Thursday, January 31, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Break [Blank]" - circled squares within 7 theme answers spell out a word that can complete the phrase "Break _____"; circles appear at beginning and end of their respective words with a "break" (get it?) in between

Odd to have a long "Note" explaining what the theme of the puzzle is. Usually the theme is implicit, or is indicated in a clue or answer somewhere in the puzzle. This particular theme made the puzzle much easier to solve than it would have been otherwise (that is, had it been themeless). I got 1D: Cellist Casals (Pablo) and 2D: "That's _____!" ("a wrap") instantly and filled in the rest of the circles in 16A and 22A immediately thereafter. Very very handy to have a way of getting the last letters in a clue when you have only the first, and vice versa. This puzzle made up for this solving crutch by adding some very odd, cool, exotic fill. My one quibble with the theme itself, as it's expressed in the grid, is that 23D: Music download source has a circle at the beginning and the end, but is Not a theme answer. Annoying anomaly. Further, NAPSTER? Way to build a bridge to the 20th century. Though it still exists, its very name feels supremely dated, like it comes from some pre-iPodic time.

• 16A: *Not just stupid (BR aind EAD)
• 22A: * Setting in Sherlock Holmes's "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (OP iumd EN) - BRAIN DEAD and OPIUM DEN are a Great opening thematic pair.
• 10D: *Orchard part (FR uittr EE)
• 59A: *Dessert made from a product of a 10-Down (AP plet ART) - clever.
• 37A: *Perplexed state (WI tse ND) - breakfast table! come on!
• 49A: *Informers (RA tfi NKS) - another great answer. You could build an entire pulp fiction narrative out of these theme words.
• 33D: *Fairy tale meanie (EV ilque EN) - interesting; the "meanie" in this clue is almost Always an OGRE. Nice change of pace.

As for today's exotica, I was particularly fond of KIRIN (52D: Popular Japanese beer), YAO MING (20A: N.B.A. center who has pitched for McDonald's, Pepsi and Visa), POMPEII (57A: Major Italian tourist site) and (once again) IBIZA (38D: Resort island ESE of Valencia) - one of the three Balearic islands off the coast of the Iberian peninsula. Two more vivid bits of exotica - WAHINES (37D: Some luau dancers) and LIEBE (58A: "Ich _____ dich" (German words of endearment)) excited me slightly less because they intersected at an innocuous vowel and so I had to guess (though I suppose it wasn't much of a guess, in that I didn't have much doubt that LIEBE was right). Good stuff all around.

Other puzzle elements of note:

• 18A: Where William the Conqueror died (Rouen) - I think this city gets clued this way repeatedly. I could be wrong. It's up there in French city frequency with CAEN and NANTES, though nowhere near as popular as weekly favorite ST. LO.
• 14A: Score just before winning (ad in) - really wish this were AD OUT, because that would be BREAK POINT.
• 13A: Object of a manhunt, maybe (AWOL) - Here's a riddle: What do you get when you cross an EWOK with an ASOK?
• 15A: Skylit courts (atria) - crossword vocabulary 101 - also parts of hearts, along with the similar-looking AORTA. Ditto 27D: They replaced C rations (MREs) - Meals Ready-to-Eat.
• 17D: 1890s gold rush city (Nome) - more crossword commonness hiding behind interesting-sounding clues.
• 26A: Les Trois Mousquetaires, e.g. (amis) - a French fable about three mosquitoes, if I'm translating correctly...
• 64A: "Finnegans Wake" wife (Anna) - not in my memory bank, but supremely easy to get from crosses. Same with ANDY (8D: Granatelli of auto racing).
• 6D: _____ Hugo, 1975 Isabelle Adjani role based on a real-life story (Adele) - this answer made me laugh out loud, as I just said - earlier this week - that the only grid-worthy ADELE in existence was Fred Astaire's sister. Rather than contradicting my assertion, this clue would seem to prove my point. Emphatically.
• 42D: Cigarette box feature (flip top) - took me a little while to get. I quit 16 years ago, so I haven't really looked at a pack of cigarettes in a good long while.
• 48D: Planetary shadow (umbra) - beautiful word. Inherently poetical. I also enjoy the word PENUMBRA.
• 51D: Author Zora _____ Hurston (Neale) - one of the most important middle names in all of crosswordville. Look at all those juicy "Wheel of Fortune" letters. There are a couple of other ways to get NEALE - [Football great Greasy] and [Wimbledon champ Fraser] - but neither is as popular.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Half / Dozen / Eggs" (36A: With 38- and 40-Across, grocery purchase ... or what can be found in some other Across answers in this puzzle)

I'm currently sitting here with the man from Cat Fancy, which is very disconcerting. I'm not used to typing while I'm being watched. Maybe I can send him downstairs to interview my cats, who will no doubt be more than willing. Well, Serena will. Wiley will likely hide in the corner and watch. He spent much of last night chasing a spider that was on the ceiling so he may be tired.

I only just finished this puzzle - again, I did it while being watched (!), which was weird, but I survived. Peter Collins teaches math in Ann Arbor, where I went to grad school, for the record (whatever "the record" is). I enjoyed this puzzle quite a bit, though there is this one annoying ... I'll call it a problem. Yes ... problem. OK, so there are a HALF DOZEN EGGS (that phrase doesn't quite feel natural in my mouth, but I concede that it is properly colloquial). And those EGGS are buried inside six different words. But every single EGG starts in the second letter of its word except the EGG in ARPEGGIO, which starts in the fourth. I cannot bring myself to call this a fault of the puzzle, but the lack of consistency is chafing me. If the EGGS had been more scattered, I think I'd be just fine. One little thing off ... and the whole thing starts to irk. But, as I've said, this is a fault of me far more than it's a fault of the puzzle.

• 17A: Fraternity parties (keggers) - This was the first answer that made me stop and exclaim something to my guest. We had been talking just yesterday about the role of colloquial expressions in the puzzle, whether they were a good/bad thing etc. (you know my position). And so this was the first of several fine examples. Other included 58D: Gangbanger's gun (gat) and 51A: Coolest, in rap slang (illest) - which is probably my favorite answer of the day.
• 18A: Ankle-to-waist wear (legging)
• 19A: Harpist's progression (arpeggio) - being non-musical, I was not sure where my knowledge of this word came from. Then just now I hunted the word down on my iTunes and found out / remembered that a version of it is in the title of one of my favorite pieces of music of all time, the "ARPEGGIONe" Sonata by Schubert.
• 55A: 1957 Buddy Holly hit ("Peggy Sue") - by this point, I understood the theme completely, so this was very easy to get.
• 57A: Extreme poverty (beggary) - a little too close to BUGGERY for me, but I'll allow it.
• 59A: "Eat your _____!" (mom's order) (veggies) - shouting this at your kid will not work.

Today's crossword vocabulary lesson:

• 47A: Yemen's capital (Sana'a) - the most improbably-spelled capital there is. It can also be spelled SANA ... you know, just so the puzzle can @#\$# with you.
• 12D: "_____, I do believe I failed you" (opening of a 1998 hit) ("Adia") - very common answer. This "hit" by Sarah McLachlan is also, interestingly, an anagram of the even more common puzzle answer AIDA.
• 48D: Sour brew (alegar) - you may be familiar with his cousin Vinegar. I had never heard of ALEGAR until (say it with me) I learned it from the crossword puzzle.
• 54D: Wrinkly fruit (ugli) - best fruit name in puzzledom. Also, as I've said many times before (I think) the name of the Undergraduate Library at the University of Michigan - in Ann Arbor - where Peter Collins lives. Full Circle!

Interviewer asks: have you ever eaten an ugli? No. No I haven't. I shall feature a picture today. Here it is.

