MONDAY, Mar. 31, 2008 - Jeff Armstrong (Actor and rockabilly crooner Chris)

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Relative difficulty: Eeeeeasy

THEME: AIR (36A: Word that can precede each half of the answer to each of the eight starred clues)

This was my fastest puzzle completion time ever, twenty seconds faster than my previous record. I have no idea what just happened. When I finished and saw the timer at 2:48, I think I jumped out of my chair and did a little dance. I don't really remember. About midway through solving, I just had this gut feeling that I was going to break 3 if I didn't completely stall out on an answer, and though I tripped and hesitated and typoed a few times, I finally did it. First time ever. Exhilarating. I know this was easier than most Mondays, but, I mean, I've never even done a Monday Newsday puzzle, let alone an NYT, in under 3, so even if we agree that this is the easiest puzzle that has ever existed since the dawn of time, I'm still thrilled.


How did this happen?

  1. All of the theme answers came instantly, for no good reason. Didn't need to know the theme - the phrases just leaped forth.
  2. Guessed OAFISH (5D: Like a lout) off just the "O," CRONE (6D: Hag) off just the "C," and virtually every other initial guess proved correct. For speed, I like to run consecutive Downs - 1, 2, 3, 4, for instance, or 25, 26, 27. The clues are all nicely grouped together, whereas if you try to solve all the Acrosses in a given section, your eye has to bounce around a lot trying to find the numbers. This may seem a trivial matter, but when speed counts, it is not.
  3. I did not spaz out the way I often do when I'm racing. I typed fairly deliberately. Quickly, but methodically. After it took me about five passes to type OCTET correctly (5A: Group of eight musicians), I settled down and made few if any typing errors from there on out.
  4. I survived a horrid NE, where I did not get PLOT (10A: Underhanded plan) at first pass, and then had a true blank-out moment where 22A: Quenched (slaked) meets 19D: Scratch on a diamond, e.g. (flaw). I could not figure out what the latter clue was going for at all, and I had written in SOAKED, in desperation, for the former. Thankfully, FOAW was obviously wrong, so I didn't leave it behind but fixed it immediately.
  5. I managed to avoid my late-game fumbling. Ended in the SW where 47, 48, and 49D went down bam bam bam.
Theme answers:

  • 18A: *Sci-fi barrier (force field)
  • 20A: *Newspaper article lead-in (dateline) - it's back! Twice in a week. Weird.
  • 28A: *When the curtain goes up (show time)
  • 41A: *Wrestling move that puts an arm around someone's neck (headlock)
  • 50A: *Secret communication location (mail drop) - this was the toughest one for me, as I wasn't quite sure what was so "secret" about a place you DROP MAIL, but ... it sounded right, so I went with it.
  • 54A: *Mars Pathfinder, for one (space craft)
  • 4D: *Diamond game (baseball)
  • 37D: *Indy 500 venue (speedway) - this really really spoils an otherwise FLAWless theme - let's see if you can guess why...

What else is there? Good question:

  • 1A: Sea creature that sidles (crab) - perfect clue
  • 14A: Greeting in Granada (hola) - hesitated once because I read "Granada" as "Canada," then hesitated again as I blanked on where the hell Granada was.
  • 24A: Martial artist Jackie (Chan) - I highly recommend "Rumble in the Bronx," which I have very fond memories of seeing in the Mall of America with my bestest grad-school-era friends.
  • 46A: Corduroy ridge (wale) - something about this word has always bugged me. WAIL, WHALE, those are good words. WALE is some kind of abomination. Why did a [Corduroy ridge] ever need its own name? And it's a bit creepy to give the corduroy ridge the name WALE when its primary definition is "a mark on the skin, as by a whip; a weal or welt." Further, with WEAL already there, why did anyone need WALE? And WEAL is weird because it also means "prosperity" and "happiness," or "welfare" (e.g. "common weal"). That's one sadomasochistic word circle they got going there at Merriam-Webster or whoever makes this @#$# up.
  • 58A: Western flick, in old lingo (oater) - did you really need "in old lingo?" You know OATER, or you don't know OATER. "In old lingo" isn't helping anyone.
  • 61A: One of a reporter's five W's (where) - along with WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHY ... not sure what happened to HOW.
  • 2D: Capital of Italia (Roma) - at least the answer wasn't EURO, ugh.
  • 28D: Move with one's tail between one's legs (slink) - my dog will do this when she thinks she is in trouble or when she is told to go "out of the kitchen" (an actual command).
  • 29D: Actor and rockabilly crooner Chris (Isaak) - I just like this clue, which feels ... decadent, somehow. I mean "rockabilly" and "crooner?" That's some fancy cluin'.
  • 30D: Three-card hustle (Monte) - always makes me think of MONTY Hall, who, as you can see, spells his name differently.
  • 42D: Business that may have gone boom then bust in the '90s (dot com) - cool phrase, and like CRAB before it, instantly gettable.
  • 46D: Eucharist disk (wafer) - something about "disk" feels a little too casual. It's not a frisbee (is it?).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SUNDAY, Mar. 30, 2008 - Paula Gamache (CLOSE OVERLAPPING OF FUGUE VOICES)

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Mixed Feelings" - sets of consecutive circled squares contain different feelings with their letters mixed up

Took me a while to get this theme. Had TOENAIL (in 23A) and couldn't imagine where the theme might be going, then got CASEYST (in 30A) and really had no clue. Finally got EPHO (in 52A), which was clearly a mixed-up version of HOPE, and then the meaning of the "Mixed Feelings" title became obvious. The theme is very inventive, and there's a great variety of feelings represented here. I am especially fond of the fact that the "feeling" of LUST comes from SLUT, which comes from the greatest name (puzzle-wise) in the grid: SLUTSKAYA (68A: Champion figure skater Irina). I had a bit of trouble near the corner of AKEEM (45A: Prince _____, Eddie Murphy film role) and BEDROOM EYES (14D: Come-hither look), where FRED (29A: Scrooge's nephew in "A Christmas Carol") was unknown to me and FRIENDS (29D: Top-rated TV series of 2001-02) refused to come forth (despite my having seen many, many episodes). Oh yeah, DYE VAT (60A: Textile factory fixture) is over there too - one of my least favorite entries in the grid. Yuck. I had the -VAT part and actually wrote in CRAVAT at one point. Thankfully, there were only a few other way-out words like that (most notably ARARA - 85D: Amazon parrot). So I alternated between enjoying and not so much enjoying the puzzle.

The low point for me was hitting the puzzle's center and getting the (to my mind) terrible theme answer PSY (64D: Subj. that deals with mixed feelings). Do you mean PSYCH? Because PSY is ... I'm sure it's acceptable somewhere, but you mean PSYCH. Everyone abbreviates PSYCHOLOGY as PSYCH. I'm not taking PSY 101, I'm taking PSYCH (speaking of 101, see 5A: 101 in a course name (basic)). This puzzle has an overfondness for abbreviations, many of them kind of groan-inducing.

  • PSY (groan, for sure)
  • ANIM (1A: Lively, in mus.)
  • RPTS (129A: Sch. research papers)
  • OGPU (113A: K.G.B. predecessor) - ?! say it out loud, and it sounds like how I feel about it
  • TRAG (70D: "King Lear" or "Hamlet": Abbr.)
  • APPROX (101D: Estimated: Abbr.) - you could write the whole of ABOUT in fewer letters
  • SGT (116D: Badge holder: Abbr.)

