Foster girl / FRI 12-31-10 / Serbian city Constantine Great / Gentille one of song / Humbugs of world author 1865 / Boxer who wrote Reach

Friday, December 31, 2010

Constructor: Caleb Madison

Relative difficulty: Medium


Hi, everybody. PuzzleGirl here with your very last puzzle of the year. What an honor! And it's only because Rex is off drunk somewhere. Allegedly. I mean, that's what I heard, but there really hasn't been any confirmation, so I probably shouldn't say anything. You know what? Let's just forget I said anything. I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason that Rex isn't here today and I'm relatively certain it has nothing to do with alcohol. So let's just move on. Sorry about that.

Hey, look everybody! It's Caleb! Remember how yesterday Andrea was talking about how everybody has a crush on Caleb? Well that's the truth. And if you met him, you'd know why. He's completely adorable. Now, he's got a filthy mouth on him, that's for sure. But other than that? Completely. Adorable. Oh and then there was that one time he used RECARVE in a puzzle. Boy, that was ghastly! But did I mention he's completely adorable? Would you like to see a picture? I know you would.

So here's the thing about this puzzle. There is some awesome, awesome stuff in here. Then there's some stuff that really stinks. So let's just really quickly get this out of the way: NIS is the 25A: Serbian city where Constantine the Great was born. Huh. Interesting? Memorable? Fun? No. ACTA is clued as 32D: Court proceedings. Whatever. S-STARS? IPSA? (Don't try to act like you didn't try "ipso" first.) QUA? ORRS? AITCH? I could definitely do without any of that stuff. Actually QUA wasn't that bad for me because it tricked me: I tried both "per" and "ala" before it finally clicked into place. But that's all I'm going to say about the bad stuff because there's a lot more good stuff to talk about. Like …

STICK IT TO THE MAN (35A: Be revolting). Is that awesome or what? And BROMANCE? Will let's the young kids get away with all that hip slang. And that's a good thing! Plus, how crazy does LAILA ALI look in the grid with all her Ls and As and whatnot (3D: Boxer who wrote "Reach!")? I also like the dueling melt downs of WIGS (10D: Freaks (out)) and LOSE IT (34D: Freak). Everybody chill! Let's just run some bullets and get out of here.


  • 1A: One likely to die on the road? (JALOPY). I know Rex was just talking about the Archie comics here the other day. Did someone in the Archie Gang drive a JALOPY? Because I always associate the word JALOPY with Archie. Or I bet it was Jughead. He seems like he would drive a JALOPY, right?
  • 7A: What something may go down to (THE WIRE). I've heard so many great things about this show. (Yes, I know it's not clued as the show, but I'm just going off on a tangent, try to keep up.) But I've never seen it! Then all of a sudden one day, I'm looking at something on the Internet machine about it and I realize that the brother of a friend of mine was actually on the show. Now I definitely need to see it. Good thing we finally signed up for Netflix last week. What year is it again?
  • 14A: Foster girl (JEANIE). This is a reference to Stephen Foster's famous song "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair." But you knew that.
  • 15A: Poster girl (TEEN IDOL). The most popular poster girl here at the PuzzleHouse is Taylor Swift. In fact, when I got home from work today, PuzzleDaughter and her friend immediately started explaining to me about how they had just been discussing how cool it would be if Taylor Swift came to PuzzleDaughter's birthday party because then maybe they could cut off a little piece of her hair and keep it as a souvenir. Also if she went to sleep, they could take a video of her sleeping. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
  • 41A: San Francisco's Museo ___ Americano (ITALO). Thought we were looking for Spanish here, but I couldn't get Latino, Chicano, OR Mexicano to fit.
  • 47A: Big hit (POW).

  • 57A: "The Humbugs of the World" author, 1865 (P. T. BARNUM). Oh yeah, I liked the two guys with the two initials. J. J. ABRAMS (1D: Creator of TV's "Alias") looks especially cool in the grid with that J collision that seems like it should be totally wrong until you realize what's going on.
  • 63A: 1974 hit with Spanish lyrics (ERES TU). I really wanted this to be "Oye Como Va" for some reason. Oh right, because it's a kick-ass song.

  • 65A: The Allman Brothers Band, e.g. (SEXTET). Okay, one more video, but that's it.

  • 38D: "Gentille" one of song (ALOUETTE). Does this song make anyone else think of Ginger on Gilligan's Island? Just me? Fair enough.
That's it for me for now. I might be back in a couple days. You just really never know who's gonna show up when Rex is … indisposed.

Love, PuzzleGirl

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter] [or PuzzleGirl]


Headquarters for Polynesian Airlines / THU 12-30 / Thomas Moore’s "___Ask the Hour" / Record label for "Ain’t She Sweet" / Town on Lake Geneva opposi

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Constructor: Joe Krozel

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: Parse a phrase into three separate words.

Hi, Andrea Carla Michaels here, along with PuzzleGirl, filling in for Rex. He finally got on his plane to Florida after a two-day snow delay. If you are freaking out about the delay in the blog’s posting time, it’s bec I’m holding down the fort on the West Coast, PuzzleGirl is back East, while Rex goes South. While Rex has a travel day, I’ll write this up overnight, and PG’ll do her best to make sense out of it first thing in the morning. Relax, it’s New Year’s Eve’s eve. The fact you are even reading this means you may have bigger issues than posting times!

