Thursday, 1/26/12

Fireball 8:00 
NYT 4:59 
LAT 6:02 (Neville) 
CS 5:59 (Sam) 
BEQ untimed 
Tausig 5:46 (pannonica) 

Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 1 26 12 #0126

The theme entries append an ST to the beginning of a word—sometimes the first worst, sometimes the last word—to change the meaning. It doesn’t really seem like a Thursdayish theme, does it? But the puzzle took a Thursday amount of time, what with the fill that felt sometimes more Maleskan than Shortzian/Newmanesque. Oof! I didn’t have fun working this puzzle.

The theme answers are passable: STALL FOR ONE in a stable, TEXAS STRANGERS from out of town, JACK THE STRIPPER collecting dollar bills in his G-string, STRIKER’S ISLAND for union members to spend their measly strike pay vacationing on, and a soldier STILL AT EASE.

The ungainly fill can be categorized into two main groups: words I have never, ever used in real life and two-word phrases that jangled. In the latter, I question who ever uses 2d: HIT AT. 63a: PINS ON is just a weird-looking answer. 56a: A MAN is a partial. And 52d: IN LOW always looks odd to me in a crossword. In the first category, I place TRUK and its intersecting U-TUBE. Whut? [Horseshoe-shaped lab item] and [W.W. II Pacific battle site]? These are not commonly seen in crosswords; nor are they commonly encountered in the newspaper, on TV, or in books. Another intersecting pair is nearly as ugly: AROAR and AGASP. Come on! We had a deal: The limit is one ungainly A-___ formation per puzzle. You can use all the AWRYs, ASIDEs, ALONGs, AKIMBOs, AMOKs, and ASKANCEs you want, but AROAR, AGASP/AGAPE/AGAZE, and ATIPTOE are ATERRIBLE.

While IN THERAPY and NEVER MIND are indeed quite good, too much of the rest of the fill just sat there looking balefully at me. TVA TSARS ODEON EEN UTES ERG OJO ALF BSA SRS, bleh.

Three least favorite clues: (1) [What may give you the business?] for CNBC. (2) [Old line in Russia] for TSARS. (3) [Big inits. in camping] for BSA, which wanted to be first REI and then KOA).

2.5 stars. Is this one of those puzzles that’s intended to slake the thirst of the faction that still misses Maleska’s style, so that they can’t complain too much when we have funky puzzles that discard convention and include a rapper’s name? I feel it wasn’t made for solvers like me.

Addendum: TRUK U-TUBE video! Complete with shark feeding frenzy.

Patrick Blindauer’s Fireball crossword, “Little White Lie

Fireball 3(3) answers

Yes, I finished this puzzle. My grid is complete. The white squares spell out a little white LIE. [LIE] also clues 17a: GOLFER’S CONCERN and the spaced-out 63a: TELL A TALL TALE. The result of the empty white squares is that a couple answers get spaced out, while others have only 1 or 2 letters. Seriously! 20a is SI, 62a is EN, 71a is J (Juliet means J in the NATO alphabet), and 54d is E.R.

It took me until the end, putting the “E” together, before I realized what the empty squares’ purpose was. It’s a neat visual, but I don’t know that I’d be excited to see this concept used in additional crosswords. The general idea of “mess with the convention of [number of squares] = [number of letters] in answer” is welcome, though. Usually we see this go the other way, with multiple letters jammed into a rebus square.

I’m glad Peter explained the 1a clue in his answer PDF. [Del Rio or Houston, for example] appears to be about Texas cities, but the answer is LEO because Delores Del Rio and Whitney Houston are both Leos astrologically. Let me slam the brakes on right here. On Monday, Brendan Quigley clued SAGITTARIUS less misleadingly (because he included full names that clearly referred to people) but still with this same general slant: List two people with a particular zodiac sign. I call bullshit unless the people in the clue have well-known birthdays. Who the hell knows when Delores Del Rio or John Kerry’s birthday is? Ridiculous. Annoying. Clue approach that needs to go away as fast as it began. Now, if the birthdays are famous—say, Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King, Jr., both January—it’s fair. But two random birthdays nobody knows? That stinks.

4.25 stars.

Billie Truitt’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle solution, 1 26 12

Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle solution, 1 26 12

Mmm… HAM. Four clues in this puzzle get the Same Clue Treatment:

  • HOLIDAY ENTREE – If you’re just eating ham on the holidays, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re into this sort of puzzle, my hunch is that you enjoyed this puzzle. Personally, the find the clue hiding in the puzzle and then figure out which meaning goes where isn’t one of my favorites, and certainly not for a Thursday. Once you figure out that common clue, the puzzle becomes pretty easy.

