FRIDAY, Jul. 31, 2009 — Dan Naddor

THEME: Terminator X — common phrases ending have their terminal "SK"s turned into "X"s, resulting in wacky phrases, which are then clued "?"-style

Good to see the late-week LA Times puzzles starting to get their teeth back a little (wait 'til you see tomorrow's ...). This one had a gloriously high "X" count (6 in the theme answers and then another 2 for good measure!), and took a decent amount of thought to work through. There were some wince-inducing moments, but the cleverness of the theme and Scrabbliness of the theme diminished their negative impact on my overall solving experience. One of the theme answers was pretty terrible — VIDEO DISK isn't really in the language except as the last two words represented by the abbrev. DVD, where it is conventionally spelled VIDEO DISC.

Other issues:

  • HALF MAN? Really? (33D: Not a whole person?)
  • EXER? Really? (52D: Phys. activity) — I have "OUCH" written next to that clue.
  • The clue on PLEASURE seems convoluted to me (12D: You can get it from a blast). I assume it's a metaphorical blast, as in, "I had a blast ... and it gave me PLEASURE."
  • HEXAD? Try using that word in a hockey rink and see where it gets you (61A: Hockey lineup, e.g.).

Still, this puzzle did not LAY AN EGG (great answer, 38D: Bomb big time). Both CAMPY (9A: Like much "Laugh-In" humor) and FRITTATA (21A: Italian omelet served open-faced) make me happy, and I don't think I've ever seen TRIPLEX, but it sure looks nice in the grid (18D: Apartment with two staircases, perhaps). SCANDAL sitting on top of WHISKEY gives the grid a cool Prohibition Era feel, like an old-fashioned CRIME DRAMA (58A: Part of "CSI" + 48D: Miller creation).

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Paul Bunyan's admission in therapy? ("I hate to ax")
  • 27A: Formal attire for Dumbo? (elephant tux)
  • 43A: Plant fiber used by moonshiners? (whiskey flax)
  • 56A: Diver's tank capacity? (oxygen max)
  • 11D: Catchall source of revenue? (multi-tax)
  • 36D: Keep a Northeastern fort under surveillance? (video Dix)

Word of the Day: TETRA (20A: Fish in a tank) — as with OPAH, I never heard about this fish until I started doing crosswords in earnest. Crosswords are teeming with these fish. Without even looking at previous clues or any definitions, I can tell you they are common aquarium fish that are brightly colored (those two facts are probably linked). TETRA is the Greek prefix for four ... perhaps they have four ... of something. Fins?

What else?

  • 60A: Verb suffix? (ose) — boo. This is literal. Why the "?" Maybe you wanted me to write in "IZE"?
  • 1D: French teacher (maitre) — had MADAME, which is half write. But not HALF MAN.
  • 28D: Folk singer Griffith (Nanci) — used to Love her. Saw her in concert twice. Had a huge crush on her from my teens well into my mid-20s. Other guys fantasized about swimsuit models or Farrah or whatever. But I was all about Teri Garr and (pre-whore) Sandy in "Grease" and Nanci Griffith. Here's the title track from what I think is probably her best album.

And here she is being impossibly cute and sounding Awesome in the late-80s (when such a feat was a near miracle):

See you Monday,


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

Everything Else — 1A: Queen described by Mercutio (MAB); 4A: Cornrow, e.g. (PLAIT); 9A: Like much "Laugh-In" humor (CAMPY); 14A: Put away (ATE); 15A: Dreads wearer (RASTA); 16A: Fertilized item (OVULE); 17A: Paul Bunyan's admission in therapy? (I HATE TO AX); 19A: Tees off (RILES); 20A: Fish in a tank (TETRA); 21A: Italian omelet served open-faced (FRITTATA); 23A: Museum assortment (RELICS); 25A: Balk at (RESIST); 27A: Formal attire for Dumbo? (ELEPHANT TUX); 31A: Place to unwind (TUB); 32A: "A Perfect Spy" author (LECARRE); 33A: __-kiri (HARA); 34A: Selfless sort (GIVER); 37A: Ex-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's alma mater (NYU); 38A: Not so strict (LAXER); 39A: Computer operating system (UNIX); 40A: Tabloid topic (SCANDAL); 42A: It's illegal to drop it (LSD); 43A: Plant fiber used by moonshiners? (WHISKEY FLAX); 47A: River of the Carolinas (PEEDEE); 49A: 16-Across cell (GAMETE); 50A: The Great Barrier Reef borders it (CORAL SEA); 54A: Expectant parent, e.g. (NAMER); 55A: Darfur's nation (SUDAN); 56A: Diver's tank capacity? (OXYGEN MAX); 58A: Part of "CSI" (CRIME); 59A: Baseball commissioner Bud (SELIG); 60A: Verb suffix? (-OSE); 61A: Hockey lineup, e.g. (HEXAD); 62A: Borneo swinger (ORANG); 63A: 1985 video game release, initially (NES); 1D: French teacher (MAITRE); 2D: Following closely (AT HEEL); 3D: __ wig: '60s fad item (BEATLE); 4D: Service provider? (PREACHER); 5D: Back muscle, for short (LAT); 6D: Starting (AS OF); 7D: __-Tass: news agency (ITAR); 8D: Sitcom set in a garage (TAXI); 9D: Organ layer (CORTEX); 10D: Some athletic footwear (AVIAS); 11D: Catchall source of revenue? (MULTITAX); 12D: You can get it from a blast (PLEASURE); 13D: Check-box word (YES); 18D: Apartment with two staircases, perhaps (TRIPLEX); 22D: Loyal (TRUE); 24D: __ fly: run-scoring out (SAC); 26D: Way up the slope (T-BAR); 28D: Folk singer Griffith (NANCI); 29D: "__ I might ..." (TRY AS); 30D: Jack's place (TRUNK); 33D: Not a whole person? (HALF MAN); 34D: [Uh-oh!] (GULP); 35D: Like many Woody Allen characters (INSECURE); 36D: Keep a Northeastern fort under surveillance? (VIDEO DIX); 38D: Bomb big-time (LAY AN EGG); 40D: Kid-lit poet Silverstein (SHEL); 41D: B.S., e.g. (DEG.); 43D: Withdrew gradually (from) (WEANED); 44D: Best Actor winner for "Save the Tiger" (1973) (LEMMON); 45D: Drill command (AT EASE); 46D: Persian king who captured Athens (XERXES); 48D: Miller creation (DRAMA); 51D: Average (SO-SO); 52D: Phys. activity (EXER.); 53D: "The Clan of the Cave Bear" heroine (AYLA); 55D: 41-Down awarder (SCH.); 57D: Beefeater, e.g. (GIN).


THURSDAY, July 30, 2009 — Fred Jackson III

Theme: "Today's theme is brought to you by the letter ..." — Theme answers are familiar phrases the first word of which is a homophone for a letter of the alphabet.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: Photographer of a letter? (P SHOOTER). Pea shooter.
  • 26A: Letter's rest period? (T BREAK). Tea break. Is this a thing? Coffee break, okay. Tea break? Any Brits out there, please let me know.
  • 49A: Undercover operation to trap a letter? (B STING). Bee sting.
  • 56A: One who can't hold a letter? (I DROPPER). Eye dropper.
  • 10D: Letter out for a stroll? (J WALKING). Jaywalking.
  • 38D: Official in charge of a letter? (C CAPTAIN). Sea captain.
Vaguely theme-ish answers:
  • 51D: Future docs' exams (MCATS).
  • 54D: Times to attack (D-DAYS).
Crosswordese 101: To my knowledge, I have never ever heard an ENYA song. I also have no desire to hear an ENYA song. I'm sure her songs are lovely, but her music is apparently not my thing. She is a New Age artist, she is from Ireland, she has won several Grammys, and her songs include "Paint the Sky With Stars," "Watermark," "A Day Without Rain," "Caribbean Blue" and today's 58D: "Orinoco Flow."

