Default: 332306
Default with Spaces: 112428

Transposal: Body fluid associated with melancholy (5 4) / Schwarzenegger line (3 2 4)


* * *


I confess that I didn’t recognize the word DUBSTEP when I first saw this image on Facebook a few days ago. I looked it up and, mainly from the context of the invitation, suspect that it’s not a universally popular style of party music. I get a little bit of pop music education from BEQ and other indie crossword constructors but I need to make more efforts in 2014 to become acquainted with the work of contemporary pop stars.


The Beatles song catalog is a theme list I added to Default years ago but I added it again this week with Default with Spaces formatting. When working with theme lists, I don’t take a lot of pains to add/readd all partials. Some crossword enthusiasts on Facebook were discussing partials recently, and Trip Payne raised the point that the guidelines for partials in spec sheets for the New York Times and other mainstream markets are arbitrary. The five-letter limit allows some ugly partials (A TEN O) but excludes longer partials that have a more natural feel (THE BIG). I have added some six-letter partials to Default but I always score them out of fill range. Do you think that the five-letter maximum is a good guideline even for indie constructors?


This shorthand version of New Year’s Eve party gets a reasonable number of Google hits, though the Internet seems to embrace initialisms more and more in all levels of discourse. It does look odd in Default formatting — like a party with Science Guy Bill Nye. I wish you all a happy New Year and safe travels to and from your evening plans, whether New Year’s Eve party, NYE party, or (Bill) Nye Party. If it’s the last one, make sure you save one dance for him.





Default: 331417
Default with Spaces: 111292

Transposal: Sentence parts (10) / Mercantile history topic (5 5)

* * *


I’d like to have a term for the graceful, indirect way that one can correct the spoken factual error of another. Whatever this term would be, I would be a frequent beneficiary. I might ask a friend, “What’s the name of the latest movie with Simon Pegg and David Frost?” and get the reply “Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were just in The World’s End.” The implicit message in the reply is “Nick is the comedic actor, David is the journalist, easy case of confusion but I’ll make sure that you’re set aright, no big deal.” A few months ago I was playing a geography trivia game and gave the answer Kiribati, pronouncing it “kir-ee-BAH-tee.” The moderator accepted my answer by saying “‘kir-eh-BAHS’ is correct.” I was familiar with the name of the Pacific Island nation in print and only then learned that it has a nonstandard pronunciation. The pronunciation notes in 11C even include “sic”.


The term refers to a species of green beetle but also the irritant chemical cantharadin that is derived from beetles and is alleged to be an aphrodisiac. The latter sense is the one I remember childhood where it might be referenced in a movie or in rumors of a high school putting it in the drink of another student. I thought about whether the aphrodisiac sense of the entry would be appropriate for mainstream crosswords, and then I wondered if that sense is well-known and used among the youth of today. I settled on the 60 score which suffices for the basic entomological sense.



Default: 330808
Default with Spaces: 110621

Transposal: Body protectors for x-ray sessions (4 6) / Newspaper revenue source (8 2)


* * *


Most word puzzle fans have encountered the word PNEUMONOULTRAMICROSCOPICSILICO- VOLCANOCONIOSIS, which was invented and coaxed into the Oxford English Dictionary by members of the National Puzzlers’ League in the 1930s. It was an impressive stunt though the subject matter, a type of lung disease, isn’t very cheery. A modern example of a word invented by puzzlers is IGRY. The word is useful both as a solution to the -GRY puzzle and as a general concept, though the concept has a negative connotation. Can anyone think of a word invented within the puzzle community that describes something positive?


I’m wary of most verbal phrases in the form CANT ___. In many cases, the phrase is an arbitrary negation of a particular verb and the constructor must resort to an unwieldy replacement-value clue lines of {Is unable to…} or {Lacks the resources to…}. CANTSTAND has good single-word synonyms so it’s passable, though I’m not interested in adding COULDNTSTAND as an inflected form.


I remember a Koo-Koo-Roo restaurant near the convention hotel when the National Puzzlers’ League met in Los Angeles in 2005. I noted that the restaurant name could be an option for cluing ROO in a crossword, though the limited geographic scope of the the chain (California) could make the option unattractive for a puzzle in an East-Coast paper. Now, due to some bankruptcies and corporate transfers, Koo-Koo-Roo has closed down save one location is Santa Monica. So the ROO clue option would now be {Koo-Koo-___ (almost former California fast food chain whose name is based on an Asian interpretation of a rooster’s crow)}.


