Thursday, December 3, 2015

NYT 5:57 (Amy) 


Fireball 11:15 (Jenni) 


LAT 5:49 (Gareth) 


CS 12:24 (Ade) 


BEQ 7:49 (Ben) 


WSJ 22:38 (Jim) 


BuzzFeed 9:12 (Derek) 


Blindauer untimed (Matt) 

Patrick Merrell’s New York Times crossword — Amy’s writeup

NY Times crossword solution, 12 3 15, no 1203

NY Times crossword solution, 12 3 15, no 1203

It took me far too long to figure out what was going on in the theme answers. The circled squares contain regular letters in the Down answers, but in the Across theme answers, the circled “letters” are Roman numerals that must be converted mentally into their spelled-out English equivalents to complete the phrases.

  • 20a. [Almost out of energy], RUNNINGIMPTY, where I = ONE, or RUNNING {ON E}MPTY.
  • 32a. [Time to get a babysitter, maybe], DAXIGHT. X = TEN, DA{TE N}IGHT.
  • 38a. [Patriotic Clint Eastwood movie], FLAGSOIVFATHERS, or FLAGS O{F OUR} FATHERS.
  • 45a. [DC Comics character with a whip], CAIIMAN, or CA{TWO}MAN.
  • 52a. [Rather informative program, once?], CBVIIINGNEWS, or CB{S EVEN}ING NEWS. The question mark is because Dan Rather used to be on it, not because the show is no longer called that or because it ceased to be informative.

Woke up feverish this morning and my bed calls to me. Quickly, three more things:

  • 53d. [Clincher], VISE. Did not like this clue, given that “clincher” has a much different meaning in common parlance, it crosses the tricky part of a theme answer, and 59d was cross-referenced to 53d.
  • 39d. [The origin of species?], OVA. Only for animal species, not all the other kingdoms of organisms, right?
  • 11d. [Strong arm], UZI. Yuck. When this country has mass shootings on a nearly daily basis, I’d rather not see cutesy clues for UZI.

Fave fill: TRUE GRIT.

3.8 stars from me. Good night!

Paul Coulter’s Fireball crossword, “PO Boxes”—Jenni’s write-up

The last Fireball of 2015 takes us on a little tour. I wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, figuring it had to be some sort of rebus but not sure what or where. Since I have a teenager in the house, it makes sense that 25 D gave me the foothold I needed: the clue is “The rents are gonna kill me!” and the answer clearly is IMDEAD – except that we’re one letter short. Ah-hah! “MD” goes in one square, and the title is explained, since it’s the Post Office abbreviation for Maryland. Got it.

Well, not quite. I found most of the other rebus squares and still couldn’t figure out what was going on, because the crossings didn’t work. Back to MD I went. MD goes in the first square for “Louisiana senator for 18 years starting in 1997”. I had (MD)R at the beginning. That can’t be right…oh, wait. It’s MARY LANDrieu. So we have MD for the down answer and MARYLAND spelled out for the across. Nice!

The rest of the journey:

  • DI(OR) crossing UNFOREGONE
  • S(ME)RSH crossing MAINEVENTS

I love SMERSH so much that I will forgive UNFOREGONE, which is terrible. “Evitable” is a fun clue; “inevitable” is an unpaired word, like “kempt”Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 9.14.22 PM. But UNFOREGONE? No. And of course it reminded me of this.

Other random notes:

  • I liked “Tush” for PSHAW at 1A. Give me a good curmudgeonly beginning any day.
  • I confidently filled in LSAT at 10A, assuming proto-lawyers would need to demonstrate their Integrated Reasoning. Nope. Proto-MBAs, apparently. It’s GMAT
  • I got 20A entirely from crossings and couldn’t figure out what END ANGER was, aside from a good idea. Duh. ENDANGER. Wake up, Jenni.

There are several candidates for today’s “I Learned Something!” feature. The one I like best: I didn’t know PANSY came from “pensée”, which is French for “thought”.

This puzzle has the fresh fill and good flow we’ve come to expect from Peter Gordon, and I enjoyed the twist on a common theme. 4 stars from me.

Nancy Cole Stuart’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cross Country” — Jim’s review

Geography buffs, this puz’s for you!

