Saturday, December 23, 2023

LAT 4:31 (Stella) 


Newsday 15:28 (pannonica) 


NYT 4:41 (Amy) 


Universal untimed (Matthew)  


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Will Nediger’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 12/23/23 – no. 1223

What’s this Friday-difficulty puzzle doing in the Saturday slot? Easier than you expected, or did I just tap into Will’s wavelength this time?

Super-clean triple-stacks here. Six lively 15s with rock-solid crossings, and terrific flow throughout the grid.

Fave fill: PINTEREST BOARDS, EMAIL ENCRYPTION, and THREAD THE NEEDLE up top, MARINE BIOLOGIST, AMERICAN PALE ALE, and LESS THAN STELLAR on the bottom. Plus Mandela’s CLAN NAME of Madiba and his fellow South African TREVOR Noah, “good RIDDANCE” (yes, I know RIDDANCE is terrible outside of this fill-in-the-blank clue, but I do like the phrase), SNEAKERS and a SKATER, and the never-taken-in-Spelling-Bee-for-some-reason TORTA, a Mexican sandwich. Do your local grocery stores stock fresh telera/bolillo rolls for TORTAs? Mine do.

I could do without NACRE, it’s true. But overall I really liked the puzzle. Four stars from me.

Adrian Johnson’s Universal crossword, “Universal Freestyle 104″—Matt’s recap

Adrian Johnson’s Universal crossword, “Universal Freestyle 104” solution, 12/23/23

Quad stacks in the northwest and southeast corners, but my favorite section fill-wise was the southwest, with HOT GLUE GUN, EGO MASSAGE, MEEMAW, and FESTERS a nice lineup of adjacent downs.

PRINCESS DI, clued to her HIV/AIDS advocacy, came easily, with the last season of Netflix’ The Crown recent in my memory. I enjoyed the first two seasons, with Claire Foy, the most. A little bit of symmetry, though not grid-symmetrical locations, with STATS GEEK and NERD FEST in opposite corners. Anyone else confidently put in STATSHEAD? I suppose “stat head” is a little more common, but I was surprised to need to erase.

I quite liked the “King of Fruits” trivia approach to MANGO TREE, as well as the conversational [“I’m done venting”] for END OF RANT. Thanks Adrian!

Robert S Gard’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Spoiling the Ending” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 12/23/23 • Sat • Gard • “Spoiling the Ending” • solution • 20231223

Titles of classic novels, but the twist is that the last word of each is anagrammed.

  • 22a. [Story of a Canadian woman who opens a carbon-neutral bakery?] ANNE OF GREEN BAGELS (Gables). I wonder if the original clue was about St Patrick’s Day? (n.b. Green-dye bagels are just nasty.)
  • 30a. [Story of a youth who says to hell with it and goes to the pub?] THE CIDER HOUSE LURES (Rules).
  • 49a. [Story of a Mississippi family that can’s wash after the water’s shut off?] AS I LAY DINGY (Dying).
  • 67a. [Story of a Jewish bachelor who’s solicitous of his mother’s wishes?] PORTNOY’S COMPLIANT (Complaint).
  • 90a. [Story of a noir detective looking radiant after a few trips to the day spa?] THE BIG PEELS (Sleep).
  • 105a. [Story of a motley group of pilgrims riding in their new auto?] THE CANTERBURY TESLA (Tales).
  • 118a. [Story of a young man who gets carried away and does the Twist?] AN AMERICAN GYRATED (Tragedy).

In addition to the new, wacky senses, the clues also retain references to elements of the original novels. They straddle the difference.

