUE, and ABSENCE individually—but seeing all of them in one puzzle weights it down some.

We do get an array of names: AGNES [Choreographer de Mille] (niece of Cecil B., too!); AMOS ["Famous" cookie maven]; ELSAS [Martinelli and Lanchester] (the former was a model before enjoying a small screen career, the latter a first-rate character actress); EMIL ["The Last Command" Oscar winner Jannings] (and Marlene Dietrich's co-star in "The Blue Angel"); and CLARA [Barton or Bow]. But AMOS aside, there's something dated in the feel here that, once again, grounds the fill.

Where we do get some lovely leavening is in the cluing: [Good, in the 'hood] for BAD; [Musical firsts] for DO'S; [Left on a map] for WEST. Now that's more like it!

Jerome Gunderson's Los Angeles Times crossword

My longer L.A. Crossword Confidential writeup is over there. The theme, in 25 words or less: Synonyms for "tease" are embedded at the start of four phrases, within longer words. JOSH, RAZZ, RIB, KID. Highlight: RAZZLE-DAZZLE!

Brendan Quigley's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Brendan's muse this week is the abbreviated phrase, "WTF?" That's clued as ["Huh?"...and the theme of this puzzle]. The five theme entries do not include the standard WTF with the F-bomb in it, but rather, are phrases with W.T.F. initials:
  • 21A. [1997 classic rap double album] is WU TANG FOREVER.
  • 29A. "WHAT'S THIS FOR?" is a common [Question on encountering an unfamiliar object].
  • 39A. If you [Made fun of someone's mother, say], you probably WENT TOO FAR.
  • 52A. [Defends with zeal] clues WAVES THE FLAG. I don't quite get this one. Is flag-waving about defense or about rah-rah jingoism?
  • 59A. "All right, buddy, WHERE'S THE FIRE?" is a [Question to a speeder].

Too bad 11D isn't clued as the singer/poet JEWEL (rather than [Ring binder?], which doesn't quite work for me—the ring binds the jewel, the jewel doesn't bind the ring). Then the upper right corner could be filled wall to wall with famous people in the Down direction. OLIVIER! COLETTE! KID ROCK! Is this KID ROCK's crossword debut? Certainly it must be WIIWARE's debut—that's a [Nintendo download service].

I hear the A.V. Club constructors peer-edit their puzzles. Wouldn't you think that with eight smart people checking over this puzzle, JOCK wouldn't be clued as [High school type with cache, often]? A one-syllable cache is a stash. The two-syllable cachet is the word that connotes prestige.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Wednesday"

Yay! Themeless Monday is followed by Themeless Wednesday! This one's got 20 long answers (7 to 15 letters), including five 15s. HENRY LOUIS GATES, sans the "Jr.," is a perfect 15. He's clued as the [Educator who once famously compared the lyrics of 2 Live Crew to Shakespeare's (sic) "O my luve's like a red, red rose"].

INFOMANIA is clued as a [Continual and excessive quest for knowledge]. This has got to be a shout-out to Brendan's demi-celeb fan, Sarah Haskins. She's a comedian who makes incisive and funny videos about the crap the media and advertisers put out there for women. Click that link for access to Haskins' "Target Women" videos as well as a bunch of InfoMania videos that...I never watch. But do watch the "Target Women" clips. My personal favorite is the one about the sexification of cleaning product commercials.

Least familiar answers: URIM is clued [___ and Thummin (Judaic objects)]. [Longtime Beatles "road manager" Evans] was named MAL. CARA is the [Oldest daughter on "Jon & Kate Plus 8"]. I know about A-1 steak sauce, sure, but AONES clued as [Some steak sauces] had an unfamiliar feel to it. [___ prole (without offspring)] clues SINE.

Today's "Ask a Medical Editor" science lesson: BACILLI are rod-shaped bacteria. Viruses are not bacteria at all. Thus, [Virologist's subject] is not a good clue for BACILLI. [Antibiotic targets, sometimes], sure. [Troublesome rods], sure. But [Virologist's subject], 7 letters, wants to be VACCINE.


Crossword pen/pencil/stylus

I love the Uncommon Goods catalog. Lots of decorative or useful products made with recycled/reclaimed glass, rubber, textiles, etc.; corrugated cardboard deer and moose heads to mount on your wall; cute and quirky stuff aplenty.

This four-in-one crossword pen caught my eye. It's a ballpoint, a mechanical pencil, an orange (!) highlighter, and a PDA stylus. Alas, the crossword grid on the pen has U.K.-style unchecked squares. But you can fill in answers you're sure of with the pen, the iffy ones with pencil. Circle trouble spots with the highlighter. And use the stylus for solving on a phone.


