"Aces!" — a Rex Parker free puzzle

Monday, November 30, 2009

Here's a puzzle I wrote last week when I realized that a recent public announcement presented great opportunities for puzzle answer symmetry. It's too straightforward a tribute puzzle to be a good fit for newspapers, and the subject matter / names involved will cause radically different solving experiences among solvers. Still, I hope there's entertainment or challenge enough to go around. Should be solvable even if the subject matter is way out of your wheelhouse.

Get the puzzle in .puz (AcrossLite) format HERE (or just print it out below; click on "Print") ... completed grid can be viewed HERE.

Thanks, RP



Seabird native to the Galapagos — MONDAY, Nov. 30 2009 — French novelist who had affair with Frederic Chopin

Constructor: Oliver Hill

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TRAP (66A: Word that can follow the ends of 18-, 25-, 43- and 59-Across)

Word of the Day: E BONDS (46D: Old U.S. gov't investments) — Series E U.S. Savings Bonds were marketed by the United States government as war bonds from 1941 to 1980. When Americans refer to war bonds, they are usually referring to Series E bonds. Those issued from 1941 to November 1965 accrued interest for 40 years; those issued from December 1965 to June 1980, for 30 years. They were generally issued at 75 cents per dollar face value, maturing at par in a specified number of years that fluctuated with the rate of interest. Denominations available were $25, $50, $75, $100, $200, $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000. Series E bonds were issued only in registered, physical form and are not transferable. The guaranteed minimum investment yield for the bonds was 4 percent, compounded semiannually


Pretty dull "word that can follow" puzzle redeemed somewhat by the unusual and funny-sounding BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY. And by ROD CAREW — a great full-name answer. I can see his 1978 baseball card (the one with the '77 stats) very clearly in my mind. That's the year I started collecting. There was a profile shot of him (he played for the Minnesota Twins then) and there was a little insignia indicating his 1977 MVP status (... hmm, internet research just now shows that that insignia marked his All-Star status, not his MVP status; MVP is so much more important, I figured that must have been what was being commemorated, but no). Anyway, that dude could hit. He and George Brett were probably the greatest hitters of my childhood. Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn came a little later.

Theme answers:

  • 18A: 186,000 miles per second (light SPEED)
  • 25A: Not making any sounds (as quiet as a MOUSE)
  • 43A: Seabird native to the Galápagos Islands (blue-footed BOOBY)
  • 58A: French novelist who had an affair with Fréderic Chopin (George SAND)

My guess is that everyone is familiar with those first two theme answers, but those last two might have provided some trouble. BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY alone kept this puzzle in the "Medium" difficulty range. I had to fight for both the front and back end of it, as I didn't see the "TRAP" answer til near the very end. SW corner in particular was tough for me to zoom through, as I tried and failed to drop 43-45-Down into the grid the first time around. UPMOST was not a word that came quickly to mind (45D: Like Brahmins in the cast system) — grid already had an "UP" at UPDATE (12D: Supply with more recent info). So BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY and its environs made a mildly interesting puzzle out of what would otherwise have been a bore. Good enough.

Technical point of interest: lots of black squares today (42, near the upper limit), with a large chunk of them going toward ensuring that the two 15s, which are separated by just three rows, don't have ANY crosses in common except the central AGENT (28D: 15-percenter). Generally, the fewer of your theme answers that have to share crosses, the easier the grid is going to be to fill (well). The top two and bottom two theme answers already share a lot of crosses with one another, so the black barriers through the middle help create some looseness in the grid, allowing for a nice set of three Acrosses through the middle (GALAS / AL DENTE / CROON). Downside: lots o' 3-letter words, which never did wonders for anyone's grid.


  • 10D: Hasty glance (aperçu) — this is one of those words that is extremely uncommon in your / my everyday life, but that has somehow broken free of the (non-E) BONDS of obscurity and come to be reasonably commonplace in early-week puzzles. I have no idea how these things happen.
  • 52D: _____ Pepper (Sgt.) — actually gave me trouble. I wanted DR....
  • 4D: Amount of food at a cafeteria (trayful) — I love this word, esp. intersecting PLAYMATE (20A: Child's friend). Takes me back to 3rd grade (the year I would have acquired that ROD CAREW baseball card...)

See you tomorrow. Important announcements and more free puzzles on the way this week, so stay tuned. And for those who were away all weekend, check out the links to two special puzzles (in the upper part of my sidebar).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


SUNDAY, Nov. 29 2009 — Tamerlane dramatist Nicholas / TV character often seen in Metallica t-shirt / Old alpaca wool gatherer

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Constructor: Will Nediger

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Cued Up" — familiar phrases have "QU" added, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: Nicholas ROWE (34A: "Tamerlane" dramatist Nicholas) Nicholas Rowe (20 June 1674 – 6 December 1718), English dramatist, poet and miscellaneous writer, was appointed Poet Laureate in 1715 (he succeeded Nahum Tate as poet laureate) (wikipedia) [... whoever wrote this guy's wikipedia page (or the following part, anyway) is in love with him]: "Finally, Rowe's version of Lucan's Pharsalia is one of the greatest productions in English poetry as it captures the genius and spirit of the original. Lucan's works are distinguished by a kind of dictatorial or philosophic dignity, more declamatory than poetical; full of ambitious morality and pointed sentences, comprised in vigorous and animated lines. Rowe diligently and successfully preserved this character. His versification was seldom lacking in either melody or force. The Pharsalia of Rowe deserves more notice than it obtains, and the more it is read, the more esteemed it will be." [Now that I read this again, I believe it's plagiarized from some 19c. book of literary criticism.]


CUTE puzzle. Add-a-letter puzzles live or die by the QUality of the resulting theme answers, and these are mostly wonderful. What's more, QU- theme answers mean Tons of (well, 7) "Q" crosses and only one of them is a dud (2D: OPQ). That's a damned good batting average. This one was a pleasure from beginning to end. Interesting theme answers + solid (sometimes sparkling) fill — that's entertainment.

