Thursday, February 15, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 6:20 (Gareth) 


NYT 15:49 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker tk (Kyle) 


Universal 3:30 (Sophia) 


USA Today 9:27(Emily) 


WSJ untimed (Jim) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


Adam Regn Arvidson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Walk Out”—Jim’s review

Three strings of circled letters wind their way down the grid and spell out well-known American HIKING / TRAILS (1d, [With 48-Down, what you’ll find three of wandering through this puzzle]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Walk Out” · Adam Regn Arvidson · Thu., 2.15.24

The TRAILS in question are PACIFIC CREST (western states), CONTINENTAL DIVIDE (middle of the country), and APPALACHIAN (eastern states from Maine to Georgia).

Neat idea for a theme. Looking at the circles, my initial idea was that the puzzle had a DNA theme, but a closer inspection shows the circles aren’t quite so helical.

But I especially like how the trails are in their respective places from west to east, and how CONTINENTAL DIVIDE spans the grid and splits it into a western and an eastern half. Very cool.

This is a really ambitious theme. Sure there are only two actual theme answers, but each of those circled letters is triple-checked, meaning they have to satisfy both Across and Down entries as well as a the trail name. Getting everything to play nicely together must’ve taken a LOT of work.

Yet we still have some fill highlights like DEAD AIR, NEPALIS, ORCHID, and ATHEISM.

But there’s definitely some rough fill: SKC [Midwestern MLS team] (which apparently stands for Sporting Kansas City), plural AKAS, ECLAT crossing ALIA, Y-LEVEL [Vertical measure in Minecraft], and ILEX [Holly’s genus]. I said “Oof” the other day, and I’ll say it again here, but this puzzle has a lot more constraints, and therefore it’s easier to forgive this crunchy fill.

I finished with an error at ILEX crossing EXO [Biology intro]. I mindlessly put in ECO which seemed plausible at the time, and I never thought to go back and look at it. So that’s on me. But I will say that if you’re going to have ILEX in your grid, refrain from the cute crossing clues. [Skeleton intro] would’ve been fairer IMO.

Clues of note:

  • 25a. [Children’s author/illustrator Falconer]. IAN. In addition to theater design work and The New Yorker covers, he wrote the Olivia series of children’s books.
  • 45a. [White-collar worker?]. PRIEST. Very nice clue.
  • 47d. [Luster, say]. SINNER. One who lusts. It took me a few beats after filling this in to grok what was going on.

Very ambitious puzzle with an impressive theme (and a debut too — congrats!). However, all the constraints caused compromises in the fill that may lead to the undoing of some solvers. 3.75 stars from me.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Terrible First-Dance Wedding Songs” – Jenni’s write-up

The title pretty much says it all about this puzzle. It’s topical and timely and not difficult.

Fireball, February 14, 2024, Peter Gordon, “Terrible First-Dance Wedding Songs,” solution grid

  • 18a [1980 J. Geils Band hit] is LOVE STINKS.
  • 23a [2007 Taylor Swift hit] is SHOULDVE SAID NO.
  • 37a [1970 B.B. King hit] is THE THRILL IS GONE.
  • 47a [1990 M.C. Hammer hit] is U CANT TOUCH THIS.
  • 57a [2009 Lady Gaga hit] is BAD ROMANCE.

Solid, consistent theme with entries that span decades so there’s something for everyone to complain about. Well, not me; I’ve heard of all these songs and now have a very odd earworm of three of them combined. I hope you all had a cheerier Valentine’s Day than Peter’s imagination conjured for us.

A few other things:

  • 4d [Pronto] is PDQ. I haven’t heard that in so long that I had to get it from crossings.
  • 20a [Try to elicit a burp from] is PAT. Unless your kid is like mine in which case patting does you no good at all. It took some force.
  • 21a [Sound when entering a sound] is SLOSH. This doesn’t seem quite right to me. SLOSH is fluid in a confined space. When you go into the water to swim it’s SPLASH.
  • 32d [Longtime advertising character played by Stephanie Courtney] is FLO, which I actually knew because I read this article.
  • 45a [Well known Denver, Colorado state song writer] is JOHN. Clever clue! The state song referenced is, not surprisingly, “Rocky Mountain High.” When I checked to confirm this, I found out that this is the second state song. “Where The Columbines Grow” was adopted in 1915.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that Tommie AGEE was the first New York Mets player to bat in a World Series.

