Thursday, 7/19/12

Fireball 8:47* 
NYT 5:27 
LAT 6:26 (Neville) 
BEQ 7:55 (Matt)  
CS 6:44 (Sam) 
Tausig (review to come in Friday post) 

Jeffrey Harris and Ian Livengood’s Fireball crossword, “Instance Messages”

Shhh, it’s a contest puzzle. Don’t give anything away.

I think I figured out the meta answer. I sent in my guess just now because if I wait, I’ll end up forgetting to submit something before the Sunday evening deadline.

I liked the 1-2-3 punch of the trivia clues at 1a, 6a, and 10a, but my favorite clue was 32a.

Good luck to you on solving the meta! 4.5 stars.

Alan Arbesfeld’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword solution, 7 19 12 0719

How to explain this theme? The theme answers have single-word clues in all caps. Scramble up those letters and sneak an IN into the mix, and you get another word. 17a: crosswordese ARETE + IN = RETINAE. Ugly word. You know what looks better? TRAINEE, which I had in the grid for a while, slamming on the brakes of progress. 18a: EAGLE + IN = LINEAGE. 23a: SCOURING + IN = the oh-so-lively COINSURING. (Yawn.) 34a: PLATTE + IN = TINPLATE. 43a: GLANDS + IN = LANDINGS. (Sidebar: You pretty much never see the word GLANS in a crossword. Same with MONS.) 52a: SPECTRES (why the British spelling? SPECTERS anagrams the same) + IN = REINSPECTS. (Yawn.) 61a: ALEFS + IN = FINALES. (Just watched the first episode of Breaking Bad, Season 1. I hope to be caught up before next year’s finale.) 63a: TIMER + IN = MINTIER.

Update! As Byron explains, the theme clues are hinted at by the theme answers: “RET in AE = A(RET)E, RE in SPECTS = SPECT(RE)S, etc….”

Oddly enough, TIE-IN is in the grid at 55d, clued as [Connection], but it isn’t tied in to the tied-to-IN theme. That’s one of four Down INs that aren’t playing the theme game.

My nose crinkled up in an “eww” face when I found myself filling in 4d: RA I, 5d: ERN, 10d: ESNE, and 20a: TASM. The best fill turned that frown upside-down: FILM NOIR and I GUESS SO were particularly nice. And look who’s at 68a, clued as [“Casablanca” villains]: It’s the GESTAPO! They don’t get much more crossword play than the GLANS, frankly.

RETINAE, ESTONIA, and DISTEND provide the letter bank used by much of this grid. Not much in the way of your rare Scrabble tiles.

Three stars.

John Lampkin’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 7 19 12

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 7 19 12

What a BEAUT! WHOOSH, let’s RUN through this one.

  • 17a. [*New skier’s area] BUNNY SLOPE
  • 11d. [*Small collectible]OBJET D’ART
  • 33d. [*Paper for the paper] – NEWSPRINT
  • 38a. [*Hug] – EMBRACE
  • 59a. [*Freebie from the hygienist] – TOOTHBRUSH
  • 67/1a. [A football play, or an apt description of what’s hidden in the last part of the answer to each starred clue] – END/RUN

There they are – five synonyms for RUN hiding at the END of each theme entry. Cute!

Word of the day: PARVENU – [Nouveau riche]. Would you believe that it’s French? I feel like I’ve seen it somewhere before, but boy this is a fun looking word. It’s my favorite fill bit. I didn’t know LETT – [Baltic resident] either, but that’s not nearly as exciting. It refers to a native of Latvia.

Photo © John Lampkin. John writes, "It is a beetle larva consuming an adult aphid. It's adult because it has wings. Most aphids we see are larvae and lack wings. Aphids are at the bottom of the food chain and are a crucial part of the diet of many insects. Larvae such as this beetle consume an average of 17 aphids each day, according to one study."

