Thursday, May 23, 2024

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 4:54 (Gareth) 


NYT 11:15 (ZDL) 


Universal tk (Sophia) 


USA Today 13:33 (Emily) 


WSJ 5:49 (Jim) 


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

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Losing Proposition”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar words and phrases that have the letters WIN within (in that order, but not necessarily consecutively). Remove those letters mentally to satisfy the clue. The revealer is NO-WIN (68a, [Kind of situation, and a hint to making sense of the starred answers]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Losing Proposition” · Mike Shenk · Thu., 5.23.24

  • 17a. [*Tedious talk] SCREWED IN. Screed. If I had recognized the clue as a play on the term “TED Talk” I might have thought the theme was something else. Thankfully, that didn’t happen to me.
  • 22a. [*Fancy necktie] WAINSCOT. Ascot. This is where I grokked the theme by knowing there was an ascot hidden in there. And shout out to Monty Python for teaching me the word “wainscotting.”
  • 28a. [*Monopoly card] WIDENED. Deed.
  • 37a. [*Heroine of a Hardy book] WITNESS. Tess.
  • 46a. [*Corrida creature] TWO-IRON. Toro.
  • 50a. [*Planet not named for a god] WEAR THIN. Earth.
  • 56a. [*Storehouses] DEW POINTS. Depots.

Quickest Thursday for me in a while, and much quicker than yesterday. Sussing out the theme early on helped piece together the other entries, and on the whole, clues were more straightforward than they usually are on Thursday. Nothing groundbreaking, but a solid and enjoyable puzzle nonetheless.

Fill highlights: “WHAT’S NEW?”, STENCILS, “I’M ON FIRE“, SCORPION, “ACT NOW!”, and the kids’ game COOTIE. Interesting to see TEMU [China-based online marketplace] which debuted in the WSJ last month.

Clues of note:

  • 5d. [Party line?]. “WHAT’S NEW?” I’m guessing the clue’s implying this is something you’d say at a party. Seems like a tenuous connection.
  • 8d. [Address for the boss, perhaps]. SIR. I appreciate that there’s a “perhaps” here.
  • 10d. [#1 hit for Kenny Rogers]. “LADY“. With the L in place, my mind went first to “Lucille“. Interesting factoid: “LADY” was written by Lionel Richie. You can absolutely hear Richie even though Rogers is singing.

3.75 stars.

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

Difficulty: Tricky (11m15s)

Adam Wagner’s New York Times crosswords, 5/23/24, 0523

Today’s theme: BOX BRAIDS (Hairstyle worn by Janet Jackson in the 1993 film “Poetic Justice,” with a hint to entering four pairs of answers in this puzzle)

  • DEGREES and FORBIDS, woven into DOG BEDS and FERRIES
  • FOR RENT and TEEMING, woven into FERMENT and TOE RING
  • FORGONE and TIN CANS, woven into FIR CONE and TONGANS
  • FLEECES and BRUSH ON, woven into FRESCOS and BLUE HEN

The boxes, they braid — it’s as advertised.  Crafty little piece of construction IMO, though I ended up sliding into home on an average Thursday pace.  Would have been diabolical without the shaded squares.

Cracking: The BAY AREA, also known as God’s country, and all the pearl-clutching in the world about homelessness and drug abuse and crime (some of it warranted, more of it overblown) can’t dissuade me otherwise.  Please drop me off there yesterday and never look back.

Slacking: I am an unabashed tree nut, and even I can’t get excited about a TONNE of FIR CONES

Sidetracking: The Electric BRAE, courtesy of Atlas Obscura

Jared Cappel’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Jared Cappel’s puzzle is a bit more ambitious than many LA Times themes, but also a bit more awk. There are five answers clued as [Spot for a spot?]. Each of them is a place “spot” where some kind of spotting happens. It would be more elegant if [Spot for a spot?] meant somethiing @lit, and also if the grammar weren’t so mangled in places:

  • [Spot for a spot?], PARKINGLOT. PARKING SPOT.
  • [Spot for a spot?], WHERESWALDO. Spot in the sense of spotting with the eyes. Here’s the mangled grammar.
  • [Spot for a spot?], TEACEREMONY. Spot of tea.
  • [Spot for a spot?], TVBROADCAST. Advert.
  • [Spot for a spot?], BENCHPRESS. Spot in the sense of weights.

Other spots to note:

  • [Nirvana, for one], TRIO. The defunct band.
  • [Arendelle’s Elsa, for one], RULER. Queen had two letters in common.
  • [Lady Gaga, for Stefani Germanotta], PERSONA. I thought it was just a stage name?
  • [Fried Apples?], EWASTE. The electronic brand.


Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today Crossword, “More or Less” — Emily’s write-up

Today’s puzzle is just right!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday May 23, 2024

USA Today, May 23, 2024, “More or Less” by Amanda Rafkin

Theme: each themer contains either –MORE– or –LESS–


  • 17a. [Proof of purchase], SALESSLIP
  • 31a. [Capital city in the Pacific Northwest], SALEMOREGON
  • 47a. [Brand of botanical-inspired hair products], HERBALESSENCES
  • 60a. [Compilations of actors’ best on-screen work], DEMOREELS

A grab bag for today’s themer set, with a lovely common thread: SALESSLIP, SALEMOREGON, HERBALESSENCES, and DEMOREELS. The theme is a fun one, with two examples of each which adds extra icing on top.

