Sunday, July 10, 2011

By: Francis Heaney Difficulty: 3/5 Enjoyability: 4/5 Theme: Drop science on 'em


Cutesy theme. Add 'ology' to a word phrase, and you have made it into science!
  • 61A. What the constructor had to do to create the theme entries in this puzzle (boyeee) (DROPSCIENCEONEM)
  • 17A. Passed a certain medical school exam? (BEATEN PATHOLOGY)
  • 24A. Item used to settle disputes about mathematical connectedness? (TOPOLOGYGUN). Nice, but I was hoping for a Top Gun reference.
  • 38A. With 42-Across, what people who study living creatures are? (BIOLOGY), and 42A. See 38-Across (CURIOUS). "Biology Curious" is funny, but it doesn't have any connection to the "un-scienced" term, Bi Curious.
  • 53A. Study of how to fight in very low temperatures? (WARCRYOLOGY). My favorite of the themed answers, because WAR CRY and CRYOLOGY both tie in with the clue. Fighting in very low temperatures made me think of the polar bears from the His Dark Materials series. They were one of the more fanciful inventions of the series, and definitely captured my imagination better than any other part of the story. Oh, especially those horses with wheels and elephant trunks from the last book. Dumb.

What I learned

  • 50D. Endangered ungulates (RHINOS). Ungulates are cloven mammals! If you got hooves, you're an ungulate.

What I liked

Paired, sequential clues:
  1. 57A. Sound heard in a Lamaze class (HEE)
  2. 58A. Cells contributing to the need for a Lamaze class (OVA)

  • 18D. Muppet prawn introduced in 1996 (PEPE).
    Pepe is who prompted me to write today. He was a late addition to the Muppet roster and as a consequence I'm not that familiar with him. (I initially tried to fill him in as Tedd or Theo for some reason.)

    When I was reading about him, I discovered this hilarious source of his speech pattern.
    Puppeteer Bill Barretta, who created the character, based the accent on his wife's aunt, who is known in the family as "Maria Teresa Okay".
    He ends every other sentence with "okay."

    I also discovered he plays a big role in the Playstation video game, Muppets Monster Adventure, which I promptly downloaded and have been playing in a Playstation emulator on my MacBook.

    It's fun, and it has rekindled my interest in visiting and playing old Playstation games that I didn't get to enjoy when they first came out.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Onion Februay 23, 2011

By: Byron Walden
Difficulty: 4/5
Enjoyability: /5
Theme: Skin Omission
Simpsons? Yes.


I was slow up the uptake. I didn't get it until I was almost finished.
  • 61A. Sextet of cancellations that produced the starred entries...or an oversexed MTV production now facing cancellation (SKINS) "Sextet of cancellations" was just phonetic noise to me for most of the puzzle. It didn't make sense in my head until I realized that the cancellation in question was the omission of the letters SKIN. The starred clues suddenly made sense at that point.
  • 17A *emiT or DAM? (BACKWARDMAG) When you put the SKIN back in, it becomes "backward masking" which is when subliminal Satanic messages are revealed when you play music backwards. And when vocals or instrumentation is recorded backwards on purpose for aesthetic purposes—as in Missy Elliott's Work It —or to censor content like the word joint in the radio edit of Tom Petty's You Don't Know How It Feels. ("Let's roll another tnioj.")
  • 24A *Put on a whiplash collar? (RIGONESNECK) Risking one's neck.
  • 31A *Put a variety of labels on? (MULTITAG)Multi-tasking.
  • 44A *TSA treatment that goes way beyond inappropriate touching? (AIRPORTFRIG)
  • Airport frisking. But "airport frig" made me laugh out loud. That is indeed beyond inappropriate touching. I may never have another opportunity to reference the word frig here, so I have to say that I consider Ryan North—or T-Rex, more accurately—to pretty much own the friggin' word.
  • 54A *Result of having no room under the beach umbrella for your knapsack? (BAGINTHESUN) Basking in the sun. When I was just starting to figure out how the theme worked, I made a logical leap, having just filled in the slighty naughty AIRPORTFRIG, and wondered if this might end up a significantly naughtier reference. (Skinbag? In the sun? I can't think of a worse place to have a sunburn!)

