Wednesday, September 1, 2021

LAT 5:43 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker 4:02 (Matthew) 


NYT 4:34 (Amy) 


WSJ 6:51 (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 4:12 (Sophia) 


AVCX untimed (Ben) 


Michael Dewey’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Rhythm Section”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar phrases DROP THE BEAT (61a, [Demand to a DJ, and what you must do when entering the starred answers]). Those starred answers normally start with the word BEAT, but not in this grid.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Rhythm Section” · Michael Dewey · Wed., 9.1.21

  • 17a. [*Thrash soundly] THE PANTS OFF.
  • 24a. [*Fall back, in a way] A HASTY RETREAT.
  • 39a. [*What eager businesses may do] A PATH TO YOUR DOOR.
  • 51a. [*Ramble to avoid talking about something difficult] AROUND THE BUSH.

I thought this was pretty nifty. I wouldn’t have expected there to be so many colloquial phrases that start with the word BEAT, but there are even more than are presented here (a dead horse, to the punch, swords into plowshares, etc.).

The middle-ager in me wanted the revealer to be the Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat,” but I have to admit that DROP THE BEAT makes a better revealer. (That’s not going to stop me from embedding the new wave classic below.)

In the fill I like SOUTHWEST Airlines, Bob Marley’s DREADS, and Hindu god GANESH. I had a bit of trouble in that middle-southeast area with weird BB SHOT and ONS [Word with walk or carry] for which I wanted OFF and RENT [Fissure] for which I wanted RIFT. It took some doing to sort that out. And I’m glad I never really saw the clue [Hank who coached Oklahoma State basketball for 36 years] and got IBA strictly from the crossings. Same with ACTH [Pituitary secretion, in brief].

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter

Clues of note:

  • 9d. [Lothlorien denizen]. ELF. From Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books.
  • 49d. [Red Ryder discharge]. BB SHOT. The name of this BB gun is new to me. I think I was thinking wagons; I must have been conflating it with Radio Flyer.
  • 59d. [Ingenuity helicopter org.]. NASA. As of August 16, the helicopter has flown 12 successful missions in support of the rover Perseverance.

Clever theme that works well. The fill averages out to be, well, average. 3.6 stars.

Sean Yamada-Hunter’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 9 1 21, no. 0901

There’s only a mini-theme here, not the standard mid-week themed puzzle. The central Down is “THAT’S A BIG IF,” and that’s exactly what someone might say if they caught sight of the big IF made out of black squares in the middle of the grid. The rest of the puzzle plays like a themeless, with five 15-letter entries, plus pairs of 12s, 11s, and 8s. Tons of 3-letter words to facilitate the long Downs that parallel the big I and F.

I started the puzzle all wrong, trying to get one of the middle 15s to tumble. Nothing was coming to mind for those clues! So I switched to all those Across 3s and before you know it, the middle’s done.

Fave fill: BUM DEAL, “DON’T YOU FRET,” HOAGY Carmichael, the rock pairing of ZIGGY Stardust and AXL Rose, the great Angela BASSETT (if you like cop/firefighter/EMT drama and a definite soapy vibe, check out Bassett on 9-1-1; I’m hooked on the show!), HABANERO PEPPERS, GIFT RECEIPTS, “AND YET HERE WE ARE,” SUNRISE MOVEMENT, BEYOND ONE’S GRASP, ENRIQUE IGLESIAS, and Wanda SYKES.

Did not know: 55a. [1948 western starring Bob Hope as “Painless” Potter], THE PALEFACE. That word is disparaging, Merriam-Webster tells us, but (a) white people put it in the movie title, and (b) white people have not suffered ill effects of being called palefaces by the people they were genociding.

Three more things:

  • 29a. [Health class subj.], STD. Hey! The NYT crossword got brave enough to clue S.T.D. as what we think of when we see those letters, a sexually transmitted disease. S.T.I., sexually transmitted infection, seems to be used by many places these days.
  • 2d. [Nurse, as a beer], SIP ON. I don’t like that ON here, feels too much like those HIT AT sort of entries I don’t care for.
  • 21d. [Priceless keepsakes?], GIFT RECEIPTS. They are indeed valued, but the clue’s getting at the lack of a price on the gift receipt. If you bought that gift on clearance, they’ll never know—unless they return it to the store.

