If you enjoy learning about the etymology of various idioms and words, you’ll like the word game Orijinz: Words & Phrases. A Seattle tech consultant named Brad Chase runs the game company Entspire as a side gig (the profits go to charity, supporting such organizations as Reading Is Fundamental), and he sent me three games to review: two sets of Words & Phrases games, plus the Orijinz: Quotes game. They’re all crisply designed and simple to play: the reader reads a phrase or word’s origin and definition, or reads a series of quotes by a famous person. The other player(s) guess the word/phrase or the person.
My husband and I gave both Orijinz varieties a spin last night, and our 11-year-old son chimed in on occasion. (The games are labeled as being best for age 13+ for Words & Phrases, 16+ for Quotes.) I like to think I know a lot about word origins, but most of the Words & Phrases cards taught me something new—where “go off half-cocked” and “glamor” come from, to name a couple discoveries. We didn’t bother keeping score; if you’re not in the mood for a competitive game, hey, you can just keep reading cards to one another as we did.
The games are available at Entspire’s website and via Levenger: Tools for Serious Readers (just type “Orijinz” in the search box). They probably make great gifts for people whose trivia interests lean towards language and literature, though there are sports team names in there too (I learned how the Pittsburgh Pirates came by their name, for example).
Eric Berlin’s New York Times crossword, “Masquerade”
I tried to figure out the theme without looking at the Notepad hint, but failed. Turns out the trumped-up two-word phrases with two circled letters turn into famous names if you change those circled letters:
- 23a. RANCH AXLES is musician Ray Charles.
- 25a. GREEN ORGAN is golfer Greg Norman.
- 42a. BOND PLAN is songwriter Bob Dylan.
- 44a. INNER ACE is vampire novelist Anne Rice.
- 66a. SLIM AWNING is quarterback Eli Manning.
- 68a. Alex Trebek! The Jeopardy! host is an ALERT REBEL—particularly when he’s sleeping in the nude and his hotel room is being burgled.
- 85a. JOLT OGRE is Joe Torre, who has one of those basebally coach-type jobs.
- 89a. LOUD OWLS is singer Lou Rawls, but if the circled squares had shifted down two, we’d have Lou Dobbs.
- 109a. CONCH LADLE is actor Don Cheadle.
- 111a. FINAL GUISE is actress Tina Louise.
What a peculiar theme. The hidden names are further concealed by the word breaks, which don’t split the same way the first and last names do. While solving it, the puzzle felt like a fairly easy unthemed puzzle with 10 contrived answers, and the name game came after the fact.
The fill’s super-smooth, with plenty of nice 7- and 8-letter answers classing up the joint—LEXICON and an OPOSSUM, the ORESTEIA and WANT ADS, LILTING MALLARDS. (Although SOLS is pretty ugly: 77d: [Short answers?], abbreviation for “solutions.”)
So basically the theme is a word game that, instead of being supplied in list form, makes you solve a bunch of crossword clues en route to solving the 10 questions in the word game. I think I might have liked the gimmick better as a second Sunday NYT puzzle, with a non-word-game-afterplay crossword. But I imagine many of you were delighted by the two-in-one offering.
Merl Reagle’s syndicated/Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “Sugar and Spies”
This is one of Merl’s narrative themes, where the theme answers are the words that fill in the blanks in a spy story. What is this, 16 theme answers? No wonder so much of the non-theme fill felt clunky. With 16 theme answers locked into place, there’s less wiggle room for everything else. Here’s the theme, all cooking-related words with double meanings:
- 22a. A2: “… WHAT’S COOKING, Chief? Or Chef? Or Boss?” (I don’t know why the first character to speak isn’t A1.)
- 24a. A1: “One of our guys is in HOT WATER …”
- 28a. A1: “… for POACHING a sensitive document from the Something-or-other Embassy in Copenhagen.”
- 35a. A2: “DANISH?” A1: “No thanks, just coffee.”
- 37a. A1: “This may sound like SMALL POTATOES …”
- 49a. A1: “… but it’s no PIECE OF CAKE.”
