Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 96” – Jenni’s writeup
Either the Fireballs are cooling off, or I’m getting better.
I didn’t have to wrestle with this puzzle. I got a foothold in the NW with [WSJ rival] at 4d (NYT) and worked clockwise until I got to the SE; skipped that, moved on and came back to it. I prefer my puzzle difficulty to come from misleading cluing rather than obscurity, unless the obscurity is entertaining. This puzzle had some of both.
- In the “misleading” category, we have 1a [Quickly recharge, maybe] = CATNAP, used as a verb.
- Medical nerdery note: 15a [Like most heart attacks] = NONFATAL. “Heart attack” is the layperson’s term for a myocardial infarction (MI). The reduction in mortality – and incidence – of MI over the past 30 years is one of the great success stories of Western medicine. I believe the reduction in mortality from MI and stroke contributes to the increase in mortality from cancer over the last decade; we haven’t yet figured out how to make death optional. /end nerdery.
- In the “obscure” category (at least to me), we have 18a [Style of soccer emphasizing quick, short passing] = TIKI TAKA. I had to look it up to see if it was one word or two. Wikipedia tells me it is commonly spelled “tiqui-taca” in Spanish. I have no idea why the hyphen was lost in translation.
- 6d reminds me that PERESTROIKA is [Literally, “restructuring”.] I knew that roundabout 1984.
- While I’m reminiscing about the 1980s, 22a reminds me that I never actually finished Douglas Hofstadter’s book, “GODEL, Escher, Bach.” I’m sure it’s still around here somewhere.
- Plural proper names. Sigh. Not a good look. This time it’s 20a [Singer McEntire and others] giving us REBAS, a word I will never use in a sentence. Go ahead. Try.
- Old-timey gangster movie slang at 33a. [Heater] is ROSCOE. Misleading and entertaining.
- 20th century popular culture with STYX (the band, not the river) at 63a and SWAYZE at 14a, clued with his appearance as the 1991 People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive.
- 21st-century sports icon at 65a [First name of Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.] SERENA, of course. Best ever.
- Weird and somewhat unpleasant version of the Peter Gordon trademark really long clue: 25d [Makes an unfortunate slip of the tongue when playing bridge and bidding four hearts?] = SPOONERIZE. Great entry. Awful clue.
Why did I need to skip the SE and come back to it? The clue for 48a is [Bud Light Lime flavor] and the answer is CRANBRRRRITA. I have never heard of this, much less tasted it; I think I’m on solid ground when I say it’s a better crossword answer than it is a beverage. Budweiser – ugh. Bud Lite – double ugh. Mixed with lime and cranberry flavor – ugh ugh ugh. I like my beer like I like my men: full-bodied, complicated and bitter.
This was not my favorite Fireball. I expect them to be more challenging than this, and that SPOONERIZE clue really did not sit well with me.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the Palm Springs daily newspaper is The Desert Sun.
Damon Gulczynski’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
Erik Agard and I made a Fireball crossword last year with a different riff on a silent-letters theme. Here, there are six silent letters (S, I, L, E, N, T, all circled) meticulously placed in an evenly spaced diagonal. Two other answers are also thematic: 21a. [With the circled letters, investors not involved in the management of their businesses], silent PARTNERS, and 49a. [With the circled letters, large but not often vocal voting bloc], silent MAJORITY.
The Across words with the silent letters are AISLES, CARRIAGE, LLAMA (provided you’re not using the Spanish pronunciation), MATTE, HYMNBOOK, and JOSTLE.
Fancy work on placing those silent-letter words, Damon! Since there’s only one diagonal word and its spaced-out letters aren’t mucking up the ability to get decent fill around it, this puzzle didn’t irk me.
The clues for KNOB, RAVE, OP-ED, OVER, and BEDS all felt a bit non-obvious to me and that corner took a little work. And that was despite KRONOR being a gimme for me! I like the Swedish danishes at the Tre Kronor restaurant on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Five more things:
- 1a. [Powder used to combat moisture], TALCUM. I would be remiss not to mention that the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer “classifies the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans.'” Women and parents of baby girls, stick to a cornstarch-based powder for powdering that area. Ovarian cancer is a terrible disease, and if talcum powder contributes to it even a little bit, you don’t want to use it there.
- 39a. [1920s silver screen star Naldi], NITA. Well, hello there! It’s been a while since I’ve seen you in the crossword, and it’s been almost a century since you were contemporary pop culture.
- 43a. [Trattoria dessert], TORTONI. I know this one only from crosswords. My local Italian restaurants have no tortoni. 26d GELATI, that’s much more familiar.