The hardest part of the puzzle (by far) for me was the NE, hinged as it was on the most anomalous of all the theme answers: WILDE BEQUEST. None of the other answers involved both taking a word apart *and* changing the pronunciation of the word *not* adjacent to the added "QU-." I did not know the Senator from Nebraska (BEN Nelson), so I couldn't get the "B." I still have no idea why EMU is the answer to 42A: It came up from Down Under (I get that they are from Down Under, but ... "came up?" Have they arrived on our shores?). Thus even though I knew the answer involved Oscar WILDE, the phrasing of the clue (in the possessive) made me think the answer must involve WILDE'S ... something. Only I couldn't think of man's name that went S-N. Tried to get into that NW corner to no avail at first. Had SCARF for SHAWL (28A: Bit of attire for a carriage ride). Had no idea what to make of 21A: Old alpaca wool gatherer (Inca, HA ha). I think I got SEQUEL (28D: "The Dark Knight," for one) and then the "Q" made me think INQUEST. When pulling the "QU" out resulted in nothing comprehensible, I went to BEQUEST. Then VISHNU (14D: Krishna is one of his avatars). Then done.

Theme answers:

  • 22A: Delighted exclamation? (SQUEAL of approval)
  • 36A: Part of an Irish playwright's will? (Wilde BEQUEST)
  • 68A: Carsick passenger? (QUEASY Rider)
  • 94A: Causing uneasiness? (QUALMSgiving)
  • 113A: Carryin' on, in olden times? (QUAINT Misbehavin')
  • 4D: Anger at losing one's flock? (shepherd's PIQUE)
  • 50D: Subjugation? (VANQUISHING act)

If you are planning on doing the LAT puzzle today, you might want to read this first.

This puzzle was made easier than other add-a-letter (-or-two) puzzles by the oddness of the letter involved. Knowing there would be "Q"s in the theme answers made them easier to figure out than if I'd been hunting for an added, say, "AD" or the like. Having two theme answers as Downs means that very few words have to travel through two theme answers, which means the grid is easier to fill, which means more smooth, solid, entertaining answers, less forced crap. QUEASY RIDER is entirely isolated from other theme answer. Its crosses cross no other theme answer, which allows for central fill that did not, in fact, make me QUEASY. Nice construction.


  • 54A: Impertinent sort (snip) — Was sure it was SNIT, and wondered if there'd really been 12 (!) popes named THEO (no — PIUS).
  • 56A: TV character often seen in a Metallica T-shirt (Beavis) — heh heh. Fantastic clue.

  • 75A: Bratislava's river (Danube) — something screwed me up a little down here ... oh yeah, I had KOREA for 60D: Sura source (Koran). That made DANUBE look like DEN-something.
  • 79A: "Jour de Fete" star, director and writer, 1949 (Tati) — don't know it at all, but Jacques TATI is a crossword staple.

  • 85A: New Zealand's discoverer (Tasman) — Abel was I ere I saw TASMAN. Gimme!
  • 104A: Drawers, e.g. (undies) — also a gimme, though more of a lucky first guess.
  • 123D: Poet who wrote "An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you / Ef you / Don't / Watch / Out!" (Riley) — who? Oh, thiiiiis guy. Again. Indiana's own James Whitcomb RILEY. From "Little Orphant Annie":
LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you
  • 41D: Narrator of "How I Met Your Mother" (Bob Saget) — I don't watch sitcoms with lafftraks, so haven't seen this, but BOB SAGET is plenty familiar from the days when I may or may not have watched sitcoms with lafftraks.
  • 47D: It may feature a windmill (mini-golf) — possibly my favorite answer in the puzzle. Love MINI-GOLF, and don't consider a course complete/real if it doesn't have a windmill.
  • 63D: Positive thinking proponent (Peale) — Norman Vincent.
  • 65D: Legal writ, in brief (cert) — one of my least favorite answers in the whole puzzle, and it's not so bad.
  • 69D: Clockmaker Thomas (Seth) — eluded me. I know SETH best as a comics artist.
  • 76D: German city where Beck's beer is brewed (Bremen) — mystery! If it's not EMDEN or ESSEN, I'm pretty much out of luck. BECKSVILLE?
  • 110D: Baseball G.M. Minaya (Omar) — still? Last couple of season have been colossal disappointments not so great.

Now your Puzzle Tweets of the Week — puzzle chatter from the Twitterverse

  • @kaylagardner Omg. My mom and her sister stayed up doing a crossword puzzle and they're now googling vietnamese currencies.
  • @MichelleBasic My brother made me take in his paper. Looked through it, there was no xword puzzle, made me put it back outside.
  • @fleetwoodwack Jesus, I have to clue RTE again. Shoot me.
  • @GrabMoL I never felt too bad about not finishing the NY Times crossword but not finishing People's crossword?! I dumb. http://twitpic.com/rcld6
  • @crosswordcoco Manu Chao, Beethoven, Ravel, and crosswords. This night is almost perfect.
  • @fuckyeahitsizzy My mom caught me playing Tetris and doing crosswords and is claiming that I am just like my father. Great.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. I have placed links to "Star Turns" (my puzzle to benefit Christina Applegate's breast cancer foundation) and "King of the Blog" (Andrea and Doug's birthday puzzle gift to me and my blog readers) in the sidebar, near the top of this page. Please check them out if you haven't already. Thank you.


Talk to Me singer 1985 — SATURDAY, Nov. 28 2009 — Borscht flavorer / Singer/songwriter Sands / Pathology pioneer Sir James

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Constructor: Karen M. Tracey

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: PTARMIGAN (29D: Fully feather-footed flier)n., pl., ptarmigan, or -gans.

Any of various grouses of the genus Lagopus, inhabiting arctic, subarctic, and alpine regions of the Northern Hemisphere and having feathered legs and feet and plumage that is brown or gray in summer and white in winter.

[Alteration (influenced by the spelling in Greek words like pteron, wing) of Scottish Gaelic tarmachan.]


