Friday, 12/21/12

NYT 5:40 
LAT 3:54 (Amy) 
CS 7:33 (Sam) 
CHE 4:08 (Amy) 
WSJ (Friday) 7:46 (Amy) 

CONTEST! In honor of the fireballs from space that will surely destroy the earth starting Friday. You’ve seen the weather forecast, right?

I am in possession of a hot-off-the-press advance copy of the Blazingly Hard Fireball Crosswords puzzle book. Most of you don’t subscribe to Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords email service, do you? Even those of you who skip the easy puzzles at the beginning of the week and only tune in around now, when the challenge level climbs—most of you aren’t subscribing even though ~$20 a year is cheaper than a movie with popcorn and a drink and not even Dan Feyer can solve 45 of these in the length of a standard movie. (Make it a three-hour epic and Dan might do it, of course.)

This advance copy of B.H.F.C. is up for grabs—to the nonsubscriber who (1) is curious to try Fireballs, (2) has the solving chops not to be deterred by the challenging puzzles, and (3) submits the most entertainingly baroque or surreal explanation of why he/she/[other pronoun] has not yet subscribed to these highly recommended and tough puzzles. (Truthfulness is entirely optional.) I am the final judge, and don’t try to slip a cubist explanation past me. Just explain yourself in the comments of this post by Saturday night, midnight Central.

Zoe Wheeler’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 21 12, #1221

This puzzle is pulled in three directions: zip-zang-zing fill (Zoe’s a recent college grad, so the zippy stuff skews young), huh-what? fill, and pedestrian filler. Overall, it seemed tougher than the usual Friday NYT to me. First up, the zing:

  • 14a. GO COMMANDO, [Not be underdressed?]. Going commando is going without underwear.
  • 36a. SKYPE, [Ring with a face attached?]. Meaning to “phone” someone via the internet using Skype, which offers video calling.
  • 44a. THE WORKS, good stuff.
  • 54a. Solid 15, APPLE PIE A LA MODE.
  • 58a. ANGRY BIRDS, [Fad of 2010-11]. Remember when Draw Something stormed onto the scene and then a few weeks later, most people tired of it?
  • 5d. SMOKES gets a contemporary clue, [Beats decisively, in slang]. As in “David Plotkin usually smokes me on the crossword.”
  • 32d. MANTICORE isn’t fresh, new vocabulary—but it’s still mythically awesome. It’s a [Legendary creature similar to the Sphinx].
  • 33d. RICE PADDY never seems to show up in crosswords. [Certain irrigated cropland] sells it.
  • 37d. SASHIMI, [Fresh fish dish].

In the mystifying zone, things went haywire for me. 16a: [Polish border river], ODRA? Not the usual crosswordy spelling. Going with 24a: EATS AWAY instead of EATS INTO and 21a: ERRANT instead of ERRING obscured the Downs in that corner. 11d: [Frequenter of Web forums: Abbr.] turned out to be ADMIN, and 13d: [“Romance de Barrio,” e.g.] is a TANGO.

I was further unaware of 35a: [Director Thomas H. __ of the silent era], INCE; and 32a: MRS [“__ Fitz,” old comic strip started by Mort Walker]; and 42a: [Hans Christian __, pioneer of electromagnetism], OERSTED. If I used to know 3d: [F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, with “The”], ICE PALACE, I have since forgotten it.

The mundane stuff stood in stark contrast to GO COMMANDO. ESTOPS, ILE, -ICAL, STYE, HOSS, SGTS, RAE, ADIA, NRC, SWALES, INO, LESE? Meh.

Let’s average everything out to 3.666 stars.

Updated Friday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “No Sure Thing”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, December 21

One of these days, I’ll get this right. When I open a new puzzle on which I’m timing myself, my first instinct is to jump right to 1-Across and start filling in white squares. One of these days, I’ll learn that it’s worth the two or three seconds to read and think about the puzzle’s title. Had I done so today, I’m sure I could have shaved at least a minute off my solving time. Today’s title pretty clearly tells you the theme: we’re going to see four common expressions that contain the S-U-R-E letter sequences, but the “SURE” will be deleted from each one, resulting in four new, whimsical phrases. Check it out:

  • 17-Across: A “leisure activity” becomes LEI ACTIVITY, somehow dealing with the [Placement of an Oahu wreath?]. I’m not sure how “activity” relates to “placement,” but I’m assuming I’m missing something obvious here. Had the clue been along the lines of [Oahu wreath operation?] I think I would have figured it out sooner.
  • 28-Across: Ooh, this one gave me a “pressure headache” alright–a PRES HEADACHE is clued as [Bay of Pigs invasion, to JFK?]. Since I didn’t read the puzzle’s title, I couldn’t figure out what kind of “headache” made sense here, and I struggled with SEW, the answer to [Apply, as applique]. (And no, I didn’t do well in Home Ec. Whay do you ask?)
  • 48-Across: A [Fair for strippers?] is an INDECENT EXPO (from “indecent exposure”). It was only here that I got what was going on, which allowed me to go back up to the first two theme entries and get them right. The lesson, as always: strippers will set you on the right path.
  • 63-Across: IT WAS MY PLEA is “it was my pleasure” after a sure-ectomy. Great entry, but the clue doesn’t fit. [“Why did you say ‘Guilty’?”] needs “Reply to” at the front or “reply” at the end. Otherwise it’s the only theme entry clue that doesn’t pass the substitution test.

