Thursday, December 24, 2015

BEQ 9:03 (Ben) 


BuzzFeed 7:24 (Derek) 


CS 6:49 (Ade) 


LAT 6:00 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:43 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Derek Bowman’s New York Times crossword — Amy’s writeup

NY Times crossword solution, 12 24 15, no 1224

NY Times crossword solution, 12 24 15, no 1224

The Wednesday BuzzFeed had an extra row, and this puzzle is short a row. Life is in balance again. Mr. Bowman’s theme is 8a/58a GREEK PLAYS, and the other theme entries are, on the surface, the names of classical Greeks. The “Greek play” angle is that the names are split into multiple words, as the clues direct:

  • 17a. [Packing boxes for heavyweights?], HIPPO CRATES. Hippocrates was the Hippocratic oath guy.
  • 31a. [Order to Onassis to block a brand of underwear?], “ARI, STOP HANES!” Aristophanes was a playwright. His Lysistrata inspired the latest Spike Lee joint, Chi-Raq. (If only all three split names could have been writers of GREEK PLAYS. And if only each split phrase could have included another Greek.)
  • 50a. [Shows a Sega Genesis rival at an expo?], DEMOS THE NES. Demosthenes was an orator and statesman, and I think I know his name mainly from crossword clues for words like ORATOR.

We have a symmetrical pair of bonus (non-split) Greek poets: 16a. [Whom Plato called “the tenth Muse”], SAPPHO, and 52a. [Noted writer of victory odes], PINDAR. I wonder if the constructor originally clued those as themers—though SAP PHO and PIN DAR don’t have great surface sense. Weaken Vietnamese soup, outwrestle folk singer Williams?

Five more things:

  • 1a. [Early 1990s CBS series about the exploits of real-life police officers], TOP COPS. Never heard of it, 1990–1993 show. I don’t think I would have had a problem with this clued as [Police brass, in headlines], but then again, “top cops” may be one of those stale phrases that are used in journalism but really nowhere else.
  • 42d. [One blowing off steam in Italy?], MT. ETNA. The Guardian, which offers a video of a huge lava column spewing upward from Etna, says Etna is the world’s most active volcano. The latest eruption was less than three weeks ago, so this “blowing off steam” clue is spot-on.
  • 15a. [Nickname for a little person], SHORTIE. Good lord! Enough already with crossword clues referencing little people. I’m guessing they don’t enjoy the “nickname” of Shortie. It’s a little late for me to call Anne W, whose parents were little people, for confirmation, but stop. If a woman were cluing this, it could be [Like summer pajamas]. “Shortie pajamas” is utterly familiar. The black slang of shorty (sometimes spelled shortie, if is to be trusted) is an affectionate term for a kid or a woman. Or! Stick with the “nickname” angle, but go with “petite person” or “person who’s not tall.” Leave the folks with genetic dwarfism out of it. It’s really not that tough to avoid using language that may be hurtful.
  • 8d. [Golfer McDowell, 2010 U.S. Open champion], GRAEME. My husband follows golf. He said, “Wow, not very famous.” The more famous ones spell it “Graham.”
  • Favorite fill: CREWCUT, CONCOCT, AL CAPP. Least liked fill: ERLE, TARE, ON HIRE, C-STAR, ESSES, ETH (though we liked the Ethiopian food we had delivered last weekend), KOO.

Cute theme, overall vibe is … let’s call it 3.85 stars.

Evan Birnholz’s BuzzFeed crossword, “Crosswords Against Humanity”—Derek’s write-up

BuzzFeed 122315If you have not solved this puzzle, stop reading right now and do it! The payoff at the end is amazing! The crosswords is a play on the game Cards Against Humanity. I assume you all know the game. I have a confession to make: I have never played Cards Against Humanity! In Googling it, and asking my sons what the heck it is, I found this site, and there are apparently others, where you can download and print the game for free! There also is a smartphone app version as well, or so I’m told.  I am so old!!

