Monday, August 31, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/31/2009


Also, 3 ellipses and 1 question mark!

Stay tuned; tomorrow, a new feature will be debuted on the Rex Morgan posts!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/31/2009

It's been a while since I can remember having very dramatic reactions to Monday puzzles from the LAT and the NYT, but I sure did today. One was wonderful, the other was horrible. Oh yeah, there was also a really weird BEQ today. Let's get to it.

The NYT was the horrible one. Fred Piscop, the constructor, usually does harder puzzles than what is expected for a Monday puzzle (and in general very good ones too, I should add), and man, did it show today. The theme was completely uninspired (it was just three phrases that started with homophones of the word "for"), and the entries themselves were mostly convoluted. For example, one of them, I'm not kidding here, was FORE AND AFT SAILS. Also, the surrounding fill was a combination of boring AND stuffy. When you have words like LAMINA, MOIRES, and WHIST on a Monday, your puzzles has major issues. This was just icky to do, and had absolutely no payoff of any kind. *.

The LAT, by comparison, was terrific today. Constructing easy puzzles that are also smooth to fill in and have original answers is considered to be one of the hardest things to do for a puzzle constructor, and this puzzle by Norma Steinberg pulls it off as well as any Monday I've ever seen. The theme was very simple but cute (the clues were all "Magician's deception" and the answers were nice answers like SMOKE AND MIRRORS and SLEIGHT OF HAND), and the surrounding fill was great. When you have fill like THONGS, EMOTICON, GRITS, and LONE STAR in your puzzle, AND it's a Monday, you know you're golden. I was honestly surprised to discover I solved this in under 3:30, since it felt longer because I was enjoying it so much, but that only makes it better, because it was perfectly clued to a normal Monday level. ****1/2.

The BEQ was decent, but a very personal puzzle. It was BEQ's wedding anniversary today, so he constructed a tribute puzzle to his wife Liz. I say to and not for because she doesn't really do crossword puzzles. So this was a bizarre hodgepodge of a puzzle, with three random rebus squares that contained the letters LIZ in them, and there were lots of little personal references to her lost on everyone but BEQ and one of his friends who posted on the forums about them. The puzzle itself wasn't great; there was a lot of crosswordese, oddly enough, and not a lot of good fill. The best things were the entries with the LIZ rebus squares, which contained things as diverse as HORSE TRANQUILIZER and LOUNGE LIZARD. **1/2.

Winner: The LAT, by a long shot. One of the best Monday puzzles I've ever done.

Best clue: The second I read this clue, I both instantly knew what the answer was and had a strong feeling it would be the best clue of the day. "Brief briefs?" for THONGS is hysterical and yet a perfectly easy clue. The LAT actually has a bunch of great cluing in it, along with ILE and LIE being directly next to each other in the grid and a bonus theme entry. Again, terrific puzzle.

Worst clue: Lots of candidates from the NYT today. "Mensa-eligible" for SMART might be the worst though, only because it seems really really off. I've never thought of people in Mensa as inherently smart, just really good at logic puzzles and standardized tests. :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/30/2009

Oh man, was this a crazy day in crossword land. Two of the most complicated puzzles I've seen in ages, on the same day. I honestly didn't have much fun solving either one, but I deeply appreciate both of them, and I kind of wish I hadn't solved the NYT as late as I did, since I was tired and got frustrated more easily than I should have. Also, and I feel really bad about this, but I'm writing this in a state of utter exhaustion, and don't clearly remember good and bad clues from these, so no best and worst clue today. Anyhow...

The NYT had an impossible to explain in one sentence theme. I think the best way to do this is to link to Orange's blog where all of the entries are explained. This almost felt like a cryptic crossword. The forums were completely split about this puzzle; some loved it while others found it to be convoluted. Unfortunately, I have to go with the camp that didn't like it, mainly because the way the excised letters linked to the eventual answers seemed really tenuous most of the time. This could not have been easy to make, and it definitely required some good mental gymnastics to figure out, but the payoff was definitely not worth it. **/12, bordering on *** for how hard this must have been to construct.

The syndicated LAT (the normal LAT was by Sylvia Bursztyn, whose puzzles I refuse to do) had a much less complicated theme, but one where I had no idea what was going on for practically the entire puzzle. Basically, the theme was "organ transplanting." There would be an entry like FELT CONDOLENCES (which had the great clue "Pool hall's 'better luck next time'?"), which has had the word "HEART" taken out of the normal phrase it was based on. Then there would be an entry like JAIL HEARTBREAKS, where the "HEART" from the first entry has been "transplanted" into the second entry. Complicated? Uh, YEAH. :) However, unlike the NYT, these were all really smooth, even if I had no idea what the heck was going on until I stared at it for a while after I finished. This was a fun puzzle. ***, bordering on ***1/2.

Winner: The LAT. Just a smoother experience overall, although quite difficult.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/29/2009


Also, 1 question mark, and a new record, 4 ellipses!!! Unbelievable!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/29/2009

This is being written to the lovely sounds of Stellastarr's My Coco, just for reference.

Well, here we go. I think this is the first time I've done the NYT Saturday in under ten minutes, and I did the LAT in about eight. Now, I am very good at crosswords, and have been doing them for a long time now, but these times I'm posting aren't just indicative of my skill; both puzzles are really easy today. In fact, a number of people on the forums think the NYT puzzle from yesterday was harder than today's, which I completely agree with. These are close to perfect Saturday puzzles to start off with, as there is very tricky cluing and hard references, but they are both very accessible. This was also true of yesterday's NYT puzzle. Interesting.

The NYT was a lot of fun today. Lots of unique fill, hard cluing, and nice long answers. My favorite clue was in this puzzle, so I'll save that one for later. But I should note that this puzzle includes everything from the Dreyfuss Affair to Yankees baseball, and throws in Italian numbers and Shakespeare for good measure. This is why it gets a lot of fun when you get to Saturday-level puzzles; anything is game, and you tend to learn things. ****.

