Thursday, February 4, 2021

BEQ untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 4:42 (GRAB) 


NYT 5:35 (Ben) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


Fireball untimed (Jim P) 


WSJ 9:00 (Jim P) 


John Hawksley’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Couple Up”—Jim P’s review

Seems like there have been a lot of debuts lately and here’s another one. Congrats!

This theme is all about CROSS REFERENCES (38a, [Encyclopedia features, and four clue pairs in this puzzle]), those things which kill speed solvers’ times. (I’m no speed solver, but this definitely took longer than usual.) The theme answers are four pairs of words that are well-known phrases regardless of which word comes first.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Couple Up” · John Hawksley · Thu., 2.4.21

  • 14a [With 4-Down, opening words?] & 4d [With 14-Across, Lou Hoover and others] give us “LADIES FIRST” and FIRST LADIES, respectively. As it turned out, this is the last entry I got, and I like it best.
  • 18a [With 8-Down, 6-3, 6-0, 6-2, e.g.] & 8d [With 18-Across, corrects] give us STRAIGHT SETS (tennis) and SETS STRAIGHT.
  • 54a [With 48-Down, it follows Yom Kippur] & 48d [With 54-Across, court strategy] give us BREAK FAST and FAST BREAK.
  • 58a [With 53-Down, kind of coffee] & 53d [With 58-Across, exhibition of the latest wares] give us FAIR TRADE and TRADE FAIR.

The more I look at this theme, the more I’m impressed. Not only did our constructor have to find phrases that could go either way, but they had to have at least one common letter, and then everything had to fit into the corners of the grid. With those constraints, it’s not surprising that everything is not symmetrical, and that’s perfectly okay later in the week when we’re hoping for a good, crunchy theme.

So as troublesome as this puzzle probably was to construct, we can look past some of the gluey bits of crosswordese that hold the grid together. Stuff like: EDUCE, AFTS [Early p.m. times], IDEE, IF I’M, AS YE, and EDO. Besides, there’s still a raft of fun fill in MEATLOAF, LOBSTERS, USA TODAY, POGO STICK, DOGGIE BAG, FLARE UP, ONESIES, and PRETZEL.

Clues of note:

  • 23a. [Snack that’s knotty but nice?]. PRETZEL. Good clue. But am I the only one that saw “knotty” and thought “trees” and therefore PINE NUT? I probably am. Not that I eat pine nuts as snacks—too expensive!
  • 26a. [Moscow native]. IDAHOAN. Tricksy, especially with the other Moscow seemingly always in the news.
  • 42a. [Election losers]. OUTS. Meh. Who uses this? There are some perfectly clever baseball clues to be had with this, I’m sure.
  • 43a. [Minneapolis pros, familiarly]. VIKES. My son’s high school had Vikings as their mascot, but they shorten it “Viks.” Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
  • 45a. [On deck]. TOPSIDE. I was totally thinking “up next” for this. Another good clue.
  • 25d. [He beat Schmeling in 1933]. BAER. Ugh. Needed every cross for this bit of trivia.
  • 31d. [Rush alternative]. PASS. Think football, not rock bands or sororities.

Despite some dodgy short fill in places, I enjoyed this theme and the longer fun fill. 3.9 stars.

Derek Allen’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0204 – 2/04/2021

This Thursday’s NYT isn’t as tricky as it can sometimes be, but there’s a nice bit of synaesthesia happening in some of the grid’s squares:

  • 17A: 1993 country hit by Joe Diffie — JOHN DEERE [GREEN]
  • 19D: 2017 hit by Lorde (also a 2008 hit by John Legend, and a 1968 hit by the American Breed) — [GREEN] LIGHT
  • 32A: 1966 hit by the Rolling Stones — PAINT IT [BLACK]
  • 45A: 1983 hit by Billy Idol — [WHITE] WEDDING
  • 33D: 1991 hit by Michael Jackson — [BLACK] OR [WHITE]
  • 61A: 1966 hit by the Beatles — [YELLOW] SUBMARINE
  • 38D: 2017 hit by Cardi B — BODAK [YELLOW]

Each rebus square in the grid contains a color present in title of both the song in the across entry AND the down entry.  There’s a great selection of tunes across eras happening, with everything from PAINT IT BLACK and YELLOW SUBMARINE to more modern selections like Lorde’s GREEN LIGHT and Cardi B’s BODAK YELLOW.

as long as we’re on a songs with colors theme…

other nice grid bits: ANKH, BARRE, ADDIS Ababa, LORELEI, VERA WANG, ANIMISTS, and EMERIL LEGASSE (of “BAM” fame)

Stay safe! Be well!

