FRIDAY, Feb. 29, 2008 - Patrick Berry (1990 #1 RAP HIT THAT STARTS "YO, V.I.P., LET'S KICK IT")

Friday, February 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Happy first day of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and, coincidentally, weirdest-looking date of the year. February 29. It looks fictional, that date. Surreal, almost.

OK, I'm dashing these off today, as we are headed for the Greyhound station (only the best for me and my wife) pretty soon to catch a bus to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, we'll take the subway to Brooklyn, where we will check in to the hotel and then immediately head out for kwality time with our friend Kathy. Then back to the hotel for shmoozing and games aplenty. I can only hope that this year's opening festivities are as entertaining last year's. They will inevitably be less Norwegian, but I'm sure they'll make up for that somehow.

Today's puzzle is gorgeous. Tough but doable, with a couple truly tricky parts. The fill is vibrant and bouncy and eye-catching throughout. In short, it's an average Patrick Berry effort. That'll teach him to set the bar so damned high.

Where did I start? Good question. I'll give you a guess. Just look over the grid ... now, if you've been reading me for a while, you know there is one answer that stands out above all others. If this puzzle were a film, playing at the Rex Parker theater, which clue would be on the marquee? There is only one answer: "ICE, ICE, BABY" (52A: 1990 #1 rap hit that starts "Yo, V.I.P. let's kick it"). The puzzle could have been solid crosswordese from that point on, I wouldn't have cared. That one answer gave me a smile that lasted the whole way through. Everything that was wrong with pop music when I was in college - that's what "ICE, ICE, BABY" is. Talented people (mostly black) making rap records for nearly a decade, and this becomes the first rap song to make #1 (some people count Blondie's "Rapture," but I don't - that song has a rap in it, but it's not a rap song). The controversy over Vanilla Ice's looping of the sample from the Queen/David Bowie song "Under Pressure" now appears silly - sampling is a standard production technique, and many artists since Vanilla Ice have abused pre-existing songs far worse than he did. Still, from the lyrics, to the attitude, to the look ... "ICE, ICE, BABY" was custom made for a 1990 Time Capsule - one that could have been opened five years later and already appeared ancient. This was the same year that brought you Milli Vanilli, who beat out Indigo Girls for Best New Artist and then had to return their Grammy when it became clear they weren't the ones singing on their album. I told you my college years sucked for music. When are you going to start believing me?

Back to the puzzle:

Thorny patch 1: North Dakota

The "LP" in ALPHA TESTS (17A: In-house debugging) was the last bit of this puzzle I filled in. It was a total guess, but one that I knew instantly was right. The two Downs meant Nothing to me: for SAL (5D: _____ volatile) I originally had EAU, and for KIPS (6D: Goes to bed, in Britspeak), I had nothing. Never heard the expression. Makes me AGGRO (which I hear is also "Britspeak").

Thorny patch 2: Oregon

Was very proud of self when, off the final "HER," I nailed IN A DITHER ... [cough] ... come on, it's a good answer! Of course, I eventually had to convince myself that DOTTER and IPHELIA were words (a tall order). So IN A DITHER became IN A DOTHER became IN A BOTHER became IN A POTHER (1D: Agitated). Is that "Britspeak?" Clever clue at 18A: Person at the wheel? (Potter) and hard-to-attribute quotation at 21A: "Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind" speaker (Ophelia), kept this are from coming together as quickly as I could have liked. I like POTTER a lot, but only because it's what my daughter says to me every night right before bedtime, only she says it in the interrogative (with a question mark on the end), and in a British accent, because she's essentially asking me if I'd like to come read Harry POTTER to her now.

The REST (13D: Others)

  • 1A: Product once advertised with the catchphrase "There's no step 3!" (iMac) - Mac's ads have always been genius. Evil genius. Marvels of simplicity. Spare, direct, perfect. They're a cult, kinda like the one led by this Obama guy I keep hearing about.
  • 15A: One abandoned at the altar? (maiden name) - so excited at this gimme that I f-d it up and started writing in MARRIED NAME.
  • 24A: Region bordering Mount Olympus (Thessaly) - got it off the "-LY" - but I should know this stuff; all that teaching of Homer and Virgil oughta pay off somehow.
  • 34A: "Caribbean Blue" singer (Enya) - good clue, in that the last place I would look for ENYA is in the Caribbean.
  • 30A: Edward who created the Gashlycrumb Tinies (Gorey) - gimme. Someone even posted a link to an animated video of said Tinies on this site a little while back.
  • 35A: Candle holders (cakes) - hmmm. OMG, I just got this answer this instant. Damn. Birthday candles. Got it. Man, I have got to shake the cobwebs loose.
  • 37A: "Notorious" setting (Rio) - Me: "Nazis ... South America ... three letters ... RIO!"
  • 38A: Dispel a curse? (bleep) - fantastic clue. I had BLESS for a while.
  • 40A: Unit of radioactivity (Curie) - I had FARAD ... is that ... something?
  • 46A: #1 Beatles hit with the only known vocal contribution by Linda McCartney ("Let It Be") - I had "GET BACK." Whoops.
  • 54A: Mystical indicator (omen) - odd phrasing on this one, but pretty transparent.
  • 56A: Ball boy? (beau) - I had no idea there were BEAUs of the ball as well as BELLES.
  • 3D: Final Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy ("Another You") - needed most of the crosses to get this. Not ... memorable.
  • 8D: Flowers named for their scent (tea roses) - I had no idea that's where their name came from. Then again, I couldn't pick a TEA ROSE out of a floral line-up if my life depended on it.
  • 10D: "The Great God Brown" playwright (O'Neill) - I've got a few playwright names in my pocket, but I know little about them, so I just get a few crosses and wait to see what comes into view.
  • 4D: Neapolitan noblewoman (Contessa) - also the name of an anchor on MSNBC, I think (yes, CONTESSA Brewer). Oh dear god she's five years younger than I am. Shouldn't you have to be at least 40 before you "anchor" anything. Come on!
  • 36D: Home for the Ojibwa and Cree (Manitoba) - little shout-out to our North of the Border friends (big puzzlers, those Canadians, especially in the Vancouver area, for whatever reason).
  • 38D: Split right before your eyes? (bifocal) - yes, very nice "?" clue.
  • 39D: Go for a party, say (vote) - saw through this pesky clue almost instantly.
  • 41D: Wisconsin city that's home to S.C. Johnson & Son (Racine) - you could have just stopped after "Wisconsin city" - I'll get some crosses, some familiar place name will come into view, the end.
  • 49D: Pullers of the chariot of Artemis (deer) - Turns out Artemis and Santa have something in common.

I'm off. Talk to you soon - possibly live from Brooklyn. We're bringing the laptop and the digital camera, so you never know ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld


THURSDAY, Feb. 28, 2008 - Matt Ginsberg (TWININGS COMPETITOR)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Antagonyms (words that can mean opposite things)

This was an original concept for a Thursday theme, I thought. Not terribly tricky, but interesting and entertaining nonetheless. I did not like the central phrase (NOTHING IS BETTER), both because it is not a single word, like the other theme answers, and because it is hard to hear it as a condemnation. I understand that it could be used to describe a situation wherein nothing has improved, but it doesn't have much colloquial clout as a self-contained phrase. Anyway, that's a nit. The rest of the puzzle was just fine. Apologies for the short write-up today, and pre-apologies to tomorrow's constructor, who will also get a short write-up, and Saturday's and Sunday's constructors, who may see their write-ups delayed til Monday. We are bringing the laptop to Brooklyn, but I have a feeling that there won't be a lot of time dedicated to blogging over the weekend. I will try to post at least once, possibly with pictures. But I promise nothing.