Fell asleep before 10pm last night! Two days of near-constant tryptophan intake finally took its toll. Dinner last night were fried patties made of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing, topped with wife's astonishingly good gravy (we calculated that we each had about a cup of that stuff yesterday, all told). I'm getting tired just writing about it. So today I awoke just after 5am, refreshed and ready to hit the puzzle. I do Not like doing the puzzle in the morning, esp. on a Saturday. Nighttime is solving / annotating time, morning is writing time. Solving in the morning can make me feel anxious and rushed. But today, no such problem. Pure joy from stem to stern — Karen Tracey is about as on-my-wavelength as any constructor; I find her puzzles not only highly doable, but highly entertaining. A good chunk of the proper nouns were Right in my wheelhouse, esp. STEVIE NICKS (5D: "Talk to Me" singer, 1985). That song is "hello, high school!" I could hear Mike Myers's voice in the clue for SHREK (4D: Title film character who says "Donkey, two things, O.K.? Shut ... up!"), so no problem there. That "K" in "SHREK" was absolute gold, as it made RIKKI TIKKI TAVI a piece of cake to figure out. And when you give away that many "K"s on a Saturday, the puzzle's going to open right up. "K-T" was all I needed to get KATE WINSLET (25D: Six-time Oscar nominee with a 2008 win), and all of a sudden I've got action going in nearly every part of the grid. That SW was about the only part that looked like it might be daunting, but then high school French came to the rescue once again at 51A: _____ froid (be cold: Fr.), and I was done. Faster than yesterday.

NW went down instantly with ERRS to SHREK to ETCH to TACH etc. Only HOVE (20A: Hoisted, as a sail) was at all mysterious to me, and crosses took care of it. RIKKI TIKKI TAVI made the N (via BROOKLET, 8D: A little running water?) and NW (via NEGEV, 12D: It comprises the southern half of Israel) easy to untangle. As I made my way down the grid, I noticed and liked the clues on SCOTTIE (35A: One with a hard, weather-resistant coat) and TEE SHOT (37A: Round opening). Ambiguous, yet accurate. (Speaking of TEE SHOT ... what the hell is going on with Tiger Woods?)

29D: Fully feather-footed flier (ptarmigan) presented the first real problem for me, as I did not know that I knew any words or phrases that started PTA- beside, say, PTA BOARD, PTA MEETING, PTA BAKE SALE, etc. Apparently I thought PTARMIGAN was spelled TERMAGANT, but a TERMAGANT is a "quarrelsome, scolding woman; a shrew." Anyway, I had to abort my downward progress at the "A" in PTARMIGAN and enter the lower portion via KATE WINSLET. Had URCHIN for GOBLIN (45D: Little mischief maker), but OTBS (52A: Some parlors, for short) set that right and the south went down quickly. SE was a little harder, as I went with TOLL BOOTH at first, and then HA HA (and later HO HO) at 63A: No mere chuckle. Once I entertained the "O" in HOHO and guessed "M" as the first letter in MLX (46A: When France's Philip I took the throne), I had THE M----O for 32D: "Pooh-Bah" source, and "THE MIKADO" seemed (and was) the only possible answer. Who knew that OKLA had the redbud as one of its symbols (53A: The redbud is one of its symbols: Abbr.)? Who knew what a "redbud" was? Who kept reading the damned word as "rebud" and wondering what the @#@! that could be? Not me, not me, and me, respectively.

Biggest hitch in the whole puzzle ended up being two little adjacent letters — the "S" in EINS (38D: One abroad) and the "L" in LOBAR (50D: Kind of pneumonia). Had EINE for the first and had never heard of the second. This made seeing PERMISSION SLIP difficult, bordering on impossible. -----SSIONE-IP for 47A: What a student might not go without? Curious. Anyway, I had to work the SW in order to get the front end of PERMISSION, which then allowed me to change E-IP to SLIP. Done and done.


  • 27A: Outdoor signage option (neon lamp) — got the NEON part fine. Wanted only SIGN for the second part.
  • 56A: Borscht flavorer (dill) — Blogger is underlining "flavorer" in red. I haven't had borscht, to my knowledge.
  • 57A: Deity worshiped with much sensuality (Baal) — "Post-Exilic allusions to the cult of Ba'al Pe'or suggest that orgies prevailed" (wikipedia)
  • 58A: 18-season Mariner Martinez (Edgar) — another name that was right in my wheelhouse. He was a prominent ALER in his day (54D: Any pro designated hitter, briefly).
  • 59A: Singer/songwriter Sands (Evie) — Neeeever heard of her. Let's see ... seems to have had Far more success as a songwriter than as a performer. Here she is on the Johnny Cash show ...

  • 47D: Pathology pioneer Sir James _____ (Paget) — Didn't know him. This "G" was the last thing to go in the grid.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

Thanksgiving Weekend Bonus Puzzles:
  • For those of you who have been away for the past couple days, I want to draw your attention to a puzzle I wrote to benefit the breast cancer foundation of Christina Applegate (whose birthday was Wednesday). Please go HERE to read about it and download it or print it out, and please share it with anyone you know who likes puzzles (or breasts). I'm going to be promoting this puzzle for the rest of the weekend. Check it out, and then go here to get the completed grid and commentary (and to leave comments).
  • Also, Doug Peterson and Andrea Carla Michaels wrote a birthday puzzle for me — a verrrrry insidery puzzle all about this blog and the community of people who comment on it frequently. Really lovely work. Get it here.


