Aussie with purple hair and ornate glasses - FRIDAY, Oct. 31, 2008 - Jim Page (1977 memoir set at Harvard / Nazareth native, e.g.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: "Easy does it!" - OK, it's not really a "theme," but two 15-letter answers that share this clue intersect in the middle of the puzzle

I got battered around in the Seattle region. Just pummeled. And that's *with* ADAM WEST as a gimme (1D: Actor voicing the mayor on "Family Guy"), and ADOPT solidly in place (1A: Take in). Those answers gave me first letters of Every Clue In The NW, and still - face plant. Two of my problems were (shocking) names, and another was MERE MORTAL (19A: Ordinary human being), which I *wanted* to be a name, like JOE SIXPACK or something (I did this shortly after the VP debate, I think). Never ever ever heard of this DAVIES person (14A: Companion of Hearst at San Simeon castle), and I have been to Hearst Castle on a tour, though I was probably 10 when that happened, and I doubt the tour lingered long on Mr. Hearst's "companions" with a bunch of 5th-graders. Marion DAVIES is her name. I know very well who DAME EDNA is, but could not see him/her for the life of me. I don't remember the hair as purple. I thought the answer was going to be some kind of symbol or icon (like the Pillsbury Doughboy only ... Aussie). Or else Yahoo Serious.

Ugh. UGH. ADAM WEST next to DAME EDNA will likely make the name-haters scream. Today, I will be sympathetic. DAVIES! The other serious knot in this puzzle was a single square, so I guess it wasn't really a "knot" - just a potential NATICK violation that surprised me a bit. I speak of the crossing of BARI (40A: Capital of the Apulia region) and SABRA (29D: Nazareth native, e.g.) at the "R". I had heard of BARI before (crosswords!) and the "R" was the only letter that sounded right there, so, technically, no problem. And yet - this crossing seems harsh. These are Not places / names that are even reasonably well known to most Americans. Calling BARI a "capital" of anything, however accurate on a technical level, is just harsh. It's the Achilles Heel of Italy. That is how I will remember it from now on. Undoubtedly one or the other of these answers was a gimme for many of you, but even though I got the answer right, I have to step back and wonder if Joe the Solver had a real shot at this one. You'll let me know, I'm sure.

Another malapop today, as I wanted EARN at 1A: Take in, but it wouldn't fit ... and then I ran into 34D: Win (earn). This phenomenon is more common than I would have imagined had someone (!) not bothered to name it.

Naughty / Nice:

  • 16A: Like friendship bracelets (hand-made) - O ... K. Seems a very odd way to clue this.
  • 17A: Dualistic deity (Amen Ra) - Wanted AMON RA. Not sure why. This clue has been used for this answer before.
  • 21A: Z preceder (A to) - well, that's rough. Wonder if anyone put WXY in the grid.
  • 23A: Big exporter of diamonds: Abbr. (Isr.) - those SABRAs love their diamonds.
  • 24A: Black Forest resort (Baden) - wrote in ARDEN. Shakespeare!
  • 26A: Maestro _____ de Waart (Edo) - see also the only slightly less weirdly named MUTI (51D: Longtime La Scala music director)
  • 42A: "Good Guys Wear Black" star, 1978 (Norris) - gimme! Many things about the year my parents got divorced are Exceedingly Vivid. I think I repressed home life and IMPRESSED pop culture onto my brain.
  • 45A: Golfer Aoki (Isao) - needs to be a Gimme for you if it isn't already. Ditto "ONE L" (8D: 1977 memoir set at Harvard). In fact, I've recently noticed that many permutations of "ONE L" are common crossword fill. All these are worth knowing:


Strangely, LEON is far less common than the rest, perhaps because with that L and N placement, you can make a lot of other words if you're a constructor, but -N-L really narrows your choices.

  • 54A: Literally, "sheltered harbor" (Honolulu) - cinch. Had the terminal "U" ... what else was it gonna be?
  • 60A: Far from macho (sissyish) - your made-up word of the day. I prefer "sissified."
  • 61A: Cultural doings in Cadiz (artes) - Cultural doings in the BARRIO (24D: Chicago's Little Village, e.g.) might also have worked, right? Why does a Chicago BARRIO have an Anglo name? And more importantly ... do they have Little Village People? (I know you're expecting "Macho Man" here, but ... I can't pass up THIS...)

  • 5D: Stretch in a seat (term) - proud of myself for nailing this off the "T"; wanted LIMO, but then I read the clue more carefully.
  • 7D: Sammy nicknamed "The Red Rocker" (Hagar) - this calls for a video. Oh, ouch, this is painfully pure 80s. Remember when MTV had VJs? I do:

  • 9D: Year Marcian became emperor (CDL) - who knows? Marcian, Marcian, Marcian!
  • 11D: Open-sided porch (Ramada) - I have never seen a RAMADA Inn that was "open-sided." False advertising!
  • 13D: Sisters of Charity founder and family (Setons) - total guess.
  • 28D: Ballpark concessionaire's offerings (sodas) - yes, try calling him a "concessionaire" next time you are at the ballpark. Someone will likely douse you with SODAS. Talk about SISSYISH. "Oh, concessionaire! Might I have one of your carbonated beverages? And perhaps some Grey Poupon for my frankfurter?"
  • 38D: Artemis or Atalanta (huntress) - Huntress is also a (non-super) hero from the DC universe. Daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth-2. Way WAY too long a story.
  • 44D: Capital of the Brittany region (Rennes) - two non-national capitals in one puzzle. That's rough.
  • 53D: Topping on Mediterranean pizza (feta) - tasty gimme
  • 55D: Connecting words in logic (ors) - I have news for you. ORS are "connecting words" whether you are "in logic" or out of it. OR is a conjunction, and with AND and BUT, it gets you pretty far. How do I know? Please...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, Oct. 30, 2008 - Chuck Hamilton (Point Lighthouse, Massachusetts landmark since 1838 / Longtime NBC Olympics host)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy (again)

THEME: DIRECTOR'S SHOUT (56A: What the ends of 20-, 35- and 42-Across are, collectively) - last words in the theme answers are, in order, LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Once again, the difficulty level feels a bit off. I have "feels like Wednesday" scrawled at the top of my puzzle, and I also have "Easy-Medium" written there, but then the medium is scratched out because ... well, I think I was just getting tired of hearing myself say "Easy," so I added the "Medium" for variety, but then checked myself and went back to my honest reaction. I tried to go back and see where some difficulty might lie, and noticed that there aren't a lot of out-and-out gimmes, but neither are there many "!?!?!" answers. It's all very common fill. I mean, EOSIN (which we saw on Tuesday) is rougher than just about anything here. True, there are three "WTF" -type answers (at least there were for me), but all of those were just common enough names clued via people/places outside my purview (or purlieu, which is a word I feel I should start using). In some ways, the theme itself, while clever enough, is very Monday/Tuesday - straightforward, four-part, no gimmicks or tricks or unexpected zigs or zags. A fine few minutes, but I wasn't wowed and I didn't learn much. Oh, no, wait. ODOR is apparently a word that can mean 6D: Repute. I did learn that.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: So-called "fox fires" (Northern LIGHTS) - I have never heard them called this, and this clue is actually much harder than the original, [Night sky feature]
  • 35A: Recording device (video CAMERA) - way better than those audio cameras you hear everyone talking about
  • 42A: Certain lawsuit (class ACTION)

This puzzle has me wondering if Bob COSTAS (4D: Longtime NBC Olympics host) makes PESTO (28D: Penne topper) and eats it with GUSTO (40A: Elan) (and if so, does he use an OSTER - 47A: Kitchen gadget brand). That is a cutesy way of saying this puzzle has a lot of words where the second syllable starts with "ST."

