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.
- 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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I OWE YOU BIG TIME
- FRONT GATE
- BRAND NAME
- BOARD SEAT
- (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.