- 57a. A1: “Our guy is being held by a couple of tough MEATBALLS …” (I’ve never heard “meatballs” used to mean people, but the dictionary tells me they’re “dull, stupid, or foolish.”)
- 65a. A2: “You mean, they’re not exactly CREAM PUFFS.”
- 69a. A1: “Right. They’re a couple of HARD-BOILED types.”
- 80a. A2: “I hope the plan isn’t HALF-BAKED.”
- 91a. A1: “PUT A LID ON IT already! Sheesh.“
- 98a. A1: “Now listen. Just TURN UP THE HEAT on these …”
- 101a. “… CRUMBS and bring our guy in.”
- 110a. A1: “They’re probably GRILLING him as we speak.”
- 117a. A1: “So, here’s hoping for a job WELL DONE.”
- 118a. A2: “Say, what’s the ‘sensitive document’ our guy grabbed?” A1: “A SECRET RECIPE, of course.” A2: “Ah! Figures.”
When you put the story all in one piece like this, it works a lot better, doesn’t it?
What doesn’t work is running into more of the little junk than we usually see in Merl’s work. I speak here of answers like these:
- 30d. [Willow type], OSIER
- 50d. [Munich's river], ISAR
- 12a. [Texas hold 'em org.], WPT. World Poker Tournament?
- 62a. [Regional judicial body that hears appeals: abbr.], USCC. U.S. circuit courts? I have never, ever seen this USCC abbreviation.
- 39d. [___-dieu (prayer bench)], PRIE
- 40d. [Ms. O'Neill], OONA
Overall gestalt rating, 3.5 stars. The assemblage of 16 cooking-related words and phrases with non-food meanings into a coherent story is great, but the rest of the puzzle wasn’t up to the theme’s level.
Updated Sunday morning:
Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Sunday Challenge” —Sam Donaldson’s review
Here’s a fun and distinctive 68/30 freestyle puzzle from Mr. Fifteen, Martin Ashwood-Smith. The grid features left-right symmetry instead of the typical diagonal symmetry. This allows Ashwood-Smith to form a T with a triple-stack of 15-letter entries on top intersecting a triple-stack of 15-letter Downs running through the grid’s midsection. There’s even an extra 15 offering some support at 47-Across.
The grid’s design is cool, but it’s the entries that really make this puzzle shine. The top stack had the easy-but-accessible AS BAD AS BAD CAN BE. Wow, a six-word entry! I guess it’s not a record (a Byron Waldon puzzle had I DO five times across the grid, so that 10 words), but it’s sure an impressive and fun start. It rests atop THE HONEYMOONERS and I’M A LITTLE TEAPOT. That’s just a great stack.
The intersecting stack lacks the pizzazz, but it’s certainly solid. There’s SETS A TARGET DATE, clued as [Approximates the time of completion], next to a [Lana Turner movie of 1961], BY LOVE POSSESSED, and AMERICAN HISTORY, clued not as [My undergraduate major] but as the [Domain of one of Washington's Smithsonian museums]. The cost of all this 15-letter goodness, you ask? Nothing horrible, I’m pleased to report–the trio of AVI, TEC, and APA is probably the worst patch, and it’s not that unsightly.
Other great entries include SCHMOOZED, BEASTIES, FLAGSHIPS, BROKEN IN, I’M COLD, and my favorite here, XOXOXO, the [Love letter ending]. Solvers used to XOX, OXO, XXX, OOO, and even XOXO might not react well to this extra dose of affection, but I sure liked it. Some clues worth talking about include:
- [Sight-see?] is a fun clue for AIM (one who aims a rifle sees through the sight).
- I love COMPLETE SILENCE, both in my crosswords and in real life. And I thought the clue, [What an anechoic chamber may provide], was interesting. How come I never see one of those for sale in the Sky Mall magazine?
- [P.M. brightener] seemed like a strange clue for DST, or Daylight Saving Time. But I like the attempt to be unique.
- UTERI as the answer to [Starter homes?] made me smile.
- If you’re like me and did not know the [Broadway acronym] ANTA, it stands for the American National Theatre and Academy. Note the British spelling for the American academy. Classy.
