Australian puzzler David Astle, whose engaging and crosswordy memoir and discussion of cryptics and more is available in a Kindle edition (Puzzled), is working on a new book called The Great Clue Chase. The new work will be a celebration of 100 years of crosswords. He’s on the hunt for great stories from each of those years:
I’m getting there, slowly, with some great stories so far – crosswords with secret messages, with funny bloopers, eerie coincidences, crosswords in strange places, strange languages, a clue controversy, a bizarre word or phrase…. You get the drift. Any puzzle that stands out for some reason, like the well-known marvel of CLINTON/BOBDOLE by Jeremiah Farrell just has to be 1996. Or the great Max Beerbohm hoax – where the humorist provided bogus cryptic clues in the UK Times – was a lock-in for 1940. While the D-Day puzzle was a no-brainer for ’44.
They are the big guns. But I’m equally interested in the quieter, less known crossword things. Like a prison crossword. Was there a crossword in space? Did a couple first meet over a crossword? Was there some ‘SCUMBAG’ furore over a clue in North Dakota, back in 1983? An interesting editorial debate? Some unseen blowback?
I’m after suggestions – good stories, remarkable puzzles, flukes, backfires, Russian, Ninas, firsts and lasts – to help fill out the timeline. The best stuff has a year attached – the further back the better often – as well as neat story. I’m not reproducing puzzles – just sampling a clue or two, and telling the tale.
And to anyone who suggests a zinger, I’d be delighted to send them my new book – Puzzles and Words, a book of word origins and connected word puzzles.
People are welcome to get in touch through my site www.davidastle.com – or just post their responses in your own forum, and I’ll join the chat that way.
Raymond Young’s New York Times crossword
A 64-word grid with four 9×4 stacks is ambitious. It’s got rather more zippy answers than I expected from the grid, but also a number of iffy answers. In the first category, we have:
- 1a. [Rainbow event], GAY PARADE. More commonly called “pride parade,” no?
- 17a. [One of a chain owned by Wyndham], RAMADA INN.
- 19a. ["Unfaithful" Oscar nominee], DIANE LANE.
- 32a. [What repeats in solemn hymns but isn't in hymnals?], SILENT N.
- 38a. [Shaking], QUIVERY.
- 54a. [She told Willy Wonka "Loompaland? There's no such place"], MRS. TEEVEE. Mike’s mom.
- 12d. [It's between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo], RIO GRANDE. In Cruciverb’s database, the ratio of RIO to RIOGRANDE is 429:4. Nice to see the full name. How come Anglos don’t call it “the Grande River”?
- 13d. [Performance with nearly perfect pitch?], ONE-HITTER.
- 29d. [Pre-takeoff command], ENGINES ON.
- 38d. [Military hut], QUONSET. I love that word. It’s “onset” with a QU tacked on.
Now, the iffy category includes some ugly stuff in the 5-letter range, but the fill is notable for not having any “roll-your-own” words with RE- or -ER or -NESS or -LESS endings that seem not remotely familiar.
- 10a. [Given orally, at law], PAROL. The Latinate/French root is familiar enough, but I don’t recall encountering this legal term before.
- 16a. [Russian princess who was Nicholas II's only niece], IRINA. Is she … famous? Important in history?
- 36a. ["Indeed, mate"], RIGHTOH. Dictionary lists “righto” and “righty-ho” but this RIGHTOH looks wrong, oh.
- 45a. ["The strain seemed doubly dear, / Yet ___ sweet": Wordsworth], SAD AS. Unfamiliar and grammatically awkward partial.
- 1d. [Monkey launched into space in 1958], GORDO. Wait, there’s another space monkey we need to know besides Enos?
- 2d. [Repeated cry from Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet"], A SAIL. Not ringing a bell for me.
- 25d. [Prepare to fire into the sky], AIM UP. Semi-random verb + preposition. Plus it crosses GAS UP.
- 37d. [Mae West reputedly said this "is good to find"], HARD MAN. Isn’t this really a 7-letter partial and not so much a lexical chunk unto itself?
- 46d. [Sounds that make frogs disappear?], AHEMS. Cute clue, but haven’t we been too accepting of plurals of exclamations? (See also: OHS, AHS, AHAS, OHOS, EEKS.)
Clues that didn’t help me much:
- 6d. [100 fils], RIAL.
- 10d. [No-spin particles], PIONS.
Clue that did help me, but that I still had to work for:
- 57a. [American tribe that lent its name to a state], KANSA. The YUMAS and OTOES did not get states named after them.
Name I blanked on: Johnny OLSON, the ["Come on down!" announcer] on The Price Is Right. I could only think of Don Pardo and blithely filled in ORSON, guessing that Mercutio said AS AIR rather than A SAIL.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Poetic License”- Sam Donaldson’s review
In today’s puzzle poetry, perhaps the highest form of writing, meets puns, perhaps the lowest form of humor. Four common terms are punnily twisted into new terms about poems:
- 20-Across: What is the [Lament of the poor poet?] That RHYME DOESN’T PAY (a play on “crime doesn’t pay”).