Here are the three WTF answers for the day:

  • 60A: _____ Sailer, three-time 1956 skiing gold medalist (Toni) - I *know* she (she? Nope, it's a he) was just in a puzzle, and yet that didn't help much. My favorite Sailer:

  • 44D: _____ Point Lighthouse, Massachusetts landmark since 1838 (Ned's) - ugh. Overly geographically specific. Made me yearn for the clue [_____ Atomic Dustbin], which I would not have thought possible.
  • 36D: Johnny with the 1958 hit "Willie and the Hand Jive" (Otis) - well, I pretty much *have* to hear/see what that sounds/looks like (uh, speaking of sailors, what are those dancers wearing?):

The rest:

  • 1A: Fruit variety with a sweet-spiced flavor (bosc) - to my knowledge, I have never had a BOSC pear, nor do I know any of its defining features; why, then, was BOSC the first thing to come to my mind when I saw this clue? (likely answer: "variety" + four letters ... brain retrieves word from store of likely crosswordy words, and there you go)
  • 16A: Geological range (aeon) - tricky clue, I guess. Had me thinking "mountains" for a bit.
  • 25A: Penicillin target (strep) - had STAPH
  • 49A: Who's creator (Seuss) - a gimme ... right? That, or you thought there was a typo and the clue was incomplete
  • 52A: List in an insurance report, maybe (dents) - Was not aware that one made an actual "dent list."
  • 61A: "See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!" speaker (Romeo) - just finished teaching this and it Still wasn't a gimme. We were oddly focused on the Friar for most of our discussion.
  • 64A: "Mi Chiamano Mimi" and others (arias) - Italilan song = ARIA unless I'm forced to think otherwise.
  • 21D: Modern show shower (HDTV) - this clue smells like yesterday's puzzle
  • 26D: European capital (Riga) - For reasons I don't understand, RIGA is my favorite European capital (as a name, not as a place - I haven't been there)
  • 39D: Record follower, at times (asterisk) - first Maris, now Bonds
  • 54D: Socratic student (tutee) - reclued from [Special student], which sounded all kinds of wrong to me. Not sure this one is entirely accurate (usually the "method" is Socratic), but it's at least an improvement.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


WEDNESDAY, Oct. 29, 2008 - Steven L. Zisser (Trireme tool / Jerry's sitcom neighbor / Glen Bell's fast food / John who played Gomez Addams)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Relative difficulty: (incredibly) Easy

THEME: (Not-so-) Great Vowel (Sound) Shift - theme clues require that you read them with "OH" instead of expected "OW" sound in the words that contain "-OWER"

It's possible that this puzzle was even easier than yesterday's, and yesterday's was easy for a Tuesday. Weird. I'm sure things will turn around later in the week. Puzzle difficulty levels have a way of evening out. Here, the constructor takes a common cluing ploy - the -OWER head fake, where the reader assumes an "OW" pronunciation for the vowel sound when an "OH" sound was intended - and turns it into a puzzle-sustaining theme. I'm lukewarm on the idea, especially considering the execution here. Something about the two plural answers bugs me, especially TEAMS OF HORSES, which feels quite forced.

Theme answers:

  • 16A: Meteor shower (planetarium)
  • 22A: Country bowers (fiddle players)
  • 46A: Farm towers (teams of horses)
  • 56A: South American flower (Amazon River)

I almost want to side with the proper noun-haters today, as the puzzle feels particularly awash in names. We have the matching plural name clues 26A: Fife and Frank (Barneys) and 25D: Bundy and Kaline (Als), and then a bijillion others, most of which I'm too tired to mention. Three of the first five Across clues are names - COSMO (1A: Jerry's sitcom neighbor), ASTIN (13A: John who played Gomez Addams), and the puzzle-friendly Charles READE (14A: "The Cloister and the Hearth" novelist), who is making a very unusual mid-week appearance. I tend to think of him as more of a Fri/Sat guy. That's certainly how I learned his name (ASTIN I learned early-week, and was roundly, publicly mocked for not knowing his name). You know the puzzle is contemporary-minded when NES is clued as "old" (40D: Super _____ (old game product)). "MYST" (21D: Computer game set on an island) is as old as Super NES, but somehow it escaped the "old" moniker (perhaps because versions of it were being made through 2005). I quit playing video games in the mid-90s when it became clear that ... you know how some people have problems with alcohol and sex and drugs and what not? For me, it's video games. I mean, maybe I could enjoy them in moderation, but I doubt it. And my family almost certainly doesn't want to find out.

To clean the COSMO out of my brain and let the (Andy) Kaufman in, I'm going to listen to "Man on the Moon" by R.E.M. (9D: Band with the 1993 hit "Man on the Moon") now, even though it's possibly the worst song on the (fantastic) album "Automatic for the People" (bonus: this song has "ASP" in it):


  • 21A: In romance poetry, a frequent rhyme for June (moon) - hmmm, surprised I didn't catch the "MOON" / "Man on the Moon" word repetition here. Yikes. Sorry, Will. R.E.M. has a million clue-worthy songs, and we go with the one that's got MOON in the title. HA ha.
  • 29A: Suffix with reflex (-ology) - parts of your feet (esp. the soles) are supposed to correspond to your various body parts. It's like ... a pretentious foot rub.
  • 37A: Org. in "Michael Collins" (I.R.A.) - I may have said this, but "Michael Collins" is the worst movie name ever. I remember when it came out, I though "Why not call it 'Stanley Berger' or 'Peter Jones'" - I think the movie-makers thought the public (I) would be far more Irish history savvy than we (I) were (was).
  • 43A: Square thing (meal) - MEAL gets clued via its alleged "square"-ness a lot. A Lot. I'm just sayin'.
  • 59A: Trireme tool (oar) - "Trireme" being one of those words I somehow managed to learn *before* starting to do puzzles. It's stood me in good stead (did I get that phrase right? Feels Wrong)
  • 5D: 1969 Three Dog Night hit ("One") - I'd play it, but I already featured it on a very recent write-up, so (lucky you), you get this instead:

His lower register is Amazing - RAWLS! (14D: "Lady Love" singer Lou)

