Matching Wits

New York Times crossword puzzle June 30 / Constructed by Alex Vratsanos and Jeff Chen

It’s hard not to notice the unusual walls of black squares at the top and bottom of today’s puzzle. Their purpose was harder to divine – but only until solving the first theme answer. For me, that came in the form of MUDDY WATERS (“‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ singer,” 4 Down) in the upper left corner. It was then easy to see that the black-square patterns were actually the letters M and W, just like his initials … and just like the first letters of the puzzle’s title, “Matching Wits.”

matchingwits

The rest of the MW theme answers came pretty easily, save for my screw-up on MODERN WARFARE (“West Point subject,” 6 Down). Others: MAKING WHOOPEE (“Euphemism used often on ‘The Newlywed Game’,” 52 Down); MALT WHISKEY (“Dewar’s product,” 68 Down); MIRACLE WORKER (“1962 movie for which Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars, with ‘The’,” 30 Down); MONEY’S WORTH (“Bang for one’s buck,” 17 Down); MINIMUM WAGE (“Money raised by members of Congress?” 58 Down); and MINUTE WALTZ (“Piece longer than its name suggests,” 64 Across).

Twofer Dept.: The twice-used clue “Where one might be in the hot seat?” yields both STEAM BATH (83 Down) and ROAST (98 Down).

Fun Phrases Dept.: COLD AS ICE (“Frigid,” 7 Down); TO THE MAX (“Fully,” 47 Across); IN ECSTASY (“Blissed out,” 78 Down); TWO-FACED (“Duplicitous,” 49 Across); TOTEM POLE (“Heads of a Northwest tribe?” 29 Across); WENT ROGUE (“Disobeyed orders, say,” 103 Across); TRIPLE-X (“Like porn films,” 14 Down); and ESP TEST (“Clairvoyant’s hurdle,” 10 Down), although I can’t for the life of me believe that any psychic has ever taken one. Wouldn’t she already know the answers?

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “They may be shot at basketball games” are TEE SHIRTS (4 Down). If you’re wondering how that’s done, check out last week’s NYT magazine article on the T-shirt cannon. Here’s the Philly connection: The Phanatic uses similar technology to shoot hot dogs into the stands at Phillies games:

Fun Words Dept.: MUKLUK (“Eskimo boot,” 91 Across); TOBOGGAN (“Racing vehicle,” 82 Down); MOUTHIER (“Shooting off more,” 12 Down); ARGONAUT (“Adventurer of Greek myth,” 86 Across); and TOONIE (“Bimetallic Canadian coin,” 100 Down), which refers to a $2 coin. It’s a play on “loonie,” Canada’s $1 coin that features an image of a loon. You can see them both here.

Stumped Me Dept.: I had two empty squares when I finished the puzzle. The first was _ANGRAMS (“Seven-piece puzzles, 84 Across), which I was embarrassed not to know considering my fondness for such games. I guessed (correctly) that it was TANGRAMS, a word that sounded right in the context of puzzles that originated in CHINA (“Where 84-Across were invented,” 76 Across). That gives me CTS for 76 Down (“They’re beside the point: Abbr.”), but I don’t understand the reference. Does anyone else? The other empty square was at 9 Down: HA_S (“The Three Stooges, e.g.”) HAMS seemed a good bet, so I entered it, but that gives me MODES at 24 Across (“Most common elements”), and I really don’t understand that answer. LODES would seem to make more sense _ common elements are often mined, no? – but that would make the Stooges into HALS. What do you think?

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

Two-By-Fours

New York Times crossword puzzle June 23 / By Patrick Berry

This first weekend of summer found me solving today’s clever puzzle on my stoop while sipping iced coffee. Sundays don’t get much better than that in my book. The morning improved even more after I got the first theme answer in this challenging grid – but I actually hadn’t figured out the theme exactly.

