Thursday, April 18, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT tk (Gareth) 


NYT 12:48 (ZDL) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 14:14 (Emily) 


WSJ 6:01 (Jim) 


Fireball untimed (Jenni) 


Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crossword, “Themeless 166” – Jenni’s write-up

I struggled a bit with this one because I don’t follow golf and I temporarily forgot Peter’s penchant for starting and finishing a themeless with similar entries. 1a [Golfer Viktor who won the 2023 FedEx Cup] turns out to be HOVLAND, not HOLLAND, as I first thought. 64a [Thing with diamonds] is HOV LANE, which at least I’ve heard of.

Fireball, April 17, 2024, Peter Gordon, “Themeless 166,” solution grid

Things I noticed:

  • 3d [Sheet used to prep for an English test] is a VOCAB LIST. That’s what finally gave me the V in HOVLAND.
  • 14a [They might be covered by coverslips] are AMOEBAE. Coverslips are the little pieces of glass that go over a specimen on a microscope slide. Hey, being premed had to pay off somewhere.
  •  37a [“You can start now”] is ITS NEVER TOO LATE. This is not precisely true. I can’t ever be an astronaut.
  • 38d [Stamp that changes with each use] is a NUMBERER. I can figure that out but have never heard the term.
  • 51d [Veep 10 before Kamala] is a tricky way to clue SPIRO.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: oh, so many things. See above re: HOVLAND, I also didn’t know that RYAN Gosling played Lars in “Lars and the Real Girl” or that AMPERE and Fourier were contemporaries or that “A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder” won the AGATHA.

Alan DerKazarian Wall Street Journal crossword, “It’s a Robbery!”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are unclued familiar words and phrases that contain a world currency. When the currency is removed, the remaining letters match the clues. The two-part revealer is TAKE THE / MONEY AND RUN (57a, [With 62-Across, 1976 Steve Miller Band hit, and what you do to make the answers to the starred clues make sense]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “It’s a Robbery!” · Alan DerKazarian · Thu., 4.18.24

  • 17a. [*Aces, in poker slang] BULL MARKETS. Take away the MARK to get BULLETS.
  • 21a. [*Support staff] CAYENNE. No YEN = CANE.
  • 30a. [*Wins at chess] MATERIALS. Removing the RIAL leaves you with MATES.
  • 38a. [*Earner of merit badges] SCOPES OUT. Abscond with the PESO to get SCOUT.
  • 51a. [*Scorpion attack] STRANDING. Stealing the RAND leaves STING behind.

Pretty good, eh? I generally prefer it when theme answers are colloquial phrases rather than just run-of-the-mill words, but that probably would’ve been too difficult to pull off in this case, and we certainly wouldn’t have had five theme answers (on top of the two-part revealer). I do appreciate having a different currency for each theme answer; that makes sussing out each entry just that little bit more challenging.

Despite seven theme answers, we do have some long non-theme fill: START IN ON, NOT A TRACE, EVENTIDE, and GET SORE. That last one feels rather iffy to me, and I did scowl at all the preposition-ended phrases (in addition to the two already mentioned, we have LOSES AT and ALIEN TO). But seven theme answers, including a nine-letter entry across the middle, could’ve had a much worse effect on the grid, so I’m not complaining (too much).

Clues of note:

  • 27a. [Wanders in LAX?]. TSA. Ones who wave wands.
  • 45a. [Fodder for many crossword clues]. TRIVIA. It feels like there’s less of this in a Thursday WSJ than there used to be—a fact for which I’m grateful.
  • 73a. [Someone who’ll help you to look better, informally]. EYE DOC. I sure thought this was going for some version of “eye candy.”
  • 48d. [Gray, in a way]. AGE. These are verbs, not nouns.

Solid grid heavy on the theme material. The fill bends, but doesn’t break. 3.5 stars.

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

Difficulty: Average (12m48s)

David Kwong’s New York Times crossword, 4/18/24, 0418

Today’s theme: A STAR IS B OR N (Thrice-remade movie … or, when parsed as six words, a hint to the theme clues in this puzzle)

  • ELECTION DAY (Ballot time)
  • MOTHER OF PEARL (Nacre on the ocean floor)
  • RIVIERA (Nice is found on it)
  • THE CRETAN BULL (Bovid of Greek mythology)
  • MCCARTNEY (Bassist in a foursome)
  • HATCHLING (Nascent stage for a bird)

“Thrice remade” = four separate releases, for those keeping score at home.  1937 (Gaynor/March/never saw it), 1954 (Garland/Mason/never saw it), 1976 (Streisand/Kristofferson/never saw it), and 2018 (Gaga/Cooper/never saw it).  But that’s okay!  I can turn *s to Bs.  I can turn *s to Ns.  I can tune STARZ to a better channel.  I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine!