For a quick primer, the game is made of black and white cards. The black cards have a question or a fill in the blank, and the white cards provide the answers or fill-in. It’s like Mad Libs on crack. The cards are often humorous, irreverent, and even vulgar. OK!

Here come the spoilers: The instructions say to take the answers to the five starred clues in order to find the question, or “black card,” for this particular game. Then you are told there is a fifth card to be found not in the grid. Firstly, those five starred clues are:

  • 1A [Historic accomplishment] FIRST
  • 27A [Alpha-Bits bit] LETTER
  • 40A [“You Shook Me ___ Night Long” (AC/DC jam)] ALL
  • 49A [Over] ACROSS
  • 69A [Sherlock Holmes examined them] CLUES

So if we follow the instructions, we get the sentence HOW AM I MAINTAINING MY RELATIONSHIP STATUS? This an actual black card from the game, as are the four white “cards” contained in the grid: DENTAL DAMS, SARAH PALIN, CRYSTAL METH, and SCIENTOLOGY. But where is the fifth card that the instructions allude to? Lets try the first letters of the DOWN clues! Sure enough, we get, and this IS a real card, A MICROPIG WEARING A TINY RAINCOAT AND BOOTIES! Here is an image I found showing this card, and the power this game has to be hilarious:cards pic

Alrighty then! This puzzle was a blast! A solid 4.8 stars from me! The actual puzzle itself is also quite well done. No wonder; Evan is one of the best. A few accolades about the puzzle:

  • 23A [TV pooch who helped rescue Timmy from dangerous situations (though, true fact: Timmy never fell down a well)] LASSIE – I think I laughed out loud!
  • 29A [Name of the town where 58-Across was once mayor] WASILLA – Great job on this one, because if you’re solving top down, you have no clue who is referred to here. At least I didn’t!
  • 37D [Illustrative series of children’s books featuring characters with surnames like Happy, Greedy, Noisy, and Uppity] MR. MEN – I don’t remember ever seeing this in a puzzle. doesn’t list it as ever appearing in a NYT. He is referring to these books:mr men pic
  • 43D [Changes from E to F] GASES UP – Another stellar clue.
  • 55D [Brand of tea with Passion and Berryblossom White flavors] TAZO – Just listing this because I like tea, and even here in Indiana we have this!

Hope you all enjoyed this puzzle as much as I did!

Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Trimming the Tree” — Jim’s review

WSJ - Thu, Dec 24, 2015 - "Trimming the Tree"

WSJ – Thu, Dec 24, 2015 – “Trimming the Tree”

This is the last WSJ puzzle before the holiday, so a Happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate.

I gave myself an early present by not timing myself with this puzzle. I’m glad I did, because I had an embarrassingly difficult time sorting out the southeast.

The puzzle today has a fun gimmick, playing on the words “Trimming the Tree”. Four types of trees have their final letter trimmed off resulting in wackiness. I found it quite enjoyable once I uncovered the ploy at 17A.

Beware of guided coconuts. Use your lollipop for self defense.

  • 17A [Friend who supplies you with macaroons?] COCONUT PAL. From coconut palm. Mmm. Macaroons. (Word of advice: Never park your car under a coconut tree.)
  • 29A [Steam rising from the cauldron?] WITCH HAZE. From witch-hazel. I knew this as some sort of herbal product, but didn’t know it was a tree. Wikipedia calls witch-hazels “deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees”. But then of course, there’s the real Witch Hazel.
  • 45A [Lapel adornment that advertises Chivas Regal?] SCOTCH PIN. From scotch pine. Whenever I hear the words “scotch pine” I think of Monty Python’s Lumberjack Skit which features the “mighty scotch pine!” in the intro. (See video at bottom of post.)
  • 60A [Train with icy floors?] SLIPPERY EL. From slippery elm. I didn’t know this as a tree variety at all, but was able to deduce it once I sorted out my southeast problems.

On the whole, a fun solve with some really good clues and entries. TIMESAVERS is great along with its partner PIANO TUNER [One responsible for a grand opening?]. Also, much love for ALLEY CATS and SO THAT’S IT. Oh, and we get LEONARDO and a STOCKING to boot! But wait there’s more: HOT COAL, BAUXITE, and finishing off with PANACHE!

