Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fireball 16:16 (Jenni) 


NYT 5:27 (Amy) 


LAT 4:20 (Gareth) 


CS 7:46 (Ade) 


BEQ 8:05 (Ben) 


WSJ 15:10 (Jim) 


BuzzFeed 16:42 (Derek) 


Dave Sullivan and Janie Smulyan’s Fireball, “Pass the Hat” – Jenni’s writeup

It’s Fiend Week at the Fireball! Dave Sullivan (Evad) keeps Team Fiend looking good, makes sure all those links and widgets are functioning behind the scenes, and puts his oar in blogging now and then. janie blogs the Crossword Nation puzzles in living color every week. Today they’re on the other side as co-constructors.

I had a wonderful massage this evening before I sat down to the puzzle, and I think I may have been just a little bit too relaxed. I stared at this one for a quite a while before I grokked the theme. It’s a word-within-words theme with a twist and offers just the right amount of trickery to give a lovely “aha” when I finally figured it out.

“Pass the Hat” tells us there’s a hat hidden in each themer. Each hat is “passed” by the down answers that cross it. If you answer the down clues straight, you’ll have a word that’s one letter too short and skips the square that crosses the hat. When you fill in the hat, the downs turn into different – but still valid – words. Did that even make sense? Here. Take a look.Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 9.19.48 PM

“He caught Tom Seaver’s ceremonial final pitch at Shea Stadium” – MIKEPIAZZA, with KEPI in the middle. Crossing KEPI we have

  • Trouble: WOE —> WOKE
  • Part of a six pack: AB —> ABE
  • Tied up again: RELACED —> REPLACED
  • Forenoon hrs: AMS —> IAMS

Mike Piazza was a gimme – it was the second answer I filled in – and that left me struggling with the theme-affected down clues for quite a while, since I was sure Mike was right and I couldn’t parse the missing letters.

The other hats:


I’m not all that fond of WILDLIFE ZOO, which is not really in the language. The clue is “Drive-through where you don’t roll down your windows”, and I knew they were looking for a safari park. I’m also not crazy about BIPOD. It must have been quite a challenge to find four theme answers that contain hats and then figure out how to cross them with words that can lose a letter and still be words. The rest of the fill is smooth and almost entirely lacking in crosswordese, and I’m inclined to give them a pass on one slightly tortured theme entry and one odd crosser.

A few other things that caught my eye:

  • The clue for SKELTON is “Dead Red”, and that’s where I caught on to the theme. I got a giggle and an “aha” at the same time. That makes a weird noise.
  • Pump fillers = FEET, and almost fooled me into sticking an S at the end before I got it.
  • Trombone on a brooch, e.g. = CLASP. Antiques Roadshow FTW. It’s amazing what you can learn on viewer-supported broadcasting.
  • OPUS and ONUS appear with appealing symmetry.
  • Ivory source? = FORSTER. Tricky. E.M. Forster provided the source material for those gorgeous Merchant IVORY films.
  • I learn from crosswords! I didn’t know DEWAR’s first name was John. I didn’t know Suonenjoki was in Finland. Now I do.

4.5 stars from me. Thanks, Evad and janie!

David Kwong’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 11 12 15, no 1112

NY Times crossword solution, 11 12 15, no 1112

If you step away from the puzzle and sort of blur your eyes or squint a little, it looks a bit like a panda. And that is the theme. 40a, with two seemingly unchecked squares, spells out PANDA ([Popular zoo attraction … or a hint to 11 squares in this puzzle]), which can also be read as P AND A. (Hardcore puzzlers know that there’s a puzzle-hunt magazine called P&A Magazine, with a panda in the logo.) Each of the 11 rebus squares fits in a P and an A—so if you’re hip to the “letter AND letter” concept, you can fill in the P and A based on the rebus squares. You get OOM {PA}H {PA}H, FLIP{PA}NT, SAM PECKIN{PA}H, {PA}LIMONY, {PA}NACEAS, SALES DE{PA}RTMENTS, and {PA}{PA}L {PA}LACE, among others.

I don’t always like grid-art themes, but this is cute. And timely! Yesterday, the National Zoo posted a video of baby Bei Bei taking his first steps.

