ACCA Awards for 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

The American Crossword Critics Association (ACCA) is pleased to announce its awards for achievement in puzzle construction for 2007. Honorees were chosen from among all the major daily and weekly puzzles published in the U.S. in the past year.

Our main goal in issuing these awards (which have monetary value of $0) is to give recognition to constructors, whose work is so often simply consumed and tossed away by solvers. Solving crosswords would become a stale and tedious endeavor were it not for the innovative work of constructors who strive to make puzzles that are thoughtful, fresh, contemporary, often rigorous, and - at best - genuinely exciting. We salute all the (vastly underpaid) constructors out there who have given us countless hours of stimulating diversion (and occasional torture) during the past year. The following awards are not meant to foster competitiveness among constructors or to be exclusionary in any fashion, but simply to honor those puzzles that blew us away.

We are happy to issue (virtual) Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in the following categories:

Best Early-Week Puzzle (Monday or Tuesday - themed)

GOLD: Alex Boisvert, New York Sun (NYS), 4/2/07 - "10 Baggers"
Theme answers featuring SINGLE, DOUBLE, TRIPLE, and HOMER all traverse the central 15-letter Down answer HITS FOR THE CYCLE ... plus the answer for HOMER was "HOMER JAY SIMPSON" - that just sealed the deal for Rex.

SILVER: Fred Piscop, New York Times (NYT), 9/24/07 - ["Here's/There's/Where's"]

  • Three theme answers beginning with HERE'S, THERE'S, and WHERE'S respectively - it's everything an easy puzzle should be. Fresh and fun, with lots of lively, colloquial fill.

BRONZE: Lynn Lempel, NYT, 2/12/07 - ["Last Dance"]

  • Manages to get REEL, HORA, JIG, and HULA onto the ends of completely non-dance related theme answers. All the dance words are either buried inside another word, or traverse two words. Amazing.

Best Gimmick Puzzle (Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday)

GOLD: Patrick Berry, NYS, 9/14/07 - "Color Change"
  • Five-letter word ladder starts at top with BLACK and ends up at the bottom with WHITE - it's astonishing.

SILVER: Brendan Emmett Quigley, NYT, 1/31/07 - ["Tilt at Windmills"]

  • Three NW-to-SE-running diagonal theme answers: LEAN ON ME traversing the NE corner, TIP SHEET traversing the SE corner, and TILT AT WINDMILLS going clear across the grid. Magnificent.

BRONZE: Alan Olschwang, NYT, 1/4/07 - [Punctuation rebus]

  • Exactly one year ago today, this beauty came out, with theme answers that have DASH, COLON, PERIOD, and COMMA ("-" ":" "." and ",") buried inside them.

Best Themeless Puzzle

GOLD: Byron Walden, NYT, 2/24/07

  • So many long, fabulous answers, with the centerpiece being 3 central 15-letter Down answers: DANIEL RADCLIFFE, TRIAL SEPARATION, and VEAL SCALLOPINIS - we forgave that last plural, clearly.

SILVER: David Quarfoot, NYT 4/20/07

  • TOYS 'R' US KID over ONE-MAN ARMY over ABS OF STEEL, plus more fantastic fill than you can shake a stick at. Rex used this puzzle as his example of What Makes a Themeless Puzzle Great.

BRONZE: Karen M. Tracey, NYT, 3/3/07

  • You gotta admire a puzzle whose 1A is XZIBIT. Plus this grid had ORANGES crossing IHOPS, which made it beautiful in our eyes.

Best Sunday-sized Puzzle

GOLD: Craig Kasper, NYT, 3/18/07 - "Initial Substitutions"

  • Familiar "[word x] & [word y]" phrases intersect "[first letter of x] & [first letter of y]" phrases at the ampersand. Needs to be seen to be properly understood and appreciated.

SILVER: Merl Reagle, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/7/07 - "Seeing Double"

  • Nine theme answers contain numbers 11, 22, 33, etc., respectively, up to 99. All crosses work perfectly - nothing forced. Best use of numbers in a grid that we can remember.

BRONZE: Ashish Vengsarkar, NYT, 1/7/07 - "Spellcheck"

  • Circled squares in theme entries hold letters that are to be pronounced As Letters in correct solution, e.g. O/B/C/T ["obesity"] PROBLEM - best of the lot: X/P/D/N/C [="expediency"]

Best Overall Constructor

GOLD: Patrick Berry

  • Consistently magnificent puzzle construction. He makes beautiful, imaginative puzzles, pure and simple. A master. (Orange also appreciates his assorted variety crosswords and cryptics in Games magazine.)

SILVER: Byron Walden

  • Smart, funny, dazzling puzzles. Deciding between him and Patrick was actually very, very difficult.

BRONZE: David Quarfoot and Karen M. Tracey (tie)

  • Rex asked Orange to choose, and Orange said "No way. That's like 'Sophie's Choice.' Let's call it a tie." And so we did. These two have very similar, contemporary styles, and they helped set the standard for Themeless puzzles this year very high indeed.
Rex Parker's Honorable Mentions:

Crossword Fiend’s Honorable Mentions:
  • Patrick Blindauer and Tony Orbach, 6/1 Wall Street Journal, Friday (Sunday-sized) - “Westward Ho!” - Patrick and Tony go west from Georgia (GA) to neighboring AL, turning “mind the GAp” into MIND THE ALP. In the next theme entry, AL is changed to MS, then MS to AR, AR to OK, and so on—eventually you’ve traced a westward course from Georgia all the way to Oregon. Elegant!
  • Francis Heaney, 5/4 NYS, Friday - “Letterbox” - Francis presents the alphabet in a string of 11 rebus squares across the middle, with [ABC] part of the crossing REH[AB C]LINICS, [YZ] part of TOWAWA[Y Z]ONE, and other 2- and 3-letter chunks filling in the remainder of the alphabet.
  • Byron Walden, 10/31 Onion A.V. Club - [“DOUBLE-HUNG”] - In this fun puzzle, DOUBLE-HUNG doesn’t just mean a type of window, it means each theme entry is “hung” with a different pair of phallic double entendres. We’ve got ANDY RODDICK’s last name and four other two-pronged theme entries.

We are also happy to announce Special Awards for

Most Difficult Puzzle (tie)

We had this one decided - Stanley Newman's puzzle had crushed Orange like she hadn't been crushed all year, and since Rex took a good long time to get it done, he couldn't argue. And then Klahn happened. And while the Klahn did not vex Orange so much, it vexed the hell out of most of the rest of the puzzling world. Rex couldn't finish. Former champions admitted openly that it brutalized them. Some cried foul. Others humbly accepted defeat and chose to see it as a learning experience. And so we give this award to both puzzles. (An aside: most of you do the NYT, but Newman's "Saturday Stumpers" are definitely worth your time if you like rough stuff)

Best Cluing

  • [Leaves alone, sometimes] => SALAD (Roger Barkan/Will Shortz, NYT, 8/17/07)

Most Creative Fill (tie)

  • (23A: University of Florida student Andrew Meyer's famous plea) (Matt Gaffney, The Onion AV Club Puzzle, 11/28/07) - the best part about this incredibly contemporary reference is that it is a theme answer involving hidden rivers. As Orange said: "Best use ever of the EBRO river."
  • (35A: With 42-Across, Lesléa Newman book) (Dave Mackey, NYT, 1/16/07) - another theme answer (where the theme involved people one might see at a family reunion). We love puzzles with an audaciously broad cultural frame of reference, and a 20+-year-old work of young adult fiction about a girl with lesbian parents is about as broad as it gets.
That's it. Join us next year when we'll do it all again. And if you see anything out there in the World of Puzzles that you feel is particularly worthy of consideration, or if you can think of viable, interesting categories that we don't have yet, don't hesitate to let us know.

All best wishes for a great new year in puzzling,

Orange and Rex Parker (founding members of ACCA)


MONDAY, Dec. 31, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Office work - four theme answers contain clerical duties in non-clerical contexts

It's a beautiful day in my neighborhood this morning, with the view out my office window showing a confectionary neighborhood tableau - tree branches and bushes and roofs piled impossibly, comically high with unblownaway snow. We got only about 3-6 inches, but when the wind doesn't blow, even a little snow can settle into dramatic decorative shapes. My energy bill tells me that the average temperature this year is a full ten degrees colder than last, but my newspaper tells me that the snowfall, while dramatic and frequently school-shutting, has, all told, been merely average. Today is my wife's penultimate day of vacation, and she is currently in the next room making the most of her rare opportunity to sleep well in. And now that you know what my world looks like this last day of 2007 - the puzzle.

