Thursday, 1/20/11

NYT 4:46 


LAT 5:02 (Jeffrey) 


Fireball untimed 


CS untimed 


BEQ 7:04 


Fireball Crosswords is/are back! $16 gets you this year’s slate of 40 tough puzzles, edited by Peter Gordon and constructed by Peter and his contributors. Subscribe at the Fireball page. You won’t be sorry (unless you really aren’t up to doing hard crosswords).

Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers 1/20/11 0120

Yep, that’s a Thursday puzzle all right. Theme entirely unexpected and original, clues tough? Check and check. The three long theme answers include a vertical 15 (7d: MISSING IN ACTION), a two-part 28-letter answer (SOCIAL SECURITY / ADMINISTRATION), and a 13 (ROYAL AIR FORCE). All are clued without clear reference to what they are—they’re just [Opposite of 32-Down], for example. Each is commonly abbreviated: MIA, SSA, and RAF should be fairly familiar even to people who don’t do a zillion crosswords. And those abbreviations spelled backwards are real words: 18a: ASS is a [Fool], 32d: FAR means [Much], and 58a: AIM is clued [It may be taken at a gun range].

Toughest clues, best answers, and other items of note:

  • 9a. VODKA is a [Drink whose name means “little water”]. Michael’s a native Russian speaker, so I’ll bet he wrote that clue.
  • 24a. Speaking of water, SHUI, as in feng shui, is [Chinese for “water”].
  • 26a. Cute! An OVUM is [Part of a preconception?].
  • 48a. I was thinking [Ancient Greek vessel] meant an AMPHORA or other beverage vessel, but it’s the ship sort of vessel: the ARGO.
  • 57a. Would anyone have gotten this SEANS clue without all the hullabaloo surrounding the movie The Social Network? I sure wouldn’t.
  • 6d. [Obsolescent alternative to broadband] clues DIAL-UP. I believe there are still rural areas without access to high-speed Internet service. Yes? No?
  • 11d. Foreign-language grammar! Whoa. DATIVE is a [Kind of case]. I know it from taking German.
  • 12d. KRATER? A [Bowl for mixing wine and water in ancient Greece]? Hmm. Okay. The word vaguely rings a bell, but I have to ask: What’s the point of mixing wine and water?
  • 27d. The MAYO CLINIC is indeed a [World-famous institution in Rochester, Minn.]. Great entry.
  • 29d. EAR is clued [Ring holder…or receiver?]. So, is an ear that receives a ring getting at tinnitus, or ringing in the ears? If you’ve had tinnitus, you may find this news story about new research of keen interest.
  • 38d. CARL ORFF, cool full-name answer.
  • 47d. [Org. that rates members of Congress on their liberalism] clues the ADA, but I rather doubt that’s the American Dental Association or the American Dietetic Association. Is this ADA pro or con when it comes to liberalism?

Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Jeffrey’s review

Theme: Special (but silent) K

Theme Answers:

  • 17A. [Tough handicap to overcome in a joust?] – KNIGHT BLINDNESS
  • 22A. [Hoopster featured in a news magazine?] – KNICK OF TIME
  • 39A. [What “purls of wisdom” is an example of?] – KNIT WIT
  • 51A. [Was familiar with Britain?] – KNEW ENGLAND
  • 59A. [Bow tied by mortal hands?] – KNOT OF THIS WORLD
  • One-line review for those in a hurry:  Knot bad

    Other stuff:

    • 15A. [“Would __?”] – I LIE. Never trust a crossword blogger.
    • 16A. [Baseball’s Moises] – ALOU. Expos shout-out!!!
    • 26A. [Leo, for one] – SIGN. I am now a Leo. Couldn’t they have told me sooner, instead of letting me go through school as a Virgo?
    • 27A. [Manhattan neighborhood acronym] – NOHO. North of Houston Street. Like that helps.
    • 32A. [Uncertain concurrence] – I GUESS.
    • 43A. [Hokkaido native] – AINU. How you answer this one? I GUESS.
    • 66A. [Pianist Gilels] – EMIL
    • 1D. [LaGuardia alternative, familiarly] – JFK. The LA Times puzzle is spending a lot of time in New York today.
    • 9D. [Barbie’s beau] – KEN. They starred in Toy Story 3. Jodi(Little Mermaid) Benson played Barbie.
    • 19D. [End for free] – DOM
    • 22D. [Capital of Rwanda] – KIGALI. I knew this no problem (see 15A).
    • 23D. [Cookie information, perhaps] – FORTUNE. Why is it that sometimes I get more than FORTUNE in the cookie, and other times I get none?
    • 61D. [“I didn’t need to know that!”] – TMI. Describes 95% of all Tweets.

    Todd Gross’s Fireball crossword, “Watch It!”

