Saturday, December 14, 2019

LAT 5:41 (Derek) 


Newsday 14:28 (Derek) 


NYT 6:40 (Amy) 


WSJ 16:40 (Jim P) 


Universal 9:40 (Jim Q) 


Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Why Bother?”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Y sounds are added to well-known phrases.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Why Bother?” · Gary Larson · Sat., 12.14.19

  • 23a [Norwegian tour guide?] FJORD ESCORT. Ford Escort. Good surface sense on this one.
  • 25a [Sound from a cat fancier’s phone?] MEWED RING. Mood ring. This is the first one I uncovered, and let’s just say it’s surface-sense-challenged. When I wrote this one in, I was afraid the puzzle was going to turn into a slog.
  • 37a [Some prehistoric sheep?] PRIMORDIAL EWES. Primordial ooze. A little far fetched, but definitely imaginable. Works for me.
  • 67a [Reclusive tycoon’s favorite color?] HUGHES HUE. Who’s Who. This was tough to parse. As it enjoys the center spot in the grid, it’s a little different in that both words are modified. It also works for me.
  • 93a [Unsavory urges?] GROSS YEARNINGS. Gross earnings. The clue makes this one work.
  • 112a [Score in charades?] MUTE POINT. Moot point. Yup, I’d say that’s true.
  • 116a [Custer’s problem at Little Bighorn?] FEW FIGHTERS. Foo Fighters. I loved finding this more modern entry.
  • 40d [Anna and Elsa’s quarrel?] FROZEN FEUD. Frozen food. Very timely, though I don’t know if the sisters feud in the new movie.
  • 45d [Slogan of supporters of Russia’s status quo?] NYET CHANGE. Net change. Chuckle-worthy.

As you can see, my fears of a slog were unfounded. I liked nearly all of these entries which had good surface sense and a dash of humor here and there. A well-chosen themeset. Huzzah!

Blue tit chicks in my birdhouse

And the fill is praise-worthy, too. Highlights include CIVIL CASE, ODOR EATER, “SO SUE ME!,” PORRIDGE, IN BETWEEN, PROLIFIC, ARGYLES, BEEF PATTY, TIM RICE, “STAY HERE,” and BLUE TITS [Colorful Eurasian birds]. When I lived in England we had a family of BLUE TITS that would come and nest in our birdhouse every year.

ORE ASSAY [Miner’s evaluation] was the most challenging bit of fill for me but it made sense once I got most of the crossings. OBELUS [Printer’s dagger] is another one I hadn’t heard of. (It’s that cross-like symbol used to indicate a footnote.†) TRICOT [Underwear fabric] doesn’t exactly spring to mind either, but I must’ve seen it somewhere. HSI [Chu ___ (Chinese philosopher)] was a challenge as well, especially with that S crossing ORE ASSAY. (The name is also spelled Zhu Xi.) But it was the only thing that made sense. I wonder of Chu Hsi’s mother chose Jif.

Clues of note:

  • 26a [Cruise vehicle]. MOVIE. I tried MOPED at first. Good misdirection.
  • 46a [University in Bethlehem]. LEHIGH.  Same comment. I was thinking the West Bank city the whole time.
  • 57a [Retired prof’s title]. EMERITA. I see what you did there. Well done.
  • Back-to-back DC comics clues: 80a [Smallville girl] for LANA and 81a [Gotham City tycoon] for WAYNE. The comic collector in me enjoyed those two.

A most enjoyable puzzle with an engaging theme. Some challenges in the fill, but the good far outweighs the bad. Four stars from me.

Ryan McCarty’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 14 19, no. 1214

I had a hard time getting started in this puzzle, with the NW corner empty till I finished the whole rest of the puzzle. 1a is FBI CHIEF, though the job’s actual title is Director of the FBI. That crossed two French things—FRERES and BEL AMI—and it stopped me cold. Oof!

I’m overtired, so straight to the bulleted list:

  • 17a. [110, humorously], ELEVENTY. Had no idea this jocular number was supposed to represent 11 10s.
  • 27a. [Malarkey], BILGE. Maybe Joe Biden will change his campaign bus to say NO BILGE.
  • 35a. [Try to punch], HIT AT. I have lost all patience for these “3-letter verb + AT” phrases that have become too common in crosswords. LAPAT, NIPAT, HITAT, just stop at that.
  • 54a. [Possible result of bodybuilding gone wrong], ROID RAGE. It’s not the bodybuilding that’s gone wrong, it’s the chemicals the bodybuilder is injecting into their body.
  • 14d. [Drunk], UNSOBER. Raise your hands if you’ve ever used this word to mean intoxicated. Anyone? Bueller?
  • 30d. [Frozen dessert with a rhyming name], CHOCO TACO. I don’t think it really rhymes in a Chicago accent. Chaw-co tah-co, not chah-co.
  • 33d. [Spare], EXTRA ONE. This … is not really a thing. I don’t think it rises to the level of “phrase that should be in a crossword.”