The LAT was also themeless, but seemed extremely easy to me. The long Across answers were practically all gimmes, like TOM SAWYER, which was straightforwardly clued "1876 Twain hero," and "Long distance messages?" for SMOKE SIGNALS. I got these and most of the other long across answers right away with no pre-existing letters, so the puzzle kinda got dull. There wasn't really any other memorable fill. ***.

Winner: The NYT. It was just of a much higher quality level, and way more fun to solve. It was also a very diverse puzzle subject-wise, which I always love.

Best clue: This is certainly one of the more out there clues. From the NYT we get "Creator of the stuff of legends?" for... MAP MAKER! Wow, man. I actually figured this out pretty quickly, but that doesn't make me appreciate this any less. How do you come up with a clue like that?!

Worst clue: Nothing specific again, but there were some semi-awkward phrases peppered through the NYT, like SKATEBOARD TRICK and CELL PHONE TOWERS, which just stand out as relatively stiff compared to the other great fill. Yeah, I'm really stretching today. :)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/28/2009


Prepare yourself! There were also 2 question marks AND 2 ellipses! All 2s today! Unbelievable!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/28/2009

Three puzzles, two decent ones, one terrific one. Here we go.

The NYT was the terrific one. David Quarfoot always puts together really original puzzles, and this one was no exception. It was a themeless, and it had just loads of great clues and fill. You know when 1-Across is FREE TIBET that you're in for a good time. Parts of this were much harder than others, but I actually think this puzzle is perfect for people who feel like they might want to try higher difficulty puzzles but feel intimidated by them. This puzzle has a nice mixture of really hard stuff and pretty easy stuff, so you can get to the hard stuff with some letters already there, which should help. And the hard stuff here is quite hard, but not impossible like some puzzles can be. ****, bordering on ****1/2.

The LAT was kind of meh. The theme was taking phrases that start with an "S" and removing that S to create new, wacky phrases. So we get things like TRIKE ZONE or TRESS FRACTURE. Yeah, not the greatest theme. There was nothing really bad about this puzzle, but it really felt lackluster. I wish I had more to comment on, but this wasn't a memorable puzzle. **1/2.

The BEQ was his now weekly really hard themeless. As usual, some tremendous fill here, but the whole thing wasn't as exciting as these themelesses can be. Probably the best clue/fill was "Face plants?" for BOTOX INJECTIONS. Definitely not one of his better puzzles though. ***.

Winner: The NYT, by a long shot. One of the best themelesses I've done in a while.

Best clue: This is a tie in the NYT. These are both terrific.. "Swiftly done?" is the clue for SATIRIC, which is just excellent wordplay. I don't usually find crossword clues legitimately clever anymore, but this one was. The other is "Transmission blocker?" for, get ready, SAFE SEX! I'm honestly stunned this made the NYT, but it's a perfect misleading clue, and great original fill.

Worst clue: Today is funny. I don't have one clue or fill that stood out as particularly bad today, but there were a lot of annoying little things in the puzzles today, like plural clues cluing answers that are really borderline plural, or clues for one answer that had words that appeared in a different answer in the same puzzle. At least we didn't have weird alternate spellings, which are maybe my biggest pet peeve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/27/2009


Also, 2 question marks and, get ready, 3 ellipses! Same number of ellipses and exclamation marks today! Whoa!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/27/2009

Quick write-ups tonight; I'm tired, have a long day coming up tomorrow, and still need to go on my marathon training run.

The NYT was a crazy puzzle featuring a theme I'm not even sure I can explain well, so I defer to Rex Parker's writeup today. Let's just say that this really was an odd puzzle to solve; it felt incredibly scattered, and many of the answers were very very short and curt. I didn't dislike this puzzle, but it wasn't very fun to solve; I can't imagine the average solver would have finished this, not because of the difficulty, but because it felt more like work than like a fun time. **1/2, and that 1/2 * is for the incredible amount of difficulty the constructor must have gone through to make this thing.

The LAT was very cute. It had a wacky theme where there were clues that worked like "lofty bills?" for HIGH FIVES, where the fives are referring to five dollar "bills." But then it had a bonus one, where the clue was "Hated bills [that appropriately spoil this puzzle's symmetry]?" The answer was TERRIBLE TWOS, which is cute, but I couldn't figure out the symmetry thing until I noticed that that particular theme entry had a white square where it should have had a black square if the grid was completely symmetrical. What a bizarre concept! Unlike the NYT, though, the theme didn't deter the fun of solving the puzzle, and there were some great entries in this one. ***1/2.

Winner: LAT, by a mile. However, I have to give credit for the NYT for the construction feat, even if it wasn't fun to solve.

Best clue: There weren't really any great clues today, but the LAT had a bunch of nice entries. My favorite was probably "Swinger in a box?" for HITTER, but this puzzle also had HOLY COW for "Jeepers!" and RICOLA for "Swiss cough drop," and "Word spoken with a headslap" for DOH.

Worst clue: Also from the LAT comes "It's pd. monthly" for ELEC. Ick to the pd. abbreviation, and ick to the answer, which I guess works for the electric bill, but still. This felt really really forced.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/26/2009


Also, 1 question mark and 2 ellipses!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/26/2009

All right, let's do this. Four puzzles today. Total time I spent solving them: 21 minutes, roughly. Yeah, I had a damn good day. :) It also helped that one of them had me set a personal solving record.

The NYT was a good, solid Wednesday level puzzle. The theme was kind of weird; the answers were all fill in the blanks that completed a phrase that ended with "please." For example, a clue would be "_____, please (announcer's request)" for YOUR ATTENTION. There was one really bad theme entry (______, please (diner's request)" for CHOPSTICKS), and a bunch of solid but kind of standard and boring fill, so this gets *** from me.

