Thursday, December 27, 2018

BEQ 6:40 (Ben) 


LAT 5:09 (GRAB) 


NYT 4:10 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P.) 


The Fireball is on hiatus until 2019. You can subscribe for next year here.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “U-Turns” — Jim P’s review

A sign of a good, tricky theme is that you’ll have at least one WTF-moment (maybe quite a few) before that satisfying AHA-moment. This one delivers in a big way.

The title might make you think you have to run words or phrases forward and then backward to get the final entries. That’s not the case. We are simply making 90° turns at the letter U (highlighted in orange in the attached pic). Phrases starting in the Down direction turn right (and are highlighted in yellow). Phrases starting in the Across direction turn down (and are highlighted in green).

This grid is jam-packed with theme material. Let’s get to it.

WSJ – Thu, 12.27.18 – “U-Turns” by Samuel A. Donaldson

  • 17a [Hybrid trotters of mythCENTA(U)RS / 10d [Person who takes a lot of trips] KL(U)TZ
  • 19a [Hedonistic] SENS(U)AL / 4d [Office baby shower offering, often] GRO(U)P GIFT
  • 36a [1966 #2 song, 1968 movie and 1969 albumYELLOW S(U)BMARINE / 6d [Person who’s frequently engaged] SOCIAL B(U)TTERFLY
  • 56a [Finally becomes friendly with] WARMS (U)P TO / 46d [Lunchtime call] SO(U)P’S ON
  • 59a [RejoiceEX(U)LT / 49d [Mideast capital] AB(U) DHABI

There is no section of this grid that is not impinged upon by the theme. And yet, for all that theme material, it doesn’t feel like there’s an exorbitant amount of clutter. And I’m amazed that there’s still room for non-theme fill of any significant length, let alone two 8s (OINTMENT, WISH-WASH) and two 9s (EMINENTLY, OFFENSIVE).  And I love the intersection of two beautiful grid-spanning theme answers YELLOW SUBMARINE and SOCIAL BUTTERFLY. But the wowiest factor of all is that while there certainly can’t be any extraneous U’s in the theme answers, there can’t be any other U’s in the grid, period.

In short, this is a highly-constrained but masterful grid, painstakingly built with careful attention to detail. And yet it solves so cleanly and easily that you might not notice.

To be sure, there is some gunky fill (though not a lot more than a standard grid). You have TYS, ONEA, ABBE, and A BAT. NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) doesn’t show up in crosswords as often as I would think it would, but it’s here. And three-S PSSST pushes the limits; I don’t think it would pass muster in a standard grid, but since there’s so much here, we can overlook it.

But again, I barely noticed these during the solve. And looking back on the grid post-solve, it’s the strength of the theme that stands out.

A couple more things:

  • I like that 1d is LA MER [Orchestral work that premiered in 1905] and not LAMER.
  • The clue for EMINENTLY [Obviously quite] feels pretty awkward.
  • However, the clue for THEE [The old you] is wonderful.

This was a proper Thursday puzzle. I’m going to crank it up to 4.5 stars.

We saw the word BESO recently (I forget where), but today we have BESAME [“Pucker up” command, in Spanish]. I’ll leave you with Andrea Bocelli and the classic BESAME Mucho. I’m straight, but if I wasn’t…damn!

Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 12.27.18 by Jeff Chen and Mary Lou Guizzo

A quick write-up for you all today. The grid obviously has a lot of visual impact. In fact, it has an unusual type of symmetry called diagonal symmetry: if you drew the line x = y through the grid, the grid would be symmetrical on either side of the line.

Most striking is the somewhat plane-shaped cluster of black squares near the center of the grid. Those turn out to represent… well, a plane, as revealed in 40d, (CON)TRAIL [Follower of a plane … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme]. The plane has a trail of five CON rebus squares streaming behind it affecting ten answers: AERIAL RE(CON), (CON)EY ISLAND, DE(CON), (CON)ES, EMOTI(CON), the revealer (CON)TRAIL, STYLE I(CON), (CON)TAINER, TELE(CON), and (CON)TROL.

There are also a few bonus theme answers:

  • 17a, SKYWRITER [Flier with a message].
  • 10d, JET STREAM [It’s indicated by arrows on a map]. There’s an extremely tricky crossing clue at the J: 10a is clued as [Something with teeth]. Two things fit the clue and pattern ?AW there: JAW and SAW. I certainly wrote the wrong one first.
  • The theme answer at 30a, AERIAL RE(CON) [Drone’s job] is also flight-related.

I think this is a cool theme! It does something unusual by mixing two common types of Thursday themes: rebus and grid art. I had a strangely hard time with this one. Maybe it’s because I solved this one later than usual, but I thought the clues were very tough. Also, the rebus element came as a big surprise given how localized it was in the bottom half of the grid.

There were a couple of hiccups in the fill (NOW I, TO ALL, SONE), but also some nice stuff to counterbalance it (ALOHA OE, YO YO MA, every theme answer).

A review of the “?” clues in this one:

  • I liked [End of an era?] for ONE BC.
  • I thought [View remotely?] for WATCH TV was too stretchy a use of “remotely” (and yes, I get the pun, please don’t explain it to me in the comments).
  • [Bunch of lovers?] for ROSES works, but it didn’t make me chuckle.

Altogether, I thought this was good work (as always) from Jeff and Mary Lou. Until next year, and Happy New Year to all you Fienders out there!

