Wednesday, February 19, 2020

LAT 4:44 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:23 (Amy) 


WSJ 6:36 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (Rebecca) 


AVCX 5:09 (Ben) 


Zachary David Levy’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Quiet Down!”—Jim P’s review

SHH! is the revealer at 68a, clued [Silent segment of five of this puzzle’s Down answers]. Each of the theme answers has that letter string spanning two words in well-known phrases. I’m not so sure about that clue though; SHH is never silent—not in the theme answers and not in real life.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Quiet Down!” · Zachary David Levy · Wed., 2.19.20

  • 3d [Craft brewery with a piscine logo] DOGFISH HEAD. I messed myself up here by reading “piscine” and thinking “porcine.” I know I’ve seen this brewery’s wares at the supermarket, but I don’t think I’ve tried any. If you’re not into craft beers, this was probably a tough one.
  • 7d [Further unwelcome development] FRESH HELL. Really, this is a long partial from the question, “What FRESH HELL is this?,” which is attributed to Dorothy Parker.
  • 14d [Ben E. King’s first Top 10 hit] SPANISH HARLEM. Classic. Listen below while perusing the rest of this post.
  • 25d [Single-serving poultry buys] CORNISH HENS. I feel like I usually see this as “Cornish game hens,” but a Google search finds this phrase often enough.
  • 35d [Cheap eatery] HASH HOUSE. Solid.

So I’m not going to overthink this. The title is “Quiet Down!” and we have a “phrase” (SHH) that one uses to attain quiet embedded in answers in the Down direction. It doesn’t work exactly, but for puzzle purposes, it’s fine. Perhaps if it was punctuated differently like “‘Quiet!’ Down”. But there I go overthinking it.

Nice fill today. I especially loved the conversational touches like “OH GROW UP!” and “NOT THAT!”. Other goodies include BANKSY, HO-HUM, POSEUR, and GREASE. I didn’t know of the Pitt film AD ASTRA, but of course I’ve heard the phrase, so while it was a challenge to parse at first, educated guesses helped me finish it off. OGLALA [Crazy Horse’s people] was also unexpected. I would have guessed he was from one of the more prominently known tribes. Ah, I see the OGLALA are a subtribe of the Lakota.

Clues of note:

  • 5d. [Foot in a pound]. PAW. Whew. Good one. Not units of measurement, but animal anatomy.
  • 47d. [2019 Grammy-winning album from Tyler, the Creator]. IGOR. New clue alert! Expect to see more of this given the prevalence of the entry in crosswords.
  • 53a. [2015 World Series champs]. ROYALS. We would also have accepted [Lorde’s 2013 #1 hit] or [Lorde hit parodied by Weird Al’s “Foil”].

Nice puzzle. 3.7 stars.

Alex Eaton-Salners’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 19 20, no. 0219

Okay, I’m gonna call the theme a failure because too many people just could not see what it was. Before I did the puzzle, I got a text message from my old boss: “I don’t understand the Wednesday theme.” So then I did the puzzle and … did not grasp the theme. I went to Wordplay, where Deb Amlen reported having had to ask the editors what the theme was. When three people with years of experience in the crossword biz are all perplexed … I’m not sure we’re the problem.

There are two revealer-type clues: 60a. [Reject romantically … or a hint to the starts of the answers to 18- and 35-Across, phonetically], SWIPE LEFT, and 65a. [Show interest romantically … or a hint to the ends of the answers to 20- and 44-Across, phonetically], SWIPE RIGHT. 18a and 35a are LYFT DRIVER and KNICK-KNACKS, while 20a and 44a are BLUE STEEL (lacking a Zoolander clue!) and KEYSTONE KOP. The explanation is that LYFT, KNICK, STEEL, and KOP sound like synonyms of “swipe”: lift, nick, steal, cop. So that’s fine, but it’s unsatisfying for someone who can figure out 99.5% of themes without having to ask anyone to get stumped by a mid-week NYT puzzle. Maybe the revealer clues needed to say “homophones” instead of “phonetically” as a cue?