1926 English channel crosser — FRIDAY, Nov. 27 2009 — Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of Shak / First U.S. computer to predict US election outcome

Friday, November 27, 2009

Constructor: Ed Sessa

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (minus tryptophan and 12yo scotch, probably more like Medium)

THEME: TURKEY LEFTOVERS (59A: Post-Thanksgiving fare) — two other answers begin A WING and A LEG, respectively

Word of the Day: Gertrude EDERLE (48D: 1926 English channel crosser)Gertrude Caroline Ederle (October 23, 1905 – November 30, 2003) was an American competitive swimmer. In 1926, she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. [as six-letter answers go, she's surprisingly common, though that didn't keep me from completely forgetting her today] (wikipedia)


I did this post-Thanksgiving dinner, post chocolate pie w/ fresh whipped cream, post-12yo scotch (birthday gift), so I was feeling good but Not moving through the puzzle very well. The whole top part made me feel lost, esp. the NE. I hate the word ARISTOS so much (in that I refuse to believe anyone actually says it) that it never occurred to me at 8A: British V.I.P.'s to Brits. Not thrilled at the "I" part — ARISTOcratS are "important?" Now? Bah. Never heard of DENTON'S (16A: Dr. _____ (infant sleepers)), so the NE was a slog. All I could do was poke at things (an EL AL here (6D: JFK-to-TLV carrier), a NOGO there (33A: Scrubbed)). Then put in DOGS at 5D: Things near Baskerville Hall (I've been reading some A.C. Doyle lately) and despite its wrongness it helped me get CONSOLE (15A: Place for buttons) and then a couple Down answers off of that, and then whatever meager combination of letters I had at 17A: Hope born of desperation got me A WING AND A PRAYER. At this point I'm still assuming that the puzzle is themeless (it's Friday, after all).

The top would remain incomplete and patchy for a while as I moved via BONER (31D: Blockheaded move) and DEAD (39D: Gone to glory) into the bottom half of the puzzle. DEAD to DADE to SENSES to TRESSES (confirmed by ARAFAT and STIR) helped me make short work of the SE, *except* ... I couldn't remember EDERLE (48D: 1926 English Channel swimmer) at all and by the time I had that corner done, the name I had in place was EDERSE. Who is this EDERSE person I've never heard of? Is that a last name? Or is his name ED ERSE (I may have to add that to my roster of aliases)? Never ever occurred to me that 63A: Site for a seal, maybe would be anything but AIRHOSE. Your AIRHOSE would need a seal of some sort in order to maintain proper airflow. Or if it ever had a leak or tear. I really don't understand how AIRHOLE work unless the clue is *trying* to refer to the fact that seals (the aquatic mammals) have AIRHOLEs. But they don't. Do they? No. Or do you make a seal against an AIRHOLE in order to breathe out of it? Oh, so ... this clue is somehow referring to the holes that seals (aquatic mammals) might breathe out of??? Clue seems atrocious to me. I eventually changed that "S" to the "correct" "L" because I suddenly remembered EDERLE, but ... god bless you ED ERSE, wherever you are. It should have been you.

I am told that a seal's breathing hole (made in ice) is called an AGLU. Now there's a word you pray never to see in your puzzle.

I hereby REPROVE (64A: Dress down) the "word" ORIENTE (62A: Where Japón is). LET 'ER RIP (37D: "O.K. ... go!"), on the other hand, is fantastic.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Hope born of desperation (A WING and a prayer)
  • 36A: Justifiable basis for one's position (A LEG to stand on)
  • 59A: Post-Thanksgiving fare (TURKEY leftovers)
Speaking of TURKEY LEFTOVERS, our refrigerator is filled with second and third and fourth Thanksgivings. Wife made dinner for eight. But there were only three of us present. This was calculated, as there are few things we love more than Thanksgiving leftovers. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and eventually, when we're close to losing our love of Thanksgiving fare, the rest of the (gigantic) turkey goes into soup, and we're done with it.


  • 1A: "Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of _____": Shak. ("slumber") — had S-UM-ER and still took many, many seconds to figure it out. "The heavy dew of STUMPER? Who's STUMPER?" The clue on this one made me laff — read aloud, it sounds like "Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of Shaq!"

  • 22A: 1950s-'60s NBC host (Paar) — should've been a gimme, but I figured it might be some Friday trick, so I didn't put it in til late. I actually went back and picked it up after I got LENO (54D: A successor to 22-Across) — awkward "A" in that clue because, of course, LENO was not *the* successor.
  • 28A: Running things (in control) — really nice (tough) clue. Figured the answer was a plural. DISHWASHE... oh it doesn't fit.
  • 1D: Garlicky dish (scampi) — I have decided I really like the look of the word "garlicky."
  • 2D: Figure on a totem pole, figuratively (low man) — torn here. Like the daring quality of the clue, but still found it a little wonky. LOW MAN doesn't stand alone very happily.
  • 3D: First computer to predict a U.S. election outcome (Univac) — I know ENIAC and UNIVAC *exclusively* because of crosswords.
  • 8D: Most populous county of Idaho (Ada) — Dumb luck — ADA county is in a clue in the breast cancer benefit puzzle I just released this week (see below). Would not have been a gimme for me otherwise.
  • 12D: Schroeder's instrument in "Peanuts" (toy piano) — true enough, and very easy to get off just the "Y".
  • 23D: Boxer's name holder (robe) — tricky. You would never actually *say* that the boxer's ROBE is "holding" his name, but the answer seems accurate enough on a literal level.
  • 44D: Lipped lab container (beaker) — not sure why, but I went looking for PIPET (PIPPETTE?).
  • 47D: Cinephiles often watch for them (cameos) — ??? Cinephiles watch movies for lots of things. They might notice or remark on CAMEOS, but I have a hard time imagining a group of cinephiles getting together to watch for them, specifically. Hitchcock movie watchers might watch for them (in that they're expected). Any other context doesn't ring very true.
For those of you who have been away for the past couple days, I want to draw your attention to a puzzle I wrote to benefit the breast cancer foundation of Christina Applegate (whose birthday was Wednesday). Please go HERE to read about it and download it or print it out, and please share it with anyone you know who likes puzzles (or breasts). I'm going to be promoting this puzzle for the rest of the weekend. Check it out, and then go here to get the completed grid and commentary (and to leave comments).

Also, Doug Peterson and Andrea Carla Michaels wrote a birthday puzzle for me — a verrrrry insidery puzzle all about this blog and the community of people who comment on it frequently. Really lovely work. Get it here.

