Monday, December 14, 2020

BEQ 4:16 (Jenni) 


LAT 2:32 (Stella) 


NYT 2:52(Jenni) 


The New Yorker 7:48 (Rachel) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


WSJ 4:38 (Jim P) 


Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s review

Jessie Bullock is Ross Trudeau’s partner in life as well as crossword constructing. This is her NYT debut and it’s a good ’un. I figured out the theme with the second theme answer. It’s fresh and enjoyable and totally Monday-appropriate. I love Ross’s puzzles and now will look forward to more from Jessie! You can see more from both Ross and Jessie at Ross’s website, where he posts a new puzzle every Sunday. And thanks to the commenters who pointed out some significant errors in the first iteration of this post! I managed to not only miss a theme answer but screw up the text of the revealer. Oy. Apologies to Ross and Jessie, and to the commentariat.

Each theme answer is a name:

New York Times, December 14, 2020, #1214, Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau, solution grid

  • 19a [Model/TV host on a record five Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue covers] is ELLE MACPHERSON.
  • 28a [“Grey’s Anatomy” actress] is SANDRA OH.
  • 34a [“Full Frontal” host] is SAMANTHA BEE.
  • 42a [North Carolina Senator who unseated Elizabeth Dole] is KAY HAGAN.

What do they all have in common? The revealer at 53a tells us. [Female scholars…or a hint to 19-, 28-, 34a-, and 42-Across] is WOMEN OF LETTERS. L, O, B, K. Since this isn’t one of Evan’s WaPo puzzles, that doesn’t spell anything – which is fine! A fun theme that will not stymie newbie and early-week solvers.

A few other things:

  • I enjoyed [Aid for a twisted knee or ankle] sitting next to [Result of a twisted ankle]. That’s BRACE and LIMP, respectively
  • As long as clues for AFLAC include the term “spokesduck,” I will chuckle.
  • I guess OTAY is what the Little Rascals were saying all along. Who knew? Not I.
  • I find the word EARWIGS more disgusting than the actual insects, for some reason.
  • You can watch the ALVIN Ailey winter season for free online here. This is the first year since 2009 we haven’t taken Emma to see them live in NYC. Damn pandemic.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: OTAY. I also did not know that LAMAR Kendrick has 13 Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I know so little about him that I didn’t realize his name is Kendrick LAMAR. File this under “things I should know because my daughter is 20.”

Bruce Haight’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 12/14/20 by Bruce Haight

Los Angeles Times 12/14/20 by Bruce Haight

Oh, thank goodness I can go back to reviewing a crossword that’s just entertainment. I clocked in at just over two and a half minutes here, which means I would call this more of a Wednesday than a Monday. Some of what I think contributed to that is a handful of clues that have a couple of fair answer possibilities before I had the crossings. Examples: 32D [Unmitigated], which could lead to SHEER just as easily as the correct UTTER, especially since I had the final R first; 49D [Modify to fit], which could be ALTER; I had the less-justifiable ALIGN for a bit, but it turned out to be ADAPT.

None of this is a knock on the constructor; I do think, though, that either the cluing should have had fewer ambiguities or this puzzle should have run later in the week, at least for consistency with how LAT usually rolls. Oh, wait…it’s also a 16×15, which I did not notice until after resizing the screenshot for this post; that certainly contributed to the extra time, although I think it’s not enough to put me about 25% over my usual for a Monday.

Now, on to the theme. This, too, I think is a bit tough for this early in the week. As a speed solver, about 75% of the time I notice themes only after I’ve finished solving, as was the case here. But if you used the theme to help you solve, I think you might have had more difficulty doing so than on the average Monday.

What’s going on, then? Let’s go to the revealers to find out: 39A [With 43-Across, America … or what 18-, 23-, 53-, and 63-Across contain, briefly], which is UNITED; the linked answer at 43A is STATES. What that means in this case is that the postal abbreviations (“briefly”) of either four or five STATES are joined together (UNITED) to form a word or phrase. So, we have:

  • 18A [Florida swim-with-the-dolphins park] is MARINELAND; that is, MA (Massachusetts) + RI (Rhode Island) + NE (Nebraska) + LA (Louisiana) + ND (North Dakota). I think it’s a nice touch that the Florida postal abbreviation appears nowhere in the theme entries, so no dupe.
  • 23A [Energy source with tunnels] is a COAL MINE; that is, CO (Colorado) + AL (Alabama) + MI (Michigan) + NE (Nebraska again).
  • 53A [Huge corporate agreement] is a MEGADEAL; that is, ME (Maine) + GA (Georgia) + DE (Delaware) + AL (Alabama again)
  • 63A [One requiring a token payment?] is an ARCADE GAME. Cute clue! That’d be AR (Arkansas) + CA (California) + DE + GA + ME (all used in other theme entries).

