Thursday, December 23, 2021

BEQ Untimed (Darby) 


LAT 5:42 (GRAB) 


NYT 10:35 (Ben) 


Universal 4:11 (Jim Q) 


USA Today 2:35 (Sophia) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Alex Eaton-Salners’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Surround Sound”—Jim P’s review

The revealer is SECOND OF TWO (59a, [Latter, or, homophonically, what 17-, 31- and 44-Across each have]). The other theme entries are familiar three-word phrases where the second word is a homophone of “two.”

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Surround Sound” · Alex Eaton-Salners · Thu., 12.23.21

  • 17a. [Crossing the line] GOING TOO FAR.
  • 31a. [Famous last words] “ET TU BRUTE?”
  • 44a. [“Drop dead!”] “NUTS TO YOU!”

Hmm. Feels like a loose and rather light theme for a Thursday. There are any number of TOO or TO phrases that could’ve worked here. There’s even an alternative for the TU phrase in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, the Oscar-nominated Alfonso Cuaron film (though it’s an awkward 14 letters in length). Further, I wouldn’t have objected to an oddity like BOYZ II MEN appearing as another theme answer, just to throw a zinger into the mix. As it is this was hard to get excited about, though I love the phrase “NUTS TO YOU!”

What’s in the fill? A GREAT DEAL (which was hard to parse, by the way). STIR THE POT and PINCUSHION make for a lovely stack in the SW. LOOSE END, SELFIES, PUNDITS, HOGTIE—also nice.

Clues of note:

  • 1a. [Radio reply of agreement]. WILCO. We all went with ROGER first, right? BTW WILCO is short for “will comply.”
  • 24a. [Prejudice, according to Lady Gaga]. DISEASE. Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Ergo, travel is the cure to the DISEASE of prejudice, and I firmly believe this to be true.
  • 32d. [Corps doings]. BALLET. I was not aware of this usage of the word “corps”: “The dancers in a ballet company who perform as a group and have no solo parts.”

A relatively simple theme for a Thursday. I’m thinking it would have been fine slotted earlier in the week. 3.25 stars.

Stephen McCarthy’s New York Times crossword—Ben’s review

NYT #1223 – 12/23/2021

Stephen McCarthy’s grid for the Thursday NYT has a pretty straightforward twist, all things considered:

  • 17A: Reef deposit hung on the holiday tree? — A CHRISTMAS CORAL
  • 31A: Noble gas you can’t live without? — VITAL ARGON
  • 41A: Starbucks order for a man’s man? — CAFFE MACHO
  • 59A: Buys tickets for a couple of friends for a Polynesian getaway? — TAKES TWO TO TONGA



The latest season of the podcast You Must Remember This is comparing and contrasting the parallel careers of Dean Martin (of “That’s AMORE” fame and Sammy Davis Jr. It’s a great listen if you’re into vintage Hollywood stories.

Elsewhere: HERDS CATS! THE HEAT! ZERO-G! This had quite the variety of crunchy fill.

Happy Thursday, and Happy Holidays!

Rafael Musa’s USA Today crossword, “Starting Small” — Sophia’s recap

Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each theme answer begins with a word that means “small”

USA Today, 12 23 2021, “Starting Small”

  • 20a [Car with Union Jack taillights] – MINI COOPER
  • 40a [Cozy gig hosted by NPR Music] – TINY DESK CONCERT
  • 60a [Capital of Arkansas] – LITTLE ROCK

This puzzle flew by for me! My solving time was certainly helped by being able to drop in TINY DESK CONCERT with no crosses – what a fabulous grid-spanning answer (side note that if you haven’t checked out this series before, I highly highly recommend it). The concept of the puzzle connects nicely to the title, and it’s nice that in each of the theme phrases, the “small” word doesn’t connect strictly to the size of the object referenced.

Super clean fill today – I think that’s the reason I was able to solve so quickly; if there was ever an answer I was at all unsure about, I could usually flip to the crossing answer and get it. It also helped that all of the non-themed across answers were pretty short (5 letters or less) – I was able to get the longer downs of ANTONYMS, SENATE RACE, and CONSTANT without really looking at their clues because I had so many across answers filled in. My favorite non-themed answer, ALL THE BEST, I did manage to get with only the first few letters in place – maybe that’s why it was my favorite, I got to feel a nice sense of accomplishment by filling in a bunch of letters at once :)

Other notes:

  • I haven’t seen this cluing angle before for ONEAL [Frederick who founded the American Negro Theatre], but I’ll definitely be keeping it in mind for future puzzles.
  • I enjoyed that both ACID and BASES appear in this puzzle – as someone who hasn’t taken a chemistry class in a loooong time, seeing BASES show up was also helpful for confirmation of the ACID clue (6a [Substance that turns litmus paper red]).
  • Hey, it’s a BRIDGE reference (50d [Trick-taking card game])! I was a competitive bridge player in college and am always happy to see it mentioned in the puzzle.

Have a happy holiday weekend everyone!

Michael Schlossberg’s Universal Crossword, “Triple Play”— Jim Q’s write-up

THEME: Two word phrases/names where the letter I appears once in the first word, and then twice consecutively in the second.

