This week’s Fireball is a contest puzzle by Evan Birnholz, he of the Devil Cross puzzles. Someone remind me to blog it on Sunday night or Monday (after the contest deadline), will you?
Stan Newman’s New York Times crossword
The theme here consists of 20a, 39a, and 57a spelling out EVERY ONE OF THE / CLUES HAS EXACTLY / FOUR SYLLABLES. And then the clues all have four syllables, so COCO is [Conan nickname] (Conan O’Brien) rather than, say, [Designer Chanel], which has five syllables. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t read the clues out loud while I’m solving the puzzle. So while it was readily apparent that the clues were much shorter than usual, the FOUR SYLLABLES bit hadn’t occurred to me. And then when 57a revealed it, well, it was not an exciting denouement. Not much space for wordplay in the short clues, none in the theme, no particular excitement in the fill.
I am betting I’m not the only one who wanted 11d. [Flotation gear] to be LIFE VESTS. LIFE BELTS?? I asked my husband what a life belt is and he snickered because it sounds ridiculous. I Googled it and got a seatbelt use–promoting device featured on the Shark Tank TV show, a bespoke cloth belt featuring custom images to represent the customer’s life and interests, and a dictionary entry with the dreaded “chiefly British” tag.
Wasn’t loving the fill, what with BOLA ALMA ELAL AGCY HIRER and SAS. Oh, and the 32a. [French department], MARNE! The dictionary tells me there is a Marne river in France. Yesterday the EDER, today the MARNE … tomorrow can we hope for the UELE?
Some solvers groused about 48d. [Public-road race], RALLYE, with its unfamiliar -YE ending. I actually knew the word, thanks to a puzzler friend named Marty who relishes road rallyes, which combine a soupçon of puzzlehunt creative thinking with a long drive. I think Marty once told me that participants have to check in periodically during specific time windows, as a deterrent to unsafe speeding. And remember: Always wear your life belt!
Bob Klahn’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Come Around!”—Ade’s write-up
It’s another Bob Klahn special, and the cluing, if you’re not on his wavelength (like me), definitely will throw you for a loop through the entire solve. Thankfully, after several deep breaths and just letting my mind go blank a few times, this one finally came through. And it’s a pretty cute theme, with the letters to the word “come” split apart between the very beginning and the very end of each of the four theme answers. Or at least that’s the best way I can explain it.
- COLOR SCHEME: (17A: [Design decision])- This reminds me that I have to repaint my light green-painted room very soon. Yuck.
- COMPANION PIECE: (34A: [“Aningaaq,” to “Gravity,” e.g.])- The best thing I did with this clue was read it once, and not think about it again until it was filled out through crosses, and hopefully made sense.
- CONFIDENCE GAME: (43A: [Flimflam])- Only theme-related clue that I was confident in plopping down without the aid of so many crosses. Also, this is one of the best entries in the grid.
- COMFORT ZONE: (61A: [Element])- What I definitely was not in as I was solving this toughie.
Noticed that the theme answers split “come” after the “o” and the “m,” but not after the “c,” and just in case you need one that does so, I have you covered with a (hopefully) clever cluing. Clue: Orange home, most times? Answer comes at the end of this blog. (I’m such a tease!)
What partly made this so much of a land of confusion for me is the number of duplicate clues (or very similar-sounding clues) that yielded different answers: LUG and GALOOT (19A, 20A: [Big oaf]) and TWERP and NINNY (49A, 51A: [Doofus]) just kept me thinking of all the words that could fall in that category. Also was a neat and/or devious trick to see the semi-similar cluing as well, including GAT (11A: [Goon’s gun]) and UZI (16A: [Terrorist’s gun]), HARE (21A: [Tortoise rival]) and NBC (22A: [Fox rival]), and so on.
Even with the neat tricks, there was a lot of guessing/hoping/praying that some of the entries were correct, given I had no shot a good number of them given their clues. TANAGER (26A: [Cousin of the honeycreeper])??? And within that clue, honeycreeper??? Oh, goodness! BERTH clued the way it was proved to be no match for me without crosses (6A: [Sloop slip]). SALLY was another killer entry for the clue it was associated with (41A: [Jaunt, quip or outburst]). Despite that, two answers that might have appeared to be impossible without crosses actually were easy fills: I remember The Lorax very well, so THNEEDS wasn’t too difficult (49A: [Items that Dr. Seuss’s Once-ler knitted from the silk tufts of Truffula Trees]), and with living in the Delmarva area for over a year starting in 2007, I became familiar with the NANTICOKE River and seeing the word “Nanticoke” (36D: [Algonquian people from the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay areas]). Entries that I wished had sports clues/misleads to better gain traction include BERTH, III (53A: [Roman triumvirate]), which could have referred to Joe Namath’s guarantee prior to Super Bowl III, and BRONC (23D: [Buckaroo bucker]), which could also refer to the mascot of Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SLOAN (18D: ["Doonesbury” reverend])- My apologies to the reverend of comic strip fame, but in this space, we’re going to mention a few famous Sloans in the sports world. There’s Jerry, the former Chicago Bulls player who became one of the winningest head coaches in NBA history in his long tenure as head coach of the Utah Jazz. (His 1,221 coaching wins are third in NBA history.) Norm Sloan was the head basketball coach at North Carolina State University when they won the national championship in 1974, led by future basketball Hall-of-Famer David Thompson. But probably the Sloan most sports fans now identify with most is the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, the yearly meetings held in Boston to discuss the emerging and evolving world of analytics and its role in all aspects of sports. Believe me, it’s a stat geek’s/super nerd’s paradise!