Teddy Katz and Rich Katz’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Challenging (15m49s)

Teddy Katz and Rich Katz’s New York Times crossword, 2/15/24, 0215

Today’s theme: DOUBLE OR NOTHING (Risky wager … with a hint to the letters in this puzzle’s circled squares)


This is a seriously impressive feat of construction.  I thought I was done — leaving the circled letters blank seemed to yield appropriate responses all around — but no confirmation from the app.  Naturally, I blamed the app (nothing is initially my fault, and blaming the app in particular is the correct approach more often than not.)  But I kept looking at the revealer.. double what?  Then it hit me like twenty-two hundred pounds of clay: the circled letters can either be blank, or contain a doubled letter (i.e. DOUBLE OR NOTHING).  In any event, the clues supplied work for both possibilities — in both directions.  Good gravy, holy macaroni, and a whole buffet’s worth of awed foodstuffs.

For a brief moment, I thought the doubled letters — PP, MM, SS, DD, EE — would spell out some additional meta revealer; thankfully, this was not the case.  Otherwise, like Abraham’s Salieri before me, I would be forced to check myself into a sanatorium as King of Mediocrities.  “Early week specialists” everywhere, I absolve you, I absolve you.

Cracking: PSYCHED, pumped, fired up, a classic Thursday head-turner.

Slacking: The BUC, it doesn’t stop here — Truman sez “Hard pass”

Sidetracking: Branagh does IAGO

Stella Zawistowski’s USA Today Crossword, “Initial Contact” — Emily’s write-up

Get ready for today’s puzzle!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday February 15, 2024

USA Today, February 15, 2024, “Initial Contact” by Stella Zawistowski

Theme: each themer contains D–M–


  • 17a. [Chemist who pioneered the periodic table], DMITRIMENDELEEV
  • 25a. [The floss and the moonwalk, for example], DANCEMOVES
  • 43a. [Extracting patterns from a large set of information], DATAMINING
  • 55a. [Distort], DIACRITICALMARK

This set works slightly different from others. The first themer DMITRIMENDELEEV sets up the theme with its initials D–M–. DANCEMOVES kicks off the theme in earnest, followed by DATAMINING, and wrapping up with a DIACRITICALMARK. In addition, the first in this set also begins with DM– is a fun secondary reinforcement of the theme.

Favorite fill: DIDDLY, TONI, and MAS

Stumpers: DARED (needed a couple of crossings; excellent cluing too tricky for me this morning), PODCASTS (“shows” threw me as this is not one I knew of), and ITIS (originally read it as “it” and “is” were split instead of together on both sides)

Stella’s crosswords are always a higher difficulty level for me but they always have fair crossings and great cluing though usually in a trickier sense for me. How’d you all do? I enjoyed the themer set format with the first setting up the theme for the rest. It’s a great idea that I’ve not seen before, personally.

4.25 stars


Spencer Leach and Lila Goldenberg’s Universal crossword, “Fashion Seasons” — Sophia’s write-up

Theme: Phrases that are [type of weather] [type of pattern]

Universal Crossword, 02 15 2024, “Fashion Seasons”

  • 13/16a [*With 16-Across, summer fabric print?] – SUN SPOTS
  • 26a [*Spring or fall fabric print?] – RAIN CHECK
  • 45a [*Winter fabric print?] – SNOW LEOPARD
  • 58a [Climates, or the starred clues’ answers?] – WEATHER PATTERNS

This is a really imaginative theme! It wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on throughout the puzzle as I solved, but I honestly wasn’t expecting a revealer at the end, and not an incredibly strong one like this for sure. My only minor complaint is that I don’t really think of the pattern as SPOTS in a fashion context… more like “dots”, maybe. Oh, and being from Seattle, it’s pretty much RAIN CHECKs all year round :)

Loved the use of mirror symmetry today, and how many extra fun answers it affords. ON ESTROGEN, KARAOKE BARS, CANDYGRAM, and BOSS STAGE are all top notch (although I did try “boss battle” first, but that didn’t fit). The part of the puzzle I found to be the hardest was the top row – I didn’t know KAVA and Soho vs NOHO was a complete guess on the first letter.

Happy Thursday all!

