The Fireball is on hiatus until January.
Frank Virzi’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “The Pretenders”—Jim P’s review
64a PUT ON AN ACT is clued [Pretend, and what you’ll find five times in this puzzle]. Sure enough, we find the letters PUT sitting above the letters ACT in five locations in the grid.
- KAPUT atop EXACT FARES
- SPUTTERS atop FACTOID
- LILLIPUT atop TACT
- OUPUT atop the end of PUT ON AN ACT
- The beginning of PUT ON AN ACT atop ACTH(!)
Most of these were fun; I especially liked KAPUT, SPUTTERS, FACTOID, and LILLIPUT. But EXACT FARES [Bus-riding requirements, often] sounds wrong in the plural, and ACTH is…well, what the heck is ACTH? It’s clued [Pituitary hormone, for short] and is apparently short for Adrenocorticotropic (or adrenocorticotrophic) hormone. Yeah, no. Not crossword fodder at all, in my opinion, though it’s appeared 21 other times according to the cruciverb database, sadly. Ugh. (Constructors, kindly remove that from your databases.) And crossing it with UP AT [Maugham’s “___ the Villa”] makes for a pile-up of unsightliness in that section.
Other downers include DUADS [Pairs], ATERRE [Touching the floor, in ballet], starting the grid with awkward “IT’S SO,” and the mention of Betsy DeVos in the clue for EDUC. There’s also a six-letter partial in BEAR IT if you keep track of that sort of thing.
Trying to counter those, we find WARHOL, “OR ELSE!,” SINKER, OTTAWA, FLORIDA, LORETTA Young, and SPRUCE. Nice, but nothing longer than a 7, no doubt due to the constraints posed by the theme entries.
I don’t know if it would have been possible, but I’m wondering if this grid could be restructured in such a way to get rid of the crummier bits (especially ACTH) and allow for some flashier fill. The NE and SW corners aren’t being utilized at all, so I have to think there’s some potential there.
For the most part, I like the theme, but I think this one needed a bit of re-working to iron out the kinks. 3.1 stars.
Alex Eaton-Salners’ New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
It’s Thursday! Let’s do this. The grid for today’s NYT is littered with two-letter entries, which normally aren’t allowed, but in this case, represent the ATOMIC NUMBERS corresponding to the elements with that clue number, as explained by 34A. 3D is LI (as in Lithium), 10D is NE (Neon), continuing around the grid with CA (20A, Calcium), TI (22A, Titanium), SN (50A, Tin), XE (54A, Xenon), ND (60D, Neodymium), and SM (62D, Samarium)
I respect this theme as a construction exercise, but this feels like the sort of theme that may be more fun to put together than it is to solve. Ultimately, I felt like I was doing a worksheet in chemistry class, albeit a well-constructed one. If your mental periodic table is a little rusty, you’re going to need a lot of help from the crossings here.
Some other notes on the grid:
- All of the super long fill in this grid is great! BEGGED FOR MORE, RAN SMACK DAB INTO, and GOING OUT ON A LIMB were all nicely placed.
- One thing that may have been rustier than my periodic table was my ability to recall the last names of any of the friends on Friends. There are two GELLERs, Ross and Monica.
- I took a lucky guess that the Waldorf-Astoria was an ART DECO building.
Happy Thursday, all!
Emily Carroll’s Universal crossword, “Bite-Size”—Jim Q’s review
This one had me at I’M ON A BOAT. I mean, great theme too… but that entry *almost* stole the show.
THEME: Foods that are tiny!
- 20A [Trendy dining garnishes] MICRO-GREENS.
- 37A [Hot cocoa topper] MINI MARSHMALLOW.
- 54A [Orange items on a crudites platter] BABY CARROTS.
This is what I like in a Universal puzzle. Three solid theme entries, and great fill. This was totally enjoyable. Yeah, sure, the plural is missing on MINI MARSHMALLOW (it would be weird to see just one topping your hot cocoa!), but who cares? At 74 words, the grid has space to breathe and allow for fantastic entries such as the aforementioned I’M ON A BOAT, ANT COLONY, BAT SIGNAL, HEAD COLD, MIA SARA (I admittedly don’t know anything she’s done other than Ferris… but it was a fun enough name to infer), LET IT GO (thankfully clued sans Frozen reference), and CLUB SODAS (grumble, grumble over the plural here, which is just as weird as excluding the plural from the lone MINI MARSHMALLOW).
Love the consistency in the theme and the tiny 15×15 platter it was served on. Thanks, Emily!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t embed the NSFW video “I’m on a Boat.” If you’re offended, just check out some of Lonely Island’s other hits. Highly suggest the Michael Bolton one. But it has over 203 million views… so I hope it’s not new for you!
Joe Deeney’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
Blogging before our power is cut for “loadshedding”. At least it’s only two hours today. We’ve had nearly eight in recent times.
So often these definition themes fall short. Today’s subject is [Mars]. The POPSTARBRUNO is named for the FOURTHPLANET. Said planet is named for the SONOFJUPITER. So really that’s just one Mars repeated thrice. The CHOCOLATEBAR is different, belonging to one Frank C. Mars.
BANANASLUG over SLIME was a very snazzy touch.
NYT: I’m conflicted… The two long down entries are awesome. And I appreciate having a scientific theme. But I’m GOING OUT ON A LIMB and venturing to say that for most people, remembering ATOMIC NUMBERS and their abbreviations in the periodic table is not their idea of fun.
Once I tumbled to the theme, I decided that beyond the really low Atomic Numbers, it was hopeless, and I worked around them. And wound up feeling mildly annoyed with myself for not knowing…
At “CA” I thought maybe they would be geographical [I still remember the wonderful Matt Gaffnet Appalachian Trail from years ago], but that hope died at “XE” — along with any fun.
We did have one puzzle with 8 random state abbreviations. My first guess here was that the 3D would be the 3rd state, etc.; but then the theme would stop at 50. I know enough of the elements that I made the connection at 20A:CA and then filled in most of the others. Once you get into the “rare earth” elements I’m much less sure of the numbers — I got 60 by recalling an old Vos Savant puzzle, 60:59 :: NEO- : ? , but 62 was a lucky guess (eventually confirmed by crosses). Yes, I enjoyed that part more than I guess most solvers would . . .
I believe there is no fireball to kome this week…
Stymied in NYT at the crossing of AIRTRAN, THENOSE, and TAUNT.
NYT: I’ll just repeat my link from a 3 November comment:
What a Thursday! meh
Hear, hear. Ugh.
WSJ: Presumably the reason for ACTH is that the constructor wanted all the instances of ACT to be “disguised” in their entries, so ACT_ doesn’t give you much leeway, as ACTI and ACTS aren’t disguising anything. Do people remember Manny Acta? Then maybe OHM could have been changed to OAR.
I like Manny Acta a lot better than ACTH. I second Jim P’s motion to ban it.
Gareth, thanks for managing to blog the LAT while dealing with power outages! I thought yesterday’s was even drier than you did, and honestly? when I realized today was going to be a four-definitions-of-the-same-word theme, I decided to skip it. Now I’m glad I did.
Being poor in science, I didn’t really go for the NYT puzzle. But it was impressive that the crosses were so good and fair that I was able to complete it.