Showing posts with label J.A.S.A. Crossword Class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label J.A.S.A. Crossword Class. Show all posts

Italian brewer since 1846 / SAT 3-1-14 / Ghanaian region known for gold cocoa / 1987 #1 hit with line Yo no soy marinero / Carrier with pink logo

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Constructor: Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ASHANTI Region (10D: Ghanaian region known for gold and cocoa) —
The Ashanti Region is located in south Ghana and third largest of 10 administrative regions, occupying a total land surface of 24,389 km2 (9,417 sq mi) or 10.2 per cent of the total land area of Ghana. In terms of population, however, it is the most populated region with a population of 3,612,950 in 2000, accounting for 19.1 per cent of Ghana’s total population. The Ashanti region and Asanteman is known for its major gold bar and cocoa production and also harbors the capital city of Kumasi. (wikipedia)
• • •

This is among my favorite of the JASA Crossword Class puzzles. They are always pretty good—as they should be, since the JASA teachers are always top-flight constructors, and the puzzles represent the collective effort of many sharp minds—but this one is particularly fresh and solid. Kudos to Will for letting KTHXBYE get through (18A: Curt chat closing). It's a jokey texting sign-off that looks nuts on the grid. Nuts good. Good nuts. I think it's often spelled KTHXBAI—that spelling certainly googles better. Speaking of Google: GOOGLE GLASS is also a nice modern reference, although … I have yet to see anyone wearing them (it? It, I guess). I mean, in real life. And yet I've been hearing about it for so long now that it already feels a bit like yesterday's news. See also BitCoin, which I'm sure will be in the puzzle Any Day Now (esp. with the recent fraud problems putting the "currency" in the spotlight). But BITCOIN isn't in this puzzle. GOOGLE GLASS is (42A: Modern device seen on a bridge). And despite its looking stupid (in its currently incarnation), some version of it is likely here to stay (not so sure about BITCOIN … or why I keep talking about BITCOIN).

Never heard of PERONI, so that area of the puzzle was probably the toughest for me. PERONI makes a beer called Nastro Azzurro, which (per wikipedia) was the 13th best-selling beer in the UK in 2010. So if that's ever in a trivia contest, boom, you're set. BATE is a funny word (3D: Moderate). Needs a terminal S to be a name, needs an initial A to be a "real" verb. I've never heard anyone use BATE in ordinary conversation. I had BAT- and still had no idea what the answer was til I ran the alphabet. Cluing generally seemed vibrant and interesting—a nice mix of tough and easy, trivia-based and wordplay-based. Nice question-markers on SUPEREGO (28A: One's own worst critic?) and PAJAMAS (59A: Sack dress?). Really enjoyable work. 72 words is the max for a themeless. High-word-count themelesses have a huge upside. Room for really interesting longer answers, but not soooo much room that you end up torturing the fill to make everything hold together. Long live the high-word-count themeless.

Happy March!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. SOY is in the grid and also in the "LA BAMBA" clue (1A: 1987 #1 hit with the line "Yo no soy marinero, so capitán"). You're probably only noticing it now–now that I've mentioned it—so it probably doesn't matter.


African Queen screenwriter / FRI 12-27-13 / Jennifer of Bound / Leader of Uganda's independence movement / Phishing lures / Oscar nominated film featuring dentist turned bounty hunter / Caustic soda chemically / Brown refreshers / Things employed to show passage of time a la Citizen Kane

Friday, December 27, 2013

Constructor: Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: TINEA (16A: Dermatologist's case) —
Tinea (often called ringworm) is any of a variety of skin mycoses.
It is sometimes equated with dermatophytosis, and, while most conditions identified as "tinea" are members of the imperfect fungi that make up the dermatophytes, conditions such as tinea nigra and tinea versicolor are not caused by dermatophytes.
Tinea is often called "ringworm" because it is circular, and has a "ring-like" appearance. Tinea is a very common fungal infection of the skin. (wikipedia)
• • •

