Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fireball 4:47 (Amy) 
NYT 4:25 (Amy) 
LAT 4:46 (Gareth) 
CS 19:45 (Ade) 
BEQ 8:33 (Matt) 

Sam Donaldson’s Fireball crossword, “Unfinished Works”

Fireball crossword solution, 11 13 14 "Unfinished Works"

Fireball crossword solution, 11 13 14 “Unfinished Works”

I always love a theme that hinges on the way letters look—whether they get turned to the side (it was Matt Jones who did that one, I think—theme was iPad display flipping), upside down (Pat Merrell had one in Scientific American, I think, where WOW was also clued as MOM for the upside-down version of the puzzle), or the letters get drawn with more or less strokes than required. This puzzle’s got theme answers changed by writing the final letter with one less stroke, turning it into a different letter:

  • 16a. [Revealing evening attire?], AFTER-DINNER MINI. The T in MINT is missing its top bar.
  • 21a. [Sign outside a “Snow White” house?], BEWARE OF DOC. DOG’s G is missing its hook.
  • 33a. [Jupiter’s extroverted satellite?], SOCIAL IO. Q’s tail is gone.
  • 40a. [“Fine, go ahead and ride the waves, bro”?], YEAH, SURF. E’s bottom crossbar is gone.
  • 48a. [“Better to win by 70 than by 7,” e.g.?], RULE OF THUMP. Is this about the Chicago Bears’ opponents? The B’s last loop is gone.
  • 58a. [“Rise, my little chickadee, then let them hear you sing!”?], STAND UP AND CHEEP. R’s leg is amputated.

Aside: Last week, a college classmate(ish) posted on Facebook that she was enjoying lecture given by some Georgia law school professor, on the subject of taxes, and that the speaker had won Professor of the Year five times and it was obvious why. I commented, “Sam Donaldson?!?” Yes, indeed. The hilariously entertaining tax law expert who inspires social media praise from strangers is crossword Sam. Sam is a hoot.

D could be I with most of itself missing, and L could also become I—but Sam has covered I with his MINI. M is a crooked N if you skip its last stroke, but that crookedness makes me forgive its absence from this crisp theme. The clues are kinda funny, maybe not as wry as a tax law lecture but better than the typical set of theme clues.

Interesting bits:

  • 25a. [The Violets of the NCAA’s “Egghead Eight”], NYU. No idea who the other seven are. Gotta love a team called the Violets.
  • 26a. [Workplace of the Bouvier sisters], DMV. Not sure I’ve seen this trivia in a clue before.
  • 43a. [Result of a good deed?], TITLE. This is about mortgages, real estate, title checks, and property deeds, right?
  • 66a. [Cold-blooded killers], ASPS. Just reptilian, not heartless.
  • 11d. [“The Queen City”], CINCY. Short for Cincinnati, fresh fill. Didn’t know the nickname.
  • 55d. [They may be tight or loose], ENDS. If I ever played football, I would want to play loose end.

There were some pieces of fill I wasn’t keen on (TRAC II, DIEM, MAHI, OREL, RDA) but overall rather smooth for a daily-size puzzle with six themers. Overall, I’m giving it 4.25 stars. The letter-stroke theme pulls it up above 4.0.

Tracy Gray’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 11 13 14, no. 1113

NY Times crossword solution, 11 13 14, no. 1113

We’ve got five theme answers that take up 10 entries plus an invisible, positional ON that completes each pairing:

  • 16a. [Literally, with 19-Across, a Western state capital], CARS on CITY.
  • 17a. [Literally, with 20-Across, ski resort purchases], SEAS on PASSES.
  • 35a. [Literally, with 39-Across, head doctor], SURGE on GENERAL. Deviation from theme symmetry here.
  • 55a. [Literally, with 62-Across, longtime action star], HARRIS on FORD.
  • 59a. [Literally, with 63-Across, distinguished chef], CORD on BLEU.

Neat concept, although I do get a kick out of positional themes that play with more than one preposition at a time.

