Wednesday, 12/31/08

NYT 2:11 ... SUN 2:52 ... LAT 3:03 ... CS 2:16 ... MGCC 3:37 ... BEQ 3:15

Man, I am so much more alert solving at 7pm here on the West Coast than 10pm back home. I'm assuming that's my best Wednesday time in the applet. The circles in Tim Wescott's grid made no sense until I was done - I had to actively ignore them and just concentrate on the clues! Don't think I've seen YAKUT before, but it rang a Risk-related bell. Just saw ABBACY in an old puzzle, which certainly helped. Barely saw REVET, the grid's other oddity, which was fortunate because it's totally unfamiliar.

My other favorite super-prolific constructor, Patrick Blindauer, has the final Sun puzzle of the year. I didn't have time today to investigate the year's top constructors, but let's see where Patrick stands... 38 solos and 12 collaborations, but CrosSynergy (21) skews the numbers a bit. Oh, today's puzzle? I'm just stalling because I don't understand the theme. Even the title, "Rear Ends", isn't giving me any clue... Once the other blogs check in, I'll update this with a big d'oh!

And... d'oh! Synonyms for "rear" are split into the "ends" of the theme answers. I was looking at the long Downs - PISTACHIO and NOKIDDING - instead of the shorter Acrosses. Like Amy says, there's great fill for a grid with six theme answers.

Matt Gaffney's Tuesday special, like this week's Inkwell, is a month early with the Chinese New Year theme. He one-ups Tausig by replacing RAT with OX! (Hmm, is it bad form to blog this when I know nobody's reading it? Or at least nobody who can't solve it by themselves?) But once again, I'm not sure of the week's correct answer. Boy, I suck at meta-puzzles. Which is why Justin's site totally baffles me.

Tuesday, 12/30/08

NYT 1:55 ... SUN 2:22 ... LAT 2:04 ... CS 2:25 ... BT 2:38 ... TO 2:45

Doug Peterson's back in print again! Is someone going to count the most-published constructors of the year? This makes 30.5 for Doug (including Tribune puzzles), plus that cryptic... perhaps I'll investigate other prolific names. Patrick Berry is only at 24, and he gets to edit himself...

Lots of fresh fill for a Tuesday NYT, with my favorites being LINCHPIN, ODYSSEUS, and HYANNIS. Not a big fan of AOKS, which could easily have been avoided. Any particular reason for that corner, Mr. P?

Jim Leeds's Sun theme creates adverbs out of noun phrases, but there's great stuff all over the fill. I wish Jim Horne could apply his database magic to the Sun archives as well... this one would be extremely "fresh"! Hey, why is NEOCON clued, and not for the first time, as [Former lefty, perhaps]? It's a recently invented variety of right-winger, not someone new to wingnuttery. Anyway.

Solid LAT from Dan Naddor... I guessed the wrong preposition twice (STOPIN for STOPBY and AGREEON for AGREETO), but since it's Tuesday they got fixed quickly. Kudos for cross-referencing EVIL TWIN with SWITCHEROO; demerit for the plural GAMUTS.

Venzke/Daily's CrosSynergy puzzle seemed a tad gnarlier than usual, but it could be a cluing wavelength thing. There was a stretch of a couple months this year where almost every CS puzzle would take me between 2:20 and 2:25 - like clockwork. Now I can get most of 'em faster, but I was amused to see 2:20 on the clock yet again.

No wavelength issues with Ben Tausig tonight. Impressive construction with seven themers ending in "OX" -- though shouldn't it have waited until the actual Chinese New Year? Two things in the fill that I'm both glad and sad to be reminded of: "Rhythm IS A Dancer" and the XFL.

Finally, Deb Amlen has the Onion puzzle and it's pretty blah overall. But I can find plenty of things to like: a non-G.W. Bush theme; AREA clued with [Bay ___]; the impeccably spelled clue ["Schyah!"] for AS IF; BENWA BALL, but only because of my college buddy Dr. Benway; and the pot reference, even though it's not funny. If you're looking for a real New Year's celebration in crossword form, revisit Matt Gaffney's Onion puzzle from two years ago.