The two answers that slowed me down most: (1) [“The Alienist” author CalebCARR, and (2) RYE, the [New York Birthplace of Ogden Nash]. I kept wanting RIE for the latter since I thought DIE was the perfect answer to [Turn blue?] (though I now concede that DYE is the better answer). As for the former, I tried CARL, and since I was having problems with the crossing PRES HEADACHE, it seemed as right as anything.

My favorite error, though, was my original answer to [___ Acrobat]. The correct answer is ADOBE. Mine was A AS IN. And here I was getting ready to rip on a three-word partial in my review!

Favorite entry = I CAN DIG IT, the [“Are you hip?” response]. Favorite clue = [Residents of Birmingham and London] for AMERICANS, as in Birmingham, Alabama, and London, Texas.

Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 12 21 12

I think Gareth may check in later with his remarks, but for now, here’s the answer grid.

Theme is NOH or NO “H”: ONLINE CAT, BAR CART, WILD GOOSE CASE, PORK COP, and MINOR CORD all change CH- words into C- words. Was totally confused by 20a, thinking it was BAR CAR + T rather than BAR CHART – H.

Myles Callum’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Chillin’ Out”

WSJ crossword answers, 12 21 12 “Chillin’ Out”

Pannonica’s internet connection has been on the fritz, so until that’s back up, here’s the answer grid.

Theme: Phrases starting with “cold” words, tied to the FIRST DAY OF WINTER. (Really wanted 121a to say WINTER SOLSTICE.) There’s FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, POLAR OPPOSITES, ARCTIC CARIBOU, GLACIAL DEPOSIT, COLD MOUNTAIN, and FROZEN ASSETS. The long fill is quite nice (e.g., SAM SPADE, AUSTRALIA, COULD BE), but the shorter stuff was making me frown (TELEG., TIPI, ORIBI, LEAL, AWAR, RYS, STELA crossing OLIO, ARMCO).

Patrick Berry’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Ways to Spend Christmas”

Chronicle of Higher Education crossword solution, 12 21 12, “Ways to Spend Christmas”

Assorted world figures experienced notable events on December 25, and this trivia is provided in a 15×16 grid:

  • 3d. [He spent December 25, 1776 crossing a frigid river], GEORGE WASHINGTON
  • 9d. [He spent December 25, 1642 being born in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth], ISAAC NEWTON
  • 12d. [He spent December 25, 1991 resigning as head of state], MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
  • 22d. [He spent December 25, 1926 succeeding to the Japanese throne], HIROHITO
  • 29d. [He spent December 25, 800 being crowned Holy Roman Emperor], CHARLEMAGNE

Nope, I didn’t know any of these things were December 25 events. And while NEWTON’s clue was the least revealing, I think I guessed it off the first N. Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth? You don’t say.

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23 Responses to Friday, 12/21/12

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Very odd puzzle. Did I count 15 fill in the blank clues? It actually reminded me of some of Maleska puzzles I have been Litzing. Weird. Awesome answers coupled with horrible fill.

  2. RK says:

    Did Ms Wheeler construct a crossword puzzle or jam a segment of Jeopardy! into grid format?

  3. ArtLvr says:

    My, my. Picky, picky. I thought the NYT was about right for a Friday: I needed crosses to get GO COMMANDO (never heard of that), ditto with MANTICORE (if I once knew that, I forgot). Ditto SALMA and OERSTED, which last probably needs a diacritical mark of some sort or slashed O? I did recall INCE. So it was a fine Friday IMHO.
    Hope you all caught Maddow’s show with an actual red-nosed reindeer, as proved by the U of Tromso, or somewhere near Lapps.

  4. ArtLvr says:

    p.s. That was in Norway — The University of Tromsø — the northernmost university of the world. Polar studies a specialty.

  5. jefe says:

    I haven’t subscribed to the Fireball Crosswords out of respect for the dinosaurs. RIP

  6. Martin says:

    Ince is possibly better known for his death than his films. At the time, Hearst was implicated/suspected in Ince’s untimely demise. It was quite a sensational news item back then.


  7. The domestic goddess says:

    I did not subscribe.
    What’s the point? The world will end.
    My bad, we’re still here!

