Sunday, December 31, 2023

LAT untimed (Jack)  


NYT 12:07 (Sophia) 


USA Today tk (Darby)  


Universal (Sunday) 11-something (Jim) 


Universal tk (norah) 


WaPo 6:10(Matt) 


Matt Linzer and Rafael Musa’s New York Times crossword, “It’s Going Down” — Sophia’s write-up

New York Times, 12 31 2023, “It’s Going Down”

Hey folks, Sophia here filling in for Nate on the final NYT of 2023, and what a great final puzzle it was!

There are a couple elements to today’s theme: each pair (trio?) of entries have clues that start with “Before midnight” and “After midnight”. The “before”s are entered in straight across as usual, but each are crossed by the answer BALL. The “afters”  all start with the same letter as their corresponding “before”, but follow the BALL “drop” and finish their answer going across in their clued position. It’s kind of tricky to explain but it makes more sense looking at the grid! I’ll copy over the formatting from the Wordplay blog as an example.

ALSO, the grid includes the revealer BALL DROP, and information on where and when to see it: NEW YEAR’S EVE, in TIMES SQUARE. I believe Andy COHEN is a bonus theme answer too, since I always watch his and Anderson Cooper’s coverage of the event.

AND THEN BESIDES ALL THAT there are a ton of great longer fill answers in the puzzle too! SPICE TEA, AY CARAMBA, AIRLIFTED, IDENTITIES, I’M IN LOVE, THAT’S LIFE. I wasn’t familiar with the term BUG OUT BAG, so that combined with OTBS took a while to finish. I also had to error-search for a mistake, which turned out to be the GELEE/TREO crossing (I had put in “trio”; my Palm knowledge begins and ends at the Pre). The only other big holdup for me was thinking of the Lana Del Rey “Lust For Life” as opposed to the IGGY POP song. I’m luckily a big TLC watcher so Teresa CAPUTO was a gimme for me.

There are also a bunch of clever clues that kept things interesting, I’ll list my faves: [Star sign?] for AUTOGRAPH, [Start to make fiction fact?] for NON, [Hookup that might get kinky?] for HOSE.

Congrats to Rafa and especially Matt on his debut! Happy new year, everyone.



LAT Crossword, “Squad Goals” by Matthew Stock & Miranda Carson — Jack’s write-up

Theme: Theme entries end in the names of WNBA teams. The revealer, WNBA FINALS, justifies why the teams all appear at the ends of phrases (the final part of the phrase).

Sunday, Dec 23, 2023 LAT crossword solution — “Squad Goals” by Matthew Stock & Miranda Carson

    • 23A. [*Symptom of isolation, perhaps] = CABIN FEVER
    • 28A. [*Leave the nest] = SPREAD ONE’S WINGS
    • 48A. [*No. 1 Katy Perry album featuring the No. 1 song “Firework”] = TEENAGE DREAM
    • 56A. [*Oscar-winning role for Rami Malek] = FREDDIE MERCURY
    • 82A. [*One of Sheriff Woody’s catchphrases in “Toy Story”] = REACH FOR THE SKY
    • 91A. [*Concurrence of many negative possibilities] = PERFECT STORM
    • 114A. [*Lorraine Hansberry play whose title comes from a Langston Hughes poem] = A RAISIN IN THE SUN
    • 121A. [Championship series where fans hope to find the ends of the answers to the starred clues?] = WNBA FINALS

Considering I don’t follow any sports, I’m proud of myself for recognizing the theme about halfway through. Most of what I know about the WNBA comes from its occasional appearance in crossword puzzles, so that education paid off today. Each themer is a very nice crossword entry in its own right, which is exactly what you like to see. This theme feels like a natural early-week concept. Slotting it for a Sunday gives you a bigger canvas and allows you to fit more theme entries, but I prefer when Sunday themes really require the extra space. I like when it’s clear that squeezing them into a 15×15 would diminish their potential.

Squeaky clean fill today, with some refreshingly unusual mid-length entries: HALO TOP (a popular low-calorie ice cream brand), OIL STAIN, and the simple yet conversational IF THAT. I also enjoyed STAY TUNED. My only trouble spot was ISO crossing MOOG (32D. [Synthesizer pioneer]). I don’t know MOOG — it’s a company that makes synthesizers — and I still don’t understand the clue on ISO (35A. [Looking for, in ads]).

