FRIDAY, Aug. 31, 2007 - Paula Gamache

Friday, August 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "GH" words (or, none)

I had a horrible time with this puzzle, possibly because I did it first thing in the morning - literally, rolled out of bed, went to my desk, and started the puzzle. Even with some fairly substantial gimmes, it took me a while to really get going, and then at about the 2/3 mark, I got completely stuck, with the NE and the far W being wide open and recalcitrant.

Started with MAHALO (15A: Hawaiian "thank you") - if you ever go to Hawaii, you learn this word. We had a sign inside our condo that said "MAHALO for taking your shoes off." Only other true gimmes for me were DANTE'S (37A: "_____ Peak" (1997 Pierce Brosnan film)) and RICHTER (8D: Scale developer), though I managed to get SOUTHERN CROSS (33A: Constellation seen on the flags of Australia, Samoa and Papua New Guinea) very quickly, with just the last two letters in place. Still, after many minutes, only the Eastern portion of the puzzle was substantially filled in.

This puzzle was admirably tough, with lots of crafty cluing and colorful answers, but still, there were some answers that bugged the hell out of me. What in the world is a HUG-ME-TIGHT (29D: Short, close-fitting jacket)!? I mean, I'm guessing that it's a short, close-fitting jacket, but Damn. Ugh. Come on! Google Image Search doesn't even turn up an image of one of these - nothing that makes it clear what species of jacket we're talking about. There appear to be pictures of hand-knitted something-or-others, but... the term only gets 25K Google hits, period, which is tiny. So this answer was Rough for me. Same goes for "LAUGH AT ME" (28A: 1965 Sonny Bono hit), which stretches the meaning of "hit" to the breaking point. I don't believe I've ever heard this song, and I spent the entirety of my junior / senior years in high school listening to oldies stations. This title was really really hard to divine from crosses. The "G" was giving me fits - was it "LET GO OF ME"? So I struggled a lot. Didn't help that HUG-ME-TIGHT and "LAUGH AT ME" intersect!

Other "GH" words / phrases of note include RIGHT ARM (16A: Exchange for something you really want?) - a tough but perfect clue; TOUGH (47A: "Deal with it!"); and HEIGHTEN (59A: Opposite of diminish).

Clues that gave me trouble:

  • 38A: Parliamentary address? ("Madame Speaker") - I had SPEAKER, but ... couldn't figure out how "address" fit in. Wrote in SENATE SPEAKER and kept it for a while. :(
  • 42A: This, in Thuringen (diese) - don't speak German
  • 5D: Hockey player Tverdovsky (Oleg) - Where's Cassini when you need him?
  • 6D: Youngest of the Culkin brothers (Rory) - Where's Calhoun when you need him?
  • 19A: Wrestler Flair (Ric) - Where's Ocasek when you need him?
  • 9D: One-room house, typically (igloo) - a one-room house is not typically an IGLOO. An IGLOO is typically a one-room house
  • 44D: Tree with double-toothed leaves and durable wood (red elm) - I knew it was some kind of ELM, but ...

Really really disliked the following (and again, intersecting) pair of simple answers with insane, trying-too-hard clues:

  • 21D: It has many functions (math) - ... ? OK. It sure does. I mean, I get it, but ... are the "functions" of MATH actually finite? Can you count them, such that "many" makes sense? If so, how many functions?
  • 24A: Runners with hoods (autos) - my least favorite clue. As with MATH, it occurred to me, but then seemed too ridiculously easy or ordinary to be correct. I think I don't like that both MATH and AUTOS are abbreviations too (of a sort). Just got a rubbed-the-wrong-way feeling off of both these answers

Loved the twin skin pic clues:

  • 10D: Skin pics? (cheesecake)
  • 12D: Skin pic? (tat)

If I ever got a TAT, there's a high likelihood that it would involve CHEESECAKE. So far, though, I'm TAT-free - except for this temporary TAT of the local minor league baseball team's mascot that I'm currently sporting on my left hip (long story involving daughter). In addition to the 2x skin pics, nice doubling of Teddy Roosevelt on 34D: Home of Theo. Roosevelt Natl. Park (N. Dak.) and 46A: Regulation targets for Theodore Roosevelt: Abbr. (RRs). Another great doubling effect is the intersection of PIGPENS (40D: Dumps) and DIRT POOR (50A: Hard up). PIG PEN is my second-favorite "Peanuts" character behind Franklin.

Liked the cluing on PICKETERS (43A: Striking figures) and GYM SHOES (20A: They might just squeak by in a basketball game) and PRICE TAG (7A: Shock source, sometimes), though that last one should probably be STICKER, since that's the phrase that's in the language: sticker shock. There were a couple of ancient clues that might have proved tricky for some - 2D: Pantheon heads? (capita) and 23D: Ancient meeting places (agoras); actually, that last one should be a near-gimme for frequent solvers.

I have never in my life seen POE's name written thusly: E.A. POE (31A: "Berenice" author, briefly). Feel about HAIR (36D: Eyebrow makeup) the same way I feel about MATH and AUTOS, above. Boo! Never watched "Entourage" so didn't know 13D: Agent Gold on HBO's "Entourage" (Ari) - I guessed IRA at one point, which is anagrammatically correct. Super happy to remember 32D: Desert Storm reporter (Arnett), even if I did have him as ARNESS to start. Lastly, and most embarrassingly, it took me For Ever to get what should have been the gimme-est of gimmes for this erstwhile medievalist - was looking for something much more generic at 3D: Fights with knights (The Crusades). JOUSTS? TOURNAMENTS? I studied this stuff for Years!!! So sad. And yet ATRA (22A: Grooming brand introduced in 1977) I got almost instantly. Can't remember what he studied in school forever, but shaving products he knows only from TV ads ... those leap straight to the front of his mind.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Aug. 30, 2007 - Victor Fleming and Bruce Venzke

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Who, What, Where, When
(but no Why? ... Why?) - four long theme answers begin with each of those interrogative words

Managed to work this out in decent time despite not knowing many of the answers. I actually had one square wrong, at what I consider to be an unfair crossing:

  • 21A: Debussy's "Air de _____" ("Lia")
  • 4D: _____ acid (old name for hydrochloric acid) (muriatic)

These intersect at the "A," and I've never heard of either of them. That parenthetical remark in the MURIATIC clue is useless. Did that actually clarify things for anyone who is not a chemist? Hmmmph. Annoying. But otherwise, this was a fairly enjoyable puzzle, with four colorful fifteen-letter theme answers:

  • 17A: 1961 Connie Francis hit ("Where the Boys Are") - My dad once had a celebrity crush on either Connie Francis or Connie Stevens. One of the Connies. Not Connie Chung. That I know.
  • 3D: 1952 Doris Day hit that was an even bigger hit for the Lettermen in 1961 ("When I Fall in Love")
  • 12D: "Huh?!" ("What in tarnation!") - awesome old-timey hick-speak.
  • 61A: End of a line about friends ("... who needs enemies") - got this with just two letters in place, at a time when most of the grid was just empty space

Despite my not really liking "Seinfeld," 1A: Seinfeld's "sworn enemy" (Newman) was a gimme. Didn't help me much, as the only cross it provided was NEWS (1D: Google heading). Finally found an easy answer - 62D: Part of una semana (dia) - followed by another - 55D: Belt-hole makers (awls); those gave me WHO NEEDS ENEMIES, and I was pretty good from there on out.

