“THEMELESS 91” by Peter Gordon
Strap on your thinking cap and have a go at this Fireball themeless. Subscribe if you haven’t already.
Constructor: Peter Gordon
Size: 15 x 15
Ben: The usual excellent Fireball themeless. I think the ones BuzzFeed has been running may have actually displaced these as my favourite freestyle crosswords, but they’re still right up there. (The KAC puzzles also have to be in that conversation, not to mention the Glutton puzzles that Erin’s been reviewing… it’s a good time to be a themeless fan.)
Lena: Yes, yes, and yes. I have a couple Fireball collections on the coffee table and I’ve used up all the themelesses at this point! Peter’s themeless clues can be so brutal, but they’ve definitely improved my ability to parse misdirection quickly.
Ben: I discovered last year that the trick for me to solve a Fireball themeless is to try to look past the clue — just imagine the cleanest fill possible for that spot, and then try to figure out if it could possibly work with the clue. That allowed me to spot JACUZZI, EROSION, DEAD SEA and YOLANDA without much trouble, even though I didn’t know any of the trivia in the clues.
Lena: That was my TAXI CAB (12D: Hailing during a rainstorm?) experience. See also HOPEY (24D: ___-changey (S***h P***n coinage)).
Ben: A lot of high-value Scrabble letters here — three Z’s, two X’s, a Q and a J. All worked in very smoothly, although those beautiful open corners and interlocking triple stacks come at a small price… BOHO (54D: Having unconventional social habits, informally) was really tough — I assume it stands for Bohemian — and I didn’t love ILICH (23A: Carlos the Jackal’s real first name) or PNC Park. No idea what STE means, either. But the flow here is great, so a little stuff like this is a fair price to pay.
Lena: I really liked those chunky corner stacks– especially the one with COLLINS (3D: Gin drink) and ZIN (5D: Dry red, for short)… although I don’t think “dry” when I think Zinfandel…
Ben: NAPHTHA (37D: Volatile petroleum distillate) crossing HASTERT (60A: Turn-of-the-century speaker of the house) is a brutal cross. Thank god I remember some chemistry from high school (see also SELENIC [17A: Containing element #34] and IODIZES [58A: Treats with element #53]). I do think everything here is fair, though.
Lena: Sooo much science! NAPHTHA (hey Peter Broda check out those consonants!), ANTARES, SELENIC, IODIZES, ZOIC, CALYXES… If you’re dtsf (down to scrabblefuck), you gotta be down with science.
Ben: I thought it was weird that 32A: PEACE SYMBOL was clued as an accompanying image on the e-mail. Surely there’s a less obtrusive/obvious way to clue that? It’s all the rage for reducing rage? Something you’ll never see at a Donald Trump rally?
Lena: Yeah, such a weird gimme– why would you just hand over the answer for a nice long entry like that? I expect no mercy from FB themelesses.
Ben: Loved SWEAT EQUITY (26D: Drops from working on the house?) even though that Q took forever to see with the unhelpful crossing TARIQ. ELOPE (45A: Ring up at a low cost?) and CUB (53A: Apprentice) weren’t awesome IMO — they’re valid, I guess, but you really have to squint to make them work. Not my favourite kind of clue.
Lena: I thought that ELOPE clue was one of the best I’d come across for that fill– “ring up” made me think of “shack up” and “lawyer up” so that part worked for me and I thought the whole package was pretty clever. CUB though, not so much. Others I enjoyed were 49D: Flip over (ADORE) and 4D: Item in a jewel box at a garage sale (USED CD) — even thought “jewel box” rather than “jewel case” is a bit of a stretch to forgo the question mark.
Ben: Finally, a shoutout to the excellent clue on LOLITA (46D: 1955 novel featuring a writer named Vivian Darkbloom (which is an anagram of its author’s name) — I thought that was going to be really hard until I hit the end of the clue and remembered Vladimir Nabokov. English degrees rule.