Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fireball 6:16 
NYT 3:52 
AV Club 4:54 
LAT 7:57 (Gareth) 
BEQ 8:12 (Matt) 
CS 6:17 (Dave) 

Henry Hook’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 7 11 13, no. 0711

Two non-Boston Globe/CRooked Henry Hook puzzles in one week! HH had last Friday’s MGWCC and now an NYT puzzle. I hope this means we’ll be seeing the byline more often, and not that these are the only two non-BG puzzles for the next year or two. Man, I can’t remember the last time I did two Hook puzzles in a week. I do have that used copy of his cryptics waiting for me, but the book smelled funny and I set it aside. Do you think the smell has abated by now?

The theme is balls:

  • 20a. [Many traditionally have three balls], PAWN SHOP SIGNS.
  • 35a. [What four balls may let you do], WALK TO FIRST BASE. Or … never mind.
  • 52a. [Gizmo often with five balls that demonstrates conservation of momentum and energy], NEWTON’S CRADLE. My very favorite science gizmo.

Lots of unusual fill in this puzzle: There’s NO-DOZ, the [Vivarin competitor]. And the “WTF?” word SAMP, or [Hominy cereal]; old-school crosswordese vibe there. Fairly obscure [Glenn Close title role], MAXIE. DEAN RUSK, [1960s secretary of state]; not to be confused with my grade-/high-school classmate Dan Rusk. YOWZAH, [“Holy moly!”]. FESTOON, or [Decorate]; a terrific word. ANCHOS, [Sweet chili peppers]. MUGGLE, [Nonmagical one, in Harry Potter]; not sure I’ve seen this in a puzzle before. And North Dakota’s BISMARCK, [State capital whose site was visited by Lewis and Clark]. There’s also the fancy Euro [Vacuum cleaner brand] MIELE; did you know the name?

What a coincidence that we find this theme about three, four, and five balls on the very same day that’s Lindy West wrote about two balls from an evolutionary standpoint. “We keep all of our other major organs tucked waaaaaay up inside our bodily meat-vaults, protected by bony cages and musclebound walls and fat moats, but then the delicate testes are just expected to bounce around in a gossamer skin hammock and hope for the best?” I appreciate phrasing like “meat-vault” and “fat moat” and “gossamer skin hammock,” I do.

I count about 19 proper nouns in this puzzle. Which means I pretty much enjoyed the fill but a bunch of you said “Aauuugh! How are we supposed to know that?”

I did not know that there was a default ALEXANDER ([Gin concoction]) made with gin. I assumed the Brandy Alexander (same recipe, but with brandy in lieu of gin along with the creme de cacao and cream) was the primary Alexander cocktail.

When did this newfangled “modernspeak” become a word? META is clued as [Self-referential, in modernspeak]. I do not care for this modernword.

Four stars. Not quite hard enough for a Thursday puzzle, in my experience, although all the names probably jacked up the difficulty level for a great many solvers.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 64”

Fireball 7 11 13

Some weeks, I encounter comments on the blog or on Facebook raving about a Fireball puzzle hours before I even plan to solve it. This week … is not one of those weeks. This is an oddball Fireball, which I found moderately unpleasant to solve. Why? Because of these things:

  • 1a. [Green job], ACTOR. What actor Green? Seth Green? Eva Green? Is there a markedly more famous Green out there?
  • 14a. [Hostess Mesta], PERLE. Bleh.
  • 27a. [The world’s second-highest volcano], LLULLAILLACO. Never heard of it. Yes, it has three sets of double-L’s. But is it truly noteworthy?
  • 36a. [Former rival of Iberia], SPANAIR. Okay, so, an erstwhile Spanish airline I’ve never heard of, not even via crosswords.
  • 44a. [Good-guy video game character in a 2012 animated Disney film], FIX-IT FELIX JR. And if you didn’t see Wreck-It Ralph, you don’t know the make-believe video game characters in it, do you? My kid was 12 when it came out and he had no interest in seeing it. Nor did I.
  • 51a. [“Workin’ for ___” (Lynyrd Skynyrd song)], MCA. Wha…? I know Chicago’s MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and the Beastie Boys’ MCA, but not this. Looking at the Lynyrd Skynyrd discography, one sees that their albums were issued by the label MCA, but this song apparently wasn’t even released as a single. I call foul.
  • 57a. [Cricket fielders positioned directly behind wicketkeepers], LONGSTOPS. Does cricket also have a shortstop? Is a wicketkeeper like a baseball catcher? Don’t answer. I really don’t care about cricket.
  • 9d. [Pizza topping], PASTRAMI. I think this is some New York malarkey. National chain Pizza Hut has no pastrami. Chicago’s Lou Malnati’s has no pastrami. Peter, quit cluing pastrami as a pizza topping. Isn’t this your second time, or was the other one the NYT?
  • 11d. [Slow-burning], PUNKY. Dictionary isn’t showing me this meaning, which is unfamiliar to me.
  • 56d. [___ Cup (annual Canadian hockey championship)], ESSO. No idea.

