Thursday, May 6, 2021

BEQ 4:38 (Jenni) 


LAT 4:54 (GRAB) 


NYT 5:40 (Ben) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


Fireball 3:05 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Dress Down” – Jenni’s write-up

This seems like a pretty thin theme for a Fireball puzzle. It’s more like a Tuesday NYT than a Thursday, and as my time suggests, there wasn’t anything in the fill to make it more challenging. I figured it out with the first theme answer (the circles made it hard to miss) and kept waiting for something more….but no. There are three theme answers and a revealer.

Fireball crossword, May 5, 2021, Peter Gordon, “Dress Down,” solution grid

  • 5d [Unusually good agreements] are SWEETHEART DEALS.
  • 7d ]Landmark Supreme Court case of 1803] is MARBURY V MADISON. This case established the principle of judicial review, which holds that the Supreme Court can strike down laws that conflict with the Constitution. I’m sure I knew that back when Mr. Mendelsohn taught AP American History.
  • 10d [ Workers in charge of upkeep] are the MAINTENANCE CREW.

The revealer (so to speak): 3d [With 38-Down, the theme of this puzzle] is PLUNGING NECKLINESWEETHEART neckline, V-neck, and CREW neck. The necklines move downward across the grid, and so do the two revealers. It’s solid and consistent and all the other things I routinely praise in Monday NYT themes, and that’s all well and good. I want more from the Fireball, and Peter usually delivers. Not this time (unless I’m missing something. Am I missing something?)

A few other things:

  • There are two relatively challenging geographic entries in the NW: 2d [One end of the Johor-Singapore Causeway] is MALAYSIA, crossing 14a [Where kwacha are spent], MALAWI. Geography is not my strong suit – it’s not even in my closet. They still didn’t slow me down because the rest of that corner is pretty much gimmes and I have at least heard of both countries.
  • 7a [Ones who have gotten body wraps?] are MUMMIES. Cute.
  • I may have forgotten the details of MARBURY V MADISON but I remember “Cat’s Cradle” from high school (yes, I read Vonnegut for a high school English class) so 18a [Bokonism is one in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”] was also a gimme. It’s RELIGION.
  • 20d [Patrick Creadon’s documentary after “Wordplay”] was IOUSA, on the National Debt.
  • 36d [Donation recipient] is GIVEE. Come on.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that anyone would put GIVEE in a puzzle. I also did not know that “Without a Trace” came on after CSI, or that MARALAGO is a National Historic Landmark. This designation predates its current ownership.

Ed Sessa’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0506 – 05/06/2021

Today’s puzzle from Ed Sessa has more going on under the surface than may initially appear to be the case:

  • 23A: Kansas or Kentucky, politically – [RED] STATE
  • 29A: Certain Miller beers – [RED] DOGS
  • 43A: Rhetoric for the political base, figuratively — [RED] MEAT
  • 45A: Warning sign — [RED] FLAG

these are all well and good, but the revealer shows that the theme is actually RIGHT ON RED (63A, “Traffic go-ahead that should be followed four times in this puzzle”).  Looking at the downs that intersect the [RED] squeares, those entries can’t work without some twisting to the right when they hit [RED]:

  • 2D: Drunkenness or hypnosis — ALTE[RED] STATE
  • 9D: Poodles, but not schnoodles or doodles — PUREB[RED] DOGS
  • 31D: Pancetta or prosciutto — CU[RED] MEAT
  • 18D: Something waved when a race is won — CHECKE[RED] FLAG

I thought this was cute, even if I caught on to what was going on early and slashed through the majority of the grid.

I think this is my favorite of Bill “BOJANGLES” Robinson’s performances on film

other fill of note: A shout-out to Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Anti-RACIST” at 1A, STAGE ACTOR, HONEST ABE, DON’T PANIC, KARL Lagerfeld, INGOTS, and SPLOTCH

Happy Thursday!

Zachary David Levy & Bruce Haight’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Dodgy Figures”—Jim P’s review

The central revealer is PYRAMID SCHEME (33a, [Financial fraud, and a hint to the circled letters]). The circled letters in the four corners of the grid are shaped like tiny pyramids and comprise words that are synonyms of “scheme.”

