WEDNESDAY, Feb. 28, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Solving time: untimed, but fast (on paper)
THEME: The sound of "TIE" - three long theme answers all begin with homonyms:

20A: Establishment with spicy sauces (Thai restaurant)
36A: Martial art (Tai Chi Chuan)
54A: Finish the job (tie up loose ends)

Not an astonishing theme, but a fun one nonetheless. I've been practicing TAI CHI CHUAN for years, so that was a nice long gimme. I like Gorski puzzles; they are almost always elegant, with no straining for effect, and very little forced fill. All esoteric fill in this one had reasonably gettable crosses - with one exception, and it is not only the top issue in today's commentary, but the subject of my newest crossword crusade:

Operation: Stop Referencing "Ally McBeal"

Never has a show that ran for such a short period of time, that was cancelled so long ago, that sucked so hard, gotten so much attention. You might say, "But Rex, I can remember only one other reference to 'Ally McBeal' in recent months." I say, "Yes, two references - two too many." Calista Flockhart, while I'm sure she's a nice person and all (married to Harrison Ford, by the way), represents everything that was horrible about the late 90's, and everything hateful about TV in general. Superficial self-indulgence masquerading as avant-garde entertainment. Stunt TV ("I know, let's take our semi-popular hour-long show and re-air it that same week in a bite-size half-hour format!"; computer animation sight gags; and that dancing baby, dear god I didn't even watch "Ally McBeal" and that baby haunts me for days after any time I see it or hear a reference to it). "Ally McBeal" was pretty much the death knell of feminism, too; or, rather, clear evidence that feminism had been bought out by Disney, which had decided to retool feminism in order to make her more consumer-friendly, more emaciated. "We'll let you have a high-powered job, just like the guys! In exchange, you agree to look more f@#!able, and don't bring up issues of gender inequality ever again except in that cute, idealistic way you sometimes do before we pat you on the head and / or ass and send you dismissively back to your desk. OK?" "Ally McBeal" represents the apotheosis of the "empowerful" woman, and is directly responsible for causing a generation of young women to idolize not women of substance or genuine courage, but those hateful, superficial @#$@#s from "Sex and the City." "Ally McBeal" was a terrible show built around an insufferable character who managed to set both progressive politics AND good television back about a generation by convincing a handful of people who should have known better that it was something special. Further, both of the "Ally McBeal" clues in recent months have referenced secondary, if not tertiary characters! The assumption that I or any right-thinking person was So tuned in to that show that we would remember characters such as NELLE (65A: "Ally McBeal" role) or RENEE (from Dec. 15 puzzle) is insulting. When I said "let us never speak of this show again," I wasn't f#$#ing kidding!

My reaction today might not have been quite as extreme if NELLE hadn't intersected 56D: City south of Moscow (Orel) at the "L" - and while the answer was inferrable (what other letter could go there?) I get a little peevish when my ignorances cross.

By the way: Harper Lee's given first name: NELLE. Good to know.

In other puzzle news:

19A: Sufficient, once (enow) - I do love the Olde Tyme spelling

23A: Brazilian-born bandleader Mendes (Sergio) - is this the same guy who had a minor hit in 1983 with "Never Gonna Let You Go"? Yes! Damn, that's some good remembering. Summer camp '83. Other significant pop culture event of that year (well, the previous year, actually) - the launching of USA Today. Why oh why do I remember that - because for some reason I remember seeing some dork at summer camp that year wearing a "USA Today" baseball cap (!?) and thinking, even then, "Why would you do that? That's not even a real paper."

27A: Table scrap (ort) - I just love this word. Should be in the Pantheon. I learned this word from crosswords. I defy you to find it used, unironically, outside of crosswords in the past quarter century.

Some mystery fill

31A: Romanian composer Georges (Enesco) - I was able to get this from -CO, but I don't know why. I'm going to have to check into this guy's music. His name is interesting in that it is just one letter different from the fairly common UNESCO, and only two letters off from one of the first authors I ever read in French, Eugène IONESCO.
9D: Powdered wig (peruke) - I sort of knew this, as I believe it is related to the French word for wig (perruque), which is still stored in my brain somewhere. Still, it looks weird, especially the more you stare at it, and definitely stands out as among the trickier bits of fill in today's puzzle.
21D: Perfumer Nina (Ricci) - I'm more familiar with Christina RICCI of Addams Family and The Ice Storm fame. "Perfumer" is an odd-sounding title. I mean, she doesn't actually go around perfuming thing / people ... does she? I can see from Google that "perfumer" is preferred by a huge margin to "perfumist," and yet I prefer the latter, so please accommodate my preference in the future. Thank you. Oh, and you should read Perfume by Patrick Suskind, if you haven't already. It's unbelievably great - and short. Read it today on your lunch break. Do it!

Some names you should know:

46A: Rapper Lil' _____ (Kim) - someone in yesterday's comments wondered aloud whether George Michael was in or out of jail, and I am currently wondering the same thing about Lil' KIM. I feel like she broke some law ... ah yes, I am correct; from Wikipedia:
On March 17, 2005, Kim was found guilty of conspiracy and perjury for lying to a grand jury about her friends' involvement in a 2001 shooting outside the Hot 97 studios in Manhattan — involving the entourage of rap duo Capone-N-Noreaga and her reported fellow Brooklynite rival Foxy Brown. She claimed not to have known that her manager (Damion Butler), and another friend (Suif “Gutta” Jackson) were at the scene, despite video footage showing all three exiting the building. Both men have pleaded guilty to gun charges since. In July 2005, she was sentenced to a one-year-and-a-day in the Philadelphia Detention Center. She had requested to go to a camp center in Connecticut to be closer to her mother, but instead was ordered to report to the Philadelphia Detention Center. Many people were outraged over this stern sentence because Martha Stewart, who was also convicted of perjury during the same time period, was only sentenced to 5 months in a small women's camp in Alderson, West Virginia.
In the mid-90's, Lil' KIM was discovered and promoted by Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., a hip-hop icon fatally shot in 1997, in case you didn't know.

29D: Phil who sang "Jim Dean of Indiana" (Ochs) - know him only from crosswords, where he shows up not infrequently.
53D: Swiss miss (Heidi) - HEIDI's name is easy; her creator's name, SPYRI, is not. Remember it, as it will show up in your puzzle eventually.
58A: Sundance Kid's lady (Etta) - near-Pantheon material, but I always botch it, thinking it's more oddly spelled than it really is (ETNA ... ESTA ... EMRE ...?)

I have never heard the term TAX BITES (36D: They're felt in mid-April). I had TAX TIMES in there for a little bit. Google says "TAX BITE" is a legitimate phrase, so fine. I hope that our TAX BITE this year is not SO BIG (4D: Pulitzer-winning Ferber title) that we cannot afford to go on our semi-planned cross-country road trip to MN/WI this year. Oh, yeah, Shaun, if you're reading this, maybe I should have told you first before announcing it to the world - you might have house guests in August.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Feb. 27, 2007 - Allan E. Parrish

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Solving time: untimed - fastish?
THEME: IT'S ELECTRIC (57A: Title for this puzzle) - Three theme answers have words that are at least vaguely synonymous with electricity in them, clued in a non-electric context.

Theme answers:

17A: "The Razor's Edge" star, 1946 (Tyrone Power)
27A: 1980's Scott Baio sitcom ("Charles in Charge")
43A: Breakfast beverage (grapefruit juice)

Didn't know the first one, but guessed it from the TY-. CHARLES IN CHARGE was a staple of my teen years (and maybe my 20's, I forget). I was a genuine fan of the first season, which I believe was actually on in primetime, when the cast was normal-looking / brunette, before they completely remade the cast over in blond and moved the show to some kind of syndication. I think the only cast holdover besides Charles himself was Buddy, played by acting genius turned born-again Christian Willie Aames. I think Aames was recently seen on "Celebrity Fat Camp," or whatever it's called: the show where fat "celebrities" try to lose weight. Anyway, if you want to get me a gift, get me "Charles in Charge, Season One" on DVD. I can't bring myself to buy it, but I believe I would enjoy it. I just finished watching "The Office, Season Two," so I'm pretty much out of sitcom DVDs at the moment.

14A: "Winning Bridge Made Easy" author (Goren)

I'm guessing this is some old-skool gimme, but I'd Never heard of ... him? I can see how his name could be of value to a constructor: five common letters, unusual combination. It sucked for me a little that the "N" in GOREN intersected 5D: Spike TV's former name (TNN) because I thought the answer was TNN but then I thought that there is still a country network on the air ... and isn't that called TNN? No, I just realized right this second that the network I was thinking of is CMT (Country Music Television). TNN was The Nashville Network.

25D: Adventurer Nellie (Bly)

Nope. Not on my radar. Had to get it from crosses. She sounds very interesting and half-way insane. Traveled around the world and faked insanity to do an inside story on a mental institution - all well before you could get your own cable show for doing so.

48A: Lyndon's running mate (Hubert)

I totally spaced on this one and had to wait for the crosses to help me out. This was the last presidential election before I was born - I'm pretty solid on VPs from Nixon on.