3.3 stars from me.

Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 12/14/2019

A little quicker this week! I updated my Black Ink software on my Mac, so maybe that is the reason! I’ve done a lot of Ed Sessa puzzles, and I don’t think I have ever met him in person. Perhaps someday! 4.4 stars today.

Some interesting entries:

    • 1A [Ring in one’s ears?] CROP CIRCLE – This is actually one of the better clues, and to have this as 1-Across is fantastic!
    • 18A [’60s pop singer Sands] EVIE – I don’t know who this is. Doesn’t even ring a bell!
    • 36A [Sign that may have a dog silhouette on it] KEEP OFF THE GRASS – Usually that silhouette is on a “Beware of Dog” sign, isn’t it? Or is this a sign meaning keep the dogs off? I don’t own a dog, if you couldn’t tell!
    • 55A [Tippling point?] ONE TOO MANY – Also one of the better clues.
    • 60A [Green Hornet’s great-uncle] LONE RANGER – Is this true?? I have never heard this either.
    • 3D [Jazz pianist Peterson] OSCAR – One of my favorite pianists. Found this YouTube video that actually shows the sheet music as it plays! Enjoy:

  • 8D [Start of a pedestrian caution] CROSS AT THE GREEN – This sign doesn’t exist in Indiana. Is this a NYC thing?
  • 11D [NYC landmark overlooking Central Park] THE PIERRE – This is also a NYC thing!
  • 30D [Tailgating danger] REAR ENDER – This makes me think of that hilarious Allstate commercial about the tailgater tailgating! You can Google it yourself!
  • 31D [Cell download, perhaps] IPHONE APP – I just got a new iPad, so there are some apps I can now run that I couldn’t before! And I need to organize the dozens of apps on my iPhone as well; I am not the most organized when it comes to stuff like that!

I must go take a nap now so I am ready for that jumbo NYT puzzle on Sunday!

Lester Ruff’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 12/14/2019

I struggled a bit with this one, but it wasn’t super hard. Actually, a time under 15 minutes is pretty good for me on a Stumper, and I did beat 15 minutes on this one. A couple of these answers made me smile, so all-in-all a fun solve. I’ll be next week will be a doozy. 4.3 stars for this one.

Some high points:

  • 16A [Overposter’s affliction] BLOGORRHEA – This word made me almost laugh out loud! I know a couple of people that have this!
  • 19A [Capital southwest of Timbuktu] BAMAKO, MALI – I need to brush up on my world capitals before I go on Jeopardy! IF I ever go on Jeopardy!
  • 35A [ALW team, before 2005] ANA – The California Angels of Anaheim are now abbreviated CAA. They are in the news for poaching a free agent from the world champion Nats.
  • 48A [Revolutionary War-era religious leader] ANN LEE – I don’t think I know this name. This page explains more about her.
  • 54A [Hypoallergenic designer dogs] SCHNOODLES – I assume this is a schnauzer-poodle mix? Again, I don’t have a dog!
  • 6D [How some pillows are made] U-SHAPED – These seem comfy.
  • 13D [Word from Old Norse for ”place where water backs up”] EBB – A new fact!
  • 24D [Only Oscar winner/Nobelist before Dylan] SHAW – Is this more prestigious than an EGOT?
  • 31D [Dreamlike and distorted] DALIESQUE – I have never heard this word, but it makes sense!
  • 55D [Egg __] CUPS – This was surprisingly tough. Is this what Poirot eats his soft-boiled eggs from?

Have a great weekend!

Stella Zawistowski’s Universal crossword, “Pop Divas Unite”—Jim Q’s review

MAN [“Boy howdy!”] (?) It’s been a long time since I struggled with a Universal. This one put me in my place.

THEME: Songs by pop divas are found in common phrases,


Universal crossword solution · Stella Zawistowski · “Pop Divas Unite” · Sat., 12.14.19

  • 18A [Disappointing use of a 2004 Britney Spears song?] TOXIC WASTE. 
  • 56A [Tendency to belt out a 1986 Janet Jackson song?] NASTY HABIT. 
  • 4D [The vocal chops to sing a 1998 Madonna song?] FROZEN PIPES. 
  • 25D [Superfandom of a 1993 Mariah Carey song?] HERO WORSHIP. 

I’ve heard of all the songs, but I didn’t know their titles (HERO rang a bell, but that’s it), so the theme answers were harder for me than usual. But coupled with some of the difficult fill, it turned into a grind. I’m sure this puzzle is on someone’s wavelength. Just not mine.