Four stars from me.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “Pear Down” — Sophia’s recap

Theme: “Pear Down” – each theme answer contains the letters P E A R, literally going down the puzzle. Side note, this puzzle was edited by Amanda Rafkin!

USA Today, 09 01 2021, “Pear Down”

  • 5d [Sun Devil Stadium location] – TEMPE ARIZONA
  • 9d [City southwest of Little Rock] – HOPE ARKANSAS
  • 20d [Words to a person who’s awake for sunrise] – YOU’RE UP EARLY
  • 22d [Circular pieces of jewelry] – HOOP EARRINGS

Fun puzzle today, although I wish the title worked as well when you read it as when you say it aloud (has USA Today done a straight “Pare Down” puzzle yet?) – since it’s not a real phrase it might give the game away a bit early. The last two theme answers really shine, but I didn’t love that the first two were both “city, state”, as it made the puzzle feel a bit repetitive and over-reliant on geography. I did appreciate that the P E A R was always spread across two words.

The grid felt very segmented to me today – there are a LOT of black squares, and it is difficult to move sideways across the puzzle. I always say that crossword construction is all about trade-offs, though, and today’s trade-off means that the fill that we do have is very clean. There were a lot of things mentioned in clues today that I had never heard of: LEE Kum Kee (13a, an Asian sauce company), tuj lub (17a, a traditional HMONG sport), and zongzi (58a, a rice dish) were all new to me. I was glad to see the difficulty in this puzzle increased by clues that might help the solver learn something as opposed to fill that might trip them up.

Other notes:

    • Favorite fill today is a tie between CROP TOP and the Nike SWOOSH.
    • Does a surf-and-turf have to include STEAK or can it be any land animal? I’ve been watching a lot of Top Chef, and people are always making non-traditional surf and turfs there.
    • I liked the beauty references for SEW IN (14a [Semi-permanent weave option] and SPA (56d [Place to get an LED facial]) because it’s fun to get specific in crosswords with domains that aren’t always represented.

Erica Hsiung Wojcik and Matthew Stock’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #58” — Ben’s Review

AVCX Themeless #58

In reading the constructor info on this week’s puzzle, I had noticed that Matthew Stock had contributed a themeless to the AVCX before, but somehow missed that today’s puzzle was a 5/5 difficulty themeless as well until I was well into the middle of trying to figure out what the theme on this one was.  This absolutely earned its difficulty rating even if I was adding to it by trying to connect the dots on some of these entries for far too long.

      • The trio of fill stair-stepping down the middle of the grid (BOOM OPERATORS, CLUTCH HITTERS, and ADOPT-A-HIGHWAY is fantastic, as are some of the other longer pieces of fill running across like WINE SNOBS (“People eschewing cooler options?”) and MEGALODON (“Shark whose name means ‘big tooth'”)
      • “French, novelist” as a clue for novelist TANA French was clever – I kept racking my brain for things like ZOLA or French words that could mean writier when I just needed a novelist named French.
      • Running down, the long fill is also enjoyably crunchy and cleverly clued – BEET SOUP (“Root starter?”), SO NOT TRUE, HANSOM CABS, BLONDE ALE (“Gold bar offering”), BIRTHPLACE, GREAT WALL, and TEA SHOPS (“Pot dealers?”)

Overal, it’s a lovely collab, and a challenging themeless as promised.

If you haven’t seen Samin Nosrat learn to make focaccia in Liguria (GENOA is Liguria’s capital and where focaccia comes from), it’s delightful.

Happy Wednesday!

Bruce Venzke’s Universal crossword, “Noodle Around” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 9/1/21 • Wed • Venzke • “Noodle Around” • solution • 20210901

Theme’s good, title’s good. Not sold on the revealer, however.

