Thursday, January 4, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 3:50 (Gareth) 


NYT 10:26 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker 2:31 (Kyle) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 8:34 (Emily) 


WSJ 6-something (Jim) 


Fireball untimed (and a day late) (Jim) 


Peter A. Collins’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Meeting Places”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are the eight entries in the corners and are words that can precede “bar” in familiar phrases. The revealer is CORNER BARS (55a, [Local watering holes, and a hint to a word that can follow eight of this puzzle’s peripheral answers]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Meeting Places” · Peter A. Collins · Thu., 1.4.24

The four corners and their bars are:

  • NW: SPACE and SWAY. Space bar, sway bar. I have never heard of a sway bar. Is that a subway thing? Oops. Nope, it’s part of a car’s suspension system. Apparently, it “helps to reduce the amount of body roll (or lean) that occurs when the vehicle turns” (per this site).
  • NE: WINE and ENERGY. Wine bar, energy bar.
  • SW: OYSTER and ROLL. Oyster bar, roll bar.
  • SE: SALAD and SAND. Salad bar, sand bar.

Solid theme. I’m no gear heard, so me not knowing about a sway bar isn’t too surprising. But I feel like I might be representative of the general solving public on this one. SIDE could’ve gone in this spot and been more generally known, in my opinion.

The long fill is more utilitarian the splashy, but I like the mathy PARABOLA [Shape with a focus and directrix] as well as AD BLITZ [It has a lot of spots]. Oh, YOU’RE MUTED is good, but I’m pretty sure, “You’re on mute,” is the more accepted phrase.

Clues of note:

  • 32a. [Marian the Librarian, for one]. IOWAN. No idea on this one. Apparently this is a character from The Music Man.
  • 12d. [Hotel restriction, perhaps]. NO DOGS. Really? Because I imagine a hotel wouldn’t single out dogs for exclusion and would simply say, “No pets.” Correct me if I’m wrong.

3.5 stars.

Chase Dittrich and Christina Iverson’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Average (10m26s)

Chase Dittrich and Christina Iverson’s New York Times crossword, 1/4/24, 0104

Today’s theme: what’s in(side) a name?

  • cola (in) CAROL BRADY = MOM AND POP

It’s an interesting angle.  Clues in all caps usually have me thinking about anagrams.  Why?  I don’t know, that’s the convention.  It’s an emphatically mixed up world.  But nothing will be rearranged this evening, except my well laid plans regarding an appropriate time to hit the hay.  Does anything not track?  I don’t think so.  “Top round steak” as an exact phrase is a stretch (700k hits, Google chimes in), but that’s about all I can quibble with.  (Reasonably, anyhow.)  Bonus points for the GEORGIA HAM (genuine A-HA moment.)

Centering a 13 letter theme entry makes construction painful — for some reason, I find myself in this particular pickle jar every other day — and it’s hard to create clean lines in the grid without resorting to numerous cheaters.  There’s just nowhere to shield the PROS from PROS AND CONS from the mid-left section, for example, without resorting to those big black Ls.  Thems the breaks.

Cracking: STRESS BALL, just squeeeeeeze the aneurysms away

SlackingTRAPP without the Von is like St. without the John, it’s half a proper noun, it’s an improper noun, it’s indecent!

Sidetracking: once upon a time, on late night television, they hawked GINSU knives by showing you how you could slice right through a tin can.  My question is, which demographic eats tin cans for dinner?

Jesse Goldberg’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

la Times 240104

We have had a slew of left-right puzzles lately, and today’s, by Jesse Goldberg, is another. As is often the case, this puzzle accommodates a specific set of entries of unpaired lengths; the only requirement is they all be odd in length. The puzzle itself is contained within its theme clues. Each of four answers is clued by the pattern [un-x-ed x], and the answers are oxymorons of sorts.

