Saturday, September 23, 2023

LAT 3:39 (Stella) 


Newsday 21:25 (pannonica) 


NYT 5:14 (Amy) 


Universal 3:53 (norah)  


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Robert Charlton’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 9/23/23 – no. 0923

Two trios of stacked 15s anchor this puzzle. I appreciate that the “oof!” of INDIAN TERRITORY is countered by ANTICOLONIALIST writings from Gandhi and Achebe. The other 15s are cool: SKATEBOARD TRICK, COURT APPEARANCE, CARBONATED WATER, and STICKS AND STONES.

I was a little surprised that the puzzle fell as swiftly as it did, given that 1a [McTwist, for one] did not mean anything to me! Skateboarding? Sure, sure.

Fave fill that’s shorter than 15 letters: RIDE OUT, KONMARI (the Marie Kondo method), BIG BEND National Park (which I did not know of until this week, when I watched the Big Bend episode of an incredibly soothing documentary series on Hulu spotlighting national parks), and IN ONE GO.

Could’ve done without 8d. [Small simian … that’s one letter away from a small computer program], APELET. Yes, it’s a dictionary word, but nobody uses it. I did a Google news search for the word, and there were two hits: the Wordplay column about this puzzle, and something about Keith Ape’s “Let Us Prey.” Two hits!

Overall, despite the APELET blotch, four stars from me. Quite a solid debut for the constructor.

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

WSJ • 9/23/23 • Sat • Shenk • “Extermination” • solution • 20230923

Prefixed EX-es? Who needs ’em? GONE.

  • 22a. [Paperboy’s work?] PRESS DELIVERY (express delivery).
  • 31a. [Checking manifests, inspecting cargo containers, etc.?] PORT DUTIES (export duties).
  • 34a. [Bungee?] TENSION CORD (extension cord).
  • 61a. [Dramaturgy?] ACT SCIENCE (exact science).
  • 63a. [Forced smiles when being photographed?] POSED BEAMS (exposed beams).
  • 85a. [Observer making sassy comments?] PERT WITNESS (expert witness). My favorite of the bunch.
  • 88a. [Sneaking up on the other players to tag them?] ‘IT’ STRATEGY (exit strategy).
  • 102a. [Dates on coins?[ CHANGE NUMBERS (exchange numbers).

Unusually for a Mike Shenk crossword, at least to my thinking, there is no physical overlap of theme entries.

  • 7d [Monte __ (deep-fried ham-and-cheese sandwich)] CRISTO. I only know grilled versions. Anyway, this seems to be a deeply polarizing menu item.
  • 8d [Iconic image by Robert Indiana] LOVE. You know the one, with the LO perched above the VE and the O rotated at something like a 45° angle.
  • 10d [Just clear of the seabed, as an anchor] ATRIP. Not too common a word outside of maritime affairs, I should think.
  • 20d [White, on a wine list] BLANC. 59d [White wine from Italy] SOAVE.
  • 32d [Ascend, quaintly] UPCLIMB. Have never seen that form.
  • 62d [Salon worker] COLORER. Or colorist? Which is more common?
  • 67d [Prepare for transport, as groceries] BAG UP. First ATRIP, then UPCLIMB, now BAG UP?! These are awkward.
  • 21a [1927 Norma Talmadge movie] THE DOVE. Is it famous?
  • 24a [Takes to work, say] RIDES ON. Not the most direct clue, by a longshot.
  • 49a [Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur, e.g.] FOLK ART.
  • 67a [Scary critter] BEASTY.
  • 68a [Hang out, say] DRY. Li’l tough.
  • 69a [Cloud chamber particle] ION.
  • 71a [Makes a cameo, e.g.] CARVES. Good misdirection.
  • 81a [1990s GMC pickups] SONOMAS. First I had SIERRAS, then SONORAS. I think the SIERRA is an in-production GMC vehicle and the SONORA is a different make and model, but I could be completely wrong about those things.
  • 106a [Tubes in torsos] AORTAS. Such a clunky clue.
  • 108a [Did some wool gathering] SHEARED. This would have been a lot easier had I not misread the clue as ‘wood gathering’.

This crossword felt serviceable more than really enjoyable or excellent.

