Thursday, March 29, 2018

BEQ 6:12 (Ben) 


Fireball 5:40 (Amy) 


LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT 3:41, paper (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Alex Eaton-Salners’ Fireball crossword, “Vowel Movement”—Amy’s write-up

Good news! Jenni is relaxing on vacation. So I’m subbing tonight. Other good news: pannonica’s computer issue has been remedied and she may grace these pages again quite soon.

Fireball crossword solution, 3 29 18, “Vowel Movement”

The theme is “Vowel Movement,” and each theme answer is made by switching every vowel sound in a familiar phrase, to a sound that goes with the previous next vowel in the alphabet (edited per the comments):

  • 16a. [Abu Dhabi cutoffs?], GULF SHORTS. Golf shirts.
  • 25a. [Where an internet phenomenon might be put after it dies?], MEME BIER. Member? Or something else? I’m trying out various vowel sounds and not hitting on anything better. Wait. If it’s always “go back one vowel in the alphabet,” ma’am bear? Mama Bear is a thing, but if you’re pronouncing an internet meme as “me-me” rather than “meem,” I’m really sorry.
  • 37a. [Damage a smartphone, maybe?], DROP DROID. Drip-dried. Not sure I’ve seen the past tense of drip dry before.
  • 53a. [Really got into special benefits?], DUG PERKS. Dog parks.
  • 64a. [1970s gag gift displayed in the study?], DEN PET ROCK. Uh, Dan Patrick? The T isn’t really pronounced the same in Pet Rock and Patrick, so maybe it’s something else.

Unless I’m missing something obvious with 25a, I’m not too keen on this theme.

Five more things:

  • 13a. [“It’s my turn”], I GO. Ha. Rex Parker mocked this entry several years ago, because it’s terrible as a stand-alone phrase. (Listen for it next time you’re playing a board game. You … probably won’t hear it.) It works much better as a FITB partial entry (via “___ to Pieces” or what-have-you). Anyway, when I’m leaving the house, I do like to tell my husband, “I go.” It amuses me.
  • 30a. [Shrapnel, e.g.], EPONYM. Yes, there was a person named Shrapnel, which is a goofy-sounding name. Newsflash: The 2018 Name of the Year bracket has been posted! It features such (actual people’s) names as Chardonnay Beaver, Crystal Patriarche, and Shamoil Shipchandler. Voting opens soon.
  • 33a. [Viscous substance], GOOP. Poor Gwyneth Paltrow. She runs a whole GOOP empire dedicated to new-agey stuff, and yet crosswords almost always go the viscous route. I guess crossword editors shy away from things like “Jade Eggs for Your Yoni” (note: not satire!) references.
  • 41d. [Sticks and stones, e.g.], PLURALS. Yet another instance of one of these “what the word is rather than what it means” clues that it takes me a while to unravel. I always like ’em.
  • 36a. [Comedian who wrote the book “Yeah, I Said It”], SYKES. Wanda Sykes, who had a hilarious bit on Brazilian waxing (clip below). The language is definitely NSFW (not safe for work, or delicate sensibilities).

MALL COP, BIG LOVE, and PIG PINK are cool entries. RESEW, plural BOYDS, not so much. 3.5 stars from me.

Claire Muscat and David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 3.29.18 by Claire Muscat and David Steinberg

It was so great to see so many of you this past weekend at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and many congratulations to Team Fiender Erik Agard for his comprehensive victory!

Congratulations to co-Queer-Qrossworder Claire Muscat on her NYT debut! And of course it’s always nice to see David’s byline.

A bit of a nutty theme this week (that’s some gentle humor for you, folks — don’t @ me). The gimmick is a little clearer in the newspaper version, which I’ve also included below. In the meantime, let me explain what’s going on here as best I can.

There are just three theme answers this week, which contain the names of nuts that have been broken up by a single letter: N, U, and T respectively, spelling NUT. The themers:

  • 20a, LEAN CORNED BEEF [Light deli offering]. LEAN CORNED BEEF contains ACORN, broken up by a single N.
  • 35a, BURIAL MOUND [Traditional grave]The most famous BURIAL MOUNDs in the U.S. are probably in Cahokia.
  • 50a, LIFE EXPECTANCY [It’s longer for women than it is for men]. As of 2016, the country whose residents have the longest life expectancy is Japan. Japanese women live to be on average almost 87 years old!

