Take A Break

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 29 / Constructed by Joel Fagliano

After working my day job and then rushing home to solve the puzzle and blog, it sure would be nice to “Take A Break.” How about a game of pool?

That’s the clever theme of today’s rectangle grid. The odd shape and triangular cluster of circles toward the bottom made it clear that this was more than just a crossword – it was a visual representation of a little R&R.

I first thought about pinball. Could the triangle in the middle symbolize some kind of bumper? Maybe there were hidden flippers on the side? And for a fleeting second I considered a hopscotch court after solving SIDEWALK CHALK (“Bit of hopscotch equipment,” 35 Across). But I knew no one over 10 would take a break by hopping around on one foot.

Then I started working in the bottom left corner, where I ended up with _ ACES for “Best hand in Texas hold ’em” at 123 Across. I’m no card SHARK (“Dangerous person to play against for money,” 99 Across), but I knew that the blank square had to be a number or symbol. The crossing letters and clue at 106 Down (“Microwaveable snack item“) did it for me: HOT _ . The symbol had to be a POCKET – so the grid was definitely a pool table.

Care for a game of pool? (Click to enlarge.)
Care for a game of pool? (Click to enlarge.)

That also made it easy to figure out where the other “pockets” would be. Clockwise from the top left, they are:

_ (POCKET) BOOK (“One at a woman’s side?” 1 Across) and (POCKET) VETO (“Presidential power first used by James Madison,” 1 Down).

_ (POCKET) SIZE (“Miniature,” 15 Down) and PICK (POCKET) (“Person who might bump into you on a subway,” 11 Across).

_ (POCKET) CHANGE (“Silver, say,” 71 Down) and OUT OF (POCKET) (“Like some expenses, 68 Across).

_ AIR (POCKET) (“Cause of a sudden drop in altitude,” 114 Down) and DEEP (POCKET) (“Having a ton of money to draw one,” 125 Across).

_ The aforementioned HOT (POCKET) and (POCKET) ACES, followed by …

_ (POCKET) PASSER (“Well-protected, non running quarterback,” 62 Down) and (POCKET) WATCH (“Item on a chain,” 62 Across).

The long across answers all contain words that are either pool table equipment or accessories: VERBAL CUE (“Spoken instruction in animal training,” 23 Across), DRESS RACK (“It’s often divided into sections 0, 2, 4, 6, etc.,” 77 Across), HEARTFELT (“Sincere,” 107 Across), WALT WHITMAN BRIDGE (“Philadelphia/New Jersey connector,” 51 Across) and SIDEWALK CHALK. (Thanks to reader Curtiss for pointing this out in the comments below!) But that leaves an important question: Where are the sticks?

The piece de resistance is the mass of POOL BALLS, which are formed by the circled letters in the triangle. The letters come from PIGPENS (“Symbols of dirtiness,” 87 Across), STOOLIE (“Rat,” 91 Across) and BALLS (“Big dos,” 95 Across).

Nicely done. Rack ’em! I’ll break. (Get it? Take a “break”?)

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: Talk about props for the hometown! WALT WHITMAN BRIDGE is the longest answer in the puzzle. Is it a coincidence that constructor Joel Fagliano went to high school here? Perhaps not! Also in this category is SUDOKU (85 Down), which was the “Subject of a 2009 national tournament cheating scandal.” Yeah, that happened here, too.

Fun Phrases Dept.: There were lots of unusual entries, including ILLUMINATI (“Secret society in Dan Brown’s ‘Angels & Demons’,” 30 Down) and SCIENTISTS (“Half of the Nobel Prize winners, typically,” 28 Down).

Cats Dept.: T.S. ELIOT is the man who said “the most important thing for poets to do is to write as little as possible” (29 Across).

Haha Dept.: “Jazz quintet’s home” is UTAH, for the five-man basketball team (25 Down). And “You’ll trip if you drop it” is ACID (59 Down).

Say What? Dept.: “‘Come again?'” is HUNH? (52 Across), a spelling that really gets a “Huh?” from me.

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. And here’s a little more about me.

Good One!

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 22 / Constructed by Elizabeth C. Gorski

This puzzle is a good one, indeed!

Today’s crossword is a clever connect-the-dots grid that creates an image of someone so good that you could call her angelic. Or simply an angel.

An angel is hidden in today's puzzle. (Click to enlarge.)
An angel is hidden in today’s puzzle. (Click to enlarge.)

A blurb at the top asks solvers to connect the letters in the circled squares in alphabetical order. After drawing those lines from A through U, the resulting image – an angel – is the link between the five theme answers: SHOW BACKER (as in angel investor, 6 Down); MICHELANGELO SCULPTURE (8 Down); AEROSMITH SONG (14 Down); GOLFER CABRERA (53 Down); and a TREE TOPPER (70 Down).

