SUNDAY, Jul. 1, 2007 - Nancy Salomon and Bill Zais

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Diamond Jubilee" - circles form a diamond, with HOME, FIRST, SECOND, and THIRD appearing in the circles that correspond to their location on a baseball diamond. Further, there are atrocious baseball puns, symmetrically arranged, in the four corners of the puzzle

This puzzle was great in terms of concept and execution, or would have have been, if not for the horrible baseball punnery. Why did you have to go and mar a perfectly good puzzle? There's such a thing as Trying Too Hard. I'm impressed, in a way, at the symmetricality of everything, but I hate cutesy wordplay like nobody's business, and having so much of it (and none of it very clever) in my Sunday puzzle was unpleasant. It was all the more annoying because, as I've said, the constructors had a very good thing going with the whole "diamond" concept.

Theme (or "base") answers:

At FIRST, we have...

  • 69A: Classic Abbott and Costello bit ("Who's on FIRST")
  • 71D: New in theaters (FIRST run)


  • 26A: Supported (SECONDed)
  • 26D: Peerless (SECOND to none)


  • 66A: Commoners (THIRD Estate)
  • 49D: Precede the cleanup spot (bat THIRD)

And at HOME...

  • 112A: "Get out of here!" ("Go HOME!")
  • 77D: Object of tornado destruction (mobile HOME)

Not sure how I feel about two of those clues being baseball-specific (seems like there should have been four - one for each base - or none). As for the baseball plays-on-words ... well, you know how I feel. Here they are:
  • 22A: Casue of some baseball errors? (field trips)
  • 23A: Texas ballplayer? (park ranger)
  • 116A: Diamond border? (grass skirt)
  • 121A: Complaint about a baseball playing area? (ground beef)
Just to get it out of the way, here's the other stuff in this puzzle I don't like:

102D: Isolate, in a way (enisle) - I know it's a word, but ... it's feeble. The only people I know who have been ENISLED are Napoleon and Ariadne.

Not that thrilled about seeing GRES (112D: Some coll. tests) and SAT (99D: Kind of score) in the grid together. . .

And now the good stuff:

  • 33D: Lack of adornment (bareness)
  • 101A: Painter's subject (nude)

Hurray for nudity in the Sunday puzzle! Which reminds me of another answer I didn't particularly care for: 50A: Hägar creator Browne (Dik). That may seem crass, but at least I didn't add WOOD (95A: Iron alternative) and LENGTHIER (16D: More protracted) to the pile.

The two 10-letter Downs in the NW are spectacular: 2D: Racecar-generated air current (slip stream) and 3D: Temporary residence (pied-à-terre). For entertaining arcana, we have 44A: 1980s Geena Davis sitcom ("Sara") and 14D: Actress Gibbs (Marla). There wasn't too much in the way of obscurity, but there were a few answers that came close, including 21A: Many an Alessandro Scarlatti work (opera seria), 86D: "John Brown's Body" poet (Benet), 36D: Trans-Siberian Railroad city (Omsk), 11D: W.W. I French fighter plane (spad) and 35D: Andy Hardy player, in 1930s-'40s film (Rooney). I have a movie poster featuring ROONEY right behind my desk chair (i.e. right behind me, right now) - he is shouting and threatening to beat me with a gun butt.

In addition to DIK, there were a number of semi-unusual names, like NGAIO (32D: Mystery writer Marsh), KUHN (114D: Former baseball commissioner), LOEW (52D: MGM co-founder) and RHEA (63D: Perlman of "Cheers").

I finished in under 20 minutes, Finally, though I should tack on two 10-second penalties because at one point my wife was looking over my shoulder and suggested that maybe DOVELETTES was NOVELETTES (125A: Longish stories) - had GDP instead of GNP at 116D: Econ. yardstick; wife also later fed me NETS (47D: Takes home) when I balked at it the first time.

Alright, I'm done.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Jun. 30, 2007 - Byron Walden

Friday, June 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: none

There's nothing like a Byron Walden puzzle. It's not just that his puzzles are uniformly good - it's that they have a very particular flavor: an unmistakable personality, identifiable at a glance, like the work of any great artist. Almost every Byron puzzle I've ever solved manages to be A. hard as hell (often right on the edge of doable), B. astonishingly daring and inventive, and C. fair. Now his tournament puzzle from 2006 is infamous and many boo-hooed that it was so hard that it was unfun. And I wasn't in the tournament then, so under tournament conditions, I might have wanted his head on a platter too. But when I solved the puzzle in question, in the privacy of my own home, I really liked it. Took me forever, and I had two wrong squares, but given the horror stories, I counted myself successful. This is all to say that anyone can make a hard puzzle (just cross two patently obscure names, and voilà), but to make one that really tests good solvers and has the added bonus of being legitimately entertaining - that's something. I mean, Really Something. Today's puzzle is not his greatest creation, but it's deeply impressive nonetheless; and if I have a few complaints (and I do), they don't come close to diminishing my appreciation for the artfulness of the puzzle as a whole.

I'll start with the weak parts: the entire SW corner is really sub-Byron (with the exception of 52A: It can keep ballfields dry (alcohol ban), which I loved). I mean, REAL ESTATE (55A: Lots to offer - good clue, btw) over TELEPHONES (57A: Bank holdings?) ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The Downs don't help much. LEELEE (41D: Sobieski of "Joan of Arc") might have been interesting if I'd never seen it in the puzzle before (I have). Had trouble getting into this corner because of the unknown-to-me IL POSTO (40A: 1961 film also known as "The Job"), but once I got in: Easy (not a word you see associated with Byron puzzles very often).

The SW is a big weak spot - but it is the Only weak spot, and the entire upper half of the puzzle is so hot that I can forgive the SW and then some. I should say that after about 5-10 minutes of trying to solve this thing, I had the saddest, sparsest grid (resembling what my scalp will surely look like in another, oh, 3 years or so). INSIDE INFO (16A: Dirt) and AMARILLO (2D: Title city in a 1983 George Strait hit) were the only 6+-letter answers I had filled in, and they were crossed by only a few meager, fossilic answers like ALER (23A: D-Ray, e.g. - good ol' ALER, first answer into the grid), OMOO (15A: Novel that ends "By noon, the island had gone down in the horizon; and all before us was the wide Pacific"), and EDEN (9D: The river Pison flowed from it). I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to get MOE'S (4D: TV tavern). That's like an opera singer failing to get ARIA. It's a "Simpsons" clue, for god's sake, and an easy one at that.

In the end, there were two key answers that gave me serious momentum. First, GUTTERBALL (18A: Alley oops - tremendous clue), which I got only when I allowed myself to consider that 7D: Polaris or Procyon might be [single letter]-STAR (in this case, F-STAR), even though I'd never heard of such a thing. F-STAR gave me the "T" that gave me GUTTERBALL, which gave me two ten-letter answers, one on top of the other - and I was on my way. The other, unexpected hero of the grid was CLARET (30A: Shade of red), which wouldn't come and wouldn't come and then just appeared to me like a revelation. It put the "R" in BRO (26D: Good bud - I had the much lamer PAL) and the first "T" in GIGGLE TEST (5D: Check for credibility, in modern lingo - which is not part of any modern lingo I've been known to use, or hear, or read). So sometimes innocuous-seeming answers can prove to be crucial moments in the solving experience.

The "W" provided by LOCAL LAW (3D: Ordinance) gave me the little nudge I needed to get the marquee answer in today's puzzle, SOW ONE'S WILD OATS (32A: Be profligate, in a way). The bottom half of the puzzle was a cinch after that, even with Obscure and Obscurer (aka AMU DARYA - 35D: Aral Sea feeder - and D'ABO - 51D: Actress Maryam) lurking in the SE corner.

Love UGLY SCENES (28D: Melees) in the grid, but the clue is too tepid and vague. Every time I look at the grid I keep wondering to myself "What the hell is a U-PLATE?" But of course it's UP LATE (44D: Burning the midnight oil), which is what I am, and so, The End.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. the 10-year-old in me just wants to add: TITI (8D: Furry tree-dweller of the Amazon)


FRIDAY, Jun. 29, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

There were a Lot of answers I did not know in this puzzle, and yet (as with all well-constructed puzzles) crosses helped me piece them all together - and in pretty decent time, too. Not great, but decent. I would have been faster, but I stopped - out of sheer frustration - after 1A: Sitcom character with a leather jacket that's now in the Smithsonian refused to be FONZIE, which I knew to be correct. ARTHUR F? FONZERELLI? What the hell? Eventually I gave up in frustration and went elsewhere, only to come back and eventually get my duh/aha moment with THE FONZ (a great answer). As you all know by now, I watched every episode of that show from about 1977-80; what you may not know: I legitimately thought THE FONZ was cool, and I remember absolutely Loving a FONZ coloring book I got as a gift for my birthday circa 1977. How badly do I wish I still had it? (A: very)

Had some trouble in the North when I put in AFFIX for the much lamer but correcter INFIX (20A: Fasten firmly). Also had no idea what the answer for the nearby 24A: Quintillionth: Prefix was (turns out, it's ATTO! Stupid math constructors with their math terms, mathing up my puzzle!). NE took a while to come together, as STEIG (8A: The New Yorker cartoonist William), while my first guess, felt iffy, and I had ARE TOO instead of ARE NOT (15A: Childish retort, ugh), which gummed things up good. Also had UNI for ISO (22A: Prefix with lateral - how many prefixes are you allowed in one puzzle? There oughta be a rule. I hereby declare the answer to be: 2). Thankfully, BAHT (25A: Thai currency) just came to me (from crossword experience, no doubt), and though I didn't have INDIA for the longest time, I did have the INK part (11D: Drawing medium), so the NE eventually gave way.

Wasn't that thrilled with 14D: Omaha and Spokane were once in it (Kentucky Derby), more for the clue (too deliberately tricky) than the answer. Really liked the crossing of another multi-K long answer, ANAKIN SKYWALKER (35A: 2002 sci-fi role for Hayden Christensen), which was the real tipping point for me in this puzzle ("Nerd!"). HELL WEEK - both the answer and the clue phrasing (13A: Taxing preinitiation period) are Fantastic. Deceptive (I was thinking of CPAs...) and yet spot-on, and nicely surprising. I've ordered many a DESK COPY (39A: Teacher's request of a publisher) and yet had to take several passes at that clue before it fell.

Stuff I didn't know:

3D: California air station where Nixon landed after resigning in 1974 (El Toro) - what a weird bit of trivia. My only experience with EL TORO = a Mexican restaurant in Fresno called "EL TORO Tambien" ("The Bull as well..." ... ???)

56A: Seat of Hillsborough County, N.H. (Nashua) - once applied for a job in N.H., so had a very vague and distant memory of this place name.

41A: Dancer Limon (Jose) - seems like something I should know; I didn't.

54A: "David _____" (1934 Will Rogers film) ("Harum") - because [Procul _____] and [_____ Scarum] would have been too easy, I guess.

25D: Player of Dr. Kiley on "Marcus Welby, M.D." (Brolin) - going deeeep into the Brolin archives for that one. Nice.

58A: Nintendo game with exercises for mental acuity (Brain Age) - never heard of it. Completely inferrable, though, which I appreciated.

55D: "As I Lay Dying" character (Anse) - OK I know I've blogged this before, so it's weird to complain, but I remembered only about 3/4 of this answer. Between ANSE and EULA, Faulkner gets on my nerves.

Now the stuff I really liked: NL WEST (29D: Giants are in it) beats hell out of the more typical NL'ER. I love "Nancy" - it's super-genius comic art - so was happy to see SLUGGO (46D: Ernie Bushmiller comics character) in the puzzle. Q*BERT (52A: Classic arcade game character who hopped around a pyramid) brings back happy memories of playing video games in the 80's. We had a home version of Q*BERT for our Intellivision system. I'm pretty sure my sister was better than I was. 5D: Mouse catchers (owls) was nice in that the answer was not CATS. We recently saw an owl on one of our walks in the woods - it was pretty awe-inspiring.

I swam - like, for exercise, at the gym - for the first time ever today, and it is the first time I've ever considered the possibility of buying SPEEDOS (63A: Some shorts) - the other (i.e. real) swimmers wore them; I don't quite have the body for them, but if I keep swimming ... no, it's not going to work. I guess if I wore them EXCLUSIVELY for gym swimming, that might be OK. All the non-swimmer guys at the gym are pretty lumpy, so I can probably get away with it. PS swimming is @#$#-ing hard. I am in decent shape - I'm lean, I eat well, I do some form of exercise nearly every day ... and I was winded after four laps.

I don't think I understand NEO as the answer to 6D: Latin leader?, but NEO looks like a prefix so I'm going to have to call a violation of my recently instituted prefix rule. Ten points from Gryffindor!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Jun. 28, 2007 - Joseph Crowley

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Colorful" - five Looooooong theme answers: four contain colors and the fifth contains the word RAINBOW

I loved this puzzle, though it was the easiest Thursday puzzle I've solved in a long time (7 minutes flat, which is pretty fast for me). I can't remember seeing a puzzle where the great majority (here, 80%) of the theme answers were 15 letters long. Amazing. And stacked in two stacks of two, no less. Stacked, I say! Fabulous. And even with such heavy theme demands, the puzzle does not suffer in its non-theme fill - all fine entries, a little on the easy side, with only one answer I'd never seen before. My favorite crossing in the puzzle, for no explainable reason, is RABBI (28D: Harry Kemelman sleuth David Small, e.g.) v. BJORK (42A: Oscar-nominated Icelandic singer). Favorite misparsing: I SOUR (for IS OUR - 33A: "A Mighty Fortress _____ God" (hymn)).

Theme answers:

  • 14A: Colorful opening course (mixed green salad)
  • 17A: Colorful spread (orange marmalade)
  • 37A: With 39-Across, colorful dessert (rainbow / sherbet)
  • 61A: Colorful breakfast food (blueberry muffin)
  • 64A: Colorful entree (red beans and rice)
I started the puzzle strong, guessing (correctly) on 1A: Greta Garbo, by birth (Swede) and easily getting the next answer over, 6A: Title name after the lyric "What's it all about when you sort it out" ("Alfie") - I'm a big Burt Bachrach fan (see also my affection for DION(N)E Warwick, below). Remind me to tell you about seeing him in concert a few years ago in Minnesota. . .

I tripped over FER (8D: _____-de-lance) thinking it was FEU (!?). LEASERS (7D: Not owners) and I WON'T (33D: Obstreperous child) both felt very wrong, but ended up working out. I loved seeing DWEEB (45D: Nerd), and, being one, got it with no crosses. For once I was able to handle a moon of Saturn with relatively little difficulty. I like DIONE (45A: Moon of Saturn) because it resembles two of my favorite singers, DIONNE (Warwick) and DION. Never ever heard of REVERSI (43D: Game on an 8 x 8 board), but it sounds and looks nice, and considering there are no other obscurities in this puzzle, I'll accept it. And though ESAU (10D: "_____ Wood would saw wood..." (part of a classic tongue twister)) is tired, ENOS (19A: "The Dukes of Hazzard" deputy) is never unwelcome, as you know. Actually, that ESAU clue is the most entertaining, and possibly the most desperate, attempt I've ever seen to spruce up decrepit fill.

That is all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Jun. 27, 2007 - Barbara Olson

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "MIDDLE MAN" - 34A: Go-between, and a clue to 17-, 24-, 49- and 57-Across
; MAN appears in the "middle" of four theme answers

The theme is cute. Not mind-blowing, but cute. The simple fact of having "MAN" in the "middle" of the answer doesn't offer much coherence, or excitement. But there's cleverness here, which I suppose is something.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Newts and such (salaMANders)
  • 24A: Take apart (disMANtle) - how about [Run down Mickey?]
  • 49A: Salon job (perMANent) - least interesting theme answer
  • 57A: Locale of Uhuru Peak (KiliMANjaro) - best of the lot

I have one major objection to this puzzle - it broke one of the unwritten rules (which I wrote, in my head) of crossword constructions: supremely uncommon names must not cross (unless one of those names is Very well known). And while I'm sure there are people out there who knew one or both of the names in question, that's really neither here nor there. These two names should not cross:

18D: Actress Powers of "Cyrano de Bergerac" (Mala)
23A: Senior Saarinen (Eliel)

I know EERO Saarinen, of course, but could not retrieve the "Senior" one, even with four letters. Why would you name a woman "MALA" - sounds like it means "BAD." Wanted MARA or MATA or even MANA. These names are not only odd, and their celebrity status somewhat dubious, but they are both from way back in the mid- and early 20th century. So there's lots of reasons to protest here. Of course, if you knew even one of these names instinctively, then what do you care? I'm just trying to lay out a basic principle here.

Took me far too long to figure out BOER (1A: Great Trek participant of the 1830s) - I took at least two passes at it and by the time I got it, I already had three letters. ASSTDA (5A: Courtroom fig.) looks insane in the grid. I does not look half as insane, however, as AGSTDA, which is what I had for the brief period when I had GOD as the answer to 6D: Trinity member (Son).

28A: In groups (elites) threw me, as I'm sure it was supposed to.

What kind of an idiot says "Dare me!" (9D: Risktaker's challenge)? "I dare you" is a common challenge, but "Dare me!" - no; if you are a risktaker of any merit, then you will take the risk on your own without requiring some perfunctory dare. Childish - just like the tiresome playground-speak of 7D: "Me too" ("So do I"). Actually, that's pretty ordinary-speak, but somehow still smacks of the playground-retort-type clue we see so often in puzzles.

Please tell me PORTA Potti is not what it sounds like (52A: _____ Potti).

OREG (61A: Neighbor of Wash.) is pretty useless as abbreviations go - you have only two more letters to go. What's your rush? I've seen OR and even ORE more than I've seen this four-letter clunker.

LOD (59A: Israeli airport city) sounds made up ... and "airport city?" Is NYC an American "airport city?" Or is Tulsa, for that matter? I like SEA DOGS (43D: Old salts) because it's the name of a minor league team that occasionally comes to town - speaking of minor league teams, the Indians' minor league team came into my gym today and used all the stationary bikes surrounding me as a warm-up for their work-outs. One of them had the Indian "I" on the back of his shirt, but I didn't know they were the farm team until I saw the bus outside with a giant Chief Wahoo on it.

THE SPOT (38D: X marks it) and CON JOB (48D: Swindler's work) are today's best answers.

That's all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Jun. 26, 2007 - Ray Fontenot

Monday, June 25, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "All-Day Film Festival" - four theme answers contain words that refer to various parts of the day, progressing from "SUNRISE" to "SUNSET"

This was the easiest puzzle I've done in a while. Had exactly the same time as I did on yesterday's puzzle - which makes it a near-record Tuesday time. Liked the theme a lot - hell of a lot better than yesterday's grammatical disaster. I had never even heard of two of the four movies involved - in fact, I'd never heard of two of the seven-letter answers either - and yet I still enjoyed myself.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: First showing at an all-day film festival? (1988) ("Tequila SUNRISE") - I feel that this movie was terrible, but I may be getting it confused with the Redford/Pfeiffer movie where she plays a reporter ... "Up Close and Personal"
  • 25A: Second showing (1970) ("Red Sky at MORNING") - Never heard of it. The Fixx had a song called "Red Skies at Night"; I've heard of that
  • 44A: Third showing (1975) ("Dog Day AFTERNOON")
  • 49A: Final showing (2004) ("After the SUNSET") - what the hell movie is this? 2004? That just happened.

And why no reference to two very good movies, "Before Sunrise" or "Before Sunset?" And why don't the final three theme clues have "?"s after them?

I had never heard Joe DiMaggio referred to as simply (simply?) DIMAG (27D: Joltin' Joe). If you saw those letters together and had no context, I doubt you would know what the hell a DIMAG was supposed to be. Still, it's a cool, colloquial baseball answer, so I like it (even though it involves the Yankees - I can be impartial from time to time). ESAU is back in the puzzle, this time accompanied by two other four-letter words that end in "U" - ECRU (8D: Neutral shade) and FRAU (42D: Herr's mate). Oh, and MENU (60A: Beanery handout), but that's not very exotic.

Mysteries in seven letters:

15D: Self-important sorts (tin gods) - I really like the phrase a lot; just never heard it (or if I have, I forgot about it)

43D: Biblical liar (Ananias) - Hey, I just started my year-long Bible-reading marathon. We don't get to the Gospels for a long, long time (well into 2008, I'm guessing)

Not much else here to speak of. Had some wrong stuff, like GET IN instead of MOUNT (30D: Climb onto), TEN TO instead of TEN OF (29D: A little before the hour), and IRAN instead of IRAQ (3D: It includes Mesopotamia). That last one's a little embarrassing. Clearly I was going too fast to bothered with thinking very hard (no, wait, I just looked it up, and technically parts of southern IRAN are included, so not as bad an answer as I'd imagined). So it goes.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Jun. 25, 2007 - Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Opposite Options - Four theme answers are things that involve a choice between two opposing options

I have a huge problem with the wording of the theme answers. The OPTIONS are the first parts of the answers - Pass or Fail, Yes or No, On or Off ... these are sets of OPTIONS. The noun that follows these OPTIONS is technically not, itself, an OPTION, though that is how it is clued in every instance:

  • 20A: Course option (pass/fail class) - OK, you can OPT to take such a class, I guess...
  • 37A: Response option (yes/no answer) - [missed-answer buzzer sound] - first of all, the phrase "YES/NO QUESTION" is far far more in-the-language. Second, you can OPT for "yes" or you can OPT for "no," but you cannot OPT for a YES/NO ANSWER. It's just ... off.
  • 44A: Electric light option (on/off switch) - OK, here, I suppose you could have OPTED for a dimmer, but instead you OPTED for an ON/OFF SWITCH ... but that does not seem what is intended. The "option" part appears to want to refer to the either/or-ness, and here ... no. Just no no no. You can OPT to have the switch ON, or you can OPT to have it OFF. You OPT for the switch itself only if you are designing a lighting concept for the room.
  • 59A: Quiz option (true/false test) - this is the worst of them all. A "quiz" is a TEST. How can a TEST be a "Quiz option?" HOW!? Please don't tell me that you are the quiz constructor deciding from a number of different kinds of quizzes, and thus OPTING for a TRUE/FALSE one.

I guess my primary objection here is that the "option" part of the clues suggests a choice between two, as do the beginnings of every theme answer, only in NO CASE are the beginnings actually the options. I feel as if 10% of you will be with me on this, 20% will disagree, and 70% will wonder how anyone could get so exercised about clue syntax. And on a Monday, no less.

Had some trouble with:

  • 8D: Chew (on) (munch) - had the "M" and couldn't think of Anything that would fit
  • 15A: Argue against (rebut) - had the REB and blithely entered REBEL
  • 42A: Dweller along the Volga (Tatar) - wouldn't come to me at all. Had the T, then the TA, and needed the TAT before I could fill it in
  • 38D: Courtroom affirmation (oath) - had the O and could think only OYEZ (my mind = poisoned by crosswords)
  • 39D: Western U.S. gas giant (Arco) - it's been too long since I lived out west. This name rings a bell, but only faintly. I'm so used to ESSO as my go-to four-letter gas answer.
  • 56D: Outcast (leper) - I had LONER and did Not want to give it up
  • 35D: "Go fast!," to a driver ("Gun it!") - had the -NIT and could think only of STEP ON IT. For about one second I thought maybe it could be a rebus answer, with STEP somehow crammed into that one square.

Still, I had an average Monday time. Hoping for smoother puzzle action tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Jun. 24, 2007 - Eric Berlin

Relative Difficulty: Medium

THEME: "No Appointment Necessary" - circled squares inside of long theme answers spell out the names of famous doctors; 65A: Alternative title for this puzzle ("The Doctor Is In")

The only time I've ever seen a THE DOCTOR IS IN sign is in "Peanuts." That did not keep me from liking this puzzle. I did not think the circled squares spelled anything for a while because although I could see SEUSS in 23A, I could not make sense of the M, C, C, O, Y sequence embedded in 39A. Clearly I wasn't trying very hard. Even after I got that it was a name, McCOY, it took me a couple seconds to think of who the hell DOCTOR MCCOY was. "Bones!"

Theme answers:

  • 23A: Wall Street worker (SEcUritieS analySt) => SEUSS
  • 39A: Broadway's "The Producers," e.g. (MusiCal COmedY) => MCCOY
  • 50A: They might come back to haunt you (FAmoUS lasT words) => FAUST
  • 84A: Appetizers served with sauce (ShrimP cOCKtails) => SPOCK (SPOCK and MCCOY ... nice)
  • 91A: It might go in a tank (WATerSOfteNer) => WATSON
  • 109A: Elizabeth Dole once led it (DEpartMENT Of Labor) => DEMENTO (worst doctor ever)
Only a few problem areas. The first one was my own fault for not reading the clue correctly. Didn't note the plural "dogs" in 1A: Dogs named for a region of Japan and thought "the only answer I can think of is AKITA, and it doesn't fit." AKITAS, however, fit nicely; eventually. Never been in the military, so don't understand how NCO is the answer to 37D: It's below grade one: Abbr. Or is that even a military reference? SANA (78A: Yemen's capital) is one of those four-letter world capitals I always forget, like SUVA and APIA. Had to get it from crosses.

Did anyone, anywhere, ever, see "I'M NOT Rappaport" (68D: "_____ Rappaport")? I didn't. I could barely, barely retrieve it from my pop culture memory bank. That has got to be the Worst Title ever conceived for a movie.

The two real sticking points for me in this puzzle involved the following longish answers:

53D: Stinging jellyfish (sea nettle)
82D: Afternoon event (tea dance)

First, never heard of either of them. Second, the crosses were not behaving in a couple of instances. With SEA NETTLE, there was a (surprise) governmental abbreviation I couldn't retrieve at the first "E" cross: 57A: Great Society agcy. (OEO) - that's "Office of Economic Opportunity," for those of you (like me) born after the Johnson administration. Then there was the fact I couldn't spell MASERATI correctly (74A: Car that won the 1939 and '40 Indy 500). I had MASARATI (side note: I did get one Italian language answer correct: 113D: First word of Dante's "Inferno" (Nel) - helps that I teach it every year in a facing page Italian-English edition). So I tried all kinds of stuff for SEA NETTLE. With the missing E's it kept wanting to be SKANATTLE - the NY city of Skaneateles kept interfering with my thought processes.

As for TEA DANCE - I don't know. I called my wife over for a consult on this one. I had TEA DAN-- but couldn't get the last two letters because crosses wouldn't obey. Turns out the answer I had running parallel to TEA DANCE in the far SW was very wrong. 102D: Wash out (fail) - I resent this little trap, as clearly the best FA- answer for this clue is FADE, which I had firmly in place, so the final -CE from TEA DANCE wouldn't work. Wife suggested FADE might be FAIL. Wife was right. I said "TEA DANCE? Really? What's that?" Wife: "An afternoon event." Me: "Where, in Victorian novels?" Wife: "I'm pretty sure I've seen one in Jane Austen somewhere." Me: "OK, as long as we're agreed the answer is not from reality." In truth, we don't really know what a TEA DANCE is.

Weird coincidence of the day. As I've said, I'm reading my way through the Bible over the course of one year. Yesterday's assignment was Genesis 24-25, which contains the story of Jacob and (crossword stalwart) ESAU. ESAU's selling his birthright for lentils was the very last thing I read yesterday. I did the puzzle shortly thereafter and found not only 10D: Mess of pottage buyer (Esau) but 61D: 10-Down's father (Isaac). I have to say ... pottage of lentils is not a very compelling reason to sell your birthright. Couldn't the writers have come up with a more plausible motivation? I'm realizing more and more, as I read, that the Old Testament cares not for verisimilitude and psychological plausibility. Things are how they are. God didn't like Cain's offering. Why? Who knows? Noah cursed Ham for seeing him naked (or for telling his brothers he'd seen Noah naked, or for failing to cover Noah himself - it's not clear to me). Why? Guys must have seen each other naked from time to time. Was Noah embarrassed because he'd been drunk off his ass? See, I find myself wanting a STORY, but the O.T. is like "shut up and read, literature boy!" And so I read.

Think I'll read some more now.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Jun. 23, 2007 - Patrick Berry

Friday, June 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

A breezy puzzle with only a couple of snags. First answer I got was AJA (7D: 1977 double-platinum Steely Dan album) and the last answer I filled in was TOP BANANA (17A: Vaudeville bigwig), which is weird, considering they intersect. Even though AJA was first, I actually started the puzzle in earnest in the West (at 44A: Vermicide: worm :: formicide : _____ (ant)) and didn't come back to the NW until the very end: SUTRA (1D: Collection of aphorisms), AMANA (22A: _____ Colonies, started in Iowa in the 1850s), and RONDURE (8D: Circle) gave me some problems up there, but not for long.

15A: It's pictured in Van Gogh's "Starry Night Over the Rhone" (Ursa Major)

We just started watching this PBS show called something like "Simon Schama's Power of Art" and the first episode we saw was on Van Gogh. This painting was not mentioned, and at first, when I had just the "J," I was trying to think of French landmarks, like "PONT this" or "ILE DE that." Didn't realize he'd got an entire constellation in there. Impressive.

45A: City whose name means "old town" in Creek (Tulsa)

Guessed it off the "T" - glad to be right, though I'm trying to think of other five-letter "T" cities and drawing a blank. Ooh, TEMPE. There's one.

54A: _____ Henry, triple gold-medal swimmer at the 2004 Olympics (Jodie)

There was a time when I paid attention to the Olympics. I believe that time has passed. Wouldn't have guessed her (her?) name in a million years.

60A: When "anything can happen" on "The Mickey Mouse Club" (Wednesday)

All other days of the week - well, you better remember your lines and hit your marks or Walt will personally beat your ass.

10D: Easy-Bake Oven seller (Hasbro)

Got it off just the "O" - I am old enough to remember these. I feel as if my sister might have owned one. Apparently some light bulbs get hot enough to partially cook cupcakes. I can't believe there weren't burns and fires and lawsuits aplenty.

12D: "Try before you buy" products (shareware)

Best answer in the grid. Incredibly fresh and contemporary. Really impressive.

32D: Lettuce variety (cos)

COS = short for "companies," short for "Bill COSby," possibly short for "cousin" ... but lettuce? I wanted BIB, naturally.

33D: Busch of Laurel and Hardy films (Mae)

Total unknown, but by the time I read this clue I already had the -AE, so it wasn't hard to figure out.

39D: "Sliding Doors" star, 1998 (Paltrow)

Now that is how I prefer to see the highly over-rated PALTROW clued - by reference to a forgettable movie with a stupid gimmicky premise ("let's see what her life had been like if she'd caught that train..." - snore). This was a British movie and is possibly the place where PALTROW picked up her ridiculously affected speech intonations. Why does she get cast as British so often? She's barely a convincing American. Here are all the fake awards "Sliding Doors" won.

RABBIT RUN (55A: Wood-and-chicken-wire enclosure) would have been better clued as the Updike novel, as it would have then been part of a nice literary pair, sitting as it does right atop O PIONEERS (58A: First novel in Cather's "prairie trilogy").

And so to bed.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Jun. 22, 2007 - Mike Nothnagel

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: awesomeness (or, none)

I believe this is my favorite puzzle of 2007. I will have to go back and check, but it is up there, certainly top five. My initial excitement was regional in nature - I've got EZ PASS booths (1A: Tollbooth option for Northeasterners) on the interstates to the east of me and ELMIRA (1D: College in south central New York) just down the interstate to the west of me, and those two intersect at the "E" in the far NW. So nice. But then the whole grid opened up from there with a couple of fabulous, long, intersecting wildlife answers, and after that I just slowed down and savored each new clue - I had a feeling that the puzzle was going to be consistently clever and impressive, and I was not disappointed.

The wildlife answers:

  • 16A: One concerned with school activities? (marine biologist) - I know the "school" trick is pretty easy to see through, but this answer made me "ooh" nonetheless
  • 5D: Birthplace of the first giant panda in North America to survive to adulthood (San Diego Zoo) - almost wrote in SAN DIEGO, CAL, before realizing the actual, better answer. The clue is kind of morbid, in that it makes me think of dying baby pandas.

So I liked a lot of this puzzle - details below - but the one answer that really made my evening (actually it made me exclaim a profane phrase in joyful disbelief) was ... OK, I've been to Disneyland many times in my life, so when I had


for 54A: Disneyland attraction since 1955, I got frustrated, briefly, at having no clue what it could be. Then I got the "A" in the fifth position and MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE jumped into view. That's the funnest bit of fifteen-letter fill I think I've ever seen. Here's some other stuff.

23D: Cause for some fluff filling (slow news day) - I feel bad for this answer because it's superb but somewhat overshadowed by MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE, which it intersects. When SLOW NEWS DAY is your second best long answer, you know your puzzle is good.

15A: Plans named for a Delaware senator (Roth IRA's) - F@#$ing Delaware, WTF!? Back-to-back days where Delaware plays a crucial role in the puzzle - and wasn't its status as "The Diamond State" referenced in a very recent puzzle too? Anyway, this answer looks good in the grid.

19A: Itself, in a legal phrase (ipsa) - the only time I had to erase even part of an answer during this puzzle. I had IPSO.

27A: Mathematician seen on a Swiss 10-franc note (Euler) - Yesterday BUELLER, today, EULER. This guy stumped me many months back, you may remember. Not today. I nailed his ass with just the "E" in place.

39A: "Blade Runner" actress Young (Sean) - of all the Seans! HA ha. Nice to see her working again. Whatever happened to her?

42A: Cheer starter ("Sis...")

This answer amuses me. "Sis-boom-bah!" When is the last time anyone unironically cheered that cheer? This answer is fabulously old-fashioned and makes me think of Mr. Burns: "You there! Fill it up with petroleum distillate, and revulcanize my tires, posthaste!" I often hate things that are dated, but sometimes things are SO dated that they re-enter the realm of goodness. It's like with politics, when people move so far to the right that they end up on the left (and vice versa).

58A: It may sit near a jack (gas can) - spent a few seconds wondering how in the world a jack could be said to be near a GAS CAP.

12D: Link between DNA strands (base pair) - the one answer in the puzzle I flat-out didn't know. Luckily the crosses were easy enough.

17D: Books with many cross references? (bibles) - again, the trick is pretty easy to see, but that doesn't keep the answer from being delightful. My wife and I are reading the Bible, cover to cover, over the course of a year. We have a schedule and everything. We just started. It's ... fun. God does some inexplicable @#$#, though, I have to say. I felt bad for Cain, and Ham, and Hagar ... I feel like I'm not reading it right, like maybe if I read it upside-down, or by firelight or something, all would be clear. Anyway, it's fun, and I'm hoping it pays off, you know, puzzle-wise.

7A: Pennsylvania town that was the longtime home of Rolling Rock beer (Latrobe) - This puzzle has a lot of long, weirdly specific clues (à la the NY Sun). Not that I mind. As for this particular clue ... I drank a lot of Rolling Rock in grad school. The green bottles, horse head, and "33" were all somehow aesthetically pleasing to me. The beer was kind of crap.

Good night.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Jun. 21, 2007 - John Sheehan

Relative Difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Anagrams - Reverse cryptic-style puzzle, where clue is actually the answer to the problem posed by cleverly-phrased fill

OK, here's what I mean:

20A: PROSE (knotted ropes)

If you do cryptic crosswords at alll, you are familiar with this kind of cluing, where, in this case, "knotted" cues you to rearrange the letters in "ropes." Anyway, there are six of these kinds of clue/answer pairings today. Here are the other five:

28A: TORSO (tangled roots)
37A: SAP (faux pas)
39A: LEAD (bad deal)
45A: GENRES (tossed greens)
55A: BAIRNS (addled brains)

Cute enough. My favorite is FAUX PAS. That's actually the answer that clued me into the theme.

Pretty easy puzzle overall, though there were a few unknowns, and a few, er, questionable clues and bits of fill.

17A: Many a Del. registration (Corp.) - I honestly don't understand this at all. The only "Del." that comes to mind is "Delaware"

32A: 1950's-'60s American rocket (ASP) - again, no idea. I swear to you that the puzzles are skewing older in recent weeks, i.e. toward solvers who would remember @#$# like this from first-hand experience. But if that's the way the wind blows ... so blow it. I'll deal.

36A: University of New Mexico athlete (Lobo) - also, a famous TV sheriff

66A: Well-known maker of two-by-fours (Lego) - Cute. Too cute, in fact. Nobody ever called those Lego pieces "two-by-fours" (I think...), so this clue should have had a "?" appended.

48D: New Mexico town mentioned in the hit "Route 66" (Gallup) - what is it, New Mexico day? I sang much of the song in my head trying to get this answer. Didn't work. Inferred it from crosses.

61D: Dean's companion in Kerouac's "On the Road" (Sal) - ... never read it. No idea.

Enjoyed the trickiness of 5A: America's Cup, e.g. (ewer). Glad to see ARE back to its old, presentable, linking-verb self again (40D: It may come after you) - none of this "100 square meters" crap. I contend that SUABLE (49D: Ripe for a trial lawyer) is a horrible word that should never be allowed to see the light of day ever again. And that is all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Jun. 20, 2007 - Bonnie L. Gentry and Victor Fleming

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Relative difficulty: Hard

THEME: T-SQUARE - 19A: Draftsman's tool (and a hint to this puzzle's theme)

You'd think with all the free T's this puzzle would be a cinch. Not for me it wasn't. I got absolutely brutalized in the NW corner, by what I think is some (Freaky) Friday-ish fill. I also thought my far west was all screwed up, but it turns out I guessed the doctor name right, thank god. I should have known this puzzle was going to be trouble with 1A: With 1-Down, 1982 Richard Pryor/Jackie Gleason film ("The / Toy") - an answer I knew, and was proud of knowing, but one that heralded a certain willingness to go into some weird-ass territory. "The Toy" was not exactly a career-defining moment for either Gleason or Pryor. Sheesh. Then there was 3D: Old N.Y.C. lines (els) - I had no idea there were ELS anywhere outside of Chicago (or the PGA tour...). But still, I guessed it right. When I got to 14D: Gridiron formation, however, the wheels sort of came off. I watch a lot of football, and I can't remember hearing of the WINGED T formation. I sort of pieced it together from WING, but ... ugh. And then the answer that completely screwed me up - and it's painful to say this, because, in general, I love Carly Simon. But, from the same insane 80's pop culture vortex as "The Toy" comes 4D: Title guy in a 1980 Carly Simon hit (Jesse). First I had JERRY (Jerry Brown ... didn't she sing a song about Jerry Brown, or at least date Jerry Brown?). Then I had JERRE. Then I had ... nothing. I was so certain about those R's that I didn't question them. It seems to me really rare that I would have two letters wrong, both supremely plausible in the crosses:

  • 16A: "Understood!" ("Yes, I see") - this is so made-up! I had the off-yet-ballparkish YESIREE, which, once I put it in, was locked in for good. My short-lived early guess was "YES, MA'AM"
  • 18A: Iran-Contra grp. (NSC) - I @#$-ing hate governmental abbreviations. I had NRC, thinking "National Republican Committee" - forgetting that they aren't called that; they're called the "Republican National Committee." Idiot. NSC = National Security Council.
Not a lot else to say about this puzzle. Shouldn't it be called "T-SQUARES," plural? There's the square (diamond) in the middle, and then T's at the corners forming a larger, grid-sized square.


