TUESDAY, Sep. 30, 2008 - Allan E. Parrish ("Sic semper tyrannis!" crier / Abbott and Costello movie based on a Ziegfeld musical / Part of PRNDL)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

Theme: Where one might sit in a restaurant - three theme answers end with COUNTER, BOOTH, and TABLE, respectively

Simple theme with colorful theme answers. I really like it. Took me a few seconds, once I was done, to figure out what, in fact, the theme was. GEIGER COUNTER + JOHN WILKES BOOTH = ???? In the middle of the puzzle, I had a feeling of being sucked into a very depressing vortex. First, there's JOHN WILKES BOOTH straight down the middle of your puzzle, which conjures up the not-so-nice image of a president getting shot in the head. Then there's the fact that BOOTH cuts through not one, but two hurricanes. These answers conjure up images of ... well, look out your window, Houstonians. The devastation is still all around you. There's this guy I know, kinda cranky ... he only just got his power back two days ago. So IKE was ... well, it was timely, I'll give it that (34D: Hurricane of 2008). But, RITA? ... that's just piling on. (21D: Abbott and Costello movie based on a Zeigfeld musical - "RIO RITA"). This constellation of depressing answers had me looking around for DESPAIR, DEVASTATION, and APOCALYPSE. Got a little freaked out at 29D: Creator of a branch division? (saw) because my mind saw "Branch Davidian," but ... false alarm. Thankfully, most of the rest of the puzzle was as soothing as sipping AMARETTO (11D: Almond-flavored liqueur) in HYDE PARK (38D: Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthplace), whatever that means.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Particle-detecting device (Geiger counter)
  • 36A: "Sic semper tyrannis!" crier (John Wilkes Booth)
  • 54A: Chemistry class poster, perhaps (periodic table)
I liked this Tuesday puzzle in large part because it managed to be both full of interesting clues and answers and eeeeasy (appropriate Tuesday level of difficulty). I had to look up PRNDL (39D: Part of PRNDL = LOW), which I now pronounce to rhyme with "dirndl." I don't understand why anyone would use that acronym? "What kind of transmission she got?" "Oh, the PRNDL comes standard." "RIO RITA" was the other real mystery to me. That must be pretty far down the list of famous Abbott and Costello movies, right? I must confess that the few times I've watched A&C, I've been bored. The Three Stooges, I sort of get, Laurel and Hardy I like, Chaplin and Keaton are geniuses, but Abbott and Costello? Leave me cold. Just saw a long PBS doc on FDR, so HYDE PARK was a gimme, but it's a welcome, colorful answer nonetheless. Bunch of entertaining, gettable names like
  • MEDEA (14A: Jason jlited her) - not someone you want to cross.
  • OMAR Minaya (16A: Baseball exec Minaya) - apparently he will still be "baseball exec," despite having just presided over Collapse, The Sequel.
  • Michael IRVIN (17A: Wide receiver Michael, nicknamed "The Playmaker") - part of the '90s Cowboys team (the one that could win big games). Now he is a commentator.
  • Sholem ASCH (23A: "The Nazarene" novelist Sholem) - never read him; I just love his last name. You can spell his first name with or without a "c."
And in more evidence of the puzzle's liberal bias: 67A: Home of Barack Obama's father (Kenya). Surely McCain can get into a clue for "ADM." or something small like that. "ARI.?" Come on!

Other areas of interest:
  • 6D: Atlanta gridder (Falcon) - yesterday MALTESE, today, FALCON. Cool.
  • 8D: Caesarean rebuke ("Et tu?") - here I was imagining an exclamation made in an operating room.
  • 26D: "There'll be _____ time..." ("a hot") - whoa. Did not see that coming. Hard to know when to sing your clue. The HOT time was in "the old town," which, in a parody version of this song, referred to CHI (58D: A.L. or N.L. city, in brief), set afire by Mrs. O'Leary's cow.
  • 30D: Bard's "before" (ere) - Starting tomorrow, I'll be teaching the "Bard" to students who are also prisoners.
  • 31: Like Knights Templars (Masonic) - don't like the "s" on the end of "Templars" here. Plus, the Knights I know are not MASONIC, but MALTESE - Crusading creators of the FALCON.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Sep. 29, 2008 - Sharon Delorme (Main bank vis-a-vis currency / Drunk's sound / Geisha's waistband)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Double "-WER" words - four theme answers are each made up of two words (both ending in "-WER") that are spelled the same but pronounced differently

The easiness factor provided by the theme - once you get one answer, the others are a cinch to pick up - was offset at least a little by some odd or tortuous cluing that made at least one part of the puzzle slightly thorny. Otherwise, a fine, average Monday puzzle. Not a lot to say. I do like that that theme, simple though it is, has certain consistencies throughout, like the "-WER" ending, and a vowel sound change in each instance. Normally I can't stand seeing so many "-ER" words (Odd Jobs, verbs made into nouns by the addition of the "-ER" suffix), but none of the "-ER" words here is forced or strained - just very common words. The same cannot be said, sadly, for ISSUER, which is the blottiest blot on this puzzle's face, both because the word itself is terrible, and because the clue is from outer space: 5D: Main bank vis-à-vis currency. I couldn't make sense of it at first. Or at second. Just wouldn't process it. Add to that my uncertainty about what was meant by "Main bank" (which is probably just a reference to any country's central bank). Then, as the word came into view ... well, it's hardly a word, so ... I never really "got" the clue. I just got all the crosses, then noticed what I had filled in.

Theme answers:

  • 18A: One who embroiders a waste conduit? (sewer sewer)
  • 26A: Sketcher of a bureau compartment? (drawer drawer)
  • 47A: Presenter of a bathroom stall? (shower shower)
  • 60A: One pulling a tall structure? (tower tower)
  • 1A: It may get a licking after lunch (Oreo) - wife and I both balked at this, but for different reasons. I didn't like the "licking" part, even though I see people do that in OREO commercials. It's a very unsatisfying and impractical way to come at an OREO. That creme filling just doesn't come up with a lick. Who has that kid of patience. You use your teeth to scrape, or just bite in. Wife, on the other hand, did not like arbitrariness of "after lunch."
Her: "Why 'after lunch'?"
Me: "I think they're mostly thought of as an afternoon snack for kids, so ... 'after lunch.'"
Her: "But it doesn't say 'afternoon,' it says 'after lunch.'"
Me: "'Afternoon' is 'after lunch.'"
Her: "So is nighttime..." - Etc.