I'm sure there are more, but I don't care to hunt them down.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: Pedicurist's need (TOENAIL clippers) => ELATION
  • 14D: Come-hither look (BEDROOM eyes) => BOREDOM
  • 30A: Wearer of #37, retired by both the Yankees and the Mets (CASEY STengel) => ECSTASY
  • 52A: Whispering party game (telEPHOne) => HOPE
  • 68A: Champion figure skater Irina (SLUTskaya) => LUST
  • 16D: Protective mailer (padded enVELOpe) => LOVE
  • 67D: Bearing nothing (EMPTY-HAnded) => EMPATHY
  • 50D: Some business attire (pin-stRIPED suit) => PRIDE
  • 88A: Manual transmission position (third GEAR) => RAGE
  • 109A: Kitchen implement used with a little muscle (potato MASHEr) => SHAME
  • 118A: Bats, balls, gloves, etc. (sports EQUIPment) => PIQUE
There was a wicked triad of Downs in the SE (at least I thought they were wicked, or wickedish): ISOMER (103D: Chemical cousin) next to SHLEPP (104D: Lug: Var.) next to TELNET (105D: Online protocol for remote log-in). These were all made somewhat harder by the non-transparency of the very farthest Across answers in the SE: EPEE (125A: Blade of Grasse) and RPTS. That [Blade of Grasse] clue was oddly vicious, and I only figured it out after spelling and respelling SHLEPP a number of ways. Started with SCHLEP. Why would you need a second "P"?!

Lots of EZ stuff today, including:

  • 19A: Literature Nobelist Morrison (Toni)
  • 22A: Serengeti grazer (eland) - your most common African antelope, crosswordwise
  • 56A: Holiday celebrating deliverance from Haman (Purim) - only EZ because of my having tanked HAMAN in a previous puzzle
  • 2D: Writer Peggy known for the phrase "a kinder, gentler nation" (Noonan) - was that Bush I? Yes.
  • 4D: Stately dance with short steps (minuet)
  • 49D: "Star Trek: T.N.G." counselor Deanna (Troi) - a crossword staple. Too bad I never saw this clue.

I really liked that ADAM and EVE and EDEN all made it into the puzzle. I start teaching Paradise Lost on Tuesday, so this is a good way to start the week. Gets me in the Sinning / Falling mood. Ooh, and then there's EPIC (86A: DeMille output), of which PL certainly is one. Satan is the MVP (93A: big shot after making a big shot, maybe: Abbr.) of PL, but sadly he's not in this puzzle.



Odds and ends:

  • 10A: "Little _____ in Slumblerland" (pioneering comic strip) - I know I mention Little NEMO every time he comes up, but I can't help it. I love Winsor McCay's work so much.
  • 43A: Close overlapping of fugue voices (stretto) - the one word I really wasn't sure about in this puzzle. Had me second-guessing GOT 'EM (33D: "They're in my hot little hands!") and PHENOL (25D: Carbolic acid).
  • 39A: Relating to flight technology (avionic) - ouch, not a word I've seen before. I guessed AVIATIC at some point.
  • 95A: Peter Shaffer play based on the lives of Mozart and Salieri ("Amadeus") - was unaware this was a play.
  • 100A: Like sugar vis-a-vis Equal (natural) - good clue. I wanted a comparative adjective here.
  • 124A: Annie of "Ghostbusters" (Potts) - goes nicely with AKEEM (From "Coming to America"), in that it takes me back to the 80s, when I actually used to go to the movies. See also 24D: Milano of "Who's the Boss?" (Alyssa).
  • 10D: Port west of Monte Vesuvio (Napoli) - so proud to guess this off just the "N." I feel as if this word has been in the puzzle at least three times now since I started blogging, which seems ... high, for a 6-letter Italian place name.
  • 32D: Capone henchman (Nitti) - I routinely forget this guy's name, which sucks for me, as he's in the puzzle not infrequently. I want to call him VITTI. Why?
  • 35D: BlackBerry rival (Treo) - I will expect to see this more and more if it remains a viable brand.
  • 36D: Land of Ephesus (Ionia) - had the IO-, guessed the rest. In puzzles, it's a not uncommon Greek place name.
  • 40D: Heads in the Pantheon? (capita) - Had this ending in "S," even after SLUTSKAYA made that impossible. Had never heard of CAPITS and was very grumbly, until I caught my misspelling of SLUTSKAYA.
  • 69D: Japanese eel and rice dish (unadon) - great-looking word. Surprised I couldn't get this. I thought my sushi vocabulary was pretty strong. [UNADON is not sushi - it's a rice bowl with grilled eel. Rice bowl = donburi. Hey, I used to live in Danbury.]
  • 79D: Classic Dana fragrance for women (Tabu) - Would have been much harder if I'd had to name TABU's maker (Dana!?).
  • 81D: Representations of a winged woman holding an atom (Emmys) - so that's what that is. Cool.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SATURDAY, Mar. 29, 2008 - Mike Nothnagel (NEIGHBOR OF TELESCOPIUM)


Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

Theme: none

The cluing was very tricky in places, but this puzzle may be the first Saturday I've ever encountered without a single word / phrase / person I didn't know (or at least know of). Now, granted, I "know" some of them only because I've been doing crosswords in such an obsessive fashion for the past year and a half. Before 2006, I'd have been surprised by such answers as:

  • B-STAR (48D: Rigel or Spica) - would have known the STAR part, but the letter part - no.
  • RAMSES II (30A: Son and successor of Seti I) - would have known the RAMSES part, maybe, with crosses, but the II part - no. Oh, and I just learned from this clue that "Seti I" is not Set II"
  • RENEE (21A: Ally's roommate on "Ally McBeal") - see, this is Mike Nothnagel deliberately @#$#ing with me. Thankfully, RENEE was an answer I'd seen before - one of the answers that set me off that one time I freaked out about this stupid TV show (see sidebar, under "Important Posts").
  • REPROS (45D: Dupes) - this meaning of "dupe" would have been unknown to me. Even today, I had to wrestle with REPROS, asking me wife how a RETRO could be a DUPE ...

In fact, there's very little else that's even close to being obscure (except perhaps a particular sports clue, which I will get to in a sec). The cluing on OSE was rough (32A: Relative of -ish) - in fact, I still don't see how that's possible - as was the cluing on ADZE (19A: It might help you dress in a shop) ("Excuse me, miss, do you have this in another size?" "No, but ... here's an ADZE. See if that helps."). But otherwise, this is really a Friday puzzle dressed in Saturday clothes. A good, solid, fun puzzle, but without the occasional insane patches that typically define a Saturday.

Update: I spoke too soon. I do not in fact know what ARA is (47A: Neighbor of Telescopium), unless it's the altar constellation ... and it is. Never mind. [The way the clue reads, I figured the answer would be an element of the periodic table.]

Started in the NW and was shocked to find it so tractable. After misspelling Michelle WIE's name a few times (5D: Youngest golfer ever to win a U.S.G.A. adult event (age 13)), I finally put the answers together. The answer that really cracked it was the clever HARD TIME (3D: It's done in the slammer). Got blocked at the corner of SARAH and WHIZ KID (23A: Small wonder?) - the latter being the problem - and so made my way out of the NW via the mericifully easy SWEATING BULLETS (34A: Very worried). Had the SWE- and that was plenty. I found it very hard to cross the BUZZ LIGHTYEAR line that divided this puzzle in half (15D: Cinematic captain of Star Command). Had GOTH for GLAM (28A: Kind of rock), didn't know ADZE or WHIZ KID, and so had only patchy parts of BUZZ's name (and neither of the Zs). Finally had the simple, complete word LIGHT staring at me, and even that didn't help. I think it took getting in the NE and getting the front end of BUZZ before the answer became obvious. I know the SW was the last to fall, despite the fact that I was in there very early simply because my eye caught the clue 61A: Children's Bargain Town, today and I knew (without really "knowing") that the answer was TOYS 'R' US. This answer is surprising, given that Mike Nothnagel's occasional partner in crime, David Quarfoot, had TOYSRUSKID as a showy 1A answer not that long ago (some time last year). So, though the answer is lovely - points off!

