Thursday, August 10, 2017

BEQ 6:49 (Ben) 


LAT 6:08 (Gareth) 


NYT 2:49 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


One last reminder that Fireball is on vacation and will return September 6th.

John E. Bennett and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 8.10.17 by John E. Bennett and Jeff Chen

Opened this grid and knew immediately from the bizarre grid that something strange was going on with the theme. I wasn’t wrong.

There’s really only 15 letters of theme in this puzzle, at 55a, BY HOOK OR BY CROOK [Whatever it takes … as hinted at in the arrangements of black squares around the circled letters]. Most of the theme is in the black squares, as indeed the “J” shaped black letters on the left side of the grid vaguely resemble a HOOK (reinforced by the fact that they’re near the circled entry 39a, FISH [Symbol of Christianity], as a fisherman might grab with a hook). Similarly, the “r” shaped black letters on the right side of the grid vaguely resemble a CROOK (reinforced by the fact that they’re sort of corralling the circle entry 34a, LAMB [Symbol of gentleness], as a shepherd might do with a crook). There’s also 17a, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER [Whatever it takes], which you could see as semi-thematic, but which doesn’t do anything for the theme except mean the same thing as 55a.

And that’s it as far as I can see. To say that the theme of this Thursday puzzle is light would be an understatement. There’s some good long fill, which is necessitated by the unusual grid shape — in particular, I liked the three stacks of three long down answers (“THE THING IS…” / WEARIEST / GEARTOOTH, AGORAPHOBIA / SEA LION / PANDORA’S BOX, LAS CRUCES / FAMILIAR / AMINO GROUP). Nothing to scoff at in the grid at all, though TONIO, RAYE, and OTHO are challenging, and I suspect chemistry-averse solvers will struggle with the crossing of AMINO GROUP and CLONK (?).

The puzzle left me feeling thoroughly MEH. The theme is bafflingly bare-bones. The fill is really quite nice, but that’s not too difficult to achieve with little in the way of theme constraints and a good word list.

Something else bothered me pretty majorly, though: Jeff had another collaboration run in the NYT less than a year ago the gimmick of which traded on a very similar concept:

NYT puzzle 11.10.16 by Jonathan M. Kaye and Jeff Chen

In that puzzle, the letters HOOK were replaced in across entries by Js, which resemble hooks; going down, they were just plain old Js. Plus, all (!) of the black squares are (roughly) in the shapes of Js. I loved the idea of that puzzle, and I thought it was really well executed. Though there’s certainly no rule against it, something feels really icky about making such a similar puzzle and, on Will’s side, running it less than a year after the previous one, especially when (IMO) it’s not as good as the first one.

Really disappointing, especially because I know what Jeff and his collaborators are capable of. Until next week.

Peter A. Collins’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Nothing Left” — Jim’s review

I didn’t get to the second half of the revealer until the very end of my solve, so for most of it, the theme seemed pretty weak. But that second half tightened things up and made it work. Mostly.

WSJ – Thu, 8.10.17 – “Nothing Left” by Peter A. Collins

7d is clued as [With 55-Down, sign at some corners, and a hint to four places in this grid]. Answer: RIGHT TURN / ON RED.

Four theme answers that contain the string RED turn right (Down) at the E.

  • 1a/5d [How some things are…]/[…purchasedON CR(E)DIT.
  • 9a/13d [It might be brushed in…]/[…a concert hall] SNAR(E)DRUM.
  • 36a/39d [Home of the Mendoza College…]/[…of Business] NOTR(E) DAME. You would think this would’ve been a gimme for me since that’s my alma mater. But in my defense I spent my time in the Colleges of Arts & Letters and Engineering. And in the ROTC building.
  • 45a/46d [School safety…]/[…exercises] FIR(E) DRILLS.

Once I got the full picture, I liked the theme. All the entries made sense and the right/left symmetry seemed fitting somehow. But looking at that revealer again made me pause. Have you ever seen a sign that said “RIGHT TURN ON RED”? I’ve lived in multiple southern and western states, and in all those places, right turns are generally permitted on red. When a right turn is not permitted, this will be signposted: NO RIGHT TURN ON RED.

I realize there are some places where rights on reds are not the norm. In these places, are there really signs that say RIGHT TURN ON RED? I’ve looked online and I see signs that say RIGHT TURN PERMITTED ON RED. Seems like you need that extra word for it to make sense.

But that aside, I did enjoy the theme as well as the grid as a whole. Look at that boatload of long entries: THE STREET, MAINLAND CHINA, STATUS QUO, TROJAN WAR, ROSA PARKS, and CARGO AREA plus INTEGRATE, ALIGNMENT, and SATIATE. Whew!

I noted a couple of clues that I liked especially:

  • 62a [Pair of hearts?]. ATRIA. Cute.
  • 53a [Foment unrest, in a way?]. SNORE. Love it! Although the unrest has to do with those sleeping within earshot of the snorer, not necessarily the snorer him or herself. Speaking of this, I downloaded an app the other day called Sleep Talk Recorder. It does just what it says on the TIN; it’s mainly for sleep talkers to hear the babbling nonsense they come up with. Not only that, people upload their wacko conversations to the app from all over the world for your listening enjoyment. There is some funny stuff on there. Anyhoo, I’m not much of a sleep talker, but my wife says I SNORE. Sadly for me, this app proved her right. If only we had this for my dad when we were growing up.

Fun puzzle filled to the max with great fill!

I am on vacation next week so Laura has gamely volunteered to fill in for me…and everyone else, too, apparently. Thanks, Laura!

Mel Rosen’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Fun theme. You know how crosswords pretend like diacritics don’t exist? Well not today! It’s always fun when a crossword trope is subverted. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a theme of this general type, but with CIRCUMFLEX, CEDILLA, TILDE and UMLAUT – all the grammar nerds will be appeased today! The answers, in short form, are “señor,” “bête,” “soupçon,” and “über.” Two French words, one Spanish and one German are featured.

Between the one-word theme answers and the grid design, our lust for multi-word phrases is not particularly sated by Mr. Rosen. That is not to say there is no fresh fill; I was particularly delighted to find a colourful CONURE in my grid; LASTEX was completely new to me, but not uninferrable. I’m not sure why LEFTEYE is hidden in profiles? Oh, wait, typing it out, I realise it’s not an online profile, but a profile photograph or painting, which is only showing the right side! Ooh!

Am I the only one who can’t see HOD without thinking of Finnegan’s Wake? I similarly associate STOLAF more with Rose Nyland than any College… The Clancy Brothers just beat Melanie’s cover of Pete Seeger’s “Look What THEYVE done to my song, ma!”

I really dislike the small area in the middle-left… ABCD is something to avoid at all cost, and running next to LEOI is not helping… ABCS/SINO would be a small improvement IMO, but it feels like there should be a way to improve that “corner”! Another two minutes gives ALIKE/AGE/SOSO, with ABAS as a downside (in a foreign language-themed puzzle).

3.75 Stars

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Tied Up” — Ben’s Review

Happy Thursday, y’all.  This week’s BEQ is nice and straightforward, which made for a relatively fast solve on my end.  From the first theme answer, it’s clear to see exactly what the puzzle’s title, “Tied Up”, means:

  • 18A: Pupil who excels in cleanliness?
  • 23A: Do the same as Taiwan’s capital?
  • 36A: Secretary who’s not working today? — TYPIST OFF
  • 49A: Monologue about undergarments? — PANTY TIRADE
  • 56A: Small British prostitute? — TINY SLAPPER

Remove the “Tied” sound from the answer phrase, get an actual phrase (D Student, Equal pay, Pissed Off, Panty Raid, Knee-slapper).

(three guesses which theme entry tripped this off in my brain)


Lots to like here, and pretty decent fill overall.

4.25/5 stars

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22 Responses to Thursday, August 10, 2017

  1. Penguin Madness says:


  2. Evad says:

    Two clues in the NYT made my day–[Darn it!] for HOLE and [Square one] for DORK. Both were smile-inducers, which says a lot for this HOARY solver.

  3. David L says:

    I am trying hard to see a hook and a crook in the arrangement of black squares — and I am failing.

    Very strange Thursday puzzle.

    Also, “Carriage with its horse” = RIG. Really?

  4. Paul Coulter says:

    Peter’s WSJ wowed me today. I thought it was flawlessly executed, with extremely impressive fill. I once tried to do a similar theme, and it didn’t come out nearly this good.

  5. JohnH says:

    I enjoyed the WSJ puzzle, although I’d have sure preferred that one of the theme clues (Mendoza College) weren’t trivia. (I also didn’t care for the crossing of Duff and Saunders, which were total non-recognition for me.) I did have exactly the same puzzlement, though, at the thought of the signs. You can’t make a right on red in this part of the country (NYC area), and I’m aware you can in other places, but by law and not by signage.

  6. BarbaraK says:

    Re WSJ, When I was learning to drive, right turn on red was still a new thing. As I recall, before my state passed the law, the signs said, “Right turn on red after stop”.

  7. Norm says:

    BEQ’s 36A and 49A made my day. Laugh out loud funny.

  8. pannonica says:

    NYT: “There’s also 17a, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER [Whatever it takes], which you could see as semi-thematic, but which doesn’t do anything for the theme except mean the same thing as 55a.”

    Disagree. It amplifies the theme by making explicit how hooks and crooks—and specifically their black-square representations in this grid—are reflections of each other.

  9. Gareth says:

    I really enjoyed the NYT theme; seem to be in the minority, but loved all the different layers, and really was in the dark till the end…

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I enjoyed it, too. And Pannonica makes an excellent point above about the reflected shapes of hook and crook being reinforced by the long theme answers.

  10. PJ Ward says:

    Thanks J&J for the Debbie Harry earworm. It’s been with me all day.

  11. Garrett says:

    Re WSJ, the downer for me was ETAPE (Tour de France section) crossed by NEH (O.T. book). I have never liked etape, and opening a Bible book initialism this way is mean.

    Here are all the dreck clues for sorry etape:

    As to the rest of the puzzle, all good.

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