  • 17D: Like Felix Unger's room (tidy) - "Unger" sounds so dirty that I hesitated here. "Is Felix the TIDY one?" Yes.
  • 26D: Gaucho's weapon (bola) - it has balls
  • 46D: Glen Bell's fast food (tacos) - this one blew me away. You mean the "Bell" in "Taco Bell" is an actual guy. I thought it was just the thing they rang in the old (Mexican) country to let you know that your TACOS were ready. Holy Crap. Glen Bell. Did Not see that coming.
  • 48D: Cowboy who rode Champion (Autry) - there are no more famous cowboys. I know this guy only from legend (like ... Hopalong Cassidy and ... the guy who rode Trigger)
  • 53D: Richard of "Bee Season" (Gere) - really? "Bee Season?" That was a movie? OK, next person who puts GERE in his / her puzzle, I dare you to go deeper than "Bee Season." I want the bottom of GERE's oeuvre. Get on imdb and get to work.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Oct. 28, 2008 - Allan E. Parrish (Norman of the Clinton and Bush cabinets / "Collages" novelist / Grant portrayer on TV)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: DANCING (38A: Activity exemplified in the '60s by the ends of 17-, 28-, 48- and 64-Across) - theme answers end in a kind of dance popular in the '60s

Theme is cool, though DANCING was hard to clue in a way that made sense. Clue originally began ['60's event ...] but that brought to (my) mind only things like Woodstock and Bay of Pigs and Moon Landing, not a generic term like DANCING, so the clue was changed to one I agreed was OK. Thanks to this puzzle, I now have the lyrics from two (thankfully fantastic) songs stuck in my head. Both songs name a litany of '60s dances. The first is Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances":

The next is James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" - in this version, Brown gets really fixated on "The Mashed Potato":

I had a little trouble with the last two theme answers. I balked at CLEAN AND JERK because I don't think I ever heard it clearly in all my years of Summer Olympics watching, and I wasn't sure it wasn't CLING AND JERK. They "cling" to the bar ... no scrubbing bubbles involved. So I just waited for that word to come into view from crosses. Lastly there was BRASS MONKEY, which I know not as a [Rum/vodka cocktail], but as ... this (which apparently is all about the drink ... I clearly wasn't paying attention):

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Dickens lad (Oliver TWIST)
  • 28A: Small equine (Shetland PONY)
  • 48A: Weightlifter's lift (clean and JERK)
  • 64A: Rum/vodka cocktail (Brass MONKEY)

The only potentially tricky spot in the puzzle was MINETA (58A: Norman of the Clinton and Bush cabinets), mainly because another member of the Clinton administration sounds a lot like MINETA but isn't: Leon PANETTA, Clinton's mid-late 90s Chief of Staff. So as I was filling this in, I was thinking "I thought that dude's name was PINETTA." No. Different guy. Here is the (awesome) theme from "Baretta":

Lots of xword names today, some basic:

  • HENIE (14A: Skater-turned actress Sonja)
  • UMA (35A: Thurman of "Gattaca")
  • TOMEI (52A: Oscar winner Marisa)
  • ENIAC (3D: Computer that debuted in 1946)
  • RHEE (18D: South Korea's first president Syngman _____)
  • NAN (31D: Bert Bobbsey's twin sister)

And then some other high-end xword words that you should remember, even if you don't see them That often:

  • EOSIN (26A: Red dye)
  • S.P.A.D. (36A: W.W. I fighter plane) - had never seen this 'til a few weeks ago, and here it is again; that type of thing happens All the time. Return of the S.P.A.D.!
  • LOTTE (68A: Singer/actress Lenya) - she's a little ... scary:


  • 43A: Caesarean rebuke ("Et tu!") - super common, but always throws me when clued in this medical-sounding way
  • 53A: From one side only, in law (ex parte) - great legal phrase, and one I've never seen in a grid. Having a lawyer mother may or may not have helped with this one. "L.A. Law" could just as easily be responsible for my knowing this.
  • 24D: Mount Carmel's locale: Abbr. (Isr.) - My parents live in the non-Israeli Carmel (-by-the-sea). My stepmom is even a city councilperson. For real.
  • 40D: "Collages" novelist (Nin) - NIN is a frequent grid denizen, but I can't remember having seen this particular novel title before.
  • 60D: N.L.R.B. part: Abbr. (Nat'l) - this is funny for at least one reason.

Signed, Rex Parker King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Oct. 27, 2008 - Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake (1690s Massachusetts witch hunt locale)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: SPIN (55D: Twirl ... or a cryptic hint to 20-, 36- and 51-Across) - "SP" goes "IN" to a common answer to make a wacky answer, which is "?"-clued.

Easy, breezy, beautiful, Cover Girl. No problem. Cute. Not one of ACME's more inspired puzzles, but it'll do. I beefed to Will that it's really more SPON than SPIN, in that you tack "SP" "ON" to the beginning of phrases, rather than inserting it "IN." He agreed, and yet I think we both agreed that the placement of "SP" fit under a broad understanding of "IN" - plus SPON, sadly, just isn't a word. I don't have much to say about this puzzle. It did inspire me to put on Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini" while I write this entry, which I am enjoying, so I appreciate the puzzle for that, at least (12D: Instrument for Rachmaninoff - PIANO).

I stumbled only a couple times, appropriately at two uncomfortable answers: GASSY (7D: Bloated, as the stomach) and ON CREDIT (39D: By deferred payment). For whatever reason, neither would come easily. Beyond that, I wondered aloud why the "Real-life" part was necessary in the SFPD clue (31D: Real-life org. seen in "Bullitt"). Will explained that it was to distinguish the answer from fictional org.'s like KAOS. But I don't think there was a fictional org. in "Bullitt." Just handsome Steve McQueen and his badass Mustang.

I also winced at the butchering of END [of] AN ERA (40A: With "of" plus 49-Down, momentous time). Cluing made me want to carry the four and divide by pi. If you can't get the "OF" in the grid, skip it.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Aerosol tanning? (SPray of sunshine)
  • 36A: Tiffany showroom? (SPace of diamonds)
  • 51A: Babble incoherently? (SPutter nonsense)

It occurs to me that this puzzle is a LOT like yesterday's puzzle, where "ST" was added to phrases to get wacky phrases. I won't compare them - Mondays and Sundays are apples and oranges, respectively.


  • 58A: Lerner's partner for "Camelot" (Loewe) - LOEW = theater owner, LOEWE = musical theater composer.

  • 61A: Pesos : Mexico :: _____ : Turkey (liras) - argh, currency. Still weird to me that Turkey has Italy's old currency.
  • 4D: Europe/Atlantic separator, with "the" (Atlantic) - also a fine magazine, to which I subscribe.
  • 22D: 1690s Massachusetts with hunt locale (Salem) - also the cat on "Sabrina the Teenage Witch."
  • 54D: Baseball's Hideo (Nomo) - memorize. N.L. Rookie of the year in 1995. Threw two no-hitters. His name will be in the puzzle forever.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Oct. 26, 2008 - Daniel C. Bryant (Old Indian V.I.P. / Internet initialism / African nation founder Jomo / Milo's title partner in a 1989 film)

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "All Saints' Day" - "ST" is added to familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued (with "?")