Actual answer: Will likes to alliterate - licking ... lunch ... the end.
  • 5A: Charged, as particles (ionic) - wanted IONIZED. I like IONIC SPELT up there in the north, though I would have liked IRONIC SPELT even more (here I'm thinking of SPELT the grain, which I wish this SPELT was - 15A: Said letter by letter, British-style)
  • 22A: Drug that's smoked in a pipe (opium) - Do people still smoke opium, like they are 19c. travelers to the Far East or something? These days, I think most opium is processed into heroin. Just say 'no,' kids.
  • 31A: Drunk's sound ("hic") - that's right, stick to the booze.
  • 67A: Meeting: Abbr. (sess.) - wife would like to add that this is a terrible abbr. And in the same quadrant as the ugly "Var." AMEER and plural MATTS?
  • 4D: Pacific island in major W.W. II fighting (Okinawa) - OKINAWA crossing STUN GUNS (20A: Police weapons that immobilize suspects) really livens up the place.
  • 46D: Bothers (molests) - wife and I would both like to say that if these words are synonymous, they are barely so. You don't arrest people for "bothering" children. Believe me. I bother my child all the time. Just ask her. Me, to daughter, while daughter is reading: "Hey, what are Betty and Veronica doing now? What's Veronica's dad's name? What's their principal's name? What's happening in your Harry Potter book? Did he die yet?" Etc.
  • 61A: Scottish cap (tam)
  • 62A: Geisha's waistband (obi) - the TAM and the OBI: essentials of the crossword wardrobe. I dare you to wear both of these at once. Why not today? Be sure to send me a picture (or any crossword-related pictures) and I will post them for the world to see / admire / mock.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Sep. 28, 2008 - Cathy Allis Millhauser (French Polynesia constituents / Radio host/pianist John / Song sung by Gwen in Broadway's "Chicago")

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "'Twas Puzzling" - familiar phrases have their "W"-words changed to "TW"-words, creating silly phrases, which are clued, "?"-style

Add-a-letter! Done badly, the add-a-letter puzzles feel painful and lazy. Done well, they are minimalist wonders, where the resulting phrases are snappy enough to make you forget (or not care) that the only "theme" involved is the simple addition of a single letter. This version's TWist on the add-a-letter theme is that the added letter comes in all instances at the beginning of a word and directly before a "W." The results: mixed! But mostly good. Cathy Millhauser is a pro (I won't call her "old pro"), and she executes this theme in a way that makes the puzzle whimsical and breezy, not forced and groan-inducing. The non-theme fill is, almost without exception, utterly solid, with some really bright spots. Interestingly, the fact that the theme was simple, on a technical level (in the sense that you just add a "T"), that simplicity did not carry over completely to the solving experience. I got the theme early on, but still had to wait out a good number of the theme answers because I couldn't see where their "W" words were or what the original phrase was supposed to be.

Theme answers (with arbitrary 1-10 rating based on how much I liked each answer):

  • 23A: When jerks come out? (the twitching hour): 8
  • 38A: String around a cake box? (dessert twine): 6
  • 53A: Men or women who pinch? (the tweaker sex): 2
  • 78A: Nerd's essence? (the soul of twit): 5 - love the answer, but the clue is gross ("Nerd's essence?" just sounds ... icky) and I've never liked the TWIT-for-nerd substitution.
  • 95A: Roast the other side of the marshmallow? (flip one's twig): 9
  • 113A: Discouraging comment to a cloner? ("You can't twin 'em all"): 10
  • 36D: Moth, perhaps? (tweed killer): 4
  • 41D: Fabric that really breathes? (living twill): 8 - nice that the two TW- fabrics are both part of the two vertical theme pillars of the puzzle.
Two serious rough spots for me -

First: Pennsylvania (ironically named because it's the stupid Texas clue that gave me all the trouble):

The ANGELINA (47A: Texas county, river or forest that's a girl's first name) river ran right through the NE of this puzzle and forced me to hammer out nearly all the crosses before I got it / guessed it. I guess Ms. Jolie was deemed too "mainstream" for the Sunday puzzle. Elitists! I probably had PISA for my four-letter City near Milan (48D) for a while. I took 42D: Low tie (one one) to be something one might find at a haberdashery ... which then forced me to wonder what "low" could possibly mean in that context. Hey, are LOD (41A: City near Tel Aviv) and LODI related? Because they sure look alike.

Second: Tijuana

Despite the massive gimme that PHIL provided (104D: Dr. with advice in O magazine), I had a hell of a lot of trouble squeezing into this stupid little alcove of the puzzle. I think I just took a while to link the "celebrant" in 104A: Certain celebrant (priest) to a religious context. Also, never in a million years (well, maybe a million...) would I have guessed IZOD for 117A: _____ Center, home of the New Jersey Nets. It's also possible-to-probable that I didn't know what a leveret was at all - 112A: A leveret is a young one (hare). As I look at this roughly 4x4 section now, it seems inconsequential, but when I was tearing through the puzzle, it did not feel that way.

Other things:
  • 19A: Song sung by Gwen in Broadway's "Chicago" ("Roxie") - everything I know about "Chicago" (and it's now a surprising lot) I learned from xwords.
  • 20A: Radio host/pianist John (Tesh) - "Enjoy"
  • 34A: Nonkosher sandwiches (BLTs) - The word "nonkosher" was so hard for my brain to process. Sounded ... exotic. Until I separated the NON from the KOSHER.
  • 58A: "New Look" designer of 1947 (Dior) - ooh la la.
  • 59A: Charity's urging ("donate!") - Me: "Who the hell is Charity?"
  • 60A: Orbital point (apsis) - neeeeeever heard of it.
  • 66A: Penseur's thought (idée) - "Penseur" meaning "thinker"; I'm never that thrilled with this way of cluing foreign words (changing one word in the clue to the equivalent lang.).
  • 77A: One of Woody's stock at Woodstock (Arlo) - clue grosses me out in the same way [Nerd's essence?] did.
  • 71A: Mushroom stalks (stipes) - if I knew this, I forgot it.
  • 89A: Capital of South Australia (Adelaide) - not "The Australian Dollar." Australia is where you might find yourself an Outback buddy (mate) (50D). I suggest you stick with "MATE," as "Outback buddy" sounds like a phrase that might be misunderstood or taken the wrong way.
  • 90A: French Polynesia constituents (iles) - where's the French word in the clue? "French" does not count!
  • 119A: "Almighty" title role for Steve Carell ("Evan") - gimme. I did not / would not / could not bring myself to see this. Love "The Office," though.
  • 123A: Kind of difference, oxymoronically (same) - nice clue.
  • 1D: Monitor type, for short (CRT) - least favorite monitor type Ever; can never remember it.
  • 6D: Invitation information specification (attire) - "All across the nation ... there's a new invitation information specification ... people in motion" (can you tell how tired I am?).
  • 9D: Like some eggs or cloth (shirred) - Onto the DECOCT list with you, SHIRRED. Yuck.
  • 24D: Apple pocketfuls (iPods) - Odd-sounding clue. Note: iPods tend not to fill your pocket completely. Unless you are packing several at once, though I believe that's known as a QUIVERFUL.
  • 45D: Off-campus local (townie) - first heard this term in "Breaking Away."
  • 55D: Nagpur noble (rajah) - all crosswordese answers should have to have playfully alliterative clues
  • 61D: Rusty on the diamond (Staub) - "Le Grand Orange!" Haven't thought of him in 25 years. Baseball cards!
  • 63D: Pitcher of a perfect game, 9/9/65 (Koufax) - my hero, and only partially because his name begins in "K" and ends in "X" (not enough to get John KNOX over the hero threshold, for instance).
  • 64D: "Vigilant _____ to steal cream": Falstaff ("as a cat") - that's one hell of a partial. Yipes.
  • 69D: Wahine's dance (hula) - a dance that now will forever make me think of author/artist Lynda Barry, who took it very seriously as a child, and whose book "What It Is" (among others) you should definitely read. Indispensable, inspirational greatness.
  • 85D: Score just before victory, maybe (ad in) - another sports score ... interesting.
In closing, I would like to praise the Pile-Up of PILAR (118A: Pertaining to hair), PLENA (107A: Legislative assemblies), and PULE (107D: Whine), which was, by far, the most interesting part of the puzzle, word-wise.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Sep. 27, 2008 - Karen M. Tracey (Former congresswoman nicknamed Mother Courage / Louis Armstrong's "Weather Bird" collaborator)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Yes, I said "Easy." This may be the first time I've declared a Karen Tracey puzzle "Easy" (again, "Easy" relative to your avg Saturday), but I got The O'JAYS (10A: 1970s R&B trio in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with "the") right off the bat, and then from 27A: Got a 15-Across on (aced) I inferred 15A: Driving ambition? (hole-in-one) with no crosses. Then came "SHANE" (1D: Oscar nominated western), and then I was well positioned to bring the puzzle down. Biggest struggle, fittingly, was where COINBOX (7D: Part of a pinball machine) meets DON QUIXOTE (31A: Whence the expression "mum's the word"). I say "fittingly" because CLOG UP runs right ALONGSIDE (17A: How a towpath proceeds vis-à-vis a canal) "DON QUIXOTE" and through COINBOX. I hate when the COINBOX CLOGs UP. This happened to me at the soda machine the other day. I looked in and saw quarters jammed every which way. No lecture-time root beer for Rex. But back to puzzle - had COIN--- and wanted only SLOT (no fit). "DON QUIXOTE" wasn't anywhere on my radar for that clue, and I didn't have the giveaway "X" to help me out. Still, this was a small bump in the road in an otherwise smooth puzzle. Oh, I should note that EASERS (46A: Assuaging agents) and SANIT. (49D: Municipal dept.) hurt me as much as they hurt you, but the greatness of the rest of the puzzle made them endurable.