    A scan of my puzzle. You can see how the shading/circle combo helped clarify the theme. You can also see plenty of erasures! And now that you see my handwriting, you know why I don’t just use my scans every week.

I liked this theme a lot! It wasn’t particularly tricky, but the rest of the grid was sufficiently challenging for a Thursday. I had trouble right away at 1a, [Tucked in, say]. I confidently plopped in ABED, but none of the crossings worked! Sure enough, the answer was SNUG5a was another toughie: [The answer to this clue is located on one] is EDGE, though my first thought was PAGE[Summer camp craft] at 16a clued CANOE rather than macaroni art, and QAEDA was the weirdly punny answer to [An end to terrorism?]. You can see a lot of erasures on 21d, DO SHOTS [Get drunk quickly, in a way] because, as a lightweight myself, I only need to DO A SHOT to get drunk quickly.

Seeing PIZZA FACE in the grid [One with serious acne, pejoratively] was a little rough. Definitely a fresh phrase, but still not my favorite. Lots of really nice fill in this one, though, including many of the aforementioned entries, the long downs GIANT SQUID and TO NAME A FEW, ON DEMAND, GOLF PRO, BAR FIGHT, and WALL-E. I know resident math- and science-lover Joon will enjoy seeing LAPLACE [French astronomer/mathematician who wrote “Traité de Mécanique Céleste”]. Someone more familiar with Wicca will have to tell me whether the clue [Like good spellers?] for WICCAN is good or not.

Overall, I thought this was a really fun puzzle! It made a nice companion piece to David’s “Shell Game” Sunday puzzle from late last year. It might have found a better home somewhere that uses titles for themed puzzles, since that would have tied the theme together nicely. Something like “Cracked Nuts,” perhaps?

Until next time!

Judith Seretto’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Body Builders” — Jim’s review

Today we’re presented with famous people whose first names are one letter off from a body part.

WSJ – Thu, 3.29.18 – “Body Builders” by Judith Seretto (Mike Shenk)

  • 18a [Leggy losing candidate of 1936?] CALF LANDON. Cal…I presume; I don’t recognize the name. *sigh* (checks internet) Nope. It was Alf. Meh. Really. I couldn’t tell you who won the election of 1936, let alone who lost it. (Okay, in truth, I suspect it was FDR. (checks again) Hey. I got it!)
  • 34a [Leggy baseball slugger?] SHANK AARON. Hank. People don’t often refer to part of the leg as a “shank,” do they? I’ve heard this in reference to animals, but not people.
  • 38a [Handy blaxploitation movie star?] PALM GRIER. Pam.
  • 42a [Bloody action movie star?] VEIN DIESEL. Vin.
  • 60a [Jazz trumpeter with pronounced pecs?] CHEST BAKER. Chet. This one breaks the convention in the cluing.

I didn’t get much joy from this theme. It seemed loose, and I didn’t feel like there was enough of a connection between peoples’ names and random body parts. I had hoped the added letters spelled something, but CSLES doesn’t even anagram to anything.

It felt like the theme could replicate forever, or at least for quite a while. For example, there’s the classic PELVIS PRESLEY, the fictional HAND SOLO, the sporty CHIN-CHIN RODRIGUEZ (okay, that one’s too long at 17 letters), the political LASH CARTER, the trendy LOIN-MANUEL MIRANDA (hey, that’s 17 letters, too!), the slapstick MOLE HOWARD, the never-not-funny TESTES KEFAUVER, and the holy SAINT PANCREAS.

Seriously though, I will note that three of the theme answers are stacked in the middle — which is something you never, ever see. The fact that literally none of the crossings there — from IN PART to CARREL — is junk is, quite honestly, an astonishing bit of construction.

Speaking of fill, it’s clean and sparkly throughout, not just in the middle. I like ABEYANCE, LARGISH, and TUT-TUTS and a lot of those 7s in the corners: OBADIAH, RICOTTA, GODSEND, EROTICA, IVANHOE, SAMURAI, and “LET’S NOT.”

I don’t know Ruth RENDELL or her 1985 book An Unkindness of Ravens. It sounds like an entry in the Game of Thrones series but is instead a British detective novel featuring her recurring character Inspector Wexford — of whom I believe I have heard.