  • [Unprincipled principles], DOUBLESTANDARDS
  • [Unforced force], VOLUNTEERARMY
  • [Unfinished finish], CLIFFHANGER
  • [Unnamed name, JOHNDOE


Beth Rubin’s USA Today Crossword, “First Bath” — Emily’s write-up

Step right in, the water’s nice!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday January 04, 2024

USA Today, January 04 2024, “First Bath” by Beth Rubin

Theme: the first word of each themer can be preceded with BATH— to form a new phrase


  • 17a. [Intimate chitchat in bed], PILLOWTALK
  • 38a. [Tiny, curly-haired dog], TOYPOODLE
  • 65a. [Exercise regimen done on the floor], MATPILATES

A mix of themers in this set, starting with PILLOWTALK, progressing with TOYPOODLE, and ending with MATPILATES. The first one filled immediately for me but I needed a couple of crossings for the others since the initial word threw me off at first. Perhaps you all got them quicker. With today’s theme, we are all ready for a soak in the tub with: BATH PILLOW, BATH TOY, and BATH MAT.

Favorite fill: ISSA, ICEDTEA, TOOCUTE, and IDA

Stumpers: DRIFT (needed crossings), IOTA (“a tad”, “a bit”, and “some” came to mind first), and REED (thought “instrument” instead of type)

Awesome grid, packed with oodles of delightful lengthy bonus fill and fun cluing. Lots of food, music, and pop-culture references while still bringing in a good variety of other topics like sports and history as well. Fun two-word entries as well that felt very fresh, being new to me at least, like ALLCAPS, BATBOYS, IREFUSE, ONBOARD, etc., in addition to the ones included in my faves above. Loved it!

4.5 stars


Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword

The New Yorker solution grid – Thursday 01/04/2024 – Robyn Weintraub

A Robyn Weintraub Thursday in the New Yorker – better late than never! This was a fun quick solve, with the grid built around the central spanner PLAYS BY THE RULES. Thanks Robyn!

Spencer Leach’s Fireball crossword, “Highway to Hell”—Jim’s review

Jim here, a day late and a dollar short, filling in for Jenni. I just wanted to make sure this amazing puzzle got blogged here, if only for posterity’s sake.

The twin revealers are TWO-WAY STREET (3d, [What’s represented by the flow of words in this puzzle]) and WOLLEY ELBUOD (double yellow) (25d, [Line on many a 3-Down represented in the center of this puzzle]). Note the grid is 15×16.

Fireball crossword solution · “Highway to Hell” · Spencer Leach · Thu., 1.4.24

Two of the central columns (starting with 6d and 8d) are filled with words that should follow “yellow” to satisfy their clues. These words are FIN, BELLIED, CARD, SBAL (labs), STEKCAJ (jackets), AES (Sea). Oh, did I mention that everything on the right side of the grid is written upwards? A nifty representation of an actual TWO-WAY STREET!

So…I didn’t time myself, but yeah, it took a while to sort all this out. Once I uncovered TWO-WAY STREET, I kept looking in the Across direction for things going backward, but nothing ever showed up. Eventually it dawned on me that a lot of my Across entries seemed to stop in the middle. Concurrently, somewhere along the line, I realized it was the whole right-hand side of the grid that was going upwards. Wow!

But that’s not all. Once I realized my left-hand side (LHS) Across entries all seemed to stop in the middle, I had to figure out where the clues for the right-hand side (RHS) Across entries were. And what the heck was supposed to go in 7d, the central entry clued [Middle of the road]?