This grid is really very good. Long answers in the corner are eye-grabbing, fresh, and engaging, and the short stuff mostly stays the hell out of the way. Clues were suitably tough. Did *not* see "CALVIN AND HOBBES" coming until I (finally, after running the alphabet) got the "V" from BEAV (20A: '50s-'60s sitcom nickname). "Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat" is the name of a C&H collection. It's especially ironic that I needed so many (well, six) letters to pick this one up, as I just tweeted about Bill Watterson today. Actually, I was tweeting about the most recent collection of Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy" comic strips ("Nancy Likes Christmas"—Dailies, 1946-48, Fantagraphics Books), and remarking how I had laughed more in five pages of the "Nancy" book than all post-Watterson comic strips combined. For me, as far as comic strips go, there's Schulz, Watterson, Bushmiller, and then Everyone Else. This puzzle has inspired me to order "Homicidal Jungle Cat" and maybe another volume in Fantagraphics' "Peanuts" series. Tonight. After I write this.

Never saw "DJANGO UNCHAINED" (36A: Oscar-nominated film featuring a dentist-turned-bounty hunter), despite its having all the hallmarks of a movie I would see. I don't even know the basic plot, really, so despite the title's familiarity, that one was even harder for me to come up with than CALVIN AND HOBBES. Let's just say the letters string -GOUNCHA- looks, well, wrong. I had SKULK and SNEAK before I had SLINK (23D: Move furtively), which added to my struggles getting out of that NW region. Had TILT for LIST in the NE (a particularly nasty little trap) (21A: Cant). But this one was tough only in the cluing. Besides OBOTE (58A: Leader of Uganda's independence movement), nothing comes across in retrospect as particularly obscure or  recherché. DELOS, maybe? (44A: Island where Artemis was born) No, I got that off the "D." OSWEGO? Possibly. I live in NY and there's a SUNY-OSWEGO, so I got that one fairly easily (3D: Port on Lake Ontario). Got AUCKLAND easily as I have been there several times and with the "K" and "D" in place the clue is pretty transparent (40A: Home of Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere). Also, I'm reading "The Luminaries" and it's set in NZ, although, now that I think of it, I'm not sure AUCKLAND has been mentioned yet at all. Book takes place primarily (if not exclusively—I'm only 10% done) on NZ's South Island (home to hobbits and, in her youth, my wife).

ASHKENAZI is really the only way I want to see "NAZI" in my puzzle. Very nice answer on every level (65A: Like Albert Einstein, ethnically).
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Summation symbol in math / SUN 2-17-13 / 1968 movie directed by Paul Newman / Island SW of Majorca / Post-1968 tennis / Post-1858 rule / Rank below group captain / Bridge dividing San Marco San Polo districts / Old West casino game / Fictional Indiana town where Parks Recreation is set / Month after Av / Body of water on Uzbek border

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Constructor: Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Mark My Words" — five squares work as punctuation marks in the Acrosses and letter strings in the Downs
  • "RACHEL, RACHEL" / WING COMMANDER [Rank below group captain]
Word of the Day: FARO (77D: Old West casino game) —
A card game in which the players lay wagers on the top card of the dealer's pack.

[Alteration of PHARAOH.]

Read more:
• • •

I have this weird sense of déjà vu with this one—seems like I've seen punctuation mark puzzles before, maybe even from Ian himself (???). No matter, this one works nicely, and the rebus squares are symmetrical (!?), which you almost never see in a rebus. Usually too hard to do, and usually makes rebus too easy to solve. Not today, though. Never occurred to me to look for symmetry, so the symmetry feature didn't help me at all. Took me waaaaay too long to figure out the theme. I just couldn't figure out why there was a blank in "THE IN [blank] CROWD," and because of that mystery square, I also could Not get up into the north. Clues on everything were supremely unhelpful. BIG BAT took me forever, and I'm a baseball fan. Clues on L.A. LAKER (23A: Magic, once) and ARAL SEA (19A: Body of water on the Uzbek border) were not at all obvious. GALA (8D: Big do) could've been AFRO or BASH. Couldn't remember the first two letters of ARLEN's name (20D: "Blues in the Night" composer Harold). So that area was Rough. Finally figured out the gimmick way over at "CSI: NY," and after that, the puzzle got much easier, but never Easy. I was gonna call foul on "CSI: NY" because I thought there were periods in the abbreviations, but looks like there isn't a period to be seen on either side of the colon. I've never even heard of "RACHEL, RACHEL," so that part of the grid was also rough, but no matter—it's fine to struggle sometimes, and the fill here is mostly very good and even entertaining in parts. Weak in the ENSILE-over-OSE area, but really strong in the SE, where ALEX TREBEK wears FAKE FUR to IBIZA (what a diva!) (122A: Island SW of Majorca), and the NW, where MONEYPENNY and "IRONSIDE" create a nice crime/spy fiction nexus.