The rest of what is interesting:

• 8A: Charlotte hoopsters (Bobcats) - why isn't this answer HORNETS? Now I understand (vaguely) - Charlotte was the HORNETS until 2002, when that team moved away to New Orleans. Then a new team started up in Charlotte in 2004 - the BOBCATS. Michael Jordan is the "second-largest shareholder" in the team, according to Wikipedia, which also tells me that another notable co-owner of the team is the rapper NELLY. When I found that out, I said "that's hot," and my interviewer, without missing a beat, said "that's ILL." Indeed.
• 22A: Pancho and the Cisco Kid, e.g. (amigos) - I can't decide if these people are real or fictional. I remember a Gene Wilder movie from the 70s called "The Frisco Kid." How is that related?
• 25A: Prepare, in a way, as beans (refry) - a very cool word that I had a hard time uncovering. Something about the letter order...
• 27A: Like some treated lawns (limed) - We use lemon, but different strokes for different folks.
• 28A: Launch of 2/20/86 (Mir) - Russian for "peace"
• 33A: 1960s-'80s Red Sox great, informally (Yaz) - I remember his baseball card well. Mutton chops.
• 44A: Global financial org. (IMF) - International Monetary Fund - after I finished the puzzle, I actually had to confirm this with my interviewer. For some reason, the "F" cross - AS FAT (35D: Comparable to a pig) was not ringing true to me. Pigs are muddy, sloppy ... but FAT? They're just as God made them. Be nice.
• 46A: No. before or after a colon (min.) - not many clocks run with seconds after a colon, but I've seen it, so fine.
• 65A: Move quickly (over) (skitter) - I like the unusualness and energy (and sound) of this word, even though I probably would not like anything that actually SKITTERED for a living, like a cockroach.
• 1D: Nuclear power since 1998: Abbr. (Pak.) - thought this was asking for an abbrev of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so PAK made no sense to me ... until I read the clue. Good lesson. Read clue.
• 8D: "The Wizard of Oz" scarecrow portrayer (Bolger) - @#\$@#\$#\$#@\$#@#\$ "The Wizard of Oz" and its cast. I have a hard enough time keeping Bert LAHR's name in my head; I can't be expected to retrieve the names of the whole damn cast, + TOTO. BOLGER sounds like an anatomical irregularity that needs to be removed, STAT.
• 10D: Irish exclamation (begorra) - I never remember how to spell Irishisms. Plus, having HORNETS instead of BOBCATS meant that I didn't have the "B" here for .... well, too long.
• 20D: Turning gray (grizzling) - you don't see this form of the word that much. I've heard of "grizzled" veterans, but hardly ever have I pointed at an older man and said "look, he's GRIZZLING as we speak."
• 47D: Nancy's pal, in the comics (Sluggo) - Why am I not teaching this Awesome comic. Seriously, some "Nancy" strips border on the surreal. I wish there were good complete editions of this comic out there the way there are for "Dick Tracy" and "Popeye" and (crossword stalwart) "Krazy KAT"
• 51D: "_____ a Letter to My Love" (Simone Signoret film) ("I Sent") - no clue. None. Perhaps one of my GRIZZLING readers can tell me what this is all about (in the Comments section, please).

Good day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld
[drawing by Emily Cureton]

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "They Can Be Rolled" - 39A: What 17-, 26-, 50- and 60-Across have in common

I am convinced that the hardest puzzle to do right is the Tuesday puzzle. It's the forgotten middle child, or the one-horse foothill town on the way from the sunny coast of Monday to the snowy alpine heights of Friday and Saturday. Or, if you are going from L.A. to Las Vegas, Tuesday is Barstow. What I'm saying is, it's not easy being Tuesday. Tuesday has an identity crisis - "Who are you, Tuesday? Well ... you're easy, but not the easiest ... no, you can't be tricky; Wednesday and Thursday are already sharing that role," etc. If there is one day of the week that I am most consistently dissatisfied with, it's Tuesday. It's rarely calibrated right. Ooh, here's another metaphor. It's like the awkward years as one moves from cute child to vibrant adolescent. In short, Tuesday is a gangly 'tween. Thinking of Tuesday in this way makes me a bit more sympathetic to its particular challenges, and inhibits my instinct to tear it a new one on a routine basis.

For a change of pace, I read the Across clues to my wife last night and we filled in as much as we could that way. Surprisingly, we filled in all but six answers, and three of those were long theme answers. We had a few answers wrong, but still, the whole thing was pretty easy. Too easy. Kind of dull. The theme - well, my wife's first statement on discovering it was, "wow ... that's bad." I defended QUAKER OATS for a few seconds - they're "rolled" oats, right? - but then she pointed out the phrasing of the theme - "they CAN be rolled." If they've already been rolled, then ... isn't that inaccurate? And while a MOVIE CAMERA can certainly be rolled, so can a ladder or a cat if you put wheels on it. Oh, wait, did you mean "rolled" like "roll it!" - as in, "roll the film!?" Wow, I think I like that less.

• 17A: It may end up in the gutter (bowling ball) - got it with no crosses
• 26A: Sweater style (turtle neck) - took some brainstorming, but got it with no crosses
• 50A: Classic breakfast fare (Quaker Oats)
• 60A: Item on a set (movie camera)
In a different, darker world, LITTLE OLD LADIES WITH LOTS OF CASH and JOINTS would be in this puzzle.

Here's what we had wrong on the first run through the Acrosses:

• 6A: Reunion group (class) - we had ALUMS
• 23A: Spy's device (tap) - we had BUG, and flirted with CAM
• 33A: Exploding stars (novae) - we had NOVAS; can you blame us?
• 46A: One on a pedestal (idol) - we had BUST

And here's what we had blank:

• 29A: Runs out (elapses)
• 68A: Sees red (fumes)
• 70A: Center of power (locus)

• 9D: Showman Hurok (Sol) - sometimes not seeing the Down clues is a good thing. NO idea who this guy is. The other showman - 11A: Showman Ziegfeld (Flo) - was a gimme. Learned his name from crosswords (by now, you are thinking this is true of half my vocabulary).
• 6D: Stellar swan (Cygnus) - actual (young) swan is a CYGNET, not to be confused with SIGNET, a seal used to mark official documents (or a paperback imprint).
• 30D: Common union demand (pay hike) - my favorite answer of the day. Vibrant.
• 54A: Butyl ending (-ene) - we guessed this right. Hurrah. I answer all chemistry clues by prayer and intuition.
• 13D: Country/rock's _____ Mountain Daredevils (Ozark) - we had a "country/rock" clue just yesterday (Steve EARLE). You gotta love words with both "Z" and "K" in them.
• 37D: Mullally of "Will & Grace" (Megan) - loved her character, but the show eventually began to grate on my nerves, and I stopped watching.
• 44A: Tony Soprano and cohorts, with "the" (Mob) - obvious. This is another show I used to watch in its first seasons, and stopped watching. Boredom. Over-familiarity? Over-exposure? I don't know. "The Sopranos"'s EDIE Falco was in the puzzle yesterday.

Your crossword vocabulary for the day:

• 38D: Fred Astaire's sister (Adele) - would be forgotten by Everyone were it not for her being just about the only grid-worthy ADELE in existence. Keep an eye out for American journalist ADELA Rogers St. John.
• 61D: "_____ y plata" ("oro") - my wife groaned at this clue and then when I told her it was "ORO," she said "oh, that's like the state motto of ... Montana?" I was so proud. It's true. I think it's also the only state motto in Spanish.
• 32A: Slave girl of opera (Aida) - after ARIA, this is the second-most important piece of opera vocabulary.
• 67A: Disney mermaid (Ariel) - gimme gimme gimme. Mermaid competes for attention with Shakespeare's sprite from "The Tempest."
For some reason, a reporter from a national publication is flying (that's right, Flying!) out here to interview me today. No, he's not from the National Enquirer. Don't be a jerk. You really want to know? OK, two words: Cat. Fancy.

