Wednesday, January 8, 2020

LAT untimed (Amy) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WSJ 7:14 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (Rebecca) 


AVCX 6:47 (Ben) 


Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Trade Proposals”—Jim P’s review

Fun theme in which phrases of the form “___ FOR ___” are re-imagined literally.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Trade Proposals” · Samuel A. Donaldson · Wed., 1.8.20

  • 17a [Pirate captain’s offer to a board game collector?] MATE FOR LIFE. I was confused by the presence of a pirate captain in the clue, but I guess no other sea captain would have the authority to trade away a crewmate.
  • 23a [Chef’s offer to a philosopher?] FOOD FOR THOUGHT. Ha! I know who’s getting the better end of that deal!
  • 35a [Pillow maker’s offer to a Sesame Street puppeteer?] DOWN FOR THE COUNT. Another “Ha”! The Count was voiced by Jerry Nelson who also created Snuffleupagus, Herry Monster, and Floyd, among others. He died in 2012.
  • 49a [Painter’s offer to an elephant trainer?] WORK FOR PEANUTS. I’m pretty sure the elephant/peanut thing is a myth, probably due to the proximity of both things in circuses.
  • 57a [Dramatist’s offer to a newsstand owner?] PLAY FOR TIME. Another good one. It doesn’t say much about your confidence in your work if you’re willing to trade it away for a magazine.

Like I said, a fun theme. I love a good re-purposed phrase, and this theme delivered the humor. Nicely done!

Clean and fun fill, too. I liked seeing RAT TRAP, “JUST SO,” STRANGE, PIXIE, and Boring, OREGON. Nice start at 1a with BIJOU as well, and the OOF and OW OW one-two.

I had a fun WHA!? moment right at the end of my solve because I thought 10a [“You gotta be…!”] was AHA. That, of course, was WRONGO [“Goodness, no!”].

Not keen on stale crosswordese AGLETS and EERO Saarinen, but at least they were gimmes, allowing me to brush right past them.

Clues of note:

  • 47a [Shingles sealant]. TAR. As in, shingles on your roof, not shingles on your body (*shudders with flashbacks*).
  • 48a [Dances at a ceilidh]. JIGS. Thought for sure that was a typo in the clue, but then I decided it looked Celtic or Gaelic. Apparently it’s pronounced “kay-lee” and is a traditional dance night featuring Scottish, Irish, or even English bands.
  • 55a [Malibu fluid]. GAS. The last thing Malibu, California, needs is GAS flowing in the streets since they’re so susceptible to wildfires there. However, the clue is referring to the Chevy Malibu.
  • 4d [State with a town named Boring]. OREGON. I’ve driven through Boring. Can’t say that it looked any duller than any other smallish town.

Good puzzle. Four stars.

Amanda Yesnowitz & Joon Pahk’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 8 20, no. 0108

I must be missing an angle in the theme. The revealer is 60a. [What’s an uncommon blood type … or a hint to this puzzle’s theme], AB POSITIVE, and the three themers have A.B. initials. I don’t get where the POSITIVE comes into it, because only one of the six words in those themers is overtly a positive one:

  • 17a. [Early warnings of danger], ALARM BELLS.
  • 26a. [Radiant display also called the Northern Lights], AURORA BOREALIS.
  • 47a. [Now-discontinued Chili’s appetizer with a rhyming name], AWESOME BLOSSOM. Had no idea they discontinued the horrific giant fried onion.

So what am I failing to see here?

Fave fill: MMMM GOOD, Alexandria OCASIO-Cortez, the inimitable MR. TOAD.

