SUNDAY, Feb. 1, 2009 - V. Fleming and M. Ginsberg (1980s hit-makers with geographical name / Flavius's fire / Anther's place)

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Grid-Irony" - 10 theme answers are football-related terms clued as if they were something else (with "?" clues), and the whole theme is tied together by the central answer, SUPER BOWL SUNDAY (81A: Setting for the answers to the 10 starred clues)

Word of the Day: ANTHER - The pollen-bearing part of the stamen (

I made slow but steady progress through this oversized (23x23) puzzle. Nothing about it was terribly difficult, but there was enough tricksy cluing to keep me from building up a head of steam. Also, I print my puzzle out using AcrossLite software, and I think I'm going to have to start doing it so that it prints out on two pages, one for clues, the other for the grid, because ... well, my eyes are very good at reading small print, but it just makes my head hurt to navigate back and forth between clues and answers with print that tiny. Plus, I'm constantly misreading the ultra tiny numbers in the boxes. Oh, and since I print in gray scale (to save ink), it's sometimes difficult even seeing where answers begin and end. Boo hoo. This has nothing to do with puzzle quality and is meaningless to deadtree solvers. Fine. I will say, though, re: deadtree solving, that I never liked solving the Sunday, as writing on slick paper feels god awful, whether I do it in pen or pencil.

Supermarket was Krowded today - I guess SUPER BOWL SUNDAY really does drive people to stock up on party supplies (beer, beer, chips, beer, sandwiches, beer). I found a short line and the proceeded to place my two inaccurately-made espresso macchiatos precariously beside the conveyor belt, and then the conveyor belt moved and brought my sourdough loaf right into the sides of the cups, send both of them onto the floor of the checkout aisle. Miraculously, the lid held on one. The other went everywhere. Now, if they'd been Actual macchiatos (with just a small dollop or "mark" of milk, mostly in the form of foam), there wouldn't have been too much to clean up, but since Yet Again I got some kind of cappuccino, the spill involved a considerable volume of coffee and milk. I think I actually shouted "Clean-up on aisle 4!" I apologized for trying to get fancy with my coffee juggling, and everyone was very nice, though the poor clean-up kid was going at the spill one small, cheap paper towel at a time.

Theme answers:

  • 33A *Airline for Lucille? (Ball carrier)
  • 40A: *Corned beef stains? (hash marks)
  • 62A: Caution when boiling a 60-Down (two-minute warning) - 60D = EGG
  • 100A: *Chaperon's job (pass interference)
  • 118A: *Tersely edited epilogues? (tight ends)
  • 130A: *Where everyone wears beige? (neutral zone)
  • 3D: *Rolling past a stop sign? (illegal motion)
  • 16D: *Added comment? (extra point)
  • 77D: *"That dress makes you look fat," e.g.? (offensive line)
  • 91D: *Onset of a lie? (false start)

The puzzle - right, the puzzle. Seemed very literary to me. Holden Caulfield's brother? Really? (25A: Holden's little brother in "The Catcher in the Rye") I remember PHOEBE, mainly because my sister came home one day and told me about one of her classmates doing an oral report on the book and repeatedly saying "FOBE." ALLIE I do not remember. Absolutely love the clue for DEATH (21D: Its stroke is "as a lover's pinch, which hurts, and is desired," per Cleopatra). When ASP wouldn't fit, I had to think a bit. The Shakespereanness continues with 58A: The Globe and others (theatres), and then there's that insufferable ESTELLA, again! (135A: "Great Expectations" girl). She's becoming the world's longest bit of crosswordese, that one.

Wagner's "Tannhäuser" is kind of literary - it's dramatic, at any rate, and has a libretto, so it's in the ballpark (137A: Some of the knights in Wagner's "Tannhauser" -> TENORS), and it makes a nice segue to the other recurrent topic in this puzzle: music. I cannot get Eddie Rabbitt's "I Love a Rainy Night" out of my head!! Make it stop! I mean, the clue isn't even for that song - it's for something called "You AND I" (34D: "You _____" (1982 Eddie Rabbitt hit)), which I don't know. I know "Just You and I" - that's different, right? Oh no, wrong! It's the same song - a duet with Crystal Gayle. Mmm, junior high!

Hmmm, sticking with the "Rex Is In Junior High" theme, let's check out some ASIA, man! (22A: 1980s hit-makers with a geographical name) HA ha. I only wish there were some TOTO in this puzzle.

["And now you find yourself in '82!"]

There's also some late-career Sinatra in the puzzle - the "DUETS" album he did in the mid-90s (71D: 1993 triple-platinum Frank Sinatra album). What I remember best about this album was the parody of its recording rendered by the Late, Great Phil Hartman on "SNL". Can't find that clip, so here's this one:

Had some questions about a few of the clues. 9A: Some (a bit of) - "I'll have SOME that"? Or is it "Have SOME pie." I guess that works here. Lost me on MELINDA (38A: Name repeated in Woody Allen's "_____ and _____"), both because I've somehow Never heard of that Woody Allen movie, and because I've never seen a fill-in-the-blank clue quite like this. I would have thought [Name repeated in a Woody Allen title] might have done as well. Forgot what an "Anther" was, and kept reading "Antler" (81D: Anther's place -> STAMEN). I loved the clues on AT. NO. (111A: 5 for B or 6 for C) and MIA HAMM (7D: Hall-of-Fame forward), the latter because it was so damned slippery - I fell hard for the basketball misdirection.


  • 23A: Hispanic "Sesame Street" character (Rosita) - learned it from crosswords. She's like a Muppet ESTELLA, this one - sneaking into my puzzles every chance she gets.
  • 43A: Competitor of Chambers, for short (OED) - So Chambers is a dictionary? OK.
  • 44A: "54-40 or fight" candidate (Polk) - OK, back to Junior High for some UB40. Wanna know what Neil Diamond would sound like as a reggae act? Here you go:

  • 67A: _____ the Great, leader of 1462-1505 (Ivan) - man, I know Squat about Russian history.
  • 70A: Have _____ with (an in) - the counterpart to yesterday's ... oh, right, you syndicated people haven't done "yesterday's" puzzle yet.
  • 91A: Tycoon, slangily (fat cats) - first, "slangily," hurray. Second, great answer. Third, my comic book store is called Fat Cat Books. It's named for the two cats who live there, and are fat.
  • 97A: Some golf fund-raisers (pro-ams) - ESTELLA and ROSITA should play a crossword PRO-AM, because all three words are in the 5+-letter Pantheon.
  • 107A: They put on shows (airers) - ouch. This word is OK in clues, but in the grid, it hurts, it hurts.
  • 122A: Roman power (vis) - whereas Roman fire is IGNIS (102D: Flavius's fire)
  • 30D: "An American Life" autobiographer (Reagan) - that title isn't self-aggrandizing at all!
  • 41D: Takei's "Star Trek" role (Sulu) - gimme gimme gimme. ESTELLA and ROSITA have nothing on SULU.
  • 51D: Ruckuses (stinks) - frustrating. Had STIN-S and couldn't get it. "STINGS? ... that feels wrong."
  • 106D: Boot option (steel tip) - I know these as "STEEL TOE" boots. Had some once. They were not comfortable.
  • 125D: London Parliament series painter (Monet) - he liked to paint the same stuff over and over and over. Cathedral at Rouen ... bridges ... haystacks ...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of Crossworld

PS I just posted the winners of the 2008 Oryx Awards (for excellence in crosswords). It's the post immediately before this one - here's a link.