Nancy Cole Stuart is back with a country mash-up. No, not a re-mix of country music songs, but a union of country names that share some letters. They are then clued as if they were brand new countries. You’re given those countries’ midpoints and you have to figure out which countries they are (what could be easier?).

WSJ - Thu, Dec 3, 2015 - "Cross Country"

WSJ – Thu, Dec 3, 2015 – “Cross Country”

  • 18A [Its midpoint is somewhere near Berlin] FINLANDORRA
  • 39A [Its midpoint is somewhere in the Arabian Sea] PAKISTANZANIA
  • 60A [Its midpoint is somewhere east of the Seychelles] VIETNAMIBIA
  • 3D [Its midpoint is somewhere near Tahiti] NAURUGUAY
  • 37D [Its midpoint is somewhere near Tunis] NIGERMANY

I love the consistency of the theme answers, each country sharing three letters with its counterpart. And the grid is characteristically nice with FISSION, DISHPAN, CRANIUM, SUSPECT, FAUCETS, and SUBARU.  I didn’t know ZONE DIET, but it checks out.

What I didn’t love was the theme clues. Sure, a late-week puzzle should be hard, but the theme clues were next-to-useless to me. I consider myself a reasonably-intelligent person, so at least I’ve heard of all the countries and cities mentioned, but give me a blank map and expect me to pinpoint them all? I don’t think so. For example, knowing where the Seychelles are and that they are roughly in the middle between two countries was no help whatsoever. The Seychelles are roughly in the middle between a lot of countries. And that’s assuming I know where the Seychelles are (which I don’t).

I do know where Tahiti is (went there for my honeymoon), but that’s not going to help me identify the fact that NAURU and URUGUAY are equidistant from there.

And basing your theme on tiny ANDORRA (sixth-smallest nation in Europe, pop. 85k) and even tinier NAURU (an island-state only bigger than Vatican City and Monaco and with a pop. of 9,488) seems a bit much.  I don’t mind having those two in a crossword, but when the clue expects me to know where in the world they are, that seems a trifle unfair.

If the clues could have somehow included an identifying feature of each country, that might have been more fair — for example, maybe something to do with the Sahara and the Rhine for NIGERMANY. Or you could go with food or flags or famous people. But then some of these countries are very small and there’s not a lot of common knowledge about them.

Add in the usual late-week tough clues, and this turned into an un-fun slog. I did okay in the bottom half, but struggled in the top (where ANDORRA and NAURU show up, coincidentally).

There are a couple of really good clues. I liked [Head case] for 50A CRANIUM and [He goes on holiday] for 26D SANTA. Plunking down DOOM for 16A [Pioneering first-person shooter game] was satisfying.

But then there were things I just didn’t know or had forgotten: [Spinless particle] for 28D PION and [Long-necked lab vessels] for 54A RETORTS.

There was also a lot of product placement going on: [Crush competition] for 34A FANTA, [Extra offering] for 44A GUM, [Mattel introduction of 1961] for 48A KEN, [Dawn setting] for 19D DISHPAN, and [Legacy producer] for 47D SUBARU. Good, tough clues all of them, but when you’re struggling in the grid, you tend not to appreciate their wittiness.

This is a solid, finely-made grid. And the theme is fine, too; I like the mash-up concept. But I think it needed a different approach to the theme clues.

Paolo Pasco’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Hop In!”—Derek’s write-up

BuzzFeed 120315Today’s BuzzFeed puzzle has to do with a concept that is basically foreign out here in the rural midwest: Ridesharing! There is no thought usually of carpooling, public transportation is spotty at best, and people continue to drive huge SUVs or trucks because “the ride is smooth” or “I need to be high to see the road!” Here, gas pump, is $85 to fill my 40-gallon gas guzzler!

I got off on a rant, there, so let me present what is happening: 37-Across [Economic travel arrangement … or what four pairs of answers in this puzzle are participating in?] RIDESHARE shows what is happening. In the four longer grid entries, each contains a form of transportation that is mirrored either above or below the entry. The corresponding across entry where the copied vehicle is appears normally, but the down entries double the letters when the vehicle appears. So, for example, in 2-Down, the answer SOVIET  appears as SOVVIET. Once the gimmick is figured out, then the puzzle falls nicely. Fairly new and innovative, certainly different, so how about 4.2 stars for originality!