Some stuff I didn't know:

  • 9D: Suffix with beta (tron) - means nothing to me
  • 46D: Mortgagor, e.g. (lienee) - ack, that's one ugly clue / answer pairing.
  • 55A: Children's author/photographer Alda (Arlene)
  • 44A: _____ Beach, Fla. (Del Ray) - I've heard of it, maybe, but needed many crosses (side note: doesn't it seem like this puzzle has an excess of fill-in-the-blank clues?)
  • 25D: Passover month (Nisan) - add an "S," and you get the make of vehicle that I drive
  • 18D: Mr. Wickfield's clerk, in literature (Heep) - Uriah HEEP? The only reason I know the name "Uriah HEEP" is because I believe it was the name of a rock band of some sort in the early 80s or possibly earlier. Its literariness is lost on me (and my Ph.D. in literature).
  • 5D: Bob _____, young man in Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" (Ames) was another literary failure of mine. Bob AMES is a funny name - reminds me of "Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration" ("The Office").

More literary ignorance: I thought 42A: Tennyson woman called "the Fair" (Enid) was MAUD (!?). And I actually teaching Tennyson's Arthurian poetry, so this mistake was particularly galling. Further, I did not know 40D: One of the men waiting in "Waiting for Godot" (Vladimir). Writing clues that I knew included 45A: _____ Jordan, who wrote "The Crying Game" (Neil) and 47A: A writer may work on it (spec).

It's a fairly cold-hearted puzzle, with nasty entries like PIRANHAS (16A: Vicious sorts), and SINISTER (19A: Up to no good - too tepid a clue for SINISTER, IMOO), and SNEERS AT (65A: Derides).

NET TV (6D: Web-based service) sounds weird / wrong - like the real answer should be WEB TV. Also weird is 20A: Sterile, in a way (neuter), in that NEUTER is always a verb to me, unless it's describing grammatical gender, I guess. Not too fond of ATL. as an answer for 41A: View from Long Is. Wanted the answer to be STRIP MALLS. Never have any idea how to spell SALCHOW (37A: Eponymous rink jump). Growing up ... in fact, until I was in my mid-30's (which is to say, a couple years ago), I thought it was SOWCOW. Lastly, I call a serious European river foul in the far NE, where I was made to endure the proximity of two of my bitterest foes, 13D: It rises in the Bernese Alps (Aare) and 14D: Battle of the _____, 1914 (Yser). AARE is the sound I make when confronted with yet another European river in four letters with improbable letter combinations.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Aug. 29, 2007 - Jayne and Alex Boisvert

Relative difficulty: Super-Easy

THEME: "THUMB" - rebus puzzle where THUMB (or a picture thereof) goes into four squares symmetrically arranged throughout the grid

This was criminally easy for a Wednesday. There are maybe two or three answers that were odd or tricky or possibly unknown to people (including me), but nothing you couldn't get from crosses with no problem. The theme itself was easy to uncover, and once you had it, long answers became a piece of cake. I like the feeling of being a puzzle master as much as the next guy, but if there's no challenge, then the accomplishment of a fast time hardly seems to matter. And did you really have to remind me that there once existed a show called "Joey?" (12D: "Friends" spinoff)

THUMB answers:

  • 1D: Barnum midget (Tom THUMB) - is "midget" still an OK word? I do love the way it sounds.
  • 20A: Expresses scorn (THUMBs one's nose) - Tried to fit "Turns up one's nose" in here for a while
  • 29A: 1966 Rolling Stones hit ("Under My THUMB") - again, like "midget," something totally politically incorrect that I love
  • 33D: Kind of sketch (THUMBnail)
  • 26D: It may stick out (sore THUMB)
  • 43A: Scan (THUMB through) - these don't seem quite equivalent
  • 51A: Human hand characteristic (opposable THUMB)
  • 56D: Encouraging sign (THUMBs up)

The only answers that should have slowed people down at all are...

15A: 20 Mule Team compound (Borax) - which I still don't understand. Must be some old advertising slogan. Thought the answer was going to be "BORAT" for a few seconds. Wasn't sure how that would have worked, logically, but then again I haven't seen the movie yet.

19A: Wilson of "Zoolander" (Owen) - easy for me, but I can see it befuddling the people whose minds aren't poisoned with inane pop culture of the past decade. Or perhaps you just know OWEN Wilson better as "Dupree."

39D: Quarterbacks' play changes (audibles) - easy for me, but I can see it befuddling the sports illiterate among you. This is probably my favorite answer in the grid. AUDIBLES are plays called from the line of scrimmage (instead of from the huddle).

30D: Boortz of talk radio (Neal) - and here we come across my area of illiteracy - talk radio, ugh

58A: Rhone feeder (Saone) - Yesterday AARE, today SAONE; with vowel combinations like that, is it any wonder I hold a grudge against all European rivers?

24A: Early TV comic Louis (Nye) - Why do I know this guy's name if he's "early." This is the NYE who is not the "Science Guy."

Enjoy your Wednesday,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Aug. 28, 2007 - Linda Schechet Tucker

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: HERB GARDEN (62A: Where the first words of 17-, 26- and 47-Across may be found)

The theme is pretty straightforward, but the overall grid is pretty impressive. Lots of unusual or colorful phrases, with only a minimum of crosswordese. Well, maybe a little more than a minimum, now that I look at it. Still, an enjoyable puzzle.

Your HERB answers:

  • 17A: It's worth listening to (SAGE advice)
  • 26A: Sherlock Holmes portrayer (BASIL Rathbone)
  • 47A: Perfect shape (MINT condition)

All of the HERB names here are used in non-HERB contexts, of course.

The theme answers are fine, but fairly predictable. I'm a bigger fan of today's longer non-theme answers, like the swell BOY OH BOY (10D: Cry of glee), the regal OCEAN TIDES (30D: They're controlled by the moon), the curious OUTER EAR (38D: Catcher of sound waves), and the dainty HYBRID TEA (54A: Variety of rose) - the last one totally unknown to me. Not sure how I feel about 21A: Conduct a survey (ask around). I like the phrase, but the clue seems a lot more formal than the answer.

Noteworthy features of today's puzzle include a new ELSA (32D: Actress Lanchester, who married Charles Laughton), a variant that's one letter away from a breath mint brand (45D: Haberdashery items: Var. (tie tacs)), a porcine philosopher (3D: English philosopher called "Doctor Mirabilis" (Roger Bacon)), a surprisingly persistent defunct automobile (52D: Old Oldsmobile (Alero)), and the answer to the mystery of what Chester A. Arthur's middle initial stands for (12D: Chester Arthur's middle name (Alan)). Not sure why I know Fort ORD (5D: Fort _____, former Army post on Monterey Bay). Didn't know 6D: Source of basalt (lava). I'm not even sure what "basalt" is, frankly. Had HILT for HAFT in the SW (54D: Knife handle), which made the Swiss river AARE hard to pick up (61A: River of Switzerland). This may be the least Scrabbly puzzle I've seen all year, but it was inventive enough that I didn't mind.