In other news, today is the first day of the new semester. Ugh. I mean, Hurray! (actually, it will be good for me to leave the house once in a while).

Take care,
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Monday, January 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "The Chipmunks" (55A: Singing group suggested by the starts of 20-, 28- and 48-Across)

Did this movie come out yet ("Alvin and the Chipmunks," I mean)? I sure saw plenty of previews for it at the various children's movies I took my daughter to in 2007. It looked ... oh, what's the word ... terrible. "Unnecessary" may be the better word. In the preview I saw, one chipmunk tries to pass off the ... droppings ... of another chipmunk as a raisin by putting it in his mouth, pretending to eat it. I'll need confirmation on this, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is likely the first time that coprophagia has been featured so prominently in mainstream children's comedy. I don't know why David Cross agreed to be in this movie, as he is very, very funny. I'm guessing \$ had something to do with it.

Ah yes, puzzle. I rated this one "Medium," though in truth only two answers separate this puzzle from "Easiest Puzzle I've Ever Seen in the NYT" - those answers:

ALVIN TOFFLER and ED WHITE.

I've never heard of either of these people. I'm sure they are national treasures and household names and what not, but ALVIN TOFFLER only dimly rings a bell as a name I may have heard some time in my life, and ED WHITE is meaningless to me. ED WHITE sounds like a name any one of my neighbors might have. "I was talking to ED WHITE over in Human Resources" or "I got a good deal on this Buick from ED WHITE Automotive." Those are sentences I can imagine someone saying. I cannot imagine someone saying "Holy @#\$#, ED WHITE is walking in @#\$@ outer space!"

• 20A: "Future Shock" author (Alvin Toffler)
• 28A: Late hunter of Nazi war criminals (Simon Wiesenthal)
• 48A: "Sister Carrie" author (Theodore Dreiser) - and the English professor gives a sigh of relief in response to a 15-letter gimme.

My wife is getting Much better at puzzle-solving. She's now doing Mondays in well under 10 minutes, and (she remarked gleefully last night) she is finally finding out what it's like to a complete puzzles without ever seeing some of the clues. Unlike me, she knew who ALVIN TOFFLER was. Though like me, ED WHITE may as well have been ED ASNER as far as she was concerned.

Your Curious X-word Words of the Day:

• 47A: _____ dye (chemical coloring) (azo) - it's weird to me that this has become a Monday-level answer. Weird only because it was Entirely unknown to me before I started doing crosswords. I still do a slight hesitation before filling it in, as ADZ and ARIL and ANIL all seem to want in on the act (and again, like half my vocabulary, apparently, those are all words I learned from crosswords).
• 71A: Actress Falco and namesakes (Edies) - why "namesakes" and not the more common "others" - "namesakes" implies some kind of meaningful connection, as opposed to mere coincidence. EDIE will be in your puzzle forever. Luckily, she is a very good actress, so seeing her name every other day does not annoy me.
• 54A: Directional suffix (-ern)
• 67A: Superlative suffix (-est) - very disappointing that these two Common answer are both clued as suffixes. Go suffix with one, but let the other have some life. Let the ERN fly free. Let EST enjoy its Latinity, or its brief life as a 70's self-help movement.
• 51D: Accustomed (inured) - OK, today's lesson: what the hell is the difference between INURE and ENURE: hmmm, the answer is fascinating. Here is the definition of ENURE from my highly authoritative big-ass dictionary: [enure - var of INURE]. This is easily one of the shortest entries in my nearly 2700-page dictionary. So now you know - There Is No Difference.

And the rest ...

• 61A: Dragon Ball Z game company (Atari) - "Dragon Ball Z" is a Japanese anime series popular with young kids. Also a trading card game. And now, it seems, some kind of computer game from ATARI. This from gamespot.com:

Dragon Ball Z has been Atari's most prolific licensed property in recent years, bringing in \$85 million in the company's fiscal 2005, according to its latest annual report.

• 8D: Cadavers, slangily (stiffs) - morbid, but I love it. "Slangily!"
• 26D: Kind of class for expectant mothers (Lamaze) - you know ... to balance out STIFFS. Life/death ... it's very Taoist, this puzzle.
• 29D: "Put me down as a maybe" ("I might") - Who knew this phrase was fill-worthy? I like it.
• 32D: Country rocker Steve (Earle) - I own his latest album, "Washington Square Serenade." Apparently some long-time fans were not very happy with it (over-produced? not enough "rocker"? Too ... happy?). I think it's lovely - which may not be an adjective a "rocker" wants associated with his work, but there it is.
Lastly, I want to share with you an exchange I had with fellow xword blogger "Orange" yesterday, because it exemplifies the kind of insane, back-and-forth word-geekery I have with her (and others) every day of my life. This is what solving 6-10 crosswords a day will do to your brain:

Subject: Sunday's Boston Globe puzzle

Me: What was Hook smoking? ELOGE and ELUTE???? Egads.

Orange: I like ELUTE. It takes me back to my dental editing days, reading about eluting and glass ionomers and composite resins. ELOGE, however, can bite me.

Me: I think these words (ELOGE and ELUTE) should be clued [Online theater seat] and [Online Attic instrument], respectively.

... etc.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "I Need My Space" - the word "ROOM" is added to familiar phrases to create wacky phrases, which are clued

Today, I really really really have no time to write this, so (and I mean it this time) this entry will be brief. I have to be in Ithaca in just over two hours, and it takes me just over an hour to get there. Nothing I dislike more than having to write in a rush. Well, there are probably a few things I'd dislike more. Like the flu. Or maggots in my macaroni and cheese (this happened once). Breakfast test!

I did not give Mike Nothnagel's last puzzle nearly enough love, so I am going to love this one openly and audibly. Love love love. There. This puzzle is a good example of how you don't have to be especially tricky to create a very entertaining and satisfying Sunday puzzle. I mean, he adds "ROOM" to familiar phrases. It's ... not complicated. But it works. At least it did for me. I blew through the top of the puzzle, which felt almost too easy, but then the bottom was slightly more challenging. In the end, a good time was had by all (except maybe my wife, who has yet to finish the puzzle - she's also still struggling with the last carriage pun in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle - who knew there were so many words for "carriage"?).

• 24A: Like a useless photo lab employee? (afraid of the dark ROOM)
• 39A: Offers breakfast to students before first period? (brings home ROOM the bacon)
• 53A: Beer sources for genteel guests? (powder ROOM kegs)
• 72A: Reminder to a forgetful judge on bowling night? (the ball's in your court ROOM)
• 92A: What talk show guests have before the broadcast? (Green ROOM Party) - here was one of my snags: I had "GREEN ROOM PEACE" - it fits, and the "P" and "A" are in the correct place. And it's not like the clue screams "party." In the end, I was saved by crossword stalwart STRAD (88D: Expensive strings), which was undeniable, and which gave me the "T" I needed to change my PEACE to PARTY.
• 107A: Sign outside a church lavatory? (no rest ROOM for the wicked) - This was rough for me, as I had always known the phrase as "NO REST FOR THE WEARY"; "WICKED" is much better - not sure where my version came from.
• 125A: Where a Monkee changes after a game? (Davy Jones' locker ROOM) - had parts of LOCKER and got this one even before I looked at the clue.

