Thursday, February 29, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT 6:47 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker 3:07 (Jenni) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 12:39(Emily) 


WSJ way too long (Jim) 


Note: Fireball is a contest this week. We’ll have a review after the submission period closes.

Matt Linzer’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “A Little Drink”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar(ish) phrases with a type of milk rebussed (i.e. squeezed) into one square. The revealer is CONDENSED MILK (35a, [Ingredient of sweetened Thai tea, and a hint to solving some squares in this puzzle]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “A Little Drink” · Matt Linzer · Thu., 2.29.24

  • 17a. [Dorothy Zbornak’s portrayer] BEAT(RICE) ARTHUR crossing VA(RICE)LLA. Didn’t know the character name. It’s from The Golden Girls.
  • 30a. [They go overboard] LIFEB(OAT)S crossing BASE C(OAT).
  • 44a. [Gave an angry look] S(COW)LED AT crossing (CO-W)ORKER.
  • 60a. [Does a raw bar job] SHUCK(S OY)STERS crossing “IT’S (SO Y)OU!”

This puzzle made me harrumph. I caught on to the theme at LIFEBOATS, but that didn’t make finding the rest of the milks much easier.

First off, using Bea Arthur’s full first name was completely unexpected, and crossing that with VARICELLA (which I’d bet few people know) is a tough sell. At the bottom of the grid, “IT’S YOU!” seemed like the perfect answer to [“That dress looks perfect!”]. So I really had to untangle that section to get IT’S SO YOU in there, especially with nearby MUCKY crossing a proper name (which ended up just being SMITH). The CO-WORKER / SCOWLED AT crossing is okay, and so is the LIFEBOATS / BASE COAT crossing. But that latter section also gives us YACK [Talk on and on] which I call foul on. To top everything off, we have LEAP INTO [Start with enthusiasm] which (1) sounds made-up to my ear, and (2) should somehow reference that today is a leap day of a leap year. Not sure how you do that, but there’s got to be a way.

I actually ended with an error at the crossing of CARET and NETS. Idiot me went with CARAT and NATS, and I didn’t slow down enough to think about it. That’s on me.

Really, it’s not all that bad—just some awkwardness that made the solve less smooth than I expected. Well, YACK is bad, no doubt.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [It wets your whistle]. SALIVA. Good clue, but given the puzzle’s title, I thought this was going to be part of the theme.
  • 7a. [Pioneer in animal conservation]. NOAH. A little bit of a stretch, but okay.
  • 54a. [Bone-chilling]. ARCTIC. Got me good with this one. I was looking for a synonym of “eerie” the whole way.
  • 9d. [Couleur de la mer]. AZUR. Stuck with BLEU for a long time.
  • 49d. [Pale brown primate]. RHESUS. Hmm. Doesn’t seem complete without “macaque” or “monkey.”

A thorny rebus grid made for a sloggy solve. 2.75 stars.

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

Difficulty: Easy (6m47s)

Esha Datta’s New York Times crossword, 2/29/24, 0209

Today’s theme: WILD PITCHES (Mistakes in baseball … or what 18-, 24-, 34- and 51-Across might produce?)


The cute little illustrations in the clues are worth the price of admission (courtesy of Daniel Savage).. they were also very on-the-nose.  Dropped each theme entry almost immediately, despite having no previous knowledge of TRUMPETER SWANs.. didn’t matter.  The little swan is most definitely playing the trumpet.  As a result: almost a record finish.

Speaking of TRUMPETER SWANs, that one’s an outlier — the other three critters are not actually playing the FIDDLEHARP, or HORN, whereas the TRUMPETER SWAN is (apparently) named after its trumpet-like call.

Cracking: NAILED IT, “Stuck the landing”, 11/10 no notes.

Slacking: AARE you ready to hear what it SCHWAS?

SidetrackingMELROSE Place

Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword — Jenni’s write-up

I do love a Patrick Berry crossword, even the easy ones. So smooth and delicious.