Another aha moment was needed to realize the clues for the RHS were right in front of me. I just had to re-parse what was given. Like so:

  • 4a. [Computer file word with run or jump]. Kind of a crazy clue until you realize it should be [Computer file] and [Word with run or jump]. Thus: GIF and SKI.
  • 15a. [N.Y. university home to Karlštejn Castle]. There’s a Scandinavian-sounding castle at a NY university? Nope. The university is RPI. The castle is in BOHEMIA.
  • 17a. [Perfect mishmash of things]. Something perfect is UTOPIAN. A mishmash of things is an AMALGAM.
  • 20a. [Arm, e.g.]. No LHS for this one. The answer is LIMB.
  • 21a. [Fill-in-the-blanks story]. No RHS for this clue. The answer is MAD LIB (singular).
  • 28a. [Self-celebratory cry*]. This one literally made me LOL at its audacity. A self-celebratory cry is “YAY ME!” The asterisk by itself is the clue for SEE NOTE. Ha!
  • 33a. [Liquid meas. on science equipment like a graduated cylinder]. Split the clue between “equipment” and “like” to get ML (milliliter) and TUBULAR.
  • 35a. [One possibly swimming with a current sense of pride]. Find the split between “current” and “sense” to get EEL and EGO.
  • 38a. [3-D scan for diagnosing decks]. A little awkward, but the first part is 3-D scan for diagnosing (MRI). Decks (a verb) clues KOS.
  • 40a. [Letter-perfect document for an applicant]. Letter-perfect is PRECISE. And a CV is a document for an applicant.
  • 43a. [Folded over something that shouldn’t be twisted]. Split the clue between “over” and “something” to get PLEATED and ANKLE.
  • 46a. [Gemstones]. No LHS for this clue. The answer is JEWELS.
  • 48a. [Like “los” in Las Piedras, P.R.]. No RHS for this clue. The answer is MASC.
  • 54a. [Wakanda ruler, not surprisingly]. T’CHALLA is the Wakanda ruler. AS USUAL means not surprisingly.
  • 59a. [Defamation lawyer, for short]. Tricky. I wanted to split it at the comma, but the break comes between “Defamation” and “lawyer” to give SLANDER and ESQ.
  • 62a. [Like one acting strangely, in modern lingo]. The number one is ODD, and if someone is acting strangely, they’re SUS(picious).

Wow! I loved figuring out those super-clever clues. Very subtle, very tricky, but ultimately gettable.

You probably figured out by now that nothing goes down the middle in 7d. I flailed for a while, trying different things, but nothing made sense. Finally, I had to check Peter’s answer key to make sure it should be blank. No “Congratulations” message on successful completion of the grid, but I can live with that.

The only single teensy-weensy nit I have is the crossing at 1a/1d. 1a is [1a. Reality show with a Golden Buzzer, for short], i.e. an initialism, and 1d is [1d. “The Checklist Manifesto” author Gawande], i.e. a proper name. The answers are AGT and ATUL. It took me a while to come up with America’s Got Talent which was the only way for me to get it right.

Other than that. I loved this puzzle! Kudos to our constructor and editor for putting together a tour de force of a grid! Great concept, great execution, and excellent clues. Five stars from me.

Please note that I’m posting this on Friday, and unfortunately we failed to add Fireball to the star-ratings at the top of the page, so we don’t know how you all would rate it. But please add a comment below if you enjoyed the puzzle.

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50 Responses to Thursday, January 4, 2024

  1. Dr. Fancypants says:

    NYT was a weird one today. On the one hand, the puzzle itself played pretty easy for a Thursday. On the other hand, the theme was a real head-scratcher—nothing seemed to suggest “look at a random subset of the letters in the clue for a clue to what comes after AND”. The themers were easy to get because they were well-known phrases, but I honestly had no clue what was going on with the theme until I came here.

    • Dallas says:

      Huh… on my iPad, they were clued like “(C)ar(O)(L) br(A)dy” which really made it stick out. RACK AND RUIN was the only one that I hadn’t heard before; all in all it solved very quickly (half my average time). Pretty fun!

      • Eric H. says:

        I solved it last night on my iPad, and the theme clues were in all caps. That made it hard to tell what the theme was, but the puzzle was easy enough to solve anyway.

        The print version apparently had the mix of upper and lower case letters without the overkill of the parentheses.