I have one word written across my test-solving copy of this puzzle: "painful." Resolving the puzzle last night, I realized that I had to give credit to the theme answers, many of which were bright and funny - I particularly like HOLY STROLLERS, ULTRAVIOLET STRAYS, and WHERE THE BOYS STARE. But the non-theme fill made me wince over and over and over. Most of my responses to Will re: the puzzles are very terse - little corrections or suggestions, and sometimes nothing but "this looks good." But on this day - here is the transcript of my feedback (some of which he listened to). Wait, first, the theme answers:

  • 23A: Switch in an orchestra section? (exchange of STrings)
  • 40A: Pilgrim? (holy STroller)
  • 57A: Neolithic outlaws? (STone-armed bandits)
  • 77A: Invisible lost dogs? (ultraviolet STrays)
  • 96A: Gets fat? (goes all STout)
  • 115A: Go-go club? ("Where the Boys STare")
  • 16D: Add new connections between floors? (put on STairs)
  • 70D: Dieter? (STarch enemy)
OK, now here's my test-solver's response:

Theme answers are just fine - very good in places - but the non-theme fill felt forced throughout. Lots of (to me) obscure or at best marginal proper nouns, odd y-adjectives, and other assorted weirdness. The entire SW feels like it needs a complete rewrite. NAWAB (100D: Old Indian V.I.P.) hasn't appeared in a puzzle in almost a decade - for good reason. I know Bach's Mass in B Minor (125A: Key of Bach's best-known Mass) is super famous (as Masses go), but not giving the solver a reasonable chance at the "B" is harsh. Maybe "B" is the only reasonable guess, but I was leaning "A" for a bit. The letter in a music clue like that should have a reasonable cross.

Other never-heard-ofs:

  • KENYATTA (though I like it) - 104A: African nation founder Jomo _____
  • LACS (Leman is a French lake?) - 79D: Leman and others
  • LEHAR - 4D: Franz who composed "You Are My Heart's Delight"
  • DONATI - 49D: Costume designer Danilo _____
Other comments:
  • SATINY is OK (21A: Smooth and shiny), but then there's LARDY (43D: Loaded with fat)
  • DESERET = Utah? (51D: Another name for 28-Across)
  • EXE is real but feels like lazy fill (114A: Devon river)
  • Don't understand ARR. clue [note: this clue got changed to one I do understand, namely 83A: Sheet music abbr.]
  • How is a TVAD "inside"? (108A: Inside pitch?)
'OME (53A: Kipling's "Follow Me _____") and APLAY (64A: Beckett's "Endgame: _____ in One Act") are just more examples of an overall feel of forcedness. No one of the above answers would be terrible on its own (I don't think). But the cumulative effect is kind of punishing.

Not all BRALESS people "need a lift" (though it's a clever clue - 71D: Needing a lift?) - the idea that women "need" bras might get you some flack.

DERIV = ouch (60D: Word origin: Abbr.)

I thought ALDO RAY was AL DORAY (HA ha) - isn't he more famous for something else? Maybe not. (33D: "The Naked and the Dead" star, 1958) [note: I should add that I had him confused in my head with Mamie Van Doren's erstwhile husband, band leader Ray Anthony]

Don't like clue for NEPALI [clue was changed from 68D: Viewer of the Himalayas to the current, better 68D: Certain Himalayan] - much of the country is *in* the Himalaya range, and "viewer" doesn't seem specific enough (or interesting enough)

Lastly, is STONE-ARMED supposed to mean "armed with stones" or "having arms made of stones?" Either way, it's pretty rough, esp. since most of the other theme answers are so smoooth.

I would post Will's patient and gracious reply, but there are probably copyright issues and plus he always sounds so much more Reasonable than I do, and I really don't want to suffer the comparison this morning. I have to give credit to him as an editor - he genuinely listens to criticism, even if he mostly - and appropriately - sticks to his guns.


  • 10A: Like Arnold Schoenberg's music (atonal) - hmm, let's see. Yes, this sounds like kids noodling with their instruments in the living room ... at least at first:

  • 16A: 1990 Literature Nobelist Octavio _____ (Paz) - never read him, but know the name
  • 38A: Negative north of England (nae!) - exceedingly common; should be a gimme
  • 65A: Crazy Legs Hirsch of the early N.F.L. (Elroy) - Didn't realize a first name was missing, so didn't know what the clue was going for.
  • 68A: How dastards speak (nastily) - I would have said SNIDELY:

  • 72A: Major-league manager Tony (La Russa) - won the World Series recently with the Cards
  • 73A: Be Circe-like (entice) - weird but cool clue
  • 74A: Alfred E. Neuman visages (grins) - I highly recommend Art Spiegelman's "Breakdowns / Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@/*!" - a brilliant comics memoir. I mention this here because there is a big section about the importance of "MAD" magazine to Spiegelman's artistic development.
  • 85A: First Shia imam (Ali) - good, unusual clue for this common answer
  • 95A: Internet initialism (IMHO) - oughta be common to you all by now
  • 111A: Traditional symbol of friendship (topaz) - I had no idea. Also a Hitchcock film.
  • 12D: Milo's title partner in a 1989 film (Otis) - the year "1989" always scares me - what horrid piece of pop culture offal could it be? It's just "Milo and OTIS," which I confuse with "Turner & Hooch" all the time. Difference - dog dies in the latter.
  • 17D: Whitaker played him in a 2006 film (Amin) - he was great / movie was mediocre
  • 24D: Menotti role for a boy soprano (Amahl) - becoming as common as NAE
  • 32D: Curly conker (Moe) - really great clue
  • 36D: Longtime D.C. delegate to Congress _____ Holmes Norton (Eleanor) - hard to clue ELEANOR in a way that is not instantly obvious (i.e. Roosevelt and Rigby are gonna be gimmes no matter how you clue them, probably). So this is an interesting choice of clue.
  • 59D: Gene variant (allele) - managed to hold on to this one from a month or so back when it looked completely alien to me.
  • 69D: Anatomical cavity (antrum) - new, or newish, to me; feels like it might have been in a puzzle recently. Anyway, I pieced it together.
  • 80D: American suffragist honored with a 1995 stamp (Alice Paul) - even with a Women's History specialist in the house, I am terrible at remember names of suffragist and other early women's rights types beyond, let's say, Susan B. Anthony.
  • 88D: Cowboy actor Calhoun (Rory) - watching "The Simpsons" is a huge advantage for crossword solvers, I find. Yesterday, JACKANAPES was completely familiar to me from the episode entitled "Day of the JACKANAPES." Today, I got RORY instantly because of the episode where Mr. Burns decides to buy greyhound puppies from the Simpson family in order to (gasp) make a greyhound fur tuxedo. He decides he will spare one little greyhound, and he names it ... RORY Calhoun.

  • 113D: Sleep indicators (zees) - comics!

