It’s All Relative

New York Times crossword puzzle Jan. 26 / Constructed by Daniel A. Finan

It took me forever to get this theme. I think I was so absorbed in the self-referential aspect of the clues – my eyes darting all over the puzzle to connect various “relative” answers – that I didn’t realize all the paired entries were directly under one another (or over one another), depending how you look at it.

And how you look at it was the key: The theme answers are literal references to the entries’  positions. It clicked when I finally realized that SHELTERED (“14-Down, relatively,” 82 Down) was directly below the phrase LOCK AND KEY (“See 82-Down”). So SHELTERED – “relatively” speaking – means “under” LOCK AND KEY. The “under” is implied by its location in the grid.

The positions of some answers are key to solving the theme. (Click to enlarge.)
The positions of some answers are key to solving the theme. (Click to enlarge.)

Others: BEWITCHED is literally “under” A SPELL (51- and 3 Down); NO WAY JOSE is “over” MY DEAD BODY (6- and 73 Down); FEELING THE HEAT is “under” THE GUN (52- and 8 Down); TALK TO YOU LATER is “over” AND OUT (12- and 93 Down); and EXCESSIVE is “over” THE TOP (42- and 95 Down).

Usually when it takes me that long to solve the theme, it feels rewarding to get that a-ha! moment. Today, I just felt like dope-slapping my forehead. What did you think?

Confessions Dept.: When I first saw the title and “relative” clues, I thought the crossword would involve definitions of family members – e.g. one answer might be UNCLE, with the connected “relative” answer being MOTHER’S BROTHER, or something like that. I guess there are too many possible correct answers for that to work, now that I think about it.

Famous First Names Dept.: RUDYARD (“Writer Kipling,” 47 Across); AMBROSE (“Cynic Bierce who once defined ‘alone’ as ‘in bad company’,” 49 Across);  LANA (“Pop singer Del Rey,” 66 Across); and NADINE (“Title girl in a Chuck Berry hit,” 98 Across). Speaking of Berry, the 87-year-old rocker performed his 200th show this month at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis.

Famous Last Names Dept.: KENNEDY (“Powell’s successor on the Supreme Court,” 116 Across); RETTON (“Gold-medal gymnast Mary Lou,” 114 Across); GRIER (“Pam of ‘Jackie Brown’,” 85 Across); and ESTEVEZ (Martin Sheen’s real family name,” 81 Across). 

Famous Full Names (or Famous Eds) Dept.: MR. ED (“He ‘will never speak unless he has something to say,’ in a song,” 50 Down) and ED WOOD (“Movie director who was himself the subject of a 1994 movie,” 112 Across).

Sandy Beaches Dept.: As I once again clean up the salt and snow tracked into my house – and bundle up in six layers to go out into sub-freezing temperatures – I’m doing my best to think warm thoughts. Three hammock-related clues helped: “Rest in a hammock, say” is LOLL (46 Down); “Rested in a hammock, say” is LAZED (66 Down); and “In a hammock, maybe” is IDLE (105 Down). Am I counting down the days to summer? YOU BETCHA (“‘Yessiree!'” 28 Down).

He’s A Gas Dept.: I rolled my eyes when I finally got “He’s 2, for one” (49 Down). In this case “He” is the abbreviation for the element helium, and 2 is its AT NO, short for atomic number. As you can see from my messy grid, I had AT_ _ and filled in A TOT, thinking a 2-year-old would qualify as such. I thought it was a cheesy answer, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out what else it might be. I got it after puzzling out some unfamiliar crossing words, including NEWEL (“Stairway post,” 59 Across) and ODI (Latin for “I hate,” 64 Across). Constructors often drop AMO (Latin for “I love”) into crosswords – usually when they’re stuck – but I have to say I’ve never seen ODI. I suppose that prefix is where words like “odious” come from.

Say What? Dept.: Through crossing words, I got ELOGE for “Funeral delivery of old” (99 Down), making me wonder if it was an old-time spelling of ELEGY. I looked it up and found it labeled “archaic” – I second that! – and more closely aligned with “eulogy.” Also … TREELET? As in little tree? As in “Sapling” (55 Across)? Ugh.

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.

Olden Goldies

New York Times crossword puzzle Jan. 19 / Constructed by Dan Schoenholz

I met Will Shortz! I met Will Shortz! I met Will Shortz! Oops, sorry. Did I say that out loud? Well, I’ll get back to it later; I just didn’t want to bury the lede, as we say in journalism. (For details, feel free to jump ahead to “Public Service Announcement Dept.” below!)

But first, a few thoughts on today’s musical puzzle. Nothing fancy here, just a bunch of classic tunes – golden oldies, some would call them – whose  titles have been spoonerized. In other words, the consonant sounds have been switched around, just like the puzzle’s title (“Olden Goldies”).

