Thursday, January 3, 2019

BEQ 7:42 (Ben) 


Fireball 12:25 (Jenni) 


LAT 5:26 (GRAB) 


NYT 2:50 (Andy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P.) 


Alex Eaton-Salners’s Fireball crossword “Doubling Down” —Jenni’s write-up

The Fireball starts off 2019 with a bang. This is a great theme that is well-executed (in general). It’s much more challenging than the Fireballs that closed out 2018.

I struggled to get a foothold and wandered around plunking things into the grid for a while. There was no evident wordplay in the theme answers, and 18a, the first one I came to, is so obscure I didn’t even try to figure it out. I finally managed to suss out the theme entry at 47a and thought I had it, only to get stuck again at 60a – and then I finally got the whole thing and was able to go back and fill in the other theme answers. Each theme answer has a rebus square requiring a number (written out) and the down number is double the across – hence the title of the puzzle. Clear as mud? Let’s look at the answers.

NYT 1/3/2019, solution grid

  • 18a [Disease of sheep also known as bluetongue] is CATARRHAL FEVER. HALF crosses 9d [Certain Big 12 athlete], which is SOONERONE doubles HALF.
  • 30a [Battle of Trafalgar victor] HORATIO NELSON crosses 25d [Plugging away], AT WORK.
  • 47a [Office suite component] MICROSOFT WORD crosses 27d [Bite-size confection], the delectable PETIT FOUR.
  • 60a [Soap associated with an hourglass] is not a soap you wash with but one you watch: DAYS OF OUR LIVES, crossing 55d [Magnify], which is HEIGHTEN.

The utter obscurity of CATARRHAL FEVER made this even more difficult and felt a bit unfair (although I’m sure Gareth enjoyed it). I was also led astray when I filled in AT IT instead of AT WORK for 25d. The payoff when I figured it out was worth it, though.

A few other things:

  • 20a [Onetime ISIL capital] RAQQA crossing 3d [Hammurabi’s homeland, now] was the last square I filled in, since I wasn’t sure if good ol’ Hammurabi hailed from what is now IRAQ or what is now IRAN. I guessed right.
  • I presume ON HIRE is a Britishism, signaled by the use of “hackney carriage” in the clue. On this side of the pond, we say “for hire.”
  • 52a [Carleton University setting] does not refer to our esteemed blogmistress’s alma mater; that’s Carleton College. The University is in Canada – OTTAWA, to be precise.
  • I have no idea if ART CINE is a term actually used by French movie buffs. Google was not helpful to me.
  • 65a [Eponym of some winds] is SAX, who did indeed invent the saxophone.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: diseases of sheep and the onetime ISIL capital. I also didn’t know that the French maid in the movie “Clue” is named YVETTE or that the queen in the movie “Brave” is named ELINOR.

Alex Eaton-Salners’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Change of Clothes” — Jim P’s review

Nicely designed theme today in which the clued entries have been clothed in OUTERWEAR (57a, [L.L. Bean offering, or a feature of the asterisked answers]). The entire package (the clued theme entry plus the outer garment) comprises a new (unclued) word or name.

WSJ – Thu, 1.3.19 – “Change of Clothes” by Alex Eaton-Salners

  • 17a [*New Haven alums] is the clue for ELIS, but this entry is PANELISTS. Said ELIS are wearing PANTS.
  • 28a [*Dorothy’s companion] is TOTO, but TOTO is wearing a GOWN, so this entry becomes GO TO TOWN. Fun!
  • 37a [*Ballerina’s do] is a BUN. Somehow the BUN is wearing a SUIT leading to the entry SUB-UNIT.
  • 39a [*Untruth]. A LIE wearing a SARI becomes SALIERI. I really like this find even though the thought of putting clothing on a LIE is nonsensical. The fact that SALIERI was not afraid to LIE (at least in the film Amadeus) earns this entry bonus points (though I don’t think he ever wore a SARI in the film).
  • 46a [*Ruling dynasty for 276 years]. The MING dynasty puts on a COAT to get COMING AT. As a preposition-ended phrase, this is by far the weakest of the lot.

It would have been cool if each entry made logical surface sense the way the first one does. That is, ELIS wearing PANTS makes sense, as does TOTO wearing a GOWN, I suppose. But the others don’t.

No doubt these theme entries were hard to find. First, you have to find phrases that have outer garments, keeping in mind there are multiple configurations for where the break lies (for example, PANTS is broken up here as PAN*TS, but PA*NTS could also be used or P*ANTS, etc.). Then the hard part is combing through the possibilities and looking for real words once the OUTERWEAR is removed. I wonder if Alex found a way to automate that process or if he just looked through all of the possibilities himself.

Given that the level of difficulty in finding sufficient theme answers is pretty high, I’m okay with COMING AT and the fact that there isn’t any surface sense to a BUN wearing a SUIT, for example.

(Oh hey, I managed to find my own interesting example: A HERO wearing a TUX becomes writer Paul THEROUX, author of The Mosquito Coast. Cool.)

