Wednesday, February 3, 2021

LAT 4:48 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker 6:08 (Rachel) 


NYT 3:58 (Amy) 


WSJ 5:56 (Jim P) 


Universal 4:20 (Jim Q) 


AVCX 7:15 (Ben) 


Greg Buechele & Josh Roberts’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Film Lab”—Jim P’s review

Alternate title: “You CAN Make This Stuff Up.” Each theme entry is a fictional chemical element used in various sci-fi or superhero films. The revealer is MOVIE ELEMENTS (37a, [Plot, character, lighting, e.g., and a hint to the starred answers]).

Oh, hey! Looks like this is a double debut for both constructors. Congrats, gentlemen!

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Film Lab” · Greg Buechele & Josh Roberts · Wed., 2.3.21

  • 17a. [*“Superman”] KRYPTONITE
  • 26a. [*“Star Trek”] DILITHIUM
  • 50a. [*“Black Panther”] VIBRANIUM
  • 60a. [*“Avatar”] UNOBTANIUM

I smiled when I grokked the theme since it played to my inner geek. I think I may have even considered developing a similar theme at one point, but I never followed through. I’m glad these guys did and that the WSJ published it, even though I bet some solvers will not enjoy it.

The only thing that bothered me a little was the revealer. MOVIE ELEMENTS isn’t an in-the-language phrase for one thing, and for another, three of these four items began life elsewhere, either in comic books or television. FICTIONAL ELEMENTS might work better, but alas, it’s 17-letters long.

If you’re wondering if there are other fictional elements, yeah there are. Of note: Mithril, the dwarf-mined metal in Lord of the Rings, Feminum, the Paradise Island metal of which Wonder Woman’s bracelets are made, and kyber crystals, a semi-sentient material used in the formation of lightsabers in the Star Wars universe.

Back to the grid. MANITOBA and ODDBALLS top the non-theme fill. The other stack of DIRTIEST and ERASURES is fine, just not so sparkly. MR KITE is a deeper cut from the Beatles (the song is “Being for the Benefit of MR. KITE” off of “Sgt. Pepper”). Normally TSR [Original D&D company] is derided as stale crosswordese, but given the geeky nature of the theme, it fits in fine.

In the eyebrow-raising department, TAURO is clued [Bullish beginning?]. I take it that means it’s a prefix for some word, but nothing springs to mind. ILLY [In a bad way] is itself in a bad way, and ENOW [Sufficient, poetically] looks like it could be the answer to the question, “When should I respond to these EVITES?”

Clues of note:

  • 3d. [Cut and dried?]. STYLED. Cute.
  • 7d. [Thespian’s greeting, perhaps]. IT IS I. I thought this was a fun way to clue what is normally an awkward phrase.
  • 47d. [Page formerly known as Ellen]. ELLIOT. I just don’t see the need to use the actor’s deadname here. [Actor Page] would have been a fully sufficient clue.

I enjoyed the geeky nature of the theme, though I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s liking. 3.5 stars from me.

Yacob Yonas’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 3 21, no. 0203

It’s not the first JOHN LEWIS tribute puzzle I’ve seen (we ran one by David Steinberg last year in Crosswords With Friends), but I am always glad to have the gentleman brought to mind. Here’s Yacob’s theme:

  • 16a. [Principle of the type of activism practiced by 35-Across], NONVIOLENCE.
  • 19a. [Congressional district represented by 35-Across from 1987 to 2020], GEORGIA’S FIFTH. Needed crossings for the ordinal. Heck, I can’t remember my own Congressional district. (Just Googled it. Will not remember.)
  • 35a. [Civil rights icon who led a historic march from Selma to Montgomery on 3/7/1965], JOHN LEWIS. If you haven’t seen the dramatic rendering of the events of that year, do watch Ava DuVernay’s film, Selma.
  • 53a. [Group including 35-Across that protested the segregation of public buses], FREEDOM RIDERS.
  • 58a. [Oxymoronic coinage of 35-Across], GOOD TROUBLE. Good trouble, necessary trouble. I love the concept and I’m grateful that John Lewis brought it to the American people. (Suggestions for a coinage-free clue since BITCOIN’s in the grid?)

Rep. John Lewis, 1940-2020. Rest in power.

Solid tribute theme for an honorable hero.

Trickiest crossing: 37a. [Japan’s largest lake, located NE of Kyoto], BIWA, and 37d. [Butter and margarine, nutritionally speaking], BAD FATS. I feel like BAD FATS isn’t the term of art here, and I didn’t know BIWA. I was gambling on that B.

