Thursday, June 21, 2018

BEQ 8:03 (Ben) 


Fireball 18:24 (Jenni) 


LAT 5:28 (Gareth) 


NYT 2:42 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


David Steinberg and Milo Beckman’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 6.21.18 by David Steinberg and Milo Beckman

I’m glad I solved this one online, because the image to the right is what displays after you solve the puzzle! A nice cherry on top of a great puzzle.

In honor of LGBT Pride Month, we get a puzzle with a rainbow flag (which traditionally has just these six colors, lumping indigo and violet together into purple). Except! The words along each colored stripe have had that color removed from the grid. That’s a complicated explanation — let’s just dive in:

  • 15a, EYES [Some cross-country flights]. Those are (RED) EYES, but RED has been removed from the entry. To get the RED back, you have to color the row red! 
    • Similarly, 16a, CARPET [Path to an Oscar?] and 17a, BARON [Foe of Snoopy] have both had “red” removed (RED CARPET, RED BARON). Color the whole row red to make each answer correct!
  • The orange row has 21a, MEN [Syracuse athletes, once] (ORANGEMEN), 22a, TREE [Tropicana plant] (ORANGE TREE), and 23a, BITTERS [Ingredient in a classic gin martini] (ORANGE BITTERS).
  • The yellow row has 30a, PEPPERS [Salad items picked at the midpoint of their maturity] (YELLOW PEPPERS) and 34a, BRICK ROAD [Path in a hit 1939 film] (YELLOW BRICK ROAD).
  • The green row has 43a, BAY PACKER [Lambeau Field pro] (GREEN BAY PACKER) and 46a, LANTERN [DC Comics hero with a magic ring] (GREEN LANTERN).
  • The blue row has 53a, MEANIES [Villainous army in a 1968 Beatles film] (BLUE MEANIES), 57a, LAWS [Some shopping restrictions] (BLUE LAWS), and 59a, HEN [University of Delaware mascot] (BLUE HEN).
  • And finally, the purple row has 67a, PROSE [Flowery writing] (PURPLE PROSE), 68a, HEARTS [Hero decorations] (PURPLE HEARTS), and 69a, RAIN [Prince album that was #1 for 24 weeks] (PURPLE RAIN).

In order to get that rectangular flag shape, this grid is 17×13, with a roughly appropriate 80 words. This is a stunning accomplishment of construction. Nearly half of the puzzle is made up of theme material, which means that every non-theme row is extremely constrained, and yet the fill is relatively solid (which is an enormous accomplishment!). ADIOS AMIGOS and OFF ONE’S GAME are both lovely long entries, and AP SPANISH is lovely coming down in the SW. PASTORATE isn’t superb, but it’s perfectly serviceable, and the short fill ranges from lovely to fine.

A traditional rainbow flag

The “aha” moment was really great on this one, and it didn’t feel like homework to finish the puzzle even after figuring out the theme. Really stunning, worthy of the NYT Thursday slot and potentially a Puzzle of the Year nomination. Great work!

Until next time!

Alex Eaton-Salners’s Fireball crossword “Cases of Scurvy” —Jenni’s write-up

I love this puzzle. It’s tricky and challenging and fun. As you can see, it took me a long time to finish – and it took me even longer to understand the title, which is brilliant. Did I mention I love this puzzle?

We have two 15-letter theme answers that at first glance make no sense. 20a [Overturned, as a boat] appears to be CAPSTATSTHEWAVE. I figured out part of the trick when I got to 6d [Emulates an ocean?], which intersects 20a at the second S. I realized that the answer turned the corner and ended up as DOES THE WAVE. Aha! Then I went back to the beginning and tried to figure out where the answer to [Overturned] made its turn. When I finally realized there were three “turning” answers, it felt like a lightbulb exploded in my head. I made a very crude visual aid:

You can see that every answer in each themer takes a turn at an S, so each 15-letter entry has three theme answers.