This puzzle seemed a little more difficult than what we've been getting lately from the L.A. Times. I haven't been timing myself regularly on the LAT, but I did today and I ended up right at my average time for a Wednesday N.Y. Times puzzle. I guess it seemed more difficult to me because I scanned through the acrosses and didn't have many gimmes. Once I found a couple places to get a foothold, it all came together pretty nicely, but I almost had that Saturday "Oh crap! Look at all these empty boxes!" feeling for a while.

There were a couple clunkers and I sure would be remiss not to point them out to you. First in line is AGER (19A: Stress, it's said). Now this isn't horrible fill, it's just an awkward clue. I would prefer a fill-in-the-blank clue ("Golden ___" or "Teen___") to this one. Next is UNROBE (4D: Strip), which is a mash-up of UNdress and disROBE. Finally, if this is the first time you've encountered AGIN' (35D: Opposin') in the puzzle I just want to say I feel your pain. It's awful, but you'll just need to find a way to accept it and move on because you're going to see it again. I learned a long time ago that you can accept the way things are kicking and screaming, or you can accept the way things are without kicking and screaming, but those are your only two choices. So let's just see if we can minimize the kicking and screaming, okay?

Oh but there are some gems here too! For example, RICKETY! (25A: Ready to collapse.) Pretty sure I've never seen this word in a puzzle and it's awesome. Also CURTSY (55A: Respectful gesture). That word is so good I'm not even mad that I initially entered salute. Hmmm .... I wonder if Orange has ever curtsied ....

What else?
  • 10A: Singer Joan (JETT). Raise your hand if you entered Baez without even thinking about it.
  • 14A: Ex-TV host Stewart (ALANA). Is this Rod Stewart's wife? She had a show? Wikipedia says she hosted a 1995 talk show with her first husband, George Hamilton. Sorry I missed that one.
  • 18A: Speed Wagons, e.g. (REOS).

  • 17A: Hear again (RETRY). This one tripped me up. This refers to a trial judge hearing a case.
  • 41A: Nuts (over) (GAGA). I knew I was getting old when I would pick up the People magazine at the dentist's office and half the people in it were unrecognizable to me. Then there were these young women working in my office and I really didn't understand their shoes. And now there's Lady Gaga.
  • 60A: "Bess, You Is My Woman," e.g. (ARIA). Tricky! Did you know that "Porgy and Bess" is an opera? Well, ya do now!
  • 66A: Country singer Tucker (TANYA).

  • 12D: Twitter message (TWEET). Twitter's slogan should be "Because you don't waste enough time online." Speaking of Twitter....
[Follow PuzzleGirl on Twitter.]

Everything Else — 1A: [Snore] (HO HUM); 6A: Blow hard (HUFF); 15A: River to the Mediterranean (EBRO); 16A: Guitarist's effect (WAWA); 22A: Flea market figure (SELLER); 24A: Tops with cups (BRAS); 29A: Old Mughal Empire capital (DELHI); 30A: Suffix with glob (-ULE); 31A: Blocks that lock (LEGOS); 33A: At the ready (ON TAP); 37A: Rash preventer (TALC); 39A: Like some checking accounts (NO-FEE); 42A: Word before radio or wave (SHOCK); 44A: "I dunno" ("GOT ME"); 46A: Mark, as a ballot (X IN); 47A: Shady retreat (ARBOR); 51A: Crow relatives (MAGPIES); 54A: Like Burbank City Hall, for short (DECO); 61A: Muskogee's st. (OKLA.); 63A: Heavy herbivore (RHINO); 64A: Suspense novelist Hoag (TAMI); 65A: Meddling (NOSY); 67A: Witnessed (SEEN); 68A: Muchas horas (DÍAS); 69A: Rile (up) (STEAM); 1D: Dwell (on) (HARP); 2D: Cheers at some World Cup games (OLÉS); 3D: "Hell __ no fury ..." (HATH); 5D: Like some elections (MAYORAL); 6D: Toast opening (HERE'S); 7D: Slangy prefix meaning "super" (UBER-); 8D: One way to sway (FRO); 9D: Dig discovery (FOSSIL); 11D: Apollo 11 module (EAGLE); 13D: Linger (TARRY); 21D: Unavailable (TAKEN); 23D: Return call? (ECHO); 25D: Pedometer button (RESET); 26D: Sounds of rebuke (TUTS); 27D: Eliciting a "So what?" (BLAH); 28D: Possible result of a job change, for short (RELO); 29D: Attend the needs of (DO FOR); 32D: "We Got the Beat" band, with "The" (GO-GOS); 34D: Part of a pickup line? (TAXI); 36D: Remorseful feeling (PANG); 40D: Cookout remnant (EMBER); 43D: Barbra's "A Star Is Born" costar (KRIS); 45D: Accompanists? (ESCORTS); 48D: Not within reach of (BEYOND); 50D: Signature wear for Astaire (TOP HAT); 52D: Surrounding glows (AURAE); 53D: Mr. Clean target (GRIME); 56D: "Casablanca" role (ILSA); 57D: Cabinet wood (PINE); 59D: Itinerate (ROAM); 62D: Colorful carp (KOI).


WEDNESDAY, July 29, 2009—Jerome Gunderson

THEME: "What a Tease"—If you lop off the ends of four phrases by slashing the first word, you get four synonyms for "tease"

This was one of those themes that eluded me until after I finished the puzzle. I read the four phrases in the longest answers. Then I read them aloud to my husband. Then I read the last words aloud. Then I read the first words aloud, and it finally clicked.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: Mojave Desert grower (JOSHUA TREE). Hidden JOSH.
  • 26A: Flashy theatricality (RAZZLE DAZZLE). Hidden RAZZ. And who doesn't like a phrase that (a) is fun to say and (b) contains four Zs?
  • 44A: VIP at a grand opening (RIBBON CUTTER). This entry's the black sheep in the theme family. To hide the RIB, something like RIBBIT, RIBBIT would've been more fun—thought that would be inconsistent with the other theme entries by virtue of having two RIBs in it.
  • 60A: Place to wade (KIDDIE POOL). Hidden KID; lively phrase.

Crosswordese 101: ALERO! Oldsmobile is no more, but in crosswords, the not-so-distinguished ALERO lives on. Parked at 25A, this was the Last Olds ever made. It's the most popular Oldsmobile in the puzzle, but occasionally the CIERA gets a little attention. So you can definitely fill in **ER* if you have a five-letter space for an Olds model, and are usually safe if you go with ALERO. You can buy a used 2004 ALERO for as little as $2,000 these days.

