Saturday, January 8, 2022

LAT 2:47 (Stella) 


Newsday 20:51 (pannonica) 


NYT 12:32 (Sophia) 


Universal 5:04 (Jim Q) 


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Freddie Cheng’s New York Times crossword—Sophia’s Recap

New York Times, 01 08 2022, By Freddie Cheng

Hey folks, Sophia here covering the Saturday NYT. I’ve blogged two of Freddie’s previous puzzles the last few months, but both were Mondays so this is a nice change of pace!

I’m actually shocked I solved this puzzle as quickly as I did, given that on my first pass of the acrosses I had about three answers. Luckily, one of those was PASCAL’S TRIANGLE, or I never would have had a hope at the top section. The first half of the downs was pretty rough too, but I managed to get enough in the bottom half to see the three bottom 15’s, clawed my way up the right side, eventually got the last two 15’s from their back halves, and finished on the top left (PITSAWS/ANOSMIA/CIT were all total unknowns for me).

This puzzle has a super low black square count, only 21. By my count (thanks xwordinfo for the stats), only 12 NYT puzzles ever have had lower than that. In any construction that ambitious, there are bound to be some gluey bits, which this puzzle definitely has – triple stacks of 15 are often love-them-or-hate-them in this way, because if you don’t connect as a solver to the marquee answers, the puzzles can feel very difficult without much payoff. For me, the six 15’s are all solid (SET A GOOD EXAMPLE is a good example (haha) of a fine phrase that doesn’t really sparkle, although the misdirect in [Do some modeling] is nice) to excellent (TOO TIRED TO THINK, EAT DESSERT FIRST). I’m not a big triple stack girl myself as I think the tradeoff with the rest of the fill quality can sometimes be too strong (honestly I feel that way about most ultra-low word count puzzles regardless of grid shape), but I thought the execution here was pretty well done. I wish some of the down answers had been a little more interesting, though – looking back over the puzzle now, there aren’t many that stand out to me as memorable. Well, except for ELK MEAT, but that’s mostly because I came very close to putting in “eel meat”.

Other notes on the puzzle:

  • I mentioned above that triple stack puzzles, and themeless puzzles in general really, can be better if the clues/answers relate to things solvers connect with. Today, if you’re a math/stats person, you’re gonna be very happy with PASCAL’S TRIANGLE, DECILES, and FAT TAIL. Especially with those latter two being right next to each other in clue order, it definitely set a tone for the puzzle.
  • Speaking of that, there were a lot of related clues throughout the puzzle. [Diatribes] clued both TIRADES and SCREEDS, two “La Boheme” related clues for PARIS and AMIS, and of course the two stats answers mentioned previously. An interesting choice to stay in the same areas for a puzzle with such low word count, in my opinion.
  • Wooooow way to rub it in to all my fellow Seattleites that the MARINERS are the only team that hasn’t been to the World Series :( Maybe next year we’ll make it to the playoffs for the first time in…. 21 years.
  • I had ____ PRO for 38d [Certain sports instructor] for so long, and kept wanting the first word to be a certain sport like “golf” instead of the correct CLUB PRO. The vague [Measure of volume] clue for BEL certainly didn’t help either.
  • I do like the misdirect on the 53d clue [Canine protection org.?] for ADA (stands for the American Dental Association), but I would have liked the answer better if it was clued as a woman’s name. It’s a math puzzle, what is this Ada Lovelace exclusion??
  • PROSY will always look spelled wrong to me, and every time I look in the grid at TEDEUMS I think I have misspelled “tediums”. Needed every cross for both of those.
  • A fun fact about SAG CARDS is that each person who has one needs to have a unique name, and this is one major reason why some celebrities go by stage names! For example, Emma Stone’s real name is Emily, but there was already somebody with a SAG card for “Emily Stone”, so she chose to go by Emma professionally.
  • Clues I liked: [National geographic books?] for ATLASES, [Basic analysis?] for PH TEST, [___ Player, first Black woman to become president of a four-year college] for WILLA (the college was Bennett College, for those who were curious).