Today is my anniversary (the real kind, not the blog kind) and (coincidentally, not as part of some odd marital tradition) I have to go watch my wife's karate test, so I am going to blow through this write-up with little regard for truth or justice or human life or the puzzle's feelings. I will, however, occasionally do the puzzle the small courtesy of Looking It In The Eye. I mean, I'm not a contempt-filled old monster. Yet.


  • 1A: Third Servile War leader (Spartacus) - would have got this much earlier if I hadn't been pronouncing "Servile" "Ser-VEE'-lay" in my head.
  • 18A: Indication of time passing (ticks) - nice singular clue for plural answer trick.
  • 20A: Gaming debut of 1985, briefly (NES) - so in the past few days, what have we learned? One, Cheryl TIEGS will not be denied her place in the grid. And two, gaming systems are important to know, especially WII, NES, and XBOX. I assume you are already familiar with ATARI - otherwise, I doubt you'd be attempting a Saturday puzzle.
  • 37A: Chocoholic's dessert (mud pie) - a great trap. I had the "M" and instantly put in MOUSSE.
  • 39A: Christchurch native (Kiwi) - well you know I got this one fast. I have a native NZ owl hanging upside down from my desk lamp (the MOREPORK, still waiting for his xword debut). I regularly wear a Canterbury hoodie that features a pattern of three large KIWI heads across the front of it. My wife is from NZ. I was just there two months ago. Etc etc etc. More KIWI clues!
  • 44A: 1999 film satirizing media ruthlessness ("EdTV") - a film that, sadly, will be with us forever because of its letter sequence.
  • 45A: Half-sister of King Arthur (Elaine) - there are lots of ELAINEs in the Arthurian mythology. I will spare you the break-down. Read about it here.
  • 57A: First lady of the 1980s (Raisa) - now, when I see "First Lady" - esp. in a late-week puzzle, I'm looking non-U.S. So Eva Perón and RAISA Gorbachev don't stand a chance.
  • 58A: Shower accessory (loofa) - I could barely tolerate that word before it became associated with Bill O'Reilly. Yuck. Sometimes LOOFA appears to have an "H" on the end.
  • 61A: Former congresswoman nicknamed Mother Courage (Abzug) - I think she was mentioned and/or appeared very briefly in a Woody Allen movie - that's my only experience of her, and yet I've never forgotten her.
  • 62A: Louis Armstrong's "Weather Bird" collaborator (Earl Hines) - this guy's usually in the grid for this nickname, FATHA.

  • 63A: David who played Bosley on TV's "Charlie's Angels" (Doyle) - I love pop culture clues, but had no clue here. Just waited for crosses.
  • 4D: Richards with a racket (Renée) - no idea. Just - none. Whoa! Sex Reassignment Surgery - she was ILIE Nastase's doubles partner! I think I started playing / following tennis about a decade too late to know any of this.
  • 10D: _____ disk (blind spot) (optic) - never heard of it. Or maybe I have and I didn't remember what it was called.
  • 28D: Creator of Earthquake McGoon and Moonbeam McSwine (Capp) - comics legend. Once you hear the name "Moonbeam McSwine," you aren't apt to forget it.
  • 29D: "The Silence of the Hams" director Greggio (Ezio) - see, this is pushing it, pop-culture-wise. David DOYLE is one thing, but this guy? WTF? This film was a horror film parody before horror film parodies became such a horrible cliché and before horror films themselves made the very notion of parody start to seem redundant. It should be noted that EZIO wrote, directed, and starred in the film, and that the film also featured both Dom DeLuise (!) and, from yesterday's puzzle, John ASTIN.
  • 32D: One of his lost works is "Medea" (Ovid) - my boy. I'm about to embark on a ridiculous, possibly life-long endeavor: read "Metamorphoses" in Latin. If I'm going to reacquaint myself with Latin, I figured I might as well read something awesome while doing it.
  • 34D: Supply of arrows (quiverful) - is this a word? I love it. Gutsy.
  • 41D: Soviet premier Kosygin (Aleksei) - no idea. Maybe he got in here with RAISA.
  • 42D: New Brunswick's river (Raritan) - I know this as a journal of some kind.
  • 47D: Sometime sampler stitching (adage) - Not a lot of stitching going on in my family. Quilting, yes. Stitching, no. I guess you have to stitch quilt tops, so they must be related activities. I'm really out of my depth here.
  • 50D: Touristy Tuscany town (Siena) - The clue is poem. Dactyls!
  • 54D: Great Depression figure (hobo) - HA ha. Did not see that coming. I was thinking HOOVER or ... some other "figure" of note. Maybe with the New Depression upon us, we'll start seeing HOBOs again. I don't like the idea of homelessness and poverty, but HOBOs amuse me.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I posted my interview with crossword artist Emily Jo Cureton last night. I'll keep a link to it in the sidebar for the next month or so.


