Saturday, May 31, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Solid Saturday effort. Tough, with tons of misdirection and a handful of nutty but gettable answers. The first place my eyes went was 58A: Jenny Craig testimonial starter, which ended up being about the last answer I solved. Not that it was tough (I LOST), just that I didn't get it right away and moved on. Hit a string of interconnected gimmes shortly thereafter. After 49D: Court hangers (nets) went nowhere, I moved up to the center. The big floodgate opener was SOSA (36D: Sportsman of the Year co-winner in 1998), which took me in two directions - one that led to SSA (36A: Grp. issuing IDs) and ENYA (23D: "Amarantine" Grammy winner), the other that led to LALALA (45A: Lyric stand-in, perhaps) and APSES (46D: Sites of some religious statues) and LAPTOPS (50A: Flight passengers often work on them). Nevermind that LALALA was actually NANANA (ugh). At that point, I printed the puzzle out and went downstairs to solve it over breakfast, starting in the NW and moving in a mostly clockwise pattern til I was done.

NANANA for LALALA (an error I'm betting many people made) was one of several holes you could have fallen into today. I fell into FAT AS A PIG (1A: Porky => FAT AS A HOG), which gave me IRA for (8D: Bank deposit, of sorts => ORE), which made me wonder whether there were such things as NUNNERIAS (17A: Where habits are picked up? => NUNNERIES). I also had SEEMS LIKE for SO IT SEEMS at 61A: "Sure looks that way" - LAO helped me fix all that (57D: Mekong Buddhist). LALALA had me guessing that RENAULT (40D: One of three French auto-making brothers) was RALEIGH - I base this on the fact that RALEIGH made the ten-speed bike I had as a teenager, and the French ... they're into cycling, right?

Mystery answers (to me) included TONI (3D: 1956 Olympic skiing sensation _____ Sailer), which I briefly thought was the answer to 51D: "The washday miracle" sloganeer, once (Tide). Then there's 22D: Day when courts are not in session (dies non) - "a no day?" - oh, it's a contracted form of "dies non juridicus." I see ... never heard of N-RADIATION, but that was easy to guess (13D: Certain atomic X-ray emission). I always screw up the 48A: Massachusetts motto starter (ense) - I always want ESNE, which is a different bit of crosswordese altogether (old skool - means "feudal serf" or something like that). No idea what a SAIL NEEDLE is (12D: Tool for sewing canvas), but again, easy to guess. Didn't know STILE involved a door jamb - I've seen it in other contexts (35A: Vertical piece in a door frame). Where is CERES (60A: Heavenly discovery of 1801)? According to Wikipedia it is a dwarf planet, and "by far the largest and most massive body in the asteroid belt." I thought maybe it was a moon of Jupiter ... it has 63! Though only four of significant size - the Galilean moons (discovered by him): Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. That's your astronomy lesson for the day.


  • 16A: "The Wreck of the Mary _____" (1959 film) ("Deare") - no idea how or why I remembered this, correct spelling and all, but I did.
  • 24A: "The Novel of the Future" author (Nin) - total guess. I would look it up, but I would only be disappointed when it turned out not to be about robots.
  • 25A: First Earl of Chatham (Pitt) - like NIN, no idea, just a guess put together from crosses.
  • 34A: Exchange for something very valuable (eyeteeth) - a great great word.
  • 37A: Tennis star Petrova (Nadia) - another guess based on crosses (this seems to be the real skill you need for late-week puzzles - guessing PLAUSIBLE (56A: Not too much of a stretch) answers from partial fill).
  • 38A: Like some adult hippos (three-ton) - whoa.
  • 43A: Text messaging command (send) - never saw this clue. Usually Saturdays require that I read every clue at least once.
  • 47A: Clammy? (silent) - very nice
  • 1D: Obnoxious sort (fink) - hmmm ... FINK is a very specific kind of obnoxious. Don't think I like this clue.
  • 5D: Retaining instructions (stets) - man, there were three Downs in a row here where I could *not* parse the clue correctly. I just couldn't understand what the clue was going for. Are the "instructions" being retained? Are the "instructions" instructing someone how to retain ... something? In the end, it's a basic editing command. Then there was...
  • 6D: Spread statistic (acreage) - spread like in better? spread like oleo? Come on! Even with the ACRE- in place, it took me a few beats to get it. Lastly, there's...
  • 7D: Top arrangement? (hairdo) - spinning top? shirt top? No.
  • 10D: Passage to get 8-Down (adit) - one of my favoritest bits of crosswordese of all time. Very Olde Fashionede.
  • 30D: It's 8 for O (At. No.) - probably my favorite clue/answer pairing of the day. No idea if it's original, but it's original to me.
  • 42D: Chichewa and English are its two languages (Malawi) - wow, was I wrong. I thought for sure that the country in question would be South American ... this, sadly / not surprisingly, is the only reason most people have even heard of MALAWI.
  • 39D: Cot spot (tent) - not sure why this took me so long. It's obvious. Oh, right ... now I remember: LALALA. Ugh.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Once again, I failed to comment on an answer that I Clearly marked up for commentary on my puzzle paper - POST-MOSAIC (25D: After the Pentateuchal period). Completely inferrable, but ... never seen it used in a sentence. I spent a few seconds trying to think of the adjectival form of MOSES: MOSEL? MOSEAL? MOSISH?


FRIDAY, May 30, 2008 - Natan Last ("THE WANDERING HEIR" NOVELIST, 1872)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Put ERROL (54A: "The Fog of War" director Morris) into the grid straight away, and then spread out from there, with the dead center of the puzzle being the very last thing to fall. I kept nibbling around the edges of it, but since the center featured an olde tyme composer intersecting an olde tyme tune, I was really out of my element. To my credit, my first guess at 35A: "Just in Time" composer was the right answer: STYNE. It just took me a while to confirm it because I refused to allow TRY TO into the grid at 26D: "_____ Forget" (Harbach/Kern tune) - TRY is already in the grid over at CAN I TRY SOME (21D: Question while eying someone else's plate). Violation! Ugh. But that is one of only a very few problems with this puzzle. Mostly it was a blast to solve - lots of fresh fill, lost of interesting clues.

Here are the highlights (I have "YAY" written next to all these clues):

  • 1A: Elaborate procedure (rigmarole) - I use this word every chance I get. It sounds like what it is - it's fun to say ... whimsically derisive. Also, often pronounced as if it had four syllables.
  • 16A: Living end (bee's knees) - again, as I said yesterday, the puzzle lives perpetually in 1959; this is not always a bad thing (I just typed "bad knees"...?).
  • 34A: Shape-shifting giant of myth (Loki) - LOKI was also a 15A: Playful trickster, though the answer there is PIXIE.
  • 40A: The classical elements, e.g. (tetrad) - great word. Earth, Air, Fire, Water = 4 = TETRAD.
  • 42A: Luxor Temple sight (obelisk) - I actually have "woo hoo" written next to this clue. Fantastic word, especially when seated on top of ORYX (46A: Animal some believe to be the source of the unicorn myth). If only this puzzle had a BASILISK. . .
  • 55A: Old comedian known for his unique piano-playing style (Chico Marx) - I am not a big Marx Bros fan, so I did not know this bit of trivia, but CHICOMARX looks fantastic in the grid.
  • 60A: "My parents are gonna kill me!" ("I am SO dead!") - a perfect colloquialism. Spot-on.
  • 2D: He played one of TV's Sopranos (Iler) - I was reviewing my notes on common crossword fill yesterday, and this guy's name was there, so though it's not the greatest or most original answer in the world, I have "Yay me!" written next to it.
  • 5D: Peter who wrote "The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde" (Ackroyd) - another "Yay me" - I pulled this guy's name up out of god knows where because he wrote a book about Shakespeare once, I think.
  • 10D: Follower of Sha Na Na at Woodstock (Jimi Hendrix) - I'm seen JIMI in the puzzle before, but you could put him in the puzzle every day and it would be a while before I tired of him. A great crossword name all around.
  • 45D: Golden-Globe-nominated actress for "The Opposite of Sex," 1998 (Ricci) - I was going to write in KUDROW (which tells you that I actually saw this movie), but it didn't fit. I preferred RICCI in "The Ice Storm" (one of my favoritest films ever), but this movie was pretty good too.