Pretty straightforward, but still elegant and clever – not to mention festive! What did you think?

Famous Names Dept.: Another golfer, DAVIS LOVE III, makes an appearance at 27 Across (“With 63-Down, 1997 P.G.A. champ who captained the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team”). Also found in the grid are “Writer Ann” BEATTIE (87 Down) and “‘Cloud Shepherd’ artist” JEAN ARP (84 Down).

Trio Dept.: The doubled clue “Mideast ruler” yields the alternate spelling AMIR (93 Down) and SAUD (81 Down). And a “Mideast national” is an ISRAELI (88 Down).

Martian Chronicles Dept.: The twice-used clue “Futuristic weapon” yields both PHASER (50 Down) and RAY GUN (107 Across).

Tripped Up Dept.: I made a couple of ERRORS (“Boo-boos,” 111 Across) that left me saying ACK! (“Cousin of ‘aargh!’,” 9 Down). The biggest one was filling in SKIP instead of SKID for “Lose traction” (10 Down), which made it really hard to figure out the DAVIS LOVE entry. The second part of that answer (III) was more hindrance than help, too, and I’m sure that was on purpose. To which I say GRR! (“[I’m mad!]” 76 Across).

Happy Birthday Dept.: In case you missed it, the crossword puzzle celebrated its 100th anniversary on Dec. 21. There were many tributes this past week, including the NYT’s daily puzzle and the Google doodle. In Philly,  a local public radio host interviewed longtime crossword constructor Merl Reagle.

‘Twas Three Nights Before Christmas Dept.: Holiday-related clues include NOEL, NOEL (“Words that precede ‘Born is the king…’,” 61 Across), JESU (“Bach’s ‘___, Joy of Man’s Desiring’,” 84 Across), and TOY (“Item in Santa’s sack,” 57 Down), a gift that might generate some OOHS (“Cries of joy,” 46 Down).

For The Rest Of Us Dept.: Speaking of holidays, “Funny Anne” MEARA (98 Across) is married to Jerry Stiller, whose “Seinfeld” character was the genius behind the celebration of Festivus. In fact, it’s tomorrow – so get out that pole and prepare to air your grievances!

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. And here’s a little more about me.

A Cut Above The Rest

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 15 / Constructed by Jeff Chen

Wow. This smart puzzle was indeed a cut above the rest.

Creative constructor Jeff Chen, who gave us a cruciverbalist depiction of Sisyphus not long ago, has engineered another imaginative visual theme that includes terrific aural wordplay.

I realized something sneaky was up while working the upper right corner. I figured the answer for “Razz” at 14 Across had to be either TAUNT or TEASE, since the first letter crossed with TLC at 14 Down (“Girl group with four #1 hits in the 1990s”).

But as I filled in more boxes, things got a little curious. Pretty soon, I had T_ _ TT for “Razz,” and _ TT_ T for “Aids for long drives” at 16 Down – and that couldn’t be a coincidence. Eventually, I realized both answers consisted of all T’s. Not only that, but those entries formed the T in the word CUT, which Chen spells out at the top of the grid (“above the rest,” as the title says).

Wait, what?

Take the clue “Oceans” at 1 Across. The answer, “seas,” isn’t written as such but instead is entered as the homonym CCCCC – a series of letters which, said aloud, sounds like “seas.” The same goes for “Grab” at 1 Down: The answer, “seize,” is also represented as its aural equivalent – CCCCC. And for “Espies,” at 31 Across, the CCCCC answer symbolizes “sees.” As if all this wasn’t enough, the three answers interlock to form a giant “C” in the grid.

This puzzle truly was a cut above. (Click to enlarge.)
This puzzle truly was a cut above. (Click to enlarge.)

Chen repeats this for the letters “U” and “T.” “Farm females” are “ewes,” entered as UUUUU at 8 Down; “Profit from” is “use,” entered as UUUUU at 33 Across; and “Trees with poisonous seeds” are “yews,” entered as UUUUU at 11 Down. For the “T,” he uses the clue “Razz” for “tease” (TTTTT) at 14 Across and the clue “Aids for long drives” for “tees” (TTTTT) at 16 Down.

And there’s more! The theme’s second part is composed of phrases that are synonymous with the word “cut”; each is clued by the cryptic “[See above]”. From left to right, they are PLAYED HOOKY (71 Down), PIECE OF THE ACTION (36 Down), ALBUM TRACK (80 Down), EDITED DOWN (81 Down), KICKED OFF THE TEAM (42 Down) and SNIDE REMARK (75 Down).

Pretty ingenious in my book. What did you think?

