Thursday, May 20, 2021

BEQ tk (Jenni) 


LAT 3:50 (GRAB) 


NYT 11:52 (Ben) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


WSJ 8:09 (Jim P) 


Fireball untimed (Amy) 


Adam Wagner’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In Half”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar-ish phrases whose first word is a number which is double the number found in the circled letters of said phrases. These first words are DOUBLE HEADERS according to 61a [Ballpark events, or what 17-, 31- and 48-Across all have].

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “In Half” · Adam Wagner · Thu., 5.20.21

  • 17a. [They’re not grounded] TWO-PRONG OUTLETS. Ugh, those outlets are so annoying when you need to plug in something with three prongs. My parents’ house is replete with them.
  • 31a. [They may be replaced with asterisks] FOUR-LETTER WORDS.
  • 48a. [Certain assessments of first-year employees] SIX-MONTH REVIEWS.

I liked this. I wasn’t paying attention to the theme until about 2/3 of the way through the solve, then I looked up and had a nice aha moment.

Interesting construction with left/right symmetry and with the constructor choosing to go with all grid-spanning theme entries. I also appreciate the numerical progression as the solver works their way down the grid.

There are a lot of constraints here, including the sheer amount of theme material. And that’s why I’m surprised there’s not more gunky bits in the fill. There’s even some fun stuff: “I OWE YOU,” LION CUB, DEEP FRY, ALTOIDS, AXOLOTL (all of these crossing two theme entries!), and INERTIA. I’d maybe try to cut out TWIN SET since it feels theme-adjacent, but it also is crossing two theme entries, so the choices must have been limited.

The only place I winced was with TRIERS [Judges and juries]. Ouch. That second R was my last letter to go in the grid, and I was mildly surprised that it was correct. But given how difficult this grid must have been to fill, and how clean the rest of the grid feels, I can get over it.

Clues of note:

  • 16a. [Fleck with a banjo]. BÉLA. I’ve seen this name only in crosswords, so I decided to check him out. I’m glad I did, but I couldn’t decide which video to embed here. Finally, I decided to link to this beautiful video (pro tip: have it on the background while you peruse the rest of Fiend). But the video below is just too fun not to have it here. Enjoy!
  • 36a. [Game that includes the Selenitic Age]. MYST. Whew! That’s some trivia I expect only hardcore MYST fans will know. I never completed the game so I just made an educated guess.
  • 58a. [Protagonist of Zola’s “Germinal”]. ETIENNE. I’m thankful I had a college classmate with this name.
  • 60a. [Artists Against Fracking co-founder]. ONO. That’s a good new clue I haven’t seen before.
  • 65a. [Piano piece]. RAG. Who else put KEY here first?
  • 12d. [Tin mints?]. ALTOIDS. I’m not sure a question mark is warranted here. I guess it’s there because the clue resembles “thin mints.”
  • 43d. [Salamander planned to be added to the design of Mexico’s 50-peso note by 2022]. AXOLOTL. Nice bit of trivia to learn. My daughter did a report on these critters a couple years ago and they became her favorite animals.

A dense grid with a nifty theme, strong fill, and thoughtful cluing. Four stars.

Trenton Charlson’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0520 – 05/20/2021

It’s so rare that you see a theme that relies on the down clues rather than the acrosses, so it was delightful to get an AHA moment when working on the downs of Trenton Charlson’s latest for the NYT:

  • 3D: “…know what I’m saying?” — IF YOU CATCH MY DRI
  • 11D: Who said “Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever” — WILLIAM HOWARD TA
  • 34D: Game show loser’s prize — PARTING GI
  • 36D: Movable aerial platform — SCISSOR LI
  • 46D: Drill command — EYES LE
  • 47D: Like havarti or Muenster — SEMI-SO
  • 29A: With 38A, Emmy-winning HBO drama whose name suggests this puzzle’s theme — SIX FEET/UNDER

Each of the theme phrases are just a little too long for the grid – all six of their respective FTs (IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT, WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT, PARTING GIFT, SCISSOR LIFT, EYES LEFT, SEMI-SOFT) all end up UNDER the grid.

Regular crossword entrant and singer SIA got her first major burst of US fame from the song “Breathe Me”‘s appearance in the Six Feet Under finale!

other fill of note: EPONYMS! FIONA Apple, SPY SWAP (is this a thing?  no, seriously, is this a thing?), NIA PEEPLES, OLD SAXON, SCORSESE, and LOLA FALANA

Happy Thursday!

Chandi Deitmer’s Fireball crossword, “Bottoming Out”—Amy’s write-up

Fireball crossword solution, 5 20 21, “Bottoming Out”

Hello! It’s Amy filling in for Jenni this week. Chandi’s Fireball puzzle is a plus-sized 17×17 with a 16-piece theme. The revealer is 78a. [Misogynistic song with the lyric “Girl I like the way your booty, booty, booty popped” … and a hint to this puzzle’s theme], “DROP IT LOW.” I don’t know the song, but the letter pair IT gets “dropped low” from five familiar phrases, and you’ll find that IT dangling beneath the letter it should follow, and each IT is in a two-way rebus square:

  • 19a. [College lecturer who makes you shout “Ew!”?], GROSS PROF (gross profit minus IT) / 24a. [She had a duet with Natalie in the song “A Boy Like That / I Have a Love” in “West Side Story”], R{IT}A and 8d. [Upgrades, as machinery], REF{IT}S. The IT rebus sits below the F from PROF(IT).
  • 30a. [Music group that will lay one on you?], KISSING BAND (kissing bandit) / 35a. [Quality], TRA{IT} and14d. [Bitterness], ACRID{IT}Y.
  • 36a. [Middle-class bunch of cats and dogs?], PET BOURGEOIS (petit bourgeois) / 40a. [Point, e.g. ], UN{IT} and 29d. [Thing], ENT{IT}Y.
  • 62a. [Practice for a hairstylist-in-training?], LEARNER’S PERM (learner’s permit) / 68a. [Aboveboard], LIC{IT} and51d. [Akkadian, for example], SEM{IT}E.
  • 69a. [Opportunity to ask “But was it really you? Or was it me?”?], EX INTERVIEW (exit interview—and I love this themer!) / 73a. [Respite from the road], P{IT}STOP and60d. [Cher song from her “Believe” album with the lyric “I’m gonna ride with you all night”], “TAX{I, T}AXI. Don’t know that song.

