Byron Walden and Caleb Madison’s New York Times crossword
All right, this puzzle’s tougher than the typical Thursday puzzle. (It is, isn’t it? Or was it just me?) The theme is straightforward and yet complicated: There are six compound words or two-word phrases. If you split them in half, each word from the first half can combine or compound with the word SMOKE while the second half partners with FIRE. Here’s a roadmap:
- 58d. SMOKE is a [Word that can combine with the starts of the answers to the six starred clues].
- 71a. FIRE is a [Word that can combine with the ends of the answers to the six starred clues].
- 22a. [*Dramatically expose] clues BLOW OPEN. Two verb phrases: blow smoke, open fire.
- 24a. A HOUSEBOAT is a [*Home near a shore]. A smokehouse is where you cure your meats and whatnot, and a fire boat is handy for putting out fires on other boats. I mixed myself up here by thinking of a firehouse and wondering what a smoke boat was.
- 54a. HOLY CROSS is the name of a [*Massachusetts college]. “Holy smoke! Don’t get caught in the crossfire!”
- 59a. [*1975 Southern rock hit stereotypically requested at concerts] is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “FREE BIRD.” “Free Bird! Free Bird!” (Raise your lighter here.) Smoke-free, a Pontiac Firebird.
- 11d. [*Porch feature] is a SCREEN DOOR. Smokescreen, fire door.
- 34d. [*Hillbillies' put-down] is WHITE TRASH. (Them’s fightin’ words.) White smoke feels a hair arbitrary, like a random color + noun pairing, though one school of thought holds that the papal conclave’s white smoke signal, sent up when a new pope is chosen, is a more distinctive white smoke. Trash fire also feels sort of arbitrary to me, though I guess it’s a “thing.” So my least favorite theme entry yields my two least favorite smoke and fire phrases. Hmm.
It would be too restrictive to limit SMOKE to appearing after theme words and FIRE to appearing before them, but it was not so simple to figure out where the various smokes and fires belonged. There may be such a thing as too much work to do after filling in a puzzle. (Some solvers, I’m sure, prefer the extra thinking over something like folding, cutting out, or punching holes in the grid, or playing word search after finishing the crossword.)
How about a dozen other clues?
- 19a, 44d. [See 44-Down] and [With 19-Across, U.S.C.'s marching band] clue SPIRIT OF / TROY. Ooh, I didn’t care for this at all. We’re supposed to know the names of marching bands, are we?
- 20a. [Five Jacksons], meaning five $20 bills, are $100, or a C-NOTE. Superb clue, with its evocation of the Jackson 5.
- 39a. [Miller products?] is another fabulously misleading clue. Arthur Miller wrote plays, or DRAMAS. I wasn’t tricked into trying LAGERS, but I wanted something in the grain/flour category.
- 47a. [Classification for some popular Spanish music] is a clue I’ve never seen for ORO, or “gold.”
- 62a. The [Pro team?] are the ones who vote yes, the YEAS.
- 65a. [Tropical vegetable also known as elephant's-ear] is a clue I’ve never seen for TARO.
- 6d. [Dos that are don'ts?] are COMBOVERS. As much as people mock combovers, I witnessed a tonsorial choice today that was worse: A man had painted his hairless crown golden yellow in an attempt to blend it in with his dyed golden blond hair. I had to look twice to make sure he wasn’t just severely jaundiced.
- 10d. POTPIES are tasty [Baked entrees]. Mmm, potpies. Anyone have an easy recipe for chicken potpies?
- 29d. ANATOLY is the name of [Late Soviet diplomat Dobrynin]. Nope, that name doesn’t ring a bell.
- 30d. [Italian poet who was the subject of a Goethe play and a Donizetti opera] isn’t DANTE, it’s TASSO. Raise your hand if you had DANTE first.
- 40d. MORAL DUTY is a [Kantian concern]. Nope, didn’t know that.
Lots of interesting clues. I don’t know how many came from the mind of Will Shortz et al. and how many were written by Byron and Caleb—but I do know that both constructors write cool clues.
I didn’t notice right away, but this grid is 15×16—extra room to include the six long theme entries and the two short ones.
Peter Gordon’s final 2010 Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 35″
This puzzle is the last Fireball for this year, the 50th puzzle sent out by Peter Gordon. If you never got around to subscribing but you’re good enough at crosswords to be doing the Thursday NYT crossword, you ought to sign up to subscribe to Fireball 2011 (I think the link’s for the 2010 subscriptions, so hold off on sending money ’til the new year). Peter says “The puzzles are hard. How hard? If you have to ask, too hard for you.” I say if you’re here because you worked the Thursday NYT, you can handle the Fireball challenge.