A fairly dull puzzle for this last Monday of the year, though the ho-hum theme is off-set somewhat by some decent non-theme fill. Lots of multiple-word phrases, which I enjoy, including:

  • 32A: Locale for a New York diva (The Met) - you know how I love definite articles in my grids; almost makes up for having to see the (related!) ARIA again (15A: Diva's song)
  • 43A: Zilch (not a whit)
  • 62A: Have a meal at home (eat in) - this phrase is really common nowadays
  • 28A: Divorces (splits up)
  • 9D: Event before moving (tag sale)

And a couple of football-related answers appropriate to this week running up to the start of the NFL playoffs:

  • 5D: Two-point plays in football (safeties) - "safety" is also a defensive position in football, for you sports-challenged folks out there
  • 39D: Shot up, as inflation (spiraled) - a perfectly thrown football is often referred to as a spiral - it's the most aerodynamically efficient way for a football to travel through space, the reasons for which I'm sure one of my many physicist readers will explain.

Here are some other answers I liked:

  • 53D: "Galveston" crooner Campbell (Glen) - he has a useful crossword name; It's always nice when the puzzle goes to a song other than "Wichita Lineman" to clue him
  • 41D: Gleeful laugh (chortle)
  • 49D: Old TV comic Kovacs (Ernie) - I tanked the Boston Globe puzzle for the second week in a row yesterday because of ERNIE. Or should I say ARNIE, which was the actual answer: [Nickname in golf]. Damn you, ERNIE Els! The cross was SAJAK. SEJAK looked Just Fine to me. I'm sure this is how I'm destined to fail at the Tournament - undone by Pat @#$#-ing SAJAK.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: A magnet attracts it in a physics experiment (iron FILING)
  • 10D: Pre-transfusion procedure (blood TYPING)
  • 25D: Some verbal abuse (name CALLING)
  • 57A: Star's marquee position (top BILLING) - started writing in TOP BANANA here before I knew the theme, and before I realized it wouldn't fit

I got slowed down in odd places - for instance, I put in SERE instead of ARID at 7D: Parched. I couldn't think of a sound one would make at an amusement park 13D: Amusement park shout ("whee!"). My shout: "Stop the ride" or "I'm going to barf." 1D: On the _____ (going to pot) (skids) was phrased so oddly that my brain couldn't take it in quickly. The "pot" part was throwing me off. When I had the SK-, I actually wrote in SKEDS (as in "on the ... schedules?"). Finally, I was very frustrated that LAMA was not the answer for 42D: Hindu teacher, even though I know it's not an appropriate answer. SWAMI sounds / feels made up, like something in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but I see that it's a totally legitimate honorific, so that's fine. Speaking of LAMA (and I was), I (re-) took the "Political Compass" test yesterday, which is a very interesting if likely highly inexact way of measuring people's political inclinations based on reactions to a series of assertions, ideas, and propositions. How does LAMA fit in? - well, it turns out the Dalai Lama and I have a lot in common. Oh, and Béla Bartók (which pleased me even more, however irrationally).

Finished in 4-something on paper today. I would really like to get my on-paper times for early-week puzzles into the 3's on a regular basis, but that's going to take a lot of practice. Right now, my main focus is on solving methodically, and accurately, with minimal focus on speed. I'm much more concerned about plowing through the Hard puzzles with minimal free-fall than I am with zipping through the easy puzzles. My experience at last year's tournament was that there was only one "easy" puzzle, and it was, by far, my worst effort. More on the tournament in the coming week - it's only two months away. I do want to start making a plug now, though, to all avid solvers, no matter your skill level. There is nothing to be afraid of or intimidated by. If you like puzzles at all, the tournament is a lot of fun, and if you fail to finish certain puzzles, believe me, you will not be alone. The stressful competition part is really only for the top top solvers, and for those of us who are just naturally wound up. The general atmosphere is not tense at all. It's remarkably collegial - and it's nice to be in a place where you can let your nerd flag fly with no self-consciousness or shame, and little-to-no chance of being the nerdiest person in the room. In short, you should go, especially if you live anywhere near Brooklyn.

See you in the New Year.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS my wife is a badass

PPS Thanks for pushing my traffic back up to about 8000 visitors yesterday. I was wondering where the hell you all had got to ... Christmas, Schmistmas, get thee to a computer.


SUNDAY, Dec. 30, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Frosty the Snowman" - circles in shape of snowman spell out first line of the song, with the rest of the opening verse broken into four more theme answers...

Saw the circles, thought "snowman ... Frosty ..." and that was that. Once I realized that the rest of the song was going to be in the puzzle too, I went searching for all the theme answers and filled them in first. Only three days ago my daughter asked me to sing this song because she was playing it on violin, and while "Rudolph" sounded perfect to her, she just couldn't get the feel for "Frosty." I'm just happy to be able to confirm that I did indeed have all of the opening lyrics correct. This puzzle is a pretty astounding architectural feat - you've got the snowman shape filled with Frosty's name, then four more theme answers plus a bonus tie-in answer: 107A: Provider of an old silk hat, e.g. (as depicted at the top of this puzzle) (haberdasher). As for that hat ... let's just say that the vaguely snowmanish shape works; when you start asking me to consider the black squares ... well, the hat works OK, but the problem is that the black squares form a kind of snowmanish outline of their own, but it's distorted and odd, and then what am I supposed to make of the black spaces in the middle of the snowman? Does Frosty have Terminator eyes? (see 89D: Kyle _____, "The Terminator" hero - REESE) Is his nose somewhere around his waist and his mouth in the vicinity of his crotch? Because that's what I start seeing when I look beyond the simple outline provided by the circled squares ...

This took me over 20 minutes on paper, but I have two good excuses.

  1. This puzzle is 23x23, 2x2 bigger than your normal Sunday puzzle
  2. When I print the puzzle out from AcrossLite, the grid is forced into the size of a normal weekday grid, and the clues are super tiny as well, so just reading the numbers in the squares can be rough. I was hunched over this damned puzzle just trying to read it properly, which added another level of difficulty
  3. This puzzle made up for the easiness of its theme with many reasonably challenging non-theme moments

Theme answers:

  • 16 circled letters, starting in square #34 and proceeding roughly counterclockwise, spell out: FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
  • 3D: Lyric, part 2, after "Was a" ("jolly happy soul")
  • 134A: Lyric, part 3, after "With a" ("corn cob pipe")
  • 16D: Lyric, part 4 ("and a button nose")
  • 114A: Lyric, part 5 ("and two eyes made out of coal") - I'm guessing this was the bit that necessitated making the puzzle as big as it is; it spans the grid from W to E

Somewhat rough stuff:

