Friday, February 19, 2021

Inkubator 5:04 (Jenni) 


LAT untimed (pannonica) 


NYT 4:50 (Amy) 


The New Yorker 3:26 (Rachel) 


Universal untimed (Jim P) 


Greetings, fans of themeless crosswords! The Boswords crew has another virtual crossword tournament coming up, the Spring Themeless League. There’s a preseason puzzle on Monday, February 22, sort of a dry run for the online solving and the Twitch video stream and livechat. The competition runs the next eight weeks, on Monday evenings from March 1 to April 26. If you’re not free every Monday night, that’s fine—asynchronous solving is fine. I enjoyed the Fall Themeless League, competing in the toughest of three divisions, “Stormy”—and felt that all of the Stormy puzzles were harder than most Saturday NYTs. There are intermediate “Choppy” and easier “Smooth” divisions, too. More info and registration links here.

Amanda Rafkin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 2 19 21, no. 0219

AWKWARD AGE! What a great crossword entry. That clue, 28d. [13, for many], is maybe a little off. My awkward age was roughly 6 to 17; and you?


Let’s check out some clues:

  • 37a. [Complete set in musical comedy?], VOWELS. As in mUsIcAl cOmEdY (the sometimes-Y is a vowel here, too).
  • 42a. [___ Short, pioneer in West Coast hip-hop], TOO. Don’t know him. 1980s-1990s heyday. I can relate to that stage name, though—see above re: AWKWARD AGE.
  • 4d. [Hair pieces], HANKS. Not wigs, just … fistfuls of hair. Tom Hanks is taking the day off.
  • 38d. [Go out], EBB. “Hey, I really like you. Will you EBB with me?”
  • 40d. [Houston or Washington vis-à-vis Manhattan], STREET. I know of Houston thanks to Soho, but don’t know where Washington St. is anywhere but Chicago.
  • 46d. [Buck ___, Major League Baseball’s first Black coach], O’NEIL. Anyone who’s watched the Ken Burns documentary Baseball fondly remembers Buck O’Neil. He’s a great storyteller with a twinkle in his eye. You can hear from him in the video below. Sports history, Black history—these are parts of American history.
  • 47d. [Gardner of “S.N.L.”], HEIDI. She’s funny! Here’s one of her “Weekend Update” appearances as her character, teenage film critic Bailey Gismert.
  • 53d. [Burnable items], CDS (do … do you still own anything that will burn CDs? I’m pretty sure I haven’t for some years) / 54d. [Burnable item], LOG. Log burning, unlike CD burning, is not largely obsolete.

Overall vibe, straight-up a four-star puzzle. ENROBE and AREA MAP are maybe a bit flat, but I liked the puzzle.

Robyn Weintraub’s New Yorker crossword – Rachel’s writeup

The New Yorker crossword solution • Robyn Weintraub • Friday, February 19, 2021

This was a delight! A very, very rapid delight, clocking in around my average Monday NYT speed. I rarely have the kind of solving experience where I tear through a puzzle so quickly that I don’t even see half the clues/entries, but today I did. Which in this case is too bad, because the clues are classic Robyn Weintraub excellence— even the short fill gets new and interesting clues today, so when I went back and reread them to prep for this writeup, I laughed out loud twice and jotted down nearly 10 I wanted to include.

Let’s start with the long stuff, though, which also *all* shines. In the central staircase we have PERFECT TIMING / CHOCOLATE CAKE / CAESAR’S PALACE. This almost tells a story of showing up just in time for a Vegas a birthday party? Which, although I don’t personally like casinos, still sounds like a good time to me! We also have long downs WINDSOR CASTLE / AMERICAN DREAM, which also felt like they were in conversation — the British dream and the AMERICAN DREAM, which, per the excellent clue, is called that […’cause you have to be asleep to believe it”: George Carlin]. Other long entries, all of which I loved, were: STONEWALL / SPEED TRAP / ACTS ALONE / TATER TOTS / LOOK ALIKE / PHEROMONE.

Favorite exciting clues for short fill that usually doesn’t get this much love:

  • [It’s near the end of August and at the beginning of September] for ESS – this is probably my favorite of the bunch. It’s trickier than you might expect from a New Yorker Saturday, but once it clicks, you can’t help but *chef’s kiss*
  • [Didn’t take a stand?] for SAT – clever!!!
  • [Big time?] for EON – this reminds me of a Brooke Husic clue that became the name of this excellent puzzle. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve literally laughed out loud.
  • [Where one might see lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)] for ZOO – this is fairly straightforward, I guess, but I love that cheeky (oh my!) at the end.
  • [Root vegetable in a bag of Terra chips] for TARO – I have a bag of these in my cupboard. They are delicious, highly recommend.