I must commend many of this puzzle’s non-theme entries. We’ve got ITUNES off to the side, and coming down, there are four ten-letter entries. The PEDAL STEEL guitar is a neat instrument and CANDID SHOT gets the cute clue of [It’s not posed], which I thought might refer to the inverse of a rhetorical question. Speaking of rhetoric, [Dismissive bit of rhetoric] clues “WHO NEEDS IT!?”. The final ten-letter clue sits funny with me – the biblical (by admission) “IF IT BE TRUE”, which really doesn’t feel like it’s in the language now (or then, even) enough to warrant its presence. All in the name of symmetry, eh?

Let’s talk about BED and board. I was looking for something like room and board, like what a tenant or dorm resident might receive. But this new-to-me phrase seems to pop up mostly in the idea of a divorce from bed and board – a separation without marriage dissolution. I learn something new every day – maybe you do, too.

The [Disco era term] A GO-GO is the Anglicization of the French à gogo, which literally means “in abundance.” Thank goodness Wikipedia is done protesting SOPA!

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Afterthoughts” — pannonica’s review

Ink Well crossword • 1/27/12 • "Afterthoughts" • Tausig • solution • 012712

nb: “PS” stands for the  postscriptum, anglicized to “postscript,” which is used as an afterthought to a piece of writing, most often a letter of correspondence. Subsequent afterthoughts receive additional Ps, e.g.: post-post scriptum, post-post-post-scriptum, ad infinitum—or ad nauseam—if you prefer. Each of the theme answers starts with a familiar phrase, but has a PS appended to the end (that isn’t necessarily redundant, by the way), naturally. Wacky definitions constitute the clues:

  • 17a. [Mario?] MAN O’ WARPS. Not really a Nintendo fan, is Portal not on everyone’s radar? Is the protagonist female?
  • 21a. [Issuances from a robotic monarch?] QUEEN BEEPS.
  • 33a. [One who spoils with sweets?] CANDY GRAMPS. When I was growing up at the beach there was a nice old man who always had lollipops for the children. He was very popular and we all called him “Mr Lollipop.” Somehow I don’t think that’d go over too well these days.
  • 51a. [Tall mountains for cruising yodelers?] BIG GAY ALPS. I was stuck on this one for the better part of a minute, stymied by the crossing with 47d [Nickname for the Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez] AGONE (A-Gone? AG-One?). Not being a South Park viewer or a big sports fan (combined with my avowed lack of Nintendo awareness, it makes me seem rather dull, no?) was a real hindrance here. In fact, I didn’t even know the base phrase was a South Park reference and had to revisit the clue a few times until I was able to suss out the “cruising” bit. It’s all spot-on for the alternative weekly demographic.
  • 55a. [Security force that guards soft drinks?] PEPSICOPS.

I liked the theme concept well enough, especially how PS appears at the end of each answer, but the results of their attachments are of varying quality. My favorites were CANDY GRAMPS and the concise PEPSICOPS. Judiciously, the puzzle contains no other fill ending in -PS, although it does have ISP and PAS.
Other items from the AW-demographic youthful-and-risqué buffet:

  • 29a [Reddi-__ (food-sex brand) WIP.
  • 32a [Souvenirs from congrass?: Abbr.] STDS. That’s sexual congress.
  • 27d [Hipster’s alcohol order] PBR, aka Pabst Blue Ribbon. Very ironic.
  • 30d [Combs, in the early 2000’s] P DIDDY. A man of many names, but just one face, and one sound.
  • 33d [One with ads in the back of an alternative weekly] CALL GIRL. Meta!
  • 37d [Self-titled album named Pitchfork’s #1 of 2011] BON IVER.
  • 59a ROC is clued with reference to a hip-hop record label rather than the mythical bird of Persian myth, but see 36d, ALI BABA.
  • I’d say even 4a [Roughly, in dating] has a knowing implication, in context. But it turns out to be the harmless CIRCA.


  • Long non-theme fill: RECEIPTS (cleverly clued as [Slips in the store]), PAINT GUN, DUSTBINS.
  • Relatively obscure: OVETA [ __ Culp Hobby, first secretary of the Department of Health]. 45d [“Romanian Rhapsodies” composer Georges] ENESCO.
  • Pay attention to capital letters! 20a [Tinker with Jet pieces, say] EDIT.
  • 62a [Brian who produced…] I didn’t read the rest of the clue because it was practically guaranteed to be cruciverbal mainstay ENO.
  • 9d [Magazine that earns 1% interest?] FORBES. Nice, tricky clue. The much-discussed 1% of American earners show interest in that publication.
  • 12d [Blended family member] was STEP[SON/MOM/DAD/BRO/SIS] until I had further crossings.

