FRIDAY, Nov. 30, 2007 - Henry Hook

Friday, November 30, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Henry Hook has a great crossword constructor name, in that his last name is vaguely synonymous with "theme" (which most crosswords have), and it's also associated with pointy painfulness - particularly (if you are a fish) a pointy painfulness you did not see coming. Whenever I see his by-line, I know that some amount of struggle lies ahead, and that the struggle will (likely) be worth my while - that it will tax my brain in pleasurable ways. This puzzle did not disappoint. It was Friday-tough, and yet there were hardly any esoteric answers in the whole thing. There's a joint in the NW that's a bit tricky if you don't know (or don't pick up on) the crossword-common ABIE (30A: Mr. Levy of 1920s Broadway fame) or the mildly exotic EMS (25A: Bad _____, German resort), or (like me) you have never (or barely) heard of the ODER-NEISSE Line (3D: _____ Line (German/Polish border)). Other than that, all the words and phrases are reasonably to completely ordinary. And yet they are lively.

I wonder if R. CRUMB (41D: Fritz the Cat illustrator) ever drew a strip about CLERGYMEN (40A: Cloth workers?) who CROSS DRESS (58A: Undergo a change of habit?) because they think they LOOK BETTER (1A: Show signs of improvement) that way? R. CRUMB is one of the two or three most important comics artists of the 20th century, and his influence (a fearlessness with taboo subjects, a hyper-observant eye for detail, the use of arrow boxes to direct the reader's attention around the panels, etc.) can be seen All Over most non-superhero comics. See especially Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (my favorite book of the past ... well, many years) or anything by Lynda Barry (whom I Adore - several pieces of her original artwork adorn the walls of my home).

Who fell asleep on the keyboard when they were assigning CLAES Oldenburg his name (43A: Sculptor Oldenburg)?

I realized while doing this puzzle that when the white part of the grid gets out to 5x5 or larger, the puzzle gets a Lot harder for me to solve. I feel like I'm just swimming in open space, and tentative answers look much more pathetic, and much more doubtful, when they're so painfully exposed. It's like I get puzzle-agoraphobia. Hence, today, the NW and SE were notably harder / slower than the other parts of the puzzle (particularly the other corners, which I locked up in no time).

In the SE, I had DENT for 39A: Minimal change (cent), which, as you can see (I hope) makes total sense. Sadly for me, that one little mistake was positioned right at the gateway to the SE, and so I hobbled along, trying to get any kind of purchase. Oh, what's worse: I flubbed the Other gateway to the SE. Confidently wrote in EASY AS PIE for 32D: "Nothing to it" ("Easy as ABC") - then wrote in AND for 53D: Clause connector. Considering that that made three strikes, I should have been out, and I was, for a bit, until somehow, from one "K," and a "P," I got BOOKKEEPER (56A: One who's happy when things look black - a devilish clue). After that, no problem.

Here's how the puzzle started:

First answer: 11A: Second in a series (beta)
Second answer: 13D: "I did it!" ("Tada!")
Third answer: 11D: Department (bureau)
Fourth answer: 16A: 1,575-mile river known to some locals as the Zhayyq (Ural)

The hardest part of the puzzle, for me, was the NW, where I went into a complete freefall with everything above EMS and west of ESTEE (6D: Name on a bottle of Beyond Paradise) completely blank. I had the very close DO YOU THINK? for a while at 17A: "Well, duh!" ("Gee, ya think!?"). Aargh. Wanted EPEE for 1D: Olympics item ... or the winning word in the 1984 National Spelling Bee (luge). In fact, once I let go of EPEE and guessed LUGE, everything finally started to fall. My earlier guess for 2D: Civilians eligible to be drafted (One A's) turned out to be right, and every other answer up there ended up being quite ordinary, although UNDERSCORE (15A: Indication of stress) made me snarl in frustration - very fair clue, but ... [slams head on desk repeatedly] ... couldn't see it couldn't see it couldn't see it ... until, of course, I saw it.


  • 23A: Sci-fi author McIntyre (Vonda) - Never read her, but I knew this once, as I have friends who are fans
  • 32A: Holders of big pads (easels) - not sure what the "PADS" are here ... oh, of paper? Hmmm.
  • 46A: Game craze of the late 1980s and '90s (Tetris) - big when I was in college. Never played it myself.
  • 51A: Island nicknamed the Gathering Place (Oahu) - never saw the clue; tore the SW up too fast.
  • 12D: Greenland colonizer (Eric) - the Red? Good clue. I wanted ERIE for about half a second, thinking there was perhaps some part of Native American history I had missed completely.
  • 14D: Pianist Templeton (Alec) - ALEC wants entry to the Pantheon; this ALEC is new to me.
  • 21D: Visual PC-to-PC files (PDFs) - ooh, good one. I had PEGs (as in JPEGs) at first ... yes, it's a bad guess.
  • 24D: Classic Packard model with a numerical name (one ten) - well, without the "numerical name" part, I'd have been lost. Had the "O" so new ONE was involved. Not too hard to piece together the rest.
  • 26D: Pompadour, for one (Madame) - Had this ending in "U" for a while (from my CLAUS for CLAES mistake), making the right answer Very hard to see.
  • 29D: Tentlike dwelling with a conical roof (yurt) - HA ha. "The Yurt" was some kind of structure on the campus of Pitzer College. Maybe still is. Hippies...
  • 38D: Hybrid fruit (ugli) - also (as I may have told you) the acronym for the Undergraduate Library at UMich (and perhaps elsewhere).
  • 39D: Where cooler heads prevail? (crisper) - "PREVAIL?" Over ... ? It's a daring clue, I'll give it that.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Nov. 29, 2007 - Elizabeth C. Gorski

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: AMEN CORNERS (1A: Parts of churches appropriate to this puzzle) - rebus puzzle, where AMEN appears in each corner of the grid

A very nice puzzle. Interestingly, I learned the term AMEN CORNER from ... [wait for it] ... Crosswords! I am just now beginning to realize how much of my general knowledge base had its origins in the crosswords. Why go to college? Just do crosswords every day, look up what you don't know, and shazam: Edumacation!

Blanked out during my first pass as the Northern Acrosses. Nothing came to me until TRI (19A: Angular opening?) which was the first of a run of correct first guesses, including 7.5 of the next 9 Acrosses:

  • 20A: Follower of Max or Paul? (-ine)
  • 21A: Ones with cool jobs? (ice men)
  • 22A: Veronica of "Hill Street Blues" (Hamel) - the one I did NOT know
  • 24A: Frenzied (amok)
  • 26A: "Do _____ others..." ("unto")
  • 28A: Petri dish gel (agar)
  • 29A: Touch up, as text (edit)
  • 30A: Italian leaders (duces) - I was half right: I had DOGES
  • 31A: Quick change artist? (teller)

Not a bad run. Oh, right, the theme answers. I almost forgot. I got the theme while puzzling over the intersection of 9A and 14D in the NE corner. It was really 14D that tipped it - I could get nothing meaning [Adds to or subtracts from] in three letters. Looked at 9A, where I had CAMERA, and when that didn't fit the clue, I realized something was up with the "A." Ta da.

