Thursday, February 8, 2018

BEQ 8:26 (Ben) 


Fireball 8:54 (Laura) 


LAT 4:17 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:27, paper (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Erik Agard’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 2.8.18 by Erik Agard

About a month and a half until ACPT! I hope to see many of you there!

In the months leading up to ACPT, I always shift from 95% online solving to about 80% paper solving, and it’s always nice to get a challenging puzzle like this one to cut my teeth on. It’s extra nice to see Erik’s byline.

The revealer here is at 57a and 61a, HOLLYWOOD / SHUFFLE [With 61-Across, 1987 Robert Townsend satire … or a hint to deciphering four clues in this puzzle]. It’s not surprising that this means we’ve got four actors’ names whose clues are simply anagrams of the actors. But the beauty of this one isn’t in the gimmick; it’s in the unbelievable anagrams Erik has found:

These are the kind of joyful and transcendent wordplay gems I (and I assume most crossword lovers) live for. Each anagram gives you a little thrill of discovery, even though you weren’t the one who discovered them, because they’re so well hidden — disguised among the non-theme clues as normal phrases.

And, as always, Erik has taken such care with the non-theme clues. My favorites:

  • SILENT O [Feature in “People”?]
  • MOSS [Actress Elisabeth who’s been on the cover of Rolling Stone, ironically]. Apparently it does gather some Moss!
  • SARA [Starship’s second #1 hit, after “We Built This City”]. Not my favorite “Sara” song.
  • A new clue emerges for ELIA! [___ Martell, “Game of Thrones princess]. 
  • Great clue for AM RADIO [Band not known for music?]. I was well and truly stumped by it.
  • OFFER [Word that becomes its own synonym if you add “pr” to the front].
  • DOGS [Barking lot?].
  • HANKS [Hair pieces?].

A fun challenge, just as Thursday should be! Thanks, Erik! Until next week!

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword “Din-Din” — Laura’s write-up

Hey hey! Jenni’s at a conference in Texas, so I’m covering a puzzle that’s all about phonological reduplication in foods. Yum yum!

FB - 2.8.18 - Gordon - Solution

FB – 2.8.18 – Gordon – Solution

  • [17a: Main course of a meal]: GRILLED MAHI MAHI
  • [29a: Side dish of the meal]: ISRAELI COUSCOUS
  • [26a: Dessert of the meal]: COCONUT BONBON
  • [51dR: With 51-, 57-, and 57-Down, possibly welcome sound after eating the meal?]: PLOP, PLOP, FIZZ, FIZZ … Oh what a relief it is!
Israeli Couscous


If you’ve never had it, ISRAELI COUSCOUS is a larger-grained version of the semolina-based product, and it’s delicious in a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, and feta cheese. This sounds like a lovely meal, though I doubt I’d be able to eat just one COCONUT BONBON. There are few exact reduplications in English that aren’t baby talk; it’s interesting that all three of these food terms have non-English origins: mahi-mahi from Hawaiian, couscous from Arabic, and bonbon from French. What other ones can you think of?

Fill, schmill:

  • [1a: Edges of Venn diagram regions]: ARCS. I was recently invited to Learned League and it has been amusing to me how the people I know there form the center set of a Venn diagram mapping everyone I know from the crossword, library, and general nerd communities.
  • [4d: Trade route of long ago]: SILK ROAD. Yo-Yo (a reduplicated name!) Ma’s Silkroad project engages musicians from around the world in education, artistic exchange, and performance. If the Silkroad Ensemble ever performs in your area, go!
  • [8d: Quark flavor]: CHARM. No, not the curdled dairy product that is similar to fromage blanc, but the elementary particle. Charm quarks combine to make hadrons. (Be careful of spellcheck if you’re writing about the Large Hadron Collider.)
  • [10d: He lost out to his costar F. Murray Abraham for the 1984 Best Actor Oscar]: TOM HULCE, who played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
  • [39a: Dreidel letter]: NUN. If it lands on נ, you do nothing.

Theresa Schmidt’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Last Laughs” — Jim’s review

If you paid attention to the title, you should have been able to guess what was going to happen here. Common phrases have HA added to the end.