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Dodgy Figures” · Zachary David Levy & Bruce Haight · Thu., 5.6.21

Those synonyms are PLOY, WILE, RUSE, and HOAX.

Cute, but once you figure that out, there’s not a lot of enjoyment to be squeezed out of the theme. Grokking the theme did help me in the lower half of the grid—which is the main job of a theme—but I had to look to the fill for further amusement.

I found some in APPLE PAY, BOWL GAME, BUDDY UP, LOCK ONTO, MUPPET, and Aziz ANSARI. I’d never heard of MEAT AXES as another term for cleavers, but that was fun to learn.

What was less fun was RATE CARD [Ad rep’s offering] which feels like something only people in the business would know, and I’d never heard of the painter LIPPI. Also, that NE corner is saddled with some crusty stuff like ECLAT, ENSEAL, and ATINGE. Blurgh.

Scooter the MUPPET and Elizabeth Banks

Clues of note:

  • 17a. [Scooter, e.g.]. MUPPET. Scooter was basically the team’s manager and gofer. I always liked Scooter for his positive, can-do attitude and the fact that his eyes were embedded into his glasses.
  • 27a. [Hitchcock film that takes place in a Manhattan penthouse]. ROPE. I’ve never seen it, but I believe this is the one that seems to have been filmed in one long, continuous take, although that’s obviously not the case. Cuts were disguised with various techniques, like having an actor walk very close to the camera. But, per Wikipedia, most scenes last up to 10 minutes. Apparently, star Jimmy Stewart was exasperated by the whole procedure with all the planning and practice required.
  • 31a. [Friday’s org.]. LAPD. Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet.
  • 3d. [Phone charger?]. APPLE PAY. Nice clue.
  • 20d. [His “Marsuppini Coronation” is in the Vatican]. LIPPI. You can see the painting here. Marsuppini wasn’t the one being crowned; it was Mary being crowned by her son Jesus. Marsuppini was a donor. I guess if you’re rich enough, you get to have your likeness immortalized with the likes of Jesus and Mary and hung in the Vatican.

Lots of ups and downs in this grid, which is somewhat appropriate for a pyramid-based theme. 3.5 stars.

Kyle Dolan’s Universal crossword, “Bighearted” — Jim Q’s write-up

Great title! It also serves as the revealer.

THEME: Words that can follow “Big” are at the “heart” of common phrases.

Universal crossword solution · “Bighearted” · Kyle Dolan · Thur., 5.06.21


  • SOLID EARTH. Big Idea. 
  • TOMATO PASTE. Big Top.
  • PANAMA CANAL. Big Mac. 
  • MAKE A STINK. Big East. 

This is pretty nifty. At first, I thought it was an “unscramble-the-hidden-word” theme since I entered SOLID GROUND and saw IDGR circled. I anagrammed that to GRID and spent a couple seconds trying to think of revealers that would hint at mixing those letters.

Then I realized I misspelled GROUND in order to get it to fit. When I corrected it and saw IDEA the theme was apparent.

Other good stuff in this grid:

  • 24A [Heat shield?] MITT. Oven mitt. For some reason, I was picturing the Miami Heat with protective catcher’s mitts on their hands, which would make for an awfully interesting basketball game.
  • 22D [Wager for lager, maybe?] TYPO. An excellent callback to the clue for 12D [Wager over lager, say] BAR BET. 
  • 41D [Grapefruit diet, e.g.] FAD. Glad I never hopped on that bandwagon. I hadn’t  heard of it ’til now. Sounds gross.
  • 8D [Comedian McKinnon] KATE. She is so wildly talented.

I can’t not include my recurring complaint that this puzzle is better served with circles, and I find it odd that Universal is not addressing its inability to include circles on its widely available platforms more quickly (I was told that a fix was coming, but that was over a year ago). For me, it’s a completely different solve experience with circles. Here is a screenshot of an example:

Without reading the clue, I was able to enter MAC off of the C in MANIC because the theme, the fill, and the circles were working synergistically. I would not be able to do that with the “workaround” where Universal asks its solvers to count letters and mentally circle them in their minds-eyes.

If Universal is confident with the workaround solution, then why bother to offer a different solve experience by including a grid with circled letters on this site?