That’s a total of 48 theme squares, which is not a huge number for a 15×15 puzzle. The theme words are all stacked, which I presume may account for the direness of the fill. I lost heart right in the opening corner when I discovered the crossing Latin words. 14a. Others, in Latin] kinda stinks because it’s not even specific; ALII means “other (male) people” but ALIA means “other (neuter) things.” The L crosses 2d. [Olive, to Ovid], OLEA. And then! And then crosswordese RIAS is right in that corner, too. KISSCAM is cute but I do find it hard to fully appreciate good fill when it’s got a bunch of subpar fill around it (as opposed to other zippy fill or just neutral, solid, indistinct fill).

Other fill under the crosswordese/repeaters/”who uses that?” umbrella includes SERE, NBC TV, ELIA, ORTS, AAHED AT, and SDAK. TEASELS and STOMA might stick out in a Monday but I think they’re Thursday-suitable botany. I guess that overall, the list of blah fill really isn’t that long, at least not compared to some more grumble-worthy puzzles. But I wish constructors would make sure that the opening corner of the puzzle is charming, welcoming the solver in and saying, “you and I, we’re going to have some fun here.” ALII OLEA RIAS does exactly the opposite, heightening my sensitivity to the less appealing stuff (expecting to see it at every turn) and making it hard to place my focus on the theme and highlights. Your mileage may vary, of course.

I do like BACARDI, but I never drink it. And I like RUTABAGA but never eat it.

3 stars from me, along with a plea for constructors to work hard to make the 1-Across corner really shine.


Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Behind the Music” — Matt’s review


Highbrow theme today: singers who’ve done songs about butts.

17-A [“Anaconda” rapper] = NICKI MINAJ. The second-greatest singer of all time from Trinidad with a (5,5) enumeration.

22-A [“All About That Bass” singer] = MEGHAN TRAINOR. Never heard of.

35-A [“Fat Bottomed Girls” band] = QUEEN. Heard of.

42-A [“Bootylicious” singers] = DESTINY’S CHILD. Heard of.

49-A [“Baby Got Back” rapper] = SIR MIX-A-LOT. Heard of.

Also like KANYE WEST (no butt lyrics?), INTEGRALS, VERMIN and GAVE IT A GO. 4.00 stars since the 00 looks like a butt.

Jerome Gunderson’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review


LA Times

  • [Place for a nagging passenger?], GRUMBLESEAT. I recognize that a rumble seat is a thing, but not what it is. Hmm…
  • [Prohibition against Confederate soldiers?], GRAYBAN
  • [Soup with a prayer?], GRACECOURSE
  • [Tribute to a sourpuss?], GRUMPROAST
  • [Farmer’s harvest tradition?], GRAINDANCE

The theme design is all-pervasive, and this makes it hard to tart up the rest of the puzzle. Still we get PAINPILLS and HOLEINONE clued evocatively as [Its maker traditionally buys the drinks] – “maker” being a somewhat forced misdirect. Harder stuff is mostly well distributed – EARLE in the top-right (if you need an introduction, this song is a good place to start!). The cute PACA and ORAN are both in the middle-bottom, but everything else is quite work-a-day so no-one should have too much problem there. Crossword newbies of the wrong generation may not know film animals NALA and/or ASTA (I tried TOTO first there off the ‘T’, but again things are well-spaced.

There’s a doctor subtheme going on in the puzzle today! [You may get one from a doctor], NOTE; [Doctor’s order], BEDREST; [Small dose?], MED; [Aleve and Advil], PAINPILLS. Sort of related – I got asked if I also treat people while euthanasing someone’s dog today, so that was weird.


  • I like the etymology angle for [Word from the Latin for “little grandfather”], UNCLE; similarly [Weary from overuse], JADE comes via JADE an obsolete word for a prostitute.
  • [Dragonfly prey], BEE is a fascinating clue. It’s completely correct, and yet is completely unhelpful as there is no stereotypical connection burned into the collective conscious – like the way frogs are always shown catching flies with their tongues. It’s weird how simplistic many of these connections are, yes?

Well-constructed grid, but rather ho-hum theme. 3.25 Stars

Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Self Starters”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 11.13.14

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 11.13.14: Self Starters

What’s up, crossworders?!?

