Thursday, January 18, 2018

BEQ 5:48 (Ben) 


LAT 4:18 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:11, paper (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Fireball  7:24 (Jenni) 


Howard Barkin’s Fireball crossword “Theme From Shaft” —Jenni’s write-up

This puzzle is just like Howard himself: smart, funny, and a lot of fun to spend time with.

I looked at the title and thought we’d be seeing music in the theme, and we did, but not for the reasons I thought. The grid is 14×18 – it’s a week for unusual grid sizes in the indie cross-world.

FB 1/18, solution grid

  • 11d [1989 hit with the lyric “Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out”] is I WON’T BACK {DOWN}. When I saw the rebus, I thought we were dealing with mining shafts. I also started missing Tom Petty all over again.
  • 24d is [#1 hit of 1989 with a black-and-white video]. I found the {UP} rebus in the first square and filled in {UP}TOWN GIRL without really thinking about it. Unfortunately for me, that song was released in 1983 and never hit #1. I realized I was wrong from crossings and couldn’t make sense of what I had. So I moved on.
  • 25d [Eric Clapton single with the B-side “Cocaine”] is LAY {DOWN} SALLY. That one worked fine. Still no idea what was wrong with 24d. On to the last one.
  • 13d is [Final song performed at Bob Marley’s last concert]. Again, I had {UP} in the first square and a lot of gobbledygook in the rest. What song title ends in TEG? I finally realized that if I read it from the bottom to the top, it was GET {UP} STAND {UP}. Oh! Then I went back to 24d and filled in STRAIGHT {UP}. The title didn’t mean anything to me, but when I looked it up I recognized the song.

That’s a great puzzle all on its own, with the theme answers symmetrically located and alternating UP and DOWN. Howard tops it off (sorry) with the revealer at 62a [Piped-in tunes (and an alternate title for this puzzle)]. That’s ELEVATOR MUSIC, giving us the “theme” from the elevator “shaft.” I finished it and sat back and stared at the grid, grinning like a fool. I just love this theme. It’s consistent, layered, and beautifully executed. Thanks, Howard and Peter.

A few other things (feels like I’m gilding the lily, but oh, well):

  • 1a puts us right in the musical mood with  [“And She ___” (Talking Heads song)]. The answer is WAS.
  • 4a [Prez who had a thing for Fresca] was LBJ. I really like Fresca. So does Ainsley Hayes (4:39).
  • 9d [Mouse voiced by Mel] was SPEEDY. That would be SPEEDY Gonzales, who was such an evident stereotype that the Cartoon Network bought the rights to all the cartoons in 1999 and promptly shelved them. They are available on DVD with a disclaimer about being “products of their time.” After that you can watch “Song of the South.”
  • 28d [Peabrain] is NIMROD. In the Torah, NIMROD is “a mighty hunter before Gd.” A bit of Google research suggests that the current American meaning originated with Bugs Bunny, who called Elmer Fudd a “nimrod.”
  • 46a [Brand used on choppers] isn’t about Harleys or Cuisinarts. The choppers in question are teeth, and the answer is ORAL B.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Salam HAYEK voiced the part of Teresa Del Taco in “Sausage Party.” I also did not know that Arnold Schwarzeneggar was known as the Austrian OAK. What I did know: that Howard Barkin is a gem.

I leave you with Bob Marley.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Will Power” — Jim’s review

No, this puzzle is not about Mr. Shortz. Instead, Sam has cleverly taken well-known two-word phrases in which the second word starts with TO and can be re-parsed into two words, the second part being someone’s first name. These phrases are then clued as if they were part of someone’s will to that referenced person. Sound unlikely? Well, check it out.

WSJ – Thu, 1.18.18 – “Will Power” by Samuel A. Donaldson

  • 17a [Barbie’s bequest of her sandwich franchise for her boyfriend?] SUBWAY TO KEN
  • 11d [Cher’s bequest of some spirits for her “Moonstruck” co-star?] VODKA TO NIC
  • 27d [Taylor Swift’s bequest of a pet bird for her friend Sheeran?] PIGEON TO ED
  • 52a [Maude Flanders’s bequest of one penny for her husband?] COPPER TO NED

This puzzle was a LOT of fun! The gimmick was easily gotten and it helped the rest of the theme entries fall into place. But the fill is absolutely beautiful throughout. More on that in a minute.

