Wednesday, February 26, 2020

LAT 3:25 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:37 (Amy) 


WSJ 5:49 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (Rebecca) 


AVCX untimed (Ben) 


Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Will of Fortune”—Jim P’s review

This sound-changing theme is proof that, even though you may have seen this type of theme many times before, if it’s executed professionally and with humor, it can be a winner.

The title is our hint that long-E sounds are being changed to short-I sounds.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Will of Fortune” · Samuel A. Donaldson · Wed., 2.26.20

  • 18a [Window decorator’s color choice?] NAVY SILL. …Seal. This is the most meh theme entry (the meh-est?) if you ask me.
  • 20a [Mississippi’s state trees, after all this time?] STILL MAGNOLIAS. Steel… Ha! Definitely better. I can picture someone thinking, “Hey, I wonder if Mississippi’s changed their state tree yet. Sigh. Nope. STILL MAGNOLIAS.” This is a much better clue than something pedestrian like [Motionless state trees of Mississippi?].
  • 41a [Binge eater’s lament?] I CAN’T FILL ME FACE. …feel… Double Ha! This one gets a laugh both for the base phrase and the wacky clue.
  • 58a [Pickle that barely fits into the jar?] KIND OF A BIG DILL. …deal. Triple Ha! This one still has me chuckling. “Hey, did you see that pickle I brought home? I barely got it into the jar. Yup, it’s KIND OF A BIG DILL.”
  • 65a [Large family?] KIDS MILL. …meal. I guess hoping for four “Ha!”s is too much. This one’s fine, just not as funny as the previous three.

I almost wish the first and last ones were lopped off and we were left with those strongest three in the middle.

Interesting how Sam chose to stack the outer pairs of theme answers instead of placing the 14-letter entries in rows 5 and 11 respectively. It’s nice when stacking works out; it all depends on the letters in play. The stickiest pair of letters is the D and M in 53d which became the not-great-but-not-uncommon AD MAN. A small price to pay for allowing even more space between the central themer and the outer ones.

Maybe it’s due to this that we get fun entries like PIG LATIN and FIENDISH, which of course warms a special place here in our hearts at the Fiend. (Sam is a former blogger here and he compiles the annual Orca Awards…which should be coming up pretty soon.) Other goodies: UNDIES, PILAF, and POINT B.

I don’t know OSMIUM [Densest naturally occurring element], though I must have heard of it somewhere nor QUIDS clued as [Lumps of chewing tobacco]. I don’t think you can pluralize a British quid, hence we get the tobacco clue. You could put a cheater square at that S and change PLEBE to TEAT (for example) at 33d. But there are already other cheater squares in the grid.

Clues of note:

  • 4d. [Odecay anguagelay]. PIG LATIN. I didn’t bother trying to translate during the solve; I saw the “-ay”s and got the answer. But that first word sure wants to be pronounced with three syllables, doesn’t it?
  • 9d. [Subject for Strunk and White]. STYLE. They, of course, wrote the book on the subject, The Elements of STYLE.

Fun, and funny, puzzle. My favorite kind. Four stars.

Francis Heaney’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 26 20, no. 0226

So I haven’t done Francis’s AV Club puzzle from last week, but I heard good things (and you can buy it for $1 if you’re not a subscriber). His NYT theme is a sneaky one, which I didn’t piece together till I reached the second revealer. Here’s the whole theme:

  • 1a. [Award notably won in each of the “big four” categories by this puzzle’s honoree], GRAMMY. She won Best Song (a songwriting prize), Best Album, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist—along with the less showy Best Pop Vocal Album.
  • 21a. [Toy brand with plastic figures], PLAYMOBIL.
  • 25a. [2006 #1 Shakira hit], HIPS DON’T LIE. Did you catch her Super Bowl halftime performance? She’s got skills.
  • 47a. [Art technique that’s French for “fools the eye”], TROMPE L’OEIL.
  • 52a. [Butler’s “Gladly”], “AS YOU WISH.” I wonder if Francis clued this via Westley in The Princess Bride.
  • 67a. [Hit song by the 1-Across winner whose name is spelled out by the final three letters of 21-, 25-, 47- and 52-Across], BAD GUY. Read the clue, looked back to find BIL/LIE EIL/ISH, filled in the rest of BAD GUY.

Neat theme, certainly unexpectedly topical. (The Grammy ceremony was less than a month ago.) Interesting approach, to split her name into 3-letter chunks and hide them at the end of lively long themers.

Eilish, if you don’t know, is the 18-year-old singer with (currently) green hair who sang “Yesterday” during the In Memoriam segment at the Oscars this month. (She was accompanied by her brother Finneas on piano.)

What else?

  • 29a. [Avail oneself of Vail?], SKI. Not sure this even needs a question mark.
  • (Warren campaign buttons)

    40a. [Ill-tempered], SURLY. That’s a great word. It’s also the name of a Twin Cities microbrewery.

  • 8d. [Feature of a Manx cat], NO TAIL. That’s an odd entry, and an odd clue. Is the absence of something a feature, or is it the lack of a feature?
  • 23d. [11 U.S. presidents of the 20th century belonged to it], GOP. Elizabeth Warren belongs to the Democratic Party, and her campaign’s graphic design features a pale green instead of the usual “some combination drawn from red, white, and blue” logos used by presidential campaigns. Every four years, I’m a sucker for articles ranking the candidates’ logos (2020, 2016). Does this relate to the clue? Nope.

