Saturday, July 29, 2023

LAT 3:00 (Stella) 


Newsday 18:58 (pannonica) 


NYT 7:31 (Amy) 


Universal 5:45 (norah)  


USA Today 2:05 (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Sam Ezersky’s New York Times crossword — Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 7/29/23 – no. 0729

Plenty of zippy fill here, and the worst thing in the grid is a prefix with a fresh obstetrical clue I liked—[Delivery room offering, informally] for an EPIdural. Couldn’t swear I’ve heard the shorthand, but it’s been 23 years since I was in a delivery room. The OB/GYN vibe picks up where the Friday TAMPON/PAD pairing left off, with cross-referenced MAXI and PADS. Entries like this, with clues like these, beat the hell out of IROC and SST. Actually, I’d be fine if MONIST were gone, but I do like its crossing entries. And if I never saw the word SHREWISH again, I’d be content; at least it’s clued Shakespeareanly and not as a word you’d describe someone as now.

Fave fill: CAMEL HUMPS? [These don’t hold water] because, Wikipedia explains, they’re “reservoirs of fatty tissue. When this tissue is metabolized, it yields more than one gram of water for every gram of fat processed.” “ARE YOU HIGH?” and “I GOT NOTHIN’” talk to us, as does “EYES ON ME.” TIME OF YEAR feels like an entry I’ve not seen in a grid before. My nephew runs a SPORTS DESK. MEMPHIS BBQ, UPTICK, HUFFPO, also good.

Not keen on [100 cents, in Africa], for RAND, because it conflates all African nations and South Africa. Kenya’s or Somalia’s shilling is 100¢, as are Liberia’s and Namibia’s dollar, Mauritius’s and Seychelles’s rupee, and so on. This doesn’t feel like a “let’s be hard and give a clue that’s misleading” trick, it just feels off base.

Cute clue: [Foods that can be prepared “hedgehog-style,” so-named for the crisscross patterns of cuts], MANGOS. Jamie Oliver’s son Buddy demonstrates the cutting technique in the video below.

4.5 stars from me. Lots of fun fill kept me interested top to bottom. None of those obscurities Sam keeps including in the Spelling Bee puzzle word lists, like TINGING, NETTY, and ROWAN!


Universal, “Universal Freestyle 83” by Jess Rucks — norah’s write-up; 5:45



2023-07-29 rucks-universal

2023-07-29 rucks-universal

  • CODENAMES 12A [Agents’ aliases]
  • LIKEAPRAYER 19A [1989 Madonna hit that incorporates gospel music]
  • PLAYTHEFIELD 25A [Shop around, so to speak]
  • SOCIALIQ 34A [Measure of people skills]
  • MATERIALGIRL 45A [Madonna song whose title became her nickname]
  • ICAMETOSLAY 53A [Announcement on the runway?]


I was so happy to see this byline again today because I really enjoyed the last puzzle from Jess. Today’s took me a bit longer – It could be that it’s a little early because I didn’t get around to pre-solving this week, or that I solved pre-coffee, or that I’ve been doing a ton of puzzles lately to train up for Lolla and my brain is tired. Or maybe this one was just a little more challenging with stuff like HOARFROST and SOCIALIQ? Would love to know how it played for you, commenters.

This grid is packed with fun long answers, and layered with a bit of a scrabble score feeling I don’t typically get from these Saturday Universals. This is great! It’s a perfect blend of smoothness and just the right amount of challenge. I really enjoy the double Madonna clues at 19A and 45A.

I learned OLDSHOE which in addition to its dictionary definition (a person or thing that is comfortably familiar and unpretentious) also happens be the name of a five-piece Americana Roots Rock band from Chicago.

Thanks Jess and the Universal team!

Joseph Gangi’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “In the Ballpark” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 7/29/23 • Sat • “In the Ballpark” • Gangi • solution • 20230729

Familiar words/phrases repurposed to refer to items characteristic of baseball teams, identified in the clues via the name (or nickname) of their stadiums.

