Thursday, March 21, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 4:20 (Gareth) 


NYT 16:27 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker tk (Jenni) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 6:08 (Emily) 


WSJ 15:36 (Jim) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 165” – Jenni’s write-up

I’m relieved to break my two-week streak of not understanding the theme of the Fireball. Of course, there is no theme. Make of that what you will.

There was a lot of fun stuff. Things I noticed:

Fireball Crossword, March 20, 2024, Peter Gordon, “Themeless 165”

  • Peter often starts and ends with words that seem to go together. This time 1a is STETS and 64a is EASTS so…maybe? The clue for STETS was trickier than it might have been in another season. It’s almost Opening Day so [Overrules, as a strikeout] had me thinking of baseball, not editing.
  • We head to television’s first Golden Age for 17a [Catchphrase along with “How sweet it is!”]. AND AWAY WE GO was Jackie Gleason’s signature segue. Kids, ask your grandparents. Your great-grandparents?
  • I enjoyed the juxtaposition of SAUTERNESBEARNAISE and DESSERT. Now I’m hungry.
  • 50d [Ness and others] is LOCHS. Not Feds.
  • 61a [Idle talking was part of it] is MONTY PYTHON. Eric Idle.


What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: never heard the word TRANCHE and didn’t know there was a Jenga scene in “The Big Short.”

Karen Steinberg’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Full of Hot Air”—Jim’s review

The grid’s circles form a HEAT / DOME (51a, [With 53-Across, weather phenomenon with trapped warmth, and a hint to this puzzle’s circled letters]). Words in the circles can all precede “heat” to form other phrases. These phrases are packs heat, white heat, dead heat, and Miami Heat.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Full of Hot Air” · Karen Steinberg · Thu., 3.21.24

This played about as difficult as last Thursday’s puzzle, but this time it was mainly due to cluing challenges and not a hard-to-grok theme. I simply was not on the right wavelength or had my head elsewhere.

I also struggled to parse MODERATE DEMANDS [Reasonable requests] mainly because it sounds oxymoronic. I did like SPEEDWAY, “WAIT A SEC!,” and “NOT SO BAD.” New to me was NO CAP [“For real!”].

Wasn’t so keen on S AND H [Online shopping charges, in brief] because no one ever says it that way nor spells it out that way. And online searches agree with my inclination that the [Spanish national hero] is “El Cid,” not just CID.

Clue of note: 56d. [Bombay Sapphire, for one]. GIN. Good misdirection. How many of us instinctively put in GEM? I did, even though I think I have a bottle of this stuff in cabinet somewhere.

3.25 stars.

Joe Marquez’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Harder (probably just me) (16m27s)

Joe Marquez’s New York Times crossword, 03/21/24, 0321

Today’s theme: ESCAPE ROOM (Puzzling activity, as seen four times in this puzzle?)


STAPL(ES C)ENTER was a gimme, and it was obvious that hijinks were required to make it fit, but for some reason I just refused to see the obvious rebus — even after confidently plunking down the revealer.  I kept looking for angles that did not exist.. portions of each theme entry that might somehow “escape” into adjacent answers.  Then, duh, ESC ESC ESC, etc etc etc.

Shout-out to the original ESCAPE ROOM contest puzzle, NYTXW circa 11/11/18, by Eric Berlin.


Slacking: when life imitates ARTE


Robin Stears’ LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The last time I encountered UPSIDEDOWNCAKES as a revealer, the hidden words were types of cakes. Today, it’s just CAKE, three times. This may be a personal quirk, but I didn’t know two of three answers, and the third seemed a tad unspecific:

  • [*Act the mediator], SEEKACOMPROMISE
  • [*Illinois alma mater of Ronald Reagan], EUREKACOLLEGE
  • [*”Malcolm in the Middle” actress], JANEKACZMAREK.

Other than that, I also discovered that [Verification tool for online alcohol retailers, e.g.] is an AGEGATE, but that was inferrable enough. The best clue by far was [Subject of a late-night countdown], SHEEP.


