Thursday, January 14, 2016

BEQ 7:22 (Ben) 


CS 6:58 (Ade) 


Fireball ~30 min (collaborative) (Jenni) 


LAT 4:50 (Gareth) 


NYT 6:58 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Jeffrey Wechsler’s New York Times crossword — Amy’s writeup

NY Times crossword solution, 1 14 16, no 0114

NY Times crossword solution, 1 14 16, no 0114

The wordplay theme here involves THE BEATLES: 53a. [Group whose songs get spoonerized in 18-, 23-, 32- and 46-Across]. The spoonerized song titles are:

  • 18a. [One who might cause a spill at a cafeteria?], TRAY DIPPER. “Day Tripper.”
  • 23a. [Dog attacking a newsstand?], PAPER-RACK BITER. “Paperback Writer.”
  • 32a. [Answer to “What’s her job in the garden supply store?”?], SHE’S HEAVING LOAM. “She’s Leaving Home.” Boy, nothing says whimsy like LOAM, am I right?
  • 46a. [What happens after getting in Vivien’s way on a movie set?], LEIGH SHOVES YOU. “She Loves You.”

I have a few reservations about this theme. First, only 18a is a straight spoonerism with no spelling changes aside from those initial consonants, while the rest have spelling changes elsewhere in words. Second, two songs include “She,” one spoonerized and one not. Third, none of the theme answers actually amused me. Wordplay’s a lot more fun when it’s funny.

My main experience with this puzzle, though, involved the Scowl-o-Meter. When your 1-Across is LAPP, it signals that there is a lot of stale or awkward fill ahead. AVER, plural conjunction ORS (can’t be operating rooms because ERS is already at 20a), ICER, DEYS, PST, ATTAR, ELY, maybe-not-a-lexical-chunk ONLY ONCE, awkward MISUSERS. Let’s look at that last one. USE is fine, MISUSE is fine, MISUSER is a word you won’t have much use for, and I don’t know when you would ever need plural MISUSERS.

Those corners with stacked 8s say “This is gonna be a Thursday puzzle,” but I’d rather see a word count well above 70 and a grid with more breathing room, fewer clunkers. (Your mileage may vary.) The 26d/28a and 25d/56a cross-references kind of annoyed me, as well.

Three more things:

  • 21a. [Yellow-card, e.g.], WARN. Soccer/football fans, does this ring true? Is this an active verb, do referees yellow-card people? I feel like the players get yellow-carded, passive voice.
  • 41a. [Longtime “Law & Order” actor], ORBACH. Ah, the legendary Jerry. His sons are musicians. One makes crossword puzzles, too. Big fan of the whole ORBACH family!
  • 2d. [“Immortal” flower in “Paradise Lost”], AMARANTH. I once had a business lunch at Topolobampo, a high-end Mexican restaurant in Chicago, and for dessert, I ate this delicious cream served inside a shell made of AMARANTH seeds (which are apparently highly nutritious). It … seemed like birdseed. Tasty birdseed.

3.33 stars from me.

Jeff Chen’s Fireball crossword, “Instructions Included Inside” – Jenni’s write-up

I don’t think I’ve introduced my husband to the group yet.prade

He’s the one with the beard. His name is David, we’ve been married for 31 years, and he doesn’t really do crossword puzzles, except when I’m stuck. Then we collaborate. Tonight was one of those nights.

I knew I was going to be in trouble when Amy pinged me to say the puzzle took her over 20 minutes and was in the 98-99th percentile of difficult puzzles. Ever. And that Dan Feyer agreed with her. Gulp. With that in mind (and last week’s performance in my memory), I did not have wine with dinner. I dove into the puzzle with a clear head and with some foreboding.


Started off easily enough with the NW; 1A and 13A are gimmes, and 13D wasn’t far behind. So “eco-conscious drivers” at 20A starts with H, and thus must have something to do with HYBRID. OK. And “using a false identity online for self-interested reasons” is clearly SOCKPUPPETRY – except that doesn’t fit. Not even close. So…a rebus? Hmm. Moving on.