Stuff I liked

  • 42A W or O, e.g. (PRES)
  • 28A Stuff below a sneezeguard (SALAD) A funny assessment of what salad is.

Stuff I didn't know

There was a lot of stuff I didn't know. Mostly names. You can stop reading here if you want because I can't imagine this part is entertaining. But this part—to me—is the most important. Before I started this blog, I used to keep a notebook wherein I would write down all the stuff I learned and all the stuff I didn't know from crosswords.

Crosswords have entertainment value for me, but not more than, say, playing video games. But they have significant educational value. And writing this stuff helps me retain it.
  • 58A Skier Phil with 27 World Cup race wins (MAHRE) The World Cup is the top tier of international ski competition. Not something stupid like the World Series. He and his twin brother Steve skiid in the 1984 Olympics, winning gold and silver medals.
  • 43D "Norma Rae" director Martin (RITT) I didn't know any of this, but Norma Rae is a 1978 movie based the true story of how Crystal Lee Sutton unionized the textile plant where she worked in North Carolina. It was filmed in Opelika, Alabama, which is just northeast of Auburn. It won Sally Field an Oscar for Best Actress, and it won Jennifer Warnes an Oscar for Best Song for It Goes Like It Goes.

    Jennifer Warnes is the person who sings the girl part in the song from Dirty Dancing. She also toured with Leonard Cohen, and released an album of covers of his songs. It's not available at my library.

    Oh yeah, directed by Marin Ritt.
  • 37A Leakes of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" (NENE) NeNe Leakes. Housewives. Okay.
  • 45D NFL Hall of Famer Michael nicknamed "The Playmaker" (IRVIN) Played on the Cowboys. Won some Super Bowls. Was on Dancing With The Stars.
  • 35A Penny Marshall's "Odd Couple" role (MYRNA) Never seen this show. I know Penny Marshall from WalMart ads she used to do with Rosie O'Donnell.
  • 27. Designer Cassini et al. (OLEGS) Oleg Cassini designed Jackie Kennedy's wardrobe in the 60s. The word "oleg" has no gender association with it for me and I was surprised to discover Oleg was a dude and not a lady.
  • 1D Oral polio vaccine pioneer Albert (SABIN) I can't name any vaccinologists. Who invented the small pox vaccine?
  • 11D Montana senator with a good name for a plumber (JONTESTER) Jon Tester. Like Toilet Checker.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Onion February 16 2011

I'm two updates behind! I need to quickly bust these out before I get to a point where I am too far in the hole to dig myself out.

By: Deb Amlen
Difficulty: 3/5
Enjoyability: 5/5
Theme: Road to Hell


Recommended listening: I'm eschewing the too obvious Highway To Hell from AC/DC in favor of Drivin' n Cryin's Straight To Hell. The live version. From the live album that you really ought to listen to if you haven't before.

Okay. Word ladder, from ROAD to HELL. You'll see one letter change in each subsequent clue answer until we get to the end. Check it out.
  • 1A Like the intentions the starred clues are paved with (GOOD)
  • 23A *One way (and the beginning of a word ladder) (ROAD)
  • 32A *Go through volumes (READ)
  • 45A *Noodle or noggin (HEAD)
  • 56A *Grasped (HELD)
  • 71A *Fire down below? (and the end of the word ladder) (HELL)
I just love the symmetry of it. Very first across clue is GOOD, and the very last one is HELL. Beautiful.

What I missed

There are two clues that I confidently, unhesitatingly filled in only to discover later that I answered them completely wrong.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Onion February 9 2011

Very fun puzzle. In addition to the timely theme, there were several nods to the winter weather we're having now.

By: Brendan Emmett Quigley
Difficulty: 4/5
Theme: Valentines Day cliches.

