Thursday, January 7, 2021

BEQ tk (Ade) 


LAT 4:52 (GRAB) 


NYT 7:54 (Ben) 


Universal 4:48 (Jim Q) 


Fireball 9:02 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Paul Coulter’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Upper Bounds”—Jim P’s review

I’m trying to blog this while watching terrorists and thugs occupy our nation’s capitol, so my apologies for being distracted.

Each theme answer has an O in it which actually appears in the row above.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Upper Bounds” · Paul Coulter · The., 1.7.21

  • 20a & 22a. [Skillful…] / […manipulative people]. SMOOTH (O) PERATORS
  • 29a & 32a. [Noted squire…] / […of fiction]. SANCH (O) PANZA
  • 42a & 43a. [Wide-legged…] / […fashion]. GAUCH (O) PANTS
  • 53a & 55a. [Beyond…] / […repair]. TOTALLY H (O) PELESS

Ah, it took me a while to figure out the connection between each themer. The Os appear in the middle of the word HOP and that jibes with the puzzle title where the word “bounds” can also mean “hops.”

Highlights in the fill: “SON OF A GUN!,” NEWSSTAND, PLOTLINE, PAPILLON, and “GOSH, NO!”

There were loads of thorny and question-marked clues that made solving (especially while watching the news) thoroughly difficult. I quickly gave up trying to time my solve.

Nice theme, executed well. 3.7 stars.

Matthew Stock and Sid Sivakumar’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #0107 – 1/07/2021

Today’s review is going to be brief since as I write this (on Wednesday), today has been a LOT, news-wise.

Matthew Stock and Sid Sivakumar have today’s puzzle, and it’s a fun one.  I caught on to its main trick early on:

  • 16A: Cocktail specification — WIXX X XWIST
  • 20A: “Get your negative energy outta here” — DONX XXXE
  • 36A: 2007 black comedy directed by Frank Oz — DEAXX XX A FUNERAL
  • 54A: Fedoras, e.g. — FELX XXXS
  • 59A: Words of correction … or a hint to 16-, 20-, 36- and 54-Across — STRIKE THAT

Each placement of THAT in the theme entries has been replaced with an X, the symbol for a strike in bowling.  Thus, STRIKE THAT.  I’m going to leave it there this week, though I will commend the range of down fill including Xes – we’ve got some lovely options, including PROXY WAR, ONYX, EXOTOXIN, and music festival SXSW.

Be safe!

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Fireball Crossword, “Comma Chameleon” – Jenni’s write-up

Starting off 2021 with a fun puzzle made by a man. Let’s see how many women show up in the lineup as the year progresses.

It took me nearly the whole nine minutes I was solving to figure out what was going on with the theme. 1d had me wondering if it had something to do with lists – [Serial comma follower] is AND. “Serial comma” is the current term for what I grew up calling the “Oxford comma.” I’m a serial comma fan but this time it’s misdirection. The actual theme answers:

Fireball, January 6, 2021, Samuel A. Donaldson, “Comma Chameleon,” solution grid

  • 22a [Affirmative] is DEFINITELY MAYBE. Add a comma between the two words and you get DEFINITELY, MAYBE. I read that as MAYBE it’s an affirmative, which answers the clue accurately.
  • 28d [Invitation] is COME HERE, OFTEN.
  • 35d [Morte] is DEATH, IN VENICE.
  • 37a [Refrigerate] is COOL, AS A CUCUMBER.
  • 72a [Detergent] is ALL, FOR ONE. That’s where the light finally dawned.

The theme is original, well-executed, and tight. The “aha!” moment was delightful. A great start to the year. I’m not sure what to make of the grid design – maybe nothing. It’s bigger than normal – 17×18. Is it supposed to be a chameleon? Probably not.

A few other things:

  • I don’t use pot but I sure do have an URGE to munch lately. Politics, not THC.
  • I’ve always wonder why we call it a RICER when we use it for potatoes (I know, it rices the potatoes. It’s still odd).
  • [“Go on, confess”] is a great clue for ADMIT IT.
  • I like Peter’s commitment to fresh clues for frequently-seen entries. This time we have [Drawer sheet] for CEL. I think some other editors might have included a question mark in that clue; I’m fine without it.
  • I liked seeing YAYME! in the grid.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that “Accordionally Yours” won a Grammy in the POLKA category. I didn’t know there was a POLKA category. According to Wikipedia, they dropped it in 2009. I also did not know that Daniel McKeague replaced Gilbert Gottfried in the AFLAC ads. He was fired in 2009 for making Twitter jokes about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. (Predictably, one of the stories about this is headlined “Voice of Aflac Duck Gets His Goose Cooked”.) Far as I can tell, McKeague still has the job. If you enjoy Gilbert Gottfried, please tell me why. I can’t stand him. And yeah, I know that’s basically his brand, but still.

