Saturday, November 7, 2020

LAT 4:13 (Derek) 


Newsday 26:16 (Derek) 


NYT 4:13 (Stella) 


Universal 6:07 (Jim Q) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Kameron Austin Collins and Paolo Pasco’s New York Times crossword—Stella’s write-up

New York Times 11/7/20 by Kameron Austin Collins and Paolo Pasco

New York Times 11/7/20 by Kameron Austin Collins and Paolo Pasco

For those who don’t already know me on Crossword Twitter, I spend a good 10% of my Twitter feed complaining that the NYT Friday and Saturday puzzles are too easy. I’d love it if themelesses were regularly as hard as Newsday’s Saturday Stumper, or like the NYT was about 10 years ago. Kameron’s and Paolo’s puzzle was not that, but at least it gave me enough of a fight to take me over the four-minute mark, which means it’s above-average difficulty for a NYT Saturday.

I was salivating when I saw the byline. I LIVE for any KAC puzzle and Paolo, although he makes me feel old, is very very good at what he does too. And there was indeed some fine stuff in this puzzle:

  • 40A [Star attraction?] CELEBRITY CRUSH. What a clue! Love it! (Examples of my personal CELEBRITY CRUSHes include Idris Elba, Joe Manganiello, and Art Rooijakkers.)
  • 54A [Marathon runner’s wear], RACE BIB. I ran marathons back in the day and wore my fair share of these, so this was a fun reminder of a part of my life that I will not be revisiting. (Distance running and I are broken up and we aren’t getting back together.)
  • 9D [Final exam?] is an AUTOPSY. The mark of great constructing (or editing; I’d credit either, given the names involved) is being able to take a fairly bland word and clue it cleverly as hell. I stan.
  • 11D [Mix-and-match children’s clothing brand], GARANIMALS. Huge in the ’80s, when I was a little kid, but my parents dressed me in cheaper fare. Still a highly evocative clue and fun as a result.

The central band of long vertical entries — DROP THE MIC, PILED IT ON, and NOT ANYMORE, feel totally natural and uncontrived. Nice. On the other hand, I could deal with a smidge more feminine energy: just one woman, HETTY Green at 32A, is mentioned by name, and though we get NUN at 19A it doesn’t really balance out the bro energy of MOE (33A), ELI (37A), ART ROSS (58A), WALL-E (26D), and Will EISNER (41D).

In sum: I’d have loved to see another woman in the grid, but overall I was anticipating a very good puzzle based on the byline and this did not disappoint.

Layla Beckhardt and Matthew Stock’s Universal crossword, “Stretch Your Mind” — Jim Q’s write-up

A mind expanding puzzle, for sure.

THEME: The word BRAIN is “broken,” with part of it at the beginning of a common phrase/name and part of it at the end.

Universal crossword solution · “Place a Wager” · Layla Beckhardt · Matthew Stock · Sat., 11.07.20


  • BAHRAIN (kinda sounds like the word BRAIN itself!)
  • [Respite during studying, or a hint to the word split across each starred answer] BRAIN BREAK

I found this one significantly tougher than most Universal grids! I think it’s mostly due to those names up north. I had a lot of trouble with ABBIE crossing BRANDI (which I initially thought was BRENDA). My cat’s name is ABBY/ABBEY/ABBIE and I never know how to spell it. Hadn’t considered the ABBIE version until now, so I’ll throw that in possible future spellings. CIRCLE being clued as a skirt shape, BIEL which I can never remember how to spell, and a LEAH I was unfamiliar with didn’t help my cause up there! But I elbow- greased my way out eventually.

I also had never heard of a NAVAJO TACO, but I like the sound of it! Gonna order me one of those next time I’m at Taco Bell and see what I get.

TAIKA and NAOMI were tough for me too, but such is the nature of fill with two themers stacked I suppose.

All in all, I enjoyed the challenge and the AHA when I finally realized the theme had nothing to do with BRAN.

3 stars.

