Thursday, May 4, 2017

BEQ 7:37 (Ben) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 4:07 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:11 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Loren Muse Smith and Tracy Gray’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT Puzzle 5.4.17 by Loren Muse Smith and Tracy Gray

This week we get a rebus puzzle with a tricky twist. The revealer is 44a, BLACK ICE [Winter driving hazard … or a literal hint to four squares in this puzzle]. Four black squares in this puzzle should be read as if they contain the letters ICE, as marked in the screenshot included in this post. The four rebus squares affect eight sets of entries (four across, four down). They are, from top to bottom, left to right, and across to down:

  • 21a [into 22a], ADVICE COLUMN [“Miss Manners,” for one]. 22a is just COLUMN [Pillar]. It looks like a standalone entry since it comes after a black square. One way to handle this would have been to clue all the complete entries that come after ICE simply as [—]. That would have made the gimmick easier, since a savvy solver would quickly figure out something is going on with the preceding entry. I’m glad the constructors and editors went with this version, which leaves it up to the solver to figure out that the standalone entries complete the adjacent across or down entry. I think it’s also nice that the standalone entries are all clued in a different sense of the word than in the larger phrases. For example, COLUMN is clued as [Pillar], but it means “newspaper section” in the phrase ADVICE COLUMN. The rest of the clues do the same thing.
  • 4d [into 26d], POLICE VAN [Patrol wagon]. 26d is just VAN [Pianist Cliburn].
  • 29a, NO DICE [“Ain’t gonna happen!”].
  • 14d [into 35d], SERVICE DOG [Helping hound]. This is a cute clue; I like the play on “helping hand.” 35d is just DOG [Frankfurter].
  • 59a, ICE AGE [Hit 2002 animated film].
  • 41d [into 64d], OFFICE TEMP [Crunch time helper, maybe]. Wanted the answer to be ABS before I figured out the theme. 64d is just TEMP, [Time’s partner, informally]. As in “temperature,” like you might hear in a news broadcast.
  • 66a [into 68a], ARMISTICE DAY [11/11]. 68a is just DAY, [“Que Sera Sera” singer, 1956].
  • 50d [into 72d], MR. NICE GUY [Generous, affable sort]. 72d is just GUY, [Wise ___]. This is the only one with a repeated use of the same definition. A reference to Guy Fieri would have worked, though maybe the consensus was that the crossings (AGORA/HUNAN/NYETS) were too challenging to cross with a proper noun.

One thing I noticed after finishing my solve is that the central revealer, BLACK ICE, is eight letters long. If you want to use an eight-letter entry as your central revealer, then the grid has to be either 14 or 16 squares wide. Loren and Tracy wisely went with a 16×15 grid here, which has given the four very constrained sections of the grid some room to breathe. The result, when you treat the puzzle as though the ICE squares are normal rebus squares, is a grid with four wide open corners, not unlike a Friday-ish themeless grid.

This gimmick isn’t the first of its kind, but it’s executed beautifully. I loved that all eight theme answers are fresh, in-the-language phrases. There’s some really lovely fill even besides those eight entries (looking at you MONGOOSE, TEAMWORK, LIL ABNER, BAR CARTS). Just a couple of sticky partials and bits of crosswordese — O SOLE and ESSA. I’m still undecided on whether I like 56d, ODD ONE [Quirky sort]. This is absolutely something I would say (as in, “He’s an odd one, eh?”), so I’m leaning toward a thumbs-up.

The Y-SHAPE/YAWPS/WOLVES section gave me an appropriate amount of difficulty for a Thursday, especially considering a lot of that corner is affected by the theme. In fact, according to my time, this was one of the more challenging Thursdays in recent memory. I ran into Stella Zawistowski at a coffee shop earlier this week, and we agreed that the Saturday NYT isn’t putting up nearly the fight it used to, so it’s nice to get something with a bit of bite.

4.5 stars from me. Great puzzle! Keep ’em coming, Loren and Tracy!

Jacob Stulberg’s Fireball Crossword, “Heads of the Table”  – Jenni’s writeup

If I’d remembered to turn the timer on, it would have read something well north of ten minutes. I struggled with the theme and the fill. The theme was knotty with a nice reward for untangling it. I’m not sure why I had so much troubled with the fill. Still tired from recent travel, I guess.

There are three pairs of theme answers and a revealer (or decoder, really).

5/3 Fireball, solution grid

  • 17a is [25-Across and others?], which turns out to be BARISTAS DEVICES. 25a is [Element #87], which is FRANCIUM.
  • 36a [27-Across and others?] is FRAT MEMBERS and 27a is [Element #35], BROMINE. I thought that had something to do with BRO – MINE but that’s only one frat member, so nope.
  • 48a [50-Across and others?] is STIFLES, which is not a noun. Huh? 50a is [Element #62], SAMARIUM. I was completely lost.

The key is 61a [What you need to use to understand three clues in this puzzle]. The answer is CHEMICAL SYMBOLS. Aha! When you put the symbols for the elements in the cross-referenced clues, everything makes sense.

