Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Jonesin' 3:44 (Derek) 


LAT 3:42 (Derek) 


NYT 3:46 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Jim Q) 


USA Today 16:30 (Emily) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Xword Nation untimed (Ade) 


Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle (Week 551), “The Four Tops”—Ade’s take

Crossword Nation puzzle solution, Week 551: “The Four Tops”

Hello there, everybody! Hope you all got your Christmas shopping done (assuming your holiday plans included shopping) before the weekend! All I need to shop for is some hot chocolate — Swiss Miss acquired on a 2 for $4 discount — and got the job done! Now time to get a little warm!

Today’s crossword allowed you to do some pole dancing, if you will, with four long down entries starting with words that can come before the word POLE (55D: [North ___ (Santa’s home base or a directional hint to the theme hidden in four vertical answers]).

    • POSITIVE OUTLOOK (3D: [“Merry and Bright” attitude]) – Positive pole
    • BEAN BURRITO (5D: [Mexican dish for a legume lover]) – Bean pole
    • MAY I HELP YOU (25D: [Salesperson’s question]) – Maypole
    • NEGATIVE NUMBERS (11D: [Some frigid temperatures on weather maps]) – Negative pole

The vertical themes also allowed for some long, non-themed entries going down as well, and I lost a little bit of time slapping down “maharajas” instead of the actual answer, MAHARANIS,(22D: [Royals of India]). Also, anyone else go with “Geol.” instead of GEOG when seeing its clue initially (59A: [Earth sci.])? I sure did. Whether talking insects or psychoanalysis, IMAGO is a wonderful short entry (60A: [Adult insect stage]). Definitely learned something new with TURBOT, as it almost seems as if I’m learning a new type of fish through crosswords every couple of weeks or so (23A: [Broad-bodied flatfish]). For those who remember the ABC promotion TGIF, with four comedies in a row on primetime on Friday nights, which TGIF show was your favorite (19A: [Weekend warrior’s cry]). Full House and Family Matters is the one show most probably remember, Boy Meets World is the one that probably has the most street cred, and I was a big fan, but I also was a big fan of Perfect Strangers. Then there was Dinosaurs. Remember Dinosaurs? Maybe after seeing this picture, you may not want to care to know/remember.

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: MEANS (22A: [Stands for]) & CAIN (12D: [Abel’s brother]) – We have no-hitters colliding with today’s entry. The Baltimore Orioles had another very bad, no-good season in 2021, but, almost inarguably, their season highlight was John Means pitching a no-hitter in Seattle against the Mariners on May 5. Means did not allow a hit, walk, a hit batsman nor allow a hitter to reach base on an error…but because a hitter a reached base on a dropped third strike in the third inning (Sam Haggerty), Means’ performance was not perfect. (Haggerty was then caught stealing to end the inning, which allowed Means to eventually face the minimum of 27 batters.) Nine years prior, Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants actually completed a perfect game during his no-no against the Houston Astros in San Francisco on June 13, 2012. During the 22nd perfect game in MLB history, Cain recorded 14 of his 27 outs via the strikeout, tying Sandy Koufax’s (1965) record for most strikeouts in a perfect game.

Thank you so much for the time, everybody! Have a wonderful and safe rest of your day and, as always, keep solving!

Take care!


Jeff Chen & Matt Johnson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “It’s All Downhill From Here”—Jim P’s review

The revealer is APRÈS-SKI (55a, [Activities in an Alpine lodge, and a fitting end to the progression in 17-, 23-, 36- and 49-Across]). In case you’re not much of a skier (as I am not), and haven’t yet encountered après in other crosswords, the phrase literally means “after skiing” and is defined as “the social activities and entertainment following a day’s skiing.” (per Oxford Living Dictionaries)

So I guess the idea here is that we ski down the slope to the revealer.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “It’s All Downhill From Here” · Jeff Chen & Matt Johnson · Tue., 12.21.21

  • 17a. [Do double Dutch, say] SKIP ROPE
  • 23a. [Carrier named in honor of the Wright brothers’ flight] USS KITTY HAWK
  • 36a. [Its shows include “Nature Cat” and “Alma’s Way”] PBS KIDS
  • 49a. [Topper for a peanut blossom cookie] HERSHEY’S KISS

Cute. It must have taken some finesse to get everything positioned just so, and with fun theme entries to boot. I liked seeing PBS KIDS in the middle there even though my kids are well beyond that age group.

I will confess that knowing the phrase meant “after SKI,” I checked the letters after SKI in each entry to see if they became something. Nope. Not unless PRO PETTY HAWK DSSS means anything to you.

