Thursday, 9/30/10

Fireball 5:12
Tausig untimed
NYT 4:31
LAT 3:18
BEQ 6:00-ish
CS untimed

Vic Fleming’s New York Times crossword

Region capture 8This puzzle proved to be a good bit livelier than the standard “all the theme answers have the same clues” crossword. [“Uh-uh!”] clues five warnings (occupying six entries in the grid): “I WOULDN’T / IF I WERE YOU,” “BAD IDEA,” “BACK OFF,” “THINK AGAIN,” and “DON’T DO IT.” Now, some of those feel a tad more like “uh-uh”s rather than “uh-oh”s, but the “uh-oh” can work for each, too. (Edited to add: Lost my mind there last night, as the clues are [“Uh-uh!”] all the way through, as they should be.) I  like it when a theme entertains me, and this one did.

I don’t know why this puzzle is trying so hard to dissuade us. Is this like one of those horror movie remakes of Japanese movies, and everyone who ignores the warnings and finishes the puzzle anyway will meet a terrible doom? Let us hope not, for the Friday and Saturday themeless puzzles are right around the corner, and I’d hate to miss them.

Now, I thought an entirely Thursdayish gimmick was going on here in the upper left corner. I had I *OULDN’T and considered both COULDN’T and WOULDN’T (missing the cross-reference part of the clue), both of which would work with the crossing (a VCR’s REC or REW button). But then everything else played it straight.

Nice-looking grid. Just 74 words, the corners are filled with 6s, 7s, and 8s. Highlights:

  • 1a. A terrific 1-Across is always a good start to a crossword. MR. SPOCK! A classic [Sci-fi role starting in 1966].
  • 13a. DECOROUS means [Marked by dignity and taste]. I am not the most decorous person around.
  • 28a. [It may be square], **OT? Must be KNOT, right? I mangled the typing of KNOT about three times (hmm, time to file my nails) and then it turned out to be a square ROOT.
  • 64a. ENOLA, the [Girl in “Waterworld”], is such a nice break from the Enola Gay. Have seen this before in a puzzle or two, didn’t quite remember it, but appreciate the change-up.
  • 3d. SCOREPAD is a [Bridge need]. I guess [Yahtzee need] or [Scrabble need] would give it away, whereas bridges are also spans over rivers. Good entry, though.
  • 7d. KUNG FU looks terrific in the crossword grid, and the [Style of fighting] clue has “Everybody was kung fu fighting…” going through my head now.
  • Other entries I like: “YES, BUT…”; ERIKA Alexander, who shone on Living Single; OMNIVORE; the FAUN/SATYR pairing. Cool clue: [Jazz group, for short] for the NBA.

Tougher bits:

  • 15a. Gordon MACRAE is clued with [He played opposite Jones in “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!”]. Shirley Jones, right?
  • 31a. Crosswordese SERAI is the [Destination for a Near Eastern caravan].
  • 43a. Difficult clue for ELBA: [Island in the Tyrrhenian Sea]. Many of us could not find that sea too quickly on a map.
  • 1d. MDI, 1501, is the [Year Michelangelo began work on “David”].
  • 5d. ORLE is a [Heraldic band]. Crosswordese!

Wouldn’t it be great if batter-fried COD was a [Mail order option]? The answer is really C.O.D.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 29”

Region capture 2The most challenging entry for me was piecing together Charlie Brown’s fictional favorite ballplayer. JOE SHLABOTNIK—really? That doesn’t ring a bell for me at all. And it’s not remotely a common surname, so an educated guess gets you nowhere. Grr. The toughest letter to fill in was the L that intersects LOLLALEELOU. Is that three words? Peter’s answer page hyphenates it as Lolla-Lee-Lou. Never heard of that Seuss character either. Crikey. This is not what one customarily considers “a good crossing.”

I like seeing CRAPSTABLES in the grid. Makes me think of Hercules cleaning out the Augean stables more than casinos.

SEXIEST MAN ALIVE has been in a crossword or two before, hasn’t it? Ripe fodder for cluing, that. The [Law award] clue doesn’t make it too obvious that it’s referring to Jude Law and not the law in general.

How come we never get Illinois’s I-PASS? That East Coast hegemony foists the EZ-PASS on all our crosswords. Instead of the I-PASS, we get “I pass,” the bridge declaration.

STORAGES?!? In the plural? In a 70-worder? Me no like. And then there’s IDEATE. Was it Merl Reagle who wrote about that word being found in crosswords far more than in life?

I do love 1-Across, though. PASSEL! Henceforth I shall think of UPS as the United Passel Service. (I know—it means a [Slew] and not a “parcel.” Humor me.)

