What The …

New York Times crossword Oct. 28 / Constructed by Michael Sharp and Caleb Madison

Apologies for the late post today. We were driving back from NYC ahead of the — take your pick — Megastorm, Superstorm, Frankenstorm, Hybrid Hurricane Sandy. So far, things seem pretty normal in Philly: The Eagles are losing, and a light rain is falling. Hopefully, we’ll still have power and potable water at this time tomorrow. And the next day.

On to the puzzle. Today’s theme was not as profane as the title might suggest, although there were a couple of racy answers. SAFE WORD, anyone? (“‘Popsicle,’ in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ for one,” 106 Across.)

The theme required solvers to add the word “the” to common phrases to create new ones. So instead of Captain Bligh, of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” you have CAPTAIN BLITHE (“Cheerful superhero?” 38 Across). Speaking of mutinies, to “Take a patient approach to revenge?” is WAIT AND SEETHE (52 Across).

Others: “‘Come on, woman, shape that wood!’?” is LATHE, LADY, LATHE (23 Across), a reference to the Bob Dylan song. “Ones who stop giving to their church?” are TITHE BREAKERS (71 Across). “Softly exhale cheap sentiment?” is BREATHE CHEESE (89 Across), instead of brie. “Mad scientist’s sadistic exclamation upon attacking the Empire State?” is WRITHE, NEW YORK! (101 Across), playing off the town of Rye. “What the Grim Reaper’s backup carries?” is the SCYTHE OF RELIEF (119 Across). “‘If you don’t like my anger, do something about it!’?” is SO SOOTHE ME! (14 Down). And “Hate coke?” is LOATHE BLOW (76 Down), which uses two nicknames for cocaine that I was surprised Will allowed.

Seeing Red Dept.: IRITIS (“It might cause photophobia,” 102 Down) is an inflammation of the eye’s iris. And while we’re on the subject of irritation, this puzzle repeats an answer from last week — ANTIC (“Prankster-like,” 107 Down) — that was part of a major hurdle in entering the crossword contest. Arrrrghhh.

If Only Dept.: “Red Wing or Blackhawk” is an NHLER (48 Down), the likes of whom we will not see until December, if at all this year.

University, Schmuniversity Dept.: “Cornell who founded Western Union” is EZRA (92 Down). He made so much money they named an Ivy League school after him. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Modern Day Dept.: Nice to see the answer CASTRO (95 Across) refer not to the old guard in Cuba but to the young “San Antonio mayor Julian, keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic convention.” However, I’m taking a point off in this same category for the “Durst of Limp Bizkit” clue (116 Down). There hasn’t been a more prominent or reputable FRED in the past decade?

For Fun Dept.: Lots of great entries in this puzzle, including SCHLOCK (“Junk,” 58 Down), RUMOR MILL (“Dirt spreader,” 86 Down), BRA SIZE (“It’s measured in cups,” 66 Down), PARTY BUS (“Coach for dancing?” 13 Down), WATER PARK (“Summer recreation area,” 3 Down) and PAY PAL (“Web site with a ‘Send Money’ tab,” 8 Down).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Creed of the ‘Rocky’ series” is not a motto, as I first thought, but the character APOLLO Creed.

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Bypassing Security (Part 2)

New York Times crossword Oct. 21 / Constructed by Caleb Rasmussen

So now that it’s Tuesday, I can finally blog about Sunday’s clever crossword contest! (For more information on the delayed post, see “Behind The Scenes Dept.” below.)

This fun brain-teaser from constructor Caleb Rasmussen was a three-fer, requiring you to solve the puzzle, wend your way through a “maze” and identify 10 words related to the “vault” at the center of the grid. By emailing the correct answers to the NYT, you were entered into the running for a crossword calendar and — even better! — getting your name published in the Nov. 4 Times Magazine.

I have to say the first few answers came slowly, and I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to figure it out. But then I found the KEY. After seeing I had _ BOARDS for 51 Across, I knew the answer to “Blackberry feature” had to be (KEY)BOARDS. And it crossed nicely with JOC(KEY) (“Crop holder,” 35 Down).

The “maze” part starts at the green arrow in the upper left, then wends its way through all four quadrants to get to the key.