The LAT was, like the NYT, a solid, good quality puzzle. The theme was tied together by the phrase COURT BUSINESS, and all the theme entries were common phrases that have court actions in them, such as SLOW MOTION and CLINICAL TRIAL. This seemed easy to me, but it seemed to frustrate a lot of the commenters on the blogs, and Orange, whom I mentioned yesterday, really didn't explain the theme correctly for some reason, suggesting it threw her a bit too. Again, solid but not exactly exciting fill and a bad theme entry (the awkward phrase LOSS OF HEARING) give this another ***.

The Onion had an hysterical theme, one of my favorites in a while. Every theme phrase had the letters "SHIT" in a row, but of course not as a separate word, and therefore every theme entry was literally full of shit! :) There were phrases like LET'S HIT THE ROAD, SUSHI TRAY, and my favorite, ENGLISH-ITALIAN as in a dictionary. There was also some excellent fill in this one, including my favorite clue of the day. **** bordering on ****1/2. Just as a note, this was by Matt Gaffney, who I love when he's not making impossible weekly contest puzzles. :)

The BEQ is where I set my speed solving record. After an absolutely brutal puzzle on Monday, BEQ went the opposite route and offered an insanely easy puzzle today. He noted that it was a puzzle made for non-puzzlers. Well, regardless, it was a fun puzzle that flowed really well, had some nice entries like MOJITO and NAUGHTY BY NATURE, and led to me solving the whole thing in 3:02, which beats my previous best time by about thirty seconds. It was actually a lot of fun to solve, and I was shocked to see my time when I finished. ***1/2.

Winner: The Onion. One of the better puzzles I've done in a while, and a theme I can't believe ran in a major publication.

Best clue: From the Onion we have "Good or bad thing to catch, depending on the context" for...CRABS!!! Clues like this make me wish The Onion had a daily crossword.

Worst clue: There wasn't any really offensive stuff today, but one I disliked was from the NYT. The clue was "Postpone yet again" for RETABLE. It just seems really awkward.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Maybe the greatest reenactment of all time. It's next to impossible to tell the difference between this staging and the real thing.

Crosswords of the Day, 8/25/2009

Sorry for how late this is. I'm a bit sick, and ended up napping for four hours today! So my whole normal rhythm is totally off. But I did do the puzzles, and here we go.

The NYT had something that is relatively rare; a lackluster theme but some excellent fill surrounding it. The theme was bizarre; it took the phrase HYBRID VEHICLES and used it to inspire strange phrases like SUBURBAN MALIBU. This really didn't work at all, and it was an odd solving experience in general. But there was some great cluing and fill in this, which I'll mention later. ***, but bordering on **1/2.

The LAT was a really excellent puzzle. It was inspired by the fact that it's the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz opening today. The theme answers had the following opening words: OVER, THE, and RAINBOW, and the unifying theme answer was DOROTHY GALE. Huge credit for the theme answer RAINBOW BRITE, which was just great. The reason this puzzle was so great is hard to describe here, but the whole thing just felt incredibly smooth and fun to do, with absolutely no bad fill. **** easily, and really closer to ****1/2.

Winner: The LAT. One of the smoothest and most fun puzzles I've solved in a while.

Best clue: For some reason, I love this clue from the NYT. "What it takes not to say 'You've put on a little weight'" for TACT. It's just a perfect clue, and kind of funny to boot.

Worst clue: Pretty much any of the NYT theme entries would apply here. Maybe my least favorite is the clue "Start of a stampede (think Ford)" for MUSTANG ESCAPE. See why this was annoying to solve?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/24/2009


Also, 3 question marks and 1 ellipsis! Same number of exclamation marks and question marks today!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/24/2009

OK, back to doing crosswords, although I'm still exhausted (I had ANOTHER family function to go to today), so this will still be relatively short.

The NYT was very good today. It had a simple theme of two word phrases where the first word started with D and the second with Q. So everything from DON QUIXOTE to DAIRY QUEEN was included. There were a couple of questionable things in this puzzle, but it flowed well, seemed perfectly suited to a Monday level of difficulty, and had no bad theme entries. ***1/2.

The LAT was kind of odd today. It was by a guy who really sounds like he has a fake name (Norfleet Pruden!!!), but apparently he's real, at least according to the xword blogs. The theme was different phrases that were all clued "Scope of a thorough search." So we get things like HIGH AND LOW, INSIDE AND OUT, and FAR AND WIDE. At first, I didn't like this puzzle at all, especially the INSIDE AND OUT answer, but as it went on, I liked it more and more. But it did seem hard for some reason, and interestingly, Orange, the queen of the crossword blogging world and an insanely fast speed solver, felt the same way. ***.

The BEQ today was a puzzle from a regional crossword tournament held this past weekend, Lollapuzzoola. And let's just say it was INSANELY hard. It was one of the final crosswords in the tournament, and man, it was ubelievably difficult. I wasn't prepared at all for the challenge, and got crushed by it. The theme was also really difficult to figure out; it took the phrase TRANSFER RNA literally, by taking the letters RNA out of two theme entries to create new weird phrases, and putting the letters RNA into two other theme entries to create new weird phrases. The puzzle was just brutal, and I can't really say I enjoyed it, or the theme, but I appreciated it quite a bit, and there was really no bad fill. ***.

Winner: The NYT, both for the puzzle quality and my level of enjoyment.

Best clue: I hate to do this, but I really don't have one from today. There really wasn't anything overly clever or even particularly interesting today, except for maybe the word BAROQUE in the NYT. Sorry.