Theme answers:

  • 19A: Begin operating or stop operating (go off) - this feels a little ... off.
  • 20A: Confirmation or uncertainty (reservation)
  • 30A: Unchanged or novel (original)
  • 38A: Words of praise or words of condemnation (nothing is better)
  • 45A: Approve or penalize (sanction) - liked this one best, for reasons I don't quite understand
  • 55A: Easy to see or impossible to see (transparent)
  • 60A: Entangle or disentangle (ravel) - also a fine composer
  • 1D: Last under use or erode under use (wear) - had to read this a couple times, as "Last" kept reading like an adjective to me
  • 13D: Remaining or gone (left)
  • 52D: Add to or remove from (trim) - weird ... never saw this clue. Read it for the first time only just now. Other clue I never saw (thankfully) was 34A: Kobold (elf). I say "thankfully" because I have never seen the word "kobold" in my life. Maybe it was in my D&D "Monster Manual" back in 1980, but if so, I clearly have forgotten about it.
  • 59D: Move gracefully or move clumsily (trip)

Assorted comments:

  • 1A: Sari, e.g. (wrap)
  • 15A: Asian princess (rani) - nice that these two are close together. My first guess for 1A was WRAP, which isn't shocking, but it means that my solving instincts are reasonably sharp. A good sign heading into the weekend.
  • 5D: Grounds for legal action (gravamen) - this is the kind of thing I fear in tournament crosswords: I'm flying along with the greatest of ease and then Bam, crazy long word I've never heard of. Maybe I'm alone on this. I had it down to GRAVAM- and thought "well, that's wrong." Not wrong, just Latin.
  • 16A: Dodger All-Star pitcher Eric (Gagne) - he's not a Dodger anymore. He was on the Red Sox last year - Worst Mid-Season Acquisition In The History Of Major League Baseball. Single-handedly tried to lose them the division. He was every fan's worst nightmare.
  • 18A: Deuce follower (ad in) - I play tennis, and this still made me think a little. I blame GRAVAMEN.
  • 27A: Belief in a life of harmony with nature (taoism) - had the -ISM and went looking for something much more esoteric.
  • 35A: Repeated setting for Georges Seurat paintings (Seine) - the "repeated" was throwing me off, as I thought somehow the answer was a word that, when repeated, comprised the setting in questions. Like PAGO PAGO or BORA BORA or something.
  • 50A: Deborah nominated for six Academy Awards (Kerr) - wouldn't have gotten this nearly so fast had she not been among the honored dead at the recent Academy Awards ceremony. Award for Best Dead Person went to Heath Ledger.
  • 64A: Comedic title role for Renee Zellweger (Irene) - "Me, Myself, and Irene" - yeah, I didn't see it either.
  • 68A: Olaf's girlfriend in Lemony Snicket books (Esme) - Sahra has never been into these. I gave her a three-book set at one point in her life, and she dipped into them a bit, but they never took. She eventually gave the books away to her friend in one of her weird fits of generosity. Of course, her first idea was to sell the books to her friend ...
  • 2D: "Hurlyburly" playwright David (Rabe) - Never remember this guy's name. There's a great mid-century crime fiction writer named Peter RABE. There's also broccoli RABE.
  • 6D: Gary Burghoff role of TV and film (Radar) - one of the crucial sitcom character in all of puzzledom, both for cluing RADAR and for cluing the strangely tenacious NEHI soda.
  • 7D: L., B. or J. (init.) - as in "initial"
  • 10D: Jiang's husband (Mao) - no idea. I mean, I know who MAO is, but his wife's name, no.
  • 8D: Revealing garment (mini-dress) - frowny face. I understand that this is an actual garment, but MINI SKIRT is what we were all hoping to see.
  • 11D: Like kids at a circus, maybe (agog) - great clue for this weird word.
  • 36D: "No nation is permitted to live in _____ with impunity": Jefferson ("ignorance") - great quote, got it off the I-N...
  • 39D: Equine ankle (hock) - had HOOF and thought "that can't be right."
  • 41D: Dr. _____ Hahn of "Grey's Anatomy" (Erica) - no way. Not watching this, ever. ERICA is also a genus of flowering plant (like - but not exactly synonymous with - heather).
  • 46D: Twinings competitor (Tetley) - I drink a lot of tea, but it's all loose leaf. And yet these names are both very familiar.
  • 53D: Fabled slacker (hare) - excellent clue for this guy.
  • 56D: Converts to a cause, briefly (neos) - "converts" = noun, aha.
  • 58D: Fictional submariner (Nemo) - I love this guy. Revenge!

And I'm done. Again, sorry for the all-bullet format today (and tomorrow). We'll return to normal mode on Monday.

If you are going to the tournament and have not yet identified yourself to us all, why not do that now - go here and post a Comment. Thanks.

See you tomorrow,
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Brooklyn Roll Call

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This post is for ACPT-goers - if you're going to be there, why not let the rest of us know? Post a comment. If you are new to the tournament and are worried about not knowing anyone, this could be a good way to connect with people beforehand, particularly those in the same position. Xword people are generally very friendly (as I found out last year, when I knew no one). I'm just dead curious about who all's going to be there. So go ahead, announce yourself, even (especially) if you've never commented before.



Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: NUCLEAR FAMILY (36A: Members of this can be found in the centers of 17-, 24-, 51- and 60-Across)

A wonderful little puzzle. Felt like I was tripping all over myself trying to solve it last night, so when I saw my time (5:12) I was a little surprised. That's significantly faster than my average Wednesday, I think. I struggled in several different parts of the puzzle, which I'll discuss below, but apparently my struggle didn't last too long. Felt like an eternity while it was happening, though, I assure you. I tend not to solve on the NYT applet (where you can measure your times against others) because I don't like the (self-imposed) pressure, but I decided that with the tournament coming up in a few days, I should start acclimating myself to a little pressure. I'm just grateful that the tournament-solving is on paper, because I have Horrible keyboard technique. Very fast, very inaccurate. I'm especially bad at controlling the cursor. I was actually expecting a "Your puzzle is incorrect" message the first time I clicked "Done" last night, so ragged was my solving experience. Lucked out. I don't expect such luck to hold under tournament conditions. Lesson for the tournament: don't spaz out. Be methodical and calm. Good things are more likely to happen that way. Breathe. Slow down. Imagine yourself coming in 600th place. See that world does not end, sun still rises, gravity still functions, etc.

I'm going to post a message later in the day asking tournament attendees to identify themselves. Several of you have asked me to do this, so check back in if you are curious about who's going to be there.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Make tracks (skeDADdle) - what a great answer. I had SKED- before I read this clue and thought "Nothing starts with SKED-!" I was, happily, wrong.
  • 24A: Sources of ready cash (pawn BROkers) - sputtered a bit here, as I could think only of the phrase PAWN SHOPS, but then the right answer broke free.
  • 51A: Turkey insert (therMOMeters) - clue = gross. Thankfully, I never saw it (how is that possible?). Wife misread clue as "Turkey insect."
  • 60A: Got by (on) (subSISted)

Please note the bonus thematic answer ATOM (37D: Bit to split), which intersects the NUCLEAR in NUCLEAR FAMILY. Beautifully done.

My first hold-up came right off the bat, when I could come up with none of the Acrosses at the top of the puzzle - well, I guessed ASK TO (9A: Invite for), but was not confident enough to write it in at first. I don't remember what I had at first for 14A: _____ ease, but it wasn't ILL AT and it somehow made sense. I finally got a roll going when I switched to the Downs and DIS (1D: Talk trash about) (now you're talking my language) came to me instantly, then ELK (2D: Lodge member), then BLESS YOU (3D: "Gesundheit!"), and on from there. Got slowed down right around the REPO line (34A: Defaulter's loss). Couldn't see REPO, and nothing below it or around it was falling into place (including BREF - 26D: Concise, in Cannes - which is odd, given that my 7+ years of French should have made that obvious).

Had to reboot in the SE, where I was helped considerably by having NEMEAN (42A: _____ lion, beast slain by Hercules in his first labor) be a flat-out gimme. I do love my Herculean labors. After I teased out the annoying prefix OMNI- (50A: Directional lead-in), I dropped the lovely LEMON TEA (39D: Sore throat soother) down into the SE and polished off the bottom of the puzzle fairly quickly. I went through the SW corner like a hot knife through oleo, using OSHA (44A: Dept. of Labor branch) to get every Down answer in quick succession, one right after the other. That's a lot of squares filled in a matter of seconds.

