Thursday, December 6, 2018

BEQ 7:56 (Ben) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 3:24 (GRAB) 


NYT 2:55 (joon—paper) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P.) 


NYT write-up will be a little late tonight. Feel free to chat about it in the comments!

Paolo Pasco’s Fireball crossword “Groupthink” —Jenni’s write-up

This is the last Fireball for 2018 and it’s a good ‘un.

I knew something was funky from the beginning, since 2d [Fair building] should be PAVILION, and it didn’t fit. It didn’t take long to figure out where the rebus was, and it was a lovely “aha” moment. That early start didn’t make the puzzle easy, because the rebus isn’t predictable.

1d, 2d, and 3d all have rebuses involving the final four letters:

Fireball 12/6, solution grid

  • 1d [___ pancake] is SCALLION.
  • 2d [Fair building] is indeed PAVILION.
  • 3d [Oodles] is A MILLION.

Crossing our three LIONs we have 24a [Novel with the line “Daughters are never of so much consequence to a father]. That’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, with the three LIONs comprising the PRIDE. I love collective nouns.

I figured out the second from the collective noun itself. 30d [1976 whodunit spoof] is MURDER BY DEATH, a movie I vividly remember and got with just a couple of crosses. MURDER is the collective noun for crows. Sure enough:

  • 28a [Holding in some transactions] is ESCROW.
  • 35a [Unit equivalent to 10 ergs per second] is a MICROWATT.
  • 39a [Exclusive group] is the IN-CROWD. I like the fact that rebus is not at the end of each answer.

The third and last one took me a long time to suss out. I thought 32d [Choate, for one] was PREP SCHOOL, and that actually fits, but none of the crosses work. Hmm. I finally realized that 56a [Big jerk?] was TUG. Choate is also a PRIVATE SCHOOL. Ohhh.

  • 64a [Portrayer of Henley Reeves in “Now You See Me”] is ISLA FISHER.
  • 68a [In a haughty manner] is SNIFFISHLY.
  • 70a [Concerned with number one] is SELFISH.

In my own defense, SNIFFISHLY is a roll-your-own (albeit an inferrable and amusing one) and I’ve never heard of Ms. Fisher.

I enjoyed solving this puzzle and it made me feel smart. That’s a great combination.

A few other things:

  • 4d [Charged rides] is TESLAS. That was a gimme. It’s possible I’ve been doing too many crosswords. Same with ESS for 9d [Season opener?].
  • 27a [First hit for Hall & Oates] was also a gimme because I am old. SARA SMILE was released in 1975. The soundtrack of my high school years has a lot of Hall & Oates. Also Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Chicago…
  • 31a [Zurich and Bern, e.g.] are not just cities, they are CANTONS.
  • Not a gimme, because I am old: 40a [“Dru Hill member who earned fame with an ode to underwear,” according to Rolling Stone magazine]. The answer is SISQO, and we avoided crossing the media streams because my brother did not write the Rolling Stone article referenced in the clue. Also: two Q clues cross without a U in sight. Q-ute.
  • Because I do a lot of crosswords, I was pretty sure that 33d [Unthreaded?] was about being naked. It still took me a while to figure out that the answer is AU NATUREL. Very nice.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: SISQO and ISLA FISHER. I also didn’t know that Michael CERA played a man named Pilgrim in a movie in 2010.

Jack Murtagh’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “From the Top” — Jim P’s review

Well that was clever!

I’m told this is a debut, and from the looks of it, not just at the WSJ, but in any of the big-name publications we follow. Congratulations, Jack!

He’s brought us a multi-layered treat. It started off at 1a/1d with this clue: [With 1-Down, “Let’s try this again!”]. The answers are TAKE / TWO. Ok. Not sure what to make of it yet, but I noted that this is almost synonymous with the title, “From the Top.”

Fast forward to the central revealer [Where thwarted people, or six of this puzzle’s answers, go]. I had a hard time parsing that unusual clue, but I eventually made sense of it. Of course, the answer is BACK TO SQUARE ONE.

