Thursday, May 25, 2017

BEQ 9:01 (Ben) 


Fireball 5:39 (Jenni) 


LAT 3:57 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:32 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT Puzzle 5.24.17 by Erik Agard

I’m coming to you live from my friend’s couch, where we’re watching the ABC remake of Dirty Dancing. Admittedly, it was hard work solving this puzzle and watching this trainwreck, but readers, I persevered. This is gonna have to be a fairly quick review so I can get back to making sure Baby gets out of this corner.

I love Erik, and I love this puzzle. The theme is explained at 54a, I’LL GO FIRST [Trailblazer’s declaration … or a hint to 17-, 19-, 34- and 51-Across]. In each of those four theme answers, Erik has taken the “I” in the final word and moved it to the front of the word. Like so!:

  • 17a, PURPLE IRAN [Possible result of spilling grape juice on a map of the Middle East?]. Purple Rain.
  • 19a, FRENCH IGUANA [Pet with a dewlap and a beret?]. French Guiana.
  • 34a, ROLL OF ICONS [Pantheon list?]Roll of coins.
  • 51a, COVER IVERSON [Guard the 2001 N.B.A. M.V.P.?]Cover version.

These are some really fun finds. I love Purple Rain and French Guiana as base phrases; the Guiana/iguana and version/Iverson transformations are both just visually pleasing, and the theme clues are well chosen. There are no stray “I”s in the theme entries, which is very elegant.

Five more things of note:

  • 38a, OMAR EPPS [“Love & Basketball” co-star, 2000]. Always nice to see his full name in the grid.
  • Liked seeing 1a, DRAG and 55a, CAMP in the grid; they could’ve been crossreferenced! I did like seeing the video game-related CAMP clue [Wait in a strategic location, in video game lingo].
  • Dollars to donuts the 4d, GOLF RESORT clue [Many a Trump property] wasn’t Erik’s.
  • 11d, FAN ART [Some derivative drawings] is a really cool entry!
  • Fantastic clue for 29d, LINE DANCER [One who might get down to Alabama?].

4.5 stars from me; minor dings for a Roman numeral, ENDO-, and a few abbreviations. Until next week!

Paul Coulter’s Fireball Crossword, “Possessiveness”  – Jenni’s writeup

Shifting gears after last week’s headcracker, we now have an extra-large, not-too-tough crossword with an amusing wordplay theme. As the title suggests, the puzzle plays with possessives, finding new meanings by shifting the “s.”

5/25 Fireball, solution grid

  • 21a [Fishermen who work for a character in “Dirty Dancing] are BABY’S TROLLERS (baby strollers). Nobody puts Baby in the trawler.
  • 30a [Muscle quality of a film character played by Gabourey Sidibe?] would be PRECIOUS’S TONE (precious stone). My understanding is that it is correct to have an ‘s even though “Precious” ends in an s; common names and nouns take the apostrophe and historic names (like Moses or Jesus) do not.
  • 43a [Event preceding the Hall of Fame enshrinement of Roy Hobbs?] is a reference to the protagonist of the Bernard Malamud story that inspired the Robert Redford film, and it’s NATURAL’S ELECTION (natural selection). This must have been the entry that inspired the 16×17 grid.
  • 53a [Pest on the “Mission: Impossible” femme fatale?] is CINNAMON’S TICK (cinnamon stick). I hate ticks. Shudder.
  • 63a [Spiels of the captain in a classic Rafael Sabatini novel?] are BLOOD’S PATTERS (blood spatters). Not a pleasant image, although honestly I prefer blood spatter to ticks. The novel in question is, not surprisingly, Captain Blood.

All the theme answers work both ways; it’s not challenging, but fun.

A few other things:

  • 2d [Baker’s group] is CREAM – music, not cooking.
  • I filled in 17a [Inherently] from crossings and stared at it, trying to figure out what PERSE meant. It’s PER SE. Wake up, Jenni.
  • We have an EARL and some NOBLES wandering in, probably still tipsy from Pippa Middleton’s wedding.
  • 72a [Dork] is DWEEB but everybody knows dweebs have no knees. Does everyone know that or was it a private joke?
  • 65d [It can carry rock and roll] is the TRAM in a mine.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the “femme fatale” in Mission: Impossible is named CINNAMON. We’ll leave my intense dislike of the “femme fatale” trope for another day.

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

Our theme today is a before-and-after letter-sharing affair. We’ve seen this before in the WSJ on numerous occasions, so it shouldn’t be too surprising.

WSJ – Thu, 5.25.17 – “Hybrids” by Nancy Cole Stuart (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Hybrid vehicle for use on the water?] HYDROFOIL TANKER
  • 31a [Hybrid vehicle for use on city rails?] TAXI CABOOSE
  • 38a [Hybrid vehicle for use on streets and lakes] MOPEDAL BOAT
  • 54a [Hybrid vehicle for use by Venetian carabinieri?] PATROL WAGONDOLA. I’m not sure why this clue gets different treatment than the others, but it’s better. The latter part of the clue is more specific to what type of craft we’re looking for.

