Wednesday, December 9, 2020

LAT 4:41 (GRAB) 


The New Yorker 7:00 (Rachel) 


NYT 3:46 (Amy) 


WSJ 7:23 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


AVCX 6:22 (Ben) 


Kathy Bloomer & Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Spy vs. Spy”—Jim P’s review

I have a vague recollection of another Jeff Chen puzzle with a Spy vs. Spy theme. *roots around in the Fiend archives* Ah, here it is. Sep 14, 2011. A NYT grid with a SPY in the NW and a SPY in SE corners (and a V in the exact center).

But that’s nothing to do with this one. Here he teams up with newcomer Kathy Bloomer, and they bring us phrases that feature the trigram NME (ENEMY, 39a, [Adversary, and a phonetic hint to trigrams within the starred answers]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Spy vs. Spy” · Kathy Bloomer & Jeff Chen · Wed., 12.9.20

  • 20a. [*South Sudan became the 193rd in 2011] UN MEMBER
  • 31a. [*Scam artists] CON MEN
  • 53a. [*Not fully achieved] UNMET
  • 4d. [*Bluish-gray color] GUNMETAL
  • 10d. [*They may include Gardenburgers and Tofurky] VEGAN MENUS. I wanted this to be VEGAN MEALS (but MEALS is in the next answer).
  • 28d. [*TV dinner, perhaps] FROZEN MEALS

At first I thought that was the whole theme, and it seemed rather ho-hum, especially when one of the themers is the drab UNMET. But there’s a second revealer at 61a [With 52-Down, betrayal, and what’s formed by each pair of the trigrams]. This turns out to be DOUBLE / CROSS, and I thought, “Ok, the trigrams are crossing. Big deal.” But then the penny dropped and I realized these were “enemies” double-crossing each other. Ha! Very nice! I love it when a puzzle has multiple surprising layers. Well done.

CUP O’ JOE and UNDEROOS stand out as highlights in the fill. I would not have recognized ICEHOUSE as a brand of Miller beer, but it’s nice fill, as is RAMPAGES, DIJON, and “I’M SOLD.”

I struggled with STEROL [Waxy compound]. I tried STERNO at first, but that’s a brand name and is comprised of a “jellied alcohol,” not any waxy substance.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Chutney ingredient]. I guessed correctly with MANGO, because that’s my favorite version of the condiment, but I don’t think it’s a ubiquitous ingredient. Seems like the clue should start with some kind of adjective like “Fruity,” “Tropical,” or possibly even “Common.”
  • 6a. [Letters that encapsulate the Tesla/Edison conflict]. AC/DC. Great take on this entry.
  • 42a. [Scheming]. PLANS. That’s “scheming” as a noun, not a verb. Tricksy.
  • 43a. [Snooker sticks]. CUES. How do you pronounce “snooker?” I’ve adopted the British style where the double-o sounds the same as in “snoop.”
  • 30d. [Occupant of Friendship 7]. John GLENN, former test pilot, astronaut, and Senator from Ohio.
  • 62d. [Low USN rank]. ENS. Hmm. It’s a low rank for an officer, but not necessarily a low rank in the Navy. Every officer outranks every enlisted person.

A surprising theme with multiple layers. Fun construction and fill. Four stars.

Owen Travis & Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 9 20, no. 1209

Jeff Chen does a lot of collaborations with new constructors, and this is his second one published today. I did not at all grasp the theme while solving, since I filled in the last Across answer via the crossings. The theme is the LIMBO, 64a. [Contest described by 19-, 30-/41- and 51-Across]. There are three steps, spelled out in the theme entries:

  • 19a. [Establish a standard that’s easy to reach], SET THE BAR LOW.
  • 30a. [With 41-Across, make every effort to be accommodating], BEND OVER / BACKWARD.
  • 51a. [Not meet expectations], UNDERACHIEVE. Or, more accurately/less playfully, “achieve the feat of passing under the bar without knocking it down or yourself falling down.”

Pretty sure my knees don’t want me attempting to do the limbo anymore.

Fill I liked: TONED IT DOWN, CRISPED (like cookies!), SALAD FORK (tell me why I’m the only one in my household who can distinguish between longer dinner forks and shorter salad forks), BOILERPLATE, LET IT BE (though there’s an IT’S dupe), BIT PART.

Fill I didn’t care for: plural AHAS, AROAR (such a non-word or uncommon word that it’s not accepted in the NYT’s Spelling Bee puzzle, and yet in crosswords all the dang time), gendered AD MAN.

Three more things:

  • 7d. [Rude people in stadiums], BOOERS. Is it actually rude, though? Feels like an acceptable part of the crowd’s discourse. Rude people in stadiums are the ones who stand up in front of you when there’s no reason, spill their drink on you, and swear a blue streak around little kids.
  • 5d. [Home of the boy band BTS], KOREA. How do we feel about using KOREA instead of South Korea? Kosher or no? I lean yes.
  • 29a. [“Between Two ___” (Zach Galifianakis show)], FERNS. Have you seen the Between Two Ferns movie on Netflix? I thoroughly enjoyed it.