Assorted goodness:

  • 1A: Scornful dismissals (pshaws) - an expression that will forever remind me of my mother, whose accent, speech pattern, and vocabulary make her entirely unplaceable. "You look kinda Native American but you sound kinda British ..." A woman actually said to my mom once: "Are you ... from somewhere?"
  • 7A: Cause of temporary blindness (tear gas) - because MASTURBATION wouldn't fit.
  • 14A: Symptom of nervous system impairment (ataxia) - from Greek, meaning "lack of order," refers to lack of muscle coordination.
  • 15A: Linebacker Brian banned from the 1987 Orange Bowl for steroid use (Bosworth) - this guy. Ugh. Everything about him spelled disaster. As a lifelong Seattle Seahawks fan (yes, there are some), I was so disappointed when we acquired him, and he proved to be a total bust. I just remember Bo Jackson plowing over him, through him, dragging him along. Ugh. A total flash in the pan. The Vanilla Ice of the NFL (from roughly the same, culturally horrible time period as Vanilla Ice, i.e. when I was in college). PS BOSWORTH is much much bigger than I am and was a fantastic player in college, so if you're reading, Brian, please don't kill me.
  • 16A: Sports stats specification (career) - here are BOSWORTH's CAREER numbers:





YearAGETeamLGGPSKSFY
INTYDSLNGTD

TOTOWROPRYDSTD
198722SEA NFL 124.00
0000

002380
198823SEA NFL 100.00
0000

00100
198924SEA NFL 20.00
0000

00000
3 NFL Season Totals
244.00
0000

003380

  • 40A: Form of intimidation (hate mail) - I've gotten some of this ... mainly from one drunken kid in Iowa, but nonetheless, it's disconcerting.
  • 44A: Warholian (arty) - ARTY is usually used disparagingly (i.e. implying pretentiousness), so this doesn't seem very nice to Mr. Warhol.
  • 50A: 1/192 qt. (tsp) - I love this clue for some reason.
  • 53A: Cab opener? (pedi-) - wow, it's always the last place you look. I though "Cab" would be wine. Then taxi, which is closer, and yet not close enough. Abandoned this answer and got it all from crosses.
  • 59A: Caped combatant (toreador) - anyone else fall into the CRUSADER hole?
  • 1D: Indy sights since 1911 (pace cars) - an answer I've seen before. 1911!? That's a long time ago for car racing.
  • 4D: Lines on planes (axes) - yes, those planes, not the flying ones.
  • 6D: Grandmother of Jacob (Sarah) - OK, I know the Bible clues weren't hard today, but I was pretty proud of getting this answer and LUKE (54D: The prodigal son is found in it) without any effort.
  • 7D: Seat of Shawnee County (Topeka) - "Shawnee" sounds Deep South to me, so it took me until the TO- and final -A to get this.
  • 9D: In _____ (briefly) (a word) - I had SHORT, making TEAR GAS at 7A awfully hard to get.
  • 24D: Words said when one's hand is shaky? ("I'm out") - excellent. I hate poker, but excellent clue.
  • 51A: Point and click, e.g. (verbs) - [curse words aplenty]!
  • 41D: Gov. Lester Maddox walked off his show in 1970 (Cavett) - Wrote this in, then took it out because of CRUSADER (see 59A, ugh).
  • 49D: 1939 Wimbledon winner (Riggs) - he of the famous battle-of-the-sexes match with Billie Jean King.
  • 52D: Producers of some storage cells (bees) - great clue. Figuring this out helped me set everything straight in the SW, where CRUSADER ... well, you know already. I think the fact that The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (by David Hajdu) was sitting on my desk as I solved this definitely had something to do with my CRUSADER debacle.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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FRIDAY, Mar. 28, 2008 - Barry C. Silk (MAG FOUNDER OF 1953)

Friday, March 28, 2008


Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

We're having some kind of weather event here this morning, with wife having to go in to work but daughter on a two-hour delay, so she's home with me for the first part of the morning. Thankfully, she is self-amusing enough to allow me time to do my write-up. I think she is downstairs now reading a 25 year old book from the library called "The Computer that Said 'Steal Me'" or something like that, complete with the hilariously dated picture of a circa 1982 "computer" on the cover, and a kid who looks suspiciously like I looked circa 1982. At any rate, I can't neglect her completely, so I am going to dash this off a bit faster than I might normally.


There's a solidity, consistency, and professionalism to a Barry Silk puzzle that I really admire. His name on a puzzle is a virtual guarantee of no crap (craplessness?). His puzzles aren't as flashy as some of his late-week counterparts, but they are smooth in a way that few other constructors can match. Today's puzzle was not particularly challenging, but it's lovely nonetheless. I especially like that the alliteration in the long answers that weren't part of the NW or SE blocks:

  • SOFT PRETZEL (20A: Stadium snack) crosses
  • SWAP MEET (8D: Cousin of a flea market)

while, in symmetrical positions...

  • SOUTH PHILLY (51A: Where to order a cheesesteak "wit" or "witout") crosses
  • SIXTH MAN (38D: Best substitute on the court)

And those crosses are separated by the twin sentinels of ...

  • NEED A NAP (34A: Drag during the day?) and
  • NEUROSIS (40A: Part of some complexes)

NEED A NAP is perhaps my least favorite entry of the day, though its daring almost makes up for its nuttiness. The only other answer I grumbled at was AT THE SCENE (1D: Where it's happening). I wanted AT THE ZOO. At what SCENE? A "SCENE" can be said to be "happening," but ... something about this just seems off.

This puzzle began very easily. Put in the -ER on 8A: Not as consequential (smaller) right away, which provided the first "E" in ETTE (13D: Major conclusion?), which gave me the only letter ("T") I needed to get WEBSITE (16A: A mouse may help you get there). ATLANTA (18A: Setting for TV's "Matlock") was a gimme because of an earlier, much searched clue about "Matlock" from over a year ago that forever etched in my brain the fact that that show was set in ATLANTA. The whole NE fell from there. Needed a bit of help rounding the corner into the SE (with NEED A NAP being the main stumbling block), but once I got around, it was smooth sailing all the way, counterclockwise, around to the SW, where I hit my first little spot of trouble. Had ROSARIO where ROSALIA (60A: Patron saint of Palermo) was supposed to be, and thus was sure that 47D: Whippersnapper (whelp) was TWERP. Eventually SOUTH PHILLY became undeniable, and I corrected my mistakes, somehow blowing right through EPPIE (48D: "Silas Marner" girl), which could easily have given me trouble in other contexts.

My last stand was in the NW, where, ironically, my trouble lay not with the insane-looking QUONSET HUT (3D: W.W. II shelter), but with the very basic COMES LATER (2D: Follows). I pulled QUONSET HUT out of my ... god knows where. Had the QUON- part and despite my being unable to picture the HUT in question, that term came leaping forth from the back of my head (though I spelled it QUONSIT at first). But I had COMES AFTER instead of COMES LATER. Needed ADHERE (23D: Be glued (to)) to give me the "H" that made CATHAY (32A: _____ Pacific) obvious, which in turn invalidated COMES AFTER. Then, despite the ugly / wrong-looking ETHENES (37A: Petroleum gases), I finished off the NW with little sweat.

