Thursday, March 8, 2018

BEQ 9:02 (Ben) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 4:59 (Gareth) 


NYT 2:46 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Jim Quinlan’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 3.8.18 by Jim Quinlan

It’s Fiend’s own Jim Quinlan with today’s puzzle! Congrats, Jim!

Today’s theme is easy to understand, but a bit difficult to explain. You might call it an “add a schwa” theme, but that’s a bit too simple. In each case, the added schwa makes a gerund endin’ in in’ rather than ing, to punny effect. Like so:

  • 19a, LYIN’ DANCERS [Deceitful ballerinas?]. Line dancers.
  • 27a, MOOIN’ WALKER [Cow as it strolls around the pasture?]Moonwalker.
  • 42a, PLAYIN’ FOLKS [Band members?]. Plain folks.
  • 53a, BEIN’ COUNTER [Census bureau employee?]. Bean counter.

A cute theme, but certainly not challenging enough for Thursday. One minor quibble with the execution is that in the first three themers, LYIN’, MOOIN’, and PLAYIN’ are all clued as verbs, while BEIN’ is clued as a noun in the last one.

The grid had highs and lows for me. It’s not a shape you usually see in the NYT, mostly because Will tends to reject grids that can be separated into two halves by the addition of a single set of symmetrical black squares. Here, placing a black square at square 30 (and the symmetrical square) would separate the top from the bottom; consequently, this was a bit like solving two separate puzzles.

That said, I liked a lot of the ballast fill in this one. The two big corners were both nice: APPLE PIE/LA LA LAND/PIANISTS in the SW and CUPCAKES/CLEANEST/EARL GREY in the NE were both lovely, and the crossings were by and large good. Whenever I see Czech-looking surnames and “NHL,” as in the 17a clue [Mrazek or Nedved of the NHL], my go-to guess for the first name is the crossword-ish name PETR. Same for AN?A and a last name I’ve never heard of, as with 35d’s [Actress Taylor-Joy of 2015’s “The Witch”] (a movie I watched!)–my first guess there will always be ANYA, since if it were ANNA I’d expect a much less obscure clue, even on Thursday.

Confidently dropped in PASTA at 4d [Trattoria bowlful], only to have it turn out to be PENNE. Imagine my surprise when, 2 minutes later in the SW corner, it’s Revenge of the PASTA [Ronzoni offering]! My instinct is always to either use the same clue for both as a cute callback (e.g., they’re both a [Trattoria bowlful]), or to cross-reference them (e.g., PENNE is clued as [Tubular 55-Across]).

There were a few really lovely clues in this one, but one I really liked was 40d, [Word that no one has ever said before] for COINAGE. That clue might also work for IRED from yesterday’s puzzle by me, Natan, and the JASA gang — whoops! :)

Until next time!

Andy Kravis’s Fireball crossword “Take Five” —Jenni’s write-up

Team Fiend’s own Andy Kravis constructed today’s puzzle. I noticed that last week we had “Taking the Fifth” and this week we have “Taking Five.” Hmm.

FB 3/8, solution grid

All the theme answers are missing something. Let’s see if we can figure out what it is.

  • 18a [Site where you can see pictures of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist?] is FLEA FLICKR. Flea’s birth name is Michael Peter Balzary.
  • 23a [Gay dating app for lonely hearts?] is ORGAN GRINDR. Took me a minute to parse this. The heart is the ORGAN in question.
  • 33a [No longer into songs like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Starboy”?] would be OVER THE WEEKND. “Starboy” features Daft Punk. Having a teenager has expanded my knowledge base.
  • 46a [Fan blog devoted to the host of “This American Life”?] is GLASS TUMBLR, referencing Ira Glass.

And an explanation at 51a: [Ecdysiast’s activity, or, phonetically, what four long answer in this puzzle have]: STRIP TEASE. Think of it as “stripped E’s,” referring to the missing letter in the last word of each theme answer. “E” is, of course, the fifth letter of the alphabet.

I really liked this theme, although I would have preferred it if the theme answers didn’t have any extraneous E’s – which is a lot to ask for. It was still a lot of fun.