Cracking: Ars POETICA, from whence “in medias res”, from whence a puzzle I once constructed that was summarily rejected by every outlet sub sole novum.  I’ll pick it up again some day, but not to worry, I don’t have to start from the beginning.

Slacking: ELHI?  Elbye.

Sidetracking: Peter LORRE

Sam Brody’s USA Today Crossword, “Firecrackers” — Emily’s write-up

Ooh, aah!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday April 18, 2024

USA Today, April 18, 2024, “Firecrackers” by Sam Brody

Theme: each themer breaks apart (or “cracks” the word FIRE


  • 20a. [Greeting that conveys confidence], FIRMHANDSHAKE
  • 36a. [Alternative to live bait], FISHINGLURE
  • 54a. [Requirement for a black-tie event], FORMALATTIRE

What an incredible theme! The set starts with a FIRMHANDSHAKE, pulls you in with a FISHINGLURE, and then shows off its FORMALATTIRE. The second themer stumped me for the longest time of the three. But that theme—wow. My favorite part is the fact that it’s a traveling theme, so the first splits it as FIR—E, then as the puzzle proceeds, the split shifts further left into the word, shortening it to FI—RE then the final one is F—IRE, just like a burning firecracker burning down to the end. Bravo!

Favorite fill: GIFTOFGAB, ASL, and ALICIA

Stumpers: PYLON (kept thinking “pyramid” related), ANGER (“irate” was that came to mind), and ASOF (needed crossings)

A challenging one for me today! Still enjoyable but took a while to break into the W and S areas. Cluing wasn’t particularly tricky so maybe it was just an off day for me. Also, not quite a 5 for me but I loved the theme hence my rating. Glad to see that OOH made it into the puzzle though it would have been fun and fitting to have get “aah” into there too (instead of OWL for a sweet paired placement too, though from personal experience sometimes things just don’t fit).

4.5 stars


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22 Responses to Thursday, April 18, 2024

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: Yikes, that was one of the hardest Thursdays to finish, and I still don’t fully understand the theme yet, but will go back and with luck I will see how it works.

    (I was able to complete it only because of seeing that the word PEARL might be starting to form in the answer to the clue starting with “Acre” and my brain noticed that acre is spelled like nacre.)

    PS Aha! Just finally parsed A STAR IS B OR N and the light dawned.

    • Dan says:

      PPS But I don’t like the clue “One way to run” for AFOUL, since I’ve never heard this word used without being followed by “of” plus a noun phrase (like “the law”). One doesn’t merely “run afoul”, so the word afoul alone is *not* one way to run.

      Added in proof: Still and all, this is a *very* innovative and clever theme!!!

    • Mr. [somewhat] Grumpy says:

      It’s not a theme; it’s just a gimmick. Ugh.

  2. Tina says:

    Still don’t get the NYT theme. Can someone explain? I hate it when I solve a puzzle and don’t know why.

    • Dan says:

      Each of the starred clues initially makes no sense.

      But when the revealer A STAR IS BORN is read as “A star is B or N”, it is saying that the initial asterisk in those clues needs to be replaced by a B or an N.

      In each case (when the right choice of B or N is made for each of those clues’ initial letters), the clue finally makes sense and fits its answer.

      (E.g., “Acre on the ocean floor” becomes “Nacre on the ocean floor”, and “nacre” is a synonym for MOTHER-OF-PEARL, the answer.)

  3. Greg says:

    David Kwong’s NYT was, to my mind, a really outstanding Thursday. I solved it in about my average time, but just by intuiting the theme entries from the crosses and never figuring out how the heck “A Star is Born” related to any of the starred answers, let how that short movie title could possibly be parsed into six words.

    Then I went back and saw that all the clues made sense if started with a B or N. Then the penny finally fully dropped.

    What a delight! And what an impressive feat of construction to make it all work!

    • Eric H says:

      That’s pretty much how I solved it. I sort of got the B trick with 17A ELECTION DAY, but I had to go back once I filled in the grid to understand the OR N part of the revealer.

