Apr 1, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011, Dan Naddor

THEME: Oh, those silly backwards Semites. Each of the three theme answers are written beginning on the right and working in the opposite direction. Talk about a puzzle being delivered in my wheel house, not only did I grow up learning Hebrew, but I am left-handed, so doing things backwards comes naturally. I wish I had a video of me trying to Iron. Anyway, welcome back, oops that is me.

17. Start of an aptly expressed linguistic observation: CIBARA DNA WERBEH. HEBREW AND ARABIC. If you read the Hardy Boy mysteries you know all about mirror writing.

31. Observation, part 2: DAER ERA. ARE READ.

45. End of the observation: TFEL OT THGIR MORF.FROM RIGHT TO LEFT.

Hello, it is I, Lemonade, back from a brief hiatus, only to appear where I left off with Dan Naddor, Alava Shalom, and a wonderful April Fool's Day deception. For all those who have complained about too much 3 and 4 letter fill, we have an average word length of almost 6 letters. As always, Dan includes many multi-part answers, with a 10,10, 15 top and bottom. leave it to Dan to do a pseudo quote puzzle in reverse.

All right, on with the show, which just for me features lots of law and Latin, and some really interesting Ukrainian humor.


1. Lexington and Concord fighters: MILITIAMEN. Oh Dan, how could you do this to a nice guy like me? Every New England child knows they were MINUTEMEN! But it did not fit. (no insensitive jokes about New England men, please Lois and Carol). Both started with MI but there was no way to get 10 letters...

11. XXXV years after the creation of the original Magna Carta: MCCL. Dan liked his Roman numerals to be math exercises, 1215 plus 35 = 1250.

15. Apple consumers?: ADAM AND EVE. A nice deceptive biblical reference, and perhaps a hint to our Hebrew theme.

16. River through Lake Brienz: AARE. How may rivers start with two As?We are back in BERN(E).

19. Duplicated: CLONED. Ah, the new world order.

20. Roma road: STRADA. The Italian version of the Latin word STRATA. My oldest is going back to Gabii for two months in June.

21. Word with sharp or trouble: SHOOTER. SHARP SHOOTER = accurate shot. TROUBLE SHOOTER, an outsider who comes in to fix things.

23. Hand: SAILOR. C'mon, you all know, "All hands on deck!"

24. Leagues: Abbr.: ASSNS, associations.

25. Like performances by the Wallendas: NETLESS, the famous circus FLYERS have lost many of their family because they performed without a net.

27. Place to build: SITE.

28. Flying need: PHOTO ID. This was the trickiest for me, because I got the "oid" part first. When I finally stepped back to realize how this parsed, I felt rather foolish.

30. Is down with: HAS.

32. Source of support: FAN.

35. It's about 325 miles east of Texas's H-Town, with "the": BIG EASY, and a quick hello to our Hebrew scholar, Hahtool (also Hebrew).

36. "Return of the Jedi" dancer: OOLA. You have to be a real Trekkie to know this unhappy DANCER by name.

37. Like Cologne and vicinity: RHENISH. This related to the Rhine valley and perhaps to the post World War I attempt to create an independent state.

39. Condescend: STOOP. I would never stoop to bad puns to entertain!

40. Fowl with a showy mate: PEAHEN. Mr. Peacock, no foul humor, now! Drat.

41. Herbal drink: MINT TEA. A wonderful Dan fill to tease you with the TT in the middle.

43. "Bewitched" witch: ENDORA. Brilliantly played by Agnes Moorehead.

44. Place with swinging doors: SALOON. Gunsmoke, anyone?

49. Abbr. on folk song sheet music: TRAD. Traditional.

50. Listed: ENUMERATED. A nice $5.00 word.

51. They have their pluses and minuses: IONS.

52. Fabled tortoise's trait: STEADINESS. Slow and steady wins the race!


1. Bud: MAC. So many meanings for bud.

2. First name in tyranny: IDI. An Amin after my own heart.

3. Checkup charges: LAB COSTS. Another multiple word answer causing a weird combination in the middle, ABC.

4. Inviting words before "Want to come over?": I'M ALONE. The wife has gone to shop?

5. Mystical decks: TAROTS.

6. Vacant: INANE. Vacuous, empty, senseless, blank, foolish, vacant, hollow, void, meaningless; enough?

7. Dangerous snake: ADDER. They are poisonous members of the viper family, and the only poisonous snake indigenous to Great Britain, I believe. NC?

8. Darn: MEND. Darn, these socks have another hole in them!

9. Mendes of "Hitch": EVA. Okay, one LINK for the boys. Followed by 11D. Hitched: MARRIED.

10. It may be a scoop: NEWS STORY. More multiples.

12. Plots: CABALS. This word is a form of the Hebrew Kabbalah, which is mysticism and secrets. The usage in English reportedly is associated with the CABAL Ministry under King Charles II, from the last names of the ministers. Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley, and Lord Lauderdale.

13. Words to live by: CREDOS. Latin meaning to believe.

14. "The Merry Widow" operettist: LEHAR. We have had this COMPOSER before, in fact DAN, DON G. and BARRY SILK all have used this clue.