Five more things:

  • 10d. [“Very Bad Things” and “Swingers” actor Jon], FAVREAU. He’s probably better known in Hollywood as a director now—two Iron Men and two Disney live-action remakes in his oeuvre.
  • 28d. [One might sleep on it], AMBIEN. One might also sleep-walk on it, and sleep-eat. Weird things happen.
  • 2d. [Darth Vader’s son-in-law Han ___], SOLO. Son-in-law! That is the main way we think of him, yes. (And if you think you have in-law problems …)
  • 6d. [iPhone alternative, once], TREO. Ha. A mobile device from 2002 to 2009. This is an entry I’d like to see retired, along with those Oldsmobile models.
  • 50a. [Oscar-winning composer Jule], STYNE. This is in Amanda’s wheelhouse—she’s a lyricist working in theater.

I’ll withhold a star rating since I think there’s a theme level I haven’t grasped.

Pam Klawitter’s Universal crossword, “Breezy”—Rebecca’s review

THEME: Homophones have common terms re-imagined

Universal crossword solution · Pam Klawitter · “Breezy” · Wed., 01.08.20


  • 20A [Infamous headline about the 1948 election] STARE MASTER
  • 11D [Where Lady Godiva does her shopping?] BARE MARKET
  • 29D [Rabbit farmer’s kin?] HARE RAISER
  • 57A [Rabbit farmer’s kin?] HEIR POCKETS

Quick write-up today. Clever theme answers here with each one enjoyable and a full set with all of the homophones rhyming. BARE MARKET was my favorite of the bunch with HARE RAISER a close second.

Some tricky parts for me towards the bottom of the puzzle, but overall smooth – any tricky answer was crossed fairly and the grid had a nice flow to it.

3.5 stars

Nate Cardin’s AVCX, “All Rise” — Ben’s Review

Happy Wednesday! Nate Cardin has this week’s AVCX puzzle – if you haven’t already picked up Queer Qrosswords 2 or followed his French bulldog Eero on Instagram, I suggest you fix that post-haste – both will brighten your day.

This week’s puzzle is a 4.5/5, but it was enough in my wheelhouse that it didn’t feel quite that difficult.  There’s some funny-business in the grid, though – multiple down entries were clued with “-“, which suggested something happening in the across entries that intersected with these:

  • 21A: Craft that rises very quickly — SPACE SHUTTLE
  • 38A: Thing that often rises at a birthday party — HELIUM BALLOON
  • 53A: It might rise due to stress — BLOOD PRESSURE
  • 58A: Condition of rising stocks — BULL MARKET
  • 37A: Classic late-night text or, read homonymically, a hint to this puzzle’s theme — YOU UP

Reading “YOU UP” phonetically as “U UP” and taking that as a direction to keep entering each of the affected answers up was the key to finishing this grid.

Since the grid specified Wham’s FREEDOM, here’s that instead of George Michael’s later “Freedom ’90”

I liked the construction here – this was a clever theme, and though I was initially confused by the inclusion of 2-letter entries (typically a no-go in a grid), the integration of this into the theme meant I didn’t mind their inclusion.  I also liked the consistent way of hinting at the “rise” across the theme clues.

Also nice in terms of fill inclusion: ISSA Rae, KAMALA Harris, WRIER (which I always want to spell with a Y), TATI Westbrook (who I recognized from being vaguely aware of her whole drama with fellow makeup Youtuber James Charles last year), and TONIs Morrison and Collette (the latter of which is fantastic in Knives Out).

Robin Stears’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

LA Times crossword solution, 1 8 20

Gareth’s without electricity (it’s time for the “load-shedding” they do in South Africa), so I’m filling in on this one. Robin’s theme is famous people whose last names double as the English names of letters in the alphabet:

  • 17a. [“Killing Eve” star], SANDRA OH.
  • 21a. [Award-winning “A Raisin in the Sun” actress], RUBY DEE.
  • 36a. [“Full Frontal” host], SAMANTHA BEE.
  • 55a. [First chief justice], JOHN JAY. 
  • 61a. [“Take Good Care of My Baby” singer], BOBBY VEE.

Straightforward and simple. It’s nice that 60% of the themers are women and 40% are people of color. Representation matters.

The grid’s got more open swaths than you see in most mid-week puzzles. That accommodates some cool stuff like CONJURE, SWOONED, and SUNSHINE, but there are also overly dry bits like OSE, CSU, L-BAR, SRA, and NAVE.

Three more things:

  • 65a. [English Channel swimmer], EDERLE. Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim across the English Channel, in 1926.
  • 2d. [Decorative neckwear], CRAVAT. I filled in CHOKER first, as I’m more inclined to think of jewelry than uncommon men’s silken accessories.
  • 37d. [Live-in helper, perhaps], NANNY. Anyone else fill in NURSE first? I suppose home health nurses are not too likely to sleep on site.

3.75 stars from me.

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27 Responses to Wednesday, January 8, 2020

  1. YSJ says:

    Pure genius to cross the too clever by half rookie clue with the obscure ctu (hmm, not cia?) latin agnus and on a Wednesday. A brilliant 1.5 stars.

    • MattF says:

      I got stuck in the same place. Eventually got it, but CTU is just not good, regardless of the thematic secrets.

  2. Will says:

    The AV club came with a note that they’re trying to improve their difficulty rating. It also came with a rating of 4.5, but it might be the fastest I’ve ever solved one of their puzzles. I can definitely see how difficulty ratings for an indie puzzle, where constructors can have more of their voice come through, might have less of a uniform ‘difficulty’ experience for solvers.

    • John says:

      I also feared that Stella Zawistowski was now doing the ratings for the AV. Have done a handful of her puzzles and struggled with most. At 4.5, I was expecting the worst. Turned out to be a very enjoyable solve that I quickly finished. Good puzzle.

  3. Ethan says:

    NYT: I hate to be a grinch, since it’s a lovely story and all, but it’s not exactly fair to run a puzzle whose backstory you have to read to appreciate. I tried for a long time to figure what POSITIVE meant vis-a-vis the theme, because I was sure that the NYT wouldn’t run a puzzle whose theme was just “three AB phrases and a revealer” on a Wednesday. Of course, if you don’t read the notes, that’s pretty much it. If Will just had to share this one with the world, why not just have it as a bonus on the website?

    • Mark Abe says:

      Or, at least have a note in the clue for the revealer that you should really read the “Wordplay” after finishing the puzzle!

      • Lise says:

        My pdf had a note that said to do that, which was very helpful. The story was very sweet. Congratulations!

    • chris says:

      agree with this; i’ll add that it seems perfectly fine for the original audience, who could appreciate the extra layers. but most of the general puzzling audience won’t even know that there are extra layers, let alone be able to appreciate them, because, as you note, you have to read the backstory…but even then, most solvers won’t know the people involved either, so it doesn’t help much.

      and as a result the puzzle is underwhelming and ends up harder than it needs to be, both because of some of the fill, but also the cluing layer; a lot of clues in this puzzle felt slightly off for reasons i couldn’t quite put my finger on while solving, and that lower right quadrant was not fun to solve at all.

  4. huda says:

    NYT: Now I feel bad for the rating I gave this puzzle before I even knew there was a backstory to read. I appreciate that Amy withheld judgment because she sensed that something was missing. I realize now how challenging this feat of construction is and how meaningful it was for the people at that wedding. But I also agree that even if explained, this is too customized and personal to be be broadly appreciated and enjoyed. Reading the backstory makes me admire the skill and intent but does not change the actual solving experience.
    I guess puzzle editors need “theory of mind” to guess how a puzzle might feel to solvers. Will’s track record is excellent in that he has been able to nurture love of puzzling in so many and across generations. But it may have been less acute in this case because of his affection for the individuals and the occasion associated with this puzzle.
    On a more POSITIVE note, congratulations to AB…

    • Sheik Yerbouti says:

      The back story is nice, but the puzzle really doesn’t work as a standalone for a general audience. Not sure why the author didn’t just give it as a gift to her husband, but the story is the only thing that saves the puzzle. Just not sure why it would be published to a general solving audience for which it’s a not a great solving experience.

    • JohnH says:

      I have to admire Amy’s grokking out that she was missing something. I bet few others did.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Joon is too exceptional and careful a constructor to sign on to making a puzzle with a theme that falls short by general standards unless there is something more going on.

  5. DH says:

    Re: WSJ – Like Jim P, I enjoyed this puzzle and liked the theme; on my first scan and before I got the theme I really wanted 49a to have a mahout, which is one of my favorite words. That said, I thought the clue for that entry could have been a little better, a little more (or less) specific. Why a painter, exactly? Why not a roofer, a clerk, a CPA? I was initially baffled, then pleasantly surprised by “Wrongo” (had a fleeting idea that somehow an exclamation point would fit into the theme) and “Mas” for “May Honorees” seemed odd to me. No criticism there – just unusual – which I guess is a good thing.

    One last nit – why would the down be offered to the puppeteer and not the character?

  6. scrivener says:

    NYT: a nice story, but dang. A difficult puzzle. I had to reveal three squares after a check-puzzle with no errors. :(

  7. Matt Gaffney says:

    Why would anyone 1-star the AVCX? Would be interested in the rationale there.

    • Lise says:

      I liked the theme very much, so I don’t understand either. I thought the theme was easy to get, and the puzzle in general had interesting entries and was a (mostly) fun solve.

      On the minus side, I am not fond of cluing 18A and 26A with respect to body fluids, especially while I am eating. There are many other, nicer, ways to clue those two entries, and I am not objecting to their existence in the puzzle. But that is my opinion only, and the puzzle merits way more than a 1-star rating.

    • RSP64 says:

      This was my favorite AVCX in quite a while. I thought it was significantly easier than 4.5/5 though.

  8. Billy Boy says:

    NYT puzzle never should have run, clearly it was a favor, but as a puzzle it was awful on cluing, theme, execution and I say so? to the newlyweds. In the end I guess it becomes a humble brag at NYT puzzle-solver’s expense. Not a fan. If I’ve offended, I don’t feel bad about it. That proverbial SW was a clunker.

    Especially compared to WSJ which was clever challenging for the day and far more of general interest. YEs, some of the clues were off a little bit, but the grid came out nice.

    I’m with Ethan about running the NYT as an additional puzzle, but this favor must be a real favor.

  9. Ethan says:

    The decision to run today’s NYT reminds me very much of the decisions behind this David Kwong puzzle from six years ago:

    That puzzle generated a staggering 70 comments here, many angry, and many by me:

    Great if you’re part of Online Crossword World and you learn the story behind every puzzle you do, not so great if you’re not part of it and you’re left to wonder why so many seemingly needless compromises were made in the clues and fill, and why there such a mismatch between the theme, difficulty, and day of the week.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Thank you for saying “crossword world” instead of “crossworld”! “Crossworld” and “crossworthy” strike me as too dorky.

  10. Dave S says:

    LAT – for 1 across, the ACC is Clemson’s conference, but not its division.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      @Dave S, you won’t usually see the word “conference” in a clue for an abbreviation where one of the C’s stands for “conference.” Likewise, few of the clues for LSU, UCLA, OSU, USC, etc., will include the word “university.” So constructors and editors flail around for passable stand-ins that aren’t quite apt.

      • Dave S says:

        Thanks Amy, I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective. I was thrown off by the cluing of div because I wanted to fill in “one” or “FBS.”

  11. Crotchety Doug says:

    AVX – Did no one mention that every one of the themers turned up exactly at the U in the entry? I realized that after I was done and scanning the themers again. My score goes from 4 to 4.5 stars. And no, I can’t imagine how anyone could rate this puzzle a 1.

    • David Glasser says:

      And also there are no other Us in the puzzle… Except the extra one in the revealer.

      I’m not sure I followed why the 24D/40D two letter word was theme relevant. But I suppose there’s nothing wrong with breaking that rule now and again.

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