Reel-Life Anniversary

New York Times crossword puzzle Feb. 23 / Constructed by a namesake of 119-Across

This puzzle intrigued me even before I read the first clue. What was up with this mysterious byline: “By a namesake of 119-Across”?

Making a beeline for that entry, I saw that solvers were in for a Sunday matinee – eight of them, actually. The theme is about the “Director of the eight starred films in this puzzle, who was born on 2/23/1889.”

I’m no film buff, but it was pretty easy to kick off the entries with GONE WITH THE WIND (“*1939 Vivien Leigh/Clark Gable film,” 68 Across) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (“*1939 Judy Garland film,” 24 Across). Yet even after putting those biggies in the grid, I was embarrassed to think I didn’t know who directed them. The name David O. Selznick bubbled to the surface of my brain at one point, and wouldn’t you know it fit at 119 Across! Luckily, I tried some crossing words first and realized that it was wrong – but not far off. Turns out Selznick produced “Gone With The Wind.”

I’m also embarrassed to say those are the only two movies in the puzzle that I’ve seen. Worse, I wasn’t even familiar with some of the rest, though I recognize their stars. LORD JIM (“*1925 Percy Marmont film,” 98 Down) and TORTILLA FLAT (“*1942 Spencer Tracy/Hedy Lamarr film,” 89 Across) are based on classic books, and I know the story of JOAN OF ARC (“*1948 Ingrid Bergman film,” 103 Across). But I’ve never heard of RED DUST (“*1932 Clark Gable/Jean Harlow film,” 5 Down), BOMBSHELL (“*1933 Jean Harlow film,” 37 Across) or A GUY NAMED JOE (“*1943 Spencer Tracy/Irene Dunne film,” 54 Across).

Anyway, the director of these films is VICTOR FLEMING (119 Across), who was born 125 years ago today. The creator of the crossword, also named Victor Fleming, is significantly younger and not related, from what I can tell. The latter notes that his namesake directed many more well known films that didn’t fit in the puzzle, including “Treasure Island” and “Captains Courageous.”

Best In Show Dept.: I had forgotten that the movie pig Babe wanted to be a SHEEPDOG (10 Down), an entry that made me smile. And SCOTTIES are “Wiry-coated terriers” (57 Down). Earlier this month, a wiry fox terrier won top honors at the Westminster Kennel Club’s competition.

Island Dreaming Dept.: I feel like someone is taunting us with warm-weather entries. Hawaiian crooner DON HO is the “Singer with the album ‘Live at the Polynesian Palace” (22 Across); he was born on OAHU (“Birthplace of 22-Across,” 33 Down). Also, a LEI is an “Award for Miss Hawaii, in addition to a tiara” (99 Across). And not far away is PAGO Pago (“When repeated, a Polynesian capital,” 94 Across).

Last Call Dept.: This grid has the makings of a local dive bar – ALES (“Tavern stock,” 117 Down), MUGS (“Pub containers,” 113 Across) and a JIGGER (“Pub measure,” 103 Down).

For Fun Dept.: Unusual entries included F-TROOP (“1960s western sitcom,” 104 Down), STUDENT ID (“Means of access to a cafeteria, maybe,” 83 Down), LOOSE ENDS (“Things that should be tied up by the curtain?” 16 Down), DEEP INTO (“Obsessed with,” 42 Down) and ALARMIST (“Overreacting sort,” 91 Down).

New To Me Dept.: Never heard of a PETREL (“Migratory seabird,” 8 Down) or ERTE (“One-named designer,” 27 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.

Passing Grades

New York Times crossword puzzle Feb. 16 / Constructed by Yaakov Bendavid

How ironic that I rushed through this morning’s puzzle to make sure I have enough time for grading. I’m co-teaching a college journalism class for the first time this semester, and the weekends are no longer my own. (At least until May.)

Today’s crossword – “Passing Grades” – is about squeaking by: The theme answers tweak common phrases by changing Fs to Ds. So “One who turned Cinderella’s pumpkin into pumpkin cheesecake?” is the DAIRY GODMOTHER (23 Across), and a “Snorkeling bargain?” is TWO DIVES FOR A TEN (49 Across).

Others: “Stephen Hawking’s computer-generated voice?” is SCIENCE DICTION (105 Across), while a “Transportation company that skimps on safety?” is a NO-DRILLS AIRLINE (77 Across). And “Two things seen beside James Bond at a casino?” are DISH AND CHIPS (15 Down), while “‘Oh yeah? Let’s see you hold your breath for two minutes!’ e.g.?” is a DARE INCREASE (58 Down).