See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Aug. 27, 2007 - Steven Ginzburg

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ANTS (68A: Tiny critters found twice each in 17-, 38- and 60-Across)

Blew through this quickly except for the NW, which was clunky as all hell. In the end, I had an error that I spent a good three minutes tracking down. The error produced valid-looking entries in both directions, hence the long delay. I started at 1A: It's rounded up in a roundup and couldn't think of anything. When I came back to the NW at 14A: Hawaii's "Valley Isle" I wrote in OAHU. Wrong. Eventually 1D: Insurance grp. (HMO) gave me the "M" for MAUI. Eventually had HE-D for the 1A clue, and wrote in HEAD - as in, HEAD of cattle. It made total sense at the time. Didn't check the cross, which was AUG (totally valid abbrev.). Sadly, the clue was 3D: Oriental _____, making AUG unequivocally wrong. HEAD and AUG eventually became HERD and RUG.

Two-ANT answers:

  • 17A: Operation for a new liver or kidney (organ transplant)
  • 38A: Beneficial substance in fruits, vegetables and tea (antioxidant)
  • 60A: Literary genre popular with women (romantic fantasy)

Most inventive answer in the grid is 27D: Four (two x two) - I've never seen the letter "X" used as a multiplication symbol in a grid before. Hot. The phrasing on 43A: Picking _____ with (nits) seems off, or awkward. The positioning of "with" is bugging me for some reason. Apparently FOIE gras (36D: _____ gras) is illegal in Chicago, but nobody, especially law enforcement, cares. It is Chicago, right? Some big city, anyway. I didn't know that ROMANTIC FANTASY was an established genre (60A: Literary genre popular with women). FANTASY tends to skew toward the Sci-fi in my mind. Just learned today (from wife) that linen is made from FLAX (16A: Linen fiber). Wife also had the decency to point out actual, real-live I-BAR (47A: Letter-shaped building support) in the parking lot of the Carousel Mall in Syracuse last weekend.

Tripped slightly in the SW, where having SOON for ANON (66A: Shortly) caused a minor typing and retyping kerfuffle. TASSEL (50A: Mortarboard addition) just looks wrong, as a word. TASSLE looks right. Don't argue with me. CLASS ACTION (11D: Kind of suit) is a fun, fancy phrase for a Monday. Lastly, I like the musical pile-up where G MINOR (29D: Key of Saint-Saens's "Danse macabre" - a great piece) pierces right through VOICE (44A: Alto or soprano) and CAROLS (49A: Yuletide songs). And we get a Yuletide reprise, despite its being all out-of-season, at 71A: Yuletide (Noel).

Long day ahead of me tomorrow. Must get some rest.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS many new vintage paperbacks and commentaries at my other blog


SUNDAY, Aug. 26, 2007 - Andrew M Greene and Craig Kasper (and Todd McClary and Jeffrey Harris)

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Getting Ahead" - circled squares represent (and spell out) parts of A HEAD

[updated 12:40 pm]

A very ambitious puzzle, executed fairly well. Got the theme very early and figured I'd be able to fill in all the circled squares right away. I was wrong. I put LIPS and LIPS where LIPS and CHIN were supposed to go; took me a while to get BROWS (whose BROWS are in the middle of their forehead, between their eyes?); and SCALP still seems quite wrong - unless you are balding (like me), you can't see the SCALP. If you stared at a face and described it all day long, you would never talk about the SCALP. But that's the only gaffe; other than that, the puzzle was fun.

I am told that there were actually four authors of today's puzzle, though the Times can credit a maximum of just two - that's why I credited Todd McClary and Jeffrey Harris in parentheses in today's title, in case you were wondering.

Here are the answers that contained HEAD parts (from top to bottom, left to right)

  • 21A: Toddler's mealtime accessory (booster cHAIR)
  • 29A: Quarters for a business, e.g. (fiSCAL Periods)
  • 54A: Safari, e.g. (web BROWSer)
  • 53D: Be weighed down (bEAR the burden)
  • 64A: Persuaded with flattery (blarnEYEd)
  • 66A: Noted explorer of Polynesia (HEYErdahl)
  • 76A: Time in which light travels one foot, approximately (naNOSEcond)
  • 100A: Astronomical events that occur twice or more a year (lunar ecLIPSes)
  • 113A: Nested set of containers (CHINese boxes)
[Whoops - looks like I Van Gogh'd this puzzle: here's the missing ear: 15D: Empathetic one, derisively (bleeding hEARt)]

Going for walk in the woods before it gets too hot. More later.


And I'm back, following a late breakfast of fried eggs, potatoes, and coffee, as well as two crossword puzzles out of The Listener (NZ) with my wife.

Hardest part of the puzzle for me was the NW. That stupid IMAC / APPLE clue at 1A: See 7-Across really should have been SYMBOL. In my grid, it was SYMBOL for a while - until forced to become the far worse EMBLEM (it's not emblazoned on a coat-of-arms, for god's sake). The soap BORAXO (18A: Heavy-duty hand soap) is only barely known to me. And all those Downs were exceedingly mischievous. You'd think I'd be on solid ground with D&D, but it took me a while to get BROAD AX (3D: Dungeons & Dragons weapon). ROXANNE and ALL OF ME both fit where L.A. STORY was supposed to go (4D: Steve Martin romantic comedy). EXTANT was tough, but it's clued beautifully (5D: Like seven of Sophocles' 123 plays). The answer that got me my first bit of traction up in the NW was 24A: Battle report? (rat-a-tat), which in retrospect is a really odd answer to get so easily. Shouldn't have been a gimme, but was. I could watch "Casablanca" 1000 more times (current number of viewings: 1) and not remember UGARTE (35A: Lorre's "Casablanca" role).

SANTA returns to the puzzle today disguised as the Grinch - actually, it's the other way around (42A: Grinch disguise). ESSENES (36D: Dead Sea Scrolls sect) has gone from being totally unknown to me to being a virtual gimme. So many "Wheel of Fortune" letters ... and yet esoteric enough to fly in a late-week puzzle. Ditto 34D: Dutch painter Jan (Steen). I was just in Boston last month, but only barely remember ever hearing about the part of town called the BACK BAY (11A: Posh part of Boston).

My schoolkid's knowledge of Latin helped with 81A: Creatio ex _____ (Christian tenet) (nihilo) and 86A: Prayer opener ("Ave") - less helpful with getting 22D: Org. with the motto "Per Ardua ad Astra" (RAF) - though, if pressed, I could translate that motto for you.

My favorite clues and/or answers in the puzzle include:

  • 14D: Skiffle instrument (kazoo) intersecting 23A: Ceramists, at times (glazers)
  • 70A: 1940s-'50s Dodger who was a 10-time All-Star (Reese) - would have liked to see his fun full name, PEE WEE REESE, in the puzzle, but this'll do.
  • 71A: Particle created by a cosmic ray (muon) - fun to say; stretch that "U"
  • 96A: Knight time? (yore) - I was trained as a yore-ologist
  • 98A: Teahouse floor covering (tatami) - teahouse I was thinking of was not Japanese, so this took me a while
  • 68D: "There's No Place Like _____" (old TV slogan) (HBO) - "old TV slogan??!" Man, there's nothing that'll make you feel older than seeing something 15 years younger than you described as "old"
  • 111D: They were worth $5 each on "What's My Line?" ("NO"s) - some old person will explain this. I guess the idea was to fool some panel about your identity for as long a time as possible. Was Bennet Cerf on this show? Kitty Carlisle?
  • 101D: Kittens' "handles" (napes) - this clue makes me laugh. Something about the quotation marks around "handles"; like the clue can barely take itself seriously. The clue makes me imagine people carrying around kittens like briefcases. Also makes me think of cats driving big rigs and working the CB - "10-4, good buddy, This is Mr. Whiskers, etc."
New semester starts tomorrow. Commentaries will be shorter, but hopefully no less awesome.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Aug. 25, 2007 - Myles Callum

Friday, August 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

This puzzle was brutal, but in a beautiful way. So many of these clues were painfully elusive, but in ways that provided genuine, admiring "aha" moments. There were a couple parts that were just plain hard, bordering on unfair, but overall, this is a near ideal Saturday puzzle. I had to work for it, and it was worth it.

