Thursday, May 25, 2023

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 5:37 (Gareth) 


NYT 8:45 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker 2:52 (Kyle) 


Universal 3:36 (Sophia) 


USA Today 11:38 (Emily) 


WSJ 9:20 (Jim) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


Tom Yuval and Jake Halperin’s Fireball Crossword, “Switch” – Jenni’s write-up

This puzzle challenged me. There was a lot of fill I didn’t know and I didn’t figure out the theme until very late in game even with the revealer. It was a very satisfying aha! moment. Also: this is the first Crossword Theme tag for Tom Yuval – if this is a debut, it’s a good one!

The theme answers appear nonsensical at first glance.

Fireball, May 24, 2023, “Switch,” Tom Yuval and Jake Halperin, solution grid

  • 18a [Candidate for early adoption?] is a BABY STEPSON.
  • 24a [Cause of long lines at a beauty salon?] is a COSMETIC SURGE.
  • 49a [Insult competition?] is an OFFENDERS GAME.
  • 58a [Igloo?] is an ICE BUILDING. OK, that one isn’t nonsensical.

The revealer is 38a [Unstable, as a relationship…or a hint to 18-, 24-, 49-, and 58-Across]: ON AGAINOFF AGAIN. I figured out 49a – drop the OFF and you have ENDERS GAME. And oh, yeah, 18 is BABY STEPS if you drop the ON. Took me longer to see that if you add the ON to 24a you get COSMETIC SURGEON and I finally figured out OFFICE BUILDING for 58a. Very elegant! One of each, nicely paired, and all the base phrases are solidly in the language. I really liked it.

A few other things:

  • 2d [Better] is OUTDO. “Better” is a verb here, not an adjective.
  • 13d [Wildcat that sounds like it should live on a golf course] is a LYNX. I’ve been doing cryptic puzzles lately and I’m sure I’ve seen this somewhere…
  • I’ll just take the puzzle’s word for it that Gordon Cooper’s fellow Geminis 5 astronauts called him GORDO.
  • We have a garden ORB in our yard. My husband made it. And yes, that might mean we ran out of room for his hand-blown glass inside the house.
  • I think puppy love mostly happens before the TEENAGE years. Maybe not.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: oh, so many things. I did not know that Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood are both IOWANs. I did not know that Amalie Arena is in TAMPA or that “King of the Hill” is set in the fictional Texas town of ARLEN. I’ve never seen any of the MIB movies so I had no idea what [Neuralyzers of ET sighters] was supposed to be. I didn’t know that J. J. Abrams created ALIAS. I do know he started going by J. J. as a kid – one of my college roommates went to high school with him and showed me a program from one of the school plays.

Gary Cee’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In the Clink”—Jim’s review

Theme: Words that contain the letters CON are strategically placed under other words that contain the letters LOCK or KEY. The revealer is UNDER LOCK AND KEY (39a, [Con’s place, especially in this puzzle]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “In the Clink” · Gary Cee · Thu., 5.25.23

  • 20a. [1970 Jim Brown western] EL CONDOR beneath 17a CLOCK.
  • 22a. [Pennsylvania’s ___ Mountains] POCONO beneath 18a SHERLOCKS. Gary is a radio DJ in the Poconos, so I’d bet this was a seed entry.
  • 63a. [Calm, cool and collected] IN CONTROL beneath 57a POKEYS.
  • 65a. [They get scoops] CONES beneath 61a MICKEY D’S.

Criminal incarceration isn’t exactly my favorite subject matter for a puzzle. One only has to look at this article in the news today to realize that there are some stories with no positive outcomes. So let’s just look at the puzzle at face value.

Once I hit the revealer, it was easy to see what was happening in the top of the grid, and therefore I knew what to expect in the bottom half. That definitely helped me to resolve those entries quicker than the upper ones. But the stacked entries made for some odd bedfellows resulting in some tougher fill like UNKN, INK CAP, and RETSYN (I wanted RETSIN). Overall, though, the theme does its job, and while I didn’t find it the most scintillating of themes, it works.