Highlights:

  • 15A: What seeds may be found in (tourney) - love it. It's NCAA TOURNEY time, so this answer may have been more obvious today than it would have been, say, two months ago.
  • 19A: Layer that scratches (hen) - weirdly, whenever I see "layer" the first thing I think of is HEN. It's a crossword thing, kind of like how when I see "flower" I think RIVER.
  • 22A: She, overseas (essa) - it was that or ELLA.
  • 27A: _____ Highway, old auto route from New York City to San Francisco (Lee) - neeeeever heard of it. Does it still exist? If so, I want to drive it. Hmm, seems it was named after Robert E. Lee and is now only semi-reenactable via major US routes.
  • 39A: Legalese adverb (thereto) - wanted THEREBY, but it didn't feel legalesey enough.
  • 42A: Person lifting (swiper) - "SWIPER! No swiping!"
  • 43A: "Symphony in Black" artist (Erte) - I will forever associate this with ... my optometrist's office. A bunch of ERTE prints, including this one, hang on the wall in the exam room.
  • 46A: Comics canine (Snert) - from "Hagar the Horrible" - third-string comics crossword dog, behind ODIE and OTTO.
  • 47A: Symbol of limpness (wet rag) - wanted only DISH RAG, so those first three letters proved elusive. For a few seconds, anyway.
  • 57A: Six bells, nautically (three pm) - crosswords have taught me that "bells" = manner of time-telling, nautically. For that, I thank them, though I cannot see said knowledge ever coming in handy in any non-crossword situation I might find myself in.
  • 58A: Reprimand lead-in ("See here..."). Here's what I hear in my head when I hear think of this phrase: "Now SEE HERE my good man ..." Yes, in my brain, it's always spoken by an uptight Englishman. Not sure why.
  • 9D: Reading rhythm (metre) - Reading = place in England (and a Monopoly railroad, btw).
  • 11D: Its scores range from 120 to 180: Abbr. (LSAT) - yeah, OK, if you're going to force LSAT on us yet again, why not tell us something about it. Good job.
  • 12D: Capital of Upper Austria (Linz) - me: "There's an Upper Austria now...?"
  • 14D: Coin on the Spanish main (real) - I really want to put an accent on top of that "e" ...
  • 21D: Ringleaders' nemeses (T-men) - from the time that Elliott Ness et al cracked down on corrupt circuses ...
  • 26D: Not loco (sano) - the "O" here threw me, as LOCO is very much in the English slang language, so I wasn't expecting Spanish parity in the answer. That is to say, I had SANE.
  • 28D: His #13 was retired in 2000 by the Miami Dolphins (Marino) - supergimme, especially for a Friday. That's a Monday clue. The number, year, and the team? For one of the most famous football players of the past quarter century?
  • 29D: How much of genius is inspiration, according to Edison (one percent) - super easy, but very nice cluing nonetheless.
  • 30D: Like typhoid bacteria (water borne) - yuck. Had the WATER part, so the rest was easy.
  • 35D: Lukewarm reviews (ehs) - yes, that is my exact review for this answer, coincidentally. EH is what an old codger says to someone he can't hear.
  • 41D: Bandar _____ Begawan, capital of Brunei (Seri) - no way in heckfire. Needed all the crosses.
  • 51D: Orch. sections (strs) - ooh, eek, ack. No. I mean, yes, it's legal, but no. Why the "s" on the end? Is STR going to be confused with something else?
  • 59D: Mag founder of 1953 (Hef) - naked ladies! I mean ... good clue (seriously, "Mag" in the clue for HEF in the answer is a nice equivalency)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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THURSDAY, Mar. 27, 2008 - Joe Krozel (Cary Grant played a male one in 1949)

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: CRANE (49D: Word defined by 20-, 36- and 51-Across)

Note to the good people at the NYT puzzle website: it's bad enough that I have to wait until 10pm to get my puzzle (one hour earlier would be so much more humane and would make a huge difference in my blogging life). But I accept that that's the way of the world, or at least how you do business. But at 10:01, I want my puzzle. Last night, while the people solving in the applet had their puzzle right away, schmucks like me who like to print out their puzzles and solve them in bed, had to wait, and wait, and wait for the AcrossLite version. OK, so I had to wait only 15 minutes, but at bedtime, 15 minutes is a long time. Between waiting and solving and marking up the puzzle, I got to sleep late, and so woke up late, and so am only just now starting this entry and it's after 8 am. Of course, I could have foregone this entire first paragraph and just dived right in, thus making up for lost time, but that would have been logical and sensible and thus very unlike me. Lesson: make AcrossLite version of puzzle available on time. And consider backing up the release time an hour or so on weekdays.

And now - the puzzle. It was fine. Minor troubles in the NE and SW, but otherwise, pretty easy. The CRANE theme, which I got right away from having the STRETCH part of STRETCH ONE'S NECK in place, was interesting. Cool that there are 3 15-letter answers that work. I was looking for the building-crushing type of CRANE at 36A, and was completely (and pleasantly) surprised to see NOVELIST STEPHEN standing there. I knew the last CRANE was a BIRD (not because of ESP, but because I actually had BIRD in place), and a few well-placed crosses gave me the LARGE WADING part. Done and done.

The theme was not the puzzle's main area of interest, at least not for me. I think the marquee clue / answer of the day is 11D: Hard to take? (camera shy). Not only is that a very clever clue, but CAMERASHY is really really hard to parse with only a smattering of crosses in place. Somehow, the fact that it ended in "Y" made me think I was dealing with an adjective, and just one word, not two. My missing crosses were

  • RARE (16A: Bloody, so to speak) - had the -RE, could think only of DIRE (and why does this clue have "so to speak"? Does the red in RARE steak really have nothing to do with blood? Is this another occasion where science types are going to write me en masse, ridiculing the lacunae in my education?)
  • OUR (23A: Certain prayer starter) - obvious, in retrospect, but the only three-letter words I could think of were NOW (as in "Now I lay me...") and AVE.
  • BALLPARK (25A: Diamond setting) - good clue. Was thinking of a diamond ring.

Was also missing the "H" from NOVELIST STEPHEN at that point. So CAMERA SHY was a very serious, very admirable bump in my road. Why PRENUP (10D: Engagement agreement) eluded me for so long, I don't know. Maybe because PRENUP is an abbreviation, or at least a ... clipped form of a longer term. Or maybe I'm just making excuses.



