Thursday, 2/3/11

Fireball 6:50 


NYT 6:44 


LAT 3:39 


Tausig untimed 


CS untimed 


BEQ about 7 minutes 


Too many puzzles on Thursdays omg

I’ve been awake since 4:15 this morning and would like very much to lie down now. Mind you, it’s just past 7 pm as I write this. Will go ahead and post the Fireball write-up, plus an NYT placeholder, and if I conk out before 9 pm (when the NYT comes out), then, well, I’ll see you in the morning. Perhaps one of my esteemed colleagues will post the NYT solution for you.

9:30 update: I am awake!

Matt Ginsberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers 2/3/11 0203

Okey-doke. I knew there would be a gimmick from Eric Maddy’s Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest recap, but had no idea what the gimmick would be. It turns out to be easier to wrangle the clueless answers than to figure out what to do with a bunch of the clues that had been provided normally! IF A CLUE / IS MISSING, USE THE / NEXT ONE is straightforward enough—1a is missing a clue, while 6a is clued [Does yard work]. So one’s RAKES and the other is MOWS. Those two were similar enough that I kinda figured there was an adjacent-clue pairing going on.

I like Saturday clues that bend your brain by making you think of alternate definitions of a word, discarding your first impulses. So this theme offered tons of that—but you could actually use two senses of a word, not just one. Such as [Rank], which clues both NASTY (adjective) and STATUS (noun).

Where I struggled was here:

  • 22a. ARETE ain’t just a ridge in a mountain, it’s also [Excellence as a virtue, to ancient Greeks]. Been a long time since I’ve seen the non-mountain usage.
  • 35a. [Business TV newsman Ron] INSANA is a name I learned (albeit faintly) from crosswords.
  • 42a. To [Set right] a chunk of text, you INDENT it.
  • 43a. To [Broadcast] something, throw it out widely, is to SOW it. Wow, tough. SHOW was nudging me here.
  • 8d. [Dish-washing aid] clues WET SPONGE? Hang on, that’s not a lexical chunk at all, is it?
  • 26d. [Exhibitionist] clues FLAUNTER, which is one of those add-an-ER words you don’t really use.
  • 29d. [Bambini], plural of “bambino,” clues TOTS. Where TOTS met SOWS was my biggest sticking point.


  • 36d. SINISTRAL = [Left-handed]. Cool word.
  • 30d. [Return to sender?] = ECHO. Nice.
  • 44d. The RAT’S TAIL hairdo would be a highlight if it didn’t traumatize me. Horrible hairdo! (What was George Lucas thinking, giving young Anakin Skywalker this look?) Kid at my son’s school was sporting a retro rat’s tail do until a year ago. I think his parents are bikers. Which is, of course, no excuse for that hair.
  • 21d. BURNSIAN, [Like the poem “Tam o’ Shanter”]. Ooh, literary.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 36”

Fireball 4 answers

Whoa. Tough corner down there on the right, with the SCARPIA/MERE/MOPE/RUIZ/SNEEZY pile-up. Never heard of SCARPIA, and never knew SNEEZY’s French name, and the crossings’ clues weren’t helping me much.


Not wild about IRONER and CARESSER, but that’s really the worst I’ve got to say about this themeless grid. Oh, wait. THNKS FR TH MMRS is weird. Never heard of it. But I do appreciate having a little vowelless action busting out in a regular crossword.

Good, fresh clues throughout—of course. Peter Gordon’s puzzlemaking studio is the World Headquarters of New Clues. You see plenty of that in the Washington Post Puzzlers he edits, and in the old New York Sun crosswords. If you’re reading this and not subscribing to Fireball Crosswords, well, if you are every bored to tears by the same ol’ clues in puzzle after puzzle, you owe it to yourself to drop the $16 and try Fireball. They’re generally as hard as late-week NYTs. Oh—and Peter has rigorous standards for fill, so you’ll be spared horrible abbreviations and a reliance on OLEO.