What I didn't know:

• 21A: Baseball Hall-of-Famer Edd (Roush) - I "knew" it when I saw it, but have no idea who he is or why his name is familiar.
• 99A: Poker game with four hole cards (Omaha) - whatever you say. Never heard of it. This intersected the problematic CHEST (95D: Blanket holder), which I had as CHILD.
• 117A: Short-hop plane (air taxi) - how short are we talking? When does a regular old airplane become an AIR TAXI?
• 121A: Music with jazzlike riffs (ska) - I have never associated SKA with "jazzlike riffs"; maybe I just don't own enough of it.
• 17D: Eccentric friend on "Designing Women" (Bernice) - I'll take "Obscure Early 90's TV Characters for a billion, Alex."
• 35D: _____ 1, Yuri Gagarin's spacecraft (Vostok)
• 41D: Steam shovel inventor William (Otis) - the elevator guy? Tricky.
• 56D: "A maid with hair of gold," in an old song (Katy) - didn't know. Had KATE. KATY seems an odd spelling.
• 70D: Damager of the ozone layer (freon) - I actually knew this, but still think it an unusual (good unusual, not bad unusual) answer.
• 71D: Pouting person's action (stamp) - a STAMP would indicate to me that the action has gone beyond "pouting." I wanted MOUE (as always).
• 96D: Golden Triangle country (Laos) - If I've heard that expression, it's been a Long time.
• 104D: Italian province of its capital (Trieste) - got it from crosses. It's familiar, but doesn't look very Italian to me, for some reason.
• 3D: Laredo or Nuevo Laredo (border town) - had border CITY. Ugh.
• 118D: The first prophet of God, in Islam (Adam) - highly inferrable, but I didn't know it.

The language of crosswords:

• 27A: Stephen of "Breakfast on Pluto" (Rea) - perhaps the goofiest of guises for this common answer. Get it? ... Goofy ... Pluto. Come on!
• 9D: Religious retreats (ashrams) - learned it from crosswords
• 13D: Sports legend whose #4 was retired (Orr) - rare, and a bit unfortunate, that this piece of tired hockey crosswordness is in the same puzzle as its baseball counterpart, OTT (128D: Giant born in Louisiana).
• 37D: Seventh-brightest star in a constellation (eta) - woo hoo. I only Just learned this astronomical meaning of ETA, and bam, here it is.
• 83D: Turnaround, slangily (uey) - Ah, "slangily." My favorite bit of cluing jargon, just ahead of "sloganeer."

Stuff I enjoyed:

• 33A: TV oil baron (Ewing) - as in J.R., and who shot him.
• 48A: Game stopper (tilt) - mmm, pinball, How retro. I have always wanted to own a pinball machine, which is very weird as I Never play pinball.
• 67A: Worthless talk, in slang (bilge) - almost as ugly as "slacks" or "snood," but BILGE is something I can imagine saying. Seems ... useful. Sounds like what it means. Love that.
• 78A: Early invader of Britain (Saxon) - this was one of a host of answers that hit close to home. Trained as a medievalist, I know all about the SAXON "invasions" (they were sort of invited at first, so "invasion" is a bit iffy). I also identified with 90A: Band with the 1989 hit "Stand" (R.E.M.) - very college - and 115A: Satirical paper, with "The" ("Onion"), which I get via e-mail every week.
• 84A: 1977 George Burns film ("Oh, God") - lotsa movie references today, including 133A: 1964 Quinn role (Zorba) and 22D: 1969 Oscar-nominated film role (Ratso). Oh, and 10D: 1976 horror film whose score won an Oscar ("The Omen") - best part about this clue was that I had "THE" and promptly wrote in "JAWS" - "THE JAWS?!"
• 105D: Singer with the #1 country album "80's Ladies" (K.T. Oslin) - nice name for the grid. Unexpected consonant combo. See also DR. JOHN (85D: "Right Place Wrong Time" singer, 1973 - this song was featured prominently in the Great film "Dazed and Confused").

Running out the door,
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

I have a very busy Saturday, so you will have to accept a rather scant bullet list of observations today. So sorry, but I've got an IHOP gift card burning a hole in my pocket, and my family is eager to go use it. Plus, I fell asleep last night before I sent my writing group the material I was supposed to send them, so I gotta get that in order as well. I realize you don't need to know any of this, and yet I can't keep myself from telling you.

"Phillysolver" seems a decent sort of person (a frequent commenter at this blog) so s/he will surely not mind when I point my finger at him/her and shout "J'accuse" (or something like that) for having given away Saturday puzzle information in the Friday Comments section. W ... T ... .F!? The funny part was that I got at least two heads-up from other readers - warnings not to look at my Comments section for Friday, or else my Saturday puzzle would be ruined. And I thanked those readers ... and promptly checked my email (where, of course, all comments are sent to me). And walked Right Into the comment I was supposed to be avoiding. O well. I deleted it instantly as soon as I realized what I was doing, but it was too late. The MANILOW seed had been planted (ew, that sentence made me a little sick).

I had one major problem with the puzzle: JUNK FAX (30A: It's prohibited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991). Had the -AX and imagine that a TAX was being prohibited - CALL TAX? TOLL TAX (redundant?)? Once I finally convinced myself that 23D: Direct had to be REFER, giving me -FAX, I remained stuck. At one point I had BULK FAX, which was good enough to get me the "U" for the UNDER- prefix in UNDERRATE (31D: Review unfairly, maybe). And then finally my 70's TV knowledge, which had been failing me of late, came rushing back and I remembered KRIS (33D: Cheryl's "Charlie's Angels" role), giving me the "K" I needed for JUNK. Earlier, failing to read the clue correctly, I had (very confidently) entered LADD at 33D. Later, I wanted her name to be TESS, which rhymes with MESS, which pretty much sums it up.

Bullets!

• 1A: Cash cache, often (cookie jar) - great answer, and I got it instantly, with no crosses. Woo hoo! Sadly, this helped me naught. The only Down cross I got off of it - ETES (6D: "Vous _____ ici") was one I would have gotten anyway - I don't need help with Gimmes! Everything else up there had to wait for me to come back to it.
• 45A: Dad's rival (Barq's) - root beer. Site of my other confidently written-in Wrong answer: A AND W (and I was So proud of that one). Sadly, A AND W was "confirmed" by CASABA (28D: Honeydew alternative), which is the official melon of the NY Times crossword puzzle.
• 55A: Minnelli of Broadway (Liza) - I almost didn't write this in, so easy did it seem. That's a Monday clue! I was thinking "Does she have a lesser known cousin? ZASU or PEPE or something?"
• 47D: Six-time Grammy winner Mary J. _____ (Blige) - intersects LIZA at the "L" - why are you making my gimmes run into each other!? Spread them out!
• 25D: Mine shaft tool (trepan) - learned it from crosswords, woo hoo!
• 49D: Hyundai sedan (Azera) - I was certain this was wrong. I have never Ever heard of such a thing. ELANTRA, yes, SONATA, yes ... AZERA? With a name like that, you'd think it would get more xword play.
• 16A: Liner threat, once (U-boat) - had me thinking the puzzle was a rebus and the answer was [ICE]berg ... but presumably ICEBERGS are still threats to liners ...
• 18A: Spanish table wine (rioja)
• 40D: Light white wine (moselle) - mmm, winy. If you didn't do it, you should seek out last week's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle (I think that's what it was), which was Loaded with long theme answers that involved wine puns. If I'm recommending a pun puzzle, you know that it's good.
• 19A: "Isaac's Storm" author Larson (Erik) - Give me Estrada any day. What's with the authors today? O, now that I look at it, there's just two, ERIK and JEAN GENET (30D: "The Thief's Journal" author). O no, there's another: 14D: Playwright/painter Wyspianski (Stanislaw). But there were other names I did not know, including TANIA (35D: _____ Raymonde, player of Alex Rousseau on "Lost" - ugh) and BUSONI (42A: "Turandot" composer Ferruccio _____), which surprised me, because I've heard of "Turandot" and therefore wanted a Much more famous composer. Then there's ABBAS (46A: Iranian filmmaker Kiarostami), which I made an educated guess at - thank you Mahmoud.
• 20A: Player of the Queen Mother in "The Queen," 2006 (Syms) - great movie, but needed all my crosses (or almost all) for this one.
• 21A: Determined to execute (set on) - I was imagining something much more ... lethal.
• 27A: Green vehicle (eco-car) - ECO- is the new E-, in that apparently you can put it in front of anything and call it a word. Wanted PRIUS.
• 40A: "New York City Rhythm" singer (Manilow) - grrr. I did not know this, but I had the MA- and my memory went back, unbidden, to the comment on yesterday's puzzle that I was not supposed to read. And I wrote in MANILOW with a frown.
• 51A: Weasley family's owl, in Harry Potter books (Errol) - I had CYRIL for a bit. Hang on, I'm going to go see if my daughter knows this answer ... OK, that went well. I asked "Sahra, what's the name of the Percy family's house owl?" and she looked at me with a head tilt and asked "You mean the Weasleys?" and I said "Yeah, right, Weasley family's house owl." She paused for two seconds, looking off into space, and then calmly said "Errol." And then, and this is true: she went right back to reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (which I had interrupted).
• 53A: Breaking sticks (cues) - I grimaced at this more than once. The answer now seems obvious.
• 56A: Biblical woman who renamed herself Mara (Naomi) - had the final "I" and thought "NAOMI" - thus can one solve Saturday puzzles while continuing to know squat about anything.
• I know more about NAOMI Judd than I do about biblical NAOMI.
• 57A: What kids might roll down (hillsides) - fun!
• 59A: Old lab items akin to Bunsen burners (etnas) - had to switch to Bunsen burners because the ETNAS kept exploding every few years.
• 62A: Blues guitarist Vaughan (Stevie Ray) - nice long gimme helped me out in that thorny ABBAS / AZERA corner down there.
• 1D: They're seedy (cores) - I just ate an apple. It's true!
• 5D: Hip-hop producer Gotti (Irv) - it was IRA or IRV.
• 7D: Peer group setting? (jury box) - wanted something to do with Earls and Dukes and Counts and what not. JURY BOX is a nice, Scrabbly entry.
• 12D: Potential canine saver (root canal) - easy, but cute.
• 52D: It has an exclave on the Strait of Hormuz (Oman) - I wrote in IRAN here :( - HORMUZ would look good in a puzzle. As would EXCLAVE.
• 54D: Pomeranian or Dalmatian (Slav) - see, you were supposed to think dogs. . . but you didn't, did you? If you were like me, you had the final "V" in place before you ever saw the clue.