- I think the best clue was [Join hands?] for ANTE UP. It took me a while to figure it out, but when I did it was very satisfying.
Doug Peterson’s Washington Post crossword, “Post Puzzler No. 78″
Wait, did I know Doug had started making Post Puzzlers? Have I blogged his Puzzlers before? Did I congratulate (a) Peter Gordon and the Post for recruiting Doug, and (b) Doug for joining the esteemed Post Puzzler crew?
Doug’s themelesses are nearly always great. They sparkle with lively fill, they make do without crap filler, and the clues are good. Here are my top 10 moments from this puzzle (which, for whatever reason, slaughtered me last night, yet again delivering the lesson that I shouldn’t do crosswords late at night):
- 38a. [They may be wiggled into] clues SKINNY JEANS. Love SKINNY JEANS!
- 56a. A sea breeze is a cocktail made with cranberry juice, so fruity APPLETINIS are [Sea breeze alternatives]. I’ve never had one, but Elizabeth Gorski assures me that apple martinis are delicious.
- 58a. Deodorant SPEEDSTICK is a [Brand with a Stainguard line].
- 27d. ["Can't help ya"]. I GOT NOTHIN’. I use this phrase a lot.
- In the ristorante sections, we have MINESTRONE (13d. [Thick starter]) and LIMONCELLO (26d. [Yellow digestif served in chilled ceramic cups]), starting and finishing your meal.
- 31d. The OAKLAND A’S get a trivia clue that didn’t help me one whit: [Team whose mascot is an elephant named Stomper].
- 52a. [Game show that featured physical challenges] is DOUBLE DARE.
- 10d. [Vector around the equator]? This had me thinking of the physics/math sort of vector rather than the “bug that transmits disease” sort of vector, so I kept waiting for a 9-letter earth thing to show up, something in the meridian/latitude and longitude/Tropic of Cancer vein, rather than a TSETSE FLY.
- 46d/15a. JEEZ! ARE YOU NUTS?
- 35a. [Word selection] is a clever clue for the Microsoft font ARIAL.
Henry Hook’s Boston Globe crossword, “Across and Dow” — pannonica’s review
Names of corporations smushed against generic names of products is the name of the game here. An overlappy romp.
- 21a. [Sleds from an aluminum giant?] ALCOASTERS (ALCOA, coasters). Aluminum Company of America.
- 22a. [Retailer's cocktail?] WALMARTINI (Wal-Mart, martini). Culture clash, although you can buy cocktail glasses (aka ‘martini’ glasses) at Wal-Mart, perhaps even the spiffy Riedels, which have become ubiquitous.
- 48a. [Building supply store's veggie?] HOME DEPOTATO (Home Depot, potato).
- 52a. [Means to see faraway computer company?] INTELESCOPE (Intel, telescope). Intelescope Solutions, LTD.
- 73a. [Audio device from a tech biggie?] IBMP3 PLAYER (IBM, mp3 player).
- 78a. [Food corporation's toiletry?] KRAFTERSHAVE (Kraft, aftershave).
- 105a. [Telecom device for a craftsman?] AT&T-SQUARE (AT&T, T-square). Just one letter here, but still good. T-squares make excellent precision back-scratchers
- 108a. [Chem company's floats] DUPONTOONS (DuPont, pontoons).
- 1d. [Sieves for soft drinks?] COCA-COLANDERS (Coca-Cola, colanders).
- 53d. [Software firm's cleanser?] MICROSOFT SOAP (Microsoft, soft soap). Plus for not using trademarked Soft Scrub, but a huge minus for software/Microsoft repetition; that’s deplorable editing.
The mechanics of the theme aren’t rigorous (letter, syllable, pronunciation, etc.), but the spirit is true throughout, and some of the portmanteau’d concoctions have an absurdly funny quality. My favorites are probably DUPONTOONS and KRAFTERSHAVE, for their combination of smoothness and strangeness. We get two slightly unexpected instances of numeral/symbol replacement: the ’3′ of mp3 and the ampersand of AT&T; in both cases the crossing fill generally takes the spelled-out version: ‘three-egg omelet’ and the phrase ‘thus and so.’ My least favorite themer—aside from the egregious 53d—is the first, because the acronymic ALCOA is three syllables while ‘coasters’ is two, the o-a forming a long-o and not an exaggerated diphthong. Also, I’m not especially fond of coasters being synonymous with sleds.