  • 25a. [Candy concession at Kauffman Stadium] ROYAL MINT.
  • 27a. [Graffiti at “The House That Ruth Built”?] YANKEE DOODLE.
  • 53a. [Behind at PNC Park?] PIRATE BOOTY. (8d [One of the rivers that gave Three Rivers Stadium its name] OHIO.)
  • 60a. [Matches at Great American Ballpark?] RED LIGHTS.
  • 71a. [Dirt mound at Target Field?] TWIN BED.
  • 77a. [Stroller at Rogers Centre?] JAY WALKER.
  • 88a. [Stealing, say, at Busch Stadium?] CARDINAL SIN.
  • 112a. [Floater at Progressive Field?] GUARDIANSHIP.
  • 116a. [Locks at “The Big A”?] ANGEL HAIR.

Seeing all the sponsors’ names felt like inside baseball to me.

Theme-adjacent: 15a [Stadium sound] ROAR. 123a [Color on Astros, Giants, Orioles, Mets and Tigers uniforms] ORANGE; a way to reference several of the teams not mentioned in the theme entries.

  • 7d [Approximately] OR SO, which echoes the idiomatic sense of the puzzle’s title.
  • 15d [Took out] REMOVED. ♪♫ Remove me to the old ball game ♪♫
  • 76d [Crane construction, e.g.] ORIGAMI. Would have been easier with a question mark instead of “e.g.”. Instead it became a rare tricky clue in an otherwise easyish crossword.
  • 11a [A fifth of a typical New York City block] ACRE. A factette I was unaware of.
  • 30a [Message to the heartless?] GAME OVER. Not sure how this clue works. My guess is that it refers to the card game hearts, which I’ve forgotten the rules to.
  • 47a [Jazz score] BASKET. Nice minor misdirection.

Matthew Sewell’s Newsday crossword, Saturday Stumper — pannonica’s précis

Newsday • 7/29/23 • Saturday Stumper • Sewell • solution • 20230729

Interesting. This one seemed as if it was really going to kick me to the curb, but it kept yielding a little bit, here and there. And as I made incremental advances I was able to confirm just enough hunches about certain entries that I could then use to continue farther. This is exactly how a tough-but-fair crossword should work.

I can’t even recall where I got the first footholds, but I know that the last section to be filled was the upper left.

I’m a little wiped out from a late night, so that’s all for now, though there’s a chance I’ll return to write some more.

C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Apologies! For whatever reason, WordPress won’t let me upload an image of the grid as normal.

This puzzle was a smidge harder than the last couple of Saturdays, which I appreciated. Notable entries and clues:

  • 15A [California roll ingredient] is CRAB. Classically, yes, although I would say that more often than not, I see California rolls made with fake CRAB (surimi).
  • 28A [Target area] is a nice bit of deception for AISLE.
  • 30A [Like the top of most refrigerators] is DUSTY. Guilty. Or maybe not, because I pay someone to clean my apartment.
  • 37A [Starting points for pro golfers] is BLACK TEES. Uh, sure, if you say so. People who care more about sportsball than I do, is this as deep of a cut as I think it is?
  • 67A [Perk up?] is a delightful clue for PRIVATE JET, as in a corporate perk that is enjoyed up in the air.
  • 4D [Just out of an onsen, say] is WET. This clue tickled the back of my mind for a while because I knew I’d heard the word “onsen” before but couldn’t remember what it meant. It’s a Japanese bathhouse.
  • 29D [Make it big] is a lovely and deceptive clue for ENLARGE.
  • 53D I also liked [Union station?] for the ubiquitous ALTAR.

Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword, “T-Tops” — Matthew’s recap

Matthew Stock’s USA Today crossword solution, “T-Tops,” 7/29/23

Themers are (down-running) two-word phrases beginning in which each word begins with “T.”

