Thursday, 8/9/12

Fireball 5:04 
NYT 4:24 
Tausig untimed (Jared) 
CS 4:01 (Sam) 
LAT 5:41 (Neville) 
BEQ 6:13 (Matt) 

Announcements, Mu(e)ller edition:

Pete Muller’s fourth Muller Monthly Music Meta has been posted, and will be on the Crosswords by PuzzleSocial app Saturday night. Because I work for PuzzleSocial, I saw the puzzle ahead of time. You know what? I needed hints from Pete in order to figure out the meta. Significantly tougher than the last three!

Also, academic Shane Mueller is conducting a study of “to understand how crossword players of various levels of expertise use their memory and verbal skills to make fast decisions. The study typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes, which can be done in several different chunks of time. It involves a survey, a puzzle to solve, and a word-stem completion game. Also, once you are done with the study, you can continue to use the word-stem fill-in to help you improve your puzzle play. The study will be available through early September.” If you’d like to learn more, visit Mueller’s website.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 54”

Fireball Themeless 54, the crossword equivalent of Studio 54

Quick wrap-up of last week’s Fireball contest puzzle: The theme entries were ECLIPSE AWARDS (never heard of ’em), ORBIT HIGH SCHOOL (no recollection of that), and BIG RED MACHINE (never heard that phrase before). Eclipse, Orbit, and Big Red are all chewing gums (ergo, “Chew on This” was the puzzle’s title). I summoned up a Wikipedia listing of chewing gum brands and started checking familiar names against the grid to see if those letters jumped out at me. When I hit Extra and saw EXPAT in the grid, I thought of “extra —p—” phrases and “extra point” came to mind. Swap out Extra’s R from INTRO and add in the P from EXPAT and you get yourself an EXTRA POINT. Peter also accepted EXTRA STEP, using EXPAT and RTES. It’s particularly elegant to have the extra theme answer of the meta actually start with the word “extra,” no?

This week’s puzzle is a 70-worder with an unusual grid layout. Did you get a load of that northwest corner, with the 8s crossing 5s? Every single bit of that is terrific fill. The southeast is less impressive, thanks to ALERO EDER EDSEL, but also solid.

Top fill: MENOPAUSE (the [Change]!), LISA SIMPSON (19a. [“Everyone knows that the only real test of skill is the New York Times puzzle edited by Will Shortz” speaker]—Lisa is a little young for the Fireball crossword, but she’ll come to it eventually), the bizarre-looking-in-the-grid WACO TX, slangy HORSE HOCKEY, Sendak’s Pierre’s “I DON’T CARE” (if you missed Maurice Sendak’s recent two-part interview with Steven Colbert, you’ve got to Google that because it’s awesome, and you might also look for Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” interview with Sendak), PANCETTA, HEAD SHOT right near SEX SCENES, and the why-are-they-still-called-that REDSKINS.

Clues of note:

  • 51a. [Feebie, e.g.: Abbr.], AGT. Uh, I’m guessing this means FBI agents.
  • 58a. [Worms can be seen on it], RHINE. Best weight loss plan ever is, of course, the Diet of Worms.
  • 7d. [Cut the mustard?], REAP. You can’t reap cheese, but you can certainly cut it.
  • 11d. [___ the Jeep (“Popeye” character)], EUGENE. Who?? Was he a motor vehicle?
  • 12d. [Its final round is on Father’s Day], US OPEN. In golf. Massive demerits to any dad who chooses to watch the final round on TV without his kids.
  • 32d. [Climactic parts of some movies?], SEX SCENES. Did the puzzle hours ago and just noticed the other meaning of “climactic.” Similarly, I knew that 50d: [Like Hel] meant NORSE, but missed the “like hell” lurking within.
  • 42d. [It has its own script], ARABIC. Nice clue.

4.25 stars.

Joe Krozel’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 8 9 12 0809

The fill is pretty good, but when it came to the theme, I had to print out the puzzle and pick up a highlighter to figure out how this grid represents a TIC-TAC-TOE game. Okay. Here’s how I see it: You can divide the grid into nine 5×5 chunks, and each of thise 5×5 sectors contains either an X or an O, except for when it contains multiple O’s. Which is off-putting, if you ask me. The right middle sector has five O’s. And the left middle and bottom chunks run together with those three evenly spaced O’s. VEXED!