Other favorite clues:

  • [Shaggy?] for CARPETED – I had SHAG__ and got briefly flummoxed, but I love this.
  • [Bite-size cylinder-shaped spuds] for TATER TOTS – yes that’s exactly what they are! Why *are* they cylinder-shaped, anyways??

I could keep going, because the clues are just loaded with fun trivia and wordplay, deployed the real artistry that Robyn brings to all of her puzzles, but I will leave it there for now.

Overall, I don’t have a single nit to pick with this charming, easy, beautifully constructed puzzle. All the stars from me, and happy weekend all!

Oh, ps., I want to echo the announcement at the top of the page and urge you to sign up for the Boswords Spring Themeless League! I’m contributing a puzzle, and so are a lot of other incredible constructors, including New Yorker contributor Aimee Lucido. You won’t regret it!

Dylan Schiff’s Universal crossword, “That’s a Plus!”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Places where you’d see a plus sign shape. Each theme answer is clued with the words “place for a +.”

Universal crossword solution · “That’s a Plus!” · Dylan Schiff · Fri., 2.19.21

  • 17a. NURSE’S CAP. Well, probably not so much anymore. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one in real life except on a Halloween costume.
  • 29a. SWISS FLAG
  • 45a / 60a.  CROSSROAD / AHEAD SIGN. There are no words on these yellow signs with the black plus shape, so calling one a “crossroad ahead” sign felt odd. Most websites I looked at simply call them “crossroad signs.”

I picked some nits above, but I like the basic premise here. Each plus sign shape has a different meaning (medical aid, Christianity, mathematical addition, and road intersection). Plus (see what I did there?), there are a couple of pluses in the grid itself composed of black squares. That’s a nice touch.

Moving to the fill, I liked SCRAMMED, SOPRANONULL SET, and tiny NAURU (third-smallest country in the world after Vatican City and Monaco). I’ve seen it before in crosswords with its friendly letters, so it’s worth storing in the memory banks. Not sure how I feel about LIMBOING. You don’t usually see it in that form, but it’s still fun.

POPSCI [Genre for a physics article aimed at a general audience, informally] is not a term I’ve heard before, at least not in that abbreviated form. It’s never appeared in any puzzle listed in the Cruciverb database. But it’s also the popular name for the magazine, and I’ve decided I like it; I just wish there was a more succinct clue for it.

Nice puzzle. 3.6 stars.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 2/19/21 • Fri • Wechsler • solution • 20210219

Wow. This theme was executed so smoothly that even after filling most of the grid and seeing the revealer it still took me several moments to perceive it. Then, “AHA” (42d [“Eureka!”]) (Things are drastically easier to spot when the relevant squares have been circled, as I’ve done for the write-up.

  • 56aR [With 58-Across, savory base for a canapé … and the function of a black square in four puzzle rows?] CHEESE | CRACKER. The names of cheeses span two across entries in the same row.
  • AMERICAN pasteurized processed cheese food product melts across 16a [African Queen, for one] STEAMER and 17a [“Don’t doubt my abilities!”] I CAN SO. The latter, to my mind, echoes 3d [Childish denial] ARE NOT.
  • ROMANO lives betwixt the starts and ends of 22a [Longtime senator Thurmond] STROM and 23a [Battery parts] ANODES.
  • ROQUEFORT crumbles over the space connecting 34a [Extravagant] BAROQUE and 38a [Lot] FORTUNE.
  • Finally, dear old CHEDDAR lurks among 47a [Like some ornate doorways] ARCHED and 50a [Fixes tears] DARNS. See also 20d [Sock part] TOE.

Really smooth, but I’ve already mentioned that. And these aren’t your common short-length crossword cheeses like EDAM or FETA, either. Very impressive.

  • 7a [Sandpiper family birds] SNIPES. For all you Spelling Bee fans, pictured is the common snipe, Gallinago gallinago.
  • 13a [One of two sound recommendations for a light sleeper?] EAR PLUG. Cute.
  • 18a [January temps, often] TEENS. Have you met February?
  • 7d [Used bugs, perhaps] SPIED. You can also use ‘bugs’ (read: bacteria) to make cheese. But—and perhaps not for the faint of heart—actual insects and other arthropods are also used in some instances.
  • 32d [Deere rival] TORO. Do the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls have these companies as sponsors? If not, they should get on that
  • 38d [Utter nonsense] FOLDEROL. Not one you see every day. “‘Folderol’ comes from ‘fol-de-rol’ (or ‘fal-de-ral’), which used to be a nonsense refrain in songs, much like ‘tra-la-la.’ The oldest recorded instance of someone ‘singing folderol’ occurs in Irish dramatist George Farquhar’s 1701 play Sir Harry Wildair, in which a character sings, ‘Fal, al, deral!'” (
  • 44d [Lanvin scent since 1927] ARPEGE. Don’t know that it’s a top-tier perfume, but it seems to have staying power.
  • 51d [When Lear disowns Cordelia] ACT I. Pretty much the only stilton stilted entry, and it’s barely assailable. When I said the puzzle was smooth, I meant it.
  • 59d [Enzyme suffix] -ASE. Crucial in cheese production, and an apt way to end both the clues and this write-up.