  • 4d [Person who puts up with you?] GUEST. Nice, twisted parsing.
  • 12d [Their job is a grind] MILLERS. Trivia: the miller’s tale in Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is not a deep reference to the Miller’s Tale section of The Canterbury Tales.
  • 23d [The other guys] FOES. 44d [The other guys] ENEMY.
  • 31d [Those left hanging on election day?] CHADS. I believe that problem has been eliminated?
  • 43d [Rural beginning?] GIT-GO. Got this via crossings; even though I know the expression, it was tough to understand via the clue alone.
  • 78d [Punch-drunk] SLAP HAPPY. 82d [Federal org. with a flower logo] EPA.
  • 88d [The Darling family’s dog] NANA. This is about Peter Pan.
  • 105d “Pudd’nhead Wilson” author] TWAIN. Also of The Mysterious Granters.
  • 118d [Nile ophidian] ASP. Some pricey vocab to make the clue a little more recondite.
  • 10a [Crash and burn at the comedy club BOMB. 29a [Routine unit] JOKE.
  • 21a [Org. that’s up in arms?] NRA. Not funny.
  • 38a [Raiders’ org.] DEA. Obviously a misdirection for NFL.
  • 77a [Clairvoyant skill] ESP. That is, cold-reading people, or actual deceptions.
  • 96a [Baltic Sea catch] EEL. Critically endangered.
  • 121a [Numerical online addresses, for short] IPS. IP stands for internet protocol, as you might have known or inferred.

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

Newsday • 12/23/23 • Saturday Stumper • S.N. • solution • font size=1>20231223

A somewhat intimidating grid, with all those white squares and the long stacks top and bottom.

I wasn’t getting anywhere as I plowed through the clues, but then I snagged a foothold with 30a [“He who slings __ loses ground”: Adlai Stevenson] MUD. Then 30d [Hub not far from SYD] MEL (Sydney, Melbourne). Then, 32a [Antonym of “ally”] NEMESIS, and then 27d [Distended] TUMID. Was able to get the first part of 23d [With more than enough material] WIDE––– and was thinking CUT, but the confirmation didn’t come until quite later.

From this early weave, my entire solve basically radiated with only a few snags and hesitations.

  • 1a [Late fourth-quarter flora] CHRISTMAS CACTI. Timely, but weird to invoke a financial term. Or is ‘fourth-quarter’ in the calendrical sense not exclusive to economics?
  • 17a [Girl with red yarn hair] ANN. Raggedy Ann. One of the few entries I filled in independent of the aforementioned radiation.
  • 22a [What fills some dumplings] PEARS. Odd choice of clue, in my opinion. 44d [Source of tones shaped like 22 Across] SITAR.
  • 24a [Setting of the top-grossing film after “The Godfather”] AMITY. This is Jaws and Amity Island. Had trouble parsing the clue, not understanding that the ‘after’ is basically chronological. In retrospect, I see that The Godfather (1972) was the top-grossing film until 1975 when Jaws was released. Both films, of course, have been vastly eclipsed by subsequent productions.
  • 37a [What you’d expect to be full of baloney] DELI CASE. Kind of wanted SALUMERIA here, but no way that was working.
  • 41a [Where Olympians made burnt offerings] ARA. Probably more known to contemporary folks as the name of the altar-shaped constellation in the night sky.
  • 42a [Hugo’s lifelong pal[ DUMAS. Victor and Alexandre.
  • 44a [Sharp sarcasm] SLAPS. My most notable misfill, where I provisionally tried SNARK.
  • 46a [Andy Griffith played one on his sitcom] TUBA. Proud that I got this just off of the U. I knew that he was the town SHERIFF, but nothing else.
  • 6d [Parade route for the 2024 Olympics] THE SEINE. Bit of a cheat, with the definite article.
  • 11d [Where an applause meter starts] AT O. Oof.
  • 29d [Private property] ODS. Don’t understand this.
  • 34d [French variant of Lizzie] ISABELLE. Was hesitant about completing this entry, but when I experimented with it, it turned out to be very helpful in my progress.
  • 38d [“African unicorns”] OKAPIS. Metaphorically only, certainly not taxonomically.
  • 48d [“America’s diabolical answer to Mary Poppins”] MAME.
  • 52d [Two-time connector] TIL. Don’t understand this either. Had AT A until it was untenable. Is it like “two ’til midnight”? If it is, that’s very dubious.

Nice but surprisingly malleable crossword. Just to tie it up with a bow, here are the stacked long acrosses: CHRISTMAS CACTI / MEET THE BEATLES / CONFERENCE ROOMS; PENTATONIC SCALE / INTIMATE DETAIL / SELLER’S REMORSE.

