Saturday, October 26, 2019

LAT 6:30 (Derek) 


Newsday 21:37 (Derek) 


NYT 4:21 (Amy) 


WSJ 22:55 (Jim P) 


Universal tk (Jim Q) 


Blake Slonecker’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Lane Ends, Merge Left”—Jim P’s review

Whew! That was a workout! The theme took some time to wrestle into place, but once it fell, it stayed down. However, the cluing throughout the grid required a late-week mind-set. I’m not complaining; I enjoyed the challenge, but it was unexpected in a 21x-sized grid.

The theme goes like this: In the grid we see a series of circles in the vertical direction. After some time, you notice that certain circled vertical entries are paired off: an upper entry is paired with a lower entry, one column to the left. The upper entries are words that can precede the word “lane.” They are clued straight (though you have to mentally add the “lane”) but they all end in a bizarre “[blin…“. The lower entries start with a “…ker]” signifying that we’ve “changed lanes” to the left. Further, the lower entries are words that can follow the upper entries to answer the clue.

Whoo-ee! You got all that? It’s much easier to see in the grid than to explain, but here are the theme entries.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Lane Ends, Merge Left” · Blake Slonecker · Sat., 10.26.19

  • 4d {Checkout place for quick trips [blin…} EXPRESS (lane). 48d {…ker] Quick parcel option} (EXPRESS) MAIL. Got that? The EXPRESS lane ended, so we had to merge left a lane to finish EXPRESS MAIL.
  • 8d {Place for drinking milk at Indy [blin…} VICTORY (lane). 50d {…ker] Patriotic plot} (VICTORY) GARDEN. I know of a VICTORY lap, but not a VICTORY lane. Neither had I heard of a VICTORY GARDEN, so this entry was tough for me.
  • 15d {Place “in my ears and in my eyes” [blin…} PENNY (lane). 37d {…ker] Skinflint} (PENNY) PINCHER.
  • 58d {Nostalgic place to stroll [blin…} MEMORY (lane). 93d {…ker] Imaginary places for storing mnemonic images} (MEMORY) PALACES. I feel like “mind palace” is the more common phrase, but it doesn’t look like the Internets are going to back me up on that one.
  • 61d {Place for leaving slow drivers behind [blin…} PASSING (lane). 107d {…ker] Grounds for detention} (PASSING) NOTES.
  • 70d {Wild place to live [blin…} FAST (lane). 95d {…ker] Person who’s quick on the uptake} (FAST) LEARNER. Having two lanes (PASSING and FAST) that are actual lanes on a freeway, detracted from the theme for me a bit. But given the constraints of the grid (see below), I’m in no position to fuss about it.

Pretty wild, huh? I’m not so sure about how the “blinker” is implemented; it feels pretty clunky. But I can’t think of any other way to do it, either.

This is incredibly complex, and I can’t even begin to fathom trying to tackle the construction of it. The most astonishing thing to me is that all the entries are completely symmetrical. For example, we have an upper “lane” entry like EXPRESS in symmetry with a lower entry like LEARNER. And EXPRESS‘s actual partner MAIL is in symmetry with LEARNER‘s partner FAST. And this symmetrical pairing has to be done with both words in each of six entries. Huh-wha?! I’m having trouble comprehending the serendipity (or just plain hard work) needed to get all the pieces to play together nicely!

Making a grid to fit all that seems nigh impossible. But then Blake still fits a boatload of long interesting fill in the grid: LATE BELL, IRON LADY, ALTISSIMO, NO REACTION, “I CAN SO,” ON AND ON, “ME AGAIN,” GLASS CASES, HOTEL RATE, ICE STORM, STATE REP, SEDATIVES, EATS DIRT, HEADWINDS, ELDEST SON, a single BLUE MAN, BENEDICT I, MADE A DEAL, GET REST, FLAMENCO, and TALK SENSE. Jiminy Christmas! Are you kidding me?!

I did struggle with the crossings of LAROSA, ALTISSIMO, and GIDDAP. Of course I wanted GIDDY-UP for that last one, but I went for GIDDUP as a compromise. I may have seen GIDDAP once in my life, but certainly couldn’t tell you where.

As I said up top, the cluing here was nothing to sneeze at, ensuring solvers felt challenged throughout. I’m not going to go through all the clues, but here’s a sampling:

  • 19a. {Name spoken before many orders}. ALEXA.
  • 24a. {Allow to breathe, in a way}. DECANT.
  • 32a. {Union jack?}. DUES.
  • 22d. {Colorful stage presence}. BLUE MAN.
  • 46d. {Deuce duo}. PIPS.
  • 71d. {Maltese meal, maybe}. ALPO.
  • 109d. {Orange spot}. GROVE.

