Thursday, December 14, 2023

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 5:33 (Gareth) 


NYT 8:16 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker 2:32 (Kyle) 


Universal 3:55 (Sophia) 


USA Today 8:42 (Emily) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


WSJ 8-something (Jim) 


Marshal Hermann’s Fireball Crossword, “Long-Term Effects” – Jenni’s write-up

The last Fireball of 2023 is not blazingly hard. That’s OK. We’re all busy and tired and it was enjoyable anyway. My end-of-year thanks to Peter and his band of merry constructors for nearly-weekly challenge, fun, and groans. I hope it’s clear from my reviews that I know these are among the best puzzles out there. Wednesdays are a highlight of my puzzling week. Not that my weeks are mysterious – you all know what I mean. And if our tags are accurate, this is Marshal’s debut on Fiend. Yay!

This 15×17 goes the extra mile for us.

Fireball, December 13, 2023, Marshal Hermann, “Long-Term Effects,” solution grid

  • 17a [Remnants of a growth spurt] are MMMAAARRRKKKSSS.
  • 22a [Rides cut in half during assembly]  is LLLIIIMMMOOOSSS.
  • 60a [Workout bottoms] are PPPAAANNNTTTSSS.
  • 65a [Crowdsourcing incentives after achieving the intended funding] are GGGOOOAAALLLSSS.

And the revealer: 41a [Skeptic’s comment hinting at this puzzle’s theme] is THATS A STRETCHSTRETCH MARKS, STRETCH LIMOSSTRETCH PANTSSTRETCH GOALS. I didn’t realize until I started typing out the answers that each one is five letters so stretches nicely to fifteen. That takes it from fun and satisfying to seriously impressive – the best kind of impressive when a feat of construction is also a good solve.

A few other things:

  • 11d [Pitch stats] are ASSISTS and I was all set to go on a rant about how Peter clearly doesn’t understand baseball when it dawned on me that cricket is played on a pitch and they have assists. I’m relieved not to have made a complete fool of myself. Yet.
  • 15a [Golfs, e.g.] are CARS. VWs.
  • 24d [OJ quality] is LOW PH.
  • 49d [Indispensable dispenser for a mover] is a TAPE GUN and the clue made me chuckle. English is weird.
  • Rachel’s brother-in-law ESAU and father-in-law ISAAC both appear. Her husband Jacob is nowhere in sight.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that skateboarding backward is called riding FAKIE. Also did not know that the first word of Massachusett’s motto is ENSE. The whole thing is “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem” or “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”

Looks more sideways to me.

Esha Datta’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Easy (8m16s)

Esha Datta’s New York Times crossword, 12/14/23, 1214

Today’s theme: YOU’RE ON MUTE (Oft-used phrase during Zoom meetings … or the reason for the misunderstandings at 17-, 26-, 50- and 60-Across?)


Nice puzzle.  Surprised we didn’t see a theme like this sooner, especially with the surge of pandemic-era submissions coinciding with peak ubiquity of phrases like “Can you see my screen?” and “YOU’RE ON MUTE” (or the closely related [and what I’ve previously suggested should be a new IRL insult] “please mute yourself”).  The Utah blocks framing the revealer are mitigated by 6/6/6/5 and 7/7/8 stacks in the NW/SE and SW/NE corners, respectively, which give you room to breathe.  I’m assuming (since an 11-character revealer is usually begging to be in the area of 60-across) that the constructor tried the terminal position first before settling on the center location, but what do I know — I am not a cat.  Aaaaaaaand that’s how you tie everything up in a neat little bow.

Cracking: the clue on YEARBOOK (Collection of senior moments?)

Slacking: I was up this morning, and yesterday morning, that’s two consecutive AWAKES, more to come tomorrow (inshallah).

Sidetracking: speaking of TIRE MARKs…

Sam Acker’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Sinkholes”—Jim’s review

Theme answers in the Down direction all feature the letters MINE, but those letters should be skipped when looking at the crossing entries. However, those crossing entries are still valid (though unclued) crossword words when you take into account those key letters. The revealer is MINESWEEPER (26d, [Warship that made its way through the Across answers but not the Down answers]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Sinkholes” · Sam Acker · Thu., 12.14.23

  • 3d. [Grain of Thailand ] JAMINE RICE. The crossing entries are AL(M)OST, PA(I)RS, (N)BAJA(M), and TI(E)S.
  • 7d. [Natural glow?] BIOLUMINESCENCE. Crossers: (N)BAJA(M) again, AS(I)A, RA(N)GE, P(E)ER.
  • 9d. [“Godzilla” rapper] EMINEM. Crossers: (M)ELBA, (I)SLAM, LAI(N), UNT(E)AMED. Not sure where anyone would ever encounter the word UNTEAMED, but okay.
  • 47d. [Candy heart request] “BE MINE.” Crossers: (M)OLE, SWAM(I), RAVE(N), STAG(E).