  2. Bryan says:

    NYT: I solve in the NYT Games app on my iPad and iPhone. Sure would be nice if the app could do underlined letters in the clues! Without that *crucial* element for this puzzle, the theme answers were completely baffling. I figured them out based on the crossings, but had no idea what they meant until I read the Wordplay column and realized what the issue was. I would think that enough people solve in the NYT Games app at this point that, if the app can’t support some crucial element of solving the puzzle, then honestly the puzzle shouldn’t be published. Just my two cents. In this case, the underlined letters in the clues weren’t just a “nice to have” element. They were essential to the whole theme!

    • RCook says:

      In my NYT Games app, the theme letters were capitalized and in parentheses.

      • Philip says:

        In mine they were capitalized, with the relevant letters underlined.

      • Bryan says:

        Maybe it’s an Android versus iOS thing? I have the latest version of the NYT Games app on my iPhone and iPad. The theme clues were just all capital letters, no underlining. I just wonder why the NYT team ran this puzzle before testing it on each platform, especially for such a key element of the theme.

      • Bryan says:

        For clarity, I solve in the standalone NYT Games app, not the NYT newspaper app. When I open the puzzle in the NYT newspaper app, I see what you mentioned RCook, which is certain letters in parentheses in the theme clues, which is also kind of a strange rendering.

        Totally agree with (and love) experimentation, as JohnH mentioned below. But maybe there should have been a note on this one — like there is on Sunday puzzles and some special weekday puzzles — that gave a heads-up about some platforms not rendering as intended.

        • Milo says:

          Same here. Clues on my iOS app were just all caps, no indication of the sub-clues. I stared at the finished grid for a while trying to figure out where the second half of each theme entry was coming from, and why the clues were so arbitrary.

        • Mr. [not always] Grumpy says:

          The clues at 5 am California time WERE underlined and in all caps. That did not translate well into Across Lite [where they showed in /u/ coding lingo] and other apps, so they were evidently changed at some to the current version in the NYT app, which did translate into Across Lite.

    • JohnH says:

      I liked the theme. Amusing and clever, and it sure helped that I’d seen the puzzle on my laptop before printing out. My problem differed from that of online solvers, the underlining’s coming out faintly indeed in my printer.

      The WSJ revealer was amusing and helped narrow which of the border entries to check for theme answers. Still, on top of ROLL BAR we have SWAY BAR, two of eight themers. As far as I can see, they’re both auto terms more suited to a mechanic than the rest of us (especially those in NYC, almost all in fact, without a car). Worse, a top hit in a search says they’re synonyms. I realize that often that’s not right, but still.

  3. Mutman says:

    NYT: without revealer this theme made no sense to me. I agree with Mr Fancypants: the leap to finding random letters in the phrase was too much of a stretch.

    Also odds of throwing snake eyes are 35:1 or 1 in 36. There is a difference.

  4. Gary R says:

    NYT: I solved in AL, and the clues for the themers were particularly ugly, as the “embedded” letters were rendered inside HTML codes for underlined text. After I got MOM AND POP, mostly from crosses, I went back and examined the clue more carefully to see what was going on. I decided to basically ignore the clues for the themers and just fill in a familiar phrase when I had enough crosses to make it obvious. In spite of that, my solving time was quite a bit faster than a normal Thursday.

    I was under the impression that the puzzles these days were being edited with the app in mind, but the rendering there, with the embedded letters capitalized inside parentheses is not a heck of a lot prettier than what I got in AL. And with the Carol Brady clue and the Sacramento Kings clue, the “B” in Brady and the “K” in Kings were both rendered in lower case, which looks a bit off.

    The theme was okay, but unless you solve the newspaper version, the rendering takes some of the fun out of it.

    • JohnH says:

      Honestly, I’d like to think that a puzzler should be able to try things, even things that don’t fit well with the (limited) app. After all, one can always look back online to stop scratching one’s head.