My only criticisms of this puzzle: the aforementioned double-TRY; NTEST (47A: Big bang creator), which is standard fill that stands out only because it's so far beneath the general caliber of fill in this puzzle (see also D-TEN - 36A: Call in the game Battleship); and the clue for FAA - 51A: Org. that can't be lax about LAX. Too much cutesiness.

OK, I'm taking D-TEN off the negative board, as it brazenly intersects TEN-D (actually, TEND - 29D: Lean). If there's one thing I admire in a puzzle, it's BALLS (see Wednesday).


  • 14A: Soapmaking compound (oleic acid) - I know nothing about soapmaking (shocking!), but this was remarkably easy to piece together, so no problem.
  • 18A: Where to find lifesavers, for short (ERs) - flirts with excessive cutesiness, but I'll let it pass...
  • 19A: "The Wandering Heir" novelist, 1872 (Reade) - the Official 19th-Century English Novelist of the NYT Crossword Puzzle.
  • 21A: "The Big Lebowski" director (Coen) - my least favorite COEN Bros. film.
  • 31A: Orsk is on it (Ural) - I had OREL ... then ARAL ...
  • 33A: Rabbit punch landing site (nape) - this clue returns, and this time, I got it no problem.
  • 38A: Four-legged film star of the '30s (Asta) - Is ASTA the "star?" Usually we refer to actresses and actors as the "stars," but ASTA is a character...
  • 59A: Disclosure on eHarmony (type) - I think I don't understand how "disclosure" is being used here. eHarmony "discloses" your type to you? Or you "disclose" your type to eHarmony? And is type some broad concept like "you're not my type?" I got married before eHarmony really took off, so I have no idea how that all works, exactly.
  • 7D: Sealab inhabitants (oceanauts) - god that's a great word, even though I didn't even know it was a word until I put it into the grid...
  • 23D: Publication with an annual "Green Issue" (Elle) - Really? Huh? What it would it mean for a fashion magazine to be "green" - is it somehow not made out of paper?
  • 32D: Process of molecular synthesis (anabolism) - did not know this. Sounds a bit too much like CANNIBALISM for my ... tastes.
  • 52D: Scena segment (aria) - Opera!

The End

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, May 29, 2008 - John Farmer (DOHA DWELLER)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: Across and Down - a rebus puzzle in which certain squares contain ACROSS in the Across answer and DOWN in the Down

Given the complexity of the theme today and the large number of curiously clued answers, I'm surprised I tore through this thing as fast as I did. I am only mildly embarrassed to admit that the first thing that went into the grid was ARSENIO HALL (29A: "Coming to America" co-star). I don't know how that happened. I hadn't even bothered to look at 1A yet, which is where I (like all good red-blooded Americans) usually start my puzzles. I guess there's something about 1988 that just shouts at me, demanding my immediate attention. (Here's a trailer for "Coming to America" - keep your eye out for the SST and ERIQ LaSalle). The one thing that's mildly grating about this puzzle is the lack of symmetry. As I've said before, with rebuses, there should be symmetry or there should not be symmetry. Near symmetry is like an itch I can't scratch. Inexplicably irksome. Today, the NE and SW rebus squares are symmetrical, and there's a rebus square dead center, so my brain really wants the NW and SE rebus squares to be symmetrical too. And they're not. Oh, and I'm not too fond of the plurals WESTS (38D: Novelists Nathanael and Rebecca) and ONEMANBANDS (46A: Versatile performers). Other than that, I thought the puzzle was fantastic.

Theme answers:

  • 1A: First clue (One [ACROSS])
  • 4D: Jazz/blues monthly ([DOWN] Beat)
  • 18A: Spans, as a river (stretches [ACROSS])
  • 13D: Hit the skids (go [DOWN]hill)
  • 35A: Relocate from one side to the other (move [ACROSS] town)
  • 26D: Master (get [DOWN] pat)
  • 58A: Facing one's house from a short distance away, say ([ACROSS] the street)
  • 39D: Scorn (look [DOWN] on)
  • 68A: Transect (cut [ACROSS])
  • 45D: Inverted (upside-[DOWN])
There was many an -er word in the clues today. Not sure why I'm so attuned to those - maybe because the -er suffix often makes for ridiculous words (however valid). Something like 15A: MDX maker (Acura) isn't likely to make anyone bat an eye; the "stationer" in 60A: Stationer's item: Abbr. (env) is a little odder, in that it's simply uncommon; feels very old-fashioned. Not a bad word, just a less common word. I can imagine someone's being called a "kvetcher," I suppose - 67A: Kvetcher's cry ("oy vey") - but I have a harder time with a word like "dweller" - 9D: Doha dweller (Qatari). O man, even looking at that "DW" combination is starting to make me dizzy. Have you ever come across a word you see all the time, and then really looked at it, and thought "o man, that word does NOT look right." I feel this way about DWELL/ER. I also feel this way about COULD. Anyway, returning to "dweller," it's one of those words you see in crossword clues a lot, like "denizen" and "slangily." The only time I would ever use the word "dweller" is in the phrase "cellar dweller" (referring to a last-place team).

Lots of odds and ends:

  • 5A: Outdoor wingding (bar-b-q) - in some ways, the puzzle lives perpetually in 1962. "Wingding?" Here is my one and only experience with the word "Wingding" (it's in first line of the song)
  • 10A: Secretary of state after Muskie (Haig) - "I'm in control here!"
  • 16A: View from the Ponte Vecchio (Arno) - helped me change TO SCALE to IN SCALE (12D: Relative to dimensions), which seems a really awkward phrase.
  • 20A: Spots for Velcro (straps) - which part is the Velcro, the clinger or the clingee?
  • 23A: Oktoberfest exclamation (Ach) - OK, what the hell is up with "ACH!" Do Germans just shout it whenever they feel like shouting?
  • 33A: _____ Scamander, pseudonym of J. K. Rowling (Newt) - at first I was annoyed at this clue (who would know this? I've read all the HP books and I didn't know this) but then I got a cross or two and it was obvious.
  • 39A: Title girl in a 2002 Disney film (Lilo) - "... & Stitch"
  • 43A: Chip in a Dell, briefly (CPU) - gotta give PCs equal time, I guess. Apple tends to make more puzzle-worthy products.
  • 50A: Abstract art pioneer Jean (Arp) - he was born to inhabit crosswords. Dada!
  • 52A: Quarterback Rodney (Peete) - any relation to the golfer Calvin PEETE? Whoa, it's true - they're cousins (though first or second cousins I can't quite tell).
  • 53A: Bike shop stock (tires) - I'm going to the bike shop today, hurray! @#$#! you, $4 gas.
  • 63A: City on the Oka (Orel) - and I thought Hershiser was the only one.
  • 64A: Non _____ (not so much, in music) (tanto) - new one to me, but it's so close to the French "tante" that I got it no problem.
  • 7D: Sci-fi debut of 1921 ("R.U.R.") - Robots!
  • 8D: Celt of NW France (Breton) - wrote in BRITON, as in "Arthur, King of the"
  • 35D: MTV's "Date My _____" ("Mom") - this is slowly becoming a common way of cluing MOM, which MOMs everywhere have got to find disturbing.
  • 43D: Game in the Arctic (caribou) - oh, game.
  • 54D: Hall-of-Fame Nascar racer Bobby (Isaac) - Isaac Bobby or Bobby Isaac? I wanted only UNSER. I thought NASCAR was all-capped...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS O My God, I can't Believe I forgot NARTHEX (2D: Church vestibule) - that word was completely unknown to me and it scared hell out of me. I believe NARTHEX is the name of that robot I have pictured, above. That's what I'm going to call him, at any rate.



Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: BALLS (seriously, BALLS - 38A: Word that can follow the starts of 17-, 21-, 58- and 64-Across and 3- and 40-Down)

My wife can tell you that I giggled through half of this puzzle. As soon as I got to BALLS, it was hard for me to keep a straight face. I'm immature like that. I was really hoping to see a theme answer like BLUEBIRD or BLUEBEARD, but no luck. If there was one kind of BALLS I really wanted to see (!) in this puzzle, it was SNOW. But these BALLS are all pretty good. I think I like HIGH BALLS best although MEAT HEAD is clearly the best of all the theme answers. The puzzle contains an impressive six theme answers (including two pairs of intersecting answers). The non-theme fill was so-so (VEE and DEE? TIERING?), but that hardly mattered. The theme alone ensured that my overall solving experience was a good one. The best BALLS-related moment for me was that my first stab at 58A: Artists' smudge remover was DRY ERASER ... but then I wondered what kind of horrible, heretofore unheard-of malady DRY BALLS was ... and figured my answer must be wrong.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Fund-raiser wear, perhaps (BLACK tie)
  • 3D: "All in the Family" nickname (MEAThead)
  • 21A: Yellow flower (BUTTERcup)
  • 58A: Artist's smudge remover (gum eraser)
  • 40D: Cajole (SOFT soap) - learned this odd expression from ... crosswords
  • 64A: 1952 Gary Cooper western ("High Noon") - one of my very favorite movies, hurray

Today's puzzle is loaded with useful crosswordese, from low-end common stuff to high-end gold. It's a testament to how many puzzles I've done that I got 25A: Metric volume measure (stere) instantly, with no crosses. I confused my crosswordese at 5D: Little Giant of the Giants, writing ORR where OTT belonged. No puzzle is quite complete without an OBI (29A: It may be tied with a bow) - I get searches for [Sapporo sash] on a regular basis; it must be a clue that every crossword puzzle in the universe uses for OBI. ERG (54A: Work unit) is so crossword-common that there was once an ERG rebus puzzle - I'm all for the repurposing or otherwise inventive use of crosswordese. If it's architectural, recessed and/or vaulted, it's an APSE (67A: Vaulted area, often) - a word I associate with OGEE, perhaps because they are both four-letter architectural terms that I learned at roughly the same time (under the tutelage of Eugene T. Maleska). The real wheat-from-the-chaff answer of the day, however, was ATLI (14A: Chief Hun, in Scandinavian legend) - an answer that inveterate solvers likely nailed and everyone else likely gawked at helpessly / worked out from crosses. I'm writing a little something about the language of crosswords, and just yesterday I was thinking about this rare but vital word and whether it was worth mentioning. I guess so... if ATLI knocked you down, you'll want to be on the look-out for ATRI and ATRA and possibly ATKA ... wow, I've got a real crosswordese word ladder going there.

I tripped right out of the box on this puzzle, putting in FOAL (4A: Stable newborn) and then following that up with FRAUDS for 4D: Quacks. Actual answer: FAKERS. FRAUDS is so much better that it took me a while to get rid of it. After making a first pass through a bunch of the Acrosses up top and not really getting anywhere, I thought the puzzle was going to be hard, but then, I don't know, something clicked and I took off like a shot.

Grand tour:

  • 19A: Superlawyer Gerry (Spence) - that's a word? "Superlawyer?" Unless you don a cape and can fly, you really should put the "super" away.
  • 43A: Fancy dancer (stepper) - isn't any dancer, technically, a "STEPPER?"
  • 15A: Bygone political council (Soviet) - I never think of this word in any concept except "The SOVIET Union." Feels odd to see it standing on its own. So lonely. "Where is my Union? Where are my SSRS!?"
  • 49A: Photo badges and such (IDs) - yesterday, NO ID, today ... IDS. Nice coincidence.
  • 63A: Cure-all (elixir) - I never like this clue for ELIXIR, though I've seen it before and it's technically valid. PANACEA = cure-all. To me, an ELIXIR is just a medicinal or even magical drink of some kind.
  • 66A: Lucy or Ricky, to Fred and Ethel (tenant) - entertaining clue.
  • 6D: Out (alibi) - wow, that's some vicious cluing. I'm just glad I got Midori ITO early (24A: 1989 world champion skater), giving me the terminal "I" in ALIBI.
  • 1D: Lettuce variety (bibb) - man I hate that third "B"
  • 11D: Like the contents of egg rolls (minced) - excellent clue.
  • 16D: Hide-covered abode (tepee) - now I'm no TEPEE expert, but ... I thought the hide was the abode.
  • 36D: Fingers (tells on) - this feels off. Kids "tell on" each other. Ratfinks and hoodlums "finger" each other. The use of "finger" as a verb is hereby officially grossing me out.
  • 44D: Arranging in rows (tiering) - ugh to the nth power.
  • 47D: Repeller of evil (amulet) - "repeller" is getting that little red underline that occurs when Blogger (or any writing program with spellcheck) hates a word. This was the answer that helped me change DRY ERASER to GUM ERASER.
  • 51D: Aqualung, e.g., in the 1971 Jethro Tull album (lecher) - whoa. Whoa. Really? That's what Aqualung is/was? I always felt you had to be kind of high - or really like the flute - to listen to Jethro Tull. I'm vaguely tempted to listen to this song now. OK, here goes. Mmm, theatrical. I feel like I'm at a Renaissance festival ... after dark.
  • 53D: Either President Bush (Texan) - I always feel like they are kinda play-acting at being TEXANs, but I guess there's a literal truth to this clue.
  • 65D: Fed. property agency (GSA) - stands for ... I have no idea. Government something, surely. Nope: General Services Administration. I'm having déjà vu about not knowing this answer. I expect that will happen more and more as the years roll on ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I really like the SW corner of this puzzle. Maybe it's the fantastical AMULET / ELIXIR crossing (the salt) combined with the biblical BEGET (the sweet) and the downhome BAD TEXAN (the spice). Anyway, it tastes good.


TUESDAY, May 27, 2008 - Adam G. Perl (1995 PHYSICS NOBELIST MARTIN L. _____)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: NO ID (52D: Reason to be barred from a bar ... or the theme of this puzzle) - "ID" is removed from familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued, "?"-style

A very easy, very solid puzzle from Mr. Perl, who really really wants you to remember that he wrote this puzzle - see ADAM (1A: "Fall" guy) and PERL (1995 Physics Nobelist Martin L. _____) in the first and last Across positions. The puzzle was a nice light dessert at the end of a very relaxing weekend, but now I'm in that weird time warp that happens after three-day weekends where it feels like Monday but isn't. In fact, I completely forgot to write the Weekly Wrap-Up yesterday because my brain somehow convinced the rest of my body that it was Sunday. Wife and I went to buy a new compost bin for the backyard yesterday and had to go through a part of town I rarely see - it was loaded with some of the best commercial signs I have seen around town ("best" in the sense of both "cool" and "ridiculous"), and I am clearly going to have to go back and take pictures. I bought an animal comb the other day called "The Furminator" and it cost an arm and a leg but Man that thing can take the undercoat off your pets faster than you can say "Vitas Gerulaitis" (who was mentioned in a Laura Linney movie I saw this weekend, "The Squid and the Whale"). I think I'm going to buy a bicycle today ... but none of this has anything to do with the puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: E.S.L. class, perhaps? (scene of an accent) - fresh off the ESL controversy of the weekend ("Why would a bilingual person take ESL if he/she was already bilingual?"), we get this very clever clue.
  • 36A: Seedy hangout across the Atlantic? (Continental dive) - here's something I find odd: why does "Continental" refer to Europe when there are clearly 7 continents (well, 6, I guess, since we're not counting Pluto any more)?
  • 56A: Hip-hop critics? (rap response team) - this threw me a bit, as there seemed to be many things that could be RAP(ID) RESPONSE ... though I couldn't name many off hand right now (vehicle ... system ... sled?)
There wasn't much to slow me down today, except MERLE OBERON (34A: With 44-Down, "Wuthering Heights" actress) - actrESS? I had no idea MERLE was a unisex name. I also stumbled slightly over 10A: Saks sack, say (tote) - is this a bag you buy from Saks (Fifth Avenue)? One that you carry your purchases home in? I thought "sack" was somehow referring to a dress, even though I didn't think that word seemed appropriate for something you'd buy at Saks. Both wife and I balked at clue for EMIL (55D: Disney's "_____ and the Detectives"), since it was originally a book that had nothing to do with Disney (like Pooh, and many many other things, I'm sure). It was my wife's first "chapter book," in fact. But the clue that surprised me the most today was 23D: Kid you might feel like smacking (brat). Whoa! I admire this clue's honesty, but smacking children is not something I expect to see referenced in my (it's-not-really-) Monday-morning puzzle. I'll just assume that "smacking" here means ... kissing, and that you are kissing a BRAT either because you find brattiness adorable, or because your kisses are so repulsive that they serve as some form of correction. Problems solved.