Pancakes, ho!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Friday, January 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Woo hoo, new Quarfoot! It feels as if it's been a while. In some ways, I wish that the puzzle author's name were hidden until I completed the puzzle - I really think it affects my mindset. If I see Bob Klahn, I can feel my insides clenching. Ditto Byron Walden (both Great constructors, just ... harrowing; I like them the way I imagine people like scary movies or roller coasters). Seeing Quarfoot's name automatically raises my expectations, such that I am perhaps no longer as blown away as I used to be by his puzzles because I've seen such amazing things in the past. That said, I still found this puzzle quite impressive. It had that peppy combination of contemporary and old-fashioned, with lots of colloquial expressions and unexpected letter combinations. I have more frowny faces on my annotated puzzle than I normally do for a Friday, but these are mainly clue quibbles, I think. Let's see.

Quarfoot almost always has a splashy 1A, and today is no exception. The Iraq War has largely been an international disaster, but it has been a boon for constructors of crosswords, who have found all kinds of exotica suddenly in-the-language and therefore permissible in the grid. I've seen AL JAZEERA and AL ZARQAWI in the past year, and today I get the less Scrabbly but no less unusual SADR CITY (1A: War-torn Baghdad suburb). Had the CITY part before I ever saw the clue, so it was easy. I started the puzzle at EL NIÃ‘O (16A: Weather Channel topic) which gave me the "L" for ELM (10D: _____ bark beetle - a guess, but what else was it going to be?). That gave me the "M" for 18A: Key that doesn't include 58-Across (E major), which I absolutely did not know, but I knew enough to write an -OR at the end and then consult 58-Across, where I found 58A: It's almost a B, scorewise - I know enough about music to know that B is the equivalent of a C-flat, but "almost"? How can a note "almost" be another note? The only reasonable response here ended up being the right one: A SHARP. Very, very nice that A-SHARP and E MAJOR are symmetrical in the grid. I also like A SHARP over ITUNES (62A: Apple application), as it's a very familiar combination to me - A SHARP who listens to his ITUNES every day (even as I write this, in fact).

My biggest problem today was in the San Francisco area of the puzzle, where I got completely spooked by a mysterious city (!): 41A: Onetime Serbian capital (nis). NIS!? Yikes. Until I looked it up (after I finished the puzzle, duh), I thought "capital" meant "currency." But no, it's an actual place - birthplace of Constantine the Great, in fact. Who knew? (please don't tell me you did). Not having spent much time in Manhattan, I also got spooked by 37A: Part of Manhattan's Alphabet City (Avenue C), which sat right atop NIS. The Downs were not helping, especially 2D: It forbids religious tests for political office (Article VI) - ARTICLE was easy enough, but that Roman numeral could have been anything as far as I was concerned. Thankfully, I convinced myself that 1936 was not in fact too early to be part of MEL OTT's career (31A: 1936 N.L. leader in slugging percentage), and that whole section subsequently opened up. Love seeing OTT (crosswordese) given the full-name treatment, btw. I was horribly flummoxed by 24D: Word in some British place names (Upon) - I had the "U" and could barely think of any English word that could fit there, let alone one that would be appropriate to the clue. Of course in retrospect the answer seems obvious.

It was a good day to know your Spanish, which provided key answers in both the Iowa and the SoCal portions of the puzzle. Both OSOS (30D: Zoo de Madrid beasts) and OESTE (49D: DirecciÃ³n sailed by Columbus) have a good deal of currency in the puzzle, so despite my not knowing much Spanish, I got these easily. It was also a good day to be an English professor who enjoys comics, as NAHUM Tate (50D: British poet Tate) and E.C. SEGAR (43D: Swee' Pea's creator) both decided to show up (again) today - SEGAR shows up quite a bit, actually, and NAHUM Tate has certainly been in the puzzle in the past year. He wrote the libretto to Purcell's "Dido & Aeneas" (late 17th c.), among other things.

Funky pop culture:

• 65A: Judge of films (Reinhold) - HA ha. Best known for a masturbation scene in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (great film - Sean Penn has never been better).
• 56D: 1982 film title role for Bruce Boxleitner (Tron) - double HA ha. Common answer, but never having seen the movie, I didn't know TRON was actually the name of some dude in the movie. I thought it was just a generally electronic-sounding name. I think Bruce Boxleitner was / is married to Melissa Gilbert. Oh, yeah, here we go. Rich.

