Tag Archives: New York Times puzzle

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.

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.

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.