Tuesday, July 31, 2007

G'day Mate!

Lately when you get a Patrick Blindauer puzzle, you get more than your money's worth. You not only get a crossword puzzle, but when you're done it transforms into another game you can play. Last Thursday he and Francis Heaney turned that day's puzzle into an acrostic. Today Blindauer brings us a chess problem to solve. And you get 16X14 symmetry, which I don't think I've ever seen before.

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as fun and challenging as the more well-known New York Times and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. If you'd like to read about an unbiased head-to-head competition between the Sun and the Times puzzles check this out. Or if you're ready to decide for yourself you can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here.

The name of this puzzle is "Board Members" referring to the chess board that will take shape shortly. There is a message to See Notepad! -- and I'm trying to remember if these messages always come with an exclamation point or if that's just for today. One thing's for sure, this puzzle's not going to make much sense if you don't read the notepad. Here's what it says:

Mark the center 8x8 squares with a heavy border. This border will start between the third and fourth letters of 21-Across, proceed across to right side of the box with a 23 in it, proceed down to the right side of the box with a 54 in it, then proceed to the left between boxes 54 and 61, over to the bottom of box 51. Finally it will proceed up back to where you started. If done correctly, the center 64 squares of the puzzle will have a border around it. That 8x8 area marked by the border is a chessboard. After you solve the puzzle, put chessmen on the circled squares (all the chessmen are black except the ones in box 26, box 54, and the crossing of 47-Across and 40-Down) and solve the problem given in the puzzle.

As you can see, I follow directions to the letter:

The instructions by the way are at 3D (WHITE TO MOVE) and 27D (MATE IN THREE).
If you follow the directions in the notepad, this is what your chess problem looks like.

This is not that hard of a chess problem and I know because I'm not that great a chess player, but mate in three is very simple. Remember the only way to force mate in a limited number of moves is to limit your opponents options. The best way to do that is usually by putting him in check.
So A2-A8 in algebraic notation, or Q-Rook8, if you prefer the old-fashioned notation.
Black is in check and there's only one way out of it. He has to sacrifice his queen.
F4-B8 (Q-Bishop8)

But we're not after the queen -- which would lead to a trade anyway -- we're going for the kill.
A8 X C6 (Queen takes pawn)
Once again, black has no choice. He has to get out of check and there's only one way to do that:
B8-C7 (Q-Knight7)
After which, C6XC7 (Q takes Q) Checkmate.
The black king cannot move out of check, and he can't capture the queen because she's protected by the rook.

You know what I love about crossword blogging -- you never know what you're going to be writing about. It could be anything. I know that, but I still didn't expect to be writing about chess.

Just like with the acrostic puzzle, I can only imagine how much work this took. For one thing, getting two K's and two Q's into a square in the middle of the diagram. And setting up a chess problem in the middle of a crossword -- wow.

Other entries of interest:

17A: Athlete's foot sufferer's purchase (TINACTIN) Made famous in a series of commercials starring John Madden, who said, "Boom! Tough actin' Tinactin." So, we've got a guy famous for saying "Boom!" and another guy (Emeril Lagasse) famous for saying "Bam!" Isn't America a great country?

20A: The NHL's Senators, on scoreboards (OTT) I'm glad to see this clued as a city and not a person. I have nothing against Mel Ott the baseball player, but I can't helping thinking when I see those three letters of Vance Ott, the worst boss I ever had.

21A: "Joyeux ___"? (French holiday card sentiment) (NOEL) Why does this clue have a question mark?

26A: Skirts and shirts et al. (RHYMES) I made this one more complicated than it actually was by trying to come up with some apparelly term for these two items.

35A: Deal breaker (NARC) Dope deal, that is.

39A: Tomb raider played by Jolie (CROFT) Because it gives me a chance to post this from artist Adam Hughes:

62A: "Marriage is too interesting an experiment to be tried only once" quipper (EVA GABOR) Eva was married 5 times -- she made four fewer trips down the aisle than her sister Zsa Zsa, who evidently really enjoyed the marriage experiment.

60A: Weddings rings? (HORAS) It sounds like somebody picked a bride with an interesting past, but it refers to a circular dance done at Jewish (and some European) weddings.

6D: Fairy tale ender (AFTER) as in "happily ever. . . "

33D: ____ Xtra (soda brand) (PIBB) What Xtra? More rip-off Dr. Pepper flavor than ever before? (Yes, I'm a soda snob.)