Thought I might tear through this one, as I solved the SE corner in about a minute. Had LENA for 57D: New Wave singer Lovich (Lene), and though it was wrong, it (along with ERNS - 58D: Shore scavengers) helped me get the long UTNE READER (60A: Magazine that hands out annual Independent Press Awards) and RAGGEDY ANN (65A: Little redhead). UTNE is often in the puzzle, but UTNE READER - first time I've seen it. Ditto ORONO, MAINE (13D: Northeastern city named for a Penobscot chief). ORONO is supercommon, but not with its state name attached. The most fabulous answer in the SE, however, was GOOGLY EYES (67A: Puppet glue-ons). So cool and imaginative and apt. Apt! Though there was one patently obscure answer in the SE - 62D: Vietnam's _____ Dinh Diem (Ngo) - the whole section fell lickety-split.

And then came the waiting game ("... oh, the Waiting Game sucks! Let's play Hungry, Hungry Hippos!") [sorry, gratuitous "Simpsons" reference]

I had some scattered answers, like UMA (33A: Player of June in "Henry & June") and NCR (7D: Money machine mfr.) and ECOL (3D: Green's concern: Abbr.) and SERA (66A: "Buona _____!"), but I couldn't get much traction. Finally I saw a nice juicy gimme in ELAYNE (20A: Comic Boosler) - remember her name and its spelling, because it's not uncommon in late-week puzzles; from there I half-guessed 11A: "...there are evils _____ to darken all his goodness": Shak. ("enow"), and ORONO, MAINE popped into view. The rest of the NE fell from there pretty quickly. Could tell from the clue that 14D: One concerned with the nose had to do with wine, but needed the "W" from ENOW to see that it was WINE TASTER. Absolutely love 12D: Response to "I had no idea" ("Now you know") - this was a clue that bugged hell out of me until I saw the answer. That's just ... good. Damn good. Couldn't sing the line about LASSES in "Deck the Halls" if I tried (21D: Some of those who "hail the new" in "Deck the Halls") and never ever heard of ELIAH (11D: Son of Elam whose name means "God the Lord") - though, to redeem myself biblically, I totally nailed HOSEA (49D: God commanded him to marry a harlot) off just the "A." O, I left out that the little Pantheonic EWER (47A: Prize cup, maybe), really really helped me solve the NW. Seriously, EWER. I MEAN IT (40A: No-nonsense cry). Hey look, there's EWER, and there's SEWER (22A: Place of refuse). Wasn't SEWER (as in, "one who sews") in yesterday's puzzle? No, that was Thursday's puzzle, and it was SEWERS.

More colloquial goodness in this puzzle:

  • 25D: Cry "nyah, nyah!" (rub it in) - best variation on the [Schoolyard taunt] variety of clue that I've ever seen
  • 1A: "That may be true, but ..." ("The thing is ...") - that's just bad-ass. I mean, unfair badassery. When idiomatic expressions like this show up, and they are clued in such a spot-on way - it gives me the kind of joy I can barely express.

The last part of the puzzle to fall, and the part wherein I had one incorrect square, was the SW. That's a good place to begin my list of the answers in today's rather large "WTF!" department. We have:

  • 28D: Outlaw band member (Allan-a-Dale) - that's right, two dashes in his name! He was a wandering minstrel who joined up with Robin Hood's band of Merry Men, it seems. More often called one-L "Alan-a-Dale"; so this answer is super-obscure and a variant. Ouch. Cool that the "outlaw" here crosses the "rebel" E. LEE (64A: Part of a rebel name). However, it also cruelly intersects...
  • 48A: Jazz pianist who played with Satchmo (Fatha) - O FATHA, who art thou? I had FOTHA and ALLAN O'DALE (the famous Irish ... outlaw) at first.

Other magical mystery answers include:

  • 4D: Italian tenor _____ Schipa (Tito) - He's a Yugoslavian president, he's a Jackson, , he's a Latin American percussionist who once appeared on "The Simpsons," and he's an Italian tenor. Beware the many faces of TITO.
  • 6D: Soap actress Kristen and others (Ilenes) - you must be joking. Who???
  • 30D: Saki story whose title character is a hyena ("Esme")

And finally the king of all insane answers:

  • 23D: Arrow of Light earner's program (Webelos) - Holy Moly. Just look at that word. It makes my head hurt. Is that the name of a cereal? I thought for sure it had something to do with computer programming, but it's something to do with Cub Scouts (which is what I wanted the answer to be here) - short for "We'll Be Loyal Scouts."

I would like to take the time now to bow before two of the cleverest pop culture clues and answers I've ever seen. Brutal, but brilliant:

  • 34A: Title locale of five 1980s films: Abbr. (Elm St.) - had the "M" and "T" and could make Nothing out of it. The "Abbr." part just mystified the hell out of me. But as soon as I got the "S" from ESME, it became obvious. The "Nightmare on Elm St." series is iconic 80s horror goodness. Freddy Krueger is a horror movie legend. I would tell you about the time "The Simpsons" parodied the "NOES" series, but ... I'm trying to limit my "Simpsons" references to one a day.
  • 41A: King's second ("Salem's Lot") - I'm a bit in awe of this one. Such devastating cluing. Is it a King in chess? Checkers? An actual, political king? Martin Luther King, Jr.? I considered all these. Never considered Stephen King. Wondered what kind of SLOT could be a "second," then parsed it correctly and marveled at the result.

Less great, but still fun, pop-culture-wise, were 45A: She had brief roles as Phyllis on "Rhoda" and Rhoda on "Dr. Kildare" (Cloris - as in Leachman), 16A: _____ Lemaris, early love of Superman (Lori) and 35D: Felix, e.g. (tom cat) - wasn't sure if "Felix" was going to refer to the Cat or the neat freak from "The Odd Couple." Had THE CAT in there for a while, which I love even though it didn't quite make sense given the clue. Ooh, and one more great, somewhat pop-culturish clue: 5D: Routine responses? (hahas) - as in, responses to comedy routines. Good stuff.

There was a clunker here and there in this puzzle, like RELOAN (19A: Advance further?) and SERUMS (31A: Shot putters' supplies?) - that last one is painful in that the clue is tortuous and the end result is a substandard plural. But those answers are a very small price to pay for the greatness that is this puzzle. Myles Callum - as a constructor, he's no SMALL TIMER (29D: Insignificant sort). This puzzle was A HOOT (26A: Tons of fun). Those who were prepared to bury The Times and declare the The Sun the new King of Puzzles (you know who you are) might want to rethink that stance, because the past two days have provided two of the very best themeless puzzles I've seen all year, in any publication.

