Tag Archives: NYT crossword

It Was 50 Years Ago Today

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


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.

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.