WEDNESDAY, Apr. 30, 2008 - Henry Hook (BELLINI TWO-ACTER)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "... ON MY MIND" - three theme answers are songs whose titles end with the phrase "ON MY MIND"

I breathed a great sigh of relief when I saw Henry Hook's name on this puzzle last night, not because I thought it would be easy - his puzzles usually skew toward the harder side - but because I knew it would be Good. After yesterday's misfire - which needed harder clues throughout and a Thursday placement, or else a complete reconstruction of that SE corner - I needed something smooth, and I got it. Hot knife meets butter. This was far easier than I expected - I don't think I hesitated more than once or twice while completing the puzzle and finished in about 4:30. The thorniest part of the puzzle, to me, was the middle - when white squares run low and flat through the middle like that, it's always dicey for me. I knew two of those little Downs, but the German one (TOD - 31D: Mann's "Der _____ in Venedig") eluded me, though I've seen it before. It intersected the answer I had most trouble with: ARCADIA (40A: Peace-and-quiet venue). This is ironic because a member of my writing group is working on a book that has a working title of AMERICAN ARCADIA. The clue makes it sound like it's a nook in a library as opposed to a remote, mountainous part of Greece; the subject of a Nicolas Poussin painting ("Et in Arcadia Ego"); or a Tom Stoppard play (all of which would have screamed "ARCADIA" more than "peace-and-quiet venue"). Not that the clue is wrong - it's just ... deceptively ordinary-sounding. Another place of "peace-and-quiet" => AVALON (42D: Burial place of King Arthur). PS he's not dead, he's just resting up.

Theme answers:

Worthy songs all. Of the above youtube clips, the Glen Campbell performance is, IMOO, the best.

I have several favorite parts of this puzzle. First, there's INITIATE (37D: Begin) next to NOMINATE (38D: Put up) in the SE, giving us three stacked four-letter answers that have double-letters in their middles: BAAL (57A: False deity), ETTE (60A: Novel ending?), and REED (63A: Accordion part). Nice. Then there's RAILWAYS (35D: Things people are trained in?) crossing ALWAYS (in ALWAYS ON MY MIND), which is daring, since RAILWAYS is just ALWAYS hiding in some really sparse shrubbery. Then there's IGNATZ Mouse (25A: Mouse who's always throwing bricks at Krazy Kat), one of my very very favorite comics characters of all time. I have a reprint volume of "Krazy Kat" sitting not three feet from me. If I ever got a tattoo, there is a very short list of images I would allow on my body - IGNATZ beaning KRAZY KAT with a brick is one of them. But perhaps my favorite part of the puzzle is a nice shout-out to all the solvers who crash and burn and eventually find their way here: GOOGLING (1D: Solver's online recourse). No GOOGLING today.

The part wherein I describe my reaction to assorted other clues and answers:

  • 5A: Slalomer's moves (zags) - when ESSES wouldn't fit, I knew it was ZIGS or ZAGS. Is there a way to know which is which?
  • 9A: "And _____ ask is a tall ship ...": John Masefield ("all I") - literally none of this clue is familiar to me, but the answer was easy to infer. And now I've got Eliza Doolittle in my ear: "ALL I want is a room somewhere..."
  • 13A: Sans deferment (One-A) - "Sans" is jarring here. I'm trying (and failing) to imagine an enlisted man using it to describe how he ended up in the Army. Still, it was easy to get, as the NW came together very quickly.
  • 17A: Acapulco acclamations (oles) - alliteration!
  • 18A: Bellini two-acter ("Norma") - thank god I never saw this clue. Yeeps.
  • 19A: Fail miserably, in slang (tank) - not surprisingly, I got this instantly.
  • 42A: Title lover in a 1920s Broadway hit (Abie) - he's back. Clearly, some day, I'm going to have to see a performance of this damned play. Which reminds me - I am going to see a grey wolf this weekend, partly to help support wolf preservation efforts, but mostly because the wolf's name is ... ATKA. He's a living, breathing, canine crossword puzzle answer of the highest order. How can I pass that up? I'll try to take pictures.
  • 44A: Little fingers or toes (minimi) - Oh I love this answer. Love It. It's so ridiculous, it's beautiful. It means "the smallest ones" in Latin, so ... it's apt!
  • 47A: He wrote "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" (Voltaire) - my first instinct was, oddly, Nietzsche, but then I remembered he was famous for a different God quote. Got a cross or two and then got Voltaire easily.
  • 61A: 1961 "spacechimp" (Enos) - had ENOS for EZRA yesterday, and was wrong. Glad you trot ENOS out again today, especially in his "spacechimp" form.
  • 63A: Accordion part (reed) - had the -EED, wrote in REED and thought "really?" NUMBER (46D: Repertoire component) confirmed it.
  • 4D: Title locale in a Cheech Marin flick (East L.A.) - seen it before, love it still.
  • 5D: Actor Billy of "Titanic" (Zane) - why isn't he in more stuff. And moreover, why do I know his name so well if he is mostly famous for being a supporting actor in this bloated monstrosity of a film?
  • 7D: Adorned, in the kitchen (garni) - wanted APRONED, but then GARNI came to me out of the blue. Seen most often (in my life) in the phrase "bouquet GARNI."
  • 8D: Super Bowl XXI M.V.P., first to say "I'm going to Disney World!" (Simms) - Phil Simms, NY Giants. His son, Chris, is a QB for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Along with LANDRY (11D: Longtime Cowboys coach Tom), SIMMS makes the NNE football country (I doubt Tom would have liked being put in the NE...). Sidenote: Bobby Hill (on "King of the Hill") attends Tom LANDRY Middle School.
  • 9D: What demonstrators demonstrate (activism) - this feels clunky. "Come on, let's go demonstrate some ACTIVISM!" And yet ... it's literally true, on some level.
  • 10D: Auto shop's offering (loaner) - aargh. Thinking of LUBE JOB or some other form of maintenance or repair, and the answer is just ... another car for you to drive for the day.
  • 15D: Senate tally (nays) / 48D: Senate tally (ayes) - symmetry! Beautiful.
  • 26D: Suffix with Meso- or Paleo- (-zoic) - didn't trust that "Z" until I saw the fabulous IGNATZ. That moment - ZOIC into IGNATZ - was perhaps the happiest moment of the puzzle for me. Kind of like the moment where the roller coaster just crosses the highest point of its ascent and you start to fall. . .

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Apr. 29, 2008 - Will Nediger (PUNISHING ROD)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: A to Z - five theme answers begin with "A" and end with "Z"

I could not finish this puzzle. The SE corner was a complete and utter disaster. I have not hated a puzzle like I hated this one in a good, long while. It was like it was giving me the finger the whole time I was doing it. Having @#$#@ass lying steroid-using* loser ALEX RODRIGUEZ down the middle of my puzzle was just the icing on the cake. To keep vitriol to a minimum today, I'm actually not going to say much. I don't think the puzzle is worth it. I just want to know who test-solved this thing and thought "Yeah, this feels like Tuesday"? If FERULE (47D: Punishing rod) is the price of executing your precious theme, then your precious theme is not worth executing. In fact, as a metaphorical FERULE to you ... no pictures. Wait, better: only pictures that have NOTHING to do with the puzzle. Perfect.