A few random thoughts:

New Yorker, February 29, 2024, Patrick Berry, solution grid

  • 6d [Joe ___ (average guy)] is SCHMO.
  • 11d [Allowed to enter] is LET IN and I had that on the brain when I got to 24a [Permit] which slowed me down for a minute. Not a verb. A noun. It’s LICENSE.
  • Does anyone actually call the number on the bumper sticker that says HOWS MY DRIVING?
  • I enjoyed the juxtaposition of LONGS FOR and PANGS.
  • Does the DMV actually administer vision tests? Don’t think I’ve ever had one there.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that West Point’s motto is “Duty, HONOR, Country.”

Michael Berg’s USA Today Crossword, “Leap Day” — Emily’s write-up

Bonus day and what a fun puzzle for it!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday February 29, 2024

USA Today, February 29, 2024, “Leap Day” by Michael Berg

Theme: each themer contains —LEAP—


  • 17a. [Pried up a corner of the wrapping paper, say], STOLEAPEEK
  • 39a. [Something a remorseful person might make], HUMBLEAPOLOGY
  • 62a. [Phone downloads], MOBILEAPPS

A needed crossings to get started with each of these themers today but all had fair crossings: STOLEAPEEK, HUMBLEAPOLOGY, and MOBILEAPPS. Also, going left to right, the —LEAP— moves across the grid which is always fun to see a bit of shifting, since it’s in about the middle of each themer.

Favorite fill: NUKE, TBALL, and AMUSE

Stumpers: SIDLES (only “crawl”, “scuttle”, and “shuffle” came to mind), FENDI (new to me), and GOLDSGYMS (needed crossings)

One of my longer solve times today and I’m a bit surprised because it didn’t feel like it at the time so it still had a nice flow. However, it’s later in the day so perhaps that’s part of it but the east side of the grid, especially the NE and SE took me multiple passes to slowly fill in. I guess that took longer than I thought to break into those trickier (for me anyway) areas. I enjoyed the cluing though I didn’t know some things for several today and needed crossings to begin to work into those sections. Still fun overview! Hope you had an easier time today!

4.0 stars


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22 Responses to Thursday, February 29, 2024

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: Kind of fun to solve, but in general I have no interest in crosswords that use high technology to achieve what cannot be done in the old-fashioned way.

    I don’t want to see pictures in my puzzles. Surely there is a great deal of room for innovation in crosswords without transcending the genre.

    • Ethan says:

      I’m kind of confused by the whole thing, because the puzzle *could* have been done the old-fashioned way. Give normal clues to the themers and you have a cute Tuesday/Wednesday puzzle with a clever theme. Having picture clues simultaneously made it more like a Thursday (because of the “innovation” involved) and less like a Thursday (because the pictures made the puzzle wayyyy easier than it would have been with normal clues). But most of all, it just distracted from the theme, which was revealed as a baseball/animals/music pun and had nothing to do with pictures or art. I’m not sure what the thought process was.

      • Eric H says:

        I’m not sure what the original clues would have been like. (The constructor notes in the Wordplay column say that “the editing team chose to illustrate the theme with picture clues.”)

        Very easy for a Thursday puzzle. FIDDLER CRAB did not immediately spring to mind, but I quickly got the idea with HARP SEAL.

        I couldn’t tell what sort of bird the HORNBILL was supposed to be (though now that I know, it’s a fine drawing of that species, especially given how small and simple it had to be). As an answer, HORNBILL doesn’t fit the theme as well as the other ones.

        On top of not being able to tell what the HORNBILL illustration was supposed to be, there was the nonsense of DOOR DIE (which I understand now), “Renounce” answers of AbrogATE before AbnegATE before ABDICATE, and the clever clue for MELROSE threw me. (I got the last one completely from the crosses and just now saw the answer. I wonder how many younger solvers get it.)

        • Gary R says:

          I also thought HORNBILL was the weakest of the themers. I was bothered by the fact that, unlike the first three, HORN is not a variety of the animal BILL. It’s the whole name of the bird (and I gather there are multiple varieties of them) – so, I’m trying to figure out what kind of bird is a HORN-something. Fortunately HORNed OWL didn’t fit (and that clearly wasn’t an illustration of an owl), so I started looking for crosses.

          • pannonica says:

            Further, although we understand that duplications are not particularly critical at the NYT, there was a gratuitous one impinging on the theme and messing with 51-across. 30-down is [ __anglais (English horn)]. Blimey!

          • pannonica says:

            There are over a hundred species of FIDDLER CRABs.