56A: Pastor Haggard (Ted)

Oh my god is this the "I do crystal meth and have sex with male prostitutes" guy!?!? It is! This is very, very lurid for a NYT puzzle answer, isn't it? I mean, I'm not complaining, but dang. This guy would never have made the puzzle on his preaching alone, so the only reason he's here is crystal meth and male prostitutes. I'm just pointing this out. Is there any other answer in Times puzzle history where the person achieved puzzle status only for such lurid reasons? Someone who would not have made the puzzle otherwise, and who is not, say, a mass murderer? I like that TED intersects RUPERT Murdoch (44D: Media baron Murdoch), as surely the latter made a lot of money off of stories about the former.

7D: With 62-Across, nickname for former N.F.L. star Sanders (NEON DEION)

Fresh off of getting thrown out of the Pantheon, NEON DEION makes a triumphant return to the grid, in full rhyming splendor. His name somehow seems appropriate to the theme of this puzzle, too. So good for you DEION. We may reconsider you for Pantheon status yet. I should also acknowledge the return to the grid of past Pantheon president ASTA (51D: "The Thin Man" dog). OLEO needs to get out more often and let the people know who's boss now.

For some reason, the following words all seem weird to me this morning. Not bad weird, just strange or odd or ... alien:

  • 24A: Triangular house part (gable) - very hard for me to get. Does my house even have gables?
  • 22A: Beau (swain) - why don't these seem synonymous to me? The clue seems sweetly old-fashioned, while the answer seems ... sweaty and musty with the aroma of the engine room or the farm.
  • 39D: Mil. designation (spec) - the word "designation" always throws me; doesn't it just mean "name for something"? Feels very non-specific. And aren't SPECs non-military "designations," too.
I am a big fan of Steely Dan and so AJA (41D: 1977 Steely Dan album that spent 52 weeks in the top 40) was easy. I am also a big fan of WHAM (23D: Kapow!), and SPONGE (13D: Moocher) bob Squarepants, and Elvis's "In the GHETTO" (43D: Run-down urban area), so all were easy. Enjoy your day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Feb. 26, 2007 - Peter A. Collins

Monday, February 26, 2007

Solving time: 4:36 (on paper)

THEME: THE HIDDEN AGENDA - 55A: What conspiracy theorists look for (as hinted at by 17-, 25- and 42-Across) - each of three 15-letter theme answers has six squares with circles in them, and when the theme answer is filled in correctly, the circle-squares spell out the word AGENDA

Very clever theme, and because of the weird manner in which I generally solved the puzzle (NW to NE to SE to SW, in a "Z" shape), I got the theme key answer before any of the actual theme answers were filled in, allowing me to go and fill in all the circled squares before I'd even looked at their crosses. My time is slower than it has been the past couple of weeks, but this is certainly the fastest I've ever solved on paper, so I feel OK.

Congratulations to Jennifer Hudson and Helen Mirren on winning Oscars last night. I really loved all the discussion (and the song!) about how Hot Helen Mirren is. Smoking. Seriously. God I love her. For once I actually saw some of the movies and performances that were awarded Oscars. Dreamgirls was just an OK movie ... except for the times JHud and Eddie Murphy were on screen, when it was Awesome. I generally have fond feelings for Melissa Etheridge, but my god her song was Boring and I can't believe it beat the Dreamgirls songs - those performances were by far the most exciting part of the night - the most exciting non-Helen-Mirren-related part, at any rate.

6A: Cub Scout group (den)

Well, of course. Yet wrote in BSA (Boy Scouts of America), a very common crossword abbreviation. I should have known that the word "Scout" in the clue pretty much precluded the answer from having the "S" from "Scout" in it, but it's a Monday puzzle and I'm not stopping to think things through. Still, this little hiccup cost me a little bit of time, as my error sat there until the Very End.

1D: E-mail offer of $17,000,000.00, e.g. (scam)
21A: Old punch line? (scar)
48D: Dagger wound (stab)

SCAR + STAB = SCAB; OK that equation makes no sense, but I can tell you that I got hung up on SCAR and STAB because I wanted both to be SCAB at various points. It's kind of weird how close, spelling-wise, all these knife-fight-related words are. In the end, the closest thing, spelling-wise, to SCAB in the puzzle was SCAM, which is nicely clued here. A fun gimme.

32A: One of the Astaires (Adele)

An old crossword standby. I should put her on the shortlist for next year's Pantheon induction. Still, I have no idea who she is or what relation she is to Fred. Time to find out. She was Fred's older sister, and they had a Vaudeville act together when they were both young (when she was more famous than he). Read this - it's pretty interesting.

48A: "La Nausée" novelist (Sartre)
43D: Rolle who starre
d in "Good Times" (Esther)

This is the reason I love crosswords. Where else in the world (besides the classroom, on occasion) would my love of depressing French philosophy and my love of 1970's sitcoms ever meet? There is an entire term paper to be written on the relationship of these two clues, I'm sure. Speaking as someone who has to grade lots of papers, I can tell you that a paper on existentialism in "Good Times" would be something I'd set aside to read last. To savor. Here is what the title of that paper would be, were it being presented on a panel at the annual MLA conference: "From Jean-Paul to J.J., or, No Exit from the Ghetto without Dyn-O-Mite!: Theories of Selfhood in the Post-War West."

51A: "Star Wars" guru (Yoda)
41A: C-3PO, for one ('droid)

[ahem] .... NERD! (anytime anyone violates the "no more than one Star Wars clue per puzzle" rule, I have to shout "NERD!" - just so you know, for future reference)

9D: Last part (tail end)
30D: Untagged, in a game (not it)

Nothing much to say about these, except that I liked them - fun, lively, colloquial, multi-worded - everything that good fill should be, and particularly appreciated in a Monday puzzle.

14A: Chili con _____ (carne)
60A: Spanish hero played by Charlton Heston (El Cid)

I just like that these two answers have 180-degree rotational symmetry. Remember that part in EL CID where he douses the Moors with chili con CARNE? Me either, but it would have made a great scene.

19D: Some blenders (Osters)
40D: Old gold coins (florins)

These answers genuinely gave me pause, and I entered them only tentatively, when I had just the first letter or so of each. I was very happy when they both panned out. On Mondays, I'll tend to send a longish answer out into the void much more readily than I will on other days, since on Mondays, my gut feelings about words tend to be much more accurate than on later days of the week.

Off to do the NY Sun puzzle. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Awesome! Endicott!

Sunday, February 25, 2007


SUNDAY, Feb. 25, 2007 - David J. Kahn

Solving time: mid-high 20's

THEME: "Comic Relief" - All the long theme answers begin with the last name of an OSCAR (67A: With 56-Down, start of eight answers in this puzzle) EMCEE, e.g. 15D: Birding capital of New Zealand (2006) (Stewart Island) - the parenthetical year(s) after the clue = year(s) that the OSCAR EMCEE in question, in this case STEWART, hosted the OSCARs.

I own a book of David J. Kahn baseball crosswords, which I keep by my bedside and enjoy quite a bit. They are of medium difficulty and every one has a baseball theme and lots of baseball fill. Fun. Today's puzzle: not as fun. Or rather, very fun in parts, dismal in others - the bad parts are only partly blamable on the puzzle, to be fair. I have never been so stuck, with so much of the puzzle left open, on a Sunday before - not in recent memory, anyway; for a host of reasons, the earth was scorched from an epicenter somewhere around the area now occupied by DESSERTS (87A: Display on a tray) and extending out about an inch to two inches in all directions. So the problem had its center somewhere around the "Missouri" region of the puzzle, but ripple effects were felt all over. If I could blame one clue for the entire problem, what would it be? Hmmm, let's see. No, it's really a team effort, so here's the team:

24D: Company that merged with Lockheed in 1995 (2001, 2003) (Martin-Marietta)
88D: Transitional land zone (ecotone)
101A: Court grp. (NBA)

I have never heard of MARTIN-MARIETTA. Lockheed-MARTIN is a major employer in the area of the country where I live, and I know Steve MARTIN hosted the OSCARs, so the MARTIN part, no problem. The MARIETTA part ... ???? Nope, not in my ken at All. So why not just get the crosses? OK, the big problem there was that MARIETTA runs parallel for five letters with 73D: Western capital (1979-82, 1984) (Carson City) - which I swear I only just now realized was a theme answers! - and I couldn't see it at all. First, I didn't know if "Western" meant Western U.S. or "Western" the way most first-world countries are deemed "Western," or what. Second, and more importantly, is the tiny 101A: Court grp., which at three letters I thought was a cinch to be ABA. But no, it's a stupid trick clue (the kind that makes me say "@#$# you" out loud to no one in particular), and the actual answer involves basketball players, not lawyers. That one-letter mistake (A for N) took the N out of CARSON CITY, keeping me in the dark for minutes longer than I should have been. As for ECOTONE ... whatever! It's a word. I looked it up. But it sounds like a synthetic compound, or else a ringtone for your phone that plays sounds of the rainforest or something. Not thrilled about ECO (48A: "Baudolino" novelist) and ECOTONE being in the same puzzle, either. MARIETTA, ECOTONE, and CARSON CITY = a lot of empty neighboring squares = work for me. The little crosses and neighboring parallels were not self-evident, either. Did not know that CRIBs were defined by their mobility (83D: Mobile home?) - Oh, I just got it. You hang a "mobile" over a crib. Nevermind. Ugh. We have a mobile - why? - hanging from our hallway ceiling upstairs. There is no CRIB there. If you have ever watched MTV, then you know that CRIB is just slang for an ordinary, stationary home. So I was confused on many fronts. Then there was 83A: Abbr. after Lincoln or Kennedy (Ctr.), which seems fine when you look at it, but when you've got three blank squares, it's not so easy. Scratch that: when you have ONE blank square, it's not so easy - I had -TR and thought for many moments that the answer might be STR., as in "I live on Lincoln STR." Yeah, it was that bad for me. The worst answer of the night, though ... well, it was close. In second place, we have