Clues of note:

  • 23a [BART stop]. STA, which abbreviates “station,” where BART abbreviates “Bay Area Rapid Transit.”
  • 3d [Cannoli contents]. RICOTTA. Well, stuff my cannoli! I’ve been seeing the word “cannoli” all over the place lately. At least twice in recent puzzles and in a few places on Facebook (mostly because I’ve taken to saying, “Stuff my cannoli!”).
  • 9d [Jo Nesbo’s birthplace]. OSLO. (Usually written “Jo Nesbø.”) He’s the author of the gritty Harry Hole (hey, don’t judge) detective novels (which I quite like) as well as the Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder books (which my kids like).
  • 47d [Left on an ocean voyage]. PORT. Nice. I can only remember this because “left” and “port” are the same number of letters. My dad was a sailor in the Navy, but never taught us kids about seamanship. Truthfully, he was a photographer; the going-to-sea aspect was just part of the job.

All in all, the theme didn’t wow me, but the construction did and the fill is quite nice as usual.

Jerry Edelstein & Bob Monat’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

We have another “anagrams across two parts of longer entries” theme. This one is MIXEDMESSAGES, with TEXT, EMAIL, NOTE and LETTER hidden in NEXTTONOTHING, AMILEAMINUTE, WASTENOTWANTNOT and BITTERLESSON respectively.

The grid is crowded, with 65 theme squares; it is also uneven, due to opening and closing with 13’s. The upshot of all this is certain areas where the fill is under considerable strain: starting with ITAW under ATEN is pretty disheartening. The next area over has a Random Roman Numeral… Yesterday had a long revealer, and went with just three themers. This puzzle would have been improved had done the same.


  • [Healthy drink], SWIG. Clever clue.
  • [Singer/songwriter __ Ray Joel], ALEXA. This clue is pretending that is what she is known for (she hasn’t charted, as far as I can see), rather than for her famous parents…
  • [Engine starter: Abbr.], IGN. This crops up in puzzles fairly frequently, yet I can’t think of a context in which you would use it. I know it as a gaming website though.

2.25 Stars

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

It’s Thursday, It’s BEQ theme puzzle day, you know the drill.  Let’s get down to it – this week’s puzzle has a downward-facing theme, which was inferable from the title “Falling Hail”:

  • 3D: Best Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” — MATTHEW MCCONAUG
  • 9D: Celebration of a civil rights leader held every January — MARTIN LUTHER KIN
  • 24A: Activist who said “My religion has no geographical limits — MAHATMA GAND
  • 26A: Made more interesting — SPICED THING

So, this is “Hail” in the “ways to say hello” sense.  The ends of these entries that get cut off spell out HEY, G’DAY, HI, and a hearty ‘SUP

Easter is coming! Who’s ready for NBC’s live JCS on Sunday night?

Other notes:

  • Please refer to this episode of On The Grid for my thoughts on ASTI
  • I assumed that DRAKE, not DR DRE was “third on Forbes’ wealthiest hip-hop acts”.  I assumed wrong.
  • As A Person Who Does A Lot Of Crosswords, I enjoyed seeing “Made happy” as clue for CHEERED rather than the standard ELATED.

4/5 stars

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24 Responses to Thursday, March 29, 2018

  1. Brian says:


  2. Ethan says:

    We’re reaaaaaally stretching the meaning of “end” for that QAEDA clue, aren’t we? That’s like saying that MAFIA is “the end of organized crime” because the full phrase is “The Mafia.”

    • Richard says:

      I don’t think most English speakers read “Al Qaeda” as “The Qaeda” or “The Base”, even if they’re aware that “al” means “the”. Most think of it as a set phrase that has a first word and second word. I’ve never heard anyone use “Qaeda” without “Al” the way that I’ve heard “Mafia” without “The” thousands of times.

  3. Erik says:

    The “vowel movement” is the same in all theme entries. As becomes Es, Es become Is, Is Os, and Os Us. It’s consecutive—each vowel moves to the next vowel in the alphabet. The sounds don’t work but the letter changes do. Not so bad, I think.

