King of England 946-55 - SUNDAY, May 31 2009 - Refuser of 1964 Nobel Prize / While there's life there's hope playwright / Technological debuts of 1998

Sunday, May 31, 2009

: Kelsey Blakley

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "Odd One Out" — Note reads: "Every letter in the answer to each asterisked clue appears an even number of times in that answer ... except one. Altogether, these eight unpaired letters can be arranged to spell the answer to 68- and 70-Across." What the unpaired letters spell: NUTS OVER (68A: With 70-Across, some people are _____ crosswords)

Word of the Day: CRINOID (25D: Sea lily, e.g.) — n.

Any of various echinoderms of the class Crinoidea, including the sea lilies and feather stars, that are characterized by a cup-shaped body, feathery radiating arms, and either a stalk or clawlike structure with which they are able to attach to a surface.


Of or belonging to the Crinoidea.

[From New Latin Crinoīdea, class name : Greek krinon, lily + Greek -oeidēs, -oid.] (

A puzzle with very little payoff for how complicated it must have been to construct. I generally don't read "Notes" attached to puzzles, and today was no exception. Turns out, reading the "Note" would have helped me little, if at all. I simply thought the the central answer NUTS OVER was contrived and pandering and awfully forced. So I find out, in the end, after reading the "Note," that there was an architectural reason for the phrase. Doesn't make me like it any better. This is one of those puzzles that you can appreciate for its construction intricacies after it's done, but while you're solving ... you've got nothing. Nothing good, anyway. What you do have: ENTICER, AMUSER, AIRER, and DESIRERS. You also have a Near-Natick crossing in (the horrible, apparently variantly spelled) EDRED (60A: King of England, 946-55) and ADRIANO (56D: Italian Renaissance composer Banchieri). I studied medieval England in grad school and still struggled to come up with EDRED. His most notable achievement appears to be that he was the grandfather of Alfred the Great, the most important king of the Anglo-Saxon period. Also, the spelling EADRED appears to be preferred. EADRED gets fewer Google hits, but I think that's because EDRED appears to be a name some people (Scandinavians?) still have.

Theme answers:

  • 46D: *Real work (strenuous effort) [unpaired "N"]
  • 102A: *Deficits (insufficiencies) [unpaired "U"]
  • 23A: *Religious affiliation of John Adams and William Howard Taft (Unitarian Church) [unpaired "T"] — "CHURCH" felt weird to me here, so much so that I left it off until I confirmed it through crosses.
  • 86A: *Hides out (goes underground) [unpaired "S"]
  • 116A: *Ragged (tattered and torn) [unpaired "O"]
  • 3D: *Not firm work? (private practice) [unpaired "V"] - great clue
  • 33A: *You raise your arms for these (anti-perspirants) [unpaired "E"] — cute clue
  • 46A: *Physician's promise (Hippocratic oath) [unpaired "R"]
Had a rare double "Didn't I just ...?" moment today when first BAUM (5A: Creator of Princess Ozma) and then TERENCE (54D: Ancient playwright who originated the phrase "While there's life, there's hope") showed up in the grid again, just one day after their last appearances. The "Ozma" clue has been used before, and this time the "OZ" part tipped me to the answer. I had to struggle to get a number of answers — not just the aforementioned EDRED and ADRIANO, but ALONSO (24D: Explorer _____ Alvarez de Pineda, first European to see the Mississippi), "LILI" (30D: "_____ Marlene" (W.W. II love song)), "ORR'S" (18A: "The Pearl of _____ Island" (Stowe novel)), and LEX (39A: Big Apple subway line, with "the"), which I guess is inferrable via LEXington Ave. I'm going with the LEX Luthor clue every time, but that's just me. Also had no idea about CRINOID (25D: Sea lily, e.g.). Otherwise, I thought the puzzle very doable.


  • 13A: State below Lower Saxony (Hesse) - hardly a gimme, but the Downs were all so familiar that by the time I got a look at the clue, I knew exactly what the answer was.
  • 20A: Technological debuts of 1998 (iMacs) - a standard clue for this common answer
  • 32A: Manilla pact grp., 1954 (SEATO) - doing a lot of crosswords means getting familiar with, and thus pretty good at guessing, common acronyms.
  • 35D: 1967 #1 hit whose lyrics begin "What you want / Baby, I got it" ("R-E-S-P-E-C-T")

  • 65A: Montana Indians (Crees) - not a huge fan of the unnecessarily s-pluralized tribe names, and today we get two. See also PONCAS (34D: Plains Indians). For reasons I don't understand, APACHES is an s-plural that seems just fine to me. It may be alone in that respect.
  • 113A: _____ White, one of the girls in "Dreamgirls" (Effie) - also Sam's secretary in "The Maltese Falcon." A great character that the movie gets All Wrong.
  • 123A: Impressionist Degas (Edgar) - a clear gimme, but one I needed to get that SW corner to move. I had ---DEFICIENCIES in the theme answer for a bit, and nothing in that little corner was budging at all 'til I saw good ol' EDGAR.
  • 11A: Refuser of a 1964 Nobel Prize (Sartre) - A "refuser" to go with all the other Odd Jobs in the puzzle.
  • 14D: Swab's target (ear wax) - great, if gross, answer
  • 15D: Nubian Desert locale (Sudan) - flat-out guess, with no crosses. Woo hoo!
  • 75D: Supermodel Hutton (Lauren) - you could've used a "bygone" here. She makes me think of "Models, Inc." even though she was apparently not in it. If you have 90s phobia the way I do, you might want to avert your eyes:

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Water that moves you sloganeer - SATURDAY, May 30 2009 - M Ginsberg (Shimon's predecessor / Gate-breaching bomb / Polynesian libation)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: a dozen Z's (not really a theme, just a fact)

Word of the Day: WOLD (48A: Chain of treeless rolling hills) - n.

1. an upland plain: a region without woods
2. an open hill or rolling region (Webster's 3rd Intl)

This felt way harder than it ended up being (my time was right in the medium range, maybe a little bit under). At some point I realized that the constructor was probably trying to go for some kind of Z record, and maybe that made things easier, or maybe that was just an annoying distraction - I don't know. As soon as I sense the puzzle getting gimmicky (esp. a themeless), I tend to start losing my love for it. Today's held up OK, but man there was a Ton of stuff I didn't know, and a good dozen answers that I think might send people scrambling for Google today:

  • JACUZZI (16A: "Water that moves you" sloganeer) - familiar word, not a familiar slogan
  • FITCH (13D: Clyde _____, "Beau Brummell" playwright, 1890) - there's a name I've never heard and will start to forget right ... now.
  • YITZHAK (19A: Shimon's predecessor) - Rabin should be a familiar name to people, but how to spell that first name .... I guessed right on the first try, somehow.
  • BAUM (22A: "Mother Goose in Prose" author, 1897) - a clue where seeing the date made all the difference. People know BAUM from "The Wizard of Oz" (beautiful new adaptation out from Marvel Comics, btw). Four letters, children's author, late 19c. ... first thing I guessed - and it gave me the "B" I needed to get JOJOBAS! (1D: Southwestern shrubs yielding a cosmetic oil)
  • POMATUM (25D: Fragrant hair dressing) - what in the wold!? ... POMADE goes in hair. JOJOBA goes in hair (it's in some shampoos). POMATUM must be Latin for POMADE. I like it better backwards, as MUTAMOP - the mop that transforms into, let's say, a robot.
  • GIRO (54D: Big name in cycling helmets) - for all I know, this is the brand of *my* helmet. The name just isn't familiar
  • FOURS (29A: All _____ (card game)) - kinky
The big killers of the day for me - the ones that necessitated a flat-out guess at their crossing - were SWAGE (44D: Metalworking tool) and WOLD. I literally ran the alphabet through my head, and though "W" sounded weird here, it sounded less weird than every other letter. In fact, the SWAGE/WOLD crossing was the only real problem I had in the whole bottom half of the puzzle. I didn't know ZOG (45A: Planet visited by Spaceman Spiff in "Calvin and Hobbes") or GIRO, but they were easily gettable via crosses. It dawned on me today that I finish quicker than I start for a reason - of course I start slower. When you start, you have nothing to build on. It took me 6 minutes to get the NW quadrant, and about that long again to finish the entire rest of the puzzle. Maybe the other quadrants were simply easier, but maybe the fact that I could work my way in with a known quantity of letters helping me out made the terrain much easier to cross. On the last quadrant (SE), I could come at it from two directions - very important, as I really had to get PETARD (40A: Gate-breaching bomb) surrounded before it would fall. For a moment, I was all set to go with the heretofore unheard of explosive device called the GERARD (named, I believe, after its inventor, GERARD Manleyson, a Sussex farmer who wanted to retrieve the sheep he believed his neighbor had stolen from him and, well, got a little carried away).


  • 1A: Response to "Is anyone else here?" ("Just me!") - for some reason the first answer that came to mind was "JUST US." This helped by giving me SHELTER, which was wrong (the answer was SECLUDE - 3D: Screen), but which gave me the "L" I needed for OWL (18A: Nighttime noisemaker), which gave me UNAWARE (2D: Not with it), etc.

  • 14A: Sports star who wrote the 2008 best seller "A Champion's Mind" (Sampras) - weird how quickly he's fallen out of my mind since his retirement. My mom always says he reminds her of me (I'm tall with dark hair and I used to play tennis). She's got Very rose-colored glasses when it comes to her son.
  • 21A: Sucker, quickly (vac) - "quickly" for "abbr." always throws me. "Say it faster!"
  • 36A: Polynesian libation (kava) - came to me out of nowhere. I know there is a plant called KAVA. Or KAVA KAVA (used as a sleep aid, perhaps).
  • 61A: Ancient Roman writer of comedies (Terence) - never read one, but his name is familiar
  • 5D: Tangled and interwoven (mazy) - MAZY is a mouse, as far as I'm concerned. Last night at Pizzeria UNO'S, Sahra did the maze, then every puzzle on the placemat, then insisted that we each color in our own surfboards (placemat provided many blank outlines). She's on the verge of being a puzzle person, but I do *not* want to push her (caught her watching me solve over my shoulder the other night ... then realized I was solving Crasswords - puzzles by the best constructors around, but with a twist: explicit sexual content. I was torn between wanting her to share in my passion and not wanting her to ask what the cryptic clue [Cock is inserted into pussy to make something creamy] meant - turns out the "pussy" and the "something creamy" are both very innocent; the "cock," not so much).
  • 7D: Believer advocating universal brotherhood (Bahai) - always get it confused with B'NAI!
  • 38D: Staple of norther Italy (polenta) - part of the super easy SW. The Z's from PIZZAZZ helped that whole quadrant go down fast.

OK, done.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Lost category - FRIDAY, May 29 2009 - R Ross (Introducer of 45's in '49 / Derby dry-goods dealer / Finnish pentathlete Lehtonen / Adidas alternative)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: Herb CAEN (26D: Columnist who wrote "Don't Call It Frisco," 1953) - Herbert Eugene Caen (April 3, 1916February 1, 1997) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist working in San Francisco. Born in Sacramento, California, Caen worked for the San Francisco Chronicle from the late 1930s until his death, with an interruption from 1950 to 1958 during which he wrote for the San Francisco Examiner. His collection of essays titled Baghdad-by-the-Bay was published in 1949 and in 1953 he published the book "Don't Call It Frisco" after a 1918 Examiner news item of the same name.[1] Caen died of lung cancer in San Francisco and his funeral was one of the best-attended events in recent city history.

He also coined the term "beatnik" and popularized the term "hippie" during the 1967 "Summer of Love" (wikipedia)

A pretty straightforward Friday puzzle, though I finished with an error - and if I'm the only one with this error, I'm going to be surprised. I had ASPERTAME / TEV, not the correct ASPARTAME / TAV. I have never seen "TAV" in a puzzle [whoops, I'm wrong - see here]. Ever. TOV, yes. TAV, no. I had TEV, which sounded adequately Hebraic to me. I don't eat / drink anything with ARTIFICIAL sweeteners (except maybe gum, sometimes), so ASPARTAME (16A: Equal, essentially - good clue) is not something I think about a lot. "E" seemed as good as "A" there. ASPERA has Latin going for it, though guess you wouldn't use the Latin word for "difficulties" as the root of your name, if you were thinking. Anyway, failure. Boo hoo.

Could do nothing with the NW at first - threw down TETE (5D: Head of Notre Dame) and then A FLAT (17A: G neighbor) and then nothing. By the way, speaking of TETE - there were far too many (two too many, in fact) of these tricksy "it's a foreign word for ..." clues. First TETE, then TAV (9D: Torah's beginning - my first answer there was TEE), then CENTRE (26A: Middle of the British Isles?). All right at the top of the puzzle. Yuck. OK, moving on. I bailed on the NW and went to the NE, where I wrote down TEE (yay), then WARM (yay - real answer = ETCH, 11D: Prepare a plate, perhaps), then I was saved by NATE / THE GREAT (12D: With 20-Down, kiddie-lit counterpart of Sherlock Holmes). Yesterday, Magilla Gorilla, today, NATE THE GREAT. NATE gave me THE GO (21A: What busy people are on) and from there, things took off.

I don't watch (in fact, refuse to watch) "Lost," and today I (briefly) paid the price for that, as PAST TENSE made no sense to me (6A: "Lost" category). The last time I caved in and started watching some culty, nerdy, "you gotta watch it!" show, I wound up watching "Heroes." Oh to have those hours back. [OK, correction ... apparently the clue refers simply to the fact that the word "Lost" is in the PAST TENSE - if indeed this clue has zero to do with the TV show "Lost," then the cheapness of this clue - and the quotation marks in particular - will some day be legendary] Staying in the NE for a bit, loved the clue on RCA VICTOR (18A: Introducer of 45's in '49), not so fond of SPARERS (8D: They let people off). After finishing that quadrant, I tried to get back into the NW, but it was having none of me. Got DOG'S AGE (31A: Long while) and ATTUNES (37A: Gets in sync) to go across, but with just three widely spaced out letters in place, the long Downs all still refused to fall. The key here was RED LETTER (19A: Memorable). I stared at ----ETTER for what felt like a long time before that term came to me. Once RED LETTER went down, all the Downs went down.