Tripped Up Dept.: I really screwed up the lower left corner at first. I tried to enter TOKENS for “Subway fare” at 107 Across, which led me to enter NIKE for 95 Down (“Her name is Norwegian for ‘beautiful woman who leads you to victory'”). I know Nike is the Greek goddess of victory (thus the name of the shoe company), so I figured it was the same in Norwegian. Sigh. Eventually I realized that “Subway” referred to the fast-food chain, so TOKENS became HEROES (for the sandwiches, which we call hoagies in Philly) and NIKE became the iPhone goddess SIRI. I also entered CHIRP for “Cricket’s sound” at 103 Across, which I had to change to CHIRR in order to get the aforementioned SNIDE REMARK.

Twofer Dept.: There were several doubled clues in the grid. “Twosome” is a DUO (116 Down), while “Twosomes” are DYADS (77 Down). “Canon offering” is a digital camera called an EOS (46 Across), while “Canon offering, briefly” is SLR (118 Down), for single-lens reflex camera. And a “Last name in ‘Star Wars'” is SOLO (8 Down), while a “First name in ‘Star Wars'” is LUKE (13 Down), which I initially entered as LEIA.

Monikers Dept.: Several unusual names appeared in the puzzle, including AMOS (“Last name in cookies,” 114 Across), ZEKE (“Farmworker in ‘The Wizard of Oz’,” 120 Across), O. HENRY (“Annual literary prize,” 82 Across), JUNO (“2007 title role for Ellen Page,” 40 Down) and TWYLA (“Tony winner Tharp,” 122 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. And here’s a little more about me.

Two Outs

New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 8 / Constructed by Patrick Berry

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Philly is getting its first flakes of the season right now; the original forecast was for about an inch, but that’s been significantly revised upward. There’s a *major* Snow Bowl going on down at the Eagles’ stadium.

In other words, it’s definitely not baseball season – despite the title of today’s puzzle. Turns out, though, that “Two Outs” has nothing to do with America’s favorite pastime and everything to do with the circled letters scattered throughout the grid. They make the theme answers into clever two-fers: The full answer is a synonym for one part of the clue; if you take out the two circled letters, you get a synonym for the other part.

So it’s only appropriate that one theme entry is CURVE BALL (“Pitch that fixes everything,” 24 Across). The “pitch” is the CURVE BALL; when you take out the two circled letters (bolded and underlined here), you get CURE-ALL – which “fixes everything.” At 20 Across, a “Red-wine drinker’s paradise?” is a SANGRIA / SHANGRI-LA.

Others: “Employee at the Ron Paul Archive?” is a LIBERTARIAN / LIBRARIAN (22 Across); “The one puppy that can read?” is a LITERATE / LITTER MATE (47 Across); “Creator of perfect whirlpools?” is a MAELSTROM / MAESTRO (53 Across); a “Minor-league championship flag?” is a PENNY-ANT/ PENNANT (83 Across); and to “Alienate a New Jersey city?” is ESTRANGE / EAST ORANGE (86 Across).

More: “‘Charge!,’ to Duracells?” is a BATTERY / BATTLE CRY (113 Across); “Begat a soft place to sleep?” is FATHERED / FEATHER BED (109 Across); “Satisfying finale coming to pass?” is a HAPPY ENDING / HAPPENING (117 Across); “Labeled idiotic?” is BRANDED / BRAIN DEAD (119 Across); and a “Dollar bill featuring a portrait of Duran Duran’s lead singer?” is SIMON LEBON/SIMOLEON (26 Across).

I thought it was pretty creative, with an impressive number of theme answers. What did you think?

Radio Days Dept.: The mention of Simon LeBon puts me in mind of my teenage years in the ’80s, when FM stations were also playing TEENA MARIE (“‘Lovergirl’ singer,” 55 Down) and The Pretenders, led by Chrissie HYNDE (“Chrissie in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” 67 Down).

Boob Tube Dept.: One of many “Steven Bochco series” is L.A. LAW (47 Down). And a “CBS spinoff that ran for 10 seasons” is CSI: MIAMI (97 Across).

Bright Lights, Big Cities Dept.: In addition to L.A. and Miami, the grid also features WEST BERLIN (“Site of a 1963  J.F.K. speech,” 30 Down).

Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: An “Airline that doesn’t fly on religious holidays” is Israel-based EL AL (84 Down). And a “Percussion instrument in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer'” is an ANVIL (12 Down).

Say Who? Dept.: Somehow I have gone through life without ever hearing of John Bull, or who he symbolizes. I figured out from crossing words that the character represents a BRITON (80 Across).

Doubled-Up Dept.: The twice-used clue “Blue expanse” yields both SEA (42 Across) and SKY (89 Across).

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Longtime Sixers nickname” is DR. J (118 Down), for favorite son Julius Erving. Speaking of basketball, the “N.B.A. team originally called the Americans” is the NETS (71 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. And here’s a little more about me.