  4. Penguins says:

    NYT was no problem once I got crackin

  5. Dr. Fancypants says:

    The clue for DELTA in the NYT app is messed up—it shows a tilde. Makes me wonder if anyone actually tests the app version of the puzzle before they push it out.

    • Lise says:

      The clue for DELTA on the pdf is a period. So, no better.

      I liked the nut phrases themselves. They weren’t at all contrived. I had GOLF monster first (didn’t yet have EDGE – very nice clue and answer!) but erased it after filling in GOLF PRO. Since I used to live in the land of GILA monsters, I was a little embarrassed not to have filled that in right away.

      Nice puzzle, overall. I really like Andy’s and Brian’s title suggestions.

  6. pauer says:

    Andy’s proposed title reminded me of this gem:
    It’s out-of-print, but well worth checking out for the inventive cryptics.

  7. huda says:

    NYT: Clever theme!
    PIZZA FACE was not an expression I knew, and it made me sad.

    • Lise says:

      Me too. It brought back some high-school memories. My having a name that rhymes with “pizza” was a boon for those who liked to taunt.

  8. John says:

    Probably missing something, but can anyone explain 26-across? “____ place” being “ONES”? I would go for “Know ____ place” or something…but it just seemed an odd clue, and since “NEMEAN” was not familiar to me…

    • PJ Ward says:

      It’s the first position to the left of the decimal point in a number. The number 12.3 has a 1 in the tens place, a 2 in the ones place and a 3 in the tenths place.

  9. JohnH says:

    On WSJ, while similar overall reaction, as usual my points of reference differ, so I guess I’m always seriously out of touch. To me, history (like Alf Landon) is a gimme, but trash movies and their stars not.

  10. David L says:

    All I could see is that were names of nuts in the circled squares, which struck me as a weak theme for a Thursday. The fact that there’s another NUT hidden in those nuts is not much of an improvement, IMO.

    But I’m highly prejudiced against this puzzle because of PIZZAFACE. As someone who suffered a great deal with acne in my teens, that brought back unpleasant memories — not only of the affliction itself, but of the casual cruelty of children.

  11. Joe Pancake says:

    NYT: My solving experience would have been vastly improved by emphasizing the N-U-T squares in someway — say, by shading. That aspect went totally over my head until I read the notes at XWordInfo.

    I noticed that the print version actually had the nuts shaded and the extra letters circled, but this apparently isn’t possible in Across Lite. Seems like there should be some other way to emphasize a square other than a circle — extra thick lines or something, but maybe there isn’t.

    At the very least, a note saying “Take a look at the print version” or “Pay attention to the squares between the circles” would have been welcome.

  12. Burak says:

    Both the clue to QAEDA and the entry PIZZAFACE made me groan so hard I might have pulled a muscle. Otherwise, the best puzzle of the week so far (although that’s not exactly high praise)

  13. ahimsa says:

    I enjoyed the LAT puzzle theme. I also liked the WSJ in spite of a few unknown names.

    I never give ratings of 1 to crosswords but I did for this NYT puzzle. The theme was fine but I had a lot of issues with the fill and clues.

    PIZZAFACE was the worst part of the puzzle for me. It seemed unnecessary and cruel. For me, just putting the word “pejoratively” in the clue didn’t help.

    The QAEDA clue (“End of Terrorism?”) felt a bit off. I don’t mean inaccurate or language issues. I can’t put my finger on why it hit me the wrong way. Maybe terrorism felt like the wrong subject for a humorous clue? Or maybe because so much terrorism is being done by other groups, eg., recent spate of bombings in Austin.

    The DRE clue had the answer in the clue (“Andre Young a.k.a. Dr. ___” ). Or maybe people really don’t know that DRE is short for Andre?

    I can’t understand the choices that are made by the NYT puzzle editor. I find that I appreciate the puzzle editors at LAT and WSJ more and more as time goes by.

  14. Beach bum says:

    “.. Someone more familiar with Wicca will have to tell me whether the clue [Like good spellers?] for WICCAN is good or not.”
    (New York Times: 45D “Like good spellers?”)

    Casting spells is part of Wicca.

  15. Lois says:

    I thought the clues in the NYT were really interesting and unusual. I gave it five stars, although I agree with others here about PIZZA FACE, a term I didn’t know.

  16. Norm says:

    BEQ: It’s Martin Luther King JR Day. Fail.

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