Saturday, August 12, 2023

LAT 2:54 (Stella) 


Newsday 23:12 (pannonica) 


NYT 4:35 (Amy) 


Universal 4:40 (norah)  


USA Today 2:05 (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Rachel Fabi & Christina Iverson’s New York Times crossword — Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 8/12/23 – no. 0812

A fresh and fun Saturday offering from Rachel and Christina played like a Friday NYT for me. It helped that 1a and 1d, both newer coinages (not things we learned during our school years if we’re over 45), were gimmes for me. Being online a lot helps for solving! CROMULENT ([Perfectly acceptable, humorously]) was introduced to the language in a 1996 Simpsons episode, while COPYPASTA is newer, [Block of text duplicated and reposted online, in internet slang]. I might argue that PASTES IN is a clear dupe of COPYPASTA, given the latter’s inherent pasting.

Fave fill: OUROBOROS, DR DEATH (heard of it, couldn’t have told you it’s on Peacock), “I’M SO DONE” (not loving the “I’M EASY”/”SO AM I” repetitions), the RULE OF LAW, ATTENTION SPAN (what a great clue: [Focal length?], as in how long you’re able to focus), and PONY RIDES. Special shout-out to LABNEH, a [Yogurt dip often served with pita], which I know from its inclusion in a number of Hello Fresh meal kits.

I didn’t notice till I began blogging the puzzle that the grid has mirror symmetry across a diagonal. The design made by the black squares in the grid’s center faintly resemble an arrow that could be NOCKED.

Four stars from me.

Rich Norris’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 8/12/23 by Rich Norris

Los Angeles Times 8/12/23 by Rich Norris

“Rich Norris themeless” and “sub-three-minute solve” are not phrases I normally associate with each other. This puzzle had a few of his usual traps, if not many. There were also a fair number of new-to-me facts that I nonetheless was able to complete the puzzle quickly without knowing in advance. I did enjoy that aspect of learning while I solve in clues like:

  • 31A [2002 AFI Life Achievement Award honoree], which is Tom HANKS.
  • 53A [TV series that teamed a conspiracy theorist with a doctor], THE X-FILES. I’m betting this fact is not new to many, but I’ve never seen the show.
  • 2D [Capital of Shaanxi Province] is XI’AN. I have been to XI’AN, but didn’t know anything about its political importance!
  • 4D [Loser to Explorer in the first browser war] is NETSCAPE. There’s some nostalgia. I remember building terrible websites with whatever their WYSIWYG was back in 1999!
  • 6D [Volcano where Zeus trapped Typhon, in some myths] is ETNA.
  • 8D [Chevys retired in 2020] is IMPALAS.
  • 39D [Media mogul born in Mississippi] is OPRAH. I always associate her with Chicago, so this was new to me.

Freddie Cheng’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Next in Line” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 8/12/23 • Sat • Cheng • “Next in Line” • solution • 20230812

The title definitely helped me to understand what was going on with the theme answers, so much so that the revealer was superfluous.

  • 114aR [Back-to-back job stint, and a hint to the starred answers] DOUBLE SHIFT. The first letters of each word in those wacky entries have been advanced one space in the alphabet.
  • 23a. [*Birthday treat for Al Capone?] MOBSTER CAKE (lobster bake).
  • 25a. [*Location of extremely narrow shafts?] TIGHT MINE (sightline).
  • 44a. [*One trundling through soil?] EARTH WADER (Darth Vader).
  • 48a. [*Rejected dogma?] NIXED CREED (mixed breed).
  • 62a. [*One packing the van in an orderly way?] NEAT MOVER (meat lover).
  • 66a. [*Battle cry?] FIGHT CALL (eight ball).
  • 87a. [*Gelato parlor special?] DOLLAR CONE (collarbone).
  • 89a. [*Prison vocalist?] CELL SINGER (bell ringer).
  • 112a. [*Aspiration for the band?] TOUR DREAM (sour cream).