As to the theme, there are only four entries arranged in a pinwheel pattern (allowing more room for the puzzle to breathe). I sussed it out pretty quickly knowing that the first entry would have KEN in it and the second NIC. With just a few crosses, I got VODKA TO NIC and then things just fell into place.

But while that made the theme easier, it was no less fun. I love themes that make you look at common phrases in new ways, and this did just that. My only complaint is that I was done with the theme too quickly.

But luckily the outstanding fill made the puzzle complete. I loved COWSHEDS, SKELETOR, MANIACS, LI’L KIM, FAT CAT, MUSHROOM, CUTICLE, ALTAIR, AREA CODE, PIT STOP, and SEASCAPE. The only iffy ones being AT TWO and AAMES (if you don’t know your “Eight Is Enough” actors).

A couple of clues felt off though. 25a‘s [Possible answer to “Gonna win?”] would normally elicit the phrase HOPE SO. But not here. The answer is HOPE TO. And 31a‘s [“That’s so cute!”] should definitely be AWW instead of OOH.

But that’s minor stuff, and undoubtedly, the fill is just as nice as the theme.

One final entry I wanted to note: 18d YOLO. I had forgotten there was a YOLO County in California until this past weekend when I was driving through it. It presented itself to me in the form of the YOLO Fruit Stand by the side of the freeway. Given the modern meaning of the acronym, I’m not sure that I would ever partake of foodstuff under a YOLO label.

If you like a tough, thorny Thursday grid, this wasn’t it. But it sure was a lot of fun.

Ryan McCarty and Alan Southworth’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 1.18.18 by Ryan McCarty and Alan Southworth

One debut (for Alan Southworth) and one returning constructor (Ryan McCarty). Congrats on the debut, and also welcome back!

The theme is explained at 69a, NO WAY [“Forget it!” … or a hint to 17-, 30-, 46-, and 62-Across]. And indeed, those four entries are common phrases with the letters WAY removed, with hilarious/ punny results:

  • 17a, HIGH ROBBERY [Rooftop heist?]Highway robbery.
  • 30a, RUN A TRAIN [Handle engineer duties?]. Runaway train. 
  • 46a, ONE STREET [Della or Picabo?]. One-way street.
  • 62a, SUB STATIONS [Sandwich shops?]. Subway stations.

A very cute theme! Minorly inelegant that SUB STATIONS is the only entry that’s pluralized (presumably in order to get symmetrical theme entries), but I don’t tend to mind that kind of thing. The clues are dynamite: short and snappy, just as they should be for a pun theme like this.

I heard KUBO and the Two Strings was a fantastic movie! Still haven’t seen it, but I’m eager to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.

I loved seeing TRYOUT CAMPS, RIGHT-O, and GEM STATECEMENT MASON was unfamiliar to me, but it was very inferable. Sad that RUB-A-DUB wasn’t cross-referenced with TUB! All the rest of the fill ranged from “decent” to “acceptable.” I feel like we’re seeing a renaissance of the non-Yoko clue for ONO [Fish at a Hawaiian barbecue]. It had never appeared in the NYT until 2014, and now it’s appeared twice in the past six ONO clues.

I’m really baffled as to why this ran on a Thursday. It’s a perfect Wednesday theme, and I don’t think anything in the fill or cluing makes it particularly difficult. I solved it on paper and still beat some of my online Thursday times.

Still, a solid puzzle! Until next week!

C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Not the most ambitious word-hiding theme, but it is somewhat varied. Four insects, three of them hymenopteran and one siphonapteran are hidden in the centres of answers. Of 26 insect orders, only two closely related ones are represented – three if you count bugs (hemiptera). Some more taxonomic diversity would not have gone amiss… Entries are the hilarious DONTBEEVIL, moderately cringy GOINGNATIVE, ALANTURING, and three-part STIFLEAYAWN.