Happy weekend all!

Billy and Molly Bratton’s Universal Crossword, “Universal Freestyle 2″— Jim Q’s write-up

Looks like a debut for Molly Bratton! Is this a husband/wife pair? Congrats!

THEME: None!

Universal crossword solution · “Universal Freestyle 2” · Billy and Molly Bratton · Thurs., 01.08.22



My favorite of those entries were the ones I hadn’t heard of- ALLOSAURUS, PLANET NINE, and ELLIOT PAGE (though I suppose I saw him in Juno). They gave the puzzle a bit of a challenge. Otherwise, I found it very easy. Fun, but not much harder than a themed Universal.

Actually, before I say that too much, if you look solution grid I indeed have a Natick-y mistake (for me). As I didn’t know PLANET NINE and SAT ON is a viable option for the clue [Placed atop] I accepted PLANET NINA as an answer. In hindsight, it’s awfully silly sounding (no offense to the Ninas of the world), but at the time I was happy that I had new awareness of the previously-foreign-to-me PLANET NINA.


  • Fun clue for NOON 12D [Apt time given this clue’s number]. 
  • Is the McCrepe really a thing? Could I go to any McDonald’s and order that and they’d know what I was talking about? Has anyone tried this? I’m very curious.
  • [Their tails have scales] for MERMAIDS feels a bit vague.
  • Is Big Al named thusly because he was an ALLOSAURUS? If so, it feels like a bit of a dupe in the clue.
  • I really feel like [Audio player] for TAPE DECK needs some sort of qualifier. Like “of yore” or “once.” When’s the last time you used a TAPE DECK? For me it was about two years ago cleaning out an attic. Tried it for fun. It ate through every tape I inserted. Then I threw it out.

Thanks for this one!

3.75 stars from me.

Lynn Lempel’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Letter Carriers” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 1/8/22 • Sat • “Letter Carriers” • Lempel • solution • 20220108

The ‘letter carriers’ of the title refers to the clues, each of which contains a homophone for a letter of the alphabet, plus an instruction—similar to those in cryptic crosswords—as to whether it should be added to or removed from the answer, after which wackiness ensues.

I’ll italicize and underline or bracket the relevant parts.

  • 22a. [“The guys on Tinder are so much alike—it’s eye-catching“?] BACHELOR PARITY. The letter I is caught by the original phrase, bachelor party.
  • 37a. [Tea leaves show trouble for a matador?] HORN IN HIS SIDE ({t}horn in his side).
  • 55a. [“See here, it’s a film fish who’s put on weight”?] CHUNKY DORY (hunky-dory).
  • 77a. [Beekeeper’s IQ test?] BRAIN GAUGE (rain gauge).
  • 94a. [Remedies for measles and chickenpox are missing?] SPOTS MEDICINE (spo{r}ts medicine).
  • 114a. [Macho guy wearing vivid red? Why not?] A STUD IN SCARLET (A Stud{y} in Scarlet).
  • 15d. [Oh no! The beer is gone?] VANISHING PINT (vanishing p{o}int).
  • 54d. [You came in for pressure to get married?] WEDDING DURESS (wedding d{u}ress).

I liked this theme, it’s a bit different and it’s done well.