None of these are exactly exciting or laugh-out-loud funny, but some are smirkworthy.

  • 15d [1975 Tom T. Hall hit] I LIKE BEER. Maybe Brett Kavanaugh’s favorite song?
  • 29d [Coat on a coat rack, perhaps] VARNISH. Nice.
  • 66d [Distance-measuring device] FEELER GAUGE. New to me, but understandable post hoc.
  • 67d [“Tell that ___ you do NOT want to play”: Dr. Seuss] CAT IN THE HAT. Nifty to see the whole thing as an entry.
  • 88d [Geezers] CODGERS. Part of a cluster down there in the bottom center. The others are 105a [Mom’s pop] GRANDPA and 94d [Geezer] OLD DOG.
  • 104d [Quantum physics pioneer] BOHR. 107d [Science fiction great Frederik] POHL.
  • 76a [Tidal carve-out] SEA CAVE. A very famous one is Fingal’s Cave in Scotland.
  • 80a [Name on African maps from 1971 to 1997] ZAIRE. I bet that’s a contemporary sweet spot for a lot of readers here.
  • 93d [Dizzying pattern] MOIRÉ. Among quite a number of things, such patterns can also be the basis for a type of animation.
  • 103a [ __ invidia] ABSIT. A Latin phrase that I wasn’t familiar with, but I can see how it works. Cognates to English absent and invidiousness, right?

Universal, “Universal Freestyle 85” by Evan Kalish — norah’s write-up; 4:40

THEME: None!

Favorite entries:



  • SNOOZEALARM 17A [What helps you lie?]
  • LETSPRETEND 59A [Invitation to consider a hypothetical]
  • BIKELANE 11D [Path that might have designated traffic signals]
  • TOERINGS 12D [Pieces of jewelry for low digits]


Could have done with a few more fun ? clues – we only get three and two of them (35D FOLD [Hand over your cards?] and 25A SIB [Short relative?]) are relatively basic. The stacks in each corner are nice and clean.

I learned:

SATISFICED 28A [Settled for an adequate option]. I didn’t know this word! Surprised to see what I would call difficult vocabulary in a Universal themeless, especially one with this amount of real estate in the grid. For sure thought I had an error somewhere. M-W says satisfice: “to pursue the minimum satisfactory condition or outcome”

Thanks Evan and the Universal team!

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

Newsday • 8/12/23 • Sat • Sewell • solution • 20230812

Ouch, definitely some mean ol’ clues in this workout of a puzzle.

  • The grid is braced by a pair of long down entries, fourteen letters each: 10d [Active aspiration] ATHLETIC CAREER—kind of blah; 15d [Vitamin-enriched cereals, for instance] NUTRACEUTICALS, a term I vaguely recall but needed many crossings for here.
  • 24a [Flowed to and fro] TIDED. A clue/answer combo that’s so straightforward it becomes difficult. <shakes fist>
  • 28a [Comic relief?] BARSTOOL. That question mark is doing a lot of work. “Relief” is not a concept that comes to mind first, or second, or third.
  • 32a [Word in two UN member names] ARAB. Had to look this up afterward—the official name for Syria is the Syrian ARAB Republic. (The other nation is the more obvious United ARAB Republic.)
  • 36a [Fire marshal’s measurement] AISLE. Jeesh.
  • 39a [Language once written in Cyrillic] ALEUT. Nice bit of trivia; not intuitive.
  • 61a [Improve your progress] ACCELERATE. 7d [Improved your progress] SPED. Getting one of these answers helps with the other clue, which is a nice kind of time-release valve feature in a tough crossword.
  • 62a [Apt rhyme for “praise”] OLÉS. Boo! I was expecting a one-syllable answer.
  • 63a [Got bigger, apparently] NEARED. A matter of perspective, I guess.
  • 8d [Military terrain-modeling tool] SAND TABLE. And now I have just learned of ABAX, which seems very useful for Scrabble/Lexulous.
  • 9d [“Starry” precursor of the Apple 1] ALTAIR. I was thinking that the answer was pointing to another Apple product, but no.
  • 25d [34-wk. period] DST. This one gave me conniptions. Typical human gestation period is about 40 weeks, the 34th week of the year (not that the clue indicates this, but I was growing desperate) isn’t in OCT, etc. Definitely needed crossings here.
  • 27d [Antonym of “astride”] SIDE-SADDLE. One might quibble that these are opposites.
  • 30d [Afford for now] LEND. Another clue with the obliqueness/difficulty ramped up.
  • 48d [Spring, essentially] WATER. Pretty sure this was a misdirection toward HELIX.
  • 52d [Track and field opener] DECA-, as in decathlon.

Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today crossword, “Well, Now I’m Hungry!” (Freestyle) — Amy’s recap

Amanda Rafkin’s USA Today crossword, “Well, Now I’m Hungry!” (Freestyle) solution, 8/12/2023

Themeless this weekend from USA Today, and the grid has some nice stuff in the middle — MEXICAN COKE, PERI PERI, and a down-spanning LETS PUT A PIN IN IT. I liked the more open NE and SW corners (CALIENTE and ADONIS especially) more than the other, less connected parts, but even those are smooth and nicely varied, and the whole is a really neat grid.

This could very well be chalked up to USA Today maintaining accessibility for solvers, or an off day on my end, but the cluing by and large didn’t land with me. [Northeastern state where lobster rolls are often enjoyed] reads awkward, no? As do [Mythological hot guy] and [Tennessee NFL team]. I’m always cautious about nitpicking puzzles upon closer review, but during the solve I certainly felt more clues than I’m used to were pretty perfunctory, definition-style approaches. Kinda dragged me down through a smooth and varied collection of fill that could have really been jazzier IMO.

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41 Responses to Saturday, August 12, 2023

  1. Nino says:

    Absolute BANGER of a crossword for the NYT! COPYPASTA / CROMULENT is a delightfully hilarious cross, and everything felt stylishly fair otherwise. Quite tickled by the clue on DYNASTY, too. Had me thinking about orange juice for a long, long time.

    • huda says:

      Agreed on all fronts.
      Funny how long it took me to tumble to LABNEH, something I grew up eating and still eat regularly. But never as a dip! We spread it on bread like you might cream cheese. The best kind is the ultra thin Arabic bread–Markouk. It’s round. You spread labneh generously on fresh Markouk, sprinkle some dried mint, drizzle with a little bit of good olive oil, and roll it up like a thin burrito. You can cut it up and eat it as dessert. But mostly, it’s a Labneh sandwich, an everyday staple in Syria and Lebanon.

    • Eric H says:

      The NYT was a great puzzle! Fun from top to bottom!

      I learned that I don’t really know how to spell OUROBOROS (though I probably won’t forget now), the origins of RISK (a game I’ve not played in close to 50 years), and “red dog.” I love the clue for ATTENTION SPAN.

      One little hitch at the end: My recurring R for E typo gave me RrAM as a large quantity. Fortunately, DR. DrATH is not a TV show.

  2. CDM says:

    Regarding the ongoing discussions about ratings, I find it interesting that those admonishing one-star raters insist on them to explain their rating because it’s so, I don’t know, harsh. Why isn’t a five-star rater similarly prodded to explain their rating? I’d venture that – whatever the rubric – there are far more “one-star” puzzles than “five-star” puzzles. Sturgeon’s Law, commonly reduced to the guideline that “90 percent of everything is crap”, has a lot of truth to it.

    I honestly couldn’t give a darn about the star ratings here. I just find the discussion peculiar, in that this is a criticism site largely attempting to prevent one direction of criticism. If the only analysis of any crossword allowed here is of the hunky-dory type, you don’t have much to offer in terms of analysis and crosswords certainly aren’t being taken seriously as anything approaching “art”.