I'm done.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I love The Sun puzzles, and mean no disrespect. I actually think the "which is better?" argument is pointless - we should just count ourselves lucky that there are two such outstanding daily puzzles out there.


FRIDAY, Aug. 24, 2007 - Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

This is great puzzle, both in fill and in cluing. Could have been a Little more challenging, but other than that, there are very few flaws. It's weakest in its long Acrosses, strongest in its long Downs, and impressively lively and varied and inventive in the short answers.

Started at 1A: "It's all here" sloganeer, once (CBS), which I half thought was a gimme and half thought I was guessing. Maybe I was right on both counts. Anyway, I got it, and from there the NW fell instantly, with 1D: Continue effortlessly (coast) leading into 21A: The Pacific Ocean's only island kingdom (Tonga). TONGA always reminds me of the very first scene in the very first episode of "The Simpsons," where Springfield Elementary is putting on a Christmas pageant and in the "Santas of Many Lands" segment, Lisa plays "TOWANGA, Santa Claus of the South Seas," juggling torches and dancing while wearing a grass skirt and a tribal mask. Anyway, after TONGA, I got SATAN (3D: "Paradise Lost" character - see also his anagram SANTA - 46D: Stocking stuffer - in the SE corner) but blanked on 2D: Dog in Disney's "Cinderella" (Bruno). Had the "B" and "O" and thought BALTO (that's a movie about a wolf), then BALKO (which sounds like the name of the company involved in the Barry Bonds steroids scandal). The Acrosses in the NW fell next; ORATORIO (14A: "Elijah" or "The Creation") was easy - I think it was an answer in the Crossword Tournament's final puzzle - but the clues on the other two Acrosses made things a little trickier. 17A: Drop a few positions, maybe (automate) was tough, both because of the misdirection of the clue (I was thinking of dropping in the rankings, not axing jobs) and because there's not a direct relation between automating and firing - the latter may be the result of the former, but not necessarily. If you follow. Still, loved this challenge. Also loved 19A: Maker of Kiwi Teawi (Snapple), which is a very original and initially confusing way to clue this common beverage brand.

15D: Highest-grossing film of 1986 ("Top Gun") was the movie I saw on my very first date ever - a rather unromantic double date that was really more like "4 friends going to the movies," but when you've got no track record, no dating history, and you are attracted to one of those friends, and you sit next to her and smell her shampoo and try to make incidental contact without seeming aggressive or creepy ... believe me, it counts as a "date." Reading over that description, even I'm not surprised we never "went out" again. "Top Gun" was awesome, though, so some good came out of it.

As I've said, the long Acrosses were bland:

  • 26A: They're staffed with doctors (universities) - perhaps this bores me because it's about me
  • 30A: Bad time for a tropical vacation (rainy season) - nice enough phrase, but easy easy clue
  • 38A: Country that won the most medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics (East Germany) - I feel like EAST GERMANY was just in the puzzle very recently. Again, this clue is pretty easy. A couple crosses should get you the answer, if it didn't come to you instantly.
  • 40A: Reluctantly accepting (reconciled to) - pretty good, but nothing to write home about.

But the long Downs are another story:

  • 4D: Ultraloyal employees (company men) - a great phrase, and one that conjures up a fabulous and brutal movie called "In the Company of Men," starring Aaron Eckhart of "Thank You for Smoking" ... fame? It's like a longer, extremely sadistic version of "The Office," minus the mockumentary conceit.
  • 8D: Feeling no better (unconsoled) - also (with "The") the title of a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, one of the greatest writers on the planet.
  • 11D: Is clueless (has no idea) - love phrases of three or more words.
  • 27D: Soul singer who is also a coronated king of Ghana (Isaac Hayes) - awesome bit of trivia. I had the "I" and started to write in IKE TURNER. HAYES is best known, recently, for quitting "South Park" (HAYES was the voice of Chef) after the show ran an episode that mocked Scientology - it's a justly famous episode that features the star of "Top Gun" (coincidentally) in a closet (... [cough] ...) for an Extended period of time.
  • 32D: One of the "10 Attic orators" (Isocrates) - I did not know this. Pieced it together from crosses. Sounds like the title of SOCRATES' autobiography. Other names I didn't know but guessed easily were CHERIE (55A: Mrs. Tony Blair), ELIAS (45D: 1981 Literature Nobelist Canetti), COLIN (20A: Mystery author Dexter), and ALEC (58A: _____ Ramsay ("The Black Stallion hero)). Had a hell of a time remembering ALBAN (48A: "Wozzeck" composer _____ Berg). Had ALLAN for a while
  • 29D: Near the bottom of the drawers? (inartistic) - very very cute. "Drawers" = "ones who draw." Same trick is occasionally played when "flower" is used to clue a river.

UTAHAN (8A: Marie Osmond or Loretta Young) and MARSALA (35A: Wine used to make zabaglione) might have been harder to turn up if they hadn't both been in the puzzle in recent months. The only sticking point of the puzzle was the SW, where not knowing ISOCRATES meant having to hack away at a lot of Acrosses. Knew YURI (42A: First name in cosmonautics) but EDS (34A: I.T. firm founded by Ross Perot) was totally unknown (or forgotten). Also, had to wait on the last letter of 37A: Member of an extended familia (tio) because it could have been (and usually is) TIA. OILERS (41D: Team that won the first A.F.L. championship) might be hard for non-sports and very young people; they were a reasonably successful N.F.L. team when I was growing up (they eventually morphed into the Tennessee Titans). Another tricky, but very COOL (50D: "Fantastic!") sports clue in today's puzzle is 10D: Pass under the basket, maybe (assist) - I spent many seconds wondering why anyone would walk under a basket.

That's all for HOY (43A: Major U.S. Spanish language daily).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Aug. 23, 2007 - Joe Krozel

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: B-word homophones - all instances where Across and Down clues share the same first letter feature homphones that start with the letter "B"; the Across answer is clued, the Down is not (its clue is just a "-")

I can't believe 23 of you commented on my non-commentary! Thanks. I am reasonably well, thanks for asking.

This puzzle:

I too did not get the "B" in BODE (27A: Point to) until the extremely bitter end, as I ran through the alphabet many times, with "B" never ever registering as a viable option. My mind treated the possibility of BODE the same way it would have PODE or GODE.

I did not notice that all the homophones were "B" words until I read someone's comment here. Shows you how observant I was feeling last night.

I did the puzzle without ever seeing the "Notepad" that explained the use of dashes as clues. Would have felt like cheating. Got the whole NW, saw that the "-" clue was a homophone of 1A: Obstruction at the entrance of a cave, maybe (boulder), and thus solved the rest of the puzzle's "-" clues easily. That BOULDER clue should have "... in cartoons or B-movies" added to it, as I'm reasonably sure I've never seen a BOULDER blocking the entrance to a cave in the real world (not that I have had occasion to see many caves).

Today was a day where being a puzzle addict helped, as stuff like DIRK (19A: Weapon in old hand-to-hand fighting) and IDA (58D: _____ B. Wells, early civil rights advocate) and OROS (31A: Rich Spanish decorations) and EOE (6D: Want ad abbr.) and N-TESTS (32A: Big blasts) even the horrid DESEX (15D: Neuter) were all easy first guesses.