Themed answers

The theme was cliche break-up lines.
  • 17A. Cliched start of a depressingly-timed February 14th speech (THISISNTWORKING)
  • 25A. Second cliche of the speech (WEVEGROWNAPART)
  • 43A. Third cliche of the speech (ITSNOTYOUITSME)
  • 56A. Final cliche of the speech (LETSSTAYFRIENDS)
  • Other non-themed but February/Valentines related clues:
  • 33A. In a cold way (ICILY)
  • 31D. Valentine's Day bunch (ROSES)
  • 44D. Like February weather, at times (SLOSHY)

Dirty clues

Racy crossword! Lewd crossword.
  • 20A. Booty, as it were (SEX)
  • 6D. Johnson (WANG)

Points of interest

  • 43A. Mash note fodder (POEMS) There are some things from my youth that I was curious about but that I never succeeded in understanding. They maintained a level of mystery that endures to this day. One of those things was Mash.

    I think a girl friend of mine did a Mash to me once, and I liked thinking up different types of cars and houses, but when she started counting and crossing stuff off, it was like she had switched from, say, basic arithmetic—adding and subtracting the number of apples Jimmy has if he gives some to Suzy—to calculating the area under the curve. Her calculus was a technology that was way over my head at the time, and since we all know that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, that's exactly what it looked like to me: incomprehensible mumbo jumbo, and as such I summarily dismissed it.

    Hopscotch was like that. Especially the "varsity" kind that involved throwing a stone at the grid. There was turning and hoping and picking up the stone, and I could never understand—not that I ever bothered to ask—how winning or losing was determined in this game.

    The folded-paper "fortune tellers" were not like that. It seems like something that should fall in line with Mash and hopscotch as an intrinsically girly thing that exists to confuse and confound little boys, but it didn't for me. I really liked making them. I was a sucker for the Grand Reveal, for the rising action, the slow boil, the build of anticipation. That's really what that mechanism was. It's such a great stick for such a great carrot. You had to go through the mandatory "pick a number" and the required "pick a color" in order to get your "fortune."

    I carefully crafted these things. I considered how many letters were in each number and color, and I liked going for unlikely ones. ("Shiny" was one color I chose, and I once offered 101 as an option for a number to see if anybody would choose it. They did and they thought the joke was on me for having to count it all out, but oh no. They sat there while I did it. Sucker!)

    The fortunes were always the punchlines. As an eight year old I had a strong predilection for the absurd. My fortunes were usually something like, Your sandwich is moldy! or EAT A BUG!
  • 38A. They're full of garbage (SCOWS) They're flat-bottomed boats, like barges. I feel like they're very iconic things. I can imagine seeing one drifting through the New York Harbor. For some reason, in my mind, this is attached to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? I may need to re-watch the original movie to see if there's a scene where somebody finds sanctuary on a scow. Not full of trash but full of fish?

    Also, this made me think of a Nintendo game I used to play all the time. This was an era where video games could—and were—made by entities like Dominoes Pizza.
    Remember the Noid? He was a character from Dominoes pizza advertisements in the 80s. And he was the star of Yo! Noid, an insanely hard and addictive game for the NES that kept me entertained for countless hours.

    (One part of the game involved fighting bad guys on the docks, and I'm pretty sure we eventually made it to a SCOW, where there were flying fish and seagulls to fend off.)

    The other thing this made me think of was one of the first books I ever had. It was a children's illustrated dictionary. (The other "first book" I remember having was a book of Greek Myths.) I can't remember who published it, but it had a bright red cover. I loved that damn book. I would sit down and read it like one would a novel.

    The best part about it was what I guess you would have to call the preface. It presented quirks of the English language in a comic book style way. My favorites were the one about about pronunciation ("crik" vs. "creek") and the part about homophones.

    The final panel of the homophone section depicted a couple in a Chinese restaurant and the guy said something like, Wow look at that junk! And the girl was like, what? The menu looks good to me! And the guy, pulling aside the curtain, said no! Look that that junk!

    The junk was a boat.

    I thought that was so effing cool, because I didn't know that junk could mean boat. This clue made me think of that because I didn't know the word SCOW. I didn't know it means boat.

    Another anecdote I have about that book is that once as a kid, I wanted to have an alter-ego, an alias to which I could credit all the silly poems and songs I would write and the silly things I would do—the silly performances I would put on.