I like PIXY STIX, AMEX CARDS (that one was hard to get, [Their numbers always start with 3]), ABYSSINIA, newsy AUTOPILOT, CARJACKED, and ALMANACS (who doesn’t like a good almanac?). But all those other things that I found off-putting really … put me off of this puzzle. Limited to three stars for its obstreperousness.

Tom Pepper’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

So we have another clue/answer reversal theme; these had become quite rare, but seem to be popping up more frequently again. Todays answer, er clue, is [Bugs] and we have five definitions of this occupying the long across positions. I like how none of the definitions are the obvious MEMBERSOFTHEHEMIPTERA, although many are secondary meanings derived from that. We have:

  • 23a, BEETLECARS.Beetles themselves are not technically bugs, but VW Beetle cars are often so called.
  • 37a, SOFTWAREDEFECTS. Discussion of the etymology of this usage is found here. Note that moths are not, in fact, bugs either.
  • 48a, ELMERSBANE. The reason Tom Pepper chose BUGS rather than BUG I presume.

I found this mostly typical in difficulty except the area around HIDDENMIKES, which occupy my final 3+ minutes! I clung to HIDDENWIRES obscuring LAPEL, EYELET, TEMPT and ANKLE. I hadn’t heard of the phrase [Apple polisher], but was able to suss TOADY. The clue for ERNIE was obvious, but also painfully tortured [Els only about six feet above the ground]. Still, I started doubting it after nothing else wanted to work!

Other notes:

    • 16a, [Big name in kitchenware], OXO. Around here, it’s a big name in beef extract!

  • 43a, [Mongolian tent], YURT. Such a strangely mellifluous word that!
  • 66a, 67a [San Diego Zoo attraction], GIANT PANDA. A clever, interesting way of fitting a fun long answer in!
  • 49d, [Madame Gorbachev], RAISA. A name we’re gradually seeing in fewer crosswords, but worth memorising if you haven’t already!

I overuse the word “solid” when describing crosswords, but I’d say it’s an apt description of the theme and its answers… 3.5 stars.

Gareth out.

Updated Thursday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “And Crafted” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Six (count ’em, six!) phrases that substitute ‘N’ for AND:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 07/11/13

  • [Like Little Caesars pizza, they say] is HOT ‘N’ READY – yeah, and like other things as well, but we won’t go there, no we won’t.
  • [Modern USPS service] clues CLICK ‘N’ SHIP – is this when you print the label and mail it yourself? Saves a trip to the local P.O., I guess.
  • [Animated pair who first appeared in “Private Pluto”] are CHIP ‘N’ DALE
  • [“Let’s Talk About Sex” hip-hop trio] is SALT ‘N’ PEPA – listening to NPR recently, I heard that Push It by this group is the go-to song to get people up to get down at wedding receptions.
  • A childhood staple of mine, [Crumby coating?] clues SHAKE ‘N’ BAKE
  • Finally, [It”s here to stay, in a song from the movie “Grease”] is
    ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – yeah, they go together like “Ramma lamma lamma / Ka dinga da dinga dong.”

