Saturday, March 16, 2013

Title Search - March 2013

Before we get into the puzzle, first up: our web series launched this week!

Tagline: "Giving blogjobs is a terrible way to make a living." 
Episode 1:
Blogjob | A web series about fake Internet, and the people who write it
A web series about fake Internet, and the people who write it.

If you like this blog and think it's funny, you should definitely check out the show. And leave comments. And give it thumbs up. And talk about it on your social networks like Faceface, Tweeter, etc.

Episode 2 live this Sunday, March 17th! Or Monday (read: probably Monday).

Ok now for the puzzle.

March 2013 | Tacky Harpers Cryptic Clues
We picked out an egregious cellphone-ese reference as the tacky clue this month. There was a BRA clue flipping and flopping we coulda gone for instead (low-hanging fruit) (37D, see Lowlights below). But really, the whole darm puzzle was tacky as fack.

The theme: "Title Search": figure out the cute four-word phrase implied by the fill, then follow its instructions. We completed this puzzle, lazily, while riding public transportation down to Hyde Park on Valentine's Day. Ok so about three clues deep into solving, and with the el having traveled not even south of Bryn Mawr (still well on the North Side), we had solved three clues that included "X" in the answer.

"Heh, X marks the spot," we thought to ourself.
Mary Read | Pirate betch
More solving, more Xs. Xs forming diagonals through the puzzle. "Wait, really? We were just joking before ... " we thought.

And then, in a plot twist so conventional no one could have predicted it, the spot that X marks? Dead center.

Do you hear that? It's the good citizens of Puzzle Nation muttering, "whoopdy woo."
Kobe knows.

Except, jk jk, the actual spot marked is the isolated X in the east. Weird. Ok fine. Did not pick up on that.

The "X" theme was audacious and ambitious, and we applaud audacity. But there were many gimme-easy clues in service of ambition. Several outlandish crosses and adjacents. AXIS and MAXIS in the northeast, for instance. SEX and REX and (the nerve!) SEXTUPLET in the center. PIXEL and PIXY in the southwest. ROXY and pROXIEs.

Lotta brands. Lotta repeats from recent puzzles. There were so many Roman numerals s'like Richard E. Maltby, Jr. just  gave up on any other possible way to bring in X, I, or V.
"There's no other way! All roads lead to more Roman numeralzz!!!!!!"
—Richard E. Maltby Jr.
That said, there were a couple of beautiful clues. Lotta wordspanners (hidden clues), and you know we love thems. And much as our BRA got all twisted up about the repeaty crosses, it was nice to see both ORYXES and ELANd. A little wink to Classic Puzzling Antelope Varietals. And several clues exemplary of that highest light we so adore: those that are logical well-formed sentences unto themselves, smooth and perfect. Clues that read like phrases you could find in The New York Times, with the puzzle register only audible to the initiated.

So. Wa'n't all bad.  The good clues salvaged some bits of enjoyment out of the experience, like a couple chocolate chips in an old vat of soy mint ice cream covered in freezer burn.


  • 1A) Alien avoiding people repairing phone boxes (10)
Oh how we love these beautiful anagrams! Mm! Exquisite :)
  • 13A) "Movie theater seating inside"—clear oxymoron (4)
    cleaR OXYmoron = ROXY
Wordspanners. We love.
  • 27A) Material expands out! (7)
    EXPANDS * anagram = SPANDEX
Mmm! Highest light! So tight! Beautiful. Sexy. Another brand, tho. Sigh.

Come to think, surprising that "Brand X" doesn't make an appearance in this puzzle. Nor xenomorphs.
Nor any of the other cool XENOs.
  • 35A) Storied princess or Australian mummy? (4)
    (Australian = OZ) + (mummy = MA) = OZMA
We first thought this was going to be a reference to Anastasia, last czarina of Russia. But it's better than we hoped! Also love "Oz" = "Aus." Means emphasizing that lazy buzzy "s" in "Australia." Also emphasizes the other-ness of the place. We can't wait to travel there #someday.
Ozma of Oz
  • 38A) It's noble when there's nobody back following Sargent's madame (5)
    (Sargent's madame = X) + (nobody = NONE) * (back = reverse) = XENON
Can't do an X theme without XENON! Never hearda John Singer Sargent's Madame X but we were glad when we did. Va va va voom.
Madame X
  • 43A) Announcing choices will, quickly, but that's just part of the picture (5)
    ((choices = PICKS) + (will, quickly = 'LL)) * homophone = PIXEL
This one makes us laugh. "will" = "'ll" YES.