The symbol for FRANCIUM is Fr. Fr + others = FROTHERS, which are certainly BARISTAS DEVICESBROMINE is Br, and BROTHERS are FRAT MEMBERS. I didn’t know the symbol for SAMARIUM, so I reasoned backwards – STIFLES  could be SMOTHERS and, sure enough, SAMARIUM is Sm. Nice. BARISTAS DEVICES is a little klunky, but the theme is so good I don’t really care.

A few other things:

  • 4a [African capital whose first four letters in reverse spell another African capital] is ABUJA, the capital of Nigeria. JUBA is the capital of the Republic of South Sudan.
  • Since I am a JEW,  the [Thrice-daily prayer, perhaps] of 1a, I knew that [Fount of knowledge] at 9d would be MAVEN.
  • Am I the only one who hears the answer to 47d [“There’s no hope for me!”] in a teenage wail? IM DEAD. Definitely a teenager.
  • We have BATS and NUTS stacked vertically, which is amusing to look at. They are clued as [Buggy] and [Shoot!], respectively.
  • 59d [Its bldg. has a pedimental sculpture titled “Integrity Protecting the Works of Man”] is not, as I first thought, a university. It’s NYSE.

Integrity Protecting the Works of Man

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that a DINAR is is comprised of 1,000 millimes.

Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Color Separations” — Jim’s review

We haven’t seen one of these separated themes in a couple of months, I think, so I was half-expecting one to show up in the near future. When I saw the title I knew the theme exactly.

Theme entries are phrases that either start or end in a “hidden” color. That color is separated out by a block in the grid so it looks like the theme entry is spanning two grid entries.

WSJ – Thu, 5.4.17 – “Color Separations” by Alice Long (Mike Shenk)

  • 16a [Rack setting, perhaps] / 18a [Crayon colorTORTURE CH / AMBER
  • 25a [Where the Helmand River flows] / 27a [Crayon color] AFGHANIS / TAN
  • 41a [Crayon color] / 42a [It may be offered for off-peak travel] RED / UCED FARE
  • 54a [Crayon color] / 55a [Lord Protector during England’s Interregnum] OLIVE / R CROMWELL

I have mostly positive but somewhat mixed feelings on the theme. I like the entries, especially the first and last one, and the theme is solidly executed. But it feels like there should be another step to these—some other unifying factor to the entries—perhaps, in this case, if the colors were part of a set, of a certain country’s flag for example. Or, if the remainder of the phrase, once separated, consisted of an actual word or phrase instead of looking like gobbledygook in the grid.

But maybe all that is asking too much of this type of theme. It works and makes for an enjoyable puzzle as is.

We get a couple of stellar non-theme entries in TUBE STEAK (clued, non-vulgarly, as [Frank]) and WHODUNITS (clued with respect to the Queen of Crime as [Christie creations]). ON A RAFT [Over toast, at the diner] is also evocative, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that phrase.

Mid-length fill is STRONG, too, with ENCINO, LUMENS, BAWDY, RAN OFF, and RASCAL carrying the load.

And there’s a definite physics vibe to the puzzle with entries GAUSS [Physicist for whom an induction unit is named], SPIN [1 for photons and 2 for gravitons], and METER [Ten billion angstroms]. I couldn’t remember what an angstrom was, but I sure as heck didn’t think it was a measurement of length. It is approximately the size of an atom. Rounding out the sciency action is GENE [Sequence of nucleotides] and AEROBE [Listeria bacterium, for one]. Swish and flick when you say that.

Favorite clues were for the aforementioned TUBE STEAK as well as AHAB [Giver of Starbuck’s orders] (a bit forced, that, but a valiant attempt), and ANTE [Fee for hand delivery?].

Overall, a good puzzle with a solid theme and plenty of fun fill.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “La La Land” — Ben’s Review

I’m trying to focus on anything other than the garbage our House of Representatives just passed to take health care away from millions of people and failing, so no clever opening today.  This week’s BEQ Thursday is called “La La Land” and the themers should show why pretty clearly:

  • 17A: Crisis for the Middle Ages— BLACK PLAGUE
  • 11D: Source of some nighttime tripping? — BURLAR ALARMS
  • 30D: Boring — PLAIN VANILLA
  • 66A: Stone with an intense blue color — LAPIS LAZULI

Yes, these four contain two LA squares, which has the added bonus of allowing ALLAH, The LAST DON, HOOPLA, OLLA, PLATT, GELATO, SHOELACE, and GALAXY into the grid where they’d usually not have enough squares.  Huzzah, GELATO!

The fill on this is pretty solid, although ENSOR in that right hand corner?  ESTAB, when the abbreviation tends to be ESTD?  I merely ASK WHY, Brendan.  Not my favorite.  Did like the nod to BABAR, though.

3.5/5 stars

Craig Stowe’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Today’s theme is of a common enough variety, but the revealer was apt, and caught me off-guard. SWAPMEET is implied to mean that you SWAP the letters of MEET, and then find them spanning the centre of two parts of the themed answers. That sure is a lot of lifting! So: L(ETME)SEE, TH(ETEM)PEST, STR(EETM), WISDO(MTEE)TH and TI(METE)STED.

