Saturday, August 20, 2022

LAT 2:24 (Stella) 


Newsday 13:49 (pannonica) 


NYT 5:34 (Amy) 


Universal tk (Jim Q)  


USA Today 1:31 (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Hemant Mehta’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s write-up

NY Times crosswrod solution, 8 20 22, no. 0820

Ha, there are several religion-oriented entries in this puzzle, which struck me as funny since I’d just read this week’s Friendly Atheist newsletter (which is by Hemant). “GOD, YES,” THE MAGI, LDS, the RED SEA with a biblical clue? Wasn’t expecting that!

I like the drama that plays out in the central stack:

  • 28a. [Demand for honesty], “DON’T LIE TO ME.” Tell it to me straight.
  • 30a. [Expression in an uncomfortable situation], FORCED SMILE. “Oh god, he’s telling it to me straight. I wasn’t ready for that.”
  • 31a. [“No need to elaborate”], “I UNDERSTAND.” In this dialogue, this line is said quietly, with pursed lips and downcast eyes.

Generally I’m not a fan of including multiple “I” quotes in a grid, but I didn’t notice the overlap while solving. There are four, though! I DID, I SAID SO, and I PRESUME along with 31a. How do you folks feel about such repeats?

Fave fill: MALALA, PROMO CODES, SHRINK WRAP (terrific clue, [Moving film?], though I see that MOVE in the grid), ONE-TIME USE, SORDID (I love those -id adjectives), FUTURIST, SISTER CITY, FOOL’S GOLD, BOW OUT.

Four more things:

  • 6d. [Plight of the 1%?], LOW BATTERY. Love it!
  • 26d. [King Arthur’s slayer], MORDRED. I drew a complete blank on this till I had a couple letters in place and suddenly dredged up MORDRED. Thank you, 1981 movie Excalibur!
  • 26a. [Locale for a pin], MAT. As in the wrestling mat.
  • 34a. [It’s raised by the best], BAR. This clue raises the bar for clever clues.

Four stars from me.

Rafael Musa’s USA Today crossword, “Photo Finishes”—Matthew’s write-up

Rafael Musa’s USA Today crossword solution, “Photo Finishes”, 8/20/2022

Our themers today end with words that go with “photo”:

  • 18a [Admire merchandise with no intention of buying] WINDOW SHOP
  • 29a [“Roger that?”] DO YOU COPY
  • 49a [Blond pooch] YELLOW LAB
  • 58a [“Dangerously in Love,” for Beyonce] DEBUT ALBUM

At first, I read these as “SHOP Photo,” “COPY photo,” etc, and that made enough sense to me. But PhotoSHOP, photoCOPY, photoLAB, and photo ALBUM are an even better set, and certainly the way Rafa intended. Love that CHEESE [51a Paneer or brie, e.g.] made it in!

Rafa has a particular skill at fitting tons of current and noteworthy bits of news and pop culture into his grids. I love learning from puzzles, and it’s extremely rare that I know everything in a grid. This is particularly true in the USA Today, which constantly broadens my horizons, but today Rafa presents tons of fill and cluing angles to make a puzzle that is (IMO) both atypical of many large-publication grids in its concentration of current names and proper nouns and also utterly accessible at every turn.

Your mileage may (likely will) vary, but a smattering: Serena Williams, Sappho, DEB Haaland (the second Native American to serve in the Cabinet), REESE Witherspoon, OMAR Sy (the first Black recipient of the Cesar Award for Best Actor), and Mahershala ALI.

(There’s also young English soccer superstar RAHEEM Sterling, who is noteworthy and admirable but for whom I will not be cheering this winter when the US plays England in the World Cup.)

Thanks, Rafa! Have a good weekend, all!