  • 20a. [Hang on to first place] HOLD THE LEAD.
  • 25a. [Employer’s posting] HELP WANTED AD.
  • 45a. [“Don’t let it happen!”] HEAVEN FORBID.
  • 51a. [Big ego, or what encompasses 20-, 25- and 45-Across?] SWELLED HEAD. The letters comprising HEAD can be found on the ends of those three entries. Further, we get three different divisions of the letters: H|EAD first, then HE|AD, and finally HEA|D; very stylish that.

I can kind of see how a ‘swelled’ head could be taken as a way to describe the expansion of those letters to the fringes of the phrases, but it’s—forgive the pun—a stretch.

  • 9d [Burst inward] IMPLODE. Such as a house that has had the air sucked out of it by a tornado. Be careful.
  • 22d [Pass, as a bill] ENACT. Very disturbing news from Texas this morning.
  • 23d [Abbr. on a citation, perhaps] MPH; as in a speeding ticket. 26d [Abbr. in a citation] ET AL.; as in a bibliography or footnote.
  • 56d [Award talked about in “Mad Men”] CLIO. Didn’t realize they were quite that old. Turns out they were first distributed in 1960.
  • 6a [Old movie channel] TCM. While it’s venerable, I wouldn’t call it an old channel, so I gather it’s an {old movie} channel. Makes sense for something billing itself as Turner Classic Movies [emphasis mine].
  • 13a [Fibber McGee’s broadcast medium once] RADIO. Now, talk about old! … Hm, not quite as old as I thought: 1935–1959.

From 1947, dead center of the Fibber McGee and Molly broadcast run:

Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review

Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword solution, 9/1/2021

Whew, there is so much to like in Natan’s puzzle today, with eight 8+ letter downs crossing a central stairstack. Jam-packed with colorful entries (to my taste, at least) throughout.

Starting with that middle area, we’ve got HERES THE THING (29a- “Let me level with you . . .”), DIONNE WARWICK (32a- “Walk on By” singer), and CONVERSATIONS, with a clue that I absolutely adored (33a- Most of them are “monologues delivered in the presence of a witness,” per the mystery author Margaret Millar).

I’m not even sure that’s my favorite clue in the grid, though. Don’t miss (11d- Platonic ideals?) for REPUBLICS and (6d- Symbols for Charlotte and Emily Brontë) for DIAERESES, which doubles as a New Yorker in-joke.

My only trouble area was in the southeast, where MERIDIANS (26d- Acupuncturist’s pathways) crosses three names in addition to -WARWICK, but it wasn’t too touch a challenge.


  • 47a- (“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” novelist) OCEAN VUONG. Another one for my reading list.
  • 2d- (Insect that can be born pregnant) APHID. Did not know this! I’ll likely go down a Wikipedia hole later today on it.
  • 32d- (All-time winningest N.F.L. coach) is DON SHULA, who coached the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history. While I would not mind if the New England Patriots stopped winning ASAP, it’ll be fun to see the next few years if Bill Belichick catches Shula for the record.
  • 33d- (Rounded roofs) CUPOLAS. I mistakenly thought until today that a CUPOLA was not only the rounded roof, but also the … gazebo-like? area underneath it that provides a look out. Turns out I was wrong.

I rarely speak to ratings, but 4.5 stars for me.

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

LA Times

Today’s puzzle by Paul Coulter has a theme that is more intricate than most. The revealing answer is SPLITENDS. Each of four answer pairs are a specific sort of END: FINISH/LINE, CLOSING/BELL, HOME/STRETCH and LAST/HURRAH, and all of them are SPLIT into two parts. Snazzy!

Stacking the entry pairs on each other is an unusual design choice, and there are also only three entries longer than seven. These are probably what lead to NASL and oddly spelt SHOVELLER. The SHOVELLER, regardless of spelling, is something I personally think of primarily as a bird of genus Spatula.

I don’t know if stacking OLLIE next to GRINDS was intentional, but it’s a cute touch.



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24 Responses to Wednesday, September 1, 2021

  1. cyberdiva says:

    NYT has the clue for 35A as “This, in Spanish.” There were only three boxes, so I began to think about a rebus. But it’s not a rebus, it’s just a bad clue. The answer is ESO, which means THAT. THIS is ESTE or ESTO.

  2. Alex says:

    WSJ – Red Ryder

    According to

    One of the most iconic themes from the movie A Christmas Story is, of course, Ralphie’s “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” This line alone is uttered nearly 30 times throughout the movie.

  3. Robert Kurzmann says:

    “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” is a slight misquotation of a phrase written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Look it up if you wish to learn the correct phrase). Regardless, it refers to the customer being eager to patronize the business, not the other way around as implied by the clue in today’s WSJ puzzle.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Thank you for pointing this out. I was sure that the cluing on this answer was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. This seems like a pretty egregious error. Boo hiss!

  4. GlennP says:

    And the NYT is a debut!!!

  5. Mike H says:

    So, NYT and TNY both have the word INNIE and with pretty much the same clue. I know there are many 3 and 4-letter words/clues that are similar each day, but in my regular rotation of puzzles I haven’t seen the word often, and certainly not with the “90%” citation. Interesting (to me).

    • Eric S says:

      I didn’t know the 90% statistic, either.

      The word INNIE has been around since at least 1966. Will my electronic Scrabble accept it? No. (The last dictionary update was in 2019, but still!)

    • marciem says:

      Today is the day to contemplate our navels, I presume? Two innies and an outie so far… and I haven’t done all I usually do.

  6. Mutman says:

    NYT: Never heard the Miami Dolphins called ‘The Fins’, but rather, incorrectly (yet funny), ‘The FISH’.

    Nice change of pace for a Wednesday!

    • Matt Gritzmacher says:

      I’ve heard both, but “Squish the Fish” is more fun to say

    • Billy Boy says:

      I was a Dol – phin fan as a kid, now I won’t give you a wooden nickel for American Football. You don’t believe me? Ask Evan Fleisher.


    • Gary R says:

      My wife and I spend about a month in South Florida each year, and I think I hear “Fins” more often than “Fish.” When I hear “Fish,” it’s more often referring to the Marlins.

  7. JohnH says:

    I agree that the SE of TNY with its three names crossing was the most difficult area, but I didn’t find it not a challenge. I couldn’t even guess the two missing letters, and I don’t recognize any of the names now. But that’s Natan Last, so into names. Naturally his moderate challenge was many times harder and less enjoyable than Patrick Berry’s Monday great challenge.

    • e.a. says:

      wait but i thought Natan’s puzzles were too lowbrow and unliterary for you? the eliot prize-winning poet didn’t give you a foothold?

      • dhj says:

        Stop trolling.

      • JohnH says:

        What can I say? I see it had a NYer book review, so I must have read about it. (And yeah, I find Natan hard for the less literate openings.) Still, I don’t feel alone after Matthew in finding it a dense corner.

        • e.a. says:

          to be more serious – i don’t fault you for having trouble with some crossing names (as i wouldn’t if you didn’t know, say, regis/garanimals in Patrick’s monday puzzle, or any of the ~20 proper noun answers in his friday) or for being frustrated about it. it’s your repeated digs against Natan as a constructor that i take issue with. if your literacy of his references is insufficient for you to find the joy in his puzzles, you could simply not solve them. or do, but either way, you don’t have to be doing all this hater shit.

  8. Phil says:

    New Yorker: It’s one thing to have proper names, but to jam three obscure names into one corner and have them cross each other is absurd. I’ve never of of OCEAN VUONG, BOOTS Riley, or Gary GYGAX. At least most people have heard of DIONNE WARWICK. The VUONG/GYGAX cross is particularly egregious.

  9. David Roll says:

    WSJ-marked down because of Ganesh and Dos crossing.

  10. Pete says:

    I second Phil’s comment. TNY crossing OCEANVUONG with BOOTS (Riley) and (Gary) GYGAX was too much for me. Natick!

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