Monday, December 6, 2021

BEQ 3:39 (Matthew) 


LAT 2:18 (Stella) 


NYT 2:55 (Sophia) 


The New Yorker 6:25 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today untimed (malaika) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Emily Rourke’s New York Times Crossword — Sophia’s recap

Theme: Each theme entry begins with a type of mail

New York Times, 12 06 2021, By Emily Rourke

  • 20a [Early addendum to the Constitution] – BILL OF RIGHTS
  • 34a [Gutenberg invention] – LETTER PRESS
  • 41a [Sauna plus massage at a spa, perhaps] – PACKAGE DEAL
  • 55a [1998 Hanks/Ryan rom-com … or a hint to the starts of 20-, 34- and 41-Across] – YOU’VE GOT MAIL

Congrats to Emily on her NYT crossword debut! I only saw YOU’VE GOT MAIL for the first time a few years ago, and thought that it held up pretty well (other than, you know, technology-wise). It’s the basis for a fun theme today, with BILL, LETTER, and PACKAGE neatly repurposed in their answers. I’m predisposed to like this theme, though, because I love getting and sending physical mail of all types (well, besides bills, but those hardly count as real mail).

I broke the 3-minute barrier today, which is extremely rare for me even on a Monday, so I’m curious how this will play difficulty-wise for folks. Looking over the puzzle now, here are a few reasons I didn’t have much trouble with today’s puzzle:

  • In the language theme answers. All of the answers are fun phrases clued well, and none of them sound forced. Although my response time ran the gamut from immediately dropping in BILL OF RIGHTS to wanting “printing press” over LETTER PRESS for most of the solve, once I got a few crosses and thought of the answers I was sure each of theme were correct because I have said or heard all of these things myself.
  • Very clean fill. Having to stop to think over proper nouns, uncommon words, or random abbreviations that I’m not sure of certainly eats up a lot of my normal solving time. In contrast, this puzzle has almost no names in it outside of Mata HARI and DEMI Moore, and contains no junky three letter answers (well, YMMV on MSU). The only word new to me here was SORORAL, which I couldn’t find the suffix of for a while, although looking at it now it’s clearly the same structure as “fraternal”. Overall,  very well constructed for a wide-appeal Monday puzzle.
  • Not too many tricky clues. I think the only “?” in the puzzle today is in the one for AREA (16a [___ 51 (U.F.O. landing site? … hmm)]). Honestly, I would have one or two more wordplay-related clues to get some “aha” moments from the puzzle. Clues that I did enjoy: 45d [Writing in script, nowadays] for LOST ART (I’m pretty sure my school stopped teaching this about two years after I learned it in order to bump up the typing curriculum, which, honestly, fair) and 26a [Occasion for an egg roll] for EASTER – anyone else immediately think about times they order Chinese food?

Balancing all these aspects to make an easy-for-all-sorts-of-people puzzle while still adding extra spice for those of us who solve every week (today I loved OLIGARCHY, SAFE SPACE, and OK SURE) is an extremely difficult task for a new constructor, and one that Emily pulled off beautifully here. Can’t wait to see more of her work!

Joanne Sullivan’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Inside Dirt”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar phrases are repurposed to indicate dirt on common objects.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Inside Dirt” · Joanne Sullivan · Mon., 12.6.21

  • 17a. [Dirt on a window covering?] BLIND SPOT.
  • 25a. [Dirt on a plumbing fixture?] ELBOW GREASE.
  • 36a. [With 38-Across, dirt on cutlery?] SILVER / STREAK.
  • 49a. [Dirt on a portrait?] FEATURE FILM. I’ve never heard of referring to a portrait as a “feature.”
  • 59a. [Dirt on a long seat?] BENCH MARK.

Hey, that works. Nothing too fancy or tricky, but a tried and true theme with a pleasant amount of wordplay. A good way to break in the noobs to the way things are done in crosswordland.

