Thursday, February 3, 2022

BEQ Untimed (Darby) 


LAT untimed (GRAB) 


NYT 6:58 (Ben) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


USA Today 3:09 (Sophia) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Today’s Fireball is a contest. We will post the solution after the submission deadline has passed.

Lynn Lempel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Strip Tease”—Jim P’s review

I knew what the theme would be right from the title, or at least, I had it down to two possibilities. Would the extracted letters be Ts or Es? It turned out to be Ts, but it still took me a while to nail it down.

The missing Ts came from familiar phrases where one of the words sported a double-T which became a different word with those letters removed.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Strip Tease” · Lynn Lempel · Thu., 2.3.22

  • 17a. [Restroom graffiti?] LOO DRAWING. Lotto drawing.
  • 22a. [Financial backer of toga parties?] BEER ANGEL. Better angel.
  • 38a. [Surge in keg sales?] BOOM OF THE BARREL. Bottom of the barrel. Unfortunate about the extra T, but honestly, I didn’t notice during the solve.
  • 49a. [Splitting of subatomic particles?] MUON CHOPS. Mutton chops. My favorite entry of the lot. A nice find.
  • 60a. [The three little pigs, say?] PREY IN PINK. Pretty in pink.

I enjoyed these. The first I uncovered was BEER ANGEL, but it didn’t help me see the light. It was BOOM OF THE BARREL which provided the satisfying aha moment I needed.

We’ve been sorely missing some sparkly fill this week, and Lynn delivers in spades with MOTORHOME, BRET HARTE, CHILD CARE, and its apt partner, “GO TO SLEEP.”

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Stuff]. CRAM. I guessed right at the meaning of the clue when I first filled in PACK, but when I had to change it to CRA_, I started wondering if the correct answer wasn’t CRAP.
  • 5a. [Company whose founder’s murder Roger Rabbit is framed for]. ACME. What a great angle for this clue!
  • 19a. [Ventimiglia of “This Is Us”]. MILO. I know him from Heroes back in the day.
  • 25a. [Objective]. END. I chose to go with AIM at first and that seemed to be confirmed when I went with DELHI at 9d [Aga Khan Mausoleum site]. Too bad the correct answer was ASWAN in a completely different country.
  • 37a. [Can opener, of a sort]. BAIL. I was fooled the whole way, and the crossing, BRET HARTE, was hard to parse without that B.
  • 55a. [Sub stratum]. SALAMI. A lovely clue, this!
  • 24d. [Victoria and Albert, for two]. LAKES. I didn’t know about Lake Albert which is actually Africa’s seventh largest lake.
  • 37d. [“An Heiress of Red Dog” writer]. BRET HARTE. I don’t know the story and don’t feel like looking it up just now. Can anyone give us a quick recap of it?

Solid theme, fun fill, fresh cluing. Four stars.

Adam Wagner’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0203 – 2/3/2021

There’s a whole lot of clues that don’t appear to make any sense with the answers in today’s grid.  There’s a reason for that, spelled out at 61A:

  • Proofreader’s reminder…or some advice for finishing here? — CROSS YOUR TS

There are a ton of clues in the puzzle that make more sense once their lowercase Ls or uppercase Is are “crossed” and become Ts:

  • 18A: Warm coaTs — DOWN JACKETS
  • 20A: Shakespearean fooT — IAMB
  • 33A: WaTTs in a cinema — NAOMI
  • 39A: Key Time — MOMENT OF TRUTH
  • 64A: Agcy. making Tax regs — IRS
  • 65A: One who makes baiT, perhaps — ANGLER
  • 2D: One for whom TibeT is a major issue — DALAI LAMA
  • 4D: HurT, say — SAD
  • 27D: TV device found in many homes nowadays — ROKU 

The way that these read as valid (if slightly odd) clues without their respective Ts/Is is so well done here.

January, February, March, April, May, June, Jason DERULO

Happy Thursday!

Brooke Husic & Wendy L. Brandes’s USA Today Crossword, “Low pH” — Sophia’s recap

Editor: Mollie Cowger & Erik Agard
Theme: Each vertical theme entry’s first word ends with P and second word ends in H.