So a “Roast pig after a pig roast? [1956]” is DOWNED HOG (72 Across), an aural rearrangement of Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” A “Remark about a female stoner? [1980]” is SHE’S SO HIGH (50 Across),  a play on The Pointer Sisters’ “He’s So Shy.” And a “Napa Valley excursion, maybe? [1963]” is FUN WINE DAY (89 Across), from The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day.”

More: A “Traffic cop’s answer upon being asked ‘Describe your job’? [1975]” is I CITE THE WRONGS (23 Across), from Barry Manilow’s “I Write The Songs.” “Post-tornado highway detritus, perhaps? [1974]” is RAFTER IN THE LANE (32 Across), from Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain.” “Data request from a good ol’ furnace repairman? [1953]” is YOUR HEATIN’ CHART (108 Across), a play on Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” And a “Frontiersman awakening in a foul mood? [1969]” is MAD BOONE RISING (122 Across), from Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.”

Amusing, yes. But this grid might be the one that puts me over the edge and spurs me to create what will hopefully be my first published puzzle. These ancient music references – classic though they may be – are too much to bear; I hereby vow to put (relatively) modern tune titles into a crossword. And I’m open to any suggestions: What are the new “golden oldies” that both young and veteran solvers would recognize? Say, anything post-1990? “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers? “Come As You Are” by Nirvana? Even something from (gasp!) the 21st century, like “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, “Clocks” by Coldplay or “Beautiful Day” by U2?

Public Service Announcement Dept.: I was recently lucky enough to meet two giants in cruciverbalism: 100-year-old crossword constructor Bernice Gordon and longtime New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz.  Bernice lives here in Philadelphia and last week became the first centenarian to have a grid published in the Times. I wrote a story about her and filmed a short video, and Will was kind enough to offer quotes for both. You can read the article and see the video here.

Hat Trick Dept.: “Hockey great whose name is a homophone of 88-Across and 123- and 124-Down” is Bobby ORR (9 Down). The homophones, respectively, are OAR, ORE and O’ER. Not bad.

Women Of Note Dept.: G.I. JANE is a “1997 Demi Moore title role” (104 Down). MELANIE is “Scarlett’s sister-in-law and best friend in ‘Gone With The Wind'” (36 Across). And LOLITA is “About whom Nabokov said ‘She was like the composition of a beautiful puzzle – its composition and its solution at the same time’.” (126 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.

Special Edition: Crossword Centenarian

My personal and professional worlds recently collided – in a good way! – when I got a chance to meet longtime crossword constructor Bernice Gordon. And when I say “longtime,” I mean she’s been creating puzzles for decades.  Bernice, in fact, just turned 100 years old last week and *still* builds a grid every day.

Bernice celebrated her milestone birthday in Philadelphia last Sunday with dozens of friends and relatives. I was lucky enough to score an invite, and luckier still to meet fellow party guest Will Shortz! Last Wednesday, Will published one of Bernice’s crosswords, making her the first centenarian to have a puzzle published in The New York Times.

Here are links to my story and the Wordplay blog post about Bernice’s accomplishments. Below is a companion video piece that I shot.

It’s Only ‘A’ Game

New York Times crossword puzzle Jan. 12 / Constructed by Andrew Chaikin

Warm(ish) greetings! I hope everyone has been able to put away their BALACLAVAS (“Warm mask/cap amalgams,” 108 Across) now that we’ve thawed out from the polar vortex.

Today’s straightforward puzzle is a break from the specialized designs of the past couple weeks. The title basically gives away the concept: The only vowel in the theme answers is “A.” Not terribly exciting, but as an added hint – or for some extra pizzazz – the theme’s italicized clues use only “A” for a vowel as well.

I figured it out right off the bat when I saw “M*A*S*H’ star” as the clue for 3 Down. Eight letters? Has to be the A-centric ALAN ALDA. From there, the answers flowed like magic: ABRACADABRA (“‘Shazam!’” 39 Down)!

Others: CASABLANCA (“Grand-slam drama that stars Bacall’s man,” 22 Across), FA-LA-LA-LA-LA (“Half an Xmas ‘Halls’ chant,” 24 Across), STAR WARS (“Astral saga that has a Darth part,” 38 Across) RASTAMAN (“Black cat that packs grass and chants ‘Jah’,” 87 Across) and MAGNA CARTA (“Landmark vassal law act,” 106 Across).

More: BAFTA AWARDS (“Gala that saw ‘Black Swan,’ ‘Avatar’ and ‘Ab Fab’ attract claps,” 36 Down), CATCH AS CATCH CAN (“Haphazard,” 28 Down), ANAGRAMS (“Flashback and halfbacks,” 81 Down), BLACK AND TAN (“Bar glass thas half Bass, half dark malt,” 37 Down) and SAND MANDALA (“Lama’s art that can’t last,” 38 Down).

And the main answer is the famous palindrome A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL: PANAMA (“Fab ‘backward-gram’ a la ‘Sam, aha! Bahamas!'” 63 Across).