Other fun / unfun stuff:

  • 6A: A good breakfast, but a bad supper, according to Francis Bacon (hope) - really wanted the answer to be BACON . . .
  • 10A: Dumpsite pollutants, for short (PCBs) - Hey, I got this right off, and it's ... kind of sciencey, right?
  • 15A: Robert of "The Sopranos" (Iler) - as crossword names go, this guy spends a lot of time on the bench, but when he comes off it, look out. He played Tony Soprano's son. I wanted ILES. Is there someone named ILES? Oh yes, a "New York Times Best Selling Author." A very crossworthy name.
  • 22A: Showy shrubs (azaleas) - yesterday we had FIGS, today, AZALEAS. Both of these could be found in my backyard when I was a kid. What's next, QUAILS?
  • 40A: It's often played before playing (anthem) - if it's NATIONAL, then sure.
  • 41A: Replies on the Enterprise (ayes) - part of me does not like this, the other part admires its supreme (rhyming) geekiness.
  • 42A: Cary Grant played a male one in 1949 (war bride) - "I Was a Male War Bride" - A Howard Hawks film starring Cary Grant, and I'd never (or barely) heard of it. That surprises / disturbs me.
  • 46A: "Donald's Cousin _____" (1939 Disney cartoon) ("Gus") - the "U" was a complete guess, as BUG OUT (43D: Leave in a hurry, slangily) means something completely different to me - something more like [Be astonished] - i.e. in a way that would make your eyes BUG OUT. I am astonished that GUS here is crossworthy. A single Disney cartoon? Well ... it is a good one. See it here.
  • 59A: Lead-in to meter (volt) - I'm just glad I knew WOVE (53D: Emulated Arachne), which had already given me the "V" here. In fact, I'm just glad I never actually saw this clue. VOLT is way way down the list of meter lead-ins I'd have considered.
  • 60A: Spain's Princess _____ (Elena) - Most other ELENAs of note appear to be Russian (or in the case of Elena Ceauşescu, Romanian).
  • 62A: Unlikely valentine swappers (exes) - great, great clue.
  • 63A: Skates on thin ice, e.g. (dares) - hmmm, these don't seem interchangeable to me, not easily anyway. "You're skating on thin ice, missy!" "You're daring ... missy!" Yeah, no.
  • 1D: Chip topper (salsa) - there must be more exciting ways to clue this.
  • 2D: Faint, in slang (plotz) - fabulous fill.
  • 3D: Commercial prefix with suede (ultra) - there appears to be a controversy at the Wikipedia entry for "ultrasuede," in that it is written "like an advertisement," so it's been flagged.
  • 4D: Start of many a story (dateline) - ugh. I had LOTSA instead of LOTTA (17A: Ton of) at first, and so had DASE... as my opening of this answer for a bit.
  • 9D: Marine eagle (erne) - CAW! This site's future mascot.
  • 19D: Wagner princess (Isolde) - as in "Tristan und..." The puzzle loves Wagner for some reason.
  • 27D: What "knock knock" may mean (let me in) - Didn't the Big Bad Wolf say this? Yes: ["Little pig, little pig, _____"]. That would have been a great clue. Or at least interesting.
  • 29D: Understands (kens) - ick ugh and uck.
  • 31D: Celebrated Sigmund Freud patient (Dora) - Joining Dumb DORA and DORA the Explorer as the world's most famous DORAs.
  • 32D: Oscar-winning song from "A Star Is Born" (Evergreen) - My parent/s must have listened to this in the 70s, because I know this song cold, against my will. A Streisand klassic.
  • 38D: Graph of the equation y = ax2 + bx + c (parabola) - Had the O-A at the end and got it no problem. Actual math skills not required.
  • 48D: Land that's more than 90% desert (Niger) - nearly wrote in NEGEV, but NEGEV is, entirely, a desert.
  • 52D: Black cuckoos (anis) - Old Skool. You gotta reach into the back of your crosswordese closet to find these guys. Tomorrow, look for ANOA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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WEDNESDAY, Mar. 26, 2008 - Michael Langwald (MAKESHIFT BOOKMARK)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Culinary puns - three celebrities (one living, two dead) have their last names turned into cooking-related puns

This theme is slightly confusing to me, in that the answers are clued as nouns, but the answers (if you read them as puns) are complete sentences. I get that FREY'S reads like a possessive but sounds like a verb ... but the pun doesn't change much of anything, I think that's the problem. Going to pun should fundamentally transform the meaning of the sentence, but here ... we stay in the same universe. Whose eggs are those? Those are Glenn Frey's eggs. Does he FRY them? No, he FREY'S them. Oh. OK. BOIL / BOYLE also feels like an odd verb to describe the making of STEW (though there's no doubt that STEW does indeed boil during preparation). And STEW and STEAK feel arbitrary - you could BOIL or COOK anything - where at least EGGS seems to go with FRY. I realize I'm overanalyzing here. The theme is cute, and the breakfast- lunch- dinner progression in the clues is a nice touch. I miss Peter BOYLE. "Puttin' on the Riiiiiiiiitz!"

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Breakfast specialty of a rock singer? (Glenn Frey's eggs)
  • 39A: Lunch specialty of an Emmy-winning actor? (Peter Boyle's stew)
  • 57A: Dinner specialty of an R&B singer? (Sam Cooke's steak) - SAM COOKE is one of my favorite male singers of all time, if not my favorite. He is single-handedly responsible for any appreciation of gospel I now have.

This puzzle relied heavily on crosswordese, but at least a couple of these words are worth reviewing. While we see ENO (48A: Brian of ambient music) and EWER (66A: Basin go-with) all the time, words like ADAR (6D: Purim's month) and ALB (26D: Priestly garment) show up somewhat less often, and yet are very very handy to know as a solver. Not common, but common enough for you to need to know them if you do puzzles on a regular basis. Another common word, ELATE (36A: Carry away, in a way), is made worse today by the proximity (and symmetry) of its fraternal twin SLATE (44A: Popular online magazine). At least I did not have to endure the dreaded E-MAG (which Slate is often used to clue).

Kwik Kuts:

  • 14A: Word before luck or cluck (dumb) - though I don't know what it means, I'm going to start using "DUMB cluck" every chance I get (whenever I am angry at chickens, for instance)
  • 29A: Constant complainers (cranks) - If this answer had intersected REX (had REX been in the puzzle), I'd have taken it personally.
  • 45A: Part of M.Y.O.B. (own) - also part of B.Y.O.B.
  • 51A: Clinton cabinet member satirized by Will Ferrell (Reno) - "Janet Reno's Dance Party" - great great stuff. Can't find a clip anywhere.
  • 53A: Arkansas River city (Tulsa) - ah, it's not actually *in* Arkansas. I see. Tricky.
  • 64A: Docent's offering (tour) - I really really dislike the word "docent," despite its honorable Latin roots. It's a wussy word. Barely there, and ultra-pretentious-sounding. Needs some hard consonants or something.
  • 4D: Butchers' offerings (T-bones) - goes nicely with SAM COOKE'S STEAK. Was there really any need to pluralize "Butchers?" "Offerings" gets you the plural you want.
  • 5D: Toiler of yore (serf) - had PEON at first. I can barely look at, let alone say, [Toiler of yore]. Too many "r"s, and one letter away from [Toilet of yore].
  • 9D: Makeshift bookmark (dogear) - this I like. I like all compound words with "dog" - DOGLEG, DOGSBODY, etc.
  • 11D: Dracula feature (fang) - just one?
  • 12D: Big Turkish export (figs) - I do not like these, possibly because we had six fig trees in our back yard when I was a kid, and the ripe fruit that splatted onto the ground was the ugliest, milkiest, stickiest, nastiest stuff that grew out of the ground, as far as I was concerned.
  • 22D: Wall St. watchdog (SEC) - took me a while to put in the "S" here, mainly because this is the "S" in GLENN FREY'S EGGS, and I couldn't really believe that was the answer.
  • 27D: Pueblo dweller (Taos) - TAOS is a person? A tribe? You can be a TAOS? I just thought TAOS was a city.
  • 50D: Sound of rebuke (tut tut) - that's really two sounds, or a repeated sound, but OK.
  • 54D: Director Sergio (Leone) - I can't even see his name without hearing Ennio Morricone music in the background. I Love the spaghetti westerns. Once Upon a Time in the West is my favorite.
  • 56D: Rubber hub (Akron) - Insert condom-related joke here

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]

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TUESDAY, Mar. 25, 2008 - Steve Salmon (ARSENIC OR ANTIMONY)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Relative difficulty: Easy*

