Alex Eaton-Salner’s Fireball crossword “Workarounds” —Jenni’s write-up
Alex took us out of the 8th year of Fireball Crosswords and he brings us in to the 9th year with this dazzling effort. The theme lived up to Peter’s tagline of “blazingly hard puzzles” and took me a long time to sort out. The “aha” moment was worth it – I love this puzzle.
“Workarounds” gives a clue that some things will not be straightforward, and each theme clue seems to request two responses. The theme answers look like gobbledygook at first.
- 17a [Doubly drunk?] is PLTABLEED. See, gobbledygook. I figured “plastered” was in there somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. After finishing the puzzle, I went back and looked carefully. The missing letters were in 20a [It’ll make white brown] – TOASTER. They answers were lined up so that ASTER is right under TABLE. So we have “plastered” and “under the table.” I told you it was brilliant.
- 31a [Doubly immoderate?] is EXCETOPVE, which should be EXCESSIVE. The missing letters are in 24a [Start of an alley-oop, say]: ASSIST, with SSI over the TOP.
- 43a [Doubly stressed?] is PRGUNURED, missing the ESS to make PRESSURED. That’s in 46a [Actually existing], IN ESSE, and that puts ESS under the GUN.
- 57a [Doubly ecstatic?] is DELMOONED. The IGHT from DELIGHTED is hiding in 50a , EIGHT PM – right over the MOON.
Wow. Just, wow. It’s January 3rd and I won’t be surprised to see this one show up in the ORCA voting. There are a lot of 3-letter words and some inelegant fill (AMA, DPI, ABO, ERA, and a Roman numeral math problem) and I really don’t care. It was totally worth it.
A few other things:
- 4a [Urban pollution] is SMAZE, a portmanteau word combing “smog” and “haze.” “Smog” is itself a portmanteau word – “smoke” and “fog.” That’s like a Russian doll of words.
- 9a [Flack’s concern] is not the singer/songwriter Roberta but the PR agent, and the answer is IMAGE.
- 29d [Bar] is TAVERN, so now I have “Those Were The Days” in my head.
- 35d [Sandra’s successor on the Supreme Court] is SAMUEL. Sigh.
- 22d is [Denmark’s ___ Islands]. Raise your hand if you had difficulty spelling FAEROE.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that MR LEE was recorded by the Bobbettes. Here they are:
Damien Peterson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Affronts” — Jim’s review
Theme: The letters AF are added to the front of two-word phrases whose first word starts with F.
- 17a [Make intense concentration possible?] AFFORD FOCUS
- 31a [Put tags on the merchandise?] AFFIXED COSTS
- 39a [Declare support for Bartlett’s work?] AFFIRM QUOTES
- 55a [Business that many motels are in?] AFFAIR TRADE
For the most part, I found these to have very low entertainment value. Your mileage may vary of course, but these seemed decidedly unexciting — the last one, possibly, being the exception, which felt both sordid and depressing simultaneously.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the fill. FORT DIX usually gets the abbreviation treatment but is fully spelled out today. IGUANAS, HOT SHOT, SNOOKER, PASSEL, and FIRE ANT round out the top fill.
Speaking of FIRE ANTs, I am currently reading (okay, listening to) Children of Time by British author Adrian Tchaikovsky. I’m finding it amazingly inventive and detailed, including descriptions of war between cognitive spiders and fire-spewing (and tool-wielding) ants on a distant Earth-like planet. There’s way more to this 2016 Arthur C. Clarke award-winning novel than that, including the last remnants of humanity fleeing a dead Earth, so check it out if that sounds at all interesting.
SNOOKER is clued as [Trick] and rhymes with booker or looker, but I can’t look at the word without thinking of the British billiard-type game (and its pronunciation). See the video below for some amazing SNOOKER action.
And speaking of world games, new to me is SHOGI [Japanese game akin to chess]. Seems to look a lot like Stratego. Also new to me is the disease pellagra in the clue for 45d: [Pellagra preventer]. NIACIN is apparently what is needed to prevent the disease that Wikipedia says is “characterised by diarrhoea, dermatitis and dementia.” Fun times.
Other clues worth noting:
- 3d [Loser to Franklin]. ALF. The year is 1936. The opponent is ALF Landon. And that’s way more than I want to know about it.
- 26a [Colon portion]. No, we’re not talking biopsies here. It’s just a DOT.
- 56d [Wrong answer to a sentry]. FOE. Ha! Seriously, why even ask?
- 13d [Frolicsome fauna]. OTTERS. pannonica, care to take this one?
Overall, good fill, but a theme that lacked excitement.
Daniel Mauer’s New York Times crossword — Laura’s write-up
Laura in for Andy, who is out on the town before the storm hits. I had been scheduled to head down to NYC tomorrow, but am stuck up in the mountains due to pretty much every form of interstate transportation in the northeast being cancelled.