Good clues:

  • 46A [Offering from a master of deduction?] TAX TIP
  • 23A [Brownie maker] KODAK. I knew a brownie was an old-timey device but couldn’t remember what exactly. Was thinking it was a gun.
  • 33A [Publications free of smelly perfume ads] EZINES. Best clue I’ve seen for this now-commonish entry.
  • 62A [Number of stripes on the flag of Deutschland] DREI. Nice. I like.
  • 32D [Bacon bit] ESSAY. That’s Francis Bacon. Clever, but I’ve seen it before.

So the southeast. Problems began when I plunked down IS THAT ALL for SO THAT’S IT [“Really? There’s no more?”]. Made sense. Actually it makes better sense since my answer is a question, like the clue. The real answer is a statement. (But that’s a minor nit; it’s a great entry.)

Got that fixed (thanks to EZINES), but I had mis-remembered KIRSTIE (24D) ALLEY(!) as KIRSTIN. For a long time. Even after I got NAPPIE and SLIPPERY EEL and LEONARDO, I still had NA__N for 50A.

Had _OSEY for 48A [Brown in the Pro Football Hall of Fame], didn’t know the [Samuel Johnson play] at 44D, 50A [Off the table, perhaps] made no sense with my incorrect N at the start, never seen 63A IMMIE before, nor 66A TOPER, and misspelled PANACHE as PINACHE. Plus, using TAPER as a noun in 51D [Icicle feature] was the icicle on the cake. Just a perfect storm of errors and things unknown to me.

I eventually sorted out IMMIE, TOPER, and KIRSTIE on my own, figured 50A was EAT-something, but was still naticked. Eventually needed “Show Mistakes” to correct my PINACHE misspelling. Fail. So a lot of that was on me, but there are some genuinely tough entries and clues in that corner.

But all in all, a crunchy, fun challenge with plenty of wordplay and clever clues. Couldn’t ask for a better present!

And now, I present lumberjacks, who are very good at trimming trees:

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Christmas Island” — Ben’s Review

Christmas Island

Christmas Island

Happy Christmas Eve day!  There are only a few BEQ Thursdays left this year, and this one’s perfectly timed for some present opening.  For whatever reason, I decided to start with the down clues this week, and that threw me off when I got to the across clues and tried to figure out the theme:

  • 17A: Dress with a high-waist cut  — BABYDOLLM
  • 24A: Electrical devices that regulate voltage — TRANSFORMERSI
  • 30A: V.I.P. — BIG WHEELS
  • 46A: FTC target — MONOPOLYF
  • 52A: Sonic rival — JACK IN THE BOXI
  • 64A: Nixon’s pet — CHECKERST

I liked the theme, but this is one time where I wish that the extra letters weren’t uniformly placed in the same spot.  Placing them throughout the clues feels like it would have fit the “Island of Misfit Toys” theme a little better, at least in my opinion.

(I’ve been on a Motown Christmas kick lately.)

A few other clues I liked:

  •  9A: Mr. T Cult Comedy — DC CAB (BE SOMEBODY OR BE SOMEBODY’S FOOL remains too long for standard fill)
  • 69A: Pad Thai or chocolate chip cookies, e.g. — AROMA (FOODS BEN LIKES is not likely to appear in a grid anytime soon either) 
  • 6D: Roman- — ACLEF (One of my favorite albums this year was by the band Roman A Clef – check out Abandonware if you get the chance.)

Another nicely-timed holiday puzzle this week – nicely done, BEQ!

3.75/5 stars

Herre Schouwerwou’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s writeup

LA Times 151224

LA Times

The theme is revealed at [Gift counter request involving the starts of the answers to starred clues], WRAPITUP. The other answers feature components in the packaging of a present at their beginnings. [*Sports section summary], BOXSCORE; [*Tatum O’Neal’s Oscar movie], PAPERMOON; [*Farfalle], BOWTIEPASTA; [*One with deck skills], CARDSHARK.


