Thursday, October 21, 2021

BEQ Untimed (Darby) 


Fireball 14:23 (Amy) 


LAT 4:11(GRAB) 


NYT 8:10 (Ben) 


Universal 5:33 (Jim Q) 


USA Today 3:51 (Sophia) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “The Alloyed Truth”—Amy’s write-up

FIreball crossword solution, 10 21 21, “The Alloyed Truth”

An ambitious two-way rebus theme with an elegant rationale, but ultimately I found it quite unsatisfying. For starters, the revealer is PEWTER, 67a. [Alloy you have to create six times in this puzzle], but really only the pewter of antiquity was made with lead, and now it’s an alloy of TIN and several other metals. The rebus squares “alloy” LEAD in the Across direction, TIN going Down. Here are the entry pairs … and I went with just an L instead of LEAD for the longest time:

  • ADE{LE AD}KINS (boooooo! She doesn’t really use her surname) / AN{TI-N}AUSEA

It seems like Peter was seeking to make the puzzle as impenetrable as possible, with things like a papal clue for ABBA (7a. [“___ Pater” (1999 album on which Pope John Paul II sings)]) crossing a tricksy clue for BOD (8d. [A well-built one has traps that are easily seen], meaning trapezoids) crossing ADELE ADKINS clued without a song title. There’s also BEA clued as 56d. [Singer Miller with the 2015 debut album “Not an Apology”]—the album charted OK, but my job is pop culture and I’ve never heard of her (she’s never had a hit single). When the rebus angle is on the hard side, these things and dry shampoo brand PSSSST (not sold at Target but available at Walmart) left a bad taste in my mouth. Peter, we know you work hard to never repeat a clue, but come on, the title of a pope’s album is willfully obscure!

Three more things:

  • 6d. [Word with ship or state], SLAVE. Dismal. You will want to read this fascinating article (adapted from a book) about Europe’s reliance on exploiting African people and resources. It’s such bullshit that the world history our grade-school or high-school textbooks taught us completely ignored things like the fact that Portugal was stripping Africa decades before the Columbus/Magellan/etc. explorations we know all about.
  • 22a. [Whip counterpart], NAE NAE. As in the dances.
  • 34d. [President before JRB], DJT. I figured JRB was James Buchanan but could not think of a president with the first initial D other than Dwight Eisenhower. Nobody calls Biden “JRB,” though, do they?

Between the needlessly difficult vibe, the “wait, it’s tin and lead?” issue, and some dry patches in the fill, I’m not a fan of this one. 2.75 stars for the lack of fun I had.

Michael Lieberman’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #1021 – 10/21/2021

Today’s NYT has a theme I feel like I’ve seen before, but the main wordplay idea happening is still charmingly executed:

  • 3D: Clueless about current trends — A ROCK LIVING
  • 8D: Take more shots than — THE TABLE DRINK
  • 17D: Choke — PRESSURE CRACK
  • 24D: Give a sworn statement in court — OATH TESTIFY

First off, snaps for a down-based theme.  Given the positioning, we have a literal “under” in each of the phrases – LIVING under A ROCK, DRINK under THE TABLE, CRACK under PRESSURE, and TESTIFY under OATH.  This literal-minded sort of thing doesn’t feel new, but utilizing the down clues and the particular execution of this one are worth kudos!

Bill Murray’s character in Wes Anderson’s new The French Dispatch is partially based on New Yorker editor William SHAWN.  It’s a charming little movie!

elsewhere: I totally thought “Where to find Amazon’s streams” would be something about gaming site TWITCH, but it’s actually just PRIME VIDEOBOOTY CALL: the opposite of a butt dial.  UMAMI – prevalent in mushrooms and tomatoes, it’s also in things like parmesan cheese.

Happy Thursday!

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Chuckleheads”—Jim P’s review

After yesterday’s fun grid, this one…well, it just wasn’t for me.

The theme is familiar phrases with the bigram HA preceding them, creating something new and crossword-wacky.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Chuckleheads” · Mike Shenk · Thu., 10.21.21

  • 17a. [Bed activity for concubines?] HAREM SLEEP. REM sleep. I once had “harem” in a puzzle I submitted to another publication, but I decided to remove it out of principle. The editor informed me he didn’t like it either. Not a great start to this theme.
  • 35a. [Aid for accentuating millinery wares?] HATRACK LIGHTING. Track lighting. Couldn’t remember what “millinery” was. It’s women’s hats.
  • 52a. [What keeps students out of the gamekeeper’s cabin at Hogwarts?] HAGRID LOCK. Gridlock. A groaner of a pun.
  • 3d. [Mineral named in honor of a “Star Wars” star?] HAMILL STONE. Millstone. Another groaner.
  • 24d. [Cast member in “Sister Act”?] HABIT PLAYER. Bit player.

Despite the title and theme, I didn’t find myself laughing at this one.

