Wednesday, December 30, 2020

LAT 5:20 (Jim P) 


The New Yorker 5:42 (Rachel) 


NYT 4:12 (Amy) 


WSJ 7:07 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


AVCX 11:10 (Ben) 


David Alfred Bywaters’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In at the Finish”—Jim P’s review

The title is a less common but legit idiom, so it makes a good basis for a theme. The theme answers are well-known phrases with an added -IN at the end.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “In at the Finish” · David Alfred Bywaters · Wed., 12.30.20

  • 18a. [Appreciative observation at the Renaissance Faire?] “WHAT A JERKIN!” “What a jerk!”
  • 23a. [Breakfast treat with an auriform shape?] EAR MUFFIN. Earmuff.
  • 38a. [Prestidigitator’s publication?] MAGIC BULLETIN. Magic bullet.
  • 51a. [Expensive material for a crib blanket?] BABY SATIN. Babysat.
  • 58a. [Coach’s intellectual equipment?] SPORTS BRAIN. Sports bra.

These are fine entries, but what gets me is that the clues quash any chance at humor. WHAT A JERKIN is a funny answer, but the clue is too run-of-the-mill; it should have equal liveliness and wackiness. My take: [“Thy sleeveless garment is most comely!”?]. There’s not one but two perfect examples of a MAGIC BULLETIN from the Harry Potter books: The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler. And that EAR MUFFIN clue is pretentious when it should be humorous. My take: [Waxwork breakfast treat?]. Okay, maybe that one fails the breakfast test…in more ways than one.

In the fill, GRID IRON I know and like (especially crossing SPORTS_), but PERRAULT [“Tales of Mother Goose” author Charles] I didn’t know. I worked it from the bottom up, and so I was trying to shoehorn newsman Charles Kuralt in there. TV GUIDE, BARISTA, UNDIES, PARIAH, and “AT LAST!” are other niceties.

I’m no fan of the AARE river at 15a, and being in such a small section of the grid, it looks like it can easily be replaced. The other stumbling block was LIEDER [Schubert works], which is completely new to me. The word is the plural of Lied, German for “song.”

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Digital tool]. APP. During the solve, I took this to mean something you use with your fingers (i.e. when you tap an icon on your smartphone), but looking back I think “digital” is being used with its more common meaning.
  • 27a. [Site of the USDA’s National Animal Disease Center]. AMES. Neat little tidbit of information. Same goes for 32a. [Its first cover showed the infant Desi Arnaz Jr.]. TV GUIDE.
  • 3d. [Burns books, for example]. POETRY. Excellent deception here. Nothing to do with censorship, but rather poet Robert Burns.
  • 7d. [Inventor of a lidded glass dish]. PETRI. Based on the P, I went with PYREX. Anyone else willing to admit that?

Not a bad theme and grid. But I think the theme cluing could’ve done more to add to entertainment value. 3.4 stars.

Kate Hawkins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 30 20, no. 1230

Our revealer in this maybe-harder-than-usual Wednesday offering is BILLY CLUB, 66a. [Nightstick … or what might form if the beginnings of 14-, 20-, 37- and 58-Across started paying dues?]. Those four themers begin with words that double as the last names of famous people named Billy:

  • 14a. [It might cost extra at a beach resort], OCEAN VIEW. Singer Billy Ocean of “Caribbean Queen” fame.
  • 20a. [Clairvoyant’s accessory], CRYSTAL BALL. Comedian Billy Crystal, whom I last saw reenacting his The Princess Bride role for a WisDems fundraiser online. He was so good, and he’d even gathered props!
  • 37a. [Key lime pie crust ingredient], GRAHAM CRACKER. Preacher Billy Graham, not to my liking but I do appreciate graham crackers. S’mores, please!
  • 58a. [Cut above the rest?], PORTERHOUSE steak. Is that the very best or spendiest cut of steak? I’m not a beef person, I don’t know. Billy Porter is the amazing actor from Pose who just needs an OSCAR (28d) to reach EGOT status (he’s already won the Emmy, Tony, and Grammy). I should really watch Pose, I know.

I’m not wild about an all-dude theme set, but at least they’re a diverse foursome.

Did not know: 24a. [___ Dobbs, title detective in Jacqueline Winspear books], MAISIE. I haven’t read much in the mystery genre since my Agatha Christie youth, but if you’re into that 1920s British vibe, check out this series.

Three more things:

  • 22a. [Chubby mouse in Disney’s “Cinderella”], GUS. Not the most memorable character. The mice/footmen in the February 2021 movie Cinderella are John and James (John Mulaney and James Corden), and Billy Porter plays Fab G, the fairy godparent.
  • 6d. [Southwestern evergreen]. PINYON. Also spelled piñon. Tough entry, no?
  • 47d. [Shiny trinket], BAUBLE. I first grew fond of that word when reading Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy series written for kids in the “middle grades” circling around age 10. Princess Eilonwy had a magical golden bauble. The British calling round glass Christmas ornaments “baubles,” it cheapens the word, I tell you!

3.8 stars from me.


Erik Agard’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

The New Yorker crossword solution • Erik Agard • Rachel’s writeup

Team, it’s finally almost over. The next post I write will be from 2021. I know things won’t magically change overnight, but it just feels like we may finally be turning the page on this horrible year. And if 2021 brings with it more New Yorker puzzles like the ones we got to experience in 2020 along with its fresh start, well, that would be 100% fine by me.

Today’s puzzle is (one of?) the last of the Year-in-Review holiday puzzles from the New Yorker, and this time we have Erik Agard with 2020 in Sports. Now, I love the Pittsburgh Steelers, but other than that, I can’t say I know much about sports. But even with my limited sportsing and narrow focus on one particular black-and-gold team, I found this puzzle totally accessible. The theme entries were:

  • CLAY [The King of ___ (nickname for Rafael Nadal, who won his thirteenth French Open in October, 2020)]
  • RACE [Event in the Marble Rally, which went viral in 2020]
  • FOOTBALL TEAM [Name of Washington’s football team, as of 2020]
  • SAY HER NAME [Phrase on the backs of W.N.B.A. warmup shirts during the 2020 season]
  • WILDCAT STRIKE [Direct action initiated by the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2020 N.B.A. playoffs]
  • NAOMI OSAKA [Tennis player who wore masks drawing attention to police brutality and racism during her winning run at the 2020 U.S. Open]
  • BUBBA WALLACE [Driver who successfully lobbied Nascar to ban Confederate flags in 2020]
  • DANCE [“The Last ___” (2020 basketball docuseries that spawned the meme “. . . and I took that personally”)]
  • ASTRO [Member of the M.L.B. team whose manager and G.M. were suspended and dismissed in January, 2020, due to a sign-stealing scandal]
  • …and a bunch of other sports-flavored clues for entries that weren’t strictly about *2020* sports

This puzzle does a great job of highlighting how sports and social activism collided in 2020, with all of the long entries relating to an action by an athlete or team to use their prominence to call attention to police violence and/or systemic racism.

A few more things:

  • I laughed out loud putting in FOOTBALL TEAM as the answer for [Name of Washington’s football team, as of 2020]. Erik has been very clear on his stance that he does not care about dupes, as this clue/answer pair makes abundantly clear. This is a hilarious, boss move.
  • The grid design is chunky and cool — no free-floating individual squares at all. Even crossword puzzles can play team sports!
  • I had never heard of RENMINBI and have now googled and learned that there is a subtle difference between RENMINBI and the more-common-in-crosswords “yuan” that I still do not fully grasp
  • I was going to call TUH fill I could live without but… after saying it in my head a few times, I mean, yeah, that actually totally works???

Overall, buckets of stars from me. SEE YOU IN 2021, INTERNET FRIENDS!

Amanda Rafkin and Ross Trudeau’s Universal crossword, pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 12/30/20 • “Cutoff Tees” • Wed • Rafkin, Trudeau • solution • 20201230

I had thought that ‘cutoff tees’ were the same as crop tops, but some internet searching failed to confirm that; instead, it seems that term may refer to tee shirts with the arms cut off, which results in a garment that’s akin to a tank top, but fuller.

Regardless, in the context of this crossword, what’s happening is that doubled letter Ts are removed from familiar phrases for—it’s hoped—wacky results. Unfortunately, for this solver, the authors ERR (46a) in a serious way on the first one.

  • 16a. [Surge in summer swimsuit sales?] BIKINI BOOM (bikini bottom). Sure, framed by the clue, this is benign. But seeing it in-grid, I can’t help but think of the awful atomic bomb blasts that took place on the Bikini atoll. Not the right foot to start on.
  • 20a. [Captain’s declaration before a team hits the bar?] WE DESERVE BEER (we deserve better).
  • 36a. [Prophet from Dublin?] IRISH SEER (Irish setter). Not to be confused with the landseer.
  • 55a. [Select your hay pragmatically?] PICK YOUR BALES (pick your battles). Hey, that’s quite humorous.
  • 59a. [Where stage directors learn their craft?] CUING CLASS (cutting class).

Check out those mega-overlaps in the first and last two themers! 8 letters. That’s some serious stuff.

Anyway, aside from the uber-dubious first salvo, the theme is quite entertaining and good.

  • 3d [Place to dip a quill] INK WELL is gratuitously duplicated by 8a [Squid ink holders] SACS. factette: the internal shell of a squid—which helps keep the mantle shape—is called a pen because it is feather shaped. All ties together, eh?
  • 5d [One may visit earth, in movies] ALIEN. Speaking of which, I just watched Arrival (2016) for the first time. The ‘Heptapod’ visitors in that film are vaguely squid-like and communicate by creating circular logograms with an ink-like substance that they produce internally. I know I’m well behind the curve, but if you enjoy language per se, this linguistics-driven story might be for you.
  • 17d [Contract to protect trade secrets: Abbr.] NDA. I’m quit fed up hearing about how a certain individual uses these all the time.
  • 22d [AP exam company] ETS. Educational Testing Service, which is also behind the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) [Exam for some college srs.] (25a)
  • 35d [Word with a record 430 OED definitions] SET. That’s an impressive bit of trivia.
  • 46d [Lumet film whose title is Latin for “horse”] EQUUS. From the play by Peter Schaffer.
  • 53d [Pampering initials] TLC, 31d [What getting a massage is an example of] SELF CARE.
  • 61d [“Blueberries for __” (kid lit classic)] SAL. New one on me, and a new clue for this crossword staple. Oh wait. I’ve looked it up and definitely recognize it. A Caldecott winner in 1949.
  • 12a [Mother’s sister, maybe] AUNT. Help me out here.
  • 13a [Laze] LOLL. My only misstep in this rather quick and easy solve. I tried LOAF first.
  • 62d [Word before “novel” or “store”] DIME. 65a [Hit the brakes] STOP. Providing an usual case of inversion with dime on a stop.

So, to tie everything together again, here’s some inversion behavior in the vampire squid (nb not a true squid):

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s AVCX, “Gifted Individuals” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 12/30 – “Forever 21”

BEQ has the final AVCX of 2020, and, like me, it’s already done with ’20 and looking forward to ’21:

  • 18A: With 60A, actor Jamie got under the skin of the red car from “Cars”? — FOXX IRKED/LIGHTNING
  • 23A: Fitness book author Jim reenacting a scene from “Pinocchio”? — FIXX IN WHALE
  • 37A: Declaration that one indeed rules as regent over Mötley Crüe’s bassist? — THE KING OF SIXX I AM
  • 53A: Annual occasion when people post novelist Murdoch’s phone number online? — DOXX IRIS DAY

I caught that something with XXI was happening in all of the theme entries in the grid with FOXX IRKED, but didn’t fully process how this worked until I got to DOXX IRIS DAY and realized that without the XXI, we had DORIS DAY.  Similarly, without any of the other XXIs, we have FORKED LIGHTNING, FIN WHALE, and THE KING OF SIAM.

BEQ’s grid ACTS AS a great primer into the breadth of musical fill – in addition to Nikki SIXX in the theme clues, we have INI Kamoze (whose “Here Comes the Hotstepper” topped the Billboard singles chart in 1994), we have ARP synthesizers, NINA Simone, BMI (“ASCAP rival”), Matador Recordings’ catalog listing code (a new way to clue OLE), BOX SET (“Completist music fan’s purchase”, which I assumed would be B-SIDES), and DMX (“‘Ruff Ryders’ Anthem’ rapper”).

We’re almost to 2021 – have a safe and warm finish to your 2020!

Hoang-Kim Vu’s LA Times crossword—Jim P’s review

Jim P here pinch-hitting for Gareth.

We have a synonym theme today where each theme phrase ends in a word that can mean “speedy.” The revealer is POSTHASTE (56a, [With immediacy, or a hint to the four other longest puzzle answers]), where POST seems to be indicating “after,” or in other words, the tail end of the phrase.

LA Times crossword solution · Hoang-Kim Vu · Wed., 12.30.20

  • 18a. [Academy attended by James T. Kirk] STARFLEET
  • 24a. [Artist with a record 32 American Music Awards] TAYLOR SWIFT
  • 34a. [Deeply hurt] CUT TO THE QUICK
  • 49a. [Inviolable, as a rule] HARD AND FAST. Here FAST means “secure.”

That’s a nice set of themers. My only gripe is that HASTE is a noun where all the theme’s keywords are adjectives.

The 13-letter central entry results in large corners which are filled pretty well with one exception. I like the theme-adjacent “STEP ON IT“as well as FAT CATSELECTRIC, and CUBE ROOT.

The challenge in this grid is its proper names. In the northwest NIALL and TRURO were tough but gettable. Same with NEFF in the northeast. What was brutal was the mash-up in the southeast: QUINN / NIEKRO / MAKEBA. The only one of those I was reasonably sure of (once most of the crossings were in place) was MAKEBA [Folk singer Miriam known as “Mama Africa”]. The others I had no idea about and ended up guessing wrong with QUINT / TIEKRO. (Quint was the boat captain in Jaws; no idea why I went with that name over the more common QUINN.) Oh yeah, FERMI‘s in that corner as well, but most people should be able to suss him out with a few crossings. My point is: Do try to avoid crossing proper names, and definitely don’t cross three or four names.

Clues of note:

  • 40a. [Double duty?]. STUNT. Nice one.
  • 6d. [Late-summer orientation mtg. holders]. Hmm. Not as nice. In fact, it’s a long way to go just to get RAS.

3.4 stars.

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32 Responses to Wednesday, December 30, 2020

  1. Dook says:

    Is unbalance a real word?

    • pannonica says:

      m-w say yes, as both a noun and a verb. I would expect that the adjective form is much more common.

      … and whaddaya know, Ngrams supports that hypothesis:

  2. marciem says:

    pannonica “12a [Mother’s sister, maybe] AUNT. Help me out here.”

    I question the “maybe”… when is a mother’s sister NOT an aunt? Maybe in a transgender familial role? Or Mother (Superior) to Sister = nun’s relationships?

    I need help with that “maybe”

    • sanfranman59 says:

      When I read that clue, I thought, “Huh, must not be AUNT.” It really threw me off the trail of what should have been a really straight-forward answer, always much-needed at the start of a solve.

      I didn’t care for the inconsistency of removing the double-T from the first word of the last themer whereas it was removed from the last word of the other four.

      • marciem says:

        Possibly (maybe? LOL) the added ‘maybe’ was because an aunt could also be a FATHER’s sister (i.e. “maybe mother’s, maybe father’s”, instead of “maybe aunt” which was how I interpreted the clue)? I stretch, but I have no other explanation. It would be nice of constructor explained the thought there.

        • pannonica says:

          Aha, I think that must be it. Whether any person in the relationship were transgender—the lens through which I was questioning it here—would be irrelevant.

          • marciem says:

            yah, the more I thought about it, the transgender didn’t work. I was completely at sea <<crosswordese :D, obviously.

        • sanfranman59 says:

          Ah … that makes good sense, Marciem. Today seems to be one of those days where my brain’s not functioning particularly well for crossword solving. I’ve done so many crosswords over the past 9 months that it’s no doubt starting to atrophy and starving for some form of non-computer-/non-television-related external stimulation. I don’t know that I even remember how to interact with other people in a social, non-electronic setting. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve been reading this week about the ineptitude of our current government infrastructure in procuring, storing and distributing the vaccine, I have a feeling that many of us have a long way to go before we can safely socialize.

  3. David L says:

    I found the revealer for the NYT utterly baffling, and still don’t quite get it even after the explanation. Oh well.

    Couple of other things. Do people really refer to appetizers as APPS? That, along with PINYON and ESO, made that little section tricky. Also, I take issue with the Formula One event being a ROADRACE. The only one that’s a true road race, AFAIK, is the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, which is run on the streets of the city. All the others are track races.

    • marciem says:

      I HAVE on at least one occasion had a server ask us if we were going to be ordering any apps. Not common, and it could have been before the now common usage of “apps” became the thing.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      My daughter (20) always says “apps” instead of “appetizers.” And that’s mostly what she eats.

      • David L says:

        Proof, yet again, that I am old and out of touch.

        • Billy Boy says:

          @DavidL no you are not

          TGIFriday’s has offered endless apps on special since at least the 1980’s, although I probably haven’t been to a TGIF in almost 30 years.

          I can vouch that the TGIF that was at I-380 and El Camino Real in San Bruno served my table plenty of loaded skins in the 1980’s. Alas, that location is no more but I do believe that “endless apps” must be available at Dallas locations as Dallas is ground zero for chain restaurants.


    • M483 says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever since that pinyon spelling. Likewise, I’ve never even seen any word with a tilde over the n that has been spelled with a “y” instead. If that’s an accepted variation, perhaps it should be clued as such.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      David, are you unfamiliar with the term BILLY CLUB, used for a cop’s metal baton? That term is reimagined as a club of people named Billy here.

      • David L says:

        Yeah, I know billy club but somehow the phrasing of the revealer made me think of a fan club of some sort, and I couldn’t grasp what it meant for OCEAN, GRAHAM etc to be paying dues because the connection to people named BILLY didn’t jump out at me. But it makes sense to me now.

    • R says:

      PINYON crossing ESO is particularly bad when PINYAN and ESA are equally plausible to non-tree-knowers.

  4. Norm says:

    TUH? No. Never.

  5. Billy Boy says:

    Re: F1

    Monaco Y
    Baku, Azerbaijan Y
    Melbourne M(aybe)
    Montreal M
    Singapore M

    I think that’s it, so a Not so good, but HEY! It’s Will, whaddyaexpect?

  6. Karen says:

    NYT: The Maisie Dobbs series (Jacqueline Winspear) is one of the best I have ever read. Up there with Gamache (Louise Penny) and Brunetti, (Donna Leon) but much more educational. It is more history than mystery. Insightful study of WWI, then the interim, the Blitz and WWII. I recommend this series to everyone, but as with all these strong characters, the back story is key, so read them in order. So glad Maisie made it into the NYT crossword!

  7. Z says:

    I laughed at the Washington football team clue/answer, too. I think it would have been even more of a boss move if Agard did care about dupes, but still LOL funny.

  8. M483 says:

    LA Times: Very disappointed in that bottom right corner! Makeba crossing Niekro and Quinn. Three proper names, one of which is a first name and none of the letters are inferable.
    I don’t think doing crossword puzzles is fun when crossings aren’t fair.

    I find great enjoyment in clever, misdirecting or difficult clues, but not in “googling” answers.

  9. Aimless says:

    @Amy I dragged my feet starting Pose too – until the pandemic when I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. It is sooooo good – and if you are around my age (which I think you are) you will absolutely love the music. It takes place in the mid 80s and the soundtrack will bring back so many memories – I was singing “Breakout” by Swing Out Sister for days!

  10. Joan Macon says:

    Amy and Karen, I have just bought the new book “the Mystery of Mrs. Christie” by Marie Benedict. It has glowing reviews, and I think maybe we’ll all like it!

  11. Adam Wagner says:

    Fun fact (or, I guess it’s more of a fun theory) about the word BIKINI: there were apparently two french fashion designers both trying to make a marketable women’s swimsuit using as little fabric as possible. One designer finished first and called his design the Atom (bc it’s the smallest possible thing). The other one named his design bikini bc the Bikini Atoll nuclear test had just happened and he basically wanted to troll the other designer that he was able to split the Atom into something even smaller.

  12. Gareth says:

    Jim P: Thank you again for bailing me out! I was writing up remarks on the trickiness of those proper names when my power went out!

  13. Ella says:

    I recommend this series to everyone, but as with all these strong characters, the back story is key, so read them in order. I think that must be it. Whether any person in the relationship was transgender the lens through which I was questioning it here would be irrelevant.

Comments are closed.