Thursday, February 23, 2017

BEQ 11:21 (Ben) 


CS 3:53 (Amy) 


LAT 3:49 (Gareth) 


NYT 2:30 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Fireball 8:41 (Jenni) 


This Fireball puzzle was sent out last Friday rather than this Wednesday. We saved it for its regular slot in the rotation.

Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT Puzzle 2.23.17 by Jeff Chen

Happy Thursday, everyone! For the first time in a long time, the NYT Thursday puzzle is not a debut; quite the opposite this week, in fact, as we get a puzzle from veteran constructor Jeff Chen.

This is a really excellent concept, beautifully executed, that seems like it would have made a perfect Puzzle 5 for the ACPT (coming up in about a month, by the way!). The grid contains four in-the-language phrases beginning with multiples of ten. However, the clues for those phrases are italicized, and they don’t quite match up with the entries:

  • 28a, TEN PINS [Bulletin board fasteners]. This appears to be a clue for PUSH PINS rather than TEN PINS. But…
    • 10d, PUSH [Promote]. At 10-Down, we have the desired PUSH. Jeff has cleverly given the entry an internal cross-reference, so that you can replace the number in the entry with the word with that clue number in the grid.
  • 62a, TWENTY QUESTIONS [“Which weighs more – a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?” and others]. This is a clue for TRICK QUESTIONS rather than TWENTY QUESTIONS, and in fact…
    • 20a, TRICK [Fool]. The cross-reference bears this out.
  • 3d, THIRTY ROCK [1970s fad item]. But Thirty Rock isn’t a 1970s fad item…
    • 30d, PET [Dog, cat, or hamster]. A Pet Rock is.
  • 9d, FORTY WINKS [Pulls a fast one on]. Go to 40 in the grid, replace “forty” with…
    • 40a, HOOD [Engine cover]. Which gives us HOODWINKS.

Jeff uses left-right symmetry for this grid, which has allowed him to choose four very lively theme phrases (a 15, two 11s, and a 7) rather than perhaps forcing the 7 (TEN PINS) to become a 15 and making the trick much more difficult to pull off. He also chose the evenly spaced (and relatively far apart) numbers 10, 20, 30, and 40, which has allowed him to give the grid breathing room, rather than jamming all the theme content in the top-left (as it might have been had he chosen a set like 1, 2, 3, and 4 or 2, 4, 6, and 8). All of that is to say that the design of this grid is pitch perfect.

That design (along with the high word count [78]) has allowed Jeff to serve up a puzzle with refreshingly clean fill. Besides the four long theme answers, we also have IDLE HANDS and AIR STRIKE, along with a few fun bonuses (ZELDA, NIQAB, MEERKAT, GUAVA). I’ve never seen ITZA clued without a preceding Chichen, but it’s certainly inferable, and the crossings are all more than fair.

What’s more, Jeff has given us a few really fun clues, like:

  • 48a, BAKERY [Napoleon’s place]. Not Bonaparte, but rather the dessert.

    A Napoleon (aka a mille-feuille)

  • 58a, RBIS [A tater can produce up to four of these]. “Tater” is one of many slang terms for a home run in baseball.
  • 47d, EAT [Clear the dishes?]. Who else is a member of the Clean Plate Club?

And some fun facts, like:

  • 8a, SFPD [Org. that started during the California gold rush].
  • 12a, OAHU [Home of the all-vowel-named town Aiea]. 

Great stuff. 4.9 stars from me — little, almost negligible dings for AVEC and the slightly-above-average 42 blocks. Until next week!

Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 103″—Jenni’s write-up

Two Fireballs this week and none next week. I hope Peter is taking a well-deserved vacation.

I love the Fireball Themeless puzzles. For me, they often play a little easier than the most challenging of the themed puzzles. I guess I’m better at deciphering misleading clues complex wordplay. This puzzle has both interesting facts I did not previously know (which others would call “trivia”) and misleading clues. It also has some awkward and little-known but uninteresting words. A couple of sparking entries redeem it completely.

Let’s start with the good stuff:

Fireball 2/17, solution grid

  • 37a [Tight-fitting swim trunks for men, to an Aussie] turns out to be BUDGIE SMUGGLERS. I am so glad to learn this. A Google search tells me it may also be spelled BUDGY SMUGGLERS, but that wouldn’t span the grid.
  • 16a [Slick group] took me a while to parse. We’re thinking of Grace Slick, and the answer is STARSHIP.
  • MOLE is not clued as the mammal but rather as the [Sauce made from chili peppers and chocolate]. Mmm, good. You couldn’t get mole at any of Rick Bayless’s Chicago restaurants yesterday. If you have the chance, you should try it. Yum.
  • I really like HOT DAMN for [Shout of delight].
  • 41a [First-time voters, often] are TEENS. My daughter is sixteen, and on November 9th she informed that “things will be different when my generation can vote.” Here’s hoping.
  • 53a [Sin city] is not Vegas but the original: SODOM.

We had a little Hebrew vibe going on:

  • 25a gives us a Hebrew word that is relatively obscure; I know a lot of liberal American Jews who can’t tell you that an [Enclosure marked by a wire boundary in which Orthodox Jews can do activities normally prohibited on the Sabbath] is an ERUV. As I understand it, the activity allowed within the eruv is carrying objects from one place to another, which is usually forbidden on Shabbat. Other prohibitions remain in effect (including the prohibition against opening an umbrella, which is a kind of tent and therefore forbidden by the proscription against construction). I’m sure somebody lives in a community that interprets this differently because, well, we’re Jewish. I live within an eruv, although I am not Shabbat observant in that way.
  • We also have 63a [Containing no meat or milk], which is a more familiar term: PAREVE. Hebrew can be transliterated in varying ways, which makes it more challenging in English crosswords.

Obscurities and roll-your-owns: OBTRUDETOSSER, NOOSED. They did not ruin the puzzle for me.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: the Aussie slang reference above. I also did not know that SHE-RA was the alter ego of Princess Adora.

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

The theme is pretty well telegraphed by the puzzle’s title. Certain Oscar-winning films have had their title’s altered by shifting one letter to a different position.

WSJ – Thu, 2.23.17 – “Oscar Shifts” by Alice Long (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Best Picture about a less cowardly police force?BRAVER HEAT. Braveheart. Okay. I guess that works. It’s not great, but it works.
  • 21a [Best Picture in which cops arrested gang leader Barker?] RAN IN MA. Rain Man. Ouch. That one hurt.
  • 34a [Best Picture about a curmudgeon living in the woods?] FOREST GRUMP. Forrest Gump. Best of the lot.
  • 51a [Best Picture about Milhouse’s relation to Bart?] PAL TOON. Platoon. Meh. Implausible. I think I would go with “PLATO, NO!” [Best Picture about an ancient Greek’s childhood with his domineering mother?]
  • 55a [Best Picture about Oberon’s son?] MY FAIRY LAD. My Fair Lady. Another one that works. I will admit to not knowing Oberon (King of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Kept thinking of that MSNBC dude Keith Olbermann. Alternate clue: [Best Picture about Archie Bunker’s gay son?].

So three of the five work for me, though I would only count two of those as “strong.” I could see someone naming a film FOREST GRUMP or MY FAIRY LAD, but not PAL TOON or RAN IN MA. 1995’s Heat was the first on-screen pairing of Pacino and De Niro, so maybe BRAVER HEAT is a sequel to that.

In typical Shenk fashion, there’s more Oscar material in other clues and entries. Gone With the Wind, itself a Best Picture winner, gets two shout-outs at 13d [It burns in “Gone With the Wind”] (ATLANTA) and 40a [End of a well-known Butler quote] (A DAMN). And at 22d, there’s the [Org. awarded an honorary Oscar in 1985] (NEA).

Fill-wise, I like FLATLINE and “TOO LATE!” ROUNDS UP, BREATHER, and NO-SHOW are good too.

But then there was new-to-me entry ABADAN (3d, [Iranian refinery city]). Really? We have to know where Iran keeps its refineries? But I won’t complain because it is Thursday after all and the crossings were fair. TAMPOPO (37d, [Hit 1985 Japanese comedy film]) crossing MÉTIER (48a, [Occupation]) on the other hand seems less fair.

For the most part clues were on the easier side for a Thursday, although I have to say I struggled in both the NE and SW. I’m not finding a lot of stand-out clues, but I did like [You might have a hand in it] for MITTEN.

When we were house-hunting last summer, my kids and I had a one-question test of whether a house was a good fit for us — simply, were we “feeling it.” This puzzle? It’s okay, but I’m just not “feeling it.”

I may have heard of TAMPOPO, but I certainly don’t know what it’s about. It bills itself as the first “Ramen Western.” Let’s check it out.

Don Gagliardo and C.C.Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

The theme is fairly non-specific in this one. ALLCAPS and eight circles spell out SHOUTING. Each of those circles is a proper noun in both directions. There are a number of other proper nouns that aren’t thematic, which isn’t ideal, but then again, that would have been a pretty severe restriction.

Provided you have a reasonable interest in the world around you, the fill today should have been a lot more pleasant than yesterday – proper noun heavy, in part because of the theme, but much cleaner. LASTOUT strikes me as a particularly fresh entry. There’s not much else I’d like to report on.

3 Stars

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Going to Extremes” — Ben’s Review

Okay, this was clever.  As the title of the puzzle, “Going to Extremes”, slightly indicated, something was probably happening on the edges of the puzzle.  Turns out that wasn’t too far off – if you take a look to the grid at the right, you can see that each side of the grid needs to be amended to add a few NUTs.  For example, look at the upper left’s additions:

  • 3D: “No, No, ___” — NANETTE
  • 4D: Twee instruments — UKES
  • 5D: Comic Killam — TARAN (who was on SNL for 5 seasons and is currently playing King George in Hamilton!)
  • 17A: Junior, e.g. — NAMESAKE
  • 19A: Building block — UNIT
  • 23A: Leans to one side — TILTS

And so on and so forth, for each of the corners, thus creating a LUNATIC FRINGE, per 36A‘s revealer (“Extremist group, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme”)

This was a nice surprise from BEQ, and I’m glad I initially solved this one on paper so that I had plenty of room to be-FRINGE the puzzle correctly.  My initial pass through wasn’t bearing any fruit, but then things needeing more room than what was provided clicked and I was off to the races.

This is going up later than I expected, so I’ll leave it there.  Hopefully you liked this one as much as I did!

4.25/5 stars

Jeff Chen’s CrosSynergy crossword, “Mixed Drinks”—Amy’s write-up

CS crossword solution, 2 23 17, “Mixed Drinks”

Various two-word drinks have their key noun anagrammed (ale, soda, tea, cider, lager) and the new phrase is clued accordingly:

  • 17a. [Reddish-orange grazing place?], GINGER LEA. Meh. LEA is boring fill.
  • 26a. [What bouncers are hired to take care of?], CLUB ADOS. Plural ADOS, meh.
  • 37a. [Listing on a British noble’s sked?], EARL GREY E.T.A. 
  • 53a. [Kitchen implement that’s flying off the shelves?], HOT DICER. A peek at Amazon suggests you will be hard-pressed to find anything labeled specifically as a DICER on store shelves. Most things that can dice vegetables also mince, chop, etc. Meh.
  • 63a. [Ineffective look of anger?]. PALE GLARE. No, a glare can’t be pale. Also, “pale lager” doesn’t sound too familiar to me. It’s a category of lager, yes, but your generic lager is typically in the light/pale class.

I generally like anagram themes, but the results here left me wanting more.

Top fill: MIND’S EYE, NO SLOUCH, LEGOLAS, BUNNY HOP, WHINER, WISED UP. These have more flavor than the theme. Flattest fill: ETTU, ANIMA, AAHS (would be better if that OOH were also plural and the two were linked), plural SOYS, INRE, TEL, IDI, ENID,NAE.

3 stars from me.

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22 Responses to Thursday, February 23, 2017

  1. jack says:

    WSJ : FLATLINE , OPEN. I thought the clues were off.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I agree FLATLINE’s clue [Fall to a very low level, as sales] isn’t so accurate. But [Passable], I believe, is a cutesy way of referring to an OPEN receiver in football. Maybe a ? is in order.

  2. sparto says:

    Yeah, to me, if sales FLATLINE it means they’re holding steady at a certain level, i.e. not falling or rising.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    The NYT was a brilliant triumph from Jeff today. I only grasped its beauty after filling in the grid. Great concept and stunningly good execution of the theme.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Also loved the BEQ, especially the central Across line’s pay-off.

      • Norm says:

        Agreed. Although solving BEQ in AcrossLite and trying to keep mental track of the letters was driving me crazy until I finally saw the pattern. [At first I thought he was trying to spell another word. I’m sure you can guess which one.]

  4. Bruce N Morton says:

    I see now how brilliant the NYT was, but the trouble is that you could be oblivious to (or ignore) the cleverness and just fill it in as an easy puzzle.

  5. pannonica says:

    WSJ: “Alternate clue: [Best Picture about Archie Bunker’s gay son?].”


    I guess conflation with Keith Olberman is understandable, especially if you aren’t familiar with actress Merle Oberon.

    Tampopo, as I mentioned for the nth time last week, is a great film.

  6. Andrew says:

    I liked the NYT although I didn’t get the theme until after. Hated addins in the WSJ for ice cream parlor choices and the movie names felt too forced.

  7. Scott says:

    NYT. Excellent. But I had to come here to understand the theme. Still excellent.

  8. Winnie says:

    Phew, I feel better about not getting the theme of today’s NYT. The puzzle seemed pretty easy for a Thursday so I knew I was missing something, but what.

  9. Noam D. Elkies says:

    For Jeff Chen’s clever Thursday puzzle, you must have meant that 78 was a high word count, not low — and indeed Jeff wrote at xwordinfo that he went that high after not being entirely happy with earlier settings that had somewhat fewer words.

    Might you restore the missing decistar from your 4.9-star rating thanks to the parallel clues for the otherwise ding-y 7D:AVEC and 23D:IT’D (French and English FITB’s for “Gladly!” phrases)?


    • Andy says:

      Yes, I meant a *high* word count. Will fix that in the original post.

      And Jeff will just have to live with my 98% rating, I think (I have to leave him a couple more worlds to conquer!).

  10. Alan D. says:

    Wow, the BEQ currently has a 4.91 rating. That’s Orca level!

Comments are closed.