  • 1D: "You sure said it!" ("AMEN to that!") - my least favorite of the theme answers, because AMEN is used as ... AMEN
  • 9A: TV news crew (camerAMEN)
  • 14D: Adds to or subtracts from (AMENds)
  • 60D: Filament holder (stAMEN)
  • 65A: Factor in a hotel rating (AMENities)
  • 66A: Egyptian royal (TutankhAMEN) - nice; possibly the best of them today
  • 46D: Citizen soldiers (militiAMEN)

Weird to have the completely unrelated END RESULT (36A: Consequence) in the high-profile center Across position, but no big deal. The center Down answer - also non-thematic - is very fresh: MIMETIC (25D: Imitative). And much of the non-theme stuff is compelling, or at least ... let's say, bouncy. Especially happy to see my old home MICH. in the puzzle today (49A: Thumb locale: Abbr.). Like living in a giant mitt.

Question marks for the day:

  • 9D: Wood block for holding an object steady (chock) - I've heard of CHOCK-A-BLOCK, but CHOCK by itself? No. Are they related? Well, yes, and, as usual, World Wide Words breaks it down nicely.
  • 32D: Prefix with spore (endo-) - Botany? Bota ... no.
  • 50D: Tony winner for "Sweeney Todd," 1979 (Cariou) - I had the -IOU in place (not to future constructors: his name breaks nicely into CAR I.O.U.) and knew instantly who it was, without knowing who in the world the guy is, what he looks like, etc. Anyone who's been doing xwords long enough has surely seen [Actor Cariou] as a clue. Never seen CARIOU in the grid (that I remember) - I love when common crossword stuff changes medium (from clue to fill, vice versa)
  • 53D: Edvard _____, Czech president and patriot (Benes) - While I admire that the puzzle passed up a potential "Seinfeld" reference, I have no idea what to do with this. Got it all from crosses.
  • 53A: City south of Delray Beach, for short (Boca) - OK, it's not that hard, but there are so many damned place names in Florida that sound the same to me that I can never retrieve any of them with anything like reliability.
  • 56D: Setting for many episodes of TV's "Gilmore Girls" (Yale) - Never having seen this show (not once), I wrote in CAFE; I believe my answer must have Some validity - I'm sure I've seen an ad where those "girls" were in a CAFE.

Some pairings:

  1. 40D: Trattoria order (Campari)
  2. 48D: Trattoria order (scampi)

  1. 11D: Roomy dress (muu muu)
  2. 58D: Roomy dress (tent)

And finally the less obvious

  1. 29D: Mahler's "Das Lied von der _____" ("Erde")
  2. 45D: Where "Thy will" will be done, in part (on earth") - Great clue

How about [Where "Thy will" was not done] for 6D: Fall place (Eden). Yes, it is good.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Nov. 28, 2007 - Ray Fontenot

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Driving to an unfamiliar place - theme answers are all things one does when one gets lost while driving somewhere. Bonus feature today is a NW-to-SE diagonal clue!

I have a dentist appointment in exactly 50 minutes, which means I've got about half an hour to write this up, tops. So sorry. A thousand pardons.

I sailed through this puzzle without having Any Idea what the theme was, or even reading a single theme clue, until I was nearly half done. Interesting that in a puzzle about getting lost and taking shortcuts, I solved this in such an oddly circuitous fashion. Somehow, after flubbing the NW corner completely, I got STEER (4D: Be in control) and the "R" gave me TORTE (24A: Rich dessert), and then I was off and running - sprinting, almost - on a nearly perfectly southeasterly diagonal. I hit the SE, solved it, and then went due W, and solved everything in my path - still no sign of a theme (I'd blown right through that 15-letter theme answer in the middle of the puzzle without looking). Finally I hit the completely inscrutable 55A: What you might do next?, which, initially, I did not know was a theme clue. BUY A what now? I then saw 39A: What you might do next? and figured that this was the theme - all answers would have something to do with the word NEXT ... BUY A what? I don't get it. Then I Finally got around to looking at the "first" theme clue, and it all became semi-clear.

Theme answers:

  • 22A: What you might do while driving to an unfamiliar place (get lost)
  • 39A: What you might do next? (find a gas station)
  • 55A: What you might do next? (buy a MAP!)

It was not until after I'd solved the puzzle completely that I noticed that (in AcrossLite format) this puzzle had Notepad instructions:

  • DIAGONAL: What you might do eventually to make up for last time (take the shortcut)

In the end, I really liked the puzzle. It was frustrating to solve it from the bottom up and thus have the theme obscured for so long, but, frankly, that might actually have helped. My brain was undistracted by theme-thought and I just solved the clues in front of me, 1, 2, 3, boom, boom, boom. Even with the theme confusion - and a totally botched NE corner - I came in under 6 minutes.

By way of explaining some of my beefs about yesterday's puzzle (whose author, by the way, appears to be a thick-skinned sweetheart ... all politeness and humility ... sickening, really) let me praise today's short fill, which, while not shocking or even terribly unfamiliar, is yet, on the whole, somewhat more colorful than yesterday's. Somehow, odd letter combinations tend to please me even if the words are common in crossworld - words like RHEE (68A: South Korea's first president), which crosses the cleverly clued BARR (55D: Roseanne, again). Or SIOUX (54D: Victors at Little Bighorn) crossing my beloved SKUA (67A: Gull-like predator). Of course, it helps that this puzzle also has a Discernible (and enjoyable) theme.

Can't believe I blanked on 1A: "Jabberwocky" start ("Twas...") both because it's in the puzzle a lot and because my wife knows that poem well and can recite parts of it off the top of her head. She's weird like that. I absolutely love the symmetricality of WHOLE HOG (5D: All out) and TROOPERS (41D: Smokeys), for reasons that maybe you can explain to me. I've narrowed it down to two possibilities. Either 1. it's because HOG is slang for a motorcycle, which a TROOPER might ride, or 2. it's because a HOG is kind of PIG, and PIG is pejorative slang for a COP, of which TROOPER is one variety.

Didn't know:

  • 17A: Zuider Zee sight (dike) - I would rather see ZUIDER ZEE in the grid than in the clue, even though I've no idea what / where it is.
  • 50D: Be too good to (spoil) - can't figure out the syntax here ... and I just did. F@#$! It's obvious. I thought "to" was an infinitive verb waiting to happen... "Too good to WHAT!?"
  • 12D: Publican's stock (ales) - I had AMMO. I then went to 13D: Made rhapsodic (sent) and entered SANG. Hence my above comment about a botched NE corner.
And other assorted oddities:

  • 36A: Vintner's prefix (oeno-) - told ya so
  • 43A: Garland's "cowardly" co-star (Lahr) - STILL pausing over this guy's name Every time it comes up: BAHR? BEHR? LEHR? Every Time!
  • 40D: Relevant, in law (ad rem) - despite many years of Latin, I completely forgot the accusative form of RES and entered ... RES. "BUY A SAP!? Are we going to knock someone out on the way to gramma's house?"
  • 46D: Emulates Daniel Webster (orates) - I'm just happy that I got this from the clue alone, without even looking at the grid. Feels like I'm developing finer and finer puzzle reflexes.

See you tomorrow,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Nov. 27, 2007 - Julie Ann Bowling

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Pronunciation changes? (ugh) - every theme is a familiar phrase that is clued as if one of its words were pronounced differently ... yeah, it's not much of a "theme"

Well, this one sucked the joy right out of the room. I am all for changing pronunciation, but usually there is an actual THEME, a SUBJECT, a TOPIC, SOMETHING that makes the "theme" cohere, even a little. I peeked at Orange's site before writing this, just to see if there was something I was missing. Apparently not. This theme which is not one ... is accompanied by mostly lackluster fill. The two long Downs would Not come to me, one for good and the other for no good reason. Ditto the two 8-letter Acrosses. So it was a weakish day for me. Maybe I should be happy that I got out with the time that I did. And - as a side note - I don't need anyone (wink) writing in today telling me that this is Ms. Bowling's first puzzle (if it is) and that I should be more encouraging etc. I am being encouraging. I encourage her to write a better puzzle next time. I'll be first in line to praise it to the skies. Assuming it's good. If you want to be told today's puzzle is good, please read Orange, who claims to like it.