    I couldn't, or didn't want to, think of a silly enough name for this persona, so I did something I learned from TV.

    On Duck Tales [1], when Gyro invented the GizmoDuck suit, he needed a secret, obscure word to activate the suit. So he went to his dictionary and thumbed flipped through it until he found blatherskite, a word he considered so infrequently uttered that it would be safe enough to use. (Of course Fenton Whatever would become Gizmoduck upon hollering his favorite emphatic phrase, Blabbering blatherskite!)
    So when I wanted a silly sounding and obscure word, I flipped through my dictionary to find it, not realizing at the time that nothing in my illustrated childrens dictionary would be anything close to obscure.

    I settled on stanza.

    After finding this word, I burst forth from my room and announced to my little brother, in my silliest voice, accompanied with my silliest cross-eyed face, I'm Doctor Stanza!

    He failed to react with what I felt would be an appropriate amount of awe—or at least respect— for the research I had put into this name. I had read a friggin dictionary after all.

    Anyway, shortly thereafter, I either learned that this is a common word and a silly choice for what I was trying to do, or I got distracted by my Legos. In either case, I quickly abandoned that project.

    So. Scows. Junk. Duck Tales. Stanza.

1 If you're at all interested in anything that I've said, I really have to insist that you read this post from this blog that I found on the Internet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Onion February 2, 2011

Quick puzzle. Sorely disappointed by the theme.

By: Tyler Hinman
Difficulty: 3/5
Theme: "J" Words
Simpsons? No.

Theme Answers

I found no delight in this week's theme. The format was take a celebrity whose first initial is "J" and whose last name is part of a common phrase.
  • 53D. Catalog name, or a possible title for this puzzle (JCREW)
  • 21A. One reason for the success of "Jersey Shore"? (JWOWWFACTOR) When prompted with "Jersey Shore" the only thing I can do is recite four words: gym, tan, laundry, and "Situation." The last one is a person—and the people on the show are a little orange?—but I don't know what the first three words mean. But now, regrettably, I know a fifth thing! That J. Woww is a person.

    The AV Club is a music/movies/culture site, and I know its puzzle must reflect that to a degree, and so I try not to be annoyed by the frequency of this kind of clue.
  • 40A. Pop albums, crappy romantic comedies, etc.? (JLOEXPECTATIONS) This was the first themed answer I got and is the only themed reference I knew.
  • 56A. Hand protection for a Dallas Mavericks point guard? (JKIDDGLOVES) I glean from this that J. Kidd plays basketball in Texas. Bully for him.

Television and Film

There were a boat load of TV & Film references this week, even not counting J-Lo and J-Woww.
  • 1A. "Absolutely Fabulous" network (THEBBC) Including the definite article is unusual.

    I tried several times to watch "Ab Fab" when I was a kid because, I think, it came on Comedy Central around the same time as Kids In The Hall. (Which I watched religiously and fanatically.) Their accents and quick-talk were such that I couldn't get it to sound in my head like they were speaking words.
  • 18A. Jason Lee TV role (EARL)
  • 1D. Shyamalan specialty (TWIST) For somebody who watches very few movies, Shyamalan is well represented in my Seen It list. I like Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Signs less so.
  • 48D. "xXx" star Vin (DIESEL) I used to know somebody who claimed, with no sense of irony, that Vin Diesel was his favorite actor. He's not a douche because Vin Diesel is his favorite actor. But his favorite actor is Vin Diesel, and he's a douche.
  • 5D. Title canine in a 1974 film (BENJI) When we were young, every once in a while my mom would put a Benji movie for me and my brothers. It felt like punishment.
  • 51A. Actress Mowry of "The Game" (TIA) I don't know what "The Game" is, but I know Tia played either "Sister" or "Sister" on Sister Sister. And that her little brother Taj played a "Smart Guy" on Smart Guy. Yeah that's right, for as snobby as I sometimes get about the over abundance of TV trivia in crosswords, I know me some 90s sitcoms.
  • 57D. He wears a green hat on "South Park" (KYLE) I immediately filled in Kyle for this one thinking his was the only four-lettered name, forgetting entirely about Stan and that Cartman's first name is Eric. Lucked out.

