Saturday, February 6, 2021

LAT 7:26 (Derek) 


Newsday 9:28 (Derek) 


NYT 4:13 (Amy) 


Universal 4:03 (Jim Q) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Kameron Austin Collins’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 6 21, no. 0206

Hello again! We’re back with another themeless puzzle in Black History Month’s week of NYT puzzles crafted by Black constructors. This one’s by Kameron, who’s a themeless specialist as well as a Rolling Stone film critic. It played easier than Erik’s Friday puzzle for me, but perhaps I’m just channeling Kameron’s wavelength by virtue of doing pretty much all of his New Yorker puzzles.

(Side note: Kameron Austin Collins and Brendan Emmett Quigley both have 7/6/7 letter counts in their tripartite names.)

Lots of fresh fill here. I liked the chatty entries, “BE PATIENT” and “GREAT WORK!” Other colorful entries include HERSTORIES, the BORSCHT BELT, THE WEST WING, DISH IT OUT crossing DISSED, NERDCORE (new to me: 50a. [Music genre that includes “geeksta rap”]; see the MC Frontalot video below, with full captioning), HOT-WIRING, and HERBAL TEA.

Did you notice how wildly open this grid is? Long things intersecting other long things, great flow around the racetrack and into the NE and SW annexes. There aren’t a lot of 3-letter entries crossing all the stacked pairs of long answers, and this was not an easy grid to fill cleanly. The worst thing in the grid is EFTS, a bit on the crosswordese side, but it pretty much stands alone. I don’t love plural NANOS. The rest ranges from rock-solid to sparkling like a ONE-CARAT diamond.

Five more things from clueland:

  • 5d. [Home of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation], IDAHO. I like centering the Nez Perce Tribe here. Last week, President Biden impressed me by talking about “the states, territories, and tribes” in his vaccine plan. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a president really pay heed to the many indigenous Nations within the US borders and the colonized territories. Representation matters.
  • 24a. [A real cinematic tour de force?], STAR WARS. As in “may the Force be with you.” Cute.
  • 41a. [Government program?], THE WEST WING. Clever mislead in the clue. TV program with a government setting, not a federal program.
  • 7d. [More venerated … or ventilated?], HOLIER. I tell ya, Swiss cheese needs the airflow.
  • 16d. [Getting started the wrong way?], HOT-WIRING. Good clue.

4.25 stars from me for this NO-NONSENSE puzzle with an impressive grid layout.

Ezra Brauner’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 02/06/2021

This is another new name to me, and this puzzle took me few beats longer to solve. His name was in the database, so there may be some other LAT puzzles that have the same byline. I count 70 words in this one, with 12 entries that are 9- or 10-letters long. I didn’t realize this until opening this one up in some software, but there are 28 5-letter words here! Two corners are chock full of them. This one pushed back slightly, but ended up being a fun solve overall. Looking forward to more puzzles from Ezra! 4.3 stars today.

A few notes:

  • 15A [Early program marketing method] SHAREWARE – Now I think there are free demos that accomplish a similar purpose.
  • 38A [Justice who clerked for Thurgood Marshall] ELENA KAGAN – She is definitely crossword famous at this point. Look at all of those vowels!
  • 44A [Uses Venmo, say] PAYS – These types of payments are so easy now. I worry that I will need cash when a disaster hits and the power is out for an extended period of time.
  • 51A [Harley-Davidson’s NYSE symbol] HOG
  • 59A [Shemar’s “Criminal Minds” role] DEREK – This puzzle went up several notches in my mind after this entry was solved!
  • 7D [Marketing tailored to personal tastes] TARGETED AD – These are the ads that pop up on Facebook that you never Googles but said something out loud about and your phone heard you!
  • 12D [“We’re cool”] “IT’S ALL GOOD” – Great casual phrase!
  • 39D [Ballet whose title heroine dies in Act I] GISELLE – Tom Brady’s wife has only one L, in case you were wondering.
  • 45D [With 48-Down, only its Touch is still in production] APPLE – See next clue …
  • 48D [See 45-Down] IPOD – They still make this? I just looked it up, and they do still sell this iPhone without the phone part. Why would anyone buy this?
  • 56D [Saigon New Year] TET – This is in 6 days, I believe. This is the lunar new year, right?

