Thursday, December 10, 2020

BEQ untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 4:23 (GRAB) 


NYT 10:20 (Ben) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal 4:25 (Jim Q) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Framers”—Jim P’s review

Note: The online puzzle (on the WSJ site) was initially missing all Down clues after 41d. This was rectified within a couple hours, but if you were trying to solve this early, you probably encountered this problem.

Theme: The letters RS are inserted into the middles of phrases.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Framers” · David Alfred Bywaters · Thu., 12.10.20

  • 17a [Pop quiz in classical literature class?] HOMER SCARE. Home care. The RS is “framed” equally on both sides by the same number of letters, which makes sense. This is the only entry where this happened.
  • 25a [Just clobbering your opponent with the hilt, for example?] FENCER SIN. Fence in. This is the first entry I uncovered, and I wasn’t sure if the base phrase was meant to be “fence in” or “fences in.” It’s ambiguous at first glance.
  • 35a [Untrustworthy investment pro] BROKER SCAMP. Broke camp. “Scamp” doesn’t seem like the right word for the type of person who steals investors’ money.
  • 47a [Place to get some fries on the road?] TUBER STOP. Tube top. Like the “fence in” entry above, before you know the theme, this one is ambiguous. The base phrase could have easily been “tube stop” (i.e. Underground station in London) as well as “tube top.” And who refers to fries or even potatoes as “tubers?” “Taters” feels more natural, though it obviously doesn’t fit the theme.
  • 57a [Source of drug-addled wisdom?] STONER SAGE. Stone Age. This one I like. It has genuine humor and feels natural. Aside from the unbalanced “frame,” it’s a good one.

You can tell I wasn’t too keen on this. It starts at the beginning when you realize you have to awkwardly re-parse the title as “Frame RS.” This just feels random, and to me, makes for a clumsy basis for a puzzle. Then, if you’re going to put something in a frame, it makes more sense to me to have it in the exact center every time. Finally, the ambiguity in a couple of the entries was confusing at first (though I did get over it).

What I did like is the consistency with which the R and S were applied in that the R ended the first word in each entry, and the S began the second. And the entries themselves aren’t bad (especially the last one), but the clues just didn’t tickle me.

Moving on to the fill, I like the LETS SLIP and BLABBING pairing, as well as ECUADOR, ACACIA, HESTER Prynne, and “AS I SAY…”

I wasn’t fond of the crossing of ELI and BRICE [Who’s coming, according to a 1969 Three Dog Night hit] and [Funny Fanny], respectively. Not knowing either, that I could easily have been a Y or even a U. The other thorny crossing was CRI [___ de coeur] and RIG [Outfit]. Yes, RIG makes sense, but CRI looks so unlikely. Change RIG to ROT and CRI to CRO, and it’s marginally better.

Clues of note:

  • 14a. [Stimulus]. GOAD. That’s GOAD as a noun. Who uses it that way?
  • 19a. [State missing what should be its northeast corner]. UTAH. Huh! That corner was actually removed after the Civil War and given to the Wyoming Territory. News to me!
  • 12d. [More melodramatic]. SOAPIER. I’ve never heard “soapy” used in this way.
  • 58d. [Ludd for whom Luddites are named]. NED. If you’re going to have Luddites in a puzzle, then I’m going to embed the parody song by the British kids’ show Horrible Histories featuring Luddites as punk rockers. Enjoy!

Jack Murtagh’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

Today’s NYT (courtesy Jack Murtagh) has an element of surprise in its cluing:

  • 16A: Siding? — SILICON CHIP
  • 27A: Oration? — OXYGEN SUPPLY
  • 36A: Female? — IRON MAN
  • 43A: Aground? — SILVER BULLET
  • 57A: Cold? — CARBON DATED

More specifically, each of these clues can be broken into two pieces – a chemical element’s abbreviation, and another clued word to make a phrase that goes with the element.  Break it down this way and everything’s a little clearer:

  • 16A: Si  ding? — SILICON CHIP
  • 27A: O  ration? — OXYGEN SUPPLY
  • 36A: Fe  male? — IRON MAN
  • 43A: Ag  round? — SILVER BULLET
  • 57A: C  old? — CARBON DATED

I thought this was a clever idea that took me a few minutes to figure out how to parse mid-solve.

