Thursday, March 14, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 4:23 (Gareth) 


NYT 5:27 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker tk (Jenni) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 7:17 (Emily) 


WSJ 15:32 (Jim) 


Fireball tk (Jenni) 


Jeffrey Martinovic’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Personal best (5m27s)

Jeffrey Martinovic’s New York Times crossword, 3/14/24, 0314

Today’s theme: PI DAY (An irrational reason to celebrate?)

  • STEPHEN HAWKING (Scientist who notably passed away on 33-Down (2018))
  • ALBERT EINSTEIN (Scientist who was notably born on 33-Down (1879))
  • THREE (First digit of this puzzle’s subject, whose next four digits are the number of rows and then columns of the grid)

Happy March 14th, although it’s not officially Pi day until the 1st hour, 59th minute, 26th second, 5,358,979th microsecond, &c.

The first thing I noticed: I was going to beat my prior Thursday record by more than a minute.  The second thing I noticed: “Edited by Joel Fagliano”.  If you didn’t catch Will on NPR last week, he announced he has been recovering from a stroke for the past month, and was in rehab.  This is the first byline I can ever recall seeing that didn’t have his name on it (the Maleska era ended in 1993, about 3 years before I started solving the Times puzzle).  Everyone at Fiend wishes WS a speedy recovery, and also recognizes all the years that Joel has put into the NYTXW to get to this point.

Cracking: THE TOWER OF BABEL — you don’t often seen 15x fill in a theme (Su-Th) puzzle.

Slacking: down with the NRA (this is not a GRAY AREA)

Sidetracking: any reference to ALIA Shawkat in “Search Party”, one of the top 5 best shows of the 2010s.

Drew Schmenner’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Straight to the Source”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are words that hide a man’s name with the entries clued as if the man’s name wasn’t there. The revealer is CUT OUT THE / MIDDLE MAN (33d, [With 35-Down, deal directly with someone, and a hint to interpreting seven answers in this puzzle]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Straight to the Source” · Drew Schmenner · Thu., 3.14.24

  • 1d. [Collectors’ goals] SEALANTS.
  • 6d. [In a skillful manner] DEFIANTELY.
  • 8d. [Hermits] LONDONERS.
  • 13d. [Counterparts of dahs, in messages] DIALECTS.
  • 44d. [Personal pronoun] MADAME.
  • 50d. [Flack’s forte, for short] PARLOR.
  • 54d. [While]. ATOMS.

This was a slog. A theme is always harder when parts of entries are unclued, so to make the puzzle fairer, clues should be a touch on the easier side. That wasn’t done here. Further there’s no indication of where the theme answers are until you start to figure some out and look at the symmetry. But it’s a long time before a solver can get to that point (at least this solver, anyway). My last nit is about having what are essentially two-letter theme answers with one of them being an abbreviation (ME, AS, and P.R.). Meh.

The fill is nice, though, once you sort everything out. Top entries include ON REPORT, BIKER BAR, EMOTICON, UNDERDOG, and BAD REP. That North section with ADELA/P-FUNK/AMPULE section proved the thorniest.

Clues of note:

  • 19a. [“Always in motion is the future” speaker]. YODA. Okay, this one’s on me. I thought the quote was a slogan for a car company so I went with YUGO.
  • 30a. [Ones who capitalize letters?] TENANTS. Oof. We’re really stretching things out here. To me it seems the opposite of what it should be: Letters capitalize (i.e. turn into capital) TENANTS, no?
  • 69a. [Billy Idol trademark] SNEER. See image.
  • 11d. [Type face]. EMOTICON. I’m fairly convinced this should have a question mark.
  • 48d. [Handle differently?] RENAME. “Handle” as a verb meaning “to name”? Not sure I buy it.

I like the theme but the overall cluing turned the puzzle into a slog, and I wasn’t a fan of the short theme answers. Three stars.

Baylee Devereaux’s LA Times crossword – Baylee Devereaux’s write-up


Baylee Devereaux gives us a more intricate theme that we usually encounter in the Los Angeles Times. The final answer is FRENCHTWIST, and three five-letter French twist across three long answers intersecting at three squares. The clues are formatted as [FRENCH WORD] in [ACTUAL CLUE]. It would be perfection if these clues made some sort of @lit sense, but that is not the case:

  • [Man in 1990s hip-hop fashion?], HAMMERPANTS / HOMME
  • [School in a recreational vehicle?], MOBILEHOME / ECOLE
  • [Dog in a classic drawing game?], PICTIONARY / CHIEN

Answers worth highlighting:

  • [“Umbrella” singer, to fans], RIRI. Short for Rihanna. Useful letters.
  • [Really, really out there], ONMARS. Is that idiomatic?
  • [Cube creator Rubik], ERNO. One of a number of European E-names…
  • [“What Was I Made For?” singer Billie], EILISH. From the Barbie movie, natch.
  • [Flunking grades], EFFS. Is this really spelt out outside of crosswords and perhaps dictionaries?


