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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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).
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Philly is getting its first flakes of the season right now; the original forecast was for about an inch, but that’s been significantly revised upward. There’s a *major* Snow Bowl going on down at the Eagles’ stadium.
In other words, it’s definitely not baseball season – despite the title of today’s puzzle. Turns out, though, that “Two Outs” has nothing to do with America’s favorite pastime and everything to do with the circled letters scattered throughout the grid. They make the theme answers into clever two-fers: The full answer is a synonym for one part of the clue; if you take out the two circled letters, you get a synonym for the other part.
So it’s only appropriate that one theme entry is CURVE BALL (“Pitch that fixes everything,” 24 Across). The “pitch” is the CURVE BALL; when you take out the two circled letters (bolded and underlined here), you get CURE-ALL – which “fixes everything.” At 20 Across, a “Red-wine drinker’s paradise?” is a SANGRIA / SHANGRI-LA.
Others: “Employee at the Ron Paul Archive?” is a LIBERTARIAN / LIBRARIAN (22 Across); “The one puppy that can read?” is a LITERATE / LITTER MATE (47 Across); “Creator of perfect whirlpools?” is a MAELSTROM / MAESTRO (53 Across); a “Minor-league championship flag?” is a PENNY-ANTE / PENNANT (83 Across); and to “Alienate a New Jersey city?” is ESTRANGE / EAST ORANGE (86 Across).
More: “‘Charge!,’ to Duracells?” is a BATTERY / BATTLE CRY (113 Across); “Begat a soft place to sleep?” is FATHERED / FEATHER BED (109 Across); “Satisfying finale coming to pass?” is a HAPPY ENDING / HAPPENING (117 Across); “Labeled idiotic?” is BRANDED / BRAIN DEAD (119 Across); and a “Dollar bill featuring a portrait of Duran Duran’s lead singer?” is SIMON LEBON/SIMOLEON (26 Across).
I thought it was pretty creative, with an impressive number of theme answers. What did you think?
Radio Days Dept.: The mention of Simon LeBon puts me in mind of my teenage years in the ’80s, when FM stations were also playing TEENA MARIE (“‘Lovergirl’ singer,” 55 Down) and The Pretenders, led by Chrissie HYNDE (“Chrissie in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” 67 Down).
Boob Tube Dept.: One of many “Steven Bochco series” is L.A. LAW (47 Down). And a “CBS spinoff that ran for 10 seasons” is CSI: MIAMI (97 Across).
Bright Lights, Big Cities Dept.: In addition to L.A. and Miami, the grid also features WEST BERLIN (“Site of a 1963 J.F.K. speech,” 30 Down).
Learn Something New Every Day Dept.: An “Airline that doesn’t fly on religious holidays” is Israel-based EL AL (84 Down). And a “Percussion instrument in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer'” is an ANVIL (12 Down).
Say Who? Dept.: Somehow I have gone through life without ever hearing of John Bull, or who he symbolizes. I figured out from crossing words that the character represents a BRITON (80 Across).
Doubled-Up Dept.: The twice-used clue “Blue expanse” yields both SEA (42 Across) and SKY (89 Across).
Philly Shout-Out Dept.: “Longtime Sixers nickname” is DR. J (118 Down), for favorite son Julius Erving. Speaking of basketball, the “N.B.A. team originally called the Americans” is the NETS (71 Down).