That's all for today. See you Thursday.

So, Patrick, what's your next puzzle gonna morph into? Is it gonna origami out into a badminton court?

Happy birthday!

Baseball is the only sport I care about. But I like to have people or teams I can pull for in sports I would never watch. And for those, I pick my favorites based on their names or nicknames. My favorite Nascar driver is Dick Trickle. My favorite college basketball team is the University of Connecticut, just because I love the pun in the name UConn Huskies. My favorite (retired) football player is Tiki Barber. My favorite soccer player is Mia Hamm (cuz it sounds like how an uncultured actor would describe herself).

And I want to wish a happy 56th birthday to my favorite tennis player Evonne Goolagong.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Turn and face the strange changes!

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as fun and challenging as the more well-known New York Times and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. If you'd like to read about an unbiased head-to-head competition between the Sun and the Times puzzles check this out. Or if you're ready to decide for yourself you can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here.

What Randall J. Hartman has done with "Ch-Ch-Changes" (and if that doesn't put a David Bowie song in your head, you and I have very different musical tastes) is put a "CH" in front of AND behind four common phrases. I really liked this puzzle. Some of the new phrases might sound awkward, and he's all over the map with the stuff he started with -- everything from body parts to Taiwanese directors, from vehicles to bad movies based on unfunny "Saturday Night Live" sketches. But who knew there were that many phrases you could stick CH's on fore and aft and have them make sense?

What am I talking about?

17A: Preside over the Cardinal's ballpark? (CHAIR BUSCH) The St. Louis Cardinals play their home games at Busch stadium.

27A: Merit Badge for paying off debts? (CHITS PATCH) Probably my favorite of the themed entries. Boy Scouts are supposed to be "thrifty, brave, clean and reverent" but I don't remember them teaching us much about financial management. Maybe they should have. (But "It's Pat"? worst movie ever made. Worst recurrent SNL character. Did anybody ever think that was amusing?)

48A: One who sponges off Eng's twin? (CHANG LEECH) Chang and Eng Bunker are the world's most famous Siamese twins -- born in Siam (now Thailand) which is where the term came from. And Lee directed "Sense and Sensibility"; "Brokeback Mountain" and several other movies all a thousand times better than "It's Pat!"

66A: Singles bar come-on? (CHARM PITCH) Although it seems to me that most singles bar come-ons lack charm.

Other entries of interest:

1A: Stick up at sea? (MAST) One thing I appreciate about crossword puzzles is they force me to slow down and pay attention -- while trying to solve as fast as possible which makes things interesting. Notice the lack of a hyphen. Stick-up at sea would be piracy. But a stick heading in an upward direction is a mast. And I guess this is as good a time as any to mention one of my pet peeves -- people who say the flag is at "half-mast". Unh-uh! Unless you're on a ship, it's at half-staff.

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled crossword blog already in progress)

14A: What you might do while dropping acid (ETCH) Yeah, I grew up in the 70's. I was thinking TRIP.

19A: Panty ____ (college prank) (RAID) Man, I was born too late. I never got to go on a panty raid. How do those things work, anyway? You steal underwear out of co-eds' drawers? I mean, surely you don't rip them off their body, that's a crime not a prank. (Come to think of it, stealing underwear is a crime, but you know what I mean.)

42A: King, in Latin (REX) He's also the king in Crossworld.

47A: "Sweeney ____" (TODD) I got this right off even though I had no idea who Sweeney Todd was. According to Wikipedia he's a fictional barber and serial-killer, and has been the subject of so many plays, movies and musicals, it's kind of miraculous I've been able to avoid him.

11D: Enjoy New York, say (READ) That's New York Magazine, of course. Here's an interesting article from New York Magazine about puzzlemaster Will Shortz.

37D: Rocker nicknamed "The Motor City Madman" (TED NUGENT) In case, you haven't already gathered it, I tend to take music pretty seriously. When I was in high school I broke up with a girlfriend because she pronounced Ted's last name as "nugget." I just didn't feel the same about her anymore. And I didn't even like Ted Nugent that much.

That's all for today.

