Thursday, March 18, 2021

BEQ 3:22 (Jenni) 


LAT 5:23 (GRAB) 


NYT 8:30 (Ben) 


Universal 4:24 (Jim Q) 


WSJ 6:41 (Jim P) 


Fireball 6:20 (Jenni) 


Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Poker Stars”—Jim P’s review

This is a nice, tight theme involving well-known phrases where the last word can be associated with the game of poker and the first word can be the last name of a famous person.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Poker Stars” · Gary Larson · Thu., 3.18.21

  • 17a. [Cards for “Three Amigos” co-star Martin?] SHORT HAND.
  • 26a. [Nervous tic for “Aquaman” co-star Amber?] HEARD TELL. If you didn’t know, there is an ongoing he-abused/she-abused dispute between Heard and her ex, Johnny Depp. The case goes to trial in about a year.
  • 37a. [Pile of chips for “A Star Is Born” co-star Andrew Dice?] CLAY POT. I didn’t know Clay was still around and performing.
  • 47a. [Matching bet for “Reversal of Fortune” co-star Glenn?] CLOSE CALL.
  • 57a. [Deceptive move for “Star Trek” co-star Chris?] PINE BLUFF. This is the second time recently that PINE BLUFF, Arkansas, has made it into a puzzle. I notice it, because I visited there when my then-fiancee was doing a medical school rotation.

At first, I thought the theme was just playing on the famous last names, which didn’t strike me as anything noteworthy. But when I realized the poker connection, I was suitably impressed. There probably aren’t that many phrases that can fall into this category, so getting them all together and fitting them in a grid is definitely noteworthy.

The fill is not too shabby either with DRAGONS, DOODLES, PESETAS, SILENCE, and BAR ROOM. I balked on CAB IT, though [Take part in the fare trade] which I’ve only ever heard in a song from The Muppet Movie. Google the phrase and there is next to nothing out there. There are a few instances in the Cruciverb database, but with nothing to back them up, I’d say this phrase needs to go. Do people actually say it?

George SEGAL with one of his sculptures

Clues of note:

  • 61a. [Sculptor George]. SEGAL. I guess there are enough actors in the theme, so this was not clued as the actor George SEGAL. I don’t know the artist but his minimalistic sculptures have an eerie look.
  • 4d. [Place to get a shot]. BAR ROOM. Anyone else try BARE ARM first?

A strong theme and solid fill. 3.8 stars.

Tom McCoy’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0318 – 3/18/2021

Tom McCoy has today’s NYT grid and I like the idea of what’s going on.

This one has a bunch of sections of circled squares rather than normal theme entries, so let’s start with the revealer and work backwards from there

  • 33A: With 39- and 44-Across, dramatic work depicted in this puzzle’s grid — MUCH ADO
  • 39A: See 33-Across — ABOUT
  • 44A: See 33-Across — NOTHING

And indeed, we have MUCH ADO — circled squares spelling out FRACAS, FUSS, HUBBUB, UPROAR,  STIR, and RUMPUSABOUT NOTHING — empty squares — in the grid.  It’s clever, and even with empty squares manages to fit in some interesting clues, like the fact that “Eleven plus two and twelve plus one, e.g.” are ANAGRAMS


“Steely Dan, e.g.” are a DUO, much like Donny and Marie here.

Other nice grid bits: IMBUE, PARTAKE, STERILE, CEREBRO, PR FIRM (“The spinners?”), and THE ROBOT

Happy Thursday!

Elise Corbin’s Fireball Crossword, “Playing the Numbers” – Jenni’s write-up

This is Elise Corbin’s first appearance on Fiend. I hope we see a lot more from her! Kudos to Peter for three non-male constructors in a row and three terrific puzzles in a row. This puzzle is a feat of construction that was a lot of fun to solve. Those two things don’t always go together.

I didn’t figure out what was going on until I got to the second theme answer – I read right over the first one without noticing anything. Each theme answer takes the homophone of a number kind of literally. It’s easier to show than describe, at least for me.