Elsewhere in the fill, EACH ONE and OF ALL KINDS feel a little stilted as crossword entries. But I like CHEESE TRAY, AWAY GAME, and TINY TIM.

Five more things:

  • 1a. [___ nerve, the longest in the human body], SCIATIC. This same clue (or a close approximation) was in another puzzle I did this week. No idea which one it was.
  • 18a. [Hall of fame], ARSENIO. He doesn’t seem to work in TV much anymore, but I suspect he can easily afford not to work.
  • 2d. [What’s between here and the sun, in song?], COMES. As in the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Were you desperately trying to figure out how COMET would work?
  • 32d. [Person’s head, in slang], KNOB. Whose slang, exactly? I’ve never heard this. Maybe for the head of a penis, but not for the noggin.
  • 55d. [First word of Massachusetts’ motto], ENSE. Hello! This is my pick for worst entry in the whole puzzle. Ditch the rebus square in that corner and you can get rid of ENSE, too. The KNOB section doesn’t have a rebus square, so it’s not as if this corner absolutely had to have one.

Four stars from me.

Damien Peterson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Chump Starts” — Jim’s write-up

First glance at the title tells me we’re changing J’s to CH’s. Either that or each theme entry is going to start with a synonym for “Chump”. Let’s see which one’s right.

It’s the former. Four famous people have their first names changed to start with CH. They are then clued as if they were that actual person but with a wacky first name.

WSJ - Thu, Nov 12, 2015 - "Chump Starts"

WSJ – Thu, Nov 12, 2015 – “Chump Starts”

  • 17A [Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner who’s into bondage?] CHAIN FONDA. Jane Fonda. Why go the bondage route? Maybe she likes sending annoying emails. Or maybe she eschews mom-and-pop stores for the big box ones.
  • 27A [Broadway and TV actor who’s fond of fruit pie?] CHERRY ORBACH. Jerry Orbach. Because your first name is CHERRY you like fruit pie? This joke’s been done before. See: Cherry Garcia.
  • 45A [American poet who’s good at decision-making?] CHOICE KILMER. Joyce Kilmer. I’ll admit I didn’t know the name at all. The M was the last letter I put in the grid, especially with the ambiguous clue at 48D [Plant].  He (and he is a “he”) most famously wrote “Trees”. I’m now glad to have learned that bit of Americana, but I’m not keen on the clue. If your first name is CHOICE, I should think that means you’re primo, you’re A-1, you’re top-notch, the best KILMER that ever was, not just that you make good decisions.
  • 59A [Politician’s wife who likes to kick back?] CHILL BIDEN. Jill Biden. I like this entry and most of the clue (CHILL makes a great nickname), but it makes her sound like some good-for-nothing hanger-on. In actuality, she is an English professor and, according to Wikipedia, she is thought to be the first Second Lady to hold a paying job while her husband is Vice President.

I find it curious that all the entries are proper names. It’s certainly consistent, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from the title. (Unless the constructor is calling them “chumps”, but…surely not. Even their made-up names don’t make them out to be chumps. One who makes good decisions, for example, is not a chump.) If you’re going to go for the wacky, go for the wacky.  Pun puzzles need to be laugh-out-loud funny. Why not include other phrases? I came up with the following pretty quickly and they made me chuckle:

  • [Wedge attachment?] > CHOCK STRAP
  • [Scalia name for certain insect bites?] > CHIGGERY POKERY
  • [Blue toon who’s a little too handsy?] > CHOKEY SMURF

Some inconsistencies: Two of the first names require a re-spelling (Jane and Joyce become CHAIN and CHOICE) where the other two do not (Jill and Jerry become CHILL and CHERRY). Also, there’s a CHOKER in the grid at 6D that seems like it could be part of the theme (since JOKER is a word). This could have been easily changed to STOKER, thereby turning CLOT and HIDE into SLOT and TIDE.

As usual in a Mike Shenk joint (Damien Peterson is one of his pseudonyms), the surrounding fill is good to very good. We get DENNEHY (always liked his tough-guy roles), TEA SHOPS, LA BAMBA, IVY LEAGUE, VETO-PROOF, CEREBRA, and AIR RAID crossing LAY LOW. Get down!