I’m not sure what it is, but the bulk of the clues don’t feel as picturesque as usual. (Yes, I stole that word from the LA Times crossword stylesheet.) Some examples: [Fight against authority] – REBEL. [Teaching story] – PARABLE. There were a few too many one-word clues for my taste, too. We did have few nice ones like [Ladybug’s lunch] – APHID and the lengthy [A loose one might activate the “Check engine” light] for GAS CAP. It just seems that the latter were in the minority today. That’s okay – it was still a fine puzzle with a cute theme. The clues just didn’t feel LAT Thursday-worthy to me.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Oodles and Oodles” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, July 19

Each of the four theme entries ends with -OODLE:

  • 17-Across: The [Type of dish often served with soy sauce] is a RAMEN NOODLE. It’s also the main dietary staple of many college students.
  • 27-Across: The [Whole enchilada] is the KIT AND CABOODLE. I can’t be the only person who grew up thinking the expression was “kitten caboodle,” right?
  • 47-Across: The [Curly-haired dog breed] is the STANDARD POODLE. My step-dog is the standard Australian shepherd, though there’s nothing really “standard” about her. She probably feels the same way about me.
  • 63-Across: A [Crazy person] may be described as your standard WACKADOODLE. I thought “wackadoodle” was an adjective and not a noun. Perhaps it can be both? (Or am I (a) wackadoodle for even thinking that?) Regardless, I love this for a final theme entry.

I kept wondering how CANOODLE would work its way into the grid, but upon reflection I realize there are no good phrases ending in CANOODLE, except maybe for HEY, BABY, WHAT SAY WE CANOODLE. Yes, I’ve got mad pickup skillz. Don’t hate the playa; hate the game.

Some interesting clues in this one, like [Neanderthal’s “I’m perfectly happy”] for NO MAD, [“Whatever you say, Egyptian sun god”] for OK RA,  and [“Watch me crush a beer ___ my forehead!”] for CAN ON. I just now suggested some last-minute changes to these clues, so hopefully by the time you solved the puzzle some of these made a little simpler.

Favorite entry = ICE MACHINE, the [Hotel amenity]. Favorite clue = [Starting point?] for EDEN. Hey, did you see the clue for SNOB, [Stuffed shirt]? Nice reference to yesterday’s puzzle!

Brendan Quigley’s blog puzzle — Matt’s review

You wanna fight? Not with Brendan you don’t; today he gives solvers a black eye — five of them, actually, his trick being that you have to write the word EYE in five black squares to complete the themers:

eye know what you're thinking

17/18-a. [Freaky-looking sea predators with sucker mouths] = LAMPREY EELS

26/28-a. [Classic incumbent campaign slogan] = FOUR MORE YEARS

40/43-a. [“Curious George” character, with “The”] MAN IN THE YELLOW HAT

51/54-a. [Place to shed pounds?] = MONEY EXCHANGE. Nice clue.

62-64-a. [“The French Connection” character] = POPEYE DOYLE. Nice movie.

We’ve seen white letters on black squares before, as in Julian Lim’s Fireball last year, but it’s still unusual enough to be novel. Nice execution helps: Brendan’s got five theme answers and they’re symmetrically-placed, so thumbs-up from me on the theme. Two small dings, though: 1) you can’t really help but cotton to a theme like this quickly, since the second part of each theme entry is just clued with a hyphen, which telegraphs the trick, and 2) the black EYEs don’t work on the downs. I know, asking a lot there, but Julian managed to set the bar very high with the above-linked puzzle by doing just that, so gauntlet thrown down! But again, we’re still in healthy thumbs-up theme territory here.

Top clue trio: [Reason someone might do shots?] is DIABETES, [Get your story straight?] is EDIT, and [Quarters] is ABODE.

Top fill trio: QATAR (I just learned from solving this puzzle that that micro-nation will be hosting the 2022 World Cup!), NET TV, and THE PLAYER.

Mystery entry: INSPAN for [Yoke harness]. I guessed a K for that letter, making my [Mortal Kombat combatant] KONYA instead of SONYA and the yoke harness an INK PAN.

Rantbait: [Chess champion of crosswordese] for TAL, eh? The late great Mikhail Tal may be just a handy trigram to you, Mr. Quigley…but to some of us he is a godlike figure! His whiplash attacks — often unsound and seeming to emerge from nothing — made him the most beloved chessplayer in history, even to this day, 20 years after his death. So you’ll show a little respect and like it!

4.15 stars is my guess. Yours?

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30 Responses to Thursday, 7/19/12

  1. ibabel says:

    You totally missed the theme. Look again.