Tracy Gray’s USA Today Crossword, “Closing Numbers” — Emily’s write-up

You can certainly count on today’s puzzle!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday March 21, 2024

USA Today, March 21, 2024, “Closing Numbers” by Tracy Gray

Theme: each themer ends in a number


  • 17a. [People who are near and dear], LOVEDONES
  • 38a. [Bite-sized confections], PETITSFOURS
  • 59a. [Hand-slapping celebrations], HIGHFIVES

The themer set is filled with love, sweets, and fun. Make sure you hug your LOVEDONES extra, enjoy some tasty PETITSFOURS, and give lots of HIGHFIVES! What a fun, delightful set—and just what I needed for the end of my week.

Favorite fill: NOTDEAL, RETOOL, HOOPLA, and OOF

Stumpers: SHUN (“avoid” only came to mind so needed crossings) and LOATHE (needed a couple of crossings)

Short and sweet today! A lovely grid with a smooth solve and great overall fill in addition to a fantastic themer set.

4.0 stars


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24 Responses to Thursday, March 21, 2024

  1. JohnH says:

    I simply blew the WSJ. I had MIAMI pretty quickly. Since my only association with Florida before its present right-wing rulers and apart from retired people and a cultural embarrassment was an intolerable heat and humidity, I had to see a dome of circled letters ending with just that at its SE. Surely the rest of the dome was spanning North America. So when instead a got a nonsensical phrase, I was stumped. I kept rereading it wondering where I went wrong.

    Maybe I was influenced by the geography of the NYT last Sunday. It doesn’t help that I’m immune to sports so the Miami Heat didn’t come to mind. Didn’t help either that it took me well after I was done to make sense of SANDH and never did make sense of NO CAP. I felt sure it was just my error, with an impact on the circled letters.

  2. JohnH says:

    Should’t TNY be removed from the listing for today, as they no longer extend to Thursday?

    • Twangster says:

      I hadn’t seen an announcement about this. So now it’s just Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday?

      • Roelle Hillzen says:

        Yes. The announcement was here –

        There is no Thursday puzzle, and they don’t mention t if there’s still a Friday themeless. And the Wednesday puzzle is now “beginner friendly” which was the difficulty of the old Thursday, whereas before, Wednesday was “lightly challenging”. I would have preferred they just kept M-W the same as before. There’s no need for a “beginner friendly” puzzle with the new mini’s.

      • JohnH says:

        See the comments on yesterday’s puzzle and the day before’s. Still, three here have already rated the Thursday puzzle, whether it exists or not. (Oops, while I was typing, Roelle has already answered.)

      • sorry after after says:

        Four themeli a week was a lot. I’m hopeful the shortened lineup will result in a more dependably solid set over time. Minis? Meh.

  3. Me says:

    NYT: I liked this one. I think this might be a good intro puzzle for people who are intimated by rebuses (rebi?), because a lot of the theme answers only have one answer (STAPLES CENTER, THREES COMPANY, THE SCREAM). So it’s clear that the right answer doesn’t fit, and you just have to figure out how to make it fit into the squares provided.

    • Eric H says:

      I liked the NYT puzzle, too. I got the trick (more or less) with MIDDL[ESC]HOOL/TR[ÉS C]HIC. But it wasn’t immediately obvious that all the rebuses would be [ESC], which kept it a little challenging.

      With eight words that use the rebus, there should be at least one as to which almost everyone will know the right answer and see that it doesn’t fit. So in that sense, it’s a good “Introduction to Rebuses” puzzle.

    • billy boy says:

      I agree completely and felt compelled to post for the first time in ages. At least one of the 8 ESC including phrases will be a given to most solvers. The trick in the puzzle is nice seeing
      SAWN where one might expect HEWN

      … not the usual that are sometimes included in Rebuses to make them “easier”
      This still remains a challenge for the newer puzzler

  4. David L says:

    “Mathematician George known for his work on logic gates” — BOOLE. Really, no. I wasn’t able to find a precise date for the introduction of the term ‘logic gate’ but something around 1960 seems about right, when a type of transistor known as the MOSFET appeared.

    Enjoyable rebus puzzle, tho.