I love getting the chance to sub for Rex, but today he left one big airline seat to fill. Was totally up for subbing, practically begged, and then pleased Rex handed the reins to PuzzleGirl and me. But when I saw it was Joe Krozel and that half the clues were blank spaces, I panicked. I felt like a cross between Arnold Horshack ("Ooh, ooh, pick me, Mr. Kotter, pick me!") and Eminem in his so-last-year’s "Careful what you wish for":

So be careful what you wish for
'Cause you just might get it
And if you get it then you just might not know
What to do wit' it, 'cause it might just
Come back on you ten-fold

What can I say? This was one tough puzzle, as most Joe K’s are…took me almost an hour and I’m no SLO bunny. He’s tricky and not always my fave as a solver, tho I have enormous respect for him as a constructor and innovator. I remember loving his last one, both as a constructor and a solver, so I tiptoed in. In the end, I think it was worth it. That is to say, it was more than just OTAY. Actually, OTAY (41A: “Our Gang” approval) was my first entry and I sort of cringed, as I tend to be to the left of PC (when it suits me). I worried that it seemed mildly retroactively borderline racist, as anything having to do with Buckwheat does. Plus, I’m a gal who likes to start at 1A and go across, and do my little areas, which wasn’t helpful today since 1D was "Rent-___." I incorrectly filled in A-Car. My mistake became clear immediately by 2D: SHULS, as I was confident, as a Jew from (but not in) Minnesota, that I knew the Yiddish for "Synagogues." But "RL" as the first two letters of 20A would have been ugly… so I erased A-Car (for A-COP) and began to skip around.

So, a little STEVIE here, some Suze ORMAN there, a correct guess on KWAI (58D: River in a 1957 hit film). Yet the theme didn’t hit me till more than half way through…got it at 59/61A:
NOTRE SPAS SING = NO TRESPASSING (59A: "Warning to intruders").

Ok, the theme (there are seven entries!!!!) is to take a phrase and split it up into three words, forming totally different words than are in the phrase, but cluing it as a whole. Got that?

Yet the theme didn’t hit me till more than half way through … got it at 59/61A.

Ok, the theme (there are seven entries!!!!) is to take a phrase and split it up into three words, forming totally different words than are in the phrase, but cluing it as a whole. Got that?
  • 12A: One in on the founding of a company (CHARTER MEMBER) [chart term ember]
  • 20A: Production site chief (PLANT MANAGER) [plant t-man ager]
  • 27A: One getting a bouquet? (WINE TASTER) [win etas ter]
  • 37A: Workplace where there are many openings (OPERATING ROOM) [opera tin groom]
  • 43A: Song played at the dance in "Back to the Future" (EARTH ANGEL) [ear than gel]
  • 50A: Officially (FOR THE RECORD) [fort here cord]
  • 59A: Warning to intruders (NO TRESPASSING) [notre spas sing]

I will suspend with the Word of the Day, but mine would have been my last fill: APIA, which turns out to be the capital of Samoa. APIA shares three of its four letters with AsIA … so not a ridiculous guess for 33A: Headquarters for Polynesian Airlines.

APIA/AsIA … I can almost feel hands going up on that one. And I can also almost hear SethG (coincidentally a Jew in, but not from, Minnesota) screaming about the NOTRE/FRERE crossing! While dk (a decidedly non-Jew in, but not from, Minnesota) is tittering over TITTER (44D: Nervous laugh).

If I may get even more insider-y for a moment … If it were not for the regulars on this blog, I would not have been able to get the whole Northeast corner! For example, Retired_chemist (religion and state unknown to me) wrote about IMAGO being his favorite wrong answer of the day for that GHOTI puzzle last week … and here it malapopped into this one today! (8D: “Big bug”) And easily my favorite right answer of the day was CALEB at 19A: Spy sent by Moses into Canaan which I’d NE’ER have gotten otherwise because of that crazy 10D: "Thomas Moore's "___ Ask the Hour" … and I was determined not to Google.

Every constructor male and female, young and old, Monday thru Sunday seems to have a little crush on young Caleb … even my friend Laura Levine who took this cute photo of him as he searched for a gift for Will Shortz in her Mystery Spot shop in Upstate, NY.

OK, back to the puzzle. The theme is super clever, splitting up words in an uber-parsed manner. Perhaps Joe Krozel’s inspiration was Rex’s creation of OOXTEPLERNON, which came into being by reading one line of another puzzle straight across.

The only one of the six theme entries that did not work for me 100% was WIN ETAS TER. I liked the definition a lot (27A: One getting a bouquet?) but both TER and ETAS are a bit of a stretch to begin with. Neither entry barely stands on its own when it has a definition, much less when it does not. TER is either "Thrice, medically" or "Gerard ___ Borch." ETAS is defined either as an awkward plural of a Greek letter or maybe (more appropriately given the national weather scene) as airline board abbreviations. But the bigger iffy-ness to this entry is that both WIN and NO-WIN are in the grid. A classic WIN/NO WIN situation.

As long as I’m at it, I wasn’t crazy about ARNO/ORNO and TNT/NTS, but I’ll let others scream about OUSE, EMPT and KIAS Sorento. (As a professional namer, I object. It’s one thing to add a letter to a name to coin it, but to drop a letter of a real word just looks illiterate and careless). Enough of what I didn’t like, as it is minor in the overall picture. There was a lot more to like.

I liked that there was a lot of bodies-of-water imagery: ARNO, OUSE, KWAI, EVIAN (on Lake Geneva) plus young fish from the Sargasso Sea, not to mention a "sea menace" ORCA swimming by. Loved piecing together and learning that OOLONG was Chinese for "black dragon"! (I plan to slip that into a conversation (over tea!) before oolong.)

Lots of music: OPERA, SING, STEVIE Wonder, EARTH ANGEL, PIANO, OHS, Schubert’s NONET (my first try: etude) … and as a major Beatles lover I closed my eyes (ORBs?) trying to envision 18A Record label for "Ain’t She Sweet." (…but eventually had to open them wide to get all the crossings. ATCO?!! ATCO??!)