Bruce Haight’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

It’s a loose theme, but a lively and offbeat one. It made for an entertaining change of pace. All of the squares – I’m not sure there’s a term for them, but those in the top-left corners where both across and down answers that share a number start – anyway, all of those squares are singular clues with two part answers. They’re all fictional characters with a reduplicative first and last name (using name loosely in some cases), and all pretty “first tier” famous, which as just as well since those squares aren’t really properly checked. The first part goes across and the second down. I’d say DOCTOR/DOOM is nowhere near as famous as the others, but pretty reasonable all the same, especially as DOCTOR is not a difficult guess. The clues are also alliterative, but since the letters don’t match, it doesn’t help the checking issue.

It’s a busy theme, and Mr. Haight has taken advantage of the LA Times’s more generous black square limit of 43. I’d say that was a good choice, because a busy theme and an ambitious grid can make the rest of the puzzle go to hell in a handbasket pretty quickly.

I went through a lot of wrong answers for the second part of [What may be resorted to when words fail], USINGFORCE. I first thought of sign language and had USINGHANDS. Then FDA redirected me and I tried USINGFISTS – too precise that time.

One old-timey easter egg I found, at least I think it’s an easter egg, it may just be a happy accident too, is ROE/TOMMY in adjacent entries. He was a pop singer who had a string of bubblegummy hits in the 60’s. This track is one my mother’s favourites: Sheila . That also triggered me to look up the line I was hearing as “Worse than double happy…” which is apparently “We’re so doggone…’ Close enough.

3,75 Stars

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Financial Independence” — Ben’s Review

BEQ 12/27 – “Financial Independence”

It’s after Christmas, I’m currently typing this from the Minneapolis airport, and today’s BEQ is a quip puzzle, which is possibly my least favorite genre of crossword.  Still, this week’s quip is from ALI WONG (43A), whose comedy special Hard Knock Wife  was one of my favorites this year.

Let’s dig in:

  • 17A: Start of a quip by 43ADIY STANDS FOR YOU
  • 25A: Quip pt. 2 — SHOULD’VE MARRIED
  • 41A: Quip, pt. 3 — SOMEONE
  • 50A: End of the quip — WITH MORE MONEY

It’s a good, if awkwardly broken-up, quip.  Quip puzzles really depend on joke quality, and this one has a solid punchline

In the grid: pretty standard stuff!  Some interesting downs like NASSAU, POT SHOTS, and BIG BOARD.

See you in 2019!


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20 Responses to Thursday, December 27, 2018

  1. Evad says:

    Anyone ever heard of the CATAWPA tribe? :)

  2. Jeff C. says:

    Hi Andy, thanks for the thoughtful comments! As in the puzzle’s byline, Mary Lou’s name ought to be first in the listing.

  3. JohnH says:

    Continuing it’s seriously annoying contest week, TNY print option isn’t a pdf and prints large on two awkward pages. (URL ends crossword-pdf, and changing the hyphen to a dot gives a not found.)

    • Norm says:

      And I’m sure the surviving relatives of murdered officer Werner Foerster enjoyed seeing 41D in the puzzle. Does anyone at The New Yorker have a brain or a heart or some common sense? The contest can now go take a flying leap in the lake as far as I’m concerned.

      • JohnH says:

        Yeah, and also that wasn’t an easy name to spell, and it’s crossing of a Trump word had to my mind two equally reasonable answer.

    • JohnH says:

      They do have a pdf now, but of all things (second time this week, actually) it doesn’t quite fit on one page. Suggests something’s off in their default design?

  4. PJ Ward says:

    I enjoyed the NYT. It was fun to solve and gave me something to think about post solve. I don’t usually pick up on visual elements of a grid and today was no exception. After solving I did see the airplane with the cons trailing and liked it. The plane reminded me of a B-2 stealth bomber. It seemed to me that contrails from a stealth bomber might be a problem. Turns out it is an issue. Originally the plane mixed a chemical that discourages contrail formation into the exhaust. That proved to be unsatisfactory. The plane uses light detection and ranging to alert the pilot when a change in altitude is needed to prevent contrail formation. More about contrails here:

  5. David L says:

    The clue for Etna seems somewhat questionable.

  6. JML says:

    I am in the clear minority as far as the current ratings go. I thought the LAT was disappointingly un-gestalt, for lack of a better phrase; solving it felt like solving 6 or 8 minis rather than one collective puzzle. Meanwhile, the fact that the WSJ is barely hanging on to rating of 4.0 and that the NYT is just over 3.5 seems odd. I don’t know what more people would want than a fun gimmick with good fill out of both of these puzzles.

    • Norm says:

      WSJ was fun, but we’ve seen a lot of these ‘make a turn/jump up” themes lately, and PSSST took a lot of the fizzle away for me. PFFFT said I.
      NYT was very okay.
      The ratings don’t seem horribly off to me.

  7. Penguins says:

    Fun WSJ which I did without help from the title. Very nice NYT graphic.

    • Lise says:

      I know, right? As Andy said, a rebus and grid art. Bonus!

      I liked the WSJ too. I forgot to look at the title and the light bulb went on when I saw that I could make KLUTZ if I made a turn.

      The LAT made me laugh, especially when I got to OLIVE OYL. This was a fun Thursday all around.

  8. Michael says:

    38A and 20D share the same ending (ICON), which is a small price to pay for 5! consecutive rebus squares.

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