2008 Oryx Awards

Back in 2007, my fellow crossword blogger Orange and I started keeping track of our favorite crosswords, and teamed up to form the two-member squad called the American Crossword Critics Association. A year ago, we posted our joint write-up of first annual awards, but ever since, constructor Andrea Carla Michaels—a naming consultant by trade—exhorted us to let her rename the ACCA Awards. And so it is that the second annual American Crossword Critics Association awards are hereafter referred to as the Oryx Awards. The oryx is an Old World antelope that sometimes has black and white coloring, just like a crossword. It's one of those four-letter words that crossworders know but many of their friends don't. And it's a sonic blend between "Orange" and "Rex," so we love it. The Oryx Awards have not (yet) been made manifest in shiny cast gold trophies to be handed out at a gala affair, so the recipients need not stumble nervously or tipsily to the stage to thank their agents.

Without further ado:

Best Easy Crosswords

These are typically themed Monday and Tuesday puzzles.

GOLD: Patrick Blindauer's New York Times, 10/6/08
  • Look, he turned a crossword puzzle into a dollar bill! It's adorable....and rectangular.
SILVER: Matt Ginsberg's New York Times, 12/2/08
  • "Would you hush? I'm working a crossword here." The world's noisiest crossword has 20 theme entries making a terrific DIN. KERPLUNK!
BRONZE: Laura Sternberg's LA Times, 3/11/08
  • Four famous people share the same first names as the AMERICAN IDOL judges. Two corners boast four-packs of 7- and 8-letter answers, and the fill is lively.
Best Medium Crosswords

This category includes themed daily-sized puzzles of Wednesday-NYT difficulty or greater, with no twisty gimmicks.

GOLD: Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club, 1/2/08
  • Asymmetrical grid features Democratic (PILLORY CLINTON) and Republican (TWIT ROMNEY) "dirty debate tactics" with name-into-verb puns on candidates' names. Did we mention there are seven theme answers occupying 94 (!) squares?
SILVER: Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun, 1/3/08
  • In "Strange Signs From Above," the zodiac puns are absolutely nuts: e.g., LEIGH BRA and "UH, QUERY US."
BRONZE: Dan & Mike Naddor's LA Times, 10/8/08
  • What do a BAT MITZVAH and AQUA VELVA have in common? Add MAN to the first word and you're spawning superheroes. Great "aha!" moment.
Best Gimmick Crosswords

These are the ones that people remember months or years later, the envelope-pushers that bend the rules, incorporate other kinds of puzzle challenges, and give our brains a delicious workout. These crosswords are so awesome, we couldn't honor just three.

PLATINUM: Patrick Blindauer and Francis Heaney's New York Sun, 1/11/08
  • "Squares Away" is a really hard rebus puzzle with an asymmetrical grid. Guess what? If you color the rebus squares black instead of putting the word BLACK in 'em, those new black squares make the grid symmetrical, and the entries that had the rebuses are still valid words. HONOR [BLACK]MAN turns into HONOR and MAN with a black square in between. Sheer crossword genius.
GOLD: Patrick Blindauer and Frank Longo's Sun, 11/20/08
  • "Three-Ring Circus" messed with our heads in a big way. It looks like a 15x16 grid with two 15-letter answers in the middle, but it turns out there's a TIGHTROPE WALKER balancing precariously between those rows—all the Downs that cross the 15s are one square shy, and the extra letters wedged in spell out TIGHTROPE WALKER. Devious!
PALLADIUM: Pete Muller's New York Sun, 2/29/08
  • The skull-crushing trick in "Return of the Indivisibles" is that answers to prime-numbered clues have to go in backwards. 2-Down is AIXELSYD, no joke. EDISPU is here too: UPSIDE is upside down.
SILVER: Patrick Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/12/08
  • "Standardized Test" has ABCDE in five places and you have to blacken the space for the correct answer to the accompanying multiple-choice questions. If you err, you're going to flunk the Down answers.
BRONZE: Donald Willing's New York Times, 11/1/08
  • An amazing debut puzzle in which every other Across row's answers appear backwards in the grid. We call it "Two-Way Streets" but the middle entry is STEERTSYAWOWT.
"Dishonorable" Mention: Joe Krozel's New York Times, 6/19/08
  • This is the famous LIES puzzle: the black squares spell out LIES and—this is the genius part—the clue for TEN tells you ten clues are lies. For example, tennis player AGASSI is clued as [Golf great Andre]. Terrific Shortzian cluing twist.
Best Themeless Crosswords

Themeless puzzles tend to be the hardest ones each week, barring crazy gimmick puzzles, and we love them so. A touch of sadism endears a constructor to us, as does a fondness for shiny new crossword vocabulary.

GOLD: Karen M. Tracey's New York Sun, 5/16/08
SILVER: Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy, 6/29/08
  • ZOOKEEPER collides with CLIMATE CANARY in the middle of the grid, YES, LET'S sends mixed messages by colliding with OH STOP IT ... and then there's Orange's favorite word: PASSEL.
BRONZE: Karen M. Tracey's New York Sun, 2/28/08

Best Sunday-Sized Crosswords

These puppies are usually 21x21 squares, so there's room for all sorts of wordplay and visual artistry that daily puzzles can't accommodate.

GOLD: Elizabeth Gorski's New York Times, 5/25/08
  • "Spy Glass" - James Bond-themed puzzle has all the Bond actors, plus IAN FLEMING, plus an alphabetical connect-the-squares element that creates a huge martini glass, inside of which sits the word MARTINI, as if representing the surface level of the drink within the glass. It's just an astonishingly imaginative feat of construction, and a real pleasure to solve as well. Oh, and JAMES is used to clue the "Bond" that all the theme answers share. I'm telling you, this puzzle doesn't stop.
SILVER: Patrick Berry's New York Times, 3/9/08
  • "Splits and Mergers"- theme answers function like rivers, where other words flow into or out of them. Thus "NOT IF I CAN HELP IT" branches off (zags, downward) to create NOTIFICATION, and CLEAN SLATE merges seamlessly into TRANSLATE, etc. Phenomenal.
BRONZE: Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/9/08
  • In "Advanced Placement Test," prepositions are replaced by the order of the remaining words in a phrase. Read between the lines shows up as THE READ LINES, and I before E except after C is I E C EXCEPT. Merl being Merl, there are 11 of these gems to solve in his crossword.
Toughest Puzzle of the Year

Stanley Newman's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (Anna Stiga byline), 3/1/08
  • Some puzzles make us work harder—a lot harder—than others, but there are usually only one or two killer themelesses a year. This one was 2008's big bear, with that trademark Newmanian obliqueness in the clues.
Best Use of Crosswordese for a Higher Purpose

Dan Naddor's LA Times, 4/17/08
  • How many times have you rolled your eyes at yet another [Punxsutawney-to-Boise dir.] clue for a three-letter direction? You play the odds and plug in ENE without thinking about maps. In this crossword, all eight directions appear in criss-crossing pairs in the appropriate places within longer answers. "Gee, what's got NNW and WNW in it?" you ask. Heart's ANN WILSON and DOWNWIND, that's what.