  • 20a [Overturned, as a boat] is CAPSIZED.
  • 13d [Dead in the water?] is LOST AT SEA, which turns twice.
  • The aforementioned 6d [Emulates an ocean?], DOES THE WAVE.
  • 56a [Captain’s command] is ABANDON SHIP.
  • 47d [Vessel launched on the second anniversary of Pearl Harbor] is the WISCONSIN – again, two turns.
  • 39d [Couples cruise vessel?] is NOAH’S ARK.

Six nautical theme entries, each taking one or two turns at an S or two, and several with misleading and amusing clues. That’s a lot of puzzly goodness right there. At first I thought the title simply referred to the prevalence of scurvy among naval crews back in the day – and then I realized it’s S-CURVY, referring to the turns of each answer. And the theme S’s are the only S’s in the grid. BRILLIANT. A construction tour-de-force that is also a lot of fun to solve. Did I mention I love this puzzle?

And the non-theme fill is excellent. A few highlights:

  • 1d [Genre of “The Return of the Living Dead,” for short] is ZOM COM.
  • 2d [Petite Grande] is ARIANA. She’s five feet tall, if you’re wondering.
  • Two [Certain flatbread] clues. 26a is MATZO and 27 is NAAN. I’m embarrassed to admit that MATZO was one of the last answers I filled in; my only excuse is that I usually spell it “matzah,” but that’s weak.
  • 42d [Writer of fiction?] had me thinking we were looking for a character in a novel. Nope. It’s PEN NAME.
  • 66a [Home of the brave?] is TEPEE, and that’s my only quibble. White people using “brave” to refer to American Indians makes me a bit queasy, if only because of the association with the Atlanta baseball team.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I’ve never heard of the War of the Regulation, which apparently ended at the Battle of ALAMANCE. Wikipedia tells me it involved political corruption, British colonialism, and beleaguered farmers. “The stated primary aim of the Regulators was to form an honest government and reduce taxation.” We’re still working on that first part.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Back-to-Back” — Jim’s review

Nifty theme today with a perfectly apt title. We’re presented with phrases in which the last word can be written backwards thus forming a different word and inspiring an appropriately wacky clue.

WSJ – Thu, 6.21.18 – “Back-to-Back” by Samuel A. Donaldson

  • 18a [Extra seat belt?] SPARE STRAP. Spare parts.
  • 20a [Repulsively slick gumshoes?] GREASY SNOOPS. Greasy spoons. I like this one best, because we’ve all seen a film or two that depicts a greasy snoop. I’m thinking mostly of Matt Dillon’s character in There’s Something About Mary.
  • 37a [Minor no-nos involving party salsa?] ITSY BITSY REDIPS. …Spider. It’s fine, but I think most people would say “double dip,” wouldn’t they?
  • 54a [Remnants of a toad’s skin treatment?] THE LAST WARTS. …straw.
  • 57a [Printer’s anti-embellishment policy?] CEASE SERIF. …fires.

Interesting theme placement in the grid. The first two and last two are stacked atop each other for seven letters. That’s pretty unusual. You have to have very compatible sets of letters where the overlaps occur. For the most part, everything works well, even giving rise to long nice long Downs RAP SHEET up top and YARD SIGN down below. The toughest pairings are the TS starting at 54d  and the TF at 56d. The first one is do-able with TSAR, which is a common enough entry in crosswords. The second one is harder and begets T-FAL, the cookware brand, which in turn begets ALGA and DAN’L. Not stellar fill, but given that that’s the roughest pairing in all those overlapping theme squares, that’s pretty good.

It doesn’t appear that it had to be that way. I think the second and fourth themers could have been moved inward one row without too much difficulty. But if you can get themers to stack without causing too many compromises, that should free up space in the rest of the grid for fun fill.

I don’t know that I would consider PARAGUAYAN and REDEEMABLE to be fun, but they are interesting given their clues [President Horacio Cartes, e.g.] and [Like some stocks and souls].

Still, there’s some kludgy fill: UTNE, IPANA, singular TAPA, and odd UNAPT.

