Who’s Left?

New York Times crossword puzzle Oct. 27 / Constructed by Brendan Emmett Quigley

Greetings from the quiet car of Amtrak’s Keystone train (shhhh!), which is carrying me swiftly southward from the heart of Puzzleland back to Philadelphia.

Today’s crossword will put you on a first-name basis with nearly a dozen people whose names are hidden in the grid. But who are they, and why have they been left behind (as the title says)? I’m afraid I can only answer the first half of that question.

By my reckoning, those remaining are GRACE, JAMES, ALEX, PETER, MARIA, SARAH, CLAIRE, EVAN, KYLE and STELLA. Their names are found in the circled squares of the theme answers – but the catch is you have to read them backward, or going “left.” So GRACE is hidden in the THREE-CAR GARAGE at 23 Across (“McMansion’s storage.”), and ALEX is embedded in PIXELATED at 39 Across (“Dotty?”).

Others: LESE MAJESTE (“Attack on sacred custom,” 37 Across), CONCRETE PUMP (“Piece of road-construction equipment,” 50 Across), FAIR AMOUNT (“Lot,” 67 Across) and HARASSMENT (“Badgering,” 69 Across).

More: AERIAL COMBAT (“What the Red Baron engaged in,” 80 Across), ON AVERAGE (“Generally speaking,” 91 Across), WIDELY KNOWN (“Famous,” 96 Across) and BALLET SLIPPERS (“They may keep you on your toes,” 113 Across).

Blogging in Amtrak's quiet car. Shhhh! (Photo by Jim MacMillan)
Blogging in Amtrak’s quiet car. Shhhh! (Photo by Jim MacMillan)

So … it is interesting wordplay, I guess. But I’m left wanting a little bit more. Are these names related somehow? Famous people who are left-handed, perhaps? Anyone?

Monikers Dept.: Other names in the puzzle that aren’t part of the theme include ISAO AOKI (“Golfer nicknamed Tower,” 65 Down), BURGESS (“British novelist Anthony,” 3 Down) and MAHLER (“‘Das Lied von der Erde’ composer,” 68 Down).

On The Menu Dept.: The doubled clue “Bar food?” yields both SALADS (14 Across) and OYSTER (91 Down). “Cajun dishes” are GUMBOS (95 Down). And you can file this under “Yuck”: STOLI is “Vodka with a Chocolat Razberi flavor” (64 Across).

Scene Of The Crime Dept.: I don’t think I’ve ever watched the network drama “CSI,” or any of its many spinoffs, but maybe I should. According to 88 Across, it’s a “TV series for which Quentin Tarantino has written and directed.”

Athletic Dept.: The grid featured the NFL (“Lamar Hunt Trophy org.,” 84 Down), the PGA (“___ Tour,” 111 Across) and the minor-league AHL (“Rink org.,” 114 Down). It also had a reference to SPACE JAM, the film starring retired NBA superstar Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny (“Jordan feature,” 105 Across).

Tripped Up Dept.: Speaking of jams, I puzzled my way out of one after too-quickly entering HEE for 45 Across (“‘___-haw!'”). That left me with an errant H that, for a while, kept me from figuring out the answer for 33 Down. Eventually I figured HEE had to be YEE, making 33 Down the punny PEYOTE (“Provider of a trip across a desert?”).

Say What? Dept: Never heard of the word COHERER (“Primitive radio receiver,” 2 Down), which I got from crossing answers, including the equally awkward PC BOARD (“Etched computer component,” 1 Across).

Wildlife Dept.: “Cat calls” are the terribly spelled MIAOWS (73 Down). And was anyone familiar with HART (“Antlered animal,” 69 Down)? I know some of my deer terms – buck, doe, fawn. But HART? Arrrrgh.

Notes Dept.: This blog post has been updated to add a photo.

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.

Country Road

New York Times crossword puzzle Oct. 20 / Constructed by Elizabeth C. Gorski

Wow. It has been such a long day that I feel like I’ve driven this “Country Road.” I worked my real job, got dinner, came back to solve a mammoth puzzle (23-by-23!) and then realized our Internet connection was down. Thanks a lot, Kabletown.