Updated Thursday morning:

Lynn Lempel’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Show ‘Em What’s Wheat”—Janie’s review

And “what” is “wheat” when you add the letter “E”–which is key to understanding today’s gimmick. Each familiar two-word base-phrase ends with an “_AT” word; that second word is then converted to an “_EAT” word, humorously twisting the original phrase. Something that distinguishes this particular “addition” gimmick is the way all the “befores” and all the “afters” rhyme. Because of the vagaries of English pronunciation and spelling, that doesn’t always happen (“what,” e.g., doesn’t rhyme with many other “_AT” words…). That it does today is an added bonus. Anyway—with that additional “E”:

  • 17A. animal fat → ANIMAL FEAT [Many a circus act?].
  • 29A. vampire bat → VAMPIRE BEAT [Cop’s territory while pursuing Dracula?]. Love this one. I think it’s because of the strong visual that the clue suggests.
  • 45A. welcome mat → WELCOME MEAT [Prey for a hungry carnivore?]. Grizzly. Very Hannibal Lecter, no? Another terrfic clue/fill combo.
  • 62A. cowboy hat → COWBOY HEAT [What a rancher packs?]. And how nicely this one works in combination with the proximate, crossing ARMS and AMMO, both clued as [Combat supply].

In addition to the tight theme set, the puzzle is blessed with some great long fill: TEDDY BEAR [It’s stuffed on a toy shelf] (“stuffed” here is an adjective and not a verb) which abuts EAGLE’S NEST [High perch for a sharp-eyed observer]; TREE TOPS (where you might see that eagle’s nest) and its poetic clue [Forest canopy]; PLAY LIST [Personal audio selections]; ELIE WIESEL for the reminder that he’s the [“Night” writer awarded the Nobel Peace Prize] (in 1986) and his grid-neighbor RAW CARROT [Pet rabbit’s treat].

Was surprised to see NYMPH clued as [Nature goddess]. I didn’t think nymphs were the same as goddesses, and while it’s not the last word, this Wiki article would support that. A nymph does qualify as a “divine spirit,” however.

Was delighted to see ATM clued as [Device for passing the buck?]. A little groan worthy. Just my style…

Annemarie Brethauer’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers 2/3/11

If you’re gonna make a crossword to commemorate something, why not liven things up by working it into another type of theme at the same time? This puzzle gives you Ronald REAGAN‘s famous line, “MR. GORBACHEV, tear down this wall,” but hides the TEAR, DOWN, THIS, and WALL at the end of non-Reagany phrases:

  • 18a. WEAR AND TEAR
  • 32a. TOUCHDOWN
  • 38a. WATCH THIS—not a great phrase, but the others are rock-solid. U CAN’T TOUCH THIS is 14, MORE THAN THIS is 12. Hmm, I don’t have a -THIS phrase with an odd number of letters that could occupy the center row.
  • 49a. China’s GREAT WALL

Lots of fill that’s not the ordinary stuff we see so much of: PUTRID ZEALOT! LICHEN, clued as an unholy [Fungus/alga union]. SENEGAL, which [nearly surrounds Gambia]; the Gambia’s a finger-shaped country with a wee Atlantic coast, with all its land borders occupied by Senegal. Two famous women of history: Golda MEIR, ELEANOR of Aquitaine. And a horrible, loathsome POTHOLE.

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

Ink Well crossword answers "ABBA"

This “ABBA” theme sort of looks like an anagram theme, but Ben’s actually taking 6-letter words that can be broken into two 3s, putting the 3s in the other order, and coming up with a clue that will get you to the pair of AB/BA 6s. Here’s another example: Ben Tausig’s last name flips to Sig Tau, which is a fraternity.

  • 20a. [Bull’s hangup at the haberdasher?] is a RED HAT HATRED. You know the saying about a bull in a haberdashery shop, right? Glad the clue stays away from Red Hat (the Linux company) and the Red Hat Society, because why go around hating them?
  • 27a. [Christmas scene in Berlin?] clues GERMAN MANGER.
  • 49a. [Caption under a picture of Bergman on a horse?] is INGRID RIDING.
  • 57a. [Souls of boats?] are VESSEL SELVES. You really want your boat to feel self-actualized.