Cute, but meh. It never got any better than DAIRY GODMOTHER, which was one of the first theme answers I solved. What did you think?

Be Mine Dept.: There was a pair of references to flowers and amour on this Valentine weekend: BED OF ROSES (“Comfortable state,” 7 Down) and LOVE NEST (“Tryst site,” 35 Down). As you may have heard, bad weather on the East Coast  foiled thousands of floral deliveries on Feb. 14. Hopefully, would-be recipients were compensated with sufficient chocolate and champagne, or at least a six-pack of BLONDE ALE (“Duvel pub offering,” 109 Across).

Wardrobe Malfunction Dept.: In light of the just-ended Fashion Week in New York, I have to single out this awesome Elton John-related clue. I never fully understood what style he was singing about in “Benny and the Jets” until I got 56 Across: MOHAIR. (“She’s got electric boots, a ___ suit …”)

For Fun Dept.: Some unusual entries in the grid included JOB SEARCH (“Use for a resume,” 52 Down), MAIL LIST (“Spammer enabler,” 56 Down), LOOSE TEA (“Infuser contents,” 79 Down), RED ARMY (“Force under Stalin,” 13 Down) and COMO ESTA (“It might be answered, ‘Muy bien, gracias’,” 101 Across).

New To Me Dept.: I learned through crossing words that a LATEEN is a “Triangular sail” (78 Down), and that a “Myocyte” is a MUSCLE CELL (68 Down).

Walk Of Fame Dept.: Lots of actors and actresses appear in this puzzle, such as CLORIS (“Oscar winner Leachman,” 64 Across), ILENE (“TV actress Graff,” 91 Down) and ELISHA (“Actress Cuthbert of ’24’,” 22 Across). And I didn’t realize that M*A*S*H star Alan Alda had relatives in the business, but apparently he does: “Acting family” is ALDAS (1 Down). There were also a couple of movie characters: CLEO (“Elizabeth Taylor role of ’63,” 73 Across) and RAIN MAN (“Dustin Hoffman title role,” 37 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.

It Was 50 Years Ago Today

New York Times crossword puzzle Feb. 9 / Constructed by Charles M. Deber

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

That’s the only way I know how to scream in text. And no other sound better represents BEATLEMANIA (“Craze caused by this puzzle’s subjects,” 3 Down) than a good ear-splitting shriek.

Yes, today’s fun and nostalgic crossword refers to THE FAB FOUR (“Nickname for this puzzle’s subjects,” 14 Down), who made their U.S. debut a half-century ago when they appeared on “The ED SULLIVAN Show” (“Host for this puzzle’s subjects on 2/9/64,” 6 Down).

The New York Times has succumbed to Beatlemania. (Click to enlarge.)
The New York Times has succumbed to Beatlemania. (Click to enlarge.)

The fill includes lots of Beatles references, from their hometown of LIVERPOOL (81 Down) to the songs they played on Sullivan’s show: SHE LOVES YOU (17 Down) and YESTERDAY (83 Down). There are also a few snippets of lyrics in there, like “When I WAS younger, so much younger …” (from “Help!”, 74 Across) and “Why AM I so shy when …” (from “It’s Only Love”, 86 Across) – not to mention “Let IT BE” (42 Across). The clues also note the band played at SHEA stadium (107 Down) in 1965 and 1966. And of course their biggest audience was TEENAGERS (70 Across).

The grid’s centerpiece is the snake of gray squares that depicts a GUITAR (102 Down). The Beatles’ names cleverly form the outline of this long and winding road: PAUL MCCARTNEY and JOHN LENNON appear at 9 Down and RINGO STARR and GEORGE HARRISON join them on the other side, beginning at 11 Down.

Pretty creative, I thought. What did you think?

Memory Lane Dept.: It’s pretty trippy to read these re-released stories about the Beatles from the Associated Press. Written during the group’s U.S. invasion, an introduction to the articles notes: “In covering the airport arrival, AP reporter Arthur Everett goes to great lengths to use contemporary slang like ‘way out’ and ‘fab.'”

Say What? Dept.: I’ve never heard anyone use the word LOLLOP (“Move in an ungainly way,” 32 Across). Also was not familiar with the town of TROYES (“City on the Seine upstream from Paris,” 127 Across).

Cheesy Dept.: “Houston sch.” is RICE U, short for Rice University, an entry that surely got the constructor out of a jam. And WYES (which I initially entered as WHYS) is one way to phonetically spell the plural of the penultimate letter of the alphabet (“Followers of exes,” 62 Across).