      After all, too, while solvers here highly favor the apps, the forum has more than once dismissed concerns from print solvers as limiting. Fair enough. (Of course, if TNY has made it consistently difficult to print well without Crossword Scraper, that’s a fair criticism in my book.)

  5. Alison L. says:

    Can somebody explain the Georgia Ham bonus point remark. I didn’t have that as a clue.

  6. dh says:

    The NYT theme fell into place fairly readily for me via the crossings. I’m with ZDL on the “Trapp” vs “von Trapp” issue – I thought it was completely wrong until I looked it up. Not incorrect, I guess, but I still don’t have to like it.

    Does anyone do these puzzles in ACL on a Microsoft Surface or similar device without an key on the keyboard? I had a Surface many years ago and accidentally discovered a keystroke combo that functioned like for entering multiple letters – but it was a while ago and I’ve forgotten it. I now have the same keyboard on a different device and would love to re-discover it!

    • dh says:

      Regarding my above question – not sure why all my previous Googling and experimentation bore no fruit, but I just answered my own question. Seems to be a little or unknown secret that for my keyboard (and the Surface also) pressing does the trick! Not sure if that will replace the key for its other functions, but for multiple letters it’s going to be a wonderful new year for me.

      • Gary R says:

        Not sure which key combination wound up working for you – they seem not to show up in your post. On my Surface, holding down the “Fn” key and pressing the “Del” key allows me to enter multiple letters in AcrossLite. On my keyboard there’s actually a tiny “Ins” in the corner of the Del key.

        • Dh says:

          Yep, that’s it. I put the keystrokes inside greater/less than brackets that were interpreted as HTML and didn’t show. No little “insert” on the corner of the “del” but it still works!

    • Dana B. says:

      They added the “Von” for the movie, but the real life family is known as the Trapp Family Singers, not the Von Trapp Family Singers. They still perform to this day. I’ve seen them :)

      I also solved the puzzle in the NYT app on my IPhone and was completely baffled by the theme until I came here. Went back and checked on my iPad and lo and behold the theme clues were there. Seems strange they would show on the iPad but not the iPhone.

  7. GlennG says:

    BEQ: 21×21 today. Turned into something real difficult for the theme (Beatles + Indian cuisine as a pun) and a lot of the accompanying entries to make so many theme entries (Nine!) work in the grid. Just generally inaccessible. Some of the choices of cluing could have been adjusted to help like 37D, but way too much of this just turned into a large number of Natick crossings. *

    LAT: Mostly paint by numbers. 3.5*

    New Yorker: Again nowhere near “beginner friendly”, but closer than some of the other efforts. About Wednesday NYT today. Lots better than the “beginner friendly” Friday NYT equivalent last week. (They only really have one constructor on this day that has consistently hit “beginner friendly”.) 3.5* otherwise, nice solve.

    Universal: Quick enough run and easier than Mon/Tues, though not too thrilling. Odd to have this one come in as the hardest of a day compared to the other puzzles. 2.5*

    WSJ: Fairly well done, but underwhelming in a few ways. Overall, I’m wondering if I’m getting that much better or the editor has been lowering the difficulty on some of these lately. 3.5*

    • Eric H. says:

      I thought the New Yorker puzzle was definitely “beginner-friendly.” My time was under five minutes, which puts it in Monday NYT territory. I really don’t see anything that is too esoteric (other than the directly-clues ESOTERICA).

    • Eric H. says:

      I didn’t much care for the BEQ puzzle, either. Most of the puns were big stretches (LADY MASALA, TIKKA TO RIDE, THE LONG AND WINDING ROTI, PANEER LANE).

      RAITA works (and makes me realize that I have been mispronouncing RAITA in my head). CURRY THAT WEIGHT works, too.

      I still haven’t figured out what Beatles song DON’T BHAJIME is based on. “Don’t Bother Me,” maybe? Seems like a very deep cut.

