Wednesday, 2/10/10

BEQ 4:41
Onion 3:41
NYT 3:15
LAT 3:14
CS untimed

Ed Sessa’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 20Happy Last Easy Puzzle Day Before Valentine’s Day! Today’s theme serves up some LOVE LETTERS, or [Billets-doux…or 18-, 24-, 37- and 50-Across all together?]. The LETTERS in the word LOVE are defined quite literally by the other four theme entries:

  • 18A. FIRST IN LINE is clued as [Next up]. The FIRST letter in the word LINE is L, the first LETTER of LOVE.
  • 24A. [What a compassionless person has] is a HEART OF STONE, and the heart, or center, of STONE is the letter O.
  • 37A. Physically, your [Balance point] is your CENTER OF GRAVITY. Looking at the letters, the CENTER of GRAVITY is V.
  • 50A. [[Read no further]] is what’s conveyed by END OF MESSAGE, and the END of MESSAGE is E. Put ’em all together and you’ve got L-O-V-E.

Presumably you could assemble more such familiar phrases that would lead you to the letters we need, L-O-V-E, but there’s added elegance in the order of phrases Ed Sessa chose—L’s phrase is a “first” one, the middle letters come from the “heart” and “center” of their words, and the E is from an “end.” Doesn’t that work out nicely? It’s like getting a box of chocolates with your LOVE LETTERS.

Random comments:

  • 55D. [Brand of facial moisturizer] is OLAY. Yes. This is how to clue OLAY now. The “Oil of Olay” wording was dropped years ago. OLAY is my preferred brand of moisturizer.
  • I like the Scrabbliness of DOJO, FEZ, ZELDA, GINZA, and PODUNK.
  • 35A. [Somme one] clues the French UNE. Cute.
  • 63A. The GNU is an [Animal whose name has a silent initial].
  • “Now, now. This rye bread isn’t poison! You can eat something besides Wonder bread, you know.” But wait…5D: POISON is clued as a [Murder method in Christie’s “A Pocket Full of Rye”]. Is the rye poisonous? Did you read Agatha Christie books in junior high like I did? I had a Twitter exchange the about Christie the other day with R.L. Stine, the guy who writes the Goosebumps series of mysteries for kids. (My son loves ’em.) Brush with the rich and famous!
  • 8D. [Head doctor, for short?] clues the E.N.T. who tends to your ears, nose, and throat ailments, which are in (or near) your head.
  • 12D. Oh, Sessa and Shortz, do not taunt us. [“It’s bustin’ out all over,” in song] clues the month of JUNE, which seems an eon away with all the snow. I mean, I can see that the days are lengthening—it’s light past 5 p.m.—but it’s February. And cold. And no matter what any groundhogs said last week, the Midwest still has a good (bad) six to eight weeks of winter to go.
  • 41D. [French formal danse] is VALSE. Its cognate is waltz, believe it or not. Often clued as [“___ Triste”].
  • 48D. The AMPERE is named after [French physicist André].
  • 52D. ARGUS is [Jason’s shipbuilder, in myth]. So the Argo was named after its builder? That’s a nice touch.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Chicken Tails”—Janie’s review

You probably knew how this was going to work just by looking at the title: each theme phrase will contain a word that can follow “chicken.” And you were right! But I’m wondering if you were expecting such lively fill in the process. This puzzle is loaded with it, in both categories–theme-fill and non-. But what can I say? All that “chicken” imagery makes for a fun(ny) solve. First things first:

  • 18A. [Work out on a treadmill] RUN IN PLACE → Chicken Run. From the folks who brought you Wallace and Gromit.
  • 26A. [Toss in a chip, perhaps] FEED THE KITTY → chicken feed. Which can be something you nourish your fowl with, or a paltry sum (in “the kitty,” perhaps). Ray builds on the card-playing reference with “I’M IN” [Poker declaration] and even includes the word FOLD–which is what a player does when s/he wants out–but clues it less game-specifically as [Cease business]. Close enough for jazz.
  • 43A. [Edward G. Robinson gangster film] LITTLE CAESARChicken Little, who guest-starred in Randy Hartman’s puzzle this past Saturday. Quoth Caesar Enrico (Rico) Bandello: ““Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?” This classic crime and gangland story was an Oscar-nominated film in 1931.
  • 56A. [Syndicated TV disco show] DANCE FEVER → Chicken Dance. Okay, there are probably more versions of this on YouTube than you want to know about, but the incongruity (and by that I mean total weirdness) of this one from the Lawrence Welk Show may put an end to your ever being interested in the “Chicken Dance” ever again…

In addition to all of this, Ray gives us a mini-theme with a French flavor, most obviously with IDÉE FIXE [Obsession] and SANS [Minus]; but also with that [Fencing weapon], the EPÉE; and MILADY [___ de Winter in “The Three Musketeers”], who (in movieland) is often costumed in gowns that could be described as LOW-CUT [Like a décolletage]. French designer Christian DIOR was famous for many 20th century low-cut gowns, but is clued today as the [Sack dress creator]. And while it’s clued as [Have misgivings about], today I look at RUE and think of [Street in Paris]. Oh–and there’s also [Diving equipment developed by Jacques Cousteau] (another Frenchman) which would be AQUA LUNG (though I still hear Jethro Tull…).

