Thursday, August 31, 2023

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 4:26 (Gareth) 


NYT 9:58 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker tk (Matt) 


Universal 4ish (Sophia) 


USA Today 11:06 (Emily) 


WSJ 10-something (Jim) 


The Fireball is on vacation.

Michel Lopez & Kevin Christian’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Drop the Subject”—Jim’s review

Theme: THEMELESS (64a, [Like some crossword puzzles (including this one?)]). The letters THEME have been removed from familiar phrases.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Drop the Subject” · Michel Lopez & Kevin Christian · Thu., 8.31.23

  • 17a. [“May I see our meal choices?”] “WHAT’S ON NU?” “What’s on the menu?”
  • 25a. [Comics character with a dog named Ruff] DENNIS NACE. Dennis the Menace.
  • 40a. [“It’s been swell!”] THANKS FOR MORIES.” “Thanks for the memories.”
  • 50a. [Was clueless] DIDN’T GET MO. Didn’t get the memo.

It’s always harder for me to piece together a theme when something’s been removed versus when something’s been added. Throw in some Thursday-level cluing, and this felt like it took a while. Usually I like it when the keyword in each entry is different (it adds variety), but in a removal theme, that repeated (missing) word is welcome when trying to solve the other entries. So once I figured out the theme with the first two entries, the other two fell more easily.

Fun phrases, and I don’t mind so much that the grid is left with entries that look like nonsense. The revealer is there to make sense of it.

The long fill has plenty to like, too, with LEMON BAR, TRACK TEAM, NO ANSWER, GO KART, and BINGE-READ. I liked SUBORN, too, even though it’s one of those words that I don’t (or didn’t) quite know the definition of. I wonder if its crossing with BABKA caused trouble for some solvers.

It felt like there was a lot of trivia in the clues, more so than the usual Thursday, and especially in the upper half of the grid. This run of four entries felt slightly demoralizing: [Salalah resident], [Morar and Maree, for two], [“Born to Fly” singer Evans], and [Son of Bestla and Borr]. (The answers are OMANI, LOCHS, SARA, and ODIN.)

Other clues of note:

  • 1a. [___ Games (app that includes Wordle)]. NYT. Ha! I liked seeing this right at the start of the grid.
  • 71a. [Any of a Nicki Minaj quartet]. DOT. Didn’t see this clue until just now. Looks like it’s referring to the i’s and j in her name.
  • 2d. [Google predecessor whose first CEO was Tim Koogle]. YAHOO. I resisted this answer because “predecessor” implies (to me) that Google subsumed or replaced YAHOO, but that’s not the case.

3.75 stars.

Freddie Cheng’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Easy (9m58s)

Freddie Cheng’s New York Times crossword, 8/31/23, 0831

Today’s theme: NO CLUE (“Haven’t the foggiest!” … or, when the first two letters are put at the end, an essential part of seven answers in this puzzle)

  • (7) ELEVEN
  • (8) MILE
  • (17) AGAIN
  • (27) DRESSES
  • (30) ROCK
  • (39) STEPS
  • (50) CENT

Thrown off at first because (8) MILE was pretty straightforward, and once I saw (17) AGAIN and (27) DRESSES, I was only looking for movie titles.  But then we had a TV show ((30) ROCK) before getting to (The 39) STEPS (one of the few Hitchcock movies I haven’t seen), and finished with (50) CENT before going back and realizing that I passed right over (7) ELEVEN.  TEN FOUR was a distraction amidst the number hunting in that portion of the grid.

I was also looking for something more pejorative than DENIERS to describe (Members of the Flat Earth Society, e.g.).

Cracking: SAND CAT.  Okay, I thought this was a pretty fake-sounding animal — not that I doubted such a thing actually existed, but it’s such a green paint-y moniker — and then I googled it, and despite the fact that I am vociferously not a cat person, these little guys are pretty darned cute.

SlackingRANDR which is perfectly cromulent fill, but the way it looks in the grid reminds me of CRISPR and the irritating way that some lazy geneticist decided to forego an E in the acronym… how about clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic EGAD! repeats?

Sidetracking: “Lose Yourself” from (8) MILE ended up edging out Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter” for an Oscar in 2002 (from the very underrated Wild Thornberrys movie), and I’m a Paul Simon acolyte, so here you go:

Hoang-Kim Vu’s Universal crossword, “Chain Changes” — Sophia’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer is a common phrase clued as an “off-brand” version of a fast food chain.