**Looks like a debut from Layla Beckhardt! Congrats and thank you!

Brian E. Paquin’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 11/07/2020

A mercifully quick solve on this one. I like the confirmation that I haven’t yet lost all of my marbles! I am afraid I may have lost one or two, though, so I will continue in my puzzling ways to fend off the aging process as best I can. Great puzzle today, with more than one or two entries that caused me to smile widely, and that makes it all worthwhile! I will look at this a great practice for the Monday night Boswords puzzle, which will be a lot harder than this, but at least I will be confident! 4.3 stars today.

A few highlights:

  • 1A [Actor Richard Anthony Marin, familiarly] CHEECH – Great clue.
  • 15A [Bonnie Blue’s birth name, in “Gone With the Wind”] EUGENIE – I haven’t seen this in years. There is a Canadian tennis player named Eugenie Bouchard, but she hasn’t had the stellar success that she  was destined for.
  • 29A [“I don’t believe it!”] “YEESH!” –  I have said this during solving. Many times.
  • 34A [Time-saving words?] YADA YADA YADA – Isn’t this spelled with two D’s per word, if needed.
  • 38A [Made something more desirable] SWEETENED THE POT – Nicely done!
  • 65A [Metaphor for misfortune] ILL WIND – This looks like a partial phrase, as in “I’ll wind up doing something stupid.”
  • 1D [News anchor Chung] CONNIE – Is she still and anchor? I haven’t seen here on TV in seemingly decades.
  • 6D [Risky aerial act] HUMAN CANNONBALL – Not so risky in a pool!
  • 7D [Kaput] DEAD AS A DOORNAIL – Like your phone if you’re irresponsible!
  • 24D [Capital of French Guiana] CAYENNE – Know your world capitals!
  • 35D [“The ‘Burbs” actor] DERN – This refers to Bruce Dern. Another movie I haven’t seen in years. Something else to watch during isolation!

That’s all for now! I have more Puzzle Boat 7 to work on this weekend. I think we are 25% done. Yikes!

Andrew Bell Lewis’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 11/07/2020

My strategy this weekend: take a nap. I think I am getting slower with my solving times, and I think a nice nap will help! The upper half of this Stumper fell in about 5-6 minutes; the lower half alone slogged on for another 20 or so. There are only two error marks, which is a minor miracle, since I thought I had wrong stuff all over the place. I am a little weary, though, and that is where the nap comes in. Perhaps that will help my Boswords solve on Monday nights, which has been hovering well over the ten minute mark. 4.8 stars for a splendid challenge.

Some of the carnage:

  • 14A [Chicago IMAX theater site on the Lake] NAVY PIER – This is not far from the area I live, so this was a gimme.
  • 27A [Small, influential clique] MAFIA – Why am I thinking that mafia‘s are NOT small?
  • 32A [”Publisher’s Weekly” review category] EROTICA – I had ???TI??. FICTION didn’t work here!
  • 37A [Online ”Free Picks” offerers] OTB’S – I don’t gamble, and I especially don’t gamble on horses. It is wildly popular, but I have never been able to figure out why.
  • 41A [Southeastern urban nightlife nickname] HOTLANTA – Wonderful entry! Somehow I thought this would be a specific club or something. I was totally fooled.
  • 52A [An official language of West Bengal] NEPALI – You have to know that WEST Bengal is in EASTERN India to solve this!
  • 7D [Game with much head turning?] SEESAW BATTLE – The SEESAW was in early; I couldn’t make the connection to the second word. See why I need a nap?
  • 12D [What you don’t have to take] ELECTIVES – We had elective courses in my middle school. I always wanted to volunteer to teach a puzzle course. One of these days!
  • 29D [Appliance needing good food release] FONDUE POT – This only makes sense when you solve it. When was the last time you went to a fondue parlor? I would think they are really suffering during this pandemic.
  • 31D [Dove into verse] RITA – Rita Dove is an American poet. I am uncultured, and this only barely hits my radar.
  • 44D [Crème brûlée ingredient] GRAVE – Someone please explain this. This word is NOT French for sugar. I don’t think.

