Jack Murtagh’s Fireball crossword, “Answer Me This”—Amy’s write-up
Cute theme in this 17×19 puzzle: The name of the game is JEOPARDY!, [Game show on which this puzzle’s theme clues might appear]. The theme entries are phrased in the form of a question that would pass muster as entries in a themeless, but clued as if they’re Jeopardy! responses in a different context:
- 18a. [Category: Archaic English – This three-letter word was the second-person singular present indicative of “to be”], WHAT IS ART? Plays on “how do you define the concept of art” vs the archaic verb art.
- 25a. [Category: Paul Newman Films – Newman’s sixth Best Actor Oscar nomination was for playing lawyer Frank Galvin in this film], WHAT’S THE VERDICT? “What have you decided” vs a reference to 1982 Lumet film The Verdict.
- 42a. [Category: Musical Nicknames – His first album was “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.”], WHO’S THE BOSS? Springsteen’s nickname, 1990s sitcom Who’s the Boss.
- 69a. [Category: Scottish Novelists – He wrote “Annals of the Parish”], WHO IS JOHN GALT? Some sort of catchphrase in some Ayn Rand story, a Scottish novelist I suspect few or none of us have read.
I enjoyed the puzzle overall. Pretty solid fill; I like SCOOCHED the most.
Nine more things, including a number of clever clues:
- 15a. [One administering a Covid-19 test], SWABBER. The entry feels iffy, but also like it’s picked up validity in the past year and a half.
- 23a. [Duck call?], “LOOK OUT!” A shout that might prompt someone to duck.
- 58a. [Singer born one day before Garth], AXL. Axl Rose and Garth Brooks, I presume. They’ll both turn 60 in February.
- 72a. [Quintet in late-night hours?], AEIOU. This sort of clue has tricked my mom recently.
- 34d. [Enterprise commanders, for short], CEOS. Business enterprises, not the starship Enterprise.
- 41d. [Ninth entry on the list of supplemental hurricane names], ISLA. Wikipedia informs us, “Until 2021, if all of the names on the annual name list were used, additional tropical or subtropical storms would be named with Greek letters. In March 2021, the WMO announced any additional storms will receive a name from an auxiliary list, to avoid confusion caused by the Greek letter names.” In case you were under the impression, as I was, that the supplemental names were all Greek letters. Wanda was last week’s nor-easter, so if/when we get another Atlantic storm requiring a name, the supplemental list will come into play.
- 46d. [Shout that a waiter is glad to hear], “NEXT!” As in a person who’s been waiting, not a restaurant server.
- 64d. [French name of D-Day], JOUR J. I did not know this!
- 77d. [Class in which students learn about congress, briefly], SEX ED. The coital kind of congress, not legislative.
4.25 stars from me.
Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Beholders”—Jim P’s review
The title describes the theme perfectly (or from a mile away if you’re a pessimist). The letters BE are added to familiar phrases.
- 17a. [Cargo inspections at a weigh station?] SEMI PROBES. Semi-pros.
- 25a. [1605’s “The Fall of Phaeton,” once the paint was no longer wet? ] DRY RUBENS. Dry runs. I like this one.
- 36a. [Dangerous barbering job for a veterinarian?] PRUNING SHE-BEARS. Pruning shears.
- 47a. [Redwood harvested for its roughage?] FIBER TREE. Fir tree.
- 55a. [Menu listing of a specialty shop that sells no ice cream or gelato?] ALL SORBETS. All sorts. Good dessert shop for the lactose-intolerant.
Fairly standard stuff. Nothing got me chuckling, but these are fine. By Thursday, I’m hoping for a more adventurous theme than adding letters, though.
Sparkly fill: DEEP BLUE, RACONTEUR, NAMELESS, COMES TRUE, ACOLYTE, DUMPS ON. Here’s BOZO which is better than BOBO which we saw sometime last week somewhere. I also noted “MUST BE” at 22d, since it seems theme-adjacent.
Clues of note:
- 30a. [Item in a shell]. OAR. Who else went with NUT first?
- 42a. [Booking figure]. COP. Who else went with CON first? That resulted in SNOT instead of SPOT [Notice] at 39d.
- 31d. [Heroine of Annie Wilkes’s favorite novels]. MISERY. The name was familiar but I needed a lot of crossings to get this. Of course, it refers to the Stephen King novel and film. Annie Wilkes is portrayed in the film by Kathy Bates who won an Oscar for her performance. Remember the sledgehammer scene? Yes, there is a GIF of it. No, I won’t include it here.