- 25-Across: Is there a term for the [Strange part of a poem?]. yep, it’s called THE ODD COUPLET (from The Odd Couple, you know).
- 42-Across: You know [How badly poets want to succeed?] IN THE VERSE WAY (“in the worst way”).
- 48-Across: When’s the [Best time for poets to make a living?] In THE GOOD ODE DAYS (“the good old days”).
These puns remind me of the riddles printed on Popsicle sticks nowadays. If you haven’t had one in a while, you may be missing out. The handle has a riddle written on the handle, and you have to eat the frozen treat to read the answer. (Don’t do it too fast, though–none of the riddles are worth a brain freeze.) I could easily see any of today’s theme entries as a Popsicle riddle. I suppose that’s high praise–not every riddle makes it to the big time like that.
I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to remember the [2012 World Series runners-up], the Detroit TIGERS. This kind of factoid used to be a gimme for me. But ever since I gave up fantasy baseball in 2010, I’ve more or less lost touch with the sport. The same happened to a lesser extent in 2008 when my then-local NBA franchise was relocated to a city in Oklahoma. But since I grew up a basketball fan just outside of Portland (where the Trail Blazers were and are the only major league sports franchise in town), my affinity for hoops at all levels hasn’t died down nearly as much. Maybe I can treat myself to a trip to an upcoming Hawks game as pre-ACPT research!
Favorite entry = LOW-END, a term synonymous with [Bargain-basement]. Favorite clue = [It may be added to impress] for IVE. Ugly, ugly fill made much more palatable thanks to great cluing!
Brad Wilber’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review
A quick review today. Another great offering from Brad, opening with the fresh NANNY CAM [Device hidden by a concerned parent]. The fill was similarly great throughout: some highlights for me were RAIL BARONS, MOLYBDENUM STEEL, “THE FIX IS IN!”, LANDLADY, COUTURIER the EMPANADA/DEADPAN crossing, CLOBBER, GUIDO RENI, and “BE YOURSELF!”. Some of the longer fill was less sparkling, but the clues made up for it (e.g., [Like the cap worn by Annette] (Funicello) for MOUSE-EARED).
It’s paid to know your ORIOLEs lately; this time it’s the [Bird that builds hanging nests], not the baseball player. [Guest in a library] is sentimental poet EDGAR, though perhaps he’s not the most famous literary Edgar. The [Largest island in the Cyclades] is NAXOS, which is geography trivia about an island usually given a Straussian clue.
Really nothing to complain about. If I’m digging, the partial A TIE isn’t pretty, but the clue ["___ is like kissing your sister": sports chestnut] more than makes up for it. I’m giving this one 4.5 stars.
Until next week!
Barry Silk’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”
As is so often the case, the Stumper is indeed Saturday’s toughest themeless. It wasn’t a total killer, but every section of the grid involved a good bit of gazing at blank squares and working back and forth between Acrosses and Downs.
Things we may not have known off the top of our heads:
- 17a. [''Points sur une carte''], ILES. “Dots on a map,” in French; islands in French.
- 21a. [Monday through Saturday, in France], SCHOOL WEEK. Huh. The French school near me is not in session on Saturdays. And I thought they were supposed to be providing a French-grade education.
- 22a. [Annual Kennedy Center celebration], KWANZAA.
- 41a. [''Be yourself, nonstop'' sloganeer], AMERICAN. As in nonstop flights? Okay.
- 48a. [Three-Tony winner for '91], MISS SAIGON.
- 57a. [Federal Assembly vote], NYET. So Russia has a Federal Assembly, then?
- 3d. [Where the National Anthem was written], CHESAPEAKE.
- 4d. [''Crusade in Europe'' author], EISENHOWER. WWII “crusade,” not the big-C Crusades of the Middle Ages.
- 5d. [Woodworking tool], BOW SAW. Never heard of it.
- 8d. ['50's teen happening], RECORD HOP. Not sock hop? RECORD HOP? New to me.
- 10d. [White side], SLAW. Really? Because usually cole slaw is very pale green with orange carrot shreds, no? I suppose the clue was supposed to trick people into RICE.
- 13d. [''The Shot Felt 'Round the World'' subject], SALK. Polio vaccine shots.
- 23d. [Word from the Mandarin for ''absorption''], ZEN.
- 26d. [With 5 Across, Gore Vidal subject], AARON / BURR. I forgot. And even when I had the AARON part, I considered a backwards Hank Aaron.
- 28d. [River through Philadelphia], SCHUYLKILL. Barry Silk Philly fill™.
- 36d. [Egg-oil treatment], FACIAL. I presume that’s egg + oil and not some sort of oil extracted from eggs, but what do I know? “Egg-oil treatment” is not a phrase I’ve seen before.
- 45d. [Syrup source for marshmallows], ROSES. Originally, marshmallows were made with the roots of the marsh mallow flowering plant.
- 52d. [He's depicted on Spain's Academy Award], GOYA. Because why wouldn’t your film award statuette depict a painter? Who is the Oscar on the U.S. Academy Award statuette, anyway?
Among the trickiest clues is 46d: [Steadfast counter] for “I AM SO!” Something you say to counter a claim to the contrary.