Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fireball 9:32 (Amy) 
NYT 8:48 (Amy) 
AV Club 3:43 (Amy) 
LAT 3:57 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:38 (Matt) 
CS 5:57 (Dave) 

Caleb Emmons’ New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 1 9 14, no. 0109

NY Times crossword solution, 1 9 14, no. 0109

Funky Thursday theme this week: the SAN ANDREAS FAULT (7d. [Site of slippage … both geographically and in this puzzle]) has shifted, disrupting a bunch of the roads that go across the fault. And by “roads,” I mean answers. The theme is supplemented by two “slippery” things:

  • 21a. You might slip on it], BANANA PEEL.
  • 48a. You might slip on it], PATCH OF ICE.

The arrows I’ve added show where the Across answers continue after the fault slips. 5a is MESS, 14a is UTAH, 18a is TONI, 25a is NYET (cutting off [Sure-___] at FOOTED), 31a is ARLO, 38a is BREA (which is a bit southwest of the San Andreas Fault, but presumably would get all shook up if The Big One hit), 43a is ABROAD, 45a cuts off after ATMS, 55a is RATE, 59a is SUER, 62a is ELMS, and 65a is T [___-square]. Note that the apparent 2-letter entries actually are the start or finish of longer answers—and the 3-letter space at 65a actually goes with just 1 letter.

Favorite clues and fill:

  • 16a. [Who has scored more than 850 points in an official Scrabble game], NO ONE.
  • 44a. [Like some numbers and beef], CUBED. We all wanted PRIME, didn’t we?
  • 1d. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with only one Top 40 hit], ZAPPA. But he has multiple children with wacky names.
  • 3d. [Sign of puberty, maybe], PEACH FUZZ.
  • 47d. [500 people?], RACERS. As in the Indy 500. Do people call it “the 500” or just “the Indy”?

Not thrilled by:

  • 11d. [Richard ___, “War Zone Diary” journalist], ENGEL. Apparently he is on NBC News, and “War Zone Diary” was a 2006 one-hour documentary, presumably airing on an NBC-owned channel. I rarely watch TV news so … no idea who he is. Actress Georgia is my go-to Engel. (I will grant you that older solvers probably match up pretty well with the demographic that watches the evening network news.)
  • 22a. [Fragrant compound], ESTER, and its cousin, 61a. [Western German city], ESSEN. Both fit the ES*E* pattern and contain only those key Wheel of Fortune letters, RSTLNE.
  • 12d. [What womanizers do], LEER. I’m thinking if he is prone to leering, he’s going to turn off all the women around him, thereby ruining his chances of being a womanizer.
  • 42d. [The speed of sound], MACH ONE. Except that people call it Mach 1, with a numeral.

Four stars. I was entirely confused by the puzzle, and then I noticed that some things bent and started circling the letters preceding the bends, and then figured out what the fault line was doing. Interesting gimmick—who recalls similar themes from the past?

Peter Collins’ Fireball crossword, “Call It in the Air”

Fireball crossword solution, 1 9 14 "Call It in the Air"

Fireball crossword solution, 1 9 14 “Call It in the Air”

Ah, the Fireball is back for another ~year of puzzles. It’s bittersweet, because I’ve enjoyed needing a little less time to blog on Wednesday night-into-Thursday, but then again, the Fireball puzzles are often among the week’s finest. If you want to get in on this year’s batch, go subscribe for about $20.

Peter C’s theme is, as signaled by the title, a “heads and tails” deal. Each of the squares I’ve left blank save for a circle takes a HEAD rebus one way and a TAIL the other. So square 9 is the intersection of a {TAIL}FIN and {HEAD}BUTT, for example. The 15×17 grid makes room for nine of these two-way rebus squares, and includes two rebused 15s in addition to the capstone at 73a, {HEAD}S I WIN, {TAIL}S YOU LOSE, a [Can’t-miss proposition]. Sometimes the rebused word is split in its answer, as in DOROT{HEA D}IX.

