Thursday, September 7, 2017

NYT 3:33 (joon—paper) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


BEQ 9:39 (Ben) 


LAT 3:44 (Gareth) 


Alex Eaton-Salners’s New York Times crossword—joon’s review

joon here, filling in for andy with the thursday nyt. this is an unusual puzzle in several ways, but the first one i noticed while solving is that the theme reveal answer, such as it is, is located at 1-down: {Kind of order … or a hint to this puzzle’s unusual construction} ABC. what does that mean? it seems to mean that all 34 of the across answers are in alphabetical order, from ARBITER at 1-across to YTTRIUM at 67-across. (the downs cannot also be in alphabetical order without imposing ridiculous constraints on the kinds of words that can go in your grid.)

and … that’s all there is. i’m not 100% sure whether i should be underwhelmed or just whelmed. i mean, it’s an interesting gimmick, but it affected my solve approximately not at all. it just felt like an easyish themeless. that’s not a bad thing on its own merits, but due to the theme constraints, there was some rougher fill than you’d normally see in a themeless, including a smattering of partials (ME DO, IN UP, TIE A, IF I), some more abbreviations than i’d prefer (including a very unlovely crossing of plural CRTS meeting plural IROCS at the S), slightly awkward inflected forms like ABLUSH, and is-that-really-a-phrase LETTER A and SOAR TO.

enough about what i didn’t like, though. this was a perfectly pleasant solve. let’s visit some of the highlights and other interesting clues:

  • {“Awesome!”} BOOYAH. rip, stuart scott, but this catchphrase has outlived you.
  • {Heading for the fence?} HOT. took me a while to understand this clue, but it’s hot as in stolen, and fence as in one who deals in stolen goods. i don’t know if the surface sense of this clue has any misdirection value unless you watch a lot of baseball, but it’s still a good tough clue.
  • {Hit the top in Tetris, e.g.} LOSE. i like this cluing angle, but i was surprised to see it adjacent to {Maker of Star Wars and Indiana Jones video games} LUCASARTS, because that’s two more video game clues than you typically see in an entire puzzle. LUCASARTS is a fun one to see reappear, because i don’t think i had ever seen it in a puzzle of any kind before i put it in a variety puzzle last year (shameless plug), with much the same clue.
  • {Optimistic bridge calls} OVERBIDS. love this. bridge players (or at least the ones i know) have a way of repurposing bridge terms for use in everyday situations; my friends and i have been known to use “overbid” to mean any kind of claim or proposed undertaking that the claimant has difficulty backing up.
  • {Sch. on the bank of the Charles River} MIT and {People who might greet you by saying “Talofa, afio mai!” (“Hello, welcome!”)} SAMOANS provide a striking pair of overlapping clues with the fireball puzzle.
  • {Its atomic number is 39} YTTRIUM. one of my favorite parts of thing explainer is “the pieces everything is made of”, i.e. the periodic table. for yttrium, the explanation is “a metal named after this town” with a map indicating the location of ytterby, sweden. the same map is used in the entries for terbium (“another metal named after this town”), erbium (“another metal named after this town”)
    and ytterbium (“i’m sure this a nice town, but come on”).
  • {___ Gaston, first African-American manager to win a World Series} CITO. with the blue jays in 1992. if you didn’t know this name, i hope you didn’t try CYTO and DRYEST (instead of DRIEST). i suppose CYTO is also cluable (it’s a prefix meaning “cell”).
  • {Something you feel in your gut?} ULCER. ouch. maybe not the entry i would have tried to go with a cute clue on. (oh, who am i kidding—i’ve been guilty of much worse.)
  • {“Hey there, tiger!”} ROWR. this entry makes me smile. i’m not sure i’m quite on board with the clue (what is it getting at, exactly?). what do people think this word (or sound) connotes?

that’s all from me. have a great thursday!

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 109”—Jenni’s writeup

The Fireball is back from summer vacay with a nice but not particularly fiery themeless puzzle.

It’s billed as a themeless, but the two long across answers seem to have something in common:

  • 20a [Advertising character who once said “I’m thick and rich”] is MRS BUTTERWORTH.
  • 53a [Dr. Evil’s cat] is MR BIGGLESWORTH.