Best New Website

Two of the crossword sites that launched in 2008 immediately established themselves as can't-miss favorites:
  • Brendan Emmett Quigley's eponymous site combines a blog in which BEQ posts three new crosswords a week and shares musings about crossword topics in his inimitable style. One of his latest puzzles is an early favorite for the 2009 Oryx Awards but hell, they're all good. Sometimes there are swear words, so this ain't your grandmother's crossword site.
  • At Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest site, Matt posts a two-part puzzle challenge each week. First you fill in the crossword, and then you curdle your brain figuring out the contest answer. Each theme is different, as is each contest challenge—and 31 weeks in, Matt hasn't run out of clever ideas.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...drumroll, please.

Constructor of the Year

GOLD: Patrick Blindauer
  • Patrick B2 continues to be an innovator with a gift for not just pushing the envelope but dissolving it completely. Nobody else has three Oryx winners this year, so Patrick pwned crosswords in 2008. No lone wolf, he co-constructs with a terrific group of collaborators.
SILVER: Karen Tracey
  • Karen's a themeless specialist, and her puzzles captivated us all year. We honored two of 'em with an Oryx, but pretty much all of her crosswords kicked ass. More, please!
BRONZE: Patrick Berry
  • Patrick B1 took the gold in this category last year. He's got two Oryx winners this year, but several more of his puzzles were in contention. He's a perennial innovator, and if you're not doing the Chronicle of Higher Education's weekly crossword, you're missing many of Patrick's twists and turns.


SATURDAY, Jan. 31, 2009- K. Bessette (Ad pitcher who's really a pitcher / Dish with cornhusks / Pita source / "Thrilla in Manila" airer)

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ASCUS - A membranous, often club-shaped structure in which typically eight ascospores are formed through sexual reproduction of ascomycetes [the largest of the major groups of fungi]

As with last Saturday's puzzle, I finished this one more quickly than I did Friday's. When you have a big, (literally) fat gimme like 17A: Ad pitcher who's really a pitcher (Kool-Aid Man) right off the bat, the puzzle opens up very quickly. Once you get one Across in a stack like that, most of your work is done. You can hack at the quadrant with the Downs until everything else comes into view, and none of those Downs were any trouble. Oh, except AGAVE (9D: Pita source). I had no idea. I thought that the only noteworthy thing to come from AGAVE was tequila. Weird that pita and tequila have the same source. I do not think I'd drink them together. OK, now I see the problem. We're dealing with a secondary definition of pita that I've never heard of:

  1. Any of several plants of the genus Agave that yield strong leaf fibers. Also called istle.
  2. The fiber of any of these plants, used in making cordage and paper.
I thought the crossing of AGAVE and IVA was pretty rough. IVA is not a common name - I've taught The Maltese Falcon probably half a dozen times, and even I was like "IDA? I....RA? IMA?! Dang, what the hell is her name!?" Everything else in the puzzle was pretty easy. Slight hesitation around ASCI (57A: Fungal spores), but all the crosses were right, so I figured it must be something valid. Comparatively sluggish movement in the SE, where the western part of that quadrant needed some coaxing to come into view. Needed to figure out that the answer to 48A: Badger was two words (NAG AT) and not one, and needed to whittle down the possible answer to 50D: They're shown at horse shows from seemingly infinite to GAITS. The Acrosses down there are nice, long, basic words and phrases made slightly toughish by vague Saturday cluing - ERECTOR SET was the easiest to get (63A: Toy with blueprints), though I don't think ERECTOR SETs exist anymore, do they? Maybe there are super hi-tech plastic manga Harry Potter ones I don't know about. Daughter plays with Wedgits and Colorku.

Here are my gimmes for today:


  • 23A: Weapons once produced extensively by the Royal Small Arms Factory (stens) - yes, a gimme. Weapon + British + four letters (five in a plural) = STEN! Except when it doesn't, I guess, but in this case it does.
  • 26A: Satyajit Ray's ("The _____ Trilogy") ("Apu") - this clue has been de-"Simpson"ized for your protection.
  • 27A: Dish with cornhusks (tamale) - getting this instantly = the benefit of knowing only one dish with cornhusks
  • 2D: Have _____ (not be trapped) (an out) - that's a Monday/Tuesday clue
  • 26D: Yellowfin, on Hawaiian menus (ahi) - this word is here to stay, so remember it. It's Very convenient, from a constructor's point of view ("How can I avoid yet another ALI or ARI or ANI?"), and its frequency appears to be increasing as everyone begins to agree that it is indeed a reasonably common term.
  • 28D: Last name of father-and-son N.F.L. coaches (Mora) - first thing that occurred to me. Not the most famous coaches, but they have a name custom-made for the grid.
  • 25A: Chicago Fire's sports org. (MLS) - Major League Soccer
  • 51D: Whac-_____ (carnival game) (a-Mole) - another Monday/Tuesday-level clue. I've seen this game in TV shows and movies ... and at carnivals, I guess, though I can't remember the last time I went to one of those.


  • 11A: Southern appellation (br'er) - a contraction of "brother?" I had MA'AM at first.
  • 15A: Between wings (on the stage) - a complement to yesterday's APRON clue
  • 37A: Player of the first Bond girl (Andress) - nearly a gimme. A cross or two jarred my memory. It was not unpleasant to have it jarred in this manner

  • 44A: "Thrilla in Manila" airer (HBO) - I've seen this clue before, and yet I was again surprised that HBO existed that long ago.
  • 1D: Dawdling sorts (pokes) - so the expression "slow POKE" ... is redudant? What about "cow POKE?"
  • 5D: Trees of the verbena family (teak) - as with AGAVE and ASCI, my knowledge of the technical terms of flora and fauna is weak. That's why god invented crosses. I don't know what TEAK is, but I know that TEAK is.
  • 12D: Indian tribe V.I.P. (rainmaker) - also a Coppola film and this song by Yanni - an encore presentation!

  • 13D: Spammer's resource (e-mail list) - my blog has been getting spammed less often lately. O man, did I just jinx it?
  • 24D: Market yardstick, for short (S and P) - Standard & Poors index. Got it off the SA-. Parsing!
  • 33D: Bygone stickers (snees) - an old crossword friend, the SNEE.
  • 34D: Automotive debuts of 1949 (Saabs) - again, as with HBO, I'm surprised at how old this answer is.
  • 38D: _____ Dinh Diem (first president of South Vietnam) (Ngo) - again with the Vietnamese stuff I don't know. Two days in a row. First BAO. Now NGO.
  • 47D: Travel writer Eugene (Fodor) - the clue seemed absurd. I figured FODOR was like HOOTIE from HOOTIE and the Blowfish - just a name, not an actual person.

