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.
- 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.
Freddie Cheng’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up
Difficulty: Easy (9m58s)
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.
Slacking: RANDR 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.
- 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
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!
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!).