This post is now so late that I’m going to dispense with the niceties. The puzzle marks the 100th anniversary of THE FIRST MAJOR MEMORIAL TO / THE SIXTEENTH U.S. PRESIDENT (“With 105-Across, historical significance of the 122-/124-Across,” 40 Across), which was essentially a MAIN STREET ACROSS AMERICA (“Nickname for the 122-/124-Across,” 25 Across).

A visual representation of the Lincoln Highway, crossword-style.
A visual representation of the Lincoln Highway, crossword-style.

This “Country Road,” which is mapped here, is otherwise known as the LINCOLN HIGHWAY (“Dedicated in October 1913, project represented by the 13 pairs of circled letters,” 122- and 124 Across). The circled letters are the postal codes of the original 13 states that it traveled through: California, Nevada, Utah, Nebraska, Wyoming, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

And anyone who “Follows the east-west route of the 122-/124-Across?”  That adventurer TRAVELS FROM COAST TO COAST – except this answer is entered backward, so it reads TSAOC OT TSAOC MORF SLEVART (148 Across).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: Former Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Eric Mencher and his wife Kass have been documenting the Lincoln Highway since 1997. Their unique take on the road can be found here.

Product Placement Dept.: The doubled clue “Motorola phone” yields both RAZR (41 Down) and DROID (109 Down)

In Memoriam Dept.: I’m sure this puzzle was finished before the death of military thriller author TOM (“Novelist Clancy,” 149 Down) earlier this month.

Hmmmm Dept.: I don’t know about you, but I was taking the SAT as an 11th grader, not the PSAT (“Exam for jrs.,” 139 Down) – which is why that answer is all gummed up in the grid. Also, it took me a while to mentally insert the “-“ in NO-U at 130 Across (“___-turn”). Arrrrgh.

Where In The World? Dept.: “Tulip festival city” is OTTAWA (9 Down). “Buckeye city” is AKRON (134 Down). And “It’s ENE of Fiji” is SAMOA (48 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.

Taken To Task

New York Times crossword puzzle Oct. 13 / Constructed by Jeff Chen

Encore une fois: Bonjour!

This is my last day in France, meaning it’s the last time my dear friend Maryclaire will have to text me photos of the day’s puzzle and clues. Once again, for various logistical reasons, it was impossible to get the crossword online. So, because I’m such a nerd, I copied the grid onto graph paper and began solving on an hours-long bus ride from Normandy to Paris – much to the amusement of my photographer husband. Mon dieu!

But wow, was it worth the effort! The extremely clever puzzle by Jeff Chen not only uses a lot of fun wordplay, it incorporates a smart visual theme that ties together several seemingly unrelated long answers: ROLLING STONE (“First publisher of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’,” 60 Down) ; IT’S AN UPHILL BATTLE (“Underdog’s saying,” 108 Across); PERPETUAL MOTION (“Violation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics,” 98 Across); MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (“Movie franchise since 1996,” 22 Across); BOULDER, COLORADO (“Setting for ‘Mork & Mindy’,” 30 Across); and INFINITE LOOP (“Computer programming problem, 15 Down) … which also happens to be the corporate address for Apple computer.

Mobile solving! Big thanks to my friend Maryclaire for texting me photos of today's puzzle and clues. (Photo by Jim MacMillan)
Mobile solving! Big thanks to my friend Maryclaire for texting me photos of today’s puzzle and clues. (Photo by Jim MacMillan)

What those long answers have in common are references to the Greek myth of SISYPHUS – a name ingeniously spelled out in the circled letters that ascend the middle of the grid. For good measure, a solid circle at the top of the series represents the huge rock he was condemned to forever push up a mountain, only to see it roll back down every time it got near the top. (That’s what duplicity and hubris would do for you back in ancient Greece!)