Monday, 12/29/08

NYT 1:53 ... SUN 2:00 ... LAT 1:48 ... CS 1:50 ... JON 2:56 ... BEQ 2:44

Kevin Donovan's 76-worder in the NYT is pleasantly crunchy for a Monday. "Something in common" is perhaps my favorite type of early-week theme. Peter Gordon's theme in the Sun is generic, but of course the fill is fun. QUIZNOS crossing HOTDOG makes me hungry; SAPPHIC next to SHEILA E... no comment.

Particularly obvious theme in the LAT; after seeing two "[Name] the [Occupation]" entries I knew the puzzle's raison d'etre would be JOETHEPLUMBER. Excellent Jonesin', exploring various people who "do it" in one way or another.

Sunday, 12/28/08

NYT 6:06 ... LAT 6:39 ... MR 6:52 ... BG [10/26] 4:34 ... CS 3:21

I predicted a genius Patrick Berry puzzle, and... I was half right. The gimmick didn't impress me all that much, which is interesting, because Berry wasn't sure it was even possible! No complaints, though -- I'll take a quasi-themeless 21x21 from the best in the biz any day.

And it really was like a themeless, because the Texas area with the helper entry PLANET was the last part I finished. Briefly stymied at the JAWA/JUPITUS crossing -- which becomes easy if you use the theme -- but JAWA rang a faint bell. Surprising number of unfamiliar names: Fort PULASKI, old-timey cager Dick BARNETT, aforementioned JUPITUS, fictional POOLE. Also never heard of the book SPY CATCHER or "sic PASSIM" (which looked Latin enough), but I just learned about BANNOCKS from Friday's puzzle!

I see that Doug has the NYT cryptic this week, but... I don't do cryptics. Hold your fire! I'll pick 'em up eventually, once I get a bit bored of standard crosswords. Though I have solved what may be the easiest cryptic ever, by Hex, from the old Masterpiece Crosswords collection (and have a .puz version too if anyone's curious).

Finally got around to the rest of Sunday. Bad, but fun, puns from Merl Reagle and Donna Levin (LAT). Lynn Lempel's Sunday Challenge was on the easy side, though I had a bit of trouble getting into the NW (and remembering who is on Mt. Rushmore). And last week's BG rerun, Henry Hook's "Celebrimorphs", was my fastest 21x21 ever -- the long theme entries were fillable off of only a few letters, and Henry eschewed his usual sprinkling of obscurities.

Saturday, 12/27/08

NYT 5:20 ... LAT 4:28 ... CS 2:13 ... ND 9:00

Love that Karen Tracey! I hit a brick wall with four squares to go and about four minutes on the clock, in the "NoCal" region where WISP and HOAR meet WHIP and IONA. Nothing seemed to make sense since I wanted GASP instead of WISP, and I kept removing the first two letters of INHIBITION in case it was supposed to be DEHIBITION or EXHIBITION or something. But no, just good cluing. Finally figured out [Party leader] -- which is such a standard clue that it shouldn't have fooled me -- and finished. Points off for IONA and IONE in the same grid, and this may be the least Scrabbly KMT themeless in recent memory, but who cares, it was still plenty of fun.

New name on the Saturday Stumper: Sandy Fein. (Probably a pseudonym?) He, or she, turned in a good one with what seemed to be harder-than-usual clues. Brad Wilber's LAT includes AWNINGED (ick) but also PRBLITZ and SYNTHPOP (mmm).

Friday, 12/26/08

NYT 5:22 ... SUN 3:32 ... LAT 3:07 ... CS 2:00 ... WSJ 6:56 ... BEQ 4:04

Only the Big Two tonight as I'm going out for some Christmas cheer... I thought BEQ's NYT themeless had taken me longer than it did, so stuck was I in the north and east for a while. I had tentative guesses of IMP and AKELA next to each other at 34D and 30D (AKELA is "Jungle Book"-related, right? ELF and BALOO were correct), and when I deleted those the whole thing fell into place. By the way, as a professional musician, I was not aware that VOLANTE could be used in a musical context.

