Wednesday, March 23, 2022

LAT 4:19 (Gareth) 


The New Yorker 3:10 (Matthew) 


NYT 5:19 (Amy) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 3:09 (Sophia) 


AVCX 9:28 (Ben) 


Gary Larson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Epic Fails”—Jim P’s review

Theme: Familiar two-word phrases whose second words can also be synonyms of “failures.” The first words also change meaning for added wackiness.

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Epic Fails” · Gary Larson · Wed., 3.23.22

  • 17a. [Unprofitable sleazy nightclubs?] DIVE BOMBS.
  • 25a. [Unsuccessful ad slogans for a Sean Penn biopic?] MILK DUDS. Why “ad slogans”? If I was trying to apply the word “duds” to a film, I’d probably go with bad actors or something.
  • 37a. [Unsatisfactory household help?] DOMESTIC TURKEYS.
  • 53a. [Unlistenable Charlie Parker records?] BIRD DOGS. No one would call a bad album a “dog.”
  • 66a. [Unappreciated hairstyles?] FLIP FLOPS. I didn’t know the term “flip” as applied to hairstyles, but that’s on me. However, “Unappreciated” in the clue doesn’t imply the hairstyle is a failure.

This one wasn’t for me. Little things felt off here and there, and the humor just fell flat.

But what really turned me off on the grid was coming across fill like ELIHU, K-CAR, APORTL-BEAMS, and SDS. Those first two are holding theme answers together so I can cut them a little slack. But why not change uncommon APORT to ABORT when the only price is changing APE to ABE? And there’s no reason for SDS to be in this grid at 43d. It took me less than 5 minutes to figure out I could change 49a LESSENS to LESSONS and 45a WED to GEO with crosses EGO, YEN, and SOS. So much better to have SOS than the [Radical 1960s org.] that people under 50 have no knowledge of.

And there’s not much sparkle elsewhere to speak of. I like FINESSE, “NO CLUE” and “OR ELSE!” but that’s about it for highlights.

Clues of note:

  • 19a. [Look inside, so to speak]. DECOR. Tricky clue. “Look” is a noun, not a verb.
  • 44a. [Usher, essentially]. SEATER. Clunky, but maybe the clue is trying to get you to think of the singer.
  • 58a. [Draft source]. TAP. Hmm. I’d think the keg the TAP is connected to would be the source.

Was this an “Epic Fail”? I wouldn’t go that far, but it should have been more fun. 2.75 stars.

Barbara Lin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

So wherever I solve, I’m cursed. On my iMac, I have a new, smaller, keyboard and the arrow keys are not where I expect, so solving mayhem ensues. And when the sciatica keeps me from my desk, the laptop keyboards aren’t what I’m most familiar with, so I don’t navigate the grids right there, either. So if you eyeball my solving time as a reference for your own, take it with a clumsy grain of salt. And speaking of that sciatica, I’m having surgery soon so I’ll be away from the blog for a couple weeks. I know you’ll enjoy the blogular stylings of the other members of Team Fiend who will be filling in for me!

NY Times crossword solution, 3 23 22, no, 0323

Theme: FLIP, FLOP and FLIP-FLOP are theme clues, twice each. The [FLIP]s are a real-estate QUICK SALE and a COIN TOSS. The [FLOP]s are an EPIC FAIL and the verb PLUNK DOWN (though I believe you plunk something down, but you just flop down, so this feels like a verb transitivity mismatch to me. The [FLIP-FLOP]s are a CASUAL SANDAL and a POLICY CHANGE. Neat theme idea, but the second FLOP flops in my book.

Fave clue: 37d. [Third shot, for many], BOOSTER. I couldn’t even think of that kind of shot at first! Now, for me, as a transplant recipient, my third dose of vaccine was part of the initial series of shots, and I still need to schedule my fourth dose, the BOOSTER (long story). If you haven’t gotten your booster, please do! Stealth omicron is coming, and the booster will help keep you alive. (I’m assuming you all got “fully” vaccinated prior to the fall 2021 recommendations for boosters.)