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

Whether you celebrate Pi or delectably punny (pizza) pie day (or all of them)—be sure to add this puzzle to you to-do list today!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday March 14, 2024

USA Today, March 14, 2024, “Pi Day” by Michael Berg

Theme: each themer phrase contains P—I—


  • 20a. [Coverage for a kitty], PETINSURANCE
  • 39a. [Note that might include an RSVP request], PARTYINVITATION
  • 55a. [Investment returns, dividend stocks, etc.], PASSIVEINCOME

A solid themer set today starting with PETINSURANCE, moving on to PARTYINVITATION, and ending with PASSIVEINCOME. Loved the theme, especially coinciding with Pi day! Plus the set is 3 themers…though shouldn’t it be slightly more (like 0.14…)—I kid!

Favorite fill: BLM, MISSY (nice crossing!), EVENSO, and DOWNPLAYS (and it’s in the downs!)

Stumpers: DOMES (needed a couple of crossings), MAE (new to me), and VOLE (first had “mole”)

This puzzle is delightful and just what we all need today—a playful pi puzzle! Kudos! Nice grid with a good flow, great overall fill and some fun lengthy ones too. I enjoyed the two word entries in this type of puzzle too; it just adds to the fun.

4.25 stars


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32 Responses to Thursday, March 14, 2024

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: Besides the fact that this puzzle had none of the enigmatic quality that I yearn for each Thursday (okay, Wednesday evening), I confess to being disappointed that the honorees in the puzzle for Pi Day — which is supposed to be a day to celebrate mathematics — are two non-mathematicians.

    Sure, the physicists Stephen Hawking (14) and Albert Einstein (14) both had to master some rather hairy mathematics in order to do their physics. And the great mathematician Euler does get a mention.

    But you couldn’t have found two mathematicians instead of two physicists?

    • Gary R says:

      Left as an exercise for the commenter: Name two notable mathematicians with 14-letter names who were born, died, married or experienced some other notable life event on March 14.

      Actually, Hawking was a professor of mathematics at Cambridge, and as an undergrad, Einstein was in a math and physics teaching program.

      • Dan says:

        Oh, come on — it’s not as if the exact format of this puzzle (two mathematicians with fourteen-letter names) is the only possibility.

        And of course Einstein and Hawking had some connection with mathematics as they were becoming physicists. And yes, I know about Hawking’s “Lucasian Chair of Mathematics” at the University of Cambridge (once held by physicist Paul Dirac), but he still wasn’t a mathematician and neither was Einstein.

        • Dan says:

          PS The most recent seven holders of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics are listed at as physicists with no mathematics listed as a specialty.

          The term of the most recent holder of the chair whose specialty or specialties include mathematics was 1839-1849.

          • Mani says:

            Historians of Mathematics include Einstein as one of the four greatest mathematicians of all time; the other three being Archimedes, Carl Gauss and Issac Newton. Gauss was a pure mathematician, but he did contribute significantly to physics.

            • David L says:

              I find that hard to believe. When formulating General Relativity, Einstein asked various mathematicians (I can’t remember who) about non-Euclidean geometry in order to put his ideas into concrete form. I don’t believe he made any significant innovations in mathematics.

            • Dan says:

              No, they don’t.

              (And you probably mean Isaac Newton.)

    • Howard B says:

      To use a crude form of Occam’s Razor here for crossword purposes, it’s simply a nice pairing of personalities whose public recognition and reach extended beyond the scope of their fields (which included mathematics), and whom connect to 3/14. I felt that having pure mathematicians would not enhance the puzzle (besides making general recognition of the names more difficult for most).
      That said, the fun of this is how divergent our takes on any theme will be. Happy Pi Day to you!

    • JohnH says:

      Sorry, Dan. Can’t get worked up over this. I’m sure one can find two pure mathematicians born today, but would anyone know them? Would it be a good puzzle? Heck, Googled “mathematicians born on pi day,” and all you get is Einstein. Can’t get worked up over tau either. The equations work out about the same. For me, Pi Day itself is silly, just a PR idea from someone at an SF museum that worked for him. But whatever.

