Saturday, December 31, 2022

LAT 2:51 (Stella) 


Newsday 16:38 (pannonica) 


NYT 5:18 (Amy) 


Universal 4:20 (norah)  


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Billy Bratton’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 12 31 22, no. 1231

Some months back, I enjoyed a Carleton College alumni event on Zoom, featuring constructor/Fiend blogger Sophia Maymudes (like me, a Carleton grad) and a current Carl, Billy Bratton. So I feel like I’ve met Billy, but have not. He seems to specialize somewhat in themelesses, I think? My favorite crossword type.

This puzzle played more like a Friday NYT, while yesterday’s played tougher. Was it a flip-flopped weekend for you, too?


Besides the four UP phrases, we’ve got FIT IN, SIT BY, and ACT ON in the “stretched out with a li’l preposition/adverb” category. I feel like such entries are used far more now than they were a decade ago. Longtime solvers, what say you? I feel like they dry things out, but concede that they’re better than, say, ORONO or ALENE. (I will call foul on SIT BY and SAT UP appearing in the same grid. That’s the same verb!)

I do use Reddit some, but can’t say I’d been aware there was an ASK REDDIT page. The clue gave me a solid idea of what it’s like, though: [Forum that provides material for many BuzzFeed articles]. My favorite subreddit is OddlySatisfying.

… Sorry, Reddit bumped me over to YouTube and I got distracted watching videos. (“Squirrel!”)

3.75 stars from me.

Evan Mulvihill’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 12/31/22 by Evan Mulvihill

Los Angeles Times 12/31/22 by Evan Mulvihill

In this themeless, I enjoyed the wordplay more than I did the YEKIOYDs (that’s short for “you either know it or you don’t,” for those who are unfamiliar with that initialism from LearnedLeague:

  • 22A [Account statement?] elevates what might otherwise be a bland 14-letter entry, SWORN TESTIMONY.
  • 42A [Robin DiAngelo book about race relations] is WHITE FRAGILITY. There’s a YEKIOYD — I suppose “race relations” at least helps a solver confirm WHITE, but IMO a 14-letter entry that is very easy for anyone who has heard of the book and must be gotten from the crossings if you haven’t doesn’t make for the most interesting solving experience.
  • 46A [Shut up] is KEPT MUM, which because of the ambiguous tense of “Shut” can easily be entered as KEEP MUM, adding a (welcome) extra bit of difficulty here.
  • 8D [Honoree who might wear a vintage uniform] is OLD-TIMER. For once, I’m here for the baseball reference, which I think is more evocative than simply cluing OLD-TIMER with reference to older folks in general would be.
  • 17D [Master of disguise?] for ART FORGER (my favorite clue in the puzzle!), 20D [One whose priorities are in order?] for NEAT FREAK, and 23D [Winter figure] for SNOW ANGEL make a really lovely set of clues in the center.
  • 31D [“Between the World and Me” writer Coates] is TA-NEHISI, another YEKIOYD.

I’m not opposed to YEKIOYDs altogether; one can learn something after the fact from them, and if I’m going into a puzzle prepared for a few, as I am with a New Yorker themeless, that’s fine. But when I can drop a 14 and an 8 into a Saturday newspaper puzzle with no crossings, I want to be challenged more than that.

Mike Shenk’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Ball Drops” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 12/31/22 • Sat • “Ball Drops” • Shenk • solution • 20221231

I neglected to look at the title beforehand and ignored the circled squares during the solve, so had no idea what the theme might be.

The revealer turns out to be high up on the righthand side.

  • 16dR [Square where the words in this puzzle’s dropping balls may be heard at the end of a song’s first verse] TIMES. Not a crossword square but a city square, several of 15d [Manhattan’s 14,600] ACRES. The ‘balls’ in this case are those circles.

From left to right we have:

  • 3d. [1977 Ted Nugent song] CAT SCRATCH FEVER.
  • 41d. [Everything not specifically left to someone in a will] RESIDUARY ESTATE.
  • 8d. [Noted baseball routine] WHO’S ON FIRST.
  • 66d. [Boston Beer Company’s flagship brand] SAMUEL ADAMS.
  • 12d. [2015 Kenny G album that includes “Girl From Ipanema”] BRAZILIAN NIGHTS.
  • 43d. [Director of “If …” and “O Lucky Man!”] LINDSAY ANDERSON.


