Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword “Themeless 115” —Jenni’s write-up
Is it me or are there more themeless Fireballs than usual this year? This is not a complaint! I enjoy Peter’s themeless puzzles. And this one had a mini-theme that will make some people complain. A lot.
I started in the NW, as always. I had no idea what a Goidelic language was, nor did I know who lived on Mount Helicon, so I moved on to more familiar ground. 2d [Operating system since the 1970s] is UNIX. 3d [Mötley Crüe bassist] is SIXX.
Hmm. That means that 19a [Rapper with the 2017 hit “Look at Me!”] starts with _XX_ That’s odd. Of course, rappers often have distinctive professional names that stray from standard orthography, so anything’s possible. I briefly considered consulting the resident teenager, and then decided to soldier on alone.
4d [It might have a colon for eyes] is an EMOTICON. Ahah! The dwellers on Mount Helicon must be MUSES. Then 17a [Only person elected two times as vice president and two times as president] is NIXON (nice bit of political trivia there!) and the nearly extinct language must be MANX. The rapper at 19a now starts with XXX. The rest of the crossings fell into place and reveal XXXTENTACION. X, as he’s often called, is from Florida, and his birth name would also make for a Scrabbly crossword: Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy.
The rest of the puzzle fell fairly smoothly until I got to the SE corner. 50a gives us another artist: [Rapper with the 2006 hit “Ms. New Booty”]. I already had the beginning: BUBBA. I looked at the other end. 53d [Lawless part] is XENA, and here we go with the Xs again. Sure enough, 52d [“Happy ___ (War Is Over)” (song with lyrics by John Lennon and Yoko Ono)] is XMAS and 54d [Inside shot?] is XRAY. This rapper is BUBBA SPARXXX. Bubba is a white guy from Georgia who was originally named Warren Anderson Mathis. Less Scrabbly.
A few other things:
- 20d [Catbird seat?] has a question mark because we have to take it literally; the figurative meaning is much more common. The answer is NEST.
- 16d is [Like ewers]. I think Peter is poking fun at crosswordese by putting this hoary old answer in the clue instead of the grid. I like it better here than there. The answer is SPOUTED.
- 38d [Words with no repeated letters, like “uncopyrightable” and “ambidextrously”] was frustrating, because I knew I’d heard that term before and couldn’t remember it. Crossings to the rescue! It’s ISOGRAM.
- 27d [Conger catcher] also uses crosswordese in a less common way; it’s EEL POT.
- 41d [Wally’s bro in an early sitcom] is THE BEAV. We can leave it there.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: it’s a Sports Will Make You Smarter Moment (hat tip to Ade). 40a asks us to figure out [When the Homer in the Gloamin’ was hit]. The answer in the grid is AT DUSK, which makes sense. Wikipedia tells me that Gabby Hartnett of the Cubs hit homer in question in 1938 at Wrigley Field. There were, of course, no lights at Wrigley, and the Cubs were batting in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 5-5. The umpires had already decided they were going to stop play after the ninth inning; back then, they would have been required to replay the entire game the next day. Hartnett’s walk-off home run came with two outs. The Cubs won the game and moved into first place in the National League. Earl Hilligan wrote the story for the AP and dubbed it the “homer in the gloamin’. ” Now that was sportswriting.
David Kahn’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
It’s spring (not that you’d know it from the weather in the northern climes) and there’s a puzzle by David Kahn, which means one of two things: The theme’s about baseball or someone famous who recently died. And … it’s baseball. Which mostly does not excite me. Various baseball phrases are clued as if they’re not about baseball, but then the five phrases actually tell the tale of a game that could be won only by a GRAND SLAM HOME RUN.
- 17a. BOTTOM OF THE NINTH, [*Bass part in Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony?].
- 22a. BASES LOADED, [*Result of a lot of drinking in the army?].
- 37a. TWO MEN OUT, [*A couple of prisoners after an escape from Leavenworth?].
- 43a. FULL COUNT, [*Dracula, after stuffing himself?].
- 51a. DOWN BY THREE, [*Plan for a midafternoon nap?]. This one feels way more arbitrary as baseball terms go, no? One team could be down, or up, by all sorts of numbers. But it’s needed to set up the clincher.
- And the story ends with that grand slam: 62a. [What will cause a walk-off win in the situation described by the answers to the starred clues].
It’s a cute idea, and probably captivated the baseball maniacs among you. (You know who you are.)
72 theme squares crunches the rest of the fill, of course, so you have trade-offs. SERT!
Five more things:
- 1a. [He wrote “In the fight between you and the world, back the world”], KAFKA. That’s dark.
- 20a. [1982 Loretta Lynn song with the lyric “It’s not easy to deceive you”], “I LIE.” Can it be? A legit non-partial clue for I LIE that I haven’t seen before?
- 1d. [Food cart offering], KABOB. This is a very NYC thing. Chicago largely lacks food carts, and food trucks provide all sorts of different cuisines. Manhattan’s halal carts will get you your chicken or lamb with some rice, though.
- 5d. [Need for making soap from sap?], AN O. To change “sap” into “soap.” Meh.
- 15a. [It’s California’s fault], SAN ANDREAS. Yes, I blame them.
3.75 stars from me.
