Thursday, September 15, 2022

BEQ untimed (Darby) 


LAT 3:36 (Gareth) 


NYT 13:57 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker tk (malaika) 


Universal 3:55 (Amy) 


USA Today 7:32 (Emily) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Note: Fireball is a contest this week. We will have a review after the submission period closes.

Justin Werfel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Plight”—Jim P’s review

Theme answers consist of familiar phrases where one word normally has a double-P, but one of those Ps is removed resulting in crossword wackiness. The title should be read as “P-light,” i.e. each phrase has fewer Ps than it did originally.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Plight” · Justin Werfel · Thu., 9.15.22

  • 17a. [Crazy about optimism?] HOPING MAD. Meh. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
  • 21a. [Coffee on a hillside?] SLOPY JOE. I can see coffee plants growing on a hillside, but it’s not “joe” at that point. And I didn’t know “slopy” was a word.
  • 39a. [Pillow stuffing arranged in bands?] STRIPED DOWN. Again, meh. Feels forced.
  • 58a. [The Tao of bees?] APIAN WAY. This one I liked a lot. And the clue sounds like a sequel to The Tao of Pooh.
  • 64a. [Caretaker who will never be replaced?] LAST SUPER. Also good.

While the the first three entries didn’t do a lot for me, neither did they overly bother me, and the last two were enough to win me over. So all in all, I enjoyed the theme. There can’t be too many double-P words that are still words after removing one of the Ps, and I appreciate using the double-P as a constraint.

In the fill, we have the fun INSPECTOR Gadget, LIP BALMS, MOJITO, and FRESHNESS. I didn’t know NANKIPOO [The Mikado’s son], but it looks great in the grid.

Clues of note:

  • 28a. [Richtung auf einem Kompass]. OST. I incorrectly guessed that “Richtung” meant “right,” which still led me to the correct answer (which means “East”). Nope, “Richtung” means “direction.”
  • 46a. [Popeyes choice]. BREAST. Lest you think less of Popeye the Sailor man, the clue is referring to the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurant chain. Don’t think I didn’t notice “chicken” in the crossing clue for 46d: [Less chicken].
  • 11d. [Pachelbel’s Canon is in it]. D-MAJOR. When I was a kid, my older brother gave me a tape titled, “Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit” (singular). It was a compilation of various versions of the piece. One can’t be grumpy at a puzzle while one is listening to the Canon, so here’s two hours of it (see below).

Nice puzzle overall, 3.75 stars. Oh, and it’s a debut, so congrats to our constructor!

Ruth Bloomfield Margolin’s New York Times crossword—Zachary David Levy’s review

Difficulty: Hard (13m57s)

Ruth Bloomfield Margolin’s New York Times solution, 9/14/22, 0914

Today’s theme: Literally.

  • (O)BJECTIONS (Make one’s opposition known, literally)
  • (S)TINK (Protest, literally)
  • (F)AMILY (See children through to adulthood, literally)
  • (M)INIMUM WAGE (Alleviate income insufficiency, literally)
  • VOLUM(E) (Show respect to one’s neighbors late at night, literally)
  • TEMPERATUR(E) (De-escalate tension, literally)
  • PRIC(E) (Put on sale, literally)
  • TOILETSEA(T) (Demonstrate a bit of bathroom etiquette, literally)

I really want there to be some extra step here, a revealer I glossed over, an angle I didn’t spot, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in the cards.  You’ve raised a STINK, a FAMILY, the MINIMUM WAGE, and OBJECTIONS so that they’re off the top of the grid.  On the flipside, you’ve lowered the VOLUMEPRICE, TEMPERATURE, and TOILET SEAT off the bottom.  Considering how straightforward the theme is — for the third Thursday in a row — this one played much harder than the last two.  Why?  Maybe because you have fill like WELTED and LYS and SAMIMALA fides instead of bona fides, TRE MAV EPI TSO, and a run of proper Ms — MISSY and MAEVE and MIMI and MOIRA, oh my.

CrackingSO LAST YEAR — is it ironic that this phrase is so last decade?  Still fun fill, tho.

Slacking: EAL — you know what else ends in EAL? Venereal, diarrheal, gonorrheal, congeal, perineal, etc.

SidetrackingYAMSYAMS are inexorably linked to an episode of Night Court inside my head, titled “The Last Temptation of Mac”, where Christine’s bad YAMS make everyone violently ill. You also get Leslie Jordan making a great cameo as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade handler. Mac’s storyline, incidentally, is the least memorable part of the episode.

Overall, not bad, but not for me. 3/5.