- 4d. [Salon job], COLORING. I would also have accepted COLORIST, which is a salon job someone might hold. If you’re in Chicago and looking for an excellent colorist, try Frank at the Agnes O salon in the Gold Coast and tell him I sent you.
- Freshest fill: FAIR GAME, MESCAL, FANZINES, AIKIDO.
4.25 stars from me, even with NITA lurking in the grid.
Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Postscripts” — Jim’s review
Sam Donaldson is here to add some afterthoughts to the end of the WSJ’s regular puzzling week. He adds P and S to the starts of two-word phrases, making whole new phrases.
- 18a [Practicing at a leisurely pace?] PLYING SLOW. Lying low.
- 27a [Extols the virtues of a big oil concern?] PRAISES SHELL. Raises hell. “Concern”? Shouldn’t that be “company”?
- 34a [Participants in a breast cancer awareness race?] PINK SPRINTERS. Ink printers. Not sure I’ve ever heard of “ink printers.” There are laser printers and there are inkjet printers.
- 44a [Aiming aid on the green?] PUTTER STRIPE. Utter tripe. This one feels forced. In quotes, “utter tripe” gets 49k Google hits (i.e. a measly amount).
- 57a [Research the cost of razorbacks?] PRICE SWINE. Rice wine. Best one of the lot (maybe because I like rice wine?).
The theme eluded me for an embarrassingly long amount of time. I kept looking at the ends of the theme entries to find if something had been added on there. Plus, the first themer I revealed was PLYING SLOW which is very similar to the phrase “flying solo.” I had UNCLOGS at 1d [Uses a snake on], misspelled PSORIASIS as psoriosis at 3d (which starts with a PS, by the way), and didn’t know The View co-host at 4d, so somehow my PRAISES SHELL was GROUSES SHELL. (“Grouse” can mean “extol,” right? Wrong. It kinda means the opposite.) So needless to say, the theme reveal was a long time coming.
But once I finally figured it out, I liked it. There can’t be that many phrases to which you can apply this treatment and come up with something that works and is the right letter length. As you can tell from my comments above, some of them seem forced, but given that I believe the set of possible theme entries to be relatively small, I’m happy to give it some leeway.
As to the rest of the puzzle, I always like those B-2 bombers when they appear in a grid.
As is typical on Thursdays, we get tougher fill and tougher clues. Witness PSORIASIS clued as [Dermarest target] and ARBITRAGE clued as [Trading that exploits cost differences]. On the easier side, we get SALES REP, TYPESETS, NASTIEST, and SIPHONED.
Least favorite fill: EGER, ROBT, IIS.
A few notes:
- Didn’t know that [Spade mashie, modernly] were words you could put together and that someone would understand them. But somehow they mean SIX IRON.
- Still don’t know how [Call for a ring, perhaps] means TEETHE. Oh, a teething ring. But to TEETHE is not to call; it’s simply the eruption of new teeth. To cry (because you’re teething) is to call for the teething ring.
- Does anyone call teens TEENERS? It sounds so belittling.
- Interested to learn that Georgia O’Keeffe hung out in TAOS, New Mexico, and eventually relocated there from New York.
Overall, a fine puzzle. Possibly a bit stretchy with the themers, but the wordplay is good and, most of all, rewarding.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Nothing Doing” — Ben’s Review
OMG you guys, the Indie 500 was fun. I did the at-home version of the tournament last year and resolved to be there in person this time around (especially when the constructor pairings were named). I had a blast (and up until the last puzzle, had a chance of being in the finals at a tournament for the first time ever). Getting into the “prom” spirit of things was fun, even if it meant wandering through swampy DC in a shirt, tie, and vest, and then realizing that said attire is not the most ideal for the posture I usually use to competitively solve a crossword. It was totally worth the soreness, though.
It was great to get to hang out with everyone before, during, and after, and I can’t wait to do it all again in a few months at Lollapuzzoola 9 (you’re all registered for Lollapuzzoola 9, right? Do it! It’s easily the most fun crossword tournament in NYC on a Saturday in August.)
Anyways, onto today’s BEQ puzzle. I was having trouble figuring out what “Nothing Doing” meant in terms of a theme (although I loved the anecdote that accompanied the puzzle on BEQ’s site today) and was getting bupkis, but then in popped out at me when I reviewed the longer entries in the puzzle:
- 17A: Jilted person’s jumping-off point — LOVER’S LEAP
- 22A: Dutch housewife who won four gold medals in the 1948 Olympics — BLANKERS-KOEN
- 35A: Claims for some abandoned building residents — SQUATTER’S RIGHTS
- 44A: “Grrr…can’t get this jacket off” — ZIPPER’S STUCK
- 53A: DJs, at times — SCRATCHERS
(My birthday is Sunday, so I’m treating you to the LOVER’S LEAP remix of the #1 song from the week of my birth.)
Yep, it’s all about nothing – LOVE, BLANK, SQUAT, ZIP, SCRATCH, however you put it. I would have loved to see something like NILLA WAFERS snuck in there, but there’s only so much grid space. Although I didn’t know what was going on at first, I ended up loving BLANKERS-KOEN, which is a lovely Dutch name. Digging a little deeper, she was the most successful athlete at the ’48 Games, winning four track and field events.
After last week’s middling outing, this was a nice return to form. A lot of the fill in the grid felt straightforward, but didn’t seem to include too many gridding favorites that show up everywhere. Here’s what grabbed my eye this week in terms of cluing/fill:
- 27A: Coffee and cookie containers — TINS (I started out with this as JARS, despite a coffee jar not remotely being a thing, then it briefly became URNS, despite a cookie urn not remotely being a thing either, then resolved itself as the correct answer)
- 33A: Blaupunkt rival — BOSE (I assumed this was a musical sub-genre I had never heard of, only to find out it’s a stereo maker. The more you know!)
- 39A: Tech giant that owns StubHub — EBAY
- 6D: Tyler of Hollywood — LIV (I feel like I haven’t seen her in anything since Lord of the Rings, but a quick IMDB search revealed I’m just not watching the HBO show she’s on)
- 24D: Cloud coverage? — STORAGE (I dug this clue, but I also have a Chrome plugin that changes any mention of “the cloud” in tech articles to “my butt”, so YMMV.)
- 28D: Titular high school student who “Must Die” in a 2006 teen comedy — JOHN TUCKER (I have never seen this movie, and yet my brain horked up JOHN TUCKER after reading this clue, so there you go.)
A nice puzzle to go into the weekend.
Matt Scoczen’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s writeup
It wasn’t hard to puzzle out that the puzzle was rearranging the letters of GAME, so I half anticipated the revealer. GAMECHANGER is a colourful an apt choice here. The author probably opted for the gibberish variants GEMA / EGAM / AGEM / MEAG sppaning across two answers because the real chunk options are too thin, and not useful for phrase-building, to make a full theme. MEGA, MAGE and EMAG don’t get you very far!
- [Get-even competition], GRUDGEMATCH
- [Kunta Kinte’s country], THEGAMBIA
- [They’re often seen under hoods, GARAGEMECHANICS. Was rolling my eyes at that, but it seems to be used. Still think they’re mechanics and the context determines the specific flavour quite readily.
- [“I didn’t get that”], COMEAGAIN
Not much more to add.
- Favourite clue / answer pair in the puzzle: [Droopy face feature], SADEYES.
- [Like about half the counties in Arkansas], DRY – is that as in has no bottle stores?
- [Free, as a bird], UNCAGE – Play Freebird! No.
- [Tycoon Hammer], ARMAND. New name to me. Owned “Occidental Petroleum” which means about as much, apparently.
- [Reptile with a “third eye”], IGUANA. Odd specificity in the clue, as many Squamata have third eyes and if anything, it’s tuataras that are famed for this feature…
Gareth, leaving you with some light entertainment…
Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Potheads” —Ade’s write-up
Hello there, everyone! Just got back to New York from a week away, so I’m just going to have to make this one brief. Today’s grid, brought to us by Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, have multiple-word theme entries in which the first word can also precede the word pot.
- MELTING POT (20A: [It’s about 1,948ºF for gold])
- CHAMBER MUSIC (32A: [Instrumental ensemble performance in an intimate setting])
- LOBSTER SHIFT (40A: [Work period encompassing the early morning hours])
- PEPPER SHAKER (56A: [It may be used to dispense with dinner])
See what happens when ILLIN makes it into one New York Times crossword puzzle (15A: [Bad, in rap slang])? Now others get the license to use that questionable (at best) fill with the even more questionable (at best) clue. But, we’ll make up for it, as I’ll leave you with I’M A MAN, which is all sorts of awesome (1D: [Bo Diddley classic]).
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: AJA (58A: [1977 double-platinum Steely Dan album]) – With the graduation of UConn’s Breanna Stewart this spring, the best player in women’s college basketball going into next season could very well be the University of South Carolina’s A’JA Wilson, who won Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 2016 and was an AP Third Team All-America selection in 2015 as a freshman.
TGIF tomorrow! See you then!
Fairly easy Thursday puzzle for me. Tortoni was my favorite Italian desert as a kid. Hard to believe I looked forward to that unhealthy stuff . Never heard of fanzines but it made sense.
I enjoyed the NYT but felt KNOB was a bit of a distraction from the main theme–probably it would’ve been worthwhile to eschew fill that had silent letters if possible.
I like crossword puzzles because they are a distraction from politics and class/gender/ethnic discord – and unless there is a theme that is making a specific point, I will enjoy the wordplay without reading anything else into it.
That said, I feel compelled, out of a sense of balance from yesterday, to point out “Nita Naldi”, “Olivia Wilde”, and “Ani DiFranco”, along with the female family members “Tia” and “Sis”. There is also the reference to “Edna”, but I’d rather not highlight the championing of class inequality of that show. Oh, and there’s also the reference to “Hip-Hop”, a music genre that has African American, Latino and Caribbean roots.
To me, it’s a pendulum
Yeah, having females well represented in the fill is exactly the same as having females well represented in the marquee answers, the themes. Exactly.
Sarcasm noted. Thanks.
not to take away from the constructor’s accomplishment, but literally every one of the entries you cited – NITA, OLIVIA, ANI, TIA, SIS, EDNA – is supes helpful in the grid-constructing process. the ubiquity of, say, ONO in xwords is by no means proof of any absence of “gender discord,” just as the many appearances of DRE don’t make will shortz a hip hop head.
i’m genuinely happy for you that you can enjoy crosswords without being bogged down by issues of race, gender, etc. – but please realize that not everyone has that privilege.
Thank you for the review, as always. If anybody is interested in some scintillating extended constructor notes, check out my blog: scrabbledamon.blogspot.com
Enjoy the silence!
I had a little trouble in the Oregon area — I put in Claude RAINS and SITIDLE, and TORTONI is not something I know. Figured it out after a while, although I don’t know Claude AKINS or Sheriff Lobo. And I had IMPEDE before IMPOSE (which isn’t a good synonym for ‘obtrude,’ IMO).
I didn’t realize until coming here that the SILENT letters were meant to be silent in a double sense — so it seemed like a weak puzzle for a Thursday. It’s a nice trick except that (a) how do you know which of the two L’s in LLAMA is silent? and (b), more seriously, I wouldn’t say that the I in CARRIAGE is silent. I pronounce the unstressed second syllable with a short ‘i’ so it seems to me that the A is silent.
Hey, me too! My first thought was Claude Rains, but I knew it was wrong but had no alternative. I had “Lay Idle”. And I, too, missed the whole “SILENT” thing until coming here. Good point about the LLAMA, though it is a Spanish word and pronounced kind of like “Yama”. Do the double “L’s” represent a silent “Y”?
In answer to your questions:
(a) I spent WAY too much time thinking about whether or not the first L in LLAMA works as a silent letter, and more generally: What is a silent letter? For example, does HILL have a silent L at the end of it? Is the E silent in TORE? Is one of the Os silent in DOOR?
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong answer, because there is no sanctioning body on silent letters. My own feeling is that a letter is not silent if its function could be interpreted as modifying the sound of the word (thus TORE doesn’t have a silent E), or if it is part of a well-established letter combination. So I would say neither of the Ls in HILL are silent, since LL is a common combination that together make a single L-sound (analogous to the combo GH making an F-sound). However, LL is *not* common to start a word, so in this case I think one of the Ls is silent, and by convention we think of the silent letter as being the first one. (And I don’t buy the Y-sound argument because that is not how we pronounce the English word LLAMA.) In fact the entry SILENT L has appeared in crossword puzzles before with a clue like “Llama’s head?” So there is legal precedent.
As for (b), the string AGE at the end of a word makes an ‘IJ’-sound (acreage, yardage, usage, package, etc.). So this is what gives you the short I-sound. If the I in CARRIAGE was not silent, if would be pronounced CARRY-IJ. So, in my opinion, it is definitely silent.
People can disagree with me of course, but nobody can say I didn’t think it through :)
Thanks for the response, Mr. P.
I do disagree! If you take the ‘i’ out of ‘carriage’ you get a word that would rhyme with ‘barrage.’ Well, maybe you would. That’s how I see it anyway. But I understand your point.
English is so silly.
How would you pronounce TORE differently from TOR? The E merely reflects spelling convention in conjugation.
TORE might be a bad example for what I was trying to getting at. Take TOTE instead. The E isn’t pronounced but it changes the pronunciation of the O (from short to long), so is the E silent? I would say no, but I could see how somebody would say yes.
And now I’m wondering: Is the E at the end of TORE silent? I don’t know.
(she says authoritatively)