Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fireball ~10 minutes (Jenni) 
NYT 5:48 (Amy) 
WSJ 13:30 (Jim) 
LAT 3:51 (Gareth) 
CS tk (Ade) 
BEQ 8:45 (Ben) 

Patrick Berry’s Fireball crossword, “Weird Alterations”—Jenni’s write-up

I forgot to turn the timer on again. Under 10 minutes for the puzzle. Over an hour trying to suss the theme, and two fruitless attempts to find someone who had already solved and understood it before I remembered that the subscription includes a PDF with the answers. Good thing, because I would never ever ever have figured it out.

There are seven theme answers across, clued straight:Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 9.08.34 PM

  • 1970 hit for the Kinks – LOLA
  • 1982 hit for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I LOVE ROCK N ROLL
  • 2014 hit for Iggy Azalea – FANCY
  • 1979 hit for The Knack – My Sharona
  • 2013 hit for Pharrell Williams (and his hat!) – HAPPY
  • 1990 hit for MC Hammer – U CAN’T TOUCH THIS
  • 1995 hit for the Presidents of the United States of America – LUMP (who? what?)

The theme answers in the down clues are clearly identified. They’re clued straight and then “weird” – so 11D is “Malt Beverage [normal]/Bridge assent [weird]”. The answer is ALE/AYE. The L/Y square crosses the first L in LOLA…and then we have “Ford contemporary [normal]/Casino figures [weird]”, which is OLDS/ODDS, crossing the second L in LOLA. If you change the letters to their “weird” counterparts, you go from LOLA to YODA. What’s the connection, you ask?

So each song title is transmogrified into the Weird Al Yankovic version when you replace the “normal” letters with the “weird” letters.

  • LOLA —-> YODA
  • I LOVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL —> I LOVE ROCKY ROAD
  • FANCY —> HANDY
  • MY SHARONA —> MY BOLOGNA
  • HAPPY —> TACKY
  • U CAN’T TOUCH THIS —> I CAN’T WATCH THIS
  • LUMP —> GUMP

This is a marvelous feat of construction. For one thing, PB had to find seven Weird Al songs with titles that don’t change the number of words and letters from the original (which eliminates, for example, his “Beat It” takeoff – “Eat It”). And then there are the normal/weird shifts as well to be worked in, and then there’s the cluing. No real clunkers in the non-theme fill, either – an abbreviation here, a foreign word there, but nothing that made me roll my eyes or gnash my teeth. I solved it smoothly and quickly – and correctly – even though I had no clue (!) about the theme.

But. But. The theme is pretty impenetrable if you’re not a serious Weird Al fan. And no, I’m not. I remember “My Bologna” (born in 1960, if you’re wondering) and when I looked at the video, I remembered “Yoda”. The others are all new to me, which is not surprising considering that I’ve never heard of the original song “Lump” or the group that recorded it. If I hadn’t promised Amy I’d blog this one, I would have finished it, shrugged, and come around tomorrow for the explanation. I appreciate and admire the stunning achievement, but I can’t say I really enjoyed the puzzle all that much. Three stars from me.

Stu Ockman’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 10 8 15, no 1008

NY Times crossword solution, 10 8 15, no 1008

First, the theme. Assorted words that fit various categories based on the letters in them:

  • 17a. [Longest common word in the English language … that has its letters in reverse alphabetical order], SPOON-FEED. Wait! That’s hyphenated (at least, it is in the two dictionaries I checked), and the O is doubled, which feels like a cheat.
  • 21a. [… that forms another word when read backward], DESSERTS. I’ve known desserts/stressed since I was a kid.
  • 39a. [… that has no repeated letters], UNCOPYRIGHTABLE.
  • 54a. [… that has five consecutive vowels], QUEUEING. I guess MIAOUING is less common, and the Scrabble-legal COOEEING is also uncommon.
  • 62a. [… that is spelled entirely from the last dozen letters of the alphabet], TORTUROUS.

I don’t object to “collection of words with weird little facts that apply to them” themes, but those long Downs (in isolation, they’re quite nice) criss-crossing the theme answers lock down a lot of the grid and leave us vulnerable to lousy fill. EXO-, OTROS, Z-BAR, OMOO, USLTA-crossing-the-terrible-EL-HI (and also crossing duplicative USMA, whose US means exactly the same thing), OCULI, A HOST, SO I, ECLAT, DYERS, ESOS? Lots of Scowl-o-Meter business tonight. There was also the awkward I’M HOT across the way from PANT with a “hot dog” clue. Shall we play Hot or Not? That’s not hot.

OGLED is clued as [Like many beach bods]. In the ogling spirit, let me refer you to a recent BuzzFeed post featuring Nyle, the first deaf contestant on America’s Next Top Model. Technically there are no beach pictures, but there are some pool photos.

Didn’t know, I don’t think, 16a. [Bluesman Willie] LOMAX.

Okay. I’m signing off. 2.5 stars from me.

Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Turndown Service” — Jim’s write-up

It’s game point, and you’re down 40-Love. Your opponent is serving up ACE after ACE after ACE (after ACE). Can you rally from behind and pull out the break? Take a firm grip on your TENNIS RACKET and put this one away! You got this!

Excellent service game from Alice Long (aka editor Mike Shenk) with a tennis theme. He’s got some outstanding top-spin on those serves because they’re turning right past us and going down the line for ACEs.

If you haven’t figured it out, the main theme entries all end in the letters -ACE. At this point, the Across entries turn Down such that the ACEs are all parts of vertical words (except for one, the revealer at 65D). Theme entries are:

  • WSJ - Thu Oct 8, 2015 - "Turndown Service"

    WSJ – Thu Oct 8, 2015 – “Turndown Service”

    17A [Largest building of the Hermitage Museum complex] WINTER PAL(ACE). I didn’t know the Hermitage Museum, so this took a while to reveal.

  • 34A [Billboard listing] WATCH THIS SP(ACE). I love this clue/entry combo especially given that 63D shares the same clue.
  • 43A [John Knowles novel] A SEPARATE PE(ACE). I knew the answer to this based on the clue (and since I had used this as a revealer for a possible puzzle theme once), but since it didn’t fit, I skipped it. I had already forgotten the title. Duh! Here is Doug Peterson and Patti Varol’s puzzle based on this title as a revealer.
  • 62A [Break from routine] CHANGE OF P(ACE). A perfect finish to this set of entries given the tennis theme. Thinking “meta-ly”, this puzzle is a CHANGE OF PACE from the previous three puzzles this week. Much more crunchy and fun!

All excellent theme entries, but then again, there are a lot of lovely phrases ending in -ACE (AMAZING GRACE, GIVE ME SOME SPACE, PEYTON PLACE, SHADDAP YOU FACE, ad infinitum).

If you’re a crossword-solving regular, you probably figured out what was going to happen  based on the title. I don’t quite get the central conceit (i.e. that ACEs are being “turned down”), but that doesn’t bother me when a puzzle is as fine as this one. I suppose it’s as simple as the fact that an ACE is a serve and “Turndown Service” is a phrase, therefore the ACEs get “turned down”. Ok, I suppose that works.

Also, if you didn’t notice, 13D and 46D are TENNIS and RACKET each with outstanding clues [Play with matches?] and [Head product] respectively. (No doubt the latter clue would have a different answer over at AVCX.)

Not a lot of sparkly long-downs aside from VENDETTA and OPERA FAN, but the cluing was deliciously tough-yet-fair throughout.

A few more things:

  • I had forgotten the OILERs went to Nashville after leaving Houston. They were the Tennesse OILERs for only two(!) years then became the Titans.
  • I never knew DRAKE’S. A regional thing? Needed all the crossings for that.
  • Strange that I thought 16A [Loser in a well-known upset] had something to do with The Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973. And this was even before the tennis theme was revealed to me. I wonder if that was somehow intentional.

An outstanding puzzle and the best of the WSJ week by far. 4.5 stars from me.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Exs and Ohs” — Ben’s Review

ExesandOhs-BEQ

It’s Thursday!  BEQ named this week’s puzzle after the song “Ex’s and Oh’s”, and those very elements have infected the theme entries of this week’s grid:

  • 18A: Nasal spray that could kill you? — MORTAL SINEX
  • 20A: Grizzlies from Qatar? — DOHA BEARS
  • 34A: Unyielding gas company? — HARD TEXACO
  • 41A: Stylishness associated with a printer company? — RICOH FLAIR
  • 53A: Smoking babe? — HOT SEXPOT
  • 57A: Kind of boring home run? — HO-HUM DINGER

In addition to Elle King’s influence on the theme entries, we get musical mentions for the EIGHT TRACK at 3D (which, despite BEQ’s assertions, are never going to be beloved by hipsters.  Trust me, I did college radio a few years ago, and the few promotional 8-tracks we got from labels trying to be the next big thing just gathered dust) and 62A‘s “All-time best-selling Canadian singer”, SNOW Celine DION.

Elsewhere in the grid, I liked learning the term PARISH PUMP at 30D (it’s a British idiom meaning “Of local importance or interest only”, as the clue points out), and I liked seeing CHILLAX in a crossword grid (at 10D), even if someone actually saying “Chillax” to me makes me immediately want to do the opposite.

One area where the grid felt a little underwhelming this week: there were a loooot of clues (okay, 9, but that feels like a lot) that were fill in the blank.  It brought down the quality of what I thought was otherwise a pretty good puzzle.

3.5/5 stars

C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times 151008

LA Times
151008

Today’s puzzle was appropriately up and down in its appeal for me. The the theme is MARKETSWING(s), and the DOW is going up or down in various entries. It’s a very elegant conception. The execution was mostly good too, with one little wrinkle. I thought the theme entries themselves were well above average. The TWODRINKMINIMUM sounds only vaguely familiar, but it’s still a colourful phrase. The others were all excellent choices: NINTENDOWII, PGWODEHOUSE, and WHATDIDIDOWRONG. The one aspect I was less thrilled about, was that the WOD in PGWODEHOUSE is not spanning words like all the others were. It’s never good when one theme entry doesn’t work the same way, although the theme is not actually framed in such a way that it is a requirement.