Thanks — enjoy your Black Friday. My day = comics and pie.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

PS here's a recent Slate article by Matt Gaffney about how it is that two constructors might come up with virtually identical puzzles completely independently of one another — very informative about constructing issues.


"Star Turns" — The Breast Cancer Benefit Puzzle Write-Up

Thursday, November 26, 2009

First of all, if you haven't yet done the puzzle I wrote to support Christina Applegate's breast cancer foundation, please go here and get it. Do not read past this point. Spoiler alert, spoiler alert, etc. Here's a picture of a pretty kitten. Do not read past the kitten unless you have completed the puzzle...

So I'll let you all critique it, and I'll just explain how it came together. I was inspired a few months back to do a benefit puzzle. I follow Christina on Twitter and knew she was involved in Lee Denim Day, a big breast cancer fundraiser that took place in October. So I was kicking around theme ideas involving "Lee" or "Denim" and getting nowhere. Then I thought ... well, Christina does puzzles, and she has a Foundation of her own, so what can I do with that? RIGHT ACTION FOR WOMEN appealed to me right away because I could break it down into symmetrically arrangeable parts (5, 8, 5) — too long for a traditional 15x15 grid, but I could stagger them. Now, I could still have made the puzzle 15x15, but I decided to give myself a little room so I could have a better chance to fill the grid cleanly (I am still new to grid design, and I know my limitations).

So then I needed a concept. Something to do with "RIGHT" ... "RIGHT" is conventionally symbolized by letter "R," so ... "RIGHT ACTION ..." I guess adding an "R" would be a kind of "ACTION." Yeah, OK. So ... why add the "R"? What should that do? What could answers have in common? Well, Christina's an actress, so ... what about playing with actress names? Add a letter to get an actress name and thus a wacky phrase. STREEP was the first name that came to mind, but I didn't get further very easily. I really, really didn't want the actress already to have an "R" in her name. . . so rather than pore over lists of actress names, I just asked my Twitter followers to throw me actress names wherein removing the "R" gets you a real word (i.e. STREEP - "R" = STEEP). I was stunned by the quick and varied responses. But I was also stunned at how few names would actually work well here, where the "R"-less actress name would be a word that could also start a familiar phrase. Each time I got a new, viable name, I'd throw down some base phrases, but honestly, the ones I ended up going with were the first that came to me. And they were 2 13-letter answers and 2 14-letter answers. Serendipity.

I built the grid in an afternoon and had (I think) Amy Reynaldo and Angela Halsted test it. Worked out some kinks and sent it Christina, who approved the whole endeavor. Then I decided that I should hold it til a suitable occasion, which I decided would be Nov. 25, her birthday. Then on Nov. 24 I got the bright idea to show it to anyone who wanted to test it. First responders were a couple accomplished constructors and a champion solver: Eric Berlin, Caleb Madison, and Dan Feyer, respectively. All were approving, but it was clear that there were parts of the grid they weren't thrilled with (rightly), and so I decided to tear down about half the puzzle and then rebuild it. Second draft was deemed a "lateral move" by Eric, and so I went back at it until I had eliminated the iffiest, most grating stuff (there wasn't a ton, but what there was was definitely marginal-to-ugly).

First biggest challenge was 45D. Started with -RW--T, and let me tell you, that's not a very kind letter combo. Could've gone with "OR WHAT!?", but boo! Then thought about DR or MR for the first part. I have listened to Kanye West's "Late Registration" enough that MR. WEST came to mind quickly. Knew many wouldn't know it, but also knew I could clue it, and cross it, in a way that would make it gettable. After that, by FAR the biggest trouble I had was in the NE center (around POESY) and in the SW center (around CHIEF). O+M+G. Originally I had NOD OFF where NO LEFT now stands. Obviously NOD OFF is better, and that's what my first draft had. But it also had WGN crossing SANDH (yes, that's SANDH, as in "shipping & handling"). WGN is common to Chicagoans and crossworders, but I did not like it with the SANDH crossing at all. Tear down resulted in changes that affected the entire NW corner, from XTRA to BBQ and over to TWERPS — everything changed.

Then there was the opposite section in the central SW. Had CALIF and STRATI where CHIEF and STEFFI now stand, but the real killer here, the one tiny answer that made me tear the whole section out, was SAR. That's short for SARdinia. It's a valid abbrev., but when Eric solved it and still didn't know what SAR. stood for, I knew it had to go. You would not think a stupid little three-letter word would cause so much trouble, but it did. Tear out, rebuild, tear out, rebuild. Finally got it to the point where everything felt clean. All readers (incl. Eric, my most thorough critic) agreed it was better, and so it stood. Done and done.

Ran it by a ton of people at the last minute for proofreading purposes, and caught many tiny things I either didn't notice or didn't think were relevant at first. The little cluing details are maddening when you are both writer *and* editor. Punctuation, phrasing, accuracy, spelling, etc. You've got to watch it all, and even when you're watching, stuff gets by. No wonder Will has a small army of people proofing his puzzles. There are Lots of small things to keep track of.

So, there you go. I really hope you enjoyed it, and also that you were moved to donate to the cause. In addition to MR. WEST, I'm quite fond of the crime fiction / film noir subtheme I've got going there with FEDORA crossing THE MOB and then FBI close by. I have a history of being kind of in love with Teri GARR, so even though she's crosswordese, I'm happy. R. CRUMB is a genius and I'm teaching his adaptation of Genesis next semester. "REHAB" is a guilty pleasure. Etc. Parts that still make me wince a little — IGORS, AMANAS, WPA/POESY (legit, and redeemed some by Keats, but I'd say what I have there is a narrow escape, at best). But that's enough from me. Have at it, and thank you for you attention / indulgence. And thanks especially to the dozen or so people who affected the final outcome of this thing. And to Christina for inadvertently inspiring it.