Clues were generally tough, but that’s what you expect later in the week. I liked 54D [Cleanup position] for MAID and 56D [Diamond in the sky] for KITE both of which had me thinking baseball. 1A [Leaves for lunch] is cute for SALAD, but I’ve seen it before. 15A [You do it when it counts] for HIDE is odd. I figured out pretty quickly to take a literal view of counting, but what is the “it” that is counting? Does Mike play HIDE and seek with a robot?

Overall it’s a fine puzzle, but not wacky enough.

José Chardiet’s BuzzFeed crossword, “The Ex-Files”—Derek’s write-up

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 6.22.01 PMOK, I will admit: this puzzle took me entirely too long to figure out the theme, and then it took me even longer to get all of the theme answers! Let me give you the theme answers, and then I will explain my problems afterward. As the title suggests, each of the starred answers is missing the letter string DATA. The red letters do not appear in the grid:

  • 11A [Classic Pootie Tang-ism roughly meaning “That’s the way it is”] SA DA TAY
  • 20A [Found delicious, as vampires vis-à-vis blood] HAD A TASTE FOR
  • 26A [Used Uber, maybe] CALLED A TAXI
  • 38A [Steer clear, as I do of any physical altercations] AVOID AT ALL COSTS
  • 53A [Alias of Talia al Ghul in “The Dark Knight Rises”] MIRANDA TATE
  • 68A [Recent 1-cent-per-ounce levy aiming to promote healthier diets] SODA TAX

And all is wrapped up in a nice bow by 59A [Virus symptom that occurs six times in this puzzle] DATA LOSS. Very nicely done. As has been the case with BuzzFeed puzzles, the clues are hilarious. But let me explain why I had so much trouble with this puzzle….

…I have never seen Pootie Tang! So when the clue at 11-Across was met, I had no clue what was going on. I had to look at YouTube to figure out what his saying was! I will torture you with a short video!

I feel like I may have to hand in my Black card by not having seen it, but what can I say? IMG_0073I’ve never even HEARD of it! From the other clips I have seen, it looks like one of those movies where you think, fleetingly but seriously, “I should write a movie; I can’t do any worse than this!” I cannot honestly say I will ever watch it, either! But once I found that out, then the entry made total sense. I also was foggy on remembering MIRANDA TATE, and you have to hunt in Imdb to find the actual full name, but now I remember it. THAT movie is worth watching a second time!

A few more notes:

  • 43A [Rapper Jean who’s a hardcore X-Men fan] GRAE – Never heard of this rapper either! I told you, I probably am not black!
  • 57A [Gao Gao, to Diego, at the San Diego Zoo] OSO – Dora and Diego teach a lot of Spanish! Maybe I should watch more…
  • 9D [“Only the strong survive” mentality] DOG-EAT-DOG – I like this one. 
  • 31D [Oldest child of Claire and Phil on “Modern Family”] HALEY – If you haven’t watched it before, find the episode from last season that was filmed all with iPhones and iPads! It all is done with FaceTime and MacBooks and such. The show is hilarious, too! I don’t think you can stream it; iTunes has it for $2.99! Season 6, Episode 16 “Connection Lost” is what you want!
  • 40D [Mai ___ (drink invented in Oakland, not Hawaii)] TAI – I had no idea. And one of those actually sounds good right about now…

These BuzzFeed puzzles are a load of fun! 4.4 stars for this one!

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Safe Spaces” — Ben’s Review

Based on its title, I totally should have caught on to what was going on with “Safe Spaces”, today’s BEQ Thursday puzzle, sooner.  I’m going to blame spending most of the day running around the first North American Boda Borg with tiring my brain out enough that I couldn’t quite see this coming:

  • 19A: Reminds how a song goes, maybe — HUMS A FEW BARS
  • 32A: Weighing nearly nothing  — LIGHT AS A FEATHER
  • 50A: Murder, e.g. — CLASS A FELONY
  • 14D: “60 Minutes” regular — MORLEY SAFER
  • 20D: Progressive rival — SAFECO
  • 51D: Activity that’s got you covered — SAFE SEX

In a nice tie-in with the theme, SAM Smith (who’s called out in 5A as the singer of the latest Bond theme, “Writing’s On the Wall”), has a nice song called “Safe With Me”.  Other nice cluing/gridding this puzzle: seeing EMERIL at 27A (“‘Pork fat rules’ celebrity chef”) reminded me how long celebrity chef culture has been going on (although I never really got into Emeril.  Nigella Lawson, though…), and I thought 52A‘s “Instrument with silver-plated keys” was a nice clue for OBOE, focusing on something other than its double-reeded nature for once.