Anyway, puzzle itself was a lot of fun.

4 stars with circles. 2.5 without.



Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1363), “Unearthly” — Jenni’s review

All the theme entries are well-know phrases that have been punnily reworked to include extraterrestrial references.

Brendan Emmett Quigley, Puzzle # 1363, “Unearthly,” solution grid

  • 17a [Things Chewbacca does that prevent the Millennium Falcon from flying?] would be WOOKIE MISTAKES (rookie mistakes). I’m not going to give him that feedback. Any takers?
  • 25a [Where Jake Sully spends most of his time during “Avatar”?] is IN THE NAVI (in the Navy).
  • 31a [With 46-Across, “Forget about Doctor Who’s enemies”?] is NEVER MIND THE DALEKS. I need some help with the base phrase here – it’s not coming to me. UPDATE: Thanks to David Glasser in comments for alerting me to “Never Mind The Bollocks,” an album by the Sex Pistols. No links since I’m posting this from work (shhh).
  • 51a [With 64-Across, that “Star Trek” alien doing somebody’s manicure?] is KLINGON BY ONES FINGERNAILS (clinging by one’s fingernails).

I love a Klingon as much as the next casual Trekker, but that last one doesn’t sit right with me. Hanging on by one’s fingernails, sure. Clinging? Not so much. The Google Ngram viewer agrees with me. I can’t say anything more about this than “all the punnified answers are amusing.” When someone tells me what the Doctor Who reference is based on, I’ll know what I think of it overall.

A few other things:

  • Given the theme, I thought 1a [Org. for green-minded women?] might refer to aliens. Nope. Golfers. It’s LPGA.
  • I really can’t stand Guy FIERI. Just me?
  • 20a [Not one of Dem. folks?] is a great clue for IND.
  • Could have done without PRE TV and REAIR. The former is roll-your-own and the latter was replaced by RERUN if it was ever a thing to start with.
  • KNORR chicken soup was my favorite commercial chicken soup when I was a kid. Not nearly as good as my mothers, of course, but SO much better than the slimy noodles in the canned stuff.
  • Very grateful that my mother didn’t need an iron lung when she had POLIO at the age of 17, shortly before the vaccine was introduced. In related news, get your COVID vaccine, people! It’s the most effective vaccine I’ve ever seen but it won’t work if you don’t actually get it.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of the Coldplay album “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends.” Also did not know that Kirsten DUNST appeared in “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” which has to be one of the great TV series titles of all time. Looks like it’s on Showtime, which we don’t have, so I’ll have to figure out if it’s worth tracking down. Opinions?

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

LA Times

Another day with a fairly basic theme concept, but with interesting answers keeping it from feeling stale. The revealer is DUSTJACKET, and as seen in the added circles, four two part answers are flanked by DU/ST. I liked all the entries – DUMMYWHIST, DUNKCONTEST, DUALEXHAUST plus DUEWEST as a clever way to include a fourth entry without weakening the grid design.


  • [Muse’s gift, in modern slang], INSPO. Who is saying this? It sounds Australian… They like to end slang in -o. See: bottle-o.
  • Cattle Egret

    [Everglades bird, EGRET]. Didn’t go there on my last off day, but did visit Strandfontein Sewage Works. The only one of the six true egrets found here I saw was Little, but I did also see (Western) Cattle Egrets, which are not true egrets…

  • [Miso soup base], DASHI. New to me, but Japanese cooking is very popular.
  • Less savoury fill choices: ARMSSALES & ASSAD. Grim mini-theme that.


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23 Responses to Thursday, May 6, 2021

  1. AV says:

    NYT: Smooth easy solve. Two nits: i) Why leave the SW corner “un-rebus-ed”? ii) Why all those blocks that constrict the flow? Would have been more elegant if these two issues were resolved. [Answer to i): SNAREDRUM works]

  2. Lise says:

    NYT: I awoke this morning a little on the grumpy side – no particular reason, but there it was – and this puzzle was entirely what the metaphorical doctor ordered. It was a smooth solve, with notes of perkiness distributed throughout, to be discovered and savored.