Overall, an impressive number of theme answers and creative clue-writing, though not difficult to solve. If I was grading this puzzle, I’d give it an easy A.

Tripped Up Dept.: I have a very messy entry at 89 Down, where I stumbled twice trying to answer the related clue “TV/movie group associated with this puzzle’s theme?” First I entered ASCAP , an all-A answer that stands for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Then I realized that union is for music, not TV and movies, so I entered AFTRA, for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Then I realized that doesn’t include movies (though I guess it could, since it merged with the Screen Actors Guild to form SAG-AFTRA). Maybe the answer was  AMPAS, for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? As in, “I’d like to thank the Academy”? That includes movies on TV channels like HBO, right?

I finally realized the answer they’re looking for is the A-TEAM, which of course has an E in it. Arggghhh! Speaking of the Oscars, its cousin the Golden Globes are on tonight. They’re given out by the HFPA, an A-only abbreviation that stands for Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Only One Goes With Coffee Dept.: “Apple product” is both an IMAC (93 Down) and an IPAD (69 Across); the latter is a TABLET (“69-Across, e.g.,” 34 Across). But an “Apple product, perhaps” is a STRUDEL (33 Down).

Famous Offspring Dept.: “Picasso’s designer daughter” is PALOMA (13 Down), while “Designer McCartney” is STELLA (41 Down), daughter of Beatle Paul.

Before My Time Dept.: Through crossing answers, I got EST for “’70s self-help course” at 72 Down. What does that mean?

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.

Clued In

New York Times crossword puzzle Jan. 5 / Constructed by Alan DerKazarian

Holy cow! There’s been a murder in the New York Times crossword puzzle. Hope you remember how to play the classic board game Clue – otherwise you’ll never figure out this whodunnit.

The genius of this puzzle starts with the title, an obvious reference to the game in which players try to solve a murder. (Apparently there are several versions out now – including one that takes place on a boardwalk!) The four quadrants in the crossword – normally a violation of constructing rules – are a loose representation of the Clue board’s room layout (library, conservatory, kitchen, etc).

There's been a murder in the New York Times crossword puzzle! (Click to enlarge.)
There’s been a murder in the New York Times crossword puzzle! (Click to enlarge.)

The mystery is unraveled by finishing the smaller crosswords and linking their shaded entries to discover the SUSPECT, ROOM and WEAPON.

I started solving in the upper left quadrant, where the three shaded answers are pretty straightforward: TANAGER (“Colorful bird,” 70 Across), LETTER (“Varsity award,” 44 Across) and FEVER (“Pyrexia,” 40 Across).

I have to say I was thisclose to entering PEACOCK for TANAGER, since the fusty Mrs. Peacock is a character in Clue. But there were enough conflicting crossing letters to make me hesitate. When I got all three entries, the link was clearly the word SCARLET – scarlet fever, scarlet letter, scarlet tanager. And Miss Scarlet is the game’s sexy single gal – so I entered that at 1 Across (“The ‘who’ of a Clue accusation, whose identity is hinted at by the three shaded answers in this quadrant.”)

Oops. Turns out I was jumping ahead. As you can see from my messy entry, I had to correct it to the more generic SUSPECT. (But Miss Scarlet *would* make her appearance later.) Still, that made it easy to fill in ROOM at 11 Across (“The ‘where’ of a Clue accusation …”) and WEAPON at 73 Across (“The ‘what’ of a Clue accusation …”).

The three shaded answers in the upper right puzzle hinted that the killing took place in the LOUNGE: RELAX (“‘Cool it!'” 18 Down), IDLE (“Lay off,” 64 Across) and REST (“Musical notation,” 55 Across). The three hints to the murder weapon were REPO (“2010 film ‘___ Men’,” 141 Across), PORE (“Opening for a dermatologist?” 94 Across) and OPER (“Phone abbr.” 123 Across) – all anagrams of the word ROPE.

So by the time I got to the fourth quadrant, I was ready with my accusation: MISS SCARLET (99 Across)  … IN THE LOUNGE (113 Across) … WITH THE ROPE (135 Across).

Clever, clever, clever! Really fun. What did you think?

Confessions Dept.: I solved the fourth quadrant second because I couldn’t wait to find out the answer! Don’t tell the puzzle police.

Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “React to a loss” is GRIEVE (81 Down), which is what Eagles fans are doing today. Despite a few pretty good DEFENSIVE (“Like some football teams,” 106 Across) plays, we literally got kicked out of the playoffs by a New Orleans field goal last night.

New To Me Dept.: I learned a few terms in this puzzle, including ISTLE (“Basket fiber,” 47 Down), AKELA (“Cub Scouts leader,” 19 Down) and SCALAR (“Having no direction, in math,” 109 Down). Also was not familiar with Tony OLIVA (“Tony the Twin,” 12 Across), apparently a longtime player for Minnesota’s baseball team.

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.