  2. David says:

    Ugh. As much as I appreciate the effort, I gotta express both my frustration and disappointment with how Alan chose to execute this puzzle. The theme was very clever, but by my count, there were only 11 proper nouns. You couldn’t even muster up a dozen names? I’m suppose to be doing a crossword puzzle, not taking a vocabulary test. If I wanted more words, I’d read a dictionary!

    The worst part is, this could have been so easily remedied by recluing some of the entries. For example, consider that ungettable TUT/MUG crossing; both were clued with definitions, and unless you’ve read Webster’s cover-to-cover, it could’ve been any vowel. Why not clue TUT as the Pharaoh, or MUG as the Pepsi subsidiary? Us average solvers not all speak English good, but we do all drink root beer and watch classic SNL skits. Appeal to our knowledge base, give the average solver a chance!

    Just glancing around the rest of the grid, I see a bunch of other quick fixes:
    Former Kenyan president Daniel Arap MOI
    Former Italian footballer Guido ONOR
    GERM, the barely-populated commune in southwest France
    and of course, 3-time Northeast Open Atlatl champion IGU ESSSO

    Remember, if it’s not a proper noun, then it’s improper. I give this puzzle two Dallas NHLers.

  3. John Ellis says:

    I’ll also go with lackluster for this one. A word a caution on Breaking Bad. It is best consumed in small doses. It is very intense and muy violent as I’m sure you’ve been told.

  4. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @ibabel, care to elaborate? I see that the clue words aren’t scrambled wholesale but rather have a letter or chunk of letters moved to the front or something. Can you explain the theme in one succinct sentence?

  5. Plot says:

    @ibabel: I think Amy does fully understand the theme, even though it’s not reflected in the write-up.

    Edit: Did not see Amy’s previous post. The answers are difficult to parse properly, but ARETE = RET in A-E

    @Amy: Glad you got a chance to start watching Breaking Bad. That’s one less person I have to convince.

  6. Byron says:

    RET in AE = A(RET)E, RE in SPECTS = SPECT(RE)S, etc…


  7. OK, ibabel – I’ll bite. I looked again. The closest I can come to anything different from Amy’s rendition is that in most of the theme words you just rearrange one letter and insert the IN. Foe REINSPECTS, you have to move two. Is there more?

  8. pannonica says:

    Meh. It would be more laudable if the containing strings of letters were also actual words. As such, it’s kind of pointless. Complex and half-baked.

  9. OK, I get it now. Thanks, Byron.

  10. Greg says:

    Correct to all those who have corrected the analysis of the theme. Hence, the importance of the British spelling of Spectres.

  11. Martin says:

    Seems pretty elegant and consistent to me.

  12. Xan says:

    “It would be more laudable if the containing strings of letters were also actual words. As such, it’s kind of pointless.”

    I thought this was a perfectly good theme concept! It’s enough that RETINAE and ARETE are both words, linked by ARETE = RET IN AE, without RET or AE being a word too. The theme concept itself is not pointless or half-baked; the problem is just that RETINAE and ARETE are boring words.

  13. Huda says:

    NYT: I like how the theme is layered. I too got the first layer– that it’s scrambled with an IN thrown in, but wondered why a) throw in IN and b) not TIE it IN with the potential reveal. Essentially where Amy landed.

    But realizing the existence of this other element of the theme makes it all come together! It would have saved me a lot of time had I tumbled to it. Given this fuller premise, my favorite theme answer is LAND (in) GS, because it suggests rearranging and landing somewhere else.

    The first theme answer I got was F (IN) ALES- And since ALEFS mean starts and finales mean ends, I thought I was supposed to look for opposites. It took a while to disabuse myself of that little notion.

    Anyhow, this is why this site is great– otherwise, I would have solved it and walked off with less appreciation of the theme idea.

    @David, very funny…

  14. Tracy B. says:

    I didn’t appreciate the theme when I finished it. One either feels quite clever or quite dull at the end of it I guess.

  15. Howard B says:

    I most enjoyed the NY Times puzzle-within-a-puzzle concept here. Anyway, the theme is very consistent; it also took me a while to work it out. In “SCOURING”, the CO is literally in the string ‘S–URING’ = CO IN SURING. The only flexibility is where within the larger word the IN exists, allowing for greater freedom of words. If it stumped you for a bit, you are far from the only one. Had time to stop and think about each theme answer and how it would fit together.