  • 1A: Land of 300+ islands (Fiji) - wanted FIJI, but the "J" felt iffy, then I got all the lyrics to the song, and bam, FIJI.
  • 42A: Class in factories (proletariat) - got it without ever looking at the clue (always like doing a run of short Down answers in order, bam, bam, bam, etc.). As for PROLETARIAT, coincidentally, we watched the relevant episode of "Battlestar Galactica" last night (conditions of workers in mines / fuel processing plant are horrible ... strikes, brutality, etc.)
  • 19A: Borodin's "Prince _____" ("Igor") - I have no idea what this refers to. Omigod it's a 19th century Russian opera about a 12th century epic hero. Didn't see that coming.
  • 23A: Wright wings (ells) - CRAAAAP! The rationale for this Just occurred to me this very second. Not Orville and Wilbur, but Frank Lloyd. @#$#$#@! Good one.
  • 27A: Shed some light on? (solarize) - this is a verb? Really? It seems it's typically used in photography to refer to a certain kind of overexposure, although its general meaning is just "to expose to sunlight," so if you are lucky enough to live in the right climate, you could go out and SOLARIZE yourself right now.
  • 100A: Cole Porter's "You Don't Know _____" ("Paree") - I hear it's Gay.
  • 125A: Horizontal molding pieces (fascias) - yikes. New to me. Yesterday I learned that HOB is a fireplace shelf ... he said, non-sequiturly.
  • 7D: One who can't have everything? (co-heir) - ick and ouch. I mean, I get it, but when you just have parts of it, it really doesn't look like a word.
  • 67D: Long Island Rail Road station (Roslyn) - whatever you say.
  • 78A: Dec. holiday plans? (R and R) - please no email today about how RANDR is not a word. Always be on the lookout for R AND R, Q AND A, and R AND B.
  • 56A: Poker great Ungar and others (Stus) - this STU is now a gimme for me, but I would still prefer that the clue refer to the Disco great, not the Poker great.
  • 63A: Rain forests and grasslands, e.g. (biomes) - Wasn't this a movie with Pauly Shore? What's weird about this answer, which looks nuts to me, is that I just had BIOTA as an answer recently, and I feel like it was clued nearly the same way. Whoa, it was one week ago today, in fact, and the clue was [Flora and fauna]. Weird.
  • 131A: Wolves (mashers) - this feels ... stretched. Hmmm, "a man who attempts to force his attentions on a woman." I guess that's wolfish. Wolves need better PR people.
  • 96A: Bourg's department (ain) - what what what? Oh, right, "department" as in French county or state or subsection or whatever. Here's a satellite map.
  • 123A: "The Oath" author Frank (Peretti) - no idea who this is. Well, no wonder. [angry rant redacted]
  • 141A: Herbal tea (tisane) - I have a lot of tea in my house, and this answer floated up out of nowhere, but it feels pretty specialized to me. No?
  • 12D: Forage plant (cow pea) - I'm pretty sure I've balked at this answer before, but what the hell, I'll balk again.
  • 28D: Giant successes? (runs) - lo, the irony.
  • 35D: Writer Willy who popularized space flight (Ley) - how does a writer popularize space flight??? I guess space needed an advocate back in the day. This dude is German, btw.
  • 57D: Accord of 1985? (used car) - well, not in 1985 it wasn't.
  • 58D: What icicles do (sparkle) - always? Sometimes, maybe.
  • 77D: "The _____ Cat" (Tom and Jerry short) ("Zoot") - did Tom wear a ZOOT suit, and was there then a riot in which Tom got the crap beat out of him? Well ... I was joking, but ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Dec. 29, 2007 - Bob Klahn

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Infernal

THEME: Greek ... me in misery ... or none

Today is the day you get to feel quite superior to me (unless you feel that way all the time, in which case it's just Saturday) - I tanked this puzzle like I haven't tanked one all year. I gaped in complete dumbfoundedness at this puzzle for what felt like hours. Two quadrants undone and patchily filled in. Today was the first time all year where I didn't finish unassisted. My crutch: I looked up the word "gasconade." This hurt in more ways than you know. After this, the puzzle fell astonishingly quickly. The most horrible part of the experience was figuring out that despite the puzzle's legitimate difficulty, I'd have solved it if I hadn't made one stupid, stupid error.

53A: Grant's position in presidential history (eighteenth)

I had NINETEENTH. I even sat there and counted up from sixteenth (Lincoln) to be sure that no other numbers fit there. Turns out what I was really doing was counting from 6 to 9, looking for four-letter numbers. If someone had told me that EIGHTEENTH and NINETEENTH had the same number of letters, I'd have said "no way," thought about it a second, and then realized "o yeah." This is the dumb dumb dumb stuff you can do to yourself when solving. The puzzle difficulty is one thing. The hole you dig yourself: quite another.

Other serious, horrible problem - I dropped COTERIE into the puzzle like a gimme. I had the CO- and the final E, none of the letters clashed horribly with MOPPET (which I'd also just triumphantly thrown down (39D: Rug rat)), so I was golden. Only I wasn't. COTERIE was wrong. Actual answer:

36D: Retinue (cortege)

Here are some other fun facts about my failure:

  • There are at least three words in the clues that I couldn't define.
  • I have a Ph.D. in English and couldn't have defined PERIPETEIA (48A: Unexpected turn of events, as in a literary work) to save my life.
  • I noticed but managed to avoid an even worse slip-up than COTERIE. How about the trifecta of
  1. MISLABEL (for MISTITLE - 33D: Handle incorrectly?)
  2. WALL (for FORT - 41A: Siege site)
  3. POSTBELLUM (for EIGHTEENTH - 53A: Grant's position in presidential history)
NW and NE look like child's play now, but I was so happy to work through them in reasonable time. The NE was handed to me on a silver platter. Chaka Khan (16A: "_____ Nobody" (1983 Chaka Khan hit)) crossing TAI CHI (11D: Meditative exercise)? Now we're talking. So when I dropped MOPPET and (ugh) COTERIE down into the SE, I was feeling cautiously optimistic.

There were any number of places where if I'd just seen something / thought of something / reconsidered something, the dominoes would have fallen. As it was, my wife looked over my shoulder at one point and gave me BOOTLEGGER (26D: One running for work?), which was sweet of her, and which she did in a very tentative way. The tutee becomes the tutor! I suppose it was bound to happen.

I'm not even bothering with the upper part of the puzzle, except to say that BUBBLE BATH (1A: Modesty preserver, in some films) is a Great answer, and I kicked OPERA SERIA's ass with only a crossing or two (15A: Old form of Italian musical drama). Oh, also, ESCORT (6D: Squire) was, strangely, the first thing I wrote in the grid.

Trouble starts ... here:

  • 4D: Uniform armband (brassard) - well, bras is French for arm, but that's all the help I got. Latter part of this answer went unsolved for a while.
  • 24A: McKinley's first vice president (Hobart) - had the -RT ... eventually got the H ... could think only of HUBERT.
  • 28A: Cupule's contents (acorn) - clue word I didn't know #2 ("gasconade" being #1). Wanted ACORN so bad but wouldn't commit because ... an ACORN is the outside ... it's not in anything. Right? Wrong.
  • 25D: Mob rule (ochlocracy) - I've had the non-word COCKBLOCKRACY in my head all night and morning. OCHLOCRACY is a word I've heard before ... maybe once, in like 1986, when we were learning all the dumb-ass -OCRACIES and -ARCHIES in History class.
  • 40A: Margay cousins (ocelots) - clue word #3 I didn't know. To my immense credit, I got OCELOTS with very few crossings. They have one of my favorite animal names, and I've seen them in puzzles before.
  • 37A: Rich mine or other source of great wealth (golconda) - I have nothing to say here. Just ... no. Nothing. I'll just say that the fact that this kinda sounds like GOLGOTHA is fitting.
  • 42A: Mountain sheep (argali) - typing in the grid this morning, I was laughing out loud at the number of words that seemed to me to come from outer-space. This is one of them. I wanted only IBEXES here.
  • 38D: Top-of-the-line (class A) - got it early, but it weirds me out because CLASS A ball is the lowest rung in baseball's minor leagues.
  • 35D: Price-manipulating group (pool) - the 2007th definition of "pool," I assure you.
  • 32D: Scolding wife: Var. (Xantippe) - OK, if I'd had EIGHTEENTH instead of NINETEENTH, I'd have remembered this sooner. I'd really have remembered it sooner if I'd known that XERES (32A: Spanish city that gave sherry its name) was an actual place. Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates who was conventionally portrayed as a total shrew.
  • 44D: Name equivalent to Hans or Ivan (Sean) - wife wanted JOHN, but that "J" just wouldn't go. I wanted IAIN. Etc.
  • 21D: Catawampus (awry) - I had no trouble here; I just wanted to type "Catawampus."
  • 43D: Gasconade (brag)
  • 51A: See-through sheets (plate glass) - I suppose.
  • 41D: It may be blind (faith) - SO easy ... if I hadn't had NINETEENTH already firmly in place. Only word I could get to work here was FARCE.
  • 27A: It has a smaller degree of loft than a mashie (four iron) - wanted BANGER, then wanted to know what British people were doing playing with their food.
  • 34A: Rocket datum: Abbr. (alt) - wanted ANG. (for angle?). Also wanted ETHNOCRACY, though, so ...
  • 52A: Banks of note (Tyra) - Oh, TYRA, my precious little gimme. Little did I know you would be the foundation for so much evil.
I hope you enjoy sharing in my misery or lording your astonishing success over me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS - I would like to recommend the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" to people looking for a little trial by fire - a little training for your late-week NYT battles. If you go to either "Ephraim's Crossword Puzzle Pointers" or plain old "Puzzle Pointer's" (Will Johnston's) in my sidebar, you can access a world of decent-to-great free daily and weekly puzzles. Newsdays are quite easy all week long, until Saturday, when they are Not. Today's took me an eternity (20+), but after the NYT debacle, it was nice to get a hard puzzle under my belt once again. I highly recommend all the puzzles accessible from either of the aforementioned Puzzle Pointer pages. NYT and NY Sun are still the best puzzles out there, but the other featured puzzles are consistently entertaining and often as good as anything you'll find in the Big Two.