["Sesame Street" Remix]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2009 - B.E. Quigley (1980s Big Apple nightclub with a chemical name / Salamander variety / Journalist with a widely read "Report")

Friday, January 30, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: none

Word of the Day: AXOLOTL - Any of several salamanders (genus Ambystoma) native to Mexico and the western United States that, unlike most amphibians, often retain their external gills and become sexually mature without undergoing metamorphosis. (

I think I'm getting spoiled doing Quigley's themed puzzles thrice weekly over at his personal website. I now have ridiculously high expectations for his puzzles, which made this very good puzzle feel a little flat to me. I liked that there was a lot of stuff I didn't know (in answers and in clues) and thus had to fight for. I was less happy when the answers felt slightly made-up or stretched thin. Do people actually use the word DIGERATI (34D: Computer-savvy crowd), and if so, could you slap said people for me? I can't tell you how wrong the "E" in that word looks. I saw Spike Lee's "Inside Man," which is about a bank job, so I was very surprised to find out that the corresponding OUTSIDE MAN is not, say, a getaway driver, but a 52A: Gardener or landscaper. Knowing nothing of salamanders, and not having been old enough to attend nightclubs in the 80s, the whole SW was a bit of a surprise to me, specifically that "X" crossing where 35D: Salamander variety (axolotl) meets 43A: 1980s Big Apple nightclub with a chemical name. Seemed the only reasonable guess, but yikes. TIRO hurt a bit (25A: Newbie: Var.) ... and yet the intersecting "WE"s at 47A: Cry when you don't think you'll make it ("We're doomed!") and 47D: "_____ it!" (cry of accomplishment) ("We did") didn't bother me at all.

Loved the well-disguised LARRY DAVID (58A: 1993 Emmy winner for "Seinfeld") and HIGH TREASON (4D: It has made many people lose their heads). With that last one, I had HIGH TRE---- and still couldn't fill it in. Ugh. In fact, the NW was supremely easy and done inside of a minute or so, but after I botched HIGH TREASON, things slowed down quite a bit. I also botched SETH LOW (19A: Early 20th-century New York City mayor), mainly because I'd never heard of him, so the "OW" part took a while to materialize. MATT DRUDGE (23A: Journalist with a widely read report) was, sadly, a gimme. He "reported" about how close the presidential election was in the final weeks (cherry-picking polls), causing much mockery from the folks over at

Today's puzzle was packed with stuff I simply didn't know, and yet it was very solvable, which is exactly what a late-week themeless should be in terms of difficulty - hard, but ultimately fair. Just look at how much you can Not know and still solve the puzzle.

  • 1A: Woolly bear, eventually (moth) - no idea what a "woolly bear" was
  • 5A: City at the foot of Mount Entoto (Addis Ababa) - I got this because I knew that ADDIS ABABA was a real place on the earth, i.e. I guessed it from crosses.
  • I already told you about SETH LOW
  • And XENON
  • 50A: ESPN analyst Pasquarelli (Len) - had DAN. I'm sure I've heard his name many times - it's just never registered fully, I guess
  • 7D: _____ el Beida (Casablanca, to its natives) (Dar) - I guess I should have guessed that. Instead, I took one look at the clue, passed, and never saw it again.
  • 11D: _____ Dai (last emperor of Vietnam) (Bao) - if you say so
  • 13D: Tritium output (beta ray) - understood neither clue nor answer, until I realized that BETARAY was not one word. Actually, my first thought was that there was some mistake, because BETRAY couldn't possibly be the answer to that clue.
  • 44D: "Phoenissae" playwright (Seneca) - I know that SENECA was a playwright, I just didn't know he was responsible for this particular play.
  • 50D: Asparagus's family (lily) - maybe I knew this long ago, but that didn't help much today
Let this be a lesson to all those who struggle mightily with the late-week puzzles. You can be one ignorant @#$#! and still take these things down.


  • 16A: Sludge buildup sites (crank cases) - like that "Sludge" and "DRUDGE" are both in this puzzle. This answer makes me think of "Crankshaft," a comic I rarely read about a cranky (!) old bus driver. Here's one where Crankshaft ... has ... uh ... wow ... I hope he's not making that face because the woman's black.
  • 39A: "The Emperor's Snuff-Box" novelist John Dickson _____ (Carr) - a gimme, not because I know this book in particular, but because John Dickson CARR was a prolific writer, very popular in the mid-20th century, and so very well represented in my enormous vintage paperback collection.
  • 45A: Cliffside detritus (scree) - I Love this word. I learned it from crosswords, and I'm always happy to see it. So much cooler than SPREE.
  • 36D: Classic Pontiac (Ventura) - I know this how? Old commercials?

["Sale car! Sale car!"]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Ironically, on the day I balk at the word "DIGERATI," I find out that there's a small write-up of this site in the latest issue of "Smart Computing" magazine - must go find copy now (thanks to Tom S. for the heads-up)

PPS HEY, SYNDICATED SOLVERS - if you live in the Southern California area (or anywhere close to it), check out the upcoming Crosswords Los Angeles Tournament!


THURSDAY, Jan. 29, 2009 - Barry Silk (Influential Greek physician / Products once pitched by U2 and Eminem)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "BAR" (66A: Word defined by 17-, 25-, 35-, 45- and 58-Across) - all theme answers are possible definitions of "BAR"

Word of the Day: ØRE - 1/100 of a Norwegian or Danish KRONE (or a Swedish KRONA or an Icelandic KRÓNA)

Reverse-cluing puzzles are not my favorite. Tend to produce theme answers that are clunky, unsnappy definitions rather than crisp, cool phrases. This puzzle has high theme density, and it's pitched to perfect Thursday-level difficulty, but solving it felt more like work than joy. I was surprised at how long (relatively speaking) it took me to pick up the theme. This may be because I had an error that resulted in a remarkably plausible grid - when I wrote in LEGAL PROCESSION, I remember thinking, briefly, "huh, I didn't think Beethoven's 6th was IN C" (8D: Like Beethoven's Sixth Symphony). Why LEGAL PROCESSION seemed unimpeachable, I don't know. I thought "PROCESSION" might be another word for a trial ... and then when BAR showed up as the theme, I thought maybe "PROCESSION" was formal legal language I didn't understand. You take the BAR exam ... maybe that's like PROCEEDING through a door to your new career? Whatever. Error. It's LEGAL PROFESSION, and Beethoven's 6th is IN F.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: See 66-Across (legal profession) - part of the dryness of the puzzle involved the cluing, with its workmanlike "See 66-Across" clues; nothing to be done about it, I guess, but it drains life from the puzzle
  • 25A: See 66-Across (banish by decree) - by far the hardest one for me to turn up, mainly because I had BANISH--DECREE and could Not fill those last letters in: BANISHER DECREE? That little section, where the Greek food meets the krone fraction, was the toughest one for me to unlock.
  • 45A: See 66-Across (taproom)
  • 45A: See 66-Across (unit of pressure)
  • 58A: See 66-Across (musical notation)

As I say, rounding that corner from the NE into the middle of the puzzle was a bumpy endeavor. I guessed GIZA alright (23A: City on the Nile), then threw down IDEO (24D: Logical introduction?) but couldn't get anything west of that. Wanted GOAT where GYRO was supposed to go (23D: Greek restaurant offering); couldn't think of a hole-making tool that wasn't an AWL - BORER is so literal that I missed it (27D: Hole-making tool). Then there's 32A: 1/100 of a krone (øre). I enjoy the insanity of this clue, but, look, the word is ORE. You can pretend you have a fancy Norwegian currency up there, but we all know it's the same old ORE that the crossword has been taking out of the ground for years. Further, by making it ØRE, you violate Ulrich's Law, which says diacritical marks on letters must work in the Across and the Down. OK, so it's not a real Law and the Crossword has never observed it. Still, I think it should be observed if possible, and deliberate violations should be frowned at.