Note how the circled letters (the ‘dropping balls’) are consistently spaced—a very nice touch. In light of the arrangement of the theme answers, the unusual location of the revealer makes sense.

Theme-adjacent: 20a [Serve the champagne] POUR, 59a [High spirits] CHEERINESS, 73a [Like the “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” airing] LIVE.

  • 32a [Anarchic, say] IN CHAOS. 35a [Disordered] IN A MESS.
  • 49a [Thread component] EMAIL. My program labels, or styles, them ‘conversations’.
  • 58a [Center’s job] SNAP. Seems as if the clue wants SNAPPING? Would [Center’s responsibility] be better?
  • 65a [Buff buff] NUDIST. Cute clue.
  • 106a [Singer nicknamed “The Velvet Fog”] MEL TORME. Seeing his name written always triggers for me the nonsensical phrase “tuna melt or me?” DON’T JUDGE ME.
  • 114a [Co-star of Gene, Peter, Marty, Cloris and Madeline] TERI. The film in question is Young Frankenstein.
  • 1d [Pale green color] SEA MIST. With the S-E already in place I plopped in SEA FOAM. Close.
  • 9d [Forbidden pitch] SPITTER. 94d [Successful pitcher] SELLER.
  • 59d [Venezuelan piranha] CARIBE. Vaguely familiar; I must have actually known this at some point. Pygocentrus cariba. “The name Cariba means cannibal in native language, and comes from the people of the Island Caribs who had a reputation as warriors who raided neighboring islands, and practiced cannibalism, according to the Spanish conquistadors. This species has very high propensity for cannibalism among its species. [sic]” —Wikipedia
  • 87d [Crayola color renamed “peach” in 1962] FLESH. Good move. But I recall seeing and using (new) Crayola crayons with both names, and I’m not old enough to have predated the name change. Anyone else, or do my memories deceive me?

Universal Crossword, “Universal Freestyle 53” by Nancy Serrano-Wu — norah’s write-up



Universal, N. Serrano-Wu, 12-31-22

Universal, N. Serrano-Wu, 12-31-22

  • ARROZCONPOLLO 25A [Latin American dish whose name translates to “rice with chicken”]
  • MAINE 31A [All of ME?]
  • DRAGONBOAT 55A [Chinese watercraft that a drummer rides]
  • NEAPOLITAN 9D [Ice cream option for the indecisive?]
  • BLOOM 11D [Rarity for a century plant]
  • RITAMORENO 27D [Latina icon in the “One Day at a Time” remake]
  • ONTHEROCKS 28D [Not neat]
  • PAPERTIGER 38D [The Cowardly Lion, e.g., oddly]


This was delightful! I appreciate the representation here: I count five (?) uses of Spanish language in clues or entries (I love cluing SOPA 34D as [Gazpacho, por ejemplo]), plus we get SARI, DRAGONBOAT, TESSA, PAPERTIGER and DAL. To boot, this grid is extremely clean!

Nancy says “she finds crosswords to be more than just puzzles — they are an opportunity for others to feel seen. Words matter, now more than ever before. Her goal is to imbue her crosswords with as much of her personal experience as she can, emphasizing BIPOC terms.” (copied from her Inkubator bio).

This is Nancy’s Universal debut! Congratulations :) She is also on the 2023 Lil AVC X roster; I’m looking forward to many more fun puzzles from her in the coming year.

I learned:

BROOMS 24A [What quadball players and sweepers hold]

Thank you Nancy, and Happy New Year to all!
(in response to Amy’s review – my favorite subreddit? r/crossword, obviously ;)

Lester Ruff’s Newsday crossword, Saturday Stumper — pannonica’s write-up

Newsday • 12/31/22 • Saturday Stumper • Ruff, Newman • solution • 20221231

Rather a striking grid design today.

Despite the ‘less rough’ denotation, I was stymied for quite some time on this one. Finally I was able to chip away into the bottom half of the grid (the puzzle is nearly two separate halves), completing it, then expand to the top left, and finally struggle through the top right.

