Did the rest of you watch the Scripps spelling bee on TV tonight? There were some crazy-hard words in the mix, and some surprisingly easy ones (gnocchi! netsuke! I know these words!). I watched an hour or two of the earlier rounds on TV this afternoon, and couldn’t believe one of the words was lassi, the yogurt drink found on pretty much every Indian restaurant menu. All the kids of Indian descent in the bee would have nailed it, but the white girl missed it (lasse). Go figure.
P.S. Bonus puzzle! Francis Heaney made a crossword (.puz file here) for the Onion that went too far even for the Onion. Francis describes the theme as “the Worst, Most Offensive Puzzle Theme Idea I Have Ever Had, which I apologize most profusely for.” Clever from a wordplay standpoint, surrounded by cool fill and clues, and yet so far afield of publishing standards for crossword themes. Hey, I enjoyed it. 4-Down was my favorite part.
Sam Donaldson’s New York Times crossword
Good thing Sam wasn’t lined up to guest-blog tonight! His puzzle looks like a themeless—word count of 72, corners filled with criss-crossing 6s, 7s, and 8s—and it is Saturday, but there’s a 48-square theme that makes it so much fun: [Triumphant shout] clues not one, not two, but 10 different answers. The ones that pertain to games/sports include JACKPOT, BINGO, YAHTZEE, OLÉ, and GIN. The generic whoops are AHA, HURRAY, EUREKA, SWEET, and YES.
My favorite clues were these ones, which peg the puzzle as a Saturday creation despite the presence of a theme:
- 8a. [What some teens do on Saturday night] is BABYSIT. Man, with the BA in place, I was worried Sam was going for something starting with BAR.
- 18a. [Impetuous sort] could clue HOTHEAD too, but the answer is HOTSPUR, a cool word that dates back to Middle English.
- 26a. The USTA, the tennis organization, is an [Org. concerned with court proceedings?]. The French Open finals are this weekend, aren’t they? I know the women’s finalists are two people I’d never heard of, and I haven’t heard a peep about the men’s matches. Have they been playing too?
- 48a. [Type on the left side?: Abbr.] is a DEM., as opposed to a Republican.
- 1d. JUNEAU is a [Capital on Excursion Inlet]. Didn’t know the inlet, but the -EAU ending gave it away.
- 7d. Wine TASTINGS are [Occasions to compare noses].
- 8d. My favorite clue of all is this one: [Part of the Republique tcheque] is la BOHEME, French for “Bohemia.” I narrowed it down to “what’s the French word for Moravia or Bohemia?” and the crossings took me home.
- 21d. ENZO [___ Angiolini (women's shoe brand)] makes the list because this was the first answer I could get. I had some final Ss and the last A in ULANOVA, but no actual words before ENZO.
- 36d. SWINGS BY means [Visits along the way]. I like the verb phrase, and I think Swingsby would make a great surname.
- 42d. I always appreciate it when my particular pop-culture habits are rewarded by a crossword. ["Lost" character Ana Lucia ___] CORTEZ was played by Michelle Rodriguez, who was also the helicopter pilot in Avatar.
Toughest nuts to crack:
- 15a. ULANOVA is the answer to [Galina ___, old Russian ballerina whose Moscow apartment is now a museum]. The final A was a gimme, and the OV was not a stretch, Russian names being what they are. The rest of it? Crossings, baby.
- 17a. [Very tough thing to lick] is a NEMESIS. Couldn’t help thinking of tongues here.
- 24a. ["The Gypsy ___" ("Anything Goes" song)] is completed by IN ME. Yeah, my first guess was AND I. Musical theater and I, we are not friends.
- 36a. [Of modern humans] sounds like it’s expecting a standard adjective. Something-INE? Something-OUS? Nope: SAPIENS.
- 46a. Did you know this one? [Faulkner's "Requiem for ___"] A NUN?
- 52a. [Players don't rush through them] refers to players of musical instruments and ADAGIOS.
- 9d. An ANODE is a [Thermionic tube part].
- 32d. Latin HAEC is [Feminine "this," to Brutus]. I’ve seen “hic, haec, hoc,” haven’t I? Is that he/she/it? Also, did you know HAET is a Scottish contraction that’s legal in Scrabble? A lexicographer played HAET against me twice this week in Lexulous.
- 50d. [Magna Graecia colony] is a Latinate way of asking for an old Greek place name, right? It’s ELEA, which is usually clued with reference to Zeno.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon’s cryptic crossword, “Merger Mania” (Wall Street Journal Saturday Puzzle)
It took me a while to understand the instructions for the “merger mania” words, but the regular cryptic clues were surprisingly pliable. The 10 unclued words with blanks left over after the cryptic clues are all answered were to be pieced together gradually. The “Mergers” clues are non-cryptic—two definitions run together, for two common compound words. The parts of those compounds are the 10 unclued words, each of which appears as part 1 of one compound and part 2 of another, leading to series of interlaced compounds: BANK ROLL BACK WATER COLOR BLIND SIDE SHOW DOWN RIVER (which takes us full circle to RIVERBANK). Interesting twist on the cryptic crossword format, and a diverting solve.
