Special Features

New York Times crossword March 31 / Constructed by Caleb Madison

Today’s fun puzzle sends you on a hunt of sorts – an appropriate way to spend Easter, I suppose. However, those of you with sweet tooths might be disappointed to discover that the payoff is not a basket of chocolate bunnies or marshmallow Peeps, but a virtual Easter egg.

The main theme answers are pretty simple; they’re created by adding letters to film titles to make amusing new ones. “Movie about … an intense blinking contest?” is STARE WARS (23 Across). And one about “… a housecleaner?” is NEATWORK (28 Across). Put aside those extra letters for now – you’ll need them later.

More: SNOW VOYAGER (“… a sled racer?” 30 Across); STINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (“… a bee during a downpour?” 44 Across); BATEMAN FOREVER (“… actor Jason’s fan club?” 56 Across); DRAWN OF THE DEAD (“… Jerry Garcia’s band’s portraits?” 80 Across); TEEN COMMANDMENTS (“… a parent’s edicts?” 88 Across); REGAL GENIUS (“… a king’s brilliance?” 100 Across); and GRAIN MAN (“… a harvester?” 108 Across).

Now for the “special feature” alluded to in the title: The extra letters, in order, spell out EASTER EGG (“Hidden DVD feature … which can be found, literally, in the answers to the italicized clues,” 115 Across). I’m such a nerd that I circled those letters in the grid to see if they formed the image of a bunny or something. Nope. But still, a pretty cool puzzle.

An “Easter egg” in DVD-speak, by the way, is a bonus feature not shown on the main menu. Sites like this one try to document the eggs.

More Movies Dept.: “1945 Best Picture winner, with ‘The'” is LOST WEEKEND (4 Down). “1983 film debut of Bill Maher” — terrific trivia! — is the Mr. T vehicle D.C. CAB (13 Across). “Hollywood’s Russell” is CROWE (14 Down). “Lucy of ‘Kill Bill’” is LIU (120 Across). The very clever clue “Solo companion” yields CHEWBACCA (78 Down). “Gyllenhaal of ‘Brokeback Mountain'” is JAKE (9 Across). “Documentarian Morris” is ERROL (18 Across). An “Expert despite little training,” as we know from the Robert Redford film, is a NATURAL (61 Across). And the “Word at the end of many French films” is FIN (83 Down).

Boys Of Summer Dept.: Baseball season starts tomorrow — hooray! Let’s hope the Phillies don’t have any NO-RUN outings (“Like some stockings and baseball games,” 49 Down).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “___ Outfitters, clothing retailer” is URBAN (2 Down), based here at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

For Fun Dept.: There were quite a few long entries that weren’t part of the theme. “Wasn’t exacting” is CUT CORNERS (72 Down). “Music genre of Possessed and Deicide” is DEATH METAL (13 Down). “Weekly bar promotion, maybe” is LADIES’ NIGHT (68 Down). “Two-time Emmy-winning actress for ‘Taxi'” is CAROL KANE (15 Down). And an “English king who was a son of William the Conqueror” is HENRY I (20 Down).

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

You’ll Know It When You See It

New York Times crossword March 24 / Constructed by Dan Schoenholz

I have disappointing news for those solvers — myself included — who saw today’s puzzle title and thought it hinted at something risqué. “I know it when I see it” is how former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart memorably defined obscenity in a 1964 pornography case.

Alas, this is a family newspaper, and the crossword actually dealt with a much more tame topic: WHAT IS ART? (“Classic question answered six times in this puzzle,” 67 Across). The first response, from John F. Kennedy, is THE GREAT DEMOCRAT (24 Across).

Others: BUT A VISION OF REALITY (Yeats, 32 Across); A REVOLT AGAINST FATE (Malraux, 49 Across); SELFISH AND PERVERSE (Beethoven, 88 Across); THE PROPER TASK OF LIFE (Nietzsche, 107 Across); and A JEALOUS MISTRESS (Emerson, 116 Across).

I have to confess I wasn’t familiar with Malraux, he of the “revolt against fate” quote. Turns out Andre Malraux was a French novelist and statesman who served for a decade as that country’s minister for cultural affairs.

For Fun Dept.: There were a few amusing long answers that weren’t part of the theme. “End an engagement?” is GET MARRIED (85 Across). “Nightmarish thoroughfare?” is ELM STREET (82 Down). And an “Indignant reply” is WELL, I NEVER! (55 Across).

Philly Shout-Out / March Madness Dept.: “Those not favored” are DARK HORSES (78 Down). And boy are those dark horses busting some brackets in the NCAA basketball tournament. Philly’s own La Salle University — which had to win a play-in game to earn the No. 13 seed — knocked off No. 4 Kansas State on Friday. And No. 1 seed Gonzaga got booted yesterday by upstart Wichita State.

Times Two Dept.: The doubled clue “Greek vowel” yields both ALPHA (49 Down) and ETA (56 Down). “As easy as pie, say” is a SIMILE (14 Down), while “As easy as ___” is ABC (15 Down).

