Thursday, July 12, 2018

BEQ 9:27 (Laura) 


Fireball 11:07 (Jenni) 


LAT 5:23 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:59 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Joe DiPietro’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NY Times crossword solution 7.12.18 by Joe DiPietro

Sorry for the latish review this week! A quick rundown:

Joe DiPietro gives us a Thursday puzzle playing on the phrase HANDS DOWN [Easily … and a hint to four answers in this puzzle], which is our revealer at 34d. Four across entries contain a word that can precede “hand,” but those words are instead contained in an intersecting down entry. Like so:

  • 1a, DEFST [Clear of trees]. I knew right away that this was supposed to be DEFOREST, but with only five blanks, I suspected that a rebus was coming. Reader, I was mistaken! Because…
    • 3d was FORENSICS [Field of “CSI”]. The FORE of DEFOREST goes down. Since FOREHAND is a phrase, you might say that the hand goes down.
  • 22a, EVALORIA [“Desperate Housewives” co-star]. This is supposed to be EVA LONGORIA, and sure enough…
    • 10d is GO ALONG [Concur]. The LONG of EVA LONGORIA goes down, and LONGHAND is a phrase, so again the hand goes down. (You get the idea, I hope. It’s hard to explain! I’m doing my best!)
  • 38a, ENVIS [Surrounding area]. This is supposed to be ENVIRONS, and so we have…
    • 29d, CHIRON [“Wisest and justest of all the centaurs,” in Greek myth]. The IRON of ENVIRONS runs down through CHIRON, and IRON HAND is… a phrase? I know the phrase much better as iron fist, but apparently iron hand is also sometimes used.
  • 51a, TREASMAP [It often features an “X”]. This should be TREASURE MAP, and so we get…
    • 41d, CENSURE [Public rebuke]. The SURE of TREASURE MAP runs down through CENSURE, and SURE HAND is a phrase, more or less.

A very cute idea, pretty well executed. An idea this ambitious imposes a ton of grid constraints (eight fairly evenly spread out themers, plus the HANDS DOWN revealer is a lot of theme material!), and with that in mind, the fill is shockingly smooth. Plus, there are some nice long non-thematic entries like I GOT A NAME and LAY RUBBER. A little ding for IRON HAND, which I’m still not entirely convinced is common, but overall I was impressed! I really enjoyed the aha, and I found this harder (in a good way!) than most recent Thursdays.

That’s all I’ve got. Until next time!

David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Hovercraft” — Jim’s review

We have a puzzle in two halves today with H-donors on the left and H-donees on the right.

WSJ – Thu, 7.12.18 – “Hovercraft” by David Alfred Bywaters

  • 17a [Gentler, more welcoming wrestling surface?] FUZZY MAT and 18a [Touring an English town known for its immersive experiences?] AT BATH
  • 26a [Pacifist’s request?] NO TANKS and 30a [Narrow outhouse?] THIN CAN
  • 47a [Pastoral patrol officer?] LAMB COP and 47a [Result of a boring text conversation?] CHAT NAP
  • 59a [Pig breeder’s profession?] SOW BIZ and 61a [Name for a not-very-revealing burlesque joint?] SHIN CITY

Strangely enough, I solved the entire right side of the grid first, and so I thought it was just a simple add-an-H theme. I was underwhelmed, especially considering I generally like the wordplay offered by this constructor. When I got SOW BIZ, the penny dropped.

But I’m still looking for some other connection between the pairs. At first I thought it was letter position. In the first pair, the H was the last letter in FUZZY MAT(H) and it becomes the last letter in AT BATH. In the final pair, the H was the second letter in S(H)OWBIZ and becomes the second letter in SHIN CITY. But the middle two pairs don’t have such a pattern.

One thing that is true is that the H follows the same letter in each pair of entries: a T in the first pair (although there’s an extra T in AT BAT), a T again in the second pair, a C in the third, and an S in the last. But other than a nice bit of consistency, what does that do for us?

And how to make sense of the title? You could re-parse it as “H over craft.” But what does that mean? Sure, the H is moved over, but where does “craft” come in? I looked at the letters between the H positions to see if there were vehicles in there, but no. I guess “craft” is just meant to imply something that is built or created. Thus the puzzle is an “H-over craft.” Meh, seems iffy, but that’s the best I got. Solvers, if you have something better, feel free to shout it out.

The long fill in the grid is relegated to the NW and SE corners with stacked 8s. I like REDIRECT with its clue [Cross follow-up] (I was thinking boxing, not law) and BEE-EATER, though its generic clue [Insectivorous bird] could apply to most birds. I also like LIT CRIT, but its symmetric partner, ACT NICE, doesn’t strike me as something most parents say. (“Be nice” seems more common to me.)