There are a lot of constraints on the fill with all those stacked entries, so there isn’t much along the lines of sparkle. I didn’t know FELA Kuti, and the crossing with NEHRU might be tough for some solvers, but it’s Thursday, and we should have all seen NEHRU enough by now. (We should all know FELA Kuti, too, but I don’t recall seeing the name in a puzzle before.)

Clues of note:

  • 9d. [Drive home without stopping?]. HARP ON. Good misdirection with this one.
  • 19d. [Home of Shakespeare’s Globe]. LONDON. Be advised that it’s a reconstruction. Pictured is my daughter outside the theatre.
  • 27d. [Market pro]. GROCER. Another good bit of misdirection here.

3.25 stars from me.

Andrew Kingsley and Garrett Chalfin’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Easy (8m45s)

Andrew Kingsley and Garrett Chalfin’s New York Times crossword, 5/24/23, 0524

Today’s theme: SPLIT PEAS (Certain soup ingredients … or a homophonic hint to the answers to the starred clues)

  • WHIP / PETS (Whippets)
  • POWERS UP / PLY (Power supply)
  • PHILIP / PINES (Philippines)
  • FLIP / PANT (Flippant)

You split the P’s into two separate words.  Pretty straightforward for a Thursday, and played very easy, despite how segmented the grid was (43 black squares is a lot for a 15x puzzle).  The puzzle is also asymmetric for reasons not immediately apparent to me; possibly the result of a construction roadblock, as I don’t think it appears to be for stylistic purposes.

I’m glad we saw a dramatic reduction in IDI Amin appearances over the last few years; maybe someone could toss Bashar Al-ASSAD on that same trash heap (or at least clue him as something a little less benign than a “strongman.”)  I also parse DA MASK as dated 90’s slang about an odd Jim Carrey movie.

Cracking: I INSIST crossing NOW THEN.  No, please, after you.  

Slacking: BITMAP — I know the term, but it brings me no pleasure.

SidetrackingTEST RIDE — Roger doing Scent of a Woman.  Classic.

Caitlin Reid’s New Yorker crossword – Kyle’s write-up

Thanks to Caitlin Reid for today’s New Yorker crossword. With only seven of 72 entries at 9 letters or longer, the short fill has a lot of work to do to keep the solver’s interest. Caitlin did really well at producing a very clean grid and adding a lot of fun through the clues:

The New Yorker solution grid – Thu 05/25/23 – Caitlin Reid

  • 12A AESOP [Fabulous storyteller?]
  • 14A OILY [Type of complexion on which a lightweight moisturizer may be used]
  • 21A BEAT [“If that don’t ___ all!]
  • 29A UNO [Card game with a Dos variation]
  • 43A BLOOD [Word after blue or before orange] – my wife makes a blood orange cake that is sooooo good.
  • 51A YETI [“___ in my Spaghetti” (children’s game with a rhyming name)]
  • 25D MUM [Mother pushing a pram, say] – nice hint at the Britishism with “pram”
  • 34D SEAL [Aquatic mammal whose young may be white and fluffy with large dark eyes]
  • 51D YUMA [Indigenous people who share a name with an Arizona city] – my “TIL” moment (knew the city, not the people)

Sarah Butkovic and Jeff Chen’s Universal crossword, “Drop-Down Menu” — Sophia’s write-up

Theme: Foods whose names contain words that relate to heaven.

Universal Crossword, 05 25 2023, “Drop Down Menu”

  • 20a [Meaty appetizer served with ranch] – BUFFALO WINGS
  • 29a [Breakfast creation with a fluffy white base] – CLOUD EGG
  • 36a [Light, fluffy dessert] – ANGEL FOOD CAKE
  • 44a [Cold Filipino treat with a repetitive name] – HALO HALO
  • 54a [Famed Manhattan neighborhood … or where you wouldn’t find 20-, 29-, 36- and 44-Across?] – HELL’S KITCHEN

Cute theme and great “backwards” revealer. While solving I knew the theme had to have something to do with food, but everything didn’t come together until I got HELL’S KITCHEN. All of the food items themselves are interesting stand-alone words as well, which is always a plus. The title also took me a minute to understand (at first I thought this was going to be a hidden words theme in the down answers), but I think it’s very clever.

