Saturday, January 25, 2020

LAT 6:54 (Derek) 


Newsday 22:04 (Derek) 


NYT 5:09 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Universal 4:00 (Jim Q) 


Stella Zawistowski’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 1 25 20, no. 0125

Stella’s back in the pages of the New York Times with her first puzzle in a decade. Welcome back, Stella! For your next Saturday puzzle, though, let’s get some tougher clues. This one played like an easyish Saturday (but supra-Friday level).

The hardest thing in the puzzle was the rather archaic term DURANCE VILE (55a. [Fancy term for a long prison sentence]). I definitely hesitated at that first letter, with the 55d. [Nebraska senator Fischer] crossing. I wasn’t sure if it was DEB or JEB, and if DURANCEVILE or JURANCEVILE was more plausible. It’s DEB (a GOP senator).


From Stella’s notes at Wordplay: “Over the last couple of years I began to pay attention to gender and racial/ethnic underrepresentation in the crossworld. I started to feel like I should construct again to put another woman’s voice out there.” Since then, she’s had puzzles at Inkubator and her own site, Tough as Nails. I just did Themeless 2 at Tough as Nails and … it was harder for me than all but a handful of Saturday NYTs all year.

Eight more things:

  • 41a. [Sign of spring], ROBIN. Yes, I filled in ARIES first. I don’t think I’ve seen any robins wintering over in Chicago this season yet, but I did see some the last two winters. Often, but not always, a harbinger of spring.
  • 54a. [And … that’s a wrap!], BOA. Cute clue.
  • 59a. [One-third of a literary trio], EMILY BRONTE. I wonder how many people tried to get some sort of MUSKETEER answer to fit here.
  • 60a. [Fathead], ASS. There are better ways to clue this that (a) don’t imply that fatness of the head is a bad thing, and (b) don’t repeat part of 1d DEFAT.
  • 3d. [Actress Ruth of “Loving”], NEGGALoving is still on my to-watch list.
  • 27d. [“What happens when language fails,” per Margaret Atwood], WAR. Wow.
  • 31d. [Rosa Parks and Booker T. Washington, for two], ALABAMANS. What a lovely clue!
  • 48d. [Something worn with flare?], ALINE. That’s a dress or skirt style with a flared bottom.

Four stars from me.

Evan Kalish’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 01/25/2020

Still haven’t done a LAT Saturday in under 6 minutes in quite a while. That sound like a haughty statement, but this was not uncommon for my solving time. Maybe they took my advice and made these just a smidge harder, or maybe I am rounding OUT of form just ahead of the ACPT! I better print out a stack of these things or grab a book and get in paper solving mode quickly! Evan has a nice puzzle here, though, that is not too thorny and still a lot of fun. 4.4 stars.

Some parts I liked:

  • 25A [“Femina Cup” (1910s contest) competitor] AVIATRIX – Great clue, and I believe I learned something new here!
  • 29A [Informal “Right?”] “AIN’T IT TRUE?” – This was a little hard since, as I think about it, I don’t think I hear this word as much as I used to.
  • 37A [Makes even more gross?] GETS A RAISE – As in more gross pay. Nice clue!
  • 40A [Leo is one] FIRE SIGN – I was born in August, so this is me. I don’t pay attention to horoscopes, so I have no idea what this even means!
  • 55A [Gerald Ford and Glenn Ford, e.g.] FREEMASONS – The jaded cynic in me says these secret societies rule the world and make all the important decisions. I am getting old and crabby.
  • 6D [“Dang!”] “BLAST IT!” – This sounds very British!
  • 7D [Part of the Enterprise’s power source] ANTIMATTER – This is still sci-fi tech at this point. Whoever figures this out will surely win a Nobel Prize.
  • 12D [Early code name?] HAMMURABI – That’s pretty early! According to his Wikipedia page, this is nearly 4,000 years old.
  • 13D [Alphabetically second on a list of U.S. state capitals] ANNAPOLIS – That would make Albany first?
  • 40D [“30 Rock” creator] FEY – I think she is really funny. I know I am not alone.
  • 45D [Sherlock’s foe Adler] IRENE – Started reading a novel about Sherlock Holmes’ daughter. Not sure who her mom is, but I have an idea …

I’ll stop there! Off to see the Harlem Globetrotters this afternoon!

Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 01/25/2020

This one was a toughie! The solve was extremely slow, and I wasn’t sure I was going to finish this one. Across Lite grid image shows my mistakes. There aren’t as many as I thought there were, but there are a few. I will have to compile some sort of ranking of Stumper constructors: Sewell might be near the top! 4.5 stars for this beast.

A few highlights:

  • 1A [ESPN choice event of June 2019] NBA DRAFT – Any clue that has ESPN in it should be a gimme for me. This clue was worded oddly, and ESPN doesn’t always carry this, so combined that made this tougher than it should have been.
  • 28A [Keeled over, to Barbra] PLOTZED – Is this Yiddish? I assume this is referring to Streisand, but I don’t quite understand what this is talking about. A Yentl reference perhaps?
  • 40A [Experiential] A POSTERIORI – This was tough. Latin!
  • 55A [Anagram of ”percussion”] SUPERSONIC – Nice find.
  • 59A [Restraining order] “NO YOU DON’T!” – This might be the best clue/entry pair in the puzzle. Liked this one a lot.
  • 1D [Gatsby or Dorian Gray] NARCISSIST – Amazingly, I haven’t read either of these books. I do know a narcissist or two, and, without getting too political, some believe this may explain some of the president’s behavior. I’ll leave it at that. Google it if you want more info!
  • 2D [Cuisinart product] BREADMAKER – I wanted this to be COFFEE MAKER, since this is the brand I own!
  • 17D [Superspeedway city] TALLADEGA – This was a gimme. Used to watch NASCAR quite a bit. There are only two of these: this one and Daytona, which is coming up in about a month and is the best nap of the year!
  • 50D [Food pyramid part] FATS – The jaded cynic in me says that the government’s food pyramid is driven by meat and dairy lobbyists. I am getting old and crabby.
  • 53D [Incumbent successor of Nehru] MODI – This is the current Indian president, so this is certainly a successor. Like 80 years later! I know this from watching Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act, which, for obvious reasons, covers Indian topics quite a lot!

Everyone have a wonderful weekend!

Alex Eaton-Salners’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Cutting Both Ways” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 1/25/20 • “Cutting Both Ways” • Eaton-Salners • solution • 20200125

  • 116aR [Jockey’s tool, or a description of what’s been done to the starred answers] RIDING CROP. That is, the letters R-I-D-I-N-G have been excised from the ends of the theme entries, alternating left and right sides much as would a jockey goading his mount.
  • 23a. [*“We’re with you!”?] (R)ALLYING CRY.
  • 34a. [*“The Beverly Hillbillies” reunion show?] RETURN OF THE JED(I).
  • 49a. [*Persian trafficker’s crime?] (D)RUG SMUGGLING.
  • 66a. [*Present Time?] THE GIFT OF THE MAG(I). Note capitalized Time.
  • 88a. [*England’s outcome at the Battle of Agincourt?] (N)ARROW VICTORY.
  • 100a. [*Colorado cousins?] THE MOUNTAIN KIN(G).

Fair enough theme. The mechanics are good, but it seems kind of arbitrary.

  • Theme-adjacent: 89d [Tack part] REIN.
  • Favorite clues: 32a [Some have pet names] ID TAGS, 13d [Lift operator?] THIEF, the oh-so sarcastic (more so than 113a I BET) 59d [“Stop your sniveling!”] OH BOO-HOO, 87d [Fix the footnotes, e.g.] RENUMBER. 97d [Duke’s transport?] A TRAIN.



    There we go!
  • 10d/65a [Enjoy a run] JOG, SKI.
  • 16d [Court figure] LINE JUDGE; 58a [Court figure, briefly] STENOG.
  • Speaking of which, “I’ll take Atypical Endings for $500”: GENII, ULNAE, SOYA. (25a, 17d, 85a)
  • 75a [Has noodles noisily] SLURPS.
  • Alla vongole? Pshaw. How about ALLA TINGLE? [Covered in goose bumps] (3d)
  • Toughest spot for me was the finish. Had begun to doubt my response of GEMINI for 51d [They’re delivered in spring] because I forgot the meaning of MOIL (61a [Drudgery] and had trouble parsing 81a [Stand-up stock] BITS.
  • 121a [You might get called on it] PHONE. Quaint!

That’s all I’ve got. Good puzzle but still questionmarky for me.

Freddie Cheng’s Universal crossword, “Bash Open”—Jim Q’s review

Let’s get this party started!

THEME: Phrases where the opening letters feature a synonym for “party”


  • 17A [Some are stuffed a few weeks before Thanksgiving] BALLOT BOXES.

    Universal Sunday crossword solution · Freddie Cheng · “Bash Open” · Sat., 01.25.20

  • 28A [1999 space spoof] GALAXY QUEST. Yes, I really wanted SPACE BALLS here.
  • 47A [DNA shape] DOUBLE HELIX. 
  • 63A [Political bigwig, and a hint to the first few letters of 17-, 28- or 47-Across] PARTY LEADER. 

Violent title!

The fill and the cluing outshone the theme here. Really liked I TOLD YA, the great clue for TEXT [Helpful or distracting thing when studying]SET UP SHOP, and SAY PLEASE. Tripped a bit when I entered ACUITY instead of ACUMEN for [Keen insight] (does ACUITY work with that clue? Asking for a friend…)

The theme was… okay… but I have a problem with DOUBLE HELIX hiding “DO” as a synonym for “party.” I mean, c’mon. I googled the definition of DO, and as a noun, its second definition is British slang for a party. And no… no one says that. Ever. In addition, the revealer asks the solver to look at the first few letters. How many is a few? A few is never less than three in my opinion (even though the official definition is “more than one,” we all know it never means two).

So DO is A) Not a valid synonym for party, at least in America and B) Is not what a rational human being would consider a “few” letters long.

I’m wondering how that passed muster.

Good grid, but when 1/3 of your theme answers don’t fit the bill…

2.5 Stars

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30 Responses to Saturday, January 25, 2020

  1. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT: DURANCE VILE is very meta in that it speaks to how long it should be locked away in crossword jail.

  2. David L says:

    I thought at first that the clue and answer for 17A were back to front. A figure eight is not what mathematicians call a lemniscate; a lemniscate is what mathematicians call a figure eight.

    But then I realized it can be read another way: What mathematicians call a lemniscate is known by the hoi polloi as a figure eight. Language ambiguity!

    Nice puzzle but on the easy side for a Saturday.

  3. pannonica says:

    Stumper: Crossing of SIRE and RITZ was a bear.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      For me, it wasn’t this crossing, but the MYLARBAGS/BARBET area. In the SW, SIRE strikes me as having one of the easier clues. RITZ was tough, as clued, but the Downs were fair. However, after filling in MYLAR_A_ _, and having no experience with collecting comic books, I had to try things like mylar pane, mylar case, etc. before finally hitting on bags when I got IDEA, TANG, and EMTS. The clue for BARBET based on consumers doesn’t seem particularly apt. Yes, alcohol consumers would be in a bar, but the wager generally has nothing to do with a drink. As clued, I would have thought we were being directed to a challenge concerning food.

      • pannonica says:

        There are certainly more precise ways to clue that phrase. Alternatively, it could have been more Stumpery (for some) with [Swiss filmmaker Schroeder].

    • David L says:

      I don’t understand the RITZ clue at all. What does it have to do with SNUB?

      I was totally Stumped on the top half of the puzzle. I had RETIREMENT and ARTNOUVEAU, TALLADEGA and PLOTZED, but that was about it. Then again, I had a couple of teeth pulled yesterday so am not feeling at my brightest.

  4. marciem says:

    UC: Can someone explain how 47 across “Double Helix” fits with the theme of Party leader (revealer 63 across)? I get the other two… ball and gala, but I’m stumped how this fits.

  5. Martin says:

    WSJ: I liked the AUDI QUATTRO crossing.

  6. Gary R says:

    Huh! Much different solving experience for me vs. Amy on the NYT. I thought it was a tough solve. Took me nearly an hour – considerably longer than a typical Saturday. And in the end, there wasn’t much there to make my time seem well-spent.

    Random phrase at 1-A – not a good start. 17-A might have been an interesting bit of trivia, but a friend with a BS and PhD in math says he only vaguely recalls the term, and had to Google it. Most interesting part of DURANCE VILE was that it led me, indirectly (because of the last letter in), to learn that there are actually nine Republican women in the Senate.

    I liked the clue for ALMA MATER, and BEALE STREET always evokes pleasant memories.

  7. Teedmn says:

    I no more solved the Stumper today than Clever Hans, the horse, did arithmetic. Smug in place of PERT precluded seeing PLOTZED, ever. hoMME instead of FEMME, so no DRAFT. Arg. It all fell into place after I gave up and marked things wrong. MYLAR kitS because the mARkET was going to test consumer confidence, ? in the clue be damned.

    I’m not fond of the clue, “Pulled into a spot” for EMBROILING. It’s ultra-Stumper-y. I’m just disappointed in myself, I guess. M’LORD as the “Downton Abbey” address was great!

  8. David Steere says:

    LAT: Forgive my ignorance but what is “Ain’t it true?” Is this a phrase in the language? Or, did Evan mean “Ain’t it the truth?” The latter is very much in the language. Also, is there some reason “Hammurabi” is not just some very obscure historical trivia and is something one should know? Thanks for any enlightenment. In spite of these, I quite enjoyed Evan’s puzzle. Not something I can say about today’s NYT but “Don’t judge me” and sentence me to the obsolete “Durance Vile” ;-)

  9. Matthew G. says:

    I am so torn over DURANCE VILE. On the one hand, it’s an amazingly cool sounding term that I am now glad to know. On the other hand, it’s so obsolete that even googling doesn’t turn up a lot of context for it. Does anyone know where it originated, or when it was in common use? I’ve gone through the first few pages of google hits without getting a satisfactory backstory on it.

    • Matthew G. says:

      Oh, and I’m going to strongly endorse Stella’s new Tough As Nails blog. Her first two puzzles live up to the title, and I would argue they were harder than *every* NYT Saturday of the past year. If the Hard Themeless is your favorite kind of crossword (as it is mine), you need to go solve them now.

  10. Seth says:

    Stumper: how is “Stop quickly on the green” BITE?

  11. Seth says:

    And what the heck is an “Executive Clicker”?

  12. JimPfan says:

    Derek, you left out Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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