Further, should one puzzle be doing so much shilling for Apple? iMean, iLove my iPODS as much as the next guy (43A: Products once pitched by U2 and Eminem), and iIntend to get an iPHONE soon (15A: Time magazine's 2007 Invention of the Year). But two Apple pitches seems a lot. And when you throw in all these other products I've never even heard of ... I mean, the iMAX (51D: Big film shower), the iCAME (51A: Start of Caesar's boast), the iPASS (21A: Bridge declaration), and the mysteriously named iOLA (1D: Seat of Allen County, Kan.), that's product placement overkill. P.S. iPASS sounds very real. I expect Apple to be competing with EZ-PASS sometime in the near future.

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard


  • 4A: Best in mental combat (outwit) - "best" as verb. I like.
  • 16A: Jacques Cousteau's middle name (Yves) - one of many largely successful attempt to Thursday-up this puzzle. There are more obvious ways to get to YVES.
  • 31A: Influential Greek physician (Galen) - they left out "ancient." Would that have helped?
  • 39A: Ringo's drummer son (Zak) - the only crossworthy ZAK there is, which means there's really only one way to clue him, which makes him less than ideal as fill. He does get you cool, Scrabbly letters, though.
  • 50A: Riga resident (Lett) - RIGA remains my favorite European capital (fill-wise). But I routinely hesitate at LETT, as it just sounds wrong. I always want the "A" (from LATVIA, where most LETTS live).
  • 64A: TV heroine who wielded a chakram as a weapon (Xena) - "TV heroine" in four letters - you can start writing in XENA immediately. (MAUDE is five letters, right?)
  • 10D: News Corporation acquisition of 2005 (MySpace) - a gimme. Didn't even look to see how many squares were involved. Just knew it. I thank David Quarfoot for using nearly this exact clue in one of his puzzles in the not-terribly-distant past.
  • 37D: The Swiss Guards guard him (Pope) - news to me. Aren't the Italian Guards jealous?
  • 38D: Cold northerly winds of southern France (mistrals) - great word. Also the title of a great hard-boiled short story by Raoul Whitfield, collected in the fantastic anthology Hard-Boiled (ed. Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian)
  • 48D: George who directed "Miracle on 34th Street" (Seaton) - when CAPRA wouldn't fit, I was at a loss. Needed every cross.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Byron Walden tells me there's a shout-out to me in this week's "The Onion" crossword puzzle. See if you can find it. Get it here (to solve in AcrossLite) or here (to solve directly on the Onion website).


WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2009 - M. Langwald (Rescuer of Odysseus / Leader deposed in 1955 / Puzzlemaker Rubik)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "MADE IN TAIWAN" - first words of theme answers, spoken in order, become a giant homophone of this phrase, allegedly found on CHILD'S TOYS (60A: Bearers of a phrase suggested by saying the starts of 17-, 24-, 38- and 49-Across)

Word of the Day: UMIAK - The umiak, umiaq, umiac, oomiac or oomiak is a type of boat used by Eskimo people, both Yupik and Inuit, and was originally found in all coastal areas from Siberia to Greenland. Its name means "woman's boat," as opposed to the kayak, which means "man's boat" (wikipedia)

I haven't seen a "Made in Taiwan" label in a long, long time. CHILD'S TOYS are now, predominantly, notoriously, "MADE IN CHINA" - that is the phrase on almost every piece of inventory in the "Christmas Tree Store" here where I live - we went inside once just to see if we could find Anything without a "MADE IN CHINA" label on it. No success - literally none - until we got to the back of the store, where the art prints were, and found something made in Canada, and then something made in the U.S.A. How many "MADE IN TAIWAN" labels did we see? None. I've been in a lot of toy stores in recent years - having a child will do that to you. Can't recall seeing a "MADE IN TAIWAN" sticker. I feel like the "MADE IN TAIWAN" label was a common thing in this country 20+ years ago, before the big industrial boom in China. Today's theme, especially with its reference to TOYS, feels oddly dated and off. It's CHINA, CHINA, CHINA now. Everywhere. All the time. Has been for years.

I was secretly hoping LEAD would be somewhere in the puzzle.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Robin Hood's love (Maid Marian) - whose name I can Never spell correctly, perhaps because of my undying (I just typed "undrying!?") love for Mrs. C, i.e. MARION Ross from "Happy Days"
  • 24A: One at the front desk, perhaps (innkeeper)
  • 38A: Nail-biter, perhaps (tie game)

  • 49A: Leader deposed in 1955 (Juan Peron)

Lots of doers of one kind of another, from dwellers (44A: Pueblo dweller -> TAOS) to puzzlemakers (13A: Puzzlemaker Rubik -> ERNO) to chipmakers (24D: Major chipmaker -> INTEL). The roughest "ER" of all, though was 54A: Rescuer of Odysseus (Ino). I've read it several times, even taught it once or twice, and I absolutely blanked on this answer. Talk about your walk-on parts. Yeesh. It's a good thing that the only plausible vowel in the first position was "I," or else I'd have been in real trouble (all praise to crosswordy NILS for the assist - 48D: Rock's Lofgren). Got thrown by 7D: Men in blue - wanted POLICE, which I'm sure was the point of the clue. Had UNI- and wrote in UNITS. Got UNION and grumbled until I realized the UNION in question was one side in the Civil War; then I thought, "good one." As for TAOS, here is yet another place named for a tribe. I didn't know the TAOS were a tribe. Now I do. Soon I will forget. So sad. As for the Rubik's cube - here is an article from the front page (seriously, front page) of my local paper earlier this week. Apparently one of my colleagues is some big deal Rubik's cube solver. She has a solving method named for her.


  • 16A: Played for a cat's-paw (used) - not an expression I've ever heard. Must come from a time when toys were Made In Taiwan.
  • 19A: Like some telegrams (sung) - cute. Needed crosses.
  • 41A: Come to mind (occur) - this doesn't feel ... equivalent. I'm trying to think of phrases where you can swap these out, and I'm failing. You need extra words to make this one work neatly. I guess you could say, "When certain thoughts OCCUR, I just push them out of my head..." In that situation, the swap-out would work. But usually OCCUR is used in the phrase "OCCUR to me [or whomever]"
  • 55A: 1960s role for Diana Rigg (Emma Peel) - mmmm, Peel.

  • 53D: Place for pimiento (olive) - I wrote in LOAVE and thought "No way, that's not a word!" Indeed.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS Happy Birthday to reader SethG


TUESDAY, Jan. 27, 2009 - Jim Hyres (Nation once known as Dahomey / Game with "Out of Gas" cards / Big name in retail jewelry / Myopic Mr.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "BORN" homophones - four theme answers end with them

Word of the Day: PROWL CAR - a car in which policemen cruise the streets; equipped with radiotelephonic communications to headquarters ( - since all police cars today (I think) have radiotelephonic communications to headquarters, you can tell the word originated in an earlier time period. It's not used as much today, but I encounter it every time I read Chandler's "The Long Goodbye":

He hadn't mentioned the girl again. Also, he hadn't mentioned that he had no job and no prospects and that almost his last dollar had gone into paying the check at The Dancers for a bit of high class fluff that couldn't stick around long enough to make sure he didn't get tossed in the sneezer by some prowl car boys, or rolled by a tough hackie and dumped out in a vacant lot.

