August 31, 2009

Tuesday, 9/1/09

Jonesin' 3:32
NYT 3:12
LAT 2:42
CS untimed (J—Downs. Mostly...)

I'm late to the puzzle and the blog tonight—my kid and I did the reverse commute in rush hour and met my husband downtown at the Willis Tower (You know, the Sears Tower under its new name.) There are these new SkyLedges that telescope out from the west side of the building. They're glass boxes somewhere in the neighborhood of 4x8 feet, and the view below your feet is straight down about 1,350 feet. I didn't get the slightest bit woozy, so I pronounce the SkyLedges to be a terrific innovation in SkyDeck design. We stuck around to watch the sunset, which...looked exactly like the sunset I saw a month ago from the Hancock building's 94th floor.

Steven Ginzburg's New York Times crossword

The theme is embodied by 37A: [How 18-, 24-, 47- and 56-Across may be defined] is BY HOOK OR BY CROOK, meaning that those four answers can be defined by the wordhook or the word crook. In fact, there are two hooks—18A is a SHARP TURN and 47A is a SWINGING PUNCH—and two crooks—24A is a SHEPHERD'S CANE (though I think of canes as being shorter, more like hip-high, and a shepherd's crook/staff as being head-high) and 56A is a RACKETEER.

You gotta watch out for mis-parsing multi-word answers in the grid. 5D is SAYS HI TO ([Greets informally]), but the eye sees a certain 4-letter word in the midst. "Say 'shit-O'"?

I'm sleepy and not seeing anything to single out in the "wow," "meh," tough, or ICKY ([Gross, in kidspeak]) departments, so I'll sign off now and see you again in the morning.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "I'm Outta Here"—Janie's review

No, Randy's not bidding us farewell, but he has taken the paired "IM" outta five in-the-language phrases and given us five almost-in-the-language phrases that have a colorful meaning all their own. I love this kind of theme and the puzzle Randy created today. [In all likelihood] ODDS ARE if you enjoy this kind of wordplay as well, you'll derive the same pleasure I did in solving it.

  • 16A. When AJAX [Cleanser with the motto "Stronger than dirt!] introduced its laundry detergent in the 1960s, I imagine their advertising department wanted to compare it to other products out there by saying, "It's new and improved!" Starting with this classic ad-speak enticement, we now get the clue [Slogan about a just discovered math theorem?] and the "no-IM" twist that produces "IT'S NEW AND PROVED!" Can't argue with that!
  • 26A. One of the great features of our justice system is the panel of citizens who make decisions of innocence or guilt in civil and criminal cases. Trial lawyers strive hard to find a prejudice-free, impartial jury—six people for civil cases, twelve for criminal. Much effort is put into making certain they're all there and accounted for, too. Nothing worse than an [Incomplete peer group?] or a PARTIAL JURY...
  • 34A. Department stores almost always sell items like cosmetics and candy close to the cash registers on the first floor. Why? Because marketers know that, when they get THE URGE, these are the kinds of items that consumers will pick up on sudden impulse. An EMT, however, responding to a call for assistance, is more likely to be pleased by picking up a [Quick heartbeat?] or SUDDEN PULSE in an otherwise non-responsive patient.
  • 46A. Sometimes, despite our best efforts to keep ’em, we'll lose a tooth or two—permanently... That's when it may be time for a dental implant. If you're also a candidate for some even more specialized care (and if your practitioner has a botanical bent...), you might encounter [A periodontist's petunia?] or DENTAL PLANT. (Some of the humor today is soooo corny—and no doubt, that's why I like it!)
  • 57A. The efforts of someone who's worked late at the office night after night to finish up an important memo or campaign probably impressed one's boss. If, on the other hand, the same worker then [Kept arguing for a salary increase, e.g.?] s/he'd be said to have PRESSED ONE'S BOSS.
Other clues and/or fill that stand out today include:
  • The superhero-type combo of XENA [Lucy Lawless role] followed by SEAGAL [Action movie actor Steven]. Each has played the moment when s/he SAVES THE DAY [Becomes a hero].
  • Then there the real pugilists ALI ["The Louisville Lip] and DURAN [Ring champion Roberto]. Not to mention [Larry slapper] MOE (as in The Three Stooges: Larry, Moe and Curly...).
  • The [Chain of evidence?] refers to DNA; and that [Eur. political entity once led by Charlemagne] is the HRE or Holy Roman Empire, which—as I remember being taught—was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire...
  • A [Corner former] (i.e., something that forms a corner) is a CROSS-STREET. And doesn't that string of consonants look great in the grid?
Solved this one almost entirely with the downs, but did have some trouble in the SW—even when I looked at the clue foe 49A [Brought home]. My first entry of EARNED was in the right area, but was the wrong word—which NETTED me some more questions, rather than answers I'm afraid.

Sharon Petersen's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme is solid Tuesday fare and the overall cluing is at a solid Tuesday level of easiness. But what makes this puzzle stand out is the liveliness of the fill, including the theme entries. Each theme entry's first word can follow WILD (68-Across) to make a new compound word, and the phrases themselves fit right in with the other more colorful fill:
  • 17A. CAT BURGLAR is a [Stealthy felon]. Wasn't Cary Grant a cat burglar in To Catch a Thief?
  • 61A. The FIRE ESCAPE is an [Apartment building emergency exit].
  • 11D. The FLOWER GIRL is a [Wedding party tyke], typically.
  • 28D. One key [Boating safety feature] is a LIFE JACKET.
Among the zippier fill, we have "GET REAL" (["Oh, be serious!"]), CASH COW ([Constant moneymaker]), the [Photographer's request] of "SAY CHEESE," and those [Art pieces that hang from the ceiling], MOBILES. I spent a few minutes appreciating Alexander Calder's Universe in the Sears Tower lobby—this photo shows about two thirds of this giant, multi-piece moving sculpture.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "You Sound Like L"

Each theme entry takes a familiar phrase and inserts an L into the verb-based word to form something new and a tad surprising. It's a good thing when you get those little surprised "ahas" when you're working out a theme, isn't it?
  • 20A. If you're [Hip to sounds from Rice Krispies?], you're CRACKLING WISE (cracking wise).
  • 31A. Growing concern + L = GROWLING CONCERN, or [Getting the right pitch and volume, for a lion?].
  • 39A. [Leftovers from sticking doughy lumps in a coffee percolator?] are DUMPLING GROUNDS. Way to ruin dumplings for us, Matt! "Doughy lumps" and coffee grounds make dumplings seem so unsavory.
  • 55A. Add an L to "starting over" and you get STARTLING OVER, or [Scaring yet again?].

My favorite part of this puzzle is all the 7-letter answers in the fill. The word count isn't low thanks to all those 3s, but I'm less likely to notice a slew of 3s if my eyes have been bedazzled by 7s.


August 30, 2009

Monday, 8/31/09

CS untimed (J)/4:08 (A)
BEQ 4:07
NYT 2:34
LAT 2:31

Fred Piscop's New York Times crossword

Quickly, because it's late:

The theme is phrases that begin with the sound-alikes FOUR, FOR, and FORE:

  • [Roger Bannister was the first] FOUR-MINUTE MILER. I wonder how long it takes Usain Bolt to run a mile. How long can he keep up his speed?
  • FOR OLD TIMES' SAKE means [How something may be done, nostalgically].
  • [Features of yawls and ketches] are FORE AND AFT SAILS. If that's an established phrase, it may well be only one among people who sail. Is this fair for a Monday puzzle? Nautical lingo = meh.

Overall, it's an easy puzzle with easy crossings for the crosswordese bits that less seasoned solvers may not consider gimmes—like SLOE [___ gin fizz]. And BARI, the [Italian port on the Adriatic]. And RARA [___ avis] ("rare bird" in Latin). And those [Fabrics with wavy patterns], MOIRES. Not to mention the [Drunkard] who is called a SOT primarily in crosswords these days. And if you don't do crosswords and haven't studied the Greek alphabet, do you know that PSI is the [Pitchfork-shaped Greek letter]?

Au courant pop culture clue: An ALIEN is a [Visitor in "District 9"], a movie in theaters now.

I was a little surprised to see "rise" in the clue for SHINE (["Rise and ___!"]) when AROSE is two words below SHINE. Did you know that both "arise" and "rise" date back to Old English? The dictionary wouldn't lie to me about that.