"Recondite" is one of my favorite words - an SAT word I think I actually learned when I was preparing to take my SATs, and a word I have some occasion to use (if only in describing the scholarship of some of my peers). So 39D: Recondite (obscure) was gettable with just a cross or two. SEWERS took me a few seconds because, well, just look at it. SEWERS carry sewage. Only in very clear context do they SEW. Still, this answer goes well with 25D: Lowers the cuffs on, maybe (alters).

Just now, looking at the grid, I was wondering what POSEDAS meant in Spanish. Turns out it's two words - 66A: Pretended to be (posed as).

OK, that's all for this puzzle. Just wanted to have something up. I won't be getting back from Ithaca til late tonight, so Friday commentary might not be up til morning, but (I hope) no later than 9 am.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22, 2007 - Patrick Blindauer

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Pick-up Lines" (61A: Singles bar repertoire (and a hint to 17-, 24-, 36- and 52-Across) - all theme answers are in some way related to the phrase "pick up," I think

This theme is fun but a bit tenuous. I'll see if I can explain how all of the theme answers are examples of PICK-UP LINES:

  • 17A: McGarrett's TV catchphrase ("Book 'em, Danno") - picking up a prisoner
  • 24A: Question for a hitchhiker ("Need a lift?") - picking up a hitchhiker (not often advisable)
  • 36A: Shout from the phone ("It's for you!") - picking up the phone
  • 52A: Chevy truck slogan, once ("Like a Rock") - a pick-up truck

Hope that's right. If not, correct me.

This puzzle felt very easy. Even ones I didn't know really know, like 5A: Nanki-Poo's father (Mikado), I could guess pretty easily. I knew that Nanki-Poo was a character in "The Mikado," and MIKADO fit, so there. I couldn't tell you the plot of the musical if my life depended on it. 5D: Ones minding the store: Abbr. (mgmt.) might trick a few people, as the clue suggests plural but the "T" ending does not. I found a couple of answers a bit iffy, like 4D: Clicked on'es tongue (tsked) - didn't know TSK was a proper verb now - and 24D: Innocents (naifs) - which sounds too French to be true. ALIENEE is not a favorite word of mine, despite the fact that it contains the cool ALIEN; perhaps the least fortunate answer of the day is strange-sounding INTONER (44D: Chanter), one of those odd-jobby words that's more conveniently passable than real. Not in the language (contrast it with the very real job GUNNER - 15A: Artillery unit member).

The best of the long non-theme answers are 11D: Tall wardrobe (armoire) - both because it's a pretty word and because "wardrobe" could misdirect people toward actual clothing; and 13D: Yachting event (regatta). I had CALMEST for COOLEST for a bit (45D: Least ruffled), but other than that, no dead ends. Oh, except I had CUKES for COKES (54D: Burger go-withs) - also for not very long. Loved the recurrence of OLE, here in its double-sized format: 59A: World Cup chant ("ole ole!"). Never heard of SLAP-UP (22D: Top-notch, to a Brit), but I'm not British, so no surprise there. Also never heard of LEILA (56D: Hyams of 1920s-'30s films). Have, however, heard of 55A: John of London (Elton), though that's a super-odd way to clue him. Sports-haters will be happy that there is only one real sports clue here (not counting REGATTA and OLE OLE), and it's pretty easy: 22A: 600-homer club member (Sosa). Really, if you didn't know it from the 4 letters, you should have gotten it quickly once you got a cross or two. He is one of the more famous ball players of the past decade. Not being a sewer (i.e. one who sews), I have no idea what practice 63A: Make darts (sew) refers to.

62D: New England state sch. (URI) looks harder than it is (University of Rhode Island). Ditto 35A: Paris Metro station next to a music center (Opera). Even if you don't know Paris Metro stations, a few crosses, and the musicness of the clue, should have tipped this one. Nice double-egg quality to this puzzle with 16A: Some eggs (roe) and 27A: Eggs, in labs (ova). Then of course there's 6D: Birth control option, briefly (IUD), which is egg-related, in its way. Sorry if that didn't pass the breakfast table test. Lastly, I get great pleasure out of seeing TINA Yothers in the puzzle (37D: Yothers of "Family Ties") - I watched a LOT of "Family Ties" as a kid. She was the strange youngest sister who didn't really have a personality. I liked that she was not cute at all - they added a conventionally cute baby brother later on to fill that void. I'm stopping now before this turns into a detailed interpretation of the nuances of the entire series.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Aug. 21, 2007 - Tom Heilman

Monday, August 20, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BEES (60D: Theme of this puzzle) - Each of the four theme answers has a bee-related word in it

This went very fast. Had to search for a while for a typo and still finished in under five. Didn't see or get the theme until the very end; it hardly mattered, time-wise. I need to get some sleep tonight, so I'm going to keep it short.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Police ploys (sting operations)
  • 30A: End-of-day spousal salutation ("Honey, I'm home!")
  • 46A: "Call when you get the chance" ("Give me a buzz")
  • 62A: Bogart/Hepburn film ("The African Queen")

Didn't get a single word until the fifth Across clue I looked at (15A: OBOE). Got my first toe-hold by working the Downs in the NW, four out of five of which I got right on the first pass (with good old standbys like 5D: Wee bit of work (erg) and gimmes like 3D: Quickly growing "pet" (Chia) it wasn't that hard). Had BILL for COST (1D: How much to pay), but that was quickly fixed.

Enjoyed the intersecting SORE EYES (8D: what a welcome sight relieves) and STYE (21A: Lid trouble), as well as the arty quartet of HENRI (4D: Painter Matisse), TATE (42A: Gallery showing works by Turner, Reynolds and Constable), ALBA (58A: Duchess of _____, Goya subject), and ANDY (61D: Pop artist Warhol). The combo of ENERO (34D: First month in Madrid) and AÑOS (43A: Calendario units) is less inspiring. UPTAKE is an interesting word, in that I never hear it except in the phrase "slow on the UPTAKE." Though it's clued properly enough (48D: Mental grasp), it's weird to see it isolated like this.

I liked two of the long non-theme answers: CHIP SHOTS (10D: Lofted approaches to the green) and MEAT PIES (41D: Pastries in "Sweeney Todd") - I think the "Sweeney Todd" pastries are filled with ... people meat. The only answer in the grid I'd never seen before is KIROV (29D: Russian ballet company). I am notorious pathetic when it comes to ballet questions. Luckily, they are fairly rare. Finally, it was nice to see Téa LEONI (28D: Téa of "Spanglish") in the puzzle, first because I sort of like her as an actress, and second because she was fresh on my mind - NPR did an interview with her husband, David Duchovny (of "X-Files" fame) only last week, and her name came up. One of the PERKs (66A: Use of a company car or private washroom, say) of listening to public radio is that occasionally the information comes in very handy, puzzle-wise.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Aug. 20, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Trios of rhyme - theme answers are all famous trios from nursery rhyme and song

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Fortune-seeking trio (Little Pigs)
  • 11D: Trio at sea (Men in a Tub)
  • 36A: Grass-eating trio (Billy Goats Gruff)
  • 33D: Trio on the run (Blind Mice)
  • 57A: Gift-giver's trio (French Hens)

Which of these theme answers is not like the other? Which of these five just doesn't belong? Answer below.