Maybe they seem more obvious in retrospect, but I felt completely on the wrong wavelength during the solve. But again, I’m not complaining.

This was quite a wonder to behold—a seemingly complex, but ultimately gettable theme, tons of long flashy fill, and bold, crunchy cluing. In a word, “Wow!” 4.5 stars.

Sam Trabucco’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 10 26 19, no. 1026

Was this puzzle just in my wheelhouse, or was it Friday-level for you, too? I guessed that 1a might be BLACK CAT, and then 1d BMWS suggested it was. Got 7 of the 8 crossings right off the bat. That is not how Saturday puzzles usually unroll.

Favorite fill, besides the seasonal BLACK CAT: MORDANT wit, MATHLETE (raise your hand if you were in Mathletes!), LEOPARD PRINT (cute clue: [Hot spots?]), “ALL RISE,” BREAK DANCERS, goofy ASTRAL PLANES, a Girl Scout THIN MINT, the METRIC SYSTEM ([Many of the world’s rulers use it], great clue), HOLD-OVER, and OBAMA ERA.

Did not know: 44a. [Loyal friend to Aeneas], ACHATES.

Did not care for: 53a. [Not worry], BE AT EASE. This isn’t a crossword-worthy phrase. It’s not substantively different from BE UPSET, which wouldn’t pass muster. I sure hope the entry didn’t start out being parsed as BE A TEASE, because that’d be even worse.

Five more things:

  • 36d. Big name in mail-order catalogs], SPIEGEL. Nah. It was a big name in the ’80s, and then it withered. I’m surprised it still exists, frankly. Never hear anything about it. I’d have gone with der Spiegel, the German publication.
  • French, French, French: CINE, ANGE, PERE.
  • Stench, stench, stench: 35d. [Author of the 2012 book “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet”], ASSANGE.
  • 14a. [Chewed up, as a sweater]. MOTHY. I’d say moth-eaten, but what do you know, MOTHY is in the dictionary.
  • 12d. [They require you to read the fine print], EYE TESTS. On the contrary! You can go in there and just read the big letters in the top row and get yourself an extra-strong prescription for glasses. (Shame that “eye” repeats in the CORNEAL clue.)

Four stars from me.

Debbie Ellerin’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 10/26/2019

Nothing overly remarkable in this LAT Saturday challenger, but I say that as a compliment, since there is virtually nothing objectionable in this grid. I did find a corner or two a little thorny, and there was a term I don’t think I have ever heard (see below!), but this was still a fun solve. I have done a few Debbie Ellerin puzzles now, and I have to say I think I enjoy her work quite a bit. 4.3 stars today.


  • 18A [Israeli self-defense system] KRAV MAGA – This is a form of fighting. That I don’t know, as mentioned above!
  • 20A [What some goggles may enhance] NIGHT-VISION – This was actually a gimme for me. What else to goggles enhance?
  • 29A [Original Monopoly token still in use] TOP HAT – Is this the only one that has lasted nearly all 100 years?
  • 44A [Jerry or Cherry] GARCIA – This is making me hungry …
  • 60A [Spokane and Omaha] AMERINDS – I knew Omaha was an Indian tribe; did not know Spokane was. I learned something!
  • 3D [31-Across, e.g.] AD SLOGAN – 31A is I’M A PC, which was a popular slogan in a TV campaign a while ago. Now, there is a guy named “Mac Book” in the Microsoft ads. Always a battle!
  • 9D [Mah-jongg suit, familiarly] BAMS – I thought this might be BARS. I have never heard this term. And like most Americans, I only know this from the tile computer games!
  • 10D [“Swords into plowshares” source] ISAIAH – A reference to the quoted scripture right outside the UN. The actions in that verse have not happened yet!
  • 30D [House speaker after Ryan] PELOSI – This wasn’t that long ago!
  • 52D [Actress MacDowell] ANDIE – Spoiler alert: this actress has come up at least once in Foggy Brume’s Puzzle Boat 6! If you haven’t signed up yet, what are you waiting for???

Big Michigan game today! And yes, I am still knee-deep in Puzzle Boat 6!

Stella Zawistowski & Erik Agard’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 10/26/2019

Stella Zawistowski has returned to constructing with a slew of great puzzles! I solved many of her puzzles years ago under the Stella Daily byline, and then she evidently took several years off to become one of the best solvers in the country! Stella got me into Learned League a few years ago, and she is also a great writer of trivia quizzes, or a “smith” as they are called on that site! (If you are interested in LL, look me up and I will get you a referral.) The byline for this puzzle is curiously NOT in alphabetical order, indicating perhaps that Stella had the seed idea here? Perhaps did most of the work? Having the accomplished Erik Agard as a co-constructor is certainly not a small thing, either! This might undoubtedly be one of the best solving construction teams that I have ever seen!