Updated Monday morning

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Punning Rank"—Janie's review

Nuthin' like a puzzle from the mighty Klahn to get the juices flowin' so early in the week. Not surprisingly, this one is a veritable wordplay smorgasbord. There are five theme-phrases (61 squares), each of which is based on an in-the-language "double L" phrase. The gimmick is that those double Ls have been swapped out for double Ns. The result? As as the title suggests, there are some very amusing fabrications within. F'rinstance:
  • 18A. If you've ever seen (or ever been) a parachutist, you know that those first few moments after a jump has occurred (and before the parachute is opened) are spent free falling. But when the clue is [Welcome sign on a hot day?], you'll be treated here on the ground to FREE FANNING.
  • 23A. When you've donned-you-now all of your apparel ("gay" or otherwise...) you're fully-clothed. When you're [Dressed like a clown?], you're FUNNY-CLOTHED.
  • 37A. If you've suffered an upsetting experience and you've gone all to pieces, some well-meaning friend may suggest that you "collect yourself." The best [Survival advice for Mr. Potato Head?], however, suggests "CONNECT YOURSELF!"
  • 49A. There are "four calling birds" in the menagerie that makes up "The Twelve Days of Christmas." If you're [Pink-slipping pelicans?] or CANNING BIRDS, those guys don't even stand a chance!
  • 59A. This is the best. A bully pulpit is a great place from which to make your views known. A BUNNY PULPIT, on the other hand would be the place [Wherefrom visiting speaker Elmer Fudd bellowed "Pway faw a miwacoo, wabbits!"?]. For a good laugh, please utter that exhortation out loud. A few times.
The puzzle is also filled with great clues and non-theme fill. One of Bob's strengths as a constructor is to lace the grid with fresh fill and (by virtue of his cluing—which makes ya think) to put a fresh face on fill we've seen again and again. That's why I like:
  • The parallel construction in [One may be left in a lot] for CAR and [One may take in a lot] for TAILOR.
  • The visuals summoned up by [Basketball's three-point line, e.g.] for ARC and [Fuzzy buzzer] for BEE (and this is one seriously fuzzy one, folks!).
  • [Corn-y lines?] for ROWS.
  • The nod to the northwest with [The Beavers of the Pac-10] for OSU—Oregon State this time, not Ohio...
  • [Problems of the middle ages?] for SAGS (not Middle Ages and RATS or LICE...).
  • [Dinner Bell?] for TACO.
  • [Extra quarters, perhaps] for GUEST ROOMS (and not SPARE COINS...).
  • [Hand-y wayto communicate (abbr.)] for ASL (American Sign Language), and its next-door neighbor [3 to a cell?] for the DEF on your phone button.
  • The cryptic-like [Location that anagrams to Meg Ryan] for GERMANY.
  • [False front?] for PSEUDO- (as in pseudonym or pseudoscience).
I also like the phrases ALL BUT [Except] and ODDS ON [Most likely to win]. Had trouble seeing RE-SENTENCE [Give life on appeal?] in the grid as I kept mistaking it for RESENT-ENCE and I just couldn't figure out what that meant! And I know you'll be shocked! shocked! to learn this, but I'd never heard of [Master Kan portrayer Philip on "Kung Fu"] AHN. Of course the show only aired between 1972 and 1975 and he's been dead since 1978. Thank goodness for the crosses or there'd have been NO ENTRY there at all!

Norma Steinberg's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme's magic:
  • 17A, 35A, 52A. [Magician's deception] is the clue for three long answers: SMOKE AND MIRRORS, SLEIGHT OF HAND, and OPTICAL ILLUSION.
  • 27D. The magician might say ["Pick a ___, any..."] CARD.
  • 35D. A [Magic act, for one] is a SHOW. I would've considered CARD and SHOW to be mere bonus entries rather than part of the theme, but Steinberg placed them in symmetrical spots so I say that elevates them above the usual stray bonus entry.
Favorite non-theme clue: [Very brief briefs] for THONGS.

There's more on this puzzle from Rex Parker at L.A. Crossword Confidential. Excerpt:
A very solid Monday puzzle. Consistent theme, ultra-smooth fill. There's hardly a clunky entry in the whole damned grid. Very impressive (oh, one exception: PLU. 53D: Like "mice" and "men": Abbr. Icky). Smooth grids are difficult to achieve, and since they don't result in oohs and aahs, they rarely get the credit they deserve.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Happy Anniversary"

Why no "Themeless Monday" today? Brendan opted to release a "Happy Anniversary" puzzle on his first wedding anniversary. Congratulations, Brendan and {LIZ}! Yes, {LIZ} is the rebus square in this puzzle.

Not to crap all over a sweet anniversary puzzle, but: ORONO crossing ENATE, EELY crossing EYERS, ALEE above ESAU? 1985 called and it wants its favorite crossword answers back. ENATE, meaning [Related on Mom's side], is akin to AGNATE, which means "related on the father's side." Tyler Hinman once blogged about going to see his agnate grandparents and I couldn't help wondering how many of his readers thought he was related to people called Grandma and Grandpa Agnate.

The rebused answers begin with the [Jose Feliciano standard] FE{LIZ} NAVIDAD crossing BE{LIZ}E ([Its capital is Belmopan]). [Ketamine, informally] is referred to as a HORSE TRANQUI{LIZ}ER; this crosses REA{LIZ}E, or [Make concrete]. The third LIZ is in LOUNGE {LIZ}ARD, which is clued as [Gigolo], though a dictionary defines lounge lizard as "an idle person, usually a man, who spends time in lounges and nightclubs]. Are some lounge lizards also paid escorts? I haven't seen that sense of the term before. The rebus crossing is UTI{LIZ}ED, or [Employed].


August 29, 2009

Sunday, 8/30/09

NYT 9:39
PI 7:27
LAT 7:16
BG 7:03
CS 4:13

Ashish Vengsarkar and Narayan Venkatasubramanyan's New York Times crossword, "Literally So"

Whoa. I'm not sure I understand how all the theme entries work here. Let's walk through them one by one:

  • 23A. [-IRC-MS-ANCES] is the clue for OUT OF CONTEXT. The missing letters in CIRCUMSTANCES spell CUT, and if you CUT something out of its circumstances, you take it OUT OF CONTEXT. That's a little awkward, because circumstances and context don't feel quite synonymous enough to me.
  • 36A. [ANTI--VERNMENT UN--ST] is ANTIGOVERNMENT UNREST without GORE, and we're not talking about Al Gore—we're talking about a BLOODLESS REVOLUTION.
  • 52A. [AR--CL-] is ARTICLE without TIE, cluing THE MISSING LINK. Oh! I get it now. The word "the" is a definite article, grammatically speaking, and it's missing a tie, and a tie is a link, which gives us a THE that's MISSING a LINK.
  • 70A. [P---ARY CARE PHY-ICIANS] are PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIANS without RIMS, or the well-known NGO called DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS. This is my favorite of the theme entries.
  • 86A. A SPARE tire with NO EXPENSE is a [FI-TH WH--L] with no FEE.
  • 98A. This one also didn't quite add up for me. Let's see: [WHAT A -ANDA DOES IN -EIS-RELY FA-HION] is EATS SHOOTS AND LEAVES without PLAY(S)ing. This feels awkward to me because what's more leisurely than playing? This leisurely panda is eating and leaving but decidedly not playing. (Edited to add: It's PLUS, not PLAYS, that LEAVES here. Thanks to commenter Barry G. for the clarification.)
  • 121A. First, let me say that I don't care for lemon desserts. There's such a thing as LEMON DROP COOKIES? I didn't know. The clue is [W--THL-SS R-AD-TER], which expands to WORTHLESS ROADSTER without OREOS, a LEMON that has DROPped its COOKIES. This one is a little clunky even if you like lemon cookies because "worthless roadster" is not remotely an established phrase,'s usage notwithstanding.

So, the theme can be described as (mostly) familiar phrases from which a word has been excised, and the concept of that X-less Y then clues the theme answer you write in the boxes. Does that sound about right? I didn't love every part of the theme, but I appreciated the mental exertion required to wrap my head around each theme entry. I also like the way the theme answers wield seven different ways of phrasing the concept of omission: OUT OF, -LESS, MISSING, WITHOUT, NO, LEAVES, and DROPS.

There is some insanely tough fill in this puzzle. "What are you talking about, Amy? This was a breeze," you say. Oh, yeah? Here are the things that slowed me down:
  • 107A. [Hawaiian massage] is LOMILOMI, which I've never heard of. I just read a little about it, I've heard of LOMILOMI.
  • 84A. EAGAN is clued not as the non-Edina Minneapolis suburb (which would've been a gimme) but as [1991 Tony winner Daisy]. Broadway's not in my wheelhouse, as many of you know.
  • 29A. DIES IRAE was gettable as an 8-letter hymn name, but the OLAFy clue, [Hymn whose second line is "Solvet saeclum in favilla"], didn't help one whit. I believe, based on painfully little knowledge of Latin, that this translates to "I solved it in seclusion in my favilla, whatever that is." I may well be wrong.
  • 5D. Yes, this is incredibly basic, but I was thinking that [Us] was cluing one longer word rather than three little ones, YOU AND ME.
  • 8D: [Alternative to satellite] radio is AM/FM.
  • 36D. BONITO is a [Mackerellike fish], and I gotta say, "mackerellike" is one ungainly adjective.
  • 92D. ALEATORY is a high-end vocabulary word. It's clued as [Dependent on chance], and I got it without having all the crossings in place but I'm not sure how. I just had an ALEATORY feeling.
  • 66D. Oddball trivia! Who knew that THOM MCAN is the [Shoe brand reputedly named after a Scottish golfer]?
  • 61A. ROOTS are a tree's [Underground network]. SEWER is also 5 letters, as is MAFIA. Traps galore!
  • [Bygone flier] pulls double duty as SST (30D) and TWA (64D). I kinda wanted SST the second time but knew that wouldn't fly.
  • 76A. [Currency union since 1999] is called the EURO AREA? I'm not familiar with that term.