MaryElen Uthlaut’s Universal crossword, “Think Inside the Box” — Jim Q’s write-up

A gem of a puzzle!

THEME: Common phrases are reimagined as if they are a piece of jewelry

Universal crossword solution · Think Inside the Box · MaryEllen Uthlaut · Thur., 2.04.20


  • [Meteorologist’s jewelry] STORM WATCH.
  • [Military leader’s jewelry] CHAIN OF COMMAND. 
  • [Waiter’s jewelry] RING FOR SERVICE.
  • [Cricket player’s jewelry] BOWLING PIN. 

Very clever idea and a solid set. The first three themers all seem to relate to the professions  in their clues before they are modified to refer to jewelry. The last one is a curveball. I suppose it’d be impossible to relate it to an actual bowler that you’d find in your local bowling alley though since it’d be too difficult to clue without duping the clue/answer set. I don’t know a helluva lot about cricket, but I do know that the bowler is the equivalent to baseball’s pitcher… at least I think that’s accurate. Am I correct? Once every few years I go down a very short rabbit hole of figuring out how cricket works, then I get distracted by a butterfly.

Would’ve liked to see some more colorful fill, but I was taken with the theme, so that kept it entertaining. Very cute clue for HIVE [Home with your honey?]. 

3.9 Stars from me.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The puzzle is sixteen letters across to fit the revealing FILLINGUPWITHGAS, clued strangely as a [Pre-road trip detail…] In any case, three gases are hidden in long answers. ARGON and NEON are noble gas elements; ETHANE is an organic compound. I’m ok with a mix of gases, but with only three two shouldn’t be conspicuously more similar to each other than the third. FARGONORTHDAKOTA and NOWMORETHANEVER (a current ad buzzphrase) are great but SOMEONEONCESAID seems dry and somewhat arbitrary as entries go.

Not a lot to say otherwise; there is quite a lot of longer fill, but nothing really grabbed me. TOADEGGS is kind of weirdly specific. A reminder: all toads are frogs, but not all frogs are toads.

Also the [Medical suffix], ITIS. I would’ve appreciated a bit of Olaf clueing here to make it less dull – something informative like […, implying inflammation].


Jordan Hildebrandt’s Fireball Crossword, “See You on the Other Side” – Jim P’s review

Jim P here sitting in for Jenni who’s computered out this week.

Whew! That was a workout! Was it a slog? Maybe. At points. But it’s an impressive build, and for the 500th Fireball crossword, it’s worthy of that milestone.

The first things you might notice about the grid is the left/right symmetry, the large capital I in the upper center, and the rough heart-shape surrounding that I. None of that has anything to do with the theme, though.

The next thing you’ll notice as you start the solve is that some squares that should have numbers don’t, starting right off the bat in the upper left corner. Pretty weird to see a puzzle where the clues start at 5-Across. (Oh, this is in the printed out version, of course. The .puz version has all the numbers, but the key ones have only a – for a clue.)

It took me a long time to figure out what was going on. I sorted out the NE corner first with FACE {BOOK} and {BOOK} THIEF all based on the crossings. But I didn’t know what to do with it. Large chunks of grid were still empty when I finally got to the revealer at 92a WORMHOLES [Portals found in this puzzle]. Aha! This was confirmation of what I was suspecting, especially given the title. But where do the WORMHOLES lead? Turns out, there are pairs of them, and they work just like you’d expect. You start filling in an entry on one side of the grid, and finish it on the other side. The key thing to note is that if you start an answer in the Across direction, you continue in the Across direction on the other side of the wormhole. Same with the Down answers.