The biggest kick out of the puzzle is looking back across and seeing how every line starts to look like it could be a theme. FIS COOL ONG. ASH SLOP IAN O. Hmmm. Maybe not.

Alright, I’ll give it one last try … How about STEVIE OR NO?

So, well done, Joe Krozel … and Happy New Year, everybody!

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Two-handled vase / WED 12-29-10 / Card game Spanish origin / Cook Island carving / Evergreen with edible nuts / Syrian presidential family

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Constructor: Patrick Merrell

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: TILDE (58D: Mark used four times in this puzzle's solution) — three theme answers contain a total of four Ñs (which work in the crosses as well)

Word of the Day: OMBRE (36A: Card game of Spanish origin) —

Ombre, English corruption of the Spanish word Hombre, arising from the muting of the H in Spanish, is a fast-moving seventeenth-century trick-taking card game with an illustrious history which began in Spain around the end of the 16th Century as a four person game. It is one of the earliest card games known in Europe and by far the most classic game of its type, directly ancestral to Euchre, Boston and Solo Whist. Despite its difficult rules, complicated point score and strange foreign terms, it swept Europe in the last quarter of the 17th century, becoming Lomber in Germany, Lumbur in Austria and Ombre in England, occupying a position of prestige similar to Bridge today. (wikipedia)
• • •

Don't remember why this took me longer than usual, but it did. Oh wait, now I remember. I don't know who PABLO is (1D: "Tortilla Flat" character), I had Big TEN instead of Big BEN (17A: Big ___), and I still haven't gotten around to accepting ONE-EAR as a thing (23A: Like telemarketing headsets). That's probably the majority of the above-average difficulty right there. I like the basic idea behind this puzzle—it deals with a phenomenon that people gripe about from time to time: a "Ñ" crossing an "N" in the grid, as if they were the same letter. In fact, I'm pretty sure people have wondered out loud in my comments section if anyone had ever tried to construct a puzzle where "Ñ"s crossed other "Ñ"s. Well, now we can definitively answer that question. I'm not sure how much better off we are for it, but there it is. As I said, I like the idea, but there's nowhere much for it to go in a 15x15 execution. Just doesn't feel like much of a theme, and MAÑANA, SEÑOR is a forced answer if ever there was one. It's a phrase someone might say, but so is "MOM, I'M HUNGRY," and I doubt that's puzzle-worthy. Rest of the grid is just fine, I think. The value-added stuff—like ANGLO (43A: Barrio outsider) and OMBRE (36A: Card game of Spanish origin) and AMIGOS (59A: Baja buddies) and (apparently) DAHLIA (22A: Mexican bloom) add a bit of Latin flavor... Oh, so *that*'s what PABLO is doing up there. Providing some kind of tenuous rotationally symmetrical support for TILDE. Innnnteresting.

  • 18A: Margarita alternatives (PIÑA COLADAS) / 6D: One of a 15th-century trio (NIÑA)
  • 40A: Salsa verde ingredient (JALAPEÑO PEPPERS) / 28D: It requires one who's blind with a bat (PIÑATA)
  • 63A: Procrastinating words south of the border (MAÑANA, SEÑOR)
    / 52D: Evergreen with edible nuts (PIÑON) + 62D: Yucatán years (AÑOS)

Had several missteps throughout the grid. OH, YES for AH, YES (57D: "But of course") hurt because I couldn't see THREAT for the life of me (55A: Reason for evacuation). Clue on THIRDS was devilish, in that I assumed the hungry person was needy, not just ravished (49D: Helping for the very hungry, maybe). I thought the Obamas were maybe having ceremonies on the EAST LAWN, but no—they're in the EAST ROOM (42D: White House ceremony site). So far, it seems the S/SE was as bad as the NW for me. Yes, there was also the matter of DONATE for DO GOOD (67A: Be altruistic). One stray puzzler—what the hell is "The Gift" (39D: Gift in "The Gift"=>ESP). I wanted "FOB" or "TRESS," but clearly I was thinking of the wrong story (story?). Uh, nope ... "The Gift" is some 10-yr-old Sam Raimi film I've never heard of.

  • 10A: Noise in a comic book gun fight (BLAM!) — I read comics regularly, including ones with gun fights, and I had nothing here. Then I had BANG! Then I had BOOM! :(
  • 29A: Screen role for Skippy the dog (ASTA) — is "the dog" his last name?
  • 68A: Mustachioed "Simpsons" character (NED) — Hens love roosters, geese love ganders ...

  • 21D: Virgins of ancient Rome (VESTALS) — I've heard them called "Vestal Virgins" (mostly in "Whiter Shade of Pale"), but not just VESTALS. Interesting fact—the school where I teach is technically located in VESTAL, NY.
  • 30D: Two-handled vase (AMPHORA) — what's an AMPHERE? 'Cause I had AMPHERE. I think it's some kind of electrified AMPHORA. Or what a really drunk guy calls an "Amphitheater." Or a pan floutist...

  • 47D: Syrian presidential family (ASSADS) — it's a very crossword-friendly name for some reason.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Company behind game Battlezone / TUE 12-28-10 / Mentalist Geller / Four-lap runners / Distance runner's skirt / Military sandwich

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Constructor: Robert A. Doll

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Unprefixed — familiar words have their prefixes moved to the end, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: CANAPE (29D: Cocktail hour nibble) —

A cracker or a small, thin piece of bread or toast spread with cheese, meat, or relish and served as an appetizer.