My epiphany came after crossing answers gave me _ H _ UP for “Put in an appearance” at 21 Across. By squeezing OW into one box, I could make it SH(OW) UP; that would make H(OW) the first word of the “Elocution phrase” (15 Down). Some quick calculations, plus a glance at the puzzle’s title, made me realize there had to be four (OW)s in that answer. There were: H(OW) N(OW) BR(OW)N C(OW) .

So get ready to laugh: At this point, I thought all the theme answers would contain four sets of OW – which is what you would say after getting hit by a 2-by-4, right? Alas, I was thinking too hard. The rest of the fun theme answers contained a variety of two-letter combinations that appeared four times in each. Others:

_ F(OR) BETTER (OR) F(OR) W(OR)SE (“Comic strip about the Patterson family,” 22 Across). This was one of the last ones I figured out, since I don’t read the funny pages. It crosses with IV(OR) (“English war poet Gurney,” 2 Down); ST(OR)M DRA(IN) (“What a gutter may lead to,” 8 Down); ST(OR)IES (“Made-up alibis,” 9 Down); and AD(OR)E (“Love,” 11 down).

_ S(IN)G(IN)’ (IN) THE RA(IN) (“#1 on the American Film Institute’s ‘Greatest Movie Musicals’ list,” 45 Across). It crosses with G(IN)GER (“Zesty staple of Asian cuisine,” 41 Down), the aforementioned ST(OR)M DRA(IN); FOUND(IN)G (“Setting up,” 24 Down); and DETA(IN) (“Hold for questioning,” 28 Down).

_ The entirely appropriate M(AR)G(AR)ET F(AR)R(AR) (“Classic name in crossword puzzles,” 61 Down), the first crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times. It crosses with BE(AR) ON (“Be relevant to,” 67 Across); LI(AR) (“Untrustworthy sort,” 76 Across); AR(AR)AT (“Welcome sight after a flood,” 93 Across); and SC(AR)Y (“Horrorful,” 103 Across).

_ W(ER)N(ER) KLEMP(ER)(ER), (“German-born Emmy winner of 1960s TV,” 73 Across), who starred as Col. Klink in “Hogan’s Heroes.” It crosses with B(ER)ETS (“Green ___,” 68 Across); COW(ER)ED (“Recoiled fearfully,” 57 Down); BAL(ER)S (“Farm machines,” 59 Down) and BORD(ER) (“Line on a map,” 55 Down).

_ (TH)IS, (TH)AT AND (TH)E O(TH)ER (“Various things,” 94 Across). It crosses with (TH)AW (“Detente,” 94 Down); AR(TH)UR (“1981 comedy or its 2011 remake,” 86 Down); MON(TH)LY (“How utility bills are usually paid,” 83 Down); and (TH)OU (“Biblical pronoun,” 96 Down).

_ CA(ST)(S T)HE FIR(ST) (ST)ONE (“Initiates a conflict,” 47 Down). It crosses with BE(ST)(OW)S (“Confers,” 55 Across); BOA(ST) (“Toot one’s own horn,” 59 Across); FOI(ST)ED (“Palmed off,” 87 Across); and ANG(ST) (“Existential anxiety,” 92 Across).

_ And a movie that I have to confess I’ve never heard of, (ON)CE UP(ON) A H(ON)EYMO(ON) (“1942 Cary Grant comedy,” 4 Down). It crosses with DIJ(ON) (“Mustard variety,” 1 Across); TAL(ON)ED (“Like birds of prey,” 33 Across); ELT(ON) (“John at a piano,” 48 Across); and ARG(ON) (“Gas in a vacuum tube,” 72 Across).

Celestial Bodies Dept.: Way back in the recesses of my mind – and perhaps because one of my best friends is a “Star Wars” fanatic – I remembered that ENDOR is the “Ewoks’ home in ‘Star Wars'” (66 Down). Turns out Endor is a “forest moon,” which gives me a good excuse to link to some cool supermoon photos from last night.

Doubled-Up Dept.: The twice-used clue “Tired” yields both STALE (9 Across) and WEARY (104 Across).