  • [Hole’s starting point for skilled golfers], BLUETEE – can one just tee from those under normal circumstances? Thought those were tournament tees… (With pro courses having BLACKTEEs even further back)
  • [Curly-tailed dog], AKITA. In full, akita inu – dog from Akita.
  • [Trial run designed to catch 54-Across], BETATEST. Assymetric, and, though tied to the theme revealer, feels extraneous to the theme.
  • [“Fernando” pop group], ABBA. Sounds different in Swedish…

2.5 Stars. Gareth

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

I hope you had a good breakfast today, because after we discuss today’s BEQ puzzle theme I’m going to drop some knowledge that will absolutely freak your bean.  First, though, HORSE PUNS:

  • 18A: Stable folks? — MARE MORTALS
  • 24A: Stable words? — FOAL LANGUAGE
  • 38A: Stable breakfast? — STALLION PANCAKE
  • 47A: Stable science? — COLT MEDICINE
  • 58A: Stable smokes? — FILLY BLUNTS

STALLION PANCAKE is an A+ pun, the rest of these are all Bs to B- in terms of pun grade.  Please do not @ me on this.

This is not the MBMBaM clip I wanted to post, but it is a MBMBaM clip about horses.

Anyways, who is ready for IMPORTANT TERRIFYING HORSE FACTS?  As I learned from this week’s My Brother, My Brother, and Me, what we think of as horse legs are, bone-wise, closer to horse fingers.  A horse has four fingers.  You’re welcome, please try to go about the rest of your day with that information now rattling about your skull.


  • “He was with Hilary” is a very good clue for Tenzing NORGAY.
  • RRR is disappointing fill
  • RED TAG SALE feels very GREEN PAINT to me.
  • OLE ELO!
  • I do not think of FOXY as shrewd.

3.75/5 stars

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28 Responses to Thursday, January 18, 2018

  1. Penguins says:

    “I’m really baffled as to why this ran on a Thursday. It’s a perfect Wednesday theme, and I don’t think anything in the fill or cluing makes it particularly difficult.”

    good point

    • huda says:

      I think the final entries, sans “Way”, are not expressions that are commonly used and as such require a Thursday mindset.

      • Norm says:

        As far as I know, 30A is commonly used mainly by pimps to keep their prostitutes in line or as a threat to turn a victim into a prostitute. I was rather surprised to see it in the Times.

        • huda says:

          Oh, wow, I just looked it up. The definition is a bit different from yours, Norm, but equally disturbing…

          • Alan D. says:

            Rex tears this thing apart because of 30A. I’ve never heard of the term before, the constructors clearly have no clue, nor, it seems, does Andy. I think we can give them a pass on this one. Maybe it’s a regional thing?

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            It’s not specifically limited to prostitution. The phrase also popped up in the 2016 stories about director Nate Parker (not linking to any because there’s that conflict between “believe women” and the ugly history of white women falsely accusing black or brown men of rape).

            • Martin says:

              I’d have caught “pull a train,” but “run a train” didn’t set off any alarms.

              After-the-fact research indicates they might be synonyms or they might be subtly different, with “pull” implying consent (or at least active participation) but “run” implying gang rape. It’s certainly an ugly phrase, but to suggest that anyone associated with the puzzle was aware of the meaning is ludicrous. (This is not referring to Amy or others commenting here.)

            • Steve Manion. says:

              I also knew pull a train or pull the train immediately, but had never heard run a train. It would not have set off any alarms for me.


          • Norm says:

            I wasn’t suggesting it was limited to prostitution, just that the threat of making that happen to a recalcitrant sex worker — as opposed to voluntary activity (see The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe) — is the context in which I tend to see it. I suppose I could have just referred everyone to the Urban Dictionary.

    • anon says:

      NYT Thursdays are not what they used to be.

  2. Gareth says:

    SUBSTATIONS being a real, common word is a fatal flaw IMO. Should have been sent back for editing…

  3. Noam D. Elkies says:

    There’s also mathematician Ken 18D:ONO, who now has an IMDb entry for his work on the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity based on the Kanigel biography of Ramanujan.