[French, from canapé, couch, from Medieval Latin canāpēum, mosquito net. See canopy.] (

• • •

Supremely easy. The theme was utterly nonsensical to me until many seconds after I had finished. I was trying to figure out what the starts or ends of the theme answers had to do with one another, and then noticed that MARINESUB was just SUBMARINE flipped. Then noticed that the others were similarly flipped. Ta ... da? Theme is very thin (compare yesterday's six theme answers), and MINI doesn't stand alone very well, and two of these started out as nouns and two as adjectives ... and this theme seems like it could be spun out ad infinitum; or, rather, that virtually any word with these suffixes might have sufficed. Why not a LARGE EXTRA or GOLF MINI or etc.? The basic idea is kind of cute, but somehow the execution feels slightly SUB par.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Distance runner's skirt? (MARATHON MINI)
  • 34A: Military sandwich? (MARINE SUB)
  • 45A: Outstanding crowd scene actor? (FINE EXTRA)
  • 55A: Valuable truck? (PRECIOUS SEMI)
Did this one in under three, but there were a few slight sticking points. Tried SLUR for SLAM (1D: Verbal assault). Blanked on CANAPE at first, though it's a perfectly familiar word—I get very impatient with my brain on Mon. and Tues. sometimes. Luckily nearby ARCHIE made that section a cinch — daughter has a Massive ARCHIE Comics collection that she's amassed over the past few years, so I know more about the Riverdale gang than I could ever have imagined (30D: Jughead's buddy). Went with TINTS over TONES in the NE (16A: Color variations), which probably created the most trouble given the 3/5 rightness of the wrong answer. But "trouble" is a relative concept, and today, there really wasn't much of any. Only real question was: EBAN or EBEN (it's the former) (32D: Abba of Israel).

Not much to Bullet today, so I'll just sign off. My flight isn't until Wednesday evening, so I'll be here again tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. this will hurt your soul if you have one...


Eskimo boat / MON 12-27-10 / 1986 Keanu Reeves film / Newspaper columnist Kupcinet / Car in Playmates 1958 Beep Beep

Monday, December 27, 2010

Constructor: C. W. Stewart

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "HERE'S JOHNNY!" (60A: Classic TV intro ... or a hint to the starts of 16-, 22-, 30-, 42- and 47-Across) — words that start theme answers are also the last names of famous guys named JOHNNY (I say "famous" despite the fact that I didn't know 60% of the JOHNNYs in question)

Word of the Day: PLINTH (28D: Base of a column) —

In architecture, a plinth is the base or platform upon which a column, pedestal, statue, monument or structure rests. Gottfried Semper's The Four Elements of Architecture (1851) posited that the plinth, the hearth, the roof, and the wall make up all of architectural theory. The plinth usually rests directly on the ground, or "stylobate". According to Semper, the plinth exists to negotiate between a structure and the ground. Semper's theory has been very influential in the subsequent development of architecture. In its most basic form, a plinth is a plain, rectangular block of stone (curved plinths are relatively rare). (wikipedia)
• • •

["I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die" — one of the most hard-boiled lines ever written]

Super-fast solve for me—not at all atypical for a Monday. Struggled briefly to come up with PLINTH, and briefly again to come up with "RIVER'S EDGE," which must be somewhat obscure to a good chunk of you. I mean, it's a movie about teenagers, and I saw it in the theater as a teenager, and I still couldn't come up with the name quickly. What's weirder to me about this theme is the quality of the JOHNNYs. Two are flat-out famous: CASH and BENCH. Country music legend and Hall-of-Fame catcher for the Big Red Machine. The others... didn't know any of them. Scratch that. I *thought* I didn't know any of them, but then posited (to myself?) that JOHNNY NASH was the guy who sang "I Can See Clearly Now the Rain Is Gone" or whatever that song is called. But JOHNNY MILLER (a '70s golfer) and JOHNNY RIVERS (a '60s singer)—not ringing bells. Thankfully, knowing them was completely immaterial to the solving process. Done in 2:36.

Theme answers:
  • 16A: Second-stringer (BENCH WARMER)
  • 22A: Compensation in bills and coins (CASH PAYMENT)
  • 30A: "Great taste ... less filling!" sloganeer (MILLER LITE)
  • 42A: 1986 Keanu Reeves film ("RIVER'S EDGE") — I know it's picky, but I'm not thrilled with the apostrophe in the title; presumably there is no apostrophe in Mr. RIVERS' name
  • 47A: Car in the Playmates' 1958 hit "Beep Beep" (NASH RAMBLER)

I hope no one takes offense when I say that this puzzle seems aimed at somewhat older folks (Keanu Reeves movie aside). It's simply a descriptive statement—I think the general quality of the grid is quite good, especially considering the very high theme density. Hard to keep things Monday-appropriate (predominantly easy, familiar answers) and cram that many theme answers in there. Generally, the more space the theme takes up, the harder it is to keep the fill simple.
Ms. Stewart knows what she's doing on these early-week puzzles.

