Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword “Themeless 122” —Jenni’s write-up
The Fireball gives us a gentle re-entry after taking a Thanksgiving break. Or maybe I was just on Peter’s wavelength. It was a pleasant six minutes.
I have a feeling the seed entry for this grid was 64a [President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s country, in his preferred spelling]: QAZAQSTAN. We see it more often as Kazakhstan. This piece from 2017 explains the country’s change of official alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin and includes a link to an article about the traditional nomadic game of kokpar, or “goat grabbing.” And yes, I did read the article about kokpar. We take our research seriously here at Team Fiend.
Peter makes QAZAQSTAN work with IRAQ, PREREQ, and SPITZ (the dog, not the swimmer). PREREQ is the weakest of the three and it’s not that bad. Impressive.
A few other things:
- 16a [Numbers in Italian, often] are OPERA ARIAS. That feels a little roll-your-own. I know some of you are far more opera-literate than I am, so tell me if this is a term that’s actually in the language.
- 11d [Tiki bar drink] is a PINA COLADA. I am not posting that video. You can thank me now.
- This one, on the other hand….12d [“Cheek to Cheek” singer’s declaration] is I’M IN HEAVEN.
- 13d [Ones with diminishing returns?] are TAX DODGERS. Cute.
- Sometimes it’s fun to make up words! 28d [Making outmoded] is OBSOLETING. The first page of results on Google is mostly dictionary sites – and one offer to explain the meaning of the word in Urdu.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that KAL PENN hosted “Superhuman.” I did know that Tyler Hinman appeared on the show, but clearly didn’t watch it. Sorry, Tyler.
Oh, one more thing. 50a [1960s dance] is the WATUSI so I had to find this.
Herre Schouwerwou’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review
Note: The grid numbering shown in the image (at right) and used in the review below is taken from the electronic version of this puzzle. The print version has different numbering because some of the theme entries are unnumbered; the electronic version numbers these entries so that solvers are able to toggle to them.
Visually, this grid is absolutely bonkers. There are eight arrows in black squares around the edges of the grid, plus there’s a giant circle in the center. On a Thursday, that’s a recipe for some serious trickery.
As it turns out, the central circle is meant to represent a roundabout (or, in various other dialects: a traffic circle, a rotary, a merry-go-round). The revealer is at 28d (and 43a and 29up? and 29left?), IN A RO / UND A / BOUT / WAY [Indirectly … or how some of this puzzle’s answers should be entered?]. And indeed, four of this puzzle’s entries traverse the paths that cars might in roundabouts, entering at the inward arrows and exiting at the outward arrows:
- 14d, RALLYING CRY [*”Vive la France!” or “Free Tibet!”]. This entry starts at 14-Down, then goes around the roundabout and exits on the left side of the grid.
- 37a, POWER OUTAGE [*Reason for resetting a digital clock]. Starts at 37-Across, then goes down around the roundabout and out via the bottom arrow.
- 46d, I NEED A BREAK [*”Whew, that’s enough for now!”]. Starting at the bottom inward arrow, this entry goes vertically through 46-Down, then goes around the roundabout and exits on the right side of the grid.
- 33a, SPROUT WINGS [*Become angelic, figuratively]. Starting at the right side of the grid, this entry goes around the roundabout and exits at the top of the grid.
This theme is fantastic. I love the revealer; I love the visual element of the grid; I love the way the four roundabout entries were executed. The only minor ding from me is that there were a few bits of crosswordese in the fill (OMITTER, TOLE, ACRO-, OOLITES), but they were outweighed by the superb theme and the solidity of the rest of the fill.
A few bullet points:
- I didn’t know that 1d, Giorgio ARMANI, was the [First living designer exhibited at the Guggenheim].
- Now that caller ID is ubiquitous, do people still pull prank calls like the relatively toothless one referenced at 49a, ANITA [___ Hand (name used for some prank calls)]?
- There was a bit of a gendered one-two punch at 2d and 3d with TEA LADY [Beverage server in Britain] and MANLIER [More virile].