Worst clue: The INSIDE AND OUT theme entry from the LAT rubs me the wrong way for some reason; it just seems awkward, but it could easily be me. There was a clue from the NYT that makes no sense to me though. It was "One who's well off" and the answer was...HAVE. Um... If someone can explain this one to me, I'd appreciate it, cause it seems horrible to me as it is.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back in Action

Sorry for the lack of updates this weekend; I was a groomsman in a wedding and didn't have good/consistent internet access. This was actually an amazing weekend; I ran thirteen miles, got accepted to graduate school, drove probably close to 200 miles, took part in a tremendous wedding and made about 17 new friends as a result, and got approximately, during the whole weekend, about 4 hours of really solid sleep. Man. :)

Everything should be back to normal on Monday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/20/2009

The next several days are going to be short and sweet, as I am a groomsman in my cousin's wedding, AND I'm running thirteen miles, the longest I've ever run at once, all on the same day. So I'm going to be doing the crosswords, but won't have a lot of time to write them up. Both crosswords were good, although one suited my tastes more than the other.

The NYT was, as usual from Elizabeth Gorski, an amazing construction feat (there were rebus clues that were numbers, and if you connected them in order, you got a parallelogram). However, a parallelogram just in and of itself doesn't excite me all that much, to be honest. Also, some of the fill was really iffy, although others were excellent. So I have to give this ***, but I didn't really enjoy solving it all that much.

The LAT had a neat theme today. The unifying theme was "Middle Earth," as in the Tolkien creation, and every theme entry had the word "EARTH" hidden roughly in the middle of it. The two best ones were CL(EAR TH)E AIR and BEATRIC(E ARTH)UR. Great theme and no noticeably bad fill gives this one ***1/2, bordering on ****.

Winner: The LAT. Today really came down to how much I enjoyed solving the two puzzles; both were of very high quality.

Best clue: I have to go with one from the NYT. "Eight producers?" for ICE SKATERS is a great clue, and a perfect misleading clue, since you have no idea what it could be to start with, yet it's utterly fair when you figure it out.

Worst clue: As mentioned before, the NYT had some really iffy fill today, but I'll just go with some of the rebuses. "Like the symmetry of a starfish" for FIVE FOLD seems very odd to me, but not nearly as bad as "Time for potty training, maybe" for AGE TWO. Not good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/19/2009


Also, Two ellipses and no question marks!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/19/2009

Ah, Wednesday. Four puzzle day. And today, three were great, one incredibly lame. Can you guess which one was lame? Well?

It was the NYT. Absolutely lame puzzle today, maybe the stupidest theme I've seen in months. The idea was that there were randomly circled letters throughout the theme entries, and that the randomly circled letters could be put together to spell THE SECRET GARDEN. Now, c'mon. What is the point of just randomly circling letters (note that they weren't consecutive at all, just scattered throughout the theme answers)? It just seems insanely lazy, not to mention annoying to solve, since none of the theme entries related to each other in any way, and most were boring (GARAGE DOOR OPENER, anyone?). And, as Rex Parker pointed out on his blog today, if the theme is supposedly that it's a "secret," why would you circle letters in the first place; that's kinda giving away the secret. As is often the case when the theme is bad, the surrounding fill was completely uneventful as well, save for THE DEAD and I guess TWIN-PAC. *, and that's being generous.

The LAT, by contrast, was very good. The theme entries were all phrases that had musical artists at the end of them, like TICKLED PINK, FROG PRINCE, and CROWN JEWEL. These were tied together by the entry CLOSING ACTS, which is what each musical artist is doing by being at the end of each phrase. Clever theme, two Z's, and no bad fill whatsoever in a puzzle make for a good time. ****.

The BEQ was a lot of fun today, even though it was very hard to parse out the theme until the end. The entry C-SPAN was the unifier. Basically, all the theme entries were two word phrases, and the last letters of the first word and the first letters of the second word spelled out a sea when they were put together. In other words, a sea "spanned" the entire phrase. For example, HIGHER EDUCATION has the RED Sea, and my favorite, MARA LIASSON has the ARAL Sea. As usual in BEQ puzzles, there was some wonderful cluing, like "Walk-ons e.g." for NO NAMES and one that tickled me for some reason was "12, 13 and 14 in a series" for NOP. ****.

The Onion today was terrific. The theme was multi-layered, as it often is with The Onion. The basic idea was that the word TAG was added to phrases to create new, wacky phrases. For example, "Missing primrose with a ransom note, for example?" was GARDEN HOSTAGE. What made this cool was the unifying entry, which was GRAFFITI. In other words, the theme entries were "tagged." Love it. But what made this puzzle truly great was the surrounding fill, which was really smooth and surprising. I particularly enjoyed "Wang creation" for DRESS, and also my favorite clue of the day, which I'll mention below. ****1/2.

Winner: Except for the NYT, the puzzles were excellent today, but I have to give the edge to The Onion for its wonderful fill.

Favorite clue: From the Onion we get "Film genre that often takes place in one room" for PORNO. Brilliant, and it utterly confused me for a while, but when I got it, hilarity ensued.

Worst clue: I dunno, there weren't really any noticeably bad fill/clues. Again, the theme entries for the NYT were all really boring, and thus really annoying to answer, but the cluing/fill was OK today. Just stay far away from the NYT, and you'll be good. :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

911 Bad for Cell Phones

This is a very good and actually pretty important article.

This truly hit home for me with the murder trial I recently served on the jury for, where the 911 call was made from a cell phone. I can't tell you how friggin long it took the operator to take down the info for where they were located instead of just being able to route it based on the land line. In comparison, there was recently a fire at my house, and when we called 911 from my landline, the firefighters showed up in something like five minutes.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/18/2009


Also, one question mark and two ellipses!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/18/2009

Today was quite a pleasant day in crossword land. Both puzzles were good today, although I definitely preferred one over the other.

The NYT had an always welcome food/drink theme, specifically deserts that start with fruit names, like BANANA SPLIT or LEMON CREAM. Even though this was again a theme that was basically a list of things, food items, especially sweets, are always fun and more importantly, totally recognizable and uncontroversial. I actually loved solving this puzzle; it all flowed really well, there was absolutely no bad fill, and it had a brilliant clue/fill that I'll get into later. **** bordering on ****1/2.

