Default: 336329
Default with Spaces: 116872

Transposal: Sailed by (7 4) / Projectiles in comic fight scenes (7 4)


* * *


In a recent Facebook discussion, some friends and I discussed some combining forms that are popular for current word coinages: -pocalypse, -gasm, etc. Eric Chaikin pointed out that most of these suffixes are morphemes clearly derivable from their origin words, but -gate is a special case because its meaning is based on metonymy rather than etymology. In other words, the “gate” in Watergate is not a Greek or Latin root suggesting scandal, but that meaning was endowed on the suffix through cultural association after Nixon’s resignation. It remains a popular method of labeling political intrigues; since the Facebook conversation I have seen Chris Christie’s issues with traffic jams referred to as BRIDGEGATE and Bill de Blasio’s pizza-eating gaffe dubbed FORKGATE. I can see both of these scandals fading from memory pretty quickly, but if they can be given inferable descriptions in trivia-style clues then I’m okay adding them to Default.


This term for a non-automated commercial car wash was new to me. Google searching suggests that it’s a Canadian term, which makes sense given that the entry came from a Peter Broda shared list. Has anyone heard this term used in the U.S. or anywhere other than Canada?


Default: 335773
Default with Spaces: 116276

Transposal: Item associated with highborn infants (6 5) / Pat Sajak query (4 2 5)

* * *


This entry appears to have two cluing avenues: a colloquial plural for Leatherman brand tool sets or participants in the leather subculture. The first option seems dubious and the second is probably limited by the breakfast test of some crossword venues. Maybe something like {Village People members Glenn Hughes and Eric Anzalone, e.g.} would work in the New York Times.


The literal sense of this phrase nags at me very slightly as being too specific to be a natural phrase. MOPTHEFLOORS seems a tad more natural as the answer to the clue {Do a household chore} in the same way that WASHTHEDISHES is more natural than WASHADISH. Of course, mopping a single floor is more defensible as a discrete unit of housework than washing a single dish (in many cases, one floor is all there is to mop) so MOPTHEFLOOR, while slightly nagging, is fine. The figurative sense of dominating someone in a competition is a more interesting clue approach, but requires a pesky {…with “with”} to make the phrase transitive. Either way, 65 seems right.


This invitation for a handshake or high-five sounds familiar and natural in my head, but looks weird in print without spacing. After seeing it in print I wonder why a hand should be referred to as “her.”



Default: 334949
Default with Spaces: 115407

Transposal: Juicy J rap single (6 2) / Noah’s Ark unit (3 5)


* * *


I added the fifty-two spelled-out names for standard playing cards. The face cards and aces received higher fill scores since they have better cluing options (historical figure symbolism, significance in card games, etc.) The middle-of-the-pack cards were scored as 55. I do wonder how many of the card names could produce interesting clues. A few have pop culture options (TWOOFHEARTS is a Stacey Q song) but the others would be a challenge.

DEFCON4 (55)

The DEFCONs were added from a recent Peter Broda list share. I like having the entries in Default but, Arabic numerals put aside, they present a similar cluing challenge to the playing cards. DEFCON1 and DEFCON5 are easier, but the intermediary DEFCONs either require a nuanced reference to national security or familiarity with the plot of the 1983 film WarGames.


I was looking up the names of Shrek’s children (as a potential clue for OGRES) and decided to download the characters from the Shrek franchise for Default. I don’t know if the term “dronkey” is ever uttered aloud in any of the Shrek films/TV specials to refer to the hybrid offspring of Dragon and Donkey, but I found the portmanteau, apparently used by the series’ production team, very funny.

TLDR (40)

Is this a well-known text-age abbreviation? I only learned it recently, but it’s a sentiment that I have sympathized with for years.


Seeking out new and interesting 15-letter entries was a hobby of mine in my early crossword days, as I imagine it is with most constructors. I imagined that 15-letter stacks would be easy to autofill if I stockpiled enough database entries of that length. I soon discovered, and accepted, the limits of autofill and the superior prowess of constructors like Martin Ashwood-Smith, so I abandoned the pursuit of 15 stacks in my themeless repertoire. When I added WIRELESSPRINTER to Default over a year ago, I noticed the enumeration and the fact that it was an interesting phrase made up of stack-friendly letters. I had my typical luck with stack construction, so the entry sat in the seed pile for months. Now that I’m trying to clean out some of the old seeds, I thought I try the entry in an easier (for autofill) 11-13-15 stack grid. Since the seed has friendly letters I fashioned the grid with 62 entries total and was pleased to discover several fills popping up rather quickly. With some tweaking I generated a grid that, while not stellar, was pretty darn clean for a 62-worder. I invite constructors with a skill far defter than my own to make a true 15 stack with WIRELESSPRINTER.


