Saturday, January 4, 2020

LAT 10:29 (Derek) 


Newsday 13:02 (Derek) 


NYT 5:18 (Amy) 


WSJ 12:51 (Jim P) 


Universal 3:44 (Jim Q) 


Trent H. Evans’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Fallback Positions”—Jim P’s review

I didn’t catch on to the theme until after I finished, so I just solved this as a(n enjoyable) themeless. But it turned out to be a simple synonym theme where the final word of each theme answer is a synonym for “fall.”

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Fallback Positions” · Trent H. Evans · Sat., 1.4.20

  • 25a [“We’ve had some sex…uh…setbacks,” for example] FREUDIAN SLIP
  • 38a [Second-rate second effort] SOPHOMORE SLUMP
  • 58a [Dip that’s bitter?] POLAR BEAR PLUNGE
  • 77a [Black Friday motto] SHOP TILL YOU DROP. I was going to object to the two-L “till” but I’ve since learned that “till” is not a shortening of “until” but is its own word which actually predates “until.” The more you know.
  • 98a [Boisterously competitive] ROUGH AND TUMBLE
  • 113a [Do as freegans do] DUMPSTER DIVE

A fun and lively set of entries. I enjoyed every one of them.

Add to that fun fill like “SAME HERE,” MR SPEAKER, “I RESIGN,” SARCASM, “YOU’RE OK,” PI DAY, CHA CHA, MENUDO, MAALOX, MAHALO, COSMOS, GROTTOES, and of course GUAM. There are quite a few proper names, but most of them I liked seeing: Fashion designer NANETTE Lepore (I don’t know her, but one of our neighborhood friends when my sister and I were kids was named NANETTE), Angela MERKEL, Jessica CHASTAIN (I don’t know her either, but I do know iconic Brandi CHASTAIN, who is probably the only person who will ever have a sports-bra-wearing statue dedicated to her), Matthew MODINE, and Donald GLOVER. I’m not so keen on HIRERS, RAISERS, RENTS TO, SDS, and the like, but the sparkly entries—and the fresh cluing—overcame them.

Speaking of which, these clues I note:

  • 52a [1521 stop for Magellan]. GUAM. Your history lesson of the day: One of the characteristics of the native Chamorros was communal property; the concept of personal property was unknown to them. So when Magellan’s huge ships showed up one day with strange white men on them, the locals rowed out to them and started exploring their ships and taking anything that wasn’t nailed down. Obviously this didn’t go over well, and fighting (and some killing—you can probably guess who killed whom) ensued. Eventually, peace was restored and the two sides were able to trade amicably. However, Magellan named the islands “Las Islas de Los Ladrones” (the islands of thieves).
  • 75a [Write reminisences, say]. MISSPELL. Really got me with that one. I didn’t notice the spelling error until I got most of the crosses.
  • 6d [Comforting response to a youngster’s boo-boo]. YOU’RE OK. I wonder just how comforting that really is. Do we as adults say that more for our own benefit or for the child’s?
  • 96d [Boy band from Puerto Rico]. MENUDO. We also would have accepted [Mexican tripe soup], though we’re not sure which we would try to avoid more IRL.

Simple theme, but lively and well-constructed. Fun fill and clues round things out. 4.1 stars.

Adam Aaronson’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

Okay, in the Wordplay column this newbie constructor tells us he was making Sporcle quizzes at age 10. I approve! (If you enjoy trivia quizzes, check out If you sign up for an account, tell ’em Amy_Rey sent you. If 15 of you do that, I can earn a valueless badge!)

NY Times crossword solution, 1 4 20, no. 0104

This is a solid themeless grid, on the easyish end of the Saturday spectrum, and it didn’t play like a beginner’s first published puzzle. I like the top stack of SWEAR WORD, the HAMBURGLAR, and the young Jake Gyllenhaal movie OCTOBER SKY. Also nice: “YESSIREE BOB,” “ON THAT NOTE …,” RYDER CUP, SNARF, the LIKE BUTTON, and a TECH DEMO. There really isn’t any bad fill. You’re off to a great start, Adam!

Most alarming entry: 48a. [Potential cause of the apocalypse], WORLD WAR III. Who could know how much that phrase would be heard this week when the puzzle was edited last week or whenever?

Four more things:

  • 57a. [2019 musical film with a substantial C.G.I. component], CATS / 18a. [Like C.G.I.], FAKE. Fake clues! Those CGI furry cat boobs look all too real.
  • 26a. [Real jerk], SPASM / 44a. [Real jerk, for short], S.O.B. An unexpected two-fer.
  • 11d. [Audience response gauge], CLAP-O-METER. I hadn’t seen this term before. Applause meter feels more familiar to me.
  • 25d. [Winston’s greatest fear in “1984”], RATS. For me, it’d be centipedes or millipedes. *shudder*

Four stars from me.