Today's odd couple: LIN-Manuel Miranda (25A: "In the Heights" Tony winner _____-Manuel Miranda) and EERO Lehtonen (14D: Finnish pentathlete Lehtonen). Never heard of these folks. The Tony Awards no longer mean anything to anyone outside of the island of Manhattan. I'd appreciate it if we could stop acting as if anyone who wins a Tony is fair game.

Once I got out of the NW, the rest was pretty easy. Had a little trouble backing easily into the SW, but PENN took care of that (47D: State-founding Friend), and the SE was, in general, supremely easy compared to the rest of the puzzle.


  • 15A: Online message (e-note) - e-not. Please strive to keep all e-answers that aren't e-mail out of your puzzles, thanks. How is an E-NOTE different from an E-MAIL??? I like E-LOAN better than I like E-NOTE (that's for BEQ)
  • 33A: Allied landing site of September 1943 (Salerno) - got it off of SAL-, and it opened the whole SE right up.
  • 35A: Derby dry-goods dealer (draper) - news to me. Does he sell drapes specifically, or ...?
  • 39A: Kennel clamor (woofing) - daughter calls our chocolab "woofie," so this answer amuses me.
  • 41A: Charcoal wood sources (alders) - again, news to me. I know that the ALDER is a tree, and that is all I know about the ALDER.
  • 43A: Backwoods pro? (fer) - fantastic clue. "I ain't FER it, I'm agin it!" - Abraham Simpson
  • 50A: Producers of some bold words (typefaces) - OK, I guess. Something weird to me about the typeface "producing" the words. Maybe too literal.
  • 58D: Where some sunflowers were painted (Arles) - easy. Van Gogh. ARLES is a not-uncommon place name in xwords.
  • 3D: Sir Francis Drake discovery of 1579 (Golden Gate) - me: "But ... that bridge was built in the 20th century ..."
  • 10D: Singer of the #1 country hit "Foolish Pride" (Tritt) - no good versions on youtube, so ... I'll just dip into the 80s vault here. First, a completely different "Foolish Pride" (1986):

and now, here's "Foolish Heart," just ... 'cause (1984):

  • 49D: The Ilek is one of its tributaries (Ural) - ouch, lower case "L"s and upper case "I"s are indistinguishable in Across Lite printouts, especially right next to each other, making this river's name look like ... well, a razor brand, frankly.
  • 51D: Adidas alternative (Fila)

["Rock my Adidas / Never rock Fila..."]

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


THURSDAY, May 28 2009 - G Cee (Bandmaster from 1880 to 1931 / Dweller on the Bay of Biscay / Vintner Martini's associate / French tire)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging

THEME: GET OVER IT (36A: Advice for the brokenhearted ... or one of four arrangements found literally in this puzzle) - letter string "GET" sits right on top of letter string "IT" at four different places in the grid

Word of the Day: QAT (61D: African plant whose leaves are chewed as a stimulant) -

Khat (Catha edulis, family Celastraceae; Arabic: قات; Somali: qaat; pronounced [ˈkæt]; Ge'ez ጫት č̣āt), also known as qat, qaat, quat, gat, jaad, chat, chad, chaad and miraa, is a flowering plant native to tropical East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Khat contains the alkaloid called cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria. In 1980 the World Health Organization classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. The plant has been targeted by anti-drug organizations like the DEA.[1] It is a controlled/illegal substance in many countries. (wikipedia)

What a weird solving experience. I worked the NW corner pretty easily, and made my way to the center, where I got the theme-revealing answer - GET OVER IT - with no trouble at all. Though OUTSOLE is not that familiar to me as a term (12D: Shoe part that touches the floor), and WRITTEN refused to go down easily (11D: Set down), the NE was reasonably tame, and before I knew it, half the puzzle was done. Then ... there was the bottom half. Going down there was like entering some weird, exotic world, where answers seemed familiar but off, or else not familiar at all. Odd abbrevs. and a super-strange partial and words I'd simply never seen before, words I weren't sure were words at all. Luckily, MAGILLA Gorilla was there to guide me through it all (my own personal Virgil), and I finished in better-than-average time (41D: _____ Gorilla, 1960s cartoon title character). But looking back over the grid, I have to believe this is actually a tougher-than-average Thursday puzzle. Times at the NY Times puzzle site seem to suggest that as well.

Evidence of difficulty: when I was done, I had with three answers that felt more like risky bets than sure things. Last letter in the grid was the "O" in OCA (47A: Mozart's "L'_____ del Cairo"). "The South American Tuber of Cairo?" I thought. Well, the crosses were pretty much indisputable, so why not? But before OCA, there was the even more befuddling Incident at Pneu Qat. Holy moly. My French education apparently left me without the word for "tire," and the only reason I felt at all confident about it was that PNEU (56D: French tire) has analogues in English (as a prefix meaining air, breath, wind ... a PNEUmatic tire is filled with compressed air). Then there's QAT (61D: African plant whose leaves are chewed as stimulant), whose definition I ultimately found under "KHAT," which tells you something about its commonness in the English language. It's a real plant, QAT is a real spelling, so I can't complain too much. If nothing else, I learned a new word. But OCA, PNEU, and QAT had this puzzle feeling very old school, very pre-Shortz. I was reading about NYT puzzle editors last night in Coral Amende's "The Crossword Obsession" (Berkley, 2001), and the issue of arcane, exotic, or obscure fill came up a lot. The book is worth reading if only for the long testimonials from people who have been in the puzzle-making business a long time, including Shortz, Stan Newman, Manny Nosowsky, Liz Gorski, etc.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Something that's hard to close? (pa GET urner)
  • 20A: Mirror (im IT ate)
  • 21A: Editor's resource (Ro GET 's)
  • 26A: George Knightley, to Emma Woodhouse (su IT or) - speaking of Austen, Marvel Comics is in the middle of a 5-issue, abridged but faithful adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" - the cover of each issue parodies a certain style of contemporary women's magazines. Awesome.
  • 50A: Fathers (be GET s)
  • 55A: Certain computer image format (b IT map)
  • 57A: Herbal beverage (sa GET ea)
  • 60A: One in search of heretics (inquis IT or) - Edwyn Powys Mathers, the pioneer of cryptic-style crosswords in Britain, took his nom de puzzle from a famous INQUISITOR: Torquemada.

I'm impressed by the concept and general architecture of this puzzle, with its neat central theme-revealing answer and something remarkably close to symmetrical placement of the GET/IT stacks. No real stand-out answers here, but overall, a pretty solid feat of construction, especially given the architectural pressures of the theme. I had many false starts throughout the grid:

  • ARK for URN (7D: Ossuary, maybe)
  • PELT for PARE (52A: Skin)
  • WILT for MELT (62A: Go weak at the knees)

I was not too happy about the twin "A" partials, A RUT (16A: Stuck, after "in") and the way worse A SURE (53D: "It's _____ bet"), but something about the line ALEE AGREE ARUT is kind of funny, in a good way.