Added letters: I C B; removed letters: T R Y O U

  • Jazz roundup: 82d [Jazz style] BOP, 94d [Jazz ensemble, at times] SEPTET, 11d [Groups with one more member than a 94-Down] OCTETS, 80a [Jazz scene] UTAH crossed by 64d [Verve] DASH (Verve is a venerable jazz record label), 81a [Jazz selections] NUMBERS.
  • 85d [“Girl Before a Mirror” painter] PICASSO.
  • 38d [Infallible authorities] ORACLES. But they’re traditionally cryptic.
  • 84d [Knot untiers] EXES; 1a [Where many engagements end] ALTAR. 46d [Twofold] DUAL, 20a [Uncouple] DETACH.
  • 86d [Idealistic] UTOPIAN, 109d [Ideal area] EDEN.
  • 89d [Feel] TEXTURE, 3d [Like Braille writing] TACTILE. Louis Braille, born 4 Jan 1809, died 6 January 1852.
  • 7a [Cottonwood trees] ALAMOS. A useful bit of trivia I learned years ago and have never forgotten, so this was an automatic fill entry for me.
  • 74a [Short shorts] HOT PANTS. Couldn’t find a decent video to share of Van Morrison’s bizarre “Moonshine Whiskey” from Tupelo Honey, so I’ll just reproduce the relevant lines: And I said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute / I’m gonna take a plane / Come with me tonight” / Gonna put on my hot pants / And promenade down funky Broadway ’til the cows come home
  • 83a [Took away] REMOVED. Echoing the theme. Too bad there isn’t a complementary entry alluding to the other operation.
  • 119a [Ebb] SUBSIDE.

And on that cheery note, ciao.

Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” — pannonica’s write-up

Newsday • 1/8/22 • Saturday Stumper • Sewell • solution • 20220108

Yep, this one crushed me. Plenty of stumpery clues, oblique and abstract, the kind that make it difficult to get toeholds in the grid, at least with any sort of confidence.

This despite knowing some sizable entries in the northeast: 18a [Fictional foe of Richelieu] had to be D’ARTAGNAN, since ATHOS, PORTHOS, and ARAMIS were all too short. The G led me to SIGNET for 10d [Small seal]. I then took a flyer on 11d [Second-in-line to the Windsor throne, c. 1955] ANNE. 13d was a fill-in-the-blank that was basically just a grammar quiz: 13d [“It __ just one of your holiday games” (Eliot on naming cats)] ISN’T. And >bang!< with the IN–S in place, 15a [Supernova by-products] had to be NEUTRINOS.

But then I pretty much stalled and had to scrabble across desultory entries throughout the grid and gradually, very gradually, stitch them together into a whole.

  • 1d [Ill-fitting?] INAPT. The question mark was a hindrance here, as it doesn’t seem necessary and dissuaded me from filling in the correct answer until a few crosses confirmed it.
  • Both of the longest downs helped a lot in coalescing the solve, but required establishing ⅓ to ½ of the crossings before yielding to me. 5d [Grisham creations] LEGAL THRILLERS, 16d [Uncouth, metaphorically] RAISED BY WOLVES.
  • Toughest clues: 6d [Having overcharged?] IN DEBT, 24d [Not steadily] AT TMES, 43d [Artistic expression] MODE, 57d [Taking from a timetable] VIA, 10a [Drapery sample] SARI, 38a [Snowmelt collector] BASIN (had DRAIN for quite some time), 47a [“Sure”] PLEASE DO. These were some of the disparate entries that impeded the solve.
  • 31d [Name related to Reginald] RYNE. News to me.
  • 50d [Iranian ancestors] MEDES. Unknown to me.
  • 27a [Start taking things seriously] GET IT TOGETHER. 17a [With the group] ALONG.
  • 19a [Topic in the history “Amber, Gold & Black“] PALE ALE. That seems a bit … esoteric?
  • 40a [Catcher of many intruders at 10 Downing Street (1973–1986). CAT. I was considering that it must be a specific cat’s name, perhaps TOM. Why that specific date range? I thought it was traditional for there to be a resident cat at the British prime minister’s abode? Aha. That was the era of Wilberforce, who overlapped with 4 different officeholders during his tenure as Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. So after all this, I am again confused by the specifics of the clue, which—like 1-down—throws one off the scent of the correct answer.
  • 43a [Word on many South Carolina picture postcards] MYRTLE, as in Myrtle Beach. I, however, was stuck on PALMETTO.
  • 56a [One in a cast with a cause] ACTORVIST. Also completely new to me, though the spellchecker doesn’t have a problem with it.
  • 62a [Option used by 94% of US individuals for 2020] E-FILE. Much higher than I would have guessed.

A real sense of accomplishment in completing this one.

David Karp’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 1/8/22 by David Karp

Los Angeles Times 1/8/22 by David Karp

That’s twice in a row I’ve come in under 3 minutes on Saturday for LAT. Don’t go soft on me, Rich Norris, please!