The pairs are as follows (note: since I have the .puz file image in front of me, I’m going to use those numbers for simplicity’s sake. I will give rough descriptions of the wormhole locations if you’re comparing it to the printed version.):

Fireball crossword solution · “See You on the Other Side” · Jordan Hildebrandt · Thu., 2.4.21

  • ROUND (NW/SE corners): 127a [Do some digging?] LAY G{ROUND}WORK (where WORK is in the NW corner) and 115d [It comes at you from all directions] SUR{ROUND} SOUND
  • BOOK (NE/SW corners): 15a [Timeline update] FACE {BOOK} POST (where POST is in the SW corner) and 105d [2005 bestselling novel by Markus Zusak] THE {BOOK} THIEF (finished in the NE corner).
  • INCH (upper middle): 45a [Invention] BRA{IN CH}ILD & 6d [Tightwads] PENNY P{INCH}ERS and 48a [Screwing up, in a way] SQU{INCH}ING & 14d [Slyly humorous] TONGUE {IN CH}EEK.
  • FLAT (lower middle): 82a [Mixing up] CON{FLAT}ING & 71d [It might contain wet noodles] IN{FLAT}ABLE POOL and 85a [Like Selena Gomez or Aubrey Plaza] HAL{F LAT}INA & 77d [Start of a polite brush-off to a come-on] I’M {FLAT}TERED BUT

Oy, I just realized that each of the wormhole words are words that can precede “worm”: roundworm, bookworm, inchworm, and flatworm. That elevates the theme even more.

So yeah, I’m super impressed with this construction even though sorting it out (especially those central wormholes) was crazy bonkers, but it was a good fight and I’m glad to have come out the other side…as it were.

The other thing to contend with was the Stumperish cluing ([Canzone cousin] for ODE, anyone?). I suspect Peter made the decision to up the clue difficulty to mark the milestone. I felt like I was constantly second-guessing or re-writing answers I thought were right (e.g. I had GIRDERS for TIMBERS [Building beams]). While it threatened to turn some sections into an inscrutable slog (especially the West for me), I was able to make slow—if somewhat unsteady—progress until I reached the finish line.

That North section was blessedly trouble-free and comprises a great stack of PANAMA HAT, EGO LIBIDO (a new-to-me phrase) and NAIL SALON.  Elsewhere, there’s plenty of fill to like: EPIC WIN, SLUG BUG, Huey Lewis’s NEW DRUG, RUMP ROAST, SUGAR RUSH, WOLFMAN, ARGONAUT, KARACHI, and HECUBA. I did not know 119d ADL [“Fighting hate for good” org.], but now I know it’s the Anti-Defamation League. Nor did I know NONA Gaye of the Matrix films or NON-PAR banks.

I’m not going to go through the clues because there were so many crunchy ones. Feel free to comment on your favorite or most troublesome ones.

Bottom line, I really, really liked this puzzle—maybe even loved it. Solid construction all around, a nifty (geeky) theme, lovely fill, and tough but fair cluing. I’m going with the full 5 stars. How about you?

Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1337), “Gettin’ Quiggy With It” — Jenni’s review

Very quickly because it’s been A Day (and thanks to Jim for covering the Fireball, which I have not yet wrestled to the ground).

I liked Brendan’s theme and wasn’t crazy about the fill. As the title suggests, the theme answers have QU where J should be. Wackiness results.

Brendan Emmett Quigley, Puzzle # 1137, February 4, 2021, “Gettin’ Quiggy With It,” solution grid

  • 19a [Disreputable doctor who also has trouble seeing?] is a ONEEYED QUACK (one-eyed jack).
  • 29a [People who gave up on using Robinhood?] are MARKET QUITTERS (market jitters). Ripped from the headlines.
  • 49a [“Don’t joke, every knows a knight looks for the Holy Grail!”?] is SURELY YOU QUEST (surely you jest). My favorite. And stop calling me Shirley.
  • 64a [Returning to one’s upswept hairstyle?] is BACK IN A QUIFF (back in a jiff).

I won’t dwell on the theme except to say that BAGELs are not bread.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: as usual, pretty much all Brendan’s musical references are new to me. In addition, I’d never heard of a QUIFF before. This was the best picture I found.