Hey, look, I remembered to upload the grid:

Unfortunately, he won't be back in 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

Tom Snyder passed away yesterday at the age of 71. I'm afraid that he is remembered mostly today as the Dan Ackroyd parody on SNL -- and admittedly he was easy to parody, with the chainsmoking, the grey and bushy eyebrows, the teddy bear, that laugh. His show -- "Tomorrow" came on at 1 am and I rarely missed it. In order to watch it, I had to wait until my parents had gone to bed, sneak downstairs, taking care to avoid that creaky third step and turn the TV on with the volume down very low and sit right in front it. I was fascinated by Tom Snyder and I loved watching him talk to the cameramen and set people and crack private jokes with them. I loved watching his barely-concealed contempt for Rona Barrett when NBC forced him to give her a segment of the show. I didn't know what to make of frequent guest Nancy Friday, the world's weirdest sex researcher. I saw my favorite short-story writer -- Harlan Ellison -- for the first time on Tomorrow. I saw Ayn Rand and she struck me as such a nutjob that objectivism has never held any appeal for me.
But what I loved the most were the punk rock acts. The world was changing -- but not where I was. I was fascinated by the punk rock movement that I read about in Creem magazine every month, and I liked what little I was able to find of the records locally at the Purple Prism head shop. (I know, nowadays if there's a band you're interested in, it's easy to find out more about them and get to hear their music, but it wasn't like that then.) That show was the first time I saw and heard a lot of the bands and singers that are still my favorites today -- The Ramones, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello. And most unforgettably -- The Clash, which left me so excited and so wired I was unable to sleep the rest of the night and suffered mightily the next day in school. There was just no other way back then to see these people if you lived in a sleepy little South Carolina town. I mean, the Plasmatics and the Runaways were not going to be on "Sonny and Cher" or "Tony Orlando and Dawn" or even "The Tonight Show."
So I will always be grateful to Tom Snyder for introducing me to the music I love so much -- which I guess is kind of ironic, because he didn't try to disguise the fact that he hated most of it.

Monday's Grid

Sorry it's late -- I forgot.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Monday Sun

This week's entries will probably be a little shorter than usual. I am gearing up to go on vacation (-- yes, I do take a lot of vacations, but that's because I work hard; and this is only a mini-one -- a long weekend in the mountains. No doubt I will figure out some way to get sunburned up there, since I'm just now healing up from my week at the beach.) But don't worry, good things come in small packages and even if the entries are shorter we'll still maintain our usual high journalistic standards. No effort will be spared to ensure that you get the finest in crossword bloggery.

SPOILER WARNING: Watch your step; it's getting deep in here.

ANOTHER SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as fun and challenging as the more well-known New York Times and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. If you'd like to read about an unbiased head-to-head competition between the Sun and the Times puzzles check this out. Or if you're ready to decide for yourself you can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here.

"Business Founding Fathers" is by Jack McInturf, and he's got three of our founding fathers' names currently being used by businesses.

18: Patriotic Name in home furnishings (ETHAN ALLEN) Keep in mind that history is written by the winners, and when the clues in this puzzle say "patriotic" they mean "revolutionary." And probably the best example of that is Ethan Allen, who led a bunch of wild-eyed Vermont radicals against the state of New York, which was encroaching on Vermont's territory -- at least as Allen saw it. After the Revolutionary War and after a period of imprisonment in Britain, moved back to Vermont where he became dissatisfied with the new nation's policies and negotiated with the governor of Canada to see if they couldn't get Vermont status as a British province to gain military protection from the US. As a result he was charged with treason. Today he is a patriot, a "founding father" and namesake of a furniture company, although as you can see, nobody ever accused him of being overly handsome.

26A: Patriotic name in insurance (JOHN HANCOCK) Hancock is famous mostly for writing his name real big on the Declaration of Independence -- and everywhere else he signed his name. In fact his name has become synonomous with signature as in "Put your John Hancock right there." Handwriting analysts say that people who sign their name in large letters like that have an outsized ego. If so, then Hancock would be pleased to know how many things in America are named after him -- in addition to the insurance company, there are cities in Massachusetts and Michigan, Hancock counties in at least 10 states, the John Hancock Tower, the tallest building in Boston, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, and several USS John Hancock Naval vessels.

41A: Patriotic name in beer (SAMUEL ADAMS) Well, now you're talking. I can't tell you much about Ethan's furniture or John's insurance but I can attest to the fact that Sam Adams makes one heck of a good beer -- well, actually, several good beers. I am particularly partial to the Sam Adams Summer Ale, which is only available from April to August (which, now that I think about it may be partly why I suffer from Winter depression.)