[I should add that if there is some part of the theme that I have missed - something that makes it all cohere beautifully - then I completely recant the above paragraph]

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Number one #2? (lead pencil)
  • 9D: What a comedian might do before going onstage? (polish joke)
  • 29D: Fish-shaped musical instrument? (bass guitar)
  • 57A: Little woman? (minute maid)

I learned a few new things today. Why would you need a "T" in DOUBLETS (26A: 2 and 12, e.g., in dice)? DOUBLES doesn't describe the phenomenon well enough? Never heard of IRON STONE (6D: Hard porcelain). Ditto NORA (58D: Ibsen's _____ Helmer) - I just had a weird memory that my once told me that my name would have been NORA had I been born a girl. Weird. Really glad I was born a boy (no offense to the various NORAs out there - Oh, and my mom didn't name me Rex, in case you didn't already know that; that's my own pompous creation). OUSE (42A: Northamptonshire river) sounds more French than English, but I'll trust that the clue is correct. Two familiarish phrases nearly completely eluded me to the bitter end:

  • PRECLUDED (34D: Made impossible)
  • SCARES UP (49A: Puts together hastily)

Didn't help that they intersect. [Exasperated sound]. Tripped over VACUOUS (51A: Empty, as a stare), because of course 9 times out of 10 you're going to say "VACANT stare." Yes, you are. Trust me. One thing that made me happy about today's puzzle: 32A: Bart's teacher, _____ Krabappel (Edna) -

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Nov. 26, 2007 - Andrea Carla Michaels

Monday, November 26, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: H-CK - every theme answer begins with this letter combination, with the vowel in the second spacing changing, in alphabetical order, as you move through the puzzle

Another fine birthday puzzle for me. Last year I got a Manny Nosowsky Sunday puzzle - this year, an Andrea Carla Michaels Monday. I finished this one much more quickly, but not without a similar amount of joy. Part of that joy comes from the genuinely entertaining fill; the other part of that joy comes from Smashing my old solving time record by a full 20 seconds. 3:21!!! No idea how that happened. There always seems to be some luck involved (i.e. never even looked at the clue for HUCKABEES - just filled it in from existing crosses - and knew HOCKNEY from just the -EY only because, well, I like art, etc.). All my first guesses ended up being correct, and the only answer that even mildly held me up was 33D: Flax-colored (golden) - and I wasn't held up long. As someone who a year ago was happy to solve a Monday in under 6 minutes, I can tell you that lots of practice, over time, will in fact make you a better solver. All the studying in the world cannot beat the simple act of doing puzzles, over and over. This is also true of GRE / SAT - type tests, but I digress.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Bean-filled bag moved with the foot (HACKy-sack)
  • 25A: Comedy club razzer (HECKler)
  • 37A: Like some hams (HICKory smoked)
  • 52A: Pop artist David (HOCKney)
  • 61A: 2004 film "I Heart _____" ("HUCKabees")

I am curious about the length of theme clues. It seems odd to me that two of the theme answers are very short (seven letters) and positioned directly across from other NON-theme seven-letter answers - e.g. HECKLER's across from MISS YOU (23A: Postcard sentiment) and HOCKNEY's across from ROMANIA (54A: Bucharest's land). I'm not saying this is illegal, but it seems quite uncommon for theme answers to be matched in length by non-theme answers running in the same direction. I'm somehow less bothered by the Longer non-theme answers running Down - all of which are at least good and two of which are gorgeous, by the way:

  • 11D: Oil conveyor (pipeline) - good
  • 12D: Abated (lessened) - good
  • 37D: 3-D picture (hologram) - gorgeous
  • 38D: "You don't say!," after "Well" ("I declare!") - gorgeous

There are many multiple-word phrases in this puzzle. I especially like the juxtaposition of EARN A (63A: _____ living) and A MESS (66A: What _____!" ("It's so dirty!"), with their reversed placement of the indefinite article. I also especially like the near-juxtaposition of BOK (4D: _____ choy (Chinese green))and WOK (8D: Chinese cooking vessel).

Lastly, today, I'm going to point out some words that are XWORD 101 words. Stuff that you should know if you want to zip through crosswords, including stuff that I learned Only from doing crosswords:

  • 14A: Creme-filled cookie (Oreo) - but you knew that
  • 15A: Wine: Prefix (Oeno-) - comes up not infrequently
  • 20A: Honor bestowed by Queen Eliz. (OBE) - Order of the British Empire - learned it from xwords
  • 26D: Early MGM rival (RKO)
  • 55D: Schindler of "Schindler's List" (Oskar) - even if you know the name, you are likely to spell it with a "C" if you've never thought about its spelling before. Very helpful to know about the "K."
  • 39D: Actor Calhoun (Rory) - he actually doesn't come up a hell of a lot; I just like his name because it reminds me of the time Mr. Burns likened one of his many greyhound puppies to this actor:

    Burns: There you are...there you go, little fellow...and you.
    [one of the puppies stands on its hind legs]
    [gasps] Smithers, look: he's standing up. I've never seen
    anything so adorable! Do you know who it reminds me of?
    Smithers: Benji?
    Burns: No.
    Smithers: Lassie?
    Burns: No, no, no, a person. You know who I mean.
    Smithers: Snoop Doggy Dogg? Bob Barker? David Brenner?
    Burns: No, no! The person who's always standing and walking.
    Smithers: Rory Calhoun?
    Burns: That's it!

Lastly, after watching a little "SportsCenter" this morning, I had a revelation, which I would like to express in the form of a birthday wish: I would like ESPN to promote correspondent WENDI NIX to a position prominent enough to render her crossword-worthy.

That is all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Finally, a FAQ

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I get lots of questions. Lots. I answer the same questions over and over it seems. Thus, I have come to understand the logic of the FAQ. I will add to this list as seems necessary. For now, here are this site's Frequently Asked Questions - I will try to answer each one as if it were a perfectly valid question (not always easy). Note: every time I mention my "sidebar" (below), I mean the sidebar as it appears from this site's homepage ( - for whatever reason, pages for individual blog entries show only a partial sidebar:

1. Why do you highlight one answer in every grid? / What does the blue square mean?

I solve the puzzle at the NYT puzzle site (for link, see sidebar). The software (aka the "applet") lets you know which answer you're working on by highlighting it in gray for you. The blue square is the cursor. This is a long-winded way of saying there is no particular significance to the highlighted answer / blue square.

2. Why are you writing about a puzzle that's different from the one in my paper?

Please read the subtitle to this blog - it explains all. In short, you are five weeks behind, in syndication-land. Click on "Syndicated Puzzle" link in my sidebar to go directly to your puzzle.

3. Why don't you write about the [insert paper title here] puzzle?

I just don't. I do all the major daily and weekly puzzles (see Question #12, below). I just don't write about them. Maybe someday. Not today. For write-ups of many, many different puzzles, see Orange's Diary of a Crossword Fiend.

4. "Why did you rate Monday's puzzle 'Challenging' and Saturday's puzzle 'Easy' - I solved Monday's puzzle much more quickly blah blah blah" (and variants)

I rate puzzles according to RELATIVE difficulty: that is, I rate their difficulty relative to the typical difficulty for That Day Of The Week. This baffles people so much that I may stop doing it.