RP Interview #1: Emily Jo Cureton

Friday, September 26, 2008

Late last year a message showed up in my Inbox from one Emily Jo Cureton. It read as follows:

dear rex,

i have begun a new tradition. everyday that i do (or attempt to do) the nyt crossword, i make a drawing to accompany. unless you object i will send you the fruit of this labor daily in lieu of actually commenting on your blog. enjoy. (and fear not my attachments. they wont make your computer sick)


Emily's uncanny ability to make art (and poetry) out of each day's grid made me an instant fan, and I began posting her drawings at my site on a regular basis. Soon people were writing me (and her) asking for more. She began by setting up a mailing list, but quickly thereafter set up a blog where her daily drawings have been on display ever since. By tournament time she was a minor crosswording celebrity, with fans ranging from casual solvers to constructors all the way to Will Shortz himself. Just this month, she decided to bring her crossword drawing project to a close. I sat down with her recently (you know, via email) to ask her to reflect on what the past year has meant to her, personally and professionally.

RP: OK, let's start with a short bio
Emjo: bio? I am 23 years old. I like to go dancing, but not too often. I was born and raised in Texas and currently live in Brooklyn, NY.

RP: What were you doing, artistically, before you started in on crossword drawings?
Emjo: Generally, I fancy myself a painter. You know - heavy oils, glass jars, palpable angst - the whole nine yards. Still, I've been going through this phase where I prefer to make small-scale, highly repetitive work on paper. Before NYT drawings I made a card game called Infected - it's basically charades but with illnesses (and some things historically thought of as illnesses) [see "Homosexuality" card, right]. Players draw an illustrated card from the deck at random and act out the affliction without using sound until someone is able to diagnose them.

RP: What first inspired you to do a drawing based on a crossword puzzle?
Emjo: Disgust. I found myself lavishing unspeakable amounts of time on solving crossword puzzles and yet I had nothing to show for it except a stack of crumpled newspapers and a vowel-laden vocabulary. I thought it would be interesting to make art that was almost instantaneously as obsolete as yesterday's news. I'm still sort of embarrassed that I became such a show-off about it.

RP: What are the tools of your trade? What kind of ink do you use? What kind of paper?
Emjo: I mostly used archival pens, 6"x9" reporter notebooks, and magic, though not exclusively.

RP: Can you describe your artistic process a little? I'm most curious about how you managed to be disciplined enough to execute a polished drawing every day. Did you draw at the same time every day? Did drawing get easier the more you did it?
Emjo: I suppose I am one of those people who exercises such poor discipline and self-control in certain areas that I overcompensate in others. When you've just eaten a whole pie or shopped at The Gap online, it's easy to shame yourself in to making something pretty. I would do the puzzle first thing in the morning on my way to work, study the puzzle on the way back from work and then make the drawing late at night. Usually I spent more time thinking about and looking at the grid than rendering the image.

RP: Some of your drawings are really unsettling - they can be very dark, or sexual, or both? (See drawings for August 1, August 5, and August 30, 2008, for example). I think part of the shock of the drawings is their origin in and juxtaposition with something as familiar, quaint, and apparently uncontroversial as a crossword puzzle. Was there a point to going dark so often? Or was each drawing a kind of self-contained event, with no thought to overall pattern?
Emjo: I suppose it may not seem like it, but I really did apply certain restrictions on myself in regard to taste, especially for the first 3 or 4 months. I wouldn't call it a breakfast test- more like an after-dinner rubric. Eventually, I got bored with censoring - I don't care how innocent they may appear - there is some appalling stuff in crossword puzzles. I'm pretty sure my mind is in the gutter because the world is in fact, a gutter.

RP: Do you always use source material for your drawings? Where does source material tend to come from?
Emjo: I almost always use source materials and they almost always come from google image results - so yes, hours upon hours of googling things was involved. I know its not very glamorous, but so it went. Once when my internet died, I had to use actual books and it took me ages. I suppose the trick isn't so much google, but what to google. Say the clues are LAWBREAKER, IN HOT WATER, and I DO TOO - well obviously, I'm looking at pictures of polygamist weddings.

RP: You seem drawn to animals as subjects for your drawings. What do you like about drawing animals (aside from the fact that you're clearly really good at it)?
Emjo: Fur, scales and feathers! These are but a few of my favorite things.

RP: This question may sound weird, but ... how does a grid tell you what to draw?
Emjo: The first things I look for are symmetry and syntax. I like to make complete sentences, or at least choose words that appear in a grammatically plausible order. This doesn't always work out. Sometimes I will just have something on my mind, like say, Tonya Harding or El Niño, and then I'll do my damnedest to bend the puzzle to my will. I think the best part about this project was that the process was a little bit different every time around.

RP: Which of your drawings are you most proud of, and why?
Emjo: I'm not really that proud of any individual drawing... I'm glad to have made so many.

RP: How has this crossword drawing project changed your life (personally or professionally)?
: Personally, I have alienated a lot of people by talking about crossword puzzles too much. Professionally, I have alienated a lot of people by talking about crossword puzzles too much.

RP: Describe your experience at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this past February? What was it like to show off your art in that forum, and to meet so many of the people whose work you'd been ... reworking?
Emjo: It was a truly amazing experience. I really loved how smart and unpretentious everyone was and I only wish I wasn't so completely mortified by the idea of competing. I also love being flattered by genuinely cool people. So yeah, a great time all around.

RP: Are you satisfied with the outcome of the whole crossword drawing project? What will you do with the body of work you've amassed over the past 10+ months? Are you going to do any more crossword-inspired art?
Emjo: I really intended to do this project for one year and am a little disappointed that I stopped early. I wish I could sell the entire collection as one piece, though I'm not exactly holding my breath. As far as the future of my crossword art goes - I still might make the occasional drawing... and also I hope to illustrate a book about the fascinating lexicon of a successful cruciverbalist...

[untitled drawing for future book project]

RP: Do you have any plans to collect or otherwise display your crossword drawings?
Emjo: Funny you should ask, they will be on display for one night only in Brooklyn, NY on October 15th at the Hope Lounge. I also hope to attend the Tournament again with drawings in tow. If any other opportunities came a-knocking, I wouldn't turn them away.

RP: You have said that you are selling your drawings. How much are they, and how can people go about purchasing them?
Emjo: Originals run $100-$200 each, depending on if I had breakfast. People can contact me directly by email (emilyjo.c@gmail.com) to purchase.

RP: What artists do you most admire? Which have been most influential on your own work? Besides yourself, what contemporary artists do you think deserve greater recognition?
Emjo: My favorite artists ever are probably Gerhard Richter and William Makepeace Thackeray, Albrecht Durer informed my approach to illustration, and my favorite contemporary artist is Lillian Gerson. And I'm not sure that I deserve more recognition - just lots of riches would be fine.



FRIDAY, Sep. 26, 2008 - Barry Silk (Dish named for the queen consort of Italy's Umberto I / Film about an aristocrat captured by the Sioux)

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

This puzzle was probably easier than I imagine - I did it at night on the heels of about five other puzzles, and I was tired. Nothing about it excited me, even PIZZA MARGHERITA, which is delicious (58A: Dish named for the queen consort of Italy's Umberto I). There were only two answers that I'd never heard of before - HAAG (23A: Den _____, Nederland) and AQI (16D: Smog stat.). The bottom half of the puzzle is Way more interesting than the top half. I'm not sure why, but NOBEL PEACE PRIZE (15A: King's honor) on top of CIA HEADQUARTERS (17A: Where moles may try to dig?) makes me want to fall asleep. STATIONARY ORBIT (34A: An artificial satellite may have one) - ditto. But "A MAN CALLED HORSE" (55A: Film about an aristocrat captured by the Sioux) on top of PIZZA MARGHERITA - magic.

