Thursday, November 17, 2016

BEQ untimed (Ben) 


CS tk (Ade) 


Fireball 7:23 (Jenni) 


LAT 4:46 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:48 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Timothy Polin and Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

The theme is an Egyptian pyramid, though the grid looks like an upside-down butterfly. The thematic answers include 17a PYRAMID SCHEME, 28a TUT, 21d TOMB RAIDER, 23d PHARAOH ANT (which I’d never heard of), and—with the instructions “In the print version of this puzzle, the five squares in 50-Across each have a small number in them, as follows: 5 | 29 | 47 | 34 | 43″— MUMMY at 50a, “buried” beneath/in a triangular patch of black squares. King TUT was buried in a tomb at the Valley of the Kings and not in a pyramid, mind you (though some other mummies may have been found in pyramids).

NY Times crossword solution, 11 17 16, no 1117

NY Times crossword solution, 11 17 16, no 1117

Four other things in this 15×16 grid:

  • I don’t care for TWO HEARTS as an entry, nor for it crossing TWICE. Don’t care for the AT appended in SWAT AT, nor its duplication of MAD AT. Nor plural AHS and plural French ETS, nor ANIS.
  • 34a. [“The only sensual pleasure without vice,” per Samuel Johnson], MUSIC. I typically do like clues that use interesting quotes. Can’t help thinking that Samuel Johnson never had a massage … or a long, hot shower … or a ride on a swing, though. What’s your favorite vice-free sensual pleasure?
  • 41a. [They come with strings attached], TEABAGS. Raise your hand if you had TAMPONS.
  • 1d. [Passover mo., often], APR. I somehow misread that as “Rosh Hashanah mo.” and figured the gimmick was going to be opposites! Wanted to fill in OCT, and APR is as far as you can get from OCT, but yeah, wrong holiday.

3.75 stars from me.

Pancho Harrison’s Fireball crossword, “Back to Front”—Jenni’s write-up

This crossword made me think of Billy Preston. Go ’round in circles, indeed.

The clues to the theme answers have three parts and are framed in ellipses. The second of the three parts is a straightforward clue for the entry. The front and back seem to connect to one of the words in the theme entry…except not exactly. I didn’t figure out what was going on until I’d finished the puzzle and looked it over again.


FB 11/17 solution grid

From top to bottom:

  • 17a [… reveler / Satire featuring Napoleon / Minor-league …] = ANIMAL FARM
  • 22a [… nine / One not out for individual glory / Old-time…] = TEAM PLAYER
  • 32a [… music maker / One of 88 / Index …] = PIANO KEY
  • 41a [… entry / Hangman, e.g. / Deuce …] = WORD GAME
  • 51a [… follower / Court leader / Sentry …] = POINT GUARD
  • 60a [… building / Fraternity shindig / Serious …] = HOUSE PARTY

Turns out there are six other theme entries. The ellipses tell you that the definitions overlap “Back to Front,” as do the answers. So we have

  • Minor-league….nine = FARM TEAM
  • Old time…music maker = PLAYER PIANO
  • Index…entry = KEY WORD
  • Deuce…follower = GAME POINT
  • Sentry….building = GUARD HOUSE
  • Serious….reveler = PARTY ANIMAL

I really like this theme. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. You could (and I did) solve the puzzle without knowing the trick. I enjoyed going back and figuring out the extra layer. Very very nice.

A few other things:

  • 1a [Get comfortable with dukes and counts?] is my favorite clue in the puzzle. The answer is SPAR.
  • Raise your hand if you actually have a ROAD MAP in your glove compartment. I do not. I’m not sure we still own a paper road map (as distinct from geological and topographical maps, of which we have many).
  • Trademark Peter Gordon very long clue is at 16a: [Its catalog font switch from Futura to Verdana was described as “so offensive to many because it seems like a slap at the principles of design by a company that has been hailed for its adherence to them” in a 2009 New York Times article], describing IKEA.
  • 18d [They come from the heart] is AORTAE. I’ve been working in US hospitals since 1974. I have never seen this plural written nor heard it said. If it’s use elsewhere, clue it as a variant. Otherwise, let’s get rid of it, shall we?
  • Does anybody get fooled any more by seeing “Boxer Ali” in a clue? It’s LAILA, of course.
  • 40a [One way to sway] is FRO.
  • 58a [One of three in jillions?] is DOT.
  • 44d [Fixes] is NEUTERS; it took me a while to see that 55d [Fix] is DESEX.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Bret HARTE wrote a short story called “The Luck of Roaring Camp.”

Colin Gale’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Hybrids” — Jim’s review

We get a Moreauvian puzzle today from editor Mike Shenk. He’s hybridized several creatures who share three letters of their names.