Matthew Sewell’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 01/04/2019

Frequent Stumper constructor Matthew Sewell has the LAT challenge puzzle this Saturday. Perhaps that is why it took me over 10 minutes to solve this! I wasn’t in a great hurry, but still this was a challenge. I need to get in speed mode with the tournament coming up in under three months. Matthew Sewell: are you attending the ACPT? It would be great to meet you. This is another stellar puzzle. 4.5 stars.

Some high points:

  • 5A [Lacks calmness, in modern slang] HAS NO CHILL – I cannot recall saying this myself, but I am not hip by any means. It didn’t seem unfamiliar once solved, just maybe not something I would say.
  • 16A [SiriusXM channel devoted to “the King”] ELVIS RADIO – I got the first part easily, but the RADIO part was elusive. And I HAVE XM Radio!
  • 22A [Eurasian ecoregion] STEPPE – I thought this would be a proper name. Clever!
  • 35A [TV program generally targeted for women] LIFETIME MOVIE – These are some of the worst movies on TV. Surprised the crossword movie wasn’t on this channel! Somebody must watch these, though, since this channel is still going strong after several years.
  • 47A [Best Picture title locale the year after the West Side] ARABIA – I glossed over the word locale, which changes the whole meaning of the clue. I have never seen Lawrence of Arabia, probably because it is over three hours. Yikes!
  • 1D [Dark-tongued dogs] CHOWS – I don’t know dogs that well, but after solving this I seem to remember this vaguely.
  • 2D [Regular review] AUDIT – Lots of struggle for me in the NW corner, and even the accountant in me didn’t get this one!
  • 7D [Old Norse name meaning “young man”] SVEN – I tried IVAN here. I don’t think that’s Norse!
  • 12D [Like much spoken language] IDIOMATIC – Great entry. And very true!
  • 31D [Greet affectionately] KISS HELLO – This is an odd partial, but it seems to work. Undecided on how I like this one.
  • 35D [In an atom’s outer shell, two electrons not bonded to another atom] LONE PAIR – Wow. This is tough. Is this really a thing in chemistry? Could this be clued as a poker hand?
  • 48D [Cloth-dyeing method] BATIK – I know kind of what this is, but no idea how to do it!

That is all for now!

Anna Stiga’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 01/04/2019

I clocked a time of 13 minutes for this one, which is about my average for a Stan Newman Stumper puzzle. (Yes, Anna Stiga is really Stan – anagram of “Stan again”) I am still not good enough for the stage at the ACPT (which is coming up!), but I am steadily getting these Stumpers done in under 20 minutes, which is an improvement for me. Maybe I will find a book of old Stumpers and go to work! 4.4 stars for this one.

Just a few things:

  • 1A [Chooser’s challenge] SURPRISE ME – Great 1-Across entry. Also, maybe not something the giver likes to hear? I don’t think I do.
  • 17A [Old name for the giraffe] CAMELOPARD – I believe you.
  • 20A [NASA name of the ’90s] MAE – I believe this is talking about Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space. Nice clue.
  • 23A [Richard Burton Shakespearean role of ’67] PETRUCHIO – I tried to shoehorn RICHARD III in here, then HENRY VIII. This seems like too minor a role for Burton. But what do I know!
  • 26A [What 7 may be used instead of] JUL – Don’t know why this gave me fits. This is not difficult!
  • 30A [Popular bar since the ’20s] OH HENRY – That means it is coming up on being 100 years old! I’ll have to go eat one today. They sure looked different in the 50s:
  • 44A [Neon sign seen in Looney Tunes] EAT AT JOE’S – Ah, yes. You cannot go wrong with these old cartoons! This came up quite a bit, but I could only find one image:
  • 2D [Clean] UNARMED – Tricky!
  • 38D [Guevara portrayer in ’08] DEL TORO – I just saw Benicio DEL TORO in one of the James Bond movies from the late 80s. He looked like a baby in License to Kill!
  • 45D [Wears down] JADES – I am so jaded now in my 50s it isn’t even funny.

Have a great weekend!

Robert E.L. Morris’s Universal crossword, “R & B”—Jim Q’s review

THEME: Two word phrases where the first word starts with “R” and the second starts with “B”

Universal crossword solution · Robert E.L. Morris · “R&B” · Sat., 01.04.20


  • 17A [*Jalopy] RUST BUCKET. 
  • 11D [*All-time low] ROCK BOTTOM. 
  • 64A [*Bouncy toy] RUBBER BALL. 
  • 29D [*High-fiber cereal] RAISIN BRAN. 
  • 40A [*Monster alternative] RED BULL. 
  • 32D [Chain with a cowboy hat in its logo, or a hint to the starred answers] ARBYS. 

Feels like there must be a bajillion phrases that follow this formula, but this set is just fine. My favorite of the group is RUST BUCKET because it’s fun to say. I wouldn’t mind a replacement for RUBBER BALL as it sticks out as being boring and generic in comparison to the rest.