Crosswordese Experience helped a bunch today, as IONIA (2D: Coastal Anatolian region) slid right in, ENSILE was no problem at all, ELUL (54D: Month after Av) was virtually second nature, and KIRS (115D: Cocktails with crème de cassis) felt like an old friend (even though the last three are words I know *only* from crosswords). Of course there was the little matter of crossing crosswordese wires at RAJ (120D: Post-1858 rule) (I went with HAJ), and then needing almost every cross for ZERO G. Always happy to see a "Parks & Rec" clue—I forget sometimes that PAWNEE is fake, since I know more about it than any other place in Indiana (86A: Fictional Indiana town where "Parks & Recreation" is set). I liked the clue [Gotham-bound luggage letters] (LGA) both because I love Batman and because I will be Gotham-bound myself in about three weeks to attend yet another American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT).  YE GODS! I haven't made my hotel reservations yet. Gotta go.

For those who missed my Thursday announcement: "American Red Crosswords"—a collection of 24 original puzzles that I put together to benefit the Red Cross's Disaster Relief Fund—is available for download now from Puzzles were edited by Patrick Blindauer. Will Shortz wrote the introduction. And many, many big-time constructors donated their talents. So go donate to the Red Cross, download some puzzles, and enjoy the weekend.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Old German duchy name / THU 12-20-12 / Dancer choreographer Michio / Centipede creator / Umpire of Hamlet's fencing match with Laertes / French town in 44 news / Frigg's husband / Cloud producer for short

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Constructor: Ian Livengood and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: CHRISTMAS / BONUS (57A: With 63-Across, extra holiday pay ... or what's in 17-, 22-, 34- and 45-Across)— DESCRIPTION

Word of the Day: Michio ITO (20A: Dancer/choreographer Michio) —
Michio Itō (1892-1961) was a Japanese dancer, and choreographer, an associate of William Butler YeatsEzra PoundAngna EntersIsamu NoguchiLouis HorstTed ShawnMartha Graham,Lillian PowellVladimir RosingPauline KonerLester Horton and others. He was interned and eventually deported from the United States after the outbreak of World War II. (wikipedia)
• • •

I have had people—readers of this blog, in fact—get legitimately offended by my use of "XMAS" as shorthand for "CHRISTMAS," so it is with some amount of glee that I solved this puzzle. I'm just imagining dozens of the indignant and easily-offended faithful firing up their AOL accounts to dash off a miffed missive to the heathens at the NYT. Or maybe there are only a couple of cranks in the world who get offended by that kind of stuff and they both just happened to read and email me on the day I used "XMAS.' Who can say? Anyway, I like this puzzle. It was simple and interesting, and the grid is pretty cool. I don't know how many people it took to make this (or how they're getting paid; let's see, $200 divided by ...), but the end result holds up. Nice use of non-theme long answers (both Across and Down), nice big corners in the NE and SW, nice timely puzzle, all with a minimum of gunk. Well, not a minimum. But not an abundance, either.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Gamer's midday meal? (XBOX LUNCH)
  • 22A: Working hours for director Shyamalan? (M. NIGHT SHIFT) — this is a little clunky
  • 34A: N.Y.C. subway line in one's imagination? (A-TRAIN OF THOUGHT)
  • 45A: Bozo in a big Mercedes? (S CLASS CLOWN)
Got off to a decent start with this one. Wanted EERIE at 1A: Hair-raising but crossword reflexes told me 1D: Old German duchy name was SAXE, so EERIE became SCARY pretty quick. Left the NW in my rearview mirror, with the parting observation, "hmm, CAN'T I / INCOG / ATH is less than great..." Luckily, no other part of the puzzle would be that densely packed with junk. The one problem I had—and it threatened to be a big one—was with the cross-referenced clues at 21A: Villains in the "28-Down" films, e.g. (SICKOS) and 28D: See 21-Across ("SAW"). Never saw any of the "SAW"s, so I don't know if SICKOS is the literal name of the villains or just a generic catchall for the particular type of villains involved. Got SICKOS entirely from crosses, and then when I got over to where "SAW" was supposed to be, I wasn't sure of the "A" or the "W." I wanted "SAW," because it is the only three-letter horror film I can think of, and the "A" fit in the cross, but the "W" was hard to make work. Even when I (finally) got WEE, I didn't get the connection to [Atomic] at first. Then I thought, "oh, they mean [Atom-sized]." And so they did.