WSJ - Thu, 11.17.16 - "Hybrids" by Colin Gale (Mike Shenk)

WSJ – Thu, 11.17.16 – “Hybrids” by Colin Gale (Mike Shenk)

  • 23a [Large mammal hybrid?] ELEPHANTELOPE. I like this one best; it just rolls off the tongue.
  • 49a [Reptile hybrid?] IGUANACONDA. This is a close second. I’d like to see one in real life. Minor demerit for the mismatched pronunciation of the merged section.
  • 4d [Small mammal hybrid?] BADGERBIL. We would also have accepted the clue [Admonishment to a pet rodent?]. I would think the gerbil wouldn’t have much to offer in this hybridization.
  • 10d [Soaring bird hybrid?] FALCONDOR. Why not [Bird of prey hybrid?]? Another pronunciation mismatch.
  • 32d [Colorful bird hybrid?] TOUCANARY. Canaries may be yellow, but are they really “colorful”?

The fact that the hybrids are critters from roughly the same animal group is a plus. On the whole, I thought the theme was fine and it was interesting trying to imagine these products of some mad scientist’s experiments.

My Thursday solves are usually disjointed affairs as I jump around the grid looking for clues I can answer. But this felt especially disjointed with nine separate sections — especially those upper corners where you have only one way in and out. So for me, that made for a longer solve time. I got there in the end, but it seemed sloggier than usual.

At first blush you’d think 30d and 35d are going to be themers, but they aren’t. They are, however, good fill (BALTIC SEA and AVALANCHE). The other long Downs that flank TOUCANARY aren’t quite as interesting (DRAINAGES and SELECTIVE).

And that about does it for long fill. I do also like FLASHY, GUTSY, and SEEKER, but not so much CAULS [Fetal membranes] and SPICERS [Mace merchants of old].

DANA Bash of CNN

DANA Bash of CNN

A few clues of note:

  • 13d [Bash at CNN]. DANA. She’s the network’s chief political correspondent and occasional anchorwoman.
  • 5a [Trio working threads]. The FATES are often depicted as weavers of tapestries.
  • 18a [Force militaire]. ARMEE. Whenever I see this word I think of the Cercle National Des Armées in Paris. It’s a posh hotel in Paris for French military officers, but it’s open to officers of other countries as well. We were fortunate to stay there on two occasions and enjoy great views of the city.
  • 52a [Ernie Banks nickname]. Couldn’t get this at first, then I realized I’d seen the name recently…in Tuesday’s NYT. That led me to the Cubs and the name MR CUB.
  • 51d [Girl with a song cycle?]. DAISY. From “Bicycle Built for Two.”

Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times 161117

LA Times 161117

In today’s puzzle, the letters PIN drop down in successive rows from top to bottom, much like we’ve had with RAIN, and horizontally a man going down stairs and several other variations. Here, the symmetry is left-right to fit a non-standard revealer: HEAR/APINDROP. A PINDROP is a dive. I’m not sure about the HEARA bit thematically. I guess it’s a puzzle so you aren’t saying the words… But it’s a bit tenuous.

Elsewhere, BBQRIBS is cleanly executed. IFELTSAD is a sentence, but not a crossword answer.


Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “DOGGING IT” — Ben’s Review

Dogging It

Dogging It

Hey!  It’s Thursday, work was busy, but I’ve finally gotten around to solving this Thursday’s BEQ puzzle

This is a nice twist on the standard “add something to phrases to get new phrases” theme.  There’s something a little different about how this week’s themers work:

  • 17A: Pulpy fruit that bounces up and down? — YO-YO TOMATO
  • 28A: Tableware from Canada’s largest city? — TORONTO SILVER (fun fact: RED-HEADED is the same length)
  • 48A: Slowpokes on marijuana — HIGH TORTOISES
  • 64A: Classic line from “The Wizard of Oz”…and the theme of this puzzle — AND TOTO, TOO

Like I said, this one breaks the mold a little bit, and I liked how TOTO was incorporated into the answers in two places rather than the usual one.  As for the rest of the grid:

  • 26A: Recite, as from memory — REEL OFF (I’m more familiar with “rattle off”, but this feels reasonably close)
  • 34A: Sing in one’s lederhosen — YODEL
  • 39A: “See ya, Ho” — ALOHA (that’s Don Ho.)
  • 67A: Roman attire — TUNIC (tried to make this TOGAE at once)
  • 5D: Unpacked gunpowder — LOOSE TEA (loved. this. clue.)

3.75/5 stars

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22 Responses to Thursday, November 17, 2016

  1. Glenn says:

    WSJ: Today’s .puz version doesn’t seem to be available. If you click on the icon, you get Wednesday’s puzzle.

  2. Paul Coulter says:

    The Fireball was excellent today. Solving was a treat as I figured out what was going on. For me, it played fairly easy on the Fireball difficulty scale, but the theme entries all were very solid and, as Jenni notes, we haven’t seen anything like this before. 4.5 stars from me.

  3. Bruce N Morton says:

    In the NYT, how do you get from those numbers — 5,29, 47, 34, 43 — to the word MUMMY?