X wins, by the way, with the NW-to-SE diagonal.

Highlights in the fill include “IT’S USELESS,” DANA CARVEY, RED SNAPPER, Warholian TOMATO SOUP abutting the necessary CAN OPENERS, and “YES, INDEEDY.” I’m a fan of full names in crosswords, though BART CONNER has faded into gymnastics history (Wikipedia tells me he won his gold with a perfect 10 on the parallel bars) and NIA PEEPLES is far less famous than that big-screen Fame actress, Irene Cara (who I was going to stretch to 10 letters if it weren’t for DANA CARVEY’s N).

In the debit column, we have EMER, A SON (but I like the EVER I partial because that song is awesome), -A-TAT, OUSE, SSSS/SESS/ESSE/SSNS, and CXII. The bottom row is mighty sibilant, with eight S’s.

I now have tic-tac-toe crossword theme fatigue. We’ve had two in recent weeks and that’s plenty.

3.5 stars.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “The Jocks and the Squares” — Jared’s review

Ink Well, "The Jocks and the Squares"

Take a sports (or daredevil) star that appears in crosswords a lot. Take a homonym of his name and find a common phrase that includes that homonym. Such phrases comprise the theme of this puzzle, but here’s the catch – spell the key word in that phrase, not as you normally would, but using the sports star’s name. Crazy, huh?  Welcome to crossworld.

Here’s what we’ve got:

  • [Tennis/crossword star with a dye job?] – ASHE BLONDE (See, ASHE, as in the tennis player Arthur Ashe, is a common crossword entry.  “Ash blonde” is a common phrase, or “thing”, if you will. And notice that “Ashe” and “Ash” are pronounced the same.)
  • [Zombified crossword/hockey star?] – DEAD ORR ALIVE – I’ll spare you the explication of this and further theme answers.  I think you get it.
  • [What the stalker of a certain crossword/pitching star is driven by?] – OREL FIXATION
  • [Those who side with a famous name in crosswords/stunts?] – AXIS OF EVEL

I enjoyed this theme quite a bit. ASHE BLONDE is kind of blah and not terribly creative but the other three were quite inspired and left me amused.

A sampling of some great clues from this puzzle:

  • [A white one is small] – LIE
  • [Application for windows?] – TINT
  • [On E?] – OUT OF GAS
  • [Switch hit?] – CANING – Clue/answer of the puzzle.
  • [Craft collection?] – FLEET

A taste of some fresh entries from this puzzle: KIOSKS, SO TRUE, JINXED, DOODADS, HAVE A SAY

My only complaints are that TORN INTO is a somewhat awkward inflection and that DONG is clued as [Vietnamese money] instead of [When doubled, Chinese bronze-medal winning trampolinist from the 2012 London Olympics].  Don’t tell me the name Dong Dong doesn’t make you giggle.

Ben has returned to form after last week’s less than stellar offering. If you agree or disagree, rate the puzzle.  I was sad last week to have been the only one weighing in.  I’m giving this one 4.25 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “On the D-List” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, August 9

When comedian Kathy Griffin speaks of being on the D-List, this is not what she has in mind. The puzzle features six two-word terms with the initials D. D. I take it “Fun with Double-Ds” wasn’t a viable title. The selected theme entries are all interesting, even if some of my favorites (DUNKIN’ DONUTS, DROP DEAD, DENTAL DAM, DUMB-DOWN) were left on the cutting room floor:

  • 17-Across: The answer to [Lee Marvin movie of 1967, with “The”] is DIRTY DOZEN. It came seven years after The Magnificent Seven, so you can see Hollywood’s attempt to go bigger and bolder. Speaking of which, anyone here see the 1974 film, The Evil Eighteen?
  • 41-Across: To [Do some serious soul-searching] is to DIG DEEP. I really like this theme entry.
  • 64-Across: DONALD DUCK is the [Cartoon character who wears no pants]. Many toons prefer to roam au naturel (one week in Paris and I’m throwing around French expressions–c’est la vie), including another Double-D: Daffy Duck.
  • 11-Down: The [Fantastic Four’s foe] is Victor Von Doom, better known as DOCTOR DOOM. Yep, this fanboy ate up that theme entry.
  • 25-Down: The [Estimated time of arrival] is sometimes known as the DUE DATE.
  • 30-Down: A telephone call that is [Not operator-assisted] is a DIRECT DIAL call. Between Donald Duck, Doctor Doom and direct dial calls, I’m getting nostalgic for my childhood.

