Saturday, December 30, 2023

LAT 2:52 (Stella) 


Newsday untimed (pannonica) 


NYT 5:29 (Amy) 


Universal 2:04 (Matthew)  


USA Today tk (Matthew) 


WSJ untimed (pannonica) 


Simeon Seigel’s New York Times crossword—Amy’s recap

NY Times crossword solution, 12/30/23 – no. 1230

Well, look at that. The NYT fills in the black squares with confetti after you’ve solved the puzzle because that’s what the circled letters spell out. This is one weird 63a: PARTY, though. There’s a MEDICINE DROPPER and the bash is in the FINANCIAL DISTRICT.

The unchecked letters are checked by the word CONFETTI. I really was not keen on 7d being so nonspecific when 4a’s central letter could be blank until you have the other circled letters filled in. [Nickname for Edward] clues NED, but Edward M. Kennedy was TED and I had RE*OT towards the end. Wasn’t quite seeing 41a. [Source of intelligence] as RECON. D’oh! At any rate, it felt rude to go with an “Edward nickname” clue here.

Fave fill: ONCE IN A LIFETIME, TARRAGON, ENDURANCE RUNNER, and EXPRESSIONISTIC. Not keen on CERT ([Letter of completion, in brief], really? Are people using this?), MEESE, DJ MIC, ERL, EFREM, IRENA. There are plenty of proper nouns in the grid, which likely upped the difficulty level for many solvers.

New Year’s Eve isn’t for another day, but this is the closest 15×15 day to sprinkle confetti. Happy early New Year! 3.5 stars from me.

Brian Callahan & Rafael Musa’s Universal crossword, “Universal Freestyle #105″—Matt’s recap

Brian Callahan & Rafael Musa’s Universal crossword, “Universal Freestyle #105” solution, 12/30/2023

We have a collab this weekend from Brian Callahan and Rafael Musa: a grid marked first to my eyes by crossing long entries FRESH OUT OF IDEAS, LETS DO LUNCH, and YOU OWE ME ONE – all highlights – and second by a broad variety of cluing angles (as is typical of Universal and their related puzzles). In addition to the long central entries, I quite liked WE’RE SAVED and IN TOO DEEP, in opposite corners, as well.

Clue-wise, [Film set on the water?] for SCUM gave me a nice a-ha moment.

Zhouqin Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Stella’s write-up

Los Angeles Times 12/30/23 by Zhouqin Burnikel

Los Angeles Times 12/30/23 by Zhouqin Burnikel

Last themeless of the year is a fairly easy one, as is par for the course with a Zhouqin Burnikel puzzle. There’s some good stuff here:

  • 13A [Short-lived business] is a POP-UP STORE.
  • 16A [Delicious desserts?] is a cute clue that elevates an otherwise pet-peeve entry of mine, APPLE TARTS. I see a lot of ___ TARTS entries in my word list and always downscore them based on them feeling a bit green paint-y. I do see APPLE TARTS in the wild, more so than LEMON TARTS or any of the other ___ TARTS in my list, but they tend to be called TARTE TATIN.
  • 49A [Dough for pupusas] is MASA. Any time you have a Burnikel puzzle there’s going to be plenty of food in it, and now I’m hungry.
  • 55A [Shell stations?] is TACO STANDS. See what I mean about the food? Great clue, too.
  • 4D [Hill of “The Wonder Years”] is DULÉ Hill, whom I know best from The West Wing. Didn’t know he was on The Wonder Years too!
  • 7D [Professional challenge?] is WORK-LIFE BALANCE, which I’m into more for the entry than for the clue.
  • 10D [Trials for errors] is very clever for BETA TESTS.
  • 27D [“Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?”] is MOM, PLEASE, and the clue and entry are both so evocative that this was my favorite entry in the puzzle.
  • 34D [Place for new calves] is a POD. I didn’t even notice this clue while solving, but it’s a nice misdirect. Whale calves.

Scott Hall’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Off the Mark” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 12/30/23 • Sat • “Off the Mark” • Hall • solution • 20231230

The title references the revealer, but not so much the actual theme, so it’s weirdly a step removed form the proceedings.

