Just got back from the Lego Kids Fest. The kid was richly entertained and his parents not only played with Legos, but also compared smartphone crossword apps. (I have Shortyz on a Droid; he was using the NYT crossword app on an iPod Touch.) Five hours of Legos, though—that is rather a lot. I’m beat!
Liz Gorski’s New York Times crossword, “Fangs for the Memory”
In honor of Halloween (is it just me or does this year have way more Halloween-themed crosswords than most Halloween weeks?), Elizabeth Bathory Gorski celebrates cinematic vampires and their animal familiar, the BAT. The theme includes (I think) seven movie titles: NOSFERATU, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, the classic Lugosi DRACULA, LOVE AT FIRST BITE, NEAR DARK (the [1987 Adrian Pasdar film] I don’t remember in the slightest), TWILIGHT, and another ’80s movie I don’t recall, BLOOD TIES. Throughout the grid, the letters A through R are circled—connect the dots in alphabetical order and you’ve drawn a BAT. That’s the flying mammal, not the baseball whacker—though I like having Malamud’s THE NATURAL in the grid, as Roy Hobbs’ baseball bat was called “Wonderboy.” Cool picture theme.
I also like the other three long Down answers. The BANANA SHAKE wanted to be a BANANA SPLIT, as I would never order a banana milkshake (my kid would). ROCOCO STYLE and a SILVER STAR for heroism round out the group.
Cute: The multilingual [When ___ ghouls come out?] clues. 92a is SERA, Italian for “evening,” and 3d is NUIT, French for “night.” Wo ist NACHT? Y NOCHE?
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Angling for Votes”
Yay, a commemorative theme that’s about Election Day rather than Halloween! “Angling for votes” is interpreted through the lens of fishing (which is what “angling” means): Merl spins a tale about a candidate who uses familiar phrases that include words that are also kinds of fish. For example, 36a: [“I want to prove that my win in the primaries ___ …”] WAS NO FLUKE. Cute theme, and I appreciate a break from pun themes. The fish involved are the STINGRAY, MACKEREL, FLUKE, SHARK, SUCKER (I didn’t know this was a fish, other than the remoras we think of as “sucker fish,” but it is), PIKE, CARP, PERCH, SOLE, and FLOUNDER. I like the symmetry wherein STINGRAY and FLOUNDER stand alone, rather than being part of longer phrases, in opposite corners of the grid.
Got messed up with 34a: [Associate (with)]. I had TIE, which doesn’t quite work (do you “tie with” people? no, you do not). 23d: [Actor Wally] wasn’t screaming anything to me, so a hypothetical Wally COE seemed just as plausible as Wally COX. (The Wikipedia article explains my lack of familiarity with Wally Cox—his heyday was before my time.) I was mighty confused about having TOO for 34d: [Drive-time sound?]. Ah, yes. MOO, cattle drive? Okay. I don’t love it, as herding cattle is not among my hobbies.
I laughed when RELIT crossed REMOP in the same puzzle as RESODS. Re-NO!
The least standard clue I’ve seen in a puzzle lately (not counting terrible puzzles like the Universal crossword) is 74a: [19 Across, backward]. 19a is ARARAT, so 74a is TARARA. I dunno about this. The clue gives no hint as to what the answer means! That’s highly unusual. Better to clue as [“___ Boom-de-ay”]?
If you didn’t know that 91a: [Palm tree starch] is SAGO or that 95d: [Bird’s beak] usually clues NEB, commit those two words to memory. These are classic crosswordese-type words that you’ll surely encounter again.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe Crossword, “A Moving Experience” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Ever wonder why some of us on Team Fiend post much less frequently than others? It’s because we have other, behind-the-monitor duties on the blog that can keep us quite busy. In addition to blogging the weekly Matt Gaffney contest, for instance, joon is our director of human resources and ombudsman. My other jobs are accounts payable and replying to the blog’s fan mail. Most of the time the fan mail consists of requests for autographed photos or other swag, but sometimes letters raise interesting questions that deserve considered replies. So, with your permission, I will use this week’s post to review the puzzle and answer some of the more interesting queries we have received recently. Let’s break open the mailbag!