I have a recluing suggestion for 2D:

[One without conviction?] -> A LAME D.A.

Come on, that was good.


  • 5A: Bandmaster from 1880 to 1931 (Sousa) - clue is oddly daunting, but the answer very familiar.
  • 43A: Vintner Martini's associate (Rossi) - "Martini and ROSSI Asti Spumante" is a phrase that is permanently etched in my head from TV commercials of my childhood. I feel like one of the ads involved people repeating that phrase incessantly, like some kind of cultish chant. Here's an ad I don't remember, but I wish I did:

  • 49A: Dweller on the Bay of Biscay (Breton) - "Bay of Biscay" always sounds Asian to me. I think I'm getting it confused with Bay of Bengal.
  • 59A: Hungarian Communist leader _____ Kun (Bela) - whoa. Total guess, based on fact that BELA is a name I recognize, and BMI sounded right (59D: Songwriters' grp.).
  • 65A: Personal reserve funds, for short (IRAs) - "reserve"? ... I guess that's right, though I'm "reserving" that money for way down the road. "Reserve" suggests to me that you can tap it whenever you need. You probably wouldn't use your IRA that way. Or maybe you would.
  • 2D: Tree-lined avenue (alameda) - I've probably said this before, but ALAMEDA is an avenue name to me (or a city in CA), not a general term for an avenue.
  • 18D: "The Kingdom and the Power" author, 1969 (Talese) - alright, that's it. This guy's going right on my summer reading list. I keep saying I'm going to read him and it keeps not happening. No more.
  • 44D: Sound before "That's all, folks!" (stutter) - I'm not going to be able to explain this well, but STUTTER is not a "sound" to me - it's a sound pattern. Any number of sounds might be part of a STUTTER. I considered SNICKER (?), and then realized I was conflating Looney Tunes with Woody Woodpecker.
  • 58D: The Chieftains' home (Eire) - helped me change ICED TEA to SAGE TEA. I knew they were Irish and probably didn't live in some heretofore unknown county called DIRE.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

SYNDICATED READERS (you folks reading this on July 2, 2009): PS lots of entries rolled in yesterday for the contest I'm holding at my other website, "Pop Sensation." Still a full day left to enter. Check it out.


Computer language in Y2K news - WEDNESDAY, May 27 2009 - C Rubin (Monarch crowned in 1558 Abbr / Left Bank toppers)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: " ... like a Brit" - familiar (American) expressions have words inside them changed to their British counterparts, creating nonsense phrases, which are then clued, "?"-style

Word of the Day: ELUTE (42A: Extract with a solvent) - tr.v., e·lut·ed, e·lut·ing, e·lutes.

To extract (one material) from another, usually by means of a solvent.

[From Latin ēluere, ēlūt-, to wash out : ē-, ex-, ex- + -luere, to wash.]

A cute little Wednesday, though I have one question: Can LORRY be a verb? Or do parts of speech not matter in this little switcheroofest? Not surprisingly, both because it was first and because it was nuts, KEEP ON LORRYIN' took me the longest to get of all the theme answers. In fact, once I got out of the N/NW, it was all pretty smooth, but the start was bumpy enough to keep this at what felt like an average Wednesday level of difficulty. I could make nothing out of 1A: One-two part (jab) at first. Kept thinking of Lawrence Welk's "a-one, and a-two" and boxing never entered the equation. I also don't know my computer languages from my left elbow, and so COBOL took me a few crosses (4D: Computer language in Y2K news). To my (very minor) credit, I had at least heard of COBOL before ... probably from puzzles. I had no idea it had anything to do with Y2K. I remember the Y2K hype very well. No memories of COBOL. Isn't COBOL a planet in the "Battlestar Galactica" universe? Anyway, moving on - the Downs in the N/NW are quite lovely. Really like JACK UP (1D: Hike, as a price), and GO-ROUND (7D: Bout), MIX IT UP (10D: Have a tussle), and IN DRAG (8D: Clad like some Halloween paraders) aren't half-bad either. MUSIC BOX also has its merits - reminds me of the song "MUSIC BOX Dancer," which somehow, for reasons that are way beyond my comprehension, charted as a single in the late 70s despite being entirely instrumental and, well ... here, you listen:

Embarrassing fact for the day: I remember, at 9 years old, calling Y94 (local radio station) and requesting "Music Box Dancer" ... and then sitting around listening to the radio, waiting for them to play it. My tastes in music would ... develop.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Words of encouragement to a Brit? ("Keep on LORRYin'!") - from "Keep on truckin'"
  • 29A: Group of dancing Brits? (conga QUEUE) - from "conga line"
  • 46A: British smart-alecks? (wise BLOKES) - from "wise guys"
  • 56A: Sleep like a Brit? (catch some ZEDS) - from "catch some z's"


  • 2D: Vulcans and Romulans (aliens) - I don't think Vulcans and Romulans are ALIENS if you are on Vulcan or Romulus. I'm just sayin'.
  • 19A: Daisy type (oxeye) - I just had to look up how to spell this word. Thought it might be OX [space] EYE, or OX [dash] EYE.
  • 53A: Dresden denial (nein) - part of a one-two foreign-word clue alliteration punch, with 58D: Other, in Oaxaca (otro).
  • 55A: Wedding memento (video) - now that is a hard clue, in that VIDEO does not leap, or even LIMP (49A: Favor one side, perhaps), to mind. And yet it makes sense.
  • 60A: When doubled, a wolf's call (hubba) - I wonder how many people puzzled over the possible sounds that actual wolves make ... OWOOOO (that's my version of a howl)
  • 63A: Sacha Baron Cohen character _____ G (Ali) - beware his full name, which looks nuts in the grid: "ALIG? Who the hell calls himself ALIG?"
  • 67A: iPhone display unit (pixel) - I guess so. "iPhone" part is quite arbitrary.
  • 9D: Bernstein/Sondheim's "_____ Like That" ("A Boy") - no idea. None. Dang, it's from "West Side Story" - I really should see that movie.

  • 33D: Leopold's partner in a sensational 1924 trial (Loeb) - do you really need anything after "partner?" What other famous partner did any guy in history named "Leopold" have?
  • 45D: Monarch crowned in 1558: Abbr. (Eliz.) - easy, but weird to see her referred to without the familiar "I" after her name.

A few other items of business. One, for those of you who missed my late addition to yesterday's write-up, be sure to check out occasional Rex stand-in and commenter Wade's new song-writing venture ("Nutcraker Buck"). His recent song about Captain Sully Sullenberger is getting press.

Next, crossword-constructing whipper-snapper Natan Last gets a nice write-up in the latest issue of Brown University's Alumni Magazine. Best quote from the interview: "I really like shoving a bunch of cool words into a puzzle." No pretension. Straight to the point. Natan thinks he looks like a "[-----]face" in the accompanying photo, but I think he looks scrappy and impish, like a combination of Jo from "Facts of Life" and Alex P. Keaton from "Family Ties." Anyway, check out the article here.