What else is there? A few things:

  • To quote a classic Seinfeld episode, “I had a pony.” The pony does double action, with 47a. [___ pony], POLO, and 51a. [Pony ___], KEG. Sporting horses and beer.
  • 31a. [Not yet out of the running], IN IT (could also be clued as the abbrev init.) and 69a. [Suffix with senior], -ITIS (could also be clued as “it is”). These two in the same puzzle feel ungainly. The whole thing feels … ITSY.
  • 2d. [Behind bars], IN CUSTODY. I.e., Blago no more. Sigh.
  • 4d. [Hungarian horseman], HUSSAR. I feel this is a word I learned from old crosswords.
  • 9d. [What a curse might lead to], PG RATING. Great clue. Not a hex curse, a $%@& curse.

Fave fill: COOKIE JAR and TIKTOK.

Not sure what sort of rating to assign a puzzle whose theme was so elusive. Somewhere in the range of 3-4 stars?

Winston Emmons’s Universal crossword, “Double and Nothing”—Rebecca’s review

THEME: Double letters are added to doubled words to make up the theme answers

Universal crossword solution · Winston Emmons · “Double and Nothing” · Wed., 02.19.20


  • 20A [The perfect guy possibly will?] MR RIGHT MIGHT
  • 35A [What to wear at the mountaintop?] SUMMIT SUIT
  • 45A [Sound from a laid-back cat?] MELLOW MEOW
  • 54A [Gambler?] BETTING BEING

I struggled a lot with this puzzle – and didn’t get quite enough enjoyment from the theme to overcome the problem areas I came across. The theme feels very random here. We have double letters added to doubled words in to make an odd selection of theme answers here that are neither real nor very entertaining. I didn’t see a reason for the letters that were added here beyond just being able to be added and still have words that sort of make sense? And then we have MR RIGHT MIGHT which does not fit with the other the themers which are all just two words with the first word having the extras. If there is something extra going on here that I simply missed I’d love to know what is.

The fill of the puzzle isn’t bad, it just was not on my wavelength at all as far as the cluing, so it took a while for me to get through. I don’t think there was a single area of the puzzle where I didn’t feel like I got stuck. Looking at the grid after solving, other than being a little choppy, nothing sticks out as egregiously bad or difficult, so I think some alternate clues would’ve made it more enjoyable for me, but if I wasn’t reviewing this I doubt I would’ve completed it.

2.5 stars

Francis Heaney’s AVCX, “Roll Film!” — Ben’s Review

Today’s AVCX is a Francis Heaney grid.  No meta this time!  This week’s 3.5/5 puzzle, “Roll Film!”, is a nice little tribute to an iconic film scene:

  • 25A: Location in the opening sequence of a famous film — DEADLY CAVE
  • 52A: One threat encountered in the 25-Across — DARTS
  • 63A: One threat encountered in the 25-Across — SPIDERS
  • 6D: One threat encountered in the 25-Across — SPIKES
  • 64A: One threat encountered in the 25-Across — PIT
  • 56A: Item grabbed in the 25-Across, setting off a trap whose effect is depicted along one of the long diagonals in this puzzle — GOLDEN IDOL
  • 19A:Item used (unsuccessfully) in an attempt to safely remove the 56-Across without setting off a trap — SAND BAG
  • 45A: Item used to brush off 63-Across, and to get across the 64-Down — WHIP

It’s opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark!  The diagonal spelling ROCK in the upper left corner following a path of black squares diagonally to INDY in the lower right is a lovely touch. There’s even a few clues that aren’t as cross-referenced but still tie in with the movie as a whole:

  • 9D: “SNL” actor with a cameo in “(mumble mumble) and the Temple of Doom” — DAN AYKROYD
  • 29A: Parody, as Weird Al did to the subject of this puzzle in the opening sequence of “UHF” — SPOOF

Elsewhere the fill:

  • I support Francis’ proposal of the new slogan “You can’t spell soulmates without ULM
  • Remember PSY and how we all got super into “Gangnam Style” in 2012?
  • DOUG Jones’ pre-senate work for civil rights justice gets featured heavily in the new book Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell – I really enjoyed it, and if you’re interested in true crime, it’s a fascinating read.

Happy Wednesday!

Roland Huget’s LA Times Crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today features another “scrambled letters found inside longer phrases” theme. Initially, this seemed pretty basic with GEARSHIFTS (the clue for which needs an “in the US” qualifier) indicated that GEAR is scrambled and found in the long answers. One element is quite pleasing, the letters in GEAR shift one at a time from top to bottom. I’m not sure why FRINGEAREA lacked circles, so I added them. Apart from FIVESTARGENERAL, the theme answers are pretty functional, a victim perhaps of the more precise theme requirements.

Better answers today include THEBFG, JUNEAU (whether it’s worth AMAJ is debatable) and DEEPSIX.


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17 Responses to Wednesday, February 19, 2020

  1. Anne says:

    I enjoyed the NYT. It took me a minute or two to tumble to the theme. But while I don’t use dating apps, I’ve heard of “swipe left” and “swipe right” and didn’t think it was hard for a Wednesday.

    • Paul Coulter says:

      I liked the NYT, too. Everyone’s solving experience is different, but for me, this is the kind of clever theme I enjoy the most. I didn’t see it as I solved, but the pleasure comes in the AHA after you’ve figured it out. It’s like a Week 3 Gaffney meta. Not obvious at all, but hardly torture. With a little satisfying work, it all comes together.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I enjoyed it, too. I thought it was a clever approach.

    • Gary R says:

      It took me more than a minute or two to get the theme – but that may have been due to the fact that I was solving at 1:00 am, a couple of hours after “usual” bed time. At that hour, I was having some difficulty parsing the revealers. Show interest/reject – okay, I got the swipe connection, and assumed it was pointing me to the right/left of the other answers. But then there’s the reference to the starts/ends of the other answers, which seems a little clumsy and maybe redundant, given right/left. And then the “phonetically” part. It felt a little convoluted to me.

      It seems to me that there is a “sort of” inconsistency in the theme entries that may explain why the revealers used “phonetically” rather than “homophone.” STEEL is a homophone for steal, but KNICK, by itself is not really a word (as far as I know) and LYFT and KOP are not really “words” either, but more like “trade names.”

  2. NYT: In the spirit of Ade’s “sports will make you smarter” moments, I had a “video games will make you smarter” moment. HUSSAR was a type of enemy in the 1997 CD-ROM game “Twinsen’s Odyssey” (a.k.a. “Little Big Adventure 2”), though not one that rode on horseback. The hussars of this game were swordsmen and very tough to beat.

    I’m guessing the Venn diagram overlap of people who read Crossword Fiend and played “Twinsen’s Odyssey” is pretty small, but having ?U?S?R was enough for me to recall the game and drop in HUSSAR and hope it was right. I can empathize with anyone who didn’t know it since there’s no other way I knew of that word except for that game.

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I’m not in your Venn diagram, but I did learn the word from a video game, that being “Age of Empires.”

      • … which is a *way* more popular game franchise than the “Little Big Adventure” series but sadly one I’ve never played.

      • scrivener says:

        I played Age of Empires II and III and only after I went the abcde route and saw it spelled out in front of me did I remember HUSSAR. Ugh. HUSSAR crossing SPAR and TOT crossing OTOE felt unfair for a Wednesday. I had to check puzzle. :(

  3. Chip says:

    Took me more than a few minutes to figure out how “III” could be the answer clued as “:15” as in 3 on a Roman clock face. The days I was good at Latin have long since vanished in the haze.

  4. David L says:

    I got the theme of the NYT but my problem was that I’m not familiar with ‘cop’ as slang for steal. Cop a plea, cop an attitude, cop to something etc. But not steal.

    • scrivener says:

      There’s the wholly inappropriate COP a feel. Remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California and because of his past, some were calling him Kindergarten Cop a Feel?

  5. Jenni Levy says:

    I really liked the NYT – got the theme when I filled SWIPE LEFT. Interesting that it was opaque to so many experienced crossworders. I am not usually better than Amy at figuring this stuff out.

    And I LOVED the AVCX. I am not usually a fan of cross-references, and this is chock-full of them, but it was totally worth it. A good puzzle day for me!

  6. Crotchety Doug says:

    LAT – The three sets of circles made the theme obvious early on and I went ahead, tried gear changes at 59A, didn’t fit, but gear shifts did, so had all the theme answers early (I thought). But when I saw 18A contained the fourth cycling of the gears and was unmarked, I laughed, and added a half-star.

  7. Billy Boy says:

    NYT had edgy theme and borderline cluing, a mixture for controversy.

  8. Cindy says:

    Re: AVCX. Can you explain the reference in 56 across to a diagonal? I see “rock “ but nothing else. Thanks

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