Favorite clue: 62a. [Language in which “tungsten” means “heavy stone”] is SWEDISH.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Strip Down”

Region capture 3You may have heard the good news that, after umpty-nine years of really not being a feminist comic at all, CATHY is coming to an end on October 3. No more will you be informed via the funny pages that women freak out when they have to buy a new swimsuit. Cathy’s catchphrase, “Ack!,” is appended to four phrases to modify their meaning:

  • 18a. An overpriced hotel minibar becomes MINI BARACK, a [Presidential doll?].
  • 24a. [Likeness of director Sidney used as a scarecrow?] should have the “Sydney” spelling. Ben, who the hell are your test solvers*? They should be punished, all of them. Straw poll + ACK = STRAW POLLACK. (*If the test solver checked this in the New Oxford American Dictionary, would you believe it would have misled her? It has the “Sidney” spelling! So wrong.)
  • 53a. [Pileup of Wild Turkey?] is a BOURBON STACK. Not wild about the “St.” abbreviation of “Street” used in the base phrase.
  • 61a. Top-tier + ACK = TOP TIE RACK, or [Uncreative Father’s Day present rated the best in the world?].


  • The vertical stacked 10s in the fill. Don’t they look fancy?
  • 5a. [Back talk] clues GUFF. I love that word. “Don’t give me any guff, child!”
  • 8d. FOIBLE and [Quirk] are great words, too.
  • 10d. I didn’t know that MARY KAY Cosmetics was a [Cosmetics pyramid scheme company], not really. I was thinking of those Merle Norman makeup store they (used to) have in malls. The pink cars? Maybe they’re for people who have suckered enough other recruits into paying into the system.
  • 12d. RACE is an [Unscientific human grouping]. Not based on genetics one whit.
  • 62d. [Slang term derived from the sound of an edited-for-radio curse word] clues ISH. Which word could that be??


  • You’ve got your 14a: IRNA, [Phillips who created “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns”]. Seen her once in a themeless NYT, with the R crossing GROSZ. Deadly crossing! And you’ve got your 15a: EZIO, [Pinza of “South Pacific”]. He’s in crosswords from time to time, and should not be confused with ENZO Ferrari. This 65a: [Subatomic particle], I figured it probably ended with -ON and leaned on the crossings to spell out the rest of PION. 33d: MACC is tough to clue and rarely encountered in crosswords. This [CPA’s deg.] is M.Acc., and if you’re not an accountant, you may never have heard of this degree.

David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword

Region capture 5Fairly easy puzzle for this late in the week. The theme is things that have just about nothing to do with birds but begin with words that can also be bird names—so the phrases are clued as if they are about the birds:

  • 18a. A ROBIN HOOD could be a [Bird bonnet?]. Clean and simple.
  • 24a. [Bird boo-boo?] clues CARDINAL SIN. I don’t know if it was a cardinal who pooped that ochre-hued blob on my car window, but that was a sin for sure.
  • 34a. The theme’s highlight is cluing CHICKEN NOODLE as a [Bird brain?]. Ha! Never thought of that one. Extra bonus: “birdbrain” is an actual noun.
  • 50a. [Bird backpackers?] are EAGLE SCOUTS. I’d rather see sparrow scouts with their teeny-tiny backpacks on.
  • 56a. [Bird bottoms?] clues KITE TAILS. The kite is the least familiar bird in this grouping.

Cute theme. I wasn’t sure if the birdie song “ALOUETTE” (12d. [Traditional song with the line “Je te plumerai”]) was part of the theme, so I checked its partner in the opposite corner of the grid. The CHESHIRE cat! (34d. [Wonderland cat].) Is he grinning because he ate a bird?

Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “See and Spell”—Janie’s review

No tribute to an early childhood toy this, today’s use of “see and spell” refers to a youthful literary hero with magical powers and far less than 20-20 vision. In his honor, Patrick poses a four-part question. Each part spans the grid, so that’s a hefty 60 squares of theme fill. [The question:…] he gives us to ponder:

  • 17A. […Part 1] IF HARRY POTTER IS
  • 24A. […Part 2] A GREAT WIZARD, WHY
  • 42A. […Part 3] DOESN’T HE CURE HIS
  • 48A. […Part 4] NEAR-SIGHTEDNESS?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I’ll [Reserve] SET ASIDE my own thoughts.

I will however share my thoughts on the remainder of the puzzle, which is not always as sparkly as I’d like (ULCERS, DATABASE, HAYMOW, CANTON…) and clinical-but-sounding-“X-Rated” with a combo like [Fumigation erection] for TENT. I’m going to guess that Patrick was much constrained by the theme fill, as most of these words cross it twice.