Q. I am a pig; please describe the manner of my performance. 
A. That performance 'll do, pig.

Speaking of which, James Cromwell is this month's Nerd Hot Guy. Boom kaboom, JC!
James Cromwell
  • 46A) Speaking of eggs, it is way out (4)
    EGGS IT * homophone = EXIT
Ahhhhh dying of awesome! Eggsactly!!!!!
  • 19D) Exult when interbreeding with pets to produce a bit of a litter (9)
    (EXULT + PETS) * anagram = SEXTUPLET
Mmm! Beautiful! We exult in this glorious anagram.
  • 29D) Quickly, say (7)
One of that highest light! Oooh so tight! Run your fingers over it, just: seamless!


  • 18A) One Latin among male and female brewers (7)
    (One = I) + (Latin = L) + (male and female = SEXES) = SILEXES
Like the brand of coffeepots lovingly crafted alongside Proctor. Meh!
  • 40A) Cute little thing starting duets for piano and xylophone (4)
    starting duets * (PIano + XYlophone)  = PIXY
We just had a PIXY clue we just had one. In January.

  • 48A) Campus luminary, creator of Pyrex (5)
    PYREX * anagram = PREXY
Like the president of a university or college? "Oh prexy, you're so sexy"?
Empire Records
Gross. Always annoying when the "anagram" requires a single letter translation. Like when Lisa Simpson's at that smart girl's house and the smart girl anagrinds "genuine class" out of "Alec Guinness" and then Lisa's supposed to do "Jeremy Irons" and comes up with "Jeremy's ... iron?" She feels so lame, so ashamed. Perhaps she'd be reassured by this clue.

"Prexy" is also like the only possible anagram from "Pyrex" just by running the algorithm of "letters that can be next to each other and yield intelligible sounds to the English language speaker." We know that you know that algorithm. It's very closely related to the "there's only one open square left in the fill but I don't know the answer and now I run through the entire alphabet" algorithm. Always a bad sign when you have to run that one.
  • 50A) Mother cut off mold in breakfast food (4)
    (mold = MATRIX) - (Mother = MA) = TRIX
"Mold" as in "pattern" as in "matrix." As in "they broke the mold," which we thought for a loooong time was "they broke them old."

Not that "they broke the mold" makes tremendous sense. Who are "they"? The gods? The nanites? What mold? Are most people "from the mold"? Is the phrase just [yet] an[other] elaborate construction and obfuscation for "I love you"? Or is there a backhanded edge to it, like, "[good thing] they broke the mold [because it would be bad if there were more of you]"?


Trix as in Trix. Brands. Corporations. Culture. Great.
image by deckronomicon

  • 1D) Sign of times: psychiatrist's sexual drive is drying up (7)
    (Sign of times = X) + (psychiatrist's sexual drive = EROS) + IS = XEROSIS
It's like excema, maybe? A dry skin thing. An obscure word just cuz of the X theme. Cool clue, bro.
confidential to Maltby: that means "not cool, bro."
  • 28D) Upper floor of a ship, third level, say? (4)
    (floor of a ship, third level = DECK C) * homophone = DEXY
"Dexy" as in "uppers" as in dexedrine. First, way to force the homophone.

Also, do people really say "dexy"? We thought people say "dex." Maybe they say "dexy." Dear readers if you take dexy and you say "dexy," then apologies for denying your reality.
  • 31D) Thanks to God, just the starter in hockey team cut from video (3)
    VIDEO - (hockey team = VI) = DEO
We like and support hockey players. But this is a weird way to clue "VI." You gotta pass the thought through the following filters:

      hockey team => six people on the team => Roman numeral six => VI

Why not Vi instead?
Vi + Vim
“People who prefer Emacs never gave Vi a chance ... ”

  •  32D) One involved in a row outside that hurts people initially—it can produce a bum steer! (6)
    (One involved in a row = COX) + (that hurts = OW) + (people initially = P)  = COWPOX
Cox & Row like vodka? Like this vodka? Never hearda.
Cow + Row vodka
  • 37D) They support Westchester's center forward (5)
    (They support = BRAS) + (Westchester's center = H) = BRASH
The bra clue! Just once can we get a JOCKSTRAP can we get a CODPIECE can we get a MANZIERRE can we get male bodies in the puzzle can we get some Y-chromosomal support? Can we?
Man bra
  • 44D) Unofficial news release, not a change in Albania (3)
    (Unofficial news release = LEAK) + (not a = -A) = LEK
We just did lek. We just did it. In, lek, November. UGH we don't lek these repeats!

The Tacky!