      Maybe I’m biased because I was a physics major interested only in theory, taking a lot of math courses, and in fact learning much of math itself from physics. The young adjunct or grad student that taught multivariable calculus was incompetent, and I absorbed it from a concurrent class in E&M. Got introduced to differential equations the next year from advanced mechanics. Learned Hilbert space from quantum mechanics. Learned tensor calculus from Einstein’s own The Meaning of Relativity, although that was the component version, and I didn’t get the fancier notation until a grad course from, yeah, another physicist, John Wheeler out of his own text. Honestly, are the disciplinary lines that solid? Think, say, of John von Neumann or of Newton inventing calculus because he needed it — or Leibniz because he needed it for his philosophical idea of best (maximation) of all possible worlds.

      • Dan says:

        Honestly? Yes, the disciplinary lines are that solid (at least since 1900).

        • David L says:

          I’ve heard it said that Ed Witten has made some important contributions to pure math through his work on superstring theory.

          Whether he’s made important contributions to physics remains to be seen, however.

  2. Barry Miller says:

    Nice minor history/trivia lesson to learn the Einstein/Hawking association with Pi Day. Nothing earth-shaking, but sweet theme.

  3. Anne in Oz says:

    NYT: ZDL didn’t mention the grid art, which looks like pi, a nice extra touch I thought.

    A fast solve for me (half my average Thursday!) and I liked the connection between Hawking and Einstein and today. It didn’t bother me that both are physicists.

    • Dallas says:

      I liked the grid art too; somehow I didn’t notice it until the end. It was a fast solve, albeit not a PR.

      We’re regular listeners of the Sunday Puzzle on NPR, and got nervous with Will’s extended absence before they made the announcement about his stroke. I’m glad to hear he’s recovering, and was wondering how long the backlog of NYT edited puzzles would be. I hope it all goes smoothly.

  4. pannonica says:

    WSJ: “30a. [Ones who capitalize letters?] TENANTS. Oof. We’re really stretching things out here. To me it seems the opposite of what it should be: Letters capitalize (i.e. turn into capital) TENANTS, no?”

    Capitalize can also mean to supply with capital, in which case the tenants are capitalizing the ones doing the letting of real estate.

    • Dan says:

      I think that clue is OK.

      The verb “to capitalize” something can mean “to find a way to profit from” it.

  5. Mutman says:

    NYT: As a math major (a long time ago) I am not angry like Dan about the scientists. The shoutout to Euler was good enough. And e is a much cooler number than pi (which is a bad constant, btw. Google ‘tau’ which is better mathematically).

    But hey, free pie at work today so I’m not complaining!

    Easy puzzle!

  6. PJ says:

    NYT – Nice puzzle. Very easy. Not enough playfulness to be what I think of as a Thursday puzzle. Would have been better last year when 3/14 was a Tuesday

  7. Patrick says:

    Wsj: This was my least favorite in a long time. I had no idea for many of the clues. Just no joy today for me.

    • JohnH says:

      I agree with you and Jim. Discovering “oh, they’re just all names” was not a revelation. I never did get Jim’s trouble area, the N sector, either.

  8. PJ says:

    FB – Pre-writeup spoilers

    I think I need a little help with the theme. I found the three trees. I originally had them backwards in the black squares. I still don’t think the number of black squares equalling the number of missing letters is a coincidence.

    But all I see are stumps. That fits with the title but doesn’t include leaves.

    Also, if it’s not part of the theme I missed, the ending of 17a seems inelegant.

    I enjoyed the puzzle

  9. Seattle DB says:

    NYT: Wednesday, February 7, 2024 – the “Stuttering Songs” puzzle.
    Sorry for the late comment but I’m a syndicated solver who gets the puzzle five weeks later in my newspaper. And then I don’t check this website until the next day to read the reviews. (Yes, I’m old and behind the Times [pun intended].)
    But as for the enunciation in the Kinks’ song “Lola”, they sing both “La-la-la-la Lola” and “Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola”. The “Lo” enunciation is used when they rhyme it with “C-O-L-A cola”. (So everybody is correct.)

  10. Seattle DB says:

    USA: Puzzles that have scarcely known entries and force the solver to rely on crossing entries are a bane for me. This puzzle had 17A “Sis” (a person?) and 32D had “CBT” (a kind of therapy). So I gave this a 1.5 rating.

  11. Barnyard says:

    Close to getting NYT puzzle rating up to 3.14. Another 4.5 rating should do it. Clever puzzle construction albeit fairly regular (annual) theme.

Comments are closed.