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


FRIDAY, Dec. 28, 2007 - John Farmer

Friday, December 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

This felt far more Saturday than Friday to me. The cluing was ratcheted up to Hard / Obscure in many places, and some of the fill was esoteric, to put it mildly. If it weren't for a good half-dozen gimmes, I'd have been in real trouble. The puzzle has its merits: the grid is pretty, as my wife pointed out last night, and there are some answers that sparkle in their originality. My favorite part of this puzzle, though, is that the highest value Scrabble letters can be found perfectly positioned in each of the puzzles corners: starting in the NW and moving clockwise - J, Z, X, Q. Amazing.

Favorite answers:

  • 14A: Sci-fi character whose name is an anagram of CAROLINA ISLANDS (Lando Calrissian) - this is the gaudiest clue / answer combo I've seen in a Loooong time. LANDO was played by Billy Dee Williams in "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."
  • 57A: Hopscotch (potsy) - OK, I don't like the answer so much as I LOVE the fact that I remembered the answer from another late-week puzzle earlier in the year. POTSY = a gimme = woo hoo!
  • 34D: 1968 hit whose title is repeated three times with "Oh" and then again after "Baby I love you" ("Susie Q") - Again with the insane, detailed cluing. I had to read the clue several times just to figure out what the instructions were. Eventually I got the "Q" from the cross and the answer was instantly apparent.
  • 47D: When a football may be hiked (on two) - arbitrary, but accurate enough. I love it.

Rough stuff / Easy stuff:

  • 1A: Algonquian Indian tribe (Miami)
  • 22D: Northwest tribe (Spokane) - did you know that these are also reasonably well-known American cities? It's true. Perhaps cluers would like to take that route next time...
  • 6A: Went sniggling (eeled) - gimme gimme gimme; do a lot of puzzles and you learn about EELS. Also about EFTs (55D: Red _____ (young amphibian)).
  • 11A: Singer with the #1 hit "All I Have" (Jennifer Lopez) - gross. She's a way better actress than she is a singer. I like her better (in the grid) when she's JLO. I'd rather not have to think about her singing career at all.
  • 22A: "The Da Vinci Code" priory (Sion) - speaking of things I'd rather not have to think about. This book has been in more damned clues than "Canterbury Tales" and "Moby Dick" combined lately. Come on! I'm never going to read it and Tom Hanks's hair looked idiotic in the movie trailers I saw so stop shoving this piece of crap down my throat. Thank you.
  • 16A: Otoscope user, for short (ENT) - piece of cake. These are the little answers you have to get if you want any shot at getting the multiple mystery answers you're bound to encounter on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • 18A: MedWatch agcy. (FDA) - ditto
  • 21A: Chalon-sur-_____, France (Saone) - one of the many 5-letter European rivers ending in -NE.
  • 27A: Climber's support (tendril) - the climber is not human.
  • 31A: _____ Herbert, TV's Mr. Wizard (Don) - Not my TV. I'll take your word for it.
  • 32A: 100 qintars (lek) - weirdly, saw my first snippet of "Merv Griffin's Crosswords" a couple days ago, and a woman guessed LEK for one of the clues (actual answer was LEU). The fact that the woman even dared to guess, and knew LEK, showed that she was a true crossworder. She won, though she botched the final round in ways that seemed inexplicable from where I was standing.
  • 37A: Constellation between Cygnus and Pisces (Pegasus) - nearly entered SAGITAR at one point. That is so many kinds of wrong I don't even want to start counting.
  • 45A: "_____ of Six" (Joseph Conrad story collection) ("A Set") - Unknown to me. Joseph Conrad's first language: Polish. That's what I know about Conrad. That, and "Heart of Darkness."
  • 46A: "A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor": Bierce (piano) - my favorite quipster of all time. You know what makes this definition? "Utensil." Genius.
  • 53A: Some licensed practitioners (members of the bar) - boring ... not sure why.
  • 30D: It can fill a yard (ale) - nice clue. A "yard" is a very tall glass for drinking beer.
  • 56A: Exercise animal? (quick brown fox) - OK I just now got this. I mean, I know it was a typing thing, but I thought the "exercise" part referred to fact that said fox jumped over a a lazy grey dog. But no, it's a typing "exercise," duh.
  • 58A: Tough to dig into, as soil (rooty) - icky word. Next time you need it, try this clue: [_____ Tooty Fresh 'N' Fruity: IHOP specialty].
  • 3D: A long time in Lisbon (anos) - weird to go to a Portuguese-speaking country when the word is Spanish too (isn't it?).
  • 4D: Fuchsite and alurgite (micas) - insane mineral-sounding clue = MICA
  • 9D: 7-in. platters (EPs) - I thought EP was just mini in terms of song content, not in terms of physical size.
  • 12D: Mr. Rosewater in Kurt Vonnegut's "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" (Eliot) - there's also a poet named T.S. ELIOT ... in case you didn't know. I sure missed T.S. today.
  • 13D: "Butterfly" actress, 1981 (Zadora) - she appears in the grid way Way more than anyone that ... dated should. I guess her first name is grid-friendly (PIA) and her last name does have that delicious "Z".... still....
  • 24D: 2004 Sondheim musical, with "The" ("Frogs") - based on Aristophanes's play of the same name, I'm sure.
  • 26D: Corinthian conclusion (omega) - I wanted "leather." Some of you will know why.
  • 48A: 1950s British P.M. (Eden) - before my time.
  • 38D: Seaman in a ceremonial honor guard (side boy) - to my mind, the most obscure thing in the puzzle. The SIDE BOY / EDEN crossing was super-tentative for me. Isn't a SIDE BOY a piece of furniture? And should you really be calling a grown man (any grown man) "BOY?" It seems ... wrong.
Done and done.

A final announcement: one week from today (January 4, 2008), the American Crossword Critics Association (ACCA) - which is really just me and Orange - will be handing out our Best of 2007 Crossword Puzzle Awards. There are several categories, including:

  • Best Early-week puzzle (M or T: themed)
  • Best Puzzle Gimmick
  • Best Themeless Puzzle
  • Best Sunday-sized Puzzle
  • and Best Overall Constructor

Plus a few Honorable Mentions and special recognition for certain phenomena that didn't fit well in any category. All major daily and weekly puzzles are eligible (not just NYT). So come back here Jan. 4 and help us congratulate the winners.

Happy Friday.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[drawing by Emily Cureton]


THURSDAY, Dec. 27, 2007 - Jim Leeds

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: Add "C" - familiar phrases have "C" added to their beginnings, creating silly phrases, which are clued

Took me just over 11 (!?) and that was with one oversight (an "I" where a "Y" belonged) and one flat-out guess that ended up right (see mini-lecture on unfair crossings below). I spent a good part of my time staring down a recalcitrant NW and northern midwest. And yet I felt quite good during parts of this puzzle, knocking off parts that I knew were tough with little effort at all. Had the whole NW and W done inside a minute. So ... very uneven. I still enjoyed the puzzle, on the whole. I just ... have some concerns. Small criticisms. Nits, really. Well, maybe bigger than nits. Lice? Let's see...

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Certain marine biologist's test? (Coral exam)
  • 23A: One way to get into a gang's headquarters? (Con the lookout)
  • 35A: Eskimos in an igloo? (Cold folks at home) - know this phrase (minus the "C") only from an old Taj Mahal album I happen to own.
  • 45A: Pictures of Slinkys? (Coil paintings)
  • 57A: Witches' pots, pans, etc.? (Covenware) - had a rough time here, as all I wanted to write in was COVENBAKE...

