Hi everyone … it’s been a while. Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t abandoned puzzling, and today I was lucky enough to make my constructing debut in The New York Times.
Master constructor Jeff Chen was kind enough to team up with me to make this crossword a reality. SPOILER ALERT: You can read more about it in the NYT “Wordplay” blog, but that post contains answers – so don’t read until you’re done solving! Hope you like it.
More precisely, you can find TEN CENTS – literally 10 squares where the ¢ symbol appears. All the theme answers contain the word CENT, with the added twist that the C should be entered as a ¢ sign. That allows it to function as a C for across answers and an I for down answers:
_ ¢ENTENNIAL (“2014, for Doublemint gum,” 23 Across) crosses with TAIL (“Dangerous part of an alligator,” 1 Down). IRIDES-¢ENT (“Like mother-of-pearl,” 44 Across) crosses with ISLIP (“Town on the south shore of Long Island,” 45 Down).
_ VI¢ENTE FOX (“Mexican president of the early 2000s,” 25 Across) crosses with the first I in PAIN PILL (“Percocet, for one,” 12 Down). The second I crosses with the C in ¢ENTRIST (“Middle-of-the-road,” 40 Across).
_ ¢ENTIPEDES (“Bugs that are technically misnamed,” 70 Across) crosses with WRITE-UPS (“Articles in a paper,” 58 Down). PER¢ENTAGE (“Agent’s cut,” 93 Across) crosses with TOMEI (“Actress who co-starred in ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’,” 71 Down).
_ I’M INNO¢ENT (“Defendant’s cry,” 116 Across) crosses with IAN (“Actor McKellen,” 117 Down). DE¢ENT MEAL (“Something square to eat?” 113 Across) crosses with AIDE (“Right hand,” 106 Down). And RE¢ENT PAST (“Several days ago, say,” 66 Across) crosses with IRON-ON (“Like some patches,” 68 Down).
What do all those ¢ add up to? TEN ¢ENTS (“Total value of the symbols created by the special crossings in this puzzle,” 96 Across). (That answer itself crosses with I SWEAR at 97 Down – “‘Honest!'”)
Pretty cool, huh? I generally love puzzles by constructor Elizabeth C. Gorski, and this creative one was no exception. Some of the fill was a bit cheesy, though. Since when is SMOOTHEN a word (“Sand, maybe,” 101 Across)? I usually just say “smooth.” And I’ve never heard of the THI – or seen it used in a crossword. It’s apparently short for Temperature-Humidity Index (“Summer weather stat.” 29 Down). And STU Jackson was barely an NBA coach (88 Down), though he was a league executive for a while. (Phil Jackson, on the other hand … )
That said, I liked STATE DEPT (“Hillary Clinton’s domain, once: Abbr.” 80 Down), SPEED TRAP (“Where many tickets are distributed,” 2 Down) and THE NILE (“Agatha Christie mystery setting,” 5 Down).
Memory Lane Dept.: Puzzle editor Will Shortz ran a crossword with a similar monetary theme last year. Constructor Daniel A. Finan that incorporated both $ and ¢ symbols in a clever grid called “Show Me The Money.”
Fun Facts Dept.: TULANE is the “Southern university whose newspaper is the Hullabaloo” (65 Across). “Of Peter O’Toole’s eight Oscar nominations,” he’s won NONE (120 Across). And the “Youngest-ever French Open winner, 1990” is Monica SELES (53 Down), who recently got engaged to billionaire Tom Golisano.
Be careful making your way through today’s clever puzzle: It’s filled with cars, and there’s no crosswalk in sight.
Constructor Elizabeth C. Gorski is known for great visual tricks, so I immediately focused on the answers containing circled letters. The first one I solved yielded an O in each circle: TO YOU (“Toast words after ‘Here’s’,” 26 Across). Hmmm. Kinda seems like she’s trying to symbolize the “wheels” in the title, no? But I was stuck, partly because I mistakenly wrote ALFY for “Woody’s ‘Annie Hall’ role” at 3 Down. (I later realized it’s ALVY.)
So I moved on and quickly found two more O’s in the circles of BOLEROS (“Short open jackets,” 41 Across). The answer directly above that came easily: MUSTANG SALLY (“1966 Wilson Pickett R&B hit,” 34 Across). Well, whaddya know? The MUSTANG is perfectly balanced over the “wheels” in BOLEROS. Pretty neat.