I cannot type a long list of clues, since these BuzzFeed puzzles all have such LONG clues, but I will share my favorite: 68A [Biblical figure described as “of scraggly beard and sturdy figure, much liketh the actor Russell Crowe] NOAH – I don’t think that’s in the Bible!!

This was a fun puzzle. I found nothing too problematic, which is saying something since the theme could possibly put some difficult constraints on construction. Well done!

Patrick Blindauer’s December website puzzle — “Stirring the Pot” — Matt’s review


Holy circles, Batman! Dozens of concentrically-situated sphered squares populate the latest Blindauer. What can it all mean?

Took me until I was almost completely done with the grid to figure it out. There are 21 clues that read [Part 1], [Part 2], etc. Some of them have an extra clue attached, like 30-A, which is [“Rag Doll” singer of 1964 / Part 16] for VALLI.

So I solve the grid, but several of the “Part” entries are complete jibberish, so if you’re missing a crossing you’re apparently out of luck. Like at 28-D I had OI?L?DT, the first ? being [Nickelodeon’s “Henry Danger” actress Anderson] for EL?A, which has several possibilities, and the second ? being [Main character in Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins”] which I read as a kid but still couldn’t recall the fifth letter of KARA?A.

So what to do? Well, obviously a master like Patrick wouldn’t leave us completely hanging; there’s gotta be a way to piece together those unknown crossers. And a little looking reveals that those concentric circles spell out a famous quote from The Scottish Play:

DOUB/LEDOU/BLE/T/OILANDT/R/OUB/LEFIR/EBUR/NANDCAU/LDRONBUB/BLEFRO/MMACBETH/BYWILL/I/AMS/HAK/ESP/E/ARE. A.k.a, “Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble” from “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare.

Note also the cool visual aspect: the letters swirl into the center of the grid like the three witches’ brew being stirred. Scary!

I also enjoyed the mini-mystery of figuring out what those letters were all about. At first I thought this was a marijuana-themed puzzle, since the title is “Stirring the Pot” and the first four circled letters were DOUB. But no, Shakespeare instead. But still, 4.20 stars.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Affirmative Action” — Ben’s Review

AffirmativeAction After last week’s more complex theme, this week’s Thursday BEQ is stripped-back in comparison.  There’s just three theme clues, but I thought all of them made very clever work of an otherwise easier theme:

  • 20A: Devices that say “forget about it!”?  — NO DICE MACHINES
  • 37A: Spell caster that fights drowsiness? — WIZARD OF NO-DOZ
  • 57A: “Anise-flavored liqueur (just as I always order)”? — PERNOD THE USUAL
  • 58D: Affirmative actions added to the long across answers in this puzzle? — NODS

Since DJ SET popped up at 31A (with the clever “spinning session”), it seems only right to share this year’s DJ Earworm mashup of 50 tracks from 2015.  Other clues I liked:

  •  18A: Midwestern city where the TV dinner, the Top 40 radio format, and the bobby pin were all invented (not all at once) — OMAHA
  • 66A: Hipster’s rep — CRED (I could lose a bunch of hipster cred instantly if I told how many of the songs in the mashup above I have on MP3)
  • 28D: Faux humble response to a compliment — I TRY (I assure you that when I say this, I do mean it humbly and that I’m now going to be suuuuper aware of this being faux-humble)
  • 41D: Beats radio host whose last name is a homophone of 45D: ZANE LOWE

Simple is good, as was this puzzle.

3.75/5 stars

Don Gagliardo & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s writeup

LA Times, Thu, Dec 3, 2015

LA Times, Thu, Dec 3, 2015

Zhouqin “C.C.” Burnikel does a lot of collaborations, but one her most frequent collaborators is Don Gagliardo. There should be a catchy collective name for the duo. All I’m coming up with is Dongburn… No, not that. Moving on.

