Wednesday, September 23, 2020

LAT 5:38 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker 5:48 (Rachel) 


NYT untimed (Amy) 


WSJ 8:08 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


AVCX 9:39 (Ben) 


Margit Christenson’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 23 20, no. 0923

Solved this one off the clock since I’d had one of those wildly frazzled evenings. Regular coping skills frayed 7+ months into pandemic times, yeah? I know I’m not alone in that!

Each of the shaded/circled answers needs to be preceded by the word paper to make sense with its clue. Working through the PAPER TRAIL (56a. [Series of documents that trace a path, as suggested by this puzzle]) from 1a and snaking down to that revealer, we’ve got paper TOWEL, paperBACK, paper CUT, paperCLIP, paper TIGER, paper ROUTE, paper PLANE, paper DOLL, paper BAG, and paperWORK. Kind of a neat theme angle. I confess that I’d kind of like the short themers to be spelled in the direction of that PAPER TRAIL, which would mean CUT, BAG, and ROUTE would need to be entered backwards. (I enjoy writing/typing backwards, in small amounts.)

Fave fill: CAT-SITTING, VOICE BOX, INK-STAINED wretches, SLACK LINES (an Australian FB friend is into slack lining). Not so keen on entries like SORE NECK (feels green-paintish), crosswordese RIA and RIEL, not-spelled-like-that-in-Chicago ELS, awkward suffix –IANA.

Six more things:

  • 14a. [The Pequod and others], WHALEBOATS. In honor of this clue, here’s a favorite excerpt from Moby-Dick:

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

  • 6a. [Serum vessel], VIAL. I keep most of my serum in my blood vessels, personally.
  • 10a. [End of a “happy” simile], CLAM. Could also be LARK. Birds may sing cheerfully, so the lark makes sense. Why did anyone decide that clams should be held up as the epitome of happiness? How are the clams communicating this bliss to us?
  • 33a. [Number on a yarn skein], DYE LOT. Shout-out to knitters! I am not a knitter but I’ve seen mentions of dye lots.
  • 48a. [Primer libro del Nuevo Testamento], MATEO. As in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but in Spanish.
  • 48d. [Mediterranean appetizer], MEZE. I’ve never heard anyone say the word, so I just looked it up. Ends with a “zay” syllable! Greek or Middle Eastern cuisine.

3.6 stars from me.

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Seize Power”—Jim P’s review

Theme: C’s are added to the starts of certain two-word phrases.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Seize Power” · Mike Shenk · Wed., 9.23.20

  • 17a. [Curt response to “Wanna relax with us?”] CAN’T CHILL. Anthill. Probably a good response during a pandemic.
  • 21a. [Confines for a pet penguin?] COLD CAGE. Old age. Public Service Announcement: If you’re going to the trouble to have a pet penguin, please don’t keep it in a cage.
  • 36a. [Cell inhabitant trying on a new prison uniform?] CHANGING CON. Hanging on.
  • 53a. [Coat of arms featuring mice and a bowl of milk?] CAT CREST. At rest.
  • 59a. [Component of a recliner’s box spring?] CHAIR COIL. Hair oil.

I can’t say these were the most exciting crossword entries, but you’d be hard pressed to find many two-word phrases which you could put C’s in front of and still have them make some sort of sense. Given that, I like these well enough.

In the fill, I’m partial to YET AGAIN, GROUPIES, CHAKRA, CICADA, and MORDOR. I did not know THALIA [Comedy Muse], and I had to dig deep to remember SATORI [Contemplation goal, perhaps]. Wikipedia tells me it’s a Japanese Buddhist term for “awakening, comprehension, understanding.”

Funny that COHESION is in this grid. My daughter did a science experiment during her online class earlier today in which she had to see how many drops of water would fit on a penny before the water spilled over. Thanks to COHESION and surface tension, she managed to get 50 drops on there.

I wasn’t so keen on all the weird plurals: MAYOS, OHOS, and HIS [Casual greetings]. I don’t see any reason in the grid why this last one couldn’t have been clued as the possessive pronoun. Unless I missed it.

When creating a grid, I find that C’s are often problematic to work with. So on the whole, I’d have to say this grid is quite good considering all the C’s involved, including all the ones that aren’t part of the theme. 3.6 stars.

Edited to add: Commenter lurkerlou brought to our attention that all the clues also start with C. It’s a testament to the smoothness of the clues that I didn’t notice, or else it’s a testament to my inability to notice things. Either way, it’s a nice touch.

Aimee Lucido’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

This is a very good puzzle!!!! The long stuff is *excellent*, the grid design is cool, the cluing is fun, and representation is superb. Aside from one or two pieces of fill I could live without, which were entirely worth the tradeoff, this was a very smooth, enjoyable, moderately challenging New Yorker puzz.

