WEDNESDAY, Dec. 31, 2008 - Tim Wescott (Letters after two slashes / Support with stone, as an embankment / One of a seasonal octet)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: URL suffixes - circled squares in four theme answers spell out common web address suffixes; first letters of theme answers are H, T, T, and P (respectively) (the letters at the beginning of all web addresses) - bonus theme answer of WWW (40A: Letters after two slashes)

It's the final puzzle of 2008 - I really wish I liked it more. I wanted to end the year on a high note, but there is a messiness about this theme that I find somewhat off-putting. My gut feeling is that the puzzle is trying to do too much. When I first test-solved the puzzle, the initial letters of the theme answers were Not circled, and when I finished, I could not understand the rationale for accepting the puzzle - the circled square coverage is thin and (contrary to the highest standards of puzzle-writing) the circled squares don't touch every word in each theme answer. Only PLAYING OVERTIME seemed legit, and as a stand-alone phrase, even that wasn't that strong. Taking COM from the first three letters of COMMITMENT seemed so cheap and easy that I was surprised the puzzle hadn't been rejected out of hand. Now that I see the H, T, T, P thing, I understand what the constructor was trying to do, and I like the puzzle better, but I'd still rather have the suffixes breaking across both words of two-word phrases in every theme answer. AVIATOR GOGGLES would have been awesome. Which brings me to my second, more minor criticism - where is ORG? It's conspicuously absent, the only common URL suffix missing from the puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Feel like quarreling about something (have a boNE To pick)
  • 23A: No halfway effort (total COMmitment)
  • 49A: Basis of a false arrest, perhaps (trumpED-Up charge)
  • 51A: Going past the fourth quarter, say (playinG OVertime)

REVET (3D: Support with stone, as an embankment) is a giant clunker in an otherwise beautifully filled grid. OK, maybe ONE PM (8D: Common lunch hr.) and US ONE (53D: Auto route from Me. to Fla.) don't belong in the same grid, but they're far enough apart, spatially, for anyone to be too bothered by the word repetition. Meanwhile, we get the seasonal DASHER (41D: One of a seasonal octet), the sassy SKORTS (9D: Women's hybrid clothing), the tasty GUMBO (56D: Okra stew), and the intriguing intersection of SEXY (68A: Like the Beatles' Sadie) and SCREWY (48D: Off the wall).

Carmel (by-the-Sea) is lovely, by the way; but if you've ever been here, you know that. Ooh, I think I had a celebrity sighting earlier today. I was walking on one of these little roads near the beach where cars have to drive very slowly because of narrowness and pedestrians and what not, and this red convertible sports car drives by with a fat fortyish blond guy behind the wheel, ostentatiously smoking a cigarette and chatting to his lady friend in the front seat. I could've sworn the guy driving the car was John Daly. The fact that I could see Pebble Beach from where I was standing when his car drove by only deepens my belief that that's who it was. He looked very happy.


  • 5A: Meal-in-a-can brand (Alpo) - did anyone else have SPAM? I had SPAM. Both times I solved this, I had SPAM. I still want it to be SPAM.
  • 20A: Gangster's code of silence (omerta) - one of the fancier, more exotic-sounding terms I've learned from crosswords.
  • 28A: Writer's guidelines (specs) - short for "specifications." I like this. Surprised I don't see it more.
  • 41A: Grounds for a good night's sleep? (decaf) - I did Not have DECAF after dinner tonight. Hence my boundless energy and laser-like focus at this late hour. Did you know DECAF backwards is FACED? See - laser-like!
  • 58A: Suffix with hotel (-ier) - HOTELIER is ugly enough without you comically cleaving it in two like this.
  • 59A: Richard and Jane in court (Roes) - Here are the rules (such as they are) on Roe and Doe in legal cases. Mildly confusing.
  • 66A: Hamburg's river (Elbe) - I would love to see a puzzle with a bunch of 4-letter European rivers embedded in it - or better yet, winding through it. Yes, I am serious.
  • 69A: U.K. military medals (DSOs)- the Brits give out so many damned awards that I have no hope in hell of ever learning them all, let alone telling them apart from one another.
  • 5D: Monastic jurisdiction (abbacy) - oddly, we saw this answer not too long ago. It is otherwise unusual.

  • 6D: "Bus 9 to Paradise" author Buscaglia (Leo) - a gimme, though I have no idea why I know this guy.
  • 10D: Steal, slangily (cop) - a word invented because the phrase "steal a feel" just sounded too silly
  • 13D: Native of NE Siberia (Yakut) - Excellent REVETters, the YAKUTs.
  • 24D: When a ball may be hiked (on two) - a daring and (to my mind) admirable answer
  • 38D: "How _____ Has the Banshee Cried" (Thomas Moore poem) ("Oft") - now if I only knew who Thomas Moore was...
  • 46D: "Obey your thirst" sloganeer, once (Sprite) - feels fairly recent ... yes, here's an example:

  • 51D: Range extending south from the Kara Sea (Urals) - when in doubt, this should be your go-to mountain range.
  • 52D: "At the Milliner's" painter (Degas) - hmmm, a non-ballet-related DEGAS clue. Interesting. Coincidentally, I used the word "milliner" just today. Not normal conversational fare for me.
  • 57D: They're guarded at the Olympics (epees) - even more common than the URALS. I'm assuming that "guarded" means they can't do you any real harm [no - refers to the bell guard that covers competitors' hands]

I have to say that I was grateful to notice the "HTTP" portion of this puzzle when I solved it tonight, because the thought of finishing the year with a wholly negative review was depressing me. Seriously. Sitting on the beach watching the sunset with my wife earlier this evening, I was thinking about this write-up, and wondering how I was going to manage to be honest, but also strike the right kind of tone for a year-end write-up - one that was hopeful, even grateful.

[See Rex wonder ...]

I have no interest in writing a blog wherein I do anything but give you my candid, largely uncensored reaction to the puzzles - but writing from the gut and under the gun results at times in what one might reasonably call a lack of sensitivity on my part. If I worry too much about hurting someone's (i.e. a constructor's) feelings, then the natural energy that drives me to write this thing every day gets ... well, MUTED (25D: No longer bright, as colors). So in case it's not completely clear, let me say: I'm genuinely grateful for every puzzle I get to do. The criticism I offer, even the harsh stuff, is meant as a sign of respect (as in "I respect the endeavor you're engaged in enough not to blow sunshine up your skort when your work strikes me as less than adequate"). So, as 2008 ends, I offer genuine thanks to every constructor whose work I've had the pleasure and displeasure of solving this year. Your work provides the basis for a wonderful, lively, ongoing conversation that I feel privileged to reinitiate every morning, rain or shine (when I don't pawn the job off on unpaid lackeys, that is).