18. Latin term usually abbreviated: ET ALIA. More Latin for and others, ET AL, and our favorite Thursday blogger.

21. Window part: SASH.

22. Early Chinese dynasty: HSIA. No clue, so I read this LINK , C. C., your turn. (Note from C.C.: We can Hsia as Xia in China. Xia Dynstry is China's first prehistoric dynasty, followed by Shang & Zhou.)

25. Canadian young adult fiction author McClintock: NORAH. Nope, did not know this AUTHOR either.

26. Nice summers: ETES . By now a gimme for everybody, i am sure. Nice the French city.

28. Numbers in a corner, often: PAGINATES. Not a gimme, but I have edited a couple of books, and PAGINATION is a popular word in publishing.

29. Texters' amused syllables: HEES. TEE HEE, or HEE HEE?

31. Mexican bread: DINERO Spanish for money, that kind of bread.

32. What an asterisk may indicate: FOOTNOTE. In law books we also have Head Notes.

33. Lotion additive: ALOE. Phew, an easy one.

34. City WSW of Sacramento: NAPA, easy for you left coasters, but there are so many cities in Cali.

35. Lays eyes on: BEHOLDS.

36. Armchair partner: OTTOMAN, not be confused with the Empire which appeared in my last write up.

37. Hall of Fame defensive back Mel: RENFRO. Mel Renfro was number 20 for the Dallas Cowboys for many all-pro years; he played in 4 Super Bowls for the Cowboys, including number VI, where they beat the Dolphins.

38. Like hell: HADEAN. More Latin, ancient Roman HADES.

39. "Edda" author __ Sturluson: SNORRI. We have had reference to this ICELANDIC who influenced many of the early Scandinavian authors.

40. Coat opening?: PETTI. Petticoat Junction, the spin-off from Green Acres.

41. Volcanic fluid: MAGMA. I am not touching that.

42. Perjurer's admission: I LIED. Another law reference, because it is Friday and my day.

44. "Melrose Place" actor: SHUE. This is Andrew the BROTHER of Elizabeth, and for you ladies.

46. Explosive initials: TNT. For my personality?

47. __ judicata: decided case: RES. More law stuff, and Latin, it just means things,

48. Some alarm respondents: Abbr.: FDS, no not Feminine Deodorant Spray, Fire Departments.

Wow, with so many long words there are only 66 clues, so I am through early; hope you enjoyed the Return of the Lemonade and see you on the next page. Oh, I lied about the Ukranian humor, but it is April 1.


Mar 31, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011, Steve Salitan

Theme: Take me out to the Ball Game, revealed in 62 Across: Its season starts today; its equipment starts the starred answers: BASEBALL.

1A. *One way to reach a superhero: BAT PHONE. I've been reliving my childhood lately, a newer cable channel called the HUB is re-running the old Batman TV series.

23A. *2008 Republican hopeful: MITT ROMNEY. I hope I don't catch (see what I did there) any flack for saying this; I'm uncomfortable now whenever a political clue comes along... It has been said that the biggest hurdle in his bid was that he is a Mormon: Both politics and religion controversy all rolled up in one single clue.

34A. *Roll-fed toy: CAP PISTOL. Speaking of childhood, anyone else remember hitting a whole roll of caps at a time with a hammer?

46A. *Musical about rock's 4 Seasons: JERSEY BOYS. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Hi all, Al here. I kind of rushed through this one today, and didn't even need to read all the clues; sorry about the brevity. The perps filled a lot of the answers in for me and I found myself going back to the grid thinking "where was that?" quite a bit. There were a few nice tricky clues, but to me, the thing that seemed to stand out most was the number of two-word answers.


9. Blind slat: LOUVER.

15. Concurred about: AGREED ON.

16. Lower, for now: ON SALE. There was gonna be one there. We was gonna buy one anyway, so aren't you glad I got it . . .

17. Ogled: LEERED AT.

18. Skinned: PEELED.

19. One of two O.T. books: SAML. Clue and ans. both abbrs. 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the Hebrew Bible. The Book(s) of Samuel originally was a single text.

20. When Donne is done for the day?: EEN. Poetic evening.

21. Genesis outcast: EVE. Because Peter Gabriel wouldn't fit.

22. Go by: PASS.

27. Focus of some trips: EGO. Last week's star wars clue.

28. Justice Sotomayor: SONIA. First Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, serving since August 2009.

29. Unsatisfactory marks?: ACNE. Wanted to fill with DEES or EFFS.

30. Explain: CONSTRUE. I always construed construe to mean "understand". Guess I was always wrong...

32. Fiona, after Shrek's kiss: OGRESS. Before that, too, but only at night.

36. Fertilizer component: POTASH. Along with Nitrogen (first) and Phosphorus (second), potassium is the third number you see on a commercial bag.

39. "I can't explain it": NO REASON. Often the answer to: "Why'd you do that?

43. Imitated: APED.

44. Old 51-Across devices: ETNAS. Burners, along with 51A. Trial site, perhaps: LAB.

45. "The Simpsons" shopkeeper: APU.

