Thursday, January 18, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 4:38 (Gareth) 


NYT 12:28 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker 3:08 (Kyle) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 8:34 (Emily) 


WSJ 9-something (Jim) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


Dana Edwards’s Fireball Crossword, “Thar She Blows!” – Jenni’s write-up

This one wasn’t particularly difficult except for one very clever piece of misdirection. Our tags suggest this is Dana’s debut, at least for puzzles we review. Really good start!

Each circle in the grid contains a rebus. It’s easier to see in Peter’s grid than in mine.

Fireball, January 17, 2024, Dana Edwards, “Thar She Blows!” solution grid

  • 1a [Divest of pontifical authority] is UN{POP}E crossing 3d, [Performs a maneuver to roll-start a stalled vehicle with a stick shift]. That’s {POP}S THE CLUTCH. Kids, ask your parents. Or grandparents.
  • 10a is the one that gave me fits. [Four-time honor for LBJ] has nothing to do with the 36th President of the US. It’s LeBron James and the answer is thus N{BA M}VP. 11d [Metaphor popularized by author Jane Hyun for the exclusion of Asian Americans from executive positions] is the {BAM}BOO CEILING.
  • 29d [Black Eyed Peas hit that topped the charts for 12 weeks in 2009] is {BOOM}{BOOM} {POW}. The crossings are 27a [Cheery phrase?] for SIS {BOOM} BAH, 24a [Dismissive comment from a member of Gen Z] for OK {BOOM}ER, and 36a [Superstrong] for ULTRA{POW}ERFUL.

So that’s fun! And there’s more. 53a [With 55-Across, apology from this puzzle’s author about each of the circles in the grid] is SORRY TO/BURST YOUR BUBBLE. That made me giggle. Also made me wonder about the title. Is there a whale in there somewhere that I’m missing?

A few other things:

  • We have [Schubert compositions] twice with LIEDER  and ART SONGS.
  • 16a [Juliet: Rosemary :: Romeo: ____ ] is ABIE. That’s ABIE‘s Irish Rose. Kids, ask your great-grandparents.
  • I still don’t like Roman number math. 26a [XXXV quadrupled and then quintupled] is DCC. OK, then.
  • 25a [Removable convertible part] is the GAS CAP. Not what I was thinking.
  • 44a [Ruling from a baseball umpire] is NO CATCH. 26 days until pitchers and catchers.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard of the TATAR Strait. Also never heard of the WWE wrestler named ELIAS under any of his three names.

Tirosh Schneider’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Wide Variety”—Jim’s review

The theme revealer is BROAD COMEDIES (37a, [Zany movies, or a literal description of the contents of the spread-out circles]). Six rows in the puzzle feature circled letters that span the width of the grid and spell out well-known(ish) comedic films.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Wide Variety” · Tirosh Schneider · Thu., 1.18.24

  • Row 1: Duck Soup
  • Row 3: Friday
  • Row 5: Borat
  • Row 11: Clueless
  • Row 13: Girls Trip
  • Row 15: Barbie

Pretty ambitious theme with all that theme material and triple-checked squares spread throughout the entire grid. And this is a debut! So kudos on putting together a successful grid!

That said, the theme revealer feels on the green paintish side, but it does work with its wordplay. And I wasn’t familiar with each of the films listed, but then probably not everybody would be.

There’s somewhat of a mixed bag in the fill as well with OPERATE ON and especially CINEASTES raising my eyebrows. I needed every crossing for that last one. Compromises in the short fill include ULA, URIE, CENS, PYE, and XOS [Naval second-in-commands, for short]. That last one is short for Executive Officers.

But FILM STRIP and FINE PRINT are quite nice. (Yes, they contribute to the theme but aren’t technically theme answers.) Other goodies: AIRBALL, NO DRAMA, AMOEBAS, SCREAMO, and NOISOME. I love that last word; it tops the list I keep on my phone of “Words that don’t mean what they look like they mean.”

