Thursday, December 17, 2020

BEQ untimed (Ade) 


LAT 5:34 (GRAB) 


NYT 7:31 (Ben) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal 4:03 (Jim Q) 


The Fireball is on hiatus through the end of the year.

Jake Houston’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Got a Light?”—Jim P’s review

We have what appears to be another debut today. And it’s a good ’un.

The revealer is DARK / AGES (36a, [With 37-Across, fall of Rome aftermath, and a hint to the puzzle theme]). The other theme answers are phrases that have the letter string AGES in them, except that said string is “hidden” within a black (“dark”) block. The latter halves of the phrases (after the AGES) comprise their own actual entries with unrelated clues.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Got a Light?” · Jake Houston · Thu., 12.17.20

  • 17a. [Snail mail attachment] (w/18a) POST{AGE S}TAMP
  • 26a. [Rental to reduce clutter] (w/ 27a) STOR{AGE S}PACE
  • 48a. [Church fundraisers, sometimes] (w/49a) RUMM{AGE S}ALES
  • 58a. [Stop before a party] (w/60a) PACK{AGE S}TORE

That’s a really nice set of entries with only the one plural as a minor demerit. Each phrase is easily in-the-language,* and I’m impressed that the latter halves all spell their own actual words (thereby disguising the theme further) and that everything fits symmetrically.

The theme was so well hidden from me that I didn’t see it until I was probably 85-90% done and was getting frustrated. Most of that is on me for just being on the wrong wavelength and also not recognizing the causal effect between the fall of the Roman Empire and the DARK AGES and further, not realizing there’s a G in ERDOGAN. Finally, when I realized 48a had to be RUMM, I put it all together and grokked the theme.

But that wasn’t the end of my struggles. That NW corner beat me up pretty badly. With IVES [“Calcium Light Night” composer], MICA [Mineral in sheets], LIANA [Rainforest climber], VIOLIST [Tabea Zimmermann or Cynthia Phelps, e.g.], and SATAN [Recurring “South Park” character], I was guessing left and right with little to hang on to. I couldn’t tell if [Bearers of lyre-shaped horns] was going to be some kind of animals or deities. I don’t mind a few opaque clues, but this felt like overkill, and with stale crosswordese MICA and LIANA involved, I’d rather see that whole corner re-done.

But aside from that, the rest of the grid is nicely filled despite the stacked 7s in each corner (the result of having a central themer bisect the grid). Highlights: “ADMIT IT!,” ONE LOVE, DUE DATE, PET NAME, DAYBEDS, RAW DATA, WIRETAP, HOUDINI, EPITOME, and NIGERIA.

I recognize DINT [Impact] as a word but have only ever heard it used in the phrase “by DINT of,” i.e. by means of. Nothing else stands out as iffy fill aside from what was mentioned above.

Aside from the one corner, I’m impressed with this rebus theme and the surrounding strong fill. A very nice debut! 3.9 stars.

* I recognize the term PACKAGE STORE (synonymous with “liquor store”) from my days in the military, but maybe it’s new to some solvers. It seems to be a regional phrase that originated in the late 19th century and has an interesting history.

Kathryn Lander’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

There’s a lot of things happening in today’s NYT from Kathryn Lander (a debut! Congratulations!), but I’m not sure it all works together in a harmonious way for me.

NYT #1217 – 12/17/2020

We have three circled Gs in FIG and GOGO, and some shaded squares in DEFLATED highlight E FLAT.  This is all in service of BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH (36A, “Work suggested by this puzzle’s circled and shaded squares”), written by LUDWIG (49D, “First name of this puzzle’s dedicatee, born December 1770”), who famously became DEAF later in life, per 56D) and set his fifth symphony in the key of C MINOR (2D, “Key to this puzzle’s theme?”).

From a visual standpoint, I like how the circled/shaded squares reference the short-short-short-long of the opening of Beethoven’s fifth and how the positioning of the Gs and E FLAT mirror how they would be written on a music staff, but there’s just too many different elements in play here, leaving the end result just SO-SO to me.

Other thoughts:

  • I remembered that SABOR is spanish for “flavor” thanks to 30 Rock’s off-brand Mexican cheetos, Sabor de Soledad
  • “What “exaggerated” is sometimes misspelled with” feels like a reach for ONE G.  Just make it O NEG and do a blood type thing if you’re going to put that in the grid.

Sam Buchbinder and Brad Wilber’s Universal crossword, “‘Secret Theme” — Jim Q’s write-up

Well, the revealer doesn’t do much service to the “Secret” part of “Secret Theme”!