But then there’s the good stuff. Like ONCE A DAY and TEA ROOMS; SPROUT, the verb meaning [Spring from a seed] and SMARTS, that Harry Potter [Braininess]; and the juicy sounding “I HEARD…” clued as [“My sources told me…”]. Mighta been fun if the clue for ITEM (which shares its “I” with “I heard…”) had been tied in to gossip rather than appearing as [Agenda entry].

I was bemused some by seeing TWERP clued as [Despicable sort]. The very next clue is [Rasputin’s employer] for CZAR. Now to me, the Czar is definitely a “despicable sort,” but would I call him a twerp? Omma don’ think so. There’s something about twerp that suggests wienie-ness far more than despicability. Interestingly, M-W defines the word as “a silly, insignificant, or contemptible person”—which does support the “despicable” factor. But darned if any of the synonyms do.
Updated Thursday afternoon (or is it evening now?)

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “All the Way Home”

Region capture 9Cute theme, with the “THIS LITTLE PIGGY cried ‘wee, wee, wee’ all the way home” borne out by “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘WE’?” and the NINTENDO WII and MICHELLE WIE. I was underwhelmed by the fill, though. Loved the STANDING O, THE WHO, and ZONKED, but clunkers abounded. ATEETER? Plural crosswordese OSIERS? XLG (which almost always appears as “XL”) and Roman LXI? ELENI—did any of us see the movie, or do we know it only from crosswords?More crosswordese: OMOO, STOAS, ENE, ARA, and LOY. Assorted abbreviations. Meh.

You’d think the Illinois congressional candidate first name would’ve been a gimme for this Chicagoan but…who? TERI Newman? Never heard of her. Turns out the 12th district is down near St. Louis. So that one’s a gimme for all of BEQ’s Southern Illinois fans? Alrighty, then! Since when is the name of a first-time candidate with no political experience challenging a long-time incumbent in an out-of-the-way district remotely worthy of being in a crossword? I see on the internet that she uses the word “Obamunists.” Sheesh.

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16 Responses to Thursday, 9/30/10

  1. Howard B says:

    Guess I’ve been in a snarky mood today, but that was not a nice Fireball. Even allowing for one special paid entry, that Dr.Seuss creature and an Italian computer brand both crossing the vertical name are dirty pool. (Also the unknown antidepressant crossing the Dr.Seuss character at the first O).

    Finished it, but didn’t have that enjoyment that I usually get from the Fireball – they can’t all be top-notch, nobody hits a home run every time, etc. But once you’ve got JOE SHLABOTNIK set in your grid, Peter, feel free to dial up the cluing difficulty, but please, a humble request to dial down the nasty proper names and brand names in the fill after that. Really, not a griper by nature. Just freely opinionating :).

  2. EJ says:

    The clues on my puzzle said “Uh-uh”, not “Uh-oh”. Were the clues changed after your post?

  3. Evad says:

    Yeah, I see “Uh-uh” in my AL version I downloaded this morning as well. Funny that both ROOT and FOOT can be preceded by “Square.”

  4. ePeterso2 says:

    @Evad – And EFIKA sounds like a girls’ name … which is why I got that cell wrong.

  5. Howard B says:

    @Evad: ROOT/FOOT sounds like the start of a seed for a puzzle with two alternate solutions (DOLE/CLINTON, BLACK?WHITE, etc)… make lemonade out of lemons or something, right?
    Hmm, EFIKA does sound like a cool name, I like that :).

    Sorry if I was harsh before. It’s been a hellaciously stressful week, and didn’t intend for that to come out in a post. Still a big fan of the Fireball series, and even if I didn’t like a puzzle, didn’t want that to come across as being upset over just a puzzle.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    Fireball: JOE SHLABOTNIK was a gimme except I didn’t know how to spell it.

    NYT: Bad crossing at MINA/FNMA. Didn’t even know it was a vowel.

  7. Evad says:

    FNMA = Fannie Mae, pretty common abbreviation IMHO (at least perhaps for us Yanks).

    If most solvers start at A and work towards Z when trying to come up with one square (the F/R controversy), then most will choose the F. I did go back and change it to an R when I noticed ERIKA would be more believable than EFIKA. Didn’t HH have a square recently that could’ve gone either way–I remember Amy and joon getting it right, but not many of the rest of us. (One of the crossers was the name of an obscure painter I think.)

  8. Evad says:

    Ah, here it was. Good old Jacques Ibert. (A distant relation to François Ibar whose music can often be heard in the elevators of tall steel buildings.)