Now the aqua lung is an underwater breathing unit for deep-sea divers–but its oxygen-giving abilities tie it into another clue/fill combo in an entirely different context: [Disc jockey’s nightmare] (and divers’, too, I imagine…) DEAD AIR. And while we’re in the sound-studio, hello to [Crunk or funk, e.g.] for GENRE. “Crunk” was new to me. How about you?

Two world capitals make it into the puzzle today, LA PAZ [The highest world capital] (in the Andes of Bolivia) and KABUL [Afghanistan capital], surely one of the most volatile world capitals, and in a country that contains some of the world’s highest peaks. There are two ursine references as well: [Rupert or Smokey] for BEAR, and URSA, niftily clued as [Major in astronomy?]. And I’ll conclude with two more terrific clues: the punny [Knight stick?] for LANCE and [Imitates a hot dog] for PANTS, which took a little thinkin’ about. This was one puzzle that didn’t need to COERCE [Use intimidation] to [Win over] ENDEAR this solver to its charms!

Don Gagliardo’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 19(Excerpted from my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.)

Each theme clue follows the [Nice ___] format, wherein it’s “Nice,” the French city, signaling you that the answer is a French word. and not small-n “nice,” the adjective. All of the theme answers are English words borrowed from French, though, so you don’t have to know French to get these answers:

  • 17A: [Nice retinue?] (ENTOURAGE).
  • 21A: [Nice nonpro?] (AMATEUR).
  • 26A: [Nice keepsake?] (SOUVENIR).
  • 39A: [Nice stand?] (ETAGERE). This is also a loan word from crosswordese.
  • 48A: [Nice behind?] (DERRIERE).
  • 55A: [Nice rubdown?] (MASSAGE).
  • 62A: [Nice walk?] (PROMENADE).
  • 24D: [Nice squad?] (BRIGADE). I didn’t know this word was French. If we pronounced it “brigahd,” I would have known.
  • And for the hell of it, PEPE / LE PEW ties everything together— 34D: [With 53-Down, French toon who would be right at home in this puzzle?].

Highlights and lowlights:

  • 1A: [Struggle (through), as a tedious book] (WADE). I don’t like this clue. To me, wading seems more leisurely, less of a slog.
  • 30A: [Dying-out sound] (PFFT). I use “pfft” more emotively, more like a “pshaw” crossed with an unvoiced F-bomb.
  • 44A: [Old beaker heaters] (ETNAS). We call ’em Bunsen burners now, and save ETNA for the volcano by that name. But the volcano can’t well take a plural, so the antiquated lab term pops up in crosswords and probably nowhere else.
  • 52A: [Phillies’ div.] (NLE). Baseball fans, tell me: Who uses this 3-letter abbreviation? Anyone? is “NL East” so hard to spell out? Can I blame televised sports for trying to make everything into a 3-letter abbreviation that fits in a scoreboard?
  • 64A: [Ship-finding acronym] (LORAN). You wanted SONAR, I know. Loran is short for lo(ng)-ra(nge) n(avigation), while sonar is so(und) na(vigation and] r(anging).
  • 4D: [Eliciting feeling] (EMOTIVE). Did you see how I used that word up there? I never really use it.
  • 5D: [Vikings running back Peterson who holds the NFL record for yards rushed in a single game] (ADRIAN). My son has decided that the Vikings are his most favorite NFL team, with the hometown Bears in second place and the Niners, Jets, and Saints rounding out the top five. No, I have no idea what these ranking are based on.
  • 28D: [Govt. note issuer] (U.S. TREASURY). V. nice answer.
  • 31D: [Full scholarship, e.g.] (FREE RIDE). V. nice answer, too.
  • 40D: [It doesn’t cover much of a 48-Across] (THONG). Yes, it lets the bulk of your derriere flap in the breeze.

