This week’s Fireball is a contest. Look for the review on Sunday after the submission deadline.
Randolph Ross’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
It’s a rebus Thursday! This one’s revealed at 40d, WIRETAP [What the four undercover orgs. in this puzzle might do]. And indeed, there are four three-letter wiretapping organizations in rebus squares throughout the grid:
- 22a & 11d, GARDE(N SA)LE [Spring event at a nursery] crossing BEA(N SA)LAD [Protein-rich picnic dish].
- 27a & 4d, BAY O(F BI)SCAY [Outlet for the Loire] crossing DATE O(F BI)RTH [Driver’s license information].
- 44a & 32d, ENUN(CIA)TION [Clear speaking] crossing MAR(CIA) CLARK [Lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case].
- 50a & 38d, MA(DE A) SCENE [Fought in public] crossing ART (DEA)LER [Gallery owner].
Eight lively phrases! No demerits for having a few entries where the TLA doesn’t span two words, since that would’ve been roughly impossible for CIA.
I have to say that I didn’t love the theme, or maybe I didn’t love the revealer. Four secretive US organizations in rebus squares is a nice jumping off point, but WIRETAP as the revealer left me a little cold. I don’t think a revealer was even necessary here, but if you had to include one, maybe… UNDERCOVER? You could argue that these orgs. are skulking around the grid where you don’t expect them, I guess.
What bothered me more was that Joel Fagliano did a much better puzzle based on this concept last year. They’re not the same puzzle, but they have the same creative jumping-off point (How can I make a crossword about secret organizations being secret?), and they both hide NSA, CIA, and FBI. I liked this puzzle just fine, but WIRETAP pales in comparison to Joel’s aha moment. (And before Joel, Joanne Sullivan treaded this ground in 2015 in the Chronicle of Higher Education!)
Overall, the fill was fine. I liked ALI BABA, I’LL LIVE, THE MOST, MA BELL, SKORT, and the aforementioned theme entries. GLAD EYE was new to me (and Wiktionary thinks it’s more a seductive glance than a pleasant one). A BEE, NODULAR, SNEERY, and a few of the short entries gave me pause, but there wasn’t anything unreasonable.
A couple of fun clues for short entries:
- 26a, LIL is clued as [Wee wee]. Cute!
- 46a, EMT is a [Chest thumper, for short?].
And a clue that I’m still confused about:
- 30a, ARE [Ain’t right?]. I filled this in without thinking about it too much, assuming that the clue was referring to the grammatically prescriptivist idea that “are” is the “correct” version of “ain’t” (an idea I don’t subscribe to, but that’s beside the point). I was talking to fellow Fiend Erik about the puzzle post-solve, who rightly pointed out that even if that were the correct reading of the clue, “ain’t” means “are not,” not just ARE. So what’s this clue doing? Is it just an error, or is there another way to read this that makes it correct? If so, I’m not seeing it. Clarifying comments appreciated!
That’s all I’ve got. Until next time!
Gabriel Stone’s (Mike Shenk’s) Wall Street Journal crossword, “Staying Power” — Jim’s review
Bs and Bs are added to well-known two-word phrases.
- 18a [Protector for a little terror’s knee?] BRAT BRACE. Rat race.
- 26a [Equipment for a football-curling hybrid?] BLOCKER BROOM. Locker room. A goofy clue, but sometimes I like goofy, especially when it’s imaginative.
- 42a [Shiny bracelet?] BRIGHT BANGLE. Right angle. Pretty straightforward. Maybe a little too straightforward?
- 54a [Battle of wits?] BRAIN BOUT. Rain out. A perfect clue for this one.
- And the revealer at 62a [Place to stay, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme] B AND B.
Cute theme with solid entries. It’s a lot harder to find two-word phrases in which you can modify both words the same way, so I am much more appreciative of the effort that went into this. Go ahead, give it a try. We’ll wait.
To pull this off so smoothly shows there’s an expert hand behind it. And the fill bears that out with WAIT A BIT, ACID WASH, U.S. DOLLAR, SEÑORITA, BATHTUB, CLEAR-CUT, AT STAKE, and PET DOORS. (I love the clue for this last one [Domestic flaps], but I admit it made me nervous for a second.)
Speaking of clues:
- 26a [Polish language]. EDIT. When I was solving, I read this correctly with the short o, but looking back on it, I can see how it might be misinterpreted. Nice clue.
- 37a [Harry’s brother]. WILLS. Did not know this. Apparently Prince William’s nickname is WILLS.
- 56a [“The Lion King” meerkat]. TIMON. We usually see a Shakespearean clue for this entry. I, for one, like the more modern one.
- 26d [Produce porter]. BREW. This could be read any number of ways, but the first word is a verb.
- 49d [Banner, when ruffled]. HULK. Far and away my favorite clue I’ve seen in a long while. This has nothing to do with flags, but the comic book character Bruce Banner (or David Banner, if you’re a fan of the old TV show). We’ve got two bits of wordplay going on in this clue and they mesh perfectly together. I don’t know if this is an original clue (I didn’t see it in the cruciverb database), but if it’s new, I’d put it up as an Orca contender.
An enjoyable theme that works, tons of beauteous fill, and clever cluing. What’s not to like? Four stars from me.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Over Time” — Ben’s Review
Today’s BEQ Thursday puzzle felt a little off to me. There’s some cool stuff going on in the grid, but the rest of the grid left me a little disappointed. Let’s start with the cool stuff, though:
The revealer on this one, UPDATE (72A, “Computer download … and a hint to this puzzle’s theme”) spells everything out. Each of the theme entries is broken into two pieces, with the entry above it helping to bridge the gaps (and explaining to cool pattern of black squares in the center).
- 19A/21A: Party without many women — SAUS(AGE) FEST
- 32A/33A: Want something very much — HUNG(ER A)FTER
- 43A/45A: Holding company’s offering? — STOR(AGE) ROOM
- 59A/60A: Justify activity — HORS(E RA)CING
The AGEs in SAGE HEN and CAGE and ERAs in CAMERA and SOLERA help bridge the gaps nicely. Justify is a racehorse that just won the Triple Crown.
“Little Dark Age” is a nice synth-pop song off MGMT‘s latest album.
There was plenty of fill that irked me on this one: RRR, DR X (which felt a bit on the obscure side, comics-wise – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this), HTS, APR clued as “Patriot’s Day month” (since AFAIK, Patriot’s Day is just a Boston area thing?), OB-LA (as in “OB-LA-Di, OB-LA-Da”), ASU, OSU, and the use of both to clue SCH, ARCO, MPS, etc. A lot of small fill that this theme may have needed to work, but which felt irritating as far as my solve went.
Agnes Davidson & C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review
This one of those themes I only “got” after the fact. Nevertheless, a very clever and satifying category theme. Here, each theme answer is a STOCKHOLDER – a HOLDER of one of several different varieties of STOCK. A BIGBOXSTORE has stock as in merchandise; a CATTLEFARM has stock on the hoof; and a SLOWCOOKER has stock as in seasoned water. Very imaginative theme concept and execution!
- [Returning GI’s diagnosis], PTSD. Familiar four letter abbreviation, if dark. We don’t see it too often despite its potential usefulness.
- [Bowen of “Modern Family”], JULIE. Not a JULIE I know or have seen in other puzzle. Making a note.
- [Instant Pot function], SLOWCOOKER. Have only seen Instant Pot references from several other puzzle people on the Facebooks. Seems to be a current American fad.
- [Cluster of small stars?], DLIST. CLIST is not in the language, yet A, B and D are. A curiosity.
- [“A diamond is forever” sloganeer], DEBEERS. Music…