  • Most memorable clue for me was 14d [Secure offshore] MOORED. At first it seems like a mismatch in tense, until you realize that both ‘secure’ and the the answer are adjectives. In addition to the trickiness, it was memorable because this entry was pivotal (no offense to 30a [Made a deft turn] PIVOTED) for my breaking through and finishing off this quadrant, and hence the whole crossword.
  • 15a [Rapper’s “chilly” alias] COOLIO. None of the Ice people fit.
  • 19a [Petting-zoo sounds] BAAS. Held off to see if it might be MAAS, which led me to think that 1d [They’re tracked by Canada’s Radarsats] ICEBERGS might be ICE MELTS.
  • 20a [Drive out] REPEL? EJECT!
  • 22a [Moving-around sound] WHIR. Quite literally, around.
  • 27a [Cheat, with “out”] ACE. This seems gambling-related.
  • 28a [A scream] RIOTOUS.
  • 39a [Ear covering] HUSK, for which I initially had MUFF.
  • 54a [Some base men] NCOS. Pay attention to typography.
  • 3d [KO on the NYSE] COCA-COLA. Had I known this, the puzzle would have been completed much more quickly.
  • 26d [Garden party] EVE. Ooh, tricky. Didn’t even see this answer until just now, though I rummaged at the clue a few times.
  • 40d [Team __ ] USA. This was my very first entry into the crossword.
  • 44d [Taking up?] ELATING>head wobble<

Mostly enjoyable crossword, but that bipartite grid stifled some of the pleasure.

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22 Responses to Saturday, December 31, 2022

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Yes, felt easier than yesterday. And I too noticed the abundance of prepositions (adding WISE TO to Amy’s list)… but liked the longer entries.
    Is ASK REDDIT different from Ask me Anything on Reddit? (I was once on AMA Reddit answering questions. It was fun!).
    In my expert opinion, BAD HAIR DAY goes deeper than just wind…

    • Jim Peredo says:

      Yes, ASK REDDIT features questions posed to Redditors at large (anybody), usually asking for opinions or favorite this or that. (Current example: “Romanians of Reddit, how is Jerry’s Pizza?”)

      An AMA is often a time-limited event featuring a famous person or a subject matter expert fielding questions pertaining to their area of expertise.

  2. Eric H says:

    NYT: I was a few minutes faster than I was with Friday’s, but neither one struck me as hard. (I’ve recently been hitting a lot of Rich Norris Saturday puzzles in the 2000–2001 NYT archives — those take a lot more work than any recent NYT puzzle.)

    This did have a fun feeling. SPY VS SPY brings back fond memories of the hours I spent reading Mad magazine cover-to-cover. Some nice clues like the ones for SCREW and KRAFT.

    With previous NYT puzzles of late, I’ve noticed prepositions repeated two or three times in the grid. I didn’t notice all the UPs today, but that’s the kind of thing I usually only notice when I’m not really enjoying the puzzle.

    New to me were TOADETTE and MCGRIDDLES. I don’t expect to retain either one, but who knows?

    • rob says:

      NYT: Agree with Eric H. Both Friday and Saturday were fairly easy, at least for me. On Friday, I got “Elton John” right away, and Saturday’s gimme clues were “Ziggy Stardust” and “Spy vs Spy”. Always nice to get a foothold early.

    • JohnH says:

      Those last two were new to me, too, although the harder spots for me were ASK REDDIT (good to know it exists apart from AMA) and SO DOPE. Overall, sure, a little easy for Saturday, but not bad at all.

  3. AmandaB says:

    NYT: Same for me – today played like a Friday and yesterday played like a Saturday with my play yesterday being a minute over my average. Today was several minutes under my average (I am much slower than all of you), due to knowing many of these off the bat. Love me some Bowie. I also find the prepositions make it a much faster puzzle for me. When I see the U, P, or O near the end, it’s a giveaway.

  4. David L says:

    TIL that THINWHITEDUKE and ZIGGYSTARDUST have the same number of letters.

    And yes, Friday and Saturday got switched.

  5. steve says:

    when i saw lester on the stumper i figured it would be fun and not such a struggle

    yep, a nice puzzle with no long pauses to figure out wtf was going on, nice change of pace heading into the new year

    one of my best times for a stumper, and as i get older the solve times are inching up

  6. placematfan says:

    NYT: Three UPs in one corner? Wtf? I mean, take the “rule” off your spec sheet if you’re gonna allow it to be so plainly broken. Probably about %60 of my aggravation is what I would consider legitimate, because this is just sloppy, amateurish editing. The other %40 is more selfish resentment as I think about all the corners or sections I redid because they duped a word I had elsewhere, because I didn’t want my submission to be rejected; so I was adhering to a specified rule that I see a nonadherence to, here.