On Unfair Crossings:

OK, look. I expect to get beaten by puzzles once in a while. My ignorance is vast, and occasionally it will be revealed in crossing answers that are simply outside my ken. I accept this. But the whole point of having words cross (hence, "Crosswords"), is that you are supposed to have a shot at getting @#$# you don't know. There must be some room for educated guessing. But when you cross a fairly exotic word with a highly unspecifically clued three-letter abbreviation, you are just being mean. Here's the cross in question:

  • 22D: Dried coconut meat (copra) - I know that somewhere in my life, I've seen/heard this before, but I had CO-RA and nothing was coming to me. I won't tell you the gruesome details of how I guessed correctly, but it involves misremembering the parts of a certain scientific word of Greek derivation.
  • 28A: F.D.R. agency (O.P.A.) - The Office of Price Administration!?!?! Really? Ugh. I hate few clues more than [F.D.R. agency]. Now I know why F.D.R. is such a demonic figure to conservatives: at times like these, I, too, start to wish for a Smaller @#$#-ing Government. Has anyone ever counted how many three-letter abbreviations F.D.R. brought into being. I can name three, now, so there must be others.

All I'm saying is: if you're going to throw an F.D.R. agency in there (which, you have to admit, is a desperate move for a constructor), at least give me crosses that might be in my vocabulary. You know things are wrong when, of the three crosses to an abbreviation, LOESS (25D: Windblown deposit) is not the most obscure.

More rough stuff:

  • 14A: "_____ the Agent" (old comic strip) ("Abie") - hell, I teach Comics and I didn't know this. Luckily, ABIE is a very, very familiar name to crossword solvers everywhere.
  • 6D: Musical interval (sixth) - I had FIXER here for a while because ... I'm not sure I can even explain it ... I used the clue from 21A: Cultural stuff (arts) ... and mistook the meaning of "Culture" ... let's just say I had AGAR for ARTS at first. If none of this makes any sense to you, you are perfectly sane. Move along.
  • 22A: Tops (crests) - stared at -RESTS for far, far too long.
  • 10D: Hebdomadally (a week) - [sigh] - another word for me to learn ... and forget.
  • 11D: Five-time Horse of the Year, 1960-64 (Kelso) - all well and good for those of you who were alive then. To me, KELSO is the character that made Ashton Kutcher famous. "Famous."
  • 52A: Prefix with -phile (oeno-) - got it easy, as I love this prefix, but come on! Give people a little help.
  • 30D: Thin pancakes (blini) - really seeing a lot of these lately, strangely.
  • 30A: "Breaker Morant" people (Boers) - total guess - with BO--S in place, there wasn't a lot else it could have been.
  • 36D: Utmost distance from the eye at which an image is clear (far point) - inferrable, but unknown to me as a concept.
  • 47D: French frigate that carried the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. (Isere) - if this weren't a river name, I'd never have got it. Had YSERE at first, duh.
  • 48D: Nautical acronym (LORAN) - nope. Sorry. Don't know this. LOng RAnge Navigation, I'm told.
  • 46D: Massive, very hot celestial orb (O-star) - well, "celestial orb" pretty much gives you the STAR part, but trust me when I say there are at least several [letter]-STARs in astronomical parlance.
  • 59A: Cling Plus brand (Saran) - mysterious ... then easy.
  • 5D: Red lights and flares (alerts) - again, should have come more easily than it did. I think I was anticipating a trick that never came.
  • 60A: Novelist Seton (Anya) - ugh, that "Y"; had ANIA and TEVIE (50D: "Fiddler on the Roof" role) before I changed "I" to "Y."
  • 58D: Financial paper: Abbr. (WSJ) - ah, newspaper. OK. They have a weekly puzzle.
  • 49D: Who has won an Oscar for Best actor three times (Noone) - that Peter NOONE; he'll surprise you.
  • 7D: _____ pudding (British dish) (pease) - anyone else fill in FIGGY?
  • 27D: Expressionist Schiele (Egon) - he's back. You must remember him.
  • 26D: Time-honored name (Luce) - something to do with Time magazine's publisher, Henry LUCE.
  • 54D: Carrier of a bow and arrows (Eros) - took me way way Way too long. Had ENOS at one point.
  • 43D: Kind of gland (pineal) - example of how you can have no idea what you're writing down in a crossword puzzle and it really doesn't matter. "PINEAL? Rings a bell. Sure, why not?"
  • 45D: _____ finalis (purpose, in law) (causa) - didn't know. Needed crosses. A little Latin often comes in handy. At least I knew CAUSA was in fact a word.
  • 64A: 1910s heavyweight champ _____ Willard (Jess) - a really interesting guy. Still, I hope you are noticing how many semi-obscure to obscure answers there are in this puzzle. Not a terrible thing - I'm just sayin': this puzzle was harder than most Thursdays.
Hope you're still on vacation, wherever you are. If not ... well, it's almost the weekend. Chin up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


WEDNESDAY, Dec. 26, 2007 - Jim Page

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "NYC" - song from "ANNIE" (65A) that is embedded in all the theme answers

This was a fairly easy puzzle that challenged me only once - in the tiny SW corner, where I couldn't manage to trust any of my answers enough to piece it together quickly. A little patience - fill in the Most Likely right answer and work from there - and I got it done. The embedded "NYC" theme is not terribly original, but the "NYC"-containing answers are uniformly good. Plus there's an "NYC" in the dead center of the grid for good measure. A nice, solid Wednesday effort. I do not remember the song "NYC" from "Annie." I do remember, Very Well, watching the movie on a hotel TV during some trip (possibly to the east coast - NY/Boston, 1983) with my mom and sister. If I'm right, that was also the trip wherein I had a man threaten my life on a city bus. But that's a story for another time.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: "The Defiant Ones" co-star, 1958 (ToNY Curtis)
  • 10D: 2003 Kentucky Derby winner (FunNYCide) - fantastic answer, which goes well in its equestrianness with ...
  • 35D: Vehicles at a petting zoo (poNY Carts) - this was the answer that started the trouble I had in the SW. I wanted CARTS, but it sounded made-up, so I left it blank and went in to the SW and ... well, in retrospect, I have no idea why I stalled. Details below.
  • 54A: Cornmeal dish often served with maple syrup (johnNY Cake) - mmmm, syrup. Sadly, my Holiday Eating Phase is over. Actually, I'm not sad. My body wants normal healthy eating back. It's creaking under the fat / sugar stress.
  • 38A: Song from 65-Across that's hidden in 20- and 54-Across and 10- and 35-Down ("NYC")
  • 65A: Hit Broadway musical based on a comic strip ("Annie") - really, what else was it going to be?

Highlights: Loved the stacking of I, TOO (58A: Langston Hughes poem) and NOT I (61A: Terse denial) in the far south. CANNABIS (40A: Hashish source) looks very cool over ARGYLES (43A: Some socks) and under IDIOT (37A: Yo-yo). The juxtaposition allows you to decide - is smoking pot a. for preppies, or b. for IDIOTs, or c. for preppy IDIOTs? I learned yesterday from an old Onion A/V Club puzzle that ENDO is slang for pot. I wondered why the guys on my rap CDs kept talking about ENDO. I figured it was slang for a place name like, say, North Dakota, or North Dover ... because, of course, rappers love prairie states and Delaware.

More goodness (and some badness):

  • 25A: The second Mrs. Michael Corleone (Kay) - is that the one played by Diane Keaton? Did the first Michael Corleone get killed in Italy? Man, I gotta watch those damned movies again.
  • 57A: Gore Vidal historical novel ("Burr") - as in Aaron. I wanted QBVII, which both didn't fit and was not written by Vidal (it's crossword stalwart Leon URIS's novel about a libel suit involving allegations of experimental surgery on concentration camp prisoners). I haven't read either book in question.
  • 1D: Glacial ridge (arete) - some commenter recently said that if the clue has "ridge" in it, it's ARETE. That advice worked well here.
  • 2D: Deep pink (melon) - ??? waterMELON, maybe, but ... many MELONs are not pink. I didn't know this was an official color. I had MAUVE at first.
  • 5D: Something risky to work on (spec) - Grrreat clue.
  • 9D: Field utensils (mess kit) - a great phrase. I love "K" more than any other letter.
  • 33D: Month after Shevat (Adar) - must remember to brush up on my Hebrew calendar. And alphabet.
  • 36D: Part of S.S.S.: Abbr. (sys.) - Selective Service SYStem.
  • 44D: 1984 gold-medalist marathoner Joan (Benoit) - her name barely, Barely, rings a bell.
  • 48D: Kite's clutcher (talon) - fabulous alliterative clue.
  • 51D: Fit for duty (able) - my real thorn in the the SW. I was thinking the answer was a draft classification, and couldn't remember if the answer was ONE-A or A-ONE. Figuring they wouldn't name the draft classification after a steak sauce, I went with ONE-A, which cause me to write in ARRS instead of ETAS for 63A: Itinerary data: Abbr. Eventually the "Q" in my guess of AQUA (51A: Pale hue) gave me QUIT (52D: Conk out), and the rest fell quickly.
  • 53D: "Superman II" villainess (Ursa) - a bear!? Really? It's been 20 years since I've seen that movie. And I really really want to put another "n" in "villainess."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Dec. 25, 2007 - Nancy Salomon

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Merry Christmas" in different languages

First of all, Merry Christmas to you all (those of you who are still bothering to keep up with crosswords and my blog over the Holidays). It's a gray day and the furnace is doing this new thing where pipes bang violently like the house is haunted by angry and / or four-year-old ghosts. But still, it's a lovely day because I get to drink coffee and eat orange rolls and open presents with my family, woo hoo.