Last stand was in the Nevada section of the puzzle, where a lot of odd answers come together. Had LLB for LLD (32D: Foreign law deg.), which is mystifying, as I don't even shop at L.L. Bean and so don't have that as an excuse. The Vietnamese name was unknown to me, and I put in the "D" for DUC (28D: Vietnam's Le _____ Tho) only after I decided that the unfamiliar last name in question in the cross had to be BOYD (27A: Cassidy portrayer of TV and film). My least favorite answer of the day: I WOULD (31A: Words of willingness). These sound more like words of excuse, as in "I WOULD help you cook, but as you can see, I'm watching TV, so ... you know ... my hands are tied."

Answer sampler:

  • 20A: Mead study locale (Samoa) - could make no sense of the clue until I had the answer. Margaret Mead is of course the famous anthropologist who wrote Coming of Age in SAMOA.
  • 21A: Chips that one might "muncha buncha" (Fritos) - some people decry the use of commercial names in the puzzle. I, on the other hand, can't get enough of them.
  • 41A: Flash drive filler (data) - the B from the erroneous "LLB" screwed me up here.
  • 56A: T. Boone Pickens, for one (oilman) - all I could remember about this guy is a. he had been in the puzzle before as a 15-letter Across answer, b. he was rich for some reason, and c. he had been on the cover of Time magazine (I used that cover in my blog write-up of him). Sadly, I could remember nothing pertinent about him, but since he was an Across in the SW, it hardly mattered. Got him from crosses in no time flat.
  • 6D: Time to crow (at dawn) - actually entered MIDDAY and then immediately erased it.
  • 7D: "That's funny!," in an e-mail (LOL) - see also 38D: Chat room shorthand (IMO - "in my opinion"). Another great pair in the puzzle is EMS (53D: Ambulance letters) complemented - in lovely symmetrical fashion - by DOA (18D: Beyond paramedic aid, in brief). One of the few times you are ever likely to hear DOA described as "lovely," I'm sure.
  • 21D: Short order cook's utensil (fry pan) - had the FRY, so wrote in the PAN, but only tentatively. Wife insists that short order cooks use large griddles, not actual FRY PANs. I suggested maybe they used to use them in the olden days. We then got into a discussion about what "olden days" meant, with her imagining ... I forget, either classical Rome or Little House on the Prairie, where I was just thinking "Your grandfather's time." Such meandering and ultimately pointless discussions are not infrequent around here.
  • 8D: Antietam leader (Lee) - Wife just taught me how to pronounce this the other day. "Antietam," I mean. I know how to pronounce LEE.
  • 44D: Best Actor nominee for "Venus," 2006 (O'Toole) - me: "It starts with "O," so ... O'TOOLE!" That, right there, is the key to solving crosswords reasonably. It's way more about instinct than it is about hardcore knowledge.
  • 47D: Loser of 1588 (Armada) - helps that I just discussed this in class the other day. God helped Elizabeth fend off the Spanish by creating storms that wrecked much of the Spanish ARMADA all along the coast of Ireland. That's where the anthem "God Save the Queen" came from. It was originally "God Saved the Queen" (I'm not serious, so please, no letters).

Thanks for an entertaining puzzle, Lee.

Off to take Sahra to school (1-hr delay means she's still here, watching ... something brain-rotting, I'm sure ... nope, I'm being told it's "Curious George" on PBS, so that's not so bad). Oh, I forgot: wife said she's going to take Sahra to school. Sweet. OK, so I'm ... off to make coffee then.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS though you might not recognize it, my site has recently been updated and thus made far more easily navigable. Individual entries can now be pinpointed from the Blog Archive in my sidebar. I could not have done the updating without the industrious and virtually unpaid help of Dave Sullivan. Every annoying problem I'd had trying to update to the newest version of Blogger, he was somehow able to fix. And all I have to do is buy him breakfast in Brooklyn. That's win-win for me. Thanks, Dave.


TUESDAY, Feb. 26, 2008 - Sarah Keller (CLOSE-FITTING HATS)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: University puns (3 good, 1 bad)

Started out with NEWT instead of TOAD (1A: Its eye may be part of a witch's brew), had no idea what CORNELL SANDERS was supposed to mean as a theme answer, didn't know the London tube station I needed at the heart of the puzzle (30D: _____ Court (London tube station) => EARL'S), and had BARK (!?) instead of CORK (49A: Fishing float) in what I'll call the "Obscure Headwear" part of the puzzle - and yet I finished in a respectable 4:18 (a pretty normal Tuesday for me). I don't have a lot to say today - I've looked this puzzle up and down and while I don't think it's bad, I don't think it's very ... noteworthy. Maybe that's the best one can hope for on a Tuesday. You know my theory of puzzle difficulty: Saturdays are the hardest to solve, but Tuesdays are the hardest to construct well. Good rule of thumb for a Tuesday puzzle: Just Don't #$@! it up.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Polishing machines at an Ithaca campus? (Cornell Sanders) - got CORNELL easily but the SANDERS part had to come together from crosses. This is by far the worst pun of the bunch today. Wasn't til after I was done that I realized it was a pun on COLONEL SANDERS. The other puns simply involve a change in stress (from first to second syllable, in the case of MARQUETTE), or no change at all (EMORY BOARD). But with CORNELL SANDERS, you have to change the vowel sound in the first syllable and shift stress to the first syllable. Awkward.
  • 35A: Trustee group at an Atlanta campus? (Emory board)
  • 43A: Thoroughfare at a New Orleans campus? (Tulane road)
  • 53A: Rental arrangement at a Milwaukee campus? (Marquette share)

There are several things to like about this puzzle:

  • SODOM and not VEGAS for 27D: Sin city!? Nice.
  • KEPIS (50D: French military hats) and TOQUES (46D: Close-fitting hats), in the same puzzle, so close together?! Nice. Exotic and daring!
  • ARGO hidden in the kitchen (14A: Popular cornstarch brand) instead seeking the Golden Fleece!? A bit rough (for a non-baker like me), but clever. Nice also that it intersects another kitchen product, AGAR (3D: Food thickener).

I enjoyed the English Literature subtheme here, with my favorite POET (61A: Versifier), John DONNE (4D: John who wrote "Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies"), sharing space with PARSE (63A: Analyze in English class), AEIOU (60A: Letters that must be bought on "Wheel of Fortune"), and SONG (67A: Dance's partner - Donne has two poems with this simple title, one of which was the first poem I ever memorized, when I was a TEEN - 56D: Adolescent). Donne could also BLESS you (66A: Cross over?), as he was a prominent Anglican priest.

The Rest:

  • 7D: What Texas hold'em tables hold (pots) - seems super-easy in retrospect, but something about the wording of the clue made me balk at first. Is "hold'em" really one word, with no space between "hold" and "'em?"
  • 34D: Tournament favorites (seeds) - balked at this as well, as I was thinking of the (upcoming) NCAA basketball tournament, where all participants are SEEDed, not just the favorites.
  • 36D: Discovered by accident (ran across) - had RAN and then ... blanked.
  • 37D: A horse of a different color? (roan) - wrote this in while cringing. "Different" from what? Or is it supposed to mean "of different colors?"
  • 58D: Piper's followers (rats) - I like this answer. My first thought was FIFE or something military, which makes little sense. I think the "followers" part was suggesting parade. My sister was born in the Year of the Rat, so I have a certain affection for this creature. See also 2007 Best Animated Feature Film "Ratatouille"

Three days til I leave for the tournament. NYC residents: if you are rich and / or famous and want to buy me dinner / drinks / a new wardrobe, just let me know. I'm sure I can work you into my schedule. My only plans at this point (aside from a drinking ... I mean business meeting or two) involve going to Jacques Torres's chocolate shop. Multiple times.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Many thanks to "Pop Culture Junk Mail" for the free press.