  • 47A: Makes verboten (bans) - this clue wants you to believe that "verboten" is some kind of stew, I think. If I didn't know what "verboten" meant, that's what I'd think.
  • 52A: Supreme Court count (nine) - only because FDR was thwarted in his attempt to pack the court (documentaries help me learn)
  • 60A: Cookie with its name on it (Oreo) - one of my favorite OREO clues
  • 64A: Meal with readings (seder) - I went to one of these at my girlfriend's family's house in, let's say 1989. When did "Say Anything" come out, because I think I saw that on the same trip. Anyway, that SEDER was my first and last encounter with gefilte fish.
  • 2D: Parcheesi pair (dice) - it's hard for me to convey just how wrong "Parcheesi" looks to me with two "e"s.
  • 25D: First name in scat (Ella) - it is most unfortunate that one common meaning of "scat" is "excrement, especially of animal; dung." ELLA Fitzgerald's vocal control was IN + SANE. (37D: Out of one's mind)
  • 38D: Ja's opposite (nein) - Hmmm, "verboten" and "NEIN" ... this puzzle's starting to scare me [I'm just baiting one of my readers here ... hi Ulrich].
  • 57D: Carrier to Bergen (SAS) - this "carrier" is challenging EL AL's spot as the go-to "carrier" of CrossWorld. EL AL used to be in every other puzzle (or so it seemed) when I started solving back in the early 90s, and SAS was not familiar to me until 2006, but now SAS is everywhere and poor EL AL is struggling to keep pace (actually, according to, ELAL had one more 2007 appearance in the NYT puzzle than SAS did).
  • 59D: Bill (Bojangles) Robinson's forte (tap) - all I could think of was "the old soft shoe." And I had the "T" in place ... weird.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Monday, May 26, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: DENTISTS (29A: Experts with the ends of 17- and 55-Across and 10- and 24-Down)

I'm having a lot of trouble with the way the puzzle is using "with" lately. Three times in the past few days I have misunderstood a clue that had "with" in it. In normal cluing parlance, "with" signifies an addition, e.g. [Vegas landmark, with "The"] => SANDS. In today's theme-identifying clue, "with" does not mean that the "Experts" have the things in their possession, but that they are "expert" at installing or otherwise putting them on. This may sound like a small matter ... and it is. It's just that the "with" creates a lot of ambiguity here. Am I looking for suffixes? Words that can be added to the end of some word? This is not a complaint about the puzzle, just an explanation (perhaps) of why this puzzle took me somewhat longer than normal to finish.

Another odd feature of this puzzle is that DENTISTS does not have a symmetrical theme entry to balance it out ... unless DENTISTS are also experts at FIREARMS (42A: Rifle and revolver). Again, not a complaint. I like that the puzzle will allow for some lack of symmetry now and again, especially when the element lacking symmetry is different in kind from the other theme answers (i.e. is a theme-revealing answer, or a complementary answer, as JAMES was yesterday).

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Strap-on leg supports (knee BRACES)
  • 10D: It sets things off (blasting CAP)
  • 24D: Feat for Secretariat (Triple CROWN)
  • 55A: Mincemeat, e.g. (pie FILLING)

I had trouble right out of the box with 1A: Irons or Woods (actor) - Clearly Irons was Jeremy, but Woods meant only TIGER to me, and since the clue was clearly punning on golf terminology, my confusion deepened. Took me forever (after I had ACTOR in place) to figure out what actor was named WOODS (James - he's very good, just not, you know, the first WOODS you think of). As I told Orange last night after finishing the puzzle in a somewhat above-average time, there were a good handful of answers that just didn't come to me instantly (the way good Monday answers are supposed to). I tripped over:

  • 57D: Debt-incurring Wall St. deal (LBO) - I know what those letters stand for, but clearly I had no idea what they meant. If my brain wanted anything here, it was IPO.
  • 44D: Tax-exempt investment, for short (Muni) - mmm, more financial fill. Nothing livens up a puzzle like finances. If only there were a TBILL or IRA in this puzzle.
  • 23D: Bank statement abbr. (int.) - ah yeah, that's the stuff... (this one I got instantly, actually)
  • 47D: 2007 Masters champion Johnson (Zach) - he has given legitimacy to this name, so look out. The guy is still "Generic White Man #847" to me, but maybe eventually he'll turn into something more memorable.
  • 27D: Title heroine played by Shirley Temple in 1937 (Heidi) - I wasn't quite alive then. In that my parents weren't quite alive then.
  • 63A: Things to salve (sores) - Gross. I went with the salve itself here, and wrote in BALMS ... :(
  • 46A: Waste reservoir (sump) - about as attractive an answer as SORES. Needed a cross or two to jar this word loose.
  • 25D: Three wishes granter (genie) - I feel as if this answer can be spelled about a billion ways. Today, I went with GENII, which is probably a plural.
  • 41A: Cancel, at Cape Canaveral (scrub) - this started out as ABORT, then went to SCRAP ... then finally to SCRUB. Apparently getting your song onto the show "Scrubs" can have a tremendous impact on your career as a musical group. This was the ultra-depressing fact I learned yesterday while listening to NPR. The most generic-sounding group in the world was ecstatic that their song had gotten onto "Scrubs," and then heavy rotation at VH1 (that's still a station?). One of the band members contended that "there are literally thousands of bands out there trying to get that slot on 'Grey's Anatomy' or 'Scrubs'..." I wanted to stop him right there, Right There, and say "Stop. That, THAT is why the music on my radio Sucks So Bad." Everyone wants to sound like background music to a trumped-up emotional moment on a TV show geared toward consumers aged 18-39. Hence, everyone sounds like Matchbox 20 and I want to gouge my ears out.
  • 14A: Old Big Apple restaurateur (Sardi) - wanted only TOOTS.

Good stuff today includes:

  • MIASMA (44A: Poisonous atmosphere) - a fantastic word that reminds me of a word I've never seen in the puzzle, but would like to: FUG.
  • ROUE (18D: Rakish sort) - in my mind, this guy is always skinny and leering and sporting a magnificent long mustache that he twirls in devilish fashion. He's also living in 1883.
  • DARK SPOT (37D: Appearing and disappearing feature on Jupiter) - we landed another rover on Mars last night. Are we really hoping to extend human presence throughout the universe? We suck at taking care of ourselves on this planet, and it's Custom-Made for us...
All best wishes today to the families of those who have died while serving their country.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, May 25, 2008 - Elizabeth C. Gorski ("ROMANZERO" POET)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Spy Glass" - Actors who have played James Bond + author of James Bond series + James Bond's signature drink, the latter of which sits inside a MARTINI glass formed by connecting the circled letters in the puzzle...

Wow. This puzzle has more theme elements than I ever remember seeing in a Sunday puzzle. I only just noticed this morning that though the circled letters don't spell anything, they do have meaning - you can connect them in alphabetical order to form the obvious MARTINI glass shape (this is explained, in AcrossLite, in the Notepad, but I tend not to read Notepads unless I absolutely have to). Also, this morning, I noticed that not only does the word MARTINI sit inside the MARTINI glass, but it functions as a design element as well, indicating the level of gin + vermouth inside the glass (after a sip or two, perhaps). Incredible. I would like to praise the inclusion of JAMES in this puzzle, both for the clever way it's clued (72D: Bond common to the answers to the six starred clues) and for the fact that it is located outside of normal puzzle symmetry, i.e. there is no corresponding theme answer to balance it out in the WNW - where instead of something thematic, we find the mysterious OUSEL (46D: White-collared thrush: Var.). Symmetry is great and all, but I think the puzzle should be more willing than it normally is to include the odd asymmetrical element, especially if the rest of the puzzle works so fantastically well).

