Wednesday, October 20, 2021

LAT 3:37 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker untimed (Matthew) 


NYT 3:35 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 4:26 (Sophia) 


AVCX 7:21 (Ben) 


Jeff Chen’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”—Jim P’s review

This is a puzzle about NOTHING (36a, [There is ___ hidden in 16-, 22-, 46- and 57-Across…or is there?]), and it was a pleasure to solve.

The other entries are familiar phrases that hide synonyms of NOTHING.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” · Jeff Chen · Wed., 10.20.21

  • 16a. [Oscar nominee in the role of Thelma Dickinson] GEENA DAVIS. Nada.
  • 22a. [Genre for Ratt and Poison] SLEAZE ROCK. Zero. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this term, though it certainly fits. One definition I read is that SLEAZE ROCK songs are about sleazy topics like excess and decadence. Also, I love the combo of Ratt and Poison in the clue.
  • 46a. [“It’s go time!”] “ENOUGH TALK!” Nought. Fun clue and answer. Bonus points for the extra-long hidden word.
  • 57a. [Tanner’s concern] BIKINI LINE. Nil.

Fun choices and one of the cleverer hidden-word themes I’ve seen in a while. As I said a few days ago, hidden words with the same word hidden in each phrase are far less engaging than one like this which holds your interest throughout the solve.

But what elevates the puzzle is the stellar fill: HARDWIRE, “NAILED IT,” TEND BAR, MANDOLINS, OFFICIATE, TAPENADES, PHEROMONES, MONTAGE, DIWALI, and even NEW AGEY. Everywhere I looked there was something to like, and I just found myself grinning as each lovely entry fell.

Clues of note:

  • 14a. [“Shrieking” carnivores in “The Princess Bride”]. EELS. Let’s see if I can recite it from memory. “Do you hear that, Princess? Those are the Shrieking Eels. They always grow louder when they’re about to feed on human flesh!” Bah! Close, but not quite.
  • 4d. [Make the rounds?]. TEND BAR. Lovely clue.
  • 34d. [Seattle Kraken’s org.]. NHL. They had their very first game last week.

4.25 stars from me.

David Tuffs’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 10 20 21, no. 1020

Quick summary: In this puzzle with twenty 7-letter answers, four of them plus a 9 are thematic. Each themer reinterprets a word or phrase starting with OR- as if the word OR stands apart from what follows:

  • 17a. [“Who’s your favorite roguish ‘Star Wars’ character? Han ___?”], OR LANDO.
  • 18a. [“How famous is that actress? Is she unknown ___?”], OR A-LIST. Oralism focuses on teaching deaf/Deaf kids to read lips and speak aloud rather than learning sign language.
  • 37a. [“How do you handle losing? Do you feel calm ___?”], OR ANGERED. Big fan of the smaller sets of Crayola crayons that included compound colors like blue-green and red-orange. but did they have an orange-red that was more reddish?
  • 60a. [“What’s the best way to spend less on shopping? Coupons ___?”], OR DEALS.
  • 63a. [“What kind of greens do you want? Spinach ___?”], OR CHARD.

Cute theme.

Some nice fill throughout, like PATAGONIA and LAVERNE / COX.

Four stars from me.

Sophia Maymudes and Paolo Pasco’s AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #59” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 10/20 – “AVCX Themeless #59”

It’s a themeless week at the AVCX!  Sophia Maymudes and Paolo Pasco co-created this one – let’s dive in!

  • “Edible flowers” is such a good clue for 15A‘s LAVA CAKES
  • the combo of MAGIC SQUARE, TAG YOURSELF, and SHAME SPIRAL down the middle is such a great combo of contemporary fill
  • Bread fried in BACON FAT, as suggested by the clue for 3D, sounds particularly FLAVORSOME (6D, “Ambrosial”)
  • I liked the grid-spanning entries in this grid – we’ve got BACKSTAGE PASSES up top (17A, “Needs for those who hope to wait in the wings”), and CONVERTIBLE SOFA (59A, “Holder of cushions for crashers”) down below.

That’s it for today.  Happy Wednesday!

Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review

Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword solution, 10/20/2021

Another tougher Wednesday this week – I got held up in both the top and the middle. But in the end, there’s the typical Patrick Berry smoothness.

Two-thirds of the middle stairstack utterly baffled me, but they’re great clues: For SQUARE BRACKETS (32a) it’s [One of a pair that often gets sic?], and for 36a CHANGE CLOTHES it’s [Switch gear]. Much like how we may differ in where we put the stress in pronouncing “West Point,” I just could not figure out what was going on with “Switch Gear.”

WHAT DO YOU MEAN (37a- Huh?) was an absolute breeze by comparison. I also had trouble parsing HAREM PANTS (17a- Look-alikes of bloomers) from the first four letters, even though we often see HAREM clued this way in puzzles.

