Friday, December 6, 2019

CHE untimed (pannonica) 


Inkubator untimed (Rebecca) 


LAT untimed (Jenni) 


NYT 4:59 (Amy) 


The New Yorker 7:25 (Rachel) 


Universal untimed (Rebecca) 


Andrew Ries’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 6 19, no, 1206

Andrew’s 68-worder deviates from his frequent “stagger stack” vibe … no, wait, it doesn’t, the stagger stack is just vertical instead of horizontal. Those three 11s in the middle cross a quartet of spaced-out 12s.

Fave fill: “ANSWER ME THIS,” LESS SALT (it’s a lifestyle), SWIM UPSTREAM, MAKEUP ARTIST (it was a makeup artist who found my new phone and returned it to me! he deserves every one of the stars tattooed on his head), a BANYAN tree, “YES IT IS” (because now I’m thinking that yesitis is the condition wherein you say yes to too many things), LETTUCE WRAP, MARTIN SHEEN, and PLAIT (because of all the plaited breads on Great British Bake Off).

Not keen on the British spelling APPAL (GBBO be damned) and DEFLEA (which is a word, but ick).

Five more things:

  • 15a. [Containing neither meat nor dairy], PAREVE. And thus not something that will trigger a kosher violation by combining those two things, as it goes with anything.
  • 25a. [Rugged class], SPORT UTILITY. Anyone else fill in SPORTING DOGS here? No? Just me?
  • 36a. [Power cord?], SINEW. I like this clue. Between this and GYM RAT, of course we expected 23d. [Exercise done on a bench] to be a weightlifting move, but no, it’s a piano ETUDE.
  • 5d. [It flows from the Cottian Alps to the Adriatic], RIVER PO. Never heard of the Cottian Alps. They’re on the border zwischen France and Italy.
  • 44d. [Queen’s “We Will Rock You” vis-à-vis “We Are the Champions”], B-SIDE. Back in the days when radio stations would typically play both songs back to back for selected A/B combos. See also: The Kings, “This Beat Goes On”/”Switching to Glide,” from 1980. A two-hit wonder?

Four stars from me.


Erik Agard’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

I maintain that there is no simple pleasure in this world that measures up to solving a themeless Erik Agard puzzle while drinking coffee first thing in the morning. Although I suspect some solvers may bristle at the youthyness(™) of this puzzle, crying out MAKE IT MAKE SENSE! while trying to parse SHE/HER/HERS and “Thanks, I hate it,” everything about this puzzle makes puzzling exciting for me.

The New Yorker crossword solution • Erik Agard • Friday, December 6, 2019

For starters, recognizing that “Queen & Slim” director MELINA MATSOUKAS is a perfect 15 and sticking her right in the middle of the grid is prototypical Agard, as is a cluing ALEXANDER as the author of “The New Jim Crow.” And now that I’m counting, we also have NENE Leakes instead of the famous crosswordese Hawaiian bird; GOLF clued for Ko Jin-young, the 24-year-old LPGA star; and FOUR clued as the number of women in a Nina Simone song. Erik’s mission of highlighting women of color and other underrepresented crossword demographics just makes my heart happy. (And we also have our second NYer in a row featuring a RACHEL, make of that what you will).

Other youthy highlights:

  • NOMS (Food, to a LOLcat)

    nom nom nom

  • RAGEROOM (In-vogue venting venue)
  • AHA MOMENTS in escape rooms (A dupe with RAGE ROOM, but Erik’s position of not caring about dupes is documented)
  • SHE/HER/HERS (Common pronoun trio)

Overall, this is a near-perfect themeless puzzle. All the stars from me.

Also! USA Today recently announced Erik as the new editor of their crossword puzzle, so I think we at Fiend may need to add a new puzzle to our rotation? I’ll take it up with management.

Amanda Rafkin’s Inkubator crossword, “Transformations;”—Rebecca’s review

Words beginning with “trans” clued for transgender related answers

Inkbuator, December 6, 2019, Amanda Rafkin, “Transformations” solution grid

  • 16a [Transmission, politically?] is EQUAL PROTECTION
  • 24a [Transactor, in “American Horror Story”?] is the CHAZ BONO
  • 37a [Transparent, to Kylie?] is the CAITLYN JENNER
  • 49a [Transverse, e.g.?] is QUEER LIT
  • 59a [Transaction, for some?] is the LEGAL NAME CHANGE

No matter how high my expectations are when it comes to an Inkubator puzzle, I find I am consistently impressed – and this week was no exception.