A Galaxy Far, Far Away Dept.: A “Star Wars” biped is an EWOK (48 Across), which reminded me of last night’s funny “Saturday Night Live” bit about “The Sopranos” in high school (below). Around the 1:48 mark, a young Paulie (Fred Armisen) tries to explain to Tony & Co. that “Return of the Jedi” features these “little space bears.”

Live From New York Dept.: Speaking of “S.N.L.,” 60 Across is IT’S PAT (“1994 film based on an ‘S.N.L.’ skit”).

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Any Pun For Tennis?

New York Times crossword March 17 / Constructed by J.R. Leopold

It sure doesn’t feel like tennis season. It’s not even 40 degrees in Philly right now, and we got blanketed by a slushy, snowy, wintry mix yesterday.

Nonetheless, the theme of today’s easy, pun-filled puzzle would have us dream of warmer temperatures and the thwack! of the fuzzy ball against the racquet strings: A “Tennis clinic focusing on drop shot skills” is a NETWORKING EVENT (23 Across), while “Coaches who help you use your wrist in shots?” are SPIN DOCTORS (38 Across).

Others: “Tennis players who clown around?” are COURT JESTERS (49 Across). “‘For a righty, you hit the ball pretty well on your left side,’ and others?” are BACKHANDED COMPLIMENTS (67 Across). “Line judge’s mission?” is FAULT FINDING (88 Across). “‘Nothing’ and ‘aught’?” are LOVE HANDLES (96 Across). “Luke Skywalker’s volley?” is the very amusing RETURN OF THE JEDI (116 Across). “Mistakenly hitting into the doubles area during a singles match?” is an ALLEY OOPS (17 Down), and “Start of a tennis game?” is SERVE TIME (78 Down).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Young actor Smith” is not Philly’s own superstar Will Smith, but his teenager JADEN (32 Across). Father and son star in the upcoming sci-fi flick “After Earth”; they previously teamed up in the oddly spelled “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Parliament Dept.: “Jefferson’s vice president” was the funkadelic-ly named George CLINTON (93 Down). He apparently also served as Madison’s veep, and before all of that was the first governor of New York.

Teen Idol Dept.: “Middle brother in a 2000s pop trio” is JOE JONAS (32 Down). Speaking of Joes, a “Sloppy fast-food sandwich” is not a sloppy joe but a MCRIB (42 Down).

Doubled-Up Dept.: “Part of R.S.V.P.” is both VOUS (85 Across) and PLAIT (98 Across), from the phrase “Repondez, s’il vous plait” (“Please respond”). “Bit of voodoo” is a CURSE (102 Across), while “Subjected to voodoo” is HEXED (47 Down).

Dawn Of A New Era Dept.: “It falls between 3760 and 3761 on the Jewish calendar” is ONE B.C. (122 Across).

Cheep! Cheep! Dept.: “Batting champ John” (59 Down) really should have been “Onetime batting champ John,” considering it refers to John OLERUD, who won the title way back in 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Stumped Me Dept.: I left one square blank in this grid: I didn’t know that a “Riga resident” (37 Down) is called a LETT. I knew Riga was in Latvia, so I figured people who lived there were Latvians. I had LET_, but couldn’t get the last letter because I wasn’t familiar with the crossing word, either. That turned out to be RUBATO (“Having freedom of tempo,” 54 Across).

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Condensation

New York Times crossword March 10 / Constructed by Finn Vigeland

You might have condensation dripping off your forehead after solving today’s challenging puzzle. The title was an immediate giveaway, but only to a point. “Condensation” immediately made me think the theme answers would entail squeezing or dropping letters to “condense” answers, but I didn’t realize constructor Finn Vigeland could cram so much symbolism into one square. He did – and the result is a tricky but very well-constructed grid that I had a lot of fun with.

I figured out the theme after getting some crossing letters to 27 Across, “Subject of big 1970s headlines”:  _ GATE _ _ _ NDA _ . It clearly looked like it could be WATERGATE SCANDAL, but how to “condense” the “water” into a single square? Cramming all five letters into one box didn’t make sense considering what I had so far filled in for the crossing word: _ _ T _ LD. But “condensing” the “water” even further to its chemical elements – H2O – translated into the letters HHO. That made 1 Down WIT(HHO)LD (“Refuse to hand over”), with HHO in a single square. And 27 Across became (H2O)GATE SCANDAL.

water1

Others: “Seltzer” (50 Across) is CARBONATED (H2O), which crosses with ELEVENT(H HO)UR (“Last possible moment,” 14 Down). “Best Picture inspired by a Pulitzer-winning series of newspaper articles” (67 Across) is ON THE (H2O)FRONT, which crosses with BAT(H HO)USE (“Where people are always changing?” 51 Down). And the “Historic event on June 18, 1815” (109 Across) is the BATTLE OF (H2O)LOO, which crosses with FRENC(H HO)RNS (“Prominent features of the theme from ‘Star Wars,'” 84 Down). Speaking of “Star Wars,” there’s apparently a lot of brouhaha now over whether Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill will reprise their roles as Han, Leia and Luke in the upcoming sequels.