I hope all of you are doing well, and hope you all did a fine job with today’s challenging crossword puzzle, brought to us by none other than Mr. Bob Klahn. If you’re a “me” person, then this grid is for you, as each of the three theme answers are two-word entries in which each of the words start with the letters “ME.” Thank goodness the first theme answer was clued in a way in which I had absolutely no problem in getting without any crossings! (YOU CAN’T SLIP ANYTHING LOONEY TUNES-RELATED PAST ME, MR. KLAHN!)

  • MERRIE MELODIES: (20A: [Series with “Duck Amuck” and “One Froggy Evening”]) – Factoid: When the network The WB first launched in the mid 1990s, they used Michigan J. Frog, the star of “One Froggy Evening,” as the network’s mascot in promotions for its shows.
  • MEDICINE MEN: (36A: [Sitting Bull was one of them])
  • MELINA MERCOURI: (54A: [She was Ilya in “Never on Sunday”]) – I know the film, but need to catch it on Turner Classic Movies one of these days so I can be familiar with it more.

Pleasant earworm alert: the theme song to BEWITCHED, a show that I liked much better than I Dream of Jeannie (10D: [Captivated]). I’m also sure that many people who saw the show would compare their actual mothers in-law to Endora! I’m not a seafood eater, but from all the people I’ve heard from that do eat seafood, they are mostly fans of SCAMPI (1D: [Garlicky seafood entrée]). Thank goodness I heard of MÉTIER before, or that would have had me bamboozled as to what in the world was going on in that entry (34D: [Area of expertise]). Never heard of the verb BEDIM, and that entry took a while for me to look past because of its unusualness (45A: [Make murky]). As I typed unusualness, I had to look that up to see if that actually is a word. And it is.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: YANKEE (50A: [Doodle on a sheet of music?]) – First of all, GREAT clue!  Second of all, I’m not going to talk about any New York Yankees, past or present. This “moment” is dedicated to the YANKEE Conference, a now-defunct collegiate sports conference which was founded in 1946, and once featured all of the land-grant universities in the New England states.  For a story I’m working on for basketball-themed show on The A Lot of Sports Talk Podcast (look it up if you haven’t had a chance, but don’t make fun of my looks on the cover art), I got a chance to extensively talk with a member of the University of Connecticut men’s basketball teams in the 1950s who was a part of 10 consecutive championships in men’s basketball won by the Huskies.  The Yankee Conference dissolved in 1997.

Thank you so much for the time, and I’ll see you all on Friday!  TGIF, almost!

Take care!


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14 Responses to Thursday, November 13, 2014

  1. huda says:

    Amy’s plea reminds me of something I promised myself when I had little kids– While you can’t avoid some level of chaos, I would make sure that the entrance to my house was welcoming to guests and didn’t make them want to run in the other direction. There’s definitely something about first impressions that sets an overall tone. As a non-constructor, I realize that many of the constraints escape me, but I really do appreciate a good opening.

    And yesterday’s discussion about the theme vs. fill to me resonates the same way– it’s about a sense of comfort with the whole puzzle. I don’t count all the abbreviations, crosswordese, partials and measure against the power of the theme in some sort of crossalgebra. It’s more a sense of flow, almost subliminal. But afterwards, you can look back and ask: why did this experience feel smooth and that one feel choppy? And it does come back to what Amy et al identify for us as good vs. bad fill.

  2. pannonica says:

    My jottings, verbatim, on the BEQ:

    19a [Sandwich order] RYE. “specification”
    46d [Dim Sum soup] MISO. what?

    • Martin says:

      I’m fine with the RYE clue. It’s like “Coffee order” for BLACK.

      But MISO? Unless you’re having dim sum at a pan-Asian restaurant, maybe at a truck stop, you’d be hard-pressed to find miso soup. It’s like gazpacho at a German restaurant. Same continent is about the best we can say.

      • Gary R says:

        Have to side with pannonica on “rye.”

        “Coffee, black” is a complete order.

        Rye, or more likely “on rye” is a specification one might make for a variety of different sandwiches – ham, pastrami, etc.