I did Karen Tracey's Weekend Warrior on Thursday night... Nice timeliness with WALL*E as well as 2008 baseball clues for COLE and TIM. Seemed like a lot of "pop-culture-factoid" gimmes for a WW: INSIDE MAN, PRIME TIME, EMILE, ADLER all in the same quadrant, and BATCAVE nearby. NW was my last section despite the Tony Award clue for ZORBA.

... And we're back. Nothing too remarkable in the rest of the day's puzzles, except for the 15 rebus squares in the fun WSJ grid. I couldn't figure out the significance of 'ALI' as the rebus element until just now: Boxing Day. He's a boxer. Duh!

Thursday, 12/25/08

NYT 3:08 ... NYS 3:08 ... LAT 2:48 ... CS 2:10

Merry Christmas! Only one of the four daily puzzles has a holiday theme, which obviously means that Bill O'Reilly is right and Christmas is under siege.

Serendipity in the NYT puzzle, in the form of ALBEDO... I usually solve a few old NYT puzzles before hitting the applet, and one of the ones I did tonight (I'm up to early 2001 in the archives) contained that completely unfamiliar word. So when I saw a similar clue in today's puzzle, I knew it immediately.

Another coincidence is that Hideo Nomo, starting pitcher for the Crosswordese All-Stars, makes three appearances in the day's puzzles: two in the grid, one in the clues. Guess Peter Gordon didn't get the memo...

Wednesday, 12/24/08

NYT 2:41 ... NYS 4:13 ... LAT 2:27 ... CS 2:20 ... BEQ 3:13

What a boring NYT puzzle. Kidding! I seem to have found it easier than others. It helped that I filled in the first theme entry off of the first two letters. (Actually, entered COMMERCIAL, which didn't fit, before ADVERTISEMENT.) The only oddity was APHIS. Related to APHID? I bet the real bloggers will tell me.

But I do want to get into Doug Peterson's Sun puzzle, because it beat me up, and because he might read this. Here's why it took me much longer than a typical Wednesday:
  • Trouble figuring out the theme... I got the addition of "BR" but wasn't prepared for changes in spelling, for some reason. The best themer, of course, is BREWS AND BRAS, but I had BREAST in there to start, which is the first thing that comes to mind when I think "Girls Gone Wild".
  • Thorniness in the NW, where I knew RAN/ATAB but didn't believe it because it didn't seem to be working. ROCK radio and the CASH part of CASHBAR weren't happening.
  • For some reason I thought BRANDO and not SHARIF played Che Guevara. My excuse is that Brando was in Viva Zapata!
  • NISHAPUR? Nope. Every letter from crosses.
  • Rough clues included those for BIO, GENIE, and ST. BEDE (of whom I've never heard). And leave it to Peter to clue WIZ as if it were WHIZ...

I enjoyed SID, the Science Kid, and BOBBY ORR's full name. Nicely done as always, Doug, and we'll look forward to your next publication, probably tomorrow or Friday.

Tuesday, 12/23/08

NYT 2:56 ... SUN 2:15 ... LAT 1:44 ... CS 3:04 ... BT 3:10 ... TO 3:33

The Times brings us an amazing construction feat by Joe Krozel, where the letters as well as the black squares in the grid have rotational symmetry. I love this sort of stuff, even if the puzzle per se isn't all that great.

...but just because a theme is new doesn't mean it's fun. The Sun puzzle has this convoluted Notepad describing two different uses for the circled letters in the corner and the center. I peeked at the note before solving, but it made no sense, so I solved without it and deciphered afterwards. It's an interesting twist on the compound-word, starred-clue, first-part-second-part rigamarole, but the solver gets no enjoyment out of it whatsoever. Credit to constructor Brent Sverdloff, but this gets filed in the "Peter Gordon is sometimes too clever for his own good" category.