My top bits of fill are ALITALIA (which I didn’t know wasn’t around anymore), “WE’RE SUNK” (I wanted “WE’RE DEAD” at first), the TWO-TOED sloth, and HERBIE Hancock.

Not so sure about IDLEST [Least productive]. Idleness doesn’t seem like something with degrees to it.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [“Ring of Fire” singer Johnny]. CASH. Fun ear-wormy way to start the grid. Let’s hear it for real (below).
  • 29a. [“The Daily Show” correspondent Lydic]. DESI. Nice to see this new angle for this name. I haven’t watched TDS in a while, but I remember her being quite funny.

A smooth start to the week. 3.5 stars.

Paul Coulter’s Universal crossword, “Top and Bottom” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 12/6/21 • Mon • Coulter • “Top and Bottom” • solution • 20211206

Skeletal write-up today, as I have a dental appointment this morning.

  • 14aR [Completely different entities … or the pairs of indicated words in 3-, 5- and 8-Down, in terms of meaning and location?] POLAR OPPOSITES. I feel that’s a bit of an over-explanation.
  • 3d. [Showing interest regarding] INQUIRING ABOUT bracketed by in and out.
  • 5d. [Finishing up] WINDING TO A CLOSEwin and lose.
  • 8d. [Part of a business phone number] OFFICE EXTENSIONoff and on.

These are great finds, in part demonstrated by how succinct the clues for them are.

  • 19a [Groovy!] FAR OUT dupes a theme element (3d).
  • 24a [It often costs more than a kimono] OBI. Did not know that, but I bet that some netsuke cost more than an OBI and kimono combined.
  • 35a [Time to beware] IDES. Only if you’re Julius Caesar, right?
  • 67a [Locker room shower?] ESPN. Cute.
  • 10d [King of music] CAROLE. For some reason I dropped CREOLE in here, maybe thinking of Kid Creole, or was there an Elvis movie?
  • 22d [Multitude] HORDE. Too many people confuse this with hoard.
  • 4d [Bitter end?] -NESS.

Mark Valdez’ USA Today Puzzle: Written in Pen– malaika’s write-up

Theme: The outer letters of each theme answer spell PEN. There are two P/EN splits and two PE/N splits.

Theme answers:

  • POINT TAKEN— “I see what you mean!”
  • PERRY MASON— Fictional veteran whose name is an anagram of “army person.” (Nice anagram find! I wonder if that was intentional from the authors.)
  • PEACE SIGN— Two-finger gesture in the shape of a V
  • PIZZA OVEN— Appliance in which calzones are cooked

Mark Valdez’ USA Today puzzle

I blazed through this puzzle– I don’t really look at my times for USA Today puzzles but I think they float between four and seven minutes, and I solved today’s in three minutes. I suspect this is because of the high amount of black squares in this puzzle which allowed for super smooth fill (even by USA Today standards) and also fewer / shorter words in general. (There were 48 blocks; by contrast a typical NYT Monday will have 38.)


  • In the movie “Get Out,” Rod was a TSA agent. This is the first time I have seen this angle in a mainstream puzzle, though I have seen it in many indie puzzles.
  • I don’t consume a ton of Amy SEDARIS content (mostly just “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) but I do read a lot of her brother David’s essays.
  • I’ve never had chicken piccata before, but I adore savory, briny CAPERs. A little fun fact is that they are not fruits or vegetables– they are flower buds!
  • When you go on vacation, do you UNPACK into the dresser in your hotel room? Or do you just grab things from the suitcase?
  • I like the improv principle YES and, which basically forces you to commit to the scene. I like applying it in life as well! A lot of low-stakes situations become more fun if you agree and contribute / up the stakes.

Kevin Christian and Andrea Carla Michaels’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 12/6/21 by Kevin Christian and Andrea Carla Michaels

Los Angeles Times 12/6/21 by Kevin Christian and Andrea Carla Michaels

Here’s a little twist on the “words that can follow the same word” trope: a revealer with a negative. To parse the theme, go to the revealer at 62A [“C’mon, get serious!” … and an admonition evidently ignored by the starts of the answers to starred clues], which is DON’T BE SILLY. The bit about “evidently ignored” means that, in fact, the theme answers are SILLY, or, rather, that the first word in each theme phrase can follow the word SILLY to make a new phrase.

  • 17A [*Cage for a bunny] is a RABBIT HUTCH. SILLY RABBIT, Trix are for kids! I’m a little torn on whether SILLY RABBIT falls into the GREEN PAINT category of answers. It’s said an awful lot in the commercials, but it’s not actually his name, and isn’t it always or almost always used as part of the longer phrase with “Trix are for kids”? Incidentally, according to General Mills, the Trix rabbit turned 60 in 2019 having actually gotten to eat Trix only five times.
  • 26A [*Tool for filling in holes in the wall] is a PUTTY KNIFE. SILLY PUTTY has been with us even longer than the Trix rabbit: It was invented in 1943.
  • 40A [*Bow users’ musical ensemble] is a STRING ORCHESTRA. I was curious whether SILLY STRING still exists, given that it’s not exactly the most environmentally friendly thing you can play with. It does.
  • 49A [*Skin response to fear or cold] is GOOSE FLESH. It could also easily be GOOSE BUMPS, which is a mistake I had in there for a little while. Today I learned that the phrase SILLY GOOSE indeed comes from the idea that geese aren’t very bright. According to this Washington Post article from back in 1979, maybe they’re smarter than we think?

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday Crossword — Matthew’s recap

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Themeless Monday crossword solution, 12/6/21

A central stagger stack AND 8-stacks in the corners from BEQ today.

Nothing in those stacks is terribly exciting – except AVA DUVERNAY‘s full name, but they allow for lots of longer crossings. All but one of the downs crossing the center stack are 6+ letters (including the apt SNEAKY GOOD) and the corners are similarly open.

Overall, the grid felt pretty fair as I solved it. (28d- Golfer Bernhard) LANGER is a bit of a deep cut — it’s been nearly thirty years since his last major victory (the 1993 Masters), but the crossings are all reasonable.

The more I look at the shorter stuff the more it’s sticking out to me. I didn’t notice it mid solve, so feels unfair to dwell on it now. On to notes:

  • 1a- (Hot rocks) MAGMAS. I’m surprised to learn the plural isn’t simply “magma”.
  • 49a- (Circular layout) AD DESIGN. I quite liked this one, with the misdirection on “circular”.
  • 52a- (Salvador Dali’s pet Babou, e.g.) OCELOT. Or, as Dali would put it; a common cat “painted over in an op art design.”
  • 5d- (Returns review: Abbr.) AUD. I’ve never seen this abbreviation before. AUD for “auditorium” is more common, no?
  • 8d- (“Hadestown” composer Mitchell) ANAIS. Hadestown was all the rage before March 2020. I know there’s a touring cast now. Hoping it comes near me within a year or so.
  • 21d- (Launches towards Venus?) SERVES. This took me a while, but the misdirect is on “Venus”, referring to the tennis star Venus Williams.
  • 51d- (Y guy) SON. I can’t make sense of this. Is it a Y chromosome clue? Or slang that someone might say while playing basketball at the Y? Neither are very satisfying to me.

Natan Last’s New Yorker crossword—Amy’s write-up

The New Yorker crossword solution, 12 6 21, Natan Last

Solid puzzle today, and I can’t imagine the solvers who usually complain bitterly about the frame of reference in Natan’s puzzles will have anything to gripe about here. I hadn’t known the term AUTOETHNOGRAPHY, but with some crossings in place, it wasn’t too hard to piece together AUTO (“personal experience”) and something-GRAPHY.

Since YES gets a James Joyce Ulysses clue, I’m going to stray from my usual orderly format. I like seeing BOOBOO instead of the overused OWIE. Had no idea there were GNOMES on a George Harrison album cover. I learned that the DISCO ERA started 2/14/70, when I was 3 1/2 and ready to move. Neat little trivia bit for Idaho, the GEM STATE with star garnets. SLIDE INTO THE DMS feels a little off; isn’t there more often a possessive pronoun in lieu of THE? ROOTLE, rootle, [Rummage], have you rootled today? “NOT ME!” is clued via [“Nose goes!”], a phrase I am entirely unfamiliar with; here’s the lowdown on that. EGO MASSAGE is a cool entry. I think it’s safe to assume I’ve seen people making an ANGEL CAKE on Great British Bake Off, since this recipe is by Prue Leith of GBBO, but it doesn’t ring a bell. “Ring My Bell” was an Anita Ward disco hit in 1979 with the lyric, uh, “You can ring my bell.”

DNA” is the [Kendrick Lamar hit with the lyric “I was born like this”], and this song was on his Pulitzer-winning album.

Four stars from me.

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12 Responses to Monday, December 6, 2021

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: A bit slow for me, mostly because I stupidly put SAFE plACE at 61A and couldn’t get the obvious AUTOS and less obvious (but not tricky) GROUPER.

    I always wince when a puzzle contains a word like AREAR that no one ever uses, but that’s a minor ding on what’s otherwise a fine Monday puzzle.

  2. Billy Boy says:


    I too thought NYT played on the easy side, but not without 2-3 write overs. I’m not the quickest. Still my relative solve feel and app time indicated quick and I thought it clean. Probably a little skew towards old

    @Eric_H, I too entered place first

  3. Paul J Coulter says:

    WSJ – Nicely done from Joanne today. Jim, I think “feature” in FEATUREFILM refers to a facial feature where the stain occurs in the portrait, not to the portrait, itself.

  4. Will says:

    Sophia — I came in 1 second slower than you, and it’s also very rare for me to get under the 3 minute mark. I might’ve hit my record if I didn’t put in Love Actually off the O in You’ve Got Mail.

  5. Mr. [Not So] Grumpy says:

    I used to have a cat named Kiska [after the Aleutian island] who was affectionately known as Goose Cat because she was silly as …. She would climb onto the roof of the house and cry to be helped down — at which point she would climb back up on the roof and … you get the picture. Naturally, I loved today’s LAT.

    • Andrea Carla Michaels says:

      Thank you, mr not so grumpy on behalf of Kevin c too!!

      And I really liked the theme and reveal of today’s NYT, really fun!!!

  6. pseudonym says:

    “I can’t imagine the solvers who usually complain bitterly about the frame of reference in Natan’s puzzles will have anything to gripe about here.”

    Last puzzles are generally humorless, trivia laden labors. His ratings are consistently and unusually low for a reason.

    • Matt M. says:

      Everyone has different taste, I suppose, but I consistently enjoy Natan’s puzzles. The puzzles are fair and interesting and I’m always glad I solved them.

    • Rob says:

      TNY: When I see Nathan’s byline on a TNY puzzle, I pass. I. know my limitations; his puzzles are just too difficult for me. No judgment whatsoever on the quality of his puzzle s.

      • Zulema says:

        I asked after Last’s previous puzzle whether they really needed to be that difficult,and after agonizing over this one, I will ask the same question again. I agree with you, Bob.

    • Gary R says:

      I generally find Mr. Last’s puzzles challenging, and sometimes I cannot finish them – and I’m okay with that. But especially on a Monday, when even a good NYT (and I thought Ms. Rourke’s puzzle was good) gives me 5 or 6 minutes of solving pleasure, a more challenging puzzle is welcome. This Last puzzle I was able to finish, and it entertained me for more than a half hour.

      A good Monday NYT is like one of those little bits of chocolate fudge some restaurants deliver with your check. A good Last puzzle is like the whole meal.

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