That said, I'd like to make a few suggestions. First, if you aren't reading the Comments section, consider starting. Lots of interesting conversations tend to develop throughout any given day, and if you have additional questions about the puzzle, the Comments section is the place to look first (you know, before you email me directly). Second, if you haven't commented on a blog write-up before, consider starting. We can always use fresh voices. The commenters might seem like a group that's known each other for a long time, but actually most people "know" each other only from this site. Their skill levels are widely divergent and they're mostly really nice folks, so there's no need to be intimidated, even if you're a relative beginner. Lastly, to current commenters - consider writing somewhat fewer and more concise comments, at least for the next month or so, as I try to encourage participation from a greater cross-section of my reading audience. Thanks for your support and understanding.

O man, that's about as much earnestness as I can handle for one day. Back to my more typical snarky blather tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY Dec. 30 - Doug Peterson (Tolkien brutes / Tony winner Lenya / Sicilian hot spot / Big name in grills / Marathon handout)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hi! Andrea Carla Michaels here again. I know. I know. It's a long story. Suffice to say the heroine once again is PuzzleGirl, by day a mild-mannered mom, editrix-extraordinaire, non-ironic mud-wrestler ... and when you need her, answers the Orange bat-phone, tears off her pantyhose, lets out the invisible dog and becomes Angel-A!

Need a sub-blogger? Who ya gonna call? Angel-A! Stuck at the airport? Need a warm meal? Who ya gonna call? Angel-A! Playmate for your daughter? Clue-solver for your repetitious Harry Potter clues? Who ya gonna call? Angel-A!

Virginia is for Lovers. What happens in VA ... stays in VA. That's all I'm gonna say. So, I'll leave all that to your fervid imaginations. Suffice to say, Rex et famille are safely tucked into Carmel, Angel-A's work is all but done (except, of course, for making my ramblings coherent, complete with videos) and you're stuck with me again. ☺ Thank you, Angel-A!

Today's puzzle is talkin' about my g-g-g-g-g-generation.

That's because Doug Peterson's puzzle has Senior, Junior, and The Third culminating in a highbrow reference to Turgenev's Fathers and Sons ... which I assure you is much funnier in the original Russian! (Shout out to MiriamB, where have you gone?!)

Theme Answers:
  • 20A: Incentive aimed at golden agers (senior discount)
  • 31A: Chocolate-coated candy (Junior Mints)
  • 40A: 1949 Orson Welles film ("The Third Man")
  • 52A: Ivan Turgenev novel ... and a hint to 20-, 31, and 40- Across (Fathers and Sons)
I admit I found this puzzle sort of difficult and sophisticated and by no means NONSLIP (48A: Designed to increase traction).

I began by not getting any of the first ten or so Acrosses, (other than 14A: Actress Petty (Lori)), who seemed to disappear after "Tank Girl."

Altho today she reappears atop of ALEX Rodriguez, so maybe that's where she is, now that things have cooled off between him and Madge. (Those with subscriptions to the New York Times and not People may have no idea what I've just said, but what are you gonna do about it? Who ya gonna call? Tank Girl? NO! Haven't you been paying ANY attention??!! You're gonna call Angel-A!)

I'm so used to having him referred to as A-ROD, that when confronted by his real name, I was momentarily stunned into silence. Not an easy trick for any of you who know me.

Another over/under combo that was nice was ON ICE (60A: In readiness) over WATER (63A: Marathon handout) ... tho not nearly as exciting as LORI atop ALEX!

Plus, I started to "pencil in" with my papermate pen Early Bird Special for 20A: Incentive aimed at golden agers till I ran out of letters … now that's a theme dying to happen.

I thought I got some traction when I confidently wrote in cinchpin for 26A: Key Element, but 26D: Most of Santa's mail looked bad later as cists. That should have been a tip-off, but I rationalized maybe it's only one perverse, sick, illiterate TYKE (10A: Youngster) that writes to him … I don't know from Christmas LISTS. Don't ask me, I'm Jewish, as I write this on the 9th day of Chanukah! (I actually invited my neighbors in to light the candles last night and to teach them how to play dreidl, only to not realize till this very second that I thought it was only the 7th night. But I count this as a Chanukah puzzle, what with BIBI (7D) clued as Nickname of Israel's Netanyahu when Doug Swedish-sounding Peterson could have easily gone with the Bergman Actress/Shiksah Bibi Andersson.) (Shiksah? I so don't use that word, it's not good in Scrabble, I don't even know how to spell it and I am not going to look it up!)

Which of course brings me to my fave answer of the puzzle: 44A: Easy dupes (schnooks)!!!!!!!! SCHNOOKS in the New York Times crossword puzzle! I had the SCH- in place and at first thought SCHEMERS? That makes no sense. But Doug Swedish-sounding Peterson has SCHNOOKS? What next? SCHMUCKS? SCHLMIELS? SCHMEGEGGIES? (That last one's for you Bill from New Jersey!) And crossing NOSH (33D: Light snack) no less!

NOSH/TOSH. PALM/PSALM. No comment, just fun to say. I was a bit suspect of ELS crossing RAIL. But I loved the energy of 1D: Reduce drastically, as prices (slash).

I'm sure, as there was inexplicably no "Simpsons" clue today, there will be lots of discussion about the Seinfeld JUNIOR MINTS episode, so I (and when I say I, I mean Angel-A) might as well provide a link to that. [Note from PuzzleGirl: Sorry. None of the clips I found were very good, so I'll just include a still photo.]

Seriously, after SCHNOOKS, I'm SCHNOCKERED and don't know what else to say. I've never heard of HOME ROW (41D: Where touch typists begin) and I do have a HYANNIS story (23A: Massachusetts tourist spot), which I'll save for if Caroline actually becomes Senator.

She was a college classmate of mine. I once spent a weekend back in 1977 with her family in Hyannisport (and have the scar to prove it!). She is now potentially the next Junior Senator from the Great State of New York, and I'm blogging for Rex Parker, having been stood up for dinner. And you know what? I may have made the better life decisions! Not.

Ah, life decisions, college, choices, and long journeys … I had forgotten (or maybe never knew) that ODYSSEUS (which along with Turgenev is classy to have in a puzzle), designed the Trojan Horse (38D). Although, back in the day, when I was a stand-up comic (when I could have run for the senate! Damn it!) a reference to the Trojan Horse was one of my signature UN-PC (32D: Potentially offensive) jokes:

"Why would they call rubbers "Trojans"? I mean the whole idea of the Trojan Horse was to sneak inside the walls of Troy.... Once inside, everyone jumped out and attacked!!!! Doesn't make me feel real safe…" Ba-da-bum. Thank you folks! I'll be here all week! (Only kidding. Rex will be back tomorrow. Promise!)