  • 4d [Thick-sliced, crispy, buttery bread named after a state] TEXAS TOAST
  • 7d [Pingpong] TABLE TENNIS
  • 9d [Fields Medal winner described as the “Mozart of Math”] TERENCE TAO

Neat theme set, and unusually for me, I found the connectivity good in an asymmetric grid — each of the themers start at the top of the grid but overlap with a longer down reaching to the bottom, and there are a few bands of longer acrosses that bridge those vertical channels. The book “Click, Clack, Moo,” and Mr. Theme Entry himself TERENCE TAO are highlights to me – both things I wouldn’t expect to see in a puzzle but am glad to. On the other hand, I still have only ever seen BIS as a term for “biceps” in crossword puzzles, and nowhere else, but goodness knows I’m not very familiar with weight training and gym culture, so interested if I’m just ignorant or not.

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38 Responses to Saturday, July 29, 2023

  1. Eric H says:

    NYT: “And if I never saw the word SHREWISH again, I’d be content; at least it’s clued Shakespeareanly and not as a word you’d describe someone as now.”

    Amen to that. I’m annoyed, though, that I basically needed the -WISH before I saw the answer. And it’s not as if I have never seen or read that play.

    I thought the whole puzzle was more challenging than most NYT Saturdays. I don’t care much about Broadway musicals, so the “Company” song was a big hole for a while. I got the two little corners (NE and SW), then almost nothing until I finally figured out the cute clue for FRIGIDAIRE.

    ARE YOU HIGH, EYES ON ME and I GOT NOTHIN were fun fill. TIME OF YEAR feels a little green-painty to me.

  2. Greg says:

    I struggled mightily with Sam Ezersky’s NYT puzzle. For nearly a full hour, I felt confident of only two or three short entries. So I walked away for a half hour — and things gradually fell into place.

    A really good Saturday challenge, by one of the best constructors.

    I’m continually amazed that Amy and other speed-solvers zip through these tough puzzles in times I’d consider really good for a Tuesday. It’s as if they have the latest Intel 13th generation microprocessor in their heads, blazing out the answer, while I plod along with an old 386 chip. Well, at least I finally get there. Eventually.

    • steve says:

      yeah, how the heck can they finish a puzzle faster than i can read the damn clues??
      never mind faster than i could enter the answers if i were copying them from a list

      i have very happily stopped going for speed and am back to enjoying the solve!!

      this puzzle was hard to get a good toe-hold, but was a lot of fun to unfold

    • Dallas says:

      Totally with you! On top of that, I had to do it at the end of the night to keep my year streak going… our son had two shows in a summer theater, so it was a late night start that didn’t help. Still, glad to get it done :-)

  3. Seattle DB says:

    I stumbled onto this website a few years ago, and I think that Amy Reynaldo and her team of reviewers deserve a round of applause for 18 years of work to explain how the world of “puzzledom” actually works for those of us who get confounded too often, lol!

    And out of curiosity, I wonder if there are statistics that show the average daily number of hits that this link gets per day?

    (Also, in the top-right corner of this page there’s a “Donate” button that you can click on.)

  4. Iggystan says:

    I’m with Eric and Greg in that I found this a more challenging Saturday puzzle. No complaints, but it does mess with my average solve time! I had very few answers filled in after cycling through the across and down clues, but slowly worked my way around the grid, starting with the NE and SW corners. Good one, Sam.

    • Ed+B says:

      Ditto. I GOT NOTHIN described my NYT grid for the first pass (or two). Clever clueing took me a while to unravel.

  5. MattF says:

    NYT about average time for me— a nice puzzle, no complaints. Liked the little ‘Q’ sub-theme.

  6. Katie+M. says:

    30a [Message to the heartless?] GAME OVER.
    In a video game, when you run out of lives or health, usually depicted by hearts.

  7. Arthur Shapiro says:

    LAT: Stella asks about “black tees”. I’m not a golfer (played a little bit many years ago) but the term was somewhat familiar and I’d say the clue and answer are legit.

    I personally struggle mightily with most Saturday LATs, marveling at Stella’s super-human times. But this one seemed surprisingly easy and was a relatively quick solve by my non-three-minutes-flat standards.

  8. Matthew S. says:

    Thank you to the three people who’ve one-starred USA Today today, apologies for the trash puzzle!