Universal crossword solution · “Triple Play” · Michael Schlossberg · Thurs., 12.23.21


  • (revealer) ONE-TWO COMBOS

I had noticed the odd II combination in the second word quickly, and noticed the single I in the first word, but was curious as to how/if it would tie together. The title didn’t seem to be a revealer (as it sometimes is), so glad to see the last themer pull it together for a small AHA click. The themers are one-two combos if we see the I‘s as Roman numerals (or I suppose if that’s the way you write your ones in the Arabic numeral system, that works too).

Relatively quick solve for me. Grid was fine. Fun clue for IT’S A TIE [Cry after evening the score?] and UNITE [Inapt anagram of “untie”?].

Theme in general simply evoked an “oh, that’s interesting” sorta response.

3.3 Stars from me.

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

Paul Coulter’s puzzle theme today is all about the clues, which describe each answer using two homonyms. Some pairs are polysemes, some are independent. So [Blades for trimming blades] is a LAWNMOWER; [Development that ended much development] is a DIGITALCAMERA; [Club used at a club] is a PITCHING WEDGE; and [Wheels for carrying wheels] is a LIMOUSINE. There is also a short central bonus: [Bell invention with a bell], PHONE.

New to me:
[Channel that shows college games], ESPNU. I believe this will gain traction.

There are quite a number of awkward chunks of answers today: ANOSE, NEWAT, LAYCLAIM, OFOLD, NAILIT. To a varying extent, these feel incomplete and/or contrived.


Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1429, “The Evidence”—Darby’s review

Theme: Each themed answer refers to a piece of evidence that might be left by ole Father Christmas.

Theme Answers

Brendan Emmett Quigley's Crossword #1429, “The Evidence” solution for 12/23/2021

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Crossword #1429, “The Evidence” solution for 12/23/2021

  • 18a [“‘I wake up to THIS mess? I mean…couldn’t he have used the plate I gave him?!’”] COOKIE CRUMBS
  • 34a [“‘Is it too much to ask him to bring dishes back to the kitchen?’”] EMPTY MILK GLASS
  • 51a [“‘It’s going to take hours getting this grit out of the living room carpet!’”] CHIMNEY ASHES

I suppose that this could also be a how-to guide for tricking your kids into thinking Santa came through, both with the script in the clues and the remains in the answers. All in all, a cute theme that was so obvious in hindsight.

Grid-wise, I enjoyed the set-up stacking EDEN and SLEDGE on top of EMPTY MILK GLASS with STEELE and IT SO underneath. It made for a nice centerpiece to the puzzle, in my option, especially with EDITION running so cleanly down the center.. Also – the two adverbs crossing these were fun with 5d [“In a refined manner”] POLITELY and 37d [“Including the whole world”] GLOBALLY.

Other things I noticed:

  • 15a [“Athlete with stones”] – I don’t think about CURLERs very often, so I was completely lost here, but generally I think curling is a cool sport, so it was fun to see in the grid.
  • 59a [“Simmons who was the United States’ first Black female immunologist”] – I loved this shout-out to ELLAMAE Simmons as well as the reference to Harriet TUBMAN in 9d [“Underground Railroad conductor”].
  • 56d [“Copying, in the kitchen”] – This was a great way to clue ALA in my mind, just jumping us into that culinary setting and making that connection.

Sorry for the day-late posting of this one! I just got home for the holidays, and it was fun but busy day that kept me off my computer.

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13 Responses to Thursday, December 23, 2021

  1. Zulema says:

    The NYT hilarious!!!

    • Mutman says:

      Agreed! And I am impressed at the quality of the themers. I can’t even think of any others, good or bad.

    • marciem says:

      I too loved this one!! … great wordplay, funny whackiness. I think my favorite was that Caffe Macho :D .

    • Reddogg says:

      Any puzzle that has the answer “Takes two to Tonga” is a winner even if the fill is bad – which is not the case in this puzzle. Hip, Hip, Hooray!

  2. Matthew S. says:

    Adding to the Tiny Desk Concert love! My favorite from recently:

  3. Rahsaan Hawkins says:

    I can’t find today’s Universal online… Please help!!!

  4. sanfranman59 says:

    @Jim P … I couldn’t agree more with you about that Twain quote (one of my favorites ever and thanks for reminding me of it). In fact, I’d suggest that the world would be a much less bigoted place if people would actually go live in different places for a while in order to be exposed to people and cultures that are different than those with which they’re most familiar. In my opinion and experience, thanks to the diversity of cultures we have in this country, it’s not even necessary to move to a different country. I was born and raised in NE Ohio and have moved back here because I can afford to retire here on my pension and the money I’ve saved. In between, I was fortunate enough to live in Connecticut, Boston, the DC area and San Francisco. As a result, I’ve been exposed to a lot of things (cultures, customs, ways of thinking) that I surely never would have encountered had I spent my entire life here (as so many people in my life here have). I’ve been blessed and am truly grateful, though I have to confess that I sometimes find it difficult to hang out with some folks around here who tend to have a very narrow perspective, in part because they’ve seen so little of the world. Insulation and segregation breed suspicion and prejudice.

  5. Mark Abe says:

    LAT: Frankly, cleverly-worded clues are more fun for the writer than the solver.

    NYT: I think this is really a “hard Wednesday”, not a “tricky Thursday”. However, I really loved the pun answers. I wonder how many baristas were confused by puzzle fans asking for a “Caffe Macho” this morning.

  6. Alex says:


    Anybody know if there is/will be a WSJ meta this week? And if/when it will appear on the WSJ website?

    Thx! And Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it!

Comments are closed.