- 34d. [Skilled storyteller]. RACONTEUR. Gosh, I didn’t know this. I always thought a RACONTEUR was a French racketeer. :)
- 49d. [Big blunder]. BONER. Whatever you say.
An over-the-plate add-some-letters theme. 3.25 stars.
David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
David Steinberg has today’s NYT, and it’s got some nice structural stuff happening in the theme clues:
- 17A: Only Monopoly railroad whose name doesn’t contain “Railroad” / Laughing gleefully — [S/C]HORTLIN[E/G]
- 40A: Setting for “The Sound of Music” / Greyhound journey — [A/B]USTRI[A/P]
- 11D: Web master? / Of the outer skin layer — [S/E]PIDERMA[N/L]
- 34D: Expensive bar / Not letting go — [G/H]OLDINGO[T/N]
- 62A: Hairy problem? … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme — SPLIT ENDS
What’s nice here is that the crossings on these squares utilize both letters:
- 1D: Tank top? — GA[S C]AP
- 8D: Home to the Willamette Valley — OR[EG]ON
- 9A: Attacks from all sides — BE[SE]TS
- 32A: Some daily temps — HI[GH]S
- 31D: Bound — LE[AP]
- 40D: Scandinavian pop group — [AB]BA
- 44A: Coastline feature — I[NL]ET
- 67A: Malicious group of computers — BO[TN]ET
and now, some ABBA. NEW ABBA, at that!:
I leave it there, but I did like the combo of ARIAL and AERIAL in this grid.
Alex Rosen’s Universal crossword, “Role Play”— Jim Q’s write-up
Excellent title to a fun concept for a puzzle!
THEME: Clues are homophones for common phrases with the word “Roll,” and instead ask for movie roles.
- 3D [*California role?] FRESH PRINCE. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- 41A [*With 45-Across, sweet role?] WILLY / WONKA. The two parts interestingly stacked on one another. Looks like they were made to do that!
- 11D [*Role with the punches?] ROCKY BALBOA.
- 56A [*Role in the hay?] SCARECROW.
This works best if you don’t overthink the phrasing. Like “Role in the hay” doesn’t really make me think of SCARECROW. The scarecrow is comprised of hay, not really “in it.” I suppose… WILBUR, BABE, or any other famous movie pigs would be more “in” the hay. But that kind of semantic nitpicking doesn’t bother me when the overall theme is well-conceived, as this one is. The cleverness is in the cluing, and it’s a tight theme overall.
Is it bad that I had no clue Michael Jordan was the TEAM OWNER of the Charlotte Hornets? That was the fun fact for me today, but I have a feeling that. it’s fairly common knowledge for everyone else.
Everything else about the fill fairly standard! I feel like I’ve been seeing a lot of Right/Left symmetry in Universal lately :) That’s fun.
3.75 stars from me.
Erik Agard’s USA Today crossword, “Wholly Holy” — Sophia’s recap
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer begins with a word that can follow the word “holy” in a common phrase.
- 19a [“Don’t believe me? Go look!”] – SEE FOR YOURSELF
- 27a [Like coffee beans] – GROUND UP
- 39a [Inscrutable implements] – COW TOOLS
- 47a [Member of an Indigenous-led environmental movement] – WATER PROTECTOR
Despite this being a classic USA Today theme type, it took me forever to understand, and I’m not sure exactly why. I think I was looking for a theme type that used the entire phrase, given that “wholly” was in the title? But I guess the whole puzzle adheres to the theme, so…. I have never heard the phrase COW TOOLS in my life, which the internet tells me is a reference to a Far Side comic. One metric I have for entries in a puzzle I don’t know is “If I had heard of this thing, would I be hyped to see it in a puzzle?” COW TOOLS falls into that category for me, so I am not upset with it as an answer, especially as it was crossed fairly. I liked all the other theme answers a lot, although I didn’t love the clue for GROUND UP since coffee beans aren’t inherently ground? But that’s a very minor complaint on a good theme set.
Quick notes on the rest of the puzzle:
- So much fun longer fill! CHILI DOGS, SNOWFALLS, IRON WILL, MOOD RINGS…
- Man, putting in “pulse” over PUREE for 13a [Food processor button] really made it hard to see the rest of that NW corner. It didn’t help that I am more familiar with the song “Me and Mr. Jones” by Amy Winehouse than I am with “Me and MRS. Jones” by Billy Paul.
- I worked at a restaurant once that only did cash TIPS – like, you couldn’t add a tip automatically onto your bill if you paid with a credit card – and let me tell you, any tip is preferred at that point. (We were paid a higher base salary than if we were reliant on tips, but still – tipping is a dumb system imo.)
- Fun meta crossword shout out at 27d [Crossword constructors create them] for GRIDS! Almost as meta as Erik editing his own puzzle :)
Nancy Stark & Will Nediger’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary
Today’s theme by Nancy Stark & Will Nediger is a little subtle, but actually a lot more clever than at first it appears. BADHAIRDAY is already an excellent revealing answer. The three answers, LEMONTWIST, BACKWARDFLIP and CRASHINGWAVE, not only contain a hairstyle, but also assign a negative quantity to it! Very elegant!
- [“And was Jerusalem builded here / Among these dark Satanic ___?”: Blake], MILLS. Went to a very Colonial primary school, so we sang this at least once a week. The lyrics were beyond mystifying as a child…
- [Actress ___ Gurira who plays Okoye in recent Marvel films], DANAI. New to me, worth noting. Haven’t been able to stomach superhero films for some time now…
- [Where to see lots of fans], ARENA – not that frequently of late, though.
- [Cuttiing-edge instrument], MUSICALSAW. Didn’t know you called them by that name…
- [“Zeeba” eater in the comic “Pearls before Swine”], CROC. Was clueless here, despite the clue.
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1415, “Royals”—Darby’s write-up
Theme: Every themed answer includes REX, referring to “king” in Latin. Removing REX also leaves a phrase.
- 19a [“Dinosaur plaza?”] T-REX SQUARE / T SQUARE
- 27a [“College bigwigs who advise actress Cybill”] SHEPHERD’S PREXIES / SHEPHERD’S PIE
- 44a [“Winner overseeing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU?”] CHAMP AT THE BREXIT / CHAMP AT THE BIT
Revealer: 56a [“Popular daily fantasy sports gambling site, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme”] DRAFT KINGS
“Rex” is a fun word, and so seeing T-REX SQUARE as the answer for “Dinosaur plaza?” was an immediate winner for me. I love dinosaurs. However, it also set a nice tone as I figured out the rest of the themers. I definitely had to wait for PREXIES to be filled in via the crosses to have enough to work with to get SHEPHERD’S. I was not familiar with this as an abbreviated plural for “president.” Overall, I thought that this was a great theme and especially appreciated that REX fit so smoothly into each answer.
Grid-wise, I wanted the corners to be a little more open to the rest of the puzzle. When I solved the bottom right, I wanted it to help me with the areas above and around it, but I didn’t feel like I got a lot to work with in finishing the corners. I struggled with some of the center clues, and it was more difficult to get the bottom section to help me out of that bind. However, that said, I thought that, aside from C-CLAMP (38a [“Shop holder”]), the middle section clues were all pretty solid. Overall, a minor note, but just to give y’all an insight into my solving process.
Some other favorites
- 18a [“Sudoku solving technique reminiscent of a ‘Star Wars’ fighter ship”] – A dinosaur reference and a Star Wars reference. BEQ, I feel spoiled! I got this on my sci-fi nerdiness alone, but it’s good to know that X-WING can also be used to refer to Sudoku as well. If you’re interested in such puzzles, check the strategy here.
- 44a [“Winner overseeing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU?”] – I wanted to talk about this themer down here because I learned something interesting today. I was initially thrown off, believing that this was CHOMP instead of CHAMP AT THE BREXIT/ CHAMP AT THE BIT. This was especially confusing because 25d [“League with Juventus and Inter Milan”] SERIEA is not something that I’m familiar with; however, once I checked my solution before I wrote this, I discovered that I had indeed erred – “CHAMP AT THE BIT” is the original form of “chomp at the bit.” NPR received a complaint about this and did a little investigation if you’re interesting in learning a little more about this phrase and its use.
- 11d [“Pope who oversaw the First Vatican Council”] – I read an insane amount of Catholic history, so I was pretty pleased to see PIUS IX in this puzzle. If all of my years of schooling earned me one thing, I’m glad it was this crossword answer.
That’s all from me today!
NYT: Really fun puzzle that I somehow solved without any errors to track down.
Agreed. A bit confused at first, but the aha moment was worth it!
NYT: OMG what a brilliant Thursday puzzle by boy wonder David Steinberg! (I know he is growing up but I will always think of him as a kid)
Yes, terrific. DOJO / JENGA almost defeated me, but made it.
NYT was in the same genre as those nifty “Split Decisions” puzzles that sporadically appear in the Times.
Oops, I goofed up some of the HTML and as a result the puzzle ratings posted by 11:10 pm Central vanished, but Dave can restore them to the proper place tomorrow.
Meantime, for those who are interested, there were 12 ratings, all for the NYT: 5 stars from four, 4.5 stars from four, 3.5 stars from two, and 3 stars and 2.5 stars (!) from one apiece. Average, 4.21 stars.
I’m on it…
NYT: Thumbs up to the puzzle. Thumbs down to the app. I had “S/C” as a rebus instead of “SC” and didn’t get it right. What’s the point of gold stars and streaks if there’s a 50/50 chance the rebus will screw it up? … Sorry, I meant a 5050 chance.
It’s a peculiar case, where the rebus Down entries work differently from the rebus Across entries. Not obvious what the ‘right’ answer is here.
Sorry you lost your streak.
I’ve gotten in the habit of entering just the first letter of a rebus. I’d rather see the whole thing, but so far, the first letter has always been enough to satisfy the app.
you know your streak is good, why get het up over an arbitrary rule when you got the puzzle right???
@steve: Game makers know that there’s something psychologically potent about the streak—this is why so many online/mobile games track daily streaks. It drives people to come back every day to play again.
I broke a streak of 2200 games on a sudoku app and was so mad! My husband pointed out that the streak was actually meaningless, that nobody outside of my iPad could see it or would care. But my streak is at 1900 now … I’m getting back up there. Because streak.
Anybody else more distracted than amused by the misspelled USA Today puzzle title? Does “Wholly Holy” really spoil anything?
I’ve started doing the USA Today puzzle most days, and more often than not I find myself baffled by their titles. Misspelled or not, today’s is no exception.
Thanks for the Aretha video, Paolo. I hadn’t heard of “Wholy Holy,” and I see that it wasn’t a big hit as a single but perhaps it’s well-known among more dedicated Aretha fans.
Also performed by Mavis Staples, but as Holy Holy. Aretha’s spelling is, um, idiosyncratic.
NYT: I’m parsimonious with my ratings, and I may have never given 5 stars before today. I would have given 6 if I could. (WSJ, on the other hand . . . .)
NYT: Great puzzle. I surprised myself by catching on to what was happening pretty early – but that didn’t spoil the fun. I’ve always enjoyed David Steinberg’s puzzles, but used to struggle with them – always attributed it to either generation gap or just differences in “wavelength.” More recently, they just seem smooth and fun (but still challenging).
I thought it was particularly elegant that the double letters in the “split end” crosses appear in order consistent with the two alternative clues in the themers, and in the order indicated by which clue is first/second in the themer clue.
clues of the day for me: old timer = sun dial
cutting edge instrument, and more from LAT
WSJ: I have been hoping someone would come up with a new clue for oar. I got my wish in 30 across. Great clue. ( Yes, I put “nut” in first. ) I’m also hoping we’ll stop seeing clues for “oar” that are inaccurate as we saw recently with trying to use an oar on a canoe instead of a paddle.
…and in another recent puzzle (don’t remember which one) when they used it for the answer to “Gondola propeller”, where it should have been “pole”.
Gondolas are powered in deeper water by a single single oar called a remo.
Live and learn…
I must be getting cranky in my old age. I did not enjoy todays NY Times puzzle. I was stumped mostly due to conforming to the convention that across rebus letters come first in the rebus square. Not so in today’s offering. The complexity of trying to make it work in Across Lite put me in a sour mode. I had to come here to figure out why I wasn’t getting Happy Pencil (or whatever the hell that thing’s called). I much prefer puzzles without gimmicks. Clever cluing and interesting fills/themes are what I look for in puzzles. Thursdays have become my least favorite day for puzzling.
Thursday is a great day for pencil and the paper edition. Another great reason why I have the NYT delivered (let’s hear it for 75% off new subscriptions!)