- After I was done solving, I ended up going on a bit of a dive into the history of the BRACERO program (54a, [Seasonal migrant worker from Mexico]) of World War II and the decades following. You can read more about it here and here.
Really excellent work. This is exactly what I want from a Thursday puzzle. Until next time!
David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Sands” — Jim P’s review
The title tells us that “S and S” are going to be involved somehow. It turns out they’ve been prepended to each word in well-known two-word phrases.
- 17a [Seekers of company secrets at a flatware factory?] SPORK SPIES. Pork pies. Sporks are never not funny.
- 24a [Theatrical sketch set at a bar?] STOOL SKIT. Toolkit. This one made me laugh, not because of the existing clue, but for the sophomoric clue my brain wanted.
- 29a [Place to buy a boat?] SHIP SHOP. Hip hop.
- 45a [Pundit who’s been persuaded?] SOLD SAGE. Old age.
- 52a [Wardrobe malfunction at a beauty pageant?] SASH STRAY. Ashtray.
- 64a [Pigskin source?] SPORT SWINE. Port wine. Yesterday we had the redundant LAGER BEER. Today, we have the base phrase “port wine.”
Before I caught onto the theme, I was expected the Ss to be added to the ends of words thereby making them plural. But the actual theme is much more interesting and fun. Ergo, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
There isn’t anything too flashy in the fill, probably because with six theme entries, an effort was made to keep them well separated. We do get some solid 7s in ASSISTS, ATHLETE, SPRAWLS, and the fun KER-PLOP [Sound of mud falling in water].
Three more things:
- LAFF [Informal guffaw] is weird to see in the grid. Although if it was clued [Hanna Barbera’s “___-A-Lympics”] I would have no problem with it.
- Anytime you see “Lamb” in a clue in a Shenk-edited grid, it usually refers to essayist Charles Lamb. However, that fact is only true one-third of the time today: [Lamb piece] is ESSAY, but [Lamb place] is the clue for both LEA and MEADOW.
- The grid had a definite male vibe with DUDES, FRAT, SPRAWLS, and football-related clues. Beverly SILLS, Jane FONDA, and MAE West represent, but other entries (DALE, CLARK, and LEA, for example) could have helped to balance the grid more evenly.
A good grid with a solid theme. 3.8 stars.
C.C. Burnikel’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s review
A number of -OLOGY words are misconstrued based on their starting parts. PHILOLOGY is, roughly, the study of ancient literature, but here taken to be the study of Punxsatawney Phil. One or two – PENOLOGY, a branch of criminology dealing with punishment, the penal system; and CRYOLOGY, the study of refrigeration – are a tad obscure, but since you get very easy clues and five free letters, the -OLOGY is always repeated, the puzzle is still easy.
C.C. has actually gone for the maximum block count of 42 (the LA Times maximum is higher than most puzzles). This has meant that despite the busy theme, the grid doesn’t feel constrained. There are actually some top-drawer entries: ASIFICARE and TOOLATE made for a chatty top-left. At the bottom, HIALEXA could easily be a themeless seed to build a puzzle around. Centrally, CHEWTOY is also great, though our puppies prefer freebies – around me it looks like a rogue beaver has run riot, but its just Solo, our six month-old foster failure mutt, who has been demolishing a stick, and is actually past out with the stick still in his mouth. We also have ROGUECOPS and DOSHOTS. Will ROGUECOPS is topical, it may not be so pleasant a topic of discussion – YMMV. As I’ve said before, C.C.’s puzzles always stand out as being filled carefully to a very high standard!
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Going Places” — Ben’s Review
This one’s coming in late, so let’s keep things brief. This week’s BEQ Thursday is full of bathroom humor:
- 18A: “I’m outta here” — HASTA LA VISTA
- 29A: Musical based on Green Day songs — AMERICAN IDIOT
- 45A:Erythrocytes, more commonly — RED BLOOD CELLS
- 58A: Robin Hood’s buddy, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme — LITTLE JOHN
Going places, then. It’s fine.
Other nice fill: BIG DOG, ONEIDA, MAD RUSH, OCELOT, NO NEWS, CASHMERE, DOPAMINE