July 27, 2009

Tuesday, 7/28

Jonesin' 4:18
July 24 CHE 4:02 (available here)
NYT 3:51
LAT 3:09
CS 7:44 (J—paper)

Tony Orbach's New York Times crossword

I was zipping through this puzzle, feeling frightfully clever, when I hit the skids in the Balkans corner of the grid. I put GAPERS instead of OGLERS for 48D: [Gawking sorts], which made NEAR perfect for 52A: [Close by]—but that was supposed to be NIGH. My second straight day of having a Wednesday experience on a pre-Wednesday puzzle. Um, I'm tired. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Now that I've got my whinging out of the way—This crossword really has remarkably smooth fill for a puzzle with 75 theme squares. Those five 15-letter entries are locked into that order, too—the phrases progress from the greatest to the lowest probability. Like so:

  • 17A. ["Sure thing"] clues WITHOUT QUESTION. Definitely yes.
  • 28A. IN ALL LIKELIHOOD means ["Chances are good"]. Probably yes.
  • 35A. ["It could go either way"] is the utterly equivocal MAYBE YES, MAYBE NO.
  • 43A. ["Doubtful"] clues NOT LOOKING SO HOT. Probably not.
  • 56A. ["Forget it!"] means AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN. Plain and simple, no.

There's a slight evocation of the Magic 8-Ball, but more direct.

Yeah, the fill has a lot of short answers that aren't particularly exciting. But there are high points. I like the one-two punch of 1D and 3D, MOWGLI and MOTHRA—["The Jungle Book" hero] and [Insect monster of Japanese film]. Favorite clues: 8A: [Seven-up and crazy eights] are GAMES; 21A: [Word before sheet or music] is RAP; 41A: [Like dessert wines] means SWEET (yum!); 54A: [Counselor's clients, perhaps] is a plural clue for COUPLE; 66A: [Had a bawl] clues WEPT; and ["Stat!"] clues three answers, 7D: PDQ crossing 4A: ASAP and also 60D: NOW. Two neighboring answers transported me to my salad days. There's 46D: ["Movin' ___" ("The Jeffersons" theme)] for ON UP beside 47D: [Cheech or Chong persona] for HIPPIE. Mind you, STONER is also 6 letters long.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Flip It"

The theme entries take 5-letter words, split 'em into two parts that can be words, and make a cockamamie sentence or phrase with the full and split words:
  • 17A. GOT IN INGOT is clued as [Boarded a gold bar-shaped vehicle?].
  • 58A. [Bans all alcoves?] is OKS NO NOOKS. A one-syllable word turns into two one-syllable words.
  • 11D. [Really tiny amt. of a form of oxygen?] is ONE OZ. OZONE.
  • 29D. SUE IS ISSUE is a complete sentence provided that you don't mind leaving out an article. [The debate topic: Grafton, the author?] is the clue.

JIM CROCE (38D: ["Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" singer]) is a good first/last name combo. I loved that song when I was a kid. You know why? Because we said "damn" when we sang along. It was a hit the summer I turned 7.

I especially liked CAYMAN, or 10D: [___ Islands (British territory near Cuba)] because earlier this evening I found a Cayman Islands nickel on the floor by my desk. Why don't I remember getting any Cayman cash during the cruise stopover last December? The dime-sized nickel surprised me.

9D: [Flat, messy do on a hot day, perhaps] is HAT HAIR. Around these parts, HAT HAIR is a much bigger issue in the winter.

At 47A, QUINOA ("keen-wa") is a ["Supergrain" used in some gluten-free recipes]. Try it if you haven't; it's tasty.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Just Getting By"—Janie's review

Imitation, it's said, is the sincerest form of flattery. In which case, fellow CSer Bob Klahn should feel mightly flattered indeed. He published CS a puzzle titled "Getting By" with the exact same gimmick (adding "BY" to well-known names and phrases) in November of 2003. Borrowing one of Bob's theme phrases, Lynn has made this rendition all her own and for me, the smile-factor ran high. It's hard to resist theme fill the likes of:
  • 17A. TABBY HUNTER [One looking for a lost pet?]. Though for years he was closeted in Hollywood, Tab Hunter (born Andrew Arthur Kelm...) managed to get a lot of hearts beating more rapidly, carve out a more than decent career for himself, even to out himself proudly—and keep on working. (Sometimes confused with the late Troy Donahue.)
  • 27A. AIRLINE HUBBY [Spouse of a Delta or United worker?] The spouse or the worker himself? Or is the male spouse an airline hubby in the way that come Superbowl Sunday, many a woman is said to be a "football widow"? Regardless... did you know that while Atlanta is still the busiest passenger hub, Dubai is looking to become the world's busiest hub? Anywhere?
  • 44A. PERSIAN RUGBY [Sport played in Iran?]. This is the one example of repeat fill, but Lynn's provided an entirely different clue.
  • 58A. FURBY TRADER [Merchant dealing in an old toy?]. Another winner. The Furby first appeared in 1998, and by 2005, this electronic toy had been programmed with voice recognition capability. Its native tongue is, uh, Furbish..., but the more you interact with it, the more English it uses in response. Really.
If you're more attracted to reading than to playing with Furbies, you're in luck. Lynn has given us two high-profile characters from different ends of the "classic" spectrum: GLINDA [Good Witch of Oz] and AENEAS [Virgil's hero]. We also get two classic-type authors: J.M. BARRIE ["Peter Pan" penner] and Edgar Allen POE ["The Tell-Tale Heart" writer].