Fireball puzzle, March 17, 2021, Elise Corbin, “Play the Numbers,” solution grid

  • 18a [1987 film scripted by John Hughes with the tag line “Before they could stand together, they had to stand alone.”] is SOME KIND OF DERFUL. There is one DERFUL in the answer – or WONDERFUL. I’m sure all my GenX friends got this faster than I did – never seen or heard of the movie. It’s also our Trademark Peter Gordon Very Long Clue for today.
  • 34a [Flipper-friendly seafood] is DOLPHIN SAFE NA NA. Two NA = TUNA. Since TUNA fits, I plopped it in the grid. When it didn’t work, I saw the theme, went back and checked out 18a, and giggled.
  • 44a [“Rumble in the Jungle” matchup] is ALI MAN MAN MAN MAN. Four MAN = FOREMAN.
  • 67a [TV addict] is a COUCH POTOOOOOOOO. Eight Os following PO gives us POTATO.

Four answers that fit this pattern, fit into the symmetry of the grid, include two grid-spanners (it’s 16×15 to accommodate them) and have the numbers double as you go down the grid. This is an amazing puzzle. Thanks, Elise and Peter!

That’s all I have time for this morning! What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle – see above re: SOME KIND OF DERFUL (that makes me laugh. I had to type it again). I’ve also never heard of AESOP‘s “The Swan and the Goose.” I don’t quite see how the moral comes from the story.


Winston Emmons’s Universal crossword, “Has ty Conclusions” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: TY is added to the ends of common phrases to create wacky ones


  • 17A [Devotion to circular take-out food?] PIZZA PIETY
  • 29A [“Of course, Ms. Boop”?] “SURE, BETTY!”
  • 44A [Cat that may bring you a wrench?] TOOL KITTY
  • 57A [Really large place to land?] JUMBO JETTY

I felt a little 59D about this one, especially with it being very similar to Tuesday’s puzzle (the last Universal I blogged). Except Tuesday felt much more clever, so by comparison this one falls flat for me. It does sometimes feel like Universal runs chunks of similar themes near one another, but that’s probably just me.

PIZZA PIETY was my favorite of the themers. It has a sing-songiness to it that I rather enjoy.

I entered JETE (like JETER) for A-ROD [Legendary Yankees shortstop, informally] because I’m all but positive A-ROD was a third baseman for the Yankees. Maybe he played short for a bit? But Jeter was definitely the “legendary shortstop.”

This was all I could find about it from Wikipedia:  Prior to the 2004 season, Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, for whom he converted to a third baseman, because Derek Jeter was already the Yankees’ full-time shortstop. 

2.9 stars today.

Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1349), “It’s A Sign” — Jenni’s review

The theme answers take words or phrases and tack on the Zodiac sign ARIES. Wackiness results.

Brendan Emmett Quigley, Puzzle #1349, “IT’S A SIGN,” solution grid

  • 17a [Group willing to listen to their bosses blather on?] are OPEN SECRETARIES. Open secrets. Took me a while to parse the definition. If they’re OPEN to listening, they’re willing.
  • 27a [Word list that includes Cupid’s bow, philtrum ridges, and upper vermilion borders?] are the LIP GLOSSARIES. Lip gloss. I think that should be word lists, plural, and I always knew that anatomy class would come in handy someday.
  • 43a [Dis songbirds?] is TRASH CANARIES. Trash can.
  • 58a [Edges where magic cease working?] are SPELL BOUNDARIES. Spellbound. Again, the clue seems grammatically not quite right – magic ceases working, maybe?

Fun theme! At first I thought it was going to be different Zodiac signs, but the title clearlky tells is it’s A sign. The minor issues in the clues don’t really bother me. Brendan gives us two high-quality free puzzles every week. It seems churlish to complain about a couple of typos. And I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that if you enjoy Brendan’s puzzles (and I know you do) you should go on over and tip your constructor. We’re lucky enough to be living – and solving – in a golden age of indie crosswords. I want them to make money so we can have more puzzles.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” although THE VERVE sounds familiar. And when I looked up the video, I realized I have heard the song but didn’t know its title, which is ridiculous, because it’s the first line of the song. That’s [Facepalm-inducing].