And lastly, a little literary anecdote. Last night, I was reading "Fat" by Raymond Carver in a used paperback edition of "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" that I got at a book sale a while back. Carver was my idol as a (very) young man, and I hadn't read him in ages, so I was excited to revisit his stories, especially "Fat," which stuck in my mind like few others. As I read, the pages came loose and fell neatly out of the book, but I didn't think anything of it - after all, it was a used book that I got for virtually nothing. When I finished the story, I flipped the small stack of loose pages over and noticed, for the very first time, the following inscription: "For Pat Wilcox, with my thanks for being here tonight, Ray. Carver 11/10/81" I discover that I own a signed Carver only because the book literally falls apart in my hands. It was tragic and magical all at the same time. Next to his signature, Carver has underlined the date, and just below that, he's written my favorite part of the whole inscription: "Binghamton!" What's weird - Carver would have been here (Binghamton, where I live) visiting, among others, the novelist John Gardner, who taught here for many years. Gardner would die in a motorcycle accident less than a year after Carver's visit.

Since it's already fallen out of the book, I think I'm going to frame that inscribed title page and put it right underneath the framed Ali signature from 1971 that's addressed to me and my mom.

Enjoy your day,
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. Hey syndicated readers (i.e. those reading this on Wed., July 1, 2009) — just wanted to alert you to a contest going on at my other blog today through Friday morning, July 3, 2009. Grand prize = three pretty choice books from my vintage paperback collection. Contest should be amusing. I got a panel of guest judges and everything.

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


TUESDAY, May 26 2009 - M Nothnagel (Title planet in 2001 Kevin Spacey movie / On/off surrounder / Romans preceder)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Relative difficulty: Easy/Medium

THEME: SWAP / MEET (1A: With 67-Across, an appropriate title for this puzzle?) - four theme answers all begin with words that are synonyms for "SWAP"

Word of the Day: MANSE (42A: Stately home) - n.

  1. A cleric's house and land, especially the residence of a Presbyterian minister.
  2. A large stately residence.
  3. Archaic. The dwellings belonging to a householder.

[Middle English manss, a manor house, from Medieval Latin mānsa, a dwelling, from Latin, feminine past participle of manēre, to dwell, remain.] (

Easy for me. Flew through this one with virtually no hesitation, but thought it might be a bit harder for people for whom Emma SAMMS (64A: Emma of "Dynasty") and Thom YORKE (47A: Radiohead singer Thom) were not gimmes, so I ticked the difficulty rating up slightly to Easy/Medium. The one place where I made an error that required subsequent fitful erasure and rewriting was the center, where I plunked MANOR down at 42A: Stately home without even blinking and then wondered how 26D: One who goes on and on (droner) could end with the letter string "NRR." MANOR felt so solid that it took me a few beats even to consider that it might be wrong. But once that was fixed, boom boom, no more problems. Today's theme covers a lot of ground, physically. Four long answers, plus the bonus 4x4. With the exception of SWITCH PLATE, the answers feel a bit dull to me. Also, two of the synonyms are used in ways that are actually synonymous with "SWAP" (BARTER SYSTEM, EXCHANGE RATE), while the other two (TRADE SCHOOL and SWITCH PLATE) are used with completely different, non-"SWAP" meanings - though "SWITCH" does retain that "from-one-to-the-other" quality inherent in "SWAP." Also, I'm not sure what the "MEET" part of SWAP MEET does here ... I guess all these answer are MEETing together in the grid. So I wasn't thrilled by the theme, but the non-theme fill has a lot of sparkle, so all in all I was not disappointed.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Where to learn a vocation (TRADE school)
  • 28A: Basis for a moneyless economy (BARTER system)
  • 44A: Two dollars per pound, say (EXCHANGE rate)
  • 58A: "On/off" surrounder (SWITCH plate) - I really like this answer

The long Downs in the NE and SW are both appealing - DOT MATRIX is an old-fashioned tech answer that gets you the nice terminal "X" (10D: Early printer type) and NANCY DREW is an old-fashioned hero of children's literature (35D: Character who first appeared in "The Secret of the Old Clock") who makes a nice full-name companion for the other children's entertainment figure in the puzzle, BILL NYE (9D: TV's Science Guy). I always like it when names and phrases that usually donate only parts of themselves to the puzzle show up in all their full-name finery. Lots of pop cultural names today, most of them easily gettable, I would imagine. There's some nice juxtaposition in the NE, with Tony DANZA (26A: "Who's the Boss?" co-star) starring on Broadway as Willy LOMAN (has he done that?) (22A: Fictional salesman Willy). And then there's the fabulous double juxtaposition involved in the placement of Thom YORKE. First, he's on the same line with NEW AGE (48A: Yanni's music genre), which is hilarious and deeply ironic, as his music is about as un-NEW AGE, as un-Yanni, as I can imagine (despite the fact that both share a certain penchant for electronic manipulation of sound). Then there's my favorite bit of juxtaposition, which is the placement of YORKE over DID OK (52A: Got a C, say). Thom YORKE's group, Radiohead, put out an album several years ago called "OK COMPUTER," and so, in a way, Thom YORKE DID OK. Well, it amused me, anyway. Unlike K-PAX, which, despite its great, Scrabbly letters, is somehow revolting (34D: Title planet in a 2001 Kevin Spacey movie).


  • 21A: Ornery sort (cuss) - I believe I learned this word from "National Lampoon's Vacation," when Chevy Chase is trying to ham it up with the barkeep at a touristy Old West saloon. Calls barkeep an "ornery CUSS." And it degenerates from there, until eventually he's just calling him nonsense names ...

  • 24A: "Remington _____" of 1980s TV ("Steele") - is RNC Chairman Michael too fresh?
  • 1D: Spanish counterparts of mlles. (srtas.) - ugly abbrev. compounded in its ugliness by having an almost-as-ugly abbrev. in the clue. Speaking of ugly abbrevs., see also ATHS. (6D: Sports players: Abbr.).
  • 43A: When some morning news programs begin (six a.m.) - odd, if true, clue. Love quirky little two-part fill in this puzzle: SIX A.M., DID OK, GOT ME (50D: "Dunno").
  • 39D: Like dungeons, typically (dank) - the "typically" part made me laugh out loud. Like most people would have any idea (beyond fiction) what a "typical" dungeon was like. "Yeah, you know how dungeons are these days ..."
  • 55D: Romans preceder (Acts) - I'm including this only because of my affection for "preceder" as a word. Only in crossword clues...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

P.S. And now a plug for the recent creative endeavors of occasional Rex Parker commenter (and stand-in) and overall good guy Wade Williams. He's been busy.


MONDAY, May 25 2009 - P Collins (Classic John Lee Hooker song of 1962 / Onetime SNL player Cheri / Verdi hero married to Desdemona)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: "TREE Men and a Baby" - 64A: Thing hidden in each of the movie names in this puzzle

Word of the Day: LOVING CUPS (10D: Some trophies) - n.

