Saturday, January 23, 2021

LAT 8:26 (Derek) 


Newsday 9:16 (Derek) 


NYT 5:15 (Amy) 


Universal tk (Jim Q) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Interesting article on the NYT crossword, its resistance to change, and the drive for more representative diversity in the puzzles and their bylines:

Doug Peterson & Brad Wilber’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

I’m a big fan of both Doug and Brad, but dang, another week of all-male bylines for the NYT’s themeless puzzles. (Four weekends in a row in January.) The New Yorker provides a steady stream of themelesses by women, at least.

Fave fill: MOOD RINGS, BROKE EVEN, OLD SMOKEY (who’s hearing “On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed”?), SHARK WEEK, POT DE CREME, “WORDS FAIL ME,” BAKE SALES, LA DOLCE VITA, “I BELIEVE SO,” and BULWARK. (On my HIT LIST, and in a bad way: APORT, RETD, NIP AT, ARTE, plural foreign NONS, ARTE.)

Did not know: 16a. [“The Pirates of Penzance” ingénue], MABEL. Musical theater isn’t my strong suit. Also didn’t know 3d. [Danny ___, ventriloquist dummy for Jimmy Nelson], O’DAY.

Three more things:

  • 22a. [“Breaking Bad” protagonist], WALT. He’s also an antagonist in many ways. Flat-out evil and selfish.
  • 25a. [Refresh, in a way], TOP OFF. As in freshening up a cup of coffee with a refill.
  • 30d. [Things that generate a lot of cookie dough?], BAKE SALES. Nice clue! My BFF bakes a few batches of treats every month for the Bake Sale for Justice. Outside the Women and Children First bookstore, there’s a pay-what-you-wish bake sale, lots of the goodies baked by kids and teens, with the proceeds going to a different good cause each month.

3.8 stars from me.

Stella Zawistowski’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 01/23/2021

This is probably as close as my LAT and “Stumper” times have ever gotten. My normal LAT times are usually between 5 and 7 minutes; but this seemed to me like a true Tough as Nails puzzle from her site (you can find it here, but remember: they are HARD!). This one took me nearly 10 minutes! Again, I hope I am not coming across in a haughty way; I know a lot of people struggle with a puzzle like this for quite a while. But there are solvers (like Stella!) who would slice through a puzzle of this difficulty in 3 or 4 minutes, so I understand how you feel. But in comparison, this is a bit tougher than I have found LAT Saturday puzzles over the last few years. If this is intentional, and the puzzles are going to be designed to be a little thornier, I am all for it. I have always thought these were a tad too easy. But they have always been themeless puzzles with smooth fill, and this one is no exception. You do have to know a few crossword-y words to get through this one, but they are rare, and it is also filled with a lot of good stuff. Suffice it to say I loved this puzzle. Can you tell by how I am rambling? 4.8 stars from me.

Some highlights:

  • 14A [Loud item in a closet] ALOHA SHIRT – I love these shirts, but my wife hates them. Thus, I don’t own any! Stella is the fashion expert: Are these really taboo to wear? Give me some ammo to tell my spouse!
  • 17A [Study buddies, often] CLASSMATES – I suppose so; why else would you study with someone if you aren’t studying the same thing? I am overthinking this …
  • 22A [Café de __: Mexican drink brewed in a pot] OLLA – This is some of that crosswordese you need to know for this puzzle. At least it is a fresh clue! See 2D …
  • 32A [It’s not a side road] TRUNK LINE – I associate this more with rail lines than actual roads. I am also not a road architect. But my company paves roads; I will have to ask on Monday if this is a term used.
  • 34A [Stopping at a KOA, say] RV-ING – Do you east coast people have these near the big cities? We have two or three of these campgrounds within close driving distance. I am not an RVer though. Perhaps one day, but it is not my cup of tea.
  • 51A [“How many licks does it take … ?” treat] TOOTSIE POP – I haven’t seen one of these commercials in years! Do they still run?
  • 2D [Ragù __ Bolognese] ALLA – This is also a different clue for a common crossword entry. Well done. Also, it’s making me hungry …
  • 6D [Akufo-Addo’s land] GHANA – This is a reference to the president of Ghana. But you all knew that already, didn’t you? If not, perhaps it sounded African-y enough to hint you to find a 5-letter country!
  • 10D [Facetious metaphor for a difficult situation] STRUGGLE BUS – This is a term that I just learned. I have never heard this metaphor used. Somebody please use it in a sentence!
  • 22D [Aptly named jazz work co-written by Charlie “Bird” Parker] ORNITHOLOGY – Aptly named is right!
  • 27D [Inexperienced one] FIRST-TIMER – I enjoyed this entry. Not sure why, I just liked it!
  • 42D [In half] BY TWO – This is a bit of a stretch, but it works. I, like many of you perhaps, had IN TWO in here at first.