Two opera heroines find their way into the puzzle as well: AIDA from the [Opera featuring a captured princess] and GRETEL [Girl enticed by an edible house]. No, Gretel isn't clued in relation to the opera, but Humperdinck made her a star in seasonal favorite Hänsel und Gretel. Even if you hate opera, I'm going to bet you're familiar with (and like...) the "Evening Prayer" from H&G (starts at about 4:20).

In the fresh-fill department, DAY-SHIFT and its opposite in the grid, our friend J.M BARRIE, both look to be making CS debuts, and PARTY BOSS and ANGRY LOOK (also grid opposites) major-publication debuts. CAN IT BE? Yes, it can (in another CS first). I love the word GENERIC in this mix, and will close out with a look at what seems to be a very first-timer: CRABBER, that [Net wielder on the Chesapeake, maybe]. The life of a Chesapeake waterman is rich in lore, but oh, by no means is it an easy one!

Scott Atkinson's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme is "things you might say after WAIT" (49D: [Bide one's time, and a word that may precede the answers to starred clues]). Here are those expressions:
  • 17A. IT ISN'T OVER yet. ["We aren't finished here"].
  • 53A. I'M NOT READY! ["Give me another sec!"]
  • 11D. Like the public radio quiz show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me says, wait, DON'T TELL ME. ["It's on the tip of my tongue"].
  • 28D. But wait, THERE'S MORE! ["I haven't told you everything yet!"] Not only do you get the ShamWow, we'll throw in four mini-ShamWows at no extra charge. But that's not all. You also get the handy Ginsu knife.

Highlights in the fill include GO SOUTH ([Deteriorate, slangily]), LUMP IN ([Group together]), [Puerto Rico's capital] SAN JUAN, and BEATNIKS ([Bongo-playing '50s-'60s stereotypes]).

Is it just me, or did this one feel more like a Wednesday puzzle too? Maybe I'm in the summer crossword-solving doldrums this week.

Joon Pahk's July 24 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Mythaphorically Speaking"

The Chronicle's crossword didn't make it onto the publication's redesigned website last week but there was, in fact, a CHE crossword. It's par for the CHE course, with a literary-minded theme and plenty of literary and artsy clues in the fill. The fill answers with clues from literature, music, and theater include UDAY, LISA, IAN, RACE, ART SONG, EDDA, ADANO, KYD, LESSON, OJIBWA, CLAIR, LES, ADA, SON, STANDS, EDGARS, and KEY—that's 17 answers. The five theme entries are metaphors derived from Greek (all Greek, yes?) mythology:
  • 18A. PANDORA'S BOX is the [Source of many troubles].
  • 23A. A [Small cause of a major conflict] is the APPLE OF DISCORD. Eris, the goddess of discord, caused all sorts of trouble with that golden apple.
  • 38A. The SWORD OF DAMOCLES hanging over your head is [Disaster waiting to happen].
  • 54A. The PROCRUSTEAN BED is an [Arbitrary standard that everyone must conform to]. Hmm, I don't think I knew this phrase. Sounds like the No Child Left Behind–mandated standardized testing to me.
  • 61A. A [Seemingly insoluble conundrum] is a GORDIAN KNOT. Gordius, the king of Gordium, tied an intricate knot and said whoever could untie it would become the ruler of Asia. Alexander the Great apparently had little patience for knotwork and slashed the knot with a sword. That's totally cheating, man.

What I liked: Including both LARVAL, or [Premetamorphic], and PUPAE, or [Chrysalides]. The AFL-CIO, a [Gp. created by a 1955 merger]. More mythology: [Mars's Olympus Mons, for one] is a VOLCANO. Oh, wait. That's astronomy and not myth, isn't it? The first name that came to mind when I saw the ****P* pattern for [Beijing Games superstar] was pre-Beijing swimming star Ian THORPE; did you notice that PHELPS shares the H and P in the same spots?