Other bullet points

Interesting things, and stuff I liked.
  • When I saw this one I hollered aloud in surprise. SW corner, the proximity of EYE (61A. Magic ___ (book series with 3D designs)) to TLC (65A. Group parodied by Weird Al in "Phony Calls"). Don't know if that was intentional or not, but the 'L' in TLC is for Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. Directly below these two—and I don't know whether I want this to be intentional or not—is the innocent looking TEE, answer to the more suspicious 68A. A driver might hit it.

    Left Eye died after she drove her car off the road into some trees.
  • 11D. It hasn't been achieved in America since 1959 (STATEHOOD) Refering to Alaska. My Dad is older than Alaska's statehood.
  • 20A. Foreign shiner (SOL) My favorite clue in the puzzle. It's just clever. I didn't know if I should be thinking of a coin or some kind of flashlight. Or the sun.
  • 38A. Its symbol is Sb, even though neither S nor b appears in its name (ANTIMONY) Puzzle creators love clues about the elements. Usually, my Periodic Table coffee mug can help me through such clues. Right now, though, I have a gorgeous book coffee table book from the library called The elements : a visual exploration of every known atom in the universe that I turned to for assistance.
    Here are a couple factoids about the 51st element from its profile in this book.
    1. It's a metal commonly added as a hardening agent to tin and lead. A mixture of these metals was used by Gutenberg when he invented movable type.
    2. Bullets are mostly lead ("pump you full of lead," etc.) but lead is soft, so antimony is usually added to make bullets harder. Can't shoot stuff with soft bullets!
    3. Drinking wine steeped in antimony gobbets induces vomiting. This used to be considered medicine!
  • I liked the "OxxO" words in the middle south bit: OSLO (59D. Location of the Nobel Peace Center) and OSSO (69A. ___ buco). Oslo, in 2009, had the highest cost of living in the world. Ossobuco is an Italian dish consisting mostly of braised veal shank. That's meat from the shinbone of a young calf!
That's all.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Onion January 27, 2011

Toughie! I got about 3/4 of the way complete, and then had to start looking up answers: an official Did Not Finish. Spent a long time on it too. Started at Fluid Coffee Bar over an espresso and a green chili breakfast burrito (recommended), continued working on it at the Front Porch while waiting for my party to arrive, and finally finished it early this morning. Geez.

By: Matt Jones
Difficulty: 5/5 (Did Not Finish)
Theme: "Gel Inserts"
Simpsons? Yes. Note: I'm adding this category due to two consecutive puzzles with Simpsons clues.

Theme answers

The themed answers killed me this week because I thought that "gel inserts" simply meant "gel" would be found in the answer, not that—duh—the answers were familiar phrases with "gel" inserted.
  • 58A. Shoe additions, and what this puzzle's theme answers contain (GELINSERTS)
  • 17A. Cold pill to swallow? (SNOW(GEL)CAP) Snow cap. With gel inserted. Get it?
  • 23A. Story of a philosopher's basketball career? (HE(GEL)GOTGAME) Cute. Hegel having game cracks me up in the same way that "Euclid's on the Block" tickles me.
  • 36A. Headline after the cherubs throw down their halos and go on strike? (ITSAN(GEL)OUTRAGE) i.e., "It's an outrage." I had this filled in before I really understood the theme, and considered it kind of awkward.
  • 47A. Male horse parts rendered useless? ((GEL)DINGDONGS) This is best clue in the puzzle. Before I figured out the theme, I had "GELDINGPENIS" penciled in, kind of half hoping it would be incorrect because that's just kind of racy for a crossword. GELDINGDONGS is a little racy too, but very funny.

O-CEL-O/Stupid Trivia

  • 52A. 3M sponge brand (OCELO) What the crap is an O-CEL-O? Come on.
One thing I frequently think about when working puzzles is Sponge from Salute Your Shorts.In particular the episode where the campers are trying to win an call-in radio quiz show and Sponge can immediately rattle off the answer to any intelligent question, but is stumped by questions related to sports or film or television, dismissing them all as "stupid trivia."