9D: Florida's _____ Trail (Tamiami)

So much Florida geography this week! We aren't all retirees!! I've never heard of this so-called "Trail" and the answer reads like a cruel joke, in that it has recognizable Florida fill (MIAMI) inside it. I thought LA MIAMI .... but no. No No No. And the winner for worst answer of the grid:

94A: Code word (dah)

The very last square I filled in was the "D" in this answer, and I did so with absolute uncertainty. Ironically, my first thought was Morse Code, but wouldn't that be DASH? What is DAH?!?!?! The only good part about this answer is that it's one letter off from D'OH, which I know to be an actual word, and was what I found myself saying a lot while trying to solve this puzzle. DAH is how the DASH in Morse Code is written out in English. Because DASH is already taken??? It's a real word. It just Sux. The very worst part - and this wound is entirely self-inflicted, nobody's fault but mine - is that when I went to check my grid at the applet, I kept getting rejected, and I was certain the D in DAH was to blame, and I went over and over ways that I could make it different - then plugged in literally every letter in the alphabet into that slot. When that didn't work, it began to dawn on me that I might have other errors. But a scan of all the Acrosses turned up only valid fill. So I could Not get a grid accepted by the applet forEver. Eventually, instead of just checking all the Acrosses, I checked all the Downs, and found DEAR SSNTA instead of DEAR SANTA (11D: Opening in the North Pole?). Sadly, that wrong "S" gave me an Across of TSE, which is so Pantheonic that I hadn't blinked at it when I'd scanned the Acrosses earlier. The actual, weirder-looking answer is TAE (39A: Inventor's inits.). So I actually had the puzzle filled in correctly on paper, but wasted 20+ minutes trying to get my grid accepted by the applet because of a simple typo.

I'm running on too long this a.m., so just a few more quick observations before I close things out. Here's some stuff I liked:

  • 4D: Popular Bach work for keyboard (1994, 1996, 1999, 2002) (Goldberg Variations) - This work sits near the top of my iTunes "Playlists," and it's beautiful - always nice to have a gigantic gimme in the puzzle. How many times does Whoopi have to host the OSCARs before people finally realize it's not a good idea. Four non-consecutive terms, come on! Nobody should get that many chances. To her credit, she made fun of herself very effectively on "30 Rock" lately.
  • 29D: Words from Pope's "An Essay on Man" (1940, 1942-43, 1960-62, 1965-68, 1978) ("Hope springs eternal") - "... in the human breast." Another huge gimme, even before I knew the theme of the puzzle. Damn, HOPE hosted a lot!
  • 43A: Ecdysiast Blaze and others (Starrs) - I just love the word "ecdysiast!" So much classier than "stripper."
  • 23A: First mate's greeting? (Madam, I'm Adam) - easily my favorite answer of the night. Palindrome! I got it right away - one of the few harmonious wavelength moments I had all night.
  • 52A: Year Constantine the Great became emperor (CCCVI) - I thought it was CCCIII, but whatever, I knew the century, at least, which really really helped take care of the "Oregon" section of the grid.
More crap I didn't know, or barely knew, or generally said "ugh" to for some reason
  • 1A: Stick used to swat flies (fungo) - here I've been calling it a "fly swatter" all these years; what a chump - think of all the syllables I could have saved if I'd only known.
  • 32A: Actors Max and Max Jr. (Baers) - pulled this from somewhere, but this last name is like LAHR (of Cowardly Lion fame) in that the only part that's solid in my head is the "R."
  • 62A: 1970's HUD secretary Hills and namesakes (Carlas) - man that is a Long way to go for a CARLA.
  • 65A: C8H8 (styrene) - ugh, chemistry. Not my strong suit.
  • 97A: Old computer (Tandy) - A beloved actress ... and she can do your taxes!? I hate to tell you, though, that she's not just OLD, she's dead.
  • 45D: Sirtaki dancer in a 1964 movie (Zorba) - way to hide the fat Greek guy inside a sultry Japanese woman (that's what a "Sirtaki dancer" looked like in my head before reality came crashing in)
And for your and my edification, here is a map showing where the ARAL SEA is (91D: Waters fed by the Amu Darya):

According to this article, the ARAL SEA will kill us all (in fact, should have done so already). Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Feb. 24, 2007 - Byron Walden

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Solving time: 21 min. and change

THEME: none

[updated 1:25 pm]

Blogger is acting up for the first time in a good long time today, so who knows what this entry will look like. Every time I try to do a shortcut (for BOLD, for instance), the shortcut (in this case, Ctl-B) won't work - today, Ctl-B is giving me a backspace?! My keyboard feels sticky and non-responsive in general. Not sticky like syrup-sticky - like the keys are stickING ... you know what I mean. Ugh.

So this puzzle is gorgeous. A perfect combination of Smooth and Complex. You really, really can tell the difference between a piece of cruciverbial artistry and a run-of-the-mill puzzle; there is nothing (or very, very little) that feels clunky or forced about this puzzle. You can tell that a lot of care has gone into every detail, every intersection and juxtaposition. I shouldn't have gushed about the puzzle at the NYT Forum, because now I'm starting too feel like I'm repeating myself - at any rate, this is a near perfect late-week puzzle: challenging, cleverly clued, with varied and lively fill, and yet with absolutely nothing (with maybe one exception) that isn't at least a reasonably familiar word, concept, phrase, or name.

I'll start with my one "!?!?!?" moment, which provides a good example of a common solver pitfall: proper parsing.

10A: In line with (as per)

The "S" in this answer was the very last square I filled in, and I did so only tentatively: what the hell does ASPER mean? Presumably an ASPER is someone who hunts asps (for a living?). I tried to pronounce it different ways - I tried to plug it into sentences wherein one might use the phrase [In line with] ... nothing. I don't know how long it took for the word to finally break in two along the proper fault, but it finally did, prompting an out-loud groan that nearly woke my wife. Technically, I had finished this puzzle in under 20, but I refused to look at the clock until I understood what made ASPER right. Thankfully, all of the crosses were Rock Solid - the "S" came from 11D: Cable option (SHO), and I can tell you that no other letter in the alphabet can go in that "S" spot to provide a sensible answer. Believe me, I tried.

17A: "The Prisoner of Zenda" setting (Ruritania)

The second reference to this book in the past week or so! I feel like the universe (or Byron Walden) is telling me to read it. I do own a copy - a very early Bantam paperback, with cover art by classic illustrator / artist Edgard Cirlin. It looks like this:

Seriously, it's a bit absurd that I own so many books and yet have read only about 2% of them. My house is full of books never read. For an English Ph.D., I am astonishingly under-read. I watch TV and do puzzles. O, and I read comics, but even there, it's a struggle. They pile up if I don't read them, so I'm compelled to read them, but ... well you can see that I've somehow lost the art of reading for pleasure joy, if I ever knew said art at all.

19A: Those, in San José (esos)
34A: Subject of the 2006 documentary "Toots" (Shor)
4D: "Family Guy" mom (Lois)
21D: Big _____ (Sur)
32D: A.C.C. school (UNC)
43D: "Baby _____ You" (1962 hit) ("It's")

Gimme all of these! An unusual number of gimmes for a Saturday, but I'm not complaining. SHOR would Not have been a gimme for me even three months ago, but this is the third time this year (at least) that I have seen TOOTS or SHOR clued in relation to this restaurateur. I've even blogged about him before - again, the blogging pays off (see also OBE - 53D: U.K. honor [shouldn't that be "honour"?] - which I also know Only from crosswords / blogging). LOIS is Hot. I mean that metaphorically as well as literally.

20A: "_____ say it is good to fall": Whitman, "Song of Myself" ("I also...")

A good example of a quotation you are not likely to know at sight, but that you can get from piecing together the crosses. Speaking of my not being well read ... never read Whitman! I bought "Leaves of Grass" as an anonymous Xmas gift for some needy local school / boys' home (they specifically requested it, among other things), and that is likely as close as I'll come to reading it in my lifetime. Life's too short, and I haven't even read Dostoevsky yet. Whitman doesn't really have a shot. In other poetry news, BYRON (3D: Originator of the phrase "truth is stranger than fiction") is just downriver from the Whitman quotation. I do love when constructors work their own names into puzzles. Which reminds me: I have not seen REX in a puzzle in a while - TREX does Not count!