This will impress those of you who haven’t been doing the Fireballs: Peter says “If you did all the crosswords, you encountered 3,704 clues, and there was just a single repeated clue/answer in the year.” If you roll your eyes with every new appearance of [Black and white treat] or [Earthenware pot], you’ll enjoy the challenge of figuring out the answers to clues that aren’t on autopilot. Stale crosswordese and clunky abbreviations are also kept to a minimum, too—Peter’s standards for fill are like Patrick Berry’s. So the 50 Fireball puzzles of this 2010 were mostly a joy to solve, and I look forward to next year’s resumption of Fireballing.
- 10a. like PO-MO, short for postmodern.
- 34a. Scrabbly QUATORZE JUILLET means “14 July,” which is the date of Bastille Day. Helps to know your French numbers and months here.
- 52a. MR. ROARKE! From Fantasy Island! Ricardo Montalban at his pre-Khan finest.
- 61a. [Thing bitten by an onychophagist] is a NAIL, as in a fingernail or, heaven forbid, a toenail. Onycho- is the prefix for nails, and I recognize it from medical terminology. The -phage part has to do with eating. Anyone got a good cure for nail biting? Anyone?
- 3d. [Facial spot?] isn’t just a blemish, it’s also a place to get a facial: a DAY SPA. Great clue.
- 19d. [Tart tart] clues LIME PIE, though I haven’t heard of a “lime pie” other than Key lime pie. I have it on good authority that there is no Key lime pie as good as that served in the Florida Keys, so I plan to have a slice in Key West later this month. I’m fine with never eating it anywhere else, as I don’t like lemon or lime pies anyway.
- 24d. A [Keep] in the middle of a castle is a DONJON. The word’s a variation on dungeon and has nothing to do with Don Johnson.
In the “Say what?” category, we have these:
- 33d. AL SCHACHT, an old baseball coach? Never heard of him.
- 58a. I know Garfield’s nemesis ODIE, but this other ODIE, ["The King and ___" (old cartoon featuring a lion and a skunk)]? No, never heard of it.
- 34d. [Hawthorn hedge, to a Brit] clues QUICKSET. Well, I know you can use ice cubes instead of cold water to make your Jell-o quick-set but…
- 27d. [Heavyweight boxing champ ___ Charles] was/is named EZZARD? Hang on a minute, that’s not a name!
Kurt Mueller’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Jeffrey’s review
- 16A. [M] – JAMES BOND’S BOSS
- 25A. [Ma] – MRS. KETTLE
- 37A. [Max] – PHYSICIST PLANCK
- 51A. [Maxi] – LONG SKIRT
- 62A. [Maxim] – PITHY PRINCIPLE
One-line review for those in a hurry: Clue/answer flip-flop taken to the Max and beyond.
- 1A. [Magic] – MOJO/1D. [Goya subject] – MAJA. I put a “D” in square 1. I hate starting off wrong.
- 67A. [Instrument on which Jake Shimabukuro can play "Bohemian Rhapsody"] – UKE. Really? Wow.
- 3D. [Crackerjack] – JIM DANDY. And I don’t care!
- 26D. [One who lifts a lot?] – KLEPTO. Oh, those wacky KLEPTOS.
- 30D. [Boil over?] – RECOOK. Cutesy clue attempting to save lousy “RE” entry. Mostly successful.
- 40D. [Lover of Yum-Yum in "The Mikado"] – NANKI-POO
- 48D. [Hercule's creator] – AGATHA Christie and Hercule Poirot. I read all of these PT (pre-Twitter).
- 53D. [Chance to see what you missed the first time] – RERUN. Now this is acceptable RE.
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Just Teasing” – Jeffrey’s review
- 15A. [*"At the Movies" critic] – REX REED (T. rex)
- 17A. [*Dangling accessories popular with Japanese girls] – CELLPHONE CHARMS (T cell). I’m not up on my dangling accessories popular with Japanese girls. Is there a list somewhere?
- 56A. [*Solve an apparently impossible problem, as it were] – SQUARE THE CIRCLE (T-square)
- 3D. [*The sun, essentially] – BALL OF FIRE (T-ball)
- 11D. [*It'll make you a man] – BAR MITZVAH (T-bar). Gimme. First it will stress you out learning your maftir.
- 25D. [*Certain garment replacement] – SHIRT BUTTON (T-shirt)
- 26D. [*Joint surgery compounds] – BONE CEMENTS (T-bone). I’m not up on my joint surgery compounds. Is there a list somewhere?
One-line review for those in a hurry: T-riffic mix of grid design and inventive theme answers justify 16 consecutive three letter answers. 31A. ["Nice!"] – OOH
- 11A. ["Ain't Too Proud to ___"] – BEG. Makes my job easy.
- 40A. [The Rangers' Nelson Cruz earned the last one of 2010] – RBI. Obscure fact alert!