Billy Ouska’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

In today’s puzzle by Billy Ouska, the letters of FORTUNE are scrambled in the middles of three other answers. This is tied together with [Reversal in luck, and what can be found in the answers to the starred clues], CHANGEOFFORTUNE. I’d have avoided “reversal” in the clue, as it makes one think there is a reversal trick of some sort happening. The answers with hidden fortunes are:

  • [*Critical juncture], POINTOFNORETURN
  • [*Record], CAPTUREONFILM
  • [*Online discussion site], INTERNETFORUM

Quite of few sticky spots today for me, both answers and clues:

  • [Mil. branch with wings], USAF. I always confuse it with USAC, the one-time organizer of Indianapolis.
  • [Tactical political research, for short], OPPO. Something about oppposition???
  • [Rihanna’s fashion brand], FENTY. Centy seemed less plausible.
  • [Top rank in a tournament], ONESEED. If you say so.
  • [__ franc], CAB. Guessing this has something to do with wine?
  • [Qualifying contest, perhaps, PLAYINGAME. It looks like the G wants to be sharing. Why not just say qualifier?


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32 Responses to Thursday, February 15, 2024

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: Having solved the puzzle to my satisfaction, the software did not acknowledge the solve.

    That’s a shame, but I’m not going to waste any more time on it.

    Funny, I really liked this puzzle while I was solving it, but now I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

    • Jean says:

      Experienced the same problem. Clever theme, though

    • Mr. Cavin says:

      NYT: Online, the puzzle would not conclude with the double-up letter in the space, but did finally work when I deleted them all and left the spaces blank. Just exactly the opposite of the usual.

      I assume it would have worked if I’d taken the time to use the rebus button, but I never bother with that. Usually the first letter suffices.

      I enjoyed the puzzle, but the cluing was diabolically difficult for me. Way over my average today.

      • Eric H. says:

        I have doubled letters everywhere but in the SE, where I inadvertently had the circled square blank when I fixed a typo in another word. The puzzle registers as correctly completed for me.

        Oddly, though, the clues for those two words are not grayed out, as they would be if I had solved them.

      • Me says:

        I wish the NYT would just be consistent about what they accept and what they don’t. For a long time, it seemed that you only needed to put in the first letter of a rebus, but that didn’t work on some puzzle in the past year or so, and then it didn’t work again today.

        I get that the theme is DOUBLE OR NOTHING, but I wish they would be consistent about “it’s okay to input the first letter for a rebus” so we don’t have to guess what the editors feel is acceptable for a particular puzzle Reading the editors’ minds has nothing to do with solving the crossword, and it causes unnecessary aggravation and frustration. I think it’s also a bit unfair to the constructor, whose puzzle inadvertently and unconsciously might get a little less goodwill than it deserves.

      • agreenberg says:

        tough for a Thursday – second that!

    • ranman says:


    • Dan says:

      In my opinion the acceptance of *either* the double letters or the empty space (in each theme circle) was an *especially* ill-considered decision: It means that one can solve the puzzle without ever grokking that there are double letters that give alternative answers to the ten theme clues.

      Not to mention that in previous rebi, just entering the first letter suffices to get credit; in this puzzle entering just one of each pair of double letters did *not* suffice.

      That’s two big strikes against this puzzle (as presented online) for me.

  2. Eric H. says:

    NYT: I snapped to the theme very quickly, because the February 7 AVXC puzzle had the same theme and the same revealer.

    I’m sure there’s nothing underhanded going on here. Sometimes, a constructor gets a great idea for a puzzle, only to finds that someone else has done it before. The NYT puzzle has probably been in the publication queue for months, so I’m sure the Katzes didn’t know about the AVXC puzzle when they made it.

    But it’s a clever gimmick that is probably a bear to construct, and the Katzes handled it well.

    I look up OLESTRA every time I see it in a grid. Wikipedia says that as of 2023, no products containing OLESTRA are sold in the USA, and that it’s banned in Europe and Canada. Maybe it’s time to retire it from crossword puzzles?

    • steve says:

      much easier the second time around, still fun puzzle, too

      one of the doubled answers was even the same “seaEEls”

      i snapped to it instantly, second times a charm

      and FTR, acrosslite did not give a happy pencil with empty cells in the acvx version

      • Twangster says:

        BLOOM/BLOSSOM was also in both (although plural in the earlier puzzle).

      • Eric H. says:

        Yeah, the AcrossLite AVXC puzzle needed the doubled letters.

        That actually messed me up, as I hadn’t fully realized that the answers worked as words with or without the doubled letters. I left one rebus empty, figuring that was the NOTHING square, and had to reveal the answer to see Mr. [Dorky but] Happy Pencil.

  3. RCook says:

    NYT: I initially thought the circles should contain something because the app didn’t recognize I had finished the puzzle when I left them blank. However, I figured out the problem was HIS/SOPS. If you’re not up on your Italian or German, you might have guessed the answer was HIS instead of HIM, and you wouldn’t have seen the error because SOPS works equally well as MOPS for “Cleans (up)”.