    Ingrid riding

More clues and answers:

  • 1a. [Parliament alternative] is about cigarettes, not government: CAMEL.
  • 40a. [“Ebert Presents At the Movies” network] is PBS. I caught one of the Ebert segments streaming online. He had Chicago newsman Bill Kurtis reading his words, rather than his computerized voice.  Interesting solution for the technical problem of having a TV host who can’t speak.
  • 53a. [Self-aggrandizing boast] is “I RULE!” Yeah, I could see that.
  • 71a. XANAX is a [Palindromic benzodiazepine]. Doctors prescribe palindromic drugs for their patients who can only go one way.
  • 29d. [He made WMDs a household word] clues GWB, George W. Bush. Now, the crossing NAW could’ve been NAH, which would make 29d GHB, gamma-hydroxybutyrate. Uh, I’ll take the GWB, thanks.
  • 33d. [You may need a staff to write it] clues MUSIC. This is especially true for me. I would need to delegate that task for sure.
  • 41d. [Bootblack’s need] is a SHINE BOX. Not a term I knew.
  • 46d. [Andiron] clues FIREDOG. Again, not a term I knew.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, a “Marching Bands” variety puzzle

I am such a sucker for variety puzzles. When the challenge of figuring out the answers to the clues partners with the challenge to figure out where to place the answers, I’m a happy camper.

Now, my usual approach to evaluating a variety puzzle by most constructors is to compare it to the experience of solving the same sort of puzzle by Patrick Berry. A great deal of the time, I encounter a few infelicitous clunkers that wouldn’t be caught dead in a Berry puzzle. (There’s this one constructor who almost without exception has one or two abysmal entries in every one of his Games/Games World of Puzzles puzzles. It’s my puzzle-within-a-puzzle, hunting for the stinkers.) Kudos to Brendan for making a super-smooth Marching Bands! There may be slightly more reliance on short words to get the bands to work than Berry, but not bothersomely so.

Highlights in the puzzle:

  • Chinua ACHEBE meshing with APACHE.
  • Two-word ASWAN DAM. (Greetings to you, Egypt!)
  • “Oh, NO REASON.”
  • TECUMSEH, that’s a cool name.
  • Tennis player PAT CASH linked to CASHMERE.

The Marching Bands only have 13-letter rows, so there’s less room for really cool long phrases and titles—by comparison, a Rows Garden puzzle has 21-letter rows, so a good Rows Garden can really knock my socks off. Hence, a Marching Bands puzzle won’t generally have as many highlights.

Super-smooth cluing today, too. Nothing awkward, and nothing too challenging. When tough clues are combined with answers whose locations you haven’t yet figured out, you’re in for an arduous experience. Now, I wouldn’t have minded if Brendan’s clues were somewhat harder, but a too-hard variety puzzle knocks too many people flat on their butt. This one’s smooth and kind.

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29 Responses to Thursday, 2/3/11

  1. joon says:

    the crossing of APART with SARAZEN and MITTELSCHMERZ was pretty cruel. ultimately i got it right in spite of the clue, only because APART is a word. that’s the kind of clue i’d like to see in an easy puzzle, actually, because you can learn something. in a tough puzzle with two mystery crossings, it felt kind of like a deliberate “screw you.”

    overall, i’d like to like this puzzle because the clues were very good, but two 13-letter answers where i needed *every single letter* from crosses was a bit much.

  2. Spencer says:

    THNKSFRTHMMRS came clear to me when I got THNK in. I wasn’t sure about the ending, but MeMoRieS felt right.

  3. Phil R says:

    This is why one should do puzzles, or at least read the comments of those who do. I’ve been trying to remember the term mittelschmerz for over 30 years and never found anyone who knew it.

  4. Amy Reynaldo says:

    It’s German for middle + pain. It’s a great word, but I’m even fonder of Kopfschmerz (headache). See the PFSCHM in the middle? Is it not glorious?