PLEASE SIR” (I want some more), GLISSANDO, SHELTIE, STALLION, and SKEEZY top the fill today. I liked GROTTO in that NE corner, but that’s about all I liked up there what with its OSES and RESLATES and ENPLANES. Hitting those entries fairly early on in the solve threatened to turn me off, but the theme turned me around.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Jazz job]. GIG. Not the Utah Jazz in this case, but a jazz player’s job.
  • 29a. [Degree for many a C-suite member]. MBA. Hadn’t heard the term “C-suite” before. The Internets tell me it’s where all the Chiefs hang out (CEO, COO, CFO, CIO, etc.)

Nice theme with an apt visual element. 3.75 stars.

Guilherme Gilioli’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 21 21, no. 1221

Our theme is 48a. [Display of mentalism … or a hint to this puzzle’s shaded squares], SPOON-BENDING, and the constructor’s Wordplay notes tell us he was inspired by James Randi’s debunking of “mentalist” Uri Geller’s supposed ability to bend spoons with his mind. Are you old enough to remember when URI Geller was in crosswords fairly often? Oof. Anyway, the rest of the Acrosses and Downs aren’t themed, but the circled letters reflect various ways of bending SPOONs.

Turns out Mr. Gilioli is a Brazilian who makes crosswords in Portuguese. It’s always mind-bending when someone whose first language isn’t English can still manage to master the art of making an American crossword. (Zhouqin Burnikel is the most notable example—her mother tongue doesn’t even use the Roman alphabet!)

Biggest question: Is NOTEDLY (29a. [With special importance]) a word that gets much use in English? When the crossings ruled out NOTABLY, that football abbreviation game me pause; 27d. [Some N.F.L. blockers] are RTS, but I tried RGS first. (Apparently RGs aren’t a thing, but Right Guard is a deodorant brand so …)

There were a few other things that jumped out as maybe on the hard side for newer solvers trying their hand at a Tuesday: TSAR right off the bat, URAL, AERIE, ORRIS ROOT, SPLINE, ENOS, maybe LYRE.

Fave fill: Jackie ROBINSON, SHRAPNEL, STOPS DEAD. Speaking of those latter two—I just rewatched The Matrix this evening. Gonna watch the second and third Matrix movies to prepare for the new sequel, out (and on HBA Max) on Wednesday. That “bullet time” remains mind-bending.

Three more things:

  • 32a. [Sewing shop supply], SPOOLS. Empty spools, or spools of thread? I don’t hang out as sewing shops, so I don’t know.
  • Today I learned: 43a. [Card suit that symbolizes a medieval weapon], SPADES. A weapon! Who knew?
  • 39d. [Singing voice meaning “heavy-sounding”], BARITONE. Oh! Makes perfect sense. Like bariatric surgery meets tones of music.

3.25 stars from me.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ Crossword, “Something Strange” – Derek’s write-up

Jonesin’ 12/21/2021

The theme is an old favorite. And sorta timely …

  • 19A [City where the Demon Deacons play home games] WINSTON SALEM
  • 22A [“SNL” cast member who plays Dionne Warwick] EGO NWODIM
  • 33A [Prokofiev orchestral work often played at children’s concerts] PETER AND THE WOLF
  • 45A [Reason for optimism] RAY OF HOPE
  • 52A [Movie (with a 2021 sequel) that features the characters in the circles] GHOSTBUSTERS

By sorta timely I mean there is the new movie that came out with Paul Rudd in it. I think that was back around Thanksgiving weekend, so it is fairly recent. These are all the characters from the original movie, which I don’t think I have ever seen! There are a few candidates for the Obscure Pop Culture Reference of the Week in this puzzle; I think I may have learned a thing or two! A solid 4.4 stars from me.

A few notes:

  • 32A [Title words preceding “Cooking,” “Painting,” and “Missing Out”] JOY OF – Interesting clue! One that also might not fly in other venues. I only see one NYT occurrence, and it was before I was born! (the entry was in 1967, to be exact!)
  • 59A [Bollywood actress Aishwarya ___] RAI – I know who this is! Well, sorta.

    Aishwarya Rai

  • 61A [“The Silence of the Lambs” director Jonathan] DEMME – This movie is getting old!
  • 3D [“1812 Overture” sound effect] CANNON – I wonder if they brought a real cannon to the orchestra concert back in the day … that would be worth the price of admission!
  • 11D [Actress Powley of “The King of Staten Island”] BEL – I’m sorry, who?? Definitely by choice for the OPCRotW!
  • 18D [Chinese dumpling, or a 2018 Pixar short named for one] BAO – I have vaguely heard of this Pixar movie; I’ll have to root around on Disney+ and see if I can find it!
  • 33D [“___ Lap” (1983 racehorse film set in Australia)] PHAR – This is another Obscure one. I don’t think I know this even from crosswords!!
  • 42D [Cartoon kid who says “What the deuce?”] STEWIE – A Family Guy reference always makes you laugh!

That is all for now! Only one more Jonesin’ for 2021. Man, time flies!

Kurt Krauss’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

LAT 12/21/2021

This puzzle has gone to the dogs!

  • 1A [*With 4-Across, researcher’s wear] LAB COAT
  • 20A [*Briefs alternative] BOXER SHORTS
  • 36A [*Jewel-encrusted film noir title bird] MALTESE FALCON
  • 56A [*Sock hop attire] POODLE SKIRT
  • 68A [With 69-Across, Iditarod front-runner … and a hint to the answers to starred clues] LEAD DOG

Yes, we have the breeds lab, boxer, Maltese, and poodle starting the theme entries. I almost missed it, but it is a nice touch that the themers all match up, even the ones that span two grid entries! It’s at least different, I’ll give you that! Nothing too hard in this one, but it IS a Tuesday! 4.4 stars from me.

A few highlights:

  • 16A [Like some quaint lamps] OIL LIT – Not too familiar a term, but unless you’re going for a fancy effect, we don’t use these much anymore! (I saw some driveway lights that were gas lit like this at a super fancy house I delivered to, once. I thought it was too much!)
  • 24A [Lena of “Riviera”] OLIN – Still crossword famous!
  • 47A [Buffet with guacamole and salsa] TACO BAR – I thought this was TAPA BAR. Whoops!
  • 41D [Prepared for a proposal] KNEELED – Don’t we say “knelt” more often? Is one used for a specific tense or another? Are both correct?
  • 44D [Common Sunday newspaper insert] AD PAGE – Yes, there are TONS of ads in the paper, but the papers are a dying breed, so even that is down.

Everyone have a safe and healthy week!

Zhouqin Burnikel’s USA Today Crossword, “Start of Winter“ — Emily’s write-up

Longer solve time today for me but an excellent puzzle with lots of great entries, a fun theme and themers, plus a fantastic grid design!

Completed USA Today crossword for Tuesday December 21, 2021

USA Today, 12 21 2021, “Start of Winter“ by Zhouqin Burnikel

Theme: the beginning of each themer is the abbreviation of a winter month


  • 17a. [Food that might be described as “sinful”], DECADENTDESSERT
  • 29a. [“Dirty Computer” singer], JANELLEMONAE
  • 55a. [Wicked aire freshner], FEBREZECANDLE

What a fun theme, though this winter has been more mild, at least so far, and we likely won’t have snow for the holidays—at least not in Columbus, OH! “Start of Winter” had me watching for signs of winter: ice, snow, etc. However, the theme turned out to be the months of winter which makes for a fun set of differing themers. Beginning with DECADENTDESSERT, I was originally misled by the clue (prior to figuring out the theme) into wanting “devil’s food cake” to work and I got the first two letters still but sadly not the rest of the cake. Next up is JANELLEMONAE whose name I recognize but not from the clue, which I may need to remedy that soon, so I needed a few crossings before I could complete the themer. Finally, for FEBREZECANDLE, the clue had me thinking “candle” but I needed more crossings for the brand name. Also, the months proceed in order: December, January, and February. Being from the Midwest, specifically Minnesota, I personally consider March and April winter months and sometimes even November. Not all winters are like that though many often include all of those months!

Lately I’ve been nerding out with my DND scented candles from Cantrip Candles. Anyone who enjoys 100% soy candles will love their high-quality and unique scents—so far I like Stonemoss Chapel best but Le Jardin des Fleurs is lovely as well and another popular one is their The Library Scriptorium. They have 6oz but if you also love candles and are a DND nerd their glass 16oz contains a metal D20 (20 sided dice) at the bottom for a bonus lasting surprise once the candle is done. Bonus pictures of these candles in action at the bottom of the post!

Favorite fill: ECHO, REDSKY, and SLEEVE

Stumpers: WANES (“dwindle” or “ends” came to mind), BOLO (“clip-on” was my first instinct), and HERO (“idol” is the usual go-to for similar clues)

One final aspect that I want to discuss is the set of entries that have clues that seem like they are for specific items but in fact are general entries. I’ve seen this previously in puzzles but it popped for me today in this puzzle since their are multiples: SPEC, ENTRY, and DECADENTDESSERT. I enjoy this type of pairing of clue and entry, though I’m not sure there is a way to tell perhaps except for having some of potentially more common ones (like SPEC and ENTRY) in mind when clues come up that don’t first fit a more specific entry. What are your thoughts on these types?

4.5 stars


Bonus pictures:

topdown photo of burning candle showing metal 20-sized dice at bottom of Cantrip Candle

D20 (20-sided) metal die at the bottom of Cantrip Candle’s 16oz glass jars

Cantrip Candles double wick Stonemoss Chapel scent soy candle burning with lid beside it

Cantrip Candle’s Stonemoss Chapel candle and lid

label with poetic description of Cantrip Candle's Stonemoss Chapel scent

Label with poetic description of Cantrip Candle’s Stonemoss Chapel scent

Emily Carroll’s Universal Crossword, “Lower Extremities”— Jim Q’s write-up

I don’t know how big your crossword grid is, but this one’s about a foot.

Universal crossword solution · “Lower Extremities” · Emily Carroll · Tues., 12.21.21

THEME: Common names/phrases with parts of the foot in them.



Fun, simple, entry-level theme. I’ve seen a very similar concept. One of which I constructed for Newsday some time ago. Stanley Newman had the idea to make all the themers vertical and give it the title Underfoot.” Then, I saw the exact same theme in a NY Times puzzle by Jeffrey Wechsler, I think. Lemme see if I can find it….

Nope. Gave it five minutes of searching around. But I’m almost certain it was his.

Anyway, solid themers all around. DOVER SOLE is new to me. I’m sure it’s delish. Just realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen TIM Robbins in a movie.

Who chews pencil ERASERs? I mean, if you’re gonna chew the ERASER, why stop there? I’m sure the rest of the pencil is equally as scrumptious.

Thanks for this one!

4 stars.

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12 Responses to Tuesday, December 21, 2021

  1. huda says:

    NYT: That last sentence from you, Amy, cracked me up. Using bariatric surgery to elucidate BARITONE.
    Methinks this puzzle should have run on a Wednesday… too many non-Tuesday entries, and the ratings would be better.

  2. Billy Boy says:

    NYT proves today any sort of nonsense theme is ok with Will Shortz for the greatest puzzles on Earth

  3. Alex says:

    NYT: I noted one of those spoons has two kinks. I don’t think Uri Geller ever managed that, but I could be wrong.

  4. person says:

    “There is no spoon”

    Save your time and don’t watch the Matrix 2 or 3. They’re awful.

  5. marciem says:

    Jonesin’… total failure at 59A/53d…. I had not heard of Ashiwarya and am glad to meet her, but not crossing Udi’s Gluten-free brand. Not inferable if you never shop gluten-free and hadn’t encountered Ms. Rai .

    Not fair.

  6. Lester says:

    USA Today: It appears that someone is reflexively giving every puzzle a 1-star rating and someone else is reflexively (maybe in response) giving every puzzle a 5-star rating.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      I had the same thought. When only a few people record ratings, they mean absolutely nothing. I don’t put any stock in them unless there are at least 15 or 20 raters. The statistician in me would probably drop the two or three highest and lowest ratings before calculating an average (or maybe the top and bottom ten percent of the ratings).

    • Eric H says:

      I just learned a few days ago that one can see the breakdown of the ratings and not just the mean.

      Do you suppose that whoever’s giving all those one-star ratings has ever had a puzzle published?

  7. Zulema says:

    I print the puzzles off my computer Can’t the NYT find how to have the printed puzzles show whatever appears on the puzzles on-line, such as circles (today) or last Sunday’s cute little objects that were all part of the theme? They are not in my printed puzzles. Any help? I do subscribe to the 7-day Home-delivered edition but don’t like the printed puzzles in the daily paper, and I like to do them the night before. Last Sunday I gave it away, different reason.

    • Gary R says:


      Have you tried selecting “Newspaper Version” on the print menu (I think the default is “Puzzle” and “Standard Layout”)? That works for me. Of course, if you don’t like the versions that come in your home-delivery paper, this may not solve your problem.

  8. Katie M. says:

    WSJ: Did anyone else wonder about SKEEZY? I was thinking skeevy would be the answer, and indeed, the MW dictionary definition for skeevy is morally or physically repulsive, like the clue asked for.
    When I searched for SKEEZY, (and thankfully I did it on DuckDuckGo and not Google), I was shocked by the results I got. I was surprised this would be in the WSJ.

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