Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 160” – Jenni’s write-up
I guess this one is blazingly hard in a way that did not lend itself to problem-solving, at least not for me. I am no longer interested in plugging in random letters to see what I get so I checked Peter’s grid. It’s possible that if I hadn’t been annoyed by the unfair crossing (or what I thought was an unfair crossing) I might have figured it out. It’s also possible that if my problem area hadn’t started at 1a I would have liked the puzzle better. 1a sets the tone for my solving experience and when it’s not appealing – or in this case when it’s frankly annoying – it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the grid.
So what’s at 1a, you ask? [Base-20] which is VIGESIMAL. Yes, I can see that it’s analogous to decimal. It’s still arcane. I’m sure some math folk are wondering what I’m complaining about. I checked with the math expert in the house and he gives it serious side-eye. His exact words were “That’s obscure for no good reason.” Since he’s a national expert on, among other things, math curricula and standards, I’ll take that as an official ruling.
So OK, it’s deeply obscure math trivia which would be OK if all the crossings were fair. Unfortunately for me, 7d is [“Nosferatu”] star. That’s MAX SCHRECK. Never heard of him. Which, again, would be fine if the crossings were fair. The nail in the coffin was another math clue at 17a. [Ellipses have them] is MINOR AXES. That’s not really obscure – I’ve heard that before – and I would have probably been able to infer it and thus get to MAX once I had the X except I was fed up and couldn’t parse it to figure out AXES.
I just reread those three paragraphs and wow, do I sound cranky. 1a reads as showing off to me. It feels like the constructor is saying “hey, I know something you don’t know!” in a six-year-old singsong voice. If you’re wondering how this is different from the way some of you feel about the New Yorker puzzles…if the Fireball was always like this, I’d stop subscribing and stop doing the puzzles. What puzzles me (sorry) about the ongoing complaints about the New Yorker is that current cultural trivia is their brand and you know it going in, so if that’s not your bag, then skip them. The same with disliking specific constructors. I don’t reliably (or even often) dislike Peter Gordon’s puzzles. I usually really enjoy them. And the Fireball series consistently delivers some of the most clever and enjoyable and sometimes fiendish (sorry) puzzles going. So I stick around for the good stuff and every now and then I complain. Today is now. Or then.
What I did like:
- 3d [Knife that “goes through frozen food as though it were melted butter,” according to an old ad] is GINSU, of course. Here’s the original. I remember them – of course – and had forgotten that it was not just butter but melted butter. That’s what makes it art.
- The SNEETCH makes an appearance! On our recent travels we found ourselves in La Jolla and went hiking through the Torrey Pines preserves. Torrey Pines were the inspiration for the truffula trees in the Lorax. Highly recommend both La Jolla Cove and hiking in Torrey Pines.
- 26a [Place for a small purchase] is a TOEHOLD. My idea of an enjoyable tricky clue. Or at least tricky-ish.
- Could do without AWHIR (oops. This was supposed to be things I liked. Sorry.)
- 46a [Poacher of foreign workers] is an AMAZON ANT.
What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: thoroughly covered above.
Colin Ernst’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Get a Big Reaction”—Jim’s review
The revealer is NUCLEAR / FISSION (39a, [With 41-Across, massive reaction found four times in this puzzle]). The other theme answers are familiar phrases that feature the bigrams AT and OM (squeezed rebus-style into one square each) separated from each other by a few squares. I’m surmising that the intention is that each phrase “splits” the ATOM. As a bonus, we get physicist Enrico FERMI at 8d [Pioneer in this puzzle’s theme].
- 16a. [One whose talents are slow to develop] L(AT)E BLO(OM)ER.
- 23a. [Getaways, of a sort] VAC(AT)ION H(OM)ES.
- 51a. [Where caps and gowns are worn] OPER(AT)ING RO(OM).
- 63a. [Give yourself a timeout?] C(AT)CH S(OM)E ZS.
Very cool theme. I’ll be honest though in that I didn’t fully catch on until I started writing up this post. For some reason I was viewing the ATs and the OMs as their own things and I didn’t put them together until after the solve. Perhaps it would have been helpful for solvers as dense as me if the revealer could’ve been some variation of “split the atom.” But, on the other hand, it is Thursday, and I didn’t mind having to do a little bit of extra thinking to make sense of it all.
Fill highlights include CUSTOM-BUILT, RECIPE BOOK, GARBANZO, and REST STOP. I’m giving UNKNOTS the side-eye, and again, I have to be honest that I don’t think I’ve ever heard of ESWATINI [Landlocked nation between South Africa and Mozambique]. Ah, it used to be known as Swaziland and only changed its name in 2018. Good to learn some new geography via the puzzle. Thanks, puzzle!
Clues of note:
- 36a. [Big supporter?]. TRUSS. I guess 50 days in office for former British PM Liz TRUSS doesn’t warrant a crossword clue.