The only way this grid could have possibly been more perfect was if the solid circle representing the rock actually incorporated the word ROCK (or STONE) as a rebus in the answers for the intersecting clues. As it stands, it serves simply as another black square, bookending the answers MFA (“Painter’s deg.,” 43 Across) and I’D DO (“‘… and ___ it again!’,” 24 Down). But it’s a small quibble.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Singer Pendergrass and others” are TEDDYS (17 Down). Teddy Pendergrass, the lead crooner of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now”) and later a solo star, was paralyzed in a car crash on a winding Philly road known as Lincoln Drive. He remained a favorite son until he died in 2010.

Hmmmm Dept.: The clue “Achieve” (103 Across) yielded GET AHEAD, which I don’t really think is true. Sometimes achieving means just keeping up with the Joneses.

Name Dropping Dept.: Famous females featured in the grid include “Rapper Nicki” MINAJ (58 Down), “Shakespeare heroine” CLEOPATRA (14 Down) and BEHAR (“Joy of TV,” 41 Down). Men include Ehud BARAK (“Sharon’s predecessor,” 29 Down), ANDREI (“Peace Nobelist Sakharov,” 54 Down), ALGER HISS (“Red Scare target,” 76 Down) and PUTNAM (“G.P. ___ [early book publisher],” 18 Across).

Woof, Woof! Dept: A pair of dogs make appearances in the grid: LASSIE (“Animal with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” 121 Across) and an unnamed AKITA (“Helen Keller brought the first one to the U.S.,” 59 Down”). Also in this category is CESAR (“___ Millan aka the Dog Whisperer,” 10 Down) and ASPCA (“Org. for lab safety?” 7 Across).

Vive La France Dept.: It seems fitting that the puzzle had several French phrases in it, including TETE-A-TETES (“Little confabs,” 73 Down), ETAT (“Caroline du Sud, e.g.,” 45 Across), OUI (“‘Bien sur!’,” 2 Down), LUI (“French pronoun,” 112 Down) and ETE (“Tours summer,” 113 Down). That last word, which means “summer,” might lead an American to say IT’S HOT (“Sweater’s line?” 95 Down). I should also mention the WINE GLASS (“Red or white vessel,” 47 Down), which we made use of quite often.

Au revoir!

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.

5 Questions With Crossword Kathy

I had the good fortune this week to be interviewed by Puzzle Nation! Contrary to the headline, I’ve never thought of myself as a crossword “pro” – more like a puzzle fiend, which is why it was so gratifying to share my thoughts with like-minded people. Below are the answers to the 5 Questions that I was asked. Or, in other words: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Crossword Kathy* (But Were Afraid To Ask).

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

The short answer is that I’ve been solving crossword puzzles since junior high, when a friend intent on winning the school’s magazine drive gave me a subscription to Games Magazine as a birthday present. (The editor of Games back then? Will Shortz.)

But I should add that I come from a family of puzzlers. My mom and stepdad solve every puzzle the L.A. Times has to offer on any given day – crosswords, cryptograms, Jumbles, sudokus. When I was a kid, my grandpa would write me letters and include some scrambled words at the bottom; I would figure them out and send him back a few as well. And my dad and I would try to solve a daily newspaper crossword together on our weekly trips to a local coffee shop.

One distinct memory from those days: I filled in the word DIRT as the answer for “Seed covering,” only to have my dad gently correct it to ARIL, which he said was a pretty standard entry for that clue. I was baffled. Who on earth would know the word ARIL? So as an adult, when I heard Will Shortz was trying to take the crosswordese out of crosswords, I knew exactly what that meant. And I thought it was great.

2.) Your analyses of each Times crossword are not only thoughtful and accessible, they’re also very funny at times. Is there a balance you try to strike with each puzzle’s breakdown?

I’m so flattered that you think my posts are funny! I’m not a comedian by any stretch, but I hope my blog is lively and entertaining. I guess it’s just not that much fun to publish only a list of answers or a finished grid. Also, I think solvers are more likely to appreciate the craft of crossword construction if you can help them understand a challenging theme, or commiserate with them over an esoteric answer.

Puzzlers, by their nature, like to learn new things, so I try to add interesting links to current events. And frequent readers know I always look for a way to give a shout-out to my adopted hometown of Philly, one of the most underrated cities in the world. Sure, we have our problems -– including a terrible baseball and football team right now -– but it is a tremendously vibrant, beautiful and historic place.