A few other things:

  • 1d [Piece that may be fianchettoed] is a BISHOP. According to Wikipedia, a fianchetto is a pattern of development wherein a bishop is developed to the second rank of the adjacent knight file, the knight pawn having been moved one or two squares onward. Well, that clears it up.
  • 5d [Housemate of the Tanners on an ’80s TV show] I am a child of the 60s and 70s, as far as TV goes, and I was in med school and residency in the 1980s, so when I saw “Tanner” I assumed we were talking about “Full House.” While those Tanners hit the airwaves in 1987, they stayed on the air until 1995 (and returned via Netflix last year). The Tanners in the clue lived with ALF. Were they related? Or is “Tanner” just a name that appeals to TV writers?
  • 31a [Ocean engineering?] has nothing to do with hydrology or oil rigs. The “Ocean” in question is Danny Ocean, played in the eponymous movie by Frank Sinatra and George Clooney. Danny engineered a HEIST.
  • I confidently dropped in TIC TAC for 40a, [Mento alternative]. Nope. The correct answer is ALTOID.
  • 48a [Play scene?] also took me a minute to parse. It’s REC ROOM.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: “fianchetto,” although I have to admit I still don’t really know what it is. I also did not know that the NCAA bestows the Gerald Ford award. This honors an individual who has provided significant leadership as an advocate for intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis over the course of their career, and was most recently awarded to Robin Roberts. Many of us remember Gerald Ford as the inspiration for Chevy Chase’s pratfalls on Saturday Night Live. Ironically, given his reputation for clumsiness, he was a standout athlete at the University of Michigan, where he played center on the football team. He turned down offers from the Packers and the Lions to go to law school.

Natalia Shore’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Bargains” — Jim’s review

To make sense of the title, re-parse it as “Bar Gains” and you have your theme.

WSJ – Thu, 3.8.18 – “Bargains” by Natalia Shore (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Working for the viscounts, earls and other higher-ranking nobles?] BARON ASSIGNMENT. On assignment.
  • 26a [Crustaceans copying canines?] BARKING CRABS. King crabs.
  • 41a [Ranch fenced in with spiky wire?] BARBED SPREAD. Bed spread.
  • 52a [Narrow passage sailed by clipper ships?] BARBERING STRAIT. Bering Strait.

This puzzle…was not for me. It’s essentially the same theme as yesterday except using BAR instead of WAY. Further, I didn’t find any of the entries particularly humorous unlike yesterday. And lastly, that final entry has an added pun making it different than (and inconsistent with) the others. And once I sussed out what it actually meant, the payoff didn’t feel like it was worth the confusion. “Barbering,” referring to the act of cutting hair, is not a word you see much in the wild.

The fill is enjoyable though. I liked BIRDBRAIN, LANOLIN, WANNABE, GATSBY, SORCERER, and SPITTLE. Had a hard time coming up with JAMES WATT‘s first name; that little JED/HALE/SAMBA section felt tough with trivia-laden clues.

Speaking of which:

  • 54d [Role for Rupert]. RON. That’s RON Weasley played by Rupert Grint in the Harry Potter films.
  • 27d [Big name in inflatable mattresses]. AERO. New to me. At least it’s a different, yet inferable, clue for this common entry.
  • 40d [Excited speaker’s projection]. SPITTLE. We all know someone who does this a lot, don’t we?
  • 46d [Acronymic band name]. ABBA. I had forgotten this. The group consisted of Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Annifrid.
  • 25a [Smart]. This is the second day in a row for this clue. Yesterday it meant CHIC. Today it means CLASSY. Both times it reminded me of this video:

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Are You Amused?” — Ben’s Review

Happy thursday!  BEQ and I are dealing with a super snowy day in Boston, which gives me plenty of time to tackle “Are You Amused?” this morning.  Let’s take a peek at this grid to see what’s going on:

  • 20A: Important and often arrogant person — HIGH MUCKETY MUCK
  • 34A: Problems with the ticker — HEART MURMURS
  • 44A: Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state — EDMUND MUSKIE
  • 59A: Rome’s founders — ROMULUS AND REMU

This was a cute and cleanly executed theme, with each MU rebus square affecting its nearby crossing in a pretty harmless way.  I kept trying to make HIGH MUCKETY MUCK a RICH MUCKETY MUCK, since the only part of that phrase I’m familiar with is MUCKETY MUCK.  EDMUND MUSKIE was new to me, though relatively figureoutable from the crossings.  All in all, pretty straightforward.