More: “Coastal structures countering erosion” (102 Across) are BREAK(H2O)S, which crosses with HEIG(H HO) (“‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ song,” 80 Down). A “Necklace decoration that’s not from the sea” (85 Across) is FRESH(H2O) PEARL, which crosses with HIG(H HO)PES (“What an optimist has,” 68 Down). And “The second African-American, after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Oscar” is ETHEL (H2O)S, which crosses with MOUT(H HO)LE (“Ski-mask feature,” 16 Down). I had never heard of Ethel Waters, so I looked her up: Turns out she’s from Philly, according to IMDb, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for a 1949 film with Ethel Barrymore called Pinky.

If that wasn’t enough water for you, the answer to 84 Down is AQUATICS (“Swimming, diving, etc.”).

Doubled-Up Dept.: “Irish county” leads to both CORK (121 Across) and CLARE (106 Down). “20-20, e.g.” is a TIE (89 Across), while “20/20” is ONE (19 Down).

Downton Abbey Dept.: I’m really late to the game on this uber-popular British drama, having watched the very first episode on Netflix last night. So far, the plot is all about “Means of inheritance” (96 Across), which in this puzzle is a GENE. Alas, genetics is not enough of a reason for the aristocratic daughters in this historical series to inherit their father’s estate.

In The News Dept.: All eyes will be on the HOLY SEE (“Papal court,” 43 Across) in the coming week as Roman Catholic cardinals gather to elect a new pope. They installed the chimney in the Sistine Chapel the other day, from which the world will be able to see the telltale white smoke. (Non-religious confession: I had no idea the chimney wasn’t a permanent fixture.)

In Other News Dept.: Will Shortz ran the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament over the past few days in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can read more about it here.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: I’m going to use the aforementioned answer HIG(H HO)PES as my Philly shout-out today. That song was a favorite of the late, great Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, and they still play it after every home victory. I am soooo ready for baseball season to start.

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.

Seven Blurbs For Seven Biographies

New York Times crossword March 3 / Constructed by Samuel A. Donaldson

Will Shortz gave us a break today. After last week’s brain-buster, this crossword was more of an amusing diversion. The theme answers switch around common phrases (or book names) to create titles for new “biographies,” like THE COOKING OF JOY (“‘It’s worth it just for Ms. Behar’s famous lasagna’,” 22 Across) and THE WARFARE OF ART (“‘A gripping narrative about one folk singer’s violent turn against Paul Simon’,” 103 Across).

Others: THE DESTRUCTION OF EVE (“‘An insightful look at how playing Miss Brooks took its toll on Ms. Arden’,” 35 Across), THE SPADES OF JACK (“‘You don’t have to be a gardener to dig this book about Kerouac’s tools’,” 48 Across), THE TIME OF NICK (“‘Finally, we learn how one Jonas brother defined an entire generation’,” 58 Across), THE RIGHTS OF BILL (“‘Clinton’s a well-known southpaw, so this expose on his other-handed punches is an eye-opener’,” 73 Across), and THE DARKNESS OF PRINCE (“‘Required reading for all “Purple Rain” fans who think their idol is too goody-goody’,” 87 Across).

Not a bad concept, but the real creativity seemed to be in the clue-writing, not the solving.

Along Those Lines Dept.: The grid also contains CORD OF WOOD (“Winter supply usually stored outside,” 15 Down), though it’s not part of the theme.

History Lesson Dept.: The “Last Incan emperor” was ATAHUALPA (71 Down), which I got from crossing words and then looked up, because I’d never heard of him. The ruler apparently met an unceremonious end at the hands of the Spanish.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: While a “Chicago lakefront attraction” is NAVY PIER (82 Across), here in Philly we have the Navy Yard. They used to make U.S. battleships there, but now it’s a business hub that has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years.

Tough Times Dept.: “Casino that’s partly underwater?” is a RIVERBOAT (72 Down) — unless you’re in Atlantic City. In that case, the answer might be Revel, the uber-luxurious, beachfront gambling hall and resort that recently said it would file for bankruptcy protection.

Name Game Dept.: Did the constructor’s name seem familiar to you? Turns out it’s Georgia State University law professor Samuel A. Donaldson, not former ABC news anchor Sam Donaldson (even though his middle initial is also “A”). (Related Philly shout-out: You’ll see ads for Justin Bieber all over the subway system here — but this Bieber is a lawyer, not a pop star.)

For Fun Dept.: Other long entries not part of the theme include O PIONEERS (“Start of Willa Cather’s Great Plains trilogy,” 16 Down), BLISTER PACK (“Plastic casing for some pills,” 63 Down), TEETOTALERS (“Dry ones,” 3 Down) and EASY DOES IT (“‘Nice and slow’,” 66 Down).

Stumped Me Dept.: I left one square empty in this puzzle. I had to look up PASSIVATE (“Give an anticorrosive coating,” 17 Down), from which I was missing the second S, because I also didn’t know “Mathematician Paul” ERDOS (28 Across). Sounds like Erdos was quite an interesting guy.

Need some solving tips and tricks? I’ve posted some here. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. You can also visit my Facebook page, or tweet me @crosswordkathy.