            • Martin says:

              And 62 species of hornbills.

              I also see HORNBILL as the outlier, as opposed to TRUMPETER SWAN per ZDL.

              Harp seals are named for a marking that looks like the instrument, fiddler crabs look like they’re playing fiddles and trumpeter swans trumpet. But hornbills are named for a supposed similarity between their crests and the horns of ungulates (cows in their Latin family name). Musical horns are named for primitive instruments made from animal horns, making the association between HORNBILL and music rather indirect. (It’s also probably the reason that the dupe was not considered a spoiler, although I agree that it would have been better to avoid stepping on the theme with a clue.)

          • DougC says:

            I agree that HORNBILL was the weakest of the picture clues, and also an outlier among the themers, as @Martin explains.

            I found this puzzle to be exceptionally easy for a Thursday. The picture clues are like something I would expect to see in Highlights for Children magazine.

            • DougC says:

              In fairness to the constructor, I should add that this would’ve been a fine (and cute) Wednesday puzzle. The pictogram clues are so easy that they would not have been out of place.

              But that was not the constructor’s call.

          • Dallas says:

            I first put in HORNGULL (as I had the L’s) even though I had never heard of such an animal… but realized later it had to be HORNBILL. Fast solve with the themes, though the SE corner tripped me up a bit so not a record solve time, but still faster than average. DO OR DIE through me too.

            I love that Seinfeld MELROSE place bit :-)

        • Jack says:

          The clues were:

          “Asymmetrical crustacean”
          “Creature whose scientific name translates to ‘ice-lover from Greenland'”
          “North America’s heaviest flying bird”
          “Zazu from ‘The Lion King,’ e.g.”

          I didn’t have the pictures, so the animal trivia added a little something extra to the solving experience.

          • Gary R says:

            After reading Papa John’s comment below, I took a look at the AL version of the puzzle, which uses these clues. These, instead of the drawings, would have made this *at least* Thursday hard for me!

          • Eric H says:

            The word clues for HARP SEAL and TRUMPETER SWAN are Saturday level clues (possibly even Saturday Stumper level). The picture clues, for the most part, were ridiculously simple.

  2. John says:

    Had to be the easiest Thursday NYT I’ve ever encountered.

    • PJ says:

      I agree. The theme answers almost filled themselves. It’s been a very easy week so far for me. I’d prefer a little more resistance.

    • JohnH says:

      I didn’t find it so easy, maybe because I’m not visual enough in thought processes, and I enjoyed it (although pannonica does nail an ugly dupe). Indeed, I’m not really seeing the objection to images, which I found clever, other than they could have been done some otherway and it’s too high tech. Surely anything can be done some other way, and hand drawings aren’t exactly advanced technology.

      I can see the possibility of a punning clue in words, such as “Cranky musician,” although at the cost of losing the unifying theme. And then some here hate puns! Can’t please ’em all. Online solvers can be demanding about their accustomed format, I guess. (I did struggle with HECHE / LAHIRI, which is not to say I shouldn’t have recognized one.)

  3. Papa John says:

    Once again, I’m at a total loss. I don’t have pictures in my Across Lite puzzle and the theme clues are so long that the small font necessary to fit them on the clue line made them unreadable. I tried to enlarge the clues without success. Like i said — “a total loss.”

  4. marciem says:

    NYT: I really missed the usual Thursday Twist puzzle :( . In across lite, without the graphics, it was a nice Wednesday-difficulty themed puzzle for me. The graphics didn’t add any twist. I prefer my word games (xwords) to be word games (puns and rebuses included), not exercises in how the constructors can use nifty software. (before I caught the theme entirely, I did try Turkey Buzzard which fit for Trumpenter Swan :D :D )
    I would have enjoyed this puzzle more if I hadn’t been looking forward to a twisty Thursday.

    • Eric H says:

      “I did try Turkey Buzzard which fit for Trumpenter Swan . . . .”

      That’s a perfectly reasonable answer and illustrates why I think the written clues are so much harder than the illustrations. With the picture clue for the TRUMPETER SWAN, there’s not much ambiguity.

  5. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: the editor continues to mess up clues. 47D: “Small citrus” (singular) is “Lemons” (plural). Doesn’t anyone proofread this editor?

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