Matthew Stock’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 8/20/22 by Matthew Stock and Christina Iverson

Los Angeles Times 8/20/22 by Matthew Stock and Christina Iverson

So…I love putting some interesting trivia into a puzzle as much as anyone, and I love learning something new during a solve. Trouble is, sometimes when there’s a decent amount of trivia in a solve, it either knocks out people who don’t know any of it, or makes what is supposed to be a somewhat challenging solve very easy for people who do. So I do think it’s appropriate for tournament organizers, say, to push for a minimum of trivia overall in a final puzzle, or at least to balance trivia knowledge categories so that the tournament isn’t won or lost based on who happens to have the same knowledge base as the constructor.

That being said, this isn’t a tournament puzzle, so I’m just whining about this puzzle feeling more like an easy trivia quiz than a Saturday solve because the trivia happens to be in my wheelhouse:

  • 20A [Woman whose immortalized cell line was used in developing the polio vaccine] is HENRIETTA LACKS. Huh. With only the H to go on, I didn’t even read to the end of the clue — all I needed was “Woman whose immortalized cell line” to drop her name in, and I didn’t even realize that her cells were also used to study polio, since I mostly knew about her from cancer research. Her story has been written about in a book by Rebecca Skloot, which was adapted into an HBO movie.
  • 23A [“RuPaul’s Drag Race” regular O’Hara] is a big ol’ gimme for ASIA.
  • 48A [“That’s what you’re bragging about? You do you…”], while not trivia exactly, is pretty easy to connect to WEIRD FLEX, BUT OK if you know the phrase. I had only the OK at the end and was able to drop this in from that.
  • 5D [Competition series that features Mystery Box and Pressure Test challenges] is MASTERCHEF. I’ve watched enough seasons not to need any crossings here.
  • 10D [“She put the Miss in misdemeanor when she stole the beans from Lima” singers] is a lovely throwback to Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? which, as an Xennial, I watched the hell out of back in the day.

This is not to say that there wasn’t any fun wordplay in this puzzle, just that the long answers being easy trivia gets meant that sometimes I didn’t see the best clues until after I was done solving and looked over the puzzle again. A few to point out:

  • 18A [Dark days or long days] for SOLSTICES.
  • 40A I loved [French dip?] as a clue for PLIE.
  • 3D [One guarded on a soccer pitch] for SHIN.
  • 8D [Electric company?] for TESLA.
  • 27D [Change of fortune?] for LUCKY PENNY. Hee hee!
  • 31D [Fence-sitter’s deterrent] is a nice misdirect, seeming to be in the metaphorical sense of “sitting on the fence” as “unable to make a decision,” but it is in fact quite literal as a clue for BARB.

Trent H Evans & Kevin Christian’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Movie Remakes” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 8/20/22 • Sat • Evans, Christian • “Movie Remakes” • solution • 20220820

Had an obligation that took up all morning and more, so just the bare minimum for the Wall Street Journal and Saturday Stumper write-ups today. I leave it to the readers and commenters to generate their own discussions.

Theme here is inserting the bigram RE into film titles.

  • 23a. [Discounted shipping group?] FREIGHT CLUB (Fight Club).
  • 39a. [Biography of actor Christopher?] ALL ABOUT REEVE (All About Eve).
  • 46a. [Newsletter covering lute melodies?] AIR REPORT (Airport).
  • 65a. [Conflicts between unblinking participants?] STARE WARS (Star Wars).
  • 68a. [Saint Nick at his annual physical?] BARED SANTA (Bad Santa).
  • 85a. [Town that’s full of temptation?] SIREN CITY (Sin City).
  • 95a. [Editor’s mission?] REVISION QUEST (Vision Quest).
  • 114a. [Say hello to my little friend?] GREET SHORTY (Get Shorty).


Stella Zawistowski’s Newsday crossword, Saturday Stumper — pannonica’s write-up

Newsday • 8/20/22 • Saturday Stumper • Zawistowski • solution • 20220820

(See introductory paragraph in WSJ write-up.)

Surprisingly easy Stumper today. No missteps, although there were some pauses and impediments.

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31 Responses to Saturday, August 20, 2022

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: I noticed the I of I UNDERSTAND and I SAID SO only because it’s used in both directions. Having I in the other phrases didn’t really bother me.