    It’s not easy to mentally come up with pairings, although I’m sure programming code can be written quickly against a word list to instantly come up with a list of such pairings.
    Everything else I could add has already been said, so I won’t retread. Too late :).

  16. Martin says:


    As others have noted, the theme is not really layered; there really is no anagramming. It’s simply “describe the clue as X IN Y.” I’m surprised Amy hasn’t updated the blog post, which is misleading.

  17. Huda says:

    Martin, I meant “layered” in the fuzzier sense, and from the point of view of solvers– that one’s grasp of it is layered. You sense that the letters in the clue are used and IN is added, and you can solve the puzzle perfectly well that way, as many did. It takes another round of scrutiny to realize the actual theme. The constructor may not have intended it to appear that way to the solver, but I’m fine with that. It says it’s more intricate than most.

  18. Martin says:


    Yes, I understand your thesis but see it very differently. My view is that solving the puzzle as “add IN and anagram” is a trap, probably unintended, that results in a much less satisfying experience. “Why the British SPECTRES?” and “B is a more interesting anagram than A” shouldn’t be going through the solvers mind.

    If you happened to grok the theme from the start it was a lot more fun. Looking for X IN Y words describing the clue words was what the constructor expected us to be doing, and it’s a shame so many solvers missed that chance. The question is, how much should the puzzle be downgraded because it was easy to fall prey to a false theme? That is an interesting question that doesn’t come up very often.

  19. Amy Reynaldo says:

    This is an example of a puzzle that could have benefited from having a title (as the daily CrosSynergy and Newsday puzzles do). Suggestions for an apt title for the the NYT?

  20. Stacey says:

    The Barefoot Contessa is INA Gardner, not AVA Gardner (37 Across)

  21. Martin says:


    Ina Garten is a usurper.

  22. Martin says:

    On the subject of titles, I thought that it was funny that Deb Amlen caught grief about spoiling the theme with her blog post title, “The Only Way In.” It was funny because Deb didn’t get the theme either.

  23. Christopher Jablonski says:

    Please be sure to write up the Fireball once the contest is over. I think the last one got completely bypassed!

  24. Shafty says:

    Amy: “BOR IN G?”

    Sorry, I know that’s mean. It’s a nice theme, but because I didn’t fully suss the theme until afterward (“Uh, okay, anagram + IN?”), I can’t say I enjoyed the puzzle.

  25. JohnV says:

    Hi. First time here, so hello to all.

    Count me among those who a) really liked the NYT puzzle and b) got the theme pretty early, at GLANDS. I first recall seeing this sort of idea in Patrick Berry’s book but took a while to remember how it worked.

    So, for Thursday, we have a quirky theme and quirky fill. Totally fine by me. I worked hard to get it and was happy I did.

  26. Huda says:


    How about ” Insertions”? I think it’s hard to come up with a good title, and I discarded quite a few. I landed on this one because it might have made me stop and rethink the impulse to anagram.

    I take your point that it would have been a rather different experience. May be because of what I do for a living, I don’t mind being in the dark (no I’m not an astronomer), and then discovering a neat twist even after I think I’m done. I think it’s sort of fun. But I realize that other people might find that annoying or disappointing. I guess I take the concept of a puzzle literally. Says Wiki: ” A puzzle is a problem or enigma that tests the ingenuity of the solver.” So, it’s a battle of wits, and when I lose and in a non-trivial way, I bow to the adversary and hope to sharpen my wits for future encounters. Very Sherlock Holmes.

  27. Joan macon says:

    Stacey and Martin, The Barefoot Contessa was a movie with Ava Gardner from years ago. It costarred Humphrey Bogart and Edmund O’Brien, who I think won an Oscar for supporting actor in his part. Ina Garten is calling herself the barefoot contessa because she used to own a specialty food store in the Hamptons called Barefoot Contessa and now does a series on the food channel on cooking. She is delightful, I think, and has several cookbooks published. The movie was excellent and very popular back in the day.

  28. Sean P says:

    Any possibility of voiding the single lowest and highest vote for a given puzzle? It borders on unfair for someone to have given this week’s Fireball puzzle one star without specific explanation.

  29. Jeffrey says:

    Sean, if you click on Best Puzzles of 2011 above, you will note that we did exactly that when ranking.

  30. Sean P says:

    You people are ahead of the game!

Comments are closed.