    Fireball 2-01 answers

    Whoa! I just now noticed the genius aspect of this theme. There are some Roman numerals, and they’re 12, 3, 6, and 9—or, as they appear on plenty of watches, XII, III, VI, and IX. Those numbers are actually sequences of letters that appear in the central answers on the four sides of the grid, and they’re placed in the appropriate spots if this crossword were a clock. In their crossings, you need to convert the Roman numerals to either Arabic numerals or spelled-out numbers. That explanation is far less clear than showing the answers would be:

    • 5a, 7d. TA{XII}NG meets old-time actress Helen {TWELVE}TREES. That’s the 12:00 spot. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of her, but the crossings were all solid.
    • 34d, 37a. W{III}TIS meets OMEGA-{3} fatty acids. It’s now 3:00.
    • 61a, 43d. DE{VI}SE meets MOTEL {SIX}.
    • 21d, 35a. [Brazilian ballroom dance] MAX{IX}E is not among the best-known dances. It hits {NINE} LIVES.

    Now, I admired the theme well enough even before I realized it was anchored to the cardinal points on a watch face. With the clock business? So much cooler. Well done, Todd. Aptly, the center of the grid has a symmetrical block of black squares, to anchor the clock hands.

    Highlights in the fill:

    • GENERAL TSO gets his title for a change. WASTREL is such a grand word. SILENT W is indeed the [Second (letter) of two]. The L.A. TIMES, radioers’ “OVER AND OUT,” VALHALLA, David SEDARIS, and ALUMNAE are all cool, too.

    Updated Thursday morning:

    Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Home Work”—Janie’s review

    Yesterday DI/SH framed each theme entry. Today we get “DI” at the beginning once again, but at the end we find the title-related “Y.” Or DIY, the [“Home work” letters…] referred to in the full clue at 59-Across. Do It Yourself. It’s not just for folks whose temple is Home Depot. It’s the 21st century. There are major websites (like this one) devoted to the endeavor of endeavoring as well. Patrick exalts the method with:

    • 16A. DISC JOCKEY [Record player]. Of the human variety.
    • 10D. DIGITAL X-RAY [Modern picture that reveals more than meets the eye]. Yesterday we met the digital flash; today’s use of the technology reminds us of how extensively “picture taking” has changed. As I said before: it’s the 21st century. Still, the implementation of new technologies is something that never ceases to amaze me.
    • 24D. DINNER PARTY [Setting of many a murder mystery]. Hmmm. Shades of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, perhaps?
    • 49A. DIAN FOSSEY [“Gorillas in the Mist” author].

    Loved seeing TOY STORY [1995 Pixar flick] in the grid as I’m a fan of the franchise. If you haven’t seen it, rent it or borrow it. Then see the two sequels. It just gets better and better.

    With the dead-center crossing of DIRTY and HARRY running a close second […Clint Eastwood role] (and which, I just realized, provides more theme fill), my fave cross today (for the alliteration)—and occurring at the second “P” for both—would be POPEYE’S with PAPOOSE. The former is clued as [KFC alternative], the latter with the factoid-bearing [Word from the Narragansett for “baby”]. And I’d always thought that papoose was what the baby was carried in. Ah! Seems the word does, in fact, do double duty.

    There’s a set of words that rhymes, too: DEERE [Combine company], the adjacent (also clued alliteratively) SNEER [Smile snidely], ZEROS just below that (with its literal clue [“2001” characters] and also DEAR TO [Cherished by].

    NAGANO is the Japanese city that was the [Site of snowboarding’s Olympic debut] in 1998. BOB [Word before cat or sled] led me to check out bobsledding as an Olympic sport. Seems it was there from the start in 1924, through 1956. It was then included again in ’64 and remains one of the competitive specialties. Winter games. “B-R-R-R!” [“I’m chilly!”].

    Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Thursday”

    Hey! Look! Another themeless from Brendan this week. I applaud that.

    I misread the verb tense in the clue for 14d and had SEE EYE TO EYE instead of SAW EYE TO EYE. Sure, it seemed weird to have that chatty 18a clue Scottish NAE instead of NAW, but the answer above it was so dang weird, I was willing to accept it. Of all the ways to clue ALA, Brendan goes with [___ deriva (Adrift, in Spanish)]? Boo! I had that as ALE, but since I don’t know Spanish, a weird way of cluing ALE was no less plausible than a weird way of cluing ALA.

    Potent notables:

    • 1a. BIG BOX STORE. Love it!
    • 49a. The U.S.S. INTREPID. My husband and kid went to the Intrepid’s air/space museum in NYC last June, while I lunched with the crossword crowd.
    • 55a. LEAN CUISINE, good entry but not something I buy.
    • 57a. SCENE POINTS? Is that a little like indie cred/hipster cred? Not a term I’ve encountered before. You know who probably has a crapload of scene points? Brendan.
    • 12d. Ah, BANANA SEATS ruled in the ’70s.
    • 13d. PLANE TICKET, totally “in the language,” if you ask me.
    • 34d. WAIT A SEC! I like it when the puzzle shouts at me.