Fill highlights: CHOCO-taco (this might only be a highlight to me, but I loved these things). Also SMARTIE and Pixy STIX – there’s a lot of sugar in this puzzle, even outside of the theme.

Clue highlights: [Navigate thin ice?] for SKATE, [A banana duct-taped to the wall, to some] for ART.

New to me: [“___ Mananitas” (Mexican birthday song)] for LAS, [Chicago Sky star Quigley] for ALLIE, and that Dexter was on SHOwtime.

Kelly Richardson & Katie Hale’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Kelly Richardson & Katie Hale feature a somewhat whimsical puzzle theme today. One letter in five old-ish films is changed to another to form the name of a bird variety. The letters changed from and to are different on each occasion:

  • [Film about a seabird who will stop at nothing for a sandwich?], RAGING[B>G]ULL
  • [Film about a bird who is constantly mistaken for a common pigeon?], [L>D]OVEACTUALLY. The terms dove and pigeon don’t have any taxonomic meaning as such.
  • [Film about a flocking bird who wants to fly solo?], INDEPENDENCE[D>J]AY
  • [Film about a prehistoric songbird?], JURASSIC[P>L]ARK
  • [Film about a diving bird who collides with a snorkeler?], [M>L]OONSTRUCK

The five part theme requires a carefully designed grid, usually without too much flashy and split into manageable sections. The two longest downs are food-related: NORIROLL & DELICASE. I was imagining CASE as in sausage outer for the longest time here. In these downs we also have [Spot for Spot to sleep], DOGBED; but not Fido – with winter coming here he is permanently buried under all the blankets in the HUMANBED.


Brooke Husic’s USA Today Crossword, “Mountain Tops” — Emily’s write-up

Summer is finally here and it’s the perfect day for a hike together, at least in crossword form!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday May 25 2023

USA Today, May 25 2023, “Mountain Tops” by Brooke Husic

Theme: in the downs today, the word “mountain” can be added before (or on top) of the first word of each themer to make a phrase


  • 2d. [Place for indoor bouldering], CLIMBINGGYM
  • 24d. [Tight, knew-length bottoms], BIKESHORTS
  • 14d. [Cause of some paradoxes in science fiction], TIMETRAVEL
  • 26d. [Rastafari symbol], LIONOFJUDAH

A fun variety of themers that come together nicely as a set with the theme. One campus CLIMBINGGYM near my work is so popular that some co-workers go for a short session over lunch. BIKESHORTS season is certainly upon us! TIMETRAVEL, while some people’s favorite, isn’t my particular jam for sci-fi since it’s hard to pull off and explain well. LIONOFJUDAH started to fill in for me by the time I go to it and the image of it on a shirt in my mind before I had it completed. Each one pairs with MOUNTAIN to give us: MOUNTAIN CLIMBING, MOUNTAIN BIKE, MOUNTAIN TIME, and MOUNTAIN LION.


Stumpers: IDLIS (new to me), MOIMOI (also new to me), and LAMPOON (needed all the crossings today on this one!)

So much wonderful fill and love Brooke’s cluing as usual! Great puzzle, even though they are usually a bit challenging for me still. Just right for a Thursday!

4.5 stars


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20 Responses to Thursday, May 25, 2023

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I like DAMASK –named after my home town of Damascus, or DAMASHK which is famous for textiles (include brocades). But could definitely do without ASSAD. The word actually means Lion in Arabic, which I’ve always found ironic.
    I like the fact that both sides of the break were words that stood on their own rather than meaningless stubs. It feels like a wasted opportunity for more clever cluing?
    I had DEER for animal crossing for a while… I’m forever waiting for them to cross the street in our neck of the woods. They and the turkeys shall inherit the earth.

  2. Me says:

    NYT: This is the first puzzle for the NYT that I can remember that is asymmetric for no apparent reason (not because of the theme). I wonder if this got through because it looks symmetric at first glance, or if this is a sign that Will Shortz is relaxing the symmetry rule and there will be more asymmetric puzzles to come.

    I personally like the symmetry and hope that it continues, although I can’t really defend why it’s important. Part of it is I think that it’s obviously harder to make the puzzle symmetric, and it shows a level of craft. (Not that asymmetric puzzles don’t have craft – it’s like a restaurant dish that has a really exceptional presentation – it just caps things off well.) My general feeling that the NYT crossword acceptance rate is something like 3%, and if the constructor can’t figure out how to make it symmetric, the editors should send it back. Especially in a case like today, where I don’t see any inherent reason why the theme would make it harder for symmetry to occur than any other theme. I know others will disagree — not every venue requires symmetry to be published.

    • Zach says:

      I 100% with this. Unless the puzzle contains some theme feature that is stunningly unique (which this does not), I expect some form of symmetry.

    • Eric H says:

      I wonder how many good theme ideas have been scrapped because the constructor couldn’t find a symmetrical theme set.

      I hadn’t noticed the asymmetry of this puzzle’s grid. When I read about it in the constructor’s notes, it took me a bit of looking at the grid to find where the symmetry fell apart.

    • JohnH says:

      I disagree. It does have a reason: the revealer differs in that it does not (indeed cannot) split P’s. I thought that was rather clever.

      The theme came easily, but I found the fill on the hard side for Thursday, which is fine, and I liked the puzzle more than most. I believe we’ve split answers before over two entries, but splitting at a double P is a nice touch.

      What I take to be T-RAP crossing RAP is harder to justify. And I’m not convinced that a POWER SUPPLY is a current converter.

    • Sam Acker says:

      I justify the asymmetry like this: if you “complete” the split P entries (i.e., pretend that the black box separating each theme entry isn’t there), the the puzzle is nearly entirely symmetric, except for row 8. But that’s ok to me – even as a symmetry purist – since the way that the constructor dealt with the asymmetric themers was to lean into the lopsidedness and make a grid that is quasi-mirror symmetric.

      • Milo says:

        Okaaaay, but what about those two zig-zags in the center, which mirror one another but are spinning at different points on their axis? I’d like to hear from the constructors themselves what their rationale was with the asymmetry. Because clearly if there was a point to it, it was lost on most of us.

        • Me says:

          I don’t feel like there’s great justification for Row 8, essentially a non-theme row, to be asymmetric, other than the constructors thought it was too hard to fix. I’m not a fan of the idea of pretending like the black box isn’t there, since similar scenarios in other puzzles have been constructed and still been symmetric, but even if we go with that, Row 8 shouldn’t be in the final puzzle IMO.

    • Gary R says:

      This asymmetry is outrageous!! My knickers are in such a twist that I can barely type.

      I suggest that we all stop solving/commenting on the NYT crossword for the next month, just to teach Shortz a lesson.

  3. Old Man Internet says:

    NYT: AOL is a Gmail alternative and Bitmap is a Jpeg alternative? Was this puzzle written in 2007?

  4. John says:

    Everybody’s missing the REAP/PEAR at 11-down (probably because the NYT app doesn’t highlight it for some reason, despite the clue having an asterisk).

    • Eric H says:

      There must have been a coding error that’s been fixed. I updated the puzzle in the app archives, and all the theme answers appear to be highlighted. (I’m not sure it wasn’t OK last night in the iPad app.)

    • Pavel says:

      And note that its symmetric opposite is the revealer, which *doesn’t* have that central black square. So there’s one reason for the grid assymetry.

      • ZDL says:

        So that’s the reason, then. And I missed it completely. I also second the notion that I’ve scrapped many puzzles in the past for failure to come up with a symmetric theme set.

        • Alan D. says:

          Except the revealer is 9 letters and can stand alone in the middle of the grid without a symmetrical entry. That’s what I would have tried to do anyway.

          • ZDL says:

            A central 9 puts three black squares in the center of the grid on each side and tends to segment the whole puzzle into top/bottom.. makes the rest of the grid layout very challenging. More often than not, when I try it, it doesn’t work out very well.

  5. Eric H says:

    WSJ: “Criminal incarceration isn’t exactly my favorite subject matter for a puzzle.” Same here, though I appreciate that they didn’t try to get cute with the theme.

    I hesitated a bit at UNKN. I don’t remember ever seeing that abbreviation before.

    I’m surprised that FELA Kuti doesn’t show up in puzzles more often. His first name in particular seems constructor-friendly, and while he isn’t a household name, he’s hardly unknown.

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