49. Benjamin et al.: Abbr.: PVTS. Goldie Hawn movie, Private Benjamin.

50. Give pieces to: ARM. Gats, rods, heaters.

52. Jai __: ALAI. Basket = cesta. Ball = pelota, which travels at speeds up to 250 feet per second (170 MPH). Ouch. And I used to think it hurt to get hit with a racquetball.

53. "The Executioner's Song" Pulitzer winner: MAILER. Norman. The events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah for murder.

55. Burlesque act: FAN DANCE.

59. Show up: ATTEND.

60. Some feelers: ANTENNAE.

61. Viewed to be: SEEN AS.


1. __ masqué: dance with costumes: BAL. A masquerade ball.

2. A good while back: AGES AGO.

3. Crime of betrayal: TREASON.

4. Stylish waves: PERMS.

5. Cad: HEEL. Cad is a shortening of cadet originally used of servants, then of town boys by students at British universities and public schools (though at Cambridge it meant "snob"). Meaning "person lacking in finer feelings". A heel is a "contemptible person," in U.S. underworld slang, originally "incompetent or worthless criminal," probably from a sense of "person in the lowest position."

6. "How peculiar": ODD.

7. Tishby of "The Island": NOA. Cute, but never heard of her...

8. Head M.D.?: ENT. Otolaryngology or ENT is the branch of medicine and surgery that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose, throat, and head and neck disorders. Practitioners are called otolaryngologists–head and neck surgeons, or sometimes otorhinolaryngologists (ORL).

9. Horse warming up, say: LOPER. I misread this clue as house instead of horse.

10. Bridge opener, briefly: ONE NO. Trump.

11. Take for a chump: USE.

12. Chemical bonding number: VALENCE. The numeric portion of the charge of an ion whether it is positive or negative.

13. Winning numbers: ELEVENS. Craps. (Thanks, melissa)

14. Flights that often span two days: RED EYES. Late night plane trips. Another misread, I kept seeing "fights" instead of flights.

20. LAX posting: ETA.

22. Chest ripple: PEC.torals. Trying to be fair, for the ladies.

23. Transform eerily, in sci-fi: MORPH. A smooth transition from one shape or face to another, SFX trickery.

24. __ to one's neck: IN UP.

25. Link with: TIE INTO.

26. Donald's second ex: MARLA. Trump, Maples. Not bad for 46...

28. Coming and going spots: Abbr.: STAS. Stations. Always have to wait for perps to see if the third letter will be A or N.

31. Carloads: SCADS.

32. Others, in Oaxaca: OTRAS. Spanish.

33. Proceeds: GOES.

35. Sharp competitor: SONY.

36. Hefner garb: PAJAMAS.

37. Work: OPERATE.

38. Unhappy home inspection find: TERMITE.

40. African plain: SAVANNA.

41. Like some film effects: OPTICAL.

42. Sorority letters: NUS. 13th letter of the Greek alphabet. We are the knights who say "ni" (as in onion).

44. Flow back: EBB.

47. "The Vampire Diaries" heroine Gilbert: ELENA. On the CW network, which I apparently don't watch much of... Another unknown to me.

48. Play places: YARDS. Wanted to get "stage" to be plural with only five letters.

49. Secondary strategy: PLAN B.

52. Chick chaser?: ADEE. Suffix: Chickadee.

54. Quarterback Dawson: LEN.

55. "Super!": FAB.

56. Actress Gasteyer: ANA. From Saturday Night Live.

57. Some Windows systems: NTS. This should have an obsolete tag on it... But without it I can't do my favorite (geeky) Microsoft joke. There is Windows CE for compact devices (WINCE, what you do when you have to work with it), Windows ME (Millenium Edition, now also obsolete), and Windows NT (New Technology, but commonly called "Nice Try") Put those all together and you get CE ME NT, as hard as a rock and as dumb as a brick.

58. Epitome of slipperiness: EEL.


Mar 30, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 James Sajdak

Theme:   Welcome to LA-LA Land.  Or LA-LA-LA-LA, I can't hear you.  Or maybe it's L.A. LAW.  Sometimes it's hard to come up with a theme title.  Maybe I should have saved these for when I need them, but instead you get multiple choice today.  Both words of two-word theme answers begin with the letters "LA"  Hence the LA-LA, who was also a Teletubbie.

17A. Whip-cracking cowboy of old films : LASH LARUE.    I remember this guy from comic books. 

21A. Ethel, to Lucy : LAND LADY.   Lucy and Dezi rented a brownstone on E. 68th St. from Fred and Ethyl Mertz, played by William Frawly and Vivian Vance, who hated each other in real life.

35A. Sky blue : LAPIS LAZULI.   This is an intensely colored blue gem stone, or the ultramarine pigment extracted from it.  Also, a cloned daughter of Lazarus Long in Heinlein's epic novel, TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE.  I'm delighted to tell you my daughter is not my clone.

51A. Wax-filled illumination : LAVA LAMP.   The heat generated by the lamp bulb caused thermal currents in two viscous immiscible liquids, which would flow through and around each other. Since I remember the 60's, it's clear I did not experience them.