You'll never guess which answer tipped me to the theme ... OK, well, there are a finite number of possibilities, so maybe you will guess ... it was GEORGE LAZENBY. I had the -ZENBY part and thought "what ends in -ZENBY ... GEORGE LAZENBY ... no, that's silly ..." Also, I thought the actor's name was LAZERBY. Anyway, it was nice to get the theme so early and easily. I couldn't remember the last name of the recent, very good James Bond, but every other actor's name came back to me with relative ease.

Theme answers:

  • 23A: *1969 (George Lazenby)
  • 48A: *1973-85 (Roger Moore)
  • 68A: *1987-89 (Timothy Dalton)
  • 115A: *1995-2002 (Pierce Brosnan)
  • 3D: *1962-67, 1971 (Sean Connery)
  • 71D: *2006- (Daniel Craig)
  • 90A: Writer born May 28, 1908 (Ian Fleming) - Happy Birthday, Mr. F.

One last nice thing about this theme: MARTINI is symmetrical to ASPIRIN (97A: Offering from St. Joseph).

Had many false starts today. I wanted an ARMOIRE in my foyer, not an AREA RUG (18A: Foyer item). I had ATRIAL instead of AORTAL (41A: Relating to a blood line). I thought that maybe the TSAR issued propaganda ... right country, wrong era => TASS (1D: Old propaganda propagator). There was a tie for biggest screw-up of the day. I was happy to have seen right through the trickery in 51D: Butterfly experts, perhaps - so I wrote in SWIMMERS (instead of SWIM TEAM). This caused no end of trouble, including giving me the disturbingly mysterious --SM for 74A: Kite flier's wish (gust). Intersecting SWIM TEAM is the other disastrous misstep I had today: 63A: Powder site, maybe. This misdirection was clearly intentional, and it worked like a charm. I had KEG. My wife had KEG. God knows many of you had KEG. The answer is WIG. Oh, I should also add that I screwed up 91D: Homeland protection org. at first. Had NSA, which gave me AORONA for 102A: Mexican beer. Actual answers are, of course, NSC and CORONA.

Many answers puzzled or surprised me today. I thought a plumb line was one that hung taut, and I thought a BOB (28A: End of a plumb line) was something that floated on top of the water when Opie fished with his Pa in Mayberry. I know ASSISI as the home of St. Francis and his sister Claire, not as an embroidery-crazy burg (26A: Italian town known for its embroidery). I don't even want to tell you the various answers I contemplated for 19A: Plug in a travel kit (adapter). I'll just say that I took "travel kit" to mean "toiletry bag," and leave it at that. I did not know LUNA (6D: _____ 9, first spacecraft to land softly on the moon), though I will say it is aptly, if unimaginatively, named. Also didn't know BILL HUDSON (77D: Rock guitarist once married to Goldie Hawn), but my wife pointed out that if you know who Hawn's daughter is, the last name shouldn't pose any trouble. I'd forgotten that little bit of helpful trivia. Don't know what TOYLAND is (66D: In song, "Once you pass its borders, you can ne'er return again), but it sounds a lot like Dante's "Inferno." I thought Purcell composed "Dido & Aeneas" ... and he did ... just not the version in question: 43D: Composer of "Dido and Aeneas" (Arne). I've seen ANTOINE in my puzzle before (123A: Artist Watteau), but what the @#$# is LADY DAY (53D: March 25, in the Christian calendar)? No, wait, I retract the question. Instead, I'll tell you who LADY DAY is. Enjoy.

My wife would like to contest the validity of 52A: Subj. for bilinguals (ESL). Her contention is that you take ESL in order to become bilingual. I think "bilingual" in this clue is being stretched (acceptably) to include only marginally proficient speakers who still need help. Sorry I can't back you up, honey.


  • 35A: Neighborhood next to N.Y.C.'s East Village (NoHo) - total guess, inferred from SoHo.
  • 54A: Like some video, to cable customers (on demand) - a very great and contemporary answer
  • 55A: Warhol's "_____ of Six Self-Portraits" ("A Set") - I believe the last time we saw A SET it was clued in relation to the number six as well. Alliteration is very hard to resist.
  • 75A: Muscle mag displays (bods) - one of my least favorite words. Ever. Much prefer PECS to BODS.
  • 77A: Semitic deity (Baal) - he's in "Paradise Lost," briefly, so I know him.
  • 82A: Alexander Hamilton's last act (duel) - this made me laugh out loud. Is that wrong?
  • 108A: Global currency org. (IMF) - International Monetary Fund
  • 110A: 2003 best-selling fantasy novel by teen author Christopher Paolini ("Eragon") - in one of those weird puzzle coincidences we all have from time to time, I went to my friend's yard sale yesterday and she was getting rid of this book. So it was fresh on my mind.
  • 113A: Beethoven's third (drei) - ugh, good one. I wanted ... E. EEEE? Something to do with the third letter in Beethoven's name. I'm putting on "Eroica" now. Ah, that's better.
  • 119A: New Jersey city, county or river (Passaic) - I know next to nothing about N.J. but I've heard this name enough for it to be very familiar.
  • 4D: Attire with supersized pockets (cargo pants) - I thought "supersized" was reserved for a bygone type of McDonald's meal.
  • 8D: Chairman's supporter? (Maoist) - great clue.
  • 11D: Programme airer, with "the" (Beeb) - BBC. We've seen this a few times in the past year, I think.
  • 12D: Knee sock material (orlon) - god I hate this material - mainly because I keep getting myself into puzzle-constructing jams where ORLON is the only way out. I've done three or four grids and I feel like ORLON ... as well as UTES ... has been (or tried to be) in every one.
  • 16D: Edwards and others: Abbr. (AFBs) - for the second day in a row, I wanted SENS and was wrong. Air Force Bases.
  • 38D: "The Allegory of Love" writer, 1936 (C.S. Lewis) - I really should have known this, but KEG (for WIG) screwed me up badly.
  • 81D: 1998 Sarah McLachlan hit ("Adia") - The last decade has produced a few enduring crossword answers. This is one of them (see also ALERO, ALITO, OBAMA, etc.)
  • 98D: Castle and Cara (Irenes) - it saddens me to realize that IRENE Cara is no longer a gimme for many people. She's been around That Long.
  • 104D: "Romanzero" poet (Heine) - the German poet with the useful crossword name. He's in puzzles all out of proportion to his world-wide fame (I see him way more than GUNTERGRASS, way more than GOETHE, etc.)
  • 120D: Disco guy on "The Simpsons" (Stu) - few things make me happier, puzzle-wise, than a tertiary "Simpsons" character. Recent "Onion" puzzle had ["Me fail English? That's unpossible" quotee] as a clue (answer = RALPH Wiggum, another "Simpsons" character). I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I used to have that exact quotation in my email signature file.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, May 24, 2008 - Charles Barasch (BEER BRAND SINCE 1842)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

This puzzle had the "-Challenging" part appended to its rating based on my harrowing experience in the SW corner, where, despite an abundance of E's and R's, I couldn't get four different answers to work. Neither of the Downs, and two of the Acrosses. Two primary problems. Well three. First, I'd never heard of SCHAEFER (32D: Beer brand since 1842), so that didn't help. But I didn't know Lots of stuff in this puzzle, so in and of itself, not knowing SCHAEFER = no big deal. Second, the "with" in the clue 33D: One with a duty (taxpayer). I had TAX-A-ER and wanted only TAX-TAKER (the opposite of TAXPAYER), even though it didn't seem like a very good word. This brings us to my main problem - 52A: Long gone. Had the ---ORE and wanted only NO MORE ... only I had IT'S LOVE for 35D: Song from Bernstein's "Wonderful Town" (a guess, but a correct one, it turns out), which made NO MORE impossible. Instead, I was faced with O--ORE. And I ran through the alphabet a few times and then tried ON phrases. OF phrases seemed really unlikely, so I didn't even run through those til very very late in the game. And Y is very near the end of the alphabet. OF YORE. It's actually a pretty good clue, [Long gone]. Sure fooled me.

I should say that I liked this puzzle a lot, much more than yesterday's. It was tough and interesting and full of lively and clever answers. I liked it despite never having heard of five different answers (all Downs, strangely):

  • OSTINATO (10D: Repeated musical phrase)
  • UNIATE (2D: Certain Christian)
  • BLAS (48D: Gulf of San _____ (Caribbean Sea inlet))
  • LOME (49D: West African capital)

OK, I might have heard of those last two, but I certainly couldn't call them up - they were just floating bits of lost trivia in my brain.

