Freestyles 80 and 81 by Tim Croce

Peter and I have been busy bees in our respective countries but we still managed to hunker down in front of the blazing Croce fire– toasty pencils in hand… etc. No, we didn’t set these puzzles on fire, I promise, and we didn’t even want to! Maybe just a little… from time to time… Go ahead and solve for yourself!


Freestyle 80

Peter: That “sidler” episode of Seinfeld was weird. But luckily I knew it and got TIC-TACS immediately.

Yes, a Glengarry Glen Ross reference.

Lena: Peter is live-solving and I’ve been feeling ill/was sick over the Tuesday Crocening. He’s going to take it away, like the champ he is. I will make sure things get emboldened.

I think 32-down is I LUV U? Not really sure you’re going to change your relationship much by texting that to your partner. But then again kids these days. Wait…I’m wrong here. Update: holy shit L-BOMB is so good.

Is this ARGO and AFFLECK? Update: Yes, yes it is. Update: No, no it’s not. It’s George CLOONEY.

what is a bumper’s follower? this is not going well… Update: oooooooohhhhhhh, volleyball

I cannot think of any viral video with a kangaroo. wtf is this. Actually, I like that. Going with WTF, MATE? Hoping for a hail-mary SEACREST OUT moment here. K, FIDDLERS could make sense…looking promising. Ok, WORK AT IT might work, validating the W and suggesting your typical grid-edge, stack-friendly literary heroine, TESS. Ooh, I thought [On or about] was going to bring this all crashing down but of course NEAR is too obvious for TC. Great clue for IN RE. Oh Jesus, URANIAN is soooooooo good. Had an L at the end for ages there. And, with ALLAN and ARES and TIER, I finally have corner finished. And it is indeed WTF MATE. brb, off to buy a lottery ticket…

This all gives me ???MUSIC and no chance at any crossings for the first letters. Thanks Tim. I have nfc here. Update: MSN MUSIC. Beautiful entry. Never heard of it tho

Those do not sound like CROATIAN names.

PAIR OF SKIS and TOTAL NOOBS are stretchy but just stretchy enough. I haven’t not heard these words spoken together before, so I can accept these.

This NW is not going so great. I couldn’t see ATTN forever despite its fairly canonical cluing. And of course I’m all like [___ Wars] is obvi STAR because Tim writes such easy and transparent clues all the time derp. Were the BETA wars a thing? Like, when VHS and BetaMax were competitors? Sure, let’s go with that. Oh wait, fuck COLA wars were actually for reals an actual for-real thing.

In typical croce-solving fashion (for me at least), I immediately grokked the misdirection in [Swoosh, e.g.] and [It’s often read with scrolls] but then took forever to come up with candidate answers. The swoosh here is the Nike EMBLEM of course, and you may scroll while reading an EZINE. See also [Underground port location]. Only my incorrect crossings prevented me from nailing CELLAR straight away.

BYE FELICIA is not something that I’ve heard of. I only saw Next Friday and I remember maybe 3 cumulative minutes of that steaming pile of turd.

I’ve got O???AR for [Like irises]. Irises could be…OCULAR? …OVULAR? Is that a word? In a TC, I’m tempted to believe that it is. But they’re not really ovals…let’s go with OCULAR. Ah yes, and of course URBANA-Champaign is a thing that I embarrassingly learned from Community.

I’m a big fan of the odd cryptic- or surface-level worplay-style clue like 13D (Cartoonist whose name becomes an urban streetscape feature if you move the third letter between the fifth and sixth letters), and this one is exceptionally nice. Well, it’s kind of wordy, but a very satisfying aha moment when you see BIL KEANE / BIKE LANE. Beautiful. And then finally getting SEA SPRAY from the clue I still don’t really understand (like, I get the connection, but what are wind waves?), and…we’re done!!


This grid is outstanding. Just phenomenal. And the cluing is masterfully done throughout. This is my favourite Croce in I can’t remember how long.


Puzzle111Freestyle81-1-solutionFreestyle 81

Peter: smooth sailing to begin with. Plopped in BPAFREE immediately, which took me straight into the middle off ASSERT, FESS, RBI, EARP, and ELECTS, in that order. Sporps-ignorance kept me from finishing the NW til much later.

Lena: I had PBA FREE! I drink out a super hip, super eco-friendly Kleen Kanteen these days so I guess I’m just out of touch with plastic water bottles, man.

Peter: PBA FREE! No professional bowlers in sight!

Lena: No bowlers perhaps, but lots n’ lots of sporps! Somehow (probably because I was just making up all the answers in my head) I was all yeaaah… RISE BALL (14A: Fastpitch pitch thrown with a backspin)! I wanted to just put in BASEBALL tho.

Peter: I…definitely had BASEBALL in there for a while.

Lena: TD PASSES (36D: They may not be caught until they cross over the line, informally) was mercifully straight-forward (fun clue, too!), I do know some super-popular sports names like Kobe BRYANT and… well, actually I guess there weren’t too many other sportsthings. I think two long sports clues feels like about 7 of them to me.

Peter: I put UMAD (35D: Taunt to a flustered Internet poster) in one of my very first crosswords. Friends and family were…confused by it.

Lena: I had TLDR for a few, thinking that I’d probably be flustered if I spent all that time on a post and someone was all nope, didn’t read it, too long. Doesn’t really work, but as I’ve said before my thoughts can go weird when I do these puzzles.

Peter: Liked the triple “line” cluage in the SW.

Lena: Omg “cluage”– I love it! I hear it in a French accent. Also, nice observation. I was so psyched to get EYE CHART (37D: It has a small bottom line)– what a nice clue.

Peter: Yes, like “nuage”. Double yes: clue for EYE CHART was outta sight.

Lena: I see what you did there.

Peter: Look at us go. Anyway, I can never remember if it’s EKCO or ECCO. Those are two different things, right?

Lena: I think so?

Peter: Has anyone done a stately dance since like the 18th century? I only know the term “stately dance” from classical music. What the hell does that even mean?

Lena: Haha I imagine chins held high, deliberate steps, no grabass, etc. Gabriel Fauré wrote a PAVANE (16A: Stately Renaissance dance) I’m familiar with, so I wasn’t too surprised when I got the answer– but I needed those crosses! I didn’t think of it as a dance, just a piece of classical music.

Peter: Yes, grabass seems very unstately. But on the flipside, awkwardly rigid first-ever-slow-dance-hands-too-high-on-waist or hover hand would be just as unstately. Self-assured yet tasteful physical contact seems about right.

Lena: I like the idea of a Ren Prom(e).

Peter: It’s strange to have ink, inc, and INK at square 8, right?

Lena: Strange, or *awesome*?

Peter: Is SATIRE really a style, per se?

Lena: Lotta questions there, Peter– are you looking for a… TEACHABLE MOMENT (36A: Education opportunity, in a sense)? I liked these two long answers a lot, and it’s nice how they share that L. TC does nice things with having just a whisper of a theme emanating from seed entries. I also love throwing around the phrase TEACHABLE MOMENT semi-ironically, tossing in air quotes for good measure. Overall a very nice puzzle with only slight troubles for me in the SW and NE.

  1. Kameron said:

    astonishing work, tim


    • bananarchy said:

      1000% this. I do sometimes worry that we’re not laudatory enough in our reviews. I truly want almost every croce review to be simply “WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!” but that would get boring and sycophantic. So I tend to focus on my solving experience which naturally highlights more of the pedestrian fill with oblique clues and the stuff that I side-eye or have never heard of. But yes, these and pretty much all of Tim’s puzzles are absolutely astonishing.

      Liked by 1 person

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