And now, a smattering of clues and their answers:
  • 10A: Hook for landing large fish (GAFF). Not a word on the tip of my tongue.
  • 21A: Moved to and fro, as a golf club just before swinging (WAGGLED). I prefer the waggle dance of honeybees, but this golf usage is in the dictionary. WAGGLED sounds like GARGLE, doesn't it> That one is clued as 10D: Use Listerine, say (GARGLE).
  • 42A: Former wrestling star __ Brazil (BOBO). What the heck is this? Who? Apparently Bobo Brazil was a "professional wrestler" back in the '70s, when my great-grandmother and her husband would watch wrestling and my sister and I would roll our eyes and go back upstairs as soon as we wheedled some chewing gum out of the old folks' stash of Wrigley. Hey, PuzzleGirl, here's a wrestling video for you:

  • 67A: 1" = 100', e.g. (SCALE). At the John Hancock Center in Chicago last weekend, my son admired the Lego Hancock kit. What's the SCALE for a Lego building that's about 8" tall, modeled after an edifice that's 1,506' tall including the antennas?
  • 8D: Penthouse feature (VIEW). You know what's got a better view than most penthouses? The 94th floor observation deck of the Hancock. It's a great place to watch the fireworks...though you have to look downward a tad.
  • 43D: Romantic lowerings (SUNSETS). Watching a summer sunset from the 94th floor is breathtaking. Big crimson ball sinks lower...lower...smaller...and poof, it's gone. Too bad my camera phone took such mediocre pictures of that sunset. Before I forget: "lowerings" is a terrible word.
  • 45D: Bit of Christmas debris (NEEDLE). Anyone else try TINSEL first? A dry, fallen pine NEEDLE is much more debris-ish than a bit of tinsel, I suppose.
Everything Else — 1A: Knocks senseless (DAZES); 6A: "__ Zapata!": 1952 film (VIVA); 14A: Send to the Hill, say (ELECT); 15A: Sister of Ares (ERIS); 16A: Teen follower? (-AGER); 19A: Tear to pieces (RIVE); 20A: Coin-op eatery (AUTOMAT); 23A: Harris's __ Rabbit (BRER); 32A: "Tiny Alice" dramatist (ALBEE); 33A: Rattler's pose (COIL); 34A: Stay-at-home __ (DAD); 37A: Haunted house sound (MOAN); 38A: Scout's job, for short (RECON); 40A: Seductive (SEXY); 41A: MPG part (PER); 43A: Luxurious fur (SABLE); 47A: Up and about (RISEN); 50A: Vegas sign filler (NEON); 51A: Exams for would-be Mensans (IQ TESTS); 54A: Perfumery product (ESSENCE); 59A: Simon & Garfunkel et al. (DUOS); 62A: Show flexibility (GIVE); 63A: Racetrack shape (OVAL); 64A: Popular DVRs (TIVOS); 65A: Seine summers (ETES); 66A: "__ to you, fella!" (SAME); 1D: __ vu (DEJA); 2D: Baseball's Moises (ALOU); 3D: Bartender's twist (ZEST); 4D: Bounce back (ECHO); 5D: Trip (STUMBLE); 6D: Checked out thoroughly (VETTED); 7D: Bargain tag abbr. (IRR.); 8D: Penthouse feature (VIEW); 9D: On the briny (ASEA); 11D: Mentally quick (AGILE); 12D: Peggy Lee signature song (FEVER); 13D: Feckless Corleone brother (FREDO); 18D: Bern's river (AARE); 22D: It may be unmitigated (GALL); 24D: Masked critter (RACCOON); 26D: Freeway exit (RAMP); 27D: Natural skin treatment (ALOE); 28D: Letter-shaped beam (Z-BAR); 29D: Buddhist sect (ZEN); 30D: Chaotic scene (ZOO); 31D: California red, briefly (ZIN); 34D: Cardholder's woe (DEBT); 35D: Car bar (AXLE); 36D: Textile worker (DYER); 38D: Stick up (ROB); 39D: Fall away (EBB); 40D: Grabbed a chair, so to speak (SAT); 42D: Trash holders (BINS); 44D: __ Pieces: candy brand (REESES); 46D: Mozart's "__ fan tutte" (COSI); 47D: Ruffles potato chip feature (RIDGE); 48D: Fed-up employee's announcement (I QUIT); 49D: Potbelly, e.g. (STOVE); 52D: Ali stats (TKOS); 53D: Hindu "Destroyer" (SIVA); 55D: Cast-of-thousands movie (EPIC); 56D: 1960s-'80s Chevy (NOVA); 57D: Calm under pressure (COOL); 58D: "All __ being equal ..." (ELSE); 61D: Hydroelectric project (DAM).


TUESDAY, July 28, 2009 — Scott Atkinson

Theme: "Why Wait?" — Theme answers are common phrases that might be preceded by the word wait (49D: Bide one's time, and a word that may precede the answers to starred clues (WAIT)).

Theme answers:
  • 17A: *"We aren't finished here" ("IT ISN'T OVER").
  • 53A: *"Give me another sec!" ("I'M NOT READY!").
  • 11D: *"It's on the tip of my tongue" ("DON'T TELL ME").
  • 28D: *"I haven't told you everything yet!" ("THERE'S MORE!").
Crosswordese 101: Some of the time you'll see EMO clued as a subgenre of punk rock, but other times, like today, you'll be forced to think about 55D: Comedian Philips. Clues might also refer to Philips as funny, which I personally think is quite an exaggeration. Sure he said some funny stuff, but the look? the voice? — let's just say I'm not a fan.

I'm still in Costa Rica and it's been a long day of hanging at the beach, reading in the hammock, eating excellent food, and swimming in the pool. As you can tell, the schedule we keep down here is super exhausting. Yesterday was actually really cool because we surprised PuzzleSon by inviting the family of one of his best friends from Virginia down here to join us. They recently moved to Mexico City, so PuzzleSon hasn't seen him since March. In fact, I've only met the kid's dad a couple of times briefly and only know his mom through Facebook. Which is pretty weird. When we met each other we were like, "Wait, what? We haven't met? But I know you!" Gotta love Facebook.

What? The puzzle? Oh, okay, we'll talk about the puzzle. I liked this one. Kinda blew right through it without really catching onto the theme until I was just about done. Nothing super sparkly, but nothing really bad either. Pretty much exactly what you want on a Tuesday.

  • 26A: Acela Express operator (AMTRAK). This is the express train that runs from Washington, D.C. to Boston. You may have heard of it.
  • 29A: Mottled T-shirt (TIE-DYE). I just now realized I don't know what mottled means. Let's see ... "having colored spots or blotches." Well okay then.
  • 30A: Broadway's George M. (COHAN). The Father of American Comedy.
  • 49A: The LPGA's Michelle (WIE). She gave up her amateur status one week before her 16th B-DAY (10A: Kids' party occasion, briefly) and anything you read about her life as a golfer will include the word youngest many, many times.
  • 58A: Author Zola (ÉMILE). Something written in Émile Zola's style might be referred to as Zolaesque. (If you don't understand that reference, you'll need to watch "Wordplay" again.)
  • 10D: Sounding like marching bands (BRASSY). Hmmmm. I guess I think of brassy as more of a personality trait and not a ... sound. Not arguing with its legitimacy here, just making an observation.
  • 29D: Silky-voiced Mel (TORMÉ). The Velvet Fog.
  • 33D: Woodstock singer Joan (BAEZ). I threw several acrosses in here and when I saw the down answer was –AEZ, I thought, "I hope this is Joan Baez."
Kayaking tomorrow!

Pura Vida, PuzzleGirl

[Follow PuzzleGirl on Twitter.]

