Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Jonesin' 4:41 (Derek) 


LAT 4:02 (Derek) 


NYT 3:27 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


WSJ 6:30 (Jim P) 


Xword Nation untimed (Ade) 


Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle (Week 499), “Where the Holiday Heart Is”—Ade’s take

Crossword Nation puzzle solution, No. 499: “Where the Holiday Heart Is”

Good day, everybody! Just a few days until Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Kwanzaa. Here is hoping you are all doing well today during this festive season.  

I’m sure many of you will agree that it really does not feel like the holiday season until you come across a holiday-themed puzzle from Liz, and she definitely does not disappoint with this grid, which is a Sunday-sized adventure! After solving all of the clues, one needs to notice that each of the letters in the circles is a letter between A and N. From there, you connect the dots alphabetically and you’ll find a THREE-D (101D: [Like this puzzle’s connect-the-dot drawing]) rendition of where we want to be for the holidays, HOME SWEET HOME (120A: [Site of many holiday celebrations in 2020, hinted at by the starred answers]). Even more, some of the clues are starred, and their entries end up being multiple-word answers in which the first word can come before the word “home,” and, if I’m right, the second word, in one form or another, can be paired with the word “sweet.” (Or “Sweet Home,” in the case of Alabama.)

  • MOBILE ALABAMA (23A: [*Birthplace of baseball legend Hank Aaron])
  • GROUP HUGS (51A: [*”Touching” morale-boosting formations?])
  • FOSTER BOY (90A: [*2019 Louis Gossett Jr. film])
  • MOTOR CITY (15D: [*Detroit’s nickname])
  • SUMMER JOB (81D: [*July/August employment])

Lots of fun to be had in the grid, and definitely hope that, post-COVID, that there will be a lot of group hugs in that home once all of the relatives make it there. Only real spot of bother came with the intersection of AUBERGE (125A: [French inn]) and MARIMBA, but I remember coming across the latter when I mistakenly misidentified a vibraphone as a xylophone in a Facebook post and the did research on it afterward (95D: [Xylophone cousin]). Why include one awesome WOMAN (9D: [“Pretty ___” (Julia Roberts flick)]) in a grid when you can pair noteworthy women with the same name, just as we see with GLORIAS (124A: [Estefan and Steinem]) and SARAHS (29D: [Singers Vaughan and McLachlan]). If I ever heard of the term OSCAR BAIT before, it could not have been more than once, and it could not have been anytime in the past decade or so (61D: [Films created to earn Academy Award nominations]). I would feel almost inclined not to watch a movie knowing that it would fall into the category…not that I watch a lot of movies to begin with. Like the African touch with ETHIOPIANS in the grid and the word they use for “Christmas” during their celebration of the holiday (24D: [Addis Ababa residents, many of whom celebrate Ganna on January 7]). It would be easy for me to talk about all of the accolades of the World’s Fastest Man, retired legend USAIN BOLT, but that would take an eternity (80D: [World’s fastest man]). I don’t have an eternity, so I’ll leave you with a quick nugget…

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SNOWMAN (11A: [He’s made of frosted flakes?]) – Cute clue, am I right?! For those who have tired of a lot of golf terminology and themes in grids, here’s one last one to digest and put away before you come across it in a grid. A snowman is also golf slang for carding an 8 in any given hole. (Of course, a snowman looks like the number eight.)

Thank you so much for the time, everybody! Have a wonderful and safe rest of your day and, as always, keep solving!

Take care!


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

NY Times crossword solution, 12 22 20, no. 1222

We’re looking at a puzzle that dispenses with symmetry in order to center a big “9” that’s drawn with black squares. The circled/shaded word emerging from the top of the 9 is CLOUD, referring to cloud nine, and the other theme answers are SHEER BLISS, HAPPY PLACE, SHANGRI-LA, and WONDERLAND. A bit weird to have nonthematic 9s and 10s in the grid too, but I presume the big “9” wanted to be surrounded by lots of white space, which means longer fill. Interestingly, there is nothing to highlight those themers—I might have wanted to see those clues set off with asterisks. What say you?

Fill I appreciated: PAPA HAYDN, GAME THEORY, BAD SCIENCE (looking at you, Andrew Wakefield), and IN A GOOD WAY.

Oh! Fun digression: I’ve always enjoyed the Try Guys, going back to their days at BuzzFeed. Their latest video has the crew going up against constructor and magician David Kwong, racing to see if four people can finish one Monday NYT puzzle (as a team) faster than David can solve four Monday puzzles. Video below.

Six more things:

  • 15a. [Italian name of six popes], PAOLO. I can’t be the only one whose mind jumps to the Friends character when I see this name, can I? Now picturing possibly hot young popes of yore.
  • 1d. [Either part of a yin-yang symbol, e.g.], HALF. Did you momentarily think, “Shoot, there’s a name for that swirly-portion-of-a-circle shape? What is it??”
  • 7d. [Something a wedge often leaves exposed], TOE. I do appreciate a clue that preferences things women are more likely to know than men. After all those decades of “baseball players of the 1940s” trivia, it’s a nice change.
  • 21d. [Field of mathematics pioneered by John von Neumann], GAME THEORY. There are two types of crossworders: Those who plunked in the right answer in an instant and those who needed to work some crossings to figure out where this was going.
  • 24d. [Word with cash or holy], COW. Great clue.
  • 54d. [A flat one is best to skip], STONE. “This beer is flat. I think I’ll skip it.” A skippable stone, smoothed by eons of tumbling in sand and water, is a lovely thing to hold. And then to throw.

Four stars from me. Nice switch from the usual “here’s a basic wordplay theme you’ve seen dozens of versions of already” sort of Tuesday theme.

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Family Holiday”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Christmasy terms have synonyms for “father” hidden in them. The revealer is FATHER CHRISTMAS (59a, [Britain’s equivalent of Santa, and a hint to the circled letters]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Family Holiday” · Mike Shenk · Tue., 12.22.20

  • 4a. [With 13-Across, holiday greeting in Havana] FELIZ / NAVIDAD.
  • 28a. [Seasonal decoration for the 54-Down] POPCORN STRING.
  • 44a. [Gift packaging need] WRAPPING PAPER.

I do love the phrase FATHER CHRISTMAS. It’s so much more endearing than Santa Claus or Kris Kringle. That said, I didn’t get a lot out of this theme which feels very light. The title feels inapt as well, since the only family members in this family are fathers.

I’d be much more interested in a theme which listed other names for Santa Claus from around the world. This site has a good list. My favorite has to be the Japanese “Santa Kurohsu” who seems to be a love-child of our Santa and Col. Sanders.

The long fill consists of TELECOPIER (meh) and WHO CAN IT BE? which really feels like it’s missing a “now” at the end—at least for someone who grew up in the 80s.

ALI Stroker
Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock

Speaking of which, most of the references in the puzzle are decades old, such as the “Who’s on First?” routine (WHY), “Miracle on 34th Street” (MACY’S)—granted, it’s a Christmas clue, “Norma RAE,” a fax machine, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess IDA, pitcher NOLAN Ryan, actress GREER Garson, D&D co. TSR which hasn’t been around since 1997, the opera “AMAHL and the Night Visitors,” OTIS Redding, and Scott Joplin (RAG).

In contrast, there’s ELI Manning, Lionel MESSI, and WES Anderson. The most interesting (and new-to-me) name is ALI [Stroker who won a 2019 Tony for “Oklahoma!”]. She is the first wheelchair-bound actress to appear on a Broadway stage and to win a Tony.

The theme is fine; it just didn’t excite me. 3.25 stars.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “I’m Gonna Have Some Words” – Derek’s write-up

Jonesin’ 12/22/2020

We have a themeless this week, which is fine. I have seen enough holiday-themed puzzles. There is an entire thread of holiday-themed puzzles on the Cracking the Cryptic Discord server, so I am good! This one wasn’t too bad, either, but after the Boswords themeless league, this seemed like a walk in the park! (I think that Boswords league is coming back in February or March, so yay!) I actually learned a new term or two in this puzzle, so all is good! 4.3 stars.

A few points:

  • 16A [Subject of a constitutional clause] EMOLUMENT – Why wasn’t this violation explored at all during the last four years? Likely because A LOT of people in DC do the same thing. Maybe not as blatantly, but that is one of the only explanation that makes sense.
  • 22A [Semiconductor classification whose first letter stands for “negative”] N-TYPE – I believe you!
  • 26A [___ Webster (Twain’s “celebrated jumping frog”)] DAN’L – I haven’t read this story in years. I will have to try to find a Kindle version of it.
  • 30A [Salty snack from an air fryer, maybe] ROASTED ALMONDS – I don’t care for almonds, but roasted ones are pretty good. I’ll take cashews any day over these.
  • 37A [Passive-aggressive message header implying you should’ve read] “PER MY LAST E-MAIL” – Great casual phrase!
  • 43A [Formula One racer Vettel, to fans] SEB – New term to me. Formula One is wildly popular in Europe, but, like soccer, it doesn’t quite have the same appeal here in the US. I think our tastes tend to be … simpler!
  • 1D [College founder Stanford] LELAND – Why do I still know this dude? From crosswords!
  • 11D [“Diary of ___ Black Woman” (2005 film)] A MAD – I think this is a Tyler Perry movie. Something else to watch!
  • 34D [“¿Por qué no los ___?”] DOS – This translates to “why not both of them?” I am not getting the reference, if there is one to be gotten!
  • 35D [When Easter falls] ON A SUNDAY – This has no NYT hits. Great entry!

That is all! More Jonesin’ next week!

Jake Halperin’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 12/22/2020

We have a fitting theme for the end of 2020!

  • 17A [“Quiet!”] “ZIP YOUR LIP!”
  • 27A [Sinful financial craving] LOVE OF MONEY
  • 36A [English national anthem originally in French] “O CANADA”
  • 46A [Exercise involving a push-up position] SQUAT THRUST
  • 60A [“Just a scratch, really” … and a hint to the starts of 17-, 27-, 36- and 46-Across] “IT’S NOTHING!”

Yes, a big goose egg for 2020 is quite apt. Hopefully 2021 will be better, but I have a feeling it may get much worse first. I still don’t know anyone personally who has succumbed to this virus; I hope it stays that way. I am getting negative, so let’s turn it back to a positive tone: this was still a fun puzzle! And yes, puzzle solving is one way I am keeping my sanity during this time. 4.5 stars just for the therapeutic benefit!

Just a few things:

  • 26A [Play-calling gatherings] HUDDLES – My view of football is changing rapidly. This pandemic has exposed many sports for the money-making enterprises they are, especially the college sports. In their defense, they may have a goal of trying to provide something to watch on TV during lockdown, but sometimes the sport has been unwatchable the play was so bad.
  • 2D [Katelyn Nacon’s role on “The Walking Dead”] ENID – My brother used to live-Tweet during this show. Isn’t it finally over for good now? I may catch it on Netflix.
  • 4D [Decision that clinches the victory] KEY MOVE – Great entry. No NYT hits on for this one! Very nicely done.
  • 8D [“The Blacklist” agcy.] FBI – Another show I plan on bingeing when I have bingeing time, but I am still knee-deep in Puzzle Boat 7. 97 puzzles solved as of this morning! Only 50 or so to go!!
  • 10D [Edible coloring] FOOD DYE – I wonder sometimes how much food that I eat is actually just coloring. This is actually a terrifying thought!

Have a safe and healthy week!

Pam Klawitter’s Universal crossword, “Wrest-Le” — Jim Q’s write-up

Universal crossword solution · “Introduction to Programming” · Pam Klawitter · Tue., 12.22.20

THEME: LE is missing from common phrases. Wackiness ensues.



Had a hard time getting excited by this one. It’s probably a combination of being annoyed by the applet, having my five-week notices due for student report cards, and finishing seasonal shopping at the same time. But this one felt a little on the blah side. I found KING JAMES BIB the most entertaining of the answers.

The title/revealer is kinda strange too. The word “Wrestle” is now being parsed as “Wrest -LE.” I mean, sure! Just… funky.

Enjoyed the clue for KNITTING, and despite knowing neither JEREMY or DENNY, I was relieved that their names were inferable enough.

Toods! I mean… ToodLEs!

2.9 stars.

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9 Responses to Tuesday, December 22, 2020

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Weird to see BAD DATA and BAD SCIENCE a couple of days apart. But it echoes a concern about reproducibility that has been a major topic in science- how to ensure transparency of the data so it is posted along with metadata, in order to enable others to analyze it and build on it. If that had been a requirement, Wakefield would not have gotten away with what he did, in a Lancet article no less. I don’t know how some people can cause this much damage and live with themselves!
    But since the puzzle is about CLOUD 9, a shout out to GREAT SCIENCE that has led to the Covid vaccines. It has taken decades of building knowledge so that we could fly through this process in record time. And what is really cool about the RNA vaccines is that as the virus mutates, you can readily produce the variant sequence(s) and use it in the vaccine.
    This is how Science says to humankind: Thank you for your support!

    • David L says:

      I totally agree, Huda. The speed with which these new vaccines have appeared is truly remarkable.

      Speaking of Wakefield — I think Robert F. Kennedy Jr deserves even more opprobrium for the way he has used his name (and little else, as far as I can see) to promote life-threatening nonsense. It’s possible Wakefield would have faded into deserved obscurity were it not for RFK Jr’s assistance.

  2. David Roll says:

    WSJ–I don’t agree with the criticism that “most of the references in the puzzle are decades old.” Not sure why in other puzzles that the names of Greek gods (my pet peeve) seem to be O.K. and are not criticized even though they are centuries old. And what about the signs of the Zodiac or Bach’s works, etc.? And Amhal and the Night Visitors is a popular opera this time of year even though it is “decades old.”

    • Bungalow Bill says:

      I’m not strong on Greek gods, or the Greek alphabet, but I suppose they are considered ageless at this point. Fax machines, Nolan Ryan, and Who’s On First, not so much.

      A month or so ago there was a clue about boomerang-shaped taillights and the answer was EDSEL. Edsels are 60+ years old and not all had boomerang taillights, but plenty of current automobiles do, Kia Souls for example. So yes, I think, the WSJ puzzles are written by and for old geezers.

  3. Jack2 says:

    Hey, some of us are more than a few “decades old”!

  4. Lobsterboys says:

    In the Universal puzzle. Not sure I like removing LE from the theme answers, but then we find nestLE at 31A. Maybe just me?

  5. Joan Macon says:


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