Thursday, September 16, 2021

BEQ Untimed (Darby) 


LAT 5:12 (GRAB) 


NYT 7:42 (Ben) 


Universal 5:13 (Jim Q) 


WSJ 6:42 (Jim P) 


USA Today 3:05 (Sophia) 


Fireball untimed (Nate) 


Ricky Cruz and Paolo Pasco’s Fireball crossword, “From Start to Finish” —Nate’s review

Hi all, Nate here! I missed blogging for Fiend, so I’ve hopped back on to start reviewing the Fireball puzzle each week. And what a week to start back up with it – a lovely puzzle with a fun “aha!” moment from two wunderkinds of CrossWorld, Ricky and Paolo.

Fireball Puzzle 9.15.21

Fireball Puzzle 9.15.21

3D: POINT A –> POINT B [Without taking any detours]
8D: DUSK –> DAWN [All night]
11D: HERE –> ETERNITY [Best Picture winner set on Oahu]
25D: BAD –> WORSE [In the wrong direction]

Each of the down theme answers has an “IIV” portion. At first, I thought this might be some tricky way to clue “to/two” via Roman numerals, but it’s even more straight forward than that: those are arrows pointing down, standing in for the word “to.” I also liked how some of the themers’ clues referenced directionality as a tie-in to the theme. I think I might be missing part of the why for arrows instead of “to,” but the puzzle was fun to solve all the same. Comment below if I’ve missed any key bits of the theme!

Favorite clues:
8A: DASHER [Dancer’s coworker] – I loved the need to think outside the box on this one.
45A: MOP [Wipe the poop clean] – “the poop” as in the poop deck – I bet parents of young kids read this differently!
62A: IKE [Good name for a Cockney quarterback?] – This induced the good kind of groan.
30D: COAST [Thing that’s literally littoral] – Nice!
48D: ROOKIE [Strawberry without much seasoning, e.g.] – I’m assuming this refers to Darryl Strawberry, but I enjoyed the angle either way.

Of note: SLOGS clued as [Extra-hard crosswords, to some] felt like a bit of a bummer clue, especially as a clue for a Fireball puzzle!

Generally, I also loved seeing so many women represented in this puzzle! ALI Wong, EVA Mendes, SIA, Rihanna, ANNA from “Frozen”, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Megan Thee Stallion.

Hal Moore’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “90 Degrees of Separation”—Jim P’s review

Oh, I like this one. A lot.

The first thing you notice with the grid is the groups of circled letters shaped like Less-Than Signs. I wasn’t quite sure how these related to the title, but it’s clear the top half of each Less-Than Sign is 90º off from the bottom half.

That should have set me up for an aha moment when I encountered the first theme clue. Instead, I believe I gave an audible “Wha?” But the aha came shortly thereafter as it became evident that each theme answer was actually two; they share the beginning part and then split towards the end. The final revealer spells it out: SPLIT ENDS (55a, [Hairy issue, or a hint to 20-, 26- and 51-Across]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “90 Degrees of Separation” · Hal Moore · Thu., 9.16.21

  • 20a. {[up] Used; [down] Third and fourth quarters}. The [up] part of the clue identifies the theme answer going up in the circles—SECONDHAND, in this case. The [down] part therefore identifies lower part—SECOND HALF, in this case.
  • 26a. {[up] Fowl with flair; [down] Warm wool layer]}. PEACOCK and PEACOAT.
  • 51a. {[up] Casting process part; [down] Parenting concern]} SCREEN TEST and SCREEN TIME.

What a fun theme. I liked it so much I wanted more. I’m guessing there are enough potential entries that one could’ve made this theme into a 21x grid. Therefore, I’m assigning you some homework. Come up with some potential additional theme entries that match the pattern here. The entries should consist of two separate phrases or compound words that obviously share the same first word. The second words need to start with the same letter and be the same length. Avoid plurals if possible and added suffixes like -ED or -ING unless they make sense. I’ll start with HEAD HONCHO and HEAD HUNTER. Proper names would work, too, like MARTIN SHEEN and MARTIN SHORT. (Note that I’m not trying to steal the idea and make my own puzzle. Just wanted to have a bit of fun.)

Elsewhere, we have some stellar fill to enjoy like IDAHO POTATO, ALL-STAR GAME, FISH TACO, and EXIT SIGN, plus MANTRA, ARTISAN, SCORPIO, ATE CROW, explorer LA SALLE, SCUMMY, and “LIKE I SAID…” All this on top of the theme? More, please.

There are some prices to be paid for all that goodness, but amazingly, not that much. I had to double-check ISOBEL [Max’s sister on “Roswell, New Mexico”] which I keep wanting to pronounce with a long I and which looks like a scientific word meaning “equal sound” or some such. Another odd one is COSET [Subdivision in group theory] which seems pretty obscure. Crossing that with EFTS [Small salamanders] is not a fun time, but it is Thursday, and most of us have seen EFTS more than enough times to throw it in pretty quickly.

Clue of note: 61a. [City once called Philadelphia]. AMMAN, Jordan. Did not know this. It was founded in the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

I’m going to overlook the less sparkly bits in the fill and chalk them up to constraints due to the outstanding theme and stellar longer fill. Five stars from me.

Kevin Patterson’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0916 – 09/16/2021

Kevin Patterson’s puzzle today has something going on at the edges of the grid:

  • 1A: Christmas classic covered by Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan, among others — BELLS
  • 6A: Kind of gorilla — BACK
  • 10A: Second-best era — AGE
  • 1D: Simple solution to a big problem — BULLET
  • 16D: Gift of persuasiveness — TONGUE
  • 42D: Marvel character with metallic skin — SURFER
  • 51D: Metonym for the movie industry — SCREEN
  • 69A: Attractive older fellow — FOX
  • 70A: Forks and knives, e.g. — WARE
  • 71A: Symbol of privilege — SPOON

All of these make more sense as answers once you put the word “silver” in front (SILVER BELLS, SILVER BACK, etc., all the way to SILVER SPOON), and indeed, 33A and 44A confirm we’ve got a SILVER / LINING (“With 44-Across, bit of consolation … or a feature of this puzzle’s grid?”).  Hooray, hooray.

a random assortment of other lovely fill: GOAT (as in Greatest Of All Time, like Simone Biles), LONDON AREA, SUBARU, UVULAS, NO RESPONSE, Laura LINNEY, GO TO JAIL, and DEVOID OF.

Happy Thursday!

Claire Rimkus’s USA Today crossword, “Be Upfront” — Sophia’s recap

Theme: Each theme answer is a two word phrase where the first word starts with B and the second starts with E.

USA Today, 09 16 2021, “Be Upfront”

  • 17a [Kansas City barbecue specialty] – BURNT ENDS
  • 31a [North American bird of prey] – BALD EAGLE
  • 46a [Neither win nor lose] – BREAK EVEN
  • 61a [Behind the head gesture in a photo] – BUNNY EARS

Solid, straightforward theme today. All of the theme answers are interesting, evocative phrases. I believe the USA Today crossword is based in Kansas City so referencing it in the BURNT ENDS clue felt appropriately meta. It took me a while to see BUNNY EARS despite them showing up in at least 50% of the photos my brother and I took in 2007 – I kept expecting it to be a pose or something the photo subject was doing themselves.

Each theme answer is only 9 letters long, so there is  lot of room for the grid to breathe. I don’t mind having a little less theme material when it allows the rest of the grid to stand out, and BOARD GAMES, IMPRESSION, I REPEAT, and BOYEGA were all highlights today (side note, I have never heard of the game Wingspan, is it good? Should I try it, as a board game fan?) I appreciate that the grid is exceptionally clean while having very few three letter words, which meant that I could move through answers very smoothly as a solver.

Other notes:

  • I liked the juxtaposition of LUMP‘s pillow referencing clue next to 36a’s BED.
  • Today’s food round-up: Prickly PEAR, PEACH, ELOTE and esquites, CAKE, brownie BATTER, and arroz junto. LET’S eat, indeed.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1401, “Mess with Texas” — Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer replaces the T in a common phrase with an X, essentially messing with TX, a play on the phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas.”

Theme Answers

Brendan Emmett Quigley's "Mess with TX," 9/16/2021 crossword solution

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s “Mess with TX,” 9/16/2021 crossword solution

  • 18a [“Not as uptight feller?”] LAXER DUDE / LATER DUDE
  • 24a [“Teeny tiny orgasms”] MICROCLIMAXES / MICROCLIMATES
  • 39a [“Communist takeover”] MARXIAN INVASION / MARTIAN INVASION
  • 49a [“Hot stuff on the table”] DINING ROOM SEX / DINING ROOM SET
  • 60a [“Turns someone over to the playfully seductive side”] MAKE A MINX / MAKE A MINT

As always, BEQ has something up his sleeve in his wordplay. My favorite of these was MARXIAN INVASION as an X-replacement for MARTIAN INVASION, which I thought was particularly clever. On the other hand, I felt like “Not as uptight feller” wasn’t clued as tightly as it could have been, as “Less uptight feller” would’ve been cleaner. “Feller” also threw me off for a long while since it feels contextually different than “dude.” That might be splitting hairs, but I was shocked when I got DUDE on the crosses.

I thought that the references to folks like ALI Hassen (20a [“Comedian Hassan”]), SONIA Manzano (17a [“‘Sesame Street’ actress Manzano”]), Shaquille O’NEAL (63a [“NBA legend who hosts ‘The Big Podcast’”]), EZRA Sosa (65a [“‘Dancing with the Stars’ dancer Sosa”]), and 64d Lil NAS X. It was a nice range of folks, and the inclusion of EZRA was especially timely, given that he was just added to the DWTS cast.

Other Clues of Note:

  • 30a [“Sports league restarting in 2023”] – I should’ve filled in XFL faster than I did, considering that St. Louis has the Battlehawks. For those who don’t know – and I sure didn’t until I moved here – the XFL is an alternative to the NFL, with eight teams that play in a 10-week regular season. You can find more info here.
  • 46a [“21-Across’s pronoun”] – I didn’t like how this answer perpetuated a lot of the problematic elements of having female pronouns assigned to inanimate objects historically helmed by male captains, so I think an opportunity was lost here to break that cycle in choosing to associate SHE with 21a [“Ponton, e.g.”] BOAT.
  • 1d [“Tea selection”], 2d [“Vodka selection, in brief”], and 3d [“Mixer selection”] – This was a really fun combination of clues to kick off the Downs clues. What a range to go from ASSAM to STOLI to TONIC, with all three crossing the STOUT of 13a [“Gastropub selection”]. It was truly a beautiful corner.
  • 55d [“Plant tissue”] – This one took me right back to AP Biology as I tried to remember the names for XYLEM and phloem. It was a great way to use the X of DINING ROOM SEX and pair up with WRY 59a [“Sneakily funny”].

That’s all from me for today! See ya next time!

Jeff Eddings’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s puzzle by Jeff Eddings features a fairly simple theme concept, but one that, without circles, may slip by those who aren’t looking out for it. The revealer is CLUBSANDWICH, a sandwich whose precise features seem quite nebulous, and each of four entries have a word that satisfies “___ CLUB” somewhere in their middle. All four of these clubs are kind of similar: MATH, SKI, CHESS and GLEE; I myself have just come back from the cricket club. Note: the puzzle is sixteen squares wide to accommodate a twelve-letter revealer better.


  • [Staple of African food], TARO. I guess… Around here, it’s sold as madumbe though. I’m not sure I’m as good at cooking it as my mother though. There seems to be some trick to it not coming out mealy…
  • [“Night on Bald Mountain” inspiration], WITCHESSABBATH. Not a title I could immediately place – a composition by Mussorgsky.
  • [Phillips 66 brand], CONOCO. No idea for this for’ner. Apparently it’s a petrol station. It’s no Esso…
  • [Like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” to many critics (but not to the author)], FEMINIST. I don’t understand the qualifications made in this clue. Anybody?
  • [Pop duo __ & Him], SHE. New to me, but one half of the duo is Zooey Deschanel, who I have heard of!
  • [Peter or Jessica], RABBIT. Simple, but fun clue.


Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Wet Paint” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Phrases that sound like colorful rivers!

Universal crossword solution · “Wet Paint” · Paul Coulter · Thurs., 9.16.21


  • revealer- WATERCOLORS

Not my favorite of Paul’s, though it is a remarkably tightly conceived theme. Not sure why it didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps because I didn’t know two of the themers at all (OSAGE ORANGE and RHINE WINE)? That doesn’t usually bother me though. Maybe WINE as a paint color isn’t all that familiar to me? Is it similar in tint to EGGPLANT? I dunno.

Besides two of the themers, some other new and fun I learned  were:

  • Ross from Friend’s has a PhD.
  • EVA MARIE Saint

Enjoyed SHE SHED too! My girlfriend just got the equivalent of one that we’re calling “The Art Barn” and it’s so very cool.

3 stars from me.


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13 Responses to Thursday, September 16, 2021

  1. TPS says:

    Has anyone else had an issue with the online LAT Crossword puzzle and it opening a new window to some company called Rocket? It basically makes the puzzle impossible to complete because every time you move the mouse over the grid it pops open another window.

    • TPS says:

      Also, in the LAT “She & Him” is definitely not a Pop Duo – their music is somewhat esoteric but I think Zooey has described it as more Folk than anything else.

  2. Jason T says:

    Re: Fireball. I think there’s a bit more to it. The arrows don’t just replace the word “to.” Each of the theme answers is a phrase that fits the pattern of “from X to Y”: “FROM POINT A TO POINT B”, “FROM BAD TO WORSE”, “FROM DUSK TO DAWN” and (the full title of the movie) “FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.” The title fits this pattern as well. Hence the arrows don’t just replace the word “to”: they replace the words “from” AND “to” by suggesting the motion, or transference, of something going FROM here TO there. I thought this was a brilliant, unique mechanism. Loved it!

  3. Darby Ratliff says:

    Seeing Wingspan mentioned in today’s USA Today was a highlight! Sophia – my TIP would definitely be to check it out.

  4. DH says:

    I got the theme of the NYT with “BACK”, but thought incorrectly that “AG” right behind the word (“AGE”, “AGOG”) somehow contributed to the theme. As I was thinking that there were a lot of animal references (gorilla, koala, yaks, fox, earworm, spay) I noticed a fair number of sports references as well (Premier League, Shaquille O’Neal, tip-in, surfer, rink, bocce). And then there were two crossovers – GOAT and BRONCO. Fun.

  5. Hal Moore says:

    Thanks for the review Jim P – I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’d be delighted if someone took inspiration and made a 21x along similar lines!
    This one was slightly more constrained though, in that the shared first words are themselves the ends of “split” words/phrases.

    • marciem says:

      Double WOW to you, Hal… I loved the puzzle without even getting that extra layer of “split”s (split second, split pea, split screen). Its very Birnholzian (yes that’s a word in my vocabulary :D, and meant as a huge compliment! )

      Hope to see more from you.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      Wow! How did I miss that? I guess there are enough layers that I didn’t even think to look there. Brilliantly done!

  6. Eric Navin says:

    Today was a good day in the crossword world – happy Thursday, all

  7. John Daviso says:

    Thanks to all the people who stepped up to help me, yesterday. I’m going to try to follow the instructions as soon as I finish my puzzle solving. Wish me luck.

    Thanks again. This site is a godsend.

  8. WHG says:

    Does anyone understand the LAT fill for 60D – Loops in, briefly: “smelly”? I must be missing something.

    • Mark Abe says:

      60D is “Loops in”, which is CCS.
      30D is “Foul”, which is SMELLY.

      I didn’t get the theme until I read the review. It was a fun solve, though.
      For those who don’t get the Night on Bald Mountain reference, try to find Disney’s movie Fantasia.

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