Now, here's the thing about my failure. There's often stuff on Tuesdays that I don't know. I'm not averse to not knowing things. Happens every day. But there were four things I didn't know in one tiny corner of the puzzle, one of which (FERULE) doesn't belong on any puzzle save Saturday. Apparently SYZYGY (46D: Alignment of the sun, earth and moon, e.g.) is a word known by many - not me. I inferred it from some kind of combination of SYNERGY and ZYZZYVA. I also inferred that the NCO in question was SFC (sergeant first class - 46A: Certain NCO), even though that's Never the NCO in question - only three instances in the entire database. And still, after all this, I'm alive ... notice how all the problems are in the FERULE region. And that's where I died, not so much because of FERULE, which I was never going to get, but because I didn't know how to spell SOYUZ. I had SOYEZ, like ... I don't know SUEZ? Then thought SOYAZ ... no. And it took me a while even to look at that letter. Initially I wanted APOLLOSEVEN down there, not having been old enough to remember APOLLO SOYUZ. Anyway, I call foul. This is saying nothing of all the other crap that had to get into this puzzle to make the "theme" work. MCGUIRE (43A: New Jersey's _____ Air Force Base)? LAGRANGE (39D: Georgia city or college)? Why not just pick some random names out of an atlas? Oh, and as for the cluing of MCGUIRE. You've already got one beefed-up, steroid-addled* homerun hitter in the puzzle. Why not go for two? Oh, dang, the spelling's wrong (disgraced slugger Mark MCGWIRE spells his name ... like that). Sorry if I'm annoying Yankees fans today. It's really just misplaced frustration over my own puzzling incompetence, I know. And I know some of you think "There's no proof A-Rod did steroids." Yes ... just like there's no proof that Roger Clemens slept with a fifteen-year-old country singer (though, to be fair, Clemens did that ... or didn't do it ... when he was on the Red Sox). Everybody's Innocent! (I love the last line of this article on the subject)

After yesterday's completely unnecessary puzzle explanation in the puzzle header, today we get a "theme" that could have used an explanation (though after a few moments I figured it out).

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Semiautobiographical Bob Fosse film ("All That Jazz")
  • 38A: A.L. M.V.P. in 2003, 2005 and 2007 (Alex Rodriguez)
  • 60A: 1970s joint U.S./Soviet space project (Apollo Soyuz)
  • 12D: Namesake of a branch of Judaism (Ashkenaz)
  • 38D: The Rock (Alcatraz)

Straight to the wrap-up:

  • 35D: Blood fluids (serums) - I'm no genius, and I ain't never heard of no FERULE or even SYZYGY, but I know that the plural for SERUM is SERA.
  • 1D: Daisy developed by Luther Burbank (shasta) - what the hell does this even mean??? Oh, you mean an actual daisy, like a flower. I was thinking it was a rifle or something ... apparently the SHASTA daisy is "one of America's most beloved garden flowers." To me, it is a mountain in California. And a brand of soda pop (bygone?).
  • 1A: No stranger to the slopes (ski bum) - good. I was really hesitant to put it in, because it seemed pretty fancy for a Tuesday. Little did I know...
  • 11A: Sporty auto, for short (Jag) - had REO. Not sure what I would have done without little old GHI (13D: 4, on a keypad).
  • 45A: Bogey beater (par) - normally alliterative little clues for easy answers get on my nerves, but today ... I kinda like this little guy.
  • 11D: Supporter of the House of Stuart (Jacobite) - when I got this (and I knew this cold) I thought "uh oh, something's wrong. That's not a Tuesday answer, especially not when it's sitting next to ASHKENAZ..."
  • 22A: Creature from the forest moon of Endor (Ewok) - took me a few seconds, as I thought first of the Witches of Endor and then of Orcs and Ents and then efts, which are salamanders ... then, finally, "Return of the Jedi."
  • 37A: Highlander's textile pattern (tartan) - very Very nice to cross this with JACOBITE.
  • 50A: Arizona birthplace of Cesar Chavez (Yuma) - Never saw the movie "3:10 to Yuma," but the Elmore Leonard short story on which it's based is Fantastic.
  • 58A: Book after II Chronicles (Ezra) - did I mention I had ENOS here for a while. Oh yeah ... I told you the SE was a train wreck.
  • 6D: Ancient land along the Dead Sea (Moab) - staying with Biblical Ignorance for the moment ... I know this, I just ... temporarily forgot it. Needed crosses.
  • 8D: Resident of Japan's "second city" (Osakan) - known for their great improv comedy.
  • 18D: Modern dance music originating in Detroit (techno) - that's a pretty cool answer. Detroit gets very little love these days, in the puzzle or otherwise.
  • 25D: Only son of Czar Nicholas II (Alexei) - and ALEX RODRIGUEZ? Again, I cry foul. I also had ALEX IV here at first ...
  • 44D: It was divided by the Iron Curtain (Europe) - you need to know this in order to understand the significance of the nickname of one of the greatest football defenses of all time - the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers' "Steel Curtain."
  • 61D: Eucharist vessel (pyx) - very cute word. I know "cute" doesn't normally go with "Eucharist," but there it is.
  • 57D: Hitler : Germany :: _____ : Japan (Tojo) - this name will always, in my head, be spoken derisively by Hank Hill's father, Cotton. Here he is in the episode "Shins of the Father," explaining the war injury that left him about four feet tall:
I was fourteen, just a little older than Bobby. But I knew Uncle Sam needed me, so I lied and signed up. We had beat the Nazzys in Italy, and they shipped me to the Pacific theater. A Tojo torpedo sent our troop's ship to the bottom. I could only save three of my buddies, Fatty, Stinky, and Brooklyn. They were kind of like you fellas, only one of them was from Brooklyn. Out of the sun came a Tojo Zero and put fifty bullets in my back. The blood attracted sharks. I had to give 'em Fatty. Then things took a turn for the worse. I made it to an island, but it was full of Tojos! They were spitting on the U.S. flag! So I rushed 'em, but it was a trap. They opened fire and blew my shins off. Last thing I remember, I beat 'em all to death with a big piece of Fatty. I woke up in a field hospital, and they were sewing my feet to my knees.

This needs to be in his voice for you to fully appreciate its greatness. Cotton is one of the greatest characters on TV in the past two decades. I enjoy thinking about him more than I enjoy recalling the details of this puzzle, which is now, thank god, behind me.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

*I was never serious about the steroids. When I talk Red Sox / Yankees, I often just rant (unlike when I talk puzzles, when even my most critical comments are actually carefully considered). Fans of both teams would, I think, recognize hyperbolic trash talk when they see it. A-Rod is way way beefier than he used to be even a decade ago, and I believe Canseco that he introduced A-Rod to a known steroid dealer ... and yet, as one of my smarter readers just politely pointed out:

"[...] I would argue there are many legitimate reasons not to like him, but there's not much credible evidence to suggest he had anything to do with steroids. In fact, the only "substantiated" claim came from Canseco's book, who named a trainer known as "Max". "Max" has subsequently issued a statement claiming responsibility for much of what Canseco claims about him (much of it not too flattering) but absolutely, unreservedly laughs off the notion of A Rod and steroids. There are few to none of the tell tale signs associated with steroids (a larger head, a much larger physique than otherwise [could] be readily attributable to exercise and filling out, his largest output of home runs in the season following MLB's "crackdown" on steroids. etc.) There are so many reasons not to like him as a ballplayer, and perhaps as a person. But even his bitterest enemies don't doubt he in fact works like a demon and none take steroids allegations very seriously.

As for his swiping at Arroyo in the 2004 ALCS, however, there can be no excuse..."


WEEKLY WRAP-UP: April 21-27, 2008

Monday, April 28, 2008

Not a terribly eventful week, what with NABES nearly completely off the horizon. Aw ... let's just stay with NABES (and last Monday) a teeny while longer. Last Monday's puzzle (NABES part deux) was unusually tough for most people (relative to Mondays, that is). Here's John, expressing succinctly the problem / challenge that a novice solver would have faced:

  • I've never heard of or seen PITH (42D). [didn't find this word odd]
  • I've never seen APERCU in a puzzle (50A). [yeah, that's a late-week word, for sure]
  • I've never heard of or seen SENNA (63A). [another befuddler, if the number of Googlers I got is any indication]
  • I've never heard of or seen SWAIN (30D). [now that strikes me as an almost ordinary word]
  • I've never heard of Tom EWELL, AUDIE Murphy or Red ADAIR. [they are all frequent puzzle denizens]
  • "A Lesson from ALOES"????" [yeah, that word in the plural is like nails on a chalkboard]
Monday also featured a fascinating observation by "Anonymous" re: NABES in the Monday grid: "You can also change NABES to LABIA with no problem." And he/she was absolutely right: NET goes to LET, ASEA goes to ASIA, and PSST goes to PSAT. I'll take LABIA over NABES any day (!), as it is far less disturbing. You can clue LABIA without reference to female genitalia, but nobody's going to buy it, so all this hypothesizing is moot. Fun, but moot.