Prior to that I had uncovered the first big theme answer at 20a BURNS AT THE S (clued as [Sentences for spelling?]). A-ha! Realizing the TAKE was missing, the revealer gave me the realization of what was going on. For six answers in this grid, you have to back to the beginning to get the last few letters / word.

What are the others? During the solve, I found SLOW ON THE UP (TAKE) (clued as [Dimwitted] and which I figured out based solely on the UP without even looking at the clue, thank you very much). But any other TAKE answers eluded me. What was going on? There should be four more.

But what’s this? At 7d with the clue [Bisect], we have the answer CUTS IN. It should really be CUTS IN TWO, though, shouldn’t it? A-ha again! There must be three Across answers that use TAKE, and three Down answers that use TWO. Nice!

The other Down themers are at 67d [When Macbeth stabs Duncan] and at 49d [Get extra food delivery predelivery, say]. 67d is ACT (TWO), but I couldn’t make much sense of that 49d clue. Finally I realized it wanted EAT FOR (TWO). Fun!

WSJ – Thu, 12.6.18 – “From the Top” by Jack Murtagh

Well done, crossword completed, Mr. Happy Pencil, yadda yadda yadda. But there was still one more TAKE answer I hadn’t found. I went through each Across entry post-solve to find it. Finally, at the last, there it was at 73a [Comic eruption]. The final a-ha chimed when, what I thought was a nonsensical clue, made perfect sense, not as just SPIT, but as SPIT (TAKE).

Now I was satisfied and everything fell into place and was tied up with a bow. Bravo!

Whoa! I just realized everything is symmetrical in the grid, even the crossing themers in the center. Yoinks! Mind = blown.

But if that wasn’t enough, our debut constructor gives us great fill in SLY AS A FOX and SETH ROGEN. I also love the word JUNKET, which somehow is not a type of boat nor a dirty word, but instead means [Excursion]. Also good: ZIP TIES, EEYORE, and KRAKEN.

Clues of note:

  • 8a [Port setting]. CASKS. Something feels off here. A plural answer usually receives a plural clue.
  • 47a [Elephantine surrounder]. NILE. Wha? Apparently, Elephantine Island is located in the NILE.
  • 62a [Machiavellian]. SLY AS A FOX. I don’t equate those in my mind. “Machiavellian” feels much more malicious to me, whereas the latter is closer to “very clever.”
  • 63a [Hoer?]. SANTA. Ha! We’ve all seen ugly crosswordese fill HOER before, but here it gets repurposed in a fun way.
  • 2d [Surge protector?]. ARK. Hmm. Really had to think about this one, and I’m not sure about its aptness.
  • 5d [“Evil Empire,” per RWR]. USSR. Who the heck is RWR? Ronald Wilson Reagan. Not a president whose initials get used very often. I had IRAN as the answer first, but the presidential initials are there to signal that the answer will be abbreviated.
  • 23d [Hamburger sub?]. U-BOAT. I got this pretty quickly, but you’d be forgiven for thinking about sandwiches.
  • 39d [Home page?]. LEASE. Cute and clever.
  • 64d [57-Across, e.g.]. ASS. Hey, puzzle, you’ve got a lot of nerve calling EEYORE an… Oh wait, yeah I guess that’s right.

A beautiful debut grid with a wonderful theme, cleanly executed and with fantastic fill and clues to boot. An out-of-the-park homer in his first at-bat. 4.5 stars.

Sophia Maymudes’s New York Times crossword—joon’s review

NY Times crossword solution, 12 06 18

hello, joon here filling in while andy gets cultured. this is, as far as i can tell, a newspaper crossword debut for sophia maymudes, so congrats to her! however, it’s not the first puzzle of hers that i’ve solved, because she constructed a puzzle for this year’s indie 500 in collaboration with… andy kravis! so it’s either entirely apt or wholly inapt that i’m filling in for andy on blog duty.

sophia’s got a rebus puzzle for us this thursday, and it’s on the easy side. i’m not sure i’ve ever solved a rebus thursday faster than i did this puzzle. in part, it’s because the very first square is a rebus, and although i didn’t know the answer to 1a {Things driven on ranches} right away (first thought: HERD), i knew 1d {Mailing from Lands’ End or Williams-Sonoma} had to be CATALOG, and then 2d {High point of “To Kill a Mockingbird”} TRIAL located the T and gave me CATTLE for 1a. then i was off to the races.