5. How do I post a link in the "Comments" section?

You must code it in HTML. It's Very Easy.

Go here for an explanation.

5a. You have a "Comments" section?

Yes. Just click on "Comments" at the bottom of any write-up to view what other people are saying about the day's puzzle (and my write-up). I recommend reading the "Comments" section before commenting yourself or e-mailing me with some question about the puzzle - there's a good chance someone else has covered the issue you're concerned with.

6. Why do you talk about your solving times? You must think you are So Superior. I think I enjoy the puzzle more than you because I savor it blah blah blah x infinity...

I like to time myself on occasion, especially on early-week puzzles. I'm always in a kind of low-level training for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (again, see sidebar for link). I don't care if you are faster / slower than I am, or if you don't care about timing at all. More power to you. Everyone does the puzzle differently. There are solvers of all different speeds who read this site. There's no reason for anyone to feel defensive / self-conscious.

7. How could you not know [fill in the blank]?!

Either a. I am stupid, or b. I am not 80. Or both, I suppose.

8. Why was my comment deleted (you jackass)?

Take your pick: a. you were rude to someone, b. you were way off-topic, or c. you were talking about tomorrow's puzzle (you jackass)

9. Why won't you return my email?

No one has ever asked this. And yet I feel compelled to respond. I reply to most mail I get, but I get a lot, and some days it's just overwhelming. I do my best to send a polite response to every email, but this doesn't always happen. If I don't reply, don't take it personally ... unless your email said something like "Fuck you" (actual text of recent email), in which case, you can't honestly have expected a response, can you?

10. How can I find your write-up for [insert puzzle date here]?

Check in the "Blog Archive" - last item in the sidebar. You can pinpoint any day from there.

11. I can't read your posted grids. Is there any way to make them bigger?

Yes. Click on them. Ta da!

12. What other puzzles do you do?

Every weekday, I solve the New York Times (NYT), LA Times (LAT), CrosSynergy (CS), and Newsday puzzles. On Wednesdays, there's The Onion AV Club puzzle. On Thursday's, Matt Jones's "Jonesin'" puzzle. On Fridays, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE), and Village Voice (VV). And on Sundays, The Boston Globe (BG), The Philadelphia Inquirer (PI), and The Washington Post (WP). The NY Sun folded, but its puzzle lives on, and it's about the best puzzle out there. I also do Matt Gaffney's and Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzles - see "Rex Recommends These Puzzles" in my sidebar.

13. Where do you get the other puzzles you solve every day?

I subscribe to the NYT puzzle on-line. For almost everything else, I go to "Ephraim's Crossword Puzzle Pointers". The only major puzzle Ephraim doesn't feature is Matt Jones's "Jonesin'" puzzle, which you can get at Will Johnston's "Puzzle Pointers."

14. Why are there clues in parentheses in the title of each post?

It's a clue I've chosen to highlight for one or both of the following two reasons:

a. it's a clue that seems likely to move people to Google
b. it's a clue that strange, challenging, colorful, or otherwise noteworthy

Some helpful vocabulary:

  • APPLET - the online solving software at the NYT puzzle site
  • CROSSWORTHY - worthy of being in crosswords, i.e. sufficiently famous
  • MALESKA - Eugene T., former editor of the NYT puzzle - Will's immediate predecessor. I came of (puzzle) age under MALESKA's Draconian tutelage.
  • NATICK PRINCIPLE - "If you include a proper noun in your grid that you cannot reasonably expect more than 1/4 of the solving public to have heard of, you must cross that noun with reasonably common words and phrases or very common names." Go here for the answers that occasioned my coining this phrase.
  • ORANGE - My fellow crossword blogger, without whom this site might still be a backwater.
  • REBUS - a puzzle in which multiple letters or a picture or symbol can be written / drawn into a single square. Here are some examples.
  • SPOOR - I word I use sometimes for what others call "crosswordese" - i.e. horrible little words that appear in crosswords all out of proportion to the frequency with which they appear in ordinary human speech. They are nuisance words that are in the grid ONLY because of their ultra useful letter combos. They are inevitable, but a glut of them can really ruin a puzzle.

I'll add to this as necessary.

Best wishes,
Rex Parker


SUNDAY, Nov. 25, 2007 - Trip Payne

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Two out of Three" - all theme answers are composed of words that share "two out of three" letters

This should have been way easier than it was. I mean, once you figure out the theme, then you have a huge advantage in solving theme answers, as with only a couple crosses, you can figure out how to fill in 2/3 of the squares. And yet a couple of answers really slowed me down, mainly because of inelegant phrasing. My one error was in a theme answer as well (stupid error - left a dumb, bad first guess in place and never went back to fix it). Overall, I thought the puzzle entertaining and ambitious, with a couple of answers that seemed to stretch the concept of viability - let's call them "inventive failures"

Theme answers:

  • 24A: Nonsense about a cocktail? (Rob Roy rot) - first theme answer I got. It works beautifully.
  • 25A: Warning about Mel Gibson on a wrestling surface? (Mad Max man may mar mat) - funny, and yet I couldn't figure out the "MAN" part and didn't know where "MAY" went, so I had to wait for some crosses.
  • 41A: Major book about a leader of the lighter industry? (big Bic biz bio) - this one doesn't read right to me at all. BIZ feels redundant, and there's no word for a person about whom a BIO would be written, so I had BIG BIC BI- BIO, and kept having to come back to it (the cross, 44D: Frenzied situation (zoo), was not immediately apparent to me).
  • 67A: Hound, typically? (foe for fox) - true enough
  • 90A: Why horses are attracted to a witch's headgear? (hag has hay hat) - by Far my favorite theme answer - it makes perfect sense, it's funny, and it reads like a real sentence.
  • 106A: Why guitar-loving Cooke was blue when his gal named her favorite instrument? (sad Sam saw Sal say 'sax') - aargh. This one took some time (comparatively). I think my brain could not accept that one could SEE someone SAY something. Got SAD SAM and SAX easily - the others, less so.
  • 112A: Witticism about a wrinkly little dog? (pug pup pun) - the PUP part is sort of buried here, in that a PUG is already a "little dog" - this is an observation, not really a complaint.
  • 3D: A nitwit like the loud noise? (dip did dig din) - don't like the verb DID here. DIP DUG DIN is much better (though obviously useless to the constructor in this situation). I had DIM instead of DIP. Dumb.
  • 63D: Complicate commercials for woodworking tools? (add adz ads ado) - this is a wholesale disaster, so much so that I almost admire it.

So the theme was entertaining if not always elegant. The non-theme fill, however, was almost uniformly fantastic. Lots and lots of noteworthy clues/answers. So let's begin.

Sometimes it helps to have been born in the late 60's. Yesterday, MEL'S DINER was a pop cultural gimme for me (though it drove tons of people to Google, according to sitemeter). Today, another slew of delicious 80's meat.

  • MAD MAX (see theme answers, above)
  • NES (121A: 1980s video game console, in brief) - didn't own one, but sure knew what they were
  • YURI (27D: 1980s Soviet leader Andropov) - why his name stuck, I don't know.
  • LUKA (97A: 1987 Suzanne Vega hit) - all Kinds of high school graduation-year flashbacks ...
I also have an inordinate number of smiley faces and question marks scrawled all over my puzzle. Let's see what all that's about then, shall we?