There was a lot of ordinary, common, tired fill here - more than I'd expect on a Friday. ERIE (52D: War of 1812 siege site) and ERE I (22D: "A special laurel _____ go": Whitman) at least have the decency to be playfully anagrammatic, but NEST, ESTER, ESTE (53D: City SW of Padua) ... just pass the "EST" back and forth. EZRA, ABAB, EMIT, ILE ... meh and more meh. I do like the pile-up of HARRY, VARY, and STATIONARY in the middle of the puzzle, as well as the overlapping RARE SNARE WEARS SERT (32A: Muralist José María _____) configuration, but overall there was a vanilla feel to the whole thing. I like vanilla. But I prefer chocolate.

Lots and lots of people in the puzzle. After MARGHERITA, there's Cheryl TIEGS (46D: Model who wrote "The Way to Natural Beauty") making a highly improbable second appearance in the grid in as many days. There's John ASTIN (25D: John of "Freaky Friday"). GANDHI you know (44D: Leader who said "There is no god higher than truth"). Reagan appointee Katherine ORTEGA you forgot about, if you ever knew her (11D: Katherine _____, 1983-89 Treasurer of the United States). Oh, SERT we already met. MENA Suvari (21A: Actress Suvari) needs to get in touch with Mira Sorvino and then explain to me how in the world I'm supposed to keep the two of them straight.

I balked at BAKERS for 24A: Ones at home on the range? BAKERS work in a range, not on it. If you go for the pun, you had better nail it. Forced puns are the worst. Worst! I had PAKERS here for a few seconds because PASTE would work as well as BASTE for 24D: Beat badly. Back to the issue of "?" clues - what is the logic behind the "?" in 50A: Halo tarnisher? (sin)? It's pretty straightforward. Is it that you don't want people to think you actually believe halos exist, or are made of metal that might actually tarnish? Is there a play on words I'm missing? Does the clue reference the "first-person shooter" game "Halo" in ways I just don't understand?

What's left?:

  • Love the ATAVISM (1A: Reversion to an earlier type) / IT'S OPEN (8A: Shout after a knock) pairing at the top of the puzzle
  • 19A: Xbox 360 competitor (Wii) - you can play "Halo" on Xbox.
  • 41A: "Friends" who aren't really being helpful (enablers) - well, parents can certainly be ENABLERS, as can spouses, children, etc. "Friends" in quotation marks is a TV show.
  • 5D: Ithaque, e.g. (ile) - Frenchifying "The Odyssey." Nice.
  • 13D: Book concerned with the end of the Babylonian captivity (Ezra) - good thing this was in four letters; my bible knowledge can get a bit shaky in places.
  • 14D: Kite flying destination? (nest) - that's a Good "?" clue
  • 29D: Vichyssoise garnish (chive) - I used celery and parsley leaves to garnish the soup I made this past weekend.
  • 43D: Flock-related (laical) - worst word in the grid. Why would you add "AL" to a word that already means "flock-related"?
  • 26D: Sluggish tree-dweller (koala) - not clued as a "bear," so that's good. I wonder what "tree dweller" will have to say about this clue...
Later today, I'll post my interview with crossword artist Emily Jo Cureton.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Oh you'll love this...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Times Puzzle is Clueless about McCain" (from Politico.com)

I would tell you all not to read the comments section of this article, but I know you won't be able to stop yourselves - there's about one sane voice for every five sad, angry shouters. I assume that the article was a bit of satire. The readers ... don't seem to think so. Thanks to Doug (in Brooklyn) for pointing this out.


PS to be fair, the commenters at the Huffingtonpost article about the politico.com article (really?) seem at least as humorless (or horribly unfunny) as their politico counterparts. Lots of stupid ranting and name-calling re: McCain. Lots of self-congratulatory bullshit about how anyone smart enough to do a puzzle will obviously vote for Obama, etc. Fewer grammatical errors on the Left, perhaps, but not much more insight (or joy, or humanity). Jeez louise, people, stop dehumanizing each other.


TONY PLAYER ON "NYPD BLUE" - THURSDAY, Sep. 25, 2008 - Victor Fleming (_____ Green, Scottish town famous for runaway weddings / Shoeboy's offering)

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Draws" - that's the clue for eight different answers

Wow. This is one of those puzzles that is technically impressive - eight theme answers arranged as four symmetrical and intersecting pairs - but that shows signs of strain because of its high level of difficulty. Overall, though, I'm amazed that the grid's as smooth as it is, given the heavy constraints the theme answer imposes on it. As far as the theme answers, INFERS seems slightly off (you "draw" an inference, OK, but does "draw" = INFER?) and I don't understand RECEIPTS here. The rest of the answers make total sense. A box office draw might result in a good take (RECEIPTS), but ... clearly that's not the context here. So I'm missing something.

  • 11D: INFERS
  • 46D: CLOSES
  • 49A: PULLS A GUN
The most nightmarish area of the grid, from my perspective, was the NE, where the LEELA / ILENE crossing seemed freakishly wrong (10D: Female companion in "Doctor Who" + 22A: Actress Graff).

I can tell you that this Lady Problem was noted, but deemed unsolvable, and therefore, given ILENE Graff's reasonable fame (and crossword presence), the grid was allowed to stand as is. Note to aspiring constructors - you do not want to have two unusual and not-terribly-famous proper nouns intersecting in your grid, particularly at a low-value letter like "L." ILENE was especially painful because I'd had to endure her rhyming obscure actress counterpart just a few minutes earlier - IRENE (18D: Papas of "Zorba the Greek"). This reminds me of a racist joke that I obviously am not going to tell.

The other thorny part of this grid was the SE - oh my god I JUST realized why I'm E/W dyslexic! I want East and West to be in alphabetical order. Just like North and South. Oh, man, it's so simple now that I see it. Whew, I feel a lot better now.

OK, back to thorniness. The SE: the clue on 64A: What may ensure the show goes on? (TiVo) is really awkwardly phrased and thus loses its grip a bit on "the show must go on" frame of reference. The show "goes on" whether you have TiVo (or, in my case, TiFaux) or not. Whether you get to see it is a totally different matter. My TiFaux is constantly hiccuping and losing me some very important episode of, let's say, "Project Runway" or "Chuck." It's like a 4-year-old; I have to monitor it constantly to ensure that it's behaving. The clue on HIP (59D: Turning point?) seems arbitrary, and I'm pretty sure I had HUB in there at some point. I guess any ball joint is a [Turning point?]. This little corner may seem harmless in retrospect, but while I was solving, it snagged me good.