Everything Else — 1A: Potato holders (SACKS); 6A: Wide-eyed (AGOG); (B-DAY); 14A: Andean beast (LLAMA); 15A: Actress Gershon (GINA); 16A: Tug-of-war gear (ROPE); 19A: Tolstoy's Karenina (ANNA); 20A: Sun. follower (MON.); 21A: Solstice month (JUNE); 22A: Encourage (FOSTER); 24A: In use, as a phone line (BUSY); 25A: Cinco de Mayo celebrations (FIESTAS); 31A: Barbie and Ken (DOLLS); 32A: Wall St. takeover (LBO); 35A: __ & Chandon champagne (MOET); 36A: Fully exposed (BARED); 37A: National symbol (FLAG); 38A: Goof (ERR); 39A: Wavy dos (PERMS); 40A: Bugs's pursuer (ELMER); 41A: Noble's home (ESTATE); 43A: Hay fever symptom (SNEEZE); 44A: Deteriorate, slangily (GO SOUTH); 46A: Chopped liver spread (PATÉ); 47A: Group together (LUMP IN); 48A: Dover fish dish (SOLE); 52A: At the apex of (ATOP); 56A: Filly's father (SIRE); 57A: Menthol cigarette (KOOL); 59A: Garden planting (SEED); 60A: Cries out loud (SOBS); 61A: Indulged, with "on" (DOTED); 1D: __ to none: poor odds (SLIM); 2D: Choir voice (ALTO); 3D: Eve's oldest (CAIN); 4D: Canada hwy. distances (KMS.); 5D: Puerto Rico's capital (SAN JUAN); 6D: Extreme pain (AGONY); 7D: Telethon catchword (GIVE); 8D: Washington's bill (ONE); 9D: President after Hayes (GARFIELD); 12D: Nighttime breathing disorder (APNEA); 13D: Many months (YEARS); 18D: Walrus's weapon (TUSK); 23D: Multivolume Brit. references (OEDS); 24D: Spoiled kid (BRAT); 25D: "The X-__" (FILES); 26D: Very top (ACME); 27D: Drop anchor (MOOR); 31D: Vader in "Star Wars" (DARTH); 34D: Fairy tale meany (OGRE); 36D: Bongo-playing '50s-'60s stereotypes (BEATNIKS); 37D: Get out of Dodge (FLEE); 39D: Spitter's sound (PTUI); 40D: Stepped inside (ENTERED); 42D: __ up (absorbed, as gravy) (SOPPED); 43D: Pretzel topper (SALT); 44D: Cinderella's slipper material (GLASS); 45D: Protruding navel (OUTIE); 46D: They often have deep ends (POOLS); 48D: Nose-in-the-air sort (SNOB); 50D: Just sitting around (IDLE); 51D: Watched warily (EYED); 54D: Bovine bellow (MOO).


MONDAY, Jul. 27, 2009 — Samuel A. Donaldson

THEME: Counting down by halves — theme answers begin with TWENTY, TEN, FIVE and TWO AND A HALF, respectively

A fine Monday puzzle that confused me at the very end because I assumed we were counting down by currency denominations, and so when I realized the first word of the last theme answer was going to be TWO, I thought "O come on, you're really going to count the TWO dollar bill!?" But no. Nothing to do with currency. Whole puzzle must have been inspired by the show "TWO AND A HALF MEN." It's nice that that show inspired something besides my desire not to watch it, or any other laff-trakked sitcom, ever again.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Borax haulers, in classic ads (TWENTY MULE TEAM) — man, it is old-timey Monday today (if you did the NYT, you know what I'm talking about). I don't know these "ads" from Adam. Let's see if I can dredge one up... here's one that teaches you how to wash your hands "the modern way":

["I'm the old ranger ..." [!?!?]]

  • 31A: Cowboy's topper (TEN GALLON HAT)
  • 41A: Poker game where one might stand pat (FIVE CARD DRAW)
  • 57A: CBS sitcom since 2003 ("TWO AND A HALF MEN")

Crosswordese 101: ERMA (22D: Witty Bombeck) — I was going to go with LARUE, but he got mentioned in Orange's write-up of OATER a while back. He probably deserves his own write-up, but I'll leave him for now and pick up the IRMA / ERMA split instead. ILSA : ELSA :: IRMA : ERMA. Easily confusable. IRMA almost always gets clued via the Billy Wilder film "IRMA La Douce" (with Shirley MacLaine in the title role), while ERMA is almost always clued via Ms. Bombeck. Sometimes you see Bombeck clued as an "Aunt" with a "Cope Book" because of her 1979 bestseller "Aunt ERMA's Cope Book." How to tell the "I"RMA from the "E"RMA? You just have to decide: which one looks more hookerish? That one is IRMA.

What else?

  • 35A: "... _____ saw Elba" (ERE I) — EREI and IERE are some of the most execrable bits of small fill in the world of crosswords. You can thank this ancient palindrome for their continued existence: "Able was I ERE I saw Elba."
  • 3D: It's to the far right on freeways (SLOW LANE) — also called the "Going The Speed Limit Lane."
  • 39D: Kim of "L.A. Confidential" (BASINGER) — she won an Oscar for a movie based on this blog. Good for her.
  • 43D: Some West Indian religious cultists (VOODOOS) — you can be a VOODOO? I have never seen the word used to mean anything but the religion itself.

That's all. See you Friday.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


SUNDAY, July 26, 2009 — Nora Pearlstone

Theme: "Midafternoons" — The abbreviation for afternoon, P.M., is found in the middle of the theme answers. (132D: Times of day hidden in eight puz. answers (PMS)).

[Note: This is the syndicated L.A. Times puzzle. It does not appear in the actual newspaper, but is available for free at the cruciverb.com website.]

Theme answers:
  • 23A: Temporary solution (STOPGAP MEASURE).
  • 54A: Controversial excavation method (STRIP MINING).
  • 94A: Key equivalent to B-flat (A-SHARP MAJOR).
  • 130A: It can help you organize windows and wallpaper (DESKTOP MANAGER).
  • 17D: Startling Stories, e.g. (PULP MAGAZINE).
  • 29D: One making a large withdrawal? (HOLDUP MAN).
  • 66D: Maker of Marlboro (PHILIP MORRIS).
  • 68D: Laptop power saver (SLEEP MODE).
Crosswordese 101: The problem you face when you see a clue like 86D: "__ girl!," is that you don't know if the answer will be IT'S A or ATTA. It's more likely to be ATTA, because IT'S A can be clued several other ways (e.g., "___ Wonderful Life," "___ shame," and "___ miracle"), but ATTA is almost always clued as "___ girl!" or "___ boy!"

Not a super ambitious theme today, but once I understood what was going on, it did help me figure out the rest of the theme answers, all of which I thought were pretty decent theme entries except for HOLDUP MAN, which just doesn't do a thing for me. The whole puzzle went down pretty smooth except for Northern California where, if I had done the downs first I'm pretty sure I would have come up with SALINE, but I had a few wrong acrosses in there already which made it invisible to me. I didn't know NAHUATL (73A: Uto-Aztecan tongue) or EILAT (85A: Israeli port city). To add to the confusion I had HIP TO instead of HEP TO for 99A: Aware of. So you can see why I had some trouble there.

I would have appreciated the golf mini-theme more if I had heard of more than one of the three answers: LATROBE (26A: Arnold Palmer's Pennsylvania birthplace — who knew?), HOSEL (31A: Golf iron socket — huh?), and MASTERS (137A: Annual Georgia tournament, with "The" — okay, got that one).

As you might know, I'm in Costa Rica right now vacationing for 12 days (but who's counting?) with my kids and parents. Actually, now that I think about it when a stay-at-home mom takes a trip with her kids, can that really be considered a vacation? Yeah, I didn't think so. Anyway. We come down here at least once a year and we spend most of our time reading books and eating really good food. Except for the kids, who also spend a lot of time swimming, surfing, and boogie-boarding. I'm reading a book right now that I'm dying to get back to, so I might shortchange you a little bit today. Hope you understand. I mean, this book is just sitting right here and it's so good it's about killing me not to be reading it. Also, it's 562 pages, so I really do need to stay after it.