Time for me to get away from my desk. Signing off with 3.5 stars. See you in April, folks!

Enrique Henestroza Anguiano’s USA Today Crossword, “Taste Makers” — Sophia’s recap

Editor: Amanda Rafkin
Theme: Each theme answer begins with a flavor that we can perceive via taste.

USA Today, 03 23 2022, “Taste Makers”

  • 20a [Term of endearment] – SWEET CAKES
  • 37a [Outcomes that are hard to swallow] – BITTER PILLS
  • 56a [Sore loser’s attitude] – SOUR GRAPES

What, no salty and umami??? Kidding! I liked this theme a lot, mostly because it connected so well with the title. Is… SWEET CAKES a term of endearment that people actually use? I kept wanting “sweetie pie”. I also wanted “bitter ends” for BITTER PILLS even though if that had been the answer I would have complained about the awkward pluralization. Funny how the brain works! Two of the answers have food related words as their second parts (CAKES and GRAPES) but PILLS isn’t really a food so I don’t *think* that’s connected to the theme… but I could be wrong.

This grid has a very satisfying layout – I love the staircase blocks on the middle sides. Each corner of the puzzle felt fresh and devoid of many 3 letter answers. Looking over the grid now, I see that’s because the 3-length words are concentrated in the middle of the grid, which was fine with me because they were all clued interestingly! In fact, my two favorite clues in the puzzle were for 3 letter answers: 35d [Cabinet in a synagogue] for ARK and 39d [“Here’s a slip of paper instead of actual money” note], which made me laugh – a rare feat for a word as common as IOU.

Write overs: “chai” for DUCK at 5a [Zhangcha ___ (tea-smoked dish)], “hotel” for MOTEL at 32a [Places to rest overnight] (at least that one didn’t set me back very far).

Favorite fill: POLLSTER, ROSALIA, NUT MILK, DOG SPA – which also had a great clue, [Place for a “pawdicure”].

Francis Heaney’s AVCX, “Rock Trio” — Ben’s Review

AVCX 3/23 – “Rock Trio”

It’s another 17×17 grid from the AVCX today, this time a 4/5 in difficulty.

The bulk of the theme comes from these three oversized entries and a revealer:

  • 23A: Answer to “What produces adrenaline?” from someone who’s only half-sure? — ISN’T IT A PITUITARY
  • 48A: Enthusiastic response to “Garfield, I hope this lasagna is big enough, I tried to make it really big”? — JON THE SIZE RULES
  • 70A: Cries while caroling? — WEEPS AND WASSAILS
  • 78A: Like some instruments in rock songs (and like the three instruments inserted into six grid entries here) — DISTORTED

With that last clue as a guide, it’s easy to work out where the instruments have been inserted.  It’s WEEPS AND WAILS, so between the B in BOT (68A, “Many an active Twitter user”) and WASSAILS in that last clue, we have a BASS, and the G from GET HIGH (21A, “Smoke up”) joins the rest of GUITAR in ISN’T IT A PITY to get 23A.  It look me a while to figure out what was distorted in 48A, but then I saw that the S from ROOS (37A, “Jumpers with pockets, casually”, a fantastic clue) and the Y from ON RYE (42A, “One way to serve ham”) are the start of SYNTHESIZER fitting into JOULES.

63A: Ames Brothers oldie appreciated (aptly) by George the Janitor on “The Muppet Show” — RAG MOP

Happy Wednesday!

EDIT: I managed to completely miss that the three little bits of the instruments not in the across clues are ALSO in three non-standard down clues:

  • 9D: Book genre for tweens that consists of nothing but transitions? — SEGUE YA (which has the GU from GUITAR inside of SEE YA)
  • 30D: “You’re gonna have to get all these crates out of your ‘Gangnam Style’ video”? — PSY NO BOXES (which has the SYN in SYNTHESIZER inside of PO BOXES)
  • 50D: Founded on World’s Fair-like principles? — EXPO-BASED (which has the BA in BASS inside of EXPOSED)

Sterling MacLean’s Universal crossword, “Knife Edges” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 3/23/22 • Wed • “Knife Edges” • MacLean • solution • 20220323

Phrases bracketed by synonyms for ‘cut’. Relevant squares are pre-circled.