I’ll mark this one as par for the Tausig course.
p.s. “nb” stands for nota bene (“mark well”), “e.g.” denotes exempli gratia (“for example”), aka stands for “also known as” (nlo).
p.p.s. “nlo” stands for “no Latin original.”
p.p.p.s. I just made up that last one.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “A Space Odyssey” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution, January 26

If you’re just tuning in, this week I’m playing a game with myself: I’m solving the CrosSynergy crossword without looking at the puzzle’s title and byline, then seeing if I can suss out the theme and divine the constructor’s identity. Thus far I have earned 3.5 points out of a possible six–I’ve got the theme each time, and I got the constructor right on a second guess, but only once. My working hypothesis that most constructors have distinctive styles is not panning out thus far. Let’s see how this week goes.

Let’s start with the theme. Even before I got to the revealer entry, I could tell that this puzzle used a letter addition theme–each of the four theme entries is a well-known term that has been stuffed with an “MMI” somewhere in the middle:

  • 17-Across: The [Kazoo-playing panel?] is a HUMMING JURY, a play on “hung jury,” a term used to refer to a jury that is well-endowed.
  • 30-Across: [Cabaret buffoons?] are CLUB DUMMIES, a fun play on the otherwise lackluster “club dues.”
  • 47-Across: Apparently a [Pawnee pizza?] is a PEMMICAN PIE (from “pecan pie”). Everything I have ever learned about Pawnee comes from Parks & Recreation, and “pemmican” is not on that list. Wikipedia says pemmican is “a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. … It was widely adopted as a high-energy food by Europeans involved in the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers.” Another site confirms that the Pawnee and Crow tribes were known for using pemmican, so it seems like this one is legit, even though it still kinda feels sketchy to me.
  • 64-Across: The [Butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle?] would constitute a SWIMMING SET (from “swing set”), but the set is not complete until the dog-paddle is added.

I confess I was wondering what was so special about “MMI” as a letter sequence. In Roman numerals its’ 2001, but we’re 11 years past that now. But then I hit 65-Down, where MMI is clued as [Year missing from the puzzle title and inserted into] the theme entries above. So the puzzle’s title is obviously missing “2001,” and the only thing that leads me to think is that the puzzle’s title is “A Space Odyssey.” Ding ding ding! I got that one! Sure, maybe I don’t deserve a whole point if the theme is in a revealer entry, but it’s my game so I’ll play as I choose.

Now for the constructor. I have a very strong feeling about this one–I think it’s Randall Hartman. I seem to recall letter addition (or maybe subtraction) themes resulting in wacky entries that have come from him before, and he likes to insert Scrabbly letters were possible (this grid has and X, J, and Z all in close proximity). So I’m going to make Hartman my first guess. I liked the theme overall, though I’m still left with wondering why this theme was used 11 years ago instead of now–for that reason only it had something of an outdated feel. Goodness knows there’s a lot of other things to like about this puzzle (and not just the obvious shout-out from SAM I AM). Both DREAMGIRLS and FELT TIP PEN are awesome long Downs. Lots of names in the grid, notably Michael STIVIC, BOGIE, and Doctor MOREAU–but nothing distracting to me.

I’m at a bit of a loss for a second guess. Patrick Blindauer might have been an option, but we saw him on Tuesday. I’ll pick Randolph Ross again, just because I paired him with Hartman in another guess earlier this week. Okay, here goes….

Yay me! That’s two points, bringing my total to a respectable 5.5 points out of 8 possible in total. Come back tomorrow to see if I can break 7 for the week!

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Starting Over”—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 405 answers

The fill in BEQ’s puzzles is so good that I enjoy the solve even on the rare occasion when the theme doesn’t work for me.  Today’s puzzle is that.

Brendan clues each of his three theme entries as [Start over, starting over] and they are:

  • 33a. (D)O A ONE-EIGHTY

The parenthetical letters above you must put just outside the grid, which is to say that you are “starting [the theme entries] over” the grid’s edge. That’s an OK use of outside the box letters, but the theme had other aspects that I didn’t dig: (1) two of the three added letters are a T, which seems inconsistent (I’d prefer either all three be T’s or they be three different letters); (2) the word OVER appears in the last themer, which isn’t good because it’s such a vital part of the theme itself; and (3) “Do a 180” isn’t really the same as “take it from the top” or “turn over a new leaf.” Both of those are “start over,” but “do a 180” is more like “go back to where you came from.”