Two Halves In One

 New York Times crossword puzzle Dec. 1 / Constructed by Alan DerKazarian

Oh boy. Today’s puzzle is one of those love-it-or-hate-it crosswords, where some solvers will marvel at its creativity while others will cry foul at its rule-bending.

The grid incorporates black squares into the theme answers, something that always riles a portion of the puzzle-solving public. And that’s only one of its cardinal sins: The diagonal line of black squares that bisects the puzzle makes each half completely self-contained. Ordinarily, constructors must build a single interlocking grid, with no section cut off from any other. But here, the black wall is a visual representation of the (terrible) title’s “Two Halves In One” or, alternatively, its GREAT DIVIDE (“Passage from life to death,” 27 Across).

It helps to know your AC/DC before solving this puzzle. (Click to enlarge.)
It helps to know your AC/DC before solving this puzzle. (Click to enlarge.)

Among the first indications that it’s a trickier-than-usual puzzle are clues like 41 Across and 90 Across, which simply read “–”. That’s an indication that the answer is the second half of a word entered nearby. The other big tip is at 98 Across: “1980 hard rock album that went 22x platinum … or a hint to how to cross this puzzle’s 27-Across.” The album in question, called BACK IN BLACK, tells you how to link the two halves of the puzzle, or how to cross the aforementioned GREAT DIVIDE: Mentally insert the word “back” into certain black squares. 

So a “2005 nominee for Best Picture” is BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. It’s entered here as BROKE at 89 Across; BACK is represented by the black dividing square; and MOUNTAIN is entered at 90 Across (clued by “–”). That crosses with BEND OVER BACKWARDS (“Try very hard”), which is entered as BEND OVER at 47 Down; BACK is symbolized by the black dividing square; and WARDS is entered at 94 Down (“–”).

More: An “Aquatic singer” is a HUMP(BACK) WHALE, which starts at 48 Across, bridges the black divide and continues at 49 Across. That crosses with WON’T (BACK) DOWN (“Stands one’s ground”), which starts at 30 Down, bridges the divide and continues at 54 Down. “Cause of an audio squeal” is a FEED(BACK) LOOP, which is entered at 59 Down, bridges the divide and continues at 82 Down. That crosses with PAPER(BACK) BOOK (“Inexpensive reprint, maybe”), which starts at 75 Across, bridges the divide and ends at 78 Across.

And finally: “Revisits an earlier time” is TURNS (BACK) THE CLOCK, which begins at 13 Down, bridges the divide and continues at 45 Down. That crosses with THERE AND (BACK) AGAIN (“Round trip … or the subtitle of ‘The Hobbit’“), which is entered as THERE AND at 39 Across, bridges the divide and ends at 41 Across.

As an aspiring constructor, I can really admire this feat of cruciverbalist engineering. But I know that many solvers see the use of black squares as unfair. (“Back In Black,” by the way, is by AC/DC.) What did you think?

‘Tis The Season Dept.: Speaking of being back in black, retailers should be turning a profit now that holiday shopping has started in earnest. And Black Friday – so named because it’s when stores move out of the budgetary red ink and into the black – is the time to offer a LOSS LEADER (“Steeply discounted product, maybe,” 95 Across) to get people in the door.

Screen Magic Dept.: Those of you solving the puzzle in the NYT Magazine might have noticed that it’s the Movie Issue. In that vein, a “Director with three Best Foreign Film Oscars” is BERGMAN (1 Down); “Lane in Hollywood” is DIANE (112 Across): and “Disney deer” is not Bambi, but his aunt ENA (20 Across).

Fun Phrases Dept.: There were a few unusual, non-theme entries in the grid, such as LACROSSE BALL (“It’s caught by a stick on the field,” 61 Down); DENTAL CARIES (“Tooth decay, to professionals,” 4 Down); MENTAL NOTE (“Unwritten reminder,” 31 Across); MOTOR POOL (“Collection of vehicles available to personnel,” 51 Down) and WATER VOLE (“Amphibious rodent,” 35 Down).

Get Me Rewrite Dept.: As you can see from my messy grid, I entered several answers too fast without cross-checking. To name a few: I put in FAGIN for “Dickens villain” at 96 Down, which I later had to correct to SIKES. The airport in Warsaw is named for composer Frederic CHOPIN (58 Across); I had a few letters filled in and guessed SHIPOL, which is not only the airport in Amsterdam, but it’s spelled SCHIPHOL. Ugh. Then I entered DAMON for “Three-time N.B.A. All-Star Williams” (56 Down) when I later realized from crossing words that it had to be DERON. (Damon Williams is a comedian.)

Errata Dept.: This post has been updated with a new photo to reflect a couple of corrections pointed out by reader C M Cannon, whose comment is below. Thanks for spotting them!

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. And here’s a little more about me.