A few other thoughts:

  • 9D. [Spare in a boot] = TYRE. Tyre is the British spelling of tire and boot is what the Brits call a trunk of a car. Nice tough clue!
  • 15A. [“Fidelity” pop artist Spektor] = REGINA. I’m pleased to see her name in the grid. One of my favorite artists who doesn’t show up in crosswords too often.
  • 20A. [Word with devil or dog] = SLY. I enjoy clues like this. Sly goes with devil and dog in the phrases “sly devil” and “sly dog,” but also “devil dog” is a standalone phrase. It’s like a verbal love triangle.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sid Sivakumar’s Washington Post crossword, “Meeting Friends” — Matt’s write-up

Sid Sivakumar’s Washington Post crossword, “Meeting Friends” solution, 12/31/2023

The last guest puzzle during Evan’s parental leave comes from Sid Sivakumar. It’s larger than normal, at 23×23, but I found it flowed nicely and didn’t feel bogged down.

Seven crosses of circled letters are explained by not one, but two revealers:

  • 17a [Certain assistance animals … or what you might be doing when you say the pairs of circled words out loud?] HEARING DOGS
  • 87a [Animals with parents of two distinct varieties … or a description of the pairs of circled words?] CROSSBREEDS

Each set of crossed letters, when read aloud together, is a homophone for a dog breed: CALL-LEE (Collie), TERRY-YER (Terrier), MALL-TEASE (Maltese), MASS-STIFF (Mastiff), CHI-WAHWAH (Chihuahua), CORE-GHEE (Corgi), and BALKS-HER (Boxer). I have to admit that HEARING DOGS is new to me, but the clue does plenty to get a solver there, and I love having double revealers.

But wait, there’s more! At 142a [Bunch held at intersections on outings with pets … or in the intersections of the circled words] LEASHES. Indeed, the intersection of each cross-breed, taken in grid order, spells LEASHES. I’m so tickled by how much this run of guest constructors has incorporated elements of Evan’s style (not that Evan is the only constructor who does things like this), and this is a fitting conclusion to Evan’s leave.

Sid excels at keeping grids smooth, and fine-tuning clues to be accessible without being hand-holdy on more trivia-ish entries. With one exception addressed below, I think that holds true here, especially given it’s an oversized grid.


  • 30a [Vibrant lipstick shade] ROSE RED. Hand up here for “ruby red” first
  • 69a [Fan-powered device above an entrance] AIR DOOR. I knew the thing precisely from the clue, didn’t realize it had a name!
  • 82a [It’s a blast!] MASS EMAIL. This is clever and took me a minute – think “email blast.”
  • 88a [“Delaware” and “Maryland,” but not “Virginia”] DACTYLS. Once this clicked, the quote marks made sense.
  • 104a [Martial art with meditative movements] TAI CHI CHUAN. I’ll admit ignorance – I didn’t know the “CHUAN” part of this.
  • 4d [What a portsider pitches with] LEFT ARM. I was very surprised by this. “Portsider” is new to me, and required a connection of “port” to “left.” I won’t assume that the baseball term “southpaw” is the most common knowledge, but this seems tougher, and at a very early spot in the grid.
  • 20d [Beam up on a ship] MAST. Not necessarily a misdirection, but I thought “beam up” in a non-Star Trek angle was fun.
  • 44d [Group photo taken by one in the photo] WEFIE. This is the third time I’ve seen this in a puzzle, and I’m yet to see it anywhere else. My experience is not everyone’s, but I still wonder.
  • 60d [Swedish actress Rapace] NOOMI. I know Rapace from the Swedish adaptations of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels, but she’s had some English-language roles since.
  • 66d [Org. with a “Staying Sharp” mobile app] AARP. Think “Staying ShAARP” was left on the cutting room floor at some point?

Michael Weinerman’s Universal Sunday crossword, “Awesome Sauce”—Jim’s review

It seems clear this theme was inspired by the title phrase. Theme answers are portmanteau-style “words” combining a type of sauce and a synonym of “awesome.”