The LAT was decent but unexciting. It had completely unrelated phrases where the first words of each phrase could be preceded by the word BABY to make a new phrase. So we get phrases like BLUES MUSIC and SPLIT HAIRS. The SPLIT HAIRS answer utterly confused me, and it was particularly frustrating since it was the one in the upper left, which one usually solves first. Now that I've researched it, I discovered that the baby split is a bowling terminology, but I had definitely never heard of this before. Oh well. The rest of the puzzle was totally fine, but unmemorable. ***.

Winner: The NYT. One of my favorite puzzles in a while, mainly because I was totally on the constructor's wavelength, and because of the upcoming clue/fill.

Best clue: One of my favorite crossword moments ever here. From the NYT, we get "Scientist who experienced a great fall?" for ISSAC NEWTON. Wonderful clue. But here's where it gets amazing. A completely unrelated entry intersects ISSAC NEWTON, namely APPLE CRUMBLE, and specifically, APPLE intersects ISSAC NEWTON. Love it! And as a bonus, guess what also intersects ISSAC NEWTON? ICARUS, relating to the great fall part of the clue! Man. :)

Worst clue: I've got nothing today. Both were bad fill free. I mean, the LAT had BLUES MUSIC for "B.B. King's genre" which is kind of awkward, but totally fine. And the NYT had TERPS, a word I'd never heard of and that feels obscure for a Tuesday. But both of these are not big deals at all.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Upside Down Dogs

Excellent stuff. Make sure to check out the boxers for the best pics.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/17/2009


Also, two question marks and one ellipsis!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/17/2009

Back after a hiatus, and I get hit with two pretty lame puzzles and one pretty fun one. Believe it or not, the BEQ was one of the lame ones today!

The NYT theme was just full names of actors that played The Joker in Batman movies. Yup, that's it. The only really clever thing about this was that the names of the actors were clued by the year the movie that they were in came out, such as "2008" for HEATH LEDGER. Not only was this a totally blah theme, but they didn't even have my second favorite Joker, Mark Hamill, from the cartoon (although admittedly, that wasn't a movie). Oh, wait a second, CESAR ROMERO was the TV show, so they could have done the cartoon. Sigh. The fill was also very lackluster. ** bordering on *1/2.

The LAT was by far the most enjoyable puzzle, although kind of odd. The theme was basically phrases that have two words in them that end in -OOK. For example, BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. The theme wasn't utterly consistent, since two of the three of them had the -OOK words begin and end the phrase and the one mentioned above doesn't. But it wasn't nearly as annoying as that kind of thing can be. Pleasant theme, decent fill, and an interesting little bonus; there were no three letter words! Only four letters and above. This isn't as impressive as a puzzle I did once where there were actually no abbreviations at all, but still, a nice touch. ***1/2.

The BEQ, which is always a very difficult themeless on Monday, was remarkably bad by BEQ standards. BEQ's puzzle also had no three letter words in it, but unlike the LAT, this created answers like ALIEN TO, SVELTEST, and even TONE ARM, which are all really lame for BEQ. Now, because this is BEQ, there was some fantastic stuff thrown in there, like ROID RAGE, LADY GAGA, and, believe it or not, ARANXTA as in Sanchez Vicario the tennis player. But in general, it was a really unpleasant and awkward puzzle. **.

Best puzzle: The LAT. Lackluster NYT and atypically bad BEQ make a decent but unspectacular LAT the clear winner.

Best clue: Oddly enough, even though it was my least favorite puzzle, both my favorite clue and my least favorite clue come from the BEQ today. "Spinal Tap classic with the lines 'Getting out my pitchfork/Poking your hay'" for SEX FARM is inspired fill.

Worst clue: There are several I could choose from BEQ's. I think my least favorite is "Guide step by step" for INSTILL. Ick, ick, ick. This is what I mean by this puzzle being atypically bad for BEQ; the cluing is like this throughout. Oh well.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back on Monday

All right, well, I'm back on a functional computer (finally!), but am both exhausted and have a full day tomorrow. Normal posting will resume on Monday.

I've been doing Patrick Berry crosswords from his fantastic book "Crossword Puzzle Challenges For Dummies" and have been having a great time. The book is actually half puzzles (70 to be exact) and half a terrific guide on how to construct crosswords. It is widely considered to be the best guide out there for how to construct a good crossword puzzle. I've never seen this book sold in stores, but it is readily available from Amazon.

Anyhow, see you on Monday!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hiatus For A Week

To make a long story short, I'm working on a computer this week that doesn't have a lot of capabilities, and in fact, it took forever to even get Blogger up and running. So, the crossword thing is going to have to take a hiatus until next Sunday. I probably won't be blogging much either, unless something major happens. See you on Sunday!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count: 8/8/09


Also, one question mark and two ellipses! Standard day!

Crosswords of the Day: 8/8/09

Ah, Saturdays. People are always amazed when they find out that I do Saturday crosswords, but really, they're not that much harder than Fridays once you get used to the extremely misleading cluing and often obscure but gettable references. Sure, there are occasionally impossible Saturdays (one that contained tons of Russian names AND obscure scientific references leaps to mind), but that really is rare.

Today featured two decent puzzles. I'm going to make this quick today. I liked the NYT much more than the LAT today; the LAT was just dull to do, and a wee bit too easy. The NYT had some great fill today, including four adjacent squares of Z's! I've never seen that before. LAT gets **, NYT gets ***1/2.

Winner: NYT, easily.

Best clue: The NYT had some really solid fill. One clue that stood out to me was "He said 'You are free and that is why you are lost'" for FRANZ KAFKA. Very cool quote. Another one is from the LAT and was "'Freestyle' performer, perhaps" for RAPPER. Like it a lot, but not as much as the Kafka clue.

Worst clue: From the LAT today comes "Up in the air" for UNSET. Unset?! Icky word.