MONDAY, Feb. 25, 2008 - Randall J. Harman (COMPETITOR OF "THE 5TH WHEEL," IN REALITY TV)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: WOOD (55A: Object of the actions suggested by the starts of 17-, 30-, 47- and 66-Across)

A mildly entertaining Monday puzzle. Despite all the STRIPping and SANDing and PRIME-ing and PAINT-ing, I thought the theme a little dull (though the theme answers - half of them, anyway - are cool phrases I've rarely if ever seen). Fought my way through some mild confusion in the east, where 40A: Rotgut (booze) eluded me - all I could think of was "catgut," which is a type of string for your tennis racket. But I got the "Z" back with the bold guess of AZURE at 34D: Sky-blue, and then the rest of that exotic section (LOCHS - 33D: Sources of Scottish streams - crossing NEHRU - 46A: _____ jacket, 1960s fashion = cool cultural fusion) fell quickly.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: X-rated dance (strip tease)
  • 30A: Beach find (sand dollar)
  • 47A: Initial power source (prime mover) - this gave me some trouble. I was thinking of power as in electricity, but Prime Mover is more Power as in God. At least in my field (whatever that is).
  • 66A: Pinto (paint horse) - not a term I'm very familiar with, though I think I've heard it before. Ever since completing this puzzle, I have not been able to get "Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat & Tears out of my head. "Ride a painted pony..." and all that.

The one big problem for me was ELIMIDATE (37D: Competitor of "The 5th Wheel," in reality TV). Or, rather, a complete and utter failure to understand the clue. I thought the answer was going to be the name of someone competing on a show called "The 5th Wheel," thus radically misunderstanding the use of "competitor" here. I think the word is misused, in that ... the fact that shows are similar does not make them "competitors." Are they on opposite each other? "Survivor" and "American Idol" are not "competitors" any more than "Survivor" and "Desperate Housewives" are. For the over-30 crowd (that includes me), the two shows in question ("ELIMIDATE" and "The 5th Wheel") are horrible reality dating shows where generic idiots vie to convince one another of their respective hotness. If you have any faith in the inherent decency of humanity, if you have any hope for the future of our country, these shows will surely beat it out of you but quick.

I like that CATERS (5D: Supplies, as food for a party) and ROTTEN (49D: Spoiled) are positioned symmetrically.

Today was apparently "Take The O-Words Out For A Spin Day." Actually, I think the better term might be "The OLEO Family Reunion." OLEO and his kin (words made by changing just a single letter of OLEO):

OLEO (56D: Margarine)
OLIO (16A: Mixed bag)
OREO (62D: Cookie with a creme center)
OLE (6D: Cheer for El Cordobes)

The Rest:

  • 19A: Miniature plateau (mesa) - they make these in miniature sizes now? Last I checked they were rather Gigantic earth formations especially prominent in the southwest of this country.
  • 10D: 1990 Macaulay Culkin film ("Home Alone") - I associate this movie with a time when all of pop culture was in the deepest of all possible troughs, i.e. the time I was in college. I think "Pretty Woman" was from around this time. And "Ghost." The prosecution rests.
  • 23A: Banjo picker Scruggs (Earl) - my dad plays a little, so I know this guy's name well.
  • 25A: Org. that publishes American Hunter (NRA) - best mistake of the day: my wife finished the puzzle and somehow had NEA as the answer here. She also had ESDED for ESSEN (72A: Krupp Works city). We're not quite sure how that happened.
  • 61A: Lose all one's money gambling (tap out) - as with all the Acrosses in the middle of the puzzle, I never saw the clue here, which is too bad, 'cause I like it.
  • 70A: Julia Roberts's role in "Ocean's Eleven" (Tess) - I kind of resent having to know this character's name. I guessed it easily enough, but still ... a character in a recent sequel [error: it's a remake, not a sequel - I was thinking of "Ocean's 12." Thanks, Orange]. I semi-object. My other potential comment on this entry: Thomas Hardy called. He wants his clue back.
  • 1D: It might be checkered (past) - beautiful clue.
  • 28D: Ben Franklin, famously, in an electrical storm (kiter) - KITER is a horrible word. And since when are you on a nickname basis with Mr. Franklin?
  • 32D: Sharp turn on a golf course (dogleg) - one of my favorite words ever since I learned it in a puzzle last year.
  • 24D: "Streets of _____" (classic cowboy song) ("Laredo") - here's Johnny Cash's version.

Enjoy the new week (a nice warm day if you live in the NE)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Feb. 24, 2008 - Nancy Nicholson Joline (N.F.L. GUARD CHRIS)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Winners Circles," or THE OSCAR (1A: Theme of this puzzle) - 8 theme answers are Oscar winners that have the names of other Oscar winners embedded inside them (in the circled squares)

I would say that this puzzle provided a welcome relief from the brutalization I had to endure on Friday and Saturday, except I actually completed Friday's and Saturday's puzzles with no errors. The same cannot be said for today's. I @#$#d this one up. A single letter, where mysterious fish meets character played by Hot British actress. A vowel (of course - it's always an innocuous-seeming vowel).

  • 33A: Fish in fish and chips (plaice)
  • 13D: Detective superintendent Jane of TV's "Prime Suspect" (Tennison)

His LORDSHIP (84D: Term of respect abroad) Alfred Lord Tennyson wants to know what the bloody hell you've done to his name, Jane!? As for PLAICE - I wanted COD (98A: Mail order option, for short). And wasn't there a mystery fish in yesterday's puzzle. Yes! TAI, which was a kind of "bream," which is a bottom-feeding river fish of which I'd never heard. If only I were an ichthyologist. (True story: at summer camp in 1983 I had a counselor named ... well, I don't know what his actual name was, but everyone called him "Icky" because he was majoring in Ichthyology ... which sounds made-up. Can you major in that?).

The theme is quite elegantly expressed, and all the Oscar winners are very well known, especially the non-embedded answers (you know, the long ones, the full ones ... sometimes the themes make it hard to get my language precise). None of the theme answers caused any problems and I was even able to get a few of them with no help from crosses.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: Film (1954), actress (2003) ("ON THE WATERFRONT")
  • 37A: Director (2003), actor (1962) (PETER JACKSON)
  • 61A: Film (1992), actor (1958) ("UNFORGIVEN")
  • 71A: Actor (1934), actor (1995) (CLARK GABLE)
  • 94A: Actress (1986), director (1962) (MARLEE MATLIN)
  • 112A: Actress (1983), supporting actor (1999) (SHIRLEY MACLAINE)
  • 17D: Film (1993), actress (1987) ("SCHINDLER'S LIST)
  • 46D: Song (1942), supporting actress (1994) ("WHITE CHRISTMAS")

Lots of sounds in the puzzle today, with OOF (10D: Response to "pow!" in cartoons), OOHS (4D: Reactions to fireworks), and the weird-feeling AWS (27A: Comments around cute babies) all right near each other up there in the NNW. I briefly wondered why people would be saying "OW" around a cute baby. A cute baby crocodile, maybe. Here's something I just noticed and don't like: ENC (48A: Abbr. at the bottom of a letter) and ENCRE (22A: French pen filler) in the same puzzle. Perhaps I should like this. You could write "ENC" at the bottom of your letter in ENCRE, though if you were using ENCRE, then you'd be in a French-speaking setting and they likely have a different abbreviation for "ENC." At any rate ... wife was not happy at having "language I don't know (ENCRE) over language I don't know (NIHIL - 25A: Nothing, to Nero)". Those are the two languages I actually do know reasonably well, so I did not share her pain. As repetitions go, I guess ENC and ENCRE are not as bad as OYL (78A: Olive _____) and OIL (91A: Venezuelan export).