I always get stumped by stupid trivia and this puzzle was rife with it: two winter athletes (MAHRE and TARA - 13D. Alpine skater Phil and 57A. Skater Lipinski); a celebrity couple's child (33D. Daughter of Mick and Bianca Jagger - JADE); a minor film actress (53A Perez of film - ROSIE); and two television shows I know nothing about (47A "Growing up ___" (A&E show) - GOTTI and 40A. "Barney Miller" actor Jack - SOO).

That's a lot of stupid trivia. Sponge would have been frustrated, and I certainly was.


Bullet Points

  • Simpsons clue: 26D Milhouse's bus driver (OTTO).
  • Weirdest clue of the puzzle: 28A Initials shared by the presidential runners-up of 1928 and 1956 (AES) There are people who are Presidential trivia buffs, but really. This is a little out there. The answers by the way?Alfred Emanuel Smith, Jr ("Al Smith") was a democrat and lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928.
    Adlai Ewing Stevenson II ("Adlai Stevenson") was a democrat and lost to Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

    Both "Juniors", both democrats, both AESs, both also-rans.
  • 61A Flamenco guitarist ___ de Lucia (PACO) Not familiar. But am listening to him on Grooveshark as I compose this. He can apparently move his fingers very fast.
  • 37D New Zealand myster writer Marsh (NGAIO) Ngaio is a good word to know if your a puzzle constructor (or solver), but probably an unfortunate name to have as a little girl. Several of her books are available at my local library, and several of her books were adapted for television in the 90s as The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, with which I'm familiar inasmuch as I've seen them—again—at the local library.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Onion January 26, 2011

A fun, easy puzzle that I completed over a sandwich at Hi*Rise.

By: Matt Garney
Difficulty: 2/5
Theme: "With flying colors"

Themed answers

  • 60A. With 66-Across, how to solve this crossword (WITH FLYING)
  • 66A. See 60-Across (COLORS)
  • 17A. Navy squadron at air shows (BLUE ANGELS)
  • 20A. Alan Scott's superhero alter ego (GREEN LANTERN)
  • 37A. Portman vs. Kunis smackdown (BLACK SWAN)
    I'm usually crap at TV & film clues, but this one has been so buzz heavy that it has infiltrated even my dense fog of ignorance.
  • 56A. Striped buzzer (YELLOW JACKET)
    By the time I got to this clue, I had figured out the theme and was able to fill it in given only 'w' and 'j'.

Stuff I learned

  • 14A. Mexican hero ____ Juarez (BENITA)Five term president of Mexico serving during the last half of the 1800s, and the first indigenous leader of a Western country. He fought off Napoleon during the French invasion, which is why there's a Cinco de Mayo. Died in office—actually in his office, at his desk—in 1872.
  • ALVEOLI (40D. Lung structures) I know what they are, but didn't know how to spell it, which resulted in some confusion in this corner.
  • 51A. Mildly alcoholic Russian drink (KVASS). Upon first reading the clue, I hoped it was a Moscow Mule, a vodka and ginger drink I have enjoyed at the Blake Street Tavern. But that obviously wouldn't have fit.
    I initially, because of not knowing how to spell ALVEOLI, had this filled in as KLASS.
    Klass, first name Myleene, is a British pop star of whom there are many pictures similar to the one above. Not a tasty drink. Arguably.
    Kvass, on the other hand, is a drink fermented with rye bread to an alcohol level of about 1%, which probably shouldn't even be considered alcoholic.

    It sounds somewhat similar to Kombucha, a tea fermented to about 0.5% alcohol. I recently found out it exists because new Boulder resident and world-renowned ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek just started homebrewing some.
    Jurek is also a vegan and a nutrition nerd whose twitter often contains interesting tidbits about food and eating.

Stuff I liked

  • I. M. PEI (22A. Pyramide du Louvre architect). Pei is probably the only architect I can recall by name. He's been good to Denver, giving us the Mile High Tower, which most people recognize as the tower by the Wells Fargo "cash register" atrium, and of course the 16th Street Mall.

    He also made me finally put down MOE where I had insisted on keeping APU (23D. Small business owner on "The Simpsons")