  4. huda says:

    NYT: I was stuck so I started at the bottom. I got A STAR IF BORN easily enough. But I was thrown but the clue that says “when parsed as six words, a hint to the theme clues in this puzzle”.
    I could not parse it into 6 words! And so I moved away, eventually figured out that the asterisk stands for a B (with the MCCARTNEY clue) and put it all together.
    But I cry (A)FOUL about “the six words” bit in that clue that was supposed to be helpful! Is B a word? Is N a word? Four words and 2 letters, more like. Methinks this is central enough to the entire theme that it should be more accurate.

    • Dan says:

      I certainly consider B and N (and the other 24) to be words.

      Because they are each (very short) sequences of letters that signify a meaning.

    • Maxine Nerdström says:

      I also couldn’t parse it into six words for the life of me! I knew I had to be missing something, and “B or N” made me want to slap myself in the forehead like a cartoon. I was struggling for so long with different iterations of “as tar i sb o rn,” none of which made any sense.

      I think I just truly didn’t see the asterisks in the theme clues, let alone register them as stars.

      Good lesson for next time, I guess! It would have been a fun reveal if I’d managed to come to it on my own, haha.

      • J says:

        I grokked the theme while solving, but something still feels a tad “off” about it to me – I mostly wish each star could be replaced by either (as in both, separately) a B or an N – for example *eat as the first word in a clue could be Beat or Neat – rather than randomly assigning one or the other to each themer clue. I’m not a constructor, so perhaps that’d be a bit too ambitious!

        • Eric H says:

          In his Constructor Note on Wordplay, David Kwong said;

          “I’d like to tell you about my original vision for this puzzle. The key theme answer A STAR IS “B” OR “N” was originally intended to create two clues with the same number — a Schrödinger gimmick for the clues, instead of for the answer. “*Ear’s opposite” would have yielded two different clues, both “Bear’s opposite” (bull) and “Near’s opposite” (far). I then proposed there be two clues for each entry in the grid. Fun, right? Nope, can’t do that. Apparently the programming can’t handle such wackiness.”

    • DougC says:

      I absolutely agree, @huda! Letters (in most cases) ≠ words. “I” and “A” are one-letter words. “B” and “N” are not.

      Like you, I solved the puzzle even though I could not render that movie title as six so-called “words.” It was a real disappointment to discover that the revealer was not tricky, not inscrutably devious, just inaccurately phrased.

    • Martin says:

      B is a word. It’s even a noun.

      • Eric H says:

        It feels like at least a third of the Wordplay comments today are objections about the status of B and N as words.

  5. Jenni Levy says:

    MCCARTNEY gave it to me and I really enjoyed all the theme answers. I didn’t understand the revealer until I read the post, so thanks! I’m so accustomed to seeing *s denoting theme entries that it didn’t occur to me to look at the * as part of the clue. I really like this puzzle! So fun to solve.

  6. anon says:

    NYT: 46 blocks with 49 3- and 4-letter words, and on a Thursday – oof

    Intriguing theme, but I’m not sure the grid compromises were worth it

    • Eric H says:

      Perhaps that was why I didn’t particularly enjoy this puzzle despite its clever theme. Just look at the grid—all those short answers pop right out.

    • JML says:

      I’ve had puzzles rejected by the NYT for having too many 3-letter entries, and some had fewer than 29. Definitely way fewer than 49 3- and 4-letter words. One particular rejection that bummed me out was due to the puzzle’s 22 3s (it also only had 10 4s). It’s possible that that was their excuse to let me down easy, but some of those puzzles found their way into other publications (so I know they were worth some merit), where, after the editing team worked with me, the puzzles ended up having even fewer 3-letter words. Is it possible that a puzzle like this has enough redeeming qualities to overcome its high 3-letter word count? I’d say yes, since I found the theme funny and refreshing and wasn’t bothered by the low-letter word count myself. Is it possible that the NYT favors its more veteran constructors? Probably. Might this discourage new constructors’ themes that may also be refreshing enough to overcome above-average low-letter word counts? I’d say so.

    • JohnH says:

      For me, all those short words didn’t make it at all easy, starting with the very first. Hmm, so what comes in packages, and is the inflation index going to be PPI for producer price index, or something else? And then I didn’t know the saber-tooth filling out the section. So I had to move elsewhere for a handle.

      My last to fall were the bovid, new to me both as a word and that particular one in myth, and POG. Well, ok, I know, how soon they forget and all. I didn’t know the director or the African language. I also tried “rime” instead of HOAR, and the nearby clue for AIM was really hard. Before too long I got the theme, but the fill made it slow to get the crossings to discover it. Clever, though, and not TOO unfair.

  7. DebraB says:

    You made me crack up.

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