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Oct. 25, 2008 -Karen M. Tracey (Trailing evergreen related to savory / Captor of Han Solo / Sherlock's French counterpart)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: none

Karen M. Tracey is one of the three greatest themeless constructors on the planet, and this puzzle shows why. I Loved It. From start to finish, everything about this puzzle made me happy, even the outrageous or absurd parts. What the hell is an EARTH SHINE (26D: Faint illumination of the moon's dark side)!? I had no idea, but I could infer the answer from crosses ... and with a rotational symmetrical twin like JACKANAPES (12D: Whippersnapper), I'm willing to forgive EARTH SHINE its oddness. AFICIONADO (11D: Buff) must be one of the most frequently misspelled words in the English language. I never ever Ever spell it correctly. I always want two F's, or an A where that first O's supposed to go. All I can say is that the word looks Outstanding next to JACKANAPES - but maybe most words would. JACKANAPES! I just like saying it. And it crosses JELLYSTONE (28A: Park in Ranger Smith's charge). Two 10-letter J-words, crossing swords. Fantastic.

Allow me to rhapsodize some more - the full names of JAMES JOYCE (5D: Writer of the 1918 play "Exiles") and IRENE ADLER (14A: Opera singer created by Arthur Conan Doyle) and CHE GUEVARA (41A: "Guerrilla Warfare" author, 1961) and TARA REID (19A: Player of Danni Sullivan on "Scrubs")!? OK, I could have done without that last one, but look at that cultural spread. High, low, fictional, historical. This puzzle is culturally voracious. It'll be a little too heavy on the pop culture for some solvers - a quick scan reveals at least four contemporary actors, two cartoon references, TUPAC Shakur (25D: First name in rap), and JABBA the Hutt (5A: Captor of Han Solo), for instance. [musical interlude about Boba Fett, the bounty hunter hired by Jabba to find Han]:

And yet the haters should pipe down - this one's frame of reference is broad enough that everyone should be able to find something to like. One minor problem - I did not know IRENE ADLER (though I'd seen her fairly recently, it turns out). So getting the first "L" in BLEDEL (7D: "Gilmore Girls" co-star Alexis) was ... well, it was flat-out guess. ADLER was the only name that seemed right. BLEDEL looked nuts, but it was better than any alternative.

The face-poundingest answer in this puzzle has to be YERBA BUENA (29D: Trailing evergreen related to savory). Frankly, I don't know what region of my ... brain I pulled it from. For some reason, when I had the YERBA, I wanted MATTA. Turns out I was thinking of YERBA MATE, which is a kind of tea alternative you can find in the "Stuff White People Like" part of your suburban grocery. My brain was also flashing on Chichen Itza and Cibo Matto:

Firing squad:

  • 10A: _____ 1000, annual Mexican off-road race (Baja) - no idea, but easy enough
  • 24A: Princess in Mozart's "Idomeneo" (Ilia) - No Idea; see also 2D: 24-Across's "Zeffiretti lusinghieri," e.g. (aria)
  • 46D: Joe's love interest in "South Pacific" (Liat) - really the most absurd name in all of fiction. I remember the first time I saw it, two years ago, which is also the last time I saw it. Musicals shmusicals Seussicals.
  • 25A: College Park player, briefly (Terp) - one of a handful of gimmes in the puzzle, which made the puzzle easier than it might have been.
  • 31A: Trucial States, today: Abbr. (UAE) - Never heard of "Trucial States" - it's weird how many terms and names I've never heard of today, considering how easy I found the puzzle.
  • 33A: Cone holders (retinas) - left the last letter open, thinking I might get an -AE spelling.
  • 39A: Generational indicator in some names (Ibn) - "son of," Arabic-style.
  • 49A: Brunswick stew ingredient (squirrel) - let's see the foodists suck on that today
  • 54A: Conspirator's cautious conversation starter ("Are we alone?") - HA ha. Paranoia. Cloak and dagger. Awesome.
  • 59A: He-Man's twin sister (She-Ra) - Princess of Power

  • 1D: Roman's foe of yore (Pict) - I am fan of most things Scottish ("Braveheart" excepted), so this was not hard.
  • 3D: Apt. amenity (terr.) - "Hey, what's the Yukon doing in my apt."
  • 23D: Professional shooter, briefly (SLR) - somehow, I saw through this instantly. SLR = single lens reflex, a type of camera
  • 30D: Davis who played Maggie in two "Matrix" movies (Essie) - me, for a good chunk of my solving time: "But ... there's ... there's just no way OSSIE Davis was in those movies. I'd have noticed."
  • 42D: Sherlock's French counterpart (Arsène) - I don't think Sherlock was a "gentleman thief," but OK.
  • 51D: Vance Air Force Base locale (Enid) - classic crossword geography. Also, a song I listened to a lot in 1992 - these guys look like dorks, but then ... well, pot/kettle, frankly:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2008 -Frederick J. Healy (Subject of the 1989 musical monologue "Bon Appetit" / Obi accessory / Supporter of the mascot Handsome Dan)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

I have written on this puzzle "harder than tomorrow's," if that's any consolation.

Even though I began with a rash of gimmes - first MAEVE (48A: Novelist Binchy), then KATEY (50A: "Married ... With Children" actress Sagal) then YALIE (51D: Supporter of the mascot Handsome Dan) - it took me longer to do this Friday puzzle than it does most Saturdays. The big problem was the NW, where the Downs just smacked me around, and the Acrosses (as clued) weren't any great help either. I tried to back into the quadrant via the back end of 6D: One whose lead is followed in the service, but wrote in PASTOR instead of CANTOR. That's what I get for growing up heathen, I guess. I don't think I've ever seen DNAS pluralized like that (10D: Strands of biology), which is why I didn't instantly write it in upon seeing "strands" in the clue. Guessed JULIA CHILD (1A: Subject of the 1989 musical monologue "Bon Appétit"), finally, from a smattering of crosses I managed to scare up, and that got the ball rolling pretty well. I am very familiar with IRON MAIDEN in both its heavy metal and dungeon-dwelling forms, and yet 15A: Old torturer did little to clue me in. But those Downs, ugh. JIMA (1D: Chichi-_____ (largest of Japan's Bonin Islands))!?! INRO (4D: Obi accessory)!?!?!? AMOUR clued in non-French fashion (5D: Reason for a tryst)? It was a bloodbath up there. Can't believe I've seen a billion OBIS and never even heard of INRO. Wow. Still reeling from that. Still, somehow JULIA CHILD makes everything OK. You can have all your contemporary, blow-dried celebrity chefs - this woman rules:

There was some iffiness here and there in this puzzle - to my ear, anyway. TIES A KNOT (41A: Does some macrame work)?!?! Why not EATS A SANDWICH or PETS A FERRET? Those are phrases too? Does TIES A KNOT cohere as a stand-alone phrase, worthy of crossword inclusion? You decide (I'm sorry, the answer is "no"). And TINY TOTs (25D: One taking a first step) are candies, aren't they? Hmmm, I can't find evidence for that. Just sounds a lot like something I would have bought at the corner 7-11 when I was circa 7-11. A TOT is already TINY. I see TINY TOTs as a cutesy name for a diaper service, a pre-school, an awesome 50-year-old kids' book. The clue just seems too literal and plain to accommodate this level of sucrosity.

