Thursday, February 18, 2021

BEQ untimed (Jenni) 


LAT 4:23 (GRAB) 


NYT 9:09 (Ben) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


WSJ 9:31 (Jim P) 


Fireball 7:50 (Jenni) 


Blake Slonecker’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Off the Plate”—Jim P’s review

The central revealer is JUST A BIT OUTSIDE [Ball call, and a hint for entering eight answers].  This sounds like something an announcer might say, not an official call from the umpire. Regardless, what’s going on here is that each of the eight answers mentioned in the revealer clue has the trigram BIT missing from either the beginning or the end. I’m not keen on the extraneous “JUST,” but it gets the phrase to fit nicely as a central grid-spanner.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Off the Plate” · Blake Slonecker · Thu., 2.18.21

  • 16a. [They’re tough to swallow] {BIT}TER PILLS. It was impossible to discern what was going on based on this entry alone since a solver could make the phrase BITTER PILLS starting with the B at square 3 and then moving—Boggle-style—down to the left and around. Turns out, this was just coincidence.
  • 17a. [Flossing, for example] GOOD HA{BIT}. Here I was looking to make HYGIENE but there was no Y to be found in that corner. So now I was thoroughly confused.
  • 21a. [Cryptocurrency access point] {BIT}COIN ATM. Is this really a thing?
  • 25a. [Satellite’s path] EARTH OR{BIT}. Assuming the satellite is encircling Earth, that is.
  • 48a. [Failed completely] {BIT} THE DUST. Obligatory Queen link.
  • 52a. [It gives you the works] ART EXHI{BIT}. “Gives”?
  • 57a. [Taffy with a bee mascot] {BIT} O’HONEY. Yum. (Don’t @ me!)
  • 60a. [His father “was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor”] PETER RAB{BIT}.

The revealer did its job here. I was mostly lost after the first four entries looking for the missing letters, but getting the aha moment made the bottom half of the grid much more smooth. I still don’t quite buy that it’s a commonly accepted phrase, but as the basis for a puzzle—like I said—it does the job.

With the four pairs of theme answers and the 15-letter revealer, there’s only one other pair of longish answers: TIE SCORE and ACADEMIA (both very nice).

But the heavy load of theme material is felt in the fill starting off with ALB at 1a. It continues with ATILTEX-ARMY, ONE-D, AD MAN, and plural OTS on top of crossword staples ONO, EMILE, ETHANE, ECO, EOSEDY, etc. I would much rather solve a puzzle with six themers in addition to the revealer so that the grid would have room for cleaner, sparklier fill.

I didn’t know NBAer KAWHI Leonard, but I don’t mind learning about him. (Apparently he’s number 9 on the all-time list of players with the largest hands.)

I ended up enjoying this theme, but the surrounding fill sapped its strength to a degree. 3.4 stars.

Zachary Spitz’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0218 – 2/18/2021

This Thursday’s NYT has a pretty straightforward theme — the four circled squares in the grid are TV SPOTS (“Many P.S.A.s … or the four circled squares in this grid?”), and as such, either a T or a V fits for the clued words:

  • 17A: Designs — IN[T/V]ENTIONS
  • 3D: Some accommodations — HO[T/V]ELS
  • 34A: Separate from all the others, say — REMO[T/V]E
  • 27D: Give five stars, say — RA[T/V]E
  • 41A: Famous peanut grower — CAR[T/V]ER
  • 42D: Certain outer coating — [T/V]ARNISH
  • 56A: Like some libertarians — ANTI-[T/V]AX
  • 48D: Like an Oscars afterparty — LA[T/V]ISH

This isn’t my favorite genre of Thursday puzzle that pops up in the Times, but this is solidly executed.

ASK ME what my favorite BRITCOM is, and I’ll tell you The Vicar of Dibley, for moments like this.


Happy Thursday!

Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim’s Fireball Crossword, “What a Cast of Characters” – Jenni’s write-up

A woman co-wrote this Fireball! I’m not familiar with Rob’s work although Peter’s note says he’s been published in the LAT, so I might have done one of his puzzles and forgotten the byline. Jennifer is one of those names that always makes me smile when I see it. I like her puzzles and I’m usually on her wavelength. Not so much this time. It’s a good puzzle. I’m not a fan of anagrams, I’m not very good at anagrams, and this puzzle is full of anagrams.

Each theme answer is a wacky phrase that’s an ANAGRAM of an actor’s name, clued as an occupation and the costar of the anagrammed actor. 43a gives us the 411: [Actors to costar, literally, and a hint to 18-, 24-, 56-, and 68-Across and 12- and 31-Down]. Lots of theme material.

Fireball puzzle, February 18, 2021, Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim, “What a Cast of Characters,” solution grid.