Sophie Buchmueller’s Inkubator crossword, “Themeless #16″—Jenni’s review

I’m really sorry I’m posting this so late. Sophie Buchmueller’s debut crossword deserves better. It’s a gem. I was surprised when I saw my time – it felt like it took longer because I ran into several roadblocks and had to work my way back to where I got stuck.


Inkubator, February 18, 2021, Sophie Buchmueller, “Themeless #16,” solution grid

  • Pretty much all the 10-letter answers are great fun. I particularly liked HIPHUGGING. I’m a child of the 70s and we didn’t have low-rise jeans; we had hip-huggers. Also loved VIRGIN EARS.
  • We get [Pestered] for HASSLED and [Pesters] for NAGS AT. I enjoy those echo-ey clues.
  • Is OAKTAG a regional name? That’s what we called it where I grew up (NYC ‘burbs). Around here (eastern PA) it’s posterboard. I asked for OAKTAG at a store when my kid was the age of school projects and they had no idea what I was talking about.
  • 38d [It’s not only sexy, it’s required] is CONSENT. Yes and yes.
  • I have no idea what Williams is reference in 44a [2011 role for Williams]. The answer is MONROE and clearly I’m not hip enough to get it.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: see above re: Williams role. I also had never heard of Betye Saar, creator of the MIXEDMEDIA piece “Black Girl’s Window.” Next time I get to MOMA, I’ll check it out.

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40 Responses to Friday, February 19, 2021

  1. Martin says:

    I think any device that burns DVDs will burn CDs.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      We have about seven computers here, both Macs and Windows. We don’t think any of them will burn DVDs, actually.

      • RM Camp says:

        We have one computer, a MacBook Pro from 2010, with a DVD burner. No other systems have an optical drive, nor do we have any optical media to burn. I’d like to get a Blu-ray drive to pull movies off of physical media to put on a Plex server, but I couldn’t care less whether it could write to a blank disc.

    • Billy Boy says:

      Lenovo has a great little stand alone plug in CD-DVD reader-writer for about $30, it comes with AIO’s, so I have a couple.

      What’s getting tougher and tougher is ripping music from CD’s using basic programs. I like the CD storage format, store them on spindles, although Opera requires saving the box.

      BTW, a lovely Friday puzzle, what I can’t wait for, Saturday, too

    • sanfranman59 says:

      When I relocated from San Francisco to NE Ohio last April, I got rid of virtually everything I owned, including hundreds of CDs and DVDs (plus, about 100 vinyl records from the 60’s through 80’s). That was probably the most difficult decision I had to make. All of the music that I purchased over the years is on my hard drive (and backed up to Carbonite), iTunes and/or Amazon.

      • RM Camp says:

        Oof, my condolences (that you have to be here in NEOhio, that is)

        • sanfranman59 says:

          Thanks RM … I can afford to retire here comfortably and it sure beats the hell out of going to a job every day that became way too tiresome and exasperating about three years before I left. But I’m sure ready to get away from this condo for an hour or two. The weather forecast I consulted this morning predicts a high of 45 next Wednesday. Please, please, please, let it be true! At least I’ll be able to go for a walk somewhere other than the 200 feet between my living room and the mail house.

          • RM Camp says:

            I’ve been here all my life except for two years in Pittsburgh for art school and one miserable year in NY for a postdoc. I will definitely agree with you that, if you have a job that pays pretty decently, you can live more comfortably here than in most places in the US. I actually kinda enjoy it here in Akron, close to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but I’ve been increasingly frustrated with Ohio as a whole.

            I’m with you on the forecasted “heat wave”. This cabin fever is a real bear.

  2. Aimless says:

    “Dope Fiend Beat” was blasting from my now-husbands Camaro on our first date in 1989, so Too Short is very sentimental to us – loved seeing him in the grid! I’m a sucker for triple stacks and really enjoyed this puzzle, Amanda Rafkin’s NYT debut.

    • STEVEN says:

      amanda is getting to be a very good constructor

      a hearty thank you, ms rafkin!!

    • sanfranman59 says:

      This is Amanda’s second solo NYT construction. Her debut was Tuesday, 10/13/2020. She’s also co-constructed six puzzle with Ross Trudeau going back to September 2019. I, too, absolutely loved this puzzle.

  3. Scott says:

    NYT – I cannot get the verb tense to work for me in 29A “Stayed out of sight” = LAYLOW. Help!

    • cyco says:

      There was discussion of this on reddit – apparently, the “correct” present tense for the phrase is “lie low,” with the past tense “lay low.” As in, “After robbing the bank, he lay low for a while.”

      That probably sounds odd because in common parlance nowadays, people mostly say “lay low” for the present tense and “laid low” for the past. Just part of the general fusing of lay/lie in conversational English, I guess.

      • Billy Boy says:

        LAYING is active (t) to lay
        LYING is passive (i) to lie

        so it be lie(i), past tense is then LAY low

        please attack and correct me if I am wrong, but I think I got it

  4. BryanF says:

    29A: Stayed out of sight. “LAY LOW”

    I hesitated in this area because I wanted it to be “LAID LOW”. Is there a way that “Stayed” and “Lay” agree in tense that I’m not realizing?

    • cyco says:

      The “correct” phrase is “lie low,” with the past tense “lay low.” It’s now a bit archaic, as people tend to say “lay low” for present and “laid low” for past instead.

  5. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Scott and Bryan: “lay” takes an object, as in “lay THAT down right here,” “lay MYSELF a to sleep.” The past tense of “lie,” which doesn’t take an object (“I need to lie down”) is “lay.” So if you lie low today, tomorrow’s report will be that you LAY LOW yesterday.

    Personally, I find it unnecessary to have two separate verbs distinguish between laying yourself down and lying down. Not to mention, it’s patently unfair to English language learners (including Americans!) to have the past tense of one verb be spelled and pronounced exactly like the past tense of the other. My reforms of English will also use possessive ’s on “it,” so the logic of possessive “it’s” will no longer be deemed wrong,

  6. Joe Pancake says:

    Listening to Buck O’Neil is pure joy. I’ve purchased Joe Posnanski’s book about him “The Soul of Baseball” and have been waiting for the right moment to tear through it.

    I do question the accuracy of the clue, however. Being that MLB recently announced it has designated the Negro Leagues as “major leagues” for the purposes of its official record keeping, it seems to me there are now, retroactively, many Black MLB coaches before Buck.

    And, by the way, this isn’t to say that the Negro Leagues needed MLB’s blessing to be recognized as the equal of the traditional major leagues. It is, was, and always has been, regardless of MLB’s official stance.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I didn’t watch all of the video posted above, but in the portion I watched, O’Neil said the Negro Leagues were the nation’s third biggest Black-owned business. I never knew there were Black insurance companies selling home insurance and all sorts of other policies, but it makes sense. (All sorts of bank redlining excluded Black Americans from financial opportunities and security.) And Madam C.J. Walker’s business in hair care products is legendary; I hadn’t known she established cosmetology schools across the country.

      I take your point on the major league coach issue.

    • Steve Manion says:

      “EQUAL???????” Give me a break. I know it is only recently that blacks have miraculously developed the skills to compete with whites. Even though my father was a high school baseball coach, I have always had nothing but utter, complete and total contempt for baseball’s sanctimonious and exclusionary record keepers. Look at the all-time home run hitters only a few of whom are not black or latin. And take a good look at Babe Ruth and tell me you know for sure he is not black. Maybe they couldn’t field as well as whites or run the bases. That’s the ticket. I will admit there are some great white pitchers, but who knows how many blacks never got the chance when they were young to develop that talent.


  7. Dave says:

    For more on the great Buck O’Neil, I highly recommend Joe Posnanski’s “The Soul of Baseball!”

    • Ellen Nichols says:

      Joe Posnanski is a terrific writer. Used to be a sports columnist for my local paper, The Kansas City Star. While I’m being local, the city (state?) renamed the Broadway Bridge across the Missouri River the Buck O’Neil Bridge.

      • Dave says:

        Oh that’s great! I think Joe was still at the Star when I first read his stuff, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the Royals (I’m in St. Louis, though, so don’t tell anyone I said that).

        My wife and I got to visit the NLBM a couple years ago, which was really cool.

  8. DH says:

    Re: NYT 58A (and in another puzzle that will remain nameless), I recently learned of a unit of measurement called a “Millihelen”, which is a unit of beauty strong enough to launch one ship.

  9. sanfranman59 says:

    LAT: The impressive theme almost makes me feel okay about being reminded of the racist, segregationist, woman-fondling, sleaze ball STROM Thurmond in the grid.

  10. Tony says:

    Not a cheese, but we almost get STRUDEL with PAST RUDE & ELKS.

  11. Mark Abe says:

    LAT just didn’t give me a eureka moment, even after pannonica stepped me through it. At least the fill itself was pretty smooth.

  12. Gloria Elizabeth says:

    Re: Inkubator 44 Across “2011 role for Williams” references Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in the movie MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

  13. LaurieAnnaT says:

    Universal puzzle – Re nurses’ caps – My sister was a nursing student back in the ’70s and they were no longer wearing nursing caps. Apparently they were very unsanitary!

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