finding the other three CAT rebus squares was even easier, because before i got to any of them, i came across the two extra theme answers: {Places where some house pets “go,” in both this puzzle and real life} LITTER BOXES and {Diagonally … or a hint to four of this puzzle’s squares} KITTYCORNER. (the latter word, by the way, is an interesting one. roger barkan once told me it has the most acceptable alternate spellings of any word in merriam-webster’s collegiate dictionary.) once i had that, it was straightforward to just fill in CAT in the other three corners and move on from there. those other three rebus squares:

  • in the upper right, {Gazillionaire} FAT[CAT] crosses {Like the hook of a good pop song} [CAT]CHY.
  • in the lower left, {Provides food for} [CAT]ERS crosses {Ski resort vehicle} SNO[CAT].
  • in the lower right, {Mideast capital} MUS[CAT], oman crosses {Imitator} COPY[CAT].

i feel like the bar for rebus puzzles is higher than when i first started solving about 9-10 years ago; in those days you could probably just make a puzzle with a handful of CAT rebus squares, just because. but here, the two extra theme answers provide a raison d’être for the rebus. nice work!

the fill is really, really clean—impressive work for such a relatively new constructor. about the only thing that made me lift an eyebrow was {Poorly} ILLY; i feel like most everybody would just use ILL as an adverb there. i wonder if sophia clued it as the upscale coffee brand?

beyond that, although i didn’t notice it at the time, {Host} ARMY and {Regenerable parts of a sea star} ARMS is arguably a dupe, as ARMY ultimately derives from the latin armare “to arm”. then again, ARMS in the anatomical sense comes from dutch/german arm which just means that body part. so maybe it’s not a dupe? either way, it did not affect my solving enjoyment in any way, so perhaps it’s silly to even mention it.

things that did affect my enjoyment of the puzzle:

  • {The world’s fifth-largest economy} CALIFORNIA (would you believe i learned this fact from an onion article?) was a fun clue.
  • {“Stay calm!”} DON’T PANIC and {Sunbather’s accessory} BEACH TOWEL are both great uses of medium-to-long entries, and they even cross each other, to the delight of hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy fans.
  • i like the word DAINTY. i just do.
  • {Lily Potter’s maiden name in the Harry Potter books} EVANS. obligatory harry potter content to pander to the millennial fanbase. i love it.

that’s all i’ve got. thanks for the puzzle, sophia, and congrats on a terrific debut!

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “O Christmas Tree” — Ben’s Review


We’ve got a fairly straightforward BEQ Thursday leading us into the holiday season today:

  • 19A: Large blaze during mid-January? — WINTER’S BONFIRE
  • 34A: Acquaintances hanging around a quarter-barrel? — KITH AND FIRKIN
  • 48A: The one who won the race some other place? — FIRST ELSEWHERE

Stick a FIR in it, we’re done.

The rest of the fill here is pretty solid – NEPALIS, APE SUIT, AIRWAVE, and MOVIEOLA were all nice.  YEAN looks off to me, but the dictionary assures me it is, in fact, A Thing.


Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

An interesting and clever, if quickly predictable theme today. Pairs of phrases with the same word and OUT/IN are combined and clued wackily. The four phrases alternate between OUT/IN and IN/OUT, making it a little tougher to predict. Clues are on point, except perhaps the hippie / drop-out connection, which felt a little tenuous.

Grid-spanning themes often leave little room for other flashy fill. I did like the opening clecho of [Free-speech inhibitor] crossing [Speaks freely] – subtle. [Jerry’s neighbor] for COSMO is a deep cut, since unlike the other characters, Kramer routinely goes by his surname not his given one.