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

Los Angeles Times 9/23/23 by Matthew Stock & Caitlin Reid

Los Angeles Times 9/23/23 by Matthew Stock & Caitlin Reid

Keeping in mind that this grid is slightly oversized — 16×15 — this was still what I have in mind when I interpret Patti Varol’s description of what the LAT Saturday should be, a “gentle challenge.” I know I complain often that it’s too easy; this was moderate, but with a lot of really fun cluing that felt satisfying. Highlights:

  • 14A [Large-eyed primate with a toxic bite] is SLOW LORIS, which is a fun entry, and also I learned something new (the toxic bite part) without having to look anything up, which is always a bonus.
  • 45A [Pocket protector?] is a clever clue for MISER (and one in which the deception worked on me, which it doesn’t usually; I needed four out of five crossings to get this).
  • 52A [Snack with which one could be caught red-handed?] is FLAMIN’ HOT CHEETOS, which I bet was the seed entry and the reason this puzzle is 16 squares wide. Although I do not love FLAMIN’ HOT CHEETOS and you will never catch me red-handed with them, I love this clue.
  • 3D [List for a trial period?] is DOCKET, also clever.
  • 7D [Part of a fictional flight plan] is PIXIE DUST, probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. That is, one uses PIXIE DUST to fly in Peter Pan.
  • 24D [“lol”] is HEHE, which is a bit of a throwaway except that the clue just as easily leads to HAHA, which brings a little extra difficulty in landing the middle section of the puzzle.
  • 31D Some difficulty was added by cluing TRULY, which could easily have been clued without the need for factual knowledge, as the hard seltzer brand: [White Claw rival].
  • 51D [Unite beneath a chuppah, e.g.] is WED. Not an especially hard clue (and one I didn’t even notice while solving), but a nice evocative one.

Anna Stiga’s Newsday crossword, Saturday Stumper — pannonica’s write-up

Newsday • 9/23/23 • Saturday Stumper • Stiga, Newman • solution • 20230923<.font>

A rough one. Ended up having to run the alphabet to finish: the square located at the intersection of 15-across [Sony cofounder and longtime head] AKIO MORITA and 5-down [The Nuremberg Trials, e.g.: Abbr.] IMT (International Military Tribunal). 

  • 1a [Jets’ address, in part] WINNIPEG, MB. 12d [Home of the minor league RubberDucks] AKRON, OHIO.
  • 16a [What “Southern Living” suggests for your succotash] OKRA. Thought it might be FORK.
  • 20a [Malcolm, Jr.’s nickname] STEVE. This is, apparently, Forbesiana.
  • 25a [It cut a key in half on QVC (2005)] GINSU. Kind of a stupid clue, but on the other hand I got it rather easily.
  • 31a [Where a 1948 Declaration of Independence was proclaimed] TEL AVIV. If nothing else, crosswords have hammered home to me that 1948 = Israel.
  • 43a [Law enforcement lingo] TEN-CODE.
  • 46a [A way to vote no in New York] NYET. Unsure whether this refers to the numerous languages voting materials are furnished, or if it’s about the United Nations.
  • 48a [Half a prominent name in modeling] DOH. Really tough clue referencing Play-Doh. It’s a reprieve from all the Homer Simpson clues, at least.
  • 58a [Seis Felipes] REYES, crossing 34d [Puzzle app featuring Louis XVI] VIVE LE ROI (which I’d never heard of, but guessed luckily based on the VIV– start).
  • 61a [First Asian Best Actress Oscar winner] YEOH. That was only this year.
  • 64a [ __ à laine (French sheep)] BÉTE. Is this a poetic name, or perhaps a breed?
  • 23d [Choices for toasters] TAVERNS. Come on.
  • 44d [Word from the Latin for “mug”] CHALICE. Interesting to learn. says this for the etymology: “Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin calic-, calix; akin to Greek kalyx, calyx
  • 50d [Much less than a roar] TEHEE. Ouch.
  • 54d [Name related to Hayden] AIDAN. I guess this is better than those clues we saw for a while that were like [Name not related to __ ], right?

Very glad this ordeal is over, so I can make some coffee and breakfast. (yay)

Universal: “Universal Freestyle 91” by Sarah Sinclair, norah’s review, 3:53

THEME: none!

Favorite entries:



  • ⭐LITTLEWOMEN 59A [March 4?]
  • YOUREONMUTE 18A [Words that break an awkward silence at a meeting]
  • GETSTHEICK 29D [Suddenly loses attraction, in slang]
  • PUPILS 43D [Black holes for observation?]


I’m always extra delighted to see a banger such as [March 4?] for LITTLEWOMEN in the Universal. Known for being smooth and accessible, we don’t often get clues that have this level of fun misdirection but I’m happy for it when the opportunity presents.

