Peter A. Collins’s Fireball contest, “Symbolic Language” — Laura’s review
In this Fireball contest, the first since July, we’re asked: What three additional clues in this puzzle need to be asterisked to complete the theme? (To submit, send the answers to those three clues.) As a start, one clue is asterisked already: [9d: *Notable period]: ERA. Let’s see what we’ve got — notably, four themers with circled letters:
- [18a: Migraines, e.g.]: VASCULAR HEADACHES. I get those. They are no fun.
- [30a: Edward Jones, for example]: BROKERAGE FIRM. I’ve heard of Edward Jones from ads in The New Yorker, but as an academic, I don’t have much interaction with brokerage firms in general, due to not having anything to broker.
- [51a: Third party in stock deals]: TRANSFER AGENT. See above. I’ll trust that this is a thing for those parties who make stock deals.
- [67a: Othello portrayer opposite Kenneth Branagh’s Iago]: LAURENCE FISHBURNE. Also a star of the Matrix trilogy, reunited with costar Keanu Reeves in two of the three Johns Wick.
First step: We notice that each themer has circled letters, and that these circled letters are chemical symbols, like so:
VASCULAR HEADACHE == Cu = copper
BROKERAGE FIRM == Ag = silver
TRANSFER AGENT == Fe = iron
LAURENCE FISHBURNE == Au = gold
Second step: Flail. I tried all sorts of things, like noticing that ERA, the entry from the initial starred clue, is also embedded in two of the themers. Tried sussing out the periodic table for other embedded chemical symbols. Noticed [42a: ___ Alley]: TIN PAN and tried to think of alloys combining the metals. Finally had to do some other stuff, and put it aside to marinate. Talked it over with solving pal Conrad, who suggested that after finding the elements, I look again at the themers — and the next bits popped out immediately:
VASCULAR HEADACHE == copperhead
BROKERAGE FIRM == silver fir
TRANSFER AGENT == iron age
LAURENCE FISHBURNE == goldfish
Third step: Connect those to other entries in the grid. The first two are apparent, and the third we were given:
COPPERHEAD == [50a: Staff of Aesculapius creature]: SNAKE
SILVER FIR == [24d: Arboretum sight]: TREE
IRON AGE == [9d: *Notable period]: ERA
Fourth step: Flail more. Could GOLDFISH connect to [60a: Go south quickly]: TANK? [What happens when I try to solve this meta? I ___]: TANK. This one took some lateral thinking, and another nudge, this time from solving pal Jeremy K., to finally light upon:
GOLDFISH == [16d: Item on a cheeseboard]: CRACKER
As the parent of t(w)een and teen children, I generally have generous supplies of goldfish crackers readily apparent in my kitchen, but my mind was really not intuiting this one. But those are our answers: SNAKE, TREE, CRACKER. Thoughts? I feel like I solved this one neither wisely nor too well.
Here’s 67a, who loved not wisely but too well:
Whoops, I submitted tank as well without thinking twice.
Man, I owe this contest a huge apology. I brute-force noticed that Silver Maple, Ironwood, Gold(en) Rain and Copper Beech were all kinds of TREEs, Copperhead, Gold(en), Iron and Silver were all kinds of SNAKEs, and Gold(en), Iron, Copper and Silver were (sort of) ERAs, but was stuck forever trying to find the fourth. I finally settled on IRA, because there is a Gold IRA, Silver IRA, etc. I thought it was tenuous — I mean you can get Google hits with GOLD + — and thought it reflected poorly on the constructor. I completely missed the other (key) parts of the themed entries (FIR, AGE, etc.). I have changed my mind; this was an excellent meta!
Not sure why TANK isn’t as valid as CRACKER for GOLDFISH.
All of the others are categories that the noun belongs to: a copperhead IS A snake, and so forth. A “goldfish tank” is a thing, but a goldfish is not a tank.
I guess I’m just dense. If I walked into Petco and asked for a goldfish tank, they would know exactly what I’m talking about. Goldfish refers to a type of tank just as much as a “type” (actually a brand) of cracker.