Matt Gaffney’s Onion A.V. Club crossword

Region capture 21This one seemed a couple notches easier than the usual Onion puzzle. The cinematic theme pays homage to CRASH (67A), but that seems a little weird because it’s Oscar season for the 2009 releases and Crash came out in 2005. In the four corners and the center of the grid, pairs of 7-letter movie titles CRASH into each other by intersecting in their middles. (Cars have a much harder time crashing in their midsections.) The letters in those intersections spell out C-R-A-S-H:

  • Here’s the C. 20A: DRACULA/[1979 horror movie featuring Laurence Olivier] meets 4D: SIN CITY/[2005 movie based on a graphic novel.
  • 22A: SABRINA/[1995 Harrison Ford remake] meets 10D: STARMAN/[1984 movie about a UFO crash in Wisconsin]. That was Wisconsin? Jeff Bridges played the convincingly humanoid alien dude. R is in the middle.
  • A comes from these ones. 39A: TITANIC/[1997 movie with the line “It was the most erotic moment of my life”] meets 25D: CABARET/[1973 Best Picture nominee].
  • And the S is here. 55A: AMISTAD/[Djimon Hounsou historical epic] doesn’t get its year in the clue, which is weird. It crashes into 44D: MONSTER/[Movie for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar], which also gets a yearless clue.
  • 58A: JARHEAD/[2005 Jake Gyllenhaal movie] meets 47D: DIE HARD/[1988 thriller with Alan Rickman as terrorist Hans Gruber]. H!

It’s cool to have 11 movies in the grid, but they don’t feel like crashes to me. Maybe if one movie T-boned another one?

Five clues:

  • 30A. [Flower sometimes called “false shamrock”] is OXALIS, or wood sorrel.
  • 26A. PRETORIA is [One of South Africa’s capitals]. Does anyone march to Pretoria any more?
  • 40D. [Dangerous sidewalk development] is an ICE PATCH. I had ICY at first.
  • 35A. Who? OBAN is a [Single malt scotch brand] I’ve never heard of. Sounds like a deodorant brand.
  • 28D. EYE UP? Who says “eye up”? The clue is [Look over with great interest]. “Boy, he really eyed that up, alright.”

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “You Can’t Say That Again”

Region capture 22The theme is tongue twisters. I’ve heard SIX SICK SHEIKHS as “The sixth sheik’s sick,” which is much harder to say. IRISH WRISTWATCH isn’t all that hard to say, and neither is ARGYLE GARGOYLE—or maybe I’m just especially lingually adept this morning.


  • I don’t feel that JUST and 29D: [Open-minded] are equivalent, though I see open-minded listed in the thesaurus entry for JUST.
  • Don’t care for the antiquated or obscure AROW (14D: [Lined up, like plane seats]); nobody would say the plane seats were “arow.”
  • 11D. UP THE GUT? Never heard that phrase before. It means [Across mid-field in football slang].
  • I like the ROGUE COP at 40D: [Law enforcer who follows his own rules].
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21 Responses to Wednesday, 2/10/10

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Ah, literal placement of each of the letters in LOVE, in order…Good one! I was getting a cryptic batch of messages, like “you’re a self-centered so-and-so”, but that was hardly a valentine! I did this rapidly, then looked it over and asked what was a SKI MOVER. Doh.

    If anyone was looking for a French formal dance like a Ball, that wouldn’t be balle but le bal. I started to put in a B, but Center of Grabity was a no-go! Also, I’m guessing it’s not just a cute scrabbly puzzle, but a clever pangram too…

  2. SuperBowlXX says:

    I completely didn’t even see the LOVE LETTERS connection between the theme answers. I just filled in LOVE LETTERS because it fit.

    When I saw the clue for JUNE, I immediately knew the answer because of this YouTube video showing Leslie Uggams messing up the lyrics to the song in front of a live audience:

    Take a couple minutes to watch. You’ll laugh.

  3. joon says:

    my sister-in-law likes to sing that song at me when i do something good. luckily, that’s not often.

  4. Elaine in Arkansas says:

    Besides not seeing how the theme answers added up to LOVE LETTERS, which I admit was clever, I misread the 24A clue as ‘What a compassionate person has,’ and kept thinking HEART OF STONE? What a cynic that Ed Sessa is!

    Hand up for SKI MOVER; SLEW before SCAD; END OF THE LINE before END OF MESSAGE, and FOCUS before FSTOP. Goodness! I should go back home to PODUNK, but I think it is snowed in….

  5. edith b says:

    I see a fellow member of the 1:30 AM Club, Elaine in Arkansas, has preceded me. I missed SKI MOVER because once I got PODUNK, the K sped me along the path of 9D which, as it turned out was the backbreaker for this puzzle. Things happened all in a rush after this entry.

  6. Gareth says:

    Lovely theme! Afraid to say was completely confust until I got here though. Wow! I think it’s the smoothest pangram I’ve seen too! Admittedly, the high-rollers are mostly tucked up in the two quiet corners, but it’s still quite a feat!