And just in case you missed the point 53A: Loyal employees, or what 18-, 26- 41- Across are (COMPANY MEN)

Other entries of interest:

37D: Place to catch some Z's (CRASH PAD) Wow, that's an old-fashioned term. I don't think I've heard it since the 70's and I think the only people who said it then were behind the times. I never hear a residence referred to as a "pad" anymore.

5A: Skier's lifts (T-BARS) I know as much about skiing as I do the construction business. I never can remember which is a T-bar and which is an I-bar. I usually put an I there but stay ready to cross it.

31A: First, do no ____ (HARM) Contrary to popular belief, this is not a part of the Hippocratic Oath and never has been. You can read the ancient and modern versions of the Oath here, but I can tell you it's not there.

That's all for today. Enjoy your Monday.

Found Funds

One of the volumes I picked up at the last book sale I went to was this one:
As you might expect, if you're familiar with Penn and Teller, this is an unusual book. I haven't had a chance to read all of it yet, but it comes with 3-D glasses and a warning label that you're supposed to read and then shred. It contains the key to making many of the tricks in this book work -- which they won't do if you just follow the instructions.
Even odder, if you flip through the pages from the front, all the pages look like some weird, red psychedelic mishmash, but they look normal if you flip the pages from the back. Not really sure what's up with that.
The book I bought had another added insert -- two of them, in fact. A twenty dollar bill and a five hundred dollar bill.
That's right, the book I bought for two dollars came with a 520 dollar rebate.
One problem -- well, two. First, it wasn't American money. It was Hong Kong money.

And second, I wasn't even 100 per cent sure it was real Hong Kong money. It might be part of a Penn and Teller cruel trick. But I'm going to the Heroes Convention in Charlotte the next day. Having an extra five hundred and twenty bucks to spend would really be nice. I could finally afford to get an Adam Hughes sketch!
So I head over to the only bank in Charleston that does foreign currency exchange. I don't want to have to try to find another parking space so I leave the Prius where it is and walk to the bank even though it's raining. When I get to the bank I have to wait in a long slow line. Which was bad because it gave me a chance to start worrying -- what if it is a Penn and Teller prank? Are they going to arrest me for trying to pass out phony foreign money?
When I finally get up to the teller, I explain that I found the money, I've never been to Hong Kong and despite the sweaty palms and the guilty look I am not a counterfeiter. She looks it up on her computer and tells me my five hundred and twenty bucks is worth 62 bucks American, and since I'm not a customer of their bank, there's a ten dollar service charge. Well, 52 dollars is not nearly as good as 520, but it's 52 more than I had, so I thank her, take the money and run -- it's really raining now and I was afraid my parking meter might have expired.
So, that's the way it stood. Except when I told my friends about it, they all laughed at me and said that teller knew by how apologetic I was that I had no idea how much it was worth. They painted a picture of the teller out of the town with her friends buying champagne for the house with my money cuz Hong Kong money is really worth triple what the American dollar is worth.
So I looked it up, and the teller was right, of course. One Hong Kong dollar is worth 0.12783 USD.
Not sure what I spent the 52 bucks on in Charlotte --- maybe a hot dog and Diet Pepsi at ye olde overpriced snack bar.
But one thing has changed -- politically -- for me. I used to be a one-issue voter and I was planning to vote for whatever candidate would get us out of that disaster in Iraq the quickest. But now I think I'll examine the candidates' stand on the shocking discrepancy in the exchange rate between us and our friends in Hong Kong.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Here he goes again!

Warning, if your tolerance level for geeky stuff is low, you might want to come back another time. I'm about to rant about postage stamps AND comic books.

The Marvel Super "Heroes" stamps came out today. Back in October 2006, when these things were first announced I expressed some concerns about the stamps here. I'm pleased to see that they made the corrections on artist credits -- I mean, if you can't tell a Gene Colan Sub-Mariner from one drawn by John Buscema, perhaps you should recuse yourself and go work on the next flower or flag stamp.

But that does not mean I'm happy. Tell me again why Elektra is part of this package? Does this woman look heroic to you? Or even smart enough to cover her ass?