So I guess the way to interpret the revealer and its clue is that the mines have been removed from the Across answers, but not the Down answers. Okay, that works for me.

I caught on fairly early into the solve, but it still took some work to get through to the end. Nice and chewy for a Thursday! I really like how the Across entries in the grid are still valid when taking the missing letters into account (UNTEAMED notwithstanding). I especially like NBA JAM becoming BAJA when its beginning and end are removed. A lovely find, that!

Despite theme entries in both directions and with all the Across ones stacked atop each other, the fill is impressively smooth. I wouldn’t expect to find much flashy fill in a theme with this many constraints, but INDOOR PET is quite nice. Not so keen on REMAP and SORBS was a tough one for this non-chemist, but other than those, the fill is solid.

Clues of note:

  • 14a. [Spacewalk, in NASA shorthand]. EVA. Maybe this clue was chosen since AVA is elsewhere in the grid clued as a name. I didn’t know that it stands for Extravehicular Activity.
  • 6d. [UPS dropoff spot, sometimes]. MAT. The welcome mat, I presume? Bleh.

Nice puzzle. Four stars.

Emma Oxford’s Universal crossword, “Before and After” — Sophia’s write-up

Theme: Each theme answer is a two word phrase. The word TIME can follow the first word or precede the second word to make valid phrases.

Universal Crossword, 12 14 2023, “Before And After”

  • 17a [*King or queen, e.g.] – FACE CARD
  • 32a [*A fitted one is hard to fold] – BEDSHEET
  • 43a [*Occasion to hire a babysitter] – NIGHT OUT
  • 61a [*Assist on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”] – LIFE LINE
  • 37a [Midwestern clock setting … and a hint to what can follow the start and precede the end of each starred clue’s answer] – CENTRAL TIME

Great finds for the theme here! I like how many uses of TIME are present, and all the answers are solid on their own besides. (The clues are good too! Just the right amount of tricky). I also really like the title – it’s “before and after” both in the, like, Jeopardy category sense of the term, but it’s also literally time related here. Good stuff.

Quick takes on the rest of the puzzle:

  • Fill highlights: OUGHTA, CANCAN, MEDUSA, COME IN. The fill is overall very strong, although I’m not sure I’ve ever heard IMPEND used much without the “-ing”.
  • Clue highlights: [Claudius : “Hamlet” :: ___ : “The Lion King”] for SCAR, [$200, for the world’s most expensive fries] for COST – where are these sold??? Do people actually buy them???
  • New to me: [Actor Auberjonois] for RENE
  • [Color on 74% of world flags] – RED. Fun fact, did y’all know that Jamaica is the only country in the world to have a flag without red, white, or blue? It’s true!
  • Very apt to have JEWISH as a puzzle answer on the last night of Hanukkah!

Catherine Cetta’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

SPINATALE is the revealer in Catherine Cetta’s puzzle, and all four 2×2 sets of circled squares spell out TALE, whilst rotating anti-clockwise. LATECOMER is opposite SPINATALE; maybe it’s a bonus answer, but for me the spun TALE is more of a distraction.

The downside of a puzzle theme like this is very little longer, show-offy, answers. What are the most interesting answers today? [Strikes and rebounds], CAROMS; [Potatoes-and-peas pastry], SAMOSA (it has two O’s in South African English); maybe [__ cocktail], SHRIMP? It’s clean, and fills out, but there wasn’t too much memorable today.


Ada Nicolle & Thea Kendal’s USA Today Crossword, “Ending Explained” — Emily’s write-up

You’ve got this!



alt=”Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday December 14, 2023”
USA Today, December 14 2023, “Ending Explained” by Ada Nicolle & Thea Kendal[/caption]

Theme: each themer ends in a portion of the word “explained”


  • 19a. [Mya song about a past lover], CASEOFTHEEX
  • 35a. [Flat land by the water], COASTALPLAIN
  • 55a. [Class where students may learn three-point turns], DRIVERSED

Today’s themer set begins with CASEOFTHEEX which I needed a few crossings for, followed by a lovely COASTALPLAIN, and rounded out with DRIVERSED. With today’s theme, we get –EX, —PLAIN, and —ED which together make “EXPLAINED” with the themer endings. Too cool!


Stumpers: TART (thought only of “danish”), ERICA (new to me), and AMID (needed a couple of crossings)

First, I’ve gotta say this grid is awesome! So many great designs lately—I’m loving this trend. Lots of fresh fill and fun lengthy bonus fill. Plus, the cluing is excellent as well. I really enjoyed this great collab!

4.5 stars


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

For those disappointed by the lack of a New Yorker write-up earlier today, my apologies–I couldn’t get to the puzzle before leaving for work, so here we are. The silver lining, for me at least, was that I had a Robyn Weintraub puzzle to look forward to when I got home.