We’ve got some self-referential repetition going on here, like so:
- [1a: Ten cents]: 12 DOWN and [12d: Answer found elsewhere]: TEN CENTS
- [13d: Macarena]: 18 ACROSS and [18a: Answer found elsewhere]: MACARENA
- [44d: Allowed in]: 44 ACROSS and [44a: Answer found elsewhere]: ALLOWED IN
- [70a: Sea cow]: 48 DOWN and [48d: Answer found elsewhere]: SEA COW
- [38aR: Something to leave at the post office … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme?]: 4WARDING ADDRESS.
Thus, each theme clue contains the answer to the entry at the indicated position in the grid noted in its answer. Get it? I didn’t for a while, until I got pretty much the rest of the SE on crosses, and thought, wait … I thought that a SEA COW was a DUGONG, or a MANATEE, so why doesn’t it fit there? Then I saw that it fit at 48 DOWN, and everything else fell into place. I especially liked how the words in the crossing entries were partial homophones for the theme entry numbers — which limited the cross-references to entries with English homophones like 2/TU, 4/FOR, and 8/ATE. In the case of 1/ONE, both crossing entries, ONESIES [1d: Toddlers’ attire] and ACT ONE [10a: When a messenger from Godot arrives in “Waiting for Godot”], use the same word. So, not perfectly executed, but clever and Thursday-worthy.
Since the fill had to work around the constraints of the cross-references, there were a few clunkers: I don’t feel especially warm towards LATENED [22d: Approached dusk] or REANNEX [34d: Take back, as territory] or SSRS [68a: Historical group of 15, for short]. I’d like to see ENRICO, ORSINO, and DELANO do the MACARENA (which has an OSTINATO) with STEVIE and ALAN at the IOLANI Palace. Have some WINE in WIEN — what a BARGAIN!
Thing I Didn’t Know Until a Few Minutes Ago When I Looked It Up on Wikipedia: The SEA COW is not from the same family as WALRUSES [39d: Blubbery ones], but is instead more closely related to elephants, hyraxes, and — disputedly — anteaters.
Video I’m Not Going to Embed in This Post Because It’s “Macarena”: MACARENA [18a: Answer found elsewhere]
Robert & Marlea Ellis’ LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
Four phrases usually unrelated to golf are repurposed to be about golf. Results are at least moderately amusing, and ending it with a joke about the 19th hole is a nice touch. RECKLESSDRIVING, ACEINTHEHOLE (from poker), BYEBYEBIRDIE and MAKEMINEADOUBLE (bogie / drink) are the four puns.
Favourite clue: [Where glasses may be raised?], OPERA. Just booked tickets for day one of the first five day test, RSA vs. India – glasses (binoculars) will be packed.
[Fall flat], BOMB – not clued topically…
[2017 Pixar film set in Mexico], COCO. Saw it at the actual movie house; was a delight.
[Taxi alternative], UBER. Humph, pretty sure there isn’t that much difference…
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Aw Jeez” — Ben’s Review
BEQ’s back with a new puzzle after last week’s trip down memory lane. Apparently “Aw Jeez” could have been titled “GG Allin”, so let’s take a look at what that could possible mean as a puzzle theme:
- 4D: Area where joke writers hangout? — GAG MEN CORNER
- 9D: Fret about blocking a play? — SWEAT STAGING
- 21D: Powwows deciding what the “Poker Face” singer should do next? — GAGA MEETINGS
- 23D: Supernatural music from Seattle? — MYSTIC GRUNGE
Stripping these of their double-Gs, you’ve got the more normalized AMEN CORNER, SWEAT STAIN, AA MEETINGS, and MYSTIC RUNE.
(I’m not familiar with AMEN CORNER’s work, but know the Amen Break well, and now you do too.)
- I didn’t know that BOAC is the “Airline mentioned in ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.'”, but I did know that JOJO is the first word in “Get Back”
- I really wanted “Roman matchmaking god” to be ARES, but it’s AMOR, which makes sense.
- ESTEE is definitely a first name you’d find in Sephora. I got in my head about that one and tried to make it be a different brand name.
Might be the worst NYT puzzle ever.
Agreed, it was tedious and joyless.
Interesting NYT gimmick that wasn’t very satisfying
That was WSJ, not NYT
NYT: This puzzle felt like dealing with the bureaucracy in the context of a large university… getting a self-referential runaround that might make an odd kind of sense if you squint at it, but still leaves you wondering what just happened and why…
Maybe it’s meant to be a parody. Then waiting for Godot would be apt.
I imagine about half of solvers will dislike the NYT, and half will really like it. Count me in the like camp. I thought it was a fun, cute gimmick, especially with the 4 at 38-Across pulling double duty.
1SIES on a toddler are tough – those three little snaps are a pain with a squirmy bugger!
Brian, did you turn out to be right! The average rating was about 3, but that rating itself was much less common than much higher or lower. And 89 ratings! Wow! Huda is right that there is something to be said for a puzzle that elicits such strong feelings. (I hope I represented what she said correctly; perhaps she just implied that.) Put me in the YES camp, though Shortz’s version was a bit easy. Fun, anyway, and as Michael points out, the puzzle’s date is 4/1 or 1/4, same as April 1.