July 26, 2009

Monday, 7/27

BEQ 5:03
NYT 3:34
LAT 2:35
CS 7:09 (J—paper)

Warm thanks to Dean Olsher for filling in on the Sunday puzzles. I like Dean's writing (have you read From Square One? It's unlike any other crossword nonfiction book you've read—thoughtful divagations plus interviews plus memoir, all in all an engaging read) and his turn here at Crossword Fiend was funny.

Over at his own blog, Dean wants to hear about your favorite crossword clues now. Go pay him a visit and tell him why you love that particular clue.

Here's what I did instead of blogging yesterday: I went on a Wendella boat tour up the Chicago River and out through the locks into Lake Michigan on a perfect afternoon, the warm July sun and cool lake breeze hitting the sweet spot. Then the local relatives, out-of-town relatives, my son, and I walked up the Magnificent Mile to the Hancock building. We spent three hours on the observation level, the 94th floor, enjoying the views as the sun dropped lower in the sky. The sun did one of those West Coast/oceanside things, a red ball dipping below the horizon. The city lights twinkle after dark, and usually I get to see that for only as long as it takes a jet to descend to the tarmac. And then! Yesterday was Chicago's annual Venetian Night, when a parade of lighted boats heads across a stretch of Lake Michigan before the fireworks show. Have you seen fireworks from above? It's cool.

Allan Parrish's New York Times crossword

Hey! Spoiler in the byline! That's kinda funny, that Allan Parrish made a PERISH/PARRISH/PARISH theme. It took me a Wednesday amount of time to piece this puzzle together, as my clue reading comprehension plummeted. The [Highly collectible illustrator] MAXFIELD PARRISH is familiar to me only from crossworder Nancy Shack's tale of recognizing a Parrish picture that had been donated to a white elephant shop; the hospital sold it outside of the shop for thousands of dollars. Alas, in my head, the clue was looking for a kind of illustration that's highly collectible, or the collector herself. See? Not reading properly. I skipped right past the [College professor's mantra] so I ended up getting PUBLISH OR PERISH after MAXFIELD. And [Lafayette or Orleans] is a LOUISIANA PARISH, or county, but I blanked on needing anything other than a 6-letter word for "city." I did a little better reading the non-theme clues, but sheesh. My first thought for [One of the Wise Men] was NESTOR from Greek mythology rather than the Biblical CASPAR, whom I wanted to be GASPAR.

Things that seemed to be supra-Monday to me:

  • 6A. [Sword handles] are HAFTS. I always want HILTS first.
  • 30A. [As, chemically] is the symbol for ARSENIC. "As," of course, is also a word, so I continued with my misreading-of-clues thing here and needed lots of crossings.
  • 52A. [Gird oneself] sounds more like steel oneself, brace oneself, prepare for an onslaught. To me, GET SET just means "get ready."
  • 5D. [Rum and lime juice drink] is a DAIQUIRI, which is a familiar enough word but I'll bet trying to spell it gives a lot of people fits.
  • 24D. [1944 Jean-Paul Sartre play], 6 letters starting with N? Easy! That's NAUSEA. Except when it's NO EXIT. Totally mucked up the left side of the puzzle with NAUSEA.
  • 39D. [Nancy's 56-Down in the comics], 6 letters? Oh, she knew SLUGGO. Alas, it was her AUNT / FRITZI. Getting a few crossings reminded me of the name, but I have to wonder how many people under 40 know this.
Updated Monday morning:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy/Washington Post Puzzle, "Seating for Eating"—Janie's review

At the CAFÉS [Informal restaurants] you frequent (bonus-fill), what's your seating preference? At a table? In a booth? On a stool at the counter? You can't fully appreciate it in this picture, but NYC's Café Edison a/k/a the Polish Tea Room, offers you all three. Come on down to West 47th Street and give it a try! If you're not in the area, you can appreciate your options as Patrick presents them in today's theme fill:
  • 17A. TABLE OF CONTENTS [Book list]. Not a list of books, but a list that appears in a book. I like this clue.
  • 35A. STOOL PIGEON [Snitch]. So often this clue leads to a three-letter answer: rat. I like this a lot better. My American Heritage Dictionary tells me that a stool pigeon is "a person acting as a decoy or as an informer, especially one who is a spy for the police" and that this slang term came into being "from the practice of tying pigeons to a stool to attract other pigeons."
  • 52A. BOOTH TARKINGTON ["The Magnificent Ambersons" author]. Put that one on your "book list"—or Penrod or Seventeen or Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Adams. Not to be confused with Fran Tarkenton...
If the Cruciverb Database is correct, today is the ninth time stool pigeon has appeared in a mainstream-newspaper puzzle. And the fifth time in connection with a "seating" theme—but a first for a CS theme. EVEN SO, there was nothing OLD HAT about the solving experience. There's fine fill in CS first-timer HELIPORT, the ominous MIASMAS [Foreboding atmospheres], MÉNAGE [Household to Henri] , and the shout out to IRON MAN [2008 Robert Downey Jr. hit] (a movie I had great fun watching). JOINING UP is now joining databases. Let's hear a "RAH!" [Quaint cheer].