Quick hits:
  • 14A: Charts with axes (GRAPHS). Axes in this case is the plural of axis, not the chopping tool.
  • 34A: W, vis-à-vis E (OPP). W(est) and E(ast) are OPP(osites).
  • 36A: Money pile?: Abbr. (MSS). Money is the name of a magazine; MSs is an abbreviation for manuscripts. So, the magazine probably has piles of manuscripts lying around. Someone correct me if I got that completely wrong, but that's how I understood it.
  • 39A: Govt. division (DOJ). Wanted something more generic here.
  • 44A: Year in Augustus' reign (ONE BC). Thought this was going to be our RRN (Random Roman Numeral) of the day, but it sure looked like too many letters for a year that had to have been a long time ago! Never fear though, our RRN shows up at 79A: CCX x V + I (MLI), where I initially had MCI because (a) apparently I'm not very good at math, and (b) it didn't occur to me that MCI wouldn't be clued as an RRN.
  • 47A: Political payoff (SOP). I do not know what this means.
  • 51A: Goneril's victim (REGAN). Sure it sounds like an STD and a former president, but no, it's Shakespeare! (Specifically, King Lear!)
  • 60A: Half of Bennifer (J-LO). At first, I entered BEN. Yes, I did. Yes, I can see how dumb that is. I realized it almost immediately.
  • 64A: Old Boston Garden nickname (ESPO). Since it wasn't "Basketball Jesus," I knew it must be a hockey player and "The Great One" is the only one I could come up with for a while. ESPO is, of course, Hockey Hall-of-Famer Phil Esposito.
  • 82A: Nautical ladder rung (RATLINE). Whatever you say.
  • 93A: Kung __ chicken (PAO). Not a fan of the General Tso's, so I'm happy to see Kung Pao get a little love today.
  • 106A: French military cap (KEPI). That might be a French cap, but it sure doesn't look like a French word.
  • 2D: B.C. neighbor (ALTA.). Learned this abbreviation for crosswords. It looks totally wrong to me. There really needs to be a B in there somewhere.
  • 8D: Actress Tatum (O'NEAL). One of my favorite movie scenes of all time.

  • 16D: Phrase indicating small progress (A TO B). Parsing!
  • 45D: Exquisite gem (BIJOU). Sounds like a movie theater to me.
  • 53D: Headlands (NESSES). Again, I do not know what this means.
  • 83D: Classic toothpaste (IPANA). Learned it from "Grease."
  • 88D: Parents (FOLKS). Was only thinking of parents as a verb here, so it took a while to come into focus.
  • 110D: State of Grace? (MONACO). As in Grace Kelly.
  • 121D: Korean border river (YALU). I'm hopeless with the European rivers, so you can bet a lot of money I'm not going to know any in Korea.
Okay, back to my book! Oh, I almost forgot! My very favorite clue in the puzzle. This one is a classic. 109A: Vegas contraption offering the best odds? (ATM). Ain't that the truth.

Pura Vida, PuzzleGirl

[Follow PuzzleGirl on Twitter.]

Everything Else — 1A: Mollusk shell materials (NACRES); 7A: "Piece of cake" ("NO SWEAT"); 20A: Maintain (ALLEGE); 21A: What a stalwart won't give? (ONE INCH); 22A: Liturgy (RITUAL); 25A: Harlem theater (APOLLO); 27A: "Lemme __!" (AT 'EM); 28A: Physicist with a law (OHM); 30A: Fraternal org. (BPOE); 32A: Do not disturb (LET BE); 37A: With 81-Down, game played on a three-walled court (JAI); 41A: Hardly an idler (DOER); 42A: Title woman about whom Clapton sings "You've got me on my knees" (LAYLA); 49A: Felt contrite about (RUED); 58A: Not sing. (PLU.); 59A: Bit of folk wisdom (ADAGE); 61A: Erotic god (AMOR); 62A: Recipe meas. (TSP.); 63A: Pencil puzzles (MAZES); 67A: Like horseshoes (U-SHAPED); 70A: Both: Pref. (AMBI-); 72A: Connections (INS); 75A: Capital of Yemen (SANAA); 77A: Not too soft (AL DENTE); 80A: Long-necked runner (RHEA); 84A: Court period: Abbr. (SESS.); 87A: Fantasy sprite (ELF); 89A: "Sleepy Hollow" actor (DEPP); 90A: "Say what?" sounds (EHS); 92A: Piques (SNITS); 100A: In the 60s, say (MILD); 102A: Chemical suffix (-ANE); 103A: Shortsighted one (MYOPE); 104A: Snapple's __ Madness (MANGO); 111A: Whammy (HEX); 112A: USCG rank (CPO); 114A: Jupiter, e.g. (GOD); 115A: East German secret police (STASI); 117A: Violinist's aid (ROSIN); 120A: Not stifling (AIRY); 122A: 109-Across charge (FEE); 124A: Emerald Isle (ERIN); 125A: Woozy (IN A DAZE); 128A: Low-level clouds (STRATI); 133A: Puts on ice (CHILLS); 134A: Best (OPTIMUM); 135A: It's fixed by a bank (CD RATE); 136A: Per se (AS SUCH); 138A: La Scala offerings (OPERAS); 1D: Pelé's org. (NASL); 3D: One concerned with duds? (CLOTHIER); 4D: Printer's proof (REPRO); 5D: Toaster waffles (EGGOS); 6D: Lobster habitat (SEABED); 7D: __ de plume (NOM); 9D: Not off one's rocker? (SEATED); 10D: Not tricked by (WISE TO); 11D: Digital food additive code used in Europe (E-NUMBER); 12D: Horiz. (ACR.); 13D: Kojak, to friends (THEO); 14D: Family nickname (GRAMPA); 15D: Pants problem (RIP); 18D: Saintly rings (HALOS); 19D: Tart fruit (SLOES); 24D: Speaker since 2007 (PELOSI); 33D: Blow one's stack (ERUPT); 35D: Giza attraction (PYRAMID); 37D: "__ Boys": Alcott novel (JO'S); 38D: Colony resident (ANT); 40D: Whale of a guy? (JONAH); 43D: Yeats's "__ and the Swan" (LEDA); 46D: Rank above Pfc. (CPL.); 48D: Early Arizona natives (PIMAS); 50D: Joy Adamson lioness (ELSA); 52D: Bond and others (AGENTS); 55D: Sass, with "off" (MOUTH); 56D: Stock phrase (NO PAR); 57D: Caribbean nation (GRENADA); 64D: Tangle up (ENMESH); 65D: Intravenous solution (SALINE); 69D: Goes out with (DATES); 71D: Censor's insert (BLEEP); 74D: Schubert vocal work (ART SONG); 76D: First in a series (ALPHA); 78D: Think piece (ESSAY); 81D: See 37-Across (ALAI); 91D: "I wonder ..." ("HMM..."); 95D: Spruce up again, as a hedge (RETRIM); 96D: "Sands of Iwo Jima" costar (JOHN AGAR); 97D: Unveil, in poems (OPE); 98D: T. __ (REX); 101D: Can't abide (DETESTS); 105D: Simple card game (GO FISH); 107D: "Sit!" ("PARK IT!"); 108D: "Am I the only one?" ("IS IT ME?"); 112D: First to stab Caesar (CASCA); 113D: Cores (PITHS); 116D: "__ Time": Hemingway work (IN OUR); 118D: Wall St. "500" (S AND P); 119D: "Do __ to eat a peach?": Eliot (I DARE); 123D: Ancient Dead Sea land (EDOM); 126D: Sixth Greek letter (ZETA); 127D: "__ Tu": 1974 hit (ERES); 129D: Tot's need, often (TLC); 131D: Govt. emissions watchdog (EPA).