- 30d. [Child labor?]. RECIPE BOOK. Julia Child, that is.
- 56a. [Guest vocalist on Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”]. BOWIE. Did not know this. The song came out in 2013. BOWIE passed away in 2016.
Good puzzle. Four stars.
Robin Yu’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up
Difficulty: Average (10m50s)
Today’s theme: TOO LITTLE TOO LATE (Not enough, and without the urgency, to make a difference … or a literal hint to 18-, 30-, 38- and 48-Across)
- (TOO) CLOSE FOR COMFORT
- (TOO) HOT TO HANDLE
- (TOO) COOL FOR SCHOOL
- (TOO) LEGIT TO QUIT
The TOO is both little (i.e., rebused) and late (at the end of each phrase, rather than the beginning.) The revealer lands, and the theme entries are idiomatic. Checks all the boxes. My big problem here — and it’s not the constructor’s fault — was that I actually finished this at an even faster time, with all of the TOOs as the number 2. Why? In part because I’m always waiting for a Thursday twist, and in part because M.C. Hammer’s famous single is actually titled 2 LEGIT 2 QUIT. I’m only realizing now that the album (for some reason?) spelled out each word, and the clue specifically calls out the album and not the single. Would have been nice for the puzzle to accept the numeral anyhow. I also feel obliged to mention that (Secure, in a way) is a ridiculously evasive way to clue MOOR, and I only got it because DOOR and POOR made even less sense.
Cracking: ARTOO DETOO, because you usually only see half of his name in any given puzzle. I’m sure there are plenty of DARK STAR fans out there as well, but I’ve never seen it.
Slacking: MONOXIDE — nothing wrong with the entry per se, just like there would be nothing wrong with ENANTIOMER or DISULFIDE BOND or anything else culled from an inorganic textbook full of powder-dry vocabulary.
Sidetracking: the GEO METRO was the worst car in the world. It was touted for being fuel efficient the same way that, say, walking is fuel efficient (walking and the Metro being roughly capable of reaching the same top speed).
Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword – Kyle’s write-up
Quick thoughts on today’s puzzle:
- I really liked the vertical triple stacks of BALTIMORE/END IN A TIE/DEEP SLEEP and “AS IF I CARE!”/CODENAMES/COLD FRONT
- Other great long entries: FIRST CLASS, HOT STOCK TIP, CARAMEL CORN, “DIAL IT DOWN!”, POSTCARDS, FAULT LINE
- Witty clue pairing: 36A PUTS [___ up with (tolerates)] and 38A FED [___ up with (no longer tolerating)].
Thank you Robyn!
Adam Arvidson & Katie Hale’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary
Adam Arvidson & Katie Hale’s LA Times puzzle has a theme akin to yesterday’s, but with more layers. The puzzle is wrapped up at BACKPACK, and each answer has, going right-to-left, a word that satisfies “___ PACK”. They are: RAT, SIX, JET and COLD. So:
- [“Not in public, you two!”], GETAROOM
- [Spot to catch a ride], TAXISTAND
- [Skydiving event], PARACHUTEJUMP
- [Safety device in some kitchens], CHILDLOCK
Other clues & answers worth remarking on:
- [Uttar Pradesh city], AGRA. Worth noting that Uttar Pradesh is the most populous subnational division in the world
- [Playground game that is now a professional sport], TAG. ‘Murica!
- [NYC stretch originally called “Het Cingel” by the Dutch], WALLST. Singel in Afrikaans means “crescent” in street names. Cognate?
- [The ‘gram], INSTA. That clue is pure cringe.
- [Camp sight], COT. This still remains weird for me. A cot here is what Americans call a crib, I think?
Gary Larson and Amy Ensz’s Universal crossword, “Travelin’ Band” — Sophia’s write-up
Theme: Each theme answer is a “cover band” made up of a nationality and a band name, that together form a common phrase.
- 37a [“Low Rider” cover band from Seoul?] – KOREAN WAR
- 6d/54d [With 54-Down, “Glycerine” cover band from Melbourne?] – AUSTRALIAN / BUSH
- 16d [“Rock and Roll All Nite” cover band from Paris?] – FRENCH KISS
- 18d [“Sunshine of Your Love” cover band from Dublin?] – IRISH CREAM
Cute theme! The only band I knew from the song title was KISS; the rest I had to rely on crosses/the base phrases to get (BUSH in particular I have never heard of before). This is a nice way to do a proper-noun based theme, there were still many ways to solve the puzzle even without knowing the bands themselves. The base phrases are all solid, with IRISH CREAM and FRENCH KISS being my faves.
Very unique grid pattern – the grid felt very segmented, which isn’t my personal favorite, but that opened up space for lots of longer answers like PRIMADONNA, FLOATIES, and HANDHELD. It’s also elegant that KOREAN WAR intersects with every other theme answer.