Writer’s Block Dept.: Although it has supposedly been around since 1861, I have never heard of the game “Authors.” Still, it was pretty easy to figure out that “One of the authors in the game Authors” is Louisa May ALCOTT (30 Down). Speaking of writers, the “Award won by Alice Munro and Stephen King” is named for O. HENRY (35 Down).

Rising Waters Dept.: The “Patriarch who lived 950 years” is NOAH (102 Across), whose biblical ark landed at the aforementioned Mount AR(AR)AT. Speaking of floods, I was stunned to read about the floods in Calgary over the weekend. Three people died and the Saddledome – the city’s iconic hockey arena – was submerged up to the 8th row of seats.

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.

Question Box

New York Times crossword June 16 / Constructed by Mel Rosen

Apologies for the late post. Had a rare weekend shift at work and didn’t even get to look at this marvelously constructed riddle-within-a-puzzle-within-a-puzzle until about 6 p.m.

The extensive editor’s note gives the instructions for the title’s “Question Box,” which uses circled letters to answer the four-part trivia question spread throughout the grid. First you have to solve the 10 starred clues; then you have to place those 10 answers in the central box so they interlock in crossword fashion.

Solvers get a lesson in animal dentistry in this puzzle.
Solvers get a lesson in animal dentistry in this puzzle.

In a nutshell: IF A GIRAFFE HAS FOURTEEN (23 Across) MORE THAN A WALRUS AND (34 Across) A SQUIRREL HAS HALF AS (82 Across) MANY AS A PIG, WHAT ARE THEY (98 Across)? The answer is TEETH. (At this point I’d like to make some kind of veterinarian/dentistry joke, but I’m kind of pressed for time. Use your imagination.)

The starred clues were pretty run-of-the-mill words, though I’ll quibble with “*Some boat covers” being T-TOPS (1 Across). I know convertible cars can have T-tops – but boats? Guess I don’t get out on the water much.

Filling in the “Question Box” came remarkably easy to me, though I wouldn’t necessarily expect the same result next time I have to try it. Basically, I listed all the words on a separate sheet of paper, and then I looked for two words starting with the same letter that could anchor the box from across the top and down the left side.

Twitter friend @afaul1971 summed it up pretty well when he tweeted that the grid was “a remarkable constructing feat” but with a lot of bad fill.

Twofers Dept.: The doubled clue “Wallops” yields both KO’S (28 Across) and THUMPS (29 Across). And a “Shul reading” comes from the TORAH (59 Across), which is kept in an ARK (“Shul fixture,” 99 Down).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: Few people realize that SUNOCO (“Company whose logo has a diagonal red arrow,” 93 Across) is headquartered here in Philadelphia. I’m also going include in this category the answer TRAPS (“*Sandy spots, maybe,” 54 Down), which refers to golf. As I write this, Justin Rose has just won the U.S. Open at the Merion Golf Club, which is just across the Philly city line.

Whoops! Dept.: You’ll see a few places where my initial answers, upon further consideration, required some revisions. “Partition into multiple bits” was not BREAK UP, as I originally wrote, but CARVE UP (81 Down). “Three-part” is not TRINITY but TRINARY (33 Across), which provides the R for the unusual entry SIEUR (“French lord,” 16 Down). I never thought about the root of the title “monsieur” until I saw that – it literally combines the words “mon sieur,” or “my lord.” I had lightly entered POSH for “Exorbitant” (6 Across) but later realized it was simply HIGH. Maybe if I watched more tennis I would have gotten the H from HAAS (“Tennis great Tommy,” 6 Down). And a “Cliche, often” is an ADAGE (88 Down), whereas I had first written TRITE. (Not that my answer was wrong, generally speaking. It’s just wrong in this grid.)

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.