  9. John Haber says:

    I COULDN’T tempted me, too. ENOLA and MINA slowed me down, but I accepted them. The trickiest block for me was ERIKA and “Don’t have A COW” (the latter not sounding right to me) crossing SERAI, where I also initially had “let on” instead of RAT ON. But all done. I thought the theme was clever.

  10. joon says:

    3 thoughts on square 28 (which is 3 more thoughts than i gave it while solving last night):

    1. i guess such clues have been used in the past, but {It may be square} would be a terrible clue for FOOT. a foot isn’t square. there is such a thing as a square foot, but it’s not a foot, any more than a newton-meter is a meter or a mile per gallon is a mile (or a gallon). don’t get me started on dimensional analysis. a square root, on the other hand, is indeed a root (definition 4a). now, if the clue had been {Square ___}, then it would be ambiguous.

    2. EfIKA vs ERIKA is no comparison. the former is simply not the name of anybody that you’ve ever heard of. apparently it’s some kind of computer acronym, but even with the tech bonus it googles out very poorly, losing to erika by a factor of a hundred.

    3. if, for some unfortunate reason, a constructor simply had to have EFIKA in a puzzle, a good editor would make the crossings 100% clean. i think we can agree that will shortz qualifies as a good editor.

    i had some other problems solving this puzzle. i’ve read dracula and i remember MINA harker, but that’s a tough name and FNMA is fugly. “fannie mae” is about a zillion times more common. HTML is not “lingo”; that clue struck me as being particularly off. the ENOLA clue also made me pretty unhappy. isn’t the whole point of waterworld that nobody saw it? and now they want us to remember a character name from it 15 years later??

    on the bright side, i liked KUNG FU crossing BRUCE lee. that was cool.

    the FB had some hard crosses too, but the only one i had to guess at was LEXAPR_ crossing the seuss character. O looked right. JOE SHLABOTNIK is pretty funny. i don’t even know how i knew that, but with enough crosses in, it looked right. i have a college friend named joe subotnik—perhaps he was assisting me.

  11. Gareth says:

    NYT: Yeah… BRUCE/KUNGFU was my favourite non-theme moment! Liked the theme, but surprised it ran on a Thursday! Still not quite sure as to what qualifies puzzles to run when! My hardest crossing appears to be none of the above, rather TCU/MACRAE… I’ve got TSU etched in my crossword memory, but apparently not TCU, and MACRAE was not a person I’d heard of, though in hindsight it’s a pretty common name!

    LAT: I vaguely remember this theme being discussed on cruciverb! I like the way this theme panned out. Curious from my perspective that you feel KITES are unfamiliar, I guess you don’t get them in the States… I have two Black-shouldered kites in my garden. Think their territories overlap, cos when they see each other there’s always a scuffle till one has to fly off!

    Here’s the query from Mr. Poole:
    “I have a 15x puzzle with a “bird” theme. The seed was CHICKENNOODLE
    [Bird brain?] which rapidly led to ROBINHOOD, which I realized could
    be clued as [Bird bonnet?] So I have five theme entries along these
    lines with the clues all of the form [Bird b* ?]

    My question is this: Is the consistency in the clues worth it? The
    [Bird b* ?] conceit admittedly leads to a couple of less-than-ideal
    clues but it ties things together rather nicely, IMO.

    What do you think?”

    So did you notice all the clues’ second words begin with “B”? I know I didn’t!

  12. Vic says:

    Thanks for the nice comments. FYI, this puzzle was submitted in May 2009, accepted in June 2009. Vic

  13. Howard B says:

    I did forget to mention the BRUCE / KUNG FU cross. Loved that!

  14. wobbith says:

    My first Fireball fail.
    Simply did not know the Seuss bird or the Schulz ballplayer.

    Even when I gave it up and tried to cheat, Wikipedia had a totally different spelling of the bird – LOLA LI LOO (I’ll fix that when I confirm that Peter got it right, which I’m sure he did).

    Also didn’t know ASADA (with the D crossing NO?S). When I finally saw NODS, I thought that [Bean dips] was by far the best clue in the puzzle.

    I enjoyed this one immensely, even though I couldn’t finish it. It’s just jam-packed with colorful, lively, fresh entries and devilish clues.

    Amy – your comment on CRAPSTABLES reminded me that I need to thank you for making me laugh every single day.


  15. Amy Reynaldo says:

    You’re welcome, Wobbith!

  16. Tuning Spork says:

    Didn’t anyone else’s Fireball have CRAPS TABLES clued as [Come spots can be seen on them]? I thought it must be a very Onion-y way of cluing BLUE DRESSES or something.

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