Will Nediger’s Fireball contest, “Semi’d’omes”—Jim P’s review
Jim P here sitting in for Laura who’s at a
party conference for librarians once again. Do you ever wonder how much librarians can accomplish at a conference if the attendees are constantly shushing the guest speakers?
Anyhoo, that leaves me with the task of deciphering Will Nediger’s Fireball contest offering. We’re supposed to find a cartoon character hinted at by this super-sized 19×17 grid. The theme answers seem obvious, but I’ve been wrong about this kind of thing before. We have a raft of 9-letter answers.
- 21a [Someone who obstinately sticks to technically correct usage even if it isn’t popular] SUMPSIMUS. Wow! Learn something new every day. I have never heard of this word before nor its opposite “mumpsimus.” And look what I found: A 1979 article by Eugene Maleska regarding, among other things, his use of mumpsimus in a puzzle. Check it out!
- 23a [Actress on “General Hospital” and “Dynasty”] EMMA SAMMS. I’ve heard the name before, but couldn’t have told you in what context.
- 36a [Pod vegetables] SNAP BEANS. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this term either. I know snap peas and string beans, but not SNAP BEANS. Apparently though it’s just another term for green beans or string beans.
- 41a [Doves’ hangout] PEACE CAMP. Tricky clue. Nice.
- 51a [Fail-safe] FOOLPROOF. Solid.
- 59a [1985 Dennis Quaid sci-fi film] ENEMY MINE. My immediate thought went to The Day After Tomorrow, but that was much more recent (2004). I believe ENEMY MINE also starred Louis Gossett Jr. Yup, I was right though I never saw the film.
- 62a [Caterer’s platter] PARTY TRAY. Also solid.
- 81a [Proctor’s concern] TIME LIMIT. Aside: “Proctor” makes me think of quaint and quirky Proctor Street here in Tacoma where there’s a lovely farmer’s market every Saturday. Last weekend, I discovered “mushroom logs” from a local vendor who takes logs from his property near Mt. Rainier, injects them with gourmet mushroom spawn and sells them to
gulliblecustomers like me. Over the next 2-3 seasons, I should see these funky fungi sprouting and waiting to be tossed into my sauté pan. Or so he told me after I happily gave him my money.
- 83a [Conflict that began with “shock and awe”] WAR IN IRAQ. I wanted DESERT STORM, but the term “shock and awe” was used more prominently with the 2003 invasion, not the earlier 1991 conflict.
So what do you notice about these entries? I think it was EMMA SAMMS that did it for me (that pair of double-Ms was a giveaway). Each of these is a near-palindrome. Aside from the lone central letters in each 9-letter answer, the other letters pair off (going outward from the center) except for one pair of letters. In EMMA SAMS, it’s the initial E and final S.
What do we do with this information? We make a list! Since we don’t know which letters are the important ones at this point, let’s write down both letters from each answer that ruin the palindrome. For a visual reference, I’ve marked the central letters in red.
- SUMPSIMUS begets P and I.
- EMMASAMS begets E and S.
- SNAPBEANS begets P and E.
- PEACECAMP begets E and M.
- FOOLPROOF begets L and R.
- ENEMYMINE begets E and I.
- PARTYTRAY begets P and Y.
- TIMELIMIT begets E and I.
- WARINIRAQ begets W and Q.
And just like that, we see PEPE LE PEW emerging from the first set of letters. Easy peasy! And not only is PEPE LE PEW the answer (or the one I would submit if I was going to submit), it could be another theme entry in this puzzle since it’s one letter off from being a palindromic name.
What do you think? I felt the solution to the meta was far easier to find than I expected, and far easier than solving the grid itself. From a blogger’s standpoint, I’m grateful I didn’t have to flail around all weekend trying to suss it out.
My question is how did Will find these? My initial guess is to go the online tool Qat and put in this search string: “ABCDEFCBA;|A|=1;|B|=1;|C|=1;|D|=1;|E|=1;|F|=1”. This finds all nine-letter words in its database that are nearly palindromic except for the fourth and sixth letters (in this particular search). This results in 16 hits including FOOLPROOF, SUMPSIMUS, and TIME LIMIT (but not SNAP BEANS). But their database doesn’t have movie titles or proper names or a phrase like WAR IN IRAQ, so Will must have taken this approach with another database, presumably his own word list. Anyway, I think it’s very cool that he worked all this out and was able to spell out another potential entry PEPE LE PEW using the changed letters. Very impressive!
The only thing I’m still thrown off by is the title, “Semi’d’omes”. I see that it’s yet another potential theme answer, but I’m not getting why the d is in single quotes or how the term makes for an aptly overarching title at all. Something to do with “half” maybe?
Putting that aside, let’s look at the grid. How many people had trouble in that TY·D·BOL/SCRIBD section, especially since the clue for TY·D·BOL [Brand found in tanks] has some ambiguity? Tough stuff, but ultimately fair IMO.
I loved seeing Chicago’s THE LOOP and Philadelphia’s PHILLIE Phanatic. “MY TURN” [Eager cry during a game] is fun as well. CAMORRA [Mafia-like organization of 19th-century Naples] was new to me, but all the crossings are fair and gettable.
Clues of note:
- Clever clues include 19a [Boring outcome] for HOLE, 71a [Skipper on the water] for STONE, 86a [It has two drawers] for DUEL, 30d [Box lunch?] for BENTO (yum!), and 52d [Future output] for RAP.
- 34a [Footy, so to speak]. SOCCER. I think I’m more accustomed to seeing it spelt “footie”, but it seems both are acceptable.
- 55a [Like some terriers]. TIBETAN. I don’t think I knew this. Apparently, they’re not actually terriers, though, which makes the clue questionable. The TIBETAN name for the breed is Tsang Apso where “Apso” means “shaggy or bearded”. Store that away for future use.
- 91a [Smelting waste]. SLAG. This word has a different meaning in Britain.
- 10d [French family]. ROMANCE. Tricky, as the clue refers to the language of French, not the people of France.
- 48d [“Be very, very quiet,” to Elmer Bernstein]. PPP. Whew! That was a tough one since I couldn’t get Elmer Fudd out of my head, which I think was the intention. Anyway, Bernstein was the composer for many film scores including The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, Ghostbusters, Airplane, Animal House, and more. The PPP stands for pianississimo, or, “very very softly.”
And that should do it! A very intricate and impressive theme to this contest puzzle, and I loved it. Solid supporting material and fresh clues. 4.5 stars.
I enjoyed seeing THE LOOP as well, considering I solved the puzzle in The Loop.
Couldn’t get past the title as I kept seeing the Simpsons’ “D’OH!”
Re: the title – SEMIDOMES is another potential theme entry, as you point out, and the apostrophe is there as a sort of oblique hint that the themers are what you might call “semi-dromes.” I had a lot of trouble coming up with a title for this one (the best I thought of was “On the Verge of a Comeback” or something similar), and this was Peter’s suggestion.
Oh, I love “On the Verge of a Comeback.” I wish you’d gone with that one. My only criticism of this puzzle is that the title made it too easy to see what was going on.