That's a pretty light dose of pop culture, considering what one usually finds in a DQ puzzle. I guess you could throw in ITUNES (62A: Apple application) and TV TRAY (7D: It might hold a couch potato's potato), but those are pretty mainstream answers, neither one requiring that you be particularly movie- or pop music- or TV-loving. So what else does this puzzle have?:

• 17A: Fleet runner of myth (Atalanta) - total gimme if you know your Greek mythology. Speaking of Greek, when in doubt, guess some version of IONIA (today, IONIC - 6D: Corinthian alternative).
• 25A: Biblical miracle setting (Cana) - another gimme. First miracle site that comes to mind (for me).
• 26A: Powerful piece (queen) - Love this clue. Took me way too long to see the chessness of it.
• 27A: Boarding spot (slope) - hmmm. I don't follow. Is this where the earth SLOPEs toward the sea, so you can pull your boat up and, I don't know, let people on? [No - "boarding" = "snowboarding," and thus SLOPE = ski SLOPE; thanks to Rick for pointing that out]
• 33A: Brooklynese pronoun (dese) - awesome. When will we see DOSE and DEM?
• 44A: Drops in a theater (scrims) - my brain hurt trying to figure this out. Then I though of the word "backdrops," and I got it. I was looking for ... some kind of candy.
• 45A: Japanese model sold from 1970 to 2006 (Celica) - I had no idea this model was defunct. Now CELICA can join ALERO in the dead car hall of fame (though it will never be as common).
• 55A: Spotter's confirmation ("I see it") - ouch. This whole pairing feels very forced.
• 63A: Fancy haberdashery item (ascot tie) - Isn't this redundant? Are there ASCOT shoes? Hats? Cars?
• 3D: Versatile actors may play them (dual roles) - see, I find that truly versatile actors tend to avoid these roles. I guess Eddie Murphy and Peter Sellers and Mike Myers have had some success with dual roles (multiple roles, actually), but if you've ever watched soap operas, you know how painful the DUAL ROLE can be to watch. Oh, who am I kidding? None of you watch soaps. Nevermind.
• 12D: 11 1/2" soldier (G.I. Joe) - I have this strong feeling that DQ has used this answer before. Maybe I'm confusing DQ with Mike Nothnagel. It happens.
• 13D: Online memo (e-note) - e-no.
• 14D: Archaeologist David who found the lost Roman city of Kourion (Soren) - Kierkegaard too mainstream for you?
• 34D: Enter gently (slide into) - Breakfast test!
• 35D: Head of state known to his people as "Dear Leader" (Kim Jong Il) - His name is super-pretty in the grid.
• 52D: Track-and-field equipment (disci) - got this easily, but ick. I demand to know if discus throwers actually use this plural. What do I know? Maybe they do. I heard a guy on the radio yesterday refer to the CELLI in a Bach piece, and I know that's the "correct" plural, but it still hurt my ears.
• 55D: _____ dixit (ipse) - I was actually unsure about this "E," intersecting as it did the second "E" in DEMODE (64A: No longer in). Whoa, talk about pronunciation issues. This appears to be DÃ‰MODÃ‰. As far as I'm concerned, this answer is missing a PECHE (only 80s/90s music fans will have any idea what I mean by that).
• 61D: School dept. (Ath.) - final frowny face. No big deal. I just find this a really weak abbreviation.

Overall, good stuff.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "HIT THE" Jackpot (63A: Words missing from the answers to the eight starred clues)

Either the puzzles have been uncharacteristically easy this week, or all that Friday NY Sun puzzle training is really beginning to pay off. I did this puzzle lazily this morning, over cereal, tea, and MSNBC's "Morning Joe" (which I am finding sickly addictive this campaign season). I ran into only a few places where I hesitated even for a moment, and those places ended up being very minor stumbling blocks. I had PIÃ‘ATA (13A: *Party game) as my first theme answer, and I thought "That's an odd answer to the clue ... there's a "game" called "PIÃ‘ATA?" ... well, OK." Then I had CAMPAIGN all filled out before I ever even saw the clue, 19A: *Vie for votes, and I thought "CAMPAIGN ... that's the answer right there ... what other verb phrase is there?" Then, from crosses, CAMPAIGN TRAIL became the clear answer, and instantly I got the theme: HIT THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, HIT THE PIÃ‘ATA, Ta Da! Off to the races. The puzzle was a cinch from there on, with all the other theme answers being Remarkably easy to get - very familiar phrases one and all:

• PIÃ‘ATA
• CAMPAIGN TRAIL
• 15A: *1961 chart-topper for Ray Charles ("Road, Jack") - before I got the theme, I had "JACK," and since Ray Charles had a hit with "BlackJACK," I was a little confused. Switching iTunes to Ray Charles ... now.

I sat there with two tens
I thought I'd have some fun
The dealer hit 16 with a 5
Just enough to make 21
Hey hey hey yeah yeah
How unlucky can one man be?
Well, every quarter I get
Yeah blackjack takes it away from me.

• 37A: *Get off to a quick start (ground running)
• 55A: *Get it exactly (nail on the head)
• 62A: *Shoot perfectly (bull's eye)
• 31D: *Fail (skids)
• 28D: *React to gunfire, maybe (floor)

I'm going to call a pop culture foul on the puzzle today. I rarely do this, as you know, because I [heart] clues about movies and TV and pop music and the internets. Today, however, there is an arbitrarily arcane and unnecessary trivial TV focus. I mean, getting to CBS via "Dukes of Hazzard" is one thing (59D: "The Dukes of Hazzard" network) - that's the kind of dated TV reference you can get away with in a puzzle. Once. But to throw in completely unnecessary references to two more defunct shows that many solvers will never have watched in the first place. That's a bit much. How badly do you have to love Steve Austin to use 9D: California hometown of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman as your clue for OJAI? And how much must you hate your readers that you would include an abbreviation of a fictional governmental agency, from a T.V. show that was never a big hit and isn't even on the air anymore. Surely there is some other way to get APO than 49A: Fictional C.I.A unit on "Alias".

Today is a good day to beef up your crossword-solving arsenal. AYN (23A: Rand who asked "Who is John Galt?") and OCHS (9A: Phil who sang "Draft Dodger Rag") are going to come up over and over and over, and answers like OTC (over-the-counter - 6A: Not Rx), JAGR (42A: Hockey great Jaromir), and ORAN (6D: Algerian port in "The Plague"), while less common, show up enough to be worth filing away for future reference.

What else?

• 35A: "Mother of all rivers" (Mekong) - good one; haven't seen this river in a long time. MEKONG is the name of a local Vietnamese restaurant where I have had both delicious and borderline inedible food.
• 41A: Hair net (snood) - OK, "slacks" and "snell" have a rival for Worst Word in the Language.
• 43A: Swell place? (sea) - took me Way longer than it should have (i.e. multiple seconds). I had the -EA and the only word I could think of was PEA! "PEAS make a POD swell ... but ..." Speaking of POD: 54A: Escape _____.
• 59A: Vein locale (coal mine) - another one that took way too long. I kept waiting for ORE to appear somewhere in the answer, so I had the right kind of vein, at least.
• 61A: Classic Studebaker whose name means "forward" in Italian (Avanti) - I just had this answer in another puzzle. Feels as if I've seen it a number of times. Yet another "learned it from crosswords" answer.
• 11D: Stomach acid, to a chemist (HCL) - HDL ... LDL ... nope, don't know this.
• 20D: 10 Benjamin Franklins (grand) - this clue wants to be street but isn't. I don't think I've ever heard anyone add the "Franklins" part. These bills are usually just "Benjamins" (and even that phrase feels a bit dated by now). Plus, the better answer here, if we want to stay appropriately colloquial, is ONE G.
• 39D: Inappropriate (unapt) - wow this word sucks. I'm sure I've complained about it before. First of all, I want INAPT, not UN- (that is, when I "want" this word at all, which is never). I had the UN- and wrote in UNFIT (a much better answer, IMOO).
• 43D: Mrs. Woody Allen (Soon-Yi) - no matter how much I love his films (and I love "Manhattan" something awful), and no matter how strongly I believe that people have been overly harsh on him of late, I can't see SOON-YI's name without feeling a little icky.
• 53D: Walter who wrote "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money" (Tevis) - ???? Complete mystery to me. Thankfully, I never saw the clue.

Happy Thursday,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: Rhymes with "SWAYZE" (or, "Theme? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Theme")

I loved this puzzle. It was a bit too easy, and the non-theme fill was not as inspired as Hook puzzles often are, but something about the brazen looseness of the theme makes me very happy. Is there something connecting these long answers beyond the fact that they could be used to make a limerick? "There once was an actor named SWAYZE," etc. I especially like the final theme answer, as it has an "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" feel, like "how many damn '-AZY' words do you think I can fit in here...?" Overall, the puzzle was light, fun, playful, and entertaining, even if it took far too little time to do.