  • The humble EGG is a not only a [Custard ingredient] but also goes into making eggnog. So don't forget the NUTMEG [Eggnog sprinkle].
  • Harry Potter might want to try some ALOE on that SCAR...
  • And [Handel contemporary] (J.S) BACH wrote many concerti that featured an OBOIST [Woodwind section member]. Here's the 1st movement of the Oboe and Violin Concerto.
Oh—and I'll take a booth, please!

Updated Monday afternoon:

Samuel Donaldson's Los Angeles Times crossword

I slept too late to do the puzzles this morning, and went straight from taking my kid to day camp, to seeing one of those 69A: [Salon colorists] (DYERS), to snarfing down a quick lunch and heading to the gym. TCB! That's 25A: [Getting the job done, briefly], or "taking care of business." More B remains to be T C of, so I'd best be quick with the blogging.

The theme goes halfsies, dropping by half with each step:
  • 20A. That TWENTY MULE TEAM serves as [Borax haulers, in classic ads]. I opened up a fresh box of that brand of borax yesterday, it just so happens. Helps keep towels fresh, they say.
  • 31A. [Cowboy's topper] is a TEN-GALLON HAT.
  • FIVE CARD DRAW is a [Poker game where one might stand pat].
  • The surprising part of the theme is where it ends up, with a mixed number (a fourth-grader should be able to tell you what that is if you've forgotten the math lingo). TWO AND A HALF MEN has been a [CBS sitcom since 2003].

Highlights beyond the theme: (1) Down at 46-Down, CATNAP is clued as [Forty winks]. Half of forty, of course, is twenty, where today's theme began. (2) Compound words and phrases in the grid include DOG FOOD, the SLOW LANE, the OPEN SEA, EYELASH, and "ETC., ETC." They liven things up, don't they? On the "meh" side, it felt like there were a lot of partials (A SLIP, IN A, ERE I) and clunky abbrevs/plurals (APBS, OOFS, NEGS, ONS).

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

The last word I filled in was 38D. [It'll keep you up] is not, I don't think, a medically sound clue for APNEA. The clue probably works fine for anyone who isn't, say, a doctor or medical editor who's familiar with sleep medicine. Grr. The crossings were nutty, too: CAMASH? A [Lily plant with edible bulbs]? Never heard of it. [1968 Turtles hit] ELENORE?

Loved CHILLAX, which is clued as [Calm down], but my friends and I use it more along the lines of "What are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, just chillaxing."

Loved the up-to-the-minute clue for White Sox pitcher MARK BUEHRLE, who threw a perfect game last Thursday. I'm not a Sox fan, and this morning by son told me he'd dreamt that a baboon was attacking him because he was a Cubs fan while the baboon liked the Sox. But there were other non-attacking baboons who were Cubs fans.

Loved GHIRARDELLI chocolate. Oh, I can spell that all right. And I can eat it. Num.

Loved TIME SINK—[Overly engaging websites with little value, say] are collectively a huge TIME SINK. You ever lose an hour of your day looking at LOLcats or Go Fug Yourself? Yeah. I'm not sure if Facebook counts as a TIME SINK. Does social networking have more than "little value"?

I like Brendan's Themeless Monday puzzles. They always seem to be labeled "hard," but often take me less time than the "medium" themed puzzles. I do so enjoy a good themeless crossword.


July 25, 2009

Sunday, 7/26

NYT 99:59

LAT 99:59

PI 99:59

[updated to include:]

CS 99:59

BG 99:59

by guest blogger Dean Olsher

Amy always has something to teach me, and therefore I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’m making my debut in her chair on a Sunday. She is no doubt teaching me a lesson for writing, in FROM SQUARE ONE, that I haven’t done a Sunday crossword in years, because it feels more like work than fun. (Of course I made an exception when Amy made her debut as a constructor three Sundays ago, with Tony Orbach, and I’m not brown-nosing when I say that it was a fun puzzle.)