I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out if “Sound track?” was also a theme clue, but it’s just EAR CANAL.  Its symmetrical partner in the grid, TALK SHOP, not being a theme clue definitely helped resolve that.

Elsewhere in the grid: Given that the clue mentioned “essayist” I tried to make it Susan ORLEAN, but it’s actually Susan SONTAG, and I also liked all the longer down fill: PINEAPPLE, TOOTHLESS, YOGI BERRA, and SMELL TEST.

Andy Kravis and Wyna Liu’s Fireball Crossword, “Squeeze Play” – Jenni’s write-up

Fireball 2020 goes out in a blaze of glory. This is a great puzzle – and it was co-constructed by a woman!

I couldn’t figure it out at all last night. The light dawned this morning (so to speak) which doesn’t leave me a lot of time to wax eloquent. That’s a shame, because this puzzle deserves some love. The theme answers are all plays that are squeezed into the grid with two letters in each square. Here’s Peter’s grid – it’s easier to read than mine.

Fireball, December 9, 2020, Andy Kravis and Wyna Liu, “Squeeze Play,” solution grid

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I figured it out at 17 with PEER GYNT and then saw KING LEAR, which I’d mostly filled in with crossings. Then I solved for the other three by identifying the plays because the crossings were not helpful. Some of that was me – [Stumps] is a perfectly fair clue for ORATES but all I could see was the sense in which the clue stumped me. I also could not see DYADS for [Smallest social groups]. PROTEA, on the other hand, is obscure. They did give us a big hint with [Flowering plant named after a shape-shifting Greek god]. And 47d [Bolts] could have been either RUSHES or the correct DASHES. I’m not complaining – not at all. It was a tough puzzle with a very gratifying “aha” moment.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of English golfer LUKE DONALD. Luckily I have heard of KING LEAR.


Ross Trudeau’s Universal crossword, “‘Switching Jobs” — Jim Q’s write-up

Better keep track of those theme answers if you want to unpack this one!

Universal crossword solution · “’Switching Jobs” · Ross Trudeau ·  Thur., 12.10.20

THEME: Jobs that control “TRACK CHANGES” in three different senses of the word “TRACK

  • (revealer) TRACK CHANGES

I’m not familiar with Microsoft Word as I haven’t used it in quite some time (since college maybe?), so TRACK CHANGES was a new term for me. It was a fun, if subtle, AHA to note how all of the jobs have their own TRACKs of sorts to oversee, but TRACK in all of its iterations is not a words I’m predisposed to get all that excited about.

Fine, very standard fill. VEINLET was new for me. The dupes in PUNCH UP and BEEFS UP only annoyed me because of the way I solved (I met those two clues back-to-back and was hesitant to enter UP twice).

Other than that, a just fine puzzle!

3 stars.


Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1321), “Mini Puzzle” — Jenni’s review

When I looked at the website, I was confused, because it looked like a normal 15×15. And it is. Each theme answer is a “mini” – a standard phrase with ETTE on the end, clued for wackiness.

Brendan Emmett Quigley, Puzzle #1321, “Mini Puzzle,” December 10, 2020, solution grid

  • 17a [Run-of-the-mill flirt?] is a VANILLA COQUETTE. Took me a while to see vanilla coke in there.
  • 26a [Puppet that cleans up around the house?] is MAID MARIONETTE (Maid Marian).
  • 47a [French bread made of sludge and grime?] is a SLEAZE BAGUETTE (sleazebag). That one doesn’t work as well as the others – shouldn’t it be sleazy?
  • 61a [Gambling game that doesn’t last very long?] is 5SECOND ROULETTE (five-second rule). The five-second rule is the belief that you can pick up and eat food that’s fallen on the floor as long as it’s been there less than five seconds. To be clear, Crossword Fiend does not recommend this practice.

