Roughly Speaking

New York Times, April 26

Um … er … how do I start this one?

Try with those two oft-repeated crutches: UM and ER. If you’re anything like me, I use those nonwords way too much in conversation — and now way too much in this crossword puzzle. The trick here is to squeeze as many of those UMs and ERs as you possibly can into the theme answers. You do that by putting both letters in a single box.

So 98 Across, “Crowded, in a way,” is BUMPER TO BUMPER … except in this puzzle, you squeeze it together: B(UM)P(ER) TO B(UM)P(ER). And those doubled-up squares cross quite nicely with answers like 90 Down, “Historic South Carolina fort”: S(UM)T(ER).

Another fun one: 62 Down, “2003 sequel to a popular 1994 comedy”: D(UM)B AND D(UM)B(ER)(ER). That crosses with 110 Across, “North Carolinian, e.g.” — EAST(ER)N(ER) — and 68 Across, “Actress Amanda” — PL(UM)M(ER), better known to “Pulp Fiction” fans as Honey Bunny.

Off the theme, I thought it was pretty cool to find out that eBay’s first sale was a broken laser pointer (40 Down). I also smiled at 46 Down (“Its capital is Bamako”) — MALI, on which I had to write a history report for Mr. Pryor in junior high school. That report also taught me Mali is the home of Timbuktu; who knew the place actually existed?

Questions or comment? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

Oscar Stew

Merl Reagle, April 26

Sigh. I have mixed feelings about this one. I hate-hate-hate when he starts off the puzzle with a “Note” — if you have to explain the theme, maybe it’s not that great, right? Also, why are you doing an Oscar-themed puzzle in April, two months after the red carpets have been rolled up?

Anyway, the theme answers in this puzzle combine the titles of films that have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Yet the answers only incorporate parts of some titles: 84 Across, “Film about traveling around Florida?” is DRIVING IN THE HEAT — from “Driving Miss Daisy” and “In the Heat of the Night.” Same with 110 Across, “Film featuring people whose ears are hairier than their heads?” — ALL ABOUT OLD MEN. That combines “All About Eve” with “No Country for Old Men.” In both cases, I think he’s leaving too much of the titles out.

I think he’s more successful with 30 Across, “Film about a new kid in town” — THE APARTMENT HUNTER, from “The Apartment” and “The Deer Hunter.” I also liked 65 Across, “Film about a transplanted New Yorker? (really transplanted)” — MARTY OF ARABIA (“Marty” and “Lawrence of Arabia”) and 96 Across, “Film about a music fan’s Vegas fantasy” — DANCES WITH TOM JONES (“Dances with Wolves” and “Tom Jones”).

I never was a fan of stews.

Extra! Extra!

New York Times, April 19

What a cruel title during such a dark time in journalism. But I’m over it. On to puzzling, where “Extra! Extra!” pretty much guarantees you’re going to be adding a letter or two to a common phrase in order to get your theme answer. But which one(s)?

Cleverly, the letters turn out to be OT — the abbreviation for overtime. Which is what it took for my alma mater, Boston University, to win the national college hockey championship earlier this month. Have I mentioned that recently? 🙂

The first theme answer I figured out was 22 Across, “Spoiling one’s vote?”: WRECKING BALLOT. But that was a little misleading in making me think I’d be adding OT to the end of every theme answer. The next one (I thought) I solved proved that theory wrong: 47 Across, “Child’s toy in the shape of a Shakespeare character?”, which yielded OTHELLO KITTY. At least it did for about 15 minutes, until I realized the answer they were looking for was OTHELLO DOLLY. I like my answer better but, alas, NUKITY is not the answer to the crossing clue, 37 Down (“Reason for an R rating”). That would be NUDITY.

I also was tripped up in parsing the answer to 84 Across, “Booster for a king?” The letters read ROYAL FLUSHOT, like “Royal flush” with OT on the end. But what the hell is a FLUSHOT? Ah. It’s actually a FLU SHOT. Maybe it would have been more immediate clear if I had been drinking coffee while solving.

Creator Will Nediger saved the best for the central, longest theme answer, sticking the OT right in the middle of JOHN MAYNARD KEYNOTES — the answer to 64 Across, “Headline about an economics conference?”

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

TV Shows I'd Like To See

Merl Reagle, April 19

The “I’d Like To See” part of the title immediately sounded warning bells in my brain: Bad puns ahead! I don’t know what it says about me that I turn up my nose at some of Merl’s plays on words, but I have to say that the first one I solved in this puzzle not only made me groan, but made me roll my eyes in a “How-could-he-possibly-think-this-is-crossword-worthy?” moment. That would be 93 Across, “TV comedy about being in foreclosure?” — MORTGAGE AND MINDY. Maybe it’s because I actually owned a pair of Mork’s rainbow suspenders when I was a kid. But I think it’s more because it was just too much of a stretch, syllable- and rhyme-wise, from the original title.

