Thursday, September 28, 2023

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 5:19 (Gareth) 


NYT 7:57 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker 3:02 (Kyle) 


Universal 3:50 (Sophia) 


USA Today 9:43 (Emily) 


WSJ 12-something (Jim) 


Fireball ntmd (Jnn) 


Daniel Bodily’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Spot Remover”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases that have the letters AD in them, yet they spell out something else with the AD removed, and they’re clued as such. The revealer is AD BLOCKER (33d. [Browser extension needed in order to understand the answers to 17-, 24-, 31-, 44-, 51- and 62-Across]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Spot Remover” · Daniel Bodily · Thu., 9.28.23

  • 17a. [Got on first base] SINGLE DAD. Singled.
  • 24a. [“Reason number two…”] SECOND LADY. “Secondly…”
  • 31a. [Iron-fisted ruler] DEAD SPOT. Despot.
  • 44a. [First-rate] SUPERBAD. Superb.
  • 51a. [Easy question, in metaphor] SOFT BALLAD. Softball.
  • 62a. [Blackjack request] HAD IT MADE. “Hit me.” A two-fer. Very nice find since both before and after phrases are colloquial.

Whew! This was a tough solve for me. Either I was just on the wrong wavelength today or the clues were extra Thursdayish (or both). Given the title (which is excellent, btw), I was on the lookout for the opposite type of theme, i.e. where letters are removed. So it took me a long time to figure it out (which I did with SUPERBAD). I like the consistency in that each entry requires re-parsing to make sense. Good theme and nice finds all around.

We have an extra AD in SALAD HERB (which, funnily enough, when you remove the AD yields two first names), but it’s not part of the theme set despite being the symmetrical counterpart to the revealer. Elsewhere, I liked LATE FEE, THE HELP, PIANIST, TL;DR, and the spacey NEBULA and ASPECT [Planetary position].

Clues of note:

  • There’s a mini-theme of departing with SPLIT, LEAVE, and WENT all clued with the slangy [Bounce] or [Bounced]. And along the same lines HASTE gets [Dashing quality?].
  • 28a. [Place for a drive]. TEE. *Grumble* I would hardly call a TEE a “place.” Unless “place” is a verb. But then TEE by itself isn’t a verb (I don’t think).
  • 50a. [Where the Jets and Sharks may meet]. RINK. I know the San Jose Sharks, but was unaware of the Winnipeg Jets.

Good puzzle. Four stars.

Ricky Cruz’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Easy (7m57s)

Ricky Cruz’s New York Times crossword, 9/28/23, 0928

Today’s theme: key phrases


The last theme entry is the best, a curveball, and elevates the entire puzzle.  Not sure there’s any way to top that one, unless you turn “noth in g major” into “‘Law and Order’ actor Chris” and then the appropriate notation (but even that would bust the symmetry).  Speaking of which, the little notations are cute — jibberish to be sure, as my piano teacher’s efforts to teach me to read music were ultimately in vain — but here they serve as acoustic emojis.  Winky clef!  Eggplant caesura!

Cracking: start in EL PASO, then head north 1.5h until you hit White Sands National Park, the dunes are really something!

Slacking: IDK when every text initialism will be fair game, but it’s coming soon ffs (FFS did, in fact, appear once, on June 11, 1976, cued in the musical dynamic sense, and now we’re full circle — Ed.)

Sidetracking: GLADYS Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia” bit on 30 Rock, the apex of musical television —

Frnk Lng’s Frbll Crsswrd, “Vwllss Crsswrd 12” – Jnn’s wrt-p

I really enjoy these puzzles and I never know how to review them. Look! No vowels! If that’s your thing, this will be fun. If not, then…not. Peter provides three difficulty levels: no help, multiword tags, and enumeration (number of letters in each word with vowels). I did it without help. As usual with these, I stumbled along for a little bit and then my brain started to recognize the patterns more easily. It helped that 1a was an absolute gimme. [Vowels are bought on it (this puzzle’s entire grid would cost nothing!)] is WHLFFRTN (Wheel of Fortune) and we were off and running.