Fast One

New York Times crossword June 9 / Constructed by Elizabeth C. Gorski

Anyone watch the Belmont Stakes yesterday? I have to say it wasn’t high on my list of priorities due to the lack of a Triple Crown candidate. But getting the news alert about Palace Malice on my phone put me in an equine state of mind – and that was extremely helpful in solving the self-referential theme answers in today’s puzzle, which all related to SECRETARIAT (“95-Across who made the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in the same week,” 64 Across).

Today's puzzle honors equine royalty
Today’s puzzle honors equine royalty

It so happens that today is the 40th anniversary of the SUPER HORSE (“Time and Newsweek’s cover description of 64-Across,” 95 Across) winning THE TRIPLE CROWN (“What 64-Across won on June 9, 1973,” 46 Down). As a bonus, the crossword comes with a connect-the-dots element in case you’re not sure what a horse looks like. Just kidding. The picture is actually very well done and easily created by following the directions in an editor’s note: “(C)onnect the circled letters alphabetically from A to S to get an image related to the puzzle’s theme.”

So, do I hear any AHAS (“Puzzle solvers’ cries,” 32 Down)?

Related theme answers: CELEBRATED (“Like 64-Across, in sports annals,” 31 Across); SIRE (“Bold Ruler, to 64-Across,” 98 Across); WREATH (“Victory wear for 64-Across,” 90 Down); HOMESTRETCH (“Straightaway for 64-Across,” 37 Down), which I initially entered incorrectly as BACKSTRETCH; and ALL-TIME RECORDS (“What 64-Across holds in the three legs of 46-Down,” 13 down). Indeed, Secretariat was – as the title says – a “Fast One.”

This makes two Sunday puzzles in a row from Elizabeth C. Gorski, one of my favorite constructors. Her crossword last week, called “Stir Crazy,” was fun but its theme – “The Color Purple” – came out of nowhere; the book and movie are both many years old. But today’s theme is both clever and timely, though I found it a bit on the easy side.

Say What? Dept.: Never heard of the word PALP (“Insect’s feeler,” 1 Across), which I got from crossing words. Also correctly guessed at the final letter in KEYTAR (“Hybrid musical instrument with a shoulder strap,” 15 Down), assuming that the item was part guitar, part keyboard. The crossing word that would have given me the R was also unfamiliar: OMER (“Biblical dry measure,” 38 Across). Ancient bakeries are not my strong suit.

Two Of A Kind Dept.: “Dumbwaiter part” is a PULLEY (1 Down), while a “Dumbwaiter item” is a TRAY (53 Down).

Job Creation Dept.: Saw a few occupations in the grid, including the punny CHEFS (“Pan handlers,” 58 Across), JANITOR (“Key employee?” 6 Down), MAID (“Cleaner,” 68 Down), TAMERS (“Circus employees,” 48 Across) and WIG MAKER (“Expert with locks?” 10 Down).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “The Eagles, on a scoreboard” are PHI (75 Across). Let’s just hope they actually score some points this year. Last season was a disaster.

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.

Stir Crazy

New York Times crossword June 2 / Constructed by Elizabeth C. Gorski

You’ll be seeing red – and blue – by the time you’ve finished today’s colorful and challenging puzzle. Though I wasn’t crazy about the title, constructor Elizabeth C. Gorski still had me marveling at her creativity.

I realized something clever was afoot when I ended up with E-R-_ for 8 Down, which was clued as “Flubbed it.” The past tense meant it couldn’t be ERR – but ERRED would require the word RED to be squeezed into a single square. Not an impossible thought, right? I checked the crossing clue at 22 Across, and the letters I had already entered there made it seem just as clear that the word BLUE would also have to be crammed into that same square to complete the phrase TALKED A (BLUE) STREAK (“Chattered on and on and on.”)

Surely it was no coincidence that RED and BLUE might fit into a single box. But what was the theme? I scanned the clues and got my answer at 116 Across – “Alice Walker novel … or a hint to 12 squares in this puzzle”: THE COLOR PURPLE.