SATURDAY, July 25, 2009—Brad Wilber

THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle with an abundance of fresh fill, plus Scrabbly letters up the wazoo

Holy frijoles, did I ever like this puzzle. Here's what I like best in a themeless puzzle:
  • Lots of long answers, especially in the 9- to 11-letter range and all stacked together like intellectual Oreos.
  • Surprising phrases, titles, names, and words—things that are decidedly not a dime a dozen in crosswords.
  • Uncommon letters, which I like to call "Scrabbly" because they earn a lot of points in Scrabble.
The edges of Brad's crossword feature a dozen long answers, stacked three deep in each corner. There are all sorts of nutty entries I've never seen in a crossword before. And once I got MALT LIQUOR at 1-Across (clued with a brand of malt liquor, Colt 45, e.g.), I began to suspect there'd be all sorts of Scrabbly goodness lurking throughout. This is one of Rex's favorite themeless puzzles this year, and I gotta agree with his assessment.

Before I give you the lowdown on the answers and clues that delighted me (and the smaller list of ones that left me clueless), let's edjumicate.

Crosswordese 101: AGEE is the last name of two famous men. There's today's guy, 41A: Tommie of the "Miracle Mets," and there's a writer named James AGEE. Usually the crossword skews more literary and the clue goes with James. Key facts that show up in his clues: He won a posthumous Pulitzer in 1958. He wrote the screenplays for The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter. He was a movie critic. And he wrote A Death in the Family, The Morning Watch, and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The AGEE fellows have a name that's 75% vowels, so their fame may live on forever in crosswords.

Favorite answers and clues: I'll pick and choose and leave out some of my favorites, because dangit, there are just too many today.
  • 17A: Emmy-winning 1972 TV concert film (LIZA WITH A Z). Wow, this one took me a long time to piece together. I had L*Z*WIT*AZ and was mystified. Two Zs! Total pop culture—but pop culture that is likely familiar to people from a wide range of ages. Me, I have little interest in Liza Minnelli's oeuvre (showtunes and I do not get along), so I'm not going to watch this video.

  • 28A: Brief turndown ('FRAID NOT). 100% colloquial spoken English, 100% familiar, less than 1% likely to appear in a crossword. My dad liked to tell the old joke about the piece of string who kept getting thrown out of a bar. He tied himself in a knot and roughed up his ends on the sidewalk and tried ordering a drink again. "Say, aren't you the piece of string I just threw out of here?" asked the bartender. "No, I'm a frayed knot," the string replied.
  • 37A: Bismarck's realm (PRUSSIA). I think some of my ancestors came to America from what was then labeled Prussia on the map. I should start telling people I'm part Prussian.
  • 44A: Military brass? (BUGLES). Usually "military brass" means the generals in charge; here it means the brass instruments used to play "Taps."
  • 61A: Prescription that might give you shakes? (LIQUID DIET). As in the milkshakes, the protein shakes, etc.
  • 64A: Head turner, at times (REIN). Usually "head turner" means "good-looking person," but here it refers to the REINs that turn a horse's head. Excellent mislead—the sort of misleading clue that's right at home in a Saturday crossword.
  • 65A: 1988 winner of seven Olympic swimming medals (MATT BIONDI). I'm a sucker for first/last name combos as crossword fill. Poor Matt Biondi, eclipsed by Ian Thorpe and especially Michael Phelps. Speaking of full names, we also have LEW AYRES (5D: "Johnny Belinda" Oscar nominee).
  • 6D: Where a pupil sits? (IRIS). I'll bet a lot of you wanted to put DESK here, didn't you? Saturday clues like to mess with our heads. Pupil = student, pupil = the black spot in your eye.
  • 32D: You'll need one for your flat (SPARE TIRE). The clue wants you to think of English apartments and be misled.
  • 34D: North American Francophone (QUEBECOIS). I like geographical names and I like the letter Q.
  • 40D: Kipling's "limpin' lump o' brick-dust" (GUNGA DIN). I didn't know the colorful quote, but there aren't many Kipling characters' names that (a) I know and (b) are 8 letters long.
  • 63D: Semi-colon? (DOT). A colon has two dots (:) so half a colon is one DOT.
Overall, this crossword really wasn't too tough, not as themeless Saturday puzzles go. There were a couple short answers that kept me waiting for crossings, though. There's 2D: Hypothetical particle (AXION), which I've never heard of. (Physics is not my forte.) And the abbreviation DAU. was kinda painful; it's clued as 31A: Abbr. in a genealogy volume, so I surmise that it's short for "daughter." You really have to expect to see some things you simply have no way of knowing in a Saturday puzzle, so you really can't call foul on these. And their crossings were rock-solid—it's not as if we had to guess a letter in DAU that crossed an Armenian river, you know? This puzzle is eminently fair in addition to being a sparkly marvel of yumminess.

Everything Else — 11A: Shelter protests (ARFS); 15A: Joy to the max (EXUBERANCE); 16A: Become distorted (WARP); 18A: Logical start? (IDEO-); 19A: Greet the visitors? (BOO); 20A: Comparison words (AS A); 21A: Washington summit (RAINIER); 23A: Vex (ANNOY); 25A: Palais du Louvre resident, once (ROI); 27A: Hybrid garment (SKORT); 32A: Film follower (SEQUEL); 35A: Site of semicircular canals (EAR); 36A: "__ No Sunshine": 1971 Bill Withers hit (AIN'T); 39A: Street corner feature (SIGNAGE); 42A: Logos, e.g.: Abbr. (TMS); 45A: Knock over (ROB); 46A: Olivier's "Rebecca" costar (FONTAINE); 48A: Filing material (EMERY); 50A: 2002 British Open champ (ELS); 51A: Comprehend (GRASP); 55A: Best Buy's Geek Squad, e.g. (TECHIES); 57A: New Deal dam-building org. (TVA); 59A: Battle of Chancellorsville victor, 1863 (LEE); 60A: "Am __ sensitive?" (I TOO); 66A: Celtic language (ERSE); 67A: Opportunity for a Hollywood hopeful (SCREEN TEST); 1D: Peach __ (MELBA); 3D: Manila's island (LUZON); 4D: Not yet filled: Abbr. (TBA); 7D: Saudi neighbor (QATARI); 8D: Granite State sch. (UNH); 9D: Ovoid wind instruments (OCARINAS); 10D: Exiled Shah Mohammed __ Pahlavi (REZA); 11D: Didn't sleep __ (A WINK); 12D: Car tuning aid (RADIO DIAL); 13D: Allowed to graze (FREE-RANGE); 14D: Durango and Sorento (SPORT UTES); 22D: Lobby add-on (-IST); 24D: Helpful (OF USE); 26D: Dedicated lines (ODE); 29D: Bush Supreme Court nominee (ALITO); 30D: Small antelope (ORIBI); 33D: Indoor rowing machine (ERGOMETER); 36D: Inflame (ANGER); 38D: One having an identity crisis? (AMNESIAC); 43D: Cardinal's insignia (STL); 46D: Memo opener (FYI); 47D: Perceptive (ASTUTE); 49D: Lake Geneva feeder (RHONE); 52D: Dress introduced by Dior (A-LINE); 53D: Navel orange's lack (SEEDS); 54D: Word before four or point (PETIT); 56D: Colonnade choices (ELMS); 58D: Vague feeling (VIBE); 62D: Super Bowl div. (QTR.).