Biggest holdup: Did you know that VASSAR and Marist are both 6 letter colleges in Poughkeepsie with A as their second letter? Be sure to put in the right one!
Favorite clue: [Place for some hot deals?] for FIRE SALE
Hi Zachary, thanks for the write up!
Robin, great puzzle! Congratulations on your debut!
On an unrelated note, the time for my puzzle as listed in the weekly Statistics is completely different than the time it actually took me to complete the puzzle. The Statistics time is less, so my average is being brought down inappropriately, so no real complaints from me! But I’m wondering if anyone else is having this problem.
I had this with a couple Sundays in a row where I had Stella-esque times recorded instead of my real times, which I had (fortunately?) written down. I emailed to ask if it was a known bug, and they cheerfully corrected the info on the back end with the real times, but I don’t think my real times were anywhere in the database by then and I didn’t hear whether they had an idea of how to address the problem.
Thanks — in my case, the time when I go into the puzzle is correct, but the time on the Statistics page is wrong. It might fix itself, and even if it doesn’t, it’s only a few minutes’ difference. I had an issue once where the puzzle didn’t seem to recognize that I had a streak but then it fixed itself a week later somehow without my saying anything.
I would be annoyed if my real Personal Bests got replaced with inaccurate ones, but I’m glad they were able to fix it for you easily.
Spelling Bee is also dropping the stats for Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun for This Week, but it’s fixed when This Week becomes Last Week. From comments on the Spelling Bee column, it sounds like this is a known issue but I haven’t seen anyone else say anything about inaccurate crossword times besides us.
NYT: “I also feel obliged to mention that (Secure, in a way) is a ridiculously evasive way to clue MOOR, and I only got it because DOOR and POOR made even less sense.”
The clue seems perfectly LEGIT to me. It’s not the easiest clue for MOOR, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
I enjoyed the theme.
I also tried 2’s; when that failed, I tried [TOO]’s — still no luck. Finally discovered that I had a zero in TOO LITTLE TOO LATE.
You think the Metro was a poor car, I drove a Renault Alliance, complete with a 1.4L – 64 HP engine that topped out at 60 mph on the floor. Good luck if you ever had to go up a hill.
We didn’t have much money when we went to Florida for our honeymoon and thus ended up renting a Renault Le Car, which crapped out on us Christmas Day. We had a long drive planned for the next day and Avis? Hertz? whoever managed to get a two truck driver to bring a replacement around 9:00 PM on Christmas. He yelled at his truck repeatedly to keep it from stalling (this was effective) and had some very profane opinions about the Renault. He left us with the only car they had on the lot at the time and that’s how we ended up driving around Florida in a yellow Mustang convertible for the price of Le Car.
Thank you for a great story – my wife and I had a good laugh!
Years ago, I borrowed a LeCar from a friend when I was on a remote work assignment and thought it was a lovely little car for getting around a city. You were probably better off in a Mustang for touring Florida however.
In the NYT, I was hoping that the two clues containing TO of “TOO HOT TO HANDLE” and “TOO LEGIT TO QUIT” followed the pattern of “TO” (“TOO LITTLE”?) followed by the end “TOO LATE”), but alas that didn’t work out for the other two theme clues. Fun puzzle, though!
NYT: I must be the only person on the planet that wants to spell out R2D2’s name as AretwoDetwo, but there ya go. It will always slow me down in reference to that droid :*( . I’d be better off NOT knowing his designated name :D .
Really enjoyed the puzzle, and the only slow down was figuring what to put in the rebus square to get happy pencil in AL :) .
I was admiring the cuteness of the NYT, particularly its theme–but when I came face to face with the adorability and ingeniousness of the two-themer-spanning ARTOO-DETOO, my heart was the puzzle’s.
I entered 2’s in the NYT with no regret. It was a handy way to fill the square with just one character, and the constructor could just have easily done it that way. No big deal one way or other, whatever the actual spelling of the entries. But then I work in print so don’t have to worry about happy pencils!
I had some hard going as hadn’t known two of the themers or a couple of music clues. And I usual greatly prefer the stuff you have to get from crossings to be in shorter entries than themers. No big deal, though, and perfectly interesting theme.
LAT: “[Camp sight], COT. This still remains weird for me. A cot here is what Americans call a crib, I think?”
Not really. A COT is typically a folding bed with a piece of stretched fabric instead of a mattress.
Nina Simone’s version of “I Put a Spell on You” has a truly great sax solo:
Assuming that SA and UK English are similar, Gareth is saying that to him, a cot is what Americans would call a crib. Which is correct.
What Americans mean by a cot is what my family in the UK called a camp bed.
Thanks. I misunderstood Garth’s comment.
WSJ … Isn’t it a violation of constructing guidelines to have both OPERATING RO[OM]S and ORS in the same grid, let alone in the same section of the same grid and involving a theme answer? I don’t generally care too much about such things, but this really stuck out in this puzzle for me.