I’m glad we didn’t get DAILY DOUBLE–that entry has been creeping up a lot lately in the CS puzzle, so it’s nice to see it sit on the bench for a while.

There are 53 theme squares, and you can’t go far in the grid without hitting one. That would normally impose serious constraints on the fill, but this grid flows quite smoothly. We could obsess on nits like ETTE, ROUE, and ECCE, but why not focus on the neat stuff like ST. JOE, JOWLS, I WIN, GUNK, and Gloria ESTEFAN. I’m especially impressed with the midsection–have triple 7s running down the middle and intersecting theme entries is tres elegant.

I feel pretty confident about today’s guesses in the Name Than Constructor Month feature. The pangrammatic fill? The intersecting theme entries? This screams Patrick Jordan to me. But you never know–maybe one of the CS constructors is paying tribute to Patrick or trying to channel his style in this puzzle. So I’ll take my full three guesses just in case. After Patrick, though, my guesses are pretty much a crap shoot. Okay, here goes:

1. Patrick Jordan. 2. Alan Arbesfeld. 3. Tony Orbach.

Martin Ashwood-Smith?!? Wow–with 78 answers and 38 black squares in the grid, Martin would have been my next-to-last choice! (It clearly wasn’t a Bob Klahn puzzle if I solved it in almost four minutes.) I associate Martin with 15-letter entries and wide-open grids. Maybe that well-constructed midsection should have tipped me off. Well played, Martin. Well played indeed. Name That Constructor Stats After 9 Puzzles: 2 correct first choices (3 points each), 2 correct second choices (2 points each), no correct third choices (1 point each); 10 points total so far; score to beat = 15.5 points.

Brendan Quigley’s blog puzzle, “Accented Notes”—Matt Gaffney’s review

Must every crossword sport a mind-crushing theme? Certainly not. With all eyes on London, Brendan gives us a straightforward idea focused not on English athletics but rather on English music. You probably know OASIS and BLUR, though perhaps not SUEDE or PULP. But here they are:

London Calling

17-a. [Reason for optimism, perhaps] = OASIS OF HOPE. Googles marginally, but it’s a nice phrase.

27-a. [Make it difficult to see where one thing begins] = BLUR THE EDGES. “Blur the lines” Googles six or seven times better, but this still works.

44-a. [Purse material] = SUEDE LEATHER. Normally I’d just hear “suede,” but this Googles very well.

59-a. [Film with the classic line “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”] = PULP FICTION. 20 million Google hits! How come I’ve never heard of this movie??

OK, not the cleverest BEQ theme of all time, but they can’t all be home runs. We’ll call this a bunt single.

BEQ-quality fill, though: MIKE JUDGE, GIRLY GIRL, THE IDEA, TYPE A, MARIAH, D-DAY and ANNEX/NYNEX crossing at the X.

Top 3 clues: [Real howler] for HYENA, [Cereal whose website is the Silly Rabbit Virtual World] for TRIX, and [Is for a few] for ARE. 3.35 starrage.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 8 9 12

Los Angeles Times crossword solution, 8 9 12

Here’s a puzzle for the numismatists out there.

  • 20a. [*7 ___] – BUFFALO NICKELS
  • 33a. [*5  ___] – WHEAT PENNIES
  • 42a. [*6 ___] – MERCURY DIMES
  • 57a. [What the starred clues and their no-longer-minted answers come to] – CHANGE FOR A BUCK

This is a prime example of a simple theme made harder by giving vague clues at the get-go that are easier once you figure out the trick. If I could change one thing, it would just be to switch the pennies and dimes so that the quantities drop as you go down the grid. (Sheesh, how picky can I get?)