22A: _____ for peace (Sue)

Why did this take me so long to get!?!?! I was thinking it was some plural noun, like RNS or PAS. "SUE for peace" seems a very dated, if not exceedingly old phrase - something one would do to a lord or count or king or something. SUE is also the name of my aunt (the third Alcorn sister, along with my mom and my ever-generous aunt Nancy)

Just got an emergency call - wife left her White Belt here, and she is testing in 39 minutes, so I have to rush it out to her, NOW.

More later,


Well that took longer than I'd anticipated. I decided to get lunch on the way home from dropping of Sandy's white belt and then I ate lunch in front of the TV while watching DVD commentaries of episodes of "The Office," Season 2. And now here I am. My wife and daughter both passed their tests and are now yellow and orange belts, respectively.

49A: Lesser star designation in a constellation (eta)

A very mean way to clue this answer. I still have no idea what "lesser star designation" means. ETA is a letter of the Greek alphabet and an abbrev. for Estimated Time of Arrival. But today's Saturday, so like AURIGA many Saturdays ago, I have random constellation clues to deal with. Fair enough. So if you're counting at home, the highest-ranking items in the "Things I really don't know" category are Constellations, European rivers, and the career of Sidney Poitier. Oh, and Biblical and/or Hebraic and/or Ancient Near Eastern things, e.g. 25D: Ancient rival of Assyria (Elam). I also did not know the related, more modern 27D: Last king of Egypt (Farouk), but, to my credit, I did have it as FARRAD, which is almost close.

50A: Query to the Lord in Matthew (Is it I?)
43D: "Baby _____ You" ("It's")

I do love this intersection. I just like the idea of the Lord answering Matthew's query with a deep, soulful, Barry White-esque, "Baby, it's you." Someone at the NYT Forum mentioned the gloriousness of this intersection earlier today, but I had this observation cued up and ready to go before I ever read the Forum, just for the record. And that person certainly did not name-drop Barry White. Still, I really really have to try harder not to read other people's writing on the puzzle before I'm done! Throws off my commentating mojo.

7D: As a 16-year-old actor, youngest nonroyal with an individual portrait in Britain's National Portrait Gallery (Daniel Radcliffe)

At the Forum (again) I claimed that I had no idea who this was. Turns out, he is Harry Potter, and since I've seen at least one of those movies, I guess I did have some idea of who DANIEL RADCLIFFE is, but I'd forgotten. I did not realize that the "16-year-old actor" part of the clue meant that the actor was, today, like, right now, 16 years old. I thought it meant that the portrait had been done when he was 16. How strenuously did I try to make DANIEL DAY LEWIS fit? Very. "Is there an 'E' on the end of 'DAY'... maybe?"

28D: Seat, quickly (ush)

The most made-up sounding entry in the whole lot. I had the "S" only for a while, and kept thinking, ".... no ... no it can't be ..." And I was right, it wasn't ASS. I guess that USH is the verb describing what USHers do.

45D: It has a certain ring to it (atoll)

What is it with words that have something to do with "rings" that also share multiple letters with AREOLA!? Yesterday it was ARENAS, now this. ARENAS, for the record, can / should be clued in relation to the NBA, one of whose greatest current players is named Gilbert ARENAS. He wears the #0, which I think is hot. Not LOIS hot, but hot.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Feb. 23, 2007 - Patrick Merrell

Friday, February 23, 2007

Looking for LA TIMES answers? Go here.

Solving time: 14:44 (on paper)

THEME: Verizon (or, none)

Not a great time, but it took me only slightly longer than Thursday's puzzle, which is heartening somehow. Still trying to hone my paper-solving technique. Today's puzzle was odd for a Friday, in that it seemed somewhat easier than your average Friday, and the grid was not wide open the way Friday grids often are. I like 'em wide open on Friday and Saturday. Today's grid = fussy grid. Nooks and crannies: good in English muffins, not so good in my Friday puzzle. Still, this puzzle had merit.

Why am I claiming "Verizon" as a potential theme for this puzzle? Good question, thanks for asking. Here is why - they provide computer, television (this part's new), and telephone service, all of which are in some way, however tenuously, related to the following group of answers:

1A: Kind of blocker (spam)
14A: Conference intro (tele-)
12D: Show over (re-air)

52A: Pioneering 1940's computer (Eniac)
54A: Business card abbr. (ext.)
55A: Modern phone display (text message)

VERIZON was the most concise heading I could think of under which to bring all these disparate answers that somehow are related to each other in my head. VERIZON probably didn't exist in the days of ENIAC, but whatever. All these answers relate to electronic communication somehow. A TEXT MESSAGE in BROKEN ENGLISH (9D: Difficult means of communication) can be painful, especially if IT'S A LONG STORY (18D: "Too much to go into now") - those last two answers have 180-degree rotational symmetry, by the way - nice!

30A: It works as a translator (RNA)

Had only the "N" and knew this, but god knows why, as my knowledge of biology (beyond the rudiments) sucks. 10th grade Biology class threw this answer up at me, I'm pretty sure. One biological answer I never would have gotten in a million years (without crosses) was the horribly wrong-looking RETE (36D: Nerve network). I can barely stand to look at that "word," so wrong does it look. The "R" in RETE was the very last letter I filled in, Very Tentatively, and only because it made an actual word out of the cross - 33A: Splash guard (fender) - even though I have Never heard of FENDER in any context other than ... oh, wait, do the FENDERs go over the wheels of a car (or other wheeled vehicle)? I somehow always conflated the FENDER and the bumper, I think. They seem, however, to be the part of the body that forms the wheel well - adjacent to but not the same thing as the bumper. FENDER also makes guitars, an instrument favored by Freddie FENDER, I think.

38A: Head (lav)
6D: Like the Mikado and Nanki-Poo (oriental)

These answers are both disturbing, in very different ways. First, I hate all toilet-related imagery in my puzzle. I'm tolerant of lots and lots of dirty, crazy, even outright offensive stuff, as long as it doesn't involve the toilet. Does not pass my breakfast table test. Speaking of toilets, I can barely look at "Nanki-poo," for multiple reasons. You might have properly changed ORIENTAL to ORIENTALIST, in the sense of "at least vaguely racist caricatures of Asian people." My little college had a big kerfuffle over a production of "The Mikado" because some people (one professor in particular) found the play offensive and so did not want it performed on campus. She got a number of well-meaning liberal kids to agree with her. I always love the delicious irony of liberals advocating censorship. Anyway, it was the very early 90's, when "Political Correctness" was all still so innocent, somehow - the very phrase was not in the popular lexicon, and was used only (as far as I knew) among us bleeding-heart liberal kids as a way of checking our own self-righteousness. I still cringe every time I see / hear "P.C." or any of its variants (UN-PC, for instance, from a couple of puzzles back). It's become a meaningless term used by assholes who don't want to hear about anyone's problems (but their own). Some other ORIENTAL - ick, let's just say ASIAN - answers in the grid:

62A: Island shared by two countries (Timor)
63A: Eastern queen (Rani)
25D: Red River city (Hanoi)

Now back to good ol' American fill!

20A: Comment of abandon ("What the heck!")
37A: 1960's TV dog (Astro)
43A: High-waisted ... to the extreme! (leggiest)

[Actually, I repunctuated that last clue to make it sound like a Mountain Dew ad - sorry.]

These answers are all beautifully dated. WHAT THE HECK is a "comment of abandon," I suppose, if you are Elroy Jetson (owner of ASTRO). Most people nowadays would change either the last two letters of HECK to -LL, or the first two letters to FU-. LEGGIEST is hot (in an old-fashioned way) and just makes me wish there was more language from 1930's crime movies in the grid, like DAMES and COPPERS and GAMS.

There's some Old Skool crossword fill in today's grid, including ESME (58D: Salinger dedicatee) and CERF (21D: Early "What's My Line?" panelist) - Maleska-era gimmes. Shortz-era gimmes include PENH (2D: Phnom _____), RENEE (16A: Girl's name meaning "born again"), SFO (26A: W. Coast airport - though it coulda been LAX, I guess), and OSCAR (19A: 8 1/2-pound statue - timely, what with the OSCAR ceremony being held this Sunday). The deep SW of this grid had some iffy fill and cluing: 49D: No longer working for the Company (ex-CIA) seems like a jerryrigged term, but it gets nearly a million Google hits ... and I kinda like it, on further inspection. I do not, however, like ATOMS for 50D: Smithereens. I get it - very small particles. But would they really be used synonymously? Did people used to say "I'll blow this place to ATOMS!?" Maybe on that episode of "The Jetsons" where Elroy and ASTRO get heavy into drugs, causing them to turn to crime and hold an entire shopping mall hostage unless their ransom demands are met. ATOMS is just more in keep with the whole futuristic space theme of the show than "Smithereens." The SW is ultimately redeemed, however, by BEETS (48D: Common sugar source), which used to make me think of my wife, who is the only person I know who likes them. Now it also makes me think of Dwight Schrute, who owns a BEET farm with his cousin Mose. Since I like my wife and I like Dwight, I now like BEETS (the word, not the actual plant, gross).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Feb. 22, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Solving time: 12:19 (on paper)

THEME: 52A: Like 20-, 25- and 43-Across? (Commercial Free) - theme answers are familiar phrases with an initial AD- removed:

  • 20A: Quest for a stereotypical Jewish mother? (mission of guilt)
  • 25A: What the dry cleaner might say after losing a garment? (dress unknown)
  • 43A: Reactions to poetry? (verse effects)
DRESS UNKNOWN is a bit off. Either the whereabouts of the DRESS are UNKNOWN, or the dry cleaner is somehow lying and claiming he has never KNOWN this DRESS, but either way, the phrase does not come across as something a dry cleaner might say. That said, this theme is quite ingenious and I really enjoyed it. Got COMMERCIAL FREE before I got any of the theme answers, and knew instantly what it must mean. Took me a while (too long) to realize that all the AD's that had been removed were at the Beginning of the phrase. But I got it, and the theme answers were subsequently pretty easy to get.