In some venues, a grid with lots of chunky 5s (rather than sections anchored by 3s and 4s) and lots of rebus-square constraints would be marked by unsavory fill. Peter Gordon really is one of the most rigorous crossword editors working today, and he demands top-notch fill. ERIC BANA, ETOUFFEE, FUTZ, and KEVLAR are among the more colorful non-rebus fill, and the HEAD and TAIL answers include treats like DON C{HEAD}LE (I love the bit of trivia in his clue—[He was in both “Hotel Rwanda” and “Hotel for Dogs”], one a serious genocide drama and the other a perky family film), HEADBUTT, CONAN T{HE AD}VENTURER, and GOOD FOR WHA{TAIL}S YOU.

Turning to the worst fill, we have plural TETS, abbrev LLD, plural abbrev EVAS, and plural INGAS. You know all those times the Times puzzle has 15 answers I don’t care for? Four, I can look past. Four, and it doesn’t markedly detract from my solving experience.

Did not know: 54a. [Kim Hunter’s “Planet of the Apes” role], ZIRA; 36d. [1987 Caldecott Medal book about a janitor and his dog], HEY, AL.

Favorite clues:

  • 75d. [MDs who treat pushers?], OBS.
  • 38d. [He often wrote in anapestic tetrameter], SEUSS.
  • 52d. [Epitome of prettiness], PICTURE. As in “pretty as a picture.”

4.5 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy /Washington Post crossword, “States in Full” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Two-letter state abbreviations are spelled out in phrases where those beginning abbreviations have some other meaning:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 01/09/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 01/09/14

  • A “CT scan” becomes [Diagnostic procedure in the Nutmeg State] or a CONNECTICUT SCAN – I wonder if Connecticut scans are more invasive than others? Do the TSA still use those scanners that show people in their underwear?
  • An “ID bracelet” becomes [Piece of jewelry in the Gem State?] or an IDAHO BRACELET – we learned yesterday that jewelry distracts people from your wrinkles. Amazing what you can learn solving these things! I like how here the “Gem State” appropriately produces bracelets.
  • SCTV,” or Chicago’s Second City TV becomes [Media in the Palmetto State] or SOUTH CAROLINA TV – raise your hand if you didn’t know which state had this nickname. My only experience with Palmettos is the quite detestable palmetto bug Periplameta americana endemic to Florida.

I guess I found the last entry a bit of an outlier, with the TV at the end being an abbreviation as well. As far as the fill goes, some unusual longer down crossers; in particular that double-A action in TEA ACT had me wondering if I had a mistake in that area at first. I enjoyed the clue [“You can say that again, Maharishi”] for MANTRA (which is a repeated word when meditating), and [About to faint] for IN A SWOON. SUE ME, clued as [“Okay, so I was wrong”] seems a bit incomplete to my ear without the “So” beginning the phrase. EM DASHES and JOE PESCI are also nice anchors in the puzzle’s midsection.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website puzzle, “W” — Matt’s review


“This one’s number two in my life-long quest to make a puzzle named after each of the presidents,” writes Brendan at his blog today, not entirely seriously. Perhaps he can time them to coincide with every Sufjan Stevens album named for a state.

His first prez puz was “LBJ,” and now we’ve got “W.” And no one can misunderestimate the cleverness herein, y’see, since Brendan adds two U’s to base phrases to make wacky new phrases:

20-a [Pro’s pomposity?] = PLAYER HAUTEUR, from “player hater.”

27-a [What punt returners do, typically?] = USUALLY FIELD, from “Sally Field.”

43-a [Extremely orthodox staff symbol?] = TRUE BLUE CLEF, from “treble clef.” Excellent find.

50-a [Closing up a surgical wound with a whoopee cushion?] = SILLY SUTURING, from “silly string.”

Four-out-of-four, since they’re all funny and clever.


***at 9-d I had VAG???? and, without looking at the clue, was thinking, “Here comes a Quigley entry…” But it was just VAGUELY. He redeems his rep at 29-d, though, where [Dropped thing that can turn heads] clues F-BOMB.