WSJ – Thu, 2.8.18 – “Last Laughs” by Theresa Schmidt (Mike Shenk)

  • 17a [Part of a Mount Vernon diorama?] MINI MARTHA. Ha! This one gave me a chuckle.
  • 27a [Offering at the Canal Zone Yoga Studio?] PANAMA HATHA. No chuckling here as I have no idea what “hatha” is. From “Most forms of yoga in the West can be classified as Hatha Yoga. Hatha simply refers to the practice of physical yoga postures.”
  • 46a [Goat statue in a lamasery?] BILLY BUDDHA. The entry is funny, but I didn’t get the joke because I didn’t recognize the base word “lama” in “lamasery.” Maybe that’s just my own deficiency, but I wonder if there’s a clearer way to get the joke across. For some reason, the universe is conveying to me the image of presidential brother Billy Carter as the Buddha. Might pair well with Billy Beer.
  • 62a [Dominant Bernese mountain dog?] SWISS ALPHA. Not as funny because “alpha dog” and “alpha male” feel more in-the-language than just “alpha.”

Hit-and-miss on the theme for me, but some of that may just be due to my own knowledge gaps. Of course, there aren’t that many words that end in HA, especially ones that make a different word sans HA, so the pickings are probably slim. Still, do most solvers know the word “hatha”?

The solve proceeded pretty smoothly especially since I knew what was going on with the theme early on. The cluing didn’t feel especially challenging, but the fill, especially the long fill, is very nice: MALL RATS, RINGS A BELL, SVENGALIS, SAILCLOTH, and TIGHTROPES all make the highlight reel. I also liked seeing TITIAN in the grid. DHARMA and NEHRU added to the Indian mini-theme.

However, the very center of the grid is overstuffed with proper names — a full seven of the nine Across entries. There’s “BABS” Streisand, basketball player MELO (who?—oh, it’s short for Carmelo Anthony…who?), Literature Nobelist ELIAS Canetti, actor Ron O’NEAL, tennis player Bobby RIGGS, first daughter MALIA Obama, and actress Elisabeth SHUE. If you dislike a lot of names in your grid, that was probably a tough section. Elsewhere, there’s ARI Melber of MSNBC, and, more exotically, TITIAN and NEHRU.

On Thursdays, the cluing often gets kicked up a notch. But it didn’t quite feel like that today. Or else I was just in the zone. But there seemed to be plenty of synonym clues (e.g. [Deferment] for STAY, [In excess of] for OVER, [Virtue] for ASSET, etc.). But here are a few worth noting:

  • 6d [Georgia, while Carter was pres.]. SSR. That’s Georgia, the country, not the American state from which Carter hails. Maybe this clue is the reason I was thinking of Billy Carter. It goes without saying that SSR is unpleasant fill, but the tricky clue distracted me from its unpleasantness.
  • Best clue: 50a [Sheet from a drawer?] for CEL. Runner up: 58a [Banking pros] for PILOTS.

Having a theme of words that end in HA is always going to be a challenge due to the lack of choices. Thus, some of the theme answers are stronger than others. But the strength of this grid is in the long fill which I found to be superb. However, if proper names ain’t your thing, you might not enjoy this one as much.

Susan Gelfand’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

La Times

I guess I haven’t made any puzzles for a while, but I still remember sitting on an idea for SCRAMBLEDEGGS as a revealer. I did eventually come up with something that ran, but I find it interesting I never even considered the angle chosen by Ms. Gelfand. Here, the common trope of “words that come before” – in this case EGGS is combined with anagramming (the scrambled bit) to make it quite a lot more intricate. The red areas of the grid can be unscrambled to make NEST, EASTER, FRIED and RAW. It’s a minor thing, but I’d have preferred either none or all to be alternatives to SCRAMBLED. As it is, half are. That said, there are less viable options than meet the eye.


  • [Decorative draperies], SWAGS. Not a meaning I am familiar with. It’s in the dictionary(TM).
  • [Cookie baker in the Hollow Tree], ELF. This meant nothing at the time; I don’t know my US advertising folklore. More a Faraway Tree fan.
  • [Bowling alley initials], AMF. American Machine and Foundry, Google tells me. Hopefully, if you struggled, the crossers sorted you out!
  • [One of a 50’s singing quartet], EDAMES. I confess I had never connected the dots between Ames Brothers and Ed…

3.5 Stars

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

Okay, after last week’s detour into variety puzzle-land (with what was a good puzzle of that particular type), we’re back to themed thursdays over at BEQ’s site.  This week: an internet expression I wasn’t familiar with provides inspiration:

  • 17A: Openers covered with bone material? — MARROWY KEYS
  • 27A: Place whose residents drink a lot of beer? — MALTY COUNTRY
  • 46A: Knowledge of all things relating to fancy plates? — CHINA MASTERY
  • 62A: Totally into capitalism? — ALL FOR MONEY
  • 38A: “That’s hysterical” on the internet, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme — MY SIDES

So, dubiousness of theme aside (a brief Twitter search shows “my sides” does get used on its own, but “my sides hurt” is still the more common usage), these are some pretty solid entries, especially if you’re me and you realize that only one word is affected by MY in each of the themers as you start typing this up.  ARROW KEYS, ALT-COUNTRY, CHINA ASTER, and ALL FOR ONE are all things/phrases/etc.

NEKO Case is basically the queen of alt-country and has a very crosswordable name, just saying…

Other notes:

  • Fill I liked: Bob EUBANKS, finally remembering OZAWA at the mere mention of Seiji, JE T’AIME, HTML, TURBULENT, Q-TIPS, UTICA, IMELDA Marcos, learning that Kevin NEALON is on Man With A Plan, apparently (I have a chronic allergy to all non-Amazing Race CBS content), JENGA
  • Things I HATED (HATED is perhaps too strong, but it is in the puzzle): PDQ is an abbreviation I only seem to find in crosswords these days, and the two entries it tops, RET and MRI, aren’t much to write home about either.  ANS and the unnecessarily elongated A AND E (only crosswords call that channel this.) also irked me, as did PR MEN (PR WOMEN also qualify as “image shapers”, as do PR NON-BINARY PEOPLE), OAS, AAA, and ORT.

3.25/5 stars

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14 Responses to Thursday, February 8, 2018

  1. Ethan says:

    When did the phrase “it’s-a me, Mario” enter our consciousnesses? Mario couldn’t talk in the video games, right? I know Mario says it in the Simpsons episode where different video game characters appear in Bart’s thoughts to egg him on to shoplift a game, but was it around before that?

    • Dr. Fancypants says:

      The “It’s a me, Mario!” quote is from Super Mario 64 (released in 1996), but the Simpsons episode you’re referring to is from 1995.

      Interestingly, Charles Martinet first became the voice of Mario in 1990, even though the first time Mario’s voice appeared in a game was the obscure 1995 PC title “Mario’s Game Gallery”. It would be interesting to know where the Simpsons team had been exposed to the iconic Mario voice.

      Here’s Charles:

      • Ethan says:

        Interesting. As it turns out, my memory of the Simpsons is faulty and Mario doesn’t even say “it’s-a me Mario,” he just talks with an Italian accent: “the store, she’s-a so rich! she’ll-a never notice!” I didn’t have Nintendo growing up, I’m positive I have never played Mario 64, yet “it’s-a me Mario” is in my cultural consciousness and I have no idea how!

  2. Jim Peredo says:

    NYT: “Batty! Batty! Batty!”

  3. JohnH says:

    WSJ: lousy theme puns, tons of even lousier fill in HATHA and the many names. Glad it’s over.

  4. Penguins says:

    FIgured the anagram thing at MEGRYAN, really liked the revealer. EA always seems to bring an international flavor to his puzzles.

    Found the WSJ toughish. Can’t say I enjoyed it.

    • Gareth says:

      That is definitely a jarring moment. Outside of a foreign language name, I couldn’t come up with any synonyms for [Germany]. There is no other indicator that that entry is thematic. I guess that is why this ran on Thursday.

      For the record, I like those moments…

    • janie says:

      hah! and i got it w/ TAYE DIGGS. only saw MEG RYAN late in the game. had MAGRYAN in place for too long, thinking it was some german mash-up of MAGYAR and ARYAN…


      really enjoyed the puzz, so a *very* happy “aha” —


  5. Ethan Friedman says:

    That was a fantastic NYT. Great fill (SIDE EYE deserves a mention) and a really well put-together theme.

  6. Richard says:

    I was annoyed that some obviously ancient actor called “Ansel Elgort” snuck in with the otherwise contemporary actors. Then I realized that I’m the ancient one.

  7. m says:

    some pretty awkward cluing in that LAT.

  8. NonnieL says:

    Not being very scientifically inclined, I thought maybe Quark was a breakfast cereal along the lines of Quisp and that the Charm flavor was whatever the heck is the flavor of Lucky Charms. No?

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