Bob Klahn's CS puzzle contains the obviously made-up phrases CLOVE PINK and SILENT BUTLER. Eh, he's Klahn, he can make up whatever he wants and we'll love it.

Alt-weekly update... Great Tausig clue for BCE: [PC dating term?]. Tyler Hinman's 16x15 Onion grid features three ex-tyrants I've never heard of, and one I have. Plus a few bonus entries clued with regard to GWB. A little on-the-nose there, fellas? Nice fill though, no surprise... this Tyler fellow seems to have a talent for crosswording.

Monday, 12/22/08

NYT 1:59 ... SUN 2:19 ... LAT 1:59 ... CS 1:43 ... JON 4:08 ... BEQ 2:47

Week 2! Anyone have any ideas for the best use of this blog? At the very least, the sidebar links should be highly informative.

Lynn Lempel brings her usual early-week smoothness to the NYT, with a bit of spice in the form of MOBSCENES, PUBERTY, and SPITTOONS. Peter "Ogden Porter" Gordon has one of his patented 15x16 grids that are stuffed full of theme -- in this case, 8 phrases with a similar letter pattern.

Chanukah theme in Sarah Keller's CS, which made it super-easy... except it's not called the FEAST OF LIGHTS. (Okay, Google says it can be, and I know FESTIVAL... doesn't fit.) Anyway, I ate lots of potato pancakes tonight. Edgar Fontaine's LAT is an unusually fun Monday, with only 74 words, a negligible theme, and lots of fresh fill. Kudos!

Late update... Rough Jonesin' for me this week. Haven't heard of ELENA Ceausescu or the Simpsons character ARNIE PIE, but did love the long downs KATEY SAGAL and VOCAL RANGE.

Sunday, 12/21/08

NYT 6:51 ... LAT 6:36 ... MR 5:46 ... CS 2:59

Deja vu! Liz Gorski brings us a vertical gimmick that's reminiscent of her Spider-Man puzzle from last month. I wish Shortz had let this one run first, because it almost feels like Gorski stole her own thunder. Gonna save the rest of the puzzles for tomorrow...

Sunday update. Funny take on crosswordese from Reagle, and a lame letter-deletion theme from the LAT. Martin Ashwood-Smith's triple-stacky Sunday Challenge has a fairly unusual grid design.

Saturday, 12/20/08

NYT 5:05 ... LAT 4:40 ... CS 2:10 ... ND 8:06

Things I hadn't heard of in the NYT puzzle: the novel Agnes Grey; something called "palazzo pants"; AERO as a prefix for car; and ex-company MITA, which I was surprised to see has appeared 10 times (mostly in the LAT, once on a Monday!).

Cutest clue: [Token that you're taken] for RING. Most tortured clue, which I predict Rex will eviscerate: [Units of a chain with links?] for IHOPS. Several of us speedsters posted applet times within seconds of each other... I think that's an indication that the puzzle's difficulty is perfectly calibrated.

Fun entry of the day: LITEFM from PB2's CrosSynergy outing. Doug P.'s Saturday Stumper probably isn't as hard as my time would indicate -- TV in the background was distracting. Had much more trouble with the top half than the bottom. Bizarre clue: [Six-time Jane]... could not parse that at all until MAUREEN (O'Sullivan, of let's say a half-dozen Tarzan films) was completely filled in.

Friday, 12/19/08

NYT 3:31 ... NYS 3:27 ... LAT 3:17 ... CS 2:00 ... CHE 2:58 ... WSJ 6:10 ... BEQ 4:38 ... MGCC 6:05

And I could have been a little faster on the NYT, getting briefly stuck with about 6 squares to go. (The mistake was ROBB instead of ROTH for the former Senator. Virginia, Delaware, what's the diff.) Filled in a few long answers off of only one letter, which is not usually my strategy, but DIDGERIDOO and AZERBAIJANI (with the J in place) were totally obvious. I'm just proud I could speed-type those words accurately. Also, SEESSTARS needs to be retired from bottom-row duty, as the clues aren't cute anymore.