Thursday buffet:
  • 1A: Fifth stroke, often (putt) - good clue
  • 8A: Shoeboy's offering (polish) - "shoeboy!" What year is it? Here's a recommendation: Don't call the guy who polishes shoes at the Philadelphia airport "shoeboy." Not if you want to live out your life.
  • 14A: Tony player on "NYPD Blue" (Esai) - Crosswordese 101. Many such answers are hiding in the puzzle today, including SST (31A: Retired barrier breaker, for short), ABBÉ (37A: Sermonizer in France), U-BOAT (53A: W.W. II blockade enforcer), TACO (23A: Sonora snack), and OLAN (24D: "The Good Earth" mother). Hey, five of those clues have -ER words in them. Just sayin'...
  • 15A: Home of the Clearwater Mtns. (Ida.) - My family is (partly) from IDA., and I had No idea. In fact, it appears my mother's home town (and my grandma's current home) is somewhere near the northern end of this range. I really should pay more attention, in general.
  • 19A: Edberg who won two Wimbledons (Stefan) - total gimme (I played tennis when Edberg was at his peak). Many other convenient gimmes occupy the grid, including "GREASE" (20A: 1972 musical with the song "Summer Nights"), LUIS (41A: Tiant in the Red Sox Hall of Fame), and ARTERY (42A: Angiogram sight). I was a tennis-playing, "Grease"-listening, Red Sox-loving son of a radiologist who, as a 6-year-old, wrote up a "Doggy Angiogram" (complete with spurious stats like "heart bump") for one of my stuffed animals - so, yeah, this puzzle feels as if it were written expressly for me.
  • 44A: Pollen holder (sac) - goes on the DECOCT list (of ugly words)
  • 44D: Poinsettia's family (spurge) - intersecting SAC? Come on, I just ate. DECOCT!
  • 54A: Old Athenian ally against Persia (Sparta) - did you really need "Old?" I mean, "Persia" pretty much says it all.
  • 56A: What fools do, per an adage (rush in) - "Where Angels Fear to Tread" (E.M. Forster)
  • 62A: _____ Green, Scottish town famous for runaway weddings (Gretna) - if "Gretna Green" hadn't been in a recent, Scottish-oriented clue, I would never have known this. "Famous," indeed.
  • 29D: Villainess in "The Little Mermaid" (Ursula) - also writer Le Guin, sex kitten Andress, etc.
  • 43D: John _____, Doris Day's co-star in "The Pajama Game" (Raitt) - this clue has been Thursdayed, for your enjoyment/protection/pleasure. Sucks for you, Bonnie!
Oh, I almost forgot - today is the two-year anniversary of this blog [noisemakers, balloons dropping, confetti, etc.]. Here's the first entry I ever wrote - it's weird to me how little the blog has changed since then. Formula! Thanks to my constant and inconstant readers, and God bless you, grandpamike, wherever you are.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Sep. 24, 2008 - Lynn Lempel (Frequent Jacques Brel song subject / Jim Beam quaffs / One of the "dumbest dumb animals")

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: GEORGE BURNS quotation re: the HUMMINGBIRD and why it is one of the "dumbest dumb animals": "IT'S REALLY TIME HE / LEARNED THE WORDS"

Not a quote puzzle fan, but this one cleaned up nicely, and was very easy to tease out. I adore the long Downs in this puzzle - SIR GALAHAD (29D: "Le Morte d'Arthur" figure) and HOLY TERROR make a nice yin/yang. Lancelot's nauseatingly perfect child meets [Imp plus], which is a phrase I'm going to use All The Time now to describe any disgustingly ill-behaved brat. "Imp plus." "I'm sorry, what did you say about my child?" "Dimples. He has cute dimples." Traction was quick to arrive in this puzzle, as 6A: Battle to remember, with "the" (Alamo) and 11A: "And _____!" ("how!") were both gimmes, giving me (and possibly you) the first letters to eight consecutive Downs - can't ask for more than that.

I already told you all the theme answers, so, what else?

There are a couple of nice juxtapositions in the puzzle - words that create compelling phrases simply by virtue of grid proximity. ORIOLE BUMMERS (5D: Orange-and-black fliers + 4D: Lousy breaks) are a way of describing those days on which the Red Sox come to Baltimore (I know, I was there, it was a bloodbath - but at least you guys have Michael Stipe ... wait, what's his name? Michael Bean? Michael ... Phelps! How soon we (I) forget). I especially like SAMOA SAM at 20- and 21-Across (Polynesian land + Walton who founded Wal-Mart). I imagine that Wal-Mart has purchased the entire country and turned it into a distribution center / SAM Walton's personal kingdom. If only artist Emily Cureton were still doing her daily xword drawings, maybe she could give me a nice pic of SAM in a lava-lava. Or, failing that, a MARMOT ROBOT (9D: Rockies rodent + 25A: Unpaid factory worker).

Speaking of Emily, who just last week decided to call a halt to her daily NYT crossword drawing project - I'll be publishing a substantial interview with her this Friday, in which she talks art, crosswords, and future plans. So look for it. She gives a good interview. You won't be disappointed.

FORE! (45A: Driver's warning)

  • 1A: Empty-head sort (bimbo) - a great word that you don't hear much anymore. Can't we have a non-sexist culture and still retain the rights to "BIMBO?" (and "DAME" and "GAMS" and "BROAD" ... please?)
  • 14A: Frequent Jacques Brel subject (amour) - "sujet" might have been more appropriate. Brel's name sounds like a mouthwash, but is actually probably closer to a shampoo ("Prell") than to any other personal hygiene product.

  • 16A: Work by Gray or Spenser (ode) - Spenser wrote an ODE? Wow, I missed that. Saw Gray's name and wanted "elegy."
  • 22A: Some Jim Beam quaffs (rye) - how many different types of Jim Beam are there? I learned the word "rye" (non-bread form) from "American Pie." Here's Don McLean on "IMUS in the Morning" (2D):

  • 34A: Corn locale (toe) - IOWA wouldn't fit.
  • 41A: Award for Best Novel won three times by Dick Francis (Edgar) - gimme. "Hey, he's the horses guy." True. His novels were on the bookshelves of many different family members in the 1970s and 80s. Very distinctive design.
  • 50A: Tropical vine (Liana) - Hey, LIANA, you're in the puzzle (Rob, go tell her). Here is another LIANA:
["Her Color Was No Barrier - To Men"]

  • 56A: Goddess of home and family (Vesta) - I teach in Vestal.
  • 67A: Wilderness walks (treks) - the clue doesn't quite suggest the arduousness that the answer implies.
  • 68A: Conical home (tepee) - Good clue! :)
  • 6D: Taiwanese-born director Lee (Ang) - maybe my favorite mainstream, big budget-type director. His range is mind-blowing.
  • 12D: Jon's comics canine (Odie) - I really like "Garfield minus Garfield," But there are no Odie strips there. I went back several months, and nothing. Anyway, I recommend the blog - great evidence of how quickly one can go from concept to blog to book deal with Ballantine inside of 8 months (see also recent publication of the the blog-to-book project "Stuff White People Like," which just got a Rave review in The Atlantic).
  • 22D: Home of the Galleria Borghese (Roma) - four letters? Italiany sounding? No problem.
  • 26D: Something to drool over? (bib) - first off, there's been a lot of drool in the puzzle lately. Second, ODIE drools, so that's a nice tie-in to 12D.
  • 38D: "Fantastic Mr. Fox" author (Dahl) - know this only because I have a youngish daughter. Never read this when I was a kid.
  • 43D: Protein-producing substance (RNA) - have learned to associate "protein" with RNA.
  • 60D: Clock setting at 0 degrees longitude: Abbr. (GMT) - Greenwich Mean Time. Which reminds me - I really need a new watch. Or watches. My Krusty the Clown watch is a little bulky / bright teal to wear with most outfits.
  • 52D: Bloodhound feature (jowl) - bloodhounds will forever make me think of "Best in Show"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Sep. 23, 2008 - Richard Chisholm (Query to a brown cow / Two-time Oscar winner Luise / Bygone school dance)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: IN HOT WATER (61A: Where 17-, 29-, 36- and 44-Across often wind up)