THEME: The word CODE is hidden in the first two letters of both parts of all the theme answers.

Universal crossword solution · “Secret Theme” · Brad Wilber · Sam Buchbinder · Sat., 12.15.20



Smooth as silk grid today, with lovely entries all around. That, of course, is to be expected of anything that Brad Wilber is going to attach his name to. I solved this as a themeless for the most part, maybe grokking the theme after the revealer. I don’t remember. It’s the type of theme that the solver can appreciate mid-solve (as opposed to post-solve) and it can aid while filling if you need the nudge (you know CO- and DE- will make an appearance!)

Liked the shouty clue for ALL CAPS. I was thrown by the clue for THE CUBS [Wrigley field team, familiarly] When I see “familiarly” I usually think I’m looking for slang or elided words or somethin’. Isn’t THE CUBS the formal name of the team?

I always forget how to spell the turkey neck thingy. WATTLE. I’m going to try using that word in a sentence today while maintaining a serious tone. It’ll be fun.

Enjoy your snow day! Well, it’s a snow day for me anyway, so I assume for everyone else as well.

4 stars.

Jim Holland’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary


I didn’t twig to the theme at all. The phrasing is awkward and it doesn’t help the units are those esoteric Imperial ones that make no sense. You wouldn’t clue CUP as a Stanley award, but it is here: CUP, here filled in as EIGHTOUNCES. We use “metric” cups here which are 250ml… Scotland locale is an unlikely and abstruse clue for YARD; add in the layer that you must actually fill in THIRTYSIXINCHES… [Type of horse] is also a weird clue for QUARTER, and then it’s entered as FIVENICKELS.

Entries to note:

  • ZORI, [Japanese sandal] – if you didn’t know the word, you’ve still probably seen them in Japanese stereotypes, without knowing what they’re called.
  • ENOKI, [Long-stemmed mushrooms]. I actually feel these don’t show up in crosswords as much as you’d expect.
  • ARGO as a [Cornstarch brand] is a different clue angle to the usual. Around here all cornstarch is Maizena.


Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1323), “Going Too Far”—Ade’s take

Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword solution, No. 1323: “Going Too Far”

Whoa! Who’s this?

First and foremost, I hope all of you BEQ solvers have been well, and my sincerest apologies for being off the grid with this review. Hope you will forgive me.

Speaking of off the grid, today’s puzzle features a number of entries in which one of the letters to an answer has to be entered into the gray squares, hence the “Going Too Far” title — and the directions to go along with solving the puzzle. Every gray square was going to feature a letter, but it was up to you to figure out which entries needed a letter inside of the gray square and which entries would fit regularly. Once figuring that out, read the letters in the gray boxes from top to bottom and you would end up spelling out a quote from Anais Nin. And the quote is…


This was the first time I was able to attempt this type of grid (though he did a similar grid to this just recently), and some parts were much easier to navigate and figure out which entries would spill into — or start inside of — a black square than others. Probably the biggest hangup was [I]SSEI, and only after I had all the other letters inside the boxes that I just figured that the “I” had to be inside of the gray square in front of it (18A: [Japanese-American immigrant]). Being able to suss immediately that the clue for [A]GENT MULDER was referencing The X-Files (David Duchovny played Agent Fox Mulder on the show) made things much easier on filling the gray squares on the right side of the grid (26A: [Fox TV character?]). Biggest slip-up came when writing in “Tuscano” for [I]TALIANO, as my knowledge of where in Italy Florence is (along with throwing in an unnecessary “o” at the end of “Tuscan,” of course) came back to bite me (47A: [Resident of Firenze]). Fun grid, though grids such as these and the vowel-less puzzles always warp my mind and takes me so much longer to parse.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: NIT (24A: [Minor problem to address]) – Remember when the National Invitation Tournament, a.k.a. the NIT, was the premier postseason tournament in college basketball? From the (in)famous City College of New York winning the NCAA and NIT championships in the same year (1950) to Al McGuire’s Marquette team turning down an NCAA invitation to play in — and win — the NIT in 1970, the tournament has held its semifinals and championship game at Madison Square Garden since 1938. The decline in prestige of the tournament came in the early 1970s, when NBC moved the final of the NCAA championship game to prime time in 1973 and when the early rounds of the NIT were moved out of the World’s Most Famous Arena in 1977. Now it is viewed as more of a consolation tournament for those teams who did not make the NCAAs, though its prestige and history will always live on.