Today's puzzle is very light on the theme answers - only 40 squares of coverage in all. The homophones are fine - every possible one appears to have been used. It's almost an add-a-letter type of theme - BORN, BORNE, BORNES ... but then JASON BOURNE comes along and breaks the that trend's neck with his sexy, stealthy, special ops training. I was wondering as I solved this whether MILLE BORNES is terrifically well known. I barely know it - I think I knew one family once who had it among their games, and so I have vague recollections of playing. And I've seen it at least once in xwords before. But it doesn't strike me as universally known the way "Monopoly" or "Clue" might be.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Game with "Out of Gas" cards (Mille Bornes)
  • 11D: Heir to the throne, typically (first born)
  • 33D: Like the dust in a dust storm (wind-borne)
  • 58A: Robert Ludlum protagonist (Jason Bourne)

There were a few answers in the grid that felt a bit wobbly to me, the wobbliest of which was AIR TASER (21A: High-voltage weapon). I have heard of TASERs, but not AIR TASERs. Are there SEA TASERs? I googled "AIR TASER" just now and there wasn't a ton of clear action.
I see that there are "high-voltage weapons" for sale that have that name, so it's a real item, but does anyone who doesn't own one know them by this name? I was thinking also that maybe there could be a limit on lawn-related clues - maybe one per puzzle? Neither SODDED (43A: Like newly laid lawns) nor RESEED (64A: Start over with, as a lawn) is an answer you want to call attention to, and when you double-lawn it, that's exactly what you do. TABSET felt like a much uglier cousin of PROWLCAR, in that its heyday was probably well over thirty years ago (5D: Typewriter formatting feature). Further TABSET crossing TEASET (5A: China shop purchase)? That's ... one more SET than should be in the grid, probably. Lastly, ENERGIES ... it's a valid word, but the way its clued makes it seem odd and hard to imagine in context (9D: Vigorous feelings). [Gas, electricity and steam, e.g.] might have worked.


  • 20A: Spots for spats (ankles) - "spats" should have been my word of the day. Again, as with PROWLCAR and TABSET, I feel like I'm in 1954. Are they supposed to keep mud out of your shoes, or just look cool?
  • 34A: Big name in retail jewelry (Zales) - I see their (horrible) commercials, but I have no way of gauging if they are local, regional, or national. We're not big jewelry consumers. No, wait, it's the De Beers commercials I can't stand. This one looks like an ad for a horror film. If only there were real bloodshed ...

  • 40A: AOL alternative (MSN) - on top of SODDED. This tiny section would not have been hard to rewrite. You could get rid of corp. abbr., plural abbrev. (DEMS) and, well, SODDED, in one swoop. What about TAWNY over ERIK over MEN over PADDED? Or you could change DEMS to DERN and MSN to REN, but that pop culture swerve might make some folks nauseous. I'm just saying ... there are other options here.
  • 41A: Nation once known as Dahomey (Benin) - this one fell out of my brain some time in 7th grade, I think. Needed several crosses.
  • 62A: Larry who won the 1987 Masters (Mize) - when you grow up as a sports-loving kid, all kinds of names stick in your head, even from sports you pay no attention to.
  • 39D: Rugrats' outbursts (tantrums) - I guess the plural here couldn't very well be TANTRA without causing serious confusion.
  • 42D: Myopic Mr. (Magoo) - Watch him dance...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


MONDAY, Jan. 26, 2009 - T Powell / N Salomon ("My sweetie" in a 1957 hit for the Bobbettes / Aura, informally / Instrument with 30+ strings)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Bad idea!" - same clue used for three long theme answers

Word of the Day: KIBITZER - (n.) an outsider or nonparticipant who looks on and may offer unwanted advice or comment esp. at a card game; verb "KIBITZ" means "to act as a KIBITZER" (W3I)

This is a fine Monday puzzle with a good dose of Scrabbly letters and some surprising and lively fill. The KIBITZ (44A: Offer advice from around a card table) / ZITHER (45D: Instrument with 30+ strings) crossing is particularly nice. I had no idea "MR. LEE" was Monday fare, esp. as a full title and not just a partial "MR. _____" (37A: "My sweetie" in a 1957 hit for the Bobbettes). I know the song well from my high school "I Give Up On Contemporary Music" years of 1985-87, which also happened to coincide with the release of the movie "Stand By Me," which featured "MR. LEE" on its soundtrack. It's a great, catchy, snappy, growly little number.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: "Bad idea!" ("Let's not go there!")
  • 38A: "Bad idea!" ("You must be joking!")
  • 52A: "Bad idea!" ("I didn't hear that!")

This grid makes me realize how much easier a 14/15/14 theme grid is to construct than a 14/13/14. Imagine black squares where the "Y" and "G" are in 38A. You can't segment the grid as neatly in that scenario and have to run at least two adjacent 8s from top to middle and middle to bottom in two of the corners. In this puzzle, you've got a single 10-ltr Down in the NW and another in the SE, and then a single 8 in the NE and another in the SW. Grids get far harder to fill (smoothly) when you are forced to run 8+-ltr Downs side-by-side through two theme answers. The only reason I say all this is because on its surface, it would seem that a 14/15/14 grid is more challenging to construct than a 14/13/14 because of the additional squares involved, but I don't think that's true. This observation has nothing to do with the quality of the current puzzle and everything with my trying to understand the harsh mistress that is the 15x15 puzzle grid.


  • 30A: Sunken ship's locale (seabed) - a nice answer. "Locale" refuses to take a break.
  • 41A: "_____ River" (song from "Show Boat") ("Ol' Man") - Speaking of "River," River Phoenix was in "Stand By Me" (see nostalgic music memories, above)

  • 58A: Couturier Christian (Dior) - alliteration! DIOR and YSL are the big fashion icons in puzzleworld.
  • 10D: Two-by-two vessel (Noah's Ark) - love the answer; not sure about the clue.
  • 26D: Undercooked meat danger (E. coli) - I refuse to put this answer in any puzzle I might construct. Not too crazy about EBOLI either [I know that EBOLA is the disease and EBOLI is the Italian place name in the Carlo Levi title "Christ Stopped at EBOLI" - 6 of one, as far as I'm concerned, fill-wise]. If I got really, really desperate, I would use E COLI, but deliberately putting E COLI in something I make ... doesn't seem right.
  • 29D: Aura, informally (vibes) - I get a weird VIBE (singular) from this clue because of the singular / plural disparity ... although I can imagine switching "aura" and VIBES out in a sentence, so it's technically legit.
  • 35D: Beachgoer's acquisition (sun tan) - unless you are me, in which case you either burn or stay white because you were lathered in sun block and / or stayed in the shade. Stupid family history of skin cancer!
  • 49D: Cello feature (F hole) - this sounds dirty. Also, I didn't know it. Also, my wife had an error here because she sort of misread the clue at 48A: Babe in the woods (naif) ans something having to do with wood nymphs, and even though wood nymphs are DRYADS, and even though NAIAD is spelled thusly, she wrote in NAID.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SUNDAY, Jan. 25, 2009 - M Torch (Fox News opinionator / Monkey, pony or alligator / Style expert Klensch and others)

Relative difficulty: Easy-Medium

THEME: "Fiddle Dee Dee" - double T is changed to double D in familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued

Word of the Day: REVET - To retain (an embankment, for example) with a layer of stone, concrete, or other supporting material [French revêtir, from Old French revestir, to clothe again, from Latin revestīre : re-, re- + vestīre, to clothe (from vestis, garment).] (

Easy solve with few problems except for somewhere in the NEVada section of the grid (58A: Home of the Excelsior Mts.), where things got a little rocky and I had to double back and come back up from the south. Had -AI-E for 47D: Relinquish (waive) and, for some reason, that did not compute. My first guesses for the crosses would have turned the word into HAIBE, which I was pretty sure was wrong. I know, NEB. doesn't really have "mountains," but I didn't know NEV. had any either, except the Sierra NEVadas. Why I thought labyrinths had HALLS, I don't rightly know (47A: Labyrinth parts -> WALLS). DANCE took some thought as well (51A: Monkey, pony or alligator). As I say, this little struggle was only a hiccup. The few tough words in this puzzle were easily conquerable via crosses.

