Wednesday, December 27, 2023

AVCX 11:06 (Amy) 


LAT 4:51 (Gareth) 


NYT 4:57 post-typo (Amy) 


Universal untimed (pannonica) 


USA Today 8:31 (Emily) 


WSJ 4:20 (Jim) 


The New Yorker 3:03 (Amy) 


Jill Singer’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Geology Lesson”—Jim’s review

Theme answers are familiar phrases whose outer letters (as identified by the circles) spell out synonyms of “stone.” The revealer is WRITTEN IN STONE (48a, [Firmly fixed, and a hint to the answers with circles]).

Wall St Journal crossword solution · “Geology Lesson” · Jill Singer · Wed., 12.27.23

  • 20a. [Result of a bad bike accident, maybe] BROKEN SHOULDER. Boulder. Ouch. Bad accident indeed.
  • 25a. [24/7] ROUND THE CLOCK. Rock. Common-enough alternative to “around the clock.”
  • 42a. [Argument over whose turn it is to wash the dishes, e.g.] PETTY SQUABBLE. Pebble.

I solved this without paying much attention to the theme, but it looks solid enough. The first and third entries don’t seem as common as the second one, but I think they just pass muster.

Note that the revealer is 14 letters long, which is a difficult length to work with. But with only three other theme answers, they can be spread apart enough to allow the grid to breathe.

Thus we get nice long fill entries like ROAD TO RUIN and GIVE NOTICE. END USERS is also good, as is PASS TIME [Keep occupied], although I feel like it’s more often presented as “pass the time.” I’m giving the side-eye to TV IDOL [Miley Cyrus or Zac Efron, once], but I moved on quickly enough.

Clues felt Monday straight, maybe the result of this being a shortened week. Solid grid. 3.5 stars.

Kareem Ayas’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 12/27/23 – no. 1227

Yet another debut? Perhaps the Times is doing an all-newbies week and I missed the memo. At any rate, I smiled when I found the revealer: 33d.
[Writer’s reference … or what each row of shaded letters is missing?], THE SAURUS. The shaded letters that leapfrog black squares are BRONTO-, STEGO-, TYRANNO-, and ALLO-. Fun!

Wildly unexpected entry where I double-checked every letter more than once: 40d. [Ancient method of encipherment with a message wrapped around a cylinder], SCYTALE. I’ve never seen the word before! Here’s the Wiki page with a photo of a scytale. Seems like the sort of code dealio that puzzly people would find cool.

Also new to me: 26d. [Novelist King who wrote “Caretakers” and “One on One”], TABITHA. Oh! She’s married to Stephen King.

Fave fill: PAN OUT, ST. FRANCIS, the ASTEROID that […had a major impact on this puzzle’s theme?] of dinosaurs, the PRITZKER Prize in architecture (funded by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s billionaire family).

Four stars from me. Always appreciate a crossword theme that brings humor to the table.

Will Nediger’s AV Club Classic crossword, “Nearer but Not Dearer”–Amy’s recap

AV Club Classic crossword, 12/27/23 – “Nearer but Not Dearer”

Terrific theme. Four famous characters are clued in an alternative way, with their letters circled. They’re close to their allies, which double as words within longer entries, but stacked even more closely with their enemies. The theme revealers explain it all: KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE / AND YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER. Sheriff WOODY from Toy Story is near BUZZ Lightyear in BUZZKILL but closer to SID in SID HERNANDEZ, and I can’t be the only person who tried to get KEITH HERNANDEZ into that spot because of Seinfeld. Captain KIRK pals around with BONES (UP) but keeps a close eye on (KAMALA) KHAN. James BOND has (SILENT) M and the villain JAWS (OF LIFE). Last but not least, Nintendo’s MARIO likes Princess (EAT A) PEACH but not, apparently, BOWSER. I know some Mario character names but boy, I couldn’t have told you Bowser was a baddie.

Lots of fill and clues I appreciated while solving, and a fresh and fun theme. 4.25 stars from me.

Jeff Stillman’s Universal crossword, “Disappearing Act” — pannonica’s write-up

Universal • 12/27/23 • Wed • “Disappearing Act” • Stillman • solution • 20231227

This crossword turned out to have unintended meta qualities for me.

  • 61aR [1938 Hitchcock classic that the starred clues’ actresses are auditioning for a remake of?] THE LADY VANISHES.
  • 17a. [*Speak extemporaneously at the altar? (Russo)] WING WEDDING VOWS (René, renewing …).
  • 26a. [*What a longtime partner may have?] RING IN MIND (Bea, bearing …).
  • 48a. [*Track inventory at the Seiko factory? (de Armas)] LOG WATCHES (Ana, analog …).

When I reached the revealer, it offered no real illumination for me. I still couldn’t figure out how to de-wackify the puns. It turns out that I had been completely blind to the parenthetical surnames at the end of each starred clue. It was very much like the invisible gorilla psychological experiment. The ladies did indeed vanish!

  • 44d [Rocky Mountain __ (state animal of 52-Across)] ELK. That would be Cervus canadensis nelsoni, one of four extant North American subspecies. It’s actually the state mammal, as there is also a state bird, fish, insect, reptile, and dinosaur. 52-across is UTAH.
  • 20a [Building block that’s a snap to use?] LEGO. Cute-ish. 63d [Sort of: Suffix] -ISH.
  • 39a [It’s boring!] BIT. A drill bit.
  • 50a [Brood] SULK. Site of my only mis-fill in this overall easy crossword—I first tried MULL.

Amanda Cook & Katie Hale’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s summary

LA Times

Amanda Cook & Katie Hale’s puzzle theme today features answers ending in a form of transport, but which aren’t really transportation related. However, they are clued as if they are:

  • [Transport for loudmouths?], VOCALCOACH
  • [Transport for nanobots?], MICROPLANE. I had no idea what this is. Apparently, an obscenely expensive kitchenware range that I couldn’t imagine anyone could actually afford.
  • [Transport for the army’s best poker players?], SHARKTANK
  • [Transport for rural golf instructors?], PROTRACTOR
  • [Transport for seminary students?], CROSSTRAIN

Five part themes often mean less focus on the rest of the fill. There aren’t a lot of flashy answers, but neither is there a lot of dross. Interesting clues and answer included [Critter also called a trash panda], RACCOON: mostly because I didn’t realise that slang term had reached critical mass; [French meat dish], ROULADE with a lot of other culinary references including CONTESSA and chef ANDRES; and finally [Night out for straight guys], BRODATE, although it sounds made up?


Patrick Berry’s New Yorker crossword–Amy’s recap

New Yorker crossword solution, 12/27/23 – Berry

Quick and breezy, despite the inclusion of a term that’s new to me but likely quite old: 5d. [Teletype machine’s place], WIRE ROOM.

Fave fill: OHIO RIVER (know your Midwestern geography!), Cyndi LAUPER (just watched the “Time After Time” video yesterday and was struck by how her personal style was distinctively different in the 1980s and still looks wildly idiosyncratic today; also, she’s a legend), POLLY POCKET, PROS AND CONS, and who doesn’t love an ARBORETUM? My college campus had (and still has) an 800-acre “arb” and it was a lovely asset.

Four stars from me.

Willa Angel Chen Miller’s USA Today Crossword, “It’s Getting Real in Here” — Emily’s write-up

A genuine treat of a puzzle today!

Completed USA Today crossword for Wednesday December 27, 2023

USA Today, December 27 2023, “It’s Getting Real in Here” by Willa Angel Chen Miller

Theme: each themer contains —REAL—


  • 16a. [Bands’ second releases], SOPHOMOREREALBUMS
  • 36a. [“Come back for more cheesy jokes!”], IMHEREALLWEEK
  • 53a. [“That was so incredibly helpful, thanks!”], YOUREALIFESAVER

Today’s themer set is a bit of a mix but has a fun commonality. SOPHOMOREREALBUMS is a new term for me, so I needed a few crossings but IMHEREALLWEEK and YOUREALIFESAVER filled in easily.


Stumpers: MEEK (only “timid” and font styles came to mind), SLAY (needed a couple crossings), and DIREST (also needed crossings)

A great midweek puzzle with smooth flow and a nice grid. Seeing wonderful lengthy bonus fill—a great trend here with USA Today!

4.0 stars


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15 Responses to Wednesday, December 27, 2023

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Totally cracked me up.

  2. Eric H. says:

    NYT: SCYTALE is the name of a shapeshifter in the novel “Dune Messiah.” I mispronounced it when I first read the book 30 years ago, and may never internalize the correct spelling.

    I enjoyed the dinosaur theme.

    • pannonica says:

      “In 2015, an extensive study of diplodocid relationships by Emanuel Tschopp, Octavio Mateus, and Roger Benson concluded that Brontosaurus was indeed a valid genus of sauropod distinct from Apatosaurus.” –Wikipedia

      But, as the page notes, there is currently no scientific consensus on the validity of the name. I say it’s fair for the crossword.

      • JohnH says:

        Agreed. At the very least, it will give scientists something to argue about for some time. But it reminds me of a pet peeve or two about popular science.

        It’s just too eager to leap on the latest paper without taking time to solicit counter-arguments, much less waiting to see how things shake out. (Hey, if anything, that then allows it a follow-up story for more hits.) It also confuses things in order to get a grabber of a headline. It’s one thing to say that the brontosaurus wasn’t really a distinct genus (or maybe even distinct creature, although that’s less clear). It’s quite another to conclude it didn’t exist. Besides, it’s still a concept and a word (and Wiki has no qualms about continuing a long entry describing it).

  3. Mutman says:

    NYT: great Wednesday puzzle, IMO. Love how the ‘asteroid’ blew up each dino into extinction!

    And are we really canceling dinosaurs now?? Give Bronto a break!!

    • Gary R says:

      “And are we really canceling dinosaurs now?? Give Bronto a break!!”

      Scientists can be such killjoys sometimes! And what about Pluto? Still a planet in my book!

  4. JohnH says:

    In TNY, I feared that even Patrick Berry has gone over to the dark side, which must have delighted Amy. It opened with HOBBS, MILLA, and POLLY, side by side crossing Buffy, and I’ll just have to trust that WIRE ROOM is a legit term not at all far away. Still, things improved.

    • Eric H. says:

      The only Down I knew in the NW corner was MILLA Jovovich. I’ve seen her in a couple of movies, but it’s been 20+ years. Still, her name is unusual enough that it stuck in my memory.

      All in all, I didn’t have much difficulty with the puzzle. My solving time was well within my Monday NYT range.

      • sanfranman59 says:

        I had a similar experience and finished it with my 9th fastest solve time of 182 TNY Wednesdays. Once I got out of the NW corner, I moved through it as easily as I do a relatively easy NYT Monday puzzle. But it’s a 68-worder (something you’d never see with a NYT Monday) and it has much more interesting clue/answer combos than a NYT Monday typically has (IMO, of course). Patrick Berry rules.

  5. Eric H. says:

    AVXC: I started the puzzle last night and got the two parts of the adage about friends and enemies. Then I went to sleep. It wasn’t until just now that I came back to the puzzle.

    In the interim, I completely forgot about the friends and enemies revealer, and only noticed two characters from each three-character combination (for example, I saw BOND and JAWS, but missed M.)

    I always have trouble reading letters in a grid that has circles, and I’m starting to find that 21 X 21 grids just add to the eyestrain.

    On top of that, I had ON T for HRT as the “gender-affirming treatment.” I’ve seen HRT clued that way before, but in my mind, hormone replacement therapy is used for some menopausal women. In any case, the middle was a mess that I could’ve avoided if I had understood the therapy better.

    So I was less than impressed with the puzzle by the time I finished it.

    My misunderstanding of the theme may have caused me to take half a star off my rating. Sorry about that, Mr. Nediger. But the ratings are meaningless, right?

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