December 02, 2009


crossword 6:04
puzzle 0:16

if october was "hell month" at matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, then november must have been "earth month," because all four puzzles featured geographical themes. what does december (i.e. "heaven month"?) have in store? before we get to that, let's take a look at last week's puzzle, "Regional Variation." the five overt theme answers (with starred clues) were:

  • [Doing a lot of damage to*] is MASSACRING. like in christopher marlowe's the massacre at paris (good title!).
  • [Show set in the Northeast*] is NEWHART. i have definitely heard of this show, but i don't even know what it was about, let alone where it was set.
  • [Literally, "little worms"*] is VERMICELLI. you can't go wrong naming food after vermin, can you? oh wait, maybe you can.
  • [Word on a janitor's door*] is SUPPLIES. okay, just kidding—it's MAINTENANCE. but i just love that little clip, despite its mild racial stereotyping. by the way, that clip is actually only my second-favorite movie supply closet door gag (what are the odds?), but i couldn't find a clip of the one from top secret!.
  • an [Expert*] is a CONNOISSEUR.

what about the sixth theme answer, the one hiding in the grid? well, the theme isn't necessarily obvious, but i was on the lookout for another geographical theme (and the title didn't dissuade me of that), so i noticed pretty much right away that each of the starred answers began with the first four letters as a state in new england: MASSachusetts, NEW Hampshire, VERMont, MAINe, and CONNecticut. what's the other state in new england? why, RHODe island, of course. that makes the hidden theme answer RHODA, at 15a, clued as [She moved from Minneapolis to New York City]. i don't know anything about this show other than it spun off from mary tyler moore (i think?), but i imagine this geographically-inclined clue was yet another hint, as was the clue for NEWHART.

odds & ends from the fill:

  • can't get enough geography? well, how about [Washington, Lincoln and Jackson], which are all... US CITIES (in addition to former presidents)? or ANN arbor, [Word in a Michigan city's name]?
  • a couple more place names get non-geographical clues: MAUI is [___ Gold (pineapple brand)], and further afield, there's [Ancient Africa's ___ Empire], or MALI. ghana, mali, and songhai were the three great empires of west africa.
  • there were two unfamiliar names for me, [Fox Business anchor David] ASMAN and [Lead role in the 2005 Spielberg movie "Munich"], or AVNER. ASMAN looks like it could be clued as a partial, AS MAN. i've started listening to christmas carols non-stop, and the second verse of "hark the herald angels sing" has the line, "pleased AS MAN with us to dwell" ... but AS MAN is a weirdly-placed clause, and when i was younger i always wanted it to be "pleased as punch with us to dwell."
  • decidedly non-random roman numeral: [It ends in about a month] is MMIX. hey, that's this year! (and hey too, that's the last four letters of a common five-letter word. hmm.)
  • [Congressional retirement result] is an OPEN SEAT. which reminds me, crap! i think i'm still registered to vote at my old address, which means i'll have to schlep out there for next week's primary. it's not that far, but it's still a bit of a nuisance.
  • our random chess clue of the week isn't for ELO, which gets a standard ["Strange Magic" singers] clue, but TACTIC, [Deflection or underpromotion, in chess].
  • probably my favorite overly erudite clue in this puzzle is [Rhyme scheme used in some Roethke quatrains] for ABAA. i've complained in the past that the standard [Simple rhyme scheme] is a really annoying clue, but it's not a trivial matter to cite a well-known specific example of ABAA. but the last stanza of a villanelle, such as roethke's the waking, is ABAA.
  • crazy unfamiliar word of the day: ULLAGE, the [Unfilled part of a wine container]. wha?

overall, i found this puzzle surprisingly easy for a fourth-week puzzle, both the crossword and the meta. how did it treat you?

that's all for me this week, this month, and maybe this blog. see you over at the new site!