A few random observations:

Fireball, September 27, 2023, Frank Longo, “Vwllss Crsswrd,” solution grid

  • The NW corner looks delightful with all those Zs. FZZLED (fizzled), PLTZRPRZ (Pulitzer Prize), and SWTZRLND (Switzerland). Do the clues even matter?
  • 20a [Efficiency as healthful food] gave me a little trouble. I started with NTRTNLVL (nutritional value). It’s actually NTRTSNSS (nutritiousness) which makes me raise an eyebrow; feels kind of roll-your-own. {rant about the idea of “healthful food” and “nutritional value” deleted}.
  • Tonight I want a DQR (daiquiri) just because.
  • TTRTTTR cracks me up. It’s TEETER-TOTTER and that’s just a lot of Ts.
  • It’s also interesting to realize that certain consonant combinations could be more than one word. I filled in RDCTD at 48 from crossings and couldn’t figure out how REDACTED fit the clue [Got rid of completely, as crime]. That’s because the answer is actually ERADICATED.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: this is a first for a Fireball. I got nothin’.

Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword – Kyle’s write-up

This was a delightful puzzle to solve! Lots of fun answers and clues, with just a hint of crossword trickiness.

The New Yorker solution grid – Thursday 09/28/23 – Robyn Weintraub

  • Very nice triple stacks with “DON’T RUSH ME”/ENCOUNTERS/JEAN SHORTS and HYPOTENUSE/MASTER PLAN/SPEED TRAPS. I especially liked the clues for “DON’T RUSH ME” [“I said I’ll get to it when I can”] and SPEED TRAPS [Places to catch flying cars?]
  • 27A [Like some inaccessible pirate treasure] – I immediately filled in BURIED, but then getting 12D DRAGON ROLL (yum!) made me realize the answer is SUNKEN. I never realized before than both buried and sunken are each six letters long and share the pattern _u__e_. And who doesn’t love finding some pirate treasure in their crossword?
  • What a great quartet of conversational entries: “DON’T RUSH ME”. “PLEASE GO ON”. “THAT BITES!” “GET USED TO IT”. I wrote last week about how some entries of this ilk can go stale from overuse; I appreciate that Robyn samples a wide range of spoken idioms in her puzzles and rarely (if ever) falls back on reusing longer examples.
  • 49D [“___ Pinafore” (Gilbert and Sullivan operetta set on a ship)] HMS. I’ll leave you with another Gilbert and Sullivan classic which, naturally, brings us back to HYPOTENUSE.

Thank you Robyn!

Sam Brody’s Universal crossword, “The Sound Of Silence” — Sophia’s write-up

Theme: NOISE CANCELLING – Each theme answer is the clued word, plus a noise in the middle, to make a different word.

Universal Crossword, 09 28 2023, “The Sound of Silence”

  • 17a [*Queen or king, but not jack or ace] – BRACKETED –> bed + racket
  • 27a [*Some challenging exams for students] – ORDINALS –> orals + din
  • 43a [*Did an impression of] – APPEALED –> aped + peal
  • 58a [*Tube used in some operations] – STRINGENT –> stent + ring
  • 37a [Like some headphones, and a hint to making sense of the answers to the starred clues] – NOISE CANCELLING

This is a really impressive construction. There are five theme answers, which is hard enough to do cleanly on its own, even when there are lots of theme answer options. I’m assuming, however, that wasn’t the case here. All of the inner/outer word combos work perfectly, and Sam even stuck to answers where the noise was completely within the clued word, rather than at the beginning or end. And they’re all symmetric pairs with a grid spanning revealer! So, just on a technical standpoint, this is a well done puzzle, but the theme itself is very clever too.

The trade off of making a technically complex puzzle can be seen a little in the grid, which is very segmented, and there are not too many sparkly non-theme answers. ONESIE, WASN’T ME and KARATE are fun, though! And for the Simpsons lovers among us, [“The Simpsons” bully with a distinctive laugh] is a fun way to clue NELSON.

Other clue highlights: [Crayola’s macaroni and cheese, e.g.] for COLOR, [Protagonist of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild] for LINK.

Also, I believe this is Sam’s crossword debut (or at least, the first one of his puzzles to be written about here on Fiend) – Congrats!!

Jeff Stillman’s LA Times – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

All the O’s in today’s puzzle are circled. They’re supposed to be a dozen DONUTs, but there doesn’t appear to be any specific regard for their placement in terms of an accompanying visual. Apparently, in America, there are four types of DONUT: plain, powdered, sugar and glazed. Which one is jam? Which one is coconut-dusted?

