Thursday, December 14, 2017

BEQ 7:00 (Ben) 


LAT 4:29 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:44 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Fireball 5:50 (Jenni) 


This week’s Fireball is the last Fireball of 2017! To subscribe for 2018, go to

And Andrew Ries is launching a new Freestyle subscription of themeless puzzles (every other Wednesday), along with his Rows Gardens. Andrew’s discontinuing the Aries XWord series of puzzles. To subscribe to either or both, see the details here.

Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 12.14.17 by Timothy Polin

As you can sort of see in the solution grid to the right, there’s a two-part revealer to today’s puzzle: 40d and 43d tell us to BURY THE / HATCHET [With 43-Down, make peace … or what you must do to complete this puzzle?]. 

What does that mean, though? It turns out that four long down answers actually extend beyond the bottom of the grid by two letters: AX. So the AX (or, generously, the hatchet) is buried beneath the bottom of the grid. Like so:

  • 3d, “NONE OF YOUR BEESW(AX)!” [“Butt out!”]
  • 5d/45d, STELLAR / PARALL(AX) [With 45-Down, effect used by astronomers to measure distance]. 
  • 9d/46d, SIT BACK / AND REL(AX) [With 46-Down, chill out].
  • 11d, PERSONAL INCOME T(AX) [Everyone’s duty?]. 

Really clever idea, very well executed. The idea to use left-right symmetry allows Timothy to use this 14-letter revealer entry, and also to have all his theme answers running vertically.

Here is a full enumeration of tricky or otherwise Thursday-ish clues that successfully sent me down the wrong path:

  • 2d, AT A TILT [Slanted]. I put ON A TILT.
  • 53a, LYES [Very basic things]. I put ABCS from ???S.
  • 63a, MEET [Gather]. I put REAP from ?E??.
  • 64a, NEWT [Swamp dweller]. I put CROC.
  • 66a, ETTA [Diminutive Italian suffix]. I tried ESSA here first because I had PERSONAL INCOMES before figuring out the theme.
  • 8d, DECO [Contemporary of Modernism]. Tried DADA off the initial D.
  • 29d, MAGI [Stable figures?]. I put NAGS from ?AG?.
  • 47d, LAKOTA [Great Plains tribe]. I put LENAPE from the L, but that’s not even geographically close.

There were so many more tricky clues in this one that didn’t give me too much trouble:

  • [Hand on a hacienda] for MANO,
  • [Chosen few] for ELECT (ELITE fits the EL??? pattern),
  • LIONEL for [Model company], 
  • ARMORY for [Store with magazines],
  • LAB MICE instead of LAB RATS for [Involuntary test subjects],
  • ROBED for [Wrapped up in court?].

I could go on and on. All of that is to say that the cluing was excellent! Exceptionally tricky, with a huge number of clever “?” clues. I was stumped in the most satisfying way.

A couple other notes:

  • [Tiny fey sort] for ELF was cute — I read it as a sort-of visual play on Tina Fey. Do you agree, or is it a coincidence?
  • I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Chuck COLSON of the Watergate Seven. I suspect that’s generational; he certainly seems to be of historical note. The more current COLSON (and whom I suspect Timothy originally put in the clue) would be Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad and the 2017 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

I’ll stop there. The very model of a Thursday NYT puzzle. Lots of fun. Until next week!

Dan Fisher’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Alternate Endings” — Jim’s review

The title makes a great premise for a puzzle, don’tcha think? Sure, it gives an element away since you’ll know where to look for the theme, but you still don’t know what form these changes will take, so on the whole, I like it.

It turns out each theme entry has an added OR attached at the end. Get it? OR, as in the word indicating an alternative. Ok, it’s a little bit of a stretch, but I think it works nicely for a puzzle theme.

WSJ – Thu, 12.14.17 – “Alternate Endings” by Dan Fisher (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Cleric in plaid robes?CHECKERED PASTOR. Checkered past. Ha! This feels very timely in light of stories like this.
  • 23a [Enrico Caruso, perhaps?] TOP TENOR. Top Ten.
  • 29a [Maine megalopolis?] BIG BANGOR. Big Bang. Slight pronunciation change here since Bangor features a hard G.
  • 47a [Mining magnate’s home?] IRON MANOR. Iron Man. You would think Iron Man would live in IRON MANOR. But then I guess Batman doesn’t live in Bat Manor. Or maybe Batman should really be called Wayneman? Cue brooding action music and your gravelliest voice: “I’m Wayneman.” Meh. Not quite the same, is it?
  • 52a [“I hear the sailboarders are dealing drugs,” e.g.?] BAY RUMOR. Bay rum. Another pronunciation change. And the connection between a bay and sailboarders seems pretty tenuous.
  • 59a [Leader of the insurgency?] DOMINANT TRAITOR. Dominant trait.

