Thursday, January 14, 2021

BEQ 5:48 (Jenni) 


LAT 5:15 (GRAB) 


NYT 8:53 (Ben) 


Universal tk (Jim Q) 


Fireball 9:55 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Alan Arbesfeld’s Fireball Crossword, “Twice-Told Scales” – Jenni’s write-up

2/2 on Fireballs by men in 2021.

Fun theme! I figured out what was going on with the third theme answer I ran into at 35a and that helped the solve a little bit. It would have helped more if I’d seen the larger pattern before I finished the puzzle. It seems totally obvious now.

Each theme answer repeats one note of the solfege scale repeated, and those are rebus squares in both directions. The rebus squares in the grid are marked wrong because Black Ink doesn’t accept them as correct and I forgot to take the screen shot before I checked for typos.

Fireball, January 13, 2021, Alan Arbesfeld, “Twice-told Scales,” solution grid

  • 18a [They often look down in the mouth] is EN[DO][DO]NTISTS
  • 26a [Protected area] is a NATU[RE][RE]SERVE.
  • 35a [Telling a story using gestures] is PANTO[MI][MI]NG.
  • 50a [“Make things easier”] is DO YOURSEL[F A][FA]VOR.
  • 68a [Offering from King Short Shirt or Lord Kitchener] is a CALYP[SO] [SO]NG.
  • 74a [Chef who was a judge on “The Taste”] is NIGEL[LA] [LA]WSON.
  • 86a [Question sung by Alanis Morissette] is ISN‘[T I][T I]RONIC?

The notes march in order down the grid. This is a feat of construction that was also a lot of fun to solve. Very impressive. CALYPSO SONG landed oddly on my ear. The Google Ngram viewer confirms that CALYPSO is far more common, but then again the phrase contains the single word, so that’s not all that helpful. In any case, I am totally willing to forgive a slight clunker in the service of an awesome theme.

A few other things:

  • [Youngest of three literary sisters] appears twice. I tried to figure out which Brontë fit there. Turns it it’s a character from Chekhov – IRINA. I was amused to find the same clue down at 70a, and this time it was a Brontë: ANNE.
  • Peter’s answer sheet always contains some fun facts and explanations. This time he explained IRINA and was mum about how he got ITEM from [Dynamic duo?]. Can someone enlighten me? Is this a cryptic-style clue?
  • I’m not a particular fan of Mitt ROMNEY and I was still relieved to see him replace Orrin Hatch. I’m even more relieved now.
  • Trademark Peter Gordon Very Long Clue: 61d, [2020 Presidential candidate whose signature policy was the “Freedom Dividend” universal basic income]. Andrew YANG has been in the news lately for a tone-deaf (to say the least) explanation for his family’s decision to ride out the pandemic at their country house in New Paltz rather than their NYC apartment. Don’t think that’s going to help his mayoral candidacy any even if he did eventually say that they chose this because of the benefits for his son, who has autism.
  • I didn’t even see the clue for HEN at 62a. I’m glad I looked over the clues to write this. I would not have wanted to miss [Egg-sit strategy specialist?].

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Angelina Jolie played the title role in “GIA” or that Mila Kunis played her as an 11-year-old. I also did not know that UMA Thurman played Edie in “Be Cool.”

I love what I learn from crosswords. I went looking for a video, and now I know that when calypso hasn’t been sanitized for a white audience, it’s a highly political and even revolutionary genre. I also learned that steel drums were invented in the late 1800s after the British banned drums because of the subversive nature of the music. Here’s a CALYPSO SONG from King Short Shirt who is not, in fact, wearing a short shirt. The lights go on a few seconds into the video.

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Victory Parade”—Jim P’s review

Theme: V sounds are inserted into the last words of well-known phrases.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Victory Parade” · Samuel A. Donaldson · Thu., 1.14.21

  • 17a. [Like an active surfer?] IN MANY WAVES. …ways. Meh. I wish there was a more lively base phrase here. Too bad “let me count the waves” is too long.
  • 24a. [Message for each of Henry VIII’s spouses?] A WORD TO THE WIVES. …wise. Nice one.
  • 36a. [Suffers from a fear of icicles?] FEELS ILL AT EAVES. …ease. “FEELS” feels superfluous (one can be ill at ease without using the word “feel”), but it makes sense with the clue.
  • 49a. [Motivations for midnight snacking?] THE LATEST CRAVES. …craze. Nice. What’s your guilty late-night snack? Sometimes I have a small bowl of cereal. Sue me.
  • 58a. [Cat’s nine-part allotment?] PACK OF LIVES. …lies. Also good.

For the most part, a cute theme, despite my little nits.

Unfortunately, there were more distracting elements than usual in the fill, such as ASWOON, IS IN & IN ITERAT, E-CARD, AEON, RCAF, CVI, LUNE (I wanted LUNA), and NLE (which I had to look up to realize it’s short for the NL East). On the plus side, AQUA VELVA accounts nicely for two of the added Vs, and TEE SHIRTS, RELIEVERS, and SURRENDER are all solid. SUGAR PEA and ROSÉ WINE are assets as well.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Presidential middle name of 1881]. ABRAM. I’m guessing here…Chester A. Arthur? Nope. His “A” was Alan, although he did become president in 1881. The correct answer is James A. Garfield who was inaugurated in March 1881 but was then assassinated in September and succeeded by his Vice President, Arthur.
  • 21a. [A milliard years]. AEON. Whoa, that’s a new one on me. It’s an old British term meaning a thousand million, now chiefly superseded by the word “billion.”
  • 33a. [Oft-spoofed Shatner scream]. KHAN. Certainly, an i-Khanic moment in sci-fi filmdom. See also: 34a. [Mormon Church, initially]. LDS. This initialism appears in another favorite Star Trek film scene.
  • 62a. [5, in the NBA]. CTR. I can probably count on zero hands, the number of NBA games I’ve watched from start to finish. At first I thought this was referring to jersey numbers, but apparently, each position around the court is assigned a number. Who knew?