    Also? I’m not worthy.

  8. Martin says:

    For those interested in more Ince murder mystery trivia:


  9. sps says:

    When I was much younger, I loved Fitzgerald’s short stories. “The Ice Palace” (full text here) was one of my favorites.

  10. sbmanion says:

    I had a reaction similar to Jeffrey’s, although it was not so much horrible fill as major gaps in my knowledge. I can’t ever recall doing a puzzle that on the whole was so easy and fun and yet at the same time left me with so many blank individual letters. In each case I guessed correctly, but there were a lot of letters I did not know: aDIa–was it Diane or Liane, no idea about Ince, but what else could it be; did not know maNTicore, NaNce, oeRsTed, but the correct letters were the only logical ones.

    And speaking of 3-hour epics, Django Unchained has the highest rating I have ever seen from Rotten Tomatoes in the “wants to see” column: 99%. Get your tickets early if you want to see it opening day.


  11. john farmer says:

    “…so the zippy stuff skews young…”

    I need to tell that to my son. He thinks ANGRY BIRDS is an old man’s game, because that’s what I play, while he’s into Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja, and a bunch of others. (Btw, AB is more than just a 2010-11 fad, with AB Space and AB Star Wars out this year, along with the Bad Piggies spinoff, and a movie on the way.)

    Also: I had a quick solve on this one. The ICE PALACE and THE BOOK OF MORMON were gimmes, so I was off to a quick start. ODRA (not Oder) took some time to sort out, though.

  12. Daniel Myers says:

    The Manticore is the second book in Robertson Davies’s The Deptford Trilogy, which I read many moons ago. The symbol – in the book anyway – is supposed to have some sort of Jungian significance, or signification, or synchronicity, or something of the sort. Most things Jungian tend to elude me, I’m afraid.

  13. Zulema says:

    ODRA was well-clued as it is the Polish name for the river. Too many proper names by far, even if one is a scientist. Did not enjoy this solve. I guess I skew very far from young.

  14. Lois says:

    NYT — Of the proper nouns referred to by sbmanion and Zulema and others, Diane and Adia were the most evil, as they crossed (even though I put in the “d” there). I also didn’t care for X-rated = obscene, although it might work the other way around. “R-rated or higher, say,” might be OK as the clue for torrid, because of “, say.” Otherwise, and maybe even including those clues about ratings, the puzzle was more friendly than usual for me on a Friday, and it was interesting, so I liked it.

  15. Jeff Chen says:

    I haven’t subscribed to the Fireball because Dali’s MOMA is so fat it takes a rebus to fit her into a crossword grid.

    Surreal enough?

  16. jefe says:

    @Sam: LEI ACTIVITY [Placement of an Oahu wreath?] Placement as in act of placing, not location. The activity is placing the lei around your neck.

  17. Phil says:

    I let my subscription to Fireball Crosswords lapse a few years ago, as I just wasn’t accomplished enough to enjoy them. I practiced my ass of in the intervening time, aquiring the skills and chops to be able to envision myself trying again.

    Then Peter sent me an email saying that if I didn’t re-subscribe, or unsubscribe to his email list, he was going to come and get me. Seriously, the email was scary. He created his own font called maniac. Everything was in blood red. He scared the crap out of me.

    I don’t want to win the contest, and I strongly suggest you have an exorcism performed on the book.

    @HH – I don’t know you at all, but have you ever been hopeful, really?

  18. xan says:

    I didn’t subscribe to fireball crosswords because this is what they do to the brain. I did not want such a memory to persist, so I resisted. But now there is nothing to lose. The apocalypse can claim my body, but I want fireball crosswords to destroy my brain. fruit roll up. kittens on a string. i see a rhinoceros

  19. Gareth says:

    I’m sorry, all! Really, I am! >Insert GROVELling here<. There is a family reunion of sorts going on this weekend, and I plum forgot to even solve any puzzles, let alone that I was supposed to blog one of them! Suffice to say I really loved the clue for ECOLI as for once it isn't made out to be some evil man-killer! Some above-average longer fill: POPDUO, NABISCO, FREEATLAST, SBARRO, IMBORED (appropriate for Southern hemisphere kids on summer holiday!) offset by quite a high amount of sub-optimal shorter answers: INAT, IRAE, AME, ITYOU, OUS, and the most unforgivable pair of ILA and LAC. I can't see why those two should be present in 4×3 areas of the grid.

    Surprised at the low ratings for Zoe's NYT! This fantasy RPG fan wants to give the puzzle +1 for MANTICORE alone! Plus current (or as current as can be expected with a 2+ year construction to publication cycle) long answers! The INCE in my realm of ken is Paul the England soccer player of yore…

  20. bob stigger says:

    I never subscribed to Fireballs because I knew eventually I’d figure out a way to get them for free.

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