This theme works pretty well for me because we’re talking about hybrid vehicles, and it’s not too far of a stretch of the imagination to combine two disparate types of crafts. Contrast this with mashing together two cities or two countries which is much harder to conceptualize.

Not exactly Venice, but you get the idea.

With this theme, you can more easily imagine what a MOPEDAL BOAT might look like, for example. My favorite was PATROL WAGONDOLA, which seems like it would be an incredibly inefficient way for Venetian cops to get around. But that’s what makes it funny. Maybe they sing while they cruise their canal beats?

The long fill didn’t seem particularly strong. I like BEEHIVES and COLESLAW, but the longer entries OXYGENATED and ASKS A LOT OF aren’t all that zazzy. No doubt this is due to the K in TANKER and X in TAXI and the fact that they cross two themers.

The mid-range stuff was hit and miss as well. I like HOME EC and MAYFLY for example, but I whiffed on STAUB [Montreal Expos’ first star player] and ALLEE [Tree-lined walkway]. I guess it’s actually ALLÉE.

And in truth, I ended with an error. I had FLOOD at 5d in answer to the clue [It’s formed by a glacier]. Yes, “formed” is kind of a stretch, but it seemed okay at the time. This gave me LULE at 15a for [“Gypsy” composer Styne]—what do I know, LULE seemed just as likely as anything else—and MOON at 21a for [Romeo said the lark was its herald]—wait, there’s no such thing as a nightlark? Correct answers: FJORD, JULE, and MORN.

Clues of note:

  • 3d [Ransom from Ohio]. OLDS. Wow, did not know that one. Where does Ransom fit on the baby naming charts?
  • 53d [It requires taking turns]. MAZE. Who else put GAME here at first?
  • 49d [Britt Reid’s valet]. KATO. Needed the crossings on this as well. I never watched much of the Green Hornet.
  • 57a [Suitable standard?]. A TEE. As in “fit to a tee,” I presume? Tricky clue doesn’t really help icky fill.
  • 24d [Joined a stock exchange?]. MOOED. You knew this was coming, but it was still good once you got it.

Overall, not a lot of excitement in the fill, but it mostly held together and the theme worked nicely.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Fidget Spinners” — Ben’s Review

I’ve been half expecting to see fidget spinners pop up in one of the indies within the last few weeks, and it’s nice to see BEQ get there first with such a clean theme like this one.  Take a look:

  • 16A:  Beef on social media — TWITTER FEUD
  • 27A: 19th Amendment topic
  • 42A: What something that needs no explanation can do — SPEAK FOR ITSELF
  • 56A: “You got that right” — THAT’S SO TRUE

As you’d expect from a puzzle called “Fidget Spinners”, each answer has a method of fidgeting (FRET, FUSS, STIR, TOSS) spun around inside.  Does what it says on the tin.  SPEAKs FOR ITSELF.

Other things I liked in this one: CARPI, the cluing on PHOS, CEELO Green (who sings the vocals on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”), cluing ALIEN with the most recent of the movies to be released, “Alien: Covenant”, SOYBEAN OIL and its gridmatcher ODOR EATERS, and TOE TO TOE.

Stuff I didn’t like: Even if you’re cluing it with a Led Zeppelin reference, III is ?????? to me.  I also didn’t love SETUP MEN or some of the necessary puzzle glue like ARA.

3.75/5 stars

Victor Barocas’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Today’s theme is elegantly wrought and a bit more complex than most in the LA Times. We have six names – three linked pairs of the same length. The surnames of the upper half reflect an artisan; those of the lower half contain each profession’s typical medium. It’s quite a restrictive compositions, so allowances are made for one fictional character, and one name rejected by its former owner.

The sets are: GEORGEMASON working with SHARONSTONE; HARRYPOTTER working with CASSIUSCLAY; and KARENCARPENTER working with EVANRACHELWOOD. There is gender parity, which is surprisingly uncommon.

The theme is mucho dense, and to avoid complete disaster, the grid is highly segmented. That is generally a frowned-upon design aesthetic, but here is justified to avoid a complete filling disaster. There aren’t many contrived answers, but you will get crosswordese, mostly well-spaced. Hope you remembered your ORONO, KAVA, ARETE and STLO from crosswords past!

4 Stars

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21 Responses to Thursday, May 25, 2017

  1. PJ Ward says:

    Excellent NYT!

  2. Lise says:

    FJORD always makes me think of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus dead parrot sketch :-)

    I loved both WSJ and NYT. I especially appreciated the Prince reference and the mental image of an IGUANA in a beret, tres chic. Clever theme, Mr. Agard.

  3. Jeffrey K says:

    “I whiffed on STAUB [Montreal Expos’ first star player]”

    And Youppi! sheds a silent tear.

  4. Ethan Friedman says:

    NYT was a blast. PURPLE IRAN/rain and FRENCH IGUANA / Guiana are just terrific.