That is all! Enjoy your weekend!

Greg Johnson’s Newsday crossword, “Themeless Saturday” – Derek’s write-up

Newsday 02/06/2021

Under ten minutes! One side effect of the easier “Stumpers” is my time footprint is a wee bit smaller. This frees up time to do other puzzles! I am getting on Greg’s wavelength a bit, so that helped for this one. Great 68-worder today. 4.5 stars from me.

A few things:

  • 8A [Publisher sponsoring the National Spelling Bee] SCRIPPS – This is coming up in May. I don’t remember how they treated this last year. Was it virtual or just canceled?
  • 31A [Team of 10] LACROSSE PLAYERS – I had exposure to lacrosse in grade school, but it is way more popular on the east coast than here in the midwest. Not at all sure why. It is on tv every so often, although probably not recently due to the pandemic.
  • 54A [Converted to an MP4 file] ENCODED – I spent an hour trying to do this very thing Friday night and STILL didn’t know what this was!
  • 2D [Place for a photo] LOCKET – Vague clue, but accurate nonetheless. Do people still do this, or is putting someone on your phone’s wallpaper the modern equivalent?
  • 5D [Question heard while leaving work] “HEADED HOME?” – Terrific casual phrase!
  • 13D [Alternative to regular drip coffee] POUR OVER – Is this like Sanka?
  • 27D [Part of an FDR collection] STAMP ALBUM – He was a stamp collector??
  • 32D [Daughter of Oedipus] ANTIGONE – I kind of knew this, but the podcast Two Girls, One Crossword discussed this at length a couple of weeks ago, so it was fresh in my mind!
  • 33D [Trust placed] CREDENCE – This was slightly tough. PRUDENCE also fit, and I wasn’t sure which was correct.
  • 42D [Motley] RAGTAG – Is this one word or two?

Everyone have a safe and healthy weekend!

Randolph Ross’ Wall Street Journal crossword, “Post Office Boxes” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 2/6/21 • Sat • “Post Office Boxes” • Ross • solution • 20210206

One might presume from the title that this would involve rebus squares, but that isn’t the case. The boxes in question are just regular crossword squares, and the theme is postal reinterpretations of common phrases, to varying degrees.

  • 23a. [Post office birth?] SPECIAL DELIVERY.
  • 32a. [Postal directive for some Jersey-bound parcels?] SHIP TO SHORE.
  • 47a. [Post office’s folder for advertising flyers?] CIRCULAR FILE.
  • 69a. [Post office collectible celebrating restaurants?] FOOD STAMPS. Kind of like the current issue fruits and vegetables series:
  • 85a. [Post office patron from the University of Oklahoma?[ NORMAN MAILER.
  • 105a. [Good buy at the post office?] PACKAGE DEAL.
  • 115a. [Do some shoving at a post office box?] PUSH THE ENVELOPE. Yah, I sometimes used to joke that I was pushing the envelope, but just desultorily about the desk.
  • 16d. [Speech by the Postmaster General after coming back from vacation?] RETURN ADDRESS. Reminder: bad dude (111a [They’re not nice] NASTIES) Louis De Joy is still occupying that position. Unclear whether he’ll remain.
  • 56d. [Item in a Washington post office?] CAPITAL LETTER.

These are just moderately entertaining to me. Kind of like the post office at its best—getting the job done without being fancy about it.