The only iffy thing about the puzzle is an over-reliance on odd jobs and comparative suffixes ... just ER (or IOR) words in general:

  • IOR (19D: Super finish?)
  • DEWIER (14D: More innocent)
  • WISER (29A: More likely to be fresh)
  • SLASHER (12D: Horror movie character) - not that I don't love this answer. Early in the puzzle, when I had FASSAD where FAISAL belongs (15A: Mideast royal name), the only answer that seemed to fit here was ED ASNER.
  • LATTER (30A: Second)
  • GUESSER (1A: One taking a shot)

Then of course there's the bottom of the puzzle - I don't think I've seen R's and E's and S's and D's in such high concentration in a late-week puzzle. SEERESS (57A: Girl with a future?) is almost as bad a crutchword as REASSESSES (despite being a perfectly good word). Thankfully, the puzzle was strong enough that its strong reliance on E's and R's didn't feel cheap. The overall pay-off was worth it.

Bonus material:

  • 17A: Second in court? (Asst. D.A.) - a real lifeline in the NW, and helped confirm one of my favorite answers in the puzzle: FAT WALLET (15D: It's stuffed with dough).
  • 18A: Like a family man (married with kids) - great answer, and somehow pairs nicely with LEAD A DOUBLE LIFE (46A: Be like Clark Kent). Throw in FAT WALLET and ERRED (56A: Went off) and GUN MAN (1D: One taking a shot) and MAFIAS (41D: They have family units) and you have a great crime story on your hands.
  • 20A: First volume heading starter (A to) - despite having seen this kind of cluing before, it took me Forever to understand what the clue wanted.
  • 21A: "To you, Antonio, _____ the most": Shak. ("I owe") - total guess. What else could it be?
  • 23A: Pitch between columns (newspaper ad) - briefly thought this had something to do with cricket, then remembered the age-old use of "pitch" as a misdirection on clues related to advertising.
  • 32A: Cy Young had a record 815 (starts) - this is where I started. I put in LOSSES and then thought "you know, 815 seems awfully high ..."
  • 34A: One of the Blues Brothers (Elwood) - great answers. Loved the "Blues Brothers" movie as a kid. One of the first R-rated movies I saw in the theater.
  • 37A: Counterpart of "pls" ("thx") - online shorthand for "thanks" - I'd be surprised if this didn't throw a number of people today.
  • 38A: What most couples try to have together (quality time) - a phrase normally used for time with your kids ... and a stupid concept in general (but that's a discussion for someone else's blog)
  • 43A: Slow runner in the woods (sap) - really hard for me to get because of the whole TAXTAKER brouhaha.
  • 45A: '60s theater ('Nam) - theater of war.
  • 55A: Deli sandwich material (ham salad) - the last "salad" I would consider for my sandwich.
  • 4D: Restaurant business bigwig (Shor) - Should have made those of you who learned his name only two days ago very happy.
  • 6D: Real estate agent on "Desperate Housewives" (Edie) - "Desperate Housewives" is the new "Ally McBeal" and it must die, at least in my puzzle.
  • 25D: Area of interest to Archimedes (pi r squared) - brazen! I was thinking "did Archimedes care about AIR? ... FIR? ... FIRST something? ..."
  • 27D: Zoologist's foot (pes) - Latin. See also ESSE (50D: Ovidian infinitive)
  • 39D: Tzimmes (ado) - HA ha. Hilariously, this was a gimme for me.
  • 47D: Illustrator of "Paradise Lost" and "The Divine Comedy" (Dore) - about as far up my alley as you can go.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, May 23, 2008 - Patrick John Duggan (MEMORABLE "MARATHON MAN" QUERY)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

This is a decent puzzle. I don't have strong feelings about it. Beyond LEIBNIZ (51A: Philosopher who coined the phrase "the best of all possible worlds") and perhaps JUJITSU (35A: Literally, "art of softness"), there aren't many memorable parts - I expect Friday and Saturday puzzles to burst with sizzling words and phrases, and there aren't many today. There are, however, a lot of colloquial phrases, which normally I love, but today's felt pretty ordinary and occasionally a little flimsy. I am sure that a "buyer" might in fact say "MAY I SEE?" (26D: Potential buyer's question), but doesn't this just open up anything anyone might say to anyone? Potential donut-eater's question: ANY GLAZED LEFT? Confused manager's question: WHO'S UP? Potential driver's question: AM I TOO DRUNK? Etc. Then there's a phrase like SO THEN ... (15A: "Anyway, after that..."), which also seems to push the limits of phrase solidity. ON LATE (43D: Like postmidnight TV shows) is a common enough expression, but still lacks a certain answer-worthiness - I think you could get away with it in a puzzle without a lot of half-baked phrases, but this one's kind of loaded with them. Then there's the other end of the odd-phrase spectrum - the movie quote from a movie that (while good, and memorable for many reasons) is not iconic enough to quote from in a puzzle: "IS IT SAFE?" (18A: Memorable "Marathon Man" query). I remember the running, and especially the drilling, but not this question. I'm sure it's central to the film, I'm just saying I've *seen* the film and *I* don't remember it. The majority of people solving today will Not have seen this film (that's a guess, but probably not a bad one). I want so badly to love IS IT SAFE?, since I normally dig pop cultury stuff like that - but no luck. The puzzle all fits together fine, nothing about it is terrible or even particularly bad - it just left me a little cold.

Again, I loved LEIBNIZ. I thought that quotation about "the best of all possible" worlds was from Voltaire's "Candide" - maybe something Dr. Pangloss would have said. Took me a while to get LEIBNIZ - needed the "Z" from ZONE (52D: Man-to-man alternative), which is a kind of basketball defense, in case you didn't know. The top of the puzzle has some wonderful whimsical elements (and I rarely use "wonderful" and "whimsical" in such close proximity to each other). WHOVILLE (7A: Dr. Seuss story setting) is where all the WHOS live in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." As for MR. TOAD, whom I've seen in my puzzle before - clued in relation to his WILD RIDE @ Disney World/Land - I loved the clue for him today; if you want to make me happy, just use the word "fop" (17A: Fop in "The Wind in the Willows"). Also loved the clue on HEAP (5D: Bucket of bolts). Perfect.

Crappy TV provided two gimmes for me today. I got IVS for 11D: "Grey's Anatomy" hookups despite my never having seen more than 5 minutes of the show. I guess the clue was trying to be cute about the fact that people on that show have sex indiscriminately (different meaning of "hookup"). I like to think of "Grey's Anatomy" as "E.R. - XTREME!" or "E.R. Nights" or "E.R. Ice" or "Dry" or "One" or some other tag that screams "Ersatz." Patrick Dempsey is handsome, though, I will give you that. He was good in "Enchanted," though not nearly as good as Amy Adams (but then few people are). I know Patrick Dempsey from "Can't Buy Me Love," but I grew up so deep in the 80s that they are only now beginning to extricate me. The other TV clue that saddened me was 30D: Three-time Emmy-winning game show host (Sajak). You get Emmys for that? Wow. Wow. Scorsese has to wait til he's practically dead to win an Oscar, but Sajaks using Emmys for paperweights. OK.