This is an interesting construction with two vertical 15s crossing the center 15. I especially liked that 11D, WALKING DISTANCE, an entry that could go toward boring, was clued in a way that made me nod emphatically [Everywhere, “if you have the time”: Steven Wright].

47A, BOOSTER, feels mighty timely right now (I got mine on Christmas Eve, so I’ve just hit the two-week mark). On the other hand, 4D, BLACK FRIDAY SALE, seems like it would’ve made more sense a few weeks ago.

59A CILANTRO [Salsa roja ingredient] was a bit of trickery that kept my solving time from being even quicker, since if you have ???AN?RO filled in, it’s very easy to put in HABANERO and be wrong. Ask me how I know.

13D ENORME made me think of Enorma Jean, a drag queen who was recently on Drag Race Italia. She’s pretty fabulous, even if she did have some emotionally messy moments on the show.

Overall the fill was neither remarkable for its highs or lows, with the exception of the SE corner, which has TUA, RTS, and OSH right in a row. At least if you’re going to have TUA, how about throwing us classical music lovers a bone with [“Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria ___”]?

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19 Responses to Saturday, January 8, 2022

  1. huda says:

    NYT: The top half gave me a run for my money, because PASCALSTRIANGLE was nowhere near my radar screen. ANOSMIA and DECILES helped, and I knew it had to be a SAW but the PIT part, NAH…
    EAT DESSERT FIRST is definitely the winner in my book.

  2. Alex says:

    NYT: Tough one. Had to work up out of the center before hitting on INTIMATE APPAREL and being able to get most to the top half. Did the same thing moving downward through the center, but the proper nouns and stats stuff took a while to fill in the rest.

  3. RM Camp says:

    NYT: Not a baseball fan by any stretch, but I got MARINERS right off the bat thanks to Jon Bois’s six-part Dorktown series about the team on YouTube that made me a booster, if only for the few hours I spent watching it. I recommend.

  4. R Cook says:

    Nitpick about the STUMPER: The Olympic Village of the 1984 summer games was at USC. The Athletes Village was at UCLA.

  5. Crotchety Doug says:

    WSJ – Absolutely brilliant. I missed a couple of the cryptic references to a letter removed or added, but reading Pannonica’s review I can see that I looked right past them – they’re there in plain sight. 5 stars.

    • marciem says:

      I 100% agree! Loved the theme once I got it, laughed at some of the clues, and a lot of the fill was lively and fresh (to me) as well, with all the non-dupe relationships pannonica mentions (jazz etc).

  6. sanfranman59 says:

    Universal: I don’t get it. McDonald’s has a SECRET MENU {58A: Where to “find” the McCrepe}? I didn’t know such a thing exists, but then, I guess I wouldn’t since it’s a SECRET. Why wouldn’t they want everyone to know what’s available to purchase? When you go into the restaurant, do you need to say the magic word or use your Little Orphan Annie decoder ring to see the SECRET MENU? Bizarre.

  7. Seth says:

    Stumper (and everywhere else): Can we please get rid of “Name related to” clues? These might as well just read “Name”.

    • Seth says:

      Oh, and then you hit us with RYNE?? Might as well read “Four random letters”.

      • marciem says:

        Have to agree on that one, Seth. I tried Ryan which is a reasonably common name and *could* be construed as related to Reginald… but Ryne? I’m sure somebody somewhere has that name, but I’ve honestly never heard nor seen it written before.

    • Derek says:

      Stanley Newman takes too many vague liberties with his cluing, and his “Name related to …” is tiresome.

  8. Gary R says:

    NYT: I got a chuckle out of 17-A. I started on the puzzle late last night, after driving almost 1000 miles, part of it in wintery weather. I had TOO TIRED TO _H___ (or maybe that H should be a W?), and couldn’t come up with anything. The puzzle was less than half filled. This morning, after a good night’s sleep, I took another look, and filled the rest of 17-A immediately. How appropriate!

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