Friday, December 20, 2019

Inkubator 12:19 (Jenni) 


LAT 3:47 (Jenni) 


NYT 5:40 (Amy) 


The New Yorker 8:40 (Rachel) 


Universal untimed (Rebecca) 


Wyna Liu’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless #5″—Jenni’s review

This is the toughest puzzle I’ve done in a long time aside from Tim Croce’s Club 72 freestyles, which are brain-crackingly difficult. For reference, I do the Saturday NYT puzzles in well under ten minutes. Wyna’s puzzle comes very close to Tim’s degree of difficulty. It’s clean and wide-open with a grand total of four three-letter answers. Some of the fill is a bit obscure and the cluing is, well, fiendish. No complaints – it’s a great puzzle.

Inkubator, “Themeless #5,” Wyna Liu, December 19, 2019, solution grid

There’s the hidden-upper-case-letter trick: 17a [Degree, e.g.], which is DEODORANT. There’s slang that’s not overtly signaled as slang: [Domes] and MELONS are slang synonyms for “head.” There’s the clue that’s accurate but so vague that it’s not really helpful: 20d [King’s rival] is MAV, because it’s the basketball team, not an actual king or Elvis or Billie Jean. There’s punnery: 24a [Stingy group?] is the FBI. There are connections I’d never thought of before: 40a [Ooze or conceal] is SECRETE. Now that I think about it, that one seems a bit off. “Ooze” is passive; SECRETE is active.

I suspect that solvers who object to trivia will not like this puzzle. There’s pop music trivia (CREEP), programming trivia (HELLO WORLD), actor trivia (ANYA Taylor-Joy of “The Witch” and Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning turn as ANASTASIA), foreign-language trivia (TANTO, which is a samurai sword) and sports trivia (HOYAS). Something for everyone, at least.

A few other things:

  • 1a [Mark of healing] is one of those answers where I fill in three of the four letters and wait for crossings, because it can be either SCAR or SCAB.
  • 29a [Bravo subjects] is another misleading clue. It’s not the cable network. The answer is OPERA SOLI. That’s a bit roll-your-own.
  • I loved 35a [Comment after “helping”]: FIXED THAT FOR YOU.
  • 56a [Early professional exposure] is CAREER DAY. Pro tip: if you invite someone to career day to talk about being a doctor, do not make her a nametag that says “Mrs. Smith.” True story. Smith is my husband’s name and my daughter’s name, but not mine, and I was not there to talk about being a Mrs.
  • I also liked 59a [Cold comfort?] for HALLS.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: this could be its own blog post. I didn’t know the samurai sword, HELLO WORLDANYA Taylor-Joy, Bergman’s Oscar-winning role, the 90s music trivia, that EL CID means “The Lord,” or that LAO is a descendant of the Tai languages. I did know that EXCEDRIN contains caffeine.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 20 19, no. 1220

Wow, two puzzles in a row on Crossword Fiend by gifted Chinese-American constructors! I haven’t done Wyna Liu’s Inkubator puzzle yet but I do look forward to it, as I always look forward to Zhouqin’s work. We even get an extra column of grid in this NYT puzzle.

Favorite fill: “CAN YOU NOT?” is #1 for me. ENERGY BAR, LASER PEEL, RED HERRINGS, the Onion’s AREA MAN, and “ABOUT THAT …”

Ten things that caught my attention:

  • 20a. [___ Jahan, leader who commissioned the Taj Mahal], SHAH. From the Mughal Empire that ruled India for a few centuries. I recently read Dexter Filkins’ lengthy New Yorker article on Indian P.M. Narendra Modi and his followers, and the anti-Muslim animus they espouse (including resentment towards the Mughals). The intensity of the bigotry, the destruction of a free press … things are scary over there.
  • 28d. [Site for some celebratory dances], END ZONE. So the NFL dropped its previous policy of punishing end zone celebrations. When my husband’s watching a game and there’s a group dance routine in the end zone, he rewinds it to show me because it’s just so delightful. I like joy! (Not keen on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, of course.)
  • 43d. [Kendrick of rap], LAMAR. Remember when Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his album Damn.? I’m fond of the song “Love” from that album (video below).
  • 18a. [Actress whose full name can be made from the letters of DO RE MI], DEMI MOORE. Neat clue!
  • 29a. [Boomsticks?], TNT. Echoes of the movie Army of Darkness, the sort of goofball sequel to the first two Evil Dead movies—Ash time-travels into history and has a shotgun, which the people of yore had never seen before. “This is my boomstick.” (Video clip.)
  • 31a. [Largest steel producer in the U.S.], NUCOR. Who? What? This doesn’t ring a bell at all for me.
  • 54a. [1/2 vis-à-vis 1/3, say], EVE. 1/2 and 1/3 are dates here, not fractions.
  • 60a. [Irritates, with “on”], GRATES. Anyone else in the mood for cheese now?
  • 63a. [Best Play and others], ESPYS / 62a. [Critic’s award], STAR. Boy, my mind went the wrong way on both of these. I thought of theater awards rather than sports plays, and I thought of awards for critics (like Roger Ebert’s Pulitzer) rather than what critics might award. Speaking of critics! I relished Anthony Lane’s review of the new Cats movie in the New Yorker.
  • 9d. [Country with hundreds of islands in the Red Sea], ERITREA. Islands! I did not know this. I’m fond of geography trivia.