Universal Crossword, 08 31 2023, “Chain Changes”

  • 20a [Off-brand version of Pizza Hut?] – HOME SLICE
  • 36a [Off-brand version of Olive Garden?] – PIT STOP
  • 46a [Off-brand version of Church’s Texas Chicken?] – A WING AND A PRAYER
  • 59a [Off-brand version of Auntie Anne’s?] – TWISTED SISTER

This concept is brilliant. I’m shocked how well all of the answers fit their respective chains. HOME SLICE and (especially) A WING AND A PRAYER are my personal favorites, but everything works well. A great take on the “how can this phrase be reinterpreted?” puzzle.

Favorite clue/answer combination: [Time to view trend lines?] – FASHION WEEK. Top notch clue/answer.

Clue highlights: [They can be in a flow state] for SPIGOTS, [Tony winner Stroker] for ALI – I’ve been a fan of hers ever since she was a contestant on “The Glee Project”

Fill highlights: LEAFY GRENS, GUAC, CLASSY

New to me: [“Five Guys Named ___” (musical)] for MOE – I’m a big musical theater fan and I’ve never heard of this!

Jeff Stillman’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s puzzle by Jeff Stillman features three four-letter bowl-shaped awards – TONY, ESPY & CLIO – plus [Hollywood honors since 1995, and what the circled letters are?], SAGAWARDS, to tie things together. Although there aren’t theme answers per se, there are long across that include two of the four letters, and they play as though they were thematic:

  • [Spot for a TV dinner], TRAYTABLE
  • [“YOLO” philosophy], SEIZTHEDAY
  • [Brownie-making ingredient], COCOAPOWDER.

Not a lot of really out there clues or answers today, possibly because these two-high themes are trickier to execute than they look:

  • I blanked on the vowel dump that is [Caulking fiber], OAKUM.
  • [Plant stem joint], is quite a technical way to get to NODE.
  • [“Oorah!” org.], USMC. I don’t think we see “Oorah!” or similar in many puzzles, but this may change.
  • [Neutrogena dandruff shampoo], TGEL is a tricky set of consonants, especially intersecting the initialism part of SAGAWARDS.


Amie Walker & Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today Crossword, “Enter Stage Left” — Emily’s write-up

A fantastic duo staged today’s puzzle! Encore, encore!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday August 31, 2023

USA Today, August 31 2023, “Enter Stage Left” by Amie Walker & Amanda Rafkin

Theme: the first part of each themer can be prepended with STAGE— to form a new phrase


  • 16a. [Option for a student who missed a test], MAKEUPEXAM
  • 33a. [Raffle winner’s reward, maybe], DOORPRIZE
  • 52a. [Nongeneric store offerings], NAMEBRANDS

Today’s themer set at first seems like an unrelated mix but the theme joins them all into a perfect coordinated production. With school starting up again for the academic year, it won’t be too soon before someone needs a MAKEUPEXAM. DOORPRIZE seems a rarity these days but they are fun to win if you have a chance and get lucky! NAMEBRANDS aren’t always the best option on the shelf and as I’ve learned myself for some items there are no substitutes like the original. With the theme, they become: STAGE MAKEUP, STAGE DOOR, and STAGENAME.

Favorite fill: FISK, TAKEONE, CHAI, and TOEBEAN

Stumpers: NBD (new to me), IFIMAY (needed crossings), and ERA (could only think of “lair”, “phase”, and “age”)

While overall it took me longer today, as this puzzle was tougher for me, I really got stuck in the SE. Though none of the entries are particularly tricky, the cluing so excellent and I just didn’t know some of it. Loved the fresh fill and fun cluing! As a kid, we totally used THESIMS cheat code—sparingly myself but my sister maxed it out repeatedly to get everything she wanted and then she got bored of it and stopped while I played it for a lot longer than her off and on (I’ve not thought about that in ages!).

4.25 stars


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50 Responses to Thursday, August 31, 2023

  1. Amy F says:

    The NYT was hot garbage enough for me to comment. Terrible puzzle.

    EDIT: Sorry, this for Wed puzzle but I’m leaving this because that puzzle was trash.