There are a couple cute wordplay clues. 34D: AVIS is clued as a [Company name that becomes another company name if you move its first letter to the end], Visa. This is the Unkind Donuts trick in reverse, of course. It's hard to come up with a clue for 103D: ARLO that is entertaining, but this one is [Man's name that's an anagram of 108-Down], which is the ORAL [Exam format].

This was a pretty tough Sunday puzzle, wasn't it? At this writing, one person in the NYT applet standings trounced me by two minutes (hi, Barry!), so I figure there'll be others who claim it wasn't so hard at all. But I know the truth.

Updated Sunday morning

Dan Naddor's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "Organ Transplants"

This puzzle has a theme similar to another one I recently did; that one had a "transfer" theme that was fresh in my head so I knew how the theme was going to work once I had FELT CONDOLENCES filled in (24A: [Pool hall "Better luck next time"?]). An assortment of body parts are resected from one phrase and transplanted into another, with the phrases clued to reflect their changed wording. Organ donor theme entries 1, 2, 3, and 4 partner with organ recipients 8, 7, 6, and 5, their symmetrical partners.

In each case, the organ is cut out of a compound word/phrase and is then compounded with another word in its new home (heartfelt/heartbreak, Buckeyes/eyelashes, brainstorming/brainchild, ear-splitting/dog-ear). This looks like ironclad thematic consistency to me—elegant. (PuzzleGirl calls it "elegant" too.) Here's how the transplants were performed:
  • FELT CONDOLENCES (24A) lost its opening HEART, which moved to the middle of jailbreaks to make JAIL HEARTBREAKS in the opposite spot in the grid (102A: [Sorrows behind bars?]).
  • The EAR leaves ear-SPLITTING NOISE (30A: [Sound of a breakup?]) and is transplanted into DOG-EAR TRAINING (91A: [Place-marking lessons for readers?]).
  • The OSU Buckeyes become some money, OHIO STATE BUCKS (43A: [Columbus college funds?]). The EYE moves into FORTY EYELASHES (80A: [Minimum for a Maybelline ad shoot?]). I was feeling more punitive and started with FIFTY eyeLASHES.
  • STORMING SESSION (52A: [Temper tantrum?]) drops its initial BRAIN, which relocates inside a grandchild to become GRAND BRAINCHILD (73A: [Steinway's idea for a large piano?]).
The original with- and without-organ phrases the theme entries are based on are all very much in-the-language entities. A Google search suggests that both 40 and 50 lashes are common counts (and that too many countries still use this barbaric punishment). FELT CONDOLENCES is perhaps the weakest of the eight theme answers, because we don't much refer to pool halls with a metonymic "felt," I don't think. But everything else is so smooth I'm willing to take one B- answer amid the solid A's.

In the fill, I didn't hit any potholes—nothing too stretchy or obscure. The highlights are the longer answers:
  • 16D. The PANIC BUTTON? [It's pressed in distress].
  • 69D, 75D. MILITIAMAN, or [Revolutionary soldier], rests beside HELEN HUNT, the ["Twister" actress].
  • 61D. CHINA SEAS looks weird, right? It's clued as a [Segment of the western Pacific]. It is probably a better entry than the singular CHINA SEA, which does not exist but was in another puzzle not long ago. The CHINA SEAS consist of the South China Sea, East China Sea (nope, no North or West), and Yellow Sea.
  • 62D. I don't like POTATO SALAD, but you are welcome to have it as a [Picnic side] if you want to. Knock yourself out.
  • 27D. ATROCIOUS means [Just plain awful]. In seventh grade, I told a classmate that she had "atrocious grammatical errors." She replied, "You are one, too." Amazing, isn't it, that I didn't get beat up?
  • 12A. [Concert dancing areas] are MOSH PITS, sometimes.
  • 107A. An IRS AUDIT is a [Taxpayer's headache]. I've never been audited, but last year the IRS came after us for some stock options that hadn't been included on our return. Luckily, the taxes had been taken off the top, so we ended up writing checks for $3 and $4 to the IRS and the state. It was a rather stressful $7, though.

Merl Reagle's Sunday crossword, "Gosh!" (Philadelphia Inquirer et al.)

The term 4G refers to the fourth generation of wireless cell phone technology, the theme entries in "Gosh!" gush with at least four G's. There's not much inherent humor in the theme aside from some of the phrases being fun to say aloud:
  • 21A. HUGGER-MUGGER is an old word meaning [Every which way].
  • 26A. A GAGGLE OF GEESE are often a [Honking assemblage].
  • 42A. The waffle ad catchphrase "LEGGO MY EGGO" is clued as [Words said while fighting over food].
  • 57A. [Being amazed, in a way] clues GAZING GOGGLE-EYED. Meh: While you can indeed gaze in a goggle-eyed fashion, I wouldn't say that the phrase is a discrete unit of meaning.
  • 68A. HIGGLEDY PIGGLEDY means [In disorder]. This pairs nicely with its fellow rhyme at 21A.
  • 82A. [Symbolic Bible nations] are GOG AND MAGOG.
  • 103A. A famous [1950s wrestler] was called GORGEOUS GEORGE.
  • 110A. GLUG, GLUG, GLUG is clued as [Guzzling sounds]. That reminds me: I received a note yesterday from a reader who was drinking bourbon and asked me to mention that 69D, LEO G. ([Actor Carroll]) should not appear under 5A, a BARREL ([Crude container]), because anyone who's seen 1955's Tarantula knows that the line is "I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills."
  • 3D. Like 57A, GIGGLING GIRLS doesn't feel like an in-the-language phrase to me. The clue is [Tee-hee sources].
  • 54D. Ditto for FEELING GROGGY. "Feeling Groovy" has Simon and Garfunkel cred, but FEELING GROGGY is just verb + adjective. Good clue for it, though: [Suffering from a long fight or a long flight, perhaps].
Toughest word in the fill: 56D: STADES, or [Straight tracks for footraces].

Most insidery clue/answer: 41D: [The other Will who was New York Times crossword editor] was Will WENG. He's the editor Will Shortz is quoting when he says, "It's your puzzle. Solve it any way you want." (With references/Google or without. Alone or with a friend. In pen or pencil or glue stick or online. Slow or fast. With morning coffee or evening bourbon.)

I like AQUILA, the 18A: [Constellation that means "eagle"]; someone with an aquiline nose has a beak that's curved or hooked like an eagle's beak.

All right, how many of you found 11D: [Savonarola's first name] to be a gimme? I think I've seen this one before, but I still needed an awful lot of crossings to get to GIROLAMO. Various baby name websites tell me it means "sacred name" and is essentially the same as Jerome and Hieronymus.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword, "All Wet"

Anyone know if the Across Lite Globe puzzle has caught up to the Sunday paper? Bostonians, is this puzzle over a month old, or is it this weekend's?

The theme is embedded bodies of water (which I've spotlighted with circled squares) split among the words in various concocted phrases. BROOK sits in CUB ROOKIES, which almost sounds in-the-language but isn't ("Cubs rookie" is the commoner formation). The other theme entries don't even have the pretense of being in-the-language phrases. For example, CAPON DANCE, clued as [The Funky Chicken?], is just silly. Then there's OSLO CHA-CHA, or [Steps in a Norwegian ballroom?], the goofiest answer in the puzzle. Aww, too bad the rest of the theme couldn't be about dancing, too, or at least be assertively silly. The FAST REAMER drill just isn't silly.

Least familiar word in the answers: ZOUAVE, or 89A: [French soldier from Algeria].

Patrick Jordan's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

JOHN LEGUIZAMO stars in the middle of the grid. He is, among other things, a ["Carlito's Way" actor]. I like him. Something about his face reminds me of Gilbert Gottfried, only Leguizamo is a talented actor and not incessantly annoying.

Hey, look! It's AQUILINE! I was just telling you about this word, clued as [Adjective for some noses].