Geekologie Links

One of my new favorite websites is Geekologie, which tends to update all the time, has really funny writing, and tends to have a nice variety of links, almost all of which are quite high quality. Here are a couple of great ones from today:

The Most Romantic Letter Of All Time: If you can handle bad language/immaturity, the exchange between a troll and some guy who calls him out in the comments is not only a truly epic smackdown, but close to as geeky as it gets.

Dell Shipping Options: This is great stuff. Man. :)

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count: 8/7/09


Also, one question mark and one ellipsis!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Crosswords of the Day: 8/7/09

All right, three puzzles today. Rare day where I disliked both the LAT and NYT puzzles; usually, I like both or at least one over the other. But today, both were either boring (the NYT, with a shockingly blase themeless) or lackluster (the LAT, with a pretty lame theme and not great fill). BEQ's, on the other hand, was terrific. I know it may seem like BEQ almost always wins the day on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, but I think that speaks more for how mediocre the LAT and NYT have been recently than how great a constructor BEQ is. I've been solving for about a year and a half now, and the last couple of months have been the worst I can remember in terms of quality and memorable puzzles between both the NYT and the LAT. I truly miss the New York Sun, which tended to have absolutely brilliant and innovative puzzles on a consistent basis.

The NYT was a themeless by Manny Nosowsky, one of the great constructors who has something like 200 published puzzles, and which tend to be themeless, full of snappy fill and often clever cluing. Well, not this time. There was nothing glaringly bad in this, but certainly nothing memorable. The clues were extremely straightforward, and even when they tried to be clever, they fell flat (for example, the clue "People in control of their faculties?" for DONS. I mean, it's cute, but truly not up to Nosowsky cleverness standards). **, bordering on **1/2.

The LAT was quite lackluster today. It had a theme that could have potential, but that potential sure wasn't realized in this puzzle. The theme was adding the letters TER after common phrases to create new phrases. When by far the best theme answer you've got is LIT CRITTER for "Drunk-as-a-skunk skunk?" you know your theme isn't that great. The fill was also quite unmemorable. **.

The BEQ had another hysterical theme today. The theme was taking common phrases and rethinking them as names of incredibly lame superheroes. I'll save my favorite for my clue/answer of the day, but an example of this is GOSSIP GIRL for the clue "Superhero who can't keep her mouth shut?" Also, the fill was pretty good today, including "Exactly!" for SPOT ON. ****.

Winner: BEQ, by a country mile. Thank goodness for BEQ's puzzles in the doldrums of this summer.

Favorite clue: Have to go with themes today. Hands-down my favorite is from BEQ's. "Masked aveneger who's a total wuss?" for MAMA'S BOY. I laughed out loud at that one, and am still very much amused by it.

Worst clue: From the LAT comes "Reason to bring in a relief pitcher?" for FALLING STARTER. Falling?! Doesn't work. It would probably be decent if it was "failing" starter. I solved that one and immediately recoiled.

Note: I might solve Matt Gaffney's puzzle this week too, as it's apparently a kind of companion puzzle to BEQ's puzzle, at least as far as one theme entry goes. I actually LOVE Matt Gaffney's puzzles in general, but his free weekly contest puzzles tend to be INSANELY hard, at least for me. The puzzles have a hidden puzzle within them, and they tend to be brilliant and innovative, but again, it's usually too much work for me. We'll see.

F*ck Yeah: Animals With Casts

This is why I love the Internet.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rex Morgan, M.D. Exclamation Mark Count: 8/6/09


Also, one question mark and one ellipsis! And a rare bolded word, the word prefer!

Crosswords of the Day: 8/6/09

Today featured a very rare feat: Dan Naddor constructed both the NYT and the LAT puzzles today! They were also both very good, although I definitely preferred one to the other.

The NYT had a semi-bizarre theme today. It featured common misspellings/mispronunciations of words, and was funny but quite difficult, if only because the spellings could really be anything. For example, there were things like SUPPOSABLY instead of supposedly. I enjoyed it, but wasn't that wild about the experience. However, for some inexpliciable reason, on the most popular NYT crossword blog, Rex Parker's, the commenters were incredibly venomous towards the puzzle, including several calling it their least favorite puzzle in YEARS. Um, what? C'mon now people. What was funny is that one of the commenters pointed out that Rex had put down the puzzle, and that a lot of the negative comments seemed to be reactionary agreements to Rex's opinion, and the negative comments stopped being as vehement almost immediately after. Hmmm.... :) ***1/2.

The LAT had a great theme that revolved around slangy synonyms for male pals. So there was everything from BUDDY HOLLY to MAN EATING to DUDE RANCH. There were an incredible SEVEN theme entries counting the explanatory one, which is just amazing. It was also a smooth puzzle with a lot of great fill. This is an easy ****, and maybe even ****1/2. Very impressive puzzle.

Winner: The LAT. Very good puzzle today.

Best clue: Virgil described its "roar of frightful ruin" for ETNA. I can't tell if it's sad or not that I instantly got this without any letters. Great, very different clue.

Worst clue: Nothing particularly bad today either; Dan Naddor knows what he's doing. However, there was a weird pair of clues in the NYT that read "Informal byes" and "informal bye." The answers, respectively, were CIAOS and ADIOS. I don't think of ADIOS as informal; I mean, what else would you say that was more formal and didn't sound awkward? It's the equivalent of "Goodbye" in English, which certainly isn't informal. Not necessarily bad, but just odd.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/5/2009


Also, 2 question marks and one ellipsis!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/5/2009

Wednesdays are always tiring, as I typically do FOUR crosswords. Today's crosswords ranged from meh to very good.

The NYT was by far the weakest to me, with an odd, dated theme and some really strange fill. I have to give them credit for having, in the same puzzle AND in the NYT no less, BENNIFER, EROTICA, and HOTTIE. **.