Shorter fun stuff includes [Pirates’ playgrounds] 19A SEAS, [Cookie with dedicated emojis in Microsoft Teams] 39D OREO, [“___, Baa, La La La!” (children’s book)] 8D MOO (at one point in my life I had this entire book memorized!). And we have one of my favorite crossword in-jokes in including the constructor’s name: [Girl’s name often spelled with an “H”] 53A SARA. I less love what is a bit of a rough dupe for me, stacked YOUs in 14A and 18A, but I’m coming around to the idea that I’m a little harder on dupes than others.

I learned:

6D INUIT [Arctic people in the novel “Sanaaq“] Authored by Inuk educator Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk and translated into English and French, the novel tells the story of a the day to day activities of an extended Inuit family.

Thanks Sarah and the Universal team!


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34 Responses to Saturday, September 23, 2023

  1. PJ says:

    NYT – I enjoyed the puzzle, too. The top half was easier for me than the lower half. I wanted to start 33a with a ‘T’ but TARACAS convinced me otherwise. Ended with a ? at A_IDALA and _OILS. I tried TOILS but no Happy Pencil.

    Four stars feels about right for me, too.

    • Eric H says:

      I enjoyed the NYT, too, but for me, the top stack was much harder than the bottom. In the bottom, BIG BEND, ITALO and ED MEESE were all gimmes.

      In the top, I had to work to get anything. I know of Marie Kondo, but can never remember KONMARI. SitS OUT also slowed me down for a while.

      • Sophomoric Old Guy says:

        In agreement. Enjoyed it. One of those puzzles where I was on the same wavelength as the constructor. Even as an old guy, who only knows about Tony Hawk, I knew McTwist was some sort of SKATEBOARD something. Top fell quickly, but overall, one of my faster Saturday times. Liked NE corner INONEGO, CCRIDER and KEYLESS. Thumbs up on STICKANDSTONES.

        • Dallas says:

          At first I wanted McTwist to be a McDonalds TREAT or something… but then my coffee kicked in finally. KONMARI took forever… forever for me to remember it’s Marie Kondo, and then another forever to turn it into KONMARI. Lots of fun clues and answers today :-)

    • DougC says:

      Hand up for the top half being the easier of the two.

      Top and bottom both had their problem crosses. In addition to the already-mentioned AMIDALA/MOILS, the top half had KONMARI/SMITS. A TV housecleaning method crossing a TV cop show actor? That’s just a no-know at my house. :) And I’m with Amy on giving the side-eye to APELET.

      But in spite of all that, those top-and-bottom 15 stacks were pretty great! Especially ANTICOLONIALIST and STICKS AND STONES. And in the end, it was pretty fast for a Saturday. Thumbs up!

  2. Me says:

    Right now, the NYT has 14 ratings averaging to 3.29, but the other ratings for today are from 3 or 4 raters and are 1.75, 1.67, 1.17, 1.00, and 1.00. I haven’t done all the puzzles, but are they all really that bad? I guess some raters got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

    • PJ says:

      There are one or more trolls who give three one star ratings to just about every puzzle. A pretty sad reflection on them but it does get them some attention from time to time.

    • Eric H says:

      Some people rate puzzles they haven’t solved.

      It’s not unheard of for a puzzle to have a few one-star ratings here before it’s even released.

      • GlennG says:

        At the same time though, a lot of genuine 1* reviews on here get swept aside. Like for example, I 1*d the LAT since I observe it to be a pile of hot garbage that Varol needed to use a lot more 16A on than she evidently did. For that matter, if we want to take it honestly, the Saturday Stumper was both easier and a lot more enjoyable to solve for me. (Again, it amazes me how people think the NYT and LAT is so much easier than that one.) To that end, all I can say is that a lot of reviewers/commenters here work very hard to turn this space into a complete echo chamber, and consequently, a lot of people, including myself limit their posting here for those reasons and only rate the puzzles.

  3. AmandaB says:

    NYT – Loved the long answers in this one. MOILS was new to me, but I knew it had to be AMIDALA.

  4. Dallas says:

    About 14 years ago, a friend convinced me to run a half marathon. I had done some 5k’s here and there, and run on treadmills at the gym. I had friends who ran, who would talk about hating running on a treadmill, and how much they enjoyed being outside, etc. I didn’t get it; the treadmill didn’t seem so much worse than being outside. I managed about 4 months of training that unfortunately started in December with some very icy runs, when one day in late March, I went out for this afternoon 9 mile run, and it was just … amazing. I felt for the first time what it seemed like everyone had been talking about with the joy of running outside. I finally got it.