  • 40A: Eskimo boat (UMIAK) — along with PLINTH, one of two decidedly non-Mondayish answers in the grid. Longtime solvers and Inuit culture aficionados will know UMIAK, but that's a roughie for people trying to break into the solving game.
  • 32D: Newspaper columnist Kupcinet (IRV) — Again, don't know him. I'm guessing this is another answer that will be more familiar to older than to younger solvers (and I don't qualify as "younger" any more, btw). IRV Kupcinet wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times for six decades ('40s-'2000s).
  • 24D: Fish-tailed males (MERMEN) — that's sort of a sassy little answer for a Monday. And under the Eskimo boat and alongside the MORAYS (9D: Some eels)—aquatically appropriate
You were supposed to get a sub tomorrow, but my flight to Philly has already been canceled, so it's very likely I'll still be with you on Tuesday. Happy travels or leftovers or whatever you've got going on.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Czech martyr Jan / SUN 12-26-10 / Old-time cartoonist Hoff / Inhabitant of Pribilof Islands / Pre-1868 Tokyo / W.W. II carrier Churchill sting twice

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Constructor: Darin McDaniel

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Hey, Mister!" — familiar phrases have "MAN" added to them, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: TEASELS (15D: Prickly plants) —

Dipsacus is a genus of flowering plant in the family Dipsacaceae. The members of this genus are known as teasel or teazel or teazle. The genus includes about 15 species of tall herbaceous biennial plants (rarely short-lived perennial plants) growing to 1-2.5 m tall, native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa. [...] // Teasels are easily identified with their prickly stem and leaves, and the inflorescence of purple, dark pink or lavender flowers that form a head on the end of the stem(s). The inflorescence is ovoid, 4-10 cm long and 3-5 cm broad, with a basal whorl of spiny bracts. The first flowers begin opening in a belt around the middle of the spherical or oval flowerhead, and then open sequentially toward the top and bottom, forming two narrow belts as the flowering progresses. The dried head persists afterwards, with the small (4-6 mm) seeds maturing in mid autumn. // The seeds are an important winter food resource for some birds, notably the European Goldfinch; teasels are often grown in gardens and encouraged on some nature reserves to attract them. // Teasel is also considered an invasive species in the United States. It is known to form a monoculture, capable of crowding out all native plant species, and therefore is discouraged and/or eliminated within restored open lands and other conservation areas. (wikipedia)
• • •

Hello and welcome to your abbreviated Sunday write-up. It's Christmas evening and I've gotta get this thing done during the time it takes for my wife to whip up something sweet for dessert. I've also got to get ready to leave for Florida on Monday—I think they have internet in Florida now, so I should be able to keep up the blogging no problem. If I run into issues, you may see a substitute here on a couple of days. Somehow, we'll all get through it. . .

This puzzle was kind of interesting theme-wise, but by the end I was far too distracted by a good chunk of off-putting answers to have very positive feelings about it overall. Theme is just OK—some cute phrases, some forced phrases, and at least one that was both (CARTMAN BEFORE THE HORSE is great in that I love CARTMAN, but not so great in that CART BEFORE THE HORSE is not a phrase—PUT(TING) THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE is). The rest of the fill was all over the map—sometimes seemingly inventive (THE POKY? USS WASP!?) (60D: Stir + 73A: W.W. II carrier praised by Churchill for its ability to "sting twice"), and other times the opposite of that, i.e. too readily accepted from some horrible autofill monster. I may have seen TEASEL(S) once before in my life, but I really don't like it, esp. in the plural. EPACT was worse (56A: Difference in days between the lunar and solar year), and UKASE worser (102D: Decree) (though I understand that it's old skool crosswordese and so not Entirely from outer space for many solvers). I realize that someone whose own puzzle featured IAT has no business complaining about OFFAT, but since I was not responsible for IAT, I'm complaining anyway. Actually, I'd let that go if I didn't have to deal with the A family: AMUST, ACARE, and ANOTE. It's all ABIT much. Did I leave one out? Maybe, but I don't feel like hunting. HUS on first? Who knows? (84D: Czech martyr Jan) Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is I groaned more than I wowed. Not a terrible puzzle by any means, but not one I'll be fondly remembering either. I mean ... *two* particles?? (both of them the equivalent of constructor "Eject" buttons) (MESON and CATION) (65D: Quark/antiquark particle + 25D: Charged particle). No thanks.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Loving comment from an astronaut's wife? ("I NEED MY SPACEMAN")
  • 37A: The Dark Knight rooms with Quasimodo? (BATMAN'S IN THE BELFRY)
  • 47A: Hotel's ask-your-greeter-anything approach? (OPEN DOORMAN POLICY)
  • 66A: "South Park" character leading a walk around a paddock? (CARTMAN BEFORE THE HORSE)
  • 80A: What Dustin Hoffman gets to do often, thanks to royalties? (TAKE A "RAIN MAN" CHECK)
  • 92A: Actor Hugh involved in every swap shop deal? (JACKMAN OF ALL TRADES)
  • 111A: Actor John playing Wayne Knight's role on "Seinfeld"? (GOODMAN AS NEWMAN)
My biggest problem was the single square at the CATION / TEE (34A: Plumber's fitting) crossing. Just guessed the "T," figuring that was the letter most likely to have something to do with a plumber (shape of the pipe fitting). CATION looks like it should be clued [Stay or alter follower].

  • 44A: "He wore a diamond" in "Copacabana" (RICO) — how's this for a weird coincidence? I read the clue as "Casablanca," not "Copacabana," and so entered ... RICK.
  • 98A: W.W. I hero played by Gary Cooper (SGT. YORK) — I think I saw at least part of the SGT. YORK movie once. Today, however, I saw "True Grit." Recommended. There's some severed fingers and point-blank face shooting and pony dying, but all in all a hell of a lot less gruesome than many other Coen Bros. movies I've seen. Acting all great, especially the young woman, man oh man. Where did she come from?