Uh, hello? She's an assassin. Yeah, I know she had a crappy childhood, yeah, I know she reformed (sort of), I don't care. This is a slap in the face to all the women in the Marvel universe who don't kill people for money. Who actually fight evil and help other people -- you know, heroes.
Maybe I'm being too hard on Elektra? Well, let's see what Marvel and the United States Postal Service thinks. This is what it says on the back of the Elektra stamp:

"Driven by tragedy and versed in the ancient ways of the ninja, the mysterious femme fatale known as Elektra kills for hire, loves for thrills and brings destruction to all who are foolish enough to cross her path"

I rest my case.

And how about Sub-Mariner? If you've ever co-starred (with Doctor Doom!) in a magazine called "Super-Villain Team-Up" how the hell can you be on a hero stamp?

And judging by recent events in the Marvel universe, I would say that Iron Man probably belongs on the "Flunkies For the Man" series rather than "Heroes." Spider-Woman has no business here either. Not because she's bad, because she's boring. I guess you can only have two women since that's how many DC got, but I can think of dozens of better choices than Elektra and Spider-Woman. Here is a brief list of super-powered Marvel women that would have been better choices than these two losers - the Invisible Woman, the Scarlet Witch, Crystal or Medusa (of the Inhumans), the Cat, the Black cat, Shadowcat, Hellcat, Nightcat, Tigra, the Phantom Blonde, the Black Widow, Shanna the She-Devil, Dazzler, Squirrel Girl -- and the two I'd've gone with:
Storm and She-Hulk.

In fact, here's how I would have gone if I'd been in charge of this project:

Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Captain America, the Thing, I would leave just as they are. I would find a better picture of the Hulk (i.e. one where his stomach muscles haven't been erased) I'd keep Wolverine and the X-Men, but I'd ditch both pics and go with these instead.

In place of Iron man and Sub-Mariner, let's go with Daredevil and the Black Panther.

There you go, now those are some hero stamps.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dash it all

Francis Heaney, the co-creator (with Patrick Blindauer) of this crossword, strongly suggests that you get this puzzle from here rather than the usual New York Sun crossword page. I think this is good advice. I just wish he had given it before I finished the puzzle because I had a rough go with this one, folks.

It seems to me that this blogs' readership is higher on Monday and falls off all week as the puzzles get harder. If that's the case and I have fewer readers the harder the puzzles get, then I am probably talking to myself right now. And if that's the case, then I'm just going to put up illustrations that have nothing to do with the puzzle but which amuse me for one reason or another.

Not an easy puzzle is what I'm trying to say. I don't think it's going to be easy to just explain it, but here goes:

Three of the across clues are a series of numbers separated at seemingly-random intervals by a /. The Across Lite version that I solved had this explanation on the notepad: For 17-, 36-, and 54-Across, those numbers are supposed to look like in an acrostic puzzle, with blanks on top of them, but there's no way to do that in AcrossLite, so you have to add the blanks yourself. Slashes indicate breaks between words. Solving this puzzle without printing it out is not advised, which was not but so helpful to me, so I just dove in and started solving the puzzle without worrying about 17-,36-, and 54-Across. Even after I finished the puzzle I wasn't sure what to with the numbers or how I was supposed to turn this crossword into an acrostic. At first I thought each letter in the themed entries might have a number that could be entered into the clue-numbers. (I knew this was going to be awkward to explain.) So that in 17-Across, which turned out to be ON THE DOTTED LINE, the O in On would make #1 an O and #2 an N, et cetera. It became obvious pretty quickly that this wasn't going to work. For one thing there were 63 total numbers in the three clues, and only 45 letters (3 15-letter entries).

So that was no help. Neither was scratching my head and muttering mild blasphemies under my breath. What finally set me on the right track to solving this puzzle was good old serendipity. I happened to notice (after counting the 63 numbers) that the highest number on the grid (i.e. the first block in the final across entry) was 63, and Aha! maybe all you have to do is fill in the letters in the numbered squares. For example 1 Across was Singer with the #1 hit "To Sir With Love" All the boxes in the answer have numbers so that means #1 is an L, #2 is a U, #3 is an L, et cetera. And this turned out to be the right way to, Jeopardy-like, get the question after I already had the answer.
And that was the problem. There was a lot of work yet to be done after I had already solved the puzzle. There's a lot of grunt work involved in acrostics anyway, which is why I prefer to do them online where a lot of that is taken care of automatically, even though I refuse to solve crosswords that way. And the grunt work is especially annoying after you've reached your reward, i.e. solved the puzzle. Still, it's a pretty amazing piece of work and I can only imagine how many hours it took to put it together.