Everyone have a safe and healthy weekend! It’s supposed to be nice weather here!

David Alfred Bywaters’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Animal Lovers” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 11/7/20 • “Animal Lovers” • Sat • Bywaters • solution • 20201107

Parsing the title elsewise, it’s “Animal L-Overs”. Which is to indicate that the letter L is migrating laterally from one entry to another, in the process converting two words to the names of animals—one by addition and one by subtraction.

    • 23a. [Bear’s picnic loot?] (club sandwich)
    • 25a. [Circus VIPs] (sea stars)
    • 46a. [Deer painter’s assistant?] (role model)
    • 48a. [“Roar!” “Roar!”?] (ion exchange).
    • 68a. [Litter-ature?] (pulp fiction)
    • 72a. [Duck dwellings?] (tea houses)
    • 91a. [Viper-vending business?] (ladder company)
    • 95a. [Scalp invasion force?] (ice pack)
    • 117a. [Wallowing, perhaps?] (slow motion)
    • 119a. [Flatfish couple?] (co-founders)

The breakdown: consistency points for the L travelling in the same direction (left to right) each time; anomaly demerit for the original sea stars also being an animal (I’ll merely acknowledge my standard complaint that it isn’t seals but sea lions that are associated with circuses); inconsistency in that some of these are actual species and some of these (i.e., CUB, PUP, SOW) are merely types (young or female) of animals.

I appreciate that it was probably difficult to come up with five pairs that would work for this theme, but it still comes across as a bit haphazard.

  • Animals in the grid, not part of the theme:
    • 65a [Mob turncoat] RAT (metaphorical)
    • 66a [Ostriches’ South American cousins] RHEAS, 78a [Ostrich’s Australian cousin] EMU.
    • 123a [Dogs named for a Japanese prefecture] AKITAS.
    • 124a [Killer whale] ORCA.
    • 3d [Timber wolf] LOBO.
    • 43d [Finds fault] SNIPES (metaphorical; m-w states that the noun dates to the 14th century while the verb hails from the 19th century).
    • 94d [Little fish] MINNOWS.
    • 105d [Colorful squawker] MACAW.

I dunno. That seems like either a lot or not enough, depending on authorial intent.

  • 5d [Not prepaid, as a mailed parcel] SENT C.O.D, but {SENT COD} sure looks like one of the puzzles wacky theme entries.
  • 9d [Smaller than small] MICRO, 15a [Bigger than big] MEGA.
  • Some very good evocative clues today. A sampling: 7d [Like the whitest snow] NEW-FALLEN, 14d [Intentionally ambiguous] DELPHIC, 15d [Pertinent to the discussion] MATERIAL, 41d [Prepared to remove, perhaps] UNSCREWED, 56d [Magician’s apparent repository] THIN AIR, 50d [“Show some appreciation!”] HATS OFF, 33a [It’s not the same] OTHER.
  • 74a [“Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks” musician] ENO. Good old Roger. Seriously, though, we see Brian ENO so often in crosswords but rarely share his music here, so why not have a listen?
  • 12d [Gogol story about an errant facial feature] THE NOSE. I might have to read this one. Am intrigued by the illustrations a web search retrieved.
  • Fill I could live without: 28a [Portended] FORERAN, 100d [Godlike] DEIFIC.
  • 127a [Expression of corporate compassion] WE CARE. Uh-huh.

So. Before I understood what the theme was, I speculated that it was animal related puns or something, and thought that the base phrase for 23-across was CUBAN SANDWICH. Naturally, I spent the next few minutes mentally preparing to include the following song in the write-up. And even though it turns out to be erroneous, I need to follow through.

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22 Responses to Saturday, November 7, 2020

  1. PJ says:

    LAT 23a – Amy commented on the use of ancient to describe the Inca. It’s always bugged me, too. I attribute it to Eurocentrism. If constructors want a crossword friendly ancient Peruvian they can always use Caral.

  2. Big Bry says:

    LAT 15A Why not “second child of the Duchess of York” or “Canada’s net queen”? Otherwise … great puzzle.

  3. sps says:

    Stumper 44D: I think GRAVE refers to the accent mark.

  4. marciem says:

    Stumper: I can’t see why 8D and 10D show as “linked clues” (I have that option checked).

    Any ideas?

    • marciem says:

      8D : Entryway feature at 10 Downing Street = transom
      10D : Steffi’s same sport spouse = Andre

      I don’t see a link between either the answers or the clues.

  5. snappysammy says:

    i love stella’s puzzles, challenging but ultimately solvable, good review for a good puzzle
    paolo should aspire to be as consistently good

    stumper was not so hard, but my brain is tired from this past week

    i can finally sleep well, chump-time is over

  6. RichardZ says:

    Would someone please explain 29D in today’s Stumper?

    Clue: Appliance needing good food release
    Answer: FONDUE POT

    I guess it’s a form of wordplay, but I’m not seeing it. Thanks!

    • pannonica says:

      No, it’s literal. The melted cheese or chocolate needs not to be sticking to the pot so much.

      • RichardZ says:

        Thanks – I haven’t used (or even seen) a fondue pot for several decades. Guess the fact that there was no question mark after the clue should have eliminated wordplay as a possibility.

  7. Gale G Davis says:

    WSJ – Natnick at 86A / 87D was unfair. DNF

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Not to mention that ‘PEEr AT’ is defensible instead of PEEK AT {68D: Eye slyly} and also crosses KANJI {86A: Japanese writing system}. It seems to me that iffy crosses like this are pretty common in DAB’s grids.

  8. David Steere says:

    NYT: I wonder why so few comments. Perhaps everyone is out having a celebration of “blue?” I hope so. I found today’s Times puzzle impossible. I tried off and on for several hours and only filled out about five across entries. Unlike Stella and Rex, I did not find this easy. I’ve very much enjoyed Paolo’s puzzles and co-editoring (with Erik) over at USA Today. KAC’s at the New Yorker have been hit or miss with me (i.e., do-able or not do-able). Today’s Pasco/KAC just wore me out…so much so that when I gave up and checked the answers here and at Rex’s site, I no longer cared. I’m sure this is simply just a case of a puzzle being too hard for me. Ouch. I look forward to tomorrow’s offering from Evan.

    • David L says:

      I found it much harder than usual, but doable eventually. It’s funny how puzzles can be easy for some and tough for others. On yesterday’s NYT I was actually a little faster than Rex P but today’s took me almost three times as long. Not really sure why, except that quite a few of the answers were phrases that for me, at least, didn’t have a tight connection with the clues.

    • Zulema says:

      Ditto for the NYT puzzle. Totally impossible for me.

  9. David Steere says:

    UNIVERSAL: Hey, Jim Q. This puzzle felt much like a USA Today puzzle edited by Erik. Lots of inclusive names and answers and a woman constructor. All good! I didn’t know 15A, couldn’t remember 19A or 46A, and–in spite of living in Arizona, I’d never heard of a “Navajo Taco.” I hate to admit also that the phrase “brain break” is entirely new to me–even though I tried several brain breaks while trying and failing to finish today’s NY Times puzzle. But, all of the crosses on this Universal grid were eminently fair. A really nice puzzle from Layla and Matt.

  10. Barry Miller says:

    The WSJ puzzle was extraordinarily inventive, to my taste.

  11. TK IV says:

    I find the NYT blogger’s review “bumptious” passing off the Saturday challenge as too easy when it took me 90 minutes to solve. :-)

  12. Michael in Chelsea says:

    Was there no cryptic clue in this week’s stumper? How funny, that I am missing a feature that for a long time irked me! (I adore cryptic puzzles, and thought I wanted crypticality to be confined to them.)

    • Pilgrim says:

      57A: SoutheASTERner’s perennial

      For the longest time, I was thinking the cryptic was going to be 55A – “Teem members” (LONG ES)

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