The LAT was better; the theme was a cute MONKEY related one, and the fill was totally pleasant throughout. Not a very memorable puzzle, but a fun one. ***.

BEQ's puzzle had a terrific theme today. It was taking authors with last names that also double as adjectives/verbs/nouns and pairs them with famous novels that they should have written based on their last names. So we get the clue ...Death of a Salesman? for STEPHEN HAWKING. They were all very cute, but the one that made me laugh out loud, and instantly made this one brilliant but unpublishable, was The Joy of Sex? for E. E. CUMMINGS. Unfortuntately, the fill surrounding the themes wasn't that great in this one, so I have to give this ****, even though this is a clear ***** theme for me.

The Onion was also really clever today. It revolved around GUITAR HERO, and specifically how one can easily slip a button over where they are supposed to press to play the correct note. Therefore, it took phrases with a color in their names that is also one of the colors on the Guitar Hero guitar, and changed the color in the phrase to reflect someone messing up. For example, Greensleeves becomes REDSLEEVES. Believe me, it was more enjoyable to solve than it was to read that explanation. ***1/2.

Winner: BEQ. Best theme of the week so far, and it made me laugh out loud, which is rare.

Best clue: The Onion had some really great clues today, like "Magic partner?" for KAREEM and "Whence Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea?" for IN UTERO. However, I have to point out another clue I heard today as well. One of the answers in the NYT today was GHOST WRITER; the clue for it was pretty lackluster. One of the frequent commenters on the blogs, and a prolific constructor himself, Joon Pahk, pointed out a clue he once saw for GHOST WRITER from Patrick Berry that he loved that I'd never seen. It was "One that takes cash but not credit?" Sheer brilliance. That easily goes into my favorite clues of all time.

Worst clue: Gotta be honest here. There wasn't anything that stood out to me as particularly bad today, although "Out of order, in a way" for SWAPPED doesn't seem quite right.

The Twin Village

This is just eerie. Also, what is up with that picture?

John Quincy Adams predicted Twitter!

Man, is this great. Who would have thought that JQ was such a visionary?

Here's a link to the actual Twitter feed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/4/2009

3! Back to normal after a crazy day yesterday!

Also, two question marks and two ellipses!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/4/2009

This is going to be short and sweet.

The NYT had a cute but kind of weird theme that featured OBAMA backwards in phrases, like dreAMABOut. It was for Obama's birthday, but of course, having his name backwards doesn't seem like a great tribute or anything. Oh well. **1/2 stars for an OK theme and some kind of strange fill, including my least favorite of the day.

The LAT had a very pleasant baseball theme that actually took me a while to figure out for some strange reason. I had to get almost all of the answers on the left side of the theme before I broke it and then sped through it. Just a pleasant, not particularly noteworthy in any way. ***1/2.

Winner: The LAT. It had a better theme and was totally fun to do. Also, it was randomly challenging for me to figure out, which was a pleasant surprise.

Favorite clue: This is really pushing it, as there really wasn't great fill today. I mean, I guess JAMPACK for "Fill to capacity and then some" from the NYT is good. That's about as exciting as it gets.

Least favorite clue: This one's easy. This is also from the NYT. "Street caution near a school." Get ready. SLO. Yes, I spelled that right; it's without the W. My only response is...uh, no. That's just not right. :)

How Racist Are You?

As one commenter pointed out, this is heavily geared towards white people. Still, it is quite provocative and interesting.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/3/2009

This is a banner day, a record! Not four, not five, but SIX EXCLAMATION MARKS! Unbelievable! It doesn't get better than this!

Also, THREE ellipses and only one question mark!

What a day!

Crosswords of the Day, 8/3/2009

This was, with the exception of BEQ's, the most boring day of crosswords I've had in a long while. Both the NYT and the LAT were insanely dull today. Mondays aren't usually deep or anything, due to the clues being overly easy and the fill being pretty basic. But there is an art to making easy yet engaging crosswords with clever themes. Both the NYT and the LAT had either boring or lame themes, and the fill/cluing was very dry in both.

I actually don't even remember the LAT anymore, and the NYT I only remember because of how lame the theme was. The clues were all words that are homophones, specifically MAZE, MAIZE and MAYS. OK, that's fine. But the answers were impossibly lame; for example, Maize? as a clue had the answer PALE YELLOW COLOR. You've gotta be kidding me. Both puzzles get ** from me, maybe even *1/2.

BEQ's, on the other hand, was a typical great themeless puzzle from him. It was a weird blend of totally gettable and very difficult. But it was extremely smooth, and really fun to solve. ****.

Favorite clue: BEQ's puzzle had a fantastic clue/answer in it. Lemon aid? was the clue. The answer... CASH FOR CLUNKERS!!! This is one of the best kinds of clue/answers: topical, fresh, very clever, yet totally gettable. Great stuff.

Least favorite clue: I heavily disliked the answers for the theme entries in the NYT, but it's not really fair to highlight those, as those are inevitably going to be the most forced anyways. There was one in the NYT I remember as being highly annoying, which was the clue Viscous for GLUEY. Gluey?!?!? Sigh.

Winner: BEQ by a long shot. To be honest, this particular contest every week won't be won by anyone other than BEQ too often, considering he's doing hard, sophisticated puzzles on Mondays and he's such a great constructor.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/2/2009

(I've decided to do spoilers on the crossword themes in these posts if I think the theme warrants discussion. It's getting frustrating running around the themes without really discussing them properly.)

All right, my first Sunday crossword roundup! I usually just do the NYT/syndicated LAT puzzle on Sunday, but occasionally I will also do the exclusive LAT puzzle. It used to be done by Sylvia Burstzyn, who is my least favorite constructor, but she has been on a long hiatus, and instead, one of my favorite constructors, Merl Reagle, took her place. I didn't get to his puzzle today, but I likely will next week.