A long with good theme answers, there are a stack of fun non-themers: REENTRY, OVULATE (wish it was clued more interestingly though), MRISCANS, PADTHAI, SUDOKU, the Google favourite WIKIHOW, and SWANEE all make for a well-rounded puzzle.

Like yesterday, some of the areas were a little rough around the edges. The grid takes strain around the consonant build-up of PGW and the result is AAAS/OSIER/EERO/DRU. Elsewhere the glue level is more typical.

3.5 Stars
Gareth

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18 Responses to Thursday, October 8, 2015

  1. steveo says:

    Oh,hm. OiLED worked for the beach bodies, but only for a while. Nyle probably shouldn’t wear oil in the pool, anyway….

  2. pannonica says:

    NYT: “Didn’t know, I don’t think, 16a. [Bluesman Willie] LOMAX.”

    That’s because he’s basically a nonentity. John LOMAX, and then his son Alan, while not bluesmen per se, are infinitely more important and well-known. Willie DIXON is your five-letter blues musician with an X in his name. I can only think this clue came about via ignorance and editorial lassitude.

  3. john farmer says:

    I thought the FB by Patrick Berry was outstanding. I didn’t catch on to the Weird Al angle till the grid was half filled, and though not a big fan I’m familiar enough so the answers clicked. Best puzzle in recent memory.

    • Justin says:

      As someone who IS a Weird Al fan, that was fantastic.

      • Tom says:

        Agreed. I got the gimmick on the very first theme entry and was super excited to finish the rest! Puzzle of the year contender for me.

      • Jason T says:

        Ditto. This brought back a lot of memories! The “Aha” moment was tremendously satisfying (for me the penny fell on Lola/Yoda), and the construction is a marvel. And I also loved the double meaning of the title – alterations of the letters in the grid, but also Weird Al’s song parodies as alterations of the original song: literally, Weird alterations. I’m right in the demographic for this puzzle, and for me it was nothing short of brilliant.

        • AK37 says:

          And it didn’t occur to me until just now, the further tie-in with the title: WEIRD AL-terations

    • Ben Vincent says:

      absolutely spectacular.

  4. VB says:

    I got LOMAX from the crosses without seeing the clue and thought it would be Neil LOMAX, quarterback for the Cardinals for most of the 1980s. To each his own, I suppose.

    I’m in full agreement that the FB was a magnificent feat of finding and constructing, but only an ordinary excellent, smooth Berry puzzle from a solving perspective. I like Weird Al and thus got it right away off of ILOVEROCKYROAD. Perhaps the puzzle could have been a meta without the “normal” and “weird” hints and a different title? Regardless, it was fun because the puzzle was good and Weird Al always makes me smile.

  5. Paul Coulter says:

    I enjoyed Patti’s CS today. It had an interesting theme which she carried out very nicely. I’m surprised this didn’t run in the CHE — it seemed right in the wheelhouse for that puzzle. The only fill I could have done without was DSLS.

    • Tracy B says:

      Me too—I thought today’s CS was a quiet gem, and agree that it would have been a good fit for CHE as well. It was a puzzle I studied after completing, which is not something I always do.

  6. pannonica says:

    BEQ: The EIGHT-TRACK isn’t quite a forerunner to the [compact] cassette, at least in terms of technology and commercial introduction. But no question it peaked earlier and was thoroughly (and rightfully) eclipsed by the compact cassette. Not that the other was so great, either.

  7. golfballman says:

    Someone please explain LAX tower service =atc. 10 Q

  8. Matt Skoczen says:

    This is a good theme for an NYT Thursday? UGH!

  9. Jim Peredo says:

    FB: I am not a teenage girl, but O.M.G. Patrick Berry’s Weird Al homage made me so TACKY, I mean, HAPPY! As a W.A. fan and a P.B. fan, my head just exploded. When I grokked the theme at LOLA I couldn’t stop grinning until I finished the puzzle.

    Let me get this straight: U CANT TOUCH THIS and I CANT WATCH THIS have to be the same number of letters as each other. I LOVE ROCK N ROLL and I LOVE ROCKY ROAD have to be the same number of letters as each other. And *all four* have to be the same number of letters as each other. Wha?! How is this possible?!

    Definite Puzzle of the Year contender. Thank you, Patrick, for showing us how it should be done. And thank you Peter for bringing us this super-sized treat.

  10. Greg says:

    I’m surprised at the contempt for the NYT puzzle. I thought the fill was perfectly fine, and I looked forward to the trivia theme answers — which are, after all, about quirky words, a subject that one would think would warm the hearts of cruciverbalists, at least a little.

  11. alex p says:

    Really nice that My Bologna, one of the most famous Weird Al songs is in the middle. That’s where the puzzle and theme broke open for me.

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