Clues of note:

  • 42a [Sermon ender?]. ETTE. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “sermonette.”
  • 2d [Scales up?]. LIBRA. “Up” as in a constellation in the night sky? Meh. That’s a pretty far stretch, seems to me.
  • 6d [List of cons]. RAP SHEET. I’m not getting this one either. A RAP SHEET is a list of crimes someone has committed. Is the clue using “cons” as short for “convicts?” Because that doesn’t make sense. It must mean “cons” as in negative things (about a person). This also seems a little stretchy.
  • 32d [Boiling point?]. STOVE. Now we’re talking. Good clue.

On the whole, the fill is solid and the clues weren’t too tricky (if stretchy in places), but it was the theme that carried the day. Good puzzle. 3.7 stars.

And now, an homage to Matt Dillon’s repulsively greasy snoop in There’s Something About Mary. (Some NSFW language.)

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

This week’s BEQ Thursday plays like a themeless, even though it has a theme.  Four series of circled squares form loops in the grid that create MERRY go-rounds, per 37A.  We’ve got JUBILANT, THRILLED, ECSTATIC, and EXULTANT from each wheel, so I’d say that’s spot on.

Fill notes:

  • Those are H.B. REESE’s Pieces you’re nibbling on, have some respect.
  • ST JUDE is your patron saint of lost causes.
  • I always seem to pick the wrong option when it’s fill/trivia about IBN vs BIN.
  • A beret goes on your TETE, because France.
  • G STAR Raw is a Dutch clothing company that makes some nice streetwear/denim.
  • GRETNA Green, Scotland: We Promise That’s Not A Typo
  • ERNE and EGRET: two crossword-y birds

3.75/5 stars

Clive Probert’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Today, words beginning with “GL” become “L” and new phrases are “wacky”. We start with (G)LASSCUTTING; unfortunately, in the 21st century, CUTTING is more associated with physical self-harm than skipping school. I wouldn’t have ran that. (G)LOBALWARMING is the second, and although the [ears are burning] clue angle is cute, it’s telling that LOBAL has never been in a crossword on its own. It got better though, with (G)LOWINTHEDARK and somewhat violent (G)LANCINGBLOW landing a lot better than the first two. No revealer either, so this puzzle lives and dies by the quality of its four theme answers…


  • [Siamese fighting fish], BETTA. You’re forgiven if you tried TETRA here.
  • [Backyard game for two], CATCH. Or more?
  • [Feature of a two-ltr. monogram], NMI. No middle initial. True, though my monogram has no middle initial but is also not two-ltr.
  • [Like a birder’s field glass], MONOCULAR. Weird phrasing, though somewhat helpful. Most birders use field glasses, which are binocular. Last weekend, I went seabird watching from Cape Point, which required use of a singular MONOCULAR telescope; I suppose that’s a “field glass”. They’re hella pricey, so I (and most?) birders don’t own one.
  • [Landscape artist’s shade], SKYBLUE. It wasn’t a good day for La Albiceleste

2.5 Stars

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23 Responses to Thursday, June 21, 2018

  1. Jeff says:

    Nice puzzle (except for the MEANIES/MAPP crossing; a total Hail Mary there). Had no idea this had anything to do with Pride Month. A note or a revealer would have been nice.

  2. Ethan says:

    Is IBC Root Beer a regional brand? IBC/BIO seems more interesting to me than ICC/CIO but I don’t know if IBC is known far and wide.

  3. Lise says:

    Beautiful NYT! I solve on paper, so I used colored pens for the theme lines except the yellow which I highlighted. Yay for Pride Month!

    I can see that the online experience would have been even more fun. This is definitely an award-worthy puzzle.

  4. Milo says:

    Thanks for the kind write-up, Andy. :)

    I started this comment to point out that today is also Flag Day…but then I realized we missed it by one week. Damn!

    Happy solving to all, and happy pride to the queers of crossworld. ??‍♂️

  5. Jenni Levy says:

    Today’s NYT and FB puzzles should both be in the running for ORCAS. Wonderful puzzles.

    • Norm says:

      I hated the FB SW corner, with the obscure battle and the gratuitous insult in the clue for 31D, but the brilliance of the theme won me over, so I would have to agree. And the NYT obviously, although obtuse me thought for the longest time that it was just a color wheel puzzle [e.g., green between blue & yellow]. Then I looked out my office window at the flags flying in SF Civic Center Plaza.