    • e.a. says:

      today, every day so far this week, and probably most days going back at least a year! seems to me like the usa today puzzle must be so inherently trash that it doesn’t even deserve consideration here (though oddly the reviewers never seem to notice). or…

      • DHJ says:

        Agreed on all points. I often wonder why these puzzles are reviewed here as they really are at the level of gas-station-magazine-rack crossword.

        • sanfranman59 says:

          You do realize that you replied to the USAT editor’s comment, right? There was a time when I would have agreed with you, but the quality of puzzles improved significantly when EA took over as editor in late 2019. I confess that they sometimes give me fits with off-my-wavelength references.

    • Here with yet another reminder that the ratings are useless and don’t let the haters get you down.

      • Dan says:

        I don’t find the ratings useless at all.

        But they are ratings mostly by crossword aficionados, so they don’t necessarily represent the average solver’s experience.

      • Brenda Rose says:

        I absolutely agree. Puzzlers can be critics but for what end?

        • JohnH says:

          Nope. I’m totally with Dan. Those who read this site and trouble to rate or to comment are experienced solvers with a special fondness for crosswords or they wouldn’t be here. If that kind of feedback isn’t useful to editors and constructors, then I’m afraid the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars.

          • e.a. says:

            so, an experienced solver with a special fondness for crosswords wakes up every day and rates that day’s puzzle 1 star out of 5, never with any accompanying comment (and sometimes even before the puzzle has actually been released), and the usefulness of that feedback to me as an editor would have been… what exactly?

            • JohnH says:

              Maybe at sea, but I doubt it. Anyone who has dealt with anything from book sales to Yelp ratings to grades in class has learned something from them. A good teacher will do more than place a grade on a paper, but not everyone does, and you cope.

              You’re also loading the question by imagining a single rater. A single rater would be useless even with a comment, since it’s not a consensus. It can’t be totally useless to find that your puzzle went over really well or was widely hated. In most cases, comments also do indeed accumulate, something as with TNY and its editorial and writing standards for months.

              Last, you’re being unfair and just plain insulting, since you put those who dislike a puzzle in a double bind. You’re one who dumps on negative comments and insists they don’t really mean it when the talk about fairness, crossings, the quality of jokes, etc., with the implication that surely it’s just old people who want their favorite culture reference whatever they say. So which is it? Can we not comment, or must we? Seems to me you just want to shield a few of your favorite setters and clue topics from criticism. Gee, thanks. As you say, what is the usefulness of that feedback to me?

            • Milo says:

              Don’t cloud the issue, JohnH. He’s talking about the trolls who evidently take pleasure in bombing puzzles with one-star ratings. Repeatedly, by whatever means it takes to register more than one vote. It’s a real issue on this site, in case you haven’t noticed.

              I don’t have a solution, but surely one exists? Because unfortunately it’s a real downer for those of us who love crosswords and come here to explore and analyze them with a larger community who share our enthusiasm.

            • I have a pretty simple solution, Milo: The ratings shouldn’t exist.

              I know, that sounds nuts, but removing the star ratings would solve that problem of trolls bomb-rating a puzzle like you said. It would also remove a related but larger problem, which is people using the ratings to determine which puzzles they solve. They should just solve the puzzle and see what they think of it themselves instead of letting the ratings make that decision for them.

              If we want to have a conversation about what specific things in a puzzle work and what doesn’t, then great, let’s actually talk about that in the comment section or in the blog posts themselves. That conversation can be useful sometimes. The star ratings aren’t useful. They’re just a way for anonymous cranks to trash a puzzle without having to say anything specific of what they didn’t like about it. Crosswords are complex things that constructors labor over for a huge amount of time and effort and usually not much money. They don’t need to be cheapened with the same kind of rating system that we use for Yelp and Amazon and basically every product in our lives.

              But as long as the ratings are going to stick around, the next best thing to do is to just ignore them and stop pretending that they say anything meaningful about the puzzle or the constructor or the publication at all.