  • 13D: Cloud producer, for short (N TEST) — a non-Christmas bonus. I thought "Cloud" was computer-related at first. 
  • 43D: Japanese or Javanese (ASIANS) — the plural here fooled me. Wanted ASIAN, but then gave it up 'cause it wouldn't fit. But then it really was ASIAN. Just with an "S" on the end.
  • 48D: Umpire of Hamlet's fencing match with Laertes (OSRIC) — an oddly useful name to have in your quiver. He makes an appearance in one of my NYT puzzles (I think). Not a high-profile name, but a crossword-useful name, to be sure.
  • 52D: French town in '44 news (ST-LO) — like OSRIC, N-TEST, SAXE, etc. this answer is next-to-autmoatic for a constant solver. 
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Cartoon villain who sails Black Barnacle / FRI 10-14-11 / Ozone destroyers / Player of Duke Santos 1960 / Artist whose moniker is pronunciation of his initials

Friday, October 14, 2011

Constructor: Caleb Madison and J.A.S.A. Class

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: A.J. CRONIN (41A: A. J. who wrote "The Citadel") —
Archibald Joseph Cronin (19 July 1896–6 January 1981) was a Scottish physician and novelist. His best-known works are Hatter's Castle, The Stars Look Down, The Citadel, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years, all of which were adapted to film. He also created the Dr. Finlay character, the hero of a series of stories that served as the basis for the popular BBC television and radio series entitled Dr. Finlay's Casebook. [...] The Citadel, a tale of a mining company doctor's struggle to balance scientific integrity with social obligations, incited the establishment of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom by exposing the inequity and incompetence of medical practice at the time. In the novel, Cronin advocated a free public health service in order to defeat the wiles of those doctors who "raised guinea-snatching and the bamboozling of patients to an art form." Dr. Cronin and Aneurin Bevan had both worked at the Tredegar Cottage Hospital in Wales, which served as the basis for the NHS. The author quickly made a number of enemies in the medical profession, and there was a concerted effort by one group of specialists to get The Citadel banned. Cronin's novel, which was the publisher's best-selling book in its history, informed the public of corruption within the medical system, planting a seed that eventually led to necessary reform. Not only were the author's pioneering ideas instrumental in the creation of the NHS, but historian Raphael Samuel has stated that the popularity of his novels played a substantial role in the Labour Party's landslide 1945 victory. (wikipedia)
• • •

With the notable exceptions of FACEBOOK PROFILE (38A: Where to see the writing on the wall?) and KRISTEN WIIG (17A: Co-writer and star of "Bridesmaids"), this puzzle didn't seem very original. Themelesses thrive zingy long stuff, and it just isn't here. I wonder if a class that is just learning to construct should be doing themelesses (which, in my experience, are much harder to pull off than themed puzzles). When the fairly obscure proper nouns like CRONIN and "PETULIA" (which I still can't believe is right ...) (40D: 1968 Julie Christie movie set in San Francisco) upstage your good stuff, and you have to rely on so much ordinary-to-weak short stuff to hold it all together, you have something of a problem. AAU? I'm just noticing that answer now (25A: Sports org.). What the hell is that? Amateur Athletic Union ... I feel like I've complained about this answer before. Bah. Anyway, from GEER to GEAR to GORE, not a ton of joy here today. Wait, I forgot to give love to OFA. OFA is terrible fill, yes, but that is one good clue, I must say (16A: What may come between two friends?).