David entered the picture with 8A; he studied civil engineering, so he confirmed that the ASWAN Dam was built in the 1960s. I remember NIK Wallenda crossing Niagara Falls, and the other short answers in the NE fell into place easily. That left the long ones. “Plummeted” must start with SANK, and “What’s our status?” should start with “Where”. Still no idea what the theme is; I thought “plummeted” might be SANK LIKE A STONE, and maybe the STONE sinks down into the bottom of the puzzle? Hmm. Moving on.

The first themer in the SW is “Monitor setting”, and I had no idea what that was looking for, even after I got HUBCAP for “Pothole victim” (I live in PA. We know potholes) and ENTS for “Docs trained in treating epistaxis”. Score one for medical school. The other themer is “Hiding place for Moses in Exodus 33:22.” Could be BULRUSHES or the CLEFT OF THE ROCK; I think BULRUSHES is earlier in Exodus than Chapter 33, but I wasn’t sure. Either way, I couldn’t figure out what the trick is. Still. I had a complete mess for the Moses clue at 32D: CNES…huh? Am I supposed to read that upwards? Eventually I filled in the bottom corner and there was the ROCK – over in the wrong answer, at 31D. Does that mean the clue was divided like a CLEFT? Hmm. Moving on.

So we came to the SE. “Basis of some tasteless jokes” must start with GROSS. “End of an age-old question”, right underneath, eventually reveals itself to start with CHICK, so we’re dealing with the CHICKEN OR THE EGG. By this time, David was looking over my shoulder, and he figured out that “Theatrical no-show” at 52D is GODOT. Add in EMOJI for “Nontextual text part” and GRES for “Tests for some soon-t0-be-alums” and there’s the EGG – sitting above the CHICKEN. Does that mean the EGG comes first? Hmm.

Back up to the NW where I had filled in HYBRIDEERS for our eco-conscious drivers, which gave me nonsense in several places. I still hadn’t figured out what to with SOCKPUPPETRY, either, and I was at a loss for 21D, “One walking with flatfeet”. I know that “flatfoot” is slang for police officer. I finally figured out that “Time to make the donuts” at 7D was not a theme answer, but rather DUTYCALLS, which put TRY at the end of 20A. A-hah! That’s the end of PUPPETRY, and it was moved UP, and UP is part of PUPPET. I tried putting PURP at 21D, but that wasn’t right, so I filled in PERP (the PERPetrator) and realized that if I moved the last part of PUPPETRY UP, and took the UP out, everything fit. “Eco-conscious drivers” are HYBRIDOWNERS. DOWN is the direction, so ERS goes below. And thus the answers are HYBRIPETRY and SOCKPERS. My goodness.

So, for the record:

  • hybriDOWNers – ERS moves DOWN
  • sockpUPpetry – PETRY moves UP
  • sanklikEASTone – ONE moves EAST
  • wheredoWESTand – AND moves WEST
  • bRIGHTnesslevel – NESSLEVEL moves RIGHT (that turns out to be the “monitor setting”)
  • cLEFToftherock – OFTHEROCK moves LEFT
  • grosSOUTHumor – UMOR moves SOUTH
  • chickeNORTHeegg – EGG moves NORTH (David figured that one out)

Does that make sense? Maybe this will help (David made it).

Fireball 1-13-16

I know this is ridiculously long already. I can’t stop without thanking Jeff and Peter for this amazing puzzle. The theme is mind-bendingly hard – ACPT puzzle 5 worthy, for sure – and the cluing is otherwise straightforward and clear and even clever. There’s virtually no junk fill. It’s one of the best puzzles I’ve done in a long, long time.

And Amy wanted arrows, so here you go.


David and I have only one quibble. “Subway fare” at 33D should not be HOAGY. What you buy at Subway is a HOAGIE. As I said, David has a degree in civil engineering, and the engineering building at Princeton is very close to Hoagie Haven. It’s not a HOAGY. Trust us.

A few more things, because what’s a few more things when the post is this long?