  5. Jan (danjan) says:

    Mittelschmerz was familiar to me – pointed the way to Pizza Boxes instead of cake crumbs as the kid’s party leftovers.

  6. Karen says:

    In the FB Mittleschmerz was my first entry. I’ve no objection to an answer that skews to the female half of the population. I couldn’t get the SE corner either.

  7. Phil R says:

    Well, female horses at least. She’s the one in my life who most suffered from mittelschmerz.

  8. Aaron says:

    I liked the Thursday theme, but fill like P AND L and clues like [Crack] for A ONE kept this one going far longer than it should have. And I still hate seeing ELSE for [In addition], even if it’s right. I do appreciate, however, that each of the theme answers referred to a different version of the word.

  9. Gareth says:

    Strange I got the corners with dense missing clues quite quickly without the getting the gimmick, but figuring out the middle and middle-right areas were extremely taxing, even once I did figure out the gimmick mid-solve! Had HOES for MOWS among other problems! Clue for ARETE sounded gibberish in solving, BTW. I really liked the gimmick!! Suspect it’s a by-product of Matt Ginsburg’s quest for the crossword with two completely different correct answer grids…

  10. Howard B says:

    My reaction to the NY Times was split – it’s funny, I really love the execution of these kinds of themes, and this one was no execption; it was the surrounding fill in this one that felt like a beyond-Saturday difficulty. I surprisingly had no idea what ‘Bambini’ meant, never heard of Ron INSANA, the ARETE clue didn’t ring a bell, BURNSIAN didn’t work for me at all, AFL/NFL confusion, etc. So it took plenty of time to eventually uncover the theme, and once revealed, the puzzle then fell nicely.
    I actually like WET SPONGE for its blatant goofiness.

    Just a lot of very difficult clues/words in the fill working to really impede progress, and for me they really detracted from the fun and cleverness of the theme.

    What is PANDL, in the center of the puzzle? Completely stumped on that. Thought I had an error, never seen it before.

    Of course, much of the above is due to my own ignorance – especially bambini, I can’t believe I didn’t know that! Mamma mia! Will never forget that now.

  11. Matt says:

    Really liked the Fireball. The sort of puzzle where the amount of whitespace at the start makes you think you’ll never finish, but you keep plugging at it, and eventually get the whole thing. The clue that sort of broke it open for me was ‘the time it takes light to travel a foot’… weird, I suppose, but I’m the kind of person who figures out the number of kilometers in a mile by dividing the speed of light in kilometers per second by the speed of light in miles per second.

    And, um, could someone explain what APART has to do with ‘Captcha’?

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Unfamiliar with MITTELSCHMERZ and whatever 52 across is supposed to be.

    NYT – I would have liked this more if some of the clues were fairer.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    @Howard – P AND L is Profit and Loss [statement]. Hey, one for the accountants.

  14. Howard B says:

    Thanks, Jeffrey. Chalk one up in the debit column for me, I owe you one.

    The clue suggested something financial, but that was it. Didn’t seem like a common phrase, but it makes sense now.

    Even filled in correctly, it looks like a neon restaurant sign with a couple of pieces broken off or nonfunctional.
    “PANDL? Oh, that used to be called B and O’s before it closed down sometime around ’02. It’s a shame that nobody’s bought the place yet”.

  15. Jeffrey says:

    Funny how with it partly in place , my first thought was everyone’s favorite gearrshift sequence, PRNDL.

  16. joon says:

    karen, i have no objection to an answer that skews towards the female half of the population, either. but the fact that (almost) none of the letters were guessable with the others already in place made it pretty unfun to work out.

    matt, the APART clue is one of the ones (mercifully) explained in peter’s solution key. i didn’t know it either (as i think my first comment implies), but apparently “captcha” is an acronym.

  17. ePeterso2 says:

    NYT – Got all but the top-right corner. Had AFL, APERTURE, POOL and nothing else. Trying ALSO and PLUS for [In addition] didn’t help – ELSE never came to mind.