This solving on paper thing is rough. I'm glad I switched now, a month before the tournament, because I Clearly need practice at paper-solving. I didn't feel like this puzzle presented much trouble, and yet my time was over 12. Ick. Oh well, there's still time.

9A: It's held in a hold (cargo)

Dear god this one gave me trouble. The only "hold" I could think of was a wrestling hold, like a half-nelson or something, so I was thinking arms ... then I thought maybe it was a rebus puzzle, and maybe it was [4 ... or fore?]ARMS. Of course the answer is not calling for a plural, so I'm not sure why my brain went where it did, but it did. This NE corner was the last thing to fall. I guessed early on, correctly, that 13D: Home of Bruce Peninsula Natl. Park was ONT (as in ONTario, right?). That helped a little. But NTEST (19A: Provocative military move, briefly) stayed out of sight for a while because "move" made me think of something a human being might do, so I kept thinking something along the lines of, I don't know, GOOSESTEPPING or SABRE-RATTLING (both far, far too long). Please see other commentaries for my feelings about NTEST / HTEST / ATEST - in short, :(

Oh, and nice to have TWO Canadian references in the NE section: not just ONT, but 9D: Losers to the Rangers for the 1994 Stanley Cup (Canucks) - I'm sure my many Canadian readers are either thrilled to see a Canadian team get some face time (during this period of American team dominance in the NHL) or they are sad because this team is clued in relation to its Losing. Poor Canada. Take your sport back! I assure you that no one down here actually wants it.

23A: A tiny bit (one iota)

Not much to say about this one except that I loved the fullness of it. The whole phrase, ONE IOTA, instead of just the normal, crossword-friendly IOTA. My feelings on colloquialisms are well known (i.e. I am for them ... with some notable exceptions). See also WHAT THE!? (48A: "Huh...?!")

35A: Author who inspired a Baltimore team's nickname (Poe)

The team in question is the Baltimore Ravens (NFL), in case you didn't know. This clue represents one possible weakness I have when solving on paper - my eye wanders over the page, and when it alights on a clue it knows, it wants me to go there, even if I'm in a groove and breaking down some other part of the puzzle. I actually stopped whatever I was hacking away at when I saw this clue, just so I could fill it in, instead of keeping up my rhythm and being patient.

28D: Word with black or fire (opal)

I finished this puzzle, walked into my bedroom, curled up with yet another NYT puzzle (from a giant book of them with some marathon runner on the cover crossing a finish line) and soon found that the puzzle in the book had this exact clue / answer pairing. Weird coincidence. That's all I have to say about that.

36A: Stuns (zaps)
56D: "Pow!" ("Bam!")

Now here's a subtheme I can really enjoy: comic book sounds! Thank god for ZAPS, as I never would have gotten "Z" cross without it: 31D: Sea of _____ between Russia and Ukraine (Azov). Hey, isn't Ukraine where LVOV is? Yes, but it's on the other (western) side from the Sea of AZOV, which is that little pouch of a sea on top of the Black Sea. Good to know.

6D: Some rings (arenas)
7D: Scrubbed (nogo)

8D: Anachronism, e.g. (goof)

These are all the Downs in the far North or "Fargo" portion of the puzzle. Despite having the first three letters of all of them very quickly, NOGO was the only one that would behave (btw, are you taunting me with the I GO, GIGO, NOGO - type clues? Every day...). I would like to know that someone, somewhere out there had AREOLA or some desperate made-up version of the word for [Some rings]. AREOLI!? For some reason, even with GOO- in place I could not think of an [Anachronism, e.g.] as a GOOF. Needed the cross to see the semi-obvious.

63A: George Strait's "All My _____ Live in Texas" (Exs)

I was just rereading an old blog entry wherein I commented on this very answer, and how odd the spelling was. And here it is again. What's weird / sad is that in rereading that entry, I was thinking of how weird EXS looks on paper, and then for some reason with today's puzzle, I still couldn't spell it right. I wrote XES first. Stupid.

12D: Heart (gist)
55D: Heart (crux)

Again, cute. Again, stop it. Unless the repeated clues have 180-degree rotational symmetry, in which case, I'll allow it.

33D: Duke it out (spar)

I thought SPARring was fake boxing. Like, practice. [Duke it out] implies actual fighting to me, so I hereby challenge the validity of this clue. I throw down the gauntlet. Nothnagel and I can [Duke it out] at some later date.

45D: Wealthy TV family (Ewings)
53D: "Thirtysomething" actor (Olin)

The first of these answers is Hot. EWINGS came to me immediately, though I suppose there are probably any number of wealthy families on TV. Something about "Dallas" is so campy and dated that I'm always happy to see it in the grid. OLIN (any relation to actress Lena OLIN?) took a while to rise to the top of my brains. Had just the "O" and had to sit patiently for a few seconds while the fog cleared and OLIN eventually presented himself. I did not watch this show much. Because I was not "thirtysomething" then. I am "thirtysomething" now. And what do I watch? "American Idol." I voted for Lakisha. What a world.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Feb. 21, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Solving time: 8:33 (on paper)

THEME: -[vowel]DDY??? - 3 long theme answers have word(s) that end -DDY in them:

  • 20A: Slangy question from a benefactor, maybe ("Who's your daddy?")
  • 36A: 1964 party song by Manfred Mann ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy")
  • 50A: Stuffy sort (old fuddy duddy)
A pretty uninspired theme, but a much better puzzle overall than yesterday's. If a theme is very hard (or awkward) to explain, as this one was, then that's a good indication it's not that strong. We don't get -DDY with all the vowels, just three of them, and one of the theme answers has just One -[vowel]DDY part, where the other two have two. Lastly, the spelling of that Manfred Mann song is very counterintuitive (which is nobody's fault but Manfred Mann's, but it needed saying).

14A: El Cid, to Spaniards (hero)

If this had been [El Cid, e.g.], I would have liked it better. "To Spaniards" implies that the answer is a Spanish word, and while HERO may in fact be a Spanish word, it's also an English word, so the "to Spaniards" really does nothing but muddy the waters. I was expecting something much more Spain-specific.

16A: Title girl in a 1986 Starship hit (Sara)
Storms are brewing in your eyes
Yes, it's terrible, but it beats hell out of "We Built This City on Rock 'n' Roll." PS if you really really want to make me happy, you will construct a puzzle crammed with 1986 pop culture. All of it somehow stuck to me like glue - or some worse substance, as the case may be.

23A: Prosperity (weal)

Ew. Gross word. Sounds like what little pig does when you grab it by its hind legs and take it off to become bacon. I don't believe the word WEAL is Ever used these days except perhaps in the (archaic, but still somehow in-the-language) Common WEAL. Must be related to WEALTH, right? In fact, WEALTH seems the better answer for a clue like [Prosperity]. It's like someone got lazy and couldn't be bothered to write that final "TH," and then WEAL just took on a life of its own. And so now we're stuck with a stupid, useless word that sounds like a frightened animal sound. Stupid lazy scribes.

24A: Style of shorthand, informally (Gregg's)

I feel as if we've had this before, but I didn't know it then, and I don't know it now.

42A: Cancellation (No Go)

I GO, YOU GO, We all GO for NO GO. GIGO! For a full list of NOGO-rhyming and NOGO-affiliated words, see one of the reader comments on yesterday's commentary. Oh, and we can add to that list a gigantic variant, GOO GOO (28D: Baby talk).

49A: Author Sholem (Asch)

This marks one of the first times that blogging some obscure (to me) answer has benefited me in the future. I blogged about Mr. ASCH several months back, and today I stared at A-C- and knew that I knew the answer ... and then it came to me, bam! So awesome. I mean, it's just two letters there, but I was happy to recall an answer I'd previously missed. This happened previously with AURIGA, a ridiculously obscure astronomical answer that I've seen Twice now in puzzles.

58A: Kind of artery (iliac)

A pretty specific kind of artery for a Wednesday. I somewhat resent that both ILIAL and ILIAC appear to be accepted adjectival forms. There was a Saturday puzzle a while back where the answer was ILIAL (I had originally written ILIAC), and today the answer is ILIAC (I had originally written ILIAL). Make up your minds!