Figuring there must be other rebus answers in the puzzle, I soon found the “seven hazards” blocking my path to the safe: MINE, TRAP, ASP, BEAR, LION, LAVA and PIT. Each is squeezed into a single square, yielding answers that look like (LAVA) LAMPS (“Retro light sources,” 119 Across) and BRATIS(LAVA) (“Central European capital,” 83 Down). Or DANDE(LION) (“Certain salad green,” 97 Down) crossed with ANT (LION) (“Predatory insect,” 121 Across). You can see others highlighted in orange in the grid at right.

The treasure found in the vault is GOLD — squeezed into square 53 — which yields (GOLD)BERG (“Secretary of labor who became a Supreme Court justice,” 53 Across) and (GOLD) STAR (“Reward for one who 52-Down?” 53 Down). The answer to 52 Down is ACES A TEST (“Scores 100”).

The puzzle instructions tell you to find your way to an “important item” — the KEY — using a safe path starting in the upper left corner. The grid is constructed in such a way that your path must travel through each quadrant of the grid in order to avoid each hazards. (The quickest route to the KEY is blocked by the MINE, forcing you toward the upper right corner, then down and around in a clockwise fashion until you reach the KEY.)

Yet even after getting all that, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to use this KEY. After reading the comments on Rex Parker’s blog, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one stumped by this element of the puzzle. Much debate centered on the word SLOT, from SLOTTED (“Scheduled,” 69 Across), which seemed as good an answer as any. I thought today’s special contest post on the NYT Wordplay blog would include the answers, but no luck yet.

UPDATE: A very kind commenter on this post told me where to find the LOCK – it’s the black square separating 71- and 72 Across, forming the word ANTIC(LOCK)WISE. That’s the answer to the second part of 71 Across, “… or going around the wrong way, in Britain?” Holy crap. I think I prefer a dial on my safe.

So, did anyone find this puzzle TOO EASY (“Not a challenge at all,” 7 Down)?

Behind The Scenes Dept.: You can imagine my surprise when Will Shortz tweeted at me a couple of weeks ago, asking me to email him. (In fact, after he reached out to me on Twitter, I checked with Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen to make sure it was the real Will Shortz. Get a verified account, Will!) Anyway, Will said he was asking all the Sunday puzzle bloggers to refrain from revealing the answers ahead of the entry deadline at 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday. I figured if Rex Parker was keeping quiet, so could I. Feel free to disagree by leaving a (civil!) comment.

Where In The World? Dept.: “Port from which Amelia Earhart left on her last flight” is LAE (60 Down), which sounds more like an airport code than a place. It’s actually a town in New Guinea.

Horsing Around Dept.: The repeated clue “Crop holder” at 37- and 35 Down yields both SILO and the aforementioned JOC(KEY).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Franklin output” is Poor Richard’s ALMANAC (64 Across), although I believe it was spelled ALMANACK when Ben published it.

Tromp L’Oeil Dept.: “Not entirely real, as a photo” is DOCTORED (24 Across). We’re actually headed to New York this weekend in part to see the Met exhibit “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.”

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Bypassing Security (Part 1)

New York Times crossword Oct. 21 / Constructed by Caleb Rasmussen

Today’s ingenious puzzle by Caleb Rasmussen is a lot of fun: It’s a crossword, a maze and a contest.

Today’s puzzle is a contest requiring you to figure out what’s in the vault. (And yes, I joined the Instagram bandwagon.)

And I promised Will Shortz that I would not say much more than that.

Crossword bloggers have been asked not to spoil the fun for those who want to enter the contest, which entails figuring out what’s in the “vault” at the center of the puzzle, how to open it, and what obstacles lie in your path.

Here are the details about the contest. The prize is nominal — an NYT crossword calendar — but you’ll also get your named published in the Nov. 4 Times Magazine. And for crossword lovers, such recognition might be even more valuable than what’s in the puzzle’s vault.

I’ll post my thoughts on the grid after 6 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Media Start-Ups

New York Times crossword Oct. 14 / Constructed by Todd Gross

Today’s puzzle is for the couch potatoes among us — the theme sneakily pays homage to an array of cable and network TV stations.

The hint lies in the “start-up” reference in the title. Channel abbreviations are found by taking the first letter of each word in the theme answers: TENDER LOVING CARE (“Special attention,” 23 Across) yields the letters TLC, which is the abbreviation for The Learning Channel. (Although, honestly, can it really be called that if it airs “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”?)