Q. I’m thinking of starting my own crossword blog. I think I see the upsides: having both genders find me irresistibly attractive, gaining obscene wealth immediately, and never paying for drinks in any town. But there must be downsides. What’s the biggest challenge in writing a crossword review? (Sarah Bellum, Erie, PA)
A. Great question, Sarah. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies. I suppose each blogger has unique challenges, but for me often it’s figuring out how to describe the puzzle’s theme succinctly and clearly. Too often it’s tempting simply to list the theme entries, as surely most people can deduce the theme just by seeing them collected together. But you have to remember that some people come to the blog precisely because they can’t figure out the theme even after solving the entire puzzle, and they’re looking for an explanation.
In this week’s Henry Hook puzzle, for example, someone could read the eight theme entries and not see how the answers are consistent. Or perhaps someone figured out the theme but can’t see how the puzzle’s title, “A Moving Experience” fits. So the blog post has to start with something along the lines of, “In this puzzle, one ‘A’ in each of eight common phrases gets relocated (hence, we ‘experience’ an ‘A’ that’s ‘moving’) to create new, wacky phrases that are clued accordingly.” Simple explanation, but it takes time to craft.
Q. My friends and I like to make adjectives out of people. A hot guy is “Clooneyan,” a dumb person is “Snookilicious,” and so on. If we could make an adjective out of a crossword person, what would you recommend? (Kerry Oki, Alta, UT)
A. How about “Hookish,” to describe a grid where theme entries intersect in multiple locations? I have observed before how Hook is able to pull this off and make it look easy. Consider this week’s puzzle as an example: six of the eight theme entries intersect, and two them intersect twice. The eight theme entries were also pretty interesting:
- [Court proceedings in New Mexico?] clues THE SANTA FE TRIAL. The normal phrase, of course, is “the Santa Fe Trail,” but the “a” in “trail” moved one spot later to form “trial.”
- A [Fainthearted farm female] is an alliterative clue to SCARED COW, another one-spot shift for the “a,” this time changing a “sacred cow” into one more, um, cow-ardly.
- The [Hipster at workweek’s end?] is not a “fraidy cat” but a FRIDAY CAT. Here the “a” in “fraidy” moves two spots over to make the new phrase.
- A [Crossdresser who resembles Sarah?] is a PALINCLOTHES MAN, as opposed to a “plainclothes man.” Here’s a one-spot shift of the “a” to the left. You betcha.
- Shift the “a” in “breast strokes” two spots earlier and you get [Mere dabs with a paintbrush?], or the BAREST STROKES.
- [Low-IQ types’ acceptability status?] clues NOT BY ANY MENSA, the result of moving the “a” in “not by any means” down two spots.
- I like this answer—THE MAID’S TOUCH is [What hotel cleanliness requires?]. That’s a fun play on “the Midas touch.”
- Finally, [Feedback from Fujian?] is CHINA REACTION, a play on “chain reaction.” Fujian is a coastal Chinese province.
Besides Hookish, we could maybe use “Silky” for scrabbly grids, “Krozellian” for puzzles that flout at least one crossword convention, and “Lempelic” for easy puzzles that are ridiculously smooth. Any other nominees?
Q. When making a puzzle, do constructors start with the words or the clues? (Name withheld for protection, Ojai, CA)
A. They start with the clues because it’s important to get the hard part over with first. Finding words to match the clues that all magically intersect in a 15×15 diagram with no one- or two-letter words, no more than 78 words, and no more than 38 black squares is ridiculously easy. After all, there must be at least twenty answers to the clue [Jai ___]. Can you imagine how much harder it would be to create the grid first and then write clues that match those words?
Hook’s puzzle proves that he must have started with the clues—do you really think he could just come up with great clues like [Sleep soundly?] for SNORE after putting SNORE into the grid? There’s just too many good clues for them all to have come at the end, like [They’re small-time] for INSTANTS, [“But I could be wrong”] for OR NOT, [Where you must be 18, but not over 21?] for CASINO, [You can break it by merely mentioning it] for SILENCE, [Having perfect pitch?] for NO-HIT, and, my favorite this week, [Bath sets?] for TELLIES (television sets in Bath, England).