This was a recent addition to a Google doc I created for word-list sharing. The name was entered as “Schlotzky’s” and I looked it up to check the spelling (participants on the Google doc can peer-edit and flag problem entries, which I find extremely valuable). When I caught the missing S, I was reminded of a previous blog post in which I wrote about consonant-heavy entries as seeds in the top-row of a themeless crossword (MRSMCTHING and MGMGRAND, e.g.). I also remembered that I used to eat at Schlotzsky’s Deli frequently when I was in grad school. There was a Schlotzsky’s in Lawrence next to Planet Pinball, and one of the “Original” sandwiches proved good sustenance for an afternoon of playing the pinball versions of Addams Family or Star Trek The Next Generation. I haven’t eaten at Schlotzsky’s in years; I was deterred by the fact that the Original started showing up regularly on Internet lists of the least-healthy fast food offerings. But consonants and nostalgia made it a good choice for Unthemely #44.

Also re Unthemely #44, I was finishing up the clue-writing when my mom arrived for the holidays:

ME: Have you ever heard of “lomilomi”?
MOM: No.
ME: It’s a type of massage. Can you guess where it originated?
MOM: If I had to guess, I’d say Hawaii.
ME: That’s right. You could probably guess that because Hawaiian has many “echo” words: mahimahi, muumuu, pupu.
MOM: Poi.

If you’re interested in joining the word-list Google doc let me know.




Default: 330224
Default with Spaces: 108551

Transposal: Shortens, as fingernails (5 4) / Wintry expanse (4 5)


Just a trannie and an Unthemely for this Christmas Eve post. Happy Holidays, everyone!


Default: 329826
Default with Spaces: 108140

Transposal: “Bette Davis Eyes” singer (3 6) / Beauty aisle purchase (4 5)


* * *


My friend Chris is the person outside of family with whom I have kept in regaulr contact with the longest. We met in sixth grade. We didn’t attend the same school, but both both were part of a gifted program where students from all the schools in the district met for one day a week for beyond-the-basics pursuits. I was visiting with Chris recently reminiscing about the things we did in that program back in the early ’80s. One thing I remembered was that the classroom has its own library which featured a large clear-plastic “reading bubble.” The bubble was inflated by a box fan and slit along the side allowed access to a futuristic plastic womb for reading. My regular school eventually got its own reading bubble, and I guess they were a fad in schools and libraries for a while. Anyone else remember these things?


When I came across wordlist-exchange entry I scored it rather quickly. The word is part of my experience as a short form of “miniature convention,” and even if the word were not in dictionaries its meaning is easily inferrable. I did recheck the term on Google and discovered that it also has a meaning the in the Transformers universe as a class of robot. It might be just as useful as a clue option but I don’t know enough about Transformers to make the call.


I had this pair of fictional accountants in my idea file for a while and decided to use them as a minitheme in a 16×16 grid with two 16-letter entries instead of four. INKSLINGER I remember from studying American folk heroes in elementary school. I wasn’t a reader of Donald Duck comics and wasn’t a regular viewer of the Ducktales TV show, so while I had a slight familiarity of Uncle Scrooge’s accountant I didn’t know his full name or note the matched enumeration until much later. Besides the Duckburg bean counter, Fenton is also the name of a St. Louis suburb with a water slide I used to visit. My friend Myles has a son named Fenton, but he is not named after the duck or the water-slide suburb.



Default: 329224
Default with Spaces: 107378

Transposal: Veronica Mars actress Tina (8) / Pájaro lunar sculptor (4 4)


* * *


This weekend I continued to futz with the low-level scoring categories in Default. I changed the score for unusably offensive entries from 5 to 10; it’s still the lowest score category for in-the-language phrases but I wanted to free up the single-digit score values for database maintenance. Entries such as HITLER and IDIAMIN had occupied this score category in the past. I used to be unexceptionably opposed to the glorification of dictators in crossword puzzles but later relented, accepting these entries in rare cases and with sensitive cluing. My main objection to an entry like IDI is that it appears in crosswords so frequently that it often inspires a cutesy clue ({A mean Amin}) that trivializes the the enormity of the figure. IDIAMIN can be clued in reference to The Last King of Scotland and HITLER has similar art-entertainment references that can be used for clues. I can’t think of any good references for PINOCHET off the top of my head, other than some passing suggestions of a connection to Gustavo Fring in Breaking Bad.


If my friend Adam Cohen were still compiling his regular EVA column of new clue approaches for crosswordese, he could have added this new Bud Lite beverage, spelled Cran-Brrr-Rita, as an option for three reasonably common four-letter entries. If Anheuser-Busch had chosen Cran-Brrr-ITA, the beverage would have been all the more praised by constructors. Though the CRANBRRRRITA spelling includes the brand in a short list of in-the-language names and titles with a quadruple letter. Other such entries in Default are IMHENRYVIIIIAM, DRSEUSSSSLEEPBOOK, and FROMATOZZZZ.


Peter Gordon’s Fireball Newsweekly Crosswords has finished for 2013, and the 2014 campaign is currently on Kickstarter. Peter has mentioned that interesting 10-letter entries in the week’s news catch his eye. I imagine that the English translation of the China’s lunar rover would have made an FNC puzzle published this week. The Chinese transliterated name, YUTU (65), is also a handy entry.