  5. Jeff says:

    Andy, feel free to collect your dollars (or donuts?): Regarding the Trump-related clue for 4D GOLFRESORT, Erik Agard says the following at the NYT’s Wordplay: “I am less at peace with what is going on at 4-Down. Not my clue, not my president, not my breakfast test. If this worsened your solving experience at all, my apologies.” Kind of surprising to see such a pointed rebuke of Shortz’s editing on the NYT’s own site.

    • Steve Manion. says:

      I laughed out loud when I read the reference to “dollars to donuts” in connection with the Trump clue for GOLF RESORT. His valuations of the values of his golf properties is outrageously inflated by any normal appraisal metric. I deliberately (mis)read “dollars to donuts” not as it was intended but as a reflection on Trump’s valuations.

      Great puzzle.


    • Martin says:

      I’m sure it comes as no surprise to Will Shortz that Trump is controversial in clues and entries. While it’s his decision that a sitting president is fair game, I can’t imagine that he would consider polite criticism of that decision on the NYT site inappropriate.

      • placematfan says:

        It makes you wonder, though. If you, as constructor, were submitting to the NYT, and you knew of Shortz’ penchant for Trumpy cluing, would you dare to include a note with your submission to the tune of “Please don’t advocate the Trump presidency with my puzzle” or some such?

        • e.a. says:

          to be clear,
          -the note wasn’t intended as a rebuke of shortz’s editing! just a rebuke of the clue. the editing made the puzzle better
          -i didn’t perceive this clue or any of the previous trumpy clues as advocating for trump, just as efforts at topicality –
          which is usually nice to see in the puzzle, but as i alluded to (“breakfast test”), this particular topic is stomach-turning enough as to merit exclusion

          • placematfan says:

            Ummm…. well, I find this a fascinating topic: As said above, on another blog the constructor expressed a heavy disapproval of the editing of his puzzle: in particular, the usurpation of a clue. Now, this happens all the time in this biz: case in point, the LAT today–a constructor came on this blog today and said, Hey, that clue your raving about wasn’t mine, it was my editor’s–yay editor and good job with the whole Doing Your Job thing. So: Editor good. But the aforementioned NYT constructor publicly asserted that an editorial cluing emendment was, shall we say, unwanted and unwarranted (at least, in the eyes of the constructor): Editor bad. So I think a very relevant question blossoms from this paradigm: How much power does a constructor have towards affecting an editor’s well-worn and well-earned parameters of quality?; (in sum,) if Erik had asked Will to Please Leave Trump Out of My Puzzle, would that have crossed a line of Submission Etiquette?… or would Will, or any editor, be like, “Oh, the constructor feels THIS Way, okay, I’ll respect that and maybe I won’t mention Donald Trump in this puzzle because I can see that it would go against what the constructor of said puzzle would want”–or is the reality more contrary: Do editors see a submission as a product to do with as they wish, it’s mine now, I got it, I will Trump as I see fit? (I.e., e.g., I would really like to know if Shortz had known of Erik’s predilection beforehand, would it have swayed him to abstain from a Trump clue?)

  6. Bruce N Morton says:

    I loved both Eric’s NYT and Paul’s Fireball, though it was more of a Sparkler than a Fireball. What does “cover version” mean? What does “line dancer” have to do with Alabama? I guess Alabama is a rock group as well as a state. Is that the point?

    • Paul Coulter says:

      Thanks, Bruce. I loved Eric’s NYT, too. You’re right, my Fireball was a sparkler today. Now that you mention it, I loved running around with sparklers as a little kid on the Fourth of July — thanks for the nice memory. Thought I’d give everyone a break with the difficulty level this time, but fair warning, some of my upcoming Fireballs are beasts.

    • Andy says:


      A cover version is a remake of a song. E.g., Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” is the cover version of Carl Perkins’s “Blue Suede Shoes”. (

      As for the LINE DANCER clue, Alabama is probably the most successful country band of all time. Someone who’s “getting down” to Alabama could be line dancing to one of their 33 Country #1s (like this one:

    • Dave S says:

      Bruce, a “cover version” is a recording or performance of a song that was written and originally performed by someone else. For example, Whitney Houston’s cover version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” is likely better known than the original version.

  7. Philr says:

    I’ve been arguing for quite a while that the phrase ‘dollars to donuts’ should be scrapped. Its first citation in NGrams is 1950, when donuts sold at $.15 / dozen, when the 80+ multiple between the price of a donut and a dollar actually meant something. Now, the donuts I buy every morning cost $.99 + tax at my local 7-11. Right now, a dollar is a donut, unless you buy yours at Starbucks, in which case a dollar is about 1/3 a donut.

  8. Martin says:

    Comments about two puzzles here:

    – Eric’s NYT is a textbook example of a first rate theme-stacking construction: A Plus!

    – BEQ: a very clever theme. Loved it. But what I didn’t love was the parade of thumbs-down from the reviewer.

    I know that’s his opinion regarding “III”. Here’s mine: he’s wrong :)


    • Ben Smith says:

      To be fair, the reviewer generally dislikes any Roman numerals as fill, necessary as they may be at times. Especially if the clue contains them as well and is making you perform arithmetic with them.

  9. pannonica says:

    Who is this ‘Eric’ that you are all speaking of?

Comments are closed.