Here are some things I didn't know:

  • 15A: Is afflicted with sigmatism (lisps) - like many of you (probably), I read this as "stigmatism" and wanted something to do with eyes.
  • 35A: Isabel Allende's "_____ of My Soul" ("InĂ©s") - Pretty. Also, my grandmother's name (Inez).
  • 53A: Granny, in Gelsenkirchen (oma) - ...? My ignorance of all things German continues to plague me.
  • 89A: Lead role in "La Cage aux Folles" (Renato)
  • 5D: N.F.L. guard Chris (Snee) - I imagine that his teammate and rival guard is named SNICK and the coach has to decide which one to play.
  • 68A: "The Age of Anxiety" author (Auden) - see, I know this, and yet when I see this title all I can think is "Self-Help Book."
  • 70A: Philosopher Kung Fu-_____ (Tse) - needed all the crosses for this one.
  • 111A: Soil improver (humus) - I like it with pita bread or on a nice falafel.
  • 44D: Basutoland, today (Lesotho) - gettable from crosses, but Basutoland was unheard of by me before today.
  • 47D: Capital known as the Venice of the East (Bangkok) - are there canals there? Is that it? Yes, it appears so:
  • 86D: "... as old as yonder _____": James Joyce ("elm") - is this quotation famous? My ignorance of Joyce goes nicely with me semi-ignorance of Auden, above.
  • 109D: Girl in Tennessee Williams's "Summer and Smoke" (Alma) - A literary ignorance trifecta. Beautiful. Ironic and beautiful.

Good stuff / bad stuff (mostly good):

  • 20A: Emphatic refusal ("No no no no") - whaddya think? Good or bad? (A: so bad it's good)
  • 55A: China's largest ethnic group (Han) - this is only good because I knew it. Nice to have friends who are Chinese scholars.
  • 57A: Nineveh's kingdom (Assyria) - JONAH (see Friday's puzzle) got sent here. He did not want to go.
  • 64A: Follower of weekend news, briefly (SNL) - they are currently looking for someone who can do a convincing Barack Obama imitation. It's either that, or poor Kenan Thompson's gonna have to lose 60 pounds.
  • 113D: 109-Across's old radio partner (Lum) - ABNER & LUM - I know them Only from crosswords.
  • 104A: Kwik-E-Mart owner on "The Simpsons" (Apu) - they need better ways to clue him. How about [Father of octuplets on "The Simpsons"]?
  • 33D: Villa in Mexico (Pancho) - this one had me tricked for a while, as I looked for a Spanish word for ... well, VILLA.
  • 50D: Informal eating place (dinette) - reminds me of game show prizes circa 1978.
  • 71D: Reunion gatherers (clan) - no final "s" for the plural. Tricky. Mildly.
  • 121A: Forensic experts (debaters) - again, tricky. I wanted ... I don't know, whatever that guy on "C.S.I." does. Or that chick on "Bones." Remember "Bones?" Of course you don't.
  • 98D: Tibetan or Afghan (canine) - get it? They're dogs. Not Asians. Nice. Back-to-back days for "Afghan" in the clues. Good for it.

A final shout-out to the crossword stalwarts Milo O'SHEA (82A: Milo of "Ulysses"), the oddly-clued EWER (24D: Household item with a neck), and the always lovely NENE (29D: One flying over Hawaii)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Feb. 23, 2008 - Barry C. Silk (CORDAGE MATERIAL)

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Now this is a Saturday puzzle. No foolin' around. I got roughed up badly. Very badly. Took me longer than any puzzle has taken me all year. The worst part of all: despite hacking through many lethal clues and obscure answers, I ended up undone by my failure to see a number of very gettable answers, including one that, in retrospect, was embarrassingly obvious (especially given the crosses I had in place):

SACRILEGE (20D: Profanity)

By the end of the puzzle, with all four quadrants completed and just parts of the center left open, I had SA--I--GE. Later, when the puzzle was done, I would give my wife the clue and this letter combination and she would take less than twenty seconds to render SACRILEGE. So what happened. Well, first, I blame EWA (41A: _____ Beach, Hawaii), one of three geographical names in the puzzle that I have Never seen before in my life. That "E" would have made all the difference. My brain saw the final -GE in SACRILEGE and wanted only an "A" in that "E"'s slot - I imagined the word was a word of French derivation rhyming with, say, FROTTAGE or BADINAGE. Yes, good one. Then there was the horrific problem of having both of the 11-letter Acrosses be mysteries. Again, looking back, how did I not see them? I had the ROAD in ROAD WARRIOR (30A: Frequent business traveler) and still had no clue. None. I kept wanting the section word to end TION, not RIOR. ROAD ... CAPTION? Seriously, though it makes No sense, CAPTION would not leave my head. Then there was STALACTITES (39A: They hang from the roof). Or rather, there wasn't STALACTITES - a great answer that I wanted to be some kind of MEN or some kind of LINES. Lastly, SACRILEGE might have fallen earlier if I'd considered PAC at 28A: Candidate supporter, briefly. I did not. I could think only of POL, which seemed (and was) wrong.

Ironically, I started out the puzzle very strongly. Had the NW wrapped up inside a minute and dropped answers all the way down to the bottom of the puzzle shortly thereafter. CARGO PANTS (6D: Wear for rough outdoor activities) led to the great guess XES (40A: Indications of good bowling) led to the obvious- in- its- initial- X-ness XANADU (40D: Exotic estate). Then everything ground to a halt. This was my first great pause. There would be several more. A good measure of how hard the puzzle was for me: NARIS was a gimme (8D: Nostril). I mean, when you can nail some obscure Latinate @#$# like that right off the bat, shouldn't you be entitled to waltz through the damned puzzle? But no. Used REVE (21A: Vision de nuit) to pinch the NE closed from the opposite end. Best answer up there is NETFLIX - "best" in terms of the wicked way it is clued (8A: Service with a queue). NETFLIX provides us with yet another initial-X answer, XYLEM (14D: Botanical nutrient conductor), which I never ever would have gotten without the XY already firmly in place. In fact, I knew the word before I even looked at the clue.

Even the little pockets in the W and E were super-tough. Amazed that I fought through the W effectively, as ATTN (25A: Ltr. recipient pinpointer) was really hard to get my head around, and HTS (38A: Abbr. in some city names), little though it is, was a bear to uncover. Had the "S" and thought "oh, come on, this could be anything." As for the E ... well, that was the very last place to fall, due mainly to today's showcase clue: 33D: Cordage material (jute). It would really have helped if I'd known what "cordage" is. With no idea, and having only -U-E, I despaired, until I got 33A: Flow stopper (jam). And by "got" I mean I wrote in the obvious DAM. This gave me DU-E for [Cordage material], so I figured "cordage" must have something to do with the desert and I wrote in DUNE (which gave me the "N" that went Great with my something-LINES hypothesis for 39A: They hang from the roof). One final thing about the E - is MT ST Helens really written that way (35D: _____ Helens)? Officially? Dang. I had MONT there for a while, thinking maybe there as an Alp called MONT HELENS.