Ten other clues/answers:
  • Cowboy time! The HERDSMAN is a [Cattle drive figure], and the MUSTANGS are a [University Park, Texas team].
  • ["Permission has been granted"] clues "IT'S A GO."
  • EDAM is clued as a [Spherical Dutch export]. Can I get a ruling from a geometrician? Balls of EDAM cheese are typically flattened and can't really be called spheres, can they?
  • I'd like Britney Spears to have another kid as a single mom and name him DILL SPEARS ([Tart pickle wedges]).
  • The Palestinian group HAMAS is a [Muslim Brotherhood offshoot].
  • Geographic trivia! INDONESIA is a [Nation with nearly 23,000 miles of coastline]. That's a whole lotta islands.
  • [It experiences a hot flash] clues a FAD. What's more faddish than menopause, I ask you?
  • [Carol Kane's "Taxi" role] is SIMKA. I started out with the Alaskan town SITKA. SIMKA was partnered with Andy Kaufman's nutty Latka Gravas.
  • TESTY is clued as [Fractious]. I was always a little impressed with '80s stars Men at Work (of "Down Under" fame) because one of the non-hits on their hit album included the line "But he just smiled, said I was a fractious child." Yes, I owned the album. Vinyl!


August 28, 2009

Saturday, 8/29/09

Newsday about 6 minutes
NYT 4:17
LAT 3:34
CS untimed (Across clues only)

Doug Peterson's New York Times crossword

See? Didn't I say yesterday that Shortz foozled the order of the puzzles? I found the Friday Quarfoot to be a Saturday challenge, while the Saturday Peterson is a mere Fridayish bagatelle.

The grid's sort of a double-decker Z, with stacked pairs of 15s at the top and bottom joined by two diagonal swaths. The highlights are high, even if the puzzle didn't put up as much of a fight as I hope for on a Saturday:

  • 1A. Mike MUSSINA is the crossword-lovin' [2001-08 Yankees pitcher with seven Gold Gloves]. He was cute in Wordplay.
  • 8. "J'ACCUSE!" That's a [Headline during the Dreyfus Affair]. Zola, right? Yeah. My husband and I like to say that with a dramatic pointing of the finger. Household blaming is so much more fun when done in Zolaesque fashion.
  • 17A. My kid was just asking me about CELL PHONE TOWERS this afternoon. They're [Some coverage providers] that have nothing to do with insurance or clothing.
  • 41A. [Otto follows it] is not about an old emperor or Bart Simpson's schoolbus driver. Nope, it's about the number 8 in Italian, which follows SETTE, or 7.
  • 44A/45A. Good gravy, a pair of Peter and the Wolf clues? ["Peter and the Wolf" bird] is SASHA, and ["Peter and the Wolf" duck] is SONIA. Is SONIA the oboe? What's the other one?
  • 46A. [Something shown off on a half-pipe] is a SKATEBOARD TRICK. I believe snowboarding also uses the half-pipe.
  • 51A. HONESTY? [It can be brutal].
  • 2D. [Butterflies, say], metaphorically, are a sense of UNEASE.
  • 8D. Okay, this isn't a highlight so much as the most insane clue/answer combo all week. A [Bullying seabird] is a JAEGER? Hasn't tennis's Andrea Jaeger been out of the spotlight long enough to be a tough Saturday clue?
  • 27D. [Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Feiffer] is named JULES. Do you all know his stuff? If not, Google it up. I love his style.
  • 28D. Great clue for lying PRONE: [Back up?]. Back down is supine.
  • 32D. PLUTARCH is clued as ["On the Malice of Herodotus" author]. Or, as Glenn Beck would spell it, PLUTARH.
  • 34D. Isn't CATHAY the prettiest place name ever? It's an [Old Silk Road destination], the medieval Europeans' name for China. Wouldn't toxic plastic crap be so much nicer with a "Made in Cathay" label on it?
Fun with chemistry! Did you know URETHANE is a [Bowling ball material] or that [Like turbojet fuel] could clue ATOMIZED? I did not.

Overall, I liked this puzzle a heckuva lot. It's a good start to the weekend.

Updated Saturday morning:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Outta Sight!"—Janie's review

Greetings, solvers—as Paula's puzzle puts us in a "peace, beads and granola" state of mind in this 40th year since Woodstock. Four theme-phrases begin with a slangy term of approval/admiration (like that of the title) and a fifth one is the song title that ties it all up. Here's how she does it:
  • 20A. COOL CUSTOMER [Unflappable one]. And a phrase that looks to be making its major-puzzle debut to boot.
  • 31A. SUPER BOWL [Football season finale].
  • 38A. BOSS TWEED [Tammany Hall leader]. That's a link to a Thomas Nast cartoon of the man, btw.
  • 49A. NEAT FREAK [Compulsive picker-upper]. This one appears to be a CS-first.
  • 58A. "FEELIN' GROOVY" [Simon & Garfunkel refrain...and this puzzle's theme]. Another major-puzzle first-timer, too. If you need a little "picker-upper" of the non-compulsive variety, this is the tune to tune in.
A spate of lively sevens and eights add to the punch this puzzle packs: THE COPA [New York club, informally] where you certainly could have ordered MIMOSAS [Champagne-and-orange-juice concoctions], FAT-FREE [Words of appeal to a loser?], the no-nonsense "LEAVE IT!" ["We don't need that!"], LANYARD [Whistle holder], "FEAR NOT" [Encouraging words] (and it's nice to have encouraging words when there's also the Scottish "NAE," the German "NEIN" and the ENG. "OH, ME" to contend with), SOUTHPAW [Lefty] and SEES INTO [Knows beforehand, as the future].

But for a small portion of the SW, I really was able to solve this one using only the "across" clues. What messed me up? My insistence in holding onto FANFARE where FAT-FREE lives and not knowing CWT as the abbreviation for [100 lbs.]. A hundredweight=1/20th of a ton—and that "C" (like the Roman numeral) is from the Latin word for hundred, centum. This all makes sense of course, but because I'd not given it any thought before, it did feel a bit like new INFO to me.

There seems to be a SLY little French undercurrent today, too, with ISÈRE [River to the Rhone], ARRÊT [Stop, on the Rive Gauche] and SABOT [French peasant's shoe]. To which I say (with my best French pronunciation), "Impeccable!"

Michael Wiesenberg's Los Angeles Times crossword

As I was saying over at L.A. Crossword Confidential, I really liked the long answers (well, except for the lifeless BELT SANDER) and the clues for a few short ones, incuding these:
  • 16A: Small program with a browser interface (JAVA APPLET). I love me a good JAVA APPLET, like the New York Times' proprietary crossword applet. I generally loathe the Flash interface, though, so I don't do the L.A. Times crossword on the paper's website; instead, I go to and fetch the Across Lite version.
  • 18A: Long-distance messages? (SMOKE SIGNALS). Smoke Signals is also the title of a movie written by Sherman Alexie. Alexie (who likes crosswords!) has a young adult novel out called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It's a terrific read—I'm saving it for my son when he's a few years older.
  • 25A: 1876 Twain hero (TOM SAWYER). Geddy Lee! I have no idea whether the Rush song has anything to do with the Twain book.
  • 40A: Ice cream flavor (PISTACHIO). Me, I don't care for pistachios, but my husband and son like 'em.
  • 46A: When Ovid's "Ars Amatoria" is believed to have been published isn't a dreaded Roman numeral clue after all. Surprise! It's ONE B.C. (Your Roman numeral R.D.A. for the day is provided instead by 3D: XXXI x V (CLV).
  • 48A: Home of the NBA's Thunder (OKLAHOMA CITY). How many much bigger cities lack an NBA team and take the existence of the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics) as a personal affront? (Yes, I do believe that cities can take things personally. Don't you?)
  • 54A: Might achieve clues the four-word phrase HAS A SHOT AT. It looks goofy in the grid. HA! SASH O' TAT.
  • I wish 59A: THIRTY-NINE had been clued as Jack Benny's forever age rather than 78 half. I suspect the clue was meant to mislead us into thinking of old 78 rpm records with A and B sides, but it ends up being a flat arithmetic problem of no import.
  • 57D: Hot spot? is a spot of TEA.

Overall, this puzzle was almost sinfully easy. I miss the days of Saturday L.A. Times puzzles that were only a notch easier than the NYT ones.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

(PDF solution here.)

As Dan F. said in the comments, this is the same grid pattern Doug used in his NYT puzzle today. Me, I enjoyed the NYT version more. This one didn't seem to have any of those horrible dead spots that some Stumpers have, those seemingly insoluble clues that you don't have any helpful crossings for. And by "horrible dead spots," I mean "sometimes welcome challenges, but sometimes vexatious bothers." In other words, my progress through this puzzle was a smooth one with occasional missteps but no real snags or frustration.