Looking at the fill, we have adorable PANDA CUBS, as well as PASTORAL, NANNY TAX, LENORE, PATOIS, and PEAR TREES. I’m partial to the latter, given that my last name (Peredo) means “pear orchard” in Portuguese. NBA MVP [Dr. J, for 1980-81] was hard to parse, but the crosses seemed fair. Everything else felt CRISP and SNAPPY.

Clues of note:

  • 15a [Frustum-shaped candy]. ROLO. Cool new word alert! A frustum is “the portion of a cone or pyramid that remains after its upper part has been cut off by a plane parallel to its base.”
  • 21a [Pec pic]. TAT. I really should wear my glasses when solving. At first glance, this looked like “Pee pie.”
  • 42a [Shaping tuck]. DART. No idea on this one. Needed every cross. Anyone?
  • 43a [Smart]. So many possibilities. I considered SNARKY and SNAZZY before landing on SNAPPY.
  • 26d [It may be cut or paste]. GEM. I’d never heard of “paste” referring to gemstones. Apparently it means gemstones made from cut glass, i.e. not real gems.

A really nice Thursday-worthy puzzle today with a clever theme and lovely fill. 4.25 stars from me.

We’ve had a lot of heavy discussions on this site lately (and we’re only three days into the new year!). So how about some PANDA CUBS playing on a slide?

Timothy Polin’s New York Times crossword—Andy’s review

NYT puzzle 1.3.19 by Timothy Polin

Happy New Year, dear readers! I know I’m a bit late, but it’s my first review of 2019, so cut me some slack!

Another very visually striking Thursday grid this week! The first thing you probably noticed upon first looking at this puzzle is that it’s split into two unconnected halves by a grid-spanning line of black squares. That’s generally a huge no-no, so the fact that it’s in the NYT (on a Thursday, no less) must mean it’s integral to the theme.

And indeed it is–as it turns out, it’s a WALL separating the two sides of the grid (I checked to see if there was some Berlin Wall-related anniversary that coincided with the publication of this puzzle, and… not really. 2019 is the 30th anniversary of the wall coming down, but that happened in November, not January.) But lo! The wall is not impenetrable. At three spots the grid, there’s an entry you might imagine having a WALL rebus square in the black square separating its two halves. Like so:

  • 19a / 20a, DESKTOP / PAPER [With 20-Across, pattern in back of a window]. This clues DESKTOPWALLPAPER; the wall of black squares is acting here as a “wall” rebus. A really tough clue to open up with! Consequently, this wasn’t the first theme answer I figured out.
  • 35a / 37a, WOLF OF / STREET With 37-Across, hit Leonardo DiCaprio film, with “The”]. This clues WOLFOFWALLSTREET. This was the first theme answer I figured out.
  • 50a / 52a, STONE / JACKSON [With 52-Across, commander at the First Battle of Bull Run]. This clues STONEWALLJACKSON.

This is a really neat idea. Like last week, it does something unusual with crossword conventions. This time, what’s unusual is that it breaks a cardinal rule of crossword construction: namely, that the grid must be fully interlocking (no part of the grid can be isolated from the rest by black squares). It was very cool to try to figure out why there was a huge line of black squares running through the grid, and fairly satisfying once I did.

Of course, the interlocking rule exists for a reason: there’s a very real trade-off here in that the puzzle played very much like two half-puzzles rather than one whole puzzle. I enjoyed solving this puzzle a little less because of its disjointed nature, though I can’t say whether I’m in the majority or I’m a marginal case. I had an especially rough time because I started on the right side of the grid, so I didn’t encounter any of the theme clues until about 70% of the way through my solve (once I got to the left half of the grid). The whole right half of the grid played like a mini-themeless for me.

I really liked the three choices for the theme answers: they felt fresh, and they used “wall” in three fairly different ways. I was very much on Timothy’s wavelength with respect to the fill, but I can see how those wide-open corners could be very tough, what with EXODERM and DEGREASE and ASEPSIS and STOKERS, plus plenty of proper nouns & trivia (which I love but which I know is divisive).

All that said, I thought the fill was really good. It may have been helped a bit by the fact that the grid didn’t fully interlock, but nevertheless I thought those big corners had some cool stuff (ICE-NINE, STAN LEE, L.A. LAKER, HASIDIM). Nothing jumped out at me as particularly ugly–just the few potentially unfamiliar words mentioned above.

[Lightweight boxer?] was a lovely clue for PUP, and it crossed another nice, tough clue: [Boardom?] for PEN. Killer crossing! That was one of the last things I filled in.

Overall, I thought this was a unique, well-made Thursday puzzle that provided an appropriate challenge. Until next time!

Pawel Fludzinski’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

This puzzle features a collection of “Old x’s never die” snowclones. I feel like I’ve seen a million of them in my time, be they at the footnote of a Reader’s Digest article, or on some kitsch beer glass or whatever. Pretty sure if you Google you’ll get a list of them… We get seven today. Maybe if you somehow have avoided these jokes all your life you’ll find this fresh. I dunno.