The theme - meh. The first answer I got was UDDER NONSENSE, and that is such a painful, tired groaner that I didn't have much hope for the rest of the puzzle. Thankfully, the rest of the DD-changes were not as bad. I was kind of hoping this would be a bra-themed puzzle. Too much to hope for, I guess. Is FADDY a word? FADDISH I've heard of - FADDY, not so much. I'm sure it's legal, i.e. in a dictionary somewhere, but I don't know that I've ever heard it uddered. (see, it's horrible, right?). Last question about the theme - "DEE" is in the title ... and "DEE" is in the puzzle (76A: "Zip-_____-Doo-Dah"). Not that I needed the title to get that one, but still - titles should not contain words that are in the grid. Further, should partials cross? ADEE and HADA (62D: "We _____ ball!")? I can't remember the last time I saw crossing partials like that. Perhaps there was no other fix. With two theme answers running through there, options were likely very limited.

Theme answers:

  • 22A: Dairy frivolity? (udder nonsense)
  • 40A: Creamy dessert atop a cracker, informally? (puddin' on the Ritz)
  • 56A: Advice for golfers? (caddy remarks)

  • 61A: Measure of reaction to horror? (shudder speed)
  • 80A: Guardians of a house painters' celebration? (ladder day saints) - ?
  • 102A: Linens purchased through a Web site? (online bedding)
  • 2D: Why the eBay user was laid up? (bidder cold) - had BITTER PILL at first :(
  • 69D: Trendy lab hazards? (faddy acids)

Surprised to see ELI in the puzzle clued as some clockmaker I've never heard of (100D: Clockmaker Terry). Also surprised to see ELI because ELIHU (48A: Root of government) is already in the puzzle. Two ELI-related clues and not a single mention of Yale. That is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Never heard of RYE, NY (59A: New York town with Playland amusement park) or SLIGO county (35D: County next to Mayo) or RONZONI (9D: Pasta brand) pasta. OK, maybe I've heard of them, but I didn't remember them last night while solving. ALLELE(S) is back in the puzzle today (82D: Genotype determinants) - it's a word I now have affection for, since it can no longer do me any harm (I learned it, the hard way, from crosswords a while back). Never heard the term RENT ROLL (20A: Landlord's schedule) - maybe it's a big apt. building (i.e. a New York) thing. Thought SPEE was SNEE, and then SMEE (94A: Losing admiral in the Battle of the Falkland Islands, 1914). Other than that, all was smooth.


  • 26A: "Scrubs" actor Braff (Zach) - I always feel a little guilty when pop culture gimmes like this are the first things I put in the grid. I think ZACH and D'ANGELO were one and two today (105A: Actress Beverly who played Patsy Cline in "Coal Miner's Daughter")
  • 10D: Style expert Klensch and others (Elsas) - Had an ILSA/ELSA moment here. Not sure why I know this lady. She's not on "Project Runway," so the origins of my familiarity with her are uncertain.
  • 74A: With 78-Across, stated desire of many a Miss America (World / Peace) - very nicely done
  • 75A: Home to Ohio Northern University (Ada) - news to me. Not what Nabokov's novel "ADA" was about.
  • 92A: "_____-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra!" ("Too-Ra") - OK on its own, as a Hail Mary-type answer, but with "A-DEE" already in the puzzle, it just feels silly.
  • 93A: Support, as an embankment (revet) - learned it, recently, from crosswords.
  • 3D: Clarified, in England (spelt out) - also a declaration from a trend-conscious grain merchant
  • 27D: Fox News opinionator (Hannity) - I was surprised yesterday at the vicious and derisive comments that Palin's name provoked from several readers. Well, not surprised. It's an unfortunate habit of certain liberals to sneer at and malign any well known Republican whose name happens to come up. These are the people who talk about everyone loving each other and then wear T-shirts that say "I Hated Bush Before It Was Cool." So I know you all think HANNITY's an idiot. I can't say I disagree. But I don't need a bunch of comments about his mother or his penis size, or suggestions that his daughter is a "ho," a la yesterday. There are political blogs where such blow-hard pontificating is the comment style of choice. They aren't hard to find.
  • 56D: Anglers' baskets (creels) - I have a completely inexplicable love of the word CREEL
  • 96D: Rock group whose members wear red flowerpots on their heads (Devo) - always? I think they did at one period, the "Whip It" period... Mmm, sixth grade:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


SATURDAY, Jan. 24, 2009 - M. Diehl (Fifth-year exams at Hogwarts / Sands part-owner, once / Longtime North Dakota Senator Gerald and others)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Relative difficulty: Super easy

THEME: none

Word of the Day: ULSTER - A loose, long overcoat made of heavy, rugged fabric and often belted. (

This puzzle felt like a Thursday, difficulty-wise. An unthemed Thursday. I started writing at RAE (61D: English singer Corinne Bailey _____ (Rae)) and I never stopped. I wasn't trying to speed, and yet I'm sure I was done in under ten minutes, even though I was writing every answer down in the margins as I solved it, trying to create a kind of road map of how I solved the puzzle (starts at RAE, ends at RACIST (!), in case you're wondering). I kept waiting for the hard stuff to come, but it never did. Or rather, it did, twice, but got washed away in a flood of easy crosses. I did not know this new NYE guy (47A: Longtime North Dakota senator Gerald and others), although I have a vague memory of having said this about him before. I also did not know LASSEN (28D: _____ Volcanic National Park), which looks all kinds of wrong. But no matter. Tuesday-level crosses helped out. Like many a sucker, I blithely wrote in ALASKAN for 39D: Sarah Palin, by birth (Idahoan), but apparently that would have been too easy, even for this puzzle. Corinne Bailey RAE is quickly going from the Saturday RAE to the mid-week RAE, and will soon be the new Charlotte RAE / RAE Dawn Chong. If you don't know who she is ... let's see ... well, if you are watching the new "America Idol" (long shot with you guys, I know, but you never know) multiple auditioners have had a go at this, her biggest hit:

Gimme names abound in this puzzle (NYES aside). Even if RAE was unknown to you, you've got the oft-appearing ESTELLA (44D: She was a pip to Pip in "Great Expectations"), who shows up way more often than PIP, or so it seems. Anyone who vaguely followed baseball in the 80s/90s knows 57A: Pitcher Saberhagen (Bret). The only thing that slowed me up with PELE was that I misread the clue, 24A: Sports star with an accent in his name, as "Sports car ..." Everyone knows 5D: Peruvian Sumac (Yma) - if you want to clue her at a Saturday level, you'd somehow have to take her last name out; tough. ADELA is crosswordese of a T/W level (10D: Writer _____ Rogers St. John). Constructors everywhere are waiting for a more current, more famous ADELA to come along so they can use this name more often. Those letters are Choice. Two more near-gimmes in the name category: DE SADE (18A: "The Crimes of Love" author), whom I did a presentation on in high school (how is that possible? did I invent that memory?), and TIERNEY (14D: "Laura" star, 1944), whom I get confused with the boxer Gene TUNNEY. And the still-alive actress Maura TIERNEY. Which reminds me of "Newsradio," which reminds me of this. Man, this guy was a genius:


  • 1A: Brand for preparation on a stovetop (Jiffy Pop) - my first thought: "... Stove Top? Hey, it fits!")
  • 29A: Fifth-year exams at Hogwarts (Owls) - pays to have an 8-yr-old in the house sometimes. I'm about a B student when it comes to HP knowledge.
  • 38A: Moccasin sound (hiss) - the snake, not the shoe - unless you've got some tricked-out mocs with air cushions that leak.
  • 46A: Funny papers pooch (Odie) - you just gotta wait a clue like this out. Usually one cross will do. I'm waiting on ODIE, OTTO, or DAWG. IDAHOAN made it clear.
  • 4D: Them's the breaks (fate) - yes, I remember Zeus saying that, somewhere ...
  • 36D: Nominee for Best Supporting Actress in "Mildred Pierce," 1945 (Ann Blyth) - needed crosses for the last name, but somehow the first name just came to me. So clearly I'd heard of her before. I think she played the daughter in that movie, to Joan Crawford's mother and title character.
  • 37D: Hammer holders (ears) - yes, your ear has hammers. Late in the week, "hammer" should make you think "ear." Just trust me.
  • 40D: Sands part-owner, once (Sinatra) - interesting clue. I need a clip here, right?

  • 43D: Girlish accessory (hair bow) - ESTELLA wore one of these in David Lean's version of "Great Expectations"

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


FRIDAY, Jan. 23, 2009 - Barry Silk (Clio maker / Asian au pair / Two-time foreign minister of the U.S.S.R.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SNEAK THIEF - (n.) One who steals without breaking into buildings or using violence.

A fine Friday puzzle in which nothing in particular stands out. Not much zing, but very very smooth. I see that the puzzle uses every letter. That's nice, but every time I see a pangram puzzle, I can't help but wonder what was lost in the quest. It's not as if pangrams haven't been done (and done and done) before. Not sure what's in it for anyone anymore. Certainly doesn't add to the solving pleasure. The coolest answer here is HYPERTEXT (34D: Web connection means). That "HTTP" you see at the beginning of the URL for this site stands for "Hypertext Transfer Protocol." I thought HYPERTEXT and HYPERLINKS were essentially synonymous, but apparently not. The entire document is a HYPERTEXT; while the HYPERLINK is a means of navigating between HYPERTEXTS. I'm sure some nerd or nerds have a detailed explanation of the fine points that we all can't wait to hear.

I like puzzles that are tough but, when finished, contain all recognizable answers. This is one of those puzzles. The most unrecognizable thing in it, for me, was SNEAK THIEF (25D: Lifter). I had ----- THIEF and thought "PURSE THIEF? .... Is that something?" Then when I got the "K" I thought "SNEAK THIEF? I know thieves sneak, but that can't be right." Seems awfully redundant, like a FLY PILOT or a SERVE WAITER. I guess the SNEAK THIEF is probably a lot more successful than his counterpart, the ANNOUNCE THIEF. "I am removing your wallet from your purse, madam. Good day."

I believe that the clue for "AFRICAN QUEEN" (17A: Film with the line "By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William II, I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution") is the longest one I've ever seen. The longest one I've seen since I started blogging? Anyway, it's long. PAUSED (41A: Like some DVDs in DVD players) describes perfectly my last (and only) encounter with "THE AFRICAN QUEEN" - I thought "This movie is long and not interesting me and I probably know all I need to know about it by now ..." Never got to the Kaiser William line.


  • 1A: Creek confederacy tribe (Alabama) - a late-week cluing technique (tribe-for-place switcheroo) also occasionally used with IOWA, ERIE, MIAMI, OMAHA, etc.
  • 8A: "The Appeal" novelist (Grisham) - never saw the clue; I see that it is law-related, but I don't know that would have helped me much.
  • 15A: Two-time foreign minister of the U.S.S.R. (Molotov) - I know him for his delicious cocktails
  • 16A: Clio maker (Renault) - CLIO is better known to me as an advertising award. Or a muse.
  • 23A: Recipient of a trade discount (retailer) - not sure I understand this. Does this refer to the fact that RETAILERs buy things wholesale and then mark them up?
  • 30A: King of Naples in "The Tempest" (Alonso) - the last play I read with my prison students last semester. Not Shakespeare's last, but may as well have been. Just saw Paul Mazursky's 1982 film version, with Gena Rowlands, Raul Julia, Susan Sarandon, and Molly Ringwald. Wacky. Other Shakespeare clue in the puzzle - 49D: "As You Like It" setting (Arden), a gimme. It's usually part of the phrase "Forest of ARDEN"
  • 44A: Evidence that one is an alien (accent) - uh ... OK. Lots of citizens have accents. I'm just sayin'.
  • 46A: Opening for an anchor (top story) - knew right away that the "anchor" in question was on air, but it still took some crosses to get the (cool) answer
  • 51A: Asian au pair (amah) - an elder stateswoman of crosswordese. You don't see her much in the Shortz era, but Maleska loved her, so she's forever in my mind, along with ADIT and ESNE and such.
  • 55A: U.S. org. with over 39 million members (AARP) - only gonna get bigger for the foreseeable future
  • 56A: Fantastic flight (magic carpet ride) - This is at least as good as HYPERTEXT. In fact, they seem vaguely related. Effortless movement from here to there.

  • 62A: Big East team with six N.I.T. basketball championships (St. John's) - the Red Storm. Not often you see a "J" lying along the bottom of the grid.
  • 2D: "I Know Who Killed Me" actress, 2007 (Lohan) - this movie took home a boatload of Razzies that year, including Worst Film and Worst Actress.

  • 4D: Givers of unfriendly hugs (boas) - also some professional wrestlers and the murderous Care Bears that no one ever talks about
  • 12D: U.S. military chopper (Huey) - how did I know this? Had the "Y" and wrote in HUEY. I don't know jack about "choppers." I'm sure 80s TV is to blame. "Airwolf?"

  • 32D: Pasta eaten with a spoon (orzo) - briefly blanked on answer and wanted OUZO, which you would only eat with a spoon if you'd already drunk a lot of it.
  • 40D: Franklin contemporary (REO) - so "Franklin" is some kind of car, or "Speedwagon."
  • 48D: Hill in Nashville (Faith) - PuzzleGirl tried to put her full name in a puzzle we're writing. I had to exercise veto power.
  • 52D: Where Bambara is spoken (Mali) - why God invented crosses
  • 55D: One of a comic-strip married couple (Arlo) - this more recent, non-Guthrie ARLO is now a full-blown gimme. I wonder who will be the next generation's ARLO. Let's see what ARLO is doing today.

Arlo & Janis

  • 58D: Atlantic City hot spot, with "the" (Taj) - as in Mahal. About as good a 3-letter terminal-J answer as you're going to get.

Signed, King of CrossWorld


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