Saturday, December 16, 2023

LAT 3:16 (Stella) 


Newsday 8:46 (pannonica) 


NYT 5:30 (Amy) 


Universal 2:40 (Matthew)  


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Garrett Chalfin’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 12/16/23 – no. 1216

This 16×15 grid accommodates a staircase of 8s marching through the center. At 65 words for a wider grid, it’s in the spectrum of lower-word-count puzzles, and I would guess that the average word length is a good bit longer than we usually see. Looks nifty.

Fave fill: SALAD BAR, CRIME RING, “OH, COME ON,” COLDPLAY, RIPTIDES, Cornish PASTIES (or those from the Upper Peninsula, though “savoury” in the clue pretends pasties aren’t also American food), “REAL NEAT,” ARPEGGIO (appreciated the clue, [Musical effect that comes from the Italian for “to play on a harp”], since my cousin plays harp and I never connected arpeggio and harp), GROUP DATES, DISMAL (it’s my word of the year!).

I don’t think I’ve seen the THRUPLES spelling of the three + couple portmanteau, just throuple. Feel like I’ve never seen ANISE TEA outside of crosswords; if you’ve ever drunk this, please tell me!

Entirely new to me: 34d. [Custom car built with old parts and a shabby aesthetic], RAT ROD. If you haven’t seen such cars or heard of the concept, Wikipedia can give you an idea of what’s going on.

Overall, the puzzle was maybe a smidgen easier than the usual Saturday NYT. Four stars from me.

Taylor Johnson & Missy Mandell Tucker’s Universal crossword, “Universal Freestyle 103″—Matt’s recap

Taylor Johnson & Missy Mandell Tucker’s Universal crossword, “Universal Freestyle 103” solution, 12/16/2023

A pair of crossing grid-spanners highlight this grid: either of YOU WOULDNT GET IT or SWORD OF DAMOCLES, and other long fill finds homes in each corner. SINK OR SWIM right off the bat was a particular strong point for me.

I found most of this grid pretty gentle for Universal Freestyle, though [Range rovers] for HERD is tricky! I’m not sure I’ve seen PORK WRAPS in those words on a menu before, but it was inferable enough. Have always wondered why we don’t see more of Bobby SEALE in puzzles — seems like a friendly set of letters, no? I first learned of Sylvia SYMS from a crossword, so I’m glad to see her again here.

I believe this is a debut for Missy, at least in Fiend’s writeups. Congrats to them!

Ryan Patrick Smith’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 12/16/23 by Ryan Patrick Smith

Los Angeles Times 12/16/23 by Ryan Patrick Smith

Liked this one a lot! Highlights:

  • 7A [Notes app?] is SHAZAM. As in an app that listens to notes (i.e., music) for you and tells you what song it is.
  • 16A [Wyo. has one] is STATE REP. I swung back and forth on whether I liked this clue: At first, I thought it was clever, since you’ll probably think of a lot of other things Wyoming might have one of before you think of Congressional representatives. Then I wondered, “Doesn’t STATE REP specifically mean a representative in a state legislature, not a state’s representative in the U.S. House?” But Google tells me I’m wrong on that question, so I’m going back to liking this clue.
  • 5D Always here for an ALEK Wek reference.
  • 10D [“Sacre bleu!”] is ZUT ALORS, which is fun to say.
  • 17D [Things that may take a turn for the worse] is PERISHABLES. Probably my favorite clue in the puzzle.
  • 30D [Question after a moment of silence] is GET IT, which might apply after saying something incomprehensible or telling a terrible joke.

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

WSJ • 12/16/23 • Sat • “All in Chest” • Shenk • solution • 20231216

More lingual and dental then chest-related, but the title actually refers to a phonetic alteration: J-sounds have been changed to ch– ones. For those keeping score at home, that’s a voiced postalveolar affricate d͡ʒ becoming a voiceless postalveolar affricate t͡ʃ.