Favorite fill: AIMEE, ITSON, and SILLYGOOSE

Stumpers: HOOD (could only think of “hair” and “hats”), ILLBENICE (needed crossings), and ENNUI (also needed crossings)

A bit of a challenge for me today, with some entires that I wasn’t as familiar with as well as a bit tricker cluing, at least for me.

4.25 stars


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16 Responses to Thursday, May 23, 2024

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: The theme had me buffaloed for a long time! Clearly there was some trick to entering many letters, and clearly the gray squares had something to do with it. But me put two and two together? I don’t think so (always disliked arithmetic).

    But it was a very fine solve, just right in difficulty for a Thursday, and just right in having an enigmatic theme that wasn’t *that* enigmatic at the end of the day. And having the non-zigzagging letters also be words was an elegant touch.

    • Eric H says:

      “[H]aving the non-zigzagging letters also be words was an elegant touch.”

      I’d go one further: If the non-zigzagging letters had made gobbledygook answers, this would have been a piece of garbage not worthy of publication by a major news outlet. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

  2. Me says:

    NYT: I made this harder for myself than it needed to be, because I thought the clues would correspond to the “correct” placement of the answers in the grid, then getting very stymied when trying to make sense of half of the acrosses. I finally realized that the braided answers also formed real words, and then figured out how to fill in the grid correctly.

    I had never heard of BOXBRAIDS, and I originally had TRIb/BObBRAIDS as the answer, then went through the alphabet when I didn’t get the music.

    Hats off to Adam Wagner for not having nonsense answers in the final grid, which Will Shortz had no problems with, but I feel should be avoided. This must have been a bit of a challenge to construct, but the fill doesn’t really show it IMO.

    • JohnH says:

      Nice puzzle. I, too, didn’t know Janet Jackson’s hair style and, generally, found the puzzle on the hard side because of contemporary usage (and fast food), and I was slow to accept that FEIG could be a name. But that’s me, and all good.

  3. Eric H says:

    NYT: This gets my vote as the best tricky Thursday puzzle so far this year.

    When I finished the puzzle, I imagined Adam Wagner poring over his wordlists to find entries that would work. Then I read his Constructor Note at Wordplay and now have equal parts of disappointment that the theme entries were the product of a Python script and admiration that Mr. Wagner made the effort to learn enough Python to pull this off.

    I was surprised to go to the Wordplay comments and see people calling the puzzle easy. Part of what caused me to struggle was some wrong answers, like APP at 1A instead of PDF. It didn’t help that when you have a word slot selected, the shading is almost invisible. (I don’t much like grids with circles, but that might have worked better.)

    It took me 10 minutes or so to realize what was going on with the braiding, though some of that may have been due to the potent margaritas I had with my birthday dinner.

    And when I had the grid filled but got the “Not quite there” message, it took me a bit to notice that the Across answers all made sense. Once I did, it was easy to find my mistake.

    • David L says:

      Very tricky for me too — both in figuring out what was going on, and then tracking down a couple of mistakes. I began by putting the down answers in normally, but that clearly made the acrosses into nonsense. It took me quite a bit longer than a typical Thursday, but it’s a very impressive piece of work.

    • rob says:

      NYT: I agree. Best Thursday puzzle of the year. Took me a while to figure out, but when I did, I had a great aha moment for sure. This must have been difficult for the constructor to put together, so hats off to you, Adam 🥸

    • Dan says:

      The set of allowable crossword answers is very large, and the set of word pairs that could be used as themewords for this puzzle is very small. (Given that the alternating letters for each pair must make two new allowable answers.)

      So there is really no practical way to locate such word pairs (if any could be found at all) without using some kind of software.

      • Eric H says:

        You’re right, of course, and I don’t mean to imply that I object to the use of Python scripts or similar methods to find workable theme answers. (Some constructor — Adam Aronson, maybe — maintains a website where you can run his Python scripts on your own wordlists. I have used those tools, but not for anything as complex as this.)

        I just had a fantasy of the theme entries being braided in a more hands-on way.

    • Dallas says:

      I enjoyed it, and came in below my average time. I think I picked up the trick pretty early on, in the NE corner with FOR RENT. I also made the APP instead of PDF blunder; I changed it with PTA, but the downs had me confused, so I wasn’t sure. Once I figured out the trick, I found myself having to read the clue, then move my cursor off the column so that I could see the shaded / unshaded blocks. Really liked it, made for a good Thursday solve. My only very minor quibble was that the NW and SE corners felt very disconnected from the main… to the point where I had solved everything but the SE at the end and it was blank except for two squares.

  4. MattF says:

    Completely flummoxed by this one. Needed the remark above from Eric H that the horizontal entries are all unbraided. Oh well…

  5. Keith says:

    I was surprised to not only see moveON and agreeON in the same grid but in consecutive answers! I actually didn’t fill in 15A until the very end (the NW killed me due to the APP mistake) because I was sure partials like that weren’t allowed

    • Martin says:

      It’s true that partials over five letters are not allowed, but those are not partials. Partials are phrases clued as fill-in-the-blanks. “So ___” is an acceptable clue for BEIT but not for ITGOES.

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