MONDAY, Dec. 29 - Kevin Donovan (Commercial prefix with -max or -cam / Military aircraft engine maker _____ & Whitney)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hi! Andrea Carla Michaels here, while PuzzleGirl and Rex cavort in VA. I'm not saying anything is going on and all ... alls I know is I volunteered to sub-blog to take some of the load off PuzzleGirl while she did double duty with Amy and Rex both on vacation. Rex was coming to Carmel so I was gonna get to have dinner with him and his lovely bride Sandy and darling daughter and had been pleading for days for them to consider staying over at least one night (empty bedroom on account of the MIA Israeli and all…).

PuzzleGirl and I exchanged numbers to work out the logistics of doing Monday's puzzle together (as I remain astonishingly clueless about embedding videos and the like). We speak on the phone for the very first time, compare Midwest accents, and she "casually" mentions she is jealous that I am going to see Rex on his vacation. Next thing I know, he is "stranded" at the DC airport and is calling for her number! (n.b. NOT at 45D: Chicago air hub, O'HARE, which I would have believed!)

Now, they are all living together on some sort of puzzle commune! While they make snow angels, practice tag-team wrestling moves with their respective spouses, pose for paintings wearing nothing but a necklace, compare beet recipes, and godknowswhatelse, I sit here in SF, strapped to my desk wondering what the hell just happened!

Oh! Was there a puzzle? OK. Puzzle.

This puzzle will literally give you the runs. Before everyone screams, "Breakfast test!" (which I'm telling you, Will has assured me in the past that that does not exist), let me explain that is the theme: RUN (54D: Something 18-,26-, 42-, or 51-Across might have).

  • 18A: It might include a 10, jack, queen and king of hearts (rummy hand)
  • 26A: Yankees/Red Sox matchup, e.g. (baseball game)
  • 42A: Candidate for a Tony (Broadway play)
  • 51A: L'eggs product (pantyhose)
Kevin Donovan has offered something for everyone … card players, baseball fans, theatergoers and the ladies! (In that order, I might add, which seems to be a microcosm about the crosswords themselves, nowadays.)

Although this kind of definitional theme can border on boring, I think it's great to think of one word with all its multiple meanings. That's what it's all about!

I was tempted to rate this "Super-challenging" since Rex is gone and that way everybody could feel good about him/herself, but it was pretty super straightforward.

My only trip up was 38A: Want badly, with "for." I put in pine instead of ACHE. I guess you could ache for something, but I'll bet pine for is 387 times more common. Plus there must be loads of ways to define ache without an unnecessary mislead.

And I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know that 3D: U.N. agcy. awarded the 1969 Nobel Peace Prize, ILO stands for International Labour Organization. I see ILO and I think ILM (Industrial Light and Magic).

I needed all the crosses to get 11D: Military aircraft engine maker _____ & Whitney (Pratt). Definitely not a Monday word, but it beats the PRAT-with-one-T of last week.

Speaking of two-t's: Something fun — 44D: Pupil (tutee) and 22A: _____-frutti (tutti).

I needed to get most of the crossings for 5D: "Absolutely" ("no doubt") as well.

If you were only doing the acrosses, which apparently is the way to go for a Monday, you would have missed the explanation to the theme, as well as my only it's-all-about-me shout-out from the puzzlemaker: fellow Andrea, who goes by ANDIE (13D: Actress MacDowell).

(I'd put in that clip in the rain of her and Hugh Grant from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" but I thought she was embarrassingly bad in it, especially having to hold her own against such wonderful British actors. She does do well, however, when she is simply called upon to play pretty but slightly confused, as in "Sex, Lies and Videotape," "Groundhog Day," etc. But apparently she was so bad in that French Tarzan film, rumor has it they had to redub her lines and she was speaking in English!)

In lieu of a clip of her acting, I will ask PuzzleGirl to include a picture of her acting "pretty but slightly confused." I guess that was the only shout-out to me, unless you count the anagram of Carla: 6D: Barton who founded the Red Cross (Clara). Always good to see a woman identified by substance and not just for wearing pantyhose.

Speaking of women of substance, props to the actress Nichelle Nichols who played 48A: "Star trek" lieutenant" UHURA, a role model on the small screen as a strong black woman waaaay before Oprah. And she pulled it off with ironed hair and what appears to be a push-up bra! (Mini trivia: Uhura comes from the Swahili "Uhuru" which means "freedom.")

One last thing, and then I'll let you all have at it ... I also would not have known 16A: Harry Potter's best friend (Ron) had it not been for reading Rex just yesterday and having the answer come from 9-year-old PuzzleSon himself! I don't know if RON in the films is the boy who is now the lead in that virgin Vampire "Twilight" film ... but I have been supplying my 14-year-old cousin Rachel with pictures of Robert Pattison for her to plaster her walls with. She calls me every time literally in tears from excitement over him. I am not totally for fueling unrealistic expectations and crushes on unobtainable actors who look moments from being arrested and shattering all childhood dreams (you just knew I'd insert a reference to Woody, didn't you?), but I am for making my adorable cousin happy. (Oh, I just looked it up. RP, who shares his initials with the man I have plastered all over MY walls, actually plays Cedric. I'm not gonna delete the last paragraph tho, as it's the only way I could get in a Woody Allen reference.)

Rex back tomorrow (or not)! ☺


SUN., Dec. 28, 2008- P. Berry (BBC panel show regular Phill / Cloak-wearing "Star Wars" race / Controversial 1987 expose by ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Going Around in Circles" - grid represents the ORBITS (7A: What this puzzle's eight concentric rings (uncircled and circled) represent) of eight PLANETs (124A: One of these can be found reading counterclockwise somewhere in each concentric ring)

Hey, everyone. Rex here. Funny thing happened on the way to California ... long story short, I'm sitting in PuzzleGirl's home in Arlington, VA. I was supposed to be in Carmel by now, but, well, there was fog, then a "broken printer" that meant my pilot couldn't get his weather report (what century is this, again?), then a sprint to a gate in D.C. where, though I arrived there five minutes before official take-off, I was told that the doors were shut, our tickets given to stand-bys, and that's it. Actually, I was not told this. Wife was told this. I then waited in front of the guy who told her for about five minutes before the guy bothered to mention that we should go to Customer Service to rebook. At Customer Service I found a line a city block long. Waited there for a bit then a guy comes out and says "You're all International, right?" And I said, "No." Then he said "There's a much shorter line at D Concourse." Then I went there and picked up a phone, and then a lady told me "No flights to Carmel til Monday" and I asked her what she was smoking, sort of, then hung up, then waited in the shorter Customer Service line, only to be told "No flights to ANYWHERE NEAR Carmel until Monday." We could go back home, or we could wait in DC On Our Dime (their claim that the delay was "weather-related" was a horrible half-truth) until Monday. So ... I said "I'll call PuzzleGirl, she'll know what to do," only I didn't have her number; I had Andrea's number. So I called Andrea (whom I was supposed to have dinner with on Monday) in S.F. and she, miraculously, had PuzzleGirl's number. I called and left PuzzleGirl a woeful message. Not five minutes had passed before PuzzleGirl called back, said "I'll be right there - you can stay with us." And here we are. For 36 more hours. And we couldn't be happier. Well, maybe we'd be happier if we'd made it to Carmel on time, but this way we got to extend our vacation, and hang out with PG and her family for a couple days. Our daughters seem to love each other (despite the screaming I keep hearing from the basement), and PuzzleGirl and PuzzleHusband are exceedingly generous and kind. It's ridiculous, actually. We had a crappy, crappy day and then got Really, Really lucky. Hurrah.