Five more things:

  • 30a. [The “O” of A.O.C.], OCASIO. On Monday night, she spoke on Instagram Live for about an hour and a half, recounting her experiences on January 6th and the days leading up to it. Here’s a YouTube copy of her video. It’s worth a watch.
  • 24a. [Starter course?], INTRO. As in an academic course, not the appetizer course. What’s the best starter you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant?
  • 3d. [Do quickly, as an assignment], BANG OUT. A lively phrase, I like it. I also enjoyed 41d. [Utters a sound, informally], SAYS BOO.
  • 8d. [Deem appropriate], SEE FIT / 50d. [Suits], FITS. Not keen on the dupe here. Could have been cleared out with OAF crossing AITS, but AITS is one of those crosswordese words I’m glad is seldom seen anymore. Tough grid to fill with the long themers stacked the way they are.
  • 20d. [Ancient Andeans], INCAS. Memo to crossword editors (again): Hey! Unless you’re cluing everything from the Renaissance as “ancient,” knock it off with the “ancient” clues for INCA. Big difference between, say, the 1500s Inca Empire and the much-older Roman empire. (And remember that there are lots of people descended from the Incas.)

Five stars for the theme, 3.75 for the surrounding material.

Natan Last’s New Yorker puzzle – Rachel’s writeup

The New Yorker crossword solution • Natan Last • Wednesday, February 3, 2021

As is often the case, I found myself entirely on Natan’s wavelength here. The proper nouns were all people/places/things I know and love, and the culture reflected by this puzzle is (mostly) my own (although I definitely never attended bar mitzvahs on YACHTS!). And I think for me this puzzle illustrates an idea we talk about a lot — that it feels *so good* to see yourself and your life reflected in the puzzle. For people who are used to seeing their life reflected in the puzzle (with baseball players and golf vernacular, maybe?), any departure from that can be jarring, or can feel “unfair” in some way. But don’t you want everyone to experience this feeling? Of saying “YES I do know all about COOL RANCH Doritos and MASCARA and Mystique the MUTANT and MARSHA P. JOHNSON and Hannah ARENDT and Carol and découpage and I love all of those things!”? I’m not saying every puzzle needs to be like this one (in fact, if they were, it would mean that a lot of people would never get to experience that feeling because this is just one worldview!), but I *am* saying that diversity in constructors and diversity in puzzles are good and we should celebrate both.

Anyways, the puzzle: long entries are MARSHA P. JOHNSON / OMELET STATIONS / MUSIC STORE / INCREASING – while MARSHA P. JOHNSON is the clear stand-out entry here, the clue on OMELET STATIONS [Folding tables at a breakfast buffet?] is silly and fun. Other highlight entries include J.J. ABRAMS, QR CODE (both of which have those tricky starts where the solver is like, that can’t be right, and then the solver is wrong and it is right!), EQUUS (same deal except in the middle), THE PRINCE, and GLUE POTS. Solid stuff!

A few more things:

  • The former-RA in me winced at HOT PLATES – more like dorm room contraband amirite!
  • Leave it to Natan to sneak in more communism with the clue [Hammer or sickle] for TOOL
  • Favorite clues:
    • [Third Second Family] for BURRS – this is very clever!
    • [Awkward knee-jerk response to a waiter saying “Enjoy your meal!”] for YOU TOO omg this is so true-to-life
  • A funny mistake I made was putting in CLOUDNINE instead of FLOODLINE for [High-water mark, literally]

Overall, buckets of stars from me. See you Friday (!!)

Francis Heaney’s AVCX, “Front-to-Back Music” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 2/3/2021 – “Front-to-Back Music”

Francis Heaney’s “Front-to-Back Music” is this week’s AVCX, and both its grid and its theme are chock full of tunes.  Let’s start with the theme:

  • 20A: Amnesty for having performed with Reel Big Fish, e.g.? — SKA FORGIVENESS
  • 27A: Places where Professor Skrillex might teach? — EDM SCHOOLS
  • 37A: Music by the Kinks (when brother Dave isn’t the songwriter)? — RAY ROCK
  • 45A: Keep a stockpile of Ledisi and Mary J. Blige albums, in case of emergency? — STORE R AND B
  • 51A: Alfonso Cuarón movie rescored by Brian Eno? — Y TU MAMA AMBIENT

That last theme entry is just ::chef’s kiss::.  Each of these entries is a more well-known person/phrase/entry with one of its first letters moved to the back: ASK FORGIVENESS, MED SCHOOLS, RAY KROC, STORE BRAND, and Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN

Here’s what 41A, “Jazz harpist Dorothy” ASHBY sounds like.

Other music-filled parts of the grid: the T(rom)BONE, Guitarist Johnny MARR, PROG rock and its “epic organ solos”.  I also liked Francis’s notes that ERROL Flynn could have made his name a palindrome if he married Peter Lorre, and that he roots for PREY on nature shows.

Happy Wednesday!

Michael Lieberman’s Universal crossword, “Don’t Skip This Puzzle!” — Jim Q’s write-up

Standing in for pannonica today because it made more sense for her to review yesterday’s delightfully clever Universal puzzle (as she reviewed Monday’s). If you missed those, then you should be experiencing FOMO. Go back and try ’em out.

Universal crossword solution · “Don’t Skip This Puzzle!” · Michael Lieberman · Wed., 2.03.20



  • (revealer) [Anxiety spelled out by the starred answers’ starts] FOMO.

Love FOMO as a phrase/acronym. It’s fun to say and it’s a very real condition, yet easy to laugh about.

This puzzle was very smooth and I filled steadily from top to bottom. I did not know the slogan FEAR THE DEER. I like the singsong rhyminess of it, but deer don’t strike me as an animal to be scared of. They’re more the type that I swear at after they run into my car.

Also, I didn’t know those Rubik’s Cube speed solvers were called CUBERs.

And [Up (for)] is a fantastic clue for DOWN. 

NEBULA? Again? Isn’t that three days in a row? Ha!

3.8 Stars from me.

Hope y’all got dug out of the snow!

Fred Ohles’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

I’m not sure I fully get why the LOOSE in LOOSECHANGE, the revealer, means split into two parts. In any case, the first four US coins, which have punchy nicknames, are presented in that way, in order.

The arrangement of 11/15/13/15/11 plus the difficult letters of KNICKKNACKSHELF, IDINAMENZEL and SQUAREKILOMETER [sic] add a lot of challenge to constructing the puzzle’s fill evenly. Obvious filler includes many weird plurals like SEMS, APS, DSLS.

Lighter touches included AIRBNB and the casual clue for DAYS. Also, the [New way for many to meet] was ZOOM and not something like GRINDR.


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15 Responses to Wednesday, February 3, 2021

  1. Will says:

    The New Yorker: As someone who has given this (10A) Awkward knee-jerk response to a waiter saying “Enjoy your meal!”, I loved that clue

  2. person says:

    NYT: I watched Return of the Jedi last night with my kids and I still didn’t know OOLA and instead put LEIA. When will I ever learn?

  3. Zulema says:

    In the NYER, 30 down is clued as “Mystique.” How does that become a MUTANT? And it was lovely to find Lake Biwa in the NYT. I was there 11 years ago.

    • Reid Koss says:

      Mystique is the name of a mutant in the X-men comics universe.

    • David L says:

      Mystique is one of the X-Men — or rather, she’s an X-Woman. X-Person.

      It always seems strange to me that crossword solvers are assumed to be familiar not only with the whole panoply of Star Wars characters (eg OOLA in the NYT) but also the superhero universe too.

      • Zulema says:

        I am not familiar with any of them except what I have learned from crosswords but I don’t always remember much of it. Thanks to both of you.

  4. Robert Alden says:

    Universal: After two extremely clever days, today’s crossword felt like filler purgatory. Wasn’t a fan.

  5. Mark Abe says:

    LAT: Agree with the low rating. The basic idea is cute, but I also didn’t see the connection between “Loose” and split circled letters, didn’t like plural DSLS, and disliked defining a metric unit in a much smaller English one.

    NYT: Loved it, and loved seeing “Good Trouble” used. My only minor nit is to agree that 1500 Peru is not “ancient”. “Old” or “Historic” or “of yore” maybe?

  6. Fred Wilcox says:

    NYT: 8d. [Deem appropriate], SEE FIT / 50d. [Suits], FITS.

    Help me out. Would someone explain why it’s okay to have these two answers in the same puzzle? I would think that there is a (written?) rule against this sort of thing.

    • Ethan says:

      Will Shortz seems to be mellowing more and more about this, perhaps to a fault. If he wasn’t willing to make the change from FITS to AITS, at least the clue on FITS could have been “Tantrums” or something so at least it would have a different sense of the word.

    • janie says:

      happened yesterday, too, w/ AIRLINES crossing AIROUT.

      sometimes these things happen… i’m guessing b/c “the whole” was that much stronger than “the parts.”


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