The fill was a mixed bag. I loved CABOODLE, DEAD LAST, “I’M ON IT!” and CRUSH IT, but then there were sections like the SE where proper name ARTIE [Bears cornerback Burns] crosses proper name TROLLOPE, 19th-century English [“Barchester Towers” author] which crosses whatever OYER [___ and terminer] is. Luckily I guessed right at each crossing, but the fact I had to make guesses is not ideal.

Clues of note:

  • 5a. [Letter ten before mu]. BETA. 29a. [Letter ten after mu]. CHI. I couldn’t help but be annoyed by these clues.
  • 32a. [Milliards of years]. AEONS. Similar reaction here. Apparently a milliard is the same as a billion. Why not just say “billions”?
  • 1d. [Flicker food]. ANTS. I wanted PEAS since you can flick them. No, the flicker is a bird of course.

I wish I could have chuckled at this puzzle, but it was not to be. Three stars.

Margit Christenson’s USA Today crossword, “Baked Fresh”— Sophia’s Recap

Editor: Amanda Rafkin

Theme: Each theme answer is a phrase in the form of “[baked good] IN THE [thing]”

USA Today, 10 21 2021, “Baked Fresh”

  • 20a [Fetus, metaphorically] – BUN IN THE OVEN
  • 36a [Unrealistic aspiration] – PIE IN THE SKY
  • 53a [Lovers’ Lane encounter] –ROLL IN THE HAY

I had no idea what this theme would be from the title of the puzzle, but I’m into it! It’s a nice tight set – I’ve never thought much about how these distinct phrases could all fit the same theme, so figuring that out was satisfying. The phrase PIE IN THE SKY reminds me of my Grandma, so I’m partial to it. ROLL IN THE HAY is a bit of the odd one out here as ROLL is used as a verb rather than a noun, but given that it was placed at the bottom of the puzzle I appreciated having to use the other answers to figure out the format of the last one.

So much good fill in this puzzle – the long downs PINTEREST, WANDERLUST and DEMOLISHES are all great. I have not watched The BOONDOCKS, but it looks like a revival is coming out next year on HBO Max so maybe I’ll check that out.

Other notes:

  • Me, looking at 5d after having filled in “cell” instead of “atom” for 18a [Nucleus’s place] – “Well, THAT can’t be right” ;)
  • It took me a while to see 9a [Some airport vehicles] as UBERS because I was imagining vehicles that were used inside the airport, a la “those carts that carry bags out to the plane”.
  • Favorite clues today: 11d [Put dish soap in the dishwasher, say] for ERR and 38d [Symbol between pronouns] for SLASH.
  • Some Reel Big Fish for your Thursday (the horns are the best part).

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1411, “Army Base”—Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each themed answer includes a reference to a squid while also being linked to the Netflix series SQUID GAME.

Theme Answers

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Crossword #1411, "Army Base," solution for 10/21/2021

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1411, “Army Base,” solution for 10/21/2021

  • 16a [Two things needed to review for 57-Across] PEN AND INK
  • 25a [“English prog rock band that provides the soundtrack for 57-Across] OZRIC TENTACLES
  • 44a [“Scalp during 57-Across”] TAKE FOR A SUCKER

Revealer: 57a [“2021 Netflix series whose players want to win won”] SQUID GAME

Not having watched SQUID GAME, I was up a bit of a creek with some of this, but that’s more of an issue of me not having enough time to watch than it is with this puzzle. I appreciated that each themer included a bit of a squid, which I presume has to do with the “Army” bit of the puzzle’s title. By including SQUID GAME as the revealer, I love the potential for this puzzle to be a cultural artifact that reflects what’s popular in our society right now. I do a lot with pop culture as part of my grad work, and so that’s mostly my nerdiness coming together, but it’s also something I regularly think about when doing puzzles.

Speaking of this, while I love James CAAN, having watched him on Las Vegas, he is also one of nine white men: James CAAN, Brian ENO, Adam ARKIN, JAKE GARN, BERT LAHR, RAMÓN Estévez (aka Martin Sheen), NIC Cage, Thomas NAST, and Darth Vader (yes, I’m counting him via 20a [“Darth Vader, in his youth”] ANI). ANNA Konkle of 8d [“‘PEN15’ co-creator Konkle] is the only woman referenced on her own while 46d [“Tours girlfriend”] AMIE is also clued in relation a man (and I’m not sure who/what this refers to?).

I will say that I I loved the grid here. The longer answers in each corner made this 74-word grid really fun. As a solver still struggling through Thursday/Friday/Saturday NYT difficulty, I’m trying to pump myself up more when I see longer answers because they can be intimidating. However, I thought that, in this grid, 6a [“Evil villain’s laugh”] BWAHAHA, 2d [“‘Wow, just…wow!’”] I’M AMAZED, 3d [“Radioactive decay emission”] GAMMA RAY, and 38d [“Fluffy breakfast”] OMELETTE were all a nice reminder that longer doesn’t always mean more difficult. (Though, tragically, I did first fill in PANCAKES for 38d).

That’s all from me for today folks! Thanks for taking a SECOND (14d [“Fast-moving hand”]) to read through this!


Brian Thomas and Brooke Husic’s Universal crossword, “Creature Feature”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Rhyming two-word phrases where an animal is the second word.

Universal crossword solution · “Creature Feature” · Brian Thomas · Brooke Husic · Thurs., 10.21.21



I’m almost positive I’ve seen this theme before. Perhaps even more than once. But something about this grid made it feel so fresh and clever. Looking at the themers themselves, they’re nifty sounding and fun to say. They all share the same iambic pattern, and they’re lively and modern(ish?). DRAMA LLAMA was particularly enjoyable as I changed LLAMA from MOMMA which I changed from QUEEN. It could also be the funky L/R symmetry of the grid and the placement of the themers (not often you see one in row 15 like that). I like how the two words were separated consistently.

Excellent entries in the grid all around like SMALL WORLD!, POTHEAD, and AD BLOCKER. 

New for me: OSCEOLA. Needed every (more-than-fair) cross for that, and MUDD. 

GRANITA is also new for me. And, in my opinion, I found the T in TAO to be a Natick. I’m never sure with ?AO if the ? is a T, L, or M. Anybody else really want to change it to GRANOLA?

Like the fun fact for STEP [One of 272 at Batu Caves] and the incentive-shout out for DONUT [Krispy Kreme freebie for vaccinated people]. 

4 stars. Thanks for that one!

Sam Acker’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Sam Acker’s LA Times theme is not the most common theme type, but a fairly simple example of that genre. The revealer is PAGETURNER, and the letters in PAGE appear four times in sets of four circles, with, from top to bottom, each making one clockwise rotation each time.

The downside of this theme type is the lack of marquee answers beyond the revealing PAGETURNER. An attempt has been made to keep the medium-length entries engaging, with GOOGOOGAGA, SEASCAPE and BAGPIPES included.


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14 Responses to Thursday, October 21, 2021

  1. Rob says:

    NYT: Took me a while to figure out what was going on, but then came a bonafide “aha” moment! What a wonderful way to start my morning. 4.5 stars from me!

    • huda says:

      Ditto! Pretty perfect Thursday.
      Decided it was worth rounding up to 5 stars.

      • marciem says:

        have to agree.. really fun puzzle and with rounding up :) . Thurs. often has no theme so I didn’t see it until those downs just didn’t make sense. Loved the AHA moment! Also some great clues… i.e. “Things you saw while asleep” (misdirected to wanting something to do with dreams, like REMS or something)

    • Mutman says:

      Agree with the love! Great aha moment. Plus I was not familiar with PARKOUR, so I learned something today!

    • Eric S says:

      It was fun and pretty quick. Once I had the first theme answer (OATHTESTIFY), the rest fell into place.

      Most of the tricksy clues (LOGS, POT HOLDER) were obvious, but that’s OK.

      Overall, it was much more of a “Thursday” puzzle than last week’s (which would’ve made a fine Tuesday puzzle).

  2. marciem says:

    Just felt the need share this:

    spoiler alert.

  3. Daniel McQuade says:

    Some of WSJ was really satisfying to piece together, but it felt like a real slog overall with some very specific cluing.

  4. david glasser says:

    BEQ: Tours is a city in France, so AMIE is just a translation. (And thus clued in relation to a partner of undetermined gender.)

    I didn’t get the title of this puzzle, but maybe it’s a reference to the show? I was assuming maybe Army is the term for a group of squid but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  5. sanfranman59 says:

    NYT … At the risk of coming off as someone who’s been LIVING under A ROCK, I’m totally confused by the clue for BOOTY CALL. I only know of this phrase referring to a proposition for sex. I’m trying to imagine how texting someone with “You up” could possibly be related to that. Or, does BOOTY CALL mean something else in this day and age?

    • Eric S says:

      I guessed the clue meant something like “Are you up for me to come over and have casual sex?” (“Up” could mean either “okay with” or “awake.”)

      But I could be totally wrong. Do young people today even use the term BOOTY CALL?

    • Martin says:

      Being awake seems a reasonable prerequisite for sex. Most people don’t allow their phones to wake them when they’re in for the night, so “You up?” would be a reasonable place to start.

      Nobody went with the theory that the text was from a woman to a man, inquiring about his state of readiness?

    • David says:

      “You up?” or the even briefer “u up?” is a commonly used example of a booty call by text, I would say especially in comedy. It seems to have reached a fairly high level of infamy/recognition over time, to the point that it is frequently used as a joke or punchline implying a booty call and/or poking fun at the texter’s lack of effort. Totally understandable to have not come across it, but I think it’s definitely recognizable enough for the clue. I gather it is also now the name of a dating podcast for these same reasons, so I don’t believe it is too niche at this point.

  6. MattF says:

    Just finished the FB by looking up a half-dozen entries. Where’s the fun in that?

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