Much to my surprise, the Grammy-winning album “Accordionally Yours” doesn’t have much of an online presence. The best I could do was this video of one of the bands featured.



Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Skip Jack” — Jim Q’s write-up

Bit of a curve ball today!

THEME: Across themers have JACKS in common phrases, and the down answers that cross them only make sense if each JACK is “skipped over.”

Universal crossword solution · “Skip Jack” · Paul Coulter · Thur., 1.07.20


  • Across: ROBERT FROST  / Down: [fACTUAL] [CArLI] [AVoID] [PEsT] [StEAL] 
  • Across: BLACK MAGIC WOMAN / Down: [AbBA] [FlAB] [BaLUSTERS] [cEST] [SACk]
  • Across: PRIVATE RYAN / Down: [AGrEE] [BRyAN] [LEaST] [AGnES]

I like it when Universal plays with the idea of Thursday style puzzles! And hey- it’s Thursday to boot. Bonus.

Though the clues really nudge the solver to cracking the theme, and I personally would’ve preferred uncovering the AHA myself without so strong a push, I very much appreciate that it does that. I see this more as an introduction to the wackiness that can happen in a puzzle for casual solvers who fall in the M-W solving level.

It’s a puzzle that is title dependent too, which I forgot about until there didn’t seem to be a revealer.

My favorite bit of fill is FLAB here… because I like the idea of The FLAB Four more than The Fab Four. LE(a)ST favorite: BRYAN crossing RYAN in the theme.

Favorite Universal of the week for me! Excellent job, Paul.

4.5 Stars

Paul Coulter’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Mixed drinks is a solid, if generic theme idea. The set of drinks are MEAD, CLARET, SODA and PORT, which is quite an off-beat, inconsistent set. They also appear asymmetrically as entries in the grid, which reinforces that oddness. A more consistent set of drinks would have made this puzzle less bumpy, in my opinion.


  • [Bit in a horse’s mouth], OAT is a cute clue, albeit for OAT.
  • [Sneeze syllable], CHOO – given the crossers, fashionista Jimmy seems far less ugly.


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29 Responses to Thursday, January 7, 2021

  1. Ethan says:

    NYT: Pedantry alert on the 37D clue! K’s don’t always help an ERA. If the third strike comes on a wild pitch, runner(s) could score, or the batter could reach base and eventually score. In either case the run would be earned and would hurt your ERA! Sorry, clue! Nice try but not quite!

    • Martin says:

      Did they change the clue? Mine doesn’t say “always.”

    • Kingspecialized says:

      Strikeouts do not figure into an ERA at all. ERA is the number of earned runs per game. You could strikeout 27 batters in a complete game and still give up many runs. Your ERA would not be helped by the K’s at all.

      • Ethan Friedman says:

        No, but you will find a strong correlation — with a very high p-value I’m sure–between strikeout count and low ERA. I think it’s overly pedantic to quibble with that clue.

        • David L says:

          A little googling tells me that Nolan Ryan, who has the most strikeouts (5714) of any pitcher, had a lifetime ERA of 3.19 and is #249 on the all-time list for that stat. I’d be interested to know the correlation between Ks and ERA–my suspicion is that it’s not as high as you might expect. Maybe someone has already done the math but I haven’t found an answer.

        • Ethan says:

          I did write “pedantry alert” so I feel like I gave fair warning. It seemed that what the clue was getting at was that striking someone out immediately results in a lowering of ERA — something that is true probably 99% of the time. I was just saying that not only is it occasionally not true, but there are scenarios where a strikeout could immediately lead to a raising of ERA. Sure, there is a strong correlation between being good at striking hitters out and having a low ERA, but there’s also a proven statistical correlation between wealth and happiness, and “Wealth helps it” would be quite a strange clue for HAPPINESS.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        99% of the time (not an exact percentage, but probably pretty close), a strike-out lowers a pitcher’s ERA since it’s an out (i.e. it’s an event that adds 1/3 of an inning to the pitcher’s record and no earned runs). The only exception I can think of off-hand is the example given by Ethan. In that case, a strike-out is recorded, but since no out is recorded, this event usually has no effect at all on the pitcher’s ERA. It’s possible for an earned run to score on that play (though, again, that’s very rare). The third strike would need to be scored as a wild pitch (and not a passed ball on the catcher, since that’s treated as an error in calculating ERAs) and a run would need to score on the play. If so, the pitcher’s ERA actually goes up.