  • 112aR [Lose focus, and a visual hint to solving seven Across clues and a literal hint to seven Down answers] DROP THE BALL. This is also something that traditionally happens on New Year’s Eve. Without the benefit of this revealer, it took me about halfway through the crossword before I understood what was happening, after experimenting with rebuses and other approaches.
  • 24a. [Remark from Holmes to Watson] THE GAME IS A F{OOT}.
    26d. [It gets snapped] FOOT(BALL).
  • 31a. [Be a knight in shining armor] COME TO THE RESC{UE}.
    33d. [It sinks when you scratch] CUE(BALL).
  • 46a. [Potential site of a George Washington confession] CHERRY ORCH{ARD}.
    48d. [It’s often played in Congress] HARD(BALL). This was the site of a trainwreck that I needed to solve in order to complete the puzzle. Not realizing this was a theme pair, I answered 46a as CHERRY TREE and moved on, oblivious to the gibberish it created for the crossing entries.
  • 64a. [Moniker for a ravenous teen] BOTTOMLESS{PIT}.
    67d. [Illegal diamond delivery] SPIT(BALL).
  • 68a. [Undercover title role for Rob Schneider] DEUCE BIGAL{OW}.
    70d. [Offer that’s easy to refuse] LOW(BALL).
  • 90a. [Took the car out] WENT FOR A SP{IN}.
    92d. [It has flippers and bumpers] PIN(BALL).
  • 101a. [Response to a parent’s “Because I said so”] BUT THAT’S NOT FA{IR}.
    105d. [Shot that completely misses the basket] AIR(BALL).

Clever and well-made.

  • The other location that stymied my finish of the crossword was the intersection of 83d [Fudges made with brown sugar] PENUCHES, 83a [Secretary Xi’s nation: Abbr.] PRC, and 87a [Like many Bluetooth headsets] ONE EAR.
  • 3d [Trivial talk] CHITTER-CHATTER. <insert Rolling Stones “Shattered” here>
  • 9d [Large singing groups] OCTETS. I would say large-ish, unless … is there a certain size after which it needs to be called a choir?
  • 11d [Allowing for contingencies] OPEN-END. Looks weird without the -ed suffix.
  • 32d [Scientific prefix meaning “completed”] TELO-. As in a telocentric centromere.
  • 41d [First word of Dante’s “Inferno”] NELIn Italian.
  • 51d [Digital counters] FINGERS AND TOES. Needles and pins!
  • 60d [Dean’s partner in upscale grocery stores] DELUCA.
  • 91d [Sam for whom a bridge bidding convention is named] STAYMAN. Utterly unknown to me, but I’m familiar with the apple variety.
  • 5a [Where to find sun bears and clouded leopards] ASIA. Both are quite endangered.
  • 20a [Lola’s locale, in song] COPA. Had Soho first.
  • 34a [ __-Aztecan (language family)] UTO-. Have not seen this in crosswords before. Certainly not in decades, anyway. Seems like a Maleska-era thing.
  • 96a [Sale proviso accompanying a photo on eBay] AS SEEN. As in AS SEEN ON TV?
  • 100a [Sword beater] PEN. Needs some sort of qualifier or context, in my opinion.

Great way to end the year!

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

Newsday • 12/30/23 • Saturday Stumper • Sewell • solution • 20231230

Untimed today, because I had many interruptions. But I can confidently say that this was one of the toughest Stumpers I’ve done in quite some time. Just brutal.

In fact, had I not gotten 16d [Starts of “Rhapsody in Blue” performances] CLARINET SOLOS with only the S from 40a [St. Louisan with 750+ OED citations] TSE, I doubt I’d have made much headway at all. Amusingly—and fortuitously—the other long music-related entry was also helpful: with only the K in place from 34a [Rivalry with rarefied ESPN ratings] YANKEES VS RED SOX (took many crossings for that), I had a lucky guess on 4d [Part of the “Doctor Zhivago” score] BALALAIKA.