Damien Peterson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Take a Break!” — Jim’s review
Given the title, I was expecting theme answers to be split into two on either side of a block, so I was surprised when this turned out to be a turning theme. The revealer is at 50a [Take a break, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme]: LET UP. Each theme answer ends in the string —LET which is turned upwards into a crossing entry.
- 18a [Balanchine specialty] MODERN BAL(LET) crossing 13d [Hopkins of “Gimme a Break!”] TELMA. This answer looked like MODERN BALL (before I caught on to the theme) which didn’t seem like much of a thing. But then, I didn’t recognize the name Balanchine, either. Is “MODERN BALLET” much better as far as in-the-language phrases go? Wikipedia lists it as “Contemporary Ballet.”
- 31a [Grain used to make the flatbread rotia] INDIAN MIL(LET) crossing 26d [Gamblers’ giveaways] TELLS. Didn’t know this one either. That center section was tough especially with that challenging but lovely clue for OMAHA [Buffett’s base].
- 43a [Brunch option] CHEESE OME(LET) crossing 36d [Brit’s boob tube] TELLY. This is more my speed for a theme entry — solid and commonly known.
- 56a [Resigned oneself to an unpleasant task] BIT THE BUL(LET) crossing 51d [Old message] TELEX. Fun entry.
A couple things bothered me about the execution of this theme. I personally would rather see common in-the-language phrases as theme answers when they’re available. The first two entries could have been replaced with any combination of RUBBER MALLET, RETAIL OUTLET, or PUBLIC TOILET. Even GOOGLE WALLET would be fun even though it’s been renamed Google Pay.
Secondly, LET UP doesn’t mean “take a break” in my mind. Usually it means to decrease in intensity, diminish, or become less severe. The action continues just at a less harried pace.
The last thing that irked me didn’t have to do with the theme but the entry ADOREE (63a, [Titans cornerback Jackson]). No. This player has played one season in the NFL and has no notable achievements in the game (so far). He is not crossword-worthy just because his first name has friendly letters.
There were some highlights in the grid of course. For me, they were SAMOAN, PICARD, NECCO, KRILL, TOYBOX, TRIPOLI, and NUKEM [Duke of video games].
- 23a [Lavalava wearer]. SAMOAN. Apparently this is a rectangular piece of fabric used as a skirt or wrap and worn by men and women alike. We don’t have anything similar in Guamanian culture, but looking at the picture, I’m kinda glad we don’t. Then again, that guy doesn’t look like a native.
- 28a [Holds out]. OFFERS. Another tough clue in that middle section. “Holds out” usually means “resists” or “waits for something better.” But I’m okay with the literal meaning as well.
- 33a [Delicacy]. This has nothing to do with food, but TACT.
- 29d [Personnel chief, at times]. Could’ve been HIRER but it turned out to be FIRER. See also 48d [Part of Fred Flintstone’s yell] which could have been YABBA but turned out to be DABBA.
- 60d [Movies, informally]. PIX. Hmm. PIX usually refers to stills. FLIX usually refers to videos.
I had a couple issues with the theme, but maybe that’s just me. Otherwise (with one exception) the rest of the puzzle felt pretty solid. I’d put this around 3.4 stars.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Popinjays” — Ben’s Review
I love when the BEQ puzzle tells you what to do from the title. In this case: popinjays!
- 17A: Bad vibe from a women’s clothing store? — J JILL OMEN
- 58A:Muslim pilgrim on an Indonesian island? — BALI HAJJI
- 11D: Really huge star of the Texans? — MEGA JJ WATT
- 29D: Tune played on an Egyptian radio station? — ASWAN DJ JAM
Well, make that “pop in Js”. Each of these has two Js popped in somewhere to transform ILL OMEN, BALI HAI, MEGAWATT, and ASWAN DAM into the entries above. I gave a stinkeye to ASWAN DJ JAM’s cluing, but it’s a nice transformation.
I’ve been sitting on a JJ track for YEARS in hopes of a double-J theme.
- I didn’t love “Oil collector’s degs.” for BFAS, but I get it. Painters collect oil paints as they make their paintings.
- International Workers’ Day is MAY FIRST. Mark you calendars!
- PAAS: why use anything else to dye Easter eggs?
- I kept trying to make BROMO into PEPTO. As it turns out, it’s BROMO.
Winston Emmons’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up
Letter addition Friday is a day early. Here, RE is added to the beginnings of theme phrases creating new wacky answers. The consistent placement of the REs is most likely the reason for this being run on Thursday, as it gives you two free letters per entry once you cotton on. The results were a little bland, but I did appreciate that none of the answers was simply “re-” as in again, they completely transformed their phrases.
- [Farm unit], BALE. Fakey! We all plonked down ACRE reflexively, yes?
- [River to the North Sea], ELBE and [North Sea feeder], YSER – I’m not sure having both in one puzzle is ideal.
- [One-named supermodel], EMME. I had IMAN first, and the common M made her hard to dislodge…
- [Pro with a tabletop scale], VET. I am a vet. I’m not sure what a tabletop scale is, though I could guess… Never encountered a scale on a tabletop in any vet practice ever. Everywhere have walk-on scales (although they mostly end up being ‘pick-up and weigh yourself with the obese labrador scales’). Is this some old-timey, fourty years out of date thing?
- [Bluemountain.com product], ECARD. Don’t think I want to check. Blue Mountain = cappuccino in my world.