Thursday, January 20, 2022

BEQ Untimed (Darby) 


LAT 5:32 (GRAB) 


NYT 6:11 (Ben) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


USA Today 2:47 (Sophia) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


Jake Halperin’s Fireball Crossword, “I Might Be a Little Short” – Jenni’s write-up

I finished the puzzle correctly and had no flippin’ idea what the theme was. I figured it had something to do with answers being shorter and some of them were – but some of them were longer, and some made no sense at all. Amy and Jim P helped me out. The varying addition and subtraction of letters to the theme answers was a red herring. It’s a vowel change clue: long I to short I. That’s it. I was too tired or distracted or something to see it.

Fireball, January 19, 2022, Jake Halperin, “I Might Be a Little Short,” solution grid

  • 17a [Speaking with your mouth full?] is a VICTUAL SIN. I kept looking for something to do with VENIAL for the base phrase and I’m ashamed to admit I totally missed VITAL SIGN. D’oh.
  • 27a [Cook with formality?] is PRIM TIM (Tim Cook of Apple). PRIME TIME. I got that one. Then I went looking for missing Es in the other answers.
  • 37a [Quick thumb-through of a newspaper by someone who clips coupons?] is a SNIPPER RIFFLE. SNIPER RIFLE. This was the first one I got and so I thought it had something to do with doubled letters. Wrong again.
  • 52 [Funny debater’s mott0?] is WIT WINS. WHITE WINES. The plural confused me here.
  • 63a [Person throwing away old socks and sweaters?] is a KNIT RIDDER. KNIGHT RIDER. Again with the doubled letters but only in one word.

I’m not sure if this is a tricky theme or an obscure and not-great theme or I was just in a fog when I solved the puzzle. Discuss.

A few other things:

  • 3d [Like some square slices] are SICILIAN. Mmm. Pizza.
  • 6d [GEnie competitor, once] is AOL. See, back before there was a World Wide Web….
  • 35a [The “A” of ACB] is AMY Coney Barrett.
  • 40d [Start to fall, informally] is LABOR DAY. The season, not the mishap.
  • 46a [Munch, e.g.] is a TV COP. From “Homicide: Life on the Street“. Played by Richard Belzer.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Coco Chanel said that LACE is “one of the prettiest imitations ever made of the fantasy of nature.”

Paul Coulter’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Enough Already!”—Jim P’s review

I grokked the theme about halfway through the grid and even correctly guessed the revealer which is STOP at 68a [“Enough with the lame puns already!” (and, when parsed as three words, a hint to the theme answers)]. The other theme answers are familiar two-word phrases that had their initial Ss changed to Ps. (Could’ve done without the use of “lame” in the revealer clue. Plenty of alternative synonyms available for use: lousy, awful, tired, groan-worthy.)

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Enough Already!” · Paul Coulter · Thu., 1.20.22

  • 16a. [Preparation for kissing a duke?] PEER PUCKER. Seersucker. Ok, this was not originally a two-word phrase, but it sure sounds like one. The internet tells me the word originally came from the Persian shirushakar which meant “milk and sugar”. The fabric was so named for its white and tan coloring.
  • 24a. [Del Monte ad?] PEA PLUG. Sea slug.
  • 38a. [Multiunit tablet purchase at Staples?] PAD PACK. Sad sack.
  • 49a. [What you might need to clean up after Fido or Kitty?] PET PAIL. Set sail.
  • 59a. [Small hole in a canoeist’s implement?] PADDLE PORE. Saddle sore.

That works. It kept me guessing for the first half of the grid then helped me fill in the second half. I’m not going to say a LOL’d at these, but I found them pleasant enough.

BOOTLEGGERS, ATROPOS, and LAREDO make for interesting fill on the right side of the grid. The left side is decidedly hawklike with FIRST STRIKE and WAR-TORN.

That NE corner gave me trouble with BBS clued [Daisy product] and the unsightly partial CAT ON clued [Williams title start]. The clue on that last one is of minimal help since there are so many Williamses it could apply to (Robin, John, Vanessa, Billy Dee, William Carlos, Venus, Serena, etc.). Turned out to refer to Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON a Hot Tin Roof. Bleh.

Clues of note:

  • 42a. [Big Bertha’s birthplace]. ESSEN. Another war reference. Big Bertha was the German howitzer first used in WWI.
  • 67a. [Old-fashioned]. MOSSY. New to me. M-W lists synonyms as “antiquated,” “archaic,” and “dated.”

Solid letter-changing theme. 3.5 stars.

Howard Barkin’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0120 – 1/20/2021

Howard Barkin has today’s Thursday NYT:

  • 18A: TV talent show? — THE VOICE
  • 28A: FM band on the radio? — FLEETWOOD MAC
  • 49A: Academy Awards M.C.? — MICHAEL CAINE
  • 64A: U.S. symbol? — UNCLE SAM

The initials of each answer match the initialism at the start of each clue.  This was a nice set of finds, and I’ll admit going “wait, is 18A just THE VOICE?” without initially parsing what was actually going on for the first minute or so of my solve.

Other fill I liked: the nicely stacked FITBIT (“It counts on your movements”), IMPALA, and JEKYLL (“Side Hyde tried to hide”), Ocho RIOS, PICASSO, TOO NICE, MAHOGANY, and LITMUS

Happy Thursday!

Matthew Stock’s USA Today Crossword, “League Standings” — Sophia’s recap

Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each vertical theme answer contains the letters WNBA (standing for “Women’s National Basketball Association”)

USA Today, 01 20 2022, “League Standings”

  • 3d [Meals brought from home] – BROWN BAG LUNCHES
  • 12d [Elections for minor political offices] – DOWN BALLOT RACES
  • 35d [Like hair pulled into a ponytail] – DRAWN BACK

This was the second USA Today puzzle in a row where it took me at least a few minutes after solving to see the theme – maybe if the title had been more specific to basketball I would have seen it sooner? – but once I figured it out I loved it! As a former high school basketball player and a big fan of the Seattle Storm, I’m happy to see the WNBA getting the love that it deserves. Matthew’s two grid-spanning answers of BROWN BAG LUNCHES and DOWN BALLOT RACES are the real standouts here, with DRAWN BACK as a solid third (and personally I love all hairstyle-related clues). I just hope that solvers notice that each answer hides the WNBA and don’t think only the NBA is included. When I was trying to find the theme, though, I noticed the WN pattern in the theme answers before anything else, so hopefully that pattern will help people get the true theme.

I solved this puzzle in a different order than I do most others. I dropped in CABBAGE for 1a [Kimchi vegetable], did the rest of the downs in the top left and then followed BROWN BAG LUNCHES down to the puzzle’s SW corner, and gradually worked my way around counterclockwise to the top right. I did this because I was ON A ROLL and wanted to keep using the words I had rather than jump up to the wide open top right and start all over. The strategy worked and I finished in under 3 minutes, which is a very fast time for me. There are a lot of nice long words in today’s puzzle – LIMEADE! APRICOT! BIG IDEA! SCREW IT! Personally, I’ve found that I’ve gotten some of my fastest times ever on puzzles with more longer answers, because I don’t have to jump around between choppy short answers and read more clues. This assumes that I am able to figure out the long answers thought! Have other people ever felt the same?

Other thoughts:

  • I learned ALOHA OE at the first ever crossword tournament I went to (2017 Boswords). I had never heard of it and got completely stuck in a corner because of it, and it’s lived in my mind ever since.
  • This puzzle is allllllmost symmetric but not quite – check out how the black square between NOTION and ASMR is one row lower than its counterpart on the left side of the puzzle. It’s simple to tell why Matthew would do this. Imagine if the black squares were symmetric. The W in DRAWN BACK would be an unchecked square in the across direction! It’s nice when constructors can play a little loose with symmetry when it helps them build a better grid.
  • My favorite parts of the puzzle were the grid/clue shout outs to AUDRE Lorde, Amanda Gorman, and Mina Kimes!
  • I have had fried OREOs at the (Defeat of) Jesse James Days in Northfield Minnesota, and honestly, I am not sure that frying improved the oreo’s quality.

Jules Markey Universal Crossword, “Planted Trees”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Trees are hidden in common phrases (I’m assuming… the version I solved in the webapp asked me to count letters, and I didn’t)

Universal crossword solution · “Planted Trees” · Jules Markey · Thurs., 01.20.22


  • CHOPIN ETUDE. Pine. 
  • DIANA SPENCER. Aspen. 
  • DANCED AROUND. Cedar. 
  • HOOP EARRING. Pear (sans partridge)

This is one that is far better served with circles in my opinion. I am still befuddled as to why Universal continues to embrace the (very) outdated webapp when all of the competing publications have moved on (very far on at that).

It really made it difficult for me to enjoy, so I solved this one largely as a themeless. I saw PINE in CHOPIN ETUDE and thought “Okay! Trees. That makes sense :)” but I didn’t see any of the others until post-solve. Is it okay for me to admit I don’t believe I have heard of a LARCH tree?

I initially thought the theme would be in DOG HANDLER. The entry is long and in a traditional themer area, and clued punnily like it is, it certainly has all the dressings of a themer. I typically solve a chunk of Across entries first, so I didn’t notice the true themers until a bit later. That was a pretty fun clue for that entry though [Trainer working on a Peke performance?].

Other things:

  • [Brand of cold brew?] BUD ICE. I’m not sure I understand why this needs a ? Also, is BUD ICE the brand? Or is the brand BUDweiser? I’m not entirely sure how that works.
  • Three meta-type clues in this one…
    • [Absinthe ingredient whose letters are all in the word “absinthe”] ANISE.
    • [Sch. hidden in “walrus mustache”] SMU.
    • [Name hidden in “rotten idea”] ENID. 

I do like these staple Universal clues, but this felt like a bit of overkill. I also like them better when they’re “apt.” But who knows? Maybe ENIDs are known for their rotten ideas and walrus mustaches abound at SMU.

I do appreciate the puzzle and the fact that the constructor found five phrases to fit in. It was a rough solve for me, however, largely due to the online solve experience.

3.5 Stars with circles.

1.5 Stars without.

Michelle Kenney & Jeff Chen’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The central concept of this puzzle is a brilliant pun based on WATERSHED (WATER/SHED) MOMENT, with each of three idiomatic phrases, considered literally, doing exactly that: DRAINEDTHESWAMP, BLEWOFFSTEAM, LIFTEDTHEFOG.

Brendan Emmett Quigley Crossword #1437, “Who Goes There” – Darby’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer in this puzzle adds QUI (which means “WHO” in French, Latin, and Spanish) to a phrase.

Theme Answers

  • 19a [“Result when you stop playing the Steinway”] PIANO QUIETUDE / PIANO ETUDE
  • 24a [“‘Sittin’ Up in My Room” singer who stabs others in the back”] BRANDY QUISLING / BRANDY SLING
  • 44a [“Floating amid an antimalarial drug”] ON CLOUD QUININE / ON CLOUD NINE
  • 50a [“Unshakeable British buck?”] TENACIOUS QUID / TENACIOUS D

Inserting a phrase that begins with Q had to have been difficult, and it was relatively easy to spot as I filled this grid. I was a bit thrown off by BRANDY QUISLING / BRANDY SLING, mostly because I’m unfamiliar with the song.

This was such an aesthetically appealing grid, and I appreciated 3d [“Passes”] SKIPS A TURN and 42d [“Swimsuit that covers the head as well as the body”] BURQINI. I was much less crazy about the stereotypical nature of 43a [“Conversation topic among gal pals”] MEN. There are so many other ways to clue this that don’t reinforce the idea that women spend all the time thinking about males.

Overall, an interesting puzzle. I thought “Who Goes There” was a particularly fun title to hint at the theme without being too apparent.

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19 Responses to Thursday, January 20, 2022

  1. JohnH says:

    I guess I blew it, but I couldn’t finish the center S of the WSJ. I rejected MOSSY as meaningless. I wanted PASSE, and LLANA looked like a plausible alternative to LLANO, maybe even better. But POP for dog made no sense, and while I didn’t recognize SHELLY one bit, it sure seemed more plausible than SHELLE. So I gave up.

    • David Roll says:

      Pom is short for Pomeranian and as Jim points out, mossy is appropriate (if difficult).

    • JohnH says:

      You’re mistaking me at least twice. I did know why POM was obviously appropriate whereas POP was not. As I said, I blew it. Quite my fault. I should have trusted my solving skills and looked up MOSSY to see if it had that meaning.

    • Bungalow Bill says:

      I did exactly the same thing, I ended up with PASSE. Also, I wanted 59D to be PUP, but 64A could only be ONEAL.

  2. Mutman says:

    Gotta love that Fleetwood Mac video — quintessential 70s!

  3. PJ says:

    NYT 17a – I’ve always thought Jekyll was trying to keep Hyde hidden. Or at least under control. But it’s been many, many years since I read the book.

  4. Tony Mosston says:

    I appreciate how Wordplay called out the (likely) main gripe most solvers would have with the theme. I definitely agree it felt a little weak for a Thursday, but didn’t mind solving it. FITBIT was fun for me.

  5. Lester says:

    LAT: I’m not necessarily a dupaphobe, but I thought I must have made a mistake when 2D FIRE (Kindle ____) crossed 20A (______ fire). I’m not a constructor, but even I can see how easily that could have been avoided.

    • Margaret from Brooklyn says:

      I’m pretty sure that crossing was intentional, and meant to cause that momentary “huh?” A duplicate word in the clues is ok if the word isn’t used twice with the same meaning.

  6. Gary R says:

    NYT: I enjoyed the puzzle and thought the theme was pretty clever. 49-A seemed like the weakest of the four themers. Easy enough to guess after a few crosses, but I wonder how many solvers actually *knew* Michael Caine had emceed the Oscars (one of four co-hosts, nearly 40 years ago).

    • sanfranman59 says:

      IMHO, it doesn’t really matter that he hosted the ceremony once. With the way the clue is worded (“Academy Awards M.C.?”), it seems sufficient that he’s associated with the Oscars, having been nominated for six and won two.

      • Gary R says:

        I agree that MICHAEL CAINE is associated with Oscars, but a critical aspect of the theme is that the answer “is” what the clue “says.”

        THE VOICE “is” a TV talent show.
        FLEETWOOD MAC “is/was” an FM radio band.
        UNCLE SAM “is” a U.S. symbol.

        So the answer to 49-A has to be an Academy Awards MC – not just someone associated with the Oscars.

        • Jim Peredo says:

          I’m with you on two out of the three. To my mind “FM radio band” refers to the spectrum of frequencies used in FM broadcasting, i.e. 88.0 MHz to 108.0 MHz.

          THE VOICE is definitely a TV talent show and UNCLE SAM is definitely a U.S. symbol. But no one would refer to FLEETWOOD MAC as an FM radio band unless they were making a pun.

  7. Eric H says:

    Universal: The “count the letters” thing does get old, but I know I’ve seen Universal puzzles somewhere that had circles in them.

    Jim, you’ll remember the larch if you watch this enough:

    BUD ICE being a product of Anheuser-Busch (or whatever they are now), clueing it as a brand works for me. Today I Learned that Bud Ice has more alcohol than regular Budweiser; I wonder if it has any more flavor.

    • Cynthia says:

      To answer Jim’s comment about the question mark in the clue [Brand of cold brew?], perhaps it was meant to be misleading about the type of “brew.” I thought of tea first, and put NESTEA in those spaces. I only got the right answer when I had enough crosses.

  8. Cynthia says:

    BEQ – FYI for Darby, Brandy Sling is a mixed drink.

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