  • 5A: Rigging technicians (grips) - I asked Sandy if she knew how TRIPS could be an answer for this clue. She said "could it be GRIPS?" Yes, yes it could. If I'd read the cross more closely, I'd have seen that the singer in question was not TORME but GORME (5D: "Eydie Swings the Blues" singer).
  • 18A: Fashion's Tahari (Elie) - fashion seems to be the go-to field for odd four-letter women's names
  • 51A: Snow leopard (ounce) - yikes. Some part of my brain knew this was correct once I got it, but it's a fairly vicious way to clue a standard unit of measurement.
  • 53A: Capital of Honshu (Yen) - ditto a standard unit of currency.
  • 59A: Margaret famous for painting waiflike children with big eyes (Keane) - also the name of Nancy Drew's creator (so much more palatable than this Keane's horrific paintings) [ugh, I'm wrong - Nancy Drew's creator is KEENE. KEANE created "Family Circus" / sang "Somewhere Only We Know"]
  • 62A: Japanned metal (tole) - :(
  • 69A: Subject of the film "An Unreasonable Man" (Nader) - once I got it, it seemed vaguely familiar...
  • 72A: He spent 29 years in the Knesset (Eban) - always forgetting how to spell this guy's name - I know him Only from crosswords.
  • 93A: Something "realise" lacks (zed) - I guess, but it also lacks a DEE, a BEE, blue eyes, facial hair, tickets to opening day at Fenway, etc.
  • 118A: Tannin source (acacia) - as if one ACACIA in a week isn't brutal enough. This version is even more vicious than the last. I had ---TEA for a while.
  • 56D: Italian saint Philip _____ (Neri) - no clue
  • 35D: Red-shelled fruit: Var. (lichee) - spelling this is always an adventure
  • 100D: Clinton's first defense secretary (Aspin) - spelled his name like the tree at first
And now, the abundant smiley faces:

  • 13A: Diamond points (bases) - I miss baseball already
  • 22A: Between green and black, say (ripe) - took me a while. In fact, it took me until after I'd completed the puzzle and realized my error (the aforementioned DIM for DIP) - I'm lucky I ever found the error, given that RIME is a perfectly serviceable word.
  • 50A: Like most jigsaw puzzles (die-cut) - I just love the word, for no particular reason.
  • 55A: Work with intaglio (etch) - nice to learn a word one day (INTAGLIO was in the puzzle recently) and profit from it the next.
  • 57A: Fixes a soundtrack (redubs) - had REDOES and then thought "that's too stupid." Correct.
  • 71A: Sportscaster Dierdorf (Dan) - I feel he played for the Kansas City Chiefs and is a big guy with a beard - off to Google ... Damn! He was a Cardinal, and the only facial hair he sported was an aggressive mustache. Maybe I was thinking of Dan Fouts...
  • 84A: Half of an animation duo (Hanna) - of course my first thought was JERRY or TOM or ITCHY or SCRATCHY or YOGI or BOO BOO ... and then I realized I was on the wrong end of the "camera."
  • 87A: "_____ Unleashed!" (cartoon volume) ("Odie") - I'm almost ashamed at how fast I got this.
  • 96A: Chang and Eng's homeland (Siam) - I love defunct geographical names - more PERSIA! More CEYLON! More NEW AMSTERDAM, I say.
  • 115A: Flame battler, at times (Canuck) - so good is this clue that I actually considered the possibility that CANUCK might mean "firefighter" before I considered that the "Flame" in question might be a hockey player.
  • 19D: Some crosstown trips (taxi rides) - gorgeous
  • 43D: Making a curling motion with the forefinger, maybe (beckoning) - the clue's a little too long, but I like it nonetheless.
  • 81D: Shoppe adjective (Olde) - brilliant
  • 92D: "Symphonie Fantastique" need (tuba) - here's a hint for all aspiring crossword solvers - learn everything you can about this piece of music. It won't go away (not that I want it to - it's, well, fantastic).
  • 101D: "_____ is just pink trying to be purple": Whistler ("Mauve") - the best clue quotation I've seen in a good long while.
  • 104D: Rider of the steed Babieca (El Cid) - Heston! As a medievalist, I'm vaguely embarrassed at how long it too me to get this. It's all about the parsing.
  • 111D: Her sidekick was Gabrielle (Xena) - another "fact" I know only from crosswords.

A few bad things:

  • 20A: Web-based education (e-learning) - one of the more ostentatious examples of the horrific E-prefixing trend.
  • 65D: Wrote a novel, e.g. (prosed) - [wincing ... more wincing]
  • 85D: William Petersen series ("CSI") - hate this show. Amuses me that "William Petersen" means Nothing to me. He's the star of the most popular drama on TV and ... nothing.

I can't believe that this is the first Trip Payne puzzle I've ever blogged, but it's true. Trip was featured in the movie "Wordplay." There is a link to his personal puzzle page in my sidebar.

Happy end of Thanksgiving weekend,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Nov. 24, 2007 - Victor Fleming

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Golfing (or, none)

This felt very easy. I didn't solve it in one unbroken wave, but when I got bogged down (a time or two), I rebooted fairly easily in another portion of the puzzle. The NE was particularly easy - more Thursday than Saturday. But the puzzle was reasonably colorful and entertaining, and, really, did I need to be taxed severely while my brain and other organs are still recovering from the unfamiliar onslaught of turkey? Answer: no.

There is no theme to today's puzzle, but as with yesterday's, the two, long anchor-answers appear to be thematically related - yesterday it was baseball, today, golf:

  • 11D: Display at a golf tournament (leader board)
  • 23D: Open competitors, often (touring pros)

Now TOURING PROS could refer to other sports, most notably tennis, but given the golfiness of its fellow long answer, I'm calling it a golf clue.

A number of gimmes added to the easiness of the puzzle, though in some cases the "gimme" status of a clue may have applied only to me.

  • 17A: 1976-85 sitcom setting (Mel's Diner) - Mmmm, my cultural sweet spot. Got this with just the "N" in place (from another gimme, 7D: 1980s-'90s N.B.A. star Danny (Ainge) - I think that this clue is recycled from the Last time we saw AINGE - a few months ago)
  • 20A: Rd. designer, e.g. (engr.)
  • 34A: Three-time 1990s French Open winner (Seles) - stabbed in the back by an insane Steffi Graf fan during a match in 1993 - she was never the same player after that, despite winning one more Grand Slam - the Australian Open - in 1996. She grunted a lot on court.
  • 47A: Where to find "Rome" (HBO) - easy easy easy; my gateway to the SE
  • 1D: Pitcher who was the 1995 N.L. Rookie of the Year (Nomo) - Hideo Nomo. A pitcher in 4 letters, from the 90's? There aren't many. Nomo pitched the last Red Sox no-hitter before Clay Buchholz pitched his earlier this year. Buchholz pitched his no-hitter in his second career start, while Nomo pitched his in his Red Sox debut.
  • 4D: Part of a long and winding road? (ess)
  • 8D: Many a camper, informally (RV'er)
  • 41D: "Ten North Frederick" novelist (O'Hara) - OK, maybe that one is a gimme only for me and a few assorted John O'Hara fans out there.
  • 44A: Fast-food chain known for its floats ("A and W") - God I love root beer floats. "A&W" is the actual corporate name, so ... the "AND" feels a little wrong; and yet it was easy, and floats are tasty, so who cares?
  • 52D: Big Apple-bound luggage tag code (LGA) - like all the above clues, Very easy

Not to say that there wasn't some trouble:

  • 25A: Doesn't belt it out (croons) - this threw me, as the opposite of "belt it out" to me is something like "sings softly" - which is apparently Exactly what "CROONS" means. I thought it was just another word for "sings"; so I balked at CROONS, thinking, "If Bing Crosby was really a 'crooner,' how did anybody ever hear him?"
  • 33A: "Happy Days Are Here Again" composer (Ager)
  • 35A: Israeli opera conductor Daniel (Oren)
  • 38A: _____ Diamond, author of the 1998 Pulitzer-winning book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (Jared) - seen this book on the shelves of bookstores Many time; never noticed the name. I'd like to thank the puzzle constructors for going the Pulitzer route here and not making me think about the Subway sandwich guy this morning.
  • 46D: Loudness unit (sone) - my high Physics grades from high school / college did not help me here.