  • Shout-out to some of Emma’s favorite picture books with Eric CARLE appearing at 24A; the clue does not include The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but I got it anyway.
  • More kid-lit with ANNIE at 41A, from “The Magic Treehouse” books. Emma enjoyed those, too.
  • Two cities in Utah County, OREM and PROVO. Good thing Utah County is actually in Utah, as I guessed.
  • Loved SIT for “Watch a tad”. I tried SPY at first. SIT is better.

I think I’m finally done. 4.75 stars from me, and it would have been five if not for HOAGY. Thanks, boys, for a really remarkable puzzle.

Alice Long’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Wingspans” — Jim’s review

Wonderful puzzle from Alice Long, a.k.a editor Mike Shenk. Trying to solve and blog in an airport underneath a speaker blasting CNN’s incessant talking heads is not conducive to a good solving time, so for most of the puzzle I was struggling to decipher the clues.

Finally had an a-ha moment at 60A and things progressed from there.

So what’s going on? There are four entries in the grid with the same clue: [Winged creature]. So it’s pretty clear they are part of the theme, but it’s not evident at first. Turns out they are part of a longer entry spanning a block and running nearly all the way across the grid, hence the title of the puzzle.

WSJ - Thu, Jan 14, 2016 - "Wingspans"

WSJ – Thu, Jan 14, 2016 – “Wingspans”

  • 17A / 18A [Winged creature] / [Earns a brushback pitch, perhaps] CROW / DS THE PLATE
  • 25A /30A [Feeler of a sort] / [Winged creature] TRIAL BAL / LOON
  • 47A / 49A [Winged creature] / [Brief, intense downpours] GULL / YWASHERS
  • 60A / 62A [Patio party decoration] / [Winged creature] CHINESE LAN / TERN

I like the consistency of choices for 4-letter birds and their alternating placements at the beginning and end of phrases. I never heard of a GULLY WASHER (I guess its a southern thing), but it was pretty inferable and colorful.

Did not know ADO ANNIE (55A [“Oklahoma!” character who sings “I Cain’t Say No”]), but it makes for a great non-theme entry. We also get ANACONDA in that area with a surprisingly straight clue for a Thursday (40D [Amazon basin resident]). IRRIGATING (crossing three themers and which I had as IRRIGATION to start with) and STUDENTS [Test subjects] round out the long Downs in the south.

But I like the north and especially the northeast the most with BAD HABIT at 5D and FILMGOER and ADAM AND EVE at 11D and 12D respectively. I didn’t know SOMMER (22A [Hope’s “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!” co-star]) (I’m guessing Bob Hope and Elke SOMMER?) nor ELGART (24A [Swing trumpeter Les]), so that made that section toughest of all. But it was deciphering ADAM AND EVE‘s misleading but brilliant clue [Race starters] which was the true reward up there.

There are some less-than-desirables found here and there in the grid (AINT I, CII, REA, ELLS), but they are more of the “necessary evil” kind. ELLS is somewhat redeemed by its wickedly misleading clue (in light of the theme): [Wings].

Fun puzzle. Great a-ha moment and tricky cluing all around make this one of the better puzzles in recent weeks.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Off-Shore Banking” — Ben’s Review

Off-Shore Banking

Off-Shore Banking

After yesterday’s excellent puzzle for the AV Club, today’s BQ feels like it’s missing something.  Literally, even — each of the theme clues doesn’t make sense without a certain addition that’s spelled out :

  • 17A: Pattern with curving figures  — PAISLEY PR(INT)
  • 23A: Smart set — (INT)ELLIGENTSIA 
  • 38A: Hobby…or a hit for how to finish the theme answers to this puzzle — OUTSIDE INTEREST
  • 48A: “Briefly…” — MORE TO THE PO(INT)
  • 57A: Eventually — (INT)HE LONG RUN (key witness)

All nicely done, but I would have loved for the in-grid portion of the answers to somehow make sense even without the external INTs.

Amidst the rest of the puzzle, I had trouble singling out specific clues or fill that grabbed me.  55A‘s clever misdirection (“London’s loc.” for ONT instead of ENG) was nice.  I didn’t love SKEDS at 67A – that doesn’t feel like a common-enough abbreviation to make the grid.  Similarly, I think of eBay more for BIDding rather than BUYing, which threw me off on 10A, although no more than 10D‘s “Spices used in Indian cooking” being BAY LEAVES did.  I was expecting a CARDAMOM or GARAM MASALA there.