I didn’t find much to irritate me this puzzle – I didn’t know who Mike GOLIC was for 34D (and I’m not familiar with sports radio’s “Mike & Mike”), but the across clues got me through.  There’s a lot of other nice fill in the grid, and the theme was nice and straightforward after a little thinking.

3.5/5 stars

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Moving Picture Show”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 11.12.15: "Moving Picture Show"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 11.12.15: “Moving Picture Show”

Hello there, everyone! I hope everyone is doing great today. In today’s crossword, brought to us by Ms. Donna S. Levin, each of the four theme entries have the letters “PIC” appear consecutively, and the trio of letters shifts to the right with each descending theme entry. Very nice execution, especially with the lively theme entries.

  • PICCOLO TRUMPET (20A: [Small brass horn heard in the Beatles’ “Penny Lane”])
  • DESPICABLE ME (25A: [2010 animated film featuring yellow Minions]) – I never watched the movie, nor its sequel, but I just never understood the craze about Minions. Always think about Twinkies when I see them.
  • VLASIC PICKLE (42A: [Tidbit flacked by a tie-wearing stork])
  • HAWAIIAN TROPIC (48A: [Suntan lotion brand known for its bikini competitions])

This was definitely a fun solve and, again, the theme answers were very strong and lively. What wasn’t very strong was my knowledge of country music hits, as only the crosses helped me get HOT MAMA (9D: [2003 Trace Adkins hit about appreciating one’s partner just as she is]). Even worse, I thought it actually was “Hot Mame” for a while, as I had “lire” instead of LIRA, another instance where I overthought the lira/lire decision (31A: [Turkish currency]). Usually, I’m all about food in a puzzle, but seeing BLINI made me think of one not-so-great experience at a seafood restaurant years and years ago (28D: [Caviar accompaniments]). Just…can’t…do…seafood.  I know, it’s a shame, right? I don’t think I’ve ever heard FLYAWAY to describe frizzy-like hair before today, but it’s good to know that, just in case I hear someone say it in the future (40D: [Frizzy, in a way]). Oh, and is “schnorr,” used in the clue to USERS, a Yiddish term (22D: [Ones who schnorr])? Sure sounds like it.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: FRAN (40A: [Former quarterback Tarkenton]) – For those who are football fans and have followed the game since the 1960s or 1970s, you’ll know FRAN Tarkenton as the productive, scrambling quarterback who played for both the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants who helped lead the former to three Super Bowl appearances (VIII, IX, XI). For those who avoided sports but watched their fair share of television in the 1980s, you’ll know Fran as one of the co-hosts of the TV series That’s Incredible!, along with John Davidson and Cathy Lee Crosby. Tarkenton, who retired as the all-time NFL leader in passing yards, rushing yards by a quarterback, touchdown passes and wins, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.

TGIF tomorrow! See you then, and have a good rest of your Thursday!

Take care!


Kurt Krauss’s LA Times – Gareth’s summary

LA Times 151112

LA Times

Today Kurt Krauss gives us a familiar concept with a slightly atypical presentation. MIXEDVEGETABLES is the central revealing answer. Four other long answers contain vegetables scrambled in 3 cases in the middle of the answers, crossing the words, and one at the beginning. BEANS is found in STOLENBASE; SKELETONCREW hides LEEKS; BEETS are hiding in COMESBETWEEN; and CARROTS take up most of SPORTSCARS. As an odd sort of a “bonus”, APES (PEAS) and MAYS (YAMS) are short single words that could be rearranged.

It’s a fairly crowded grid so there’s not a lot of showboating going on outside of the theme. REDSOX (tried ROYALS first…) is nice, but the trade-off for that and XAXES is DSOS. OINGO Boingo didn’t get mainstream success, but gained a cult following. With catchy numbers like this, I can’t understand why they weren’t Top 40 material! I don’t remember seeing [Three-sided blade] as a clue for EPEE before…

3 Stars, a rather unfocused theme execution for me.



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14 Responses to Thursday, November 12, 2015

  1. Zulema says:

    I came here to find out how PANDA could result from 11 PAs and I never saw that it could be parsed as P AND A. So, thank you. You are smarter than I am. I mean it, I never saw it. On the other hand, no amount of squinting will turn the grid into a PANDA.