Will Eisenberg’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 12/23/23 by Will Eisenberg

Los Angeles Times 12/23/23 by Will Eisenberg

Pretty hard! This time most of the difficulty came from outside-my-wheelhouse trivia, although there was some very tough wordplay as well:

  • 18A [Fed. security] is T-NOTE, an entry that was pretty common even a few years ago that seems to be falling out of favor these days. The falling-out-of-favor-ness (yeah, I know that’s not a word, deal with it) is what made me hesitate for a while before filling this one in.
  • 20A [James Webb, for one] Not being an astronomy buff, I was in prime position to be fooled into thinking that this was a clue about a person, when in fact it was referring to the James Webb SPACE TELESCOPE.
  • 38A [“Black Skin, White Masks” author Frantz] is FANON. Googling the title of the book with quotation marks gets 555K hits, so now I feel unhip for not having heard of this person before. (In fact, I had to look it up to find out that FANON is the author’s last name, not first name.)
  • 44A [Receiving line?] is a very tough clue for HEIRS, as in the group of people in line to receive an inheritance. I for the longest time thought that the clue was referring to a line you’d say upon receiving a message, and so had HEARD in there for long enough to really screw myself up.
  • 46A [Silent nemesis in “Peanuts”] is the KITE-EATING TREE, which…sure, I guess I’m old enough to remember that, but I’d say it’s under a large pile of other facts in the attic of my mind.
  • 53A [Daniel who writes the Gabriel Allon spy novels] is SILVA. This guy gets 4.9 million Google hits, so I feel really unhip now for not having any idea who he was.
  • 59A [One-named rapper in the hip-hop collective Doomtree] is DESSA. See above re: I am not cool enough.
  • 26D [Purchases a company to obtain talented employees] is ACQUI-HIRES. Didn’t love this entry. Although it’s inferable from the clue, I would say I’m more acquainted with corporate-speak than the average solver (ask me for my rant on the use of the word “leverage” when “use” is meant), and I had never heard this term; Google gives it 144K hits, which I’d say is not quite A Thing.
  • 28D [Beethoven composition for brass virtuoso Giovanni Punto] is a HORN SONATA, and I’m pretty sure this is the constructor signing his puzzle.
  • 39D [Tool for intricate cutting] is a FRET SAW. Out of my wheelhouse, for sure. (I don’t fix things. I break them.)
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39 Responses to Saturday, December 23, 2023

  1. Gary R says:

    NYT: It seemed to be going pretty smoothly, but then I ran into trouble in the area southeast of that diagonal set of black squares. Gamma ray before MANTA ray, “loves” instead of COSTS for “Goes for,” didn’t know TALLINN nor, despite spending a fair amount of time in Mexico over the years, TORTA. Finally caught on to the clue for BANDS and things started to fall into place.

    In the end, I got the workout I look for from a Saturday NYT. Good puzzle.

    • David L says:

      My experience was similar. The upper right half went very quickly, then I ground to a halt trying to move into the lower left. I knew TALLINN but not TORTA, and I had LANDS instead of BANDS, which led me to put LAALAA instead of BAABAA, even though I had no idea what song was being referred to.

      It all came together, though, in a fairly average Saturday time for me.

    • Eric H. says:

      PINTEREST BOARDS nearly did me in. I filled in PIctuRE____, and stuck with it for too long, despite it not working with TREVOR (which I was certain of) and BYNES (which I was almost certain of). ÉLAN vital doesn’t sound familiar, but I know enough French that I should have gotten it quicker.

      All in all, I found the puzzle mor challenging than most recent NYT Saturdays.

      • JohnH says:

        Yes, starting with PINTEREST BOARDS, it was hard for me, even if others found it easier than usual. I almost gave up. The auto parts and CLAN NAME in particular all but did me on. I also started with I’M HOME for I’M HERE. For just one other example, I had PALE ALE but looking for a way to complete a Sierra Nevada named product. (Torpedo plainly didn’t fit.) So ok, it’s an American product. Fine puzzle indeed, but enough of a Saturday for me.

        • Here's a Suggestion... says:

          When I get stuck doing a crossword…
          I consult the Crossword Heaven crossword Search Engine.
          Unlike other Search sites, it doesn’t spit out the answers to NYT puzzle clues,it generates a list of possible answers one can pick from.
          So I don’t feel like I’m cheating.