  • 1a [Western fare] GRUB. 53a [Western fare] OATER.
  • 13a [“2001” space station server] PAN AM. Not a computer server.
  • 15a [Where boxers train] PET SCHOOL. Is that a thing? Is it different from obedience school? Is it a replacement name, or something different?
  • 19a [Say when] SET A DATE. Quite literal.
  • 30a [Take up on a farm] SKIM. Super-tough. I had been hedging with REAP for a while.
  • 41a [Spain’s Oscar depiction] GOYA. Small entry but very helpful for my solve.
  • 50a [Bamboo paddle purchaser] SUSHI CHEF. Were it not for 41d GO HAM, which I got via GOYA already in place, I might not have been able to break into this corner (via the H).
  • 55a [Sticky spot] SMEAR. Not SPEAR, as I had had for some time.
  • 7d [Sports organization based in London, Monaco, Florida, and Sydney] ATP. Have no idea what this is, but am certain it isn’t adenosine triphosphate. Update: looks to be the Association of Tennis Professionals. Whatever.
  • This isn’t an isolated occurrence. I gather that cats can crawl up and inside via the dispenser, to a comfy bed.

    12d [Midway machine moving part] CLAW.

  • 26d [Mike-holding US stamp subject] ELVIS. I feel as if there have been a lot of singers memorialized on US stamps, with microphones. 30d [Letters returned to sender?] SASE.
  • 33d [PlayStation’s Pepsiman, for instance] ADVERGAME. New to me, but immediately graspable. 31d [Apprehended] KNEW.
  • 42d [They’re often canvas-covered] SAFES. As in, behind a painting. Stretchy, stretchy.
  • 46d [Verne novel destination] LUNE. In the original French.
  • 48d [Rodin’s thinker] TÊTE. My very first entry.
  • 49d [Blows something] ERRS. 14d [Blew something] MADE A MESS OF IT.

See you next year!

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26 Responses to Saturday, December 30, 2023

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Made me smile! Thank you!
    And it was relatively easy in spite of all the proper names and unchecked squares.

    • Eric H. says:

      I had made a typo, naming the violinist fFREM. (I know better, because my childhood TV viewing included the copaganda of “The F.B.I.” (a Quinn Martin Production); the star of that show was EFREM Zimbalist, Jr.)

      So I got the annoying message that the grid was incorrectly filled, setting me up for a painful search for my error. Fortunately, the F was easy to spot, and I got the pleasure of seeing all the confetti appear.

      It was impressive to see a grid in which no block touched another one.

      Not my favorite Saturday puzzle, but it’ll do.

    • Dallas says:

      I agree! And I laughed out loud when the CONFETTI came down. On my birthday in 2020, my son (then almost 5) with my wife used a hole puncher to fill a small box with paper holes… and then stood at the top of the stairs while I was under him in the hallway to dump in on my while yelling “Confetti!” It made me laugh for days…

      Last Saturday of the year… the grid was so striking. And just one more puzzle for my first 1 year streak :-)

    • JohnH says:

      I really liked it, not so much from the fill as just seeing so unusual a grid, with no adjacent black squares. I never did, though, connect it to graffiti, as I worked a pdf in black and white. FWIW, CERT was new to me.

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    I’ve gone to a NYE party in the FINANCIAL DISTRICT (FiDi) in NYC, which is mostly residential now.

    Fun puzzle!

  3. Dan says:

    NYT: The long entries helped make this my 2nd-fastest NYT Saturday of all time.

    • Me says:

      Although I think this puzzle could have been frustrating for many — EFREM and MEESE both contain unchecked squares, and DJMIC seems green paint-y to me and also has an unchecked square — I solved about a third faster than my usual Saturday.

      I don’t know if it’s an intentional holiday gift, but I finished each puzzle this week well below my average time. Usually, there’s at least one puzzle each week I struggle with, but not this time. I finished about 25% faster than my average time for the week in total.

    • rob says:

      NYT: I know that there will be some solvers who will grouse that this was too easy for a Saturday (including OFL over at the other crossword blog that I follow). However, I for one enjoy a relatively easy Saturday puzzle every so often because I often just give up on the NYT Saturday puzzle (and the TNY Monday puzzle) because I just can’t gain any traction.

  4. Richard Mahoney says:

    FINANCIAL CENTER my friends.

  5. dh says:

    I did the NYT in Across Lite, which did not show the colored confetti at the end. I still made the connection, though – and sadly, black confetti seems appropriate for this NYE. Hope springs eternal, though, but it’s pretty far from faith for me.

    @Amy- why did cluing “NED” seem rude to you? I’ve known plenty of Edwards in my life who went by “Ned”. Without looking I’d guess that “Ted” is a far more common nickname for “Theodore” than “Edward”. Any stats on that anywhere?

    ChatGPT says this: “In the past, “Ned” was a more common and traditional nickname for Edward. However, over time, “Ted” has become a popular alternative. The preference for one over the other can be influenced by cultural and familial traditions, as well as individual tastes”

    • Eric H. says:

      I’m guessing that Amy’s objection to the NED clue is that because the N is part of a word with an unconventionally checked square, it would have been kinder for solvers if the clue had referred to a specific NED — Beatty, Flanders, whoever. But of course, that would be a problem for anyone who didn’t know the chosen NED.

  6. R says:

    NYT: If you work in a field where certifications are relevant (K-12 education, in my case) you hear CERT every day.

    • Me says:

      I’m not sure I would call a certificate or certification a “letter of completion,” though. The clue seems a mismatch for the answer.

      • Dan says:

        Maybe some or most certifications or certificates are not about any completion.

        But a number of times after I’ve finished taking some professional course, I’ve received some kind of dinky certificate that certifies I’ve completed that course.

  7. Mutman says:

    NYT: loved it! I was intimidated at first but made headway. Nice to change up the Saturday themeless once in a while!

  8. Mr. [very] Grumpy says:

    I was enjoying the WSJ until I hit the 68A/57D cross. A word to constructors. Don’t do that. There were so many other ways to clue 57D crossing the name of a character in a trash-bin movie. Happy New Year, Mr. Hall. Way to ruin an otherwise delightful puzzle.

    • sanfranman59 says:

      Rob Schneider is one of those Hollywood people who I’ve always assumed has blackmail material on someone. I don’t know how else to explain how he’s managed to make a career in front of a camera. I vaguely remembered this movie title, but just assumed that BIGALOW was spelled with an ‘e’ because, you know, that’s how Bigelow is spelled in the English language. Oof.

      DUB was a woe for me also since I was locked into ‘ska’ there. FWIW, defines it as “Jamaican music in which audio effects and spoken or chanted words are imposed on an instrumental reggae background” and Wikipedia calls it a sub-genre of reggae. That sounds more like a form of reggae than an “offshoot”, but I suppose that’s a case of “you say to-mah-to, I say to-may-to”.

    • Scott says:

      Sorry about that. That clue was changed by the editor. I agree with you – I wasn’t familiar with that meaning.

  9. I found the Stumper pretty unfun. I have four quarrels:

    “Starts of Rhapsody in Blue performances.” Starts here makes no sense. Performances of Tristan und Isolde don’t begin with overtures; they begin with the overture. Performances of Hamlet don’t begin with Act Ones. A better clue: “Goodman productions.” (Benny.) Or trickier: “Shaw productions.” (Artie, not George Bernard.)

    26-A, four letters, “Workbook portmanteau.” It’s comparable to calling brunch a silverware portmanteau (workbooks used in ELHI, silverware used in brunch),

    “Approach incautiously.” Approach implies movement toward a literal or figurative destination. To TAILGATE involves only sustained movement at a relatively fixed distance, unless approach means an approach to a driver’s destination. But to approach a house, or whatever, incautiously is not to tailgate.

    “Waffle.” No. Just no. No one or virtually no one hems. The idiomatic pair is hem and haw. Elaine Fine (my non-crossword-solving spouse) suggested a much better clue: “Part of a waffle.”

    It may be that GOHAM has influenced my response to this puzzle.

  10. Teedmn says:

    GO HAM? Haven’t run into this usage yet. Google doesn’t provide much help. So I threw in the towel over LUNE and GO HAM. Mixing up Verne with Asimov’s book, “Fantastic Voyage”, I thought 46D might be LUng but couldn’t make it work with 56A’s meeting place.

    Nice Stumper, it provided the toughness missing in today’s NYTimes puzzle.

  11. meaningless nobody says:

    stumper – veryyyyyy slow going (71’… sorry to be so shamefully behind you lot)… but clean without checks, so i’ll take the moral win for the holiday… hoping to get one tenth as good as you geniuses in the coming year… wishing you all the best in the new year

  12. John Malcolm says:

    WSJ : “100a [Sword beater] PEN. Needs some sort of qualifier or context, in my opinion.” Like,’the pen is mightier than the sword’?

  13. Nina says:

    NYT: I am just sad that it’s a hopeless cause to think that the world will return to spelling the abbreviation for microphone as mike.

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