Other considerations:

  • 19A: Réunion, for one (ile) - I guess there's an island named "Réunion" that nobody told me about. Now I know.
  • 20A: One of a French literary trio (Porthos) - sticking with French for a moment ... the other mouseketeers, in case you ever need to know them, are ATHOS and ARAMIS (also a cologne from the 70s/80s, if I remember correctly).
  • 22A: National Do Not Call Registry org. (FTC) - alphabet soup! I had FCC here for a bit.
  • 23A: 1987 Costner role (Ness) - "The Untouchables" might be my favorite Costner film, even over "Bull Durham." Once he hits the 90s, it's all downhill.
  • 25A: Like a wet blanket (no fun) - I wavered on this one, but came down on the side of liking it. It's concise - feels like an actual, self-contained expression.
  • 30A: Reddish-brown gems (sards) - ugliest-sounding gems of them all, which I'm sure I've said before, but here it is again.
  • 31A: "If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer?," e.g. (one-liner) - hey, NOT FUNNY fits too.
  • 34A: Celebratory cry ("We did it!") - again, wavered, then decided it was OK. Seems like you could switch out the pronoun for any other pronoun ... but WE DID IT probably comes in second, validity-wise, to I DID IT, so fine.
  • 40A: Popular teen hangout, once (soda shop) - so proud of myself, and happy, in a "Happy Days" kind of way, when I wrote in MALT SHOP! I also had WAVES for TIDES (28D: Destroyers of many castles) and SENS for VETS (10D: Kerry and McCain, e.g.).
  • 49A: Where you can find hammers and anvils (ear) - what is it with ear anatomy and the puzzle? It's got so many parts that are also names for other things (I guess they probably get their names from those other things, e.g. drum).
  • 54A: 1989 film set in an inner-city high school ("Lean On Me") - Morgan Freeman and a baseball bat.
  • 1D: It was shipwrecked in 1964 somewhere in the South Pacific (S.S. Minnow) - Can you clue a fictional shipwreck as if it happened in real time (1964)? I guess you can.
  • 4D: Le Duc _____ (Nobel Peace Prize refuser) (Tho) - I prefer this THO to the abbreviation of "though" THO.
  • 9D: Constellation with the star Betelgeuse (Orion) - You could have stopped this clue at "Constellation" for all the good the rest of the clue did me.
  • 21D: Doctor often seen on writers' bookshelves (Roget) - never owned a thesaurus in my life. Always thought of them as crutches (though I can see how they could be useful in any number of pinches).
  • 35D: Title girl in a 1958 hit by the Playmates (Jo-Ann) - wow, this song is Painful. I listened to "oldies" stations all through high school and never ran into this song.
  • 38D: Popular boxing venue (UPS Store) - Oh, that's right, they have STOREs now. "Boxing venue." Cute.
  • 40D: Military construction crew (Seabees) - I'd like to thank the puzzle for introducing me to these folks. Really helped in the "Oklahoma" portion of the grid, which I had real trouble getting into from the SW. Ended up having to come at it from the SE.
  • 44D: Furniture cover (primer) - at some point in some furniture's lives. . . yes.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, May 22, 2008 - Richard Silvestri (HARPERS FERRY RAIDER)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: O-MEN (38D: Sign ... or a description of the answers to the six starred clues?) - 6 guys with O's - and no other vowels - in their names

This theme raised from ho-hum to semi-interesting by the sheer number of O-MEN that get crammed into the grid. I'm imagining the master list contained a good deal more than 6 names - it's hard to get the whole intersecting theme answer thing to work out just right. The MEN in question vary in popularity, from the marginal TOM POSTON and ROB MORROW ("Numb3rs," ugh) to the legendary DON KNOTTS and BJORN BORG, giving the grid a quirky overall personality that's actually kind of charming. I finished this one quickly, and was irked, if not ired, to see the heretofore unknown to me COTS UP at 50D: Misbehaves. I'd already had to suffer through one word I didn't now - PALTER (44A: Be deceitful) - so COTS UP really stuck in my craw ... until I changed it to CUTS UP, which makes much more (i.e. some) sense. I had no idea that a TUN (57A: 252-gallon unit) was a specific unit of measure. I thought it was just, like, a giant URN for wine.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: *Five-time Wimbledon winner (Bjorn Borg)
  • 24A: *"Numb3rs star" (Rob Morrow)
  • 51A: *Harpers Ferry raider (John Brown)
  • 64A: *"Newhart" actor (Tom Poston)
  • 3D: *Famed restaurateur (Toots Shor) - one of my very favorite xword names. I was born too late for his name to mean anything to me, but I learned of him in a puzzle a little over a year ago, and I've loved him ever since.
  • 36D: *Co-star of "The Andy Griffith Show" (Don Knotts)

Any theme-heavy puzzle is going to have a few groaners. I'll point them out without castigation. First, ESTAB. (15A: Founded: Abbr.). You see ESTD. a lot in puzzles, clued often as an abbrev. on building cornerstones. ESTAB ... is a bit long and ugly for an abbrev. Then there's EMER (67A: Part of E.M.T.), which is acceptable, though you'd steer around this kind of thing if you had any choice. NEGEB (8D: Region of Israel: Var.) is one of the more painful Var.iants I've run across. Are there other V-to-B Var.iants? Maybe NEGEB is a common spelling to some, but I've only ever seen NEGEV. The answer that hurt the most was probably UTWO (68A: Classic spy plane), which took me many seconds just to parse correctly. U2. I'm really against spelling out numbers in a letter+number phrase when you'd never (outside the grid) see it written that way. The GEIGHT? UBFORTY? I don't know... Finally there's KNOT (62D: Speed unit). In a puzzle with - and right next to - KNOTTS. . . . [cough]


  • 9A: Party to a Highland fling? (lass) - had no idea what this clue was about, or why it was trying to be so fancy. Is a "Highland fling" something that has a specific meaning? Is it a whiskey drink? Hmmm, it's just a dance ... which makes me wonder why the clue is question-mark-worthy.
  • 23A: Reggae relative (ska) - I love SKA almost as much as SHOR. I think I love all three-letter words with K's in them: AUK, ASK, KEA, etc.
  • 29A: Card game whose name is called out during play (Uno) - was I supposed to guess GIN here? I didn't.
  • 47A: Howard in shorts (Moe) - too clever. Creepy clever. Please don't force me to contemplate the Three Stooges in their underwear.
  • 7D: Silent film star (Harpo) - Marx Bros. and Three Stooges in same puzzle. This puzzle screams "lonely man over 50." (I kid ...)
  • 69A: Catfish Row denizen (Bess) - mmm, denizen ... from the musical (Wikipedia says "opera") "Porgy & Bess." I don't know it well. But one thing I do know: Nina Simone rules.
  • 11D: "The _____ Report" (1998 reading) (Starr) - wanted HITE but it wouldn't fit. Not sure which "Report" has more sex.
  • 25D: Haircut that's short on the top and sides and long in back (mullet) - I believe the phrase is "Business up front, party in the back."
  • 27D: Orly : Paris :: Gardermoen : _____ (Oslo) - piece of cake. Even if you don't know it, you really only need one cross or so to eliminate most plausible 4-letter European cities.
  • 53D: "Sun Valley Serenade" star, 1941 (Henie) - the ice-skater? This one was a total mystery to me.
  • 54D: One of an old drive-in double feature, maybe (oater) - Can't get enough of this word. OATERs were popular in TOOTS SHOR's day.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, May 21, 2008 - Dave Mackey (BAND WITH THE 1987 SINGLE "DEAR GOD")

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Make-up - five theme answers feature cosmetics-related words used in non-cosmetics-related context

First, BLUSH and ROUGE are the same thing. I repeat - same thing. Further - same thing.

Second, OAK TAG (66A: Poster stock)??? I think you have to troll A.C. Moore or Michael's or some other artsy craftsy store a lot to know WTF this is. I'm surprised this passed the sniff test. I see that it's been used in at least two puzzles in recent years. That does not mean it should ever be used again.

Third, TAG is in the clue for AS IS (40D: Tag sale proviso)

Third, this puzzle needed a [6-letter word] SHADOW answer. Weird to have 2 words begin with makeup words and then three words end with it. ROUGE would have been easy in the same amount of space: MOULIN ROUGE. SHADOW ... a lot tougher.

So despite an impressive number of theme squares, this puzzle felt really rough to me. I have to say, however, that I am very sympathetic to the roughness. The difficulty level for filling a puzzle rises exponentially when you have so many long theme answers. Some day I will illustrate this by showing you two different grids I did for a puzzle - one with four long theme answers and a short central fifth, the other (same theme, basically) with five long theme answers. I am partial to the latter, as completing it felt like a greater accomplishment, but objectively, the fill in the former is smoother overall.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Solitaire card game (rouge et noir) - I didn't know this. I know this phrase from the Stendhal novel, and possibly from roulette.
  • 24A: Pugs in gyms, at times (shadow boxers) - "Pugs" is one of my least favorite slang terms. Pugs are dogs. Pugilists are boxers.
  • 37A: Good thing to build on (solid foundation)
  • 50A: Initially (at first blush)
  • 59A: Cunard fleet member (luxury liner) - no idea what "Cunard fleet" is. I'm just out of sync with this puzzle today. Completely.

