CONTEST! In honor of the fireballs from space that will surely destroy the earth starting Friday. You’ve seen the weather forecast, right?
I am in possession of a hot-off-the-press advance copy of the Blazingly Hard Fireball Crosswords puzzle book. Most of you don’t subscribe to Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords email service, do you? Even those of you who skip the easy puzzles at the beginning of the week and only tune in around now, when the challenge level climbs—most of you aren’t subscribing even though ~$20 a year is cheaper than a movie with popcorn and a drink and not even Dan Feyer can solve 45 of these in the length of a standard movie. (Make it a three-hour epic and Dan might do it, of course.)
This advance copy of B.H.F.C. is up for grabs—to the nonsubscriber who (1) is curious to try Fireballs, (2) has the solving chops not to be deterred by the challenging puzzles, and (3) submits the most entertainingly baroque or surreal explanation of why he/she/[other pronoun] has not yet subscribed to these highly recommended and tough puzzles. (Truthfulness is entirely optional.) I am the final judge, and don’t try to slip a cubist explanation past me. Just explain yourself in the comments of this post by Saturday night, midnight Central.
Zoe Wheeler’s New York Times crossword
This puzzle is pulled in three directions: zip-zang-zing fill (Zoe’s a recent college grad, so the zippy stuff skews young), huh-what? fill, and pedestrian filler. Overall, it seemed tougher than the usual Friday NYT to me. First up, the zing:
- 14a. GO COMMANDO, [Not be underdressed?]. Going commando is going without underwear.
- 17a. THE BOOK OF MORMON.
- 36a. SKYPE, [Ring with a face attached?]. Meaning to “phone” someone via the internet using Skype, which offers video calling.
- 44a. THE WORKS, good stuff.
- 54a. Solid 15, APPLE PIE A LA MODE.
- 58a. ANGRY BIRDS, [Fad of 2010-11]. Remember when Draw Something stormed onto the scene and then a few weeks later, most people tired of it?
- 5d. SMOKES gets a contemporary clue, [Beats decisively, in slang]. As in “David Plotkin usually smokes me on the crossword.”
- 32d. MANTICORE isn’t fresh, new vocabulary—but it’s still mythically awesome. It’s a [Legendary creature similar to the Sphinx].
- 33d. RICE PADDY never seems to show up in crosswords. [Certain irrigated cropland] sells it.
- 37d. SASHIMI, [Fresh fish dish].
In the mystifying zone, things went haywire for me. 16a: [Polish border river], ODRA? Not the usual crosswordy spelling. Going with 24a: EATS AWAY instead of EATS INTO and 21a: ERRANT instead of ERRING obscured the Downs in that corner. 11d: [Frequenter of Web forums: Abbr.] turned out to be ADMIN, and 13d: ["Romance de Barrio," e.g.] is a TANGO.
I was further unaware of 35a: [Director Thomas H. __ of the silent era], INCE; and 32a: MRS ["__ Fitz," old comic strip started by Mort Walker]; and 42a: [Hans Christian __, pioneer of electromagnetism], OERSTED. If I used to know 3d: [F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, with "The"], ICE PALACE, I have since forgotten it.
The mundane stuff stood in stark contrast to GO COMMANDO. ESTOPS, ILE, -ICAL, STYE, HOSS, SGTS, RAE, ADIA, NRC, SWALES, INO, LESE? Meh.
Let’s average everything out to 3.666 stars.
Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “No Sure Thing”- Sam Donaldson’s review
One of these days, I’ll get this right. When I open a new puzzle on which I’m timing myself, my first instinct is to jump right to 1-Across and start filling in white squares. One of these days, I’ll learn that it’s worth the two or three seconds to read and think about the puzzle’s title. Had I done so today, I’m sure I could have shaved at least a minute off my solving time. Today’s title pretty clearly tells you the theme: we’re going to see four common expressions that contain the S-U-R-E letter sequences, but the “SURE” will be deleted from each one, resulting in four new, whimsical phrases. Check it out:
- 17-Across: A “leisure activity” becomes LEI ACTIVITY, somehow dealing with the [Placement of an Oahu wreath?]. I’m not sure how “activity” relates to “placement,” but I’m assuming I’m missing something obvious here. Had the clue been along the lines of [Oahu wreath operation?] I think I would have figured it out sooner.
