Wednesday, March 25, 2020

LAT 5:06 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:04 (Amy) 


WSJ 6:10 (Jim P) 


Universal 4:35 (Jim P) 


AVCX 6:43 (Ben) 


If you’re running low on puzzles during your quarantine and you don’t yet subscribe to The Inkubator, the good folks over there are offering a free two-month trial subscription with access to their puzzle archive. Check it out! Click on the “FREE TRIAL” button on their homepage.

You can also download free PDFs of the crosswords Mike Shenk has made for NYC’s annual Bryant Park crossword tournament (2016-2019). Here’s the link. Mike, Amy Goldstein, and Robert Leighton of Puzzability ask that you “pay it forward” by helping someone else rather than paying them.

Evan Kalish’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Climbing the Walls”—Jim P’s review

This seems like an appropriately-titled puzzle for our nationwide quarantine. Although, if you’re climbing the walls already, you’ve got a long way to go. In the puzzle however, it’s IVY (69a, [Wall climber climbing in 3-, 9-, 30- and 34-Down]) that’s doing the climbing. Each of the theme answers has that word hidden inside in the Up direction.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Climbing the Walls” · Evan Kalish · Wed, 3.25.20

  • 3d [Supergirl superpower] X-RAY VISION
  • 9d [Requirement for some international tourists] ENTRY VISA. You need a lot more than that these days, I think.
  • 30d [Owing to] BY VIRTUE OF. This is a drab entry, but it gets the job done.
  • 34d [Second Tudor monarch] HENRY VIII

I don’t suppose there are too many phrases that have the YVI trigram. Oh hey! SHELBYVILLE, the rival town to the Simpsons’ Springfield, does. That would’ve been fun though maybe not so many solvers would know it.

Let’s see, what else have we got? SENIORITY, TRAVEL BAG, AUDIBLE (the Amazon company which serves up audiobooks—great for when you’re lying in bed with COVID and can’t be bothered to open your eyes but can’t sleep because of the pain), an old school WIIMOTE, EATS DIRT, and  PECORINO cheese.

In the stack-of-the-day department we have OH DEAR [“This is concerning…”] atop a CORONA [Brand often served with a lime wedge]. A more topical clue would have been welcome, perhaps [Beer brand often on sale these days].

No nits to pick in the fill and the clues seem straightforward enough. Solid theme and execution. 3.75 stars.

Laura Taylor Kinnel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 3 25 20, no. 0325

I actually felt like I was solving an Inkubator puzzle here. The theme was female, and some of the fill also leaned that way. What a treat!

The theme revealer is 59a. [Chinese appetizers … or a punny description of 17-, 28-, 35- and 45-Across], SPRING ROLLS, a play on “spring roles,” which would be those fictional roles whose first or last names are also spring months:

  • 17a. [Laura Dern, in “Little Women”], MARMEE MARCH.
  • 28a. [Sarah Drew, on “Grey’s Anatomy”], APRIL KEPNER. Have only ever seen one episode of this long-running show, so I leaned on 30d. [Compensates], PAYS, to get KEPNER’s P. Kenner and Keener were equally plausible surnames. Parks and Rec‘s April Ludgate is more familiar to me, but I don’t know if there’s a workable June character with an 8-letter surname.
  • 35a. [Ming-Na Wen, on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”], MELINDA MAY.
  • 45a. [Barbara Billingsley, on “Leave It to Beaver”], JUNE CLEAVER.

Cool theme.

Other non-dudely fill includes TESSA Thompson, General LEIA Organa, MALIA Obama, a trio of EMMAS, FRAN Drescher, LUNA BAR, OPI nail polish, and USA women’s soccer.

I did pick up a topical pandemic vibe, just as Jim P singled out a stacked pair of 6s in the WSJ puzzle. I suppose it’s inevitable that a tremendous change in all our lives would color our perception of entries like ICU, COMA, and ON CALL. You might find valuable counsel from grief expert David Kessler in this Harvard Business Review interview. Kessler’s framing of our emotional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the upheaval it’s caused as grief is not something I’d have expected would resonate with me, but it was indeed a comfort to think in those terms. Be well, wash your hands, steer clear of people if you can, and wrangle some crosswords or whatever else brings you distraction and enjoyment.

Four stars from me.

Jennifer Mara’s Universal crossword, “Endgame”—Jim P’s review

CHILD’S PLAY is at 49a and is clued [Something simple, or a hint to the final words of 20-, 33- and 40-Across]. Each theme answer ends in a word that is also the name of a children’s game.