  • 29A: First to be admitted?: Abbr. (Del.) - I nailed this, and once again, as with NARIS, I feel that the puzzle should have recognized my puzzling bad-assedness and just rolled over and surrendered. Oh, DELaware was the first state in the Union, in case that wasn't clear.
  • 36A: One who didn't say no? (consenting adult) - There are many reasons to object to this clue, but at least one of them gets me into pretty blue territory for a Saturday morning, so I'll just say that I liked the answer.
  • 1A: Lard source (fatback) - it is certainly one of my lard sources.
  • 43A: Home to Al Jazeera (Qatar) - Nailed it. I mean, come on! Where is my victory laurel? I pwned the village of NARIS DEL QATAR and still took over 30 minutes to do this damned thing. Lo how the occasionally mighty have fallen. QATAR is one of four Islam-oriented answers today. See also AMEER (5D: Robed ruler: Var.), HAREM (24A: Part of some Muslim households), and .... this guy, one of today's two pillars of geographical obscurity:
  • 24D: Afghan province or its capital (Herat) - would have had a better time solving this if the clue had been ["I'm supposed to meet _____ noon"]. Then there's:
  • 31D: River formed by the junction of the Fulda and Werra (Weser) - These all read like geographical terms out of a Dr. Seuss book. As of now, I couldn't tell you where this abominable triumvirate of rivers is located. I'm gonna say ... somewhere in Europe. Germany? Yes! Northwestern Germany! And the smallish contingent of German NYT puzzle solvers did loudly rejoice. So, let's see, EWA, WESER, HERAT. Oh, then there's:
  • 48A: _____-Ude (Russan city on the Trans-Siberian Railroad) (Ulan) - at least I've seen ULAN before, as part of the more common "ULAN Bator." Then there's one my wife knew, but which meant nothing to me:
  • 23D: Atlanta commuting option (MARTA) - MARTA, my dear, I have never had occasion to ride you (!). Your name seems more appropriate to, say, someone's aunt than to a public transportation system.
  • 54A: An ace is a good one (aviator) - this was a gimme ... when I thought it was PITCHER.
  • 57A: County west of Dublin (Kildare) - sure, that's Irish, that'll work.
  • 58A: Some oilseeds (sesames) - thought "oilseeds" was some technical botanical term I would never know, but it seems it just means a seed from which one gets oil.
  • 13D: Donation declaration ("I gave") - Super weak. This is a declaration of Having Given. I'm just trying to imagine someone putting money in the Salvation Army bucket, turning to the bell ringer, and declaring "I GAVE." What are you, five? "I brush my own hair!"
  • 46A: "Oh, right" ("I get it") - "I GAVE" "I GET IT!"
  • 49D: Feelthy stuff (porn) - all kind of wrong. Horrible disgusting horrible clue. I'm routinely disturbed by the way the NYT clues and generally treats adult viewing material. There is an underlying prudishness that actually creeps me out Way more than a simple straightforward reference to PORN would. The only person who would say "FEELTHY" is a. Peter Lorre, or b. the guy hiding in your bushes watching you read this blog in your underwear right now - behind you!
  • 29D: One who might pick up toys (dog catcher) - brutal. Had the DOG part and figured it must refer to someone who owns or trains or dogsits or something. No. The toy is the dog. Nice.
  • 43D: Faultfinder's concern? (quake) - there will be a huge one on the south island of NZ some time in the near future. One of the perils of living in paradise.
  • 44D: Gridder Harper (Alvin) - "Gridder" hurts my head. Does anyone outside crosswords say it any more?
  • 45D: Heads-down view (tails) - another nice clue.
  • 55D: Sea bream, in a sushi bar (tai) - last of the brutal exotic answers (I count five, six if you throw in MARTA). Apparently TAI is a "favored dish for celebratory occasions in Japan and a commonly invoked emblem of good fortune" ( Fat lot of good it did me today.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Here is last night's Chicago radio interview with 3-time crossword tourney champ Tyler Hinman and some other chick who blogs or something... [her name is "Orange" and she is not amused]

PPS Must give a shout-out to today's LAT puzzle (by Manny Nosowsky) ... I'm not even done yet, but the NW corner is such a masterwork that I had to come here and tell you about it. Now. See "The Country's Other Puzzles" in my sidebar for directions on how to get there. While you're at it, see also today's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Doug Peterson. A wicked good time. 15-letter answer Across the middle is a gimme ... but the 15-letter Down that it intersects!? Whoa. That took some work. Brilliant.


(1883 MAUPASSANT NOVEL) FRIDAY, Feb. 22, 2008 - Mike Nothnagel and David Quarfoot

Friday, February 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

This was hard. Doable, but hard. More like a Saturday than a Friday. One of those puzzles where I start out looking for an answer I know and can't find one. First thing that finally clicked - OVEN MITT (12D: Bit of kitchen wear), which gave me the "V" I (desperately) needed to remember the very basic AVON (16A: "The company for women" sloganeer). From there, the NE went down pretty quickly, but only because I've done so many crosswords in the past year that LODI (11A: California wine center) was a gimme and RETE (18A: Neural network) was something I'd blogged about before, and thus doesn't look as foreign as it probably does to many of you (and as it did to me the first time I saw it). Which president's middle name is KNOX (21A: Presidential middle name)? Whoa, KNOX is the "K" in James K. Polk!

Biggest nemesis of the day: PROVE (20A: Turn out to be). I had END UP. Then I had ... nothing. So frustrating to know that I know the word, and yet not be able to retrieve it. The Downs were Not helping. The hardest stretch of Downs I've seen in a puzzle in a while. Well, OK, only two of them are really tough, but I don't speak German, so three were tough for me. First there's RACOONS (8D: Kinkajou's kin: Var.), which I can't believe this puzzle got away with. It's one thing to have an absurd variant, and then another, more painful thing to have the only clue to that variant being something that sounds like a character from Japanese anime. I wanted PIKACHU here, but ... could a Pokemon character have a variant spelling of his name? These are the things one ponders when one is desperate. Then there's "UNE VIE" (9D: 1883 Maupassant novel), which at one point I wanted to be "THE TIE." Then there's ESSEN (10D: Dine, in Dusseldorf), which is also a German city, which is the only reason I eventually put it in the grid without wincing. Oh, I forgot to mention the wall that kept me from getting through this central portion of the puzzle and up into the North: I had WRONG where I should have had (who says this?) DOING (24A: "What's _____?"). DOING looks like a sound effect to me this morning.

Had two biblical "WTF" moments in this puzzle. First, you can call someone who's a jinx a JONAH (39A: One who brings bad luck)? Is that with a lowercase "j"? Wow. Good thing I know the biblical story, or I never would have bought this answer. Further NOAH (31D: See 29-Down) created a BOAT (29D: Creation of 31-Down)? A BOAT!? Oh, yes, who can forget the story of Noah's BOAT? I actually thought about spelling ARKH thusly.

The gimmes:

  • 22A: Queen in a long-running comic strip (Aleta) - god bless this woman; she was my gateway to the NW, which remained blank for longer than any other portion of the puzzle. Prince Valiant's wife ALETA and his son ARN, to a lesser extent, are your crossword friends.
  • 40A: Childish comeback ("are so!")
  • 46A: Response of feigned innocence ("Who, me?") - what does it say about me that my only true gimmes were an ancient comic strip character and two things a child might say?

The frowny faces:

  • 17A: Providers of exceptional service? (tennis aces) - don't like this at all. You can be a TENNIS ACE and not have a very strong serve at all. Being an ACE and serving an ACE are not the same thing.
  • 33A: "Centuries" (C-notes) - uh ... EONS? AEONS? Why are there quotation marks around "Centuries?" Actually, I know why (to show that it's colloquial) but lots of clues are colloquial and don't have the quotation marks. Happens all the time. So why the quot. marks today? Weird.
  • 34A: Where to find pop art? (soda can) - wants to be clever, and is, sort of. It's just that I don't think of SODA CANs as having much art to them. Is a logo art? I don't know. Grumble grumble. I wanted some version of DEN here - you know, somewhere your dad (pop) might hang his watercolors ...
  • 42A: NATO member: Abbr. (Nor.) - Poor NORway gets this horrible non-specific clue.
  • 5D: Prefix with directional (uni-) - meh. I should probably add this to my gimme list, but since I had nothing to confirm it for a long time, I eventually took it out ... only to put it back in again, obviously.
  • 6D: Shortening in the kitchen? (tbsp) - easy on the cleverness, kids. This one bugged me more than it amused me.
  • 36D: Hide in the woods (deerskin) - got this quickly, but "hide" and DEERSKIN both at least imply that the DEER in question is dead and ready for processing into goods fit for human use. Thus, no longer "in the woods." Unless you live in the woods, I guess.

