“B IS FOR BACKWARDS” by Matt Gaffney
Solve the puzzle here and then read more below, just like the link says
“B Is for Backwards”
Constructor: Matt Gaffney
Theme: Theme answers’ first words start with a short vowel progression of “B” words in reverse alphabetical order.
- 16A: BULLYING – Taking one’s own insecurities and vulnerabilities out on another, psychologically or physically
- 25A: BOLLYWOOD – Priyanka Chopra’s domain
- 37A: BILLY IDOL – “Dancing With Myself” singer/masturbator
- 53A: BELLY FLOP – Embarrassing follow-up to “Watch this flip!”
- 64A: BALLYHOO – Hullabaloo (I wonder if they have the same root word)
Lena: Vowel progression, but in reverse… Vowel regression? What I learned here is that, in the very very small scheme of things, I prefer word ladders. The B words glue that holds this together feels a little weak– maybe something a little more clever that ties in “backwards.” Anyway, this fits in well with the Mon/Tues crowd.
Ben: It’s fine. I originally missed that all of the themers are B*LLY, so looking back it’s better than I was giving it credit for. But it’s still pretty straightforward. At least it’s not a quote puzzle — I hate those.
Michael: Ugh, word ladders, stop! 🙂 But yeah, this was … strangely old-fashioned. A very familiar concept. I do think the BZF puzzle has to have some of these basic themes, perhaps, to hook / acclimate new solvers. Maybe. The “B Is for Backwards” title seems like a strange afterthought. But it does give the “regression” thing a hook, a little something to make it seem something other than totally arbitrary.
Ben: I originally wondered if BuzzFeed is deliberately running a variety of straightforward themes over the first few weeks to teach new solvers what to look for. But I think I’m overthinking it — if you’re publishing, what, 260 puzzles a year, you’re going to have some simple themes mixed in there.
Lena: Clues are toned down today– like a kid crashing after eating a bowlful of sugar and bouncing around yelling “haha! lol :p” allowing me, the parent in this simile, to heave a sigh and relax. Maybe have some dinner. Lots of good food options in here: BRIE (58A: Creamy cheese that’s like a half step away from warm butter), MOLE (71A: Scrumptious chocolate-style chicken dish), and 65D: “Oh this pho is delicious…” (YUM). Talk about a case of The Itis.
Michael: Classically (ahem!) this kind of theme would have all two-part / two-word themers. This is to say that BULLYING seems like a cop out. BULLY PULPIT, BULLY FOR YOU … BULLY WINKLE? I don’t know. It seemed a sad little compromise. BULLY PULPITS / BALLY FITNESS? Dunno. Just know BULLYING is like a hair’s breadth above just having the word BULLY there. Not that themey.
Ben: I think BULLYING is a victim of needing to be symmetrical with BALLYHOO, which is the only BALLY- word I can think of that would work with this theme. I agree it’s not a particularly interesting entry.
Lena: We also have some kind of awkwardly cross-referenced dessert: OREO (31A: 1-Down product that is a sandwich) and NABISCO (1D: Company whose products I eat by the sleeves). I think my brain wants 31A to be referenced in the NABISCO clue, but I’m not sure. It just feels off to me.
Ben: Almost no cross-referencing today. Is there a missed opportunity at SPEEDOS (12D: Scanty beachwear) and ALL-MALE (3D: Like the list of U.S. preseidents, so far…)? I feel like there’s a good cross-reference clue there, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Lena: This Molecular Biology PhD dropout was soooo psyched to see ALLELE (33D: Genetic variation)! I bet nobody else was! But it’s time, people. You’ve got DNA down, and even grudgingly pause to make sure it’s not RNA. Let ALLELE and all those nice helpful letters into your hearts and grids.
Michael: I will never not think of ALLELE as hyper-crutch fill, no matter how real and decent a thing it is.
Ben: I like ALLELE — Punnett squares are like the only part of high-school biology I enjoyed. And speaking of hyper-crutch fill, check out YUGO, which is totally redeemed by its clue (26D: Car that’s so old the country it was named for no longer exists).
Lena: Also nice to see the socially-conscious clues for BULLYING (16A: Taking one’s own insecurities and vulnerabilities out on another, psychologically or physically) and ISM (19A: When it comes after sex it creates a toxic and irresponsible system of beliefs and assumptions) [Michael: agreed. Also loved the clue-jab at the NCAA (1A: Org. that holds an annual tournament with unpaid participants)]
Ben: Yeah, I agree on all of those — ISM might actually be my favourite clue here.
Lena: 13A: “French person residence, this is French person” (ALLO) cracked me up a lot, especially in contrast with the pretty advanced 29A: Liquid with aucun consonnes (EAU). [Sans consonnes] would have been better.
Michael: That ALLO clue was easily my favorite thing about this puzzle. It will be making me laugh all day.
Michael: I would’ve changed YEATS to YEAST. Like … that seems like a no-brainer to me. But perhaps I have no brain and can’t see how bad an idea that is. LEANT and PIS are both bugging me, and LEANS and PIT would not have. Nothing against YEATS. I’m sure he’s great. Further, why go RYU (34D: “Street Fighter” main character) over NYU? Is it for maximal gamer hipness, or something? I have a hard time seeing RYU > NYU.
Ben: I enjoyed seeing RYU, to be honest. Mind you, I grew up with video games, so clues like that (and KONAMI from a few days ago) are instagets for me. I would agree on the superiority of YEAST to YEATS, even though I like poetry better than baking.
Michael: Also wasn’t fond of GALICIA (pretty arcane stuff, esp for BZF). And a big “no” from me on [Baby-making] as a clue for SEX. I see what’s happening there, but … [frown]. But then there’s the OVA clue, which is bananas in ways that I love. First, I like thinking of OVA as “parties.” Second, I love the idea of Cockneys shouting “HOVA”! That clue works on, well, at least two levels.
Ben: I needed almost every cross for GALICIA, though oddly I got ORINOCO (10D: Brazilian river in an Enya title that will send you there) instantly. This is super-nerdy, but I grew up on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, which had a tradition of naming all its shuttles after rivers. So I’m weirdly familiar with names of rivers, even though I don’t know where any of them are located.
Lena: I knew GALICIA from being a wine nerd (a lot of Albariño comes from there) and ORINOCO from having seen the commercial for the “Pure Moods” compilation CD a million times back in the mid-90’s. “Orinoco Flow,” track 5, baby!
Ben: Overall, I thought this was a good but unspectacular puzzle that didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I think I preferred the “Monopoly” theme yesterday, but there’s nothing really wrong with this — it’s just familiar.