Tight, cute theme. If only there were fewer black squares ... :) I rated this puzzle "Medium," but now can't quite remember what the rationale was. Seems very easy, though I think I had to wrestle with RAINER (18D: Two-time Oscar winner Luise), of whom I'd never heard. Also probably dropped in ERIN where EIRE belonged (39D: Home of County Clare). Oh, and then I blinked at "AS I DO" (56A: "Like me"), both because I just couldn't think of a phrase that fit, and then because when I got the phrase, I didn't trust it: there's another answer with the phrase "I DO" in it just one black square away. Seemed odd. Other than that, I think, piece of cake.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: One risking arrest (law breaker)
  • 29A: Some seers read them (tea leaves) - I put TEA LEAVES IN HOT WATER less than half an hour ago...
  • 36A: Sink items (dirty dishes) - my sink is currently full of them
  • 44A: Trattoria offering (spaghetti)
There are some good action words in this puzzle, like WRING (48A: Twist, as a wet cloth or a neck) and WALLOP (52A: Beat but good) and CLASH (25D: Lock horns). Even ASWARM (3D: Teeming as with bees) conveys motion, especially when placed next door to MOB (4D: Group with enforcers, with "the"). AIR WAVES (Radio hosts' medium) also conveys a sense of motion, but the use of the word "medium" in the clue threw me. Radio is a medium, with the idea of AIR WAVES built into it ... no? Anyway, the clue seems accurate, if odd. I was also a little thrown by GNARLY (51D: Very cool, in slang) when I first solved this puzzle, largely because the original clue (when I was test-solving) was completely different: [Distasteful, in slang]. That clue was true enough, but when I hear GNARLY in my head, this is the voice I hear:

The Rest:
  • 22A: One of eight Eng. kings (Edw.) - well I don't like that abbrev., but since it's hot on the heels of another Eng. king (the "J" in K. J. V.), I'll call it a mini-theme and be done with it - 23A: The "V" in K. J. V. (Version).
  • 64A: Santa _____ Derby (annual horse race) (Anita) - would have preferred a clue relating to any of these three ANITAs:

  • 1D: Drool, basically (saliva) - gross.
  • 8D: Glasgow denials (naes) - Och!
  • 12D: Actress Caldwell (Zoe) - who is this? I feel like I ask this question every time this particular ZOE comes up. . . she's a stage actress who is not at all familiar to me. Wikipedia says her mother was a "taxi dancer," which is a phrase I want to see in a puzzle, like, tomorrow.
  • 30D: Conclude by (end at) - seems off. Clue implies approximation, where answer implies precision.
  • 67A: Note on a Chinese menu (No MSG) - nice consonant cluster
  • 38D: Query to a brown cow ("How now?") - great answer. What is the origin of this phrase? Whoa, it's a nonsense phrase used to demonstrate rounded vowel sounds. And here I thought there was some olde timey cultural reference I was missing.
  • 46D: Bygone school dance (hop) - as in ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Sep. 22, 2008 - Peter A. Collins (Russia/China border river / The Titanic's was Southampton / Michael _____, Cochise player in 1950s TV )

Monday, September 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: THE / ZOO (11A: With 66-Across, where this puzzle's circled things can all be found) - circled "things," symmetrically arranged in five different answers, are all animals

I got slowed down All Over the Place in this one. On a Monday, that doesn't mean very much in terms of my average solving time (maybe +30 seconds to +1 minute), but I definitely felt the tripping. Got SEAL and SABLE first, and was a bit horrified at the prospect of the puzzle's having a FUR theme (THE / FUR?). The symmetry on the circled answers is indeed impressive, but these are not animals that readily come to mind when I think of THE ZOO. BEAR, CAMEL, and SEAL, all yes. GNU ... OK, GNU is good. I'm sure I've seen a GNU at a ZOO (urge to rhyme ... growing). But SABLE? A sable is a carnivorous Eurasian mammal often farmed for fur. It is also a Mercury sedan. I do not believe I have seen a sable at a zoo, though I am quite sure they are there, somewhere, past the ZEBRA and OKAPI. Sables are related to martens, who are one of the cutest animals on the planet:

Theme answers:

  • 21A: Proceed effortlessly (crui SEAL ong)
  • 3D: Less competent (not a SABLE) - also, what one might say about a marten
  • 38A: Tire irons loosen them (lu GNU ts)
  • 34D: Ensued (CAMEL ater) - also, a cockney bootblack who is picky about his cigarettes
  • 54A: 1972 hit for the Spinners ("I'll BEAR ound") - my favorite theme answer. It's a good song.

The tripping occurred somewhere in the fertile sable habitat of Eurasia, i.e. on the banks of the damned AMUR, which I have never heard of. It's rough when you're cruising along (!) with answers like ANAS, IN OR, ORA, EMAG, ON A, ARE, AREA, NNE, NOEL, etc. and then along comes AMUR (47A: Russia/China border river). I feel similarly about Michael ANSARA (10D: Michael _____, Cochise player in 1950s TV), though I've seen him recently and so am not as put off by him as I might have been. HOME PORT also took me longer than I would have liked, but I think that's a nice, fresh answer for a Monday (9D: The Titanic's was Southampton). My first thoughts: Captain? Cruise director? Bartender?

  • 6A: Mutual of _____ (insurance giant) (Omaha) - here's how I know this answer so well:
  • 26A: Respect that one deserves, in slang (props) - "I give props to those who deserve it / and believe me y'all, he's worth it."
  • 27A: Mount on which Noah landed (Ararat) - which is somewhere in the general vicinity (700 mi.) of ANKARA, which is one letter removed from ANSARA. Coincidence? ... yes, probably.
  • 64A: Related to the arm bone (ulnar) - it's a very cool word. Oh, man, if that word had been ULNAL, I would have hated it so bad ....
  • 12D: Centers of steering wheels (horns) - I used to use mine a lot more than I do now. I also tend to drive the speed limit now. I'm old (and not even 40 yet - so sad).
  • 36D: Political cartoonist Thomas (Nast) - "Tweed twitter Thomas" was a clue back in the day - that's how I learned who NAST was.
  • 54D: Mother of Don Juan (Inez) - if it starts with "I" and ends in "Z" and is four letters, you don't have a lot of options. INEZ, as I've said before, is my grandmother's name.
  • 55D: Jaffe who wrote "Five Women" (Rona) - no idea how I know this woman's name, but I do. RONA Barrett is a bit more common, but Jaffe is right up there.