OK, but then the fill is so lively: wide-open grid with BOOZERTHE PRADOSYFYHERNIA, YEAR ZEROUSER FEE and RAMP UP.  I must admit that I missed three letters in the tough upper left: I had ECHO and ICKIEST instead of TOHO and OOKIEST (killer crossing), which left me guessing at ?EAR DAY and ?ITS at 1d and 1a. I put a B but obviously didn’t feel comfortable about being right, and I wasn’t.

Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ!

Update: Amy points out that the three starting letters are not to be placed outside the grid, but rather come from just over the first letter in each entry. Well, isn’t that clever?  I like the theme a lot better now. (Amy says: Brendan had to point that out to me, as I missed it too. If you noticed it on your own, have a cookie!)

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21 Responses to Thursday, 1/26/12

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    The Fireball is magnificent!

  2. ktd says:

    Not long after starting the NYT, I also started to get the same kind of vibe. Suffice it to say, I closed it without finishing.

    Tonight on the Facebook Crosswords app I played head-to-head against a Will S., Level 9 player, and got narrowly beaten 89-87. Is this who I think it is?

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @ktd: No, the “Will Shortz” on Facebook whose age is something like 106 is not Will Shortz (who tells me he’s not that fast). I can’t help wondering if Facebook “Will Shortz” is Twitter @FakeWillShortz. Except that @FakeWillShortz is frightfully clever most of the time, and Facebook “Will Shortz” is merely a fast solver (but evinces zero cleverness and a touch of creepy impersonation). So while I suspect that Francis Heaney is @FakeWillShortz and Francis definitely has the solving skills to beat us all on the Crosswords app, setting up a boring fake Facebook account seems far too pedestrian for Francis. The mystery continues.

  4. Matt Gaffney says:

    I’d bet $10 but not $100 that your FWS suspicions are correct.

  5. donald says:

    Re: “I feel it wasn’t made for solvers like me.” Would the Times have any readers were that so? The puzzles are simply not made for a tiny select group, are they?

  6. Matt says:

    About the Fireball– I think that one or two obscurities in a challenging puzzle is just part of Peter Gordon’s editing style. It’s non-Shorztian, but so what? In the current Fireball, I had to look up OSMENT, and I guess I’ve come to tolerate that sort of thing. It’s not a ‘feature’ exactly, and it would be, I think, objectionable in a puzzle used in a public competition– but I’m sitting in front of a computer, and it didn’t kill or embarrass me to type ‘Play it forward’ into the search box in my browser.

  7. Matthew G. says:

    Sorry, but the birthdays of two random performers are not “obscure.” They are _unknown_. I’m with Amy—those zodiac clues are completely preposterous unless tied to people who are somehow famous for their birthdays themselves.

    But that’s basically the only thing I didn’t like about this utterly awesome Fireball. Well, there’s one other thing, but it’s not the constructor’s fault—solving in the Crosswords App for iPad, circles appeared around the squares to be left blank. This made it way too easy to figure out the theme, and when I later looked at Peter’s PDF and saw no circles, I realized the puzzle was meant to be much harder than it was for me—but by then it was too late. I still adored the puzzle, but it was a shame to miss out on the a-ha moment.

    I’ll give this it five stars, with a wistful sigh that I didn’t get to solve it as intended.

  8. Gareth says:

    Liked this set of add ST entries. I also liked seeing UTUBE, wondered why I hadn’t before… Was more than stumped at the crossings of UTES/NEST (with different clues, no problem of course) and LORRIE/ARRET. If this were paper the latter would’ve probably been written as a U/R!

  9. Gareth says:

    In the LAT, loved the clue “Knave of hearts’ loot”. In what proverb do horses escape from barns??? Oh, and these two weeks have been working with two exchange students from NORWAY…

    (PS I tried to edit my previous comment, but it says I didn’t write it. I suspect my IP address changed…)

  10. joon says:

    gareth, the barn door idiom appears to have no consistent wording, but the gist of it generally involves horses (rarely, cows) escaping from barns (or stables).

    count me in as another one who loved the FB puzzle but agrees with calling BS on the zodiac clue. i thought there might be two people i’d never heard of named leo del rio (mellifluous, no?) and leo houston. as it is, i don’t know who this dolores del rio is. (former NFL head coach jack del rio, sure.) frankly i think it’s kinda stupid to have to know zodiac signs even if the celebrities’ birthdays are well-known, but i guess on some level it’s not that different from having to know things about religions you don’t profess. maybe i shouldn’t go there.