            • Amy Reynaldo says:

              @JohnH: Hilarious that you think your own litany of complaints about the New Yorker puzzles (you must be by far the most vocal and frequent complainer about those puzzles) amounts to a thorough body of criticism of the constructors’ and editors’ work.

  9. David L says:

    NYT was a good challenge but there were a few things I didn’t care for. PGACOURSE is really not a thing — Pebble Beach is a public golf course, Quail Hollow is a private club, and they both host PGA tournaments. But that doesn’t make them PGACOURSEs.

    IGOTNOTHIN — in what card game might you say this?
    SHREWISH — as others have said.
    BANKCARD — not really precious in itself.
    OWED — ‘like some stakes.’ I don’t get it… what’s the context here?

    I liked FRIGIDAIRE, MEMPHISBBQ, CAMELHUMPS, AREYOUHIGH — but a mixed bag overall, IMO.

    • DougC says:

      Absolutely agree with “mixed bag.”

      In addition to your list of likes I would add QRCODE crossing QTIP.

      On the downside, FENCEPOSTS clued as “stakes in the grass” was a quite a stretch. Stakes and posts, not the same thing; trying way too hard to be cute with the repeated “stakes” clues, I’d say. And LEADOFFS, just weak, not a thing people say. The song from “Company,” not a clue in the world, the kind of entertainment trivia that makes me roll my eyes.

      I put in FRIGIDAIRE on the first pass, then took it out, then put it back in again. I was surprised to see that I actually beat my Saturday average time, as it felt harder than that.

  10. Eric Adjapong says:

    Sam’s puzzles always feel a bit like a trivia test with limited flow to me. Today was no different ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  11. Eric H says:

    Stumper: On the positive side, I did 92% of it on my own, up from 80-something last week. On the downside, it took me almost an hour.

    A few phrases were new to me, such as HELLO AND WELCOME and DNA LIBRARY. I’d never heard of MELON TEA, bitter or otherwise.

    At least ABBA, LOREN and GOLDA were gimmes. I knew where the clue for BEER BARREL was going, but it took a while to see the answer.

    I kind of like the clue for SPOIL (“Give out too soon”) now that I’ve figured it out, but I didn’t care for it when I first got the answer.

    • David L says:

      It took me quite some time to get started, but eventually I hit on some answers in the SW: GORP, PER, OGLE and RUES fit nicely. That led me to PEDAGOGUE and from there I made steady progress.

      ‘Stock market purchase’ for BOUILLON gave me the entertaining image of a store that sells nothing but broth, in all its varieties.

      Something about INGOODPART doesn’t ring true for me, but I can’t put my finger on the problem.

      MELONTEA was a novelty for me too. It sure doesn’t sound as if it would be bitter.

    • I somehow associate HELLOANDWELCOME with BBC podcasts. “Hello and welcome to the Word of Mouth podcast.” At least I think that’s how it goes (or used to go).

  12. Dan says:

    LAT: I found C.C. Burnikel’s puzzle to be truly terrific today. Hard, fair, and with lot of snappy clues.

  13. Teedmn says:

    This was the first Stumper in a while that I didn’t struggle with. With SOB and ATL (hoping mightily that ATL still was busiest) I then saw the BEER BARREL and rolled on from there.

    demAGOGUE but doesn’t dema mean people? Surely it’s not synAGOGUE? I finally got the PEDA, HELLO!

    DNA LIBRARY, only from crosses, a total no-know for me. And is the clue “Stock market” really apt for BOUILLON?

  14. Pilgrim says:

    Re Stumper – was anyone (other than me) bothered by 23D “Conifer creation” = CONE, when “conifer” derives from the Latin for “cone-bearing”?

    • pannonica says:

      I was, and if I’d actually written the write-up it would have been mentioned.

    • Eric H says:

      My understanding of crossword conventions caused me to hold off on entering CONE for quite some time. “Surely they wouldn’t?” But they did.

      I’m not sure if filling in CONE sooner would have made much difference, but with a puzzle as challenging as the Stumper, every little word I get in the grid helps.

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