  • 1d [Persnickety person] FUSSPOT. Now there’s a word I haven’t seen in a while.
  • 8d [Worth a look] SCENIC. Nice little clue. Economical and clever.
  • 29d [Eurydice’s husband] ORPHEUS. Getting close to the time of year when Rio’s Carnaval would in non-pandemic times be celebrated, so why not drop in a little music?
  • 35d [Equestrian’s attire] HABIT. Did not know that.
  • 74d [Hellish, in a way] DANTEAN. Another word I haven’t seen much of. You’d think there’d be more call for it. Or maybe it’s just a bit too awkward for common usage.
  • 94d [Programmer’s backup] APP CODE. Needed almost all the crossings for this one. Makes sense in retrospect.
  • 95d [Spruce up, as the walls] REPAPER. Uh-huh. I of course tried REPAINT first.
  • 96d [Remnants of rivers] DRYBEDSArroyos is nicer (bit it can also refer to a flowing river). Wadi is closer; not as common in crosswords as it once was.
  • Manhattan geography! 8a [Tourist attraction on 5th Ave.] ST PATS, 86d [Cultural attraction on 53rd St.] MOMA.
  • 20a [Poirot’s last case] CURTAIN. Kind of wanted it to be a COFFIN. Perhaps I’m too morbid.
  • 40a [Dorm arrangement] MEAL PLAN. Doesn’t have too much to do with a dormitory, though. Both are associated with college campuses and … well, I guess it’s fairly likely that a dorm resident is going to also have a meal plan. But the clue still feels weird to me.
  • 44a [Duds] for GARB is rendered significantly less tricky as it follows 42a [Skimpy sleepwear] TEDDIES.
  • 57a [Shot putter?] SALOON. Too much of a stretch?
  • 80a [Booby relative] GANNET.
  • 114a [Prefix with arch or linear] MATRI-. Can’t say I’ve seen that much in crosswords either, but it seems fine to me, with a solid clue.
  • 5d [Period when dinosaurs appeared] TRIASSIC. Wondering if some solvers perhaps confidently put in JURASSIC. (Not I.) 2d. [Board, in a way] ENPLANE.

Richard D. Allen’s Universal crossword, “Digital Connection” — Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Phrases that share the name of a digital device that has a screen.

Universal crossword solution · “Digital Connection” · Richard D. Allen · Thur., 2.06.20


  • KEEP HONEST. Phone. 
  • (revealer) SCREEN SHARING.

Odd that the term “SCREEN SHARING” is so commonplace now, for me anyway as a teacher. Last year, this very revealer wouldn’t have struck me as something “in-the-language.” Now it’s very much a part of my day-to-day life, sharing my screen in my Google Meets and Zooms to serve as a chalkboard in a sense.

Still this wasn’t my favorite puzzle with this sort of concept. For starters, the themers seem to be sharing the device, not the screen. The screen is part of the device, but they could also be sharing all sorts of other stuff besides screens. PC in particular is so short in comparison to TABLET and PHONE that it doesn’t seem to belong. Also it’s an abbreviation where the others aren’t.

And lastly, my age-old plaint that Universal is still running crosswords that are dependent on circles, yet they are asking the bulk of its solvers to count and circle their own letters. I was given an alert that this would be changing, but that was about a year ago.

Fill on this was just fine, and I solved very steadily north to south. Nice K-POP / PSY cross :)

2.4 Stars today.

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27 Responses to Saturday, February 6, 2021

  1. I thought Kameron’s puzzle was really fun. I got a laugh from NERDCORE since I remember using it in a grid last year and my favorite clue was for THE WEST WING despite the fact that I have a strong distaste for that show from what little I’ve seen.

    Apropos of all the discussion on this site this week, I *strongly* recommend people check out Kameron’s highly insightful critique on XWord Info. Required reading for crossword constructors and editors, in my opinion.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Ooh, thanks, Evan. That is a really good read.

    • Cyco says:

      Great essay, as you’d expect from KAC. Curiosity about the world should be a prerequisite for editing, constructing, and solving crosswords, IMO. It’s a delight to encounter unfamiliar people or phrases in a grid, as long as the clues and crossings are fair.

      Intended or not, “standard” crosswords aimed at the “average” solver include relative obscurities all the time related to subjects like baseball, Broadway, European monarchs, etc. It’s the height of myopia to pretend otherwise.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Right, Cyco. So much of the vocab that passes muster for Monday NYT/LAT/etc. puzzles is actually not broadly familiar. My day job is editing easy, accessible crosswords. ERTE, ELOI, OCHER, ENID? These are not actually things most Americans know! Even smart college grads often won’t have encountered some of the words that pop up in purportedly easy crosswords (those 4-letter European rivers!). And solvers under 30 might well never have seen a Popeye cartoon, so the Olive OYL that’s obvious to older Americans is just a black hole.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: Great puzzle, felt smooth and seamless.
    Never heard of NERDCORE. But now I want to play it at our next lab potluck, if there is ever such a thing again. We are an international, ethnically and racially diverse group of nerds, proof that nerdiness is universal.