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29 Responses to Thursday, February 4, 2021

  1. Lise says:

    NYT: Congratulations, Derek, on a colorful puzzle. The Michael Jackson song was a clever entry. Good fill, too, with words like MAJESTIC and RESIDUAL. It was nice to be reminded of the sister of one of my friends, whose name is LORELEI – a name I don’t hear very often.

    I hope everyone is staying warm and safe.

    • huda says:

      I agree with you Lise. I liked it as well and for the same reasons.
      I’ve been watching the Gilmore Girls during this pandemic (never watched the show before). The mom is called Lorelai (misspelled with an A).

  2. fkdiver says:

    LAT: Two of the theme answers contain chemical elements which are noble gasses. Ethane just doesn’t fit in. Should have used Krypton, Xenon or Argon.

    • Martin says:

      It’s good then that the reveal only said “gas” and not “noble gas.” That would have made the puzzle even worse. BTW, it did use ARGON.

  3. Ethan says:

    When I filled in [YELLOW] going across thought for sure the down would be [BLACK] AND [YELLOW] by Wiz Khalifa. Wrong number of letters but I thought it would be cool if the theme was songs with multiple colors like we got in the center of the grid.

  4. JohnH says:

    Like any trivia-based puzzle, one person’s easy Thursday (in this case Ben’s) is another’s really, really tough. I could object that one can complete the NYT fill and still not really have figured out all the entries. In my case, I was down to just a wild guess for what turns out to be green, since I know what John Deere makes but didn’t know its logo.

    I had an immediate foothold or two in the NW and worked from there, so my first themer to fall was PAINT IT BLACK, and my first guess was then that the rebus fill was all going to be BLACK. It seemed plausible for quite a while. “Black Wedding” sounded like a clever song title, punning on associations with white, and “Black Light” made perfect sense, although black lights are an awfully dated fad. But this wasn’t going to work forever. (“Black or Black” made no sense at all.) So I got the idea, and despite my misgivings, the puzzle gets points for cleverness. It’s no doubt my own fault in not knowing what EIN meant.

    • Lois says:

      I agree with JohnH about everything! For someone who only knows Paint It Black and Yellow Submarine, though, I found the puzzle pretty smooth.

  5. Billy Boy says:

    WSJ – normally I see cross-references and groan so they hear me hundreds of yards away. Not today WELL done. 1A was not SERENA

    NYT – I like puzzles like this one for newer solvers need rebus love, too.

    • Lise says:

      I love cross-referenced clues, and these were clever. I get that they’re a speed solver’s nightmare, but my general solving goal is to see how much coffee and tea I can consume in the space of a couple of puzzles. Cross references become refill opportunities :-)

      “Rebus love,” I like that. Despite not knowing the song, I had no trouble with John Deere Green, as there’s a JD dealership near where I live and my son had a little JD tractor he used to push around on the floor in his crawling days.

      That Fireball was amazing! What a feat. Lots of beverages consumed in the process.

  6. Mutman says:

    NYT: Unless you have a wide range a musical knowledge, this could have stumped anyone.

    I personally got ‘Color-Naticked’ for the first time in my life with the GREEN square. I guessed BLUE, could have easily been RED.


  7. David L says:

    NYT: I knew the old songs so was able to drop in all the colors except JOHNDEERE_/_LIGHT, for which the plausible guess GREEN turned out to be the right one. I was still left with the feeling that this was a potentially unfair puzzle, in that a solver who doesn’t know either of the songs that cross would have a tough time guessing. I wonder how many people failed for that reason.

    ETA: And as I was writing this I see at least one person who was stumped…

    • marciem says:

      I would have enjoyed the puzzle more if the rebus crossers one way or the other had been clued non-musical, I think. I was pretty stumped on some of the songs and had to guess, even knowing they were colors.

    • Mutman says:

      I think ‘Yellow Submarine’ is the only common knowledge one out there — and that may be stretching it. You think most people know Beatles songs, but let’s be honest — they are over 5o years old. Not sure what the young crowd know.

      I knew Paint it Black and White Wedding. No clue on the others, especially the Cardi B one.