• 20A: "She's Like the Wind" singer, 1988 (Patrick Swayze) - I feel as if Mr. Hook is taunting me, trying to get a most horrible late-80s pop song stuck in my my head. Thankfully, the only part of this song I remember is "She's like the wind...," which I think is the first line of the song and possibly the last line of the chorus. I beg you all not to fill me in here. PATRICK SWAYZE is (far) better known as the co-star of the movie "Dirty Dancing" (1987).
• 36A: Aster (Michaelmas daisy) - I had no idea that this was another name for "aster." What I love most about this clue is that it takes an exceedingly common bit of fill ("aster") and uses it as a clue for a very unusual, even gaudy answer.
• 55A: Like some days of summer, in song ("lazy, hazy, crazy") - I don't think I know this song, but I inferred the answer easily enough.

Let's take a little tour of the puzzle:

• 9A: Some Spanish Surrealist paintings (MirÃ³s) - I don't think of him as a surrealist, but I guess I'm wrong. He was included in a surrealist exhibition I saw in Edinburgh a few years ago. I guess you were supposed to enter DALIS here and be frustrated at your presumption, but I already had the "M" before I saw the clue, so that didn't happen.
• 24A: C's in shop class? (clamps) - I learned what a "C-clamp" is ... from crosswords. It's true. It's one of the handier tools for crossword constructors, for whatever reason. Good way to refer to the letter "CEE" ... gets you an odd opening "CC" if you want it ...
• 43A: Part of the Dept. of Homeland Security since 2003 (FEMA) - their very name reeks of incompetence now.
• 35A: Soul singer Corinne Bailey ____ (Rae) - welcome to the RAE family, Corinne. Say hello to Charlotte RAE, explorer John RAE, and "Quest for Fire" star RAE Dawn Chong.
• 49A: Hadrian's predecessor (Trajan) - I like that his name looks like a typo.
• 51A: Musical based on a T. H. White novel ("Camelot") - really wanted "SPAM-A-LOT."
• 58A: She said "Don't get mad, get everything!" (Ivana) - as in "Trump," as in ugh.
• 62A: To say in Spanish? (decir) - weird clue. It's literal (but for missing quot. marks around 'to say') and yet it's got a question mark. Usually "?" clues are misdirective somehow. Can't see that here.
• 63A: La CittÃ¡ Eterna (Roma) - Not sure if I've heard this phrase before, but it makes sense.
• 1D: Michael of R.E.M. (Stipe) - had a reader wonder aloud yesterday when she'd get the R.E.M. clue she's been longing for (after the barrage of recent rap references). And here it is. STIPE is not new to the puzzle, though his band's name is far more common.
• 3D: Travis who sang "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" (Tritt) - I love STIPE and TRITT up here together in the "Seattle" portion of the puzzle. They should sing a duet. No one would see that coming.
• 7D: Willa Cather's "One of _____" ("Ours") - don't know it, but had the O--S before I ever read the clue, so it was an easy guess. I think one of the things that separates good from very good and very good from great solvers is their guessing instincts. The more puzzles you do, the better they get.
• 9D: Its motto is "Manly deeds, womanly words" (Maryland) - what a bunch of Marys. . . I love this motto, and I especially love that the state keeps it despite its being all kinds of embarrassing.
• 10D: Resort island near Majorca (Ibiza) - one of the Balearic Islands, along with Mallorca and Menorca. IBIZA is a very popular European tourist destination.
• 11D: Longtime "Hollywood Squares" regular (Rose Marie) - she was also a "Dick Van Dyke Show" regular.
• 25D: Cellular biology material (plasm) - this word is creeping me out this morning. I really want to put an "A" on the end of it.
• 33D: Winter carnival structure (ice palace) - is this a thing? I mean ... are PALACEs in particular a common ice sculpture subject, or could his have been ICE anything? ICE CASTLE comes to mind. ICE TEPEE? ICE ... well, you get the picture.
• 38D: Sister magazine of Jet (Ebony) - They are sisters and synonyms. This only just occurred to me, as, growing up, I imagined that JET had some kind of aeronautic or space-age frame of reference. Not until I read the Donne line "cloistered in these living walls of jet" (from "The Flea") did I know that JET meant "black." Now I've known that for a while, but somehow never applied that knowledge to the magazine title. And now I have. Fascinating.
• 50D: Title girl with a gun in a 1989 Aerosmith hit (Janie) - must you keep bringing me back to the late 80's, Mr. Hook. Thankfully, this time (unlike with the SWAYZE clue, above), the referenced song is Much more pleasant to remember, despite its highly disturbing lyrical content.
• 53D: A high flier may fly in it (ozone) - that's pretty damned high. What flies in the OZONE? I thought planes flew well beneath it, while most spacecraft flew through it. For future reference, you might like to know that O-ZONE is also the name of a Moldovian (?!) pop trio. I learned on a recent "Daily Show" that Moldova is, according to scientific studies, the Least Happy Place on Earth.
• 54D: English drama critic Kenneth (Tynan) - the only answer today that I flat-out didn't know.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Emily has an artist friend / colleague who does her own version of NYT puzzle-related art every day. See it here.

Today's other puzzles:
• NYS untimed (C) - "And the Nominees Are ..." by "Roger DePont" - RECOMMENDED: a fun, super-current puzzle, which, you will see, was clearly written in something under a day.
• CS untimed (P) - "Lingo" by Patrick Jordan
• LAT untimed (P) - Venzke and Daily - RECOMMENDED: four colorful 15-letter theme answers, with a thematically-related "K"-laden throw-in to boot. Nice.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: DAILY PLANET (57A: Publication that is the key to this puzzle's theme) - three theme answers begin with last names of characters who work at the Daily Planet (in the "Superman" universe)

I stared at the puzzle for what felt like an eternity after I'd completed it, trying to figure out what the hell the theme meant. My confusion stemmed from the fact that there are two non-theme answers that are longer than two of the theme answers, so (naturally?) I thought they were theme answers. I'm used to the longest answers in the puzzle being themed. So here I was, trying to figureout what ELIZABETH I (3D: 1998 role for Cate Blanchett), LANE CHANGES, KENT STATE, WHITE LIES, and ADAM AND EVE (31D: Genesis duo) had in common. Finally KENT set off a "Superman" bell in my head, and then I saw LANE (Lois) and WHITE (Perry) and I realized that the long Downs weren't theme answers at all. Thankfully, none of this confusion had any effect on my ability to solve this puzzle quickly (and happily).

Though I read comics now (a lot - I start teaching a course on Comics in about, oh, 7 days), I did not read them growing up. I have a vague memory of my mother's buying me a "Howard the Duck" comic back in the late 70s (do you remember this, mom?), and I liked comic strips ("Garfield," "Peanuts," later "Bloom County") but I didn't start reading comics in earnest until I was a full-grown adult. Thus the "Superman" mythology has always been a little vague in my head - my ideas of it came largely from the Christopher Reeve movies. To me, the Daily Planet was a restaurant in the Tower District of Fresno, CA, where I grew up. I had no idea (I'm not kidding) that it was an allusion to a fictional paper. It was only recently, in fact, that I learned that Perry WHITE was the editor of the Daily Planet. I'd never paid attention to his name. I'm much more partial to Batman these days, for a host of reasons I won't get into. But I will admit that there was a time when my wife and I devoured the first four seasons or so of "Smallville." It's a time of our lives that we're ... not proud of.