  2. Seattle DB says:

    I’m in my late 60s and I enjoy doing Merl Reagle’s anthology of puzzles that are still available online. Here’s is one of the best puzzles I’ve ever done in my life, and it is a pure masterpiece!

  3. Seattle DB says:

    I’m almost 70 years old and I’ve become a fiendish crossword aficionado over the last two decades because ordinary life is boring to me (lol!). But I relate quite a bit to some of the commenters such as “Mr Grumpy”, “SanFranMan”, “Mutman”, “EricH”, “JohnH”, “Dallas”, “Jim P”, and so many more.

    Also, what’s very special about this website is that reviewers such as Amy, pannonica, MattF, and so many more offer enlightenments to our comments.

    I truly thank all of you creators, reviewers, critics, and commentators for making this such an incredible “learning” website for people like me!

    • Dallas says:

      I started doing crosswords back in my late 20s, when I was flying on planes more and would try to do the ones in the in-flight magazines. I was’t very good at them and thought if I do them regularly, I’d get better :-) I had stopped for a while, and then picked it back up following the wordle craze (and now in my mid-40s); I’ve always loved math puzzles, but I’ve come to really enjoy crosswords. This year I’m working to keep a full year streak going, and also submitting for the NPR Sunday puzzle every week (which I haven’t quite managed, but I do what I can). I found this website via google about a year ago, and it’s been a great companion to the puzzles. I’ve even come to enjoy themeless puzzles, and look forward to Fridays and Saturdays, when I originally would dread them. Plus, it’s cool to see Evan Birnholz on here too. It’s a really nice community with good commenters. I’m hoping to try constructing my own crossword soon, but that may have to wait for 2024…

      • Eric H says:

        You should definitely try constructing when you have the time. I’ve been doing it on and off for almost three years. Universal published a couple of my puzzles, and it’s fun to see that.

        • Dallas says:

          I’ve got a theme idea, and even bounced it off my wife and son… so we’ll see. So much to do, not enough time… :-)

    • MattF says:

      Not a reviewer— a different Matt.

    • Eric H says:

      I did the NYT crossword in my college newspaper in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Then I stopped, though for a few years in the 1990’s, my husband and I did the Sunday NYT together.

      For some reason, we stopped, so it wasn’t until early 2020 that I became a daily solver — first just the NYT, now the NYT and New Yorker every day, plus a few others once or twice a week. There are so many good puzzles out there now!

      Having a forum like this adds so much to my solving experience. I’ve learned a lot, not just about solving, from reading these kinds of comments.

  4. Greg says:

    Really enjoyed the NYT. The solve was pretty easy, but, with no tip-off as to the theme, it took a while for the penny to drop on the really fine theme — and dazzling feat of construction.

    Maybe somebody else will, some day, come up with equally clever completing words for the numbers 7, 8, 17, 30, 39, and 50. But I doubt it.

    • Cavin says:

      …and 27. (And I agree!)

    • Dallas says:

      30 ROCK is where it clicked for me, then I jumped back to put in 8 MILE, 17 AGAIN and 27 DRESSES. Like Jim, I was looking for movies / TV shows before seeing 7 ELEVEN. 50 CENT took me much longer than it should have, but I’ll blame that on a slight cold ;-)

      Fun puzzle theme today! And I got to read about The 39 STEPS.

    • rob says:

      NYT: Agreed! A very nice Thursday puzzle. I had a true “aha” moment when I figured out what was going on when I got to the Seven Eleven clue. Thanks Freddie!

    • Eric H says:

      I knew something was up with 8 MILE, though I didn’t remember that the title used the Arabic number instead of spelling it out. 30 ROCK was probably what tipped me off to what was going on.

      When I was done, I had to hunt for a few of the theme answers. I’ve heard of but not seen the two rom-coms, and I’d forgotten 50 CENT was in there.

      Fun puzzle.

  5. Me says:

    So 72 comments yesterday, and 152 ratings! I don’t remember ever seeing even 30 comments in a single day before.

  6. David L says:

    One flaw in the otherwise clever and enjoyable NYT was that all the ‘trick’ answers were downs except for one, which was the name of a movie I don’t know. I assumed it was AGAIN and only realized on coming here that 17 has to be added in front.

    • Mutman says:

      I had the same issue. I kept reviewing the Downs and only found six themers. While I try to read every single clue even if the cross fills in the rest of the entry, I must have missed this one.

      I really enjoyed the puzzle and glad at least one person enjoys my commentary — thanks Seattle DB ;)

  7. huda says:

    NYT: Really fun puzzle, went down easily for a Thursday. I needed that after a long day.
    I cracked up at ZDL’s comments about CRISPR. I think not including that E ensured that you don’t get a refrigerator drawer when you search for it. Now if you try to search for “crisper” Google asks you if you mean CRISPR. How clever of Charpentier and Doudna!
    Never heard of The 39 STEPS. I need to watch it.

  8. Lois says:

    NYT, but just peripherally: All those here who are intrigued by Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps have likely not seen the following wonderful films that he directed either, so I’ll recommend them: The Lady Vanishes, Sabotage, Young and Innocent (aka The Girl Was Young), the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, and Saboteur. There are other good ones as well that are not seen very often.

  9. chris says:

    Universal left me so flat today. Sorry. Clues were obtuse and lame. Crossing clues that require knowledge of celebrities and sports stars is very frustrating to me. I’ve never heard Madison Square Garden called MSG, but I can think of maybe 100 better clues for “MSG.”

  10. Jenni says:

    I really liked the NYT theme today. And I know no one cares about dupes but having INDOOR clued as [Like some cats and plumbing] crossing SANDCAT is so avoidable. It’s a cute clue for INDOOR. The dupe distracted me from a really nice puzzle. Sigh.

    • Lois says:

      There’s also a dupe in 6d and 47d, the latter containing the theme. That’s an important dupe because of the play in 47d, so the puzzle would have been better without 6d (I think, unless I’m missing something). Anyway, I loved the puzzle and gave it five stars despite this complaint.

  11. Mr. [moderately] Grumpy says:

    A personal note. I hate puzzles with with an excess of movie titles, song titles, TV shows, and proper names, so this one definitely did not do it for me. I saw [7]-ELEVEN and kept looking for more, but nothing made any sense. I probably should have recognized “the” [39] STEPS, but it wouldn’t have mattered, since the grid was close to complete at that point. For me, this was a slog and a very unsatisfying puzzle, although I have to acknowledge that it was very clever.

    • Art Shapiro says:

      So well phrased, Mr. G. I’ve been waffling on providing a rating, not that anyone cares. It gets high marks for a clever (unique?) theme. It gets severely dinged for the plethora of proletarian garbage names.

    • JohnH says:

      I agree with you but am torn. I was impressed and rated the puzzle highly, but must admit that digging up the references was awfully slow going.

  12. David R says:


  13. Amy Reynaldo says:

    So, in case you were thinking, “Gosh, I thought almost all trolls were men, but here is this Amy F. hollering incessantly in the comments,” well … the email address associated with those comments includes a male given name. Gotta love trolls using fake names. (Sometimes we delete their comments or mark them as spam so they’ll appear less. Why, I just unapproved a whole bunch of “Amy F.” replies on yesterday’s post. Housecleaning!)

  14. Seattle DB says:

    WSJ: I’m very surprised this puzzle isn’t rating a “4”, but then again, Evan B says that ratings are very skewed (and screwed) sometimes. But I truly admire how Lopez & Christian were able to squeeze 4 answers plus the themer into this puzzle. What an epic effort!

  15. Seattle DB says:

    BEQ: Maybe it’s just me, but Quigley’s puzzles seem to be giving up their Quirkiness and going more mainstream — I think I read where he’s trying to get published more. But today’s puzzle included a word that nobody in this world has ever used. “Palimpsest” is the answer for 3D.

    • pannonica says:

      It was the title of a Gore Vidal memoir, among other things. A friend of mine used the concept of palimpsest—not only written, but historical and even geological—as the basis of a forthcoming music album.

    • Eric H says:

      From Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”:
      I sat down by my fire and examined my treasure. The first part of it—the great bulk of it—was parchment, and yellow with age. I scanned a leaf particularly and saw that it was a palimpsest. Under the old dim writing of the Yankee historian appeared traces of a penmanship which was older and dimmer still—Latin words and sentences: fragments from old monkish legends, evidently. I turned to the place indicated by my stranger and began to read—as follows.
      I read that book in my English class, as a high school senior. “Palimpsest” has stuck with me a long time.

      • Seattle DB says:

        I kinda figured that Eric H would do some research (ala pannonica) and come up with some deep-diving research. TY!

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