Top 5 clues and answers:
  • 1A. To OFFLOAD is to [Empty containers]. Bet you a dollar most people plugged in an S at the end, assuming they needed a plural noun.
  • 49A. [Accessory for the Penguin] is a CIGARETTE HOLDER. See, kids? Smoking leads to trouble.
  • 2D. I like the word FRENZY, as it is much cooler than the phrase [Extreme agitation].
  • 31D. PAGO PAGO is as fun to say as Walla Walla, Bora Bora, or Kinnickinnic. It's most recognizable to crossword solvers as a city in American Samoa. Here, it gets an out-there literary trivia clue: [Setting of Maugham's "Rain"].
  • 32D. HAY FEVER is a [Seasonal condition]. I can like that as an answer because I don't have allergies. Anyone else want to put HEAT WAVE here?


August 27, 2009

Friday, 8/28/09

NYT 7:20
BEQ 6:22
LAT 3:20ish
CHE (?) tba—nothing posted since Aug. 7
CS untimed (Downs. Mostly...)
WSJ 8:10

Are you out west? Do you like crossword tournaments? Then go to the Bay Area Crossword Tournament on Saturday, September 12, at Alameda High School. All the info is right here. The basics: $25 to register in advance, or $30 at the door. Proceeds benefit the California Dictionary Project, "whose mission is to put a paperback dictionary into the hands of every California third grader." The contest puzzles include three NYT puzzles from the following week and a Sunday-sized crossword by local yokel Tyler Hinman. Prizes for winners!

David Quarfoot's New York Times crossword

Why, just the other day there was a puzzle with a D.Q. theme, and now, after a long wait, we're treated to a D.Q. themeless. Good to see your byline again, David! Is it just me, though, or does Will Shortz have his days mixed up a bit? I could swear this is a Saturday puzzle, and yet it purports to be a Friday one.

But look at this beautiful beast. It's insane, this guy's crossword! I'm not going to check a database, but I'm guessing that the following entries are all (or mostly) shiny, new crossword answers. There are so many of them, I will barely have time to mention anything else in the puzzle.

  • 1A. "FREE TIBET" is a [Rallying cry supported by some monks], monks of the lama type rather than the Friar Tuck type.
  • 17A. THE GRUDGE is a [2004 horror film about a passed-on curse]. Not the timeliest mention, but awesome nonetheless in a "this is not your father's Oldsmobile nor your grandma's crossword" way.
  • 24A. [Chilled], idiomatically, means TOOK IT EASY.
  • 53A. In a computer, [A bug may cause it] refers to a FATAL ERROR.
  • 62A. I love the word SIMPATICO, which means [Congenial].
  • 67A. The Beatles' PENNY LANE is [Where "all the people that come and go stop and say hello"]. You're kinda singing the song to yourself, aren't you? Me, too.
  • 1D. FATHEAD is...not necessarily a word I'd ever use in lieu of [Dolt].
  • 2D. Pop singer RIHANNA is a [One-named Grammy winner of 2007]. The clue may allude to two years ago, but she's every bit as current now. I still haven't heard that "Umbrella" song, though.
  • 21D. JINXED combines J and X goodness, and it can mean [Under a whammy].
  • 40D. Donna SHALALA called. She wants to know why she lost out to [Title syllables in a hit 1964 song]. "Sha la la, the Reflex, is a..."—sorry, wrong song. Also not to be confused with Sha Na Na, which I was reminded of by the BAD DOG clue, 7D: [Rebuke to Bowser].
  • 47D. The U.S.S. COLE is the [Destroyer in 2000 headlines]. It's the one that was bombed in the port of crosswordese Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors. Aw, so sad. Also not the timeliest inclusion in the crossword, but any sooner and it would definitely have been too much.
Least familiar (to me) things in this puzzle:
  • 63D. ["Que ___?" (Jose's "How's it going?"] needs TAL to be complete.
  • 45D. ADELINA is the first name of [Legendary soprano ___ Patti]. See? That's totally a Saturdayesque entry.
  • 13D. [Two-time president of Romania] is ILIESCU. Why, yes, I did first opt for the playwright Ionesco. Whoops.
  • 30A. [He sighted and named Natal on Christmas Day of 1497] clues Vasco DA GAMA. Coming at that answer from the back end, I was working the crossings a lot.
  • 22A. How much do I bristle at the random [Book of Mormon book] clues? So much. This one's Sheriff ENOS, ENOS the space chimp, ENOS from the Bible, and baseball's ENOS Slaughter. (Other 4-letter books in the Book of Mormon include Omni and Alma, but those, too, have other cluing options.)
I love [Swiftly done?] as the clue for 41D: SATIRIC—as in "done by satirist Jonathan Swift." And I always like to be reminded that the VATICAN is the 46D: [Swiss Guards' setting]—you just know a lot of people will scour their brains for 7-letter Swiss locales. Another clue I like: 56A: [All of them may be off] for BETS, as in "all bets are off."

Welcome back to the puzzle page, Mr. Quarfoot! I hope you've got more in the pipeline because I do appreciate your constructing style.

Updated Friday morning:

Gail Grabowski's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Not Quite White"—Janie's review

The title of today's puzzle is not an assessment by Elmer Fudd on, say, the conditions in Hamlet's Denmark, but a hint to the various shades that appear as the first words in the four theme-phrases—each a variation of "off-white." While there's something a tad "beige" in this theme idea, there's some nice fill—themed and un-—to be enjoyed. Namely:
  • 17A. [Aquaculture site for pearl producers] OYSTER FARM. A variation of this oyster farm is the controlled area for raising the mabe pearl producer, our friend the ABALONE [Edible mollusk].
  • 10D. [Versatile pasta topping] CREAM SAUCE. Not pesto sauce...
  • 30D. [Early-model bicycle, quaintly] BONESHAKER. This one's a beaut. This does refer to a specific bike style, but just think of a ride over cobblestones (on that uncomfortable, wrought-iron framed high-wheeler...) and the nuances of the phrase should be pretty apparent.
  • 61A. [West African republic] IVORY COAST. Also two bars of soap...
There are some of the TAMEST, most EARNEST clues in this puzzle, but really there's a lot of good fill:
  • If you're going for a SLED RIDE [Snowy day downhill diversion], you and your friends may want to have your LIP BALMS [Chapstick Classics, e.g.] handy. And it would be best to dress for the weather, lest you develop certain SYMPTOMS [Sore throat and sneezing, for a cold].
  • An OPEN CASE is an [Unsolved burglary, e.g.].
  • SAY "UNCLE" is a way to [Surrender, in a way]
  • TIP-TOE is a way to [Walk quietly]
  • DATA make up [Spreadsheet fill], which may be converted to GRAPHS [Sales meeting diagrams]
  • INGOTS [Gold bars] provide a little sparkle, and CURRY [Indian seasoning] a little "zing."
Would love to have seen more clues like [Overcharge] for SOAK, [Flat substitute] for SPARE (tire...) or [Futures analyst?] for SEER. In an "off-white" puzzle like this one, I think they'd give it some much needed color. Mind you, I'm not at all CROSS [Annoyed]. I'm just sayin'...

Elizabeth Long's L.A. Times crossword

This one's pretty easy for a Friday LAT. If newspaper solvers complain that it's too hard, I just don't know what to tell them.

The theme involves lopping off the first S in phrases starting with ST- words:
  • 17A. [Insect's working hours?] is a TICK SHIFT. Yo, constructors, editors, and clue fact-checkers: Ticks are arachnids, not insects.
  • 24A. [Seaman who saw it all?] is a TAR WITNESS. Crossword tropes (do you know anyone who uses "tar" to mean a sailor?) promoted to star billing always amuse me.
  • 34A. [Split end?] clues TRESS FRACTURE. My son hasn't had a haircut since April '08—I'll bet he has a lot of split ends.
  • 46A. [London museum's hidden camera locations?] is a TATE SECRET. I would have been delighted if this clue were about ad-man Larry of Bewitched. Or the Tate family of Soap, for that matter.
  • 53A. [Where two-wheelers aren't allowed?] is the TRIKE ZONE. I have no explanation for why I first went with TRUCK. What familiar noun phrases begin with "struck"? In another version of this theme, you might have a TAR TRUCK.

I noticed that the two S's that begin words in the top row of this puzzle could also be dropped—SASS and SAUDI would become ASS and AUDI, and SMELT and STILT would be MELT and TILT, all legitimate fill.

44D: [Former NBA star Mourning] is named ALONZO. He got quite ill with kidney disease, had a transplant, and returned to the NBA. That's impressive.

A commenter on Rex's L.A. Crossword Confidential post noted that TRESS FRACTURE duplicates a clue word: CAST is clued as a [Fracture treatment]. Is it just me, or is this sort of duplication popping up more frequently this year?