    Anybody else try TSA for 21-Across (“Org. that discourages traveling”)? . . . [edit: evidently yes, going by the Rex comments]


  4. anon says:

    BEQ: I can’t parse the STALLION PANCAKE or FILLY BLUNTS themers. (Would have been nice if the reviewer had.) Any help?

    • GlennG says:

      FILLY BLUNTS refers to a cigar brand by the name of “Phillies” (blunts are anything wrapped in cigar paper). In actuality it should be FILLIESBLUNTS though, so that’s a demerit for the constructor on this one, among all the bad fill and B- puns. I assume the other one references Medallion Pancakes.

    • pannonica says:

      Scallion pancake, staple of Chinese cuisine. Don’t know the other offhand.

      • Rick Narad says:

        Thanks. I couldn’t figure that one out. Maybe because scallions are commonly called “green onions” in California (or at least my part of it)

      • H says:

        thanks. even weeks later, people (me) are doing this and we have it completed, and can’t figure out why the answer is a fabulous pun. I’ve eaten at a lot of Chinese restaurants, but scallion pancake seems a little obscure to me. I guess Philly Blunts is kind of obscure too, but I vaguely knew that one.

  5. cyberdiva says:

    Count me among those who had never heard of the unsavory definitions of 30A. Even learning that those definitions exist, I don’t think they’re common enough to make the way RUNATRAIN is used here inappropriate for a NYT puzzle.

  6. Brian says:

    Gareth, on most courses the BLUE TEEs are open for anyone to use. Around here at least, it seems that most of the people who use them aren’t any good at golf, and end up slowing the entire course down.

    • Steve Manion. says:

      On courses with multiple tee boxes, red is normally the women’s tee, white is the men’s short tee, blue is the men’s regular tee, and gold or black is the championship tee (some courses have both gold and black). Some courses also have two sets of pins, one set toward the front of a two-tiered green, the other in the back.

      A normal good golfer (6-15 handicap) will find a blue course challenging. A mediocre golfer (16+) or an older male will usually enjoy the white course more. But there are many exceptions. The tee boxes are universally based on distance. There are terrible golfers who hit the ball a long way, so white, blue or gold doesn’t make much difference. Equipment changes allow me to hit the ball almost as far at 68 as I did when I was 35, but I was never really long and always found the blue tees to be the most fun and the gold or black tees more like work.


      • Brian says:

        Totally agree with you, Steve, that there are many reasons to play different tees. I’m a bogey golfer and usually play the whites, but there are a couple shorter courses around here that I’ll tee off from the blues for more of a challenge.

        I feel like too often I see people who are scoring 120+, that golf once a year, taking three tee shots from the blues and generally slowing everyone down. Honestly, it’s probably mostly not noticing all the times someone appropriately uses the blues – the negatives stick out more in your mind.

  7. Andy says:

    Until reading Rex and the comments here, I didn’t know about the unsavory meaning of RUN A TRAIN. Now that I do, I have to believe nobody involved in the making and editing of this puzzle did either, because otherwise it’s unconscionable that this made it to print. All the more reason to have more diversity in the editing/test-solving process.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Exactly. When language has so much potential to upset solvers, there’s no excuse not to look for ways to overcome that lack of knowledge.

      • Lois says:

        I don’t agree. If you get rid of all language with multiple meanings, at some point you won’t be able to speak or write at all.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          It would be nice to have a world in which the RUN A TRAIN concept of, basically, gang rape, did not exist. That this meaning exists is ample reason to keep the phrase out of the crossword puzzle. I mean, would GANGRAPE pass muster as a wordplay theme answer? It would not.

        • e.a. says:

          it’s like we’re on some kind of… low-friction incline…

  8. JakaB says:

    LAT: BLUE TEES are generally for better golfers. I put in BACK TEES first and it worked for a short bit obviously. I like a clue like that, not just one answer to consider.

    NYT: Tuesday made an appearance, but RUFFLED FEATHERS one day late (learned a new one) I don’t time, but fastest Thursday ever, I’m certain.

    WSJ: Cute. Sussed early.

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