Universal Sunday crossword solution · “Awesome Sauce!” · Michael Weinerman · 12.31.23

  • 20a. [“The Indian vindaloo is so rich and colorful!”] CURRESPLENDENT. Curry + resplendent. Probably like most solvers encountering the first entry, I was thrown for a little loop here. But all the crossings seemed right, so I let it be.
  • 42a. [“Paprika and vinegar? Radical Filipino food!”] ADOBODACIOUS. Adobo + bodacious. This verified the theme and is a fun entry to boot.
  • 58a. [“The Japanese soy-and-citrus mix is top-notch!”] PONZUPERB. Ponzu + superb. Hmm. The Z in “ponzu” is pronounced as Zs normally are, but “superb” starts with an S sound. This one’s off a little bit, but not by too much.
  • 60a. [“The Oaxacan chili-and-chocolate combo is astonishing!”] MOLEAMAZING. Mole + amazing. This one’s more awkward than the previous one. “Mole” ends in a long A sound while “amazing” starts with a schwa.
  • 77a. [“The milkiness of this Mexican offering is stunning!”] CREMARKABLE. Crema + remarkable. Not bad.
  • 79a. [“Indonesian spicy relish got game!”] SAMBALLER. Sambal + baller. I’m not familiar with sambal, so I just relied on the crossings.
  • 97a. [“The Cantonese sweet-and-salty glaze is extraordinary!”] HOISINSPIRED. Hoisin + inspired. Solid.
  • 120a. [“The Italian basil paste ran away with it!”] PESTOLE THE SHOW. Pesto + stole the show. Maybe a sort of punchline here since this one’s a bit different?

Interesting theme. Some entries are sharper than others and it got a bit goofy at times (especially the last one), but on the whole I found it enjoyable. I could see ADOBODACIOUS being used in advertisements or on a restaurant window. I also like the international flavor (as it were) to the theme, even if it meant that some sauces (well, just the one) were unfamiliar to me. YMMV, of course.

Lovely long fill with SIGNS OF LIFE, “TELL ME MORE,” HAMBURGERS, PLOT HOLE, EMERSON, HEAT MAP, “NO, DEAR,” COW TOWN, and ICE CLIMBING. The idea of climbing a big rock is crazy enough, imagine that some people like to climb ice. Of course, as a longtime Nintendo enthusiast, I’m familiar with the old video game with a  similar name.

I like NBD (“No big deal”) as an entry, but it has yet to make it into the NYT. It’s been in the LAT once, per the Cruciverb database.

Clues of note:

  • 47a. [Fight]. ROW. It’s perfectly legit, but I don’t think Americans use this word this way as much as the Brits do.
  • 111a. [Sets up an unfair title bout?]. RIGS. I’m not sure why there’s a question mark here. Seems perfectly fine without one. What am I missing?

Unusual theme that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it well enough. Smooth fill with plenty of sparkle. 3.25 stars. Oh, and it’s a debut. Congrats to the constructor!

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23 Responses to Sunday, December 31, 2023

  1. JohnH says:

    Of course, you mean the day’s posts for Sunday, not Saturday.

  2. Nino H. says:

    NYT: Even after googling, I have no clue what a GELEE is. Is it an American brand name or something?

    • Eric H. says:

      Merriam-Webster defines GELÉE as “a cosmetic gel.”

      It was vaguely familiar to me.

    • JohnH says:

      That one puzzled me, too, although I did fill it. Still worse for me were SHAKA, HEPA, SEA OAK / RATSU, and GRU / BUGOUT BAG. We’ve had the last in a recent puzzle, so I should have remembered it even if I’ve never encountered it IRL. CAPUTO was more readily deducible from crossings.

      Overall, I thought it was a perfectly nice theme, if not hugely original, and right for the holiday. But totally lousy fill.

      • JohnH says:

        Sorry for the typo: KATSU. (I also didn’t know the Harry Potter clue, but not worth complaining about as I know that domain is on the short list of Shortz obsessions.)

      • MattF says:

        Me too with SEAOAT/SEAOAK. Both are possible seashore vegetation. And the Japanese cutlet is a TONKATSU, according to Google, with a set of possible variants, so that just adds to the confusion.

        • Eric H. says:

          Same here on SEA OAt, until I realized that KATSU sounded more Japanese.

          My real sticking point turned out to be 106D REQS/123A SEÑOR. I didn’t notice that the 106D clue was plural, so I had REQT (which I would argue is a more common abbreviation for “requirement”). And I didn’t understand “Toledan title” at all until I saw the answer; I’d have done better with clue that used almost any other Spanish-speaking place than Toledo.

          I had to spend several extra minutes finding my mistake and even cleared the grid and retyped everything. That killed some of the fun from what was otherwise a clever puzzle.

      • DougC says:

        The holiday theme was cute, but, sadly, spoiled for me by So Many Naticks! I guessed correctly on some, but not enough.