THEME: Homonyms ... yep, that's pretty much it

*I tore through this puzzle like it wasn't there at all, except (hence the asterisk) in the West, where I came to a dead stop lasting god-knows-how-long. Total free fall. Complete confusion. Here is what that part of the puzzle looked like as I was trying to solve it:



Yes, I went for DOZE over the more appropriate LAZE (40A: Spend an afternoon in a hammock, e.g.). This ... hurt. But even after I took DOZE out, I still had some trouble figuring out what the heck was supposed to go in all of those squares. In addition to LAZE, I was missing FOUR OTHER ANSWERS. On a Tuesday? Well, yes, of course, Tuesday being the hateful imp that it usually is, I should perhaps not be surprised. I have never heard of the word SEMIMETAL (2D: Arsenic or antimony), and I could not have told you what "antimony" was before today (I even just misspelled it as "antinomy," so foreign does it look to me). I thought the clue had something to do with the words themselves, like maybe, I don't, know, they were both some species of noun or a compound of some sort, or shared a derivation ... I don't know; all I know is that "arsenic" and "antimony" did not feel as if they were from the same universe. Then there was the problem of 28A: Tourmaline, e.g. (gem). Never having heard of "tourmaline," my failure here is unsurprising. This is the kind of thing I would normally get from crosses without much trouble. Not today. Then there was the cluing on 28D: Waters south of the South, e.g. (gulf), which is semi-clever, but feels somewhat forced in its cleverness. I could think only of CARIBBEAN, which was not going to fit. Lastly, there's FLEA (43A: It can get under your skin). Had the -EA and could think of no word that could go there. IDEA? Does an IDEA get under your skin? (Answer: no) This is all ironic in that I just taught "The FLEA," by John Donne, which is one of my favorite poems (and famous enough to be used in a puzzle ... though maybe not on a Tuesday). Eventually I put in LAZE and stared a bit and then everything fell into place. Not often I fall completely on my face on a Tuesday. Well played ... Tuesday.

Theme answers:

  • 18A: Blasé group of directors? (bored board)
  • 62A: Lovely hotel accommodations? (sweet suite)
  • 3D: Farm-grown labyrinth? (maize maze)
  • 7D: Wake at dawn? (morning mourning)
  • 10D: Pit in its entirety? (whole hole)
  • 33D: Mooing group of cattle? (heard herd) - weakest of the lot
  • 37D: Key passage? (isle aisle)

Not much else to speak of in this puzzle. I would normally gripe about multiple obscure- to- semi- obscure actors in a puzzle, but today's are so artfully arranged, in symmetrical positions, that I can't really complain: AYRES (12D: Lew who played Dr. Kildare) is before my time by a long shot, and ELWES (52D: Actor Cary of "Twister") is simply forgettable (though his name is kind of cool, like some mutation of crossword staple "EWES"). He is perhaps best remembered for his role in "The Princess Bride." Trivia: he has played both Pope John Paul II and Ted bundy. Range!

Assorted observations:

  • 5A: Fiesta Bowl site (Tempe) - wife botched this as TAMPA. Wonder if anyone else (especially non-sports types) did same.
  • 10A: Tortilla sandwich (wrap) - "Tortilla" keeps with the "Fiesta" theme, but WRAP ... sort of de-Mexicanizes the whole thing. I had TACO here at first.
  • 16A: Breezy greeting ("Hiya!") - surprised how easily, instinctively this came to me, given that it's not a "greeting" I'd ever use.
  • 45A: "Lohengrin" lass (Elsa) - this has been clued as [Wagner heroine] before, resulting in untold Google hits to my site. I'm guessing that Google action will be relatively light today, given that this name is easy to get from crosses.
  • 70A: It may go off on you (pager) - the very idea of the PAGER seems very 20th-century to me. I had POWER here for a bit.
  • 5D: "Running" amount (tab) - good clue, goes nicely with BARS (19D: Where spirits run freely?)
  • 25D: Film material (acetate) - ACETATE gets a surprising amount of play for a seven-letter word. Lots of 1-pt Scrabble letters probably makes it very useful to constructors at times.
  • 30D: Hebrew leader? (alef) - gimme. ALIF is [Arabic leader?]. ALPHA is [Greek leader?]. If you already knew that, good for you. You probably do a lot of crosswords.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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MONDAY, Mar. 24, 2008 - David J. Kahn (NOTABLE ARMY INDUCTEE of 3/24/58)

Monday, March 24, 2008


Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: 50th anniversary of Elvis's induction into the Army

A very professional Monday puzzle by David J. Kahn, the author of this year's notorious Puzzle #5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (one of the greatest accomplishments of my solving life was finishing that puzzle in the time allotted without making a mistake - it was a very very close call). I found today's puzzle harder than most Mondays because theme answers were all but impossible to get without first getting ELVIS (39A: Notable Army inductee of 3/24/58), and even after that, you have to deal with plays on words and C-list movies ("G.I. Blues"?!). That said, I liked the puzzle a lot: 10 theme entries, the bulk of them Downs - that's a (hell of a) lot for a Monday puzzle, and they were all clever and entertaining. Given the gaps in my ELVIS knowledge, and the fact that I tend to skip clues that ask me to look at other clues (i.e. 9 of the 10 theme clues plus one non-theme clue), I have no idea how I finished this in an average Monday time (under 4).

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Like 39-Across fans on his induction day? (All Shook Up)
  • 56A: Last movie 39-Across made before his Army stint (King Creole)
  • 11D: Army officer who met 39-Across in 25-Down (Colin Powell)
  • 13D: Last Army rank of 39-Across: Abbr. (Sgt.)
  • 23D: Much-photographed event after 39-Across's induction (haircut)
  • 25D: Where 39-Across was stationed overseas (West Germany) - this took me way way longer than it should have, in that I had WEST and remained puzzled. WEST GE- ... still thinking ... and then the geography of the Cold War came rushing back to me and I recalled that there was once a country called WEST GERMANY. Funny how fast I forgot that.
  • 26D: First Army rank of 39-Across (private)
  • 30D: First movie 39-Across made after his Army stint (G.I. Blues)
  • 54D: Record label of 39-Across (RCA)

The non-theme fill in this puzzle was pretty good too. The long Down answers are fantastic. ALPHA TESTS (9D: Some computer software checks) gave me fits, primarily because I didn't fill in ALL SHOOK UP 'til the very end, and without that "P" I could not see ALPHA to save my life. I seriously considered ALOHA TESTS for a second. Then there's the crackling SHELLACKED (32D: Defeated soundly), which both looks and sounds fabulous. SHELLACKED is here to smack you out of your usual Monday puzzle stupor. I am currently in love with the twin pillars of ALTOONA (24D: City with a Penn State campus) and ASTORIA (29D: Waldorf-_____ Hotel). Elegant A-to-A words symmetrically supporting the puzzle. I believe that may be the first time in recorded history that ALTOONA has been referred to as "elegant."

I have criticism and a frowny faces for very few entries today. Here they are:

  • 33D: Actresses Shire and Balsam (Talias) - plural names are always a downer, though on this one, I'm at least slightly ambivalent. Pro: the clue went for an actual second TALIA as opposed to the more common "et al." or "and others." Con: Who the @#$# is TALIA Balsam?
  • 53D: Police hdqrs. (pcts) - I'm not sure which I hate more, the answer (which flummoxed both me and my wife - it's short for "precincts," I think) or the clue. "Hdqrs." I dare you to stare at that letter combo for more than 10 second. My theory is that you will go mad and/or blind. I believe the flatfoots call it HQ.
  • 27D: Like seawater (saline) - I know this is technically correct, and yet I think of seawater as SALTY and my contact lens solution as SALINE.
  • 18D: What the "H" of H.M.S. may be (His)
  • 49D: What the "H" of H.M.S. may be (Her) - I didn't like the repeat here, but then I noticed the symmetry, and all of a sudden - I love it.