Other entries of interest:

5A: "____ Gold" (ULEE'S) What did crossword constructors do before this Peter Fonda movie? I know there were a lot more boats headed out of the wind, for one thing. (Now, that's a crossword joke, folks.)

10A: Happy workplace (MINE) also a Sneezy, Dopey and Doc workplace.

24A: Pen, e.g. (SWAN) More proof that it pays to read clues carefully. I thought it said Penn, e.g. and I had SEAN for the longest.

12D: Turned six? (NINE) Love those upside-down number clues.

52D: Losses that aren't counted (TKOS) Because a technical knockout does not require a fighter to be down for a 10-count.

Like obscure coaches? then this is your kind of puzzle: 14A: Ukranian soccer coach Blokhin (OLEG) 42A: Islanders head coach Nolan (TED)

58A: Creatures from Oz (ROOS)
I've read all the OZ books, and I know all about the Winkies and the Quadlings and the Munchkins and the Gillikins. But I don't know anybody within shouting distance of the Emerald City with only three letters, so I knew it had to be the other Oz.

60A: They end an engagement (I DOS)

11D: J. Paul Getty used one (INIT) The initial J. to be precise. Great clue.

27D: Use assembly language? (ORATE) I love crosswords with lots of question mark clues. This one had nine, plus a few more that probably should have had a question mark, so I loved it.

And I hope you love your weekend.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Themeless Thursday

This one will probably end up being short and sweetish. No, I don't have the mysterious blogger bug that felled Rex and Linda G., thank goodness, I've just got a lot on my plate right now. Still, this was a fun Themeless Thursday puzzle from Jeffrey Harris, and we'll talk more about it right after the ever-popular SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as fun and challenging as the more well-known New York Times and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. If you'd like to read about an unbiased head-to-head competition between the Sun and the Times puzzles check this out. Or if you're ready to decide for yourself you can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here.

I looked to see if there was a mini-theme or even a micro-theme, but I don't see one, so let's get right to the entries of interest.

21A: See 22-Across and 22A: With 21-Across, Maltese, e.g. (LAP DOG) In general I think crossword constructors' (and some solvers') obsession with symmetry is way overdone. Yeah, you need guidelines but I would gladly sacrifice a little symmetry to get in a great answer or avoid a crappy one like ERA or EMU or another ANODE. That said, I do believe that if you have a two-part answer like this, the first part of the answer has to come first and the last part last. Here we have LAP at 22A and DOG UPstairs at 21A. It just makes the puzzle feel lopsided. If that makes me a symmetry wonk or a nitpicker, then so be it.

53A: Data representation expert? (SPINER) Now that was a tough one, and I am a big fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". Brent Spiner played the android Data on that show as well as his evil "brother" Lore.

1D: Magpie of cartoons (HECKLE) As far as I know, the only cartoon magpies and Heckle and Jeckle, a couple of smart asses in the Bugs Bunny mold. Their names, by the way, were inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Heckle" -- I mean "Hyde."

12D: Animal that's tired right before dying? (ROADKILL) That's funny, right there. A little gross, I guess, but funny nevertheless.

6D: It's symbolized by an H (ENTHALPY)
I confess I did not and do not know what enthalpy is and I wasn't sure about the crossing 19A: Cherry-flavored brandy (brandy being one of the few alcoholic beverages I care not for). I had to guess.

52D: Root used in dyeing (BEET). The number of books that have changed my life is a small number, I guess. I've loved a lot of them, but life-changing, only a handful -- "The Bhagavad-Gita" "David Copperfield" "White Apples" "Searching for Caleb" and "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins. This last one maybe didn't change my life in a big way but it got me to like beets, whereas before "Jitterbug" I couldn't stand them. If you've read the novel, maybe you'll understand why. If you haven't, well, beets are one of the things you have to eat if you want to live forever -- and they are delicious in salads.

More books I've read in 2007

Inevitably, it seems, people are disappointed shortly after they learn that I'm a comic reader. This happens right after they ask me how I liked the new X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, whatever man, movie. And I almost always say I haven't seen it, have no intentions of seeing it. Sometimes as a followup (because they assume if I don't like superhero movies I must not like superhero comics) they'll ask me what I think of Robert Crumb. And I have to say I've never liked him. For two reasons -- one, I do not share his obsession with ginormous female derrieres and other peoples' obsessions are boring, and two, I like artists who can get their point across with a minimum of strokes and Crumb never uses one stroke when he can use one hundred. It just looks scratchy and overdone to me. This book didn't bowl me over either. My favorite picture in it is probably this one of his cat, and I think you'll see what I mean: How many pencil tips or pen nibs gave their lives in the creation of this thing?