OK, so the puzzle. It's a Patrick Berry creation and it's intricate as all git out. Very impressive in many ways. I think my favorite answer of the puzzle is ELEVATOR MUSIC (61D: Tunes that might make you want to get out on the floor) - the clue is admittedly a bit tortured in order to be misdirective, but the answer itself is fantastic - unusual but familiar, colloquial ... just great. I also like "SPY CATCHER" (49D: Controversial 1987 expose by ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright). Only wish I had heard of it.

"Gopher-wood? What's gopher-wood? Wood made from a gopher?"
"No. Dogwood isn't wood made from a dog."

These are the kinds of conversations I'm having this evening [see 52A: Gopher-wood construction (Ark)]

There is a horrible, terrible, alarming violation of the NATICK PRINCIPLE, except for the part where knowing the theme helps you infer the correct letter: JUPITUS (111A: BBC panel show regular Phill) x/w JAWA (111D: Cloak-wearing "Star Wars" race)!!?!?!? That is just wrong. But ... knowing that JUPITER's gotta be in that particular orbit somewhere should have helped you, eventually, fill it out correctly.

My favorite moment of the night so far was watching PG's nine-year old step up to the puzzle, look at 1A: Harry's pal at Hogwarts, and scoff: "Pff, that's easy, it's RON." He then walked away, as if to say "My work is done here."

PuzzleGirl points out that you might expect to see a lot more crappy fill in a puzzle with this amount of thematic density and intricacy, and yet (with the exception of that SE), it's overwhelmingly smooth. We were both impressed by the inclusion of MOON in the puzzle, and only just now realized that it's in EARTH's orbit. Very cool. In fact EARTH and THE MOON overlap in the grid.

Besides crazy Mr. JUPITUS, there were several other names that were new to me, including BARNETT (20A: 1968 N B. A. All-Star Dick) and PULASKI (23A: Georgia's Fort _____, site of an 1862 surrender), and POOLE (120A: Grace _____ ("Jane Eyre" character)). I knew Connie SELLECCA, but would never have imagined that her name had that many letters in it (65A: Actress/model Connie). "I can't believe that she spells her name like that!" Me either, PuzzleGirl.

I was derelict in my test-solving duties, in that I failed to comment on the fact that "treats" is in the clue for an answer (ACNE - 45D: Retin-A treats it) that the word TREATS (44A: Dog biscuits and such) actually intersects! None of you noticed that, though, right? Words shouldn't appear in both the grid and the clues (with obvious exceptions for most articles, prepositions, etc.). This rule should probably be more stringently applied when the clue and answer in question are in such close proximity.

  • 36D: Trunk in your trunk (aorta) - "Make sure you say that's a terrible clue" - done and done.
  • 106A: Where a pin may be made (mat) - you have no idea - No Idea - how seriously the next room is taking the issue of finding a picture to go with this answer. "Too bad Metcalf hasn't pinned anybody good." These are words coming out of PG's mouth. She and her husband are insane college wrestling fans. I have never met such people. It's fascinating. It's completely unironic, in case you're wondering. [Update - ten minutes later, the conversation about what image to use is Still Going On ...] [Update - it's half an hour now that they've been scrounging for the perfect PIN pic. They're so ... earnest]
  • 4A: Hit 2004 film with many sequels ("Saw") - no desire to see these. They are gruesome, as I understand it. I have a friend who likes this kind of movie.
  • 22A: _____ Adler of Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia" (Irene) - her full name was an answer in a recent late-week puzzle, so no problem here.
  • 56A: King famous for frightening people (Stephen) - First thought: "Larry?"
  • 72A: Exterior decorator? (tattooer) - wow, that's a word? TATTOOIST is what I would have thought. Blogger appears to like both of those just fine. Weird.
  • 117A: Something it's not always wise to share (opinion) - Lord, don't I know it.
  • 54D: Oatcakes popular in Scotland (bannocks) - whoops; I think I tipped you all to this answer a few days back when we had "bannocks" in the clue and OATCAKES as the answer. I said I had just done a puzzle where they were reversed. It appears I was speaking of this puzzle.
  • 47A: Formulator of the Three Principles of the People (Sun Yat-Sen) - very gettable, though hard to parse if you are looking for a two-part name (according to my wife)
  • 80A: Treasure sought in "Titanic" (necklace) - I forgot about this part of the picture. I just remember ... oh, I remember the necklace on naked Kate, I think. Then I remember the wreck, and floating.
  • 92A: Husband, in Hidalgo (esposo) - possibly the best Spanish word I've seen in the grid. Seems very lively, somehow.
  • 93A: "_____ 911!" (comedy series) ("Reno!") - PuzzleGirl's sister apparently lives there. I just learned this tonight.
  • 8D: "Gaspard de la Nuit" composer (Ravel) - don't know it. Let's listen:

[starts about the 1 min. mark]

  • 14D: Yossarian's tentmate in "Catch-22" (Orr) - 'cause Bobby's too easy. ORR is crosswordese of the highest order as is ULEE (113D: Big-screen beekeeper) and ELENI (77D: Nicholas Gage memoir) and "ADIA" (73D: Top 10 hit for Sarah McLachlan).
  • 21D: Bigelow beverages (teas) - Not my brand, but I recognized the name.
  • 64D: Romeo's reckless friend (Mercutio) - yep, reckless. Ends up dead by Act III.
  • 92D: What Mr. Spock suppressed (emotion) - I never thought of it as "suppressed." I thought it just wasn't there.
  • 102D: _____ stick (trick-or-treater's accessory) (glow) - much discussion about whether this should have been "GLO" (answer: no)
More from the Unamerican part of VA tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld (with my wife, PuzzleGirl, and PuzzleHusband somewhere in the background)


SATURDAY, Dec. 27, 2008 - Karen M. Tracey (Track gold medalist in three 1920s Olympics / Deep-blue alpine flower / Anchorman, briefly?)