Also, I was very distracted by the longer across answers that *look* like they should be themers, but aren’t. Namely, REVELATION and ALMOND ROCA. They’re both the same length as the other across themers. And neither one seems splashy enough to warrant the “we look like theme answers but we’re not” deceit. Other offenders are MISGOVERN, PUT AT EASE, ALARMISTS, and HALEAKALA (?). At 72 words, the puzzle has a themeless count, and it could’ve benefitted from a couple more black squares imo, especially with the theme answers placed as they are.


NAMIBIA, MAN (as clued), HALEAKALA, LED TV, A MOOT (really? that’s in your word list?), CONGEE, CCCP, AMENS (awkward plural), AMS, ENG, and ALMOND ROCA.

I liked RAIL PASS at least!

Also, I don’t really understand the title. Maybe I’m missing something.

1.9 stars from me.


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17 Responses to Saturday, December 14, 2019

  1. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT could have been even ATtier: AT PAR suits “Like most bonds for sale.” Not that RATED is all that great either.

  2. WhiskyBill says:

    “I wonder if Chu Hsi’s mother chose Jif.”

    I laughed and laughed at this.

  3. e.a. says:

    Jim Q i would love to know what specific definition of “rough” you’re trying to convey that includes CONGEE, NAMIBIA, HALEAKALA

    (full disclosure: i contributed to the editing of this puzzle)

    • Jim Q says:

      They were difficult for me to infer.

      • e.a. says:

        thanks. that’s valid, and i get frustrated about that as a solver too. i just feel like “rough” usually carries the connotation of “bad” and so unless what you’re trying to say is “they were difficult for me to infer and therefore bad,” it would be kinder to the creators and more helpful to the readers (including prospective constructors, who are often told to read the blog to get a feel for what makes good fill, etc) for you to make a clear distinction between “i was personally unaware of CONGEE” and “i think CONGEE is unpuzzleworthy”

        • Jim Q says:

          Noted and appreciated. I’ll update when I get the chance.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          There’s a local Filipino restaurant we like called Isla, and they serve a delicious arroz caldo that’s in the same food family as congee. Basically arroz caldo is a rice porridge with chicken and lots of ginger, topped with scallions, toasted garlic, and a hard-boiled egg. If you’ve got a cold, man oh man, the combination of soft comfort food and steamy ginger is just the thing. (There’s also the soup called tinolang manok: chicken soup with lots of ginger and garlic, with cabbage and bok choy in it. Perfect for sinus congestion!)

  4. M483 says:

    The Universal today is not my idea of fun. Trying to figure out punny phrases using songs from 1993, 1986, etc. is not for me. Also, I’m expected to not only know a national park in Maui but be able to spell it.
    I can’t help but look at puzzles like Universal and USA Today as ones I can introduce to people who are new to crosswords. If they get discouraged, they will give up and lose out on a great pastime and what we all hear is a healthy way to keeping the brain active as we get older.

  5. JML says:

    LAT 1-Across was a stellar clue. Orca-worthy by my account

  6. Stephen B. Manion says:

    I liked the puzzle and especially that it had several sports-related clues.

    HIT AT is OK, not great, for me, but I would not associate it with PUNCH. It sounds too wimpy. I like it as a synonym for something like “came up with” as in “he finally hit at a good idea.”

    I have said ATE FOR LUNCH and MOPPED THE FLOOR WITH. EATS ALIVE is certainly equally idiomatic, but I think all such expressions are better said in the past or future tense.


  7. Phil Wilcox says:

    Derek, Stumper 35A, Anaheim Angels are now abbreviated LAA (Los Angeles Angels)

  8. Matt Gaffney says:

    NAMIBIA! That’s a whole country, brother.

  9. John says:

    LAT I’ve always known the expression as either “Cross at the Light” or “Cross on Green”. “Cross at the Green” doesn’t work for me.

    • Doug says:

      Ditto. Also, like Derek, I have never seen a dog silhouette on a “keep off the grass” sign. That means the two central crossing, grid-spanning answers made no sense to me. A serious drawback.

  10. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Newsday: I liked seeing CZARINA in this puzzle. I miss the old spelling of Czar[ina].

    I found most of the puzzle relatively easy for a Stumper, but the top right killed me. It took me two days to finish it. Did anyone else find that section really difficult? Part of what made it so hard for me was not knowing either ENOKI or BAMAKO, MALI (though, as it happened, I guessed the correct letter when I was down to the crossing of those two). Also, for a while, I was convinced that the word from Old Norse for “place where water backs up” must be DAM.

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