Joe Deeney’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

This theme is certainly ambitious – four answers are conceived of as imperative sentences – and clued accordingly. All four are supposedly synonyms of “contemplate”. IMAGINEDRAGONS, PICTUREWINDOWS and THINKTANKS all hit the spot, but FIGURESKATES sounds rather more stilted. As it was, this theme set uses left/right only symmetry so I’m guessing there are very few options here.

Some interesting medium to longer choices today: ILLITERATI, DOGTAG and paired HONG/KONG – but these are offset by STLEOI which is one mad entry.


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41 Responses to Thursday, March 18, 2021

  1. R says:

    NYT: Doing this on the site, and it won’t say it’s solved, presumably because I have all these blank squares. I tried putting spaces, O’s, and zeroes in, not getting anything. Any tips on how to make it go? I have a big streak here that I don’t really want to lose because they did some fancy formatting.

  2. pseudonym says:

    5 star NYT gimmick

    That Osmond cover of Steely Dan would probably be effective as an interrogation technique.

    • Mutman says:

      Mercifully, the UN has banned its use against any suspects of interest. It was the only humane thing to do.

  3. RSP64 says:

    NYT: Before I realized the squares inside the circles needed to be blank, I thought the answer to “Steely Dan, e.g.” was DILDO since, according to some sources, that was what the group was named after. I still love their music.

    • Judy Pozar says:

      60A (5) Steely Dan, e.g. Wondering whether this was a deliberate attempt to have the user enter DILDO? The answer is actually DUO, with the 3rd and 4th squares left blank. If this was deliberate, I’m impressed! I learned that Steely Dan came from Borroughs’ “Naked Lunch” and referred to a steam-powered dildo. Also wondering whether this was Will’s clue, or the contructor’s.

  4. David Glasser says:

    Wow, Fireball has actually put real effort into publishing women this year! The last 3 were by solos by women. Ignoring Peter’s own puzzles it’s been 50/50 (three solos by men, two multi gender collaborations, three Peters, assuming I’m extrapolating correctly from names). This is a huge difference from recent years.

    Very cute theme with nicely wacky grid entries.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      Sara Cantor (last week’s constructor) uses she/her or they/them pronouns and is non-binary. Not all the non-male constructors are women – but yes, props to Peter for the shift.

      • David Glasser says:

        Oops, my extrapolation from names was in fact wrong — sorry about that Sara (whose puzzle I also loved)!

    • Jenni Levy says:

      and yes! Great puzzle.

  5. huda says:

    NYT: very fresh, fun theme

    • JohnH says:

      Yeah, I so admired this one. How long since an entirely new gimmick (entirely empty squares), much less one that takes a slow and rewarding discovery?

      I had no idea what the Avengers do and still don’t really get it, but I’ll count it as a learning experience, like STAVE and the intriguing anagram.

      Neither objection from the hold-outs convinces me. Not getting Across Lite to reward you doesn’t seem to me to matter, as long as you know you got it. (No one handed me a huge prize for filling the grid in print.) Nor is it awful if every so often they try something less online friendly. And sure, there will be rebuses on many Thursdays, but if you hate them no degree of quality will convince you.

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Yes. I solved in AL and simply left it with the blank squares. I enjoyed the puzzle so much I did not care about the “Correct!” signal and it’s much more elegant with the squares blank.

        I like rebus puzzles. This wasn’t a rebus, in my book.

  6. Frank says:

    NYT: No, no, no. Go back to the drawing board and please spare us from rebuses.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      or yes yes yes yes more like this, please. I liked it.

      • Billy Boy says:

        I’m with Jenni, I liked it too! A rather easy puzzle, 34D 35D 39A blew it wide open for me. I love rebuses, no surprise I loved playing Concentration! as a child.

        It would have been nice had the numeral zero ( 0 ) or a blank space worked for NYT apps, X is just so wrong. Fussed with my Android Tablet app forever

        Former SF boy here, William Burroughs ( Naked Lunch ) is the source of the Steely Dan dildos.