To the extent there are ever many proper nouns in a Berry grid, there’s a clear in-group today. We’ve got MYRNA Loy (3d- Portrayer of Nora in “The Thin Man”), CAREY Mulligan (26d- Portrayer of Cassie in “Promising Young Woman”), Ingrid Bergman’s ILSA (58a- Film character who says, “With the whole world crumbling, we pick this time to fall in love.”), and GRETA GARBO (54a- Woman featured on Sweden’s hundred-krona banknote), though I do love that clue. It may not be helpful to tally things up like this, but it was more than noticeable to me during the solve. Bessie Smith makes an appearance in the BLUES clue (34a- Bessie Smith’s genre), but it doesn’t do much for me for balance.


  • 14a- (Cocktail that’s almost all gin) DRY MARTINI. My gin drinks of choice are a Last Word or a French 75.
  • 18a- (Unit equal to one chain times one furlong) ACRE. I love remembering this definition of an ACRE, because I usually think of the unit as a square, or a rectangle close to a square, but a chain (66 ft) by a furlong (1/8 mi) is a long, thin rectangle.
  • 22a & 35a- (Battle of Chalons loser) and (Battle of Chalons victor). HUN and ROMAN, respectively. I didn’t see the clue for HUN during the solve, but seeing this after the fact, I like this so much better than if one of the clues had referenced the other.

Alan Massengill and Doug Peterson’s Universal crossword, “pH Factor” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 10/20/21 • Wed • Massengill, Peterson • “pH Factor” • solution • 20211020

Kind of a basic theme, but the acid test is whether it’s an enjoyable solve. pHrases containing a word beginning with F substitute it with PH and, without need of changing any other spelling to maintain homophony, wackifies the results.

  • 17a. [Fantastic ’90s card carrier?[ PHAT WALLET (fat wallet).
  • 26a. [“Hey, who’s pretending to be rocker Liz?”?] THAT’S NOT PHAIR (… fair).
  • 46a. [Connections at a scam call center?] PHISHING LINES (fishing lines).
  • 60a. [Epic sigh of relief?] QUITE A PHEW (… few).

A more difficult, constrained construction (and very likely a steeper solve) would have been to eliminate all Fs from the grid, which is by no means necessary for a successful crossword. It’d be more of a flourish.

  • 49d [Penny, but not Abbey] LANE. Not universally, but certainly in terms of notoriety and Beatledom.
  • 14a [Possible reaction to unwanted flowers] ACHOO. Didn’t see that one coming.
  • 21a [“High __” (classic Western)] NOON.
  • 22d [Way off base, say?: Abbr.] A––– hmmm. Nope, not theme-adjacent—it’s AWOL.
  • 41a [They’re smart and funny] WITS. I liked this clue, might be my favorite here.

That’s all I’ve got today, and it’s good to be back.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today crossword, “You’re a Sweetheart”—Sophia’s recap

Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer is a person with a term of endearment in their name

USA Today, 10 20 2021, “You’re a Sweetheart”

  • 16a [Model on the cover of Vogue’s 2021 September issue] – PRECIOUS LEE
  • 26a [Friend of Peter Pan] – WENDY DARLING
  • 44a [“Steven Universe” creator] – REBECCA SUGAR
  • 61a [“My Woman” singer-songwriter] – ANGEL OLSEN

I only knew one of these people (WENDY DARLING) off the top of my head, but it was fun to uncover everyone else’s names. It’s a nice touch that two of the terms of endearment are in the first name, and two are in the last.  Keep an eye out for these new cluing angles for LEE and OLSEN!

The symmetry of this puzzle is alllll over the place, and I am not sure how I feel about it! On the one hand, there’s no reason why a crossword necessarily has to be symmetric, and sometimes symmetry hampers good themes that don’t happen to have answers that are the same length – today, PRECIOUS LEE and ANGEL OLSEN don’t have the same number of letters. At the same time, though, I appreciate symmetry because it feels elegant and imposes more restrictions on the constructor, which can sometimes lead to a more satisfying end product if they can still create quality art within those bounds (at least for me personally).  I also like that having a defined structure means that breaking the rules of symmetry means something – whenever I see an asymmetric puzzle, I immediately start looking for the “why” of it, which can help bring to light creative themes. I’m curious to hear other folk’s takes on this.

Other notes:

  • I love TOP BANANA and OVERDID IT as answers, although it took me a while to see OVERDID IT because I had “aha” rather than OHH for 8a [“Now I get it!”].
  • When it comes to “make this proper noun easy to get clues”, I much preferred 55d [Name found in “mistaken identity”] for ENID rather than 28d [Name that can fill in the blank in ME___H to form a word] for NORA. It took me longer to parse that clue than it did to think of the answer.
  • I absolutely adore Frog and TOAD so I was delighted to see them make an appearance today!

Kurt Krauss’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s Kurt Krauss theme featured a slightly odd choice of revealer, DOFF, in any otherwise by-numbers synonym theme. The final parts of four answers, THREADbare, GARDENshed, CLEARFORtakeoff, COMICstrip, BANANApeel mean remove, though they don’t feel like strict synonyms. I’ve tried to find a sentence where they all substitute seamlessly, but failed.


  • [Online money], ECASH. Does anyone believe this word is in actual use…
  • [Like fishhooks, usually], BARBED. BAitED was a deliberate trap, I feel.


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16 Responses to Wednesday, October 20, 2021

  1. Milo says:

    NYT: I struggled with the KAVA / KAHN cross (I had CAVA / CAHN). Was wondering why that couldn’t have just been JOHN/JAVA/OVER until I found OVERDUB in the SW.

    I liked a lot of the long fill on this one, those Amy mentioned plus HENDRIX, CHIA PET, ADDIS ABABA, and the FANTASY of a STRESS-FREE day off. DAD’S root beer was unknown to me.

    Are the low ratings for theme or fill?

    “Handsome” doesn’t have a SILENT D when I say it.

    • huda says:

      NYT: Since there are questions about low ratings, I thought I’d explain what I struggled with:
      The idea of the theme is good but 2 of the entries did not work for me: ORANGERED, which is the main one seems like a real stretch as a single word, whereas the others are all standalone words. And ORALIST doesn’t feel like a sufficiently familiar entry to serve as a component of a theme- contrast that with ORDEALS and ORCHARD which to my mind instantiated the concept very well. Finally, ORLANDO stands alone as the proper noun. So, in the end, the theme felt like a clever idea that lost something in the translation.
      And some of the proper names intersected and were not all that obvious to me. I’m used to that, but the combination with the theme diminished my general enjoyment of the puzzle.
      This is of course one person’s opinion. I’m mindful of the fact that tastes vary and always grateful to constructors for trying something new.

      • David L says:

        I agree, Huda. The first themer I found was ORALIST, which is not a word I knew although it sounded plausible. Then you have ORANGERED, which I would write with a hyphen. Clever theme idea, inconsistent execution.

      • JohnH says:

        I’ll buy that. Sure felt clever when I started but then did run into those nits. Funny, too, but I never thought of a chip as a Pringle. I figured Pringles was just the brand of chips, not a collective noun. Guess I was wrong. At least it was good to learn of the activist.

        FWIW, I wanted to object to SILENT D, in part because I think NYT puzzles have too many of that ilk and in part because I was sure I pronounced the D. But it’s a tough call. I’ve been pronouncing it in my head and to me it’s actually hard to know the difference. On to p of that, MW11C gives it as an optional T sound, while RHUD has it silent. So you could justify almost anything!

        • MarkW says:

          I agree that there are too many answers of the silent d variety (soft c, hard g, etc.). Automatically lowers the enjoyment and rating for me

    • Billy Boy says:

      I’ll list the puzzles positives instead, I did it in California wine country last night after a day of winery visits, but I feel the same way this morning

    • R says:

      If you pronounce the ‘d’ in handsome, you might be the only English speaker to do so in centuries. I’ve certainly never heard anyone pronounce it, and I just checked a few dozen speakers from around the world to confirm that no one does. Spelling is a hell of a drug and give English (French, as well) speakers a wildly inaccurate idea of what actually goes on in their language.

    • Zulema says:

      I agree. The “e” is silent but not the “d.”

  2. Rob says:

    NYT: Why such a low rating? I really enjoyed it! Four stars IMHO!

  3. Mutman says:

    NYT: I liked it too! Something clever for a Wednesday.

    My nit: How is a .TXT an alternative to a .EXE? Sure they are both file types, but one can’t be used as an alternative to the other — one is an executable, the other a simple text file. It’s like saying a mouse is an alternative to a monitor: both are computer parts, but are they alternatives??

    • JohnH says:

      You know, I had the same reaction. I was looking for another kind of executable. But I guess they really just meant file extensions generally. And we do get clues for URL extensions, which doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable, I guess. So, well, ok but meh.

    • GaryR says:

      +1 “Alternative” used *awfully* loosely there.

    • Gareth says:

      Yeah, the closest a .TXT file ever got to a .EXE was when it was in .TXT format but had a .BAT filename and MS-DOS commands, but even that is a huge stretch…

  4. Rob says:

    TNY: Another smooth, enjoyable puzzle from Patrick Berry. But I found this one tougher than Monday’s “Challenging “ puzzle.

  5. Crotchety Doug says:

    USA – I enjoyed this one, and didn’t even notice the assymetry. Also I thought meNORAh was pretty cool.

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