Clues of note:

  • 31a. [Spots with lots of IVs]. ERS. I went with ORS and forgot to go back and check. Thus I finished with an error in the Martian moon of DOIMOS.
  • 48a. [They serve sentences]. CLAUSES. Good clue.
  • 64a. [Bonds with a bat]. BARRY. Couldn’t tell if the clue was hinting at making a connection with a furry flying critter or else getting whacked in the head with a baseball bat. It was neither. Ha!
  • 28d. [A, in hexadecimal]. TEN. Nice clue for math/computer nerds.
  • 53d. [Muppet who hates a rock named Rocco]. ELMO. This was even the subject of a NY Times article.

There are some compromises in the grid, but overall it works. 3.5 stars.

Jon Michnovicz and Carl Michnovicz’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Average (12m28s)

Jon Michnovicz and Carl Michnovicz’s New York Times crossword, 1/18/24, 0118

Today’s theme: i before e, except when it’s not


The long horizontal theme answers have pairs of alternating rebused IE/EI blocks.  The vertical entires only have one IE/EI rebus, with the exception of TH(E I)ND(IE)S.  As for the revealer — I was waiting for a something along the lines of EI-EI-OH! — it, like Godot, remained apocryphal.  As per usual, strong possibility that something’s gone over my head (often while I’m staring at my shoelaces).

Cracking: STIR THE POT, like a rabble rousing sous-chef

SlackingMATADORS, because bullfighting is violent, depraved, inhumane, etc.  Close runner up for ITS A HELP, the ersatz version of “That helps” or any other configuration thereof


Michael B. Berg’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Michael B. Berg’s puzzle features a disparate collection of phrases reimagined to be parts of a conversation about beds. The final answer, PILLOWTALK, functions as a revealer. So:

  • [“Don’t switch to memory foam”], KEEPITDOWN
  • [“Pray we can hold on to the smaller one, which is more comfortable than the king”], GODSAVETHEQUEEN
  • [“Please double-stitch the new sham”], MAKEASTRONGCASE

With only four entries, there’s going to be a lot more space to play around in the grid. Let’s see what else we can find:

  • [Coastal raptor], ERN. Variant spelling of a non-standard name. :/
  • [HS class with a big reading list], APLIT. Interesting concept. I don’t think we had anything more complicated than “English” in high school.
  • [Xiao long __: soup dumpling], BAO. I ate a bao for the first time a week ago. Kind of like a chewy samoosa?
  • [Stretches between forces, briefly], DMZS. Don’t think I’ve seen this in a puzzle, even in the singular?
  • [Sparkling wine region], ASTI. Haven’t seen this in a while!
  • [Novelist who wrote the “Odd Thomas” thrillers], DEANKOONTZ. Difficult name to work into a puzzle!


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

Robyn Weintraub returns with another smooth-as-silk Thursday puzzle. Thanks Robyn!

The New Yorker solution grid – Thursday 01/18/2024 – Robyn Weintraub

  • I really like OLIVE GROVE and ROMAN RUINS as entries – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen either of those terms in a crossword before.
  • I had two trouble spots on the left side of the grid where I put in a plausible answer and later had to erase several letters when crossings wouldn’t work. The first was 17A [Words followed by a number on a highway sign] where I entered STATE ROUTE off the S in 1D POSH. Getting 5d SEDARIS and 6D PRICY made me realize the intended answer was SPEED LIMIT. Tricky! Then, for 23A [Fearful], with ___ID in place I entered TREPID instead of the correct answer, AFRAID. I think it was a case of seeing the final two letters and thinking “I need a synonym of “fearful that has an ‘-id’ sound at the end.” Tricky!
  • Nice clue on 38D for the rarely-seen BREADED: [Like wiener schnitzel, chicken katsu, and Scotch eggs]. Also eligible for this list is cotoletta alla milanese, which is highlighted in the Milan episode of Stanley Tucci’s “Searching For Italy” (video not available online, but here’s a link to a recipe for cotoletta and other dishes appearing in the episode). Oh hey, and 20A happens to be ITALY.