  • 12d [Costarring role for Tia Carrere; furious NASCAR driver?] is an IRATE RACER.
  • 18a [Costarring role for Ansel Elgort; pothead on the up and up?] is a LEGAL STONER.
  • 24a [Costarring role for Demi Moore; silent performer who distracts bulls?] is RODEO CLOWN. That one made me laugh.
  • 31d [Costarring role for Will Arnett; birthday-sharing sibling with greater stature?] is the TALLER TWIN.
  • 56a [Costarring role for Jared Leto; airplane luggage hauler?] is a JET LOADER.
  • 68a [Costarring role for Adam Sandler; melancholy city official?] is a SAD ALDERMAN.

As I said, a lot of theme material, and as is often the case, the fill suffers. I don’t like ASLANT, which I never see outside of crosswords. We also have IDEATE (same issue) and SENDEE, which is a roll-your-own. A [Letter getter] is a RECIPIENT.

Things I did like:

  • 19d [Bursa purse contents] is an original clue for our old friend LIRAS. Bursa is a city in Turkey.
  • This is a very difficult year to be the DEAN of Admissions at any college or university. No tours, no interviews, lots of kids who can’t access the SAT or ACT and are doing remote school so who knows what their grades even mean? And that’s in addition to the dire financial straits facing a lot of institutions. I know the process has been random, soul-sucking, classist, and racist. I still have empathy for the people charged with creating a college class comprised of students whose junior and senior years of high school have been wildly disrupted, to say the least. And of course for the students themselves.
  • Speaking of fresh clues for stale entries, we have [Start of many rapper names] for ASAP.
  • I’m very fond of the word APLOMB. I don’t know why.
  • [Carps] are not fish. Well, they are, but the puzzle is looking for NAGS.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that there’s a football formation called the PISTOL and that the motto of the Seabees is CAN DO.

Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1341), “Em Dash” — Jenni’s review

Trust Brendan to take a tried-and-true theme idea and spin it in a way that you’ll never see in a mainstream puzzle outlet. Each theme answer has M+vowel added to the beginning of a name or phrase. The vowels go in order: A, E, I, O, U. I didn’t see Y.

Brendan Emmett Quigley, Puzzle #1341, “Em Dash,” solution grid

  • 18a [Babes in a fraternal group?] are MASONIC YOUTH (Sonic Youth).
  • 27a [They flow with Bordeaux reds?] are MEDOC RIVERS (Doc Rivers).
  • 40a [Bad golf slice from the roof?] is a MISHIT ON A SHINGLE (shit on a shingle).
  • 55a [Places a lid on in an ethical way?] is MORALLY CAPS (rally caps).
  • 66a [Pirate rebel who does a quick step?] is a MUTINY DANCER (tiny dancer).

Neat and consistent. All the base phrases are in the language and 40a is worth the price of admission. Which reminds me: if you enjoy doing these puzzles, head over to Brendan’s tip jar and thank him for all the fun.

A few other things:

  • I’m not usually a fan of cross-references at 1a or 1d. I’ll make an exception for [Cousins of the 2-Down] for NAVAJO and APACHE. Two reasons: representation, and propinquity. Cross-references don’t bother me as much when I don’t have to go hunting for the other one elsewhere in the grid.
  • Also not usually a fan of FITB clues, but [“Yeah, ____ that…”] for ABOUT is fun.
  • I still play PHONE TAG with some of my patients, since we don’t have a HIPAA-compliant text app and they can’t call me back directly.
  • I grew up in Westchester County. My husband grew up in Rochester, NY. [Upstate New York engineering coll.] is the sort of clue that we argue about. I agree with Brendan that RPI is locating upstate. My husband would have dropped in RIT because he does not consider Troy, NY, to be “upstate.”
  • A music clue in a BEQ puzzle I actually know the answer to! [Bob Marley classic with the repeated words “little darlin'”] is STIR IT UP.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of RILEY Gale.

David Alfred Bywaters’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

I’ve never heard of a KITCHENMATCH before. It seems to be an oversize match for lighting gas stoves. Never had much exposure to non-electric stoves in general. The rest of theme is slightly oddball. MUG, DISH, CAN and PAN appear to be “matched” with words that begin with them, creating wacky answers. It seems a bit slight to me, but I guess it’s at least something a bit different. Also, I’m not sure I’d call a MUGGER a petty criminal? MUGGING implies assault, does it not?


    • ZODIAC – [Belt with 12 parts] – Ophiuchus would like a word…
    • OPRAH – [Winfrey of… Henrietta Lacks”] – We don’t see HeLa much in puzzles, which is a shame.

ROARAT – to me this makes me envisage Brian Blessed…
Interesting contrast between HERON, clued accurately as [Egret, for one] and HARE. True egrets are one genus,

    • Egretta

, in the heron family Ardeidae. True HAREs belong to one genus, Lepus, in the rabbit family Leporidae. There is no way to define rabbit that is monophyletic without including hares.