Other less common, less fun entries: NEU and NEUR, AAR, ORT, and USBS [Flash drives, familiarly]. You have USB ports, USB drives, and USB devices. I’ve also heard of USB sticks, but I’ve never heard a flash drive called a “USB.”

More clues of note:

  • 18a [Touring an English town known for its immersive experiences?] AT BATH. In case you were wondering, there are actual Roman baths that you can tour around. Definitely worth a visit if you get to England, and it’s not too far from London.
  • 23a [Chi baggage code]. ORD. Chicagoans, does calling your city “Chi” seem legit? I’ve heard Chi-Town, but just “Chi” seems hinky.
  • 34a [Runs into a hitch?]. ELOPES. Clever.
  • 26d [Home of the Annapurna Massif]. NEPAL. I will admit to not knowing what a massif was. I thought it might be some sort of work of art. But Wikipedia tells me it’s “a section of a planet’s crust demarcated by faults and flexures.” Or it’s “a group of mountains formed by such a structure.”
  • 31d [Pressed sandwich]. CUBAN. Did not know this either. Apparently it originated in Florida with Cuban immigrant workers. It consists of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on Cuban bread. Ugh, I’m hungry.
  • 46d [Person who might give you a buzz]. BARBER. Reminds me of our one on-campus BARBER when I was at Notre Dame. ROTC Joe we called him. It was said he didn’t own any scissors.

Unusual theme that still has me wondering. Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Anyway, a solid grid despite some gluey bits here and there. 3.6 stars from me.

Alan Arbesfeld’s Fireball crossword, “Threesomes” — Jenni’s write-up

I didn’t feel well last evening. That’s my story for both the long solving time and my inability to grok the theme. Thanks to my Fiend teammates for helping me out with the latter.

Each theme answer is a wacky answer to a wacky question, which can then be re-parsed to give us three of a kind.

FB 7/12, solution grid

  • 17a [Question to somebody who has to choose among Marshall, Baldwin, and Carter?] is PENNY, ALEC, OR NELL? or PENN, YALE, CORNELL. Three Ivy League schools {inappropriate Ivy League snark redacted}
  • 25a [“That Newman title character sulks all the time”?] HUDS ONE BROODER.  This was the most difficult for me to figure out, even once I got the conceit. It’s rivers: HUDSON EBRO ODER.
  • 46a [Headline for a story telling how a famous cellist came across intestinal discomfort?] is MA LIT ON GAS PAIN, or MALI TONGA SPAIN. Countries.
  • 59a [“Nana, there’s an injured strumpet at the back of the ship!”?] GRAN, TART HURT AFT. I prefer this in its presidential “threesome” form: GRANT ARTHUR TAFT. Come on, boys. “Strumpet?” “Tart?” Seriously? All we’re missing is “scarlet woman.” And yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that “strumpet” is in there to tell us it’s an outdated word and we’re all supposed to be sophisticated enough to laugh and I’m just a humorless PC feminist trying to spoil everyone else’s sexy fun. Oy.

I have to say that even leaving aside my annoyance at the last clue/answer set, I am underwhelmed by this theme. It was less of an “aha” moment than a “is that all?”

A few other things:

  • 1a [Jobs for long relievers] are MOP-UPS. This is baseball talk. We would also have accepted “What Sonny Gray usually requires but did not need last night.”
  • 5d [Relic on a street corner] is PAY PHONE. I treated myself to the boxed set of all 20 seasons of Law&Order, and it’s amusing to watch the technology evolve from tracing calls and getting fingerprints off coins in pay phones to cellphone towers and EZPass.
  • 24d [Hot chocolate topping] is the delicious Mexican savory sauce known as MOLE. Mmm.
  • 36a [“Up” talker?] is my favorite clue in this puzzle. The answer is ED ASNER. {feminist rant about the wordless prologue to this movie deleted}
  • 53d [Fleming forte] is talking about Renée, not Ian. The answer is ARIA.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that OREO and Cadbury have the same parent company.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Hoover” — Laura’s review

BEQ - 7.12.18 - Solution

BEQ – 7.12.18 – Solution

The title does not refer to the 31st President of the United States, immortalized in the Broadway musical Annie, but to the movement of the letters H and O in each vertical theme entry — from wherever they are in the base phrases, they rise to the top; namely, H-O, over.