Assorted other stuff:

  • 21A: Begin energetically (wade in) - I don't doubt that this is correct, but "wading" is such a non-energetic act that this pairing feels off kilter to me.
  • 29A: Source of political support (power base) - I had PARTY BASE, which seems a more in-the-language phrase for politics, but this is good too.
  • 9D: "_____ out!" ("Yer") - had "GET" at first; YER is much better.
  • 5D: It's usually spun first (side one) - Me, trying to solve this clue: "SIDE ... CAR? SIDE ... ARM?" I was cursing this one until I got it. Brilliant.
  • 43D: Massey of film (Ilona) - memorize her name, as she is on the prowl and likely to return (this is her second appearance in the past couple months).

Happy birthday to my brother-in-law, Tom (and Happy birthday Eve Eve to me),

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Nov. 23, 2007 - Paula Gamache

Friday, November 23, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Baseball Stadiums (or, none)

Would have rated this "Easy" were it not for the NW corner, which Krushed me. Did anyone else just stare at the four spaces before CHEESE at 17A: Greek salad ingredient and think "How is that not FETA!?!?!"? Never having heard of 1D: _____ Mason (asset management firm) (Legg) or 2D: "_____, dislike it" (start of Marianne Moore's "Poetry") ("I, too"), I was in a hell of a lot of trouble up there for a bit. The whole thing came together only after I spun through my Rolodex of character names from mysteries for an answer to 3D: Fictional character who first appeared in "The House Without a Key" and finally alit on CHAN. Perhaps if 19A: Exhausted (gone) had been more self-evident to me, things would have ended more quickly up there. I mean, I got LICENSE FEE (1A: Bit of income for the Department of Motor Vehicles) right away and the clever ETHNIC VOTE (15A: What someone might win after stumping a cultural group?) shortly thereafter. Never heard of NIC (5D: Robertson of CNN), but it hardly mattered. I had heard of the ... colorful ... Marge SCHOTT (6D: Controversial 1980s-'90s baseball team owner), so most of the NW was in place fairly quickly; and yet fully half my time solving this puzzle was spent mulling over what kind of cheese besides FETA could go in a Greek salad. Sad.

I loved that the long answers were thematically linked:

  • 26A: Where Yankees are found at Shea (Visitors dugout)
  • 40A: Fan fare? (Ballpark Franks) - not sure whether to capitalize that or not - it's a brand name, though I guess it could also be a general term
There was much cuteness in this puzzle, almost all of it acceptable to my notoriously cute-resistant sensibilities. First there's this pairing:

  • 11A: Waist products (obis) - OBI is going to rule the Pantheon of Crosswordese any day now. Seems there is some kind of unspoken context going on lately to see who can clue this word in the most inventive way.
  • 35D: Waste product (trash bag) - a product for carrying waste ... OK

Then there are the many impish clues:

  • 20A: Body repair sites, briefly (ORs)
  • 35A: Ark contents (Torah)
  • 47A: Amer. capital (USD) - that's U.S. Dollar, for the annoyed/confused of you out there...
  • 29D: Id output (urges)
  • 9D: Big-headed sorts (ETs) - always "big-headed?"
  • 57A: Witness to Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala's secret wedding (Artoo Detoo) - I will never be entirely happy with that spelling
  • 44A: One-eighties (U-eys) - ditto
  • 41D: Start of a little daredevil's declaration ("Look, Ma ...") - speaking of "impish" ...
Tough stuff:

  • 16A: Russian car (Lada) - ??????
  • 28D: Ninth-century founder of the Russian monarchy (Rurik) - Did he have a Cube too?
  • 42D: Food fish of Australia and New Zealand (red cod) - My Kiwi wife did not know this.
  • 51D: Wilson's vice pres. _____ Marshall (Thos.)

And assorted curiosities:

  • 39A: Doesn't quite mash (rices) - got it instantly - speaking of "mashed" ... so full ... of mashed potatoes ... turkey ... pie. My fridge is packed with the stuff. I'll be eating Thanksgiving dinner for at least three more days.
  • 58A: When tripled, "et cetera" ("yada") - how long has it been since I last claimed not to care for "Seinfeld"? Too long.
  • 7D: "A thousand pardons" ("Ever so sorry") - good, though ... who says this? A very polite British guy from at least 50 years ago?
  • 10D: Big shoe spec (EEE width) - I love this. EEE is such a tiresome answer, but this is fantastic.
  • 24D: City where Cezanne was born (Aix) - Cézanne = my favorite artist ever, FYI.
  • 25D: Cuisine that may be served with a chork (Asian fusion) - officially the first time I've ever seen the word "chork" - I hope never to see it again.
  • 26D: Hornet genus (vespa) - Scooter genus, as well.
  • 27D: "Everything's cool" ("It's all good") - modern! I had "IT'S ALRIGHT" for a bit.

Enjoy Friday. Take it easy on the leftovers, though.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Nov. 22, 2007 - Oliver Hill

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "X" - grid featured big black "X" in the center, which is (I believe) the clue for both 16A and 56A. Also, there are four unchecked letters in the middle of the grid - all "X"s

Holy unchecked letters! I've never seen a single unchecked letter in an NYT puzzle in the entire 14 months I've been writing about the puzzle ["unchecked" means a letter does not belong to both an Across and a Down answer, but only to one or the other]. I liked this puzzle, but was confused by the theme clues - both of which are the same:

  • 16A: [See diagram]
  • 56A: [See diagram]

I could not figure out what "diagram" meant. Even now, I'm only guessing that it's the grid, and that the clue for the theme answers is the "X" formed by the 17 squares at the heart of the puzzle. After I got ADULT FILM RATING (Happy Thanksgiving!) for 16A, I thought the clue was supposed to be "XXX" - which confused me, as it appeared there would be way more than 3 "X"s at the heart of this puzzle. It all worked out in the end, and I got my name in the puzzle (32A: T. _____), so I've got no real complaints.

In addition to REX, three other words contributed to the "X" orgy at the heart of the puzzle:

  • 17D: 44-Across character, with "the" (Lorax) - Got this as soon as I knew it had to end in "X", before I ever looked at 44A: Children's doctor? (Seuss)
  • 33A: Marks (out) (xes) - kinda weak. There are a number of these (preposition inside parentheses) clues today, including 9D: Withdraw (from) (wean) [ick] and 24D: Light (into) (rip) [better]
  • 38D: Tree tissue (xylem) - vocab!