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Friday"

Not my favorite themeless BEQ, thanks to some out-there names, but there's some terrific fill for sure:
  • 25D. POOHBAH! I love that word. POOHBAH and PASHA are both delightful. Clued here as [One running things].
  • 17A. [Face plants?] is a tricky clue for BOTOX INJECTIONS, which may be planted in the face.
  • 12D. [You can dig them] is a rather vague clue for the au courant phrase SHOVEL-READY JOBS. I've been surprised at the number of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act repaving jobs I've seen around town. Chicago has many potholed roads that haven't been redone, sure, but it's good to see a few arteries getting much-needed updating.
  • 3D. GET INTO ONE'S HEAD is a solid, colloquial phrase, clued as [Gain a psychological advantage over an opponent, say].

On the blah side are things like TIN PLATE, REWELD, a WAXER crossing a COAXER over yonder from the SASSERS, variant AMEER, and the [Naples resort] called ISCHIA. The ischia are also your butt bones. The unfamiliar people hanging out in the grid include NIELS Mueller (I know Bohr), ['70s All-Star Ralph] GARR (I know Teri), and [Rangers reliever Darren] O'DAY (I know Anita).

Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "My 8 Favorite Texting Words"

You know how kids these days use "gr8" as a texting shortcut for "great" and "h8" for "hate"? They may or may not be using the other 8-for-"ate"-sound substitutions in Harvey's puzzle. Me, I can't bring myself to use numbers instead of sounds, or "u" for "you"—but I do get lazy about capitalization when texting. I admit it.

The theme entries are eight phrases that intersect at an 8 rebus square, where it may stand in for ate, eat, at, or ait. There are a bunch of sections in this grid with 7-, 8-, and 9-letter fill hanging around the theme entries. Can you tell that Harvey is good at making wide-open themeless 25x25 puzzles for Games magazine? I do love me an Ornery Crossword, and Harvey's one of the more regular Ornery contributors.

I'd go into the specifics of this puzzle but you know what? You should just solve it yourself. It's smooth, it's got some entertaining clues, and the rebus theme has its little surprises.


August 26, 2009

Thursday, 8/27/09

NYT 4:17
LAT 3:33
CS 7:23 (J—paper)
Tausig untimed

Did you do the Wednesday NYT crossword? If so, did you read Ryan's "Ryan and Brian do Crosswords" post? Ryan and Brian both are seriously funny, and their takes on the daily puzzle skew a different direction from the other bloggers. Based on the comments, it would appear that about a dozen people read Ryan and Brian's posts, but they absolutely deserve a larger audience. Give 'em a whirl if you haven't before.

In a few days, Eric Berlin is releasing his suite of nine puzzles with a board game theme to an elite group consisting of "people who are willing to buy good puzzles." I ponied up a few bucks via, but you can still join the cool kids. Go here for more info and handy-dandy PayPal/Amazon e-tail links. Eric created the Brooklyn-themed suite of puzzles many of us enjoyed the hell out of at the ACPT last year, and the new batch of puzzles promises to be equally fun (and of top quality).

Derek Bowman's New York Times crossword

Oh! Look at that. I hadn't taken the time to see what the words in the circled letters were because usually, the crossings were sufficient to reveal the answers with clues like [Second row]. But those circled letters make a...triangular word ladder? I'm not sure what the name is for a series of words in which one letter is removed at each step, but this one plays out like this, and those triangulated words clue answers as follows:

PATTERN (First row, 52A: DESIGN)
PATTER (Second row, 51D: SPIEL)
PATER (Third row, 43D: DAD)
PATE (Fourth row, 64A: HEAD)
PAT (Fifth row, 4D: DAB)
PA (Sixth row, also 43D: DAD)
A (Seventh row, 60D: ONE)

That's a nifty gimmick, one I've not seen before—definite bonus points for originality and thematic gutsiness. More bonus points for having 17 answers in the 6- to 9-letter range. And then we must dock a few points for the slew of icky 3- and 4-letter answers and the out-there, so-old-it's-crosswordese-I-don't-even-recognize EPHOR (2D: [Ancient Spartan magistrate]!). All things considered, I'll give this a thumbs up with mild reservations. It looks cool.

Among the knottier clues are these:

  • 1A. Did everyone immediately get BEAD for [Moccasin adornment]? I confess to getting a tassel loafer brain block here.
  • 33A. We don't get a lot of plural last name answers, do we? ASTAIRES looks weird. Fred and Adele were a [Brother-and-sister dancing duo].
  • 37A. The explosive TNT has the chemical formula of [C7H5N3O6]. Pretend the numbers are subscripted, will ya?
  • 46A. One [Stereo component] is a PREAMP.
  • 56A. Dang, I actually type "OMG" on occasion and yet [Online gasp] had me befuddled for a bit.
  • 67A/45D. [Suffix akin to -trix] pulls double duty, but...double suffixes? Meh. They're -ENNE and -ESS.
  • 5D. STALE AIR is reasonable enough but looks odd in the grid. It's clued as the [Result of poor ventilation]. Eww. I'm smelling it now.
  • 7D. Move over, skater Midori, judge Lance, and partial "What was ___ think?"—there's a new ITO in town, and it's the [Japanese butler in "Auntie Mame"].
  • 12D. Crosswords have trained you to expect an EASEL when you see a clue like [Support for the arts?], haven't they? This time, it's a PEDESTAL instead.
  • 33D. Dude, Roddenberry did more than Star Trek? Really? ANDROMEDA is a [Gene Roddenberry-inspired sci-fi series]. Or did he merely inspire it rather than work on it? Hey, anyone think that the Sci Fi Channel's official new spelling, SyFy, will ever catch on?
  • 34D. STEEL GREY with the British E spelling is a [Metallic shade, in Sheffield].
  • 48D. The clue for PROSY is [Like plain text]. The dictionary I'm consulting defines the word as "showing no imagination; commonplace or dull." I was gonna say my blog was PROSY, but I take it back.

So, where did this bells-and-whistles, look-at-me puzzle land on your enjoyment spectrum? Closer to the "wow" or the "meh" end of things? As I said, I'm a little more on the "wow" end but with reservations. The concept is cool, and I'd like to see if another puzzle with a different set of pyramid words might play out more smoothly. There must be a few other seven-down-to-one-letter word ladders like this, no?

Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Heart of Gold"—Janie's review

Talk about yer "sparkly" fill...

52D tells us that [79] is the AT. NO. [for the chem. symbol at the heart of the four longest puzzle answers] to be found in Donna's grid. And that would be the atomic number for AU (from the Latin aurum)—or gold. Whether the symbol falls in the fifth and sixth squares or in the sixth and seventh, it always falls right in the middle—at the heart—of the theme phrase. Nice. And here're the four precious (metal) theme-phrases themselves:
  • 18A. [Mr. Darcy's creator] JANE AUSTEN.
  • 25A. [Official national verse writer] POET LAUREATE. The link'll take you to a list of folks who've been so designated in the U.S.
  • 42A. [Cheeseheads' stadium] LAMBEAU FIELD. This was my fave. Why? First of all I loved seeing cheeseheads in the clue—and in case ya didn't know, those are folks from Wisconsin, the dairy state. Second of all, I had no idea of the stadium's name, and remained unenlightened even after filling in the grid correctly. For others who may also have been in the dark, the field is home to the NFL's Green Bay Packers and is named for team founder and first coach Curly Lambeau, a titan of sportsman. As a freshman player at Notre Dame, he scored the first of the team's TDS under newly-appointed coach Knute Rockne. Cool, huh? Then, I also liked his last name (French for "scrap, rag or tatter") and followed the "French connection" in such fill as the Marquis DE SADE and its appropriate next-door neighbor OUTRÉ [Way beyond the norm]—and the clue [Passé] for OUT-DATED.
  • 53A. [Reverse course] MAKE A U-TURN. Another good one. I like the way the letters are spaced out in the phrase—and I like seeing the whole phrase in the grid, all spelled out—so there's no need to discuss the (arguably) more accepted spelling: is it "U-IE" or is it "U-EY"? Phooey.
Other fill/clues that illuminate the puzzle include: [Dolls or Clusters preceder] for GOO GOO; the verbal cluster of FREER for [Less inhibited], which might predispose you to behaving in an [Affectionate] FOND way towards someone, which might lead to some [Togetherness] UNITY; and [Cancún coin] PESO—which might go towards the cost of a FAJITA [Grilled Tex-Mex dish].