The SE was simple - a bunch of easy Downs helped me go through it like a buzzsaw. FONZ (55D: Sitcom guy with a frequently upturned thumb), ERGO (56D: Sum lead-in), RIEN (57D: Zip around France?) and SERE (58D: Sun-damaged) all came one after the other, with almost no hesitation between answers. Helped offset the agony of the NW, somewhat. The other corners had some serious thorniness as well. In the SW, the long Downs were Really hard to get from the bland one- and two-word clues, and the easy Acrosses were filled out the quadrant only sparsely. Had TULIP for OXLIP (34A: Yellow primrose) - I know, stupid, but it ended in -IP and that's all that came to mind. Also had STES and then ILES for LACS (59A: Geneve and others). In the NE, one serious error - MACY for SAKS (11A: Gimbel contemporary) - had me stalled badly for a while, primarily because the "C" from "MACY" gave me CARL (not the proper KARL) MALDEN, which I didn't question (13D: Warden player in "Birdman of Alcatraz"). Ooh, PR MEN hurt me too (43A: Guys who make people look good). Difficulty is not bad this late in the week. All in all, a very good Saturday puzzle - the little guy just got lost, apparently.

Here's an interesting phenomenon - 36A: Oscar winner after "Rocky" ("Annie Hall") - should probably have been more specifically clued as [Best Picture winner...], as "Rocky" won multiple Oscars. And yet, the very next Across answer prevents [Best Picture] from being in the clue for "ANNIE HALL" - 38A: Tops (the best). I love "Manhattan" above every other movie ever made, by Woody or anyone, but this one scene from "ANNIE HALL" is enough to put it among my all-time favorites (and there are many such scenes ... "I'm into leather" ... any scene with Walken ... etc.):


  • 17A: Country whose capital is Palikir (Micronesia) - never heard of Palikir, and wasn't completely certain that MICRONESIA constituted a country.
  • 18A: Union member of the future: Abbr. (terr.) - ???? Not necessarily.
  • 20A: Company that developed NutraSweet (Searle) - isn't this the company Rumsfeld ran? Yes! Man, I love when my memory works.
  • 26A: Jung's feminine side (anima) - Latin for "soul"; I know a medievalist named "Jung" - I don't know what she calls her feminine side. Perhaps "Leslie" or "Barbara."
  • 44A: View from the Arlberg Pass (Alp) - I'll take your word for it
  • 54A: Mass stack (wafers) - not BIBLES
  • 64A: Target of un coup (état) - accurate enough, but feels weird, butchering the phrase "coup d'état" like this. Who will stand up for the "d'"?
  • 2D: "O'Hara's Choice" novelist, 2003 (Uris) - who, he wrote a novel this century? Wow. I know that O'Hara was a novelist ... but that has nothing to do with this answer. I had to guess this one from crosses.
  • 12D: 1992 film directed by and starring Edward James Olmos ("American Me") - Commander Adama!
  • 27D: Sexy numbers (hot tamales) - just a fantastic answer
  • 35D: Family of 18th- and 19th-century painters (Peales) - never heard of 'em. Looks like a name someone might have ... crosses were easy.
  • 42D: Seraglio section (oda) - Old Skool crosswordese.
  • 46D: Home of the University of Delaware (Newark) - this seems like a joke
  • 47A: Bit of biblical graffiti (mene) - when I was a teen, I received a book from my grandma called "MENE, MENE, Tekel." I never read it, but I sure remember the title.
  • 53D: High-end shoe and handbag maker (Tods) - once again, I had No Clue. TODS, PEALES, INRO ... I really got smacked around.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[PuzzleHusband in throes of conversion]


Bygone McDonald's Mascot! - THURSDAY, Oct. 23, 2008 - Patrick Blindauer (Product once pitched by Pele / Study for astronomes)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: ANTS (55D: "Marchers" through the answers to the five starred clues) - five 7-letter theme answers contain the letter string "ANT," which shifts its place one square to the right with each successive theme answer. Thus "ANT" starts the first theme answer (ANTACID) and concludes the last one (ENCHANT)

Cute and undifficult. If anything is tricky about this puzzle, it's the fact that - if you tend to solve the puzzle from the NW down - you probably didn't notice any theme at all until you hit the very far SE corner. One annoying, or distracting thing, is that the longest Acrosses are not involved in the theme, a phenomenon you very very rarely see in a puzzle. Thankfully, one of those answers is the Very awesome PARTY FOUL (44A: Spilling one's drink at a shindig, for one), so I don't really care. I had this puzzle tagged as "Medium" difficulty, but when I resolved it last night, I couldn't see any significant difficulty. From my perspective, there's exactly one "WTF" word - POTASH (43D: White, granular powder), which sounds like some kind of Eastern European casserole. Now I'm sure I'll hear from the many of you who work in labs: "Oh, we use POTASH all the time. Why, just yesterday I was TARING some POTASH, when ..." etc. Here is my proposed use for the word POTASH - a contraction for "Poor White Trash." Now you can be cruel and demeaning to the underprivileged, and no one will be the wiser. "You're gonna buy that? That is soooo POTASH." "What?" "Nothing."

Theme answers:

  • 14A: *Settler in a pharmacy (ANTacid) - "Settler" killed me. I was imagining a Pilgrim, or something that "settles" to the bottom of a bottle, like that whadyacallit pouchy thing they put in pill bottles - desiccant!! DesiccANT!
  • 21A: *"_____ Island" ("FANTasy") - best way to clue "FANTASY," IMOO
  • 37A: *B'way hit beginning in '88 ("PhANTom") - never saw it. I really Really don't care for musicals. "Cats," "Les Miz," "Miss Saigon," "PHANTOM" .... no no no no.
  • 48A: *Where Delta Air Lines is headquartered (AtlANTa)
  • 61A: *Cast a spell over (enchANT)

Hurray for these answers:

  • SPINOUT (23D: Indy 500 mishap)
  • TELL-ALL (56A: Like juicy biographies)

These answers are flashy and sassy and colloquial and dynamic. They really liven up the joint. I would say the same about SPEEDEE (60A: Bygone McDonald's mascot), but he is so "bygone" that he's pretty well out of popular consciousness (for those under, say, 50). He's like a mythological character. I barely believe he existed. His name is sure cool, though.

Wrap up

  • 40A: Sir Richard who co-founded the Spectator (Steele) - essentially, an 18th-century blog. Published daily, and meant as a provocation to discussion of topical and philosophical issues of the day. I just now got completely wrapped up in one of the essays I found on Google Book Search. The whole project is fascinating. Here's the beginning of an essay from 1711:


A MAN who publishes his works in a volume, has an
infinite advantage over one who communicates his
writings to the world in loose tracts and single pieces.
We do not expect to meet with any thing in a bulky volume,
till after some heavy preamble, and several words
of course, to prepare the reader for what follows. Nay,
authors have established it as a kind of rule, That a man
ought to be dull sometimes ; as the most severe reader
makes allowances for many rests and nodding-places in
a voluminous writer. This gave occasion to the famous
Greek proverb which I have chosen for my motto,
"That a great book is a great evil."