  • 22a. [What the Heimlich maneuver aims to dislodge?] CHOKING MATTER (joking matter).
  • 27a. [Like a slot machine that always comes up triple fruit?] CHERRY-RIGGED (jerry-rigged).
  • 50a. [Podcast about vichyssoise garnishing?] CHIVE TALKIN’ (Jive Talkin’).
  • 53a. [Picked a side in the battle of the sexes] CHOSE BOYS (Joe’s Boys).
  • 65a. [Obsession with wearing gold necklaces?] CHAINS ADDICTION (Jane’s Addiction).
  • 80a. [Target of a string quartet’s fungicide?] CELLO MOLD (Jell-o mold). Notable as the only theme answer to eschew a ch- spelling.
  • 84a. [Origin stories of gullible characters?] CHUMP STARTS (jump starts).
  • 106a. [Salsa producers?] CHUNK DEALERS (junk dealers).
  • 115a. [Critter handler for a low-budget movie?] CHEAP WRANGLER (Jeep Wrangler).

It works.

  • 9d [It may have a three-alarm rating] HOT CHILI. Not referring to temperature. Also puts a whole in my theory/expectation that the only ch- sounds in the grid would be part of the theme entries.
  • 15d [Book after Hebreus in a Portuguese Bible] TIAGO. Presuming Hebreus is Hebrews, that makes the answer the equivalent of 2 John.
  • 41d [Foxtrot preceder] ECHO. In the NATO phonetic alphabet.
  • 47d [Pound, for one] POET. 111d [Pound, for one] UNIT. 64a [Crane or Swift] WRITER.
  • 73d [Lively, whirling dance] TARANTELLA.
  • 75d [One might be well-made] WISH. Slightly awkward?
  • 79d [Pixelated plumber] MARIO. But not pixilated, so far as we know.
  • 85d [Much earlier today, say] HOURS AGO.
  • 92d [Zipper alternative] VELCRO. 100d [Zipper alternative] SNAPS.
  • 31d [Language in which “crossword puzzle” is “pos croesair”] WELSH. Filed away with “information I shall never retain”. (Not a dupe with 116d [Not neg.] POS.)
  • 79a [Haleakala National Park location] MAUI. 110a [Pearl Harbor National Memorial location] OAHU.
  • 114a [One target of the DPT vaccine] TETANUS. The others are diphtheria and pertussis.

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

Newsday • 12/16/23 • Saturday Stumper • Ruff, Newman • solution • 20231216

This was an exceptionally easy Stumper offering, on a par with, say, a Friday New York Times crossword? My time would have been significantly faster were it not for a small snag in the three-o’clock region.

Basically, I started in the upper left and worked my way counterclockwise through the grid until the aforementioned section. Skipped to the northeast and then figured out that 33a [Andrew Jackson opponent in the Creek War] could be a Native American, whereupon I fleshed out the center of RED EAGLE. This allowed me to see my error in 42a [Game show regular] – it wasn’t COHOST but TV HOST.

The only other moment of pause was the FH— combo that developed at 16-across via 8d [Falcons’ fouls] OFFSIDES and 9d [Rice was often found there circa 2010] THE UN. But 16a turned out to be FHA LOAN (Federal Housing Administration), and all was copacetic.

  • 62a [It puts the “high” in highway] AIR LANE. I don’t understand this, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a tricky clue. (I’ve now cycled through most of the across clues now and so far none could be considered tricky! I’d say that’s 49a [Not at all ordinary] EERIE for a Stumper.)
  • 64a [Fit nicely] NESTLED. Disguised past tense.
  • 65a [Casting director’s employer] FOUNDRY. Finally, a clever/tricky clue!
  • 3d [Stormed about] RAN WILD.
  • 4d [Word frequently following “further”] ADO. My very first entry filled.
  • 24d [They’re fired for thinking] NEURONS. Cute.
  • 38d [It’s handled in the kitchen] STEW PAN. Had STEW POT for a short time. None of the variations of the term seem to be particularly common:
  • 41d [Prepare for piloting] TAXI. 45d [Prepare for piloting] TEST FLY.
  • 59d [It’s about as old as the club] BLT. Considered BAT (of course?).

Kind of disappointed not to have an adequate challenge this morning.

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55 Responses to Saturday, December 16, 2023

  1. Dan says:

    NYT: I generally found this to be a bit on the easy side for Saturday, but very enjoyable.

    I was surprised that RUN-ON was clued as a noun rather than an adjective, but dictionaries support this usage. Also learned that there are things actually called EAR WARMERS.

    I’m a bit dubious about THRUPLE, since at it appears only in Wiktionary and not in any respectable dictionary.