  • [3d: Place where a rowdy crowd might be exiled?]: HORDE ISLAND. Our base phrase is Rhode Island
  • [9d: Wash off one’s palate?]: HOSE TONGUE. Shoe tongue. Not sure I’ve seen that thing in a laced-up shoe that goes over your arch referred to as a shoe tongue or just a tongue. Also it is hard to remember how to spell tongue. It feels like it should be tounge? tongeu? tonuge?
  • [15d: Anchor who has no idea what he’s talking about?]: HOST IN THE DARK. Shot in the dark. Obligatory joke about Fox News.
  • [27d: What one does in a sack race?]: HOP TO FINISH. Photo finish. Of all the races in which one might participate at the county fair/carnival/ice cream social, I prefer the egg-and-spoon race.
  • [31d: Put some goose feathers in a pawn shop?]: HOCKED DOWN. Choked down.

Random association: A Shot in the Dark (1964) is the second Pink Panther film, directed by Blake Edwards and starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and frequent crossword denizen ELKE Sommer as his love interest-slash-murder-suspect. As a kid I had only ever seen the Pink Panther cartoons, which were at bottom a thinly disguised Road Runner knock-off (with “The Inspector” in the role of Wile E. Coyote), so imagine my dismay when I was taken to see Return of the Pink Panther (1975) as a very tiny child and there was a cartoon pink panther only in the credits.

Randomer association: There have several LGBTQ advocacy and civilian patrol groups that have been sued by MGM for using the name “Pink Panthers.”

Frank Virzi’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

CHOPPEDLIVER is interpreted to mean the letters LIVER are scrambled and buried somewhere in four other phrases: SUPERVILLAIN, BURLIVES, ONCEOVERLIGHTLY (can’t say that’s familiar; it’s in the dictionary?), and WERELIVE.

The design, with a 12-letter revealer meaning there is only a row gap between each of five themers, and a grid-spanning central 15, is under a huge amount of strain. NOEYE is one of the more desperate partial answers I’ve seen. YSAYE is not going to be familiar to many, but in isolation wouldn’t bug me.

On the other hand, there is no valid reason the top-right is filled like it is. AVANTI was forced by ???N?I and the fact so many other answers cross two or more themers. It’s a foreign word that is also the title of a flop comedy film in the 70’s. But that 4×3 area could be filled by just about anything, so why go with three abbreviations down, one across, a difficult name, and a bit of Latin that is typically encountered as part of a longer phrase. My first pass was AHOY/VINE/AMEN.

If I were running a puzzle with this theme, I’d have sent the grid back asking for something cleaner, and if necessary a different set of theme answers that were more amenable to an acceptable grid.


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23 Responses to Thursday, July 12, 2018

  1. AV says:

    Liked the NYT but so not happy with FORE being part of FORENSIC, while other hands were stand-alone words going down.

    • David says:

      None of them stood alone. The descending part of the other themers ended the entry, but didn’t stand alone. They were all four letters, that made it work out, IMO.

      • Huda says:

        I also felt that there was an inconsistency while I was solving. I got EVA LONGORIA first and saw that the down part encompassed the entire missing piece, and then it happened again on the East side. So, having a partial down excursion felt inconsistent to me… The point about them all 4 letters long is good (I had not noticed it), but of course the HAND part was the critical thing. But before getting to the revealer, it was disorienting…

        • Lise says:

          I started out thinking this was a rebus puzzle, but pretty quickly saw I was wrong. After I figured out the theme, I thought it was HANDS-DOWN excellent. I see the inconsistencies, but overall, I liked it. It had a great vocabulary – especially FORENSICS, CHIRON, CENSURE, TREASURE MAP.

  2. GLR says:

    I enjoyed the NYT, once I saw what was going on. Like Andy, with 1-A I started looking for a rebus.

    The NE was a bit of a struggle for me. Both SPANG and Sea of AZOV were unfamiliar to me and, unfortunately, LONGORIA, by itself, fit nicely at 22-A, so that themer took me a long time to uncover.

    After seeing FORE and IRON (and before getting to the revealer), I thought maybe it was going to be a golf theme.

  3. Lise says:

    WSJ: I, too, looked for some sort of craft, a plane, a boat, or, say, a Buick. That would be one tough feat of construction, though; I guess the H-over was being crafted. It was a good theme. I especially liked SOW BIZ.

    BEE-EATERS are fascinating birds; I also liked the clues for ELOPES and BARBER, and Jim’s comment about ROTC Joe made me laugh. REDIRECT is excellent, as is the clue.

    Overall, a really nice puzzle to start my day. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Lise, for the kind words; that is indeed pretty much what I meant by “craft”: “Skill in doing or making something, as in the arts; proficiency,” as the American Heritage Dictionary puts it. The title refers to my extraordinary skill or proficiency in moving the letter H OVER.