Wade issued a challenge on Monday:

[C]ome up with a clue using as many of the "crossword only" words you can put in there. It would be, like, totally awesome if the answer turned out to be a pantheonic word, but that may be overreaching. So I'm asking all you bygone cager sloganeers to step up to the plate. Second prize is a tripe taco at the greatest taco truck north of I-10 (in the vacant lot next to Wendy's on Durham.) First prize is you don't have to eat a tripe taco at the greatest taco truck north of I-10 (in the vacant lot next to Wendy's on Durham.)

My best shot, which is bad on many levels: [Bygone "It's the Water" sloganeer, slangily] => OLY. As in "Olympia Beer." Check out these ads- there are a lot of them on youtube, but this set actually uses "OLY" - ah, the early 70s. Thank god I wasn't born any later than I was. Good times.

I forgot to mention, in my Sunday write-up, the fact that as I was scanning over my puzzle before after finishing, looking for answers to talk about, I could not figure out how HAS A GOAT could possibly be an acceptable answer - nor could I believe I had failed to notice a clue that would result in such an answer. Sadly, the answer was actually the far more pedestrian HAS A GO AT.

As for mistakes, I have two favorites. First, there was one made by multiple people in Saturday's very tough puzzle. The clue, [Something damned with faint praise, in British lingo], stumped many people. Some of us eventually hacked our way to the correct answer, CURATE'S EGG, but several of us got stopped at other answers along the way. Most popular stop appears to have been PIRATE'S EGG, though commenter roro offered up the equally compelling CYRANO'S EGG. If you don't know the origin of the phrase, then really, it could be anybody's egg.

The other great wrong answer was one I and several others had on Tuesday. The clue: [What a gal has that a gent doesn't?]. The answer: HARD G. My answer: HER DG. My rationale: EMEER looks as good as AMEER to me, and the possessive pronoun fit the clue, and maybe DG is some slang I've never heard of. This mistake resulted in what is clearly the comment of the week, submitted by Ms. Orange. It's bold, it's daring, it's probably dirty, and best of all, it's succinct: "My DG itches."

Oh, I almost forgot about the UEY / UIE controversy from Thursday's puzzle [Turnabout, in slang]. I would say that there was also a UWE controversy, as many people insisted (publicly and privately) that UWE (crossing DOWN) was just as good if not better than the "correct" answer, UIE (crossing DO IN, which apparently some people parsed as the non-existent but awesome-sounding word DOIN!). Sorry, UWE is an obscure hockey player, if it's anything. You have two choices: UEY and UIE. The former is more common and, IMOO, better.

As for mail ... nothing terribly interesting this week. One reader (forgive me, I copied your message unattributed onto my stickie note), wrote me about her out-of-the-blue memory of having frequented a coffee shop in Las Cruces, NM at one point in her life, a coffee shop whose name ... was NABES. Tried desperately to get a photo, but when she emailed her friend, she was informed that NABES had been out of business for years. That's what happens when you give your coffee shop a ridiculous name.

In the "bitter letter out of nowhere" category, we have this gem from a 6-weeks-ago reader, re: Anita HILL: "Anita Hill's public degradation was due to her propensity for telling lies." I have a weird theory that this guy is also the Xmas guy is also Grampa Mike, the very first person ever to comment on my blog. That comment:

First, please do not comment on puzzles the day they are printed. Further, many across the country get today's puzzle next week, so you shouldn't give away the fun for them.

Second, many of the words you are objecting to are entirely familiar to anyone who has solved puzzles even relatively briefly.

Your criticism that some of these words are not familiar to all people generally is an unfair criticism. Like any pastime, this one has its own world, and that includes stars with interesting names, animals familiar to those who watch the Animal Channel, etc.

This blog is just a bad idea.


And thus "IMOO" was born. Thankfully, that comment was followed immediately by one from one of my first loyal readers, lhoffman12:

This site is one of the best I've seen on crossword puzzles. Good graphics, good references...highly entertaining! If grandpa mike doesn't want to have hints about the puzzle, no one is forcing him to look at your site. I hope you keep it up.

And I did.

Aviatrix wants you to watch an ad that involves two pilots trying to solve a crossword puzzle, so enjoy.

And now, our Word of the Week: CURLEW

(43A: Cousin of the sandpiper - from Saturday's Brad Wilber puzzle)

any of a number of wide-ranging chiefly migratory birds (family Scolopacidae) esp. of the genus Numenius having long legs, a long slender bill that curves downward, and plumage variegated with brown and buff

I love when dictionary entries sound like poetry. If you are looking to be able to distinguish CURLEWS from sandpipers, good luck. There is also a bird called the "CURLEW sandpiper": "a sandpiper that is widely distributed in the Old World and has a curved bill like that of a curlew." Thanks for the help, dictionary!

There's also a CURLEWberry, a CURLEW bug, and a CURLEW jack, all of which are defined by words that I would have to look up to understand ("crowberry," "corn billbug," and "whimbrel," respectively).

Lastly, reader pics - here's one submitted by Andrea Carla Michaels. It features Friday's constructor, Mike Nothnagel (Mr. Smiley on the left) and some of his groupies (wink) hanging out at the ACPT a couple months back (that light fixture behind them is one of the most pathetic things I've ever seen in a non-fleabag hotel):

Here is the sociopathically neat completed Tuesday puzzle of commenter Fergus:

And here is the awesomest cake ever - actually presented this past week to reader ... well, you can see his name right there:

Crossword cake and Yoohoo! Now that's a party...

-PS Pete M. now has a blog about the NY Sun puzzles, so if you do those (which you should), why not check it out?


MONDAY, Apr. 28, 2008 - Gary Disch (SHADED PASSAGEWAY)

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "NECKING" (41A: Making out ... or a hint to this puzzle's four hidden articles of clothing) - each "article of clothing" is hidden in one of the grid's long theme answers

I have never before seen an explanation of the theme in the header of the puzzle this early in the week. I can only guess that there was a huge oversight in the cluing of 41-Across, which tells you that the puzzle is hiding the clothes, but doesn't tell you (as it usually does) where they're hidden (either by naming the clues directly, e.g. "17-Across, 64-Across, etc." or by marking those clues with stars and then indicating that we should look at the starred clues). Major distraction. I kept thinking I was missing something, especially when two of my theme answers were such clunky hassles (see below). The distance between the meanings of the theme-indicating answer (NECKING) and the neckwear is pretty vast, so maybe that's why extra help was (it seems) needed in the puzzle's header. But maybe, just maybe, that's a sign that the puzzle simply doesn't cohere well enough. It either coheres or it doesn't - putting that huge explanation at the top of the grid is like putting a neon-colored band-aid on your face to cover a pimple, i.e it's not helping.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Boardinghouse sign (roomS TO LEt)
  • 11D: Favoring common folk (anTI-Elite) - ooh I do Not like this answer. This is not nearly strong enough of a phrase to be in a theme position. If you are going to go ANTI-, you need a phrase with some established credibility, like, I don't know, ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT or ANTI-IMMIGRANT or ANTI-WAR. Hell, ANTI-OBAMA gets you 365,000 hits to "ANTI-ELITE"'s pathetic 13,200. I know it must have been Death to split TIE across two words (or in this case, word parts), but still, if you can't do it, you can't do it. This puzzle's concept is very sound, but its execution - lacking.
  • 34D: Daytona 500 enthusiast (NASCAR Fan) - OK, OK, we get that you are ANTI-ELITE, which is a very bandwagony thing to be these days, what with all the ANTI-OBAMA sentiment in the air, but NASCAR FAN!? This is taking your ANTI-ELITism too far, and too deep into my puzzle. You could have at least had the decency to make the phrase a good one, like NASCAR DAD (which is the answer I had until the bitter end). I realize that a SCARD doesn't go around your neck, but I don't really care at this point. NASCAR DAD gave me ALDA at 63A: _____ Romeo (car) (Alfa), which is obviously wrong, but when you see ALDA in the grid, you rarely question it. HODE, however, set off a few bells when I finally noticed it (69A: Sharpen, as skills - HONE). By the way, do we really need the "car" part of the ALFA Romeo clue. This puzzle feels exceedingly dumbed-down. Is this part of some new plan to make the early-week puzzles more accessible to new solvers?
  • 64A: Halifax's home (NovA SCOTia) - I'd like to say "Hey, what's up?" to all my NOVA SCOTIA readers (there are a surprising number of them - Halifax sends more people to my site than any other place in Canada besides Vancouver and Calgary).