Patrick Jordan’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “In Tatters”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.14.15: "In Tatters"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 12.14.15: “In Tatters”

Hello, everyone! Hope you’re doing great and having a good time on Christmas Eve. Only enough time to post the puzzle really, with Mr. Patrick Jordan’s puzzle being one in which the letters “RAG” are inserted consecutively into phrases, creating puns (61A [Tatter placed in each of the answers at 20-, 28-, 45-, and 52-Across]).

  • TEFLON DRAGON (20A: [Mythical creature with a nonstick skin?]) – Teflon Don.
  • FRAGILE CLERK (28A: [Overly sensitive retail salesperson?]) – File clerk.
  • BARRAGE FACTS (45A: [Confirmed details about an artillery attack?]) – Bare facts.
  • AIR FRAGRANCE (52A: [Result of burning incense?]) – Air France.

Only thing I’ll take issue with is the clue to BRO, a term that pretty much originated in the inner cities and with black/African-Americans using it, but has pretty much become ingrained in the American mainstream (1D: [Buddy, in the hood]). That, and I slightly cringe when I see “in the hood,” since people still use that phrase in a derogatory fashion. Also, there’s definitely a subtle tribute to our detective friend Sherlock in this grid, with both the clue to BANE (39D: [Moriarty, to Holmes]) as well as the fill of AFOOT (23D: [Like a pedestrian]).

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: DIME (10A: [Coin featuring a torch]) – Probably my most unimaginative clue in this space since I started it, but just letting you know that if someone, when talking about sports, says that a player just “dropped a DIME,” that means that player just made a real nice pass, whether in basketball or in football. You rarely hear that phrase now when talking about ratting someone out, as it’s almost exclusively used now in the world of sports.

See you all on the 25th! Happy Holidays!

Take care!


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5 Responses to Thursday, December 24, 2015

  1. lemonade714 says:

    Very clever theme and your two impromptu bonus clues Amy are great. GRAEME MCDOWELL is quite famous not only for winning the US OPEN at Pebble Beach but as hailing from Portrush, Northern Ireland also the home of Rory McIlroy. I don’t think there has been a famous golfer named Graham since Graham Marsh or perhaps you count David Graham.

    Also enjoyed Herre’ s LAT

    Merry to all

  2. Derek Bowman’s clever New York Times puzzle today, and Amy’s interesting review of it, inspired me to get on Google and refresh my recollections of several of the Greeks that are referred to. I won’t belabor what I found, but highly recommend the exercise to anyone who isn’t distracted by a certain holiday much beloved by certain candidates for high elective office in the US. One surprise was that I was released from my long-held misconception that the term “democracy” has anything to do with the name of the legendary Greek orator.

    A quick P.S. to Peter Collins and John Farmer regarding your two comments, and mine, regarding yesterday’s puzzle by Jim Peredo. In my enthusiasm to contribute, I got a bit mixed up … no special prescience on my part!

  3. Joe Pancake says:

    Yeah, the BZF puzzle was terrific — unlikely the game Cards Against Humanity, which I’ve never really enjoyed playing.

  4. Evan says:

    Thanks for the BuzzFeed review, Derek. I recommend playing Cards Against Humanity with friends and siblings, but not one’s parents or one’s children. Then again, I know people who’ve played the game with their parents and their in-laws multiple times without horrifying each other. Diff’rent strokes, and all that.

    This puzzle was a bizarre one for me in that it’s basically themed and themeless at the same time. The four “cards” in the grid are pretty random and aren’t special except for being actual cards in the deck, for fitting symmetrically, and for being able to cross some of the answers to the starred clues. The secret card has a funny image (and a G-rated one for their purposes), but isn’t special except for being one of the very few I could find with exactly 39 letters. But I guess they’re just as random as anything you’d play during an actual round of the game, so in a way they’re sorta fitting.

    • Derek Allen says:

      You’re quite welcome. Your puzzles are awesome. And this theme was excellent. It was honestly the most fun I have had solving in a while. And I solve a LOT.

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