In any event, this was a good excuse to reacquaint myself with other editing styles and challenge my belief that the New York Times puzzle really is superior. (It’s like my preference in dogs. I would like to identify with something edgy and unusual, but the sad truth is that I love Golden Retrievers, the most vanilla of breeds. I wish I could claim something more obscure, but there you have it.)

Kevin G. Der’s New York Times Sunday crossword, “Story Circle”

There’s a moment that occurs when solving a rebus puzzle that satisfies in its own way. You think to yourself, “Wait a minute, something is not right.... Saaaaay! I know what’s going on here.” The rebus in question is SIR, which goes in five circled squares slightly north of center. The theme is rounded out with the titles of six films and one book inspired by the story of King Arthur and his Round Table. There are circles for five knights here, leading to left-right symmetry rather than the usual 90-degree sort. I’m not sure of the thinking behind five circles. According to various tellings of the legend, there were at least twenty-five knights, if not more. I feel I must be missing something, and if I am, I’m sure someone will point it out.

Among the theme answers, the 1889 Twain novel that makes up both 4D and and its symmetrically located 12D is A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT. Wow, that was exhilarating! Wow!

Another twofer takes place at both 14D and 76D: 1953 Ava Gardner film ... as depicted elsewhere in this puzzle? The answer is KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE. Also wow! Something about taking up a whole line, interrupted, seems virtuosic.

Less wow among the theme clues:

  • The 1981 film in which Helen Mirren plays a sorcress is EXCALIBUR (2D).
  • Seventeen years later, you get the 1998 animated film featuring the voice of Pierce Brosnan, QUEST FOR CAMELOT (143A).
  • 71D, MISTS OF AVALON is clued as 2001 Anjelica Huston miniseries, with “The.” I don’t love the The (or the missing hyphen in miniseries; spelled this way, as the writer Sarah Thyre has rightly pointed out, you’re left with “such small sad little things”).
  • 137A, SWORD IN THE STONE is clued as a 1963 animated film with the song “Higitus Figitus,” with “The.” Again with the The! Not a lovely clue.

Lots to love:

  • 10D, Subtlety = NUANCE, which is just a good word, plain and simple.
  • SYNOD (39D, Bishop’s group) is a great word, especially when it’s so close to 62A, Blissful: BEATIFIC.
  • 62D, Winnie ____ Pu yields ILLE. That’s the title of A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s tale translated into Living Latin, which is exactly the kind of quixotic endeavor that wins my undying admiration.
  • 103A, Prefix with sphere for IONO was not meant as a shout-out to radio, but I’ll take it as one anyway.
  • 81D, Soap box? TVSET. Nice.
  • Drilling grp. appears twice. At 44D, I thought it was going to be OPEC, but it turned out to be ROTC. Then at 86D, it’s ADA. (My father was a dentist in the army when I was born. He didn’t go through ROTC but he did undergo basic training. On the day they made everyone crawl under live machine-gun fire, he lost his lunch, which consisted of chili. He has never eaten it since.)

Et alii, so as not to gush too much.

  • Boo on them: 19D, Red alert. FIRE SIREN? Nah.
  • Boo on me: I got impatient (see above, “more work than fun”) and tried to look up 78D, Supreme Egyptian deity (spelled here as AMEN RA) by typing in crosswordfiend.blogspot.com. Oops.

I think of myself as post-ideological, but there are a couple of areas in which I maintain a hard line. For example, I hope to remain forever closed-minded in my opposition to puppy mills. And although people tell me they can still appreciate a crossword’s literary qualities while solving it as fast as they can, Lord, I do not want to be in that number. As Will Shortz wrote in the most recent Talk to the Times (which, he says, received more questions than any previous installment of this feature), “Rushing to solve a crossword is like stuffing a fine four-course meal down your throat as fast as you can.” I share all of this to explain my solving times, which are posted in solidarity with the yet-to-be-formed Crossword Fiends’ Auxiliary Chapter of the Slow Food movement.

Paula Gamache’s CrosSynergy “Sunday Challenge”

I am in solidarity with our usual host here: I always look forward to a Paula Gamache puzzle in the New York Times. Gamache is super smart and witty and I wish more puzzles were like hers. In fact, I wish this puzzle were more like hers. It lacked her special touch. Surely all the sparkle in her New York Times offerings can’t be due exclusively to Will Shortz’s editing of the clues. Did CrosSynergy dumb her down?

25D is a good ’un: They may stand for something is the clue for LATECOMERS. But 34A, Sheep shelter (COTE) is - meh.

44A, Auto service department offerings are LOANERS. I remember this as a common practice from childhood, but does anyone still do that?