  • [Propaganda technique that attempts to appeal to average Joes], PLAINFOLKS. This feels like a Wikipedia find?
  • [Accessory for early U.S. presidents], POWDEREDWIG
  • [Candy-coated caramels in a yellow package], SUGARBABIES. I’m guessing they’re similar to our JELLYBABIES?
  • [Like the eyes of a person who hasn’t gotten enough sleep], GLAZEDOVER


  • [Home for una familia], LACASA. Is this this seasons ELTORO?
  • [Chase and Citi rival, popularly], BOFA. Bank of America?


Rebecca Goldstein’s USA Today Crossword, “Blacktop” — Emily’s write-up

Such a fun grid with fresh entries and a great theme!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday September 28, 2023

USA Today, September 28 2023, “Blacktop” by Rebecca Goldstein

Theme: the first word of each down themer (“on top”) is a shade of black


  • 9d. [Backyard barbecue cookers], CHARCOALGRILLS
  • 10d. [2021 movie named for a former record store chain], LICORICEPIZZA

A mix of themers make up this excellent set today: CHARCOALGRILLS, LICORICEPIZZA, and EBONYPATTERSON. Also, the themer set ascends, or shifts upward, from left to right with the first themer touching the bottom of the grid and the final themer touching the top of the grid.


Stumpers: EGGY (new to me), ZILLION (needed some crossings), and DEAR (“word” and “letter” in cluing first made me think of the alphabet instead of correspondence)

Loved the bonus fill, with lots of lengthy ones, and delightful cluing even though it was a bit longer of a solve for me. It sure didn’t feel like it! Awesome puzzle!

4.75 stars


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38 Responses to Thursday, September 28, 2023

  1. berk412 says:

    Inexcusably bad execution of today’s NYT in the crosswords app (and no indication that anything was missing). How did this get past testing??

    • Jeff says:

      Ditto x a million

    • Margaret Rucker says:

      I just had a black box….no clue whatsoever

    • Jim says:

      Does anyone have a link to pictures of those clues? Because I also saw only blank boxes in the app and have no idea what I just solved.

      The puzzle itself may or may not have been good—I have no way to tell other than from the fill, which was fine, I guess. But one star for the experience of solving it in the app.

      • Art Shapiro says:

        Solve it with a browser (I use Nexus solver on Firefox) or at least glance at the print preview on the newspaper version. The musical notations render correctly.

    • Dallas says:

      I’m a bit bummed out… I went to xwordinfo to see the clues after the fact… I at first thought the theme had something to do with blacking out, or blacked, or redacted… but then came here to find out I missed out :-( I solved it alright with the crosses, but I’ve been learning piano (slowly) over the last few years, and would’ve liked the actual solve experience.

      • Dr. Fancypants says:

        Likewise. I thought there was some “black box” theme going on here, but couldn’t for the life of me understand how the answers made sense with that concept (I got them all from crosses). Amazing faceplant for them to mess this up on their app.

    • John says:

      Agree. This is an epic fail by the NYT Games team. Inexplicable.

  2. Art Shapiro says:

    NYT: Did I miss something subtle? It seems that the musical representation should go AFTER the textual clue, not before As a consequence, I didn’t catch on to the gimmick and only solved via the crossings.

    • ZDL says:

      I believe the convention is to start sheet music by indicating the key first.

      Also, this is a good time to remind everyone that only irredeemable monsters solve in the app.

  3. Jon says:

    Ridiculous that the app was broken and we had to solve based on random black boxes…

  4. TJK says:

    NYT App broken as many mentioned, solved as themeless with blacked out across clues. Disappointing.

  5. DLD says:

    I thought the black boxes were part of the theme and I wasn’t getting it!

  6. Phil L says:

    What a load… Shortz left us short.
    IMO I would have preferred no puzzle and only a big note ‘solve in browser [link here]’…and don’t put it in the ‘i’ section, a lot of people don’t read those info blurbs before doing the puzzle.

  7. Philip says:

    I also would have enjoyed the NYT more if the theme clues did not appear as big black boxes. I assumed the theme had to do with redacted documents, but then could make no sense of that.

  8. KCL says:

    Very disappointed with those black boxes today.

  9. Jenni says:

    Woke up to a question from a friend about what the blacked-out clues were. Solved on the website and saw the key signatures (although they were a little small for my old eyes) and then came here and was able to tell her that she wasn’t alone….tech fail.

  10. PJ says:

    WSJ – “But then TEE by itself isn’t a verb (I don’t think).”

    It is also a verb. Think “Tee up” (this clue’s usage) or “Tee off”

  11. JP says:

    Check out Rex Parker for what the printed clues look like.