3.75 stars from me.


Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

The New Yorker crossword solution • Patrick Berry • Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Exceptionally short writeup today as I have to teach in half an hour (!!). This was fun! I enjoyed the long entries, including some A+ colloquialisms, and the cluing was spot-on.

Long entries today included: TWO-YEAR-OLDS, SNAP BRIM HAT, DON’T TEMPT ME, WE GO WAY BACK, FUGITIVES, RELEGATED, COURT OF LAW, and OUT IN FORCE. My favorites were DON’T TEMPT ME and WE GO WAY BACK, and I really loved the wordplay on COURT OF LAW [Where suits may be pressed?].

A few more things:

  • Loved:
    • MCJOB when I finally figured out what it was, but really struggled with the cross with SAND DAB, which I had never heard of
    • CAROL Danvers aka Captain Marvel aka the best Avenger (relatedly, does anyone else have a hard time keeping straight Saldana’s UHURA and Saldana’s Guardians of the Galaxy roles?)
    • Fun fact on OZONE [Molecule that causes thunderstorms to have a smell]
    • BLOOP as an entry, although I didn’t realize it had a baseball meaning
  • Had to google SNAP BRIM HAT but I know exactly what it is now!

Overall, tons of stars for a JOLLY GOOD puzzle. I’ll be spending 8 hours on Zoom today so I’m gonna go mentally prepare myself for that, see you on Friday.

Pao Roy’s AVCX, “Muted Tones” — Ben’s Review

Happy Wednesday!  Today’s AVCX is a debut from Pao Roy!  If you didn’t already read the bio about today’s constructor, I really encourage you to.  IT’s really heartening that the Crossword Constructor Collaboration Directory on Facebook has been an incubator for constructors that want to see a more diverse set of viewpoints in choice of fill and cluing, and equally heartening that the AVCX and other venues have published the work of these constructors.

All this to say: I really liked this theme and grid.  “Muted Tones” was a great title:

  • 20A: *1970 Jimi Hendrix hit — LAVENDER HAZE
  • 25A: *1966 Rolling Stones hit — PAINT IT GRAY
  • 43A: *1967 Van Morrison hit — TAN EYED GIRL
  • 48A: *1983 UB40 hit — PINK PINK WINE
  • 59A: With 62-Across, what all of the songs referenced in this puzzle’s starred clues do, and a hint to how to solve them — FADE/OUT

I love how this works on multiple levels.  All of the actual songs mentioned (“Purple Haze”, “Paint it Black”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Red Red Wine”) feature fade-outs, and all of the colors in the grid have been faded out – purple to lavender, black to gray, etc.

Other things to love in this grid:

  • Black Lives Matter (BLM) clued as “Mvt. founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi”
  • A mention of Iceland’s belief in hidden ELVES reminding me that it’s almost Yule Lads time
  • NERD PROM: a descriptor of both Comic-Con AND the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Again, a lovely grid from Pao Roy, and I hope to see more from them soon!


Catherine Cetta’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary


A very basic, old-fashioned theme: AFTERDARK, so SIDE, CLOUD, HORSE, and ROOM can all be prefaced by DARK. With such a basic theme, it is a relief to see unusual theme entry choices like SIDEPLANK and CLOUDBACKUP to spice up proceedings.

There were several ugly moments in the shorter fill: AHME – who actually says that? both COOERS and RUERS are not real nouns.

Interesting one-word fill choices: SHEKEL, TABLETOP and MASALA.

On the other hand, the clues for MAN (as a collective noun??) and POPS as sounds, were a tad peculiar.


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

Universal • 12/9/20 • Wed • “Shredded Cheese” • Morris • solution • 20201209

In cryptic style crosswords, ‘shredded’ could function as an anagram indicator, and that’s the  key to understanding this puzzle’s title. Incidentally, I eschew the common portmanteau anagrind because I can’t help mispronouncing it as ‘ana-grind’. (I have a similar problem with ‘co-splay’ which ends up sounding sexual.)

Accordingly, the circled letters in the theme answers can be rearranged to reveal the name of a type of cheese:

  • 16a. [Pie crust, initially? (unscramble each set of circled letters)] PIZZA DOUGH (gouda). Quick consult with Google tells me there are quite a lot of gouda pizza recipes.
  • 10d. [One obsessed with order] NEAT FREAK (feta).
  • 36a. [Beef or pork] RED MEAT (edam).
  • 30d. [“There’s no stopping me!”] I’M ON A ROLL (romano). Found some recipes for romano buns and such, but by far the primary results are for a brand of roll-on deodorant(!)
  • 60a. [Flying mammal with sharp teeth] VAMPIRE BAT (brie). No sharp teeth needed for this soft variety of cheese!

This is a nice, solid (soft, semisoft, hard, etc.) theme. Not in any way curdling.

  • 5a [Piece of clothing with no sole?] is nothing to do with footwear, but CAMI[sole]. Cryptic-lite.
  • 20a [Camel cousin] LLAMAfactoid: “Apparently the llama owns its name to the Spanish phrase ¿Cómo se llama? When the Spanish discovered America they asked the indigenous people for the name of this animal using the phrase ¿Cómo se llama? What do you call this? The indigenous people didn’t understand and repeated the last word llama, llama. So the Spanish finally thought the animal’s name is llama.”
    factette: “In fact the [name] llama was there before the Spanish arrived. It’s of Quechuan origin and was borrowed by many languages, together with other Quechuan words such as condor or puma.” source (for both)
  • 35a [Beaver’s construction] DAM. Have you seen the videos of the rescued young beaver who, while recuperating, instinctively constructed dams all over the house, with whatever was accessible?
  • 64d is another cryptic-flavored clue: [Country within Somalia?] MALI.
  • The longest downs are 7d [Massive amount of a vitamin] MEGADOSE and 38d [Equestrian competition] DRESSAGE. Both are good, and I haven’t seen them in puzzles before (although I’m sure they aren’t débuts).
  • 50d [Spooky] EERIE, 13a [The ‘E’ in HOMES] ERIE. But not a duplication.
  • 51d [Matchmaker with arrows] CUPID, 59a [Aphrodite’s son] EROS.
  • 53d [Easily split rock] SHALE. Often good locations to discover fossils.
  • 42d [Set sail] GO TO SEA.
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16 Responses to Wednesday, December 9, 2020

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Haha, what a wonderful downer! I loved that beyond the LIMBO theme where everything was about LOW expectations, there was also TONED IT DOWN and BOILER PLATE which are the opposite of doing anything exciting… and then there was BEMOAN

  2. Cindy says:

    AVCX Amazing puzzle. I’m old. Looked at the first few clues and thought I’d never finish. But I did! Great writing. Looking forward to many more from Pao Roy

  3. Billy Boy says:


    ASSOON – at the same time.


    • marciem says:

      I hope somebody has a better answer but I’m making it to be, for instance, “I’ll do that AS SOON as pigs fly” .. but that would more likely be “as soon as” .

      So you got me.

      • puppy says:

        I think you’ve got the intent, which would mean that the clue should have been “At the same time (as).”

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          Although you can’t very well include “as” in a clue for AS SOON. Cluing issues make it kinda awkward fill.

          • Billy Boy says:

            The usual crosswordese is “AS ONE” – five letters, “UNITED” is 6; this was really awkward, seem to have some agreement here, thanks. It’s a partial …
            And … I really don’t care much for A-words (today’s AROAR, the usual ASEA ) – show must go on.


  4. JohnH says:

    Great point that crosswords use words, especially not all that legit adjectives formed with a preceding A-, that the Sunday magazine “spelling bee” doesn’t. While that’s a fair criticism of crosswords, I just wish, too, that what the magazine game allowed was clearer.

    I always end up keeping two lists, of words I’m guessing will count and words I’m sure exist but I’m guessing won’t. And I’m always wrong about at least one word on each list! I try to stick to words in a dictionary, so not AROAR (say), although the game and I both try to allow for neologisms of the Internet age. The trickiest is words that are listed not as separate dictionary entries in print but as additional parts of speech formed from a verb, especially with -ER or RE-. There just doesn’t seem rhyme or reason to the rulings.

    Most often, they’re more cautious in what they allow than I am. But this week I’d never have imagined that they’d allow EVAPORATOR. I don’t think I actually knew the word myself. (It’s one of two using all the letters. I wish they’d also had VAPORETTO, but I wasn’t counting on it.)

  5. David Roll says:

    WSJ–10D–I got hung up on “vegan meals” not menus.

  6. anon says:

    AVCX: really liked the theme and the long(er) downs

    36A: Brined goat cheese – FETA seemed a bit off, though. Feta is primarily if not wholly made from sheep’s milk. (Yes it can include goat’s milk, but only as a secondary ingredient.)

  7. Twangster says:

    New Yorker: Needed to fix SNAP O’ RIM HAT and PAOLO to complete this one.

  8. R says:

    NYT: KOREA is a region and a peninsula, so it seems legit.

  9. Joan Macon says:

    Hi, PJ, here I am again—no LAT! Of course I could move farther east, but I love California in spite of everything so I guess I’ll just go on like this and look forward to hearing from you!

    • PJ says:

      I’m sure you love California. I have a cousin who moved there almost 50 years ago and never looked back.

      As for the LAT, it was a fine puzzle using a familiar theme. I’m not familiar with SIDEPLANK. If you saw me you’d understand. I always like seeing SHEKEL. Same for DELVE. I’m not so keen on OKD. Of the partials, DOO is my favorite. I’m waiting to hear what’s wrong with Fred Flintstone.

      Of course the star entry is 39D.

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