Thursday, December 21, 2023

BEQ tk (Darby) 


LAT 4:57 (Gareth) 


NYT 9:18 (ZDL) 


The New Yorker tk (Kyle) 


Universal 5ish (Sophia) 


USA Today 7:22 (Emily) 


Fireball tk (Jenni) 


WSJ 5:36 (Jim) 


Andy Walker’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Starting From Scratch”—Jim’s review

Good title for a debut puzzle. Congrats!

Theme answers are words that can precede both LIGHT and LIST in familiar phrases. Both of those words appear at 1a and 1d, respectively. The revealer is BACK TO SQUARE ONE (61a, [Exasperated cry when trashing a draft, and where to go to answer the clues with slashes]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Starting From Scratch” · Andy Walker · Thu., 12.21.23

  • 6a. [What gossip may put a person in/Where Santa puts some kids] BAD. Bad light, bad list. Hmm. “Naughty list” is far more common in my experience than “bad list.”
  • 21a. [Ultraviolet bulb/Deem as undesirable] BLACK. Black light, blacklist.
  • 31a. [Gearing up for a quick trip/Slip in a parcel] PACKING. Packing light, packing list.
  • 45a. [Festive bulb/Holiday gifting guide] CHRISTMAS. Christmas light, Christmas list.

Nice gimmick. I was able to suss it out before I got to the revealer even though I didn’t realize both LIGHT and LIST were in the grid. The revealer provided that extra aha moment as well as the confirmation of the theme.

Looking at the fill, I have to raise an eyebrow at COOL TUNES (maybe even both eyebrows). And the dupe of ARE YOU? and CAN YOU? is less than ideal. BE MAD is another iffy entry.

But honestly I didn’t really mind those during the solve, and I ended up with a quicker-than-usual solve time for a Thursday.

Clues of note:

  • 28a. [Make some dulcimer music]. STRUM. Not sure why I thought this was some sort of percussive instrument.
  • 52d. [“The Gift of the Magi” feature]. IRONY. The O. Henry story. No spoilers please. I’m actually not familiar with this one.

Nice puzzle. 3.5 stars.

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword — Zachary David Levy’s write-up

Difficulty: Easy (9m18s)

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword, 12/21/23, 1221

Today’s theme: GO DOWN IN / FLAMES (With 47-Down, fail spectacularly … or what the answers to the starred clues do?)


Nice and breezy Thursday.  The paired vertical entries for each column — clued as if the grey squares aren’t there — collectively GO DOWN encased in a type of FLAME — BL/AZEFI/REINFER/NO.  Some nice long fill in the NW/NE corners, including LAMBASTE and SOYBEANS.  Special shout out to the clue on…

Cracking:GROUP HUG (Squeeze together?)

Slacking: deciding not to clue ARLO as the Folk Slinger himself, author of the world’s only bona fide Thanksgiving ballad, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, which effortlessly combines biting anti-war satire, toe-tapping talkin’ blues, and deference to the greatest holiday on God’s green Earth.  And it’s all in one tidy package, strictly for your enjoyment and edification.  I suppose CRATE UP is also gunky.

Sidetracking: oh hell, like there was any doubt..

David Tuff’s Universal crossword, “Auto Suggestion” — Sophia’s write-up

Universal Crossword, 12 21 2023, “Auto Suggestion”

Today’s theme is all about cars! This is admittedly a subject I know very little about, aside from watching the Fast and Furious movies. Each of the theme clues is structured as “____ car?”, making a legitimate phrase. Then, each answer is a model of car that literally means that first word. It’s a little complicated to explain, so I’ll just list the examples:

  • 17a [Flying car? (Lincoln)] – CONTINENTAL
  • 25a [Elevator car? (Subaru)] – ASCENT
  • 38a [Train car? (Dodge)] – CARAVAN
  • 40a [Smart car? (Honda)] – INSIGHT
  • 49a [Getaway car? (Ford)] – ESCAPE
  • 62a [Street car? (Chrysler)] – FIFTH AVENUE

I have only heard of about half of these cars – INSIGHT, ASCENT, and FIFTH AVENUE were all new to me. But the clues were helpful and I was able to get all the answers without too much trouble. The only one I’m a bit confused by still is CONTINENTAL – not sure how that relates to flying?