    • Dallas says:

      One of my favorite bits from the TV show The Critic:

      Duke Phillips : Why the hell do you have to be so critical?
      Jay Sherman : I’m a critic!
      Duke Phillips : No, your job is to rate movies on a scale from “good” to excellent.”
      Jay Sherman : What if I don’t like them?
      Duke Phillips : That’s what “good”‘s for.

    • Eric H says:

      >>> I’d venture that – whatever the rubric – there are far more “one-star” puzzles than “five-star” puzzles. Sturgeon’s Law, commonly reduced to the guideline that “90 percent of everything is crap”, has a lot of truth to it.<<<

      The one-star puzzles — and the two-star puzzles — are the ones that every editor has rejected. There’s so much competition these days for relatively few publication slots that almost everything that gets published should be worthy of at least three stars.

      • huda says:

        Depends on whether you are using an absolute scale or relative to other NYT puzzles. I think of 3 stars as an average NYT puzzle which is definitely a highly select pool, as you sagely point out.

        • Eric H says:

          The NYT and New Yorker puzzles are the only ones that I do every day. But all of the puzzles reviewed here are generally pretty good puzzles. That’s not to say that I like all of them; sometimes a theme just doesn’t click with me.

          • Me says:

            This is a very good point. What is the scale distribution for that rater? Some people might say that the rating is against all other published NYT puzzles, so 20% of the puzzles should be 1 star. Some might say that the rating is against all puzzles, and 0% of the NYT puzzles should be 1 star.

            I think I’d be somewhere in between. For me, 5 stars should mean something but my “center” would be 4 stars. I think a median grade is more like a B nowadays than a C. I would rate my NYT puzzle distribution something like 5% are 5 stars, 15% 4.5 stars, 60% 4 stars, 19% 3 or 3.5 stars, and less than 1% as 2.5 stars or less.

            I personally would only give 2.5 stars or less if I thought the puzzle was not worthy of a major publication, which rarely comes up. But some people would give 40% of puzzles that kind of rating, and that would be legitimate for their scale distribution.

            • PJ says:

              People apply rating scales differently. There’s nothing wrong with that. Attempting to manage how people apply subjective ratings doesn’t work in my experience. It also doesn’t matter if the number of people rating something is large. What is large? Some will say 30. That’s primarily due to the Central Limit Theorem. I’d like 50. That’s why we need more people to rate the puzzles.

            • Martin says:

              There’s nothing wrong with that, exactly! I love killer puzzles that other solvers might find frustrating. But that’s precisely why averaging solvers’ ratings, who use different criteria, will yield a meaningless number.

            • PJ says:

              So you’re against rating anything? That would pretty much make survey research a meaningless activity.

            • Martin says:

              Survey design is an art and a science. Very few ask for a single number between 1 and 5 as the sum total of the survey. Alleging that I am against all ratings on the basis of this one example is little more than trolling.

            • PJ says:

              I don’t appreciate being called a troll. I don’t think it was called for.

              Of course there aren’t very many single question surveys. To say that a single question is invalid because of interpersonal variation on the criteria used to answer that question is misguided.

              I think some are trying to read too much into what the rating purports to measure. I’ve taken to to mean, “Overall, how would you rate you experience solving this puzzle?” Nothing more.

              Puzzle evaluation is a multidimensional concept. One can’t hope to capture all of those dimensions in a single question. That doesn’t mean that the single question can’t be used for the entertainment of those who frequent this site.

              Again, if enough people participate the ratings can be a reliable measure for the overall satisfaction of the people who rate the puzzles and can be used to compare puzzles on that dimension.

              I’d start by using the percentage of the raters who gave a puzzle four stars or higher.

          • Stephie says:

            Where did Martin say he was against rating anything?

    • JohnH says:

      I’m on the side who considers ratings as not unreasonable, given that we’re experienced solvers reacting to what we know and sharing our experience, and given that so much else online involves some similar functionality. But I’m also on the side of those who doesn’t think we need be harsh or average out to a 3, especially if that means considering an average NYT puzzle a 3. As pointed out, after all the puzzles do have editors!