41A: "Gosh" ("Aw, gee")
56A: Suffix with stink (-eroo)
60A: Highly distasteful (icky)

What are: things Dennis the Menace might say!? "AW, GEE, you StinkEROO, that's ICKY!" "Oh, don't be an OLD FUDDY DUDDY (50A)." EROO and ICKY are in the deep SW, or "San Diego" portion of the puzzle, one of two places I got a little bogged down. EROO and ICKY weren't the problem. Rather, I thought 63A: Brokerage initialism was NYSE, not NASD. Is NASD short of NASDAQ? And if so ... well, it's not that short. Did not help that I also didn't know one of the Down crosses, 48D: Earl _____, first African-American to play in the N.B.A. (Lloyd), although I feel I should have. It's Black History Month, so this clue is somewhat timely, I guess.

9D: Education (pedagogy)
31D: Ancient dweller of modern Iran (Mede)

PEDAGOGY is one of those academic buzzwords that I have to live with every day of my life, so that was easy. No one can just say "teaching" any more. Ugh. Anyway, I first learned about MEDEs not as a student, but as a teacher, i.e. through my PEDAGOGY - as a T.A. in a very very massive Great Books course, which all Honors freshmen were required to take at Michigan. I think there are MEDEs in Herodotus. Yes, there are.

45D: Excites, with "up" (psychs)

Man that's a hard word to see with only partial fill in place. The "C" is from ILIAC, so you can see why I was wondering which version of that adjective was right - I couldn't think of any words that ended -YCHS. Trust me, if PSYCHS is not in your head, as it is now, -YCHS just looks nuts, and if you're not entirely sure of the letters, then you start second-guessing yourself. Sholem ASCH gave me the "S," which made the answer obvious, but only after much time-wasting struggle.

51D: 1997 Peter Fonda title role (Ulee)
52D: Naturalist Fossey (Dian)

Crossword constructors everywhere should pay annual homage to Ms. Fossey and Mr. ULEE, as they represent some of the crutchiest, get-you-out-of-a-jam, what-can-I-fit-here four-word fill around. Very Pantheonic. ULEE is just an ugly (UGLEE) word, though, so I won't let it in the Pantheon. As for DIAN ... we'll see.

3D: Bowed, in music (arco)

ARCO is the first word I ever learned from my daughter. The first puzzle-worthy word, anyway. Needless to say, she is taking violin lessons. Since learning ARCO, I have used it at least twice in crosswords. Lesson: pay attention to 6-yr-olds! There's wisdom in between the crazy stories about monkeys and princesses.

65A: Cries during a bikini waxing? (yows)

Um ... why is there a question mark in this clue? It's pretty literal.

And lastly:

11D: "The Company of Women" author, 1980 (Mary Gordon)

Nope. Never heard of her. Sounds like a title that I would have seen on my mom's (massive) bookshelves back in the day, like Nora Ephron's Scribble Scribble and Gail Sheehy's Passages - why those are the very first books that leap to mind, I have no idea.

Have a nice day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Feb. 20, 2007 - Jonathan Gersch

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Solving time: just over 8 (on paper)

THEME: SIDNEY POITIER (47A: Actor born Feb. 20, 1927) - lots of theme answers related to "47A"

Happy Birthday, Sidney Poitier. You are a fine actor. That said, I hated this puzzle. I mean, viscerally. I resented it. This was Thursday-hard for me, with many answers I didn't know or had never heard of. Also, there is some crap cluing. I actually froze and had that free-fall feeling that usually occurs only in Thursday+ puzzles. Thoroughly unpleasant. Old people will probably have loved it, as POITIER's career will have reminded them of their youth. Me, no. No no no. Would have liked it, Maybe, on a Thursday. Today, just rotten.

Luckily for you (and me), I have no time to write extensively on a Tuesday morning, so just the highlights (or lowlights).

  • 1A: _____ Island, Bahamas, boyhood home of 47A (Cat) - right away, I'm annoyed. Never heard of CAT Island. What a stupid name for an island. And I know it's considered a constructing feat to cram in as many theme answers as possible, but could you make them good answers? Thanks.
  • 7D: Gallery (loft) - what? WHAT? These are synonymous now? A GALLERY is where I go to see art, and a LOFT is where a farmer puts hay. Or maybe where one lives, if one is a pretentious urbanite.
The following are ALL from the NE section of the grid! (If my initial flat-out guess of REAGAN - 19A: President with an airport named after him - hadn't been right, I think I'd still be working on the NE)
  • 8A: Brook sound (murmur) - Brooks BABBLE. They MURMUR only in Wordsworth poems. I resent this stupid trap, especially on a Tuesday. You clearly know who R.E.M is (52A: Michael Stipe's band), so why the @#$#@ couldn't you have clued 8A as [52A's debut album]?????!
  • 21A: Autobiography of 47A: ("This Life") - Oh, of course, I read it often. Come on!!!! Again, no offense to Mr. Poitier, but this is rank obscurity - made worse by the fact that 11D: Gift givers (Magi) did not end in "S," as most plurals do, so I had "S" where the "I" in LIFE should have been.
  • 16A: Discomfort (unease) - I just hate this word. It's legal, but icky
  • 8D: Classic cigar brand (muriel) - Again, what? MURIEL's a lady's name. EL ROPO is better known to me than MURIEL.
So the NE was the worst of all trouble spots in this puzzle for me. Even the stuff I had no problem with, such as 9D: Intl. grp. for which 47A was named an ambassador (UNESCO), seemed a bit recherché for a Tuesday.

More junk:

35A: Computer acronym about faulty data (GIGO) - a distant cousin of the ridiculous "I GO," I presume. Maybe I've heard of this "acronym" somewhere, sometime, but if so, I can't recall. Yuck.
28A: Film starring 47A with a chart-topping title song ("To Sir With Love") - I enjoyed this film, and got this answer quickly. I love the song, which, to complete the R.E.M. (52A) trifecta in this puzzle, was sung (and recorded) live as a duet by Natalie Merchant and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe at an inaugural celebration for President Clinton in 1993.
44A: Bamako's land (Mali) - whatever you say! This answer intersects the very, very lazy III (40D: Afternoon hour on a sundial) - see yesterday's MLII for a similar crappy use of Roman numerals.
54A: Debut film for 47A ("No Way Out") - does anyone Really know these answers? Or did you have to piece them together from crosses and inference like me!?! NO WAY OUT is a Kevin Costner film, as far as I know.

Here's a cutesy cluing technique I'm not that fond of - clue repetition:

50D: Relative of an ostrich (emu)
59A: Relative of an ostrich (rhea)

When asked what a RHEA is, my wife said, immediately, "It's a kind of a bird that looks a little bit like an ostrich." So somebody's heard of it. Not me. RHEA is the mother of the gods in Greek mythology, as far as I know. I claim that RHEA is Thursday fill, or Tuesday fill if the rest of the fill in the Tuesday grid is normal Tuesday level.

63A: Kind of acid used in bleaches (oxalic) - I give up. Puzzle wins. I cry "uncle." All this odd, off, difficult, yet not exciting fill has worn me down. I'm happy to say, though, per my many discussions of @#$#-ing European rivers, that I nailed OISE (69A: River to the Seine) with just the "O"; no great accomplishment for most people, perhaps, but it felt like a stroke of solving genius compared to most of my efforts in this grid.

I know I'm griping like a guy who couldn't even finish the puzzle, when technically I completed it in a vaguely respectable time. And like I said, most of my griping is a day-of-the-week thing. I have Tuesday expectations - I don't mind a snag or challenge, but solving this puzzle felt like slogging through mud. Possibly the hardest Tuesday puzzle I've done since I started blogging - oh, I take it back. I think the PFUI puzzle was a Tuesday. Maybe Tuesday is just a tricky day to get right - or there's just something wrong with me on Tuesdays. Who knows? Must go.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Feb. 19, 2007 - Andrea C. Michaels

Monday, February 19, 2007

Solving time: 3:51

THEME: X-Y-X - three-word phrases, wherein the third word is a repetition of the first word, e.g. 20A: 007's introduction (Bond, James Bond)

An easy and rather listless theme, though I do like BOND, JAMES BOND as an answer. Did I mention how great the new Bond is? A very bad HOMBRE (1D: Man of La Mancha). The other two theme answers are:

36A: Embroidered sampler phrase (Home Sweet Home)
54A: Repeatedly (time after time)

For the record, these two answers could have been clued in a way far more entertaining to yours truly, which is to say, via 1980's pop music. Let's see, for 36A, how 'bout [Motley Crüe anthem] and for 54A, [Cyndi Lauper ballad]. If only some some novelty act had recorded a song in the 80's about James Bond, I could have hit the recluing Jackpot.

1A: "Survivor" shelter (hut)

Two things. First of all, I wouldn't call what most of them live in HUTs - HUT implies a far more completed and somewhat less porous structure than anything I've seen on "Survivor." Second, my wife can tell you if I'm correct about HUTS because she is a ... devotee ... of the show. Every season I vow not to get dragged back in to "Survivor" drama, but then inevitably, about mid-season, I'm getting roped in. So far, in this new season, I'm staying strong. But it's probably just a matter of time before it sucks me in and TAINTS (3D: Contaminates) my very soul, once more.