Many of the folks I met while losing 15% of myself might quibble with 27D, Not a sore loser for DIETER. The people who went to my meetings complained bitterly.

I was Greeted, as a villain this week (49A, HISSED AT) when I gave the first performance of FROM SQUARE ONE: THE LIVE SHOW. I was asking for it. What prompted the hissing was this: “Brooklyn always felt like the Chicago of New York: parochial, boosterish, oddly proud to be the second city within the city.” It may have had something to do with the fact that I delivered this line steps from the epicenter of the Bobo universe. And of course this now has to get past a gatekeeper who loves living in Chicago. I hope the brown-nosing worked.

I couldn’t help but notice that Juicy fruit appears as a clue not only in this puzzle (56A, BERRY) but also Merl Reagle’s (35D, MELON). Now that's crossynergy.

Which brings us to:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “A Tense-Sounding Situation”

I used to do Merl’s puzzle every week when I was a reader of the New York Observer, which I gave up because his crossword was the one good thing about it. Now that they’re under new management I should check them out again. In any event, I was glad for the reminder of what makes him so great.

Right away, with 1A, he initiates what appears to be an unintentional subtheme with “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” author LOOS. (Five years ago America passed up an opportunity to obsess over Rebecca Loos - no relation, as far as anyone has pointed out - who was alleged to have caused David Beckham to stray from Posh Spice.) He then proceeds to include a trio of Movie Stars I Have Had Crushes On: “In the Bedroom” actress (56D, SPACEK); Diana of “The Avengers” (80A, RIGG); and Nora, opposite Nick (15D, MYRNA). I wish to offer this list as Exhibit A to everyone who, when trying to fix me up on blind dates, has disbelieved me when I say I don’t have a “type.” (Although, considering how much I wish Claudette Colbert and Carole Lombard would make it into puzzles more often, maybe I do have a type. Colbert was said to be mean to Clark Gable, but he was madly in love with Lombard. And now that I think of how young she was when she was killed in a plane crash and made him a widower, I’m glad it didn’t work out with me after all.) Don’t need a Facebook quiz to know that the 1940s would have been my decade.

Sadly, I am a child of the seventies, which is why 73A, He leaked the Pentagon papers got me to ELLSBERG in no time. Maybe because I'm Generation Jones, this tickled my “Gee!” spot.

I am on record as saying there is no difference between a good pun and a bad pun. That doesn’t mean I can't give props to Merl Reagle for his mastery of paronomasia, which forms the basis of his intended theme. And in fact the puzzle does demonstrate that some puns are more equal than others. As an example of a tired pun, we have 81A, Redundant library sign? for NO TALKING ALOUD. We know that one. But then, by contrast, there’s 25A, New batch of chicks? for FRESH BROOD, which pushes us to hear the language anew. Even better than the AHA MOMENT (Gamache, 1A: Instant when the light goes on) is the Ah! moment, and Merl’s always good for a bunch of them.

The rest of his theme clues:

  • 23A, Result of an Oreck-Bissell summit? = VACUUM PACT
  • 25A, Vestal virgins? = CHASTE WOMEN
  • 38A, Q: “What were you doing at the lumber yard, Tarzan?” A: “_____” = GETTING BOARD
  • 50A, Customer-service reps for a certain condiment? = MUSTARD SUPPORT
  • 65A, Soft and smooth on top? = BALD LIKE A BABY
  • 93A, Get a little sloppy with the stickum? = PASTE ONESELF
  • 103A, Beach-access route? = ROAD TO SHORE
  • 109A, Headline about escaped lions? = PRIDE LOOSE
  • 112A, Where the teetotaler walked? = PAST THE BAR

Merl’s puzzle did not change my mind about puns (for a lovely sorting-through of what I find so distasteful about them, read this op-ed piece). Still, solving it was a satisfying way to spend 99 minutes and 59 seconds.

Some obscurities are boring (89D, Butter dye = ANNATTO) while others (48D, Cross = ROOD) make me curious to find out more. And then there’s the nifty BEADLE (67D, English church official) which really doesn’t deserve to be in crosswords more than it is, but its appearance today made me smile for some reason.

I do quibble with 64A, Many mag pages for ADS. In fact lately there have been not so many, which is why at least one longtime mainstay of American culture may vanish in the weeks ahead. You heard it here first.

Our little daisy chain continues. BPOE appears both here (91D, Lodge letters) and also in the Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword (30A), clued as Fraternal org.

Allemande left and promenade!

Nora Pearlstone’s Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Midafternoons”

[The blogger-in-chief suggests I point out that “Nora Pearlstone” is an anagram of not a real person and is the puzzle-making alter ego of editor Rich Norris.]