This theme is so well executed – the consistency of the cluing, plus this answer set that manages to be fresh and fun, while having a clear message – made this a really enjoyable solve. The mix of high-profile celebrities with the more political action answers, made it exciting to come across each new theme answer as I made my way through the puzzle. The set also feels really complete, as I cannot come up with any other trans+another word words that would work here.

The fill and the cluing here is great as well. Favorite cluing moment was the pair of sub-clues with SONAR [Sub detector] and DOM [Sub commander?] that use very different definitions of that word. The clue for KEN [Toy made with no plastic junk?] was also absolutely perfect.

I also loved that the clue for URL [, for one] ties into the theme as well, pointing to a site with a movie about transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. Trailer here:

James Sajdak’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “Skin in the Game” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 12/6/19 • “Skin in the Game” • Sajdak • solution • 20191206

A 16×15 grid this week.

  • 63aR [Like the ethos of some beaches, or a hint to the maneuvers starting 18, 27 and 46 across] CLOTHING OPTIONAL.
  • 18a. [Cosmic favor for a gambler] STREAK OF GOOD LUCK.
  • 27a. [Success unlikely to be repeated] FLASH IN THE PAN.
  • 46a. [It shines “as we begin a dream or two in a song standard] MOON OVER MIAMI.

Streaking, flashing, and mooning. That’s kinda cute, I guess.

  • Let’s start with the good ol’ Higher Education Vibe™. Are we gonna clue 20d DORA as the ubiquitous Latina explora? Noo! It’s [“Cannery Row” madam]. Let’s talk about serial commas! 42a [“__, Shoots & Leaves” (humorous punctuation diatribe) EATS. How ’bout we go (nearly) full-French? 40d [High point dan la classe de géographie] MONT. And of course we can’t forget Signor RENI [Guido of Baroque painting] (66a).
  • Uneasy start for for me, as my inclinations for the first two acrosses were incorrect: ACHES for 1a [Yearns] LONGS and REBEL for 6a [James Dean persona] LONER.
  • Should I tut-tut the crossing of 44a [Ending for many canine crossbreeds] -POO and 41d [Honey seeker of kiddie lit] POOH?
  • 46a [He “sleeps tonight” in a doo-wop classic] THE LION. That’s The Tokens. Here’s the seminal recording, whose title is crossword-useful:
  • 3d [Snitch, in Surrey] NARK. Merriam-Webster speculates that the origin is “perhaps from Romany nak nose”.
  • Nicest clue: 4d [Banded metamorphic rock] GNEISS.
  • 35d [Butter on a grocery list, e.g.] ITEM. Bizarre image for a misdirect.
  • 50d [Hialarious jokester] RIOT; 34d [“Funny __ or funny peculiar?”] HAHA.
  • Newest clue: 65d [Bearded African grazer] GNU.
  • 28d [Doozy] LULU. I recently watched the iconic Pandora’s Box for the first time. Impressive and recommended.

Solid, fleshed-out crossword.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s LA Times crossword – Jenni’s write-up

It took me a while to figure out what was going on with the theme. This is not a complaint. I enjoyed the puzzle and the revealer not only explained the theme but amused me.

Each theme answer takes a base phrase and changes a sound.

Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2019, Jeffrey Wechsler, solution grid

  • 17a [Street stand with full permits?] is a LEGAL VENDOR (legal tender).
  • 23a [“Who wants to visit Muscle Beach?”?] is VENICE ANYONE? (tennis, anyone?)
  • 45a [Dumps litter in the woods, e.g.?] is VEXES RANGERS (Texas Rangers).
  • 57a [King’s pulse, BP, etc.?] are ROYAL VITALS (royal titles).

And the revealer, which spans the grid in the center: 37a [Got ready to binge-watch … or a hint to phonetic changes in four puzzle answers], SWITCHED ON THE TV. Each theme answer puts a V sound where the base phrase has a T. All the base phrases are solid; the revealer’s a stretch (the sounds are switched, not switched on) but I’ll take it.

A few other things:

  • I would have had an easier time if I hadn’t entered SILO for 1d, [Farm storage unit]. It’s BALE, and the L worked so it took me a while to figure out what I’d done wrong.
  • I also tried CLUE for 15a, [Detective’s need]. It’s INFO.
  • You need an OAST to make good ALES.
  • 46d [John Paul’s successor] refers to the Supreme Court justice, not the Pope. It’s ELENA.
  • I like 49d [“Peachy!”] for NEATO.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that PAPARAZZO is the singular form of PAPARAZZI. The puzzle is untimed because I spent a long time searching for the error. It helps to look at the crossings.

