THEME: The Insanity That Is Spelling in the English Language — There's nothing like having a child in elementary school learning how to spell to drive home the lesson that English spelling and pronunciation are riddled with a ridiculous amount of inconsistency. The theme entries all end with OUGH, but there are six distinct pronunciations. Crazy language, cool theme.
There's some extracurricular puzzle action happening this Thursday, April 16. Eric Berlin, a crossword constructor and kids' mystery author, is marking the release of his second novel, The Potato Chip Puzzles, with an online "puzzle party" for kids. (Details here.) My son enjoyed Eric's first book, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. Good for roughly the 8 to 13 age group.
Constructor Justin Smith is running a new five-week crossword contest starting on the 16th, but this one's not for kids. You can check out the "Metacross Five Aprils" details here.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled L.A. Times crossword puzzle.
Crosswordese 101: Today's topic is the A- words that thrive in crosswords but not so much in our everyday language. 6D: Like Niagara Falls clues the word AROAR. Have you ever described a crowd or a raging waterfall as being AROAR? Me neither. But having a vowel before a consonant is handy for our crossword constructors, so the A- formations live on.
Regular A- parts of our vocabulary, like "aboard" or "aloud," don't qualify as crosswordese because we all know exactly what they mean. But the kooky ones in crosswords are less familiar. APACE, meaning quickly, is my personal favorite. I have been doing crosswords long enough that I now use this word in speech. (You may think I'm kidding, but I assure you I am not.) ABEAM means perpendicular to the length of a ship. ABAFT means in the back or stern of a ship, or ASTERN. AMAIN means with full strength or speed. Getting out of the nautical arena, ABOIL means boiling. [Oh, look, that's in this puzzle, too: 45D: Full of excitement (ABOIL).] If you stand arms AKIMBO, your hands are on your hips. (I love this word.) ABED means...in bed. AGAPE and AGASP mean gaping or gasping in surprise. There's even ATIPTOE, meaning eagerly expectant.
- 17A: Loaf pan filler (BREAD DOUGH). D'oh!
- 29A: Mistletoe branch that was Aeneas' pass to the underworld (GOLDEN BOUGH). Bow-wow!
- 39A: Something to lead a horse to (WATER TROUGH). Set it off!
- 52A: "The Thorn Birds" author (MCCULLOUGH). That's Colleen McCullough, rhymes with...well, here's the pronunciation.
- 11D: "Cut it out!" (THAT'S ENOUGH). Pretty buff.
- 24D: Make a dramatic recovery (PULL THROUGH). Good for you.
Dan Naddor is one of the finest L.A. Times crossword constructors these days. He cooks up a lot of interesting ideas and pulls 'em off with aplomb. (APLOMB! Another A- word I adore.) Today's theme involves no trickery, no wordplay—just marveling at the insanity that gives us so many pronunciations for the same chunk of letters. The six theme answers take up a good-sized swath of real estate in the grid—62 squares. Packing in more than three or four theme entries makes it harder to wrangle good fill in the rest of the puzzle, but Naddor gives us plenty of goodies. Here's my favorite fill—
- 4D: Amazon predator (ANACONDA). It's a crazy-big snake! It's a cheesy-bad movie! And it's a lovely crossword answer.
- 20A: Fruity rum drink (COLADA). Do you like piña coladas? Getting caught in the rain? Let us not speak of what one is wont to do at midnight:
- 44A: Use Scope, say (GARGLE). When I was in college, there was this one computer nerd who wore his glasses on a string around the back of his neck. He was apparently once spotted spitting out his mouthwash all over his dangling glasses, as the string was henceforth called his "Scope rope." The word GARGLE is innately fun. Then there's 46A: Dogs (POOCHES). POOCHES? Also an entertaining word.
5D: Move furtively (SIDLE). I sidle every chance I get.
10D: A hero might hold it (SALAMI). Terrific clue—it completely befuddled me.
OLIO is crosswordese for a miscellaneous assortment of whatnot. If you don't think of this word instantaneously when there's a four-letter space and clue mentions "miscellaneous," you might want to start. Not to be confused with OLEO, which is margarine.
- 19A: Mane man of film? (LAHR). I went with SCAR from The Lion King first. Whoops!
- 48A: WWII torpedo vessel (E-BOAT). I wanted U-BOAT. E-BOAT??
- 49A: Poe's "The Murders in the Rue __" (MORGUE). Who doesn't love creepy Poe stories?
- 59A: Pre-coll. catchall (ELHI). People who work in education grumble every time they see this answer and explain impatiently that nobody in the field uses "el-hi" to refer to elementary and high school education. The crossword does not care. The crossword will use ELHI if it makes an otherwise nice corner possible.
- 2D: It can precede plop or plunk (KER). Did you have that Kerplunk game with the marbles and sticks when you were a kid? Does your kid have it now?
- 13D: Razzie Award word (WORST). The Razzie Awards are always entertaining.
- 22D: Georgia of "Coach" (ENGEL). Georgia Engel's been on some long-running classic sitcoms, dating back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the '70s and going right up to the current decade's Everybody Loves Raymond.