Question marks:

  • 45A: Boulogne-sur-_____, France (Mer) - so easy in retrospect, but I had no idea when I first looked at the clue.
  • 55A: _____-Mints (Rolaids rival) (Alka) - ditto
  • 56A: Singer of the 1967 hit "California Nights" (Lesley Gore) - Who? What? I listened to a LOT of Oldies radio growing up, and I can safely say I have never heard this song. LESLEY GORE apparently sang "You Don't Own Me," which I do know (and love).
  • 59A: Subject of the 2004 book "Dancing Revelations" (Alvin Ailey)
  • 60A: Jarrow's river (Tyne) - As in "Newcastle-upon-_____"
  • 1D: Mil. V.I.P. (Sgt. Maj.) - that took six periods to write. I had this starting with "B" when I thought that 1A: Awfully accurate? (sad but true) must start with BAD...
  • 2D: Eye component (areola) - I had no idea. How many things have one of these? The list seems eternal.
  • 4D: Poet who won a Pulitzer for "The Dust Which Is God" (Benet) - had the "T," considered ELIOT. I know BENET only from xwords.
  • 32D: "Underboss" author Peter (Maas) - seen it several times before, but can never remember it. Wanted MIES.
  • 53D: Home of Davy Crockett: Abbr. (Tenn.) - yep, that's a state. That'll work.
  • 57A: Title syllables in a 1961 Lee Dorsey hit (yas) - more 60's music I can't recall. Looking up song now ... Whoa, here's Petula Clark doing a French version of "Ya Ya Twist." Weeeird.
The Good Stuff:

  • 15A: Salade nicoise ingredients (green beans) - I've had this salad before and could think only of tuna and possible capers or olives. Tasty.
  • 33D: Smythe of hockey (Conn) - this is the name of a trophy (MVP of the playoffs), otherwise I would Never have known it. Thank you ESPN, for the occasionally useful sports chatter that sticks in my head.
  • 19A: With 50-Across, surmount (move / past) - I like this split. It works.
  • 28A: Strip alternative (T-bone) - great, hard clue.
  • 54A: Holder of many tracks (iPod) - not original or anything, but I just love my iPod so much that I thought I'd include it anyway.
  • 61A: Outdoor toy that attaches to a garden hose (Slip 'n' Slide) - oh yeah. Loved these. Recall playing (roughly, dangerously) on these as a kid.
  • 3D: Where I-25 and I-70 meet (Denver) - I'd like to thank my family for living where they do (i.e. outside DENVER)
  • 25D: Magazine holder (gun case) - well, if it's not FORT, then it must be GUN CASE - great clue/answer.
  • 34D: Cause of colonial unrest (Stamp Act) - we read from our Intellectual Devotional: American History Edition every night, so my head is awash in Colonial history right now. Me: "Honey, did the Stamp Act cause colonial unrest?" Sandy: "Yes." Me: "Woo hoo! I got it right! U.S.A! U.S.A!"
  • 37D: It's out for a pout (lower lip) - another great clue/answer pairing. Easy, too, which was a nice change of pace for this puzzle.
  • 42D: "That's Amore" setting (Napoli) - like this mainly because I got it off the "I" having no idea why I knew it.
  • 47D: Papa Bear of the N.F.L. (Halas) - again, got it instantly. Where am I getting this information? I couldn't tell you much of anything about HALAS, and yet when I saw "Papa Bear," his is the name that surfaced.
  • 39D: Ruler of Scotland, 1567-1625 (James VI) - my wheelhouse! I'm in the Jacobean period Right Now in my 17c. Lit. class.

Enjoy the beginning of your week-end

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS - OK, so the Chronicle of Higher Education article about this site has been available on-line (for subscribers) for about a week. But today - TODAY - a (horrid) picture of me is Right Underneath the masthead at their website. Why couldn't they have used this halfway decent B&W picture, which accompanies the actual article?:

You've still gotta be a subscriber to read the article, but if you go to, you can at least enjoy the picture of my little office, complete with my awesome red desk lamp and "Simpsons" poster in the background. -RP


THURSDAY, Feb. 21, 2008 - Peter Collins (POLITICAL HOSTESS PERLE)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Mixed Nuts" - 55A: Party snack (and a hint to this puzzle's circled letters) => circled letters in theme answers form anagrams of different types of nuts

This puzzle was reasonably easy, except for the center, which was dead hard for me. At one point, the 3x3 square whose north side is formed by the 31, 32, and 33 squares was complete empty, and I could not think of how to get in. The theme itself was cute, if obvious: I figured it out in the first 30 seconds or so, as soon as I got SAUCE PANS. The one theme answer that threw me for a loop was FILTER BASKET, first because I could not think of what word could follow FILTER in a familiar phrase, and second because I could not tell you what a FILBERT is to save my life. That's like some mythical nut I've heard of but never seen, the nut equivalent of a ROC or PHOENIX. Apparently they are very similar to the common hazel nut. That's what Wikipedia tells me, at any rate. ALMOND and CASHEWS were much easier to see in their anagrams. FILBERT sounds too much like DILBERT for my taste (tomorrow is the 6-week anniversary of the Dilbert/ASOK puzzle I loved so much - can't wait to see how people solving the puzzle in syndication respond; my guess is they probably love their daily "Dilbert" even more than you same-day folk, which means I could be in trouble).

Theme answers:

  • 16A: Farberware set (sauCEPANs) => PECANS
  • 22A: Coffee maker component (FILTER Basket) => FILBERT - so unknown was this nut to me that I actually had to "cheat" and check Crossword Fiend's blog to see what the anagram of FILTERB was supposed to be. Something about the fact that you just have to switch two letters to get your anagram is bothering me. Seems not a proper anagram. Not enough anagramminess.
  • 44A: Longtime ABC newsman (SaM DONALdson) => ALMOND
  • 36A: Bothers (CHEWS At) => CASHEW - since when is CHEWS AT a phrase that anyone says? Something might GNAW or EAT AT you, but CHEW AT. I guess if you are a corpse and the vultures are "bothering" you, then yes, this works.

Staying with CHEWSAT for the moment: what the hell is going on in the middle of my puzzle? CHEWSAT anchors a nexus of words / phrases here that are all tough-to-befuddling. Let's start with this jerk AHERNE (31D: 1939 Academy Award nominee), which was the name that finally, finally broke the center open for me. His name came to me out of the blue, from puzzles gone by. I'm quite sure I've blogged about not knowing him before. I mean, the clue didn't even give a movie title?! Not that it would have mattered, but still ... little help? Right next to AHERNE is the weirdest answer I've seen in a while. First, I don't understand the clue: 32D: Political hostess Perle. What is a "political hostess?" Is that a euphemism for "call girl?" Sounds like someone hired to attend a political fund-raiser and keep the donors "happy." Then there's the answer: MESTA. MESTA? That's not a name, that's a cracker. MESTA? Wow. OK. Had to struggle to get the front end of AMNION (31A: Embryonic membrane). Now that I think of it, I think this center area went down in this order: RESTED (39A: Post-vacation, say), AMNION, AHERNE, NWT (33D: Yukon neighbor: Abbr.), then CHEWS AT, with that "E" being the last letter I needed in MESTA. MESTA. I need to repurpose this name. Sounds like something you shout when you shout during a game, like GIN or SORRY or YAHTZEE!