I mean, this is a really simple theme. Not a bad theme – just simple. It seems that adding that little bit of consistency could make it a tad more elegant. (Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Great corners. I had IRON FIST for IRON HAND; [Get a move on?] is quite cute for RELOCATE. I’ve seen the fountains at the BELLAGIO, so that was a nice freebie. [Cooked longer, perhaps] made absolutely no sense to me for the longest time. I think I got CRISPIER using across entries only. I was looking for a verb!

RAW BAR? FOO-FOO? Alice B. TOKLAS? ZELDA? All great. Despite my initial misgiving with a small aspect of the theme, this was really a fun puzzle, and that’s all I can ask for.

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22 Responses to Thursday, 8/9/12

  1. About once a month I combine partially misspelled entries, incorrect arcane trivia and misplaced anticipation to arrive at a nearly inextricable solving mess. Tonight was such an occasion. I expect rebuses in Thursday NYT puzzles, and tonight I thought I’d found one immediately due to the aforementioned combination of events. I spent a long time on that path before realizing my mistake.

    Paradoxically, though, such instances provide the best situations in which to strengthen my cruciverbal deductive skills. Immediate frustration gives way to substantial long-term improvement. As with so many other things, I grow more from my mistakes than my successes.

  2. Huda says:

    I agree, the fill is better than the theme or its execution. There is an additional X, in EXILE, beyond the aligned 3. One can of course argue that multiple turns are needed to execute a TIC TAC TOE, but the number of X’s and Os should match or be within 1. So the profusion of Os (relative to the 4 Xs) is truly VEXing.

    On the positive side: There are no O’s in the X containing squares and no Xs in the O-containing squares. It’s just that the O dude is hyperactive.

    The number of S’s in the lowest row must be close to a record?

  3. Huda says:

    Amy, the new editing functions are greatly appreciated by those of us who cannot see the typos until after the posting. Also the request deletion function is helpful.

    But I clicked on the ABC< which I think is the spell check function, and it froze me out completely. I could not get out of it except by force quitting Firefox. Being an experimentalist, I tried again in case the first one was a fluke, and it happened again (this time, I had the foresight to copy what I had already written so I don't have to retype it).

    So, for those of you who type long messages and think you should spell check them, proceed at your own risk. Actually, the system spellchecks as you go along. For example "spellchecks" is underlined in red as I type…

  4. arthur118 says:

    Huda, I just checked the ABC spell check function by typing in some deliberately misspelled words, clicked on the ABC and all the wrongly spelled words were underlined in red. When I then clicked on each of those underlined words, ABC gave me the correct spellings. No “freeze outs” or other complications.

  5. JanglerNPL says:


  6. Huda says:

    arthur, now it also works for me as well. In the meantime, I have downloaded a Firefox update. Not sure whether that helped. Thanks for the feedback, and I’m glad it all works well!

  7. Gareth says:

    What Amy says: slightly inconsistent theme (though I’m not sure it’d be that easy to x out those extra o’s), quite sibilant in places, but with pretty good selection of long answers to wash it down. Oh, and the 55d pun, though strained, was fantastic!

  8. Bruce N. Morton says:

    In the interest of fairness, as someone who gave a moderately low rating (not ultra low), when I came to fully understand the puzzle, I probably would have rated a little higher.

    I too like Roberta Flack. She was (and is) several years older than I, but we were both growing up in Arlington, VA at the same time, and I knew of her as a good young classical pianist, who had studied at Howard Univ., with one of the well-regarded teachers in the DC area, a few years before I was doing the same with a teacher at nearby Catholic University. I met her once, (though, as I say, she was older), when she was switching to voice; and I think she moved back to North Carolina soon thereafter.

  9. Howard B says:

    It seems the Times theme is after dividing the grid into 3×3 boxes, each box (not counting the theme explainers in the borders) contains only Xs or only Os. So it’s a theme that is rather loose in that respect, but also avoids the circled letters that some believe give away certain themes too early.
    Whether or not aspects of it worked, or the puzzle was enjoyable, is completely subjective. The Olympic judges are all over the map on this, it seems.

    I liked the original grid design, and the long answers were fun to suss out.

  10. Sean P says:

    How on earth does the Fireball get one star from someone this week? That has to be a troll.