    • e.a. says:

      where are you seeing it on the spec sheet?

      • placematfan says:

        Sorry, NYT.

        Wow! I’m really stunned right now. First off, I do apologize for publicly asserting that something was present in the NYT spec sheet that, in fact, was not. Sincerely, my bad. Definitely should have researched that. And on the heels of that apology, it also wasn’t right for me label the editing of this puzzle as “sloppy” and “amatuerish”, a comment based on the first assumption; while I do rather maintain the opinion, it’s just that, a subjective opinion, and not so much an objective observation as I’d originally intended, because …

        The NYT Submission Guidelines page doesn’t mention duping entries! This really is news to me. I mean, I thought “Don’t repeat words” was as remedial as “No two-letter words” on most spec sheets. Maybe it was that way once or something–not sure. A quick scan of all the spec sheets on showed only one outlet that mentioned it, Games Magazine. But now… the question is… WHY did I believe that it’s standard practice for an editor to prohibit word duplication on their spec sheet? From bloggers? From correspondence with editors? Again, not sure. But I’m definitely considering some paradigmatic shift on the subject.

        And thanks, Erik.

        • huda says:

          I can only imagine the challenges and constraints involved in creating a great puzzle. Seems like the fewer the rules, the better?
          As a solver, repetition can be fun if it feels playful, an echo of sorts. I can also see how it might be necessary (and barely noticeable) in the service of great entries. I expect that there’s a point where it starts to feel inelegant and detracts from the experience. But different people will have different thresholds. Giving constructors feedback might be helpful to them in gauging where the “average solver” stands on this and other facets of the puzzle.

  7. Twangster says:

    Stumper was kind of like 4 separate puzzles. I got 3 out of 4 and had to google to get ALPACINO to get the fourth. Better than I’ve been doing lately with these so I can’t complain.

  8. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ … @pannonica … I also thought I remembered FLESH being a color in my Crayola set as a lad, but I was only 2 or 3 in 1962. I must have just heard about this over the years and coopted it as a personal memory. After all, Wikipedia can’t possibly be wrong, can it? Looking back at it through 2022 eyes, it’s pretty incredible that no one at that company realized that calling that color FLESH might just alienate or at least confuse an entire segment of their potential customer base. It’s nice to know that we’ve made at least a little progress in my lifetime.

    • Gary R says:

      I recall seeing and using Flesh Crayola Crayons later than 1962, but I was 6 by then and had two older siblings, so there’s a reasonable chance that the crayons I was using until I was probably 10 or 12 were actually purchased before the change was made.

      Hearing talk about the change seems like a much more recent memory (I doubt that it even would have registered when I was 6). Crayola introduced “Multicultural Crayons” in 1992, with colors that would match many different skin colors, so it’s possible the 1962 change got some press at that time.

  9. Seth says:

    Stumper: the only places I see “ace out” meaning cheat say it’s slang from 1920. Come on Stumper. That’s not cool, even for you. You can’t just use a slang definition from 100 (!!!) years ago without an indication to that effect and expect us to just be fine with it.

  10. Seth says:

    NYT: Just some fun thoughts regarding the clue “Perfectly cromulent”:

    A while ago, I had a question: what’s the newest English word? By newest, I meant a word whose etymology (for any part of the word) was most recent. For example, words like “astrophage” (which is pretty new) doesn’t count, because “astro” and “phage” have etymologies going much farther back. And “stan” doesn’t count because it can be traced to the name Stan, which is much older. In other words, a totally fresh word that popped into common usage most recently.

    I knew the actual newest word is impossible to know, but I posed the question to Reddit, and got some interesting suggestions: bling, yeet, weeaboo, cheugy, fleek, cromulent.

    At last, we come to the reason for this comment: the origin of “cromulent”: a 1996 episode of the Simpsons. In a film in school, a character says “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” One teacher says to another that she’s never heard the word “embiggens.” The other teacher says, “I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.”

    And that’s it! The joke was so subtle that people started using it as if it were a real word — or, if they knew it was a joke and used it to continue the joke, other people didn’t know it was a joke and used it as real, until it just became officially not a joke. And now it’s a real word that appears in real crosswords to clue other real words. Amazing.

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