Happy birthday to my little girl

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Sep. 21, 2008 - Brendan Emmett Quigley (Card game played to 61 / Biological dividing wall / Opposite of guerra)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "It's a Mystery" - eight theme answers all begin with the names of fictional detectives (clued in non-detective fashion): 109A: Ones in charge of a case ... or a literal hint to the eight other longest answers in this puzzle (lead detectives)

I am teaching Crime Fiction right now, so you'd think I'd have liked this puzzle. . . and I did. Psych! The only problems I had were with some detectives I barely knew, e.g. the way out-of-popular-consciousness Gideon FELL (a John Dickson Carr detective). FISH is the real odd-man-out here, as he was a detective on "Barney Miller" (played by Abe Vigoda) and was a featured player in his own right only in the very short-lived "Barney Miller" spin-off, aptly titled "FISH." "FISH" ran for 35 episodes from '77 to '78 and featured, among others, Todd Bridges (of "Diff'rent Strokes" fame)! Ellery QUEEN is a character / pen name with a history so long and complex I can do little but refer you to outside sources. I just finished teaching "The Maltese Falcon," so SPADE was on my mind, and we'll be reading Mickey Spillane in a few more weeks - I think Spillane (recently deceased) was a totally misunderstood and under-rated crime fiction writer, and his detective, Mike HAMMER, is a seething poet of populist rage. He has no restraint. He's a great American Monster. But I digress. There's a girl here too. Did I mention that? Nancy DREW is hiding out in the NW corner, as if she can't quite bring herself to associate with all the old(er) men. It's OK. MAGNUM will protect her.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: School in Madison, N. J. (DREW University)
  • 33A: Don't believe it (FISH story)
  • 46A: "The Divine Comedy," for Dante (MAGNUM opus)
  • 66A: Track-and-field event (HAMMER throw)
  • 84A: Dropped off (FELL asleep)
  • 98A: Pantry array (MASON jars)
  • 17D: Beloved figure in England (QUEEN Mother)
  • 65D: Card game played to 61 (SPADE Casino) - the one answer in the bunch that seems to come from outer space. Is this a game I would know if I only frequented casinos more often?
Running late today, so here are a few kwik komments:

I love when the puzzle decides to give me a little trivia with my answers, so I was especially grateful today when I got the following set of three:
  • 26A: Poet whose last words were "Of course [God] will forgive me; that's his business" (Heine) - unlike detective Philip Marlowe, whose business is Trouble.
  • 72A: Record producer who published the diary "A Year With Swollen Appendices" (Eno)
  • 4D: City with the world's first telephone directory (1878) (New Haven) - Was there an Old Haven? Just ... Haven? I'm guessing yes. This is one weird claim to fame.
  • 106A: Only U.S. vice president born in Maryland (Agnew) - have I told you about my AGNEW watch? Oh, that's right, I have. I really gotta take that thing to a watch ... fixer ... guy.
If you give a RIAL TO the Yemeni movie theater attendant, will he let you into the RIALTO?

Never heard of:
  • WOOD LOT (7A: Lumber supplier) - clearly lumber is not my thing. I remember being stumped by the concept of BOARD FOOT, also in a Sunday puzzle, almost in this exact location, a few months ago.
  • LEIGH (11D: "The Da Vinci Code" scholar Sir _____ Teabing) - I still prefer LEIGH Brackett. Hey, shouldn't it be "The Leonardo Code"? I mean, really.
  • LACTASE (102A: Enzyme in some yeasts) - I nearly missed this because I got sloppy and wrote in LACTOSE. Thankfully I noticed the bizarre MEDIO staring at me (79D: Broadcasters, e.g. - MEDIA).
  • OBIE (42A: Officer in "Alice's Restaurant") - ODIE I know. OBIE ... only as a theater award.
  • STEAMER (40A: Raw bar offering) - again, as with lumber, my lack of appropriate regional location hurts me here. There are no raw bars where I live, so after SASHIMI and, uh, SLIDERS, I was stuck.
  • CASERTA (14D: Italy's Reggia di _____ (royal palace)) - I thought for sure this was wrong. It looks wrong. It sounds wrong. It's not.
Sweet spot:
  • 20A: City and county in central California (Madera) - I'd like to give a shout-out to all my homies in the SJV! (that is to say, I grew up in Fresno, not far from MADERA).
  • 83D: "Malcolm in the Middle" boy (Reese) - this is "Malcolm"'s second appearance in as many weeks. I used to watch it in its early years.
Other stuff:
  • 49A: 1950s-'70s TV host (Paar) - before my time, but a common xword answer.
  • 83A: _____ avis (rara) - bonus theme answer, as the Maltese Falcon is referred to in the novel as the "rara avis." Here's Gutman at the very end of Chapter 19 (penultimate chapter):
"Well, sir, the shortest farewells are the best. Adieu." He made a portly bow. "And to you, Miss O'Shaughnessy, adieu. I leave you the rara avis on the table as a little memento."
  • 89A: Work site? ("In" tray) - very clever.
  • 92A: Trig angle (arcsine) - after COSINE, I drew a blank ... then 1986 kicked back in.
  • 95A: "On Language" columnist (Safire) - I like his writing, generally, and I love that he intersects LEFT WING (86D: Liberal). (Not) Apt! Oh, and I can only hope the proximity of LEFT WING to MEDIA (79D) is not some kind of political commentary.
  • 6D: Nuts (zanies)
  • 59D: Scoundrels (meanies) - the ZANIES ... and the MEANIES ... and the epic war for control of planet Snaktron.
  • 12D: Novelist who wrote "The Gravedigger's Daughter" (Oates) - also, musical partner of Hall.
  • 13D: No-tell motel visit (tryst) - the new show "Fringe" opens with one of these. Yes, I'm kind of watching "Fringe."
  • 19D: Eve _____, "The Vagina Monologues" monologist (Ensler) - next to "vagina," "monologues" starts looking awfully sexual. I think Ms. ENSLER writes for Huffingtonpost now.
  • 28D: Quaint letter opener ("To sir") - preferably "with Love."
  • 33D: Extremely pleasing, in slang (fabu) - oh, please, never say that.
  • 39D: Biological dividing wall (septum) - goes on the DECOCT list (of ugly words).
  • 58D: Southern legume (cow pea) - more legumes (see yesterday's DEHISCES).
  • 68D: Loose overcoat (raglan) - I knew the term RAGLAN sleeve (a sleeve I cannot wear as it highlights my relative lack of shoulders), but I never thought about what RAGLAN might mean.
  • 100D: Certain flower girl (niece) - er ... ok.
  • 96D: Winning hand in blackjack (ace ten) - true enough. Wait, would Ace King beat it? Or Ace Jack? Or ace ... Black Jack!? I don't gamble, clearly.
  • 108D: Opposite of guerra (paz) - there is a comics artist named PIA GUERRA, and so all I wanted to put in here was PIA.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I'm happy to announce the arrival of a new Forum for the Discussion of All Things Puzzles - my fellow crossword blogger "Orange" (Amy Reynaldo, author of "How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle"), has created "The Crossword Fiend Forum." It has discussion threads related to all the day's major crosswords, larger issues in crossword construction and publishing, and even a section for the discussion of this country's various Cryptic Crosswords. I encourage you to give it a look. I mean, come here first, of course, for your NYT commentary, but if you've got time ... :)


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