A musical olio:

    • [At anchor], MOORED. I was stuck on ROOTED, and this corner was the last to fall…
    • [Hot], ONFIRE. We all mentally filled in a “wo-oh I’m” before the answer, yes?
    • [First name at Woodstock], ARLO. Guthrie. He was coming into Los Angeles, bringing in a couple of keys… Not something you should try these days, given advances in airport security!
    • [First queen of Carthage], DIDO. There was no white flag above her door.
    • [Many a black-clad teen], GOTH. Do these still exist? There were one or two die-hards when I was in high school, but they were already pretty scarce…
    • [Baker’s protection], MITT. If you’re single (well I’m engaged, but I live alone, which is what is germane), you probably just use a handy jersey, yes? Or am I just a slob?
    • [Echo], PARROT. Tricky clue, though a wasted space to include something avian. Quiz time!
    • [Aspic-coated French chicken dish], GALANTINE. Aspic-coated? That doesn’t sound very haute!

    3.5 Stars

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25 Responses to Thursday, May 4, 2017

  1. Nene says:

    Northwest corner has three across answers that I never heard of :
    Dozens more crosswordese and made up words throughout.

    • Ethan says:

      Really? “Dozens” of crosswordese and made-up fill? As in multiple of 12? So there were upwards of 24 bad entries *in addition to* the three you named? Are you sure?

      • Nene says:

        A small handful of marginal fill in one xword is usual. Having three in one small corner in the most important corner (1 Across/1 Down) is unacceptable. Most areas also have three or four obscure answers in them here.

    • Zulema says:

      YAWPS? Walt Whitman? ESSA? just 101 Italian. The only word I’d like to call out is one that has been in every crossword this week, ACNE, but if the constructor needs it, it’s no big deal.

    • Branta Sandvicensis says:

      I suspect the NW corner was tough for some. Not an unreasonable complaint.

    • Zulema says:

      Got a call from my son who solves the NYT crosswords daily. It was about last night’s Final Jeopardy that he had no trouble with but believed was unfair for most people (it was in Spanish). This took us to ESSA in Thursday’s puzzle, his last entry in it because he doesn’t know Italian. He thinks the puzzles should not require knowledge of foreign languages, and would like me to convey his opinion through this forum.

  2. Scott says:

    NYT. Loved it!

  3. Brian says:

    Fantastically smooth LAT today! Never had GALANTINE but it looks delicious. Reminds me of Parks and Rec’s Galentines Day…probably too obscure to throw in a puzzle though. Also love seeing DIDO make an appearance – she is a lot of fun to read about.

  4. MattF says:

    Fireball was a good one. I noticed early on that the ‘revealer’ at 61a specified that the -clues- were the tricky bits, and that helped when I (finally) figured out what was going on.

  5. Roy says:

    Best NYT puzzle in quite some time. Awesome work!!! IMHO.

    • Evad says:

      In complete agreeement–I too thought it a nice touch the entry after the “black ice” could be clued separately (and with a different meaning than in the longer phrase). Well done (and a shout-out to Tracy whom I met checking folks into the ACPT in March).

      • huda says:

        Yes, I too liked the feature of the second word being clued independently. Very clever.

  6. JohnH says:

    WSJ was tough for me since long entries included a couple unfamiliar to me (TUBE STEAK, ON A RAFT) and, closer to the NW, I didn’t know the Amazon speaker, the violent video game, Tarzana, or “pool cry.” In fact, I still have no clue why the last of these is MARIO. Googling “mario pool” hasn’t helped.

    I liked the theme a lot, but the fill a lot less so.

  7. Bruce N Morton says:

    Count me among those who loved the NYT. The only word I would identity as hard-core crosswordese is “oreo” and the reference to “dozens” of made-up words suggests to me that the poster hadn’t understood the gimmick. I agree that the NW was the trickiest.

  8. Noam D. Elkies says:

    72D:GUY could also have been as in “guy wire/line”. Still a fun Thursday trick.

    Did anybody else think 13D:BLEEDING (clue: “Extorting from”) would somehow be [BLACK]MAILING after seeing the revealer but before figuring out how it worked?


  9. Andrea carla Michaels says:

    Loved the black ice puzzle! MagnifICEnt construction and wonderful theme phrases and and and!
    Special shout out should go to this blog’s founder for Amy’s organizing the women’s constructor breakfasts at the ACPT facilitating these two lively upbeat sweet women to meet and share and support and end up collaborating on this marvelous puzzle!!!!

    • huda says:

      Agree it’s a terrific puzzle and it’s nice to hear the back story on the two constructors’ meeting!

  10. Gareth says:

    Appreciated the subtle, understated elegance of the theme! Didn’t hit you over the head…

  11. David L says:

    BEQ’s puzzle was fun except that I don’t care for BLACKPLAGUE. Googling that term brings up a lot of references to Black Death and to Plague, but none that I can see for Black Plague.

    • Lois says:

      Strange, the phrase seems very familiar to me. I’m almost 67. I don’t know whether it’s an outmoded phrase.

  12. artlvr says:

    WSJ – The waiter in a diner supposedly calls the order to the cook as “Adam and Eve on a raft, wreck ’em”!

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