  6. Ethan Friedman says:

    Beautiful NYT. MEANIES/MAPP intersection and PASTORATE are terrible but excusable based on the rest of it.

    Just a blast

  7. HomeSkooled says:

    Loved the Fireball Puzzle as well! Great trick and cool that it’s done with all sea-related theme answers.

    And Yooper!! As a Michigan native, this clue was a gimme for me, but I would be surprised to learn that term is widely known outside of Michigan (it refers to someone from the Upper Peninsula, or the U.P….a U.P.’er…Yooper).

    As pleased as I was with that clue and answer, I was equally dismayed that BON would not work for “AC/DC bandmate of Angus.” I know Axl is signing for them on tour, but I don’t know that most would consider him a member of ACDC. Although perhaps he is.

    Anyway, I’m new to the Fireball puzzles, but loving them so far!

    • Jenni Levy says:

      I got it easily, and I’m a New Yorker now living in PA. No idea where I heard it. I do have friends from Michigan….

  8. GlennP says:

    NYT: Orange bitters in a classic gin martini? A gin martini is gin and dry vermouth, garnished with an olive, period. We’re you thinking of a Manhattan?

  9. GLR says:

    Very nice NYT puzzle today. I picked up on the missing colors part of the them pretty quickly, and saw that they were colors of the spectrum (except for purple), but didn’t get the flag part of the theme until I read about it.

    I think “Levi rival” might have been a better clue for 52-A. Wrangler and Lee are made by the same company. Of course, “Wrangler” leaves open the possibility that we’re talking about SUVs.

  10. JohnH says:

    So glad I got a copy of the NYT puzzle. A challenge, with no hint clue, and such an impressive construction. All those theme entries, matched in a row, and rows in order, too.

    I had trouble coming up with BITTER, for obvious reasons, and will trust others that it’s justifiable. MAPP / MEANIES didn’t bother me. I dug both from memory in due course, but anyway the crossing couldn’t be much else. Beanies???

  11. caroline says:

    Excellent NYT puzzle. One nitpick I have is cluing 38d DAN Savage as an “L.G.B.T. activist”, when he has frequently expressed biphobic and transphobic views.

    Also, did anyone else try AVIAN flu for 20A? That caused me a bit of confusion.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      “LG activist” sounds like someone agitating on behalf of worker rights at the Korean electronics company.

      Totally put AVIAN in first.

  12. john farmer says:

    Excellent puzzle. I’m sure I wasn’t the only solver who thought this might be a ROY G BIV theme, so the rainbow flag discovery was a nice twist. 90 theme squares in a 221-square grid is dense, so getting the fill relatively clean was no mean feat.

    For reasons I often don’t get, a lot of crossword commentary focuses on short fill that’s blah, iffy, or worse. On another day, you’d see more talk about ICC, SAK, EEO, ADOS, MAPP, ALORS, HAAG, and maybe CIO, GRO. (PASTORATE is unfamiliar to me but sounds legit.) Today, a few brief mentions but no big gripes. Which tells me people really don’t care too much about the short stuff (not nearly as much as they say they do), as long as they enjoy other elements of the puzzle such as the theme. My tastes may not be everybody’s, but I find the overemphasis on short fill misplaced. Over time, it has led to cleaner puzzles — which is good — but it also leads to safer puzzles that are less likely to offend and long forgotten by the time you go to lunch. Zzzzz…. Give me a puzzle that takes a few chances, even one with a few compromises. Today’s is a fine example. Puzzles should dare to be different, and puzzle-makers should not sweat too much about the small stuff.

    • Andy says:

      If constructors taking some chances leads to more puzzles like today’s NYT, I wholeheartedly agree! I don’t think a lot of constructors could’ve produced a publishable result from a challenge this daunting, but I’m very glad Milo and David gave it a whirl.