Having said all that, this puzzle was HARD. Well over 20 minutes for me, even on the lighting-quick Black Ink software that I have been using. The lower portion wasn’t too hard, but the top gave me all kinds of fits. But they were joyful fits, and there certainly was a great feeling of accomplishment after finishing this, which is one of the main reasons we do these difficult Stumpers! 4.8 stars for this Stella-r (see what I did there?!) puzzle!

Some high points:

  • 8A [Exuberant ”exclamación”] ARRIBA – This reminded my of the old Speedy Gonzalez cartoons where he would say this all the time!
  • 17A [Spanish operatic genre] ZARZUELA – Wow. I believe you! Never heard of this. I have also never been to an opera!
  • 23A [St. Louis, e.g.] ROI – Apparently he was the only king of France to be canonized. He must have been quite the fellow!
  • 53A [A thousandth of peta-] TERA – I need to memorize all of these prefixes.
  • 58A [Work the runway well] OWN IT – See 15D below.
  • 2D [Spreeing] ON A TOOT – They don’t say this in Indiana!
  • 4D [Site with a ”GOT A TIP?” button] TMZ – This makes sense. I am not on there site (ever!), but there has to be a reason why they get all kinds of videos. I assume they pay people cold hard cash to use paparazzi type videos. Maybe I should start following celebs around in my spare time!
  • 15D [Show swagger] SASHAY – There are a few fashion references in this puzzle. Style is one of the genres that Stella has done a few trivia quizzes on Learned League. That love for fashion certainly came out in this puzzle.
  • 41D [Something gotten down to] THE WIRE – No reference to the HBO show? That probably would have been a lot easier. This is actually a great clue.
  • 44D [Dish that you shouldn’t swallow] CANARD – Another awesome clue. This is the French word for duck. The origin of this word is interesting. I will quote Merriam Webster here:
  • 46D [Strike three, maybe] FOUL TIP – For you non-baseball enthusiasts, a foul ball is never strike three unless it is caught. The World Series is in full swing this weekend, and may be over by the end of the weekend!

These two can certainly continue to collaborate; I won’t mind at all! I would LOVE to bang my head against the wall for another 30 minutes on an upcoming weekend!

Have a great weekend everyone!

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9 Responses to Saturday, October 26, 2019

  1. pannonica says:

    WSJ: Not knowing GIDDAP but like Jim P familiar with GIDDY-UP, it seemed GIDYAP was a reasonable variant. Nor did a variant SLIMEY (as opposed to SLIMY) seem particularly outlandish for 12d [Coated with goo]. I’d call that a questionable crossing.

  2. David L says:

    I didn’t find the Stumper too tricky this week — knowing ZARZUELA and CANARD helped. But there were a couple of clues that puzzled me.

    HAZARDS = ‘ventures upon’ seems wrong to me. You hazard a guess; you venture a guess. To venture upon something is to come across it by chance.

    YULE = “Deck the Halls blazer” baffled me, but I looked up the words and indeed there is a ‘blazing yule’ in the song. I’d never noticed that before and didn’t know that ‘yule’ in isolation could mean a yule log.

  3. Lise says:

    LAT: I was stymied in the NE, not knowing KRAV MAGA or BIBI or much about Mah-Jongg. All were interesting to learn.

    NYT: Very enjoyable solve. BIGLIE parsed as the adverb “big-ly” when I saw it steadily and saw it whole.

    Both puzzles were great, I thought.

  4. Pseudonym says:

    EA’s been putting out great stuff

  5. RichardZ says:

    Can someone explain 43A (ALEC) in today’s Saturday Stumper? I filled it in using the down clues, but the only thing that comes to mind is that “Alec” and “Zander” are both nicknames for Alexander, but that seems like a stretch.

    • David L says:

      You’re right — Zander (even Xander or Xan) are trendy nicknames for Alexander. I was more troubled by Alec, which I think of as a name in its own right. I wanted it to be Alex.

      • David L says:

        I just checked three Alecs that came to my mind — Baldwin, Waugh, and Douglas-Home — and it turns out they are all Alexanders. Who knew!

    • Pseudonym says:

      why a stretch? clue asks for an alternative to Zander which can be Alec

  6. Jane Lewis says:

    I’m guessing you don’t follow auto racing – victory lane is where the winner goes. And during WWII people planted victory gardens.

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