      Now my original version had eight pairs of entries, and the H was in the exact center of each. And it followed (or failed to follow) eight different letters: T,C,S,P,G,R,B,W. And each of the sixteen paired entries contained the hidden brand name of a car. And in the fill I concealed anagrams of my website address (

      So that was my original version; but I decided that, after all, the world wasn’t ready for it, so I submitted this simpler version instead.

  4. Ethan says:

    In the Fireball, why does the clue for 16A have a question mark? The only thing I can think of is that Southern Comfort is a liquor, but given (1) the lowercase c and (2) the fact that [name of a liquor] + [“food”] doesn’t really have a strong surface sense that would make one inclined to interpret it that way, there’s nothing misdirecting about the clue at all.

    • paul coulter says:

      I think it’s because in some recipes, you can add Southern Comfort to the filling of pecan pie. But it’s also a Southern “comfort food.” I grew up in the south, and though my mother didn’t add Southern Comfort to hers, they were delicious. Pecan pie is still my favorite dessert, I guess because of the memories it brings.

  5. janie says:

    nyt: it appears to be IRON HAND all the way. but fascinating to see the converging trajectories the phrases look to be on.

    very happy-making solve for me!


  6. placematfan says:

    WSJ: I loved the puns. All but one made me smile or laugh. And excellent cluing. I wonder if the title is implying that the h’s sort of travelled over a black square the way a hovercraft travels over land.

  7. Burak says:

    There are some constructors that I’m never on the same wavelength with. I always enjoy puzzles by Randolph Ross, Kevin G. Der, Byron Walden, Brian Thomas and Joe DiPietro less than everyone else does. (For those who are curious, I also consistently overrate Neville Fogarty, Andrew Kingsley, Caleb Madison, Will Nediger and Finn Vigeland per my Excel sheet)

    Today’s puzzle was no exception. I just didn’t feel it. To disagree with Andy, I thought it was a great idea but not well-executed at all (when you type in “sure hand,” Google suggests “sure-handed”; FORE, unlike others, formed the first few letters of a Down answer); and I also found the fill really drab with potentially troublesome crossings like IRAQI/AQI, CENA/CHIRON and slightly repetitive with HEM IN, KEY IN, IN RE… Also, I had never heard of EL CHEAPOS, and that’s a very weird pluralization (but I guess the American language is to blame for that one).

    Anyway, I just couldn’t enjoy it even if I wanted to. 1.7 stars.

    • Brian says:

      Hah! I’m half flattered and half bummed that somebody has remembered my puzzles enough to make such a list.

  8. David Glasser says:

    Jenni, I’d read that rant.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      The first part of “Up” is a cartoon without dialogue that tells the story of the main character’s courtship and marriage. He falls in love with an adventurous girl and they both want to be explorers. She is strong and accomplished and active and smarter than him and generally wonderful – and she gives up her dreams of exploring to marry him and settle down while he sells balloons. They can’t have children, and that makes her sad, but she lives contentedly for the rest of her life cooking for him. All her accomplishments exist simply to make her attractive to him. The message is “No girl’s dreams should get in the way of being a good little wife!” I sat there simultaneously fuming and crying, because Pixar is so damn good at what they do even when they are sexist AF, which they usually are.

  9. David Stone says:

    I figured out the concept of the NYT puzzle eventually but still couldn’t fill the whole thing in because of countless things I didn’t know (EVA LONGORIA — who cares?) and couldn’t get or infer from crosses — and that’s despite the fact that I somehow knew CENA as well as CHIRON! But SPANG and AQI? You have to be kidding. So this was a DNF and also a WTF. I think it was my least favorite NYT puzzle ever — in about 1000+ solves.

    • JohnH says:

      I filled it but still hated it. On top of the tricky theme, I had to know a professional wrestler and to have watched (UGH) “Desperate Housewives.” I thought I knew Greek myth, but CHIRION was till out there, and I edited an anthology of 20th c. poetry but still found Conrad Aiken remote.

      I did get the fill but still didn’t get it. For all I knew, Eva Loria was perfectly plausible. Again, hated it.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Are the “UGH” and “who cares?” for “Desperate Housewives” because it was a popular network show that a lot of women watched? My husband and I watched it for a few years—soapy fun.

        I love AQI—it’s a good abbreviation to know when you step outside and it stinks, and you wonder what sort of air pollutants you’re dealing with. Those ozone action days? The warnings for people with asthma to avoid the outdoors? That’s the AQI at work.

  10. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @Jim: I haven’t heard “Chi” all that much for Chicago. Lena Waithe’s Showtime series (set in black Chicago) is called “The Chi,” and radio station WGCI bills itself as “the Chi’s #1 for hip-hop and R&B.” So “the Chi” seems to have currency among black Chicagoans, but “Chi” by itself does feel weird.

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