My biggest stumbling block in this puzzle, after I muddled through ANTI-ELITE was at the top of the NASCAR FAN region. I do not like or fully understand 32A: Many conundrums have them (puns). I thought a "conundrum" was simply a thorny problem or puzzling situation - thus I had RUBS, as in "Aye, there's the rub" (problem, conundrum). But apparently the first definition of "conundrum" is:

A riddle in which a fanciful question is answered by a pun.

I can't even imagine such a riddle, and given that this seems to describe the type of "humor" I favor least, I'm not sure I care to hear many examples. RUBS gave me the "R" I needed to put in the very wrong ROAR for 32D: Sound of laughter. Harrumph. Thankfully, I was bailed out by baseball, yet again - 40A: Pitcher's stat (ERA) forced me to change ROAR to PEAL and I fixed that little section from there.

Closing time:
  • 22A: Goes out in a game of rummy (gins) - this walks a fine line between icky and cool for me. I'm going to rule "cool," though [Mechanical devices] or, better, [Plymouth, Tanqueray, etc.] would have pleased me more.
  • 35A: Sneak peek: Var. (prevue) - could have bothered me, but didn't, as it owned up to what it was, i.e. a VARiant. I'll allow one of these per puzzle, no problem.
  • 43A: Pages that aren't editorial matter (ads) - somebody has to edit the ads, don't they? And ADS are often (usually) on the same page as editorial matter. No matter. It's not as if this clue was hard.
  • 44A: Open, as an envelope (unseal) - I have to TEAR OPEN most of the ones I receive, as the seal is too firm to UNSEAL politely.
  • 48A: Some creepy-crawlies (lice) - I balked at this clue, because I thought LICE hopped rather than crawled - then I realized I was thinking of FLEAS (which I have seen close up, unlike LICE, which I have not).
  • 2D: Lifted off the launch pad, e.g. (arose) - are you kidding me here? It's a spaceship, not a @#$#ing lark. AROSE? The rocket isn't getting out of bed, it's Blasting Into the Sky? AROSE, ugh.
  • 8D: Letter after phi, chi, psi (omega) - do you really think anyone needs "phi" and "chi" in this clue? I know it's Monday, but ... you could start at the beginning of the Greek alphabet and list all letters preceding Omega and it would do zilch to the difficulty level of this clue (low).
  • 31D: Lennon/Ono's "Happy _____ (War Is Over)" (Xmas) - this word is hilarious to me and my family now because of a single email I got the day after I put up my donation button (see sidebar). Most of the mail I got was kind, supportive, etc., but this one ... here. I'm going to reprint it in its entirety:
I would never donate anything to a person who uses an X in place of Christ as you did last Christmas season
  • Please keep in mind that I received this message in April! So he'd been holding all that anger and indignation in for four months. Dang. So I guess he'll hang out with Satan ... he just won't pay him for the privilege. Awesome. Truly one of the greatest letters I've ever received.
  • 33D: Language of Lahore (Urdu) - Lahore is the capital of Punjab province in Pakistan and the second-largest city in Pakistan after Karachi. Thus concludes today's geography lesson. Nope, I lied. Here's more, from Wikipedia:
Punjabi is the native language of the province and is the most widely-spoken language in Lahore and rural areas. Urdu and English, however, are becoming more popular with younger generations since they are officially supported, whereas Punjabi has no official patronage.
  • 45D: Shaded passageway (pergola) - really prevented my rounding the corner smoothly there in the SE. I get PERGOLA and GAZEBO confused in that I think of them both as sites unto themselves, not "passageways." In the case of PERGOLA, I'm wrong, though pics from a Google Image search don't look much like "passageways" to me.
  • 52D: Old piano key material (ivory) - now illegal. I have some IVORY sculptures that I pre-inherited from my mom. I would show you them, but you'd have to send the children out of the room.
  • 56D: Valley known for its chateaux (Loire) - I haven't been to France since 1987, but if I went again, this is somewhere I'd want to go.
  • 65D: Old prairie home material (sod) - not to be confused with "The Old Sod" (Ireland).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Apr. 27, 2008 - Oliver Hill (ROOT USED IN PERFUMERY)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Oops!" - 10 theme answers are words that are IMPROPERLY SPELLED (65A: Like the answers to the 10 asterisked clues, more often than any other English words, according to a 1999 study)

I liked this puzzle. It was slightly tougher for me than recent Sundays have been, likely because of all the misspelled words, which were somehow very hard for my brain to deal with. Brain No Want Bad Word. Brain Refuse To See. But here is the big (and for me, it's big) problem with this puzzle. It's certainly not the conception or the execution of the fill, both of which are just fine. The problem is, simply, that according to the wording of the theme-describing clue - 65A: Like the answers to the 10 asterisked clues, more often than any other English words, according to a 1999 study (improperly spelled) - all of the theme answers should be properly spelled. Let me explain. If you had stopped the clue at the word "clues," then the "misspelled" would refer to the state of the words themselves and thus the clue would be perfect: all the theme answers are indeed "misspelled." The problem is that the clue continues, turning "misspelled" from a state of being into an act. The theme answers are not misspelled more often than any other English words, according to a 1999 study because they are already misspelled. You can't misspell a misspelled word. Imagine that I'm trying to tell you about a word I spell incorrectly all the time. The conversation might go something like this. Wait, it has to be an e-mail conversation, or the example makes no sense:

Me: "Hey, you know what word I misspell all the time? FARSE."
You: "Uh ... do you mean you misspell FARCE all the time?"
Me: "No, I know how to spell FARCE, I'm not an idiot. I misspell FARSE - you know, like they speak in Iran."
You: "Are you sure you're not an idiot?"

End scene.

Oliver Hill knows what I like - crossing D'OH (56A: "What a moron I am!") with IHOP (52D: Restaurant chain since 1958). It's like he's winking at me! I hope that today's discussion is about the merits of the puzzle and not the astonishing fact that Oliver Hill is 12 years old (slightly older - I'm exageratting for effect ...). So let's get the oohing and aahing and fawning about his youth out of our systems now, OK? Oooh. Aaaah. This kid and Messrs. Der and Last give me great hope that when I am quite old, the puzzles I solve in between gardening and napping will not suck. That's right, honey, in the distant future, I garden too. Oh, it's a magical place ...