The New Yorker solution grid – Thursday 12/14/2023 – Robyn Weintraub

Quick thoughts: I’m excited to see Robyn’s work in this grid style, which is quite a departure from her typical design (long answers in the corners and running into the middle of the grid, with an open center). The long answers around the perimeter all sing: BEACH READ, SOFT-HEARTED, “DON’T MENTION IT”, DINNER PARTIES, TAKES A STAND, “LESSON LEARNED”, RAIN GARDENS, WATERGATE, SOCIAL CLIMBER, DANCE SCHOOL. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this clue for ARIL (41A): [Juicy part around a pomegranate seed] Yum! Fill like this doesn’t make me frown when the clue makes me smile.

Thank you Robyn!

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Thursday, December 14, 2023

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I got YOU’RE ON MUTE early on (I might ask to have it put on my tombstone). But it still took a minute for the penny to drop about how exactly the theme was designed– that words relating to talking were muted and the remainder was clued accordingly. Pretty clever.
    And I LOVE, LOVE that TIRE MARKs scene. One of my favorites of all times. Thank you for posting it.

  2. Howard B says:

    Ultimately, the goal of these puzzles is to be entertained, to have a few moments of respite, enjoyment, glee, whatever word you prefer :).
    And this NYT puzzle, for whatever reason, gave me all of that. Once I discovered the theme and how it worked, I got a case of the giggles, being guilty of ‘on mute’ more times than I care to admit. Sometimes when we get frustrated or annoyed by an answer, clue or whatever, it’s easy to forget why we’re here.

    Thank you for the puzzle and the laughs, Esha!

  3. pannonica says:

    NYT: Texans are weird about beans in chili. Let the debate begin.

  4. JohnH says:

    What does the title of the WSJ mean? The puzzle came together nicely, taking the theme word to a tricky second step. At first it slowed me up and bothered me that just one entry had two, not one, extra letters (and I didn’t know of the game), but that’s just one person’s esthetic preference, not a real complaint.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      FWIW, the title makes no sense to me either

    • sorry ever after says:

      Maybe you’re overthinking the title? Sinkholes sometimes result from mining. The puzzle’s “sinking” MINEs leave “holes” in the answers they cross.

      • JohnH says:

        Thanks. I did not know that mines can cause sinkholes, nor what that could mean for the puzzle, and didn’t equate, for that matter, “mines” to “holes” or the extra letters (or omitted letters, if you like) to sinking.

        So I guess ok. To be honest, though, it’s still a little jarring to add this metaphor to the one in the revealer in which mines are swept.

  5. David L says:

    NYT was indeed easy-peasy — but I don’t understand the revealer. If the BEANSTALK (for example) then they’re NOT on mute. So I don’t get it.

    • huda says:

      Think of TALK as muted and remove it from the answer. You are left with BEANS and the clue is for BEAN, not BEANSTALK.
      But the first answer is a little confusing for the very reason you stated. A better example: think of CHAT as muted. You are left with MAGI and the clue is for them not MAGIC HAT. Same for the others.
      That’s why the revealer says there’s room for misunderstanding.
      Make sense?

    • Eric H. says:

      BEANS is the answer to “Chili ingredients” [not the way we make it, but whatever]. TALK is “on mute,” so we’re supposed to disregard it as far as the clue is concerned.

  6. dh says:

    Please forgive my obtuseness, but what does this mean? “The Utah blocks framing the revealer are mitigated by 6/6/6/5 and 7/7/8 stacks in the NW/SE and SW/NE corners, respectively, which give you room to breathe. ”

    What is a “Utah block?” Is that an arrangement of letters that look like the state of Utah? Where are these?

    I’m also used to seeing things like “Stacked 10’s”, which to me are ten-letter words, one on top of each other. I don’t see anything resembling this.

    This is totally “insider jargon”; I want to join the club. Can someone parse this for me?


    • pannonica says:

      Yes, it’s a 1-2-2 block resembling the contours of the state. I guess it can be in any orientation? Not everyone uses this term, obviously.

      • dh says:

        Ah, thanks. I think I had the right idea, but I was looking for blocks of answers, not black squares. Also, I was completely forgetting the “Puzzle of the States” I did as a child, and had the contour of Idaho in my head. Thanks.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      I think that some people refer to “stacks” in either the horizontal or the vertical direction while some reserve that terminology for answers in the horizontal orientation only. It seems to me that many of these terms are pretty esoteric/”inside baseball” and their meaning can be writer-dependent. I’m not a constructor and never will be, so I don’t usually pay much attention to this jargon.

      • dh says:

        Thank you. You can count me as one who has always thought of “stacks” as being horizontal – though I’m still a tyro in this world. I see it now!

  7. Jeff says:

    NYT. I very begrudgingly replace GOaLIe with GObLIn. I loved the goalie answer!

  8. damefox says:

    Thanks for the nice write-up, Sophia! :)

    I was very happy with all the theme entries here, but as a point of interest, during the editing process my favorite themer ending up getting cut: OVERSHARE.


  9. Fireball: I had to laugh while solving the puzzle since the theme is, well, pretty familiar to me.

  10. Excellent review, Mr. Levy.

Comments are closed.