12A: October birthstone (Opal)

Here's something weird. I know this answer because my stepsister's birthday is in October, and for some reason the fact that OPAL was her birthstone has somehow stuck in my head. I could not tell you the birthstone of anyone else in my family. In fact, I'm hard pressed to name any other birthstones. Oooh, I think TOPAZ is one. BERYL? SARD? Seriously, I know birthstones like I know European rivers.

23A: Dustin's role in "Midnight Cowboy"

Really wish I'd actually seen this clue, as I love this movie. I like to say variations on "Hey, I'm walkin' here!" when crossing the street in front of impatient cars, or just generally walking around, anywhere, to whoever will listen. There's a nice little movie pile-up going in the NW, with RATSO just underneath BOND, JAMES BOND and intersecting JODIE (21D: "Panic Room" actress Foster). Speaking of Panic Room, I am very excited to see the new movie by "Panic Room" director [insert name here]: Zodiac. I normally hate serial killer movies, but this one has three great actors in it (Robert Downey, Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, and Mark Ruffalo), and the movie seems to have a sense of humor, so I'm in. Other "actors" in the puzzle include Britney Spears (10D: Britney Spears's "_____ Slave 4 U" (I'm a) - one of the least savory clues of all time), Gwyneth Paltrow (56D: Gwyneth Paltrow title role (Emma)) and HOMER Simpson (39D: "The Simpsons" dad), star of the upcoming The Simpsons Movie, opening this July. WILLARD was a movie about a creepy rat guy - who is actually much more pleasant to think about than the guy this clue actually references: 38D: Weatherman Scott.

A few more notes before I leave this one alone: 17A: The year 1052 (MLII) is one of the laziest, weakest clues ever. Couldn't you have found some pope or emperor or something to clue it to. It's like you just gave up. I've actually never seen a Roman numeral clued so literally and directly. The Northeast, or "Bangor," section of the grid gave me much grief for a Monday. First of all, AMBIT!?! (7A: Circumference) - that's some fancy fill for a Monday. Had to get several letter from crosses before it ever occurred to me. Second, TOM!?!?! (11D: Mr. Turkey). TOM intersects AMBIT at the "T," so you can see my dilemma. When I saw [Mr. Turkey], my mind went to two places - first, advertising: I thought maybe there was a "Mr. Turkey" the same way there was a "Mr. Coffee" or "Mr. Clean." Second - Bodybuilding! Is there a "Mr. Turkey" the way there's a "Mr. Universe" or whatever? Who is from Turkey who is famous enough to be in a Monday puzzle? Answer: nobody. You call a male turkey a TOM. I am pretty sure that unless you are high or writing a children's book, you do not call him "mister." Hey, speaking of bodybuilding, wasn't Charles ATLAS (50A: Map book) a bodybuilder? Score, nice segue, Rex. The word AURAL (61A: Hearing-related) appears in the advertising literature for an on-campus talk today. Despite the fact that the talk somehow involves the awesome Stevie Wonder song "Livin' for the City," I am not going. That's just the kind of colleague I am: lazy. Actually, when people start subjecting Stevie to the deadening, dehumanizing, and smugly posturing language of contemporary theory ... well that is the kind of BAD DREAM (9D: Nightmare) I could do without. I'm gonna put Stevie on right now, and pay him proper reverence: awed silence, with occasional bouncing to the rhythm. After that, some Dr. DRE (29A: Hip-hop doc?), then maybe a Beethoven OVERTURE (37D: Orchestral intro) just to cool things down, and then full day's work (write read write read write etc.).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Feb. 18, 2007 - David Kwong and Kevan Choset

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Solving time: 21:10

THEME: "Magic words" - Theme is explained by 70A: Magic words ... or a hint to the other long answers in this puzzle ("NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T"); The word "IT" is inserted into and taken out of familiar phrases to make new, odd phrases, which are then clued, e.g. 25A: Einstein's asset (Great Brain) or 27A: Acerbic rock/folk singer (Biting Crosby).

I didn't enjoy solving this puzzle, though in the end I had to admire its cleverness as well as its architectural elegance, with the 21-letter explanatory theme answer (70A) running right through the center of the grid. I could see very early on that the theme had something to do with "IT," but it took me a Long time to get 70A, because of a mistake that I had early on, and actually never bothered to correct: 74D: Words with house or move (on the). I had IN THE (guess I saw the "house" but not the "move" part of the clue), which made 70A end -OWYOUDINT (I forget exactly how many of those other letters I had in place when I made the error) and I was thinking "is this some kind of horrible slang, some botched approximation of black slang, e.g. "O no you dint!", an expression of offended disbelief wherein DINT is a contraction of DIDN'T!?!?!?" So, as I said, I didn't get 70A until almost the very end. I just went around guessing theme answers ("put IT in or take IT out"). The whole experience felt slow, and clunky, and awkward. I got no kind of rhythm. There were times where I just stared at the grid and felt very much in free fall - THEN I spent 3-5 minutes searching for a mistake in the grid (two, it turns out - the one I already mentioned [DINT for DON'T] and another to be discussed below). And STILL my time was respectable. That is, no worse than my average Sunday.

104A: Person at court (baron)

How is this? Is this because a BARON has a court? Of his own? Like a king has a court? Or is he a person at a king's court? The "court" part of this clue seems arbitrary and off. I understand that a BARON may have a court of his own, but if you search "court" at the Wikipedia entry for BARON, the only word it hits is "courtesy," as in "courtesy title," as in a BARON without a "court" to speak of.

1D: Modern workout system (Tae Bo)

Really? Still? I haven't seen Billy Blanks on my TV screen in a while.

80D: Georgia and others, once: Abbr. (SSRs)
81D: Sen. McCarthy ally (HUAC)

It's getting very Cold War over in the "Carmel-by-the-Sea" portion of the grid. And very Abbreviated as well. Nice little sub-thematic juxtaposition.

43D: Boxer nicknamed "Hands of Stone" (Duran)
44D: Año starter (Enero)

What month was it when Sugar Ray Leonard made Roberto DURAN say "No mas!"? Was it, by chance, ENERO? No, it was NOVIEMBRE.

59D: First name in comedy (Whoopi)

Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said "comedy."

34A: Graf _____ (Spee)

The Admiral Graf SPEE was a German battleship that served in the early stages of WWII. This answer is known to me Only from crosswords, and even then, not very well; I remembered that it was S-EE, but couldn't remember what letter went in that second place. So it's time to play "Better Know Your S-EE Words"

  1. SHEE = [Irish fairy people (Var.)]
  2. SKEE = [_____-ball, arcade game]
  3. SMEE = [Hook's helper]
  4. SNEE = ["Snick or _____": knife-fighting]
  5. SPEE = see above
  6. SWEE = [Popeye's Little _____ Pea]