56A. Victor's chuckle : LAST LAUGH.  Indeed. He who laughs last, laughs best. 

And the unifier.  29 D . '80s-'90s legal drama, and this puzzle's title : L.A. LAW.  One more immensely popular T.V. show that I never watched. 

Hi, gang, Jazzbumpa here - your tour guide through LA-LA Land.  Let's set out and see what we can discover.


1. Beginning for the birds? : AVI.  A prefix indicating birds, or, more generally, flight, from the Latin avis = bird.

4. Shaq on the court : O'NEAL.  Needs no introduction.  OK. Famous basketball player.

9. Beat __ to one's door : A PATH.  This is what people are supposed to do if you invent a better mouse trap

14. Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect : LIN.  Maya LIN was a student at Yale when she designed the memorial.  It is very moving.

15. Ramadi resident : IRAQI.  Ramadi is the capital of Al Anbar province in central IRAQ.

16. Local cinemas, colloquially : NABES.  Derived from neighborhood.  News to me.

19. Weight room sound : GRUNT.  As in GRUNTS and groans from performing hard labor.

20. Venetian arch shape : OGEE.  An arch formed by two symmetric S-curves.  I like the looks of this one.  Also, "Oh, gee, Arch!" was occasionally GRUNTED by the Meathead.

23. Canyon-crossing transport : TRAMWAYYou go on ahead.  I'll wait here.

26. Fridge raider : NOSHER.  To NOSH (v) is to have a NOSH (n) - a light meal or snack.  This comes to us from the German, by way of Yiddish.

28. Hong Kong harbor craft : SAMPAN.  This boat name is common across parts of Asia.  SAMPANS come in many designs.  

29. Field for the fold : LEA.  A grassy meadow where one may find sheep, cows, and increasingly common crossword fill.

31. Remote power sources? : AAA'S.  Can't fool me.  Batteries.

32. Thing to blow off : STEAM.  Blowing off steam is a tension release outlet for people who do not have access to trombones.

34. Sign before Scorpio : LIBRA.  Zodiac signs. The sign of  LIBRA (or perhaps Le Bra) is the symbol of balance.

38. Postgrad hurdle : ORALS.  ORAL examinations are part of the arduous trek to a PhD.  Post Docs are apprentice academic positions for recent PhD recipients. 

40. "Cosmos" host : SAGAN.  "Cosmos"  was a 13-part TV series, first aired on PBS in 1980.  It was all about  life, the universe, and everything.

41. Lotto relative : KENO.  I don't know a thing about it.

42. Assure, with "up" : SEW.  To SEW something  up, is to complete or control it, presumably without leaving any loose ends.

43. Titan is its largest moon : SATURN.  SATURN is the sixth planet of our system - the one with the rings and the red spot.  Though it is the largest one we have, it is only a tiny part of the cosmos.

48. Most foxy : SLYEST.  Easy fill, but not what I had in mind.

50. Landmass encompassing the Urals : EURASIA. This is the totality of Europe and Asia.  It's always been a mystery to me why this one big continent was considered to be two.

54. Bombast : RANT.  Interesting that bombast, meaning pretentious or inflated language comes from the Middle English word for cotton padding.  RANT is more of a tirade.  I don't see the equivalence.

55. Artist's topper : BERET. I'm not sure what sort of art this is.

59. Conductor Previn : ANDRE.  He was also a composer, and learned to passably play each orchestra instrument so he could write properly for them.  Mia Farrow was the 3rd of his five wives.  He was her 2nd husband. Beyond that, things get a bit dicey.

60. Came up : AROSE

61. Sargasso or Coral : SEA

62. Parks and others : ROSAS.  She also needs no introduction. OK.  Famous bus rider, and 60A near-sound-alike.

63. Zellweger of "Chicago" : RENEE.   I know, she's no K-Z-J.

64. Prince Valiant's son : ARN.  From the comic strip which has been going strong since 1937.  Aleta still looks marvelous. 


1. Doles out : ALLOTS.

2. Cialis competitor : VIAGRA.  You don't need the details.  One of my friends remarked: "I don't need it, but just knowing it's out there makes me feel better."

3. Tailor's measure : INSEAM.  Leg length from crotch to ankle. 

4. Van Gogh work : OIL.  Vincent's paintings were done in oil based paints.  I guess that makes this an oil on water.

5. Gun lobby org. : NRA.  National Rifle Association.  Guns don't kill you, bullets do.

6. Ahead of time : EARLY

7. Shade in the Caribbean : AQUA.  This refers to the color of the water, under the sunny LAPIS LAZULI sky.

8. Bank holding : LIEN.  Per Wikipedia, "a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt or performance of some other obligation."  Ultimately from the Latin ligare, to bind.

9. Saxon start : ANGLO.   ANGLO-Saxons, the melding of Agles, Saxons, and Jutes (who get short shrift in the nomenclature,) tribes of Germanic peoples who migrated from western EURASIA to the British Islands starting in the 5th century, and became the English.  I'm not sure what they did to deserve it.