The theme is PM: two-word answers, the first word ending in P, the second word beginning with M. This yields the following theme clues:

  • 23A, Temporary solution = STOPGAP MEASURE
  • 54A, Controversial excavation method = STRIP MINING
  • 94A, Key equivalent to B-flat = A-SHARP MAJOR
  • 130A, It can help you organize windows and wallpaper = DESKTOP MANAGER
  • 17D, Startling Stories, e.g. = PULP MAGAZINE
  • 66D, Maker of Marlboro = PHILIP MORRIS

Ho hum. Time for a mid-afternoon nap.

It was interesting to see 25A, APOLLO, clued as Harlem theater. Maybe the editors were sick of all the 40th-anniversary hoo ha surrounding the moon landing. Or maybe it’s how they’re responding to pressure from newspapers to make the L.A. Times puzzle more national.

Regarding NACRES (Mollusk shell materials): plural? Really, right there at the top? If I were to be forced to include a tortured pluralization of an uncountable noun I’d want to hide it somewhere other than 1A.

A rare sports clue pops up at 64A: apparently, an Old Boston Garden nickname is ESPO. I can’t be bothered to find out who or why.

Boston, come in, please!

Boston Globe Sunday crossword

Hello, Boston, you’re on the air!

[Dead air.]

While we’re waiting for the Globe puzzle to come online, I want to say that I’m no Alice Hoffman. I can take criticism. While poking around online for the endangered newspaper’s crossword I stumbled upon this review of my book by Amanda Heller, who seems to have to have neither liked it nor read it. To set the record straight, the crossword in FROM SQUARE ONE is not of my devising. Readers of the book, and now Ms. Heller, know that all credit goes to the multitalented Francis Heaney. I’m sure stuff like this has nothing to do with the fact that the paper is going under. [SNAP!]

[This just in: still no Boston Globe crossword. But Cox and Rathvon are quoted, as am I, in this article that appears today in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, which is bucking the trend by adding puzzles to the paper. Now the bad news: the puzzles they’re adding are sudoku and KenKen®.]

Stand by, please.

It’s confirmed. The Eagle has landed.

Henry Hook’s Boston Globe Sunday crossword, “Take My Word For It”

A nicely made puzzle, worth waiting for. His theme is truth, illustrated as follows:

  • 22A, Oath opening = I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR
  • 33A, Oddities column = BELIEVE IT OR NOT
  • 63A and 71A, “It’s gotta be true” = YOU CANT MAKE THIS STUFF UP
  • 95A, Rerun in the GSN lineup = TO TELL THE TRUTH
  • 111A, Friday’s request = JUST THE FACTS MAAM
  • 15D, George’s affirmation = I CANNOT TELL A LIE
  • 43D, Old Coke slogan = ITS THE REAL THING

with a Lagniappe at 96D, the Lionel Richie hit TRULY.

Once again a secondary theme emerges. Hook is going to Lahaina in his mind with:

  • 115A, 50th state bird = NENE (someday I hope to see their state fish in a crossword)
  • 116a, Pacific greetings = ALOHAS
  • 98D, Guitar’s kin = UKE

In case 47D, the Suzanne Vega hit LUKA turns out to be so catchy that you just can’t get it out of your head, we here at the Diary wish to offer this earworm replacement service. You may want to consider, instead, TROIKA (56A, Three-horse carriage) or maybe even MOOCHER (85D, Sponge).

More pleasure:

  • 9A, Old war story? is ILIAD, and then, in the opposite corner (119A) you have Jason’s ship, the ARGO.
  • 26A, My brothel’s keeper is MADAM. Nice!

Not so nice:

  • 45A, Bleating sound is MAA?
  • 58D, Illicit affair for AMOUR. Illicit? Always?
  • 64D, Homesteads, in Hampshire appear to be TOFTS. Filing that one away.
  • I had to look up 34D, Greg of “B.J. and the Bear,” which turns out to be EVIGAN. I didn’t feel too bad about it, since I got no help from 39A, Kin of (alt. sp.) for VAR. Huh? Still have no idea what that’s all about. Anyone? Anyone?

16D, Strands for MAROONS reminds me of a recent conversation with my NYU colleague, Adam Penenberg, who I admire very much (and not just because Steve Zahn played him in the movie Shattered Glass). Adam told me his all-time favorite Eugene Maleska clue was, “After a blue ship collides with a red ship. Answer: Marooned.” This gave me an idea as I develop FROM SQUARE ONE: THE LIVE SHOW. Send me your favorite clues, and tell me why they’re your favorites, and offer any interesting stories behind them, over at my blog. And when I say “interesting” I do not mean fabricated.