3.75 Stars

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22 Responses to Thursday, December 6, 2018

  1. Ethan says:

    I constructed a puzzle last year with very much the same theme as Paolo. By the time it could be rejected by the NYT (Will felt that MURDER as a group of CROWS was not sufficiently common knowledge) and sent to Fireball, Paolo had gotten there first. (With the same title!) I have to say, Paolo’s puzzle outclasses my puzzle in most respects, but if you care to look at my version, you are welcome to:

    • Penguins says:

      Nice puzzle

    • Norm says:

      Excellent puzzle, Ethan. Paolo gets points for the triple rebuses since I’m not sure two critters qualifies for the collective noun when we already have “pair,” but that’s a minor nit, and I liked the way you fit in five (!!) with no appreciable weakness in the fill. Paolo had a few too many names for my taste (he usually does, but PAXIL, CERA & ALEXI in one corner was a bit much even from him), and I was disappointed that a huge swath of the puzzle did not relate to the theme (save for the tail end of 24A). Oh, and you get extra points for bringing back childhood memories with 8A — although, as a proud MARINE BRAT, it took me a while to accept that one. :) Many thanks for the bonus puzzle.

  2. Michael Tong says:

    Thought the rebus for the NYT was very easy to figure out. I’m not that good so usually in rebuses I’m caught flailing around, reading the revealer clues, trying to figure out what to do for most of the puzzle.

    In this case I thought 1A might be cattle, a minute later saw and thought that 14D might be catchy and put in the rebus. Read the revealer 34A about where house cats go, thought it had to do something with corners, went to the corners and put in the other cats.

    How was everyone else’s experience with the rebus in this puzzle?

    • Huda says:

      Same here…

    • Penguins says:

      Got the NW corner first then the revealer which eliminated any challenge. Nice puzzle but too easy.

    • Lise says:

      I got the NE corner first, but otherwise had the same sort of experience. I liked thinking about all those cats in the corners, and DAINTY reminded me of my childhood cat Pyewacket, who had paws both dainty – he was fastidious – and strong – he could open the refrigerator door. Feeding him was my job (also the LITTER BOX) and I would arrive home from school to find that he had taken care of the feeding chore, himself. Bonus: he liked brussels sprouts. I didn’t. What a great cat.

      • Huda says:

        Wow, a very smart cat! Very cool.

      • Elise says:

        Lise (my sometimes nickname): I also had a Pyewacket cat. And I guess that means, like me, you’ll be watching “Bell, Book, and Candle” this holiday season!

        • Lise says:

          It’s my nickname too (or, more accurately, my French class name)! ;)

          I have never seen the movie – my mother had, and so named the cat – but now that you bring it up, I will watch it this season.

  3. JohnH says:

    Ah, I never found the sixth theme answer in the WSJ because I’d never heard of SPIT TAKE. Thanks for explaining NILE, too, which puzzled me. Not sure I understand ARK as surge protector either.

    • JohnH says:

      I mean, I do understand that a surge might be a flood, and Noah’s ark did offer protection from the flood. And yet somehow it doesn’t seem to parse.

  4. Alan D. says:

    “Illy” isn’t in many dictionaries. But it is in American Heritage. Thomas Jefferson even used it once: “Beauty is jealous, and illy bears the presence of a rival”

  5. Celeste says:

    Wow! Congratulations to Jack. His WSJ debut was amazing!

  6. Jim Peredo says:

    A banner day for creative puzzles! And I’d include yesterday’s AVCX in that category, too.

  7. John Bennett says:


    Just read your review of Jack Murtagh’s Thursday, 12/6/2018 WSJ puzzle.

    Great review.

    I, too, am blown away by the quality of the construction of the puzzle. I had noted the symmetry of the puzzle, but hadn’t noted the across answers need the “take” and the down answers need the “two.” Nice catch.

    As to 2 down, I think he’s using “ark” as an alternative spelling of “arc” as the answer to “surge protector.” Not sure though.

    All the best!

  8. Martin says:

    Yikes. I got a scare when I looked at tomorrow’s WSJ in the Across Lite version. It sure looked like my conversion script went nuts. But, no, it’s the puzzle that went nuts. Gotta love Friday.

  9. Doug says:

    Re: LAT
    Timothy Leary, of LSD culture, famously said “Tune in, Turn on. Drop out.”

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