I started out very slow on this puzzle, as none of the early clues were specific enough to be obvious to me. Took me a while to get words like AWARDS (1A: Crosses and such) and REWASH (7A: Rid of persistent dinginess, say). First word I got in the puzzle was INERTIA (14A: Sluggishness), but only because I lucked out with a wrong answer (CEDE for WEAN) that just happened to produce the correct cross (here, an "E"). Had CROUTON (duh) for 13A: Crunchy salad ingredient, but when the "W" in AWL (3D: Poking tool) made that impossible, I had no idea what could take CROUTON's place - took ForEver for me to see SNOWPEA.

Had to guess at the "L" in LEONORA (35D: "Fidelio" protagonist - no opera buff, I) because I've Never heard of ALDINE (34A: _____ Press, classic Venetian printer that introduced italics). In other Italian news, I also didn't get ANDANTE right away (1D: Medium tempo), though to my credit, once I had a bunch of the letters, I could fill in the gaps. The ANDANTE slowness added to my aforementioned NW troubles. I am still slightly gnashing my teeth at 13D: Like blue-chip stocks (safest) - I know it's a valid clue, but something in me does not like to see a superlative that is not clued as such. [Most like blue-chip stocks]? I don't know. [Bristle]

The Run-Down:

  • 18A: Word with ceiling or football (fan) - a Fantastic clue. Honestly. I mean that. That was not just an occasion to pun on the word "FAN." You know how I feel about puns.
  • 20A: N.Y.C. commuter option (MTA) - Manhattan Transit Authority? No: Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
  • 24A: Wisconsin senator Feingold (Russ) - of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act.
  • 28A: "The Da Vinci Code" albino (Silas) - this guy keeps coming back. He's bucking for the Pantheon (which I will have to update in the New Year)
  • 31A: Beast that bugles (wapiti) - can't picture it. Whoa, you know what's weird? I was just watching (in horror) an ESPN show on killing stuff the other day, and the stuff they were killing that day was ELK, and so I had a whole conversation about ELK with my Kiwi wife, who mentioned that NZ did indeed have ELK - they are called WAPITI (I didn't dream this conversation, did I, honey?)
  • 39A: Half of a 1991 film title duo (Thelma) - and Louise - a cultural phenomenon in its time, which included an early role for Brad Pitt
  • 52A: Hill creator (ant) - First thought: Mike Judge (creator of Hank, Peggy, and Bobby Hill)
  • 53A: Thumb's end (silent b) - This kind of clue is no longer tricky.
  • 55A: Feeling in a cathedral, maybe (awe) - this is coincidental. I just taught "Church Going" by Philip Larkin in prison this past Tuesday (thanks, Sarah B.). It's all about feeling (or wanting to feel) awe in church. My class had a great, long discussion about church and religion and the relationship of physical space to God and community. Here is the (fabulous) poem, in its entirety:
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
  • 45A: _____ Lawrence Orchestra (British big band since the 1960s) (Syd) - No way. If it's a musical SYD you want, why not go with BARRETT or STRAW (my favorite "SYD")?
  • 60A: Superlatively Halloweenlike (eeriest) - I just like the clue. Here, the superlative gets its due.
  • 62A: Small harpsichord (spinet) - Just strangely proud that I got this word with very few crosses.
  • 4D: Sch. papers (rpts.) - I've never asked anyone to write a "report," so this abbreviation just didn't occur to me. For a while. And then it did.
  • 8D: Corporation in 2001 headlines (Enron) - wow, 2001 well and truly sucked (except for the fact that that's the year I started dating my current wife... :) Actually, we started dating on Sep. 17, 2001. Auspicious!
  • 10D: "All nature is but _____": Pope ("art") - I read this as "All is nature but _____" but it didn't matter - still got it instantly.
  • 11D: Bright lights, at times (stimuli) - "Bright lights" made me think of "Big City" and only "Big City" - needed many crosses to get this one.
  • 34D: B flat, enharmonically (A sharp) - got this immediately, despite never having seen "enharmonically" before
  • 42D: Who said "I believe in censorship. After all I made a fortune out of it" (Mae West) - this is So Weird. I've never seen a clue phrased as a genuine question. This MUST be a typo - "Who" should be "She," right?
  • 54D: Adriatic port (Bari) - ????
  • 58D: Architect Maya (Lin) - she of the Vietnam War Memorial ... I think. Yes.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS - In a very odd coincidence, the latest entry at my vintage paperback blog picks up the X / Cross theme of this puzzle - it's a John D. MacDonald book called The Crossroads (which my fingers want to type only thusly: CrossRoads)


WEDNESDAY, Nov. 21, 2007 - Kelsey Blakley

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Military Movie Stuff - terms related to film that contain words that double as ranks in the army; in the answer, the "ranks" are abbreviated, as they would be in one's military title

Cute theme, I guess. My question: what is with the 10-letter Acrosses that are Not theme answers? They threw me off badly at first. I was trying to figure out what in the world BUYER'S GUIDE (19A: Consumer Reports offering) could have to do with PVT SCREENING (which I had as BRA[SS]CREENING at first, figuring, to my horror, that I was dealing with some kind of "SS" rebus...)? Those 10-letter answers Really Really want to be themed. I feel as if there should be some rule for the number of letters a non-theme answer can have relative to a theme answer, especially if it's running in the same direction as the theme answers. Maybe a minimum of two letters shorter ... just an idea. I think the puzzle seems weak to me because I look at both of those 10-letter answers and they seem like good places for theme answers - they seem like missed opportunities, somehow. Oh, for the record, the other 10-letter answer - SMOKE SIGNAL (64A: Means of visual communication).

Theme answers:

  • 21A: Film showing for V.I.P.'s, in the army (Pvt. screening)
  • 41A: Big studio release, in the army? (Maj. motion picture)
  • 59A: Common ticket category, in the army? (Gen. admission)

Bonus theme tie-ins - MATINEES (28D: Shows with lower-priced seats, usually) and FLOPS (1D: Lays an egg) and (stretching it) NO SHOW (50D: Standby's salvation).

The NW was slightly rough for me, in that I had BOMBS and FAILS before I ever had FLOPS at 1D. Thought I had no idea about the Ogden Nash clue (15A: Priest in an Ogden Nash verse - LAMA), until I remembered that that verse was the topic of a puzzle not long ago; something about a three-L'd LLLAMA ... oh yeah, there was a horrible pun on "Three-Alarmer." I have to stop having puzzle flashbacks. Completely clueless about 18A: "Little Shop of Horrors" dentist (Orin). Ooh, I just noticed that 1D: Lays an egg is next to 2D: Maggot, e.g. (larva) - nice, disgusting juxtaposition. SAY AH, indeed (24A: Doctor's request).

More of today's question marks:

  • 5A: Presidential middle name (Abram) - that's James ABRAM Garfield
  • 23A: Ludd, the original Luddite (Ned) - I love the word "Luddite." It's just fun to say. In other -UDD news, I have a student at Elmira named "Fudd."
  • 27A: Carte blanche offer ("Name it!") - man this threw me for a loop. I had N-MEI- and couldn't think of a damn thing. Then I thought maybe "Carte blanche" was literal - that there was a white menu out there with actual items on it that I didn't know about: "I'd like an order of NO MEIN, please."
  • 31D: "Pagliacci" clown (Tonio) - ah, my infamous opera ignorance. I thought "Pagliacci" was the clown. TONIO sounds like a bad 90's R&B act. Coolio meets Tony, Toni, Toné.
  • 22D: _____ Canyon (Pueblo cultural area) (Chaco) - no idea. Just ... none.
  • 56D: Florida congressman Crenshaw (Ander) - is this fair game? WTF? If he didn't sleep with interns or seek sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall, how can I be expected to know him?
Pleasing things:

  • 6D: Smurf-colored (blue) - possibly the best way to clue BLUE that I know of. Most nefarious way of cluing BLUE - [Like Babe, e.g.]
  • 20D: Demarcation affected by warming (snow line) - not a term I hear much, but I got it almost instantly and like it a lot.
  • 42D: Cousin of a hammerhead (mako) - got in instantly. MAKO is your go-to answer if your answer is a 4-letter word for a kind of shark.