I kept waiting for “Spic ‘N’ Span” to appear, but I see now that that “and” is spelled out on product labels. Cute idea and I enjoyed the plethora of theme material. My one question regards the title though, why “And Crafted”? I get the “and” part, but why “crafted”? Is it a play on “hand crafted”? (I’m sure a head slap is lurking in my near future.) Usually with so many theme entries, the fill would suffer a bit from the constraints, but not today’s. We have the totally awesome MELISSA Etheridge, HITCHHIKE, TAKE TEN, CANASTA and [Faux] for IMITATION (my go-to synonym here is “ersatz.”)

I always enjoy learning things from the puzzles I solve, and today I learned that KIWI is a brand of shoe polish, or a [Shinola alternative]. (Actually, I knew that Kiwi was a brand, but hadn’t heard of Shinola in this context; only in the phrase “you don’t know [expletive deleted] from Shinola.”) So that was my FAVE today. My UNFAVE was the UIE spelling for a 180-degree turn. I’m on the UEY side of that fence.

BEQ’s website puzzle, “There’s an App for That” — Matt’s review

“There’s an app for that” is the now-standard joke, which Brendan cruciverbalizes by inserting APP into base phrases:

16-a [Greek lyric poet’s arms?] = SAPPHO GUNS, from “shoguns”.

23-a [Like most PRISM-monitored cellphone calls?] = TAPPED TALKS, from “TED Talks”. Clue sounds better without the “Like most.”

35-a [Close in on the Bates establishment?] = APPROACH MOTEL, from “roach motel”.

49-a [Quality of Yeezy’s voice?] = RAPPING TONE, not “ringtone”.

57-a [One in dire need of a diaper change?] = CRAPPY BABY, not “crybaby”.

Highlights: SO HELP ME, EVEN KEEL, SIOUX, AFRAID SO, PORPOISE, POP TOP, PODCAST, HOT WAR, CAR SEAT, QIX, NO FUN and The World’s Most ORNERY Crossword. The NE and SW corners are pretty great.

Top clue: [They’re not the working classes] for EASY A’S.

4.20 stars.

Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “Nicked Names”

If you’re one of the many fans of Byron Walden’s work and you’re not an AV Club subscriber, you are missing out on the main outlet of Byron puzzles. $15 a year, cheap.

This week’s AV theme is people with duplicative names, where their first name recurs as the beginning of their last name. (So Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby doesn’t quite fit.)

  • 24a. [Winner of a stuffed bear for Barack Obama], CHRIS CHRISTIE. I hope Governor Christie is doing well these days. Those bariatric surgery procedures are rife with dreadful complications and are not at all a simple way to lose weight.
  • 34a. [Winner of Season 11 on “American Idol”], PHILLIP PHILLIPS. The two-L first name is unusual, isn’t it?
  • 44a. [Fox News commentator who called the rise of female breadwinners “anti-science”], ERICK ERICKSON. Never heard of him. Aww, poor guy. He’s the only one who isn’t clued as a winner. It’s the women who are winners here. Of bread. Figuratively speaking.

My toughest spot was where I filled in the brand-name SEX WAX where the generic SKI WAX goes ([Lubricant for those who like going down?]), giving me DUX CLASS for the thing Khloé Kardashian was jailed for missing. Didn’t know DUI CLASS was a thing. I was also surprised when the crossings gave me ASTRE for [1970s Pontiac subcompact]. That does not ring even the faintest bell.

Five items of interest:

  • 36d. [Boy-girl party?], INTERSEX. “Party” meaning “person,” “boy-girl” reflecting the mix of male and female body parts or chromosomes.
  • 10a. [“Come & Get It! Cookout Classics” brand], ALPO. Sign me up! Sounds delicious.
  • 22a. [Mourning of NBA glory], ALONZO. I like morning glories and I like Alonzo Mourning, the most famous poster child for a particular brand of kidney disease. The fact that he went back to the NBA after a kidney transplant is awesome, no?
  • 59a. [Anyone who disagrees with me on the Internet, obviously], NAZI. Is this about that tea kettle that looks like Hitler?
  • 2d. [Actress Pataky of the “Fast & Furious” movies], ELSA. I saw Fast & Furious 6 last month. I was outraged that she did not have a bigger part in the movie. C’mon, she’s a current ELSA! We need her to be broadly famous. For the crosswords. C’mon, Hollywood—do it for the crosswords.