The puzzle theme has a really clever gimmick. When draughts (aka CHECKERs) jump (are JUMPING?) they skip a square. In the same manner, four sequences of circled squares move spelling out four letter words. These words; BEAN, FROG and JACK, can be preceded by JUMPING. The last bit felt a hair arbitrary. Still, this is more intricate than a lot of LA Times puzzle themes.

The grid design features corners chock-full of sevens. There are a surprising number of good answers among them, even in the corner with JUMPING running along the bottom: J’s and U’s don’t like being on the bottom usually. YUCATAN, TOYSRUS, OJIBWAS, LOWRISE, IRANAIR, ELNORTE, DOORDIE, BACARDI – that’s quite a chunk of gold answers!

There were a few more of the hackneyed shorter answers than I’d like. I don’t have an issue with difficult answers in moderation, but how many people who’ve never solved a puzzle would guess the vowel at KAVA/OLLA? And there’s the etymologically correct but rarely used plural SOLI in the same little area.

Other curiosities: I don’t know what [Wage earners’ concerns], TAXBITES are. I wanted TAXRATES for a long time there. But yes, TAXBITES, although on the other hand, driving on roads and having access to rudimentary, but basically free healthcare is quite nice. HOUSTON is the [Fourth-most populous U.S. city] by some metric, presumably an official one. There are lots of ways of measuring this, and that is why things like this will never appear in quizzes, at least ones where the quizmaster isn’t a masochist.

3.75 Stars

Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “A Flawless Puzzle”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.03.15: "A Flawless Puzzle"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.03.15: “A Flawless Puzzle”

Good afternoon, everyone! Today’s crossword, brought to us by Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, might be the best non-Sunday puzzle I’ve done in the CrosSynergy/Washington Post rotation this year, at least in terms of the fill. In the grid, each of the four theme answers are multiple word terms in which the second word of each can come immediately before the word PERFECT (66A: [Flawless, and what can precede the ends of 1-, 20-, 31-, 42-, and 55-Across]).

  • CON GAME (1A: [Scam])
  • MEDIA STORM (20A: [Sudden surge in news coverage])
  • STREET CRIME (31A: [Urban quality-of-life issue])
  • TENNIS MATCH (42A: [Where to find love in sports])
  • SALES PITCH (55A: [Line from “Mad Men”])

Not only is there lively theme, but one of the theme answers occurs right from the bat in Con Game. (Not that you would have known that until you got to the final Across clue. Honestly, all of the theme entries were real strong. Some of the non-themed fill (and its cluing) was not only good, but really tough. If you’re not up on your horseshoes, then LEANERS, without the crossings, was going to be a bear (17A: [Low-scoring horseshoe throws]). Other strong fill included NOT ON A BET (12D: [“Forget it!”]), as well as the great clue-entry combinations with GENIUSES (4D: [Workers at an Apple bar?]) and ROLEPLAYS (33D: [Isn’t oneself?]). Get your head out of the gutter when thinking about roleplays, people! (Ha!) Oh, and to wrap up, seeing BASS CLEF made me think of the time when, while in Montréal covering a tennis tournament, we had the choice of a chocolate brownie-like dessert that had icing in the shape of a G-clef (40D: [Lower staff symbol]). Here’s the evidence, as taken by my cell phone while there. Doesn’t it look scrumptious?


“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SNOW (51A: [Winter coat?]) – This is the perfect time to give a shout out to by resident advisor during my freshman year in college, Chris SNOW, who currently works as the director of video and statistical analysis with the Calgary Flames professional hockey team. A great friend who was soooo smooth with the ladies when I knew him on campus, Snow was (I believe) only 24 years old when he was hired by the Boston Globe as the Boston Red Sox beat reporter. He also spent time at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and in the front office of the Minnesota Wild professional hockey team before his current position with the Flames. As part of a story Snow did for the school paper, he challenged the football team’s placekicker in a game of field goal accuracy. I’m proud to say that, for a couple of his kicks, I was his holder. (The one 47-yard field goal he made was DEFINITELY because I spun the laces out and held the ball up like no other!!!)

TGIF tomorrow! See you then!

Take care!


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23 Responses to Thursday, December 3, 2015

  1. Martin says:


    Feel better. I’ve had a rough couple of days but am beginning to feel human again.