  • 11D) Big picture shows: statement Bo Derek might have texted?
    IM A (Bo Derek = X) = IMAX
No. Just, no.
10 | Bo Derek
Source: IMDB

Bo Derek was not texting in 1979. In the years since, even if she may not have transcended her work in 10 playing the role later reprised by Mena Suvari in American Beauty (modern cognate to 10), and even if she is just as hung up on her flesh-colored one-piece suit as every cultural reference to her is, we guarantee: she has never, ever texted any person "Im a X."

Q: Pls describ yr appearnce.
Bo Derek: Im a X.
BD: No, I'm a TEN. On a scale of 1 to 10.
Q. O y didnt u say so?
BD: Like the movie I was in.
Q. Wot movie?
BD Ten.
Q. U wer in ten movies?

The Memorable Quotes page for "10" on IMDB does not include a single quote from Bo's character. And no good ones for Julie Andrews's character, either. Sigh.

But then, guys don't got it any better. In a world with eyes, we're alla us judged on our faces and bodies. Will Vin Diesel ever be cast as a John Nash?

In other news, homegirl still look good. UR A X BO
Bo Derek today
Source: Wikipedia

Update on the Smell

For those Dear Readers curious about the weird sweet smell in our apartment: It got worse and worse. It won the fight.  So we're moving into a unit elsewhere in the neighborhood. We had both maintenance guys (Sergio + Edwin) sniff around and explore, but even the majestic nose of Edwin—like that of an Aztec prince—could neither identify the smell nor find its source. We examined the walls with a fluorescent black light hoping for some real CSI-style crime-fighting insight. We gave the radiators another good scrub. We borrowed an air filter. Nothin'.

Thus, after all this time, we're still only in the discovery + speculation phase of smell identification. Here is the speculation tree:
  1. something rotting
    • rotting animal Maybe a colony of bees. Maybe a small mammal. Maybe a nest of rats up in the ventilation. The smell isn't really the smell of death, per se.
    • building detritus Like maybe the insulation is rotting? Or maybe it's mold? While this fits with the "chemical-y" smell, it's strange that the maintenance guys wouldn't recognize it. Least likely.
  2. something chemical
    • something in the radiators Like something that shouldn't be there? Like anti-freeze? Glycol's gotta sweetness to it. This is also unlikely, since, wouldn't the neighbors smell it? (the neighbors smell nothing)
    • from downstairs Meth lab? Dexy lab? A particularly nasty brand of hookah smoke? Human behavior fits with the random ebb and flow of the smell, the strength of which doesn't correlate well with time of day or change in weather. But then, again, wouldn't the other neighbors smell it? Unless they're all part of the lab
What is it! The mystery gnaws at us! We will, of course, update this blog with the answer should it ever come to light. We have Sergio's cell number. He has ours. We'll be in touch.

Leave a comment. Don't do it because it's right; do it because it feels good.


  1. >>Cox & Row like vodka? Like this vodka? Never hearda.

    Really? Or was that just a chance to plug the vodka? A coxswain is the small person who steers a racing shell and keeps the rowers in sync. Guess Chicago doesn't have the rowing tradition (think Jack Kelly) Philly has.

    Make mine Cricket Club gin ( instead, though the batsman on the label is gonna get bowled through the gate with a stroke like that: he swings like an American.

  2. Rowers' slang o ok fine.

    SINCE 2013

  3. Just found this blog, good stuff! Random technical question: What do you use to fill in your answers on the grid? I've been toying around with making an online playable version of the Harpers puzzle (like there are for Guardian, NYT, etc puzzles), and the computer vision packages I've tried out are fun but finicky.

    1. Sup, Anna ;)

      I do the grid kinda the old fashioned way. I pull the PDF off the Harpers' site, then pick a monospace font and enter the fill in Photoshop.

      That is HOT NEWS that you're working on a playable Harpers'! My friend DanVK ( has been tweaking a crossword app that plays .puz files, e.g. NYTimes crossword:

      Keep us all posted pls k thx in advance!

  4. Thank you very much. I agree with your article, this really helped me. I appreciate your help. Thanks a lot. Good website.

    Online Title Search

  5. Hello. We just added you to or blog roll at Word Salad (, our rather sedate cryptic constructors' blog. Perhaps you can reciprocate?

    1. Just popped over to Word Salad ... and was surprised to see you've wrapped! Congratulations on a great run :)


  6. Oh, and btw, we e-interviewed Maltby a few months ago:

    1. For sure. Thanks for tuning in, Henri! And very much enjoyed the Maltby interview. "There is a mainstream of American cryptic? Where?"