• 21A: They require signals (lane changes)
• 28A: Ohio university whose team is the Golden Flashes (Kent State) - took me Far too long to get this - I blame KARNAK. I also blame this clue's lack of a reference to a Neil Young song.
• 47A: Fibs (white lies)

This puzzle was super duper easy, with only KARNAK (6D: Egyptian temple site) presenting any kind of obstacle to a quick solving experience. EUBIE (2D: Blake of jazz) was probably a bit challenging for some solvers, but I had the EU- before I ever saw the clue, and while I couldn't pick EUBIE Blake out of a line-up, his name came to me instantly. I'm listening to Mozart right now, but I should probably switch to Beethoven in honor of the two clues he gets today: 25A: Number of operas composed by Beethoven (one - "Fidelio") and 29D: Beethoven dedicatee (Elise). There - I just switched. As some astute reader remarked a few days ago, there are exceptions to the "90+% of everything is crap" rule which I (via Theodore Sturgeon, I think) set forth a few days ago. One of those exceptions is Beethoven.

What else?

• 34A: Fancy flapjacks (crepes) - hmmm. Seems a stretch, as technically a "flapjack" is

1. Biscuit made from fat, sugar, rolled oats and syrup.

2. A thick pancake.

And a CREPE is neither of those.

• 37A: Comstock _____ (Lode) - as part of our ongoing series, "#\$#% Rex Should Have Known But Didn't," allow me to present "Comstock LODE." Had the "O" and my only thought was: SOUP.
• 40A: Slacks material (chino) - "slacks" is one of the ugliest words in the English language, and one of my very least favorite words. The very word reeks of chafing polyester. I'm sure there are very nice "slacks" in the world, but I don't think I can even type the word one more time without making myself sick.
• 44A: P P P, in Greek (rhos) - this is called "I Give Up"-style cluing.
• 51A: Beehive State native (Ute) - So proud of myself for knowing what state this referred to. So angry at myself for doing an eyeskip and attributing this clue to 52A, where I had a terminal "A": "What's a native of Utah that's three letters ending in 'A'?," I exclaimed to myself, in my head. Answer: nothing.
• 63A: Tunesmith's org. (ASCAP) - "Tunesmith" is up there with "slangily" in terms of "words you will rarely if ever see except in crossword clues."
• 36D: Haul, slangily (schlep) - Had SCHLEP in another puzzle yesterday. It's got that nice opening four-consonant combo. It's an ugly-sounding word, but still doesn't bother me half as much as "slacks."
• 33D: Israel's Abba (Eban) - File it away if you didn't know it. EBAN is one of my many crossword friends.
• 42D: Rap's Dr. _____ (Dre) - "Bow wow wow yippy yo yippy yay" - DRE is probably the most common rap name in the puzzle world right now (though ICE-T has legitimate grid cred as well).
• 56D: Doers of drudgery (peons) - Add "doers" to the list of nauseating words. We have a section in our local paper called something like "Doers in the Tier" - nope, here it is: "Doer's Profile." The word looks part German, part profane ... as if it refers to someone who wants to do something unspeakable to female deer. If I ever write a book cataloging my worst nightmares, it will be called "Doers in Slacks."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Monday, January 21, 2008

The registration form is finally up at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament site, so go here to register for this year's tournament (Friday, Feb. 29-Sun, Mar. 2, 2008 at the Brooklyn Marriott).

My wife would like to remind you that you do not have to be a speedster to enjoy this event. She's only just beginning to tackle the late-week puzzles, but she's proceeding fearlessly into the puzzle fray. The more "normal" solvers, the better, I say. It's your hobby, too. So come and enjoy the puzzles. You will not regret it. If you love puzzles, you will not feel out of place, whatever your skill level. I'll be there, Orange will be there, Emily will be there with various versions of her beautiful art for sale ... Will Shortz will be there, in case that wasn't obvious. So go go go. Please. Thank you.

All the best,
RP

MONDAY, Jan. 21, 2008 - Andrea Carla Michaels

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: WIN / LOSE / DRAW - three theme answers start with WIN, LOSE, and DRAW, respectively.

An easy, breezy puzzle. Pretty bare-bones, as themes go. Not much to say about it. It's a bit ho-hum. Ms. Michaels' puzzles usually have a bit more zing to them. I do like that the puzzle makes me think of "Win, Lose, or Draw," the 80s Pictionary-type game show hosted by Bert Convy, where contestants teamed up with "celebrities." The set was designed to look like somebody's living room. What's weird to me is that these words together - WIN, LOSE, DRAW - conjure no other image, no other context, besides a besweatered Bert Convy handing Magic Markers to the likes of . Check out this clip, featuring crossword denizen ELAYNE Boosler and a parade of bad sweaters and haircuts. What I like about this puzzle is that I can imagine the theme is "Word Games" - "Win, Lose, or Draw" is one, JUMBLE (10D: Popular newspaper puzzle subtitled "That Scrambled Word Game") is another, and then, within a theme answer, there's also Scrabble ... (see 61A). Can I just say, about the JUMBLE, that despite its ... banality? cheesiness? ... I find it irresistible. And not always easy. I've been stumped by the JUMBLE before. There. I said it.

• 17A: Triumph, but just barely (win by a nose) - I started writing in BEAT BY A NOSE, got halfway through the answer and realized it wouldn't fit. Messy.
• 38A: Fall off a beam (lose one's balance)
• 61A: Momentarily forget (or get lucky in Scrabble?) (draw a blank) - I believe Ms. Michaels is a Scrabble player. So, probably, are many of you. Not my cup of tea (mmm, tea ... must finish this write-up quickly so I can get downstairs and have mine).

There are a couple of Olde Timey actors in the puzzle today: Ed AMES (21A: Actor Ed of "Daniel Boone"), whom I learned about from crosswords, and LEW Ayres (63D: Actor Ayres), whom I also learned about from crosswords ... and then promptly forgot. His career stretched from "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) to guest appearances on "The A-Team," "L.A. Law," and "Highway to Heaven." The only LEW I know is LEW Archer, detective in the bulk of Ross Macdonald's novels (I feel as if I made that very same comment the last time I saw LEW Ayres). LEW and AMES were the only parts of the puzzle that seemed at all loop-throwing. All other odd bits of knowledge are flat-out common in crosswords, e.g. ST. LO (28D: Capital of Manche, France) or OCALA (52D: City between Gainesville and Orlando) or AARE (41D: Swiss river). Other old school answers include ARTE (25D: Comic Johnson), EKED (64A: Barely earned, with "out"), and OTT (42A: Baseballer Mel), among others. If you don't want your puzzle to feel like it's sucking the life out of the room, I have two suggestions. One: keep crosswordese to a minimum (today's puzzle is not a great offender on this count - just average); and two: use words like EBBING (22A: Declining in power) and WANED (6D: Declined in power) sparingly. They tend to have a soporific effect. Takes the punch right out of your puzzle.

The rest:

• 67A: M&M's that were removed from 1976 to 1987 out of a health concern for a coloring dye (reds) - a long, long, weird way to go for REDS ... but I'm not complaining. This clue actually livened things up a bit.
• 1D: Home turf? (lawn) - I had TOWN. Ugh. Maybe this was because the "L" cross, LEWD, was so hard for me to come up with (1A: Lascivious). OGLE and LEER were jockeying for position in the forefront of my brain and wouldn't let LEWD through.
• 31D: "The Star Spangled Banner" land (U.S.A.) - that's an odd clue. Made me think OF THE FREE. Did you know that Francis Scott Key (a very distant relative of F. Scott Fitzgerald) wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" while in temporary custody of a British warship off the coast of Baltimore during the War of 1812? It's true. I think. At least that's what my Intellectual Devotional: American History Edition told me last night. It's a fun, if fairly traditional, overview of U.S. History from early colonization to the present day, organized a bit like a calendar, with a new event, person, or concept each day. If all you're after is "cocktail party" (or in my case "crossword puzzle") knowledge, it's a great way to spend five minutes every night before bedtime.
• 11D: Online commerce (e-tail) - this word, like the majority of e-words, must die.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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