Catherine Cetta’s USA Today Crossword, “Anything Goes” — Emily’s write-up

Get ready for today’s puzzle!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday January 18, 2024

USA Today, January 18, 2024, “Anything Goes” by Catherine Cetta

Theme: each themer contains N—E— (or “any”)


  • 19a. [They’ll let you know what you’re in hot water], NERVEENDINGS
  • 29a. [Writer, director and producer of “You’ve Got Mail”], NORAEPHRON
  • 40a. [“Close, but…”], NOTEXACTLY
  • 51a. [Close call], NARROWESCAPE

A fun set of two-word themers. The quite literal NERVEENDINGS took me some crossings, since I was thinking of an item like those rubber duckies with “hot” printed on the bottom that becomes vibrant when the water is too hot. I always think of NORAEPHRON as an author, with her books more in mind. NOTEXACTLY and NARROWESCAPE filled in easily enough with a couple of crossings. The theme was somewhat noticeable with the starting N— and the abundance of E—, though the hint in the title was very punny today it fully clicked once I said the title aloud.


Stumpers: LOOKED (cluing made me think of “snuck” and “peered at”), NEWWAVE (new musical genre for me though I know the band), and REACH (first thought of “stretch”)

Found today’s slightly more challenging and needed to work out some crossings in various parts in order to get everything filled but it was all fair.

4.25 stars


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22 Responses to Thursday, January 18, 2024

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: I’m beyond tired of worrying about getting the software to accept my solution.

    So, when it doesn’t, I just quit (since I care not a whit about streaks).

    • Dan says:

      On the other hand, I had not known or recalled that there *was* such a thing called the “Indies” before Columbus landed in the New World.

      But I just learned (thanks to this puzzle and Wikipedia) that indeed the earliest explorers — Portugese sailors — had indeed traveled around the Cape of Good Hope to reach India and (relatively) nearby islands, dubbing them the Indies, something that Columbus surely knew about. Now sometimes called the East Indies. If only I had paid attention in history class 60+ years ago.

  2. Craig N. Owens says:

    NYT: Is there a common convention that says, in a two-response rebus, the Across response goes before the slash, and the Down response comes after the slash?

    Apart from the lack of a revealer, which just makes the puzzle seem lazy verging on incoherent, trying out dozens of different ways of entering the rebuses made this one more of a chore than a pastime. The difficulty here is not the effect of sleight-of-hand, but rather of a weirdly sadistic withholding. Good grief!

    Two stars is too generous.

    • pannonica says:

      A ONE-EIGHTY is a ‘complete reversal’ per its clue, so in my opinion that also functions as revealer.

    • Dan says:

      Despite my kvetching above, it seems to always work if in a rebus square you enter just the first letter of the Across word.

      • Katie says:

        So, on the one hand, NYT rebuses (on my computer and browser) are actually quite forgiving, I think… e.g., Wordplay sez you could have entered I, E, IE, EI, IEEI, EIIE, IE/EI, or EI/IE, for any one of them, I think? No need to be consistent there, I mean. I think. (I was expecting typing only I or E was enough, so I was lazy.)

        However, there IS a problem, since many people are irked.

        I think the underlying problem is that any given solver won’t (necessarily) know what the “sufficient” rules are for “entering a rebus” — until learning the hard way, I mean — perhaps.

        I’m sure there’s a clever way to improve the entire app, to make that sort of thing easier to get understand. Right?

        (For example: (1) a help button? is there one? or (2) say if you click “REBUS”, some polite message could pop up: “For a multi-letter rebus, it is also fine to use only the first letter. See _here_ for examples.” — with a link? Maybe ?)

  3. Spotter says:

    Just typing “IE” in every box got me credit for completion No idea what the significance of it is either.

    • Anne says:

      I put IE in some of the theme squares and EI in the rest and I got the Congratulations screen. This was a bit of a surprise since the entries were only correct spelling-wise in one direction. 🤷‍♀️

      • Jose Madre says:

        same with me which makes me wonder about all the griping on here about online solving. This puzzle seemed to me to be extremely forgiving in the rebus squares.