    Unfortunately, the solving advice wasn’t much use – I had all of the answers for the missing clues from crossings except for 10D before I decrypted the hint. (And having ASK THE NEXT ONE instead of USE THE NEXT ONE also slowed me down.)

    Liked the concept; but I didn’t care for the Greek + Swiss + Baseballese in the NE.

    Loved SINISTRAL … too bad DEXTRAL doesn’t have the same number of letters – it’d make for a nice pair of oppositely-placed words in a grid.

  18. John E says:

    I thought for years that Elton John said “I can see your rat tail eyes heading for Spain” until I eventually figured out what he was really saying…..

  19. joon says:

    i think this is the first time i’ve seen annemarie brethauer’s byline outside of the CHE puzzle. now i’m idly curious if this was a theme that patrick berry passed on that found a home in the LAT. either way, i’m glad—very nice puzzle. makes a commemoration theme seem much less stale. and i thought “WATCH THIS!” was a great middle entry.

    nifty tausig puzzle… remember when matt gaffney used TAUSIG MAZE TAXI as a theme entry?

  20. imsdave says:

    With 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birthday a few days away, we get two quotes in two puzzles. “THERE you go again!” was a great Reagan line while debating Jimmy Carter.

    Loved the NYT today – beat me up big time leading to a huge smile when I finally finished.

  21. Amy Reynaldo says:

    By the way, I was fascinated by Michiko Kakutani’s NYT review of Ron Reagan’s new book:

    Not fascinated enough to want to read the book (I’m busy with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of Maladies”).

  22. Dan F says:

    Suspect it’s a by-product of Matt Ginsburg’s quest for the crossword with two completely different correct answer grids…
    Exactly my thought, Gareth! That is the gimmick I would most like to see, and whenever I mention it to puzzle people they say it can’t be done. Well, I guess approximately two corners are possible.

    Particularly tricky Fireball too. Delicious!

  23. Matt Ginsberg says:

    You’re right, this *is* sort of a byproduct of my “two puzzles in one” quest.

    I don’t know if it can be done or not. It’s close, but it’s certainly a construction nightmare. The question is how creative you can be at constructing clues for two very different words. There aren’t enough pure thesaurus entries to make it work, I don’t think.

    If I had to bet, I’d say yes. But that’s probably only because I don’t you could ever prove that you *can’t* do it.

  24. sandirhodes says:

    Re: Shine Box and gravitating towards the female half

    A Shine Box was one of the main themes of Goodfellas, a guy movie if there ever was one. So things work out.


  25. John Haber says:

    Start with perhaps a record number of theme fills. (Earlier in the week, just the three long clues here explaining the others would probably suffice.) Then there’s a less than obvious theme. (Am I the only one who expected puns on blank or dash?) There was more than the average number of temptations to the wrong fill. (I had “also” for ELSE, “exact” for OVERT, “attar” for ESTER, “air” for SOW.) Finish off with some simply hard or obscure entries (INSANA, P AND L, “Choice” agency, RAT’S TAIL, PFFT). You’ve got, for me at least, the hardest Thursday in memory. (Actually, not as a sport’s fan, don’t know why Super Tuesdays occur only once every four years. And can a poem by Burns, rather than an imitative style, really be BURNSIAN?)

    I appreciated the challenge. I bet it discouraged more than a few, though.

  26. pannonica says:

    John Haber: Super Tuesday, I believe, refers the day in November when US presidential elections are held. Misconstruing it as a sports term is entirely understandable because it’s overused in that context, not to mention the Big Thingy coming up this weekend.

    You know, as soon as I typed that, I realized it should be rephrased, but I think I’ll let it stand.

    Oh jeez.

  27. Amy Reynaldo says:

    The above message was brought to you by the makers of Cialis…whose commercials may well be aired during the Big Thingy.

  28. pannonica says:

    This also is a bad place to mention how hard I found the Friday NYT, until it finally burst open and I finished it in a veritable torrent.

  29. SethG says:

    The primaries, not the general election. It’s the day when the most states have their primaries.

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