  • 65aR [Avoid elimination, or a hint to 17-, 31- and 46-Across] MAKE THE CUT.
  • 17a. [Hundred-to-one shot, e.g.] SLIM CHANCE (slice).
  • 31a. [Bad place to see a fox] CHICKEN COOP (chop).
  • 46a. [Wonder Woman’s secret identity] DIANA PRINCE (dice).

Rather a standard-issue theme, and the revealer itself doesn’t fully make the cut; it needs a strong assist from the title. Nevertheless, a solid crossword experience.

  • 5d [Enthusiastic … or a sarcastic laugh backward] RAH-RAH and har-har. Nifty observation.
  • Longdowns are POOL NOODLE and SCAM ALERTS, both good (although I personally do not approve of POOL NOODLEs in name or form.
  • 49d [Earthen bowl?] CRATER. Despite the question mark hint, it took me a while to properly wrap my mind around the clue.
  • 15a [Fighting] AT WAR. We really are such a primitive species in critical ways. 48d [Like basic instincts] PRIMAL.
  • 16a [Folk knowledge] LORE. Couldn’t find the individual tracks, but the closing number of Tom Verlaine’s moody and atmospheric 1992 album is called “Lore”. (Video is cued to play it.)
  • 18d [Unicycle site] CIRCUS, 39a [Circle dance] HORA, 40a [Rings around castles] MOATS.
  • 45a [Election predictors] POLLS. *sometimes
  • Theme-adjacent: 19a [Filet mignon source] LOIN.

Tim D’Alfonso’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

I’m not sure that the revealer in today’s puzzle theme by Tim D’Alfonso was intended as one. [Music industry advisory…], EXPLICITCONTENT works as well as a final theme entry as it does as a revealing answer. The first part of each of four long horizontal entries begin with a word meaning “uncouth”. It isn’t the most original theme, but I don’t recall it done with this synonym before. [“Maus” is the only one to win a Pulitzer Prize (1992)], GRAPHIC NOVEL; and [Cocktail with a splash of olive juice], DIRTYMARTINI are both fun choices, at least as theme entries. As a drink, a DIRTYMARTINI sounds like taking something disgusting and doubling down. Hell, why not add some nuoc mam in there as well. The initial entry of [42-U.S.-gallon containers], CRUDEOILBARRELS, though felt somewhat more forced, with its plural and it’s weird qualifiers.

The design of the theme today, with entries in the 4th and 12th rows, doesn’t lend itself to too much showing off in the rest of the puzzle. So it’s no surprise there aren’t too many more entries I’d like to highlight.

  • So, the rest:
    [Tries to make a point?], SERVES – in tennis. I think this is the closest to cryptic you’ll get on a Wednesday.
  • [One of Snoopy’s brothers], ANDY. The only ones I remember encountering in the strip were OLAF and SPIKE?
  • [Bold-sounding trouser material], KHAKI. I don’t understand this clue. I’d also suggest it’s a colour not a material?


Aimee Lucido’s New Yorker crossword—Matthew’s review

Aimee Lucido’s New Yorker crossword solution, 3/23/2022

Smooth, smooth, smooth from Aimee today, and downright Weintraubian in the longer answers (check out YOUVE GOT ME THERE and TAKE OUT THE TRASH crossing in the middle). My only tiny quibble is that may favorite entry, THATAWAY [1a- Over yonder]. was the first answer in the grid. I had a fantastic “could it be?” moment, followed by entering some down entries and — I swear to you — face-breaking JOY when I confirmed it. I could not tell you why I love it so, but I do.

[Ultra-conservative movement] at 10d for ZERO WASTE is a lovely clue. I appreciate [Types once associated with American Apparel and P.B.R.] for HIPSTERS, as it’s certainly true that much of what once distinguished HIPSTERS is prett-y mainstream now. I’m not sure what the current signifiers would be.