        It was astonishing how popular the SD music was in the 1980’s when I moved and practiced there. Plus I always loved their music.

        So anyway, a more logical way to rebus this rebus would have been nnice!

  7. damefox says:

    I have nothing against rebuses in general, but the rebuses here aren’t really part of the puzzle, and this was my one complaint with this puzzle, which is not the constructor’s fault at all but rather the fault of the NYT and their crossword site. This puzzle was great – smooth, fun, kudos to Tom McCoy – but solvers should not have to play a game of “what letters do I have to put in these squares before the site will say I got it right” after they’ve solved the puzzle. If I have solved the crossword and understand the theme, I should not have to play around with Xs and rebus NOTHINGs before the grid is accepted as correct. (And then once it’s correct, the rebuses disappear and the squares are blank again! Because the version with blank squares is correct!) The NYT is doing its constructors a huge disservice by these software limitations. Instead of walking away feeling impressed with the puzzle and the constructor, solvers are walking away feeling irritated at the software. Distracting, and totally unnecessary! I refuse to believe there isn’t a workaround for this. Why the NYT hasn’t bothered to find it yet, given how often this comes up, baffles me.

  8. JohnH says:

    Between actors and poker, neither one in my fields of interest, WSJ was a difficult drag for me. FWIW, George Segal is Pop Art, not Minimalism. A modern art textbook calls his Butcher’s Shop a “monument of Pop Art.” He used to be popular not so much because it was seen as creepy but because it felt real and people could relate to it. Subjectively, I think I’ve been saying less of him over the years.

  9. MattF says:

    FWIW, today’s NYT puzzle gave me the ‘finished’ signal with the ‘nothing’ squares empty. Perhaps one has to apply the latest NYT app update (on an iPad) for this to happen. In any case, an excellent puzzle.

  10. Jim Peredo says:

    Fireball: What I liked best about this puzzle was that the theme answers got more and more outlandish as you work your way down the grid, yet they make perfect sense. And yes, the doubling of the numbers is an elegant touch. Kudos!

    • Paul J Coulter says:

      Right – the doubling is a great touch. And the payoff was a pleasure. With the first one, it looked like a homonym deletion, and I’m thinking this isn’t enough for a Fireball. With the second, I think we’ve deleted the tu of tuna, but I have no idea what two letters can complete the phrase. It isn’t until the “four” man sequence of the third that I see what’s going on. And the “eight” O potato string is so outrageous, I suspend disbelief and totally buy in. Exactly what you want in a Fireball. Congratulations, Elise on a first-rate puzzle.

  11. Vic says:

    NYT website wouldn’t let me use “N” – I had to type in NOTHING rebuses in all those squares. Cost me about a minute ?

  12. Karen says:

    NYT: An apt summary of today’s comments: “Much Ado About Nothing.”

  13. David L says:

    I clicked on that Osmonds video when it was featured here before, and the pain still lingers.

    NYT was very good. I decided not to care that I couldn’t figure out how to get Happy Pencil.

  14. Michael says:

    A 5-star puzzle in my book. My only question is why not wait exactly two weeks and run it on April Fool’s? And my only answer is they’ve got another 5-star concept in store for us.

  15. sanfranman59 says:

    Uni: Jim’s right. A-Fraud (aka A-ROD) only played shortstop in 5 of his 1509 games in a Yankee uniform. Other than that, he generally only played third base or was a designated hitter (late in his career). Before joining the Yankees, shortstop was the only position he played as a Major Leaguer.

  16. Luther says:

    WSJ and LAX- Can I blame my miserable solving today on the time change?
    WSJ- changed PEON to PEER then peeked to get PLEB. Thanks, Jim P for solving half the puzzle for me. :-(

  17. Luther says:

    Jim P: forgot to send you this from yesterday:

  18. Everybunny Hurts says:

    Today NYT’s theme was done before by Max Carpenter
    which he first submitted to the NYT which rejected it.

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