Nice to see OREO COOKIE in its entirety make it into the grid! Oddly, it’s both adjacent to and the same length as a theme answer, which is kinda weird, and it’s symmetrical partner is THREE SCORE, which doesn’t strike me as a thing (why not TWO SCORE? or FOUR SCORE? At least FOUR SCORE was famously used in the Gettysburg Address!).

It’s an old fashioned theme type, but it works. Off to ENROBE something in chocolate now… (?)

3 Stars.

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30 Responses to Saturday, January 4, 2020

  1. Evad says:

    Funny you have HAMBURGLER with an E in your write-up as well as I did in the grid, not seeing DEK should be DAK. Only letter I got wrong, though I did struggle in the end with MUG and CLAPOMETER; how is MUG a rival of A&W? (I think of it as what you would drink your root beer from there.)

  2. huda says:

    NYT: It was not easy for me– lots of false starts, and I didn’t know MUG. But it was well done and I independently landed on the same rating as Amy.

  3. Stephen B. Manion says:

    Excellent puzzle. It was harder for me than what appears to be the consensus.

    I recently reread 1984. George Orwell was the greatest writer of the 20th century in my estimation. We had to read his collected essays when I was in a writing class in college. Politics and the English Language still resonates in today’s polarized dystopian world as do Newspeak and so many other of Orwell’s tropes.


  4. Billy Boy says:

    I thought NYT was rather on the easy side very much with the ‘golden touch’ of Shortz’s editing. “Funds of Knowledge” are so important on Friday/Saturday. Yesterday with names punked me in two spots. Got TURNT by crosses, but I find it offensive, even if it is a HEY BOOMER to Mill-Z’s.

    Cute: ACL and jerk* in the same puzzle. Orthopedically and in Engineering terms a jerk is a sudden acceleration between two surfaces, so spasm doesn’t really fit, even if the dictionary entries include spasm and jerk as near synonyms, that’s why languages are so beautiful, they have such nuance. No surprise with the height of the bar for science these days. A layman should be appalled at how many medical papers are pure rubbish as one example.

    *Jerk test or pivot-shift are clinical tests for ACL-deficient, unstable knees (the pairing is functionally important). Lesser orthopedists diagnose ACL tears by MRI (Which are only 64% combined accuracy, specificity and replicability) but tell you nothing about how the knee functions after injury. In addition to reconstructing over 1000 ACL’s, I lived a grossly unstable knee injury including but not limited to an ACL rupture.


    Looks like the LAT is worth doing! yay

  5. David L says:

    In the Stumper, why is “Blackout, for instance” SKIT? I filled in that section reluctantly, since I have no idea who PRESTON is either.

    I found today’s NYT a tad easier than yesterday’s, despite trying to fit ‘Suessical’ where MISSSAIGON goes….

  6. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I forgot to call out EMAG as rather junky fill in the NYT. Consider my rating dropped to 3.9 stars.

  7. pseudonym says:

    The CAMELOPARD, MARAT, ELDER, MAE, PETRUCHIO crossing is a trivia train wreck. Surprised to see such a mess in a Stumper.

    • David L says:

      Camelopard was a gimme for me because of the constellation Camelopardalis — which, needless to say, is notable for its utter lack of resemblance to a giraffe.

      • Pilgrim says:

        Same here. I remembered the constellation Camelopardalis because it was part of one of the key scenes in one of my favorite books, John Crowley’s “Little, Big.” I’m looking forward to seeing “Celestial giraffe” as a clue someday.

  8. Hector says:

    Question for regulars here, out of curiosity: I see references to getting letters/entries “wrong,” by which people don’t seem to mean temporarily having wrong material in the grid as you solve, which I assume we all do for harder puzzles. Since most apps tell you if/when you have completed the grid correctly, it’s a little difficult to distinguish the temporarily-wrong thing from being “finally” wrong. Is there maybe an ethic in crossworld of regarding the first time your grid is fully filled (hence the first time one gets correctness information from the app) as being one’s “honest” or “official” grid, analogously to the thing one submits at a contest?

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      They could also be solving on paper and then checking the solution grid posted here to see if they had anything wrong.

      When I’m doing a harder Saturday Stumper in .puz format (there are technical tools some folks use to convert the online version into .puz), I do end up checking my solution partway through and erasing the incorrect letters. I’m not blogging it, though, so it doesn’t really matter!

    • pseudonym says:

      Unless you make a typo or some other kind of unintentional error, completing a grid with a mistake in it is getting it wrong. Until you finish a grid, replacing incorrect letters and words is what solving’s all about.

  9. sanfranman59 says:

    NYT: Would someone please explain BETH (35A: First letter in the Torah)? I thought alef was the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Where did I go wrong?

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