  1. A large ornamental wine vessel, usually made of silver and having two or more handles.
  2. A large ornamental vessel given as an award in modern sporting contests and similar events.

Up late, slept in, need food/coffee, so ... here's your quickly dashed-off write-up for the day. I don't get the premise of the puzzle. There are movies with trees in them. Why are there movies with trees in them? I kept waiting for some TREE-related movie phrase to come along and tie things together. But no. And just three trees. And such short ones. And I've seen the hidden trees thing before. And the assortment of movies is just weird. I don't think "PRELUDE TO A KISS" is very well known at all, while the other two movies (though unalike in almost every way) were solid hits. I like the theme answers as answers, but this "theme" leaves me cold.

Theme answers:

  • 19A: 1989 Sally Field/Dolly Parton/Shirley MacLaine movie ("Ste ELM agnolias")
  • 35A: 2000 Martin Lawrence movie ("Big Momm ASH ouse")
  • 50A: 1992 Alec Baldwin/Meg Ryan film ("Prelude t OAK iss") - why is this one a "film" when the others are "movies?" Is "film" code for "movie that isn't very well known?"

Straight to bullets:

  • 32A: Electrical device for foreign travelers (adaptor) - Blogger doesn't like the "-OR" spelling. It's underlining "ADAPTOR" in red.
  • 46A: With 51-Down, John Ashcroft's predecessor as attorney general (Janet / Reno) - strangely, I like this. I like how her names (first and last) are positioned in relation to each other in the grid.
  • 63A: Pitch (toss) - I had the TO- and wrote in TONE
  • 5D: Classic John Lee Hooker song of 1962 ("Boom Boom") - Classic enough to be an answer on Monday? I like it a lot, though I would have gone with boxer Ray Mancini's nickname.

  • 31D: Onetime "S.N.L." player Cheri (Oteri) - 21st century crosswordese of the highest order. Her name is just too temptingly vowelicious.
  • 26D: Hip-hop wear (baggy jeans) - confidently wrote in BAGGY PANTS. Good answer.
  • 44D: Verdi hero married to Desdemona (Otello) - talk about Lost in Translation: In Italian, you lose the "H" ... which is what gives you the HELL to match Desdemona's DEMON.
  • 50D: Nanny's vehicle (pram) - a gimme, though the clue makes it sound like it's how the nanny herself gets around ... which would be weird.

Off to wake up...

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

My write-up of today's meaty LA Times Monday puzzle is here.


South American tuber - SUNDAY, May 24 2009 - E.C. Gorski (Descartes portraitist / Gonitis locale / Clubber Lang portrayer in Rocky III)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "Perpetual Motion" - puzzle has a "note," which reads: "When this puzzle is done, start at the end of 57-Across; then, beginning counterclockwise, connect the circles in one continuous line to identify a figure invented by 29-Down. The answers to the five asterisked clues will provide a hint to the figure." The "figure" is the symbol for "INFINITY," and its inventor, apparently is JOHN WALLIS

Word of the Day: HALVAS (14D: Turkish sweets) - n.

A confection consisting of crushed sesame seeds in a binder of honey.

[Turkish helva, from Arabic halwā, from haluwa, to be sweet.]

Saw that the puzzle had a note after I'd printed it out. I never bothered to read it, and it turns out, you really don't have to. The circled squares clearly form an INFINITY symbol, and the entire puzzle is so easy in its non-theme fill that the note is almost superfluous. When I was done with the puzzle, the only thing I'd never seen before was JOHN WALLIS, who was essentially unclued (29D: See note). I simply figured "he must be the guy who invented the INFINITY symbol." And I was right. I filled this puzzle in with almost zero hesitation. Took a while to see what the circled squares spelled out, but I got it eventually. Never thought about what the asterisked clues were doing until I hit 104A: *1974 Carl Carlton hit. I had no idea who "Carl Carlton" was. I had the "EVE" in place, so I went looking to the other asterisked answers for hints. That's when I saw "without end" and "forever" and the song "EVERLASTING LOVE" leapt immediately to mind. That was the one moment in this puzzle that felt truly exhilarating - getting that answer. The puzzle is another wonderfully multi-layered and inventive Liz Gorski Sunday, though easier and with more so-so fill than I've come to expect from her (admittedly, my expectations are high - she might be my favorite Sunday constructor of the moment).

Theme answers:

  • 21A: *2007 Ken Follett novel ("World WITHOUT END")
  • 25A: *Bond film that's a real gem ("Diamonds are FOREVER") - just too too easy.
  • 47D: *Song by Tejano singer Selena ("ALWAYS Mine") - OK, I didn't know that.
  • 100A: *Alexander Pope phrase appropriate to the start of a sports season ("Hope springs ETERNAL") - "Man never is, but ALWAYS to be, blest" - could have gotten this with No crosses. The first good paper I ever wrote in college was about Pope.
  • 104A: *1974 Carl Carlton hit ("EVERLASTING Love") - here's another, lesser Carl Carlton hit ... oh, man, this right here ... this makes my day:

I did this puzzle during a break in watching 2008's Batman movie, "The Dark Knight" (for the first time). This made the insane word INSANEST (81D: Most ready for commitment?) easier to take than it might have been otherwise. Heath Ledger was, indeed, fantastic as The Joker - deserved his posthumous Oscar. There's also a brief appearance by The Scarecrow in this movie - CAW! (1D: Cornfield sound) - and we also get to see how Two-Face acquires his grotesquely split VISAGE (30A: Kisser, so to speak). Can't believe I put of seeing the movie for so long. Highly enjoyable. Also saw the new "Night at the Museum" movie in the theater YEST. (69A: 24 hrs. ago). That movie was not the laugh riot I'd hoped it might be, but it had its moments (as well as half the cast of "The Office" -- ??), and daughter thought it was incredible. To be fair, she thinks all movies are incredible. But any movie with Amy Adams on screen for an extended length of time cannot, I'm convinced, be too bad.


  • 10A: Scot's exclamation ("Och!") - went with the German "Ach!" at first
  • 13A: The fish in John McPhee's "The Founding Fish" (shad) - heard of, but never read, McPhee.
  • 34A: Newsman Peter and other (Arnetts) - wondered briefly how you pluralize ARNESS (ARNESSESESES?) ... but that's the 60s TV actor. ARNETT is the newsman.
  • 63A: Descartes portraitist (Hals) - he was in the puzzle recently, which is the only reason his name sprang to mind (I had the "LS" - that helped).
  • 72A: Jazzy Laine (Cleo) - gimme. I find "jazzy" as an adjective for jazz singers/musicians slightly odd. Too much like a word you'd use to describe, say, a colorful sweater - though I may be thinking of "snazzy."
  • 82A: Clubber Lang portrayer in "Rocky III" (Mr. T) - he just turned 57 a few days ago.
  • 91A: Gonitis locale (knee) - "locale" strikes me as geographical, i.e. an odd way to describe the KNEE.
  • 94A: Classic Cremona family (Amatis) - they made violins.
  • 109A: An original Star Alliance airline (SAS) - may as well have just said [Airline]. No idea what "Star Alliance" is ... here's info. Best fact - it's headquartered in FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany. FRANKFURT AM MAIN = 15 letters ... nice, grid-spanning potential.
  • 114A: Arthur _____, inventor of the crossword puzzle (Wynne) - I had the "WY" and wrote in ... WYATT.
  • 3D: Country whose national anthem's title means "The Hope": Abbr. (Isr.) - needed many crosses for this one. Well, two. I needed the "S" and "R," which is what I had when I first saw this clue.
  • 22D: Handyman's letters (DIY) - Do-It-Yourself
  • 93D: "Chicago" song ("Roxie") - I read this clue to mean "a song off of the album 'Chicago' by 70s/80s supergroup Chicago" - songs off that album include "25 or 6 to 4," "Make Me Smile," and "Colour My World."