Hi, everybody, PuzzleGirl here — did you miss me? (Correct answer: "Were you gone?") It's always a pleasure to fill in for the traveling Rex Parker and to hang out with you guys talking about our common OBSESSION (29D: Hard drives?). Pretty good segue, right? So here we go....

Today's themeless puzzle by the lovely and talented Karen M. Tracey is what I'm sure some of you will call "tough but doable." That's certainly how it was for me. I plodded through almost the whole thing in a little over half an hour, then erased and rewrote a bunch of stuff in the Northern California area, which eventually all came together. That was a tough little spot right there! I originally had host for (24A: Party leader), which I thought was pretty clever. If only it hadn't also been ... wrong. I was on the right track with the tricky 24D: Bit of a shock?, but with the H in place for host, I guessed the answer must be hair. Wrong again. So, yeah, took a while to get everything untangled over there. But untangle it I did and, seriously, for anyone that's new to crosswords and feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by late-week puzzles — Don't Despair! I wouldn't have finished this puzzle a year ago. No question about it. The only reason I can sometimes finish Friday and Saturday puzzles is because I've been diligent about doing a lot of puzzles over the last year. And speaking of Finnish, let's run down ...

The Tough Stuff:

  • 27D: Track gold medalist in three 1920s Olympics (Paavo Nurmi) — Never heard of him. He won three golds and a silver in the 1920 Games, five golds in 1924, and one gold and two silvers in 1928. He and some of his countrymen were dubbed the "Flying Finns." During his career, he broke 22 official world records. Oh, and he has an asteroid named after him.
  • 17A: "Seems likely" ("I suspect so") — Raise your hand if you had "I suppose so" at first.
  • 16A: Glaucus's love in "The Last Days of Pompeii" (Ione) — Not to be confused with the 31A: Setting of St. Columba's missionary work (Iona).
  • 20A: Centipede alternative (Donkey Kong) — I wasn't thinking of the ATARI game. I thought a Centipede was some sort of tractor. Well, no, but there is such a thing as a Tractor Centipede. Weird.
  • 21A: Are, in Arles (etes) — Had sons at first.
  • 22A: Pop that's over 80 years old (Nehi) — I was listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" recently and Mavis Staples was a guest on the show. So all I could think of was Pops Staples. Even though that's Pops, not Pop. And, oh yeah, he's dead.

  • 28A: Inside shot? (sonogram) — I'm only going to say this one time so listen up. Just because it relates to pregnancy doesn't mean it fails the breakfast test. You will want to keep this in mind for future reference.
  • 40A: One less than une douzaine (onze) — That's eleven in French (douzaine = dozen).
  • 61A: Verse (poesy) — With the P and the S in place, I started to write in prose, realizing by the time I got to the O that verse and prose are, ya know, opposites.
  • 6D: "Good boy" (Jack Horner) — This is really the only clue/answer pair I really have a problem with in this puzzle. The quotation marks around the clue indicated to me that the clue was meant to be read as a phrase someone would say, and that the answer would also be a phrase someone would say. In this case, it sounds like a phrase you would say to your dog. Of course I can't think of a single phrase you could substitute here that doesn't have either the word good or the word boy in it. Which is why it took me so long to figure out the real answer. I guess the quotation marks here indicate that the words are actually being quoted from the poem. That makes sense, but I don't have to like it.
  • 10D: It comes into play when there's a deadline (time factor) — Awkward, but I'm going to let it slide because the rest of the puzzle is so good.
  • 13D: Eponymous candy man (Reese) — If you ever need to bribe me for any reason, chocolate and peanut butter will do the trick.
  • 18D: Piece of lobster or shrimp? (eye stalk) — I'm sorry but ewwww!
  • 23D: Half brother of Hercules (Ares) — I'm not very good at the mythology answers. Got this one through crosses.
  • 25D: Look of aged whitening (hoar) — Pretty sure I've only seen this word used in connection with frost, but good to know this other definition.
  • 46D: "NYPD Blue" Emmy winner Gordon (Clapp) — He played the bumbling, stuttering, anxiety- and allergy-ridden Greg Medavoy. You really can't help but like this poor guy.
  • 49D: "Song of the South" syllables (a-dee) — "Song of the South" is the 1946 film that introduced the hit song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." I was all over the place with this clue. I thought "Song of the South" was the title of the song and was trying to place it. I had a vague notion floating around waaaaay in the back of my mind. Lynyrd Skynyrd? No. Alabama has a song with that title, but it doesn't have any particular "syllables," and that's not the one I'm trying to get. David Allan Coe's "Son of the South"? It's starting to dawn on me that I'm going down the absolute wrong path here, but at the end of it I think I'll get to something good. Oh yeah. Kid Rock's version of David Allan Coe's song is called "Son of Detroit." It's one of those songs I turn up full-blast when I'm on a road-trip and I'm getting tired. This song fires me right back up.

  • 50D: Tale of the South Seas (Omoo)Omoo is a Herman Melville novel. You'll probably want to remember it for future puzzles.
Rex will be back tomorrow.

PuzzleGirl, on behalf of HRH Rex Parker


FRIDAY, Dec. 26, 2008 - B. E. Quigley (Pop superstar's informal name since 1997 / Sinew: Prefix / "House Call" airer / Title lady in a 1933 song)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

I love the holidays, but I am glad the pre-Christmas season is over. December represents a kind of crossword lull - it's the one month out of the year where traffic to my site slowly but surely wanes. People's attention is understandably directed toward other matters in December - shopping, vacations, final exams, etc. If this year is anything like last year, though, the New Crossword Year starts ... now. And if the constructors on tap for this long weekend are any indication, this year is going to be fabulous. First up: Brendan Emmett Quigley, whom I can't seem to stop talking about lately. He recently started his own thrice-weekly crossword site, but he saved some real gold for today's NYT.

But I'm going to start with the problems - now, I think these are problems that I and the puzzle share in equal measure. I do think that I should be smarter and know more stuff - that's a given. But how in the world was I supposed to know EADIE (51D: Title lady in a 1933 song)? I had -ADIE and did not once, not ever, doubt that that first letter was an "S," even after that "S" resulted in ST. SEQ. as the answer for 51A: Reference book abbr. (et seq.). I just figured that ST. SEQ. was some arcane bibliographical abbrev. that I didn't know. I never fixed this error, so technically, I was a failure today. I finished the puzzle and tried to figure out what ST. SEQ. stood for before I went to look it up - STANT SEQUENTIA? Ugh. Just UGH! In fact, I "ugh" at the preponderance of "old songs" in general. One or two is fine, but "EADIE Was a Lady" and "Take the A TRAIN" (45D: Title transport in a 1941 song), and "ALL OF ME" (37A: Song standard with the lyric "Can't you see I'm no good without you?")? It hurts me. Actually, I like "Take the A TRAIN." I'm indifferent toward "ALL OF ME." I feel nothing but revulsion toward "EADIE was a Lady," but that's likely situational. Never heard it. [... listening now ...] Damn, it has the lyric, "EADIE had klass ... with a captial "K!", so now I love it. Here it is (from the musical "Take a Chance" - song starts at the 3 min. mark or so):

I have tons of respect for the fact that this puzzle is NOT a pangram. Who cares about getting every letter of the alphabet in there when you've got 3 Z's, 5 X's, 2 K's, and even a terminal "Q"? I loved this puzzle from the get go. I hadn't been noodling around in the NW but 15 seconds or so when SEXPERT (17A: Dr. Ruth, e.g.) occurred to me as a possibility. Took one look at the "X" cross and knew instantly that the answer was XOXOXOXO (3D: Love letters?) I was so in love with that answer, but thought it so improbable, that I waited for another cross for confirmation before writing it in. I was not disappointed. Imagine a grid where the first things you put in are SEXPERT x/w XOXOXOXO. I wanted to stop right there.