    • Martin says:

      Verbiage like “now called” is edited out of crossword clues to keep things moving. Yes, he didn’t call them gates or imagine computers, but Boole did introduce symbolic logic.

      The MOSFET terminal called a “gate” is unrelated to the use of the term in the circuitry of logic. The first citation in the OED with the definition
      a circuit with one output and a number of inputs, the output signal of which is determined by the combination of signals applied to the inputs
      is from 1946.

      • JohnH says:

        Tough call. Logic gates by any definition I can find require a device, and the Wiki entry on them credits a great mathematician who envisioned that as long ago as the nineteenth century, but not Boole. Meanwhile the entry on Boole confirms that he had no role in the origins of computers.

        Still, any discussion of logic gates will also include their dependence on Boolean algebra. So sure, I could hope for a different clue for him (maybe “Mathematician whose work led to…”). But I’m inclined, like Martin, to stress how much crossword clues elide and to forgive this one.

        • David L says:

          I spent most of my career writing and editing on scientific and technical subjects, so things like this bug me. But I understand, with considerable reluctance, the need to keep crossword clues short.

          • Dan says:

            Things like this bug me, too, and there is no excuse based on “crossword clues need to be kept short”.

            The clue could have just avoided logic “gates” entirely and stuck to facts. George Boole has been clued numerous times in the past using clues that didn’t need excuses.

    • Boolian says:

      I like Booberry cereal.

  5. Art Shapiro says:

    I programmed in Algol and hopped-up derivatives for over four decades, and that language has a Boolean data type. But I’m not sure I knew it was eponymous. Anyway, I never met a rebus I didn’t like, so this was a very satisfying Thursday for a change.

  6. Papa John says:

    Martin — Thanks for getting back to me. I’m on my way to have an MRI. I’ll get in touch with you this afternoon, PST. The hacker apparently did more damage than just blocking me. My computer is acting up in many ways. Thanks again.

  7. huda says:

    NYT: Very well done. I have a blind spot for rebuses. At one point I thought it was SC, but obviously that wasn’t enough. I think it’s very clever that ESC is not only good for the ESCAPE ROOM theme but also I have to press the “esc” button on my laptop to type the rebus. Meta!
    Still even once I know there’s a rebus and what it is, I need to remind myself to think about it as an option as I solve.
    But these are my own issues. As a puzzle, I thought it was very well interwoven and executed. I also like some fresh clues (e.g. for OREO).

  8. Eric H says:

    BEQ: For once, a theme helped me out of a jam. I had everything but the middle finished and FORCE MDS made no sense to me (neither the band nor the name of the song means anything to me). I also didn’t know AIDA as clued and had forgotten that MR. DEEDS had been remade.

    But then I realized that the circled letters in 15D most likely spelled BRAD, which gave me BAR BANDS, MR, DEEDS, and the rest.

    I admire the meta quality of 3D “Three there are in this cule.” I’m never sure with a BEQ puzzle whether a clue that doesn’t look right is deliberate or a mistake that he didn’t catch. (I’m not knocking BEQ, but I spent 30 years writing stuff that was almost always reviewed and edited by a couple people before it went out. There’s simply no substitute for having someone else read your stuff.)

    Fun puzzle overall, if on the easy side.

  9. Seattle DB says:

    TNY – Oh crum! I was just starting to get into a groove with their 15×15 puzzles and now they’ve cut it down to only M,T, W, with minis appearing other days. (Sob…)

  10. Seattle DB says:

    Regarding TNY puzzles, has anyone else noticed that crosswords don’t seem to be as good as they were just a few years ago? Maybe Covid-puzzle-brain is the cause, and that’s why TNY will only publish three 15x15s per week?

    • Eric H says:

      The NYT puzzle is the only one I have been doing every day for the last four years. I’ve also done a lot of puzzles from the NYT archives.

      I don’t think the quality of NYT puzzles is worse than it was, but there do seem to be fewer really challenging puzzles.

  11. Jason T says:

    I think the mini-theme in the Fireball themeless is actually PEDRO PASCAL and MONTY PYTHON: names whose second word is a programming language.

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