***[India’s national flower] is the LOTUS, but I was thinking this might be INDUS. Although I think Indians consider the Ganges their national “flower,” sort of like Russia’s Volga or our Mississippi.

***Two high-quality symmetrical niners: SKIP LUNCH and GIRLY GIRL.

***Puzzle took me 6:38, but the last minute of that was on the tiny SE corner. Was pretty sure that [Actor Idris ___] was ELBA and that [Softball pitch] was LOB, but don’t know what a “supernumerary” is so PROP was a needed-all-the-crossings. And a SPA is a [Place that often sells high-end soap] but I just wasn’t seeing it.

4.30 stars (since Dubya was the 43rd president).

Peter A. Collins’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LAT 140109


Today’s theme is a “corner” theme… This one is CUTTING/CORNERS where all 8 corner answers are a synonym of cut. It’s a difficult piece of construction to get right, but the result is 8 short synonyms in the grid: SNIP/SCORE, CHOP/PARE, DICE/SLICE, SLIT/TRIM. I’m never quite convinced that that amount of grid difficulty is worth the pay-off…

The theme is all smooshed into those corners, so you’d expect compromises there, but they have clearly been designed with care. Some of you object to second tier names like SHARI and OONA but I don’t see anything wrong with these, in moderation.

lollyOther highlights in the grid were the fun-to-say LOLLYGAGS; GOMEZ, clued as Selena; NEWAGE and WARHOL. [One might make a setter better] for VET and [It might wind up in the yard] for HOSE are both superlative clues! I was interested to learn that RIOTGUN is a thing. Apparently, it’s designed to shoot a variety of “less lethal” (lol) ammunition

3.25 stars

Aimee Lucido’s American Values Club crossword, “War! (Huh) What Is It Good For? Nifty New

AV Club crossword solution, 1 9 14 "War! (Huh) What Is It Good For? Nifty New Inventions"

AV Club crossword solution, 1 9 14 “War! (Huh) What Is It Good For? Nifty New

This puzzle may well take the title for the longest title of the year. And once again, the posted difficulty level varies from my experience—3 on a 5-point difficulty scale had me expecting a little more of a challenge, and I’m pretty sure puzzles billed as easier than a 3 have taken me longer than this one (which played like a Wednesday or tougher Tuesday NYT).

The theme is nifty things that arose from military research:

  • 17a. [Food delivery use for military drone technology], TACOCOPTER.
  • 21a. [Common workplace use for a military communications technology], COMPUTER.
  • 39a. [Musical use for a military encryption technology], VOCODER.
  • 56a. [Household use for a military sealant technology], DUCT TAPE.
  • 61a. [Refreshing use for military freeze-drying technology], DIPPIN’ DOTS ice cream pellets.
  • 24d, 31d. [With 31-Down, kids’ use for a military communications technology], WALKIE / TALKIE.

Lively fill includes Trekkie CHEKOV, SHROOM, YOLO (60a. [Justification for doing something stupid, briefly]), and WHOOPI Goldberg.

Favorite clues:

  • 16a. [Medical film once used by Soviet citizens to copy albums], X-RAY. Say what??
  • 19a. [Purple cloud, à la Hendrix], HAZE.
  • 20a. [Meditative-sounding resistance unit], OHM.
  • 71a. [Activist Sandra Fluke, per Rush Limbaugh], SLUT. Note to conservatives and/or Limbaugh fans: This is not a politicized, name-calling clue. It is a factual clue. Rush really called her that because she uses birth control as a single woman.
  • 12d. [Male ___ (feminist theory concept)], GAZE.
  • 58d. [Burning in one’s loins, with “the”], CLAP. You wanted URGE, didn’t you?
  • 64d. [“___ Confessions” (2002 Shia LaBeouf movie, presumably not plagiarized)], TRU. LaBeouf directed a short film, I think it was, without mentioning that he took the entire concept from a published work, much less asking the original author if he had permission to use his material.
  • 65d. [Game featuring cards with shapes on them], SET. You can use the actual deck of Set cards or play online.