Problem Fill
  • 61D: Hammer user (nailer) - true enough, but such a crappy word - one of the horrible "Odd Jobs" I like to gripe about - that it would not come to me even after I had most of its letters
  • 99D: Beams (girders) - I have no idea why this answer took so long to come, as it seems quite ordinary now that I look at it. I just know that I took many, many passes at it before it came into view. I think I thought the word was a verb.
  • 6D: French film director Allégret (Marc) - didn't actually give me problems because I never saw it. Good thing, because I have Never heard of this guy.
  • 50A: Faulkner character _____ Varner (Eula) - sadly, I did see this one. No idea. Never heard of her (it's a her, right?). Why is that? Because I've read but one Faulkner novel in my entire life: As I Lay Dying - I don't remember the plot of that book, and I know next to nothing about the plots of his others. Best line from As I Lay Dying: "My mother is a fish." That is, literally, all that I remember about that book. EULA Varner is a character in The Hamlet, a novel which, I swear, I had never heard of until just now. It was made into a movie called The Long, Hot Summer in 1958, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and featuring Lee Remick as EULA Varner. If my cursory research is correct, EULA kills herself with a pistol. I guess I should have said "Spoiler Alert."
  • 41D: Word in many a Nancy Drew title (Clue) - I was happy to see the "C" there and immediately entered the obvious CASE - forgetting, of course, that CASE was already taken by The Hardy Boys (one of whom was played on TV by Parker Stevenson, as I established in a recent entry and / or comment).
  • 85D: Literally, "instruction" (Torah) - I'm embarrassed to say I had no CLUE about this answer, even with the "T" in place. Wasn't until I had the terminal -AH that it became obvious.
  • 78A: Percolate (leach) - never in my wildest dreams would I have put these two words in the same universe. STEEP seems more closely related to both of them than they are to themselves, if that pronoun pile-up makes any sense. I think LEACH is how Robin spells his name. I would have spelled it LEECH on a spelling test.
  • 125A: "_____ Dream" ("Lohengrin" piece) (Elsa's) - I blew an ELSA clue a few months back, so I sort of remembered her this time. Sort of. I should say that that ELSA clue, the one I muffed, resulted in an avalanche of hits to this website from people searching for her name. Common fare to crossword pros, a mystery to hacks (sadly, I'm still more latter than former).
  • 38D: Dagger (dirk) - a perfectly good word that was stored away in my brain from my D&D days (circa 1981). Unfortunately for me, it was stored away so well that I actually couldn't retrieve it. It wasn't 'til I got AIKMAN (62A: 1993 Super Bowl M.V.P.) that the "K" dropped into place and DIRK became visible. I like that DIRK intersects 48A: The Henry who founded the Tudor line (VII), mostly because DIRK seems like a word that would have been in common parlance in that era. Unlike now, when it's best known as the first name of the NBA's greatest German.
  • 22A: Sinatra's "Meet Me at the _____" (Copa) - My era = COPA Cabana. In the future, please clue this word via Manilow.
  • 102D: _____ Society (English debating group) (Eton) - so, so, so many ways to clue ETON, and this is what you give me. A school, a collar, "The _____ Rifles," etc. I would have preferred them all.
  • 123D: What barotrauma affects (ear) - aaargh. Simple little answer. Since a barometer measures atmospheric pressure, I figured barotrauma affected the AIR. I swear that it makes a kind of sense.
  • 115D: Citation of 1958 (Edsel) - I'm guessing that the Citation was a make of car. I think Citation is better known as a racehorse. My god, how did I know that? The weird detritus that floats around in my head... Speaking of HORSES (109A: Engine capability, slangily (horses))... that's it, just that clue, right there. I got it fast, for which I was very proud of myself, considering I know less than nothing about cars (or other things that might have engines).
Always happy to see John Kennedy TOOLE in the puzzle (47D: "A Confederacy of Dunces" author) because that novel is great. It reminds me of my mom, who gave me my first copy when I was young(er). Something about the "North Carolina" portion of the puzzle is making me happy today, specifically, the pile-up of multiple-word phrases, where IN TURN (56D: Sequentially), ON THE (74D: Words with house or move), NO SIR (75D: Polite refusal), and TWO P.M. (Soap time, maybe) all intersect ERE NOW (79A: Heretofore) and NOT SO (88A: "Baloney!") - not to mention NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T. TWO PM is precisely the time that my soap, As The World Turns, comes on. When I discuss As The World Turns with Andrew (who has been watching Way longer than I have) we abbreviate the show to ATWT - which, I forgot to mention in a recent puzzle, occurs occasionally in puzzles as an abbr. of Atomic Weight. I'd really really like to see ATWT clued with reference to the soap, which I believe would be legal, as the only sites that come up on a Google search of [ATWT] are soap-opera-related.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Feb. 17, 2007 - Robert H. Wolfe

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Solving time: don't know ... 30?

THEME: none

This puzzle was fairly difficult. Not as much scintillating fill as I'd like to see in a Saturday, and a heavier-than-normal load of made-up-sounding or otherwise barely usable words. Still, it was a reasonably pleasant experience, wherein I heroically recovered from a dreadful, long-lasting mistake on the Very First clue (1A: Facility with many schools) - which I believe HAD to be designed as a trap, given what happened to me. See below.

There is a subtle feminism to this puzzle, with the two long symmetrical Downs containing WOMAN and SISTER:

4D: Miss in a derby? (horsewoman)
26D: Sharer of both parents (full sister)

So SMARTEN UP (54A: Decorate), and be careful whom you call MANNISH (39A: Unfeminine).

The Seattle Aquarium

1A: Facility with many schools (fish farm)
8D: Pronoun for Pliny (mea)

Up in the "Seattle" region of the grid, I fell into an appropriately (for "Seattle") fishy trap. I was so proud to suss out the meaning of "schools" quite quickly (i.e. I knew the clue was going for a fish-related answer), and the best candidate for an answer in this case was, of course, AQUARIUM. I would not have entered AQUARIUM into the grid, however, if MEA, as a Down cross, had not confirmed the final M. That made AQUARIUM solid. AQUARIUM was anchored (staying nautical with my themery ... nice, huh?) further, into a near intractable position, when it turned out that the "I" gave me a very plausible IDOLIZE for the Down cross 6D: Not merely like - didn't help that the actual correct answer, ADULATE, shares three letters with IDOLIZE, but that's neither here nor there. This is all to say that "Seattle" was recalcitrant and ended up being the very last section of the puzzle to go down. Long crosses up there involved a clue/answer mixed metaphor - 13A: Way over the line (in too deep) - and a word that only a sexologist or the most pompously repulsive lothario would ever use: 16A: Further stirring (rearousal). While I'm up here (in "Seattle"), I have a question about clues with parentheses in them, e.g. 7D: Chafes (at). Now, it was my understanding that the parenthetical part would need to be added to the end of the answer to make sense. Here's an example from Thursday's puzzle - 65A: Scratched (out) => EKED. You EKE out an existence. Thus I do Not understand the use of the parenthetical in the Chafes (at) clue, because the answers is RESENTS, and nobody "RESENTS at" something. If you "chafe at" something, you RESENT it. So why not just remove the parentheses?


Here is my long list of answers that made me wince or say 'ouch' or some such equivalent unpleasant reaction:

19A: Toys, for tots (amusers) - a very cleverly worded clue, but it's deceptively over-restricted: presumably toys are AMUSERS for whoever is playing with them. This clue suggests that adults, or even older children, would be something other than AMUSEd by toys. Bemused? Who knows? I don't like that the "tots" part of the clue is there just for the catchy clue, and not for any inherent reason.
36A: Soft, transversely ribbed fabric (faille) - OK, the only reason this one made me wince was that I had never, ever heard of it and it sounded totally made-up. "Transversely ribbed ... for her pleasure?"
48A: Daring adventurer (swasher) - SWASHbuckler, yes (I think that was a word involved in yesterday's puzzle). But just SWASHER? Too close to SWISHER, not close enough to SWASHBUCKLER.
56A: Sullies (asperses) - You cast ASPERSions. You do not ASPERSE! Or, rather, you should not. I do not deny that ASPERSES is a word. Hey, is this word related to ASPS? ASPERSE should mean "to distribute asps."
10D: Like some poisoning (arsenical) - this was inferrable, but again, ouch. "That poisoning was ARSENICAL." I can't hear anyone going that :) "That was ARSENIC poisoning." Yes. I like words that could actually come out of someone's mouth. No problem with a word if it's the only word that will do, or a particularly apt word, but adjectiving for adjectiving's sake? Grumble.
11D: Go back (retrocede) - "I left my scarf in the house." "Well, you better RETROCEDE and get it!" See, the thing about scientists is that they can make any damn crazy damn entity out of various Latin parts they have lying around, and then call it a word. Is my hairline RETROCEDING? (Answer: sadly, yes, slowly but surely)
26D: Sharer of both parents (full sister) - this is a fine answer; but the whole half- / full- / step- differentiation can get on my nerves a little, in that those prefixes carry value judgments that I don't like. I never use the phrase FULL SISTER in relation to my sister. I have, however, used the phrase REAL SISTER, which, maybe, is worse.

The (far too meager) benefits of an overpriced liberal arts education

40A: _____ of Court (Inns)
- My semi-canonical English Literature education taught me this phrase somewhere along the line
46A: Supplement (codicil) - my big coup of the day. I was elated with this word came to me seemingly out of the blue, with just the final -IL in place. One of those times when you make a big guess with a fancy word and you just know that it's right. (However, cf. AQUARIUM, above)

Assorted observations

GLUM seems entirely too anticlimactic an answer to 30A: Saturnine. Eeyore is GLUM. I guess GLUM is an entirely appropriate synonym, but Saturnine makes me think of Saturn (surprisingly), either the planet or the god, so somehow I expect something bigger than merely GLUM. There were two answers (aside from a few already mentioned) that I flat-out didn't know:

21A: Mine shaft borer (trepan)
47D: Jazz singer Anderson (Ivie)

The latter wanted to be EVIE so bad that I was reconsidering my spelling of CODICIL. TREPAN is an anagram of PARENT. And PRE-TAN. And PANTER. And such and such. Ooh, and ENTRAP. That's enough anagramming. I liked that crossword stalwart ESAI (Morales) is here in a very disguised clue, 34D: Tony's player on "NYPD Blue" - very cruel to have the clue refer to a period of the show's run when no one was watching it any more. I spent many minutes trying to remember what Jimmy Smits's name was. Something about the intersection of MINCES (33D: Lessens the force of) and MANNISH (39A: Unfeminine) seems very, very right. I love the misdirection on 43A: Medical school course (ethics) - expect anatomy, get philosophy. Unlike yesterday's olde tyme film obscurities, today's 44D: "Charlie _____ Secret" (1935) (Chan's) is an answer I can really get behind. Detective fiction with an Orientalist slant (!!)? Bring it on! Not sure how to SEGUE (45D: "On a similar note," e.g.) to my final observation. So I won't bother. I'll just say it: I was very disappointed when 18A: Jude, e.g. turned out to be EPISTLE. I really, really wanted it to be OBSCURE.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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