10. Chute above the beach : PARASAIL.  I was thinking along the lines of Chutes and ladders, not parachutes.

11. Persian Gulf emirate : ABU DHABI.  The capital and second largest city of the  United Arab Emirates.  The name means "Father of the Gazelle," and is fun to say.

12. Like some mortgages : TEN YEAR.  Many versions are available.  I guess a mortgage is a variety of LIEN

13. DDE predecessor : HST.  Harry S (for nothing) Truman, and Dwight David Eisenhower, U.S. Presidents.

18. Rope fiber : HEMP.  Hemp is the fiber of cannabis plants.  There's something about the 60's that I can't quite recall . . .

22. Paternity proof, briefly : DNA.  Deoxyribonucleaic acid.  Genetic material.

24. Mud nest builders : WASPS.  They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

25. Naysayer : ANTI.  Those who are against - aka "nattering nabobs of negativism" - William Safire.

27. It surrounds Lesotho: Abbr. : RSA.  Lesotho is a land-locked country, completely surrounded by The Republic of South Africa.

30. The Daily Beast, e.g. : E-MAG.  Electronic magazine.

33. To be, to Brutus : ESSE.  More Latin

34. Like the Islamic calendar : LUNAR.  Based on the periods of the moon, rather than the sun.  So is the Jewish calendar, I believe.

35. Refs' whistle holders : LANYARDS.  These are cords worn around the neck to carry something.

36. Natural burn balm : ALOE VERA.  Nice to see the whole plant.

37. Pitts of "The Gale Storm Show" : ZASU. The correct spelling is ZaSu, and pronunciation is "Say-Zoo."  She was a silent film actress who went on to vaudeville, talkies, radio, and TV.

38. Signs off on : OKS.  Gives the OK - approval - to something.

39. Chile __: stuffed Mexican dish : RELLENO.  Literally "stuffed chili."  Usually a mild poblano pepper stuffed with cheese or meat, then battered and deep fried.

42. N.L. team managed by Tony La Russa since 1996 : ST. L.  The St. Louis Cardinals

44. Scarlett's home : TARA.  The plantation from Gone With The Wind.

45. World Cup chant : USA! USA!  I'll bet there are others.

46. Horseshoes feat : RINGER.  This is a horseshoe that surrounds, or "rings" the stake.

47. Revolutionary Hale : NATHAN.  He was a volunteer for the Continental (American, not Eurasian) Army who was captured by the British and hanged.  He is famous for saying,  "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." 

49. Fully fills : SATES.  

50. Hewlett-Packard rival : EPSON.  Printers.

52. Banned orchard spray : ALAR.  This was a plant growth enhancer, sprayed on fruit, primarily apples, to regulate size and color, and make harvesting easier.  It was used form 1963 until 1989, when it was voluntarily withdrawn from the market as the EPA was proposing a ban.

53. Full-grown filly : MARE.   Horse girl and lady.

55. Setting for many a joke : BAR.  Guy walks into a bar.  The bartender says, "Knock-knock . . ."

57. Taoist Lao-__ : TSE  He was the first Taoist philosopher.

58. Majors in acting : LEE.  Nice misdirection.  He played The Six Million Dollar Man on TV.
Well, there you have.  A nice Wednesday puzzle, and a journey across space and time, around the planet, the solar system, and even the Cosmos.  There's more to LA-LA land than you thought.


Mar 29, 2011

Interview with Joon Pahk

This is our 4th meeting with Joon Pahk and first encounter with his collaborator, Andrea Carla Michaels, an excellent constructor who specializes in early week puzzles.

Joon's previous three LA Times all had distinctive style: a Sunday with a rarely-seen  four letter  FORE insertion, a Friday with a scrabbly ZZ insertion and a Saturday themeless with a unique grid design and a SIX-PACK ABS start. Today's SIX PACKS is another tour-de-force, we don't often have 7 theme entries in a 15*15 grid.

Joon only started constructing in 2008, but he has had ten puzzles published by the NY Times alone.  His byline also appeared in the NY Sun, Newsday (Saturday Stumper), Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He is also an excellent speed solver, finishing 15th in this year's ACPT.
Joon's wide-ranging knowledge base (from baseball to Norse myth to physics) and always original cluing   make his puzzles a bit challenging at times. I hope this interview gives us a closer look at his brain and helps us better tackle his puzzles in the future.

What is your background and how does it influence your puzzle style?

i teach physics to undergrads for a living, so certainly part of my background is that i'm a quantitative thinker. but i'm also something of a polymath (although it sounds terribly immodest when i say that about myself, doesn't it?). i used to do academic trivia in college, and i loved questions about literature, mythology, philosophy, religion, and art in addition to science questions that were more in my obvious wheelhouse. so especially for late-week puzzles, i like to include names and titles from all those areas. i'm not very old (although i can no longer really call myself young), and i have a long-standing aversion to pop culture from "before my time," because it reinforces the stereotype that crosswords are for old people. so i try to keep that to a minimum, too. i'm also a big sports fan, especially soccer, basketball, and football.