Newspaper puzzles are often crunched for space and tend to use shorter clues, and shorter clues tend to be less interesting. The AV Club puzzles accommodate longer clues, and look how much fun they are. Weird trivia, scholarly bits, room for more wordplay action.

Could do without the Latin IN ESSE, the slightly thematic ENIAC, and the unusual-fill HOH (scientifically valid, though, right?). Not sure about OPP, 6d. [Chance, briefly]. I’ve mostly seen the two-P OPP as an abbreviation for opposite or (as in opp research) political opposition/opponent. Photo op is short for opportunity, one P.

Four stars. Lots of great clues!

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37 Responses to Thursday, January 9, 2014

  1. Avg Solvr says:

    Clever NYT but it made me dizzy.

    Thought that answer was strange too though leering can be done without notice unless you notice that she likes such notice.

  2. Martin says:

    I’ve seen variations of this theme idea before, but none quite so tricky as this one. Even when I caught on to the trick, it still was a fun challenge to fit the almost jigsaw-like pieces of the “quaked” words,Tetris-style back into the finished grid.

    (I don’t play Tetris much, so please forgive my rather strained analogy)


  3. Martin says:

    Note to Peter Collins: if you carry on making puzzles like this, you’re gonna get unceremoniously booted out of the 2 and 1/2 men club (inside joke)!


  4. Martin says:

    … when I said I’ve seen variations on the SAN ANDREAS FAULT theme before, I should have given a special shout out (or shout back) to Andrea Carla Michaels’ uber-nifty Monday debut puzzle way back in the year 2000. For those who have Xword info subscriptions you can see her “ground-breaking” puzzle here:


    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Cruciverb subscribers can see it here (note: theme has no trickery, as it was a Monday puzzle) :

      • andrea carla michaels says:

        Amy, I beg to differ…it DID have “trickery”… sadly it doesn’t show up on line, but the puzzle had raised and lowered squares thru the middle so you had to go up and down to solve it, not unlike today’s…
        Many folks thought something was wrong with the way the paper printed the puzzle bec you don’t “get” why the grid was funky till post-solve and realized that an earthquake had passed thru it.
        Obviously it’s been 14 years, so I don’t expect anyone to have remembered it (tho Manny Nosowsky did, wrote me a letter congratulating me which is what spurred me on to do 50 more puzzles!) but the point is, I’d have expected Will to have told Caleb that the puzzle idea had been done, to have SANANDREASFAULT running thru the middle, shaking up the way the words in the grid fell.
        This puzzle stands/slips on its own, but he is not the first to do this “ground-breaking” idea!

        • Huda says:

          Cool puzzle, Andrea! Remarkable debut! Were you inspired by sharing a name with the unfairly accused saint?
          Is there an image of the puzzle as it appeared in print? It would be fun to see where the slippage happened.

        • Caleb Emmons says:

          Andrea, I did see that you had a puzzle with SAN ANDREAS FAULT in it on, but there I didn’t see the blocks shifted. It wasn’t until yesterday that I saw your note on xwordinfo and realized that our puzzles where more similar than I knew! Would like to see your original… were the alternating columns shifted up and down? Cheers!

    • JimH says:

      FYI: Links to XWord Info from blogs work even without a subscription.

  5. Howard B says:

    Completely bombed this Times. I figured out the theme (or so I thought), continuing each answer *just before* the fault*, not after (so ME-SS), etc. This caused the FAULT to also move down one letter, with the T slipping to the top, which I thought was part of the theme. I couldn’t undo that many mistakes, and because the theme was so tricky, I couldn’t parse the correct logic. That far into the solve, there was no reason I could find for where the split occured.

    That said, these are my favorite sorts of themes – mind-bending, rule-breaking, with the frustration of trying to crack the puzzle within the puzzle, and the (hopeful) satisfaction upon completion.

  6. Brucenm says:

    Great puzzle.

    *Not* speaking from personal experience, but I agree with Amy and others that leering contradicts the goal of womanizing. Isn’t the womanizer more likely to be disingenuously sincere, charming, empathetic?