Thank you so much for your time, everyone! Have a great rest of your Thursday, and hope you have a good weekend coming up!

Take care!


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21 Responses to Thursday, December 17, 2020

  1. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I’d also accept a clue about gravitational force for ONE G. Gravity on the moon is about 1/6 of a G, gravity on Mars is about 1/3 of a G, and gravity on Earth is ONE G.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Can’t go with O NEG because NEG is in the center of the grid. That ONEG corner needs help, though. RIGI?? Might’ve been better to ditch LUDWIG since that entry isn’t symmetrically paired with C MINOR, though there would be hardly any thematic material left, would there?

      • R says:

        RIGI’s bad enough, but then it crosses MATLIN (cluing the actress is fair, but not great with more obscure crosses). I’m sure I’m not the only one who had to guess there.

      • David Glasser says:

        Oneg is a perfectly fine word for a social gathering after Shabbat services.

  2. Zulema says:

    Loved the NYT crossword today. No complaints. Thank you all. I usually have a terrible time with Thursdays.

  3. davey says:

    wasn’t there a Beethoven’s Fifth themed NYT fairly recently? with an EFLAT rebus square?

  4. Frank says:

    I found the central State Dispensary warehouse in Columbia. I looks like a residential block with an attached Publix. Definitely an interesting read.

  5. Billy Boy says:

    That was – at least in my eyes a brilliant WSJ today, especially compared to the NYT which was Tuesdayish.

    WSJ: @JimP, my experience was extremely similar to yours with 80%+ finished and stumped, love those kinds of solutions; not knowing LIANA & South Park hurt me, but those answers are OK, just my FOK gap.

    More, please


  6. GlennP says:

    NYT: It’s a day late for Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

    • Steve Faiella says:

      Not necessarily. This is from the site
      “Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in December 1770… but no one is sure of the exact date! He was baptised on 17 December, so he was probably born the day before. His birthplace (pictured) is now the Beethoven-Haus museum.”

  7. sanfranman59 says:

    Universal: I have to agree with Jim about THE CUBS. When I saw “familiarly” in the clue, I assumed it would be ‘cubbieS’ (also 7 letters). Plus, we get another somewhat questionable definite article with THE BARD. More precisely, Shakespeare sobriquet is “The Bard of Avon”. There have been many BARDs, though I acknowledge that Bill is probably the most famous of them. Just a little inelegance in an otherwise clean puzzle.

  8. Luther says:

    I’m sure if I spent another hour (which I can’t spare today) attempting to solve this rebus, it wouldn’t happen. “Stop before a party” Gah!!!

  9. John says:

    NYT: Yer bum’s oot the windae. This may be a phrase that has its existence largely on Internet lists of Scots phrases rather than in the mouths of Scots. I’ve certainly never heard it in the wild, but maybe I’m just mixing in the wrong circles. That said, the clue’s fair – the language is unmistakeable. 32 Across should really be OCH rather than ACH.

    Good fun solve!

  10. Cynthia says:

    BEQ – I gave up on this one. Seems like it needs rebus answers, but they don’t make sense in both directions. Help, anyone?

    As an aside, I’ll add my appreciation to Jenni for reviewing the previous BEQ. I had no clue how the paired theme answers related to each other until I read your review. Thanks for that! It made the puzzle more enjoyable, and I learned something new.

    • stmv says:

      The BEQ puzzle is not a rebus puzzle, but rather a specialized type called “going too far”. If you haven’t already done so, you should carefully read the instructions on Brendan’s webpage, and then print the puzzle on a setting where the black squares are pretty light. Hopefully then it will start making sense.

      (And I second the thanks to Jenni for reviewing BEQ puzzles.)

      • Cynthia says:

        Thank you for pointing out the value of reading the descriptions for BEQ’s puzzles! I never really read them before; I just went to the page and did the puzzle. This will help me enjoy them so much more! (Yes, I’m one of those people who can’t see the forest for the trees…).

    • Cynthia says:

      After trying again, I see the trick.

  11. Mutman says:

    NYT: While I love a good Beethoven puzzle, as I love the composer, just too many random things. OBOE? This piece is known for its string work, not its oboists.

    And most of the theme was from the equator south.

    A bit more refinement and this puzzle could have been great.

  12. Joan Macon says:

    Here’s another case of author in the LAT not the same as listed here. Thank to yesterday’s explanation, I’ll just assume that the paper’s version is incorrect?

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