The rest:

  • 46A: Balletic bend (plié) - I just like the word "balletic"
  • 52A: One who makes a good first impression? (aper) - Why just "first?" My wife was flipping between APER and ACER here. Given that the Down is the ungodly PCTS, I can see how the decision between "P" and "C" here could have been a tough one.
  • 62A: Dunce cap, geometrically (cone) - Good news, class: we can humiliate Timmy and use him as a prop in our geometry lesson.
  • 64A: Finger's end (nail) - I believe the actual end is the "tip."
  • 4D: Openers for all doors (passkeys) - nice, interesting, k-containing long answer that I don't think I've seen much, if at all.
  • 8D: "Ally McBeal" actress Lucy (Liu) - violates my "Stop referencing [that show]" rule, but at least Lucy LIU is famous enough to uncover without my having to have watched the show in question. Still, the clue should have gone through "Kill Bill," IMOO.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[astounding drawing by Emily Cureton]

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SUNDAY, Mar. 23, 2008 - Robert W. Harris (ALLY MAKERS)

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Common Interests" - phrases that might be of "interest" to two different groups (phrase must be taken both literally and punnily)

I did not enjoy the puzzle and I'm not really sure why. Maybe because it was late and I had just done a Sunday-sized puzzle (the Boston Globe) and had just returned from a reasonably heavy meal. There is nothing particularly unlikeable about the puzzle. I just know that I didn't have fun. Every section felt like a bit of a slog, few of the answers really sizzled, and the cutesiness of the theme answers was more annoying than amusing to me. I will write off most of my bad feelings about his puzzle to tiredness.

I had an uncharacteristically hard time getting into the NW (pretty wide open white space for a Sunday puzzle). Couldn't get the front end of EXOTIC PORTS, and even with the obvious STATERS cutting right through there, nothing was coming. I did not know TEVIS (5D: Walter _____, author of "The Hustler") - though I must have had an inkling, as I instinctively wanted NEVIS - and could not remember the very basic / boring ERIC (6D: Prince in "The Little Mermaid"). Even after I figured out RSVP (7D: Answer) and thus TEL AVIV (23A: Home of the newspaper Haaretz), I was still stalled until I looked at the capital "M" in the clue 30A: Some Millers and finally considered its beer-ness, giving me LITES. Both 1D: Like a guardian (tutelar) and 2D: Kept from home (in exile) were clued in such a way that I had no idea what they could possibly be getting at. Wanted something baseball-related at 2D. And TUTELAR just sucks. Bad. I like TIPSTER (1A: Track figure) - just wish it had come to me sooner.

Theme answers:

  • 24A: Electrical engineers and news anchors? (current events)
  • 26A: World travelers and wine connoisseurs? (exotic ports) - wife had PORT last night after her meal. I had un-Irish coffee (was gonna go with the alcohol, then changed my mind at the last minute, having already had a gin martini with cucumber) and we shared an apple cobbler that was far more apple than cobbler, but was still OK.
  • 44A: Geologists and music video producers? (rock bands) - why "video?"
  • 52A: College students and mattress testers? (spring breaks) - I'm on mine right now.
  • 82A: Old West outlaws and aspiring thespians? (stage coaches)
  • 89A: Beat-era musicians and orthopedists? (hip joints)
  • 110A: Fort Knox officials and pop singers? (gold records)
  • 113A: Comedians and parade directors? (straight lines)

There were surprisingly few answers that I simply didn't know. The TEL AVIV newspaper was one, though at least I knew what TEL AVIV was. I have no idea who this HOOKE guy is (59A: Robert who introduced the term "cell" to biology). I hear he introduced the term "cell" to biology. Good for him. Also didn't know the ensuing Across clue, 60A: Where the antihelix is (ear), but that was very easy to infer from crosses. Clearly, I have biology blind spots. Oh, and I did not know CRTS (98A: PC screens, for short) - had to look it up to find out that it stands for cathode ray tube. It's not an initialism I've ever heard spoken out loud, to my knowledge.

Here are some wrong answers I had:

  • REED for RAIL (107D: Symbol of thinness)
  • TELEVISE for TELECAST (91A: Show on the small screen)
  • ESTATE for ESCROW (8D: Mortgagee's concern)
  • ACRID and then ACERB for ACUTE (9D: Sharp)
  • HOOTS for HONKS (38D: Sounds of anger and jubilation) - if HOOTS is bad, HONKS is no better

And a word about 15D: Cambodian money (riel). Is it any wonder I botched the spelling here? Look at all the different countries that have some slightly variant versions of RIAL (from Wikipedia):

Having the "A" where the "E" should have gone kept CURRENT EVENTS (groan) hidden from me forEver.

The rest...

  • 8A: Din-din (eats) - the theme is cutesy enough. Do I have to suffer through "din-din" too? Plus, I think "din-din" is a cutesy thing you would say to your dog, whereas EATS is something you'd see on an olde tyme diner sign. They don't substitute well.
  • 12A: Nautical line (tow rope) - I normally suck at things nautical, but I got this pretty quickly - though I briefly thought it might be TOE ROPE because I couldn't get the "W" Down ...
  • 14D: Salon option (wave) - makes sense now that I look at it, but in four letters I'm gonna tend to want TINT or PERM.
  • 19A: Ally makers (uniters) - another off, clunky clue. Whom/what does it describe? Was Carter a "UNITER" when Sadat and Begin shook hands? Those guys weren't exactly "allies."
  • 31A: It may be pinched (toe) - oh come on. So may anything, I guess. I just pinched my arm, so apparently it "may be pinched" too.
  • 42A: Classic Hans Christian Andersen story, with "The" ("Red Shoes") - this makes me think only of the Loretta Lynn story-song "Little RED SHOES," off of her amazing "Van Lear Rose" album. I can't even remember the plot of the Andersen story, but I can tell you everything that happened to Loretta.
  • 65A: Choir stands (risers) - took me a number of passes to get.
  • 72A: The Gamecocks of the Southeastern Conf. (USC) - also known as "The Other U.S.C."
  • 106A: Huge, in poetry (enorm) - I have a weird affection for this lopped-off word.
  • 119A: Lettered top (dreidel) - almost ... almost ... symmetrical to TEL AVIV.
  • 10D: Craggy peaks (tors) - I miss this word. Used to be in every other puzzle (I learned it from puzzles back in the Maleska era) and now you just don't see it as much. I believe you might find an AERIE in a TOR. Do ERNES make their AERIES in TORS, 'cause that would be awesome.
  • 35D: 1976-1980 Wimbledon champ (Borg) - he of the long hair and sweat band and wooden racket. His first name, BJORN, is really more deserving of crossword inclusion than the cyber-sounding BORG.
  • 54D: Gangster's gun (roscoe) - sweet. Crimespeak. Wish GAM or MOLL were somewhere nearby.
  • 74D: Religious pilgrimage (Hadj) - HAAJ? HAJJ? HELP.
  • 94D: Dog after the winter, e.g. (shedder) - The lack of any qualifying words before "Dog" makes this clue sound really strange. Still, I got this easily enough, quite possibly because the winter is ending and my dog is shedding like mad.
  • 95D: How Calvin Coolidge spoke (tersely) - Just did an 11-year-old NYT puzzle that featured a quip about Coolidge, something like "Calvin Coolidge didn't say much, and when he did, he didn't say much."
  • 99D: Less accurate (falser) - there's a word we can all agree to hate.
  • 108D: Attire not for the modest (mini) - MINI-What!?!?! I know that you mean MINI-skirt, probably, but there are MINI-dresses, and MINI cars and MINI mice, come on!
  • 112D: Prefix with zone (Euro) - Where the hell is the EURO-zone? Is it at all related to the continent I know as Europe? "You are now entering ... the EURO Zone [cue thumping dance music] dance dance dance dance..."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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SATURDAY, Mar. 22, 2008 - Byron Walden (COMPOSER OF "DAS AUGENLICHT," 1935)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I am so happy today because a. I finished this puzzle, b. correctly, and c. still got to bed at a reasonable hour. I'm so happy because success felt Impossible about 5 minutes in, when the only answers I had on the board were (ironically) NO DUH (25A: "Obviously, Einstein!"), REP (41D: One who stands for something), SINEW (43A: Brawn), and the WAR part of what ended up being TEN DAY WAR (38A: 1991 conflict between Slovenia and Yugoslavia) - and I wasn't terribly certain about Any of those. I also had LYS (36D: Flower of Paques), only I'd misspelled it as LIS. Knowing it was a Byron Walden puzzle, I felt a horrible sinking feeling in my gut. Eventually I took a good look at the SW and found many tractable answers, most notably ASSET (50D: Plus) and PEETE (48D: First African-American golfer with 12 P.G.A. Tour wins). My wallet actually has the word NAPPA pressed into it somewhere inside, so I managed to get 46A: Soft leather used in wallets, whose name derives from a place in California despite the fact that the whole name derivation thing sounds bogus / insane. Who was the genius who thought, "I know, add a 'P'?" Weird. But even after the SW went down, I was right back where I started - stuck. I think I eventually guessed OHS (30D: Quaker cereal) and then got CHANEY (37A: Star of "London After Midnight," 1927), and then with the "Y" in CHANEY, I ran into the surprisingly, mercifully easy EYELINERS (34D: Parts of makeup kits) and the SE fell.