4.25 stars.

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38 Responses to Thursday, July 11, 2013

  1. Anon says:

    Nice constructor photo on

  2. RK says:

    MUGGLE/MIELE /LEN is objectionable.

    EPISCOPAL clue bothered me for some reason. It’s cheap maybe.

    • HH says:

      Wasn’t my clue. And I agree with you.

      • HH says:

        P.S. — Would’ve been a fine clue for a puns-&-anagrams puzzle, bit it absolutely does NOT belong in a standard crossword.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          I like standard-crossword anagram clues, such as the ones that use “teacher” and “cheater” to clue ANAGRAM, and agree that random anagram clues without other context aren’t suitable for standard crosswords. The occasional [Hominy cereal (anag. of MAPS)] sort is okay, because it includes the semantic context.

          • HH says:

            Agreed, but I wouldn’t use clues like that unless I wanted to make the puzzle easier … and we all know I would NEVER want to do that (insert evil laughter here).

            Besides which, BG affords me only so much clue space.

    • bonekrusher says:

      Interesting–I loved the “Pepsi-cola mix” clue. Had me staring in confusion for a second as to what Pepsi’s religious origins were.

  3. sbmanion says:

    Not a Thursday theme, but a superb, elegant puzzle.

    Two Balls is a warmup game played by baseball players. I used to play when I was in little league. I can’t think of any other game other than something like dodgeball or warball that might use two balls, but such games usually use many more balls than two.

    I wonder what possible use there could be for two balls.


  4. pannonica says:

    Nowadays gins alexander are much less common than the (nevertheless endangered) brandies alexander. Nevertheless, brandies alexander are my mid-to-late-winter party drink of choice. A crowd-pleaser and a cinch to make.

  5. Gareth says:

    Interesting original theme idea!!!

    Samp and beans is a traditional South African dish. It is disgusting.

    Reading the Fireball clues, I see a reference to cricket. LONGSTOPS and SHORTSTOPS are all but extinct in modern professional cricket; although I did see one in a recent international match, hence the “all but” as I thought they were extinct. They’re positioned behind the wicketkeeper (distance determines whether they’re long or short) and usually only used in amateur and schoolboy games when the wicketkeeper sucks and misses the ball. I also didn’t know Punky Brewster was on fire…

    • Gareth says:

      PS Wikipedia suggests samp and beans to be Nelson Mandela’s favourite dish

    • Brucenm says:

      Gareth, aren’t the players behind and to the side of the wicketkeeper called *slips*? I confess to finding cricket no more boring than baseball.

      • Gareth says:

        Yes, the players behind and to the side are slips. Directly behind would be a long or short stop in the situation described elesewhere…

        • Brucenm says:

          I actually find cricket somewhat interesting. My favorite cricket position is the Silly Mid-Off. I assume there’s also a Silly Mid-On, to the other side of the batsman.

  6. Matt says:

    Liked the Hook puzzle– lots of good lexemes– Not so much the FB, too many obscurities. Had to look up MCA to get anywhere in the SE corner.

  7. CY Hollander says:

    The NYT puzzle is one of the few that I almost always think is fair, even if one doesn’t know the details of a certain piece of trivia, but this one just missed the mark for me in a couple of areas. I guess I can give a pass to NYRO/ANCHO—I had NYRA/ANCHA, but the O would have been my second guess, and perhaps it ought to have been my first, by analogy with words like jalapeño.

    Worse was the crossing RK indicates: MIELE/LEN: here I had remembered the vacuum maker as “MIEKE” for some reason, and KEN seemed perfectly plausible as a first name, so I had nothing to make me question it. MIEB/BEN would also have been a plausible answer to someone who didn’t know one of the trivia in particular.

    (For an example of much better handling of trivia: I very much liked the entry NODOZ—which I didn’t know, but was able to infer from a few crossing letters, familiarity with the style of drug trade names, and the name of the competitor “Vivarin”.)