Flew through the top of the puzzle, and struggled in normal Friday fashion through the middle. The struggle was due almost entirely to CRONIN and (really?) "PETULIA." Also SEA HAG (47D: Cartoon villain who sails the Black Barnacle), which is a cartoon character I somehow missed (this from someone who at this very moment is wearing a Mighty Mouse t-shirt). She's an enemy of Popeye, it turns out. Seems like I should've known that. There are few words I dislike as much as I dislike DECOCT (45D: Extract the essence of by boiling), but the weird thing about really disliking a word is that you get pretty familiar with it—you gotta be familiar to have strong opinions—and so I strangely threw DECOCT down with hardly any crosses in place. Seeing ONTARIO (15D: One side of the Detroit River) in a puzzle (even the crosswordese abbrev. version, ONT) always gives me mild pangs of NOSTALGIA (11D: It "isn't what it used to be," said Simone Signoret) for my days living in southern Michigan, very close to the Canadian border. Speaking of which, go Tigers.

  • 14A: Player of Duke Santos in "Ocean's Eleven," 1960 (CESAR ROMERO) — also player of The Joker in '60s "Batman"
  • 26A: Coal-rich valley (SAAR) — important crosswordese that I always forget. I wanted RUHR.
  • 60A: Peabody Museum patron, perhaps (ELI) — this is just Caleb secretly showing off that he's an Ivy-Leaguer now. 

[absolute insanity]

  • 64A: Playwright who became a president (VACLAV HAVEL) — I should be more impressed than I am by this answer. I feel like I saw him in a puzzle not too long ago, so my reaction wasn't "wow," but "oh, you again." Strangely, it's been sixteen years since this exact answer has appeared in the NYT, so I don't know where I saw my HAVEL. Maybe I'm getting him confused with LECH WALESA (I think I do that).
  • 1D: Official in the Clinton White House (ICKES) — thumbing through the first pages of Terry Teachout's bio of H.L. Mencken today, I noticed the name ICKES and thought "that appears in crosswords sometimes." That particular ICKES was Secretary of the Interior under FDR, not Deputy Chief of Staff for Clinton. Hey, whaddyaknow—they're father/son.
  • 6D: Father of Harmonia, in myth (ARES) — the only way I was able to spell KRISTEN correctly.
  • 13D: William ___, 1990s attorney general (BARR) — don't know him, but I have a distinct feeling I've not known him before, because his name eventually came to me without much assistance. He's Bush I, I think.
Happy birthday, Sandy.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Asian gambling mecca / SUN 4-24-11 / Homey's rep / Rocky of song / Nickname for Baryshnikov / Seedcase that inspired Velcro / Intaglio seals

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Constructor: Caleb Madison and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Use It Or Lose It" — "IT" is added to common phrases in top half of grid, and subtracted from common phrases in the bottom half of the grid, resulting in wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: OBITER dictum (66D: ___ dictum (incidental remark)) —

n., pl., obiter dicta.
  1. Law. An opinion voiced by a judge that has only incidental bearing on the case in question and is therefore not binding. Also called dictum.
  2. An incidental remark or observation; a passing comment.

[Latin, something said in passing : obiter, in passing + dictum, something said, from neuter past participle of dīcere, to say.] (

• • •

Caleb showed me this grid at the ACPT back in March, and I instantly loved it. Wonderful variation on the add-a-letter-type theme—a puzzle where the title is perfect, even essential, instead of forced or awkward. Most impressed with POLITE DANCER (because of the base phrase) and PULPIT FICTION (a beautiful phrase which should already be the title of something by now) and CENTER OF GRAVY (for the sheer existential impossibility of it all). Also loving much of the longer Down fill, especially RED LABEL, "SLEEP TIGHT," STREET CRED (123A: Homey's rep) and the awesomely umlauted MÖTLEY CRÜE (30D: Group with the 6x platinum album Dr. Feelgood). Not so fond of LEARNER'S PERM, if only for the lack of punctuation in the grid, which means I can see only LEARNER SPERM when I look at it. There's some less than ideal stuff around the edges of the grid, but the only answer I'd never seen before was OBITER dictum, and that seems like something I should know, so I don't hate it so much.

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Electrical paths in New York City? (BIG APPLE CIRCUITS) — not being a New Yorker, I'm not sure how I've heard of "Big Apple Circus," but I have.
  • 33A: Spill a Cuban drink? (LOSE ONE'S MOJITO)
  • 41A: One who says "Beg your pardon" after stepping on your toes? (POLITE DANCER)
  • 63A: Preachers' lies? (PULPIT FICTION)
  • 73A: What a mashed potato serving may have? (CENTER OF GRAVY)
  • 94A: Hairdresser's first do? (LEARNER'S PERM)
  • 102A: Author Amy's family squabble? (CLASH OF THE TANS)
  • 117A: The Miracles? (SMOKEY AND THE BAND) — this one I didn't like so much, since I know the Miracles as an adjunct entity, separate and back-up; but before 1965 the band was simply known as "The Miracles," so the clue works if you exclude the years '65-'72.