I enjoyed the theme, including the surprise number at 61a. The crossing is [1700s early counterpart], 5 AM. Black Ink accepted the number in the grid, as you can see from my screenshot and that’s what Brendan has on his website.

One little nit: there’s a dupe with [Some require tags] for OUTS and ID TAG. That doesn’t ruin the puzzle for me at all. Fun!

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: I’d never heard of HEIDI Garner from SNL or BRIAN Flores of the Miami Dolphins. I was also unaware of the existence of experimental electronic musician YVES Tumor.

David Distenfeld’s LAT crossword – Gareth’s summary

LAT 201210

I liked the premise a lot: at the DOUBLEPARK, animals names are DOUBLED, but anagrammed to make wackiness. The execution was a little scattershot: both domestic and wild; plus breeds; plus gender classifications? I feel like this theme was more than broad enough to be tighter and more focussed.

Best clue: [Guitar band] for STRAP. I admire terse clues that are both completely accurate and totally misleading.


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18 Responses to Thursday, December 10, 2020

  1. davey says:

    NYT: beautiful theme, loved it. didn’t do myself any favours by instantly putting in YEMENI for the Aden residents!

  2. Matt M. says:

    I thought the NYT was great and accidentally rated it 3 stars instead of 4.5 — sorry.

  3. scrivener says:

    NYT was clever, challenging, and fun. 4.5 from me. 18:06.

  4. Zulema says:

    Agree with all the foregoing, and with the added fact that I fail at most Thursday NYT crosswords but I was very happy to solve this one. It was very well done and I was very happy to be able to solve it, at my age no less. Can’t imagine what it took to construct!

  5. Martin says:

    As JimP notes, the WSJ puzzle was initially broken when they posted it. The Across Lite version here was actually corrected before their version thanks to some quick work by Glenn here. Thanks, Glenn.

  6. Mutman says:

    NYT: Took me a while to get the theme, but loved it s well.

    Hard time with final square, as I read ‘Frequent filers’ as ‘Frequent FLIERS’.

  7. Billy Boy says:

    (Maybe my having my initial degree in Chemistry), this NYT was easy and transparent, so no real love here, ALSO – it seems as if we’ve seen this trick more than once before.

    The WSJ although uneven as noted was much more fun for me. Doing that one in pen on the paper since I have home delivery started again (I am reading news once more) thus I had not encountered the digital woes documented and the overall huffiness seen in the WSJ puzzle comment thread.

  8. Jim says:

    NYT I got a chuckle out of “A constant celebration?” – PI DAY

  9. pannonica says:

    PSA: Wednesday Universal write-up is now patched in.

    • Crotchety Doug says:

      Thanks for the alert. I went back and read your review of that one, which I had done yesterday. Chuckled out loud at the housebound beaver video. You do find some amazing stuff out there!

  10. janie says:

    while all you science and math nerds are enjoying the wonderful wit in jack murtagh’s puzz, this theatre geek is totally lovin’ andy kravis and wyna liu’s fireball.

    exemplary themers raise this arts-oriented puzz to another level of achievement (imho…). among the lot, the only play i’ve not read is peer gynt. but hey — ibsen. so definitely fair game!

    after some phumphering around in the nw, moved down to the se and there caught on to the game w/ surprisingly little difficulty. which didn’t make the remainder of the solve a walk in the park. but it did get me on board and eager to discover which other plays would be revealed.

    a dramatic way indeed to, uh, bring down the curtain on this season’s fireball!


  11. David L says:

    BEQ: Thanks for the explanation of VANILLACOQUETTE — had no idea there was such as thing as Vanilla Coke (it sounds horrible, but then I don’t care for Coke of any variety)

  12. Ellen Nichols says:

    Jenni, thanks for the review of the BEQ. I really enjoy his puzzles, but am sometimes stymied. You can’t always Google wordplay.

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