FRIDAY, Jul. 24, 2009 — David W. Cromer

THEME: Ick — letters "IC" are added to familiar phrases, creating wacky phrases, which are clued "?"-style

There should be a rule about add-a-letter puzzles: there has to be something meaningful about the added letters, or some clue has to tie things together with some kind of playful phrase. I always think of a "SPIN" puzzle I once did as a good example of this kind of theme: "SP" went "IN" to familiar phrases, thus creating the wacky. You gotta do something. Something. "IC"? Arbitrary. Random. No good. But here's what's weird — this "IC" theme could have been partially salvaged and made vaguely presentable had 12D: "Now that makes sense" ("I SEE") been cleverly clued — say, as a pun tie-in. [Comment upon figuring out the theme of this puzzle?]. Come on. You know that's good.

Theme answers:

  • 18A: Break from soldiers' training? (BASIC RELIEF) - playing on "bas-relief"
  • 24A: Clown settlement? (ANTIC COLONY) - playing on "ant colony"
  • 38A: International affair? (TOPIC OF THE WORLD) - playing on "top of the world"
  • 49A: O. Henry stories? (IRONIC WORKS) - playing on "ironworks"
  • 60A: Copperfield's limo? (MAGIC WHEELS) - playing on "mag wheels"

I give the theme answers a "C." Like ANTIC COLONY and MAGIC WHEELS, but the rest are kind of lifeless.

Crosswordese 101: Shaquille O'NEAL (64A: Center of Cleveland?) — great, very up-to-date clue today on this very common crossword answer. O'NEAL is starting center on the Xword All-Star team, for sure. You see O'NEAL a lot (it's vowely), and SHAQ has pretty good grid cred as well. Mr. O'NEAL lends himself to great clues, as he is huge and famous and funny and has been in at least one bad mid-90s movie ("Kazaam"). He also likes to give himself ridiculous nicknames like "The Big Aristotle" or "Wilt Chamberneezy." He will be playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season, alongside one of the NBA's two biggest stars: LeBron James. O'NEAL already played, and won three rings, with the NBA's other biggest star: Kobe Bryant.

What else?

  • 27A: Old waste allowance (TRET) — uh, what? I wrote in TARE. What on god's green earth is TRET? The freedictionary.com site says: "(Com.) An allowance to purchasers, for waste or refuse matter, of four pounds on every 104 pounds of suttle weight, or weight after the tare deducted." The cruciverb database turns up 17 examples of its prior use in crosswords, so this is some kind of high-end crosswordese I just haven't been (un-)lucky enough to stumble across before.
  • 54A: Pizza chain (SBARRO) — only ever seen SBARRO in airports.
  • 58A: Like Bizet's only symphony (IN C) — do Not understand cluing "INC." this way. The "IN + random letter" music clue should be used only for INB, INF, and sometimes INE, IMHO.
  • 6D: August comment ("IT'S HOT") — this clue? It's not. Too arbitrary. And, in the southern hemisphere, largely inaccurate. Tie-in to WHEW shows imagination, though (41D: See 6-Down).

  • 26D: Vividly colored fish (OPAH) — nearly my Crosswordese 101 word. About the only -P-H word there is.
  • 40D: Burkina _____ (FASO) — more crosswordesiness. Landlocked west African nation. Its capital: OUAGADOUGOU.
  • 52D: Maker of Advantix cameras (KODAK) — love KODAK because of its twin Ks. Wouldn't mind seeing ADVANTIX in a puzzle.
  • 55D: Proverbial thorn (BANE) — I don't think I understand this. Where does the "proverb" come in? If something is a "thorn" in your side, then it is a BANE to you. I get that. BANE is also a poisonous plant, but not necessarily a thorny one.
  • 57D: England's Portsmouth Harbour and others (RIAS) — super crosswordy word. RIAS are kind of like FJORDS except FJORDS are produced by glaciers and RIAS by rivers.

See you Monday,

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

Everything Else — 1A: Devious, in a way (COY); 4A: Bad states (SNITS); 9A: You often see a lap in one (CHAIR); 14A: Bullet in a deck (ACE); 15A: Strange (OUTRE); 16A: Kind of trader (HORSE); 17A: Royal sleep disturbance, in a tale (PEA); 18A: Break from soldiers' training? (BASIC RELIEF); 20A: Ill-advised (RASH); 22A: Flames' org. (NHL); 23A: Gives the slip (EVADES); 24A: Clown settlement? (ANTIC COLONY); 27A: Old waste allowance (TRET); 28A: Resemble strongly (PASS FOR); 33A: ID necessity, often (PHOTO); 36A: Plow into (RAM); 37A: Like Chinese dishes, frequently (TO GO); 38A: International affair? (TOPIC OF THE WORLD); 42A: It may be gross in med sch. (ANAT.); 43A: OPEC member (UAE); 44A: Development units (HOMES); 45A: Picks (SELECTS); 47A: Monopoly card (DEED); 49A: O. Henry stories? (IRONIC WORKS); 54A: Pizza chain (SBARRO); 58A: Like Bizet's only symphony (IN C); 59A: Night light (NEON); 60A: Copperfield's limo? (MAGIC WHEELS); 63A: Short sentence about a long term (I DO); 64A: Center of Cleveland? (O'NEAL); 65A: Some plots (ACRES); 66A: "I reckon not" ("NAW"); 67A: Noodleheads (GEESE); 68A: "Siddhartha" author (HESSE); 69A: It's up to you (SKY); 1D: "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" director (CAPRA); 2D: Shore thing (OCEAN); 3D: Dough-raising need (YEAST); 4D: __ story (SOB); 5D: Fine point (NUANCE); 6D: August comment (IT'S HOT); 7D: Warbling sound (TRILL); 8D: IPO overseer (SEC); 9D: Malibu and Tahoe (CHEVYS); 10D: Guadalajara greeting (HOLA); 11D: Ideal for Joshua trees (ARID); 12D: "Now that makes sense" ("I SEE"); 13D: Trio in an NBA game (REFS); 19D: Entitle, as an altered file (RENAME); 21D: Ancient Indo-European (HITTITE); 25D: Swift reptile (CROC); 26D: Vividly colored fish (OPAH); 29D: Used as an elevator (STOOD ON); 30D: Blob's lack (FORM); 31D: Rubberneck (OGLE); 32D: Eye cells (RODS); 33D: NEA supporters (PTAS); 34D: Fine-tune (HONE); 35D: Fall birthstone (OPAL); 36D: Itinerary abbr. (RTE.); 39D: Have a better crew than (OUTROW); 40D: Burkina __ (FASO); 41D: See 6-Down (WHEW); 46D: Group with common interests (CIRCLE); 47D: Some booth occupants (DINERS); 48D: Proverbs follower: Abbr. (ECCLES.); 50D: Heiress, perhaps (NIECE); 51D: Equestrian tools (REINS); 52D: Maker of Advantix cameras (KODAK); 53D: Blizzardlike (SNOWY); 54D: Urban hazard (SMOG); 55D: Proverbial thorn (BANE); 56D: "A Death in the Family" novelist (AGEE); 57D: England's Portsmouth Harbour and others (RIAS); 61D: "As if!" ("HAH!"); 62D: Mariner's hdg. (SSE).


THURSDAY, July 23, 2009—Dan Naddor

This puzzle might be smack dab in the middle of the Thursday difficulty level, or it might be a little tougher. It seemed Fridayish to me, but when you're doing the puzzle and blogging Wednesday night with a pinot grigio handicap, it's hard to express any degree of certainty.