      I think of 3 as “nothing special,” factoring in the day of the week, and enjoy how often puzzles instead keep feeling fresh, especially at the NYT, where I probably average close to 4. I’m guessing my ratings for the WSJ average well over 3, too, although not by as much (and it’s clear from the ratings and indeed worth knowing that the regular Saturday WSJ puzzle often lets solvers down maybe just a wee bit).

      So if puzzles get a 1 or 2, to me that means the editor seriously lets us down, and I’m not at all ashamed to say that the TNY editor so often does, not playing fair and utterly unable to keep a progression of difficulty corresponding to days of the week. Which isn’t to say I rated TNY puzzles this week all over the map, including a 4.5. And isn’t that worth knowing too, if only as a broadly shred experience?

      • JohnH says:

        So sorry for the multiple typos. I should reread. But I meant “which isn’t to say that I haven’t rated TNY puzzles all over the map,” and of course by shred I meant shared.

  3. John says:

    I don’t get the “Fair hits?” clue for PONY RIDES. Like it’s a hit with the kids at a fair I guess? But why the wink-wink question mark at the end of the clue then? Seems pretty straightforward if that’s the meaning

    • pannonica says:

      I’d venture that it’s to indicate misdirection. Ostensibly I think the clue would be taken to have something to do with baseball?

      • John says:

        I suppose, I’ve just never heard “fair hit” as a phrase in baseball. A hit is fair by definition, isn’t it?

        • pannonica says:

          I am certainly not an authority on baseball!

        • Gary R says:

          I agree with you about “fair hit” as a baseball phrase – have never heard it spoken nor seen it written (until the reference pannonica provided). But it doesn’t really need to be a legit baseball phrase for the clue to work as a misdirection – when I read the clue, my first thought was “baseball.” A beat later, I realized it didn’t work as a baseball phrase, and the question mark sent me in a different direction. To your original point, maybe on a Saturday, it didn’t call for the (?).

    • Christopher Smith says:

      Think it’s just using a baseball phrase to refer to an activity that’s a “hit” (ie, popular) at the fair.

      • DougC says:

        As @John noted, “fair hit” is not a term used in baseball (or anywhere else that I can think of). That’s why the “?” is so puzzling.

        In baseball, a batted ball is either fair or foul. If it’s fair, and not caught, it’s a hit. “Fair hit” would be redundant.

        A very entertaining puzzle, in spite of this nit and some unfamiliar (to me) trivia!

      • sanfranman59 says:

        Baseball terminology is one of my strongest suits. “Fair hit” is not something you’d hear anyone knowledgeable about baseball say, except maybe by accident. “Fair ball” is definitely a legit phrase, but obviously wouldn’t work as a clue in this case.

        That said, I was okay with it here. While I wouldn’t want it to become a mainstay, the clue seems close enough for crosswords and the ? sufficiently tips the solver that there’s language play going.

    • JohnH says:

      I took a different tack, I guess. It didn’t occur to me that it was punning on an existing phrase, and it doesn’t ring a bell to me from what modest amount I know of baseball. I just took it to mean misdirection in that you wouldn’t easily guess that “fair” is a noun and “hit” means it’s popular (at the fair). I liked the clue.

      I liked the puzzle, in fact, although for me the NW is really tough.

  4. Dallas says:

    Good Saturday; I had COCKED instead of NOCKED which kept me from dropping in CROMULENT for *far* too long, given my age and Simpsons love. ATTENTION SPAN was clued nicely, too.

    I cannot figure out for the life of me how “Toast starter” gives HERES. I didn’t see it mentioned in the NYT writeup, so I figure it must just be a weird mental block for me… any help?

  5. Seth Cohen says:

    Stumper: what a great workout! Classic super hard but somehow doable. Last letter was the bottom left — kept trying to make the rhyme of “praise” be one syllable, and with _LES I was sure something else had to be wrong.