    I was a bit underwhelmed by FLAT SODAS, which seems to be in the GREEN PAINT category as a random combination of words that means something, but not a phrase in the language.

    PS to A.R.: I have drunk anise tea. The anise was one of several ingredients, but its flavor stood out.

  2. Martin says:

    The NYT came in super easy for me (half my usual Saturday time). Pretty smooth all things considered and an enjoyable solve. I like to think the triple stack in the middle tells a story of a group date salsa dancing that led to a throuple.

    • dh says:

      “…a group date salsa dancing that led to a thruple …” and later filming a porno with some participants wearing pasties? It almost looked like a theme emerging. (“me? they’re your pictures!”).

  3. DJ says:

    Anise, or Star Anise as it’s also called, has a flavor that’s akin to black licorice. Myself, I use it when brewing beer. Not being much of a tea drinker I can’t attest to that particular brew, but I love the flavor in a dark malt. That said, my wife detests even the smell of black licorice so it’s a rare treat for me.

    • Martin says:

      While they contain the same flavor compound, anethole, anise and star anise are unrelated plants. Anise is an herb and is related to parsley; star anise comes from a tree in a small family with no familiar relatives.

      While they both contain anethole, giving them that licorice flavor, they each contain many different flavor compounds so their more nuanced flavor profiles are different.

  4. MattF says:

    NYT was about average difficulty for me, although the big white blocks in the grid had me expecting something tougher. A good puzzle, FLATSODA was not wrong, I guess.

  5. Nino H. says:

    nyt: god i love finding a puzzle super super hard and finding out it was easy / just average


    • AlexK says:

      Don’t fret, it happens to me all the time. Every time they rate a puzzle on here you should include an asterisk indicating whether you were or were not on the setter’s wavelength. I’ve certainly had my share of show solves relative to what folks thought was easy. But(!) I’ve also done a few that Amy et al thought quite hard that just clicked for me. Such is crossword life!

    • agreenberg says:

      same here!!

  6. David L says:

    My only stumble in the NYT was the SW corner, where I started with SHANK instead of FLANK, along with HOTROD. That had me trying to fit HUTTERITE into the space for LUTHERAN (it doesn’t).

    35A: “Singer Bobby with a brave-sounding last name.” But isn’t DARIN pronounced with a short A, like ‘barren’?

    • dh says:

      “But isn’t DARIN pronounced with a short A, like ‘barren’?” I suppose it depends on where you’re from. Interesting to note that the puzzle was constructed by Garrett Chalfin – maybe he pronounces his own name the same way.

      • Me says:

        I watched on YouTube Bobby Darin being introduced by Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark, and both of them pronounced his name to rhyme with “barren.” In general, hosts on TV shows are told how to pronounce a performer’s name, so I think Darin also pronounced his name that way. So this clue is problematic IMO.

    • Dan says:

      Agreed. Where I grew up on the East Coast, Bobby Darin’s last name rhymed with “barren”. I suppose that in the Midwest, like Chicago, it might rhyme with “Aaron” instead.

      There is a pronunciation style that is considered generically U.S.: It was originally defined as how national newscasters tend to pronounce things on TV. At one point it was claimed that, among major cities, people in Sacramento, California spoke most nearly like that.

      My preference would be for crossword cluers to stick to that pronunciation when pronunciation is relevant.

      • RCook says:

        Are you saying “Aaron” and “barren” don’t normally rhyme?

        • Katie says:

          …also curious here. What are rhymes for each? (To my ear, Sharon, barren, Aaron, Darin, heron – all rhyme.)

          • pannonica says:

            All but heron in that list rhyme for me.

          • David L says:

            For me, daring rhymes with airing or baring; they don’t rhyme with barren or Sharon. Aaron can go either way, depending on user preference. I used to have a young couple as neighbors whose names were Aaron and Erin, and they pronounced them the same, although I typically wouldn’t.

            Heron is different again.

            This is a variation of the old Mary-marry-merry thing, which are all different for me.

          • Margaret says:

            They all rhyme for me too!

            • Dan says:

              For me the first vowel in Aaron is the same as in the words air, mare, there, wear, and bear.

              But for barren, it is the vowel in marry, carry, Barry, Larry, at, cat, rat, mat, and that.