  8. DougC says:

    NYT: Today I learned that so few people are familiar with the word “wrack” that its incorrect (“alternate”) spelling is now considered acceptable. The original phrase, of course, is “wrack and ruin.” But that’s “living language” for you.

    • David L says:

      According to Cambridge, rack and ruin is the original phrase — from a meaning of ‘rack’ as ‘decay’ — while ‘wrack and ruin’ is marked as a chiefly US variant.

      You can say, for example, that someone was racked by chronic illness.

      • DougC says:

        According to Merriam Webster (and other sites I’ve checked), “wrack” derives from Middle English wrake, wrak, going back to Old English wracu (genitive wræce) & wræc “vengeance, persecution, misery,” noun derivatives from the base of Germanic *wrekan- “to drive out, pursue”… First known use in the 14th century, well before American English developed. I’m familiar with it from both English and American 19th century literature.

        It may well be that “rack” has completely displaced “wrack” in British 21st century usage, and “wrack” is only (barely) hanging on in the former colonies. If so, good for us!

        • David L says:

          As far as I can tell, both ‘rack’ and ‘wrack,’ with a meaning connected with persecution or the imposition of suffering, date back to the mid or late 1500s, and have (not surprisingly) been used interchangeably over the centuries. There’s clearly a US/UK difference in usage, but ‘rack’ in this sense has a long history in British English; it’s not a recent replacement of ‘wrack.’

          In other words, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Etc.

  9. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: I don’t understand 14A. The clue is “___-Z: classic Carnaro” and the answer is “Iroc”. What is an “Iroc”, is that a new middle Eastern country or a recently discovered asteroid?

    • Gary R says:

      I believe it was IROC (pronounced “I Rock”), for International Race of Champions – some sort of stock car racing “all-star” race that was run in the ’70s and ’80s (maybe longer).

    • Martin says:

      Perhaps kerning complicated your confusion. The IROC-Z was a Camaro.

      • Seattle DB says:

        TY Martin for using the word “kerning” which I guess means how far apart the letters in a word are. For some reason I read the “m” as an “rn”.

    • Kelly Clark says:

      The Camaro IROC-Z was named after the International Race of Champions.

    • Seattle DB says:

      Ack! Thank you everyone for clarifying the clue. I guess my 69 year old eyes don’t see as sharply as they used to…

    • Eric H. says:

      Best IROC-Z song I know (OK, it’s the only one):

      • Seattle DB says:

        TY Eric, for the link. I watched the video and got a kick out of it! (But were you one of the musicians in the video?)

        • Eric H. says:

          Glad you enjoyed the video.

          “Teenage Dirtbag” was a hit of sorts in 2000 (number one in Australia!), but I never heard of the song until I got a free download of the performance I linked to. I think it’s a pretty funny song.

          I have absolutely no musical talent, sad to say.

  10. Rachel says:

    Is Fireball TK?

    • Jason T says:

      This week’s Fireball was a brilliant 5-star construction, but man, solving it almost killed me!

      • Rachel says:

        Same!! I knew something had to be going on but it took me a while. Loved the yellow bits (I held on to locusts and even stsucol for too long so it was a great aha/oh duh moment)

        Thanks for the write up Jim— agree it deserved to be covered!

  11. Alison L. says:

    Oh ok thanks.

  12. Jim Peredo says:

    It’s Friday, a day late, but I added a post covering the Fireball above.

  13. ktd says:

    I didn’t solve the Fireball puzzle but really enjoyed reading about the theme. The only thing I don’t understand is why the Across entries crossing the “road” have their clues strung together…not sure if this is connected to the theme or was done for another reason?

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I don’t think it was necessarily theme-related, but in reality, where else would the clues for the right side of the grid go? Plus, the way the clues were strung together so cleverly made it a lot more fun to untangle.

  14. Michael Sharp says:

    That Fireball puzzle … wow. Your move, The Rest of 2024. Good luck.

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