Theme answers:

  • 26: *Long, long time (millenium)
  • 32A: *Stick with a needle, maybe (innoculate)
  • 34A: *Absence at a nudist colony? (embarassment)
  • 44A: *Bugs (harrasses)
  • 51A: *Wee (miniscule) - minuscule ... whoa, count me among those who probably would have misspelled that word. Of course it's misspelled - it sounds like it has MINI- in it!
  • 82A: *Conspicuous (noticable)
  • 87A: *Supplant (supercede)
  • 94A: *Doggedness (perseverence) - I put the emphasis on the second syllable of this word, all because of a medieval morality play called "The Castle of Perseverance" ... OK that story went nowhere, but it is nonetheless true.
  • 97A: *Oblige (accomodate)
  • 107A: *Event (occurence)

The roughest part of the puzzle for me was the NW, which I just could not get in to despite having PULI (2D: Long-haired sheepdog) and SHEL (4D: Writer/illustrator Silverstein). Yes, PULI was a gimme, and yes, I occasionally watch dog shows on Animal Planet even though I will probably never own a pure breed. All the mutty dogs in the pound need me more. Still, love to watch dog shows when I'm tired and bored. If you want to see what Ron Reagan looks like when he's really in his element, the dog show is the place. It's like he found his true calling: dog show commentary. But back to the NW - LUTHERAN, really (19A: Like the carol "Away in a Manger," originally)? Different denominations have their own carols!?!?!? That is news to me. The one killer mistake I had up here was APPS for CPUS (1A: Program executors, for short). It was weirdly right in the "P" - which is why I kept it for so long. I then changed it to CPAS, but then ATIL didn't seem right for 3D: Regulated bus. (util.), so then I wrote in CPUS, and completely blanked on what it meant (central processing unit). Had to look it up after I was done. Lastly in the NW - RATIOS (6D: Photoshop options) is terrible. Don't all things have RATIOS? The ratio of my middle finger (!) to my palm is roughly 1:1. See?

At one reader's request, I am printing some MERLOT-related dialogue from the recent movie, Sideways (21A: Wine sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon). Enjoy:

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any @#$#ing Merlot!

  • 24A: Foot, slangily (tootsy) - speaking of MISSPELLED - I'd have spelled this TOOTSIE (like the Dustin Hoffman movie, I guess)
  • 31A: Half-baked (dopy) - wanted only DICY, which, now that I look at it, is MISSPELLED. "Half-baked" is both one of the greatest ice cream flavors and one of the worst movies ever conceived.
  • 41A: What a Tennessee cheerleader asks for a lot? (an E) - I have So many great answers to this hypothetical question, but they are the kinds of answers that might be given by Vanderbilt or UConn fans, and are thus unprintable.
  • 60A: Monterrey mister (señor) - ah, alliteration. Brightens up even the lamest clues.
  • 14A: Casual attire (Levi's) - I had MUFTI.
  • 62A: Suffix not seen much in London (-ize) - they have ZEDphobia over there.
  • 71A: _____ choy (Chinese vegetable) - if our local Chinese restaurant is out of snow pea leaves, we get the BOK choy.
  • 113A: Root used in perfumery (orris) - no idea how I knew this. Like ATTAR, it's a perfume-related word I picked up ... somewhere. It crosses the very horrible CURES (99D: Parish priests).
  • 5D: Mustang competitor (Grand Am) - I had TRANS AM, which I like a hell of a lot better.
  • 14D: 1950s Braves All-Star pitcher Burdette (Lew) - well that's a third-rate LEW if I've ever seen one.
  • 17D: Archipelago part (islet) - what's the difference between an ISLE and an ISLET? Size? Yes, size.
  • 29D: Cliff (scar) - uh ... I apparently don't scale cliffs enough, because this word, while vaguely familiar, is not ringing a bell very strongly.
  • 37D: Product with TV's first advertising jingle, 1948 (Ajax) - here's a 1950s ad. It's going to be in my head the rest of the day. "You'll stop paying the elbow tax ..." (!?)
  • 40D: "Illmatic" rapper (Nas) - almost as important as DRE, as far as crossword rappers go.
  • 48D: They're seen in many John Constable paintings (elms) - this may sound odd, but ... John who?
  • 66D: Target of many a Bart Simpson prank call (Moe) - sadly, never saw this clue. It's a gimme, and an old one, but I still don't not love it.
  • 70D: Dynasty of Confucius and Lao-tzu (Chou) - never saw this clue either, thank god.
  • 110D: International chain of fusion cuisine restaurants (NOBU) - wanted IHOP again. It's "international," that's for sure. And I'm sure there's something Tex-Mex on their menu, which makes them fusion. Q.E.D.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Apr. 26, 2008 - Brad Wilber (GUNSMITH REMINGTON)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: Ha. I wish.

This was tough - an old-fashioned kind of tough, with an old (relatively speaking) tennis player and an old movie and an old play and an old gas company name and an old (now dead) Swedish soprano and an old French song and an olde timey phone contraption and a 19th century gunsmith and a largely 19th century sociologist and more high-end Masleskaesque vocab than you can shake a stick at. And yet - I enjoyed it. If all I had to do were Quarfoot and Nothnagel puzzles every weekend ... well, I'd have a lot of fun, but my pre-1980 knowledge muscle would go all soft. This is a well-constructed puzzle that gave me a real sense of accomplishment once I'd finished it. Very little of this puzzle was in my wheelhouse, and still I persevered. I did not hit it out of the park, but I managed to make contact and bloop a weak single into shallow centerfield to win the game. Think of the last hit of the 2001 World Series. Seriously, think about it. Sweet. It's like a narcotic. Where was I ... ?

Oh, right, success. My favorite part of this puzzle was the fact that I finished it with a giant, magnificent, impossible flourish. Imagine you're down against the best team in baseball and you're facing the best closer in baseball and defeat seems assured, but in the space of a few short minutes you go from dead to victorious. That was me in the North Carolina section of this puzzle. I had a gaping hole - a MAW (53D: Cavernous opening), if you will - south of ASL (36A: Syst. of unspoken words) and east of CIDERS (43D: Some like them hot) and all the way to the SE corner. Eventually that hole got partially filled in, but I was still missing virtually everything between CIDERS and ISLE OF MAN (32D: Douglas is its capital). The triple stack of 40A on top of 43 on top of 47A was Killing me. At some point, out of desperation, I wrote in the only Swedish name I could think of that fit for 47A: Swedish soprano noted for her Wagnerian roles: NILSSON. This was brilliant move #1, as it turned out to be right, and got me one step closer toward accepting the answer I wanted at 41D: Timecard abbr. (hrs.). When I imagined HRS into the grid, it gave me -H-LO for 40A: Gunsmith Remington, and even though the only PHILO I know is PHILO Vance, the detective in S. S. Van Dine mystery novels of the early 20th century, I thought "Why not?" - I still had to commit to CURLEW (43A: Cousin of the sandpiper) and PULE (40D: Whimper), two words that leaped to mind late but felt too absurd to be right. Once I had this whole tenuous mess in place, I looked at it and knew that it was right. It felt both entirely made-up and absolutely indisputable. And the puzzle was done. Final note on this section: even though I knew "sandpiper" was a bird, I thought multiple times about writing in CASHEW at 43A.

But that was not the only trouble spot by a long shot. Started fast in the NW with 1A: Pound sign letters (SPCA) and 15A: Galley output (chow) and 4D: Sounds of feigned sympathy (aws), then guessed ISH incorrectly at , wh34A: Ending like -like (-ine), which allowed me to drop (correctly) SCHEMATIC (1D: Techie's drawing) right down the NW coast. And then, for a while, nothing happened. Went over to the NE where I got the uncharacteristically easy FRAU (21A: Married woman abroad) and EVERT (12D: Winner of six U.S. Opens) with no trouble, and then - the most astonishing thing I did all puzzle long - I got MRS. MINIVER (16A: Title housewife in an Oscar-winning film) off just the "V" in EVERT. I have no idea what that movie was about or where that title came from, but there it was, and when crosses started proving it right, I was stunned. And then, for a while, nothing happened, because the long answer on top of MRS. MINIVER and the long answer underneath MRS. MINIVER would not coalesce into anything even remotely recognizable. One of the big problems up there was that set of short Downs. Kept switching between HMO (which I really wanted) and AMA (which I didn't) for 8D: Overseer of some practices: Abbr. Then back and forth between CIT (which I really wanted) and TIK (which I really didn't) for 9D: Summons: Abbr. To be fair (to me) TIK was a desperate guess brought on by one of my many preposterous guesses for the monumentally absurd clue that is 18A: Something damned with faint praise, in British lingo (curate's egg). I thought A BROKEN EGG might be right, hence the "K" that made me consider TIK. Then I was vacillating between -ENE (wrong) and -ANE (correct) for 10D: Hydrocarbon suffix. Turns out ENE, ANE, and INE are all in the puzzle. Hurray? Thankfully, I refused to give up MSRP (7D: Letters on a new car sticker), even though it was mocking me as potentially wrong for much of my NE journey. At some point, later in the puzzle, I finally got 11D: "Lose" at the office (misfile) by backing into it, which gave me the -MERA letter string I needed to recall the title I AM A CAMERA (5A: Play for which Julie Harris won the 1952 Tony for Best Actress). I have no idea how CURATE'S EGG finally made it into the grid, but it did. I am indebted to the word ARUMS (6D: Green dragon and skunk cabbage) for (finally) coming to me out of nowhere for no good reason and allowing me to pin down the NE once and for all.