The hardest part of the puzzle for me was the NE, where, even with TV CAMERA in place (8D: An anchor often faces it), I had trouble making a dent up there. Finally got the tauntingly appropriate ANEMIC off just the "M" (12D: Weak), and then flat-out guessed VOLANTE (16A: Lightly and quickly, in music). Done in by music yet again. To my credit, I did get SIR PAUL (20A: Pop superstar's informal name since 1997) and FREE JAZZ (38D: Bop alternative) rather easily. My very first thought for 8A: Comic book series that spawned films in 1994 and 2005, a thought I had very, very early on, was in fact the right answer: "THE MASK." I have only the vaguest, ugliest memories of the existence of a 2005 film in that series. The first "THE MASK" starred Jim Carrey and, in her debut film performance, Cameron Diaz.

There were a number of easy answers that should have helped people get toeholds throughout the puzzle. 22A: Wyo. is on it in the summer (MDT) was a gimme, as was 29A: One of the Baltimore Ravens' mascots (Poe). POE was from Baltimore, and wrote "The Raven," whence the football team's name. DAR was another easy one to infer from its clue, 59D: Women's org. with the motto "God, home and country". Notice that the gimmes are all shorties. That's pretty typical for late-week fare. Occasionally you score a lucky big hit like my SEXPERT/XOXOXOXO bonanza without working the short stuff first, but usually you (I) happen to work from shorter / gettable stuff to the longer stuff. Work the short stuff! Two more pop culture answers, INXS (23A: "Listen Like Thieves" band) and SUZIE (28D: Wong of book and film) were also gimmes for me, though I needed to get SNOOZED (35A: Had a 33-Across, say) before I knew whether SUZIE was spelled with a "Z" or an "S."

I like how this puzzle has a ton of X's while also having a vaguely X-ish pattern of black squares at its heart.


  • 1A: Where to get a good view of a hit and run (box seat) - the baseball kind of "hit" and "run," presumably.
  • 26A: Chapter 13? (XIII) - took me way, Way too long
  • 30A: Strips on a table (bacon) - more Friday vagueness. I flirted with NACHO here. I know it makes no sense.
  • 44A: Rona who wrote "Mazes and Monsters" (Jaffe) - should've been a gimme off of "Rona" alone, but I got distracted by the book title (which I didn't know)
  • 53A: Sinew: Prefix (teno-) - I guess this is better than [_____ clock scholar], but not by much.
  • 55A: New Jersey shopping mecca (Paramus) - never been there, but I knew this. Why? Why!?
  • 60A: Food similar to a bannock (oatcake) - strangely, I just did another puzzle where "oatcake" was used to clue "BANNOCK."
  • 6D: Just off the bottom, nautically (atrip) - absolutely new to me; could easily have gone to a partial, but didn't. Nice. Very Friday.
  • 7D: Sandal variety (T-strap) - annoyed that I stared Linkat TST... and thought "I must have something wrong." Rookie mistake!
  • 10D: Company whose slogan is "Home away from home" (El Al) - "Company" completely threw me. Generic. Friday!
  • 30D: "The Jungle Book" bear (Baloo) - forgot it completely.
  • 34D: Mischievous tyke (elf) - really? Wow. I (and you) wanted IMP. ELVES work for Santa.
  • 9D: Falcon-headed god (Horus) - had a lot of trouble retrieving this guy's name. His face, however, is very familiar:
  • 56D: Ancient walkway (stoa) - crosswordese; a good word to have under your belt (though, to be honest, I still confuse STOA with STELA).
  • 48D: Retires from the R.A.F. (demobs) - learned it from crosswords; have heard it several times since, including once on "The Bugle," which is my favorite "news" program of the moment.
  • 61D: "House Call" airer (CNN) - with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, whose name is crying out to be in a puzzle.
  • 46D: Done, slangily (finito) - ah, "slangily," my good friend. Nice to see you again.

Today, we have to arrange matters with the house/dogsitter, eat as much of the Christmas leftovers as humanly possible, and pack. Daughter will likely be playing with new Webkinz and watching "The Princess Bride" or any number of the 30-year-old Disney films I just recorded off of TCM. I'm headed to the Bay Area this weekend to visit my family in Carmel (and a certain constructor I know in S.F.). I'll be blogging sporadically over the next week, but PuzzleGirl and Acme will be filling in for me here and there, starting tomorrow.

R.I.P. Eartha Kitt, who died yesterday. She was the very first answer I ever wrote about on this blog. I recently posted her "Santa Baby" on this site, so today, something new.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Dec. 25, 2008 - Eric Tentarelli (Cousin of a treecreeper / Star of Broadway's "QED," 2001-02 / Family name suffix in taxonomy)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Football teams - wacky clues whose answers are made up of three NFL football team names (in the singular)

Merry Christmas. Not a very Christmasy puzzle. I guess we got ours on Sunday. Not only is this puzzle not Christmasy, it seems to suggest that Santa has, in fact, been killed - at least that's my interpretation of the RED SNO at the bottom of the grid?

[too gruesome? It gets nicer and more Jesus-y toward the end]

Not spending too much time writing this one up - gotta give myself a little rest on Christmas Eve / Day. So, after describing the theme answers, I think I'm just going to do the whole write-up as a long bullet list, with no more than two sentences per bullet. This is a challenge I set myself ... challenge accepted.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Chestnut-colored mustang offspring? (brown bronco colt)
  • 38A: Main dedicatee of an Austin cathedral? (chief Texan saint)
  • 55A: Hefty invoice for boots and spurs? (giant cowboy bill)

Cute clues. Wonder who wrote them? The theme is something I think I've seen before. Feels familiar. The team names don't go together for any particular reason except that they make a coherent phrase, which is enough, I guess.