On the contrary, those who publish their thoughts in
distinct sheets, and as it were by piece-meal, have none
of these advantages. We must immediately fall into our
subject, and treat every part of it in a lively manner, or
our papers are thrown by as dull and insipid.
  • 47A: Italian bone (osso) - I assume meat-eaters know this from OSSO buco.
  • 53A: Product once pitched by Pele (Viagra) - I guess Pele's better than Bob Dole...
  • 13D: "Nightmare _____," 1997 Disney animated series ("Ned") - wow. Never heard of it.
  • 27D: The "Working Girl" girl and others (Tesses) - the painfulest answer in the puzzle. "Too Many Tesses" would be a great (read: terrible) name for some teen chicklittish (man, that sounds pornographic) novel. It's hard for me to hate on "Working Girl," though. It's quintessentially 80s, and Melanie Griffith, despite many fashion impediments, is très hot:

  • 41D: Study for astronomes (etoiles) - wow, you pretty much have to know some French for this one.
  • 49D: _____-dernier (penultimate: Fr.) (avant) - whoa ... more rough French. [_____-garde] was apparently too Monday for this puzzle.
  • 59D: Little Joe's pa on "Bonanza" (Ben) - Cartwright, I assume. Way before my (TV) time.
  • 25D: Actress Mary Martin's actor son (Larry Hagman) - Great answer. HAGMAN reminds me simultaneously of my friend Greg (from VA) and Wade (from TX). I have no idea where either association comes from. Maybe Wade can offer an explanation.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS I am a crossword clue in the most recent Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book (#3). Puzzle 71, "Plane Speaking" - 28A: Crossword blogger Parker (Rex). I've known about this for almost a year (stupid publishing lag time!), so it's cool finally to see it in print. Thanks, John Samson.


Mingo player on "Daniel Boone" - WEDNESDAY, Oct. 22, 2008 - Gary J. Whitehead (Button below TUV / Genesis terminus)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: BED / SIZE (68A: With 70-Across, what the end of 17-, 33-, 42- or 63-Across describes)

The most striking thing about this puzzle is how easy it is (for a Wednesday). I did this more quickly than I did yesterday's. Even the words I didn't know (e.g. NATAL - 31D: Brazilian seaport), where easy to infer and highly gettable from crosses. Theme answers are all kind of blah, except MAKE MINE A DOUBLE, which is fantastic. There was a lot of crosswordese - ASTER (48A: Provider of some fall color), ETNA (38D: Italy's Mt. _____), ILIE (56D: 1976 loser to Bjorn at Wimbledon), BAER (36D: Max of the ring), etc. - and I could have lived without ONEIS (30D: "_____ the loneliest number"), but overall it's a fine, solid Tuesday puzzle, which somehow got misfiled and ended up appearing on Wednesday.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Eng, for one (siamese TWIN) - Cheng and Eng
  • 33A: Bar request ("Make mine a DOUBLE") - Whiskey and soda
  • 42A: 1951 film named for a boat ("The African QUEEN") - Bogart and Hepburn
  • 63A: "Circle of Life" musical ("The Lion KING") - nobody is buying that this is a "musical"; I mean, of course it is, and I see why it's clued that way, but it's a movie just like "THE AFRICAN QUEEN" is a movie. Would you clue "THE AFRICAN QUEEN" as [1935 novel named for a boat]? No, you wouldn't. Well, you might, on a Friday, I guess, but not here. The "1935 novel" clue is true, very true, but you wouldn't use it. Just admit that you have two movies in your theme answers. Worse things could happen. Or maybe by "musical" you meant "movie musical" and were not at all referring to the stage musical, in which case ... oh, nevermind. Prepare to have your ears tortured (seriously, I can't Stand this song):

I like how ED AMES (34D: Mingo player on "Daniel Boone") and MR SULU (22D: Crewmate of Capt. Kirk) act as twin sentinels, pillars holding the middle of this puzzle in place. Both men appear frequently in the grid, though usually only by their last names. Here we see them in full name regalia. Let's review the other names in the puzzle, as they are (almost) all frequent guest stars. Presumably everyone knows the good Dr. DRE (23A: Eminem collaborator, informally), though you might not have known him by this clue. "But when your album sales wasn't doin' too good / Who's the doctor they told you to go see...?"

Then there's EFREM Zimbalist (18D: Violinist Zimbalist), whose name I can never spell confidently, which I believe I've said before, and yet it's still true. I don't think LUKAS Haas (52D: "Witness" actor Haas) and Anthony QUINN (44D: Zorba player) were ever in a movie together, but they're alongside one another in the SW, in a crazy long line of people that stretches from ADONIS (32D: Dreamboat) to James AGEE (61D: Winner of a posthumous Pulitzer) and includes also BIBI Netanyahu (59D: Israel's Netanyahu, familiarly) and INEZ (60D: Don Juan's mother). LENORE (15A: Poe maiden) is probably a good name to remember, as she has Delicious letters for a crossword puzzle. Just don't get her confused with ELEONORA or ANNABEL LEE. Finally, there's the ubiquitous Lucy LIU (46A: Lucy of "Kill Bill"), currently starring in "Dirty Sexy Money," and the puzzle's favorite bar (or my favorite bar, anyway), MOE'S (45A: Springfield tavern).


  • 5A: Genesis terminus (Ararat) - like it's a bus depot. Nice.
  • 14A: Button below TUV (Oper.) - I don't text and almost never notice the letters on my keypad. This was an educated guess - I figured there weren't enough letter strings left in the alphabet after TUV to make it back underneath TUV, and OPER. fit. Tada.
  • 21A: Meadow denizens (field mice) - "Denizens!" I had FIELD and just threw down MICE because it was so cute. And it worked.
  • 41A: Bebe's intake (lait) - "intake" is hilariously technical-sounding here. It's a baby, not an engine.
  • 12D: "Vissi d'arte" opera ("Tosca") - had the "CA," clue has "opera" in it -> TOSCA.
  • 24D: Asylum seeker, perhaps (emigré) - elegant word
  • 49D: Online current affairs magazine (Slate) - I like how the puzzle passed on yet another opportunity to use the "word" EMAG.
  • 50D: Deducted from the gross weight (tared) - Torn between love and hate here. I've never seen TARE used in verbal form before. It's bold. I'll give it a thumbs up.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


TUESDAY, Oct. 21, 2008 - Randall J. Hartman (Sugar Loaf mountain site, briefly / Sigma preceder / Boxer Graziano, formally)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: P-O-L-K-A - first theme clue is [P], and each successive clue adds one more letter of "POLKA" for a total of five theme clues

I've seen this "theme" before, and I like it. It's simple in its design, but results in a puzzle that is not overly simple to solve - primarily because knowing the theme (there's really nothing to grasp) doesn't help you uncover any particular answer. In fact, if this type of "theme" has a fault, it's that answers can get a bit loose. Perhaps it's best to think of the theme answers as reverse-clued - the P, PO, POL, POLK, and POLKA are answers, and their clues are what are in the grid. I'm much happier accepting POLKA as an answer for [Oktoberfest tune] than vice versa. I had no idea what those last four letters were going to be, and had to place them via crosses. RIVER OF LOMBARDY was probably the toughest of the bunch to uncover. Not the first description that comes to mind for the river PO, but again, [River of Lombardy] would have made a fine clue for PO (if the puzzle accepted two-letter words, that is).