Which part do you normally spend the most time on, in the construction process: theme brainstorming, gridding or cluing?

i guess about half the puzzles i construct are themeless, maybe because good theme ideas don't occur to me that often... and when they do, i typically need somebody else's help to hammer them into a workable form. gridding is fast. cluing is slow. it can be glacially slow for a tough late-week puzzle. i read your interview with bob klahn and it had a profound effect on me. so i almost always take at least a week to mull over appropriately tough clues. writing easier clues is faster, although not fast. even so, it's happened to me twice now that i've sent off a puzzle and then, weeks later, thought of a really great clue for one of the entries. it happened to me in the LAT with WHIZ KID, which i'd originally clued as something boring like {National Merit Scholar, e.g.}. when {Brain child?} occurred to me out of the blue, i emailed rich with the clue and he kindly put it in. so not only is cluing slow, it's sometimes not even done when i've sent them all in!

Once you are set with your theme entries, how much time do you normally spend on grid design? And what are your criteria for a perfect grid?

not too long, unless it's a very dense theme. i recently gridded a puzzle with seven theme answers, and that one definitely took some tinkering. but for a more normal four or five theme answers, i just kind of drop them into the usual places, place blocks around them heuristically, and start to fill. i always check to see if i can get some of the theme answers to intersect, because i like it when that happens. but actually, it's never happened for me! maybe i should just stop checking.

i don't think there's any such thing as a "perfect" grid. everything is dictated by the constraints of the theme (or, if i'm doing a themeless, how ambitious i'm trying to be about word count or open space). i try to avoid partials in late-week puzzles. i really don't like abbreviations, although familiar acronyms are fine. i shy away from prefixes and suffixes, variant spellings, awkward plurals, weird foreign words... you know, all the stuff solvers don't like. but pretty much everything needs to be evaluated in the context of the whole puzzle. in an easy puzzle, i don't mind a partial or two. in a themeless, i've been known to resort to crappy short fill to get the long stuff to really sing, although i'm trying to do that less these days.

I love the freshness of your clues. How do you maintain such originality and creativity? Do you have Xword Info or other databases open while cluing or do you only consult the database once you are done with yours?

thanks! as i mentioned earlier: i spend a lot of time on cluing. as a solver, i've found that even puzzles with blah themes and fill can be fun to do if the clues are lively, so when i construct, i pay special attention to cluing in the hopes that it will draw attention away from the flaws in my theme or fill. word association is the key, i guess. since i'm a trivia buff, sometimes word association will lead me to clue an ordinary word in reference to a work of literature or historical event. that way even if you don't know the trivia, you can learn something cool. but most clues aren't trivia clues, of course.

i do use the databases, but more to figure out what's already been done that i need to avoid, or at least put a new spin on.

one thing that i've never heard anybody else talk about (though surely i'm not the only constructor who does this?) is that i'm constantly on the lookout for great clues, even when i'm not actively cluing anything. i try to think of different (often literal) ways to interpret idiomatic expressions, and then consider what word they might be used to clue. if it's memorable enough, the next time i have to clue that word, i've got the perfect clue. (if i were more organized, i'd write these down.)

sometimes i'll even seed a themeless with one of these clues (instead of with a really fresh or scrabbly answer). a while back i realized that {Make believe} could be interpreted to mean CONVINCE, as in, "i will make (you) believe that something is true," so i built that into a themeless and clued it that way. sadly, when it ran, the clue had been changed, so i'm still waiting to use that one.

What's the best puzzle you've made and why?

sadly, it was a puzzle that very few people got to do: a friday new york sun puzzle that didn't make it to print before that newspaper folded. so editor peter gordon published it to the subscriber-only "sun crosswords" on feb 6, 2009. anyway, it was a very, very hard themed puzzle called  "transmutation." it's since been published in a book, i think (sunset crosswords by peter gordon). anyway, this is the one where i felt that the theme, fill, and clues all came together magically. actually, it wasn't magic at all, but a really productive collaboration with peter.

Who are the constructors who consistently impress and inspire you?

patrick berry is #1 with a bullet. i haven't seen quite as many of his mind-bending original themes in the past couple of years, but the variety puzzles he devises for the wall street journal (and his own book, puzzle masterpieces) are mind-bogglingly brilliant. and his themeless grids are to die for! he can whip up a 64-word grid with fill so clean you could eat off it: no abbreviations, no partials, no obscurities. i've never tried a 64, but i can do a 66... but there's invariably some crappy stuff holding at all together. i've done a squeaky-clean themeless, but it was a 72 without much pizzazz. long story short, i'm no patrick berry. he's a great editor, too; i've been very happy with the puzzles i've done with him for the chronicle of higher education.

i've got a few other favorites, but i'd be remiss not to mention BEQ. brendan and i talk about puzzles almost every day, and he'll often look over a grid or vet a theme idea for me. (i return the favor by test-solving his blog puzzles.) his style is inimitable, so i don't even try, but his advice has really helped me become a better constructor.