When I moved the unusably offensive entries to a 10 score I had to make a new score for the entries that were previously scored as 10. These are the what I am calling the “BEQfast Test” entries. They are too raunchy to pass the “breakfast test” of the New York Times but they might appear in a Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword or one in a similar alt-venue. The new BEQfast Test score is 25, but I can temporarily adjust that fill score into the 40+ range for projects that warrant such vocabulary.



Default: 328833
Default with Spaces: 106941

Transposal: Part of many weight loss programs (6 4) / Highway posting (5 5)

* * *


I’ve starting adding theme lists to the Default with Spaces database as a small effort to convert some Default entries into space-and-case format. My database notes contain the theme lists I’ve used in the past, but I can’t find any specific notes on Broadway musicals. Default has a fair amount of musical theater entries, but I’m not sure how I approached the genre as a theme list in the past. For the Default with Space sub-project, I will occasionally pick a musical and add related entries. The additions will primarily be song titles and characters, but some other entries might be included. For Oklahoma! I included BOXSOCIAL, MAGICPOTION, and DREAMBALLET.

PHUB (65)

Like PHABLET and THROUPLE, I am curious to see if this coined verb, meaning to avoid social interaction by using one’s smartphone, has legs. The concept is inviting of a label, but I;m not sure of this choice, which by some accounts is a portmanteau of “phone” and “snub.” Has anyone heard it or used it?




Default: 328097
Default with Spaces: 105896

Transposal: Helpful treatments (9) / Introduction to a bit of helpful advice (5 1 3)

* * *


I had some ideas this afternoon for reorganizing some Default scoring categories. One idea, concerning entries in the 30-40 range, would be to separate the poor entries that are obscure from the poor entries that are inferrable but contrived. Entries in the latter category include morpheme formations with re-, -er (verb to noun), -ness, and some -ly adverbs and nonstandard comparatives and superlatives. Neither set of entries is desirable in a puzzle and the effort the separate the two categories is barely worth it, but I’d still like to set the standard for fill scores going forward.



Default: 327549
Default with Spaces: 105324

Transposal: Enjoys ironically, as a novel (4-5) / Show sadness (4 1 4)

* * *


My current word-list-sharing community includes some puzzlers who are not bound by the standards of the mainstream crossword venues. Some are indie constructors and some are simply wordplay enthusiasts who have no particular interest in constructing crosswords. These non-standard sensibilities mean that I am collecting some R-rated entries that wouldn’t fly in a New York Times puzzle. If the entries are in-the-language then I’ll add them, generally with a 10 score (re-evaluating the entries in the 10s remains a future project). Sometimes I’ll elevate an entry into fill range if I think it’s borderline. DICKISH is too crass for the Times, but it would easily run (and may already have) in an alternative puzzle and maybe a handful of mainstream markets. I bet Mike Shenk would be okay with it; it wouldn’t be the first time something DICKISH appeared in the Wall Street Journal.


Default’s current entries matching the pattern *JOKE are a bit scant. I should work on a theme list that covers humor genres in the form ___ JOKE. Any suggestions?


Some Facebook friends have been evaluating the various year-end mash-ups featuring prominent pop songs. I’m too ignorant to offer an opinion, but I like the fact that these mash-ups — essentially lists of songs and artists — are made available as data for word-list purposes.

UTV (50)

I proofed a print ad last week for a lake resort that rented utility task vehicles. Apparently UTVs differ from ATVs in that they have side-by-side seating and are built similar to trucks so that they can be used for work as well as recreation. It’s a decent 3-letter addition to the word list.


Default: 326502
Default with Spaces: 104132

Transposal: Flight school installations (10) / Midwestern NFLer (2 5 3)

* * *


A while back I wondered if it would be worth it to sign up for Amazon Prime in order to see episodes of Alpha House. Now I think it would be fun to sign up just to see if one of those delivery drones could make it to the front porch entrance of my condo.


In a recent conversation about word lists, I was telling Trip Payne that I had received data from a number of colleagues and also had mammoth lists such as Ginsberg and Wikipedia to sift through. His concern was that the majority of my new entries would start with the letter A. Trip’s concern is a valid one:  you have to shake up the methodology in order to prioritize the data processing and to keep the project interesting. I’ve read that dictionary publishers usually start in the M’s, rather than the A’s, to alleviate the psychological burden of compiling all of the words in a language. I filter my work lists in a number of ways, but lately I’ve been isolating all entries in a list that contain any instance of a particular letter. I’ve started with the rarer letters (Q, Z, J) to keep these filtered lists manageable, and also to include some interesting entries (in a Scrabbly sense). Oh, and on the topic of DWEEZILZAPPA, I want to add Duckman to my Netflix queue for re-watching — to see if the series still holds up.