Quick hits on the rest of the puzzle:

  • Two great number-related pieces of bonus fill: PERFECT TEN and ELITE EIGHT. DRAMAMINE and BON BONS are great too.
  • I liked the connection of the two Henry VIII clues, but all the KATHERINES spelled their names differently, so I didn’t love this clue.
  • Favorite clue: [Stylistic period for Taylor Swift] for ERA, [English minor?] for LAD

Lisa Senzel & Will Nediger’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s theme summary

LA Times

Lisa Senzel & Will Nediger’s puzzle theme today is very narrowly defined. It has a revealer to explain it, FEATUREARTICLE, although it felt more like a way of rounding the puzzle off. Each of three two-part answers consists of a FEATURE film then a synonym for a written account. Each is essentially clued as being a film review of the film in the first part:

  • [Review that says, “Hitchcock serves up a twist that you won’t see coming”?], PSYCHO/ANALYSIS
  • [Review that says, “Bit of a downer, but Soderbergh delivers”?], TRAFFIC/REPORT
  • [Review that says, “Idina Menzel shines as Elsa”?], FROZEN/ACCOUNT

A few tricky names today:

  • [Silk Sonic musician Anderson .__], PAAK. Quite a few hits, but often not with his name on them…
  • [Harriet Tubman portrayer Cynthia], ERIVO. That’s a lot of vowels…
  • [Jones of “Parks and Rec”], RASHIDA. I always want the name to be RASHADA.
  • [“SNL” regular who wrote the memoir “A Very Punchable Face”], COLINJOST. I struggled to see this as a full name not a surname.


Darby Ratliff and Brooke Husic’s USA Today Crossword, “Hidden Trails” — Emily’s write-up

Be sure to stay on the path or you may wander off!

Completed USA Today crossword for Thursday December 21, 2023

USA Today, December 21 2023, “Hidden Trails” by Darby Ratliff and Brooke Husic

Theme: each themer contains —LAG— which is a synonym for “trail”


  • 19a. [“Berry Song” author and illustrator], MICHAELAGOADE
  • 31a. [Adhesive brand named for an ape], GORILLAGLUE
  • 40a. [Person who helps clients plan trips], TRAVELAGENT
  • 53a. [Era that introduced laptops, tablets, etc.], DIGITALAGE

Today’s path is hidden indeed! And hiker’s likely have an advantage for the theme. MICHAELAGOADE has many wonderful books with gorgeous illustrations. GORILLAGLUE fit just where it needed to go. TRAVELAGENT also slotted in easily for me too though nowadays most people books their own travel. DIGITALAGE took me a few crossings because I thought it would be “internet” or “web” something. h/t to Sally for the theme today—too tricky for me to figure out; check out her post for fantastic facts about the fill.
Favorite fill: VHS, GALACTIC, AVA, and AOC

Stumpers: ONS (new to me), ZOUK (new to me), and IDLI (only “mochi” came to mind, needed crossings)

Very smooth solve for me today though with some new fill and a few tricky cluings for me that it wasn’t my fastest time though it felt for a while that it was going to be. Loved the entires and themer set in particular. Lots of great bonus fill as well, with many lengthy ones as well. Delightful!

4.5 stars


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19 Responses to Thursday, December 21, 2023

  1. Nino H. says:

    NYT: Way more current than yesterday’s, at least.

    Actually, it’s pretty nice! The shaded letters actually creating new words is a nice touch.

  2. Craig N. Owens says:

    I confess I was thrown for quite awhile by the fact that “Filaments” and “Blasting” both connect to bursts of “flames,” whereas “Freeze” seemed quite the opposite. “Freeze” led me to complete “CHI” with “LL” for “CHILL,” imagining that, perhaps, flames warm a chill and thaw a freeze (thus, they go down when in the presence of flames). But that left me scratching my head about “INFERTILE” and blinded me to the “E” in “SPARE”–for the longest time, I tried to make “SPARK” work, even though I’d previously completed, then deleted “HEROS.” What the heck is a HKRLS?

    Waiting for the sting of the misdirection (or is it from the facepalm?) to ease into admiration.

    I associate “Golly!” with American slang, so the Queen’s English in the 68A answer (I SAY) seemed discordant to me.

    • Gabe Z says:

      Wow, same exact thought process here!

    • JohnH says:

      I let FREEZE misdirect me, too, so I found my way slowly and count this as a hard one. But great. Oh, my trouble-spot with HEROS is that I started with “hires,” reasoning it was about hiring a full-timer after making due with temps (subs). Oops!

  3. Jeff says:

    [WSJ] Hawaii’s Mauna ___ . KEA.
    Info from CrossWordle site with Scoring & Leaderboard.

    Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak, a long-dormant volcano in Hawaii, USA. Yes. Taller than Mt Everest. Over half of it is underwater in the Pacific Ocean.

  4. JohnH says:

    I wonder if anyone else has had my issue with TNY puzzles this week. I’ve now done most of them, but not Patrick Berry’s. (Also not done the one looking for mistakes in a cartoon city, but that’s not my concern here.) It’s of a familiar kind from WSJ Saturday variety puzzles.

    As often there, rows contain a couple of words apiece (here occasionally three), with word lengths and divisions between words not marked. Crossings take another form, requiring you to find their place. In other puzzles, the form might be a single large spiral, boxes, or hexagons (Berry’s “rose garden” puzzles). Here each entry winds its own way, in a path shown in pale yellow on page blue.

    I’m finding the choice of colors makes things too hard. If I try to print the puzzle for myself, it comes out as a single gray field. If I go instead as planned to the magazine, I can barely see where a path begins and ends, looking several times. I wish they’d outlined things in a more traditional way. I may try to outline paths with a pen before starting the puzzle, but it will take time!

    • Eric H. says:

      The Patrick Berry puzzle is an amazing bit of construction. I didn’t have any trouble seeing the paths in the New Yorker app. It helps that they programmed it so that when you start on a “path” clue, the app places the cursor where it needs to be and then follows the path.

      Still, I spent almost half an hour filling in the grid, and that was with liberal use of the “check” feature.

      • JohnH says:

        I’m messing up the magazine copy trying to discern paths and draw outlines. Since printing from the Web site gives monochrome, maybe I can try starting with that and, from scratch, drawing paths or outlines by following an on-screen copy. But ouch.

        I can imagine that solving takes a bit, having worked those WSJ Saturdays I mentioned.

  5. Ethan says:

    That’s a heckuva theme: the individual parts AND the combined words are all valid entries: INFER, INFER + NO, INFER+TILE, CHI, CHI+NO, etc.

  6. Dan says:

    NYT: This was a perfect Thursday for me. Not too easy and with a semi-complex and highly innovative theme that took a while to grok.

    And it is not entirely implausible that the diagram was designed to look like a tongue of a flame, but it’s hard to be sure.

    • rob says:

      NYT: My eyes light up whenever I see that David Steinberg is the constructor. His puzzles are always so clever! We just don’t see enough of him since he got his own gig.

  7. sanfranman59 says:

    WSJ … @Jim … I thought the same thing about the clue for STRUM (“Make some dulcimer music”), but a little post-solve reading reminded me that in addition to the hammered dulcimer, there’s also an Appalachian (or mountain) dulcimer that’s mostly strummed, but may also be picked.

  8. Dan says:

    LAT: Sorry to be pedantic, but the clue 6 Down “Skewered Thai dish” for SATAY really should be “Skewered Indonesian dish”.

    (Even if satay may be offered at some Thai restaurants.)

    • Gareth says:

      Makes sense. The Cape Malay version is spelt sosatie, but descends from Indonesian slaves and political exiles during the time both areas were Dutch colonies.

  9. anon says:

    NYT: there have been 24 constructors so far in December (three puzzles with co-constructors)

    Only 4 of those 24 are female

  10. Art Shapiro says:

    Universal; Sylvia asks about the validity of CONTINENTAL. I assumed it was with respect to the airline of that name.

    • Martin says:

      Maybe the fact that Continental Airline disappeared over 20 years ago has something to do with the confusion.

  11. Eric H. says:

    New Yorker (“Triple Play”): I sort of figured out what was going on with the 27A R.E.M. clue, but it was still a bit confusing because I wasn’t counting the truths and lies. (I’ve heard of the game, but never played it.)

    It’s not my favorite puzzle from Brooke Husic and Adam Wagner, though I generally like their work.

    (I actually solved this on Monday, and had a lot of trouble with the New Yorker app crashing before I could actually work on the puzzle. That may have lessened my enjoyment of the puzzle.)

  12. Katie says:

    NYT: I got INFER+TILE before any other entries with shading, leaving me thinking, “Hmm. So then I suppose a blank is an “infer tile”, b/c it’s a TILE whose identity you can (often) INFER, through context (in Scrabble), I guess?…”

    (Was that just me?!)

    Yeah, yeah, I get it all now. That just (stupidly) had me looking for yet an additional layer, in what was going on. (Whoops.) :-P

    I can’t imagine other words (beyond “blaze”, “fire”, and “inferno”) to start with, btw. Clever puzzle!!

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