Overall this was okay.  Not great, not terrible, okay.  3/5 stars.

Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Piling Up”—Ade’s write-up

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 01.14.16: "Piling Up"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 01.14.16: “Piling Up”

Good afternoon, everyone! Hope all is well with you. Today’s crossword puzzle is brought to us by a person whose personality would never be confused with that of a PRIMA DONNA, Mr. Doug Peterson (11D: [High-maintenance sort]). In the grid, each of the last words of the multiple-word theme entries are words that are synonyms, each relating to a pile.

  • THANKS A HEAP (17A: [“So grateful for all you’ve done”])
  • PITCHER’S MOUND (28A: [It’s halfway between first and third]) – Baseball talk already? It’s still a month and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting!
  • BLOW ONE’S STACK (46A: [Go ballistic])
  • NOTTING HILL (61A: [1999 rom-com set in London])

Are the reports true that PYRAMID is coming back to television at some point (50A: [Resting place for a pharaoh])? I caught The New $25,000 Pyramid when I was young, and that was my first exposure to game shows, and to Dick Clark…and loved both. I mentioned that we’re still more than a month away from baseball seasons starting, but we also have MITT in the grid to go along with pitcher’s mound (1D: [Softball glove]). For some reason, I have not one, but two regulation softballs at my place, even though I haven’t played a game of softball in about three years. I know, I know…I’m not showing company spirit when I pass on being a part of their softball team! But, if anyone needs a player on short notice and is in the New York CityNew Jersey area, let me know and I’ll consider it! I totally forgot that Ed KOCH ended up becoming a reality TV star with his stint on the bench (18D: [’90s judge on “The People’s Court”]). Now I have the theme show in my head, and that’s a good thing!

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: HAWK (36D: [Diurnal bird of prey]) – Great news from the Syracuse University sports broadcasting alumni department: Jason Benetti, a 2005 Newhouse graduate (and former classmate of mine) was named as one of the new television play-by-play voices for the Chicago White Sox, as he’ll fill in for the games that longtime TV voice Ken “HAWK” Harrelson won’t do, as he’s taking on a reduced schedule. Please read the story about Jason, whose a great person and an inspiration for all, especially for those with a disability, as he has cerebral palsy. (Though, knowing him, he just makes jokes about that aspect of his life.) I’m so happy for my Newhouse brethren and a dear friend, though I never understood why he always was a New Orleans Saints fan, which dates back before Drew Brees’ arrival there. Geaux Saints, I guess. But definitely, Geaux Jason!

Thank you for the time, and I’ll see you on Friday!

Take care!


Danny Reichert’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s writeup

LA Times 160114

LA Times

A clever concept – four actresses have a word buried in their name that connects them to one of their roles. MERYLS(TREE)P starred in “Into the Woods”; EM)MATHS)OMPSON was in “An Education”; JU(LIAR)OBERTS played in “Duplicity”; and HILARY(SWAN)K took a part in “Birds of America”. ITSALLINTHENAME wanted to be a title, but instead runs in the middle.

What else?

  • [Priestly garb], ALB looks very easy to edit out.
  • [It may have a nice bouquet], VASE was WINE in my grid first.
  • ADARE over LADDS is the ugliest part of the grid.
  • [Low-tech GPS?], ATLAS; I don’t understand the function of the “?” in this clue.
  • [Former senator known as “Amtrak Joe”, BIDEN. Do I want to know the origin of this sobriquet?
  • [Response to happy news], IMSOGLAD seems contrived as clued; though it is also a blues song and later a Cream hit; I don’t know why it wasn’t clued that way, really!