Default: 334497
Default with Spaces: 114919

Transposal: Respond, a la the Empire in Star Wars (6 4) / Velodrome vehicles (5 5)


* * *


I’ve read a few articles about coffee shops who invite patrons to purchase extra coffees that will later be claimed by people who want hot beverages but can’t afford them. I don’t go to coffee shops enough to see if this is a common practice during the cold weather, though once in the summer I was at a Starbucks and saw a person request a water and then make lemonade using free lemons and sugar packets; I labeled it ingenuity more than charity. Do any of you participate in “suspended coffee” programs?


With new Saturday Night Live cast member Sasheer Zamata in the news this week, I decided to add the list of former cast members to Default With Spaces and re-add the list to Default. The comedians on this list evoke images in my mind, often associated with memorable SNL characters or sketches. Rachel Dratch makes me think of a photo that I love to stare at when I visit Trip Payne. The photo shows Rachel Dratch and Tyler Hinman at the Sundance Film Festival where Wordplay premiered, and Dratch has a goofy “who is this guy?” expression on her face. Some of the puzzlers who attended that festival invited me to join them; despite the fact that I had nothing to do with the documentary, they figured that Colorado and Utah share a border so it must be a reasonably short drive. Local friends still call me an idiot for not accepting the invitation. Between Dratch at Sundance and Andrew Dice Clay in Las Vegas last August, history is showing that I should try to be where Tyler is if I want celebrity encounters.


I finished going through the entries starting with S in Mark Diehl’s contribution of 10-letter word data. I’m going through the entries scatter-shot, not alphabetically, and thought I’d tackle a sizable chunk of entries to get some idea of the pacing. Only 11,340 more entries to go!



Default: 333232
Default with Spaces: 113447

Transposal: Broker’s action (5 5) / They’re used for fortunetelling (5 5)

Today’s Washington Post Puzzler was constructed by yours truly.

* * *


I picked up this entry from a Neville Fogarty puzzle, and later saw the word in Ben Zimmer’s “Presenting the Nominees for the 2013 Word of the Year” post under the heading “Most Likely to Succeed.” I wonder if it will succeed to the extent that it is not considered a violation of the breakfast test as a potential mainstream crossword entry. I also wonder if my own coinage “BEQfast test” will make Ben Zimmer’s 2014 list. It is a portmanteau, and portmanteau coinages are all the rage these days.


The verbal phrase STICKUP has several different definitions, transitive and intransitive. My approach for STICKUP would be {Rob at gunpoint}, though in that form, the noun form {Robbery} would be more preferable. STUCKUP would become the adjective {Conceited} and STICKINGUP would also tend toward the adjectival {Like a cowlick}. STICKSUP needs to be clued as a verb, and {Raises quickly, as one’s hand} would suffice as well as anything else. The inflections of STICKUP demonstrate that, for crossword clue approaches, nouns and adjectives tend to be preferable to verbs and transitive verbs tend to be preferable to intransitive verbs, when the options are available.


Default: 332862
Default with Spaces: 113044

Transposal: 19th-century slide projector (12) / Sent through the shredder (4 2 6)

Reader Roy Leban pointed out that the second part of the transposal in the previous post should have been enumerated (1’2 2 4) to follow the convention used by National Puzzlers’ League and other puzzle writers. I omitted the apostrophe deliberately as a simplification, but realize that it may have confused solvers. My enumeration style for transposals has varied up to now, but I will include punctuation in future enumerations. I will not indicate capital letters (something NPL convention generally includes).


* * *

AMONG (40) (??)

I added a theme list of BCS Bowl Game terms to the word lists this week, appropriate enough for Rose Bowl season. While working on the entries for Default with Spaces I added “Amon G Carter Stadium” at 75. Building off that entry I added “Amon G Carter” at 65, Amon at 50, and Amon G at 40. Only when I converted the DWS entries to Default specs and added them to the main list did I notice that the AMONG (Amon G) score would override the one for AMONG (among). Eventually, DWS will take over Default for grid-filling purposed, but for now I need to be more careful with heteronymic entries. AMONG isn’t a showstopping entry, but it’s better than 40. I reverted it to 65.


I picked up the entry “psych eval” from the Share Doc. The short form of “psychiatric evaluation” looks reasonable in DWS formatting, but in Default it could be parsed as a French term for the “ride a horse” dance move in the video for “Gangnam Style.”


This entry collected from Word Spy had been sitting in my seed list for quite a while. I liked it a lot when I added to the list but never seemed to get around to constructing a grid with a stack of nines or a good spot for a nine-letter seed. Rather than wait for my enthusiasm to cool completely I decided to use it in a grid that I could put together with the last of my 2013 holiday time.


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!