I had one mistake in this puzzle, which was kind of funny. Without even blinking I put in ARCH for 68A: Kind of support. This gave me UAR for 60D: Mideast federation: Abbr. - which, by the way, is not wrong. UAR is reasonably common crossword fill. So I was irked at the stupid answer ARMLEA for 47D: Decorative band. "It's a meadow ... for your arm!" Not sure what finally clued me in, but I fixed it before I went desperately looking for ARMLEAs on the internets.


  • 19A: Sapphic work (ode) - You're never going to get to use her to clue LESBIAN, so why not bring her out for ODE. You could get LESBOS into a puzzle, though, I'm pretty sure (cruciverb says 'yes'). Maybe I'll try that.
  • 28A: Forcefully, in music (furioso) - shouldn't there be a rule about how many times you can go to musical score terminology in one puzzle? We already have LENTO (7D: Slowly, on a score). FURIOSO could have been clued via Ariosto's 16th-century epic "Orlando FURIOSO."
  • 44A: Gentle opening? (soft G) - I am soooo on the lookout for this kind of crap that I didn't hesitate for one second here.
  • 45D: Quebec's southern neighbors (états) - I thought they were called "les ETATS Unis."
  • 53A: 1983 Keaton comedy ("Mr. Mom") - Mmm, Teri Garr. The Laura Linney of my youth.
  • 58A: Word repeated in the "Whiffenpoof Song" refrain (baa) - no idea. Again, this puzzle and I are from different planets. Again, I have to ask, why is a puzzler required to know so damned much about Yale? It's kind of sickening.
  • 12D: Good Samaritan (aider) - I kill words like this. Maybe I'd get more grids done if I let in words that hurt my ears. I would let in AIDER if it got me, say, KATZENJAMMER crossing ELVGREN. Otherwise, no.
  • 28D: Something to kick up (fuss) - I know this is picky, but you kick up "A" FUSS. Just reads wrong without the indefinite article.
  • 35D: Off-Broadway's "_____ Baltimore" (Hot L) - total, complete, utter crutch word. Again, notice how provincial the puzzle is. It is completely regionally self-indulgent. HOT L is the new new RELO.
  • 36D: "A Loss of Roses" playwright (Inge) - I see "playwright" in four letters and it's AGEE or INGE. I like the idea that millions of people know these guys' names from crosswords, and yet hardly any of said people could name more than one play by either. INGE and AGEE and ODETS will live forever on the strength of their particular vowel/consonant configurations. At least I can name a play by Odets ("Waiting for Lefty"). I had a teacher once who looked eerily like Clifford ODETS.
  • 48D: Astigmatic's view (blur) - I forget if the thing I have is an astigmatism or some other anomaly. I just know that one of my lenses is TORIC! (awesome crossword word)
  • 61D: Band with the 1987 single "Dear God" (XTC) - the one part of this puzzle that hits me where I live. This song is off the album "Skylarking," which is one of the most important albums of my life - on my personal Top Ten list, easy. "Dear God" is about the least interesting thing on it (too caught up in juvenile cynicism), despite being the only song on the album that anyone's likely to know. I love that the puzzle included "Dear God," however, because I'm pretty sure it would not pass the breakfast test for some readers (unless you like a wholesale denunciation of God with your cereal). Ready? 1-2-3 ... Culture War! (just kidding):

Dear god,
Hope you got the letter,
And I pray you can make it better down here.
I don't mean a big reduction in the price of beer,
But all the people that you made in your image,
See them starving on their feet,
cause they dont get enough to eat

From god,
I can't believe in you.

Dear god,
Sorry to disturb you,
But I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in amount of tears,
And all the people that you made in your image,
See them fighting in the street,
cause they cant make opinions meet,
About god,
I can't believe in you.

Did you make disease, and the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind after we made you?
And the devil too!

Dear god,
Don't know if you noticed,
But your name is on a lot of quotes in this book.
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,
And all the people that you made in your image,
Still believing that junk is true.
Well I know it ain't and so do you,
Dear god,
I can't believe in,
I don't believe in,

I won't believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners,
No devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
Youre always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
Those lost at sea and never found,
And its the same the whole world round.
The hurt I see helps to compound,
That the father, son and holy ghost,
Is just somebodys unholy hoax,
And if youre up there youll perceive,
That my heart's here upon my sleeve.
If there's one thing I don't believe in...

Its you,
Dear god.
Did I mention that a child sings the opening part? It's a nice touch.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: [@#$!]-ing animal puns

The theme is what it is. Cute. Not terribly coherent. Given all the reasons I've heard for puzzles being rejected, I'm kinda surprised that LYNX got in there, in that it creates a plural where all the other answers are singular (yes, that can most definitely be a deal-breaker in some cases with some editors, if my sources are telling the truth). Andrea, wasn't that one of the reasons your HEATH puzzle (which appeared in the LAT yesterday) was multiply rejected? Because of Tim MEADOWS? Anyway, I don't think the odd plural is that big a deal. I wish there was more payoff in the non-theme fill, instead of blechhy stuff like IRED (37A: Teed off) and an "H"-containing MYNAHS (25D: Chatty avians). [ is not responding right now, or I would check on the comparative frequency of MYNA and MYNAH] WEE LAD (30D: Li'l fellow) is a bit grating to my ears, but it's so unusual and original that today, it's a high point.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Antlered salon employee? (styling moose)
  • 31A: Lost bobcat? (missing lynx)
  • 45A: Wildebeest who doesn't spare the rod? (spanking gnu) - good clue
  • 52A: Unwelcome porcine party attendee? (crashing boar)

Though most of today's fill is quite ordinary, there are a few highlights. MOE isn't especially noteworthy as an answer (especially when it's not clued via "The Simpsons"), but the clue here is fantastic: 25A: Curly poker. I like that the clue on WORLD was not (to me) a gimme. Perfectly apt, but quite vague when you don't have any or many crosses: 4D: Word before class or war. My wife and I do the xword in The Listener (NZ) and they frequently have clues like "Word that can appear before blah, blah, or blah," and I am Terrible at that kind of clue. 9 times out of 10 my wife comes up with the answer first. As you know, I cannot get enough HOBO in my puzzle, so I enjoyed 14A: Boxcar hopper. I'm not normally a cheerleader for foreign words, but for some reason SUISSE really lights up today's puzzle (28D: Geneve's land). Of course I may just be feeling self-satisfied because my French came in handy. That happens. EXPATS is a fun word to say (27D: Nationals living abroad, informally). For some reason, my brain is trying to clue the word in question-marky fashion: [Former Summitt namesakes?].


  • 23A: Woodworker's groove (dado) - I'm becoming alarmed at how frequently I am seeing this word. OK, so it's only once every several months, but with a word like DADO, that feels like a lot. I'd like to ask constructors to back off. I don't want to see this word become the new RELO.
  • 34A: Heebie-jeebies (unease) - a dull answer to a lively clue.
  • 50A: Broadway musical with the song "Will I?" ("Rent") - saw it, forgot it. Maybe my next taste of Broadway will be better ...
  • 57A: Crawfish's home (bayou) - Good clue, colorful word.
  • 66A: European deer (roes) - did not know there were particularly European, though I feel as if I've typed those very words before...
  • 8D: Showy blooms (begonias)
  • 9D: Prom accessory (corsage) - nice combo. Would anyone ever wear a BEGONIA as a CORSAGE?
  • 35D: Yemeni port (Aden) - first, I get ADEN and OMAN confused (stupid, I know). Second, I have a weird aversion to both words, from a crossword standpoint. I know I will have to use one or both eventually, but I'm trying to keep stuff that screams "crosswordiness" to a minimum.
  • 44D: Pulmonary organ (lung) - I have no idea why the word "pulmonary" is fascinating me this morning. Maybe my brain is just massively dissatisfied with the words it has available to it this morning. Actually, I think my brain is just preoccupied with this:

Jon Lester, cancer survivor, throws no-hitter at Fenway vs. Kansas City Royals - Red Sox win 7-0

Thanks to Matt for sending me the text message that allowed me to catch the final three outs.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP