This week’s Fireball crossword is a contest puzzle. Check back Sunday after the deadline for more on that.
Zachary David Levy’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Make a Wish!”—Jim P’s review
Theme: FALLING STAR (59a, [Celestial misnomer, and a hint to the circled letters]). The circled letters—angled down and to the right—spell out celestial bodies ALPHA CENTAURI, BETELGEUSE, and SIRIUS.
I spotted ALPHA CENTAURI first and was thinking the revealer would be something like DESCENDING STAR. FALLING STAR works but per Google’s Ngram Viewer, it’s much less common than “shooting star.”
I enjoyed sussing out the theme, filling in the star names, and then firming everything up with the revealer.
However, as often happens with grids with triple-checked squares, there are a lot of trade-offs required to make the theme work, and a couple clues felt off to me:
- I didn’t know TONE ROWS [12-note sequences], and I wonder if most non-musically-trained solvers were in the same boat. Or maybe it’s just me.
- The short, choppy fill in the center of the grid was a drag: EEN, MCED, ACL, SVU, DINA crossing ATT, RECD, and ATWT [Chem. class fig.]. (I wanted ATNO for that last one).
- MRS SMITH is clued [Amanda with a pie company named for her] and just sounds weird. In crossword parlance, a clue like that would normally lead to the surname alone without a title. [Eponym for a pie company] works better IMO.
- Lastly, the clue [“Let’s play this by ear”] really wants the answer WE’LL SEE, but instead gets I’LL SEE.
I did like SWEAT STAINS, KNISHES, “IT’S FUN!,” and “I’M RICH!”
Other clues of note:
- 15a. [Basque word for “merry”]. ALAI. Well, that’s a different angle than the usual. In case you’re wondering “jai” means “festival.”
- 32a. [Gesture of respect]. SALAAM. Didn’t realize this was also a gesture in addition to a greeting. The internets say it’s “a gesture of greeting or respect, with or without a spoken salutation, typically consisting of a low bow of the head and body with the hand or fingers touching the forehead.”
- 5d. [Author of six books retired in 2021]. SEUSS. I didn’t know books were “retired.” The six in question will no longer be published due to racist imagery. They are: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer.
- 42d. [Propel]. OAR. Not a fan of OAR used as a verb. Is there something wrong with “row”?
Nice theme, but quite a few distracting negatives. 3.25 stars.
Parker Higgins and Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review
I am very here for the shenanigans happening in today’s crossword grid. Thank you for the shenanigans, Parker and Ross.
- 17A: One performing a palm print analysis — NNNNIC SCIENTIST
- 23D: Pizzeria supplies — TOMOOOOOOOO
- 25D: Eventgoers — ADDDDDDDDDD
The chaotic visual as I started solving of NNNN appearing as I solved the first section of down clues was DELIGHTFUL. We’ve got [FOUR Ns]IC SCIENTIST, TOM[EIGHT Os], and A[TEN Ds] in various quadrants of the grid, and goodness but this made me smile as I cracked each one of these. Whether you thought “SUCKS” (1A, “Good or bad vacuum review?”) OR NOT (14A, “… but it seems like you hate the idea”), I had a great time with this one.
Side note: thank you Parker and Ross for sticking YOU at 62D (“Solver of this puzzle”), so I could remember which particular weird spelling EYDIE Gorme’s name uses.
Good morning, folks! Kind of a perfect puzzle from Patrick today, in a “platonic ideal” kind of way. Like, I feel like if I bought a textbook about crosswords it would use this as example in the themeless section. We’ve got the pretty grid design, stacked long answers, conversational stuff like BEST OF LUCK, historical figures like ARTHUR ASHE, quirky slang like ADORKABLE*, question mark clues like [What might still have a little Life left in it?] (for CEREAL BOX). Thanks, Patrick!
*I have talked about ADORKABLE in the past, and it was actually a different New Yorker Patrick Berry puzzle.
Mark McClain’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Amy’s write-up
It’s Amy standing in for Gareth today. Our revealer is 66a. [Difficult time, or what is hidden in each of the answers to the starred clues?], ROUGH PATCH, and the starred themers all have the letters in PATCH scrambled up in a row within them: SCOTCH TAPE, SNAPCHAT, SOUTH PACIFIC, and NIGHTCAP.
Surprised by two successive clues: 34a. [Constellation near Ursa Minor] for DRACO instead of a Harry Potter clue, and 36a. [Chicago suburb] for CICERO instead of an ancient orator. Also surprised to see 67d. [Coach Parseghian], ARA—can’t remember the last time I saw him in a crossword (nor the constellation by the same name). Speaking of ARA, the fill had a bit of an “older crossword” vibe, with THANE, ALDER, HIED, COPTS, PROSY, CELESTAS, and PESETA.
Three more things:
- 24a. [Drink that may cause brain freeze], ICEE. I like the clue! And I miss Slurpees. Cutting back on sugar intake means no Slurpees. I lived on Slurpees in junior high and high school! Pretty sure that’s why I always made the honor roll. The salutary effects of brief cryogenic sinus pain …
- 54a. [*Second game of a doubleheader], NIGHTCAP. I’d have clued this as a drink, as baseball slang isn’t universally familiar.
- 64a. [Learned league?], MENSA. Technically, you don’t need to be “learned” to get into Mensa. Just good at standardized tests or IQ tests. You do need to know a lot of things to do well in Learned League, the online, by-invitation trivia competition. I love LL! Get my ass handed to me fairly regularly, too.
Four stars for the theme. 2.5 for the fill.
Mikkel Snyder & Brooke Husic’s USA Today Crossword, “Outer Limits” — Sophia’s recap
Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer is surrounded by the word MAX
- 20a [Civil rights leader who asked, “Who taught you to hate yourself?”] – MALCOLM X
- 37a [Movement created by Asia Jackson that challenges colorism in Filipino media] – MAGANDANG MORENX
- 53a [When Nowruz is celebrated] – MARCH EQUINOX
Good execution of a classic USA Today theme! It could have been cool to include other types of limits too, like “min”. Either that or make the title relate more to the concept of maximum?? Whatever, I liked it either way. I’d never heard of MAGANDANG MORENX but am glad to know about it now, and all of the crosses were fair.
- This puzzle is suuuper asymmetric, which is not always my jam when it doesn’t have a thematic purpose. However, the grid design does give us EUPHORIA and I TOO SING AMERICA, which are standouts. (I don’t love the closed-off SE, though).
- I really like the diagonal string of L’s going through MALCOLM X/ELSE/SELL/SKILL. Just looks cool in the grid.
- I overthought 11a [Utah Natives] so much… “It can’t just be UTES, can it??” (It can).
Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1479, “Vicious Circles” — Darby’s write-up
Theme: Grey squares arranged in a circle spell out a word meaning “unusual” surrounding one letter, making “strange loops.”
- 15a [“___ Speedwagon”] REO
- 18a [“Evian, e.g.”] EAU
- 21a [“URL starter, perhaps”] HTTPS
- 9a [“Go all in”] COMMIT
17a [“Set after the set”] ENCORE
20a [“Big name in yo-yos”] DUNCAN
- 63a [“Portray”] DEPICT
- 21a [“Singer Badu”] ERYKAH
- 74a [“Christmas in Cinque Terre”] NATALE
- 62a [“‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ director”] CAPRA
70a [“Onetime Bowie label”] EMI
73a [“___de-sac”] CUL
Revealer: 41a [“2022 Best Musical Tony winner, and theme of this puzzle”] A STRANGE LOOP
I was excited to see the shaded squares when I opened the puzzle this morning. Together, this theme feels almost like a piece of performance art and commentary on bullying. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I thought it was really interesting. The theme itself wasn’t super useful for me; I honestly didn’t think too much about it during my solve, though doing so definitely would’ve have helped, especially in terms of 70a, but we made it through. It was also nifty that BEQ slipped in 56a [“Jacquel Spivey, in 41-Across, e.g.”] STAR. It would’ve been fun to see EGOT – a crossword fave – sneak in since there’s been so much about Jennifer Hudson getting her EGOT as a result of A STRANGE LOOP, but I still think the inclusion of STAR was more than enough.
Other things I noticed:
- 28a [“Stooge first name”] – Florence + the Machine just did a great cover of IGGY Pop’s “Search and Destroy” on the deluxe addition of their new album, which I highly recommend.
- 55d [“Quests for Knights”] – Are there other GRAILS than the one Holy Grail? Were knights sent off looking for other GRAILS? The Slightly Less Holy Grail or the Hole-y Grail?
- 68d [“Initials in the ‘V’ on the movie poster for ‘Elvis’”] – TCB appears pretty small in this poster, but it was a fun thing to notice, so I was grateful to see it pop up in this puzzle.
That’s all from me today!
Will Pfadenhauer’s Universal Crossword, “Final Four” — Jim Q’s write-up
THEME: Phrases that are synonyms for “shot”
- NIGHT CAP
- COVID BOOSTER
- GRADUATION PHOTO
- BUZZER BEATER
- (revealer) LAST SHOT
Apologies in advance: My autcorrect changes SHOT to SHIT and it’s very difficult to get it to say the correct word. I actually trained it to do that since I was more tired of it autocorrecting SHIT to SHOT, and if this is the price I pay, so be it. It’s difficult for me to type the word DUCK too.
Anyway, I liked this one! Playful vibe and a steady flow. Is this the first time a reference to COVID has made it into a grid? I haven’t seen one yet. If so, I think that’s a good sign that we’re ready to move on.
Out of everything in the grid, however, THWACK is what won me over the most. That’s a great word. Fun to type. Fun to say. Fun to do with a magazine. You name it. THWACK should be in every grid.
Is it just DIET / COKE that reacts with Mentos? I thought that a lot of sodas could do that. Oddly specific clue imo.
Also really enjoyed the fictional name of a restaurant called THAI‘d You Over.
Only nit is that GRADUATION PHOTO is awfully Green-Paintish.
4.25 Stars from me!