Besides crosswords, what are your other hobbies?

i burn through hobbies very intensely, but usually for only a few months or a year. so i have far more ex-hobbies (ping pong, speed chess, foosball, academic trivia, video games, poker, fantasy baseball) than current hobbies. i guess i still play duplicate bridge and board games, although not to the (globe-trotting) extent that i once did. anyway, crosswords have been at the top of the list since january 2008, but there are no signs of abatement yet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 Joon Pahk and Andrea Carla Michaels

Theme: Six Packs - The start of each six theme answer can precede "pack".

17A. Completely dark : JET-BLACK. Jet pack.

21A. Getting-to-know-you party activity : ICEBREAKER. Ice pack.

26A. Dirty fighting? : MUD-WRESTLING. Mud pack.

39A. Wearisome routine : RAT RACE. Rat pack.

47A. "Wow, she's good-looking!" sounds : WOLF WHISTLES. Wolf pack.

58A. "Funny Girl" leading role : FANNY BRICE. Fanny pack.

66A. Some sculpted abs ... and what the starts of 17-, 21-, 26-, 39-, 47- and 58-Across are altogether? : SIX PACKS

Argyle here. One of the first things I noticed was that the grid resembled a labyrinth but I didn't get lost. Strong theme. The fill has a strong Middle-Eastern influence with a smattering of foreign words from around the world.


1. Lea low : "MOO". Cute alliteration.

4. Rocket interceptors, briefly : ABMs. Anti-Ballistic Missile.

8. Doesn't tip : STIFFS. The bane of waitstaffs everywhere.

14. DJ's array : CDs

15. Atahualpa, notably : INCA. He was the last sovereign emperor of the Inca Empire.

16. Sci-fi author __ K. Le Guin : URSULA. She wrote the Earthsea fantasy novels. The Margaret Mead of science-fiction?

19. Took an intersecting road : TURNED. Thought of Robert Frost, did you?

20. It's not butter : OLEO

23. Soft baseball hit : BLOOP

25. Facility : EASE

33. "Weeds" airer, in TV listings : SHO. Showtime, a premium television network.

36. Latvian capital : RIGA. Here.

37. Eastern principle : TAO

38. Liven (up) : PEP

43. Expressive rock genre : EMO. Short for emotional rock music.

44. __ of Good Feelings : ERA. The Era of Good Feelings was the name applied to the period in the United States corresponding with the term of President James Monroe. It lasted approximately from 1816 to 1824.

45. "Zounds!" : "EGAD!"

46. Old boys? : MEN

53. Wrath, in a classic hymn : IRAE. "Dies Irae" ("Day of Wrath").

54. Fat cat : NABOB. Originally, a governor in India under the Mogul Empire. Also called nawab.

64. Quayle's successor : GORE

65. Orbital extreme : APOGEE

68. Mother with a Nobel prize : TERESA. Missionary in Calcutta.

69. Depilatory brand : NAIR

70. AFL partner : CIO. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

71. Turns over, as an engine : STARTS. But they don't start, sometimes!

72. Film pooch in a tornado : TOTO. "The Wizard of Oz".

73. Tolkien tree creature : ENT


1. Low-paying position : McJOB

2. Nancy who's slated to replace Mary Hart on "Entertainment Tonight" : O'DELL. Image.

3. Bone: Pref. : OSTEO

4. Have a bug : AIL

5. __ B'rith : B'NAI

6. Cornerstone 1300 : MCCC

7. Benefit : SAKE

8. Hindu aphorisms : SUTRAs. An aphorism is a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation.

9. Most loyal : TRUEST

10. Its anthem is "Hatikvah" : ISRAEL. Clip (3:11) with lyrics.

11. Wagnalls's partner : FUNK. They published encyclopedias.

12. Make a run for it : FLEE

13. 1980-81 Iranian president Bani-__ : SADR. Image

18. Bust's opposite : BOOM

22. Spelling contest : BEE

24. Music to a cat lover's ears : PURR

27. Day in Durango : DIA. Down Mexico way.

28. Lb. or oz. : WGT.

29. Filet mignon requests : RAREs

30. Couple in People : ITEM. People Magazine.

31. Tom, Dick or Harry : NAME

32. Continue : GO ON

33. Eject, as lava : SPEW

34. Medal recipient : HERO

35. Stone for many Libras : OPAL

40. Rep. with a cut : AGT.. Agent.

41. Berkeley school, familiarly : CAL. University of California, Berkeley.

42. First lady's home? : EDEN

48. Identify, as a perp : FINGER

49. Most ironic : WRYEST

50. __ corpus : HABEAS

51. Suffix with hotel : IER

52. "Beowulf" or "Star Wars" : SAGA

55. Bologna ball game : BOCCE. Italian origin.

56. Pest control name : ORKIN

57. Stupefy with drink : BESOT

58. Pool legend Minnesota __ : FATS. The pool that requires a cue.

59. In __: peeved : A PET

60. Director Ephron : NORA. Film director, producer, screenwriter, novelist, journalist, author, and blogger. Keeps busy, eh?

61. Fails to be : ISN'T

62. Giovanni's good-bye : CIAO. Italian.

63. Stage direction : EXIT

67. Tour golfer : PRO


Mar 28, 2011

Monday March 28, 2011 Gail Grabowski and Bruce Venzke

Theme: UNCLE! Four theme ending words that can describe what this winter did to us, us Northerners at least.