    • sparto says:

      The numbers refer to numbered squares in the grid. Square 5 contains an “M”, square 29 contains a “U”, etc.

  4. David L says:

    Bruce — look at the letters in the squares designated by those numbers.

    I dutifully filled in MUMMY and went, OK, now what? The pyramid shape didn’t jump out at me.

    Also, how does “leave in a bad way” mean STRAP?

    • Paul Coulter says:

      This also gave me a bit of pause, but I figure it’s “to make suffer from scarcity,” as in “strapped for cash”

      • David L says:

        That came to my mind too, but I can’t make it work. You can be strapped for cash, but you can’t strap someone for cash.

      • Bruce N Morton says:

        Thanks to sparto and David.

        re strapped: That’s what came to my mind, too, but it’s at best awkward.

    • Martin says:

      Who knew?

      The dictionary says, “transitive verb: to cause to suffer from an extreme scarcity.” In other words, you can strap someone for cash.

      • David L says:

        Except, tellingly, the example they give is indeed the phrase “strapped for cash,” so I’m still not convinced that it can be used transitively in that sense.

        edit: I mean actively, not transitively.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Martin: And yet, dictionary be damned, it’s awkward as hell and pretty much nobody is using the verb that way. I’m not a fan of tortured usages like this being relied on for clues. Does any solver enjoy such clues? I mean, it’s not as if people will click your link, gasp with delight, and start using the word that way. Their audiences wouldn’t understand them.

  5. sparto says:

    NYT: Don’t know if this has been mentioned on this site, but I thought this article from the Puzzazz site regarding relative difficulty by day of NYT crosswords was pretty interesting (see – ).

    Originally saw the link at XWord Info (I think).

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      One wonders how small their sample size is, though. I eyeballed the “top” times for today’s puzzle, and #1 was more than double my time. It would appear that speed solvers aren’t using that app.

      • Norm says:

        Not a speed solver, but I hate the app, which slows down even the likes of me.

      • Ben Smith says:

        If their sample set is only people who use their app to solve the NYT, I concur.

      • Roy Leban says:

        @Amy: We’ve got plenty enough data from a wide range of solvers, and we do have some speed solvers using the app. On the Thursday puzzle, are you saying you solved in 1:12? I’m impressed! Note also that not all solvers are in the leaderboard.

        Our analysis shows it doesn’t matter how fast or slow the solvers are. That’s because we are looking at relative times, not absolute times, and we’re looking at global averages. In fact, we get slightly better data from people who aren’t speed solvers because writing/typing time is factored out better.

        While the average solver will see a personal curve similar in shape to our average curve, it is certainly the case that some solvers will have a shallower curve and some solvers will have a steeper curve. That’s the way it is with any aggregate analysis. The fact that personal curves vary is one reason we break our Difficulty Index into named groups (Very Easy, Easy, Typical, Hard, Very Hard, Extremely Hard) rather than use numerical values. And that means that most people will agree with the rating.

        @Norm: We’ve actually done some comparisons and found that, on average, Puzzazz is slightly slower for people than paper, but some people were slightly faster using Puzzazz than solving on paper. Additionally, the distinction vanishes or gets reversed on harder puzzles, where people spend more time doing things like looking for clues they know the answers to, filling in holes, and just plain thinking.

        Of course, everybody is different. We would be interested in hearing from you why you felt it was slowing you down. Drop me an email.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          How does your difficulty rating compare to Rex Parker’s assessment?

          • Roy Leban says:

            Rex is one guy. I would guess our system agrees with him a lot of the time, but not always. It probably agrees with you or me a lot of the time, but not always. We did not spend any energy thinking about how any single individual rates puzzles, and that includes me, you, Rex, Will, etc.

            Since Sunday, the Puzzazz Difficulty Index said Typical, Typical, Easy, Easy, Easy. Rex said Easy (he called it “average” in the description), Medium, Medium, Easy, Medium-Easy. It seems to me that Rex rates puzzles as to how they were for him, not how he thinks they are for solvers in general. There’s nothing wrong with that, just a different objective than we have.

            A week earlier Sunday (11/6), the Puzzazz Difficulty Index said Hard for a Sunday; Rex called it “Challenging” (not sure what that means).

  6. Noam D. Elkies says:

    I was wondering if you’d have something risqué to say about 41A:TEABAGS. Didn’t expect it to go in that direction, though.

    Fun puzzle, despite small technical flaws like duplicate AT and TW- (careful not to list those in reverse order!). And nice to see a Thursday-appropriate puzzle with the kind of grid and low word count that are usually reserved for unthemed Fri/Sat slogs.


  7. golfballman says:

    RE: Wed. LAT puzzle, need I say anything?

  8. svl says:

    from the BEQ write-up: “(fun fact: RED-HEADED is the same length)” — huh? am i missing something? same length as what, and what does this have to do with the puzzle? please enlighten me! :)

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