- 28-Across: Ooh, this one gave me a “pressure headache” alright–a PRES HEADACHE is clued as [Bay of Pigs invasion, to JFK?]. Since I didn’t read the puzzle’s title, I couldn’t figure out what kind of “headache” made sense here, and I struggled with SEW, the answer to [Apply, as applique]. (And no, I didn’t do well in Home Ec. Whay do you ask?)
- 48-Across: A [Fair for strippers?] is an INDECENT EXPO (from “indecent exposure”). It was only here that I got what was going on, which allowed me to go back up to the first two theme entries and get them right. The lesson, as always: strippers will set you on the right path.
- 63-Across: IT WAS MY PLEA is “it was my pleasure” after a sure-ectomy. Great entry, but the clue doesn’t fit. ["Why did you say 'Guilty'?"] needs “Reply to” at the front or “reply” at the end. Otherwise it’s the only theme entry clue that doesn’t pass the substitution test.
The two answers that slowed me down most: (1) ["The Alienist" author Caleb] CARR, and (2) RYE, the [New York Birthplace of Ogden Nash]. I kept wanting RIE for the latter since I thought DIE was the perfect answer to [Turn blue?] (though I now concede that DYE is the better answer). As for the former, I tried CARL, and since I was having problems with the crossing PRES HEADACHE, it seemed as right as anything.
My favorite error, though, was my original answer to [___ Acrobat]. The correct answer is ADOBE. Mine was A AS IN. And here I was getting ready to rip on a three-word partial in my review!
Favorite entry = I CAN DIG IT, the ["Are you hip?" response]. Favorite clue = [Residents of Birmingham and London] for AMERICANS, as in Birmingham, Alabama, and London, Texas.
Jack McInturff’s Los Angeles Times crossword
I think Gareth may check in later with his remarks, but for now, here’s the answer grid.
Theme is NOH or NO “H”: ONLINE CAT, BAR CART, WILD GOOSE CASE, PORK COP, and MINOR CORD all change CH- words into C- words. Was totally confused by 20a, thinking it was BAR CAR + T rather than BAR CHART – H.
Myles Callum’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Chillin’ Out”
Pannonica’s internet connection has been on the fritz, so until that’s back up, here’s the answer grid.
Theme: Phrases starting with “cold” words, tied to the FIRST DAY OF WINTER. (Really wanted 121a to say WINTER SOLSTICE.) There’s FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, POLAR OPPOSITES, ARCTIC CARIBOU, GLACIAL DEPOSIT, COLD MOUNTAIN, and FROZEN ASSETS. The long fill is quite nice (e.g., SAM SPADE, AUSTRALIA, COULD BE), but the shorter stuff was making me frown (TELEG., TIPI, ORIBI, LEAL, AWAR, RYS, STELA crossing OLIO, ARMCO).
Patrick Berry’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Ways to Spend Christmas”
Assorted world figures experienced notable events on December 25, and this trivia is provided in a 15×16 grid:
- 3d. [He spent December 25, 1776 crossing a frigid river], GEORGE WASHINGTON
- 9d. [He spent December 25, 1642 being born in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth], ISAAC NEWTON
- 12d. [He spent December 25, 1991 resigning as head of state], MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
- 22d. [He spent December 25, 1926 succeeding to the Japanese throne], HIROHITO
- 29d. [He spent December 25, 800 being crowned Holy Roman Emperor], CHARLEMAGNE
Nope, I didn’t know any of these things were December 25 events. And while NEWTON’s clue was the least revealing, I think I guessed it off the first N. Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth? You don’t say.