You'll be seeing red – and blue – after solving this puzzle.
You’ll be seeing red – and blue – after solving this puzzle.

Which brings me back to the title: “Stir Crazy” apparently refers to mixing red and blue to make purple. For me, however, the phrase mostly conjures up thoughts of the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy of the same name. A title like “Purple Prose” might have been too big a hint, and I guess technically random words don’t constitute “prose.” But “Stir Crazy” was kind of lame. Maybe something about a painter’s palette? Other suggestions?

Other theme answers: (BLUE) IN THE FACE (“Extremely exasperated,” 35 Across) crosses with (RED)EEM (“Exchange for cash,” 35 Down). MY (BLUE) HEAVEN (“1990 Steve Martin/Rick Moranis comedy,” 38 Across) crosses with CO(RED) (“Prepared, as apples for baking,” 27 Down). SEA (BLUE) (“Aqua,” 44 Across) crosses with (RED) BARON (“Snoopy’s archenemy,” 45 Down). DRESS (BLUE)S (“Formal military attire,” 62 Across) crosses with SH(RED)S (“Tatters,” 51 Down). And (BLUE) BOOK (“Final exam handout,” 61 Across) crosses with FAVO(RED) (“Likely to win,” 37 Down). Do they even use blue books anymore?

More: (BLUE) PERIOD (“Phase associated with Picasso’s ‘The Old Guitarist’,” 65 Across) crosses with (RED) HOT (“Super-popular,” 65 Down). (BLUE) BEARD (“Brutal castle dweller in folk tales,” 86 Across) crosses with (RED) AS A BEET (“Visibly embarrassed,” 86 Down). And (BLUE) BOY (“Thomas Gainsborough masterpiece, with ‘The’,” 88 Across) crosses with PAI(RED) (“Matched [up],” 70 Down).

The last ones: AM I (BLUE)? (“1929 Ethel Waters hit whose title is a question,” 90 Across) crosses with C(RED)O (“Belief system,” 84 Down). SOMETHING (BLUE) (“One of four items worn by a bride, traditionally,” 102 Across) crosses with BIG (RED) (“Nickname for Secretariat,” 83 Down). And (BLUE) ANGEL (“Navy pilot putting on a show,” 114 Across) crosses with SHO(RED) UP (“Strengthened,” 98 Down). The Blue Angels haven’t been putting on any shows recently, however, because of federal budget cuts.

Working On The Railroad Dept.: It may be shaped like a bullet train, but you can’t compare the ACELA (“Amtrak bullet train,” 106 Down) with the speed and efficiency of its counterpart in Japan.

Liner Notes Dept.: In addition to the aforementioned Ethel Waters clue, there were quite a few musically inclined entries in this grid. They include SAM COOKE (“‘You Send Me’ singer,” 1 Across); LOST LOVE (“Theme of many a country song,” 33 Across); MOONDANCE (“Title song of a 1970 Van Morrison album,” 55 Across); OLETA (“Adams with the 1991 hit ‘Get Here’,” 9 Across); and STEVEN (“Tyler of rock,” 18 Down).

Non-Glass Menagerie Dept.: The grid featured a trio of interesting animals – BULBULS (“Songbirds in ‘The Rubaiyat’,” 87 Down), an OSTRICH (“Seven-foot runner,” 9 Down) and a PIT BULL (“Relentless fighter,” 96 Down).

Other Fun Entries Dept.: NO CAN DO (“Fuggedaboutit!’,” 56 Down), LORELEI (“Rhine siren,” 10 Down) and TOE LOOP (“Skating move,” 94 Down).

Repeat That? Dept.: The doubled clued “Sleuth, in slang” yields GUMSHOE at 21 Down and TEC at 85 Across.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: I’ll go back to SH(RED)S for this category, but with an altered definition. Skateboarders in Philly have been banned for years from the shredding mecca known as Love Park, but a couple of weeks ago they got a new public space for practicing ollies and the like: Paine’s Park.

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.