  2. ArtLvr says:

    I was lucky, caught on early with FLIPPANT / SPANISH RICE. Tops: PAPAL PALACE !

  3. Bencoe says:

    Pootie Tang is a movie best appreciated for its strangeness. Jean Grae, on the other hand, is one of the best underground rappers of the millennium. I first became aware of her when she did a verse on Mr. Lif’s awesome album I Phantom.

  4. Evan says:

    Re: BuzzFeed:

    I really, really did not enjoy this one. I got the theme, but the puzzle was still impossible for me to finish. That northeast corner just felt unfair. If you don’t know your Pootie Tang slang (and how to spell it), or your 2 Chainz ad libs, and can’t figure out that 13-Down isn’t HAH but YUM (with a not helpful clue at all), and….whatever on earth that clue for ATM means…..then you’re pretty much dead-on-arrival up there. There were just a lot of clues where I think they were trying to get too cute or hip (like for PES, YAM, and REMADE).

    I’m also not entirely sold on ANGRY SEX and ART EXPO as legit phrases. HATE SEX and ART FAIR, definitely. But not the former two.

    To be fair, some of the clues were very clever (for ASTHMA and ELITE, especially). But overall I thought this one went too far overboard.

    • Howard B says:

      Agree on this one; although coincidentally I heard the phrase ANGRY SEX in a conversation yesterday, dropped very casually – so I think that one at least is legit.

      Don’t get me started on Pootie Tang theme answers, iiiee. I do remember the existence of that film – but recalling the piece of exact slang amidst his mushy speech is a bit much for anyone. Truly a bizarre one.

      I have to admit though, I admire the ambition of these even when I don’t quite grok a particular puzzle.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Evan, at first I thought you were whining because I had finished the puzzle with no problem, but then I saw that my solve had been interrupted by the phone an hour ago. So I went back to it … and all three squares of 13d plus the vowel in Y*M/MIR*NTE were blank. I surmise that [rn] means right now, and ATM = at the moment … but that is a back-solve. The NE corner could have been salvaged with a more obvious clue for YUM that would help us olds with the Acrosses. Drug slang I don’t know crossing another name for a character I’ve never heard of (Ras Al Ghul, sure)—and good lord, that character is deemed significant enough to serve as a theme answer with DATA pulled out of it??

    • Joe Pancake says:

      What does the clue for ATM mean? I legitimately don’t know. [Edit: Ah … I see … Amy’s comment wasn’t posted when I started this comment.]

      Totally agree about the NE corner. Bad / unfair cluing.

      Decent puzzle overall, though in general I don’t love puzzles where you end up with gibberish in your grid.

    • pannonica says:

      My curiosity was piqued by the mention of PES, so I did the puzzle to see if it was the animator. Though I share many of the dislikes mentioned by others, that isn’t one of them. If you’re unfamiliar with his highly imaginative output of well over a decade, do yourself a favor and watch a few. They’re short!

  5. Evad says:

    Thanks Jenni for your review of our FB baby. To say that Janie was an insightful, delightful and patient partner in its creation is a gross understatement, and I’m most appreciative of both her and editor Peter’s help in bringing it to life.

    Funny that the phrase that was first inspiration for this was something I found in a CrosSynergy puzzle back when I used to blog them on this site, a lovely 16, CALL INTO QUESTION for [Doubt], in which I noticed TOQUE lurked. The idea to “pass” the hats came on a run among the inspiring hills of my local Vermont neighborhood. After describing the idea to Janie, she became as excited as I was about the possibility and this is the finished product of our fruitful collaboration.

  6. Mrshobo says:

    I’d be able to follow this blog far better if posters first identified the puzzle they are referring to.

    • dave glasser says:

      Now that there are so many puzzles every day, maybe it would be easier if there were a post per puzzle? As it is I have to avoid reading Fiend until I’ve successfully solved every puzzle I’m considering doing that day, and with the last few month’s new launches that’s a lot!

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