JASA = Jewish Association for Services for the Aged, not, as you might have suspected, the Jane Austen Society of Australia or Jim Abernathy's Scuba Adventures. Caleb has taught a crossword construction course for them for what seems like a few years now (hard to imagine given that Caleb's just 17, but I'm sure this is at least his third go 'round ... it might not be strictly annual). Caleb's off to Yale in the fall, so (I'm told) young (but not So young) Ian Livengood will be taking over as JASA crossword guru in the coming years. Ian will have big, if goofy, shoes to fill—of the three JASA puzzles Caleb has shepherded through thus far, I definitely like this one the best.

Several non-theme answers either impressed me or made me smile. Somehow, the full name of ALI MACGRAW seems magisterial (19A: Steve McQueen's ex-wife and co-star in "The Getaway"). Starts out very crossword-friendly before getting very crinkly in the middle and finally resolving with an "-AW." The clue on GAZEBO is close to perfect (36A: Shelter that's often octagonal)—I couldn't imagine what it was looking for, until I got it, and then thought, "of course." Clue on BIGOT is clever if a bit ... restricted (3D: One who sees everything in black and white?). 8D: Rocky of song made me incredibly happy, in that I thought "who the hell could that be ... [jokingly] RACCOON? ... OMG it *is* RACCOON! Sweet."

  • 10A: Nickname for Baryshnikov (MISHA) — one of many names, almost all of them well known to me. All crossworders should know Mordant Mort by now (SAHL). I own work by both Baker and Loos (ANITA), and while the clue at 82A: Comics character who said "Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life" (LINUS) was not immediately transparent to me, with crosses the answer came easily. One name I didn't know: EDUARDO (38D: Facebook co-founder Saverin). SAVERIN seems like a name that might show up some day...
  • 51A: Seedcase that inspired Velcro (BUR) — BUR always, always looks wrong to me. Like it's missing a letter. Maybe I'm thrown off because I simply see BRR and BURR in the puzzle so much more often.
  • 90A: Cookie first baked in Manhattan's Chelsea district (OREO) — wow. Your move, next person who has to clue OREO.
  • 10D: Asian gambling mecca (MACAO) — I knew this was a Portuguese colony, but had No idea it was known for gambling.
  • 15D: Volcano near Aokigahara forest (MT. FUJI) — good example of a clue that looks much more daunting than it is. In other news, I seem to have this FUJI v. FIJI issue down now.
  • 37D: Whistle-blower, in slang (ZEBRA) — niiiice misdirection here. Take a slang term, then use it literally, in order to clue slang!? Brilliant. In case you are sports-illiterate, the clue refers to a football referee.
  • 77D: Cow, in Cádiz (VACA) — also in Colombia and Caracas.
  • 96D: Intaglio seals (SIGNETS) — [quietly looking up "Intaglio" ... aha, a carved gem. Has different meanings in other contexts, most notably print-making]
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Peaceful race in Avatar / TUE 8-24-10 / Self-proclaimed astronaut of boxing / Huge poetically / Sport with shells

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Constructor: Caleb Madison and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: TAXI CABANA — "-ANA" is added to the ends of familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: "My Friend IRMA" (24D: "My Friend ___" of 1950s TV) —

My Friend Irma, created by writer-director-producer Cy Howard, was a top-rated, long-run radio situation comedy, so popular in the late 1940s that its success escalated to films, television, a comic strip and a comic book, while Howard scored with another radio comedy hit, Life with Luigi. Marie Wilson portrayed the title character, Irma Peterson, on radio, in two films and a television series. The radio series was broadcast on CBS Radio from April 11, 1947 to August 23, 1954. (wikipedia)
• • •