    Not a huge fan of “Afford for now” for LEND. Yes, if you’re able to lend money, you can afford to lend it, presumably. But being able to afford it doesn’t equate to lending it. Does that make sense? I think the clue could have used a qualifier, like “Afford for now, maybe.” But I guess that’s the Stumper for you! Qualifiers be damned!

    • pannonica says:

      Check out sense 2 of afford here.

    • Eric H says:

      Sorry, I don’t buy OLES rhyming with “Praise.” That SW corner took forever, in no small part because of the difficult to see NUTRACEUTICALS. (That “CEU” just looks screwy.) SODA, TALL and COAL gave me way more trouble than they should have.

      The rest of the puzzle was fine. Challenging but much more doable.

      • David L says:

        That little corner defeated me. I had everything except the four corner squares and could not see a solution. TALL for outlandish works for ‘tall tales’ but nothing else I can think of. COAL for the missing Shakespeare word didn’t cross my mind, and I too was looking for a single syllable word to rhyme with praise. If I had come up with ASTO for ‘On’ I might have got the rest, but that didn’t occur to me either.

        • Eric H says:

          I had been pretty sure of SIDE-SADDLE and I had “wild” crossing it instead of “tall.” That kept me from seeing AS TO, which has a pretty vague clue.

          Except for OLÉS (which to my mind doesn’t rhyme with “praise”), that SW corner is perfectly fine — just very hard for me. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who struggled with it.

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          I agree with Eric and David about that corner.

          There is a usage of “rhyme” that allows for different syllable counts, with just that final syllable being involved. I tend to prefer the more rigorous definition where all syllables need to rhyme. Like “rigorous” and “vigorous,” and almost “licorice,” but not “circus” or “virus.”

  6. Scott says:

    I liked the NYT but my time was 25m40s compared to Amy’s 4m35s. Wow, I was super slow today. Many new words/phrases for me.

  7. David L says:

    Hmm, NYT was easier than I thought it was going to be, but I didn’t care for it that much. I happened to know that Ang Lee is from Taiwan, the arrows are nocked, than Princess Anne rode in the Olympics, and that there’s an opera L’Elisir d’Amore. On the other hand, I didn’t know labneh or Dr Death or that a baby bison is a red dog. I knew cromulent but not copypasta.

    I’ve nothing against trivia contests. In fact, I’ve started playing in a weekly trivia night at a local bar, and I love it. But it’s not what I want from crosswords.

    (I don’t do star ratings, for those who are agitated about them).

  8. placematfan says:

    Wow, I guess Mulder really is a conspiracy theorist, isn’t he? I never framed him that way; I guess I just considered him passionately curious. Thinking of him as a conspiracy theorist makes me sad for him and sad for my own fanboyhood. I don’t want to believe.

  9. Dan says:

    I *mostly* liked the NYT puzzle just fine, but I thought that some of its features were inappropriate for a Saturday puzzle. Like the question marks after clues like “Show room?” and “Poker variety?”

    Also, I find the “current affairs” description of NBC’s Dateline program to be vastly inaccurate: It is a show about true crime, not current affairs (even if it once was).

    Finally, I’m not in favor of salting a Saturday puzzle with clues that are virtual gimmes, like “Heavy read” for TOME, “Castilian cat” for GATO, “Over, in Österreich” for ÜBER, “Some” for A FEW, “Seasons” for SALTS. It’s a Saturday puzzle, for goodness’ sake!

  10. Zev Farkas says:

    Universal, “Universal Freestyle 85” by Evan Kalish — norah’s write-up

    “Satisficed” was new to me, too.

    14A, “Computerizedly crafted (like this clue!)” is a bit scary… Et tu, Evan? How much of the making of our crossword puzzles has been given over to machines?

    “Computerizedly” strikes me as something of a cyberneologism. ;)

    All in all, a fun puzzle.

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