This date in Music history

On July 25th, 1948, Steve Goodman was born in Chicago. He was a singer-songwriter, famous for penning the Arlo Guthrie (and Willie Nelson) hit "The City of New Orleans." He was immortalized in David Allan Coe's version of Goodman's "You Never Even Called Me By Me Name." Goodman was a die-hard Cub fan and he wrote and recorded "A Dying Cub Fans' Last Request" and "Go, Cubs, Go!" Unfortunately, Steve Goodman died before he could see his beloved Cubs win a World Series -- as all Cub fans must. He was only 36 when he lost a 20-year battle with leukemia. His ashes are buried under home plate at Wrigley Field.

On this date in 1965 Bob Dylan was booed off the stage at the Newport Fold Festival for having the audacity to use an electric guitar.

Walter Brennan was born on July 25th, 1894 in Swampscott Massachusetts. Probably most famous as Grandpappy Amos on the 60's TV show "The Real McCoys", by which time Brennan had been playing Grandfather characters since the early 30's. An accident that cost him most of his teeth and his thin hair and raspy voice allowed him to play characters older than himself. Not really known as a singer, he did some recording in the early 60s, and reached #5 on the pop charts with "Old Rivers" about an hard-working old man who dreamed that:

"One of these days I'm gonna climb that mountain,
Walk up there among them clouds;
Where the cotton's high and the corn's a growin'
And there ain't no ain't no fields to plow."

On this date in 1960 Elvis Presley released "It's Now or Never" based on "O Sole Mio" a Neapolitan song composed in 1898. It was his first release after leaving the Army and would go on to become his biggest international hit.

And in 1964, the Beatles single "Hard Day's Night" hit number 1 on the UK charts. Composed mostly by John Lennon and based on a malapropism from Ringo, it was the first Beatles single in the UK not to contain a pronoun in the title (previous singles: "Love Me Do," "Please Please Me," "From Me to You." "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "Can't Buy Me Love"). The single stayed at number 1 for 21 weeks and lent its name to the title of the Beatles's first feature film.

Monday, July 23, 2007

It's not always black and white

A lot of the crossword constructor's guidelines I've seen says something along the lines of "Avoid stale, overdone themes, such as colors, et cetera." Pete Mitchell's "Nonconformity" is about colors, but it's neither trite not overdone. More like proof that all you need to take a theme from trite to exciting is just a little tweak.

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as fun and challenging as the more well-known New York Times and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. If you'd like to read about an unbiased head-to-head competition between the Sun and the Times puzzles check this out. Or if you're ready to decide for yourself you can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here. This is a great way to get people who are still a little green (so to speak) at crosswords used to themes that "break" the rules of crosswords. It's not too hard for a Wednesday so it won't have anybody seeing red.

Here's how it works: Four unclued symmetrically-placed words won't fit in the grid (i.e. inside the lines). All four words happen to be the names of colors. The reason why I think this puzzle is not too hard is because you get a great clue at 37A: How some color (and a hint to solving this puzzle) OUTSIDE THE LINES -- how some color? It's got to be "outside the lines"; I got that answer with no letters in place to help me. The intersecting entries are likewise helpful. I've watched enough television so that 1A: Mrs. Howell, to Thurston (LOVEY) and 14A: When "SNL" wraps (ONE AM) were no trouble at all. 2D: First name in gossip has got to be RONA (even though Ms. Barrett now deals in lavender not innuendo) and what else could 5D: Member of the Amazin's be but NY MET. Now that I know my first guess -- MOM -- for 1D: House rule maker, perhaps can't be right it must be BLOC and I've got three letters now that won't fit. Where could they go? 37A told me where they go, and once I had BROWN in place, and knowing crossworder's obsession with symmetry, I could skip around to the four corners and work my way inward which is what I did.

For the record, the four colors are (counterclockwise from 1A) BROWN, PURPLE, GREEN (My favorite color, a fact which I suspect will come as a shock to absolutely no one) and (for the second day in a row) ORANGE, which gives me the opportunity to reiterate my recommendation for Amy Reynaldo's "How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle" Whatever level of a solver you are, you can pick up some useful tips here. This book definitely gets the Green Genius Seal of Approval.