  • 105D: South American tuber (oca) - a tempting little 3-letter word that I'm convinced constructors would use a Lot more if it were a Lot more common to North American readers.

Before I go, I have a message from puzzle constructor and author Eric Berlin, who has embarked on a new crossword publishing project. You should support it if you can. He's good.

At the 2008 ACPT, in honor of Brooklyn taking over as host of the tournament, I presented a "suite" of Brooklyn-themed crossword puzzles. There were seven puzzles, some straightforward and some rather offbeat. Each puzzle led to an answer word, and the final puzzle, once solved, explained how to combine these answers into a final, satisfying solution. I received many nice compliments for this suite, and I've long thought about doing another one, but the fact is that the market for such a thing is small. In fact, non-existent. In fact, if I didn't sell it to Will Shortz for use at the tournament, there would be no way to turn a dime on the puzzles at all. This despite the fact that there are probably a great many people who would enjoy these puzzles.

Now comes Kickstarter (, a new web site for artists of all kinds. Kickstarter allows people to seek out funding a variety of esoteric projects. The site [only just launched], and already there are writers, filmmakers, and all other sorts of creative types, looking to raise a little money to support their passion. I'm there, too.

I am trying to find 300 people willing to pay five bucks each to fund a new themed suite of crosswords, to be delivered to my "backers" in the fall. The money I raise will go to my time for creating the puzzles, as well as a fee for my testsolver, as well as a couple of prizes, since I intend to run this as a contest.

Here's the Web site for my project:

Oh -- and at that site is a link to my seven Brooklyn crosswords, which I am now giving away for free. [Read "About This Project" - link to Brooklyn puzzles is in the third paragraph]

Wishing you a wonderful Memorial Day weekend Sunday,

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

PS A certain avid crossword-solving celebrity is a theme answer in today's Philadelphia Inquirer (Merl Reagle) puzzle... (see 53A)


Recurring metrical beat -SATURDAY, May 23 2009- D Tuller (Indian employed as British soldier / Antarctic dweller / Use one's zygomatic muscles)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Relative difficulty: Easy/Medium

THEME: none

Word of the Day: SEPOY (42A: Indian employed as a British soldier) - n.

  1. An indigenous soldier serving in the army of a foreign conqueror, especially an Indian soldier serving under British command in India.
    1. The lowest enlisted rank in the British Indian army and its successors, equivalent to private.
    2. One holding this rank.

[Probably from Portuguese sipae, from Urdu sipāhī, from Persian, cavalryman, from sipāh, army.]

Easier and less entertaining than yesterday's puzzle - unlike in yesterday's puzzle, here, the difficulty is enhanced by a slew of obscure words rather than a pattern of clever and deceptive cluing. There were seven words I didn't know at all, most of which I'm fairly certain I've never seen or heard of before.
  • SAMOA TIME (56A: Setting in Pago Pago) - it's got its own time???
  • KHASI (32A: Language spoken in Assam, India) - no hope in hell there. Thank god for crosses.
  • SEPOY - the most made-up-looking word of the bunch.
  • IPA (24A: Pronunciation guide std.) - International Phonetic Alphabet
  • IGUANODON (37A: Dinosaur with large thumb spikes) - this word looks like a mash-up of words I *have* actually heard of - IGUANA and UDON. The picture, however, looks like drunk Fonzie-saurus.
  • ICTUS (see below)
  • NOVA (see below)

But, as in any well constructed puzzle, all obscurities could be hammered out via gettable crosses. I have no idea how I got through this puzzle seven minutes faster than yesterday's when there were far more words in this one I didn't even know - but I did. Having 1A be a gimme helped - 1A: Squidward's neighbor on Nickelodeon (Spongebob). I actually had to think for a few seconds, as I assumed the answer (on a Saturday) would be some tertiary character. But no. The titular character. Everything in the NW after that was easy - though I forgot/didn't even know NOVA (4D: Cured and smoked salmon). Subsequent quadrants got less easy, and the final one (the SW), was something of a painful mess. RACIALISM? (31D: Bunker mentality?). I knew the clue must be going for Archie Bunker, and yet still ... I don't know when I've ever heard the word RACIALISM. Is that what they used to call RACISM? I had RA--ALIS- and only because I inferred the "ISM" ending did I ever solve 57A: Its motto in Eng. is "It grows as it goes". Read "Eng." as "England," and so was thinking there was some company (abbreviated) that had a different motto overseas. Ugh. ICTUS? Uh, no. There's a RICTUS, of sorts, in the north part of the grid (5D: Use one's zygomatic muscles), but ICTUS is a word I knew and forgot, or never knew. PIPS ... is the "Trey" in question on a gaming die? (39A: Trey trio). Filling out RACIALISM was a rather anticlimactic way to end this pretty typical, reasonably tough Saturday puzzle.

Not feeling well this a.m., in part because of lack of sleep brought on by dog we are dogsitting, who had considerable trouble getting to sleep last night. Lots of fretting and panting and pacing and oddly high-pitched and loud yelling (this is a giant lab we're talking about). My other dogs were like "what the Hell is going on?" Anyway, the dog settled, eventually. I, however, am wasted this morning, and can't bear looking at a computer screen much longer. So, here are your bullets:

  • 16A: Sal Tessio's portrayer in "The Godfather" (Abe Vigoda) - great long answer. Spoiler alert: Sal dies.
  • 25A: Home of Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba) - had the "BA," so no problem.
  • 30A: Furnish with battlements, as a castle (crenelate) - oddly, a gimme for me.
  • 48A: Antarctic dweller (petrel) - a bird I likely learned of from crosswords - it flew quickly to my rescue today in the SE.
  • 9D: Classic novel with a chapter titled "My Breaking In" ("Black Beauty") - "The Story of O" fits (although it turns out there's no "The" in the title)
  • 10D: Holy Ark's location (shul) - thought this would be somewhere specific, not generic. But "UL" gave answer away.
  • 11D: 1961 #1 hit for Bobby Lewis ("Tossin' and Turnin'") - I had TOSSING 'N' TURNING at one point.

  • 26D: MacGyver's first name on "MacGyver" (Angus) - wow, who knew? And now ... 80's power keyboard theme song!