Ah, Professor Madison. At it again. Still got another year left in high school, and here he is, doing his second (at least, right?) stint as a teacher of crossword construction. J.A.S.A. stands for "Jewish Association for Services for the Aged," and they offer a range of continuing education courses for older people. Here's the blurb on the class from the Fall 2010 catalog:
  • Get A Clue!
  • A Comprehensive Course on Crossword Construction
  • Instructor: CALEB MADISON
  • This class will outline the basic principles of crossword puzzle construction. It will begin with some basic crossword history, but focus mainly on how to come up with a theme, a useable grid, and create the fill. Building puzzles will improve our solving skills. At the end of the semester, the class will come up with one final puzzle to be submitted for publication in The New York Times.
I've taught a similar course to a similar audience here where I live (mine geared more toward solving puzzles, as well as navigating the world of puzzles online), and had a blast. A really smart, engaged audience. Maybe Caleb will chime in in the comments and say a little something about how this puzzle came together. No, scratch that. Not "maybe." Caleb will. You hear me, Caleb!?

Right off the bat this puzzle felt livelier than your average early-week fare. ZOWIE! Pretty simple theme concept — add three letters — but as I've said before, simple is great if the resulting phrases have pop, and these mostly do. MR. NICE GUYANA, while being kind of a funny phrase, isn't really cluable in a way that makes any sense, even wackily, but the others work just fine. BANDANA and BANANA are a little close to one another. Greater variety would have been nice, but ... these are minor points. Two long Downs are wonderful, and the whole grid is pretty neatly filled. For a group effort from a largely inexperienced lot, this is really high-quality work.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Title for a South American mensch? (MR. NICE GUYANA)
  • 34A: Result of heating a certain fruit too long? (SMOKING BANANA)
  • 42A: Informal headwear that can't be shared? (ONE-MAN BANDANA)
  • 56A: Secretive singer Baez? (JOAN OF ARCANA)
Interesting that there's no theme-revealer today. No ANAGRAM or ANAPEST or ... ANACONDA (none of those would have been any good). Nothing to explain the gimmick. It's pretty self-evident. CLEAR, even (62A: Transparent). I stubbed my toe on "IRMA" (either never heard of it or heard of it and then forgot it—only "Friend" I know is FLICKA) and MAUS (my German is not very ... what's the German word for "good?") (66A: What a Katze catches). Self-inflicted slowness occurred in the NE, where I completely botched the spelling of MUHAMMAD ALI (11D: Self-proclaimed "astronaut of boxing") despite having his signature hanging not three feet from where I'm typing. MOHAMMED was what I had. The "O" was the bigger problem. Ended up with COBA for 16A: Destination of many 1960s-'70s hijackings) and then though it must be CABO (as in San Lucas???). Thankfully CABO was manifestly wrong, and CUBA leapt to mind. Nothing else to throw me off today. Want to make sure I give Caleb et al. props for crossing the letter "T" with the letter "T" in "TO A T" and "T-BONE." Nicely done. Also liked the sequential Acrosses NAPS (6A: Siestas) and "I'M UP!" (10A: "No need to wake me!").

  • 6D: Peaceful race in "Avatar" (NAVI) — proud that this answer has become a gimme for me without my ever having had to see the damned movie.
  • 33D: Sir Geraint's faithful wife (ENID) — Countdown to my Arthurian Literature class: 7 days. I'm sure the students will get a good dose of ENID in there somewhere.
  • 44D: Final movie of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, with "The" ("MISFITS") — tried to watch it once. Failed.
  • 59D: Sport with shells (CREW) — this is pretty wicked cluing for a Tuesday. Could think only of three-card monte, which I assumed (rightly) was not a "sport."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Ukase issuer / THU 1-14-10 / Happy Motoring sloganeer / Hit 1970s-'90s band with mythological name / Jamaican fellow

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Constructors: Caleb Madison and J.A.S.A. Crossword Class

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: COMMERCIAL BREAK (61A: TV movie interruption ... or feature of 16-, 21-, 31-, 43- and 49-Across?) — "AD" is added to familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

Word of the Day: BMI (26A: Abbr. on every original Beatles song)

Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) is one of three United States performing rights organizations, along with ASCAP and SESAC. It collects license fees on behalf of songwriters, composers, and music publishers and distributes them as royalties to those members whose works have been performed. In 2009, BMI collected over US$905 million in licensing fees and distributed US$788 million in royalties.