This puzzle is weird. Fun, but strange. The theme does not hold together very well, for two reasons. First, none of the trios is clued in relation to what they are best known for, or they are clued so vaguely that the correct answer does not jump to mind. A little difficulty is fine, but ... when I think of the three LITTLE PIGS, the first thing I think of is the wolf trying to blow their house(s) down, not the fact that the pigs are "fortune-seeking." And the BILLY GOATS GRUFF are clued in relation to the fact that they eat grass?! That's pretty weak. But the bigger problem here is with one answer: FRENCH HENS. All the other answers are from children's songs or rhymes, but those HENS are from "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which is a carol for everyone. Moreover, the HENS are not anthropomorphized in said carol, while all the other featured TRIOS are people (the MEN IN A TUB) or people-like animals. Lastly, and most importantly, all the other TRIOS are CENTRAL to their rhymes - the rhymes are ABOUT them. But the HENS? They are only one of twelve gifts, and they don't even DO anything. Which of these theme answers is not like the others? The answer is FRENCH HENS.

Three of the four long non-theme answers here are really good, in that they are colorful and I needed more than a couple of crosses to get them. 9D: Peaceful interludes (respites) tricked me because "peaceful" seems an extreme way to describe RESPITES, which I think of as mere lulls. But it's accurate enough, so fine. I had the GLI- in 38D: Minor hang-ups (glitches) and still had to go fishing for other crosses before it came to me. Lastly (or firstly, if we're talking about the order in which I actually solved them), there's MALARKEY, which is a hell of a word to try to uncover with only a few crosses. I don't normally think of MALARKEY (5D: "Nonsense!") as an exclamation the way "Nonsense!" is. "That's a bunch of MALARKEY." So there's a lot of slant cluing going on here, but it's not over the line.

The longer Across answers were pretty sweet too, with three of them being two-word phrases and the last being a titter-inducing lake I remember from 7th grade Geography. 24A: Hits the roof (sees red) goes nicely with 43A: Pedestrian's intersection warning ("Don't Walk"), as the pedestrian who sees a DON'T WALK sign literally SEES RED. SAT DOWN (48A: Took a load off one's feet) is nice insofar as it crosses SANTA (48D: December list keeper), and one might sit down on SANTA's lap. And what's not to love about Lake TITICACA (28A: Peru-Bolivia border lake)?

I'm not fond of WANLY as it's clued (50D: In a weak manner), not because it's a bad clue, but just because I'd never ever say WANLY. When I think WAN, I think pale, and even if I were describing something or someone pale, I probably wouldn't use WAN unless I were being deliberately hyperbolic or old-fashioned. I'd use ASHEN before WAN. Not a fan of WAN and its related word forms - that's what I'm telling you here in these words that I am somehow writing a lot of. Also not fond of the way that NARC is clued (54A: War on drugs fighter). That overly politicizes what a NARC does. Even to describe drug-law enforcement as part of the "War on Drugs" (a phrase that didn't exist before the sloganeering of the Reagan administration, as far as I know) is to put the activity into the stupid and ineffectual language of politicians who have done nothing but FAIL to deal very successfully with America's drug problem. I think the "War on Drugs" was the first fine-sounding but theoretically eternal and unwinnable "war" that we as a country declared. I think Reagan also invented the idea of a Drug Czar. Czar? Of all the titles we could adopt. Criminy. I can only pray that we have better luck with the so-called "War on Terror." All I'm saying is that if you frame matters in terms of war, then you better have a realistic and compelling vision of how to win and what winning looks like. Otherwise ... try another metaphor. If OBAMA (14A: Politician who wrote "The Audacity of Hope") gets elected, maybe he'll have some fresh ideas. Until then (and perhaps long after), constructors will happily continue to welcome him into their puzzles, as his name is a sweet new five-letter combo never-before-seen in CrossWorld.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Aug. 19, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Buried Treasure" - symbol for gold (AU) is inserted in squares around the grid; these "AU" squares, when connected, form the outline of a "heart" - 26A: With 113-Across, 1972 song lyric hinting at this puzzle's theme ("I've been a miner for a / heart of gold")

[In the printed grid, right, "$" = AU]

A very clever, multi-layered theme. I feel very fortunate to have figured out the theme almost immediately. Had the I'VE B part of 26A, then started getting annoyed at what seemed to be some messed-up, variant spelling at 33A: Scene (tableAU) - what did they want, TABLET? TABLEU? Then noticed that the cross - 27D: Lover boy (beAU) - needed an AU too - knew that AU = gold, looked back at I'VE B and filled the rest of it in instantly. Thrilled to see that it all fit. Even with that big head start, I found challenging pockets. it's a weirdly shaped grid - it doesn't have rotational symmetry and you can't get at the center except from underneath (much trouble in the upper-center region - more on that later). After complaining about people's apparent ignorance of Steffi Graf yesterday, I got floored by not one but two female sports star clues today - one of them clued in relation to 1988, just as the GRAF clue was. Karma. Luckily, I guessed both their names correctly.

  • 44A: Kristin _____, six-time swimming champion at the 1988 Olympics (Otto)
  • 120A: Tennis player Smashnova (Anna) - that's an insanely good name for a tennis player, but ... a pretty long way to go for ANNA.

The GOLD answers:

  • 28D: Overseas Mrs. (FrAU)
  • 36A: Victorians (AUssies)
  • 39A: Outdoor shindigs (luAUs)
  • 34D: Letters from Greece (tAUs)
  • 41A: "Your mother wears army boots!," e.g. (tAUnt)
  • 35D: Mideast's House of _____ (Pancakes ... I mean SAUd)
  • 58A: "Homage to Clio" (AUden)
  • 58D: Author who wrote "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other" (AUsten) - I love love love the AUsten/AUden literary meeting of minds here; clever
  • 59A: Some shavers (BrAUns)
  • 54D: Extol (lAUd)
  • 61A: Pianist Claudio (ArrAU) - if he weren't in the crossword fairly frequently, he'd have given me fits
  • 77A: Child-care provider (AU pair)
  • 77D: Sound (AUdio) - I had ECHO here at first, not realizing it involved a theme square
  • 79A: Capital city about an hour by plane from Miami (NassAU)
  • 97A: European air hub (De GAUlle)
  • 100D: Park Avenue, for one (AUto) - constructors like to throw this make at you because it's got built-in misdirection

I'm tired, so I will discuss just a few thorny parts.

I had a nice little blank 3x3 square in the upper heart of this puzzle for a while. I knew AU went in there somewhere, but at first I tried to put it too high - second square in 53A: First Shia imam (Ali). Turns out it went one square down - in BRAUNS. Did not think -INI (55D: Magician's name suffix) was really a suffix. Is HOUD- a root word? And ARA (53D: Constellation near Scorpius) is always the last constellation I think of, in that I don't think of it ever.

Waiting for my wife to finish puzzle so she can explain 36A: Victorians, e.g. (AUssies) to me. Oh, I think I just got it. There must be a place name in Australia named Victoria ...? I hope so. Had no idea what MELANITES were (17D: Deep black garnets) - some kind of stone, it seems. MELANITES intersected with OTTO (above) at the "T," so I was guessing there.