    Plants have ova too.

    • huda says:

      I think Amy is saying that there are species that reproduce without ova– asexual reproduction. So, ova are “the origin of some species…”

      • Martin says:

        Amy did say, “Only for animal species” so that’s what I commented on. In any case, a clue never needs to be exhaustively true. That goes double for clues that end with a question mark.

        BTW, the evolution of alternation of generations with gametogenesis (which is where ova enter the picture) was very early. Both animals and plants inherit it from some protists. Many algae produce gametes. It’s a pretty cool link between kelp and us, I think. The mechanics of sex have evolved but the basics have been around a long time.

  2. ArtLvr says:

    I guess I need more sleep too. The NYT took ages to find what was acceptable in the trick spaces. Also, in the Fireball, I got the gimmick with the shorter states, but the longer ones were rather a headache to find! Clever, but daunting: should have been an “unforegone” pleasure?

  3. Linda Chalmer Zemel says:

    Jenni, I loved The New Yorker piece. Maybe instead of just reading the cartoons standing up in the local bookstore aisle, I’ll subscribe. In my own work, I like to be chievous and happy to have cussion, but that doesn’t qualify as angry, just tentious.

    Also I wouldn’t want to be known as just another pretty face, so applied for a Gravator (did I get the right word for it?) and have no idea if or how it will show up here.

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    The Blindauer was a superb tour de force. What an astonishing feat of construction. We aren’t worthy, oh master of the grid. So much thematic density – no, I’m not calling you dense, Patrick – and yet the fill was largely excellent. All day Tuesday, I was thinking, “Round about the cauldron go;
    In the poison’d entrails throw….
    Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
    Then the charm is firm and good.

    • Evad says:

      Congrats on your Fireball as well, Paul! I particularly enjoyed seeing MD expanded into Louisiana’s Senator [Mary Land]rieu and ME as [Main E]vent. Well played!

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Yes! Great puzzle.

        • Paul Coulter says:

          Thanks, Jenni and Dave. As with my other published puzzles, most of the credit goes to the editor. Peter was extremely helpful, and nearly all the best clues were his. So were the title and most of the theme answers. I submitted this as “State Your Case” and there was a central line of STATEDEPARTMENT. The only thing that survived from that grid is CINNAMONTANAGERS. Peter was wonderfully generous in helping a novice constructor improve the original, as were Rich Norris for “Compound Fractures” and Brad Wilber for the veggie puzzle I submitted as “Vegan-swers” and he called “Garden Variety.” I’m so grateful for all the bright, kind people in the Crossworld – you don’t find that many other places.

    • pauer says:

      Thanks, Paul! Glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Zulema says:

    One more Thursday NYT to give up on, but not all, I am happy to say. I always try but I’m so glad they are followed by Friday’s themeless. Gravatar on the way, I hope.

    • Papa John says:

      I kinda like your black square. It’s tres chic, in the manner of Ad Reinhardt.

      • Zulema says:

        Put there by Evad, but I have sent him a picture if he gets it and uploads it.

      • pannonica says:

        But it only looks like a black square. Under inspection grayness and even faint prismatic qualities are visible.

        • Papa John says:

          Ah, even more Reinhardtian! His black canvases had many shades and nuances to them. Then again, Zulema wants her puppies publicized, so there you go. How can the finest of fine art compete with puppies?!?! I mean, they’re puppies! C’mon, now..!

  6. Jenni Levy says:

    Feel better, Amy!

  7. Shawn P says:

    WSJ: I agree that the cluing required the solver have a far too extensive knowledge of geography, however, I thought that the idea of a combined country with the clue somewhere in the center of the new country was pretty cool. It reminded me of San Angeles from Demolition Man.

  8. Amy L says:

    Re: Patrick Blindauer’s witch’s soup. The answer grid above has a mistake at 45D. It should be EGO not AGE.

  9. Zulema says:

    Amy, get well!

  10. Garrett says:

    Fireball: loved it. II got my starts with SMERSH and RADIOWAVES, but did not get the use of the state abbr. in the cross right away. The best and most difficult crossing was IMDEAD and MDRIEU. I’m with Jenni on that. Nice job!

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