    anyway, enough quibbling about one little clue—the puzzle was awesome. i admit i spent some time trying to figure out why TELL A TALL TAL(E) used the big white E, whereas GOLFER’S CONCERN didn’t use the big white L, until i realized that 55d was actually NEO, not NO. certainly it makes more sense as an answer to {Art movement prefix}, but back in the days when i used to write capital E, i made the middle bar as long as the upper and lower ones, so that was how i was inclined to do it again in this puzzle until the light finally dawned.

    the BEQ theme was also very clever, i thought, although it is admittedly flawed in the ways that matt points out. i definitely noticed the “over” aspect, so i would like to claim my cookie now. but i’m pretty sure when i test-solved this baby, the NW corner did not have STAR DAY, OOKIEST, or TOHO.

  11. pauer says:

    Thanks for the nice comments about my latest word baby. It started out as a desire to create the anti-rebus, and it also gives a little nod to Krozel’s LIES puzzle from a few years ago. The corners were meant to be wicked hard so as not to give away the gimmick too soon; maybe I should have had LIE going from lower-left to upper-right so the NW corner was gimmick-free. And don’t worry, Amy: I won’t be making a book of these anytime soon. Just making one was hard enough!

    Now to enjoy my e-cookie. I hope I don’t spoil my appetite for lunch.

  12. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I was afraid I was just having an attack of the surlies for the last couple days, but I agree with much of Amy’s lukewarm reaction to today’s. Didn’t like the 3’s in the extreme NE and SW. I didn’t much like OHO, BAM, YDS, UTUBE AROAR, AGASP, AMAN. I actually didn’t mind CNBC. Now that Utah is a member of the PAC-12, I guess we have to train ourselves that the answer may be “Utah” or “Utes.” Somehow it seems more natural to me to say that the team is Utah, not its nickname. Would Bruins or Trojans, or Ducks or Beavers also be acceptable answers for the same clue? I suppose. I don’t have any persuasive argument to the contrary, but somehow they don’t ring true to me. Aren’t students at those institutions not members of a team, just as much Utes, Bruins, etc.?

    Yesterdays tree puzzle–a Thurs. masquerading as a Wed.–was OK, but the crossing of a rapper with a palm phone, or something, starts me thinking about swearing or swearing off crosswords, but I suppose that’s only because those crossings often prevent me from finishing.


  13. MD Solver says:

    The Fireball was merely painful for me today. The names and pop culture did not play to my strengths. Combined with 1 across and the challenging theme, I ended up lost on how to fill it by the end.

    Always love seeing the distance between Matt Gaffney’s friendly, generous review style and Pannonica’s Andy Rooneyesque, bitter grandpa tone. (In line with my own inner monologue). Love it! Makes for a fun read having the different voices.

  14. Cyrano says:

    @Matthew G. – Thanks for pointing out that the PDF of FB didn’t have circles around the blanks. I did the puzzle in the Crosswords iPhone app and the circles are (obviously) there too, which really makes the puzzle gimmick simple, and consequently the puzzle went fast once I saw what was going on. Too bad the warning about the clue -s didn’t mention (or know about) the circles. Or maybe I should just buy a printer.

  15. Howard B says:

    Loved the Fireball theme today – very original and wickedly tough. As with the previous Oscar puzzle, I did not care for having to whack through the thick pop culture clues with a machete to figure out the unknown-length answers and nearby fill (“E.R.” trivia, OSMENT, LIAM, EMMA, etc.). Had to look here for the ‘J’ clue explanation; (that one was unknown to me).
    But the ambitiousness of the theme took center stage, and finally discovering the great LIE within brought on one of those moments of clarity we all seek when solving. Great stuff, Patrick.

  16. pannonica says:

    I get an e-cookie too, but apparently I may be too bitter to eat it.

  17. Jeff Chen says:

    I’m not ass over elbows for AGASP, AROAR, and AGAPE, but think they’re perfectly fine. Aren’t these words found in normal usage? Curious what’s the hubbub, bub.

  18. maikong says:

    Sam —

    Good job!!! Onward to tomorrow.

  19. David says:

    Matt – re: BEQ: I took “starting over” to refer to the fact that the first letters of each theme entry appear in the square immediately over the beginning of the rest of the entry.

  20. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @David: Yes, that earns you a cookie (per the addendum to Matt’s writeup). No cookie for me or Matt.

  21. John Haber says:

    I tend to agree with Amy about the Times, where the theme was fine but the fill a little, well, to quote an entry tin ear. NEST in alone had me thinking maybe “nestle in” and looking for another theme.

Comments are closed.