  • 99A: Pre-1868 Tokyo (EDO) — feels like an eternity since I've seen this old xword standby.
  • 114A: Inhabitant of the Pribilof Islands (ALEUT) — Somehow I doubt that's what the ALEUTs call them. . .
  • 7D: ___ Eisley, "Star Wars" cantina town (MOS) — Here, and at FARR (69D: Actress Diane of "Numb3rs"), there is an admirable if slightly desperate stretching for new clues ...
  • 36D: Old-time cartoonist Hoff (SYD) — we have at least one of his books lying around ("Sammy the Seal"). I saw some of his work at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC last spring.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


1970s first mother / SAT 12-25-10 / Twentieth century producer / Perfection under fire product / Corrosion-resistant plating

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Constructor: Stanley Newman

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Santa ___ — names of famous places that start with SANTA

  • 19A: Santa ___ (CATALINA ISLAND) — never heard anyone call it anything except CATALINA ISLAND ...
  • 36A: Santa ___ (MONICA MOUNTAINS) — ... whereas I've never heard anyone call these MONICA MOUNTAINS, and furthermore I never think about SANTA MONICA as anything but the city (where Best Friend 1 lives), or maybe the BOULEVARD (it fits!) so ... weird and weird so far.
  • 48A: Santa ___ (ANITA RACETRACK) — And weirder, as this one is not (like the others) a geographical feature ...
Word of the Day: LILLIAN Carter (18A: 1970s "first mother") —
Lillian Gordy Carter (August 15, 1898 – October 30, 1983) was the mother of former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. She is also known for contribution to nursing in her home state of Georgia and as a Peace Corps volunteer in India as well as writing two books during the Carter presidency. (wikipedia)
• • •

Kind of an odd fake Christmas puzzle. Theme answers don't produce much joy. Fill is fine but unremarkable. Cluing is interestingly much more like Stan Newman's "Newsday" cluing than it is like the typical NYT puzzle. That is, it relies more on short (often one-word) and vague cluing for its toughness than the typical Shortzian creation. I'm thinking of [Point] and [Point] and [Tap] and [Zip] and [Spring] and such. [Go around] isn't ORBIT, it's AVOID. [Stir up] isn't AGITATE (as it should be), it's ANIMATE and the cross, [Imply], isn't GET AT (as it should be), it's AIM AT. That said, it wasn't all that hard, and there's hardly an obscurity in sight, so what toughness there was was welcome. [Put away] — is that about eating, or stowing, or ... nope. It's killing (DO IN). In the end, I liked this puzzle fine, though the theme left me cold.

Some interesting moments:

We've got STENO (7D: Old office worker) and STERNO (44D: "Perfection under fire" product), so lucky us.

I invented two words today: MAZING for 23A: Stunning (DAZING) and ADORATES for 37D: Fawns over (ADULATES).

I could remember the villain himself from 2009's "Star Trek," but not the actor who played the villain in 2009's "Star Trek" (xword-friendly Eric BANA).

Other wrong answers:
  • ORDINAL for 8A: Point (DECIMAL)
  • SPICE for 30D: Oomph (JUICE)
  • ASTI for 34A: Sight from the top of the Leaning Tower (ARNO)
Also, could not get ANDROMICA out of my head at 20D: Wife of Perseus, probably through conflation of the actual answer (ANDROMEDA) with Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus."

  • 1A: "The Twentieth Century" producer (CBS NEWS) — probably the hardest answer of all for me, as I don't know what "The Twentieth Century" is and I was looking for a person, not a news organization. This was especially weird when I thought the actor who played Nero in "Star Trek" was Billy ZANE. "CZ-NE-S?!?! Who is that?"
  • 44A: Happy cohort? (SNEEZY) — transparent, but I still liked the clue. That's the playfulness I like / expect in my late-weekers. (and it's a "Snow White" reference, in case somehow that's not yet abundantly clear)
  • 45A: Company with an I.P.O. in both 1992 and 2009 (AOL) — 1992. Wow. Seems early, but I guess I got my first email address in 1991, so maybe not so early after all.
  • 14D: Wiseman who directed "Live Free or Die Hard" (LEN) — wanted LES, which was good enough to get the ball rolling up there. No idea how I (2/3) know the name. Interesting fact: the first "Die Hard" was a Christmas movie. This "Die Hard" ... I don't know.

  • 38D: Corrosion-resistant plating (TIN) — "Tin roof! Rusted!"

Merry Christmas to all relevant parties. If you frequently read the comments section, you might enjoy this blog-based holiday puzzle by my friend Dave Eckert (whose dad is the eponym of a local theater here where I live, but that's another story...). Get it here. Enjoy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Song of 1859 / FRI 12-24-10 / It has 3750 steps of penitence / Scrooge player of film / Sacred symbol to Zeus / Word on vin bottle

Friday, December 24, 2010

Constructor: Jay Kaskel and Daniel Kantor

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: SILENT NIGHT (59A: Song of 1959 ... or what the five circled letters represent?) — silent N, I, GH, and T can be found in circled squares in four Christmas-related theme answers

Word of the Day: IAN Ziering (52D: Ziering of "90210") —

Ian Andrew Ziering (born March 30, 1964) is an American actor best known for playing Steve Sanders on the television series Beverly Hills, 90210. (wikipedia) (so he *started* playing a teenage at 26 ...?)
• • •

Hot on the heels of the GHOTI / "Fish" puzzle, we get another puzzle based on the vagaries of the English language and its pronunciation. When I first finished, I did not get the "silent" part of the puzzle — I thought the fact that NIGHT was "hiding" in the circles (quietly?) was the feature signified by the word SILENT. That wrong conclusion lasted only a few seconds, as I realized it made no sense, and the circles didn't form a Christmasy shape that I recognized, so some quality of the letters themselves must be important (I reasoned) and bingo—theme solved. Helped (somehow) that NIGHT shares 4 out of 5 letters with GHOTI. The fact that the silent letters all appear in Christmas-related answers (including the date-specific CHRISTMAS EVE) is a nice touch. The puzzle felt a little slight for a Friday (possibly because of all the short, basic answers occasioned by the strange, black-square-heavy grid design), but there are very few weak spots and the theme is tight and clever. Thumbs up.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Carols, often (CHRISTMAS HYMNS)
  • 24A: Scrooge player of film (MICHAEL CAINE) — when was that?? Ohhh...