Today's puzzle was a bit ho-hum rather than ho-ho-ho, but it did give me one great new language-related adventure: GLAEDELIG JUL! Mother of pearl! That just looked like nonsense to me. With every new cross, I kept expecting the phrase to become familiar, or at least semi-clear, but it never did. When I was done, I wondered what "GLAEDE LIGJUL" meant. Google told me that it meant virtually nothing. Then I noticed JUL and thought "JUL ... YULE ... yeah, that's probably where the word breaks, dumbass." And sure enough. Hamlet wishes you a Merry Christmas. My time: 6:01 (on paper, as all my times will be from now til tournament time). Sad. But whatever. I'm a patient man.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: "Merry Christmas" to the French (Joyeux Noel)
  • 29A: "Merry Christmas" to the Danes (pound your keyboard with your face! GLAEDELIG JUL!)
  • 47A: "Merry Christmas" to Spaniards (Feliz Navidad) - song will be in my head all day.
  • 64A: "Merry Christmas" to Italians (Buon Natale)

Blogger / my computer is Really slow this morning, so I'm gonna make this quick.

Bad start: HILTS for HAFTS (1A: Sword handles) followed by SHUN for SNUB (5D: Cold-shoulder), which is less explicable, but still understandable. So that slowed me down. I also tried to anticipate the answer to 10D: Car safety device by writing an "R" at the end: -BAR. Surely some kind of BAR would be used to protect your car. Like The Club. But no. AIRBAG.

Kwik Piks:

  • 14A: "One for My Baby" composer Harold (Arlen) - o great, now there's more than one ARLEN to keep track of!?
  • 10A: Wood-shaping tool (adze) - I gotta get me one of these. They appear so frequently in puzzles that their powers must be awesome.
  • 8D: Greek earth goddess (Gaea) - misspelled it GAIA.
  • 6D: Hit the jackpot (won) - got verb tense wrong and wondered what an IVAL was (15A: Horse course - OVAL).
  • 33D: Sailor's behind (abaft) - had -B-FT and filled in the remaining letters without even bothering to look at the clue. That's how accustomed I've become to this word.
  • 71A: Makeup maker Lauder (Estee) - she's Pantheonic, of course, but I will say that it feels as if her appearance frequency has fallen off of late. Which is Just fine with me.
  • 2D: Kitchen drawer? (aroma) - first of all, I wanted some kind of pen, pencil, or marker. Why is AROMA always clued as this cartoonish wafting that lures people into the kitchen. There are billions of AROMAS that are yet to be explored. Get out of the kitchen.
  • 25D: It had a notable part in Exodus (Red Sea) - great clue. Me: "Aaron's Rod ... Golden Calf ... er ... locusts." Etc.
  • 45D: Make balanced (even off) - ick. I had EVEN OUT, of course.
  • 50D: "Rats!" ("Darn!") - Problem here is that you've got at least three plausible "D" answers: DRAT, DANG, and DARN. That is the order I went in.
  • 55D: Knock-down-drag-out (melee) - when people fight in CrossWorld, they do so in the form of either a MELEE or a SET-TO. MELEE is the less-stupid-sounding answer.
  • 49D: Benzoyl peroxide target (zit) - gross.
  • 21A: Winter melon (casaba) - this answer has appeared multiple times this year. I think it's "wrinkly." I know that people came a-Googlin' for it earlier in the year.

"Eleven Geeks a-Googlin'" should be added to the "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Enjoy your day, do puzzles, stay warm, put on John Denver's Christmas Album (as I do, every year of my life without fail since I was a very small boy). Thanks to everyone who had kind words for me and this blog yesterday. I sincerely appreciate it.

More tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Dec. 24, 2007 - Mark Sherwood

Monday, December 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: LINE (52D: Word that can follow the starts of 17-, 27-, 44- and 59-Across)

I'm moving to all-paper solving, in preparation for the tournament. I realized last night that I am probably going to have to go to a thicker lead on my pencils, because I'm breaking lead too often. At any rate, this puzzle was a cinch, with the exception of a strange-ish words you don't hear very often, and one you probably never hear in casual conversation. The theme is satisfactory. Sadly for me, the one part of the puzzle where I had any measure of trouble (wrong entries, erasures, write-overs) was the far SW - where the key to the theme lay. It's the email age, so went I saw 52A: Unretrievable I wrote in SENT. The answer was LOST. I also mysteriously wrote in CPO where NCO was supposed to go (61A: Sgt. e.g.), which is slightly ironic given that I needed CPO back at 27D: TV's "_____ Sharkey" and had to hesitate to think about it: "CEO ... HBO ... ?"

Theme answers:

  • 17A: One who's always up for a good time (party animal)
  • 27A: Background check for a lender (credit report) - this held me up; CREDIT part was easy, but REPORT wouldn't come. My brain just kept going "CHECK? CHECK? CHECK?" Thus, my way in to the NE was blocked. I wish I'd remembered that it was a Monday puzzle, where you don't really need any crosses to get traction anywhere you like. I'm so used to building off of answers I already have that I'm really reluctant to jump to an empty part of the grid. This is why I train ...
  • 44A: Long, long sentence (life in prison)
  • 59A: Light hauler (pick-up truck)

Finished in 4:16 (so solving on paper makes me ... slower?) - in a tournament situation, I could have taken another 40 seconds or so to check my grid for errors or missing letters, because your time is measured by minutes, not seconds, and so people who finish in 4:01 and those who finish in 4:59 (assuming their grids are correct) will have identical scores.


  • 19A: Coastal inlet (ria) - haven't seen it for a while, but got it easily.
  • 43D: Bit of land in a river (ait) - haven't seen it for a while ... and blanked on it. Completely. Didn't even see the actual answer to this clue til the end. AIT is one of the dumber-looking words in the English language. Does it rhyme with "ATE?" It looks like it would rhyme with the contemporary colloquial contraction of "ALRIGHT" - "AAIGHT!?"
  • 32A: Jay-Z and Timbaland (rappers) - these guys might say "AAIGHT!?" ("AIT!?"). PS Jay-Z can be excellent when he wants to be.
  • 37A: Horizontally (Across) - I really really wish this answer were going Down.
  • 38A: Musical transitions (segues) - I'd have gotten this more quickly if the clue had been simply [Transitions].
  • 41A: Bulls, rams and bucks (hes) - seen it, got it, still not fond of it.
  • 49A: BlackBerry, e.g., in brief (PDA) - also Public Display of Affection.
  • 55A: Husband of Isis (Osiris) - which contains the letters of ISIS. Cool.
  • 63A: Gift recipient (donee) - familiar, but yuck.
  • 8D: Olive stuffing (pimento) - possibly the most interesting word in the grid today.
  • 13D: Marvel mutant superhero (Xman) - I have Never seen this in the singular before. Not in the puzzle anyway.
  • 46D: Brenda Lee's "_____ Around the Christmas Tree" ("Rockin'") - this song will surely be in my head all day.
If ever an Evil Santa should emerge (from the South Pole?), I recommend that his lead reindeer be called SPLICER (42D: Worker with genes or film) and DICER (50D: Kitchen gizmo).

Merry Xmas Eve,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


SUNDAY, Dec. 23, 2007 - Adam G. Perl

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Yule Outsourcing" - a "holiday verse" step-quote*

*[A correction, from Ms. Orange: "Today's theme is a quote/quip verse but not a stepquote. Stepquotes have seldom appeared during the Shortz era. What they were was a single unbroken quote stair-stepping its way from 1-Across to the bottom corner. They were even more unsatisfying than standard quote themes for two reasons: (1) Without line breaks between words, the end of a line could be the middle of a word, so you had to use the crossings to piece things together. (2) The corners where the quote turned were unchecked letters, so the crossings couldn't save you."]