    I’m usually not crazy about a lot of Biblical references in the puzzles I solve, but the RED SEA clue is a classic. (Yeah, I know variations of it have been used before.)

  2. John Morgan says:

    Maybe I’m just WAY over tired here…but isn’t there a pretty big error in the cluing at 18A; “Words before and after “deal?””

    I get the answer: ORNO, as in “Deal or no deal?” But the way the clue is phrased, it seems to me it would have to be “Or no deal or no?” Because in this case the words “Or No” are placed before and after deal.

    I mean, I get that in “Deal or no deal,” the words “or no” are both before “deal” and after “deal.” But this cluing convention is usually used when the final expression is both before and after, and that phrase stands alone. As in “Word before and after “to” for BACK. Etc.

    My head is hurting. I am correct?

    • Phil Wilcox says:

      In the phrase “deal or no deal,” “or no” is after the first “deal” in the phrase and before the second.

      • huda says:

        I went through the same gyrations, but decided that this being a Saturday, it was a fair misdirection to use the ” before and after” for a phrase that’s bookended by the word deal.

        • Me says:

          Yes, I think it’s fine for a Saturday. But it would be pushing it to have that on a Mon/Tues or even Weds.

    • gyrovague says:

      Jim Horne discusses this entry is his usual lighthearted way over at xwordinfo.

      This entire puzzle was right up my alley and a very fun solve thanks to entries like this one and others that Amy highlighted.

      BTW those who chimed in over ATHEIST yesterday might be interested in reading more about (and by) today’s constructor, the esteemed Hemant Mehta.

  3. gyrovague says:

    LAT: I often enjoy encountering bits of youthful slang in crosswords — even if it may be the only place I will ever see it — but in a puzzle that’s also fairly laden with trivia, restraint should be the watchword. The double whammy of 22-A’s answer “It me” and 48-A’s syntax-straining clue/answer pushed things perhaps a smidge too far in trying to keep up with the kiddos.

    I did appreciate the fresh angle for ALOE and the mental image of a crafty crow employing a TOOL. Also that shiny clue for LUCKY PENNY!

  4. David L says:

    Stumper: not too tough this week but it wouldn’t be the Stumper without one utterly baffling clue (54D) and one random nickname (28D).

    Also, the clue for 37D is incorrect, I believe.

    • pannonica says:

      [Not following] suggests ‘coming before’ = ERE. Dunno about the other two.

    • marciem says:

      28d: Missy could be a nickname for Melissa, and so could Mel.
      54d: Not following = before = ere… (my guess.)
      37d: All defintions I see are that anions are negatively charged electrolytes… but I’m not a chemist, I had to google .

      • David L says:

        An electrolyte is typically an electrically neutral solution containing equal numbers of anions and cations. It can carry a current when a voltage is applied — cations go one way, anions go the other. But an anion in itself (especially a single one) is not an electrolyte.

  5. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ … I’ve never understood why a roomful of dolls is considered to be CREEPY. Perhaps I’m not terribly imaginative, but they’re inanimate objects. What’s scary about that? It just seems like a Hollywood invention to me. And if dolls are so scary, why do we give them to young children to play with? If children know better, why don’t adults? (so many questions)

    • gyrovague says:

      Well clearly it’s their beady little eyes, following you around the room in an attempt to pierce your very soul. The worst of the lot are ventriloquist’s dummies. [shudder]

  6. KarenS says:

    Stumper, 26A: I cannot figure out why “needle” is a “bit of year-end debris.” There are lots of ponderosa pines in my yard, and their needle debris is year-round, ha. Thanks.

  7. Twangster says:

    I thought this was the ideal Stumper … harder than the average Saturday NYT but not so hard that I couldn’t solve it!

  8. sanfranman59 says:

    LAT … WEIRD FLEX BUT OK {48A: “That’s what you’re bragging about? You do you … “}? Huh? There’s no part of this that makes any sense to me whatsoever.