  • 38A: Polar opposites? (NAUGHTY OR NICE) — okay, That is a good clue
  • 51A: Time before the present day? (CHRISTMAS EVE) — again, good clue
Started out tough for me and then opened right up. Then ended up tough again (started and finished in the NW). First things I put in the grid with any confidence were RARA (15A: Uncommon, in ancient Rome) and CRU (6D: Word on a vin bottle). Couldn't remember my lesser trigonometrical functions (i.e. ARCTAN, 4D: Inverse trig function), so had to move along and found GEHRIG (8D: The Iron Horse of baseball). From there I was able to get into the NE and once CHURCH HYMNS was in, I caught fire. The only real thorny parts were all part of that NW corridor that runs the length of MAURITANIA (2D: Its capital is Nouakchott) and MUSIC STAND (3D: Score keeper?). Never heard of the USAC (39D: Car-racing org.), so needed every cross there. Terrible trouble seeing MT. SINAI (didn't expect a mountain to have "steps") (29A: It has 3,750 "steps of penitence"). OH I and HEN were very well hidden (21D: "___ don't know" + 1D: Game ___), and it took me a while to give up on YES as the answer to 1A: Not an ideal answer to "Do these jeans make me look fat?" ("HMM...").

  • 14A: Feu fighter (EAU) — another great clue, punning (I assume) on this band name:

  • 17A: N N N (NUS) — Greek letters. That "N" was the last letter I filled in, I think.
  • 57A: With 67-Across, sacred symbol to Zeus (OAK / TREE) — I did not know this. Pieced it together with little trouble. Lots of ancient stuff today, what with two Latin words and Zeus and Greek letters and MT SINAI.
  • 5D: Exclamation hear 12 times in Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" (RAH) — I am familiar with that part of the song, but somehow remember the syllable differently: MAH or BAH or LAH or maybe combinations of all those...

  • 12D: Lady whom Don Giovanni tries to seduce (ANNA) — HMM ... opera. For me, this generally means "insert random woman's name here." And so it was today. Crosses: mercifully easy.
  • 32D: "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" setting (THE RIVIERA) — this movie co-starred ... MICHAEL CAINE. Nice touch.

  • 35D: Lily, in Lille (LYS) — as in "fleur-de-"
Merry Christmas Eve.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Designer McCartney / THU 12-23-10 / Reggae/dancehall artist Paul / Notorious 1999 computer virus / Jedi big forehead

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Constructor: Oliver Hill and Eliza Bagg

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: GHOTI (30D: "Fish") — George Bernard Shaw's alleged fanciful explanation of how to spell "Fish": 17A: What to use to spell 30-Down, according to George Bernard Shaw, reputedly, Part 1: THE 'GH' FROM 'ENOUGH' (36A: Part 2) THE 'O' FROM 'WOMEN' (Part 3) THE 'TI' FROM 'NATION'

Word of the Day: STELLA McCartney (3D: Designer McCartney) —

Stella Nina McCartney (born 13 September 1971) is an English fashion designer. She is the daughter of former Beatles member Sir Paul McCartney and the late photographer and animal rights activist, Linda McCartney. (wikipedia)
• • •

First off, thanks to Caleb Madison and Natan Last for doing the write-up yesterday, and thanks to many of you for the interesting and mostly kind comments (and emails) regarding my ALL IN puzzle.

Today's puzzle falls generally into that category of "Theme Answers as Instructions," though it's somewhat funny and thus somewhat more interesting than "Do this" or "Fold here" or whatever. I know of this "GHOTI" thing only from GHOTI's appearance in a crossword a while back. Appears to be a well known wordplay gag to many. As I was solving this, I couldn't remember the joke very well, and after getting GHO- wrote in GHOST at 30D (confusing this "Fish" thing with the game of "GHOST," which I also know only from crosswords). If you are familiar with the whole "GHOTI" trick, then there's no great reveal here, and if you're not, then ... maybe there is.

As for non-theme stuff, there are some weak spots, but they're mostly small and out-of-the-way (e.g. the little TERR/SEENO/ARR section in the west and the unlovable TEHEED in the NW—which I blew because I didn't check my crosses after filling in SAT at 14A: Lay (SET), thus ending up with TAHEED ... finding out it was really TEHEED didn't improve things much). Otherwise, much to enjoy, including "HELLO, MELISSA!" (20A: Shout into a canyon + 22A: Notorious 1999 computer virus) and "HERE WE GO!" (37D: Shout at the top of a rollercoaster) and "DETROIT!" (52A: Lion's home) (my losing but much improving football team—really hoping that after he inevitably wins Rookie of the Year, Ndamukong Suh starts to appear in puzzles). One thing I still don't get, even after asking another constructor—what is 39D: Good radio station for a bride? (WIFE) supposed to mean? Is that a famous radio station? In NYC? Constructor I asked is from NYC, so that would be weird.