Q. I have to take a foreign language course to get my bachelor’s degree. My professor is willing to supervise an independent study in Crosswordese. Know any good textbooks or other resources? (Benjamin Dover, Reno, NV)
A. Ben, I don’t know of a classic textbook on Crosswordese. Fortunately, it’s a dying language. Maybe you could consult a crossword dictionary for some basic translation. Even better, consider an immersion course by solving puzzles that are several decades old. The L.A. Crossword Confidential blog features a “Crosswordese 101” segment, and that might prove helpful.
Remarkably, this week’s puzzle offers an unusually high concentration of Crosswordese too. There’s SCREE, ALAR, and STOA, along with the entries from Crosswordese’s close cousin, Awkwardese: QUOT, AUGS, RESOAK, ANCY, SQUALLY, and OTOO (as in “zero-to-zero”). Every grid has its blemishes, but this one has enough acne to be noticeable.
Q. What will it take to get Sam to stop that stupid “Brushes with Lame” segment at the end of his posts? Talk about lame! Seriously, why do we care that he knows so little about the things smart and cultured people know? (Oliver Klosov, Yuma, AZ)
A. (This blogging gig sure is good for keeping one grounded.) Oliver, maybe you make a good point. I suppose no one really cares that you could make a great dinner party out of the people in this week’s puzzle that I have never heard of before. ([Silents-era star] MABEL Normand might not keep a conversation going, but author ITALO Calvino could probably swap great stories all night long with Boris SPASSKY, the [1972 Fischer foe] in chess, while [“Summer of 42” scorer] Michel LEGRAND composes a song from tidbits he overhears in the conversation. And I’ll concede it’s quite possible no one else had problems with DOTTLES as the [Pipe cleaner’s targets], probably because everyone knows that “dottle” is the unburned tobacco leftovers in a pipe. And I’m sure everyone with a third-grade education finds [Half notes] a gimme for MINIMS. Heck, I wouldn’t come close to fainting if I found out I’m the only one who didn’t know SYNCOPE means [Faint]. So yeah, I guess my ignorance isn’t nearly as much fun as I thought it was. Let’s see if I can come up with a better segment by next week!
William I. Johnston’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Sunday Challenge”—Evad’s review
Constructor Will Johnston brings us today’s treat (or did you find it a trick?), anchored by four 15-letter entries that form somewhat of a tic-tac-toe grid (if you could fit an X or O in that center square, that is!). Here they be for those brave enough to enter:
- I first thought of a CEL for “Flick pic,” but hard to stretch 3 letters into 15 squares (is there such a thing as an anti-rebus?). Anyway, turns out to be a PRODUCTION STILL. I take it this is not what a movie producer uses to make her hooch, a la Granny on Beverly Hillbillies.
- SAFETY IN NUMBERS is “Crowd’s credo, perhaps.” I was thinking POWER… first, but I think this works about as well.
- SPAGHETTI STRAPS hold up “many a prom dress”; a recent episode of Project Runway featured women who had saved their bridesmaid dresses and the contestants were asked to make them look fashionable. Quite a challenge!
- The LEAGUE OF NATIONS was formed in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the first World War.
I think it’s more challenging to place the 15-letter entries just a row apart from each other, and I commend Will for only putting in 3 black squares between them. (Lesser constructors would’ve put in many more to separate them to reduce the fill constraints.)
Here’s a few other entries of note:
- Funny that both IRAS and IRON can be the “Source of some filings.” Guess I was sympatico with co-Fiend blogger Sam D., who is a tax accountant.
- I tried LEAPS AT before JUMPS AT leapt into view. Sounds much more eager to leap than just jump, imho.
- Couple of abbrevs. hung me up–I had FWD before FYI as the “Memo abbreviation,” but the real killer was the I that was shared between NMI (“No Middle Initial,” I believe…reminds me of the old user manuals which couldn’t leave a page blank without the phrase “This page intentionally left blank” on it) and a new word to me, SORTITION, which is “Drawing by lots.” With the midterm elections coming up, one wonders if the Greeks had a superior system of choosing their governors.
Don Gagliardo’s syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “No More Boos”
Yet another Halloween theme: GHOSTBUSTERS break up the word GHOST in circled squares strewn (in order) throughout otherwise unrelated longer phrases. It’s neat to find a GHOST hiding in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but TIGHTEN ONE’S BELT and GOOD CHOLESTEROL are a good bit drier.