    I like the grid layout, with stacks of long answers in every corner. Not crazy about the shorter fill in the interstices. PSS, ILE, EES, REL, A MOON, GLO, DES, SAE? To them I say CHEERIO. Do I have a grand suggestion for how to piece together themeless fill without accepting some of this sort of fill? The only surefire approach seems to be “be Patrick Berry,” and where he’s concerned, I can’t help suspecting some sort of Faustian bargain.

    Brendan, if you want to publish two themeless puzzles a week sometimes, I would have no objection at all. How about you, readers?

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    33 Responses to Thursday, 1/20/11

    1. barrywep says:

      Americans for Democratic Action is definitely pro-liberal.
      My favorite puzzle of the year!

    2. joon says:

      i had SSA for 6-across from the get-go, so it was a bit of a surprise when that turned out to be a) wrong, b) elsewhere, and c) the theme of the puzzle. very cool, fresh theme. but i was pretty unhappy guessing at the foreign-crossing-wha R at SER/KRATER. actually this felt like a very foreign puzzle overall: lots of greek (AGORA, KRATER, ARGO), spanish SER, basque (?) CESTA, italian OSSO BUCO and OPERA SERIA, french TASSE, chinese SHUI, foreign clue for VODKA, DATIVE, and a handful of european people (ORION, ANAIS, LIPPI, CARL ORFF). still, it was pretty cool to see THE LIP crossing LIPPI (was that his nickname too?) and GAFFE crossing CHAFF.

    3. Tuning Spork says:

      Y’know, I remember last year when we were wailing about the unfairness of Fireball’s first Crossword. (Seems so long ago.)


      Hopefully the oomph will be put back into the workout from here on out.

    4. cyberdiva says:

      I’ll probably be embarrassed as soon as I post this, but I don’t see how “2 letters” is ABC (1 down).

    5. pannonica says:

      I’ll probably be embarrassed as soon as I post this, but I don’t see how “2 letters” is ABC (1 down). —cyberdiva

      I think it’s the telephone keypad.

    6. Tuning Spork says:

      Edit to add:

      I was 30:00 into it before I knew there were Roman numerals involved. Remembering (or even noticing) the title might have cut quite a bit off my time. Maybe 45 seconds, even.

    7. Neophyte says:

      Aha! Thanks! That’s why I love these crossword blogs. I didn’t get it either… until now.

    8. cyberdiva says:

      Thanks very much, pannonica! Though now that I know, it seems reasonable, I don’t think I would have come up with this on my own. Hopefully, the next time I will.

    9. Aaron says:

      TASSE crossing SEANS and SADIE was a double natik moment for me. Oh well.

    10. john says:

      I’ll also be embarrassed, but “XXX part” being “TOE?” Please assist…

    11. Evad says:

      John, the other two are TIC and TAC.

    12. Evad says:

      And Aaron, that was a Natick moment you had….come visit us in the Commonwealth, but I’d wait until we get through all these snowstorms that have beset us of late.

    13. Karen says:

      I’ll join in the embarrassment. How are most teenage years ODD?

    14. janie says:

      13, 15, 17, 19 v. 14, 16, 18…


    15. Matt says:

      Whoa, great Fireball. Didn’t even suspect a trick until late in solving, then just wondered how III would get into the grid. WIIITIS, indeed.

    16. Howard B says:

      I liked that in the Fireball, I needed to completely understand the theme before being sure of the last square, which for me was the 12/XII in {TWELVE}trees. Not up on my actress names, and here, it was satisfying to learn a new name by solving a theme square. The same would have applied to MAX{IX}E, had I not seen it once before in a puzzle. Well done!

      The NY Times was very original, and the only issue I had there was not with the puzzle at all, but that the applet didn’t load for me on my first 3 or 4 tries. Glad I wasn’t really focusing on time, since I started with a chunk of time already on the clock ;). OK, maybe I did KRATER a bit on the Greek vessel. But my basic Spanish helped me to climb out.

    17. Todd G says:

      Just wanted to say (a) glad you liked my puzzle and (b) without Peter Gordon’s many contributions, the puzzle would have probably been a 3 or 3 1/2-star effort. It’s pretty cool being the first Fireball Crossword of the new year.

    18. Spencer says:

      I tried VALISE several times, having _A_I_E to fill.

      Why mix water and wine? Because that’s what you drink all the time, and you want to be still at least semi functional? Also, probably the wine wasn’t of the best quality…

    19. Howard B says:

      Todd: I am still hoping to avoid Wiiitis, having received a couple new games over the holidays that I am still playing. Don’t mind running into it in your grid, though!