Other notes...
SUN: Rebus! Didn't put up much of a fight because I knew what the first two Across clues were going for. And each quadrant had a gimme or two to get me in.
LAT: Since I've been critiquing the LAT themes, let me say today's is awesome. Didn't know SUASIVE was a word. Got a little confused in the NE -- if AVA's a city, why don't I remember that from Saturday puzzles? -- but it worked itself out thanks to Earl AVERILL, which I knew was right but will be obscure to most solvers.
WSJ: Yay, another Trip puzzle! I had PITCHER first as the [One who both plays and sits on the bench]. Sure, PIANIST is more apt. Ironically, I always seem to miss tricky clues for PIANO.

Friday afternoon addendum: Tough Gaffney puzzle - I'm not positive I even have every letter correct. No idea about the contest answer, but I haven't really tried to crack it...

Thursday, 12/18/08

NYT 4:19 ... SUN 2:55 ... LAT 2:17 ... CS 1:42

Had a bunch of problems with Michael "Francis" Vuolo's Times puzzle...

  • Didn't want AGENT following UNDERCOVER because I didn't like the Down possibilities in the NE. It turned out to be right, and the NE took way too long (especially since JAGUARS had a Tuesday clue), but I'm not ashamed of trying RARE instead of FINE as a coin "classification"...
  • Could not see SABBATH across the middle until I erased some wrong guesses: NOSE for BODY, OHWOW/OHJOY for OHBOY. At one point I was looking at SANJ---, and thinking of the famous Biblical prophet, Sanjaya.
  • Never heard of the verb ABLATE, but that got straightened out with the rest of the center section.

Enjoyed the LAT theme today, but HASTY PUTTING has a significant pronunciation change and the others don't. Maybe that's why it's in the LAT and not the NYT? (Actually, probably not -- Jack McInturff is a LAT regular, with only 2 NYT puzzles to his name.)

Really digging this West Coast schedule, with the NYT available at 7pm, and the CS/LAT at 9pm. I think I'll keep up this daily blogging for the rest of my vacation, and reassess from there...

Wednesday, 12/17/08

NYT 2:34 ... SUN ??? ... LAT 2:26 ... CS 2:07 ... BT 2:53 ... TO 2:51 ... BEQ 3:47

I'm at my parents' house in San Francisco for a couple weeks. I had an audience for my solving last night, which is a little unnerving. On the other hand, out here I can do the Times puzzle at 7pm, which is nice.

I'm sure I clicked the Across Lite clock before starting the Sun puzzle last night, but when I finished it was still at 0:00. All my statistics, ruined! It wasn't any harder than usual, so my guess would be around 3:00.

BEQ's free website puzzle today gets bonus points for using CAKESANDALE as a base phrase. I didn't like the LAT theme at all -- four phrases you might find on an invitation, but they're all kind of awkward. No "aha," no chuckle, just annoyance that there wasn't something more to it.

Tuesday, 12/16/08

NYT 1:54 ... SUN 2:19 ... LAT 1:58 ... CS 2:05

Nothing much to discuss here, and I'm about to get on an airplane. Tausig and Onion puzzles tomorrow!

Monday, 12/15/08

NYT 1:49 ... SUN 1:58 ... LAT 1:39 ... CS 1:50 ... JON 2:47 ... BEQ 2:55

That's a first for me -- solving each of the major daily crosswords in under two minutes. Most Mondays I'll break 2:00 on one or more of them, but I don't remember getting all four on the same day. Seems like a good time to start keeping track of my solving times, and utilize this empty shell of a blog I set up with my Blogger account.

Perhaps in the future I'll actually write about crosswords too -- at least one person is interested in what I have to say (hi Mom!). And I'm such a terrible prose stylist that it might be good to do some writing in a place where nobody will read it. Truly, I can solve a Sunday puzzle in ten minutes flat, but need half an hour to put together a coherent paragraph. Hey, time's up! Will I remember to come back tomorrow? Please, don't tune in and find out.