    Fast fact: (Oil of) Olay was invented by a South African. Don’t have his/her name off the tip of my tongue though!

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Janie has raised (lowered) the bar considerably with that Lawrence Welk clip. I may have to bring out Paul Anka.

  8. joon says:

    i haven’t picked any nits in one of gaffney’s puzzles since yesterday, so let me start in: LOKI = {Goddess of mischief}? sure, he transformed himself into a mare once (and gave birth to odin’s eight-legged steed sleipnir), but he would be quite miffed to be referred to as a “goddess,” i think. he’d probably trick the bejeezus out of you just for saying it.

    i see that TAXI at 11d didn’t get a movie clue. any other movies lurking in the grid?

    nice puzzle from don g (so to speak). good day to know french!

  9. MM says:


    What, no comment on the “crash” in Matt’s clue for 10D and the answer CRASH?!

  10. janie says:

    why, jeffrey — thank you!!

    re: the nyt — loved both the sessa and yesteday’s cirillo. terrific wordplay in both.


  11. John Haber says:

    I’m sure I’ve complained about this before so will try hard to remember not to do so again, but can we put an end to clues with C = AVERAGE? I’m aware of the evils of grade inflation, but I hope I’m not biased dreadful recent changes. I’ve been out of junior high for 40 years, and it wasn’t close to average then. Anyone who got a C needed serious improvement but wasn’t failing. C- did exist, but D was not really used, and of course there’s no such thing as F+ or F- to correspond to A+ and A-. (In a sense, F is not even a grade in exactly the sense A is, more like “you’re outta here.”)

    Anyhow, the majority of students surely do not earn C or below.

  12. Zulema says:

    I agree with Haber. I could never understand C as average, because it isn’t. To add to Gareth’s fact, OLAY is the word for OIL in Polish, but you all knew that.

  13. Steve Manion says:

    Agree about C. I wonder if there are any grading systems where C is truly average.

    And as long as we are in a mood to nit, a bowling establishment (for the umpteenth time) is an alley, so in the broadest sense, a spare could take place in an alley. But the surface you bowl on is a lane.


  14. Howard B says:

    Re: BEQ. Yeah, I agree they’re not hard to say. Saying them fast is what’s tricky. After about the fourth iteration of IRISH WRISTWATCH, for example, something in your brain (or jaw) just locks up…
    The more advanced version of twister #1 that I have heard is “The sixth sheikh’s sixth sheep’s sick”. Which is ridiculous even for a tongue-twister, but hey, I didn’t write it. (If I had, it would make much less sense).

  15. davidH says:

    Where I teach, a C means “barely adequate”. D is not an option, so C is really “one foot out the door”. On my syllabus, I define it as, “Met enough of the course requirements to pass, but submitted nothing exceptional and did not achieve any noteworthy results”. In the true mathematical sense, I agree – it is not “average”.

    I have a question regarding the NY Times “Classic” puzzle posted today, from 11/04/1999 – the little happy pencil guy in A/L tells me that “SAGA” is the correct answer for “It’s related to others”, and “GAVE” is the correct answer for “LENT”, but I don’t understand … I assume Mr. Lees and/or Mr. Shortz intend “Lent” as the past participle of “To Lend”, but isn’t that different from “to give”? Am I missing something here? (Still new enough at this to assume it’s me, not them, but inquiring minds want to know!)

    Likewise “Saga” – it’s like other whats? Stories? Sagas?

    Please help me to understand these clues.


  16. Evad says:

    Related, as in told to…

  17. Matt Gaffney says:

    Wow, all these years I thought LOKI was a goddess…and I’m 1/8th Norwegian, too.

  18. davidH says:

    Evad –

  19. Karen says:

    The Loki=goddess clue threw me for a loop too, I wondered if there were some genderbending theme.

  20. John Haber says:

    Maybe the C cliche is just passing on a myth, or maybe it reflects a society that’s mathematically challenged, even people as smart as Will S. They may not get that it can’t be average unless the same number of people get C-, D, and F as get C+, B-, B, B+, A-, A, and A+. Which of course wouldn’t be a system that resisted grade inflation so much as a nonsensical one.

  21. Tim Platt says:

    I am a day late on this, but does anyone else have a problem with THY being clued [Lord’s Prayer adjective]? I would have thought “thy” is a pronoun, not an adjective. I had just seen the same clue for “THY” in a NYT puzzle from 2006 (I’m still finishing my 2009 Puzzle-a-Day calendar), so this is really bugging me now.

    Actually, I just checked Wikipedia, and they say “thy” is a possessive determiner, whatever that is! And says the pronoun “thy” can be used as an attributive adjective, as in “thy table” – so I guess Will’s off the hook on this. Darn!

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