USA Today, 02 03 2022, “Low pH”

  • 4d [Look out for danger] – KEEP WATCH
  • 6d [First-rate] – TOP NOTCH
  • 33d [Painter’s protective sheet] – DROP CLOTH
  • 35d [Chicago pizza style] – DEEP DISH

Hope all the chemists out there aren’t too disappointed by the lack of acids in this puzzle! I loved all the theme answers in this puzzle, each one of which made me happy to think of when it came to me. I might even say this theme is… TOP NOTCH (haha).

Those corners in the top right and bottom left of the puzzle are fabulous. Both stacks – TODDLER/HOW ARE WE/ TAPENADES and SHORT FILM/LOSE LOSE / YAATEEH are beautiful and there isn’t a word that I’d want to be different. However, the puzzle feels incredibly segmented. The only way from the top half to the bottom half is through a narrow channel of three letter answers, and the top left and bottom right corners are very closed off as well. On one hand, increasing the separation allows stronger fill because there are fewer constraints as words don’t have to cross as many theme answers. On the other hand, the grid feels choppy – there aren’t more three letter answers in this puzzle than normal, but because they are concentrated in the same area, it can feel like a lot. As someone who solves USA Today puzzles a few times a week, I like when the grid design is switched up, but like anything in crossword constructing it’s all about trade-offs.

Other notes:

  • I was definitely on this puzzle’s wavelength when it came to references. I’ve read “The Lightning Thief” only about, oh, 12 times, so 24a [Greek god who rides a Harley in “The Lightning Thief”] for ARES was a favorite clue of mine. I’ve read “Speak” too, but not for a couple of years, but luckily the cover of my copy has a TREE on it so that came to mind easily.
  • The one place I was not on the same page as the puzzle? 43d [Blank Panther’s accessory], which I thought was a reference to the superhero Black Panther! But no, it’s a reference to the real-life BERET-wearers.
  • Double Kendrick Lamar references for DAMN and DNA, and double double-talk entries with DANDAN and LOSE LOSE… lots of doubles in the puzzle.
  • THEME and TITLE (especially with the meta clue of 45d [This puzzle’s is “Low pH”] for the latter) felt very crossword appropriate, especially given that they crossed.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1441, “Initial Reactions”—Darby’s review

Theme: Each theme answer includes an acronym as its first word (the initials of the puzzle’s title) that has added one letter to a common word or phrase.

Theme Answers

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Crossword #1441, “Initial Reactions” solution for 2/3/2022

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1441, “Initial Reactions” solution for 2/3/2022

  • 17a [“Painting of someone’s digital pickup line”] ASL FRESCO / AL FRESCO
  • 25a [“Fabric pattern that you shouldn’t wear at the office”] NSFW CHECKS / NSF CHECKS
  • 38a [“Comedian without a clue?”] IDK CARD / ID CARD
  • 40a [“‘AFK, Henry VIII’?”] BRB KING / BB KING
  • 49a [“Really funny album cover?”] LMAO JACKET / MAO JACKET
  • 62a [“Two awe-inspiring French handles”] OMG NOM NOM / OM NOM NOM

As per typical BEQ, this puzzle was loaded with creative themers. I was particularly fond of the near-reference to a wild card in IDK CARD and the hilarity of OMG NOM NOM. I wasn’t entirely sure if NSFW CHECKS was meant to be a play on NSF checks and felt like that was a more obscure reference.

In general, I felt like this was really nice. The diagonal staircase through the middle made for a fun breakup of the puzzle, though it was interesting to see how ASL FRESCO and OMG NOM NOM seemed to be the gates to where the upper right half of the puzzle met the lower left. I’d be curious in seeing how BEQ constructed this to see how much one side affected the other as it was coming together.

Some of my favourites for this grid include:

  • 3d [“Still sleepy, say”] – Dealing with the winter storm has definitely made me feel less than HALF AWAKE each morning, even as I still try to get work done.
  • 34d [“Giraffe’s cousin”] – The San Diego Zoo draws direct attention to how unexpected it is that OKAPIs are related to giraffes, since its stripes would suggest zebras as a closer relative. I went out on a gander in filling it in and was shocked to have gotten it right on the first go.
  • 44d [“Game played with gym buddies”] – When I first saw this, I blazed through because I was like “well, I’m not fit, so…” and then had a great laugh when I realized that the answer was POKEMON. What a fun play on words.

Overall, a solid solve.

Rafael Musa’s Universal Crossword, “Boarding Group”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Phrases whose words end in something you’d find on a ticket to a sporting event, say.

Universal crossword solution · “Boarding Group” · Rafael Musa · Thurs., 02.03.22


  • (revealer) THAT’S THE TICKET!

Took me a while to see the theme after I had filled this in completely. Despite the explicit instructions in the revealer, I did not look at the end words collectively. If you do so, there are some of the things you would indeed see on a standard ticket. I’d be lying if I said this one excited me.

I really liked SLEEP DEBT as an entry. It’s not familiar to me, but it’s a phrase I’m happy I learned.

A couple things I wasn’t too keen on were BOARD SEAT duping the title (Boarding Group), especially because it’s a themer. Also SUNDIAL and EAR DRUM were difficult for me not to mix in with the themers, visually speaking. That’s probably just me though. I feel like whenever I solve on the Universal webapp, I’m slightly more cantankerous.

RIP Blackberry :(

Lewis Rothlein & Nancy Stark’s LA Times Crossword – answer grid

LA Times

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41 Responses to Thursday, February 3, 2022

  1. Nope says:

    Good gimmick puzzle marred by DERULO/SECO, TAZO/HAYO/ZEROTH

    • Mutman says:

      Agreed. Definitely Naticked on that DERULO/SECO crossing. I also thought ZEROTH was ZERO TO, as in that car goes ZERO TO 60 in 4.4 seconds.

      Fun puzzle, but some questionable fill.

    • Eric H says:

      I spent almost as much time on those five answers as I did on the rest of the puzzle. DERULO was the only one I was completely unfamiliar with; SECO was a gimme that I had to take out and then put back when I figured out the theme (and when I decided the neighbor of Francia wasn’t “Italia”).

  2. Cyberdiva says:

    Just a quick note of thanks, Ben, for your explanation of how the answers in the NYT make sense with their clues. I finished the puzzle thanks to the crossings and a few good guesses, but even after finishing it, I had no idea how the answers fit the clues. It never occurred to me to apply 61A to the clues rather than the answers.

  3. BryanF says:

    NYT: The gimmick fell for me with the “Shakespearean fool” clue. I tried to put IAGO there, but once I knew it had to be IAMB because of the downs I obsessed over that clue needing to say “foot”, and there being a typo in the clue, which stuck with me until I worked my way down the left side and got to the gimmick. Then the aha moment occurred and I started parsing the clues more closely. I even caught a lot more gimmick related clues after I had finished. Great gimmick and not an extraneous non-gimmick related “l” in the puzzle! Well done!

  4. scrivener says:

    Brilliant NYT. Enjoyed the heck out of it.

  5. Scott says:

    Best NYT Thursday in a long time!

  6. Jenni Levy says:

    Totally missed that ROKU was a theme entry because I thought the clue said TV, not IV. Maybe I need new glasses….

    loved the puzzle!

  7. Leah says:

    ‘Goal keepers’ kin’ becomes ‘Goat keepers’ kin’ aka SHEPHERD
    ‘Squalled, say’ becomes ‘Squatted, say’ aka SAT

    Tons of theme content in this one!

    • R says:

      I missed “Squalled,” too, and I just assumed that there was a NAOMI Walls in movies that I had just never heard of.

  8. David L says:

    Clever theme in the NYT — I was staring at the clue for NAOMI wondering if I needed new glasses…

    I drink TAZO tea and have some mathematical knowledge, so that little section was OK but I can see that it will be unfriendly to many solvers.

    I don’t understand ‘Primer dog’ = SPOT. Can anyone explain?

  9. AmyL says:

    WSJ: I could use an explanation of “Better Angel,” which is unknown to me.

  10. Subbu says:

    After finishing the NYT puzzle I stared it for a few seconds trying to figure exactly what did I solve. Big thanks to Ben for making it all clear. How very clever of Adam Wagner!!

  11. Gary R says:

    NYT: Enjoyed the puzzle and thought the theme was clever. I kinda, sorta caught on to the trick in the top third of the puzzle, but thought it was just a letter substitution, “t” for “l” until I ran into 27-D, where it was a “t” for an “i.”

    Question about 64-A for someone more knowledgeable than I am – does the IRS actually “make” tax regulations, or just enforce them?

    • Ethan says:

      Yes they do make regulations. Congress passes laws that lay out in broad strokes what the federal agencies do and then they write regulations to do that, subject to the courts and to bring overruled by Congress.

      So, e.g., Congress might say something like “people who work from home can deduct their home office expenses.”

      The IRS then writes regulations to define things like: “what exactly constitutes a home office? What kinds of expenses for your house are home office expenses?” Etc.

  12. pannonica says:

    NYT: Enjoyed the theme, got clued in rather quickly with the libel-Tibet/lime-time crossing. Had no problem with the obscure crossings others have mentioned, but a couple of quibbles:

    • 8d [And so on] clues et cetera ETC rather than ET ALIA/ET ALII, which means ‘and others’
    • 44a [Homophone of a synonym for “obey”] HED is a homophone of head as in headline, not heed, despite it being a publishing term associated with LEDE (homophone of lead as in lead story)
  13. sanfranman59 says:

    USA Today … YAATEEH {58A: Navajo greeting} is “beautiful”? Why? Simply because it’s a Navajo word? I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. What percentage of the solving public has ever seen this word before? Heck, it’s not even recognizable as a word to me. Throw in 44 blocks, 48 three- or four-letter answers, the ridiculous TITLE {45D: This puzzle’s is “Low pH”} and a ton of things that completely missed my sphere of knowledge and this one gets two thumbs-downs from me. I like learning new things. In fact, it’s why I do the USAT, Universal and The New Yorker puzzles. But I need at least a fighting chance to solve the puzzle. The USAT really seems to have ramped things up on my personal obscurity scale lately.

    End of rant. Thank you for letting me vent. I feel much better now.

    • Matt M. says:

      I feel like this conversation happens on this blog a lot, but I wanted to respond.
      I, and I believe a growing number of editors and constructors who have influenced my thoughts, feel that both the traditional definition of what is familiar to the “solving public” and the importance of familiarity needs to be reassessed.
      In the pre-Shortz era, it seems that all geography was fair game up to including towns with fewer than 5,000 residents — but brand names were largely not allowed. Familiarity in the last 30 years has included brand names and moved away from things deliberate in their obscurity.
      But I think that now some people are challenging what counts as obscure and as obscure to who. For American puzzles in English, it’s understandable that there’s a decidedly American slant — but why do opera clues generally elicit fewer commenter complaints than hip hop clues? Or why is French OK but Navajo not? Many people may not have heard of the word in this puzzle, you’re right. But the crossings are all fair and to me it’s much much more interesting to learn an extremely common word in a language spoken by many in the United States than it is to remember the names of 100-year-old opera stars. And I like opera!
      Great puzzle — fun theme and lively clues throughout.

      • Billy Boy says:

        CKSP – cool kids signaling points. We all know that’s what’s going on, it makes all of us (for the better) more rounded. Buuuuuuut it’s all on a continuum and why logistically it’s actually “more time” for a Native American Female to be nominated for the SCOTUS.

        Hit me, I can take it

        @GaryR – By the way, thanks for the HE’D, I was thinking Scottish again – “That boy’s got a big heeeeeed, it’s a virtual planetoid” (So I married an axe murderer)

      • sanfranman59 says:

        @Matt M … I hear you and agree with you to an extent. What’s “familiar” is always going to be subjective. But even if you don’t know who, say, Enrico Caruso or Maria Callas is, most people would recognize these names as names and would be able to at least make an educated guess at them. The problem that I have with YAATEEH is that, unless you know it, it just looks like a random string of letters. That means the constructor should make darned sure that all of the crosses are solid and unimpeachable. In this case, ‘Wait’ is a perfectly reasonable answer for the clue “Hang on a sec” (I might even argue that it’s a better answer than WHOA). I didn’t really grasp the answer for BERET {43D: Blank Panther’s accessory either because I was thinking about the movie and just assumed that I wouldn’t know the answer (that one’s on me … I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Marvel Universe movie and haven’t really thought about superheroes much since I was about 10 years old … and that’s a long ass time ago!). I eventually got this section of the puzzle correct, but I’ll be surprised if I ever encounter YAATEEH again in my life or, if I do, that I’ll remember it.

        Re “why is French OK but Navajo not?” … Since I’m almost completely monolingual, I probably struggle with non-English answers more than the average crossword solver (again, that’s on me). But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy learning words in other languages. I’m fascinated by words, no matter their origin. However, there are only 170,000 people on the entire planet who speak Navajo and almost all of those folks live in a very circumscribed area around the Four Corners. I don’t want to come off as disrespectful of the language of a great people who have been treated very poorly by their conquerors. I’m sure that it’s rich, wonderful and fascinating. I just don’t think a word like YAATEEH has a place in an American English language crossword puzzle, particularly one that generally skews decidedly toward the easy end of the crossword difficulty spectrum. I’d say it might be fair game as an occasional entry in a NYT or Newsday Saturday Stumper puzzle, but the USA Today?

      • David Steere says:

        I quite agree, Matt M. It seems I’ve said this for the past few days against those who heavily criticize the USA Today puzzle. Once again, I though this was a lovely puzzle. YAATEETH was just fine as an answer even though I got it from crosses. Then I looked it up. From Sally’s blog: ” YAATEEH (58A: Navajo greeting) YÁ’ÁT’ÉÉH is used as a Navajo greeting to mean, “hello,” “greetings,” and “it is good.”” Perhaps those who keep blasting the USAT puzzles should just stop doing them. I–for one–will continue doing them every day. Thanks, Erik and company, for a great series. David

        • sanfranman59 says:

          “Perhaps those who keep blasting the USAT puzzles should just stop doing them” kind of reminds me of folks who say to people who criticize politicians in our country that if they don’t like America, they should go live somewhere else. I was simply sharing my opinion of this particular puzzle. I thought that was the purpose of this blog comment page. Trust me, if I’m consistently as frustrated by solving the “USA Today” puzzle as I was today’s, I’ll stop doing it (thank you for your permission to do so).

          • R says:

            There’s a big difference between “don’t do a leisure activity if you don’t like it” and “don’t live in a country if you disagree with the leadership.” This highlights the absurdity and intensity of these USA Today rants that have become at least a weekly occurrence here.

      • ER says:

        As someone with Navajo ancestry, I find the butchering of yá’át’ééh into crossword squares, removing the accents and stresses, more rude than anything. But I imagine the writer here is busy patting themselves on their back for their elevated humanity, so it’s ok. It’s a crossword puzzle after all, not like it matters.

        • Eric H says:

          Crossword puzzles butcher the accents, stresses, and diacritics of all languages, not just Navajo.

          Not like it matters.

  14. marciem says:

    BEQ: 57a: Raise your hand if you actually get to bring home what you’ve earned … :) I WANT YOUR JOB!! The taxman won’t let me do that.

  15. Eric H says:

    Universal: SLEEP DEBT threw me for a bit, as I have always heard it as SLEEP deficit. Even though I had gotten YOU OWE ME BIG TIME quickly, I wondered if 4D had a rebus. (But now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure Universal puzzles never have rebuses.)

    Great misdirection with the clue for BRAND NAME. My first PDA (of that sort, not the 33D kind) was a BlackBerry).

  16. Reddogg says:

    NYT It had 12 theme answers/clues, not just the nine in Ben’s review. You can find them here:


  17. marciem says:

    Loved the NYT today, I’m really looking forward to seeing a Thursday Twist as often happens. It took me a while to get there, and even when I had it all filled in I missed some… (squalled = squatted) for one.

    I did slow down because of et alia not etcetc that I wanted, and derulo didn’t help that cross being unknown to me. Could not figure out how hed was a homophone for a synonym of obey (the h was the last letter to fall) until thankfully Gary R explained it :) .

    Zeroth also completely new to me, but gettable from crossings.

  18. Brenda Rose says:

    “it’s a crosssword puzzle after all, not like it matters.”
    Thank you ER for putting a mode of entertainment in perspective.

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