Introduction of 1927 — THURSDAY, Nov. 26, 2009 — Rabanne who was costume designer for Barbarella / Time manager's directive / Introduction of 1977

Constructor: Paula Gamache

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: PARADE BALLOONs in the MACY's Thanksgiving Day Parade — three theme answers are famous characters clued by when they debuted as balloons in the MACY's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Word of the Day: PACO Rabanne (17A: Rabanne who was the costume designer for "Barbarella") Paco Rabanne, born Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo on February 18, 1934 in San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) in the Basque Country, Spain, is a fashion designer. He fled Spain for France with his mother when the Spanish Civil War broke out. He originally had an architect's education but became known as the enfant terrible of the French fashion world in the 1960s // Rabanne started his career in fashion by creating jewellery for Givenchy, Dior and Balenciaga. He started his own fashion house in 1966. He used such unconventional materials as metal, paper and plastic for his outlandish and flamboyant designs. // Paco Rabanne is known for his costume designs for such films as Barbarella. Also Françoise Hardy was a big fan of Rabanne's designs. // Rabanne also has an interest in paranormal phenomena, and became infamous for his false prediction of the Russian space station Mir falling to Paris in 1999. Some media referred satirically this episode as "Pacolypse". (wikipedia)


Good morning and happy Thanksgiving (U.S.). I plan on doing a whole lot of nothing today, so much as I love Paula and her puzzle, I'm going to make this reasonably short. This seems a really original and fitting idea for a puzzle. Nice bit of serendipity getting the three different fictional animals and the theme-revealer to come out symmetrically, especially since other float possibilities would likely not have had the same ["x THE animal"] syntax that all of these do. For the second day in a row I blew through the puzzle like the Blackhawks through the Sharks' defense last night (that's for Tyler). Misplaced by a day, difficulty-wise, but I have no problem with the idea of throwing people a (relative) softball on Thanksgiving. Don't stress folks out — give 'em something they can do easily, perhaps with family (you could even show this one to your kids, as they'll at least know who KERMIT is ... right? They know KERMIT, right? Tell me they know KERMIT!).

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Introduction of 1977 (Kermit the Frog)
  • 31A: Introduction of 1927 (Felix the Cat)
  • 40A: Introduction of 1963 (Elsie the Cow)
  • 51A: What 20-, 31- and 40-Across were each introduced as by 47-Down (Parade balloon)
  • 47D: See 51-Across (Macy's)

New to me was ADORA (11D: Marie Osmond's _____ Belle dolls). That's by far the most desperate answer here, and it's completely inferrable from the pun the answer produces — ADORA Belle = adorable, good one, Marie. I had issues with ROUX (21D: Gumbo thickener), mostly involving spelling it ROUE, aargh. "ROUX" Means "red-headed" in French, so I figured the thickener must be the other spelling, but no. A ROUÉ is a "lecherous, dissipated man" (answers.com). Then there's RUE meaning "street" and RUE McClanahan from "Golden Girls" and "You'll RUE the day!" and ROONE Arledge ... so much to keep track of.

La Roux - Bulletproof - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Loved YESHIVA and JACKKNIFE. Learned IMARET and RAREE from constant crosswording. AS FIT and EMAGS can bite me. Thankfully (thankfully!), they're outnumbered by good stuff.


  • 14A: First step in a series (A to B) — I probably had more trouble in this wee NW corner than I did in the whole puzzle. Was looking for a command, e.g. "Put tab A in slot B" or the like.
  • 55A: Big diamonds, maybe (aces) — did Not get this until I was done. The ACES are cards. Couldn't think only of rocks or baseball.
  • 28D: They may be found in a tank (GIs) — same as with ACES. Couldn't parse it, and when I did, couldn't imagine what GIs had to do with tanks. How's that for dense? I was thinking "... like a drunk tank??"
  • 1D: Sound on "Batman" ("Zap") — Did I miss the part where he carried a laser gun around?
  • 22D: Time manager's directive? (edit!) — "Time" here = magazine. Feels a *little* clunky, this clue.
  • 24D: "Solomon and _____," 1959 biblical epic ("Sheba") — Come back, little Sheba!

Two final things before I wrap up. First, Doug Peterson and Andrea Carla Michaels made a birthday puzzle for me entitled "King of the Blog." It is brilliant, but also sooooo insidery (all about this blog and its comments section) that I'm not sure how doable it will be for someone who reads me only casually. Still, you are more than welcome to give it a try. Get it in .puz or .pdf form here. Thanks, Andrea and Doug. It's an amazingly detailed and thoughtful puzzle, as well as an incredibly sweet gesture.

Lastly, please please please check out / distribute the puzzle I wrote to support Christina Applegate's breast cancer foundation. I wrote it a couple months ago, rewrote it over the past 48 hrs, and released it yesterday (Christina's birthday). To read about the puzzle and print it out or download it, go here (or just scroll down if you're on my main page — it's the post immediately before this one). And anything you could do to promote the puzzle to solvers you know would be greatly appreciated. (Thanks to Amy Reynaldo / Diary of a Crossword Fiend for hosting the .puz versions of the above puzzles)

I'm thankful for all y'all who read this, and to Will Shortz for putting on such an interesting show.

Signed, Rex Parker, 40

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Special Breast Cancer Benefit Puzzle

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Christina Applegate!

A couple of months ago, around the time of Lee Denim Day (a large single-day cancer fundraiser in early October), I started kicking around puzzle ideas. Challenge — how to write a puzzle in support of breast cancer research and care that wasn't a. a downer, and b. too boob-specific (nothing wrong with boobs, they're great, that's the point — just didn't want to be too spot-on). So nothing was clicking for me until ... I lit on the name of Christina Applegate's own Foundation. And then things began falling into place. I had an idea, then hit up Twitter for some suggestions of names that helped me create theme answers, and before I knew it (one afternoon), I had a 17x17 puzzle on my hands (thanks, Twitterverse, btw).