    20. Michael says:

      Hey all.

      Just buzzing in to see what all the comments are about. Judging from people’s posts here and on the Wordplay blog, seems like everyone’s major roadblocks today were the diabolical clue/answer combos at 1- and 42-Down plus the gnarly northeast. I don’t remember trying to make these particularly hard – thought they were just deceptive enough for a Thursday!

      Joon, interesting pick up of an unintentional European subtheme. I’m probably wired to lean towards foreign stuff unbeknownst to myself, but VODKA was definitely a conscious choice there. ;-)

      A couple of random thoughts. My original clue for KRATER was the same as for ARGO, “Ancient Greek vessel.” I had COB and EAR refer to each other, but I’m glad Will not only separated them after birth but also came up with a brilliant “Ring holder … or receiver?” clue. Some very early theme entry ideas included CASH ON DELIVERY (14), EARNED RUN AVERAGE (16) and … AMERICA ONLINE (13).

    21. Zulema says:

      I know it was Michael’s puzzle but every word and fill reminded me of Liz Gorski, and I guess the elegance of it overall. Certainly my favorite Thursday puzzle in ages. Kudos to Michael and Will.

      KRATER – The Met in NY has hundreds of them, usually on display.

    22. Howard B says:

      So in effect Will “watered down” the original KRATER clue then, from its original proof. That works. ;)
      – That was also my “Learn something new every day” item in the puzzle.

    23. Ladel says:

      All the intellectual grist has been ground in the mill, so I will confess that xxx to toe took me a while to “get” after I “got” it. Very cute, learned nothing new from it but tickled none the less, and that is part of the joy of the solving experience.

    24. John Papini says:

      Dial-up is hardly obsolete. In many remote or rural areas of California, there is neither broadband nor cellular access. But, it isn’t a big stretch in order to come up with the L in SOCIAL. Overall, a fun Thursday theme.

    25. DBL says:

      RE: the LA times puzzle

      Speaking of JFK, he was inaugurated 50 years ago today.

    26. John Haber says:

      I thought it was a very good Thursday indeed, on the tough side because of the time it took to figure out the theme, the sheer difficulty of dealing with cross-referenced clues, and some of the fill. It’s praise for the puzzle that I liked it at all given what I think usually of cross-referenced clues. Of course, that unusual use of “opposite” for a reversal made the theme harder. So did that use of “much”/FAR.

      While SHUI was hard for me, mostly I, too, had the most difficulty with the NE and with understanding ABC. My Spanish isn’t any good, so I got SER from KRATER, which I remembered after a few crossings.

    27. pannonica says:

      In the NYT, ignored the cross-referenced themers (treated them like the dreaded Roman numeral calculations), worked the crossings, and intuited the answers as each was about ½ or ⅔ full. I think that’s why my time was unusually brief (relative to others’).

    28. John E says:

      Is there a written or un-written rule around when a question mark should be used at the end of a clue? Or is this all part of the guessing that makes crossword puzzles challenging? Was thinking the “2 letters” clue might warrant a question mark but certainly is more challenging without.

      By the way, agree that the NYT was a great puzzle. Did great until I got to the NE corner and then just sat, sweating out the answers.

      Also, I believe there is a key difference between the words “obsolete” and “obsolescent”, the latter meaning something in the process of becoming obsolete but which is not yet actually obsolete. In other words, seems like a tricky yet super clue for 6 down.

    29. Alex says:

      Yay for having the New York Sun back in my life! Kinda!

    30. Will Nediger says:

      “A la Deriva” is also the name of a great short story by Horacio Quiroga. I’d recommend it, but I don’t know if it’s been translated. Quiroga seems to be pretty much an unknown outside of the Spanish-speaking world.

    31. Jen says:

      Horrible n00b question, but: How tough is Fireball compared to late-week NYT?

    32. Amy Reynaldo says:

      The easier Fireballs have landed around Thurs/Fri NYT level, while the tougher ones hover in the Fri/Sat/beyond zone. The Across Lite timer didn’t start itself last night and I didn’t notice until I finished, so I don’t have any concrete idea how this FB stacked up on the difficulty scale.

    33. joon says:

      jen, you might want to get an opinion from somebody besides amy, who is preternaturally good at super-tough puzzles. :)

      having said that, i actually agree with her, if you don’t count the early fireballs from 2010. those first 10-15 were mostly saturday++ stumpers. after that, they mostly settled into a difficulty between friday and saturday, with the occasional outlier in either direction.

      one last thing: that’s not a horrible n00b question at all—it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask before you plunk down any hard-earned money for a puzzle subscription. if you can’t regularly solve friday NYTs, you probably won’t be able to do the fireballs either. now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy them, because some people relish the challenge even if they don’t always “win.” but it at least gives you a better idea of what to expect.

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