  • 1A: Choker component (clasp) - Had PEARL, which got me off to a slow start
  • 6A: Music pioneered by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires (ska) - Educated guess (3 letters, and I know it's not RAP ... coulda been EMO, I guess). My intro to ska:

  • 16A: Bygone Olds (Alero) - 21st century crosswordese. Other answers I got because of constant crosswording include O'SHEA (25D: Dublin-born film star Milo), ARAL (12D: Asia's _____ Sea), IONA (56D: College in New Rochelle, N.Y.), and LUCE (43A: Time-honored man?) - "Time" is a magazine title in that last one, in case you were still or ever wondering.
  • 17A: Sorkin who created "The West Wing" (Aaron) - total gimme; loved "Sports Night," never watched "The West Wing." Tons of names in the puzzle today, including ARNE (23A: "Rule, Britannia" composer), ALAN ALDA (8D: Star of Broadway's "QED," 2001-02), AGNEW (31D: Predecessor of Ford), SNEAD (69A: Masters champ of 1949, 1952 and 1954), and some guy named NOLAN I've never heard of (47A: David _____, founder of the Libertarian Party).
  • 22A: Its coat of arms includes a vicuña (Peru) - find the vicuña!
  • 33A: Pitcher Hideo Nomo's birthplace (Osaka) - had the "K," which made it obviousish.
  • 66A: Last name of Kipling's Kim (O'Hara) - very Irish up in here: O'SHEA, O'SAKA, now O'HARA ...
  • 6D: Pelvic bone (sacrum) - yoga instructor mentions this bone a lot.
  • 13D: Shed (molt) - had LOSE (as in "shed some pounds"). Grrr...
  • 21D: Bust holder (bra) - what's a three-letter word for "pedestal?" Oh, you mean boobs.
  • 30D: The City of a Thousand Minarets (Cairo) - as with OSAKA, I had the key letter in place (in this case, the "C" - though the "O" might have been telling too)
  • 48D: Light ratio in astronomy (Al Bedo) - good ol' AL (I did not know this one, clearly - and I know it's one word and not a guy's name, so hold the email, thanks)
  • 59D: Family name suffix in taxonomy (-idae) - the original version of this puzzle did not have the word "suffix" in it, hence my mild confusion. Don't like this and IDEA (35A) in the same puzzle - what's the big IDAE!?
  • 58D: Cousin of a treecreeper (wren) - didn't know it. Just asked wife if she knew what a "treecreeper" was, and she answered: "Is it a bird? .... Is it a kind of WREN?" Damn her and her birdishness! How can I steal her powers?
  • 46D: Home of Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas) - this one tripped me up badly, but only bec. the orig. clue was written with an abbrev. -> [Home of Fort Scott Natl. Historic site], and so naturally I expected one in the answer.
I'll leave you with two very different versions of my favorite Christmas carol (three if you click the link you just read over)

Enjoy whatever it is you eat today. I love you guys! (and I'm not even drunk ... yet)


PS, click here to find out the answer to "What Was In the Basement?" - it is unbelievably fantastic, and the photo doesn't even begin to do it justice. P.S. I got my wife more than just the mug (though the mug is unique, handmade, and awesome)


WEDNESDAY, Dec.24, 2008 - Warren Biro (Copenhagen wad / Mariner's datum / Images representing Internet users / 1956-57 crisis site)

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: PLUGS (40A: Power connectors, or a way to describe 17-, 22-, 55- and 61-Across)

Happy Christmas Eve - we finally have a day when we have Absolutely Nothing To Do (except write this damned blog, of course). Going to laze around, watch movies, drink cocoa ... if the roads aren't too icy we'll go spend the Barnes & Noble gift certificates my mom just sent us (thanks, Mom). Otherwise, I plan to be on the couch with a stack of comics and stacks of NY Sun crosswords I should have been doing but haven't.

Which reminds me - Amy (Orange) and I didn't get around to doing a Crossword Holiday Buying Guide this year. You can find the guide for last year under "Important Posts" in the sidebar. Off the top of my head, I would add Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Red Sox" (or ... ugh ... his "Yankees") -themed crossword books, out this year from Cider Mill Press. They would make great gifts for fans of either team, or baseball fans in general, or crossword fans in general, frankly. Get them from your local bookstore, or buy them from his online bookstore here. You know lots of you need to bone up on your baseball knowledge. Anyway, get them. I did. I would also Highly recommend a subscription to the Sun puzzle, ed. Peter Gordon. The best puzzles around that aren't in the NYT, by all the best constructors. Really inventive stuff. Get a subscription for yourself and / or someone you love.

Today's puzzle: very conventional stuff, but pleasantly so. Felt very easy for a Wednesday - or maybe I've just entered some weird time warp where all days of the week just feel off. I *did* watch Disney's "The Black Hole" yesterday, starring Robert Forster, Ernest Borgnine, and Anthony Perkins (who gets gutted by a robot with some kind of blender blade attachment ... Disney?). I think the phrase TOBACCO CHEW is pushing the limits of viability - isn't the common phrase CHEWING TOBACCO? At any rate. There's the theme, no mysteries. Just fine. Nothing to write home about. I did enjoy seeing the other half of the alphabet today, released from lock-up and allowed to gambol about the yard like free and happy letters. From the "Z" in the NW (1A: Newswoman Paula => ZAHN) to the "K" in the SE (65D: "'Tis a pity" => TSK), welcome back, guys.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Show interrupter (TV advertisement)
  • 22A: Copenhagen wad (tobacco chew) - "Copenhagen" is a brand of chewing tobacco, in case you were wondering what was particularly Danish about chew...
  • 55A: Old-fashioned tub feature (bath stopper) - this feels a little weird too. It's a phrase, but the inclusion of "bath" feels odd / extraneous.
  • 61A: Expensive alternative to a toupee (hair replacement)

My favorite answers in the puzzle, from 5th to 1st:

Fifth place: APEMEN (51D: "2001" extras) - liked the movie, love the "Simpsons" parodies of said movie, and Love that I got faked out by the possibility of ALIENS - are there ALIENS? At the end? I forget? It's like a drug-induced haze, that ending. ALIENS was kept in place because the "S" (the ending of most good plurals) made sense as the first letter in what turned out to be N. DAK. (71A: State whose tallest bldg. has only 19 floors, though my friend Shaun is now going to explain to me that how could I think that, why in Rapid City alone there's this one building that blah blah blah... HA ha, that's not how she talks at all. Merry Christmas, Shaun.

Fourth place: "I GUESS SO" (21A: "Sure, why not") - multiple-word, colloquial, and scores major points for the hissing triple-letter string.

Third place: AVATARS (27A: Images representing Internet users) - everyone should have one; those ghostly gray generic silhouettes are truly horrible - check out the "Parker House Roll Call" in the sidebar to see what I'm talking about.