I suspect that was the origin of the puzzle. Entertaining!

There are some challenges in the NW corner.

FB 9/7, solution grid

  • 1a [Foot in “the door”] was one of the last answers I filled in. It’s IAMB, which is the metrical description (or foot) of the phrase in the door.
  • 17a [Ozostomia] is BAD BREATH. Technically, this is medical terminology. I have never heard it before (and yes, bad breath does come up as a sign of a number of medical conditions, so we do talk about it). Fun word to learn! I will see if I can use it in a chart note sometime.
  • 2d [Literally (literally, “in strictness”)] is A LA RIGUEUR. This makes perfect sense. I’ve never seen it before. Is it a French term? Anyone familiar with it?
  • Luckily, there was one gimme to make this corner doable for me: 3d [Future resident, maybe] is a MED STUDENT.

A few other things:

  • 9a [Young haddock] is SCROD, crossing 10d [River under the Harvard Bridge], which is the CHARLES. I do not think the juxtaposition is a coincidence.
  • 23a [The Sakmara feeds it] is a new (to me) clue for our old friend the URAL.
  • 24a [Upper edges of a ship’s side] are GUNNELS. I know them better as gunwales, pronounced “gunnels,” and a Google N-gram search confirms that gunwale is the more common spelling.
  • 31a [Body fat, informally] is PUDGE, crossing aPeter Gordon trademark very long clue at 31d: [Former catcher Tony who managed the Dominican Republic to the championship of the 2103 World Baseball Classic]. That’s Tony PENA, and I wonder why PUDGE wasn’t also clued as a catcher.
  • 28d [Oscar’s best song?] is not the Academy Awards but the Grouch. The answer is I LOVE TRASH.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Bernadette Peters won her first Drama Desk Award for DAMES AT SEA.

I leave you with Bernadette Peters, the greatest interpreter of Stephen Sondheim, singing one of my favorite of his songs.

Mark MacLachlan’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “e-Mobility” — Jim’s review

After my failure yesterday to recognize Jim Page’s byline (thanks Dan F. for the nudge), I did my due diligence today. However, a search of the Fiend’s database proved sufficient in this case. This puzzle marks Mark MacLachlan’s WSJ debut, but he’s had grids in the LAT and one really spiffy one in the NYT last December.

The theme today is pretty clear from the title. E’s are moved around to create wacky entries. If you haven’t heard the term “e-Mobility,” it’s short for Electric Mobility or Electro Mobility. It’s a catch-all term for anything having to do with electric vehicles (cars, trams, etc.) and the infrastructure needed to keep those vehicles in operation. Plus, it’s a brilliant basis for a crossword!

WSJ – Thu, 9.7.17 – “e-Mobility” by Mark MacLachlan

  • 18a [Banana without a peel?BARE FRUIT. Bear fruit. I see what you did with that clue there. Nice.
  • 23a [Croquet and badminton?] TAME SPORTS. Team sports. Is croquet really a sport or just a game? And competitive badminton can get pretty intense (see video below).
  • 55a [Salon request for My Little Pony?] MANE STREAK. Mean streak. This entry works best for me.
  • 60a [Despise greetings from the queen?] HATE WAVES. Heat waves.
  • 5d [Challenge St. Nick to go down a chimney?] DARE SANTA. “Dear Santa.”
  • 34d [Perform some pruning?] PARE TREES. Pear trees.

Twilight Sparkle with a MANE STREAK

If you didn’t notice, the E-movement is consistent throughout, moving from the second to the fourth position in each four-letter word. Some kudos for that consistency.

But the set of themers felt rather ho-hum to me, especially HATE WAVES and BARE FRUIT. The BARE for “bear” switch is one that’s been done a million times, mostly because they rhyme, and PARE for “pear” is just not that interesting.

With the only stipulation that the E moves anywhere in the entry, I felt that these were missed opportunities for some really fun and interesting wordplay. I looked around and found RIGHT ANGEL, EMANATING LION, SPRITE DE CORPS, and CURRICULUM EVITA which could potentially lend themselves to some humorous cluing. With as wide open a theme as “moving the E around,” I would like to see some really creative entries.

I recognize that constraining the movement (from 2nd position to 4th) in each entry makes for a tighter theme (something I would normally espouse), but when the entries lose their sparkle, it might be time to try something else.

Finally, with a title of “e-Mobility,” I would expect all the E’s in the theme answers to be moving. Most of the entries have only one E and that’s a good constraint to have in this theme. But three entries have more than one E, and those extra E’s stay put. It’s fine, given the movement constraint noted above, but it’s just not as elegant as it could be.

In short, I felt the theme entries were fine, but they lacked sparkle. However, my main problems were with the clues. Maybe I was just on the wrong wavelength, but these are the ones that threw me:

  • 2d [National League RBI leader in 1934]. OTT. Actually, this one didn’t really throw me because how many three-letter baseball names do you know? But talk about trivia. I feel that that’s the kind of clue that turns off newcomers. I realize it’s Thursday and the puzzle has to be challenging for seasoned solvers, but I’d still look for an alternative.
  • 31a [Reelection seekers]. INS. This one rankles because I have never heard incumbents called INS except in crosswords. What’s wrong with [Outs partner]?
  • 40d [Source of extra income]. SIDE LINE. Two words. Okay, I get this one, but it sure feels like there are better ways to clue it, like [Take someone out], perhaps.
  • 35a [Like some larcenies]. PETIT. This one’s all on me because it checks out. I have never heard it called anything other than “petty larceny.”
  • 30a [Big pistachio producer]. IRAN. More trivia. Is this common knowledge?
  • 12d [Gillian Jacobs’s “Community” character]. BRITTA. Not really a problem with the clue but the entry. I’ve never seen the show, but this still doesn’t feel crossword-worthy. I tried BRIANA, then BRITNY, then I threw in the towel.
  • 1d [Orders at the diner]. HAS. No. Just because you ordered it doesn’t mean you “have” it. You don’t “have” it until you eat it. [Eats at the diner] works but that clue doesn’t.
  • I do like 56d [Poetic “fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core”]. RAVEN.

So the cluing got to me which is a shame because the fill is quite nice (minus BRITTA). My favorites are THINKER, BUSKS, NOOB, and RUB IT IN. Also good: PSALMIST, LIMEADE, SIDELINE (one word), and IPHONE. When you consider that there are six theme entries, that’s pretty good fill. (By the way a busker is a street performer who sings or plays music for money. The word is mostly used in the UK, but is definitely one we should adopt.)

Bottom line? Hit and miss (for me). The theme is fine but could have been more, and the fill is quite good, but the clues were distractingly bothersome (YMMV, obviously).

And now for something completely different.

Kurt Mengel & Jan-Michele Gianette’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Colour themes are one of the oldest tropes in crossword-dom. This one is a little unusual however. COLORCOMBOS is the revealer, and not a phrase I’ve heard personally, though it googles very well. Each of the three primary colours of paint is added to one of the others; the change is signalled by the addition of an adjective in the clues – [Cowardly…] for YELLOW, [Gloomy…] for BLUE and [Embarrassed…] for RED. This makes the REDBARON ORANGE, the YELLOWBRICKROAD GREEN and the BLUEMANGROUP PURPLE.

I don’t think anyone is fond much of partial phrases like ONPOP, but it gets turned into a net plus when you use a quiet corner of your grid to wedge the rest of into your puzzle!

Am I the only one who knows [RadioShack predecessor], TANDY primarily from old video games as the option you didn’t choose (as opposed to VGA/EGA/SVGA) or else the game (usually) went weird.

[Attract pigeons for, say], ABET was one of the trickier clues, using pigeons as in saps or marks. Pigeons are bad news in my neck of the woods, as we have a bird flu outbreak!

[Many of its knives have a limited lifetime warranty], GINSU – take note of that word, “limited”…

[Track events with mechanical lures], DOGRACES – they’re banned here; does America still have them? (Aside, the law passed to ban them also makes sled dog racing (which wasn’t a thing here then) illegal, which is somewhat controversial.)

[Player in an indoor tree], CAT – I have no idea what this means. Are toy trees for cats a thing? Are those standy things with the ledges sometimes called trees?

3.5 Stars

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “The Brady Bunch” — Ben’s Review

I’m running late on getting to this puzzle after a particularly busy day at work, so let’s keep this short and sweet.  The “Brady” in this week’s title appears to be PAT Brady, who’s running through all four theme answers:

  • 18A: Mystical kneecap? — PATELLA ENCHANTED
  • 29A/35A: Drinker’s periodical? — BARPATRON’S MAGAZINE
  • 54A: Drink made by steeping Indian bread? — CHAPATI TEA
  • 64A: Axiom that emphasizes your male friends over pity? — BROS BEFORE PATHOS 

With no revealer (at least to my eyes, though I may have missed it while speed solving), I had to Google if there was a notable Pat Brady, which left this feeling a little lackluster to me. Other than an underbaked theme (and some cluing, for that matter — “Off” cluing “NOT ON? Tsk, tsk.), I liked AERATE, UTZ, and ERICSSON.

3.25/5 stars

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23 Responses to Thursday, September 7, 2017

  1. Very fun Fireball today with a number of good clues and references (my extended comments). If the last one I did didn’t cement the value of subscribing in my mind, this one certainly did. 4.5/5.0 for me.

    Nice solid construction, and a decent puzzle for the WSJ today, but like Jim, the whole thing felt a bit blah for me. 3.5/5.0.

  2. Scott says:

    NYT. I liked it.

  3. David says:

    Hated the NYT today just as much as Rex Parker did, and at least he was able to finish it. I barely made it out of the NE corner and couldn’t solve the NW at all, esp after misspelling REA as RAE. I did manage to solve EVILDOER, which was an answer I liked, and I got REC, but the rest of that corner was empty.

    I’m ok w a puzzle that happens to be too tricky for me — they do, occasionally — but this one has such awful fill for so little payoff. LUCAS ARTS is not as charming as you think, and most of us don’t care about bridge to enjoy OVERBIDS. The list of genuinely terrible stuff is over at Rex’s blog; my least favorites were CRTS (?), MEDO, INUP, REA, and IROCS, if I had to choose five. ILLSEEYOU was weak too, since no one actually speaks that way. Never heard of BBL either.

    I meant to give the puzzle 1 star but my careless finger caused me to hit send before I could change the rating from the default 3 stars. Maybe you can adjust it for me :)

  4. Brian says:

    PAAR crossing BARDOT and TKT crossing TANDY were both brutal.

  5. Art Shapiro says:

    A television character (I assume) crossing a non-existent word ROWR was minus one star right there.

  6. Laura B says:

    [“Introduction to Argentine Political History” and “Survey of Broadway Theater,” e.g.]: CURRICULUM EVITA

    (actual LOL on that one; thanks, Jim!)

  7. David L says:

    Gareth: cat tree (this one is a tad excessive)

    • pannonica says:

      Dog races, alas, are still a thing. In selected parts of the country. I think it’s big in Florida, for instance. See also.

      “Am I the only one who knows [RadioShack predecessor], TANDY primarily from old video games as the option you didn’t choose …”

      The early home computer TRS-80 stood in part for Tandy/Radio Shack.

    • Gareth says:

      So the standy thing with the ledges is a tree. Never knew what they were called. We get people giving them to us all the time at the animal shelter I work. Will ask the cattery manager if she calls them “trees” or something else. Our cattery’s main play area has some pretty impressive “castles” from a variety of donations!

  8. Thing Explainer says:

    The “Brady Bunch” in the BEQ refers to Tom Brady, of the PATs. Notable because their season starts today.

  9. Bob says:

    Ben, re “The Brady Bunch,” I’m assuming that BEQ is referring to the New England PATs’ Tom Brady, especially considering both the game tonight and BEQ’s home turf.

  10. pannonica says:

    Pinto beans.

    this moment of randomness brought to you by the entropic universe

Comments are closed.