Doubled-Up Dept.: “Apes” are both OAFS (79 Down) and IMITATORS (80 Down). And a “Medical suffix” is both OMA (118 Down) and OSIS (115 Down).

UPDATE: Lonely Hearts Club Dept.: Many thanks to my husband – a major fan of the Beatles, if not crosswords – who pointed out the puzzle title’s reference to the lyrics of “Sgt. Pepper …” : “It was 20 years ago today …”

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.

Toil And Trouble

New York Times crossword puzzle Feb. 2 / Constructed by Dick Shlakman and Jeff Chen

Happy birthday, Shakespeare! Yes, it is a landmark year for The Bard, who was born 450 years ago come April. Today, he got an early present from The New York Times: a crossword dedicated to “Macbeth.” 

The first hint was the title, which comes from a line spoken by the play’s three witches: “Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

But there’s little else to go on until you solve the five longest entries in the puzzle:  WHAT’S DONE IS DONE (“Tautological statement of finality,” 37 Down); MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS (“Compassion, figuratively,” 21 Down); ONE FELL SWOOP (“A single stroke,” 58 Down); A CHARMED LIFE (“What the lucky person leads,” 60 Down); and KNOCK KNOCK WHO’S THERE (“Start of many jokes,” 23 Down).

Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Click to enlarge.)
Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Click to enlarge.)

It would seem a random collection of common phrases until you get to 42 Down, which tells you they all have a single source: THE SCOTTISH PLAY (“Superstitious thespian’s name for a work of Shakespeare …”). Then you look at the circled letters in the center of the grid and you realize they spell He Who Must Not Be Named: MACBETH. (It’s considered bad luck to speak the word during any production of the tragedy.)

So far, so good. Then I came to the clue for 100 Down, “Drippings appropriately positioned under the circled letters.” I solved the answer easily enough – BLOOD – but I couldn’t understand the visuals. I started looking for individual “drops” of the red stuff under each circled letter. Yet that wasn’t making sense … there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the squares directly under the circled letters. Then I tried connecting the circled letters in order and ended up with a weird, elongated “S” shape. Huh?

So I went straight to the source, the site run by co-constructor Jeff Chen. It seems I was thinking too hard – the simple cross shape in which the circled letters are laid out symbolizes the hilt and blade of a dagger (“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”); the tip of the weapon is dripping the aforementioned BLOOD. I guess my mistake was looking for drops under *all* the circled letters; this blood technically appears under the M, C, E, T and H, but not A and B.

Anyway … it was a pretty clever concept, despite my confusion. What did you think?

Philly Shout-Out #1 Dept.: Unfortunately, it’s too late to see the Broadway version of “Macbeth” starring Alan Cumming, which closed last summer. But birthday celebrations in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon take place in April, and Philadelphia’s main library has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bard” because of the 450 milestone. It has a rare First Folio on display and is planning many other celebratory events.

Philly Shout-Out #2 Dept.: At the other end of the cultural spectrum is the puzzle’s reference to our city’s famous fictional boxer: YOS  are “Rocky shout-outs” (124 Across).

How Did I Not Know This? Dept.: The heartthrob group of my early teens, DURAN DURAN, is apparently “named after the villain in ‘Barbarella'” (26 Across). Never saw the movie, but I’m not exactly its target demographic. (The film villain is spelled Durand-Durand.)

Haha Dept.: “Army threats?” are OCTOPI (49 Down), meaning it’s a threat with a lot of arms. (“Arm”-y … get it? Took me a while, too.) Along those lines, “One for the money?” is UNUM (12 Across), as in “e pluribus unum,” the phrase on our currency.

Fun Phrase Dept.: There were lots of colorful entries, including IN A KNOT (“Tangled,” 47 Across), IONE SKYE (“John Cusack’s co-star in ‘Say Anything…’,” 80 Across), POLO SHIRT (“Lacoste offering,” 29 Across), TOODLE-OO (“‘Ta-ta!'” 110 Across), BANDOLERO (“Sinister señor,” 28 Across) and ICE HOLES (“Places where polar bears fish,” 113 Across).

Repeat That? Dept.: The puzzle seems to incorporate every possible combination of the letters H, O and U: OHO (“Palindromic cry,” 111 Down), OOH (“‘Lo-o-ovely!'” 103 Down), UH HUH (“‘Yep’,” 12 Down) and UH OH (“‘Don’t look now…’,” 57 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.