3.75/5 stars

Brian Thomas’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Thank you greatly to Andy and joon for coming to my aid this last week with two medical crises and a power failure in one day and the aftereffects thereof… And my amazing fiancee Wendy for taking care of me despite a degenerated jaw and kidney infection of her own(!)

WATER – H2O or H to O – is the premise of today’s theme. That’s a) clever, but b) broad. I’m for it, because Mr. Thomas used that broadness to choose a lively set of entries: HAMRADIO, HAWAIIFIVEO, HUMANDYNAMO and HEREWEGO.

He also went for the Nancy Salomon less is more approach with the theme, 43 squares is very low by the standards of today’s puzzles. However, if you pair that with lively longer fill, it makes a fun puzzle! And that is the primary goal, after all?

ACIDJAZZ is like pornography as far as I can tell – because that definition is not defined at all. I know it as “music like Jamiroquai“, and they are geniuses… Listening to their breakthrough single though, I can hear funk and hip-hop elements – I guess. WATCHPARTY was new to me, but gettable. WHOSWHO also is punchy.

4 Stars

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14 Responses to Thursday, March 8, 2018

  1. jeff says:

    Glad that I wasn’t the only one bothered by the 5 extra E’s in the FB. This is a rare case where the puzzle would have been better without a revealing theme answer; as it is, the revealer (as well the title) isn’t exactly accurate, so it definitely soured me on the puzzle a bit.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Jenni —

      Classical chess theory held that at the start of a game a player should first seek to control the center of the board. A competing theory called hypermodernism arose in the early 20th century with the idea of giving the other player a powerful presence in the center of the board, then seeking to undermine that powerful presence.

      The point of a fianchettoed bishop, swung out to the side instead of occupying a spot closer to the middle of the board, is to act like a long-range sniper sitting safely behind a pawn shield. They can be highly effective (and annoying to play against), and a number of popular openings are centered on protecting and enhancing the power of a fianchettoed bishop.

      • Matt Gaffney says:

        I am here all evening to answer any questions you or others may have about fianchettoed bishops, backward pawns, rooks on the seventh rank, or knights on the rim.

  2. Dr. Fancypants says:

    NYT was good, but shouldn’t have been a Thursday. I came in at less than half my average Thursday time.

  3. Jenni Levy says:

    In the NYT, 1d [Follows closely] is STALKS.

    No. No. No. No. Stalking is threatening, intimidating, and dangerous behavior. I am aware that it is defined as “following closely” in the dictionary. We don’t live in the dictionary. We live in the 21st century, and this puzzle is a US puzzle, and in the US in the 21st century, the word STALKS does *not* mean benignly “follows.” There are a lot of other possible definitions (rhubarb, anyone?) and there’s no reason for that clue. Just, no.

    • Steve Manion. says:

      The stalking/harassment laws in most states (maybe all) differentiate between someone who persists in following too closely (harassment–misdemeanor) and someone who strikes fear in the person being followed (stalking–felony, which in Arizona can have a presumptive term of 3.5 years).


  4. Rick says:

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed Jenni’s write up on the FB puzzle…nicely done!

  5. sps says:

    Anyone else have a problem with FANG as “Sucker for vampire stories?” I mean, I know vampires have fangs, I guess, but that ain’t what does the sucking, is it? Are there any vampires out there who can confirm?

    • Burak says:

      My reaction to that clue sums up my reaction to the puzzle in its entirety. “No, I mean yeah but, uh, OK whatevs.”

  6. Jason Mueller says:

    How appropriate that BEQ runs an MU rebus puzzle on the day of Michael Porter Jr.’s return! Go Tigers!

  7. Gareth says:

    NYT: I think if there’s a maximum amount of fun you can have with crazy word rearranging themes, that one was close to said maximum.

  8. Armagh says:

    Much as I enjoy Fireball and BEQ puzzles, been a surfeit of add-a-letter, drop-a-letter entries lately.

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