Theme answers:

  • 17A: P (sixteenth letter)
  • 22A: PO (river of Lombardy)
  • 38A: POL (Capitol Hill type) - had same trouble here with TYPE that I did with TUNE in 55A
  • 46A: POLK (former president) - FORMER somehow was not a gimme either
  • 55A: POLKA (Oktoberfest tune)

Here's a neat pattern in this puzzle that I would never have noticed had the theme been different:

EAR (29A: It may be cupped or cuffed)
EARL (21A: Warren of the Supreme Court)
EARLY (13D: Jumping the gun)

And they're all in the NW, too. In fact, there's a little EAR staircase there going from EAR to TEAR (19D: Eye drop) to EARL to EARLY. Can't decide if this is unfortunate, lazy, brilliant, or lucky. Further, there are two three-letter words that are expanded by one letter into four letter words at other points in the grid:

ELI (32D: QB Manning)
ELOI (25D: "The Time Machine" race)

AMO (44A: _____, ama, amat ...)
AMSO (44D: Reply to "Are not!")

The latter pair intersect at the "A" - noticing coincidental nonsense like this is how I amuse myself when I don't have a hell of a lot to say about a puzzle.

By far the hardest part of the puzzle for me was the SW corner. 62A: Sugar Loaf Mountain site, briefly (Rio) seems completely incongruous. "Sugar Loaf Mountain" sounds like a place in Vermont, or a place where Faeries live, and at any rate sounds about as far from RIO as, well, where I'm sitting right now. This answer crosses some guy named OAKIE (47D: Jack of "The Great Dictator"), of whom I also have not heard, which makes two crossing proper nouns of relatively low fame. However, there is no violation of the "Natick Principle" here because one of the answers - RIO - is the only possible guess you could make once you have the R and O. So the total number of Natick violators to date remains at two

NATICK x/w NC WYETH at the "N"
ALGOL x/w NLRB at the "L"

Both of which, I have to say, seem entirely gettable to me now that I have fretted over them so much.


  • 2D: Remodeled Clay? (Ali) - nice clue. Goes nicely with its nearby boxing-oriented cousin, 22D: Boxer Graziano, formally (Rocco)
  • 5D: Dirty tricks on the campaign trail (smears) - when am I gonna see ROBO-CALLS in a puzzle? How long!?!?! Speaking of the campaign trail - have you heard about the dead black bear, found shot in the head and wrapped in Obama signs? This is not a campaign tactic, clearly, but ... it's pretty dirty.
  • 9D: Online chuckle (LOL) - I did not LOL at the bear story.
  • 11D: Instrument played by George Harrison (sitar) - cool video of George and Ravi Shankar

  • 12D: Bergen dummy (Snerd) - Before my time, and yet I have a weird, fuzzy memory of teasing either my sister or stepsister by comparing her to this dummy.
  • 33D: Sigma preceder (rho) - "preceder"! One of the great crossword clue words.
  • 53A: Myanmar neighbor (Laos) - have yet to see MYANMAR in a puzzle ... OK, so MYANMAR and ROBOCALLS await your constructing prowess.
  • 50D: _____ T. Firefly, Groucho's role in "Duck Soup" (Rufus) - what's funny about this is, I didn't know it when it was clued [Groucho's role in "Duck Soup"], and told Will so. The added information he provided in this final version of the clue would have helped me ... not at all.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Oct. 20, 2008 - Daniel Raymon (Prickle in Alaska? / Energetic almost to a fault / Film figure with fangs, for short)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: CHANGE DIRECTION (38A: Take a new path ... or a hint to 20-, 36-, 41- and 57-Across) - four theme answers are the cardinal points of a compass followed by their respective anagrams

I was a bit slow on this one. Though no part of the puzzle was particularly thorny, there were a number of places where I needed multiple crosses to get answers. Always slows me down when I can't throw that first long Across answer across the grid - had the NORTH part, but at that point (early) I didn't know the theme, so 20A: Prickle in Alaska? meant nothing to me. If it had been "Prick in Alaska?," I might have had a shot. Or I might have written in TED STEVENS (buh-dum-bum - cymbal crash). BE OK (31D: "Everything will _____" ("Don't worry")) proved the hardest answer to uncover. Needed every cross, and even then, for a split second, I didn't understand. I sort of like STOCKHOLM (37D: Capital on the Baltic Sea), JIGSAW (27D: Interlocking puzzle), and DAFFODIL (40D: Flower in Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"), but otherwise, this puzzle was just OK for me. I do like that three of the five theme answers come in consecutive Acrosses in the middle of the puzzle. That seems fancy.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Prickle in Alaska? (north thorn)
  • 36A: Simmered dish in California? (west stew)
  • 38A: Take a new path ... or a hint to 20-, 36-, 41- and 57-Across (change direction)
  • 41A: Chair in Maine? (east seat)
  • 57A: Scream in Alabama? (south shout)

This puzzle has a super-contemporary clue in 22A: 2008 film about a hunchbacked lab assistant ("Igor"), and another fresh film clue in 62A: Paul of "Knocked Up" (Rudd). Always nice to find new ways to dress up old fill like IGOR. As for RUDD ... he is handsome. The NYT puzzle once again shows itself to be in the tank for Democrats, with no references to McCain but two to revered Democratic presidents of the past - FDR (44A: Gov. Landon, who lost to F.D.R. - ALF) and Truman (24A: Mrs. Truman - BESS). While the fill on this puzzle is kind of boring, it is mercifully short on abbreviations and ugh-y xword fill. AWNS (32D: Plant bristles) and SHAY (34D: One-horse carriage) are among that large set of short words that constant solvers just have in their pockets. They aren't as common as your IGORs and your ERGOs, but they strike me as crosswordesey nonetheless. A word like PERK, however, seems fresh and lively and interesting. Maybe it's the "K." Or the fact that it rhymes with "PERT," or sounds coffee-related. I'm not sure what my point is here, so I'll just stop.

Remainder table:

  • 14A: Energetic almost to a fault (type-A) - not an answer I was looking for on a Monday, giving me a slower-than-normal NW corner.
  • 45A: Film figure with fangs, for short (Drac) - alliteration! But he's originally from a book, so how about [Novel notable also known as "Nosferatu"]? I'm kidding, that's terrible.
  • 60A: Pop singer Brickell (Edie) - here's the thing about EDIE Brickell. You had to be paying attention to pop music for a window of about 6 months around 1988 to know who she is from firsthand experience. I was a freshman in college, so her one big hit, "What I Am," is permanently imprinted on my brain, for better or worse.

  • 58D: The Beatles' "_____ a Woman" ("She's") - see, if I'd hit college 20 years earlier, I might have had this song imprinted on my brain:

  • 65A: "The Danny _____ Show" of the 1960s ("Kaye") - I thought the "of the 1960s" part of this clue was unnecessary, but I guess people need to know that it's not "The Danny Bonaduce Show"
  • 50D: Mario's brother in Nintendo's Mario Bros. (Luigi) - also the name of the Italian chef on "The Simpsons"
  • 54D: Medical tube (stent) - like that this has rotational symmetry with STINT in the NW (1D: Time in the army, say).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


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