Regarding yesterday’s discussion about ratings: I think looking at the pattern or scatter of the ratings is very interesting. Yesterday, the NYT achieved a medium rating overall, but it was really bimodal, with a lot of 5’s and 1’s. That to me is quite distinct from the same average rating with a more normal distribution. So, even though it’s all very subjective, when you get to numbers like 40 ratings, the information can be revealing. If I were a constructor, I’d care about whether my puzzle aroused strong feelings or elicited a tepid response from most.
Another factor in this rating scheme is that it’s dynamic. Later participants can see the accumulated ratings and distribution thereof, and may skew their own ‘assessments’ to offset perceived unfairness. Though I haven’t checked I’d speculate that rating distributions tend to be either strongly bimodal or strongly unimodal and that there are few with broad and even profiles.
One solution to a skewed assessment would be to hide the average rating until after one votes.
So several answers don’t have a clue and the fill is often dubious. Am I missing something or does this fail the smell test?
I liked it, but remain puzzled as to why they wouldn’t clue it differently. The 1-across clue, instead of the “ten cents” that is then literally the 12 down answer, could have been “dime,” thus making 1-across correct and avoiding the repetition? 18-across could have been “’90s dance craze,” 44-across “Permitted to enter,” and 70-across “Manatee.”
Am I missing something??
My understanding from wordplay is that the constructor originally intended the puzzle to be the way that you describe, but that Mr. Shortz changed it to its current form, thinking that the original would be too difficult to solve.
I am in the Liked It camp. Thank you, Mr. Mauer, and keep on constructing. I look forward to more from you.
I really wish that the constructor had been allowed to keep the non-verbatim clues, with Monday-level difficulty or something; it would have made for a more satisfying solve. Once you’ve figured out the theme, you probably have most of the crosses anyway. As it was, I felt a little like I was just doing a connect-the-dots puzzle at the end. I still enjoyed it a lot.
Me, too. I liked it the way it was published. I would have loved it the way it was intended.
I wholeheartedly agree with Jenni on this — I thought the NYT was different from a typical offering and liked that, but would have really liked the original version
Ditto. I liked it but I would have liked alternate clues (eg, dime for TEN CENTS) even more.
If that was seen as too hard, perhaps add a puzzle note with some kind of hint that helps but doesn’t give the whole thing away? I generally ignore notes and then read them only if I’m completely stuck.
I too am in the camp that really liked it and would have loved it had it been allowed to run as originally intended. I agree with ahimsa that a puzzle note could have been included to help the hopelessly lost.
I’m with Jenni even though part of this killed me. One puzzle check at the end with 3 bad squares. 17:31. Yow.
Agree with all of you that wanted Ten Cents to be Dime.
Today’s puzzle reminded me of Pat Merrell’s crossword from over a decade ago, in which the answer to the clue “Cat” was CAT. I’m sure there are a few other rare examples out there where some answers are taken verbatim from the list of clues. I think this idea is best served on a wacky Thursday or on April Fools’ Day (4/1). Today being Thursday, 1/4, combines the best of both worlds, in a way.
That’s funny! Thanks, Michael!
Count me in the “liked it a lot” camp (re the NYT). Fun and different!
I am just chiming to even the results a bit. I don’t/didn’t like it. I’m too old for this.
Me too — hated it.
LAT – Really enjoyed this one. The jokes were funny and the golf theme very consistent. Great fun from a new constructing tandem. Looks like this is only their second grid. Keep them coming, Marlea and Robert
FIREBALL – I also thought this was terrific. I’m looking forward to many more terrific challenges from Alex.
I didn’t like yesterday’s puzzle but liked today’s. I am really puzzled by people who loved yesterday’s awful not-even-proper-pun puns but hated today’s theme idea.
I liked today’s NYT a lot, in both the original and revamped conception.
Loved the nyt puzzle. Very cre8ive and unin2itive, so it took a few minutes till it all gelled. Then it was a pretty quick solve
Count me in the “loved it” camp for today’s NYT. Clever, rule-breaking, twisty. Bewildering until the lightbulb goes off, then easy. Perfect Thursday
Would someone please tell me how to get to the Jonesin crossword puzzle. I work on a laptop computer and have always used the link in Will Johnson’s Puzzle pointers, but the 2018 calendar isn’t there. It’s still the 2017 calendar.
Try the Today’s Puzzles tab of this blog.
Thank you very much.
BEQ: re: ‘AMEN CORNER’
Amen Corner is also a stretch of challenging golf holes (11, 12 and 13) at Augusta National for The Masters Tounament. Very well known phrase for golf fans.
I thought Amen Corner was from the Master’s Golf Tournament.
Heh, GG Allin. A name I wouldn’t think to see here.
Granted, with AW JEEZ I was trying to figure out how BEQ was going to work in Rick and Morty.
Far as I’m concerned, zero GG Allin is a good thing.