I have to be honest, I don't typically enjoy Sundays only because of how long it takes to do the over sized puzzles. When a Sunday puzzle is mediocre, it can really really feel like a slog, since it usually takes me at least 15 to 20 minutes to polish off a Sunday. Fortunately, today had good quality puzzles throughout.

The NYT's theme was kind of unbelievable; it was a rebus puzzle (multiple letters in one square) that had Greek letters as its rebus squares. The difficulty of this was that the Greek letters were paired together in triplets that represented frats. So if you don't know Greek letters or couldn't get the answers that intersected the Greek letters, you were effectively screwed at getting some of the answers. Needless to say, I know Greek letters and was able to get all of the theme entries, so I had a great time. One of my favorite Sundays in a while. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, considering it was Patrick Berry, probably the greatest constructor working today in terms of consistency, high quality, and innovation. ****1/2.

The LAT was...OK. It was an "add a letter to a normal phrase to create a new, goofy phrase" theme, which are almost always hit and miss. This one was adding a Y to phrases to create new phrases. The best one by far was GOOD COPY BAD COPY, which really is great. But there were really iffy ones, like OPEN PITY MINING, and one that didn't follow the rules, which was AY THERE'S THE RUBY. Apparently, that first Y wasn't supposed to be specially added, since A by itself doesn't mean anything. There are no other arbitrary Y's in the rest of the theme entries. This is the kind of thing that irks me to no end, and something that the aforementioned Burstzyn used to do ALL the time. ***.

Favorite clue: Today, there were really no notable clues in either puzzle, so I'm going to go with theme answers. The NYT had some truly inspired theme answers. Remember, there were Greek letters embedded in all of these words or phrases. My absolute favorite is DEL TAco, which is truly inspired. But there was also amPHIbian, aiR HOse, and my second favorite, on THE TAke. Man.

Least favorite clue: The aforementioned AY THERE'S THE RUBY, for not following the theme rules. That may be my biggest pet peeve of all in crosswords. A crossword I will never forget was a Burstzyn that had a nautical theme. I don't clearly remember the rules of the theme, but I do remember that the answers were both really bad AND didn't follow the rule about a third of the time. I actually got really angry doing that puzzle.

Winner: The NYT, by a mile. Really inventive puzzle, with some unbelievable construction, and some truly brilliant theme entries.

Rex Morgan Exclamation Mark Count, 8/1/2009

4 exclamation marks!

Also, one question mark and two ellipses!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Crosswords of the Day, 8/1/2009

Today was a dramatic contrast in quality to me. The NYT was a perfect if not slightly easy Saturday puzzle. There were difficult obscure words (although not enough to make it aggravating), fun and different fill, and some brilliant, utterly tricky misleading clues. People often think that Saturdays are impossible, but I tend to find them doable, just MUCH trickier cluing than on other days. The NYT gets an easy **** from me today, maybe even a ****1/2 for being so pleasant to solve.

The LAT, on the other hand, was not good today, at least for my taste. It just felt dull to do, and there were a lot of questionable clues and answers in it. I'm particularly surprised because the LAT is by Barry Silk, who is usually excellent, although not really my taste. But this was just not fun at all. **, and that's because it had SPECIAL K crossing REYKJAVIK. :)

Favorite clue: There were several clues in the NYT that were great. Probably my favorite was "Demonstrate banking skill" for AVIATE, which is perfect. But there was also "Sentences may end with them" for PARDONS and "They remove letters" for EVICTORS. You can see why I enjoyed the NYT today.

Least favorite clue: I have to be fair here and point out a really lame clue in the NYT today, or really a lame answer. Tehran was spelled TEHERAN in the NYT today, which just seems really really wrong. According to one of the x-word blogs, if you put TEHERAN into Google, the first thing that shows up is the Wikipedia page for...Tehran. Yeah. It's unny. I can't really single out one bad clue that stands out in the LAT; they just all seemed really lackluster. There you go.

Music Recommendation: Spirit of Eden

Well, I'm up at 4:30 in the morning getting ready for my Saturday long run (10 miles this week!), and since I'm rarely up at this hour, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity by listening to albums that I feel are best suited for this time of day, when everything outside is dark and still, and it can feel like you're the only person in the world.

The album I chose to listen to, which I haven't listened to in way too long, is the unbelievably beautiful and passionate Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk. I'm not sure if I've recommended this album before on this blog, but if I have, well, it deserves multiple recommendations. This is one of the most transcendent pieces of music ever recorded; it cuts right to the soul, and is simply unforgettable. It also inspired one of the best written album reviews I've ever read.

Talk Talk were a pretty standard but talented 80s pop band that used to tour with Duran Duran. For this album, however, they were given complete control over the recording process by their record label, and what resulted was an album with no song shorter than 5 and a half minutes, no remotely poppy sounding song to speak of, poetic and opaque lyrics that often can't be easily understood, and an incredible amount of complex and gorgeous instrumentation, including arguably the most beautiful use of an all boys choir in pop music. In short, a masterpiece.

Spirit of Eden is quite an experience, and one thing that often surprises people about it is how timeless it sounds considering that it was recorded in the 80s by a pop producer (the band actually shared producers with Duran Duran). There are no synthesizers to speak of, no 80s power drums, just wonderful, often improvised music. The two classic albums that seem the closest to Spirit of Eden to me are Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and John Coltrane's Love Supreme. The Coltrane comparison is particularly poignant because of how both Coltrane and Mark Hollis, the lead singer and songwriter of Talk Talk, got inspired to make Love Supreme and Spirit of Eden by kicking drugs.

So, I can't recommend this album enough, especially if you're awake at 4 in the morning like me one day and need a magical album to listen to. If you've never heard this before, I envy what you're about to feel for the first time.

(If you can't be bothered to listen to the whole album for some reason, check out the song "I Believe In You". That's the song with the boys choir in it, and it's probably the only viable "single" off of the album.")