Overall, the fill was quite smooth, but not especially full of surprise or sparkle. A solid four stars from this critic.


David Alfred Bywaters’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

I know the LAT doesn’t follow the same increase-the-difficulty pattern as the NYT; I still expect something a little chewier on Friday. I really enjoyed the theme and the revealer made it more fun. Some of the fill had me raising my eyebrows. Overall I give it a thumbs up.

We have four theme answers, all familiar phrases with something added.

Los Angeles Times, December 20, 2019, David Alfred Bywaters, solution grid

  • 3d [That one curl that makes the whole hairdo work?] is the KEY RINGLET.
  • 18d [Breakfast theater offering?] is HAMLET AND EGGS. I filled that one in without any crossings while eating ham and eggs. No lie.
  • 9d [Perfectionist butcher’s pride?] are CUTLET CORNERS. At first I thought this was badly clued, because a perfectionist butcher wouldn’t be proud of cutting corners. Then I realized she would be proud of perfect corners on her cutlets. Got it.
  • 30d [Hollywood’s latest canine discovery?] is a DOG STARLET.

And the revealer: 26d [Disappointment … and a hint to four puzzle answers], which is LETDOWN. All the themers are in the Downs. Nice!

Not fond of BASSI  or BEFOG or NO LOSETORI is a perfectly good woman’s name with at least two well-known examples I can think of; why is it clued as a word no non-mathemetician ever uses? [Bagels and donuts, shapewise] is a clunky clue. Why? I blame the patriarchy.

A few other things:

  • 17a [Words before snapping] are SAY CHEESE. Snapping photos.
  • You know you do too many crosswords when you drop in RIA for [Inlet] instead of ARM.
  • 5d [Man cave setup] is a STEREO. Still? We got rid of ours in favor of a Sonos system last year. Of course, the only thing in this house that qualifies as a “man cave” is the workshop in the basement.
  • 42a [Hard wear] is ARMOR. Nice clue.
  • BIG MESS is a bit green paint-y.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that ALBEDO is the [Planetary reflected-light ratio]. OK, then.

Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

After getting off to just a totally dead wrong start in the NW with TEE as the “Concert merch” (missed the “formerly”) and TRACTS as the “Prospectors’ purchases,” I managed to mostly right the ship and sail through this puzzle. I don’t have a ton to say about it, other than “Patrick Berry is very good at making crossword puzzles,” although this one was somewhat less exciting (though equally clean and well-made) compared to some of his other recent New Yorker offerings.

The New Yorker solution • Patrick Berry • Friday, December 20, 2019

The marquee entry ACCIDENTS HAPPEN is a neat 15, but it’s also kind of a meh phrase? The 9s weren’t particularly more interesting either (ARGENTINA, HOOVER DAM, TAKES TIME, LEAD APRON, HEADLAMPS, WIND CHIME). Nothing wrong with any of those, and LEAD APRON is weird enough to stand out, but I can’t say this was as chock-full of excitement as I’ve come to expect from the New Yorker.

Also, ok, CREOSOTE? It’s valid and I learned something new, but I wonder where the line is on “miscellaneous chemical compounds” that can be included in the grid.

A few more things:

  • Plenty of should-baring dresses have necks, so I’m skeptical of NECKLESS. Not sure how else one would clue that, though.
  • I can never remember that ELFIN is spelled with an I and not a second e. It just looks wrong to me! I think I probably just want ELVEN instead?  But that’s a different word altogether (like, ELFIN is elf-like, and ELVEN is “made by elves,” yeah?)
  • Names I didn’t know
    • Leo CARRILLO — for a while I had CARRALLO/WASHING, because some people use wells for washing? Idk, not my finest moment.
    • Michelle AKERS
    • I only know who ADAM WEST is because of Family Guy.

Overall, not my favorite puzzle by Patrick Berry, but only because I have unrealistically high expectations of wow factor from this constructor and this publication. It’s solid and well-made and has no bad fill, so it’s still getting lots of stars from me.

Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim’s Universal crossword, “Rise and Shine”—Rebecca’s review

THEME: Star Wars / Starbucks mash-up in today’s puzzle – with drink orders from famous characters

Universal crossword solution · Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim · “Rise and Shine” · Fri., 12.20.19


  • 19A [How Darth Vader likes his Starbucks coffee?] ON THE DARK SIDE
  • 31A [How Han drinks his Starbucks iced tea?] FROM A SOLO CUP
  • 40A [Like Skywalker’s Starbucks coffee, temperature-wise?] JUST LUKE WARM
  • 56A [What Kylo Ren gets when Starbucks opens?] THE FIRST ORDER

With The Rise of Skywalker opening today, this puzzle was very timely – entertaining enough that even this non-Star Wars person really enjoyed it. ON THE DARK SIDE is definitely the strongest entry here, but all are clever and fun. I think SOLO CUP and LUKE WARM are great parts of this puzzle, but the intros to them – FROM A and JUST – felt a bit thrown on to the answers and slightly less legitimate.

Tons of great fill here – OVER IT, LIBERACE, IS IT TRUE, AVATARS, ART DECO, SWIVEL were all fun finds. Also some great cluing here – always great to see inventive and clues on words that pop up all the time and I loved ACE [Best club in Vegas, usually?] and ACRE [It might be a lot].

3.5 stars

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23 Responses to Friday, December 20, 2019

  1. Ethan says:

    NYT: I never thought I’d be advocating for more cross-referenced clues, but not tying together 43A and 57A seems like a missed opportunity.

    Also, with all due respect to the person referenced in 43D, there is another guy with that name who is having quite a moment right now; I wish the NYT could be just a bit more nimble in the editing process to capture these figures at the height of their relevance.

  2. Evad says:

    NYT: Had trouble with that C shared between NUCOR and CAN YOU NOT. To my ear “Can you not…” is a partial question, typically continued with “…do that right now?” Nice to see a super-sized grid on a Friday.

  3. Paul Coulter says:

    Universal – This charming theme from Jennifer and Rob was terrific. Defining each phrase with both coffee and Star Wars meanings was so clever, I didn’t mind the slightly green paintness of some. I’m not particularly into this franchise, but it’s so much in the culture, I easily recognized all the references.

  4. Lise says:

    Inkubator: Clicking on the link takes me to the reviews for Friday, 6 December’s puzzles. Today’s review is up, but I am unable to rate this excellent puzzle because it appears that I have already rated it (but the ratings are for the earlier puzzle).

    Both the puzzle and the review are excellent. The puzzle was fairly challenging. It was nice to see HELLO WORLD and OPEN SET. I also liked FIXED THAT FOR YOU, and the DEODORANT duo.

  5. Stephen B. Manion says:

    W was very hard for me. E fell quickly.

    I was fooled by several of the clever misdirections, most notably 1/2 vis a vis 1/3 and plays as a sports clue. I was thinking of reviews. Speaking of reviews, I have never seen a Rotten Tomatoes movie reviewed with more perfect score (5 out of 5, 4 out of 4) ratings than PARASITE. Do see it if it is playing near you.

    • Pseudonym says:

      All of Bong Joon-ho’s movies are worth seeing.

      South Korea produces a lot of good movies, from Art House to Hollywood. “The Departed”, directed by Martin Scorsese, was a remake of the Korean “Internal Affairs”.

      • cyco says:

        Film pedantry time! I believe you’re referring to INFERNAL AFFAIRS, which comes from Hong Kong.

        • Pseudonym says:


          “Oldboy” (2013), directed by Spike Lee, was a remake of the 2003 Korean “Oldboy”. There are several other American remakes.

          thanks for the correction

          • Steve Manion says:

            Several of the Parasite reviews suggested that you see the Korean subtitled version before it is sanitized by an American remake.

  6. RunawayPancake says:

    TNY – 31D [Leo who played Pancho in “The Cisco Kid”] CARRILLO. Not CARILLO [sic].

  7. Jenni Levy says:

    CREOSOTE used to be widely used for wood in outside structures, like fences and landscape timbers and playgrounds. It’s carcinogenic so it’s no longer allowed in residential applications. It was a gimme for me and didn’t seem at all random. Of course, I remember watching Adam West as Batman on TV in its first run, so….I’m old.

    eta in my grandfather’s med school days, CREOSOTE was also a cough medicine.

    • RunawayPancake says:

      Yep, every telephone pole and railroad tie used to be soaked in creosote. The smell brings back fond memories of walking down the railroad tracks in the summer.

  8. Alan D. says:

    Regarding Tim Croce’s freestyles, now that I know his voice and style I find them slightly easier than the Stumper, which still kicks my butt on a regular basis.

  9. Reid says:

    Can anyone clarify why the clue for Hoyas included the word “informally?”

    Someone who lives with a Georgetown Alum

  10. Richard Zinar says:

    Re 31D in today’s New Yorker puzzle – there’s a Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu:

    Now I know the person it’s named after.

  11. Billy Boy says:

    ‘Creosote’ is like ‘Turpentine’ a legitimate name for a so-called poly-organic distillate

    Re: Creosote ‘Carcinogenic’ – had never heard that …. but … ‘Coal Tar’ poly-organic sets have always been thought of as carcinogenic but almost none of the plethora truly proven so.

    HSS attachment link for Creosote:

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