Second place: YABBA (34A: Start of a Fred Flintstone cry) - It's hard not to love every part of YABBA DABBA DO(O). I dare some one to use this same clue for the answer "WIL-"

First place: HEAD BANDS (3D: Tennis accessories) - my hero growing up:

He could be ferocious and petulant and occasionally unsportsmanlike, but the guy was an Artist. I remember an early 80s final against Lendl (maybe US Open, maybe Wimbledon) where the guy made just two (2) unforced errors in the whole match. TWO! That is my memory, at any rate, so please don't disabuse me of it.


  • 38A: Mariner's datum (tide) - "Bos'n! Where's my datum!?" Nope, can't hear it. Does "datum" mean "laundry detergent"? (just kidding, I know what "datum" means)
  • 42A: Tuesday in Hollywood (Weld) - o man I love her. There's this very funny retro pop culture blog I follow called "A Touch of Tuesday Weld" - the title comes from a line in Donald Fagan's "New Frontier"

  • 47A: _____-blamed (dad) - what ... year is it? Am I still in that time warp? Deeper?
  • 70A: Car company that originated as an airplane manufacturer (Saab) - "Born From Jets"
  • 4D: Signals, as to an auctioneer (nods at) - wrote in the NODS and then waited on the preposition ... thought it could be "TO"
  • 11D: Historic 1940s event, for short (A-Test) - letter-TESTS are among my least favorite fill. ESTOP is not far behind (13D: Prevent, legally)
  • 19D: 1956-57 crisis (Suez) - wrote in CUBA and then thought "Nope, too early"
  • 33D: "_____ of God," Jane Fonda film ("Agnes") - I have this very strong memory that my sister performed a dramatic recitation from this film (play?) during her days as a competitive, trophy-accumulating member of the high school forensics team. Is that true, Amy (my Amy, my sister Amy, not any of the other umpteen Amys I seem to know now)?
  • 39D: Unagi, at a Japanese restuaurant (eel) - Yes, at a Japanese restaurant. I don't know *what* "unagi" is at a Polish restaurant. I doubt you want to find out.
  • 46D: Feature of many a 1970s rock concert (smoke) - hell yeah.

  • 52D: Sap sucker (aphis) - new to me
  • 54D: "Perry Mason" climax (trial) - clue = me saying "gross"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS please go to BEQ's site and do his Christmas puzzle (dated today). It's fantastic. I know I'm plugging (!) his site so much it might seem like he's paying me, but I assure you, he's not. I just can't deny puzzle greatness.


TUESDAY, Dec. 23, 2008 - Joe Krozel (Arizona locale famous for its red rocks / "Boom" preceder in song / Game with matchsticks)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: rotational symmetry - rotate the puzzle 180 degrees and see the letters all in the same place (well, you have to turn them right-side up again, if you literally rotate it, but you get the idea)

Nearly ever crossword puzzle grid has rotational symmetry with respect to the black and white squares. Today, it has rotational symmetry with respect to fill.

I wonder if anyone else was thinking, about halfway through the solving experience, "Why am I doing a crappy themeless puzzle on a Tuesday?" I confess that I had very much the same thought when I was done - even as I was beginning to give Mr. Shortz feedback on the puzzle, I didn't see the "theme" (too distracted by bad fill to have gone looking for it yet). Then I saw it. And oh yes, it definitely explains the horrible fill. It explains TARARA (15A: "Boom" preceder, in song) and LAMINA (38A: Thin layer) and the plural VALS (41D: Actor Kilmer and others) and plural DELIAS (48A: Screenwriter Ephron and others) and RETRAP (18A: Snare again) and RETAR and REMAN and REMIT and REPAID, etc. In the end, it's yet another "Look what I DID! (64A)" puzzle, where we are meant to admire the constructor, not enjoy ourselves while solving. Why not build a crossword museum and hang the completed grid on the wall? Then everyone can ooh and aah, and we can bypass the agony of having to fill the thing out ourselves, under the mistaken assumption that it might be entertaining.

No theme answers, so that's one less thing I have to write about this puzzle. There's an upside.

Oh, and crossing ONs = :(

[SPIT ON (25A: Show utter disrespect for) x/w ON AN (26D: _____ even keel)]

EDILE (54D: Ancient Roman magistrate) and NIM (66A: Game with matchsticks) are Tuesday answers in no known universe; and here ... they intersect ... [cough]

Take out the "WOF" letters ("Wheel of Fortune," i.e. RLSTN and E), and you don't have much left. Here's what the "WOF"-less grid looks like:

Only four consonants besides RLSTN in the whole grid. And not a single "U." That's what a concept like this forces you into. Compromise after compromise after compromise. All for what? In this case, a golf clap. That's all I got.

[Someone just suggested to me that using only 13 letters was part of the gimmick - half the alphabet for a puzzle you need only complete halfway ... I hope that is not true. I hope the 13-letter thing is coincidence, because now all I can think is how good the puzzle might have been if the constructor hadn't put the @#$#ing shackles on.]


  • 1A: A Turner (Ted) - tough, as IKE and NAT work just fine.
  • 17A: Actress Conn (Didi) - I remember the name, but can't remember why I remember ... o my god, she's "Beauty School Dropout!"

  • 50A: Policy of many hotel shuttles (no tips) - this, I liked. Inventive, accurate.
  • 67A: Biblical landing site (Ararat) - I like the Moses clue over the Noah clue here in the SW. Very ... Patriarchal.
  • 72A: Badge flasher: Abbr. (det.) - as in "detective." My favorites: in literature, Philip Marlowe. On TV ... guess. You'll Never guess. Well, you might.
  • 4D: Arizona locale famous for its red rocks (Sedona) - had SONORA
  • 38D: City in California or New Jersey (Lodi) - lots of trouble here, as I was convinced the puzzle had an error. I had (understandably) PATINA instead of LAMINA at 38A, and so this was PODI ... I was convinced that PATINA was supposed to be LATINA, and that the clue just hadn't been changed. And of course, in a normal Tuesday puzzle, LAMINA would have been changed to LATINA. But here, that would have screwed the precious symmetry.

  • 58D: Backside, slangily (prat) - I only just noticed this .... what is this? What Is This? Just looked it up. British. More often an insult for a stupid person. Man, at this point, I don't even care. Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWord

PS This blog turned up yesterday in promotional material (under "Press") for the movie "I.O.U.S.A." yesterday. The movie title was an answer in Sunday's puzzle, and I mentioned it in my write-up. I said that the title was 80% vowels and would surely show up again. Apparently, that's quotable. I also suggested that Patrick Creadon made the movie with the sole purpose of creating a new, enduring crossword answer. Funny, the promotional material didn't quote that. Patrick is a nice guy (someone introduced him to me at last year's tournament), and it's cool to see him have non-crossword-related success.

PPS The answer to "Who's my favorite TV detective?":


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