Here are my cryptic answers and how I derived them:
- 1a. FIASCO: anag. AS IF + CO.
- 6a. AD(A + PT.)S
- 11a. SCOPES (double definition)
- 12a. A + C(CR)UE
- 13a. RAPPED: homophone of “rapt”
- 14a. C + HIDE
- 26a. EDGE: occupiED GErmany
- 18a. ALL + “OW”S
- 19a. TRUSTBUSTING
- 22a. H.(ON + I.E.)D.
- 23a. IOTA: “A to I” backwards
- 25a. LOCO: anag. of COOL
- 26a. NO + VICE
- 27a. L(O)ATHE
- 28a. OXEN: sOX ENemy
- 29a. ANOMIE: anag. of ONE AIM
- 30a. BOR(G)ES
- 31a. R + EGRET
- 2d. IN + C + HE’D
- 3d. A + SCOT
- 4d. COUR(BE)T, be = equal
- 5d. 0 (P) E.R.A.
- 6d. AERONAUT: anag. of OUT NEAR A
- 7d. ASP(HALT)IC
- 8d. P + I + PIT
- 9d. SE(D)ERS
- 10d. B(ASS)ET
- 15d. RESIGNING, double def. with re-signing (I think) RE(S)IGNING (thanks, John F)
- 17d. ABD (anag. of BAD) + OMENS
- 20d. SAO TOME: “TO A” backwards borne by SOME
- 21d. G(ASK)ET
- 22d. HOB(N)O + B
- 24d. TE(CHI)E
- a-g Finance = BANK ROLL/minor attraction = SIDESHOW
- c-e Isolated place = BACKWATER/having no prejudice = COLORBLIND
- f-j Unexpectedly hit = BLINDSIDE/shore = RIVERBANK
- h-b Title bout = SHOWDOWN/withdrawal = ROLLBACK
- i-d Going with the current = DOWNRIVER/painting = WATERCOLOR
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Not to be outdone by Martin’s expunging one letter from the start of his base phrases yesterday, Randy ups the ante today by removing three. Think of the street term for “brother” and you’ll have the key to solving this one. We sometimes see this clued as [Pal] or [Dude] or [Friend in the 'hood]. It all adds up to BRO, and check out the five fabulous before-and-afters we’re treated to. At:
- 17A. Broken promise → KEN PROMISE ["Barbie ... I will love you forever"?]. Awwww. (Let’s just hope this doesn’t become a broken Ken promise…)
- 24A. Bromo Seltzer → MO SELTZER [Club soda from the Show Me St.?]. Corny. I like it. As a native Baltimoron [sic], let me direct you to a link that will give you a little backgrounder on the historic Bromo Seltzer Tower building there.
- 41A. Brook trout → OK TROUT [Garden-variety fish]. Love the clue, with its metaphorical floral/piscine combo. While “OK” here is short for Okay, it’s also the postal abbreviation for the state of Oklahoma—which gets two mentions today. There’s [Oklahoma native] for OTO and [Sooner State city] for ADA. How’d Oklahoma get that nickname? Read all about it!
- 52A. Bronco buster → NCO BUSTER [MP?]. Uh, that’s Military Police and not Member of Parliament.
- 66A. Broad spectrum → AD SPECTRUM [Full range of a commercial?]. There’s also the [Full range of commercials]. I’m thinkin’ print ads, radio and TV spots, those horrid internet pop-ups…
I don’t know about you, but I really like the cross of K-PAX and KRYPTON. The former is the [2001 Kevin Spacey film] about a man who believes his home planet is a place called K-PAX; the latter is, of course, [Superman's home] (where he was born Kal-El). Both represent galaxies far, far away. In that same vein, there’s also SPACE ["The final frontier," to Captain Kirk] (Star Trek); mention of Mark HAMILL [Skywalker portrayer] (Star Wars); and, in a more apocalyptic, present-day-Earth mode, ESSIE [Davis of "The Matrix Reloaded"]. The only “Davis” I was comin’ up with, I hesitate to say, was OSSIE… Then again, IMDB has a 5,600 word summary of the movie’s plot and nowhere does it mention Ms. Davis or Maggie, the character she played. (She was Tony-nominated several years ago, however, for her performance in Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers. Yeah. Like that’s gonna help in a big way…)
Sent myself to the wrong neck of the woods by entering ENCINO for ["Stand and Deliver" setting]. Not quite. Make that EAST LA. And on the topic of geography, did you know that CAIRO is the [Capital known as the "City of a Thousand minarets"]? I didn’t, but I loved seeing that factoid in the clue.
Fave clue? [Shout from a mugger?]. Not as in, “HAND OVER YOUR WATCH RIGHT NOW!” but as in the non-camera-shy, “HI, MOM!”
If this puzzle wasn’t a thematic shout-out to the Coen brothers’ movie of the same name, it certainly proves itself to be a cheeky little work in its own right!