[26D: Reggae/dancehall artist ___ Paul]

  • 4A: Originator of the phrase "rosy-fingered dawn" (HOMER) — translator originated the phrase, but still, Gimme.
  • 32A: Books often read on Saturday (TORAH) — did not know the singular was the plural.
  • 41A: Object of Andy's affection in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (TRISH) — saw the movie, liked the movie, forgot the name—although figuring out her name probably doesn't start SR- helped me change GHOST to GHOTI.
  • 61A: Zero, in slang (BAGEL) — I had AUGHT at first. Not really "slang," I guess.
  • 1D: Panama and Suez (ISTHMI) — deliberate trickery. Of course I wrote in CANALS right away.
  • 9D: One fighting urban sprawl, say (ZONER) — I was trying to explain to someone earlier tonight how low word-count puzzles tend to have lots of strange -ER words in them ...
  • 38D: Who'll "talk 'til his voice is hoarse," in a 1960s sitcom (MR. ED) — First thought: MR. HANEY ... kidding.
  • 55D: Jedi with a big forehead (YODA) — not a feature I'd single out, but OK.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Many a Justin Bieber fan / WED 12-22-10 / Kirk's foe in a "Star Trek" sequel / General played by Fonda (in 1976), Peck (1977) and Olivier (1981)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Constructor: Michael Sharp (a k a Rex Parker)

Relative difficulty: Medium-Difficult

Theme: Going All In — Six answers are phrases which usually include "All In" at the beginning with "All In" omitted. Theme revealer at 63-Across.

Word of the Day: VALOR (3D: Bravery)

valor (uncountable)
  1. Value; worth.
  2. Strength of mind in regard to danger; that quality which enables a person to encounter danger with firmness; personal bravery; courage; prowess; intrepidity.
• • •

What’s up, CrossWorld. Caleb Madison and Natan Last here, Sock 'Em Boppers a-ready, throwing down in Round 3 of our CrossFeud. We're guest-blogging today for Rex Parker, who, Renaissance Man that he is, has put on his constructing hat today.… And try as we might, we just can't find out who this Bennet CERF (33-A, Bennett of "What's My Line?") or Toots SHOR (54-D, Restauranteur Toots) is, with the Google Machine, or the Lady Gaga. Once we saw Justin Bieber and Biggie SMALLS in the puzzle, however, we knew we’d get … at least two answers.

We've decided to bury the hatchet, for Rex's sake. Fight indefinitely postponed. Bookies, calculate your odds. Michael Vick, place your bets. Screaming ladies, hold onto your underthings. For the course of this blog post, Caleb and Natan have merged into... Catan. Catan: like Brangelina, but cuter, and with fewer Cambodian children. It also saves us from having to use the personal pronoun "we" all the time.

On to the puzzle. As we solved this, in the same room, yelling obscenities at each other when we couldn’t get something ("*$^@!# TOOTS SHOR?!" "WAIT A SEC IS THIS A &$#!@*ING REBUS?!?"), we also commented on the solidness of the theme. It’s very clever, of course, and not only are the six phrases Rex has chosen all lively, but the omitted answer is also a tight phrase:

Theme answers:
  • 1A: Cry at the start of a vote [ALL IN] FAVOR
  • 20A: "Soon enough, my friend" [ALL IN] GOOD TIME
  • 36A: As a package [ALL IN] ONE
  • 52A: Completely imagined [ALL IN] YOUR HEAD
  • 11D: Top-rated TV series of 1971-76 [ALL IN] THE FAMILY
  • 32D: To be expected [ALL IN] A DAY'S WORK
Don’t get too excited, Michael/Rex, but these are all pretty colloquial and altogether awesome answers. We especially liked the clue for [ALL IN] GOOD TIME (“Soon enough, my friend”); the two phrases are perfect substitutes for one another, and equally colloquial. Now onto the fill, which was stellar in some places, awkward in others, but which overall contained a good mix of the highbrow and the low, the savory and the un.

Interestingly, as I (Catan) write this, I'm in a house on Duane Street, a block away from Reade street, home to the original Duane READE store (14-A: Duane ___ (New York City pharmacy chain)). Coincidentally, I'm also playing PACMAN (6-D: Iconic chomper) (great clue, that), listening to OTIS (10-A: Soulful Redding), acting FERAL (48-D: Untamed), and swaying to and FRO (48-A: One way to sway). What can I say. We're just two TWEENs chilling out to some Bieber (51-A: Many a Justin Bieber fan).

The extra dose of Star Trek clues were all gimmes for Caleb, but Natan, who's more of a Star Wars kid, had trouble with 'em. Both of us were happy to see Eero Saarinen, with all his crazy vowels, not as an answer but as a clue (28-A: Eero Saarinen, for one). Similarly, cool to see PRO RATA (42-D: How some wages are calculated) in full as well.

An interesting facet of this puzzle, and the submission process in general, is the stuff that Will lets FLY (28-D: Pass muster), and the stuff that gets nixed. We have it on good information that 34-Across was, in a past life, I AM, which made (27-D: Block) DE MER (clued as "Mal ___, sea sickness") instead of DETER. Hard to say which is the lesser of the evils, but DE MER has, at least, appeared in crosswords before, though never in the Times; I AT (34-A: "Am ___ risk?"), for its meager part, has appeared nonce. Constructors ourselves (down, Screaming Ladies, down!), we woulda gone with IAJ (clued as "Am ___ Burnett?: Existential crisis from a Yankees pitcher") and DE JER (Mal ___ [sickness gotten from watching too much "Seinfeld").

So appropriate.

  • Go from site to site? (SURF) — Nice misdirective clue.
  • Biggie _____ (rapper a k a Notorious B.I.G.) (SMALLS) — An example of something that could have gotten a lame plural clue (T-shirt sizes) but instead becomes lively and current. And awesome.

Teenagers that we are, our minds did not immediately go to the land of verbs when we saw Madden in the clue for 12-Down; needless to say, the actual answer was much less exciting: INFURIATE.

Also, our constructor seems to be a bit of projecting at 37-Across (Old Man: Ger.). Oh, Michael Sharpenschnitzel, you’ll always be young at heart.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter] or [Caleb Madison]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP