WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31, 2007 - Ken Stern

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Trick or Treat - rebus puzzle where six different squares function as both "TRICK" and "TREAT" - one way on the Across, the other way on the Down

This puzzle is genius. It's a bit on the easy side for a Wednesday - far easier than yesterday's puzzle - and there's a couple of minor structural weaknesses, which I'll get to, but overall, I was blown away by this puzzle's theme. Seems an incredibly difficult feat to pull off, especially considering that the rest of the grid was not compromised at all by the strictures of the theme. Very nice work.

Only annoyances, and they probably couldn't be helped:

1. Near symmetry - I like symmetrical, and I like asymmetrical, but there's this phenomenon of near symmetry that bugs me the way a slightly tilted picture hanging on a wall bugs me. Here, the theme squares are symmetrical in the middle, symmetrical in the NW and SE, and then ... not, in the NE and SW. There's some attempt made at balance, with both theme squares being three columns in, and at the bottom of their respective answers. But that's not quite the same as perfect rotational symmetry. Again, I can't complain much - I'm just sayin'...

2. I prefer when the theme words - here, TRICK and TREAT - are integrated into theme answers in ways that are not literal, i.e. non-TRICK and non-TREAT contexts, i.e. PEACE [TREAT]Y has nothing to do with a TREAT. This appears to be hard to do with TRICK, as both CARD [TRICK] and [TRICK]S OF THE TRADE pretty much take trick literally. I don't mind literalness in the central theme answer, [TRICK] OR [TREAT], but elsewhere, I would have preferred that the literal meaning of those words be lost / buried in the theme answers. Again, this criticism couldn't be more minor if it tried. I'm just sayin'...

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Professional secrets ([trick]s of the trade)
  • 4D: Stain looseners on washday (pre-[treat]ments)

  • 11D: Mid-March honoree (St Pa[trick])
  • 27A: Off-site meetings, mabe (re[treat]s) - this threw me because ST PAT is frequently the complete answer for [Mid-March honoree], so until I got the theme, I had to wonder what the hell kind of crap business lingo RETS was.

  • 33A: Formal discourse ([treat]ise)
  • 33D: Something said while holding a bag ([trick] or [treat])
  • 44A: Hockey feat (hat [trick])

  • 53A: U.N. ambassador under Reagan (Jeane Kirkpa[trick])
  • 39D: War enders (peace [treat]ies])

  • 49D: Entertainment from a magician (card [trick])
  • 65A: Plea (en[treat]y)

Quickly, the things I liked:

  • 6A: Johnny Fever's workplace, in 1970s-'80s TV (WKRP) - you could have stopped at "workplace"; that show was great.
  • 28A: Promoted, as a pawn (queened) - haven't played chess in earnest since I won the 6th grade championship in ... 1981, beating out the South African Graham Gitlin for the title (if memory serves). My other memory of that year is that lots of boys liked KISS. Not me. I was more of a Neil Diamond kind of boy (no, shockingly, I didn't get beat up every day of my life)
  • 42A: Large, at Starbucks (Venti) - so pretentious. Oh, and their coffee Su-ucks. Well, their regular coffee does, anyway. It's always burnt. Yuck.
  • 24D: Hawaiian dress (muu muu) - so many "U"s. One of my favorite "Simpsons" episodes of all time involves Homer's wearing a muu muu. He makes himself clinically obese so he can declare himself "disabled" and then work from home. His muu muu is floral. I have a toy of King-Sized Homer on a shelf in my bedroom. Inherently comical.
  • 38D: Like The Onion (satirical) - I get daily emails from them. Unfailingly funny, especially about sports. Ben Tausig edits The Onion's xword puzzle, which you should be doing, as I've said many times.
  • 46D: "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" author (Kinsey) - I have a subset of my paperback collection dedicated to books that use "Kinsey" in their cover copy as a way to lend scientific legitimacy to their efforts to peddle softcore. You'd be surprised how large this subsection of my collection is.
  • 54D: "Get Smart" org. (KAOS) - mmm, Klassic TV acronyms. Steve Carell will be playing Maxwell Smart in the movie adaptation, due out next year some time, I think.
  • 25D: Organism needing oxygen (aerobe) - here's something spooky: this word appears in the Sun puzzle today, too (it's a Patrick Blindauer puzzle, btw, and it's quite good).

Gotta go teach.

Happy Halloween.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Oct. 30, 2007 - Gary Steinmehl

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: Scary sounds - familiar phrases have their final words "misspelled" as sounds one might hear in a haunted house

Well, it was scary alright.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Scary sound from the ocean? (humpback wail)
  • 28A: Scary sound from a war zone? (battle creak)
  • 37A: Scary sound from a cornfield? (farm groan)
  • 50A: Scary sound from a steeple? (bell and howl)
  • 57A: Misspells, say, as a ghost might at 20-, 28-, 37- and 50-Across? (makes a boo boo)

I haven't disliked a Tuesday puzzle this much since the great PFUI debacle of early 2007 (see sidebar). We will name this one "The Great ARDEB debacle" and then we will never speak of it again after today. Actually, ARDEB was only the tip of the debacle iceberg.

Top 5 reasons this puzzle was terrible

5. It's a Halloween-themed puzzle. Today's date: October 30.

4. The worst set of paired answers in recent memory:

27D: _____ Irvin, classic artist for The New Yorker (Rea)
38D: Name that's an anagram of 27-Down (Rae)

First off, even though I'm almost certain he (he?) has been in the puzzle before, REA Irvin means Nothing to me. Second of all, you couldn't even bother to write a clue for RAE? Your clue is like parenthetical information in search of an actual clue. RAE is not nearly strong enough a name to be clued simply as "Name." Not by a long shot. Now, I pieced these together reasonably easily, but with absolutely no pleasure. I could handle the REA clue, but to have to be forced to return to it by the second abominable non-clue. No, that's just too much to ask of me on a Tuesday.

3. Gobs of terrible clues:

  • 11D: Helpless? (unaided) - if you're going to use the Question Mark, make the clue truly Question Marky. I understand that these are not normally considered synonyms, but one literally means "without help" ... and so does the other one.
  • 59D: Styptic agent (alum) - look, you can have "styptic" or you can have "ALUM" - pick one. I am only vaguely certain of the definition of either one. I'm looking them up now ... OK, I was right about "Styptic," but I thought ALUM was a lily, which it is not - that's ARUM (thanks for the help there, Orange). Ugh. ALUM = college grad. Try that one next Tuesday.
  • 36A: Theory's start (idea) - I HATE (62A: Abominate) this clue most of all. First, I wanted a prefix. That's what "start" often means in clues. Second ... IDEA? IDEA!? In that any thought one has is an IDEA, then sure. In that Anything One Does starts with an IDEA (besides, perhaps, fighting or flighting), then yeah, great, IDEA. How about [Brooklyn Bridge's start]. I'm sure IDEA is an accurate enough answer. This answer is hereby formally invited to go to hell.
2. One of the worst stretches for a Theme Answer I've ever seen:

50A: Scary sound from a steeple? (Bell and howl) - This was the site of my total wipeout, for a number of reasons (see especially #1, below). BELL AND HOWL = Scary SOUNDS, PLURAL. That is just ... fact. Indisputable. I sat there forEver trying to figure out what word HOWL could be a pun of. Over and over and over. Me, to myself: "It wouldn't be the proper noun "HOWELL," would it? But all the other puns are puns on actual words. Further, what is "Bell and Howell" anyway? Are they anything like Belle and Sebastian?" Etc. Actually had to look up "Bell and Howell" when all was said and done to find out that they are some company - founded in 1907 as a motion picture camera company. I have literally Never Heard Of Them. My bad, I guess, but my strident criticism of this so-called "Theme" answer stands.

1. Absurd Crutchword 5000

40D: Egyptian dry measure equal to about five-and-a-half bushels (ardeb) - more post-puzzle Googling. 32K hits total, the first handful of them dictionary sites. I haven't seen such a blatant non-word ... well, in a long time. I'd gripe about this on a Saturday (though I might grudgingly accept it as valid). On a Tuesday. No. Bite me. It's an anagram of BEARD. That's about the nicest thing I can say about it. Speaking of BEARD, I have to shave mine today - it's a World Series BEARD, and I no longer need it.

Other stuff, mostly bad:

  • 10A: TV horse introduced in 1955 ... or a Plymouth model introduced in 1956 (Fury) - I really should read the clues all the way to the end. I entered MR. ED without blinking.
  • 17A: Drug-yielding plant (coca) - don't most drugs come from plants? Spice the clue up.
  • 34A: Kodiak native (Aleut) - officially banned from the puzzle until 2008. Twice in one week = too much face time for you.
  • 53A: Tedious (prosy) - you're with ALEUT, PROSY. Twice in one year is too much for you.
  • 3D: Cane cutter (machete) - yay, a good (and scary) answer
  • 29D: Cowlick, e.g. (tuft) - I guess. In honor of Tintin, I'll let this pass.
  • 52A: Musically improvise (noodle) - had TOODLE, a misspelling of TOOTLE. That didn't help me with the whole "BELL AND HOWL" situation one bit.

Signed, R. Deb., Evil Halloween Eve Crossword Sprite


MONDAY, Oct. 29, 2007 - Fred Piscop

Monday, October 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Splitting -ATION words - words ending in "ATION" are clued as if they are in fact two words ... just look below, you'll see ...

How am I supposed to get up for a Monday puzzle write-up when I am in full-blown world Series ELATION? So much to say ... overflowing with joy ... I'll try to stick to the puzzle. But I have to say two things.

1. I have never loved a baseball team so much. With the exception of Gagne, I love this whole team. Top to bottom. Even J.D. Drew. I want to adopt Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia; I'm a little young to be their dad, but I don't care.

2. Finally the Red Sox and the Yankees have something they can openly agree about: A-Rod is a total #$@#! He is what I've said he is forever and ever, and now Yankees fans are finally, blessedly, released from the onus of having to pretend that they like the guy. [In case you don't know, A-Rod announced he was opting out of his contract with the Yankees and timed the announcement so that it would compete for media attention with news of Boston's Victory - and, here we are, six weeks later, and the Yanks took him back: enjoy your death trap, ladies!]. God bless Peter Gammons, who said the following, ON AIR, about A-Rod:

What's unfortunate here is the total disrespect for the game of baseball. This is the World Series. Dustin Pedroia and John Lester are doing something Alex Rodriguez has never done - playing in a World Series game - and to want the attention on this day is kind of a sad commentary. And it might be a little bit of a 'buyer beware,' because, again, he's never played in a World Series game - maybe there's a reason.
It's going to be hard to find a reason to hate the Yankees as much now, with A-Rod gone. I'm sure I'll think of something. That said, I'm glad NY got rid of its Curse. Develop your admittedly badass youngsters, New York! Press "Reset" and bring on 2008!

I'm listening to a Victory 2004 mix I made three years ago (to the day). I can't believe I have to teach in a couple hours. Can't I declare a holiday?

Back to the puzzle!

Did not like this theme - I had a hard time figuring out what the hell the theme even was.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Allotment of heredity units? (gene ration)
  • 10D: TV channel for golfers? (fore station)
  • 25D: Pasta-and-potato-loving country? (carbo nation)
  • 56A: Preacher's sky-high feeling? (rev elation) - that's the one I got last and the one I puzzled over the most
More shilling for evil corporations at 1A - today, it's the cigarette industry: 1A: Started a cigarette (lit up). See also the heretofore unheard-of-by-me PANATELA (29A: Slender cigar). It's also spelled with two "L"s sometimes, FYI. A couple of cool Pacific Rim answers in TONGA (3D: Kingdom east of Fiji) and TOJO (35D: Japanese P.M. during W.W. II). A couple of off-beat pop culture answers in IRENE (2D: Jim Carrey comedy "Me, Myself & _____") and OVER (52D: 1964 Dave Clark Five song "Glad All _____"). And only a couple of answers that caused me any significant annoyance:
  • 54A: Lacto-____-vegetarian (ovo) - I don't eat meat. That said, how pretentious and complicated do you have to make your dietary moniker? Just go VEGAN, if only to simplify matters grammatically. I don't need to know everything you will/won't do/don't eat. Seriously.
  • 65A: Sticky problem (poser) - I have always hated this word, in that no one says it anymore except in a kind of quaint, ironic way. To my generation (whatever that is) a POSER is a pretentious ass, perhaps someone who would call himself a "lacto-OVO-vegetarian."

I gotta return to the real world now. Seriously considering wearing my Jim Rice 1975-era jersey today ... maybe a little much. For Halloween, though, I am totally going as Jim Rice - minus the blackface that would be required for any hope of actual similitude.

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, October 28, 2007 - Ben Tausig

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Talking Heads" - theme answers are puns on the names of radio/tv talk show hosts (DONAHUE does radio now, right?)

[updated 1:00pm]

I can't write this up now - got a non-virtual life to lead this a.m. (friends, pancakes, children). So I'll get back to this around, oh, noon maybe.

I will say that I liked this puzzle. Mostly liked it. And I generally dislike puns, so that's saying something. Good to see a Tausig byline in the Times. It's been a while. Ben edits The Onion's puzzle, which you should definitely be doing if you're not already - you can get to it from "Puzzle Pointers" (see sidebar).

off to eat -- and now I'm back

Theme answers:

  • 25A: Al's impressions? (Franken sense)
  • 27A: "What did Bill do to earn this check, anyway?"? ("Why pay Maher?")
  • 48A: Bill's biography? ("Life of O'Reilly")
  • 64A: "And tonight's guest is ... Ann!"? ("You're getting Coulter!") - the best answer in the bunch. Glad it's sitting center stage. I imagine someone's saying this to an audience that has misbehaved in some way and is being punished.
  • 77A: Dance like Rush? (do the Limbaugh) - gross
  • 104A: Phoning Phil and hanging up immediately? (Donahue dare) - "Don't you dare!!"? This is bad, in that DONAHUE does not really sound like "Don't you," and in every other theme answer the pun is on the most interesting / colorful word in the original phrase, and here ... it's not.
  • 106A: Don's parting words (Imus be off now) - this phrase sounds off to me. I wanted "I MUST BE GOING" (perhaps because of the Phil Collins' album "Hello, I Must Be Going"), which, by the way, gets 18 times the hits, as a phrase, that [I must be off now] gets. I'm just sayin'. If you can handle the disturbing racial / imperial imagery of the opening part, this Groucho Marx clip is mildly entertaining]
  • 84D: What the puzzlemaker did to the name in each of this puzzle's theme answers (punned it) - this may be my favorite puzzle pun of all time. It must have been the inspiration for the entire puzzle. Brilliant.
Had two significant problems in the puzzle. The first occurred near the upper midwest, where several interlocking answers were unknown or hazy. 33D: Triple-header (razor) was mystifying me for a very long time (I love the answer, by the way), and that "Z" was the final letter in METZ (43A: Capital of Lorraine) - which I had to run through the entire alphabet to get (a long way from A . . .). Further, the last "R" in RAZOR was the first letter in RAGAS (55A: Carnatic pieces) - not knowing what "carnatic" meant, I wrote in SAGAS for a while. Yikes. I couldn't stop thinking of Carnac. And then, THEN, off that first "A" in RAGAS comes the very difficult FASCES (49D: Roman symbol of power). I've studied Rome a bit and if I've seen this word, it's been a while. Tough rough tough. Lastly, the second "S" in FASCES was an uncomfortable fit for me, as ITS seemed a supremely lame answer for 75A: "_____ time." But there it is. I liked the PETE Rose clue (32D: Red Rose) - please check out yesterday's blog, specifically, the link to the 1970s-era Aqua Velva commercial, for more entertaining PETE.

Took me an embarrassingly long time to piece together OBAMA (8A: Presidential candidate born in Hawaii), who is slowly challenging Eric BANA for the role of the 21st century's Crossword "It Boy." And I totally tanked the nearby crossing of FUJIS (21A: Japanese apples named for a mountain) and BURR (9D: Power-driven shop tool) by mysteriously writing in FIJIS / BIRR. Otherwise, mistakes and real challenges were few, which was a great relief after a couple of brutal puzzles on Friday / Saturday.

Question marks / mistakes:

  • 108D: PBS supporter (NEA) - had CPB at first (Corporation for Public Broadcasting)
  • 13D: High _____ (jinks) - why did I think this was one word?
  • 45D: Ex-Yankee Hideki (Irabu) - OK, I knew this, but omigosh this has gotta be rough for people who don't follow baseball closely. Check out his career MLB stats. Not exactly ... memorable. (I stole this from Wiki)

Hideki Irabu

Starting Pitcher

Born: May 15, 1969 (1969-05-15) (age 38)
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
July 10, 1997
for the New York Yankees
Final game
July 12, 2002
for the Texas Rangers
Career statistics
Win-Loss 34-35
Strikeouts 405
ERA 5.15
Career highlights and awards


That's right, NONE. I guess his Yankee-ness makes him fair game for a NY puzzle.

  • 47D: "The Galloping Gourmet" host Graham (Kerr) - no idea. Did he ever cook with ...
  • 59D: Mushroom with an umbrella cap (agaric) ? - this fungus is new to me.
  • 90D: With 89-Down, historic part of NW Europe (Norman / Empire) - this is not a phrase I've seen used. I teach about the Norman Invasion a lot (important moment in history of the English language), but not about the NORMAN EMPIRE. Was it really an EMPIRE?
  • 92D: Rabbi's instrument (shofar) - don't get rabbinical with me. You know how ignorant I am. Ugh.
  • 57D: Pedicab alternative (cyclo) - eeks! ygrek! zed! WTF!?

Good stuff:

  • 68A: Old English bard (scop) - grad school comes in handy, for once!
  • 93A: Hawaiian staple vegetables (taros) - This word looks weird pluralized. Why? I miss Hawaii.
  • 6D: Clooney or Rooney (film star) - I shouldn't like this. Why do I like this?
  • 60D: Wrestler Flair famous for the figure four leglock (Ric) - I love this clue so much for not stopping at "Flair."
  • 82D: Arizona state flowers (saguaros) - such a great coincidence - Sahra is learning about deserts in school and is way enthralled by the saguaro, which can "grow up to fifty feet high!" I think she's exaggerating a bit, but not by much:
  • 87D: Position in a rhythm band (maracas) - got this with remarkably little help. Seemed far-fetched when I wrote it in, but it was right. Always love taking a risk and having it pay off.
  • 91D: Some seal hunters (Aleuts) - as with MARACAS, I just wrote it in instinctively, and it ended up being right. Could have been INUITS, I suppose.
  • 107D: Black pride cut, informally ('fro) - love it.
  • 103D: Set before V (RSTU) - so bad it's good.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Oct. 27, 2007 - Brendan Emmett Quigley

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

This was the hardest puzzle of the year for me. I thought I had post-yoga brain melt yesterday when I took forever to do DQ's puzzle, but now I don't know. Maybe I am in a serious slump - or I'm not eating right or sleeping enough. Whatever it is, I am off my game. This was hard to begin with, and by the time I got down to the final SE corner, it turned borderline impossible.

The one clue that annoyed me most because I picture the cluer with a smug, self-satisfied grin on his face:

45D: One who's waited upon (Godot) - now you know that once people get the "G" - from SIG EP (44A: Member of a popular college frat) - they're going to take one look at that clue and write in GUEST. When the "T" in GUEST turns out to be correct - the first letter in TOMATO RED (65A: What green might ripen into) - they're going to keep GUEST in place, naturally. And for a Long Time. For many many many minutes, my entire SE corner had only the following entries in it:

  • GUEST (wrong)
  • TOMATO RED (correct, but only because my stepmom used to drive a convertible red BMW with the license plate "TOMATO" - or was it "TOMATAH"? One of those)
  • ASK TO (48D: Provide an invitation for) (this one went in and out and in and out; the cluing on it is superlatively awkward)
  • LUNAR (49D: Kind of cycle)
  • SMILE (wrong) - actual answer is EMOTE (50D: Mug, e.g.)

I should add that originally I had BOUT for SUMO (55A: Heavyweights compete in it), and getting SUMO was a huge part of getting any traction down there. But still, I was stuck badly until I gave up SMILE. If only I had remembered SALEM (47A: Parliament rival), I don't think I would nave had Nearly as many problems. In fact, once I finally got it, the corner fell reasonably quickly. I just couldn't think of a cigarette starting in "S." And then when I had SMILE where EMOTE was supposed to be, I thought the SALEM clue might actually be SALSA ("Is there a cigarette called "SALSA?" I haven't smoked for 16 years ... maybe there are new brands...").

I just started writing a story with a couple friends (OK, students) of mine; we started with a sentence we found somewhere, and then one of us wrote a sentence and passed it to the next person, who wrote the next sentence and then passed it on, and so on. I told someone about this ridiculous project yesterday, and he said "Oh, like an EXQUISITE CORPSE." I was like "???" Never heard the term. And then last night: 39A: Classic laugh-inducing parlor game with writing or illustrations (exquisite corpse). Super-weird coincidence. Technically, I think an EXQUISITE CORPSE game involves each new contributor not really knowing much about what other contributors before him/her have done, so our story doesn't quite fit the definition. I think. To see the sentence we began with, go here and play the audio file of the sample sentence (under "Word Tutor"). If it hadn't been for the audio file, this project would never have happened. Be warned, once you play the audio file, you might want to keep playing it over and over again because of its inherent hilarity.

I would like to thank the following words, which were either gimmes, or which came out of the blue like a weird revelation. Without their help, I might still be trying to solve this @#$#!

  • 8D: Range option (Amana) - the only answer I ever considered. Came to me instantly. Our fridge is an AMANA.
  • 31D: Factory seconds: Abbr. (irrs.) - again, the only answer I considered.
  • 42A: Vintner's prefix (oen-) - gimme
  • 32A: It served the Mid-Atlantic until 1976 (Reading Railroad) - I was dying in the middle of this puzzle until the "LR" way over in the Kentucky section of the puzzle made me consider RAILROAD as a part of this answer (I had previously entertained AIRLINES) - and READING was the first RAILROAD that came to mind.
  • 62A: Sent regrets, say (RSVP'd)
  • 64A: Priceless instrument (Amati) - both of these were easy, and made the SW by far the easiest part of the puzzle.
  • 14D: Band with the highest first-week album sales in music history (*NSYNC) - Not sure if I'm ashamed or proud of how easily I got this. Came to me as readily as AMANA.
  • 24D: Some religious fundamentalists (Shiites) - kept putting it in and taking it out; for a time, this was the lone answer traversing the empty middle.

Going by quadrant: as I hated the MYSPACE clue yesterday, so I hated the 1A MARK CUBAN clue today (1A: Billionaire sports entrepreneur who heads HDNet). Quit corporatizing the clues. Yesterday at 1A we had News Corp in the clue, today HDNet. Is the puzzle taking money from sponsors now? Why are corporations getting 1A billing so often? This quadrant fell pretty easily. AMANA allowed me to guess both TIME and BAG as parts of the Across answers:

  • 15A: Within the next few minutes, potentially (at any time)
  • 17A: Case made for a shooter (camera bag) - hate the forced trickiness of the clue

Loved: ATARI (2D: Breakout maker). Did not know CYR (5D: France's Saint-_____ l'Ecole).

The NE was tough at first, but came around eventually. It's actually a nice, lively corner. I like ELFIN (10A: Like some seasonal helpers - should say, "fictional" or "mythical," but whatever) over ROLLS (16A: Some piano players) over ROILY (18A: Agitated) - lots of energy up there. Toy-making energy. I had no idea Anita LOOS was a playwright (11D: "Happy Birthday" playwright). I have a great paperback of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Behold:

All right, that pretty much covers the puzzle. Here are the smiley faces for the day:
  • 34D: Old Spice alternative (Aqua Velva) - both of these, er, "scents," will forever remind me of cheesy, possibly mustachioed men from the 70s and perhaps early 80s. [update: You must watch this now!]
  • 33D: Foreignness (exoticism) - right next to AQUA VELVA - these two answers look Great together.
  • 26D: Old settings for many out-of-tune pianos (saloons) - Best Clue of the Day
And finally, the Question Marks:
  • 25A: Dr. Seuss's "Too Many _____" ("Daves") - my pop culture cred takes a hit on this one. I had No Idea.
  • 30A: Marathon runner Gebrselassie (Haile) - if you've seen one "selassie," you've seen 'em all, I guess.
  • 9D: Ben-Gurion setting (Negev)
  • 20A: Its motto is "All for our country": Abbr. (Nev.) - I had NRA
  • 29D: Connecticut city on the Naugatuck (Ansonia) - absolute worst answer of the day. WTF!? If it's going to be a mystery place, it could at least look or sound like something I've heard of before.
  • 37D: "The Mischievous Dog" author (Aesop) - blecch. Could have been anything - I got it only after getting the -OP from crosses.
  • 43D: "Lady for a Day" director, 1933 (Capra) - easy to get from crosses, but I've never heard of the movie.
  • 46D: Ecuador's southernmost coastal province (El Oro) - uh ... no. but unlike ANSONIA, at least this answer contains familiar letter combinations - in this case, actual, recognizable Spanish words.
  • 59D: Takeaway game (nim) - ?????????????????? Played by rats?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Oct. 26, 2007 - David Quarfoot

Friday, October 26, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

[updated 3:30-ish]

There will be no commentary today until after 1pm. Many apologies. Procrastination has finally caught up to me - which is to say that I have to grade exams all morning. Second-worst part of the job, next to grading papers. Hence the procrastination. ANYway, I'll post a little something in the early afternoon.

See you then,

Rex Parker

PS you are of course free to discuss the puzzle amongst yourselves.

PPS or you could amuse yourself by checking out the results of my most recent book-buying excursion.

And now I'm back. I wasted much time hanging out with my smart, cool students pretending I was somehow like them. Sad, I know, but diverting in a harmless way.

As for the puzzle, I have shocking news: I really didn't like it. REALLY didn't like it. Orange assures me that this is only because I was tired and was trying to solve immediately post-yoga - my mind was just not in solve mode. She also assures me that weeks from now I will love this puzzle. We'll see. My standards for DQ puzzles are ridiculously high, thus, this is probably a very good puzzle. But I was disappointed by a bunch of fill (but especially cluing, which may not have been DQ's fault). For instance:

1A: News Corporation-owned Web site that's one of the 10 most visited sites in the world (MySpace) - could you make the clue more boring and leaden? NewsCorp? Ugh. There's gotta be way more exciting ways to clue a snazzy entry like MYSPACE.

37A: "Let me live my own life!" ("I'm not you!") - If I try real hard, I can almost hear some kid saying this to his parent - or maybe a friend saying it to another friend? But only barely. I would have liked the answer much better if it had been "GO TO HELL!"

  • 59A: Former field food (K Ration)
  • 61A: Terminal timesaver (E-ticket)
  • 11D: Center of connecticut (silent C)

I consider all these to be beneath DQ. He's either used them before, or someone else has, and they just seem too wannabe-tricky.

64A: Crossword source since 1942: Abbr. (NY Times) - blecch. Too meta / self-congratulatory

4D: With 20-Down, waffle alternative (pop / tart) - absolutely not. These are from entirely different food universes. I can order a waffle at a restaurant. I would sit down and eat waffles off of a plate. Neither of these is true of pop tarts. Maybe [frozen waffle alternative] would have worked, because of the toaster connection. Maybe.

15D: Cheering section (rooters) - technically correct, but you would say the clue; you would never say "My ROOTERS are up in the bleachers!"

50D: Bernoulli family birthplace (Basel) - First I'd need to know who the @#$# the "Bernoulli family" is. Next, I'd have to know that there is a place in the world named BASEL. No luck on either count.

17A: What the key of D minor has (one flat) - random phrase. How 'bout [What two British people share, perhaps]. That's no less makeshift.

Better stuff included:

14A: Yellow fliers with large eyespots (Io moths) - wanted MOTHS so bad but wouldn't write it in because, really, what word could go there that's two letters long?

22A: Miss Gulch biter (Toto) - this is the "I Am An Idiot" clue of the day. I had No Idea for so long, and couldn't think of any animal that ended in "O." Things were so bad that I was wishing the answer could have been ASP.

36A: Walled city of the Mideast (Sana)
53A: 1980s sitcom title role (Alf)

I just like these 'cause they were easy, and I needed easy last night.

62A: Its value is in creasing (origami) - so great. Just happy the answer wasn't IRON.

2D: Poem reader at the 2006 Olympics ceremony (Yoko Ono) - hasn't she been in a DQ puzzle before? Anyway, I don't like this answer much, but it totally saved my ass last night. Magically got the answer off of just the final "O." I was in Deep deep trouble in the NW until I cracked this one.

35D: Lopsided court result (love set) - nice, in-the-(tennis-)language phrase.

46A: Taper (VCR) - hmmm. Yeah, I'll allow this. Borderline, in that its cluing is too cutesy / intentionally misleading. BUT ... I had VEE for the answer at first, which I like as a wrong answer, and so I got at least a little pleasure out of this clue.

Didn't know:

8D: Family group (genus) - last thing I filled in was the "U" (changed it from an "E," of course).

44D: Burial place of many French kings (St. Denis)

9D: _____-Neisse Line (Oder) - whatever you say.

27D: He wrote "It's certain that fine women eat / A crazy salad with their meat" (Yeats) - never read him; didn't know he wrote such silly verse.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Oct. 25, 2007 - Susan Harrington Smith

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: ITALIAN / PROVERB (16A: With 55-Across, description of 23-, 36- and 44-Across)

The "proverb":

  • 23A: Beginning of some folk wisdom ("To trust is good")
  • 36A: Folk wisdom, part 2 ("Not to...")
  • 44A: End of the folk wisdom ("... trust is better")

This is a stupid proverb. Sorry, Italians. Are you sure it's not "MAFIA PROVERB?"

For many reasons, I have no time to devote to this today (I say that every day, but today, it's true). I really liked this puzzle, but entirely for non-theme reasons.

The star answers:

  • 4D: Exact proper divisor, in math (aliquot) - AliQUOT? AliQUOT? ("QUOT" is supposed to sound like "What?" there). Reminds me of AZIMUTH, another crazy, scrabbly, mathy word I learned from the puzzle. This actually didn't vex me that much, as I'd heard it before, but I could never have defined it for you.
  • 17A: Wither (atrophy) - such a pretty word for such an unseemly concept. I mean, who wouldn't want to win A TROPHY?
  • 21D: Medicinal cardiac stimulant (digitalis) - got this off the "-IS" and was so happy; I'm almost certain I learned this word from either Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, and it was probably used to off some rich old white dude.
  • 8D: Incised printing method (intaglio) - like ALIQUOT, I'd heard of it, which helped me piece it together from crosses. I like it 'cause it's pretty. Unlike its neighbor EARLOBE (9D: Pendant place).
  • 62A: Makeshift hatrack (antler) - aside from the animal-killing that would necessarily have to go into making such an item, I LOVE this clue. Brilliant, funny, slightly tacky.
  • 45D: Dividing membranes (septa) - gross, but it pleases me as an answer
  • 48D: Fighters for Jeff Davis (rebs) - took me a few beats to get this, because I could picture only Jeff Bridges.

Displeased with:

  • 27A: Pacific islands in W.W. II fighting, with "the" (Gilberts) - not sure what I dislike more - that I had never heard of these, or that Google is almost unfamiliar with the practice of calling them "The Gilberts." Lots of hits for "The Gilbert Islands." But I guess this clue is better (much better) than [Obnoxious Gottfried and others]
  • 43A: Norwegian coin (ore) - fancy clue, but still a boring answer
  • 2D: "_____ to be alone" (words attributed to Greta Garbo) ("I vant ...") - first of all, "words attributed to." What the hell kind of concept is that? Those can go in puzzles now? Second, VANT is not a "word," so I challenge this clue times infinity.
  • 18D: Melancholy woodwind (oboe) - really? First time I've seen it called that. I'm picture a sad oboe sitting under a tree pulling petals off a flower and ruminating on his lost clarinet love.
  • 25D: The last Pope Paul, e.g. (sixth) - hatred rising ... so many better, less popish ways to clue this. We need a rule that popes are to be avoided if at all possible. We see them plenty as it is - we don't need you going out of your way to give us more popes with our puzzle. I had NINTH, which really really slowed me down, because it made the (alleged) ITALIAN PROVERB begin "TO TRUST IN ...," which is totally plausible.

Didn't Know:

  • 1A: "Thou art not lovelier than _____, - no" (Millay sonnet start) ("lilacs") - pretty. Pretty like INTAGLIO. Yesterday, IRIS, today, LILACS.
  • 30A: Hugh _____, successor to Louis V as king of France (Capet) - had an error here at first (SAPET!) because of entering SEAR instead of CHAR at 30D: Scorch. This also gave me EIRE instead of HIRE (35A: Charter), and as any crossword solver knows, you really aren't too apt to blink at EIRE when you see it.
  • 33D: Robert of "The 39 Steps" (Donat)
  • 39D: Bumps on a ride (jounces) - most unappealing word of the year. I can't even say this word, can't even look at it, without feeling like someone is scraping a chalkboard nearby.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Oct. 24, 2007 - Patrick Blindauer

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Latin phrases

Patrick Blindauer is perhaps the most ambitious puzzle constructor out there at the moment. Some of his recent puzzles for The Sun, for instance, have been masterpieces of ingenuity - one of them ended up recreating in the grid the layout of the 80's video game "Frogger" (I couldn't begin to explain how, but it worked). So, he's experimental and inventive, which I admire a lot. The one criticism I have (and it's not one he should really pay any mind) is that sometimes there's an element of "Trying Too Hard" (or "TTH," as I like to call the phenomenon in all its puzzle- and non-puzzle-related forms). In order to make an ambitious theme work, sometimes answers are forced and elegance lost. I felt this today, where the impressiveness of 6 long Latin phrases - each of which either intersects or runs directly parallel to another theme answer (actually, two answers do both) - is undermined by the fact that three of the phrases are quite ordinary, where the other three are Way outside the language. I think everyone knows these:

  • 18A: *Solid ground (terra firma)
  • 20A: *You should have the body (habeas corpus)
  • 31D: *Without which not (sine qua non)
But tell me the last time you used, or saw, or heard, any of these:

  • 4D: *Behold the proof (ecce signum) - who says this, geometricians?
  • 59A: *The die is cast (alea iacta est) - gamblers in Old Rome? This one was murder on me. Even with a couple years of Latin, I stared at that run of four vowels and got dizzy trying to parse the phrase.
  • 62A: *Always the same (semper idem) - I want a bumper sticker for my car that says this.

I do like this puzzle - I'm a sucker for Latin, even when it befuddles me - but I'm struck (somewhat negatively) by how divergent the two above sets of theme phrases are in terms of their general familiarity. Oh, I left out one other Latin phrase in the dead center of the puzzle - one that seems to hover, curiously enough, between the two poles represented by the above sets of answers: 40A: *From the beginning (ab ovo) - AB OVO is not especially common in everyday speech, but it's quite common in crosswords (or at least reasonably so).

No time for a big write-up today. So ... Kwik Piks:

  • 27A: Big pet food brand (Iams) - yuck ick ack. I don't normally jump when PETA says jump, but the more I read around about this company and animal testing, the less I like. I would like to take this occasion to plug "Dominion" by Matthew Scully. The best book that I've ever read about the importance of opposing animal cruelty. Oh, and Scully's a former Bush speechwriter and conservative Christian - in case you thought this issue broke only along political lines.
  • 32A: Erica who wrote "Any Woman's Blues" (Jong) - When it comes to Ms. Jong, I know "Fear of Flying" and that is all I know.
  • 39A: Schoenberg's "Moses und _____" (Aron) - I knew this had to be the German equivalent of "Aaron," but that made the first vowel a kind of guess for me. I know next to no German.
  • 43A: "The Taming of the Shrew" setting (Padua) - saw this clue and instantly wrote in PARMA (!?). And it worked ... for a while.
  • 67A: "Camelot" actor Franco (Nero) - No idea. This is better than yet another Roman emperor clue, I suppose.
  • 3D: Nellie of opera (Melba) - Nellie MELBA is one unfortunate name.
  • 25D: _____ Grove, N.J. (Penn's) - I'm sure this is well known to locals. I assure you that it is not well known to non-locals. Not this non-local, anyway.
  • 32D: Black lacquer (Japan) - this just looks wrong. Even when I had it in the grid and it fit and everything, I thought "shouldn't one of the vowels be ... different ... somehow?" JAPON? Maybe the "lacquer" part was making me think French. Who knows? I had an error when I first submitted the puzzle, and I thought it was this word, but it was a stupid mistake at AB OVO (I had AB OVA - forgetting that AB takes the ABlative (hey, I never noticed that coincidence before) and not the objective case).
  • 34D: Alertness aid (No-Doz) - flummoxed I was by this. Briefly. I forgot about this product. The Age of Red Bull is upon us (for the record, I've never taken NO-DOZ and never even tasted a Red Bull - not sure why I felt the need to say that, but there it is).
  • 48D: Round dance official (cuer) - I was proud to get this off just the -ER, but it's one of those words I can't look at too long without its hurting my head. It looks like a typo. Possibly the shortest "Odd Job" in the book.
  • 8D: He said "Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting" (Berra) - that one's for all the depressed Yankees fans. "The sun'll come out ..." Things look bleak, I know, but I think the Yankees will be back to destroying everyone in sight in about 1-3 years. Til then, I just pray that the Red Sox can get in a World Series or two, while the gettin' is good.
I generally root for underdogs, so I am very confused right now, as a Red Sox fan, with everyone talking about the Sox as Goliath to Colorado's David. If the Rockies win this one ... well, it's really hard to hate those guys. I mean, finally a National League is playing dominant ball. The late success of the Rockies is the only part of the whole season that doesn't make the National League look like a fantastic joke. I'll feel way better about a Rockies victory than I did last year about the worthless Cardinals winning it all. Worst World Series Champions Ever. Really, you should have to win at least 90 games during the regular season even to qualify for the playoffs. Disgusting.

Digression over.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Oct. 23, 2007 - Alan Arbesfeld

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "THINGS DRAWN" (59A: What the starts of 17-, 26-, 37- and 52-Across are)

Well my only real problem with today's puzzle is right there in the theme description - the phrase "THINGS DRAWN." It's a very literal description of the theme, but as a self-standing entry in the grid, it's a dud. It's just ... not a phrase one would say. It's not a common expression. It's got no currency. So points off for inelegance. Otherwise, the puzzle seemed just fine, with a few snazzy entries interspersed throughout a solid, if ordinary, grid.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Play follower, usually (curtain call)
  • 26A: Loofah, e.g. (bath sponge) - I've always found the word "loofah" disturbing. It sounds like an implement with which one would commit unspecified, and possibly unspeakable, acts of carnality.
  • 37A: Circulatory system flow (blood stream)
  • 52A: Shoot-'em-up figure (gun slinger) - I really wanted GANG BANGER here for a little bit; it's surprising how many letters they have in common...
Today's puzzle was rather sports-heavy, which will please some and upset others. I especially loved the fully name of BOBBY KNIGHT (25D: Hoops coach with the most N.C.A.A. Division I wins), for whom I continue to have a perverse respect as a coach despite (because of?) his various idiotic antics. I'm just glad I didn't have to spell the name of Duke's basketball coach in today's puzzle - just Duke's division: ACC (7D: Duke's sports org.). Always love seeing Muhammed Ali in the puzzle - 68A: Site of Ali's Rumble in the Jungle (Zaire); as many of you know by now, his signature is framed and hanging on my office wall just two feet from where I'm currently sitting. If you haven't seen the (Academy Award-winning) documentary "When We Were Kings" (all about the "Rumble in the Jungle"), you should; it's Fantastic.

The best sports entry of the day, of course, is A.L. EAST, clued as 34D: Red Sox div. That's right, it is the Red Sox' division, as they are the reigning A.L. EAST champions (somewhat more satisfying than being champions of the entire A.L., but somewhat less satisfying than being World Series champs). Sox v. Rox starts tomorrow - expect my write-ups to rise and fall based on how the Series goes. My sister lives in Colorado and has already started the (fake) trash-talk (her recent email to me had the subj. line "Bring it, Boston!"). My brother-in-law is now apparently pretending he cares about baseball because the local team is so hot. My sister just feels bad that her son has to grow up with a hometown team that has purple as one of its colors. In fact, I'm going to reprint sister's recent email to me - she's very entertaining. To me. I'm sure she won't mind (Tom is her husband, Miles is her son):

Watched your boys beat the pants off Cleveland last
night. I have been subjected to more baseball in the
last 2 weeks than in my entire life. Tom was bummed
because he wanted Cleveland against the Rockies; he
doesn't think they can beat Boston. He would make
faces at me every time I would cheer for Boston, but
I'm sorry, most of the teams (including Cleveland and
the Rockies) have zero personality. Boston is all
crazy-melting-pot-like and often scruffy,far more
interesting to watch so I like them better. And Tom
kept commenting on how the fans' hats looked all
scraggly and how they needed to get new ones; I told
him he should have seen your crazy old hat with the
duct tape on the back. I told him he couldn't
appreciate old school because he has been alive longer
than the Rockies have been a team... and purple? What
the hell kind of color is that for a team? Miles asked
about wearing something purple for Rockies day at his
school and I said good luck finding anything purple in
our entire house. Seriously.
"But what does your sister have to do with the puzzle?," you ask? Answer: she is an ARIES (14A: Sign of spring). And so, returning to the puzzle: I didn't know JAYE P. Morgan was a singer (41A: Singer _____ P. Morgan). I thought she was just a judge on "The Gong Show." Joining Ms. Morgan in the "Out-of-the-Past" category is ILKA Chase (47A: Actress Chase of "Now, Voyager") and DION (39D: Singer of the 1962 hit "The Wanderer"). "The Wanderer" is also a classic Anglo-Saxon poem, FYI. In the "Words - I - See - Only - in - the - Crossword" category, we have the nice intersection of a final-"E"-free ICE AX (15A: Mountaineer's tool) and OXLIP (10D: Primrose family member). Tough clues today include 32A: Pest control brand (D-Con) - never heard of it!? - and NEA (8D: "Read Across America" grp.) - which isn't That tough to guess, but what the hell is "Read Across America?" Please tell me it is something, anything, like "Hands Across America."

Smiley faces today go out to TIN HAT (6D: G.I.'s helmet, slangily) and UNO (30A: 108-card game). Any clue with the word "slangily" in it is OK by me. I had no idea UNO had 108 cards, but I do enjoy playing it with Sahra (age 7), who can beat me now, even when I'm playing in fully competitive mode. It was actually quite exhilarating when I realized that she could beat me at something (besides maybe Candyland) without my having to take it easy on her. She is about the only person on the planet that I want to be better than me at Everything.

A final shout-out to two literary references: a cool quotation from Henry James ("IN ART economy is always beauty" - 21A) and the other a title from my homeboy, William Saroyan: "The HUMAN COMEDY" (11D: Saroyan novel, with "The"). Fresno!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS thanks to reader "DailyPuppyGuy" for providing a reference to this awesome picture, which is of great relevance to today's puzzle: Muhammed Ali shilling for D-CON roach traps!


MONDAY, Oct. 22, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Monday, October 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: LITTLE BO PEEP (57A: One who lost what's hidden in 19-, 34- and 42-Across) - "hidden" in those answer (see the circled squares on the grid) are EWE, LAMB, and RAM

I have next to nothing to say about this puzzle, for a few reasons. One, no time. Stupid work keeps impinging on my blogging time. Second, I had an error. In a Monday puzzle. Disgusting. I barely want to talk about it. Third, this theme is ridiculous, if not patently false in its assertions. Fourth, I'm too giddy to write with the proper edge this morning:

Theme answers:

  • 19A: Bandleader in the Polka Music Hall of Fame (LawrencE WElk) - first reaction: "There's a Polka Music Hall of Fame!?" Got this instantly, and saw the EWE, but that didn't make the theme clear. I moved on.
  • 34A: Creamy soup (cLAM Bisque) - looked at this right after getting LAWRENCE WELK and figured it out quickly, with no crosses. So EWE, now LAMB ... and yet, I did not put two and two together - my thinking never got past farm animals, generally.
  • 42A: Substantial portion (faiR AMount) - here, the sheepness of the theme asserted itself. But I have a question...

In what part of the "LITTLE BO PEEP" nursery rhyme does it say anything about a EWE, a LAMB, and a RAM? Sounds like the set-up for a bad joke. In fact, I would be much happier with these three walking into a bar than I am with this "LITTLE BO PEEP" attribution. Please go here to find lyrics (and while you're there, please play the song ... which made me laugh out loud with its synthetic artistry ... I just kept waiting for lyrics that never came...). Nothing in the words of the rhyme about specific kinds of sheep. Maybe someone can explain.

Here are several tough words for a Monday:

  • 5D: Bangladesh's capital, old-style (Dacca) - really? REALLY!? That's a @#$%-ing Saturday-level clue. Luckily all crosses were easy to get.
  • 6D: Color of fall leaves (ocher) - not a color that leaps to the top of my mind, even among the autumnal colors. I put in AMBER at first.
  • 38A: City where Van Gogh painted sunflowers (Arles) - The revenge of Van Gogh! Unlike yesterday, today I found Van Gogh quite tractable. Actually, I never saw this clue. But I'd have gotten it if I'd seen it. I think.
  • 41A: Pacific republic (Nauru) - again, on a Monday? Like TUVALU, this is a place I learned about from crosswords. Adds to the Pacific flavor of the puzzle (along with MAUI and HULA).

There were a few things I liked about the puzzle, like the long Downs DREW THE LINE (3D: Made a stand and would go no further) and especially RAQUEL WELCH (25D: "Fantastic Voyage" actress) - I had the "Q" and couldn't get "JACQUELINE" out of my head, even though it clearly wouldn't have fit. Also loved the daring double-Z in RAZZ (65A: Give a hard time). But all of this pleasure is undermined by my ERROR:

  • 54A: New Deal program inits. (WPA)
  • 55D: Explorer who proved that Greenland is an island (Peary)

I just didn't know the answer. Had W-A and couldn't remember which of seemingly billions of New Deal programs fit there. Had -EARY and couldn't think of any letters that could go there besides "G" or "L." So - failure. O well, it happens. Sometimes. Today, I hardly care, because, in case you joined us late:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS A recent blog entry at Michael 5000's site has engendered an amazing conversation about what exactly constitutes "dorkiness." You should read the "Comments" section to see the astounding revelations of personal dorkiness - and add your own, if you dare.

PPS Here's a freaky coincidence:

Today's 58D: Fearsome dino (T-Rex)
Syndicated puzzle's 58D: T-Rex, e.g. (dino)


SUNDAY, Oct. 21, 2007 - Brendan Emmett Quigley

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: "Set Your Mind at Ease" - short "E" sounds in familiar phrases are changed to long "E" sounds, creating wacky phrases, which are clued

One of the least pleasant solving experiences in recent memory. Some of it was my own fault - trying to solve right after a meal while half-watching TV. But most of it was just the puzzle, with its uninspired theme and too-clever cluing and slew of absurd and obscure words. If you love cute little plays on words, you probably loved this theme. It just made me groan. A lot. I have about a dozen frowny faces written on my puzzle print out right now, possibly more. There were amusing or clever answers here and there, but not nearly enough of them.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: Organization of easily frightened people? (chicken league) - "chicken leg" = weak original phrase
  • 40A: Result of not wearing rouge? (blank cheek) - no, even as a joke, this phrase seems untenable
  • 13D: Bundle of pies? (pastry sheaf)
  • 16D: "Mr. Cowell, grab that 'American Idol' contestant!"? ("Simon, seize!") - I almost like this one
  • 72D: House Un-American Activities Committee event? (Red hearing)
  • 65D: Bully turned Samaritan? (a good meanie) - ugh, no. The way you've phrased the clue, he's not a "meanie" any more. He's a former meanie. A GOOD MEANIE is a paradox. This answer was near the heart of all my problems with this puzzle - specifically, in that corridor from "Oregon" to somewhere around "Oklahoma."
  • 97A: Strict Jesuit? (hard priest)
  • 117A: Smart fowl? (educated geese)
Let's start right in on the problems, in no particular order. One Roman emperor is enough. I don't need two, and especially not that jerk OTHO (2D: Roman emperor with a three-month reign) who exists only to get constructors out of jams. NERO is fine, but his clue is pedantic (45D: Last ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty). Then there's DETECTORS (28A: Sensors), which would be fine if the word "detector" weren't already being used in the clues: 7D: Lie detector alternative (pentothal). Sloppy. On the plus side, I learned how to spell PENTOTHAL. There are some people I don't know whose names intersect, which is always fun: EZER (56A: Former Israeli president Weizman) and ALEC (44D: "While We're Young" songwriter Wilder). In the same part of the puzzle - ECO-village? (63A: Modern prefix with village). Really? WTF? Btw "ECO" has existed as a prefix for a long time and is in no way "modern."

On to the assorted frowny faces:

  • 1A: Drink with a straw (soda pop) - most any non-alcoholic, non-hot drink can have a straw.
  • 20A: "Day of _____" (what "Dies Irae" means) ("Wrath") - grrr, ANGER fit too.
  • 46A: Right triangle figure (sine) - "ratio" would have helped me out here, but I guess RATIO is already in the puzzle at Q RATIO (69D: Market value of a company's assets divided by their replacement cost). Didn't stop you with "detectors," but whatever. Btw, I really liked Q RATIO.
  • 49A: It goes around at an amusement park (stile) - TURNstile is the word we use in America, dammit (I shouldn't complain - this is the word that helped me crack the horrid N.J. part of the puzzle)
  • 75A: Freedom from government control, for short (dereg) - what kind of wonky d@#$# says this?
  • 90A: It may not need clarification (oleo) - o how I want to punch this clue in the face ...
  • 116A: "The Break-Up" co-star, 2006 (Aniston) - frowny face for forcing me to remember that this movie ever existed.
  • 5D: Commercial end for Water (Pik) - ugh. It's true enough, but "Commercial end" feels clunky too me here.
  • 8D: Precious, to a Brit (twee) - you left out "overly" or "affectedly"
  • 34D: 13 years before the Battle of Hastings (MLIII) - just lazy
  • 67D: 1932 Democratic campaign plank (repeal) - the repeal of Prohibition; this word seems stupid standing on its own.
Absurd / obscure words:

  • 19A: Open-mesh fabric (etamine)
  • 21A: Oil used in making polyurethane (aniline)
  • 33A: Italian eyeglass (lente)
  • 59A: HBO founder Charles (Dolan)
  • 100A: Peru's El _____ volcano (Misti)
  • 36D: Banded rock (gneiss)

Now for my particular disaster: As I've said, I had a horrible, mostly blank patch stretching from just under BLANK CHEEK to down around ENROLL for what felt like a very long time. First problem - could not for the life of me think of two easy answers. First BSMT (40D: Real-estate ad abbr.). I had BSM- and figured the "S" must be wrong and the answer must be BRMS (short for "bedrooms"???). Second, ON TO (91D: Latch _____). I could think of literally nothing that could possible follow "Latch" except "key child." So those hurt. But the real killer was 83A: Object rising in a Van Gogh landscape (moon). Here is an occasion where knowing something about art actually hurt me. I was dead certain that this answer was CROW. I recently saw an entire episode of "Simon Schama's Power of Art" dedicated to Van Gogh's "Wheatfield with Crows" (1890). I think that I got the idea that they were "rising" (now that I think of it) from a Shakespeare sonnet that has the line "like to the lark at break of day arising." Why I attributed a Shakespeare line about a lark to a Van Gogh painting of crows, I don't know. But hanging on to CROW as long as I did absolutely destroyed me. Getting the actual, ordinary, boring, easy answer was very deflating. All the answers I had trouble with in this section: ZAGS (73A: Turns the other way) and SUEZ (51D: Red Sea port) and PRAM (58D: Cornwall carriage) and the magnificent NEWSREELS (84D: Onetime Movietone productions) - all fell easily into place once I changed CROW to MOON.

Yesterday STREAMER, today, STEAMER (25A: Clambake item). Not sure what one is. Google says it is a particular kind of soft-shell clam. Why did I not know that "Penelope" was the name of the poor cat pursued by the (presumably) priapic Pepe LEPEW (52A: Cartoon character who amorously chases Penelope)!? Hate being ignorant about vintage WB cartoons. I remember NAST as [Tweed twitter] from a puzzle 10 months ago. Today he's clued in equally (to me) puzzling fashion: 111D: Cartoonist who created the Tammany Hall tiger. While I know ESTE is Spanish for "East," I think I did not know that "sur" is Spanish for "South." Now I do: 114D: 90 degrees from sur.

And now, some smiley faces:

  • 31A: Place to buy a hookah (bazaar) - The whole "K" and "Z" and double-vowel extravaganza in this clue/answer makes me happy
  • 110A: Houston pro soccer team (Dynamo) - did not know this. Just like the word.
  • 14D: Blue chip, maybe (ante) - really very clever
  • 85A: Brand of Lego bricks (Duplo) - why do I know this? Very cool-looking brand name.
  • 34A: "The Treachery of Images" artist (Magritte) - a long, glorious gimme - an artistic success to make up for my Van Gogh disaster
  • 101D: W.W. II nickname (Il Duce) - a bastard, I know, but this "nickname" amuses me for childish reasons...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Oct. 20, 2007 - Patrick Berry

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

It had been a while since I timed myself on a Saturday, so I was somewhat surprised to find that, despite feeling like I wasn't moving particularly fast, I finished in the 12-minute range. The puzzle had many words I did not know, and yet it didn't feel hard. Yesterday's puzzle actually gave me more trouble - or, rather, I had a "free fall" experience yesterday (you know, where you're stuck in a corner and nothing is happening) and I didn't today. The grid structure today was pretty open, with two ways into all quadrants, so I never felt trapped or closed in. Psychologically, that makes a big difference. To me, anyway.

First two answers into the grid were BIKINI and STILTON. Then I hit HINTON, a gimme (14A: "The Outsiders" author). "Three in a row, right off the top!" I thought. But HINTON was the only right answer of the bunch. BIKINI was really SPEEDO (1A: Small suit) and STILTON was something called SAPSAGO (7A: Cheese with a greenish tint). I've eaten some pretty exotic cheeses in my time, but I've never even heard of this one. Reminds me of the killer cheese from Byron Walden's 2006 Tournament Puzzle #5 ... what was that cheese? It was in the upper-right corner ... I know that that cheese ate some very good solvers alive. Anyway, it was Italian-sounding and unknown to most of the free world. Perhaps SAPSAGO is more common. As always, it's possible that I'm just plain ignorant on this one.

I'm noticing now that the puzzle has only four 3-letter answers - narrow parts in the NW and SE - and they are all easy. Or 3/4 easy - I had to get ALI (24A: "Infidel" author Ayaan Hirsi _____) from Crosses. The others were as follows:

  • 20A: "Mr. _____," 1983 comedy ("Mom") - starring Michael Keaton and my longtime celebrity crush, Teri Garr
  • 44A: _____-Hulk (Marvel Comics character) - OK, maybe this is only a gimme for someone who haunts comic book stores (from time to time). But it seems pretty inferrable. Also got help from another comics character today: ARLO (30A: "_____ and Janis" (comic strip)).
  • 41A: Application file extension (exe) - more of a Tuesday or Wednesday clue

When short answers are relative easy, transitioning from section to section in a puzzle become easy. Again, the more modes of entrance and egress, the more confident I am in any particular section.

I love that every long Down answer is a very familiar two-word phrase:

  • 5D: National chain of everything-costs-the-same stores (Dollar Tree) - had DOLLAR TIME for a few seconds
  • 6D: Eloise of Kay Thompson books, e.g. (only child) - very, very vivid childhood memories of this little girl who lived in The Plaza. Sahra went through a brief period of enjoying Eloise, but for the most part she went straight from Olivia to Harry Potter, with a brief stop at The Magic Treehouse. At least that's what it feels like from my perspective.
  • 10D: Figure seen in a store window (sale price) - true enough; not as lively as the other Downs
  • 26D: Typically green tube (garden hose) - I like this simple phrase. I actually paused and nearly closed my eyes to think of all the tubes I could think of that are green. GARDEN HOSE was the second image that came to mind - right after a piece of pesto-covered rotini.
  • 29D: Often -unanswered missive (fan letter) - I have had fan letters go unanswered, it's true. But I've also gotten responses. Lynda Barry wrote me a nice reply once. And James Kochalka (author of the magnificent pigs-in-space comic "Pinky & Stinky") replied to a fan letter from my daughter with a funny Holiday card - and he even drew a picture of Pinky (or maybe it's Stinky) on the envelope. So he rules. Buy his books.
  • 28D: Gaffe at a social gathering, in modern lingo (party foul) - I can't stand this phrase in real life, yet I like it here. Come to think of it, I haven't heard this phrase in real life in a long time. Feels very 80's - early 90's. Maybe because those were my heaviest partying years.

The SW corner was an unpleasant place to be, with HATRED (32A: It's "heavier freight for the shipper than it is for the consignee": Augustus Thomas) directly over IRATE (39A: Ready to explode). Sitting on top of TCBY (42A: Big seller of smoothies) those answers make up the worst frozen yogurt toppings ever. Then there's ODIOUSLY just a few floors down (49A: In a despicable way). Yesterday ODIE, today ODIOUSLY. I wonder if they're related. But there were lots of smile-inducing answers to offset the SW's negativity, including TRIPLANE (17A: Aircraft for the Red Baron), which reminds me of Snoopy, MOLL (31D: Tough's partner), which reminds me of many of my campy vintage paperback covers, and ENCOMIA (3D: Laudations), which is just a word I love. So much better than the ugh-ful "laudations." Ooh, PINHOLE (2D: Camera obscura feature) is good too.

There were a handful of odd or unpleasant clues today:

  • 15A: Band seen at parties (streamer) - you have to torture "band" to make it say STREAMER. I'm talking cigarette burns, water-boarding, the works. And even then, I'm not sure you can trust the information.
  • 47A: It's cleared for a debriefing (throat) - slightly cute, but objectionable nonetheless. First, not necessarily. Second, it's cleared for Lots of Things. I was briefly worried that this clue was going to have something to do with removing one's briefs.
  • 1D: Troupe leader (showman) - ???
  • 53A: Future hunters (eaglets) - true enough, but ... well, they are pretty cute, so I'll let them go.

Guessed ESTHER (52A: Book before Job) correctly. Liked AMATEUR (11D: Pan American Games participant) because the clue wants you to think the answer is a country. Speaking of countries, I could only half-retrieve LESOTHO (36D: Country of two million surrounded by a single other country). SOWETO kept blocking its path to the front of my brain. Never heard of MARC (31A: Linguist Okrand who created the Klingon language). Could not retrieve VEBLEN (43A: Economist who wrote "The Theory of the Leisure Class") until I had nearly all the crosses - which isn't much of a retrieval. My Ph.D. in English couldn't help me (much) with two different poetry answers: ROSSETTI (19A: "The Blessed Damozel" poet) and RONDELET (35A: Poem whose first, third and seventh lines are identical). Never heard of the Goshen raceway, but its length was easy to infer: HALF MILE (45A: Goshen raceway's length). Lastly, my favorite answer in the puzzle, and a gimme, was O'REILLY (13D: Author of the 2006 best seller "Culture Warrior") - but only because the cover of that book makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.

He's off to war ... in recreational boating gear!

Godspeed, Culture Warrior!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP