Fireball Crossword – 3 February 2016

This week’s Fireball offering is OPEN MIKE. Subscribe and solve.

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“Open Mike”

Constructor: Randall J. Hartman

Theme: Last names of famous people named Mike are formed by the starts and ends of the theme answers.

  • 17A: WALL SPACE – Art gallery concern
  • 23A: MYTH BUSTERS – Discovery’s longest-running series
  • 37A: ROYAL WE – Queen Elizabeth II’s I
  • 51A: PEA SHOOTERS – Yard arms?
  • 61A: LOOK ALIVE – “Wake up out there!”

Ben: First things first — props to Matt Gaffney’s post at http://www.crosswordfiend.com for explaining the theme, because I would NEVER have gotten it otherwise. It doesn’t help that I’ve only heard of one of these Mikes (admittedly proper names are not my forte).

Theme didn’t do it for me. Doesn’t help that I couldn’t see it, of course, but even in hindsight it seems thin. The Mikes are open because there are letters in the middle of them? If ever there was a puzzle that could have used some circled squares, this is it.

I do like MYTHBUSTERS, though, which took me way too long but was very satisfying when I got it, and ROYAL WE is beautifully clued (37A: Queen Elizabeth II’s I). Yes, I know it’s in the list above, but it’s worth repeating.

Since I didn’t see the theme, this played like a themeless to me, and while there are a few good answers like HOLY MEN (4D: Fathers, e.g.) and B SIDES (48D: Singles that aren’t usually hits), there wasn’t enough sizzle to hold my interest.

Nice open corners in the NE and SW. The fill is pretty good this week, with only ORLON crossing ALLA and PITT crossing PAPEETE giving me any real trouble. Come to think of it, I still don’t know how PITT is a 18A: Button player. *googles* Oh, Brad Pitt playing Benjamin Button. That’s pretty good, actually.

I feel like this year’s Fireball clues have been all over the map — either the clues are easy or hard in a way I don’t care for. This one returns to form with stuff like 19A: Where the elephant polo world championship is held (NEPAL), 45A: First name of a celebrity known for frequent turns of phrase (VANNA), 54A: Ellen’s wife (PORTIA) and 40D: “Worst.” might come two words before it (EVER). Good mix of subject matter, nice degree of challenge, and some funny/interesting clues to liven up the shorter stuff.

The unclear theme left me cold here, but other than that it’s solid work.

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