3.) We’re closing in on the one-hundredth anniversary of the crossword. What, in your estimation, gives crosswords such long-lasting appeal? Do you think the crossword’s bicentennial will garner equal interest?

I think crosswords are still around because they’ve evolved. If they were still constructed the way they were back then, I’m not sure how many people would be interested. Themes, rebuses, clever wordplay and complex puzzles-within-puzzles (like the recent grid in Braille!) are what keep me coming back. I certainly hope crosswords will still be around in another hundred years. People still play cards, and those have been around for centuries, right?

4.) What’s next for Kathy Matheson (and Crossword Kathy)?

Well, I’ve been trying my hand at constructing. So far, my aspirations for a NYT crossword byline have been crushed by the very exacting standards of Will Shortz -– though he was extremely nice in his rejections. One puzzle didn’t meet the technical parameters (the word count was too high), and the other had a theme too similar to one that he ran a few years ago. So… I will soldier on. I have a couple of half-finished grids that I just can’t seem to make work. Turns out it takes a lot longer to build a crossword than it does to solve it. Who knew?

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Keep solving! Just because one puzzle was frustrating doesn’t mean the next one will be. You never know when the subject might involve your area of expertise. Eventually, things will click. Here’s a confession: I still struggle mightily with British (cryptic) crosswords. But I’m able to solve a lot more clues today than I did a couple of years ago.

Toe Tags

New York Times crossword puzzle Oct. 6 / Constructed by Patrick Berry

Bonjour, mes amis! I am in the extremely fortunate position of blogging from Paris this week. I am also in the extremely unfortunate position of having been up for about 24 hours straight at this point, since I’ve never been one for sleeping on planes. So please forgive any typos, bad jokes or cloudy thinking.

And to add another unusual element to the situation, I actually made my own grid to solve today’s puzzle. My dear friend Maryclaire was kind enough to text me photos of the empty crossword – and clues! – from her NYT magazine, which she received early Saturday morning because she subscribes to the paper. (The puzzle wasn’t posted online before I left on Saturday, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to find a hard copy of the Times here.)

Mon dieu! I had to make my own grid to solve today's puzzle. (Photo by Jim MacMillan)
Mon dieu! I had to make my own grid to solve today’s puzzle. (Photo by Jim MacMillan)

At any rate, today’s not-so-challenging grid was pretty much given away by its title, “Toe Tags.” The theme answers are all common phrases that have been tweaked with the addition of a final “toe” syllable. So a “Magic word that never loses its power?” is PERMANENT PRESTO (23 Across).

A “1970s Ford on the move?” is a ROLLING PINTO (28 Across). “Enthusiastic enjoyment of one’s unhappiness?” is GLOOMY GUSTO (39 Across). “The Josip Broz Memorial Trophy?” is the CUP OF TITO (41 Across). And a “Stingy snack vendor’s special offer?” is BUY ONE, GET ONE FRITO (58 Across).

More: “Big Apple cop who’s looking to bust Popeye?” is NYPD BLUTO (75 Across). “Learn all about the capital of Ecuador” is MASTER QUITO (77 Across). “Portion of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ that was wisely excised?” is the GARBAGE CANTO (88 Across). And a “Christmas decoration that automatically steers toward lovers?” is GUIDED MISTLETOE (96 Across).

Sweet Revenge Dept.: “Fitting punishment” is JUST DESERTS, an always controversial phrase because most people think it’s spelled “just desserts.” (Including me, until I started writing this blog.)

Hit The Road Dept.: “Driver’s suggestion” is BUCKLE UP (74 Down). “Model A features” are RUMBLE SEATS (36 Down).

Starving Artists Dept.: I’m learning that plenty of famous painters once lived in Paris, including Pablo Picasso. In stand-up comedy, such artistry apparently belonged to Richard PRYOR (“Seinfeld called him ‘the Picasso of our profession’,” 84 Down). By the way, the lines to get into the museums here are insane!

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: Local denizens use the term “Round house” as a nickname for the city’s police headquarters, not an IGLOO (43 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.