        So it was a year-end DNF for me, courtesy of SEA OAt / tATSU and GiLEE / TRiO. I tried changing each one individually, but no happy music. Turns out I needed to change both. Sigh.

  3. Dallas says:

    Well, what a fantastic Sunday… lots of clues and answers to love, I’ll ignore the one nit I had to pick. All came together for me with POWER BALLADS… at first I thought it was “missing” the ball, then I noticed the ball was right there… and then all the other BALLs throughout… such a great way to end the year. I’m also glad the year got to end on a Sunday :-)

    And that’s my first full year streak of NYT puzzles… what a fun time. I’m not sure if I’ll be hell-bent on continuing it (I had some international trips that took place over weekends so trying to complete Saturdays while managing jetlag… so depending on my travel schedule I might not do it again). Really got to enjoy Fridays and Saturdays much more, so that was cool. I even started doing the New Yorker Cryptic, in December, which was fun… so that may be the new “mountain to climb”.

    Happy New Year everybody! Meeting this community of like-minded puzzlers to chat about crosswords through the year has been an extra bonus on the whole effort.

    • Eric H. says:

      Congratulations on your year-long streak! I’m a little over a month away from my first streak of that length. (It would be longer but for the electricity being out for 2½ days last January.)

      I’m glad you enjoy the Friday and Saturday NYT puzzles. For me, it’s a toss-up as to which I like more: A good, crunchy themeless, or a tricky Thursday-level puzzle?

      Having online forums like this in which to discuss puzzles is one of the best things about being a puzzle-solver now.

      Happy 2024, y’all!

  4. placematfan says:

    The Learning Channel has a psychic show?


  5. David L says:

    It took me a while to understand what was going on in the NYT, but once I saw the full extent of the themers I was impressed. Never heard of BUGOUTBAG — I thought GOBAG was the standard term — but I don’t live in a part of the country where such things are necessary. Also didn’t know SEAOAK, but I’ve seen KATSU before in crosswords, if not in the wild.

    WaPo was also good, although as always with themes involving pronunciation, a couple didn’t work for me. CALLEE and collie have different initial vowels, and BALKSIR is way off — the initial vowel is wrong and I pronounce the L in BALK. AIRDOOR perplexed me, and even after googling it I’m not sure I know what it is, or whether I’ve seen one. Regional, maybe?

    Happy New Year to all!

    • Eric H. says:

      BUG-OUT BAG was new to me, though I have finally internalized “go bag.” But I think BUG-OUT BAG dates to at least 1958, whereas “go bag” goes back to 1991.

  6. Dr. Fancypants says:

    I was a mathematician for a number of years and still have never heard of NYT’s OTTO fella. Seems like an odd choice for cluing OTTO.

    • PJ says:

      I hadn’t heard of him, either. A little searching tells me he was a historian of mathematical astronomy. I’m trying to determine if his three volume opus is accessible to someone like me.

      • JohnH says:

        I was surprised they came up with a mathematician that I, too, didn’t know. So thanks for looking it up for us.

    • Mr. [very] Grumpy says:

      Seriously. That SE corner was horrible. Give me Preminger or von Bismarck or even Ann Frank’s father if you’re going to fill that sector with a bunch of obscure junk. I loved the puzzle … until that point. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Don’t ruin your own puzzle , Sheesh.

    • MarkAbe says:

      Thank you for Dr. F. I was a math major and enjoy science and math history, and hadn’t heard of him either. Good to know he really is obscure.

  7. Mr. [not always] Grumpy [and the Prosecco is in the fridge] says:

    Just to end the year on a positive note, I loved today’s WaPo. Even with the hints, I did not see [hear?] what was going on until the very end. The HEARING DOGS hint flew over my head, but CROSSBREEDS brought out the OHHHHHHHH.

    And I still miss my collie Blacknose [so named by me at the age of 5 because he was the first in the litter whose pink nose turned dark] who went to that farm in the sky many [many] years ago.

    Happy New Year to all of you — and a big thank you to the folks who review these puzzles every day.

  8. Seattle DB says:

    UNI-SUN: This puzzle was not fun for me and I didn’t learn anything. I”m not on editor Jeff Chen’s wavelength most of the time because he throws oddball clues like 89D into the mix. Can someone explain to me why “SAT checkers” are called “TSA”?

  9. Katie+M. says:

    The WaPo was great.
    But I had to come here to find out what kind of dog a BALKS-SIR was. LOL. I guess if you live up north, it sounds like boxer, but I pronounce balk with the L, not like bawk or bock.

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