  8. sanfranman59 says:

    OT from the puzzles reviewed here, but this is driving me crazy. I think the Stella who reviews puzzles here occasionally is also the constructor of today’s Newsday puzzle, so I thought I’d post my confusion about a couple of things in that puzzle.

    First, the clue for TO GO {43A: For takeaway, in Britain} completely threw me. “Takeaway” seems British to me and I hear (and use) “to go” all the time here in the US. Shouldn’t the clue be “For takeaway, in the United States” or something like that? It’s entirely possible that I’m losing my mind, but I think that’s the way clues like this usually work in crosswords, no?

    Also, I admit that I’m still stuck in the wired cable TV world, don’t even own a “Smart TV” and don’t fully grasp modern home video terminology/technology, but aren’t streaming devices like ROKU {11D: TiVo alternative} different than DVRs like TiVo? FWIW, Wikipedia doesn’t list them as competitors in either article.

    I really hope this doesn’t come off as in any way critical of Stella’s puzzle. I enjoyed most of my solving experience.

    • David L says:

      You’re right that ‘to go’ is US and ‘takeaway’ is UK. You have to read the clue as saying that TOGO is what would be called takeaway, in Britain. It’s awkward but I’ve seen similar clues in the past.

      ROKU as TiVo alternative seems plain wrong, I agree. Unless a toaster oven is a microwave alternative.

  9. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    Fireball: I appreciated that they did not put circles around the worm holes. Something was obviously up with the corners, but not otherwise identifying the holes made it harder, and sometimes it’s nice to go all in on the difficulty (RIP Saturday Stumper).

  10. Kelly Clark says:

    NYT: Derek’s puzzle is a sweet one, I think. (Maybe because I knew all the songs!) Thank you, Derek and congratulations!

  11. David Roll says:

    Sometimes it is nice to see a ‘bit of trivia” (Baer) that I knew immediately to balance out “Tyrese” who I’m not ashamed to say I have never heard of.

  12. Mark Abe says:

    NYT: Really liked it, and even recognized four of the songs.
    LAT: Dull. I didn’t get the theme until I read this review, and still was not impressed.

  13. P Merrell says:

    NYT: A little late, but today’s puzzle, combined with the STOOL in yesterday’s …

  14. NonnieL says:

    Gareth, what is Olaf clueing?

  15. Jose Madre says:

    NYT: a quick google image search reveals what I already thought to be true… ___ Xing should be clued ____ XING. It is PED XING in 99.9% of images. There seems to be maybe one sign in the world written as Ped Xing and it is such a novelty that people use it as a joke.

    • Martin says:

      The signs don’t matter; the New York Times style guide does. Clues must conform to NYT style and it says Ped Xing. Have you missed the excitement that ensues from a clue using “Nascar”?

  16. Dave says:

    NYT: I have heard of all the artists clued in 17A & 19D. I cannot list one song by any of them. Guessed RED. Naticked two Thursdays in a row *sigh*

  17. Dan88 says:

    Being somewhat new to crosswords, this was my first time trying a NYT Thursday. It wasn’t as hard as I was expecting (although obviously took me several times longer than the time listed above). My big issue was that I wish there had been song title that wasn’t “Bodak”, because I was sure that couldn’t be right since I’ve never heard that word before. I thought “Kodak Yellow” made a lot more sense, but of course that didn’t work out. In the end my app said I had the puzzle right with BODAK, so I shrugged and took the win.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      “Bodak Yellow” was a huge hit—Cardi B’s debut, and the first #1 hit song for a female solo-artist rapper in almost 20 years. Her song was in part a riff on the work of fellow rapper Kodak Black.

      Congrats on finishing your first Thursday puzzle!

  18. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Chiming in late to say how much I enjoyed Derek’s NYT puzzle. I surprised myself by not having heard of the songs by Legend, Lord, and the American (who??) Breed, but JOHN DEERE GREEN isn’t just a song, it’s the company’s official color in its logo and on its tractors. The puzzle’s in the New York Times, but constructor/Fiendster Derek is a Hoosier and I’ll bet he’s seen plenty of John Deere green on his drives.

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