Universal crossword solution · “Endgame” · Jennifer Mara · Wed., 3.25.20

  • 20a [Green-and-orange cereal] APPLE JACKS
  • 33a [New Yorker’s toll payment device] EZ PASS TAG
  • 40a [Doctor or lawyer, perhaps, to your mother?] GOOD CATCH

Pretty sure I’ve seen an “Endgame”-themed puzzle before, but it was probably one based on board games. I like the different approach here to restrict the theme to children’s games by using the revealer as a basis. A nice touch.

That said, I was able to suss out EZ PASS ___ pretty easily, but that last word feels like an almost-random tack-on, at least for someone not aware of the workings of the NY toll system. What could it be? CARD? STICKER? TRANSCEIVER? TAG did not leap to mind. Of course, knowing the theme would have helped, but I hadn’t gotten to the revealer at that point. That said, I wasn’t slowed down too much—just needed a couple of those last crossings.

ZODIAC SIGN, EGG SALAD, and FOOD FIGHTS make for great fill. SAT SCORE rounds out the long stuff.

Clues of note:

  • 17a. [Played Grand Theft Auto, for example]. GAMED. Would’ve loved to have seen a more topical clue here. The gaming world is either playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Doom: Eternal both of which came out last Friday. They make for odd bedfellows. We’re in the former camp since ACNH is family-friendly and really makes for a perfect quarantine game.
  • 45d. [Thanksgiving dinner ritual?]. GRACE. I’m not sure why there’s a question mark here. Seems like it would be just fine without it.

A pleasant puzzle. 3.7 stars.

Patti Varol’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The puzzle is certainly has a more playful theme than most. Three fifteens are clued as [March ___]. The answers are nouns – one common, and two canonical three-part names; two refer to military marches, but the final refers to the surname. A tad lop-sided, but more fun to work out than most themes, and we also get both JOHNPHILIPSOUSA and LOUISAMAYALCOTT, with the latter’s signature work recently adapted into film again.

There was also a push for “themeless grade” longer answers, something I typically associate with C.C. Burnikel. Today has MALLSANTA and EDSHEERAN going across and ATHLEISURE ONTHEHOUSE going down.

Trickiest clue: [Overseas coppers], PENCE. Not POLIS or somesuch…

There felt like a lot of short names in this puzzle, though few gave me trouble personally. Don’t know […voice actress Strong], TARA but she’s also a particularly gorgeous dachshund so I can’t complain…



Rebecca Falcon’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #46” — Ben’s Review

It’s been the type of day where I could use a themeless grid to point my brain at for 5-10 minutes, so I’m happy this feeling aligned with today’s AVCX offering from Rebecca Falcon.  Rebecca organized the Women’s Crossword March that we’ve seen across numerous publications, and this is a lovely capper on the AVCX’s contributions to that.

First off: I love this grid shape.  I feel like themelesses so often fall into a few different standard grid formats (usually a stair-step in the middle for crunchy longer entries), so this round-ish grid was a feast for the eyes.

  • TRACEE ELLIS ROSS was the first entry I filled in today.  She’s great as Bow on Black-ish, and also has a fantastic name for crosswords.
  • The other long fill across the top and bottom of the grid was equally nice – SPEARHEADED and CHANGE OF HEART up top, I MUST BE DREAMING, ENTERTAINMENT, and SECRET SAUCE down below.
  • I feel like in the last year I’ve seen more clues for ISSA Rae, either by first or last name.  Insecure is a delightful show, and as much as I like Charlotte Rae from The Facts of Life, I’m glad we have a fresher entry for that particular trigram
  • If you, like me, thought “hey, wasn’t that the talking gatekeeper from Legends of the Hidden Temple” when entering OLMEC into the grid (“Early Mesoamerican”), yes.  It is.  You’re welcome.

Happy Wednesday!

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18 Responses to Wednesday, March 25, 2020

  1. Dook says:

    I’ve never seen or ordered spring rolls in a Chinese restaurant. Thai or Vietnamese places are for spring rolls. Egg rolls are served in Chinese restaurants.

    • davey says:

      conversely, i have ordered spring rolls in chinese restaurants. and i look forward to doing so again some day.

    • Gary R says:

      My wife likes the spring rolls at PF Chang’s. However Chang’s, being named for founder Paul Fleming, may not be the definitive source on what is and isn’t Chinese cuisine ;-)

      • Billy Boy says:

        I wish I could get good Chinese, tough in the low country. I bought some frozen P.F. Chang’s last year and made them, astonished at how salty they were (we usually make everything from fresh at home).

        NYT was a little too name rich for my tastes today … but all obtained by crosses without error.

        Enjoyed the WSJ a bit more and knew that 67A was going to draw comments.

        Wash your hands, keep your distance!!

    • R says:

      I’ve definitely gotten spring rolls at Chinese restaurants, but I associate them more with Southeast Asian food as well.

    • pannonica says:

      American Chinese restaurants have long had spring rolls in addition to egg rolls, way before the general advent of Thai and Vietnamese places. They are distinct from the varieties of those latter cuisines.

    • JohnH says:

      My favorite spot for fried dumplings and chive pancakes in New York’s Chinatown, hardly a least common denominator sort of Chinese place, calls its offerings spring rolls. Indeed, I’d always thought of egg rolls as a slightly Americanized name, but honestly nothing’s riding on it, and I think the restaurant owners recognize that. A great Sichuan restaurant in my Manhattan neighborhood uses “vegetable rolls,” no doubt just to assure interested patrons that they’re meatless.

  2. Gary R says:

    NYT – harder than average Wednesday for me. I am not much of a movie-goer, and watch less and less TV each year, except for sports – so the theme was tough. (Though I filled in JUNE CLEAVER with no crosses.)

    Thought the fill was pretty good – not a lot of “glue.”

    • RM Camp says:

      JUNE CLEAVER was the only one I knew right off the bat. And I’m under 40. Maybe I need to get out more… er, you get the idea.

      Had APRIL Ludgate been in there instead of KEPNER, I’d have gotten that one easily, and would have been much happier about it [she was hands-down my favorite Parks & Rec character, reminds me of my wife]

  3. MattF says:

    Not enthused over the NYT. Names and brands were mostly unknown to me, leading to random guesses to complete.

  4. Cynthia says:

    Jim P – In the Universal, I think the question mark in the “Thanksgiving dinner ritual?” clue makes it a pun since saying grace is “giving thanks,” and in many households is done at every evening meal.

  5. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ: I’ve seen EGOT {65A: Accomplishment for a multitalented performer, slangily} in a number of puzzles over the last couple of years. I now know what it is, though I can’t seem to commit the acronym to memory. It’s just not something that has stuck with me.

    I got curious and Googled “EGOT origin”. It was “popularized in the early 21st century by the television comedy series “30 Rock.” Though I generally enjoy Tina Fey’s humor, I haven’t watched many episodes of that show. Apparently, EGOT can be traced back to Philip Michael Thomas of “Miami Vice” fame who, in 1984, said he hoped to win all four awards and wore an gold pendant around his neck engraved with EGOT. This is what was parodied by “30 Rock”. He’s never been nominated for any of the awards and his Wikipedia page refers to him as a “retired actor.” At least he had the EGO part down.

  6. David Steere says:

    AVCX: I’d like to echo Ben’s sentiments about Rebecca’s role in the Women’s Crossword March. It’s been lovely. But, I can’t say I found today’s puzzle lovely. It made me feel old and “out of it.” Also…as a non-watcher of television and new movies…I was lost in places. Completely unfamiliar to me: Tracee Ellis Ross, Dee Rees, Smaug. I don’t understand the abbreviation STG and “silver.” Is this “swear to God” or some strange reference to Sterling Silver? Never heard of “dropped” in this use nor PTO as an abbreviation. The number of abbreviations here bother me–especially “yrly” which is icky. Completely befuddled by “yack” and “vom.” If “yom” is vomit, shouldn’t “yack” be “hack?” What is “yack?” The only unfamiliar term that I’m now glad to know is “voir dire.” If any kind soul cares to clear up some of these mysteries, please do. Thanks.

    • David Glasser says:

      Smaug is from a 1937 book.

    • cyco says:

      A big part of the appeal of the AVCX is that they lean more heavily on pop culture, slang, etc., than the major dailies, so this puzzle seemed well within their house style to me.

      I only had vague familiarity with TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, never heard of DEE REES. As with any xword, crosses are your friend!


      – SMAUG is from Lord of the Rings, so not exactly new.
      – Yes, STG is an abbreviation for “Sterling” apparently; just Googled it.
      – Albums/songs “dropping” is pretty common slang.
      – Every office I’ve worked in has used PTO as a catch-all term.
      – Agree on YRLY.
      – YACK is just slang for “vomit” or “throw up.” I think they clued it as “vom” to hint that the answer would be slangy. I’ve heard it occasionally out loud, but never really thought of how it would be spelled. Apparently both YAK and YACK are acceptable.

      • ahimsa says:

        Speaking of VOM/VOMS I’m waiting for it to be in a puzzle and clued with reference to an abbreviation for a type of stage entrance (vomitorium/vomitoria).

        And was SMAUG also in the Lord of the Rings? I thought he was only in The Hobbit, but I read those books back in high school (late 70s) and I’m not sure I can trust my memory. :-)

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