Emily Carroll’s Universal crossword, “Wheels on a Dairy Farm”—Rebecca’s review

THEME: CHEESE BALLS four circled cheeses can be found within the grid

Universal crossword solution · Emily Carroll · “Wheels on a Dairy Farm” · Fri., 12.06.19


  • 40A [Tasteless sorts, or a hint to each group of circled letters] CHEESE BALLS
  • PARMESAN (starting with the P in 20A)
  • PECORINO (starting with the P in 8D)
  • MANCHEGO (starting with the M in 63A)
  • BEL PAESE (starting with the first B in 48D)

I really like the idea for this puzzle, but am less sold on it’s execution here. This puzzle would’ve been a lot better if all solvers could see the circles – but so much of the theme needs those circles that it’s unfortunate that so many won’t get it’s full effect. I was also completely unfamiliar with BEL PAESE so I struggled for a bit with that southeast corner – which felt so much harder than the rest of the puzzle.

Without the circles, this does make a decent themeless, with beautiful answers like EMERALD CITY, FREE PERIOD, BEST BET, LEAP DAY, and MADCAP scattered throughout the grid.

NUI crossing ADLAI was another sticking point for me, with the I being a guess I made after running the entire alphabet in my head.

3 stars

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12 Responses to Friday, December 6, 2019

  1. Paul Coulter says:

    Universal – I enjoyed this one a lot. Congratulations to Emily. But I worry it’ll be a head-scratcher for the folks doing this in their local papers, rather than the .puz files we get here. It’s been said several times already, and I’m sure David is doing everything a relatively new employee can to steer his management toward the need for circles in the print version, so I won’t pile on. This theme in particular could have used them. Considering the revealer, circles would have made a nice visual point in addition to highlighting the words, themselves. (Full disclosure – I have a grid in the LAT queue with a similar mechanism.)

    • Cynthia says:

      I did the Universal online at and gave up trying to piece together the “circled” answers. Since I do these puzzles first thing in the morning as a fun way to wake up my brain, I like them to be challenging, but not to the point where it seems like work. The complicated theme was aggravating in a puzzle that I would have otherwise loved for the interesting fill. It’s a good thing Jim Q isn’t reviewing these anymore–this one would have driven him bonkers!

    • RunawayPancake says:

      The app I use to solve .puz files on my phone didn’t show any circles either. Simply noted which letters to “circle” in the clue. Odd because the app is capable of showing circled letters in other puzzles.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: I found this to be smooth and sweet… love the clue for SINEW. And I appreciate the minimal junk and abbreviation salad that sometimes comes along with long answers.

    I’m not quite on a LECTURE TOUR, but I have a couple of talks coming up next week, including a discussion with young scientists. A first for me, I polled neuro-twitter to hear what the community thought were successes and failures in translating basic research into strategies for understanding and treating brain disorders. I got several interesting responses (more failures than successes). I’m curious to hear what the young people think! Lots for them to discover, that’s for sure.

  3. Stephen B. Manion says:

    I enjoyed learning PAREVE. That contributed to a tough NW.
    I first thought of PRESS for what turned out to be ETUDE.

    I thought it was an excellent puzzle, although it was not on my wavelength.


  4. pannonica says:

    TNY: “A dupe with RAGE ROOM, but Erik’s position of not caring about dupes is documented”

    There’s another with 4a TOMATO SOUP and 53a [Bay for which a French soup may have been named]. I find such significant repetitions distracting at best, disruptive at worst.

  5. pgw says:

    General comment – what are the chances of getting Erik Agard’s USA Today puzzles added to the “Today’s Puzzles” page? I don’t love the USAT site’s interface (or the app’s).

    • Evad says:

      Perhaps Erik & I can work our magic together on this once he’s settled some time in his new editor’s chair.

  6. Phil says:

    Are we ever going to get back the link to the .puz version of the NYT?

  7. Doug says:

    TNY: I loved the review more than the puzzle, and esp. the coinage “youthyness,” which made me LOL. It was not the youthyness of the puzzle that bothered me, however, but rather the meet-up of Michelle, Melina and Rachel in the NW corner, which made that region nearly inscrutable, especially since I had begun by confidently entering “ante” and “suits” and 17 and 19 across. It took a while to sort that out.

  8. Billy Boy says:

    I wasn’t crazy about some NYT fill today.

    No one else cares. (Rightly so!)

Comments are closed.