  3. Dave S says:

    Greetings all. I’ll provide a little context for the following rant. I solve an average of perhaps 10 puzzles per week, and I read this blog nearly every day (which I find both entertaining and educational), but seldom comment. That said, today’s CS puzzle pushed me over the edge: while I greatly enjoy a challenging puzzle, in my view, Bob Klahn puzzles are nearly always simply an ordeal.

    I’ve not seen this opinion expressed by others, so I suppose I’m in the minority here. Perhaps my solving skills aren’t sufficiently advanced to appreciate his cluing. But to me, his constant misdirection, in combination with obscure references, and over-reliance on alliteration and rhyming within his clues (as well as often repeating them), takes the solving experience from challenging to exhausting, and more importantly, sucks all of the joy away. It’s as though his focus is more on how clever and difficult he can be rather than creating a satisfying, fun puzzle. When I open the newspaper and see his name on a puzzle, my heart sinks.

    Do others have similar opinions, or is it just me? (And if it’s just me, what am I missing…….?)

    Thanks Amy and all.

    • Arthur Shapiro says:

      Guess I have to disagree. When one faces a Klahn, it’s almost automatically going to be a delightfully tough struggle. I think the answers generally turn out to be more than fair, if sometimes difficult to unravel.

      That aside, I’ve never heard of Melina Whatshername, not being one who watches movies.


    • Martin says:

      A Klahn CS is always a highlight of my solving week. I love that he couldn’t care less about the weekly “curve” or even the target audience of the CS puzzles. He just does his thing and gives us a great challenge every time. I consider him a national treasure.

      This doesn’t mean that your view is in any way wrong. I’m sure that your perspective is a lot closer to that of the solver that he’s supposed to be constructing for than mine. But I (and I suspect other members of the lunatic fringe) have the opposite reaction to his byline than you do.

      “Pasture prism” (BALE) gave me a great aha. (The shape of a brick or stick of butter is known mathematically as “rectangular prism.” Wracking my brain for something, like a dewdrop, that might create a rainbow effect in a pasture was for naught.) For those of us who live for aha moments, most of our fixes in the CS puzzles are provided by Bob Klahn. I guess it’s a wavelength thing, but I hope the CS never figures out a way to control him.

    • pannonica says:

      Dave S: It’s good to hear different voices and opinions here, just as it’s good to have a variety of crossword voices. Out of curiosity, do you solve the Newsday Saturday Stumpers? If so, how do you feel about those, which also evince a distinctive and notably recondite cluing style?

  4. sbmanion says:

    Buffalo is also the Queen City.

  5. Martin says:


    Interesting point. The Stumper is often my most challenging solve of the week. But I often find clues borderline. No misdirection is too much in my opinion, unless the underlying accuracy has been sacrificed. The Stumper is the only puzzle I do where I sometimes think that line has been crossed. I enjoy them and look forward to them, but one or two clues always give me pause.

    That’s not the case with Saturday NYTs, WP Puzzlers, etc., or with any Klahn. Just another example of the many styles of challenging crosswords. And obviously different solvers have different views.

  6. Dan says:

    Wow, AAHEDAT, SAHEL, TEASELS, ALII, OLEA, ELIA, RIAS……I get that fill gets compromised by challenging theme entries, but this one really pushed the envelope. I don’t normally harp on a few bad fill entries as long as the solving experience is pleasant, but this was not pleasant at all.

  7. Dave S says:

    Thank you Art, Martin, and pannonica, for providing thoughtful responses.

    Martin: I suspect that your second paragraph nailed the issue, that I’m more of a mainstream (attempting) solver than many of the regulars here, and not really a part of Mr. Klahn’s target audience. His puzzles seldom provide me with aha moments, though – my reaction is more likely to be “really?”

    pannonica: thank you for pointing out the Newsday Saturday Stumpers. I’m not familiar with them, but will give them a try tomorrow, after my first cup of coffee kicks in.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Might want to wait for the second cup of coffee. The Stumper often takes me a good 25% to 100% longer than the Saturday NYT. You can solve the puzzle here:

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