So here's the deal — if you enjoy the puzzle (below), or if you hate it so much that it inspires you to throw rotten tomatoes at me ... if it moves you in any way, please consider making a donation to Ms. Applegate's Foundation. I'm deliberately not telling you its name because its name is in the puzzle (is the basis for the puzzle, actually). So if you want a leg up on the puzzle, click here to go to her Foundation's homepage. Otherwise, do the puzzle first, and then check out her page. Her Foundation is dedicated to helping pay for advanced screening techniques for at-risk women who couldn't otherwise afford it.

So here it is. Please print it out, forward it to friends/family/anyone you know who enjoys crosswords, etc. I hope it brightens an already bright, long holiday weekend.

Just click on "Print" on the puzzle image below, or go here (to Amy Reynaldo's crosswordfiend.com) to get a .puz (AcrossLite) version. To see my write-up of the puzzle and / or comment on it, go here.

Star Turns


WEDNESDAY, Nov. 25 2009 — Crooner canned on live TV in 1953 / Boy soprano in Menotti opera / Gernreich of fashion / North Carolina gridders

Constructor: Allan E. Parrish

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "I'm beat!" — five theme answers end in words related to losing energy, strength, or vigor ...

Word of the Day: RUDI Gernreich (3D: Gernreich of fashion)

Rudi Gernreich (August 8, 1922April 21, 1985) was a fashion designer and gay activist. Born in Vienna, he fled Austria at age 16 due to Nazism. He came to the U.S., settling in Los Angeles, California. a dancer, performing with the Lester Horton company around 1945.

He moved into fashion design via fabric design, and then worked closely with model Peggy Moffitt and photographer William Claxton, pushing the boundaries of "the futuristic look" in clothing over three decades. An exhibition of his work at the Phoenix Art Museum in 2003 hailed him as "one of the most original, prophetic and controversial American designers of the 1950s, '60s and '70s." [...] He is perhaps most notorious for inventing the first topless swimsuit, or monokini, as well as the pubikini (a bikini with a window in front to reveal the woman's pubic hair) and later the thong swimsuit. He was also a strong advocate of unisex clothing, dressing male and female models in identical clothing and shaving their heads and bodies completely bald. He was also known as the first designer to use vinyl and plastic in clothes, and he designed the Moonbase Alpha uniforms on the television series Space: 1999.


Finished this one very quickly and couldn't see any theme. Stared at it for several seconds and still couldn't see any theme. For some reason, visually, the theme answers don't stand out as theme answers very strongly. I was thinking HOTLINE (22A: Red telephone's connection), ELEPHANT (34A: Political symbol), and ASBESTOS (42A: Litigation-prompting insulation) might all be involved somehow (can anyone build a theme around those answers? Challenge!). Then I started trying the first / last word test with the longest answers. RADIAL and SHOWER have nothing to do with each other, but TIRE and DRAIN sure do. It's an interesting theme, with one little wonky feature: FLAG is an intransitive verb. All the others are transitive (exc. TIRE, which can be both). So technically the words don't (can't) all mean the same thing. But they are in the same arena of meaning, which is probably good enough.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Goodyear offering (radial TIRE)
  • 10D: Feature of many muscle cars (dual EXHAUST)
  • 25D: Syrup source (tree SAP)
  • 24D: Where lost hair may accumulate (shower DRAIN)
  • 61A: Blackbeard flew one (pirate FLAG)

This was possibly the easiest Wednesday puzzle I've done all year. Played like a toughish Tuesday, and took me only a few seconds longer than yesterday's puzzle. This despite not knowing (or remembering) RUDI Gernreich and taking forever to recall who the hell that guy was who got fired on national TV — I featured a video about his firing by Arthur Godfrey in a prior post, and yet still couldn't remember his name: LA ROSA (32A: Crooner canned on live TV in 1953). Bah! Anyway, LA ROSA's firing was an important moment in American pop culture. Here, I'll just post that same video again, in case you missed it the first time.


  • 1A: Catalog clothing retailer since 1983 (J. Crew) — gimme, right off the bat.
  • 6A: Suffragist Carrie Chapman _____ (Catt) — or "3C," as she was known on the street.
  • 27A: Boy soprano in a Menotti opera (Amahl) — Having (crosswordese) AMAH and (crosswordese) AMAHL in the same grid is a little ugly. But I like the boy singer (AMAHL) over the boy singer (LA ROSA) here...
  • 54A: Mountain previously named Peak XV (Everest) — news to me. Had most of the answers before I ever saw the clue.
  • 64A: One of American banking's Big Four, for short (Citi) — no love for them at the moment ...
  • 68A: Hippie's cross (ankh) — "Hippie??" I think of this as "that shape that feminist women are getting tattooed on themselves in the '90s for some reason." It's got mother goddess (Isis) and pagan associations.
  • 8D: North Carolina gridders (Tarheels) — love the answer, but it's not just the "gridders." ALL UNC athletes are TARHEELS — they're the reigning Men's NCAA basketball champions.
  • 51D: Spreader of dirt (yenta) — nice misdirective clue.

Please come back later in the day (say, noonish) when I will be releasing a special puzzle in honor of a certain birthday (not mine! That's tomorrow)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Melvin of Nixon cabinet — TUESDAY, Nov. 24 2009 — German binoculars maker / Toothpaste Bucky Beaver once pitched / PC introducer of 1981

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Constructors: Victor Fleming and Bonnie L. Gentry

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: [Everything Considered] — three multi-part answers share this clue

Word of the Day: ALAN BALL (30A: Oscar-winning "American Beauty" writer)
— Alan E. Ball (born May 13, 1957) is an American writer, director, actor and producer for film, theatre and television. He is noted for writing the film American Beauty, and creating and producing the HBO drama series Six Feet Under and True Blood. For his work in television and film, Ball has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Golden Globe. (wikipedia)


Oversized offering today from The Judge and Ms. Gentry (a phrase I hereby trademark for when these two inevitably go on a cross-country crime spree and I have to write a book about it). Despite having to "see this clue" and "see that clue," I somehow made it through in fairly typical Tuesday time. My big question here has to do with aesthetics. Why not create a mirror image version of this grid so that WHEN ALL / IS SAID / AND DONE can read left-to-right (the way most human Americans read) instead of downhill and backwards? Perhaps that way was tested and found impossible. I don't think it matters much. Just curious. As I said, the puzzle is just fine, and I'm thrilled to see such clean grids two days in a row now.