Other entries of interest:

7D: Result of a promotion, maybe (QUEEN) This is a chess reference, where is you can get one of your pawns to your opponent's back row, you can turn that pawn into any other piece you like, including the most powerful piece, the queen.

30D: Winning manager of the 2005 World Series (GUILLLEN) That's Ozzie Guillen of the Chicago White Sox, who are not playing like champions this years, but then neither are the 2006 World Series champions Saint Louis Cardinals.

68A: Hoppy happy hour drinks (ALES) My favorite clue in the grid. Despite the kangaroo mental imagery, it refers to the hops that give beer and ale bitterness and flavor.

51A: Lumberjill's tool (AXE) I guess a lumberjill could be a female lumberjack, but the few times I've heard the word it referred to a butch lesbian.

28A: Do stuff? (GEL) That's hairdo, of course.

That's all for today. See you on Thursday.

The Tuesday Sun

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read any further until you've done today's New York Sun Crossword Puzzle. New York Sun puzzles are every bit as fun and challenging as the more well-known New York Times and they're indisputably better in one way -- they're free. If you'd like to read about an unbiased head-to-head competition between the Sun and the Times puzzles check this out. Or if you're ready to decide for yourself you can download this puzzle and join in on the fun here.

"Filming Retakes" is by Barry C. Silk, and it's a fun one if, like me, you like movies and wordplay and themed entries that go down and not across.

7D: What a Thanksgiving chef seeks? (THE RIGHT STUFFING) Good luck on that, since everybody has different ideas on what goes into the right stuffing. Bread crumbs, eggs, vegetables, sausage, tofu. Lately people have begun stuffing birds with other birds. A turducken is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. Not my kind of dressing -- for one thing it sounds too much like turd-duckin', which is not at all appetizing.

10D: Activity of oysters (PEARL HARBORING) Speaking of not very appetizing. Oysters, yuck. When I was a vegetarian I was trying to explain my dietary choices to an acquaintance who wanted to know if I ate fish.
"Basically, I don't eat anything with eyes," I said.

"So that mean you can't eat potatoes, but you can eat oysters." Since French fries were a big part of my diet -- I was a vegetarian but not a health nut -- I had to come up with new guidelines.

"Okay, I don't eat anything that had a mother."

"Well, you can still eat oysters. They don't have mothers."

I finally added the no mucus-looking-shellfish clause to my dietary guidelines, but it did set me to wondering about oyster reproduction. I mean they're all alone in that shell, how do they -- you know -- do it?

From Wikipedia:

Oysters usually mature by one year of age. They are protandric, which means that during their first year they spawn as males (releasing sperm into the water). As they grow larger over the next two or three years and develop greater energy reserves, they release eggs, as females. Bay oysters are usually prepared to spawn by the end of June. An increase in water temperature prompts a few initial oysters to spawn. This triggers a spawning 'chain reaction', which clouds the water with millions of eggs and sperm. (Not a good day to go swimming.) A single female oyster can produce up to 100 million eggs annually

18D: What you might have seen if you had been at director Stone's prom? (OLIVER TWISTING) Unlikely, since he attended the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, which at the time he attended was all-male, though it has since gone co-ed. Still, it's a nice visual. He seems so serious -- if you saw him agonizing over every single answer when he was on Celebrity Jeopardy a few years ago you'll know what I mean -- and nobody can look serious when they're doing the twist.

14A: Half of CDXXIV quintupled (MLX) Yeah, I know I could stop being verbal and solve this math problem, but I really wish instead of doing this -- and even worse, that "year in the reign of some king nobody ever heard of" thing -- they'd just say "Some random Roman numeral."

8A: University of Texas city (EL PASO) Someday we'll have personalized crossword puzzles. When we do, my clue for EL PASO will be "Your favorite country song of all time."

36A: Jungla animal (TIGRE) Reading fast is a blessing and a curse. Here a glance is all I need to see "Jungle animal" -- which is not exactly right.

56A: Cookbook writer Rombauer (IRMA) She penned the classic "Joy of Cooking".

65A: New York county (ORANGE) Which reminds me, if you haven't already picked up Amy Reynaldo's book "How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle" you need to do so. It'll help you get better at all crosswords BTW not just the Times.

That's all for today. See ya Wednesday.