I felt like this puzzle had a second mini-theme running through it — see what I did there? — between USAIN Bolt, Sebastian COE, and GOES ON A RUN.

Anyway, fun to solve, if not exactly Monday-easy!

Drew Schmenner’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Nothing Left”—Jim P’s review

I especially like the title here. All of the theme answers end in homophones of the word RITES. The revealer, and final theme answer, is LAST RITES (61a, [Priest’s duty, and a fitting final answer after 17-, 30- and 46-Across]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Nothing Left” · Drew Schmenner · Mon., 12.14.20

  • 17a. [Cause for Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer] GAY RIGHTS
  • 30a. [Composes a celebrity memoir, say] GHOST WRITES
  • 46a. [They may be responsible for some long lines] PLAYWRIGHTS. It’s possible you might wonder why the word is not playwrite. But it’s based on the word wright, meaning crafter or builder of something, like a shipwright or cartwright. But it’s curious why this term has only come to be used for people who write plays. Why aren’t there storywrights or novelwrights or poemwrights?

I solved without looking at the theme. Once I finished and cottoned on to it, a glance at the title brought a smile to my face. It was like a cherry on top. This appears to be a debut, so congratulations are in order for a simple yet elegant theme.

Let’s check out the fill. OVER DID IT is good, but LAZY BONES is great. REST STOP, PRINGLES, PAYWALLS, and TATER TOTS are all assets. Oh, and YO HO HO is fun, too. RED BEAN [Legume in a Louisiana rice dish] really wants to be plural, but I’ll take it. And there are also some fun shorter words: REBOOT, ZAIRE, PREPPY, POTAGE, MAIZE, and ZONK. There are the usual bits of kludge—the worst being EYER—but it’s not excessive.

Clues of note:

  • 32a. [Block and tackle component]. PULLEY. In other why-is-that-thing-called-that news, where does the term “block and tackle” come from for a pulley system (can you tell I don’t feel like looking it up?)?
  • 66a. [___ out (fall asleep)]. ZONK. I tried SACK and then CONK before getting it right. Anyone else?

A very nice debut puzzle with a breezy Monday theme and lots of sparkly fill. Four stars.

Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

The New Yorker crossword solution • Anna Shechtman • Monday, December 14, 2020

Good morning and happy Monday, everyone! Today we have a challenging Monday puzzle from Anna Shechtman, although I think this may have been one of my fastest New Yorker Mondays on record. I was surprised by how quickly it went, especially in retrospect, looking back at the grid, which has the potential to be a real bear (lots of propers and neologisms). The only explanation I can come up with is that the cluing was more Wednesday than Monday, knocking the difficulty down a bit easier than I’ve come to expect from a challenging Anna Shechtman puzzle. Regardless, I enjoyed this one! It was super smooth, with just a couple pieces of fill I could live without, and I dig the grid design.

The long entries today were mostly settled in the NW and SE: TV CAMERAS, RED DESERT, IT’S JUST ME, PALEO DIET, INK SMEARS, EASTERNER, GENTLE GIANT, and PAULI MURRAY. Again, not sure if the cluing was toned down a notch today, or if this was just squarely in my wordplay + knowledge lane, but most of these fell pretty quickly, even when they had ostensibly tricky clues (e.g. [Soap-making supplies?] and [Fad that’s extremely retro?], both of which I got immediately with almost no crosses). I loved GENTLE GIANT and have a special place in my heart for PAULI MURRAY, who is an utter badass. I’m not 100% sold on the clue for EASTERNER [Resident of the Nutmeg State or the Bay State] — these strike me as EAST coastERs, not EASTERNERs? But then who is an EASTERNER? <insert marcel the shell voice saying “and I say, compared to what!?”>. This is a pretty minor nit and I am very ok with it.

A few more things:

  • The cross of propers MARIANA and MEEK MILL may be tough for some solvers
  • The Alan Rickman clue on SNAPE made me feel some feelings ?
  • Definitely put in IN HEAT instead of IN LUST and was relieved to change it to the correct answer
  • Fill I could live without: TSR (even as a person who plays D&D, I had no idea about this) (this is my second time in less than a week admitting publicly on this blog that I play D&D), AMAD, DER, A NEST, GATS (although I appreciate Notorious BIG reference).
  • Favorite clue: [Weave silk, perhaps?] for TIE A TIE

Overall, plenty of stars for a smooth solve and solid long entries.

Mark Feldman’s Universal crossword, “Wooden Food” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 12/14/20 • Mon • Feldman • “Wooden Food” • solution • 20201214

  • 17a. [*Meaty sandwich (note each starred answer’s last word)] TURKEY CLUB.
  • 29a. [*It make soak up pasta sauce] BREAD STICK (puzzle’s mechanic stipulates that this must be two words, though I—and Ngrams backs me up—consider it more commonly a compound word).
  • 40a. [*Iced tea garnish] LEMON WEDGE.
  • 55a. [*Snack item that may be ridged] POTATO CHIP.

Am going to ASSUME (22d) that Xylophagy was never even considered as an accessible title for this crossword, despite its accurateness,

To be explicit (rather than 5a [Understood yet unstated] TACIT) about the theme, it’s foodstuffs that end in a word that describes an item commonly made of wood. I’m not thrilled by this offering, but it’s solid enough to pass the time nicely.

  • 1d [Holiday cookie quantity] BATCH. “Holiday” is unnecessary here, but hey ’tis the season.
  • 29d [Moisten with morning droplets] BEDEW. So poetic.
  • 34d [Where two edges of a jigsaw puzzle meet] CORNER. The jigsaw puzzle element feels gratuitous, but hey crosswords can and should have some liveliness to them.
  • 41d [Go to a restaurant] EAT OUT. Hey remember when people did that? Wild.
  • 56d [First part of TNT] TRInitrotoluene, 35a [Demolition result] RUBBLE.
  • 33d [Lingo (GATOR anagram)] ARGOT.

Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword (No. 1322), “Top It Off” — Jenni’s review

I was initially a little disappointed to realize this was a medium-difficulty themed puzzle instead of a challenging themeless. Then I got halfway through the puzzle, figured out the theme, and mentally apologized to Brendan for my inner grousing. I loved this puzzle.

Each theme answer has a matching entry elsewhere in the grid.

Brendan Emmet Quigley, December 14, 2020, # 1322, “Top It Off,” solution grid

  • 17a [Contribute lightly during a bull session] is PUT IN A WORD OR TWO. 57a [Side that means the start of 17-Across] is SHIN.
  • 26a [Sorry if I offended] is NOTHING PERSONAL. 5d [Side that means the start of 26-Across] is NUN.
  • 44a [Where very important company matters are discussed] is an ALLHANDS MEETING. 38a [Side that means the start of 44a] is GIMEL. That’s where the penny dropped for me (so to speak). NUN and SHIN have meanings in English. GIMEL is only a Hebrew letter, so far as I know.
  • 58a [50% more] is HALF AGAIN AS MUCH. 58d [Side that means the start of 58-Across] is HEY.

NUNGIMELHEYSHIN – those are the letters on the four sides of a dreidel. Everyone puts one coin (or chocolate gelt or, in my family, pretzel sticks) into the middle of the circle. Each player spins the top and the letter dictates what they have to do. NUN stands for “nisht,” which means “nothing,” and the player does nothing. GIMEL stands for “gantz,” or “everything,” and the player gets the whole pot. I have no problem with Brendan using ALL for this one. HEY means “halb,” half, and the player gets half the pot. SHIN means “shtel,” or “put,” and the player puts one coin into the pot. If the pot is empty or down to one coin, everyone puts another coin in. Play continues until one player has all the money or your grandmother serves dinner, whichever comes first.

I love that this is a Chanukah theme. I love that the word “dreidel” doesn’t actually appear in the grid. I love that Brendan managed to find four 15-letter entries that work in the theme. I don’t care that YES and YEA both appear. It’s a good puzzle, and it’s more than that. This puzzle makes me feel seen. I solved it over lunch after seeing a patient who told me she hoped Santa would be good to me. I don’t bother to correct people who say  “Merry Christmas.” It’s not worth it. They mean well and I honor the intention, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t start to wear on me after a while. Being invisible is not easy. I hope someday to see a Diwali-themed puzzle and an Eid-themed puzzle, and puzzles for holidays I’ve never heard of.

What I didn’t know before I solved this puzzle: never heard of BEN Crompton. I also did not know that Tina Fey played a prison guard named NADYA in “Muppets Most Wanted” and I have never heard of the Black PUMAS, who have been nominated for four Grammy awards.

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24 Responses to Monday, December 14, 2020

  1. Bruce Buck says:

    OTAY = specific Rascals, namely Porky and Buckwheat, not the whole troupe.

  2. Ethan says:

    LAMAR Jackson gets snubbed again.

  3. Mary says:

    NYT: 34A Samantha Bee is also a theme answer.

  4. Anne says:

    NYT: and there’s 34a, “Full Frontal” host, SAMANTHA BEE.

    A good Monday, nicely balanced: two first names that sound like letters, and two surnames.

    And I found it quite eerie that this morning I heard that, sadly, John le Carre has passed away, and then there he is in this crossword.

  5. Bryan says:

    NYT: Jenni, in your last paragraph, it should be Kendrick Lamar rather than Lamar Kendrick. And strange coincidence that 34d happened to be in the grid when John le Carre died today.

    • scrivener says:

      It might be a leap, but I also thought it fitting that after a weekend of certain people preposterously questioning the letters before a certain woman’s name, we get WOMEN OF LETTERS for a theme.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      Thanks, Bryan. Fixed in the post. I clearly don’t know ANYTHING about him and should either have looked it up or asked my kid.

  6. Jim Peredo says:

    NYT: I’m surprised that the puzzle has a sub-3 star rating (at the time of this comment) when it has a fun, nicely-executed theme and strong, clean fill. Could it be that all the people who rated it 1 or 1.5 stars are simply sexists threatened by the idea of smart women? (I do love that it appears today almost immediately after the WSJ op-ed attacking Jill Biden.)

    If so, their one probable bright spot in the grid was the clue and entry at 15d: [Negative reply to a general], NO SIR. I, for one, find the clue insulting and dismissive of women’s efforts in the military, especially officers. How hard is it to imagine that a woman could be a general and change the clue to [Negative reply to a general, maybe]?

    I suppose it comes down to whether you read the clue as [A negative reply to a general] or [The negative reply to a general]. A clue like [Polite refusal] is broad enough that it’s okay as is, but this one is pretty specific, and to me, it sounds like the latter. This type of clue has perpetuated throughout the years, and I would really like to see it changed.

    • JohnH says:

      Wouldn’t sexists and few others, least of all women, be delighted to see reference to the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated? I can’t speak for others, but I’m guessing it’s rather people who don’t like puzzles as quizzes on media celebrities, especially on a Monday, although thankfully it has the late senator.

      I myself didn’t vote the puzzle down since I just assumed it’s my usual being out of touch. But I’m not saying I enjoyed it.

    • Billy Boy says:


      read the comments today @WSJ

  7. Billy Boy says:

    NYT Messy puzzle for sure with all the errors and notably …OH OHOH

    John LeCarré’s legacy will be “spies” and the cold war, but his most intriguing, thought-provoking and likely most accurately chilling novel is The Constant Gardener. If you haven’t read it, read at least his afterword. What a miserable cesspool Big Pharma is. The cries of Single-Payor killing medicine research could not be more fallacious.

    Visit the suburbs of Philadelphia sometime or just drive by AstraZeneca on I-95 in Delaware if you’re short on time to see the highest possible levels of fortification of pharmaceutical enclaves (just the part you can see). OK I’ll stop now.

    R.I.P most talented author, one of my singular favourites.

    OH and Kendrick Lamar is a further Bechdel (or something)-skewing man of colour; is OTAY really OTAY?


  8. marciem says:

    BEQ.. Jenni… THANKS for the dreidel lesson!

    I knew what one was (a Jewish child’s top-like thingy) but had no idea the meanings or how it was played. I did somehow “hunch” that the theme had to do with Hebrew or Chanukah and dreidels, probably because of Zulema’s comment about Nun the other day, so I googled a picture to check it out, and then I knew I was on the right track. If I’d been wrong, I would have been lost.
    The theme answers did nothing to help me with the solve, but it was still fun. Your explanation of the game makes it even funner now, for me!
    It was still a pretty easy puzzle for BEQ.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks again, Jenni! Totally agree on all. It’s also good to add that the Hebrew letters in addition to playing their part in the dreidel game, are an acronym for Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means “A Great Miracle Happened There,” referring to the oil lasting for 8 days.

    • David L says:

      Same here. I solved the puzzle but was baffled by what it meant. There are some hints in the comments on BEQ’s website, but they weren’t enough for me to figure out what was going on.

  9. David Roll says:

    WSJ–66A–I got hung up on “zone” rather the correct “zonk.”

    • marciem says:

      Me too, and the error took me forever to find when Happy didn’t show up. Zone looked fine checking the acrosses and fit the clue, and then of course wasn’t til the very end of the downs that Sey was obviously not correct for that answer. I need to find a better checking-my-work plan :( .

  10. Toby Berla says:

    General comment: the links on the “Today’s Puzzles” page seem not to be working today.

    Thanks for providing this service!

  11. sanfranman59 says:

    LAT (@Stella) … FWIW, the grid is 16 x 14, so very close to the same number of squares as a standard 15 x 15

  12. David Glasser says:

    New Yorker: Having not heard of PAULI MURRAY, I clicked on the post puzzle article link, and basically every paragraph elicited another “wow”. Recommended.

  13. Ellen Nichols says:

    Thanks for reviewing the BEQ again, and the educational info on the use of the dreidel, the game is more complicated than I realized. The title “Top it Off” does reference the toy.

    Happy Hanukah to you Jenni, and all who celebrate this festival of light.

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