Theme answers:

  • 4D: After "in," and with 44-Down, everything considered (the final / analysis) — always makes me think of Nazis, this phrase. Too close to "final solution" for my brain to process without shuddering a little. The newsstand guy in "Watchmen" uses the phrase "in THE FINAL ANALYSIS" a lot when offering his opinions on the world. Until his corner of the world explodes.

[I like most of these actors, but this trailer feels like a parody of Generic Thrillers]

  • 19A: With 64-Across, everything considered (at the end of the day)
  • 34A: With 43- and 48-Across, everything considered (when all is said and done)

Got bogged down around two names I'd never heard of before. LAIRD is a perfectly good Scottish word, but here it's clued as a guy I don't know (55A: Melvin of the Nixon cabinet). LAIRD was Secretary of Defense on the day I was born. I wasn't really into politics back then. Wikipedia tells me that he "invented the expression "Vietnamization," referring to the process of transferring more responsibility for combat to the South Vietnamese forces." The other, bigger "????!" name for me today was ALAN BALL (30A: Oscar-winning "American Beauty" writer). Needed Every Cross to get him. Turns out he's hugely successful, not just a one-off Oscar-winner. Created "Six Feet Under" and the currently hugely successful vampire series "True Blood," both for HBO.


  • 11A: Typewriter type (pica) — clue feels like it needs another "type." Is PICA a type of type, or is it the "type" that all typewriters have.

  • 24A: Toothpaste that Bucky Beaver once pitched (Ipana) — because space beavers need fluoride more than anyone!

[I learned about this toothpaste, and this jingle, from the movie "Grease"]

  • 25A: PC introducer of 1981 (IBM) — "Introducer" is cute. Pleased to meet you, PC.
  • 45A: Actress Long of "Are We There Yet?" (Nia) — would somebody get this woman a decent movie to star in so her clues don't have to be so embarrassing-sounding?!
  • 46A: Howard who announced "Down goes Frazier!" (Cosell)

[at about the 1:30 mark]

  • 13D: Stamford's state: Abbr. (Conn.) — nice shout-out to the former location of the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. My first tournament was the last one in Stamford.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Corrida charger — MONDAY, Nov. 23 2009 — Longtime N.F.L. coach nicknamed Papa Bear / Funnyman Brooks

Monday, November 23, 2009

Constructor: Ben Pall

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "The BEATLES" (38A: Group with the four circled members) — JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE, and RINGO's names appear in circled squares in four different answers

Word of the Day: DUNNO (52D: "Beats me!") — honestly ... I can't think of anything including here. Oh wait: HALAS (Longtime N.F.L. coach nicknamed Papa Bear) — George Stanley Halas, Sr. (February 2, 1895 – October 31, 1983), nicknamed "Papa Bear" and "Mr. Everything", was a player, coach, inventor, jurist, producer, philanthropist, philatelist, owner and pioneer in professional American football and the iconic longtime leader of the NFL's Chicago Bears.


I did not like this puzzle at all. I also just found out (or heard a rumor, anyway) that this constructor is 14. So ... here's the deal. I'm keeping it short. I have said this before and I'll say it again: I hope Never to see this type of theme again, where the circled letters are non-consecutive and do not even truly appear in order (see, e.g., JOIN THE NAVY, where first "N" is ignored to wait on the second). Second, when they are your Central Answer, you should include their complete name: "THE BEATLES." The clue doesn't even indicate the "THE" is missing. I'm looking at multiple album covers, multiple articles and seeing "THE" before "BEATLES." Perhaps there are contexts (or even recordings) where the "THE" was not used, but it's not standard. I know it's weird to ask for a "THE," but for the sake of elegance and accuracy, I do. The first criticism is a deal-breaker for me, the second just a strong preference. But the grid is cleanly filled and at least interestingly shaped, both pluses for a Monday. So that's all in the way of criticism. Mr. Pall has my (virtual) handshake and my encouragement. If nothing else, this puzzle made me remember BEATLES (no "the"!) music, and that's not bad.

Theme answers:
  • 3D: Head out to sea, say (JOin tHe Navy)
  • 18A: Athlete trying to pass the bar? (Pole vAULter)
  • 26D: Library area (ReadING roOm) — entire name appears as consecutive letters (anagrammed as "INGRO"), stretched across the two words in this phrase. If he could have done that for every answer ... wow.
  • 59A: Toxic herbicide (aGEnt ORanGE)

Bonus theme answers:

  • 9A: With 46-Down, 1969 album by the 38-Across ("Abbey / Road") — see, there's the "THE"; OK, I'm done with "THE" talk now, honestly. I love "ABBEY ROAD." Dave Zahniser, who writes for the L.A. Times now, I think, introduced me to this album my freshman year of college (18 years after it came out ... my parents weren't BEATLES fans so I had only a vague sense of their catalogue). Dave spent his childhood (late 70s/early 80s) obsessively listening to Top 40 radio in Nebraska, so I remember thinking "ABBEY ROAD" seemed an odd record for him to be foisting on me. But he had good taste.
  • 16A: "We're more popular than Jesus now," famously (quote) — ... well, it sure is a QUOTE, I can't argue with that.
  • 13D: "_____ Blues" (song on the White Album) ("Yer")
  • 48A: "Gonna _____ with a little help from my friends" ("try")
  • 47A: Sitarist Shankar (Ravi) — gave George Harrison sitar lessons
  • 30A: "Nowhere _____" (1966 hit) ("Man")
  • 14A: Yoko _____ (Ono) — HA ha. Good one. See ... this is why the circled letters aren't consecutive — All the BEATLES' names are broken up ... OK, kid, *now* I think you're a genius.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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