Editor Peter Gordon tends to be more artisanal than some of the newspaper crossword editors, so Fireball puzzles typically have smooth and interesting fill, generally low on the “I can’t believe this stale, old entry is in here in 2021” scale. Highlights in the fill include an EASY TEN in craps (6-4 or 4-6 twice as likely to be rolled as 5-5, yes? is my probability math right?), CASH CAB, the SANHEDRIN, and a LAB TEST (22d. [CBC, e.g.] refers to a complete blood cell count, not a Canadian broadcaster).

Did not know, but could piece together UTE PEAK, 59d. [Colorado mountain named for a nearby tribe].

Five more things:

  • 55a. [Chairmaker inspired by a first baseman’s mitt], EAMES. I did not know this! Neat little trivia bit included in the chair’s Wiki page.
  • 66a. [The character Anguilla in the 1941 Rachel Carson book “Under the Sea-Wind” is one], EEL. Once again, I refer you to a year-old New Yorker article that taught me so many weird facts about eels. So fascinating! Freud and genitalia figure into the story.
  • 83a. [Cord-cutting tool?], AXE. As in a cord of firewood, not an umbilical or electrical cord.
  • 53d. [Hits out of the blue?], SLEEPERS. Hits here is a noun, as in hit movies that take the world by storm “out of the blue.”
  • 56d. [Persian word that can have many meanings?], MEOW. Cute clue!

The theme kept me guessing for a while, but then it all came together logically. It’s fresh and fun, and I enjoyed the puzzle. 4.25 stars from me.

David Alfred Bywaters’ Universal crossword, “From Porpoises to Tortoises” — Jim Q’s write-up

What a funky title! I wonder if that’s what inspired the idea here, or if the title came after…

THEME: Letter change- P to T- in common phrases. Wackiness ensues.

Universal crossword solution · From Porpoises to Tortoises · David Alfred Bywaters · Thur., 5.20.21


  • 18A [2D version of a children’s game?] FLAT JACKS. Flat Stanley, move over. Jack’s in town.
  • 23A [Breakfast on a South Florida island?] KEY GRITS. Key grips. 
  • 35A [Barbers’ gathering?] TRESS CONFERENCE. Press conference. 
  • 51A [Booty that pirates store near their booties?] BELT LOOT. Belt loop. 
  • 55A [How some people visit the vet?] CAT IN HAND. Cap in hand. 

At some point during the solve I thought to myself It’s been a while since I’ve solved a good ol’ fashioned letter swap theme! Though it’s one of the most familiar types of themes, I very much enjoyed it. The fist themer I uncovered was CAT IN HAND, and I thought the base phrase was CASH IN HAND (or is it CASH ON HAND that I’m thinking of?), so I didn’t quite grasp the P-T relationship, despite my initial suspicion from reading the title, until I hit on TRESS CONFERENCE.

BELT LOOT is the only one that didn’t land all that solidly for me. I’m not sure if it’s the phrase itself or the fact that the phrase already contains another T that was not the result of a P alteration.

Filled just fine. Liked OH, CRUD! Not sure I’m understanding the clue for 1A [Old-fashioned screen?] PAPER. Any help on that one?

3.1 stars today. A very friendly and accessible puzzle, right over-the-plate.

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

LA Times

This theme felt kind of half-baked. You have MRS, and then just a list of famous MRS’s, which feels virtually endless in options. So what do you do? See how many you can cram in I guess?


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8 Responses to Thursday, May 20, 2021

  1. Adam Wagner says:

    Is it a bad look to comment on my own puzzle? Maybe, but I love Béla Fleck too much not to say anything! I was so stoked to get to include him in this grid. And if I had to pick a favorite song of his, it’d have to be this. Thanks for solving, and happy listening!

  2. janie says:

    nyt — SPY SWAP (is this a thing? no, seriously, is this a thing?)

    oh, yeah — it’s a thing. if you haven’t seen it, you might enjoy bridge of spies, w/ one great (oscar-winning and quietly-played) performance by mark rylance.


  3. Paul J Coulter says:

    NYT – I like the trick, but the theme is kind of grim for my breakfast entertainment. It didn’t help that I keep seeing CORPSE instead of COPSE between the central SIXFEET and UNDER in the finished grid.

    • Joe Pancake says:

      Grim perhaps, but I liked the nod to “Six Feet Under.” Love that show. I binge-watched it back when when binge-watching involved timing your Netflix DVD arrivals so that you always had one disc on-hand while the other was in the mail. (Sunday always messed up my flow.)

      Anyway… fun puzzle.

  4. Crotchety Doug says:

    WSJ – Jim P, thanks for posting the Bela Fleck/Abigail Washburn video. Too good to have it in the background. Had to watch – loved it.

  5. John says:

    Universal – the base phrase I’ve been accustomed to is “hat in hand” not “cap in hand”. Cat in hand for the vet visit is funny though.

  6. Derek Benedict says:

    David Alfred Bywaters’ Universal crossword, “From Porpoises to Tortoises” — Jim Q’s write-up:

    Maybe 1A (old fashioned screen) refers to a “shoji”, which is a Japanese screen made out of rice paper?

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