- 53A. [Playing chords, say] – STRUMMING. More ukuleles, anyone?
- 68A. [Former Cleveland Orchestra director George] – SZELL. Obscurer fact alert!
- 1D. [Noted musical birth of 1685] – BACH
- 2D. [Source of furniture you'll throw out in three years] – IKEA. I believe the correct clue is [Source of furniture you should throw out in three years]
- 8D. [Spelling or quilting contest] – BEE. Spelling bees are on prime-time TV and crossword puzzle tournaments aren’t? Why, I ask? Why?
- 10D. [Old English letter still used in Icelandic] – EDH. It may be cold here but at least we’ve got EDH!
- 18D. [Bandmate of John and Nico in the Velvet Underground] – LOU
- 34D. [Vowel sequence in a kid's song] – EIEIO
- 49D. [Deadly 2003 hurricane] – ISABEL. You never hear about a benevolent hurricane.
- 51D. [Declaration of arrival] – I’M HERE. I hope you aren’t ISABEL.
- 61D. [Foreign pump name] – ESSO. The correct clue is [Domestic pump name]. HESS is a foreign pump name. Signed, Jeffrey Canadian.
Tyler Hinman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, “Stock Options”—Janie’s review
M.O. for today’s theme: four 2-word phrases; first word is one that can precede a word in the title. Taking “stock” of the “options,” it appears the former is the word in question. Tyler gives us a good, solid set of theme phrases and the “stock” set is livelier still.
- 17A. [Vacation spot on the beach] SUMMER HOUSE → summer stock. Now there’s an appealing combo. Had the opportunity last August to visit a friend’s modest and perfect summer house on Fire Island. Can you say “bliss”? Then, (a hundred years ago…) before I joined Actors’ Equity (the union), spent many summers in North Conway, New Hampshire, performing non-Equity summer stock. Wotta training ground! (The theatre itself and the town are featured in John Sayles’s Return of the Secaucus 7).
- 27A. [Spotted animal with a distinct call] LAUGHING HYENA → laughing stock. This laughing hyena seems to be the laughing stock of his caretakers… Not sure I really like this, but that is one crazy laugh. Whatever the joke was, apparently he GOT [Was able to laugh at] it.
- 46A. [Alarmist in a kids' book] CHICKEN LITTLE → chicken stock. Hmmm. The first part refers to the character who declared, “The sky is going to fall!” But I’m getting the image of our constructor at the 2009 ACPT finals as he’s trying to make sense of 41A. in Patrick Berry’s puzzle, [Items in stock], and the fill BONES. Now seeing chicken stock, I get the sense the “cooking lesson” paid off…
- 62A. [It's not exactly rocket science] COMMON SENSE → common stock. As I’m not particularly literate in the jargon of matters financial, common sense told me find a link defining common stock… Common sense also tells me you won’t find a BANANA BOAT [Recreational sea craft] in a USED CAR LOT [Where to try to avoid lemons] (but I do love the symmetrical placement of those two colorful entries).
NAME is the [Top line of a form, often] and Tyler offers up one or three today, including: [Atheist Madalyn Murray] O’HAIR, SHEENA [Scottish singer Easton], ["Living Free" lioness] ELSA, ABEL [Explorer Tasman], Roger [Federer's arch rival, in tennis] Rafael NADAL, ["The Day the Earth Stood Still" alien] KLAATU (by all means, see the original), [Jessica of "Fantasic Four"] ALBA, Meriwether LEWIS—who was William [Clark's partner] in exploration, Sir GALAHAD [Holy Grail retriever], EMIL [Pianist Gilels], and [Dionysus's dad] ZEUS.
Entirely new to me: BRATZ [Brand of teenaged dolls]. Not only are there dolls, there’s a movie, there’re albums, video games, a TV series. Some franchise!
Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Mind Games”
Okay, so the theme entries are IMAGINARY FRIEND, GHOST RUNNER, and FANTASY BASEBALL. I have no idea what “ghost runner” is. Wikipedia to the rescue! It’s a baseball term used in schoolyard games with teams of, it says, fewer than four players. I hated baseball and softball as a kid, so how on earth would I have ever encountered this term? Meh.
Favorite entries: SPAETZLE noodles, GODSENDS, NAIROBI, and YUK IT UP.
Less savory fill:
- SMEARIER beside HANDIER. That’s adjacentier than I’d like for two -IER words.
- Many of the 3-letter answers.
- ANIL clued as [Deep blue] rather than as a plant source for indigo dye. Not only is the answer crosswordese, but the clue feels misleading. Ooh! Did you know: It’s añil, not anil! I never knew that ’til now.
- NOT THERE? There’s no “there” there. “Not all there” would be great, though.
- RESODS. Re-sigh.