4 Stars
Leaving you with a classic YARN:

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17 Responses to Thursday, January 14, 2016

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    The Fireball is off to an outstanding start this year. First the wonderful Ries puzzle last week, now this brilliant new spin from Jeff Chen. It would have made a fine #5 at ACPT and like Jenni, I needed nearly all the thirty minutes. Maddening for 25 of those, then light finally dawns as you get a complete fill on one of the quadrants, then a furious scramble to complete the grid in time. I agree on the execrable HOAGY, on which I’ve railed enough already. I deduct no points for it, since the rest is so exceptionally executed. 5 stars from me.

    • nanpilla says:

      I agree completely! I have a friend staying with me, who is relatively new to crosswords, and I’m sure I bored her to tears trying to explain the genius of the FB and how appropriate it would be as a puzzle 5 at the ACPT.

  2. Matt says:

    Well, the FB took me… quite a bit more than 30 minutes… and at the end I collaborated with Mr. Google on a number of clues. Very much worth it– a good one.

  3. David L says:

    I’m not usually a fan of punny puzzles, but this one amused me. SHES HEAVING LOAM made me laugh. Also, I don’t see the problem with changes or not in the spelling — a spoonerism is a transposition of sounds. There’s no reason why spelling has to be preserved.

    A lot of the other fill was clunky, though, I agree.

    • huda says:

      I agree.
      And once I got the theme half way through, I actually came up with the “heaving loam” bit, and it made me happy (because I usually suck at these punny puzzles).

    • Papa John says:

      I’m never a fan of punny puzzles and this one was no exception. They require too much effort — for both solver and constructor — for too little payoff. The only thing punny has to do with funny is that they rhyme.

      LAPP is good example of Shortz continuing insistence on using questionable terms.

      Although MISUSERS sounds dreadful to my ear, it’s a perfectly good word. It seems to be used most often in reference to drug addicts, so a misuser is the same as a user and an abuser – interesting. It also has a specific meaning in law: “…abuse of a right; unlawful use of an office, franchise, benefit, etc.”

  4. huda says:

    Jenni– I love that photo! You guys look excellent. Love the hats.
    What was the event?

    • Jenni says:

      Thanks, Huda! That was the Reunions parade the weekend before we graduated college. It’s a strange event. All participants are costumed and you get a new costume every five years. The 82 on our hats signifies the year of our graduation.

  5. Joe Pancake says:

    NYT: Got Natick’d at the crossing of AMES and AMARANTH. M was my second guess; I first went with R because ARES is a god and a lot of things associated with space are named after gods. Makes sense, right?

    I’m a moderate soccer fan, and I didn’t think twice about yellow-card being used as a verb — seems perfectly legit to me.

  6. P. Ulrich says:

    Who would have guessed there’s a major culture of crossword puzzle fans among pro ice hockey players?

    Inside the Capitals’ ‘cult of crossword men’ from The Washington Post

    • Amy L says:

      Wow! Cool article. Anyone know their email address so I can find out what DEKE means?

    • Chris says:

      Forget learning about DEKE…I want to get in touch and claim the couple hundred dollars.

      • Chris Wooding says:

        When DEKE doesn’t mean a member of Delta-Kappa-Epsilon, it means a feint, an effort to deceive an opposing player about what your next move will be.

  7. lemonade714 says:

    I understand that many do not care for funny, punny puzzles but they also amuse many of us:

    Spoonerism: a verbal error in which a speaker accidentally transposes the initial sounds or letters of two or more words, often to humorous effect, as in the sentence you have hissed the mystery lectures, accidentally spoken instead of the intended sentence you have missed the history lectures.

    • Lois says:

      I was delighted with the NYT puzzle, but I have a Beatles bias. That would be a problem for some. I found the puns funny, and the puzzle highly doable for a Thursday. Others might like a tougher puzzle. I was happy with the theme density. For fewer bothersome items on Amy’s list, you’d probably have to go down to three theme answers, so I preferred this. I was glad to get “warn” quickly from the yellow-card clue. Knowledge of the songs along with working with the spoonerisms concept helped with the harder crosses, such as AMARANTH.

      • Lois says:

        I just looked at Jeffrey Wechsler’s comments on his theme answers at XWord Info and Wordplay, and I thought they were perfect. He ended up liking TRAY DIPPER the least of the four even though he started with that one, and I agree, though I have come to like it more and more as I think about it.

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