  8. Jan says:

    In the fireball, I liked that ELLA was clued in reference to the book “Ella Minnow Pea”, but I thought the clue is a bit spoiler-y, so don’t go back and reread it if you haven’t read the book yet. If you want to see the musical version of it, and you’re near Chester, CT, “LMNOP” opens on 7/25 for 3 weeks. I went to a discussion of how it was adapted from the book, and we tried doing the QandA with out using the letter “L” for a while. It was very hard, but a fun challenge to try.

  9. Lois says:

    I adored the Times Hook puzzle, even the clue Hook doesn’t like. (I’m not good at puns and anagrams, and so don’t do those puzzles, but it was fun to have a little sip today.) Didn’t notice that there were tough proper noun areas, because for me they were a combination of easy and finally gettable. Started reading a couple of chapters of the first Harry Potter book, then stopped because I didn’t care for the attitude toward the Muggles, but I couldn’t remember the name at first except for the “M.” “Miehle” was similarly half-remembered, because my husband had mentioned it a few times. I knew Len Cariou. I kind of agree about crossing proper nouns, but in this case they were all from varied areas of knowledge. “Enid” was guessable from the “d.” “Samp” (not a proper noun) was gettable because only “pawnshop” seemed to work. Same with “Anne,” the only name that could fit. “Kia” was a proper noun that I got from another one that was of more interest to me, “Kix.” I didn’t know “Vivarin” but “Nodoz” worked. I didn’t really know “Chen” but that worked too. The proper nouns were really impressive in their variety.

    Anyway, loved the puzzle, and Hook’s MGWCC also. I gotta try this guy more often! I was intimidated before.

  10. pannonica says:

    BEQ: Predictably, I did not care for the clue for LEMUR [Monkey’s uncle?]. Despite the question mark, it perpetuates a common and fundamental misconception about the nature of biological evolution.

  11. Brucenm says:

    Really liked the HH. Of course we already know that he has . . . oh, never mind.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the Newton’s Cradle effect. How do they know? Why don’t two balls just impart twice the energy to a single ball at the other end? I’ve always hypothesized that when you launch two balls, there are actually two strikes, very close together in time, which launch the two opposite balls seriatim, also very close in time. Anyone have a more authoritative take on this?

  12. Frances says:

    I hadn’t even seen the clue until for 10D until I had already filled in most of “episcopal” and then went back to see how HH had clued it. I loved the clue/answer combination, possibly enhanced because I did the puzzle while serving as the receptionist-volunteer at my Episcopal church.

  13. Huda says:

    NYT: I had SAM- and could not imagine what would come next. So, I entertained the possibility of a rebus for the next spot (a cousin of Semolina?) which of course made matters worse. It was after I finished the other theme answers that I returned to the first one. Add to that the fact that I had no idea that Pawn Shop Signs have 3 balls?

    I had fun afterwards wondering– if HH wasn’t HH, and didn’t believe in Hookers, what would the reveal have been?

    Fun, unusual puzzle!

    • Lois says:

      Not sure, but I think most of the Times crossword solvers just found out about the sign in pawnshop windows today, and about samp also.

  14. ===Dan says:

    I just took a look at the newspaper version of the puzzle. The Newton clue doesn’t mention conservation of momentum, but does provide a picture of the device.

  15. Martin says:

    More Henry Hook please!


  16. Old Timer says:

    Punk is a stick about the size of a sparkler. Once lit, it burns slowly, like incense. It is used to light fuses on fireworks, for example, so you don’t have to keep lighting matches. Funny thing though, it’s almost impossible to light a sparkler with one. Thus, slow-burning = punky.

  17. wobbith says:

    LAT: The clue for 34d [Sea side] is just plain wrong!
    LEE means downwind and has nothing to do with where the sea is with respect to your position.
    Oh, wait.
    The LEE is a “side” when you’re at sea…
    The clue for 34d is tricky and brilliant!

    NYT: 5 stars except for the MIELE/LEN cross, which was a Natick for me.
    Other than that, the puzzle was chock-full of sparkle.
    Loved it.

  18. Joan macon says:

    Gareth, in the LAT I interpreted the “Elmer’s bane” clue for Bugs as Elmer Fudd in the comics always having problems with the “wascaly wabbit” who, of course, turns out to be Bugs Bunny.

  19. Joan macon says:

    I guess I misinterpreted your comment about the clue. Sorry!

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