I know I've seen this gimmick before, or one very much like it (the "add-an-AD" gimmick, that is). The fact that the theme answers are all movies is a nice touch (I had wondered at first why the THEME-revealer clue mentioned "TV movie" so specifically, as a COMMERCIAL BREAK is not movie-specific). The puzzle is kind of cute (and the theme density impressive), but on the whole it doesn't really feel up to NYT Thursday standards. It's just fine, but with nothing terribly memorable, or tricky, or clever about it. The non-theme fill is especially dull. I suspect that there was a certain leeway given to this puzzle because of its unusual creative team; the puzzle appears to be the work of the continuing education class on crosswords that Caleb (who is in what we all hope will be his last year of high school) taught last year on crosswords. As with many recent NYT puzzle publishing stunts, I wasn't a huge fan of this one. Caleb did rightly predict, however, that I would like 1A: Paris Hilton catchphrase ("That's hot!").

In a puzzle where you add Ads, hard as it may be, I think you keep AD out of other answers, i.e. lose ADD A (3D: Recipe direction starter) — a bad answer anyway — and lose FADS (35A: They come and go). Some of the clues are cool, and some of the theme answers are cute (I esp. like BEST IN SHADOW), but overall, pretty bland fare.

Theme answers:

  • 16A: Like a poison pen letter? ("ADdressed to Kill")
  • 21A: "Fly Me to the Moon" and others? ("Space BallADs")
  • 31A: Ham operator's "Hurrah!"? ("RADio Bravo")
  • 43A: Yes-man's biography? ("ToADy Story")
  • 49A: Like a superlatively sneaky sleuth? ("Best in ShADow")

Puzzle looks easy in retrospect, but my time was actually slightly slower than normal for a Thursday. Not sure why. I know I got quite hung up in the NW — had to leave the "A" in REAM blank until the very, very end, as I couldn't imagine how RE-M could fit the clue (18A: "The Office" unit) — I had ROOM. I also couldn't figure out what followed ADD in the [Recipe direction] — I thought there might be a rebus ... and the "ADD" crossing "ADD" phenomenon up there made me even more suspicious that ADD- might be some kind of weird theme answer. In the end, it was just another entry. Had TOIL for PEON (22D: Drudge). I think that's about it, as far as resistance go. And yet the clues were phrased trickily enough that I didn't exactly fly through the grid. Which is just fine for a Thursday.


  • 40A: Writer Chinua Achebe, by birth (Ibo) — Nigerian, I knew. Didn't fit. Then crosswordese training came to the rescue ...
  • 68A: "___ Hope," long-running ABC soap ("Ryan's") — this reminds me of my mom and the early '70s. I'm pretty sure this is what she watched when we'd take our naps / have our quiet time when we lived in Orange, CA that one year (me, age 4-5).
  • 1D: Ukase issuer (tsar) — more crosswordese to the rescue. UKASE absolutely krushed me (as fill) a couple years back, and I've never forgotten it.
  • 9D: He played Lord Jim in "Lord Jim" (O'Toole) — never saw it. After a few crosses, it became clear. I last saw him in "Venus" (2006), which I really enjoyed.
  • 28D: Kelly Clarkson, once (Idol) — and Always. Best Idol Ever. The new season just started yesterday, and a new episode aired again tonight, which means that I can't get this "song" out of my head:

  • 34D: Ingredient in a salty dog (vodka) — goes well with UKASE.
  • 36D: Volume 1 of a two-volume encyclopedia? (A to M) — o come on. This is boring old ATOM. I admire the ambition here, but :/
  • 38D: Hit 1970s-'90s band with a mythological name (Styx) — "Paradise Theater" = crucial LP of my youth; one of the first albums I bought with my own money (see also AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap").

[man I love this album cover]

  • 41D: "Happy Motoring" sloganeer (Esso) — new ESSO clue (to me).
  • 50D: American university where Desmond Tutu taught theology (Emory) — always have to think about the spelling, as I get it confused with "EMERY board."
  • 54D: Little Orphan Annie and others (wards) — true enough, but I needed Every cross here.
  • 62D: Jamaican fellow (mon) — I like it ... but is it really spelled differently? I see it in this glossary, but the glossary claims that the word can apply to anyone, not just a "fellow."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


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