Thank you for the time, and will meet you in this same space for some Friday goodness! Oh, and the answer to my clue at the beginning of this blog (Orange home, most times?)?
CARRIER DOME. (It’s a on-campus sports arena that hosts the majority of the athletic teams of the Syracuse University Orange.)
Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword
The theme is simple, but the resulting theme answers are kind of punchy. We get five idiomatic phrases used to refer to a typical person. I hadn’t heard AVERAGECITIZEN before, but it googles OK. The other three, ORDINARYJOE, MANINTHESTREET and JOHNQPUBLIC all require said typical person to have testicles.
The longer fill is above average: I liked ATTHEGAME, FREETIBET, OPENNET and especially MACAQUE. I’m not sure what the clue/answer pair [“Hmm.. I was thinking of something else”]/OHTHATONE is supposed to mean, but if you explain it to me I might like it. WEHADTO seems rather arbitrary though.
The OHTHATONE corner ended in supreme ugliness – NOL/INE/XED is a pretty whiffy stack. It doesn’t help that [Windows alternative] is a bit of a stretch for UNIX - they’re both operating systems, but they’re hardly interchangable.
Suzanne Whang and Tyler Hinman’s American Values Club crossword, “Comedic Imperatives”
Fun twist on a quote theme—funny lines from movies that take the grammatical form of the imperative:
- 17a. ["When Harry Met Sally" imperative], “DO IT TO ME, SHELDON.” We would also have accepted, in a slightly larger puzzle, RIDE ME, BIG SHELDON.
- 27a. ["Caddyshack" imperative], “BE THE BALL, DANNY.” Never did see that movie.
- 35a, 45a. [With 45-Across, "Anchorman" imperative], “YOU STAY / CLASSY, SAN DIEGO.” Haven’t seen either Anchorman movie but the line has filtered out into broader pop culture.
- 56a. ["Fletch" imperative], “BEND OVER, MR. BABAR.” I saw the movie way back when but have no recollection of this. Was there an elephant in the movie? And did you know they’re looking to remake the flick without Chevy Chase, having been stymied in all attempts to make a sequel?
You know a quote theme is working when I liked the puzzle despite not knowing half the quotes. Lots of good stuff throughout the puzzle: In fill, there’s MADE IN KOREA, STUMBLE ONTO, and MATZAHS just after Passover concludes. Also lots of pop culture. Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed that. And zippy clues:
- 25a. [Pop holder], CAN. Don’t bring me that “soda.”
- 44a. [Outfit with heels, often], DRAG.
- 64a. [Band that takes care of business, briefly?], BTO. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, of “Takin’ Care of Business” (“every day!”) fame. When I was a kid, our aunt gave my sister a BTO album as a Christmas present. I might have received … Bay City Rollers? BCR’s heyday was a little later than BTO’s.
- 65a. [Stoners?], MASONS. I am descended from a long line of masons/bricklayers.
- 13d. [Second step in a three-step cleansing process], RINSE. “Lather, rinse, repeat.” The “repeat” is typically a rip-off aimed at selling more shampoo.
- 23d. [Large Marge drives one in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"], SEMI. A delightful way to clue SEMI.
- 40d. [Scott Rudin and Mel Brooks accomplishment, initially], EGOT. Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony. Really, Scott Rudin? Isn’t he an action-movie producer? Checking … more Wes Anderson and Oscar-bait than action movies, and yes, theater too. His Grammy was for the Book of Mormon cast album.
- 49d. [Spit food?], KABOB. On a spit, or skewer.
Suzanne Whang’s an HGTV star, a comedian, a breast cancer “thriver,” and someone whose wedding got a terrific write-up in the New York Times. She’s a celebrity I’d never heard of before she filtered up into the crossword world, but she sounds absolutely lovely and funny and I like the puzzle she and Tyler cooked up for us. Four stars.