    When I picked up crosswords again almost 2 years ago, I really enjoyed the themed puzzles, and really dreaded the Friday and Saturday themeless. I’d come to crosswordfiend, and people would talk about how much they loved the themeless ones, and I just didn’t see it. Where’s the fun wordplay? But still… I trudged through them, as I had decided I was going to go for a full year streak. Then, a few months ago, it started to change… Friday started to feel fun, and even Saturday wasn’t too bad. Then this morning, I opened up that grid, and … wow. What a gorgeous grid. This is going to be *fun*. I get it :-)

    I still really like themed puzzles… and I ended up giving up running, but do long-distance cycling instead (much better on the knees and fascia).

    • Seattle DB says:

      I’ve always liked your enlightened commentary, and this one makes me smile. So do you get more euphoria from solving a hard puzzle or running a mini-marathon, lol!

  5. David L says:

    NYT: Pretty good overall, but two stupid Star Wars name in one puzzle? And one of them crossing MOILS? I didn’t know DARTH was a title (I thought it was his name, like Garth or Bart or something) but I vaguely recalled AMIDALA from other crosswords.

    Stumper: I was able to finish in a reasonable time despite not having the last three down clues. I knew AKIOMORITA, so that helped. The clue for INERTGASES is plain wrong: they mix perfectly fine, like any other gas; what they don’t do is react.

  6. jay marsala says:

    NYT.. so we’re all going to pretend RIDE OUT and OPTS OUT aren’t intersecting here?

  7. Eric H says:

    Stumper: Ugh. Just ugh.

    It took me way longer than I should have spent on it, and that was with checking or revealing more than I should have. The SW filled in pretty quickly, but the rest was just unpleasant.

    Malcolm Forbes? HI-C flavors? WINNIPEG MB and AKRON OHIO? (There’s another Winnipeg? Another Akron?) GINSU knives ads from almost 20 years ago?

    Some of my trouble was stuff I had never heard of, like EURO CREEP and TEN-CODE (I know what the latter is; I’ve just never heard it called that).

    I don’t think the clue for INERT GASES is correct. And is a KIA SORRENTO really “close kin” to a Hyundai Santa Fe? OK, they’re both Korean SUV’s, but “kin” implies more than that, doesn’t it?

    I’ve been through all the clues and I don’t see one that is the least bit witty.

    On the bright side, I can’t see “elderberries” without hearing John Cleese’s French soldier taunting the English kniggits:

    • Eric H says:

      Sarah’s review of the Universal puzzle says in part “I’m always extra delighted to see a banger such as [March 4?] for LITTLEWOMEN in the Universal.”

      That’s exactly the kind of wit that I enjoy — and found none of in the Stumper. It’s every bit as challenging a clue as some of the Stumper clues, but it made me smile once I got it.

      • Seattle DB says:

        I was stumped on this clue, but I gather that “March 4” refers to the four sisters in “Little Women”?

        • Eric H says:

          You’ve got it. That’s why I liked that clue so much. I’m not sure what the clue made me think of, but it wasn’t Louisa May Alcott.

    • Martin says:

      The Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe are built on the same platfom.

      • Eric H says:

        Thanks, Martin. I obviously didn’t spend enough time in Wikipedia.

        I withdraw my objection to that clue. (I still don’t much like the puzzle.)

        • Martin says:

          Us gearheads have to keep up on the insanity of automaker mergers. The currently struck “Big Three” include Stellantis. Who?

          Where there used to be Chrysler, we now have Stellantis. In addition to making the former Chrysler products, Chrysler and Dodge (and Ram), they control Jeep, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lancia, Peugeot, Citroën, Opel, Vauxhall and others.

          A couple of decades ago, Chrysler was DaimlerChrysler and there were Mercedes and Chryslers that shared platforms. No longer. It takes some concentration to keep up.

          • Eric H says:

            Thanks. I actually did come across Stellantis a few months ago, though I’d forgotten them.

            I’m not sure if I ever knew Hyundai owns Kia, but I see it’s been a long time — since around the time that you started to see Korean cars in the USA.

            I used to pay attention to this kind of thing. Now, I just don’t care that much.

            We bought a new Subaru in March, our first new car in over 20 years. And today I learned that Toyota owns 20% of Subaru, so I guess I learned something from the Stumper.

  8. Gene says:

    BIGBEND was an episode of Nature not long ago on PBS, so it came to mind quickly.

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