    Loved the fresh fill, and was on Peter’s wavelength throughout. SEXSCENES is a stunner of an entry/clue combo. A little trouble in the top left, but smooth otherwise, despite the difficulty. Bravo and looking forward to the return of the puzzles later this month.

  11. Dan F says:

    Sam: I’m quite enjoying the return of Name That Constructor! I had to laugh after solving both today’s and yesterday’s CS puzzles, since they’re relatively uncharacteristic of their constructors. Don’t know if you’ve noticed that Ray Hamel uses a lot of trivia themes (and clues), because he’s a trivia genius/expert. Was also going to point out on Sunday that the 14-letter seed entries are a dead giveaway for Doug — like his prolific buddies Brad and Barry, he likes to showcase those underused 14’s. But the general awesomeness of the grid is a bigger giveaway.

    I want to play along with Name That Constructor, but can’t figure out a good way to hide the name in Across Lite…

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Congratulations to Martin Ashwood-Smith. Today is his 500th(!) CrosSynergy puzzle. 500 = Roman Numeral D. That part was kinda my idea.

  13. pannonica says:

    LAT: At this blog we’ve discussed acronyms as a subset of initialisms before, but the clue for 26d ESSO [Gas acronym] struck me as a novel inaccuracy. Esso is an expansive phonetic respelling of an initialism (SO, for Standard Oil).

  14. Huda says:

    Howard B. I thought this was the case as well, i.e. if you discount the TOE and call it a border, then there would be a single O per box, EXCEPT the Middle Eastern (typically problematic! ) territory has COHO, ASON, NOUN and OUSE! That’s unfortunate and I wish it could have been reworked. I think it would have made it a very fine Thursday puzzle.

    PS. Actually, even in the extreme NE, there are 2 Os, ATOB and COPA. So, the two top boxes in the East would need to be redone to fit the premise.

  15. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I read Joe Krozel’s explanation at Wordplay: “”The theme is a slight bit incomplete, actually; I had hoped for a notepad instructing the solvers to cross out all 3-letter entries (upon completion) and to place and ‘X’ or and ‘O’ across each region containing at least one of those letters. But perhaps thats a bit much to explain with precision.” Now, blacking out the 3s gets you nine distinct sectors of the grid, yes. But only one of those sectors is 5×5. The rest are 4×5 or 4×4 and it looks like a terrible simulacrum of a tic-tac-toe board.

    Also, it’s been pointed out that because there are five O’s and four X’s, O must have gone first, but O didn’t occupy the middle square and continued to play even when X had already won the game. So this doesn’t work as a tic-tac-toe game.

  16. Jeffrey says:

    It could work in Hollywood Squares with 2 bad players.

  17. jane lewis says:

    the big red machine was the 1975 & 1976 cincinnati reds; the eclipse awards are for horse racing.

  18. Sam Donaldson says:

    Thanks for the (trivial?) tip about Ray Hamel’s puzzles, Dan. I’ll be on the lookout for this. I hadn’t noticed Doug’s affection for 14-letter entries before. I share it, so maybe that’s just another reason why I like Doug’s puzzles so much.

    Here’s the high-tech technique I’m using to hide the constructor’s name: I put a thick slab of post-its on the computer screen before opening the puzzle. Works for me!

  19. RK says:

    NYT theme didn’t work. I thought that the four 3-letter across answers should’ve been clued to be taken away and then have tic tac toe going through the squares. Not sure how you’d pull that of though.

    What’s the CS puzzle about? I found the daily WP puzzle a while ago but never saw the CS one? They don’t seem very different.

  20. Sam Donaldson says:

    RK, they are the same. The Washington Post runs the puzzles made by the CrosSynergy syndicate. Since a number of local papers around the country run the puzzle, we refer to it here as the “CS” puzzle.

  21. RK says:

    Thanks Sam. I must’ve made a mistake when I was clicking things.

  22. Martin says:

    Jeffrey Says:

    Congratulations to Martin Ashwood-Smith. Today is his 500th(!) CrosSynergy puzzle. 500 = Roman Numeral D. That part was kinda my idea.

    Thanks Jeffrey… your cheque is in the mail.

    (notice when Canadians talk to Canadians, correct spellings are used ;) )


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