        • JohnH says:

          They all, heron excepted, are close enough for me, too. Maybe not exact, but while I can hear a clear difference with those terms with a G ending, such as AIRING, try to say “airin'” over and over and still maintain the difference.

          For me the puzzle got much harder in the NE.

          • JohnH says:

            Oh, if it’s not obvious, I do pronounce “daring” with a long A. I won’t worry about Chicago pronunciations, which seem to have only one vowel for all words, whatever that is, and is not normally the basis for a clue. (But I still am fine with “darin'” and “barren.”)

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Well, I checked Merriam-Webster, and they show the exact same vowel sound in “barren” and “daring,” which matches my pronunciation. What, are some of you saying “bah-ren” instead?

      I’ll note that the Midwest/North Midlands accent pronounces marry/Mary/merry all the same.

      • Gary R says:

        The “Darin/darin'” rhyme worked for my ear (but in my world, Barry, berry and bury all rhyme, too) – oh, the vagaries of pronunciation!

      • David L says:

        I’m surprised M-W is so definitive, since pronunciation depends on how you deal with marry/Mary/merry. As I said, I’m a 3-way splitter on that front. And in any case, I still sound mostly British, despite 40 years in the US.

        For me, ‘barren’ has the same vowel as ‘hat,’ whereas ‘daring’ has the same vowel as ‘air.’ Whether that helps or not I’m not sure.

  7. David L says:

    My usual link for the Stumper – – is giving me the deadly 404. Where else can I find it?

  8. JohnH says:

    For fans of Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, this is a bittersweet day. They’re retiring, and the Saturday WSJ variety puzzle will be their last cryptic, at least on a regular basis. (It’s titled Departure, and instructions ask you to find 14 letters that “tell you what we’ll be doing as we take our bow.”) They also contribute the acrostic to the year-end monster puzzle section in tomorrow’s NYT. I’m a cryptic fan, and their old variety cryptics for The Atlantic are what hooked me in.

    Also, Sunday’s regular NYT puzzle has a visual element. I know that online solvers often feel cheated by such things, so here’s what I see in the magazine. You might wish to know about it before Nat’s review appears here. No spoilers or “see instructions” needed. (I can’t know how well it will translate into B&W, since the pdf is not yet available.) The shaded squares are light blue, with white ripples. Think, presumably, of ocean waves. In each block of shaded squares, one is crossed but not fully covered by a yellow-orange stripe, like a bridge.

    • Mutman says:

      Interesting about EC & HR. I thought they had retired since they seemed to be the sole authors of acrostics until this year.


    • Flinty Steve says:

      You can find a wealth of their past puzzles (WSJ and Atlantic) going back to the late-1970s as downloadable pdfs here:

    • GlennG says:

      Indeed. It’ll be a huge blow to cryptics in the US since it seems they are mostly all that gets run in mainstream outlets. I’m sure others will step up into the void, but given that I’m new and trying to learn how to do most other cryptics besides the New Yorker’s (I get blown out on the WSJ variety cryptics in comparison), I’ll definitely find it difficult to even find puzzles I could do to legit get better that doesn’t have the added difficulty of British-unique language. Not to mention, most venues don’t always use Ximean cluing, either. It’s a challenge.

      As for the NYT puzzle, they tend to either patch clues or run different puzzles entirely for syndication, which is B&W and standard characters only to be compatible with as many news presses as possible. When they patch clues, they tend to lose the theme entirely and it turns into a muddled mess. For most part, I think they just run other puzzles if there’s some color-context involved (Jim Peredo being the latest beneficiary of that).

      • RichardZ says:

        I’ll also greatly miss their wonderful and delightfully devious cryptics.

        I’d add that three sources of excellent weekly cryptics from US-based setters are:

        – Out of Left Field (
        – Square Chase (
        – The Browser (

        Each requires a subscription, but the fees are modest and the puzzles are outstanding.

        • RichardZ says:

          One correction – The Browser and Out of Left Field cryptics are published weekly, while Square Chase publishes a new cryptic on a semimonthly basis.

      • JohnH says:

        FWIW, Joshua and Henri, currently working by subscription on Patreon, supply the cryptic for tomorrow’s NYT puzzle section. But be forewarned that they play by entirely their own rules, which can grate on another solver’s nerves.