The other combo that really grabbed me today was [Logger's leftover] for STUMP. Are many of you aware of the brief but wildly destructive storm that passed through Manhattan Tuesday a week ago (8/18)? Winds of up to 70 miles per hour in something called "micro bursts" or "down bursts" swept through the city and wreaked wild-crazy havoc on Central Park, taking down some 200 trees and doing irreparable damage to literally hundreds more. The clean-up has been in effect from the get-go and will continue until the job's done, of course. But ya simply can't believe the extent of the damage. Here's a link to the Central Park Conservancy where you can read more—and also see some dramatic photo coverage. There's many a stump in Central Park these days where there used to be a tree. Alas!!

To close on a lighter note: Donna has also included three bonus "nuggets." Can ya find 'em?

Don Gagliardo's Los Angeles Times crossword

Today is crossword D-Day, with puzzles from Derek, Donna, and Don.

Don's puzzle is made on a budget, with three short symmetrical theme entries worth $1 (LOVED ONES, or 50A: [Adored bills?]), $5 (HIGH FIVES, or 23A: [Lofty bills?]), and $10 (TOP TENS, or 38A: [Superior bills?]), but no ROARING TWENTIES. Running downward at 8D, intersecting those three theme answers, is TERRIBLE TWOS, [Hated bills (that appropriately spoil this puzzle's symmetry)?] Hey, I love the $2 bill! Sure, it's a mere curiosity that nobody much got in the habit of using, but it looks great. The symmetry hiccup is at the L in TERRIBLE TWOS; for a symmetrical grid pattern, that square should've been black.

I do like asymmetry for a purpose, but this feels a little arbitrary. The phrases with numbers have nothing to do with currency, and the clues for those phrases have nothing to do with those denominations: $5 are neither lofty nor high. What I do like is the traditional crossword sticklers getting poked a little: Sure, we can have a theme entry that wrecks symmetry, but we're going to moralize and call it TERRIBLE because we know it's breaking the rules. If EXCELLENT TWOS was an actual phrase, it would fit thematically but the naughtiness of asymmetry wouldn't get a wink.

The toughest part of this puzzle, for me, was the northeast corner:
  • A pair of cross-referenced answers with a question-marked clue at 10A and 13D. The [opportunity for better luck] is NEXT / TIME, as in "better luck next time," but intersecting cross-referenced answers are rough.
  • [Et ___] with an up-in-the-air final letter at 16A. Is it ALII or ALIA? Only the crossing knows. The I in TIME dictated ALII.
  • At 19A, [Go-go go-between?] has a weird echo with the 24D: [Disco adjective] GO-GO. Even when I figured the clue wanted a word that completed a "go ___ go" phrase, TEAM didn't come to me right away. Go, Johnny, go! Go, you chicken fat, go. Go(ing to a go-)go.
  • A nonspecific [It's usually pd. monthly] at 11D. MTGE? An unabbreviated RENT? Here, it's ELEC., your electric bill.

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

This theme skirts around the trouble spots Brendan Quigley outlined for circled-letter themes. Five theme entries are all food items, and the spaced-out hidden words in the circled letters are a graphic representation of food contamination by various substances. Tying these together is the FDA at 71A: [Agcy. that sets (often surprisingly high) maximum standards for the amounts of the circled materials in edible goods]. Holy crap! The "circled materials" include:
  • HAIR, embedded here in a CHOCOLATE ECLAIR bar, a [Good Humor treat].
  • GLASS, strewn throughout MANGO LASSI, a [Sweet Indian drink].
  • MOLD dotting your MACARONI SALAD, a [Summer picnic staple].
  • GRIT, which probably couldn't actually work its way into GRAPEFRUIT, a [Source of some breakfast juice], unless you're talking about packaged grapefruit segments, in which case GRIT could indeed be introduced into the mix.
  • RUST in the BRUSSELS SPROUTS...well, I can't see how that would make 'em any worse. Ben's clue is a defense of the oft-maligned veggie: [Green veggies despised by many (not me - try frying them in butter)]. Hold the RUST.

Did this puzzle ruin your appetite? Because it didn't even touch on the allowable number of insect parts the FDA says are A-OK in the food supply. You can read up on the official limits here. For canned citrus fruit juice, for example, the limit is "5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml." Cornmeal has set limits for the number of whole insects, insect parts, rodent hairs, and rodent excreta. I wish I were kidding! Ben is right: the limits are indeed "often surprisingly high." Shall I go on? Just one more: In ground marjoram, the "insect filth" cap is "Average of 1175 or more insect fragments per 10 grams." I can't help wondering how much 1175 insect fragments weigh. Okay, I'll stop, thoroughly disheartened about the food supply. Good crossword, though!


August 25, 2009

Wednesday, 8/26/09

Onion 5:08
NYT 3:26
LAT 3:15ish?
CS 9:41 (J—paper)
BEQ 3:21 (Downs only)

What's that date atop this post? Why, it's August 26, and you know what that means: It's Will Shortz's birthday! To celebrate, Andrea Carla Michaels crafted a fun crossword just for the occasion. You can download it in Across Lite or PDF form at the Crossword Fiend forum. Happy birthday, Will!

Gary Cee's New York Times crossword

This theme doesn't quite please me. Each theme entry is something that's requested with a "please" after it, but the first one seems out of place with the others:

  • 17A. CHOPSTICKS ["___, please" (diner's request)]? If you're not automatically given chopsticks, wouldn't you be more likely to ask your server, "May I get some chopsticks, please?" "Chopsticks, please" sounds awfully brusque to me.
  • 27A. ATTENTION ["___, please" (announcer's request)]—well, this one's perfect. It occurs to me that ATTENTION, PLEASE would be a kickass 15-letter answer. "May I have your ___" works, but it's OK without the more polite intro, too.
  • 36A. THE ENVELOPE ["___, please" (award presenter's request)]. I like this one.
  • 51A. ONE MOMENT ["___, please" (operator's request)]. You know what's the worst? When a recorded voice tells you this. You can't be too irked to be put on hold by a live person because it could be worse—you could be trapped in a voice-response tree.
  • 60A. Saving the jokey punch line for the end, we have TAKE MY WIFE ["___, please!" (Henny Youngman's request)], complete with an exclamation point.

Five quick hits (each of 'em a TWOFER, or [Get-one-free deal]:
  • Two blechy words: RETABLE is clued with [Postpone yet again] but luckily, my life does not bring me into contact with people who demand to RETABLE things. Right below this is an old-school crosswordese word, LAR, or [Roman household god]. Make a mental note of the latter—you may see it or its plural, LARES, on occasion.
  • Shakespeare! ACT III is [When Hamlet says "To be or not to be"], and ORSINO is the ["Twelfth Night" duke].
  • Wan Crossing of the Day Award: E.N.E. meets AN E. Why not an EYE for an AYE? Two real words beat out an abbrev and a partial.
  • Cool cross-referenced answer combo: SACRED / COW is [something not to criticize].
  • Two notable bling wearers: LIZ [Taylor who said "I do" eight times] is a couple words over from the POPE, [Wearer of a triple tiara].
Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Send a Letter to the Governor"—Janie's review

Ooh, we've got another really strong (well-conceived, well-made and lively) puzzle again today. Randy has taken the capital cities of three states and added a single letter to each, yielding new phrases of the humorous / amusing variety. The final theme-phrase at 64A pulls it all together: CAPITAL GAIN [Profit from a bond sale (and a hint to 17-, 27-, and 47-Across]. With the addition of an:
  • R at 17A, Baton Rouge (LA) becomes BART ON ROUGE [Commentary by Simpson lad about makeup?]. Simpson sister LISA is here by suggestion only. She's really clued as [Edelstein of "House"].
  • R at 27A, Little Rock (AR) becomes LITTLE FROCK [TEDDYTeddy?].
  • O at 47A, Providence (RI) becomes PROVIDE ONCE [Donate a single time?]
This is good stuff all. What else is good stuff? For starters, there's some clever cluing:
  • [In a way, in a way] gives us SORTA.
  • [One striving for change?] is not a politico-on-the-campaign-trail (like AL GORE, once...) but a BEGGAR.
  • The fresh and double-punned [A lode off one's mine?] yields the oft-seen ORE.
  • Sounding like a child's riddle, [A tree may be found in it] is SHOE.
  • Think "Tweety & Sylvester" and you'll understand why a [Bird watcher] is CAT.
  • Did you know that the [City formerly called Philadelphia] was AMMAN, Jordan? It was news to me and a nice piece o' trivia to boot!
  • And while we're in that part of the world, ditto the reference to [Rummikub piece] for TILE. Seems this game combines elements of rummy, chess, mah-jongg and dominoes. While its origins are in Palestine of the 1930s, by the late '70s it had become a best-seller here. Who knew?
  • We have a pair of [Finish] clues that yield END and STOP—and how nice that these words sit atop on another in the grid.
I'm fond of the colloquial phrases we find, too: the emphatic ["Yes] SIRREE [, Bob!"], the surprised (and slightly Brit) ["By] JOVE [!"] and the tentative "I'M NOT SURE" ["Search me"]. First fill on that last one was I DON'T KNOW. But not for long. Also started to take myself off the right track entering DE VITO for AIELLO [Danny of "Do the Right Thing"], but only got as far as the "DE," had a good laugh, then filled in the correct name. Not to be a SORE LOSER [Poor sport], but this penchant of mine to follow the wrong trail gives me DÉJÀ VU all over again. So to speak...