Oh, I should note that the Neil Young aspect of this puzzle is continued in two more long, symmetrical answers in the SE and SW of the grid:

  • 68D: Atomic number of the special parts of this puzzle which, when connected, form a 113-Across (seventy-nine)
  • 64D: Like 113-Across (by Neil Young) - that one threw me at first because I had BYNEI and thought "what the hell sort of word is that?"
Finally, some tricky names:

  • 11D: Missy _____ with the 2002 hit "Work It" (Elliott) - gimme for me, though I didn't know she had the double-L and double-T version of this last name.
  • 10D: Bill who created the comic strip "Smokey Stover" (Holman) - I will confess that I've never heard of this guy.
  • 74A: "The Baptism of Christ" painter _____ della Francesca (Piero) - I'm semi-proud of guessing this off just the "P," figuring that PIERO was the most likely Italian name to go there.
  • 40D: German-born Hollywood actor _____ Keir (Udo) - wow, now that's a name. I'm sure I've seen the name before, but he's not registering.
  • 66D: 1954 Jean Simmons movie ("Desiree") - GENE Simmons has a reality show on VH1 now.
  • 43D: Author Janowitz (Tama) - she used to appear with far greater frequency than she does now. Her name is crossword AU, but quickly became crosswordese, I think, and is now avoided if possible (like her writing - just kidding! never read it).

The other reason ANNA Smashnova was so hard for me was because I figured she must have a far crazier name than ANNA (see Orange's frequent assertion that if the person seems uncommon, the name is probably uncommon as well - not so in this case). So I had AN-A and the Down cross was NOT helping - 104D: French department in Picardy (Aisne) - is "department" a geographical place? Yes, a department is sort of like a county, apparently. Seven years of French and I can't make sense of a simple clue like this. Ugh.

Good night

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Aug. 18, 2007 - Jim Page

Friday, August 17, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Choppy waters here, but I managed to sail through, eventually. I think yesterday's puzzle was actually harder, though I have no empirical evidence. Just my gut. I learned a new word today: REVET (20A: Face with stone). That was one of two places in the puzzle where I just had to cross my fingers and hope I had a word. The other place was in the SE, where the cluing on 41D: As yet uncollected for (owed on) was so awkward that I couldn't figure out what type of phrase could go there for a long while, and thus two crosses, 40A: Relatives of pollocks (cods) and 46A: High-tech surveillance acronym (AWACS) had holes in them for a while. Never heard of a "pollock" or AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System).

Had LANDED for CAMPED (6A: Settled down securely), but because of the correct "A" and "E" I got my first toehold with ACS (7D: Filter holders, briefly) and EVERYONE (10D: Who's a critic?). I am not thrilled with the annoyingly prefixed 14A: Do further work on a bird? (recarve) and 9D: Give shades to in advance (precolor), but most of the other fill in the puzzle was good to very good. Took me Way too long to get ASPCA (1A: Adoption option: Abbr.), but once I did, the NW fell pretty quickly. The really tricky answer for me up there was 4D: Water fleas, barnacles, etc. (crustacea), which I could not see without that initial "C" from ASPCA. After I got the "U" from CORRUGATED STEEL (15A: Construction material), I confidently wrote in AQUAFAUNA, thinking, "Wow, what a fantastic word." Another fantastic word that is actually a word, and actually in the puzzle: HEPTADS (35D: Water polo teams, e.g.).

SAMISEN (13D: Banjolike Japanese instrument) is one of those words I've seen before but couldn't recall, and probably won't be able to recall in the future. I saw a woman play a Chinese banjolike instrument earlier this year. It was called a PIPA. There's lots of crosswordese in the puzzle, but it's all so trickily clued that it doesn't feel so tired:

  • ACRE (19A: Parcel part)
  • SERA (23A: Hospital supplies - that one's not so tricky)
  • STOA (24A: Feature of some classical architecture - that one isn't either)
  • ALOE (clued viciously as 26A: Fragrant heartwood ... ??)
  • ELSA (not the lion, but 37A: Actress Pataky)
  • STET (47D: Galley countermand)
  • SI SI (49A: "You betcha, Bartolomé")

Today's weird name of the day goes to ABRA (25D: Julie Harris's "East of Eden" role), narrowly edging out DUZ (52D: Old washday choice). LEIFS (39D: Conductor Segerstam and novelist Enger) and HOYT (22A: Waite _____, Hall-of-Fame Yankees pitcher) finished a distant third and fourth, respectively. Cute pair of twin clues today in 34D: Thighs may be displayed in it (erotica) and 33D: Thighs may be displayed in it (meat case). I'll take the former thigh display any day.

My wife does not like it when people mimic her accent, but occasionally I like to parody all pseudo-British accents, and that parody will usually involve some version of 38A: Cockney greeting ('ello), possibly followed by "guv'nuh." 35A: Writ introduction? (habeas) was a cute gimme. Less cute, but no less a gimme, was 50A: "_____ Work" (George F. Will best seller) ("Men at") - I own that book, though (as with many of my books) haven't read it.

My old DATSUN was decidedly not a "roadster," so I have no idea what 54A: Some bygone roadsters is thinking of. Unless "roadster" is being used Very Generically. My DATSUN also did not have TINTED GLASS (16D: Auto option).

There were at least five film clues today, including 5D: Lee of Hollywood (Ang), 8D: 1932 Garbo title role (Mata Hari), that ELSA woman (see above), 31D: Eastwood played him in five films (Callahan, aka Dirty Harry), and, possibly, EROTICA (also above). Oh, and the nicely clued OFF CAMERA (30D: So as to avoid getting shot).

The DANUBE (42D: It rises in the Black Forest) was easy to get with a couple crosses, but SANER (57A: Less like a yo-yo), for some reason, was not. Did not know 27A: James Bay native (Cree), but pieced it together - that's pretty rough cluing, as the clue suggests Nothing about Native Americans. Doesn't get more Anglo-sounding than "James Bay" (located in Canada). Not much else to say except that I was strangely proud of myself for getting SCALAR (43D: Graduated) off of just the "R" and BORONS (29A: Five atoms in a ulexite molecule) off of just the "N." What an anticlimactic way to end the entry. O well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Pop Sensation has been updated, with many new scans from my vintage paperback collection

PPS It's Saturday morning now, 8:46am, and Google Trends tells me that tons of folks are searching for Steffi GRAF (36A: 1988 tennis Grand Slam winner) today. My god, there is no predicting you people. She's only one of the winningest woman in women's tennis history. At least two different authorities ranked her as the greatest female player of the 20th century (I'd dispute that - Martina was greater, but still, GRAF was undeniably Great). In fact, GRAF's 22 Grand Slam singles titles is second place all time, man or woman, behind only Margaret Court. She's married to Andre Agassi. 1988 isn't that long ago. Why don't people know her!?

You know I hate when people ask, usually smugly, "how could anyone not know that?" - and yet... never even to have heard of GRAF's name!? To resort to Googling?! Actually, I've been amazed at how many of my most popular searches are for 3-and 4-letter words. It's like ... people just want a little boost. One of yesterday's big winners was RICO, for instance. Being able to see how people search is a really interesting window into the nation's puzzle-solving habits.


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