Friday, February 24, 2012


Are you familiar with Peter Gordon's The Week Crossword? It's a weekly puzzle designed for news junkies. Many of the puzzle answers are items that were in the news just a few days ago. This week's puzzle, for example, has WHITNEY HOUSTON, MALACHY (Pekingese who won the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club dog show), ONCE UPON A SECRET, which was clued: 2012 Mimi Alford book subtitled My Affair With President John F Kennedy and Its Aftermath, STEPHEN BREYER (Supreme Court justice who was recently robbed at machete-point), and BRINGING UP BEBE (2012 Pamela Druckerman book subtitled One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting).

The clue in the puzzle that baffled me hasn't actually been in the news recently, as far as I know: Expensive beef. The answer: WAGYU. I don't think people in small towns of northern Minnesota have much exposure to it. I've never heard of it. Maybe I need to start watching food shows on television... 

If there's anyone out there as ignorant as me, wagyu  refers to several breeds of cattle genetically predisposed to intense marbling. The meat from wagyu cattle is known worldwide for its marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness, and a high market value. In several areas of Japan, beef is shipped with area names. Some examples are Kobe, Mishima, Matsusaka, Ōmi, and Sanda beef. Highly prized for their rich flavor, these cattle produce arguably the finest beef in the world.

In the following video Stephen Alexander gives us an introduction to Cumbraes Pure Breed Wagyu:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker

In this fun little video we learn some valuable tidbits:
  • The job of the crossword inker
  • How Johannes Gutenberg's invention of movable type eliminated the need to copy crossword puzzles by hand
  • The invention of grid paper in the 1940s

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dr. Fill

Matt Ginsberg saw Watson, a computer, beat a couple of Jeopardy's greatest contestants last year and wasn't impressed. "Watson wasn't all that good at Jeopardy. What "it" was good at was pressing the button." After watching the program he decided to crosswords which are "actually harder and have real artificial intelligence inside and see how far I can go."

He'll bring Dr. Fill to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn next month to see how it will perform against the best solvers in the country. I'll try to keep you updated. See an article and video here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Death in a Bathtub

The Death of Marat, by Jacques-Louis David 1793

The crossing that stumped me today was in the NE corner of Peter Gordon's The Week puzzle. The across clue was: French Revolution figure who was killed in a bathtub. I had M _ R A T. The down clue was: East of Eden twin. I had _ R O N. I assumed either an A or an E would work. I was leaning toward E. 95% of the time ARON is clued as Elvis' middle name.

When I dug a little deeper I discovered I was mistaken - I should've gone with A. This Aron turns out to be Aron Trask, the goodhearted Abel character from Steinbeck's East of Eden.         

Regarding Marat, Wikipedia tells us:
 Jean-Paul Marat (24 May 1743 – 13 July 1793), born in the Principality of Neuchâtel, was a physician, political theorist, and scientist best known for his career in France as a radical journalist and politician during the French Revolution. His journalism was renowned for its fiery character and uncompromising stance toward "enemies of the revolution" and basic reforms for the poorest members of society. Marat was one of the more extreme voices of the French Revolution, and he became a vigorous defender of the sans-culottes; he broadcast his views through impassioned public speaking, essay writing, and newspaper journalism, which carried his message throughout France. Marat's radical denunciations of counter-revolutionaries supported much of the violence that occurred during the wartime phases of the French Revolution. His constant persecution of "enemies of the people," consistent condemnatory message, and uncanny prophetic powers brought him the trust of the populace and made him their unofficial link to the radical Jacobin group that came to power in June 1793. He was murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday.
 ... and, regarding the bathtub:
After Marat's death, his wife may have sold his bathtub to her journalist neighbour, as it was included in an inventory of his possessions after his death. The royalist de Saint-Hilaire bought the tub, taking it to Sarzeau, Morbihan in Brittany. His daughter, Capriole de Saint-Hilaire inherited it when he died in 1805 and she passed it on to the Sarzeau curé when she died in 1862.
A journalist for Le Figaro tracked down the tub in 1885. The curé then discovered that selling the tub could earn money for the parish, yet the Musée Carnavalet turned it down due to its lack of provenance as well as the high price. The curé approached Madame Tussaud's waxworks, who agreed to purchase Marat's bathtub for 100,000 francs, but the curé's acceptance was lost in the mail. After rejecting other offers, including one from Phineas Barnum, the curé sold the tub for 5,000 francs to the Musée Grévin, where it remains today. The tub was in the shape of an old-fashioned high-buttoned shoe and had a copper lining.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

January's Clever Clue of the Month

Clue: One who might make a run on the banks ..OTTER
Constructor: Mike Shenk; Editor: Peter Gordon
The Post Puzzler, 1/29/12

What I Learned Today

How did the LA Times puzzle go for you today? I got stuck at the intersection of 6-down and 20-across. The clue for 6-down was "___ babbino caro": "Oh my beloved father" (Puccini). I had OMI_. I couldn't figure out the last letter which was the first letter of: Vermont ski resort. I had _KEMO.

After some Googling I discovered that 6-down is OMIO babbino caro, a soprano aria from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Wikipedia tells us that: It is sung by Lauretta after tensions between her father Schicchi and the family of Rinuccio, the boy she loves, have reached a breaking point that threatens to separate her from Rinuccio.

Here's a beautiful rendition by Angela Gheoghia:

Googling the Vermont ski resort I found OKEMO. I've skied in Minnesota, Colorado, and Upstate New York (oh, and also North Dakota believe it or not), but I've never heard of OKEMO. It's a little less crossword-friendly than ALTA. Wikipedia tells us:

Okemo Mountain Resort is a ski resort located in Ludlow, Vermont. Before becoming a popular ski resort destination, Ludlow was originally a mill town, and was the home of a General Electric plant until 1977. The resort experienced 600,000 skier visits in 2009. Parents Magazine rated it the Top US Family Snow Resort.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Shortz Factor

Matt Gaffney, prolific crossword constructor, author, and, my favorite, creator of the Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest, has created a new measure of crossword-related fame: the Shortz Factor. The Shortz Factor is calculated by taking the number of times a person's name has appeared in the New York Times crossword divided by the number of times that person's name has appeared elsewhere in the paper over a period of time. Can you guess who the most 'crossword famous' people are? The article can be found in Slate.

P.S. New Hampshire Public Radio interviewed Matt on Monday morning. You can listen to the interview here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Clever Clue of the Month

Please vote for the best clue from January either by email or in the comments below. The Clever Clue of the Month will be announced on Saturday (the 4th). Here are the nominees:

Snow man? ....................................LIAR
Bottom lines, perhaps? .......................TAT
Expanse beneath an arch? .....................INSOLE
One who might make a run on the banks ........OTTER
They're, like, always together ...............BFF
A big story of 2011, whether capitalized or uncapitalized ................................JOBS