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

Cribbed from my L.A. Crossword Confidential post, where there's more:

THEME: "Court Business"—The middle entry, 33A, is both a verb phrase and a noun phrase; it's the noun that gets riffed on for the ends of the theme answers:
  • 17A: Exterior attractiveness, to a Realtor (CURB APPEAL). Don't like this clue? Then file an APPEAL with the Cruciverbal Court.
  • 20A: Beethoven's affliction (LOSS OF HEARING). The Cruciverbal Court will schedule a HEARING for your APPEAL next month.
  • 50A: Drug safety test (CLINICAL TRIAL). Are you ready to go to TRIAL now?
  • 55A: Replay feature (SLOW MOTION). Judges grant MOTIONs, do they not?
  • 33A: What chambers of commerce do, and this puzzle's title (COURT BUSINESS). This ties everything together, but who the heck ever says that the local chamber of commerce "courts business"? I'd sooner say they woo businesses in the plural. Granted, a theme is more ambitious with five long answers than with four, but I think I'd rather this one had gone with four longs and a short unifying answer, such as COURT in the bottom corner.

Unfortunate duplication I hadn't noticed last night: Paul LE MAT's first name is in his clue, and longtime L.A. Times editorial cartoonist PAUL CONRAD is in the grid. It's Paul Day! If your name is Paul, pick up an extra treat for yourself today.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Improper Puzzle"

Well, his blog post's title referenced "downs only solving" and the difficulty label was "easy," so I slid the Across/Down clues divider in Across Lite way up to the top, avoided looking at the highlighted clue atop the puzzle, and solved this puppy using only the Down clues. Between the easy cluing, the not-hard-to-get theme, and only one Across answer that wasn't 100% plausible, this was a perfect puzzle for skipping the Across clues. My only semi-trouble spot was not being 100% sure that [Celebrity chef Matsuhisa, or his restaurant] was NOBU given a TO*AT crossing at the B. The Across clue was totally clear, though: [Go ___ for (defend)].

Janie's been livening up her CrosSynergy solves by doing some of them with only the Down clues. If you're one of those people who tends to skip the Monday through Wednesday puzzles because they're not challenging enough (but you wouldn't mind spending more time on crosswords), consider working the Downs only for extra challenge. I do that with many of the standard crosswords in Games and World of Puzzles.

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Matt drew his inspiration from the phrase "full of shit": Each theme entry has an embedded SHIT split across two or three words, and that hinted-at phrase means COMPLETELY LYING, or [Just making things up, or a synonym for a three-word phrase describing this puzzle's theme entries]. We've got WAVES HI TO, LET'S HIT THE ROAD, an ENGLISH-ITALIAN dictionary, and a SUSHI TRAY.

Among the tougher clues, or the more clever ones:
  • [Popsicle, across the pond] clues LOLLY ICE. I always thought it was an ice lolly. Can I get a ruling from our Commonwealth readers?
  • [Good or bad thing to catch, depending on the context]: CRABS!
  • [Chicago Manual of Style alternative] is the MLA style guide. I have the Chicago Manual.
  • [In need of repacking, as a bong] is CASHED. Okay, then.
  • [Metabolism molecule] was looking crazily implausible with an NOACI in it. Aha! Two words: AMINO ACID.
  • [Earlier than 1, initially] is BCE, as in "before the Common Era," as in dates before 1 A.D.
  • ["___ Mak'er" (Zeppelin title that's a transliteration of "Jamaica"] clues DYER. Wayne Dyer is sad not to be hailed in this clue.



crossword 13:21 (paper)
puzzle about an hour

the 64th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Almost A Murmur," was an absolutely brutal crossword followed by a cool but tough meta. let's have a look at the theme answers:

  • [Hot music in Florida?] is MIAMI SALSA.
  • [The panache of a top crossword constructor?] is the famed ESTES VERVE of harvey estes.
  • [TV character who's a wet blanket?] is UNFUN TONTO.
  • [Star to tear up?] is SENSE ONION.
  • [Managed to defeat an Egyptian god?] is EDGED THOTH.
  • and my favorite, [Car dealership owned by a Hollywood actress?] is HECHE VOLVO, run by anne heche.

what do these have in common? it's not all that tough to see: all twelve of the five-letter words in the theme answers have the same cryptogram pattern. if this were a kaidoku, every one of them could be "clued" as 1-2-3-1-2. as the title says, it's "almost a murmur," because one more letter and they would be the same three letters repeated, just like the word "murmur." having said that, i think ONION SENSE (clued in some way relating to the onion) might have been more fun.

so what about the meta? well, the instructions say that This week's contest answer phrase consists of the surname of a famous author AND the surname of one of his characters. Taken together, they would've made an excellent theme entry this week. this took me a long time. i first thought about 1=A, like ABFAB or ATBAT, but that went nowhere. then i thought about B: la BAMBA? nope. C seemed promising, since CASCA is a famous literary character (from julius caesar, as NYT solvers know since it's shown up twice in the last week). but of course SHAKESPEARE doesn't fit the pattern at all. i kept going, but i fell asleep (literally) around H and when i woke up, i was somewhat groggy. eventually deciding that electronic assistance would be helpful, i grepped the cruciverb word list and hit upon the answer: franz KAFKA and his character gregor SAMSA (of the metamorphosis).

other fun possibilities: ESME'S MAGMA, SHUSH LAILA/LAYLA, ELIEL HATHA. (i just learned the word HATHA last week, from a crosssynergy puzzle.)

okay, the crossword. this was an absolute bitch. ten minutes in, i had none of the theme answers except EDGED THOTH and no clue what was going on. as soon as i got another one, the theme became pretty obvious and i scrambled to fill in the rest of the puzzle.

the grid contained three things i've certainly never heard of, and a ton of clues that were just plain mean. first, the unfamiliar answers:

  • [9/11 Commission co-chair Thomas ___] is KEAN.
  • [2014 Olympics host city] is SOCHI, russia. really? wow. i guess i don't even know where the 2010 olympics will be held (i don't really care about the winter games at all), so it's not that surprising that i haven't heard about this, but... they gave the olympics to a russian city i've never heard of?
  • [Famous bookstore in Portland, Ore.] is POWELL'S. um, how famous is it? am i really supposed to know about bookstores 3000 miles away? i really dislike clues like this. at least with the other two, they seem like things that are worth knowing even if i personally happen to not know them.

other hard clues:

  • [Title word for Stephen King or Woody Allen] is ROSE. okay, i don't like this clue either. what titles are we talking about? i figured that when i got the answer, it would make sense... turns out, not so much.
  • [Its second chapter is "Learning to Love the Law"] clues ONE L by scott turow. i think a clue like this should only be used for an answer that's really famous like DAS KAPITAL or something, not a bit of crosswordese like ONE L.
  • [Role, in metaphor] is a HAT. i'm currently wearing my blogger hat. literally, of course, i'm currently wearing my A's hat.
  • matt continues his long-standing assault on all things emo by cluing MOROSE as [Word whose sixth, first and second letters form a synonymous word]. i liked this clue, but it's somewhat self-indulgent. i mean, you really can't answer it until you have at least one or two of those letters in place.
  • some unfamiliar people: [1999 Chemistry Nobelist ___ Zewail] is AHMED. and [Loek ___ Wely (noted Dutch chessplayer)] is VAN, which is guessable enough.
  • [Hachette Filipacchi title] meant nothing to me. the answer is ELLE, and apparently hachette filipacchi is some sort of media publishing group. don't care.
  • there were some awfully clever clues, too: [Charge down the highway] is a noun: TOLL. [What's left on the table after a meal] is not an ORT but a TIP.
  • leroy NEIMAN, the ["Borg/Connors" artist, 1977], always reminds me of top secret! (but then, so does everything else). "they're still working on him. he won't break. we've tried everything! do you want me to bring out the leroy nieman paintings?" "no! we cannot risk violating the geneva convention."
  • i'll award a technical deduction for cluing DOLTS as [Fools] and then having FOOL'S GOLD in the grid.
  • i liked seeing STANS clued as [The ___ (much of central Asia, casually)]. one of my best friends from college and later grad school hails from uzbekistan. also, i met crossword editor stan newman at lollapuzzoola on saturday.

well then. i can't imagine how painful next week's crossword will be, if this was only third-week difficulty. but in any event, i'll be here. see you then.