The very last letter I filled in was the "X" in the marquee answer of the day: HAPAX (27A: _____ legomenon (word or phrase used only once in a document or corpus)). If I hadn't heard that term a few times in graduate school, I would never have gotten that "X" (though XIA sounds familiar as the 28D: Earliest recorded Chinese dynasty, I doubt I'd have guessed the "X" correctly on that). HAPAX legomenon ... I remember seeing that phrase for the first time and thinking "well, there's an upside of being in graduate school - I get to learn cool-sounding terms like HAPAX legomenon." And promptly forget them, apparently. At least it was in my vocabulary, however dormant.

If I haven't said it yet (and I haven't), I loved this puzzle. Everything a wickedly hard puzzle should be. Fun, colorful, and ultimately doable, though I had to guess in a couple places - well, one place: the crossing of ANURANS (40D: Frogs and toads) and OLEASTER (53A: Shrub also known as Russian olive). Now I was pretty sure that shrub had to end in "R," but ANURANS looked horrible to me. In the end, I went with it, which was the right call. I know about OLEANDER - we had some in our backyard growing up - but OLEASTER ... no. I like that it's made up of two very common crossword answers: OLE and ASTER.

Shout-outs:

  • 15A: Zebralike (equine) - oddly easy, in the end. I was expecting something much more brutal.
  • 17A: Kept one's own counsel, online (lurked) - weird way to look at it, but OK.
  • 18A: Geographic feature depicted in the Armenian coat of arms (Mt. Ararat) - Once I got the MT, I guessed the rest. ARARAT is in far eastern Turkey, just near the Iranian and Aremenian borders.
  • 20A: Big numismatic news (misprint) - I wanted MINT to be in this answer, either at the beginning or end. If you look at MISPRINT, you can see how partial fill would lead me to see MINT all over the place.
  • 29A: Salt with the maximum proportion of element #53 (periodide) - total guess. Needed most of the crosses, and then threw in the -ER- part.
  • 35A: Common soccer score (one-nil) - I forgot to add that I had this answer very early as well. Just sitting there, all alone, stuck out into the bottom of the NW. I was on the verge of erasing it many times.
  • 45A: Compound with a double bond (enol) - the only times I'm happy to see tired fill like ENOL and ENERO (5D: Hot month in Chile) - in the middle of a brutal Saturday puzzle. Then, they're like old friends. "Hey, I know you guys .... help me."
  • 51A: Volkswagen Polo, for one (super-mini) - that's for our Euro-friends, I guess, as I've never heard of this make of VW. What is it, basically a go-kart with a lawnmower engine?
  • 55A: One suspended in adolescence (boy-man) - I prefer MAN-CHILD, thanks.
  • 57A: Split personality? (ex-mate) - my least favorite answer in the whole thing.
  • 58A: As time expires, in a football game (at the gun) - nicely done. Wanted WHISTLE to be in there somewhere. I've never noticed: do football games really end in gunfire?
  • 59A: Street lighting specialist? (rioter) - took me a while to figure out how this worked. RIOTERs light streets on fire sometimes, I guess. Pretty clever.
  • 60A: Roller skate features (toe stops) - my old school, 1979 roller skates most definitely had these.
  • 61A: Claim of convenience, in ads or otherwise (No Mess) - I had No Fuss for a while.
  • 1D: Jigger that jiggles? (jello shot) - one of the best answers in the puzzle. Only in a Byron puzzle are you gonna see JELLO SHOT cross HAPAX - that's the alpha and omega of the college experience right there.
  • 2D: Alternative to a water ski (aqua plane) - really? Do they perform the same function? I don't go in for water sports (!) so I wouldn't know.
  • 4D: Lance Armstrong foundation? (bike stand) - My bikes had KICK STANDS.
  • 6D: Notable distinction for the planet Krypton (red sun) - aargh, I teach a course on comics and still needed many crosses to get / remember this. Boo hoo.
  • 9D: Some DVRs (RCAS) - man it hurts when the answer is a brand, like this. Here I am, flipping through whatever technical jargon I can think of, and the answer's just plain old RCAS.
  • 10D: Legendary brothers in law (Earps) - in desperation, I had GRIMM here for a few seconds.
  • 12D: Spanish festival (Feria) - otherwise known as "Slaves Don't Have To Go To Work Day."
  • 13D: Animal in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (Orang) - I forgot - this was also a gimme for me. The reason I forgot - it just sat there, alone, doing nothing, for a good long while.
  • 26D: Minute Maid drink brand (Hi-C) - another early get that did me little good.
  • 31D: MTV reality show ("Date My Mom") - Given the popularity of "Pimp My Ride" and "Date My Mom," can "Pimp My Mom" be far behind?
  • 44D: Composer of "Das Augenlicht," 1935 (Webern) - an educated guess. I have seen his name before in a musical context, and that's the only reason I was able to piece him together.
  • 47D: First justice alphabetically in the history of the Supreme Court (Alito) - if I were buying crossword fill futures, I would put a lot of my money into ALITO. He'll be around ... well, if he ever becomes Chief Justice, forever.
  • 16A: Like anchors (on camera) - very tricky, very good.
  • 52D: CD-burning software company that bought Napster (Roxio) - I wrote this in and winced, as it looked wrong. ROXIO next to DATE MY MOM ... this puzzle is going to make at least a few pop culture-haters very unhappy. Oh well.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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