17A. Tool that can extract nails : CLAW HAMMER

27A. It's poured into an iron at breakfast : WAFFLE BATTER

47A. United Kingdom currency : BRITISH POUND

64A. Fur bartered by Native Americans : BEAVER PELT

Argyle here and I'm sure of who I am. This puzzle isn't. There are clues and/or answers that could be for any day of the week. Not too many Naticks though. [A word used in crosswordese, coined by blogger Rex Parker, meaning two crossing words/clues that very very few people would know. As an example, one clue would be "A town in the eighth mile of the Bostom marathon" Answer-Natick]


1. Muddy stuff : MUCK

5. Fallback option : PLAN B

10. Pinochle calls : BIDS

14. Bounce, as off a canyon wall : ECHO

15. Margaret Mead's island : SAMOA. She was a cultural anthropologist and authored Coming of Age in Samoa.

16. Tom Joad, for one : OKIE. Tom Joad is a fictional character from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. OKIE was someone driven out of Oklahoma by poverty.

19. Princess played by Lucy Lawless : XENA. TV fantasy adventure. Lawless married the show's producer, Robert Tapert.

20. Spanish song : CANTO

21. Surprise "from the blue" : BOLT. "Like a bolt out of the blue, Fate steps in to see you through!"

22. "Get Smart" evil agency : KAOS. TV and movie.

23. Silky sweater : ANGORA. It may be 'silky' but it still is wool.

25. Bard of boxing : ALI. Muhammad Ali composed poems about himself, mostly.

34. They may be outsourced : JOBS

37. King with jokes : ALAN This comedian passed away in 2004.

38. Keebler cracker : ZESTA. Saltine.

39. Oral health org. : ADA. American Dental Association.

40. Aerialist's apparatus : TRAPEZE. Neat way to get a Z into the mix.

42. Pictures on the wall : ART. What about on the refrigerator.

43. Back biter? : MOLAR. Your back teeth.

45. "Without a doubt!" : "SURE!"

46. Mars' Greek counterpart : ARES. The Gods of war.

50. Heavy drinker : SOT

51. Tranquilize : SEDATE

55. Plastic user's concern : DEBT. Often, they aren't concerned until it is too late.

58. Words of woe : "AH, ME". What the above user says when it all comes due.

62. Autobahn autos : AUDIs

63. Length times width : AREA

66. Highlands dagger : DIRK. Image.

67. "Bye for now" : "LATER"

68. "I did it!" : "TA-DA!"

69. High school skin problem : ACNE

70. Idyllic spots : EDENS

71. Sources of iron : ORES


1. Tourist magnet : MECCA

2. Golden St. collegian : UCLAN. My thought would be pronounce this as individual letters.

3. P.F. __'s: Chinese restaurant chain : CHANG. The chain was founded in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1993 by Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang.

4. Shows servility : KOWTOWS. Chinese kòutóu: [literally, knock (one's) head] To touch the forehead to the ground while kneeling.

5. Free TV spot : PSA. Public Service Announcement.

6. Moussaka meat : LAMB. Although "moussaka" is an Arabic word and a popular dish in many Middle Eastern countries, the immortal eggplant and lamb casserole is generally credited to the Greeks, who claim it as a national treasure. Image.

7. Bullets and such : AMMO

8. Seasonal song : NOEL

9. Pub bill : BAR TAB

10. Tailless flying toy : BOX KITE

11. Swedish furniture giant : IKEA

12. Flintstone pet : DINO

13. Aral and Arabian : SEAs

18. Traditional round dance : HORA

24. Miles away : AFAR

26. Act like a couch potato : LAZE

28. Lightning burst : FLASH

29. Drink à la Lassie : LAP UP. Lassie was an L.A. pup?

30. Juan's January : ENERO. Spanish.

31. Russian ruler of yore : TSAR

32. To be, in Burgundy : ÊTRE. French.

33. Charlie Brown's "Darn it!" : "RATS!"

34. Doorway feature : JAMB

35. Sign of spoilage : ODOR

36. Java neighbor : BALI. They are between Asia and Australia.

40. Small jazz group : TRIO

41. Olympian ruler : ZEUS

44. In jeopardy : AT STAKE

46. Total numerically : ADD UP TO

48. Pony's place : STABLE

49. In the vicinity : NEAR

52. "Please be __ and ...": polite request words : A DEAR

53. Spanish squiggle : TILDE. As in Spanish señor.

54. These, in Madrid : ESTAS. Also Spanish.

55. Baby's pop : DA-DA

56. "Tears in Heaven" singer Clapton : ERIC

57. Swiss capital : BERN. Or Berne, as we learned the other day.

59. Lettuce purchase : HEAD. Is it just head lettuce going up in price or is it all kinds?

60. Brisbane buddy : MATE

61. Fifty-fifty : EVEN

65. Medical drama settings, for short : ERs. Emergency Room.


Note from C.C.: I wrongly published the answer grid in this blog rather than my Ginger Roots last night. Sorry for the confusion.