David Alfred Bywaters’ Universal crossword, “Binary Re-presentation?” — Jim Q’s write-up

I hope you like a RE-peated theme :)

Universal crossword solution · “Binary RE-presentation” · David Alfred Bywaters · Thur., 2.18.2i

THEME: RE has been added twice to common phrases


  • [What you may lack after walking up to the tenth floor?] SPARE BREATH. Spa bath.
  • [How origami is made?] CREASE BY CREASE. Case by case. 
  • [Supplies new hats for the Army Special Forces?] REPLACES BERETS. Places bets. 
  • [Baker’s nightmare?] BREAD RECALL. Bad call. 
  • [Fixes added to 18-, 29-, 46- and 59-Across?] REPAIRS. 

I found this one very enjoyable today. A little twist on the “Add Some Letters” theme with RE being in there twice. A great revealer. Solid wacky phrases. What else could you want?

I really struggled in the center of the puzzle as I was having difficulty seeing CREASE BY CREASE (I was looking for a two word phrase). The fill in that area was rough for me too. BLASS was only vaguely familiar, and I misinterpreted the clue [Prefix for adjusted],  wracking by brain for a prefix that meant adjusted rather than one that preceded the word. And while I appreciate a fresh clue, the one for ESME was out of my reach (despite the Squalor nudge in the clue). I figured it out though, and I’m definitely not complaining about being a little puzzled. That’s the point of a puzzle.

Spa bath? I’m unfamiliar with that as a phrase. Been a long time since I’ve been to a spa.

What a fantastic title! I almost forgot to mention that.

4.5 stars. Be safe out there.

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27 Responses to Thursday, February 18, 2021

  1. Scott says:

    I enjoyed the NYT puzzle very much today.

  2. Dave S says:

    Jim P – I’m gathering that you’re not a big sports fan. “Just a bit outside” is a catch phrase of humorous announcer Bob Uecker, immortalized in the film Major League.

    • JohnH says:

      Ah, thanks. The inclusion of JUST threw me too.

    • JohnH says:

      I should add that I do follow baseball, meaning to me as a native NYer the Yankees, although mostly in the papers (the way we followed such things when I was a kid) or else at the gym or in a bar where the sound is off. But had it been on, I can’t say many a sports fan follows Milwaukee games, no?

  3. Mutman says:

    NYT: Seemed overly dull as I had 2 Ts and 2 Vs in there, but then it hit me and I liked it a lot!

    Not a fan of the UIE/MANSE crossing. In fact, I vote that every use of UIE/UYE/YOOEY and whatever else is conjured up, be thrown in the crossword pyre!

    • pannonica says:

      UEY is the One True Spelling.

      in my book

    • RM Camp says:

      Agreedo, ugh. Just not a fan of the word at all, myself. I dunno, I just find it, and its rhyming kin ooey and gooey (and GUI, which I refuse to pronounce as a word) just… squicky.

      I just happened to put Vs in each circle without giving it any thought, and it wasn’t even until I checked the commentary here that I found out what was going on. I slapped myself for being so dumb.

  4. MattF says:

    Completely missed the T -or- V aspect of today’s NYT theme. I had three ‘T’s and one ‘V’, and got the TADA sound, so everything appeared to be okey-dokey.

  5. Crotchety Doug says:

    Loved BEQ today. I thought I had grokked the theme after 18A. After finally finishing the puzzle the completeness of the theme became apparent – all five vowels are used once, in order. The very last entry I finished was 40A, and I loved that one. Even knowing the theme wasn’t much help in putting together answers from across the spectrum of human knowledge, from music (18A, 66A) to sports (27A) to old slang (40A) and new slang (55A), this puzzle has it all. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll stop there.

    If you’re struggling with this one, keep at it – the result is worth the effort. M_

    • Mutman says:

      Agreed — I struggled, but the grok was worth it!

    • marciem says:

      I agree… loved it!

      I LOL’ed when I got 40a, which got me to the theme. Still some crunchy work in there, just the way I like it.

      creamed chipped beef on toast… does anyone still eat that?

  6. Billy Boy says:

    Exquisite WSJ today, pedestrian NYT, both good solves.

  7. STEVEN says:

    no one mentioned that the tv’s worked down as well??
    imo, that elevated the puzzle a bit

    or did i miss it

    • marciem says:

      Ben gives the downs right after the acrosses in his review.

      Is there a name for this kind of puzzle, I wonder? It isn’t a Schrodinger puzzle exactly, but I thought I saw a name for it at one time where different letters both work.

  8. Gale G Davis says:

    WSJ – anyone care to explain ONE D ? 27D

    • marciem says:


      Wiki: “An example of a one-dimensional space is the number line, where the position of each point on it can be described by a single number”,

      First time I encountered “oned” in a puzzle the clue was “flat” and my mind went to an apartment kind of flat, so I figured, “OK, so an apartment address can be #1-D”. HAH :D

  9. Mac says:

    In the Fireball, can someone explain “Era” for 28A “Abbr. in a softball trivia question?”? Thanks.

  10. Kathy James says:

    This was a fun puzzle. Thank you! And the You Tube “Just a Bit Outside” is fantastic.

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