Your other answers of note:

  • 5A: Some exam practice (PSAT) - the PSAT is an exam! I had PREP here.
  • 15A: "Hard Cash" author Charles (Reade) - this is also the name of some Victorian writer dude I had never heard of until I started doing crosswords. Congratulations on finding an even more obscure READE (oh, no, you're right, he's famous, I'm sure. My bad)
  • 35A: HBO's "Da _____ G Show" ("Ali") - gimme! This answer can be wicked when it's not just ALI but the full ALIG. ALIG looks nuts in the grid. Nuts!
  • 40A: Home tool maker (Skil) - almost as befuddling as MESTA to me. I checked and rechecked the crosses just to be sure. I guess that second "L" was just too costly to print on all their products.
  • 49A: Sony subsidiary (Aiwa) - this was what I call a no-looker, in that I had AIW- and wrote in the "A" without looking at the clue. Admittedly, the level of difficulty there was low.
  • 53A: It's often turned upside down when not in use (canoe) - this, I like.
  • 2D: Off-white shade (opal) - so badly wanted trust ECRU.
  • 7D: Owner of The History Channel (A and E) - I need a word for this type of entry; you know, AANDE, AANDW, CANDW, RANDR ... the stuff I inevitably get mail about, from people claiming never to have heard of such a word...
  • 11D: Words with a familiar ring? ("I do") - how is the ring "familiar?" Presumably, the bride/groom has not had the ring for very long, and is putting it on for the first time at the moment "I do" is uttered.
  • 12D: "S" on a French shaker (sel) - that's salt. Add SEL to your "French words you must know to be able to solve crosswords easily."
  • 17D: "_____ Coming" (1969 Three Dog Night hit) - This was one of the first clues I saw and it made me happier than you could possibly imagine.
  • 26D: Susan who wrote the best seller "Compromising Positions" (Isaacs) - along with READE and [choke] MESTA, another name I did not know.
  • 27D: Sighter of the Pacific, Sept. 25, 1513 (Balboa) - and, presumably, any number of Native Americans and Asians.
  • 31D: Yen or yuan (Asian money) - this is a self-standing phrase now?
  • 47D: Singer of the anthem "Sang till Norden" (Swede) - Every day when I check my site traffic at Google Analytics, I like to play a little game called "Battle for Scandinavia," wherein I see which Scandinavian country generated the most traffic for me that day. Usually the battle is between Denmark and Norway. I don't think Finland has ever won, despite the fact that everyone there speaks perfect English and could probably do the NYT puzzle at least as competently as your average American. Yesterday's winner in the Battle for Scandinavia? DENMARK! Six visitors, to Norway's four. Two apiece for Sweden and Finland.
  • 53D: Red letters? (CIN) - really great clue that mystified me for too long. CIN = Cincinnati Reds (baseball team).
  • 56D: _____-turn (No U) - few things look more feeble in the grid than NOU.

OINK! (59A: Cry at Old MacDonald's)

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Feb. 20, 2008 - Chuck Hamilton (RACE SITE SINCE 1711)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "DOUBLE" - 65A: It can precede the first words of 17-, 28-, 35-, 47- and 61-Across

This was the easiest Wednesday puzzle I've done in a while. I'm pretty sure I did it faster than I did Monday's - can't be sure; did this one on paper without a clock in sight (kind of refreshing, actually). I had one snag, early on, in the Far North (for today, let's call it ... Winnipeg, in honor of the surprising number of Canadians who read this blog). So up there in "Winnipeg" I tripped when I tried to high FIVE someone who was merely WAVE-ing at me (7D: Hi sign?). I should have seen that the "Hi" was spelled like "Hi" in "Hi and Lois" and not like the "high" in "High Noon." The erroneous FIVE resulted in ICE crossing ICES (8D: Sews up), which seemed very sub-Shortz, even on his worst day. I tried to think if I'd ever hear anyone use "ICE" to mean 15A: Very close friend, in slang. Seems like it could be street slang - and it is, when it refers to diamonds. I tried to imagine my prisoner-students referring to each other as "ICE," but that didn't work. Finally I figured out that 7A: Rug, so to speak must be WIG, which made the [Hi sign?] answer WAVE and the slangy friend answer ACE. All that drama on such a tiny patch of land. The rest of the puzzle was a cakewalk.

Theme answers:

17A: "Back to the Future" subject (time travel)
28A: Fans often have it (team spirit)
35A: Earthquake site (fault line)
61A: C-E-G triad, e.g. (major chord)
47A: Flaky sort (space cadet) - got this without ever looking at the clue, with just three or four crosses in place. Not sure if that is appropriate or ironic, i.e. if it confirms that I am a SPACE CADET or if it or proves the opposite. I'll let you be the judge. One bit of evidence you might want to consider - I have this matchbook cover hanging off the top of my computer screen (along with a Batwoman action figure and a bendy Homer Simpson toy):

Today's puzzle surely breaks some kind of record for "Most Uses of 'helter-skelter' in the Clues." That record now stands at: 2.

12D: Enters helter-skelter (piles in)
45D: Not helter-skelter (orderly) - nice contrast, and not a single reference to Manson or the Beatles. Well done.

Unlike yesterday, when I derided the puzzle for its crosswordese cacophony, today I would like to sing a hymn of praise to a few of my favorite olde tyme crossword words. Now, as I look over this puzzle, there are a number of stale entries. You've got your SNO and your REPO and your APB and your HUR and your LOA and your ASTI and your EKE (which, by the way, I used in conversation yesterday, completely unironically; as my wife said, "you've really got to have ELAN to be able to use EKE and get away with it" - indeed). So, you've got all those. But they don't matter today, because ADIT (16A: Miner's entry) is in the house! I miss this answer so much. Back in the old old old days (i.e. the Maleska era), ADIT became, for me, the paradigmatic example of "Krazy Krap You Must Know to Solve Crosswords Effectively." I remember exchanging emails with my friend Shauna where we would sign off not using "Yours" or "Sincerely," but "ADIT" or "ETUI" or the like. You don't see ADIT much anymore (or so it seems to me), but I love it just the same. After all, you can't get into or out of a mine without it. We also have my favorite marine raptor in the puzzle today: ERNE (26A: Marine raptor). Someday I will retool this site with a new logo and everything, and the ERNE will definitely be my official mascot. I like the TERN, but I think ERNEs might eat TERNs, so there's really no choice, mascot-wise, as far as I can see.


  • 1A: Cause of a skin rash (eczema) - flashy 1A for a Wednesday. I think I have ECZEMA on my left shin, but my wife says it's just an abrasion.
  • 31A: Moonshiner's setup (still) - learned this word from "M*A*S*H"
  • 42A: Fraternal org. (BPOE) - the Elks! I remember the first time I saw this initialism in a puzzle - completely threw me.
  • 57A: Simon Wiesenthal's quarry (Nazis) - "quarry" is disturbing to me. It's like he's come home from a long day of NAZI hunting with a bunch of dead NAZIs in his knapsack. Wiesenthal's last appearance in the puzzle was when he suffered the indignity of having his name used to refer to one of The Chipmunks (who can forget the Chipmunks' surly Uncle Wiesenthal?)
  • 60A: Defaulter's loss (repo) - seems oddly, even awkwardly clued.
  • 2D: Some newsletter pictures (clip art) - never seen this answer in a puzzle before. Love it. If you love the current president and the war and all that, you should definitely not read this comic, comprised almost entirely of CLIP ART.
  • 27D: 2003 Will Ferrell title role ("Elf") - I am slightly embarrassed to say that I saw this in the theater. And I do not have the excuse that my daughter really wanted to see it, as she was too young. And ... I kinda like it. I saw it with two other adults who may or may not have been high at the time. They really seemed to like it.
  • 32D: Prada and Fendi (labels) - metonymy! The LABEL stands for the whole product line. That is what metonymy is, right? (asked the English professor)
  • 36D: Food pkg. markings (UPCs) - no redundant UPC CODES today.
  • 39D: Offerers of arms (escorts) - love this clue and answer, though "offerers" is a fairly painful word.
  • 44D: Spanish capital under the Moors (Cordoba) - Don't think I knew this. All I can think of when I see this name is "Rich Corinthian Leather," which, as you can see, makes no sense.
  • 48D: Parts of analogies (colons) - on SAT tests, yes, OK. When I make analogies, they tend to lack COLONs. I'm trying to imagine making an "air COLON" the way people make air quotation marks. Kind of awkward - people might think you're making some new-fangled profane gesture.
  • 49D: Automaker Ferrari (Enzo) - someday I will sit down and get my "Italian Men's Names in Four Letters That Start with 'E'" straight. My main confusion here is between ENZO and EZIO.
  • 54D: Race site since 1711 (Ascot) - also a stylish neck garment.
  • 6D: Far from klutzy (adroit) - ironically, this word looks and feels klutzy.
  • 58D: It's "stronger than dirt" (Ajax) - high value letters for such a small word. Love the clue, though wish it had used the word "sloganeer."

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


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