    I remember an old skit (maybe SNL), where one of the guys, (maybe John Candy), is blatantly, farcically, leering and making funny barking noises at a young woman at a bus stop. She ignores him and gets on the bus. A male friend of the leerer walks up and asks him how he is. He responds wistfully “I don’t seem to be able to meet any nice girls.”

    Anyone remember it?

  7. Papa John says:

    That’s the second time in the last few days that the RSTLNE letters of Wheel of Fortune have come up. Would someone please explain what that’s about?

    Cool NYT puzzle, today.

  8. Ethan says:

    I really enjoyed the NYT today, the only criticism I have is that while it was clever that “sure-FOOTED” is stopped by a black square and doesn’t slip, ATMS also doesn’t slip, but there’s no connection, thematically, between ATMS and not slipping.

  9. sbmanion says:

    I didn’t have a problem with leering as something a womanizer might do. Womanizers, by definition, are successful in their goal. A woman who consents to be with a womanizer does so for a reason, which usually does not involve her concern for empathy, sincerity, cuddling or commitment.

    Great puzzle today. I lucked into the gimmick early on.


  10. Rex says:

    Who are the trolls rating the Fireball anything less than 3? Wait … never mind. I think I know. Carry on.

    • Howard B says:

      Rex, I’m not saying my ratings here. I’m pretty much a gentle rater anyway.
      I love the Fireball theme, but I couldn’t fight my way through the non-theme fill; actresses’ names, book titles, etc. Just a lot of celebrity and obscurity which actually (for me) took away from the experience, personally. It’s still a fine puzzle. But working to get to the point of uncovering the theme was brutal. I gave up on the remaining fill about 75% through.

      So I’m not saying what I would rate it, but I can see a reason why someone would rate it lower than expected.

  11. Matt says:

    Thought that the NYT and FB were both great puzzles. At one point I had both left-hand side and the right hand side of the NYT completely filled in and was still in the dark about the trick. Then I recognized BANANAPEEL in the space for ‘Security Council veto’, and the light dawned.

    Similarly in the dark for the FB, here SHIRTTAIL was the eventual giveaway. IMO, nine HEAD/TAIL pairs is pretty amazing.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    I filled it in by writing the letters in 7 down one row lower and the T at the top. So 7 down reads TSANANDREASFAUL. Do I have 15 wrong lettters?

    • pannonica says:

      I would say, yes you do.

      In addition to the elegance of SAN ANDREAS FAULT retaining its integrity in both its function as a revealer amid the relative chaos of the affected crossing entries, the metaphor breaks down as a physical analogue: how would the T migrate from a southernmost point all the way up to the northernmost spot?

  13. Gareth says:

    I think I’m growing to admire the NYT the longer ago it was I solved it! The theme was supremely vexing, but ultimately very satisfying. If common letters are all you’ve got against ESSEN and ESTER, then that’s a pretty weak case…

  14. Huda says:

    NYT: Fabulous…

    I liked that (La) BREA crossed the FAULT line. Having been in LA during one of the bigger earthquakes (in the 70’s) and hearing about people whose yard was now offset from their house, I plunked SAN ANDREAS FAULT in the middle in no time at all. Figuring out the exact way the slippage was happening took a bit longer. My hardest part was actually the NE, not knowing ENGEL and not thinking that NO ONE would be an answer…

    5 stars from me. What a Thursday should be.

  15. Jordan says:

    This NYT falls into the category of things I can appreciate at an intellectual level but find totally unrewarding and unsatisfying while experiencing them. I suppose you can say an earthquake doesn’t wreak its havoc in a consistent manner, but then you can just get away with anything.

  16. Michael says:

    Wonder why Will didn’t keep this puzzle for ACPT. He must have something reeeeally diabolical up his sleeve.

  17. pauer says:

    Congrats, Caleb. Great idea!

  18. Amy L says:

    Loved the San Andreas Fault puzzle.
    I remember Andrea’s version from 14 years ago.
    I also love the idea of a manizer.

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