  2. Ethan says:

    Beautiful Saturday NYT but I want my Saturdays to have more bite. I’m no Amy but a 7-something time on a Saturday is too short for me. I want something to mull over!

    I wish they would consider running two Saturday puzzles—a hard and an ultra hard

    • DougC says:

      I’m with Amy on this – I had a Saturday time on Friday’s puzzle, and a Friday time today. And also agree that this was a lovely, smooth puzzle, even though it seemed misplaced in the week.

    • my two sense...(not a misspelling) says:

      As other crosswords on this blog indicate (like the devious Stumper), there are other Saturday crosswords with ‘bite’, that you can mull over, even tear your hair out over.
      Those puzzles appear specifically designed for hard core crossword aficionados…while I think Will Shortz ponders puzzle submissions, picks,and edits with the masses in mind…
      as he should.

  3. David Browder says:

    The clue for 4 Down is should be Jazz Trumpeter Baker, not Jazz saxophonist Baker. I imagine Chet Baker could play the saxophone, but he was a legendary jazz trumpeter.

  4. Me says:

    NYT: I thought Friday’s puzzle was harder than most Fridays, and Saturday’s puzzle was easier than most Saturdays, so my times for each ended up very close to each other. Usually, there’s a significant gap for me.

    pannonica, thank you for the link yesterday to the Vanity Fair article about how much Games is a growth area for the NYT and is driving subscriptions (and therefore revenue). I would have missed the article completely otherwise, so I really appreciate your pointing us to it! I noticed that the NYT has really expanded user engagement by having a column for everything now, when it used to be Wordplay for the crossword and that was it.

    The article was fascinating. I was particularly struck by a former NYT editor’s comment that the NYT is pivoting from thinking about how they are serving their readership to how they can monetize their readership. That change is positive in some ways, given how much trouble traditional print journalism is having nowadays. I think the NYT is much healthier financially than the vast majority of newspapers, which is good for all of us, but I’m not sure the emphasis on profitable product doesn’t have some negatives. I think that probably drove the elimination of the online version of the acrostics, for example, and the rushed manner in which that was done.

  5. For the Stumper’s 52-D, “Two-time connector,” I think the idea is something like “From 5:00 til 6:00.” Or as Robert Johnson sang, “From Four Till Late.”

    I too don’t understand ODS. My “Own Damn Something”?

  6. Me says:

    NYT: What does the clue for MOLE, “One whose distance may be measured by the yard?,” mean? Is this referring to the mole as an animal who burrows in a house’s yard? If so, that is one of the weakest NYT clues in recent memory. Or does it mean something else?

  7. Teedmn says:

    Relatively easy Stumper today, but I join @pannonica in remaining unclear about TIL and totally stumped on ODS. Army private?

    I briefly had Andy Griffith playing a rUBe but SESAME came to the rescue there. And I mentally tried to fit in a poinsettia into 1A before thinking of the other plant I have sitting on my sill.

    PEAR dumplings?

  8. Dan says:

    LAT: Wow, this was a toughie for me, not having heard of the KITE-EATING TREE, AQUIHIRES, DOUBLE-TEXT, or PATTER SONG.

    But it was a thoroughly enjoyable solve!

  9. Mr. [far from] Grumpy says:

    Can I nominate today’s WSJ for an Orca? It’s been a long time since a puzzle brought so many smiles to my face. Of course, I’m a book person, not a film or TV or song person, so many of more “current” puzzles do not appeal to me. But, come on, you to admit that The Canterbury Tesla was adorable.

    • Eric H. says:

      Thanks for mentioning that. I don’t often do the Saturday WSJ because I find it hard to stay focused with a 21 X 21 grid if the theme doesn’t really fly for me.

      But this was a great theme, well-executed.

  10. sanfranman59 says:

    LAT … Is the LAT puzzle trying to become Newsday II? I gave up on the usually-impossible-for-me Newsday Saturday in 2019. Today’s LAT puzzle makes three Saturday DNFs in a row (and 11 this year) thanks to just a few WTF clue/answer combos all congregated in the same general area of the grid. I got the rest of it in a relatively normal Saturday solve time.