Other vehicles: The Hyundai SONATA, in HORN SONATA (“Recital piece for a wind player,” 25 Across); the Cadillac SEVILLE, in BARBER OF SEVILLE (“Opera based on a play by Pierre Beaumarchais, with ‘The’,” 54 Across); the Dodge CHARGER, in SAN DIEGO CHARGER (“Qualcomm Stadium athlete,” 76 Across); the Volkswagen BEETLE, in BEETLE BAILEY (“Walker’s strip,” 93 Across); the Kia OPTIMA, in OPTIMA CARD (“Visa alternative,” 110 Across); the Subaru FORESTER, in C.S. FORESTER (“‘The African Queen’ novelist,” 112 Across); and the Honda CIVIC, from CIVIC PRIDE (“Attribute of Elks or Lions Club members,” 23 Across).
Mag Wheels / Wheels Mag Dept.: A place to read more about these cars is MOTOR Trend magazine (16 Down).
Philly Shout-Out Dept.: A “Mobile home seeker?” is CALDER, as in artist Alexander Calder. His mobile “Ghost” can be found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and his father’s Swann Memorial Fountain is one of my favorite spots in the city. His grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, created the massive sculpture of William Penn that’s perched atop City Hall. (No, it’s not Benjamin Franklin!)
Plumbing Dept.: It’s not worth explaining how I screwed up my initial entry for “Pipe valves” at 43 Across. Suffice to say that when I finally figured out what it was supposed to be, it was a term I had never heard: STOPCOCKS. I also wrongly entered DEACON at 93 Down (“English church official”) and had change it to the more esoteric BEADLE after filling in some surrounding answers.
Um, Who? Dept.: Crossing words gave me RANDI as the “‘Amazing’ debunker” at 75 Down, but I had to look it up to understand the answer. Apparently former magician James Randi and his foundation work to expose “supernatural” phenomena and the like.
Short Circuit Dept.: EES (“Some M.I.T. grads: Abbr.” 88 Down) are EES, which would really be written “EEs,” which is short for electrical engineers. Cheap.
Hoppy Holidays Dept.: Today is Easter, so I’ll point out the “Query from Judas” at 97 Down: IS IT I?
For Fun Dept.: Some fun words in the fill, including COLD CEREAL (“Quaker production,” 46 Down), SNOWY EGRET (“Bird whose feathers were once prized by milliners,” 43 Down), ANDRONICUS (“Shakespeare’s ‘Titus ___’,” 38 Down), SCOTT TUROW (“Best-selling novelist whom Time called ‘Bard of the Litigious Age’,” 21 Across) and COTTON BALL “Makeup removal item,” 114 Across).
Haha Dept.: “City that sounds like a humdinger?” is BUTTE (96 DOWN). Get it? It’s pronounced BYOOT, as in “beaut”? Me neither.
Whoops! Dept.: Reader Bob Lee gently corrected me on 25 Across, which of course should be HORN SONATA, not HORA as I wrote in my grid. (See comments below.) Thanks!
You don’t need to know much about music to interpret today’s puzzle. But it does help to be familiar with classic rock and have a creative sense of wordplay: The theme answers consist of literally rendered song titles.
The trickery became clear early on after crossing words left me with _MOK_ at 37 Across. I knew from the clue (“With 43-Across, 1973 Deep Purple hit?”) that the song was “Smoke on the Water,” but there weren’t enough spaces. That meant the “on” had to be implied: SMOKE literally sits “on” THE WATER, which is entered directly below at 43 Across.
Others: STAND / YOUR MAN, for “Stand by Your Man” (With 89-Down, 1968 Tammy Wynette hit?”, 95 Down); TIME TIME, for “Time After Time” (“1984 Cyndi Lauper hit?” 78 Across); and R-O-C-K / THE CLOCK, for “Rock Around the Clock,” where ROCK are the circled letters surrounding THE CLOCK (“With the circled letters, 1955 Bill Haley and His Comets hit?” 28 Across). Speaking of which, the label for that song was DECCA (22 Down).
The trickiest ones: NOOMDAB at 90 Down, for “Bad Moon Rising” (“1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit?”) – the BAD MOON “rises” from bottom to top; and LOATEENAGERVE at 66 Across, for “A Teenager in Love” (“1959 Dion and the Belmonts hit?”). The words A TEENAGER are literally placed “in” the word LOVE.
So, what did you think? Not bad. But here’s the place where I reiterate my longstanding complaint about music references being too old – nearly 60 years for “Rock Around the Clock”! – and I repeat my (so far empty) vow to create a similar puzzle with modern tunes. Although perhaps a Miley Cyrus reference was implied by the presence of TWERK at 7 Down (“Back it up, in a way”)? Yikes!