The grid is robust, smooth-flowing, punctuated with some punny highs and some CAPpy™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials) lows.
- Partials: A DEAD horse, forever AND A day, gone TO SEA, long time NO SEE, MT. ST. Helens (double-whammy partial abbrev.).
- As for the many abbrevs. (and acronyms), I’ll just note a few whose origins might not be well-known: SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), PPD (postage paid), CNS (central nervous system).
- The worst of the crosswordese: TIN ORES, DONEE, plural PAPYRI.
- Other notes:
- Likable proper nouns: Ben SHAHN, TITOISM (not sure why that one appeals, but it does), KEELY Smith.
- Favorite clue: [See somebody?] POPE. He’s definitely the BMIV.
- 53a [Gullet] MAW. There was zero hesitation for this answer, even before I knew the word length. The synonym association is that strong.
- 86a [Halves of "dieciseis"] OCHOS. Should be dieciséis, but it could be an Across Lite artifact. Worse is the awkward pluralization.
- MAW/MAUL, SLY/STY/SYS (next to each other), ICINESS/FINESSE (alongside each other, with nesses offset—I liked that), NO SEE/DONEE.
- 65a. I think of a vaquero working on a finca, not a RANCHO, but my association and experience may be too limited.
- OOKY! Ooky, ooky, ooky! Altogether!
Jim Leeds’ syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, “Vintage Humor”
The theme gathers an assortment of wine- and winery-related puns beneath a terrific title:
- 24a. [Wearing a suit made of white-wine labels?] = CHABLIS DRESSED. (Shabbily dressed.) B-b-but…nobody would say you were “chablis-dressed” is you were clad in wine labels. Now, a salad dressed with a chablis vinaigrette, I could see.
- 39a. [Traditional time to bottle wine?] = WHEN THE VAT LADY SINGS. (When the fat lady sings.)
- 66a. [Present from a winery?] = THE GIFT OF CAB. (…gab instead of the short form of “cabernet.”)
- 72a. [Listing on a winery inventory?] = SIXTEEN TUNS. (…tons.) Tun is a word I know largely from crosswords, a wine vat.)
- 75a. [French wineries' regulations to assure quality?] = CRUS’ CONTROLS. (Cruise….) Bonus points for the stair-step stacking of the the three central theme answers.
- 100a. [Reds handed down from winery founders?] = THE ZINS OF OUR FATHERS. (Zins, or zinfandels, instead of “sins.”)
- 118a. [Winery owner's autobiography?] = ME AND MY CHATEAU. (…shadow.)
I had no idea 2d: ANTIPHONY meant [Call-and-response singing].
Favorite fill: BRASSERIE opposite the VIDEO GAME in the other corner.
Could’ve done without “stadium” appearing in the ASHE clue at 8d, so close to STADIA at 23a.
Also, cluing 107a: LOOPER as [Chicago L, for one]? No. No, no, no. The train does indeed loop around the Loop, but it is not a “looper.” Dictionary tells me that LOOPER means “inchworm” and “a fly ball that becomes a hit by dropping out of the reach of the infielders.” I have never heard either of those uses. If a word like LOOPER simply must appear in a puzzle (and here, it crosses old crosswordese ORIELS, partial FELTA, and Spanish ESO, so one could argue that the whole section cries out for rework—though it’s sandwiched between two theme answers so it’s tricky), I dunno—clue it as a person beginning to tie a shoelace or something.
Tons of blah fill kept me from enjoying the puzzle (too much in the ENESCO/HAFTS/ABOIL/GUAR vein). The theme’s okay, but it might’ve been cooler to have all of theme entries tied to wine varieties. TUNS and VAT and CRUS feel like they’re from the crosswordese corner of wine-making.