The New Yorker crossword solution • Aimee Lucido • Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The long entries included *takes a deep breath*: TIME AFTER TIME / BATMAN RETURNS / WESTERN OMELET / NK JEMISIN / DIANA ROSS / NEGOTIATE / TEEN VOGUE / FENCE SITTER / GUT REACTION / TASTE TEST / RESTRAINT/ BECOMING / OPEN ARMS. There isn’t a one of these that I would look sideways at– these are all high-quality entries! The central staircase is great, and I loooved the clue on BATMAN RETURNS, which is such a delightful misdirect (I was trying to remember if, at some point in “Nightmare Before Christmas,” there was an army of penguins…). Also loved seeing N.K. JEMISIN, one of my favorite authors right now whose book “The City We Became” was the best thing I read this summer. I could keep going about the rest of these excellent long entrees (BECOMING! DIANA ROSS!), but in the interest of time, let’s just leave it at “I love them all.”

A few more things:

  • Fill I Could Live Without: FIDI, JIMA, SEGO, AAS, SSE, MAA. Nothing horrible, and fully worth the tradeoff, but
  • I dig the weird shape of the volumes on the side of the grid (wait, is that what we call them in crosswords? or is that just a climbing thing? if not, let’s make “volumes” happen).
  • Favorite clues:
    • [Supreme talent?] for DIANA ROSS
    • [Grok] for GET (appreciated the reversal of the normal clue/entry pairing on this one!)
  • Representation: A+. N.K. JEMISIN, DIANA ROSS, Michelle Obama, TEEN VOGUE, the late Shirley Ann GRAU, lots of others. All-around great work.

Overall, tons of stars from me– this was a fun solve and a strong start to the day. See you all on Friday!

Robert E.L. Morris’ Universal crossword, “Climbing Trees” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 9/23/20 • Wed • “Climbing Trees” • Morris • solution • 20200923

Just what you’d expect from the title. The circles make it that much more evident.

  • 4d. [Get some pool practice?] SWIM LAPS (palm).
  • 10d. [Fluctuations in the economy] TRADE CYCLE (cedar).
  • 15d. [Breakfast dish with ham and bell peppers] WESTERN OMELET (lemon). Don’t forget the onions! I like mine with swiss cheese as well.
  • 30d. [Popular snack crackers] CHEESE NIPS (pine).
  • 42d. [Useful part of a website] HELP PAGE (apple).

Three fruits, two conifers. And they alternate, for what it’s worth. Additionally, the reversed and hidden trees span the two words of each theme answer. Good distribution, good consistency.

Not part of the theme: 4a [Gunk on a log] SAP.

  • 28d [Feel for a light switch] GROPE. Deft cluing for a potentially unsavory word.
  • 48d [Modern art venues?] LATTES. Meh.
  • 1a [Actress __ Naomi King] AJA. A change from the typical Steely Dan clue, though there are numerous alternatives out there, of varying unfamiliarity.
  • 13a [Container that’s a conjunction backward] TUB, 41a [Molecule that’s a conjunction backward] DNA. Dang, I wanted another one at 69-across! Nor, yet, not – these could work. Instead, we get 69a [Zag’s partner] ZIG.
  • Also instead, we can travel from 41a to 27d [Hereditary factor] GENE.
  • 65a [Old Chevy that was part car, part pickup] EL CAMINO.
  • 11d [Wailers member Peter] TOSH. He also appeared in Monday’s Universal puzzle. I’m still kind of grumbly that no-one seemed to be impressed by my uncovering of his being a unicycle aficionado, tying in to another aspect of that crossword—weird coincidence!
  • 22d [Carol refrain] TRA LA LA. Which carol is this?

Good puzzle, but not particularly exciting.

Ella Dershowitz and Aimee Lucido’s AVCX, “Rings False” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 9/23 – “Rings False”

This week’s AVCX is another collab from Ella Dershowitz and Aimee Lucido, with a supersized 18×19 grid and a 2.5/5 difficulty rating.  My solver didn’t pick up all the circled squares, so I’ve highlighted them in the screenshot at right.  Let’s take a look at what’s going on.

We’ve got a number of different rings in the grid, spelling out things like BURY, PAIR, CURRENT, QUINTS, and PLUMB.  Those all sound like fruits, homophonically — BERRY, PAIR, CURRANT, QUINCE, and PLUM.  All of that ties in nicely with the revealer at 55A:

  • 55A: Cereal that, by law and owing to its artificiality, is spelled with a homonym — and a hint to this puzzle’s theme — FROOT LOOPS

I’m not in love with the way the black squares at the top and bottom of the grid make for a lot of 3- and 4-letter fill that’s just okay, but I can see how constrained the grid likely needs to be for this concept to work.

In case you haven’t seen a FROOT LOOPS ad recently, here’s what they look like now!

Other notes:

  • The first thing that came to mind when I saw “Steve Urkel or Sheldon Cooper, in modern slang” was NERD’S NERD.  That’s not actually modern slang, though, and UBER NERD definitely covers the same mental image in the correct number of grid squares.
  • When I think of things that are NEW AGEY, I think of Enya and the Pure Moods soundtrack commercial
  • If you try to RICKROLL me, the joke is on you, because I love the music of Rick Astley.

Happy Wednesday!

Joe Deeney’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

The theme type is common and quite clearly outlined: >YOURE<OUTOFORDER, so the letters YOURE are scrambled across two parts of three theme answers. A strong point of the puzzle is the choice of interesting theme answers, which is not the easiest give that five letters are locked in. So: FORYEARDEGREES, FOREVERYOUNG (love his friend and lover Joan Baez’s interpretation…), and MICKEYROURKE.

In the downs, is SPYUPON, ENDSUP and OPENSUPTO de trop?

Other interesting spots include my grandfather’s catchphrase, WHATTHE; the full name of the KIARIO; and long downs THEBIRDS, WITCHHUNT, BOYSTOWN. An advantage of just four theme answers is space to do something other than the puzzle’s theme!

New to me: VENMO. The crosses were fair and it probably got the author out of a tricky locked-in V???O in the grid.

Bonus musical interlude:

Maybe he will be in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame someday? (Stubbs has been in since 1990.)


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21 Responses to Wednesday, September 23, 2020

  1. pseudonym says:

    Shout out to Tim Croce for his great puzzles at Club 72.

    • Flinty Steve says:


    • JohnH says:

      He still defeats me without Googling, and even then it just gives me a foothold here and there. It’s those long entries that probably wouldn’t be legit as stand-alone idioms in an edited puzzle, plus the clues for them vague enough to stand for most anything. It’s almost like they’re not clues! I still try to solve and often finish, and I’m grateful for his challenge. But must admit to very mixed feelings.

      • dhj says:

        Agree with John. Most of his colloquial phrases fall flat for me. They more often than not are strings of words that someone might have spoken together once, but fall far short of being familiar standalone phrases. And the cluing is vague to the point of esoteric. I’ve found the process of solving a Croce is more of a mind-reading exercise – “what do you think he would have put in the grid here?” – rather than a fair fight involving intelligible cluing and interesting wordplay. So I usually pass unless I’m especially in the mood for self-torture.

    • Alan D. says:

      +2. Once you learn his voice and style they get a little easier.

      • JohnH says:

        I’ve been doing them for a year, and they haven’t become any easier yet. (I’d never allow myself to Google for an NYT puzzle, say.)

      • snappysammy says:

        yes, very true
        if not i would hve given up, now i know if i leave and come back, usually it will break for me

        love tim’s work

    • marciem says:

      I did not know about those puzzles. It gave me the workout I’ve been missing from the other “hard” puzzles that aren’t hard anymore :) . Thanks for bringing it up here.

  2. lurkerlou says:

    WSJ: Did no-one notice that all the clues in today’s puzzle begin with ‘C’?

  3. Billy Boy says:

    WSJ today was rather a feat. I struggled, some of the clues are off and not wacky so, but a really fine puzzle with a lot of work for the C‘s in clues and answer. Bravo.

    NYT strikes me a kind of lazy construction, I mean the fill is OK and all that but as mentioned, it could have traced much more of an actual trail.

    Oh yeah, MEZE is usually MEZES in Greek eateries. Never seen the singular.

    more laziness

    • sanfranman59 says:

      The trail seems fine to me winding around continuously from the NW to the SE. I just don’t understand why it didn’t go all the way to the SE corner. As it is, it lacks symmetry.

  4. JohnH says:

    I liked the NYT. Long enough time getting the theme to make the pursuit worthwhile, but due to itself and not other fill, combined with a simple explanation: entries requiring PAPER and forming a trail. I saw quickly that there wasn’t enough room for theme entries. (My first thought was “spitball” and not PAPER PLANE.) So I figured some letters would come from just before or after on the trail. But once I got over my expectations for something more intricate, I was fine with it.

    Agreed that would have liked the direction of theme entries to follow the trail, which would have pushed it to a Thursday. But such is life. (My last to fall and unfamiliar was DYE LOT.)

  5. MattF says:

    The short-word theme in the NYT was somewhat disorienting, but in a good way— getting the trick was more satisfying. OTOH, the short fill felt rather stale. So, good but not great.

  6. F Grant Whittle says:

    The original idiom was happy as a clam at high tide.

  7. Billy Boy says:

    Just did NYer on Thursday. Interesting mix.

  8. Billposter says:

    Friday NYT (I’m running late)…”set to zero” – TARES?? Help!

Comments are closed.