      Since you asked, I wanted to briefly address some reasons why crossword commentary often focuses on short, blah fill. I can only speak for myself, but when I write about a crossword, I mostly write what I remember about it. When I write about bad short fill, it’s because that’s what stood out to me. Today, the theme was so tremendous and all-encompassing that the bad stuff (and yes, HAAG, SAK, and ADOS are really, truly not good) barely registered, as indicated by the one sentence I devoted to it. On the other hand, when a theme underwhelms or merely whelms, it’s only natural for a critic to ask whether the surrounding fill made the solving experience more or less enjoyable and, relatedly, whether that fill was avoidable. If a theme underwhelms and there’s bad fill, that’s when I’m most eager to write about it (Why was this puzzle published in this state? How could it have been improved, if at all?).

      I think you’re probably right that the ratio of time spent discussing blah short fill to time spent solving blah short fill skews high, and it’s possible — nay, likely — that the average solver or Fiend reader cares proportionally much less about it than reviewers do. But as you mentioned, calling attention to bad short fill has led to cleaner puzzles, which *is* good. And I’m not convinced that it’s caused the average NYT puzzle to become “safer” (which I take to mean that the themes are less adventurous because constructors fear including too much dreck): Bruce Haight is still out here making 10 stunt puzzles a year (and bless him for it), and constructors like Erik Agard and Alex Eaton-Salners and CC Burnikel and a bunch of indie folks are publishing lovely and innovative — and clean! — themes and grids.

      All of which is to say, I care about the short stuff because I care about crosswords. Whether the crossword brings me joy is usually, but not always, dependent on whether care has been taken with the short fill.

      • john farmer says:

        Thanks, Andy, for your reply. A couple of points to clarify.

        First, my original comment was not directed at bloggers so much as puzzle-makers — to invite them to be more adventurous, to rethink what crosswords can be. Of course, there are constructors are making some first-rate, innovative puzzles. To that I say: more, please.

        Second, I agree that short fill is not unimportant, but my point was to think again about how important. Short fill is part of a solver’s overall experience and can affect their enjoyment, but among the various aspects of crosswords, except in some egregious cases, I think it ranks pretty low. For me, quality of cluing — which is less constrained and often the source of freshness and humor in a puzzle — is typically more important than a few sub-par short answers. (Cluing is where the conversation between the constructor and the solver takes place. Do that well and most puzzles will be a pleasure.) Likewise, for other aspects such as long fill, theme, overall concept. Most people aren’t going to care much about the short fill when other parts of the puzzle are doing the job.

        Third, short fill is a technical detail. We live in a technical age and technical details get a lot of attention. But what makes a creative work work, or not, is usually not whether it was technically well made. Almost everything today (crosswords, music, movies, etc.) is better technically than what was made a generation ago. But what makes a work enjoyable and memorable is not technical proficiency, but something else.

    • Burak says:

      For my ratings, I give more weight to longer answers so that two good long answers compensate for three bad short answers. I never think of shorter fill as a deal breaker, but when there are a lot of them it shows me that the constructor didn’t spend time to clean up their work. I want to reward constructors who actually focus on those little details and give us a smooth fill all around over those who probably autofill from a word list and go with it.

  13. Penguins says:

    Too bad I did the .puz version, Very creative.

  14. Hup Hup says:

    One of the comments mentioned the Orca awards. I skimmed Doaldson’s 9000 word comment but couldn’t see what the acronym stands for. Google simply refers back to Crossword Fiend.Acronymn Finder lists 5 organizations but that didn’t help. Orca seems like an appropriate logo since it is crosswordese for a menace, but what does the O R C A stand for?
    ( Outstanding Recreational Constructor’s Association?)

    • Sam Donaldson says:

      Like the Oscars, the Orcas aren’t an acronym. They’re the annual awards presented on this site for excellence in crossword construction and editing. Why Orcas? Four reasons: (1) they’re black and white, like crosswords; (2) ORCAS anagrams to OSCAR; (3) we see orcas frequently in crosswords (fears of trademark dilution allegations kept us from calling them the Oreos); and (4) for two years prior to the Orcas, Amy (while still blogging under the Orange nom) and Rex Parker collaborated on the Oryx Awards, a name that’s both an animal and a portmanteau of their online personae–using Orcas was thus a tip of the hat to their earlier work.

      Not quite 9,000 words, but at least it answers your question!

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