Zachary David Levy’s Universal crossword, “Gnarly!”—Amy’s write-up

Universal crossword solution, 9 15 22, “Gnarly”

A rather complicated theme here. I haven’t been doing many of the Universal puzzles, but based on this theme, I’m going to guess that the difficulty level does ramp up throughout the week (though this one’s easier than a Thursday NYT). The puzzle’s title is (old?) surfer slang, and that’s the vibe:

  • 28a. [Wave rider’s excited shout, and a hint to 19-Across], SURF’S UP. 19a is clued [Four pi r squared, for a sphere], but SACE AREA is nothing. However! The SURF goes UP, so 19a is SURFACE AREA, with 1d being the nonsensical FRUS, or SURF when read from bottom to top.
  • 37a. [Wave rider’s failure, and a hint to 15-Across], WIPEOUT. 15a‘s clue is [Hit that isn’t head-on], but SIDES looks wrong. SIDESWIPE fits the clue, and it fits the grid if you take the letter sequence “WIPE” OUT.
  • 44a. [Wave rider’s stunt, and a hint to 61-Across], HANG TEN. 61a is clued [One may have a clay surface], which leads to a TENNIS COURT with the TEN left HANGing down from the initial T.

61d just gets a [See 61-Across] clue, though TEN is a legit entry unto itself. The theme would have been a little more elegant if FRUS were also a legit entry, but it’s not, and it would be tough to lodge an answer like FRUSTRATE at 1d in a themed puzzle.


Three more things:

  • 17d. [Soothing powder], TALC. Ooh, no, bad. Read the new New Yorker article on Johnson & Johnsons shenanigans to get out of having to pay settlements/damages to people whose ovarian cancer or mesothelioma might be linked to talc itself and/or the asbestos fibers that J&J has long known were an issue.
  • 33a. [Opposite of “severe”], MILD. Can you tell ZDL (one of Team Fiend’s newest members) is a physician?
  • 48d. [Close with a knot], TIE OFF. This feels like a mostly medical thing, too. Tying off the sutures when closing a wound, say. Are there nautical, household, or workplace uses of TIE OFF that you’re familiar with?

Four stars from me.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1505, “C-List Celebrities”—Darby’s review

Theme: Each theme answer adds a C to a common phrase, changing it so that the first word of each one is a celebrity’s last name.

Theme Answers

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Crossword #1505, “C-List Celebrities” solution for 9/15/2022

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1505, “C-List Celebrities” solution for 9/15/2022

  • 17a [“‘Big Brother’ host Julie tears it up”] CHEN PARTIES / HEN PARTIES
  • 23a [“Actor George’s Spotify playlist”] CLOONEY TUNES / LOONEY TUNES
  • 39a [“Scientist whose field is Cuban president Raúl?”] CASTRO PHYSICIST / ASTROPHYSICIST
  • 50a [“Big Star singer Alex’s Monopoly property”] CHILTON HOTEL / HILTON HOTEL
  • 61a [“One who lends out Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy for a while”] CORGAN DONOR / ORGAN DONOR

I liked the small modification of this puzzle and thought that the clues worked well for the theme’s mechanism. CLOONEY TUNES is hysterical, and, once I got that themer, the rest fell in line pretty quickly.

The grid itself is really nice and feels open as you move through. I was pleased with myself for remembering SPOONERISM as the term for 11d [“Packed lunch / lacked punch, e.g.”]. The clue for 58a [“Chips for openers] ANTE was also really great. There’s also a joke there to be made about ANTE being an appetizer for poker.

A few other things:

  • 36a [“Busan setting”] – If you haven’t read Pachinko by Min Lee, I highly recommend it. The city of Busan in KOREA has actually seen a spike in tourist visits since the release of the Apple TV series based on the book, according to this article.
  • 8d [“An American in Paris, perhaps”] – The cluing on this was also pretty fun for EXILE.
  • 53d [“Navajo dwelling”] – A HOGAN is a sacred home for the Diné (Navajo) people. It is used for traditional ceremonies. You can learn more about HOGANs here.

Overall, a really clever puzzle! BEQ mentions that this could maybe have spun out into a Sunday puzzle, and I’m so curious about the other celebrity options. Maybe someday we’ll find out.

Micah Sommersmith’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Micah Sommersmith does the clue reversal thing, today with [Green]. All of the greens are derived from the colour in one way or another, but are not the colour. So: BURNINGWITHENVY, PUTTINGAREA, FATSTACKSOFCASH, ECOFRIENDLY, HOPELESSLYNAIVE. This theme, for me, works much better with entries like ECOFRIENDLY that are valid stand-alone entries, otherwise they either seem padded: HOPELESSLYNAIVE or clunky PUTTINGAREA. I don’t quite get the synonymy of FATSTACKSOFCASH at all, although I recognize the connection between GREEN and CASH.

Tricky spots, of which there weren’t many:

  • [Where the Wings meet the Sky?], ARENA. I was thinking Wings as in the band, but still got to the right answer, if wrongheadedly…
  • [River that forms the Michigan-Ontario border], STMARYS. Tough geography!
  • [Black key above C], DFLAT. Aka wait for the crossers…
  • [Phillipa who was the original Eliza in “Hamilton”], SOO. At least not the canals any more!


Rafael Musa’s USA Today Crossword, “Decent Start” — Emily’s write-up

A great theme and themer set, a fun grid, wonderful cluing, and lots of fantastic bonus fill!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday September 15, 2022

USA Today, September 15 2022, “Decent Start” by Rafael Musa

Theme: the first word of each themer is a synonym for the word “Decent”


  • 19a. [“Do what you’re gonna do, I guess”], FINEBETHATWAY
  • 34a. [Digital media platform focused on the Black diaspora], OKAYAFRICA
  • 54a. [“That’s enough!”], ALRIGHTALREADY

Loved the themer set, though it took me a few crossings to help complete them. FINEBETHATWAY is a great expression, though I think of it as usually a flippant response so the cluing was a bit tame for me to make the connection. OKAYAFRICA had excellent crossings so even if this entry was new to anyone, it should be very gettable which can be tricky to do in some cases so kudos. ALRIGHTALREADY feels like it’s rushing me to hurry up with this review but despite that it’s a fun themer to round out this set. Based on the theme, we get FINE, OKAY, and ALRIGHT.


Stumpers: IOTA (“a tad” and “tsps” were first instincts, needed crossings) and SATELLITE (great cluing though new to me so needed crossings)

For me, many of the entries felt fresh and fun, plus cluing was excellent too. I look forward to more of Rafael’s puzzles and hope we see another soon!

4.5 stars


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20 Responses to Thursday, September 15, 2022

  1. Bill Harris says:

    I’ll just state the obvious: this one should never have seen the light of day. Dozens of crosswordese; obscure nonsense; uneven theme.

    • David L says:

      I agree. I figured out what was going on fairly quickly, but it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that raising or lowering words means lopping off their first or last letters.

    • JohnH says:

      Agreed. So much junky fill.

      The raised and lowered letters are ingenious enough, although I have to agree with the review that it’s hard not to want a little more. My first thought was that the raised and lowered letters would spell something. But I could live with or maybe even love the theme if only the fill were better. Let’s just say that light isn’t going to dawn when you get SAMI.

  2. Tony says:

    I really tried to like today’s NYT. Maybe I would have if the raised and lowered letters did something other than just not be in the puzzle.

    That said, I really do not envy Will Shortz’s job. He must have so many submissions to go through and edit that every so often there will be one like this.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Which means that if you’re selecting just 7 puzzles from among the 250 or 300 submissions a week, they should all really sparkle!

  3. Robert Loy says:

    I guess I’m in the minority but I enjoyed today’s NYT puzzle. I’ve been doing crosswords for 50+ years so crosswordese is my second language and I thought the theme was fun, just right for a Thursday.

    • Eric H says:

      I’ll join you. This wasn’t my favorite “outside the grid” puzzle, but I enjoyed it.

      And the misdirection in the clue for SO LAST YEAR is wonderful.

      Zachary David Levy: I hope you meant to gross us out with your examples of words ending in -EAL.

    • marciem says:

      I enjoyed the puzzle too. Took me a minute to catch the theme, but once there it was a breezy. There did seem quite a few names, but they were gettable from crosses, mostly.

      Like Tony above, I would have liked it even better if the letters that fell out of the grid did something, spelled something…. somethinged something rather than just disappear.

      And like Robert Loy, crosswordese doesn’t bother me at all. Its new to someone out there just starting to really enjoy xwording, and if it furthers a fun theme, its fine with me.

      • Eric H says:

        I rarely notice most of the “crosswordese” any more. Sometimes I do get tired of entering the same old stuff, but other times I do it after only half-reading the clue.

        No constructor wants to use those over-employed words. It’s just that they’re necessary to hold a grid together.

        • Doug says:

          But when there are this many of “those…words” it’s almost always a sign that the constructor needs to re-think the grid. A proliferation of those words is only justified where there is an equal payoff: where they result in a sparkling, delightful theme. That is decidedly not the case here.

          • Eric H says:

            How many of “those words” do you see? In looking at the grid again, it doesn’t really seem any worse than other puzzles in terms of overused words, and there’s nothing particularly offensive (at least to me).

            Neither of us knows how many grid layouts the constructor tried. Maybe this is what she considered to be the best.

    • Gary R says:

      I’m generally not a big fan of “letters outside the grid” themes, but I thought this one was decent. I caught onto the outside-the-grid aspect fairly quickly, but didn’t figure out raise/lower until I got to VOLUME.

      I thought it would have been more elegant (and maybe more deceptive) if the parts of the themers inside the grid had been valid entries. I came up with a few, but they mostly leave pretty short words inside the grid: Raise “wages,” the “stakes,” a “glass,” the “price,” the “roof,” and the “flag.” Lower “morale,” the “anchor,” the “boom,” the “eyes.”

      I had trouble in the northeast – didn’t know MIMI, nor MALA. Hesitated a long time before entering LINE A at 12-D. In my experience, “lines” are designated with a number or number(letter). Anything I’ve come across that is designated only with a letter is referred to in IRS instructions as a “box.” It’s certainly possible that LINE A is legit for some form I haven’t seen, but I’ve seen a lot of the most common ones.

  4. jim says:

    I got it but I didn’t like it.

  5. Billposter says:

    Hey, Will Short … (We know you read this)…you’re loosing some of us, Pal!

  6. Art Shapiro says:

    Amy asks about non-medical uses of “TIE OFF” in her Universal review.

    Although it’s a completely foreign activity to me, I think I have heard the term used in some soft of craft work – perhaps knitting, purling, crocheting, or macrame.

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