Enjoy Thanksgiving Eve,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Nov. 20, 2007 - Larry Shearer

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: AFC/NFC football teams - theme answers (in two words) also happened to be names of NFL players, one from the AFC, one from the NFC: 56A: Where this puzzle's theme pairs would like to meet (Super Bowl)

Slow today, but I think that's partly because I did the puzzle as soon as I got out of bed, in my dark office. Words that should have come to me quickly didn't. Partial words looked horribly unfamiliar until a cross dropped into place and then the answers became quite obvious. ETC ETC (44A: "Blah, blah, blah ..."). Gotta go to IHOP with mom this morning, so here's your Kwik Rite-Up:

Theme Answers - followed by the names of the NFL teams involved, and my assessment of the likelihood those teams will meet in the Super Bowl this year:

  • 17A: Big spender's woe? (giant bill) => New York Giants (7-3) vs. Buffalo Bills (5-5) - odds: Low
  • 25A: Revolver toter? (Colt packer) => Indianapolis Colts (8-2) vs. Green Bay Packers (9-1) - odds: Not Bad - probably the most likely match-up of all the ones featured in this puzzle [my initial answer here was COLT PIRATE ...]
  • 37A: MasterCard-carrying ecclesiastic (Cardinal charger) => Arizona Cardinals (5-5) vs. San Diego Chargers (5-5) - odds: Very Low
  • 45A: Peter? (Chief Saint) => Kansas City Chiefs (4-6) vs. New Orleans Saints (4-6) - odds: I'm gonna say 'Zero'

A lot of the clues today were semi-tricky, or challengingly vague. Here's some stuff I tripped on:

  • 1A: Missing Jimmy (Hoffa) - I wrote OLSEN (so no surprise that I got 7D: Superman's birth name (Kal-El) no problem)
  • 9A: General feeling (vibes) - took me Forever to come up with this Cyndi Lauper / Jeff Goldblum movie
  • 16A: Take forcibly (usurp) - wanted only WREST
  • 19A: "Mule Train" singer, 1949 (Laine) - thankfully, never saw this clue
  • 21A: Gum arabic-yielding tree (acacia) - I'm not big on flora, in general
  • 22A: Where to find the headings Books, Dolls & Bears, and Collectibles (eBay) - borrowing from one of my favorite writers, I would call this clue "Dazzle Camouflage"; I was too distracted by the nuttiness of the clue to see (very quickly) the obviousness of the answer.
  • 40A: New York home of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy) - RPI gets a surprising amount of puzzle play. I wonder why...
  • 43A: Mark, as a ballot square (x in) - [wince]
  • 60A: Chain unit (store) - one of the main reasons I took a while in the SW. Retail aspect of the word "chain" just didn't occur to me (for a while)
  • 46D: Self-help category (how-to) - this is oddly clued. I think of "Self Help" and "How-To" as Completely Different parts of the book store.
  • 47D: Due to get, as punishment (in for) - actually stared at INF-R for a few seconds thinking "how can INFER be right!?"
  • 64A: Prickly husk (bur) - Yesterday BURR, today BUR. One-R spelling always looks wrong to me.
  • 11D: LaCrosse carmaker (Buick) - See also ALERO (24D: Olds discontinued in 2004).
  • 21D: Imitative in a silly way (apish) - this answer is silly and yet I got it almost instantly.
  • 44D: Sermon ending? (-ette) - a little something to tide you over between sermons? Not a word I'm familiar with. Apparently it simply means "short sermon"... did that concept really need a name?

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


My Waiter

Monday, November 19, 2007

I so hope that the waiter I had at Pizzeria Uno's earlier this afternoon becomes famous for something, so that I can see his fantastically preposterous name in a puzzle some day. Are you familiar with the waitorial practice of writing one's name on a napkin and placing it on the table so that the diners know who they're dealing with? Well, my waiter did just that. He said "Hi, I'm B.J. and I'll be taking care of you today." At least that's what I thought he said. Then I looked down at the napkin he'd just placed on the table:



MONDAY, Nov. 19, 2007 - Lynn Lempel

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging (again, it's RELATIVE difficulty)

THEME: Things you'd find in a PAPER (40A: Where you may find the ends of 17-, 23-, 52- and 63-Across)

Before I get a bunch of comments saying "What do you mean, 'Challenging,' I thought this was easy. Way easier than yesterday's, which you rated 'Medium,' etc." let me first say, sigh. Second, the difficulty ratings are relative to the day of the week of the puzzle. So this puzzle, today's, I found "Medium-Challenging' ... For A Monday.

Why? I don't know. I just stumbled over a lot of answers, some of which seemed perfectly fair, others of which seemed kinda ugly. Take CRIPES (5A: "Jeepers!") - I could not come up with that word at all, and its first two crosses - 5D: U.S. health promoter: Abbr. (CDC) and 6D: Auto last made in the 1930s (REO) - also did not come instantly. I can't remember the last time I heard someone say / saw someone write CRIPES. I hear both CRIMINY and YIPES more often. This CRIPES must be their bastard son. Further, 27A: Searched (trolled) tripped me as well. It's just not the first word, or second, that comes to mind with a generic clue like [Searched]. In other parts of the puzzle I was just slow on the uptake. Took me a couple beats to retrieve the very easy (bordering on Pantheonic) DENALI (15A: Native name for Mount McKinley), and I looked at B--- for what felt like a while before the name I wanted, BURR (36D: Jefferson's first vice president) finally leaped into my head. Other hiccups included:

  • SEDGE (33D: Marsh plant) - I have had SEGO / SAGO confusion before, and those words were fighting it out in my brain while SEDGE sat mildly, quietly by.
  • SMITH (52D: Suffix with black or silver) - never ever thought of -SMITH as a suffix. I suppose it's correct, just not intuitive to me. Thus, another hiccup.
  • BEANIE (70A: Freshman's topper) - come on. COME ON. When is the last time any "freshman" wore a BEANIE??? This kind of outdated cluing has to go, or it has to be clued as outdated. It is a question of date, right? Is there some college ritual still going on of which I am unaware?

Then there's the theme, which ... wasn't strong. Theme entries:
  • 17A: Subversive group (fifth column) - here was the main problem - the reason I got off to such a poor start: I've Never heard of this phrase. Pure, plain ignorance. FIFTH COLUMN means nothing to me right now.
  • 23A: Soap or lotion, say (toilet article) - had trouble committing to it because my ear wants only TOILETRY ARTICLE
  • 52A: Notorious stigma (scarlet letter)
  • 63A: Coveted film honor (Best Picture)

So there wasn't a lot of joy in puzzleville today - though I should say that I got through the puzzle in reasonable time (4:45), despite all my tripping . I did love ELMIRA (9D: New York city where Mark Twain is buried), since that's where I go every Tuesday night to teach (in the maximum security prison). Also, I find I have an inexplicable love for IBIS (37D: Curve-billed wader). The VILE (22A: Repulsive) / VIALS (22D: Pharmacy containers) intersection was mildly cute. Otherwise .... well, see you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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