  12. RCook says:

    While the black boxes in the NYT app are a massive facepalm, I still somehow solved it almost 00:01:30 faster my average time.

  13. Mutman says:

    NYT: I also solved in the app and was skeptical about the black boxes. Actually thought it was related to the big vertical box in middle.

    When in doubt, I go to the PC. I ‘print’ the newspaper version to see what’s really up. It then made sense. Took a pic and went from there.

    I actually like the theme! Yes, FALLING FLAT was the best answer, but honorable mention to MONSTERS INC.

  14. John says:

    NYT owes Ricky Cruz an apology for fucking up his awesome puzzle so badly in the Games app.

  15. Kyle Dolan says:

    Ricky Cruz’s puzzle has IMO one of the best themes of the year, in any venue.

    I was going to comment on the number of 1-star ratings but then realized this might have to do more with the problem in the app solving interface, and not the puzzle itself. I solved on the website so I could see the key signatures.

    • Sophomoric Old Guy says:

      Agree. Absolutely one the most creative themes. I am not a music person, so the signatures wouldn’t have helped me. But after solving MONSTERINC via the crosses, I got the gist of what Ricky was heading for. This one gets a 5 from me.

      I solved by scraping and putting in Across Lite. Got a written description of the signature. To those blaming Will, I am again going to say, there is also an editorial team, and in this case also Everdeen Mason and whatever technical staff for possible to blame. I’m sorry, but IMO it’s not the old days where Will ran just about everything singlehandedly.

      • Dave says:

        Started in Across Lite as well, but stopped when I came to the theme clues. Started over with crosswordnexus. Not ideal, but at least you can read the clues as intended.

  16. Matt M. says:

    Second what Kyle said — bummer that there were tech difficulties, but what an extraordinary puzzle!

  17. Dan says:

    NYT: I found the gimmick cute, but also so thin and flimsy that it was hardly worth the trouble.

    I solve on a desktop, but I sympathize with those who solve on iOS smartphones, who have reported that the theme clues all showed up as just black rectangles.

  18. JohnH says:

    I too wasn’t on the right wavelength for the WSJ for a change. Tough fill for me.

    Actually, lots of names in the NYT, too, so a challenge for this print solver. Can’t say I empathize with the anger, though. Sure, it should be possible to work the puzzle. Still, it’s not Short’s fault if the app just can’t handle on its own some unusual themes. I’d have said it’s worth the sacrifice. All it would have taken is a glance without printing before going back to the app.

    FWIW, I’d have praised TNY in that, for once, the images showed in both versions of the pdf, newspaper version and other. Oh, well. I know it’s a hard core app group, and I know I said I didn’t care for the fill.

  19. Lois says:

    NYT: As a print solver, most days I print out the PDF of the Inksaver version. This time, the Times didn’t even provide one for obvious reasons, and just showed the newspaper version. Every day, I check the newspaper version to compare, because there might be something that the Inksaver version doesn’t get. I’m not getting italics, for instance, in the Inksaver version, where the clues might even refer to italicized entries. I don’t always see everything, and I missed a few weeks ago the change in the ordering of the clues from 1 to 65, say, to 65 to 1 in reverse order, when the puzzle theme was about climbing to a summit. That wasn’t essential for solving, but just an extra touch missed in the Inksaver version.

  20. Me says:

    NYT: I had POLLaCK rather than POLLOCK and therefore had SLaFIE rather than SLOFIE. SLOFIE is surprising to see in the NYT for me because it is feels very ephemeral and maybe dated already. It was coined around 2019 and there are only 82,000 Google hits. I feel like the NYT thinks about its archive and future playability, and SLOFIE is not one of the ages.

    According to ngram viewer, SLOFIE actually had its heyday in the early 1800s. Does anyone know what it might have referred to back then?

  21. Seattle DB says:

    BEQ: The title is “Line Item Veto” and what I think BEQ is doing is vetoing the line from a capital G and changing the letter to a capital C. 48A: “The best prospector” changes from “Great Digger” to “Crate Digger”, which is a term for people like me who used to go to record shops and scour every bin, looking for a rare album.

    • Eric H says:

      I think you might have it backwards. He’s “line item vetoing” the C and turning it into a G. Thus “crock pot” is wackily turned into GROK POT. “Crease resistant” becomes GREECE RESISTANT. Etc., etc.

      It’s an OK theme. None of the new phrases really amused me. The base phrase “crate digger” was new to me; I know the behavior (and occasionally engaged in it) but not the name.

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