I like the theme here, but the short fill was distractingly clunky. 3.3 stars.

Aimee Lucido and Ella Dershowitz’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0114 – 1/14/2021

Today’s NYT needs a little bit of a roundabout explanation.  Aimee Lucido and Ella Dershowitz’ latest collab is all about SPIN THE BOTTLE (38A, “Classic party game … or a hint to solving the answers that intersect circles”).  With that in mind, there are two orientations of BOTTLE that fit in the circled squares, one that makes sense for the across clues, starting with the B at the bottom of the circle and moving clockwise:

  • 62A: Ancient unit of length — CUBIT
  • 51A: Have a Pavlovian response — DROOL
  • 24A: Desires — WANTS
  • 18A: Relative of a croc — GATOR
  • 27A: Awesome time — BLAST
  • 55A: Moves like molasses — SEEPS

and another, with the B starting at the top of the circle, that works with the down clues:

  • 7D: Garage jobs — LUBES
  • 10D: Brief appearance — CAMEO
  • 56D: Spud — TATER
  • 54D: Petrol unit — LITRE
  • 52D: Uses a light scalpel on? — LASES
  • 4D: What a letter needs — LEASE

It’s an impressive construction, especially since each position, the crossing clues read as valid words – check out the full screenshot for details.


Canned WASSAILS, anyone?

Elsewhere in the grid, I loved learning about the concept of ABOUTNESS (23D, “Relevance of text, in librarian’s lingo”), which, as the clue suggests, comes from Library and Information Sciences and is the concept that a text, utterance, image, or action is on or of something in particular.  I just think it’s neat.

Stay safe! Wash your hands!

MaryEllen Uthlaut’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Synonyms for prison is a rich vein to mine for themes. Today features PRISONBREAKS, with answers hidden between two entries, as indicated by the circles I added: STIR, JAIL, PEN. There was no way to shoehorn HOOSEGOW into the puzzle today, alas.

There was less of the wordplay in the clues that we saw yesterday, and not too many entries to highlight. WEN is a word I don’t think I ever encountered except in a crossword. I imagine if I saw one I’d call it a cyst…


Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1331), “I’m Not Dressed For This Weather” — Jenni’s review

I’m getting this in under the wire. The theme answers are items defined as if they were clothing.

Brendan Emmett Quigley, Crossword #1331, “I’m Not Dressed For This Weather,” solution grid

  • 18a [I highly doubt this is going to fit around my neck…] is an AUTO MUFFLER.
  • 24a […and this is way too wet to go outside in…] is a PRIMER COAT.
  • 33a [….is this supposed to go on my head?…] is a SALARY CAP.
  • 43a […these flowers won’t keep my hands warm…] because they’re FOXGLOVES.
  • 52a [….how will I walk with this on?…] is a DENVER BOOT.
  • 62a […where do my arms go? Besides, this is way too thin] is an ALBUM JACKET.

Fun! I don’t mind when the wordplay is in the clues as long as there’s wordplay somewhere.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ESPN made a miniseries called “The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago BULLS.

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13 Responses to Thursday, January 14, 2021

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I agree, it was cool and a fresh variant of a Thursday theme. It took a while to know what’s going on, since the letter worked in one direction and not the other. But definitely impressive construction.

    • JohnH says:

      I never did understand the theme. My guess was that twice each B was paired T, O with L, and T with E, meaning the first three letters in order paired with the last three letters in order, so maybe that’s what they decided counts as spin. I wasn’t convinced, of course, so I appreciate the explanation.

      I wasn’t exactly convinced by the clue for WASSAILS either. I do see it’s given in MW11C, labeled as regional dialect. RHUD has as a definition only the singular noun “carol,” labeled archaic. Of course, the more common sense of drinks or revelry isn’t all that common and current either.

  2. Mutman says:

    NYT: I did not notice that the circled squares made valid unclued entries (CAMEO –> CAMEL, et al)

    But without any clues for those entries, it seemed like a lot of work for no reason? I was happy with the puzzle with just the double squares.

    Or did I miss something??

    • cyco says:

      I think it was just the constructors aiming to avoid nonsense words in the finished grid, which is admirable, but I agree that it might have been better to throw in some clues for the “wrong” answers.

  3. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ … Good grief! What a bunch of junk in today’s grid! I rather liked the theme, but the fill? Yuck!!! I usually enjoy Sam’s puzzles. This one had me looking forward to it being over. In spite of all the garbage, it was thankfully one of my faster WSJ Thursday solves.

  4. Billy Boy says:

    Well, I for one loved the WSJ, very tangential cluing in places, yes. Wacky. Worked for me.

    NYT was a cool trick, yes, but that NE was awful. FAERIE crossing ABOUTNESS? (the rest not on my wave …)

    ABOUT-NESS? Really? That’s worse than fingernails on the blackboard. … faeries are not and will never be a part of my world. I lost interest after a few minutes trying to fill in this corner.

  5. Rick says:

    NYT, why does a letter need a lease?

  6. Rachel says:

    Jenni— re ITEM/dynamic duo in Fireball: think Brangelina or Bennifer. That was my take anyway…

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