  4. David L says:

    NYT gave me the happy solve music even tho the circled squares were blank. At that point I gave up trying to figure out what was going on. Clever construction, in retrospect, but a letdown in terms of solving.

    Took me longer than a typical Thursday — a lot of the cluing was not on my wavelength — hundos, windowpane, chignon…

    NOFEE is a very NYC thing, I think. I don’t know of anywhere else where brokers routinely get fees when tenants rent an apartment.

    ETA: I wondered about the spelling of SCUSE, and some googling confirms it should be either SCUSI or SCUSA, depending on who you’re talking to.

    • Gary R says:

      I know probably 10 words in Italian, so I don’t know about scusa/scuse/scusi. But google translate renders both scusa and scusi as “excuse me” and scuse as “apologies,” which seems to fit the clue pretty well.

    • Dan says:

      “anywhere else where brokers routinely get fees when tenants rent an apartment”

      In my experience: When the rental market is brutal enough on renters, rental agents routinely try to extract fees from prospective renters … because they can.

      • David L says:

        In the places I’ve rented (Chicago suburbs, Bay Area, Washington DC and most recently Portland ME), there have been no agents or brokers. The landlord advertises, the would-be tenant(s) apply, and some lucky person gets the place. There’s no middleman.

    • R says:

      A relatively obscure cluing of BUN made the NO FEE extra tough. I had guessed BUg/gO FEE on the first round.

  5. Gary R says:

    NYT: I thought it was a straightforward rebus puzzle at first, because the missing double letters created the answers that came to my mind. When I got the revealer, I thought maybe some of the circles would have double letters and some would be left blank (or maybe an “O”). But I continued to see the missing double letters and not the valid answers when the circle was left blank.

    My last square to fill was the crossing of 19-A and 3-D. After looking at it for a while, I saw that the two answers worked with nothing in that square. But it seemed that it would be pretty inelegant to have just one circled square out of five contain nothing. So I ran the alphabet to come up with the “PP.” Then went back to look at the other circled squares – aha!

    Pretty impressive theme! Too bad technology created problems with the solving experience for so many here.

  6. Lily says:

    WSJ: I made the same error at ILEX/EXO, finishing the puzzle with ILEC/ECO. Agree that the skeleton clue for EXO would have been fairer. Otherwise I enjoyed discovering the long winding theme trail answers.

    • JohnH says:

      Funny, but I guessed EXO-biology right away. ILEX was another matter. Nice puzzle, although my printing problems made the winding path less visible than I’d like. I basically took for granted that they were trails and came here to see what they were.

  7. Grazi says:

    Too funny!

  8. Iggy says:

    NYT: I couldn’t get the puzzle to register as complete and thought I was screwing up the circled entries and tried every possible combination of rebus entries, until I found that my mistake was another incorrect letter elsewhere that I finally hunted down. Over my normal average, but it seems that was my fault. Doh!

    WSJ: Also made the ILEC/ECO mistake. That’s kind of a crummy crossing. There are a couple of things I don’t like about the WSJ online puzzle: the timer starts even before you enter anything and with Firefox the page loads slowly so the timer is usually at 20 seconds, and often more than that, by the time it loads; the puzzle automatically identifies wrong entries once you fill in everything, not giving you the opportunity to find errors yourself.

    • Eric H. says:

      With a funky rebus puzzle, if you don’t get the gold star, it’s natural to assume you’ve not entered a rebus correctly. But so many times, the mistake is elsewhere (or at least it is for me).

  9. Dallas says:

    While I really liked the theme and theme answers a lot—super clever stuff!—I really struggled a bit with some of the other fill. The central north corner was almost completely cutoff, and I just didn’t feel like I was on the clue wavelengths… but when it came together, it was pretty impressive.

  10. Monicat says:

    May I ask why the link to the BEQ review does not work?

    • Eric H. says:

      Sorry if you already know this: If it says “tk” where you would normally see the reviewer’s solving time, it means the review is “to come” — that is, the reviewer either hasn’t written it or wrote it but didn’t post it.

  11. Eric H says:

    BEQ: That was kind of an odd theme that did not help me much in solving the grid. Even after getting LIFE SUPPORT, I had trouble seeing that the letters that remained after deleting FOUR anagram to STIPPLE.

    It didn’t help that I don’t know ANA Navarro and couldn’t remember JIM Gaffigan’s first name even though I was pretty sure about JORTS.

    “DOO WOP (That Thing)” didn’t sound familiar (though it’s a nice reminder that I really should listen to “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”). But it’s entirely possible that I have heard the song but don’t know the name.

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