THEME: "Take That—Somewhere"—Six theme entries are all clued as take + a preposition, with the prepositions paired logically (on/off, up/down, in/out). This is one of those flip-flop puzzles where the theme entries are the sorts of phrases we might expect to see in the clues in a typical puzzle.

Theme answers:
  • 18A: Take on (GO UP AGAINST).
  • 23A: Takeoff (AIR DEPARTURE). Boring phrase, no? By the way, if you are wondering where PuzzleGirl is, she had an AIR DEPARTURE from D.C. to Houston to Costa Rica, so I'm filling in today. She'll be back Sunday, blogging from Central America.
  • 32A: Take up (BEGIN LEARNING). See what I mean? BEGIN LEARNING is not the sort of phrase that normally passes muster as a crossword entry, because it could be "begin anything." That's why I called it a flip-flop theme.
  • 41A: Takedown (WRESTLING MOVE). Oh, man, PuzzleGirl is a huge Iowa wrestling fan. If you would be bored by a wrestling video, you're in luck! I have zero interest in wrestling.
  • 48A: Take in (PUT ONE OVER ON). Solid entry, with or without a flip-flop theme. I hope you haven't been taken in lately—certainly not by this clue, which could also have to do with the sort of "taking in" that a tailor does.
  • 57A: Takeout (HOT FOOD TO GO). Meh. Your takeout order might be a salad or a bowl of gazpacho. Also? "Hot food to go" is not remotely an in-the-language phrase in and of itself.

Crosswordese 101: Dang, PuzzleGirl already covered ETON, so that leaves APSE as the obvious choice. Today's clue is 12D: It adjoins the altar. The key words to look out for are church/cathedral/basilica recess/area/section, or possible the nave neighbor. The NAVE is the other church section that gets a lot of play in crosswords.

...And now I'm thinking about Planet of the Apse.

Atypical grumbling: Dan Naddor's one of the most talented crossword constructors working in the L.A. Times today. It's challenging to squeeze six theme entries (occupying a whopping 72 squares) into a daily-sized crossword. But there are often compromises when a puzzle includes so much thematic material.

3D: Peel out (BURN RUBBER) is awesome—both the answer and its clue are delightfully fresh and slangy language—but there are more than the usual amount of clunkers in a Naddor puzzle:
  • Awkward abbreviations! ALC. is clued as 44A: DUI's excess, and it's simply not an abbreviation we encounter often. RAL., short for Raleigh, is 26D: N.C.'s capital, but I've never seen this abbreviation before.
  • Obscure words! PRILL is 24D: Dry residue from molten liquid, and I honestly don't think this counts as crosswordese because I don't recall seeing it in crosswords (or anywhere else) before. ARMCO is clued as 35D: AK Steel Holding Corp., formerly. This, too, is madly unfamiliar to me, and I've been doing crosswords for three decades.
  • Authorial initials! We have a smattering of writers' initials that show up periodically in the puzzle. RLS is Robert Louis Stevenson, TSE is T.S. Eliot, GBS is George Bernard Shaw, EAP is Edgar Allan Poe. But RWE, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, is not among the usual suspects. He's clue with 38D: "Nature" author's monogram.
  • Weird prefix! PETR- is clued as 13D: Rock: Pref. My dictionary gives as an abbreviation for petrology and petro- as the combining form for rocks.
  • Foreign words! If not for these other pesky entries, a couple foreign words would pose no trouble on a Thursday—but with 'em, they further complicate matters for some solvers. DER is German for the male version of "the" and it completes the title in 17A: Strauss's "__ Rosenkavalier". Crossing the border to France, we have SEL, 67A: Cannes condiment, or "salt."
  • A multi-word partial! Honestly, such answers don't bother me as long as they're few and far between, but the most elegant crosswords won't have any of these so-called partials, which do look goofy in the grid. IT GO fills in the blank in 45A: "Make __ Away": Sheryl Crow song. My husband has a Sheryl Crow CD or two, but even he has not heard of this song.

Here are a few more clues and answers:
  • 62A: Union founded by Samuel Gompers, for short (A.F. OF L.). That's an unusual crossword answer. We see AFL and we see CIO, but hardly ever does the AF OF L pop up.
  • 64A: Kenan's TV pal (KEL). This is outdated Nickelodeoniana from before my son was old enough to watch Nickelodeon. As I recall from my sister, Kenan and Kel were teenage boys working at a place called Goodburger. Or else that was an entirely unrelated movie they were in. Kenan Thompson, I believe, is the one who went on to become a Saturday Night Live cast member.
  • 1D: Unfair judgment, slangily (BAD RAP). I put in BAD RAP. Then I changed it to BUM RAP. Then I changed it back to BAD RAP. I kinda wish it were BUM RAP instead.
  • 19D: Bearded grazer (GNU). Pretty much any time you need a three-letter bearded animal, you want the GNU...
  • ...which is not to be confused with a bearded human. 46D: Colonel Sanders trademark (GOATEE)? That's altogether different, even if Colonel Sanders and the average GNU did go to the same barber.

    Everything Else — 1A: Spill catcher (BIB); 4A: Cornered (AT BAY); 9A: A pump lacks one (STRAP); 14A: Sun Devils' sch. (ASU); 15A: Cry of innocence (NOT ME); 16A: Hogwash (TRIPE); 20A: __ artery, which supplies the kidneys (RENAL); 22A: Tee-hee (SNICKER); 27A: Expectoration sound (PTUI); 28A: River inlet (RIA); 29A: Bando of the 1960s-'70s Athletics (SAL); 38A: Like some auto engines (REBUILT); 40A: Daughter of King Minos (ARIADNE); 43A: Place for a stud (EAR); 53A: Big name in art glass (STEUBEN); 56A: Sci-fi writer Asimov (ISAAC); 61A: Windy City transportation gp. (CTA); 62A: Union founded by Samuel Gompers, for short (A.F. OF L.); 63A: Y, sometimes (VOWEL); 65A: Kirsten of "Spider-Man" (DUNST); 66A: Land formation named for its usual shape (DELTA); 1D: Unfair judgment, slangily (BAD RAP); 2D: "Thar she blows!" ("I SEE IT!"); 4D: Perspective (ANGLE); 5D: Overly (TOO); 6D: HVAC measure (BTU); 7D: Band aid? (AMP); 8D: Brewer's ingredient (YEAST); 9D: Flight segment (STAIR); 10D: Very short time (TRICE); 11D: Lemieux's milieu (RINK); 21D: Parting words (ADIEUS); 25D: "__ a stinker?": Bugs Bunny line (AIN'T I); 29D: Gets off the point (SIDE TRACKS); 30D: First name in advice (ANN); 31D: Bigger than med. (LGE.); 33D: "Skedaddle!" ("GIT!"); 34D: Birdie beater (EAGLE); 36D: __ Grande (RIO); 37D: Marine combatants (NAVIES); 39D: Diamond stat (ERA); 42D: Indian bread (NAN); 47D: Prepared to be summoned (ON CALL); 48D: Light, filled pastries (PUFFS); 49D: Letter-shaped fastener (U-BOLT); 50D: Fabi of racing (TEO); 51D: Available from Netflix, say (ON DVD); 52D: String quartet member (VIOLA); 53D: River herring (SHAD); 54D: Vegan staple (TOFU); 55D: Orwell's alma mater (ETON); 58D: Water tester (TOE); 59D: Barn bird (OWL); 60D: Comprehend (GET).