The center and SW of this puzzle were a breeze by comparison. My other MRS. MINIVER moment (which is my new term for when a tough term you have no business knowing just falls in your lap - i.e. a Very good guess) came when I almost jokingly threw out AXIAL for 28A: Kind of skeleton or symmetry. I had the first "A" and that was it. But AXIAL skeleton and AXIAL symmetry sounded ... like something. "But that's absurd," I thought. "That gives me an "X" in this Down clue which ... hey ... wait ... no ... EXXON? Could 24D: Replacer of the Humble brand in the early 1970s really be EXXON? Let's see ... 30A: Rhapsodize = ... WAX POETIC! Yes yes yes!" Final MRS. MINIVER moment of the day: STOMP (44D: Jazz Age dance) which I got off the "T" from 48A: Rent (tore).

Grand Tour:

  • 17A: Burdens on some shoulders (hods) - if you are a mason, yes. I could think only of epaulets and organ grinders' monkeys. There is a 1918 movie called "Smashing Through" featuring a character called Hod Mason. Inaptly, he is a prospector.
  • 27A: Old-style call to arms (alarum) - most often seen (by me) in the stage directions of Renaissance drama.
  • 37A: Song title followed by the lyric "Lovers say that in France" ("C'est si bon") - mmm, Eartha Kitt. I wanted "C'est la vie" at first, but that was ... Robbie Nevil.
  • 42A: Croaking flier (raven) - it croaks? I like the RAVEN / CURLEW juxtaposition.
  • 44A: Titular author of two books of the Bible (St. Peter) - "Titular" is a funny word.
  • 50A: Crispy Twister sandwich offerer (KFC) - this puzzle is full of -er clue words. "Offerer," plus the aforementioned "replacer" and "overseer" and "flier," and then 31D: Some airplane runners (tail skids), 55D: Announcement carriers, for short (PAs), 3D: Indicators of intelligence? (code names), 38D: Small, furry African climber (tree rat). I can't believe that poor animal's actual, technical name is TREE RAT. Adam must have been really tired when he named that poor guy. "It looks like a rat, it's up in that tree ... TREE RAT. Next!"
  • 55A: Gila River native (Pima) - high-end Native American vocab. Nor ERIE or CREE or HOPI today.
  • 56A: Its currency unit is the ariary (Madagascar) - would have gotten this sooner if it had been clued as an animated movie.
  • 57A: Time of Ta'anit Esther (Adar) - does this rhyme with "Gay-dar," because it looks like it does. ADAR is my go-to Hebraic answer.
  • 58A: O. Henry specialty (plot twists) - seemed too obvious to be right, but there it was - first long answer I had in the SW.
  • 2D: Cell's lack (phone line) - took me a while to figure out which kind of "cell" was being referred to.
  • 5D: Response to "Don't panic" ("I'm calm") - wanted "I'm cool," but only after I wanted "Shut the @#$# up don't tell me what to do I'm trying to @#$# think here so that I can save our sorry asses from the meteor / killer shark / yeti / Huns / etc.!"
  • 26D: Process of nature by which all things change (tao) - man, I knew this one. Too bad I never saw this clue (that rarely happens on Saturdays).
  • 28D: One of a pair of biblical brothers (Aaron) - and Moses. AARON is known for his ROD (!).
  • 30D: Max who wrote "Politics as a Vocation" (Weber) - wanted WEBER, but then the title of the book sounded weirdly modern to my ears, so I resisted. My favorite Max in five letters is MAX POWER - the name Homer takes on after a popular TV cop also named "Homer Simpson" is retooled from hip and suave to comically buffoonish. After failing to convince the producers of the show to change the character's name, Homer decides to change his own:
After reading through a list of ridiculous names Homer gave him, including "Rembrandt Q. Einstein", "Handsome B. Wonderful", and "Hercules Rockefeller", the judge allows him to change his name to "Max Power" (which Homer got off a hair dryer and was the only name he spelled correctly). The family is surprised to learn of his name-change, but "Max" starts speaking of his new personality — dynamic, decisive, uncompromising and rude.

I am such a dork that I am laughing out loud just reading the summary of this episode at Wikipedia.

Good day.

Signed, Max Power, King of CrossWorld

PS I have noticed just this week a marked increase in robo-sites that are essentially stealing my words in order to direct traffic to their ridiculously ad-laden sites. Some of these sites simply lift my posts in their entirety. If you are still using Google to find me on a regular basis (and gajillions of you are, even regular readers), I would ask you simply to bookmark my site - your browser should have a menu heading that allows you to do this with ease. You can use your web browser bookmarks to access your favorite pages directly, without having to keep looking them up. So ... bookmark! And just come here directly - the completed grid will always be here (assuming it's after 9am on the date of puzzle publication), so any answer you don't have - whoop, there it is. Thanks.


FRIDAY, Apr. 25, 2008 - Mike Nothnagel (ILOILO'S ISLAND)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

I'm normally far more on Mike's wavelength than I was today, but I still enjoyed this puzzle a lot. Cannot say that I enjoyed the anchor / marquee answers: PENNY WISE AND / POUND FOOLISH (30A: With 36-Across, shortsighted) but that's just me; I'm not big on aphorisms, and cutesiness makes me hurl. Luckily for me, that bland bit of wisdom was crossed by the far more interesting answers THE BORN LOSER (7D: Long-running Art and Chip Sansom comic strip) and MAXWELL SMART (21D: Fictional secret agent). I have not seen, heard, or thought of "THE BORN LOSER" since some time in the 80's, though apparently it still exists (not in my local paper, it doesn't). Stared at "THE BOR-" for some time thinking "... but ... I teach a course on Comics ... why don't I know this?" As for MAXWELL SMART, I only wish I had been old enough to see "Get Smart" when I was on in prime time - it went off the air before I turned 1. I know it was on in syndication when I was a kid, but I didn't watch it much. Writing about it is making me want to find and watch back episodes. Did you know it was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry? You probably did. I did not.

I had two serious Google moments in this puzzle (I Googled after I was done, not before). The first was with 30D: Iloilo's island (Panay) - I remember being super-vexed by ILOILO twice in one week back in late 2006 or early 2007, so I knew I was going to be in the Philippines, but island? Oh no, that's far too specific for me. All the crosses for PANAY looked good - the only uncertainty was the second "A," from ETTA (38A: Editorial cartoonist Hulme). But I let it ride, and that paid off. "Iloilo" is hard to read in newsprint (and in Across Lite) in that capital "I" and lowercase "l" look identical. Of course all clues start with capital letters, so there shouldn't be any confusion ... and yet, try telling that to my eyes. I'm guessing a lot of people don't even know what to Google. LLOILO's island? IIOILO's island? Next problem: the requisite botany bruiser, RACEME (18A: Simple inflorescence, as in a lily of the valley). That "C" was the very last thing to go in the grid, as I stared at 11D: Need to get hitched: Abbr. wondering "???" At first I thought the answer would be a verb phrase, like ... AM PREGNANT or WANT TO BECOME A CITIZEN (only shorter). Then I remember what I needed to get hitched: a LICense. RACEME looked horrible to me, but all the crosses made sense, so it stayed.