        It seems to me that the clue is close enough for crosswords, but Ethan is correct that a more precise clue would incorporate “usually”.

      • Steve Manion says:

        There are 5 pitchers elected to the Hall of Fame who have more strikeouts than innings pitched: closer Trevor Hoffman and starters Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, and the greatest of all time, Sandy Koufax. We have ERA, WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) different sized ballparks, and different quality defenses, a modern era with an emphasis on the long ball and who cares about strikeouts, but give me those five 5 as my starters and closer any day.


  2. JohnH says:

    I suppose outs don’t figure into an ERA either, since there will always be three outs to a side in an inning. (No nits, please, about walk-off home runs, say, or home teams not having to bat in the ninth.) And yet each out brings a pitcher closer to a satisfactory end, and so I’m fine with the clue. It was my last to fall, actually.

    Tricky puzzle for me, in a good way. Part is that I just didn’t know the Frank Oz comedy (and hence my slow approach to ERA). (EXOTOXIN isn’t everyday talk either, actually, and of course a novel clue for our familiar EEYORE.) I was also leery of the word A preceding ZILLION. But the hard part was realizing that you don’t substitute X for THAT, but rather substitute it for each and every letter in the word. Intriguing.

    • huda says:

      Yeah, I wondered about how people would feel about exotoxin. It was easy for me, but then I had no clue in other areas- e.g. I thought we were talking about Equal Right Amendment… so, appreciated the break.

  3. Ed says:

    Paul, “terrorists and thugs occupying our nation’s capitol”? Is this the first time you’ve noticed terrorists and thugs occupying cities?

    • Jim Peredo says:

      I’m not sure what your point is here, but you meant to address me, not the puzzle constructor. Care to try again?

      • Jenni Levy says:

        Seems to me that a crossword fan, of all people, should know accurate usage when he sees it.

        They hung the flag of a treasonous rebellion in the US Capitol. They wore shirts suggesting that not enough Jews were killed in the Holocaust. I don’t care who else has done what. That is terrorism.

        • ford says:

          Sure is. I’d say the same for those who burned down entire city blocks, attacked and vandalized federal courthouses, who looted and murdered shops and shopkeepers, intentionally blinded people with lasers, burned down police stations and then set off fireworks and celebrated, etc etc etc. Terrorists, one and all.

          • R says:

            Murdered shops! The horror! Seriously though, if you want to count people tangentially related to BLM as terrorists, you also have to count the police who attack and kill civilians with impunity that they were protesting against.

  4. David L says:

    UVWAVE? Meaning a single photon, perhaps? Once again, I wish Mr Shortz could find an assistant who has a clue about science.

    • Martin says:

      There’s a lot of nitting going on today.

      The use of “wave” in terms such as “radio waves,” “light waves,” etc., predates quantum mechanics. These are common phrases and good enough for NASA’s science educators.

      • David L says:

        My objection is to singular ‘wave’. I can’t think of any context in physics where one would talk about an ultraviolet wave.

        • Martin says:

          Fair enough, but we do talk about “short-wave” and “long-wave” UV, so I would think that a discussion of sunburn (not physics) could plausibly reference a single wavelength, as in “the most damaging part of the spectrum for skin is the 270 nm UV wave.”

          Is it a common phrase? Of course not. But it’s not bad science, IMO.

  5. jo & aya says:

    Hey Paul,

    congratulations on getting your crossword on
    we HATED it

    kinds regards

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    Is it Paul Coulter’s birthday today? He’s got the LA Times, the Universal, and the Wall Street Journal puzzle today! I can’t imagine that has happened very often.

  7. Sam Donaldson says:

    Thanks for the nice review, Jenni. Just for the record, there are two more theme entries in the Fireball: FINAL, SAY, and JUST, ONCE. Peter Gordon suggested the grid layout, which I loved because it allowed for several theme entries to intersect.

  8. Gene says:

    In the NYT, the Xs have nothing to do with bowling, the word “THAT” is struck out. Or Xed out.

Comments are closed.