Short entry today. Very very full day, including early Xmas celebration this morning, and an interview with local TV in the afternoon, the latter of which is making me a bit queasy. I tried to tell the guy who asked for the interview that nobody cares about a dumb crossword blog. He disagreed. And now cameras are coming to my house.

I didn't like the puzzle much at all today. I find quips and step-quotes in general very unsatisfying, and this one had the added non-bonus of being completely ungrammatical. Part IV of the "verse" is a complete non sequitur - or is at least missing a transitional phrase.

SANTA'S HAD AN EASY SEASON (23A: Start of a holiday verse)
LYING IN HIS BIG RECLINER (48A: Verse, part 2)
IF YOU ASK HIM FOR A REASON (78A: Verse, part 3)
EVERY TOY IS MADE IN CHINA (106A: End of verse)

Toys are not made in China on the condition of my asking Santa for a reason why he is a lazy fat-ass. If I ask, then presumably HE WILL TELL ME. I like the RECLINER / CHINA rhyme, though, I will say.

Lots of ugly stuff in the grid today, like ANENT (38A: About), which is painfully coupled with IN RE (50D: Memo starter). Then there's the Odd Job QUEUER (15D: Line former). The annoying inclusion of IRES (59A: Ticks off) and IRATE (12D: Heated) in the same puzzle. And the absurd BIOTA (74A: Flora and fauna) right next to IOTAS (75A: Some sorority sisters), which I'm guessing was supposed to be cute, but isn't. There was some cuteness, however, including the pairing of:

  • 13D: Word repeated in "Now _____ away! _____ away! _____ away ... !" ("dash"), and
  • 108D: Word left off the end of the clue at 13-Down ("all")

and the letter pairing of

  • 109D: Poor grade (dee), and
  • 110D: Satisfactory grade, in kindergarten (ess)

I did appreciate the attempt to get in as many Christmas-y clues as possible, without horribly forcing the issue (see clues for 8D: IND, 47D: TREE, etc.). My main complaint today is that the grid is flat-out boring. I count one "Q," one "J," and one "K." In a Sunday grid? That's a shockingly low number of "Scrabbly" letters. The only "Y's" we get are in the quip. It's sort of astonishing. The only non-Wheel of Fortune letter in the entire NW section is an "A." That "H" in 24D: HST stands out starkly against its bland surroundings.

Assorted comments:

  • 1A: Literary slips (errata) - gimme! (which, coincidentally, is the name of the coffee my friend Donna gave me yesterday for Xmas. Thanks, Donna) [the coffee is called GIMME, not ERRATA ... you understood that, right?]
  • 14A: Grade school administration, maybe (IQ test) - they really give these in grade school? People still put credence in that test?
  • 22A: Fashion's Bartley (Luella) - mystery woman of the day. LUELLA is a great name.
  • 32A: Former Japanese P.M. Shinzo (Abe) - that's what we call "ABE the hard way."
  • 71A: Young amphibian (eft) - Pantheonic!
  • 84A: Theodemocratic state (Iran) - nice clue for a common answer.
  • 90A: Unemotional type, slangily (ice man) - really? OK. I thought this was the name of the caveman dude they found in the ice ... somewhere. Archaeology!
  • 99A: Decorative gateway in Japan (torii) - definitely seen it before, but blanked on it today.
  • 101D: Classic role played by Gerard Depardieu in "The Man in the Iron Mask" (Porthos) - hmmm ... how did I never see this clue?
  • 114A: Source of "we three kings" ("orient") - at first I was like "?" Then I thought "O ... it's actually in the lyrics - 'we three kings of ORIENT are...'" - Here's some more ORIENTAL goodness for you.
  • 6D: Fictional detective Lupin (Arsene) - befuddled, and it pains me to say that. I felt bad not knowing this, until I realized that I was thinking of Poe's "Dupin" - I don't actually know this "Lupin" guy at all.
  • 18D: Blue-black berrylike fruit (sloe) - it's always SLOE.
  • 66A: "The Sandbox" playwright (Albee) - it's always ALBEE.
  • 33D: Univ. QB, perhaps (BMOC) - nice to see this abbrev. back in the grid. It's Terribly dated now. Do people under 30 even know what it means? I'm over 30, and it was dated when I was in college.
  • 34D: Grammy and Emmy-winning soprano (Sills) - an opera name I actually know. Huzzah.
  • 49D: Garfield's assassin (Odie) - just kidding: GUITEAU (which I know only from a Johnny Cash song)
  • 53D: French-named city on Galveston Bay (La Porte) - more foreign-sounding cities I don't know. See yesterday's puzzle.
  • 63D: What snow shovels may produce (paths) - I weirdly like this clue.
  • 73D: Joint part (tenon) - word I know only from xwords (that list is Long, it seems).
  • 89D: Out-elbowed? (akimbo) - fantastic clue. Goes nicely with 69D: Elbows (pokes).

Bottom of puzzle is Loaded with crosswordese, including:

RELO (95D: Move, in Realtor-speak)
AVER (96D: Swear)
DEMI (97D: Moore of "G.I. Jane")
OYER (100D: Court hearing)

and the long-dormant but apparently not dead

ONER (104D: Lulu)

Hope your day is a ONER.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


SATURDAY, Dec. 22, 2007 - Harvey Estes

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

I have to remember not to attempt late-week puzzles first thing in the morning. I at least need breakfast and tea or coffee. Tried to do this puzzle at my computer this morning and found it nearly impossible. Floundered around in the NW, floundered around in the NE - with a little more success, but not enough to complete it - polished off the SW quickly, then waded slowly into the SE, knowing that it was my last chance for any real forward momentum. Then just when I thought I had it rolling, I hit a wall and just stopped - right about in the ALAMOSA (33D: Colorado city on the Rio Grande) / RUNABOUTS (24D: Roadsters) region of the puzzle (neither of those answers would give, no matter how much pressure I applied). At various points I thought this was the hardest puzzle I'd done all year. Then I think I walked away and came back, and then answers started to fall into place. Once I figured out the SE, despite the puzzle's having a construction style that made success in one quadrant virtually useless as a gateway into another, the NW finally started to fall - getting the EASY at the end of RESTS EASY (7D: Is relaxed) was the key there. Threw the craptacular AEROMETER (23A: Gizmo that measures gas properties) across the grid, and whaddya know? It worked. NE was not too hard after that. I think the last letter in the grid was the initial "P" in PRIMOS (16D: Upper parts of piano duets) and PRESTO (16A: Really moving, musically).

I have an appointment shortly, so here are your puzzle highlights, in short order:

  • 9A: Where one can retire young? (crib) - me: "... slaughterhouse?"
  • 14A: Singles player (phono) - could not not not get tennis out of my head.
  • 17A: "The Treachery of Images" painter (Magritte) - a gimme ... that I second-guessed and removed because of the (wrong) crossing, TOPEKA - 5D: Kansas city (Salina).
  • 18A: Whipps candy bar maker (Reese's) - never heard of that alleged "bar," but when it's candy, when in doubt: RESSE'S.
  • 19A: Some Tuscans (Sienese) - had GENOESE for about three seconds.
  • 20A: Caret indication (insert) - obvious, and yet some Wrong answer in one of the crosses prevented me from seeing it. Oh, I remember: I had ROSSINNI (!?!?!) instead of ROSSETTI (10D: Artist who was a founder of the Pre-Raphaelites).
  • 22A: French teacher (maitre) - my French absolutely vacated my head on this one. Luckily, it returned for the merciful gimme DOS-A-DOS (25A: Back to back: Fr.).
  • 31A: Online registration creations (user ids) - my first answer in the grid that I knew was right.
  • 32A: Tony-nominated "Pippin" actress (Irene Ryan) - despite spending some time yesterday looking at all the ways IRENE had been clued in the past decade, this woman's last name would Not come - and, of course, the last name was virtually the ONLY thing connecting the SW with the rest of the grid. Ugh.
  • 27D: Que follower (sera sera) - my first entry: RSTUVWXY.
  • 34A: Watergate judge (Sirica) - Allllllll from crosses.
  • 35A: San Diego suburb (La Mesa) - no no no. And crossing another unknown place name (ALAMOSA) - that's just cruel. Throw in SALINA and you've got a subtheme of "Places in America I've Never Been ... or Heard Of" (actually, I may have heard of Salina).
  • 41A: Puts down (abashes) - I couldn't decide: was it SMASHES or QUASHES? Hmmm, I wonder ....
  • 44A: Big herbicide producer (Monsanto) - got this off the -ANTO but didn't fully trust it because of the nasty confusion in that region of the grid.
  • 46A: Mushroom producers (A-tests) - could have been H-TESTS or even N-TESTS.
  • 47A: Natural wave catcher (outer ear) - great clue. I had INNER EAR for a little bit, sadly.
  • 49A: Comparison basis (standard) - why was this hard?
  • 1D: Perhaps a little too neat (prim) - really thought this would be about alcohol.
  • 2D: "His eyes are _____ fire with weeping": Shak. ("red as") - didn't know this, which is ironic because it's from Julius Caesar, which is the one Shakespeare play I'm teaching next term.
  • 3D: Creditor's writ (elegit) - ouuuuch. Yipes and yikes. WTF? Etc.
  • 8D: Dick Thornburgh's predecessor in the cabinet (Ed Meese) - I was So disappointed when this insane-sounding clue ended up having the most common cabinet name as its answer - usually you just see MEESE.
  • 9D: Worse in quality, slangily (cheesier) - had CRUMMIER for a while. Seriously considered CRAPPIER.
  • 12D: Stages of space exploration (boosters) - flat-out guess that I still can't believe is right.
  • 29D: Transfers to another vessel, maybe (decants) - another blessed gimme in the SW.
  • 30D: Long-armed redheads (orangs) - good one. I had OCTOPI.
  • 36D: Targets of those catching some rays? (mantas) - phrasing on this clue is painful.
  • 37D: Early Palestinian (Essene) - Astonishingly, this was a gimme. I swear. First thing that went in, with no crosses for help. You know you are a crossword addict when @#$#-ing ESSENE is one of your go-to words.
  • 39D: Son of Aphrodite (Aeneas) - gimme, but it threw me a bit because in the Aeneid, Aeneas's mother is "Venus."
  • 45D: Traffic regs., e.g. (ords.) - because there is not more than one Fort.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


FRIDAY, Dec. 21, 2007 - Patrick Berry

Friday, December 21, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Patrick Berry is one of the best constructors on the planet, and this puzzle shows why. Normally, when I look over a puzzle after completion, I search around for the most interesting clues and answers, and then annotate and categorize them, giving me a kind of outline for my write-up. Today, as I went over the puzzle, I found myself marking nearly everything. "How am I going to write about all this?," I asked myself. So, in the interest of fairness to all clues - and maximum puzzle coverage in limited write-up time - my entry today will be one long bulleted list.

But first, a brief introduction: Not only does this puzzle hold up well to close scrutiny - I think it actually starts looking better and better the more you dig into it. There are lots of cool echoes, parallels, and assorted thematic connections between and among answers in the grid. There is a striking evenness to the puzzle, with the difficulty level calibrated similarly for all areas of the puzzle. All parts required some thought and effort, but none were excessively easy or excessively brutal. In short, this puzzle was SMOOVE.

Let's get ready to Rumble....

  • 1A: Musical genre that uses a flatted fifth (be-bop) - and the puzzle delivers a quick jab to my chin. I gaped at the clue, thought "... mambo?" and moved on.
  • 28A: Member of the 500 Home Run Club (Sosa) - there are a few potential candidates, but this one is Always the most likely. First entry in the grid. Crossed it with CASA (22D: House on a hacienda), crossed that with ART (31A: "Science made clear": Cocteau), and I was off.
  • 5D: "Travelin' Thru" singer (Parton) - gimme. Wanna make me happy, put Dolly in the puzzle. Also picked up another folk/country answer easily: 12D: "Man of Constant _____" (old folk standard) ("sorrow"). Anyone who saw "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" should know this. Hell, I never even saw that movie, but I can still see George Clooney on stage "singing" it. Oh, I also like that PARTON is in a grid with PARDON (46A: Sentence ender). Rhyming!
  • 29A: Cannibal of Anglo-Saxon legend (Grendel) - the first of several answers in the puzzle that seem at first to be people but end up being animals / monsters. See also TOTO (47D: Oz visitor) and, one of my favorite answers of the day, GENTLE BEN (41A: Seven-foot star of 1960s TV) - I spent many seconds trying to remember the name of James ARNESS. Good thing my brain wasn't working. As for GRENDEL, I always thought "cannibal" was a word for people who eat people. Is a Great White a "cannibal?" At any rate, GRENDEL is from "Beowulf," which also, I'll have you know, features a BARROW (21A: Grave mound). Again, nice connection.
  • 54A: Van _____ ("Jump" band) - children of the 80's, rejoice. Your toehold has arrived. Other gimmes for me included TNT (52D: "We Know Drama" sloganeer") and UVULA (15A: It vibrates during snoring). NADER was easy to pick up, as I voted for him once, and DENTON (30D: University of North Texas home) was easier than it would have been, if only because I once co-edited a collection of essays on Raymond Chandler once, and it was published by Studies in the Novel, which is based at the University of North Texas in DENTON.
  • 45A: Films that require a lot of shooting? (oaters) - ooh, I love this word. Learned it from crosswords. It's pretty Pantheonic. The puzzle was otherwise mercifully lite on the crosswordese. VISA (37A: You may need it going in) and HESSE (26D: 1946 Literature Nobelist) are both reasonably common, and we just saw CAEN (6D: City largely destroyed by the Normandy campaign), but other than that, the puzzle is startlingly fresh.
  • 16A: Novel that nobody reads (audio book) - great clue.
  • 19A: Multigallon container (gas tank) - tricky, vague clue.
  • 23A: Endearing, as a smile (winsome) - this came to me almost instantly. Why? I love the word. "Her WINSOME smile drew him in. He ROMANCED (10D: Worked one's wiles on) her for a nearly a year before finally proposing. They then went to the ALTAR (38A: Union station?), where they each said 'I DO' (8D: Witness statement)" - notice how I skillfully sidestepped ASPISH, STALEMATE, SKEWER, and CAPTOR in that marriage narrative. People like a happy ending.
  • 24A: King's successor as S.C.L.C. president (Abernathy) - no idea, but had the ABERN-, so really, what else could it have been?
  • 27A: Shrink (cower) - fortuitous error here: my first entry, when I had no crosses, was LOWER.
  • 47A: Their work stinks (tanners) - And TANNERS around the world collectively say, "Aw, c'mon! There's gotta be a better way to get us in the puzzle."
  • 49A: What a lack of evidence of forced entry might indicate (inside job) - had the -OB and got it instantly. Reminds me of Spike Lee's "Inside Man" - fantastic movie.
  • 55A: Orthodox Church council (Holy Synod) - had the -OD and knew I was dealing with a SYNOD. Later on, I guessed at what four-letter word needed to precede it.
  • 4D: Sucrose polyester, more familiarly (olestra) - fake fat. This has been in the puzzle before, a number of times. Expect to see it again.
  • 11D: Longtime NBC sports exec (Ebersol) - had the -SOL, got it easily. Hey, he is married to Kate. Or is it Allie? I get them confused.
  • 20D: One of Ferdinand II's kingdoms (Aragon) - I had ARABIA at first, HA ha. I love when I can look back on my wrong answers and laugh.
  • 25D: "Wild Thing" band, with "the" (Troggs) - thought this was the answer, but it looked so silly with the two "G"s that I couldn't commit to it until it was mostly filled in.
  • 37D: Bonus Army member (veteran) - No Idea. At one point, not really paying attention to the clue, I figured the answer had to be VATICAN.
  • 39D: Cabin addition (lean-to) - this is pretty common fare. I never really picture it, though, so the "cabin" part threw me for a tiny bit.
  • 40D: Heel bone, e.g. (tarsal) - here, the puzzle gets anatomical on you. It's zigging and zagging all over the place. Perfect action for a Friday. On Friday, I want my puzzle to thrash like a dying shark. Only ... without the dying, suffering animal. Be nice to sharks. They get a bad rap.
  • 42D: Bridge declaration ("Land, ho!") - and I leave you today with my favorite answer - one which made No sense to me until after the puzzle was done and the tertiary meaning of "bridge" popped into my head. Before that I was thinking. "Wow, bridge is an even sillier game than I'd imagined."
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

EJC on yesterday's puzzle:

[drawing by Emily Cureton]


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP