Wednesday, December 22, 2021

LAT 3:56 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker 3:31 (Matthew) 


NYT 5:04 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 4:00 (Sophia) 


AVCX 10:20 (Ben) 


Alan Massengill’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Extra Fees”—Jim P’s review

Today we have familiar two-word phrases whose second words can be synonymous with “fees.” The first words change meaning to give us crossword wackiness.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Extra Fees” · Alan Massengill · Wed., 12.22.21

  • 17a. [Extra fees from the birthing center?] LABOR COSTS.
  • 24a. [Extra fees from the chiropractor’s office?] BACK TAXES. Ha! This one was worth a chuckle from me.
  • 38a. [Extra fees from a politician’s manager?] HANDLING CHARGES.
  • 50a. [Extra fee from a Honda importer?] CIVIC DUTY. Nice one.
  • 61a. [Extra fee from an Oregon city?] EUGENE LEVY. Double ha! This one was so unexpected, I had to laugh.

I enjoyed these even if they aren’t entirely consistent. You see, the meanings of the first words change in all five entries from their original meanings, but the second words (i.e. the primary thematic words) only change meaning in the last two entries. But what matters more to me is the overall entertainment value of the theme, and this one delivered.

In the fill I liked CRUSADER, DID IT ALL, PAISANO, “TOO BAD“, and TREBEK. I liked less EMOTERS, and old standbys NOT PC, AD REP, and I TINA. AS A GIFT was really hard to parse as well.

KEGLER [Bowler, in slang] is completely new to me. I had to look up whether or not it refers to hats or the sport (it’s the latter). If you know where that term came from, feel free to share.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [San Francisco’s ___ Tower]. COIT. Having grown up in the South Bay, I never got to the City all that often, and I was very familiar with the radio station KOIT well before I ever learned there was an actual COIT Tower. So I still have to pause at that first letter whenever this comes up in a grid.
  • 16a. [It gets played]. ROLE. I had NOTE here for far too long and it really messed up that corner for me.
  • 11d. [Pocket protector?].O-LINE. For the non-football-watchers, the offensive line’s purpose is to block defensive line players from sacking the quarterback. If they’re doing their job, they create a “pocket” in which the quarterback stands and hopefully has time to pass the ball to a receiver.

Entertaining theme and a fine grid. 3.75 stars.

Noki Trias & Lawrence Barrett’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crossword solution, 12 22 21, no. 1222

The revealer sits in the middle of the grid: MARTIAN MISSIONS, or 36a. [NASA endeavors whose vehicles can be found at the ends of 17-, 22-, 51- and 57-Across]. I believe NASA uses the term Mars mission more than Martian, though. Those four themers end with Mars rovers and whatnot:

  • 17a. [Jovial seasonal mood], CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. 
  • 22a. [Cost of not doing business, maybe], LOST OPPORTUNITY. The Spirit and Opportunity are both rovers that left Earth in 2003.
  • 51a. [Why everyone loves a good train wreck], MORBID CURIOSITY. The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012.
  • 57a. [Uniquely American cleverness], YANKEE INGENUITY. Great entry. The Ingenuity is a Mars helicopter that began flying this past spring.

I like that the Mars vehicles are in chronological order.


Worst entry: “UM, BYE” isn’t really an established thing that people say.

Three more things:

  • 19d. [Fit of sullenness], POUT. I much prefer POUT as a verb.
  • 63a. [Quizzical Quebec questions?], EHS. First off, not a fan of plural interjections as crossword fill. Second, can any of you confirm that the Francophone Canadians also say “eh”?
  • 4d. [Gardeners’ orders, at times], SOIL TESTS. I’ll bet lots of you garden. If you’ve ever had a soil test done, what was the reason?

3.5 stars from me.

Malaika Handa & Brooke Husic’s USA Today crossword, “Geometry Final” — Sophia’s recap

Editor: Erik Agard
Theme: Each theme answer ends with a geometric term, gradually increasing in dimension

USA Today, 12 22 2021, “Geometry Final”

  • 16a [Say something useful] – MAKE A GOOD POINT
  • 34a [Going too far] – CROSSING THE LINE
  • 55a [Samuel L. Jackson film that was almost called “Pacific Air Flight 221”] – SNAKES ON A PLANE

Good morning all! I’m on the east coast for the holidays, which means that my solves/recaps are done just after waking up (as opposed to at 10pm on the west coast – one of the perks of living there is getting the puzzle earlier in the day!). So I’ll blame any mistakes/slow solve times on that this week :)

I loved the progression in today’s puzzle from POINT to LINE to PLANE, especially since the first and last theme answers do such a good job of disguising the geometry word. I actually learned this SNAKES ON A PLANE fact recently from one of those Buzzfeed lists of, like, “17 times your favorite movies were almost called something else!” Apparently Samuel L. Jackson himself convinced the filmmakers to change the movie’s name back to its original working title, which he felt was more attention-grabbing. I’d say it was a good move!

Other thoughts on this puzzle, in bullet-point form:

  • So many great two-word answers today! Loved LYING LOW, SLEPT IN, ROUGH IT, EASE UP.
  • I didn’t immediately know either of the first two answers in the puzzle today (1a [Color on the Jamaican flag] for GOLD and 5a [Hang out, in Barbados] for LIME), so the puzzle started off slowly for me. Also, I put in “area” instead of ZONE for 58a [Region], which really messed up my SW corner for a bit.
  • I didn’t know YVIE Oddly, so I had to reach wayyy back into my 2016 brain to pull out GYMS for 1d [Locations in Pokemon Go].
  • Loved the Princess Jasmine reference in the 28d [Princess Jasmine’s companion is one] clue for TIGER and the Hadestown reference in the 62a [“Hadestown” has two] clue for ACTS!

Henry Lin-David’s Universal crossword, “Alchemy” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 12/22/21 • Wed • “Alchemy” • Lin-David • solution • 20211222

Changing LEAD into GOLD via a word ladder.

  • 17a. [*”Goodnight, Irene” singer (Note: The first words of the starred clues’ answers form a sequence)] LEAD BELLY. My opinion is that the explanation is overkill, but it’s probably helpful for some solvers.
  • 24a. [*Websites’ waiting periods] LOAD TIMES.
  • 35a. [*Dish featuring Yorkshire pudding and sausages] TOAD IN THE HOLE.
  • 50a. [*”Was I right or was I right?!”] TOLD YOU SO.
  • 59a. [*Kindergartners’ rewards] GOLD STARS.

That was a rather speedy transmutation, wouldn’t you say? And an obvious choice for termini of a word ladder, so I’m sure it’s been done many times previously, but perhaps not in the context of a crossword.

  • 36d [“Uncut Gems” gem] OPAL. From a precious metal to a precious stone. I’ve been hesitant to watch this film despite the generally strong reviews, because I don’t care for Adam Sandler, but this bit of information may tip the scales for me, as I’m very fond of opals.
  • 43d [Pearl producer] OYSTER.
  • 32d [Inevitable conclusion to a wedding reception] LAST DANCE.
  • Timely: 10d [Fruit used as a Japanese New Year decoration] PERSIMMON. 65a [“Auld Lang __”] SYNE.
  • 56a [Elbow or shoulder, e.g.] JOINT. For a brief moment I imagined a pasta shape called scapole and, you know, I think it could work.
  • 27d [“Unbelievable,” in a text] SMH, for ‘shaking my head’. When I first encountered it, long ago, I thought it stood for ‘so much hate’—this interpretation also works a good portion of the time.
  • 23a [Fourth Greek letter] DELTA. And OMICRON is the 15th, for those playing at home.
  • 54a [MLB player whose mascot is an alien] ASTRO. Did not know this, but it sort of makes sense. Now I have to go look up the mascot’s name … annnnnd it’s Orbit.

Solid crossword. Two metallic solids, even.

George Jasper’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Today’s LA Times theme by George Jasper features a vibrant revealing answer: RAILSPLITTER. The theme itself is pretty simple, the letters of RAIL bookend three more answers. These were the more workaday RAISECAPITAL, RAPIDBOIL and RUSTYNAIL. I think BEARD and PENNY are meant to be bonus theme answers of a sort. It’s an odd time of the year for this theme, but I’m guessing February was full?

The rest of the puzzle was fairly safe, with not a lot of big highs or lows. One answer; [Makes potable, as seawater], DESALTS; made me raise an eyebrow. That’s an odd way to say “desalinates”.


Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review

Anna Shechtman’s New Yorker crossword solution, 12/22/2021

So much fun stuff from Anna today that I’m moving right to notes:

  • 18a [Three-time Olympic snowboarding gold medallist White] SHAUN. Shaun is also an accomplished skateboarder with multiple Summer X-Games medals, though the sport didn’t reach the Olympics until he was past his prime.
  • 19a [“Bridgerton” producer Rhimes] SHONDA. I did not realize this when we watched it (or, while it was on while I did puzzles), but I do see her style in the show now that I think back.
  • 23a [1921 Literature Nobelist France] ANATOLE. One of those bits I first learned from crosswords, but in this case, it was in a cryptic; one of Kosman/Picciotto’s in The Nation.
  • 35a [Legal form of state surveillance] PAROLE. Props for a non-punny, non-jokey clue.
  • 49a [Messenger goddess in the Iliad] IRIS. With the epithet “fleet as the wind” in the Samuel Butler prose translation, which is not my favorite, but one that I could access easily via Google.
  • 9d [“The finest emotion,” per Stephen King] TERROR. Hard disagree from me! I get nightmares from NCIS episodes, let alone actually scary things.
  • 38d [French husband] MARI. I want to say this is new to me, but it tickles somewhere in my brain. I suppose I can see a (maybe false) cognate to “marriage”.
  • 54d [Barbed remark] GIBE. The number of times I have Googled “GIBE”, “jibe,” and “jive” is too many. At this point in trying to learn, I just don’t use them much anymore.

A few unfamiliar names to me – Norman RUSH and Joseph PAPP – but both are in those excellent corner stacks with plenty of other footholds and colorful answers. ALAIN LOCKE and SAUL BELLOW in the NE stack along with Gunter GRASS, SHAUN White and AKON crossing could be a trouble spot for some, but each name come from a pretty different orbit, so hopefully no one is totally stumped.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s AVCX, “Stereo Lab” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 12/22/21 – “Holiday Assortment”

The AVCXpansion is happening! We’ll be getting a second weekly puzzle, midis, a cryptic, and more, with 15 days remaining.  Find out more details and contribute if interested (since there’s still time) here!

This week’s puzzle is a themed themeless (which I know seems oxymoronic, but work with me here) from Elizabeth C. Gorski.  I probably should have read the note with the puzzle before diving in on this one, because I definitely spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out what the theme was, when it’s just a holiday themeless.  Anyways, onto the fill:

  • Ariana Grande’s “SANTA TELL ME”: probably one for the holiday song canon.  Sia’s “CANDY CANE LANE”: perhaps less so.
  • Did anyone else put MORMON first for “Member of Salt Lake City’s Tabernacle Choir, most likely”?  It’s UTAHAN.
  • RASTA MAN, STELLATE, CASH COWS, and ANOINTER: all great down fill.

This was another solid entry from Elizabeth C. Gorski – happy holidays, all!



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19 Responses to Wednesday, December 22, 2021

  1. Philip says:

    NYT: Born in Montreal, lived there nearly 30 years. Eh is definitely an Anglo thing.

  2. Sheik Yerbouti says:

    NYT: Why not go with “Mars Expeditions” instead of “Martian Missions”? Same number of letters and much more common phrasing, no?

    • Gary R says:

      MISSION is the standard term NASA uses to describe all of its “endeavors” (as the clue puts it). I believe “expedition” is reserved for missions that involve human space travel.

  3. Billy Boy says:

    Very awkward, unpleasant, jerky solving experience. Perceived a lot of clunky fill/ clue pairs in this seat.

    @sheik “Mars Expeditions” probably led to a cleaner, smoother solve that this pair thought was too easy, only possible explanation.

  4. David L says:

    USA Today: The GYMS/YVIE crossing was an exception to the puzzle’s generally fair crossings. OTOH, after running the alphabet, Y was the only letter that seemed plausible, after ruling out GAMS, GEMS and GUMS as locations, so I got the right answer eventually. The NE section with BRIDAL, READER, DANIEL and LAVA, all clued in ways that were obscure to me, was also tough but solvable.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      When I saw the two constructor names on this puzzle, I pretty much knew it was going to be a tough solve for me. I wasn’t wrong. Since I know virtually nothing about Pokemon Go other than that it exists (existed?), I didn’t manage to rule out ‘eVIE’/’GeMS’ at this cross and submitted my solution with that wrong cross. This puzzle missed my strike zone by so much that I might as well have not stepped into the batter’s box. Very humbling.

      Is Pokemon Go still a thing? It doesn’t seem like I see quite as many people wandering around aimlessly in public with their phones in front of their faces, completely oblivious to what’s going on around them and bumping into people.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        YVIE Oddly is one of those people where you want to add an adverb to “unique,” because this drag queen’s style, look, and bendability are astonishingly unique. I didn’t think she could actually win her season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” because she’s so far from the mainstream, and was delighted when she did.

        I still play Pokémon Go, and 150 million others are still playing—Niantic made a billion dollars on the game last year. I’m even in a group of crossworders who play! I also play with a bunch of South Africans and a handful of Japanese people. It’s cool to see pictures of the places they play within the game.

      • David Steere says:

        USA TODAY: I had the same “eVIE/GeMS” natick. No idea. This seems a rare departure from USA Today’s usual practice of having fair crossings. A disappointment there. Otherwise, no problems, fill-wise, although I had to guess 10D and 30A.

  5. steve says:

    surprised nobody mentioned the clue: lose the suit, say

    IMHO it is orca worthy

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    @Amy re soil testing … It’s very common for gardening enthusiasts to do soil testing. The most basic test (no pun intended) gives you the pH level of your soil so you know if it’s acidic or alkalic. If it’s too acidic for what you want to plant, you might add lime; if it’s too alkalic, you might add sulfur, compost or leaf mold. You can also test for various elements. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (aka NPK) are the most common elements of interest, but there’s lots of others you can test for as well if you really want to fine tune.

    Home test kits are sold at garden centers, but if you want the most accurate results, you should send soil samples to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office. These offices were historically run by land-grant colleges and universities, but I think the oversight may be more diverse now than it once was.

  7. sanfranman59 says:

    TNY … Is it just me or does today’s puzzle seem even more PPP-laden than the typical TNY puzzle? (PPP = pop culture, product names and proper nouns) I’m shocked that I didn’t have anything wrong in the NE section of the grid. With the exception of SUNSCREENS, that entire section is PPP answers (oof!). Unfortunately, I guessed wrong with ‘BOb BRAIDS’/’bTS’ instead of BOX BRAIDS {59A: Protective hair style popularized by Janet Jackson}/XTS {60D: Bygone Cadillac model}. I should have realized that BTS probably would have been clued as the Korean boy band TNY.

    • JohnH says:

      I had the same experience with just that unfinished crossing, although the whole NE was no fun either. (I did find SAUL BELLOW a gimme, but still.) OTOH, nice to time a puzzle by this person with her brief memoir of a life in puzzles in the print games and puzzles issue. I did find the essay awfully self-justifying and self-indulgent, too, but what can you do.

      • david glasser says:

        While it’s fair to have whatever personal reaction you might have to an essay, it feels pretty unkind to share that kind of reaction to something so personal and exposed in a venue where the author is likely to read it.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        @John, the essay is clearly labeled as a Personal History piece. It’s supposed to focus on the writer’s self, no?

  8. Peter Nylander says:

    WSJ reminded me of Merl Reagle. Fun fill and clever wit.

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