Overall I found the theme enjoyable even though, after finding the first entry, I could plunk in the ORs in the rest of them. There are a few extra ORs in the grid in NOR, TOR, DORMERS, and PEORIA, but these are all in the Down direction. Oops, there’s LORI at 36a. (If you’re thinking that PE OR IA might be a good basis for a theme, I’ll save you the trouble. I just had a look, and there are only a couple viable words where PE could replace IA and vice versa: ASPEN/ASIAN and PEN/IAN.)

Highlights in the fill: “LET IT GO,” CRAYOLA, TOTEMIC, and ROBOTIC. Crosswordese in the fill: ACT I, PAS, RAH (which, face it, isn’t a [Cry from the stands] anymore if it ever was), RELO, ASSN, ISM, and ONENO. Nothing egregious, but what the heck is ONENO, anyway? It’s clued [Bridge bid, briefly], but that doesn’t help me. You know what? I’ve decided I don’t want to know. Even if it comes at the cost of future puzzle errors, it’s ugly crosswordese, and I’d just as soon ignore it.

TURNER’s “Flint Castle”

There are plenty of interesting clues though, so let’s get to it.

  • 16a [Sleek, in car lingo]. AERO. I’ve listened to a lot of “Car Talk,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Click and Clack ever use this term.
  • 33a [England’s “painter of light”]. TURNER. I don’t know J.M.W. TURNER, the English Romantic landscape painter. The majority of his work dates from the first half of the nineteenth century.
  • 55a [Euclid’s home]. OHIO. Tough clue if you’re not from OHIO. The city of Euclid is a suburb of Cleveland. The real Euclid lived in Alexandria.
  • 69a [What are you looking at?]. THIS. Ha! Fun clue and entry.
  • 1d [LCpl’s subordinate]. PFC. Took me a few seconds to recognize the Army rank of Lance Corporal. I tried PVT (Private), but the real answer is PFC (Private First Class).
  • 3d [Like bogeys]. OVERPAR. I don’t know why my brain did not think golf on this clue. Instead, I was thinking apparitions or, with respect to British slang, nasal discharge.
  • 10d [Step for Stepanova]. PAS. I’m not getting this one. First, I don’t know who Stepanova is/was nor how PAS means “step.” Googling the name turns up Yuliya Stepanova, a Russian athlete who commendably blew the whistle on sanctioned widespread doping in Russian sports. But Google Translate tells me PAS means “step” in French, not Russian (as in, faux pas, meaning false step). Anyone have more insight?
  • 27d [Tamandua’s diet]. ANTS. Tamandua is not a person but a type of anteater. See video below.
  • 48d [Sea of Crises setting]. MOON. Right next to the Sea of Tranquility.
  • 50d [Buff buff]. NUDIST. But not necessarily a buff buff buff.

Ok, that’s all from me for this week. A mostly fun puzzle overall. See you all on the other side of the weekend. And now…

Alex Eaton-Salner’s Fireball crossword “Ending on a High Note” —Jenni’s write-up

This is the last Fireball of 2017. You can sign up for the 2018 season here. This one is harder than last week’s, although I don’t think it quite lives up to Peter’s blurb: “The puzzles are hard. How hard? If you have to ask, too hard for you.” Head-crackingly hard are not, they’re good puzzles and worth subscribing to, if you haven’t. Of course, if you don’t subscribe, you’re probably not reading this…

Since it’s the last one of the year, we’re “ending on a high note.” All of the theme answers take a jog up one level, and the portion that sits above is a kind of note.

  • 20a [Show with many a “Detour”] is THE AMAZIN. Look up, and you see 19a [Cary’s “To Catch a Thief” costar]: GRACE Kelly. Put them together, and you have THE AMAZING RACE. A GRACE note is a musical ornament (not essential to the harmony or melody).
  • 34a [Sudden withdrawal of sorts] gives us COLD TUR. To finish it, you have to look at the last three notes of 32a [Interstate cop] – 1970s CBer slang, SMOKEY. That gives us COLD TURKEY and KEYnote.
  • 43a [One receiving a postwar lift] is the incomplete WEST BER. This is completed by 39a [Pencil in a makeup kit], which is LINER, for WEST BERLINER, beneficiary of the 1948-1949 airlift that the Western Allies used to circumvent the Soviet blockade.
  • 57a [Ingredient in Old Bay seasoning] is CELERY SAL. This one is missing only one letter – the end of 54a [Krypton, e.g.], which is PLANET. That gives us CELERY SALT and T-note, shorthand for a “treasury note,” marketable U.S. government debt security. I first heard of T-notes in a General Hospital plot when I was in college.

Nice theme! It eluded me for most of the solve – I finally figured it out with CELERY SALT, and the rest of the answers fell into place.

A few other things:

  • A seasonal nod to Dickens with 1a [Curmudgeonly yuletide shout]: BAH.
  • 25a [CenturyLink Field cheer crew] are the SEAGALS, who cheer for the Seattle Seahawks.
  • Journalism argot with 46a [Opening graf of a news article]: LEDE
  • More December festivity at 51a [Yule fuel] which are, of course, LOGS. Anyone else remember the Yule Log on TV in NY in the 1960s?
  • 70a [Mop strand] isn’t the kind of mop you use on a floor; it’s the kind of mop you have on your head in the morning. The answer is TRESS.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that the word “pal” is borrowed from the ROMANY language.

Happy Chanukah!

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “In Secret” — Ben’s Review

We’re back to themed Thursdays from BEQ after last week’s themeless detour, and this one’s all attuned to office holiday parties (or mine at least).  As clued by 66A, there are a few secret SANTAS hiding in the grid:

  • In the third row, Santa BARBARA is hidden between ZANZIBAR and BARACK
  • In the sixth row, there’s Santa MARIA between WEIMAR (home to the Liszt School of Music) and IANNUCCI (as in Armando, creator of Veep and other hilarious political comedies)
  • In the tenth row, Santa CLARA shows up between CADILLAC and LA RAZA (explaining what felt like an unusually difficult/specific piece of fill)
  • Finally, in the thirteenth row, Santa MONICA is between SALMON and I CAN’T NOW

51A’s “IKO IKO”

Other nice fill: the on-purpose DUPE of DUPE in the grid, a mention of Meryl STREEP’s upcoming performance in The Post, KAZAAM (which is an actual movie starring Shaq as a genie, as opposed to SHAZAAM, a genie movie starring Sinbad, which is not an actual thing, despite our collective memory of it), and Creme de CASSIS

3.75/5 stars.

Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

I have seen Johnny surname themes before. This one is a little muddied on two accounts. The H(5xE)RESJOHNNY surprise would’ve worked better at the end, or if not, then the last answer should’ve been CARSONCITY. Having the Johnny in question show up in the middle of the puzzle gave the whole thing an uneven rhythm. The rest are singer CASH in CASHBONUSES, singer ROTTEN in ROTTENLUCK and catcher BENCH in related BENCHJOCKEY… I looked at a couple of other iterations of this theme – MILLER, NASH, and RIVERS are other Johnny’s used previously.


  • [Like traffic at a bottleneck], STOPGO. Boy did this look like it was going to be a strange adjective half way through…
  • [One-step-at-a-time toy], SLINKY. Hah. One of those toys that never made it past December 26…
  • [“Vaya con __”], DIOS. Prefer the band to the song…

  • [“Yakety __”: rock-‘n’-roll novelty hit], SAX. We all went with the Coasters Yakety Yak first, yes?
  • [“No more fighting!”], PLAYNICE. Choice morsel.
  • [Pack animal], ASS. See also CAMEL.

2.75 Stars

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24 Responses to Thursday, December 14, 2017

  1. Shteyman says:

    Andy, you forgot to delete part of last Thursday’s post in your write-up.

  2. john farmer says:

    [Tiny fey sort] for ELF was cute — I read it as a sort-of visual play on Tina Fey.

    That’s how I read it too. For a moment, in fact, I misread it and wondered how a Tina Fey sort was an ELF.

    From the FWIW Dept.: After Al Franken left SNL, two of the show’s noted cast members were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. When Franken leaves Congress, the two senators from Minnesota will be Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar. I detect a pattern.

  3. Martin says:

    Re the painter TURNER in the WSJ puzzle. He’s a very famous top-tier artist. His works are worth millions. He’s mainly known for his wildly impressionistic-style seacape paintings, with brilliant, fiery colours.

    Anyway …


  4. C. Y. Hollander says:

    NYT: 1 Across (TANK) was poorly clued as “Fall apart in competition”. Without “in competition”, the clue would have been fine, for the sense of “to suffer rapid decline, failure, or collapse”, but this sense is not limited to competition. A related sense applies specifically to competition, but that sense refers to intentionally failing (usually to gain some benefit, such as a higher draft pick in a sports league).

    • Joe Pancake says:

      Agreed. I’ve heard WS is not much of a sports fan, and it sometimes shows with these not-totally-wrong-but-definitely-clunky sports clues.

    • Steve Manion. says:

      Tank jobs are usually associated with basketball because one player can have an enormous impact. The NBA instituted the lottery system after the 1984 season’s combination of a great draft and a great tank job (Houston).

      Cleveland started tanking in the 2000 season by getting rid of their three best scorers knowing that LeBron would be available a couple of years later (imagine: he was 15 and already everybody knew).

      I am not sure whether Philadelphia’s colossal collapse from 2013-2015 was tanking or just bad luck. Their top draft choices all seemed to get hurt. Nice to see the team playing well this year.

      Another variation of tanking is deliberately losing a game to enhance your seeding. This occurred in badminton a few years ago and resulted in multiple disqualifications.

      While I completely agree that the term means deliberate failing in sports, I have heard it used in the context of a great player playing astonishingly and inexplicably poorly even though there was nothing to be gained–such as James Harden’s performance against the Spurs in the playoff final game last year. The normal term in this context is meltdown and when tanked is used there is a suspicion of deliberateness that is frankly unfair–but what else could it be?


      • C. Y. Hollander says:

        I am not sure whether Philadelphia’s colossal collapse from 2013-2015 was tanking or just bad luck.

        Clearly, you have never heard of Sam Hinkie and The Process, Steve. It was tanking, all right, although Hinkie avoided saying so in so many words. It caused a lot of resentment, and after several years of it, Hinkie was forced out, too early to see the fruits of his Process.

    • GlennG says:

      Actually, tanking is now quite common in baseball. This is because of the inequities between the teams in the ability to pay their players once they hit free agency. In other words, they can’t pay to keep their good players around.

      In order to be able to win as a small market team, a GM has to deliberately trade away their good players for draft picks, and then have the team lose a number of seasons in order to obtain high draft picks for their farm system. This is to obtain a number of good young players that they can maintain control over (i.e. they can’t go free agent), which they can hopefully win with.

      The Houston Astros is a good recent example of a team tanking and having it pay off. They lost 100 games for about 3 seasons straight before they started getting good. The Kansas City Royals are another good example of a team that had a payoff for tanking that’s now having to entertain trading off good players (besides the three that already hit free agency) and tank again in order to have a hope of winning again.

      It’s not a good thing about baseball (and one reason why I stopped being a fan of it), but there seems to be no interest of addressing such inequalities in order to make it a fair contest all the way across the board. For all the problems of the NFL, the salary cap is probably one of the best things that they do compared to the other sports leagues.

  5. Erik says:

    He’s not my generation, but Chuck Colson was a very well known figure for a long time and he was important enough that many solvers would know him. Also, he’s a bit of a bonus answer: he was known as Nixon’s “hatchet man.”

    After Watergate, he went to prison and converted to Christianity. At the time, many said it was a ploy to get his sentence reduced. It may have helped with his sentencing, but he also spent the rest of his life working in prison ministries. I’m sure he’d prefer to have been remembered for the ministries than for his role in Nixon’s White House, but of course that wouldn’t resonate as well with the puzzle’s theme.

  6. Thomas says:

    Tatiana Stepanova is a noted ballerina. I believe the WSJ clue is referring to her.

  7. Scott says:

    Loved the NYT.

    • artlvr says:

      Me too! The LAKOTA reminded me of a less-known fact: The name Code Talkers is strongly associated with bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. However, Code Talking was pioneered by the Cherokee and Choctaw peoples during World War I.

  8. BarbaraK says:

    Re WSJ, in the card game Bridge, you can bid one no-trump. No idea if people actually abbreviate that as ‘one no’.

  9. David Glasser says:

    The Fireball isn’t the first time I’ve seen a “go up a line” puzzle but I don’t think I’ve seen that particular geometry with hopping into the middle of entries before. Nice.

  10. GlennG says:

    I wanted to take the time, as a first time subscriber, to point out how happy I ended up with taking the effort to subscribe. I was a little overwhelmed getting half of the puzzles in one shot (what happens when you subscribe in the middle of the year), but eventually got through all of them that I was capable of solving. In some respects, Peter’s tag line works and some don’t (I especially wonder about the last month and a half, since I don’t have a good comparison to tell), but mostly all of them were excellent puzzles to do (I’m thinking of 3-4 specific ones).

    I definitely feel I have gotten my money’s worth. I won’t be able to re-subscribe right away, but hopefully I’ll be able to soon.

  11. drfrizby says:

    Jim, re the Thursday WSJ puzzle …. ONE NO stands for “ONE NO TRUMP,” a very common bid in the game of bridge. Call it crosswordese if you like, but it’s far from egregious. (I’ve bid “one no” many times.) You know a PAS DE DEUX is a duet in ballet, and PAS means “step.” French is the standard language used for ballet terms, so even though the ballerina Stepanova is Russian, she would always refer to a dance step in French, not in Russian. I know you’ve spent quite a bit of time in Britain, so I’m a bit shocked you were clueless about the great Turner. If not from painting, you might have known of him from the 2014 movie “Mr. Turner,” which garnered four Oscar nominations.

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