I did enjoy PAISAN, as a quaint bit of high-end vocabulary


Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Shuffling Cards” — Ben’s Review

BEQ 1/3 — “Shuffling Cards”

I love the theme on today’s BEQ.  It’s simple, the title of the puzzle tells you EXACTLY what’s happening, and it’s well-executed.

Let’s dive in to “Shuffling Cards”:

  • 19A: Super-smelly queen bee’s home?– HIVE OF FARTS
  • 33A:Sporty citrus drinks in a sudden outpouring? — SPATE OF ADES
  • 48A:Something that might help Rico in a “Miami Vice” case? — CLUE OF TUBBS

Spoonerized playing cards!  We’ve got the five of hearts, eight of spades, and two of clubs up there.  I love that this didn’t play with any of the cards you’d expect (no queen of hearts or ace of spades, which don’t spooner well).

Gorgeous grid on this one, and some other great fill beyond the themers: BESTOW, COOLANT, EDSEL (clued as “Detroit car bomb”, which I loved), FAROESE (as in those that live on the Faroe Islands near Denmark), RAINOUTS, GABLES, and D LIST

More puzzles like this in 2019, please, BEQ!


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16 Responses to Thursday, January 3, 2019

  1. David Steere says:

    David Steinberg’s Universal Crossword: Has anyone been able to access the past few puzzles? Paul Coulter’s puzzle of January 2nd comes up fine and can be printed. Any attempt to open the past few puzzles produces a spinning circle and no access on Firefox, IE or EDGE. David emailed me that the app or apps are still being fiddled with. Does anyone have a clue as to how to “get in?” The URL I’m using is Thanks.

    • Brian says:

      I can send you .puz files if you’d like.

      • David Steere says:

        Thanks, Brian. I appreciate the offer. As of the morning of 1/3, Firefox still won’t allow the back three puzzles to be opened. But, I managed to print them out on Edge. Internet Explorer also seems to be okay. Pays, I guess, to have multiple browsers for situations like this.


  2. Lise says:

    NYT: Stonewall Jackson got me through the wall on this one, then the Wolf of Wall Street. I wanted “monitor wallpaper” for some reason but that didn’t work; having SECEDE instead of RECEDE slowed me down a little too.

    All in all, I enjoyed this solve immensely. I chasséd through the right side, as most of my unfamiliar answers were on the left, but I enjoy chipping away at a puzzle until it’s done. The clue for PUP was priceless.

    Great Thursday!

    • Huda says:

      Very similar experience here. STONEwall was my Aha moment…
      I’m so confused by the days of the week because of the holiday, I kept thinking: Why is this on Wednesday, it feels like a Thursday…

  3. scrivener says:

    I had a blast solving the NYT. My breakthrough was also STONE/JACKSON. The killer crossing for me was ASEPSIS with STEN. For some reason I tried to spell it ACEPSIS which I should have thought about since SEPSIS is a word I know, and the down answer could have begun with ANY letter and I’d have bought it. 20:43 for me. Ouch.

  4. Jenni Levy says:

    Really enjoyed this one! I confused myself by entering DANCING at 1d, and that slowed me down quite a bit. Never heard the word EXODERM, although it was completely inferable and the crossings were fine. The clue for LA LAKER made me wonder when this puzzle was accepted.

  5. BarbaraK says:

    Re WSJ: darts are used in sewing to make the shape get narrower, like for the waist of a shirt.

    • JohnH says:

      Tuck/DART was new to me, too, although it was the west, with ONSTAR etc. that was my last to fall.

      I don’t remember a theme like this one, with the clue referring to what’s left after the “outerwear” and not to the whole entry. Indeed, I was at first looking for, say, a dynasty that just happened to begin and end with the letters in COAT. So the aha moment came as a really nice surprise.

  6. PJ Ward says:

    The progression of the powers of 2 in FB (-1, 0, 1, 2, 3) is a nice touch. I haven’t been able to see a significance of those powers other than they are all one reasonably short word.

  7. Lise says:

    WSJ: The theme entries reminded me of cryptic crosswords, which I like to do when I can get my brain properly oriented. I looked forward to unraveling (or raveling?) each successive entry; that’s what makes for me, a very satisfying theme.

    The fill was excellent. What a great use of the word “frustum”!

    The panda video was just too cute. Thanks for the smiles :)

  8. Doug says:

    I was sorry to see such a dismissive review of the LAT puzzle. It’s my understanding that the LAT editorial policy is for their crossword difficulty to be two days behind that of the NYT. Today’s LAT would, I think, have been a perfectly competent and entertaining Tuesday-level NYT puzzle, so right on target.

  9. pannonica says:

    BEQ: 32a [Lizards used in witches brews] NEWTS.

    Doubly erroneous.

  10. A says:

    Wall theme was pretty timely.

  11. Judith Speer says:

    Did I miss it? Did someone blog the whole New Yorker puzzle week?

  12. Dr Fancypants says:

    Fireball was nice, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to fill in the rebuses to make the app happy.

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