    It also seems to me that the difference in difficulty of their Monday through Wednesday puzzles is disappearing. They’re almost at the level of what I was accustomed to with Newsday Monday through Wednesday puzzles back when they were part of my regular daily rotation until I got bored with them about two years ago.

    • Art Shapiro says:

      Gee, I usually have an utterly wretched time with the Saturday LAT, but this one seemed quite routine. The old “different strokes…” I guess. Am I the only one around here who reads Peanuts every morning?

      • sanfranman59 says:

        I got most of this one, but ACQUIHIRES (“Purchases a company to obtain talented employees”) (???), PATTER SONG (“Gilbert and Sullivan staple”) (??? … and music terminology is usually one of my strongest suits), DESSA (“One-named rapper in the hip-hop collective Doomtree”), POORI (“Puffy deep-fried bread”), FANON (“”Black Skin, White Masks” writer Frantz”) and PAN SAUCE (“Many a reduction”) left too many holes in the SW. I was only able to guess at SCOTT (“”Severance” actor”) because I had _COTT from the crosses. I wasn’t so lucky with HEIRS (“Receiving line?”).

        • Amy Reynaldo says:

          The patter song figured into this year’s season of “Only Murders in the Building,” with Steve Martin’s character struggling to master the rapid pace of singing. (Many rappers have tons of experience with rapid-fire lyrics!) Musical terms are among my weakest suits, but I learned this one.

          I’ve had puri (poori) with channa masala. A giant, inflated, deep-fried pillow of bread. Delicious! My husband has never made that, but he loves to deglaze a pan with a little wine to make a pan sauce.

          Never seen ACQUIHIRES but I work for a tech company and it makes perfect sense to me.

      • A toast to Charles Schultz says:

        I read the Peanuts comic strip in newspapers and book collections…
        watch Charlie Brown specials, and animation series episodes…
        and listen a lot to the Vince Guaradi record album.
        So no, you’re not alone.

    • Seattle DB says:

      I agree with SFMan59 in his LAT assessment. I quit doing the Stumper a few years ago, and now I’m quitting the Saturday LAT.

      • Not ashamed to get help says:

        It took awhile…but I’ve learned to enjoy doing really hard crosswords, because that’s how I not only learn new words and phrases, but I get progressively smarter at psyching out clever crossword clues.

        I do crosswords on paper…
        so when I get stumped, I consult reference books like the 21st Century or New American crossword dictionaries, or search clues on Crossword Heaven, which generates lists of possible answers.

    • pondering puzzle placement... says:

      May I respectfully suggest that the more NYT crosswords you do…the easier they become. So the difficulty in solving will shift…which has nothing to do with a puzzle’s placement in the week.

  11. Rock Hill says:

    LAT – Why a question mark on 6 across? Just to confuse? The clue works without “game” and “?”.

  12. Pete B. says:

    Stumper: Got it but only because of the crosses. In addition to those noted above, can somebody give me a clue?
    18A: Cause to ride on the wrong carousel (mis-sort)?
    8D: PSAT options (AB cord)?

  13. So THAT'S why... says:

    To all the solvers commenting that this (and other recent NYT crosswords) seemed out of order, posted on the wrong day…

    We’re at the tail end of a Retrograde Mercury period,which Impacts all things related to communication…including electronics, mail, travel, interpersonal exchanges…and apparently crosswords.

    Among other frustrating aspects (astrological pun intended), it causes more than the usual forgetfulness and mental fogness.

    You don’t have to believe in astrology to gain respect for Retrograde Mercury (which occurs approximately three times a year).
    Just monitor the period and what’s happening in your life…
    and draw your own conclusions.

  14. So THAT'S what it means... says:

    Regarding everyone scratching their heads over the MOLE clue…

    I found this on Rex Parker’s blog, posted by jberg.


    OK, the MOLE thing.
    Moles dig around just under the surface of a lawn, feasting on little critters among the roots of the grass.
    Often their activity raises a ridge in the lawn so that you can see where it has been, i.e. “measure its progress” by looking at the yard.
    I kind of liked it after I finally figured it out.

Comments are closed.