    What’s becoming of my Saturday LAT puzzle? After going 2-1/2 years without a failed solve, this makes four out of the last six that I’ve either completely DNF’d or submitted with a failed solution. This was a very bizarre solve for me. I got through about two-thirds of it in fairly normal LAT Saturday fashion and then ran into a buzz saw of the unfamiliar. I realize she’s a cruciverbal superstar, but I’m simply amazed that Stella solved this thing in 2:24 … wow!

    I’ve tried very hard over the last couple or three years to stay at least a little more current with pop culture and modern slang by adding the USA Today, New Yorker and Universal puzzles to my daily rotation, but I fear that there will come a day in the not too distant future when one of my favorite hobbies is beyond me. I even take the time to look up and read about things I don’t know, but I simply don’t hang out with many younger people and my tastes in pop culture no longer align very well with what’s au currant (when did that happen?!?).

    I spent years becoming pretty proficient at this pastime. As with so much else, I seem to have peaked, passed my prime and am heading out to the pasture. I’m either going to have to be content with failed solves or I need to find another source of amusement and edification. Such is life.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      There is a younger generation of constructors who’ve been publishing their puzzles on their own websites over the past few years, and the AVCX+ puzzles are largely constructed and edited by that crowd. Whereas traditionally, constructors and editors have tried to make puzzles that appeal to a broad swath of the population, I suspect some of the new generation are focused on making puzzles that contain what they want to see in crosswords—broader accessibility be damned. With some of these folks, I find I prefer their puzzles that run in (say) the NYT or New Yorker (and are thus edited by folks who work with a broad range of constructors and solvers), but struggle to know what their clues are getting at in their independently released puzzles. I am one of those “extremely online” folks, I’m an excellent solver, and pop culture is my job—but crosswords with that extra-personal vibe (“I made exactly the puzzle I want to see” vs. “I want people of all ages and backgrounds to be able to solve this”) can be a challenge to finish.

      • Me says:

        Amy, that’s such a good way of putting it. It’s not that either viewpoint is better or worse, but that the goals are different.

        Many crosswords nowadays feel very “of the moment”; something like WEIRD FLEX BUT OK is going to make that puzzle feel dated very quickly. Not all crosswords are easily accessible a year or five years from now, so the limited shelf-life may not matter to everyone. I think the NY Times looks more towards future solvability than most, partially because they are trying to sell subscriptions by trumpeting their crossword archives, so the puzzles have to have some longevity.

        My personal fuddy-duddy view is that not every phrase merits immortalizing in a commercially available crossword. Some things don’t feel significant enough to create a work of art around, much like I would say not every event is worth writing a song or a novel about. Others will feel differently.

      • Seth says:

        The problem with all puzzles being made for everyone is that you’d never get fresh interesting phrases like WEIRD FLEX BUT OK, which to me is SUCH a great entry. I think a better way to think about it might be this: over the course of, say, a week or a month, the puzzles taken together should be accessible to a broad swath of the population. But every single puzzle doesn’t have to do that. That way, you can have some puzzles that have really fresh new stuff, and some puzzles that cater to the older generation.

      • Eric H says:

        Nicely said, Amy.

        I’m 63. I like to think that my knowledge of current pop culture is better than a lot of people my age. But when I try some of the indie crosswords — or even some of the AVCX ones — I run into a lot of answers that, once I’ve gotten them, still seem to be from a world very different than mine. It’s true even for constructors whose puzzles in mainstream publications I really enjoy.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Amy. I’m pretty well resigned to my probable eventual plight of returning to the days when it was more or less a coin toss as to whether I finish a medium to difficult puzzle. I’d like to stay at the peak of my solving abilities a little longer, but the solving stats I keep suggest that I’ve already begun a downward slide with my daily rotation of puzzles (NYT, LAT, WSJ, Universal, USA Today, New Yorker and Evan’s Washington Post on Sundays). I’m sure that at least part of that is the natural ravages of age on brain function, but I’m pretty confident that I’d have DNF’d today’s LAT puzzle even when I was at the peak of my mental powers. There were just too many intersecting clue/answer combinations about things that I’d never heard of before.