Most inventive clue of the day - and one I got shocking quickly because it involved one of my favorite words in the English language - was 48A: Two strikes? (carom). Had the "M" and thought "no ... it can't be. That's too good." Wrote it in and the letters panned out. Sweet. Never heard of NAVY PIER (53A: Landmark on the Chicago shoreline) but it was easy enough to guess. As with nearly all Mike Nothnagel puzzles, there was some sweet 80s pop culture pandering going on. Today, two iconic early 80s figures (one a song, the other an actor) made their presence felt. DER is such a boring little German article, but when it's clued via the consummate one-hit wonder, "DER Kommissar" by After the Fire, I cannot help but love it (22A: "_____ Kommissar" (1983 pop hit)). Man they do not make videos like this anymore (sadly). Tarantulas! Surreal. Early MTV seared itself onto my soul when I was what they now call a "tween," and try as I might, I will never, ever forget the songs on heavy rotation back then (back when MTV actually played music videos). Then there's the second-most-famous actor featured in "Bachelor Party" - Adrian ZMED (46A: "T.J. Hooker" actor Adrian). Funny that he's clued via "T.J. Hooker," in that he was only the third most famous actor from that show (dwarfed in fame and popularity by both William Shatner and Heather Locklear). I'm pretty sure this is the first and last time Adrian ZMED will ever be this close to UMA Thurman (40A: She played Fantine in "Les Miserables," 1998).


  • 1A: Tournament organizer's concerns (brackets) - had TOP SEEDS, which got me ECG (6D: Thing that keeps track of the beat?: Abbr.), which kept TOP SEEDS in longer than it deserved. In fact, the whole NW was a huge false start for me, with multiple wrong answers. Had LESS for INAS (23A: Much often follows it) - forgetting for a moment what follows means. Strangely, VISTA (19A: Outlook) came to me immediately, and once I erased LESS, I was able to fix the whole ugly NW pretty quickly.
  • 9D: Cheerleaders' doings (splits) - "doings" = unattractive word.
  • 15A: Hombre-to-be (muchacho) - had EKG instead of ECG at first, which allowed me no shot at this word. Spanish word meaning "boy" ... with a "K" in it?
  • 5D: _____ Sea (arm of the Arctic Ocean) (Kara) - would have been way easier for me had it been clued [Captain Thrace of "Battlestar Galactica"]. I always think of her as a lieutenant, but apparently her rank changed when I wasn't paying attention.
  • 24A: Future star athlete who debuted with the Rangers in 1989 (Sosa) - "Future" belongs Nowhere Near This Clue. SOSA is a star athlete. The very concept of "debut" implies that his stardom is in the future. Horrible. That's like [Future singer/actress born Frances Ethel Gumm]. No no no.
  • 25A: Food described in Exodus (matzo) - tanked this by writing in, without hesitation, MANNA.
  • 29A: He was succeeded by archdeacon Hilarius (Leo I) - total guess. Most xword popes are LEOs or PIUSes.
  • 47A: Its logo is a goateed man in an apron (KFC) - had RFC when I thought PEEKS AT was PEERS AT (36D: Views through a keyhole).
  • 56A: Rushing home? (gridiron) - had the IRON part and still hesitated. considered FRAT IRON. I never "rushed" a fraternity, so what do I know? FRAT IRON seemed plausible for about 2 seconds.
  • 9D: Dinar earner (Serb) - wrote in, without hesitation, ARAB. Ugh.
  • 24D: Sequel title starter ("Son of...") - no one starts sequels that way anymore, so maybe someday soon we can add "Bygone" to that clue.
  • 32D: Response facilitator: Abbr. (SASE) - Yes, that sounds like the way a SASE would be described in bizspeak. "We need to streamline our response facilitators and incentivize our ..." I can't go on, not even in jest.
  • 37D: Gunpowder alternatives (oolongs) - mmm, tea clues. Sweet. Gunpowder green tea is lovely. Smoky. Good stuff. Gets its name from the little pellet-like forms the leaves take during processing.
  • 41D: Streaker with a tail (meteor) - rather easy for a Friday.
  • 52D: Irene's Roman counterpart (pax) - Peace. IRENE is Greek and gets Way more action than PAX, puzzle-wise.
  • 50D: 1995-2001 House Judiciary Committee chairman (Hyde) - this guy also played one of Sam's grandfathers in "Sixteen Candles." At least that's who Hyde looks like to me - can't find any good pictures of that actor in that movie. Dang! Wait, here's Hyde:

Now I'll add dialogue - "Dong ... where is my ... aut-o-mo-biiile?"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Apr. 24, 2008 - Michael Langwald (EDUCATION PROVIDER SINCE 1440)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "I GOT YOU BABE" (62A: 1965 hit by the performers suggested phonetically by the ends of 18-, 24-, 37- and 56-Across)

And your rebus:

SUN - from MIDNIGHT SUN (18A: Summer arctic phenomenon)

KNEE - from WOUNDED KNEE (24A: 1890 battle site that's now a memorial)

ANNE - from SAINT ANNE (37A: Grandmother of Jesus)

SHARE - from MARKET SHARE (56A: Measure of a company's dominance)

I did this last night right before bedtime, and now barely remember it. Not sure that's the puzzle's fault. What I remember most is not the theme (though the theme is admirably outlandish), but some answers that made me balk. The first was BATCH (9A: Trayful of cookies), which my brain is assuring me is right, but which my heart is rejecting. I think my heart wants "baking" to precede "trayful." Perhaps that's implied. No one said the balking was rational. Then there was UIE (33A: Turnabout, in slang), which irks me only because I have only just acclimated myself to this word, and that was difficult enough when it was spelled UEY. Now I've got UIE to contend with? Hang on ... checking database ... UEY is 3 times more prevalent, although I have, apparently, seen UIE several times in the past couple years. Harrumph. Last balk: A BEAR (71A: Cross as _____ (annoyed)). I wrote in A BOAR, figuring BOARs are fare more likely to be "cross" than BEARs. I love "cross" as a word meaning "angered." It's very retro. I remember hearing it (possibly from mom) in the 70s, but I'm not sure anyone's used it in earnest since. The hyperbolic "furious" or the crass "pissed" have driven "cross" to the margins. I'm going to try to bring it back. Somehow.

The stuff I really liked today includes CARTONS (47D: Smokes in bulk) - the answer's ordinary but the clue is hot - and BERTHA (36D: Mother of Charlemagne), which, like "cross," feels decidedly old-fashioned. You do not want to make BERTHA cross, believe me. Ooh, one more balk: RAN AWAY (1D: Escaped). I had GOT AWAY, which I find to be much the superior answer. Just because you RAN does not mean you "escaped."

Your xword vocabulary of the day (after UIE / UEY):

  • 23A: Predecessor of Romans (Acts)
  • 66A: Daybreak deity (Eos)
  • 27D: Education provider since 1440 (Eton)
  • 34D: Foreign visitors? (ETs)
  • 39D: River to the Rhine (Aare)

And ... a long list of stuff:

  • 14A: Alicia Keys #1 album "_____ Am" ("As I") - remarkably hard for me to parse. YO, I AM? AM I AM? Alicia Keys is insanely talented.
  • 20A: Bad off, after "up" (a tree) - this wins for "Most Insane Looking Clue of the Day." I keep reading "bad off" as a verb. "BAD OFF, mutha@#$#!" Or "I'm gonna bad off now ..." (whatever that might mean - just typing that made me laugh very hard ... still laughing even as I'm typing this).
  • 28A: Mayo can be found in it (año) - the SANE (58A: Sound) answer here would be JAR. Please keep in mind that we have already heard, a million times, the complaint that ANO (sans tilde) is scatological.
  • 31A: "Solaris" author Stanislaw _____ (Lem) - I should really read this guy. I see his name everywhere.
  • 45A: Pool accessory (rack) - which pool?, you ask. Precisely.
  • 61A: "Sanford and Son" setting (Watts) - made myself laugh out loud mid-solve when I got the two T's (--TT-) and tried inventing my own variant spelling of GHETTO.
  • 67A: Classic sportster, for short ('vette) - that "RTST" letter run in "sportster" is rubbing something in my brain the wrong way.
  • 4D: Field for Fields (comedy) - works for Totie, W.C., and, on occasion, Kim.
  • 7D: European capital (Minsk) - the outer reaches of "Europe." I wanted a unit of currency here.
  • 8D: Like some bagels (oniony) - "I'd like an ONIONY bagel please ... but not the ONION bagel ... too ONIONY."
  • 10D: Baja's opposite (alta) - I like that this answer sits right next to the word that sounds like the French word for "baja" - BAH (9D: Cross word). CROSS!
  • 12D: Condiment made with a mortar and pestle (chutney) - great answer. Up there with ONIONY for deliciousness, but far more ... legitimate as a word.
  • 13D: Two-wheeled carriages (hansoms) - the puzzle's most common carriage. Everything I know about carriages, I learned from xwords (having never lived in the 19th c. myself).
  • 25D: Item for a travel bag (etui) - HA ha. I've kinda missed this word. Haven't seen it since the tournament. Probably belongs up with the other answers in today's "Crossword Vocabulary" section.
  • 51D: War preceder (Man-o-) - the horse or the sea creature, it matters not. Few words are as xword-clue specific as "preceder."
  • 57D: Cookout offering (kabob) - tricky word. Many acceptable spellings. Thought it's probably not traditional, I would think a KABOB and CHUTNEY on an ONIONY bagel might actually work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld


WEDNESDAY, Apr. 23, 2008 - Stephen Edward Anderson (LISTING IN HOYLE'S)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "RIDE 'EM / COWBOY" (30D: With 27-Down, western cry) - four theme answers features phrases whose final words are also the names of famous horses

The horses and their riders:

  • SILVER - Lone Ranger
  • TOPPER - Hopalong Cassidy
  • TRIGGER - Roy Rogers
  • SCOUT - Tonto

I have only one problem with this puzzle. Tonto is not a "COWBOY." Other than that, genius. This is an exemplary Wednesday puzzle - themed like a Monday or Tuesday, but executed with originality and panache in ways you don't often see on early-week puzzles. The phrase RIDE 'EM / COWBOY, as well as its placement in the grid, takes this puzzle from good to great. The non-theme fill is fine - occasionally brilliant - but that doesn't matter, because today is all about the theme (which, frankly, I didn't get til after I was done with the puzzle - "QUICK, CHART, HAIR, TALENT ... what do they have in common?").

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Mercury (quickSILVER)
  • 11D: #1 on the Hot 100 (chart TOPPER)
  • 25D: Discoverer of stars? (talent SCOUT)
  • 60A: Easily set off, as a temper (hair TRIGGER)

Started off badly in the NW, as I had no idea what 1A: Low pitch symbol (F clef) could be, and 1D: Help page rubric was equally mystifying ... despite the fact that this blog has one: FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). The easy-to-get QUICKSILVER, however, gave me that precious "Q" and took care of all of my NW problems. Tried to go straight down the West coast but was thwarted when I could not think of a three-letter OIL for 23A: What French fries are fried in. Never would have considered the rare and exotic HOT OIL. Why does the capital "F" in "French" feel wrong to me when it's applied to fries? Anyway, moving on - IN A STIR (29A: All riled up). Ick. This and BOARDS (54A: SATs) were the most irksome answers of the day, the former because I don't know who would say it (certainly not a cowboy) and the latter because I've never ever ever heard the word "BOARDS" applied to that stupid high school test. Medical BOARDS, yes ... are SATs "College BOARDS?" So many much better non-SAT clues available for BOARDS. Be creative!!! Also didn't like the clue for TOADY (57A: Courtier). Way too harsh an answer for a simple descriptive clue like [Courtier], which means simply "an attendant to a monarch or other powerful person". I see that a secondary definition of "Courtier" involves obsequious behavior and insincere flattery. OK. Still don't like it. Boring clue for such a deliciously ugly word.

Where was I? Oh yeah, [All riled up] = IN A STIR. I should say that the first answer I entered there was SPASTIC (shares four consecutive letters with IN A STIR). Answer felt wrong (morally wrong), but it fit and seemed at least ballparkish, meaning-wise. The had me wondering why the word I wanted to be ONUS (24D: Big burden) could only be OPUS, which thus kept me on the fence about whether 33A: Listing in Hoyle's should be RULE (which it is) or GAME (which it isn't). From there, I ventured into the middle of the puzzle, uncovered the fabulous RIDE 'EM / COWBOY with just the RI- in place (couldn't believe my great fortune when my first guess was right - I had my fingers crossed). From there, I just radiated out in all directions, in what particular order I can't remember. Possibly down the tried-and-true ISOBAR (39D: Weather map line) past the fantastically colloquial pair of NO DICE (50D: "I ain't buyin' it!") and OKAY GUY (46D: Nice enough fellow) into yet an another BOARD exam - GRE (62D: M.A. hopeful's test), and then ... it's all fuzzy from there.


  • 21A: Where to spend time with moguls? (ski run) - this is a perfectly good phrase, but it seems somehow to hover on the margins of legitimacy, as does HAD A BIT (38A: Ate, but not much), which makes me desperately want to add an "E" to its end.
  • 47D: Soap alternative (sitcom) - Nobody makes this choice: "Let's see ... 'As the World Turns'? ... or 'My Two Dads'?" True, with cable, SITCOMs are likely on opposite soaps all the time, but these two genres technically belong to two completely different parts of the TV schedule.
  • 28A: Other, in Zaragoza (otro) - here's a case of trying (too hard) to Seuss up the clue for a very ordinary answer. Pet peeve about this word (as far as its puzzleness goes): stupid gender! OTRO or OTRA? Dunno. Gotta wait.
  • 34A: Tower-top attraction (view) - weird. Good, but weird. I was trying to imagine part of a tower. TURRET? SPIRE? ARROW LOOPS?
  • 36A: Bear, in Bilbao (oso) - Why not [Bear, in Zaragoza]? "Donde esta el OTRO OSO?!" (exclaimed the Spanish zookeeper).
  • 40A: "Bill Moyers Journal" airer (PBS) - I should add "airer" to my list of "Only In Crossword Clues" words.
  • 45A: Archer who aims for the heart (Eros) - wanted ANNE, as I used to have a minor crush on her. I remember seeing "Fatal Attraction" and thinking "Why would anyone cheat on such a hot wife with such a scary, scary lady?"
  • 47A: Part of the Kazakhstan landscape (steppe) - one of my favorite geographical words. I learned it from Mrs. Mc... Mc... dang, what was my 7th grade Geography teacher's name. I had a crush on her daughter when I was in grade school ... Ugh. Memory ... fading. I remember I did a massive project on Tanzania. Mrs. STEVENS! Woo hoo, Memory, back. I thought her name was McSomething because the boy that her daughter liked when I liked her daughter was named McConnell. Freudian!
  • 52A: Type measures (ems) - learned this and its counterpart, ENS, from xwords.
  • 59A: Barracks boss, for short (NCO) - another common, important xword word.
  • 65A: Bygone French coin (sou) - had the "U," but that didn't help, as the answer could just as easily have been ÉCU.
  • 2D: Premier _____ (wine designation) (cru) - helped a lot that this was an answer in a recent late-week themeless puzzle.
  • 7D: Pinball stoppers (tilts) - like the word, but not in the plural.
  • 12D: Prognostication (augury) - so so proud of how quickly I got this - off just the "R," I think.
  • 35D: Wave catcher? (ear) - yeah, OK. It catches sound waves.
  • 56D: Sister and wife of Hyperion (Thea) - no idea. None. What myth is this from? Ah, I see, they are both Titans, the son and daughter of Gaia and Uranus.
  • 58D: Former newspaper publisher _____ Chandler (Otis) - no idea. None. As I have likely said before, there is only one Chandler I care to know:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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