  • 20D: 1974 Medicine Nobelist George (Palade) - this seems like super-specialized knowledge? Am I wrong?
  • 10D: Iroquois and others (Amer-Indians) - how are these different from "American Indians" or "Native Americans?" And can someone please tell me why the Cleveland Indians still have smiley-Joe Redface (actual name: Chief Wahoo!) as their mascot? It's @#$-ing embarrassing. Imagine a similar caricature of a black person, or Chinese person, and you'll see what I mean. How about a compromise, where you get to keep your name, but ditch the racist caricature? Even if you hate "Political Correctness," you have to admit this red-faced toon is manifestly, objectively demeaning. I really really like the Indians as a team right now, and it's a huge distraction to have to look at that damned, insulting cartoon face every time I watch their games.
Formerly Unknown:

  • 54D: Faulkner's _____ Varner (Eula)
  • 57D: Wall St. action (LBO)

Both would have stumped me six months ago, but now I have their number(s).

I was really happy to see BUELLER (56A: Ferris in film). Right in my pop culture sweet spot (saw that movie in the theater when I was 16). Often in class, when I ask a question and get no response, I'll just start saying, in monotone, "Bueller? ... Bueller? ..." I love making about 3.5 people out of 150 laugh. 17A: Like a band of Amazons (manless) seems a little weirdly phrased to me. Is MANLESS really a word? And what if the "band" has a male captive with them? CROSS A T (52A: Attend to the final detail) also seems slightly off. First, there should be a "so to speak" on the end of the clue, as it's a metaphor - unless you are writing something in a weird style wherein you leave all i's undotted and t's uncrossed til the end. Second, the "A" is odd. It's so, well, indefinite (which I believe is why they call it an "indefinite article"). I had trouble with ACETIC (36A: Like vinegar) because sciencey words are hard for me to a. remember, and b. spell. Finally, the best answer in the grid, and possibly the best answer of June, is 41D: "_____ Cheerleaders" (1977 film) ("Satan's") - because it's shamelessly obscure, because it's supremely trashy, and because it picks up on a mini-highschool/college theme in this puzzle (with BUELLER, ALGEBRA, ELI, ESSAY, and TPS).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Jun. 19, 2007 - John Underwood

Monday, June 18, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Hard

THEME: Campus Compass Points - four theme answers are homes of colleges, with NORTH, WEST, SOUTH, and EAST in their names, respectively; further, every answer is a city followed by a two-letter state code

Didn't see the compass point aspect of this puzzle until about two minutes ago. I found the whole puzzle a bit befuddling - doable, but full of all sorts of weirdness. I'm including the theme in the "weirdness," as there are three different features that link them all, though technically only one of those features is the theme, I guess. We have the compass points, plus the college/university angle, plus the state code angle. Kind of a mess, conceptually, though I like the way the city+state code looks in the grid.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Home of Smith College (Northampton, MA)
  • 29A: Home of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point, NY)
  • 44A: Home of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN)
  • 52A: Home of Michigan State (East Lansing, MI)

Having spent 8 years of my life at a major university in the midwest, I got the last two of these answers immediately. For some reason WEST POINT, NY took a while to come together, and NORTHAMPTON, MA was not familiar to me (though inferrable with a few crosses).

But on top of the theme weirdness, there are plenty of INSANE (47D: Ready for the rubber room) non-theme answers. Let's start with:

26A: 100 square meters (are)

I was dead certain this was wrong. ARE??? Talk about dressing a toad up in a tux and teaching it to dance ... WTF? ARE is a linking verb. The fact that it also has this esoteric meaning in some farming quarters does not mean I should be subjected to said meaning. When I finished the puzzle, I actually Googled ALONSO (26D: "The Tempest" king) to make sure I'd remembered my high school Shakespeare accurately, and thus that the "A" cross on ARE was correct. It was. ARE! Man oh man.

41A: Unicorn in a 1998 movie (Nico)

Again, huh? It's Tuesday and you're giving me unicorn movies Nobody Has Heard Of!? I for one would like to see NICO killed and burned to ashes, so that we can return him to the URN from which he apparently escaped. NICO's one virtue is that it rhymes with BIKO (9D: Steven _____, real-life subject of the 1987 film "Cry Freedom")

25D: Colorist's vessel (dye pot)

This sounds medieval. Do modern colorists really call their "vessels" DYE POTs? It's a super-ugly phrase.

11D: Former lovers, e.g. (ex-partners)

Not fond of this one, mainly because the answer is not a very in-the-language phrase. [Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter, e.g.] might have made this answer work. For me.

6D: Mingo player on "Daniel Boone" (Ed Ames)

Where do I begin. After I stopped laughing at the very word "Mingo," I realized I would never get this without crosses. I've seen ED AMES in the puzzle before, which is the only reason I was able to fill his name in. "Daniel Boone!?!" Oh sure, I used to watch that when I was negative 10 years old.

34D: Nova _____ (Scotian)

SCOTIAN? I can't recall seeing a partial used this way, where the missing part is modified to a less-used, less common part of speech. Kind of icky. Gettable, but :(

46D: Naysayer (denier)

The clue - you'd use that word. The answer - no, not so much.

Took me forever to get EARED (23A: Flop or lop follower) and I balked at the cluing on REGALE (5D: Wine and dine). I always think of REGALE in the context of story-telling, as in "so and so REGALEd us with stories of his time on the high seas" or whatever.

On the brighter side, there is a handful of hot fill in this grid. I especially like the bad movies, including AEON FLUX (61A: With 64-Across, 2005 Charlize Theron title role) - never saw it, but I own the comic book tie-in that came out around the same time ... for some reason - and "Blame it ON RIO" (49A: "Blame it _____" (Michael Caine film)), which I watched many times on HBO in the early-mid 80s. It had breasts in it. I was 14. Now you know.

Lastly, I commend the near juxtaposition of PLANETARIA (59A: Sites for stargazers) and SPHERE (66A: Ball).

Good night / morning.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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