  3. Bryan says:

    NYT: Excellent puzzle to cap off an excellent week. Kameron, I hope you saw my follow-up comments last night in the thread started by Fiend Lover. I feel bad that you may have misinterpreted my initial (poorly worded) comment in that thread and thought that I was agreeing with Fiend Lover. Quite the contrary. *Quite* the contrary! I have enjoyed all the puzzles this week very much. I do look forward to the time when there are enough puzzles in the NYT being published from BIPOC constructors on a regular basis that this isn’t a “special event” type of thing.

  4. Matthew Sewell says:

    The essay on XWordInfo is great. I’m curious to know KAC’s thoughts about the editorial side of things. I agree that crossword reviewers wield some influence in the conversation about what does or doesn’t ‘alienate solvers’ — but surely editors are a big part of this as well.

    Terms like ‘average solver’ and ‘common knowledge’ are decidedly NOT neutral — indeed, they hide beneath their surfaces a world of choices about cultural value. And since, for me, a central concern of crosswords as an art form is precisely that discussion about cultural value, we really need to find better ways to talk about the worthiness of a puzzle. I would welcome it if no reviewer or editor ever again cited these concepts as a reason for opprobrium (or for applause).

    It’s interesting to me that though Maleska’s NYT editorship seems much-maligned for having a strong point of view about what cultural knowledge counts — and, of course, for that point of view being quite culturally conservative — we may now find ourselves in a situation in which the opening-up of the NYT to the putative ‘average solver’ begins to look no less problematic.

    • Jenni Levy says:

      EXACTLY. Who’s the “average” solver? The average age in the US is 38. The average college student is a woman. I suspect Will’s “average solver” is someone who looks a lot like Will. And maybe that’s the average NYT subscriber, but I suspect Will would like to appeal to people who do not read the Times. Or maybe not, which makes it even more important that one man not be allowed to determine the course of crossword construction in the US.

      I’ve enjoyed this week’s puzzles, especially Erik’s and Kameron’s. I really wish that the announcement had included something like “We intend to actively solicit and encourage puzzles from Black constructors and members of other under-represented groups.” Maybe someday we’ll get to the point where no one will bother to mention that there’s a week of puzzles by Black constructors or by women because it will just – happen. Identity matters and it will always matter. I hope I always work to see people in the fullness of the identities they inhabit. I also hope that we manage to root out the idea that “average” and “normal” mean “White.”

      • Kameron says:

        Interesting question and thoughts! Echoing some of what Jenni has said — I’ve wondered and thought a lot about how much the editorial sense of the “average solver” at NYT has shifted with the popularity of the NYT crossword app, *particularly* when it became possible to subscribe to the crossword independently of the newspaper.

        When I first started constructing, just before the app was released, I remember Will talking a lot about an “educated audience” — educated in the sense of, “subscribes to the New York Times” (or, if we’re talking about the puzzle in syndication, to a newspaper of any kind; otherwise, the logic goes, how would they be solving the puzzle?). I know that my earlier NYT puzzles were made specifically with that in mind. I would go so far as to include a note with my submission proving that a particular entry had gotten hefty coverage in the pages of the NYT (which usually implies coverage in other venues) and was thus fair for an “educated audience”; when there were complaints from solvers about those entries, which were usually pop culture-leaning fare, I’d at least know that I had that evidence to fall back on, knowing that complaints about their obscurity could easily be disproven in the pages of the NYT itself, and that solvers could assumed to be NYT subscribers. (I did this in part for practical reasons: if you’re waiting 5 months for a reply, you sort of want to get ahead of the potential quibbling over this or that entry. To this day, though, if I feel an entry’s real world usage may need a little supporting evidence, I don’t hesitate to include a note. Unrelatedly, if the difficulty of this or that corner seems subject to question, I include an alternative version of the corner with my submission; again, it’s about getting out ahead of any hesitations the editors might feel.)

        My sense is that the step taken to divorce puzzle subscriptions from subscriptions to the newspaper, combined with the incredible popularity of the minis and the audience they’ve reached, has meant that the NYT puzzle’s net audience is a lot broader and more diverse than the print paper’s audience was 6 years ago. Which is a great thing! — and a complicating factor in what “average solver” potentially means, obviously.

        I’ve sensed the NYT team adjusting its preferences slightly with that in mind, precisely *because* their audience has broadened a bit, and because we are no longer confined to “NYT subscribers.” The idea is rightly (IMO) to want to make the puzzle welcoming for as many people as possible. But that again complicates what we can expect “solvers” (whoever that is!) to “know” (whatever that means!). I think the recent, young hires on the editorial team are also an acknowledgement of the need to make sure certain choices make sense to as many people in the room as possible. That hasn’t made the puzzle or process foolproof, obviously, and the question of what’s “fair” is always going to be a difficult one. But it’s the problem I sense the team tackling head-on.

        Either way, I can say for certain that I have puzzles currently in the NYT pipeline with entries that I wouldn’t have dared try to submit, in my early years, without providing the necessary proofs of legitimacy. I don’t have to do that quite as much anymore; when I do, it’s more because of potential disagreement over usage (what a thing is officially called versus, say, how it appears colloquially or in headlines). I also take much, much more care to make the crossings “NYT fair” (as opposed to “New Yorker fair,” which is a different ballgame.) I know other people have had different experiences. I think mine have largely been positive because I try to get out ahead of the potential problems, and have also tried to adjust my style to theirs, while still making puzzles that reflect my values as a constructor.

        • Matthew Sewell says:

          Thanks for the reply, Kameron. I appreciate your thoughts. I’ve wondered whether they collect data from the app(s), and if so what they do with it. I don’t know whether it would be good or bad if the direction of the puzzle is influenced by solver time of engagement, etc.

          I think your closing words are good advice — if aiming for a specific venue, it’s wise to try to fit within its style while still staying true to one’s own values. I do worry about the costs of that compromise, especially when it comes to new constructors. To my eye, the NYT is not as adventurous or as open to challenging solvers — to *leading* — as it could be, and that’s a shame.

    • Billy Boy says:

      Average/mean/normal – all often taken as equivalents.

      Personally – “Normal” is the weakest of the lot in this math/science-influenced seat as in “Normal temperature for January”

      Average solver is an amalgam of a collection of eccentricities and outliers.

      As I’ve said before, I do learn things outside my wheelhouse here with folks who know a lot

  5. Bill Sullivan says:

    I don’t get 17 across in the NYT. got it right, but I don’t understand it. Anyone?

    • pannonica says:

      [Nice pair of boxers] PECS.

      Boxers—the athletes—presumably have well-developed pectoral muscles, two of ’em.

    • Steve Manion says:

      I assumed PECS meant PECTORAL muscles. For me, it was a reference to the chest cavity of the dog breed, which would be almost always true. Not so with fighters,

    • Billy Boy says:

      Seems we’re agreeing that it wasn’t such a hot effort, I shrugged and moved on

  6. Ed says:

    Saturday’s NYT puzzle definitely easier than Friday’s.

  7. About “Daughter of Oedipus”: I’d like to see Antigone clued as something more than her father’s daughter (even if, indeed, she was exactly that). “Tragic Theban” might be good — a reminder that there are more tragic Thebans than the crosswords’ “Tragic Theban king.”

  8. Cyco says:

    Derek, to your points on the Stumper (er, Themeless):

    – FDR was indeed a stamp collector! Even though I used to live right by the US Postal Museum and visited regularly, I didn’t know this. I assumed it had something to do with FDR being *on* stamps. BTW, the Postal Museum is a wonderful and underrated Smithsonian institution – I highly recommend a visit when things are open again.

    Pour-over is an old brewing technique, similar to drip but faster and more “manual,” that has seen a bit of a renaissance in the coffee world in recent years. Not recommended for use with Sanka :)

  9. Mark McClain says:

    Universal – Error in your grid 39D is TONER 38A RITALIN

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