For Fun Dept.: There was lots of good fill in this grid, including TOO CAREFUL (“What fastidious people can’t be,” 16 Down), IN BAD SHAPE (“Suffering,” 3 Down), DICK AND JANE (“Primer pair,” 116 Across), SUBSISTENCE (“Kind of farming,” 23 Across), SGT. BILKO (“NCO of 1950s TV,” 65 Down) and – holy cow! – EMPIRICIST (“John Locke, philosophically,” 70 Down).
Haha Dept.: There were some really punny jokes, too. “Where to find screwdrivers and rusty nails” are BARROOMS (109 Across); “Rubber from Arabia?” is ALADDIN (93 Down); “Slanted writing” are EDITORIALS (75 Down); and “Runners in the cold?” are NOSES (125 Across).
Ouch! Dept.: “Memorable series in ‘Psycho'” are STABS (79 Across).
Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: From crossing words, I figured out that “The ‘T’ of Mr. T” stands for TERO (43 Down). Various biographies indicate he was born Lawrence Tureaud, which I’m guessing is a hard-to-pronounce French surname that some family members (including him) changed to its phonetic pronunciation, TERO. I also didn’t know that TARS is another word for “deck hands” (“Hands on deck,” 61 Down).
How do you get from SICK to WELL? By going to the doctor. Or by taking the sage advice of today’s puzzle: FOLLOWING THE PRESCRIPTION (“With 58-Down, a patient process? … or a hint to two consecutive letters in the answer to each of the seven starred clues,” 16 Down).
This clever crossword takes you through the healing process, starting with getting SICK in the upper left corner and then moving diagonally through a medicinal path to WELL in the lower right. SICK comes from the circled letters in SICK OF (“So over,” 1 Across), while WELL is from DO WELL (“Thrive, 119 Across).
The medicine, of course, is symbolized by the RX in each of the theme answers – RX being the abbreviation for “prescription.” The first is found in XERXES I OF PERSIA (“*He bested Leonidas at Thermopylae,” 23 Across), followed by FOUR-X-FOUR (“*Off-roader, often,” 31 Across).
Continuing to follow the prescription, you’ll find THE WINTER X GAMES (“*Annual draw for snocross fans,” 49 Across), GROUCHO MARX MUSTACHE (“*Iconic feature of comedy,” 65 Across), PROFESSOR XAVIER (“*Founder of Marvel’s School for Gifted Youngsters,” 79 Across), SOLVE FOR X (“*Frequent problem faced by algebra students,” 97 Across) and RETURN OF DOCTOR X (“*Horror flick starring Humphrey Bogart as a mad scientist, with ‘The’,” 108 Across). What a bizarre role for Bogey!
Silver Screen Dept.: Speaking of movies, “Clueless” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” are ROM-COMS (40 Down). “Loud beast heard in theaters” is the MGM LION (57 Down), which nearly stumped me and was one of the last answers I filled in. And Xerxes is back in theaters now with “300: Rise of an Empire.” It’s the sequel to the stylized 2006 film “300,” which tells the story of Leonidas’ Spartans and their battle against the Persian king who considered himself a god.
Corner Drugstore Dept.: By the way, my first instinct when I get sick is to buy something OTC (“Like Advil or Aleve: Abbr.” 54 Across).
For Fun Dept.: Unusual entries in the grid include EAST-WEST (“How lines of latitude run,” 21 Down), ADAM’S ALE (“Water, wryly,” 115 Across), RESCUE ME (“1965 R&B #1 song with the repeated lyric “Can’t you see that I’m lonely?'” 20 Across), THING IS (“‘That may be true, but …'” 55 Across) and HOT WAX (“Hair-razing stuff?” 56 Down)
New To Me Dept.: Apparently an L-BAR is a “Bent beam” (76 Across), which I got from crossing words. It’s also known as an angle iron.
Ugh Dept.: The other entry that took me forever to get was RSTU (“They’re 18 to 21,” 73 Down). The numbers refer to the letters’ places in the alphabet.
Shameless Promotion Dept.: Some of you may know that I am an aspiring constructor … and I’m thrilled to report my first puzzle was published this week in Games magazine! Still aiming to impress Will and get a grid printed in the NYT, of course, but one step at a time. Thanks to everyone for the supportive comments and “likes” on my Facebook page!
Philly Shout-Out Dept.: Today’s shout-out goes to my fellow Philadelphians as we brace for yet another snowfall tonight. Amid this never-ending winter, here’s a badly needed laugh featuring Groucho Marx and his mustache in “Duck Soup.”
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).
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).
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.
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.