Anyway, it turns out that just happened to be the worst of the bunch. I actually kinda smiled at DESPERATE HOUSEWISE, the answer to 26 Across, “TV reality show about owners willing to do anything to sell their domiciles?” Same with DENTIST THE MENACE for 33 Across, “TV comedy about a klutz posing as a doctor?”

And, after filling out 104 Across (“TV cartoon about a guy who’s poor and not much of a dresser?”), I even agreed that it was a show I would like to see, too: SLUMDOG SQUARE PANTS.

Fitting Words

April 12 NYT: Square PEGS in round holes
April 12 NYT: Square PEGS in round holes
New York Times, April 12

Remember that TV show “Square Pegs” from the ’80s? I was actually a little too young to watch and/or appreciate it, though I know it involved some of the same people from the classic slacker film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (which I have now watched more times than I can count).

“Square Pegs” is the theme of this puzzle, which has a visual element a la the “Architectural Drawing” from a couple of weeks ago. Today, you’ll find 10 pre-drawn circles in the grid, each encompassing four squares. What would be a “fitting word” for these round holes made of squares? PEGS.

I solved two of these circles before I really understood what I was looking at. After solving the first one — beginning with 119 Across, “Fizz ingredient, (SLOEGIN) and 123 Across, “Small Mistakes” (LAPSES) — the letters in the circle spelled EGSP when read clockwise. Not helpful. Maybe I got one of the answers wrong, and it should read EGGS? For Easter? Oh, please, Kathy. Will Shortz is better than that.

Then I solved 118 Across, “Spice Girl Halliwell” (GERI) and 122 Across, “Many unread messages” (SPAM) to form the second circle, GEPS, reading clockwise. Clearly the letters were the same as the first … think, Kathy, think … perhaps counterclockwise, starting with the P? Aha!

If you need it spelled out for you, check out 65 Across, “Things that may not go in 69-Across”: SQUARE PEGS and ROUND HOLES.

Also, I can’t end the post without pointing out the TERRIER in 19 Down (“Game pursuer”). The Terriers of Boston University, my alma mater, just so happened to win the national college hockey championship last night in a thrilling come-from-behind victory. They put a round puck into a square (well, rectangular) net in overtime and all hell broke loose. Go BU!!!

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

You Can Say That Again

Merl Reagle, April 12

Even after I solved the first theme clue, I didn’t really understand what Merl was getting at: BOW AND SCRAPE for 112 Across, “To really need some rosin while playing the violin?” I had to solve a couple more before I had the “Aha!” moment — it’s an aural thing.

Try these: 29 Across, “Result of too many orders in the garment district?” THE SEWERS ARE BACKED UP. How do you pronounce SEWERS? Not like those grates in the street; say it again like you’re talking about seamstresses. Same with MINUTE in MINUTE MAID — the answer to 41 Across, “Thumbelina?” She was pretty small, not a fraction of an hour.

Also nice was 87 Across, “Sonogram?”, which yields BABY SHOWER. (Here I’ll give a shout-out to my brother and sister-in-law, who are expecting my niece in August! Can’t wait.) And 84 Across, “‘How They Get Graphite Into Pencils’?”, is for all my talented but beleaguered journalism colleagues: THE LEAD STORY.

Questions or comments? Twitter me @crosswordkathy

Play Ball!

Merl Reagle, April 5

As if you needed a reminder that it’s baseball’s opening week (watching the Phillies raise the 2008 championship banner wasn’t enough of a hint?), Merl Reagle has crafted a gem of a puzzle chock full o’ team names — both across and down.

The one that made me laugh out loud was at the center of the puzzle, 66 Across: “Get a certain player out?” The answer — TAG A MET — is also a heartburn medication. As long as the Phillies keep tagging Mets, I hope not to need Tagamet this season.

Other fun ones: THE LONE RANGER (13 Down, “Only player on base?”); ATHLETIC SUPPORTER (113 Across, “Fan of a West Coast team?”);  THE ARTFUL DODGER (54 Across, “Ballplayer who plays with panache?”); and, as a frequent Red Sox fan, YANKEE GO HOME (96 Across, “Advice to a player on third base?”)

21 Across, “Oldest player on one team?” made me think of high school English. The answer, THE ANCIENT MARINER, is the from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I don’t remember ever having to read it, but the title has always stayed with me because of the “rime” part … you always thought he meant “rhyme” — and wouldn’t life have been easier if they had? — but no, he meant “rime,” as in ice. Brrrrr. Guess that would explain why the mariner was ancient.

Play ball! Go Phillies!