That is all! Off to solve more puzzles!

Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Themeless Saturday” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 01/23/2021

Another time under 10 minutes! I’ll take it! As I have stated previously, this is still a HARD puzzle, but I don’t find it as thorny as it was. As a barometer, the Boswords Themeless league puzzles are now overall a few shades tougher, in my opinion. I had no success in the NW to start, but the SW fell fairly quickly, then the SE, and then I just worked my way up and finally ended at the beginning. I actually was a little surprised when I got to a point where I was nearly done and the timer only said 8 minutes or so. That means I may have gotten slightly lost in this puzzle, and that isn’t a bad thing. 4.4 stars from me!

Some interesting stuff:

  • 1A [Improper running down] DEFAMATION – See 30D.
  • 23A [BUZZR’s cable competitor] GSN – I don’t know BUZZR, but I know GSN! I also know I don’t get that channel at this time. I also don’t get the Tennis Channel. I may have to switch to AT&T TV (kind of like DirecTV, but all streaming.) I use YouTube TV now, which is what is missing both of those channels.
  • 24A [Instrument with punched paper] PIANOLA – Is this a player piano? I don’t think I have heard this term in forever.
  • 59A [Fiery-sounding sushi] DRAGON ROLL – Now I am hungry; we have a few great Japanese restaurants in our area now (that wasn’t always the case), and there is a lot of good sushi to be found. This may be dinner later!

    A feeble attempt at a picture of a swan orchid!

  • 2D [”Inner” starter] ENTO – I can never remember if this is ENDO or ENTO. I tried ENDO in here first, which may be why I had to move somewhere else to solve!
  • 3D [Green Crayola color] FERN – I think I am going to buy a set of 64 crayons. Just for crossword reference!
  • 11D [Eat whole, as a dumpling] POP IN – I have “popped in” some whole potstickers before. Great entry!
  • 12D [Greenhouse plant with neck-shaped flowers] SWAN ORCHID – I have never heard of this. I tried to get a decent picture of one, but the one you see is the best I could find after a cursory look. If you have better images, I think you can post them in the comments.
  • 27D [It’s cranked in kitchens] PASTA MAKER – I have never done this, but fresh pasta is always better. Fresh ground coffee is always better. Fresh made bread is always better. Get the idea?
  • 30D [Particular type of 1 Across] LIBEL – I usually tell people that “freedom of speech” is not totally true, because if you say or write certain things in certain places, you are in trouble.
  • 51D [Recent spirited role for Will Smith] GENIE – “Spirited” should clue you to his Aladdin movie that I have never seen. I heard it was horrific. I am sure it is on Disney+ somewhere, so maybe I will check that out.

Everyone have a safe and healthy weekend!

Christopher Adams and Matthew Stocks’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Wardrobe Changes” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 1/23/21 • Sat • “Wardrobe Changes” • Adams, Stock • solution • 20210123

78a [“It Takes Two,” aptly] DUET. Each of the theme answers is a two word phrase naming an article of clothing. The twist is, per the revealer at 121-across [Bohemian wardrobe-enhancing events, and a hint to this puzzle’s theme] CLOTHING SWAPS, partners are moved around. More specifically, the second words shift down one, with the final entry wrapping around to the start.

  • 23a. [British dependency gives the lowdown on vanishing ships?] BERMUDA BRIEFS (bermuda shorts).
  • 39a. [Heavyweight tiptoes around the edge of the ring?] BOXER SKIRTS (boxer briefs).
  • 56a. [Fluffy pup packs a punch?] POODLE SOCKS (poodle skirts).
  • 66a. [Rowers finish exactly at the same time?] CREW TIES (crew socks).
  • 74a. [Silent star Clara gasps for breath?] BOW PANTS (bow ties).
  • 81a. [“Call Me By Your Name” star Armie sings his heart out?] HAMMER BELTS (hammer pants). Stop!
  • 98a. [Singer Eddie blows a fuse?] MONEY SHORTS (money belt).

Good solve, and some solid representation throughout the fill.

  • 11d [Officiates] REFS crossing 21a [Officiated] UMPED.
  • 51d [1980 Anne Murray song] LUCKY ME. Bit of a stretch, but Wikipedia’s disambiguation page for the phrase doesn’t offer many recognizable alternatives. Surprisingly tough to clue for so common an utterance.
  • 67d [Development site] WOMB, 5d [Nirvana’s final studio album] IN UTERO.
  • 1a [Said “Mine!” say] is HAD DIBS, but I was 90% certain it was CLAIMED and tried that to start the crossword. Was quickly disabused of that idea.
  • 47a [Palindromic flour used in naan] ATTA. New way to clue that, sans fill-in-the-blank with ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. ATTA rot-13s to NGGN, while NAAN becomes ANNA.
  • 123a [Satiric prize for scientific research] IG NOBEL.
  • 127a [“The Burgomaster of Delft and His Daughter” painter] is Jan STEEN. Unlikely that most solvers will know this painting from the title, but it deftly locates a place and time, and serves to nudge one to (hopefully) recall the name, which is not terribly uncommon in crosswords. So, well done on that.

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15 Responses to Saturday, January 23, 2021

  1. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT: I’m with you, Amy. “Wait, Breaking Bad had a protagonist?”

    • Derek Allen says:

      My impression of “Breaking Bad” from the first 5 episodes or so was that he was just a regular guy trying to take care of his family. Perhaps I should watch the other few seasons?

      Similarly, “Dexter” is another type of character that does horrible things but you end up rooting for him in a weird way.

      • Christopher Smith says:

        It gets darker. But yes it’s a bit different from The Sopranos & Mad Men where the anti-hero is presented as a complex character right away.

      • Sheik Yerbouti says:

        “My impression of “Breaking Bad” from the first 5 episodes or so was that he was just a regular guy trying to take care of his family. Perhaps I should watch the other few seasons?”

        Ha! The title of the series might give you a hint about where it’s heading.

    • David L says:

      “Protagonist” means simply the main character in a story or drama. It doesn’t imply anything about whether the person is good or bad, admirable or despicable.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: It started off very slowly, felt like too many proper names intersecting vaguely clued entries (See NE), but slowly worked my way through it and came to like it. MOOD RINGS was the last one completed… I owned one of these.

  3. Twangster says:

    I thought today’s non-Stumper was as hard as many Stumpers of old. Eventually got 3/4 of it but couldn’t make any headway in the SW. Also had RAGE for RAVE so I couldn’t figure out what a YEAGOTE was.

    Also found LA Times harder than usual but was able to get it. Surprised to see OLLA and ALLA in the same puzzle.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I don’t know that you’ll find many editors or constructors who object to repeated letter strings that aren’t in etymologically related words. In fact, Byron Walden once made a puzzle with HAZMAT SUIT and baseball’s KAZ MATSUI in it, with a surprising 8-letter overlap!

  4. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ: I commented on this last week, but this was another easy week of WSJ puzzles for me and it’s a week when I didn’t solve the other five dailies I do particularly quickly. It sure seems to me that the difficulty level has ramped down since about the end of October. I keep a database of all my crossword solve times and there’s been a clear downward trajectory since then.

  5. Will Shortz says:

    I’m feeling bad that there haven’t been any female-made themeless crosswords so far in The Times this year. However, there happens to be one scheduled next weekend. In addition I just counted 10 female-made Fridays on file (all solos), and seven Saturdays (four solos and three collaborations). So there’s lots to look forward to.

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    LAT: Whew! What a work-out! I had a much easier time with the eastern two-thirds of the grid than the western third. That’s in spite of STRUGGLE BUS {10D: Facetious metaphor for a difficult situation}(???). My solve time splits translate to Easy-Medium or Medium for the eastern two-thirds and Crazy Challenging for the western third. I don’t usually care much for puzzles that are as uneven as this one was for me, but this was fun and very satisfying in the end. Thanks for the challenge, Stella.

  7. Lise says:

    NYT: I enjoyed this, and found it a lot more difficult than a usual Saturday (for me, that is). I haven’t had time to do a lot of crosswords lately (unfortunately) and I appreciate one that takes a lot of thought, like this one. I liked the cookie dough clue for BAKE SALE, especially.

    Just a couple of things: I googled the Opel logo and it’s a stretch to call it a lightning bolt, unless lightning goes sideways, but that is what the company calls it. I was thinking the answer would be an electric car model.

    But I don’t get the correspondence between 30A “Reached the point of no return?” and BROKE EVEN. Breaking even means one receives back what one spent, or gains back what was lost – how does that relate to “no return”? I am feeling quite dense.

  8. BryanF says:

    LAT: “Pilots start them”… TV Seasons? Technically pilots start TV Series, right? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the 1st episode of a 2nd (or any subsequent) season referred to as a pilot. Though I know that’s nitpicking, I suppose.

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