If I had gotten to this earlier (it’s audit season), I’d probably have more to say, but here we are. Have a good week!

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24 Responses to Wednesday, March 23, 2022

  1. huda says:

    Good luck with your surgery, Amy! Sending you good thoughts.

  2. dh says:

    Echo huda – good luck with the surgery. And I might suggest buying the most ergonomic external keyboard you can find (Bluetooth?) and using that for both your iMac and your laptop.

    RE NYT: I read “Flop” as a noun, as in the “flop” of Texas Hold ’em, a point in the game when cards are simultaneously turned over, or plunked down. I’m not really a player-player, but I did learn the rules once and sometimes I watch the pros on TV.

    My favorite part of the puzzle was the new splash screen that appears after a successful finish, giving us the option to “admire the puzzle” instead of the tired old “back” button.

  3. dh says:

    Please indulge me in a gripe here. I miss doing puzzles in ACL, mostly because I can set up the app the way I like and leave it that way. The NYT has one kind of setting, the WaPo and LA Times another. Does anyone like or use the feature to “skip over filled letters?” I type fast, and it’s much easier for me mentally and physically to just type in a full word over letters that are still there than it is to look and see where my cursor is. I get caught on this 100% of the time and not only have to go back and correct my entry, but then go into the settings and uncheck that box.

    And while we’re on the subject, what is the advantage of having the cursor jump back to the first letter of an answer once it has been filled in? Why not leave it up to the solver to decide where we want to go after putting in the last letter? The first space does nothing but derail progress – requiring that I take my hand off the keyboard and pick up my mouse, or tap-tap-tap on the arrow key to navigate to the next square. It’s at best a useless setting – but there aren’t any better options.

    And if I am required to have a membership with a log in to the NYT, I would expect that the puzzle applet would remember my settings – but it does not.

    I know, I know – “first world problems”. In the grand scheme of things very meaningless and I appreciate that. But thanks for letting me vent.

    • pannonica says:

      As discussed here previously, the Crossword Scraper plugin (Chrome, Firefox) should solve your problems.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      I use .puz files for all of my solving and concur with pannonica. Install Crossword Scraper. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you have it, you have it. When the NYT stopped providing .puz files, I was delighted that Crossword Scraper was brought to my attention so I could continue doing the puzzles as I wish. I also use it to convert “The New Yorker” puzzles to .puz files. I get the rest of my .puz files through a combination of the “Today’s Puzzles” page here at CrosswordFiend and an app that constructor Alex Boisvert developed many years ago to grab puzzles from various sources and convert them to .puz files. (Unfortunately, he had to abandon that app quite a while ago because the publishers came after him and he didn’t need the headache. Ah, capitalism.)

      When I solve, I use the option to skip over already filled squares. It took a short while, but my brain, eyes and fingers made the adjustment and I think it had an appreciable impact on my solve times (if you care about that as I do).

      As for the other issue that you mention, I can’t be of much help because I use an online app that works with .puz files and was developed by someone who used to frequent the Rex Parker message board. But I think what you describe would drive me a little crazy too. When you finish entering an answer, it moves the cursor back to the beginning of the same answer? Ugh. I’ve not used AcrossLite in quite while and don’t recall this behavior, but perhaps there’s an option that will get it to stop doing that? The app I use leaves the cursor where it is if it’s the last letter in an answer and I use the tab or arrow keys to navigate to where I want to go next. In any case, I almost never resort to using my mouse/touchpad. I do all of my navigating with the keyboard (tab and arrow keys).

    • Leah says:

      Re: NYT: Well, I’ve got that setting you mentioned as my preference, so… :-) I type fast too, and I prefer to skip filled letters- to each their own! I’m not sure I follow what you’re describing for the second; mine sits on the last letter if the whole word has been filled in, but if there are empty spaces, I’ve set it to jump back, which I prefer. Funny how the thing that helps one of us solve smoothly completely trips the other one up!

      Maybe checking or unchecking one of these would help?
      “At the end of a word:
      – Jump back to first blank in the word
      – Jump to next clue (if not jumping back)”

      Separately, my browsers do indeed remember my settings, even across devices (phone/laptop in Chrome), so I wonder if that might be a setting on your end to disallow cookies or something?

      Happy solving!

  4. Mr. [Not Always] Grumpy says:

    LAT: Why does SDS not belong in the grid? It was an important part of American history. I’d rather see SDS over NRA or even SLA any day.

    • R says:

      I don’t think the idea is that SDS doesn’t belong in a grid, it’s that the abbreviation is clunky and doesn’t represent the original organization in many people’s minds. When I google “SDS,” I don’t find anything about the organization on the first few pages of hits.

      • marciem says:

        How’d I know I would get stomped for saying “sounds alike” when I should have gone the length of saying “sounds more like… than”… ( I thought my example links would suffice.)

        The Brit pronunciation “sounds more like cocky than tacky, where the US pronunciation sounds more similar to tacky than cocky” though neither are exactly the same… be it father or pot. I have no idea where in the US they pronounce khaki *almost * like cocky.

        The two examples I cited are where I got my sounds. To my own Western US ears, father and pot sound very similar also.

        I was only trying to give my interpretation of the clue which alluded to similarity to a meaning of “bold”, which Gareth questioned.

        Sorry… posted reply in wrong post… :(

        • David L says:

          “To my own Western US ears, father and pot sound very similar also.”

          But in British English those two vowels are very different. The British POT vowel isn’t close to anything in US English and is probably the most troublesome for American actors trying to sound English, and vice versa.

          Marcie, I didn’t mean to stomp on you. Pronunciation questions are notoriously complex.

  5. Jeff M says:

    I do not understand the low ratings for Francis Heaney’s AVCX puzzle (was 2.13 before my 5 star just now). This puzzle was tricky in a great way and once I realized what was going on I had a hearty chuckle at what he did with the grid. He has amazing, fresh ideas and well, you’ve got one huge fan. Bravo.

    • ahecht says:

      My only issue with the puzzle was that I thought the last instrument was a SYNTH and couldn’t figure out who JOESIZERULES was.

    • hibob says:

      i think removing those letters also left SEE YA, P.O BOXES & EXPOSES in the downs,
      great puzzle, although I also wondered about JOE SIZE RULES.

    • David Steere says:

      I stopped rating puzzles months ago—call it the “Birnholz” factor ;-). This AVCX I enjoyed more than most by Francis because there are fewer instances here of gibberish answers in the grid and self-aware cutsiness. What interests me is that neither Ben or Jeff M mention what’s going on in the Down answers which are also “distorted” by the insertions. 9D is “See Ya” before and “Segue YA” after. 30D is “PO Boxes” before and “Psy No Boxes” after. 50D is “Exposed” before and “Expo-based” after. All three are a bit of a stretch with “Segue YA” being the closest to gibberish. But, this grid is impressively intricate in how the three musical instruments are inserted. Another issue for me is that distortion of the musical instrument names is not really happening. Insertions at right angles—yes; distortions—no. If anything is being distorted, it is the Across and Down answers into which the instruments are placed. Unless I’ve missed something…;-) David

  6. Dave S says:

    USA Today – Natick Eso and Rosalia.

  7. marciem says:

    LAT: re: Khaki…. The US pronunciation doesn’t work for the clue (according to googling how to pronounce it) . I’ve always pronounced it to rhyme with “tacky” which is how the US pronunciation sounds to me.. As such, the clue makes no sense.

    The British pronunciation sounds like “cocky” which would fit the clue for “bold”.

    Aren’t most LAT puzzlers of the US persuasion? Could be regional (except for the two choices each site I found, which are all in agreement.)

    • David L says:

      British ‘khaki’ doesn’t sound at all like British ‘cocky.’ The vowels are as in FATHER and POT respectively.

      I assume some Americans pronounce khaki and cocky in something like the same way. I don’t know enough to say where such Americans might live.

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