Robert Wolfe’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I would’ve gotten around to posting earlier this morning, but there was a ridiculously loud helicopter on the next block, and my son and I spent a half hour watching the chopper ferry HVAC equipment on and off a high-rise roof, using his school grounds as the base of operations. I tell you, 10-year-olds eat that stuff up.
I loved the three 15s in this puzzle. There are also 10 9-letter answers, all stacked around the 15s or crossing them. Here are the 15s and the best of the 9s:
- 17A. [Daydreams] are sometimes called CASTLES IN THE AIR.
- 38A. [Reaction to a coincidental entrance] is SPEAK OF THE DEVIL. Beautiful use of colloquial language.
- 58A. [Declaration that's from hunger] clues I COULD EAT A HORSE. It feels a little incomplete without the introductory “I’m so hungry,” but it’s still colorful and fresh.
- 1A. ["Something's Got a Hold on Me" singer, 1962] clues a delightful full-name entry, ETTA JAMES.
- 15A. I’m not sure THE FUTURE really rises to the level of a crossword-worthy phrase, but I’m a sucker for Yogi Berra clues: [It "ain't what it used to be": Yogi Berra].
- 20A. SET ON EDGE is clued as [Like an irritated person's teeth?]. I can’t quite decide if I like this one, or if it feels like the bastard child of “on edge” and “set one’s teeth on edge.” Does SET ON EDGE work as a phrase without the teeth? I think it might.
- 64A. [Doesn't draw] a card means STANDS PAT. Entertainment Weekly just listed its ratings for all the Saturday Night Live spin-off movies, and It’s Pat was among the worst. Call me crazy, but I could stand Pat. The script was terrible, but I like Julia Sweeney.
- 33D. [Braves outfielder Cabrera] has a 100% non-inferrable name if you haven’t heard of him. MELKY? What the hell kind of name is that? Short for Melchior of Magi fame? Apparently Cabrera is Dominican. One of Haitian musician Wyclef Jean’s siblings is named Melky, too. Baseball’s Melky Mesa, also Dominican, is named Melquisedec, and there’s an Indonesian Melky on Facebook. So the name is out there, and I don’t know what, if anything, it means.
- 34A. [Like the Indian rhino] clues ONE-HORNED. That seems rather blah for a rhinoceros-related answer.
- 22D. [During, old-style] is the clue for THRO’, because you can’t very well use the word through in the clue.
- 31D. [Displacement from a club] on the golf course is a DIVOT of dirt and grass. The clue made me think of nightclub bouncers. Having 36D: [They may be checked at the door]/IDS didn’t really sway me from that path.
- 49D. [Swarming spot] is a HIVE. My cousin set up a beehive in her back yard this week and has already been stung, but she looks great in a beekeeper’s head net/hat thingamajig.
Stan Newman’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” (using “Stan again” pen name of Anna Stiga)
I do love the word SCRUPLES (1a: [Moral compass]), but there wasn’t much else that captivated me in this puzzle. There are some verbs that, while entirely valid, don’t do anything to enliven a crossword:
- 44d. [Bade welcome to] clues HELLOED. Have you ever helloed? I have not. I have certainly said “hello” many a time.
- 8d. [Didn't take out] clues the copy editor’s STETTED.
- 38d. RETITLE is clued as [Do an editing job]. I do, in fact, change titles of medical papers and crossword puzzles.
- 58a. TIES IN and its cousins TIES ON and TIES TO are so handy for constructors, and yet so boring. TIES IN is clued as [Connects].
Ten tough clues:
- 18a. HAROLD is the [Loser at Hastings]. Old English history? Yes, I needed the crossings. I am not up on my English history.
- 22a. [End of a Tolstoi title] clues MIR, Russian for “peace,” the last word in the title War and Peace. Is the Tolstoi (not Tolstoy) spelling supposed to boldly signal a Russian answer?
- 23a. ERIN is apparently a [Popular girl's name in Wales]. It’s the 27th most popular girl baby name in the U.K. The clue sure feels random. Are there famous Welsh women named ERIN whom Americans are expected to know?
- 27a. [Umbrella handle] uses “handle” to mean “name”: TOTES is an umbrella brand. Were you hoping we’d learn the name for the crooked handle of an umbrella? Me, too.
- 65a. ANACONDA isn’t just a big snake, it’s also a [Variety of poker]. Man, poker and nautical clues, I don’t like ‘em.
- 13d, 14d. [With 14-Down, presidential to-do list notation] clues DELIVER / ADDRESS.
- 36d. [Footed], anatomically, is the adjective PEDAL, meaning “of or relating to a foot or footlike part.”
- 41d. [Tennessee's annual Head of the Hooch is a major one] clues REGATTA. I am not up on my major regattas.
- 45d. SPLENDA packets are a [Diner-table freebie].
- 48d. NATHAN is the name of [King Solomon's older brother]. The 6-letter Biblical names don’t make it into the crosswords so much. I know more of the 3- and 4-letter names.
- 38a. [It goes way back] for a RECLINER chair.
- 63a. [Did some exterior decorating?] clues TATTOOED. Much better answer than the STUCCOED I started with.