Other stations: NBC, from NOT BY CHOICE (“Against one’s will,” 28 Across); AMC, from ALL MY CHILDREN (“Soap discontinued in 2011,” 44 Across); PBS, from PEARLS BEFORE SWINE (“Comic strip with the characters Rat and Pig,” 63 Across); TBS, from TOTAL BODY SCAN (“M.R.I., maybe,” 80 Across); TNT, from TELL NO TALES (“What dead men are said to do,” 104 Across); and CBS, from CAROL BURNETT SHOW (“With ‘The,’ former sketch comedy program on CBS … fittingly enough,” 108 Across).

For Fun Dept: Constructor Todd Gross included some awesome long entries that were not part of the theme. “2010 movie with a plot to steal the moon” is DESPICABLE ME (60 Down), the animated film starring (the voice of) Steve Carell. “Warning” is ADMONISHMENT (15 Down). “Boating hazards” are WHIRLPOOLS (41 Down). “Recipe unit” is a TABLESPOON (36 Down). And “You may go under it at a hotel” is a FALSE NAME (106 Across).

Twofer Dept.: The doubled clue “Behind” yielded IN ARREARS (27 Across) and PAST DUE (70 Across). The grid also featured SOREN (“Philosopher Kierkegaard,” 79 Down) and SORENSEN (“Ted who wrote ‘The Kennedy Legacy’,” 82 Down).

Touche Dept.: “Ikea store, to some” is a MAZE (58 Across).

Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: “Cinnabar, e.g.” is ORE (57 Down), not to be confused with the tasty offerings at Cinnabon. (OK, maybe I mixed them up.) “African region including Khartoum and Timbuktu” is SAHEL (101 Down). And “Home of the oldest school in Sweden, founded in 1085” is LUND (31 Down).

Time Machine Dept.: “Bread dispensers” are ATMS (15 Across), except that it’s not 1970 and no one calls money “bread” anymore. Arrrrgh.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: You might have noticed the new-and-improved look of Crossword Kathy. Thus, today’s Philly Shout-Out goes to my husband, who kindly updated the website so that it will now appear the same regardless of which device you read it on. Thank you!

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Space Invasion

New York Times crossword Oct. 7 / Constructed by Zoe Wheeler

Greetings, earthlings! Today’s puzzle has some undocumented aliens hidden in the theme answers. The title “Space Invasion” refers to ETs — not extra-terrestrials, but actual letters inserted into everyday phrases to form amusing new ones. So “Earth, in ‘Independence Day’?” becomes a PLANET OF ATTACK (95 Across).

Others: “Excitement over some presidential selections?” is CABINET FEVER (63 Across). “Old AMC car that came fully loaded?” is HORNET OF PLENTY (23 Across). “Good locale for adoptions?” is BIRTH MARKET (30 Across). “Ammo that’ still on the store shelf?” is SITTING BULLET (39 Across). “Some bleating?” is RACKET OF LAMB (53 Across). “Avoid a scalping?” is ESCAPE HATCHET (74 Across). And “ID for a certain band member?” is a TRUMPET CARD (87 Across).

Locked Out Dept.: “People wear masks in this: Abbr.” is NHL, although no one is wearing them now because the league canceled the first two weeks of the regular season.

Haha Dept.: “He-man’s nickname” is MUSCLES (72 Across).

Complaints Dept.: A few spelling “variations” threw me off. In fact, I’d go so far as to say BOOTEE (“Infant’s shoe,” 101 Across) is flat-out wrong — the word is “bootie.” And the grid uses REATA (“Rodeo rope,” 88 Down) instead of the more common “riata.” The abbreviation TRANQ (“Downer, for short,” 1 Across) for “tranquilizer” seemed to be pushing it, too, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never taken one. And since when is “prose” a verb? Yeah, I’m talking to you, 20 Across: PROSED (“Did ordinary writing”). Really?

Game Show Dept.: “Good ‘Wheel’ buy for WHERE’S THE BEEF” is AN E (15 Down). “Providing of questions for answers on ‘Jeopardy!,’ e.g.” is FORMAT (66 Down).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “‘Grease’ singer” Frankie VALLI (79 Across) is the grand marshal of today’s Columbus Day parade in Philly.

Questions or comments? Leave them here, visit my Facebook page or tweet me @crosswordkathy.