4.25 stars from me.

Matthew Stock’s Universal crossword, “Out of Steam”—Rebecca’s review

THEME: Exhausted synonyms pull theme answers together as DEAD LINKS

Universal crossword solution · Matthew Stock · “Out of Steam” · Wed., 02.26.20


  • 20A [View one’s notifications, on many a smartphone] SWIPE DOWN
  • 29A [Gets cracking on an essay] PUTS PEN TO PAPER
  • 36A [Great American Ball Park team] CINCINNATI REDS
  • 52A [URLs with no destinations, or a theme hint] DEAD LINKS

I liked this puzzle. Theme was fun – a bit predictable and I did want it to have an extra layer of difficulty somewhere, but clever and enjoyable nonetheless.

What I liked most about this puzzle was actually the design of the grid. It led me to move in unusual ways for my solving as my typical patters were interrupted by unexpected black square placement. It also gave the chance for some great mid-length fill throughout the puzzle – the ESCAPE POD/NO DRAMA corner was my favorite area to solve. So while I solved TIRED, WIPED, and SPENT I still enjoyed the puzzle from start to finish.

3.25 stars

Blake Slonecker’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

The theme is revealed at SHOWERSCENE, and the starts of four answers have parts of a shower: HEADHONCHOS, CURTAINCALL, DRAINTHESWAMP, and CAPANDTRADE.


Kate Hawkins’ AVCX, “Leaves Unsettled” — Ben’s Review

Today’s AVCX is an AVCX debut by Kate Hawkins! Congrats Kate!

Call Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce, since this grid was all about TOSSED SALAD:

  • 17A: Known everywhere — WORLD FAMOUS
  • 21A: One of many in a magazine — POWDER KEG
  • 34A: Modern puzzle adventure option — ESCAPE ROOM
  • 40A: Fender guard, e.g. — GUITAR CASE
  • 48A: Iconic — LEGENDARY


Elsewhere the fill:

  • Please just clue ELO with the band.  I know there is a chess rating system that uses that, and also a basketball rating system (apparently), but I would much rather think about “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” or “Living Thing”
  • That griping aside, “Nice to have?” is excellent cluing for AVOIR and “Note for short people?” is a fantastic clue for IOU

Happy Wednesday!

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17 Responses to Wednesday, February 26, 2020

  1. MattF says:

    Struggled a bit with the NYT. Not familiar with Eilish or her work and thought the painting style was TROMPEDOEIL. Also forgot the name of the golfer. Eventually remembered all that, but it took a few minutes.

  2. Gary R says:

    I’ve heard of Billie Eilish, but am not very familiar with her work. I was a bit confused when I read the revealer too quickly and put together just the LAST letters of the four referenced answers – LELH??

    It’s a timely theme, but I suppose 1-A was originally clued based on nominations, back in November, and updated recently, based on results.

    • No, written about two weeks ago.

      • Gary R says:

        Wow – that must be close to a record on submission-to-publication time! I assume some of the “tribute” puzzles get accepted and published quickly, but this one didn’t necessarily have to go to press right away to be a worthwhile theme. You’ve got to be the envy of the constructor crowd.

        • Francis says:

          I don’t know — anything topical tends to have a quick turnaround, so it can stay topical. This was fast by normal NYT standards, but I don’t know if it’s wildly different from other puzzles with similar topicality.

  3. David L says:

    I didn’t figure out who the puzzle’s honoree was because I filled in the bottom right corner from the downs and never looked at the final clue. I know who Billie Eilish is, sort of, but wouldn’t have recognized BAD GUY as one of her songs, seeing as I couldn’t tell you the name of any of her songs. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lawn to take care of.

    (I thought it was a nice puzzle, BTW).

  4. Billy Boy says:

    I like Billie Eilish much more than the puzzle. She’s rather her own girl.
    Ironically … 35D is something Finneas and Billie really don’t care for. Did one, they hated it, no AUTOTUNE

    Sam’s WSJ was more fun to do, although I thought by now I’d have heard much more flak about KIDS MILL for large Family (OUCH)

  5. LutherP says:

    Odecay anguagelay….Is it Code Language?

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ: A fun puzzle, though awfully easy for a WSJ Wednesday. But I didn’t recognize the base phrase for I CAN’T FILL MY FACE. “I can’t feel my face”? I Googled it and see that it was a hit song a few years ago by an artist I don’t recognize (The Weeknd). Is there another context for this phrase?

    QUIDS threw me also. My grandpa used to call his lumps of chewing tobacco “chaw”. I’m pretty sure that he chewed cigars. I know. Ewwwww!!! I think he’s the only person I’ve ever known who did so. Has anyone else ever heard of such a thing?

  7. Jeff Livingston says:

    Surly is also a Minnesota bicycle company

  8. Lise says:

    AVCX: I was absolutely stumped at FEIG/ELO. Even my basketball-savvy husband did not know ELO. I read the Wikipedia entry, and Elo ratings are a fascinating, albeit complex, concept applicable to myriad types of games.

    The theme was enjoyable, as I relish both salads and anagrams ?

Comments are closed.