    I did wonder whether “hypnotic” might have been a better word choice than “hypnosis” in the clue for 2D? No matter which, the puzzle was a great start to my day. I loved the clue for TEAT (25D: Udder end).

    Thanks also to Ben for the video. Those were two amazing people.

    • JohnH says:

      I’d have said that ALTERED STATES is a plural noun, so requires the clue as is.

      I enjoyed the puzzle, although the theme squares fall where they may and the “right turn” is from the point of view of the solver, rather than the entry itself. Someone following that path would be making a left, no?

      • BOB says:

        Agree that these are left turns, as you read them. Like the puzzle and the idea. Just a little nit on knowing left from right. HAHA

  3. Steve Manion says:

    Great video. I watch great dancers all the time to gain hints on how to improve my balance. ASTAIRE, KELLY, GINGER ROGERS, and others of their era were great, but Bill Robinson is 57 in the video with Shirley Temple and Astaire called this NICHOLAS BROTHERS number from Stormy Weather the greatest dance sequence of all time:


    • janie says:

      so many great screen dance performances. so little time!


    • Tim in Queens says:

      The one I find the most historically fascinating is Bill Robinson doing the stair dance. Imagine having a video of Mozart improvising. This is the equivalent of that.

    • Patrick M says:

      I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that Nicholas Brothers video, but every time I do, I think it’s impossible how good they are. Ed Sessa’s NYT puzzle concept was nice, with its two levels.

  4. JohnH says:

    Not that it matters, but I knew of Lippi, the painter in the WSJ puzzle, before I took an interest in the Renaissance and art, because we were assigned a popular poem about him by Robert Browning. It was one of Browning’s innovative dramatic monologues, and I loved it, although I bet I’d find it sentimental as can be today.

    Lippi’s seriously mainstream as Florentine painters of the 15th century go. He got his patronage and encouragement from the Medici, the de facto ruling family. He may not have assisted Masaccio, who all but single-handedly kicked off Italian Renaissance painting after it had a long set back for almost 100 years since the death of Giotto. (It’s what I most regret having not seen in European art, but it was in restoration when I visited Florence.) Or he may have, but either way he was present as Masaccio worked on important church frescos, and that was his schooling in art. In turn, he did teach Boticelli, who is of course now better known by the public than either. He has something of Masaccio’s solidity and drama and Boticelli’s sense of beauty and intellectualized staging. He’s well represented in museums, including an ok double-portrait at the Met here in New York.

  5. Billy Boy says:


    Clever if simple, slightly under utilized trick (2 or 3) more intersection uses potentially, but a very clean puzzle solve, really fun and accessible.

    I like the Thursday trick variety and this one shows they can be fun for more and less capable solvers. They don’t have to all be back-busters.

  6. Mutman says:

    NYT: I enjoyed this puzzle — appropriate Thursday.

    I got hung up near the revealer. To slightly nitpick (do people do that on this site?!?!), I am more familiar with the term, RIGHT TURN ON RED, so it made that corner a bit more challenging. That and the SASH/THRUMS/MARNE crossings were a bit crosswordese to me.

    Well done though!

  7. Ethan says:

    NYT: Great puzzle. Did anyone think the revealer sold the puzzle short? There was a puzzle with the same revealer before ( but this puzzle has even more going on than just turning, with the across answer working as a stand-alone red phrase in its own right, and the last word of the phrase, STATE, DOG, FLAG, MEAT being used in a different or figurative sense. I don’t know that there’s a better revealer that could capture all that, but the consistency was really elegant.

  8. ktd says:

    Thanks for the write-up of my Universal puzzle, Jim. Credit goes to the editors for the great clue for MITT, as well as changing the clue on TYPO to echo my clue for BAR BET.

  9. david glasser says:

    BEQ: “Never mind the bollocks” is half of a Sex Pistols album title (,_Here%27s_the_Sex_Pistols)

  10. Tim in Queens says:

    There’s a slight difference between REAIR and rerun, I think. The first would be for a single episode show or a sports or other live event, the second for a series.

  11. Zulema says:

    Great NYT Thursday. Ed Sessa is always go0d!!

  12. AndyHat says:

    Universal: I solve this in the NY Daily News, which lacks not only the circles but also the title! So I had no IDEA what the theme was until I read the write-up here.

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