  4. Katie says:

    NYT: Huh. Three of the four last days have had ORCA as fill. Can you guess/remember which one didn’t?

    That’s right: Tuesday. Why? Because, of course, NOEL. (i.e., no el.) [Sorry.]

  5. MW says:

    In the app, you can use either EI or IE, or just I or E, to be marked correct.

  6. Allen K says:

    I thought the puzzle was clever and since I do it on paper, no entry problems. The last across themer about reversals maybe was a lost opportunity for a revealer.

  7. DCBilly says:

    I was going to blame the app’s treatment of my rebuses, but then I realized I had messed up the crossing of 36A and 28D. Got the confirmation after I fixed that.

  8. Gary R says:

    NYT: Wanted to comment on today’s puzzle, but I can’t recall the proper mathematical term for “Meh!” raised to the tenth power.

    • Papa John says:

      Me, too, but the word I would use is “Ugh”, instead of “Meh”. I spent more time and frustration trying to get the damn app to work than solving the puzzle. No fun for this guy.

  9. DougC says:

    NYT: I wondered: is 34A, at dead center in the puzzle, a sly comment on how the constructors felt about the published version?

    If not, maybe it should have been. Just like there should have been some sign to clarify that 54A was meant to be understood as a revealer.

    Quite easy for a Thursday, I thought.

    • Dallas says:

      Hehe… maybe :-) I found it went pretty quickly, with only a few hiccups (I had DIET … before I had to change it to HIGH PROTEIN DIET) and I found I had to just stop caring about IE vs EI which helped since I couldn’t remember how to spell VIVIEN LEIGH’s name… not a bad Thursday after all.

      • JohnH says:

        I thought it was pretty good too. A nice idea, and lots of such squares without making the rest of the fill just awful. On top of that, I defended a puzzle just the other day without a revealer as being packed enough as it is.

        Still, I’d have liked one, even at the cost of fewer special squares. It just felt more appropriate here to have one. It’s not quite punny, but I wanted to hear about “i before e” given that fill could go either way, and I wanted to know why exactly we were making the fill this way.

        So I gave it 4 stars, but with reservations. But I have to admit I’m still not worked up over the plight of online solvers. Sounds like it isn’t hard to adapt to the software to have it accept your answers, and anyway what’s the difference? Is the reward of the software accepting you that huge? You know how you did, and who else will learn about it from the software? As a pdf solver, I don’t myself get a congrats and am not looking forward to it.

        • Eric H. says:

          I expect that for most people who solve in the NYT puzzle app or on the NYT website, the main issue is maintaining a streak of puzzles solved without any assistance from the software (i.e. reveals or checks). For some reason, people seem to break streaks whenever there’s a “complicated” rebus.

          It would not have occurred to me to track my solving streak if the NYT didn’t do it for me, but it can be somewhat addictive to see it. (My current streak is 350, but it would be twice that if we hadn’t been without power for a few days last winter.)

          • Katie says:

            Eric and John – Spot on, I think.

            NYT arguably encourages a “Ding, Ding, Ding!” feedback, when you finish their online games. All sorts of meta-questions occur (to me) about what makes puzzles (and, really, solving) “fun”, this particular week, given all the disparate/interesting comments.

            In the end, I wonder what the average score was/is for the “app” crowd, vs those using a pdf or paper copy here…

            Finally, yep – a reveal works (arguably) in kinda the same way (“Ding, Ding Ding!”), as a positive feedback – even if you figured out the trick earlier. Some “U-ie”/180 reveal seemed – “kinda plausible” (and possibly intended) – but outside reach, in the end, apparently? I’m curious about whether that was originally clued (somehow) as a reveal.

  10. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: Does it seem like this puzzle always rates below a 3 ever since the editorship change? Rich Norris had a pretty good “stable” of constructors, and I wonder if most of them left when he retired.

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