- 1a. [’90s sci-fi series “seaQuest __”] is a disappointing way to kick off a puzzle at 1a. It’s DSV, short for “deep sea vehicle,” if I recall correctly.
- 19a. TANTALUS was the [Greek king tormented by fruit and water he could never quite reach]. This is where we get the word tantalize.
- 25a. [October porch swinger] is a SKELETON. Opposite this in the grid is a Hitchcock THRILLER—two bonus Halloweeny answers. VAMPIRE and EVIL EYE are also paired.
- 29a. [Like “egad,” oathwise] (MILD) uses a different sort of oath than 81a: OATHS/[They may be taken with a raised hand].
- 45a. [Female “Mortal Kombat” agent __ Blade] clues SONYA. I’m guessing more of you got this exclusively through the crossings (as I did) than from knowing Mortal Kombat-with-a-K.
- 46a. [Two-legged zebra] is a football REF. Cute clue!
- 75a. [8-track tape co.] clues RCA. Whoa. This clue escaped from the 1970s.
- 84a. [Milk, on an Rx] clues LAC. Have never encountered this in medical writing. [Fond du ___, Wisconsin] is ready to help.
- 89a. [Haunted house creaker] clues the theme entry FLIGHT OF STEPS. I’m good with “flight of stairs,” but “flight of steps” sounds off to me. It Googles up okay, but it sounds less natural than “flight of stairs.”
- 106a. ETIC is simply an ugly entry. [Diet suffix] is the clue.
- 122a. [New Eng. sextet] clues STS., or states. Ugly entry.
- 8d. [Float __] A LOA*…hmm. My first two thoughts were “float A LOAD” and “float A LOAF.” Luckily, it’s A LOAN.
- 20d. [Words of woe] clues “AH, ME.” Has anyone ever heard this used out loud? By your grandmother, in a movie, anywhere?? No?
- 35d. [‘Abitation?] clues ‘OME, or “home” with a Cockney accent. Ick.
- 36d. [Brush partner] is FLOSS. This entry brought to you by the American Dental Association.
- 50d. [“A poor man’s poetry”: Moore] is SLANG. Who is Moore?
- 78d. [Taina of “Les Girls”] clues ELG. Ah, me! That’s frightfully obscure, and it crosses LAC. That’s unfortunate.
- 89d. [Baseball players’ union chief before Weiner] is FEHR.
- 94d. Nobody calls [Pink, e.g.] PALE RED, do they?
- TSE and GBS, Jack ELAM with one of two “oater” clues, IT’S HOT plus the questionably lexical-chunky IT’S A HIT—these are other entries that left me with an overal vibe of “meh” for this puzzle. That’s on top of the Halloween puzzle overload.
Patrick Berry’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 30”
I learned something new in Patrick’s themeless: the term JACKLEG. Clued by way of [Unscrupulous, as a lawyer], it means “dishonest or incompetent.” That’s the only unfamiliar answer I encountered in this medium-difficulty puzzle.
I did also forget that BIC BANANA “ink crayons” existed (54a. [Ink crayon that came “in ten expressive colors”]), but looking them up online, I remember! Oh, how I loved colored pens/markers. If you were available in interesting colors, I bought you in all of them. I have zero recollection of the Charles Nelson Reilly (…in a banana suit) commercial for these things, though.
Favorite clues and answers:
- 14a. [Disgruntled employee’s payback, maybe] is an INSIDE JOB.
- 17a. [1971 hit song written by Paul Anka] is “SHE’S A LADY.” “Why that lady be all green and leafy?” “She salady.”
- 46a. Fresh clue for ORO (“gold” in Spanish): [Its purity is measured in quilates]. I presume quilates are karats.
- 59a. Common answer EDEN also gets a new clue: [Uriel is said to guard it]. I appreciate the effort to find non-stale clues for short little words that show up in puzzles all the time.
- 3d. [Unable to give you anything?], “anything” being “an infectious disease,” clues ASEPTIC. See also 56a: E. COLI.
- 7d. I have some fresh(ish) sage in my fridge and my kid is a Star Wars fan, so I loved the [Green sage] clue. It’s YODA, not an herb.