        • JB says:

          “Entirely” seems like too strong a word. They use some non-standard cluing devices, but usually only in a couple clues per puzzle.

    • MattF says:

      I first learned to do cryptics with the C&R puzzles in The Atlantic. That was… fifty years ago. Their variety cryptics defined the genre for a generation. Or two.

    • Me says:

      What do the 14 letters spell out? I loved their acrostics but am really bad at cryptics.

  9. GlennG says:

    LAT: Another Saturday Stumper plus difficulty masquerading as “gently challenging”. Twelve out of the last fourteen now that way. Doesn’t help that it’s filled with poorly edited and checked out clues (for example, a window is not a mirror, and the Yaris hasn’t been a thing since 2020) that made it totally confusing and highly unenjoyable. By far, the hardest puzzle of the group today.

    Newsday: The most entertaining and fun puzzle of the group today. But about 5X the average Friday NYT puzzle difficulty and about 2X the average Saturday NYT puzzle difficulty. But it’s usual “gently challenging” difficulty, of course.

    Universal: A generally decent romp. Raise the difficulty on this one a tick or two and you get what “gently challenging” truly is.

    NYT (syndicated): Nice little fun challenge that wrapped up well enough without only a few nits to pick. Today’s was most entertaining of the week on that venue.

    WSJ: Part of it went a little wonky, but wrapped up more or less well. Maybe a tick or two above what the average NYT Sunday runs.

    • Twangster says:

      I agree that the LAT was a very tough one today.

      I managed to solve the Stumper without cheating but it was not easy by any stretch. Had a bunch at first that were close but wrong: PERSONS for PHRASES, ONFOOT for ONDUTY, MAUI for OAHU. Also misread “Pleasant exchange” as “Present exchange” and put in REGIFT. Fun solve.

    • Margaret says:

      The LAT was very difficult for me as well.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        +1 … two straight LAT Saturday DNFs for me … The NE corner turned out to be too much for me with SHAZAM crossing both ZUTALORS and MARMEE. I somehow dug ALEc out of the deep recesses of my memory. To bad the answer was ALEK. That and the blanks I had in the NE corner meant that I had zero chance of coming up with KINECTS. You could fit what I know of game system terminology in a thimble.

        It’s almost a bargain for me these days when there are “only” four of those dang quote/conversational clue/answer combinations as there are in this puzzle. Today’s USAT has eight(!) of them.

        Oh well … moving on.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I didn’t do the LAT today, but the Stumper took me about 25 seconds more than the NYT. Markedly less challenging than the prior “Les Ruff,” which was pretty rough.

    • sorry ever after says:

      Great to see a bit more bite in the LAT.

    • Eric H. says:

      LAT: I’m not usually one to say that something in a puzzle is flat-out wrong, but 16A STATE REP is outside the stretchy zone. The clue — “Wyo. has one” — works if the answer is “Member of Congress.” The Wyoming House of Representatives is composed of 62 STATE REPs. I used to work for the Texas Legislature, and no one would ever refer to a member of Congress as a STATE REP.

      I was going to agree that ONE-WAY clued go a window and not a mirror was wrong, but I decided to cut it some slack. From the bright side, a two-way mirror (a/k/a a one-way mirror) reflects like a mirror; from the dark side, you can see through like a window.

      The whole puzzle was difficult, though not quite Stumper level. I cheated a bit on KINECTS, figuring at some point that the name probably had something to do with kinesis, so I typed that string of letters into Wikipedia.

      34D LAST NAME strikes me as very Stumper-ish. The clue is perfectly valid, but not the least bit amusing once you finally figure it out.

      Much better is something like 7A SHAZAM, which I got from the crosses and only understood after finishing the puzzle. I also liked the clue for 17D PERISHABLES.

    • Seattle DB says:

      +1 regarding the LAT. Varol’s editing leaves a lot to be desired.

  10. meaningless nobody says:

    stumper: i was pleased to get a sub-30, but i should have known if i had little/no difficulty with it, then you geniuses would have absolutely smashed it

  11. Seattle DB says:

    LAT: I’m rating this puzzle a 2.5 because 25A “Texas MLBers” didn’t have a qualifier with it. The team is the Astros, but slangily called the Stros.

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