        By all means, I believe that constructors and editors should keep freshness and currency in mind when deciding what answers to include in their puzzles and how to clue them. But I have the sense that at least some constructors believe that reference to anything that’s more than five or ten years old (or, heaven forbid, pre-internet … gasp!) must be avoided at almost all costs while the latest Twitter meme is fair game, no matter how obscure it may be to the vast majority of solvers.

        Clearly, I’m in the camp of solvers that prefer to solve puzzles that are accessible to a broad range of solvers. That’s why most of the puzzles I do are published by newspapers. I figure that it’s in their interest to attract a broad range of solvers. On the other hand, I didn’t take up this hobby in earnest until I was in my early-40s and it was partly because I couldn’t relate to so much of what I saw in the puzzles I attempted before then. So I recognize the value in attracting as broad a cross-section of people as possible to the hobby and am all for it.

        Does “The New Yorker” have a crossword editor? I think I remember someone out here saying that they don’t go through the same type of editing process as other publications.

        • Z says:

          The New Yorker has an editing team. The only comments I’ve seen to the contrary have been guesswork (can’t be anything more than that, seeing as how they’re incorrect and disproven with a moment of research) built on the fact that an editor is not explicitly listed, as in many other puzzles.

          • Amy Reynaldo says:

            Liz Maynes-Aminzade is the original and, I think, top puzzles/games editor at the New Yorker. Andy Kravis is the associate editor. They recently posted a job opening for an assistant editor. And Sara Nies is puzzle producer. It’s a whole team!

            • sanfranman59 says:

              Wait … are you saying that something I read on an internet message board isn’t accurate? Thanks for straightening me out on that one. Now that TNY has more than 9 or 10 people constructing their puzzles, I figured that they had to have some kind of editing process.

            • JohnH says:

              Informative, thank you. I’ll still stick, though, to the rule of judging difficulty not by day of the week but by the constructor. This past week, the easiest for me by far was Tuesday’s by Patrick Berry.

      • JohnH says:

        Provocative, thanks! FWIW, AVCX also has cryptic puzzles, which I appreciate, but very hard ones for the same reasons. While that has an interest, I do wish it would drop the pretend difficulty ratings, which are cutesy-poo.

  9. Ed says:

    The LA times puzzle was a 37 across.

  10. GlennG says:

    I don’t usually comment on these things all too much most of the time since I sense I see these things a lot differently. But I had to read a lot of what happened here with great interest. First to keep in mind, is that a lot of these “reviewers” are just individual writers, so it’s just one opinion, just like any of us.

    As for the Saturday LAT, I’m gathering a lot of this is just based on what people happened to know or not know. For what I’ve seen of it, I found it easier than most overall. I don’t know why that is. I’m not a “youthful” one by any account and in fact would charge the NYT (and the New Yorker for that matter) with habitually putting ephemeral phrases and flavor of the week celebrities in to their puzzles that will never be heard from ever again and find them all fairly universally difficult. To that end, I struggle more on that front than I do with anything that’s been showing up in the LAT lately. But interesting enough, I found the Stumper far harder than average (time-wise about 16x) and found it ironic Stella wrote what she did on the LAT since I would probably say the same things of her puzzle.

    Granted, my experience with these things overall seems pretty weird and off to most I read since I will note I don’t seem to get very many “gimmes” at any day of the week and most of the time I don’t get away without a few dubious guesses resulting in errors on about any grid I do (why you won’t see me in the ACPT anytime soon). (And given the way I think seems to compared to a lot of the cluing, I’d probably break a lot of people if I got into constructing.) But seriously, I can agree with a lot of what @sanfranman59 writes to the point I definitely feel that I’m going to be “timed” out of doing these sooner rather than later.

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