  • 45D: "The Cat's Meow" actor, 2001 (Elwes) - I have no idea what "The Cat's Meow" is, and yet I guessed this off the "E". ELWES is what I would consider very, very high-end crosswordese. Unlike PROT, which is Grade D crosswordese sold only to our enemies overseas (48D: Like Luther: Abbr.).

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Old swing digger - FRIDAY May 22 2009 - M Nosowsky (Lens grinding Dutch philosopher / Celestial neighbor of Scorpius / 100ths of a krona)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Relative difficulty: Challenging

THEME: none

Words of the Day:

  • FWIW (10D: E-mail disclaimer) => "For what it's worth..."
  • TMI (49A: "I didn't need to know all that!," informally) => "Too much information!"

An old-fashioned beat-down. I took one look at the puzzle constructor's name and jumped right in, thinking, "this should be fun ... no, wait, I mean hard ... I mean ... oh ... oh, man ... O DEAR (47D: "_____ Cassio!": Othello) ... why is my puzzle so blank?" I probably got a little psyched out, as Manny Nosowsky is not only legendary for wildly inventive and thoughtful and entertaining puzzles, he's also legendary for tough ones. This took me twice as long as last week's Friday, for instance. In fact, after a good handful of minutes, I had the NE corner done, but virtually nothing else. I was literally gawking at the rest of the grid, where all I could muster were sad, thin strands of answers here and there. A wisp of L RON (48A: Hubbard of science fiction), a smattering of ACEY (51D: _____-deucy), a hint of RETAG (26D: Change the price on), a trace of OBIE (that one was wrong - turned out to be TONY -> 46A: Accolade for a great play). I had PHINEAS and CO-STAR locked down in the NW, only a. the answer was PHILEAS ... and b. even with those two answers in place, none of the nearby answers seemed to want to come out of hiding (I just discovered that my wife made the PHINEAS-for-PHILEAS error too - I wonder how common that misconception is). I couldn't even make sense of the clue for 1D: Old swing digger. Yikes. Sounded like it wanted a construction machine, only there was already a construction machine in the SE (43D: LOADER), though I had no idea which kind yet. So ... flailing. Genuine concern. Something like panic.

And then, out of the clear blue sky, a bolt from the Crossword Gods - PILTDOWN MAN came crashing down upon me (4D: Its teeth were actually a chimpanzee's). PILTDOWN MAN is a century-old paleontological hoax that I learned about ... from crosswords. I had to look it up and blog about it once because it was an entirely new concept to me. So I was very pleased to be rescued, today, by something intimately tied to my crossword-solving past - to past ignorance, in fact. Made me feel like a good solver again. The puzzle went down in slow but steady fashion from there. [Old swing digger] = HEPCAT! Wow. "Hey, man, dig that old swing ... it looks pretty rickety. Hey, I dare you to swing on it! Crazy!" And [_____ bread] => RAISIN!?!?! Thanks for the help, clue. Really narrows things down. Yeesh. Rough. The horrible irony about struggling so much in the NW is that the very first word that entered my head upon reading 1A: Magazine since 1850 was HARPER'S! I mean, I'm a @#$#ing subscriber. And yet I didn't / wouldn't write it in. Maybe because I couldn't get any of the short Downs to work off of it. Never heard of the "Port Huron Statement" (7D: Port Huron Statement grp. => SDS), barely know about ELEA (5D: Home of Parmenides) and thought REAR (6D: Can) should be STIR, from the phrase IN STIR, meaning in jail, i.e. in the "can" - not to be confused with INSTR. (8D: Music producer: Abbr.).


  • 15A: Accepted PayPal payments, e.g. (e-tailed) - by far the worst thing about this puzzle, in that I didn't actively dislike *anything* else. It's enough that I have to accept the concept of E-TAIL. But the verbing? Oh, the verbing!
  • 23D: Ocean, in Mongolian (Dalai) - like HARPER'S, guessed it straight off, but refused to trust my instincts.
  • 29D: "Under Two Flags" novelist, 1867 (Ouida) - wouldn't have believed a person with such a name existed had it not been for prior crossword experience with this woman. OUIDA is the pen name of Maria Louise Ramé. "Under Two Flags" is about the British in Algeria.
  • 18A: Lens-grinding Dutch philosopher (Spinoza) - no idea he ground lenses, but I had the "IN" part of this one, so he was easy to uncover.
  • 23A: Scandalmonger's love (dirt) - one of the handful of gimmes in this puzzle.
  • 24A: Goal-oriented superstar? (Pele) - it annoys me when something is a gimme but I don't even see it until I have nearly all the letters. Waste of a gimme!
  • 25A: Ravel's "Bolero" calls for one (tenor sax) - I don't recall this at all. Must listen ... now.

  • 32A: It may be striking (union) - had the -ION and could come up with nothing. The only word I could even think of that fit was SCION. Ugh.
  • 37A: Celestial neighbor of Scorpius (Norma) - that's a very uncelestial sounding name. No offense to the NORMAs out there.
  • 55A: It's heard before many a face-off ("O, Canada") - that's good.
  • 56A: Sluggard's problem (inertia) - the only word that would come to mind here for a while was ENNUI ...
  • 11D: Consistently defeat, in slang (own) - the first thing I entered in the NE. I wavered for a moment, thinking the answer might be PWN - just discovered that the Wikipedia entry for "PWN" has been nominated for deletion, and there's a long, occasionally interesting thread where people argue about the merits of "PWN" as an entry. See it here.
  • 12D: It was NE of Bechuanaland (Rhodesia) - heard of the answer, Never heard of the place in the clue.
  • 20D: Cardinal that looks the same when viewed upside down (sixty-nine) - oh, "cardinal" number ... ok. Man, you really want to make this difficult, don't you?
  • 24D: Of fraternities and sororities collectively (pan-Hellenic) - took me way, way too long to get, considering I've spent most of my adult life in close proximity to fraternities and sororities.
  • 27D: World's first carrier with a transpolar route (SAS) - Scandinavian, so that makes sense.
  • 34D: Where pit stops are made to get fuel? (coal mine) - cool clue. I had COAT MINE for a second, as I mistakenly thought that ETON had the sports teams called the Phoenix (45A: ELON).
  • 36D: Provider or wearer of some hand-me-downs (sis) - I wrote it in, but only tentatively, mainly because there is nothing in the clue signifying abbrev. Also, thought it could be SIB.
  • 40D: Stand-in for unnamed others (et alia) - man, cold. No indication of Latinity or anything.
  • 42D: It has a twin city in the Midwest (Urbana) - because of LRON (the "R"), I never even considered ST PAUL, which seems the obvious choice.
  • 54D: Questionnaire check box option (Mrs.) - like [_____ bread], this could have been a million things.
  • 55D: 100ths of a krona (ore) - KRONE/A was once my Word of the Day. I think I mentioned ORE then. Did it help me here? No.
I realize it's hard to tell from the write-up, but I Loved This Puzzle. Not all agonizing struggles are bad.

Signed, bruised, but happy, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

Much easier LAT puzzle today - my write-up is here.


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